Things wot I learnt whilst going for a coffee. by Chris Hoggins aged 44 and 23/24ths

June 10, 2015

butterfliesTime is a funny thing, some days go by in a flash whilst other days are so slow and painful that they become a feat of endurance to get through. Time has been dragging for a while now, my last week has been spent, blowing up black and white images to the equivalent size of a double bed mattress and subtly altering them in photoshop. I got through roughly 4 a day for four days and on one of those days in particular the day was so long, hard and painful that I was amazed that I got through it in one piece.

Surfacing from a severe bout of depression is a bit like waking up after you have been on an alcoholic bender. You stumble around trying to assess the damages both physical and psychological, work out what you can fix and what you can’t. I won’t lie, I always come up with some really good ideas when I am going a bit nuts, but also some really stupid ones. The only real difference is that when you are drunk, you have the excuse of not remembering what you did, I do. I wouldn’t say I felt normal today, I don’t even know what that means any more but I do feel a level of normality. Sort of.

By contrast to the last week, time positively whizzed past this morning. Freed from the drag of photoshop hell,  I threw all the necessary files that were needed to produce the Bexhill Colouring book on to a memory stick and headed down to the printers. I felt such a feeling of achievement, weeks of research, drawing, and editing, all whilst suffering from the worst bout of depression for over a year,  all on something the size of a packet of chewing gum. When I got down to the printers though, I felt like someone had popped my favourite red balloon. The lady in front of me in the queue to be served was picking up the hymn sheets / orders of service that she’d had printed for her late father’s funeral. I really could feel her pain. That tired way that she was trying to keep herself from falling apart by keeping busy and keeping talking. Exhausted as I have been myself, of late, and feeling stressed by the notion of having to engage in polite conversation with a total stranger, I had to acknowledge that her need was much greater than mine at that moment. I have to be honest though, part of me was really miffed. For the first time in a fortnight or so, I wanted to go “yay me!” but instead I merely handed over my memory stick and got out as soon as I could. Lesson learnt. It is rarely about me, even when I really need it to be.

Next stop, Kassa, my favourite coffee vendor in the whole world. I had managed to acquire my favourite seat for once and got to enjoy my coffee whilst staring at the sea from the dubious comfort of the squidgy sofa that has been reinforced with a sheet of plywood. The usual suspects were holding court and I managed to avoid catching anyone’s eye and getting sucked into a conversation. What was fascinating though was a couple trying to teach their three/four year old daughter what asymmetrical meant. First though, they needed to explain symmetry. They went through a whole routine about two arms, two legs, two eyes etc but the little girl just became confused and fidgety. At no point did either of them think to mention about painting butterflies by folding over a sheet of paper with blobs of different coloured paint on it. Lesson learnt. Grown-ups are silly!

I went in what used to be my favourite bakers on a day when the staff were less likely to now give me the evils. (long story) and all the staff were in the back of the shop, surprisingly, not hiding from me this time. Whilst waiting, some other guy walked in, and on the pretext of perusing the stock, managed to work his way in front of me and caught the attention of the assistant first, Now  in this sort of situation, I would usually let whoever get served before me, but this time I spoke up and made sure I was served first. Lesson learnt. Instead of feeling bad for not standing up for yourself, you can feel just as bad for standing up for yourself.

Lastly, as I was heading home, I heard someone call out to me. It was a co-worker from a charity for adults with learning difficulties that I work for sometimes. The organisation facilitates them in creating artworks and performing in their own drama and dance pieces. I was very disappointed when, a week ago, awkward circumstances made it impossible for me to go to their private view and when I was informed that the students were having their own little low key celebration just for them and it was happening at that very moment, it made my day. It was so lovely to see all the people that I’d worked with and to see their work in the form of cards, prints, tea towels, badges and original artworks and they in turn were pleased to see me. The only fly in the ointment was that one very vocal member was missing. I have a deep affinity for the chap in question and his presence was instantly missed. I discovered that he could not come because there was no longer the funding available for him to attend all the classes that he wished to due to cut that this evil, vindictive, government that we suffer under in (not so) great britain. I could feel the anger boiling inside me, I know myself only too well how it feels to be shut out, cut off, marginalised in more ways than one and for this to happen with a man who lacks the ability to grasp why this is happening I find deeply upsetting. Lesson learned. The pure hearted will love you for who you are and what you do. Lesson not needed to be learnt (because I already know it). When self-centred, selfish, greedy and damaged people get the opportunity, they will ruin the world for everyone and pick on the people who are most vulnerable first.

The optimum amount of wonk.

June 5, 2015

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.

What’s it all about? Part 12

July 20, 2014

The Gryphon


Flash the tortoise.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a blog about my Alice illustrations, I’ve been stupidly busy with this and that and whatnot and I haven’t really had the time. But lucky for you dear reader (not for myself) I have managed to knacker my back. So whilst recreating my own low budget version of Misery I am forced to take to my bed and write, dirty birdy that I am. The next few pictures that I am going to write about are those featuring the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. For these characters, my main inspiration was a programme I remembered watching as a child, Fingerbobs, where a funny bearded old man (probably much younger that I am now) made creatures from gloves, paper and bits of string.

When I thought about the mock turtle’s shell the character Flash the tortoise sprang to mind and, once on that theme, the paper cone mice seemed a perfect replacement for the Gryphon’s talons. Both characters feature legs from pantomime animals and the Mock Turtle’s arms are scuba diver’s flippers, I distantly remember sticking a pair on my hands and flapping them around a when I was a kid , until I got told off that is.

The Mock Turtle's Tale

The Mock Turtle’s Tale.

There are various hidden details in The Mock Turtle’s Tale, The pirate ship and the balloon boy are from my children’s book The Dweebling Who Lost His Smile, the balloon boy has a much longer history though, which really needs a blog on it’s own. Also tucked away on the horizon is the Royal Sovereign lighthouse of the east sussex coast near Bexhill and Eastbourne, which has featured in many of my paintings as well as being the subject of one of them. The swirly wave pattern is stolen from the video game, The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker, where the sea is drawn in a highly stylised cell animation manner.

Dancing the Lobster Quadril

Dancing the Lobster Quadril

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