Here’s my 2009 painting ‘Punk:rock’ from the Project Mogwai series, mocked up as a cover for Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming which, to this day, remains the definitive article on the rise and fall of punk in the UK. Every few years it gets reprinted and every time the cover design is, to quote Ron Asheton of The Stooges, “weak.” Consider this my attempt to provide a more viable alternative. I was just a bit too young to catch the full blast of punk when it exploded in the mid-1970’s, but I was there for the aftermath and will I freely admit that while Sturgeon’s Law applies to most of punk, it was a vital and necessary cultural diarrhetic and we could do with something similar today because here we are, almost 50 years later, and I haven’t heard anything that “slaps” as good as this:
The test of a poet’s vision, one might say, is the accuracy of his portrayal of the white goddess and of the island over which she rules.
I’ve not done a book cover mock-up for a while, so here’s my 2021 drawing ‘The Sorceress’ used to the effect for which it was probably always intended. The graphic designer that my teenage self dreamed that I would one day become (but who did absolutely sweet FA in order to achieve that goal) has never died, and from time to time he stirs from his stupor, throws himself at the walls of his dungeon and demands an audience.
You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much has changed since the last update, especially as during the week I get no painting done at all, but this is where I had got to after a furious day’s activity yesterday. All the work done focussed on the trees, deepening the shadows and enhancing the lighter areas. That part of the painting is almost finished now, leaving me to concentrate on the lower half of the painting, especially the collapsing wall and the path. This painting has been an education in terms of how to make a convincing landscape, revealing the errors in my default mode of working, and forcing me to evolve as an artist. The principle lesson has been – as if I didn’t already know – “more black”, as defined in this useful quote from John Burnside:
The times comes when each of us sees a blackness in the world: a black in the green of leaf and river, a black in the liht of noon, a blackness in the gaze of an animal encountered some early morning in the summer grass. There is a blackness in everything that is, a darkness that is hard to see, more often than not a blackness that is not only necessary, but also for the best. For the best.
Watched Nomadland last night. I know, I know, two years after everybody else but, to be honest, if I ever did find myself with my finger on the throbbing pulse of the “zeitgeist” I’d be concerned. I’m still trying to grapple with mobile phones, and it’s not that I don’t understand, it’s just that I don’t care. Anyway, I really enjoyed the film, which is my kind of film, the kind where “nothing happens.” It’s quality can be measured by the inverse proportion of the number of helicopters featured in it. Great music throughout, which really added to the poignant and elegaic tone. Recommended.
I’m currently writing my second novel, The Falconer’s Knot, and I’m already thinking about how to present it as a finished book. A commonly-used device is to “appropriate” (alright, steal) the very familiar design template set down by Penguin Paperbacks decades ago. This makes sense, as it’s the shark of book designs, evolutionarily perfect from every angle and reliably efficient, but it does lead to a certain homogeneity on the shelves, especially in the ‘Independent Publishers’ section. All that said, I thought I’d try out options, using a scan of the original painting. I’m not sure if any of these will end up on the book when it is eventually published, but it is a useful part of the creative process.
An update on the current painting. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you’re not gawping at spreadsheets for 10 hours a day. I’ve done lots of work over the past few days, tightening everything up with ultra-fine detail. I’m especially pleased with the paving slabs, and if you ever get close to the actual painting you’ll see where I’ve added faded chalk lines from long-abandoned games of hopscotch, lines that have been almost completely washed away by the rain. I know how insane that sounds, but without that level of obsessive detail I would feel like a fraud. I’m confident this will be finished by the end of the month, and really needs to be, as there’s so much else to be getting on with.
I made this painting as a Xmas gift for my wife. Small scale (8 x 10 inches), black ink on watercolour paper. It depicts one of our favourite places on Earth, at it’s absolute best… with no-one else there. If this place had a sound, it would sound like this:
My current painting, as of today. Once again, I’m reminded that there is no painting that cannot be improved by adding more black. I’m still at the frustrating stage of spending hours working on it but after the end of each session seeing little signs of progress. At such times I turn to the sage counsel of the elders, in this case Victor Hugo: “Perseverance, secret of all triumphs.”
CALVIN: This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery? If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it? And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?
HOBBES: I dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?
CALVIN: Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.
I don’t usually bother with end of year reviews or ‘best of’ lists, leaving such trivia to “journalists” who can’t be arsed, but the past 12 months have been so tumultuous for me that I wanted to assess what I have/haven’t achieved during that time. Above is just a small selection of the completed work, which includes three large paintings, a couple of smaller (A4 scale) works, along with a lot of commercial and comics work that may/not see light of day sometime in 2022. Not to mention that I also wrote, designed and published my first novel Daddy Witch, illustrated, designed and published a companion title: Laughing At The Funeral, as well as doing design work on all the Exile In The Margins titles published in 2021, and the first illustrations for new titles due in 2022. And all on top of a very demanding day job, which once again makes me wonder what “professional” artists and writers do all day. Nevertheless, I’m still disapponted and frustrated that I didn’t get more done, as the whistle of the reaper’s scythe grows louder with each passing year and there is still so much I want to do, so, in the words of Henry Rollins:
No such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time, no such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go.