Making impressions


18/11/09

What the Dickens!

Filed under: Ghostly Inspiration — loretta @ 02:00:23 pm

I am pleased to add four new designs to the Christmas cards for 2009. These are based on the ghost stories written by Charles Dickens.

Although I had read A Christmas Carol many years ago and had watched The Signalman on the BBC at Christmas I didn’t really know much about the other ghost stories of Charles Dickens other than he published several at Christmas in his own literary magazines - these were always most popular when they included a ghost story.

Apparently he loved a ghost story and owed this fascination for the supernatural to his nurse Mary Weller who terrified him with many tales. I was struck when reading a collection of his supernatural stories how many were in fact concerned with premonition and portent (To Be Read at Dusk, The Signalman), sometimes including ‘crisis ghosts’ - the appearance of those recently or about to die (Christmas Ghosts). The ghosts were sometimes concerned with vengence or seeing that justice is done (The Trial for Murder).

His work included a range of styles, some reminded me of traditional folk ghost tales with elements of melodrama (Captain Murder and the Devil’s Bargain), gruesome.

Dickens was one of a number of indiviuals who we have to thank for giving us the sort of traditions we now always associate with Christmas. Apparently in industrial Britain Christmas was under threat and many traditions such as carol singing were dying out. A number of Victorians made efforts to revive and promote Christmas as a holiday. Dickens is also credited with giving us the idea that Christmas should include snow - it is normally rare but he grew up during a minor climatic event that gave regular snowy Decembers. (Mind you, I have also heard this put down to the old Julian calendar slipping so that Christmas was actually ‘in January’ by the mid 17th Century.) He is also credited with inventing the Christmas Ghost Story - but I’m not convinced that he created it, rather he revived an older tradition.

Producing the designs was not always that easy, A Christmas Carol has been illustrated several times and created on screen in film and television and was familiar enough, but Dickens doesn’t often describe his spectres in any great detail or the scene at the moment of terror, as M.R. James. When we do get a real ghost, it is quite a traditional figure often comfortable to chat with the main character. Although Dickens does draw the occasional spine tingling moment, more often the real terror is with the stories relating to portent.

I produced 2 images from A Christmas Carol - of some of the more frightening scenes. The very first ghostly occurence is when Scrooge arrives home and his door knocker … well, it is a creepy moment. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come is the most sinister figure in his Reaper type appearance - which is justified when he reveals the inevitable future to Scrooge in the grave yard. The other image is taken from The Signalman which is one of the best ghost stories. I collected a few of the apparitions together with the author - including the ghost from the ‘Queer Chair’ for the last picture.

Author with friends

16/07/09

New spooks for 2009

Filed under: Ghostly Inspiration — loretta @ 02:27:49 pm

I have wanted to bring new drawings into the range for some time but other commitments have delayed that happening. Now I am pleased to say I am working on a number of new images which I hope you will like and they wont just be new Christmas designs either.

I am very fond of the skeleton character in the ‘Bones of Nunhead’, skeletons seem rather different figures from spectres. They seem to have an ambivalence about them, not normally malevolent but rather mischevious and uncaring. I’ve had a couple of ideas I wanted to try for some time and it looks likely there will be two skeleton designs.

I hope there will also be a couple of ghosts too, one peering round doors and catching you unawares. Another could show a ghostly figure creeping up the stairs - the inspiration for this, I am afraid to say was a nightmare I once had: a figure with a coat over it’s head was slowly moving up the stairs whilst I hid in a room off the landing. The reaction to the sketch I created was an instant “that’s scary” so it looks like I may have captured some of the absolute terror I felt during the dream!

I was fascinated by scarecrows when I was young, as most children are, with their rather sinsiter potential to ‘come alive’, at least in my imagination. A friend who knew I enjoyed spooky stories insisted that I look at the work of Robert Westall, as his writing included ghost stories for children. I was passed a copy of ‘The Scarecrows’ and suddenly I didn’t see them as funny or weird figures any more but something much more terrifying. The idea of a scarecrow that could scare more than birds seemed a good image to include.

Finally I hope this Christmas I will have another M. R. James story to add plus scenes from other well known authors who have written ghost stories, especially for Christmas enjoyment.

I’ll post the results as soon as they are finished.

21/11/08

New Ghosts for Christmas

Filed under: Ghostly Inspiration — loretta @ 06:40:43 pm

Last week all the new Christmas ghost designs were finally sent to the printers and are available from today. There are two new designs similar to last year’s cards and four images based on the writings of M.R. James. It’s been quite an interesting journey and far less straight forward than I would have liked, but I hope you like what’s been produced. As regards the Jamesian cards I have tried to be faithful to the original stories but have used a little artistic license occasionally, I think the images have not strayed too far from those created in the writing.

From top left to bottom right Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you, a portrait of M.R. James plus phantoms, A Warning to the Curious and the Rats.
James\' Christmas Ghosts

The two other images were made to compliment the original set of four cards and I hope you find them pleasing.
Christmas ghosts

Finally many thanks to those of you who have supported me in this strange endeavour, I have enjoyed creating these spectres but it would be impossible to do without your encouragement. I think I will try to incorporate more designs from writers of the supernatural every Christmas, I have already had requests for Sheridan Le Fanu and of course there is Dickens too.

I hope you like this years offerings, perhaps I will see you at this years Fortean Unconvention.

O' Rats

Filed under: Ghostly Inspiration — loretta @ 06:39:27 pm

Bringing a ghoul to life from the pages of a Jamesian ghost story is no small task and I admit to approaching it with some trepidation. His horrors are more terrifying for not being clearly described and leaving more to the imagination of the reader. So you must forgive me if the pictures I have drawn do not exactly match those that you imagined when you read his stories.

I started by briefly sketching the fours scenes I had planned and chose O’ Whistle and I’ll come to you to attempt first: a deserted beach, a dark sky and something else. This was proving to be more difficult that I had thought, the first attempt had the ‘something’ as too small and insignificant so that there was little more to the picture than a dramatic beachscape, nothing forbidding or scary at all. I headed back to the story to check out the scene, and chose a different but similar passage to base the picture on.

Even so, I was driven to distraction and ended up moving on to a simpler sketch. This was an image from The Rats. This might not be everyone’s favourite but M.R. James’ wonderful description of the bogey man made up for a fairly uneventful story line. The sketch I first made had something familiar about it – it took a while for me to realise but weirdly it resembled one of my siblings. Although I am sure he won’t thank me for seeing a resemblance.

My brother Marco?

The final drawing, was not very different to my initial idea and is very simple. I checked back on the story and whilst I cannot promise that I have not used any artistic license at all I hope I have stayed as close to the original as possible. When I showed the picture to friends and family I got some strong responses so I seemed to have captured James’s sense of horror, I just hope it doesn’t put anyone off their Christmas dinner!

Spirits in summer - designs on demand

Filed under: Ghostly Inspiration — loretta @ 06:38:31 pm

The bright sunny days (mostly) of an English summer are definitely not the best time to be thinking about ghosts and the supernatural. I am looking for inspiration for my new Christmas card designs for 2008 as the green Hereford country side rolls by my train. With summer in full swing it is not easy to get yourself in the spooky mood and certainly not a Christmas one.

From my carriage window, the low saddle shape of British Camp stands out on the horizon, a reminder of antiquity and antiquarians. I would dearly love to create Christmas designs based on the stories of the antiquarian academic and writer of ghost stories, M.R. James.

This would be no simple task however. His words have brought terror to millions with subtle turns of phrase that make hair stand on end. Although many images came into my mind when I read his stories, I am not sure they would readily lend themselves to a picture in the real word. With these stories I would want to capture some of the sinister sensibility they give - no easy task.

M.R. James’s stories are popular because they are very good at conveying horror and transfering fear from the page into the mind of the reader. But his ghouls are rarely seen directly or in their entirety, rather their unspeakable nature is hinted at. They are normally half seen, at a distance or hidden and by the end of the tale they may be only half understood. It is this mysterious quality which makes them more terrifying and it is this that makes the designs much harder.

How would you approach creating a design for something like ‘Casting the Runes’? There is not much seen of the actual entity and you might be tempted to just draw the demon. If you have ever watched the film adaptation ‘Night of the Demon’ (or Curse of the Demon) you will know that openly displaying the source of the fear can remove all sense of scary from a viewer.

I think the demon shown in the film (see below) was kind of cute:
Rather sweet monster in Night of the Demon

Still, I intend to create a set of four images based on some of my favourite stories. I have sketched a few design ideas based on events in the following which I hope will be suitable: ‘The Rat’s’ and ‘A Warning to the Curious’ will provide two designs. ‘O’ Whistle and I’ll come to you my lad’ is probably my favourite and I hope to extract two designs from the story.

If the designs look like they are possible and I manage to create something worthwhile then I will post the results within this blog. I rather suspect many will end up being scrapped and I will be casting around for more tales to draw from.
James - The cause of all my troubles
James - The cause of all my troubles

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