Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash

This mock-up cover uses a drawing a I made for the Streetmeat 25th Anniversary Edition, published last year. As a cyberpunk-inspired comic, the imagery easily lends itself to other applications within that sub-genre of sci-fi, as I think this design proves. Snow Crash was Stephenson’s first novel, and has been canonized alongside William Gibson’s Neuromancer as a prescient vision of a future that has yet to happen, and it’s interesting to go back now to those novels and see what elements they successfully predicted, and what they didn’t. Fair play to them for having the vision and the conviction to follow it through, as I don’t see many writers these days trying to imagine what the next 30 years might be like, given that we genuinely don’t know what tomorrow might bring.

Richard Mabey: Turning The Boat For Home

Another day, another new mock-up cover. Richard Mabey was a ‘nature writer’ long before such a term had ever been coined, and published his memoir Nature Cure years before that became a marketable concept. One of his earliest book – The Unofficial Countryside – brought the BBC knocking for him to make a documentary about the flora and fauna to be found in what’s now termed the ‘edgelands’ of Britain’s towns and cities. Shown in 1975 as part of The World About Us, the film is a reminder of how these things used to be done, before celebrity presenters, patronising presentation and and compulsory amazement became the industry standard.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Presenting an apocalyptically-themed painting right at this moment in time may seem to some like poor taste, but I just thought “if not now, when?” I originally made this painting in 2017, part of a planned triptych of paintings inspired by W.B. Yeats’ “hideous warning” of a poem: ‘The Second Coming‘. The first one in that triptych was ‘The Falcon Cannot Hear The Falconer’:

And this was the original version of the last painting in the planned triptych: ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’:

But, to be honest, I was never satisfied with it. At the time I was still in thrall to influences that had run their course, and what should have been a far bolder image was something of a failure, at least in my mind. Earlier this year I’d become extremely frustrated with my whole painting process, and felt an insistent need to change my approach. So I dug this canvas out of ‘storage’ (alright, from the pile of unsold paintings under my bed), erased the background (using Dulux matt emulsion match pots) and let it sit on the shelf above my desk, glowering at me, daring me to “grow a pair” and actually do something with it. So, yesterday, after several weeks of increasingly grim and dire news about Cyrus the Virus, I decided to go at it, “like a tiger goes at a pig”, to quote Uncle Ted Hughes. I made a right old mess, splattering paint, smearing it with rags and anything else that came to hand, and this afternoon I decided it was finished:

I’m pleased with how it’s turned out, and feel is stands as a useful transition point between the way I used to work and how I intend to work from now on. My other new painting – which I hope to finish in the next day or so – takes things to the next level. I’m enthusiastic about painting again, and about ‘art’ in general, which is ironic given that right now the planet it giving humanity a bit of an overdue kicking, and in that context carefully arranging dirt on a canvas panel seems pretty irrelevant but, when in doubt, I reach for a quote to make my point, so here’s Gandhi:

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

An old drawing for a new poster. The ink drawing dates back to around 2011-12, and has always had the potential for application in a graphic design. The trick was determining which design. I think I got it right. The last Cave/Bad Seeds album – Ghosteen – was great, and if society manages to reorient itself by October, this promises to be quite a show. I picked Vancouver because it’s one of the best cities I’ve ever visited, and if I ever get the chance to go there again, I won’t be coming back.

Work In Progress

An update on my latest painting. It’s going really well. I’ve barely used a brush, and have instead used anything that comes to hand – plastic bags, wads of sellotape, the edge of old CD’s – to get it to this stage. After a decade of working so carefully and with such exactitude on each atom of the painting’s surface, to now be slapping it on with such abandon feels utterly liberating. Not that I’ve totally abandoned my old ways of working. There’s areas of fine detail and what I was after was a dramatic tension between order and chaos and I think it’s working. I’m hoping to have it finished by the weekend.

Peter Matthiessen: The Snow Leopard

I did a mock-up cover for this book years ago, but I was never wholly satisfied with it. This upgraded version is better, at least in my eyes it is. It’s a strange book, that I first properly read cover to cover when I was enduring a prolonged bout of insomnia. I lay harrowingly awake for 5 nights in a row, and the only thing to distract my restless brain was following Matthiessen on his strange quest through the Himalayas, in search of… something. By the end of the book you understand that he was never really looking for the elusive panthera uncia, he was looking for something in his own soul, and by the end of the book I finally managed to sleep again, but the experience of those few days has never left me. As disconcerting as it was at the time, it was also strangely exhilirating, and all the paintings and drawings I’ve done of snow leopards down the years are my attempts to somehow get back to that altered state of consciousness.

George R.R. Martin: A Song Of Ice And Fire

Another new book design. I’ve used an element of a drawing a made in 2017 (as a birthday gift for a former work colleague and Game Of Thrones fan) for this mock-up cover, which tries to encapsulate the whole book series in a single image. That in itself is a seemingly impossible task, as it’s such an insanely sprawling saga, but focussing on the key words ‘ice’ and ‘fire’ offers an obvious design solution. I watched all seasons of the TV adaptation, and enjoyed it all (yes, even the “controversial” last season), but it’s only recently that I’ve started reading the books. Two volumes in and it’s already clear how much theĀ  HBO adaptation deviated from the original text. The primary visual motifs – the dragons and the White Walkers – are very much in the background of what is an intensely human drama, but there’s no way that the human element of the story can compete – on a visual level, at least – with massive fire-breathing dragons and blood-thirsty ice zombies. This image melds an ink drawing with an old (2010) painting, all heavily manipulated using Photoshop but intended to look like the kind of covers you might see in the mid-90’s, when the first book in the series was published. I could have gone on dicking about with it forever, but stopped as soon as it reached a point where I thought ‘if I saw that in a bookshop, I’d pick it up.’

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