What I’m not

I’m often asked what kind of art I make. I know my face clouds over when the question comes, because the answer isn’t simple. Easier, perhaps, to say what I’m not.

I’m not a landscape or a still-life artist …


… though earlier in my career I painted both.

I’m not a portrait painter and never have been, though everyone tells me they recognise Peter in my drawing and paintings.


I’m not an abstract painter, though I love abstraction.

CHJ 3 (3).jpg

My painting doesn’t aspire to realism, but rather to inner truth.

I’m not an illustrator though I make covers for novels and poetry.

Recently I’ve made my first picture book, though it’s not a children’s picture book.


I’m not a print-maker, though I’m currently making a fourteen print series of screenprints with Dan Bugg of Penfold Press on the theme of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Based on the translation by Simon Armitage.)

Penfold C cmyk-2While I’m an atheist, my work often explores biblical and faith based themes.


I’m not an animator, though I made the animations for the 2013 stage production of The Mare’s Tale (composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies)…


… I was commissioned to make an animated film to accompany a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at the 2013 Hay Festival…


…. and last year in collaboration with artist/model-maker Phil Cooper, film-maker Pete Telfer and composer Kate Romano, I created an animation as the online trailer for my picture book Hansel & Gretel. (Published by Random Spectacular.)

Unknown – Version 2

Sometimes it’s not possible to make a simple answer.




Realising the Green Knight: Clive and Dan on messaging at Facebook

09/02/2016 12:32
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
I think I may have gone a bit mad with the cutting and taping. Does this look OK/do-able to you?


Daniel Bugg
It looks great and should work fine. How many colours do you plan in total?

Ummm, that depends on what you think. The main gold/green looks to me as though it might be done either in two passes with a light blue and a yellow, or one mixed colour.
So, the colours would be:
1) a mixed gold green or a light blue (to be printed under the yellow to get gold green)
2) a mid green ‘shader’
3) red
4) yellow to put over/under the red for brightness, and perhaps to use as a mix for the main green
5) grey or silver for the tattoo
6) black
7) strong blue for background.


Does that sound about right?

That sounds about right. I think that should give us what we need and there is always the chance to add more. I was asking for mundane reasons really, I’m preparing screens today, working out my printing schedule for the next month or so. I’m allocating screens to different jobs.

OK. I’ll bang on.


09/02/2016 16:48
Thought you’d enjoy these pics of the separations. I took them by a really low light just before finishing work today, mainly to get something on screen to check how the clarity of composition was holding together. (I find that it can be easier to judge an image on screen at the end of a long day. It seems to condense everything and give a better overview.) Anyway, they turned out rather beautifully. Not particularly sharp, but the colour is intriguing, together with the soft graininess of the image.

The soft colouring looks beautiful. Like most things the interesting developments often come from unexpected sources. That’s why I enjoy printmaking so much. The chance discovery. It almost reads as a completely different image.

An illusion really, coloured by light rather than by pigment. But it brings you up sharp when something suddenly starts speaking an unexpected language. Feeling excited about it right now.

True. I’m just sneaking a quick bit of reading in whilst the screens dry. I’m reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro in which Sir Gawain makes another appearance. I was bought it for Christmas without knowing the story. It’s funny but Gawain seems to be following me.

WOW! I’m reading it too! It was my Christmas present from Peter. Synchronicity!

That’s funny. I guess those near and dear to us are keeping Gawain with us.

Slightly spooky!

A little like the book. Like most of his work it feels very cinematic. I almost see it as an enlarged film script.

Our next project!
Ha ha!

Moving through the literary world like the two cultured gents we are.

I’m off for hot whiskey and lemon juice. Have a good evening. Love to all.


Moving Toward a Print

Above: detail of a coloured-pencil study for Christmas at Camelot

The past couple of weeks have been spent preparing studies and then colour separations for the first in my Gawain and the Green Knight series with Daniel Bugg of The Penfold Press. Titled Christmas at Camelot, it’s been a tough one, not least because it’s such a complicated composition, showing King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and Gawain, each on horseback in a wintry landscape.

The carefully worked, coloured-pencil study, although different in many details from the way the final print will look, nevertheless has been a crucial aid in making the separations. It shows how the four colours of the print should work together. For instance, if you closely examine the mail on Gawian’s head, arms and leg in the image above, you’ll see that green, red and black are used in the mark-making, each colour of which requires a separate transparency. Without a colour guide to help me, the job of making the separations would be even more confusing than it was.

The separations are made on sheets of transparent polymer called True Grain. Later, the finished print will be in cherry red, emerald green, a warm grey and black. Because True Grain has a rough texture, when worked on with lithography crayons the resulting marks have a pleasingly grainy character.

Below are some details of the coloured study, the simple pencil-line guide-drawing, and the finished separations. The five separations, plus the simple pencil-line guide-drawing for them, will now be delivered to Daniel at his studio in Selby, where they’ll be used to make the ‘screens’ ready for printing. It’s a relief to get to this stage. This one has been keeping me awake at night!

Details of a coloured pencil study on card.

Detail of a pencil drawing placed under the layers of True Grain to guide the rendering of the image.

Details of artwork made in lithography crayon, ink and paint on True Grain.


To take the photographs above, I held the five layers of drawing on transparent film, against a light. The image isn’t rendered in the colours it’ll be printed in, a peculiarity of the process that I find takes a lot of getting used to. In your head you have to constantly transpose what you’re drawing, into the colours you envisage in the printing process. I tell you, it’s a mind-fuck!

Christmas in Camelot is due to be published soon. Look out for it at

The Penfold Press

A Gawain and the Green Knight workbook


Work-books are mostly for play. Of course serious stuff gets done in them, too, but all under the general banner of play. So in this little Moleskin book, I’ll make image after image, most of which won’t have any function other than to serve as warm-ups to the main feature, which will be worked out elsewhere in much larger sketch-books.

Green Knight

So far I’ve only made tiny portraits, though details of costume and armour will also be worked through in the pages, including deciding on whether I’m going for a fourteenth century ‘Age of Chivalry’ look, with Le Morte d’Arthur knights in shining armour and plumed helmets, or take the more austere approach of an earlier age. (Possibly even with a nod to Byzantium.)

Anyway, here’s my starting point.

Green Knight

Green Knight

Variations. Here Gawain wears a coif-de-mailles under a bascinet with a simple, shield-shaped face-guard that lifts up on a hinge.


Soon I’ll be building complex maquettes: Gawain on his steed Gringolet, and a Green Knight with a removable head for the decapitation scene! There is also going to be a model of Camelot. It’s all go!

Gawain at Penfold

Centre: Dan Bugg of Penfold Press at the opening of Dark Movements on June 10th.

I’m pleased to announce that I’m about to embark on a long-term project to produce a series of editioned prints on the theme of Gawain and the Green Knight, a narrative that I’ve been exploring ever since I first read the Simon Armitage translation of the poem published in 2007.

Below: Gawain and the Green Knight, explored at my easel over the past seven years.

Dan recently spent time at Ty Isaf attending the opening of my exhibition, Dark Movements at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Around that event we walked my dog Jack along the banks of the River Ystwyth, and thumbed-through Gawain-themed sketches in my attic studio while discussing the way forward for the series, which we envisage as telling the story from start to finish in pictures. Although I’ve occasionally made lino-prints, screen-printing will be new territory for me. But with Dan to guide me through the processes, it looks fair-set for some creative play at the Penfold Press.

Gawain and the Green Knight sketches have long been tacked to my studio walls.

My thanks to Dan for his enthusiastic embracing of these projects, and to to my friend Sarah Parvin of The Curious One for initiating them.

on the studio walls: part 1

My studio walls are densely papered with sketches that I’ve blu-tacked onto them over the years. Scraps flutter and seethe when the windows are open and the wind blows through. Projects once current lie under the many that came later, so the walls have become layered repositories of the raw materials used to produce myriad paintings, exhibitions and illustrations.

I rarely take anything down, but just add more over the top. Today I took a turn around the space with my camera, and snapped away. I found plenty that took me by surprise, dislodging memories of finished works long vanished out into the world. Nearly all of the drawings are small, no more than a few inches square, and each one was stuck to the wall at a time when it was needed as fuel for endeavour at the easel or work-table. Here are the young warriors and green knights, the bruised boys and their beasts, the enigmatic angels and the anchorites, the sideways-slipping still-lifes, the simplified landscapes and the cut-outs I sometimes make to try out new shapes or notions in compositions before committing to changes made with paint. They were never intended to be seen by anyone but me. They are my laboratory.

Gawain and the Green Knight

Study for the cover of Marly Youmans’ novel Val/Orson


Hervé and the wolf

My father

Peter Shaffer’s Equus

Marly Youmans’ Thaliad

Cut-out shapes


Landscape and building

Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepherd

L’histoire du soldat

The beautiful boys


Part 2 follows soon

Stockhausen, La Cuina and the Winter Knight

I was having supper with Peter at the kitchen table while watching a TV programme about twentieth century composers. But I was only minimally concentrating on the jobs in hand, because my mind was up in the studio, replaying the moment I’d painted a tattoo onto the neck of the Winter Knight, and I was fretting over what a catastrophic failure it had proved to be, wrecking everything achieved so far.

The tattoo had been there in some of the preparatory drawings, a few swift coils, spirals and arabesques indicating intention.

But in paint it had unspooled from beneath the neckline of his garment, a robust and attention-grabbing scarlet tangle, coils vicious with thorns. Standing back to survey my work, I’d been so appalled at the terrible failure of the tattoo, of the very idea of it, that I launched straight in with a damp rag, scrubbing the still-wet brushwork into a red mess, as though the painted thorns were tearing at the skin they clung to. When all that was left was a faint, bloody stain on the abraded yellow/green paint and the white gesso beneath it, I went down to make supper, shaken by my error of judgement. There was the distinct possibility that this painting was going to fail at the final hurdle.

Karlheinz Stockhausen

On the TV, the documentary was examining Stockhausen, his music on the soundtrack, the camera panning across the alien landscapes of his manuscripts. Something in the geometry of the sound caught my attention, and in the manuscript too, where ellipses and dots sprang from the pages. Something familiar there, something pleasing, nudging memory. A solution, perhaps, to my dilemma.

I headed back to my easel. In the underdrawing made before I covered it with paint (I take care to photograph all the stages) the bramble coils had been indicated as disconnected arabesques.


It wasn’t that I’d intended them to be disconnected, but the pencilled curves were shorthand for what I’d later render more completely in paint. However once the bramble had been added, my eye became unprofitably lost in its byways, and then trapped. The compositional balance of the entire painting was broken. And though I’d subsequently removed it, scrubbing the damned thing down to a shadow, the memory of it was rankling. The artists haunted by the ghost of a painted tattoo. Maybe that could be a title for a new painting.

On the TV, Stockhausen’s music and manuscript soothed. They untangled the knots of my unease, made me remember what I’d been distracted from, and offered me the shapes that would make the idea work. Good old Schoenberg!

With the new, simplified tattoo in place, the eye could simply rest on the Winter Knight’s neck, and not become entangled in the coils and thorns of that misconceived and overwrought bramble. The ellipses would reflect energy back out into all corners of the composition, and everything would be as it should. I imagined them as the deflectors on a pinball machine, sending the steel balls ricocheting in all directions.

This morning I came to the computer and found an e-mail from Philippa Robbins. Last night, she reported, she and Dave had eaten out at La Cuina, the Catalan restaurant in Cardiff owned and run by our friend Montserrat Prat. When the restaurant opened, I designed the logo for it.


Philippa e-mailed:

‘the winter knight. 
While we were eating at la Cuina I noticed this and thought of the winter knight’s neck’


And then looked at images of la Cuina’s logo and saw this and thought of his ear.’

My chum Berni left an Artlog comment, seeing in the ellipse motif another apt visual reference: knots in the grain of wood.

‘My first thoughts, feelings (as a cabinet maker’s daughter) are of the woodiness of him. He is the tree and the tree in him, knots, grain and bark. Wonderful.
Hugs. B xxx’

Philippa finished off her e-mail with this:

‘the chocolate ganache desert was superb! So rich I couldn’t finish it but the combination of chocolate, crisp toast with olive oil and salt was gorgeous! 


I think I need a trip to Cardiff and La Cuina!

winter knight

Winter Knight

Acrylic on gessoed panel. 90 x 90 cm. 2014

I finished the painting this morning, redefining the shapes of the parterres flanking the head, and working in the fur of the thrown-back hood.

Once the underdrawing was in place I worked fast and dirty, for the most part using old and ruined bristle-brushes to scrub the paints into the surface of the gesso. (I never throw away a brush. No matter how wrecked, it will always yield a unique mark.) I wiped back occasionally, and sanded and scratched with an etching tool. Applying the paint itself was consistently swift, dipping brushes into the paint-tubs and mixing colours directly on the panel. I worked with brushes, rag, a scribing-needle and a scrap of sandpaper in my hands, juggling tools from one to the other to keep the process speeding along. (Yes, it was just as eccentric as I describe, my fists bristling with assorted tools, and spare brushes stuck behind my ears or between my teeth!)

I used not to paint this way when I aspired to surfaces that were Renaissance-like in their finish, my days at the easel measured and calm as I painstakingly worked my way across ‘flowery meads’. Now everything is roughness and energy. There are vestiges of the old obsessions, such as in the leaf-diapering of the holly trees, though the effect now is much less dense than it was back when I painted the magnificent, buttressed holly from our garden, into the landscape behind Green George.

These days I’m throwing myself at the gessoed panel like a storm at a window-pane, and I love it.

Telling Tales: new narrative paintings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Oriel Tegfryn/Tegfryn Gallery

Menai Bridge, Anglesey

Opening May 10th 2014

See all the stages of this painting from first sketches to finish work, HERE

Below: details

in reverse order so far: Winter Knight

Day Four

Day Three

Day Two

Day One

I’ve started a new Pinterest board. Titled ‘In Progress’, on it I’ll be posting all the stages of selected paintings, from first sketches to completed work. I’ve regularly done this on the Artlog, but over a period of time, and therefore in many different posts. The beauty of the Pinterest page design, is that it’s much easier to get an overview of the process without too much scrolling down, and without the interruptions of other posts. The first painting on the new page is Winter Knight. Tomorrow will be day four at the easel, and I’ll add new images of any progress by close of business at about 4pm. Click on this link to see the page.