From Stage to Page

 

 

 

This short film was made as the Introduction to the Design for Today book launch of Simon Armitage’s Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes at the splendid Artworkers’ Guild in Bloomsbury on the evening of May 22nd, 2019. The film illustrates the journey of the project from stage production to published edition of the poem that was its libretto.

PastedGraphic-2 (15).jpg

Live music for the launch event was provided by the splendid Alex Barrow on the accordion. There was a pop-up exhibition assembled by Joe and me of the mid-century Russian illustrated books, tinplate clockwork birds, model theatres and folk-art-inspired toys that had influenced the illustrations and design of the book. The highlight of the evening was Simon Armitage’s reading of his entire poem, proving yet again that he’s a mesmerising presence when presenting his work. It was a ticketed event that quickly sold out, and was a resounding success.

IMG_7684.jpg

Above: the Russian clockwork ‘singing’ bird from the stage production, meets her illustrated counterpart in the finished book.

Below: the transition from stage to page.

IMG_4814

PastedGraphic-2 (16).jpg

 Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes by Simon Armitage is published by Design for Today, and copies may be purchased

HERE

 

Clive1 (3).jpg

Acknowledgements

My regular collaborator, Pete Telfer, worked with me on all the film and animation footage seen in last year’s stage production of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes. The clips in the short film to promote the book are courtesy of his Culture Colony archive, and he was cameraman on the new animation that makes up the last third of the film.

IMG_4882.jpg

I couldn’t have made the stage production of Hansel & Gretel without Pete. He’s the facilitator who gives me the freedom to experiment with film and animation, while keeping a gentle eye on things to stop me from making a complete and utter hash of the job.

IMG_7546

My thanks to Simon Armitage, who wrote the words that became the libretto to the stage production. Thereafter he suggested we make a dedicated illustrated edition of the poem, and then gave me the freedom to figure out the best way to do it.

Clive3 (1).jpg

Working closely with Simon, first at Faber and then at Design for Today, on two texts so close to my heart, has been the most wonderful experience. I wish I could find better words to express what it’s meant to me, but I hope he knows.

Joe Pearson at Design for Today unhesitatingly agreed to work with Simon and me. His deep knowledge of twentieth century book design and his enthusiasm and passion for the project, saw it through the many stages to the perfect conclusion. He was unstoppable, even in the face of the 2018 New Year’s Eve fire that consumed the Design for Today warehouse and destroyed his entire stock of books. The man is a giant!

My thanks to Laurence Beck, our brilliant designer. Between Joe and Laurence, nothing was overlooked. I have never seen any book go through so many stages to bring it to perfection. No tweak or adjustment I requested was too much trouble. They were inspiring. Meticulous. Tireless.

PastedGraphic-14 (3).jpg

Print-maker and toy theatre seller, Benjamin Pollock has been an inspiration throughout my life, and my work over the past few years with Louise Heard at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop underlies much of what appeared in both the stage production and the book. My thanks to Louise and her team for their unflagging enthusiasm and support for what I make. Louise kindly gave permission for an image of the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre I’d designed for Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, to be used in the stage production, and further permission to adapt the Pollock’s H & G Toy Theatre for the ‘Intermission’ page in the book.

52348504_10157080294578436_4550672834006876160_n

Before Hansel & Gretel Dan Bugg and I had a three year collaboration making the fourteen-print Penfold Press Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series that was used in the 2018 Faber & Faber illustrated edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of the poem. It was a given we wanted to work together again in some way on  Hansel & Gretel, so Joe Pearson commissioned Dan to produce the two ‘Lebkuchen’ prints that accompany the ‘special edition’ of the book. Dan and I also produced the Penfold Press ‘Gingerbread House’ enamel-pin that celebrates the book’s publication.

Penfold Press Horse (1).jpg

60553503_353745148827292_2780006054367330304_n (1).jpg

Special thanks to my trusty band of collaborators on last year’s stage production. Puppet-maker Jan Zalud far exceeded my hopes for what Hansel and Gretel might be, and Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths gave the children the tenderest backstories encoded into her beautifully detailed costumes for them.

2018_CF_Music_PAC_Hansel_Gretel-244K2A8036 (1).jpg

Peter Lloyd created magnificently detailed shadow-puppets that were a joy to animate.

ORG__DSC7027 (1)

 

IMG_4380

Phil Cooper was associate designer and my second-in-command in terms of the way the production looked.

IMG_4808.jpg

I completely trust his eyes and his artistry. He danced effortlessly between his many tasks, creating the ‘building-block’ models seen onstage, painting the filmed backdrops (see above), and designing and ‘baking’ the mad, wonky, witchy ‘Lebkuchen’ biscuits that we later animated in a ‘tribute’ to Hollywood choreographer, Busby Berkeley!

IMG_4304.jpg

It was Phil’s bone-white ‘Witch House’, with its incinerator-like chimney, that visually defined the ‘toy building-blocks’ aesthetic I wanted for the stage production, and thereafter his Lebkuchen ‘Gingerbread’ version that I carried forward into my illustrations for the book.

Below: production designer Phil Cooper, puppet costume supervisor Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths, and lead puppeteer for the audition day, Diane Ford.

IMG_2443 (2).jpg

 

Image-1 (2)

IMG_5546 (1).jpg

As if all that weren’t enough, Phil also assisted me with the animation sequences.

I am indebted to artist/embroideress Chloe Redfern, who later took Phil’s ‘Lebkuchen’ House, and re-booted it into something beautiful and transformative for the conclusion of the book.

IMG_6075 (1).jpg

Above, Chloe’s embroidered Lebkuchen Witch House, and below, my translation of it to an illustration.

PastedGraphic-1 (21)

I’m particularly indebted to Jonathan Street of the Moth Factory, Bristol, who kept me grounded and focussed during an insanely difficult three-day marathon of film editing. His thoughtful work on Pete Telfer’s gloriously atmospheric ‘Psycho Witch Doll’s House’ footage, was a triumph. Jon was vision-mixer for the tour, and was cameraman of the live footage streamed to a projection screen above the performers.

IMG_4881 (2).jpg

My warmest thanks to puppeteers Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. They were not only massively contributive creative geniuses on the production, following me fearlessly into sometimes choppy waters, but they are also damned fine people to be around. The three of us work hard but laugh a lot! In the photographs below you see them at the Cheltenham Music Festival for the May 2018 premiere of Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes, and then at the May 2019 London launch of the Design for Today illustrated edition of the book. They topped and tailed the stage-production-to-book journey, and I couldn’t have had better company on the adventure

Group4 (1).jpg

 

60782307_2590870120924423_4028440819819085824_n.jpg

Jan, Oonagh, Peter, Phil, Jonathan, Diana, Lizzie and later Chloe, whether they knew it or not, helped light the path for me from stage production to book. Their visual creativity was always present while I worked alone in my studio conjuring images out of Simon’s words. I’m the book’s named illustrator, but their influences are scattered like fireflies throughout its pages.

My love and gratitude in equal measure to my manager in all theatre matters, Susan James. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, and I count myself fortunate to have had her wisdom and patience to guide and steady me. Hers are the eyes in the back of my head. She’s fearless, riding shotgun and being wing-man, seeing the bigger picture and the smallest details, talking me down whenever the frustrations of getting a production to the finishing-line catapult me into stratospheres of frustration. I doff my cap and bend my knee to her. She is ‘The Guv’nor’!

And finally, my love and thanks to Peter Wakelin, for his unstinting support throughout the long and occasionally rocky Hansel & Gretel journey, and to my friends James and Sarah Joseph. (They know why.)

 

IMG_6572 (1).jpg

Attack of the Cyclops

 

My friend Jac Hicks has sent me a beautiful, miniature set of French building-blocks that I’ve erected on the bookcase in the upstairs sitting-room. (I’ve been working at the table in there over the summer months on my various illustration projects, as it’s a corner room with a dual aspect and lots of light.) The blocks are keeping company with the Mexican nativity set from Marly Youmans that’s much too handsome to come out only at Christmas, and a rather dog-eared, over-twenty-five-year-old pop-up Christmas card I made of a Punch & Judy booth. The wooden christmas tree was another unexpected gift, one of four toy trees sent to me by Chloe Redfern.

Opposite the building-block archway is the model of the stage-set I designed for last year’s The Mare’s Tale chamber-work, now populated with a very early group of painted lead figures of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a christmas gift of many years ago from Peter, who wrapped the figures separately and stuffed them alongside satsumas and foil-covered chocolate coins down the toe of one of his knitted walking-socks! Note that Grumpy has gone off to survey the new building!

 

Our house is full of such tableaux. I suspect they rearrange themselves after dark!

The Puppet Challenge Part 10: Phil, Stephanie, Anna, Charlotte and Janet

Phil Cooper, Stephanie Redfern, Chloe Redfern, Anna Clucas, Charlotte Hill and Janet Kershaw: the paper puppets

Late in the day I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the paper puppets. These are not puppets modelled in papier mache, but those that can best be described as 2D. There was another maker whose work I showed in an earlier post who fell neatly into this category, though at the time I wrote about him I hadn’t taken delivery of all the work due in, and so hadn’t realised I might make a specific post about 2D puppets.

Phil Cooper: The Animal Groom

To begin with Phil had intended to make a puppet based on the rather creepy folkloric tale of The Werewolf of Dogdyke, for which this was the concept artwork, atmospherically conjured as a collage:

Later he ditched the idea… which I think he should look at again when the time is right… and made a fresh start on the fairy tale tradition of the ‘Animal Groom’ personified in the character of the ‘Beast’ in La Belle et la Bete. But after having made a really striking maquette, he ditched that too, and went on to a third puppet, a ‘Woodwose’, made in the same way, though operated with rods.

Of the two completed ‘puppets, I think his ‘Animal Groom’, inspired by Angela Carter’s anthology The Bloody Chamber, is by far the strongest piece, and so I hope he’ll forgive me for changing his Puppet Challenge offering to the one I most wanted to write about.

Phil’s technique of painting sheets of paper in a great diversity of marks, and then cutting them up to make the components of collage, have served him well in this figure, elegant in frock-coat and yet animal in its crouched trajectory. You have to look quite hard to find the creature’s face, which I think works to the puppet’s advantage. There is an unreadable, mask-like quality to the beast that I like a lot. It suggests the fraught task of ever being able to reliably ‘read’ a wild animal. (or read a mask, for that matter.)

There is no discernible tenderness or connection in the face, which adds a layer of terror into the mix. Carter included two quite different versions of La Belle et la Bete in The Bloody Chamber: The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride. I know that Phil was greatly drawn to these stories, and I wonder whether, as with the Dogdyke Werewolf, he’d intended to use his animal groom maquette as a puppet to be operated on a horizontal screen for the purposes of filming. In the event we have only these posed photographs. Given that Phil’s leonine beast has not yet been animated either in real-time or stop-motion, it is in effect a maquette rather than a puppet. But I do hope that at some point he will take it down and dust it off, and think again whether he might work further with it, or even use it as the basic design for a marionette, rod or table-top puppet.

Stephanie Redfern: spirit puppets

Stephanie, a print-maker and textile artist, made my job easy by providing an eloquent and funny description of how her ‘paper puppets’ came about. She writes:

“The puppets are basically my inventions. When I was searching the internet for inspiration I came across some mummers wearing animal masks, which interested me, as I rarely work with the human form, preferring animals, but here was a way to combine both the human and animal worlds. The puppets moved from being dressed up humans to become entities unrelated to us, in the vein of spirits or daemons.

Using elements from my collage scraps box, I assembled the puppets quite quickly; they seem to have been waiting in the box, ready to emerge, given a helping hand with scissors, glue and brads.”

The Spirit of the Air (above) is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, old coins, jewellery and a fish embroidery made by a friend many years ago. Her head is a print from one of my pieces of textile work, as is one of her feet and her bullfinches. Her other foot is a photograph of a tiny bird skull in my collection.

Whilst not being the most beautiful of the spirits, she is not all bad; in fact like life she is completely contradictory, and is the Spirit of the Uncertain. She is also the Keeper of Lists, and the Observer of the Balance Sheet, dealing with payments with money, and otherwise.

She is also critical and judgmental, but on the plus side tries to protect eggs, nests, feathery beasts, pterosaurs, and is also a very good listener, dealing particularly well with fragility and loss.”

The Spirit of the Moon (above) is in control, or at least does her best to be, of balance, honesty, timeliness, good order and personal hygiene. She is the Spirit of Instinctive Survival and despairs at the poor decisions we so often make as humans.

She protects all furry things, including us and bats, and has her attendant moths with her at all times, keeping their antennae abroad to inform her of any catastrophic events. We may think she is poor at her job but then we know so little of what terrors are avoided.

She is also the Spirit of Travel, with or without your satnav, and as you can see, of Secrets. She has no keys, however, so nothing will ever be revealed.”

She is made from a laminated map, laminated and printed images of my own work, and some embroidered moths from a previous piece of work printed onto acetate, with other mixed media additions.”

The Spirit of the Waters isn’t a good listener at all, but that is because she has to deal with extremes: the shallows and the depths, detritus and debris, beauty and its destruction, let alone plate tectonics and the flowing of real and imagined currents. Her work is not always easy for humanity to recognize, as there is a certain aloofness to her, possibly due to having a fish head, so all her tasks are not yet documented. But she is the Spirit of Blame, and takes it willingly upon her sloping shoulders.

She is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, pebbles and other mixed media.”

I need add nothing more to these descriptions, which conjure an entirely plausible spirit universe. Needless to say, I love the puppets!

Chloe Redfern: King Arthur and Llamrei

Chloe Redfern works through the medium of paint and stitching, and over the years I’ve purchased from her Etsy shop an array of beautifully made painted and stitch-embelished Christmas tree hangings: birds, horses, rabbits, hares and camels! Christmas is not Christmas in our house without a cache of tissue-wrapped treats acquired from Chloe. (In the tradition of such things, I try to get a few new decorations for the tree every year, to make up for the turn-over of dropped and shattered glass baubles!) Work commitments meant that she had to keep her puppet simple, and her delightful King Arthur is a variation on the old tradition of the card ‘Jumping-Jacks’ that were once to be found in every well-mannered Victorian nursery.

Llamrei at the gallop

After she produced the puppet, Chloe went on to use an image of King Arthur’s steed on this delightful painted and embroidered hanging-quilt. He’s such a pretty creature that it’s good to see him in more detail here, as I fear the images I had to work with of the Jumping-Jack were quite small. Re the quilt, I’m afraid I don’t know where King Arthur has gone. I hope he hasn’t fallen off!

Anna Clucas: Manannan mac Lir

Manannan mac Lir

I have just the one image Anna Clucas has sent to me as her response to the Puppet Challenge (see above) plus a link to the film that she produced. She writes:

“Manannan mac LIr has been portrayed by a lot of Manx folk as a big brooding guy with a beard and wearing a cloak. I wanted to portray him as an entity that has no physical attributes, but as a God with an overwhelming power to exist in an unknown form. A bit improvised and abstract. Just to be different.”

Anna’s film isn’t really about puppetry or puppets, but might more rightfully be placed in the the realms of animation/performance art. Today in the arts all the descriptives and boundaries of the past have become infinitely fluid, and that’s a trend I largely approve of.

You can see what Anna has made, HERE. I warn you that the music she’s chosen can be startlingly loud if your volume setting is a tad high!

Charlotte Hill: Flower Face

Charlotte Hill was working on articulated paper puppets for a planned animation of the story of Blodeuwedd, the maid conjured by magicians from flowers in the Welsh cycle of tales The Mabinogion. That project was set aside for technical reasons, and Charlotte thereafter made a beautiful marionette that will be seen here shortly. But I loved her delicately constructed maquette of the owl that Blodeuwedd is transformed into as a punishment at the end of the story, and have briefly included it here as a ‘paper puppet’.

Janet Kershaw: Puppet on a Stick

Janet Kershaw’s figures are as about as simple as a puppet can be. They have no moving parts, and are pretty much limited to being jiggled on their sticks. But I know her work of old, and her approach to her art is unfailingly thoughtful. So one should look at them closely because she is meticulous in her draughtsmanship and these are none the less interesting for being miniaturist. The first puppet made by a child might well be a paper thing on a stick, steeped in personal iconography and meaning more to the maker than it ever would to an onlooker. I once taught Janet in a weekend course on maquette-making. I know the complex worlds out of which she conjures her art, and I can sense them underlying this fragile cast of characters. Not to get too fanciful, but in a simple, cut-out sort-of-a-way, these remind me of the glove puppets of the great Paul Klee.

Alphabet Soup: Whole alphabets – Liz King-Sangster, Chloë Redfern and Natalie d’Arbeloff.

Some people, rather than restricting themselves to individual letters, produced whole alphabets.  Among these, Liz King-Sangster has made this remarkable alphabet of animal forms, each creature forming its own initial letter:

abcdef-blu500 ghijkl-blu500 mnopqr-bl500 stuvwx-blu500 yz-blu500

As it says on her website:

Liz lives in South West France, and mainly works in oils and watercolour. She paints various subjects : interiors, landscapes, still life and portraits, and also paints frescoes, murals and trompe l’oeil to commission.

and she is clearly very busy doing so, as well as running a bed-and-breakfast and a holiday appartment, which looks heavenly.  Quite late in the day, Liz feared that she wouldn’t after all have time to participate, but then came up with her alphabet, from ideas to execution, in a very short time indeed. ‘Once I started,’ she wrote ‘ of course, I got hooked…’

I’m very glad she did.

~

Chloë Redfern also feared she wouldn’t have time to produce an alphabet, then did the lot.  Chloë, who often, though not exclusively, works in painted and stitched textiles, blogs at Slightly Triangle, from where you can go to her on-line shop to see her decorations and small works available there.  The months leading up to Christmas are very busy for her, but then she started playing with an idea she had earlier in the year, when she cut some paper letters out and was then taken with the matrix from which they were cut.  She said:

I cut the alphabet out and had planned to collage it on top of something but decided it was more interesting to keep it as it was so that it could be placed over various things then photographed. This also creates shadows and depth and lots of possibility for exploration.

realphabets

Then, like many, Chloë was unable to resist playing about with the photos and going wild with colour.  Not to worry.

Alphabet Soup

~

Natalie d’Arbeloff had already produced one whole alphabet by the time the call to submissions went out.  In full colour, it looked like this:

nataliesalphabet-colour.pdf - Adobe Reader

To fulfil the monochrome+1  brief, with admirable restraint, she retained just one vivid flash of colour:

natalies-alphabet-black.pdf - Adobe Reader

We will also be featuring a video piece by Natalie based on this alphabet later in the exhibition.

She went on to produce a charming and humorous downward-scrolling alphabet story.

digitalphabet-natalie

(Natalie very carefull rendered this in black and white with just the yellow flower too, but it works better in its original, which is very restrained in colour anyway!)

~

the artlog exhibition of maquettes: part two

Welcome to the first exhibition at the Artlog. It evolved out of the interest of regular visitors in my practice of making articulated paper maquettes for use as compositional aids.  A few of them felt encouraged to produce maquettes of their own, and thereafter everything just blossomed.

 MAQUETTEEERS

Jodi le Bigre: metamorphosis

Leonard Greco: raising the dead

Chloe Refern: all the pretty little horses

Sally Wakelin: unfolding forms

Jodi le Bigre: metamorphosis. I’m interested in the way Jodi le Bigre’s meticulous draftsmanship extends even to the laying out of the beautifully drawn elements of her maquette on a single sheet. It seems almost an act of  vandalism to cut up such a lovely and intriguing thing, but since it’s the artist doing so, we must accept her choice. Some might be inclined to make a scan of the original intact sheet and cut up the copy, but Jodi’s finished maquette is of course even more precious for being constructed from the original painting. The artist has had some unexpected upheavals in her life recently, and this inventive and moving maquette has emerged from what must have been a difficult time for her, both personally and creatively. She wrote to me of  the experience of making the maquette:

‘Actually, I was happy to work on this, it was a good project to concentrate on through everything. I decided to use this as an opportunity to invent something that would bring me through hard times, something from a harsh and airy place that could pierce through any difficulty. It was lovely to have the changeability that a maquette affords.’

See more of Jodi’s work at her blog, HERE.
Leonard Greco: raising the dead. Leonard’s astonishing outpouring of maquettes has been a revelation. Every day at his blog new figures appear, and as this repertory company of maquette actors has grown, he’s assembled increasingly elaborate arrangements of them as his compositional blueprints for planned paintings. Leonard’s explorations draw on the Maya resurrection myth of the Maize God and his post-dismemberment fathering of the Hero Twins on a passing princess. There’s grand guignol and snaky priapism aplenty here, and so those of a nervous disposition may wish to avert their eyes.
See more of Leonard’s work at his blog, HERE.
Chloe Redfern: all the pretty little horses. More connections here, as it was Chloe who I turned to last year for the Christmas gifts Peter and I gave to our friends Liz and Graham Sangster when we visited them for the holiday. Chloe has been making beautiful horse maquettes and charting the process on her blog at Slightly Triangle. When she’s not making paper maquettes she produces delightful painted and stitched hanging decorations that you can find HERE, though she will make horse maquettes to order if you have a mind to ask her.
At the last moment Chloe sent images of this spirited hare, and he’s just too good to miss out.
Sally Wakelin: unfolding  forms. Sally is a jewellery maker and artist. She’s also a talented website designer, producing sites for a good many artists, mine included. You can see her silverwork HERE.
Just one of the aspects I’ve always loved about Sally’s jewellery is her skill at making jointed collars and bracelets of silver in which the interplay of individual elements is invariably beautiful and ingenious. She has the engineer’s gift of being able to envisage her creations at their earliest stages in three dimensions, an inheritance perhaps from her sculptor/architect  father, Dick. Her silver works are objects that ask to be touched and explored. The clasps are always cleverly hidden, and I once tried on a Sally Wakelin bracelet only to find I couldn’t get it off again until she showed me where the connection point was.
For this exhibition Sally has produced a paper maquette for a linked collar/bracelet that is as much a piece of sculpture as an item of personal adornment. This is something that my fingers would itch to play with were it to be lying on a table in front of me.
More Maquettes in Part Three, soon.