“Sometimes I have an idea about what a character in Chimera Book 1 might sound like, or look like. Then I hear Dan’s narration and suddenly the voice he gives to characters is how they will then sound in my head for ever more. It’s like they really only could sound like that. The characters taking centre-stage in the book at the moment are good examples; Whirlitzer, Doctor Ossifer and Bertram have always been a joy, but Dan has brought them to life in such a delightful and thrilling way. This week I decided to try an illustration of Bertram, the cute but rather bolshy little skateboarding pig. And I LOVE his voice, ‘rules, rules rules’. How could I resist?”
After the heightened atmosphere of our last kick-about, and the rich food of the festive season now largely behind us, Leger’s simpler fare was a welcome offering. Leger’s still life was brought to the attention of the Kick-Abouters by artist, Gary Thorne; well, Leger can keep his roast beef. I’d rather get my hands on all those delicious-looking prawns and creamy avocados…
“With the holiday now firmly in the past, it seems fitting to celebrate the sacrifice which lead to so much decent feasting. Leger’s prompt of colour and the ordinary stirred up this reflective composition, which in part celebrates a Polish Christmas on the 23rd with its attention to seafood. Although a difficult year for many, it ends with emphasis on a simple pleasure most commonly enjoyed as a shared experience – healthy eating! Happy new year to our fab’ host and to all enjoying Kick-About.” Oil on prepared paper 65cm x 50cm.
“Japan loves food and Japan loves paper, so it makes sense that Japan also loves pictures of food printed on paper. About this time of year a ridiculous amount of two-dimensional sushi gets stuffed into my letterbox. Usually it ends up in the recycling pile along with the rest of the paper, but given the pop-art and food theme of this Kick-About, it struck that these could be made into some kind of surreal, consumer advertisement induced pop nightmare.”
“So Leger, cubism, multiple points of view/time – a series of photos can cover that – and as it was time to pick the final harvest from our little tree, please see the cooking of a peach cake images...”
“Or was this a still life exercise? – covered by ‘what didn’t fit into the dishwasher‘…”
What Didn’t Fit In The Dishwasher
“… and then a totally self indulgent something – peaches – because we did have a few summery days until the rains came. Virtual hugs to all the kick-abouters.”
“For someone whose inner colour chart is extremely limited to dark, this was an interesting challenge, and so good for me, which is why I love being part of kick about! Anyway I had a look at Leger’s work and the thing that leapt out was his use of primaries with black and white delineation, so here’s my interpretation using still life (but no roast beef!) and making the link through colour. Good wishes to everyone for better times in 2021.”
“This kick-about felt very homely; an abundance of food reminds me of home, so I painted a kitchen illustration of a section of our kitchen, mimicking the colour and skewed perspective of Leger’s piece.”
“I remember, as a child, hauling extra quantities of clementines up the road in my mother’s basket on wheels. We never seemed to have enough for the 14 aunts and uncles that filled our Christmas dinner table. The peels were scattered over the table in profusion. I think the reason for so many was that when my parents were young their only present had been an orange – such a scarce and valued piece that it was the centre of their Christmases. So for them, Christmas needed to be full to the brim with orange. My orange theme then reminded me of Mexico and the orange abundance of marigolds strewn everywhere to celebrate, not only the Day of the Dead, but also the coming of Christmas just round the corner. So the last few dabblings in this idea are more impressionistic with a nod to Howard Hodgkin for these oranges escaping my frames in gay abandon. Happy 2021.”
“What I enjoyed about this week’s prompt was the way Leger’s painting encouraged immediacy and directness – a sort of ‘first pass, job done’ flourish that meant lingering too long on any subject wasn’t quite the ticket. I also appreciated a chance to occupy a more domestic space – nothing metaphysical to see here, ladies and gents! Our kitchen is stuffed full of house plants – I look at them many times a day, every day. They are as part of the fixtures and fittings of our kitchen as the cutlery and plates. With this in mind, I wanted to make them the subject of my offering this week, and also to try a new technique first brought to my attention by fellow kick-abouter, Charly Skilling – drawing onto ceramic tiles with Sharpie markers, and then spritzing the drawings with alcohol toencourage them to bleedand soften to pleasingly impressionist effect.To be honest, I worked up these studies super-fast and without any fuss or forethought and just really enjoyed what the process itself was giving back. Given the knock-about informality of the technique, it amused me to dial-up the formality with some tasteful frames, imagining these ill-disciplined little drawings on the walls of some tasteful interior.”
“… always so patient with the various creative undertakings overtaking our small seaside house, my husband was keen to have a go at some ‘sharpies + alcohol’ excitement himself… Presenting ‘Paul’s cactus’…”
“My husband was clearing out a kitchen shelf the other day when he came across a carefully wrapped tea service that he’d inherited from his grandmother and which we’d almost forgotten about. We’ve no idea when it was made, probably 1940s, but we really love it, even though we never use it. Jan’s grandmother was a lovely and very stylish lady who always looked amazing, right into her 90s. We got on well and she’d make me laugh when, after I’d said something like ‘Guten Morgen’ , she’d exclaim ‘oh Philip, you speak such beautiful German’. I hardly speak any German, but bless her! What an amazing generation they were, we miss her very much. I thought I’d paint the milk jug from the service as it fits the prompt this week. I hardly ever paint still lifes but I enjoyed doing this one; maybe I’ll try a few more!”
“My first impression of this still life was gluttony – and I originally planned a collage with lots of food. but when I started pulling images out of my collage box, as is so often the case, the composition decided to go somewhere else. Fish? Butterflies? Snakes? Blame it on the vase goddess.”
“I have never attempted a still life before, so this is all new territory for me. I used Sharpies, but instead of ceramic tiles, I used a bleedproof marked paper, which is semi translucent. Alcohol spray to blend and soften, and the paper was then taped to a window, before photographing.”
Still Life With Blue Casserole
“Here I have made a collage for the new kick-about, “The End of the Meal”. In memory of the Christmas meals at my grandparent house, usually on Christmas Eve, a rather grand affair ending with coffee, brandy, fruit and walnuts and, for us children, homemade ice cream. They had a beautiful dining room with a huge table, a creaking but beautifully wax-polished, sweet smelling, wooden floor and several still life paintings on three of the walls, rather brownish, in heavily carved frames. Fortunately, on the largest wall, there was a wonderful, antique Japanese silk painted screen in three panels, which we all loved the best, and most likely the beginning of my love affair with eastern art. Since then I have drawn and painted and etched many many kinds of still-life, a term which I prefer to the Italian Natura Morta, and learn to love it. In fact, as part of my training at the studio of my Maestro, I drew, then painted and then etched a still life, the same one, nearly every day for an entire year. Clearly not a roast-beef. Despite that, or maybe because of that, still-life became my comfort zone, a quiet place without the challenges of painting people or perspective or busy compositions. For this one I had fun. I used “left-overs” paintings just placed down, ready to be cleared up at any moment.”
“Just before the latest lockdown I was mooching around our new local second-hand bookshop and I came across a book entitled ‘A Wartime Christmas’. It was a compilation of the memories of various people from all parts of Britain who related how they spent the festive season during WWII and had chapters with headings such as’ Gert and Daisy’s cheap Christmas pud ‘ and ‘They tied a label on my coat ‘or even ‘Beethoven ‘s Fifth with accompanying sirens!’ These are the type of stories I find absolutely intriguing and needless to say I had to buy the book. Although Fernand Leger’s still life with roosbeef was done in 1951, his work still has the austere look of the war years about it, and in fact rationing didn’t finish until 1954. On the front cover of my Wartime Christmas book is a wonderful photo of four cheeky little boys in hand knitted jumpers and paper party hats. They were in fact two sets of orphaned twins, aged 3 and 6, whose father was lost on the torpedoed aircraft carrier, Courageous, and they were destined for Dr Barnardos Home. I thought they would be lovely to sketch and perhaps they would prefer the beef to be minced up and served as spaghetti Bolognese – or perhaps during the war it would have been Cottage Pie?”
“This prompt was a joy for me, because one of my main staples as an artist is still life. The main piece here is a painting of a rather neglected Dendrobium orchid and three bottles, painted over the course of one weekend. The other pieces are more simple recent studies. There’s something unbelievably satisfying about rolling up your sleeves, putting together some simple objects and seeing what can do with the paint, in this case, oils. I always learn something from any still life, predominantly about colour, and how our eyes trick us into assuming we know what we’re looking at. You mix for minutes and then you put it on the canvas or board and you’re miles out. Slowly I’ve tuned my eye to sideline these tricks of the eye. On this orchid piece, I’ve started the process of using the objects as a compositional tool on the surface of the board, making sure that I treat the painting as an object in its own right. I’m currently working towards a joint show with @jordanbucker in March this year at The Fishslab Gallery, Whitstable. I’ve made characteristically varied paintings for this show, but still life and observational work is right at the heart of it. Show opens on the 9th of March all going well, we’ll see.”
Phill at work on Dendrobium orchid and three bottles in his studio, Whitstable, January 2021
“I’m running late again, for this Kick-about, and I missed the Christmas one. So I have just whizzed down to my supremely messy studio (in need of a good clear out before work commences next week) and painted a few quick Christmas dinner themed sketches inspired by Leger’s perfect little still life. I rarely do a still life. For me, The Things are all about the people that use them, so I became lost in some invented people and what their moods and relationships might be. In my final image, it was interesting to find, despite the small crowd of people in the central part of the drawing, the subject was really the man at extreme left and the slightly harassed mother at the extreme right. It became all about their isolation within the crowd.”
Ernst Haeckel’s bizarre and beautiful Art Forms In Nature is our new jumping off point for our continuing adventures in art, craft, photography, film and creative writing. Have fun … and wishing you all a very happy new year!
“As usual, I’m spoiled for choice with subject matter in Chapter 14, there is SO much going on, and quite a few new characters appearing who would be great fun to illustrate. In the end, though, I couldn’t resist painting a skull with his brains showing so Doctor Ossifer it is this week. I’ve added a rather strange, shadowy background to the image, a nod to 1920s German Expressionist film, as Doctor Ossifer has Teutonic roots and I’ve recently moved to Berlin myself where some of those films were made. It’s tempting to go about the city speaking in Doctor Ossifer’s German accent and shouting at people, ‘It’s fascinating to meet you’ – but I mustn’t!”
This week, the woods remain lovely, dark and deep, as dreams of snow and ice continue to characterise this suitably festive Kick-About, with new works inspired by the third slow movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 A Carol Symphony. The Kick-About has been running for thirty-four weeks and was started, in part, as a response to the first lock-down. Throughout this time, our fortnightly shindigs have been a constant source of anticipation, comfort and satisfaction and I just wanted to say a big thank you to all my fellow kick-abouters for your creativity, conversation and always, the surprises. A big thank you too to all those who comment, who participate, who browse, and who share. Now go have yourselves a very merry Christmas!
“This painting isn’t what I had intended – but then again what is these days! In my mind I had envisaged carol singers and a merry Christmas card type scene. Alas it all went rather pear-shaped, so this is one I did earlier. I suppose it has a rather snowy and bleak look about it, but if you just keep walking around the corner and over the hill, there is little village hidden away and yes, I can hear the sound of Christmas carols drifting across the fields. Merry Yule tide and a peaceful New Year one and all.”
“The wonderful piece of music for this week’s kick about prompt has been wafting through the flat today, reminding me that Christmas does have some very nice things about it, once I forget about all the things I’m supposed to associate it with these days. I used to love this time of year as a kid, less so as I’ve got older and feel pressured to have somebody else’s version of Christmas and not the one I want.
I made this collage a few years ago, putting a few of my favourite wintry things together to create a version of Christmas I’d actually like; snow, the winter landscape, a cosy lit window, a jet black sky studded with hard bright stars. If you stepped inside that house there’d be a real tree with very beautiful decorations and real candles. Oh, and Christmas pudding and custard – now I’m living in Germany, I’m missing Christmas pudding soooo much, they don’t do it here!”
“The music of this prompt felt very christmassy and warm indeed. To me, nothing feels more christmassy than going for a walk in the countryside of Ireland, where the invigorating air hits you with pure refreshment and the frost glistens the shrubbery and flora. I spent a lot of my time, when I was a young lad, outside, building rickety hideouts and treehouses with my friends and cousins. Going for a walk near my family home always feels like I am dipping into my memory vault, where walking past a bparticular tree will spark a memory of us building and climbing away; walking through the grasses of the fields reminds me of being cut by barbed wire, and being so dumbfounded by having fun, I didn’t realise I was bleeding with barbed wire marks in my palms.
I remember the beehive camouflaged into the ground of one particular field; I can only imagine the sight of us all running and screaming our heads off as we ran for our lives from the angry hive – after we’d awakened it! Memories like that are scattered around the countryside of Ireland. They echo as I stroll past them, and now I am older I can really appreciate them. Although all the hideouts and treehouses are dismantled, and our worn-down trails filled by vegetation again, the clean air and bright stars haven’t changed.
Although isolation has, for now, stopped me from revisiting those actual areas of my past, I remember them as I walk through the bogland surrounding my Mam’s house, where I know I would have been in my element too. I am still drawn to those picturesque areas and the crisp, clean air – and I really appreciate the little bird houses built into the trees to shelter the birds in the bitter winter. I still walk past a particular tree and think – that would have been a good one to climb.”
The house I grew up in had no central heating, only the gas fire in the living room. There was no double-glazing either and it was quite normal to wake up and see your breath in the bedroom. It was also common to find ice on the inside of the windows – frost ferns of extraordinary beauty. In response to this music, I wanted to capture those patterns of ice, but the weather here is stubbornly mild and ordinary. Undeterred, I set about recreating the sorts of photographs I might have taken, but had to rely on some digital transformations, taking an image of an actual frosted fern taken in my garden several winters ago, and pressing it against a window of my own invention. When the first of these images coalesced, I gave a small cry of delight – for yes, here they were again, those delicate veneers of ice, just as I remembered them, and for a moment at least, I was my small pyjamaed self.”
“As an 11th hour coda to my efforts at faking frost, I sent my resulting images over to CGI-whizz, Deanna Crisbacher, and asked her to have a kick-about too…”
“… and this last image is where Dee and I met in the middle to produce one more.”
“The musical selection of seasonal carols made me think of the cosmos – not just the return of the light this season celebrates, but the vast circles of time and space to which we belong. But how to show this in a concrete way? I turned to sacred geometry – the Seed of Life and the Egg of Life, images based on seven circles as a framework for the whole of creation, forms that also echo the tones of the musical scale. For my collages I used images from 2 of my reference books–Majestic Universe and Space Odyssey. It was a learning process, fitting all the pieces together like a puzzle, but I eventually approached the images I had in my mind. And for the poem, a seven line form–appropriately named Pleiades. Its six-syllable lines also reflect the 7 + 6 circles of the Egg of Life mandala.”
in the beginning, dark– isn’t it always?—then inside the seed, the egg, illumination—orbs invoking each other, imagined, conjoined, kin– instruments of (re)birth
“Listening to Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I found myself wondering about the meaning and roots of the word “Noel”; why the Coventry Carol, also featured in this piece, could sound so gentle and loving when it was about the mass slaugher of children; and generally, how tradition and custom allowed us to sing of the Christmas story, without really registering the words at all. So I have tried to restore some of the words most associated with our Christmas carols back into the context of the original event – a re-telling of the nativity, which is all mine, illustrated with some beautiful paintings, which aren’t.
I’d also like to wish each of my fellow Kickabouters a safe and peaceful Christmas, and a much happier New Year! Thank you for making this year so much better than it might have been. Love and virtual hugs to you all.”
“Chris Rea once sang “I’m driving home for Christmas” Over the years I have often found myself doing the contrary. Whether it was for work or escapism, I would often find myself in a red and white queue, wending my way up some motorway or other. Rea shares an empathy with his fellow travellers, as they sit in their cars waiting to continue their journey to meet loved ones. I often experienced it in a different way as I was driving on those dark evenings; I was leaving home going somewhere, not back to family or to the out-of-town shopping centres, or to the supermarket to get the turkey dinner and this congestion Rea sentimentalises was a hindrance. I craved the dark mornings, or the late-night finishes. I knew the people on the roads then were the same as me, their purpose not driven by consumerism or sentimentality but by necessity.
Come Christmas day I would often find the ceremony of the event claustrophobic and melancholic. As the darkness settled in, I would make my excuses and leave. The streetlights led me somewhere – and away from something – neither the ‘somewhere’ nor the ‘something’ were tangible or important – the act of travelling was the goal. I would simply travel without a whim or care, but inevitably the ley lines of the world would draw me to the coast, where I would park by the harbour and watch the dark waves for a while before reluctantly returning home. Whichever way I experienced my Christmas lights, there was a freedom on those sodium drenched roads, no top-to-toe tailbacks, no red lights all around.
Now, having had a family, my house has had its share of being festooned. Christmas day isn’t so much of a chore, even with in-laws and pets and the general hullabaloo. I can even survive the most banal Christmas hit (just), but occasionally there is still that yearning to travel and experience those quiet routes again.”
“A mini mystery with a touch of fairy tale. We will pretty much all be indoors this year (especially if the rain goes on) so I’ve brought the spooky woods into the house and paused the singing… With luck it’ll resume. Winter Solstice! Light is on its way. Meanwhile, I hope everybody has a cosy creative few days with positive thoughts for 2021.”
“Well there you go – 2020 is almost over. I am a humbug from way back, so this really was a challenge! I guess I sidestepped it by jumping to a new year’s message, hopefully as treacley as the music. Based on some pics of cockatoos in Centennial Park – such wonderful clowns – which were taken a few weeks ago with grevilleas and bush cherry flowers, which are out in the garden now.
To all the kick-abouters Season’s Greetings and best wishes for a bright shiny 2021. It’s been marvellous seeing all your beautiful works.”
We have the lovely Gary Thorne to thank for our next Kick-About prompt, which will no doubt come as a very welcome distraction from all things titivated, gilded and ‘Christmassy’. Gary presents us with simpler fare this week – left-overs from the great feast, perhaps?
“I moved to Berlin a couple of years ago and one of the things Berlin is very good for is second-hand bookshops. My favourite one is just up the road from where we live and one of my recent purchases is a book about the British artist Graham Sutherland. During the second world war Sutherland was an official war artist and some of the images he made from this period were included in the book. They really chimed with ideas that were springing to mind whilst I re-read Chapter 13 of Chimera last week; dark pits and claustrophobic tunnels, grinding machinery throwing up sparks, and a glowing, molten-hot colour palette. Kyp finds himself in a nightmarish place in this chapter, it seems to be a case of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’!”
“I love Robert Frost’s poem so I was excited when I saw it was the prompt for this Kickabout, but found I really struggled to produce anything I could present with satisfaction. I tried first words, then textiles but could not produce anything worthwhile. When a piece of work creates such a strong impression on the mind, as this poem does, it is difficult to do anything other than pay homage to the original. I ended up playing with the movement and the palette of Frost’s snowy woods, and hoping that it is true that ‘Less is More’.” Sharpies and alcohol on ceramic.
“I immediately responded to Frost’s poem as if it were an ode to the forest under the falling snow. I eventually took it to be about someone travelling home reluctantly and with some air of mystery. That in mind I found some photos taken on a country road as we drove back to Sydney, but rather than submit another photo, got out the gauche and made a quick (relatively) pic. The photo was a far worthier visual, but where’s the challenge in that?”
“I remember the snowy winters in the woods in the village in which I grew up. I was always struck by the impression of the thick gnarled bases of the tree trunks, very black against the white snow. To me, they always looked like the snow-buried feet of some huge pachyderm or similar, with the thickening around the base of the trunk like the moment when the foot of the creature just starts taking the full weight of what is being carried above it. Deep in the wintery woods, I’d imagine myself walking daringly amongst an entire herd of the colossal creatures – weaving between their legs.
Back in February 2018, the UK was struck by ‘the beast from the east’ – a blast of exceptionally cold weather that brought with it an ice-storm. I went out to the beach to find everything glazed with ice, with even the stones on the beach in that sort of shell of ice you find around individual prawns in the supermarket freezer cabinets. Whitstable beach is shored up with wooden groynes that extend into the sea to keep the beach from washing away. I was reminded of ‘walking with dinosaurs’ in the deep dark woods of my childhood, less because of the proper cold (which is the way I remember – rightly or wrongly – all the winters of my youth) and more because of the way the exposed wooded groynes against the white of the beach and frozen slate-coloured mud looked like the enormous skeletons of sea serpents or fallen dragons.”
“I painted this image a few years ago when I was still living in Whitstable. A heavy snowfall is unusual in this part of the UK where the climate is generally quite mild without any of the extremes or temperature or precipitation you might get further north and west. But once or twice a year, there would be a dump of snow and the town would be transformed. It was the hush I remember most, the sound dampening qualities of the snow quite otherworldly.
There is a lane that runs out of the town from behind the station, up onto the wooded hills between Whitstable and Canterbury and I walked up there once after a proper snow shower. The lane was utterly quiet and still, and the colour palette of the trees and hedgerows very beautiful. I wandered about taking lots of photographs, feeling bewitched by the atmosphere. The lines of poetry for this prompt reminded me of the magic of a particular place I felt on that cold January afternoon.“
“I was so taken by the last kickabout with Ravilious as an artist and communicator of his age that when the new challenge landed in my inbox I couldn’t resist continuing to explore his techniques, so I have borrowed his colour palette and visual vocabulary for the latest effort.”
“My family owns a few chunks of land in rural Ireland, one of which is the forestry, pictured here on a typical misty, wintry morning in the back arse of nowhere. The forestry is populated with pine trees and used to house some of our horses – Dawn, Jessy, and the majestic Esmerelda, along with the cows. The animals are no longer. Unfortunately we sold them off for whatever reason. The stables remain with sprinklings of hay scattered around its edges and when the weather calls for it – downy flake. I remember the forestry and the surrounding areas with utmost joy, as it houses a lot of fond memories of my rambunctious, pubescent teenage years.
Me and my cousin and a family friend used to creep around our houses in the dead of night, tiptoeing about the place to steal whatever booze and cigarettes we could find, until ultimately my parents noticed the dwindling of the expensive, ancient wine in our wine cellar; and subsequently bought a padlock (that I got a hold of and got a key copied). Sometimes I would steal a cigar or two from our slumbering parents, and when the weather was bitter and frosting over the pavements – as most harsh, Irish winters are, we used to meet up and collate our stash together. We were once lucky enough that a friend who would join us sometimes managed to score some poitín – an Irish illegal moonshine so strong it can apparently make you blind… It certainly didn’t have that of a dramatic affect on us but fuck, it burned our chests as it went down and our vision was definitely impaired after drinking enough of the liquid lava.
We drank and smoked into the early hours of the morning, sliding and jumping on the frosty, black plastic wrapped bales of hay. The odd time we played music that we recorded off the tv onto our Nokia phones. We sat in the cold we no longer felt and looked to the stars and chatted about improbable nonsense, with the night in Ireland being as black as the void. The stars would glisten and litter the sky in a spectacle, dancing even in our inebriated states. Esmerelda, Dawn and Jessy, and, of course, the cows, would gather around us watching with perplexing bemusement. Little tufts of smoke would puff from the surrounding houses’ chimneys in the distance as they started to burn out. I’m not sure why we mainly did this in the flesh-tingling cold of winter, or why I remember it the most. I think we just wanted something to do, something that made it feel like summer again.”
“I know this poem well. It’s also one of my favourites from my childhood. Perhaps as I was in Kent we had more experience of snow than here in Bristol. As a child I loved to look up and eat the snow letting it melt in my mouth. We lived near woods so catching the snow amongst the trees felt very familiar from those distant childhood days. So this memory was sparked by the poem and I’ve tried to capture those thoughts and feelings of looking up into the trees.”
“I’ve always loved this poem so thank you for giving us the prompt. Anyway, I decided to focus on the last line and tap into the state of insomnia… a subject close to my heart, as this happens with unwelcome frequency when it feels like I’m the only person awake… tossing about in tangled sheets… listening to the owls in the conifers, and wondering if the world service is a good option.
I try to calm my mind but it races away into the murk of the past… speeding back into the now silent present and on into an uncertain future, then repeats the cycle on and on. This is indeed a journey through the darkest of nights. Only dawn brings the sleep of exhaustion.
Having said that, it can also be incredibly productive creatively, working through ideas bubbling up from the subconscious and emerging via a semi-comatose state – so not all bad!” Graphite on watercolour paper. Approx 50cm X 40cm
“After I had read up about all the possible meanings of this beautiful poem by Robert Frost, I must confess I struggled to make any sense of it, apart from what I myself really felt. This after all is I suppose what poetry is all about. The woods for me represent something which is hidden away from you and which you would love to explore but may be rather nervous about doing so. The deep dark snowy woods that I have imagined are the fascinating world of art, and have a touch of rosey evening glow, which depicts the fact that it seems to have taken me a lifetime to discover them. They have always intrigued me but I have never quite dared to explore or delve into them. The figure in the foreground is me dancing and skipping along but never actually entering the wood – and yes, hopefully, I do have miles to go!”
“I had already spent a long time fooling around with the art. The diorama I planned didn’t work out as I expected, but I liked the background paintings I did more than I thought I would. Done on very wet rice paper, with black ink and silver and pearl metallic watercolor, they had much more of the feeling of Frost’s words than I expected. The diorama on the other hand, failed to match my vision, and I took 50 photos to come up with just a few that I liked. Still I learned from the experience, including how natural light is much more blue than that from my drawing table lamp which has a yellow cast. And I got a surprise in the monoprint that emerged from under one of the wet rice paper paintings which also seemed to capture well the feeling of my poem.“
Mid the woods, snowdusk shadows are spare–lovely but cold, dark, clinging like shaded brume and wandering silent and deep.
Drawn here but not belonging, I do not have promises of morning or an end to this vigil I keep
of if and beyond—all those miles now lost to me. I go in circles of before–I beg the night for sleep.
“This poem was my first poetry love: I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know this poem and didn’t find it magical. I distinctly remember being in my grandmother’s house when I was 8 years old, in my mother’s childhood bedroom, reading it in an old school book anthology I found on a shelf. If my childhood in Southern California was filled with parched chaparral, cars, and Santa Ana winds, Frost described a world that seemed to me in a snow globe or fantasy book – harness bells, snowy woods, deep silence, and solemn promises. I’ve always held this poem close – and I’ve found that has made it difficult for me to make art about it. But I still wanted to participate in the Kick About, so I decided to revisit a trip I took 6 years ago to the Robert Frost Family Homestead in Derry, New Hampshire. All photographs by me on my old iPhone then equipped with a now ancient photo filter app.
When I read the words of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, I see the woods around the Derry farm, the road curving past on its way from town. I think everyone reads their own life promises into that last stanza – but standing in the meadow behind the Frost farm, it made sense to me that at least some of Frost’s promises were made right here, on an old farm in the New Hampshire countryside.”
“Just approached this as a challenge to capture the mood of the piece, that delightful, silent, yet slightly scary feeling of being a long way from home with the elements against you. Painted in Photoshop over the course of a few evenings.”
“I’m pretty pushed for time at the moment, so I have been missing Kick-About challenges lately. And I’m late for this one. But I couldn’t resist doing a pretty literal interpretation of this one very hastily this morning!”
“…I added some trolls playing chess on the lake. And who knows? Maybe Robert Frost was imagining the same thing…”
It’s a risk, I suppose, offering up the third movement of Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s 1927 A Carol Symphony, for our next creative prompt. It might be an artist’s straight-jacket, bringing with it only a clutch of the most obvious festive thingummies, or it might yet lead to more complex things and spaces. Tis the season after all, and even after all the Frost we’ve had this week, a little bit more ice, sparkling midnights, and the promise of old remembered magic won’t, I think, go a-miss.
As actor, Dan Snelgrove rests his vocal chords and artist, Phil Cooper puts his paint brushes down for a well-deserved break, I wanted to bring everything Chimera-related together in one celebratory compendium.
All in one place then, for your convenience and listening pleasure, we have all first twelve chapters of Chimera Book 1, a rip-roaring romp into an alternate universe of anthropomorphic lost property, populated by sock-snakes, shock-poppies, walking sofas, vanity sparrows, armchair apes, shop window mannequins, and talking teapots! Enjoy the ride.
Dan Snelgrove: Performing Chimera
But it’s one thing to write a children’s book imagining the secret physical and emotional lives of formerly inanimate lost properties, and quite another to bring all those outlandish characters to life. Fortunately, Dan Snelgrove is on hand, a one-man-band of vocal special effects and emotive storytelling, whose energy and imagination brings colour and dynamism to every word of the novel. One of my great pleasures of this collaboration has been catching up with Dan to discuss all the different ways he’s approached developing the book’s various characters and capturing them accordingly in his home-based recording studio. I’ve gathered together our various chats, and also asked Dan for a few words of his own…
Dan Snelgrove recording Chimera Book 1 in his home recording studio.
Dan: He’d asked the wrong guy, but I wasn’t going to tell him.
I first met Phil a year or so after Chimera had been unleashed, Xenomorph-like, from whichever fantastic recess it had burst. I’d been brought in to run acting workshops for the Computer Animation Uni course he headed up, which involved convincing often technically-minded individuals that waving their limbs around and physicalising a slice of bacon in a full-English breakfast was indeed a productive use of their university time. Exploiting a despicable array of tricks I’d picked up in the acting game, I managed this with some degree of success. For some reason, Phil interpreted this skulduggery as evidence I might be the right person to bring his masterwork to the listening masses. I said yes.
Now, never* during this time had any vocal versatility on my part been demonstrated to him, and I would caution you all that simply because someone can cook a good spag bol does not mean they can serve up an edible Baked Alaska Flambé. It is true that the acting classes were barrels of fun, and I do believe that everyone involved got a lot out of the experiences (I certainly did). However, that is an entirely different beast to bringing to life the overwhelmingly (intentionally so) vibrant and all-too-non-humanly populated world that is Chimera; with the power of the voice alone. For me, this presented an unrivalled challenge and opportunity to grow, to focus on an area of my skill-set that had long needed my attention. Phil would have certainly been better off with someone that could actually just do the job.
It is possible I am overplaying the task. My tendency towards a debilitating level of perfectionism undoubtedly acts as a multiplier, and dear reader, I shall leave the judgment in your hands. But as I first read the trilogy (that’s right kids, this is just the beginning!) I quickly realised I would have to employ the merits of a spreadsheet to organise my thoughts on the myriad characters involved. Looking at it now, I can see I got to 49 before abandoning the process. Having now recorded half of the first book, I realise the sheet failed to capture some of the voices needed along the way. To my count, we’re up to 23.
Some actors are naturals when it comes to accents (their resumés claim a ‘good ear’). Others have uploaded them to their internal databases through hard work and professional training with vocal coaches at drama schools and the like. I am neither. To be kind to myself, I could characterise myself as more of a ‘physical’ performer (I was a keen Irish dancer and clown in a cabaret-punk band), and could claim to have historically approached roles from an ‘emotional-truth’ perspective rather than a more ‘technical’ one. However, just as a carpenter needs a toolkit, so does the actor, and it is all our responsibilities to keep our chisels (and tongues) sharp.
So with a bit of forethought and decent run up, an actor with the particular set of skills (Liam Neeson perhaps?) could simply read the chapter out, switching to the appropriate voice as they went, and with the odd retake for mistakes, job’s a good’n.
Each and every character requires a good deal of Google and YouTube research time, as I cram like some ill-prepared student on the night before the exam. My search history, amongst other things, includes buffalos, apes, Ben Fogle, a Russian taxi driver, the Secret Lives of 5-Year Olds and Audrey Tautou. Then, to further cheat and allow listeners to imagine distinct characters, I give each of them their own track, often more than one each, and separate them in the stereo field. The last chapter I recorded, for example, comprises 19 different tracks, along with four out-take tracks replete with fierce swearing and self-rebuke. There are lots of outtakes. Lots. What may sound like a seamless track of narrative is in fact a secret patchwork of cross-faded single-word overdubs and inserted silences, with surgically removed accent errors and poorly expressed emotions falling into the track below; into a world of lost words and sounds. A Chimera, if you will. As a further consequence of these nigh on endless repeats, local sales of honey, ginger and lemon have skyrocketed as I try to squeeze out one more soffalo grunt or Atticus rasp between sips of this hot elixir.
My ‘producer’ credit hence rather grandly veils my continuing struggle to obfuscate my vocal shortcomings.
Doing all of this in various states of lockdown and isolation, and living alone in the first place, adds a level of intensity to the quality-control loop, stood as I am in my homemade vocal-booth with nout but my own voice, in its various forms, going around and around in my headphones. Phil has often sensed the danger and sent over emergency packages of chocolate… And then, when it’s finally done (often late) I tap the trackpad and it’s gone, into the void. Phil then has to step in again at that stage to mentally soothe and massage my broken remains, in order to start the process again for the next week.
I know how this sounds, and so please know that I am immensely proud of what has been produced so far. Going for a 10k run means pain, exhaustion and a mental battle, but also a sense relief and achievement. For an actor, this project is the complete challenge involving story-telling, epic-scale character-creation and emotional journeys that deserve digging into the soul for. Just don’t tell Phil he got the wrong bloke…
Not content with roping Dan Snelgrove into this epic undertaking, I also approached Berlin-based artist, Phil Cooper, asking him if he fancied using the various chapters as jumping-off points for a series of new paintings. Very fortunately for me, Phil agreed, beginning by producing the Chimera podcast cover art, that has since gone on to pepper Red’s Kingdom on a weekly basis. Phil had this to say about his involvement so far:
Phil Cooper hard at work at the art table back in September 2020
Phil Cooper: I found the prospect of making illustrations for Book 1 of Chimera both enormously exciting and rather daunting at the same time. Exciting because I’d loved the book since it was first published as an e-book several years ago, and daunting because I knew that choosing exactly what to depict out of the plethora of imagery and ideas that pour out of every page was going to be a challenge. But then, at the beginning of October, we were off, and with a tight schedule to keep to, there was little time for feelings either way, it just had to get done. The weekly schedule has been a good solid framework to work around, though, even if it’s felt pressurised at times. Now, towards the tail-end of November, I look back and feel a sense of satisfaction at what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time.
The characters and the environments Phil has conjured in Chimera are vivid and imaginative; the main challenge I’ve faced so far is choosing what exactly to depict each week. I’ve decided to steer away from painting the characters and the creatures that inhabit Chimera so far. Most weeks, I’ve chosen an object from the story, usually an important object like the silver locket or the conker on a string that Kyp keeps in his pocket. These objects are sometimes important elements of the story and I wanted to use them in images to contemplate whilst listening to Dan’s tour de force narration. I knew I didn’t want to describe visually what was being described in the words of the book as the writing and Dan’s expressive narration did that very well. And I also knew, I didn’t want the images to somehow be fighting for attention with the experience of listening to the podcast, I wanted them to work in harmony with it; a background to the action going on in the audiobook foreground.
At this halfway point in Book 1, and looking ahead at the chapters coming up, I can see that the approach I’ve taken may well evolve. Things are going to expand very soon in Chimera, in terms of the characters we meet and spend time with, and in terms of our knowledge of how things work in this universe, and who is really working with who. So, with so much about to go off, I think I might start to move away from depicting objects, as totems of the action, and start to explore the characters themselves as we get to know them more deeply. It’s going to be another challenge!
As well as the extraordinary words from Phil’s writing, I’ve also had the benefit of hearing Dan’s awesome narration for extra inspiration each week. The podcasts really do sound terrific. I’ve been listening to fiction podcasts for years now and Chimera is right up there with the very best of what I’ve heard, so a massive hats off to Dan and Phil for doing such a great job. It’s a real pleasure to be part of the adventure!
Andrew Fisher: Scoring Chimera
One of my little pleasures is listening to the thirty seconds or so of theme music beginning each episode of the audio book, composed especially by Andrew Fisher, into which the composer manages to cram a potent mix of magic, mystery, weirdness and melancholy – capturing the world of Chimera perfectly.
Andrew started composing from a young age, developing an interest in musical story-telling, especially musical theatre and film music. Andrew’s most recent musical Girl In a Crisis, starring Olivier winner Lorna Want, was performed to rave reviews in London in 2018. Other composition credits include music for the video games Guardians of Ancora (which has been translated into five languages and been downloaded 2 million times worldwide), the horror film, Nine Miles Down and the animated comedy-drama short, Lily White. His additional composition credits for television include the natural history series, Great Barrier Reef (BBC), and How the Universe Works (Discovery).
Kyp Finnegan’s adventures in Chimera will resume on Monday, December 14th, with Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit
“Things move quickly in Chapter 12; we meet several new important characters and discover new important places. It’s a rather dizzying experience and I can only image that Kyp’s head was spinning by the end of this chapter! For the illustration this week, I’ve gone for the Temple of Miscellany, mainly because it’s really quite different to anything we’ve encountered before. The crystalline glass structure, glowing from within, has a bit of a sci-fi quality to it in my mind’s eye and it made me think of early 20th Century paintings, like Lyonel Feininger, the Italian Futurists and the constructivists, exploring shiny new materials and clean, geometric shapes. As the new characters we meet will be around for a while, I thought I could explore them in later chapters, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to paint the Temple of Miscellany when Kyp first encounters it…“
After the informality of our collective Boogie Doodle, this week’s responses take as their starting points the urbane visions of Eric Ravilious’ High Street, beguiling in their nostalgia and just as bitter-sweet considering our current circumstances. Somewhere out there, some opportunist on Instagram is no doubt augmenting Ravilious’ shop windows with social distancing stickers and ‘Please Wear A Face Mask’ notifications. I don’t know if this is clever or just very depressing.
“Another brilliant challenge! It had me going up to the high street at dawn over a few days to get some nice light and look around – camera in hand. Our suburb Earlwood is a bit of a sleepy hollow coming out of Sydney’s inner west – but I avoid the high street, a thoroughfare to the city, so heavy with traffic and fairly grotty. Earl wood is also a suburb with a large Greek population so there is a bit of Greek colour. I was heading down a few different directions with the snaps and colour and reflections were more predominant but at the end of the day I just slapped a mix together. I hope it gives you a bit of an idea of what makes up Earlwood.”
“I was immediately drawn to the shop full of masks, above. I’ve drawn, painted, stitched and collaged many masks over the years, and I also have quite a few that I’ve collected, stored and waiting for a place to be displayed.For the prompt, I decided to focus on Mexican animal masks, since the animal masks in the shop illustration seemed to be the most prominent element. Masking has a long history in the indigenous culture of the Americas, and animals are commonly used in dances, ritual, and ceremonies, often combined with Christian stories and characters. Masks are vessels in which a powerful energy is stored, an energy than can help cross the boundaries between human and animal, creating a co-existence of spirits in the same body. The technique I used was the Rorschach monoprint–I painted one side and folded the paper in the center and pressed down to create a mirror image. I confess that once I got started with these it was hard to stop.”
“This was right up my street! (Ouch!) I feel like I have stepped back in time and especially with Christmas approaching I remember how lovely it was as a child to gaze into the shop windows and dream of what might appear in your stocking. I also feel very ancient when I recall how we used to save up our bus money to buy sweets and then walk home. There was a small shop right near to where I caught the bus home from junior school called Mr Whips. He was a very kind old man and let me pay for my mum’s birthday present in instalments. It was a green glass ring costing 5 shillings or about 4 weeks bus fare! Those were the days! However it was a life lesson in honesty I never forgot. Eric Ravilious’ wonderful lithographs bring back the mood of those happy times, which perhaps sadly we may not see again for a while.”
“I adore the Eric Ravilious’ illustrations for High Street. There’s something delightfully cosy and reassuring about them at first glance. The shops have a wonderful English charm, they look well-stocked, the customers look comfortably off, and Ravilious’ tremendous skill in lithography ensures that everything is perfectly judged, the overall effect so satisfying.
There are some weird details in some of the illustrations, though. The vision of idyllic pre-war life on the High Street only makes the strange objects in the shop windows even more sinister; those peculiar masks, the diving equipment and the furriers are all more than slightly odd. Is this such an idyllic place after all, or is it, like those alien planets sometimes visited by the Star Trek crew, actually a crazy zombie-cannibal cult masquerading as utopia?
My first attempt at responding to the prompt was to make an image of a fictional shop (from Chimera by Phil Gomm no less!) in the same style. I soon discovered how deceptively simple those illustrations are. My attempt was a flop, and so I decided to abandon trying to ‘do a Ravilious’ and go in a completely different direction.My images are from an imaginary 1920’s German animation called ‘High Street’. It’s set in a remote forest village and the story is probably heavy on horror and phantasmagoria. I think I’m channelling the early silent horror film Der Golem here (and the bridge is straight out of Dr. Caligari); quite a long way from Ravilious’ neat and slightly whimsical scenes. The photos are of some card and plaster models I made a few years ago when I was exploring working in 3D for the first time. I’d been exploring the expressionist architecture of my new home city, Berlin, and also watching plenty of expressionist films, which I think is quite apparent from the resulting images!”
“I love the Ravillious prints as a starting point. His use of colour is so subtle in comparison to the images I have included here. His choice of colour remind me of that era before the war and into the 50’s. My contribution has not really come to fruition in any art form, except some photographs of shop fronts in the area where I live and shop. So this time I feel more like an observer/researcher.The photos show a curious Bohemian area very close to the centre of Bristol where I shop. The architecture of the shop fronts is very reiminiscent of those Victorian ones that Ravillious has depicted in his prints. Many of them have become homes rather than shops yet people are using their front window to say something visually that defines their life now or they have blocked out the world completely such as the corner shop that is totally painted green and a green that says British Rail to me of the 40’s and 50’s model railways. It’s rather sad and neglected.“
“Eric Ravilious’ depictions of high street shops reminded me so strongly of the high street in the small market town I grew up in, they set off a flood of memories.
Although my childhood post-dated Ravilious’ illustrations by some twenty years, much was little changed. Not so many milliners and furriers perhaps, and a few more domestic appliance sales rooms and record shops, but all the fundamentals were the same – butcher, baker, grocer, draper.
It’s these memories I wanted to share with the Kickabout crowd. I am aware many of you are too young to remember life in the 1950s, but I hope this reminiscence can evoke an impression of the high street of my childhood.“
(Pop your headphones on for the best listening experience)
“I responded very strongly to these images, particularly Ravilious’ image of the high-end interiors shop, A Pollard. It says more about me, I suppose, that I detected some shadow at work in these nostalgic images of these well-to-do shops. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the flicker of immediate associations included the animated series, Mr Ben, the production art for Disney’s 101 Dalmations and H. G. Wells’ The Magic Shop. I was struck too by the inter-war period, and it got me thinking about ideas of luxury and leisure time, and how doomed it all was, given what was looming on the horizon, but also about how wonderful it would be to discover a shop like Pollard’s on your high street and the sorts of people it would attract, and the tensions in a small community it might produce. It doesn’t always happen – and it rarely happens when a clock is ticking – but this story just wanted out – and out it came!”
“Drawing Inspiration from the gorgeous high street Illustrations of Eric Ravilious, I drew one of my favorite places to have a drink – or ten – with my friends back in my home turf in shop street, Galway city – a place that is always bustling with the right amount of life.”
“The subject of the high street feels rather pertinent, what with so many businesses being shut for the lockdown currently in effect. I went out and photographed some shop fronts of my local high street for inspiration. Of course, many were closed or had social distancing measures in place. It’s uncanny in a way. Familiar, but not quite right. With some local reference, I attempted to digitally replicate a Ravilious styled shop front.”
“I have been a devotee of Ravilious since my student days. At that time he was regarded as a minor artist, not really rated alongside Nash, Bawden or John Piper and his works were fairly inexpensive (Still beyond my student purse however). Although I love his playful lithographs for the Curwen press and the “High Street’ I am captivated by his watercolours. The reason I am late is I spent too much time trying to unpick his technique. It looks immediate and freely applied – it isn’t! I chose a stretch of Watling Street in Gillingham with a parade of shops photographed I think in the late 1940’s, a year or two after Ravillious died in 1942 as a war artist off Iceland, as I am sure everyone knows. My intention was to apply some of his watercolour techniques to a “High Street” subject. Sadly I ran out of time.”
Back in July, I rediscovered a collection of ancient 3 inch floppy discs and CDs dating from my years as an undergraduate, which makes this data storage technology (and the work it contains) 23 years old. I knew I couldn’t access the floppy discs anymore, but I also found none of two-decade old CDs would play ball either – on any computer.
Gripped by the sudden need to preserve whatever might be on these discs, I entrusted their crustiness to someone who retrieves landlocked data from obsolete tech for a living. That done, I then didn’t hear back from the said retriever for weeks on end. I worried their silence meant one of two things, the first being they couldn’t excavate the work at all and couldn’t bring themselves to tell me, and the second, that I’d somehow forgotten my Jurassic discs actually contained inflammatory government-destroying secrets and they’d been impounded by British Intelligence.
Yesterday, however, I got the email to say my formerly marooned files had been restored and were ready for collection. I’m only now beginning to sort my way through all the detritus, digging up old short stories and bits of imagery I haven’t thought about in years. I predict ‘Throwback Fridays’ may quickly become the obvious repository for some of these relics – and I’m beginning with these strange tableaux vivant-style illustrations I created back in 1997 to accompany a macabre short story I’d wrote in 1995 entitled The Hoover Bag In Tweed.
The story is about a woman who is obsessed with her vacuum-cleaner following the death of her baby, much to her husband’s escalating distress. The images themselves are digital collages of photography of real objects (a real hoover, for example), miniature stage sets (the table and chairs), and 35mm photographs taken in the rather forlorn environs of my student house.
“The vacuum-cleaner still stood in the middle of the room. It was the sort with an upright handle and a hoover-bag zipped up in tweed. Looking for all the world, she decided, like a chrysalis hanging from a stem.
The Hoover had been a gift, something modern and something new. She’d thanked him with a kiss, and he had laughed out loud when she refused to throw the box away. She said she liked the bold black writing on the box and taken time to memorise the serial number. She made a point of hoovering the entire house when they first moved in, the first of their many preparations. Now, several strands of the bathroom landing’s carpet were wrapped around the Hoover’s roller, trailing green against the grey of the living-room; caught up again, no doubt. Tied in difficult knots.”