For our recent Ernst Haeckel-inspired Kick-About, I produced a short little animation, capturing the rather wonderful effect of rubbing alcohol on drawings made in black marker pen. As the process of producing an animation requires lots and lots of individual frames, I was able to isolate some of these landscape-like transformations as a series of satisfying photographs in their own right. More soon.
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.
Photographing the interaction of the ink and alcohol taking place on a ceramic tile, frame-by-frame.
With Ernst Haeckel’s beautiful and often bizarre zoological illustrations as my prompt, it was difficult not to think about images of virology and bacteria (I suspect the global pandemic might have something to do with it too!) 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.
The many individual photographs comprising the film were originally in colour, but I ultimately took the decision to produce the finished film in black and white. It was one of those instances when the sum of the film won out over its parts, with the music and the vintage flicker of the images crying out for monochrome. I’ve included the colour alternate version here for your curiosity.
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.
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.
Having produced these ‘fake frosts’, I wondered if I could develop things a little further – or rather, I wondered if CGI-whizz kid, Deanna Crisbacher, could help me in the attempt. After all, not so long ago, Dee had taken some landscape photographs of mine and turned them into an entire range of planets and nebulae! Fortunately, finding some time in her busy VFX schedule with The Flying Colour Company, Dee had a kick-about of her own, supplying me with a glistening array of computer-generated frost ferns derived from my digital collages.
Then it was back into Photoshop for a judicious crop or two and a sprinkling of tweaks, to produce this final set of frost ferns. Many thanks to Dee for helping me achieve digitally what I was unable to produce photographically. As I type this, the weather here remains drably wet and decidedly unpretty, my windows opaque, yes, but with condensation and a few chalky streaks of seagull shit. Fingers-crossed the depths of winter might still provide some real-world opportunities for nice ice!
The latest Kick-About prompt was Robert Frost’s 1922 poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Night, which returned me at once to the snowy winters in the woods in the village in which I grew up.
I was always struck by the impression of the bases of the trees, very black against the white snow. To me, they looked like the foot of some huge pachyderm or similar, with the thickening around the base of the tree like the moment when the foot of the creature starts taking the full weight of what is being carried above it.
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 my childhood in the deep dark woods of the village, 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 the frozen slate-coloured mud looked like the skeletons of sea serpents or fallen dragons.
I responded very strongly to the visual prompts for the Kick-About #15, particularly Eric 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.
Eric Ravilious, 1938
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 the resulting story just wanted out – and out it came. In Kenneth, the story’s protagonist, I find shades of Eleanor Vance, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), a character I’ve always found to be incredibly moving in her neediness to be needed.
You can find a ‘large print’ PDF version here.
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!”
You can find a ‘large print’ PDF version here.
“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.”
So after browsing an Eric Ravilious well-to-do high street, we’re next taking a journey into some snowy woods, lovely, dark and deep, with thanks to the artist Francesca Maxwell for our brand new prompt. As ever, if you’ve enjoyed the work here and fancy a go in the sand-pit yourself, have a bash and get in touch.
This week’s Kick-About was an exuberant and playful affair, in which the participating artists parked their usual conceptual ruminations and had some fun – and how could we not, given we had Norman Maclaren’s Boogie-Doodle as our inspiration?
During my time as a tutor on an undergraduate programme in animation, I spent a good part of my time wrestling with – and against – the constraints of the ‘3 act narrative structure’, as students sought to tell epic-sized stories in just under four minutes or so. Often – increasingly often – I yearned for more direct ways of expression and content-creation, pushing students to produce their ideas with greater immediacy, to just ‘get stuff out’ in the first instance, as opposed to wait for the various ‘theories of storytelling’ to offer something up. Boogie-Doodle delights because it ‘just exists’; it’s what play looks like, an expressive and exuberant risk.
Boogie Doodle, Norman Maclaren, 1941
I had a few ideas as to how I might approach the Kick-About #14. I considered created Boogie-Doodle-inspired soft-sculpture using this technique, then siting the sculptural elements on wire to set them wobbling about. Another idea was to produce a series of synesthetic speed paints in response to listening to jazz music, similar to the images produced for the animation, La création du monde, but then I realised I might have made some apposite work already.
I have a small leather notebook with thick creamy pages that is home to my daily ‘to-do’ lists, which is my very low tech way of trying to give some structure to these strange indistinct times of ours. This same book is also where I doodle absently when I’m on Zoom calls. Given the instinctive ‘straight-ahead’ method of animation on display in Norman Maclaren’s Boogie Doodle, I ultimately decided to liberate some of my own doodles from the various corners of my notebook and release them into the Kick-About for a runaround of their own. My personal favourite is the grumpy-looking blue ‘ball bird’; I think it likely this doodle left my pen on some drab Monday morning…
And, by way of an ending, here’s the wonderful Sarah Vaughan doodling too.
The previous edition of the Kick-About featured a rather precarious vision of a civilisation held together by threads. I won’t labour this analogy any further, but suffice to say civilsation feels a good deal more secure this week! I feel a bit of a celebration coming on. Anyone fancy a boogie?
“Just a couple of small painting ideas relating to Boogie-Doodle I had various thoughts in my mind as with the American election this week making it tense and electric, the idea of a Boogie of delight became more evident.
So my initial little strip shows the exuberance I felt for the emerging outcome informed at the same time as watching a crow returning to its nest, with what appeared to be a mission of house-clearing, as it proceeded to kick about and turn out the shower of leaves that had landed in his nest. Maybe they were all soggy and he was preparing for the next season? There has been no sign of him since…
The second thought led on from this thinking of the masses of birds that collect on the telephone wires, flying off jumping on one another shuffling for space and almost performing a sort of ritual dance as they collect to migrate. So the second strip shows a Birdy Boogie-Doodle on an Asafo flag as some of the birds will be flying to Africa to entertain them there.”
“This was such a fun, joyous and uplifting cartoon and I have tried to keep the same theme going, by working some ‘crazy patchwork’. (This is a wonderful way to use up all your odd material scraps etc). I tried to find pieces that had similar colours, shapes and patterns on them and then added a bit of hand embroidery and applique as enhancement. Have to say was all very enjoyable!”
“‘Salsa Doodle’ was a lot of fun to do. It’s not polished, but maybe that adds a bit of charm! You just have to wiggle to that music! I can’t help but imagine fruit punch, wildly swinging, tasselled skirts and sequins!“
“Boogie Doodle is fun and frivolous, and so is my response. Ladies and gentelmen of the Kick-About, I present, ‘A Woolly-Doodle’, also known as ‘The Yarny Doodle Dangle’. Enjoy!”
“I have a small leather notebook with thick creamy pages that is home to my daily ‘to-do’ lists, which is my very low tech way of trying to give some structure to these strange indistinct times of ours. This same book is also where I doodle absently when I’m on Zoom calls. Given the instinctive ‘straight-ahead’ method of animation on display in Norman Maclaren’s Boogie Doodle, I decided to liberate some of my own doodles from the various corners of my notebook and release them into the Kick-About for a runaround of their own!”
One of the Zoom doodles in its original habitat!
“I loved the energy and the immediacy of the Norman McLaren film. In response, I knew I wanted to make something quite quickly and without thinking too much to keep some of the spirit of the animation. I’ve spent most of this year in the city in Berlin, but this week I’m by the sea in the U.K. for a few days so it’s been a welcome change to use some found materials from the beach for this prompt. Here are some creatures, ‘beach doodles’, put together from the flotsam and jetsam found along the seashore.”
“I absolutely loved this Kick-About! It put a smile on my face, made my shoulders shake and my head bop! I enjoyed learning about Norman Maclaren and the music that accompanies Boogie Woogie by Albert Ammons, which all inspired the visuals for this animation. Injecting so much colour with this Kick-About has been a joy to work on and I am looking forward to playing about with it some more!”
“Boogie Doodle really reminded me of Matisse’s Jazz collages. I focused on the figures in his series and drew some of my own in a similar style from photos I found online of jazz dancers. Using primary colors with black and white to duplicate the shadow effect in the video, I cut out the figures and dots to complement them. Then I arranged them all on an abstract primary ground. For the poem I wanted to use music and musical sound words. It was much harder than I anticipated, but I like the idea of a poem composed mostly of sounds, and may visit it again. And I also now have a set of dancing shadow figures and dots that can be revisited for different arrangements as well.“
swing stroll slide
eight to the bar
oompah oompah groove
boogie-woogie back beat
jingle jangle jive talkin
double time front line howl growl whine
interlude solidtude riff raff boom
whistle whomp wha wah zoomba zoomba zoom
We have Phil Cooper to thank for our next creative prompt, which he introduces for us here:
“In 1938, with World War 2 looming on the horizon, Country Life published a book called ‘High Street’. It included a text by J. M. Richards and 24 lithographs by Eric Ravilious of typical high street scenes and shop fronts from the time. Just a few years later, Ravilious would be killed in the war, the high street changed forever, and even the lithographic plates for the book destroyed in a bombing raid during the Blitz. Thankfully, many of the original copies of High Street have survived, though, and Ravilious’ illustrations have become some of the most highly regarded lithographs from the period.”
I just wanted to say a very warm welcome to our newest kick-abouter, Jan Blake (who contributed some belated work to the Ersilia edition, which you can see here), and extend the invite for a run-around with the rest of us to anyone else who might be looking on and thinking ‘I’m up for some doodling too.’ You’ll find the next submission deadline in the presentation below.
Our garden is full of threads at the moment; the elaborate, death-defying webs of the orb spiders, with their juicy brown bodies. When Graeme Daly over at Gentle Giant offered up the city of Ersilia from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities as our starter-for-ten for the Kick-About#13, these spider-webs were utmost in mind’s eye as I considered how to respond to our fortnightly creative prompt. Our garden’s industrious arachnids made me think of the inhabitants of Ersilia and the complexity of structures, and their indomitable commitment to always moving on and rebuilding their structures all over again. I decided I would weave my own webs out in the garden, which I did, much to the consternation of all the house sparrows watching me beadily from the safe harbour of the hedge.
My original idea was to embrace colour, but the skies above me were grey and my mood somehow more sombre than that. I imagined instead coming upon the abandoned buildings of Ersilia, an explorer taking pictures of a vanished civilisation using his unwieldy camera on some unwieldy tripod. I easily imagined the sound of the wind in all the remaining wires, and how haunting a sound like that might be. I recalled suddenly my childhood fear of pylons marching across the countryside, eyeing them warily from the back seat of my parent’s car, and ultimately settled on producing this series of rather melancholy images.