Drawing in Layers


Preparing the stencils ready for producing a screen print is a relatively new experience for me, though under Daniel Bugg’s guidance I find myself greatly enjoying the the learning curve. It was odd, to begin with, creating an image only to deconstruct it in order to build again, this time in layers.


Now I find those layers to be fascinating. Neither the original preparatory image, nor the print that will come later, they have their own transient, translucent allure.




There’s paint, both opaque and transparent, drawings made in lithography crayon and in ink and collaged elements, where films marked with ‘frottage’ – rubbings made over rough surfaces such as the floorboards of my studio – are cut and taped into place to add diversity and density of mark-making.


Occasionally there are errors, excised with a scalpel and repaired with transparent tape elastoplasted over the wounds.


Of course, the only people who usually see the stencils are artist and printer. But today, for visitors here, I’ve made an album of images of the stencils for my current print-in-the-making.

Clive, Aleksy and the Green Knight


The Green Knight Arrives, by Aleksy Cichoń

As Dan Bugg and I work over the summer on prints two-to-seven in the Gawain and the Green Knight series, in Poland, Aleksy Cichoń is going to keep pace, making a corresponding drawing for each print, conjuring his own vision of images based on the text. As the work unfolds, we’ll discuss the various ways in which we approach the themes of Gawain and the Green Knight. Here the conversations begin.



Aleksy, what a wonderful image to find in my inbox this morning. This is a beauty.

I was trying to think of a word to describe how you draw, and fluency is the word that keeps coming to mind because it expresses the quality of being at ease in a language, and you draw with exceptional ease. Compositionally it is enticing and mysterious. The Green Knight doesn’t emerge through the door sitting high in the saddle, blazing with energy. This feels like old magic, something that starts slowly in darkness, stirs, rises and grows in strength, uncoiling into the light. I’m drawn by his averted gaze, the slumped body, his arm outstretched with palm uppermost, the sprig of holly held lightly between his fingers, and the energy in the horse’s stance, balking at the threshold and the throng of the Christmas revellers out of sight of the viewer. All these are unexpected choices that work wonderfully well. But particularly strange is the fact that he sits sideways on his mount, rather than astride. It’s entirely unexpected, visually arresting and psychologically intriguing. This green man doesn’t have to master his green horse the way mortal men master their beasts, between strong thighs and with commanding hands. These two, are as one, and whatever passes between them requires no signals or physical control. I’m touched that you made and shared this drawing with me.

One of the reasons that I wanted to be a painter rather than an illustrator, was because I feared illustration might turn out to be a job where I would only gain employment if I produced to order, which I felt I had neither the skills nor temperament for. So I made my way as a painter who exhibits and sells in galleries. But now, perhaps because of my profile as a painter, I occasionally get asked to make book covers. I’m quite sure I couldn’t make a living at it, but I like that my work as an artist has reached out and created these opportunities, because I have always enjoyed the art of the paperback book cover, particularly in the European tradition.

The poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is full of descriptions. Pages and pages of them. The poet offers forensically detailed accounts of what people wear, and the Green Knight’s appearance is described down to the the embroideries on his garters. So as I work on the print series, I avert my eyes from those descriptions, because the words make evocative images in the imagination that don’t need realising in the illustrations. Instead I make accompanying images to the text that prompt different trains of thought, opening unexpected ways of seeing.

In your drawing, you have done the same thing. You’ve created an image to make the reader turn his eyes away from the text, and toward something inward looking. It’s emotionally powerful in the way that a description of the Knight’s wardrobe, is not. This, for me, is the great skill of the artist/illustrator confident and skilled enough to rise to the challenge. I would love to see you express further ideas based on this text. Judging from your first drawing, you would find surprising solutions!

Do you know the work of Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), who was a painter, illustrator and muralist? Your drawings remind me a little of his.


Frank Brangwyn drawing of a leadworker

You have the same ease with a pencil, making lines flow across the paper with mesmerising energy. I can see connections, too, with the great illustrator Arthur Rackham. (1867-1939)

Arthur Rackham illustration for Aesop’s Fables


Dear Clive,
Your proposition of The-Green-Knight-Challenge is so great! I’ll participate in it with pleasure! It’ll be an antidote to my laziness in drawing. This is an amazing theme to explore. Furthermore, my last readings’ll not go to waste. What a good news.

I hope you’re well and many thanks for nice words about my knight. (You might know what my reaction was.) Sadly I had only shitty Xerox paper, but it was very relaxing for me – I hope that I’ll paint something bigger and better based on this sketch.

Brangwyn! (funny thing – I was thinking about adding some ink to this pencil piece) I know some of his paintings – especially the one with shirtless workers. I like his applying of paint: thick and bold but without fatal manner of Leyendecker, for example. Leyendecker stuck in “everything satin” style of painting, extremely fashionable in his time. Certainly he would be something like Sargent in illustration but without success and … without talent. Leyendecker is wildly weak and still idolized by crowds of contemporary illustrators – let’s try to guess why. Just terrible example of popular artist.

I understand very well your dilemmas about being illustrator, especially when you starting career straight as illustrator – you’re required to do job just like more advanced storyboard maker. In Poland this is daily situation and it looks like you’re not professional who knows what to do – you’re only man-machine doing exactly what they want. No risk, only conformist form of everything. Few years ago I was working as illustrator for Cracow’s University of Agriculture – some pictures illustrated collection of polish agricultural proverbs. One of them was about goat killed by wolf. Right, interesting for every draughtsman. So I did one inky picture and author of book refused to publish it. “Too sexual!” she said. Haha, OK, your loss! By the way – the bigger copy of this piece is hanging in the office of the director of publishing house. Too sexual for book but not quite for the office.

Detail of a screenprint stencil in progress for The Green Knight Arrives, by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

So, you’re ‘approved’ painter and you’re becoming an illustrator… OK, hold on – I know nothing about it but when I’m looking at examples of covers made by you – I’m impressed. And I’m happy that you’re doing exactly what you want to draw/cut/paint. Because of that, these books are unique, well-designed and beautiful as objects.

Yesterday I showed your works friend of mine – in one word: she was chuffed! She’s studying fashion and business (really terrible mixture) in Denmark and she day by day write to me that she suffer because of all contemporary things. Not only rags, but art at all. So I’m some kind of super hero who brings cure for her pain – great pictures. This time the great ones were yours. She greets you and she told me that she’s happy because good painters are rarity. Especially with that power of colour!

And about your prints – are they lithographs? I’ve never did anything ‘really graphic’, expect one linocut – so you must forgive my question. I ask because the colours are extremely vivid. I associate litho with gentle palette.


The Penfold Press specialises in screenprints. However, I’m making the separations on True-Grain, which is a transparent, granulated plastic film that was invented to replace unwieldy lithography stone. I work on the grainy surface with lithography crayon, which is why you might mistake the prints for lithographs.

Detail from Christmas at Camelot by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, editioned by Daniel Bugg at the Penfold Press.

Below: working on True-Grain film at the Penfold Press.



Winter Knight Redux

While surfing Pinterest for reference material on armour as I progress with my Gawain print series with the Penfold Press, I chanced upon this version of my 2014 painting, Winter Knight. I have no idea who made it, but I rather like the vibrant green/red combo, and the collaged wooly beard! I like, too, the fine, squiggly marks on the fur collar, which look as though they might be sgrafitto. (Marks made by scratching through wet paint to the underlying colour/surface.)

Here’s the original, for comparison. Have to say that I feel rather flattered that someone wanted to make their own version, and I really like it!

The Green Knight and the Perfect Pose

There is a pose I’ve loved ever since I was a child. It appears throughout the history of the arts, from ancient Greek vases to the age of photography, and I’ve explored it in many forms in my work as a choreographer, and as a painter. As far as I can remember, I noticed it first in the statue by Rodin, pictured below. Here the hand is raised to a head turned to offer its profile to the viewer. There’s something about the containment of the profile within that triangular space, and the sense of an interior landscape dreamed behind shuttered eyes.


A variation of the pose can be seen in a poster depicting Vaslav Nijinsky as he appeared in Le Spectre de la Rose for the Ballet Russe. Here the arm is draped across the top of the head, so that it tenderly cradles it. The mood is drenched in erotically charged languor.


Much later the Nijinsky pose was recreated by choreographer Mathew Bourne, and the effect is less languid than in the Nijinsky image, emphasising instead a fierce, proud energy and dynamic.


Adam Cooper in Matthew Bourne’s reinvention of Swan Lake, with a male dancer in the role of the Swan that until then had been danced only by ballerinas.

The pose appeared in some of my earliest works. Here it is in a study for the figure beneath the sheet of a Mari Lwyd (a Welsh mumming tradition) made in 1999.


Saint Hervé, made in 2011. Everywhere there are triangles, forming both positive and negative spaces.


Right now I’m working on the next print in my Gawain series for the Penfold Press: The Green Knight Arrives.

The image is a close-up, and is intended to show the moment before the Green Knight pounds on the door of King Arthur’s Christmas court. Here in icy silence, he wipes his brow and prepares for the trial ahead. After this night of wonders, lives will be changed and stories will be told. I wanted a close-up so that I could show the Green Knight’s weariness and wariness, and the dark inkiness of his foliate-tattooed arm. He is the actor waiting in the shadows of the stage-wings, tense and anxious. But when he steps into the limelight, all will be blazing energy and power and magic. The gesture is tender, solipsistic, self-comforting and unexpected. In the spaces around him will be a landscape. Possibly holly leaves, or the snowy pollarded trees that didn’t make it into Christmas at Camelot. For me, this is the playtime, before the hard work of bringing the print into the world.

Christmas at Camelot

Preparing to start on the series Gawain and the Green Knight with Dan Bugg at Penfold Press has been the biggest adventure. And now we’re off at a gallop with the first in the series of fourteen editioned prints based on the poem. Click on the link below to read James Russell’s bracing description of the image.


You can find details of the print at The Penfold Press

The Tailor and the Penfold Printer


In Beatrix Potter’s favourite of the books she produced, an ailing tailor hurries to complete the intricate embroidery of the Mayor of Gloucester’s wedding waistcoat. When the tailor, too ill to continue, leaves the unfinished waistcoat and takes to his bed, the mice emerge from the wainscot to complete his work for him. I have always loved the story, Potter’s shimmering, dancing prose, and the wonderful illustrations that accompany it.

Right now I feel like the old tailor, while Dan Bugg is playing all those mice, with their busy paws and meticulous workmanship.


I am new to screen-printing. My first print at the Penfold Press was Man Slain by a Tiger, and the experience was entirely a happy one. Dan guided me unerringly through the processes, which was by way of a preparation for the ambitious fourteen-print series we plan on making together, based on the medieval poem, Gawain and the Green Knight. The first in that series will be out in time to make it into the Christmas stocking of anyone interested. Titled Christmas at Camelot, it shows Arthur, Guinevere and Gawain on horseback, hunting with hawks. I started with a coloured pencil study, made as a guide. Here is a detail of the drawing.

Next I made the four separations that would be transferred to the screens ready for printing. These were made as layers, in paint and lithography crayon on TrueGrain, a granulated, transparent plastic.

In Yorkshire, Dan and I had two days in the studio getting playful with the printing process. It soon became apparent that my original plan to print just in grey, green, black and red, was not working as well as I’d hoped. There was a dry, constrained quality to what was emerging. I thought I might have to start my work again, but Dan was adamant that he thought the composition and drawing were beautiful, and that we just needed to enliven the print with some more layers.


He encouraged me to add another two separations, and this time, advised by him, I worked in paint and brushes, and I kept the mark-making gestural. (See the image above.) I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing, but Dan watched and encouraged, and promised me that all would be well.

At such a stage, when things seem to be getting out of control, you can do one of two things: have a meltdown, or trust and surrender to the collaborative process. I chose the latter.


I left Dan with what seemed to me to be an almost unreadable tangle of marks. When I’m at the easel in my studio, I work my way methodically through such muddles, but in this case I was having to leave Dan to to sort things out. It would require a huge leap of the imagination on his part to understand what I was aiming for in terms of mood, colour, balance and coherence. But Dan has such skills in bucketloads, and soon he was producing images that made complete sense.





Dan continued to print in my absence. We messaged:
23/11/2015 19:16
Daniel Bugg
I hope you don’t mind but I’ve had real fun with the images. As you are at a distance from the studio I decided to work through any colour combinations I could. That way you can see what I see as I print.
23/11/2015 19:16
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
You’ve been a busy boy. Suffice to say that I won’t lose sleep over these, the way I would have done over the first ones we did. Things are looking so much more exciting! Thanks, Dan. Most heartening! And I don’t mind at all. Why would I mind when you make my work look so good?
23/11/2015 19:22
Daniel Bugg
I spend so much time with the images I can’t help but play, as it’s so easy for me to make changes during the printing. I’ve always worked this way. I see it as my job to give you options and yours to tell me to bugger off if you don’t like them! Some of the most interesting prints I’ve made were informed by a collage approach to various proofs. When you receive the images we’ll talk through some of the options. Of which there are many!

This is an entirely collaborative process. The fact is that Dan knows what will work better in terms of a print, than I do.  He knocked me into shape in the studio in double quick time. He shook me until my brains… or what passes for them.. rattled, and all the change dropped out of my pockets. It was terrifying and rewarding. It still is. All the marks in the images are mine, but the ways in which they’ve been layered are down to Dan’s skill. At this stage we’re still playing, and the final decisions have yet to be taken. It’s an exciting time.


Please forgive the length of time between the last post and this one. My Mac had a mechanical breakdown and had to be sent away to have a new drive inserted. Back to normal again now.

Moving Toward a Print

Above: detail of a coloured-pencil study for Christmas at Camelot

The past couple of weeks have been spent preparing studies and then colour separations for the first in my Gawain and the Green Knight series with Daniel Bugg of The Penfold Press. Titled Christmas at Camelot, it’s been a tough one, not least because it’s such a complicated composition, showing King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and Gawain, each on horseback in a wintry landscape.

The carefully worked, coloured-pencil study, although different in many details from the way the final print will look, nevertheless has been a crucial aid in making the separations. It shows how the four colours of the print should work together. For instance, if you closely examine the mail on Gawian’s head, arms and leg in the image above, you’ll see that green, red and black are used in the mark-making, each colour of which requires a separate transparency. Without a colour guide to help me, the job of making the separations would be even more confusing than it was.

The separations are made on sheets of transparent polymer called True Grain. Later, the finished print will be in cherry red, emerald green, a warm grey and black. Because True Grain has a rough texture, when worked on with lithography crayons the resulting marks have a pleasingly grainy character.

Below are some details of the coloured study, the simple pencil-line guide-drawing, and the finished separations. The five separations, plus the simple pencil-line guide-drawing for them, will now be delivered to Daniel at his studio in Selby, where they’ll be used to make the ‘screens’ ready for printing. It’s a relief to get to this stage. This one has been keeping me awake at night!

Details of a coloured pencil study on card.

Detail of a pencil drawing placed under the layers of True Grain to guide the rendering of the image.

Details of artwork made in lithography crayon, ink and paint on True Grain.


To take the photographs above, I held the five layers of drawing on transparent film, against a light. The image isn’t rendered in the colours it’ll be printed in, a peculiarity of the process that I find takes a lot of getting used to. In your head you have to constantly transpose what you’re drawing, into the colours you envisage in the printing process. I tell you, it’s a mind-fuck!

Christmas in Camelot is due to be published soon. Look out for it at

The Penfold Press

From Painting to Printing: part one

Above: early stage drawing for Hansel & Gretel

Hansel & Gretel is my first picture-book, Given that I’m sixty-four, there has to be some likelihood that it’ll be my first and last, and so there’s a great deal tied up in it for me. It’s something I have to get right, because for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to make a book with the story told in pictures, though I never seriously thought it would happen. Before even the change of career that took me from the stage to the studio aged forty, I’d fantasised about making picture-books, so this is a long-held dream made reality.

Becoming a painter was the biggest surprise to me at the time it began to happen. I’d thought that with luck and a following wind I might become good enough to be able to put brush to canvas without embarrassing myself too much, but I never once thought that things would go the way they did, until I found myself regularly exhibiting and selling. Eventually I realised that my career was shaping in a way that meant I was becoming a ‘gallery’ artist, and that a future of regular exhibitions was going to be the way I made my living. But I never lost my love of illustration, and from time to time I pondered on whether working as a painter might offer opportunities to explore the possibilities of making books.

Below: an Old Stile Press image I made for The Sonnets of Richard Barnfield

The first books I produced images for came as a result of an invitation from Nicolas and Frances McDowall at The Old Stile Press. The McDowalls make limited edition hand-printed and hand-bound books, collaborating closely with artists and printmakers. At the time I started working with Nicolas, I was not a printmaker (I  was barely established as an artist) and so it was a great leap of faith on Nicolas’ and Frances’ part to invite me to work with them. Moreover they understood me as a painter, because almost from the beginning of my career as an artist, they had collected my work. As I see it my apprenticeship in book-making was thanks to them, and to date I’ve made a number of books for the Old Stile Press, the last of which was the illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus.

Below: Frontispiece image of Equus

It’s a matter of great pride to me that I illustrated the covers of the two volumes of The Old Stile Press Bibliography.

I remember once telling my partner Peter that I’d really feel like a painter when someone came along and put a work of mine on the cover of a book. Oddly enough, when that happened and an ink drawing I’d made of a Mari Lwyd on paper was put onto a paperback volume of poetry, the result was disappointing. The image was reversed, the colour was digitally stained so that it looked as though it had been pinned to the wall of a room where people had smoked for forty years, and the title and author letterings were lamentable.

In time I began to see that though reproductions of paintings on book covers could occasionally work, they too often didn’t. More often than I was comfortable with, the reproduction, the cropping and the design and lettering let the whole thing down. Having your work on the cover of a book, I learned, is only satisfying when the design is beautifully executed. Sometimes that happened, as when Anita Mills designed the cover of a book for the Carolina Wren Press that featured a painting of mine, and she did it so beautifully that I loved the result. For the front cover of Yvonne C. Murphy’s volume of poetry, Aviaries, for the Carolina Wren Press, Anita cropped the image to a detail, but then added a smaller illustration of the full painting on the back of the book, which I thought worked wonderfully.

Below: the full picture. It’s titled, Paper Theatre.

When time allowed and opportunities came my way, I began to make book cover images for some of my friends, the chief  among them being Marly Youmans, who because of her reputation as a writer was able to persuade one of her publishers to employ me. For The Foliate Head she even persuaded the publisher to take on my brother-in-law, Andrew Wakelin, as the designer, and he produced a splendid book-cover and ensured the layout inside was handsome. It was The Foliate Head that also established my regular practice of making page-division images and vignettes for Marly’s books.

Above: cover of The Foliate Head, and below, vignette for the book.

Marly’s books at Mercer University Press are designed by Mary-Frances Glover-Burt. I trust Mary-Frances. We regularly work together and she is a rock.

These days, while I wouldn’t lay claim to being an illustrator, I balance my ‘easel’ work with graphic projects that interest me. I continue to make book covers for Marly, and I make covers, too for Damian Walford Davies, at the Welsh publishing house of Seren.

For Seren I also recently produced a cover for Mary-Ann Constantine’s forthcoming novel, Star-Shot, together with vignette drawings for the interior.

After having produced some Hansel & Gretel images for Simon Lewin’s second edition of his fund-raising-for-charity periodical, Random Spectacular, he suggested that we work together on expanding the collaboration into a full-blown ‘picture-book’.

Below: a Hansel & Gretel spread from Simon Lewin’s Random Spectacular Two


This is a dream project for me. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m going about it with a huge amount of pleasure. It’s interesting that at the same time I’ve been preparing H & G, I’ve been forging a friendship and partnership with printmaker Daniel Bugg of the Penfold Press, producing with his help my first screen-print, Man Slain by a Tiger. I’m enjoying bringing my experience as an ‘easl’ artist to these new fields of making images for the medium of print.

Part Two coming soon.

The Making of Gringolet: part 1

Gawain’s horse is named in the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as Gringolet. I’m making a maquette of him in preparation for my Penfold Press series of fourteen editioned prints based on the poem.

I’ve spent more time than usual on this maquette, as I was looking for an elegant sense of movement in the horse. I’m not yet sure whether that’s a quality I’ll transfer to the prints, but I feel the maquette will be more useful to me in the long term if I can invest it with grace.

I begin by constructing a paper pattern to the scale of the planned maquette.

When all the details of construction and movement repertoire have been worked out, I transfer the component shapes to coloured paper and begin rendering in pencil.

The rendered papers are glued to card, trimmed and fitted with brads on the backs. Holes are made where required to receive the brads. When maquettes are assembled, these attachment-points don’t show on the fronts of them.

Gradually, piece by piece, Gringolet appears.