Last year, composer Andrew Fisher very kindly agreed to write the theme for my audiobook adaptation of my first children’s book, Chimera Book 1. Andrew nailed it first time out, taking all the inspiration he needed from artist Phil Cooper’s artwork, and delivering a wonderful mix of b-movie-meets-magic, all shimmer, Halloween chills and a pang of melancholy. A few months later, Andrew invited me on as his first guest on his all-new The Two Rivers Café podcast, where he challenged me to make a new short film on a given theme, to which he would then compose an original score. The theme I chose to work with was ‘wine’ – which was counter-intuitive considering wine doesn’t agree with me! You can listen to our conversation here and watch the film we made together below. Andrew will be talking to, and collaborating with, other creatives in subsequent episodes, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in The Two Rivers Café .
Wine Doesn’t Agree With Me (2021) Phil Gomm / Andrew Fisher
There are a number of things I miss about my previous role working in higher education – and many things I do not.
One of the things I miss most about those days was my day-to-day proximity to other creatives, to their respective projects, and to their conversations about them. An average day would see dozens of discussions about storytelling, art direction, materials, research, conceptualisation, producton design, visual representation and promotion. Manifesting ‘something from nothing’ was always the business of the day, as we all worked together to get an idea ‘from script to screen’ or from 2D into 3D, from a dream of a thing to the thing itself. I know now how luxurious my old job was. Actually, I knew it then and never once took it for granted. It was life-affirming to be in the company of people who could first see things in their mind, and then develop those images into concrete, substantive outcomes – an act of magic and an act of faith.
Hardly surprising then I might have wanted some of that back, to work again with a diverse community of artists, to give a fair whack of my time and energy to making a space in which more of those conversations could take place. So it was I had the idea for The Kick-About, a blog-based creative challenge, in which creatives of all kinds were given the chance to make some new work in response to a fortnightly prompt – myself included. One year later, and we’ve just published Edition 26 of The Kick-About, a gathering together of participants’ favourite submissions, and one thing is clear: there is power in community, not least because the expectation of an audience for new work is an effective means of seeing off procrastination and preciousness by encouraging decisiveness and utility. There is creative freedom too in ‘short sharp snaps’ of creative activity, that ability to start something up and then close it down in a succinct period of time.
Speaking personally, I’ve found The Kick-About to be a hugely satisfying experience, and after a decade-or-more of very happily giving my best ideas away to other people, it’s been reassuring and exciting to discover there are still more ideas where all those others came from. I’ve loved the problem-solving aspect of the fortnightly prompts – resolving cogent, authentic responses to the various prompts in lots of different ways. You might also call it ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ – and yes, it’s been fun.
Gathered here are all my Kick-About responses, digital artworks, sculptures, photographs, shorts films and short stories, and collaborations with other artists. Agreed, it makes for an eclectic ensemble, but I’m reminded – happily – of being nineteen years old and studying my Art Foundation course, which was all about trying and doing everything and not worrying about what it was all for, or what you were going to do with it, or what you were going to do next.
So yes, I do feel younger for running around with my fellow kick-abouters, and if not quite nineteen, then not far off. I just want to say a very real and heartfelt thank you to everyone in the Kick-About community, whether you’ve played once, or always. Your company and creativity is, and has been, restorative, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it all again with Kick-About No.27. Onwards!
As an experiment between me, myself and I, I decided to submit Quite Normal to a few film festivals. I was happy with the film – happy with the thematic world of it, with the tone, with its ad-hoc limitations, and very happy with the performance by Charly Skilling. I also had no expectations for the film, knowing it to be the product of straightened times and non-existent budgets.
Yesterday, I was contacted by the organisers of the Ramsgate International Film & TV Festival to notify me that Quite Normal has made the festival’s official selection and will be screened as part of their online event (COVID having put paid to its more usual location-based film screenings). What a lovely surprise, not least because it should encourage anyone else who might be reading this that you don’t need all the bells and whistles to make a short film that other people might be interested in supporting and watching.
Back in April 2020, I had this to say about my decision to set up the Red’s Kingdom blog:
“If I can be said to have an ambition for this blog, it’s simply this: to build another inter-connected world of sights and sounds – however loosely connected! I’m going to be talking about projects old and new, and I’m hoping to invite some of the creative people I know and work with to feature as guest authors and artists. I’m pretty sure I’ll be talking a bit about the stuff I’m watching too and gathering in some of the writing I’ve published elsewhere. In short, this blog will seek to be a coalition of elective creative activity – mine, and other people’s. I’m very much looking forward to throwing open the door to Red’s Kingdom and inviting you to accompany me on my continuing adventures in sight and sound…”
But as it turns out, I made a mistake back then, for while it’s true Red’s Kingdom has indeed developed into ‘coalition of eclectic creative activity’, in no small part due to the wonderful contributions of the Kingdom’s many and diverse Kick-Abouters, I missed something out. When I invited visitors to the blog to accompany me on ‘my continuing adventures in sight and sound’, I should have added ‘scent’ into the mix too.
Making scented soy wax candles in my kitchen in Whitstable
Over the past year, and prior to the UK’s first lock-down, when I suspect many people’s thoughts turned to the therapeutic value of making, I’ve been developing an idea for a range of scented candles. Written down in black and white like that, I can’t help but reflect on how improbable that may sound – certainly to those who know me well, and even more so to those people who only know me from what I choose to put out on here. Are these scented candles somehow a bit uncanny, perhaps? Do they have a nasty surprise in them, an unwelcome bit of grit, or chink of razor blade? Are they somehow spooky, or kooky or fragranced bizarrely? Nope.
That said, this particular project has been an exercise in the art of conjuring, a magical act of sorts, of seeking to isolate the olfactory character of a particular place – and specific moments in that particular place – and capture them in creamy containers of soy wax.
The particular place in question is ‘The Old French House’, the rooms of which might be familiar to some on here as the settings for my various forays into long-exposure photography. Whenever I visit this old stone-walled farmhouse, I am encouraged to respond to its atmosphere, silence, privacy and space in different ways. It was here, for example, the powerful sunlight and surrounding plants worked together to produce these cyanotypes. It was here too I wrote the screenplay for the animation that gives this blog its name. It was at the big wooden table I wrote – and rewrote! – the manuscript for my children’s adventure Chimera Book 1, often working late into the night, the heat of the day leaving all the old wood of the house in sighs and creaks. It was here too, I was taken so suddenly by something as prosaic as a pool cover clogged with winter leaves.
The Old French House
In addition to all these other responses, there has always been my keen relationship to the smell of the old French house, combinations of herbs, old wood, green wood, smoke, citrus, geraniums; dry, aromatic scents, cooler botanical fragrances, and all the combinations thereof. It is what heat and time and rest smells like. It’s the fragrance of basking, of unfilled hours.
In truth, I see little difference between this project and, say, all those long-exposure photographs, in so much as I’m trying to capture something intangible. Okay, less pretentiously, I wanted to create some really lovely candles that smell like you’re on holiday, and set about doing just that through an iterative process of mixing essential oils, wick sizes and containers until I was happy with the result. My long-suffering husband was charged with walking in – and out – of rooms, to gauge the success or otherwise of each new combination, and my mum and stepdad stumped up some of the developmental costs, a family affair indeed!
With support and guidance from Whitstable’s number one florist and lifestyle guru, Jane at Graham Greener, I was able to trial the range on other people’s noses (said florist’s husband, for example!) and their feedback was great, giving me the confidence to take everything a bit further.
Long story short, the candles are now stocked at Graham Greener here in Whitstable and, as of this week, The Old House Candle Company has a website and online shop. (Notice I’m missing out all the anecdotes about producing candles that a) didn’t burn or b) smelled strange. I did all those things and more). This is a small ‘cottage industry’ operation, with everything produced in small batches, and produced simply and with a minimum of fiddle – and unfortunately the candles are only available in the UK – so if you’re reading this somewhere further flung, apologies in advance.
Ultimately, my plan is to develop other ‘Old House’ ranges – for example, ‘The Old Victorian Glasshouse’ – think orange blossom and lime – so the site takes its inspiration from the romance of old spaces in general, with their worn surfaces and simple comforts, and from the following quote from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space:
“The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”
I always look forward to the moment when I get a Skype notification, which usually means artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, has something new to show me. Tom’s been super-busy of late doing sensible things like enriching the vocabulary of his Japanese students, but has somehow found the time to put some finishing touches to his Miro-verse menagerie! We caught up for a brief chat recently and it gives me very real pleasure to share once more the fruits of Tom’s labours!
Phil: Hey Tom. I hope all is well over there in Japan. So, you got all critters modelled, textured and rigged… and then you went back to some of them to make some refinements. What was missing from them originally, and what changes have you made and why?
Tom:I thought everything had something of flat CG look, which was making everything not as satisfying to look at as it could have been. It was probably a case of me being a little timid when it came to turning on some of the extra switches after a long time out and not really knowing what kind of extra steps turning on said switches would introduce. Most of the changes are pretty subtle, but I’ve tried to throw a few things into the mix. For example, making the surfaces reflect and absorb light a little more interestingly, making the highlights pop a bit more and so on. There will be definitely be some more changes when I start animating and see what happens when these things move and react to light more dynamically.
Phil: I know you’re not supposed to have a favourite child… but do you have a favourite creature, and if so, how so?
Tom:I like the red orb with the metallic blue shell! Funnily enough of all the original sketches it’s the one I find the least appealing, but in its 3D, form I think it’s very cute and graphical. It has this mischievous personality that comes across even without an obvious face.
Phil: You’ve been looking at, thinking about, and working on these characters for months now… how have you sustained your interest in the project?
Tom:I enjoy seeing the results each step brings, so I just chip away and take everything day by day! These are strange times, so I don’t beat myself up about missing whatever informal deadlines or goals I’ve set in my mind.
Phil: How’s ‘the story’ coming along – though I’m using that term very loosely!
Tom:I’m aiming for something short and sweet which probably does indeed mean a very loose story! I’m leaning towards something a bit faux-documentary, not too much editing and just letting the creatures’ movement and visual style define how the ‘story’ progresses.
Phil: What can we expect from your next update, Tom? What’s on your to-do list?
Tom:Animation and lots of it! All these critters need someone to get them wiggling and shaking and that’s my job!
Tom:Unfortunately, the cicadas have just about cried their last call of the year, but now hornets are on the prowl and those do actually kill people so I think I should just stay inside and make this animation!
“LA Shorts International Film Festival ranks among the most prestigious and largest international short film festivals in the world. The festival is accredited by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Now in its 24th year, LA Shorts is the longest-running short film festival in Los Angeles.“
Last week, I was able to announce work is underway on a new animated short designed to keep Ethan Shilling and myself out of trouble for the next few weeks or two. Since then, Ethan has clearly been hard at work in his secret laboratory deep within the catacombs of Red’s Kingdom giving bristling life to a series of computer-generated flatworms… That’s not a sentence you type very often, but in our continuing quest to envision a clutch of old BBC SFX as ‘living fossils’, there will be stranger proclamations on here I have no doubt!