Wood craft you can smell…

Pyrography!  It sounds a bit like pyromania, or pirate studies, but luckily its just a very constructive way of burning wood.  You use a small hand held tool rather like a soldering iron, with a heating element on the tip, to burn marks onto wood.  Various shaped tips are available to screw onto the element, the one I like best being a straight chisel end.  Just as in italic calligraphy, hold it turned at a roughly 45 degree angle and you have a lovely variety of line, beloved of scribes and old fashioned cartoonists like me.
Pyrography art by Jim Kavanagh
Though when I say variety, there’s a lot of unpredictable variety, as the hot metal burns over differences in the wood surface, cools, re-heats and refuses to behave like a nice, clean pen nib.  Its the most awkward and uncooperative drawing instrument I’ve ever encountered!  But along with the random nature of re-cycled pieces of wood, thats all part of the uniqueness, every time…
It helps if you like the smell of wood smoke, as well.

Norfolk Folk Tales for Children

I’m thrilled – The History Press have used my whole design & typography for this book jacket, and not just my illustrations.  I wanted jacket and title page to reflect the style of my work inside, so I did the whole thing, and all they had to do was drop in their blurb and barcode box in the spaces I’d left.  Which they did, excellent!
As most books are sold online these days, the strong, simple style of the two figures will remain clear even when reduced to tiny thumbnail sizes on screens (as you can see here).
This is where you must anticipate your jacket competing for attention now, not just on the bookshop shelves anymore.

There are 30 black & white illustrations inside the book, and the tales range over a period from the 800s up to the 1930s.   So I had to put much thought into creating a style which would be suitable for such a spread of time.
Besides, Dave Tonge is not only the finest teller in Norwich, he’s my brother in the telling of tales, so I wanted this book to be extra special!
So, thank you History Press, and the book is released out into the wide world on 3 September.
Norfolk Folk Tales for Children illustrated by Jim Kavanagh

Worstead Festival 2018

I’ve just finished this year’s Worstead Festival.   I love this gig, I get my own tent, in a great spot not far from where the huge shire horses do their thing.  I set up my easel, and have time in between tales to make drawings for the next one.  I do special tales, local tales, for local people.
Such as how The Devil (who is, remember, a Master of Disguise) once came to King’s Lynn.  It requires two drawings, a Before and After

Its a true tale, of course, including photographic proof for the skeptical at the end!
Another completely true tale is even more local, and explains how North Walsham Church ended up with its half ruined tower – nothing to do with excessive bell ringing at all, heavens no.
I had people from Holland, New York and Rome, which means as usual I got to learn things as well, such as that there were two William(s) of Orange, and the spot where Julius Caesar got stabbed to death is now a dog rescue shelter.  Does Brutus know, I wonder…

More Heritage Open Days larks

In which I follow a grand mediaeval illumination tradition, but certainly not in miniature…

One of the historical characters you could meet if you were following my Heritage Hunt map was Anne Marchand, a Norman woman from the late 1200s. By then Norwich was bustling with trade and wealthy folk, and Anne was one of them, a merchant dealing with European contacts.
Her place on the Hunt trail was to be in the middle of The Forum atrium, in all it’s Saturday hustle & bustle.

The-Forum-Norwich-by-Jim-KavanaghHistorically thats pretty good positioning – this part of the city was The French Quarter, where the Norman incomers had settled on ground overlooking their newly established Market. So Anne may well have had a fine, stone built house, within a stones throw of where she would really be on the day.
The Forum folk realised that she would need something extra to suggest she belonged to the late 1200s, and asked if I could make a backdrop image, something to suggest the Norman city of that time. It would be printed on three 1m x 2m panels, so would be a decent size.
Well, after all these years of reading, researching and imagining what the city would look like in many different periods, I was just the fella to ask…

The Norman lady herself asked if I could make sure Norwich Castle keep was in the picture, as this would be part of what she talked about.
I decided to keep the composition simple – not a distracting vista of Norman Norwich, but a back drop for a presenter. The majority of it would be behind Anne and her props, but the Castle still needed to be easily visible and, crucially, instantly recognisable.

So I had the idea of a window, which would (a) say “Norman” by its unmistakable Romanesque architecture and (b) show the Castle in practically the same view as it really is from the Forum – no chance of anybody not knowing what that was supposed to be!
Of course it wasn’t just that easy – I had to make the battlements be more like the (conjectured) original ones, not the great chunky monsters placed there in the 19th century.  A picture, you see, can say a thousand words, but just as easily the wrong ones as the right ones.

To be really smarty-arty here, is there not also something familiar about the image of a wealthy mediaeval woman, sitting indoors, with rich architecture and a view through a window…? Those mediaeval illuminators loved the “window on the world” thing, so why not.
Veni, Vidi, I Copied…


Heritage Open Days and a darn tricky little job…

From 7-10 September, The Fine City of Norwich will be busy as a bag of frogs.
People will be running around historic buildings, gasping with wonder at the fascinating past which has been hidden in plain sight before their very eyes.
Because it will be Heritage Open Days!

An annual celebration of local history, where a vast number of places open freely to all to explore and discover that multi faceted mirror to our lives we call The Past.
I’m pleased to say a lot of these people will get the benefit of my latest bit of graphic work, ahem, when they follow The Norwich Heritage Hunt.
I have designed, illustrated and written the leaflet, which will guide them from The Forum to the Cathedral, on a short walk taking in five places where they can meet costumed characters with a strong connection to those locations.

Its A4, introduction and information on one side, and this specially created street map on the other.
I must say, this map has been quite a job. It has to be simple and clear to lead everyone safely, both local folk and strangers, through the streets of the busy city centre.  There are small, important details which not even all the locals know, such as the tiny St John’s Alley, which goes actually underneath a church tower.


Sir Thomas Erpingham, he led the English archers at Agincourt

And which of the magnificent gates into the Cathedral Close is the Erpingham Gate – choose the wrong one and you will miss meeting the great Sir Thomas himself.

So I had to think carefully what streets to leave out, and what useful landmarks to squeeze in, without it getting too busy.
And I had to suggest a fun element, give you some idea of what to expect, by showing the characters. But fitting them in around the street guide – tricky!  Needless to say, it isn’t to any actual scale, c’est impossible!

The Hunt should be fun; for example you can find
Elizabeth Sotherton, a Mediaeval merchant wife, in St Peter Hungate Church.  Living nearby, she would have known it well.  Her hubby is an important man in the city, but she is absolutely minted from her own business dealings, let alone his.


Will Kempe

You can meet Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s most well known comedy actor, at the Maddermarket Theatre.  Though by rights he should be a bit puffed, having just danced all the way from London to Norwich in just nine days.  He finished the dance (done for a bet, so its said) just about where the Theatre is today.

Its being printed now, this is the front fold.  I can’t wait to see it, and more importantly hear about whether it works for people!   After all, not even most locals are Norwich history nerds like moi…

The Last Maharaja

Little Duleep Singh, aged five, had the misfortune to become the Maharaja of the Punjab, India, just at the time when Queen Victoria, her government and the East India Company were deciding on how to acquire the Punjab for themselves.
Get rid of this kid, they reckoned, and this rich slice of India is ours for the taking!   And thus did it come to pass, around about 1850.  Duleep was 11-12 when he was persuaded to come to England, where he was carefully molded into becoming a strikingly attractive, wealthy English gentleman.  Who never returned to his people, his culture or his rule.
The other day I found myself explaining this piece of history to some very young children.  Its a complex tale, and not much fun.  But I found one moment with which to engage them, where the little Maharaja was presented to the Sikh army by his uncle, on an elephant.  So I drew this for them, letting them guess which animal it would turn out to be as the drawing grew.

Yes yes, I know this isn’t the real way an Indian ruler would have ridden an elephant, but it worked for them.  Later, when I was looking at this photo of the drawing on my phone, I suddenly remembered that many years ago I once had occasion to draw a cartoon on British India… After a long rummage, I dug it up, and blew the dust off – here it is below.
Put them together, and what do you know, another example of the notion that a picture can say a thousand words.
If the one above describes in simple terms what was going on in the Punjab before Duleep’s short reign, then the one below describes what happened after: British rule, for the next hundred years or so.  Cartoons – the grain of truth is always there somewhere…


Wives n’ Trolls

If you’re old enough, you might just remember when trolls were not miserable, wretched bullies on the internet.
A troll was a large, scary person with a bad temper, and an irregular lifestyle. In the Ladybird book of Three billy Goats Gruff, the troll lived actually underneath the bridge which he haunted. This led to much pondering on my part about his sleeping arrangements, furniture and general comfort.

Sometimes, as in The Hobbit, trolls can be conveniently turned to stone by daylight, but I wouldn’t rely on that.
Should you decide on some troll spotting, you will find yourself heading north, into the dramatic, misty mountains & stunning fjords of Scandinavian folklore, which is where they begin. Not far at all from frost giants, rainbow bridges and that lot we call the Vikings.
A troll is very definitely a northern European citizen. There are no olive skinned, beach loving equivalents in Mediterranean or African folklore. Which may indeed be the most fascinating fact about trolls of all, but that must be left for another tale.
I’m fond of trolls, partly because they feature in one of my favourite tales. Its a true tale, of course, with proof, though you do have to go and check out the completely verifiable facts for yourself afterwards.

troll-wife-2-by-jim-kavanaghThus I have recently pondered what a troll should look like, or rather she, as this is a lady troll – described in the tale as a “troll wife”.  Sadly, even in the mists of northern European mythology, it seems a woman’s status in life is defined by her relationship to some bloke. Same old, same old…
So here I explore two approaches to depicting these lovely specimens.
The first is the more usual style I would work with, straightforward line drawing with colour added. The average client prefers that sort of look to this second one:

Here, I “grew” the drawing in a sketchy, exploratory way – lots of fine lines, building up a form without a clear, predetermined plan.  And the colours are more subservient to the line drawing.  After all, who knows what a troll would really look like, so perhaps its best to begin with a misty scribble, and hope those deeply buried, ancestral memories will add some ingredients.
Which do you think was more fun to do…. or perhaps I have just made that pathetically clear…