A couple of days ago I watched the first new episode of the Clangers for many decades. Suspicious, to say the least, of any reboot for classic children’s shows from my childhood. I have to admit, I didn’t actively hate this one. When I first watched it though, I was convinced that they were cgi as the knitting doesn’t look quite right. I have the dubious privilege of having a degree in knitting (well Constructed Textiles to be exact) and I first believed that the knitting was a texture map wrapped around a cgi model, but on further research and a second viewing it is just that it is far too neat. The shaping and sewing up are done far too well, with the increasing done using a fancy knitting into the back of the stitch from the row below that Mrs Firmin had never heard of. I also suspect that the armatures are too fancy compared to the Meccano and wooden block sub-frames used in the original series. Everything moves too smoothly and there are none of the strings and other details that made the original series feel so real. Whilst the actual animation is stop motion, everything else looks like its either been done or fixed in post. Also, the penny whistle voices aren’t distorted enough and the soundtrack sounds far too similar to that of the Nintendo game Pikmin. Whilst I think a new generation of little children will love it, I couldn’t help feel that there is something missing. Actually, it turned out that something was added. People. There were far too many people involved now, the first series had ridiculously short end credits, Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin and Mrs Firmin (who did the knitting). This new series has multiple episodes produced at once, with a strings of people, animating, editing, scoring, knitters, prop makers, ya de ya de ya deh… And this is where it went wrong as usual. Necessity, as the old saying goes, is the mother of invention. Postgate and Firmlin, under the title Smallfilms, learnt on the job using whatever was to hand and whatever got the job done. From real time filming with magnets, through to building stop motion camera rigs with home built timing mechanism made from Meccano. They filmed their first stop motions in black and white, in daylight in Postgate’s back garden a side affect of which being that the grass of the lawn would dance eerily as they moved back and forth to minutely adjust each character model. Whenever I can, I go and visit the original Clangers in Canterbury Museum, my main port of call though is Bagpus around the corner. There is a strange aura that emanates from Bagpus Bagpus, the fat, furry, catpus. The nearest I can get to describing this is how one might have felt in the middle ages from being in the presence of a holy relic, a saint’s finger or a piece of Christ’s true cross. The love of millions of children, all poured into one (not so) soft toy. Excepting for Mother Clanger, who had to be replaced when the original one was stolen, there is only one Bagpus, there was only one of each Clanger, Not so now… I had a lovely conversation yesterday about the perils of letting go of full artistic control. It has been suggested by many people that I farm out the production of what I do to an intern or three even farm out the colouring-in books to a publisher that would do the job “properly”. The problem with doing things properly, efficiently, economically, whatever, is that the charm goes with it. That feeling that a human has scratched their head over how to do a thing without the fanciest equipment, the best software or unlimited opportunities to re-do something or conversely that the dead hands of accountants, lawyers, marketing consultants and other ‘experts’ are steering the ship rather than person the who came up with the idea in the first place. But without all that ‘help’ things take longer and less is done, 13 episodes in the case of the original Bagpus series and 27 of The Clangers, but what less is is definitely worth more.
I like cake! Who doesn’t? It’s one of the marvels of the world. Flour, egg, sugar, oven… Joy! So when I was toying with the idea of doing my own version of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress the word cake instantly popped into my head and it gave me a cracking excuse to put a cake into every picture. Anyway, before I start explaining about my take on the pictures, I guess I should say a little bit about the original artist.
Hogarth was a printmaker who worked his way up from poverty and became one of the 18th Century’s most celebrated artists. As well as painting portraits, Hogarth became well known for producing series’ of paintings that told a story, usually with a moral message. He would then reproduce these paintings as prints which could be sold on mass to a much wider market than the few who could afford to buy original paintings. It is important to mention that these images were moral in these sense that a tabloid newspaper could be regarded as moral i.e gratuitously describing sex, scandal and intrigue to in a salacious and entertaining manner whilst at the time criticising it. One of his best know of these morality tales was the A Rake’s Progress, the story of Thomas Rakeswell, a foolish young man who who inherits and squanders a fortune and the Sarah, the young woman who loves him and is dragged down with him. For all the pictures in this sequence I first produced a painting in colour using acrylics (I’m way too lazy to use oils) and then I did my version of an etching in biro just to see if I could.
In the first panel Rakeswell, or in this case Bakeswell, inherits a fortune from his miserly father. I needed to set this piece in the house of famous skinflint, I chose the set of Steptoe and Son, remade in America as Sanford and Son, a little know fact that swung this decision for me was that Harry H Corbet, the son Harooooolllllllllddddd! (sorry Harold Steptoe) was from Hastings, where I live and a running feature through much of my work. The cake theme in this image is pretty obvious, being stacked up on the tables and being in many of the portraits. The father’s underpaid accountant is also pocketing a crafty cupcake if you look carefully. On the table in the background rests a motorbike helmet, my version of a memento mori in this case telling us that the father has died. As it pays to advertise, through the open door I have placed a hatstand bearing a selection of scarves I used to make in a previous life when I was a textile and knitwear designer. For much the same reason I have tucked away teddies in most of the works as I also make handmade bears from time to time. Plug, over! The most pivotal thing about this picture though, as far as I’m concerned, is that it includes the first ever sad Dweebling. It was a tricky rule to break (believe it or not there are a sort of set of rules to what I do) but there was no way of getting around this in this set of images. The glum figure to the left of frame with the hanky is Sarah, who has, erm, a bun in the oven. She is being bought off by Thomas for the princely sum of a cupcake. What a lovely chap! Hopefully you have noticed that there is an extra lady in the painting to the ‘etching’, as with Hogarth’s works I have varied details between the etchings and the paintings, I’m not sure why Hogarth did this but my reason is a combination of boredom and or laziness. For each of the panels I also wrote the accompanying story in 17th – 18th century english (or my best attempt at it.) You can purchase your own copy here you lucky thing you! Anyway, that’s all for now. C x
As I slid across the lino on the bathroom floor for the umpteenth teen, I wondered how I got in this state in the first place and how I would explain myself to the staff at casualty.
A month or so before I had been contacted with a commission to make a pair of Icarus wings for a segment on a BBC schools programme with dance interpretations of traditional stories.
The brief was that all the materials could feasibly be found in the tower that Icarus and Daedalus were locked up in, that they could fold back with the dancer’s arms and that they must under no account look like bat wings. After liaising with Beth Hannant-McCausland, costumier extraordinaire, my workroom became filled with half a willow tree and an awful lot of feathers.
I made an oversized fan socket out of fabric into which I stapled the ends of the stripped willow branches, making sure not to do too good a job of it so it all looked a bit “knocked up” then I wove through strips of rag to make basic support structure. on top of this was added a layer of knitted webs, made using 25mm needles (huge) and on top of all this went the feathers, an awful lot of feathers. Some whipped on using thread and some glued.
The final part caused me all the bother, the candle wax. Not wanting to damage my carpets which were already covered with bark, leaves and feathers. I took the wings into the bathroom with it’s linoleum floor so that I could drip 6 candles worth of wax all over them (and the floor). The wings were a success and the production company, Lambent, were very pleased and it went on telly and all that but it still left the problem of the floor. Months later I was still sliding about. Having nightmares of skidding into the bath or basin and cracking my head open, a footnote in a news article on bizarre deaths.
The wax has worn off now and things are back to, eh-hum, normal but at least it was all worth it for the end result.