Biro Colour Palette and New Work in Progress…

Detail of colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

Detail photograph of colour Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

The following photographic images detail small fragments of a new colour Biro drawing in progress.  The drawing is part of a new body of work exploring the meaning of the word ‘War’.  This particular piece has been months in the making.

Detail of white horse, new colour Biro drawing

Detail of white horse, new colour Biro drawing

The colours in my drawings are mixed one on top of the other using 8 – 10 different colour Biro’s from a pack of 20 pens, in order to create the exact colours required. When painting in the past I would create a spectrum of colours using Red, Yellow, Cobalt, White, Paynes Grey and Yellow Ochre but with the pack of colour Biros I use this is impossible as the colours are geared towards children and include fluorescent hues.  You have to be inventive when mixing the colours within the drawing!  However Biro ink is a beautiful gelatinous ink which when applied to a surface achieves a vibrancy and volume rather like print pigments – one of the reasons I love Biro!

Detail of Roxy, colour Biro drawing

Detail of Roxy, colour Biro drawing

When painting, colours can be ready mixed on the palette so they can be reused within the canvas.  When using colour Biro each colour has to be created or recreated within the drawing by layering different colour pens on top of one another.   It takes a day to achieve 1/2 – 1 inch of a colour composition because you are often quadrupling the amount of pen layers as opposed to the fewer layers required to create the shades of a one colour drawing.

'Pilgrim', small detail of colour Biro drawing

‘Pilgrim’, small detail of colour Biro drawing

Within my work I like to use images of people, animals and objects that play a part in my life and this particular drawing memorialises a yearling and a mare who belonged to friends and sadly are no longer with us.

Still some way to go…


‘Pilgrim’, A Special Commission

'Pilgrim', 2015 colour Biro drawing

‘Pilgrim’, 2015 colour Biro drawing

‘Pilgrim’, 2015 colour Biro drawing.  Sadly Pilgrim is no longer with us, he passed away during a life-saving operation at just a year old.

His kind owner Heidi Carr had agreed to my photographing Pilgrim a few days after his birth and throughout his life in order to capture each stage of his journey and incorporate his image in a new body of work, continuing the exploration of War and its impact on people and animals.  Pilgrim was to feature in a drawing remembering the causatum for horses and livestock during war.  Between us we have many photographs of Pilgrim so he will continue to shine brightly in a future drawing ‘The Road Through France’.   Heidi wished for a drawing of Pilgrim as a yearling, as she remembered him.  I retained the flecks of hay sprinkled on Pilgrim’s forelock as they looked like little stars.  ‘Pilgrim’ attempts to capture the gentle, sweet-natured young horse who touched so many.


Pilgrim in a field of buttercups, 2012

Pilgrim in a field of buttercups, 2013

'Running Free', Pilgrim at a few weeks old, 2012

‘Running Free’, Pilgrim at a few weeks old, 2013


NEW WORK COMING SOON – Meet ‘Old Foe’ and ‘Odyssey’

'Old Foe' The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Old Foe’ The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

New work is on its way!  Made late last year prototypes ‘Old Foe’ and ‘Odyssey’, two of seven figurines of original Biro drawings on china form part of a wider project about life and death in the animal world, both naturally and at the hands of man.

'Odyssey', The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Odyssey’, The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

Inspired by Goya’s Los Caprichos, ‘The Dreamers’ represent the innocent physicality of sleep whilst the torrid kaleidoscope of dreams cascades through the brain.   ‘The Dreamers’ also represents the quiet moments of peace and daydreams before the inevitability of life’s realities steals ‘innocence’.  Dreams play out like films in our minds, abstract fragments of the brain’s data input of information and our fears and hopes.  Much of my work is based on the subject matter of loss through war and disaster or environmental destruction, represented in layered Biro drawings using stills from films often creating an abstracted phantasmagoria of images and thoughts.  Films transport and capture our minds just like dreams do; they face our fears, portray our hopes and can be therapeutic tools in our waking hours as dreams are deemed brain therapy in our sleep.

I made a random collection of figurines from local charity shops, so that my philosophy of simply using what is close at hand, such as a Biro for drawings was upheld with the choice of figurines available on each day.  Damaged and repaired figurines were still selected to retain the memory of the figurine’s previous life and owner.  Each figurine was then painted white, purifying them from the original manufacturers painted design and stripping each figurine back to the foundations of its physical representation thus creating a blank canvas.  This brings a sense of life to each figurine without the distraction of painted design before the original black Biro drawings are drawn onto the painted surface as well as white representing the purity of ‘a being’ at sleep.  An incredibly hard surface to draw on, these pieces were challenging and remain precious for the intimacy shared with each piece by holding them in my hands as I drew on them.

'Old Foe', The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Old Foe’, The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Old Foe’ (Unmarked Japanese Ceramic mouse figurine) – Inspired by of layers of still images from the Chinese animation ‘Black Cat Detective’, Shanghai Animation Film Studio, 1984 – 2006 and images of the my late mouse Tinkerbell! The origins of this piece represent the age-old feud between cats and mice ultimately leading to the natural but often cruel, death play of the cat with the mouse. ‘Black Cat Detective’ is noted for being particularly violent above other cat and mouse animations such as ‘Tom and Jerry’.  The animated cat’s face is replaced by a black panther’s face, representing the ‘Panthera’ species’ of cats, many of which are under threat of extinction from traditional Chinese medicine.  The flying mice suggest traditional animation representations of death as winged mice fly to heaven.

'Odyssey', The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Odyssey’, The Dreamers, 2013 original Biro drawing on china by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Odyssey’ (Lomonosov Foal) – A lying foal ‘Odyssey’ dreams of his odyssey through life – black Biro drawing made of layers of images inspired from ‘The Red and the White’, Miklós Jancsó, 1967, ‘White Mane’, Albert Lamorisse, 1953 and ‘Les sang des bêtes’, Georges Franju, 1949.  Hope for a bright future is portrayed in the innocent form of the young foal’s figurine as Odyssey faces his journey through life, tracing his playful youth as a colt ridden bareback by a young boy to cavalry horse of the revolutionary Red Army, to its journeys end at an abattoir.  This piece depicts the fate of many war-horses, often cruelly treated and asks whether this is a fitting demise for an animal who has given its life to war service for humans, or if it’s destiny into the meat trade alongside other livestock is justified?

Further images will be released as this project continues.

The Transylvanian Miller, her Two Sons and ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’

'Red Horse and the Wolf Cub - After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone', 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Red Horse and the Wolf Cub – After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone’, 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

Not Long Ago, there lived a Miller and her two sons in a watermill, in a hamlet near the Transylvanian village of Miklósvár.  The mill was the prettiest building in the hamlet with the most beautiful cottage garden and chickens clucking through the flower beds.  Although she was very old and very petite the Miller ran the mill as she had for many years with the help of her sons.  Her sons had the bluest eyes in the land and were very tall.  All she needed was contained in one small, dark room, her bed, her kitchen range, a table, a chair and her loom for weaving tapestries and rugs.

The Miller's room at the watermill, Transylvania, 2008

The Miller’s room at the watermill, Transylvania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

Sometimes she welcomed travellers to visit her mill to make extra leu.  One day a Scottish visitor and a Geordie visitor came to the mill.  She had baked them fresh pastries with jam which were delicious.  Her sons showed the visitors how the mill and its water wheel worked, then the Miller allowed the Scottish visitor to try weaving a rug on the loom.  Whilst weaving the visitor noticed a vibrant tapestry, hanging on the wall above the bed.  The tapestry depicted a fairy tale and underneath it the Miller sweetly slept in her bed each night.  When the tour was over the Miller stood in her garden in the sunshine waving goodbye to the visitors and her sons blinked their bright blue eyes”.

Wolf-tracking, Transylviania, 2008

Wolf-tracking, Transylviania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

So many aspects of our trip to Romania in 2008 have stayed with us, the breathtaking landscapes, the beautiful villages, wolf-tracking, bear-tracking and the friends we made and two wonderful nights spent with them in The Shed – a glorious watering hole in a Transylvanian village.

The Geordie and commonly known by himself, "George Bush",  The Shed, Transylvania, 2008

The Geordie and commonly known by himself, “George Bush”, The Shed, Transylvania, 2008

And the Miller and her mill.  I never forgot her standing in her garden waving to us.

The Miller's garden, Transylvania, 2008

The Miller’s garden, Transylvania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

During our Romanian adventure, partly in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor, (see 175 Steps with Patrick Leigh Fermor) we learned a lot about Communist oppression of the Romanian people, Communist State Terror and the purges resulting in many thousands of  lives lost at the hands of the Securitate – the Romanian Secret Police.  A tragically broken country and people, Romania only emerged from the shadow of Communism and Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in 1989.

Cottage in mountain village, Transylvania, 2008

Cottage in mountain village, Transylvania, 2008, Jane Lee McCracken

Remembering the Miller and her precious fairy tale tapestry, I thought of the communist purges and the Romanian peoples forcibly torn from their homes by the Securitate and the possessions left behind in the many empty properties we saw across Romania, grave memorials of the state’s barbarity.

'Join the Red Army', 1920 Ukrainian recruitment poster, artist unknown

‘Join the Red Army’, 1920 Ukrainian recruitment poster, artist unknown

To commemorate such loss during the purges I decided to make ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’.  It represents an interpretation of mass produced prints made in the 20th century of a fictional fairy tale about a ‘wolf cub’ and a ‘red horse’ and is reminiscent of Soviet Propaganda posters.  The drawing signifies how subjective art is and once selected by an individual, and displayed in their home it becomes a statement of ‘this is my taste’.  When the art work is left behind on the walls of abandoned homes, the home-owners ‘taste’ is exhibited to a silent audience or rediscovered by soldiers, refugees, other villagers or by nature.  The drawing also pays homage to Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations, particularly ‘The Red Rider’ in the Russian tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful”.

'Red Rider', "Vasalisa the Beautiful", Ivan Bilibin, 1899

‘Red Rider’, “Vasalisa the Beautiful”, Ivan Bilibin, 1899

I wondered had the Miller loved fairy tales as a young girl just as I loved my first fairy tale book illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.  Incorporating a drawing in red Biro of a gypsy horse after Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, one of my favourite childhood illustrations, I placed Lily as a puppy playing the wolf cub, riding on the horse’s back.  On the saddle is a projection of a Russian animation of a wolf which the wolf cub is watching.

'Lily' aged 15 weeks during the photo shoot for 'The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub'

‘Lily’ aged 15 weeks during the photo shoot for ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’

The drawing also memorialises our wonderful trip to beautiful Romania.

'Red Horse and the Wolf Cub - After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone', 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

‘Red Horse and the Wolf Cub – After Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone’, 2009, red and black Biro drawing by Jane Lee McCracken

Luxurious Archival Pigment limited edition prints of ‘The Red Horse and the Wolf Cub’, made by the excellent Jack Lowe Studio are available from my website

‘You Can Lead a Horse to Water…’ – Béla Tarr’s ‘TURIN HORSE’ in Kraków

'Sindy and the Troika', black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken symbolises possessions left behind when people flee their homes during war or disaster.

‘Sindy and the Troika’, black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken

Incessant winda dirge of clawing violins on repeat… ’Doom’ on his hands and knees, crawling ever closer with each sunset, along his impending trail of inevitable cataclysm, until finally he reaches the desolate cottage on the Hungarian plains.

Bela Tarr’s finale to his epic film-making career ‘Turin Horse’ is a triumph of Apocalyptic cinema.  In the beginning: a black screen and Tarr’s voice narrating a vigil of white text informs us that on 3rd January 1889 in Turin, Friedrich Nietzsche reached out to protect a horse being beaten by its owner, experienced a terminal breakdown and lived a further ‘silent and demented’ 10 years until his death… “We do not know what happened to the horse.”

Opening scene, 'Turin Horse', Béla Tarr, 2011

Opening scene, ‘Turin Horse’, Béla Tarr, 2011

The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: an elderly man driving his horse and cart, battle through an abrasive gale along a country road, escorted by Mihály Víg’s vulturous score, reminiscent of Philip Glass’s composition for ‘Candyman’, until they finally reach an isolated cottage.  A woman steps from the shadows of a barn to help the old man unbridle the horse and lead it to stable and rest.  The bait is eaten as we are reeled in by our temptation to find out what happens next…not much and yet so much.  No names, no histoire and a minimalist script, Béla Tarr leaves us virtually at the mercy of the mesmerising, monochrome cinematography of Fred Kelemen.

'Daughter' trudging to the well in 'Turin Horse', Béla Tarr, 2011

‘Daughter’ trudging to the well, ‘Turin Horse’, Béla Tarr, 2011

From the unbuttoning and buttoning of tattered clothes, folding of linen and the skinning by hand of hot boiled potatoes to reach the piping flesh; the daughter’s gruelling daily walk to the well in the prophetic wind to fetch water, we watch almost as if in real time 6 days of peasant hardship, grind and repetitive misery, that are the lives of an old man and his daughter in their dark, aged cottage whilst Abaddon rages outside.  Tarr’s appreciation of such adversity brings us perhaps as close as we can come to watching how our 19th century peasant forebears lived, and is almost the triumph of the film.  In parallel, Tarr’s vision gives us what Van Gogh gave us with ‘The Potato Eaters’ a wish to spare us nothing,

'The Potato Eaters', Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

‘The Potato Eaters’, Vincent Van Gogh, 1885

“You see, I really have wanted to make it so that people get the idea that these folk, who are eating their potatoes by the light of their little lamp, have tilled the earth themselves with these hands they are putting in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor and — that they have thus honestly earned their food. I wanted it to give the idea of a wholly different way of life from ours — civilized people. So I certainly don’t want everyone just to admire it or approve of it without knowing why.”, Vincent Van Gogh“Letter 497”, The Letters, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Almost the triumph of the film, but not quite.

Whilst the camera focuses on a black blizzard of bird-like leaves wheeling through the foreground, the father and daughter leading their horse, their well now empty of water, attempt to escape the world counting down to oblivion.  As their tragic out of focus figures wrestle along the distant horizon of a ridge with a single tree, I can feel the gentle breath from Lily’s canine nose on my hand as she lies beside me on the sofa. Like the quiet grace of the ‘horse’, Lily’s reassuring, measured breaths during that bleak scene reinforce the innocence humanity literally holds in its hands, a ‘key point’ of Tarr’s film.

'Horse', 'Turin Horse', Béla Tarr, 2011

‘Horse’, ‘Turin Horse’, Béla Tarr, 2011

And Darkness was on the Face of the Deep: The triumph of the film is the horse. Her dignity, the majesty with which her whole being seems to say ‘humanity you led us all to this, and now there is not even water to drink’.  The horse is our prophet, her intelligence far surpasses ours as she warns us life as we know it is over, that we have lost light and we are now plunging back into the darkness before creation, by man’s hand and Nature’s.

“The key point is that the humanity, all of us, including me, are responsible for destruction of the world. But there is also a force above human at work – the gale blowing throughout the film – that is also destroying the world. So both humanity and a higher force are destroying the world.” Bela Tarr, 2011

Bar in Kraków, 2007

Bar in Kraków, 2007

Watching ‘Turin Horse’ reminded me of a drawing I did in 2008 after a trip to  Kraków, ‘Sindy and the Troika’, which visited a theme I have often explored; fear and transpiration from the approach of a warring army.  We were staying in Kazimierz, which was once the heart of Jewish Kraków until the Nazis mercilessly ‘cleared’ the ghetto in WWII, depicted in Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Schindler’s List’, sending most of its Jewish inhabitants to their demise in nearby death camps like Auschwitz.

Kraków bar with Singer sewing machine as table, 2007

Me in another Kazimierz bar furnished with Singer sewing machine tables, Kraków, 2007

Kazimierz is now a vibrant art and cafe culture district and it was whilst in one of the many beautiful bars, which include bars like ‘Singer’ furnished with Singer sewing machine tables, that I found inspiration for the drawing.  I often contemplate the hellish fear that must overtake people when they are awaiting the onslaught of an enemy army. Documentaries are an audio visual record of this, but sitting in a room, that was originally a ghetto room where probably too many inhabited too few square feet, was sobering even with several Żubrówka‘s sunk accompanied by Polish cigarettes.

Kraków bar, 2007

Kraków bar, 2007

The room seemed to have been left just as if its inhabitants had walked out the door to find food, although perhaps they weren’t searching for food, perhaps they had fled from what must almost feel like the invasion of an alien army of super-humans from another planet as their wrath seems beyond that of civilised members of our own species.

Tapestry in Kraków bar, 2007

Vintage Russian Tapestry in Kraków bar, 2007

The bar owners had decorated the bar with a kitsch vintage tapestry of wolves hunting a man driving a troika.  I wondered where the tapestry had come from, I imagined it as the type of possession left by fleeing civilians not just across Poland but Europe – a cottage perhaps where the inhabitants left their favourite tapestry and their children’s toys for the hellfire of the oncoming German army or from fear of retaliation from the Allied Armies.

Official USSR photograph of Red Army in combat WWII, Artist's own collection.

The end of the Battle of Stalingrad turns the tide of war and the Red Army begin their offensive and fight their way to Berlin, often taking revenge for the inconceivable brutality perpetrated by the Wehrmacht on Russian civilians.  Official USSR photograph of Russian soldiers in combat, WWII, 1944, Artist’s own collection.

In the drawing the dishevelled, handless Sindy doll represents the brutality often waged upon civilian populations during war as well as the memories of children at play before fate’s hand led them to their destiny.  The tapestry symbolises life preceding war, of a beautiful forest and traditions and landscapes lost forever to war.  And like the father and daughter in ‘Turin Horse’, many families met their uncertain fates together.

'Sindy and the Troika', black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken symbolises possessions left behind when people flee their homes during war or disaster.

‘Sindy and the Troika’, black Biro drawing , 2008, by Jane Lee McCracken symbolises possessions left behind when people flee their homes during war or disaster.

For further information and Luxury Archival Prints made to order by one of the best printmaker’s in the UK Jack Lowe Studio please visit my website.