1 June 2016
Marcus Crocker is a renowned street artist who was commissioned by Penguin Random House, as part of the 150th celebrations of Beatrix Potter, to create six of the author’s best-known characters, and install them in surprising London locations. Marcus has provided a modern interpretation of each character, offering a unique perspective on the adventures that Beatrix’s creations might be having in the 21st century.
How did you feel about being asked to work on this anniversary commission?
It was really exciting to be asked to work on this. I loved the stories as a child so I felt very privileged to be a part of a different 21st century interpretation of the characters.
Can you describe the process you went through when creating these diminutive figures?
After lots of brainstorming, sketching and ultimately finalising the ideas for each character, when it came to actually creating them, I’d start off with lots of research; re-reading the books and searching through hundreds of images online showing the real-life animals from different angles. I wanted to get a basic understanding of their anatomy so that their postures would look plausible and accurate in the final sculptures – a process I believe Beatrix also followed. I’d always keep these images and the books in front of me for reference when sculpting and painting.
The physical process of the sculpture starts with building a wire armature to get the basic structure, then building up the main body using multiple layers of air-drying clay and glue to strengthen it. I’d let each layer dry before continuing, which allowed me to build in lots of fine detail. I needed to make sure they looked anatomically correct before adding the layers of clay for any clothing.
I’d then paint with acrylic, finishing off with highlights and shading to make the colours stand out well in the photographs.
One of the most important parts of the process is ensuring a good setting to place and photograph the sculptures. Getting a good photo in situ on the street in an interesting setting is ultimately what people are going to see!
How long did it take to create each one?
The total process for each one probably exceeded 140 hours – a lot of work for something ultimately so small and fragile! A good deal of time was spent first researching images of the animals online, reading the books, sketching ideas and watching videos. For example, I found myself watching lengthy YouTube videos of croaking frogs to help me create Jeremy Fisher! It’s amazing the random inspiration you can find online!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in creating these sculptures?
It has been a really enjoyable challenge trying to capture their anatomy whilst staying true to their original characteristics as I re-imagined them in a 21st Century context. I feel like I have done them justice now though!
Do you have a personal favourite?
I’ll always have a soft spot for Peter Rabbit, but I think Squirrel Nutkin might be my favourite sculpture as he appeals to the hippy side of me! I wanted him to have an echo of Beatrix Potter’s conservationist influence, which has been really important in preserving the beauty of the Lake District.
Which is your favourite Beatrix Potter Tale? / Which of Potter’s characters do you most identify with?
I feel I related mostly to The Tale of Peter Rabbit as a child. I’d have definitely snuck into Mr. McGregor’s garden! There’s also something about the tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck that I really enjoy. At face value it seems really innocent but there’s a real underlying tension and potential for tragedy that is so narrowly avoided!
Did you grow up with Beatrix Potter? Did her characters feature in your childhood?
Very much so. We had the entire collection and my parents loved the books as children too. I grew up in an old Victorian house that had a small garden with a fence at the bottom. I remember I often used to climb the fence into the garden beyond which was huge! It had an enormous vegetable plot, beautifully kept by a lovely gentleman who used to be a Spitfire pilot in WWII, but for many years I thought he was Mr. McGregor and my mother only fuelled the belief!
Why do you think the appeal of her characters continues to endure over 100 years later, and what do you think is the most important aspect of the Beatrix Potter legacy?
Beatrix Potter’s characters and stories are timeless. There is something almost human about their traits yet the animals are also beautifully observed and painted. Despite appearing relatively simple stories they are actually very clever, humorous and engaging reads.
I think they are all very important and varied aspects to her legacy. For me, her donations of land and property to the National Trust are something I particularly admire about her character. I like to think we’d have got on well if she was around today!
You can also find out more about each figurines here.
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