The last owner of this delightfully named house near Clacton on Sea in Essex claimed she was unable to sell it for years due to its less than living residents. The house was eventually let but the tenants never stayed more than a few months, allegedly driven out by the ghosts. Another previous resident hanged himself. Its rather horrible name comes from its history as a prison, most notoriously used to hold a woman named Ursula Kemp, eventually hanged in 1582 as a witch (see also ‘an unmarried woman with a mind of her own, some cats and a knack with herbs’.) Her skeleton is thought to have been discovered in a nearby garden. Amongst its other spectral residents are a wrinkly old man and a bloke wearing chinos. The house was finally sold earlier this year, after being marketed as ‘the most haunted house in Britain’ (I know! Another one!) From a drawing perspective, I found it really hard to make this one interesting enough. The house, though quite pretty, is also quite simple and I couldn’t get the drawing to do much beyond blocky and cartoony… it’s all bit Scooby Doo but I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that in it’s place and eventually I just went with it.
This is the second blog post I've written with that title. The first was about my life as a sort of smallholder in Devon, which gives you an indication of how good a smallholder I was. This post is concerned with my most recent preoccupation, namely illustrating spooky things for the 100 Days Project Scotland which I rashly decided to take part in.
The idea is to create something simple every day, and probably display it on social media, probably Instagram. My plan was to choose a different ghost (and by ghost I have stretched the point to mean anything supernatural, whether from fiction, TV, film or a real life haunting) and produce a small, maybe 5 x 5 cm ink drawing of my interpretation. I have always loved ghost stories and thought it would be fun to draw some, as well as good practice. Obviously it immediately and completely spiralled out of control to the point that it has now taken over my entire life, and if I stick to it will do until mid August.
After a few not very successful attempts using traditional media I have settled on producing them digitally, for the main reason that it is so forgiving. There's nothing indelible on an iPad, which isn't necessarily always what you want (there's something fantastic about taking risks with globs of lovely black inky ink) but for what I've turned this into it's pretty crucial for me. I'm producing a drawing a day which takes on average about 4 hours, though I've managed one in two. The longest I've spent is 6. The fact that we've been under lock down is a bit of a double edged sword. If we hadn't been I doubt I could have done it at all (I have a real job as a heraldic artist at the Lyon Court, which is actually a real job even though it sounds like I've made it up) but as it is I have two children at home, various animals, and a husband who works about 436 hours a week so I do pretty much all the domestic stuff. Or I used to until I drew ghosts instead. There's quite a lot of benign neglect going on.
It's day 38 ( I think) and I'm over a third of the way through. I have good days and bad days. Today was a bad day. I did my drawing this morning, but the whole process was torturous. I didn't like how it was going from beginning to end, but even though it's relatively easy to amend and move things on an iPad it's just not possibly to start from scratch if it all goes pear shaped, there simply is not the time. Most of them are like this. Drawing is not easy whether you're using a piece of charcoal and cartridge paper or a fancy tablet and a magic pencil. Fortunately enough of them go well enough to make me feel it's worth carrying on, which sounds much more melodramatic than it is. I won't really have lost anything if I don't complete the 100 days, and none of it is time wasted.
I have mixed feelings about drawing this way. It's very rushed most of the time, and I can't really get the finish I want to on most of them because it's simply not possible. When I'm having a particularly bad day I might think it's all just a waste of time and I'd be better off making work that I can finish properly. Ironically though not entirely surprisingly if if something has taken less time it tends to work better, probably because it's simpler and I decide it's finished much sooner. If I take a long time on something it probably because it's not going well and I will just keep throwing things at it until I give up or someone starts wailing for crusts,
So I end up posting things that I wouldn't normally consider good enough to post, because I have to post something every day. I know that if I fall behind there's a very good chance I would just totally lose the momentum. So why am I bothering? On the up side, I am getting some good work done, I think I'm probably speeding up, I'm learning not to be so precious. I'm really pleased with some of the illustrations and I am meeting some very nice folk on social media, and I get to wallow in the spooky stuff that I love. I'm reading a lot more when I'm not drawing or washing up and frankly I don't know what I did with my evenings before I spent them watching wobbly YouTube videos of folk horror favourites. I've properly discovered E F Benson and Robert Aickman. And it's really interesting to see what goes down well and what doesn't. Instagram went mad for Dracula, an illustration I was a bit disappointed with, but the reception for my Children of the Stones postcard was pretty lukewarm, even though it's one of my favourites. I suppose it's fair enough that people will like things for the subject matter as much as my drawing and I am willing to concede that possibly the greatest icon of the world of horror fiction (who I myself love very dearly like an old, horrid friend) MIGHT have a bit more of a draw than a vaguely obscure scary 70s kids TV programme. Ultimately I hope that something more will come out of the project, whether that be commissions or agent interest or even a book. I've had a lot of interest in making prints which is obviously very nice and I will be doing prints, but remember folks, to us artists working in isolation surrounded only by our entire families and 19 pets, a like, share or retweet is also really appreciated. Comments are very welcome, here or on social media, and I am very open to ideas for more illustrations.
Illustrations from top to bottom: The Masque of the Red Death, dir Roger Corman, the Black Monk of Pontefract, The Room in the Tower by E F Benson, Children of the Stones, HTV, The Stone Tape, BBC, the Little Ghost by Hugh Walpole and Dracula by Bram Stoker (featuring Christopher Lee, of course).
I've recently been working on a project I am thinking of as 'Gormenghast for the under 5s', It's the story of a tiny kitchen girl, Dot, who has no memory of anything but living in the kitchen. She befriends a rat and ends up following him through the bewildering maze like citadel.
The vast unknowable sprawl of Gormenghast always really fascinated me. I haven't got time to reread it at the mo (I read for about 20 seconds a day before I go to sleep so Gormenghast trilogy, by writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake, would take me about 47 years to get through) so I can't really remember it in that much detail. This is good for my current purposes I think, because I'm not trying to recreate it. I do remember that it features some very horrible people doing some occasionally unspeakable things, but I promise there will be no extreme violence, serious burns OR starvation in my little story. Probably.
I have, at the present time, only a vague idea of how Dot will get out of the castle and find her way back to her real home, but as with most of my illustration projects, the story is largely there to hang my illustrations on. I heard Chris Riddell saying something quite similar the other day, and if it works for him etc.
So far this whole project has been done on Procreate on an iPadPro, rather than my usual mix of traditional and digital media. This is largely because it's quite difficult to get to my studio at the moment, because once I'm up there I'm relatively inaccessible (hurrah!) but currently the artwork is having to take even more of a back seat than usual, me being chief / sole cook / bottle washer / schoolwork wrangler / pet foofler / general everythinger. I'm not complaining, needs must etc, but it's really made me appreciate even more than usual the accessibility of an iPad when it comes to working on the hoof...
Finally here's the very truncated version of the video replay of the latest illustration, so you can see exactly how much faffing about goes on when I'm drawing. Procreate lets you choose a 20 second version, which it has somehow cut down from a 7 minute odd version (NB: this does not mean it took me 7 minutes to draw. According to the app stats, I have already spent 9 hours and 11 minutes on it. And I'm nowhere near finishing. Hey ho!)