Only human

May 12, 2017

Like so much of late, the new Gorillaz album Humanz turned out to be an utter disappointment. It wasn’t that much of a surprise as the last one was pretty dire too. In fact, the only interesting thing about it was the cover artwork that featured Jamie Hewlett’s iconic characters depicted in a hyper realistic manner. It’s something that I’ve toyed with myself and thus spurred me on to have a go too. Well, it’s either that or fill in my tax return, go figure!  The thing I liked about the Gorillaz was the way they distanced themselves from all the usual sad realities about the music industry. When we are daft teenagers, we are more likely put pop musicians on a pedestal, deifying them in some way but as we and the bands we idolised aged, all that is left are shambling oafs dragging out the same old tat to pay for their kids private school fees or the latest divorce settlement. It’s all a bit sad really and watching Damon Albarn and co lurch about for the cameras on the Graham Norton show as the booze, drugs and rock n roll lifestyles have quite clearly taken their collective tolls I couldn’t  help but feel that a bit less reality was needed, not more.

So, as I started to take an idea of a, bulk standard, blonde haired, blue eyed, female Dweebling and flesh it out, so to speak, I couldn’t help but wonder exactly what it is that makes us human. I suppose it mainly boils down to self awareness, that knowledge of who we as an individual. We each define ourselves in different ways, what we like, what we don’t like, faith (or lack of it), some people define themselves by what they believe or do, others by family, a mother, a father, a daughter, a son. The confusion comes when people represent themselves differently to different people, “to prepare a face to face the faces that we meet” as T S Elliot put it, we all do it to a certain extent, but sometimes one can be left wondering if someone was ever there at all or were they just showing you what they thought you wanted to see. People are confusing… and I guess that is part of the wonder of them. There is much more to us though, our approach to music for example. The reality of anyone past the age of twenty five trying to be part of a music scene is always a bit iffy, as performers it’s a job but as punters….. Well, there aren’t many who can pull it off. Let’s put it that way, but I guess one’s cringe factor is a part of one’s personality too, people facility for doing naff things of pointless things, their need to please / amuse other people… Peoples need to be and individual or part of a gang or indeed to be an individual as part of a gang and hold onto to those mutually exclusive concepts without seeing the irony. For good or bad, it all makes us who we are.

I’ve been trying hard not to define myself by my health problems but, being trapped inside this sinking ship of a mortal frame, it just keeps happening. I’ve finally let myself off the hook as being crazy because, well, look around you, everyone is, some to the point where I am both terrified and fascinated by the fact they actually have jobs that put them near other people. Now I have all the physical stuff as well all that concerns me are the important things and all the shit slides away and, wow! Isn’t there a lot of shit? When I’m not defining myself by the stuff that makes me go “ow” I guess I am a sum total of my experiences, my knowledge, my skills (or lack thereof) and the ideas that come from them and how I choose to get them out into the world. Even doing that is an expression of me, let’s face it, I don’t do it for the fabulous riches or the adulation, I do it from compulsion and sometimes it costs me dearly. I suppose the one thing that really defines me is honesty and a sense of justice, both of which seem to be in sort supply right now. Being honest gets you into all sorts of trouble though, particularly when it starts to make other people look bad. I must admit, (see honest!) that I had started to see it as a major failing lately as I am naïvely only just coming to terms with the amount of insincerity that I butt my head against on an almost daily basis. I am still gobsmacked by just how shit so many things are and people’s ability to proudly produce the shoddiest of things, the shittest performance or the poorest service with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. I couldn’t live with that personally, and I guess that’s what gets me into all sorts of bother…. but then that makes me me I guess. 

It’s strange trying to humanise something deeply alien, like the characters I create. They bear as much semblance to the human world as, well, let’s face it, I do, which isn’t very much. I’ve done all the old under painting techniques, of layers below the skin, to give it proper translucent flesh tones. I’ve decided that they have the inner eyelids of cats and lizards, which exempts me from all that lids and eyelash business and I still can face (excuse the pun) noses. The lack of black lines is what I’m finding most unnerving, it changes the whole tone and a lot of my methodology. The stare is even creeping me out now. The whole point of the big staring eyes was always to represent just how much I see, how much I notice that passes others by and how exhausting that can be, you are waiting for a blink that never comes, there isn’t an off button.

I don’t like the picture, it unnerves me. I guess that means I’ll be doing a few more like it, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Zen and the art of image manipulation

September 7, 2016

I am aware that this will sound strange but when I watch or read dystopian fiction be it JG Ballards The Drowned World , I am legend or the book The Omega Man from which it came, to me it sounds like a travel writer describing an idyllic holiday location. The idea of a world where I can quietly get on with my art has some appeal. And I mean SOME appeal as there are plenty of people I do get on well with, but then again, there are plenty I don’t. I have spent too long in the past, working in various jobs dealing with the public, having to tolerate the rude, the unkind, the unstable, the dull, the self absorbed and the egotistical (and that was just other staff members) and I try and keep my contact with such to a minimum now. I realise there are people out there who would lay the same accusations at me for various reasons and they are at perfect liberty to do so, I try and remain self aware and self critical and would only ask that others took as equally hard a look at their own motivations and actions before they question mine. 

With this in mind, I was recently underwent a curious form of counselling with a pair of therapists. One of the ideas that came up was to have a look at a website called headspace which centres around ways of achieving a healthy mind.  Yesterday was probably the first day I’ve had for a long while that was quiet enough for me to seriously look at everything that they suggested. Well yoga was out for a start. Being dyspraxic and dyslexic anything that involves balance will end badly, plus the second you get group activities, you get people and then they go and invite you to stuff and try and talk to you. Bloody hell! That sounds awful doesn’t it? The thing is though, whilst I can happily pass the time of day with most people, it doesn’t take long before either my eyes glaze over because some random idea pops into my head or I go off on some massive tangent and lose them completely. So no to yoga or indeed any group or class activity. 

The other suggestion was mindfulness…  Blimey! Now where do I start with that one? Trying to quiet my mind is like trying to put out a forest fire with a thimble full of water. I am constantly being buried by an avalanche of thoughts, feeling, ideas and sensations and it is a struggle to get the constant stream of ideas down in some form that doesn’t eat me alive. Be it paintings, drawings, writing, whatever, there are all these things going on that need to be dealt with. I have done a fair share of cbt in my time and have done an amount of talking therapy, enough to be aware of what goes on in my mind and to be aware enough to keep a lid on the most negative of thoughts that creep into my head. Not all but most. So mindfulness, nah! 

Over the last couple of days, I have been stuck in a sort of loop. I have been cleaning up an image I drew of a local band in Photoshop. Due to the amount of detail I need to get in, the drawing was huge, which meant that I needed to have it commercially scanned. Like anything that doesn’t happen in house, once you lose control things start going wrong and need correcting. On top of that, there were things that didn’t quite sit right in the image. So for days now, I’ve been working on the same image, evening up eyes, darkening areas, losing stray lines. Day after day, a bit here, a bit there, making judgement calls on how much to straighten up lines before they cease to look hand drawn. Working out the optimum level of wonk in a the final image. Every now and again, there will be a blissful moment where my mind is emersed In what I am doing and I cease to be deluged by stray thoughts. It doesn’t last long though, just moment, but even a moment of calm can be blissful. 

It’s not the only quietness though. There are moments just staring at the majesty of the sea or little human moments of feeling the sun on your skin. If you are really lucky, there are those lovely sensual moments of someone stroking your hair, or hearing another’s heartbeat as you hold them close. I do so welcome those little engrossing moments, lost in thought, brush tool here, hair stroke there, pencil tool, clone, kiss,  erase,  sunshine, smudge, touch, Save as. 

Getting (T) Shirty.

August 12, 2015

Photo 12-08-2015 19 51 04What is it about T-shirts? They can turn you into a portable work of art, a political statement or quite often an advertising billboards for the company that you have bought the garment from. I have developed a strange love affair with some of my t shirts to the point where some of their losses haunt me now, many years later and other’s I can’t bear to part with no matter how threadbare they are or how fat they make me look.  I suspect I may have a bit of a T-shirt problem, I don’t know how many I own but I suspect it is in the low hundreds. Maybe this is why I have, for a long while now, felt the urge to design my own or maybe it is because a truly icon tee, like album covers and film posters can ascent to the point of becoming a work of art.

Here are my top ten favourite T-shirts, some of which I own and some of which I have coveted from afar.

Photo 12-08-2015 13 53 2910) Please Kill Me!   A version of this was made famous by American punk Richard Hell of the band Television. The version I owned (still own but it is now way too small) was bought from cult shop Sign of the Times at some point in the mid 90’s it’s a ringer tee, having a collar and long sleeves in contrasting colours to the main body. Like many of the best t-shirts it is slightly offensive and confrontational in nature.

685756799858468b47a355d296c651979) The Cure, Kissing Tour. Everyone has their favourite gig T-shirt, and this is mine. From a sentimental view, it is the first ever concert I went to back in December 1987 but it is also a nice bit of design. As was the fashion in the late 80’s it was huge, an xxxl with a full colour design on both the front and rear. As my figure has regrettably started to catch up with 80’s t-shirt fashions I could probably still fit in it but seeing as it is now nearly 30 years old it is too fragile to wear.

images8) Pop Will Eat Itself Pepsi logo. Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI) had a close relationship with, Sheffield graphic designers, The Designers Republic who produced many iconic designs for them before creating the look of classic Playstation game, Wipeout amongst other things. This play on the Pepsi cola logo is encircled by the phrase “Sample it, Loop it, F**k it and Eat it.” a line from their song “Very Metal Noise Pollution” I never owned this T-shirt as I always held out for one of the long sleeve ‘rude’ versions sans asterix.

Gay_Cow_Boys_2014-500x5007) Another shirt I never owned was the Vivienne Westwood “Gay Cowboys” shirt mainly because, like most original Westwood clothing, it is now worth a small fortune. Sold when the shop was called “Sex”. The two cowboys with their winkies almost touching was guaranteed to offend in repressed 1970’s Britain. I had a few Westwood tees in the late 90’s but as the sizings were always quite small, I sold them off as I put on weight.

0010ae7e006) Anarchic Adjustment was the archetypal 90‘s skatewear company designing ‘edgy’ T- Shirts, often with a strong moral or political message. The shirt I owned hand a huge hand covering the entire front of the shirt. In tiny lettering beneath it are the words “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist”. The designer would use unusual design techniques including black on black printing and creating images using a photocopier.IMG_4155_large

5) Strawberry shirt. Another iconic skatewear firm was Insane who’s images had a very bold style with thick outlines to them. The images were often quite wonky in construction. It is a deep irony now, after years of debilitating mental health problems that I spent much of the 90’s with the word “Insane” emblazoned across my chest or back.

120cb84) W&LT I Love You! Dutch designer Walter Van Beirendonck was at the cutting edge of the rave and cyberpunk scenes. Using manufacturing techniques only commonly used, sadly, in small children’s clothing. Designer primarily for members of the rave scene, clothing had a high level of play value. One of my favourite t-shirts had a sheriff’s badge attached and a large print of a gun across it. This shirt had a mechanism built in where the eyes of Puk Puk, one of Beirendonck’s trademark characters flashed and a voice box says “I love you!” from with the t-shirt.

IMG_27743) Maharishi has for the past few years been my go to designer of T-Shirts, mainly because of their high ethical standards of manufacturing and their intelligent use of images. I tend to go for their slightly cheaper and bigger belly friendly MHI range. I have too much of their stuff to really have a favourite but I do love my Psychomania, an obscure British 1970’s B Horror movie, ones rather a lot (I often get the same shirt in a variety of colourways (I said I had a problem)). They have gone through an annoying phase recently of emblazoning their logo across their shirts which has forced me to cut down my nasty habit as I dislike the idea that after paying thirty odd pounds stirling for very basic garment, I am expected to give them free advertising too.

Photo 12-08-2015 16 29 352) Kidrobot was for the most of the noughties probably the best producer of t-shirts. Kidrobot was first and foremost a maker of designer toys, often called designer or urban vinyl, and would get the same cutting edge graffiti and graphic designers to decorate both toys and T-shirts. Of these, my favourite was a graffiti artist called Dalek, whose real name is James Marshall. Marshall worked in the studio of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and has a similar very graphic style with a range of stylised characters.

14344915958121) Floral Tee by Takashi Murakami. I have worn this shirt only once because it really doesn’t suit me. Some things, however, are just so lovely that they are work having just to look at. These wardrobe wonders as I call them look better on a hanger than on me. I am planning to get this particular T-shirt frame as it is too lovely to hide away in a draw. Takashi Murakami regards everything he produces in the way of merchandise as being as much art as his sculptures and canvas’.

By now you might have gathered that I am rather fond of T-shirts and in this spirit, I have tried my hand at designing some of my own. The first to be produced is a design based on the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Where the knife wielding Alex, the protagonist of Antony Burgess’ dystopian novel is replaced by a flower waving Dweebling. I have taken great care in it’s production from tracking down one of the best screen printers out there, through to designing special labels and hang tags. Hopefully my love of the T-shirt and my knowledge of what works and what doesn’t has been transferred into this design. If you want one, you can get one Here:-Photo 08-08-2015 16 05 21

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