Artist-In-Residence: Emily Clarkson #2

Character design development for Gappy Gertie / Emily Clarkson


At some point in the middle of the lock-down, Emily Clarkson and I had a heart-to-heart on the phone. We talked about ‘what to do?’ in response to COVID. It was an existential question, and one being asked by creatives of all stripes in 2020. Emily and I are both freelancers and grimly aware things are not going to be getting any easier for creatives any time soon. There is the phrase that goes ‘content is king’, but producing content is salve too. Right now, making new work and supporting other creatives through collaboration looks like a sort of power in an otherwise disempowering moment. It was certainly the thinking behind the fortnightly Kick-About. Again and again during these unsettling months, I’ve returned to the Philip Larkin poem, To Put One Brick Upon Another, for guidance and resolve:


To put one brick upon another,
Add a third and then a forth,
Leaves no time to wonder whether
What you do has any worth.

But to sit with bricks around you
While the winds of heaven bawl
Weighing what you should or can do
Leaves no doubt of it at all.


By the end of our telephone conversation, Emily and I had come to a similar conclusion. In preference to biting our nails or throwing rocks at the moon, we too decided to put one brick upon the other. In common with Tom Beg and Graeme Daly, Emily and I would work together to develop a new animated short, and we weren’t going to think too much about the nuts and bolts of it either. Who is going to fund it? Don’t know. Who is going to watch it and where? Don’t know. How are we going to make it, using which techniques, which programmes? Again – don’t know, but to make something at a time when lots of other things feel as if they’re coming unglued seemed like a plan as sane as any other.

That was then, and now I’m happy to reveal we have a story, a finished script – we even have a song! – and the pre-production phase is underway, as Emily begins the character design process.

And the name of our new project?

Gertie.


Arranging the song Gappy Gertie on Sibelius / Phil Gomm


You haven’t heard of Gertrude, but Gertie is a girl you know
Because always there’s a Gertie. You’ve likely bullied one, although
Her name was probably Constance, Simeera, Chen or Sue.
You’ve forgotten her most likely, but she hasn’t forgotten you.


It’s early days, so we’re keeping the exact size and shape of our story under-wraps, but it’s a school-based narrative about a girl called Gertie, who is bullied horribly by her peers. Gertie is inspired by one of her teachers to ‘search for the hero inside herself’ and a series of events are in this way set in motion. The story is built around an original song, and you might say my eureka moment came when I realised I could happily make the name Malala (Yousafzai) rhyme with Brian De Palma! It’s blackly comic – very black in fact – and I must say I enjoyed writing it very much.

There’s been a lot of back and forth between Emily and myself via email, but we caught up again recently when Emily set-up shop at Red’s Kingdom and here’s what she had to say as our work together on Gappy Gertie continues:


Gertie character design development #1 / Emily Clarkson


Phil: Hey Em, so here we go again then! We have another animation project in the offing together, a project with no established funding, a project taking up time and energy when we should both probably be doing more sensible paid things… So, why are we doing it? Why start something new when everything looks so gloomy? Have we lost our minds?

Emily: With things so gloomy, I think if we don’t do such things, we will lose our minds! Or at least, I certainly will. Starting something new creates a space to pump some energy, practice some skills and express ideas.

Phil: Absolutely! This isn’t the first time a new script from me has landed with you – a wall of text, description and some fudgier, spongier bits. What do you do first (apart from sigh inwardly!)?

Emily: Usually, I read it through, picturing the concept, and if it strikes a particularly excitable chord, I’ll find myself muttering ‘oh we could do this…or this… oh I wonder if that thing would be good to riff off…?’ and so on. And after that I’m usually falling over the questions I will inevitably ask in the next email.

Phil: So, what do you think about Gertie? What were your first impressions of the story? 

Emily: I felt an immediate sadness at the cruelty towards Gertie. I was never bullied at school, so I can’t speak from personal experience. I went to an all-girls school. I remember there being very distinct friend groups in my class, but there wasn’t any animosity between them (that I remember). In terms of drama within my class, we were fairly low key! What made you want to write a jaunty tune for a horrendous bullying experience?

Phil: Haha! Blame Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark! I’ve always enjoyed the way music is so immediate and invasive. Music goes in really quick and I think there’s some fun to be had with the form of the musical short. We assume stories driven by songs and singing must always have great big grins slapped on their faces, but, come one, The Wicker Man is largely a folk musical and I love the way the music in that film works to draw you in, but shock you too – all those people singing along so happily at the end of the film as Edward Woodward goes up in smoke.

You’ve already made a start on character designs for Gertie and her tormentors. Apart from the pointers in the script and in some of our conversations, what are you riffing on?

Emily: I am absolutely riffing on my school experience in regard to the aesthetics. Female students between the ages of twelve and sixteen come in literally all shapes and sizes, so the uniform fit everyone completely differently. For example, it was standard to roll up our elasticated, box-pleat skirts. Some rolled well above the regulation ‘four fingers above the knee.’ (Yes that was a real rule.) It wasn’t all about showing off your thighs though. For some of us it was to make sure the skirt hem wasn’t dangling half way down your calves! Not a good look.

You made Gertie a young traveller/Gypsy girl. Was there a reason you chose to represent the travelling community over other communities?

Phil: There’s no overt identity politics agenda about that, no – likewise the decision to make the bullies themselves a mix of ethnicity. Every community makes targets out of people considered different to them, that’s all. No one is above it or better than anyone else. Gertie is more based on some vague recollections of kids at my primary and secondary schools who came and went, kids who were in someway out of the usual routines, who appeared suddenly, and then vanished again. They were regarded by some in the class as poor and dirty. It was all that stuff about not ‘having a proper home’ – whatever that means, as there’s plenty of dysfunctional families living in ‘proper homes’ too. Sadly, I think everyone is looking down on someone for some stupid reason or another. My experience at school was it was mostly about how someone looked, so their red hair, or a big mole, or too short trousers – or a strange smell – oh yeah, and being a virgin or not being a virgin. That was always a very big deal!


Developing the bullies #1 / Emily Clarkson

Developing the bullies #2 / Emily Clarkson

Developing the bullies #3 / Emily Clarkson


Emily: Have you experienced or witnessed bullying growing up yourself?

Phil: I was bullied pretty unpleasantly for year or so at my secondary school. I kept it a secret. I used to get the train to-and-from school, and the bullying would take place on the platform in the afternoons when everyone was waiting to go home. I also need to admit I bullied someone once – when I was much younger. For a short time, I was pretty loathsome to a rather over-weight boy in my class. I got in so much trouble for that. I still remember standing in a room at my primary school and being utterly eviscerated by the head teacher. It was an early lesson in understanding your victim is a person. I think about that boy to this day (I’m thinking about him as I write this) and I was thinking about him when I was writing the script. I was thinking about my bullies too, wondering if they still think about me.


Sissy Spacek as Carrie (1976), directed by Brian De Palma


Emily: Your script pays homage to Brian De Palma’s horror film, Carrie. Was Carrie White a beacon for ‘poetic justice’ for you as a young cinema goer? Or was she more a terrifying monster?

Phil: My sympathies were always with Carrie! I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at one point or other dreamed of burning everything down that way. Carrie does what we dream of doing, but fortunately, we’ve got Carrie to do it for us, so we have the catharsis of that high-school conflagration, the spectacle of someone failing to ‘rise above it’ in such spectacular style. There is some other less-well thought out concern of mine floating about in here, something more serious about the way young people keep being encouraged to rise to the ‘opportunities’ presented them by the failures of others; to be obedient and mild-mannered, to not give their energy to their fury, but to go to school, go to work, to be good. In light of climate change, Brexit, Trump etc., I do sort of feel as if going ‘full-on Carrie White’ might be what’s needed sometimes!

On a side note, I think I might be one of the few people on the planet who actually saw the original UK version of Carrie – The Musical. I saw it on a school trip when it was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988. Carrie is infamous for being one of the biggest flops in theatrical history, but I was blown away – I was thirteen! Perhaps this also explains why I don’t think it’s weird to put horror and musical theatre together…


Original poster for the musical Carrie (1988)


Phil: So I’ve got the song to finish arranging, which is taking me longer than I hoped. I’m nearly there though. What’s next on your to-do list?

Emily: More character designs. I need to nail down how the bullies look. And in addition to that, design their various outfits. After that I need to design our teacher, Mrs Mason, and move onto the environments. And then, to the storyboards! Lots to crack on with!


Gertie’s school disco outfit development sketches / Emily Clarkson


Emily and I will be updating our progress on Gertie here at Red’s Kingdom as-and-when we make some. Like I said, the content is coming first, because that’s the bit we can take control of now. Regarding the future of the project – funding etc – we are interested in hearing from anyone with a fabulously rich very elderly relative… More seriously, we’re also looking for a musical director/singer interested in working with us to get Gertie’s song up off the page. If you’re reading this and you know someone who knows someone, then do please get in touch, if only to put one brick upon the other while the winds of heaven bawl…


Artist-In-Residence: Tom Beg #6


Phil: Hey Tom, how goes it in Japan?

Tom: It goes hot and sweaty. Fallen cicadas dot the streets alongside the occasional spotting of a lizard, beetle, praying mantis or worse yet, a dreaded cockroach trying to make its way inside my humble abode. One thing I didn’t know about Japan before I came here is that it has a lot of bugs, and even though they are fascinating, they are still quite terrifying. I think because somehow, they always manage to find a way in.

Phil: I always forget to ask – what’s the view from your window? I always wonder what you’re looking out at when you’re procrastinating or taking a screen break from your Miro-verse project?

Tom: I look at the same thing that 90% of people who live in an urban area of Japan look at: blocky residential buildings and ugliest power lines you will ever see. Lots of them too. I used to be able to see Mt. Fuji from my old place but these days I’m fortunate to at least have the privilege of seeing the tops of some trees behind the rooftops and masses of wires. But if I walk a few minutes down the road, and climb some steps, I can at least see some…more residential buildings. It’s higher up, so it’s cooler I think?! Here’s a picture of said view:



Phil: Given the exuberant other-worldliness of your creations, people might be expecting your work-station to resemble a laboratory – lots of flashing lights and twitching dials… What’s the reality?

Tom: I live in a fairly small place so I try to reduce the stuff in my immediate vicinity to the bare essentials. My home office is just my laptop, a second screen, a portable speaker, a lamp and an analogue clock. I’m not really big on collecting trinkets and figures (a potentially dangerous game in Japan, the land of such things) so it’s all a bit sparse. I’m hoping to upgrade my set-up soon though, so there might indeed be some cool flashing lights to suitably disrupt my sleep pattern and REM cycles.



Phil: So, we’ve got a double-whammy from you this time; you’ve been in the business of producing swarms. In some ways, these appear simpler than some of your other critters in terms of their physiognomy?

Tom: Yes, it was a lot easier to recreate my original sketches for these into 3D models and instil them with some personality. As always there were issues, but overall, I think they came out looking pretty nice. These days I have a good grasp of the 3D processes for creating these characters individually so the challenge going forward is how to give them life as a cohesive group of characters. I’ve been researching and experimenting a little bit with a tool in Maya called MASH. It’s something that I was unfamiliar with before but has become quite relevant to my needs recently. I hope to be doing a lot of MASHing in the coming weeks.

Phil: I think you’re going to have to explain that, Tom; people reading this are going to think you’ve gone a bit ‘Richard Dreyfuss’ in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Tom: I want to populate my world with lots of these characters, but more characters obviously means more work! MASH is a nifty tool that can be used for animating large groups of characters and objects with relative ease. There’s still a lot I have to work out, but I think it’s going to be another good tool for bringing this world to life.



Phil: There is something particularly joyous about these creatures – something delightfully rambunctious. I know you’ve been staring at them on screen for hours on end, but what are your feelings towards them? Do you have a strong sense of where they fit in the Miro-verse and how they might conduct themselves? The red ones look very disobedient to me!

Tom: I’ve been working hard to make sure all of the creatures have joie de vivre when it comes to their look and movements, and at the same time I’ve tried to make them very robust. I mean, I’m quite satisfied that they basically function and look exactly as I want, and if any changes do need to be then it’s a case of just fixing rather than throwing everything out the window. I really want this to look like a classic animation with lots of exaggerated and unusual movement. I think these little guys can pull it off!

Phil: And only one more creature to go right? Have you been saving the best for last… or putting it off?

Tom: The last creature I’m going to make is the first one I sketched so in a way it’s come full circle. It wasn’t a case of putting it off, more that for each creature I have incrementally built up my skill set and pipeline methods while learning from the mistakes I’ve made along the way. This character was kind of the natural end point as it’s a mix of abstract shapes and more human-like forms. The challenge of this character is it’s going to be a lot more modular. What I mean is that rather than the model shape essentially being fixed, this one will made of multiple models that can be moved and placed individually. I’m still working out the finer details. Stay tuned.

We certainly shall!



Spotlight #1 George Nwosisi


A few weeks back, I featured news from animator, Urvashi Lele, about the new show she’d worked on, Your Daily Horoscope. It was lovely to catch-up and likewise share Urvashi’s news, and I’ve been prompted to introduce a new strand on the Red’s Kingdom blog – Spotlight – wherein I can shine a light on other creatives, on their disciplines and their processes. I’ll be meeting up again with some of my former students, who are off doing exciting things, but also inviting other creatives to discuss the nuts and bolts of what they do, how and why. I’m flirting with the the idea of podcasts maybe, but haven’t quite broken the seal on that, but let’s see. To kick things off, I’m introducing you to animator, George Nwosisi, a nicer guy you’re unlikely to meet…


George Nwosisi


Phil: Hey George, thanks so much for helping me get this up-and-running. First things first, we need a quick potted history of your life since you graduated. What happened next and where are you now?

George: Hey Phil! It’s been a journey since I left uni in 2015, a good journey that is. From the very start, I knew animation was going to be a very competitive industry to get into. I knew I needed to get some type of industrial experience down on my CV just to get my foot in.


George Nwosisi Showreel 2017


After my graduation, I started applying for internships and putting a showreel together, animating new shots specially for the reel to keep it interesting. Thankfully, I landed my first animation intern with Digital Shoguns in north London. This internship lasted three months, which was good enough on my CV to help me jump into the next role. Soon after, I applied for Antimatter Games in Cornwall, landing a contract as a 3D animator for six months working on a game called Rising Storm 2 – Vietnam. I enjoyed my time there, and they wanted me to stay after my contract was up, but c’mon.. its Cornwall, nice place, but it was far from my family and life in general, so I didn’t renew my contract.

So I’m back home, job hunting again with nine months of experience on my CV. At the end of 2016, I got a job at Cubic Motion – who specialise in facial motion-capture animation and clean-up. During my time at Cubic Motion, I worked on games like Call Of Duty, Ghost Recon, Man of Medan and many more, but I wasn’t truly happy there because it wasn’t key-framed animation or full body character animation.

After a year and few months, I went job hunting again and was shocked when I got into Ninja Theory, which was always the one company I wanted to work for when I was back in university. I’m still at Ninja Theory and I’m loving it, as it’s what I’ve always wanted to do: 3D full body character/creature key-framed animation, working on Bleeding Edge, Hellblade 2 and other projects.



Phil: You’ve got animation in your bones, George – it’s your calling! What is it about animation that makes sense to you and what do you think are the ‘tell-tale’ signs someone is an animator? Were there signs when you were much younger? How did that love of animation shine out of you before you knew exactly what it was you wanted to do?

George: There’s always a reason behind why someone wants to become an animator – watching films, a love of gaming, cartoons or even VFX – having the thought of “Oh cool! how did they do that?”. Then the journey begins of finding out how things are done, and then the process starts. I’ve always been big fan of gaming, but I never thought “animation”. I studied gaming at college, but only the coding aspect of it. One day, I saw a friend of mine animating a biped on the computer and I was mind-blown. I haven’t stopped animating since.


Some of George’s earliest animations


Phil: Who are your animation heroes? Who inspires you or what inspires you? What have you seen recently that made you fall in love with animation all over again?

George: There are many animations out there that keep my fire going. I could sit on Vimeo for hours, watching people’s showreels, thinking how amazing their animation style is. Even looking at a character rig can make me want to animate that rig and do something cool with it. The number one animation that inspired me recently was Spider-Man – Into The Spiderverse. What brilliant film – everything from the animation to its art style, and how the animation was animated on 2s. There are also amazing animators here at Ninja Theory, whose work always pushes me to do better and go beyond the level I’m at.



Phil: What do you enjoy most about the animation process and why?

George: For me, it’s the planning, the researching, the ideas, and seeing the plan come together. Without all those things, the outcome of your animation might not be as strong as it could or should be. In one of my recent animations, the character lands and rolls on the floor; without researching parkour and reference videos on YouTube, the roll might not have been as convincing. Tweaking and pushing the animation – seeing what works and what doesn’t work – is also a fun part of the process.



Phil: And the least enjoyable?

George: Oh gosh! Finding bugs, having gimble locks and fixing it. A gimble lock is when your character’s rig gets a weird rotation and doesn’t behave in the way you need it to. Fixing this can be done, but it can be an annoying process!

Phil: How has the pandemic changed your working life?

George: Since we all now work from home, the office banter is out the window, likewise walking over to your colleague’s desk to see the cool things they’re working on or vice versa, sharing ideas, getting visual feedback there and then – all that’s missing now. The advantage is you literally get off your bed and your work is right in front of you – that and spending good time with your family. Me personally, I prefer the atmosphere of the office.

Phil: Outside of your day job, how do you stay fresh, inspired and healthy?

George: PLAY GAMES! WATCH FILMS! And GYM! Playing games and time at the gym gives me time away and keeps my state of mind good and healthy. Watching films gives me the inspiration for the next animation shot that might go in my showreel,

Phil: What remains on your ‘animation bucket-list’?

George: Getting more games under my belt, being a better animator in both character and creature animation, and also being able to play with motion capture data and pushing it to its limits. Honestly, it’s a never-ending skillset, a journey. You can always better yourself and do more and more things – and that is my plan!


Artist In Residence: Graeme Daly #4


Phil: Hey Graeme! Welcome back. Before we begin I should thank you on behalf of everyone for giving us that image of those dolls and their henchmen spiders in last week’s Kick-About. I’m sure everyone found that very soothing and not at all nightmarish… I noticed a few exciting updates going out on social media about new progress on your animated short, The Green Glider. How’s it coming along?

Graeme: Hey Phil, things are moving forward well with The Green Glider. I just sent the film off to see it will be picked up for some funding. Now things are really revving up, I want to get everything ready and in place if it does get funded. Currently I am translating all the concept art into 3D, and plopping things in place for each world, which is one of the most enjoyable aspects. I love trying to bring the concept art alive through Maya.

Phil: You’ve been learning Substance Painter. What is that, how are you finding it, and why did you feel it was time to acquire a new creative tool?

Graeme: I decided to hop into Substance Painter and use it to UV the bubble cars because the amount of UV pieces, or shells, for the car was absolutely mammoth, and would have taken me yonks to finish in my usual go-to, which is Photoshop. Basically, to UV an object in 3D space allows you to paint and colour your object as you see fit. To achieve this you first have to tell the 3D software the model you want to paint is flat. Imagine you’ve got a simple 3D box and you want to paint it; first you unpack the box so it’s completely flat, and only then do you start painting onto it. Then, later, your painted texture is wrapped back around the 3D box.

The great thing about Substance Painter is it’s a 3D painting program – it is like having Photoshop and Maya together in one program so you can paint onto the actual 3D model – without flattening it first – to your heart’s content, with all the same capabilities of Photoshop, such as layers and blend modes, as well as having a massive library of materials to choose from. It really speeds up the workflow of texturing models, and I can see myself using Substance from now on.



Phil: The value of this new tool for you is it means you can continue to work illustratively with your 3D models. Why is it so important to keep the original style of your concept art when you’re moving from 2D into 3D?

Graeme: I feel really averse to CGI being completely perfect… It ends up looking like plastic. Sometimes when I’m doing concept art, I’ll just do a random scribble to see the kind of texture I can get out of a brush and I decide to leave it in. Usually that scribble adds something visually interesting to the piece and those happy accidents make the piece more analogue. I have a style I like that revolves around imperfection, as it adds charm. I always try and recreate that in 3D. For example, with the 3D bubble cars, I really wanted to add a pop of blue colour on top of the main purple colour, to counteract the blazing orange; I just scribbled a bright blue stroke and ended up loving that random scratchiness to the car, so it’s something that stayed with the final model and was easily implemented with Substance. With the green glider model, it was really important to get across the original style too, especially with the leaf venation, so I modelled the venation in Maya to make it pop more, and also textured more venation in Substance to really show the leaf is budding with life.



Phil: You always sound so excited. I love it. What’s next?

Graeme: I’m doing some long-awaited organic modelling by tackling the characters Ash and Clover. Organic modelling is a totally different ball game to modelling cars and worlds, as for me at least, it’s more difficult to get across the characters’ nuances and quirks suggested by the original concept art. As I said, I like things that aren’t perfect, and Maya makes this difficult with characters, as a character that is asymmetrical is a nightmare to rig and skin, so I have to work within the confines of that and still get across the flaws and idiosyncrasies of the characters populating the world. I’ve said before when I’m doing concept art, there’s a “shite zone” where everything looks crap until one scribble or stroke brings things to life; when you’re modelling characters, the “shite zone” is a lot longer, where they look like horrifying spawns of Frankenstein for what feels like ages! I can’t wait to texture Ash and Clover in Substance, adding details like smile lines, grey hairs, and eye-bags. I want these characters to show they’ve earned their stripes!


Your Daily Horoscope


One of the lovely things about having spent a decade or more working with young early career animators is… I know a lot of young early career animators! A few days back I received an email from Urvashi Lele, who I had the pleasure of supporting and working alongside all the way back in 2014. Urvashi’s award-winning graduate film, An Interview With The Owl & The Pussycat, established her as a talent to watch. After graduating, Urvashi completed a Master of Fine Arts in Animation at the University of California, Los Angeles and she hasn’t looked back since.


Urvashi Lele winning the New Designers 2014 Judges’ Choice for An Interview With The Owl & The Pussycat


An Interview With The Owl and The Pussycat (2014)


In her recent email, Urvashi had this exciting news to share:

“Hullo Phil! Hope you are keeping safe and well during this ridiculously crazy time. I’m writing to share a project that I have been a part of for the better part of the year- it’s a show on a mobile network called Quibi titled Your Daily Horoscope. The show is an adult comedy based on the 12 signs of the Zodiac. The animation team comprised of 24 animators with 2 animators for each sign. I animated the even episodes for the character, Aries.  Your Daily Horoscope is available to watch on Quibi, which can be downloaded via the App Store or Google Play and can be enjoyed with a free 2-week trial. I do hope you are able to watch it and enjoy it. It is something I am rather proud of and would love to know what you think!”

(“Bloody well done, Urvashi!” is what I think!)



Artist In Residence: Tom Beg #5


It’s time to catch-up with Artist-in-residence, Tom Beg, a moment to which I always look forward because I know I’m in for a visual treat or two – and this latest update is no exception.


Phil: Hey Tom, it’s nice to have you back again. So, let’s start with the most obvious question… Exactly what were the creative and technical challenges of realising this most surreal of your Miroverse critters, which appears at first glance to combine a rather exhausted-looking whale with an ambulatory witch’s hat?

Tom: Hi Phil. Yes, I’ve been away for a little while, but I’ve been chipping away at this animation whenever I’ve had the chance. For the first time so far in this project, I also have a little bit of animation to whet the appetite. If you compare my initial sketch to this 3D character, you can see I took a few decisions to make it fit it better with the overall aesthetic I’ve been working towards, by tweaking and adding where I felt things could be improved.



So far, I’ve been creating these creatures with a very old-school method of animation in mind, more like a traditional stop-motion animation, where each part would have to be moved individually and all animation would have to be generated by hand. However, in all the images I’ve produced, there are multiple characters with multiple poseable elements, all of which will need animating to create a convincing effect.

I’m not a traditional character animator, so I needed to start developing a strategy to make these characters come alive in a satisfying way. With that in mind, for this character I decided to adopt a ‘dynamic rigging’ workflow. To put it simply, while the bulk of the main animation is done by hand, beneath that is an underlying system of physical properties, based on the real world, calculated by the software and computer, which help to make this character move in an organic, dynamic way. I’m getting a lot of animation that would usually have to be done by hand at a great cost of time and energy. Now I’m essentially getting that extra movement for free.



This has meant another layer of complexity on top of what I was already dealing with, so there were a bunch of issues when it came to building the control system of this thing. At times I had to call on the help of the secretive ‘Maya Jedi Council’, who helped me get through a couple of the technical difficulties I was having. In the end I’m totally happy with this character in terms of the flexibility it offers for animation and the amount of movement I can get from it – so happy in fact, once I’ve made the next three creatures, I’ll go back and update the previous ones with this new system.



Phil: I get such a strong impression of this creature’s character; I’m getting an Eeyore-meets-Orko vibe...

Tom: I absolutely wanted to try and create a creature with two personalities; one half a kind of regal and majestic whale-like creature, while the other half is like a parasitic creepy-crawly. I think their relationship mimics things like Parasitoid wasps, which lay their eggs inside other bugs, or other so called “zombie” parasites that take over and control their unwitting, helpless victims. It’s all very morbid stuff!

Phil: In a previous chat we talked a bit about vocalisations for your bestiary – how they might sound. I suppose a better question is ‘who are they in terms of their personalities?’ because it’s from there everything else will flow. Got a sense yet of who these creatures might be, or what their respective temperaments might be like?

Tom: As soon as I started to produce the sketches in 3D, I imagined this animation to be somewhere between pure cutesy and whimsical like any typical kind of colourful character animation, and a somewhat creepy Boschian-like nightmare. Maybe like you, I grew up with a much-rewound VHS tape of Fantasia and in the spirit of that film, I want the creature’s behaviour and personality to come across as very ‘not of this world’, and coming from a place of abstraction and pure imagination in the tradition of classic avant-garde animation, like the works of Oskar Fischinger. I’m digging deep for influences so once this project starts to move into time-based media, I think all the pieces will come together.



Phil: And now for my traditional last question… By my reckoning, your 5 drawings down with three more to go – who’s next?

Tom: If I look at the remaining three initial sketches and try to imagine how they will move and come alive, in terms of unknown technical challenges, I think I can say with a little more confidence I have come to terms with the main Maya mysteries of the Miroverse. With this latest attempt I got things moving and animating in an organic way that is intuitive and easy to produce. There isn’t much more I could add without taking the animation style in a slightly different direction or without adding yet another level of complexity of top what I already have. However, for each creature I’ve tried to challenge myself to attempt something new, so I’d like to keep up that tradition.



For the next creature I’m thinking to go with these drone-like blue bug things which I imagine to behave like irritating wasps, buzzing around and being a general nuisance. The questions I’m going to ask are what can I do to further to improve the overall visual quality of my images and how can I continue to refine my control system.


“drone-like blue bug things which I imagine to behave like irritating wasps


The Kick-About #5 ‘Symbols’


With Jean Cocteau as our guest referee, little wonder the Kick-About #4 was a game of magical doorways, shadowy thresholds and nebulous reflections. This time we have Alice Neel as our muse, whose uncompromising paintings have, hardly surprisingly, prompted a range of provocative impressions from our motley crew of up-for-it creatives. Happy browsing.


Eleanor Spence-Welch

“This painting really intrigued me, so I took time to read about the story behind it and the symbolism within it. Alice Neel painted Symbols in response to her husband leaving her, taking their daughter with him. When I look at the doll and glove on the table, I see things that were left behind by the daughter when she left, little items that were once insignificant, now a symbol of what has been lost. There are discussions on how the inclusion of the cross and apples represent Eve, perhaps suggesting Neel sees herself as the the destroyer of her own Garden of Eden – her family.  In my piece, I wanted to take the symbols that stood out the most to me, and using Neel’s style, create a new piece. The doll to me is a symbol of childhood, the cross a symbol of sacrifice, the apple and leaves representing Eden, now lost.” 


instagram.com/espence96 / twitter.com/E1eanor_Spence / facebook.com/ESpence-Art


Marcy Erb

“I decided to do some monoprints and had several tries where the prints just weren’t matching the vision in my head for this challenge. Finally, in frustration, I mixed some fabric ink I had with the printing ink on a small metal rolling plate and had that moment of excitement when I pulled the paper off the plate. The two inks weren’t really compatible (even says so on the bottles!) and the effect was much closer to what I was looking for – much closer to Alice’s experience, I think. Alice Neel’s biography is fascinating and she lived a difficult life as a woman artist, receiving popular recognition only later in life. She painted unvarnished, unflinching portraits of her subjects and from what I read, never compromised on that.”


marcyerb.com


Phil Cooper

“When I saw the prompt for the next round of the Kick About I was intrigued. I didn’t know this painting or this artist, so I started Googling and found out more. I looked at the painting again; there was an unsettling mixture of childhood and adult references going on. The painting started to trigger thoughts and memories of my own childhood…”


instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Liam Scarlino

“I initially mistook the doll in the painting for a voodoo doll, which sent me down a Wikipedia rabbit warren. I surfaced on an article about cunning folk; practitioners of folk magic and divination in England from medieval times up to the early twentieth century. They learnt their craft through spell books called Grimoires, which taught how to create magical objects such as talisman and amulets, other magical spells, and how to summon angels and demons.

Cunning folk however were usually employed in order to solve specific problems, such as missing property, or malevolent witchcraft.

With an East Anglian tradition of cunning folk in my area, I decided that gave me licence to have a go at some millennial magic.

Two of the practices which proved popular against witches were voodoo dolls, and witches’ bottles. I felt a bit funny about voodoo, so I opted with the more friendly sounding witches bottle.

If a witch had placed a curse on your home, your local cunning folk would help you create a witch’s bottle to capture the evil in your home. The folk would produce a bellarmine jug, which the victim was required to either urinate in, or place rosemary, red wine and pins. This would then be buried in the furthest corner of the house, or under the hearth. The purpose behind the objects was that after burial, the bottle would capture and contain the evil, the pins would impale it, the wine would drown it, and the rosemary would send it away. I’m not sure why they needed the urine sample.

Putting a modern spin on ancient problems, I moved house recently and have been having problems with the builder. Rather than read through some tedious warranty documents, I thought it would be easier to use the witch’s bottle to sort out permeated outer walls and safety glass guarantees, and also perhaps throw in a tiny bit of a curse.

I made a crude jug from a pack of air drying terracotta, which it turns out is very difficult to shape, and carved the building faults I want to resolve into the sides, then slapped some black paint on it, to draw the badness in. I then added the red wine, some rosemary and some wood screws (no pins available), opting out on the urine. I live in a flat which doesn’t have a hearth, so I settled for burying the bottle in a pot in the corner of my balcony.

As of the time of writing, there hasn’t been any change in the outer membrane of the house, and I can’t say if the builder has suffered any sudden misfortune, but it’s early days and I remain hopeful.”


 liamscarlino.net vimeo.com/liamscarlino


Phil Gomm

A short film inspired by the various portraits Alice Neel painted of babies and young children that reveal an unsentimental image of motherhood. Quite Normal was likewise inspired by the experiences of my own mother, whose teeth my brother and I stole as babies. Sorry about that, mum!



Vanessa Clegg

“Replacing the objects in Alice Neel’s “Doll and Apples” 1932; I’m referencing two contemporary issues: COVID 19 and human damage to the natural world (under subheading ‘Victims of Circumstance’)….scattered like (tea) leaves on the page…and thus looking into an uncertain future.” “Plastic Soldier with Woodcock Wings”. Charcoal and Graphite on Fabriano.


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Jordan Buckner

“Strangely, I’ve actually been thinking about Alice Neel a lot lately. I’ve been meaning to watch the doc on her life and work for about a month, and so when this kick-about prompt showed up, I jumped at the chance.

I don’t want to say too much about my piece apart from I hope it expresses something of Neel’s own work. In these recent lockdown months, I’ve been surrounded by people battling deep crisis. This painting is about a singular evening during the lockdown when some of those crises boiled over.”


instagram.com/jordan_buckner / twitter.com/jordan_buckner /linkedin.com/in/jordan-buckner jordanbuckner.co.uk

Watch Jordan paint live at twitch.tv/jordan_buckner


Maxine Chester

‘On discovering Neel’s painting embodies a personal, traumatic experience, I have explored the themes of motherhood and loss.’ 3D Sketch – logs, saw dust, chewing gum, tights,  126 x 98 x 40cm



Graeme Daly

“Alice Neel’s doll painting reminded me of my dad’s basement, where I would spend a lot of time as a young lad with my cousins making up scary stories in the dark…”


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly


Kerfe Roig

I wanted to approach Alice Neel’s painting in a different way than I had done previously. The inspiration for this 3-D collage came when I was cleaning out some papers and came upon the paper insert for the Evanescence cd “Fallen”. The cover photo of Amy Lee seemed to echo the face of the doll Neel had painted.This was music my younger daughter played over and over in her adolescence, and it was fun to go to YouTube and pull up the songs.  I still like them.  Maybe I even like them more now.  Amy’s voice is a force, and she can be way over the top.  But the gothic flavor of the music seemed also apt to the painting.

I think Neel is addressing her struggle as a woman, a mother, an artist, a person constrained by family and cultural circumstances. She lost her oldest child to her husband’s family who considered her an unsuitable mother. The life she chose was not easy, but she never gave up her need and her right to make her art. Must a woman be only a virgin mother or a childless whore? And why should gender determine who we are or what we can be at all?



upon my end I shall begin–
I’m going under

I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems
without a thought without a voice without a soul

the truth drives me into madness,
my spirit sleeping somewhere cold

no one’s there–
never was and never will be

save me from the nothing I’ve become,
return to me salvation

maybe I’ll wake up for once,
fallen angels at my feet

let me stay,
bow down and stare in wonder

I know who you are–
the goddess of imaginary light


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Marion Raper

“Whereas the artist Alice Neel had a rather sad life with the loss of her two daughters, I have decided to reflect on the symbols of my very happy creative life, and also that of my great aunt. She too was called Alice and was the 5th of 7 children, born 9 years before Alice Neel in 1891. Her father died when she was about four and somehow the family survived in a male-dominated society through two world wars.

What do myself and great aunt Alice have in common? Well, we both love to make things. She was a milliner and I have inherited her milliner’s block – a strong solid oak symbol of stubborn perseverance if ever there was one! I decided to try and make a hat on it. I attached lots of my crochet pieces I’ve made over the years. These are in the style of Irish crochet, where lots of motifs are joined together. Irish crochet began in the famine years of the 1840s and became a symbol of life and hope for the Irish people, especially women, to help make ends meet. Hats off to you Aunt Alice!”



TJ and Jo Norman 

Through collaboration, we fuse sculpture with animation, exploring theatrical aspects of using characters and stories, in conjunction with symbolic real-world materials. This quick turnaround piece plays with Neel’s imagery and themes; apples, dolls, loss and rebirth.”


“PUPA”

www.tjnartists.com / #tjnartists


Charly Skilling

“When I first looked at Alice Neel’s “Symbols”, it struck me how crushed, how hopeless the figure seems. Yet her make-up is intact and immaculate. It got me thinking about why women wear make-up and what impels us to literally put a “good face” on things, even when things are anything but good. While I was musing, I was experimenting with some freestyle crochet and the following is the outcome of both musings and experiment.”



“As I was working on the face, I was struck by how the reverse told it’s own story. In particular the finished eyes are those of a woman on the edge. On the reverse, they look scratched out…



Stephen Foy-Philp

Looking at the source image I felt quite disturbed, which fitted very nicely with my current interest in Absurdity and a recent reading of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. I proceeded to layer both domestic and made elements from around my home in order to create a sort of cross section of where I am at. All topped off with, and I think you will all agree, a very lovely frame from Wilko.”


instagram.com/stephen_fp_


Many thanks to kick-abouter, Francesca Maxwell for our brand-new prompt, which takes its title from the book by Rebecca Solnit. See below for our new jumping-off point and submission date. Have fun and see you all again on the other side and get in touch if you’ve enjoyed the showcase and fancy a run-around too. Whatever it is you’re doing creatively, there’s room for you here.



Artist In Residence: Emily Clarkson

Emily Clarkson, concept painting for the Overture, Red & The Kingdom Of Sound (2017)


I’m delighted to announce Emily Clarkson is taking up a residency at Red’s Kingdom, joining Tom Beg and Graeme Daly as featured creatives.

Truth be known, I’ve been badgering Emily to get her feet under Red’s table for a while now and we’ll be talking about her initial reluctance a little later. Before that, I just want to say a few words about Emily as they’re words she would never use about herself, but someone has got to say them. Emily is one of the most commensurate animation-centric creatives I know, and it’s been my pleasure (and saving grace) to work with Emily on a bunch of very challenging, time-pressured and under-funded projects. Emily has seen me at my best – and at my very worst – absorbing my stress, my ineptitude and my poor temper without rancour. Emily can build entire worlds in her mind and communicate them to other people through ravishing production art; she is a designer of charismatic characters, and a skilled animator with nifty comic timing.

If Emily is reading these paragraphs, her first instinct will be to bat these endorsements away. Okay, her first instinct will likely be to blush rather unhappily, and then bat these endorsements away, but don’t listen to Emily, listen to me. Better still, before we meet Emily for a proper chat (and while her blushes subside), I’d like you to watch Marcus & The Mystery of The Pudding Pans (2019) commissioned for The Seaside Museum Herne Bay and funded by Heritage Lottery. Everything you see here, Emily envisioned for us first.



Welcome back (oh, and I will be asking questions later on the provenance of the pudding pans, so I hope you were paying attention!). So, let’s meet production designer and all-round class-act, Emily Clarkson, and begin by finding out why, on God’s green earth, she was worrying about taking up her rightful place as an artist-in-residence at Red’s Kingdom…


Emily Clarkson, concept painting for the Harp District, Red & The Kingdom Of Sound (2017)


Phil: Hey Em! You’re here then? I’m very happy about that, but when I originally asked if you wanted to take up residency in Red’s Kingdom, you were definitely a bit reluctant! I’m going to take a guess and ask if you’re suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’?


Emily: I guess the answer is yes? I don’t feel like a fraud who is about to be exposed, I just don’t think I’m capable a lot of the time. My experience of imposter syndrome is characterised by performance anxiety, obsessive comparing, (‘at this age, I should be here… etc’) and a lack of confidence. When you asked me to take part in the A.I.R (Artist-in-Residence) I just felt a bit odd, as I see it as a spot for those who are successful, experienced and who can share lots of wisdom.

Phil: You realise how crazy that sounds to me, right, given everything I know about you and everything we’ve accomplished together? My own experience of imposter syndrome is that it is rarely evidence-based; it’s a ‘feeling’ and not based on any empirical observation. If the real test of a creative’s legitimacy is that they often undertake creative projects – sometimes for actual cash! – so you pass this basic test?

Emily: Yes, I would pass the test. Yes, I make creative work (and have been paid to do so in the past!). However, I’d say my imposter feelings aren’t rooted in doubts about my creativity, but more in my capabilities in a professional setting. Being creative doesn’t feel like a high stakes situation; it’s freedom of expression, exploration, experimentation and sometimes just a fun way to chill out. Being creative in a professional setting is achieving very specific tasks in a concrete time frame, with the added stress of mistakes having consequences. That is the root of my imposter fears – messing up badly and having a directly negative impact on my employer’s credibility and mine.

Phil: Tell me more about ‘obsessive comparing’. I’m sure this is something most of us can relate to, given the likes of Instagram etc. Do you have any advice for ‘breaking the cycle’? How do you get past it?

Emily: The obsessive comparing comes out of (what I perceive to be) society’s expectations. By the time you’re 30, you’re supposed to be in some kind of stable job and living independently at the very least. Social media makes it very easy to see the accomplishments of others. It’s hard not to look around and feel like a failure and far behind those who appear to have their lives more together!

I don’t have a fix for breaking the cycle of comparison. It’s something I’ll always do. More recently I’ve taken comfort in tweets by professional artists and creatives who point out age means nothing in this field. What I took from them was everyone makes their own unique journey in the creative world. Two people in the same career will have arrived there in entirely different ways, at different times, with totally different experiences and credentials! I just have to remember that. Maybe I should turn it on its head and think instead of being ‘behind’? I’m taking the scenic route and meandering my way through different possibilities.

Either way, I’ve learned a creative career isn’t necessarily time sensitive. It’s there, waiting for the moment you choose to do it. Being successful at it depends on how long and hard you work at it!



Phil: You and I have worked together on two big projects, Red & The Kingdom of Sound and Marcus and The Mystery of The Pudding Pans. For both projects you were the principle production designer. What is it about production design you enjoy?

Emily: Have you ever read or heard a kick-ass concept, where you can’t help your imagination running away with designs, solutions and ideas? You just have to nail the ‘feel’ of that idea. That’s it. The act of doing justice to the concept is the bit I enjoy. Bringing to life what may never have existed visually before is thrilling, especially when it inspires an emotional or thought-provoking response from other people who see the end result.


Inside the Seaside Museum, the digital set derived from Emily’s concept art, Marcus & The Mystery Of The Pudding Pans (2019)


Phil: Are you able to talk about some specific examples of production design in these projects – how you resolved particular designs or made sense of something that was otherwise poorly described in my scripts? Hahaha!

Emily: In Red and the Kingdom of Sound I was assigned environmental design initially. The big deal about R&tKoS was the world was built entirely out of musical instruments, entire cities of them. The art style was based on UPA (United Productions of America, a kind of Looney Tunes and old Pink Panther-style, line art and block colours, which I love. One thing I was intimidated by was the colour scheme, so I took colour-picking out of my hands by using real world reference. Red’s adventure takes place over the course of a day-to-night. I colour-picked from photographs of instruments, and the sky at different times of day.


“The horn district gleams in the last light of day… The music here is characterised by a quick succession of notes that align with a montage of shots compressing Red’s journey through the Horn District. We’re shown him going under arches, ascending staircases, arriving on bridges etc…” from the original script for Red & The Kingdom Of Sound.


One of my favourite environments to design was the Percussion District, also known as the construction site. Unlike other segments of the orchestra, percussion entailed multiple instruments, so I had LOADS of structures to play with; drums, xylophone, cymbals, tambourines – all sorts! That segment of the script was chock-full of moving parts, like a wildly swinging wrecking ball and a conveyor belt of doom, which made everything fun and exciting! It was even more fun to animate the shenanigans!



For Marcus and the Mystery of the Pudding Pans, I started with the characters after visiting the museum and actually HANDLING 2000 year old pottery! The script clearly described our four main characters personalities, so it was just a case of marrying up their shapes to their characters. The Drama Queen (Gaius) was cracked and smashed. The Old Bore (Saturio) was covered in barnacle-like structures, the Sage (Belsa) was a round welcoming-shaped bowl, and our protagonist, Marcus, was the new and smallest member. My favourite character was Scuttle, the crab. He was the perfect mime in the script with great character. His physical design was purely trial and error until he jumped off the screen at us.



Phil: You were also the storyboard artist for Marcus & The Mystery Of The Pudding Pans. Can you give some insight into what that process is like? You’re essentially ‘directing with a pencil’ and likewise adapting someone’s words into images. Your ‘mind’s eye’ is very powerful, Em! Do the images arrive fully built in your head? What does it mean to storyboard?

Emily: My mind’s eye is an instinctive thing. My vivid imagination has been picturing stories since I was a child. In storyboarding, I use the same skill to picture events in a script, but then embark on the huge challenge of getting it down in a visual way and framing it for a camera. (I find framing for camera is the hardest bit!) Super-descriptive, evocative writing practically appears fully-formed in my head. Other times, things can be foggy until discussed with the author. A lot of my creative thought processes are about whether it ‘feels’ right. When I’m trying to storyboard a script, my main goal is to communicate what I’m reading as authentically as possible, without spending too much time on it (You can’t spend years and years on a storyboard!) I usually feel out the rest in the animation process!

Phil: Any sequences you particularly enjoyed storyboarding?

Emily: I enjoyed sketching out the shipwreck sequence because of the silliness of it all. Gaius recounts such tall tales! It really lent itself to a cartoony-style of storytelling. The studio ‘reveal’ and fake tentacle was a funny punch line, especially when Scuttle is highlighted as the stagehand managing a bunch of props at once. I enjoyed designing fake cardboard tentacles for Scuttle to dangle from his stepladder!



Phil: You were also an animator on both Red & The Kingdom Of Sound and Marcus & The Mystery Of The Pudding Pans. Animation is a laborious, slow job, but I think you find it rather thrilling – why?

Emily: Granted, animating is long winded, BUT that’s literally the moment the production comes to life and it’s really satisfying. Character models start to feel like actual beings and people. It’s the turning point in production when you can start showing clips to people and there’s a reaction, a suspension of disbelief. You connect to what you’re watching. That bit is always exciting to me.

Phil: Can you recall a particular moment in a particular project when that connection to a character first happened?

Emily: I know I got very excited every time I saw team submissions of Red moving during the production of Red & The Kingdom Of Sound. Those developments genuinely felt like unwrapping Christmas presents! My personal ‘it’s alive’ moment came from my first major character scene, chapter 14, shot 9. The Percussion District...


‘Imagine a montage of shots that begins as a wrecking ball swings into shot followed by Red ducking, swerving and dodging… the overall impression should be dynamic and exciting’ from the original script for Red & The Kingdom Of Sound.


I was given all the freedom to play with Red as a character, and I felt it was my first major animation accomplishment on the film. The character went from being essentially a 3D puppet, to a panicked character, whose evasive techniques were ridiculous but balletic.

The big difference with Marcus & The Mystery Of The Pudding Pans was the speaking characters. (Red was always silent.) Also, this time the characters were bowls, who didn’t have limbs with which to act! One of my favourite sequences to animate was Scene 14 (it must be my lucky Scene number.) All the pots sink to the ocean floor, then, at the prospect of sitting dormant for a thousand years, the big old boring one starts gasbagging about their history. Each pot had to react differently as time passes and it was fun applying their personalities to the situation.



Phil: You’ve always been very honest about freelance life. What are the highs and lows, and what is your advice for anyone trying to make a living on the strength of their creativity?

Emily: Freelance life is a perpetual state of ‘where’s my next job?’ So when a client decides you’re the one to solve their creative problem, that’s already a bit exciting. The work is unbelievably varied and it depends who’s asking for your aid! I’ve had calls from advertising, filmmaking, live events, you name it! If you like variety, it’s brilliant. You never know how high profile your projects could be. Your work could turn out to be something for a big brand or feature celebrities or it could turn into a viral sensation.

Every job comes with its own challenges. Sometimes the best bit is nailing down something that’s been particularly prickly only to find the client loves it at the end. It was amazing the first time I had someone I’d worked for come back with another job for me months down the line. It was exciting to be doing more work, but I also had concrete evidence I must have done a good job before – something to stick to that imposter syndrome!

Freelance is completely unpredictable. You never know how long you’re going to need your money to last. There are times when a job ends and there’s nothing coming up. It gets worse when that period of silence extends. It’s prime territory for some dodgy mental health; doubts surface, about your skills, about whether you can make it in this line of work… It can be really, REALLY hard to stay positive and keep the faith.

No one really teaches you how to go from school to freelance. I’m bumbling along and learning as I go. What I have learned is, when things get quiet, keep busy. Practice something new. Explore creativity and go in a weird direction to your usual methods. Stagnation is an awful, negative, place to be.

Networking is everything. And it’s something you have to constantly work at. I’m led to believe consistency is key. If you have a constant presence in the online universe, you’re more likely to be spotted in the vast digital sea of creatives. At least, that’s what I am hoping!!!

Phil: Can you tell me about some of your other projects you’ve worked on? Any favourites? Any really challenging projects? Any personal projects?

Emily: My favourite project to-date was Red and the Kingdom of Sound. There was a really amazing sense of community throughout. I unexpectedly had multiple roles throughout and really enjoyed each of them. The best part was witnessing an audience’s completely honest, joyous response to the final film – with live orchestra! – auditoriums of smiling little faces, madly clapping at the end of the performance.

Marcus & The Mystery Of The Pudding Pans was probably my biggest challenge because of the level of responsibility and again, I had multiple roles. (It was a very small crew.) The last few months of production gave a new meaning to the term ‘crunch time’ haha! But the final live exhibition was well worth it.

Towards the end of 2019 I worked on a project featuring David Attenborough for the Wildlife Trusts, called ‘the Nature Recovery Network.’ Which was amazing. The short film entailed segments of 3D animation with live action footage- something I had zero experience in. Fortunately I was able to contact Ethan Shilling to help me fill my skill gaps with his 3D wizardry!



For personal projects, I tend to go traditional, card making, scrapbooking, or art journaling. More recently, I’m playing in digital. I made animated holding screens for a Twitch streamer. Then, in place of a birthday card, I sent my brother a homemade Final Fantasy themed gif. I have started a mini project in After Effects that came out of missing a job opportunity. Shortly after the role went to someone else, I discovered a physics-based plug-in that would have been ideal for the job. (Sod’s Law!) So I took the plunge and bought it, making it my mission to work out how to use it to make cool things!





Phil: What or who are your creative inspirations? Who do you look to for inspiration? What gets the juices flowing?

Emily: I don’t think I look to any one particular source for inspiration. Over the years I’ve been building myself an art book library. Whenever I have a new project to work on, I like going through my books to see if there’s anything that will spark something. Some favourites I tend to grab first are ‘Illustration Now! Volume 2’, and ‘Sketching from the Imagination: Sci-Fi’. These two contain dozens and dozens of varied artists work, which is a great starting point. Then I’ll look to the studios, ‘The Art of Blue Sky Studio’, ‘The Art of Pixar’...

Beyond there, I’ll pick up graphically interesting books (The ‘Art of Juan Ortiz: Star Trek’.) Instructional books, kids storybooks, pop up books. (Robert Sabuda is an incredible Paper engineer). Of course, graphic novels or comics, absolutely all sorts. I’ll refer to films, TV and video games and their behind-the-scenes. And when all else fails, there’s a whole universe on Pinterest!

I tend to take inspiration from stuff I consider textured or quirky in some way. ‘Coraline’ springs to mind. It had a wonderful dark, whimsical style, and everything was totally tangible having been almost entirely handmade for the stop motion production. More recently I saw ‘1917’ and was utterly awestruck by the camera work. I can’t forget the hauntingly striking lighting in one scene. (Flares over a ruined French town. You’ll know it if you see it!) The behind the scenes revealed that the sequence was sussed out using scaled models, which is something I really admire. One of the best examples of a textured animated film is ‘Spiderman: Enter the Spiderverse’. The mixed-media type approach opened my eyes to the limitless ways you can present animation. (I’d never have dared to animate some elements on one’s and other elements on two’s). The three-dimensional smearing, the sound effects as text onscreen, and textures – like colouring outside of the lines – blew my mind. I’ve never seen such an organic, moving, representation of a comic book before.

I’m often inspired by art style in games. So off the top of my head, fun silly games would be ‘Kirby’s Epic Yarn’ and ‘Paper Mario’, where the developers literally play with yarn and paper textures. Big strong art styles that spring to mind would have to be ‘Journey’ and ‘Abzu’. (I’m a sucker for a view, scale and scenery) Then, to contrast completely and delve into horror, the sound and environment design in ‘Alien: Isolation’ blew me away. It balanced the look of the original ‘Alien’ film with the projections of future space travel beautifully, and I always liked the gritty, chunky, mechanical nature of it.

Pinterest – okay, I’ll admit I probably don’t use it properly. I just pin a ton of stuff to a couple of badly organised boards!

I essentially have three art folders; 1) Art Journal/ Book, where I pin anything and everything I’m inspired to try myself, things like sketchy life drawing, graphic posters, character design, abstract watercolour, and illustrations. 2) Travel journaling, where I’ll pin other people’s beautifully artistic travel journals. I adore urban sketching, pasted with nick-nacks from adventures. And finally 3) Scrapbooking, where I pin other people’s beautiful and ingenious methods of photo and memory keeping, in the hope it’ll spark ideas for my own scrappy stuff.


Emily’s travel journal on a theme of Barcelona


Phil: I’m curious. How did you manage the lock-down, Em? How have you been pushing things along and not twiddling your thumbs too badly?

Emily: I’ve tried to keep busy! I started out with some painting and decorating; then I got back to the sketchbook. I’ve got a tiny square art journal – The Book of Mish-Mash – which I’m trying to post to Instagram as I go. It’s very much a freeform art book, no rules, just full of mixed media and creative whims. I’m hoping I’ll complete it before the year is out…


‘The Book Of Mish-Mash’


On a completely different tangent, I’ve taken on a digital marketing course, the intention being to learn from it, then build a decent website and make myself an efficient business hopefully. It’s given me some valuable pointers I can turn toward freelancing. Beyond that, I feel like I’ve seen the matrix in online advertising! (The course is free and run by Google if anyone is interested- Google Digital Garage).

Besides the little After Effects plug-in experiment I mentioned earlier, I’m hoping to take part in the ‘Kick-About’ every two weeks here at Red’s Kingdom. The prompts have been brilliant so far. It’s fun just bashing out artwork so freely, and the community, and variety of work produced, makes for brilliant viewing, reading and listening to! More please!


The Sun In A Jar, Emily’s Kick-About response for Prompt #1


And after that, my conversation with the always lovely, multi-talented Emily Clarkson turned to the idea of how we might collaborate together on a new project. We chucked a few ideas about and we might have the beginning of a cunning plan. More as and when it happens.


The Kick-About #4 ‘Orphée’


Our previous kick-about together was a game on the theme of happy shades, which originated a showcase of reflective, nostalgic and mediative responses. Phil Cooper’s Orpheus-inspired prompt has led some of us at least down some shadowier, more mysterious paths, as we consider alternate worlds and the allure of leaving this one.


Vanessa Clegg

“The sea is often described as a mirror and the mirage (Fata Morgana) on the horizon is literally looking/entering into another space. These are caused by layers of successively warmer air (shown as horizontal lines) working like a series of eyeglass lenses. It is a world that does not exist but is utterly real to the viewer.” Pencil on Fabriano. 56 cm X 56 cm.


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Tom Beg

“A Saturday stroll in the blistering summer heat turned into search for other-worlds and distorted realities, which I found in the ripples and reflections of the Ooka River in Yokohama. My final stop on this little solo journey was a lovely park that sits on the edge of Yokohama harbour. I’ve always found the waves and colour of the ocean here completely fascinating. It’s like staring into a thick undulating soup, and it was here where not so long ago the ill-fated Diamond Princess was moored up, quarantined, and its unfortunate passengers cut off from the outside world. It was as if it too had gone through the mirror where things would never quite be the same again.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


Maxine Chester

“This response evolved from the idea of Opheus entering into an eternal dance of seduction with death. The folds start to talk about ideas around the eternal, where there is no beginning or end just what happens within the unfolding of the middle.  Hence the title ‘…and…'”


instagram.com/maxineschester / maxine-chester.squarespace.com


Charly Skilling

“As long as there have been mirrors, humanity has wondered what they are really seeing in them – spirits, shades,(usually not so happy) or alternate universes.  We gaze in the mirror – and we muse.  And being human, we muse about how such mirror worlds might affect us personally.”



Phill Hosking

“I attempted to illustrate the moment where Orpheus entered the underworld to save his wife ‘Eurydice’. Orpheus stands readying himself for what’s to come as the the dark forces of the underworld surround Eurydice in the depths. This sparked all sorts of possible dark scenarios to illustrate, but I went for a poster-like iconic angle to enhance the drama and jeopardy for the hero of the piece.”


instagram.com/eclecto2d linkedin.com/in/phill-hosking


Kerfe Roig

“Mirrors and reflections often feature in my work, but I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to approach the mirror as a portal.  I first tried a collage but it seemed too busy.  The folded Rorschach paintings I do are already mirrored, so I decided to try that approach.

As often happens, this was not the painting I had in mind when I began.  Although the paint didn’t layer the way I envisioned, it took on its own life in the process and I followed along.  This is the second painting I’ve done using handprints…perhaps the start of a series?”



someone half
remembered, pieces
of stories
overheard–
circles drumming, spiraling,
endlessly riddled

differences
held opposite by
here and there
passed midway
to now—remaining whole yet
existing as both

reflected
overflowing with
a presence
carrying
ancient songs—myths returned as
what will always be


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Marion Raper

“I began by looking at an old children’s book called The Mirrorstone (Michael Palin, Alan Lee and Richard  Seymour).   In this story a boy walks through his bathroom mirror, and what I like about it are the illustrations, which include holograms. With this in mind I used some mirror card for my shapes and made shadows using some black organza material from my stash. The pink card is actually sparkly, but this was very hard to photograph and get the same effect. Lastly I drew around my hands and stuck some chiffon over them for a more ghostly look.”



Graeme Daly

“I knew exactly what I was going to create when I saw the new prompt… Twas the night before my birthday and I was sitting out in the tiny garden in my previous London apartment. I was drinking red wine and smoking a cigarette and frankly feeling rather shit – not sure if it was the birthday blues or if it was an amalgamation of other things, but my neighbours behind my house were having a party; they recently installed some outside lighting that surrounded their roomy garden in a blazing warm hue that lit up the brick of their apartment like a beacon in the night. In my garden there was a full length mirror perched against a rickety garden shed that was full of art supplies and spiders. The light from the neighbour’s garden was reflecting brilliantly against the mirror – it looked otherworldly placed against the black shed and darkness of my garden, as if the light didn’t belong in the darkness. I thought to myself, I wish that was a fucking portal so I could step through it, leave this place and see some happy faces. The neighbours next door continued to dance and sing into the night.” 


@graemedalyart / vimeo.com/graemedaly / linkedin.com/in/graeme-daly / twitter.com/Graeme_Daly


Phil Gomm

“A few weeks back, I discovered a large stagnant pond in the woods, its water black, viscous and a little sinister. All this talk of magic mirrors and portals to the underworld saw me hurry back to this enshadowed pool, as haunted and obsidian as any scrying mirror…”



Gary Thorne

“This has been some challenge, having chosen the mirror’s reflection as focus throughout, with three quite different self-portraits beneath this final slightly worrying impression of entering a hot (not tropical) world. Too late for dodging the inevitable, I suspect.” Oil on board 20cm x 20cm.


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Phil Cooper

“Mystic portals and doorways to other realms have often appeared in my work. I guess that’s why I chose the clip from Cocteau’s Orphée for the prompter’s this week; to me, they represent imagination, dreams, and promise.

I made the images by painting 2D elements on card, setting them up on a table-top with a painted background and then photographing them. It was all pretty low-fi; the lighting is a little torch, a candle and my iPhone, and I used a few basic photo-editing apps to add atmosphere and texture. I enjoy seeing how the painted shapes transform during the photographic process. It sometimes falls flat and occasionally something quite satisfying emerges. I’d like to continue to develop these ideas; add sound perhaps, or use video to introduce movement.”



instagram.com/philcoops / hedgecrows.wordpress.com / phil-cooper.com


Francesca Maxwell

“I have finally finished Orpheus. This is the second version. I must confess I am using these Kick Abouts as experimental ground, trying techniques and styles very different from my usual. Probably because I am working on a topic and with a story, I don’t usually do that in my paintings, I let images, feelings and random thoughts settle down in images and try to capture them. Only when I design for work I follow stories where there are characters and environments detached from me. For this one I used my usual abstract painting style and superimposed a baroque doorway from Puglia; an olive tree, aside from the Mediterranean feel it also represent longevity and, with the flowers, life renewal and Orpheus looking through his fingers at Eurydice who then has to turn back. I used Acrylics Inks on hot pressed watercolour paper. 30 X 40 cm.”


www.FBM.me.uk


Marcy Erb

“The first thing I thought of was “mirror neurons” – which are special neurons found (so far) only in primates and birds that activate either when the animal does the behavior or they see another animal doing the same behavior (mirroring them). No one knows why we have them or truly what function they serve, although there is much speculation. It was fun to get out some of the science images I’ve saved over the years for this collage.”



“I did go back and do another interpretation of the theme in collage – inspired by the line ‘and in it, I see an unhappy man.’”


marcyerb.com


Simon Holland

“Went a bit pencilly on this one, I wanted to capture Orpheus at the moment where he mourns the loss of Eurydice, the light of the surface world Illuminates him as the omnipresent darkness of grief and the underworld threaten to consume him.”


twitter.com/simonholland74 / corvusdesigns.blogspot.com / instagram.com/simonholland74


With thanks to fellow Kick-About artist, Kerfe Roig, I’m happy to announce the brand-new prompt for our fifth run-around together, Alice Kneel’s 1932 painting, Symbols. See below for the painting, and for our new submission date, and if you’re reading this and want to join our (very) loose collective of intrepid creatives in our continuing mission to make stuff we otherwise might not make, just get in touch.


Artist In Residence: Tom Beg #4


Phil: Hey Tom. Nice to catch up with you this week. I always look forward to seeing what you’ve been up. This image is joyous – like a shoal of outlandish helium balloons. It looks to me like you enjoyed translating your Miro-verse ‘anchovies’ into 3D existence…

Tom: Yes, the Miro cinematic universe, otherwise known as the Miroverse, is starting to come together but there is still a long way to go. I don’t consider the creatures and critters I’ve made so far to be finished, but now I have a pipeline of sorts established, it’s certainly quite enjoyable to be able to pop them into an empty scene and play around and pose them, or see how they interact with light and shadow. This has always been my favourite part of the 3D process. Also, all of this is a bit of testing and planning for when the time comes that I have to make these things come alive. It’s good to get a feel for what the possibilities and limitations might be.



Phil: I have many questions when I look at your characters, and they create an impatience in me to see them come alive and exhibit their signature behaviours. Any thoughts on how these critters might express their physicality? They look as cheeky and social as house sparrows…

Tom: Each of the creatures have their own bespoke control system that allows them be animated and manipulated in various ways, so this will certainly give a lot of opportunity for them to be able move and behave uniquely. That being said, there is likely going to be a lot of these things inhabiting a scene at any one time, and I’m a one-man studio making this in my free time. I’m going to have establish a kind of formula for animating them and giving them personality.

Phil: Another of my ‘many questions’ regards vocalisation – what these creatures might sound like? What are your current ideas in terms of potential sound design strategies?

Tom: I’m not a musician and I’ve never created sounds or soundscapes from scratch myself so it’s definitely going to pose a big challenge. I’m thinking about how I can use existing sound libraries to my advantage by manipulating, layering and distorting them until something interesting emerges. When I look at these creatures there are so many real-life sounds that immediately spring to mind, and since Miro’s paintings are an expression of the real world, it would make some thematic sense to use the real word in humorous and interesting ways.



Phil: A bit of an aside here, but producing work like this on the computer is a long-haul; what do you listen to while you work to keep mind and body together?

Tom: I like to stick to my comfort listening when I’m building stuff and doing somewhat repetitive tasks in computer software. I’m not sure it’s the right time to branching off and dabbling in some 1980s experimental Japanese noise rock or something like that. Here’s a little selection of the movie soundtracks that are often circulating around on my YouTube playlists while I’m moving the vertices and orienting the joints. Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith, Walkabout by John Barry, The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams, Aguirre: The Wrath of God by Popol Vuh, Cannibal Holocaust by Riz Ortolani, and Transformers: The Movie (if solely for Death of Optimus Prime.)

Phil: And finally, who is up next and what do you predict the creative and technical challenges to be?

Tom: It’s these floating balloon whales with giant “cone things with tentacles” attached. I think with that description I’ve roughly summed up the creative and technical challenges I might face…


some floating balloon whales with giant “cone things with tentacles” attached