Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

York Model Railway Museum and the 1:72 Scale Axis of Evil

Having suffered the indignity of being dumped - usurped, you might say - from my long reign at the top, the peak, the summit, the acme, the pinnacle of my Fantasy Football League by the multiple goal scoring feats of bearded Scouse homunculus Wayne Rooney, I was looking for some solace in Dara O'Briain's thoughts on him. ("That's not the face of a major footballing star, that's a minor hurler from Offaly who got lucky. Look at the way the sunlight dances off his ears. Hear the wind whistle through his teeth - it says whhhhayne..." and so on.)

Couldn't find it, though, so I shall content myself with the reason I went past this notable English tourist attraction on the train last year and, travelling alone, burst out laughing in public merely at seeing the sign.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Long Damp Knight of the Soul

I had hoped to be cracking on with my first ever comic strip job by now (no money, but "sixteen pages of mutant cat action") but we still haven't moved yet. We're waiting on a damp and timber fellow today, so it's probably the first comic strip to be vitally connected with damp proofing since Batman vs Swamp Thing: Convey My Regrets, with its wonderful sequence - unforgettably illustrated by Frank Miller - where the Dark Knight, pursuing a claim over unnecessary treatment for wood beetle infestation, enters the twilight world of Gotham's small claims courts.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Richard's Status:

The house buying process is making him want to enter unnamed law practitioners' place of work and lay about him with a woollen sock full of manure.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Give Way To Liquid Lino

So, my first ever linocut (not illustrated), apart from the one I did at middle school where I dug holes right though the lino, was a quick sketch of a fishing boat at sea. I made it up out of my head and it didn't take very long, and I did the pressing part with a spoon, but the point was just to see how it turned out. It wasn't great. But it did push the door open a little and the whole process of inking up and peeling off a print, amateurish as it was, was very exciting. I shall return. But the main effect was to make me look again at some linocut artists that I like and marvel anew at their ability to combine technical skill with an artistic sensibility. I struggled with one layer of black ink; Bernard Green, splendid Welsh artist, worked up to twelve layers and the results were tremendously subtle and complex:

Bernard Green, Evening Ffynonfaethog

I temporarily forgot Bernard Green's name and while I was desperately Googling "Welsh" and "linocut" I had a happy accident and discovered Ian Phillips who includes something very Japanese in his landscapes of Wales. His works shows the great vibrancy of colour, strength of form and surprising flexibility that linocut can have in the right hands.

I find these inspiring and daunting in about equal measures.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Joy of Sets

Quite apart from being wonderful in its own right, this neatly explains the pleasure to be had in making marks upon a piece of clean paper.

To quote the British Printing Society, "There are some people, who for all normal purposes seem rational, become weak at the knees at the thought of applying inked letters or images on to paper."

And the machines - oh, man, the machines are lovely.

There's Nothing Like a Good Scratch

I have a distinct memory from school of trying scraperboard for the first time, and I liked then all the same things that I like now. There's the satisfyingly black blackness of the ink, the lovely contrast of the white as it's revealed, and the approach you need in your mind, nicely inverted from drawing, as you add the light areas light rather than shadow. The variety of effect is interesting, too - from big, chunky 'woodcut' finishes to very fine 'engraving.'

It has its limitations, obviously; if you're a bit energetic with the cut you can go through ink and plaster alike and end up cutting cardboard, and the white areas can be a bit mottled as the China clay underneath is yellowish - this is probably why scraperboard is more suited to images to be reproduced electronically as these imperfections can be removed. But the advantages I think more than make up for it; it's cheaper than engraving or woodcuts (if you get it wrong you don't maff up a tenner's worth of boxwood), and you've got that same variety of style available to you.

I started off using the standard tools, and the ivied oak tree was done using these. Perhaps inevitably my disturbingly anal interest in detail began to creep in, and I wasn't happy with the fineness of the line I could get with the ordinary tools, so I made my own. I used an ordinary pin and Araldited it into the end of an old ballpoint pen; it had a nicely cushioned grip and I can't begin to describe the pleasure of making the infinitessimally fine line in the black ink. Magic. I used this to do these two portraits.

It has disadvantages. The pins lose their sharpness quite quickly, and I had to use emery paper to restore the point. This means that the pin wears down surprisingly quickly, and if you've Araldited a pin into a pen you can't get it out, so don't use a pen you're particularly fond of. I tried hardening the next one by heating the pin in the gas hob, and this seemed to keep the point a bit longer, but also became brittle and snapped while I was sharpening it. Now I'm using the body of a disposable propelling pencil, seeing as they seem to be throwaway tools. I'd like to discover a method of replacing the pin without chucking away the pen. As soon as I know, so shall you, dear reader.

I did discover, though, that if you cock it up a little an area can be slightly rescued by re-inking with a drawing pen that uses an indian-type ink. If you leave it to dry, the ink can be delicately re-scratched, providing you didn't go through the China clay layer to begin with. I can't tell you how badly wrong I got the eyes on Wee Hughie there, but I managed to drag them back to something like respectability by these means.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Fold, Stick or Twist

In today's business marketplace, good design is most obviously evident in the paradigm of the practical, where an easily facilitated consumer interface enacts the brand ethos.

Fig. 1:

Update: apparently this video is being much enjoyed, via a blog which embedded it from Colin's Flickr page, by the Brompton community of Japan.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


Last summer I read Jenny Uglow's excellent biography of Thomas Bewick, Nature's Engraver. There's a good review of it here, which will give some idea of his life and times in Northumberland. (That's a "rough northern region" of England, as the reviewer helpfully points out.) My mother had it on her shelves, which was coincidental as I'd been doing a lot of browsing about various kinds of print making - woodcut, wood engraving, etching - and made my first attempt at a linocut (not illustrated.)

He turned out to be a fascinating man, but the real interest lies in the fact that he was something of a genius. His skill with engraving tools was truly remarkable for observation and detail - many of the blocks from which the prints were taken are only about one or two inches wide and cut with such fine detail the technical feat on its own would be remarkable even if they weren't so fondly observed and beautifully full of life.

The Thomas Bewick Society has a very fine web site where you can find all manner of interesting things, not least more of his beautiful work. Clicking on his fizzog below will take you there.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

My Lovely Dawes

I know, it's supposed to be a blog for artistic musings, and I have got plans for a post discussing heavyweight cartridge paper (yes - I can sense your anticipation, it's almost feral) but I bought this splendid thing yesterday.
It's a Dawes Warwick. Some interweb nerdism reveals very little, but it's from about 1984 and isn't a great lost classic but a decent mid-range pootler, which will do me. I've already stripped it down to the frame; mudguards, lights, all cables, tyres and wheels will be replaced, and I'm de-griming the gears etc. to see what they're like underneath the cack. I've ordered a new set of decals and I'm already thinking about what colour to have it resprayed. Perhaps a heart warmingly lovely Britsh Racing Green. Mmmmmm Racing Green...

Anyway, it's a sign of things to come. We're moving back to a part of the world where I can get out on a bike without feeling like I'm about to be hoovered under the wheels of Norbert Dentressangle or petulently swiped aside by some wide boy in his pimped up Corsa, and I can't wait.

Finally, a word on the collection: I'd like to thank the planners of the Midlands for putting at least three roads with the same name within a couple of miles of each other; I'd like to thank the seller who waited so patiently; I'd like to thank the lady who we interrupted in the course of her evening and asked for a bicycle she did not have but who was helpful anyway; I'd like to thank the gentleman who tried to help us despite the fact I appeared not to know the name or address of who I was looking for; I'd like to thank my partner Laura who lent me her mobile phone; I'd like to thank my mother who logged on to my eBay account to access the message containing the seller's phone number; I'd like to thank myself most of all, for not bringing my own mobile, for not knowing the seller's name, and most of all for getting his house number completely wrong in the first place and making us an hour late. I still say eighteen sounds confusingly like eleven.

That's not our kitchen, by the way, it's the eBay image. In the photo I took our house was such a mess I was too ashamed to post it.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Saddled Up

I've bought a saddle! Now all I need is a bicycle.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Rust Never Sleeps

I love rust, me.

One of my most exciting photographic trips out was the time my frie
nd Colin and I sneaked into the sidings at Carnforth and spent a good couple of hours poking around among the quietly redundant rolling stock. It was marvellous. I'm not particularly into trains as such, but they were satisfyingly large pieces of engineering; peeling surfaces, compartment handles smoothed by years of use, greasy springs (leaf and coil), glass dials, a driver's coat and hat stiff with oil and damp still hanging in a cab, paint receding through layer upon layer of decaying colour. Fantastic.

We were temporarily in the custody of the police later on when we were poking around Heysham ferry terminal. There was a small wait while they checked if I was the Richard Johnson who had jumped bail in Warrington. The WPC who was with them at least had a sense of humour ("Do we need the guns?") and wasn't as baffled as her more bovine colleagues by photo after photo of rust in close-up.
Finally they realised that we posed no threat to national security and we weren't about to steal a ferry, and warned us that a) if we took photos near the power station we could be shot, and b) "These days" we had to be careful where we took photographs, e.g. near playgrounds, schools, anywhere outdoors, etc. Colin, who had the previous day been taking pictures of a colourful climbing frame, said "Funny you should mention that..." How they laughed.

One of my favourite photographs, that one at the top of the post there, came from that afternoon, and one day I'll start working it up into a painting.
Until then, a painting of something else pleasantly weathered, the registration number of a Belfast fishing boat in Eyemouth harbour.

The Lesser of Two Weevils

Waiting to move house.

It's driving me slowly up the wall.

I've packed away all my painting and drawing stuff so I'm at something of a loose end, which may explain why I'm bidding for a bicycle on eBay and formulating plans to make it a "project" for when we move. I nearly bought some new alloy wheels for it but buying new wheels with money I don't really have for a bike I don't own just for the sake of having something diverting to do seemed a step too far.In an attempt to give me useful and absorbing things to do, like a child kept indoors on a rainy day, my partner Laura urged me to start with my blog, so:

One of
the last things I completed was a set of six drawings of beetles. I like beetles. I was going to sell them as cards but as I used existing and copyrighted images, after a sleepless night I decided against it, but they were enjoyable to do anyway and I like the way they turned out. (Site is here if you wish to marvel, and marvel you shall, not least at my barefaced cheek.)

y're done in coloured pencils on cartridge paper, edged in Indian ink.

I used a Rotring pen, a 0.25. I now have another three Rotring Rapidographs.

I got the set for £27.

Why, yes, they
were on eBay.


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