Friday, 27 October 2017

Book & Literary Festival Sketching (new zine)

I drew at both the Carlisle Borderlines (Book) Festival, and the Berwick Literature (not Book) Festival this month.

I like books,
I like authors, and am curious about how they speak
I like events organised by volunteers in different places
I like drawing
I like drawing people when they are staying still
I like doodling in meetings, it helps my mind zone in (or out)
I like doing things that people appreciate

So this year I contacted the organisers of events at the different edges of what I consider to be 'my' realm: Carlisle to the west, Berwick north and east. I live bang in the middle.

Members of both organising teams responded positively, and made me welcome, and gave me a pass to wear, and let me in for free. Thankyou Wendy and thankyou Michael!

I am just really happy to have taken part, by sketching the scene at some of their events, and if you are free next year you should definitely think about attending Carlisle Borderlines and Berwick Literary Festival

To mark this activity I will produce a free zine in time for a print fair in Shipley, town of my birth, on the first weekend of November.

It will include pages depicting, first, the engaging and lively talk by Jenn Ashworth and Andrew Michael Hurley, in an intimate Sunday morning session at Carlisle library :


It will also include a sketch of Jacob Polley, as he presented his new Jackself pieces to an appreciative crowd in the Tullie House Museum :

It will include my best drawing, of Jenny Uglow running through the life and art of Edward Lear, in the Crown & Mitre :

Then there was a weekend in Kendal where my drawing was done with kids in a shopping centre (not to be featured in the zine), but this was followed by a weekend in Berwick that I was kind of combining with work (so I had to pop in and out).

Here I drew Ian McMillan as he got the whole room laughing out loud and (later) singing along, accompanied by (actual) cartoonist Tony Husband.
Then in the morning I kayaked across the Tweed to Spittal, where Christopher Smith gave a popular talk on PG Wodehouse, in the United Reform Church :

My early evening sketch of Max Adams, talking of the giants who were seen in this old landscape of ours, was done in a bit of a rush and has come across too cartoony :

But in the morning I had one more chance to sketch and I'm very happy with the way that the crowd came out, listening to Katrina Porteous and Northumbrian piper, young Alice Robinson :

The zine will consist just of the scans, so the glimpses of actual backs of heads you have here are the evidence, unasked for, that they were done on the spot, that I felt welcome and appreciated, and was thrilled to get to take in all this intelligence, wit and drama, as an equal participant, giving quid pro quo and mutually beneficial exchange!

Comics from 'the Arab World'

First of all, that's a weird phrase isn't it : 'the Arab world'. Like a sci-fi planet from one of the less impressive Franco-Belgian comics.

The full title of the exhibition was "Comics and Cartoon Art from the Arab World" and I was determined to check it out on my trip down to London.

I woke up before dawn for my first train. I had a whole load of cheap train tickets bought in advance, because I wanted to go see a talk on steppe nomads of Eurasia.

The talk was down in London so well in advance I planned a day off work in order to catch a couple of exhibitions too. The trains were a mess, and getting to London took me 9 hours, mostly sitting on the floor in the crowded vestibule. So by the time I got into London there wasn't time for much except appreciating being off the train. (I spend a lot of time tweeting my exasperation at the cut-up train system we currently have. It does no good.)

Of the things in London to see, I prioritised "Comics and Cartoon Art from the Arab World" in the British Library, because I'd noticed an intriguing little mention of it once, and it's an area of comics I'm really ignorant of. Turns out it was pretty small scale: really just a display cabinet with a dozen examples of comics. But they were well-chosen examples, and well-lit, and each one was completely new to me. I'm really happy to have come across them and they are worth talking about.
1. Abou Naddara, "The Man with Glasses", an Egyptian Jewish dramatist and satirist who produced anti-establishment cartoons that ridiculed both imperialist and local elites. What an excellent person to discover - the kind of chap who gives comics history some real heart and character. These are our allies, our kin, these early creators of comics culture.
2. Alexander Sarroukhan, the Armenian-Egyptian 'godfather of political cartoons', who produced the kind of caricatures that give that wartime era its classic and recognisable stamp. I've seen a lot of these from the British (and also the anti-war European) perspective, and I love the style of that era's clearness and rounded edges. Now I want to see more about Sarroukhan's character, the Egyptian everyman 'al-Masri Effendi', and work out where exactly Sarroukhan's perspective was (aligned with the allies; fiercely independent; just making the obvious puns; conflicted; neutral?)
3. Fatimah al-Yusuf, a famous actress I of course had never heard of, who founded this important satirical magazine Ruz al-Yusuf in Cairo in 1925.What's the angle?, I again wonder. Now look at this cartoon below, a collaborative cartoon indeed, well-chosen by the exhibition: doesn't it just make you want to see a whole lot more?
Jumping forward to the present day:
4. Nadia Khiari and Naji Al-Ali are artists whose styles I did recognise. Nadia Khiari gave active commentary on the Tunisian uprising and has gained some European recognition. Tunisia is the only one of the represented countries I have visited, and I did find a few comics available there at the time, including Khiari's. 

5. Secondly, you too would recognise the most famous character of Palestinian refugee Al-Ali, Hanthalathe, the 10 year old boy in rags used to express a moral conscience for those enduring the realities of life under Israeli-Palestinian-Other World Powers conflict and exploitation. Like many of our cartoonists, he was assassinated (in London in 1987).
The next selection of comics included early twentieth century publications such as Sindbad and Samir, aimed at a younger audience and often introducing western (Disney or Franco-Belgian) characters. I would like to learn more about the home-originated ideas, such as 'The Adventures of Arnabad', a rabbit Sindbad? Let's hope there's a cheap compilation out there. Artist names to look out for, named here, are 6. Hussein Bicar, 7. Muhiedden El Labbad and 8. Nadia Fayiz.
I loved this one! I didn't make a note of its name! I sometimes wish I lived in that particular era of simple, pre-manga, pre-Marvel, pre-tones and pre-digital characterful comic storytelling. What's going on there? I don't know, but I 'feel' for the character and a smile bounces onto my face each time I look again!
Of course some comics are not for me. I just don't like all the styles that abound in current comics and that's fine: it's a big scene and if some comics are a bit simplistic, even propagandistic, then they are the ones to forget as time goes on. I am naming names on purpose here: artists, magazines and comic characters to search out and treasure, but most importantly, to remember!
Meh, another comic.
Algeria and other French-speaking, French-colonised parts of North Africa clearly took a lot of influence from Francophone culture. As a comics-lover, I would like to celebrate some of the (independent, critically minded) results of this. Like 9. Zidya Bouzid : look at that classic 1980s comic style, still to my mind the glory days of comic culture! Yes some of it's reprints (maybe most of it is - I haven't yet flicked thru a copy myself), but these comics were printed to be read on a popular scale by all sorts of people in a way that I lament does not really exist now. Think of the contrast to some of the tomes on our shelves now: none of that niche marketing of glossily bound designer stuffiness, no cultivating a geek subculture or hiding out from the mainstream world, not even any sadism or porn. This is the kind of product that I love, probably sometimes a 'bit' shit but genuinely shared and shareable - and there's copies still out there in dusty back-piles, I know it and I hope to find them one day!
But this is the comic I want to search out and buy when I get my next paycheque:
10. Zeina Abirached. No idea of the storyline but it is a great format, perhaps innovative, suggesting the apartment blocks of their living quarters. Black and white (which I love), no superhero pants or machismo sadism. Not even a daft grinning mangaschoolboyherovillain with supereyes or explosive speed-lines. Elegant, interesting, and different to UK stuff.
11. Mazen Kerbaj, another Lebanese artist. New to me, and perhaps the book hits the spot more softly than Zeina Abirached, but maybe you'd prefer it.
Hard to tell, but anything claiming to be the "first Arabic graphic novel for adults" is probably a bit middle-class and soulless in a reportage-for-the-Guardian-reader way. What do you reckon? 12. Magdy El Shafee. I have no idea what's below this cover, so I may well be being unfair: it may be truly insightful, raw, unexpected. It's just that the avoidance of 'comics' terminology for 'graphic novel' terminology usually spells a rather boring pretension. like talking with the sort of person you don't want to talk to.
13. Benyoucef Abbas Kebir, focussing on Algerian history. I do think comics are a good way to comment and remember history, and it's purely the glut of English-language and French-language publications trying to sell stock on that basis that makes me put this to the back of my interest list.
14. Samandal. You hear me? SAMANDAL. This is the organisation to google after I write this post. A volunteer-based organisation promoting comics in Lebanon, publishing anthologies like all the best comic initiatives do. Good luck to them and let's hope they've got some good stuff out there.
More from Samandal (Salamander).
15. Tok Tok is another (Egyptian) comic I recognise, presumably because some French comic shops stock it. Also it seems a pretty simple style.
Also from Egypt, 16. Islam Gawish's wee book looks like interesting comment, if I could understand it. 17. Al-Shaymaa Hamed and Mai Koraiem, meanwhile, have done a book whose look I've forgotten but whose biographical focus is of interest to me: Constantine Cavafy, a poet who, even in English translation, is something of a gripping and mind-altering substance. And as a reminder that Arabic does not, like anything, live in a vacuum, he was Greek speaking from a Greek-speaking city, which is nowhere near the Greece of today (and he had no illusions or loyalty to such a facile and demeaning notion of a 'nation state').

Then I went to my talk on the Steppe nomads of Eurasia, and after that spent a couple of hours loitering until the last (and cheapest) train set off back north, where I've now come into the office to do an all-night computer session. So to finish, here's a last bit of psychological aggression from a poster for you:


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.