Archives for category: Imagination

This is my Teddy bear, Treacle. We became companions when I was around the age of two, and as we’re now well past 60 we’re both showing signs of age (although I’m glad to say my legs are not in danger of falling off, and I’m not quite as threadbare as he is, either). I’ve been drawing and photographing him a lot lately because of a project at Cliffe Castle involving Teddy bears.

Even though I’m extremely familiar with the way he looks, in the last couple of weeks all this work we’ve done together has made me examine his features a lot more carefully, and I’ve been musing about his origins and his ancestry.

I’m very fond of this small bear, so much so in fact that drawing him can be difficult. He has a deceptively simple head – not a classic bear shaped face as he has no real snout – though I’ve seen others a bit like him, like these delightful little ones in the V&A – they’re obviously related.

Three small antique bears in the V&A collection, in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. (The drawing is part of a limited edition of prints of Teddy bears that I did in the 1990’s)

But because he’s such a simple shape, any subtle mistake is immediately obvious and that really matters, so I’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to get his features right. He has a very definite personality. And the more I look at him, the more I draw him, the more I realise that he reminds me of someone else who was important to me, growing up. One of my greatest heroes – Noggin the Nog.

Images of Noggin the Nog by Peter Firmin, courtesy of Smallfilms; drawings and photos of Treacle by me

I think you’ll see what I mean.

Noggin, and the whole Land of Nog were created by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate and the first stop-motion film, The Saga of Noggin The Nog was made by them for children’s television in 1959 when I was 5 years old (these images are from around that time – later series followed, and books, and much later, colour versions of some of the videos came out). The films were narrated by Oliver Postgate, and listening again to the lines that began every story, the sound of his voice has an uncanny way of transporting me in time…..

‘In the Lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale…’

(I probably don’t need to tell you that the Noggin sagas have always had a devoted following and still have even today, and happily several of these early episodes are on YouTube). An informative website here gives a clear explanation of all the characters and stories.

Many people will fondly remember the books with their coloured illustrations but for me the haunting, strange, dark tales told on TV in black and white were always more powerful and compelling. They are stories of cheerfulness, courage and challenging adventure mixed up with the dullness of the everyday, where it’s always mild manners and politeness which end up solving intractable difficulties.

Peter Firmin based his designs for the Nogs on the Lewis chess pieces in the British Museum, found on a Hebredian beach in the 1830’s.

Drawings of Noggin the Nog and Thor Nogson by Peter Firmin courtesy of Smallfilms, and the Lewis chessmen from the British Museum

So do Noggin and Treacle share the same ancestry? I doubt it. It seems that they came into being at around the same time, but I think I was simply drawn to them both for being what they were – and still are.

I’m grateful to both of them for a lifetime of companionship – I’ve a feeling my life would have been very different without them. They’ve given me a sense of optimism and adventure, and been a consolation in dark times. They’ve helped me to think creatively about solving problems and how to move bravely forward. And above all, they’ve been a shining reminder (and how badly we all need this today!) that whatever you’re faced with, politeness, respect, and good manners can make all the difference, no matter what.

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I’ve been sketching people quite a bit lately and mostly while they’re moving about, which is a challenge, to put it mildly – but it’s what I want to draw more than anything else at the moment.

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I find it irresistible and at the same time frustratingly hard. I realise that I’ve forgotten much of what I knew about figure drawing and it’s such a long time since I attended a life drawing class – which I’d love to do again – but in the meantime I want to understand more about how bodies move – what really happens for example, when we walk? There’s nothing like direct observation – watching and drawing as much as possible is the best way to improve – but I don’t have enough opportunity.

I trawled the internet, and after a few red-herrings and blind alleys I came across this tutorial from Elfwood, called Figure Drawing: Basic Pose and Construction.

It’s really designed to help animators and graphic artists but it’s a good step-by-step workout to help you understand how the body is constructed and connected, and how it moves, and it’s all about using stick-figures, or what we used to call pin-men.

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This is where it all became a lot of fun. I hadn’t drawn stick-figures for years, and I’d forgotten how expressive they can be. But this lesson takes you further than just those rather stiff little pin-men everyone loves to draw, and introduces an advanced species of figures that have shoulders and pelvises, who have all the major human joints and a bit of spring and curve in the spine. Before long they’re capering about across the page and doing things you recognise but would have struggled to draw. I was hooked.

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The next step is to flesh them out and give them a bit of substance, and here I’ve departed a bit from the tutorial which sticks to a more geometrical approach with simple cylinders for the trunk and limbs, but I was in a hurry to get my little tribe looking a bit more lifelike. They took on a life of their own remarkably quickly.

The question of whether all this helps when drawing real people from life was answered for me when the boiler repair men came and I drew them surreptitiously from behind while they were working. One of them was stretching and peering and grappling with the boiler while the other watched, and I realised I could sum up each movement rapidly in my head as if I was looking at a stick-figure with clothes on.

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This is them, on the left and right of the page (though not at the top left – they didn’t arrive holding a flag on a pole or hopping on one leg -) and although baggy combat trousers don’t help show off what the legs underneath are doing, stick-figures really helped me see what his whole body was doing as it moved – even if I didn’t have any idea about what he was doing to the boiler.

There are days when I want to draw and just can’t get started.
Just like writing – sometimes I need to play around and not think, but just get some stuff down on the paper. I came across a lovely idea the other day from Moose Allain, and it’s more than just fun – I never know quite where it’s going to take me.

You start by splodging some colour in blobs on the paper. (I didn’t photograph that, I was too busy wanting to get to the next stage.) Then you draw simple faces on some of the blobs. And then you see what happens next….

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Some background setting puts things in context (though doesn’t necessarily explain things, which is part of the fun). A few more details…

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……and a story starts to emerge. Then it’s just a question of trying to work out what’s going on, and listening to what’s being said.

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It’s a bit like slipping down a rabbit hole and finding yourself in another place, in a world where anything can happen.

Where to next?

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/express-yourself

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I used to draw a lot from imagination and memory, but that was a long time ago and I’m completely out of the habit.

Something else to rediscover.