King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School ‘Land Of Make Believe’

13.9 – 10.10.18

Back at King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School and my brief from Headteacher Mrs Lynda Bowyer was to paint a corridor wall outside the library with storybook characters selected by the children. I painted a ‘Once Upon A Time’ mural with a similar theme at Rowlatts Hill Primary last year, however this time I was asked to produce a predominantly monochrome image rather than full colour, which conveniently allowed me to develop a design with a very different appearance.

Earlier this year I completed a ‘Heroes’ mural at King’s Cliffe using a restricted colour palette and as this project was located only around the corner it was almost a continuation of the previous painting. The decision to employ a comparable working method therefore seemed to be very logical and aesthetically sympathetic.

As with the ‘OUAT’ project, rather than simply creating a random display of characters my design ideas evolved around the concept of generating a composition which would link the selected personalities. It is a common and well held belief that bedroom toys might come to life when there is no one in sight, so once again I pursued the idea that illustrated storybook characters can do the same.

Unfortunately the composition needed to work in four sections, but I managed to find a solution. Using ‘reading’ as my theme I placed The Cat in the Hat as the main character in the central section sitting on a ‘trompe l’oeil’ open book, with the other characters gathered around as if enjoying a story being read to them. I made the decision that The Cat in the Hat would have the only colour, its hat reflecting the small door frame to the left and its book the large doorframe to the right. The blue doorway to the right of this collection of figures caused a natural break, which I overcame by creating a self contained composition, while the doorway to the left I used as a bridge to the first section.

The composition therefore begins with a humourous juxtaposition of characters, a proper mismatch perhaps best described as a visual oxymoron. A strong, bold and fearless Batman is featured with a sad and frail Ugly Duckling sitting on his shoulder. Batman points the way to the library entrance while Paddington Bear, sitting at his feet with a partly eaten marmalade sandwich, is preoccupied and already engrossed with the contents of a book. To their right, above the doorway to the library, lies a sleeping Gruffalo which also acts as a gentle hint to be quiet once inside in case it is woken up.

Next, within the third and main central section, the Cat in the Hat appears to read a story to an assortment of characters. On one side Matilda sits on her own pile of books behind the Gingerbread Man, Harry Potter stands alongside Peter Rabbit, and house-elf Dobby, with Harry’s sock in hand, peers up from their feet. Captain Underpants gains a better view of what is being read by flying above their heads. On the other side Alice holds a little bottle, round the neck of which is a paper label, “with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters”, and in the foreground the Room On A Broom Witch holds her magic wand. Behind them the Singing Mermaid swims up surrounded by a school of fish, of varying types, some striped, some dotted, some smiling, some surprised.

The final separated section has a self contained composition based upon The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, with Mr Tumnus and Lucy walking through a snow covered wood toward a Lamp Post. However in order that this area is not viewed entirely in isolation I have tried to create a connecting motif by placing Spinderella and a cluster of spiders above them, gathered together as a semi reflection of the fish arranged on the other side of the doorway, with their web attached to the Narnia landscape by painting a fine gossamer thread to the brightly shining lamp.

As for my signature, I made same mark as I did with the OUAT project. As all the characters on the walls were make believe, upon completion I painted my signature as a fictitious character too, Sir Lancelot, one of the Knights of the Round Table of Arthurian legend. He made his first literary appearance in the 12th century……………but it’s also an anagram.

I’m aware that my blog posts often repeat themselves but feel compelled to state that I’ve always found it important for both children and staff to witness the blank wall change and come to life. They can view its progress, they can ask questions of me, they can make suggestions. (Thanks Mr O’Shea for the suggestion of including the Narnia Lamp Post and Harry’s sock, and thanks Miss Knight for the suggestion of adding Paddington’s sandwich). They can see that in order for the painting to work out one has to put in the hours, the effort, to be persistent and determined. They can see the mistakes that need rectifying, the modifications, the alterations. Things change during the painting process, which is a reflection of any work process and of life itself. Things go wrong, nothing goes completely to plan. One has to learn to adapt. To steal a phrase that Oliver Cromwell may once have said, mural painting is definitely a ‘warts and all’ process, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.

The words of the children who walked past me each day were precious and again I’ve heard some lovely remarks, some of which relevant to what I was doing, others just passing comments, but nevertheless many are still etched in my memory. Amongst my favourites;

“Pizza Rabbit! He’s my favourite.”

“I’m an aunt. Can you believe it! And I’m only a kid!”

“Why does life have to be so hard???!!!”

Working in a public space is so different to working alone in my studio, the voices I hear in my head there are rarely complimentary, but if I’d received a pound for every time I heard the names ‘Batman!’ or ‘Dobby!’ mentioned, or ‘Captain Underpants Tra-La-Laaa!’, I would have received a very generous bonus. Obviously these were popular choices to include and which bring me conveniently to a very important closing statement.

I’m very happy with how the painting worked out but my final words must be directed toward the wonderful world of children’s book illustration. The end product may be a painting of my design but it wouldn’t exist without the creativity and imagination of the original illustrators, and there is such a rich and diverse source to explore. It’s a very special gift to create images that can fire a child’s imagination that might then inspire them to investigate more of the written word. It’s so important to celebrate our great illustrators, they’re so special and possess an exceptional talent. I salute you all.

The King’s Cliffe Endowed Primary School Storybook Characters List:

The Ugly Duckling Hans Christian AndersenKevin Crossley-HollandMeilo So

Batman / Bill Finger & Bob Kane / Graham Nolan

Paddington Bear / Michael BondPeggy Fortnum

Gruffalo  / Julia DonaldsonAxel Scheffler

Captain Underpants / Dav Pilkey

MatildaRoald Dahl / Quentin Blake

The Gingerbread ManDave Hopkins

Harry Potter & DobbyJK Rowling / Mary GrandPré

Peter Rabbit / Beatrix Potter

The Cat in the Hat / Theodor Seuss Geisel

Alice in WonderlandLewis CarrollJohn Tenniel

The Witch / Room on the Broom / Julia Donaldson / Axel Scheffler

The Singing Mermaid / Julia Donaldson / Lydia Monks

Spinderella / Julia Donaldson / Sebastien Braun

Lantern Waste, Mr Tumnus & LucyThe Chronicles of Narnia / C S Lewis / Pauline Baynes