The Kick-About #19 Art Forms In Nature – Ernst Haeckel


Following the simple, unadorned charms of our previous still-life inspired Kick-About, in which we were encouraged to turn our creative attentions to objects rather ordinary and domestic, this week’s edition is a good deal more fanciful. With Ernst Haeckel’s Art Forms in Nature as our collective stomping ground, we’ve generated between us a veritable coral reef of different ideas, processes and creativity.


Simon Holland

“Haeckel’s images have that other worldly alienness of the microscopic, to me, they tread a line between the interspatial and the outer spatial. With this image I started “riffing” in Maya with repeated forms, influenced a little by Hebrew descriptions of the Ophanim. With a bit of “evolution” a tiny bit of “Interstellar” and a smidge of “Event Horizon” I ended up here.”


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


Charly Skilling

“As regular Kick-Abouters are probably aware, I’ve been playing around with freeform crochet off-and-on throughout these last few months. First I tried faces, then a whole new world, and then the use of crochet to visualise forms from different environments. I had also started to play about with mathematical forms, and I came across the work of Christine and Margaret Wertheim. (Check it out. It is mind-blowing!. I had to have a go. The Kickabout 19 gave me the perfect opportunity to put some of these ideas together. If Ernst Haeckel reveals art forms in nature, what better example than the myriad forms and colours of a coral reef? I just loved this Kick-About. Great fun!”




James Randall

“Ernst had me take a few snaps of garden toot – nigella, poppy and rocket (or is it arugula over there?) seed heads and some other scraps in a vase on a rainy day. Low light and not much in focus but I think moody.



And one little gauche pic – no husband, it is not a pumpkin!”


Tom Beg

“I imagine these images (created by mashing together a bunch of images and outputting them through different software) as explosions, atoms, cells, planets or even galaxies seen in their most embryonic stage, viewed through some impossibly powerful microscope.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


Vanessa Clegg

“I’ve admired Haeckel’s work for years but had never really researched the man. A surprise was in store… which made me see it in a very different light. He was a eugenicist/scientific racist believing in both the superiority of German culture/ race and monism (represented as a circle with a central dot). This guided my response. I decided to find beauty in the…so called…imperfect, which, to me, has always been a more interesting area to explore: dusty dead insects picked up in my studio, broken / found objects, scratched and stained surfaces, ageing skin… all this evidence of life long lived… so many layers of history.”


Charcoal on Fabriano. 30” X 22” / Crayon on Fabriano. 19” X 19”

vanessaclegg.co.uk


Phil Cooper

I’ve been a fan of Haeckel’s work for many years. In the mid-1990s I used to work in Covent Garden, in London, and there was a wonderful shop selling books of source material for artists and designers. There would usually be a volume of Haeckel’s images in the window, with a cover illustration of strange and otherworldly creatures.

Haeckel’s prints are an absolute marvel. They record every, tiny detail of each subject with such laser-sharp intensity, an intensity that gives the images a uniquely mysterious and odd quality. In fact, many of the images are quite nightmarish to my mind. What may be harmless sea creatures often seem to have spikes, tendrils and/or tentacles. There are creatures here that remind me of The Thing, when it gets the dog in the kennels...

At the moment there is a jam-jar of twigs and berries on my desk, gathered on a winter walk in the woods just south west of Berlin, not far from where Haeckel was born, it turns out. So, I’ve photographed them for the kick about this week and played about with the images a bit to try and draw out some strangeness. Nothing as remotely strange as a page of Haeckel drawings of plankton though!


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


Marion Raper

“As per usual I am torn between going down a textile or a painting route with the wonderful art of Ernst Haeckel. Oh, how I wish we had been given such fabulous ideas and examples for study back in the O level days! But hey, it’s never too late and the Kick-About and lockdown is a great opportunity to make another run at the tape, so to speak.

These last few weeks I have spent many hours trudging through soggy woods and finding lots of examples of lichen and leaves. Around my area, Oak and Beech are prevalent, as they don’t rot away easily. Consequently the woodland paths seem to shimmer and shine in the wet and make wonderful shapes and patterns underfoot, which I have tried to capture in acrylics. My other submission is using various stitches, beads and shells depicting an underwater scene I did a while back.”



Jan Blake

This was a curious Kick-About, as the subject matter was immediately attractive to me, mainly because the sense of patterning and natural forms has always attracted my attention. I saw this tower of watch parts in a workshop window in Bristol last week and it reminded me of the images of Ernst Haeckel.

However, in my own work it flows between 2 and 3 dimensions. The desire for me is not so much the patterns as the incongruity and movement in the growing process, and the cellular transparency of delicate organisms.

I started this piece some while ago and I have been trying to come to grips with it over this year. It is made from cardboard boxes cut into strips and reassembled to create a more transparent filigree effect. I do some, then leave it, and then this prompt made me come back to it. Thank you. It needs reviving!

I anticipate it will grow more towards the original drawing as the ‘Limbs’ will become more numerous. I want the piece to curve so that the viewer can stand within to look out on a different world. It’s going to take a while!


janblake.co.uk


Graeme Daly

“I was spoiled for choice with this Kick-About, with rural Ireland having a bountiful abundance of botany with textures, colours and shapes, all the flora and vegetation feeling like an endless pick’n’mix. I always find myself thinking about the intricate patterns and shapes as I snap away; mint green reindeer moss looking like bleached coral under a microscopic macro lens, and the swirling and meandering of ice a jigsaw of frozen motion. Twigs, branches and petals look like spores – after some manipulation. Suffice to say, I loved this kick-about and I loved learning about Ernst Haeckel and his gorgeous Illustrations. I could go on and on with creating designs like this and I have a hankering to do so!”


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


Phil Gomm

“It was while producing these images for the Kick-About No.18, that I picked up the wrong sort of marker pen, which reacted to the spritzing of alcohol in some fascinating ways. I noticed how the solid lines of ink blossomed unexpectedly into a squirm of tendrils or fine feathery hairs. I noticed too how some consequence of the varying drying times of the ink and the alcohol produced a creeping tide-mark that moved across the surface of the tile – before suddenly retreating again. It was a bit like observing some organism in a petri dish or under a microscope. Suitably-inspired, I set about capturing these evolving ‘Art forms’ through time-lapse photography. It was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria, and my affection for the b-movies of the 1950s surfaced as quickly, producing something moodier and more ominous than I’d originally planned. What’s fascinating is a technique, which previously gave rise to a sort of image suited to tasteful greetings cards, should now produce something so tonally different. However, given what we know about some of Haeckel’s other ideas, perhaps the underlying menace is not so wide of the mark…”


Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile.



Phill Hosking

“Here’s my little offering for this week’s Kick-About: a plain and simple graphic study of some fascinating fungi I had in my photo archive of interesting stuff to draw one day. Not sure of their name, but this is no impediment to studying their forms and surfaces. The pattern in the backdrop is based on the folded, rippled surface on the stem. I think I’ve made them look monumental, when in reality they’re probably quite tiny. Great inking practice, my current obsession.”


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


Kerfe Roig

“What fun this was! I looked in my collage box/reference book collection for nature images that I could combine to create new forms based on Haeckel’s paintings. This is a project that could go on and on…”


be always
impossible be
enchanted
reaching out
in reciprocity to
meet the world halfway


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Gary Thorne

“‘The Story of the Development of a Youth’ consists of Haeckel’s letters home, whilst studying age 18-22 (1852-56). A really good read, brimming with exuberant enthusiasm, energy, and appetite for learning, each letter of enchanting spirit and feeling, humour, impulsiveness, apprehension, mood swing and a deep devotion to Christianity. Haeckel’s left-eye was fixed down the microscope, his right focused on the drawings so, I’ve tried capturing Haeckel’s spirit, framing it within the scope, and beyond it is representation of his melancholy and homesickness.” Oil on prepared paper 50cm x 50cm


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Many thanks to Kick-Abouter, Jan Blake, for our next jumping off point – the following quotation from Cifford W Ashley’s The Ashley Book of Knots (1944):

“To prevent slipping, a knot depends on friction, and to provide friction there must be pressure of some sort. This pressure and the place within the knot where it occurs is called the nip. The security of a knot appears to depend solely on its nip.”

Looking forward to seeing where this one takes us – and if you’ve enjoyed this week’s kick-about and fancy a run around with the rest of us, get in touch and get involved.



Throwback Friday #38 Sir Peter Buck (2017)


A few days ago, I was very happy to share this portrait-come-caricature, drawn by the artist, Phill Hosking, to mark the occasion of my forty-sixth birthday. While I am completely mystified by the strange genre of pouting selfies, I am not immune to the satisfaction that comes from finding an image of your own face that you actually like. We’re not supposed to be too interested in our own visage, though in reality most of us are somewhat preoccupied, not by notions of our own rare and transcendent beauty, but rather by the effects upon our faces of the ravages of time. That said, I was very taken with Phill’s birthday drawing. Yes, I thought, that is me right there.

But Phill isn’t the first artist to take liberties with my features. Back in the summer of 2017, a portrait was hung on a newly restored wall in a newly restored room in a newly restored Grade 1 listed Elizabethan townhouse in Rochester, Kent – a house notable for its association with author Charles Dickens, featuring in both The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The portrait in question, featuring an esteemed former resident of the townhouse, bears an uncanny likeness to yours truly, which, at first glance, seems very odd indeed, considering the man in the painting is resplendent in the ruff and cuffs of Tudor fashion. But no, this is not some spooky instance of reincarnation, but rather a bit of historical fabulation, expertly executed by the artist, Kevin Clarkson. I’m going to let Kevin take the story from here…


Kevin Clarkson: “The portrait of Sir Peter Buck was in fact part of a larger illustration project to help tell the story of Eastgate House, a Tudor town house in Rochester, Kent, which was at that time undergoing refurbishment. The house was built for Sir Peter Buck in 1591. It now belongs to Medway Unitary Authority.

In its time, the house has been a Girls school and a museum, as well as a private dwelling. It also featured in several of Charles Dickens novels. I had been involved with a number of historical illustration projects for the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, and was approached to produce visuals for a new suite of visitor engagement graphics for Eastgate House. The oldest rooms of the house were going to be restored as far as possible to their Tudor appearance, supported with suitable information graphics. At my first meeting I learned no image of Sir Peter Buck was known to exist, so it was decided to create one to be incorporated into the graphics. I felt this was a missed opportunity; a man of Buck’s status would likely have a portrait in his home and I suggested we produce a facsimile to hang in the room, rather than be incorporated into the graphics. To my surprise the idea was immediately agreed and I realised I was now tasked with creating a convincing Tudor style portrait.

I began to research Tudor portraiture; one aspect which concerned me was costume. I knew in the later years of Elizabeth 1’s reign, she introduced “Sumptuary” laws that defined what fabrics and colours could be worn by different classes in society. I was keen not to deck Sir Peter out in the wrong kit! A frantic email to the Victoria & Albert Museum elicited a very helpful guide and a large reading list – the project was growing.

The Tudor period was almost the beginning of portrait painting as we know it, where a figure would actually resemble the individual closely, rather than being a generic face surrounded by symbols of wealth and authority. The obvious place to start was looking up Holbein and Hilliard for style and treatment, and then expand to see how portraits developed in the early 1600s, when Sir Peter would be in his prime and most powerful. From the start I was determined this was going to be a real portrait of a living breathing person; I was not going to clone an existing Tudor portrait.

I needed a sitter – but who?

This posed quite a problem, since a full beard was almost universal facial furniture in the alpha-male Tudor portrait, and although the beard is again popular, few take on the luxuriant full Tudor look and frankly the only owner of one I knew well was far too young to be Sir Peter.

The solution came from a passing conversation with my daughter, Emily. She reminded me her former Course Leader sported a beard of Tudor dimensions. I was saved – assuming Phil agreed, of course!


Portraits by Giovanni Battista Moroni


I had by now surveyed the work of a range of artists of the period; my favourite by a long way was the north Italian artist, Moroni. The poses adopted in his work are very informal and natural, very like modern portraiture. Sadly artists working in northern Europe, and the UK in particular, were much more rigid in pose and reluctantly I had to select a more formal look. It was clear Phil would be far too busy to sit for the painting, so photography would have to fill the gap. I supplied a number of Tudor poses to Phil, who was able to create a range of reference photographs from which I could work.


From the series of ‘serious and imperious’ self-portraits and reference images used in the production of the final painted portrait.


Tudor portraits would have been painted in oils using linseed oil as a medium, usually on fruitwood panel or canvas stretched over a softwood frame. I could have used oil but time was against me, so acrylic on panel was my selection. Acrylics dry in minutes, whereas even fast drying oil takes far longer. When varnished, acrylic is often indistinguishable from oil paint.


Kevin’s portrait of ‘Sir Peter Buck’ takes shape.


The actual painting process was straightforward: I gridded the photograph and transcribed it to the actual size of the painting, then began blocking in the colour. One thing I was nervous about was my selection of colour. The Tudor palette would have been composed of fewer colours, and I was determined to remain within the colour vocabulary of the period. I didn’t have time to research exactly which pigments were available at Sir Peter’s time. Instead I studied the colour values of the Tudor portraits I was using for reference and hoped that would keep me in the right area.

On completion I left the painting for a few days before coming back to look with a fresh eye. I don’t think I did more than a couple of tiny adjustments before bonding the paint surface with a sealer coat of gel medium, and, when dry, a gloss acrylic varnish. The new old master was complete!

In the interests of clarity, so that a future curator would not be fooled about the provenance of Sir Peter, I inscribed the back of the painting with details of the sitter, together with the date and my signature.

Thankfully Sir Peter was well received and is now a permanent resident of Eastgate House.”

kevinclarkson.co.uk /artfinder.com/kevin-clarkson / kevinclarksonart.blogspot.com


The completed portrait / Kevin Clarkson 2007


Sir Peter Buck’s portrait hanging in Eastgate House, Rochester, Kent


Still Life: Houseplants (2020)


What I enjoyed about the most recent Kick-About prompt was the way Leger’s painting encouraged immediacy and directness – a sort of ‘first pass, job done’ flourish that meant lingering too long on any subject wasn’t quite the ticket. I also appreciated a chance to occupy a more domestic space – nothing metaphysical to see here, ladies and gents! Our kitchen is stuffed full of house plants – I look at them many times a day, every day. They are as part of the fixtures and fittings of our kitchen as the cutlery and plates. With this in mind, I wanted to make them the subject of my offering this week, and also to try a new technique first brought to my attention by fellow kick-abouter, Charly Skilling – drawing onto ceramic tiles with Sharpie markers, and then spritzing the drawings with alcohol to encourage them to bleed and soften to pleasingly impressionist effect. To be honest, I worked up these studies super-fast and without any fuss or forethought and just really enjoyed what the process itself was giving back. Given the knock-about informality of the technique, it amused me a bit to dial-up the formality with some tasteful frames, imagining these ill-disciplined little drawings on the walls of some tasteful interior.



Up-close, there’s so much activity and texture in these tiny unstable explosions of colour and subject, I couldn’t resist abstracting everything a little further.



Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #11

Phil CooperBertram 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

‘Welcome to the Museum Room,’ said Bertram proudly. ‘This is where I come to remember Gregory Gimble, who was saving up for the Speed-Steed skateboard in the window of Mrs Tiffin’s Toyshop. This is where I come to remember the promise Gregory would have me make each time he entrusted his pocket money to me; “Keep it safe for me, pig. Keep it safe”. This is where I come to hear again the conversations Gregory would share with me last thing at night, his dreams of racing wheels, of the rush of the wind, and of all the daring tricks he would one day perform in front of Muriel Proops, the girl with the blueberry bubble-gum who stood by the drinks fountain.  This is where I come to remember what it was I was meant for.’

Chimera Book 1/ Chapter 15 – Whirlitzer


“Sometimes I have an idea about what a character in Chimera Book 1 might sound like, or look like. Then I hear Dan’s narration and suddenly the voice he gives to characters is how they will then sound in my head for ever more. It’s like they really only could sound like that. The characters taking centre-stage in the book at the moment are good examples; Whirlitzer, Doctor Ossifer and Bertram have always been a joy, but Dan has brought them to life in such a delightful and thrilling way. This week I decided to try an illustration of Bertram, the cute but rather bolshy little skateboarding pig. And I LOVE his voice, ‘rules, rules rules’. How could I resist?”

Phil Cooper, January 2021


Phil Cooper’s Bertram painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, January 2021




The Kick-About #18 Still Life With Blue Vase, Fernand Leger (1951)

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…


Gary Thorne

“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.   


linkedin.com/in/gary-thorne


Tom Beg

“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.”


twitter.com/earthlystranger / vimeo.com/tombeg


James Randall

“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...”


Peach Cake


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.”


‘Peaches’


Vanessa Clegg

“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.”


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Graeme Daly

“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.”



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


Jan Blake

“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.”



Phil Gomm

“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 to encourage them to bleed and soften to pleasingly impressionist effect. To be honest, I worked up these studies super-fast and without any fuss or forethought and just really enjoyed what the process itself was giving back. Given the knock-about informality of the technique, it amused me to dial-up the formality with some tasteful frames, imagining these ill-disciplined little drawings on the walls of some tasteful interior.”


‘Oxalis triangularis’

‘Pilea peperomioides’

‘Gasteria pillansii’


“… 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’…”



Phil Cooper

“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!” 


‘Oma’s Milk Jug’

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


Kerfe Roig

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.”


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Charly Skilling

“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


Francesca Maxwell

“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.”


www.FBM.me.uk


Marion Raper

“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?”



Phill Hosking

“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


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


Judy Watson

“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.”


The Lap-Sitter

The Kick

The Feast

judywatson.net / Instagram.com/judywatsonart / facebook.com/judywatsonart


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!



Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #10

Phil CooperThe Shovelisk, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

Next to arrive was an adult-sized skeleton wearing a white, rather stained laboratory coat. With a small cry of disgust, Jamie noticed the top of the skeleton’s skull was missing, exposing its grey, pinkish brain.”

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 14 – The Souvenir Society


“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!”

Phil Cooper, December, 2020


Phil Cooper’s Dr Ossifer painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, December 2020




The Kick-About #17 ‘Andante quasi lento e contabile’ – Hely-Hutchinson


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!


Marion Raper

“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.”



Phil Cooper

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!”


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


Jan Blake

“I have run out of time for this kick-about so  I am sending you my Christmas card. Wishing you all a  warm, safe and cosy Christmas and may 2021 brings us all a way out of such a strange time.”


janblake.co.uk


Graeme Daly

“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.”


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


Phil Gomm

“When I listen to this particular movement from Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony, I almost feel the temperature drop. It’s like that moment from The Sixth Sense, when the kid’s breath is suddenly visible in the presence of ghosts. The plucking of the harp is the musical equivalent of frost moving its way across the landscape – hard, sharp, crystalline and magical in some ancient way.

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.”



Kerfe Roig

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


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Charly Skilling

“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.”



Simon Holland

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.”


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


Vanessa Clegg

“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.”


‘early morning’

‘that night’

‘?’

vanessaclegg.co.uk


James Randall

“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?



Phil Cooper / Painting Chimera #9

Phil CooperThe Shovelisk, 40cm x 40cm, acrylic on paper

“A new noise assailed their ears, the piercing wail of sirens. The chamber lit up with an array of revolving lights, as out of the tunnels appeared dinosaur-like creatures with yellow skin, and massive jaws supported on long necks. Their eyes were as large and bright as headlamps and instead of legs, they propelled themselves forwards on one black rubbery foot. The yellow monsters began to scale the rubbish heap, taking great scoops of debris into their mouths. The heap quaked violently.”

Chimera Book 1 / Chapter 13 – The Plummet Pit


“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’!”

Phil Cooper, December, 2020


Phil Cooper’s The Shovelisk painting on his art table in his Berlin studio, December 2020




The Kick-About #16 ‘The Woods Are Lovely, Dark And Deep’


After the civilised environs of Eric Ravilious’s well-to-do High Street, our latest Kick-About goes off-road, heading into the deep wintery hush conjured by Robert Frost’s 1922 poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Night.


Charly Skilling

“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.



James Randall

“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?”



Phil Gomm

“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.”



Phil Cooper

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.


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


Kevin Clarkson

“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.”


kevinclarkson.co.uk /artfinder.com/kevin-clarkson / kevinclarksonart.blogspot.com


Graeme Daly

“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.”


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


Jan Blake

“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.”


janblake.co.uk


Vanessa Clegg

“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


vanessaclegg.co.uk


Marion Raper

“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!”




Kerfe Roig

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.


kblog.blog / methodtwomadness.wordpress.com


Francesca Maxwell

 “This poem has been with me for the last seven years or so and it is my spur to live life at its fullest, embrace the unknown and the adventure.” 


www.FBM.me.uk


Marcy Erb

“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.”


marcyerb.com


Phill Hosking

“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.”


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


Judy Watson

“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…”



www.judywatson.net /Instagram.com/judywatsonart / facebook.com/judywatsonart


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.



Chimera Book 1 – Compendium #1


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.

Enter Dan.

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…

*save for my limited involvement in a beautiful animation by Jordan Buckner, which Phil produced.



Dan & Phil in conversation, September 21st, 2020

Dan & Phil in conversation, October 13th, 2020

Dan & Phil in conversation, November 2nd, 2020


Phil Cooper: Painting Chimera

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