The Magic of Folktale Week

Once every year in mid-November, a talented group of children’s book illustrators host a week of challenges on Instagram. There are seven prompts, one for each day of the week, that are typically released in mid-October.

I’m a toymaker, not an illustrator, so I decided that if I was going to go along for the challenge I would set myself some constraints: phone camera only, no Photoshop (not even Elements) and no buying anything new. Only using the limited set of default filters on my old phone’s camera. Just working with what I have and being gentle and brave about the process.

You can scroll to my daily postings on Instagram @craftdesignworks, or check out the blog entries that follow this to see the final results. Disclaimer: all the images were intended to be viewed on phones, so they look pretty overwhelming here on the blog.

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The excitement starts even before the prompts are published, as soon as the dates are made public. Creators announce “I’m joining Folktale Week” with a preview image, and I was eager to get started. I’m not a photographer, and I remembered from last time I joined Folktale Week that I was in for a lot of trial, error and imposter syndrome. Game on!

Well, that didn’t work, you can’t read the type. So I tried quite a few different ideas and options before finding one that was “good enough”.

Once the prompts were released I started writing the story and brainstorming the storyboard (which of course evolved as I worked on it). That let me make a big mess of potential parts and pieces I could work with, and this chaotic image background, which suited the moment:

I won’t drag you down into all the details of what didn’t work, but I wanted to share some of the behind-the-scenes madness that did NOT show up on Instagram. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty representative of the kind of thinking and trying and failing and trying again that I had my little animals do on Day 5. I like to explore small elements of what might work without trying to get the whole thing right.

In other words, I unapologetically make a giant mess and crash myself through messups and dissatisfaction until I get to “OK”. I think I average about 20 photos per final post. I learn a lot as I go! And I’m pretty satisfied with the project in the end, in spite of a phone that is very near the end of its life. I managed to post each day and finish the challenge on time. I loved getting feedback from so many people as the week rolled on.

I’m deeply grateful that I got to ride along with the creative flow of this group of amazing creators and read so many wonderful tales. I hope you’ll treat yourself to a taste of inspiration by checking out #folktaleweek. Here are the folks who made this all possible by making space for our community to come together in imagination and celebration of magic:
@jennifermpotter
@kalyquarles
@pinghe.art
@sirjanakaurart
@anazenun
@andrea_stegmaier
@tanja_stephani
@matejalukezic
@thebrotherskent
@louve.draws
@debrastyer
@devonholzwarth

…til next time!

Folktale Week Day 1 – Fool

It started with the Fool. Well, that’s how things often begin, isn’t it? It happened like this: at the new year Esmerelda, the crow high wizardess, came to ask Mme. La Fortuna to read the cards. “What does the future hold for our world this year?”

As the little fortuneteller laid out the spread, a dark theme emerged. The prominent card for the future was the Fool, crossed with the Tower.
Sometimes the Fool can foretell an exciting new adventure about to unfold. But it can be worrisome to watch the fool stepping off the edge of a cliff without noticing the danger.

Folktale Week 2022 Day 2 – Tree

As she flew home across the evening skies over the forest, Esmerelda usually enjoyed listening to the soothing whispers as leaves rustled in the wind. Everyone in Fursleytown counted on the quiet spirits of the trees to spread peace through them all.

But tonight she felt a chill of worry in the feathers at the back of her neck. Tonight there was anxious whispering, a great disturbance among the trees. Something was not right. She had a dark feeling that maybe it was the cliff that was coming, and not the new adventure. What should she do?

Folktale Week 2022 Day 3 – Star

Esmerelda decided to convene a Grand Meeting of all the folk, calling everyone to come together at the edge of the forest. They needed to understand what new beginning was coming, and in the darkness they could seek an augury in the stars.
As they stared up into the night sky a portent from the stars came clear: the Woodcutter constellation. The trees in their forest were in grave danger!
The humans who lived nearby wanted to cut them all down to sell the wood. These humans only saw the forest as quick money. They did not understand the other peaceful things that the trees bring to us all.

Folktale Week 2022 Day 4 – Rebel

The Fursleytown folk despaired. What could they do? They were all so very small. They had no weapons, and they never thought that weapons solved much anyway. And there weren’t that many of them. What could they do?
“Nothing we can do will make a difference.” “We might as well just hide.” “We’ll just have to live without trees.” Despair. Gloom. But then a little voice piped up in the darkness, one of the smallest among them.
“Well, I’m not just going to give up. There must be something we can do. We all, every single one of us, must start thinking and trying things until we find something that works. Acceptance not an option.”
Quite the little rebel, eh?

Folktale Week 2022 Day 5 – Costume

Over the next few days there was much thinking and feeling and dreaming and brainstorming. Several of the folk met at the tailor shop to see if they could think of something they could craft that could help.
What if they made a giant tree costume and marched it into the human town and made it speak? Would the humans listen? Would they understand that even though trees are silent they are still beings? And perhaps have their own kinds of voices that humans can’t hear? Or what about a puppet show for the human children, who were known to be more open minded than the grown up humans?
But as much as they tried and tried, they couldn’t come up with any idea they thought would actually work. And after spending all day trying, their little brains were so tired that they just straggled off to their dinners and beds, discouraged.

Folktale Week 2022 Day 6 – Potion

But while they were asleep…can you believe this?…something wonderful happened. They were visited by Dream Rabbit. With the flick of a magic whisker, she gave them all, each and every one, the very same dream. And in the dream, she showed them where they could meet in the forest and how they could use tree magic to save it.

The next morning they set to gathering many kinds of leaves for making a magic potion. All the leaves were put into Esmerelda’s cauldron, where they joined together the forces of all the different tree magics to create something very special.

Folktale Week 2022 Day 7 – Victory

It’s the final installment of the story!

The folk went to the special places where they knew the web of life between the trees was very strong. There they gave the potion to the living earth. Not everyone knows this, but the roots of the trees are connected underground by mysterious tiny living things, and this is a powerful earth magic.
From beneath the earth, the tiny living things released the potion as a scent into the air, where it spread far and wide. As the humans breathed the scented air, a new understanding grew in them.
They understood that all beings are connected and all must be respected. They understood that the trees give us breath, nourish the earth, give food, medicine, healing and peace. They understood that the trees give shelter to so many creatures large and small, down to those very tiny living things that connect the earth in the web of life. The humans changed their minds about plundering the forest. Instead they began to actively care for the trees.

A sweet victory! It was a new beginning after all.

…and the moral of the tale is this: no matter how small, we can bring about vast change if we are of good heart, work together, and refuse to give up.

It’s been a fantastic week, yes, full of fantasy and so inspiring to be “in the flow” with so many talented illustrators and creators. I highly recommend visiting instagram and searching the hashtag #folktaleweek. You’re in for a journey into imagination and a treat of visual expression that’s unbeatable.

’til next year…

Award-winning Virtual Experience: UBC’s Museum of Anthropology

Shadows, Strings & Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets

Don’t miss this one (virtually)!

A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit a brilliant show at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, Shadows, Strings & Other Things: The Enchanting Theatre of Puppets.

When I went looking for the behind-the-scenes crocodile video I’d seen in that show,  I found the museum has created an award-winning deep experience site of the exhibition. You can explore the show virtually, moving around as you choose.  You can watch the videos that were part of the exhibit, see details of each of the “stages” as the exhibit was organized, explore teachers’ learning kit” resources, listen to podcasts,  and download the beautiful pdf catalog.

I found the section of the exhibit by indigenous filmmaker Amanda Strong to be the most mysterious, moving and magical. Her technique is a modern one, using stop-motion animation with clay puppets. Here’s a still from her film, Biidaaban:

“Biidaaban is a young Anishinaabe gender non-binary person that can see through multiple dimensions while existing and moving in their present time and space. They are sometimes accompanied by their friend Sabe (a 10,000-year-old shape shifter who some have called a Sasquatch), Ghost Caribou, and Ghost Wolf — but only Biidaaban can see them. They act as reminders of what exists in this space and provide lessons about honesty, humility and working for the people”. Definitely worth watching!

Oh, and here’s another Canada-and-puppets trivia item: Margaret Atwood was a professional puppeteer when she was in high school. In April 2020, during lockdown, she and her sister created a puppet version of Poe’s ‘The Masque Of The Red Death’ which they performed on BBC Two.  The puppets were made from empty cleaning and sanitizer bottles. Multiple journalists were unable to resist writing this up as “from handmaids’ tales to handmade tales”. Enough said.

The crocodile made me do it

(…or down a puppeting rabbit-hole)

I was idly daydreaming recently about making a crocodile toy like the zipper-mouthed pajama bag I had as a kid in the 50s (who else here remembers pajama bags?). I think maybe I need to add a crocodile finger puppet to my pattern menagerie. Because…TEETH!

Crocodile daydreaming made me remember my delight at the traditional crocodile character in the classic Punch and Judy show that I saw a couple of years ago.



For those of you who are not as puppet-obsessed as I am, here’s the basic story: Judy puts Mr. Punch in charge of the dinner sausages and as she leaves the stage she warns him to watch out for the crocodile. Punch scoffs, “There is no crocodile”. Then, of course, enter the crocodile, who quite covets those juicy tidbits. The crocodile puppet pops up behind Mr. Punch, intent on grabbing them for itself. The crocodile is a totally sneaky, rascally character with a mouth that closes with an audible snap as it maneuvers to grab the treats (oh, and maybe even eat Mr. Punch!). Then begins a sequence where the crocodile pops up so the children can see it while Mr. Punch confidently claims there’s no crocodile…the children know better, giggling and screaming at the oblivious Mr. Punch.

Here’s the behind-the-scenes video with “Professor” Richard Coombs, a very talented and silly Punch-and-Judy man, performing the classical  scene to the delight of the audience. Always makes me laugh out loud.

Punch and Judy for the history buff…

So the crocodile got me wondering about the history of Punch and Judy in England.  It turns out that in 1662 Samuel Pepys’ wrote in his diary about a visit to Covent Garden where he saw Mr. Punch as a marionette, performed by the Italian puppet showman Pietro Gimonde from Bologna, otherwise known as Signor Bologna. The show was so popular that it was ordered for a command performance that year at Whitehall for the King! There’s a lovely article from the Victoria and Albert Museum, created for the 350th anniversary–Punch and Judy’s birthday, if you will–that delves deep into the history. If you’re curious to find out more, there’s plenty of enthralling history there. And so, from the Italian Pullicinello seed, thus began the long tradition and evolution of Punch and Judy in Britain.

There’s a quite charming short reminiscence film by his granddaughter about “Uncle Charlie”, one of the “Punch-and-Judy-men” who performed in the summer on the beach in Littlehampton and Worthing during the first part of the 20th century. I love being able to get a sense of what these kinds of quirky performers were able to offer beachgoers young and old in summers long gone by.