The Bad Mother’s Death Revealed: a Spoiler!

HG_FC (1).jpg

In the Grimm brother’s Hansel & Gretel, the children experience in short order, parental abandonment, possible starvation and/or death by exposure, and capture by an apex predator who intends to murder and eat them. When Gretel sees an opportunity to escape, she seizes it, even though it means committing an act of grotesque homicide. So it’s almost inconceivable that at the point she frees Hansel from his cage and the two leave the Witch’s cottage, the place they head for is home, where their troubles originated. But then again, they’re just children, so where else would they go?

Gretel+5f

Above: vintage illustration of Hansel and Gretel returning to their relieved father.

From the start when I began reacquainting myself with the story, I was bothered by the notion that they’d return to their abusers, the bad mother who hatched the plan to abandon them in the wood and the weak father who’d complied with her. But then there’s that unconvincing aside offered by way of an explanation at the conclusion of the narrative, that the mother has died in the interim. So that’s alright then. The worst of the two has gone, and so with only a formerly henpecked weak man in charge of things, we can assume that everything will be OK, right?

dsc08264

Above: illustration from the book before the colour separations were added.

I never bought that bit about the mother having popped her clogs. It felt like an afterthought. And there’s nothing to indicate that the children could have known she’d died in their absence, so the fact of it can’t have affected their decision to return. Nevertheless, that’s what the Grimms wrote, and as I prepared to edit the story down to what would work in a picture book, I had to come to grips with the fact.

Version 2

Above: illustration from the book before the colour separations were added.

I went through many stages of attempting to make the issue of the mother’s death feel less tacked-on. Finally, in the book as published, I lodged visual clues that indicate what happened ‘off-stage’ in the children’s absence. It begins elusively at the start of the story, in the illustration of the Bad Mother ordering Hansel and Gretel from the house. All the reader’s attention is on the raw expression of hate on the woman’s face as she hurls the words ‘Get lost!’ at the bewildered children. Simultaneously her husband, almost unnoticed, turns from the event, walking away while carrying the tool of his occupation, a hefty wood-axe. That axe only makes two appearances in the book, and the second one can leave us in no doubt as to what became of the mother in the children’s absence.

DSCF4783

Above: early maquettes of the Weak Father and the Bad Mother.

When working with the maquettes that I customarily build to work out compositional ideas, I toyed with the possibility of showing more specifically what became of the mother. In the end, I eschewed the explicitness and found a better way to convey the scenario as a mystery. But here, on the Artlog where few will see, are the maquette actors playing out the the mother’s death scene as it isn’t depicted in the book!

dsc00158

dsc09572

Hansel & Gretel was published in 2016 by Random Spectacular, and is available

HERE

Hansel & Gretel: Don’t Go Into The Wood!

Producing the Hansel & Gretel book-trailer was a team effort that wouldn’t have been possible without the generous support of my collaborators.
Film: Culture Colony Vision
Models: Philip Cooper
Music: Kate Romano

Hansel & Gretel Prelude performed on the toy piano by Kate Romano and recorded by Rob Godman

I’ve worked with Pete Telfer of Culture Colony Vision many times over the past ten years. He’s produced several films about my practice as an artist. Pete was cameraman and all round facilitator on the animated film I made to accompany Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at the 2013 Hay Festival, and he filmed and edited the animation and model sequences for the music theatre project of The Mare’s Tale. (Composed by Mark Bowden in 2013 with a text by Damian Walford Davies.) Pete gently guides me through the processes of my ‘film’ projects. He is unfailingly supportive and manages the delicate business of giving me enough freedom to experiment, while ensuring that I don’t make a complete dick of myself.

img_1009

Phil Cooper and I have been friends ever since he caught a train from London to turn up at a maquette-making workshop I gave in Swansea that I was quite sure no-one would attend. He is a maker to his fingertips. When I saw some of the models he was producing as part of his exploration on the theme of German Expressionist film, I pounced and asked whether he’d consider creating a model version of the witch’s house for my Hansel & Gretel book-trailer. He used my drawings as a starting point, and then freely extemporised on the theme. I love what he created.

In September 2016 Phil arrived at Aberystwyth station carrying a suitcase packed with all the models and materials necessary to make his magic in our dining-room-turned-pop-up-animation-studio. Out came the steeply-pitched cottage, the conical-roofed tower, the boulders and ruined archway and a huge variety of trees, enough to cover the dining-table in an arboretum of impressive dimensions. We reconfigured the set several times over the two days, to get the most film coverage, and Phil glued and brushed and tacked cloth and crumpled tissue paper into the strange topographies of our fairy-tale wood. Moreover between the set-building and tweaking, he took to animation as though he’d been doing it for years.

DSC09215.jpg

Kate Romano came late to the team. Just as I was beginning to panic that my original idea of creating a music free soundtrack for the trailer out of strange noises – all of which I’d have to create and record – wasn’t going to work, I took it into my head to suggest that she record a few bars on one of her toy pianos for me to use within the soundtrack. Kate suggested that she take a tilt at composing a beginning-to-end accompaniment for the film, and her Prelude for Hansel & Gretel, played on a two octave toy piano, is the result. I wasn’t able to show Kate any footage before she wrote and recorded the music, though she’d seen a dummy copy of the picture book. The character of what she produced was perfect, and Pete and I cut the trailer to fit it. I think the music is better for not having been tailored shot by shot. I was able to synchronise images to the soundtrack where the fit was good, and to cut across it when that seemed the better option.

Rob Godman is a composer in his own right, and a friend and regular collaborator with Kate. However I’ve never met him, and so his contribution of recording her playing of Prelude for Hansel & Gretel is a particularly generous one. He has my heartfelt thanks.

In 2014 Simon Lewin of St Jude’s undertook to publish my proposed picture book of Hansel & Gretel  under his Random Spectacular imprint. His support underpinned the project from start to finish. The book-trailer has been made to celebrate our bringing the picture-book to its conclusion.

Hansel & Gretel 

The Brothers Grimm fairy tale reimagined by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Published by Random Spectacular, November 2016

Printed by Swallowtail, Norwich

Scanning by Saxon Digital Services, Norwich

Random Spectacular is the publishing imprint of design collective and print gallery, St Jude’s. The imprint was launched in 2011, providing the opportunity for St Jude’s to explore further collaborations in printed and audio form.

The picture book will be available for pre-order at Random Spectacular from Monday 30th October. (Halloween!)

www.randomspectacular.co.uk

Don’t Go Into the Wood!

 

DSC05877

The past days have been a frenzy of activity. On Thursday my friend Phil Cooper arrived at Aberystwyth station with a knapsack, a taped-together makeshift portfolio and a mysterious suitcase. At Ty Isaf the portfolio yielded the painted backdrop of a night sky, while out of the suitcase spilled box after box packed with the models Phil had prepared for two days of filming the book-trailer we’re putting together in advance of the November launch of Hansel & Gretel, a picture-book commissioned from me by Simon Lewin for his Random Spectacular imprint. I finished the artwork earlier this year, and right now Simon is in the process of seeing the project through the design and printing processes.

DSC09127.jpg

Phil (pictured above) took my images for the book as his starting point for the models, but then extemporised and got playful with them. The idea was not so much to imitate the illustrations as to create a ‘constructed’ universe which might have been their source. In a way the book-trailer is in the mould of those opening credits for films wherein the mood is set for what follows. Saul Bass did it magnificently for Psycho and Anatomy of a Murder. Phil was given his head to make his own interpretation of my drawings, and he’s risen to the challenge with tremendous ingenuity. Experiencing them was a strange combination of the familiar and the oddly different. (The way dreams sometimes are.)

IMG_1009.jpg

This is not the first time the dining-room at Ty Isaf has been turned into a pop-up animation studio. All of the animation footage for The Mare’s Tale, the 2013 chamber-work by composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies, was filmed here, as was the animated presentation I made to accompany a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at the 2013 Hay Festival. Film-maker and cameraman Pete Telfer worked on those projects too. There’s an ease in the relationship between us that makes for good collaboration.

DSC09143.jpg

Above: I took this over Pete’s shoulder as he composed his shot in the viewfinder of his camera while I watched on the monitor. What’s on the table in front of us bears no resemblance to what you’ll see in the trailer. The chaotic is processed and rendered into magical order by the alchemy of lights and camera.

It takes a while to get the feel for models and how to light and shoot them. The first morning of work was hesitant as we arranged and rearranged the witch’s cottage hemmed in by trees, and everything was rather cautious and stilted. Like the first day of school! A couple of set-ups into the afternoon and the creativity was flowing freely, and by the evening we’d got some lovely shots into the can.

DSC09140 (1).jpg

Saturday began early for me as I wanted to get a story-board ready before Pete arrived for the day’s work. Although I’d had a rough idea of what I wanted to achieve, it had taken the arrival of the models and seeing how they looked in front of the camera to clarify how best to proceed. By 10.30 am Pete was adjusting his lights and Phil and I were puppeteering boards and torches to create a restless nightscape of animated shadows. I always know Pete is in the zone when he begins to march up to a model and shift things around. When that starts to happen, we’re up and away.

In the afternoon we struck the forest set and began work on the makeshift animation-table I’ve used for all my film projects. (Animation-table is a grand word for a large sheet of rough plywood coated with blackboard paint.) The ‘text’ for the book-trailer was hand-written – and occasionally animated – in white crayon on a black ground, in ‘homage’ to the chalkboard title-sequence of my favourite film bar none, Jean Cocteau’s ravishing fairy-tale of 1946, La belle et la bête.

DSC06909

Hansel & Gretel are absent from the trailer, though another character makes a partial and unnerving appearance. But for that, you’ll have to wait! We edit on the 17th and the trailer will be available for viewing shortly thereafter. Look out for it.

Evolution (or how stuff happens)

In 2012 I made a single, collage image of a design for a glove-puppet Witch. I’d been thinking about the glove-puppet of a Witch I’d made as a child. (That’s a whole other story, that you can read about HERE!) Not sure now whether I’d intended to recreate the lost Witch of my childhood, but I certainly never made this second puppet. The design is still Blu-tacked to the wall of my studio.

DSCF6100.jpg

With the idea of a Witch rattling around my head, I began to work on further witchy images. By now I’d settled on the Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel & Gretel as my vehicle for exploration, and in no time at all I was playing around with the idea in the form of a Hansel & Gretel alphabet primer made in collage.

DSCF5892.jpg

DSCF5889.jpg

Because the original tale was steeped in the spirit of the Black Forest, the primer was in German. I really liked what I was producing, though I never completed it.

DSCF8408.jpg

DSCF8407.jpg

With the Hansel & Gretel theme now firmly rooted, for no reason that I can think of I made a set of hand-painted enamelware plates. I told everyone they were ‘nursery’ plates for the amusement of any children who came to stay with us, but really they were for me. The cold-enamel paint used for the images proved not to be knife and fork proof.  Moreover the paint turned soluble in hot soapy water, and so the plates were relegated to being used only for serving cupcakes!

DSCF5763.jpg

DSCF5765.jpg

Out of the blue in 2012, Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s asked me to contribute to the second edition of his Random Spectacular magazine, an enterprise he was he using to raise funds for a hospice. I’m not sure how he found me, but I was surprised and pleased to be asked. For the magazine I wrote a short, tart tale based on Hansel & Gretel, though with a decidedly different outcome to the original. I illustrated it with black and white collage/drawings of my enamelware plate designs that Simon tinted into muted colours for the magazine. Random Spectacular 2 was published in 2013.

DSCF8405.jpg

DSCF8404.jpg

DSCF8400.jpg

DSCF8396.jpg

DSCF1410.jpg

It had a beautiful cover made by Jonny Hannah

DSCF1418.jpg

At some point during the conversations Simon and I had about the magazine illustrations, I said that I’d now really like to make a whole book of Hansel & Gretel. He replied that he was interested in the idea as he intended to expand and diversify the Random Spectacular imprint beyond the ‘magazine’ format. That was the ‘beginning’ of the Hansel & Gretel picture-book project. I made a single, fully-rendered image to describe to him what I was thinking, and then we were off!

DSCF1769.jpg

I eschewed the ‘twist’ to the story that I’d come up with for the Random Spectacular magazine, and with the notion that any text would be minimal… and hand-lettered… I began to make storyboards, spreadsheets and dummy copies of the tale, boiling it down where necessary to simplify the narrative, and expanding ideas where illustrations could effectively take the story further.

DSCF2411.jpg

Simon and I agreed that the book would be square, and that a number of spreads would have fold-out pages to extend the compositions and the potential for surprises.

DSCF2416.jpg

DSCF1820.jpg

There were substantial explorations of character and changes of presentation. The children’s parents in particular evolved from fairly conventional depictions, to something far darker and psychologically complex. Ultimately the ‘Weak Father’ became a hollow man, built of empty shells, while the ‘Bad Mother’, who had been rather soigné, descended into neglect and malice.

DSCF4460.jpg

DSCF4461.jpg

DSCF4376.jpg

DSCF4370

DSCF4375.jpg

DSCF4419.jpg

DSCF4457.jpg

DSCF4403

Maquettes were built…

DSCF4724.jpg

DSCF4442.jpg

… and built again.

DSCF4741.jpg

DSCF4783.jpg

DSCF4789.jpg

The ‘natural history’ of the Witch had to be worked out in detail. She would turn out to be other than what she at first appears.

DSC07989.jpg

Fitting the work between other projects, I delivered the dummy-copy, illustrated with detailed though not yet final renderings of the images, into Simon’s hands at Jonny Hannah’s 2015 exhibition opening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Thereafter the work of final rendering began in earnest, and was completed this month. After scanning, colour will be added as ‘separations’. The book is due to be launched this Autumn. Watch the Artlog and the Saint Jude’s Homepage for details.

DSC07768.jpg

 

 

 

The Root that Grew Into a Tree

dscf4363.jpg

I found this dried root of hogweed on a hilltop walk with friends. It’s been in my studio for quite a while now, and has given birth to many images. Upended on its stalk the root becomes a tree. I’ve written about using it as a model in a post made last year, but since then there have been even more manifestations of it.

DSC05967

I made a toy theatre out of building blocks, and stood the root on the stage to make an image I titled Day of the Triffids in honour of John Wyndham’s novel about an invasion of killer alien plant-life.

I’ve drawn it extensively for my picture-book of Hansel & Gretel, due out this summer. Here it is in a detail from a preparatory image of a witchy forest drenched in moonlight.

DSC05538.jpg

My friend, artist Phil Cooper, has made a model of it in preparation for a film we plan as a book-trailer.

11855364_926017380799318_1397257066_n

Versions of the root-as-tree made by artist Johann Rohl when he worked in my studio for a month last summer.

DSCF4692.jpg

And in the background here, another by Johann with a horse by me hiding behind it, plus a couple of trees and a maquette that I made.

DSC06751.jpg

In this detail of an endpaper for Hansel & Gretel, a leafy version appears bottom left.

DSC06241.jpg

Festooned with icicles in my study for the print Christmas at Camelot.

DSC05998.jpg

Yesterday my friend Philippa spent a day with me in the studio, and she produced this delicately beautiful version of the root, made in coloured pencils and sgrafitto.

DSC07349.jpg

Johann made the three images on the left, and I made the tree.

DSCF4691.jpg

Four artists all working from one, small, dried root.

A Dream Come True

Above: Set of Green’s wings from my collection of toy theatre ephemera

When I was a child, I was given a stack of yellowing toy theatre sheets by a friend of my parents, the actor and playwright Bill Meilen. They were mostly scenery, consisting of backdrops, wings and ground-rows. I had no toy theatre stage, and so I made one. (Probably out of a used cereal pack!) Bill encouraged me to cut the sheets, to colour them and use them, and to my everlasting regret as an adult, I did. I wish I wish I wish that I had not, and had stored them away somewhere safe. Instead, I cut and played with them, and there must have been some pretty potent magic in the fragile sheets, because here I am, over fifty years later, still in thrall to the wonders of the toy theatre.

Toy theatre in my studio, made from wooden building-blocks

The gift of Juvenile Drama scenery sheets from Bill, cut and pasted and gracing a toy stage of my own making, vanished, together with the other toys of my childhood, when my parents moved house. They left the rented Edwardian terraced property I’d grown up in, and moved to a small, modern flat. I was away at school in London at the time, and my bedroom in the old house, airy and packed with so many things I treasured, was ‘downsized’ to fit into the box-room that would thereafter be my bedroom in the family home. The theatre and its scenery vanished, alongside much else that I would have wished to keep. They were good parents in so many ways, but they weren’t sentimental about such things.

Yesterday, I made an agreement with Pollock’s Toy Theatre shop in London, to design the next title in their series of model theatres by contemporary artists. I’ll produce Hansel & Gretel to join the two ahead of me, The Snow Queen and the recent Beauty and the Beast. In 2016, not only will I be producing my first picture-book, thanks to Simon Lewin and his Random Spectacular imprint, but I’ll also be producing a model theatre for the shop bearing the name of the man who has been a beacon of creativity for me throughout my life, Benjamin Pollock. More here about this exiting project before too long.

a toy theatre made from wooden building blocks

For The Curious One’s forthcoming website, Johann and I made an image of a toy theatre.

The starting point had been a model assembled from my collection of wooden building blocks.

First I made a drawing of it

but the website needed a stage that could be augmented with scenes and animation, and so we simplified the idea and made an image out of separate components collaged together.

Today I made another toy theatre from building blocks, and added scenery. Here I present…

Day of the Triffids

with a second act performance of The Kraken Wakes!

I feel some paintings coming on!