on the studio walls: part 2

Here are some of the drawings posted in part 1, together with what they became.

Green Knight


Green Knight



The cover of Marly Youmans’ Val/Orson

Hervé and the Wolf




Peter Shaffer’s Equus





The garden at Penparc Cottage


Catchmay’s Court



The castle for Green George


The Devil disguised as a Peddlar Woman for L’histoire du soldat.


The cover for Marly Youmans’ Thaliad




musing with marly

The following is from an e-mail I sent to Marly Youmans. But as it touches on current studio matters, and ‘Marly matters’ too, with references to images I made for her book Thaliad, I thought I’d post it here.

Above: new painting of Gawain, and below, the first stage of the Green Knight

I’m in the world of Gawain and the Green Knight right now. Those two old friends arrived all unannounced, barged in and took over. But the Gawain portrait has turned out very well, and so I shan’t complain. I think Gawain may be Thalia’s Thorn, because he has Thorn’s beard and foliate stigmata.
Sometimes they all get muddled in my head, these leafy girls and boys. It’s like seeing a familiar play when a different actor has taken over the role, and everything is the same and yet different. 
I think of that heartrending scene from the end of ‘Cunning Little Vixen’, when the weary old huntsman looks down at a cheeky young frog and says, ‘I know you’, only to be told by the frog that it was his great grandfather the huntsman had known. The world turns and time passes, and all the little frogs get muddled in the great cycle of life.
I see a fawn flash of lace-patterned plumage in the garden, and think for a moment that Henrietta has returned. But it’s a different hen pheasant, not Henrietta at all. All that was long ago in pheasant terms, where longevity is best measured in seasons, and not in years. And yet… and yet… 
It used to nearly stop my heart when she’d come down from the woods to nestle at my feet. The trust!’


Henrietta. Taken by a fox… we think.

Marly and Me

The English Lion: interior decoration for Marly Youmans’ novel Glimmerglass, due from Mercer University Press in September

Images of my paintings, or details from them, have been chosen for the covers of quite a few poetry collections, novels, plays and textbooks. The usual process is for a publisher to approach me requesting the use of an existing image, and I just have to agree the terms. There’s no creative input on my part because the work is carried out by graphic designers. But while Marly’s The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press) carried a detail from one of my paintings, Touch, on its cover, the arrangement wasn’t repeated because thereafter we evolved more collaborative methods of working together.

To date I’ve made covers for Marly’s novel Val/Orson (PS Publishing), the cover and interior decorations for The Foliate Head (Stanza Poetry), the cover and decorations for her epic poem Thaliad (Phoenicia Publishing) and the cover and decorations for her forthcoming novel Glimmerglass (Mercer University Press). In every respect these have been collaborations, as what I do is always a direct response to her writing. I read her manuscripts repeatedly before making any preliminary sketches, annotating their margins with my initial ideas. Marly and I don’t much discuss what will be required for a cover or for the decorations. She and her publishers entrust the visual aspects of her books to me. I think she quite enjoys the surprises that come through this way of working.

Above: artwork for the back cover of The Foliate Head

I never aspire to ‘illustrate’ a Marly Youmans book, preferring my role as provider of a gentle accompaniment to her words. I make an introduction (the cover) and then she sings the melody while I play a few chords in the background (the page decorations).

It’s not the usual way for a writer to have much influence with a publisher over the choice of artist for a cover, and it’s perhaps because Marly elects to work with small, specialist houses, that she’s been able to bring me into the loop. At Stanza Poetry she even arranged for my brother-in-law, Andrew, to be the designer of The Foliate Head, because he and I are so in harmony in the matter of book design.

For Thaliad, the book was meticulously designed by the founder and editor of Phoenicia Publishing, Beth Adams, which made the entire process bespoke, rather than on the design conveyor-belt that is the modus operandi of most big publishing houses.

Increasingly I like to produce not just the image for the cover, but the whole spread with the text incorporated into it. I love the art of lettering, and usually work the titles and authors through the medium of collage. And because adding images to the inside of a book doesn’t add printing costs as long as the designs are in black, Marly and I have been able to persuade publishers to have page decorations in her books.


Above: chapter-heading for Thaliad

The brutal economics of publishing these days means that there is rarely an illustration fee with a small specialist publishing house. So instead I strike a deal for copies of the book. At the end of the day I own the original artworks, and they can be offered for sale with my dealer. I couldn’t make a living as a book illustrator if this was my only source of income, but as the process of collaborating with Marly is tangental to my career as a painter, I don’t have to rely on it.

I don’t think we ever set out to work together so regularly, this author and her ‘illuminator’. The processes gently evolved, and now there’s a familiarity to them that feels comfortable and ongoing. Marly barely approaches me any more with the outright suggestion that I might do a book with her. It’s more a case of her asking ‘Are you busy?’, followed by ‘Could you possibly make the time?’ And my response is invariably, ‘What’s the deadline?’, followed by ‘Ummmmmm, is there any wriggle-room?’

Above: cover artwork for Glimmerglass in progress

I’m strictly hands-on. I paint, draw and collage my designs together, having had no experience of rendering on a computer.

Above: work-book sketches for Glimmerglass

It’s not that I’d be averse to working on a screen, but I haven’t had the time to teach myself. I’d probably prefer to combine both ways of working, as I don’t like the idea of spending more time in front of a keyboard than I already do.

Above: a dragon for the cover of Glimmerglass

Marly and I had collaborations that preceded our work together on the three ‘decorated’ books. In 2011 it was Marly’s suite of poems celebrating my sixtieth birthday retrospective exhibition that kick-started the anthology The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Grey Mare Press/Carolina Wren Press/National Library of Wales), in which she was joined by Dave Bonta, Callum James, Andrea Selch, Catriona Urquhart and Damian Walford Davies. (The title of her poetry sequence loaned itself to the collection.) Additionally in 2011 she was a contributor to Clive Hicks-Jenkins: a monograph, published by Lund Humphries, with her essay Fire in the Labyrinth exploring my preoccupation with the ‘miraculous’.

There are other projects in the pipeline. I already have an anthology of her poems waiting on my computer desktop, and I have my eye on her forthcoming novel Maze of Blood, because who wouldn’t want to design a book with a title like that?

Marly in Ice-Land

Even when beleaguered with arctic weather and a recalcitrant cold that’s driving her slowly bonkers, Marly Youmans can’t but be the consummate scribe. This is her on the weather right now in Cooperstown.

‘Because I am dreaming of hot weather and a thunderstorm over Lake Otsego instead of ice and ice and blebs and icicles and rimed crystals and simple prisms and stellar or sectored plates and dendrite crystals and triangulars and plate crystals and fernlike stellar dendrites and bullet rosettes and crystal needles and hollow or capped columns and double plates or split plates and snow and snow and did I say ice and snow? Ah, the alien, barely inhabitable realm of Yankee winter with its radiating dendrites–so strange, so insane, so cold-and-virus laden, so ingenious in its complex miseries, so full of barkings like a seal, so many-kleenexed, so white, so starry, so shivery, so interminable, so Narnian, so White Witchian.’

At which point, she posts a snowy chapter heading, one of those I made for Thaliad (see above) that is a good match for the ‘Yankee winter’ she’s lamenting.

Read more from the marvellous Marly at her BLOG. In the United States Thaliad may be found at Phoenicia Publishing, and in the UK would-be-purchasers can order it from good local book shops, or from Amazon. And while on matters ‘Thalian’, if the five-star reviews at Amazon don’t tempt you to open your wallet, then cast an eye over the scrumptious review of it at Tom Cat in the Red Room, which would be enough to make me walk barefoot through snow to my nearest store to get a copy. Fortunately I don’t have to, as I have not one but a little cache of Thaliads on my shelves, a perk of being its cover artist and decorator.

james artimus owen on ‘thaliad’

Over at Marly Youman’s Thaliad page on Facebook, there has been handsome praise for the book from author/illustrator James Artimus Owen.

J A O: It (Thaliad) was one of the few books I’ve purchased in recent years that I think was executed flawlessly, in every way.

M Y: Oh James, thank you! That’s so, so lovely. I shall have to share that with Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Beth Adams. Collaboration with them is beautiful. I just hope it manages to keep moving out in the world.

J A O: It’s a high water-mark of what’s possible, Marly. It’s old-school book-crafter perfect.

M Y: Ah, that is so sweet to hear. Thank you. “Perfect” and “high-water-mark” are very satisfying words!

J A O: It’s all sincere. With that book you leapt from being one of my favourite writers to a game-changer. The literary sphere will have to catch up to what I and others have already seen – but there is no doubt it is a remarkable achievement.


Thaliad is available as a paperback or hardback, and may be purchased from the following sites.

Order from the Phoenicia Publishing online store

Order from Amazon.com

Order from Amazon.UK

Order from Amazon Europe

up in ‘the battery’…

… the floor is littered with drying book-plates for Marly Youman’s Thaliad, awaiting only a trimming. (The air at Ty Isaf is ripe with the smell of oil-based printing-ink and white spirit.) These were promised over at Phoenicia Publishing to the first fifty purchasers of the book, and I regret to report that I’ve been unforgivably tardy over getting the job done. Still, they’ll be off next week. I’ll send all the ones for recipients in the US to Marly or Beth for re-posting, but shall forward the UK bookplates directly. Apologies to everyone for my slowness with this. I’ve been away in the Land of the Mari!

Above: trying out  a print made on coloured paper in another Marly Youmans book, The Foliate Head. The turquoise looks pleasingly jazzy against the red endpapers. I’ll cut a rubber-stamp for my name, as I think the chunkiness of the relief print needs bold lettering for ‘Hicks-Jenkins’ in the space at the bottom. And as I’ll be using this plate in many of my books, a stamp will move things along a bit.

a review from the red room

There’s a glittering review of Thaliad at the book blog Tomcat in the Red Room. Tom writes with a depth of knowledge that deftly contextualises the poem by explaining its literary precedents, and yet offers his insights with such a light touch that any reader, no matter how new to narrative poetry, will feel safely guided through the unfamiliar territory.

Marly has recently been canvasing for suggestions as to how Thaliad might best be described, and Tom has surely added to her shortlist with his summary of it as a ‘mythopoeic epic poem’. Click on the above link to read his review of Thaliad. As a little taster I offer here an extract from it about my contribution.


‘It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who as well as designing the book’s cover, has illustrated small iconographic vignettes that head each of Thaliad’s twenty four chapters (note: the same number of books divide The Iliad).  These striking black and white collages definitely influenced my conception of Thaliad’s world, and the grey-tone in which they’re rendered acts as a satisfying visual call-back to the descriptions of ash and rubble that dominate much of the poem’s imagery.  As well as being unusually beautiful, Thaliad’s artwork is loaded with symbolism and connotation.  The image that heads chapter twenty three, for example, depicts two of the children (now fully-grown) fighting over Thalia.  The icon itself is a silhouette-esque depiction of two men locked in combat, with their swords provocatively placed so as to resemble the positioning of erect phalluses in a way that alludes to the lust that is the deeper subtext and reasoning behind their combat.’

 Tomcat in the Red Room

An anecdote: the late, great Lizzie Organ, who ran the Kilvert Gallery in Clyro and was the first person to show my work, once surprisingly announced… surprising because it was apropos of nothing at all we’d been talking about…  “Clive, I always look for the penises in your paintings, and I never fail to find them.” I replied “Sorry Lizzie, you mean the penises in the paintings of nudes?”  “No, I mean in all your paintings. In the still-lifes, in the landscapes, in every one there’s a penis, and moreover an erect one!” Her partner Eugene Fisk looked aghast. “What on earth are you talking about Lizzie? There are no penises in Clive’s landscape paintings.” “I beg to differ, Euge…” Lizzie shot back, “… they’re in all his paintings and I always find them.”  Bewildered silence from Peter, me and Eugene. “I don’t know why you’re all looking at me like that.” she exclaimed, before bringing the subject to a close with her final word on the matter: “I like them!”