The optimum amount of wonk.

DSCN0121I do like a bit of wonk I do. So much so that I often hear people refer to me as a complete and utter wonker. Well… At least I think that’s what they are saying, maybe I need to get my ears syringed. The natural world is full of wonkyness. True, there is the geometric perfection of crystals, the elegant mathematical patterns in shells and organic structures, fibonacci sequences, mandelbrot patterns, dna helixes ya de ya de yah. On top of and overriding that though is the chaos. Beautiful shells smashed up against the rocks by an ever churning sea, crystals hacked up and drilled by well meaning hippies and hung on necklaces to give them the right aura, viruses (beautiful on their own account under a microscope) disfiguring and destroying the wonders of the natural world. To me, my wonkyness is the balance between chaos and order and, to an extent, both states are a deeply personal matter. Whilst part of me craves order, in my terms, peace and quite, tidiness, cleanliness, a sense of having an ordered mind. I know that to get anything done, especially the way I do it, requires mess, a certain level of noise and dealing with other people, the biggest form of chaos of all. Whilst Jean Paul Sartre described hell as other people, they can also be heaven too. I mostly like people, they buy my stuff, they tell me interesting things, expose me to new ideas, they give me hugs, they check I’m not dead yet and sometimes you even get to love them in other ways… The other side of this is they can hurt you, have ideas and priorities that are completely alien to your own, they can distract you from things that need doing, they get you involved with even more people. In my own experience, hell is other people’s people. That is where the problems start, conflicts of loyalties, priorities, perceptions of the world, self deceptions, dishonesty, mixed messages, a whole seething world of chaos. I think this is why I try and minimise my contact with the world as much as I can and concentrate my balancing of chaos and calm in my work, although recently my art and other people have, for good or for ill, become more tightly enmeshed.

DSCN0120When I started painting / drawing, in the way that comes naturally to me now, there was a certain set of rules. Draw things from photographs, use colours straight out of the tube (except for greys which must always be a really complicated combination of pigments) never be consistent about annoying little details like fingers. I never do noses or ears at first I never did hair either, then when I did I made it hang like a bad wig. The most important rule of all was to cover everything in thick black outlines. I have at one time or another broken all those rules barring the ears and noses. The whole point of them in the first place was to stick two fingers up to everyone who had ever criticised my artwork, be it at school, foundation or my degree. I’m not saying it was a constant thing, but whenever I had contact with old stick in the muds who knew better than me and that I should do it their way, I wanted to do the opposite. It was never a good teaching strategy, particularly with someone who has spent their life being backed into a corner… I must admit, on the whole, I am regarded as a bit of a soft touch, I can be far too generous with my time, my money and my emotional support. The problem is when I have been pushed too far, I go the other way. Much of what I do is a form of this. DSCN0128

Strike up the violins because I am going to explain a lot of why I do what I do, you may need a hanky. My mum was a little bit strict growing up, she didn’t know then and she wont admit now but she suffers from depression, as did her mother and as do I. Growing up with someone like that as a role model gives you some funny ideas about the world, things that you don’t understand as a child. She had a real bee in her bonnet about handwriting and mine, to her was atrocious. As a child of six I was forced to re-write thank-you cards over and over again, as she ripped up card after card, muttering how I would go nowhere at school (or in life) and how I would end up an illiterate dustman, not a great prospect for a young child. Ironically, dustmen, correction, waste operatives, earn far more than I do at the moment so yay them! My mum had a Pitmans certificate for her handwriting and it caused her a deep sense of shame to have a child with poor penmanship. It’s important to know that as it is to know that I had undiagnosed dyslexia and dyspraxia, which remained that way until a few years ago. Knowing stuff like this makes the world makes sense, like why I loathed christmas and birthdays for years because I was terrified of writing a thank-you note and why whenever I put the written word in things, I take pains to get it ever so slightly wrong…

A pencil drawn cover ready for inking.

A pencil drawn cover ready for inking.

I like happy accidents, I like it went things got a bit askew, our tolerance for faults as a species has grown less and less over the years and our tolerance for perceived imperfection in ourselves has got to the point where we have dangerous psychological conditions like bulimia and anorexia becoming bigger and bigger killers. Advertising and the media present this view of the world where every blemish has to be covered up or eradicated and every insecurity is played upon for profit. One noticeable aspect of this intolerance is our attitude to bad photography. Taking photos used to be a costly and time consuming activity, there was the film, the processing all the faff with going to the chemists… And when you got the 24 or 36 prints back your were reluctant to thrown them away as they cost you money and even if you did, that blinky eyed, fat thumbed photo was always on the negative. Those little mistakes existed somewhere whereas now they are deleted from our mobile phones and out of this world with the flick of a finger and with it the last picture of your auntie vera,

untouched up cover

untouched up cover

that year with the boy who loved you, that photo of you in the outfit that you thought made you look daft but you so wish you could fit in now or at least wished you had proof you did, once. We live in a world of fleeting, easily rejected and discarded things and that is why I do what I do in putting some wonk back in the world. I think it started with some photobombing, although it wasn’t even called that then, just some daft bugger spoiling your photo. Then came the mis-framing, the main focal point of an image being way off centre and/or at an awkward angle. After that came the thumbs… And by the time it came to motion blurs and jogs, I would be using photoshop as a preparatory tool to get the mistakes just right… erm, wrong.

Photoshopping underway

Photoshopping underway

Fast forward fifteen years and I still have similar dilemmas that particularly centre around my colouring books. This was highlighted again a couple of days ago when Dr Arsehole (see previous blog) thumbed through a copy of my Hastings colouring in book, of which I am rather proud, with the impression that it was a mock up. I can see why he said it though, people look at anything hand-drawn and wonky and assume that it is, in some way poor quality. It would take a fraction of the time to replace every bit of hand scrawled lettering in my books with some handwriting analogue font like Dan’s Hand or maybe even the dreaded Comic Sans, I may even get more sales by doing so. But in doing so, I would betray everything about my young self that needed nurturing rather than being made to feel small and stupid. I would like to think that some young kid will look at what I do and think, “one of us.” Hopefully this doesn’t exclude adults either and they can snigger along at the jokes, the social references or whatever. Hopefully I have done my job properly and they work on all levels. There is always the

The long task of hand editing an image file.

The long task of hand editing an image file.

temptation though to “fix” things, particularly when I am cleaning up scanned in images. There are always stray pencil lines, dirt, ink smudges, amongst other things that need tidying up, but a straight line or a smooth edge is only one click away. It could be so easy… but no, instead I scroll though hugely blown up page, cleaning things up pixel by pixel, shunning every quick fix. There is often the odd bit of annoying pixelation that gets thrown in the mix at this point, but I’d rather that than a smooth but computer assisted line. Strangely enough, ‘hand done’ can often look more computer processed than a Photoshop or Illustrator algorithm. Talking of which, I need to sign off now, it’s Friday night and I need to stay in and photoshop some more of my Bexhill book. Still, it’s better than the pub, or heaven help me, a dinner party.

The Bexhill Colouring in Book can be expected by mid June.

Finished cover ready for printing.

Finished cover ready for printing.

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