Thursday, June 15, 2017


Our home city of Leicester's banged itself right on the map lately. 

We won the snooker championship in 2016; the same year that Leicester City rose from the dusty levels of Third Division football to win the Premier League against all the odds, and only a year after the city's magnificent reburial of King Richard III, whose body had been found right where the chairwoman of the Richard III Society had always believed he was, under the letter R in a city centre car park (that car park now turned into the King Richard III Visitor Centre, which I worked on with Studio MB).

The city has always been my closest, and its transformation began in earnest 20 years ago when major work began to expand the three universities there. Alongside De Montfort University's soon-to-be halls of residence ran the river, Western Boulevard, and a row of buildings about to be demolished, behind a mile-long stretch of hoardings.

It was these hoardings that graffiti artist and long-time mate Solo One gained permission and funding from the council to paint, end to end, creating the largest piece of continuous graf created to date (over a mile). 1996 did indeed see Solo work himself to a husk, recruiting artists from around the world to come and throw paint at white spaces. The energy was big, the colour bigger, and the art was destroyed, as all street art must ultimately be, when the development was finished.

Here's a great little film by Solo One of the original Western Boulevard event, cut with May's event 21 years later:

Twenty-one years later, the energy returned with Solo's Return of the Macks, part of the larger, council-supported Bring The Paint Festival, organised by Leicester's paint-and-pen lovers' cave Graff HQ, from whence I buy my Poscas and Grog. As soon as I heard Boyd had set it up, I asked for a spot, no matter how small, as we wanted to part of this anniversary extravaganza.

We had a modest space alongside the towpath at Frog Island, on a sunny but windy day, and stood next to 'real' graffers working at lightning speed with the kind of casual experience and confidence acquired through years of midnight throw-ups, hitting two cities in one day and climbing to precarious spots to get a chroma up. All were welcoming and just as accepting of my slow spraying and help from a brush as they were the schoolkid next to me working on his first big piece, supervised by his Dad, clearly an experienced graffer - yes we're getting to that age now - and the atmosphere was one of calm, shared productivity, someone's system blasting the perfect drum'n'bass mix at the end of the towpath.

Live footage!! Proof I put paint on the wall myself:

Look at these guys, embodying the spirit of 80s graf!

Think this leaf had the painting blues...

The work along the towpath was breathtaking enough, but meanwhile in the city centre gigantic pieces were being finished by the infamous, incredible Smug, Boogie, Cantwo, Hombre, N4t4, Inkie, Philth, Voyder, Zomby and loads more. I'll let the pictures do the talking, as it were (bearing in mind we worked till very late, and it was dark by the time we hit the big stuff!)

(How did he get it so SHARP??)

The work will remaining place for as along as the elements allow it to.

If you love large-scale work, murals or graf, Leicester's the place to visit right now - and you can pack your day in the city centre with more delicious food, good ales, galleries and shops than at any time in the city's history.

Thanks Solo One for letting us be part of this inspiring event!

The List

This was an interesting one - by Patricia Forde, this book is about a world where the very use of words itself is restricted, and the terrible consequences which could befall anyone who pluck words from outside the List:

"In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. 

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself."

The hardcover comes with a selection of words from that list in sticker form so you can see for yourself how hard it would be to work with such a limited vocabulary. 

Nicole at Sourcebooks and I had ideas about this cover should look; an air of menace, and darkness, with hints of hope and empowerment. I made many variations to start with, exploring the idea of being muted, a mouth covered, a head full of words, and lots and lots of expressive, writhing ink textures, to suggest unrest and unease:

The final design was the tower block of words, Letta on top hurling sheets of paper into the wind.  From rough to final was a fairly quick process, and I really enjoyed doing the blocky type for this, a refreshing breakaway from the cursive swirls that have dominated my lettering life for the last twenty years!
Here's the rough:

And here's the final, with lovely glowing spine lettering:

Thank you Nicole for hiring me for this one - it was a joy!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Inkymole's Motors

Despite it sometimes looking like all I ever do is stay chained to my desk with my hands just loose enough in the manacles to move the pen/cil, we've spent our entire time together ‘doing stuff’ — what used to be called ‘side projects’ in popular terminology are now just ‘projects’; brethren to the main body of what occupies our time, rather than extensions of or competitors to it. 

An important but gradual shift in our perspective, this way of thinking has changed our approach to ‘side projects’ in that they now sit within the brightly-coloured, myriad wobbly circles of the Venn diagram that is Inkymole.
And it means ANYTHING can be ‘a project’.

There are, and have been, many of these in the near-two-and-a-half decades of working together. This is one of them, brought blinking and pale into the sunlight at last!

Ever since I was given a custard yellow 2CV in lieu of a debt owed to my boyfriend, which I threatened not to keep, I've been into cars.

I wasn't going to be - cars were something you got into and went to the shops in, or on holiday; they made you have dirty hands, meant you had to go outside in the cold to 'do things' with them, and cost money, all things I hated. But Dad's series of interesting vehicles, changed every 3 years, piqued me and my sisters' interest, until she became the biker and Ford Escort petrolhead, and I, eventually, reluctantly, became a car owner too. And the 2CV wasn't just any old car; French, with legendary, bouncing suspension, air-cooled with a vertical gear knob in a pattern not seen on any other vehicle, and with a peel-back roof, skinny tyres and an engine you could fix yourself, I was soon outside, in the cold, doing things with my car, spending money on it, and getting mucky hands.

This morning Leigh and I drew up a list of all the cars we've owned together, after a chat with an art director mate who's a proper car nutter (I mean, he has a racing car, in FAST ORANGE). We talked for 28 minutes and agreed to swap car lists. We've had quite a few...with a bit of a theme running through them.

This weekend we took our Nissan Pao and Suzuki Carry to JDMCombe at Castle Combe, Bristol. JDM stands for 'Japanese Domestic Market' - so any vehicle that was made for the Japanese market (though just because it's Japanese car doesn't mean it's JDM!) We were on the 'Rare Breeds' stand, since the Pao (pronounced POW like Batman) had a very limited production run, and although the little Carry did not, what we've done with it is quite unusual.

It was a sunny but windy day (Car Show Hair is a real problem, one I've only solved in the last 48 hours with pigtails and a baseball cap), and the air was heady with the smell of cleaning products, chips and hydrocarbons. I love it; they should make THAT into an air freshener. Having spent weeks preparing your wheels for the show, you turn up, park, and start polishing. Props may be added to dashboards and engine bays, or they may not; additional graphics may have been added for the occasion, and you might also select clothing / nail polish / lippy to tone with your ride (oh wait no, that might be just me). Prizes are given for Show'n'Shine (er, the shiniest) and for Best In Show. You can usually take your car on the track, for which helmets are required, and there's nothing quite so mentally and emotionally liberating as staring at cars going berserk round a track, on two wheels, burning through tyres, sliding sideways into corners, or missing corners altogether.

After ensuring your car is as buff as it can be, it's off for a coffee (standard), a walk around the other cars on your stand, then you might be surprised by the man coming at you with a microphone in hand, at 8.30 in the morning, asking questions about your car!

It can take hours to go round a car show like this, as they're magnets for the thousands of humans attracted to the distinctive shapes and sounds of Japcars, the good, the bad and the ugly. (We like a lot of the ugly ones.)

We'd spent the weeks before working on the vehicles, making little refinements and improvements ready for this first big show of the season. I say 'week'; really, every show is a culmination of everything you've done during the entire time you've owned the car, from its very first wash. In particular though, for this one, we added graphics - Dynodaze, who do the mechanical and fabricating work - Uncle Keith's Paintshop, and our new logo for what has for twenty years been a project, but never had a name or a shape - Inkymole's Motors!

As well as new exhausts made and fitted recently by Dynodaze, with custom manifold gaskets by SubCon Laser, the Pao went out with its from-scratch beautifully curved rear parcel shelf and speaker panel for the Pao - designed by Leigh to look like an original feature (which it isn't) and made by Rob at Artfabs:

Gold tints for the Carry, to stop nosy people looking in the back (and to ADD BLIIIING):

Obligatory toys - this is Gudetama, the whining, lazy egg, who lives in the van full-time - he had a bath (the Rillakkuma pocket looks on, unimpressed):

Sillies from Japan:

Black One-Shot used to make my first tentatively sign-painted Japanese characters:

There is more to be done to the vehicles, and these latest additions represent only the very latest bits of work; much of it is done under the bonnet, under the car, and behind panels - the stuff that really does give you mucky hands!

You can follow the progress of these two, our workhorse Peugeot 406 and Nissan Cedric on Instagram.

And there's a little moody video of the show here, where you can spot me buffing the paintwork at 16 seconds.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stay Gold

My 14-year-old self's 'Johnny Cade', still suffering the indignities of 30+ years of sticky tape on the back of the paper behind his lovely nose.

S.E. Hinton's book 'The Outsiders' is 50 years old today, and I read it when I was 13. I watched the film about a year later, and was so entranced by it I wanted to live in it - just as I did when I read Wuthering Heights some years later, the response to which formed the  bedrock of what I do for a living, and the resulting output, to date.

The book follows two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (pronounced as 'Sew-shes' - short for Socials), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. Written by a teenage Susan Hinton living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and inspired by her own experiences, the story is told in first-person narrative by Ponyboy Curtis, and it is his family and group of friends whom the book follows to tragic and hopeful conclusion. The Frances Ford Coppola film version was an early who's-who of the brat pack C. Thomas HowellRob LoweEmilio EstevezMatt DillonTom CruisePatrick SwayzeRalph Macchio, and Diane Lane, and further installed the book in my artillery of life-changing fiction, which I was to draw on, literally and figuratively, for years to come.

My school year were doing a whole year on 'Prejudice' when I read The Outsiders, and the book dovetailed conveniently with its themes - I didn't know any black people, and tried to write stories based around the only black public figure I could relate to, Joe Leeway from the Thompson Twins - so while people were writing about colour and race riots, I was exploring poor kids and punks, music-based rivalries and eyeliner-wearing New Romantics, and the real-life news stories of the attacks, bullying and confusion they were being met with.

The Outsiders is a classic tale of haves and have-nots, injustice, poverty, fear, love and loyalty; of loss and recovery. It shares those qualities with thousands of other stories, but The Outsiders were my age, or very close, and I knew bad kids and sad ones and ones whose parents treated them very badly; ones who were skint and others who never fitted in. I couldn't possibly know what Tulsa was like, but as a teenager it was also my ambition to 'live in America', so this one wove a very tangible, sticky spell over the bright but impressionable, shy but mouthy, uncertain but ambitious small me. 

I even went to the local record shop, and learned early that the sneering that can result from girls asking for obscure things in record shops was going to become a feature of my adult life; the gruesomely aloof chain-smoking assistant at the counter, I observed, was a FELLOW FEMALE as she sneered at my request for ‘So Gold’ by Stevie Wonder, its end credit theme tune (she was younger than me too, you can’t behave like that under school-year hierarchy rules, can you? Should she even have been working there? Or smoking? So many questions.) I illustrated the book, and wrote a ‘sequel’ in Jonny’s voice, listening to ‘Gloria’ by Them — I didn’t even like Them. It took months for me to stop thinking about Johnny burning to death in the church.

Only a few books really did this: made me want to live inside a person or time, to have their experience and somehow change the outcome of what I'd read (which I suppose is what drives people to write, in the end). How did it feel to have a burning roof joist fall on your back? To sit under the stars smoking (I hadn't yet taken up smoking, not for a couple of years), or see your friend's brother shot dead? To fight in the street? All of things were fascinatingly alien to me, growing up in a quiet working class Midlands household with no guns, yet somehow I knew if I tried hard enough by drawing and writing I could SOMEHOW, somehow 'become' them.

It wasn't true of course, but the solitary daydreaming drawaholic 14 year old really believed it, and the urge to get inside stories and fictional people has driven me ever since. Part of me wishes for a life where I could spend an entire day reading, or watch film after film and just doodle and not have to generate money to pay bills, but I know that's not a possibility.

For now, at least.

PS: Years later, around 2004/5, I seized the opportunity to render Robert Frost's poem 'Nothing Gold Can Stay', featured heavily in the book, on the big white wall of a client's office for an exhibition there. Cheeky really, it had no bearing on any sort of theme...I just bent the brief to my own whims:


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