Catch up! Children’s Literature Festival

So, it’s that time of year again when the winter has silently snuck up on us like a seasonal ninja and we’re caught, rabbit in headlights, totally unprepared for the looming new year. Perhaps it’s the hovering threat of ‘resolutions’ in the back of my mind, or perhaps it’s the fact that I swear it was August less than a month ago, but either way it’s around now I need to take a break, breathe and look over where on EARTH the second half of the year has gone.

The next few posts will be a few snapshots of how my 2016 has developed. I can’t promise I’ve learned loads, but I can promise I drew some things.

September – Children’s Literature Festival

Don’t hate me, but I LOVE Autumn. Yes it cold, yes the days stat getting shorter but I am a sadist and love that I get my city to myself again when the kids go back to school.

Haha suckers, I finished AGES ago.

But September and October are especially lovely because it’s when the Bath Children’s Literature Festival rolls around. Which I love.

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Although I didn’t get to see as much as usual (due to, ironically, having too much work to do in the field of Children’s Literature) I did manage to score two wonderful talks by a couple of heroes from the field.

Those of you familiar with Hamish and the World Stoppers by the unapologetically British author Danny Wallace will be familiar with the creative magic of Jamie Littler. His characters are full of subtle details and nuances that are the perfect visual vehicle for Wallace’s tone and the book, in my opinion, is enriched ten fold by his interpretation of its time altering world.

Not that he’d tell you that. I tell you, a more modest talent you will not find.

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littlertriangleBut humbleness aside, Littler did a stonking job of holding the stage, even without his extrovert counterpart. If his flawless live drawing wasn’t magic enough, the interaction with the audience had every kid grinning to ear to ear. Given the rare opportunity to command the hand of a professional illustrator, the creative, imaginative and frankly weird suggestions of the kids were flying as the audience created their own adventurous character for Littler to illustrate.

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Part drawing, part storytelling, part comedy act and part workshop; this talk was inventive and a lot of fun. So really, pretty much everything kid lit should be.

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But if that wasn’t enough, I was also lucky enough to attend an event by the infamous Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.

I’ll be honest, until fairly recently I didn’t really know what  Laureate was. But I was very excited that Riddell had kindly decided to bring his medal. And it was a very nice medal.

chrisridellticketchrisridellmedalHosted in the festivals most grand venue, it was strange to see the small figure of a single man, his projector and a sketch pad in the middle of such a large stage (even if he does have a medal.) But the second that man’s pen touches paper, he becomes the size of mountains.

It comes as no surprise that the prolific Riddell can live draw like a champ, but his ability to ad lib to questions from the audience, while doing so is a thing to behold. Relaxed, funny and frankly, totally charming, performing apparently comes second nature to this guy. His answers to every question was insightful, elaborating on details of his life and artistic journey and expanding even the most simple of inquiry into an adventure worth drawing about. The added incentive of giving away the drawings he made to the questions he answered had kids jiggling in their seats with anticipation each time he reached for a card. The hall was completely silent, aside from the reactionary giggles. We were in the palm of his hand, and I have no shame in admitting it.

There are reasons some people get famous for what they do.

I think that’s enough said.

 

 

 

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The power of pictures was strong in these ones…

This week, I took a trip to the capital again. It was for illustrative purposes though so it doesn’t count as a holiday.

As we all know, the best kind of procrastination is the kind we can pretend is work 🙂

So this, definitely-work-related trip involved spending many, MANY hours in laughably enormous London bookshops (for work. Of course.)

I will say, central London definitely doesn’t do things by halves. The Picadilly Waterstones has become a frequent haunt for me on recent visits and still has yet to fail to astound me with its vastness, it is simply a Goliath! I get serious thigh burn every visit from just meandering from section to section (because, you know, book shop work out right? I ain’t usin’ no lift!)

The reason I thought I’d mention this week’s visit to this literary colloseum, was because of a current, lovely little surprise I’d happened across that I think needs a little shout out. Naturally, my feet had auto-piloted to the children’s floor (not department, floor. A WHOLE FLOOR) where I discovered the most beautifully displayed arrangement of sketchbook and back up work from Nobrow’s ever talented, William Grill.

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Now on his second publication with Flying Eye, Grill’s backup work astounded me by it’s sheer elegance. I’m not really a gallery guy, I don’t think illustration should be kept on white walls or in glass cases, but this small collection, was just enough and was displayed perfectly to give insight into the adoration of drawing that’s so apparent in his books, without any pretension or grandia. Grill’s doodlings and planning were methodical and detailed, speaking with the same delicacy as his finished penciled books and is painfully neat and organised.

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If the exhibit hadn’t been so carefully designed; the tools of his trade and collected samples of inspiration scattered amongst his working pages, I’d probably have had some kind of breakdown at the lacking visual power of my own, heinous behind-the-scenes. But I digress, if you are in the area (or lost/ following a trail of thread in the labyrinthine bookshop) I highly recommend checking out these snippets of genius. It will make you sick with envy, but such is the nature of Nobrow’s artistic catalogue.

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So, having spent several hours browsing, drooling and drawing a yak in a hat in Waterstones, I thought it was probably the wise move for my wallet to move on.  So I did. Right into multistory bookshop numero deux: Foyles. Which actually brings us to the main purpose of my London exercise in bookstore-navigation.

The good people Foyles had been illustrator collecting, and kindly (and reasonably, at only a mere £5 per ticket!) thrown together a lineup of top quality talent for a panel discussion event: The Power of Pictures. It was little wonder that the event was packed up to the rafters with an all start cast of Benji Davies, Jean Jullien, Marion Deuchars and Oliver Jeffers. Those of you who are familiar with the works of these contemporary picture book giants, will understand what a fab mix of approaches this panel represented and there was no way I was going to miss out on this, simply because I happen to live three hours away. Oh no.

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I’ve attended a lot of talks and lectures from talents within the arts, and panel events are by far the most successful in my opinion. Lectures can easily fall into an overview of one career, which while interesting on a personal level, they can fail to get into the meat of what is IS to make successful commercial art.

Yet this event did just that. Featuring talents from all over the spectrum of the, once shamefully named ‘commercial’ arts, these four powerhouses of creativity have all ended up in the field of picture books and each spoke with a unique voice (both visual and literal) that channels the experience of their past works.

Yes, of course the basics were covered. The topics of ‘style’ and the questions of best visual mediums; the digital means vs traditional debate, yet with a string of different opinions and experiences involved, The Power of Pictures was able to extend further than the realms of an ordinary lecture may allow.

“For me, it’s not so much a strategic decision, but more of a guttural reaction to what is suitable”

– Davies on artistic material

The insightful discussion branched into all aspects of the picture book field, from creation through the publishing process to the more practical aspects of the market and its constant progression. Each members’ approach to the field seemed to tether their visual styles to them and, in analysis of their thought process, they all offered insight into the vital hows and whys their work has reached the artistic notoriety that they all respectively have.

The art of storytelling has truly ceased to be about simply nice pictures to accompany authored words, and become about the artists’ personal approach to storytelling. Traditional artist, Jeffers insisted that book illustrators are trying to “buy immortality”, as it allows their own ideas to exist instead of working to illustrate a company’s brief in a manner akin to the fine artist. The, previously editorial, Deuchars saw all commercial arts as a form of selling, it was simply the content that changed: “…[ book illustration] is not selling a product; you’re selling a story,” And unsurprisingly, the very graphic Jullien spoke in the true voice of a designer, assessing any story as an exercise in “problem solving.”

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“Obviously you don’t have to illustrate the words.”- Deuchars

Clearly, there is no particular correct channel here, as all four approaches have lead to beautiful, successful children’s books; each with its own unique credit. What became clear was that all four artists did agree on one vital point: that their book work was in no way tailored to the audience in a way that compromised themselves. While there were little guidelines in creating for children (Davies’s shared anecdote of being encouraged by publishers to lose reality’s logical whale size for the sake of the story’s progression in his beautiful The Storm Whale) each member of the panel never felt they were trying to reach into an unfamiliar head space. Far from it. While their books are all enjoyed by children, none considered this a particular driver in the execution of such works. In fact, there was an agreement that it would be counterproductive to attempt to enter the mind of a child, as it brings restrictions to your readership.

“Writing stories for children, you really have to switch the left brain off.” – Deuchars

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Jeffers refuses to acknowledge his works as children’s books at all, instead plumping for the term ‘picture book’ so that there can be no division; he makes his books because he wants to, which differentiates such works from his previous commercial endeavors. Jullien too, asserted that to try and artificially enter the head space of a child would be to talk down to them, creating a dividing and inauthentic story, a point seconded by Davies.

It was , for me, Deuchars who hit the jackpot regarding this question of readership, with an assertion that stuck with me throughout the rest of the night. She claimed that in creating a story, the key is conveying emotion; and if that has been done correctly, the age of the viewer is irrelevant. As a constant analyser of my own visual narratives with a view to assess where their strengths and weaknesses may lie and why, I found myself unintentionally nodding along like a plastic bulldog in a shopping trolley. In my experience, social understanding and emotional empathy is something people almost always have a handle on, regardless of age, knowledge or experience. I believe that to tap into that IS to communicate, and in my practice I think I will always drive to do this as successfully as the current market’s dream team that sat before me.

From here, the discussion traveled through question’s of collaboration in storytelling and the pros, cons and preferences of working with authors and other creatives. The self-assured Oliver Jeffers seemingly adored the exclusivity of indulging in his own, unique creations, yet positively acknowledged the impact of working alongside a good editor. Often considered a lonely practice, analogies were flying as the illustrators attempted to verbalise their feelings towards collaboration. Davies likening it to creating a film in which “you have to play all the roles” and Deuchars, considered it the chemistry of a marriage. Jullien, as one might expect from a designer, wholly relished the practice of bouncing off of other practitioners as it “pushes [him] to forget [his] own uncertainties.”

“It takes the right people to show you the way”- Jullien

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My own rushed,half-baked attempts to capture my heroes, while wildly scrawling to capture their wisdom. Massive apologies to Benji Davies. You don’t really look like Brian Blessed.

The closing topic of the night, was another that seemed to bring unanimity to the diverse opinions of the panel. I was surprised and overjoyed, that it was a feeling that I had come to hold very strongly myself in critiquing my own work: that the designing of a character held the key to any story.

It sounds so self explanatory, yet in a sea of beautiful artists making beautiful books, it’s easy to forget the basics in lieu of making a more expansive, original or beautiful image. While many discussed elements of the panel’s practices had depended on individual preference, this really seemed to be a non negotiable. To have a character was to have a story. The team were all in agreement that they had labored over getting the look of their protagonists right. From Deuchars demandingly ‘drawing a bird doing yoga’ to ensure she had the movement right, to Davies laboring over each pixel to ensure the eyes were in exactly the right place, the look and feel of a character is the key to that vital emotional engagement. Jeffers and Jullien were in agreement that in removing facial details, character simplicity can bring you the freedom to create the emotions you need to evoke and I was reminded of Alexis Deacon’s similar assertions at masterclass event I attended a year or so ago.

“One Pixel makes ALL the difference.”- Davies

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Ultimately, I left London that night buzzing with inspiration. The panel had all shared their plethora of approaches to the same practice with honesty and analytical insight that I felt truly engaged in the life of picture book illustration. Each practitioner stepped to a different tune, yet each had developed a unique and curious visual distinction to call theirs.

“Illustration is about what you, the illustrator, choose to focus on.”- Jullien

Their paths had been carved from confidence in their own convictions and an understanding of their visual language. Instinct undoubtedly plays a role, but they had not simply drawn things to be pretty, instead analysing and laboring over what they had wanted their images to convey. The world of words is a separate beast to the language of pictures and the work of each of the panel artists is a perfect illustration of the vitality of combining the two with intelligence and intent. For me, Deuchars had summarised the secret to story telling in picture books with a comment on character, accurately asserting that ‘without a character you can make a beautiful book, but you don’t emotionally engage in the story.”

I thought back to Grill’s wonderful pencil landscapes in Waterstones, and had wanted to disagree. But while Grill’s landscapes ARE utterly beautiful, they are just that – beautiful imagery. It could be the biases and figurative subject of my own work talking, but for me, the work that sang in that glass cabinet (and indeed the pages of the finished article) were his working sketches of the dogs, his loose depictions of the people, his developments of the characters.

will_gril_04The landscapes were made MORE beautiful by the figure of a husky gazing out towards them, because suddenly, I was engaged. The involvement of character invites narrative to a scene; it asks for emotive understanding. Characters make a book a book. Without them, Grill’s could have been very attractive non-fiction. A quirky, historical workbook. With them, it is an engaging, contemporary retelling of historical tales.

Not that, I hasten to add, beautiful workbooks would be anything to sniff at, of course. Non-fiction in it’s original, un-narrated form is still a valued and important member of the bookshelf, but it is a separate beast from a story book. And it was just that: the passion for story books; for narratives and characters that packed out the Foyles auditorium with people from all around the country that evening.

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The obligatory book signing 🙂
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My new book adds Benji Davies to the list of illustrators whose signed works I own 🙂 Review will no doubt be on the way soon.
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I own signings by Jeffers and Davies, but noticing them on a quiet spell I nabbed Jullien and Deuchars to ask if they’d like to deface Davies’s book. They said they would 😀

Once more, I am reminded how wonderfully diverse this picture book bag is. All approaches are entirely different and equally valued. There is space and place for every kind of book these days and the vast shelves of these wondrous bookstores are brimming with talent and creative magic. You don’t have to draw the words. You don’t have to have words. There are no hard rules, aside from simply caring and investing in the subject.

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Deuchars magnificent approach to character development-make Bob do yoga, and Davies’s perfectly aligned eyes to capture the right expression

And the results are numerous, surprising and precious. There is emotion, there is character, there is always narrative. This week I have again been reminded of the real power of pictures. In all their glorious forms.

 

 

 

 

 

The Illustrator that came to Tea: a Visiting Talk from Living Legend

Not to indulge too dramatically in hyperbole, but I think I might have actually witnessed a real life living legend in real life this week. Seriously and for real.

Yep, as part of the Bath Children’s Literature Festival (of which I have been a devoted attendee for the  past 3 years) I attended a talk by none other than the charming and, quite frankly, utterly enchanting Judith Kerr.

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Apologies for the camera, but the lady herself shot of our glamorous, Bath Guildhall.

An absolute staple of British children’s bookshelves everywhere, Kerr is one of those awe inspiring talents whose timeless works effortlessly span generation after generation, capturing imagination and breathing life into young minds with simple tales of simple pleasures. And really, who can’t relate to those?

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From her magnificently quirky tales of enigmatic tigers and their casual visiting habits, to the familiar madness of cats, old ladies and, most recently, baby seals in the bathtub (yep), Kerr’s work has inspired and excited so many from the pages of her timeless titles, that I simply couldn’t be expected to resist the opportunity to see this godlike mother of charm in the flesh.

And what was she like? Well, she was everything I hoped she would be. She was an embodiment of her books; a perfect personification of charm, wit and warmth.

She was the perfect house guest, she was the maddest aunty, she was the reckless old lady and she was the sweetest grandmother. She was peculiar and adored and she was creativity in it’s purest form.

Led by the insightful questions from, Julia Eccleshare, Kerr wove elegantly from story to story, recounting memories and experiences that eluded to a, seemingly remarkably strange, lifetime; extractions of which formed the basis of every one of her tales.

Yet, as she spoke, with her enchantingly perfect comic timing and an unchallenged humbleness, it occurred to me with warmth that she was a true genius of creativity. Because really, her life had not been so grand or elaborate as first thought. Certainly not as much as you may expect from someone born in such turbulent times. Do not get me wrong, there had been interesting events most certainly, but I challenge any full life not to suffer a few of those during it’s progression.

No, I honestly believe that the true magic of Kerr’s work lay in it’s simplicity. It was her own wonderful eccentricity, that enabled her to extract those marvelous tales of curious wonder from family memories with the green bean obsessed cat. It was her interpretation and examination of the minutia of everyday life, and vitally the people in it, that transcended so well into, seemingly magical stories and eccentric, yet inherently familiar characters. Every one of us can conjure memories akin to those of family outings to the zoo, observations of adored yet barmy pets or childhood fondness of strange artefacts in our parent’s studies (admittedly a stuffed seal is a bit of a weird one), yet it is only a true genius of creativity that can take these everyday occurrences and use them to build tales of so much whimsy that they can, without fail, capture the imaginations of every reader lucky enough to consume them.

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From this week’s brief insight into the world of Judith Kerr, I feel I came a step closer to understanding and sharing in the magic of her books. Throughout the course of the evening, a simple and charming truth became apparent. The magic of Kerr’s world was not due to a incomprehensible and unreachable grasp of the imaginative process, but rather a reflection of her own personality. Her books are a public extension of herself, in all her quirk, enigma and warmth. From the moment she began speaking, I was entranced by her. The presence held by her slight and delicate physical frame was instantly eclipsed by the immediate reveal of her sharp wit and, subsequently, her strong and enigmatic character. I could not help but draw parallels between this wonderfully sharp storyteller in front of me and the enigmatic whimsy I associate with her name.

She was seemingly  as timeless as her stories; a testament to the strength of result when the illustrator becomes a personal presence within their work. Perhaps some, no less talented, practitioners do write and illustrate successful worlds on queue, do create independently of themselves, simply to fulfil the goal of entertaining an audience, but I struggle to deny the magic of writing for yourself, with the joy of appeasing your own indulgences. It is through this process that one captures a genuine joy in order to share with others. I think it is these books that communicate a timeless magic. An honesty that cannot be manufactured.

Disappointingly, as there was no book signing a this one, I did not get to meet Judith. But her presence was so entrancing, I felt as though I had. A personality like hers is a joy to come across and I only hope one day my own work, and indeed myself, can speak with such as unique yet universal voice as hers.

And even if this is all just starry eyed hyperbole, one thing is for sure. I would absolutely love to have Judith Kerr over for tea. And I wouldn’t complain a bit it she emptied my cupboards.

What a hero.

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When Grimms Meets Strings: The Quay Brothers at Bristol festival of Puppetry

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.

Bristol 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.

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Apologies from here on out for the quality of my camera. It’s not one for night time funsies bless it.

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.

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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.

A lit, installation piece using their set pieces on a bridge not too far away. It did look great in the night and illustrated their talk in which they discussed the importance of lighting in their films.
A lit, installation piece using their set pieces on a bridge not too far away. It did look great in the night and illustrated their talk in which they discussed the importance of lighting in their films.

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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.

Licence To Doodle: My Own, Personal Failings and A Talk I Went To

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

I often find that the smallest, most insignificant occurrence in an ordinary day has the potential to spark whole waves of pulsing creativity inside these little human skulls, that can evolve into ideas, narratives or images that have the potential to turn into something quite special. It’s kind of the beauty of creativity; it’s incredible, organic growth from the midst of drab normality.

 
And then sometimes, it simply comes from seeing super cool, ultra talented people do super cool, ultra talented stuff and appealing to that most disagreeable, competitive part of you that wants to, if not beat them, at least be one of them. The Cool Kid Conundrum.

This is totally what happened to me yesterday.

I went to a talk in London’s St Albans Centre for a Comica organised event where the legendary Quentin Blake (if you don’t know his name you should be shot. And then be shown an image of his so you can go “OOOOoooh. THAT guy, yeah of course I’ve seen THAT guy!” And then, and only then, will I call you a paramedic. For the gunshot wound.) and the phenomenal Shaun Tan, a personal hero of mine and creator of beautiful graphic books like The Arrival and The Red Tree, were having a wee discussion about illustration and things.

It was a pretty awesome way to spend an evening to be honest. It’s wasn’t the most organised event in history, but was a lovely insight into the minds of two truly incredible (albeit very stylistically different) illustrators and their methods and philosophies regarding their work. They took us through a brief history of their careers, bouncing off each other in a mutual interview, before taking questions from the floor, and finally rounding up with a quick, live draw-a-thon and book signing (and Me-Oh-My did I have books so sign.)

I’m proud to say my copy is freshly signed!

And as I sat there, absorbed in the works of both of them as they scrolled through their, deservedly impressive, careers before producing some entirely new and original, flawlessly wonderful, off-the-cuff imagery, I thought to myself:

An example of Shaun Tan’s jaw dropping talent. From The Arrival, his wordless graphic novel about the loneliness and disorientation of immigration.

“Dude, you need to do more drawing.”

And I do. It may not have escaped your notice that there has been a severe lack of it recently. Now, that is, partially due to my broken scanner (BOOOO) and the fact I’ve been tied up in commission work for other people and writing etc, but really, there is no excuse not to bash out a doodle every now and then is there? I mean, it’s not exactly time-consuming. Plus it provides an excellent distraction from things I don’t want to do, like this god-forsaken summer project of mine.

So today I did The Book Look; a phrase I tend to coin whenever I’m feeling a little dry on the creative juices front and need to whack out my rather large collection of graphic novels, fanzines, children’s books and general collection of amazing talent to kick-start my own creative flow.

The result was drawings! Nothing special, nothing truly inspirational, and actually, nothing even remotely good, but drawings nonetheless! And, with my lack of scanner, I even photographed them for you JUST TO PROVE I actually did something. I do apologise for the poor quality, it’s in these times of need you truly appreciate the genius of scanning freedom, but alas. It’s dark times this end, I’m practically medieval.

(Though using photos taken in crappy light does kind of make everything look like it’s from a silent movie, which I kind of like.)

I can draw really, honest I can! But I needed to get back into the swing of things, loosen up you know? That’s what I tell myself anyway, “it’s okay, it’s just a practice…”

I did consider spending more time photoshopping these into better shape, but to be honest, I feel it would have taken away from the wholly organic, slightly shitty and very honest state of my sketchbooks. And what’s the point of even sharing rubbish doodles if I’ve cleaned them all up? Plus it’s pretty late right now and I’m sleepy.

What a gentleman. You can tell from his moustache.
A Raven in a suit. At some point I’ll give him a hat.
This guy is an old hash. When I was working on the research for Tick, I started drawing a lot of these diving helmets and he grew from there, to emerge now, a few years later, with a pet.
A quick fantasy doodle. I find every now and then it’s essential for the soul to draw good looking ladies in obscure situations. What’s she reaching for? You’ll have to wait and see (because I’m not sure yet.)
I’m quite embarrassed to have this on the internet, but this is, unfortunately, how my work begins. This is the first draft of the storyboard for my new comic I’ve been writing. I know it’s shoddy, please have faith. Somebody needs to…

Hopefully this will be the start of something beautiful. Hopefully this will get me back into the swing of things, of doodling for me and not just working on projects in sequence. I’d like to expand on a few of these, and maybe I will, but if they do just fade away, into the oblivion of forgotten sketchbook pages and nonsense spontaneity, I think that’s okay too.

But for now, in the very wise words of Mister Quentin Blake on the last page of Mister Magnolia:

“Goodnight.”

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