I didn’t realise how nervous I was about travelling to Linz for ages. It was one of those trips that I knew was coming up, so I brought my tickets for the flight incredibly early, and forgot about them. This was possibly the only thing I did not panic about in the run-up to travelling to Pippa and Tim’s wedding.
Then, the day came to set off. I did so in the worst manner possible, by getting lost in a city where I spoke the language. Duh.
And it’s at this point I can start referring you to my notes:
The main problem with being on a plane and wanting to do some drawing is that there is nothing to look at on planes.
I got off the plane feeling a lot calmer. Then I found my hostel, and realised that it was in the red light district.
It was actually pretty nice, and they went to the trouble of looking up vegetarian restaurants for me. So I went to a vegetarian restaurant in Vienna:
As I had absolutely nothing to do with myself, I sat at my table drawing, until it got dark, and then walked back through the red light district. Just as I arrived back at the hostel, a bunch of tiny European teenagers were getting off a bus. The bus was from a company called “Rubes”, and I had a little chuckle at the thought of all these little rubes in the big city. That’s the sort of thing I find funny after international travel and no conversation.
Then, I sat in the bar area and did some painting. With a herbal tea.
The next day it was on to Linz:
I was, again, incredibly nervous about my train journey. I had printed out a ticket at home, using my printer, and it claimed to be my ticket. As somebody who is used to the UK train system, this level of convenience was unthinkable: surely, this piece of paper I printed at home wasn’t valid for train travel?! I screwed up my courage and went to ask the ticket inspector.
“Do you speak any English?”, I asked. “A little”, he replied, which in England would have meant “I can count to ten and possibly say something rude in your language”, but actually means “I can speak passible English” in Austria. Turns out my ticket was valid, so I got on the train. Somebody sat next to me, so I got to look like a crazy person drawing out of the window.
It turns out I was incredibly knackered from all this change to my routine, and it was at this point I had vowed never to leave my nerd-cave again. What was I thinking?! Why did I leave my house?! I was tired and emotional and I wanted to eat supermarket-brand cereal in front of the TV. Sadly, my new room didn’t have a TV and I couldn’t work out where to buy any soya milk, so I agreed to meet up with Pippa and some of her friends.
Above: my most hard-edged drawing I’ve ever done.
Pippa didn’t make it to that meal in the end, but I had the great pleasure of meeting Andreas and Josie. We had a great time eating delicious food! It was also at this point that I started to become too tired to do any proper drawing. I did take notes, so here they are:
I went back to the Golden Crocodile restaurant, where I had been with Tim and Pippa last year. Pippa ended up being unavoidably delayed, which is acceptable as she is getting married tomorrow, so I had a meal with a married couple from Berlin for the wedding. I also had a pint and a half, while Andreas and Josie (the couple) ended up having mint tea, which was like a complete reversal of the past few days. Caught bus to town and back, which was OK – it’s only a few stops. Now have no change, meaning no snacks from vending machine.
A brief note on Germanic vending machines: they are far more advanced than our puny English vending machines. Broken Britain again. The one at the hostel was actually so advanced that it took me several days to work out how to use it.
The next day was the wedding, and I ended up drinking and staying up until 3am, which is totally unheard of for me. Maybe the free beer helped, but it was mostly the great company. I even danced, although casual observers might have thought I was just holding my glass funny whilst walking across the dance floor. I had a great time, and it turns out weddings are a ton of fun. Who knew, right?
Back to my notes:
The day after, I slept until three in the afternoon, when I awoke and ate the baguette I had stolen from the buffet. This was a good idea, as the hostel was totally closed and I couldn’t figure out how to work the vending machine. I went along to Times Up! where the wedding party was being social, and after a few hours there I went for a meal with some people. However, afterwards I missed the last bus home and discovered the hard way that the hostel is on top of a hill.
Seriously, that was some bitch of a walk back. I actually got a shin splint from the amount of walking uphill I had to do. I woke up on Monday with a duff leg, and everybody else from the wedding had either gone home or gone on a walking tour of the mountains. I decided to take what is billed on the tourist map of Linz as the steepest tram in the world, which takes you up the hillside and gives you a nice view of the surrounding area. It also takes you to some children’s amusements, which are supposed to be hilarious, and a large church done in a style that makes Rocco look restrained. I did a quick watercolour of the view:
I felt unmoved by the cheesy church, and decided to take a the tram back down. By this point I was absolutely exhausted, and ended up walking around the town looking for the Museum of Upper Austrian Dentistry. By the time I found it – next to the Doll Museum, as I guess they like to keep all their creepy museums in one place – I was too tired to go in, and ended up having some kind of noodle meal at a local restaurant. I think you can tell how tired and disjointed I was from the page I made:
Seriously, things were starting to not make sense to me. On the up side, I did manage to make the hostel’s vending machine spit out food and sugary drinks! I ate a pile of unhealthy things and went to bed early. That’s pretty much the end of my time in Linz, aside from a day spent travelling back (I got a lot of reading done, and took a lot of trains, but you don’t want to know about that). Thanks to everybody who hung out with me and put up with me alternating between tired rambling and excitable rambling, and a big ‘congratulations’ to the happy couple.
A few weeks ago I was invited over to Liverpool by Gary and Lena, who run The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home. I had a residency with them in 2008, just before I started my Masters course, and I always felt horribly guilty that I’d never sent them anything. After all, it was a paid residency – shouldn’t they get something for their money?
To assuage my guilt, I had sent them a few postcards in the mail in 2010 and ’11. I was quite surprised, however, when they got in touch and asked me to come and do some watercolours of their local area, but I grabbed the chance to get out of Bedfordshire. We agreed that I’d stay in their house whilst they were away over Easter, and I spent about two and a half weeks in the city.
I never completed that Masters course in 2008 because I got really sick. I’m mostly better now, but I live with my folks in Bedfordshire because I’m not entirely better, so going to Liverpool was a chance to measure how recovered I was. The answer? Not as much as I like to think!
At the minute, I’m working on collating the drawings I did in Liverpool into some form of document – more than a blog post, perhaps a ‘zine – that I can distribute, somehow. I’m interested in getting it printed as a real document, so if you have any tips on printing, please let me know.
I spent all last week in Newcastle, because I’ve been paying to store loads of stuff up there, and the payments on my rental unit keep making me go into my overdraft. I figured I’d go up there, throw out a bunch of stuff, and see a few friends while I was there. I also wanted to keep drawing, so I took a few sketchbooks with me.
Almost immediately, I ran into a problem. The cops tried to blow up my luggage.
A man can’t even take a whizz on a train without the state getting up in his grill. Damn these post-terrorist times. Thankfully, the rest of the train journey was less eventful. In fact, it was so uneventful that I decided to do some watercolours out of the window, after drawing a dog and my waterbottle.
Painting on the train was ace, and I really enjoyed it. Sadly, it was the most productive – in terms of work I made – during my trip. As soon as I got off the train I was involved in the process of picking up my stuff and working out what to do with it.
I thought I would draw all the boxes from storage, but dealing with it was so exhausting – and so distracting – that it was hard to keep it together. Just waking up to the thought of all my boxes of crap was enough to wipe me out on Tuesday, and I spent the morning in bed under a giant fluffy duvet.
On Wednesday I picked myself up and went into town to see some friends. I took an early bus into the city centre so I could do some drawing, and this was pretty much the only time I managed to do so in the city. Lesson learned: if you want to do drawing, you have to make time for it. I particularly wanted to draw the train station, but those builders grabbed the good seats so they could smoke. I ended up surrounded by a bunch of teenagers.
(Oh, and by the way, excuse my fingers – this sketchbook’s uneven spine doesn’t make for good scanning. It does have lovely paper though, which makes it quite useful for on-the-go sketching.)
I managed a few quick watercolours before it was time for my lunch date, and then I barely managed to scribble anything on Thursday. I was exhausted by the prospect of throwing away, or giving away, pretty much a decade’s worth of stuff. Most of that stuff was books that I had built up, thinking they were the backbone of my “adult” possessions, but were just another lump of stuff that ended up needing to be disposed of.
I’m trying to write a short essay about it, but my thoughts are complicated by the reasons why I had to throw all that stuff away. Bad relationships, serious illnesses, and confused education choices made my life a lot more interesting than it normally is. The act of actually getting rid of the stuff was quite nice – a chance to see old friends, catch up, and give them presents. The act of sorting it out in some literary form is really tough, and I worry I’ve traded a talent with words for a talent with images…
My visit was generally fun, and it reinforced my urge to make more drawings, to make better drawings. But it also made me want to communicate better with those drawings, because otherwise, what’s the point?
There’s this old door in Cambridge which I put up on here already, way back in May, but I had to go back to that area. The door is opposite a nice cafe, called Trockel, Ulmann & Freunde, which seems to be one of the few cafes in the centre of Cambridge which isn’t a chain cafe or horrible, so I plonked myself down and took another shot at the door.
It’s ok, right? I mean, one of the people who worked at the cafe said it was good, and I’m fairly happy with it. But what it does show is how I’m gradually improving. It’s important to remember both that you can get better if you try, and that you are going to get better.
In truth, I’ve found the onset of winter a tough time to be doing watercolour, as it’s a bit nippy outside. What should I draw over the winter?! I think I’m going to have to think up a project to keep me occupied over the winter months, possibly using all this ink I have been stockpiling…
Last weekend found me at the Fortean Times Unconvention 2011, thanks to a last-minute invite from Ian Simmons. Sadly, I wasn’t feeling up to much – getting up early enough to be in London at 10ish in the morning really takes it out of me – but I enjoyed the talks I did see.
I expected the crowd to be all fat men with beards, but there were a lot of really normal people there. When I attend a conference I usually spend a lot of time drawing rows of people from sitting level, and I think I’m getting pretty good at doing the back of people’s heads now. In fact, I think I’m going to have to break out a bit, and get beyond the back of people’s heads. Sadly, it is the only thing that keeps my attention span on the talk – otherwise I would have missed the wonderful talk by Ted Harrison (top) about various prophecies about the apocalypse. His best line was when he opened to questions from the floor, saying “… and before anybody asks, I don’t know the date!”
I like going to conferences both for intellectual stimulation, and to spend time drawing people. I’ve recently been spending a lot of time staring at my own face in the mirror, so I’m getting pretty good at drawing beards – but I’d be the first to admit I have no skill at drawing women. If only they would grow facial hair, I’d be on more solid ground.
What I can notice, looking back at my drawings from early this year, is that I’m tackling bigger crowd scenes. I had to split before the final session of the day (what looked to be an excellent film by Nina Conti on ventriloquist’s puppets) as I was already worn out.
Finally, a big thanks to Ian for getting me into the conference as his “plus one”. I missed his talk about extreme taxidermy (yes, it was that kind of conference) but it was great to see him again.
On Monday I went to London with Becky and Naomi. Going out with other people means that I don’t usually get to do as much sketching as I might like, but I managed to cram in a couple of bits at the courtyard of the V&A.
Apparently, while I was doing this – and cursing my inability to capture the building better – a woman came and craned over me. So intent was I on getting this quick watercolour done that I didn’t notice! Then we went to see the dinosaur exhibition at the Natural History Museum, which wasn’t that cool because it cost a lot and was full of people touching stuff. However, we did see the Spirit Collection Tour, which was ace, and involved seeing loads of animals in jars. Including an eight meter long giant squid. If you get a chance, go!
Last week I went to London to see a gig by the effervescent Merrill Garbus, who performs as Tune Yards. This is really rare for me; I don’t usually go and see any live music, and I don’t usually go out at night. Like I said a few weeks ago, the evening is really the time I knuckle down and start making things, so I like to be at home making rather than out partying. I didn’t take my sketchbook, but I did take my camera. I snapped off this quick shot as we stood outside the gig.
One of the weirder aspects about returning to Biggleswade is that there are almost no people between 20 – 35. Back in Newcastle I lived in areas that were mostly comprised of people in that age range, but now I’m back in the parental abode I can go days before having a face-to-face conversation with somebody in my age range. I often complain about this to the few friends I have here over a coffee. The Tune Yards gig was, of course, full of people in my generation, making me look like an overly grumpy fool.
On Friday the 6th of May, I headed over to Cambridge with my parents, to gawk at the whale skeleton. It hangs outside the museum of zoology in a specially built portico, and as I sketched it, various tourists came up and joined me in gawking at it.
But portico was cold, and it was such a gorgeous day that it was a shame to sit in the shade. I wandered along and found a cafe to sit in, because I was feeling pretty terrible that day. I’ve had a run of “bad” days, feeling worn-out and sometimes painful in ways that aren’t a lot of fun. So I skipped the usual double espresso and had a fruit juice and a slice of delicious cake, whilst doing some watercolour studies of an ancient university entrance opposite the cafe. I managed to avoid washing my brush in the fruit juice, but it was a close-run thing.
Today, millions of UK citizens are taking to the streets to protest the governments cuts. In Germany, a few weeks ago, they had a carnival where people threw sweets from the floats. It was ace.
In Berlin, I stayed at the mighty Park Inn hotel.
If you’ve been to Berlin, you’ll have seen the Park Inn hotel at the centre of the city. It’s overshadowed by the frankly massive TV Tower, but it’s still an impressive looking building.
As a four-star hotel, you are treated to a massive breakfast spread, labelled in both German and English. My favourite item was the crubes of pineapple. Mmm, delicious crubes.