Thursday, 21 March 2019

Spring Thing - A Playlist

The inside of my head as spring rocks up. Full of Hannibal Lecter offering the pitchiest black black comedy (I'm three years late to this party. If you came here for the cutting edge, you've certainly taken a wrong turn.) I am also newly obsessed with the My Favourite Murder podcast, and I'm so grateful to live in a world where Kilgariff and Hardstark are able to teach me how to use my powers of anxiety for good and not evil. (Again, three fucking years off the mark. But I'm still in love with them both, except Karen is my fave. Hideously, I binge listen to MFM and end up talking like I was raised in, like, California. Lots of apologising to my fam for being a nerd and general embarrassment.)

With all this murderous imagery trickling in, you'd think I'd be losing sleep and at least having grizzly dreams, but my worst nightmares have been banal images.

Do you wake up in a cold sweat with your heart trying to escape your ribcage after imaginary repetitive hours at an office desk with the clock going round the wrong way and talking back?

How about the wrong people turning up to after work drinks, saying they enjoyed the yoga last night? Well, that is what has been unnerving me recently.

Happily, though, I was told a good story this week, about a genius person arriving on stage at a gig sometime in the late seventies and setting to work hitting sheet metal with objects, displaying only childlike curiosity and abandon. I don't know the name of the act. But I consider this to be not an altogether bad way to live your life. It made me feel a bit better about the dysfunctional ways I chose to express my obsessions, if nothing else.

This should all quite logically explain this list of songs? You're very welcome.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Completed Art Journal and Flip Through Video

I like filling books. I was skeptical of artjournalling for a long time. It seems like a lot of people are writing about positive mental attitude, and how it can be part of your self-care ritual. Use your art journal to freely express yourself and lower anxiety! Soothe depression! Work through the emotional! Relax!

I don't know much about relaxation. I'm much more of a gothic wallower. So none of that stuff appealed to me. But,as I said, I do like filling books. I've got to the point where I can do things how I like to, without worrying too much about how it looks from the outside. And why do I need to judge other people for feeling better? Whatever, man. If colouring books cure your existential dread, fucking good for you, babes.

So, I'm a bookbinder now. I made this tiny thing by cutting a little rectangle from a cereal box. I stitched two signatures in., then painted up some paper all nice with ink and used it to cover the cardboard. I like how this pattern looks. It reminds me of gemstones and slices of agate. Or random blotches.

Blotches! Fuck, yeah! 

This might be my favourite. Othello vibes. Sure, I've read Shakespeare.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Aglow Like Rayon

Panting, immobile, pierced starry with so much wonder and yet a "whatever for?" feeling. Your libraries lullabies offer as much comfort as abysses. In the desert and on the open highway you get chased down by cop cars glittering like beetles, eyes read heat haze as permanence disintegrating. Roy Orbison says there's a secret whispered on the wind. I turn up the radio.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Ralph Steadman - Between the Eyes.

I had the good luck to be made a Library Assistant in August last year. The main thing I think about is why it has taken me until the age of 30 to realise that this is my dream day job. Aside from being a full time artist or writer, which is a daydream that I can't shed, working in the library is perfect. I say it's taken me this long to "realise". But really it's more about feeling capable, and that I'm in charge of my own life. Did you know: you can do things that you like in your life? I'm getting to grips with that. Anyway, as a Library Assistant, you don't read all day, or keep the building silent, but you do get to touch, organise, repair, order, research, and catagorise resources. Most of these are books. Books are niiiiiiiiiice. 

I'm enjoying getting my hands on rare and weird art books that I might not have made the effort to find otherwise. Worthing, in West Sussex is the County Store. They have a huge archive both on the shelf and in the stacks behind the scenes. Skimming the catalogue returns titles you can get on Amazon, but to save money, to get the dopamine hit of a 'haul', to honour the service, I'm making reservations and picking them up in branch by the ton.

Recently I picked up Between the Eyes by the original gangster, ink artist, and all around complete legend Ralph Steadman. It's from 1984 and was published by Jonothan Cape, London.

between the eyes by ralph steadman library book
Sometimes I feel like giving up when I look at Steadman's stuff. We already have a Steadman so what else is there to do?
Between the Eyes begins with a sketch of early years, or early fears as Steadman calls them. Ralph attended a grammar school in Abergele, North Wales. After a previous headmaster retires in "a cloud of genuine affection", a more sinister mood filled the empty space behind him. Steadman writes: 

"Morning assembly became a public hanging place where children were taught to enjoy the sight of a schoolmate less holy then themselves suffering their downfall in public". (p.9)

To Steadman, schools are places where public spectacle and shame are manipulated to control young minds.
"Authority prevails and quashes any doubt before it even emerges. The boss is enjoying himself and displaying an unswerving belief that the law is fear and pain is duty and shame is necessary to grind the edge off the spirit and blunt it into submission. This is humiliation of a darker kind. The real world perhaps." (p.10) So maybe this sadism has a larger implication. As a child he could recognise it as relevant to the rest of life and present in wider society. Little Ralph clearly wanted to do something about it.

He considers what art means to him and what drives him. So much of his work is satirical, grotesque and even cruel. But only to people who deserve it. "What need provokes my drawing apart from the serious one of making money?" (Hats off to him for acknowledging the monetary component which so many artists pretend is not a consideration.) "If that were the only reason I would have tried to please people, so maybe I'm a crusader of some kind, hell bent on changing the world for good or ill. A pompous thing to say, but you need people like me." (p.11) Pompous, obviously. Although, in light of his experiences of authority and the value placed on public ridicule in his early years, we can see the need for subversion. To Steadman provocation, and basic questioning of the merit of an authority can come from an outsider.

Steadman writes often of the danger and power in art. He describes certain ideas as a kind of cultural tyranny. "...We are still the victims of cultural tyranny just as we are the victims of the bomb. Once thought of and created it cannot be obliterated." (p.14) This relates to Richard Dawkins' Meme theory, where ideas infect culture like a virus, and they can't simply be brushed off. Now we have Ralph Steadman's art, now his satire has split the atom and pulled the rug out from under politicians, who has power now?

Maybe it's artists? "Negative attitudes to art begin in school. Art is not taken seriously because it has no apparent rules. We are declaring ourselves non-rational beings, ie. people who intuitively act upon impulses without rhyme or reason." Some value can be found in art but only if, as artists, "we can be seen to be exploiting an intangible flair in a way that brings gainful employment." Anything that strays from that is considered by the authorities of society as devious and wasteful. So is rebellion threatening?

For Steadman art is "dangerous, in societies eyes, useless". (p.21) Both powerful and seismic, but also spoken of and taught as if it is an idle occupation and impotent.

How do you become an artist, then, if you want to defy society and move outside of it? Steadman has the answer. Art school is not necessary, as Steadman points out they too often fail to teach even how "to draw a circle around a plant pot" (p.21) and providing you can focus the mind, you can do it yourself in three or four years

"A discipline achieved early on should become as automatic as breathing or talking. And the discipline of drawing is the finest. A savage two or three years is imperative. No creativity. Drawing forces you to look and an artist needs to do that more than anything short of thinking. But drawing will stimulate that too. Then give yourself a break and waste a year in total anarchy. Vent that precious creativity you have nurtured for so long and find out what you might have to offer - bearing in mind that the unsuspecting world does not give a rats flash." (p.21)

Not so impossible or mysterious, really. Work on a skill with single-minded and obsessive discipline. Then smash it open to see what creativity you have brewed underneath it all. You could do what Steadman did and take mushrooms and meet Hunter S. Thompson in America of all the God forsaken places on this earth. Ralph met Hunter at the races. They were working on an article for Rolling Stone magazine. "I had been watching someone chalk racing results on a black board whilst I finished my beer, and was about to turn and get another when a voice like nothing I'd ever heard before cut into my thoughts, sank its teeth into my brain. It was a cross between a slurred karate shop and gritty molasses." (p.65). This meeting, of course iconic, would stimulate. ..."an inactive nerve in me. He exposed me to the screaming lifestyle of America. The raw violence. My drawing became stronger, less flacid. He helped me to recognise my real targets - the Nixons of this word, the natural caricatures of life." (p.142).

He loves poetry, as all rebels do. Although poetry must be controlled. It's power is undeniable. "I have watched poems stand about, waiting to pounce. It is worse then mugging. A horrible sight. An attacked person will run out into the street and shout. He may even curse the system and leave home taking your daughter with them."

The poetry revolution should be televised. Maybe the BBC should take to broadcasting poems regularly. Steadman imagines a blissful world:
"The confusion would be indescribable. A nation would stop in it's tracks and pick flowers for neighbours. Cars would jam in thick traffic and their drivers disgorge and shake hands. Strikes would be unnecessary for nobody would work. Life would be too good to miss. Each day would be lived without a plan and each moment savoured like new wine. Each sunset would be a revelation and a promise for tomorrow. Everybody would make love. Even the sick." (p.156)

So after Steadman, where can we go? Once thought of and created his work cannot be obliterated. I know I can't unsee these lines, unfeel their violence. So what should I do? In 1984, Steadman imagines the future. "We live in a time when the world needs a powerful injection of hope and personal achievement. Nothing cynical will serve purpose now. Nothing smart-arsed or gross will do. It must seem real, weird, extraordinary, but within our reach." (p.236)

I can't help but think of Hunter's old adage, from 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' (1971) that when the going get weird, the weird turn pro. 'Between the Eyes' collects some of Steadman's beautiful draughtsmanship, his most grotesque assaults on the charlatans at the top who were (and always are) out for themselves, and some of the incredible stories he collected from travelling across the world for work and play. In it, he rallies the rebels and outsiders to work harder, to push further, to get weirder and, if the chemistry of single-minded obsession and happy happenstance are balanced just so, turn pro.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

January Didn't Kill Me

Let's rename January as Misery Season. It's pretty bad, but now February has arrived a feel immense relief. And pride that I survived and didn't just drift off in my chair by the fire and forget to get up again. I love walking outside and I'm lucky that I live in beautiful Sussex in the UK. But the weather makes it a challenge and not worth the effort most of the time. Rains no good because I can't open my book or look at Instagram on a wet phone screen, and then after the rain, the soaked mud is treacherous and not gothic or poetic in anyway. But in the last week of January we had some truly excellent frost which turned the entire world into a magical place. Like proper majestic white glittery frost that even turned the mud-slicked country slide into a solid crunchy place which it was possible to walk on. I had a lovely time and I even heard a woodpecker although I couldn't see it. (I kept imagining what it must be like being a woodlouse and having the lid of your bed smashed off by a bird with a face like a kango hammer. Stressful.) 

 I did notice that walking alone is odd. It's close to being idle, isn't it? So people are suspicious of it. You need justification for walking alone by either having a) a dog with you or b) leisure wear and a sweat on. This makes you look busy, which is socially acceptable. It makes you at least feel like you are no longer potential pray for your local serial killer. (You've got a defender in the form of a hound, or you are strong and can literally run away. Right?) What I learned is that it also makes other peoples dogs look at you like you are nuts. What I mean by this, is that I literally made three canines belonging to three separate people jump off the ground in shock just by arriving along the path. I'm assuming it's because they didn't get the scent of the dog I should have had with me first? Therefore my presence was surprising? Anyway, I didn't know I could be so alarming. Fun facts to learn.

Spiders are metal. Duh.

What lives there??


Sexy Lichen. That's right.

Mostly frozen. And then noisy where it joined the running stream. Majestic AF.

I started to believe in God at this point.

On any other day I would have slipped and broken my neck on this mud, but NOT TODAY! Because it was FROZEN!! The. Best. Ever.

I also took a trip to Brighton this month and visited the Booth Museum. It's an incredible collection of taxidermy, bones and butterflies. Truly spooky, educational and curious. Let's start with the perfect Deaths Head Hawk Moth specimens of DREAMS.

Got to love the Victorian gent who took the time to give us this incredible eye-pecking detail including trickle of nose blood. Thanks for that.

Imagine living in this parlour of unimaginable cruelty and greed. I'm obsessed.

Shout out to you bros donating your bodies to science so I can post them on Instagram.

This supreme crow deserved more then being made to look bashful for all eternity. 

I got a vegan burger that made me emotional in it's epic tastiness. It's 2019 and we only eat avocados and drink craft beer with big V GANG labels on them and witty, quirky brand stories on the packaging. Cool kids used to get high and go to rock shows, but not anymore. 

I also went 1920's decrepit goth for the occasion of the trip which I do not regret. I not only accept my dark circles but I am centering my art, my brand and my entire life around them.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Couples Portraits - Black and White Ink Stylised Portraits

Twin Peaks Fan Art Ink Portrait
Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks

Halloween Costume Portrait Drawing in Ink
Stylised Dotwork Ink Portrait Drawing
Just a little update here to share my excitement at what I've been working on over the last week or so. I'm now offering couples portraits for commission over at my ETSY shop in my signature, unique ink dotwork style. I was so excited to work on Dale Cooper and Audrey from Twin Peaks - an excellent story arc from the show. And I had so much fun working on this couples EXCELLENT Halloween costume of dreams. It's exhilarating learning your original artwork has arrived safely through the mail system, and that both portraits bring some joy to the couple involved, or, as the case may be, that somebodys obsessive fandom is getting some sort of outlet and encouragement. Ha! I'm working on Mulder and Scully next and my inner fangirl is squealing.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019


I made this journal spread to try to take my mind away from constant rumination. I guess it's about feeling like I've had my wings snapped off. I don't know. I'm verbose to a fault, but on this I haven't got much that's clear enough to describe. Whatever the reason you might have for obsessive thoughts, I recommend making art as a kind of active meditation. It's much more interesting then just trying to focus on your breathing, and it follows the same principle of allowing thoughts to come and to go, without the need for judgement or engagement, and then returning thoughts back to the task at hand. Sometimes you get something shiny at the end as well. So that's nice. I said this on Instagram, but I've been tinkering with this spread for weeks now, and I still don't know if it's "complete". I keep thinking it needs words, but like I said, I haven't got any.

Mixed Media Journal Spread

January is a shit show and should be cancelled. But the ice in low sun, or persistant rain damaging the guttering on my old house still inspire something. I picked out some songs that might help if you need a push to get through to February. I know I do. Here we have Skunk Anansie putting the boot in. Morrissey being self indulgent, as if he ever wasn't. I'm trying out "Listening to Morrissey and Yet Being In Opposition to his Bigotry". Overwhelmingly I wonder: Is it possible or even Worth It? I'm On Fire by Bruce Springsteen has got be as close to perfection as it's possible to get in 2 minutes and 35 seconds. In Cairo by Hot Hot Heat is one from the vaults that works like a time machine to a past life. Tangles by Lady Lamb has an ache about it. 1stp Klosr from Reanimation is an essential piece of genius. Reanimation is the remix album that came after Linkin Parks' Hybrid Theory. I'm listening to it constantly, mainly because Hybrid Theory was the first album I bought for myself, and I'm 30 in a few days. I guess it's something about noticing the strangeness of time passing. And surpressed fury remaining the constant thread throughout the years. Porcupine Tree are a new and welcome discovery thanks to a new friend.

So, 2019. I'm dusting myself off and not about to fade away into insignificance just yet. Challenge accepted.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Lewes Photo Diary and Feasting on Scraps

It's January and that always has me humming There She Goes My Beautiful World by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It's always in my head when it's cold. I think it's just bloody freezing all the time during this month, there’s usually snow, and the first words are about the wintergreen, and the chicory which is a forced crop, grown in the dark, and seasonal to January and about as bitter tasting.

The wintergreen, the juniper
The cornflower and the chicory
All the words you said to me
Still vibrating in the air
The elm, the ash and the linden tree
The dark and deep, enchanted sea
The trembling moon and the stars unfurled
There she goes, my beautiful world...

I don't know what them Bad Seeds are on about really, but it makes me feel that maybe even in the dead and dark there's things growing and green and trembling and unfurled. 
Pretty and magical? On Sunday I took the train and went for a little potter around the Sussex town of Lewes. In a way, it's too picturesque to be even tolerable. But with its castle and antique book dealers and jars of raw pigment, I was getting something pretty and magical out of it.

Windswept Winter Landscape with Bright Blue Sky
Whizzing along on the train.

Bright Red Church Door in Lewes
All the doors in Lewes have had effort invested. This church door knocked me out on the greyest of days.

Second Hand Book Shop in Lewes
I'm a Librarian and believe in the defence and maintenance of libraries, but the antique bookshops still had me squealing like a pig. Howgwarts eat ya heart out on a plastic tray.

March and Son Eco Pigment Paint Shop in Lewes
Chuffed I didn't smash the window for that jar of pink. There's a lot of unique, niche businesses in Lewes. March and Son make paint using ingredients from the South Downs including linseed oil, chalk and alabaster and offer paints that are nontoxic, not detrimental to the environment, and that outlast modern synthetic paints by a country mile. They even have a manifesto on their website, so check them out: 

Castle Gate Lewes
Castle Gate. Oh, there's a castle. And an ancient Brewery. And a river. And a prison. And a huge bonfire ritual that draws thousands each November the 5th. See, magic. Told ya.

It was a daydreaming kind of day. I got back and started assembling my scraps and ephemera. I've started working in books again, I think it's something to do with hibernation season. I collect textures and prints I like from magazines, cutting them into strips and squares. This week I actually bought some wallpaper samples from I feel like this is a step further into "crafting" then I've been previously. You can get wallpaper samples free from certain places, even online, where you just pay for postage. But I was particularly taken with some dark designs by Clarke and Clarke that feature interesting and unusual naturalist designs, so I forked out the 70p for each A4 sheet. I wasn't disappointed. 

John Wilmot penned his poetry
Riddled with the pox
Nabokov wrote on index cards
At a lectern, in his socks
St. John of the Cross did his best stuff
Imprisoned in a box
And Johnny Thunders was half alive
When he wrote Chinese Rocks


Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles

while writing Das Kapital
And Gaugin, he buggered off, man,
and went all tropical
While Philip Larkin stuck it out
in a library in Hull
And Dylan Thomas died drunk in
St. Vincent's hospital

When it's dark and gloomy, it's sometimes hard to see the purpose of making things. But as Mr. Cave sings, Johnny Thunders was half alive and producing his best work, and Philip Larkin stuck it out in a library in Hull of all Godforsaken places, and he kept making his things
 even in dark times. So why shouldn't we?

Ephemera and Collage Scraps
I travelled back in time and cut these up in the yellow 1970's. Shout out to my cheap Wilko lamp for giving me lomo grade grain in these snaps of scaps.

Clarke and Clarke Wallpaper Scraps
Imagine making a wallpaper design called "Extinct" and putting Dodo's and bones on it. Absolute genius. And those classical stars.

Scrapbooking and Collage
That candle FLOODED my desk with light and cured my SAD. 

Art Journal Paper Collage
Dark, retro florals, ribcage dress embroidery, and red and midnight blue velvet. And Nick Cave lyrics. And bone printed wallpaper. What is the theme?