Faces, faces, faces....the first of 100 Faces

Do you partake of the New Year's resolution? This year I was inspired by  by an article in the latest issue of Uppercase Magazine which rounded up a veritable banquet of 365- and 100-day projects, and which over-rode my usual aversion to the New Year thing.

Now... with my schedule, trying to make one particular piece of anything every single day would be doomed to failure - on theatre tech days I have to leave home in Somerset at 6.30am to arrive in London before lunch, work in the theatre until 10pm (if I'm staying in London), or - if I'm lucky - get away by 8pm to make the three-and-a-half hour drive home. (If you're wondering about the discrepancy in drive times, it's because getting out of London and past Bristol in the evening is much, much quicker!)  Not conducive to making art...although I wouldn't miss working with my luvvies for the world.

I am sure, though, that I can draw 100 faces in a series over the next few months, especially if I limit myself to ATCs (artist trading cards which are only 2 1/2" by 3 1/2" - or 64mm by 89mm) and 15 minutes per piece.  

Here are my efforts to date:

January 1st 2018

I began with a continuous-line exercise, using sepia Tombow marker which I could then modify with a water-brush and the addition of a hint of pink.

Next was an experiment with Graphitint water-soluble graphite pencils.

More Tombow markers, and an attempt to use more colour (not that you'd really notice - my default setting is decidedly monochrome)

Going a little exotic here, with Tombows along with a touch of Inktense in the lips, accentuating the pout.

And a change of medium - for the second week, I dug out my Elegant Writer pens.  Although they have a dreadful name, and with their angled tips are clearly aimed at calligraphers, I just love the way that a touch of water gets the black ink splitting into pink and turquoise.  Utterly delicious.  Inktense pencils again for the mouth.

More Elegant Writers, with Tombow touches to the pupils and lips, as well as adding a sprinkle of freckles.

A change of direction, using the Graphitint pencils to make a much more classical study.  

So there you have the first seven cards - albeit that I have taken two weeks to get there.  In between times, I have opened a show at the Union Theatre, made progress with the studies for new circus characters in the Bizarrium, and delivered two wedding dresses via Days of Grace.  I am SO lucky that I get to be creative every day!  

01.14.2018 | 57 Comments | in: art, portraits, watercolour

Behind the Theatrical Scenes

Having been a costumer designer for more time than I care to admit (very well...this is my third decade), I forget that people are actually interested in what goes on behind the scenes of a production.  However, the actors in my current piece have been sharing snaps on various media precisely because folk are taken by that glimpse behind the curtain....which got me thinking that perhaps I should share my process, such as it is, too.

First comes the textual analysis: reading the script once to enjoy the story, then again with highlighter in hand to mark any references to costume within the writing.  Not just the obvious things like Malvolio's yellow cross-garters in "Twelfth Night", or Natasha's green belt in "Three Sisters", but passing hints in stage directions that someone needs a pocket from which to retrieve a letter, or an overcoat to hand to the butler.  This list is often expanded during the rehearsal period as individual actors develop their character; recently the actor playing Constant, an inveterate dandy in "The Provok'd Wife", for instance, felt that wafting a lace handkerchief around at all times would be in order, whilst Lady Brute needed a fan with which to flirt in true rococo style.

But back to the process... After that initial reading comes a chat with the director to get a feel for their vision.  Some are very specific, with precise thoughts about period, colour etc, etc, whilst others have barely a clue about the visuals.  My preference is for someone in the middle, with a general sense of what they want, but open to ideas.  In the case of "The Provok'd Wife", for example, Briony initially wanted wigs made of paper "or something else unreal" to make a statement about the silliness of the whole set-up.  After a bit of thought, I decided that paper wigs would never last through a two-week theatre run, but pastel-coloured Amadeus-style hair would send the same message...everyone was happy.

That conversation leads to the moodboard - one of my favourite things to do.  An excuse to spend an afternoon trawling through my shelves of costume and art history books, Pinterest and Google Images!  Hurrah!  Then a quick Photoshop collage to send for directorial approval:

Above is "The Provok'd Wife" again, whilst here is "Heartbreak House":

With notes duly taken, it's time to produce thumbnail sketches (rarely do I have time to create full-scale coloured renderings, to be honest - although I should love the luxury!) , then comes a combination of digging through my stock, shopping and sewing to fill the gaps.  To give you an idea of the relation between idea and realisation, and the amount of sourcing that goes on -

James Horne as loveably grumpy Captain Shotover: Hat from stock, neckerchief borrowed from my father, gloves James' own, sweater bought & trousers made especially.

Francesca Burgoyne as the dreadful Lady Utterward: Dress from Days of Grace just needed the lace neckline adding, plus a little fitting (I say "a little", but poor Fran spent simply ages modelling for me whilst I weilded the safety pins).  Mat Betteridge channelling Lord Flashheart as Hector: all from stock bar the jodphurs borrowed from Days of Grace.

JPTurner as the forthright Boss Mangan in a suit from my stock.  Helen Anker as the terribly Bohemian Hesione in an outfit entirely made-to-order and the most splendid pair of boots, found in a charity shop in Wells.  The dress is constructed from a damask wedding dress (Days of Grace again) providing underskirt, sleeves and neckline insert, with an overdress made of William Morris print cotton and vintage lace trim, adapted from a 1970s Vogue sundress pattern.

And to give you an idea of the overall look:

(Production photos of "Heartbreak House" at the Union Theatre, London all courtesy of Scott Rylander. Set by Justin Williams & Jonny Rust) )

Next up is a musical adaptation of "Carmen", set in Goya's Spain - so I am off to bury myself in Napoleonic uniform and seductive gypsies.  They should make for a pretty production - watch this space!





01.08.2018 | 106 Comments | in: costume design, theatre

Whilst Important Things Filter Through my Little Brain.....

Whilst the outside world seems still to be a mess, and I am still trying to figure out how best to help in the struggle to repair the damage, work continues.....

In my canvas journal Aphrodite became a Botticelli angel

while Venus is a more modern, feisty character - plus I remembered to take pictures of the work in progress

One thing with which I am pleased is their direct gaze, the hint of defiance, the sense that they too would persist.  

I have also been working on costumes for "Anyone Can Whistle": a rather obscure early Sondheim musical.  It was originally staged on Broadway in 1964 (designed by my grad school teachers Bill & Jean Eckart, in fact) and on the rare occasion that it is revived tends to be styled in a similar vivid Sixties' fashion.  Our fearless leader, Mr Phil Willmott, chose another path however: I was given HBOs late lamented "Carnivale" as the source of costume inspiration

Hence my mood board mixed screenshots from the show with vintage tea-dresses and a sprinkling of Dorothea Lange. (If you aren't familiar with Lange's work documenting the Dustbowl, do look her up - has a good selection to start with)

The end result is one of my favourite designs to date: a subtle mix of grey, denim blue and stone shades with the only hit of colour being the Mayoress's scarlet ensemble.

(Photo credit Scott Rylander)

One final thought, quoted from poet Chris Santiago:

"All of us who write and teach and make art will need to be braver, for at least the next four years."

Let's be brave together.  It's more fun that way

02.18.2017 | 46 Comments

Resistance is Far from Futile

Have you ever woken up with an unexpected sense of things falling into place?  That happened to me yesterday, as I watched the stream of images appearing on my Facebook page.  So many friends able to take part in marches in their cities - Bristol, London, Los Angeles, New York - they made me proud and slightly envious of their urban life for once!  No great focus of forward-looking energy, or rallying of people standing up for what is right out here in the Somerset hills.  But that does not stop us from caring, or desperately wanting to do our bit to hang on to the goodness and freedom and unity that we were dangerously close to taking for granted.

I was at a loss, though; what can one little artist/dollmaker do in the face of such hugely divisive powers?  

Then the penny dropped:  what I can do is use my artistic efforts to remind people of what we need to hold on to.  You may recall that last year I made a series of dolls based on iconic women - Boudicca, Coco Chanel, Elizabeth Bathory (OK, so perhaps she is not such a great example!), Frida Kahlo & Marie Antoinette.


 In the past few months my paintings have followed the same course: Elizabeth I, Boudicca & Marie Antoinette again, Cleopatra, Diana the Huntress....

And there are still collages lurking in my inspiration journal, pages of Mata Hari, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great and more.


It suddenly seems appropriate that I should have made my way to this place of strong female archetypes just at the time that we need to fight for our rights and freedoms.  NOT that I will stand for violence or any kind of backlash.  To quote Kim Werker's latest post, "We feminists & humanitarians & civil rights activists are being accused by some of being divisive.  But here's the thing...All we want is for all people to enjoy the same rights & freedoms.  We do not want to take away rights & freedoms from those who already enjoy them.  But we do recognize that not everyone does enjoy them - and that is why we stand up, speak up, shout out."

So expect the Itinerant Bizarrium to become a source of imagery to support the resistance, of strong women and their supporters.  It's not much, but it is what I feel I do best.  And as my grandmother (a very feisty lady herself) used to say "Every little helps, as the old woman said when she pee'ed in the ocean"

(Headline image credit goes, I think, to Sho Murase.  Please do correct me if I'm wrong!)

01.22.2017 | 19 Comments

Revisiting an Old Friend

Do you, dear reader, find yourself revisiting the same characters over the years?  Finishing a painting last week, I realised that its subject was someone whose spirit has been in the background since I was in primary school.

Growing up in a small village amidst the cornfields of Suffolk left an awful lot of time for reading, and one of my favourites was Boadicea (as she was then known), whose rebellion against the Roman invaders took place in the self-same county albeit almost two millenia earlier.  I remember having an annual with a graphic version of the story very like this:


There were very few strong female role-models in books of the 1970s - Boadicea didn't even merit her own Ladybird title, although she did have the best illustration in their "Julius Caesar and Roman Britain"

Of course revisionist history has renamed her "Boudicca" and returned her to her tribal roots -no more looking like a Disney princess complete with tiara and corseted waistline, now she sports leather, plaid and war-paint.  This was the version that I looked to for a mood board last year

In case you are not aware of the story, in brief:  her husband ruled the Icenii as an ally of Rome but upon his death left half the kingdom to his daughters.  The occupiers ignored his wishes, annexed the territory, flogged Boudicca and raped the girls; she responded by leading her own people along with neighbouring tribes in revolt.  Her army of 100,000 Britons destroyed three Roman cities leaving a combined body count of 70,000-80,000, and causing Emperor Nero to contemplate withdrawl from Britain.  Eventually defeated by the Legions, Boudicca died before she could be taken back to Rome to be paraded as most defeated leaders were.

Unsurprisingly, she featured in my list of iconic women to celebrate in 2016's Women's History Month.  It was impossible to resist Cassius Dio's description of "a great mass of the tawniest hair (falling) to her hips"

And now, in my first attempt at painting in watercolour on canvas outside class (and may I thoroughly recommend Kabostudio's course), I turned to Boudicca once again.  I think it may be the lure of all that autumnal-toned hair echoing the view of trees outside my workroom window; whatever the reason, here she is, complete with the warpaint....


11.26.2016 | 12 Comments

A Tableful of Projects

Many,many projects are battling for space on my worktable right now - and it was not the tidiest spot in the world anyway!  Invariably a jumble of paintbrushes, dolls-in-progress, notes on backs of envelopes, journals and the lovely Miss Fifi making sure that I don't slouch.

Doll commissions have included a rather fierce voodoo chap -

Ogun Feray now resides in Paris.  Meanwhile this handsome Kurt Cobain (I was rather smitten with him, to be honest) 

has made his way to Los Angeles to join Gerard Way. (Thank you, Chloe, for the picture)

A stranger order has been for a painting to be featured in a short film being shot in the Forest of Dean.  Looking like a traditional hunt scene at first glance, on closer inspection the huntsmen are to be foxes, their mounts unicorns & the prey a chap in a gimp suit.  Work in progress:

And on the painting front, I signed up for a year-long online course with KaboStudio exploring painting on canvas because I love Karine's faces - painterly rather than cutely whimsical.  I am utterly in love with the process of using watercolours in a handmade canvas journal! This is now my happy place

Still playing with traditional watercolours, I made a painting of the Girl in the Moon

She is currently modelling for a doll (complete with moon, of course) and this feels like a direction in which I should head - magic realism, perhaps? Artwork and dolls intertwined.  Hence a sale over at the Emporium, clearing the way for new work in the new year.  Advance access goes to newsletter subscribers - the magic word will appear on the social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, maybe Pinterest) later in the week.

Now, my friend, I am going to brew more coffee, sharpen a pencil and escape once more into the Bizarrium.  Until next time.....




11.13.2016 | 14 Comments

Looking to Frida for Inspiration

 Cinco de Mayo (not Mexican Independence Day, rather a commemoration of a famous military victory for Mexico over the French) seemed a good excuse to do a special edition doll in homage to Frida Kahlo.

As usual with my special editions, I began with making a moodboard - any excuse to break out the collage box!

For anyone who doesn't know her, a brief biography:  

One of Mexico's most famous artists and a popular feminist icon, Frida is celebrated for her passionate indomitability in the face of life's trials. She's best known for her daring self-portraits depicting the suffering she experienced in her personal life. As a child she suffered from polio and at the age of 18 she broke her right leg, spine and pelvis in a horrific bus accident, leading to a lifetime of chronic pain. Partially immobile after the accident, Kahlo began painting in the late 1920s.

She married famed muralist Diego Rivera in 1929 and together they traveled to the United States, staying in Detroit and New York City in the early 1930s. Kahlo had exhibitions of her paintings in New York City and Paris in the 1930s and associated with some of the most famous painters in the world. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were both known for their extramarital affairs (amongst her conquests was Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky) and in 1940 they divorced for a short time before remarrying. During the 1940s, Frida Kahlo gained international recognition for her colorful and sometimes gruesome paintings (as well as for her bold public persona), but she continued to have health problems. She died in 1954, just after her 47th birthday.               Definitely a suitable subject for the Bizarrium!  In time there will be three versions of Frida - one is yet in pieces amongst the paint pots, awaiting assembly.  She is undoubtedly the most extreme version, based as she is upon the self-portrait entitled "The Broken Column".

To ease into the subject, then - we begin with a fairly traditional version of Frida in an outfit of silk habotai and vintage braid, based upon her collection of traditional Mexican clothing:

I could not resist that back-bracing leather corset, though' as this little lady discovered.



Yes, I did just happen to have a chunk of pale gold goat skin amongst my stash.  I love it when that happens - it just reinforces my belief (read "excuse") that nothing should be thrown away.  In this case, a box of leather given to me about a decade ago by a friend whose husband had recently given up restoring vintage motorbikes and therefore no longer needed the supplies to recover the saddles.  Although who would have had a bike seat in gold goat skin, I wonder?

I hope you agree that it found a better use, adorning this little lady.







05.06.2016 | 24 Comments | in: art doll, icon

Bookish Heroines (Part the Second)


Hamlet - William Shakespeare

Tragic foil to the Prince of Denmark, naive victim of his jealousy, Shakespeare created Ophelia as an angelic counter-point to Queen Gertrude, the pair embodying the duality of women.  Forever a symbol of pure goodness, trust and childlike innocence, she is saved from Disney-princess vapidness by her descent into insanity.  In her madness she does become the lascivious creature of Hamlet's imagination, singing bawd songs and finally driven to a watery grave.

With water-logged clothes clinging to her body, wild flowers and even wilder hair billowing in the current, the dead Ophelia  is a powerful and perverse romantic image.

Miss Celeste Temple

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters - GW Dahlquist

Just a little less well-known than Ophelia, Miss Temple is one of three protagonists in a trilogy of steampunk tomes by G.W.Dahlquist.  She avoids cliché by being somewhat naive yet forever practical, holding her own alongside a military surgeon and underworld assassin.  And best of all, she always, always wears her fabulous green boots.

These books rank alongside Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie as my secret literary vices!

Daisy Buchanan

The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald

(Picture by Samantha Hahn)

The quotation in the picture says it all, don't you think?

Sarah Woodruff

The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles

Playing upon that Victorian standard, the darkly mysterious woman who symbolises all that is forbidden, Fowles created an updated Gothic heroine par excellence.  And then Meryl Streep stood at the end of the Cobb in Lyme Regis wearing that cape....  An irresistible combination when one is looking for literary icons, don't you think?

Jane Marple

Agatha Christie

(Photo of Margaret Rutherford)

Enough of beauty, glamour and dark tragedy!  Let's end the list with brains and eccentricity.  


02.27.2016 | 31 Comments

Half of my Heroines

As previously mentioned, our thoughts here in the Bizarrium are turning to cosy nights before the fire, curtains drawn against the fog and a good book upon the knee (not to mention a fine glass of red wine in hand....shh!)  And as is often the case, reading materials influence my thought of dolls.

Scanning the spines upon the bookshelves, trying to decide whether to re-read an old beloved title or begin a new find has me thinking about favourite characters contained within.  So many fabulous females who could inspire me!  With that in mind, I have created a list of ten likely subjects for the doll treatment, the first five of whom I shall introduce this week:

Hester Prynne

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Let us begin with a classic, with a strong woman described as having a "figure of perfect elegance...dark and abundant hair so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam"  Indeed, "her beauty shone out and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped".

I love the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, so often in the shadow of Edgar Allen Poe, but so much more creepy for their lack of histrionics.


Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

Well there simply had to be one of Angela Carter's creations in my list. I have opted for Fevvers, an aerialiste from the East End of Victorian London who has the distinct advantage of growing wings.  Earthy, bawdy and altogether glorious, Fevvers' character can be summed up by her early confession to a press reporter:  

"I dye, sir!...Don't think I bore such gaudy colours from puberty!  I commenced to dye my feathers at the start of my public career on the trapeze, in order to simulate more perfectly the tropic bird.  In my white girlhood and earliest years, I kept my natural colour.  Which is a kind of blonde, only a little darker than the hair on my head, more the colour of that on my private ahem parts."

Chiyo Sakamoto

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

(Picture by Vlad Gheneli)

Although the novel is set in the 1940s, Chiyo's ensemble is absolutely traditional: "She wore the magnificent makeup of a geisha.  Her lips were flowering red on a stark white face, with her cheeks tinted a soft pink.  Her hair was ornamented with silk flowers and sprigs of un-husked rice.  She wore a formal kimono of black, with the crest of the Nitta okiya...Beginning at the hem of my gown, an embroidered dragon circled up the bottom of the robe to the middle of my thigh.  His mane was woven in threads lacquered with a beautiful reddish tint.  His claws & teeth were silver, his eyes gold - real gold."

Oh what a doll she will be!

Tess Durbeyfield

Tess of the d'Urbevilles - Thomas Hardy

Reading "Tess" now, it is difficult to realise how radical was Hardy's view that a woman so obviously "fallen" could still be pure at heart.  Quite the early feminist was our Thomas!

She is described as the paragon of English womanhood, a perfect picture-book milkmaid with "a luxuriance of aspect, a fullness of growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was" not to mention a pout provoking trhe comment that "Surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve's!"

Rebecca de Winter

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

(Photo by Kneehigh Theatre)

Although we never meet the title character in person, her shadow falls dark upon the narrator of my favourite escapist read. Impossibly glamorous and not a little dangerous she is the epitome of the 30s femme fatale, prompting the second wife to "wish (she) was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls" whilst a more pragmatic fisherman recalls that "she gave you the feeling of a snake".

My question to you, dear reader, is who would make up your list of heroines?


11.02.2015 | 17 Comments

As Autumn Takes Hold....

Autumn is upon us here in the South West: the leaves are turning to russet, gold and even crimson; the lane is littered with conkers and crab apples; the farmers are bringing their sheep down from the hills.  Even though it is still quite unseasonably warm, the nights are drawing in  and thoughts turn to curling up with a good gothic thriller.

Blanche has been especially inspired by the season.  Over the summer you may have met her looking like this:


When the sun shines, Blanche dreams that she is in Louisiana, a southern belle drifting around her plantation home.  So as to look the part, she turned Miss Delilah's prized lace tablecloth into a rather lovely handkerchief-hemmed dress; this particular exercise in upcycling was not met with delight by Miss Delilah herself, and Blanche quite ruined her manicure during the full month of potato-peeling duties meted out as punishment.

Her finger nails recovered and peace restored at the tea table, Blanche has found the changing season is affecting her mood quite dramatically.  Scarlett O'Hara has been abandoned in favour of Madeline Usher.

I rather like this new version, and have a feeling several of her fellow Wayward Girls might find themselves following suit, revealing their inner goths.

Can you think of any characters who might inspire them?

10.25.2015 | 9 Comments
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