Papercut Sexting



Two of the subjects Peter Lloyd has selected for our Exquisite Corpse papercut project, are ‘online dating’ and ‘sexting’. Now while my life at the easel is exciting and creatively exploratory on diverse subjects, in this game/project there’s the opportunity to be wayward, lively and explicit in ways that I am usually not, and it’s a lot of fun.


The worlds of online dating, chatrooms and sexting are rich pickings for the visual artist. I’ve always enjoyed the ‘big’ subjects, and here we have one of the biggest…sexual desire… fast evolving in tandem with the technologies to express it. The experiences can be enlivening and liberating.


However, alongside the fun and games, the new freedoms have also brought deception and abuse. The cyber-world opens many doors for us, and while peering through them can be stimulating and fun, there is a dark side too. But then I always like the great Hogarth’s work best when he turns his eyes from the polite salons, to the whorehouses, gambling-tables and alleyways where most of the interesting stuff goes on.


Right now Peter Lloyd and I are working out ideas and how to express them through the medium of the papercut. Our creations are separate. When we start to complete and splice them together into hybrid beasts, everything will start to look rather different.

Last year illustration graduate Johann Rohl came to Ty Isaf,  and for a month we worked collaboratively on images, commissioned by Sarah Parvin for her forthcoming ‘Curious One’ website.


While that experience was immensely rewarding and undoubtedly prepared the way for the current project, it felt quite different. With this, there’s as yet no expectation of where the papercut ideas might go, giving us the freedom to be playful and a little cocky.

The Enclosure

I knew that after collaborating with Johann Rohl on the ‘garden’ for Sarah Parvin’s forthcoming ‘The Curious One’, website, that the spirit of what we made would drive me to further explore the theme. Today I made The Enclosure in oil pastel, the first of a planned set of small garden  images. The iconography devised with Johann…red brick walled-garden, dark flower beds, trees and garden follies… are all about to find their ways into the new work.


For a month Johann Rohl and I worked together in the studio at Ty Isaf, while we created artworks at the behest of Sarah ‘The Curious One’ Parvin for her forthcoming website. It was a challenge to produce collaborative images, as we work in different ways and we have different styles. Nevertheless, in time we aligned ourselves, and the process became second nature to us. We both got a lot out of it.

The image of a walled garden was produced in oil pastels. Some elements within it are ‘changeable’ so that the scene can be altered according to Sarah’s requirements, and it can also be augmented with animation. It would be hard for anyone to know which of us did what here, so I won’t explain. Moreover the ideas in the image were developed between both of us, and so it’s not possible to untangle the joint nature of the process.

Below is a Curious One ‘Avatar’ created specially for the website. I made the maquette and Johann collaged the screen against which she stands. In the finished website it’s likely that some of the figures will be assembled from elements made by both of us.

Johann is currently constructing The Curious One website, and I shall post updates as and when they come.

a tiny tragedy

Above my attic studio at Ty Isaf, in the space between the ceiling and the roof, there is in the summer months, a colony of Pipistrelle bats. Most of them overwinter elsewhere, but in the summer the colony gather to give birth and rear the young. Sometimes a bat will find its way into the house, and then we turn the lights off and vacate whichever room it’s in, closing the door behind us to leave the creature in peace to escape through an open window. (They always find their ways out.) In the photograph above, an adult Pipistrelle that crash landed in our bath and became trapped there until morning, sits in the palm of my hand before I return it to where it will be safe. That’s a bit of cobweb wrapped around its wing.

This year the Pipistrelles have been very active, and for weeks the sound of the young, squeaking and scratching about out of sight in their nursery above the plaster, was a delight. One night they were so noisy that I was woken by the excitement, even though our bedroom is a floor down, and there are two ceilings and a couple of closed doors between us and the colony. I think they must have been warm up there, because there was the sound of the opening and fanning of leathery wings, like hundreds of tiny umbrellas.

However, where there are young, there will always be casualties. For a few days I’d noticed what I took to be a dead leaf on the roof just below our bathroom window. It seemed odd that it didn’t blow away, as the other leaves had, and eventually I investigated. Not a leaf at all, but a tiny infant bat. It must have ventured out of the roost much too soon, become chilled and disoriented, and died on its back, crucified to the roof by the cold and the rain.

I left it there for a few weeks, until it was dried out enough by the sun to prise free without damage. I put it in a tissue-lined perspex box for Johann, who had been astounded by its tiny size. Here are his photographs of it, the first with a 5p coin for scale.

Gone Boy

Johann Rohl has returned to his home in Yorkshire, and the studio has reverted to being my solitary realm. For a month we’ve been working here together, conjuring images we were commissioned to make collaboratively. There’s been a lot of hard work going on, but it’s also been loads of fun.

Detail of a collaborative painting of an enclosed garden. Both artists’ hands at work in this image.

He also made progress with some of his own work, including his projects Hercules and Pomona.

I’ve greatly enjoyed Johann’s company, and the space now feels quite empty without him. I’ll take some adjustment getting used to being here by myself again. I could have quite happily continued sharing, but he needs to re-establish himself back in Leeds, having had two month-long placements through the summer, first in Scotland and then in Wales. He’s been living out of a suitcase for rather too long.

Peter, Johann and Jack on a chill Mwnt overlooking Cardigan Bay during a weekend in Aberporth.

River stones (for frottage drawing) and pebbles collected and left on his bedroom windowsill.

Love affair!

Vacated work-table in the studio.


Gone Boy

The Witchy Tree

Peter and I went on a walk with our friend Mary-Ann Constantine and her children on the hills above their home.

Below: cotton-grass seed heads make good Hobbit ears!

During the walk I picked up a dried stalk that caught my eye, and carried it home. At Ty Isaf I put it, root end upwards in a shot-glass on the kitchen table, where it sat for over a year. Every day I looked at it. Occasionally Mary-Ann would call, and prompted by the dried stalk, we would recollect the walk.

Eventually I carried the stalk upstairs to the studio, where I planned on using it as a model for drawings of the haunted wood in Hansel & Gretel, my picture-book project with Simon Lewin for his Random Spectacular imprint at St. Jude’s.

Illustration graduate Johann Rohl arrived at Ty Isaf in August 2015, to work for a month on a project in the studio that required we make collaborative artworks. Both of us used the dried stalk as a model for drawings of trees. In this image, the drawing of a tree on the right is by me…

… and in this photograph of a maquette of the woodcutter father I made for Hansel & Gretel, the tree behind it has been drawn by Johann.

Here are trees by both of us, together with an owl made by Johann for our collaborative project.

In Berlin, my friend Phil Cooper is preparing magnificently  mood-drenched models to be used for the animated ‘book-trailer’ we plan for Hansel & Gretel, and he’s recently sent photographs of a tree he’s made based on the ‘Witchy Tree’ work he’s seen online here at the Artlog and at Facebook.

And here it is in a shot alongside Phil’s model of the Witch’s cottage

That’s a lot of work out of one dried stalk picked up on a Welsh hillside.

Johann and the Green Drawing Book

Illustration graduate Johann Rohl is spending a month living here at Ty Isaf, working in the studio on his own projects, and on a commission we’re producing collaboratively. I’m his mentor during his time here, though in reality I find there’s much to be appreciated and learned from the ways he applies himself to problems set. He draws beautifully, and on his desk is a green-bound book filled with pencil images.

Clive: Tell me about the book. It’s not just any old book off an art-supplier’s shelves, is it?

Johann: It’s a hardbound sketchbook I acquired at the end of my time at Cambridge School of Art, made collaboratively with my friend Toby Rampton. Toby is a bookbinder and a very talented illustrator who I went to uni with. His sketchbooks are beautiful objects in their own right. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to look at sketchbooks the same way since seeing his. By ‘collaboratively’ I mean I supplied the paper and linen for the cover and Toby did most of the labour. He even sliced into his middle finger, right into the nail; trimming the block of pages for me. So blood really went into the making of this book, though I’m not sure about sweat and tears. That sketchbook is a sort of testament to Toby’s craft, to teaching me it and to some of my creative breakthroughs done on location in the museums of Cambridge.

Clive: I love the green linen cover. I’ve noticed that you pay a lot of attention to the things around you, to forms and textures, and you’re appreciative of things well made. Have you always had this eye for detail and for good design? Can you account for it?

Johann: I love things well made. In a world of the disposable, there isn’t much importance placed on craftsmanship in our society. I come from a family that has a real appreciation for craftsmanship. I’ve grown up with things like pots and little crooked wooden stools, things you can’t get at Ikea. Witch balls at my aunty’s house. Stuff with character and soul. Things made with attention to detail, built to last a long time and to wear with use, but in a way that enhances and adds depth with age.

My grandparents came from nothing. They never bought things on credit and had to save money when they wanted to buy a piece of furniture or a household appliance. They moved into their first house when they were about my age. They had nothing to sit on, and so my grandma went over the road to the Co-op and asked if she could have the wooden boxes that the oranges came in. She took the boxes home and upholstered them using straw and cloth, and that was that. Furniture!  There was a make-do-and-mend attitude back then which I admire.

Form and function, colour and texture, these are all qualities that I appreciate. They give me pleasure, but they also influence my practice, and so I try to surround myself with things like that.

Clive: Where were the drawings in this sketch-book made? I recognise many of the objects as Mexican clay Dia de los Muertos figurines.

Johann: Most of the drawings were made in the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Cambridge. Most of the Dia de los Muertos stuff is in a small section of the museum that I just about exhausted in drawing terms. It’s a modest collection, but it was enough to inspire me and fuel my desire to go off and look further into folk art and learn more about it. There are also drawings of Inuit art in the green sketchbook, and Greek statues from the Museum of Classical Archaeology.

Clive: Your mark-making in this book is extremely direct. There’s no fucking about with sketchiness, no faint lines trialled on the page and then adjusted and worked over. And theres no erasing. It’s as though there’s a line of unbroken energy going direct from the object to your eye and down through your hand to the pencil and page. Beautiful. Is this the way you’ve always worked, or have you aspired to it and made it so?

Johann: Having the confidence to commit to my lines the way that I do has taken years. Years to realise just how interesting it can be to make marks in ways that are sympathetic to the thing I’m drawing. When I started Art College I was ignorant of mark-making and approached it in a limited way. I’d use a mechanical pencil fitted with HB 00.7mm graphite for all of my drawings, and I’d make pictures with no depth, no difference in tone or texture and no difference in quality of line. Limited in terms of expression.

I draw very differently now. I put myself in the mindset of exploring something for the first time, like a child. I try and role-play the experience of seeing something as it is, as it really is, without any preconceptions of what I think it should look like. When I’m drawing something that I’m interested in recreating, I bring myself closer to it by condensing the feeling or the texture into a line or mark. I guess it’s like empathy, in a way. I try to channel the ‘feeling’ of the object from my eye to my mind and out through my mark-making, so that I’m connecting with the world around me in a different way. A lot of the time I draw what I think something should look like, and it takes working through it over and over to get to something more honest and interesting. But then sometimes I don’t have to put in quite so much effort, and I nail it in one.

Clive: You work in extremely attractive and mesmerising ways. There are the observational sketchbooks, like the green linen one, but also the project work-books, in which you draw largely in miniature. They’re fascinating to look at.

You make the books and then draw in them, and that undoubtedly invests them with a kind of concentrated energy. Is the making of a book a crucial process to your preparation for what goes inside it?

Johann: I guess it’s having more control of the project, being able to decide which format is most appropriate for it. It probably isn’t a crucial process, though it does invest work-books with a kind of ‘concentrated energy’. I like to be able to show my work in a book made with my own hands.

Clive: The third process in which you produce drawings, is probably the most unique one, and moreover the one that appeals most to me because it has some of the same obsessional aspects of my own liking for drawing and cutting-out.

You make hundreds of meticulously pencil-rendered images that are details of larger ideas… fragments, if you will… and then you cut them out and store them in transparent folders. They look like extraordinary, pale jigsaw puzzles waiting to be assembled. You play with these fragments, assembling them into potential compositions, until you have the material ready to begin a final work. In this way, like my own process of making maquettes, you have a dense methodology before ever you get to a gessoed board, which is the ground you favour most for your finished works. Tell me about how you came to work this way. Did it evolve from small beginnings, or did you see something somewhere that gave you the idea?

Below: cut elements for Johann’s project, Pomona.

Johann: My ‘process’ has been quite a recent development. It started towards the end of my degree. It was a strange time where all my course mates had finished, and a lot of my housemates were moving out. Yet I still had work to do. The work I needed to resubmit didn’t have to be amazing because my marks were going to be capped at 40%, so it really didn’t matter. The pressure was off. Instead of doing a bit of extra work for it I started a new project from scratch which was The Company of Wolves, which you’ve written about previously. (See HERE and HERE.)

I gorged myself on HughesWalking the Dog and started to express myself in a way that was much more liberating, away from the eyes of my peers. I committed myself to sheets of A4 but decided that if something went wrong that I would just glue more paper over the top of the mistake and I would draw over that. I made loads of mistakes. Made loads of cut outs that I could place on to the image as an alternative. I liked the potential this offered so that if I wanted the wolf’s mouth to look more savage and slavery I could exaggerate it and then put it over the top, or if I wanted to see what the wolf’s hand was like underneath his skin I could do that on another piece of paper and overlay that if I felt like it. I never glued the pieces over the top, though. I liked being able to play with the placement of these separate pieces of paper. That was a real breakthrough and the start of a really exciting way of working. I don’t know where it came from, or what or who inspired it, but it’s become a fundamental part of the way I work now, and I love it.

Clive: The project we’re working on requires that both our hands will be evident in some of the completed artworks. This is a first for both of us and has taken some adjustment. That we appreciate each others work clearly paved the way for the project, but it’s nevertheless a leap of faith for two artists to produce images collaboratively. (Sarah Parvin, who commissioned this, was enormously supportive of the notion of you and I working so closely, so all credit to her for her encouragement.) I feel very much at ease in the studio in your company, but frankly I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else. I’ve worked collaboratively with creatives who have skills other than my own; poets, writers, composers and film-makers. But the current project is significantly different, and has been a learning curve for both of us. Do you have any thoughts to offer on this, on the pros and cons? (Please be candid. I can take it!)

Below: elements made by Clive and Johann. Who made which? Hard to tell.

Johann: It’s definitely been a learning curve! I’m not very good at letting people see my work in its early stages, or see me working for that matter. I’m incredibly self conscious and insecure, as much as I hate to admit it. Putting your ideas out there, your rough drawings to be seen by another, can be very exposing and leave you feeling quite vulnerable. But I think because there’s a lot of trust and respect between us, it’s not even an issue. We ‘get’ each other, and we appreciate each others work. We can be supportive when things are going well, and constructive when something isn’t quite working. We each want the same thing for the other, which is to help and push and be where we want to be creatively, and that’s incredibly enriching for both of us.

Clive: Well now you’ve made me well up, which is definitely the right place to stop.

The Bad Mother and the Weak Father

Maquettes  for my project with Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s Prints. Simon has been producing occasional publications under the ‘Random Spectacular’ title for quite a while. However, this year he’s going all out to expand the imprint with a series of exciting projects, one of which is to produce a picture-book that I’ve wanted to make for a long time. ‘Hansel & Gretel’ is going to be quite dark in tone. Definitely not one for the children. As is usually my way with projects, I’ve built maquettes of  the characters to help me create the images. Here are the Bad Mother and the Weak Father. She is as sour as vinegar, and he is careworn to the point of being rendered mute by her vitriol. One day she’s going to push him too far!

The tree is by Johann Rohl, currently working with me in the studio on a collaborative project.

Below: earlier maquettes of The Bad Mother

Things can end badly for bad mothers!


I’m presently collaborating with illustration graduate, Johann Rohl, on a commission to make an ‘avatar’ for a friend’s website. The brief has been fairly elaborate, and requires a creation that will regularly change her appearance. To this end the avatar is to be realised as a ‘maquette’ of the type that I regularly make and use as compositional aids. Indeed there will be several maquettes in changes of costume to facilitate the range of roles this avatar will be required to assume, and it’s likely that the process will be ongoing, with further maquettes added when needed. Here is just a small handful of the many sketches, together with a just-started maquette. You’ll notice that like the Sleeping Princess of fairy-tale, she has yet to awaken.

16th Century ruff and stomacher.

The Regency brings high-waisted gowns and elaborately plumed and be-ribboned hats.

Veiled headress of the Middle Ages.

Above and below: a pantomime Columbine of the 19th Century, her ringlets crowned with roses.

The early stages of a trial maquette.

Although these initial sketches are all by me, Johann and I will collaborate on the final renderings.