Aside from Disney, of any film I ever saw, this film had by far the widest and most lasting impact on me. I had already been studying Latin at school from quite young (thanks to that great Scottish education), and I found it rather dry.
Now for the first time, the Roman world began to come alive. I bought the book, The Robe by Lloyd C Douglas, was fascinated by it, and started taking an interest in the Romans and their culture.
More than that though, I got a crush on the movie’s leading man, Richard Burton. Ah me – the effect of getting a teenage crush! But it was a very good thing for creativity, all the same!
Doing the usual teenage girl crush stuff of finding out more about Burton’s career led me into the world of Shakespeare at The Old Vic, Alexander the Great, The Dark Tower by Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, Coleridge’s Rime of The Ancient Mariner, and some of Christopher Fry’s plays. This new world I stumbled upon had an exciting richness of spirit. Shakespeare took on new life, and I began to look at literature with different eyes.
All of this impacted on my art – especially Alexander the Great : the door on Classical Greek Art and Architecture was opened for the first time. That was hugely valuable, because Greek sculpture taught me a lot about anatomy – along with a couple of books I got for Christmas presents. I spent some hours drawing anatomical studies from pictures of Greek pieces (didn’t they used to do that in Art School? – never thought of THAT at the time!)
The human body is arguably the hardest thing to render convincingly in art. Quite a number of people doing art struggle noticeably in that area, though the Photoshop ‘Artists’ just grab photos of models, and solve their problem that way. And they call it ‘Art’? Ha! Which goes to show : the good old Art School disciplines – canned in this modern age of ‘permissive everything’ – had some great value, after all!
A couple of years ago, I picked up the B/W drawing at the head of this post and worked it into a full color art piece. Click on the image for larger size and more details:
Done from a Roman sculpture – this is the most ornate helmet I’ve ever set eyes on : isn’t it gorgeous?
He was experimenting with molding and casting processes and it wasn’t long before I was learning the techniques of creating low-relief and three-dimensional sculpture in plasticine and making plaster of paris molds to produce master casts – mostly in plaster of paris also.
My dad had his own very strong sculpture style, which he passed on to me. Usually it was full of cutbacks and tricky shapes, so we started off making waste molds of plaster of paris. With free-standing sculptures, these molds had to have more than one part.
I learned how to box in the original and use either shims or gravity to make molds in several pieces, keyed into each other. Then to take the cast, we used vaseline as the parting agent before pouring plaster into plaster. Scary!
The end job of breaking the mold away from the hardened master inside it with a hammer and chisel was always an exciting and tricky business – sometimes fraught with accidents. There was always patching and sanding to do afterwards.
Making molds is a lot easier process today, even though the fundamentals are still the same. True, you could get rubber molding agents then, but they had to be poured hot – an impossibility with a plasticine original – hence the need to create a durable master cast to work from.
I came away from that early period with several pieces of my own and a wealth of experience.
I realize now these early beginnings were a real gift – something else that has never left me.
A few years ago, I took up sculpture again and found the molding and casting fundamentals I’d learned as a youngster were still there. They stood me in good stead working alone, even though the materials have changed (for the better) over the years.
It’s now most common to use cold-pouring, two-pot molding material, of course, and after a day of instruction at a bronze foundry I was able to adapt my techniques to make ‘rubber’ molds within a supporting plaster jacket very successfully. Thank you, Ken.
We were doing embroidery, and creating designs for that. I can clearly remember a tea cosy I made early on with a dragon design on it, that kept our teapot warm for a number of years, until a teapot warmer was no longer needed.
We did some leather work, and I still have the writing compendium I made as one of my projects – There was also a purse for keys, with a big sculpted key on the front of it, made from the same piece of leather. That wore out!
At one point, the class had to create a series of dioramas to illustrate a historical novel we were reading – it was Walter Scott’s “The Fortunes of Nigel“. The group I was in drew the ‘street scene’, and I found myself in charge of proceedings, making a cobbled pavements out of split lentils, 16th Century half-timbered houses out of cardboard and little people out of painted clay. Creativity on a roll.
I think our scene was the best of the 3, but then I would say that… (Please excuse old photos but thought I must show them.)
Here are a couple more of my stamp album and scrapbook illustrations – a Readers Digest train illustration copy on the left, and the herald on the right was inspired by some of Ron Embleton’s great work for Strongbow the Mighty:
Next time – “The Third Dimension”.
I had arrived in Scotland with a perfect BBC accent. Aberdonians are very Scottish, very patriotic, egalitarian and up-front. No place to be talking like a London radio announcer, as I soon found out. That BBC accent disappeared very quickly.
My new school was the High School for Girls in Aberdeen, now Harlaw Academy where pupils gain the advantage of a great Scottish education. I was there for 8 years in total – my longest term at any school by a long shot. In spite of our continual house moving though, my parents had always made sure I got the best possible schooling. This settled period at an excellent school occurred at just the right time in my education.
Outside of school, I started off making scrapbooks of pictures I liked, embellished with painted artwork and lettering, drawing on ideas from magazines and books. My stamp album got the same treatment. And though with some of these ideas I was copying from existing artwork or photos, I’ve come to appreciate that the discipline of doing that started to train my eye really well.
The leaping tiger was an icon used by Esso Petroleum at the time.
Getting close to pipe band competitions on Scottish soil inspired a pencil study of a Highland dancer, drawn from a photo in the local newspaper – I’m glad I have that. Not many people outside of Scotland realize that Highland dancing is actually an excellent fitness training. Traditionally, in Highland Regiments the soldiers did PT and the officers did Highland Dancing, to stay fit. Highland dancing is something I loved at school and would take up again, if there were any close to me – I was always happy when we walked into the gym and saw the pianist sitting at the piano!
The sword and helmet design was also an embellishment in one of my scrapbooks.
There was plenty of Art at school in the early days – I still have one or two of the many things we created in art classes. Of course, we were given the usual array of still life subjects, but it seems at some stage our art teacher got creative and found something especially taxing for us to focus on:
They’re actually quite tricky subjects, and I’m glad to have these two paintings still – mainly because I used the backs of them for designing something else. (It’s called keeping a portfolio -Haha!) They would have been done in my early teens.
As we got to the higher classes, we were encouraged to produce black and white ink illustrations for use in the annual school magazine.
My first was of Alice in Wonderland, drinking from the bottle and holding her hand on the top of her head to see if she was growing any taller. No prizes for guessing where that idea came from, but I remember especially the art teacher’s help and encouragement in creating it. I know it was accepted for the magazine, and so were a couple more in later years.
I wish I still had those magazines…
Parents – keep your kids’ art stuff!
Wow -I fell in love with that, of course. It’s interesting that of all Disney’s works available at the time, “Alice in Wonderland” was richest in landscape, as well as characters. And what a landscape it was! Lush parks, deep forest, the Walrus and the Carpenter’s moonlit beach, the White Rabbit’s house and garden, the Mad Hatter’s tea party garden, the Queen’s maze and croquet lawn – what richness of imagery and color Disney unleashed on the world in that movie!
I know most people prefer “Cinderella”, but for me “Alice in Wonderland” was definitely the tops, and I think that had a lot to do with the landscape settings, especially Tulgey Wood, which somehow totally hooked me in. Even today, pictures of the Tulgey Wood scenes have a powerful appeal and bring back some very strong memories.
Apart from Elleston Trevor’s “Deep Wood” tales which I loved, I didn’t have much experience of forests – none at all of real forests, that is. So there’s no obvious, immediate connection. Perhaps it’s relevant that while the Tulgey Wood settings were based on forest reality, the colors and shapes of the trees had an other-worldliness that generated an enormous fascination. And while they were kind of wild, they were also orderly and groomed. Not full-on wild, like the forests I came to know later in New Zealand.
Tulgey Wood invited further exploration, without being too threatening. You could see pathways and openings that beckoned. This forest has depth. And of course the ‘extras’ – the owl, the frogs, the horn ducks and the momeraths – all of these added enormously to its appeal. And the art was great. The super-realism of this tree trunk setting is something else:
And then – maybe it was the Elleston Trevor books, or even that old “Sherwood Forest” thing in the blood. One of the meanings of the surname Howitt or Hewitt (we have a double dose – both surnames are in the family) is thought to be a topographic derivation from the Olde English ‘Hiewett’ – which translates as ‘a place where trees have been cut down’.
Forest dwellers? Foresters? Who knows? I think we carry more programming from our ancestry than we give credit for. Here’s something that surfaced from my subconscious many years later :
On top of my CD towers sits a little stuffed Disney Cheshire Cat toy that I found lying in the street a few years ago, shortly after our local McDonald’s opened its doors for the first time. They were giving away little toys to kids. Sadly, some child was the poorer for my gain – but I’d like to think he came into my hands because in the long run, he carries a whole lot more meaning for me than he could for any child in today’s world of ever-changing toy fads…
The cartoon movie stills in this post are all Copyright Walt Disney Corporation. Thanks mainly to Lenny at Alice in Wonderland.net .
So I’m simply adding a few more illustrations from the Elleston Trevor books to supplement the pictures in my last post “Elleston Trevor – Spies, Badgers, Kites and Miniature Cars“.
As I mentioned there, these books open up a wonderful world of pioneering, ‘do it yourself’ innovation that’s rapidly being lost in today’s world. Children’s toys these days are ‘plastic fantastic’ and they come with everything supplied – minimum imagination and minimum inventiveness required. And for that reason, they soon pall. So parents have to look round for something else. And the cash register rings again. What a waste!
It’s sad, because kids are missing out on developing one of the most important faculties a human being can acquire – CREATIVITY.
In New Zealand we call it the “Number 8 Wire Mindset”, harking back to the days when it used to be said that a NZ farmer could mend or create just about anything with a piece of Number 8 fencing wire. Here at least, we still put a premium on ingenuity.
These books bring to light for kids who’ve never had the experience, just what it means to be self-reliant, resourceful and handy with one’s hands (paws, wing-tips or whatever). The stories are full of activity, sharing, goodwill and the creative spirit.
W A Ward illustrations for “By A Silver Stream”:
David Williams illustrations for “Heather Hill”:
Dust Jacket images for these children’s books on the net are not the best, and of course it’s rare for old titles to come with dust jackets now, anyway. But I’ve worked on what I could get, tidied up scuffs and torn edges and hopefully improved on what’s out there. The “Heather Hill” dust jacket illustration in my last post was the worst – there’s a limit to what you can do even with Photoshop. Maybe a better “Heather Hill” dust jacket image will surface over time.
Check out the only available Reviews of Elleston Trevor’s Children’s books.
He was a versatile writer, his most popular works being “The Flight of the Phoenix”, and the Quillar and Hugo Bishop series, both under the pseudonym Alex Hall. He was born Trevor Dudley-Smith.
When he died in Arizona in 1995, his obituary in The Independent described the Quillar novels as “best-selling, tough and suspenseful spy thrillers with a distinctly noir-ish edge, featuring an ice-cold killing-machine, or “shadow executive”, called Quiller”. Furthermore –
“During the 1950s Trevor was one of Heinemann’s star popular authors. Along with Nevil Shute, the Americans Erle Stanley Gardner, Erskine Caldwell and Frank Yerby, the Australian Arthur Upfield … and the incomparable Georgette Heyer. At one stage a short Authors At Home promotional film was shot at Trevor’s home in Roedean, near Brighton, where he was glimpsed at his typewriter, and flying kites and racing miniature cars, both hobbies he followed with enthusiasm.”
Children’s Books Too
It’s hard to believe that at the same time this man was also writing delightful children’s books -about 25 kids’ books in all. And along with many other youngsters I loved and read them. “By A Silver Stream” and “Heather Hill” are two I’ve managed to get hold of again so far. But prices are high:
These were akin to “The Wind in the Willows“, based around themes of humanized small animals, but with a kind of pioneering twist. There are no psychological ‘Toad’ dramas here (thank goodness) – no Toad in fact, although there ARE venerable badgers, wise owls, excitable field mice, frogs, rabbits and peaceable moles. There are challenges though, of the kind that would appeal to any child with a practical bent – resettling a community deeper in the forest to avoid confrontation with man, building suitable houses, laying on water pipes, finding resources and transporting them home, making boats and gathering supplies for any job on hand. And above all, these stories are told with a wonderful, dry humor that brings the characters and amusing events to life.
They are well illustrated, mainly with a single full-page illustration and numerous smaller sketches throughout. “Into A Happy Glade‘, “By A Silver Stream“, “Deep Wood“, “Heather Hill” and the “Wumpus” series stand out in my memory. W A Ward (for “By A Silver Stream”) and David Williams (for “Heather Hill”) were the illustrators whose work is shown above.
These books are hard to come by now, but they still have some ardent followers – especially in the UK. For many youngsters of the era, they formed the basis of a lifetime’s love of animals and nature.
I’ve collected together the only available Reviews of Elleston Trevor’s Children’s books from Amazon.co.uk – because I believe these books have something that’s often lacking in today’s children’s story offerings. Check them out they are all together on one page!