A Meander into Journal-land (Part One)

As part of the New Year madness, yours truly decided to partake in a year-long excursion into art journalling.  The notion had always appealed to me, but it never quite rose far enough up the "to-do" list when competing with brides, stage shows & children for attention.  But 2015 is the year in which I shall focus on my artwork, & journalling seems like an excellent route back into the necessary mindset.

Hence my signing up to "Journal 52", a free online workshop which provides weekly prompts along with a supportive Facebook group.

The first prompt was "Pathways", which gave rise to the above image - my very first attempt at art jounalling.  Already I can see things which irritate me, but overall I can live with it as a beginner's piece.  I have layered four magazine pages to provide the background, then added the pathway & some extra foiliage with acrylic paint. The main figure is taken from a Vogue fashion shoot by Tim Walker, with Stella Tennant's face being replaced with a drawing of my own.  Her pathway leads alongside dark woods to a tiny house overlooking a golden meadow where another figure looks eagerly forward. 

Around the edge circles a quotation from Thoreau: "As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind.  To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again.  To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."

01.19.2015 | 15 Comments | in: artwork, journal

In which we meet Several Anthropomorphic Ringmasters

In further pursuit of ringmaster-themed inspiration this week, my thoughts have strayed along anthropomorphic lines.  There are certain species which seem to fit the role of authoritative circus leader better than others, of course.

Katherine Dubose Fuerst portrays a thoughtful, very nearly human monkey - clearly in charge on account of his intelligence.


Emporium 51's wily fox, dapper but perhaps a little snappy?


David Vogin portrays several creatures in ringmaster guise; this splendid lion is undoubtedly most masterful.  Who would dare question his orders?


Ken McCuen's steampunk tom cat would make an interesting character, methinks.  A little eccentric, inventive, source of endless new plans.


Melanie Boulon's stag sculpture moves us away from specifically circus-linked portraits, yet his obvious domination of the room and regal stance he would be quite capable of maintaining order in the most uproarious of situations.


Ibride, the French design trio comprising Carine Jannin, Rachel & Benoit Convers, design many fabulous anthropomorphs.  This splendid portrait suggests intelligence allied with an appreciation of the importance of appearance, a combination much valued in the ringmaster.


Time to turn to my sketchbook and cutting table......

Introducing the First Ringmaster, Philip Astley Esq.

Philip Astley

Philip Astley, dear reader, must stand as the founder of modern circus, & hence the first ringmaster.  Born in 1742, the son of a Newcastle-under-Lyme cabinet-maker & duly apprenticed to the trade, Astley turned his back on the family business aged 17 to pursue his equestrian dreams; to this end he joined Colonel Eliott's 15th Light Dragoons, seeing action in the Seven Years' War & rising to the rank of Sergeant Major.

Upon leaving military service, Astley saw an opportunity to profit from the riding skills acquired in the cavalry: trick-riding was an enormously popular entertainment thanks to such illustrious showmen as Jacob Bates.  Hence he opened a riding school in the Waterloo district of London in 1768, & began performing in a nearby field.  His stroke of genius was to stage these shows within a circular enclosure rather than the straight line preferred by his rivals; not only did the centrifugal force assist the riders to stand upon the backs of their galloping steeds, it also afforded the audience a far better view of the proceedings.

(As an aside, Astley's original ring was 62ft in diameter but he later reduced it to 42ft, which has been a standard for circus rings ever since)

Astley's new format was so successful that after only two seasons he could afford to expand, increasing the line-up to include other equestrians plus a range of other acts to entertain the audience between riding sequences.  Musicians, jugglers, tightrope walkers & dancing dogs had all been seen individually across Europe for centuries, but it was Mr. Astley who brought them together with clown figures borrowed from Elizabethan drama to establish a circus troupe such as we would recognise today.

M.Jean Polaski, one of Astley's hired hands

Fame & fortune ensued, including a 1772 invitation to travel to Versailles & perform for Louis XV; he went on to create the first purpose-built circus in France - the Amphitheatre Anglais in Paris - ten years later, followed by a further 17 permanent venues across Europe.

Philip Astley was soon emulated by others, most notably his former employee Charles Hughes, who built a rival establishment rather grandly entitled "The Royal Circus & Equestrian Philharmonic Academy", thus introducing the term "circus" for the first time in this context.  Meanwhile, pupils John Bill Rickets & Philip Lailson both went on to take shows to the Americas.  But that is a whole different story.....

01.08.2015 | 44 Comments | in: circus, history, ringmaster

New Year, New MoodBoard

As the old year slips away, dear reader, it comes to all of us - the urge to reassess and redirect our efforts.  And now that the Itinerant Bizarrium has a more consistent online presence via an assortment of these modern media (find us on Facebook, Etsy, DaWanda & Twitter if you please), it seems appropriate to focus and organise this blog.

(As an aside...does not "blog" strike you as an exceptionally ugly word?  Lumpy and squelchy with an air of damp & fetid odours....  Sadly inappropriate for a space in which we share our dreams & aspirations.)


Hence the appearance of my first online moodboard, a pulling-together of some of the images that have been in my head in recent times.  Some have influenced specific dolls in a very clear way (Olive Oatman/Madame Olathe for instance) whilst others are more genuinely "mood" pieces, informing the Bizarrium's overall ethos rather than providing direct details.  Over the next few days I shall attempt to find the source of these images in order to provide credit where it is most definitely due.


Images by Leszek Bujnowski, August Sander, Dan D. Evans, Irina Istratova, & ....????

12.31.2014 | 43 Comments | in: carnival, circus, moodboards

Another step into the Bizarrium

Apologies, dear reader, for the hiatus....many projects have been moving forward both within & without the Itinerant Bizarrium.  Several have involved the creation of more imagery which we will be delighted to share here over the next week or two.

First of all, may I invite feedback on the cover sheet for our dolls.  This will be printed on the reverse side of the story page of each individual character, providing a continuing link in imagery as well as guiding folk to Trouble & Strumpet.  The aim is to continue the vintage circus atmosphere whilst creating a template which can carry forward into future themes.  

Yes?  No?  Maybe?

06.21.2014 | 30 Comments

Bombadil von Rammstein Makes an Appearance


At last...some signs of progress with the Itinerant Bizarrium!  Although this is just a draft, with considerable work still to do, I am quite pleased with the look of the thing.  Especially considering that I had no knowledge of Photoshop at all two months ago.  My thanks, therefore, to the ever-patient Steve Cox for teaching me.

If anyone lives in or around Bath, you really should check out his illustration class - you never know where it might lead.



06.02.2014 | 22 Comments | in: bizarrium, Bombadil, dolls

Tiny Paintings

Today, alongside preparing the body of my next doll. I have been working on the vignettes which will appear on the story page of each paper doll.  The plan is to have a large portrait of the featured character surrounded by cameo-sized pictures of other dolls in the series.  

In order to keep the look consistent, I have decided to handpaint these images, then add the portraits via the magic of photoshop rather than create them digitally from the start.  If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to spend time "researching" on Pinterest!  

04.28.2014 | 28 Comments

The Emergence of Madame Othale

One of the first characters to arrive on the scene in Nether Thrubwell has been the Bizarrium fortune teller.  Initially she was a fairly traditional gypsy....


She sat around quite happily in this guise whilst life continued around her, other characters making their appearance & the first drafts of their paper alter egos being drawn.  One of these new people will be a tattooed lady, & in the course of researching vintage tattoos I came across photographs of an intriguing nineteenth century lady sporting a distinctive pattern on her chin.

I am certain that our cousins across the pond will immediately recognise Olive Oatman, but we Brits are less au fait with frontier history, and it has been a joy to research her amazing story.  I am currently two-thirds of the way through reading "The Blue Tattoo" by Margot Mifflin:  In 1851 Olive Oatman was a thirteen-year old pioneer traveling west toward Zion, with her Mormon family. Within a decade, she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, caught between cultures. The Blue Tattoo tells the harrowing story of this forgotten heroine of frontier America. Orphaned when her family was brutally killed by Yavapai Indians, Oatman lived as a slave to her captors for a year before being traded to the Mohave, who tattooed her face and raised her as their own. She was fully assimilated and perfectly happy when, at nineteen, she was ransomed back to white society. She became an instant celebrity, but the price of fame was high and the pain of her ruptured childhood lasted a lifetime. 


I am shamelessly appropriating chunks of Olive's early biography for a reworking of the fortune teller, having reworked the doll in her image:

The previously un-named seer now bears the title of Madame Olathe - an echo of Olive's own name, plus it is listed as meaning "beautiful" in some native American tongues.  Doubly appropriate, I hope.


04.27.2014 | 26 Comments | in: bizarrium, dolls

Further Introductions

All those clever advisors out there,guiding we beginners on our way, seem to think it is a fine idea to introduce oneself and include some jolly snapshots so that our hordes of readers may have a mental picture of the gentle author.  Bah humbug, I say!  Some serious editing needs to be done before I am ready to inflict myself upon you.  In lieu of my face, I believe we shall all be happier if I post a portrait of my familiar - Miss Fifi von Slutwhiskers.


Today Miss Fifi has been guarding the fort whilst I have travelled to the far side of Bath to attend an illustration class.  Bath is such a beautiful city that it would be churlish to complain about being stuck in traffic amidst its splendid Georgian facades.

Having battled my way across the city centre, amongst dawdling tour buses, double-parked delivery trucks, and numerous roadworks, I spent a couple of happy hours under the tutelage of the splendidly talented Mr. Steve Cox, pushing onwards with the paper doll project and taking baby steps into the wonderous modern world of Photoshop.  Who knew such magical tricks could be performed at the touch of a button!

04.23.2014 | 7 Comments

An Introduction, Dear Reader....

Although this website boasts an "About" section, I still feel it right and proper to bid you welcome to my newly-situated blog.  Farewell Blogger, hello independence.

For the next few days I shall be uploading images, I suspect; already I have a gallery of costume work in place.  I had forgotten how many plays I have worked on over the years!  And must admit I am struggling to remember the titles & details of some.  So if you spot any errors, please forgive me & send a quick note - I shall endeavour to correct myself with all possible speed.

Corsets next, I think... so brace yourself!  Although I think all images are safe for work. If any are not, I promise to bury them deep in the gallery!

04.22.2014 | 8 Comments
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