Memento Mori

I found this dead juvenile Blue Tit in the garden. Barely fledged and either just out of the nest or nearly so, it was lying on the lawn where it had been dropped. Maybe a magpie got it and was scared off before it could eat it or something. I don’t know. It looked so perfect and poignant that I wanted to photograph it.

In my studio I have a kind of deliberately neglected window sill, behind a tatty curtain that came with the house, which I will replace someday ( yeah right ). This window sill is the repository for all sorts of odd stuff picked up from the garden or just accumulated. Shells, leaf skeletons, acanthus seeds, a dead hornet, small bits of blue and white pottery, fossil shells, a red rear light lens from a Morris Minor and even a few bullets from the battle of Omdurman in the Sudan that a friend gave me years ago. That sort of thing, all overlain by a drift of cobwebs.

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I laid the small corpse down on that window sill and took some shots of it, influenced by a book of John Blakemore photographs that I got recently probably, and just because it felt right.

Then I noticed that one of the larger shell fossils was shaped just right to take the dead bird. So I took some shots of it lying in state on it’s fossil shell.

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Technical stuff – I have a 49mm to 46mm reducer on my X100 which allows me to use my Nikon WC-E68 wide angle adaptor (as I mentioned in a previous post). It also allows me to use a x1 and x3 macro attachment, though not at the same time as the wide angle thingy obviously. . .

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I used the x1 and x3 together for these shots with the X100 set to macro mode. The depth of focus was pretty shallow, but the results were sharp enough when I got the distance right.

Processed in ‘Raw file converter ex powered by silkypix’. Which I have only just discovered and is brilliant once you get the hang of it. I wish it was compatible with non Fuji cameras too.

New post at Picture Book Den

http://picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk/

About how my illustration technique has evolved etc. Including a dodgy video. . .

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It’s a Hard Life. . .

Reading this excellent post on Brain Pickings,

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/05/20/bill-watterson-1990-kenyon-speech/

featuring an inspiring and wise address to students by Bill Watterson, inventor of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, on the subject of creativity and life etc, I was struck by his declaration that “My job is essentially to come up with 365 ideas a year.”

It made me wonder what my job was if considered in those terms. As a Children’s Writer/Illustrator, to keep things ticking over and my life muddling along on an even financial keel I have to come up with two ideas a year. That’s right, TWO. Call that a job??

But before you roll your eyes and groan, there is a caveat to that statement. I have to come up with two publishable ideas, two workable, saleable, marketable, appealing, enjoyable and downright inspired ideas a year, and I have to continue to work at that level year after year. I hope that makes it seem a bit less of a breeze.

Oh, and of course I actually have to do the artwork.

I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s hard grind or anything, and I’m not trying to elicit your sympathy, just to add a bit of perspective. Of course it’s a great way to earn a living. Of course it’s wonderful to get paid to do something you love, something that expresses who you are and something you are bloody good at. Don’t think I’m not grateful every minute of every day to whatever powers made this life circumstance possible, because I am!

But it does involve work ;-)

Obviously, to arrive at the aforementioned two successful ideas a great many lesser ideas have had to be jettisoned, often after a great deal of (mentally) strenuous refining. Ideas have to pass a lot of tests before being allowed to proceed to the next stage of the selection process, and likewise to the next and so on. It’s a war of attrition, weak ideas go to the wall. The few that make it through your own rigourous selection process then have to make it through that of a potential publisher, which is often predicated on a quite different set of not readily predictable criteria. However good your idea might be, they might already have a book about tap dancing rabbits coming out next autumn, or the editor you worked with may have left and the new editor might want to establish herself (it will be a her, this is children’s publishing and for whatever reason, it is 99% female) and you may not be part of her plans.

And then, though a publisher has given your idea their full backing, it can fail miserably when exposed to the buying public. Then, obviously, it was a deeply crap idea all along and you may not get published again for a while as you are obviously a purveyor of deep crap of the unsaleable kind. . .

So, even if your inspiration and appraisal apparatus is firing on all cylinders, the nuggets it produces might still be duds. . . ( I do so love a good mixed metaphor . . )

Well, as you can now see, it’s a hard life after all here on the creative coal face, hacking out my two ideas a year and you should all feel really really sorry for me and send me flowers and money and cake, don’t forget cake. . .

Showing my Age – The Wolseley 444 and a primary school exercise book. . .

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When I was very small, this was the family car. Well, not this precise one, but the same model and colour. A Wolseley 444.

It was great. It had leather seats, a padded armrest thing in the back that was a handy barrier between me and my sister, precluding any territorial disputes and suchlike. The indicators were those wonderful little fold out ones the memory of which still makes me smile.


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For whatever reason, it was a much loved vehicle. I haven’t felt even vaguely similar affection for a car any time since really. I liked my camper van for the short time I had it, but it didn’t feel like a family pet, the way the old 444 did.

My sister even made an embroidered cushion for the back seat with the registration number on it, ‘PTM 446′. You see, I can still remember the registration number even today. None of the cars my dad had over the following years stuck in my mind in that way.

Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford, Austin 1800, Austin Maxi. . . you remember all those late sixties and seventies British Leyland cars? ‘Course you do. Well you do if you are my age. If you are horribly young and the names don’t resonate, take it from me, you didn’t miss much.

The old 444, that we called ‘Puttem’ (which is how you would pronounce the letters on the the number plate ‘PTM’ if they spelt a word), was somewhat underpowered and found it hard going up steep hills. (The 15/50 had a proper size engine and was better in this regard I’m told)

The pic below is from an exercise book of mine from 1964 when I would have been at Denbigh Road Infants School in Luton. It shows my dad’s 444 going up such a hill, Stockingstone Road in Luton, to my Grandparent’s house. Note the Ford Anglia in front ;-) I love the way the lamp posts are 90 degrees to the ground, even though the ground is sloping alarmingly. Stockingstone Road isn’t quite so steep in real life but my artistic licence was in full effect even then. . .

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That page is surprisingly neat compared to the rest of the book, with very little red ink. I was not neat and tidy. Hard to imagine I know, cough. . . .

Not a Lot I Can Say. . .

It’s all very well having a fancy blog and intending to post a lot about what I do and all that, but it turns out that the main thing I do, Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating, isn’t something that lends itself to sharing.

I can’t really show you what I am working on right now, as that would break confidentiality with the publisher. So no ‘in progress’ pictures. . .

I can’t really share ideas I’m working up with a view to publishing, as somebody might nick my idea. . . So no ‘I had this great idea for a picture book!’ posts. . .

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I can show you stuff I have just had published, but that isn’t going to keep a blog going for long ;-)

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It’s a bit frustrating. But I guess I can write something more general about picture books and my approach to them etc, but I have to avoid at all costs being like all those earnest websites with endless tips for would be authors who want to ‘realise their dream’ and publish a children’s book. . .

Call me cynical, but tip one would be ‘Lay off the inspirational websites and start doing the necessary hard work!’

Tough love Dude. . .

I’ll address the issue of what feels right to post about and what doesn’t, and hopefully come up with something worth reading, but in the meantime I drew some more cats. . .

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Men in Tights

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I’ve been decluttering recently, as I mentioned in a previous post. I’m not entirely sure what has driven this urge, but it is something that has been lurking at the back of my mind for a long time. I have a lot of stuff that I don’t really engage with any more, not junk, but stuff I can happily do without as I get older. I don’t see the point in dragging it round with me wherever I go. Sometimes it’s only around because the business of selling it or giving it away is more trouble than leaving it be.

And as I mentioned in the same previous post, one of the things I am taking my leave of is my comics collection. The first part of which is the box of US comics, Marvel and DC that I accumulated in the early eighties.

Scanning and photographing all these comics’ covers for ebay purposes has led me to muse on the strange phenomenon that is the American Superhero comic.

Large men (usually) in tights with right on their side and magic like powers, engaged in epic battles involving extreme and bizarre violence against other large men (usually) or man like creatures, also in tights and wielding strange magic powers, whose intentions are less than benign to say the least. Often in mid air, against a backdrop of The Modern American City.

Weird. . .

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It does seem to be an extension of the epic hero tales beloved of folk stories the World over.

In an effort to find out what lies behind this be-tighted battling I Googled a few superhero related phrases and eventually found an excellent article by a guy called Chris Gavaler who has studied the psychology of the American Superhero Comic. Worth a read.

http://subcultureforthecultured.com/featured-columns/why-superheroes

Here’s a quote -

“Traditionally superheroes reduce complex issues to simple, child-like dimensions. The good guys are all good, and the bad guys are all bad. That’s a highly distorted but deeply reassuring way to look at the world. And the solution is always the same: righteous violence. America loves righteous violence. We also prefer our heroes to stand apart from our government, as a kind of incorruptible moral force that polices everything. Which means we embrace the myth of the benevolent vigilante, and superheroes are the ultimate example.”

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“The traditional superhero is all-powerful and all-good, which is the way the U.S. likes to perceive itself in the international arena. Other nations are the needy citizens of Gotham. In foreign policy, we want and expect the rest of the world to follow our lead. The superhero may be the greatest embodiment of American exceptionalism. When the Cold War ebbed, the role of the U.S. shifted and superhero mythology began to explore a lot of grey area in what had been a previously black and white universe. But World War II and Cold War nostalgia continue to haunt the genre. America loves supervillains. They help us define ourselves.”

Fascinating stuff. Makes sense to me. A simpler World where good and evil are easily and reliably identifiable, and evil is defeated by superior levels of violence. Until the next time, and the next time. . .

Oh well, back to ebay. I’ve sold about half the stuff I’ve listed, which is pretty good. And I’ve made more than I would have predicted, I mean, if someone had said, “I’ll give you £50 for the lot” I’d have jumped at the offer. I’ve sold about a third of my US comics and made about three times that, so I’m happy. I need to get a job lot of jiffy bags though.

History. .

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Our House – circa many years ago

Our village is having a sort of Open Day in a couple of weeks, with an accent on local history. Some houses are opening their gardens and a few of us arty types are opening our studios. Though obviously, as I work on computer, I shan’t have much to show. . . I shan’t be throwing open my hard drive to the general public. . . I might have a few books for sale and a couple of drawings and prints. Such as this cat wot you have seen before on this blog, but is worth a second look. . .

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Gill will be exhibiting a load of her excellent paintings of course, and as has been hurriedly knocking out some smaller works for those of more restricted means to buy should they want to. I shall do some prints for her on my trusty A3+ canon as well.

The pic below isn’t one of the more hurried, smaller works obviously. It’s of a street performer in Covent Garden, but is mainly about the crowd and the light.

She has a website.

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The most interesting part of the whole experience for us has been the information we received about our house’s history. It belonged to the family of a local farmer whose descendants still live in the village. They even sent us a scan of  an old photo of the previous inhabitants. ( the house dates from about 1850 apparently ) The smart and bewhiskered gentleman on the right rejoices in the wonderful name of McTrend. His daughter, 2nd on the right, married into the family of the aforementioned local farmers and continued to live in the house.

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Our elderly neighbours knew them when they were young and tell us that they were ‘A good Christian couple’. . . Oh well, we must be a big disappointment to the neighbourhood ;-)

It’s great to see this fine upstanding Victorian family standing outside our very door at the front of the house. . .

I also wouldn’t be surprised if that is the same actual window behind them that I spent the last couple of days hacking out rotten wood from, filling , sanding and repainting ;-) Old houses, they’re lovely but they keep you busy. . .

(Actually, come to think of it, that’s a sash window, and I was repairing a casement window, so I was talking rubbish, but my observation about old houses still stands.)