Hansel & Gretel


My picture book of Hansel & Gretel is now available for pre-ordering at St Jude’s. It’s being launched at the St Jude’s in the City exhibition at the Bankside Gallery (next to Tate Modern) on November 23rd, and orders will begin shipping the first week of December. Click on the link below for details .

St Jude’s


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

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 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.

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!