Archives for posts with tag: illustration

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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A new exhibition opens this week at Cliffe Castle Museum. Keighley’s War commemorates the end of the First World War, exploring some of the ways the lives of the people living in this part of West Yorkshire were affected by the fighting, the trauma and suffering, and the seismic social changes which were a part of the period.

It goes without saying that the First World War is not an easy subject to reflect on. History is full of dark times as well as moments that are easier to look back on – and this period in particular is full of things that are frankly terrible, a huge challenge to present it as the subject of an exhibition. But spending some time learning about the lives of our not-very-distant ancestors, the conditions in which they lived, the challenges they faced and the social changes that affected them is deeply worthwhile, and a compelling journey of discovery.

To offer this journey the museum has produced a clever, concertina-fold illustrated Trail that unfurls and becomes a guide-book to help visitors search out and find objects in the collections. Each one of these objects has a story to tell about the First World War – and I was asked to draw them to illustrate the guide.

Unsurprisingly, working on the drawings was an absorbing, challenging, and often disturbing experience. Getting to know something intimately by drawing it means that you literally get drawn in – and all these objects had a powerful effect on me. So I thought it would be interesting to share a bit about what this felt like and what I discovered – the story of the drawings, one at a time. Here are two; others I’ll write about in future posts.

The call to arms; Kitchener’s Men

Kitchener's Man armband

I had no idea what this was when I first saw it. A piece of stitched calico printed with the words ‘Kitchener’s Man’. I knew the famous recruiting poster of Lord Kitchener with his finger pointing directly out, with the words ‘Your Country Needs You!’ but I didn’t know that those early volunteers were called ‘Kitchener’s Men’, and because at first there weren’t uniforms to issue to these civilian soldiers they were given cotton armbands like this one to wear.

The men who joined up from a local district were often formed into single units which turned out to be an appalling decision. In their book ‘Kitchener’s Mob‘ Peter Doyle and Chris Foster describe how the idea of recruiting men into local “Pals” regiments – essentially all coming from the same community – was a tragic mistake when later these close-knit communities were devastated by the loss of their young men – fathers and sons, brothers and cousins.

The cover photo of the book shows recruits at Grassington Station proudly wearing their armbands – the Upper Wharfedale chaps leaving their home village on September 21, 1914, on their way to boost the troops of the regular army which had embarked for France on August 4. Massively outnumbered but with their murderous rapid rifle fire, they were attempting to hold off the hordes of German soldiers sweeping across Flanders and northern France.

As I sketched it I wondered if this armband could possibly have been worn by one of these men. They were on their way to the battle of the Somme, not knowing what awaited them in France……

Following the fighting from back home

Booklet, The Western Front at a Glance - WW1

This is not an especially rare artifact. You can still buy copies of this booklet on Ebay and elsewhere (different editions were published as the war progressed, at different prices) but what I was so struck by was the condition of this copy. It’s worn and dog-eared, well thumbed at the corners and cracked at the spine. Whoever owned this book must have pored over it daily, studied the route and the progress of – who? A husband? Brother? Son?

The drawing took a long time to do and I had the opportunity to immerse myself completely in the graphic style of the period – the colours, the fonts, the layout. And I kept thinking what a strange mixture of ideas it represents – on the one hand a kind of cheerful, eager, educational guide to troop movements and military events (it reminded me a bit of the I-Spy books we used to use as children) and on the other – a terrible reminder of what was happening day by day to the soldier in your family, so far from home.

Saying ‘No’ to War

As a counterpoint – and a different view of the events of 1914 – 18, the opening of the exhibition Keighley’s War coincides with International Conscientious Objector’s Day on the 15th May, a day marked this year by the Peace Museum in Bradford by a lecture called ‘Oh What a Lovely War-Resistance; music in opposition to war, 1914 – 18’. It’s easy to find recollections of heroism in acts of war; what’s not so easy is to remember the particular kind of courage it took – and takes – to refuse to fight and oppose military action. The Peace Museum is a unique celebration of the peace movement and its history, exploring the often untold stories of peacemakers and social reform.

More on exhibitions at both Cliffe Castle Museum and the Peace Museum in future posts………

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