Mapping myths in lino cuts

Detail from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria WillmottWhen I discovered artist Victoria Willmott’s fresh, sketchy linoprints, I fell for the energy they exuded. In particular, I love her beautiful foldout inspired by the Icelandic myth ‘Redhead The Whale Man’. Victoria tells me she’s been drawing inspiration from fairytales and folklore all her life.

“During my Illustration BA course I worked on a project to illustrate a series of fairytales,” she says. “I started to realise these tales were more then just children’s stories, they were little gems to me that sparked my imagination.”

Detail2 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She adds: “What’s interesting is that fairytales have lasted through hundreds of years and several generations and are still so well known today. The stories themselves often carry a hidden meaning that brings sense or a moral message, but sometimes they’re just fantastic stories that take you on a journey far far awayand I love that about them. I like to reimagine these fantastical fairy tales within our every day and place them into our modern world.”

Visiting Iceland in 2018 was the starting point for a special project.

“I brought myself a book on Icelandic fairytales. It was filled with short stories from elves to trolls, and ghosts with some very dark endings,” she says. “I was drawn to the story ‘Redhead The Whale Man’because it has an element of surprise and absurdity and because it’s a story at sea.”

Detail3 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She explains that Redhead The Whale Man tells the story of a young fisherman who is turned into a whale by elves. “He betrayed his elf wife and elf child by dis-owning them in his homeland. His punishment for doing so was to live as a whale for the rest of his life and haunt the seas his fellow fisherman sailed in.”

The red head is actually nothing to do with his hair colour, but instead comes from the fact he was wearing a red cap at the moment when he was cursed.

Detail4 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

“In this story I like the symbolism with the red cap and that it is a simple object that you can associate to your own world,” Victoria says. “I like to see fairytale emblems in ordinary items, and now a red cap can be added to that as an object that could conjure up a fantastical story.”

Victoria has bookshelves crammed with fairytales ripe for informing and inspiring her work. These include books by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault, as well as folk tales from Ireland, Africa, Iceland and India.

“I created a piece of work called ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ which was a reimagining of Cinderella in my neighbourhood of Bristol, Southville. It purely started from personal experience of loosing my own shoe as it flew out of my bicycle basket. It was found, not by prince charming but on a kerbside – luckily in good condition considering it would have been rained on for four days.”

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott. Lino cut

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

From this, Victoria began to see how elements of the Cinderella story could appear in her day-to-day life. “The ugly stepsisters, for instance, I saw in two geese at the local City Farm, which I pass to get to the studio,” she says. “Their webbed feet could never fit into the lost slipper and their constant cackling gave them an unpleasant manner just like the stepsisters bickering.”

Victoria decided that the Prince’s Ball should be held at the local South Bank Club, “where dance classes and evening do’s are abundant. I imagined the dancers there dancing out onto the streets. In one of the original tales of Cinderella she goes to the ball three separate occasions with three different dresses, in the colours of sunlight, moonlight and starlight. I used the colour referencing those aspects for the dancers.”

Victoria created the artwork using lino cut and devised a map that leads you through her alternative Cinderella tale, “but you could take any path you wanted and perhaps make up your own version of the story.”

Crop of The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

Crop of ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ by Victoria Willmott

Victoria is keen to share her interest in fairytales through her artwork. “I find that I want to communicate that there are stories everywhere and people can use their imagination to read between the illustrations and make up their own tales,” she says. “That’s the essence of storytelling – originally fairytales and folk tales would have been passed on through oral telling and each storyteller would have their own take or version of the story. I like to think people are given the option to read my prints in their own way and make up their own story about them too.”

Victoria begins a new piece of work by sketching on location and then takes those drawings back to the studio to refine. “I have an abundance of sketchbooks that hold precious ideas,” she says. “When I look back at them I start to see characters and scenes that I could use in future work. I enjoy the sketching process where I work quickly and produce loose and free drawings. I try to hold onto that looseness and transfer drawings into lino cut prints.”

Recently, Victoria has been working on large-scale map-style prints that are built up from individual lino cut stamps. “The process of making these requires printing each lino cut by hand,” she says. “I have a rough idea of how these prints will end up but I let spontaneity happen on the day of printing and use my instincts about what colours and images will work well together.”

Crop of Icelandic Whale Man Story Map by Victora Willmott

Crop of ‘Icelandic Whale Man Story Map’ by Victora Willmott

The trickiest part, she admits, is recognising when to stop working on a piece of art.

“I feel there is part of my brain that is more critical and aware of my choices and the other half is being playful and spontaneous and having more openness to creating,” she says. “I think the playful side comes out mostly in the sketching and printing process, and then I have to allow the critical side of my brain to come through and make a judgement to see if the piece is finished.”

She smiles and then adds: “I often have to take a photograph of the artwork, make a cup of tea and then let both sides of the brain either agree or not. It’s useful to take a step back and then let you mind see it from a new perspective.”

You can find more of Victoria’s art at www.victoriawillmott.com, twitter.com/vlwillmottwww.instagram.com/vlwillmott and www.facebook.com/VictoriaWillmottIllustration.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

 

Writing prompt – kindness

Kindness Rocks_Arnos Vale_photo by Judy DarleyOn an amble through a local woodland cemetery, I spotted a number of brightly painted rocks. These flashes of colour amid the winter grey and brown seemed like beacons of hope.

On the back of each was a message explaining that these are #KindnessRocks, and inviting you to share photos of your discovery on social media.

Kindness Rocks_Arnos Vale_photo1 by Judy Darley

A few days later I went back, and every single one had disappeared.

It got me thinking: what other messages could be spread in this way? Who might find them? What could the impact be?

Kindness Rocks_Arnos Vale_Photo4 by Judy Darley

I invite you to use this as the start of a new creative work, and make the outcome as unexpected or uplifting as possible.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Elevated Truths – a short story

Lift at ABode by Judy DarleyI’m pleased to share the news that my short story Elevated Truths has been published by Fictive Dream magazine.

The story explores the changing relationship between a father and daughter over a number of years, as well as the lies we tell and pretend to believe for comfort’s sake. It also focuses quite a lot on lifts, which fascinate and scare me in equal measure!

The seeds of this story began way back in 2016, with this writing prompt. Two years’ on, I actually sat down and began to write it down. Funny how long the germination process can take sometimes.

Here’s an excerpt from the story’s final section.

The elevator doors ping open.

“It’s me!” I yell, fake-cheerful, as I let myself into the flat. I go straight into the kitchen and open the fridge door, blocking my view to the living room. That way Dad will have time to get from couch to bedroom and pull on proper clothes if he’s still in his pyjamas.

There are cherry tomatoes wizening in the salad drawer, and a Peach Melba yogurt only one day past its sell-by-date. I grab it.

“All right, love?” Dad asks, sidling into the room.

‘How’s the writing going?” I ask, spooning a small orange mountain into my mouth.  

“Oh, great, making real progress.” Dad’s eyebrows pinch outwards and down.

I used to think that movement showed he was lying, but I’ve come to understand it means he’s trying to convince himself that what he’s saying is true. A subtle difference.

You can read the full story here.

Theatre review – Wise Children

Wise Children company, credit Steve Tanner (3)Vibrant, comical and moving, Wise Children at Bristol Old Vic is a joyfully dizzying swirl of an end-of-pier helter skelter with a vein of minty gravitas spiralling through the middle.

Etta Murfitt, Gareth Snook in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner

Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook as Nora and Dora Chance

We meet twin sisters Nora and Dora Chance (Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook) as they prepare to celebrate their 35th birthday, then zip back through time to meet their paternal grandparents. Some theatrics, debauchery and a spot of violence orphans their father and his twin brother, and so a pattern is laid out for the sisters before they’re even born.

Bringing Angela Carter’s last novel to wriggling, whooping, high-kicking life is director Emma Rice, the creative whizz behind the enchanting The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, among others. The production is the first from Rice’s new theatre company, also named Wise Children, and it’s a fabulous indication of the treats to come.

Wise Children company1, credit Steve Tanner (2)

The small cast conjure a whole world, with earlier incarnations of the sisters and their fathers appearing throughout, sometimes as ghostly memories and other times in a change of costume as a lover, pier comic or stagehand. Gender is fluid, and morals even more so. The recommendation is that performances are best suited to ages 14 and up. Sex is portrayed with cartoonish vigour or fleeting tenderness, and education on this theme from Grandma Chance is accessorised by bagels and sticks of seaside rock.

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner (2)

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance

The youngest Nora and Dora (apart from Lyndie Wright’s puppets) are performed with boisterous wide-eyed enthusiasm by Mirabelle Gremaud and Bettrys Jones, while their showgirl personifications, played by Omari Douglas and Melissa James, exuded sex appeal and vulnerability in equal, overflowing measure.

Melissa James as Dora, Omari Douglas as Nora in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner

Melissa James as Dora and Omari Douglas as Nora

 

Katy Owen is magnificent as the girls’ ever-tipsy, often unclothed (apart from golden nipple tassels) grandma, while the elder embodiments of their father and uncle, (Paul Hunter and Paul Rider) manage to smudge the bravado of their younger selves (Ankur Bahl and Sam Archer) into the wistful, somewhat melancholy humour of old age.

Bettrys Jones, Katy Owen, Mirabelle Gremaud in Wise Children1, credit Steve Tanner

Bettrys Jones as young Dora, Katy Owen as Grandma Chance and Mirabelle Gremaud as young Nora

The sisters long to be acknowledged by their father Melchior, who abandoned their pregnant mother, but settle instead for the intermittent adoration of his brother, Peregrine. Dashing and affectionate, young Peregrine is also the instigator of one of the production’s most chilling scenes.

Taking place in a moment of quiet between 13-year-old Dora (Bettrys Jones) and her uncle, while other action takes place around them, it’s skilfully handled enough that we questioned whether we’d really seen what we thought we’d seen – a unnerving parallel to the reality of such instances.

Melissa James as Showgirl Dora in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner (2)

Laughter, song and dance coupled with the vivid set (including an ingenious turning caravan and some exquisite projected animation) plus enticing costumes by Vicki Mortimer keeps the tone on the right side of fun, but this dark core thread draws us towards the shadows beyond the glitz, if only for seconds at a time.

Wise Children is on at Bristol Old Vic until 16th February 2019. Find out more and book tickets. Production images by Steve Tanner.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – language

Bible_St John On The Wall. Photo by Judy DarleyIn Jan Morris’ ‘Over The Bridge: Sydney 1983, part of her Penguins 60s From The Four Corners, she mentions with delight that the motto of a Sydney school: “I Hear, I See, I Learn,” translates into Latin as “Audio, Video, Disco.”

This gorgeous detail is a reminder of how language twitches and evolves, developing and conjuring subtly different meanings, tones and contexts over time.

Match up a weighty old word or phrase with its modern-day interpretation and use this as your starting point. The results may surprise you.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019 Short Story Competition

Beautiful skies, Victoria Park cr Judy DarleyThis annual competition is one of my favourites on the literary calendar. There’s no theme for you to base your story on – all you have to do is make sure you’re registered with the website www.writersandartists.co.uk, that the subject line of your email reads ‘W&A Short Story Competition 2019‘ and that you send it to waybcompetitions@bloomsbury.com.

Your story must be no more than 2,000 words long. The closing date for entries is midnight on Wednesday 13th February 2019.

The winner of the competition – along with two runners-up – will be announced on the W&A blog pages in March 2019.

Entry is free, but don’t forget to register before submitting your story. Continue reading

Submit your sculpture to the RWA’s new exhibition

RWA Open 166 Photo by James Beck

RWA Open 166. Photo by James Beck

Following a hugely successful annual Open Exhibition in 2018, the RWA Galleries in Bristol are branching out with a brand new Open Exhibition devoted to sculpture.

They say: “We’re inviting artists to submit their work to our Sculpture Open Exhibition in 2019. We’re so excited to be giving our gallery space over to the art of sculpture and all the disciplines within it.”

The exhibition will run from 12th March until 2nd June 2019, and you have a chance to be part of it.

“Submissions are welcome from artists from any stage in their career and all work is for sale, making it the perfect opportunity for artists to be discovered by collectors, galleries and the general public.”

This is an exceptional opportunity to showcase your work alongside some of the most renowned sculptors working today (including Invited Artist Ana Maria Pacheco) within the grandeur of the RWA’s grade II galleries.This year’s selection panel include internationally-known sculptors Ann Christopher RADaphne Wright and Kate MccGwire.

The deadline for entries is 5pm on Thursday 7th February 2019.

You can find the full details here, but here are a few of the rules:

  • Artists of all ages and experience are invited to submit
  • Submissions must be no more than three years old
  • Submissions must be for sale
  • No more than three works may be submitted per applicant
  • Work cannot have been exhibited previously at the RWA
  • A submission fee must be paid for each entry (find details of prices here) other than those by RWA Academicians
  • All works must be submitted online via the RWA’s Online Exhibition Submission System (OESS)

Good luck!

Writing prompt – beholder

Artwork at the RWA_Photo by Judy Darley

I caught this moment on camera almost by accident, and love the miscellany of disparate figures and objects. Some of these items are bona fide art complete with a price tag, others are simply clothing or possessions set down for a moment. Best of all, I love the people pausing or passing by.

What jumps out to you when you look at this photo? What do you see as art, or happenstance? Can you express this through fiction, poetry or art of your own?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Curtis Brown Creative courses for aspiring novelists

Notebook and pen cr Judy DarleyAs the new year gets underway, why not rev up your writing skills? Curtis Brown Creative, the creative-writing school run by Curtis Brown Literary Agency, is inviting applications for an array of writing courses aimed at aspiring novelists, with London-based and an online options to choose between.

There are also lower-priced online ‘taster’ courses to give you the chance to work out if this is the right approach for you, or if you’re not ready to take on the full time and financial commitment required for their longer courses.

Learn to edit and pitch your novel, or get to the end of that all-important first draft, get insights and hands-on help from successful authors and experienced editors. The creative writing school was launched in 2011 and remains the only one run by a literary agency.

“I’m proud to say that over the past few years, many of our alumni have gained deals with major publishers,” says Curtis Brown Director Anna Davis. “Some of our former students have written international bestsellers, others have won prizes and several more have gained representation with literary agents and are working to edit their novels for publication. Yet more are still working away, often with the support of their former Curtis Brown Creative cohort. It’s great to see how many of our alumni stay closely in touch with their student groups long after their courses end.– have seen more than fifteen students secure book deals with major publishers and several others find representation.”

Find full details of how to submit here.

Writing prompt – out

Kalamazoo homeless. Photo by Judy DarleyWhile visiting Kalamazoo, Michigan, I passed a park full of tents. The waitress where I ate lunch confirmed what I feared – the tents were evidence of the growing issue of homelessness. It’s a problem that’s growing in the UK as well, where cuts to benefits are resulting in more people losing their homes when things go wrong.

Think about how that could happen to you, but don’t scare yourself silly. Instead think of what could keep you strong in that situation.

I invite you to write a piece either from the point of view of a) someone holidaying who encounters such a scene, b) from the point of view of someone newly homeless seeing someone holidaying, or c) someone who has been homeless for years responding to a) a holidaymaker, and/or b) someone newly homeless.

Whatever point of view you choose, try rewriting your finished piece from one of the alternate protagonists to see how that changes you reading of the situation.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.