Thursday 31 January 2008

Bees in a Blizzard & Dripping Pianos

TODAY I SIT at my desk looking out at a blizzard of wild sideways-swirling-snows and paint bees and gnarled trees for an album cover commission ...

Meanwhile Tui has been sneaking into the village hall across the way where they keep an old piano in the men's toilets ... he hid his recording device inside the back of the piano whilst he played to the sound of cisterns refilling and dripping taps.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

The Smudge Fly

A NEW DRAWING of mine ...
merged skilfully by Tui into an old cracked photograph ...
The Smudge Fly ... for sale here ...

Saturday 26 January 2008

Moving still pictures

WHILST EMBROILED in storyboarding the animation, I came across a review in the sunday paper about a book just published by Scholastic - The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. So intrigued was I that I ordered it from amazon and have just finished "reading" it. It has a most unusual format ~ sections of the text have been replaced by sequential images - soft pencil drawings, which move the plot onwards until a few pages of words are called for. The pages are all edged in black which gives you a feeling of being let into a great secret when opening it.
The story, which is based in 1930s Paris, follows a young orphan boy and thief - Hugo - and tells of clockmakers, trains, magicians, mysterious drawings and, to my great delight, an automaton. Selznick was much influenced by early cinema and indeed includes Georges Méliès - French filmmaker and special effects pioneer - in the story. I was particularly interested in this method of storytelling because the laying out of images in a sequence to tell a tale without words is something I must learn more about in my making of animations ...

This book led me to another exquisite book without words ~
The Arrival a Hodder publication by Australian illustrator Shaun Tan. This is told entirely with lovely sepia pencil drawings and conjures a strange yet not strange other world. I've not known much of Shaun Tan's work until now .. so will investigate his other books further. Any other recommendations and suggestions of similar books would be most welcome.

Automata spark my imagination no end so the tale of the automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a treat... Selznick based his automaton on a wonderful creation built by Henri Maillardet in 1800 which could write and draw. It was a marvellous feat of engineering that was restored to its former glory after being damaged in a fire:

Well... thus inspired I go to my drawing desk... the rain is relentless outside and the fire just lit...

NB: all images from the books are nicked off the web and copyright Brian Selznick & Shaun Tan - hope they don't mind :)

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Some brown parcel tape & the beginnings of a tale ...

THE orla wren animation is begun!
The story is gently beginning to tell itself with pencil drawings that will be moved very small distances, remote shorelines and, of course, beautiful music in the autumn of its completion.
I have rigged up the most Heath-Robinsonian affair ever known which is supposed to be an animation studio .. this involves a video camera attached with brown parcel tape to some bits of damp kindling that never made it to the fire, which are screwed together and clamped to an old Singer sewing machine table flap... with bits of cardboard box between the clamp jaws to protect it. The lighting consists of an Ikea lamp balanced on a wooden stool balanced on some breadboards balanced on a box of drawing equipment. And the imagery is taped onto the top of a low shelf and encircled with shiny white card to bounce light back onto the scene.

I am using different stop frame animation software this time ~ Animator DV ~ which is designed for use with digital video cameras. We have managed to set the camera up so that it just "sees" the scene under the lens and then I can use the program to grab stills. Goodness knows whether I will be able to get to grips with it. Today there have been many grittings-of-teeth-ings whilst trying to animate the most minuscule paper character, as well as trippings-over-of-wirings and breakings-of-lampings and a little bit of cursing!

My last (and first!) animation was a rougher beast with characters and scenery painted onto cardboard.. and a tight deadline to work to. This time I am drawing the tale with a very fine pencil and the piece will be slower moving in subtle colours and with tender sounds.

After many thousands of frames and a good few months you will see and hear the delightful result!

I must be the luckiest of animators to be sat in the room animating to a beautiful track whilst it is being created. This ~ The Fish and The Doll ~ will become the first track of the new orla wren album ~ to be released later this year.

Friday 18 January 2008

Naomi & The Devil of Darkling Green

TODAY'S TALE takes us into the mind of a young girl who is not like the others, into forests and derelict mental asylums, into a village plagued by Strange Goings On and

a murder of crows,
a caucus of crows,
an alibi of crows,
a hover of crows,
a congress of crows,
a storytelling of crows,
a horde of crows,
a muster of crows,
a parcel of crows,
a cowardice of crows,
a cauldron of crows *

arriving in ever growing numbers to take roost on the roofs.

I am very pleased to announce that I was happened upon this winter by Danny Rhodes, a Kent author whose new book Naomi & The Devil of Darkling Green is to be published by Scott Pack of The Friday Project in spring 2009. I have been set the task of bringing Darkling Green and all its inhabitants to life with my pencil and paintbrush and I am very excited indeed...

*some collective nouns for crows ... aren't they wonderful!

Thursday 17 January 2008

A nOrsebox!

FRIENDS, take a look at our new home ... a true house on wheels! A 1976 Bedford TK Horsebox, bought purely with earnings from picture sales. So thank yous to all those people who supported us by buying pictures before Christmas and thank yous to the lovely people who sold us our new home and who didn't really want to part with it.

Once it is kitted out with stove and bookshelves and nicknacks and pictures and pots and pans and hanging things and carpets and teapots and paintbrushes and laptops and instruments and brooms and pillows and plants and ...
Well ... then we'll be off on the wander for a while with our work and spend days parked in Scandinavian forests.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

A house, a tree and two birds

HERE IS my latest painting .. a gift for my brother and his girlfriend who have just bought their first house together. It is painted with oils on an old slice of wood found last year on one of our walks in these Scottish hills. I have left the uneven cracked and sawn surface, because I like that sort if thing...

Friday 11 January 2008

A Busy Nest

THE HERMITAGE nest is very busy at the moment ...

there are sketchings and paintings
and musical arrangings
and animation-plannings
and drivings in van-ings
and recordings of soundings
and coffee aboundings
and readings and writings
and staying-up-all-nightings

So while we are busy with all that, I leave you with yet another black-and-whitey snowy picture!

Monday 7 January 2008

House on Wheels

WHEELS ON HOUSES are one of the Best Things.
Here's one I made.
Inside is a tale about a king who journeys to find What Really Matters. As the wheels turn, they move wooden cogs underneath which in turn turn the scroll inside and the words of the tale move past the windows.

Thursday 3 January 2008

Snow in the Village


SNEGUROCHKA, the Russian Snow Maiden is the daughter of Father Frost and Mother Spring. The legend tells that she became more beautiful with each day she grew, and her parents realised that she was becoming a young woman who they could not keep secluded from the world for ever.

Snegurochka is allowed to explore the world and comes to meet new people and young men who fall in love with her. However, as long as she remains in the forest, its spirit protects her from Yarilo, the sun god, and her suitors cannot find her. Eventually, Mother Spring gives her a Love Wreath made from flowers, knowing with both sadness and delight that it would warm up her cold heart. Snegurochka is then able to fall in love and spends one happy evening with her sweetheart, singing and dancing. But she knows that with the first rays of the sun god in the morning she will melt away and be gone.

Illustration: drypoint etching

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Father Frost

FATHER FROST or Dedt Moroz is a Siberian ice spirit who hides in fir trees deep in the forest and as he snaps his fingers, he splits and shatters the trees.

Legend tells a similar story to that of Mother Holle, involving a Husband and his second wife, each with a daughter from their first marriages. The wife’s daughter was spoiled and mean, whereas the husband’s daughter was very gentle and kind. The wife only loved her daughter and made the other girl work very hard. The poor girl cleaned and cooked for her stepmother, and was often beaten as the wife’s hatred for her grew.

One day, in the middle of a terrible winter, the wife decided that the girl should be taken deep into the woods and left there to die. The husband of course did not want to agree to this, but himself also afraid of the woman, he reluctantly took his daughter into the forest where he left her. The girl sat helpless and alone under a tree. Soon she heard the breaking and snapping of twigs and branches, and then a voice spoke. “Are you warm my child?” It asked. The girl recognized the ominous voice as that of Father Frost and replied, “Yes Father Frost, I'm quite warm.” Father Frost repeated his question several times, each time coming closer to the girl. The girl always answered that she was warm, and then thanked him. Feeling pity for the poor creature, Father Frost wrapped her in a beautiful coat, showered her with gifts, and kept her warm throughout the night.

Returning the next day to retrieve his daughter's body, the husband was happily surprised to find her not only alive, but dressed warmly and covered with riches. Upon their return home, the jealous wife then insisted that her own daughter be left in the forest overnight, hoping that she too would return wealthy.

Again the husband travelled deep into the woods, this time leaving his step daughter there. As the night grew long she too heard the voice of Father Frost. “Are you warm my child?” he asked. The girl was annoyed with his question and replied, “Of course not, now leave me alone!” Father Frost was enraged with her reply and sent the coldest frost that there had ever been.

When the husband went into the woods the next day, he returned not with the girl showered in riches, but with her cold frozen body instead. Upon his return home he took his daughter and left his evil wife. The husband and his daughter lived happily ever after.

Illustration: drypoint etching

Tuesday 1 January 2008

A day of firsts

TODAY, this first day of the year I sold the first copy of Telling Stories to the Trees on etsy, and I received my first ever royalties! They were for my front cover illustration for the lovely series of Gypsy Music books written by Gundula Gruen and published by Spartan Press.

A collection of 63 gypsy tunes from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, collected and arranged for fiddle, Bb & C instruments with chord symbols. The CD was recorded live by Gundula Gruen (violin) and Zivorad Nikolic (accordion). Countries represented include Russia, Hungary, Romania, Ex-Yugoslavia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romany Tunes and some Virtuoso gypsy pieces to finish. Difficulty level ranges from easy to advanced!

Order them here!:

Father Christmas

THIS WELL KNOWN AND LOVED character has evolved nowadays into the sickly-sweet “acceptable” American Santa Claus, but he has ancient and diverse origins, which are not all so “clean” and indeed may not be so successful in the realm of ringing cash registers!

Father Christmas is a blend of many different cultures, customs, legends and mythological creatures. His earliest ancestors date back to a time when the earth was ruled by sky-riding gods, but much of his legend is based on the life of St Nicholas, a fourth century bishop from Patara, in what is now Turkey.

In 9th century England the Anglo-Saxons honoured King Winter or King Frost. Welcoming him as a personage or deity was believed to make the season less harsh on them. With the arrival of the Vikings to the British Isles during the 9th and 10th centuries Odin, their chief god, influenced the winter gift practices. Odin had twelve different characters and the December character was known as Yalka or Jule – this month was thus called Jultid (our Yuletide). The Vikings believed that Odin visited earth during this time on Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse. He would be disguised in a long blue hooded cloak and carrying a staff and a satchel of bread, accompanied by a raven or crow. He was said to join groups around their fire and listen to their conversations to see if they were content. He would sometimes leave the bread as a gift at poor homesteads.

This Nordic figure lent a good deal to the image of St Nicholas, a wealthy Bishop who was nevertheless legendary for his generosity and kindness to the poor. One legend tells of three young women in his parish, who Nicholas became concerned about, since their poor father was about to deliver them to a life of slavery. He came to their house late at night and tossed three bags of gold down the chimney, landing by chance in the sisters’ stockings which were hung by the hearth to dry.

St Nicholas was remembered for his championing of the needy and of children and has lent this generous spirit to our Christmas celebrations. After the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, the veneration of Catholic Saints was banned and people did not want to lose their winter gift-giving saint. St Nicholas underwent a transformation into a new, non-religious but nonetheless generous figure. He became Weihnachtsmann in Germany, Father Christmas in England, Pere Noel in France and Sinter Klaas in Holland, although he is still also referred to as St Nicholas. The Scandinavians also lent their gift-giving elves like the Tomte to the image of Father Christmas, adding a friendly rotundness to his slightly austere image.

Father Christmas has various companions, one of which in Germany is Knecht Ruprecht. However, not all of his helpers are frightening; the Christkindl, meaning Christ Child, was thought to accompany him in many countries. Indeed, the Christian Christmas story is difficult to separate from these other winter legends.

Father Christmas’ connection with reindeer harks back to ancient times when the Winter King was a symbol of masculine natural energy, embodied in the stag and other horned animals. His reindeer are replacements for Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir. Magic is obviously an integral part of the legend and enables Father Christmas to deliver gifts to all children around the world on Christmas Eve!
Immigrants to the New World brought along their beliefs and customs, the Dutch settlers bringing Sinter Klaas – later to become the modern American Santa Claus.

Illustration: drypoint etching