Sunday, 19 April 2015

Craft Fair Weather Friends

On Saturday 11th April the accolade of my first market of the year went to Three Thinking Collective, a group of small-business-owning ladies from Birmingham who have come together to put on their own craft events. Their debut market took place on a sunny day in The Prince of Wales' beer garden in Moseley; soon bustling with punters looking to enjoy some independent shopping & hot dogs in the sunshine, all washed down with a cheeky pint.

My offerings included zines, limited edition prints, and my new line of silly boyband cards. Not an expert stall holder by any means, my arrangement was a far cry from some vendours who had stands, shelves, vintage suitcases; all manner of professional-looking props to make their products look the biz, also maximising the use of the table space by showcasing upwards and outwards. For me, this was the first time I'd even brought my own table covering and, whilst it was an old duvet cover, I took pride in that. I also managed to prop Bill Murray up steadfast & certain, meaning that, despite the bursts of wind rippling though the patio, he wasn't going anywhere.

The day was a really positive experience and organisers Kate, Lydia & Harriet were upbeat, welcoming and warm hosts who even brought round coffee and biscuits, thus making me fall hopelessly in love with them. Whilst my stuff sold well, in all sincerity the most important product of the day was found in sharing experiences, ideas, hopes and fears with fellow exhibitors, as sometimes trying to make sense of what is and isn't working within your own creative business can be really tricky, making pools of like-minded supportive makers a valuable asset.

Nice people I met included my stall neighbour Danann Swanton, who has self-penned a book (no biggie) called Out On The Piste, Richard Lovatt of Automaton whose radish-fronted sketchbook made me coo and illustrator Natalie Ann who had knitted owls and other treasures developed using characters from her own children's books. My favourite element of the day was a raffle to raise money for The Prince's Trust with stallholders donating items as prizes, to which I submitted the original drawing of my Django Unchained illustration, created as part of BADASS. Befittingly the winner ran up to me slightly breathless and wearing shades, so I know he has gone to a good home.

As the day drew to a close and the sun finally made its way round to my stall, I drew forth my own pair of sunglasses and momentarily basked in it like a salamander, here captured by Laurie Ramsell. I'm delighted to say that Three Thinking have invited me back to exhibit at their next event at Urban Coffee Company in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. This second creative adventure takes place on Thursday 14th May, 5-8pm making it the perfect post-work tonic. Full details are available via their event page. Come up and see me, make me smile.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Easter Inspiration

I decided to take some of my own advice and forged out some space to go on a little Easter adventure. A couple of days running amok in the capital has reset my mounting stress levels back to a cool 0 and I feel strangely refreshed for someone who spent the majority of the weekend underground. Here are some of the things I got up to.

Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea
Fighting past all the little knee-high monsters queuing to the see the dinosaurs, I visited the temporary Coral Reefs exhibition at the National History Museum. Not usually inspired by natural forms, the different shapes and textures were enchanting, lending themselves to different types of mark-making. Some of the names were also amazing, such as Slipper Coral and Potato Chip Coral. Sounds like a good combination for a night in if you ask me.

Pangea II: New Art From Africa And Latin America
I always like to wander into Saatchi when I'm in London. I mean, it's free, and always full of art that I find I can absorb at a leisurely pace. Pangea II's materiality game was strong, showcasing innovative use of different types of paints, graphite powder, relief cutting and recycled materials such as plastic bags and tyres. My favourite room housed paintings by Federico Herrero (pictured below) alongside mixed media ceramics by Pia Camil, here seen sketched by me. The conversation between the two artist's work was really rich, the paintings making me think of vibrant landscapes of fields, water, soil and sand; the ceramics with an earthy quality, contrasting with their scrumptious graphic shapes and pleasing formal arrangement.

God's Own Junkyard
If I put a call-out for a travel companion it would have to include "willing to trek to an industrial estate in Walthamstow at the promise of neon". Luckily I have Laurie Ramsell who didn't bat an eyelid at this prospect, and after some careful navigation we were soon having an overpriced Red Stripe in a neon wonderland. Housing a cafe by the name of The Rolling Scones, God's Own Junkyard is filled with light from a vast collection of neons, vintage bulb signs and old movie props, all collected, salvaged or made by "Neon Man" Chris Bracey. A veritable punchbowl for the senses, it was a fascinating space that made me think conjured daydreams of societal vices, perceptions of glamour and their role in the pursuit of fun in its purest form. Cheers to that.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

#1.1 HOW TO: Begin Again

It's funny how things work out.

In January 2014 I wrote a post called How To Begin. Some of you may even have read it. The first instalment of a new project; a monthly creative HOW TO driven by things I've learned about the things I'm trying to get better at, I said. Well monthly it was not, despite my greatest intentions, leading to a wonderfully ironic first step; a beginning with nothing to follow it. I should be a little embarrassed about not meeting this public claim, but I have been guilty of setting myself unachievable goals, infinite to-do lists and exhibiting symptoms of too-many-ideas-at-once syndrome throughout my life; half-finished ambitious personal projects being one of them.

Trying hard always has the potential to lead to falling harder. We are particularly susceptible to suffering damage when we truly put ourselves into something as it's all too easy to take the results personally, creating and dwelling on problems with our very self rather than the specific task or particular instance that can really affect our confidence towards moving forward. It's like an elastic band: the more energy put in, the more that can come back and smack us in the face. The thing is, these efforts are also where the sweetest successes could be waiting for us; the deepest loves, the truest passions, the greatest achievements. The rewards, it would seem, are worth the risk. But how do we convince ourselves of that when we are feeling the effects of a personal failure?

Sometimes it can be really hard to climb out of a big ol' creative bunker, especially if an idea has fallen flat or faded away. A false start could just signal that it wasn't meant to happen here and/or now rather than not at all. Perhaps we need to develop the idea or ourselves before it will take off, or maybe it's a case of working with others, steering it in a different direction, or simply testing it more in order to solve existing problems. There is no amount of preparation, dedication or worry that can guarantee success so we have to learn the phoenix's trick; rising from the ashes of negativity to begin all over again, brighter and stronger than ever.

We have to admit that knock backs of any kind (coming from others, or just within ourselves) is the natural course of life. Whilst they will affect some more than others, I'm very interested in how we can continue to begin again and again and again as creatives; how we can keep getting back onto the proverbial horse in order to push ourselves, and thus evolve our style, skills and ways of working.

With that in mind, here are my 5 steps to doggedly, unashamedly, begin again; Usain Bolt style.

- Don't Panic. Whatever the cause to begin again, rationalise the situation and reflect on what you want to achieve. Putting pressure on yourself, beating yourself up for past mistakes, or wildly throwing your limbs around in hysteria won't solve anything, apart from increasing your anxiety towards the very thought of actually trying again. If you're clouded with negativity you won't be able to see a way out, so turn your feelings into something positive or constructive as quickly as you can. I find laughing about it can help, as well as reflecting through writing your thoughts down. You'll be amazed at how soon these reflections can turn into a new action plan.

- Rekindle Your Spark. Take yourself out, go see an exhibition or venture somewhere that inspires you. Let yourself have ideas. Find yourself some physical and mental space. Be good to yourself and reap the rewards.

- When In Doubt, Pow Wow It Out. I love holding a good pow wow in a time of crisis or transition, and by that I just mean getting together with someone or a small group of trusted compadres to talk it out. Things seem a lot tougher when held inside your own head alongside worries and fears, and different viewpoints will allow you to gain broader perspective. You don't even need a sharing stick, or Native American headdresses, but in my experience pow wows are absolutely best accompanied by brunch, burgers and/or good coffee.

- Motivational Tunes. No matter what your style, sticking on some music can have a serious impact on your mood. Don't wallow away listening to heartbreak jams in your PJs, put on some strong tunes and pull out some big creative moves! Whether it's reflective, productive or a full on power number, surround yourself with good vibrations. I have even created a How To Begin Again playlist to start you off.

- Look Backwards, Then Forwards. This principle works in two ways. You've done it before and you can do it again; so for example if you're bricking it about beginning a new drawing / article / event, just think, you survived it last time, and remember how turbo-charged you felt when it was finished. Even if this project is new for you, think about how you've applied your skills and attributes before and how they will aid you in this new venture. Also, take time to give credit where credit is due; looking back on what you've achieved will make you feel proud of your accomplishments, as well as identifying anything you would alter or build upon moving forwards. This will help identify precisely what, when and how you should begin again, increasing chances of success.

Now, I won't promise you another #howtoillo post in a month, but it probably won't be a year and a half away either. Thanks for reading, and get in touch; I'd love to know how you guys keep and create momentum.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Cowboys & Robots & Sharks, Oh My!

Another weekend, another fun-filled workshop with Flatpack. This one was centred around youngsters designing their own film posters, using my illustrated kit sheet, coloured paper and letter stencils. Held in mac birmingham's public space alongside illustration heroes Anorak, it was really busy with crowds seeming to come in waves, filling the space to burst between screenings and crucial family food breaks. It was wonderful to be sat at the table myself, listening to the participants' ideas for their films, what art class was like at their schools and of course, helping with the cutting out, with some kids staying happily and crafting their masterpieces for hours.

As I had hoped the illustrated elements had got their imaginations working, with Antonio's robot movie (above) centred around the red robot capturing 3 magical diamonds to give him the power to defeat the villainous cowboy. There was even some hybridisation to create new mutant characters, such as the surely straight-to-video cult classic ROBOSHARK ATTACKS featuring an epic battle with some kind of sneaky dinosaur shark.

A particular shout out to Blair (below) who created a complex quasilinear narrative to connect nearly all of the characters, so much so that we needed to extend the canvas to panoramic dimensions just to fit all the action in. I think it's a space western set underwater, with a dragon, so look out for that coming to cinemas near you later this year.

Monday, 30 March 2015

How to Get Big on the Internet

I recently attended the last in a series of Creative How To talks by Amy Martin, entitled How to Get Big on the Internet. No stranger to this manner of creative career navigation session (having followed the previous Cannon Hill Lectures series at mac birmingham and generally spending time gathering as many nuggets of wisdom about how to move forward in the arts as possible), I was surprised by how much the talk gripped me by the shoulders and gave me a renewed sense of optimism towards my own online presence.

The exciting part was that the internet had aided the careers of each speaker in lots of different ways, including being asked to speak at events, run workshops and write articles directly as a result of the content they create and distribute online. It was these potential benefits to social media engagement that I had begun to lose faith in, always enjoying it on a personal level but beginning to doubt if it could help me professionally; something that this session injected with a fresh sense of possibility.

Whilst it is still clear in my memory, I wanted to take the time to encapsulate some of that positive energy and share how it's impacted my creative practice in the last few weeks, inspiring me to make some changes and to generally value what I try and do with the internet a little bit more.

Here's what I took away from the lecture:

- Find the place that feels most comfortable and grow it from there. The first piece of advice that resonated with me came from People shop owner and all round nice lady Allison Sadler. She explained that she feels at home on instagram (describing it as "like wearing slippers") so shares content on there the most, using other avenues without trying to bring them up to equal standing. She made me realise that my followers rise on twitter over other channels for a reason, reflecting my preference of how and where to share. Using which online space works best for me to the best effect seems the best way to grow, rather than trying to catch 'em all.

- Regularity doesn't have to be a chore. Allison also demonstrated that posting regularly can be fun. She will engage meaningfully with her instagram audience daily and holds a #makeitsewcial hashtag every Monday morning, meaning people always know where to find her. This really utilises her online communities and creates conversations rather than one-way posting, and made me see the benefits of keeping specific posting patterns.

- Share your passion. Hearing about charming vlogger Choncey's passions has inspired me to branch out with what I share. Whilst illustration and drawing are my core passions and the reason I have a website / blog / social media channels in the first place, I am also in love with writing, visiting new places, seeing visual art, music and wellbeing. I think letting these influences shine through might be the key to not only generating more content to blog, but also a way to show more of myself, contextualising my illustration work and letting the audience in.

Small audiences are okay. This tip came from Chris Unitt from One Further, describing how his subscribers may only be a couple of hundred people, but they are the couple of hundred people with an interest in his niche skill set and the people that could give him work. This reminded me of the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to harnessing connections online, rather than getting big on the internet for the sake of it.

Use your unfair advantage. I also really dig this advice from Chris. He's currently using his knowledge of digital analytics to put new project Artful Jobs ahead in the job website game, because this is something largely un-utilised by his competitors. Tapping into my own special skills in this way could set me apart from other illustrators and create new opportunities for me as a creative practitioner. Having had a think these could include my way with words, the strong research methodology behind my work and that I create my illustrations by hand in a largely digital industry, perhaps things that I should show off more to potential clients.

Big up to all the speakers for being themselves and for sharing such useful anecdotes. The first testament to this session is that I have actually blogged about it (and that you are reading it) and I am now zealously planning lots more posts and online creative moves such as regular online features, improving my website to reflect my broader skills and having a go at vlogging. Yahtzee.

You can find online resources from the session on the How to get Big on the Internet tumblr page.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Character Factory

This weekend I led my first ever workshop. a little drop-in number for kids following Flatpack Film Festival's Cartoon Rock screening. I was crazy nervous in the run up, partly because I haven't conducted workshops of my own design before and didn't know what to expect, but also due to imagining kids swallowing small parts or getting paper cuts - I mean, nobody likes a boo-boo. Armed with safety scissors, pritt sticks & a variety of coloured paper shapes (lovingly hand cut, like posh chips) I descended on the Birmingham & Midland Institute and got set up.

Fresh out of a morning film session and armed with bowls of cereal, lots of children filled the tables and began working with the shapes in front of them. Circulating and chatting to the families taking part, it was nice to see both parties regarding the creations as characters with personalities and traits, with one little girl making a rather abstract fellow called "plap-plap" who enjoyed drinking wine, with another youngster declaring their creature's favourite food was "vegetarian fruit". The shapes began to come alive with the imagination of their maker.

As we were tidying up a lady who had been working feverishly on her laptop throughout the session said the kids on her table looked like they were having so much fun, both quashing my workshop fears and aptly summarising the day by adding, "Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best".

Special thanks to Laurie & John Ramsell for testing out The Character Factory format and making the impressive array of creatures at the top of this post, and to everyone for coming along and not swallowing the apparatus.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

It Only Takes A Minute, Girl

What started off as a whimsical idea at the gym (upon hearing a Blue song for the first time in years) turned quickly into a moderate-sized mission. Deciding to design some 90s / 00s boyband cards ready for Valentine's Day seemed like a laugh, and I spent lots of time researching cheesy lyrics and discussing the final selection with friends, but I had not anticipated the hours spent perfecting facial hair and pouts that this series would involve. Finding the band members incredibly difficult to draw on first attempts, I identified that this was not only because I was rushing them, but also due to the fact that I was trying to achieve the portraits as part of group shots at a smaller scale, with the designs only really coming together once I super-sized each character's face separately before reassembling them (with some poor buggers like Duncan, Spike and Nick Carter still looking pretty fruity).

Managing to realise a capsule collection of 4 designs in time for V-Day, I selected hit songs Rule The World, As Long As You Love Me, Private Number and Guilty as the inspirationsadly having to abandon my other chart toppers for time's sake (never has the number of members in Blazing Squad looked so daunting).

My original remit for the cards was that they should be appealing to both lovers and friends, encouraging people to express different forms of love on 14th February beyond the traditional romantic kind. Bromances, palentines, you name it; the nineties taught me everything I know about love, i.e. that friendship is absolutely as important as being part of a couple. Created with my besties in mind, it felt nice to send them a little something as a reminder of how much I love them, as well as pleasing my Take That-loving colleagues at work no end.

Far from my best drawings, this series has been quite a turning point for me because it has been a great exercise in creating products, working desperately to make turnaround times and finding the strength to see ideas through, pushing past when I really started to doubt whether it was worth it. It's also been handy to try out the small run on a new supplier, falling hook line and sinker for their gesso stock cards and kraft envelopes, so I will have an added confidence through this finish if producing more designs in future.

In fact, if this bunch is anything to go by, I should probably get started on Christmas.
(I won't).

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bread Cat

Dogs were so last year. (Sorry, Magic).

Easing myself into 2015 gently, this little commission for The World of Internet Cats event as part of Flatpack Film Festival couldn't have come at a better time.

After declaring it a dream brief and diving straight into hours of rigorous research (watching countless cat videos on youtube) I chose to focus on the phenomena of cat breading. Keeping the image square was a conscious decision to make it an ideal instagram-sharing shape, whilst also neatly framing the slice of bread (which is neatly framing the cat). The kitty in question is Snoopybabe, an instagram star, and the heartbreaking filling to this fluffy illustration sandwich. Just look at that face.

The event is in conjunction with F A M A L A M, exploring parenting and play in the 21st Centry, and after being carefully curated by nippers under 5 years the screening will take place on Saturday 21st March. To find out more click here, where you can also recommend cat videos for inclusion.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

December Magic

So what have I been up to for the rest of December? Mostly drawing dogs, like this guy here, who is called Magic. Commissioned by the owner's niece, I really enjoyed capturing his ruffly neck and loyal face, with my pencil dancing happily around the page for the duration of the process. Despite not being a pet portrait aficionado, being approached to knock out a few in the run up to Chrismukkah has been a lovely way to connect with people and make them something they consider to be special (aww). Gush, happy holidays everyone, have a magic time.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Collective Happiness

Photograph by Unfinished Business

Now in it's third year, the Cannon Hill Collective at mac birmingham has been part of my Tuesday night life for some time now; from being a member myself back in 2012-13, to now helping make it all happen for new cohorts in my current job. A lively programme to say this least, this week it went up a notch with the group working on a series of exercises as part of Change My Mind: a project by London-based performance company Unfinished Business. This involved taking over mac's main gallery for the duration of the week, with UB transforming it's colossal frame into something strangely intimate and even cozy. With decks, food, colourful lighting and somewhere to get comfortable, it had all the makings of, well a pretty great party, but in reality what manifested worked on more levels than that, with Leo Kay & Anna Smith making all the artists in the room come over all introspective through meditation, philosophy, collective decision-making, trust exercises, free writing and music.

Watching this story unfold throughout the week was wonderful, and to be touched by its ideas and teachings was very liberating, as the people around me were trying things they'd never tried before with open minds, showing how easy it can be to just give it a go if you break down new territory collectively. We were like a strange little tribe dwelling at the heart of the busy building, yet in a world entirely of our own design.

Beyond it all, getting to hang out with the group was a real joy, and weirdly I didn't even miss the gallery having static art inside it.

Here is what some of the team had to say about it:

Going on Camera - Jess May Davies
Cannon Hill Collective 2014-15 - Murdock Ramone