NEWS! I’ve got a grant to go to an Arvon course! Arvon is a really well-respected educational charity that does short residential courses for writers. The course I’m going to do is called “Text and Image”, and will have teaching by interesting comic podcasting dude Dan Berry as well as Posy Simmonds. Blimey!
Because these courses are expensive, I begged my parents for some cash on top of the grant I got from the foundation. I’ve also started a shop on Bigcartel where you can buy some of my original Bartkira drawings, and help me get over to the site without taking all my parent’s hard-earned cash. I’m not really sure what else I can put up for sale, but hopefully at some point I’ll get round to making some stuff of saleable quality.
So, to sum up: I’m doing a course, fingers crossed they don’t have lions, would you like a picture?
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.
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.
In her book about creativity, Twyla Tharp mentions the idea of “the Bubble”. This is when a creative person strips away all the extraneous stuff of their life, and commits themselves to making their art, structuring their life so that they focus exclusively on creation. Tharp gives the example of the writer Phillip Roth, who lived alone in the countryside, producing some of his most acclaimed work in a monastic existence.
This is pretty tempting. You see, I’ve been reading and researching into creativity – what it is, how we use it, and where we get the sense of what we want to do when we are being creative. One of the most interesting books in this area is a book about improv, the drama school thing of “making stuff up”, which is talked about at length by Keith Johnstone in his book “Impro“.
“As I grew up,” begins his book, “everything started getting grey and dull.” Johnstone asks why we change from playful children to locked-down adults, and unpacks that shift from creativity to sober adulthood. He lays a lot of blame at schools, and I have to agree with him; I have never had a good learning experience at a school, college, or university. In fact, what I am doing today (writing, drawing, and making jokes), is stuff I was either told I couldn’t do, or I was actively told not to do.
So I’m pretty mad about my schooling.
If you do any research into art history, it soon becomes apparent that the people who are the best in their field are the people who started young. What our education does is set people up to have an understanding of many fields, but a specialisation in none – great if you’re going to be a manager, but crap if you want to specialise as a tradesman.
Of course, I couldn’t leave school at 14 and train to be an artist. I had a friend who left school at that age and trained to do carpentry for building sites, and he’s doing pretty well for himself. But there was a slot for him to drop into; there was a route for people to become tradesmen, like he did, but not a route for people to stay creative.
I find myself wondering if the current glut of stand-up comics is made of people not suited for the median-style management education, who have both intelligence and creativity but are taught to reject more traditional forms of expression as childish. Without being able to use any other media than language, where else would those people turn but comedy?
For a while now, I’ve been planning to do a big post on why Twitter is going to start being dull really soon now. I’ve got a lot of enjoyment out of Twitter over the past few years, especially when I was really sick, so I read a lot of the things that more intelligent people than me were saying about the Dick Bar and Venture Funding with great interest.
I kept those articles open in their tabs open for a long time, thinking that I’d lump them all together as a tech blog link dump, and let the 15 or so people who read my site regularly (hi Dad!) know The Truth. But it just never happened. I never sat down and wrote that piece, because, frankly, I just don’t care.
At the same time as I’ve been getting disenchanted with one of the pillars of modern male life, the gadget blog, I’ve been getting back into drawing. I attended a life drawing class in Hitchin, and did a number of drawings of a really nice woman called Ann (or possibly Anne). The sessions were actually run by a school, and I’m currently sporting a large beard (like some sort of rural weirdo) so by being twice as old as most of the other students I gained some sort of aura of expertise. My part in this was upheld if I made some half-decent drawings.
I’ve been cranking away at the drawings since just after Christmas. At first, I sucked, but I have spent a reasonable period of time drawing stuff, and it wasn’t too long before I started making drawings that weren’t awful. I read a few books on the subject, which is a slippery slope because you could spend a lifetime reading every “how to draw/paint/etch” and never make a single drawing. The secret, for me, seems to be spending at least two hours a day concentrating on the act of drawing. I’ve made a lot of bad drawings, which I’ve either thrown away or posted out to friends of mine in distant places (if they weren’t wholly objectionable).
Back during the winter I won an eBay bid on a drawing table. It’s always been my dream to have two tables in my workspace, and when the chance to buy a super-cheap draftsman’s table came up I jumped at it. I didn’t get it into my room until last week, so it’s spent most of the winter in the shed, but now it’s here it’s scaring the shit out of me. When I’m typing on my laptop, it’s sitting there behind me. Waiting for me to learn how to draw on it (because drawing on a raked surface is really different to drawing on my desk).
I guess the deal is, I have to put the work in. I have to do the same amount of hours and figure out how this thing works, in relation to making pretty pictures. Because that’s what I’m interested in doing right now, for my own ends. It’s a little bit more than “pretty pictures”, but I’m not sure where more right now, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of mental contorting and deprogramming I had to do to be able to admit that I wanted to do that.
But I’m still some guy with a website, so I’m going to be putting up some images here. And some of the other stuff I’ve been doing too, which has often been weird essays and such. Pretty much business as usual, just without the tech wittering, I guess. Perhaps on a more regular schedule.
“A man named Dan killed himself in 297 BC but was released again from his tomb three years later, after much digging by a numinous white dog. It seems that he was not really meant to die at that time and it was the ‘result of faulty record-keeping by the netherworld bureaucracy’ was was subsequently rectified.”
The First Emperor of China, by Frances Wood
I’ve been reading Frances Wood’s history of the first Chinese emperor, which can basically be boiled down to “the first emperor was a bit of a prick, but on the plus side he really got that China project up and running”. However, it is full of strange comments that make very little sense to me, and taken out of context – like the above – seem amusing.
On the other hand, good for Dan!
Apparently, suicide was a bit like appealing to an ombudsman in those times – if you offed yourself at the house or workplace of those who “did you wrong”, the officials would investigate. However, the officials were often incredibly busy killing vast numbers of people, such as during the emperors edict to ban all books which were considered of no use to the empire.
460 scholars were killed in the capital alone, which must have taken some work. Ancient scrolls recording the killing states that the First Emperor tricked them into coming to admire his “unusual winter blooming melons”, which were just over a hidden pit. Other accounts say that the reference to melons is actually a misspelling of “killed”.
Although the emperor might have been a melon-loving murder, one of his great actions was to standardise Chinese – at the time he was around, Chinese was a fiendishly complicated language of local spellings and pronunciations. I’m not sure if he did this before or after the fruit-induced death of scholars, but I like to think that might have made it a bit easier.