Saturday, September 2, 2017

Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, why drawing birds is like drawing people.

Summer is basically over guys.

Before I go back to schooltimes this week, I wanted to share with you some birds and words and drawings. Some organic work feeding into work sort of stuff. In case you think I only draw comics and cookie cutters these days. 

In the beginnings of the summer I did quite a few bird pieces some of which are still available on Artfinder and I took quite a lot of in progress pictures. 

I had a magpies commission to do and it was a while since I had drawn any, so I did a practice piece of a magpie taking off to the left, which was a lot of fun. Tapping into this territory of planning combined with quick, fluid working is so good - each individual stage is quite loose and quick, but you have to wait for each one to dry so that the ink doesn't just bleed into the lighter areas completely out of control. Like watercolour, using ink is a lot about patience and a lot about balancing chance and control. 




So then I did some more magpies pieces


Ah, good old magpies. 

Also I drew some hypno barn owls. Because. 


 And then, because I had some photos of a swan that I took on a walk along the Regent's Canal, I did this swan piece which is still for sale


One thing about drawing birds in sequence like this, (as well as the satisfyingly obtuse combination of regularity and irregularity that reminds us that though we live in a world of mass reproduction there is still infinite variety - yes I am good at arty bullsh*t thank you) is you can include some of the angles/poses of bird that don't really look like what the brain reads as a bird.

Confused? Let me explain. Drawing birds is a lot like drawing portraits. Because 90% of the time, the position a bird is in and the angle you can see it from, don't fit our mental template of bird. The mental template requires either a bird standing still on a branch/wire/post or swimming, with it's head up and in profile so you can see the beak, or a bird in flight with the wings flexed and visible. 

This on it's own, would never be read as a swan

I mean what is that? 
Some fluff? A carelessly ejected dollop of whipped cream? A shaggy baseball cap? 

But in context with their 8 swans a swimming siblings, we can read it as a swan. 

How is that like drawing portraits? Because despite living in the real world and looking at real people all the time, we still are slaves to photo and mirror faces when it comes to considering what those people actually look like. 


When I teach portraiture I always make sure to emphasise how hard it is to break down our mental conditioning to read a face as a symbol. One of your very first jobs when you are born is to identify fellow humans, to find your tribe you are basically looking for a coordination of eyes and a mouth because that's about as far as your visual processing goes. Which is why we love emojis so much. 

I mean probably, I'm not a scientician. But this makes people who are bad at drawing faces feel better. 

Training yourself to process the visual information of the eyes being half way down the head not up at the top is the first step to de-emojifying your brain. You can do that drawing on the right side of the brain thing and make yourself forget it's a face you're drawing and just look at the shapes. Which is fine if you're drawing from a photo. But problematic if you're drawing a person in real life who moves a bit whatever their intentions. 

Live drawing from July

I actually prefer to draw people from real life because of this. 

The infinite tiny movements your face makes give a wealth more information than any photo could, and so many of us are in the habit of putting on that practised smile as soon as a camera points out way. A smile that's usually nothing like the smile we give when we're genuinely amused, or contented. Not like the bird posed on a wire or wings out and up for a fraction of a second. To capture a real likeness you have to see both - the photo face and the face behind it. The person behind it. 

That's what I think anyway. I do also LOVE drawing faces straight from a photograph. It's not that I don't like that. With the facebook project I mostly have the advantage that I know the person in question in real life, so I can tell which of their facebook photos are good representations of their real life presence, and which are the ones that were chosen as a profile pic because they look more like what we wished we looked like. If I'm doing a portrait for a client I always ask if they can send me multiple photos as well as the one they want me to use as primary reference. So I can check the angle of the features as an average, and make sure I talk to the hind brain of the people that know the real life person I'm drawing. 

With this little guy for example, I had to make sure I got his sleepy eyes and his chubby little neck.





Another recent commission for an editorial illustration in UCL Alumni magazine had me drawing a small brown child, but this time with lots of colourful reflecting water. It was for an article about how over protected today's children are.


One of the joys of art is such that what one draws/makes, one often wants to draw/make more of. Which is why life feeds into practice and practice evolves. So this commission in a way lead to the look of the swan piece, and to me choosing this photo to draw of Julita from her facebook albums. 


I think I've got reflecty water out of my system now. 
But we'll see. 

Maybe I'll think of a way to get some into the comic. 
In black and white too, what a delicious challenge. 




Monday, August 21, 2017

Ain't no cure for only 2 weeks left of Summer.

The last few summers I've been doing this whole thing where I pretend to be self aware. 


"Summer is stressful for me", I say to friends and colleagues who ask me what my plans are, "because I always want to do 3 things - have a good rest, get loooooaads of work done, and see all of the friends. I could probably do two out of the three, but I'm never going to do all three to my satisfaction."

And mostly this elicits the expression it deserves - shut up whiny teacher who has massive paid holiday at the time of the year when it's awesome. Or, from my teacher colleagues, shut up whiny part timer what do you even know about getting looooooaaads of work done. 

My friends don't actually say these things to me. Except for the really good ones. 
(the best friends are always the most verbally abusive)


So I have less than 2 weeks of holiday left, and a to do list with teeth, but I'm going to write a blog post today. Because that's probably a good idea for self aware people. 

All of these typography drawings were done whilst supply teaching by the way. Not that supply is always boring enough that you sit there writing blah over and over for fun. Just that it sometimes is.

You may know I took the current two years off of regular self promotion, in order to spend more time working on my ongoing comic project. So in the last 11 months I have only been doing work from clients that get in touch with me. I was making a concerted effort with instagram for a while, but that has completely fallen off over the summer. I've still been tweeting fairly much and in  the last month and a half I randomly revived the facebook project to do 5 portraits.
Which I just photoshopped together and realised they have a pretty similar colour palette. 


I wonder if the pink and blue theme is a subconscious expression of any life decisions we're supposed to be making. (not whether to have a sex change guys, whether to procreate).

But social media is kind of a weird place now right? Because our news narrative has changed but for most of us our lives haven't really. How do mechanisms built for narcissisms function in such interesting times? Some days I don't have the energy to contemplate it. I have a feeling I might not be writing a year round up blog for 2017.

Do you think that we'll break faith with the online in our lifetimes? Find some way to decide whose word we can trust? Retreat back to the printed word? 

Well luckily if we DO need to distribute our truths manually, the small press comics scene is thriving and ready to take on the mission. 

this is a drawing I did at the Broken Frontier panel at ELCAF in June.

Did you know that in addition to reviewing comics for the Quietus I now also review them for Broken Frontier? I am entirely open to you sending me your comic for free for me to (probably) review it.
Especially ones that are both good and not very long. And not too delicate to read in the bath. 

I'm not going away away this summer, although we did got to Cologne for a family meet up which was lovely. Because we spent all our money on a big holiday at Easter that I really should have blogged about because I took a lot of good photos. Although this was definitely the best one.


If you don't post photos of your holiday. Did it actually happen?


Yes. Yes it did. 

Since then I have become kind of obsessed with drawing tourists though. So in Cologne I mostly took more photos of people photographing stuff than of the stuff itself.

Is that creepy? I feel like it might be. A lot of the girls coming out of cookie cutter pictures come from photos of people I sneakily took in London. For some reason that feels way better to me than using photos found on the internet for pose or expression inspiration. It's like, I'm not stealing something that someone else made ever (even a random candid photo), but I am stealing tiny bits of strangers' souls. And tourist locations are THE easiest place to take photos of other people without them noticing. And I need a lot of people for my comic and they look better if I use reference, even if I change it a lot (which I mostly do).



These drawings of tourists taking photos of each other are NICE though, you have to admit it guys. It's a LOVING kind of creepy. Right?

Oh did you want to hear about how the comic is going? hmmmmm, nah I'm done with writing for today. I guess I could share a few sneaky pages that have already seen light of social media day.

Remember Jess?
Here are two pages that come from that.


Here's another Maya page you might not have seen. 
Also, this is the first time I'm even showing anyone these guys.
They are definitely going in the book (probably).




Saturday, February 4, 2017

Annual really long blog post, things that I did in 2016. Part 3 of 3

Ok so maybe I shouldn't have been so blasé about getting all of the 2016 blogging done by February. Obviously.



Hopefully I'll still get this posted in time for you to see this annual promotion of my Valentines cards and stuff tho. They're up on Etsy.


 Writing about August and things that happened to me generally feels a bit weird again as social media fills relentlessly with fresh portrayals of betrayals of the version of democracy we'd become accustomed to. 

In the waking world most of us are not in constant hysterics, we carry on with our lives broadly the same as preBrexit, preTrump times. Unless you happen to be flying into the US on an Iraqi passport of course. 
But our online selves, perhaps rightly, seem to be vastly preoccupied with politics. 

Things are changing, fast and slow, and being as we are still in the jaws of history, where this is all going to take us is still up for debate. 

Endless, endless, endless debate, and often not debate at all, endless shouting into biscuit tins. Endless name calling, endless meme making, endless circling round the same issues crying in anguish and outrage and endless throwing of stones in glass houses. 

We can't actually relegate these issues to a corner or shut them out (like we did with Brexit at my sister's staghen in part 2 of 3 you may recall), but we also can't let them overshadow everything else in our lives. 

I watched some of the inauguration on a big TV in a staff room full of teachers, and felt exactly like an extra in a film, shown as a snapshot of the populace, watching the historic events in bars and homes across the world. And then I went outside and talked to the kids and didn't mention it. Because we aren't extras in the story of nations, we are people in the story of people. Protagonists of our own minidramas, not masters of our fates perhaps, when the shifting tide of paradigm and price can uproot our fragile safe spaces, but yes captains of our souls. 

Did that work? Can I talk about myself again now? 




Can I resume writing about the things I did 
in August 2016? 
I know that I drew this (in my NEW personal sketchbook) for Book Lover's Day

Twitter, when it's not fully trending with presidential proclamations and reality television, is also the greatest tool ever invented for perpetuating national and international days of stuff. Shallow but true, bandwagons are great promotional platforms. So yeah, if I'm not doing anything else and I see a day is happening, I'll hashtag that up. I also posted for cat day and dog day. And probably some other days. Obviously World Book Day is more commonly celebrated than this lesser known event in August. But I must have been busy on the first Thursday in March. Probably reading books. 

Also in August I made this card for Ned for his birthday. Totally piggy backing on a joke I have no actual connection to. (If you are interested in tweets that are about politics his twitter feed is a much safer bet than mine, because that is his job.)

I went to some cool stuff in August too.
Here's Mum at the exhibition about colour perception at the Natural History Museum. 

I was official blogsperson for the August Laydeez do comics event, so I drew some while I was there and took lots of notes and then wrote about it here.
Wallis and Rachel yo. 

We went to the final wedding of 2016, James and Kelly's wedding which was very cool and impressive. Their photobooth was so posh it actually printed out little photobooth photos.
It was like being an extra in Amelie except with more novelty props. 
This is me and Michelle and Rebecca enjoying that. 

At the end of the month I went to the Yo Illo event on reportage illustration, here are my notes
Olivier Kugler is upside down. Not intentionally. Pictured right is Karrie Fransman, usually one of the comic book crowd, seen here preaching the graphic gospel to the heathen illustrators. 
Both were a treat to listen to, hats off to Rob and Willa for organising as ever, they have another event coming up on going viral that I'm sure will be awesome.  

September September, I can't think of a pun about September

Back to school time wasn't it? Also time for me to begin doing supply teaching and to stop drawing all day. But not actually stop drawing altogether of course. That would be super sad. It's safest to assume for every drawing I post on this blog there are lots of other drawings that I am not posting. Because we don't have all year.

I had brought up a bunch of my older bird pictures that had been living in my parents house after a Sussex show,  and I started taking some of them along to markets when I went to sell cards and do live portraits and stuff. The first weekend in September I went to Blackhorse Workshop again and sold this old friend
They are pied wagtails. The pink barn owl piece is still available. I really should get round to listing it on Artfinder. 

I did a 5k Rough Runner race which is with obstacles and inflatables on Clapham common with Neeti. 

Pictured here indicating the graze on my knee I got diving over a giant pigeon, and holding my Baileys laced hot chocolate.

The next day I hurt all over all of me, even though we skipped the hoops challenge because what? I had attempted to build up some upper body strength. And after a month or so of that I had almost worked up to one push up. 

September is a fun time for school because we start lots of new projects and especially for year 9 who get a trip and a visitor. We went to the Pitt Rivers Museum again and I drew this lizard skellington


Then here is the amazing Lizzie Mary Cullen with a human skellington. I organised for her to come and give the workshop to year 9 this year and she was amazing. 

Like John, and June, she's a fellow graduate of the AOI business for illustrators talk of 2008 when I took it. Wow that was a long time ago, but so glad I'm still in touch with a lot of the awesome people I met. 
Later in the month we took year 10 and 11 to the Royal Academy to see the Abstract Expressionists 
Here are some gallery drawings of the Janet Sobell and Clifford Still works, which were my faves. I like drawing people with the art because it gives a sense of the scale, especially important for those old Abstract expressionists, n'est pas? We also popped in briefly to see the Hockney portraits, because we were there anyway. 

I only had time to draw Priscilla who was also my fav. although it's misleading to consider any one portrait from the show as a standalone piece, each one was painted in the same chair with the same background and the collection of 82 Portraits and one still life is really an artwork to be considered all together. 

Just the day before I had had an important milestone, I got my first (probably, possible only, it took me 30 odd years to decide on this one after all) Tattoo!

Here's the design
And here it is on  my shoulder blade

Here is a picture of Helen in a champagne glass. Because I am going to draw her in all of the different glasses, every year for her birthday. If I remember. 

Obviously the most exciting thing that happened in September though was that I got to paint an icecream shed parlour for Foxholes Care Home this was a really fun and rewarding project and I also got to meet a lot of the residents and chat about art and stuff with them. 

The whole thing was Neeti's concept, here she is with the blank shed before it was transformed into a parlour (housing for their soft serve ice cream machine that they have for guests and residents).

Fun signage and painting these sprinkles was super satisfying 
Here is my bum while I am painting the roof.  
Here is the complete parlour from all the angles.

Painting big stuff in real life is the best.

October kitten fest

In October I was working on this commission for Katie for Felix' 1st Birthday. Keen fans and family members who read this blog out of a sense of duty will remember that I painted an awesome mural for Felix when he was still tiny which featured some animal characters in a tree with balloons and stuff (you can see it here). A couple of these characters made an appearance on his birthday picture, as did a few more, and also himself

The photos are by his incredibly talented mother Katie Wagget

Here is a close up of the party in progress.

I went to a real (launch) party for John's book, not with any animals in hats sadly, but with lots of (drawn) musical legends.

I drew this picture of some houseplants, because sometimes I try to be vaguely on trend you know
But enough beating about the bush (houseplant), we all know what you came here for. Because in October 2016 a very special little furry friend came to live with us in our flat and I know you want to see pictures of her.

Who is this?
 here she comes
 It's Muesli kitten!
she was sooooooooooooooooo little back then.
She settled into our lazy home life very quickly
She likes jumping and climbing and baths and stealing underwear and sleeping on stuff. 
Now that I have a cat and bath in my life it is pretty much complete.
I am actually not even biased on this subject but she is unarguably the best cat ever. 
She is very brave and friendly and flufffffffffffffffffffy. 

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

I haven't drawn her very much yet, 
but here is a drawing of her. 
Hopefully I will have many more years of drawing her ahead.

Two and a half weeks after our kitten adoption, I had to leave Muesli (and Alex) for a brief sojourn to Leeds (4th and final trip to Yorkshire). It was a slightly weird thing, and exactly the kind of thing that happens to muggins here (me). You may remember that previously I had drawn an 8 page comic about a hypothetical future European theme park?
All pre-Brexit of course. 
So the publishers of that comic decided that they would bring an exhibition of some of the work to Thought Bubble Festival this year. I have never been to Thought Bubble, although I really want to, my comic book friends tell me very good things I just haven't been able to justify the train tickets and acomodation cost to myself to do it yet (hopefully next year...). I still didn't go this year. But I was in Leeds the week BEFORE Thought Bubble, at an affiliated event, which is to say the launch of said exhibition, which was in fact up throughout the festival next to the toilets in the town hall. So SORT OF TECHNICALLY you could say I was a featured artist at Thought Bubble. But really not really. 
I enjoyed Leeds very much though, and meeting some of the amazing people behind the festival. We even got a cool behind the scenes tour of Leeds Town Hall at night. 
Since Frederick Nauman paid for my train tickets and hotel, it was a great free little trip, but really I wish I had gone up at the weekend too. 

Ho hum.
Here are some of my photos from Leeds

Because it was Halloween, I drew these guys one day while I was teaching supply and coloured it in with the low quality colouring pencils that the teacher had left for poster making. See how that has not prevented them from being awesome? 

There's a metaphor somewhere here, monsters dressing up as children dressing up as monsters. Or something. Mostly it was fun trying to make the skellingtons look like skellingtons under their clothes. It is a very unhelpful shape for looking at on blogs and phones. 

Also this Halloween themed 3.52billion lady

On Bonfire night 
(which is a British thing, in case you don't know)
I went to my excellent friends Andrew and Suze's house and bonfired in a metal bin like homeless people in American movies. And because we are excellent adult friends we spelled out rude words with sparklers. 

Wait, if it was Bonfire Night it must have been in November. I forgot forgot. 

No no no no no no no no no no no there's no vember.

In November I was working on these designs for colour your own Christmas cards, see if you can spot the crucial spelling error that I crucially DIDN'T. I will reveal it later, for if you can't spot it like me and all the people who saw it when I posted these all over the social media before I got them printed.




Quite a lot of this detailed work was also done whilst supply teaching. Which might explain the spelling error (if you forget all of the instances where I have misspelled handdrawn typography working from home). It's pretty great when I get to work at two jobs at once like that, although obviously I can't do drawing all the time. Often I get to actually teach instead. 


In November I was also featured on Our Queer Art with an interview, mostly plugging the 3.52 billion project. I realised after sending off the answers that when they said 
What do you define yourself as? Or do you not? Why/Why not? 
they probably meant gender/sexuality wise, which is not how I answered it, so possibly I accidentally implied that my gender is both more exciting and passive aggressive than it is by plumping for 
'It’s tough, but I usually feel most comfortable with illustrator' 

If you were unsatisfied by that and want to know I am CIS female bi-sexual. But in terms of DEFINING myself... God I don't know. Those labels man, such a drag, guess I would prefer not to be defined. And I promise to try harder not to be passive aggressive. 

In other news of me being awesome, I did a day of live portraits for a charity thing (kept deliberately vague because it was a school thing, and you know, seperate life and that). Because I am lovely I drew all day for free, but because I am not THAT lovely I didn't use my expensive Promarkers, I just used black Berol felt tips. Which actually looked pretty great anyway
These were also done on a 50p per minute basis, rather than a flat £5 per portrait, see if you can guess which ones were 2 minutes and which were 10 (or somewhere in between).

At some point in November I had a badger for a head at a pub quiz. It's a thing.

Having already been in the news for at least the last 100 years, the American election happened and we entered into a heightened state of speculation and fear. Our time is genuinely a crazy time (but what times aren't?). Living as we do simultaneously in a time of unprecedented openness where our thoughts can be beamed around the world in less time than we are able to perceive, and a time of unprecedented limitation where we had got used to being able to choose what we were exposed to. My feed has been scattered for years with mental health dissection and advice for coping with the anxiety of the narcissistic impulses that the evolution of capitalist echo chamber arenas has supposedly thrust upon us, only for us to end up needing to deal with the real world impact of the very real authority of the impulses of a narcissistic capitalist who shouted into his own echo chamber so long and so hard that it became the only one that matters.
That was a very long sentence sorry. 

Hopefully the sentence on the world for it's own political disengagement will not be too harsh. 

One other highly anticipated event happened in November 2016. I don't want to equivalent this with the US election at all, but in the way that we now must get even more used to segwaying from the depressing world of current events to talk of other things (lest we go mad), there was another thing that was kind of a big deal coming over from stateside on the airwaves, and in this case I mean netflixwaves.

I am of course referring to the Gilmore Girls revival.

Gilmore Girls is my favourite TV show.
The joy of having new Gilmore Girls to watch was immense, although my approval of the middle two episodes definitely comes with a lot of caveats

Turns out expressing my thoughts on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life succinctly might actually be harder than talking about contemporary politics. If you want to discuss it with me in the pub sometime, I will READILY do that.

December almost Christmastimes

with the future hanging in the balance, the ever reliable distraction of Christmas was here to focus us all on the usual gift angst and binge guilt, I mean seasonal cheer (I actually love the build up to Christmas, possibly as much as Christmas itself). As per for me this also meant accelerated market schedule and Christmas commissions, as well as making presents and a new set of Christmas cards to schlep to shops and galleries and friends and families. 

Did you spot the spelling error in the colouring designs?
In case you didn't here it is:
Chstmas guys. Chstmas

So I did get these printed and then I couldn't sell them, I still have quite a lot left but I've been cutting them up into colour your own gift tags. So yay for making the best of a tragicomic mishap.

The rest of the designs are pretty damn good though. I have some left if you are interested for next year. 


While I was at Urban Makers East market I drew this 
which is fun if your crafty and that. 

I sent a print to Alice, I may put some prints of word things up on the shop soon if I have time, because I've been doing quite a few incidental typographical pieces whilst supply teaching too, such as this zentabgly clouds drawing

Here are some diverse gifty Christmas commissions I did:
this watercolour house portrait for Anna

This personalised memory print for Charlotte

This quick portrait for Franchesca

I wore my bridesmaids dress from my sister's wedding again at a formal dinner thing
It was definitely a bit tighter and more boobtastic than it had been in the summer. 

I decorated baubles for my made Christmas presents this year, but true to form I forgot to photograph most of them, except this one. 

I altered the classic Kipling illustration of the Cat that walked by itself for my immediate family, after asking them what kind of cat they would be if they were one. It's about how we're all awesome Mavericks but like, we have each others back tho yeah? 

Cos my family is awesome.

Christmas was more fun than it looks in this photo.

We took Muesli on an adventure to Sussex for the festive week and she swiftly became queen of her domain/chaircat of the board.
Everyone loved her obviously.

For new years we had a quiet one with our longstanding besties Fran and Ian and their recent edition of a human baby Henry. 
Here we are rejoicing in an espresso martinis. 

This year was especially cracker heavy for me, I wore at least 7 different paper crowns. Which for me seems a pretty reliable measure of the quality of the Christmas. 

I've almost run out of stuff to say. This has been long guys sorry. I don't know if more stuff happened or if I've just been less good at editing what to include this year. Obvs as well each time I had to talk about politics I had to spend ages trying to get the words right because it stresses me out and is complicated. Really these 2016 blog posts are as much about now (the beginning of 2017) because that's where my head's at. Already that stuff at the beginning of the first 2016 post about how it wasn't the worst year ever seems kind of absurd. It is absurd. We are absurd. 

May 2017 grant us, if nothing else, perspective. 

Also if you have any prayers or well wishes left which you aren't using for the poor downtrodden Americans, wish me productivity and luck in working on my comic book. It's happening, slowly. 

This is one of the pages I have completed, and it was also included in Dirty Rotten Comics #9
Ready Salted people, ready salted.