I spent yesterday afternoon up to my chest in the river Wandle in the glorious October sunshine, using crowbar and steel toecaps to loosen up mystery objects and remove rubbish from the riverbed. The Wandle Trust holds river cleanups once a month, and I’ve been a regular volunteer for over 12 years (you can see my Wandle Alphabet here).
Casting about for a subject to try making a graphic short (or even long) story about, I decided something set in the river would be perfect. I know every bit of the river so well, and just how it feels to be working in the water, how it smells and sounds. I started thinking about some characters who work in the river, but was lacking a story – until Polly, who works for the WT, told me about The Ghost Carp back in August. Apparently it’s a giant white fish, rarely seen, and it causes a frisson of interest among anglers.
Inspiration struck when I remembered Herman Melville’s epic, Moby Dick – the ghost carp can stand in for the great white whale, transposing the setting from Cape Cod and the wild Atlantic to an urban river (and trout stream no less).
Now the story is coming together, and I’m planning the pages. I took a bit of time out from being in the water yesterday to sketch my fellow cleaner-uppers, to use for reference later. Watch this space!
I loved comics when I was a child, and used to go off to the shop on a Saturday to buy the sadly long-gone ‘Whizzer and Chips’ or ‘Shiver and Shake’. Later I made my own comic books as a teenager, mostly inspired by daily life and my sister, while others included a fantasy inspired by a young couple I had seen in a documentary.
Many, many years later a friend told me she had enjoyed a course at the Royal Drawing School, ‘Drawing the Graphic Novel’ – and something struck a chord so I signed up. I’ve just finished the second of two terms there, and loved it – our homework in week two was to keep a comic diary, and I am still going with that, five months later. Our tutor was Emily Haworth-Booth, who was a very inspiring teacher: I really recommend this class.
Shown above is a story I started to develop in class based on some things I had recorded in the diary. These included a dream about an Environment Agency Fisheries Office who investigated murders in his spare time, and a story my old schoolfriend told me about the police combing the railway embankment behind her home for evidence in a murder case, and finding her escaped tortoise. Earlier in the year I visited the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke on Trent, where I saw a range of Victorian murder figurines – in those days people could buy a set of murder-themed figurines, including murderer, accomplice, victim and crime scene – incredible! So I am planning to work this into the story too…
The final class of term was when everyone presented their work – and the range of stories was fascinating. I’m looking forward to hear more of all the stories as the class have agreed to keep in touch and share work in the future.
By the studio door we have a giant banana plant, whose huge green leaves unfurl every spring from the most unpromising stumps. The storm in the early hours of Monday morning brought a tiny casualty – a banana flower head, complete with rings of tiny green bananas, snapped off. It’s been a great source of interest in the studio – the flower head is astonishingly heavy, and the stem must be the softest, most velvety thing in the plant kingdom. Artist Joe Madeira, who has his studio in The Art Cabin downstairs, drew the banana flower then passed it on to me – then I did a quick painting after which we ceremonially sliced into the flower to see what was within. It’s fascinating to see the rings of tiny embryonic bananas, bright yellow when cut then swiftly becoming purple and black. And the sap it exudes is as sticky as PVA.
The final step was to try some print-making – I inked it up with goache and took a few impressions. The results were rather fuzzy, but it was a good experiment to try. I’ve used all sorts of vegetables for printing in the past, and the best without any doubt is okra. So now you know!
I’m working with the National Trust this autumn at Sutton House, the oldest house in Hackney, on an exciting Black History Month project celebrating the lives and legacies of nine Influential Black Londoners. The project is in two parts: the first was for me to devise a creative response to each of the historic figures, and display it as an exhibition in the different rooms of this wonderful Tudor house. I decided to create a set of commemorative stamps, complete with a rubber stamp postmark – as you can see in the picture above, I have had great fun playing post offices to test them. I spent yesterday at the house putting up an exhibition with the help of two lovely students, Daisy and Sean – as it doesn’t open until Sunday I’ll post more about it all then.
Part two of the project is to run a series of eight creative workshops with local primary schools – the first is next week. I’ll report on this as it goes along, but it’s exciting to think of the exhibition growing week by week and showing the work of hundreds of young minds.
Here’s a little magician I have been trying out.
(but no Goldilocks). Here are some bears from a new idea I have been working on.
I found out last week that the great children’s writer Allan Ahlberg keeps an ‘ideas box’. Whenever he is struck by a combination of words or a particular thought that has potential, he scribbles it down and posts it in the box, which then acts as a resource for future writing. Apparently, ‘The Jolly Postman’ spent some years in there before emerging as one of the most delightfully original children’s books of the last 30 years.
This struck me as a very good idea – so I have made myself an ideas box, and intend to fill it. I’ve collaged it with bits and pieces, some leftover from school workshops (Grace Carteret was a housekeeper at Ham House many many years ago), then given it a coat of PVA as an easy varnish.
I’ve put a couple of embryonic ideas in there to get it started, and might trawl through some old notebooks: this is where I normally note ideas, but inevitably forget them once the page has been turned or a new volume started. I’m thinking of it as a low-energy slow cooker – I’m going to let a few ingredients bubble away in there and see what happens.
I’ve been drawing children – almost a whole classroom-worth. They’re aged about 5, probably in Reception – I’ve enjoyed imagining all the different interactions between them.
I’ve been designing family activities for visitors to Osterley House. There are six different activities altogether: for this one I designed a set of rubber stamps inspired by the Robert Adam architecture, and visitors will be able to mix them up to design their own buildings.
I’ve been at the London Print Studio making a screenprint – lots of little people living in giant jellies. Unfortunately I had lots of technical hitches so the prints didn’t come out as well as I had hoped. But I like the fluorescent colours.