Welcome! On this site you'll find information on our graphic novel, John Barleycorn Must Die - as well as our legendary 'around the table' series of discussions with various artists, film directors and writers. When we started this blog, we posted weekly to discuss the creative process of producing our novel. (You'll find those posts in the archives in the left hand column.) The novel has now been published, and we are posting a page every weekday on our sister blog which you can find here, or you can buy a copy of the book via the links in the right hand column.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Around the Table with Iain McCaig...


Iain McCaig is an award-winning illustrator and one of the film industry’s leading conceptual designers. He has worked for Lucasfilm as one of the principal designers on Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith, where he created the landmark designs for Queen Amidala and Darth Maul. More recently, he's been working on Star Wars Episode VII  for Disney. His other film credits include James Cameron's Terminator II, Steven Spielberg's Hook, Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, Neil Jordan’s Interview With the Vampire, Sony/Revolution/Universal’s Peter Pan, and Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He was Co-Producer and Concept Design Director on Ascendant Pictures’ science-fiction epic Outlander. He has illustrated many books, taught art and design, and had his work collected in a sumptuous art book: Shadowline(Insight Editions, 2008)Iain was born in California, grew up primarily in Canada, studied at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, and now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information visit his website.


Iain, Howard and Rex.

H:  Hi, Iain, and welcome. I’d like to start this Around the Table discussion by talking about the value of looking at things 'the other way round.’ When we were chatting in the pub last night, you mentioned that you’d done a workshop on clowning with Nola Rae.

Iain:  Yes. When I was in London, my wife and I both did classes with her.

H:  I get the feeling you approach your work by thinking: ‘Right, that’s the normal way of looking at this image or character, but what happens if I look at it this other way?’  Now, that, to me, is almost the definition of 'clown.' A clown says, ‘Yeah, yeah, I could do it that way, but I want to do it this way.’

Iain: I didn’t know that, and I’m honored! The first thing that ever scared the crap out of me was a clown. It's my first memory. I was three years old, and we’re driving up a hill in Los Angeles and there's a giant billboard revealing itself slowly as we rise up over the hill.  At first all I see is the red hair and the white face, then these menacing eyes and a bright red nose.  By the time we get to the big happy smile I’m screaming and hiding underneath the seat. It's Bozo.

H:  Ah!

Iain:  And I don’t know why, but just the way it was revealed like that terrified me. The idea that the clown paints the smile on, paints the expression on, so who knows what they’re really feeling underneath? That scared the crap out of me. So ... cut to years later when I’m supposed to create the new icon of evil in Star Wars, and George Lucas asks me to describe my worst, worst nightmare...

H:  So...Darth Maul is...

Darth Maul Demo.

Iain: Bozo!

H:  Brilliant! Bozo the Sith Lord!  

Rex:  Wow. You heard it here first, folks. Darth Maul is a clown!

Iain:  But despite being scared to death by clowns, I love them as well. I’ve always loved the things that scare me. I love Frankenstein monsters, the darkness under the bed, the monster in the closet.

H:  These days, of course, we tend to think of clowns as rubber-balloon-modeling children’s entertainers, and yet lots of people have a fear of clowns.  Now for me, proper clowns are very dark.  

Iain:  Right.

H:  Not scary dark, but existentially dark. I’ve seen excellent clowning in French theatre, where the clowns go into areas of the psyche where we the audience don’t normally go. I once did a workshop with a clown called Phillipe Hottier, who was from Theatre du Soleil, and his view was that to get to the clown you have to first find the centre of yourself.

Iain:  Mm-hm.

H:  The centre is where you’re neutral, and from that place you can go anywhere, because for Hottier, the clown’s got to be able to go anywhere. It may be both an anarchist and a fascist for example. It's got to be able to do anything, to not be p.c.. 

Iain: You know, we talked about that at Star Wars. George made two little mechanical clowns and threw them on screen: R2-D2 and C3PO. I guess the idea from Greek theatre is that you fall in love with the clowns, and then they can take you anywhere. You’re not afraid to go because you feel safe with them. I don’t know as much about the dark side of clowning, but all clowns scare me, and I’m attracted to things that scare me.

H:  You are?

Iain:  I guess it’s because I’ve always loved monsters, the misunderstood ‘somethings.’  Rex, I told you about the one under the bed, right?  And the one in my closet?

Rex:  Yes, you told me about that.

H: What’s this?
Hippoglosterous.

Iain:  Oh, ok. So I was fourteen. My parents moved back to the States from Canada, and I talked them into leaving me alone in our big house in Victoria. I thought it would be great, my best friends would stay with me and I'd have a great life. But as soon as my parents were gone I realised: Sh**!  I have to put myself to bed .. and  .. the thing under the bed and the thing in the closet have nothing to stop them now...and I’m dead!

H:  Whoa!

Iain:  So on that first night I jumped into the bed so that nothing would grab my toes on the way in, and I’m lying there thinking, Which gets me first?  Which gets me first?  Sh*t.  And that led me to wonder which one would get me first? Maybe the monster under the bed would be afraid of the monster in the closet...?  Then I realised that one of them was going to be in charge of the other one, and was going to have to talk to the other, and that if I was the person that taught the two of them to speak, man, I’d never have to be afraid. So I sat there in bed that night telling myself: Let the dark in.  And I just felt it filling me up...and I became this creature in the bed. Then I took my foot out from under the covers and I stuck it under the bed, just hoping the monster would grab it, because I knew what I’d do to him. I’ve never been afraid of the dark since; in fact, quite the opposite. Since then, the dark has been one of my favourite places to be.

H:  Wow.

Iain:  Maybe that’s why I’m usually a night person, and feel most creative during the dark times.

H:  I suppose, in a sense, that this relates to the Joker in Batman.  He’s a clown, a dark clown, but also a monster.

Iain:  Yes, but think about him: he’s dark, but also charming as all hell...

Rex:  Yeah!

Iain:  ...and so you absolutely love this guy, no matter what he does, you know?

H:  He's a Trickster figure.

Iain:  That's what's scary about him, that combination. Now for me, that’s the heart of any great character design, especially for your lead characters. What is the secret of life?

H:  In one word...?  

Rex:  I can’t tell you that just now.

Iain:  It's contrast. What do we see in a field of vision when we’re looking?  We discard...what is it, ninety percent of that information? But we always look at whatever’s not what we'd expected to see, and we pay attention to it.  The rest of the brain just kind of fills in any background information that we don't have in our vision, right?

H/R:  Right.

Iain:  So you can make the eye go to something by using contrast, and you can make a character stand out by using contrast. Or you can make something nearly invisible by making the contrast so slight that you don’t really see it.

H:  So it becomes almost subliminal?

Casket of Souls.
Iain:  Exactly. The Joker in Batman is the ultimate in contrast. I had nothing to do with him, by the way, so I can praise him as much as I like! I was literally shaking when I came out of that film because, yeah, that was evil incarnate to me. I loved it. And I hated myself for loving it.  For me that’s the flip.  Maybe I’m just attracted to things that are (hopefully) as different from me as I can possibly get. I had a ridiculously happy childhood, by the way. Nobody died on me, nothing ever got stolen, and my parents were still together the entire time I was growing up. I loved everybody and they seemed to mostly love me. I had the best group of friends. So it was very hard at first trying to write fiction, because I didn't have dark things there to draw on. I had to imagine my evil; I had to imagine all the bad things that could have happened to me but didn’t. And your imaginary fears are probably just as strong as the real ones...in fact maybe stronger, because you're creating them and can make them far worse than whatever might have actually happened.

H:  Like in the first Alien movie, where you never see the monster?   

Iain:  Right! That was the one shot they knew not to put in. 

H:  And a lot of people say that it's the most frightening of the films because it allows each audience member to project their own fears onto the creature.

Iain:  And it's not just fear, this actually works with other desires and emotions as well.  I mean, this is how a striptease works, right? Striptease is at it’s very, very best when you’ve still got one sock on....

H:  And then just as you are about to take that sock off, the lights come down!

Iain: Exactly! It’s how the Peep Shows work: You’re almost right to the end .. and then .. CLICK! Another quarter please!

H:  Which of course enflames the desire...

Iain:  Right!

H:  ... because it's saying: This is verboten, you can’t go here. And, naturally, you want to go where you're not meant to go.

Iain: And of course you’ll go there!  It's the same with fear. Your imagination will turn the threat you can't see into exactly the thing you are most afraid of. I don’t think these kinds of stories are bad. I think we need them, we love them, because of the contrast they make with the rest of our lives. It makes the good moments better and brighter than all the rest. It could also be that I love scary stories because I’ve never really experienced any great fear or trauma --  I’ve never been in a war, nothing horrible happened in my childhood.  

H:  Excusing me for changing the subject, Iain, but can we talk about your creative process? This is something we've discussed with all the artists we've had around the table. What is your state of mind when you’re in the act of drawing?  How does the drawing come to you?  Some artists say they just start drawing and then ideas and images come through. Others have quite a clear picture of what they want before they start. What’s it like for you?

Iain:  Well, I’ve always been inspired by the word, so when I was younger, I would read Ray Bradbury stories, and boom, my head would start filling up with all these pictures! I'd run screaming to a piece of paper before my head exploded so I could just pour them out a little bit...you know?

H:  And is it that you 'see' a picture in your mind's eye and then you transfer that image onto the page...or do you start without a clear image in mind and let the picture emerge as you draw?

Iain:  The words are exactly like that one sock that got left on: I can’t 'see' the picture because the words are hiding it. And I need to see it, as fast as I possibly can.

Rex:  Wow.

Gandalph.
Iain:  That’s what I was saying last night when we were talking about doing art for book covers, Rex. One school of thought is that you should never show a character, because every reader has their own vision of that character. I don’t agree. I think you should, but you have to find the spirit of the character first. You have to go under the sock. Find the foot, and understand it. Then you can draw it however you want. Whatever sock you put on top, if it's the right shape for that foot, or for that character, then it is that character. It doesn't matter if it's a different colour, a different material, than the reader expected it to be -- as long as it has the right shape, the right feeling, the right spirit, it will be fine. An example of this is Gandalph in the Lord of the Rings films. My Gandalph looks totally different. In the books Tolkien describes him as having these long, long eyebrows that come out beyond the brim of his wide, wide hat.

H:  Mmm.

Iain:  Well, think about that for a moment.  That’s an insect!  That’s like, woah! Gandalph's eyebrows in the films didn't do that, quite wisely; but my Gandalph always has those extra long eyebrows. Yet it didn’t matter for the films because the spirit of the character was exactly right. Ian McKellen's face wasn’t the face in my mental picture either, but he was exactly right, so I didn’t care.

H:  The 'spirit.' That’s quite an interesting concept, isn’t it?  The spirit of...of what? Any time that you take a well-known book and design it for film you’re going to have people saying: ‘Oh, that isn’t how I imagined it.’ So somehow the designer needs to...get under the sock.

Iain:  Get to the soul.  Get to the soul.

H: How do you go about doing that?  

Iain:  Humbly...and with a lot of hard, hard work. With a lot of perspiration. How do you get into the Olympics?  Well, with lots of push-ups, a lot of exercise. So let’s just say I want to get to the soul of...what? Name anybody.

Rex:  Tarzan!

Iain:  Well, I was going to say a real person.

Rex:  Oh, sorry.

H:  Do you want a different one?  

Iain:  No, no, no, no!  We’ll do Tarzan, we’ll do Tarzan! 

Rex:  Okay....

Iain:  I mean, that's the person that you first chose. There’s a thing we always do in my workshops: 'What is the right answer? The first one!' And I actually have a commission to draw something similar to Tarzan, as it happens. So, if I was asked to do the perfect Tarzan, the first thing I’d do would be to read the books...which I've read before, but I’d read them again to make them fresh. I'd try to feel the spirit of that character...and also, to empty my head of everything else I’d ever seen to do with Tarzan. Now, once I've read the books and have him firmly in my head, I’ll run to a piece of paper, half-close my eyes, and try to ’dream it down’ as fast as I possibly can. It's almost like truly dreaming on paper. It will be badly drawn in parts, whatever I don't yet understand; it’ll be imperfect in many parts and the lighting will be shit -- but I'll have this thing full of imagination, and it will connect directly to the spirit of the character. So then I'll open my eyes and I'll kind of look around to find something in real life that looks like that. I might think, ‘Oh my God, this drawing looks like Howard!''  So then I'll go down and beg my friend Howard to take off his clothes and put a loin cloth on and carry a monkey and-- 

Rex:  Wouldn’t require much begging.

H:  I’ll do it!

Shadowline Cover.
Iain:  (I do have to do this commission, Howard, so be careful!) So then I'll draw you. I won't turn you into Tarzan, I'll just...study you, study whatever it was in my initial drawing that I didn’t quite get right and that your face or body is now providing. I'll put light around you at different angles and in different areas. If you somehow have a ‘Tarzanish’ quality in you, if you have that refined ‘Lord of Something from England who is now trapped in a jungle' quality, that will be what I'm connecting to in you. The ‘refinedness’ of Tarzan, not the ‘animalness’ of Tarzan. In the same way you direct an actor, I’ll let you know what emotion I’m after and then let you go, let you improvise -- and I’ll take what I can find, what I can get, even if it's not what I sketch. And then I’ll just keep doing that. Maybe there’s something else, maybe there is a hugeness to Tarzan that might not be in you, so I’ll go and find a 6’ 7” guy, probably not a body builder but probably a swimmer, so that the muscles feel really natural and there are giant back muscles and things....

Rex: Johnny Weissmuller was a swimmer. 

Iain: Johnny Weissmuller was a swimmer.  He had the right kind of profile.

Rex: Yeah.

Iain: Then I'll go and study leopards and go and study monkeys and I might also study gorillas and mix a little bit of all that into Tarzan; I'll just study and draw, like swatting up for an exam. Then I get to a point where I'm literally vibrating with so much information.  And then I let the rubber band go and do a third drawing...and that third drawing is that first one with authority. You’re performing your character onto a piece of paper with the authority of your research. That third drawing, guaranteed, always works out. It might not be the right solution for your particular commission, but it always works, it always makes a nice drawing. Then you simply hide the first two drawings and everyone thinks you’re a genius!

H: Like magic!

Iain: Absolutely. And you must never reveal it in interviews....

H: Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.

Rex: That was interesting, because when you were talking there about Howard being Tarzan, he became Tarzan! Just suddenly. 

Iain: You did for me too, Howard. You were standing in a tree with that vestige of lost civilisation on you, which I hadn’t seen in you before. 

Rex: For me it was more you were standing in a loin cloth.

H: You’re starting to imagine me in a loin cloth, Rex!?

Rex: That’s the way I’ve always wanted to picture you, Howard -- and now that I’ve got it, it's fantastic.

Iain: And I’m so proud I was here for this very endearing moment between you two old friends. I’ll leave now....

Rex: Well, if you wouldn’t mind.

H:  Er, yes. Quickly changing the subject: That was a really fascinating description of your process, Iain. Your idea of ‘dreaming on paper’ first, that's a good description of inspiration. 

Iain: Yes. You just let it come out onto the page and there’s no criticism of anything.

H: It's similar to writing first drafts, when you just get the story down, rough and imperfect, knowing there will be time to perfect it later. So after this first fast, intuitive drawing, then you do illustrative research?

Iain: You go on a field trip and you just record what you see.

H: And you’re just taking stuff in, you’re not making judgements on it?

Queen Amidala.
Iain: No judgements. One part of your brain still has to be in charge, the part that tells you what to go and research. But even then, you get gifts. So I’ll start researching...you, and then I’ll turn my eyes and think, Holy shit, that croissant!, and so I’ll go over here now, and I don’t know why this is relevant, but the croissant's shape was strong enough to pull my eye away from the Tarzan I was drawing. So then I'lll draw the croissant, not knowing how I might use it...and later on, it becomes the texture of the tree branch that you are sitting on, because what a great contrast between the refined action and this gnarly, gnarly almond nutted thing.

H: That’s something that Rex and I have learned to trust. The way we work is that we often spend time just talking, which is something I learned from my theatre partner, Geoff. Very early on in our work, Geoff and I would spend time outside of work just talking -- nonsense mostly, or philosophy, or stuff. You’re sitting up late at night or you’re at a festival or something and you’re just talking about whatever comes to mind...and it is often those very things that become important to your project later on, almost like you’re storing it all in your subconscious. I have a view that if I’m working on a play or a book then anything that happens to me during that time is a part of it.

Iain: Yes!

H: Whatever it is, there’s the possibility that anything might prove to be important for the work, any strange occurrence, any sudden decision. You go, 'I’m going to turn Right here, on the road’ and, pfff, there’s a castle, and, 'Ah, of course! Our character’s in...’  

Iain: I do exactly the same thing! So, truly, when I get a new project, the very first thing I’ll do is take a long bus ride, or go for a walk and rifle the library in my head and just go, ‘Where, where, where, what, what, what, what, what ..?’  It doesn’t matter what it is, something somewhere makes me all excited and connects me to the project. I can hear it ‘calling’ me from my inner library and I just go and try to find it....and then while I’m doing that, my eyes are open and (makes sucking noise) it's like you’re...

H:  Hoovering up!

Iain:  ...hoovering up everything!  What you’re hoovering up are the things that make you excited while you’re thinking on the project's theme. You are Tarzan, so I would immediately go into the woods and (makes hoovering noises) and do it with paper, and pencil and...

H:  ...and you used the phrase ‘things that make me excited’, so in a sense that part is the judgement call. It's almost like there’s a trail leading to...

Iain: Yes!

H:  ...a quest to find the treasure. And this is making my heart beat faster, whatever it is, so I’m going to follow it because... You must know Douglas Adams?

Iain: Of course!

H:  Do you know his 'Dirk Gently' series?  

Iain: Yes.

H: So Dirk Gently, the holistic detective, says:  ‘Look, I’m on a case, so I'll bill my clients for anything that happens to me because...well, because I’m an holistic detective, and anything I spend money on must be to do with the case, therefore I can bill them for a new computer, and fridge and sofa, etc.’ I quite like the idea that when you're immersed in creative work, everything you do relates to it. You go through life building up a library of experiences, images and ideas, and when you start a project, what you're doing is sort of...

Iain:  ..pulling from that. 

H: Or maybe it's like putting a Google search into your brain that says: Tarzan.

Dejah Thoris.
Iain: It feels much more like an old library to me. You look around at the shelves and you go over here. It isn’t a Google search, because with the search thing you put a word in, you’re dictating where it goes. When I’m in the ‘library,’ I know all images in all the books...so I just go to a book, and I then remember another image over here, and another one over there which may have nothing obvious to do with the first one...you know? Your brain makes strange connections. Like, there was a certain smell in the room when you watch this person who had stolen your heart walking toward you. Your brain puts those things together and logs them. Suddenly, as you are trying to draw a beautiful woman, you go back to that image, that moment in the room, and my God, what’s that smell...? The next thing you know you have the environment and the world.

H:  Is this something that you do naturally, or that you’ve learned, or which has developed over time?

Iain:  It's something that I've always done, and became aware that I was doing the moment that I started to teach. And that is why you teach.That absolutely is why you teach. As you learn anything in life, you try to get it into body memory as fast as you can, and then you cease to think about it. And the danger of that, of course, is that you cease to remember how and why you're doing what you’re doing. Teaching makes you remember the how and why. For example, a lot of making art is in knowing what to leave out. You’re drawing a face, and you want to indicate the shadow on that side of the nose and the nostril over here...and to do that right, you have to remember that the nose is comprised of a shaft of bone, some cartilage, and two phalanges of the nostrils which have a little width underneath, right?  And then this central bone is connected into this wonderful triangle that I want to name -- but it doesn’t have a name, it's that little bone right there. On either side it then becomes part of the eye sockets, so there is no end of the nose. So, if all you’re doing is putting a shadow on a dot, you’ve got to remember that that shadow is not just the nostril but encompasses all those things  -- and then you see that the shape will be dictated by all the stuff that you’re not drawing. So a reason to teach is to remind yourself that that shadow has to be precisely that shape or it doesn’t accommodate those things that you’re suggesting. Teaching it to someone else helps you to remember.

H: That’s really fascinating. 

Iain: My mum used to asked me... I’d be drawing something here and then I’d skip over there and draw something else, and she’d ask, ‘Wait!  Why did you go there? Why there?’  And a lot of it had to do with an innate sense of composition, which didn't have anything to do with formal composition - like when you use a pyramid because its very iconic and powerful, or you use a circle because its very dynamic, especially with a tangent line. But really, intuitively, everybody composes. You know, you look at a page and your handwriting is here, here, here, here, and then you’ve stopped and you put another note up here and another one there.... Why there? Why did you choose there?

Pied Piper.
H: And that’s just something that’s in an artist’s sensibility?

Iain: Everybody has it. What we’re really trying to do is find balance. Drawing is often a process of balance and unbalance -- and with balance and unbalance, you get these amazing compositions.

H:  Can I follow up an idea that came to me when you were talking about teaching? You say that everybody has an intuitive ability. I wonder whether part of being an artist, and I think it's true of actors, is getting rid of the barrier that stops you from following your intuition.There seems to be a lot in common between how you see drawing, and performance.Do you see it as a kind of performance?

Iain: Oh my God, you don’t dare walk in my studio while I’m drawing because I will be the character I’m drawing, and you just hope to God it's one of the good guys! I’ve had people walk into my studio and run screaming away from me, because I make the face, I become the character.  

H: To me, performing implies a sense of flow, because as a performer on stage, performance is about flow.

Iain: Losing identity and becoming the character.

H: Losing identity...yes. 

Iain: Absolutely. And you can enter that state pretty quick, I think, after years practice.There are many different kinds of artists, and I might just be talking about the ‘you and me’ artists that like to perform our characters. I mean, there are very structured, more procedural ways to make an image. They don’t work as well for me, I don’t respond to them, but there are a whole bunch of people who do. 

Rex: It's so interesting to hear the drawing process deconstructed. It's been years since I've sat down and thought: This is how I do it. I was thinking about how Howard and I were trying to find dialogue for one of the characters in our comic, the Marilyn Monroe character.  We were trying to find a voice for her, so we were both imitating Marilyn Monroe, and it kept coming out--

H: It ended up being Michael Jackson! We did Michael Jackson impressions – and it worked.  

Iain: It's funny you should choose Marilyn, who’s always been a close, close connection for me. I would meet her if I could go back in time. Pure innocence. She wasn't pretending to be innocent. People get it wrong when they impersonate her: they do a kind of ‘knowing siren.’ She wasn't. She was knowing, but the knowing part deliberately remained almost unconscious, or subconscious.  And the other part that came out was like a child, pure innocence. 

Rex: Yes.

Iain: And it's a deadly, deadly weapon, it's a very powerful weapon, and that’s what she projected. Rex, I think I told you the story of when I was drawing Padme and George Lucas came into the studio?

Rex: Uh huh.

Iain: It was late, like 11 o’clock at night, and he was walking around the studio, and there was no one there but me. And I’m sitting drawing my Padme, so I’m in that other world. George comes over and stands behind my desk and he’s watching and finally he grabs the drawing off the drawing board and goes,  “The question is, Iain, who is she?!  Who is she?!!” And I looked up, and deep in that creative zone you may only speak truth, so I just said, “Well, she’s me, George.”  And I saw this look of horror go right across his face. As he backed away, he said, “You need help!” But it's true, it is me.  There's an innocence in me and a naivety in me, and I connect with it, and that woman is the epitome and the embodiment of that kind of character. 

Rex: It's interesting, because I have a process I follow when I’m having trouble, at the beginning of a project, or at the beginning of creating a character, I bring out objects that trigger me back to when I was four, five, six years old.... like, I’ve got some old comics that I had at that time, and I’ve still got a couple of old toys that I've kept. I don’t know whether I deliberately kept them for this purpose, but when I get into a place where I can’t get past my cynicism, past the layers that I’ve built up over fifty-five years, I get this stuff out, and what I’m looking for is a trigger back to that innocent time when anything was possible for me. 

Iain: And you said five?

Rex: Five...maybe four, five, six. Yeah, let’s say five.  

Iain: That’s interesting. I wonder if everybody has an age of innocence, and in all of us it's different? My age of innocence was fourteen to sixteen.

Rex: Really?

Moon Goddess.
Iain: Because you’re aware then, you’re sort of sexually aware, but you have no idea what you’re aware of. You know there’s this feeling, it's definitely there, and you’re entering this world where bodies take on a new meaning. The world is sensuous, and everything is fantastic. Those fights you have...I still remember them. I remember the blood in my mouth and the feeling in your nose when you get punched, and there’s a joy in it, and a terror in it. And falling in love. I remember the very first kiss...un-friggin’-believable! Do you remember the magic of touching another human..a woman..at that age?! Of touching a woman’s hand?! And that is what I remember whenever I go back; I go to that moment. 

Rex: My first love affair was with Raquel Welch in One Million (Years) B.C.  I genuinely fell in love with her. I was obsessed with her, and with the film. I wanted to be Tumak, the counter character to Loana.  Of course Tumak was played by a guy called John Richardson, who was originally a photographer and a really handsome guy, you know.  I just couldn’t get her out of my mind for years and years and years. In fact, when I was a kid, I was going to grow up and marry her.  

Iain: Right!

Rex: Well, I wasn’t going to marry Raquel Welch, I was going to marry Loana.  

Iain: Right. Right. Right.  But be honest now, when you think back to her, what do you see?  What’s the first part of either her body or whatever that you remember?

Rex: Her face.  She was so beautiful and, I think, innocent...back then. That famous photograph in the bikini, when she appears on the beach. Tumak was lying under the turtle, and he was about to be crushed by it and Loana saw him. Then there was that music, that beautiful music. He was helpless, just this puppet laying unconscious on the beach about to be killed by a turtle.  She risked her life and tried to drag him away, then blew a horn and then...you know, this is deep into my psyche now...and then all the Shell tribe came running and they rescued him.

Iain: For me too, it was her face, and then it was the amount of skin that was showing...not in any lecherous way, but just because you like to be bare as a kid -- which is why Tarzan has this huge appeal for me. I think clothes are ridiculous! I love being just as bare as you can be. That’s what attracted me to John Carter too. They were all very scantily clad in the books.

John Carter - Caught!
Rex: Yes!

Iain:  ...and in the Frazetta cover paintings too.

Rex: Yes!

Iain: And yet it was hardly pornography, you know. Think about it: it's something in our society that we’ve so maligned and so warped and destroyed. If someone is naked now, obviously you’re going to have sex, and obviously if you’re going to have sex it's going to lead to violence and horror, and obviously the story is going to have an ‘R’ rating. What?!!! It's the stupidest thing in the world. We’ve got all this conditioning layered onto us.

H: I want to explore this sense of the artist as being someone who doesn’t have those barriers, those layers and conditioning. The training I had when I went to university for drama, during my first year, was about breaking down. My tutor said: ‘This year is about breaking down every single bit of conditioning that you’ve acquired going through school and in society, because until we get rid of that, we can’t start getting at the truth.’  

Iain: And it is the truth and it's only the truth that counts.

H: Exactly. So when I teach theatre, one of the things I’m trying to do is give students a space where it's safe for them to be and to get rid of the conditioning. I assume that happens in art college as well?

Iain: No, no. It's a very different experience from what people expect if they haven’t gone to art college.

H: It's more technical?

Iain: My school, The Glasgow School of Art, did give me an opportunity to draw from a life model regularly for four years, for which I am very, very thankful, but they didn’t teach technique, and they didn’t get into philosophical issues like that.

H: No?

Iain: No. Art school didn’t help in that way at all. For me, there’s only one place that the truth can come from, and I think you instinctively know as an artist early, early on, that the only thing you have to sell to the world, in some ways, is you. Otherwise, you’re copying somebody...and you’re only ever going to mimic that, and be on the outside of that. You should never be on the outside of anything if you’re drawing, you have to be on the inside.  You can get in there and look back out again if you’re truly, truly, blindingly, blisteringly honest. I don’t know that I ever got rid of my conditioning, but it doesn’t matter. It's irrelevant. There’s a higher calling. And my higher calling is serving that story. I never just make images, the images are always there to tell stories. So the calling is to serve the story and you will serve the story no matter how you feel, or what you’re doing, or whether you’re sleepy, tired, inhibited – that's all irrelevant.  It's what you and I were talking about too: the show must go on. It must. Otherwise, get off the stage.  

Fairy 4
H: Um....

Iain: You’re supposed to applaud!!

Rex: Yes!

[Clapping & laughter.

Iain: Let’s do it!!  

H: Yes, but before we do, I’d like to go back to what you were saying about teaching. We touched on the idea that teaching teaches you, the teacher.

Iain: Well, teaching completes your training as an artist -- so it's not that you’re now teaching what you know, you’re now finishing the act of learning to draw. The act of learning to draw is to communicate what you’ve learned. Because (da na!) there’s no end to learning. Your students see the holes that you can’t see any more because you think you know what you’re doing. That’s the gift you get from your students; they show you the way forward. They help you to remember what you’ve attained so far by having to put into words things that you do instinctively.

H: I relate to that. As a drama teacher what I’m doing, in a sense, is co-learning with a group of students. You have to adopt ‘high status’ with them, of course, particularly in mask work, because when you’re working with masks you have to be able to bring people out of a mask if they start freaking out. And students want their teacher to have confidence that they know what they’re talking about!

Fairy 3
Iain: Notice how you do that, right?  You were saying (and it's the same thing I do in my visual story time classes) that you confidently walk in not knowing how it's going to end up. You walk in, and your higher status is saying: “Follow me, we'll walk into the dark together, and I will lead you out.”

H: Exactly.

Iain: And you don’t honestly, truly know if you will, if you’ll be able to. You just believe you will, and it's what Ray Bradbury said: “You jump off the cliff and you build your wings on the way down.” Right? It's exciting, it keeps it fresh for you, makes you actually use your skills. You’re not teaching your skills so much as you are there as a fellow combatant, doing it with them.

H: I absolutely agree with you. The best teachers are those that say ‘Look, we’re going to go and explore this land together.’ I have a library of experience from years of performing and from my own training to draw on, but basically I have no idea where the class is going to go -- because what I’m interested in is the relationship I will have with those particular students at that particular time. If I came in with a lesson too planned, I’d end up saying: “You can’t do that because that isn’t what you’re meant to be doing according to my schedule!” Instead it's like, “F*** off, if this is where you want to go, let’s go there, and you’ll learn what you need to learn from the experience. You’ll learn that this is what we do in this particular situation...but if it was a different time or place or different people, we’d use a different skill.”

Iain: Now think of the schools you went to. You went in and there was a curriculum...

H & Rex: Yeah.

Iain: ...designed to give predictable results, because that’s how they measure success or failure. What a shame. It makes the teaching experience dead for the teacher. It means for the students there’s no excitement of real discovery, and I think it's a mistake.

H: I agree. If my point is to bring you alive as the Commedia character Pantalone, and you really connect with Pantalone in the first exercise, why bother with all the others? We're here already.

Iain: You got it, you got it, you have.

H: If you’re not alive, then we go ‘Whoa, this isn’t working for you. Let’s find something else that works.’  All I want to do is bring you alive, because if you’re alive, you’re going to do the greater work yourself anyway.

Iain: For what it's worth, very honestly, teaching is a magic trick. And like all magic tricks, you are actually in total control the entire time, guiding others along the way. 

H: Indeed. And that seems like a good place to end today. Thank you, Iain.

Iain: Thank you so much.

Rex: Thank you.


Hatter and Hare.