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 just finished this A3-sized watercolour yesterday, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I do have a few problems though – for starters, I don’t have anywhere to put it!
I’m thinking about doing a few more of these, of other cities that I haven’t been to. It seems weird to just do one, and then say “oh yeah, that worked really well!”, and then stop. If I do, I might put up a bit more about the process that is involved – it’s quite long, and takes a few days.
I have to be truthful though; one of the reasons I thought I might like it was that it would wash out of my clothes. Back when I was doing my foundation year in college, I got so much acrylic paint on my clothes that it wasn’t even funny. Everything I wore had a smudgy goop of dried acrylic on it somewhere. I think that was the thing that made me quit making images more than anything else.
Stuart’s strip above is almost exactly what happened to me after I finished university – which was, for me, the culmination of a six-year education process! Imagine what a waste it would be if you listen to the folks around you, quit being an artist, and became (for example) an estate agent! That’s at least three years down the pan for anybody who takes that advice, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard it
The times I regret most are when I stopped making things, and listened to other people about getting “a real job”, because I’m good at drawing/being creative/telling jokes. I’m not good at working in an office, or listening to boring people, and I’m even less good at those things after all my years of working in the creative sector. When I have tried to follow that “real job” advice – listening to people I love and respect – I have found myself depressed and moody. It’s only after around ten years of working in the creative world that I know why.
It’s the hardest thing to do to ignore those people saying “get a real job”, at the same time as making yourself do artistic projects. They mean well, but if they are not involved in a creative lifestyle then you can’t really take their advice. Not because they don’t know what they are talking about, but because they are trying to get you to create the same securities that worked for them. For instance, the idea of training as a teacher (or similar) is frequently suggested, but if you actually did that you probably wouldn’t be able to do any of your creative work. If that’s ok for you, do it – but I truly believe that there are some people who are forced to create.
One final thing, and something that I continually struggle with, is making sure the work you have to do around being an artist doesn’t take over being an artist. Updating a blog, looking for opportunities, emailing people are all things you might need to do – but make sure you leave enough energy to get on with doing your particular creative outlet. If you don’t make the art, why are you doing these things? You need to have something fresh to show people when they ask what you do.
Because that way, you can show them you already have a real job.
Phillip Pulman, in The Guardian:
What are your tips for aspiring novelists?
There are several things I think it’s important for an aspiring writer to know. When I was young I read all kinds of that sort of advice, and I thought it was all rubbish. Later on I found out for myself how important a few things are, and I’ll tell you three of them here.
One: work every day. Get into the habit of it. Work when you don’t feel like it, when you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend or boyfriend, when you’re feeling ill, when you’ve got homework to do. Put your work first. Habit is your greatest ally. Get into the habit of writing when you’re young and it’ll stay with you. Sixteen is a very good age to start.
Two: find out what way of working (place, time, writing instrument, desk light, and so on) suits you, and insist that you get it.
Three: don’t listen to anyone who tells you you should study what the public wants, and give it to them. They don’t know what they want, or they’d be writing it themselves. It’s not their job to tell you what to write. It’s your job to write something they could never have thought of, and then offer it to them. Good luck!
I think this guidance just works for anything. Do it every day. Keep doing it. Work out when you do it best. Don’t make something to “sell”.
It’s that last part that’s the hard part. Don’t start doing things that sell because somebody told you to. You’ll hate it. I have some experience with this; I ended up just making the worst stuff of my creative life when I was at university in Newcastle, because I did what I was told to.
Also relevant is this, by Ira Glass:
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.
Which is taken from this video interview:
Work every day. You’ll make some things you’re not proud of. Some days you won’t feel like it. Do it anyway. Keep doing it.
I don’t know anything about music after 2003, but this seems pretty good. The Tune Yards album is coming out later this month, as is the new album from little-known American singer/songwriter Mirah.
The last physical album I brought was Mirah’s “Advisory Committee”, back in 2005, because I couldn’t buy it any other way. I’m a huge fan, and I hardly like any music, let alone any single artist, enough to say that. The new album is the combined talents of Mirah and Thao, who are both singer/songwriters with long careers. To me, April 2011 sounds like the future of music has been taken off pause since JSBX recorded a cover of Dub Narcotic’s “Fuck Shit Up“.
(And no, your beepy boopy techno music doesn’t count as “the future”. It’s all well and good but it’s just Terry Riley’s “In C” with extra bells and a whistle posse. Sorry.)
I have read the novel Anathem at least once a year since it came out in 2008. It’s 928 pages in length, or just over 31 hours if you listen to the audiobook, which is not an insignificant investment of time in whatever form you choose.
Neal Stephenson is an important author for me. I have an ancient copy of Snow Crash, which I remember tracking down as an import in ’92 or ’93. I had heard it was like William Gibson, but it wasn’t; it was better. It was better in every way. And, while I didn’t become an excellent skateboarder after reading that book (no matter how much I tried) it did give me an introduction into certain areas of thought.
I wasn’t the only one: Second Life is an attempt to makes some parts of Snow Crash real, and the use of the word “Avatar” to describe your character in a computer game also comes from it’s usage in this book. But, as influential and as ground-breaking as Snow Crash was, it’s Anathem that I prefer.
One of the criticisms levelled at Snow Crash is that it’s characters choose knowledge over hope; the fictional world within Anathem has institutionalised that choice. The main character is a young mathematician who lives in a sort of monastery-like institution. In the fictional world of Anathem (an alternate Earth called “Arbre”), these institutions are where all the smart people go, confining themselves to a life without consumer electronics and media saturation for periods of one, ten, or a hundred years.
Outside the walls of the institutions civilisations rise and fall, and a sort of lifestyle pretty much like ours takes place. Technologically, they are a bit more advanced, but Stephenson skewers religious pomposity and the mindless indulgence of contemporary society when he exposes his mathematical monks to a wider world.
I’ve looked at the reviews online for this book, and a common refrain in them is that readers say something like “I read the first 100-200 pages of the book and wasn’t into it, but then I started getting into it and I really liked it” to which I might say, “if you read the rest of the nearly-1000 page book, then I’m glad you liked it for the last 800 pages”. But in a way, that is the point of the book; it is not a passing concern.
Whereas other, more popular books do wrap up their plot lines in the same kind of word-count as Anathem’s first 200 pages, Stephenson is challenging the reader to become more literate – and numerate. What seem like digressions into explaining the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics prove to be important infodumps for later. It’s a mark of Stephenson’s growing skill that sharing his hard-earned insights into some of the more far-fetched worlds of mathematics don’t read as didactic mouths spouting off, but simply as human interaction.
I’ll admit, this book isn’t for some people. On the other hand, the fact that it isn’t for everybody is one of the things that make it special – not everybody wants to read a book about nerdy mathematician-monks saving the world. At its heart, this book is a sci-fi book, but it’s also a book about growing up, about duty, about home, and about loss. That’s why I keep re-reading it, and why I’ll probably read it again next year.
That is, if I can wait that long.
Too lazy to update with, like, uh, actual words.
I wrote this text when I went to title the photo to the right, and in writing the text (which turned out waaay longer than I planned) I realised that Talking Heads are a band that I really enjoy thinking about… it’s not the emotional resonance of the song that I enjoy, but the idea that you can lose something and come back to it, even something like music, which everybody is a snob about.
I have such a hard-on for that song, every time I hear it. I rediscovered the Talking Heads when I was staying in a pub on the coast. I’d gone to bed, and then, as I lay there trying to sleep, I heard the music come through the walls.
Normally, I hate any sort of late-night disturbance. But the album that was playing was one of the three albums I had when I was deep into being a teenage douchebag, all pimples and sitting in from of the TV, no talking to parents or adequate cleansing routine.
That night, I heard every. Single. Track. From “Once in a Lifetime”, the best of album I had on tape, that I had long ago thrown out, because it wasn’t “cool” like Neds Atomic Dustbin or PWEI (I know, huh?).
I picked up copy of Sand in the Vaseline (the two-disk version of Once in a Lifetime) soon after that, but it wasn’t until I saw the live movie they did, Stop Making Sense, that I became so infused by the band. Even the later, weirder stuff, where the rest of the band have pissed off and it’s just David Byrne and some session guys. I tried to like the solo stuff, and the stuff he did with Eno, but really it’s the other people that make Talking Heads great.
For instance, half-way through the Stop Making Sense video, David Byrne pisses off to do a clothes change and drink water, so the rest of the band play some track called “the Genius of Love”. This was later sampled by Mariah Carey to become the 1990s uber-hit “Fantasy”. That’s right: the other guys in Talking Heads were so shit-hot that they basically hard-baked Mariah Carey’s career into success.
Now that’s a band.