This week sees me bouncing back and forth between here (an unlovable town in the Bedfordshire area) and Newcastle. I lived in Newcastle for about a decade, and I’ve always found it odd that people in the south exclaim surprise about my casual visits to that city. “Newcastle!”, they proclaim. “I’ve never been past Stevenage!”, despite there being the usual range of transport options. I’ve literally lost count of the people who say this to me, despite it being about half-way up the UK’s length.
This is a picture of the view from Byker, which had a unique architectural estate, the Byker Wall, built sometime during the 1960s. My great-grandparents used to run a business in the area, which was purchased off them and bulldozed to form this mega-estate which my friend now lives in. The amazing panoramic view shows the Baltic in Gateshead, where I used to work, right up to the hills near Consett (I could only squeeze a little of the view into my notebook, as I was quite busy).
On Monday I put up my pages of Bartkira, which is a difficult-to-describe mashup of the Simpsons and (uber-important Japanese manga comic) Akira. Unlike other things that I do, it was an externally defined project with a hard time limit. There were deadlines! And I wanted to make a nice-looking outcome!
Let’s talk about how I did it.
Firstly, I had to get hold of the source material – namely, pages 46 to 50 of volume four of Akira. I them printed them off at A3 size (or, rather A4 size but stuck together with scotch tape) and used a lightbox to trace the panel layout onto some nice watercolour paper I had lying around.
I don’t like my lightbox, and I wouldn’t recommend it as a purchase to people – it’s a sheet of electroluminescent paper which I got through a specialist supplier. It’s not quite bright enough, so I’m using very light watercolour paper here.
Click more to see a huge pile of images and musings on this process: Continue reading
At this point in the story, Springfield has been destroyed by the awakening of the most powerful psychic child, Ralph Wiggum, and everybody is living in the sort of horrible post-disaster situation that people in Hartlepool deal with daily. Milhouse is wacked up on drugs that give him psychic powers, and has a robot arm (under his cape). I had free reign to cast whichever characters I wanted in the small parts, and so the three nerds from “Homer Goes to College” have a walk-on role as drug guinea pigs (it doesn’t end well for them – just say no to psychic powers, kids!). I figure life in the desolate hell-hole that Springfield became has toughened them up a bit, Also, they might be holding hands in that panel on page 50. I’m not going to judge.
As it currently stands, these five pages are the most “finished” visual artworks I’ve made, and I’m going to write another blogpost detailing some of the process (check back on Friday!) for how I made them. It was a long process, involving printing things out and selotape and watercolours and lots of Photoshop. I’m probably going to spend the next few days drawing flowers to recover.
Hey! So, remember two weeks ago when I put up some watercolours I did, based on Japanese painting? Here’s some more!
I’m doing these watercolours in a small, expensive notebook I brought. It’s got the best watercolour paper I’ve ever used, so I have a sort of mental block about using it, and this project is an excuse to do some work in the pages. It’s going pretty well. Above is the first picture that I thought worked, a copy of “People Walking Under Cherry Trees at Night”. The original piece is a study in perspective – still a new and interesting thing to Japanese art. For me, this image turned into a test of brushwork.
This second drawing wasn’t so successful, but I managed to get the gradation of colour in the sky. Hiroshige was a master publicist, and he sold these prints to people at shops conveniently located at the busiest intersections on the way out of Edo’s drinking areas.
This drawing didn’t work, and I realised that the shapes were just going to be too complicated for me to draw at this size. I’ve included it because it shows that a) I’m not an amazing artist and b) sometimes you just got to know when to fold.
Last month, I started a project I’d been thinking about for a while; copying the works of Japanese printmaker Hiroshige, using my watercolour paints. The first attempts, above, show what happened.
The first two goes I had were terrible, and I could have given up and gone off and done something else with my time. But the third attempt seemed to almost work…
The fourth attempt, a print called “Geese Descending Over a Bay” and/or ”Full Moon over Takanawa” (depending on what country you live in) showed me what I wanted to do. It isn’t perfect, but the sense of distance created by the curving bay, and the use of colours, kind of reflected what Hiroshige was doing.
One of the problems of watercolours is when the paper doesn’t absorb all the water quickly enough, and the pigment dries in this sort of ridge (left). Japanese prints often use a sort of gradation effect, called bokashi, and trying to replicate this in watercolour was very difficult. Good practice though!
Next week, I’ll put up some more of the watercolour copies I’ve done. I didn’t want to put them all up at once, as that’d be overkill. I’ll also talk about why I’m doing these.
Next week I’m off to Edinburgh, so I thought I’d do a blogpost about what I carry with me when out sketching.
- Expensive watercolour sketchbook. This notebook was so expensive I was actually scared to use it for a bit, but it has excellent-quality watercolour paper. You can do several watercolour washes without the paper turning into mush.
- Seawhite’s of Brighton travellers notepad. This looks like a Moleskine, but it’s actually loads better – Seawhite’s do a selection of papers and notebooks which I highly recommend. This particular one has a hard cover, so it’s good to lean on when out, and the paper can take a bit of wetting with watercolour or ink. I put a sticker on the front because I have two identical notebooks, which I use for two different types of drawing.
- Furoshiki cloth. This is a piece of fabric used for wrapping things up. I wrap my sketchbooks in it so that they don’t get all dinged up in my bag. I brought this on a whim, and it’s become one of the most useful things in my bag. I can also wipe brushes on it.
- This is my pencil case; it’s part of a North Face satchel I brought last year. It detached from the inside of the bag, and I use it to carry around pencils and my watercolour set. On top of the pencil case is another notebook, which is a Fabriano “Venezia” book, which has great-quality paper in it. I like to have a pocket sized notebook for tiny sketches.
- Six-inch ruler (curved for use with fountain pen) and watercolour set. I could probably write a whole post about my watercolour set; I went to Austria to buy it, enlisting help from friends who spoke the local language. I’ve developed a palette, and like to mix up paint in specific areas. I could probably go down to a smaller watercolour kit, like one of the bijou boxes that are so popular right now, but I’d rather not buy a new one.
- Water bottle and pens. The water bottle is for both drinking and making watercolours. There’s a spare elastic band around the water bottle, which is used in combination or instead of the clip (also shown) to hold notebooks open. The pens here are a Pentel brush pen (it’s ok) a pair of cheapo water brushes (both large), a 4B pencil, and a Lamy Safari fountain pen with Carbon ink.
I usually carry around most of this stuff during the week, if I’m going somewhere, and at the very least I have my tiny notebook to hand so I can quickly sketch something that catches my eye. I’m constantly trying to get myself to do more drawing, because I’m pretty slack, so making the effort to carry around a notebook is a good push to get me to do something worthwhile with my time.
I mentioned a while ago that I had a small show of watercolours at Dot to Dot gallery, in Letchworth. To say thanks, I brought Ruby and Rebecca this bunch of flowers.
Whenever I scan a drawing in, I have real trouble correcting the image. My scanner seems to be too light, and everything ends up looking blown out – dark lines and details suffer especially. To fix this, I tweak the gamma setting of the image that I’m working with, nudging it up a bit so that the picture has some darker shading. It’s not quite a perfect fix, but it’s quick and does almost everything I need. However, you can see on the light green blossoms in the upper right that there’s some detail it doesn’t catch.
If I take it too far, the image ends up with unnaturally dark areas. This is fine in black and white pieces, but when I scan watercolours it’s difficult to know when to stop.
I’m so excited to be writing a blog-post on Friday that I’ve totally forgotten how to create a good title.
First off: news! I am going places.
Wow! I’m looking forward to seeing urban areas and meeting people with interesting accents. You can probably find me in a coffee shop.
Secondly, I contributed to a group zine organised by the Circus of Illustration, a Bedfordshire-based group of illustrators and artists trying to bring culture to one of the UK’s most philistine areas. The zine itself is a free PDF download from their website! My contribution uses the text from this piece in the Guardian by Derek Niemann, who is writing about an area I used to know quite well – it’s where I spent my 18th birthday, camping in the woods. Up until I read his article, I never knew what those old huts were for.
I originally drew the above image for the zine, but – like many of my drawings – it’s a long, panoramic piece. The format for the zine was A5, and that would mean that the picture didn’t really work. I had to make a new image pretty quickly! I want to give a special mention to Andrew Foster, who waited patiently for me to make a new image, and did loads of work designing and wrangling the publication to make it look neat. Thanks Andrew!
I don’t feel like writing much at the minute, as this weather has everybody bummed out. It’s a nightmare, just cold and snowy. Everybody’s down about it though, so I expect that when Spring finally springs people are going to go crazy!
At the moment people are too swaddled in outdoor clothes to do things like have fun.
The top image is a page from a Moleskin watercolour notebook, with just a little bit of watercolour. The paper in those Moleskins doesn’t take watercolour very well, so you have to be careful. The bottom page is drawn one of my favourite pens, a Lamy Safari, which has a really ‘wet’ nib.
My new year’s resolution this year was to not hate Biggleswade. The past two years resolution’s have been to leave Biggleswade – frankly, it is an awful place, and if I revealed my true feelings about the place this would be an unreadable blog post full of hate. So let’s not go there.
However, things are looking up. A new vegetarian cafe has opened up, and I’ve even got a studio in Biggleswade! I’m finding it incredibly difficult to get into the studio though, so I end up either in my bedroom, drawing until the early hours of the morning (it’s how I do my best work) or sitting in the cafe, sketching out of the window and drawing flowers.
It’s tough living in a small town with almost no redeeming features. I’ve actually run out of black (indian) ink at the minute, and because of geography and travel it’s a two hour trip to get some more. Two hours! I could be more than half-way to Brighton in that time! But I don’t keep my drawing stuff in Brighton, so it’d be a bit weird.
Finally, I’ve been experimenting with computer graphics and drawing. I read about a process called ‘flatting’, where you can add in colours to line art, and gave it a go with the picture above. I’m not sure that it really works (it’s only a first attempt, so that’s not a problem) but it’s good to experiment with different techniques.
The top image in this post is a pencil sketch done with a mechanical pencil I found in a pot – maybe a H or HB – and then I increased the gamma value to make the lines dark. In the bottom image, I made the linework a layer, set that layer to “multiply”, and filled in the colour on a different layer. Multiply makes the white areas of an image become transparent.
The middle image is of a flower done with a brush pen. I got far more enjoyment out of looking at the flower than futzing with the computer, and it took a lot less time. I’m almost tempted to spend the next year drawing flowers.