Monday 30 November 2020

The 12 Cards of Shhh-You-Know-What (with Mini Grey)

 Little things please little minds. I’ve always loved making little things, from teeny books to spreads of tiny clay food for my doll's house when I was a child. This post is about home-made Christmas Cards and how obsessions and picture book themes can surface in the other things we make just for fun.

It all started 20 years ago when I was at Brighton University finishing an MA in Sequential Illustration. One task we were set was the Batch Production Project. You had to make 5 of something, and each item had to cost less than a pound to make. All sorts of things got made, from paperweights to matchbox books to pocket orreries. And then the massive fun was running our own stand at the London Artists’ Book Fair and selling our stuff. One thing I learned was maybe the most effective way to add value to a scrap of paper is to turn it into a book.

The challenge for the Christmas card – is to stick around. Will it earn a place on someone’s shelf, or will it be thrown out at twelfth night?

The ground rules for my cards were: to fit in a small envelope usually around 10X11cm, and be made of cheap stuff. Here are 12 of them, from the last 20 years.

At Number 12 – from 2000: Fragments of the True Santa

At last! Definite proof of Santa’s existence with these genuine fragments from the Relics at Christmas range. I can’t remember what I made the fragments out of – maybe it was real really doesn't bear thinking about. Here's what was inside:

11 – 2003: The Inventors at Christmas Party Hat

 It’s important to remember the Inventors at Christmas. This card from 2003 is also a tiny party hat, featuring Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Frank Whittle and many more. Sadly no female inventors: nowadays I’d definitely have had some there. 

10 – 2004: Cracker

 I was so excited to find those cardboard bangy bits (that go in crackers and explode when you pull them) were for sale at my local Oxford Art Shop (Broad Canvas). This is an attempt to make a card that is also a cracker. The idea is two people pull either end and it goes bang.

Hidden in the middle is the pointless gift, small paper hat and joke (sort of). I didn’t have enough bangers to test it properly so I hope everyone managed to make their cards explode.

09 – 2008: The Pocket Finger Panto Theatre

I have an ongoing obsession with model theatres. I often think of picture books as being a bit like theatres, and in The Bad Bunnies' Magic Show it definitely is. I was given a teeny toy theatre from Prague by my sister Pippa and that inspired this pocket theatre. It folds flat. Dress your fingers up and act out your favourite panto scene.

08 – 2009: The Christmas Choc Box

This one was inspired by Jim, my illustrated version of the Hilaire Belloc cautionary tale. The book starts with an open-out present to Jim, and there are a lot of sweets throughout, so I used the same open-out format and imagery to make the Christmas Dinner Chocolate Selection, an unwise mixing of Turkey, Sprouts and the usual suspects with light and dark chocolate, praline, ganache, and so on. A card to make you feel slightly queasy.

07 – 2010: Three by the Seeds

 This one again was book-inspired. In Three By The Sea, the threesome Cat Dog and Mouse are given packets of herbs by a passing foxy stranger. This card includes a packet of herb seeds to grow your own stuffing. The seeds were a bit random as they were everything I could find in the garden shed. There were mixed reports about what came up.

06 – 2011: Insect House

 I so wanted to make a card that was also a house. On my teeny card scale, it had to be an Insect house. And the chance to check in with how Christmas is going for the insects.

Uncle Fly is wrestling with sellotape, the young ants are playing charades, and in the attic the little maggots are looking in their stockings. I’m just a bit worried about what Mrs Weevil is up to…

I’ve always wanted to feature insects in a picture book, and the project I’m working on at the moment features insects and theatres. Most exciting.

05 – 2012: Pocket Planet

This is where a matchbox obsession set in. Could you make a Christmas card that was also a matchbox? What could you put in a matchbox? What about a spare Pocket Planet, just in case of an emergency.

With instructions on the back for what to add to make your habitable planet (then simply wait for 4 ½ billion years and – Hey Presto!:

Now, dear reader, this card was a painful lesson about Royal Mail Postage prices. Yes, it was but matchbox-sized and fitted in a teeny envelope, but it was 2 ½ cm deep, and this means a lot in postage prices – it meant it was a Large Letter. So most of the pocket planets were impounded in mail depots and the unlucky recipients had to go and pay at least £1.70 to release their miniscule item.

04 – 2013: The Pocket Fairy Godmother

In 2013 I’d been running an after-school club in paper engineering at my son’s primary school. This card happened after we’d looked at angle folds, and I found out you could use the power of a tiny angle-fold to make wings beat. Everyone needs one….a pocket Fairy Godmother…

03 – 2014: The Cabinet of Mystery

This card I’d accidentally made when messing around with my book The Bad Bunnies' Magic Show. The Bad Bunnies have locked their magician the Great Hypno in a trunk and are attempting his tricks and unleashing unexpected transformations. I thought this could be an excuse for some crazy paper engineering, so the first sketch model book of the Bad Bunnies had things like woven panel dissolves in it. Eventually I realised less in more, and all you need for picture book magic is your reader’s imagination and maybe an unexpectedly-shaped page. The Glenda Cabinet of Mystery never got into the book, but it managed to be a card. Here’s Glenda disappearing and reappearing. (She's Brenda in the book!)

02 – 2018: Slight Accident

In 2018 it really looked like our planet was in trouble and big changes needed to happen to grow biodiversity and cut carbon dioxide. It still looks that way. But Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg were also happening, so hope was in the air too. Christmas is a time for presents, and our planet is a present that we pass to future inhabitants of Earth: what sort of gift are we bequeathing to the Earthlings of 2050? So what if we REALLY mess it up, and pass on a broken planet?

This seemed altogether a too grim way to leave things, so I put in another hidden layer, from the People of 2019…because you’d have to be NUTS to break your only home. We have to give the Earthlings of 2050 more wildlife, and less carbon dioxide.

01 – 2019: Waving or Drowning?

So here we reach last year. Pollocks Toy Museum in London is the Mecca for toy theatre lovers, and I’d been involved with a project at Pollocks that autumn. Artists made their own toy theatres to in response to Pollock's collection. I was allowed to look through the Pollock Toy Theatre scenery archive, and loved the stormy sea scenery. So this card was inspired by the water-scenery in Pollocks Toy Theatres.

My card was waving goodbye to 2019 and waving in a new decade, which seemed hopeful then. But my hand was also maybe drowning and the sea contained hidden perils.

 And now, from the perspective of What-On-Earth-Happened in 2020, I just don’t know where to go next.

STOP PRESS UPDATE : So here's B. Bird Esq who flew into houses as the Card of Christmas 2020....

And what's in B. Bird's suitcase?

Beach towel, sunglasses, luxury mixed seeds, and some pool-side reading with Far From the Madding Sparrows and Tit of the D'Urbervilles (both by Thomas Hardly).

Merry Christmas!

Mini's latest book-involvement is The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, with AF Harrold.