Peter Slight’s Gingerbread Zombies

My friend Peter Slight made these Gingerbread Zombies after he saw the characters developing in the sketchbooks for my forthcoming Hansel & Gretel picture book. (Random Spectacular, November 2016)

Since Peter brought them here in a carrier-bag, they’ve been hanging out in the upstairs sitting-room where I suspect they watch the ‘Horror Channel’ when my back is turned. They’ve been almost impossible to live with since I told them they’ll be going to London for the book launch, and now they are way too excited!!!

DSC09291 (1).jpg



Don’t Go Into the Wood!



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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.

The Path Through the Wood


Above: detail from a concept drawing made at the start of the project to give a ‘feel’ for how the images of the book might look.

In a picture-book every image has to earn its place in terms of the storytelling. At the outset of Hansel & Gretel (forthcoming from Random Spectacular) I produced several small and scrappy dummy-copies, to work out how the book might appear.


Above, an image stretching across the ‘gutter of the page, and below, the right-hand page folded out to reveal the full panoramic scene of the witch in pursuit. Later the image was adjusted so the right hand page of the first spread showed the children approaching the witch’s house, while the fold-out made a ‘jump-cut’ to them running for their lives from her.


Below, working out how the images may best fit the square pages.


The initial story-boards had made it apparent there wasn’t room for anything that didn’t carry the narrative forward. No dead wood in this picture-book,  other than what’s lying around in the witch’s dark forest!


Above, I begin to work through how the story will be told, and below, a view as though looking down on the top of the book, showing the arrangement of fold-out pages. (In the final version, the fold-outs have been dispersed more evenly.)


A second dummy-copy (below) was made-to-scale and began to firm-up the compositions.


Below, the characters continued to evolve. Here Hansel & Gretel  are dressed from my imaginative ‘costume-skip’, ready for a more Dickensian take on the tale.


Below, thumbnail sketches further define the appearance and dynamics of the characters.




Some elements of the original as told by the Grimm brothers didn’t make it into the picture-book. The long sequence of the children laying a trail of crumbs/stones to help them find the way home, was deleted, as was the business of Hansel proffering the short-sighted witch a bone to feel, standing in for his finger so that she is deceived… though not for long… in the matter of him being fattened for the oven.

Fairy tale in the oral tradition makes much use of repetition, and this is not something that works well in the realm of illustration. Complicated descriptions and repetitions were edited out to make space for what could more effectively be shown. However I added elements to enrich the illustration potential. Gingerbread babies are a feature not of the original story, but of the Humperdinck opera based on it. I borrowed them for the picture-book because I wanted visual variety in my characters, though in my version they’re far more sinister than Humperdinck’s chorus of children transformed by magic into spicy biscuits! I also present a mystery, a clue to which is offered on the second page of the picture-book, and the solution almost at the end.

All this has required hundreds of hours of work and thousands of decisions. I sometimes wonder whether anyone looking at the finished book will realise quite how much thinking went  into it. I don’t seem to have had a waking moment for months that hasn’t seen me picking over H & G in my head and at the drawing-board, tweaking, shuffling things about and considering every last detail.

I continued building and adjusting dummy-copies until I was satisfied with the structure and look of the narrative. Finally I made a ‘master’ dummy-copy of the book, with every page-spread and fold-out rendered in detail so that the publisher could be clear about what I had in mind.

Below, page from the master dummy-copy.


Once the dummy had been approved by Simon Lewin at St. Jude’s, I was able to begin the long task of making final renders, each page of the dummy providing the template for working up the completed illustration. Every morning I climb to the studio and begin work by studying an inkjet facsimile of the dummy-copy. This is my point of reference, the ‘bible’ on which all of the day’s work will be based.


Careful attention has to be given to fold-out pages, so that the images register correctly at all points along the cut edges resting against the gutter of the book. (I have never before worked so consistently with a steel-measure to hand.) The illustrations have been made out of sequence. I’ve occasionally given priority to a challenging image… to get it out of the way… or made a simpler one on a day when my concentration hasn’t been as focussed. Today I begin work on the last of the fold-out images. These effectively flow across one-and-a-half spreads when opened, and are my means of creating the shock/surprise-moments in the narrative.

The best fold-out is in ‘homage’ to the silent-movie version of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, in the scene when Christine snatches aside the mask of the ‘Phantom’, played by that ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’, the great Lon Chaney. The shock of his appearance has stayed with me since first I saw stills from the film in one of the magazines of my childhood, Famous Monsters of Filmland.


In ‘homage’ to the ‘Phantom’ moment, there’s is a ‘reveal’ in Hansel & Gretel that corresponds to to Chaney’s unmasking. But to see what I’ve made… ha ha ha… you will have to purchase the book!


Into the Woods


With so many projects on this year, I’ve had to spread my working spaces throughout the house. The attic studio has been designated Hansel & Gretel territory, mainly because there are two tables up there and I can move between them. I make monoprint collage papers at one, and keep the other a ‘clean’ desk (the term is relative) for the drawing work.


Whenever work is underway, the studio goes uncleared until the project is done. Right now it’s in such a mess that Jack and I have to negotiate its spaces via designated cleared paths. Piles of completed illustrations… protected with sheets of transparent-paper, I hasten to add… teeter on stools and spill over the floor, while from day-to-day the desk holds whichever image is underway.



The picture-book has been a long project. (Longer than I’d anticipated, and I’m grateful to Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s for his patience.) Long in gestation, in the creation of the characters and their maquettes and in the design of the book in its dummy-form.

Certainly long in rendering the final illustrations. ‘Hansel & Gretel’ is to have panorama fold-out spreads interspersed throughout, and the design and careful alignment of them is a time-consuming though immensely enjoyable process. It’s been fun to make the fold-outs equate to the ‘shock moments’ in a horror film.

But what I’ve most relished about this, is that unlike my work on previous book projects when I’ve been called upon to ‘decorate’ texts, Hansel & Gretel has been pure story-telling through the medium of images. What few words there are been confined to those the characters say, kept brief and straight forward and hand-lettered into the images to become part of the page designs.


I’m on the final push of completing the drawings. Come June they will be packed and dispatched to Simon, at which point the processes of scanning and layering with colour can begin. This has been and will no doubt continue to be a learning curve for me. It fulfils a life-long ambition of mine to have told a story entirely through pictures. As a narrative artist, at my easel I’m always looking to layer paintings with multiple meanings in order to suggest underlying narratives. I do much the same when called upon to make an image for a book cover. But here the visual narrative is extended and intense and has been wonderful territory to explore. I am definitely the old dog learning new tricks!

Jonny Hannah’s Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox


Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox (2nd edition) is a treat that grew from a suggestion made by Mr Simon Lewin of St Jude’s to artist Mr Jonny Hannah. Mr Hannah thereafter not only curated/compiled the collection, but  went the whole hog by writing and illustrating the booklet of notes that accompanies the disc, together with… not as though they were needed… producing some tasty value-added extras.


The result is a little package the size of which belies the treats crammed therein. Quite the ‘Lucky-bag’ packed with delights! For your money, you get:

i) the sleeve with Mr Hannah’s artwork, as seductive and more-ish as a bag of old-fashioned mixed boiled sweets

ii) a double-sided title card

iii) a signed-by-Jonny Mon Oncle print, produced by the artist’s shed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden-Cakes & Ale Press

iv) a densely decorated sixteen page booklet with track notes by the artist

v) the disc itself, slathered with more Hannah artwork and made up of a generous twenty tracks


Credit is given in the notes to Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, from whose archive the selection of recordings has been made.

Mr Hannah has a way with the words, as befits the progenitor of the continuing creative adventure that is ‘Darktown’, the artist’s compellingly believable community-of-the-imagination that reeks of brine and liquor, vintage clothing and chandlery bitumen. Sometimes salty and occasionally rhapsodic, I enjoyed his notes quite as much as I enjoyed the tracks! This is he on a mash-up of Ogden Nash, Noel Coward and Saint-Saëns.”

“Quintessential Englishness mixes with a French composer and American words. Dreamlike otherworldly sounds, way down below. A symphony for all fish and drowned lost souls.”


There’s a crazed and eclectic bunch of musicians and performers gathered at Mr Hannah’s party, and I play the disc in the studio while working on my own St Jude’s project, which is a picture-book of Hansel & Gretel. I think my plucky German protagonists would not be out of place at a gathering that included Mel Torme, Robert Mitchum (yes, the actor), Miles Davies, Art Blakey and the charmingly named Pinky Winters.


Kudos to Mr Lewin for setting this caravan in motion. It is a pleasure in all its parts!

Available from the St Jude’s website. (But I’m sure not for long. This will be sold out in no time.)


Clive Hick-Jenkins

May 2016

Read my review of Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany,  HERE

The Evolution of a ‘Bad Mother’

From first drawings to the final dummy-copy of the book.

The first drawing, made for another project, later became the template for how I saw the ‘Bad Mother’.

An early layout for the first page, showing my initial ideas for the children’s parents. She wears a fur coat, stylish hat, cultured pearls at ears and throat, and lashings of makeup.

In 2015, a new, stranger idea emerges. Her pinched nose is made up of two, elongated conceal shapes, and her skin is marked with deep wrinkles.

She has a little frilled-cap, and the period has changed from the 1950s to something more distant, though unspecified.

She’s clearly become rather ill-humoured

I make a first maquette…

… and then a second.

With the third I think I’ve nailed her…

… though I change my mind once more and re-design the book for a last time, returning to the idea of setting it in the 1950s. Out goes the Bad Mother’s ‘Pilgrim’ cap, and in comes hair-rollers, pin curls and chipped red nail-varnish!

Hansel & Gretel will be coming out in 2016.

The Evolution of a Witch

From first sketches, to the final dummy-copy of the book.

The Witch begins as a design for a glove-puppet. The image of her (above right) is a collage.

From the beginning she’s shortsighted and has eyes on her garments, the latter borrowed from a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I wearing a gown embroidered with eyes and ears. (I see all, I hear all.)

In 2012, for a notional German ‘Alphabet Primer’ (don’t ask!) she becomes quite grandmotherly, her steeple-hat swopped for a headscarf and always carrying a handbag. (Mrs Thatcher!)

In 2013 she’s carrying it still when she becomes a design on an enamel plate. (And yes, there is a complete Hansel & Gretel set, including a chocolate-pot and mugs with gingerbread men. Only one set, I fear, for use in my kitchen.)


 I’m invited by Simon Lewin to make images for his magazine, Random Spectacular No 2. Simon tints each of the images a different colour, and I think the results work beautifully. The magazine is published in 2014.

After the publication of the magazine, Simon suggests that together we make a picture-book of Hansel & Gretel under the Random Spectacular imprint. When I begin work on the project, I return to the original idea of a witch in a steeple-hat over a tight-fitting linen cap.

The first drawings for the book are of her flying…

… and the eyes on her garment, are back in play.

The idea evolves that she should have a prosthetic nose.

I make a single, worked-up drawing, to give an impression of how the illustrations might appear. The plan has always been to render the final images in colour, but this sample drawing is made in black on white. In the image the Witch hurtles through a storm of Liquorice Allsorts, Lovehearts, liquorice ‘shoelaces’ and other traditional confectionary.

The compositional images are initially roughed out on a small scale. Above is a double-page spread, with the right-hand third of the image made as a flap that opens to reveal the next stage of the action. Now the Witch pursues the children from left to right, which is a reversal of the versions of the scene to date.

A detail of the image from the finished, made-to-scale dummy-book, which is the non-colour version produced to show the publisher the layout before the finished artworks for the illustrations are made.

Before work begins on the dummy-copy, I construct two maquettes of the Witch. One is a full figure, and the other a head and shoulders made expressly to work out the details of what’s under the prosthetic nose.

Neither are intended to be final versions of the Witch, but are used to help in the process of making compositions for the book.

I’ve always loved the ‘horror’ genre, and the moment where the Witch shows her ‘secret self’, is a reveal in the ‘Lon Chaney’ tradition!

You won’t see what’s under the prosthetic nose until the book comes out, but here’s caged Hansel’s response to it!

Hansel & Gretel is due out from Random Spectacular next year.

Too clever by half!

Another Witch maquette, this one a larger version of the head and upper body to work out details. It’s not necessary for it to be over-designed or perfectly rendered. A rough thing would have done perfectly well for the purposes of a compositional aid, which is what this essentially is. However, it would seem I’m pretty much incapable of allowing it to be a simple task, and instead I fiddle and fart about, just because it’s fun and I get swept away by the problem-solving.

So here’s the thing. To fit all those lengthy teeth into such a slender head, nature has equipped the Witch with the dental mechanism of a snake. When not in use, the fangs lie horizontally to take up less vertical space in her mouth, only jack-knifing into place as the lower jaw drops. In a maquette I could have attached the teeth to a bar that moved them out of sight behind the head, from where they could be pulled down manually. But instead I contrived a set of hidden levers that swing them in an elegantly descending arc when her mouth opens, and traces the reverse trajectory when it closes. Pointless for my purposes, but nonetheless satisfying.

Sometimes you just have to play!

The Artist on ‘Witchiness’ (in preparation for Hansel & Gretel)

Witches have very poor eyesight…

… so they sometimes ‘borrow’ eyes from elsewhere, to improve their vision.

They have voracious appetites, and are partial to crabs and small children.

Witches can fly, which is an advantage when hunting down prey.

Though her eyes may be weak, a Witch has finely tuned olfactory sensors to help her track down victims.

Some have open cavities in the middles of their faces, to better scent food. They disguise these with prosthetic noses (attached with elastic bands) that they remove when hunting.

A Witch doesn’t use a toothbrush or dental-floss, and instead employs maggots to clean any meat stuck between her teeth. She keeps the maggots in ointment-pots in her capacious pockets. But the maggots are not regarded by her as pets. After they have done their work, the Witch eats them!

Witches are are very bad news indeed, and are best avoided.