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.

Out of the Woods: part 2

When making a book, once the initial excitement of producing exploratory images and compiling material is over, the hard job is to decide on which of the many ideas are going to be used, before assembling the dummy-copy.

That, for me, is the most difficult part, to put aside many of the ideas made along the way, because the book cannot hold all of them. On Hansel & Gretel I set aside the 1950’s vibe that had the children in school uniforms, and the ‘bad mother’ groomed as though for a day of shopping at Harvey Nicks and her husband for a day at the races. Clearly their priorities when cash became a tad short, did not include being impeded by children!

While it would have been a pleasant enough tipping-of-my hat to the post-war world of my childhood, and undoubted fun to draw formica-topped kitchen tables and Melamine breakfast services, ultimately it would have been too much of a knowing nod to the past. And so that has gone, and the images… and the cast of players… have become stranger and darker.

Out went Celia Johnson in the role of the Bad Mother…

…. and in came this hard-eyed substitute.

The Weak Father, with his tache and cap…

… transformed into this enigmatic cypher, his face constructed of empty shells.

Out went the school uniforms…

and in came the bonnet and cap of  ‘Once upon a time…’

And marching in, too, came the first of the maquettes. The Celia Johnson lookalike has shed her plump 1950s cocoon of sleek fox-pelt, pearls and perfect Avon maquillage, and out of it has emerged not a butterfly, but a predatory horror, stick-thin as a mantis and purged of all kindness.

The Bad Mother has arrived!

Watch the Artlog for developments.

evolution of Hansel & Gretel

This project started back in 2012, when I made some drawings of the story of Hansel & Gretel for a project to produce an alphabet primer.

That led to a little project decorating enamelware plates for our kitchen. A nursery service!

And it was while making the nursery service, that I made some mugs with gingerbread men on them that looked a tad threatening…

… and the whole notion of ‘Gingerbread Zombies’ developed, aided and abetted by my friend Phil Cooper, who loved the idea and encouraged me to play with it.

I made some images toying with the idea of Hansel & Gretel as a picture book.

Then Simon Lewin asked me to contribute a piece to Random Spectacular 2, for which I wrote a short version of the fairy tale, adding a new twist to the narrative. (You’ll have to find a copy to see what the ‘twist’ is!)

Above: collage artwork

Below: the printed version

Simon Lewin re-worked the black and white artwork into two-tone images…


… and then sprang the lovely surprise of asking whether I’d like to produce a full, picture-book version of Hansel & Gretel, to be published under the Saint Jude’s Prints Random Spectacular imprint.

Work began in the run-up to Christmas 2014. I produced character sketches…

… including realisations of Gingerbread Zombies!


Then I began some worked up ‘concept’ drawings.


Next I began a small rough dummy of the book…

… before quickly realising that I needed to do more work on the narrative structure.

With the narrative mapped out in the requisite number of pages, I made a to-scale dummy book, with rough drawings throughout.

Once Simon Lewin has signed off the dummy, work on the final drawings and colour separations can begin.

Easy peasy!

(I kid!)

Peter Slight, Gingerbread Zombie fabricator

spideys habitat

The splendid Peter Slight was the curator of last year’s Puppet Challenge here at the Artlog, and can be seen above pointing out the last known whereabouts of his arachnid friend, ‘Spidey’. Peter is in the process of making models of Gingerbread Zombies, inspired by characters from the picture-book of Hansel & Gretel I’m currently working on in collaboration with Simon Lewin at Saint Judes’s Prints. (See drawing below.) Peter’s models will help us promote the book at its launch. (And who knows but that enthusiasts might be able to purchase a Gingerbread Zombie of their very own, if Peter can be persuaded to make some more!) The figure will be finished in an epoxy material, which is how Peter made this Krampus figure for me.)

Here he writes about the process of making.

Progress report so far: 1) I decided to make a paper template of the figure (as though he is lying flat) and then ‘trace’ around its outline with coat-hanger wire. (This seemed like the simplest approach, but will also make the model extremely robust – by my models standards at least.)

2) I was then able to bend the figure into his ‘pose’ and stand him up on a rough tump, to see how it would look. (I left wire trailing from his ‘grounded’ foot to act as a secure fixing point. This also allows him to stand on one leg in a more dynamic pose whilst still be very safely attached to his base)

3) After some adjusting to his pose, I filled in the space/cavity within the wire figure with pieces of polystyrene.

4) After double checking everything fitted into place and filling in some of the larger gaps with smaller pieces of polystyrene. All the polystyrene pieces were glued into place.

After doing my initial sketch by taking elements from several of your designs to create a kind of composite figure, I decided that it looked too much like my own interpretation of the theme and not enough like any of your own designs. So I started a second gingerbread man based on your lumbering ‘karloff’ one, and this will be as close a facsimile to your own sketch as possible.

Since taking the photos, I have started carving the figures and tumps in earnest. They are progressing well. The shape and method of construction has made them surprising easy to make (so far)

Peter Slight January 2015

Peter Slight and the Killer Gingerbread Zombie

Peter Slight is making a three dimensional ‘Killer Gingerbread Zombie’ to help in the promotion of my Hansel & Gretel from Random Spectacular when the time comes. I love Peter’s delightful figures, hand-carved in mixed-medium, though with all the gleaming perfection of plastic toys. He made a wonderful blue Krampus for me (illustrated below) after seeing a collage I’d produced of the demon that comes at Christmas to spirit away naughty children.

Here is our conversation about living dead gingerbread.

  • Peter S: I’ve attached my favoured sketch of the zombie gingerbread man. It’s pretty close to my original sketch of him, but incorporates the tump and stray Allsorts, which I think do make for a stronger design. I tried out some more ‘dynamic’ poses but they all looked like he was diving to save a football! My models usually take on a life of their own and tend to evolve as I’m making them, so it may not end up looking exactly like the sketch, and is therefore more of a guide than a rigid template. What do you think??
  • Clive H-J: Those eyes might be smaller and set higher in the brow, to give a more sinister expression. And he’ll need a texture to suggest gingerbread, or he could look like an evil jellybaby! But I think it’s all looking most promising. I do like the Allsorts, which somehow contextualise everything better.
  • Peter S: Yes, I see what you mean I will change the eyes and send you a revised sketch. Do you imagine them as concave, inset dots or as small convex ‘mounds’? 
  • Clive H-J: In my drawings I’d imagined them as holes, so that when standing against the light the zombie’s eyes would evilly glitter. Could that work? If not, then tiny currants probably, pressed in like you sometimes get on gingerbread.

  • Peter S: He does look a bit like a jelly baby in my picture, ha ha! 
  • Clive H-JNothing wrong with Zombie Jellybabies!
  • Peter S: The shading lines make him look more rounded and ‘doughy’ than he will be, and give no impression of his actual depth. (I’m intending to make him quite flat with rounded off edges like a regular non-meat eating gingerbread man) I didn’t put any texture in the sketch because i didn’t think I could show it accurately or without it looking visually confusing. The texture will be created using the rough scouring side of a sponge impressed into the clay whilst still wet. I’ve tried it before and it gives a very good biscuity effect, which can be lessened or added too depending on the number of ‘dabs’ applied with the sponge.

Here’s the delightful Krampus demon Peter made for me last year. It stands 13 cm high.

Halloween Greetings

Above: character study for the Witch in my forthcoming picture-book from Saint Jude’s Prints based on the fairy tale Hansel & Gretel

Halloween is being celebrated here at the Artlog with a post about one of the projects that will be occupying me over the forthcoming months. Simon Lewin of Saint Jude’s Prints has offered me the wonderful opportunity to make my first artist’s ‘picture-book’, which is to be my own dark and twisty adaptation of Hansel & Gretel. I produced a text and images for a re-telling of H&G that appeared in the Saint Jude’s magazine Random Spectacular 2 a few months ago, and though the current project took off from that re-telling, it’s completely different from its predecessor in all aspects.

Artwork for Hansel & Gretel in Random Spectacular 2

A finished page from the magazine, with artwork by me and design by Simon Lewin

I made many images in the process of preparing my contribution to Random Spectacular 2, and it was while playing with those ideas that I realised just how much I wanted to explore the theme as a full-blown picture-book.

Character studies for Hansel & Gretel

Below: Gingerbread Zombies


An exciting add-on to the project, is that my friend, artist/maker Peter Slight, is going to be producing a prototype Gingerbread Zombie model, and with luck, by the time the book is ready to launch, it will be on hand to help promote the publication!

Below: Gretel gets mad!

Henceforth images from Hansel & Gretel will be appearing sparely here at the Artlog, as we want to have plenty of surprises in store for when the book is launched. But to celebrate the serious (and exciting) business of beginning the project in earnest, here is a preparatory drawing showing the Witch and her evil Gingerbread Zombie henchmen in pursuit of the hapless children, amid a fusillade of confectionary.

Happy Halloween!