Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to front.

Wanted to show you this as I liked it! It's a bloke-lit cover that I've just had the proofs for, for Mike Gayle's new book. I like it for three reasons:

1) it's double-sided.
2) it uses lurid pink.
3) the type is a style I like to do but don't get much opportunity to flex.

In fact the bit you might think is mine (the curly bit) isn't.

Oh and the halo is really quite wonky. Brilliant!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I drew this big Christmas present made of little Christmas presents for the Telegraph's weekend edition. It's one of the biggest editorial things I've done, size-wise, and was nice to see it enlarged, though if I'd known it was going to be so massive I would have added a few more details!

I like it though. It got me in the mood for some jingle bells.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Old Faithful.

We had a happy but sad event in the house last week.

Happy, because our new studio desk, which runs the entire length of it and is made of reclaimed wood, finally got slotted into place and covered in our gear.
Sad, because my first ever work desk, bought for £50 in 1994, has finally been decommissioned. I'm not ashamed to say a little moisture appeared at the corner of my eye when it was gently removed from the premises.

This little pine desk was second hand when I bought it from Hinckley Sale Rooms a few months after graduating. I'd moved out of the parental dining room (my first studio) probably to their relief, building, as I was then, very messy 3D structures.

I had no idea the desk would be with me for the next 17 years. It's followed me to four different addresses and I can't even begin to count the pieces of work which have been created on it, but its surface bears testament to thousands of hours of creating, with its myriad ink stains, little cuts and scars. It bears them all triumphantly - you can probably see the 'favoured spot' on which I tended to work the most. It would put most structures of Ikean origin to shame with its longevity.

It's still in perfect working order and much as we love the handsome new desk, this will always be the Original Inkymole Desk. And it needs a new home. If anyone is or has a fledgling artist in their family, or a creative who needs a little spot of their own and wants something with a bit of history and a proven track record, I would be happy to pass it on. Ink blots and all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Higham on the Hill, Stoke in the dale; Wykin for buttermilk, Hinckley for ALE." - Shakespeare.

Inkymole and Factoryroad sponsored an ale apiece at this year's CAMRA Real Ale Festival. We've never done it before, but what an adventure. You see, you don't know what ale or cider you're going to be allocated…till you get there, dry throated, with tokens and £2 beer glass in hand.

Mole's beer could not have been more perfect. Holden's Old Ale is brewed 'by a woman' (to the handlebar-moustachio'd barman's shock and awe), and it was dark, slightly rough and chocolatey - and a whopping 7.2%. Had I been that woman who'd brewed it, I couldn't have designed a more perfect spec. Not a good one to start off with though - had to have a volumetric climb-down with a 6% and 4% to follow. Either that or roll home uphill, blind. Check the cheesy pun on the cask - (my own literary skilz) and the fact that they left off my logo!

The Factoryroad beer was disappointing, yellowy and weak, with a funny after taste. Its rubbish taste though was slightly offset by the magnificent punuendo in the name of the beer, so all wasn't lost. Check Factoryroad's label. Again the creators had clearly been on the sauce while they got the labels printed out, sat no doubt at a creaking PC with one eye on their glasses, mis-spelling, as they did, the word 'how' and casually inverting the logo so it sat in a weird black box.

Still, we're not (for once) here to crit the visuals. Who cared once the first couple were sunk?

If you want to find a real ale event where you live, you'd do no worse than to look here: http://www.camra.org.uk/

Holden's Brewery: http://www.holdensbrewery.co.uk
An alphabetical list of real ales and independent brewers in the UK: http://www.quaffale.org.uk

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Twilight, True Love, And...The Truth.

The new Twilight film is out today, and like lots of other people I know, I'll wait till it comes on telly and watch it with one eye while doing something else, and probably quite enjoy some bits of it despite myself.

This, I'm well aware, is in stark contrast to a huge chunk of the female global population (and some of the male), who will rush headlong to the flicks with excited eyes and red lips, possibly in a suitably Bella-ish shirt and a boyf in tow wearing a dusting of sparkly Barry M Facedust. And I don't begrudge them a second of it.

Or will they? I did this book cover late last year. At the time, I thought little of it - to be honest, I thought its title promised no more than a corny faux self-help guide to finding 'your perfect man', that man being an Edward-a-like (or a Jacob-a-like, depending on which t-shirt you bought). So I vainly encouraged the publishers to go for a white cover (bucking the yawnsome trend for red-and-white on black, which so many Vampire books have employed) and accepted it gracefully when they didn't.

And that, I thought, was the end of my relationship with the book. Until I read it.

You see, when they said it was written by a clinical psychologist with 21 years' experience working with young women, I confess to thinking 'what the hell's she writing about Twilight, then?' To put it simply, for this reason: Louise Deacon has spent years observing the fanatical responses young people have had to the Twilight series, and the significant changes the phenomenon has brought to women and girls' expectations of love, relationships, and life as a whole. And it's actually rather serious.

As Louise says in her introduction:
"I was stunned by the way the girls in the audience reacted; they sighed, gasped and screamed. Never before had I witnessed such a strong emotional reaction to a film. As a psychologist, I was fascinated".

I confess I just didn't 'get' the Twilight thing. I'd illustrated a series many years ago called Evernight, which was a superbly-written collection of novels based around a young couple, one male one female, one vampiric and one human, and their relationship, set in a school. I loved them, so when I saw Twilight, I dismissed it as a rather pale (and rather cheeky) copy of those books. I didn't fancy Edward, I didn't fancy Jacob, I thought Bella was irritating and brought just about everything on herself, and moreover, I thought Edward was a complete fantasy; no-one could possibly love someone so unconditionally that they would lay down their life for them, when the object of that love was so completely irresponsible about their own life, continually, as Bella does, putting herself at risk. And her own self-esteem and confidence issues are 'cured' by Edward's magical, unconditional love.

Turned out I was in the minority there. The females around me went bonkers for it. Of course Edward's a fantasy. Unconditional love from a lantern-jawed teenager with a sparkly face and amazing physical prowess is very appealing. But what Louise Deacon has observed is a generation of young women believing him to be not fantasy, but 'the ideal' - the kind of of boy who they take as their benchmark for a real boyfriend - meaning 'real' men and boys cannot hope to live up to such a blueprint. And leading women to believe that their own self esteem and confidence - important survival tools - are not things they are able to change by themselves. All observations made during her many sessions with unhappy young people in her work.

Bella is described as being very into Romantic Fiction. Wuthering Heights is given as an example - more on that later, but of all the Bronte novels, Wuthering  isn't one that falls into the Romantic Fiction category. The 'hero' in it is in reality an anti-hero. A bullying, cruel man, unchangeable, physically violent, desperately unhappy and full of spite and the desire for revenge at his most appalling treatment, he doesn't change, and he can't - no matter how much Catherine adores him, she can't 'love' the misery out of him, and the ending is terrible for everyone his existence touches.

In fact Louise reminds us that the term Romantic Fiction itself has been hijacked to mean something very different today from when it was coined in the late 1700s.  The 'romantic' part of it referred to something fantastical, unreal - stories of adventure, knights, fairies and princesses, it didn't refer to love and relationships, as it has come to mean today. As Louise puts it, modern romantic fiction, with its predilection for doggedly happy endings and heroes and heroines magically transformed by the power of love, should come with as strong a warning as porn, for its parallel lack of similarity to Real Life.

The book uses a combination of questions and answers, small chapters, and real-life case studies to highlight the many issues involved. It is gentle, but hard in its truths - phrases like 'love will make incompatible people into compatible ones', 'your love can cure him of his difficulties' and 'love conquers all' are bust wide open not in the spirit of churlishness, but in the interests of forming real, honest, robust relationships between people who trust and respect each other, whatever their physical and mental make-up.

It's impossible to do the book justice here. But it is gripping. It's calmly written, non-inflammatory, and not in the least scaremongery. It is academic, and thorough, and as the author's real-life research has revealed, an important contribution to contemporary female mental health and happiness. The book is nicely ended with a two-page list of where to go for more help if you think you are struggling with any of the the book's issues; from talking to your Mum, friends or doctor right though to Mind, Childline, Refuge and the Samaritans. And in addition, 20% of the proceeds of every copy go to The Girl Effect, an organisation fighting to improve the lives of young women in countries where forced marriage is still a common practice.

I leave it to Louise to summarise, as she addresses her mainly-teenage audience early in the book:
'High-octane romances like Twilight can lead you into the arms of the wrong man, but for some girls, Twilight could mean they won't end up in the arms of any man at all. Are you one of them?'

Here's the clever teaser for the book - the comments underneath are poignantly telling:

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Big Christmas archive.

From about September onwards, people start to ask me whether I can do things for Christmas, like illustrations for company or personal christmas cards. Usually, though, the enquiries really start to come in way too late for me to get involved - like a few weeks before Christmas - and I hate to let people down.

So a couple of years ago I gathered together my big lazy archive of Christmas illustrations with the aim of getting them off the dole queue and into gainful employment. The Inkymole Christmas Archive is now live again for Christmas 2011.

You can buy any of these illustrations for any purpose, from a £50 jpeg to a print-ready TIFF to a more involved rights-managed use - whatever you need. Have a look. There is pretty much everything in there from all-over patterns to US-style 'Holiday' cards to the very traditional.

If you want a really easy option just for Christmas cards, you can also buy pre-printed sets of Inkymole cards from Moo.com - there are several new Ready Made sets to choose from.

I know how hard it is to get my own Christmas things organised, and I've got a tiny shopping list and no massive family to cook for - so hopefully these will give a few people one less thing to stress about!

Christmas shopping.

I got stuck into Christmas work in September this year, doing this thoroughly sparkly stuff for Sean and Annie at the fantastically-named Fox Kalomaski Crossing - which sounds either brilliantly made-up, or straight out of Mad Men. Either way, must be great to tell people you work there.

Gloucester Quays is a big shopping centre and as such, its life will revolve around Christmas. I'm not hugely into shopping (only for certain things which may or may not have a MAC logo on them - the eyeliner kind AND the OSX kind) but I did really enjoy doing this outrageously glittery tree and pile of presents, and was charmed by what their animation team did with the Christmas logo I designed for them. I love seeing my normally static work leap into action, especially where it involves tinsel.

If it seems vaguely familiar, FKC were partially inspired by the colours of my Co-op Christmas campaign which ran for three years, and has sadly now come to an end. But clearly, its legacy lives on! You can see the shopping centre itself here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Booze for free.

I've just got a copy of this book I did the cover for earlier this year, by Andy Hamilton.

We're a long way from self-sufficiency, but we're working on it - we've had the gas disconnected and we heat the house and water with wood instead. We've been buying our vegetables from a farm half an hour down the road for the last ten years or so, always organic, always amusingly miss-shapen, always delicious, we did the biodiesel thing for years, and I make my own skin cream…well, like I said, we're not there, but we try to make the right moves in that direction!

The book tells you how to make intriguing-sounding brews such as Broad Bean Wine, Pine Needle Cordial and Nocino, an Italian green walnut cordial. None of them are complicated, or fussy; you just need to focus, keep your kit clean (most of which you'll have at home) and most importantly have some space at home to store the fermenting oceans of potential goodness. Our friend Simon does this already, and his recent birthday cider was impressively cloudy and delicious, needing maybe a little longer in hibernation, but certainly a shouder-softening testament to what can be done with some foraged apples, water and patience.

Here's the artwork for the book, along with an alternative version which didn't make the cut, and a place to buy it!



Grayson Perry's bike.

We went to the British Museum to see the whole of this exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, but spent so long looking at the bike we ran out of time to get into the main show. We're definitely going back - but check the bike!

The whole thing was custom made, with Grayson's own teddy bear, Alan Measles, riding in his own shrine on the back. Actually Alan was replaced by a stunt double who had to be auditioned…but you can read about all that here


Grayson himself seems an amazing bloke. I don't think anyone like him has ever existed!

Signs of Occupation.

We visited the Occupy London camp at St Pauls' a couple of days ago, and I was struck by the way in which messages which need urgent visual transmission trigger a whirlwind of improvised creativity.

These signs were made with whatever was to hand, and not, I doubt, at a comfy wooden desk like the one I'm sitting at, with the telly on and my bed upstairs waiting. The typography's great. Never mind the message, enjoy the clutching of Stanley knife, aerosol, crayon, cardboard, fabrics and tape. And interestingly, I didn't spot a single spelling mistake. I'm not even sure I found any rogue or absentee apostrophes.

I wish I could 'name the plants', but the illustrations are a bit... vague. Ten out of ten for the idea though!


Friday, November 04, 2011

Adventures with Dick and (Sarah) Jane.

It's not very often we have somebody for a whole week at the Inkymole studio. We have the accounts lady Anne who comes in once a week, and punctuates her forensic accountancy with button-buying, politics and cats juggling sausages on YouTube. We have the occasional student. We've had a series of magic helpers who come and join us in the lead-up to a show or special event. And of course we've had no choice but to share the workspace with an endless stream of tradesmen, craftsmen and engineers of all sorts over the last two years.

But it's not like we ever get a MATE to come round and do homework with us. Homework which is the same but different - like being at the same school at the same time but in different art classes.

Which is actually what happened to me and Richard Hogg. Two years apart at school is a gulf, the sort of gulf that ensures you'll never cross paths (unless you have a sibling who bridges the gap and grants you a portal to 'the other level'), but we did go the same school at the same time, and did art. We remember only one mutual schoolmate's name, but apart from that, a sixth-form girl and a fourth-year boy would rarely speak, unless it was to hurl rudeness over the balcony.

Richard grew up in Hinckley but moved to London to do his degree and has lived there ever since. The chance to come back to stay with family and draw on our walls was eagerly accepted, and we're so glad it was. It was a completely new experience to work alongside another illustrator - whose day-to-day hassles were the same but different - and to watch another full-time creative person's day progress and take shape.

It's reassuring to see there's an equal amount of buggering about. There is the same time spent emailing. The same pacing and tea-brewing. And the pie-chart of the illustrator's time, were it to be scribbled out, would have roughly equal chunks marked 'Googling', 'food' and 'worrying'.

I liked watching Richard work, but tried not to stare. Or copy. Which is easy too do when you're a fan. They say every day's a school day, and during the week we were allowed to look into his sketchbooks and his toolboxes, and bits of his brain. We all had our work to get on with of course, so every pause to look at newly-Googled 'thing' or put on a record was chastened by a feeling that 'we need to get on', but the work flowed, in a surprisingly grown-up kind of way. We even stopped for lunch and boiled sweets every day. And only played Richard's game a bit.

Wacom notes were exchanged, Illustrator tips begged; iPhone games discovered and new colours investigated. Chips were eaten and soup was made. And we were ready an hour early.

From behind her invoices, a watchful Anne In Accounts declared Dick 'a bad influence', but only because our days must have reminded her of me and my best mate 'doing homework' together after school, and doing it in spite of a massive stream of continual distraction (yep, she's my Mum). I weathered Dick's cheerful jibe that it was interesting to see 'how little work other illustrators do' (ahem, well I WAS running about preparing for a show and you DID keep showing me animal videos) but it was interesting, actually, to simply see 'how other illustrators do'.

Cheers Dick! Come again.

You can read about the show itself here: www.factoryroadgallery.net and see the show in this gallery: http://gallery.me.com/inkymole#100021 and pumpkin carving the next day: http://gallery.me.com/inkymole#100028


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