This little piggy

Earlier this week I had a message via social media. It was very exciting with regards to my late father’s artwork.

As blog readers here will know I’ve written a book about my father’s artwork. I’m trying to get The Sussex Surrealist out into the wider world to publicise the unique artwork of BSHuntbach. You can buy a copy here. My father was a completely self-taught artist. He was one of the founders members of the Brighton and Hove branch of the Society of Catholic Artists.

https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/11093838-the-sussex-surrealist

The book is full of photographs of my father’s drawings, sculptures and paintings. During his lifetime (1935-2006) my father created a large body of work. But he wasn’t good at keeping a photographic record of his work, or a log of what got sold or given away, or to whom.

So when I received a message, from a woman I didn’t know (I’ll call her Jane), with a photograph of one of my father’s drawings attached, I was thrilled! I recognised the drawing, it was signed, and we have a photograph of it in the family archives.

The drawing with its moon-headed creature and pig is a great example of my father’s expert penmanship. As well as the moon, the apple, staff, and numbered label crop up in other drawings.

Jane explained how she had won the drawing in a raffle when she worked at a hospital many years ago. But she’d since had the drawing in storage for several years. Moving house meant that the drawing was unpacked and no doubt prompted her search to find out more about it. Social media…..you can find people and the name B S Huntbach is unusual! And I imagine that my blogging or promotion of The Sussex Surrealist bought her to contact me. I was able to tell Jane that my father had worked at the same hospital – in the laundry – although briefly, many decades ago. Throughout his life he did a series of mundane, manual labour jobs. It is possible that he donated the drawing at the time. And of course I was able to let her know about many other aspects of his incredible life story and artwork. I have produced a smaller booklet about his work, which I posted out to Jane.

Jane is looking forward to displaying the drawing, and I’m delighted that she wants to keep it, and plans to display it, in her new home. This little piggy can be enjoyed for many years to come – and Jane can delight in telling her friends and family all about her unique, and original artwork.

If you discover a piece of artwork by B S Huntbach, but unlike Jane, don’t want to keep it, do get in touch. As a family we are happy to have back any originals. Who knows what surprises await around the corner?

I’m in the Ivy League!

When I bought my flat I gained three sets of curtains. Two were horrid synthetic material, which went into the bin, but one pair with a bold ivy pattern were destined to be repurposed.

What I didn’t realise until I started to cut one of the curtains into pattern pieces, was that there was a hitch. The curtains were made out of several pieces of fabric. I wasn’t exactly going to pattern match but there were some addition seams that I hadn’t bargained on.

As it turned out it wasn’t too much of an issue. I reinforced those seams and continued with the pattern (found in a charity shop). The instructions were not as clear as they could be! But I did discover how to sew a collar without a collar stand. So much simpler with front facings helping the look.

The fabric itself is pretty substantial being furnishing cotton not flimsy stuff. But my sewing machine coped, with a good pressing required along the way.

I’ve used larger buttons than with previous shirts and blouses, selecting a green thread to sew them on.

I’m pleased with the results, vintage-looking and upcycling. I have enough fabric to make matching trousers… but that might just be a bit OTT!

Back in time to shop

This week I’ve been looking at some of my miniature projects. This is a favourite that I made many years ago. The twelfth scale model is based on a photograph from the 1920s, of a general store in Portslade Old Village.

The miniature store
The original from a book by Claire Green on Portslade’s history

I loved making all the items to go in the general store. I had to guess at what was inside. For the outside though I stared hard at the photograph, taking in all the items, and tried to replicate them. The real shop no longer exists having been converted into a house a long time ago. This part of Portslade is a conservation area and contains some charming cottages.

My general store was on the front cover of Dolls House World magazine (issue 53), as well as being featured in an article inside. Not long after that I got a job working on that magazine, before being headhunted to a rival publication, The Dolls’ House Magazine. Being the editor of this monthly magazine was great fun. I saw so many amazing dolls’ houses, miniatures, and makers…. and chatting to the readers was always interesting too. Being a hobbyist myself I knew just how their minds worked.

Although I no longer work in publishing, I still love miniatures and dolls’ houses as much as ever, although I don’t think I’d have the patience to make such small items again these days!

Inside the store

Bought to book

Years ago I had an idea to create a miniature scene with a literary theme. This is the result.

The piece is called Writer’s Block. It shows a writer’s study….there’s a desk, bookcase, fireplace with mirror, clock and candlesticks. Every surface is covered with pages from paperback novels – except the writers papers, and the pages of the miniature books, these remain blank.

The miniature study is set inside an old book. The base is made to look like the edges of a book. The worded surfaces have been aged with washes of acrylic paint.

Writer’s Block
The scene is set within an old book
On the desk is a cup of tea, plate of biscuits, letter rack & pot of pens.
Books fly off the bookshelves revealing their empty pages.

I really enjoyed making this piece. For me it is an artwork rather than a miniature. I think it can weave its own stories if you just look at it for long enough.

Words & pictures

I’ve become obsessed lately with the interplay of text with images. More specifically, using the outline of letters to frame sections of artwork.

Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed creating posters for Heber Opera. Working with text and images stems from my time as a magazine editor. Although back then I concerned myself with commissioning the magazine content (or writing it myself), rather than the design of the page.

Looking for a creative project I began playing with the alphabet and experimenting with my father’s artwork behind it. He was B S Huntbach (1935-2006), a unique artist working in acrylics, oil and pen and ink. I published his biography a while back, which you can purchase here: https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/11093838-the-sussex-surrealist

I dabbled with colour, black and white, creating negatives, before altering the letters themselves. The resulting images became fabulous framed artwork.. there’s a couple of examples below.

Pen and ink illustrations
Paintings and disturbed letters

Having exhausted my supply of frames I remembered that I had a screen stored in my attic. It had 15 apertures for images, each 10 by 8 inches. It was time to come up with some new artwork to be displayed making the most of my latest obsession.

Listening to a radio programme about music gave me the idea of using song lyrics as my subject.

With my father’s artwork I used a separate painting for each letter. It was time consuming to do but rewarding to see glimpses of so many paintings. For the song lyrics I chose just one painting to sit behind the lyric. I started with “here I am sitting in a tin can” ( Space Oddity/David Bowie) and the Mona Lisa, and went from there! Each piece was created digitally and printed out as a photograph.

I picked some favourite songs and others that just popped (it is pop music after all!) into my head. In each piece the song title and artist appears in one of the letters. Although it’s quite fun to see if the songs can be identified without going in close.

The project gets underway!

Finally all the apertures were filled and the screen is complete. I may paint the screen at a later date, maybe in a bold colour. And, if I have a new creative surge in the future, even these images will be replaced. Watch this space.

Sing along a screen!

Self publicist!

I still miss my time as a magazine editor…working with text and images for content and cover. I had a number of lovely designers who did the layout for the publication. I envied their skills and I spent 14 years looking over their shoulders. Having discovered photo books and self publishing I’ve been able to release my inner graphic designer!

I have compiled several photo books to curate my holiday snaps, family, and craft interests. Now I don’t worry about losing the (increasingly) digital pictures in my collection. They are anchored in book form, creatively with text. Then, started in the Covid lockdown I finally worked on a book that could be published and available to buy.

I am immensely proud of The Sussex Surrealist (https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/11093838-the-sussex-surrealist). It was 18 months of work but worth it!

But the book bug hasn’t gone away, nor the need to create. So the latest fix to my design drug has been to compile several of my interests into book form. ‘Mannequin Me’ is an exploration of my interests in mannequins, photography, sewing clothes, and digital design. There’s 120 pages, each designed, with photo editing, digital wizardry and style. I’ve photographed my own clothes on my mannequins, isolated them and re-sited them to make new layouts.

One of my image creations

It’s great to see my favourite mannequin photos in one place, alongside a visual discussion about what I wear, and personal style. There are a few projects thrown into the mix. I make no bones about it being a personal exploration. I can’t imagine it’ll be an international best seller. And at the moment I haven’t made it available to sell. But it looks great!

A few of the pages of Mannequin Me

And that’s really the point I think. It has been an exercise in design as well as a form of fashion diary and digital wardrobe. I’ve enjoyed the creative process immensely.

A digitally dressed mannequin… it could be me!

For anyone accumulating digital images (and we all are because it’s so easy), this is the solution. Pick a theme, collate and curate. Even if you use the very basic image setting and caption options, it is so rewarding. I don’t think I can stop and am already eyeing up my theatrical memorabilia. Another book in the library? I’ll be making room on the shelves !

Martha

At last Martha is actually happening! It was first conceived as the show for Heber Opera before Covid reared its ugly head, and like many theatre companies, there were endless postponements as lockdown meant that all plans ceased. Would it ever be performed? Would there be an audience? Should we just abandon it despite preparing music and staging?

Finally last Friday was the dress rehearsal and the show went on. I went along to take photographs.

Going through my photographs of the dress rehearsal took a while (there were 440 of them) but at last it is done. I am not a professional photographer and tend to use my iPhone these days rather than my big camera (the battery was flat anyway). It would have been great to get right into the performance space for good close ups – but I think the director would have had something to say about that. Due to lively moments of the staging I had more blurred images than I would have liked (did I say I wasn’t professional?).

There are still 125 images that reflect the action of the performance. These provide images for future publicity – where we certainly don’t need 125, just a handful of good ones will suffice. But I had enough to create some compilation images for the cast, and to use designing up a new Facebook and website banners.

I designed the poster for this (and previous shows) following a brief from the Director, Dorothy Withers. Personally it is not a favourite of mine. But a brief is a brief. I offered several alternative designs before this one was chosen, then worked up to the finished design. The show is a light-hearted romance – with some tense moments – and is set in an English village. The bright yellow and bunting reflect this.

The vignettes for the Wellington boots and the red shoes reflect the principal characters in the story. It took a while to get the groups of accessories together and photographed. At the time I had no idea of the plot of this opera. It was good at the dress rehearsal to see all the relevance of the items.

Heber Opera has been going for many years. It is an amateur company but the dedication of the cast and backstage crew is amazing. I’m glad that I was able to create this record for them.

Pulling strings

With over 20 years experience working backstage, mostly providing and making props, I’ve gained a fair bit of creative know how. So it isn’t surprising that my son Edd sometimes asks for my help.

Edd works for the Institute of Contemporary Theatre in Brighton. He teaches physical theatre. He also enjoys directing theatrical performances. Tonight, The Little Tempest, which he is co-directing with Claire Skinner, performed by Brighton Little Theatre, opens in Brighton’s Sea Life Centre. I first heard about this project a few weeks ago when Edd got in touch with me for some help.

The production is an abridged version of Shakespeare’s classic tale. Edd was using a number of puppets within the performance. He had sketched his ideas down but then asked for my help in realising them.

Original concepts for the puppets

Now I am not a puppeteer, so I relied on Edd’s experience when crunching the creative possibilities of the puppet constructions.

The first major job was to create the body of Ariel. She was the largest puppet and a key character in the production. Needing a female torso I used one of my own mannequins as a former. I wrapped the torso in plastic, then gaffer tape to start with. Then carefully slitting it up the back the flimsy shape was released from the former.

The beginning of Ariel

Ariel’s body was going to be fixed onto a large white umbrella skirt (which looked amazing!). But, as a PlanB, she was attached to an upturned walking stick (metal with arm rest) with a long white petticoat. It was this version that made it to the stage. Sometimes with props (or puppets) you have to make changes as rehearsals get underway.

Finally Ariel’s body was strengthened and dressed with a lightweight gauzy fabric. She became the ethereal magical character as the production required.

Ariel in action

A genius stroke with Ariel was using cable restraints to form her arms and fingers. One hand was attached to a rod which the puppet operator used. the same cable also came in handy providing octopus limbs for Prospera’s staff (the female Prospero). Made and painted by Edd it looked fantastic!

The fabulous octopus-headed staff

Making the spirit puppets was relatively straightforward. Combining masks with a tube of stretchy fabric, attached to a clear umbrella body. They had similarities to jellyfish (appropriate to the performance venue). The puppeteers could move the spirits in a fluid way to give them life. A puppet only comes to life under the expertise of its operator.

The spirits were lit by Bev Grover
Changing the orientation of the spirit to add dynamism and character

The most challenging puppet to make was Caliban. Edd had clear ideas about how he wanted this character to look. He had to be very mobile, contain elements of trash, and he needed several people to operate him. Edd and I spent a lot of time just bandying ideas backwards and forwards. We experimented with making limbs with joints. The basic body was fitted into a one-piece bodysuit.

Caliban..slightly creepy but full of character

Caliban has long fingers (designed for Halloween). He moves thanks to several puppeteers. This is a real skill as so much coordination is required.

Caliban and the spirits.

I’m delighted to see how all of the puppets have finally come together. Lighting expert Bev Grover (who I have worked with on many shows) has done a fabulous job adding the lighting strands to give that magical ambience.

Of course there are human performers in The Little Tempest, as well as the puppets. I attended an early rehearsal to see how the puppets were shaping up. It was good to see and hear the whole cast.

In rehearsal with Edd co-directing the players.
Ariel and the spirits

Seeing the performance photographs by Miles Davies in The Sea Life Centre, Brighton everything has come together. It looks amazing to see Edd’s initial basic sketches come to life. I was glad to help.

Hanging on

In my last home my necklaces hung on a peg rail attached to the side of a freestanding wardrobe. I loved it as I could see all my pieces and decide what to wear easily. The new house has fitted wardrobes and until yesterday my necklaces were stored in a box.

When I decided to resolved the issue it was such a simple solution I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. In the attic, being stored, we had a long mirror with a wide wooden frame. I took it out and measured the width.

A quick trip to B&Q sourced a peg rail. Then it was a matter of screwing the peg rail to the mirror. I knew that the weight of the necklaces wouldn’t be too much so I used shorter screws than those supplied. And they had enough length to secure them into the wooden frame.

I chose to put the peg rail part way up across the glass, rather than at the bottom of the frame. I’m pleased with the results, and I don’t have to untangle my necklaces now every time I want one.

Easily accessible jewellery

An alternative look but with the same function would be to find (re-use or buy) decorative drawer knobs. These would be individually positioned around a frame. The frame could be a picture frame of course instead of a mirror. Smaller knobs could hold key rings or dog leads.

I love being organised!

The digital wardrobe

I’ve made so many clothes over the last few years that I have no space left in my wardrobe.

When I look back over what I’ve made I love it all. But I don’t wear them all. Like everyone else I have my favourites. And equally like many of us I need to take stock. Clearing out the lesser worn (or unworn) to give space to those I do wear is essential.

I’m planning a sale of my unique dresses and tops but first I’m recording my wardrobe in a creative way.

Three of my superhero outfits
Three of my vintage fabric dresses

Thanks to a couple of afternoons with my mannequin I can now digitally represent my wardrobe items. I have a digital dolly and I’ve been having fun with her. In my childhood my mum drew a woman on card and I would draw, colour and cut out clothes for her. This is the adult version!

It’s all been a learning curve as I experiment with new apps. But I’m so enjoying it, and the possibilities presented.

Watch this space – there’s bound to be more!

Posted!

Going through boxes in the attic in an attempt to cull hoardings led to the discovery of a box of postcards.

The postcards were written around 1905-1913. They were the text messages of their day. The images varied from views to comical scenes. But the written words were intriguing. Written to a woman who worked as a nurse, some are addressed to the County Asylum. Sometimes they came from the local police station.

I haven’t decided what to do with them. I know that they will have some value to postcard collectors. Initially I have grouped a few and photographed them. This image I then had printed as a poster, which I’ve just framed. A real glimpse into lives gone by!

A box full of postcards
A selection, photographed, and framed

The Sussex Surrealist

I’ve spent the last eighteen months writing and designing a book on the artwork of B S Huntbach. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and lockdown gave me the opportunity that I need to get started.

I’ve really enjoyed the design process. I had to work with a number of original photographs from the 1970s and 1980s (variable quality as might be imagined), as well as digital images. Where I could I re-photographed existing artwork. I had a certain amount of paper ephemera too. I’m very much a self-taught designer, although my 16 years in the publishing industry gave me a great introduction to image and text layout. But I’ve been learning very much on the hoof! I’ve certainly got better at image manipulation as a result of compiling this book.

B S Huntbach was my father (1935- 2006), and he would have been totally amazed at seeing his work published. He was a humble man who was not good at self-promotion (so much easier today with the internet, social media, blogs, twitter and all of that). He lived all but his very early months in the town of Portslade on the East Sussex coast. He worked at ordinary manual jobs throughout his working life. He raised a family.

My father never held a passport, never learnt to drive, and wasn’t particularly confident using trains – or using technology. His childhood was fraught with illness and accident – he lost the sight in his left eye aged 10, so his education was patchy. You’ll see from the examples of his written words, included in the book, he had a very particular writing style. He probably had dyslexia and some of his words are phonetically spelt. But his thought process is revealed through his words – the doubts and joys of being an artist, whether what he produced was of any merit, and just how much he cherished the bonds of friendship.

While he may never have written a novel but he did paint, draw and sculpt. The world inside his head was huge and he never exhausted its contents. He exhibited – mostly in East Sussex with the Society of Catholic Artists. He has two large murals in Portslade – one in the Town Hall, and one at the Emmaus community the Old Village, Portslade. He undertook some private commissions. But mostly painted and drew for his own pleasure – “drawing is my life” he said – and this book reveals his lifetime achievement.

blurb.co.uk/b/11093838-the-sussex-surrealist