The Serpent’s Bite: a natural history of the witch. Part 1

I loved drawing witches as a child. The idea of them was vivid in my imagination, terrifying as all hell but thrilling too, in the way of all things that were scary/lovely. Besides, I’d seen The Wizard of Oz, so I knew witches could be vanquished if you could get ’em with a bucket of water before they zapped you!

As I grew older and my interests matured, the witches got left behind, along with all the other juvenilia. (Though I kept my green-eyed Pelham ‘Witch’, and she lives with me still.)

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Then a few years ago for no reason I can put my finger on, I started thinking about Hansel & Gretel and what a strange and interesting tale it is. And of course in my mind’s eye, creeping behind the children who were lost in the wood, came that apex-predator, the witch! Before I knew it she was flowing from my pencil, and she’s been flowing pretty much non-stop ever since.

The first image to appear (see below) was intended as a design for puppet. Long, long ago the first glove-puppet I’d ever made had been a witch, and this little sketch springing unexpectedly from the murky depths of childhood’s fears, felt like a desire to get in touch with the old thrill, a conjuring bright and energised, back from when creativity was still a new experience.

I didn’t actually make the glove-puppet, but I pieced together a collage, in order to better see her.

Soon I was making dozens of drawings, obsessively defining and finessing my notions of what a witch should be. Nothing new, but just a recognisable shorthand for a witch. Squat, hook-nosed, spindle legged, sporting either a peasant headscarf or a steeple-hat, incongruously carrying a handbag as she trotted about on short legs, quite mumsy but for her piercing, unnerving stare. But still a joke at this point. Nothing too threatening.

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Sometimes she was German!

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She’d already begun to make public appearances here at the Artlog and at Facebook when Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s enquired about whether I might contribute something to his magazine Random Spectacular. I suggested something on the theme of Hansel & Gretel, perhaps a short story with illustrations. So that’s what I did.

And that’s pretty much where the Hansel & Gretel ‘project’ really took off. On Facebook I wrote that I’d so much enjoyed making the short illustrated piece for Random Spectacular, that I rather fancied producing a more substantial version of it, perhaps even ditching the text and going with the idea of a picturebook. Simon left a message suggesting that we should talk some more, and thereafter we began planning.

In short order I had to make a dummy of how I envisioned the layout of a picturebook, plus a single, worked-up image that would define the look of the illustrations for it. I knew that here was a star vehicle for a witch, but she would need to to be mesmerising in appearance if it were to work. This is the finished drawing I produced: the witch in full attack mode, accompanied by gingerbread henchmen and with sweeties deployed as missiles. The Hansel and Gretel characters as shown were easy to draw quickly and consistently. Bean-shaped and wearing school uniforms, they had short legs that couldn’t out-run a witch in flight. Though the witch’s design evolved further, the children’s remained constant. They stayed the same from this ‘sample’ drawing until the book’s completion.

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As work began in earnest, I was still endlessly toying with notions of who the witch was and what her defining characteristics would be. I created a sort of natural-history for her, as though her evolutionary path had at some point bifurcated from the one on which humans were headed. I had the above drawing as a template, though I kept tinkering with her, rethinking the principles of how she would fit together to do what would be required of her.

She would be short-sighted. Witches in fairytales are often described as short-sighted. In the sample drawing I’d scattered her gown with eyes because I’d had the idea to make good her ocular deficiency with a garment stitched with eyes that could do all the seeing for her. It was based on a gown in a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, embroidered with eyes and ears as metaphors for her being all-seeing and all-hearing. (A coded message to the world that the queen’s spies were everywhere!)

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The witchy fangs would be those of a carnivore, but like a serpent’s would fold back into grooves in her gums so that she wouldn’t be inconvenienced by their length when speaking! She could pass for a toothless crone until she was ready to feast! Here’s a spread showing her looking toothless in the finished book.

I even made a flat card maquette with a little mechanism that raised/lowered her teeth to  the eating or resting positions, and another that made her eye roll back in its socket as a preparation to feeding. (The eye-rolling-back thing is very creepy, based on apparently what happens when sharks lunch! And though not used in the final book, not wasted either, because all those researched details add depth to the creativity.)

But the weirdest aspect of this witch, was that her nose was a prosthetic, used to hide what lurked beneath, which was an arrangement of scent-seeking tentacles to guide her to prey, even in the dark! It was to be the ‘big reveal’ at the dramatic highpoint of the tale, the moment when Gretel would catapult into action to save her brother.

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So when hatted and with artificial nose in place, the witch could pass for human, which is what would work best in terms of her survival. But once the hat and the nose came off, then she was ready for business!

When we made the stop-motion animated trailer to promote the picturebook, I made a three-dimensional model of the witch’s head complete with tentacles, and cameraman Pete Telfer shot it deliberately out-of-focus. It’s seen only for a flash edit of the tentacles ‘flowering’ out of the cavity, but it worked a treat!

 

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Here’s the trailer, complete with models made by Phil Cooper and music by Kate Romano.

The Hansel & Gretel picturebook came in paper covers, published by Random Spectacular in 2016 in a smallish edition. Though it’s quite hard to find because it’s never been distributed much beyond the Random Spectacular online shop, it did what Simon Lewin had offered at the outset, giving me the opportunity to explore a fairytale entirely through the medium of imagery. It also got me working  with colour separations, a technique that would serve me so well later, when I came to collaborate with the Penfold Press.

 

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Click HERE to purchase the Hansel & Gretel picturebook:

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To celebrate having got to the finishing line, master-bookbinder Christopher Shaw made a specially bound and boxed edition for me, and he produced something of such extraordinary artistry that it lifts my heart every time I look at it. Presented within a heavy red leather box tooled in gold with the outline of the pursuing witch, the book has boards covered in mustard-yellow linen, blind-stamped and inlaid with hand drawn oak-leaves placed as though blown across its covers. I love it.

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Next time – The Serpent’s Bite: a natural history of the witch. Part 2: Mr Pollock’s Pantomime

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A Feast of Marshmallows

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My  book of Hansel & Gretel, published by Random Spectacular, has been beautifully produced under the watchful eye of Simon Lewin at St Jude’s. The scans by Saxon Digital and the printing by Swallowtail, both in Norwich, are perfect. Every etched line and fleck of the original drawings, meticulously reproduced. The book’s six colours plus black have been created as Pantone separations, consistent in colour throughout and printed onto a matt paper that is so much more pleasing for being without the sheen of many illustrated books. The covers are a slightly heavier card than the pages, and the construction of the book cleverly ensures that every double-page spread opens flat, so that no part of any illustration can become lost in or distorted by the ‘gutter’.

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There are four, three-leaf fold-out spreads scattered throughout the book, and these took a lot of effort to get right in the early design stages. In the finished book the illustrations across each closed fold-out are perfectly aligned, which can have been no easy task for the printers.

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Technically this is just about the most accomplished book I’ve set myself the task of making. I told the story with little recourse to text, and such words as I allowed myself had to be woven through the images as though a part of them. I worked in a technique of colour separation that is relatively new to me. Indeed I was already over halfway through the project when I began learning from Dan Bugg of the Penfold Press the process of producing colour separations.

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I am unapologetically proud of this achievement. I have always believed that inexpensiveness should be no impediment to producing a commercial book with all of the attention to detail that might be expected from an expensive private press edition. I love the art of paperback covers – particularly in Czech and Poland – and have collected vintage and contemporary European children’s illustrated books for more than forty years. While Hansel & Gretel is not intended as a children’s book – it’s a tad too dark for that market – it nevertheless honours the traditions of the children’s book illustrators who have given me so much pleasure over a lifetime. I can hardly believe that at sixty-five, I have finally made my first illustrated book!

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Poet Damian Walford Davies writes of Hansel & Gretel:

‘Just amazing. Beautiful, terrifying. What a piece of work. The blues and pinks and whites have the smell and texture of marshmallow, which is fitting. ‘Eat and get fat’ might be the epigraph for the reader, too, who will verily feast.’

Artist Ed Kluz writes:

‘I pored over your Hansel and Gretel last night – such a wonderful and wicked piece of work. The drawings are at the same time lush and cruel.’

Purchase Hansel & Gretel HERE

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Colouring the Imagination

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Back at the beginning of discussions with Simon Lewin about the proposed picture book of Hansel & Gretel, he suggested that I produce the illustrations as ‘separations’. My method of making illustrations up until that point had always been to paint as intended for reproduction. However, Simon works with print-makers, and the Random Spectacular imprint he created as an extension of his work at St Jude’s is one where he explores print-related projects that interest him. I am not a print-maker – or I wasn’t back then – and his suggestion meant I was going to have to learn some new tricks.

Separations are the layers of colour used to reproduce an image. Simon explained that my images for Hansel & Gretel could be made as separations on layers on drafting-film or heavy tracing-paper, prior to digital scanning. The digitised layers would then be ‘assembled’ in the computer ready for printing. Images made in this way have the feel of those in early illustrated books, when the colours were printed in separate passes.

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Simon’s vision of how the images might be produced was encouraging, but it would all be new territory for me and I didn’t want to let anyone down. He remained reassuring and persuasive, explaining that he’d guide me through the processes and then personally assemble the images ready for printing. He would design the book.

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I began researching and adapting the Grimm Brothers’ story to what I thought might work in a picture book. Initially I produced quite a lot of text, but eventually pared that back to twenty-seven words scattered throughout forty-eight pages. Enough to make a coherent narrative and to lend ‘voices’ to the various characters. I planned to letter the text myself.

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Above: lettering from the final render of the opening page spread.

Simon and I agreed on a square format book. We planned the dimensions of it and the number of pages, including four fold-outs that would spring surprises and carry forward the story-telling. What we put together at that point remained the template for Hansel & Gretel to the completion of the project.

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Above: rough schematic of how the book would appear when looking down at the top of it it, the pages fanned to indicate the inclusion of the fold-outs. The positions of the fold-outs would later change so they were spread evenly throughout, and they became full rather than half-pages.

I planned to make the images to the printed scale. This way I wouldn’t have to be thinking about how reduction might impact the artwork.

First came small, rough sketches, and later, maquettes of the characters. The children sprang to life almost immediately, barely changing from the earliest scribbles to how they appear in the book.

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However the parents evolved somewhat startlingly in ways I hadn’t expected.

The father eventually became a creature made from empty seashells, suggesting the hollowness of a man nagged and criticised to a point muteness.

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Over the months of development the mother became increasingly grotesque, and that eventually impacted on the witch, because I had to find ways to make her even more scary than the ‘bad’ mother.

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Before the final work of rendering began, I completed a made-to-scale dummy-copy of the book, with every image planned down to the smallest detail. The only element missing was the colour, which I was still thinking about. I passed the dummy to Simon Lewin when we met at the opening of Jonny Hannah’s 2015 exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was a wonderfully exciting event packed with Hannah enthusiasts, and Simon slipped the dummy unopened into his bag for later study. After he’d sent an e-mail signing off on it, I prepared to make the final renders.

In June 2015 I’d met Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press to discuss whether we might collaborate on a print. We made a single, editioned screenprint together – a first for me – and as a result of that enjoyable and successful experience, we planned a project to produce a series of fourteen prints based on the the medieval poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Dan guided me through the process of working on layers of drafting film with brushes, crayons and pens. Due to the complexity of what I planned for the Gawain images, for each print I first produced a fully rendered painting to use as my guide to making the separations.

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a) original painting of The Armouring of Gawain made as my guide to creating the separations

b) layers of separations on drafting-film held in place by registration pins on the right

c) the completed screenprint

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Because of this, by the time I came to make the artwork for Hansel & Gretel I was feeling more confident about producing separations. However, having spent so long working out how to tell the story and creating the visual character of the book, there simply wasn’t the time to make paintings of all the pages. I hoped that as the colours of the illustrations were going to be more simply deployed than those of the Gawain prints, then the lack of guide paintings wouldn’t be a problem. I’d simply ‘imagine’ how the images were going to reproduce in colour.

The Hansel & Gretel drawings were made in black pencil on heavy board. With the exception of the separations for the cover (see top of post) which were cut from red lithography film, the separations for all the illustrations were produced in opaque paint on drafting film. Because separations define the areas of colours that will come at the later printing stage, they can be made in any colour. I used red oxide. At this stage the layered artworks looked quite strange.

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Between us Simon and I had agreed on a simplified palette of seven colours for the book: mid blue, pale blue, dark red, mid yellow, dull pink, black and dull yellow, selected from a universal Pantone chart. On each drawing and separation I indicated which colour I intended for that layer. Some of the black drawings were intended for reproduction in colour. Keeping track of how all this would look required a lot of imagining. When making a drawing I intended for reproduction in colour, I would scrawl that colour in large letters on a post-it gummed to the upper corner, to remind myself that contrary to how things looked in front of me, this was not going to be black when printed.

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Above: Hansel & Gretel drawing in progress, and below, digitally scanned and proofed by the printer in mid blue and dull pink.

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Some artists scan their drawings and separations and digitally colour them on the computer screen to get an idea of how they’ll look when completed. But I don’t have those skills, and so I have to work ‘in my imagination’.

The completed drawings and separations were scanned by Saxon Digital Services and then printed by Swallowtail, both in Norwich. Saxon and Swallowtail made significant contributions to the outcome of the translation from artworks to book. The original drawings were rich in mark-making, tonality and detail. I’d used etching needles to create hair-thin bright lines against the sootiness of densely worked pencil. Although made in black, the drawings had a delicate silveriness that came from the grain of the paper surface and from reflected light, and the printed images would have been pummelled to death had they been produced with too dark a contrast. Neither could the layers of colours be allowed to obscure the details and textures of the drawings. I lost a lot of sleep worrying about it all. But the results, when I saw them, were perfect. Every last detail had been reproduced, down to a thread of saliva stretched between the jaws of the witch as she anticipates dinner!

From start of project to conclusion, Simon Lewin was nothing less than magnificent as chief enthusiast, publisher, designer and project manager. No detail escaped him. He never put any constraints on what I produced, at all stages finding solutions to smooth the way forward for me. Moreover there was no deadline, meaning the work could develop and unfold without the pressure of a completion date.  There have been no compromises on Hansel & Gretel. Not one. The book is exactly as I wanted it to be.

Hansel & Gretel

The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale reimagined by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Published by Random Spectacular

Printed by Swallowtail, Norwich

Scanned by Saxon Digital Services, Norwich

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New Directions

Today a sheet of proof images for the Hansel & Gretel picture book arrived from Simon Lewin. They look as I expected, having seen images of them last week in an e-mail. The fine details of the original drawings are intact in the images, thanks to the excellent scans. There was also a laser-printed colour dummy in the parcel,  a paste-up not intended as anything other than something for us to sign off on with regard to pagination and the alignments of the fold-outs.

It’s looking great. The limited colour palette renders it a tad schlocky and as a consequence it has a feel of the ‘horror’ comics I loved so much as a kid, the memory of which I was keen to honour in the book. Little misalignments in the colour separations keep it gritty and not overly refined, and I’m much obliged to Simon Lewin for having moved me in this direction from the start. Agreeing to produce colour separations was a big step out of my comfort zone, but luckily I was also about to begin work on the Gawain series of prints at the Penfold Press with Daniel Bugg, and thereafter I was able to take what I learned from him and apply it directly to the picture-book.

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Making colour separations for Hansel & Gretel

It’s been a fantastic year. I’ve been able to produce a body of printed work that while remaining recognisably mine, has carried me creatively in excitingly different directions. Daniel Bugg and Simon Lewin in their separate projects, took a punt on an artist with very little experience of print-making. The success of last month’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight exhibition at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff was a testament to Dan’s capacity to coax interesting screenprints out of me. As Simon and I embark on the last lap to get Hansel & Gretel past the finishing line, I’m feeling this project too has opened whole new worlds of possibilities for me. This old dog may not yet have mastered all his new tricks, but he’s up on his hind-legs and dancing a jig, so the signs are promising!

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Making separations for Gawain and the Green Knight

Don’t Go Into the Wood!

 

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Evolution (or how stuff happens)

In 2012 I made a single, collage image of a design for a glove-puppet Witch. I’d been thinking about the glove-puppet of a Witch I’d made as a child. (That’s a whole other story, that you can read about HERE!) Not sure now whether I’d intended to recreate the lost Witch of my childhood, but I certainly never made this second puppet. The design is still Blu-tacked to the wall of my studio.

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With the idea of a Witch rattling around my head, I began to work on further witchy images. By now I’d settled on the Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel & Gretel as my vehicle for exploration, and in no time at all I was playing around with the idea in the form of a Hansel & Gretel alphabet primer made in collage.

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Because the original tale was steeped in the spirit of the Black Forest, the primer was in German. I really liked what I was producing, though I never completed it.

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With the Hansel & Gretel theme now firmly rooted, for no reason that I can think of I made a set of hand-painted enamelware plates. I told everyone they were ‘nursery’ plates for the amusement of any children who came to stay with us, but really they were for me. The cold-enamel paint used for the images proved not to be knife and fork proof.  Moreover the paint turned soluble in hot soapy water, and so the plates were relegated to being used only for serving cupcakes!

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Out of the blue in 2012, Simon Lewin of St. Jude’s asked me to contribute to the second edition of his Random Spectacular magazine, an enterprise he was he using to raise funds for a hospice. I’m not sure how he found me, but I was surprised and pleased to be asked. For the magazine I wrote a short, tart tale based on Hansel & Gretel, though with a decidedly different outcome to the original. I illustrated it with black and white collage/drawings of my enamelware plate designs that Simon tinted into muted colours for the magazine. Random Spectacular 2 was published in 2013.

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It had a beautiful cover made by Jonny Hannah

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At some point during the conversations Simon and I had about the magazine illustrations, I said that I’d now really like to make a whole book of Hansel & Gretel. He replied that he was interested in the idea as he intended to expand and diversify the Random Spectacular imprint beyond the ‘magazine’ format. That was the ‘beginning’ of the Hansel & Gretel picture-book project. I made a single, fully-rendered image to describe to him what I was thinking, and then we were off!

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I eschewed the ‘twist’ to the story that I’d come up with for the Random Spectacular magazine, and with the notion that any text would be minimal… and hand-lettered… I began to make storyboards, spreadsheets and dummy copies of the tale, boiling it down where necessary to simplify the narrative, and expanding ideas where illustrations could effectively take the story further.

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Simon and I agreed that the book would be square, and that a number of spreads would have fold-out pages to extend the compositions and the potential for surprises.

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There were substantial explorations of character and changes of presentation. The children’s parents in particular evolved from fairly conventional depictions, to something far darker and psychologically complex. Ultimately the ‘Weak Father’ became a hollow man, built of empty shells, while the ‘Bad Mother’, who had been rather soigné, descended into neglect and malice.

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Maquettes were built…

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… and built again.

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The ‘natural history’ of the Witch had to be worked out in detail. She would turn out to be other than what she at first appears.

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Fitting the work between other projects, I delivered the dummy-copy, illustrated with detailed though not yet final renderings of the images, into Simon’s hands at Jonny Hannah’s 2015 exhibition opening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Thereafter the work of final rendering began in earnest, and was completed this month. After scanning, colour will be added as ‘separations’. The book is due to be launched this Autumn. Watch the Artlog and the Saint Jude’s Homepage for details.

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The Path Through the Wood

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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.)

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.