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Coming soon … ish

May 16, 2022

During some complex and painful weeks, I have found solace working with the dolls in the dolls house.  I have maintained a stringent regular weekly routine making films at a nearby studio and continued to make and dress the dolls. Meanwhile, stitching the backdrops as they were required.  It has been, as it sounds a bit of a roller coaster and not always joyful.  So, I have been taking stock.  For a while I was unable to take my daily walk alongside the Thames, subsequently my mood and wellbeing began to droop drastically, and I had to consider my working practice.

During this time my daughter came home from Brazil for a visit; while that came with much needed respite and lots of fun, she got Covid and was unwell for a week and outings and visits were curtailed for some time after.  She has since returned to Brazil and while I have been immobile, normality has given me space to think about the future here in the Dolls House, As I said they have not been neglected at all, in fact they are abundant and well dressed and I sense that they need to have an outing and be ‘shown’.

I do have exhibition in planned early in 2023 in Bermondsey Project Space in London.  So, I foresee doing something locally after that, in collaboration with my daughter who is a poet, printmaker and textile artist in Brazil with a view that the exhibition can be taken to Rio perhaps the following year. 

All this seems such a long way off but there is much to do and plan for, I am excited about beginning a new journey with the dolls and trying not to get anxious about the unknown and the vital fund raising. 

Pretty appalling …

April 29, 2022

Every Thursday I spend a day at The Jelly Reading.  It is a good place to make my stop motion animated films.  It isn’t perfect because I need to catch a bus and take my equipment for each visit fortunately, I am allowed a little storage space for the stage and structural equipment. During the week before my attendance, I write the story and prepare the dolls and props accordingly.  I have over a hundred dressed dolls, several boxes of props and at least 20 backdrops and these are added too frequently! While all are packed away carefully, I have no idea which doll, backdrop or prop is in which box. There is a true saying that ‘there is none so badly shod as a shoe menders son.’

I was a rare books cataloguer in a university library for 20 years and able to place the books in Dewy decimal order so each one was findable among 100,000s items, and have allowed my dolls to become ‘unfindable’ this is an appalling state of affairs.

So, from today I am going to attempt to unravel a few notes written on the proverbial fag packet and see if I can locate my dolls as required instead of scabbling in boxes on a Thursday morning. 

I took these dolls this week and it would seem that the doll in the yellow silk dress, dyed with onion skins and alum is Box 3 Doll 1, the doll in the natural nettle knitted dress with mother of pearl buttons is Box 3 Doll 2, the doll with the bottle green knitted dress is Box 3 Doll 3.

I made 2 stop motion animated films that day, one can be seen on Instagram @coathangerdolls and the other on my YouTube channel Helen Westhrop.

Distraction versus pain relief …

April 27, 2022

This past month should have been a holiday, not from my dolls but from life in general.  My youngest daughter who lives in Brazil paid us a long overdue visit and I planned a time of outings and entertainment with friends and family, lots of food, wine and music and we did fully until my daughter got Covid and I sustained a painful groin pull.  My daughter had to quarantine and was very poorly and my condition is ongoing and renders me to severe pain until I overdose with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication and immobility without sticks. 

While it was not the ‘holiday’ I had planned my daughter and I were able to achieve lots of nice things and some I had only ever dreamed of!

My daughter who, among other things is a musician and owns a piano that went into storage when she left home to live in Rio in 2010.  During her recovery and my discomfort, we decided to reinstate the piano with the help of a kind and strong neighbour it now has pride of place in my sitting room, and it isn’t going anywhere else for the foreseeable future. 

Fortunately, while I can read music sadly can only play very badly so with regular daily practice I can enjoy the ‘rest’ part of my long recovery and plan to make some sounds to accompany my dolls action.

Happily, stop motion animation can be done while hobbling and it seems work better when taking a bit too much medication.  I say this with my tongue firmly in my cheek I cannot wait to be pain free and until then I find distraction works best …

From the studio last week …

March 29, 2022

As I walk carefully along the path as a Concept Costume Design Animator, I have made positive moves to ensure that I can progress and grow in this bold challenge.  Having some initial tuition and prolonged guidance as needed has helped and the new improved films have attracted some attention which is comforting.

I have ‘given’ my dolls their own Instagram account where I post all the performances as they become available. 

Last week I took three dolls to the studio at The Jelly Reading.  First Hip Hop Rose and a doll with no name wearing a dress made from a scrap of William Morris furnishing fabric. I like my dolls to be well dressed so, I favour quality off cuts.  I have friends who make theatrical costumes from whom I can source bling and sparkle. From others short lengths of lace and ribbon. While I dye and embroider luxurious fabrics like silk, velvet, and wool. Local patchwork quilt makers always have remnants that don’t fit with current trends, to spare. I have no difficulty meeting the dolls fashion needs.

I cannot pretend to be upholding any ethical moral code or adhering to the laws of sustainability, but my dolls and their dramatic antics bring joy and hope during difficult times. 

My third performer, also has no name but previously known as the Old Guitarist, inspired by a painting by Picasso. He wears dungarees from silk dyed with indigo and a brown leather sleeveless jacket made from a tiny off cut.  The film can be seen on Instagram @coathangerdolls and is a story about an overseer in a blue frock and her two underlings taking some buckets to who-know-where. 

I hope you find time to view it. 

Hip Hop Rose …

March 20, 2022

Here in UK, we are enjoying the first days of spring, the weather is conveniently playing nicely too.  My daily walks have been most pleasant, seeing and hearing the birds and the signs of new growth at the roadside, woods, and fields.   I can venture out in my tiny garden for longer sessions where the light and warmth are so welcome. 

Nonetheless work must continue, more so now I have dedicated filming day, it is necessary for me to ensure that a story and the dolls are prepared beforehand. 

Unfortunately, as I packed the dolls away after my recent exhibition, they have become muddled. I am having to catalogue and label each doll and give it unique number and space in a box. I was a cataloguer before I retired so old habits die hard.

So, to celebrate that and the coming of spring I wish to write about ‘Box 1 doll 1’ who is one of my first dolls in my new career as Concept Costume Design Animator.  This is Hip Hop Rose, she and her dress is dyed with the liquid from the boiled avocado pips. This is not a waste product I was familiar with until the late 70s.  Even then it took time to acquire a taste but now I eat them daily and have a constant supply of pink dye of various shades. 

I don’t remember ‘pink’ in my home as a child despite having two little sisters there was no pretty or shocking pink! No matter, I have grown to love it as it is a flattering and kind colour.  I do remember the dog rose fondly, a beautiful rose on prickly stems that climbed furiously through the other hedge plants. It is the county flower of Hampshire where I was born. 

Sometimes the plant develops a harmless growth called bedeguar gall or Robin’s pin cushion that when worn around the neck on a cord it cures colic!

The rose is a common symbol in medieval heraldry. In Germany it was linked to the devil and the fairies used the hips to make themselves invisible.  The seeds inside the hip are a nasty irritant and naughty boys in my day would use them as itchy powder. While this information is neither scintillating nor entirely factual, I hope my next film starring Hip Hop Rose will be fun. 

One day at a time …

March 17, 2022

Into my second week at The Jelly Reading, it has been good to look back at my back catalogue and remake a ‘loop’ or two.  So far, I have filled my time happily but occasionally I am frustrated with the technical ‘complications.’ Gradually I am finding a path between the required professional ‘finish’ and wayward yearning to childhood delight. 

I am not anxious to be part of the traditional movement or the established gallery system, being able to create work that can be shared outside in the public domain and venture into social media is paramount.

I am enjoying being able to be creative with fabric, texture, colour, and 3-dimensional form but I must also be technically fluid. One day at a time.

Please follow @nelabligh instagram to see the films

On Thursdays … there is light and community

March 11, 2022

Thursday is going to be my day at The Jelly Reading. I have been allowed a little bit of storage space for my workmate stage, sandbags, tripod, and other accessories so that each week I can take a no. 17 bus to Broad Street Mall AKA the Butts Centre with my dolls, backdrop, and camera to make films.  This is a perfect solution for me. I have adequate studio space at home albeit a little cluttered to create and dress the dolls, stitch the backdrops, and undertake all my printing needs.  Sadly, it is not spacious and lacks a reliable light source, my house is a Victorian terrace among hundreds of others where the sun barely gets a look in, also I work alone.  So, while both issues are surmountable from day to day, there come a time when I crave a constant light supply and company.

To find a supportive and welcoming art space has been appreciated and I am looking forward to the next few months when I can learn new skills and improve some others and forming some creative relationships.

This week I took these three coat hanger dolls and a random backdrop to make some moves.  Thinking carefully about the use of my camera focusing, in more ways than one, on ratio, aspect, ISO, shutter speed etc. Then making films that comply to the sharing on Instagram. It seems the different platforms use different techniques that baffle me a lot! So, until I perfect this method, I cannot seriously consider YouTube or ‘real’ films until then I will enjoy making playful loops. 

That can be seen on my Instagram @nelabligh

Magic in the Charity Shop …

March 10, 2022

So, while I can only practice my stop motion animation techniques in ‘my’ studio down the road a bus ride away! I plan to look closely at my ‘story’ and the Charity Shop (s) where unwanted items, clothes, household goods, books and records are deposited by the local community and sold on to the local community.

The shop and its voluntary workers become a microcosm of the locality. 

People for many reasons bring unwanted items to the Charity Shop, such as moving to a smaller house, decluttering, redecoration or just fatigue or boredom.

The gifts or donations are as wide ranging as the neighbourhood itself.  Furniture and electrical goods must be in good repair, but they are often outdated, and miss matched beside things like pictures, books, records, tasteless ornaments, and vases.

All clothing is accepted and useful even it is well worn and has holes. Anything that is not sold will be used in the textile recycling industry and remains vital in charitable concerns. 

I fully understand how charity shops, as if by magic give used items a second life and prevent thousands of tonnes of stuff ending up in landfill.

Furthermore, charity shops give us all in the community a tiny social place where we can update our wardrobes, enjoy vintage, retro and possibly an antique item to decorate our homes, add to our libraries and record collections at a fair price and feel that we are contributing to a charity and helping others beyond our immediate world.

For my part I wish to celebrate the service of the Charity Shop and allow my dolls to explore and enjoy the atmosphere of mismatch, ordinary, outdated, shabby, unfashionable, and relic etc.  

Bringing value to the unworthy.

Looking at the Heros !

March 9, 2022

During my time as a resident artist at The Jelly Reading, I learned much and got lots of positive feedback both directly and indirectly which I enjoyed.  However, while my work and practice is pleasing, I want to learn and develop my portfolio for the future and more important my next exhibition. Even though, kind comments are welcome, positive criticism was also required, fortunately that also was forth coming. 

I am very aware of my short comings as regards technical expertise, photography and staging etc.  but at a loss as to how I can balance the learning with my practice.  It seems there are many other principles that need to be addressed before even taking a shot.  I was delighted to get advice and basic hints and tips from a supportive local artist who has set me on course following the principles of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston who were stop motion animators and two of Disney’s Nine Old Men. They were recognised by the Walt Disney Company with the Disney Legend Award in 1989 and awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2005. Their principles are directed to those who animate 2d cartoon characters, I hope can observe and apply them to my 3d dolls. 

1 Squash and stretch to exaggerate the pose

2 Anticipation to communicate action to the audience

3 Staging, clear action, timing, rule of 3rds etc.

4 Straight ahead and pose to pose, I can observe straight ahead by animating as I go but pose to pose is for 2d drawings.

5 Follow through, extending the pose beyond the action to add drama

6 Slow in, slow out, lots of small moves in the beginning and end, longer steps in the middle a particular action.

7 Arcs, using slow in and out in a spacious curving movement

8 Secondary action, gestures that support the main action to give more dimension and interest

9 Timing using spaces between moves to speed up or slow down

10 Exaggeration taking every action to the next level … be more convincing

11 Solid space, giving a character weight and positive space, this applies more to 2d animation but weight balance and twinning is relevant to 3d

12 Appeal, pleasing to look at, interesting and characterful.

So before I add more dolls to my collection I am going to relook and previous films and applied gradually all of the above principles

A new beginning …

March 6, 2022

Today is my last day at The Jelly Reading. It has been a wonderful experience and I have learned so much.  My coat hanger dolls have been well behaved and much admired.  I had lots of visitors and feed back so far has been positive.  I will be sad to pack up but am looking forward to beginning a new story. However, I was getting a bit anxious and unable to see a way forward.  I have decided to explore the art of stop motion animation further. I am self-taught and my work is rather lackadaisical, I enjoy this style and it is fun, but needs a touch of consistency and professionalism.   So, my plan is to work with a ‘teacher’ and look at a previous story and remake the films made at the time.  I hope to document my journey in my posts and think about an illustrated book. There I said it …

So beginning with

‘The Charity Shop

Along with its distinctive old, used and dusty smell with overfilled racks and shelves this charity shop was no different to the others in the street, between the vape shops, coffee shops and nail bars that had gradually and seemingly unnoticed encroached on the town centre.  Here, at the end of a busy day young mums browsed the racks while children played beneath bemused by the outmoded and broken toys.  Old mums ponder on the coming spring and their meagre wardrobe.   Students selected a random collection of pots and pans for their bedsit kitchens. A man having reached for a suitable pair of shoes, idly flipped through and mused upon the records and their bartered sleeves stacked beside the DVDs and CDs, and the bookcase crammed with well-thumbed novels and picture books. 

A volunteer in a bid to rearrange a jumbled corner selected some framed prints and posters encouraged that the students were interested in decorating the walls of their shabby accommodation. 

However, a handful of prints, faded, and way passed their former glory were put aside in case the frames had any value.  Picasso from his acclaimed blue period along with Matisse, Kandinsky and Degas; once would have hung over the mantlepiece, along a dark passage or strategically placed over an unsightly stain. 

It was the day before lockdown; no longer fit for purpose the prints removed from their frames.   Released, from suspended animation they could join hands and dance to the sounds of the old guitarist. The waiting ballerina distanced from her tutor, pirouetted across the shabby lino floor and the blue boy and the girl waltzed below the shelf of miss matched crockery the two girls rearranged the chair to win favourable glances’

I will research the history of charity shops and the culture that has evolved