In between his various creative endeavours triggered by The Kick-About, and his day job designing and delivering the curricula for his English classes, Japan-based creative and Red’s Kingdom artist-in-residence, Tom Beg has continued work on his animated short, Tabula 5465. Time for a catch-up…
Hey Tom, it’s been a while since we had you back in Red’s Kingdom: I know how busy you are, so I was excited to see a recent update on your short film, Tabula 5465, which means you’ve somehow been finding the time to continue work on your animated short. Tell us about all the latest developments.
Tom:Animation on the next creature is well underway. It is still a work in progress, but it is starting to materialise as something. Now I have a bit of time coming up, I’m aiming to make more substantial progress. Stay tuned for more updates later, but for now, you can look at what I have produced so far.
As far as other more under-the-hood developments go, there have been things tweaked and added here and there. For example, to assist in the animating process, I have created a few simple extra controls to the rig of the character to make it easier to get some nice organic bobbing and swaying movement. On my previous character this was extremely clunky to implement, so I am glad to have it as as something I can control independently from everything else.
Speaking more in terms of things that have a more obvious visual impact, I have made progress towards getting the final look of the animated sequences. I was able to render out a low-resolution version to test out various post-effects. In the end, I got something that was quite close to how I imagine the final film will look.
I’ve also been chipping away at an animated version of the title sequence and branding that is going to open the animation. It’s all very retro-pop!
Learned any new technical tricks lately?
Tom: One of my goals ,as this project developed, was to start using a tool in Maya called MASH, and I’ve been making the steps to start incorporating it into the pipeline of this animation. Unlike just about every other tool in Maya, MASH is a lot of fun to just play around with and get some interesting effects almost instantly. My purpose for it in this animation is to populate the backgrounds with more simply animated creatures, while the hero creatures in the foreground do the heavy lifting.
I couldn’t help but find out what would happen if 1000 creatures were to suddenly be brought into existence. I can conclude that a slow-moving computer and some amused giggling in a one-room Japanese apartment is what happens. But after the silliness, I did get round to more subtly incorporating it into the animation, as per my original plan.
When you’re working on a long project like this one, the motivation to keep going with it is never guaranteed – especially when you’ve got so many other responsibilities. When your mojo is running a bit low, what are your ‘hacks’ for getting back into the saddle?
Tom:Due to my day job, the actual production of the animation comes in waves, but even when I am not doing something related to art and animation, I am usually doing something that is exercising my brain in a creative way. That can be something like working on new lesson ideas, studying Japanese, or even just taking a walk around my neighbourhood and going down a road I’ve never been down before. It all tends to yield at least one interesting new sight, the discovery of something new or a burgeoning interest in something. I used to watch so many Japanese films when I younger because I was just so curious about what they had been making over the last 100 years, and here I am in Japan, learning a language that ten years ago, I could never have imagined having any understanding of.
Mostly, I recommend just finding something new that isn’t your comfort food. I think I am naturally curious person about creativity, especially when it comes to things outside the mainstream. I don’t love everything I see, but I am interested to see it at least once. One of the things I used to do when I was a student was just to marathon-watch lots of truly weird and bizarre stuff that probably should have never been made or seen by anyone. Unfortunately, even this became my comfort food and I had to branch out into even weirder stuff! The 70s was certainly an interesting time in cinema! At the very least it always encouraged me to see the world a little differently.
Do you ever find that your ‘extra-curricular’ projects are feeding into your teaching? How much do your students/colleagues know about your other life as an artist, animator and film-maker?
Tom:I think creating art is about thinking about an audience and making something which could be interesting for that audience. In essence, that is the same as making relatable and enjoyable lessons. To be honest, I don’t do much direct cross-over, besides some amusing PowerPoint tricks and worksheet design. I always feel like if that cross-over was made more explicitly obvious then maybe I have moved too far away from the point I am supposed to be demonstrating or encouraging students to interact with. However, at the end of the day, both animation and teaching are about eliciting some sort of reaction from someone so they feel interested enough to want to experience more or learn more from that thing. That is what I strive for on all fronts!
What’s next on your slate for Tabula 5464?
Tom:Just animating. I think I said that last time too, but my schedule is clear this time!
Finally, paint me a picture of life in Japan right now, weather, wild-life, the Olympics…
Tom:Rainy season is over (and it certainly did rain, as you may have seen in the news) so now the summer heat is in full swing, and the sweating from places you never imagined sweat could come from begins. Our old Kick-About friend, the cicadas, have also started their annual singing competition. Oh, and yes, the Olympics. Let’s just say that is a thing that is happening…
Our previous Kick-About together was inspired by images of the human eye, resulting in an abundance of other-worldly imagery and one short story, in which an elderly man vanishes magically away in the middle of an art exhibition. The pioneering silhouette animations of Lotte Reiniger are likewise preoccupied with all things magical: magical lamps, magical slippers, and magical beings. This week’s showcase of artists’ work riffs on Reiniger’s unique aesthetic and narrative milieu. Happy browsing.
“I always enjoy looking beyond the silhouettes of Lotte Reiniger animations and into the exotic and intricate backgrounds that she made. I get a simple sensory pleasure from the illusion of depth that can be achieved in black and white, just using the basic principles of foreground, midground and background. Visualising big worlds is not something I am particularly good at, but as I started to develop these images, I couldn’t help imagine them as big structures in some vast desolate landscape, where few living things remain.“
“I live in Berlin, just round the corner from where Marlene Dietrich was born, and I’m a big fan of Lotte Reiniger and early German cinema. love the theatricality, the creativity and technical ingenuity that went in to making these animations, as well as the fairy tale subject matter.
A few years ago I was involved in creating some animation sequences and images for screen projection for a stage production of Hansel and Gretel. Lotte Reiniger’s 1955 film of the story, as well as earlier German expressionist cinema were certainly in the mix when I was making this work, and I thought it would fit the bill for the Kick-About prompt this week. I’ve included some images that were made to project onto a screen behind the performers during the scenes when Hansel and Gretel were lost in the forest.”
“When doing research for the Howard Sooley – Prospect Cottage prompt, I came across the inspiring work of Lotte Reiniger, and since then I have been busy cutting, glueing and making for a shadow puppet animated short entitled The Lighthouse Keeper, which centres around the peculiar landscape of Dungeness and a couple of burly blokes. Creating something for the sake of creating and figuring out the hurdles and bumps along the way is what is most enjoyable about delving into a fresh medium I have yet to attempt. The stage is now set, the characters are ready to move, the lights are on and with it, the sheer joy of seeing the cut-out shapes and silhouettes lit up, ablaze. Moving from behind the messy, makeshift backstage to the front brought the biggest smile to my face, which makes the absolute bomb site of my shrinking bedroom all worth it! I am sharing the majority of the cut-out shapes, the stage and silhouettes that will feature in the film, as well as some lighting and staging tests with the main protagonist – while I wait for the delivery for the all important light source before the real fun begins.”
“I realized immediately I had seen Lotte Reiniger’s work before. It did not surprise me to hear Reiniger say, ‘I could cut out silhouettes almost as soon as I could manage to hold a pair of scissors’. Her work is, yes, ‘astonishing’. Me? I never had that dexterity, not even when young. I also don’t work in film, which was Reiniger’s medium. So how to respond to this prompt? I was going to work with simple bird silhouettes, but was unhappy with the ones I made myself. Once again, I had constructed a 3-D collage environment with cardboard pieces inside a paper bag. I decided to use photos of bird silhouettes, and hang them from strings at the top so they would move. I used circles to enclose the bird forms so I could put different photos on each side–the images would change when the dangling circles turned. Using the ceiling fan to create more movement, I began to take photos.”
that song that your words called into my mind, that song is like a lost world, just images in fragments, suspended like a raincloud without rain, a weight that refuses to dissipate–I can almost feel the memory but it won’t land, it keeps circling through the things that aren’t quite there–like a bird call I can’t locate, disembodied wings hovering invisible inside my head
“Lotte Reiniger’s beautiful silhouette works appeared to largely focus on fairy tales, so I wanted to come at it from a different angle. Taking inspiration from something short, like a poem, I delved into some of my childhood books and lit upon Edward Lear’s ‘Complete Nonsense.’ With my poem selected I created the scene with some coloured paper, and rigged up my phone for stop frame-animation. This was quite the challenge without a proper lighting set up, or the ability to ‘onion-skin’ my images, so there are some interesting colour variations caused by cloud cover and some rather choppy movements. But perhaps that adds to the charm of the ‘Young Lady of Portugal’! (Or perhaps I need some more practice and MANY more inbetweens!).”
“Silhouettes have been around for many years and I know that they are very tricky to work convincingly. Lotte Reiniger must have been a very clever mistress of this craft and way ahead of her time. I decided to do some cut work on the facade of a decorative little theatre and inside put a small montage – since my animation skills are nil and it uses up some of my mountain of collage papers! I’m not sure if The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear is still as well known as it was in my schooldays, but its entertaining characters are great for paper modeling, plus the tiny details of jars of honey, runcible spoons etc. So now all that’s left to do is settle back and sing along – ‘The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat…'”
“I loved these early animations. So full of energy and passion. I remember the fascination I felt as a child when adults amused me by making rabbits with their hands on the walls when the sun was out, and in the evenings with little table lights. I love watching moving shadows, and when I was in Mexico there were always shadows, as there never seemed to be a day without sun. A little different here in the past two weeks, so here are a few snatched mages and sounds of PLACE. Guess the Mexican one!”
“Thank you, Graeme, for the inspiring venture into action. Months have passed without life drawing so, the recreation ground provided observation of the figure in motion. This playful solitary kick-about prompted a series of sketches, which later, shifted to paint in the studio. Perhaps a bit of Lowry, if I may indulge myself. The second motion-based work is a spin off from the online RA Saturday Sketch Club which thankfully James Randall introduced me too, I’ve added in the mask which dates the work.” Oil on prepared paper 24 x 65 cm.
“There is an apartment block just across the road from ours – floor to ceiling glass – a very Rear Window stage. Nice simple shapes too. And a jumping off point for fantasy and metaphor.”
“I remember the first time I watched Reiniger’s Cinderella, thrilling at the moment when we see the ugly sister cut off her own toes in order to make the glass slipper fit her foot – a reminder that fairy stories, as written originally, were hardly short on violence and darkness.Take that Walt Disney, with all your syrup!Inspired by folk-tales, and by those who live in the shadows,I’ve written my own fairy story for the Kick-About, crammed with impossible things presented as commonplace, thought probably not anyone’s idea of a bedtime story…’
With thanks to kick-abouter, Phill Hosking (who has just recently started this new blog), we have, as our new prompt, a 2010 oil painting by American artist, Brian Rutenberg, Low Dense, which is just a little over four metres wide! What a welcome kick of mouthwatering colour. Have fun.
With many thanks to Deanna Crisbacher, I’m happy to present Fundus – a short experimental film originating from the series of photographs I produced for the Kick-About No.30. I had the strongest feeling these inner/outerspace images should move and liquefy, and in so doing, would further push my experience of them into the cosmic! I tried a few techniques out myself to achieve this, but ultimately called on Dee’s much more impressive box of tricks to produce the morphing effects I was after, with the addition of some apposite music, and a nod here and there to some classic science-fiction films. Thanks again to Dee, and also to the Kick-About community for the continuing impetus to make new work so directly.
I think this is probably an instance wherein the methodology behind the images is ultimately more arresting than the outcome itself, but having tasked myself with the challenge of trying to recreate the silent surface of the moon in response to the Kick-About No.29, I ended up working with some very earth-bound materials – principally, eight bags of plain flour, a plastic spatula for contouring, and three big glass paperweights.
That said, I must admit to a rush of fond filmic recollections, enjoying the way such humdrum materials could be turned into other-worldly vistas. One of my great excitements as a kid was learning how film-makers produced their special effects, kit-bashing spaceships from bits of Airfix models, or lining the corridors of futuristic sets with cheap plastic food containers bought in bulk and glue-gunned to the wall.
That I was able to recreate a lunar landscape on my dining room table, using the simplest means, reminds me of the power of imagination and the importance of play.
The ‘surface of the moon’ as it manifested in reality – a large plastic seed-tray filled with flour!
In addition to taking photographs of various pebbles for my Kick-About No.28-inspired short-film, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach, I needed some more impressionistic imagery too, images that could speak to nostalgia, memory and space. In the week I was due to take these photographs, it was doing nothing but rain, but then late one afternoon, the weather broke, the sun shone and the beach fairly glittered.
Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film, Prospect Cottage, the prompt for the Kick-About No.28, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach began with a simple enough observation. Living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.
When I was a boy, I collected pebbles from the beach, my mother shouting after me, ‘Not too far, love’. Lost to her, I run to the sea, my hands greedy as magpies, the pebbles bright as boiled sweets. This one, no, that one! I’d take them all if I could – if only I could carry them, if only there was time. Home again, turning out my pockets, I look again at my treasures and wonder why I loved them. Why this one? Why that one, my choices as drab as Sundays.
When I was a teenager, I pretended to the lads I walked beside not to see the pebbles at my feet, the ones glossed red as conkers, the ones like speckled eggs. ‘I’ve only eyes for Linda now’, I tell my mates, ‘and for Alice at the chippy, and that big girl over there with the holes in her tights’. But alone again, unseen, I return to the shore, where I take one or two more pebbles into my pockets, sneaking them like cigarettes; and in my too-small room, I look again at all my choices, unhappy at the secret they keep of their colours.
When I went down to the sea as a man, and found myself bending again by the water, the other man who walked with me said, ‘No more shingle, please! We have a beach of our own at home, thanks to you.’ Then he laughs. ‘Just one more then,’ he says, and like the perfect silver pebble I pick from the shoreline, I’m going to keep this moment in the palm of my hand.
Now I am old, I can’t seem to tell one thing from another. I look closely at this man who brings me my food and washes my hair, and I wonder why I loved him. Why this one, I think? But I go on collecting pebbles anyway, my mother saying, ‘Not too far, love’ and lost to her, I run.
When I Was Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach (2021)
“I loved Howard Sooley’s film. It is beautifully peaceful. My image, a single one this time, is simply a rendition of Prospect Cottage, with the garden made even more minimalist, save for a few small creatures dotted about. This little exercise was a useful one for me, in that I was consciously dampening down my rather over-excitable palette, and also practising the careful placement of a few elements in a pared back landscape.”
“I met Derek Jarman in about 1991 when we were both involved in a direct action group called Outrage that was campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people. He was every bit as wonderful and brilliant as you’d imagine. He was just great to be around and has remained one of my great heroes and inspirations ever since.
I came across this film by Howard Sooley a couple of years ago and I thought it would make a interesting prompt for the Kick-About, as it includes such a wide variety of potential jumping off points, as well as just being beautiful to watch. The prompt has given me a good excuse to re-read Modern Nature over the past few days, my favourite of Derek Jarman’s books. The writing includes passages about so many things; his film work, painting, sex life, reminiscences about his childhood, politics, friends, but the garden he was creating at Prospect Cottage twines around everything and binds it together. The book always keeps coming back to the garden. It’s a telling indication of his character that, after being diagnosed with, what was then, a terminal illness, he responded by moving to a wild scrap of land next to a nuclear power station and started to create a garden.
I’ve used a passage from another of his books, At Your Own Risk, to make this little film for the Kick-About. I find the words very moving and full of humanity and also capture something of his essence. His was a life well-lived and he left so much to us after he’d gone.”
“For this prompt I have some photos of things I collected while travelling and objects given by friends and family. I gather them in corners or containers around the house. They are snapshots of memories surrounding us and making our home.”
“Unfortunately, because of living out in the urban sprawl in distant lands far from home, wonderfully empty and bleak places like Dungeness are something of a distant memory. These days, the mention of Dungeness conjures up images of post-apocalyptic landscapes dotted with historical relics, and the windswept houses of but a few lone survivors, but my younger self would have perhaps rolled his eyes at idea of yet another school trip or BTEC National Diploma outing to good old Dungeness to wander around on a quiet beach for two hours without any ice-cream or fish and chips, and no way to escape until herded back onto the chartered coach.
Nowadays, I feel like it would probably be very entertaining to be sat on a beach, look out to the horizon, and not really see anything or anyone, and just watch the time pass. So here is a little graphical ode to doing nothing, from the view of my own cottage on a shingle beach somewhere.”
“When viewing Howard Sooley’s Prospect Cottage, I was instantly drawn to the opening images of the lighthouse and the water, the way those clips moved – like pixilation animation. I wanted to create a moving story using older methods revolving around the landscape of Dungeness and all its quirky unique characteristics, I also just really wanted to make something with my hands. I have fashioned a shadow puppet theatre out of old cardboard, a large picture-less frame and some grease proof paper so that I can bring to life cuttings of the characters and all the little things that make Dungeness so intriguing. While I don’t have the film to show just yet, I do have the storyboard.”
“When I saw these images of Derek Jarman’s garden, I was struck by two quite separate, powerful memories.
The first was of some photographic images by Jan Groszer that I saw in an exhibition a few years back. Jan had captured images of the “industrial heritage” of the Kent coast (i.e. the large chunks of metal and machinery left behind when industry moved on.). Those images conveyed a sense of solitary resilience, a determination to “be” whether men had need of them or not, a life which continued with or without human intervention. That same “resilience” is evident in the planting and “furniture” of the garden at Prospect Cottage.
The second memory was of my childhood. Every year, there was an Arts Festival in the town, and my mother insisted all of us kids (there were 5 of us) participated in everything: – we drew pictures, wrote stories, recited verse, did bible-readings, sang songs, and played piano – with varying degrees of skill and success. All part of the cultural upbringing of middle-class children in the Home Counties during the 1950’s. However, one category I loved was the “Miniature Gardens” competition. I still don’t really understand how it fitted in with the rest, but it was a favourite. I would use a little wooden seed tray, line it with newspaper, then fill it with dirt from the garden, or sand. Then a small mirror to create a pond; moss (for grass); a few of mother’s rather scrawny cacti, or some miniature plants from the garden (sedums, saxifrages, thyme, I think, though I had no idea what they were then) and – Voila! A miniature garden. Of course, if I could get my hands on an Airfix model hut or shed from one of the boys’ model railways (with or without their knowledge), my miniature garden would reach even greater levels of sophistication. The odd drop of water to try and keep everything alive – or at least looking that way – and then, a few days later, after ‘Adjudication’, it would all be dismantled, and anything that could be salvaged was returned to its pot or flowerbed (or model railway).
These are the memories that come flooding back when I look at Prospect Cottage and its garden. There is a randomness in the arrangements, the shingle and plant varieties are so in proportion to each other, they could be scaled up or down easily. And the house itself – well, it really does look quite a lot like an Airfix model.
So here is my miniature ‘Dungeness Garden’. It does not have a model hut, but it does have a bit of “industrial heritage” . It will not be dismantled in a few days, but it may not be completely sustainable in its present form. Think of it as a work in progress – as all gardens are.”
“Thinking of Derek Jarman’s film, ‘The Garden’ and the way he experimented with his medium… so, a small reference to this in the use of the lens from from my old Pentax, using it to tint a shot of my allotment as well as being inspired by his use of black and notebooks… all in the mix.” Notebook with Angelica and Lavender seeds.
“I rather wish I’d been passing by at Prospect Cottage in ’91, when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had enthroned Jarman and were acting out his Canonization, as a single sea shell collected would have found itself now enshrined. With some guilt I confess having a few cherished shells from around the world, and yes it feels wrong. Thankfully, times have changed, as countries forbid removal of all that is natural, so here’s a tribute to days gone by.” Oil on prepared paper 25cm x 25cm.
“Memories were sparked by seeing the icon in that interior view of Derek Jarman’s cottage. Derek came to give us a crit on our stage designs for Woyzeck (the play) back in 1981, at the time Caravaggio was formulating, and he was living a wonderful life in Berlin. Aids was about to change lives. He spotted my design for Boris Godunov that was much more interesting to him as I was using the icons in a filmic way and his love of Opera and Russian icons was pertinent. What an inspiring man and how lucky I was to have met him. I moved to Bristol the year he died in 1994. I am still meaning to visit his garden! So taking plants from my garden almost as actors on a stage seems relevant in some way…I had no perception before that that was in my head at the time?
Inspired by Woyzeck, where this ordinary foot soldier is treated as canon fodder and disposable. He is fed a diet of peas to see how he responded. Peas were the first food to be genetically modified. The three graces has a long history to me of the treatment of woman from cradle to grave and preservation of beauty through products. Natural ageing is like a dance and beautiful at every stage. A garden is forever in this cycle of seasons and state of change. When the first Lock-down happened in 2020, I started exploring the idea of these plant portraits painted like an icon with egg and earth.“
“In my own garden, a complete contrast to Prospect Cottage, two enormous sycamore trees rule and I look at it from the top of a hill. A woodland garden in Spring and Winter. A desert often in Summer and Autumn. Everything depends on the growing roots of the trees beneath my feet let alone the raging winds from the West mainly. I talk to my garden. The paths and rocks from the walls tell me when and where the roots are moving underneath them. As time progresses they will start to lift everything up and displace it. These snippets are the beginnings of that process in my mind.”
“Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film on Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, my short stills-based film began with a simple enough observation: living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.”
“Such a lovely prompt! I searched out an old canvas I had tucked in a cupboard for many years and started stitching straight away. I know the style of embroidery is very kitch and chocolate box – but wouldn’t you love a dream cottage like that? I also grabbed my watercolours and enjoyed splodging an imaginary summer’s garden – as I gaze out of the window at the hail stones falling…
My memories take me back to when I was about 7 or 8. I suffered badly from what I now know to be dust or mould allergies. The doctor told my parents to move somewhere with “good country air”. So we did. We moved to a small town in Buckinghamshire and into a newly built bungalow situated on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and woods. It was wonderful and my nasal problems disappeared like magic. There was a lot to do, as the house was literally an undecorated structure, and the garden just part of the field fenced off. My sister and I had to help gather as many stones and flints as possible so my dad could put down concrete paths, and gradually the garden began to take shape. However, my father had grand plans for a wall to divide the front and back. Money being quite tight we couldn’t afford the fancy decorative bricks he wanted – so he made them! He found an advert for this metal brick shaped gadget, which you filled with special cement, and when you tipped it out – hey presto, a raised pattern brick emerged! It was a lovely hot summer and I well remember rows of homemade bricks drying out. The wall my father built with them was a real triumph and people would often stop and ask how he did it!
I went to see the old bungalow recently and was sad to see it is in a bad and sorry state. The grass sways in the breeze and our once beautiful garden looks sadly neglected and unloved to say the least. However, still standing proudly amongst the weeds is my father’s wall. Happy days!”
“In my mind the Prospect Cottage prompt intersected with the Otherworld of Brendan’s earthweal prompt and then merged with my shells, collected over years of visits to the ocean. The shore is where I lose myself and meet “Not Here” and Prospect Cottage felt like it was a portal into that suspension of the normal framing of time and space. “Like landing on the moon,” as the narrator said. Most of my shells are still in storage, but I’ve carried some weathered whelks along with each move I’ve made, both to look at and draw. The spirals sing, and bring the sea to me. I drew three of them from different angles on the same page–first pencil, then colored pencil, then with a brush in gouache. I decided to add grounds. It’s not always easy to tell when you’ve gone too far, but I think I definitely did so with the colored pencils. I may take an eraser to the ground to fade it so the shells don’t get so lost. I was trying to capture the garden of Prospect Cottage. The pencil drawing was impossible to photograph well, but I like the weathered effect. I wrote words around and connecting the shells, which you can see better in the close up. These are quotes from the video, interspersed with my own observations. This one has exactly the feeling I wanted, of secret messages, indecipherable voices on the wind.The painted shells – it felt so good to get my gouache out of storage and paint with it again! – captures the colors I was feeling from both prompts–a sense both of otherness and belonging, of being just exactly in the right place without time.”
I can almost hear them echoed on repeat through my bones spiralled gifts collected in the overlap of landsea the fluid movement that follows after what hasn’t happened yet cleansing
sheer sound waves etched in side winds calling I can see them sometimes—doubled visions currents vibrating against a blurred sky gyring like the shadow of a raptor glimpsed briefly between the singing of reflected light sailed whole
“I’m afraid I didn’t riff off the beautiful, yet vulnerable Jarman garden – I’m sure others will springboard off that nuclear backdrop. I just ran with ‘garden’.
We have just moved to Brisbane after 10 years in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood. I wasn’t going to raid the garden for cuttings before I left, but at the last minute I ended up with about fifty tube stock sized treasures that I will try to keep alive while we wait the seven months to get access to our permanent home in Brisbane. So this vegetation arc is my garden: I took a series of close-up, blurry detail photos of these cuttings to start with. I couldn’t help but think about what I had left behind as a garden in Sydney, and why I had planted what and where, and what I had learnt. I wrote a sentence or two for four photos and layered the text onto each photo. I drifted off thinking about how impermanent the old garden was (the new Earlwood owners have a dog that I am sure will change the landscape very quickly). I partially erased the text over the images and blurred it to reflect evolution and the loss of meaning to our actions. I also put a layer of mezzotint texture on top to push back the reality of the image further. Later, I thought the text could be fractured and moved about, but only a single word in each image. I used the common name of the plant featured in each image and chopped it up in Illustrator, moving around the pieces and changing the resulting shapes. Then I added these words back into the layered Photoshop composition. But I thought if what I had done in the garden was of such a transient nature, then why include the photos in the Kick-About? I concentrated on combining the morphed letter forms of the four words in a single Illustrator composition. That’s where I ended up – with a single image.”
‘I’ve only visited Dungeness a couple of times, one being a college day trip to draw and paint back in my foundation year. I remember that day, and the other worldly feel of the place so well. In the spirit of that trip 29 years ago I’ve gone proper rough and observational here, wish I could have found my drawings from back then, I looked everywhere. I’m definitely taking myself back there this summer to do some plein air sketching…”
Welcome to this first anniversary edition of The Kick-About, a fortnightly blog-based creative challenge in which artists of all stripes come together to present work in response to a given prompt. I asked contributors to choose a favourite work of their own from the previous twenty-five editions so I could celebrate them all together here.
I just want to say a personal note of thanks to everyone who takes part. Producing new ideas and new work in under a fortnight brings with it its own challenges, insecurities and pressures, but if you’re anything like me, you will have enjoyed the otherwise simple satisfaction of making work, getting it done, expressing your creativity, and sharing it with a supportive community. Some of you have thanked me for hosting the Kick-About, and some of you have even worried about the work and time I may be giving it; rest assured, this is the work I like to do and I’m very happy to do it.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part this last year, and I’m very much hoping we can continue to combine our efforts as productively and imaginatively in the coming weeks. Now, just look at what you did…
“Thanks for the Kick-About. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting those Bird Ladies from Kick-About No.2. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.”
“I’ve not been as involved as others in the bi-weekly Kick-About posts, but I’ve seriously enjoyed the challenge of completely unexpected briefs. I’ve chosen to include my piece ‘Orpheus’ this week. This one stood out to me for several reasons, partly because it allowed me to flex my digital painting muscles again, something I’d neglected for a while. Also it was a powerful story that instantly brought up images, compositions and drama. That narrative aspect is something I often neglect in my personal work. This was the challenge, like I had to capture the story, as if on the front cover of book. Our hero enters the underworld, ‘hell’ bent on saving his wife ‘Eurydice’ from the clutches of the dark forces below. Everything a digital painter wants in an image.”
“Selecting KA9 is easy, as it reminds me of how important instinct is within process, as well the time span of sitting across 4 hours 40 minutes to complete a process. I trusted my responses to the music, invited in chance, kept the demon of doubt outside the door, and I enjoyed colour as an adventure. KA9 felt like a pure creative experience and it beckons me on to do more. The community of KA has been totally enriching and so rewarding.”
“Kick-About No.1 was a cathartic experience as I’m often caught up on details and reasoning. And those hang-ups can sometimes paralyse my creativity. I realise now, sometimes it’s just a simple premise, and it’s dumb fun and exploration that’s needed. And I definitely found joy and a small sense of achievement in that process!”
“Weirdly enough I’ve chosen this..a tough call but although I loved putting together the installations I only record them as 6” X 4” photos, which are then put into a KA book as a record. However, I do have my drawings, so could take a better photo, as they’re bigger! I chose this as it WAS tedious in its repetitive way, but after a while it became a form of meditation, and I was happy with the outcome, which is rare. Actually I could have chosen any as far as enjoying the process goes, so onwards to the next…” Graphite on Fabriano.
“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”
“The Kick About has brought me to places I’ve never dreamed of going. I’ve dipped my toes into mediums, styles and parts of myself that have otherwise been sealed off. I have learned to find magic in the mundane, while learning a great deal about films, authors, and artists, from the many prompts we have created together. I always feel inspired to see what you all have created every fortnight, so for that I am thankful to all you fellow kick-abouters for your words and creations.
In saying that, it is difficult to choose a favourite, as they all have been a joy to see flourish. One Kick-About does come to mind and that is No. 22, which was the art, life and times of the Austrian painter, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and with it the Pools film. The reason why it is my favourite is because of the way it came to be and the journey it took to get it to that state. I wasn’t seeking this film out. I wasn’t trying to capture anything like it, I didn’t even know this place existed. I was merely bouncing around the innards of the forestry one bitter cold winter morning when a dumping of snow was beginning to melt, and where I set out to capture the extrusion of thick snow rimmed treetops. I found all that, but I also found this film – in a trench of shallow, glistening water.
Making Poolswas a creative journey, and I’m thankful it happened in such an organic way: from finding the place and deciding to film it, to viewing the resulting footage as flawed, while still being preoccupied by it, to the Kick-About prompt providing the perfect opportunity to salvage the film into something I’m proud of.
It was a pure delve into the unknown to make something just for the sake of it, not knowing how the outcome would look but just enjoying the whole process of making this thing. I think, in its essence, that is what is so great about The Kick About and why I love being a part of it with you all.”
“At the time of the making of my Metropolis images for The Kick-About #2 I had been living in the same apartment for over three years, and for some reason had never really taken the time to explore the surrounding area with the eye of a photographer or an artist, mostly because it all just seemed very boxy and residential in a way that I have become totally accustomed to seeing every day.
However, with a lot of free time and a phone-camera in hand, I thought that surely the true mundaneness of a real metropolis could be made into something interesting somehow. After fiddling with some images, I ended up with some quite authentic looking silent film production set photos which of course really reminded me of that other Metropolis. I think they even capture the unusual atmosphere and uncertainty of the time they were created.”
“I choose this one because I managed to capture a very personal sense of nostalgia, which is something that I had been trying to crack for a while. Also, it was the first time I had been motivated to break out the paints for over a year, which is a long time, especially when I had been making work every day. It highlighted to me that I need to stronger with myself as a creative and have the fortitude to keep pushing through various blocks and it did herald a period of increased productivity. Also, it is one of the artier of my submissions…”
“The Kick-About #6 is still one of my favourite prompts, and one of the most meaningful series of paintings I have done in the last few years. It represents the beginning of a new creative journey for me, a new painting style, and, at the same time, it encompasses much of my life and experiences. For this “anniversary” I picked just one of the four, my favourite, and the first one I painted. It was originally inspired by a photograph of the Canadian winter landscape by Evelin Berg and, as I mentioned, were partly concept paintings for a short animation I haven’t finished yet. The journey, the film, the story….all still ongoing.” Ink on watercolour paper, 240x680cm.
“I have learnt so much over the last year from participating in The Kick-About, and enjoyed so many different aspects, that I found it really difficult to pick a ‘favourite’. Some pieces have stretched me technically, some have taken me into totally unfamiliar territory, some have felt satisfactorily “complete”. But one submission made me smile when it first occurred to me, smile as I worked on it, and smile even now when I read it back. I can’t think of a better reason for re-visiting it, so my ‘Favourite Kick-About’ is Field Guide to Getting Lost and The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda’.
“It’s the Five Canons of Rhetoric! I’ve chosen this one as it made me really think about my work and its origins and process. It led to the story of this Sea Heart pod that continues to fascinate me along with all the other seed-pods in my life! The journey of this pod crept into the following Kick-About as well, maybe because I can’t travel at the moment and I long to be doing so. It always refreshes my mind and creativity… apart from missing my friends in distant lands.”
“The prompt was Cocteau’s Orpheus, because of the element of serendipity: on a Covid walk, I dragged home two entwined ivy trees, saw the prompt, (not sure which happened first) something clicked, and I set about exploring the potential…”
“The KA’s have been a great way to divert my attention and have provided reason for exploration of deep buried thoughts. Thank you’s to all of you who have donated jumping off points – sometimes they resonate so deafeningly – not always at the point of conceptualising – the museum KA didn’t kick-in for me until I started putting paint to paper but then it dragged up some of the creative juices that I thought had been long gone. So I guess that makes it my significant KA moment. I love the tantalising breadth of work created by all of you. KA reveal days are always so exciting. It amazes me how you seem to tumble out great pieces or concepts. Also amazing how open you have been with background stories to some of the works. Thanks again and I hope KA can continue long after lockdown.”
“In response to the “Kick-about anniversary” (and my very small contribution to it) I have chosen to revisit my take on the Eugen von Ransonnet Villez submarine paintings.
Marine paintings have become a large part of my creative output over the last decade. As a graphic designer just over ten years ago my health took something of a wobble and the medical advice was to change lifestyle. This evolved over a few years and resulted in less use of the mouse and tablet and more the old fashioned paintbrush. It became as much as anything else a journey of self discovery. Several visual themes emerged but the one most urgent in my need to explore was the sea. I soon found like minded painters at the National Maritime Museum Art Club where I became chairman. The club has had a couple of identity changes since then but still exists as the Thames Maritime Artists and I am still chairman.
The limpid, accurately observed and interpreted tones and colours used by Ransonnel Villez immediately struck a chord with my own struggle to capture how we see water and objects in water. Seascape and coastal painting is quite a niche area in painting, not fashionable, and hasn’t been since the Royal Navy stopped ruling the waves, but I have never been troubled by fashion. For me the test of how well I am performing is to be judged by peers and to that end over a number of years I have submitted paintings to the Royal Society of Marine Artists annual open exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. For four years I failed to get anything into the show, I was disappointed but not discouraged and eventually in 2019 I got a piece into the show. In 2020 in the middle of the pandemic I got two pieces in – and won the Classic Boat Prize. It certainly does not beat taking your life in your hands going under the sea in a primitive diving bell but sometimes dogged persistence does pay off. I have attached a couple of RSMA exhibition to add to the original set.”
“For the Kick-About I’d like to submit my Symbols piece (#5). Of all the digital work I’ve produced over the last year, it stands out to me as being truly different and emotionally driven. Something in Alice Neel’s original painting really clicked with me.”
“I would like to choose ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ as my favourite piece. It was my very first appearance on the Kick-about and possibly one of my best works. It involved using the mixed media of silk material and painting, and I felt it was a good showcase for my manipulative skills with fabric. I definitely got a buzz from seeing my picture on the internet and I loved using the bright, cheerful colours. It made me feel excited, hopeful and creative even though it was the start of lockdown.”
“While I haven’t been able to contribute as often as I would like in recent months, The Kick-About is a welcome stretch away from my day-to-day. Working in design, I’ve felt it more and more challenging to work without a brief or steer, to make for the pleasure of making, without feeling the need to justify time spent playing as part of a longer project or showreel piece. The Kick-About has provided that stimulus, giving a direction but not a destination, and a space to remember that away from the rounds of amends, renders and timesheets, making is simply, fun. For this reason, making a witches bottle due to a misreading of a painting by Alice Neel was the most enjoyable project for me, reading and researching down whatever avenue seemed interesting, formulating an idea without thinking of demographics or target audience, and then making something however crudely with real physical materials, not worrying about brand guidelines or alignment or safe margins. Looking at the high quality of the other submissions makes it lucky I’m dressing up my motivation in the same outfit as naive or folk art. However, at a time which created a step back from our daily lives and the time to think about why we do the things we do, for me The Kick-About is the reminder I needed to not pack everything in and try to manage a hedge fund. Joy! It’s all about joy!“
“I’m choosing the Invisible Cities (Ersilla) prompt as my favorite. First, because it was something I wanted to do as soon as I read the book a few years ago, but had never gotten around to. And also because it expanded my work from my usual repertoire, which is basically 2-dimensional.
I would say that almost all the prompts have pushed me further than I would normally go outside my comfort zone which is a very good thing. And everyone else’s work is so inspiring, it keeps my mind full of different ideas and inspiration.”
“I’ve loved being part of the Kick-About over the last year. It’s got me doing things I’ve never done before, such as writing and recording my own voice, and it’s going me doing things that I’d never have done without it, so a big thank you, Phil, for putting this together every fortnight. It’s been a real pleasure seeing how people have responded to the prompts and I’m always in awe of the variety, the talent and the creativity that appears in each post.
I’ve got a few favourites from the past year, but i’m choosing this image, which I called ‘Forest Flare’ and made in response to the Orphée’prompt way back last June I think. I painted some 2D trees, an arch and a sky onto card, and then lit and photographed th em on my desk. The main reason I was pleased with how it turned out is that, in the photographic image, a small figure appeared, sitting on the floor, framed by the arch and looking like a faun that had wandered out of the paper forest. It wasn’t there when I looked at the table top set up, but some magic happened in the camera and the image turned out more interesting that I’d planned – quite spooky!”
“I’ve chosen ‘Baba’s Important Work’ because the resulting short story speaks to the power of a random prompt to produce something satisfying, unpredictable and inevitable-seeming. That a story set in a static caravan, in some dystopian society, should have issued from an old book on nautical knot-work, makes me feel excited about the creative process in all its strangeness. I find it reassuring too, a bit like going to Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, opening its doors, and finding, thank goodness, there are still ideas in there after all.“
“Albatross Box is the only sculpture I’ve done for the Kick Abouts – and it is the one that has proven the most constant source of inspiration since I made it. It is still hung up in my house, changing with the light and day and it is a source of endless fascination for my 3 year old. Once COVID restrictions ease a bit, I’d love to scout out some more bones and do a few more bone shadow boxes with poetry and make it a series (I confess to already rescuing another wooden box from the curb in anticipation!). “
“Picking a personal favourite is so tricky! My mind immediately jumps to the Alice Neel prompt from Kick-About #3. I really enjoyed the making of that piece in it’s simplicity and assemblage of iconography. I also enjoyed Kick-About #23 in which I could channel grief into some strange cardboard constructions. Both of those prompts were so calming and helpful to produce. But if I’m honest with myself, I think the very first Kick-About was my favourite subject, largely because the Max Ernst prompt is well suited to my comfort zone – bizarre landscapes and painting methods. What a boring choice I know, but I remember that painting evolving so clearly in my head, and it was a joy.”