A third set of panoramic stills from my short stop-motion film, Ink (2021), which, unlikely as it now looks, captured the interactions between black marker pen and rubbing alcohol on the surface of a 20cm x 20cm white ceramic tile. A number of the images in this collection remind me very strongly of the sublime horror of the footage of nuclear bomb tests.
A second set of stills from Ink (2021), evoking expansive skyscapes and vast coastal land masses.
Inspired, as ever, by all those dubious photographs of ectoplasmic excretions, I locked myself away in the empty salon of the old French house, and waited for the spirits to show themselves…
For our recent Ernst Haeckel-inspired Kick-About, I produced a short little animation, capturing the rather wonderful effect of rubbing alcohol on drawings made in black marker pen. As the process of producing an animation requires lots and lots of individual frames, I was able to isolate some of these landscape-like transformations as a series of satisfying photographs in their own right. More soon.
It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art Forms’ through time-lapse photography.
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile, frame-by-frame.
With Ernst Haeckel’s beautiful and often bizarre zoological illustrations as my prompt, it was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria (I suspect the global pandemic might have something to do with it too!) and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned.
What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark.
The many individual photographs comprising the film were originally in colour, but I ultimately took the decision to produce the finished film in black and white. It was one of those instances when the sum of the film won out over its parts, with the music and the vintage flicker of the images crying out for monochrome. I’ve included the colour alternate version here for your curiosity.
Following the simple, unadorned charms of our previous still-life inspired Kick-About, in which we were encouraged to turn our creative attentions to objects rather ordinary and domestic, this week’s edition is a good deal more fanciful. With Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature as our collective stomping ground, we’ve generated between us a veritable coral reef of different ideas, processes and creativity.
“Haeckel’s images have that other worldly alienness of the microscopic, to me, they tread a line between the interspatial and the outer spatial. With this image I started “riffing” in Maya with repeated forms, influenced a little by Hebrew descriptions of the Ophanim. With a bit of “evolution” a tiny bit of “Interstellar” and a smidge of “Event Horizon” I ended up here.”
“As regular Kick-Abouters are probably aware, I’ve been playing around with freeform crochet off-and-on throughout these last few months. First I tried faces, then a whole new world, and then the use of crochet to visualise forms from different environments. I had also started to play about with mathematical forms, and I came across the work of Christine and Margaret Wertheim. (Check it out. It is mind-blowing!. I had to have a go. The Kickabout 19 gave me the perfect opportunity to put some of these ideas together. If Ernst Haeckel reveals art forms in nature, what better example than the myriad forms and colours of a coral reef? I just loved this Kick-About. Great fun!”
“Ernst had me take a few snaps of garden toot – nigella, poppy and rocket (or is it arugula over there?) seed heads and some other scraps in a vase on a rainy day. Low light and not much in focus but I think moody.“
“And one little gauche pic – no husband, it is not a pumpkin!”
“I imagine these images (created by mashing together a bunch of images and outputting them through different software) as explosions, atoms, cells, planets or even galaxies seen in their most embryonic stage, viewed through some impossibly powerful microscope.”
“I’ve admired Haeckel’s work for years but had never really researched the man. A surprise was in store… which made me see it in a very different light. He was a eugenicist/scientific racist believing in both the superiority of German culture/ race and monism (represented as a circle with a central dot). This guided my response. I decided to find beauty in the…so called…imperfect, which, to me, has always been a more interesting area to explore: dusty dead insects picked up in my studio, broken / found objects, scratched and stained surfaces, ageing skin… all this evidence of life long lived… so many layers of history.”
Charcoal on Fabriano. 30” X 22” / Crayon on Fabriano. 19” X 19”
“I’ve been a fan of Haeckel’s work for many years. In the mid-1990s I used to work in Covent Garden, in London, and there was a wonderful shop selling books of source material for artists and designers. There would usually be a volume of Haeckel’s images in the window, with a cover illustration of strange and otherworldly creatures.
Haeckel’s prints are an absolute marvel. They record every, tiny detail of each subject with such laser-sharp intensity, an intensity that gives the images a uniquely mysterious and odd quality. In fact, many of the images are quite nightmarish to my mind. What may be harmless sea creatures often seem to have spikes, tendrils and/or tentacles. There are creatures here that remind me of The Thing, when it gets the dog in the kennels...
At the moment there is a jam-jar of twigs and berries on my desk, gathered on a winter walk in the woods just south west of Berlin, not far from where Haeckel was born, it turns out. So, I’ve photographed them for the kick about this week and played about with the images a bit to try and draw out some strangeness. Nothing as remotely strange as a page of Haeckel drawings of plankton though!“
“As per usual I am torn between going down a textile or a painting route with the wonderful art of Ernst Haeckel. Oh, how I wish we had been given such fabulous ideas and examples for study back in the O level days! But hey, it’s never too late and the Kick-About and lockdown is a great opportunity to make another run at the tape, so to speak.
These last few weeks I have spent many hours trudging through soggy woods and finding lots of examples of lichen and leaves. Around my area, Oak and Beech are prevalent, as they don’t rot away easily. Consequently the woodland paths seem to shimmer and shine in the wet and make wonderful shapes and patterns underfoot, which I have tried to capture in acrylics. My other submission is using various stitches, beads and shells depicting an underwater scene I did a while back.”
“This was a curious Kick-About, as the subject matter was immediately attractive to me, mainly because the sense of patterning and natural forms has always attracted my attention. I saw this tower of watch parts in a workshop window in Bristol last week and it reminded me of the images of Ernst Haeckel.
However, in my own work it flows between 2 and 3 dimensions. The desire for me is not so much the patterns as the incongruity and movement in the growing process, and the cellular transparency of delicate organisms.
I started this piece some while ago and I have been trying to come to grips with it over this year. It is made from cardboard boxes cut into strips and reassembled to create a more transparent filigree effect. I do some, then leave it, and then this prompt made me come back to it. Thank you. It needs reviving!
I anticipate it will grow more towards the original drawing as the ‘Limbs’ will become more numerous. I want the piece to curve so that the viewer can stand within to look out on a different world. It’s going to take a while!“
“I was spoiled for choice with this Kick-About, with rural Ireland having a bountiful abundance of botany with textures, colours and shapes, all the flora and vegetation feeling like an endless pick’n’mix. I always find myself thinking about the intricate patterns and shapes as I snap away; mint green reindeer moss looking like bleached coral under a microscopic macro lens, and the swirling and meandering of ice a jigsaw of frozen motion. Twigs, branches and petals look like spores – after some manipulation. Suffice to say, I loved this kick-about and I loved learning about Ernst Haeckel and his gorgeous Illustrations. I could go on and on with creating designs like this and I have a hankering to do so!”
“It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art forms’ through time-lapse photography. It was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria, and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned. What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark…”
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile.
“Here’s my little offering for this week’s Kick-About: a plain and simple graphic study of some fascinating fungi I had in my photo archive of interesting stuff to draw one day. Not sure of their name, but this is no impediment to studying their forms and surfaces. The pattern in the backdrop is based on the folded, rippled surface on the stem. I think I’ve made them look monumental, when in reality they’re probably quite tiny. Great inking practice, my current obsession.”
“What fun this was! I looked in my collage box/reference book collection for nature images that I could combine to create new forms based on Haeckel’s paintings. This is a project that could go on and on…”
in reciprocity to
meet the world halfway
“‘The Story of the Development of a Youth’ consists of Haeckel’s letters home, whilst studying age 18-22 (1852-56). A really good read, brimming with exuberant enthusiasm, energy, and appetite for learning, each letter of enchanting spirit and feeling, humour, impulsiveness, apprehension, mood swing and a deep devotion to Christianity. Haeckel’s left-eye was fixed down the microscope, his right focused on the drawings so, I’ve tried capturing Haeckel’s spirit, framing it within the scope, and beyond it is representation of his melancholy and homesickness.” Oil on prepared paper 50cm x 50cm
Many thanks to Kick-Abouter, Jan Blake, for our next jumping off point – the following quotation from Cifford W Ashley’s The Ashley Book of Knots (1944):
“To prevent slipping, a knot depends on friction, and to provide friction there must be pressure of some sort. This pressure and the place within the knot where it occurs is called the nip. The security of a knot appears to depend solely on its nip.”
Looking forward to seeing where this one takes us – and if you’ve enjoyed this week’s kick-about and fancy a run around with the rest of us, get in touch and get involved.
A few days ago, I was very happy to share this portrait-come-caricature, drawn by the artist, Phill Hosking, to mark the occasion of my forty-sixth birthday. While I am completely mystified by the strange genre of pouting selfies, I am not immune to the satisfaction that comes from finding an image of your own face that you actually like. We’re not supposed to be too interested in our own visage, though in reality most of us are somewhat preoccupied, not by notions of our own rare and transcendent beauty, but rather by the effects upon our faces of the ravages of time. That said, I was very taken with Phill’s birthday drawing. Yes, I thought, that is me right there.
But Phill isn’t the first artist to take liberties with my features. Back in the summer of 2017, a portrait was hung on a newly restored wall in a newly restored room in a newly restored Grade 1 listed Elizabethan townhouse in Rochester, Kent – a house notable for its association with author Charles Dickens, featuring in both The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The portrait in question, featuring an esteemed former resident of the townhouse, bears an uncanny likeness to yours truly, which, at first glance, seems very odd indeed, considering the man in the painting is resplendent in the ruff and cuffs of Tudor fashion. But no, this is not some spooky instance of reincarnation, but rather a bit of historical fabulation, expertly executed by the artist, Kevin Clarkson. I’m going to let Kevin take the story from here…
Kevin Clarkson: “The portrait of Sir Peter Buck was in fact part of a larger illustration project to help tell the story of Eastgate House, a Tudor town house in Rochester, Kent, which was at that time undergoing refurbishment. The house was built for Sir Peter Buck in 1591. It now belongs to Medway Unitary Authority.
In its time, the house has been a Girls school and a museum, as well as a private dwelling. It also featured in several of Charles Dickens novels. I had been involved with a number of historical illustration projects for the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, and was approached to produce visuals for a new suite of visitor engagement graphics for Eastgate House. The oldest rooms of the house were going to be restored as far as possible to their Tudor appearance, supported with suitable information graphics. At my first meeting I learned no image of Sir Peter Buck was known to exist, so it was decided to create one to be incorporated into the graphics. I felt this was a missed opportunity; a man of Buck’s status would likely have a portrait in his home and I suggested we produce a facsimile to hang in the room, rather than be incorporated into the graphics. To my surprise the idea was immediately agreed and I realised I was now tasked with creating a convincing Tudor style portrait.
I began to research Tudor portraiture; one aspect which concerned me was costume. I knew in the later years of Elizabeth 1’s reign, she introduced “Sumptuary” laws that defined what fabrics and colours could be worn by different classes in society. I was keen not to deck Sir Peter out in the wrong kit! A frantic email to the Victoria & Albert Museum elicited a very helpful guide and a large reading list – the project was growing.
The Tudor period was almost the beginning of portrait painting as we know it, where a figure would actually resemble the individual closely, rather than being a generic face surrounded by symbols of wealth and authority. The obvious place to start was looking up Holbein and Hilliard for style and treatment, and then expand to see how portraits developed in the early 1600s, when Sir Peter would be in his prime and most powerful. From the start I was determined this was going to be a real portrait of a living breathing person; I was not going to clone an existing Tudor portrait.
I needed a sitter – but who?
This posed quite a problem, since a full beard was almost universal facial furniture in the alpha-male Tudor portrait, and although the beard is again popular, few take on the luxuriant full Tudor look and frankly the only owner of one I knew well was far too young to be Sir Peter.
The solution came from a passing conversation with my daughter, Emily. She reminded me her former Course Leader sported a beard of Tudor dimensions. I was saved – assuming Phil agreed, of course!
Portraits by Giovanni Battista Moroni
I had by now surveyed the work of a range of artists of the period; my favourite by a long way was the north Italian artist, Moroni. The poses adopted in his work are very informal and natural, very like modern portraiture. Sadly artists working in northern Europe, and the UK in particular, were much more rigid in pose and reluctantly I had to select a more formal look. It was clear Phil would be far too busy to sit for the painting, so photography would have to fill the gap. I supplied a number of Tudor poses to Phil, who was able to create a range of reference photographs from which I could work.
From the series of ‘serious and imperious’ self-portraits and reference images used in the production of the final painted portrait.
Tudor portraits would have been painted in oils using linseed oil as a medium, usually on fruitwood panel or canvas stretched over a softwood frame. I could have used oil but time was against me, so acrylic on panel was my selection. Acrylics dry in minutes, whereas even fast drying oil takes far longer. When varnished, acrylic is often indistinguishable from oil paint.
Kevin’s portrait of ‘Sir Peter Buck’ takes shape.
The actual painting process was straightforward: I gridded the photograph and transcribed it to the actual size of the painting, then began blocking in the colour. One thing I was nervous about was my selection of colour. The Tudor palette would have been composed of fewer colours, and I was determined to remain within the colour vocabulary of the period. I didn’t have time to research exactly which pigments were available at Sir Peter’s time. Instead I studied the colour values of the Tudor portraits I was using for reference and hoped that would keep me in the right area.
On completion I left the painting for a few days before coming back to look with a fresh eye. I don’t think I did more than a couple of tiny adjustments before bonding the paint surface with a sealer coat of gel medium, and, when dry, a gloss acrylic varnish. The new old master was complete!
In the interests of clarity, so that a future curator would not be fooled about the provenance of Sir Peter, I inscribed the back of the painting with details of the sitter, together with the date and my signature.
Thankfully Sir Peter was well received and is now a permanent resident of Eastgate House.”
The completed portrait / Kevin Clarkson 2007
Sir Peter Buck’s portrait hanging in Eastgate House, Rochester, Kent
What I enjoyed about the most recent Kick-About prompt was the way Leger’s painting encouraged immediacy and directness – a sort of ‘first pass, job done’ flourish that meant lingering too long on any subject wasn’t quite the ticket. I also appreciated a chance to occupy a more domestic space – nothing metaphysical to see here, ladies and gents! Our kitchen is stuffed full of house plants – I look at them many times a day, every day. They are as part of the fixtures and fittings of our kitchen as the cutlery and plates. With this in mind, I wanted to make them the subject of my offering this week, and also to try a new technique first brought to my attention by fellow kick-abouter, Charly Skilling – drawing onto ceramic tiles with Sharpie markers, and then spritzing the drawings with alcohol to encourage them to bleed and soften to pleasingly impressionist effect. To be honest, I worked up these studies super-fast and without any fuss or forethought and just really enjoyed what the process itself was giving back. Given the knock-about informality of the technique, it amused me a bit to dial-up the formality with some tasteful frames, imagining these ill-disciplined little drawings on the walls of some tasteful interior.
Up-close, there’s so much activity and texture in these tiny unstable explosions of colour and subject, I couldn’t resist abstracting everything a little further.
Inevitably, given the monochromatic weather and newly-announced ‘lock-down 3’, I find myself preoccupied with memories of different sights and warmer climes.
Back in February, 2017, I visited Rome in the company of a crowd of students, alumni and staff, and during the course of our five day stay, walked the length and breadth of the city. The weather was amazing, the sights impressive, and the food delicious – with the exception of one group meal so haphazard and underwhelming, the experience of it still lives on in the collective imaginations of an entire cohort of students. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what the nutritional benefits may or may not have been of my daily morning cocktail of Berocca, Pro Plus and velvety double espressos, but they certainly ensured my camera and I remained very much alive to every sight and sound the Eternal City had to offer.
Phil Cooper, Bertram 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper
‘Welcome to the Museum Room,’ said Bertram proudly. ‘This is where I come to remember Gregory Gimble, who was saving up for the Speed-Steed skateboard in the window of Mrs Tiffin’s Toyshop. This is where I come to remember the promise Gregory would have me make each time he entrusted his pocket money to me; “Keep it safe for me, pig. Keep it safe”. This is where I come to hear again the conversations Gregory would share with me last thing at night, his dreams of racing wheels, of the rush of the wind, and of all the daring tricks he would one day perform in front of Muriel Proops, the girl with the blueberry bubble-gum who stood by the drinks fountain. This is where I come to remember what it was I was meant for.’
“Sometimes I have an idea about what a character in Chimera Book 1 might sound like, or look like. Then I hear Dan’s narration and suddenly the voice he gives to characters is how they will then sound in my head for ever more. It’s like they really only could sound like that. The characters taking centre-stage in the book at the moment are good examples; Whirlitzer, Doctor Ossifer and Bertram have always been a joy, but Dan has brought them to life in such a delightful and thrilling way. This week I decided to try an illustration of Bertram, the cute but rather bolshy little skateboarding pig. And I LOVE his voice, ‘rules, rules rules’. How could I resist?”
Phil Cooper, January 2021
Phil Cooper’s Bertram painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, January 2021