A Pleasing Terror

My love of all things spooky is no secret, so I’m looking forward to a treat this Friday – a trip to The Lighthouse in Poole, to hear actor Robert Lloyd Parry read two of M.R. James’ best-known ghost stories. 

The evening is entitled ‘A Pleasing Terror’, and if the show I saw last year is anything to go by, it will be spine-tinglingly good. You’ll notice I’ve stolen the above image from an article on the Guardian website. I was going to take a photo of the set so I could blog about it, but I fell down the stairs, and thereafter was too embarassed. A warning to the curious, indeed. But it was worth it for a closer look. 

What I love most about this concept is the way M.R. James’ study is recreated on stage, with props ranging from a comfortable leather armchair, to (in last year’s production) a bowl of soup; and a handkerchief of crumpled linen, deployed at the optimum moment. Old photographs and postcards; strange brass instruments; used crockery – I’m not even sure if all those things were on the stage that night, or if I was so entrenched in the atmosphere that I imagined them. Real candlelight completes the picture, and is used to dramatic effect in a deft piece of shadow puppetry. The attention to detail is fantastic, bringing to life not just the characters and events of the stories, but Montague Rhodes James himself – scholar, antiquary and master storyteller. Robert Lloyd Parry is fantastic in the role. 

Tying into another of my slightly odd interests, I was also pleased last year to recognise the eerie high voice of counter-tenor Alfred Deller, singing thematically appropriate music (from beyond the grave, natch) while the audience entered the auditorium. 

You can see the influence Nunkie Theatre had on our Halloween set-up this year, also themed around the idea of the story teller. You’ll have to take my word for it that this looked a lot more impressive in real life…!

Halloween at Hemlock Hall, 2015 -  the reading room.

In which a darkened room doesn’t photograph very well.

If you’re able to get to one of the remaining dates on Nunkie Theatre’s current tour, it comes highly recommended. And if you aren’t, a DVD is conveniently available; though you may then have to watch out for the proverbial ghost in the machine…


Halloweenshops15-20150831_160507Making progress with my Halloween plans. Last month we visited Home Sense and TK Maxx, which both had a fantastic range of spooky home decor. Here are a couple of snaps of my favourite items.

crystal ball containing a crow and with a skull on topmercury glass pumpkins from Home SenseMore blog updates coming soon, including some actual drawing (#inktober, anyone?)!

Process post: Inking a Halloween illustration, with help from Skillshare


Ink illustration of a witch carving a pumpkin, shown half-finished on a desk

As promised, here’s a little more detail about my Skillshare: Mastering Inking coursework, including the tools I used, my process and the final image. I’ve written a bit about the inspiration for this work already on my Project page for the course:

My project is an homage to one of my favourite childhood books, ‘The Witch’s Handbook’ by Malcolm Bird. It’s October, so Halloween has been on my mind recently and I decided to do my own take on one of the illustrations in the book, in which some witches are carving pumpkins.

For simplicity’s sake I’ve gone with just the one witch, plus furry feline associate.

Although I have some good quality watercolour brushes that I use for my illustration work, I didn’t want to risk getting them all crusty with dried ink, so I bought a few cheaper ‘student quality’ brushes for this project. One of the great things about using the less ‘prestigious’ art supplies is that it allows you to be a lot freer in your work, without worrying about doing things ‘wrong’. Artistic types can tend to be a little bit neurotic!

Paintbrushes, Winsor & Newton india ink and dip pens for creating illustrations

The tools I used were (left to right):

  • Two Manuscript pen nibs, one of which is sellotaped to a wooden chopstick!
  • Jackson’s ICON Series 702 flat brush – this is a nice brush that I used to add a watercolour wash to the finished image.
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman (student) brush, size 6
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman (student) round brush, size 1 – for fine detail
  • Langnickel ‘Royal Knight’ brush – came from a discount store; this brush is pretty scrappy-looking and great for adding rough texture!
  • HB Graphite stick, from a set
  • Entré eraser – an old and trusted friend!
  • Kitchen towel
  • Winsor & Newton Black Indian Ink, complete with spiderweb box!
  • Watercolour paper

The basic process, as explained in the Skillshare videos, involves creating an initial pencil sketch and then transferring this to your watercolour paper. I have a light box which my uncle made for me some years ago, which made the tracing a lot easier. Otherwise a good method is to hold your work against a window on a sunny day – it only needs to be traced roughly, enough to get the basic shapes. You then wet your brush in clean water, dip into the ink, blot any excess on kitchen towel and finally start inking. The course videos explain everything very well – from selecting your materials, to how to create different textures. Since inking is such a permanent process, with no easy way to erase mistakes, having Yuko Shimizu’s expert guidance and advice in the videos was a great confidence-booster. The other members of the Skillshare community are also there to help each other out with advice and resources.

Ink illustration of a witch carving a pumpkin, with her cat asleep on the rug

Here’s the finished illustration! If you’re using Skillshare already, it would be great to get some ‘Likes’ on my project.

I’ve taken some fantastic courses through Skillshare and will share my experience of a few more on this blog in the future. There’s also a coloured version of the above picture that I’m currently finishing up, so watch this space!

Witch crafts.

Ink illustration of a witch carving a pumpkin

Late last year I took Yuko Shimizu’s Skillshare class on inking with a brush. Here’s a photo of my project in progress – it was near Halloween so the subject matter isn’t as incongruous as you might think!

I’ll share a little bit more about the process, as well as the finished coloured illustration, in my next post.

Demon (cat) Days – Halloween 2013 at Hemlock Hall

Halloween pumpkins and squash

Hallowe’en has come and gone, in a blur of powder paint, face paint and giant chalk. In a mad dash to complete the annual display in the porch, I had to forego any attempt at suspending a stuffed crocodile from the ceiling; but the result was nevertheless noticeably occult in tone.

The story behind this year’s ‘haunt’ is that of an Elizabethan magician-alchemist type who attempts to summon a demon from the abyss and ends up with something rather different than envisaged.

Demon cat work in progress

Demon cat doorwayAlthough the scale of this year’s celebration was much smaller than in previous years, Trick-or-Treaters seemed impressed by the large pentagram on the driveway, and the mysteriously Gothic windows glowing greenly in the night.

Gothic arches at Halloween

The house is dressed in green for Halloween

I had enormous fun mixing old house paint and Early Learning Centre powder paint to create cardboard signs, as well as the demon-kitty itself, leering out of the brickwork. I also created numerous dribbly candles, using a tutorial from the ever-inspirational My Ghoul Friday (link to be added, when I find it!). Candlesticks have been amassed over the years from charity shops and the like; offcuts of curtain fabric add colour and texture in the background.

Cauldron and candles

Halloween porch

Of course there are several beautiful pumpkins and squash, in addition to the big orange jack-o-lantern. I remain unsure as to what use an occultist would have for these, but they somehow add to the Halloween atmosphere.

Occult jack-o-lantern

Now to come up with a theme for next year…!

Books Illustrated: Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie


I have always loved mysteries but it took me a while to start reading Agatha Christie novels. This one is probably not one of her best – and in fact I suspect that I haven’t read her best books, since the Bournemouth library system seems primarily to hold her less popular and later titles.

The book is set in the late 1960s, and features Hercule Poirot and the mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver (who Christie wrote as a parody of herself and her writing); as well as a couple of minor characters who are described as wearing colourful velvet bell-bottoms, and who were judiciously written out of the recent television adaptation. The title, and the slight supernatural aura of the plot, is of course what drew me to purchase my copy – that, and the lovely orange pumpkin on the cover. It is one of the Harper Collins editions which all seem to be excitingly designed, thus to lure the innocent book shop browser to buy an entire colourful set.

I’m intrigued by the foreign language alternative titles of this book, as listed on the Wikipedia page – such as ‘Kurpitsajuhla’ (Finnish, meaning ‘The Pumpkin Party’); ‘Schneewittchen Party’ (German, ‘Snow White Party’); and ‘Festen for de døde’ (Danish – Wikipedia has this as meaning ‘The Eve of All Saint’s Party’ but to me it looks like the literal translation is ‘feast for the dead’ or similar; doubtless they are the same thing). I feel like these could be the inspiration for entirely new books; they conjure up completely different images in my head. Perhaps I’ll use them in a future project.

Be still, my Halloween heart! On Discovering HP Lovecraft

Infernal potions, from Halloween 2009 at Hemlock Hall

Infernal potions, from Halloween 2009 at Hemlock Hall

Recently I took out a book of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories at the local library. I’d never read anything by this author before, except in the form of descriptions accompanying Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfumes. Despite there being a vast community of Lovecraft fans “on the internet”, I’ve never heard him mentioned by anyone in real life, and was under the impression that I was going to be reading something tongue-in-cheek and comedic (try doing a Google Images search for ‘cthuluhu‘, and you’ll see a lot of cartoons and crochet toys). It turns out that Lovecraft’s writing is a lot easier to understand if you ignore the internet fandom. Similarly, you would expect a lot more “adult content” in Harry Potter if you read about it on the internet first.

There is an aspect of my personality which is drawn to anything spooky, so I’m really enjoying reading these tales – the title is ‘The Dreams in the Witch House (and Other Weird Stories)’, and it does what it says on the cover. Unfortunately, this new-found love of Lovecraft could turn out to be counter-productive so far as this blog is concerned. My pre-existing tendency towards excessively flowery language (- had you noticed it?) is not helped by reading passages like this:

“And in the autumn of the year, when the winds from the north curse and whine, and the red-leaved trees of the swamp mutter things to one another in the small hours of the morning under the horned waning moon, I sit by the casement and watch that star.”
(from ‘Polaris’).

That could pretty much be taken from this website. Except mine would read something like:

“In the late spring, when the lilac has begun to bloom, and the cats of the neighbourhood gather in groups about the carcasses of young birds, I sit in the garage and listen to the rain and think about writing my blog.”

What Lovecraft’s stories are great for (- and I imagine he would despair at this suggestion) is inspiring Halloween decorating schemes. I’m going to need my own copy of the book so that I can underline my favourite passages, and thus explain what the front garden has to look like come October 31st. Specifically, ‘with barren, gnarled, and terrible old trees, long, queerly pale grass, and nightmarishly misshapen weeds in the high terraced yard where birds never lingered‘. I had what I thought was a genius idea of listening to the Pan’s Labyrinth soundtrack while reading, which added a lot to the atmosphere.

If I could read and draw at the same time then maybe I would have had an image to accompany this post, but no such luck (ETA: added a photo from Halloween 2009). Tomorrow is a bank holiday and I have some quality time with my scanner scheduled in, so the visual content of future posts should be much improved. I will try to have some witches and infernal trees to show for it.