Wednesday, 16 August 2017

RSA - I could do this!

I intended a tour of exhibitions today but mainly just managed the open RSA show (Scottish Royal Society of Artists).

It was mostly not at all impressive, and I kept concurring with those other visitors who were saying "there's nothing in this room that I like". But then I thought, if all this is so achievable and within my grasp, why don't I do it?

Partly nowadays I don't do much big-scale art - or even pictures on any other surface than my diary - because I haven't got any space - space either to do it in or to store it. So I have to throw away more things than I can keep. The other part though is just sheer lack of ambition and the feckless lack of organisation and commitment that it takes to "produce better work".

So at this exhibition I took some photos of the pieces that I liked most, or felt most that I could imitate (if imitating was my thing):

Lots and lots of squiggles, together make something that impresses the eye. A high proportion of the artworks were basically simple shapes repeated, and they look good once the hours have been put in.

At first this looks impossible to replicate with your own efforts, but it's really just a straightforward composition, with the majority of spaces left 'empty', ie. coloured planes. Then the impact comes from the repeated leaf shapes and the fact that these Autumnal trees are bloody beautiful and we love to see an elegant version of them.

There is a grand old cherry tree near where I work, which looks glorious in Autumn and Spring. The thought went through my head that "I could do a version of that in this style!" . Fortunately I think I know myself enough not to mistake idle thought for actual plan. (But I could).

Weird fantasy doodle on a page. I make loads of fantasy doodles on a page. I just don't plan them, create a neat layout and apply myself consistently then colour them carefully. Minor details! (although I don't like this style)

Clear, symmetrical, clean, achievable. Nothing stops you or I from producing something this pleasing.

The quirks of these portraits are I guess what makes them distinctive? Which means the quirks in my doodles that I naturally interpret as 'a bit shit' could also one day be viewed as distinctive. I still do not know what kind of person would buy this stuff though, and maybe very few actually do. I did once used to work for a rich couple who lived in a bit of a rented mansion and they bought art to place in it. They had awful taste.

I liked this for the composition and the individuality of the body type drawn - it's not smoothed  to the usual ideal, it's an actual body shape. More to the point though, I too could apply a bit of acrylic or oil and convert a line sketch into an actual painting - there is nothing complex in the shadows or tones of this piece. It's just about the doing of it.

I'm drawn to group scenes like this. Probably easiest to take a photo and then paint it. Also achievable (if I had any friends that is).

Why do I (why do you) not draw the slightly knacked, slightly normal backyard of your friends? Why am I not outside now drawing the back of my hosts' house instead of sitting on the the internet? Then we too could pencil it out and add a load of little effort and make something to exhibit in the RSA.

Again, daft fantasy doodle done more carefully and made into a notable form by adding simple colour. Each time a diary doodle of mine develops daft fantasy elements I sigh and think 'well that's gone a bit pointless' - but if people here actually share, exhibit, hope to sell their daft fantasy doodles, maybe even mine are worth more effort.

Likewise, the drawing above is no greater than yours or mine. It's the application that is a bit greater. And the artist hasn't taken out the bits that diminish its clarity (hands, basically), so maybe I shouldn't worry that each unnecessary addition should've been left out.

My favourite image. If I do try to replicate a style then it would be to draw a room that I know, inhabit, a lot. To remember this time to do no shading at all on the white spaces, to keep the square lines clear and keep the shading neat, illustrationer-style, within the still-life shapes. And maybe, breaking my usual habit, to do a pencil sketch first!

You could wear a tie, I could wear a tie, we could draw the lines of shirt and tie, we could keep it simple, a pleasing shape, and we too could produce this sort of simple but effective image.

Impressive at first look, but up close you could feel 'crap, messy, smudgy, wrong lines, inaccurate' etc.. But here, we can see that the result even-so is nice, impressive indeed, and if you knew the landscape, it would be a treasure.

A print, whose technique is unknown to me. I like it, it's daft fantasy art again, almost by-the-numbers, but the choices and the skills deployed all seem attainable.

Not about the print technique, but about the very nice room architecture. I thought of nicking the room for a comic panel, though I'm unlikely ever to do so.

I visited the same exhibition last year and this chap had his comics in there then, which I recognised from their occasional inclusion in Viz.

I quite like the guy's confidence. The story's another fantasy fluff, but the pace and the fullness of its creation makes it all somehow worthwhile. It's been thought through more than the conceit would at first seem to merit. I mean, these panels are WELL done, the references satisfy, and the captions are multi-sentence paragraphs that most comics would avoid, but here, they add up to a greater whole.

The two comic strips formed part of my favourite wall in the exhibition, the black and white print wall.

As a body drawing technique, I have never tried the style above, but I like it, and again I feel that it wouldn't be beyond me - if only I had the gumption and focus to do so.

I also went walking, looking for locations on the Edinburgh Art Festival map.

This, Nicholson Gardens, has had an arty greenhouse made, which again can be broken down into achievable steps, but it is great largely because of where it is. Location, doing things in a particular place, is also achievable. Do we do it as often as we should?

A conclusion to this post? Not really, except that knowing what we could do, is not q.the same as what we should do. So although I feel a bit better realising I COULD mimic some of the creations of exhibiting artists, it doesn't mean I'm about to choose that I SHOULD do that, instead of browsing 2nd hand book shops, seeing Anoushka Shankar tonight, and trailing around the city and its people till then.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Genius Sixes.

About once every 3 months I go to one of the Travelling Mans (Leeds is best for this), and buy a load of back issues of the mainstream US comics that I'm not usually a follower of. I only choose titles that I don't know, and only ones that I suspect may be different or interesting in some way. The images above are of my latest haul. Most cost a quid, some were 50p, plus there were a few free comicbook day ones in there too. Cost me a tenner in total.

As I am not a regular follower of these particular comic worlds I am always surprised, and often disappointed, but it is usually worth it for the gems in there. The mystery is enhanced by (1) the fact that the cover art often has very little relation to what is inside, and (2) by my carelessness in noting down, in memory, no names of the artists, colourists, even publishing imprints of the ones that I like. I know that Marvel are inevitably shittest, DC dull, and I suppose I drift toward Image and complete unknowns most of all, -but they too are still mostly a bit pants.

On average, I have calculated, one third (2 sixths) are complete rubbish to me, and they go to the free shelf in Carlisle station. What's the free shelf in Carlisle station? It is a little battered shelf only ever half full of rubbish unwanted books, and a donation tin on top. Whenever I put comics in there, they are gone before I get my return train, snapped up. Other shelves (eg. Berwick station) have a slower turnover and yet more quality. I like the Carlisle one best, and hope in my imagination that someone is regularly checking it in desperate hope that something sellable will appear. They then grasp at anything half useable and seize it, then try to miserably sell it online. Good luck to that imaginary person.

One half (3 sixths) have some imagery or juxtaposition that appeals to me. I cut it out and scrapbook it. Sometimes I make a compilation of radgey heads, for example, like the blonde one above, out of Betty & Veronica. I take maybe 3% of the paper content of the tome, and keep it.

One sixth, I consider genius, and keep. I have boxes full of indie/small press comics, and these genius sixes go in those boxes too. Of the collection above, this time three and a half made it in and I would not have guessed from their covers. One was Rumble, one was Squidder, and one was v.unexpected, Bad Machinery from Free Comicbook Day. It is not the sort of thing I rave about at all, usually. Not my art style, not my context (school, pff, for kids), not my joking preference (sassy, predictable backchat all the time), and nothing weird or deep or unfinished or whatever it is I like. But it is excellent. Whoever has produced it is cleverer than me. Their sassy backchat is so good and constant, and quick, that even someone like me warms to their characters. And hell, it is good to be reminded that the commercial factories are indeed good at recruiting talent sometimes.

That's the usual percentages worked out, but there is one anomaly, and often is. On this occasion it is the weird Kurt Russell comic. It is somehow great and weird enough to keep, and yet not, it feels, by me. I want to find someone who would like it more than me, and so it will sit uneasily with the genius sixes until I work out where to put it.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Sketchbook drawings of things, early 2017

I've been drawing a little less than usual, but still regularly. Here are some from the start of the year.


I couldn't afford to join the Star & Shadow volunteers one day so indulged myself with a self-portrait apology. The fact they have volunteer days pretty much EVERY day makes my excuse rather weak. 

The Paper Jam Comics Collective continue to tolerate my occasional presence in their ranks. This is our sign-in sheet : a different theme each week, for us to draw ourselves into. For some reason I found the idea of someone having toast stuck flat-side-round in their mouth completely hilarious that night.

Some great young people are trying to make an ambitious idea happen. I have little to offer but supportive hand waving from the corner.

Pubjam, the every-second-meeting that takes place in the pub, with young and older comics enthusiasts together. I am now in the latter group.


I drew some presenters as they told the room about their new projects. As portraits, these look nothing like the people involved, but as a thing to do during the presentations, it was spot on. 

Paper Jam again - that makes it three meetings in a row, almost a personal record.

Another work thing : I was in the room in case the break-out groups needed someone to prompt and keep them on track. But the person I was covering for returned from her mission and I was relieved straight after doodling the room. 


Tyneside Beekeepers Association : I joined some student bee fans at this event in Gateshead, helping cars park and serving tea and biscuits as needed. And I learnt a lot about raising bees. 

 Onto the Stena Line ferry to Belfast, surveying for dolphins and other such creatures. This was our position on the bridge.

And this is today, reading a zine and writing notes. No pictures, as is often (more often?) the case, but still pen to paper, sun on the page, screen turned off and views passing by. I like this way of life.

Northern Weirdness

I had a look around some Renaissance galleries in Edinburgh. The following photos are from the Northern (Netherlands) room in the Scottish National Gallery. They speak from a time and place which had a deeper, weirder, more original worldview than the mundane mass-produced one that we nowadays have to labour under

Creatures look out from corners of pictures. None of them wear spandex or deliver the expected, easily-contained message that we are used to. None are pets, none are God.

Notice the oddness of scale here. Our position in the frame was not so straightforward, so predictable. Faces loom, or veer away, in picture after picture. Some of them, frankly, unsettled me - where were we to stand in these scenes, where was the ground and the place of safety?

Witches appear, and no doubt fulfil a symbolic function that could be explained away, but their impact in the fringes of these scenes spills over any pre-set meaning.

The cacophony of detail, of a fertile unpressed imagination, is ready to invade any potential crack in the story. And there are many cracks in these stories, that cannot be explained by a simple Bible tale.

Hooded monks. Two survivors of several dozen which once fulfilled a social and status function.  They're not just mourners, though, they're spooky, awful, sinister, multilayered. I first 'read' their hoods as monstrous faces, and I don't think that was a mistake by the artist.

A minor detail disrupts a simple narrative. There is always something more than that which an easeful, calming, soothing and reassuring portrait should deliver.

A centimetre high, perhaps, this rib eating creature. Even more disturbing, the white lines, maggots?

A bigger fragment, notice the chained beast to the side. She is elven, a non-assuring vision of female beauty. Like an alien - like the 21st century pale intelligence alien of modern times. But with none of that scifi claptrap and just the darkest, deepest, inhuman eyes.

Elsewhere, the detail is a beast in the sky, its head now lost, the church steeple showing its scale. Its function? Its role? Its impact on the world that was once depicted in paint on an internal wall?

Painting, yes, but not painting alone, or contained so easily within the standard white-box gallery frame. I don't know the name for these three-dimensional framings and interruptions, when used within a painting. But the way it changes the function of the painting is one that again destabilises, and frees-up the flair of whatever that painting delivers.

Heretical animals, worshipping the godchild, but look at those eyes. And everywhere eyes are facing unexpected ways, conveying ambiguous holiness, shiftiness, knowledge, innocence, emotion or calm. There's just too much going on, and by odder-than-necessary characters.

These heads, just added on to a chair ancillary to the main picture, the main portrayal. No one really knows why they are there, an example of the added, unexplained edges that are garnished to so many of those pieces of art.

Some demons, standardised for a change in this bigger picture. Like a reminder that such other creatures, other powers of desire, remain to threaten and undermine us when we step outside of a straight path.

 In the same picture multiple saints, hermits, hiding, trying, and the depiction of temptation, the power of these disallowed urges. The complexity of a striving for their then-moral universe, and how flawed it was. No-one gets out of that scene undisturbed, undistressed.

A wheelchair. Unexpected, a small detail amongst small details.

And the symbols of the Rosy Cross in this portrait.

We will never know what depths and greater aims were meant to be conveyed in these paintings. But I know that there was a hell of a lot more going on than in the average exhibition, film, comic or religion of these, our contemporary mundane days. A small gallery, Edinburgh.