Okay, So what I’m about to tell you may provoke some cringing.
Before Christmas I went to the theater…all alone.
Yes, that is a very sad state of affairs, but it’s true. I went on my little tod, all the way to the bright lights of London, and there I sat, surrounded by families and groups of friends, clutching my ticket in my single seat, listening to the joyful giggles and playful interactions of those around me and sighed…alone.
But there’s more. Not only was I the only solo member of the audience that day, I was also the oldest. By some way. Or at least, the oldest that wasn’t there primarily as some kind of guardian.
Yep. I went on my own to the theater to see a play for children. Little children at that.
And before you sink your head into your hands at, what is very likely, the most socially pathetic tale you’ve read today, let me just clarify this scenario and explain why it is that I refuse to be ashamed by this.
I went to see the stage adaptation of John Klassen’s I want my Hat back.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, the reason this make the sorrowful tale any better, is that I want my Hat Back is probably the greatest children’s book ever written ever and I was absolutely fascinated by the prospect of how those fantastic, simplistic, enigmatic illustrations could POSSIBLY translate into real life people on stage.
Turns out they do. Really bloomin’ well actually.
With some stonkingly suitable music from Arthur Darvill and Joel Horwood and a number of outstandingly weird performances from the energetic, multitasking cast (I didn’t think it was possible for a human to become generic ambient forest quite so convincingly!) the show was a genuine delight from the start.
On entering to the stage, following behind an absurdly yarn bombed, argyle-socks and waist high shorts donning antlered band, I was immediately in love with the dated, 70’s appeal of the set. The perfectly haphazzard, retro costume choices and array of mismatched, flea market blankets strewn elegantly around, seemed to have the very heart and quirk of that book directly on tap; tipping it out in front of me time and time again throughout the show in a pile of retro quirk and charm.
From the three eared rabbit and Led Zeppelin tshirt sporting bear to an impossibly perfect use of lounge-lift music, it was by far the most magical and downright absurd hour and a half of my festive period. And to be honest, based on my experience of the book, I wouldn’t have expected or wanted anything less.
If any of you are in the vicinity and have the chance, I wouldn’t hesitate to check out this little gem, with or without little ones. It’s wonderful and enchanting and yet another example of how beautifully and bizarrely children’s entertainment is progressing into something really special.
I left inspired and energised (and just in time to catch some great winter-sunset light!). Because if there are grow up imaginations making books and stage plays like this now, I cannot wait to see what the kids of the future; brought up on a diet of media as magic as this, will be capable of.
Settle down for story time kids- I have a tale to share!
About a year ago I was gearing up for a convention. I was working full time in the Publishers and literally spending all the hours in between trying to get a zine up and running so I could turn up with some new work. I planned and wrote a bunch of short stories and one off images, all inspired by the Autumn – my absolute favorite time of year.
Anyway, cut a long story short, the convention was cancelled a few weeks before and, as a result, without the push of a heavy deadline, life took over and I never finished the zine.
Sadly, the zine remains unfinished, however a number of the tales in it are still milling about, either in my sketchbook, desktop, or noodle. Unfinished, uncoloured and sad. Aw.
So, I dug one back out this week. I dug it out, I designed it properly and I bloomin’ finished it! (extract below!)
It’s only short and it’s barely a story, but it’s oddly personal for me: a memory that seems relevant for every autumn I can remember from my tiddly years. The desire to be spoiled with treats on day outs in the cold air with my parents. I was, clearly, a grumpy, greedy – and potentially not that smart – kid and I remember strangely vividly the frustration of being hoisted by my own petard; when saccharine stickiness from autumn delights stained my fingers and prevented my ice cold fingers from sinking comfortably back into the warmth of my mittens. The excitement of catching sight of that toffee apple and absolute, incomprehensible adoration for my parents when they caved (as I knew they would) and presented it to me. The irritation at their manhandling me with those old, dry tissues; dug out from the bottom of every mum’s pockets, and ultimately, the relief when my freezing cold, begrudgingly cleaned hands returned into my gloves and my foul mood, outwardly projected onto my parents, would quickly subside as warming circulation returned and I settled into the sweet tang of satisfaction.
God, being a kid is really a roller coaster of emotion isn’t it?
That said, the lesson here is that I really bloody love toffee apples. And I recall so happily that sweet tingle on the sides of my lips that I do equate so solidly with times spent with my parents. Luckily, the tenancy for childish projection of my discomfort as frustration towards them, was (I think) shed with age; but that feeling of gratitude and adoration from their original generosity…that seems a little more resilient.
I sit here in the darkened grey of a British afternoon in late September, watching the drizzle set in, as it will fairly solidly, for the next few months and I know the summer is done. And the knowledge that those short, autumn afternoons that bite at your face are sitting pretty just around the corner…well, I may not see my parents much these days, but I can’t help but sink into memories of gratitude; of that sweet tingle on the side of my lips and, ultimately, that same adoration. I smile now, just thinking it.
I like where I live. It’s pretty and historical and there are loads of coffee shops where I can sit and draw people like the creepy voyeur I am. Plus everything’s yellow. Not like, a wee yellow, more of a golden, nice kind that makes you go “…ah.”
But you can’t sit, idling your time in one city forever. Especially not one as small as Bath, even though it is yellow. And this is, actually, the main reason I like where I live so much. When the barrage of Georgian architecture is starting to feel a little heavy, and I know I’m drifting just a little bit too happily into the realms of the comfortable, middle class, I hop on the train and WHAM, BAM MA-AM! Bristol ahoy.
The great thing about Bristol and Bath, is that they’re both utterly charming in their own ways. I don’t feel I’ll ever be bored when I have them both so easily at my disposal. When the Jazz nights and obscure, busking folk bands of instruments I had no idea existed just aren’t cutting it for me that week, I know Bristol will have something fresh, probably arty and, usually pretty bonkers to keep me entertained. (And if all else fails, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s going to be a number of garish, giant, plastic sculptures of some icon of fictional popular culture hidden -poorly- about the place.)
This week was no exception. To my delight, I found Bristol was hosting a Festival of Puppetry.
I love puppets. I love stop animation. I love performance. So I booked a ticket to a retrospective screening and talk with the film makers, the Brothers Quay.
This might sound like a pinch of the sacrilegious, but I wasn’t actually all that familiar with their work, to be entirely honest. I knew the name and knew their films were a darker form of stop motion work, but I like films and I like a splash of sinister and I REALLY like seeing behind the scenes of the creative mind so thought it was a pretty safe bet I’d discover something interesting.
I reckon, interesting is definitely the perfect word for it. I mean, quite aside from the number of colourful Mohawks on leather clad gents and ostentatious tights hidden under outrageously bright coats, (not that I judge. I’m down with whatever fashion choices people are happy with – I just wasn’t expecting so much neon.) the films themselves offered a lot of questions for me to mull over throughout the evening. It was a short retrospective, only 4 films out of a career spanning some 20 years, so I admit it was not exactly a thorough exploration into what they do. I’ll jump ahead in the narrative now, just to conclude now that, unfortunately, I wasn’t really mad on the work (sharp intake of breath as I wait for avid fans to swear loudly and throw items.) It was just…TOO ARTY. You know? I mean, yes I am an illustrator, but there is a bit of me that cringes when I hear myself referred to as an artist because I don’t think I really am. I make visual things, just like these guys, I’m ruled by the aesthetic pleasure I receive from things and the way in which said artifacts can communicate a concept or theory…but, Artist? It just has too many connotations for me. Too much Pollock and Emin and poos in a box to make a point but it doesn’t really matter what the point is as long as it’s made one TO YOU. I came from a design degree. I like it when things MAKE SENSE. There’s a joy to the grid and a correct, helpful way to break it that still leads us all to the same place. That’s communication right? And, for me, while there was a lot of charm in the foraged, ephemera laden worlds within the Quay’s stories, I just didn’t GET them.
My reaction surprised me to be honest. Several of their works were based on examples of European literature and folk tales which gets the BIGGEST tick at my end. They were all dark and spoke in the language of Steampunk and the Brothers Grimm with hints of Tim Burton (before he got crappy and lazy). It was all made of elements I, if not love, at least GET. But something in that tried and tested equation was just lacking for me. There was a lot of space and repetition and noise that didn’t make me feel…just made me bored. There was a lot of rudimentary techniques that didn’t feel cleverly executed enough and, most vitally for me, I had NO idea what was going on far too much of the time. I never knew where we were or what I was viewing. I didn’t know who my characters were as too much of the films were shot so close, I had no grasp of who was where. I didn’t understand the setting of any of them.
Even the famous, In Abstentia with it’s constant reminder that there was a solitary open window, seemed confusing to me. I couldn’t tell if our character was in that room, or thinking about it. I didn’t know if the woman’s head we kept seeing belonged or was an associate of the dirty, masculine looking fingernails of our protagonist. I didn’t get anything. To me, it could easily have been a contemporary cautionary tale in which we’re reminded to value quality over quantity. A lonely, heroine scrawls in maddening desperation to finish her shopping list, only to be foiled repeatedly by the snapping of her cheap, pencil leads that she so foolishly was seduced into purchasing in bulk from Poundland. The irony is, of course, that her clock is broken and Sainsbury’s is probably closed now.
Similarly, the acclaimed Street of Crocodiles, while one of my preferred films in the list, seemed to simply be an exercise in rudimentary cliches of darkness. The haunted contraptions from, what looked like, the Toy Story Curiosity Shop had a real charm and were at times curious, beautiful and dynamic, but the location of them, the space they occupied were all elements I simply couldn’t ascertain. There was no sense of dynamism within space. We were simply in a room with a rusty voyeur who, for all I know, was entering a ghastly behind the scenes at Build a Bear.
It was all just a bit much for me. A bit too arty. Perhaps a bit too Bristol.
Until the discussion with the film makers. The Brothers were eloquent and charming and, while I couldn’t suppress a sigh as the conversation began with terms like “poetic vessel” and “alchemy of stop motion”, I was soon a thousand times more immersed in them as people as I had been the worlds they’d created.
They talked about their process and the way they believed their films worked to the laws of the music and soundtrack, rather than the traditional dramatic principles we associate with film. They spoke with honestly about their puppets and their own humble misgivings and work-arounds when the puppet simply “couldn’t be depended upon.” They joked about their hiding of character and movement in darkness to hide their own lack of experience in the fields on animation and the relevance of the lighting, set, music in what they do.
And most importantly, they spoke about their films. They gave a behind the scenes of the scenario, speaking with love and passion about everything they’d made and how it had fallen into place. They were artists. There was a lot of reliance on serendipity in the way they worked and even more winging it on the fly, but for them it had worked. They had fallen into their own world, and taken a boat load of fans along the way.
I was almost won over by the true meaning of In Abstentia; a landscape of schizophrenia born from a true story; It all made the elements of my own confusion, fall into place. I got it. I got them.
And then I was reminded of what they did. They were film makers. They make films (among other things) for a living and I, the audience of said films, understood nothing until I’d had a thorough dig through the draws in the dressing rooms and a proverbial prod at the creators’ grey matter. It was a shame. I’d wanted to like them and their work, but for me, you can’t just publish the third book in a trilogy with no context and then shrug and say it’s up to the audience to write the first two (although that’s quite a novel sales tactic actually.) I consider myself a storyteller. That means there is a right and wrong way to present a story. Sure, leave elements up to interpretation, but the story itself in it’s essence has to be the same for the maker and reader. Otherwise you’ve simply done it wrong.I like films, I like stories, but I can’t endorse the idea that contemporary art and storytelling can merge when it comes to conceptual legibility. For me, a story should be read as the Storyteller intended it to be, without additional asides, discussions or notes on postits. Surely that’s where the skill lies? Otherwise I’m just making a mess and charging you for the privilege to analyse it for me. I love what I do because it’s communication that is beautiful, and when that communication element is broken…well, that’s just a step too far into the realms of contemporary art for me. Style over substance can only take you so far and while I enjoyed my evening overall, and salute Bristol – home of the stop motion Kinds Ardman – and their Festival of Strings, it just reminded me what I do not want my own practice to be.An exercise in interest and a great discussion topic, it certainly was. For that I thank the Festival organisers and, of course, the Brothers Quay. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll stick to comics.
I love the customer review function on Amazon. I use it all the time when I’m buying and researching things and I ESPECIALLY love it when it’s all about ME!
Having only gone live a short time ago, I’m super pleased to say that the very first (and I do hope not the last!) review has come in for the Emotional Animal ABC book I illustrated for the psychologist, Renee Jain, Published by GoZen Ltd.
It is SUPER positive and really is a great first response for the little book, so a huge well done to everyone involved (including me!) involved in the project! I really hope more people enjoy the book as much as our first fan did!
I’ve been thinking a lot more about stories and comics recently. Mainly because I’ve not been doing so many and, given that this whole illustration thing has grown out of comics to begin with, I’m definitely now suffering the symptoms of some kind of creative withdrawal condition.
So when I saw the chance to do a two day illustration and narrative masterclass with Alexis Deacon (Beegu, Slow Lorris, winner of 2014 Observer/Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize and generally good maker of things) while booking my Elcaf ticket, I thought it was probably worth a bit of investigation.
I’ve never done a masterclass outside of formal education before (certainly not one actually meant for grown up people anyway) and, to be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect.
In actual fact, it was like being caterpauled back into the welcoming arms of early university days again. Both days focused on different topics and I found myself with a curiously warm and fuzzy feeling at the notion taking part in a one day project; something that I despised being requested to partake in during University, yet have seemingly grown to appreciate in the name of artistic growth and discovery. Back then, my stubborn, student exorcisms in self righteousness sneered in the face of actively creating “bad” work and paying for the privilege to do so; and I still can’t quite say it’s a method of working I’d chose to exercise on too regular a basis, yet there was certainly a joy to being apart of an environment in which you can genuinely bury any sense of pride or dignity regarding your work in favour of loosely and blinding discovering the new. It’s a bit like being creatively drunk. Inhibitions go out the window, your metaphorical artistic pants come off and you all dance on an entirely non-existent table of creativity, relishing the fact that in that moment, you can see the room from a completely different position from that you’re accustomed to.
So in the name of lowering all artistic inhibitions and creative inebriation, we got stuck in and had a lot of fun.
The first day was a masterclass on character and their roles and positions within the physical environment of a drawn story.
On entering, Alexis had drawn a massive forest environment and our job throughout the day was to populate it with characters who interacted with each other and their drawn habitat, both physically and in the creation of mico-narratives.
Alexis was an ace speaker and generally charming chap, focusing a lot about the analysis and theory of a character and inviting the group to consider each task. He spoke a lot to various members of the group about simple visual elements, yet maintained a refreshingly analytical bent that I often see glossed over in favour of just making marks by less considered artists.
Having spent most of my creative life being told to think less and draw more, Alexis offered what felt like a refreshing and intelligent analysis of the physical form and it’s position in space. I felt encouraged to see his priorities and considerations when drawing a scene seemed very similar to my own inner processes and seemed like another tick in my head that for me, visual storytelling seems to be where it’s at; a feeling i believe to be echoed in the feelings of a lot of like minded characters in the room.
Even though the work we were making was quick and loose (probably not going on the wall), it all had a purpose within the context of the forest scene we were working together to create. I think it was this sense of consideration and context that separated THIS kind of quick project, from the kind I’ve encountered in the past where all sense and sensibilities go out the window in the name of blind “freedom”; a word that needs careful usage in my eyes so as not to make me want to grate my own face.
Anyway, the day spanned a series of short tasks and by the end, our forest was well and truly populated. Visual perfection, it was perhaps not, but it’s always been of my opinion that the imagery alone is inconsequential. The narrative if formed by a number of visual and inferred factors and I like to see our forest as an expressive anthology.
The second day was even more joyfully analytical and focused on the telling of a story and visual exploration of a narrative. It was potentially less involving than the first and I felt less apart of a group project and more considerate of my own part within the story’s structure, however this could have been due to a number of factors and I can’t pretend I don’t find working alone a familiar and comfortable position to be in.
Having had a story broken down. we each tackled a key scene, as agreed by the group. Consideration was given to how the visual priorities and composition, lighting and other basic features were used in the process of communicating the intended emotional impact of the scene. The work was, again, loose and unrefined but I felt it was the perfect compromise of being able to shed the fear of producing a bad item in the face of pushing the intended impact of the image. The irony of course, as is always the way, is that when those creative beer goggles go on and the artistic inhibitory pants come off, then emotion of a scene can really be given the freedom to shine. Communication is a funny thing and the visual manifestation of it is just as complex. The fear of making something that ‘doesn’t look right’ is inherent in many, if not most, artists, but once that analysis and understanding of what you ARE trying to achieve within a piece has taken place, loosing the fear and daring to push out of a comfortable placce is seemingly the only route to really nailing an idea.
I requested to work on a scene that revolved around the environment, due to the fact that environments are not at all my forte, but I DID know how I wanted it to feel, so with this knowledge in hand I struck out of my comfort zone and really did just make a big mess.
You know, in the name of learning.
Thanks a billion to Alexis for all his help and critiques during this weekend. I cannot fathom how difficult it must be to teach real life grown up people but found an inspiring balance between honesty and criticism without falling into the patronisation pit. While I don’t think anything I produced was necessarily pride inducing, i think of this weekend as an exercise in the craft of storytelling.
So, after a long lazy gap my muscled have finally been well a truly flexed, it’s time to go make something.
Well, I’m closing in on the second week of getting an illustration career together outside of the comfort of full time employment.
And I feel I’ve been making steady progress. I’ve never sent so many emails in my life, I’ve drawn things every day, produced several full colour, completed images, am working on a piece for a neat, up and coming children’s magazine and I’ve, without a shadow of a doubt, done more designing in the past week than I did for the entirety of my design job.
Such is the nature of portfolio making I suppose.
Anyway, I thought, as I’ve been living the dream along with my ol’ ball and chain, Photoshop, I’d bring you a few shots of my sketchbook doodles. I figure, while it’s the end result that get you work, it’s kind of important to see how things progress as you’re going along and give a bit of limelight to those little, off the cuff bits and pieces that throw themselves into your head. So here are a few snippets of scribbles that have, are in the process of and hopefully will one day become fully fledged ideas, with functional limbs and beady eyes. And colour.
Obviously this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my arsenal of unrealised scribbles, but it’s a nice little collection of doodles nonetheless.
B) Muse a little bit about things. I just feel like we never talk anymore. The blogosphere can be a lonely place.
So first up, here are some pieces I’ve been working on this past week. They’re not projects as such, simply drawings and characters I’ve had kicking about in my head for a while. Glorified doodles.
If anyone is familiar with the work I’ve been making over the past few years, you may have noticed a shift in the nature of some of the more recent bits. (If you have, seriously big old kudos heading your way! I owe you a cookie.)
Firstly, I think the art is beginning to be a little more consistent. That battle I’d been having before and right the way through university to develop a “style” is finally being won. And, while I thought that would feel stifling or limiting when I did eventually settle into it, it’s actually feeling pretty happy. I feel a bit safer almost. Comfortable. Yet I’m also confident with it, because I know that other styles and ways of working to me are possible should a given brief call for it.
Secondly I think my characterisation has been coming together into a different direction recently. The work I make is usually figurative in some manner, but I’ve definitely been inspired in recent months to approach this a little differently when it comes to transcribing the characters I’ve seen/ invented onto the page.
The reason for these changes, I think, it simply that life has changed. As it does.
Making pictures is, like any form of creativity or visual media. It’s a snapshot of your life; a representation of the way you see the world, the things you know and the lessons you’ve learned at any given point in your existence. Mine has changed dramatically over the past nine months and is, now, once again on the verge of changing again.
Firstly, university and the life and structure I had while I was there, ended. My friends moved away, the rigorous and consistent marking system ceased and regular access to tutors, mentors and facilities went with it. Since then, I moved back in with my partner and invested in one of those full time job deals, working as a designer in children’s publishing.
I can’t put into words how much I have learned. Nine months in the exact field I had wanted to be in (albeit a slightly left of field job) taught me more about myself, my work and (dare I say it) the market that governs it all, than three years of formal university education even touched on. And now, as my contract with the publishers finally winds up to a conclusion and I prepare to push on into that expansive gulf of possibility, instability and fear that everyone else met with some time ago, I have never felt more confident.
Somehow, it turns out, working a full time job and having the time to devote to your work torn out form under your feet, made me even more determined to find the time to devote time to my work. I draw more now than I think I ever have and every image feels like it has a real purpose or audience. I’m no longer jumping through hoops and making work for marks, but making work for me and it feels easier than it every has.
That’s not to say I begrudge uni anything. I loved being at school, but it’s only now that I realise how much of it I wasted worrying about making the right work instead of just making the work that works!
The job I’ve had has been doing all the background research for me, and is one of the reasons I’ve loved it so much. I love the world of picture book publishing and, actually, I really loved being a designer. But as the contract nears its end and the job winds up, I feel like it’s time to get it together and start approaching the industry from a different direction. The right direction. I am an illustrator at heart, I always was. Now I’ve had the good fortune to be afforded an insight into how to be the best illustrator I can be. I’ve seen behind the scenes, I’ve got to grips with the structure of it all and I know for sure it’s publishing I want to work in.
So, nerve wracking as it is, let’s give it a go. Let’s make pictures. After all, the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out. To me, that is a thousand times better than wondering “what if.”
What do Amir Kahn, a bowl of oats and a gravitionally challenged housewife in Bristol have in common?
Okay, absolutely nothing, but they’re two examples of some works I did recently based on some editorial articles.
The Amir Kahn one is primarily just a bit of portraiture, because I haven’t done any in a long time. That and I’ve got a bit of boxing THING where I just like drawing characters who are potentially going to punch things in the face.
It was a really short piece on how he’d “vowed [he’d] earn” a fight with Floyd Mayweather after he canned him off following Kahn’s meeting with Collazo. The language of it all made it sound kind of like he was following a code of honor, so I dragged in some imagery reminiscent of Japanese/ samurai bent to give it a bit of a vibe.
I’m undecided at the minute, but I think I might can the bag. It works just as a nice bit of portraiture. The text can fill in the blanks.
Then there was a piece I found in Bristol Magazine, the local lifestyle glossy.
It was an advertisement for oats, “The Superfood of the Kitchen” and just said how good they are for you. There was a lot of mention of health and lifestyle “balance” and Bristolians love a good bit of hippy culture, so here’s what I got.
Just another excuse to draw some nice things really.
But, of course, regardless of all this silly picture stuff, the question remains…
It took a while and it was stressful and incomprehensibly confusing at times but, the concluding chapter of the Ambiguity Project has finally been written. And I figure, as it was all your hard work that made it, it’s only really fair that I offer you the chance to a little gander.
All those broad and insightful answers you sent, emailed, told and wrote to me have been gradually forming this project for a while now. The character portraits they formed have taken on a number of attributes and aspirations and finally, in your deciding of the concluding question, you’ve shaped their journeys towards aspiration progression and digression.
As a result, the pieces have evolved from character portraits into the format of maps.
The pieces as a whole communicate the desires, aspirations, fears, limits and goals of each character, based on the desires, aspirations, fears, limits and goals of every person that took part.
The representations of map elements are extensions of your resulting answers, transforming the images into something of an artistically representative psychological landscape in which forests, desserts, mountains and rivers must be bridged and navigated as the theoretical characters endevour to achieve.
As the maps can be folded in any number of ways, new compositions and sequences are formed out of the ambiguous collage imagery, introducing the possibility of narrative-based interpretation and multiple routes through the artwork.
Based on your final answers and your choice to answer with positivity or negativity, I adapted the likely-hood of the journey’s success using the environmental features.
At times, rivers will be bridged or shattered, allowing navigation around the barriers so that the illustrations of goals can be accessed. At others, the folding will introduce increased forests and confusing, representing the journey becoming harder.
Basically, these are four artworks that beg to be played with and explored. Fold ’em up however you wish to reveal multiple artworks and new possibilities for stories.
Then, obviously, cause I can’t let things lie, I wanted to make a slip case to contain them.
The project dictated that it needed to have a binding jacket, so, as my results had extended out of the original book format intended, I used it as an excuse to design and display the cover.
I knew the artworks were complex and involving, so did not want to drown this in the cover design. Instead I opted for a simple, systematic looking result, inspired by the design of 1970’s psychological textbooks. I wanted the notions of progression towards goals to be represented by the idea of making your way from A to B, and knew that the suggestion of maps had to be present, hence the light inclusion of the forest elements, which doubles up nicely as directional arrows.
There’s a very real possibility that I did forgot to spell check.
If you find anything, do me a favour and just keep it to yourself okay?
Anyway, another project down.
Thank you so much to everyone that helped, I really hope that you appreciate the results.