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).
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.
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 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.
I’ve seen a lot of ‘looking back at 2012′ posts over the past few weeks, but I couldn’t quite manage to get mine done before the New Year started. Oops! Rather than re-hash what’s gone before, I just wanted to show off my favourite painting of clouds from last year, which I did on one of those postcards for watercolours.
Things have been slow here, for me, for a number of reasons. Let’s talk about them, honorable blog reader. Or rather, I’ll write about them and you’ll read my writings.
(If that doesn’t work for you feel free to go)
Recent posts here have taken the simple-to-understand format of an image, created by me, along with some text. Usually funny text. This has been going on since the first quarter of 2011, when I stopped trying to say smart things online and just concentrated on getting better at drawing and painting with watercolours.
This has worked out pretty well. I’m feeling confident about my ability with watercolours and drawing. People have started asking me to draw things for them, which is amazing (thanks guys!) and fun, and something I love doing. I’ve sold work at auctions, and even turned down sales (sorry guys!) and just generally had a lot more fun than when I was doing things with computers.
But the thing that’s missing is words.
Without the little bit of text that goes under my images, they’re just watercolours. Sometimes they’re not the best watercolours, but I’ve got a story I want to tell, and the combination of words and text work well. This is a problem for putting my work into a visual domain, as you can’t hang a picture with a bunch of text next to it. Picture galleries are really unfriendly to anything that breaks the mould of thing-on-wall-in-frame, because they want to ignore contemporary art (apart from the price-tags).
As you might tell from this blogpost, I can usually stick words together fine. Not for any meaningful stuff though – that always gives me the yips, and means I have to stop. I totally have a thing to write about my time in Liverpool (in April!) that I haven’t done yet. This year I tried to do NaNoWriMo and failed, because I found myself stuck in my office chair all day, slowly typing garbage into a word processor, while wishing I was drawing.
My problem with NaNoWriMo was twofold; the aim of producing 50,000 words by the end of the month was something that I had not prepared enough to do, and secondly, I didn’t enjoy writing fiction. I’ve recently discovered a fascination for history, and the strange stories it throws up (like the world’s first roundabout being visited by Stalin, or the Viking discovery of America).
But the big problem is that I just have no support groups to talk to. I have no like-minded souls here in Bedfordshire – I’ve got some excellent friends here, with busy and interesting lives, but there’s no creative community that thinks about making things. For a while, I tried to get a book group I was part of to make a fanzine about books, but the idea was just too foreign for them to carry it through.
I try not to talk about the other stuff I don’t have here. For the longest time, I’ve been holed up in a small market town, recovering, and the lack of a peer group (or even people in my age range) has been useful. Relaxing, even. I’ve not had anybody around me with whom I could compare myself, not even slightly – no need to “keep up with the Joneses” when you’re an artist and they’re an IT professional. But, without a creative community to be a part of, when does a lone artist start looking like a crazy fool?
So, in some ways, the slow-down here has been me trying to understand what to do next. It would be easy to fall into a despondency, to say “nobody understands me!”, but that doesn’t get stuff done. I like writing words, but can’t make pictures when I do. I enjoy making pictures, but they need words to mean something. So… some kind of words + pictures type deal?
But I am slow, dear reader. So very slow at doing things. I really struggle to make things happen, and I often get caught up in the minutiae instead of getting down to making things fast.
This is a great opportunity to paint some orange, which you don’t often get if painting from life. I also enjoyed trying to get the feel of the machinery, especially the dirtier parts, but I’m not sure I succeeded in the way I was going for. Finally, painting the cab was a lot of fun, but the fine detail of that space was tough to get on the rough watercolour paper I was using.
In fact, the notebook that this is in is so rough that I’m not sure I’m going to keep using it. One thing I can do with it though is load it with water to make the gradations visible in some areas of the picture above. Perhaps that’s a technique worth experimenting with?
I did a bunch of comics about my life. Want to see them?
Disclaimer: comics are hard! The quality of humour may go up as well as down! Contains swears! Not approved by the Comic Code Authority! Some pages are scanned in badly!
This was the first attempt at doing something more than a comical pose in my sketchbook. I’d read a lot of stuff about how autobio comics were a good training ground for people who wanted to make comics, and I decided to do them for the two weeks before I went away to Newcastle in June.
One of the problems with autobio comics is that there isn’t really a defined plotline, and you have to make something out of the events in your life. Externally, I live a very boring life, and occupy myself by thinking interesting thoughts. But it’s hard to add levels of nuanced thinking into comics, or the form that contemporary comics are now. They are more like strict third-person narrative with very little description, which kind of sucks when talking about difficult concepts.
“Crossing the line” is a term from filmography, which refers to shooting from both sides of an imaginary line in the middle of the scene. Doing so confuses the viewer.
Each page that’s in this entry really took a lot of time. I could end up spending more time doing a comic page about my day than doing any other single activity – and, as I didn’t feel the results were that good, this was a bit galling.
Also, as I suffer from fatigue-related issues (owing to being really ill, like “long-stay-in-hospital ill” a few years ago) putting in long hours to do one thing with my day was a real struggle. I usually just nibble around the edges of things, slowly pushing forward until I feel something is complete. That’s one of the reasons that, for me, doing a whole page of comic every day for two weeks was such an interesting project to work on.
This is one of the pages I’m most proud of, which tells the story of my first big encounter with fatigue. I don’t think I quite made it clear that I was referring to something in the past, though, which is a shame. I have a recollection of just feeling really boned at this point, and spending all day in bed watching cartoons (apart from the time I spent drawing).
This page also marks the start of my time watercolouring. I really love watercolour paints, and the time I spent doing straight comics really made me miss it.
I usually meet some friends on a Tuesday for coffee, and I enjoy their company very much, but that’s about it for my social life. It’s nice to have lots of time to think, but sometimes it’s a nice day out and I just want to do something that isn’t “read a book”. Plus, I can’t really tell my parents dirty jokes.
What’s weird about this page is that I still lust after each of those things. I’ve been thinking about buying a new bike recently, which has meant just ages staring at bicycle websites looking at ridiculous objects. Also, what is it about those hats? I don’t even suit those hats. Nobody suits those hats. Do I secretly long to be Crocodile Dundee?
Also note that I’m thinking about watercolour painting. The last few strips were done in watercolours, because I missed it so much.
This is the last page of comics I’m going to put up. You can see that I’m going towards a sort of illustrated text, as the format of my blog has been recently, rather than a comic-with-text. This one is about two of my favourite pieces of literature, the comic Bone and the historical Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. I’d love to write more about these at some point, or just have some good conversations about them, as I don’t think I know anybody else who has read them.
After doing this for about two weeks (there’s some that aren’t shown), I went over to Newcastle for a week and on my return I was shattered. I lay in bed, watching cartoons for a few days, and then went back to doing watercolours – but not comics. I think it’s rare for me to have ideas that I want to explore in a comic format, so I can’t rule it out, but I’m more drawn to prose writing when I need to get an idea onto the page. Which works for me, as it gives a nice separation between my art creation and my thinking. Sometimes you need that.