Thursday, October 25, 2012

Burns, quilted

I got a phone call from an excited but anxious-sounding lady on Friday, who told me she'd been to the Robert Burns Museum recently. She was so enthralled by the Tam O'Shanter 'Weathervane' walk, which I created the designs for, that she'd returned shortly after to take some photographs. This she did with the intention of making a quilt telling the story.

With its 'January grey' background, Mrs Barbara Dillett of Prestwick has made a fine job of this full-size bed quilt. I know a little bit about quilting as my Mum has done it for many years - you can see her creations in fact on this blog. I know the hours of work and the complexity of cutting shapes and keeping everything ordered.

Mrs Dillett thoughtfully wanted to check she wasn't in trouble for using the illustrations (of course, she wasn't) and also wanted my blessing, which she got wholeheartedly. I understand it's being exhibited somewhere then sold on.

I think she's done a fine job, and the colours are robustly wintery a perfect reminder of our own freezing trip to the Museum on its opening night two years ago.

Mrs Dillett's own pictures are shown along with the weather-vanes in situ, and an original drawing or two. Good eh?

My original blog on the artwork and opening is here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I've just painted this little Noise Box Shell for Sam Underwood, who will take the other 9, join them together and make an electronic music machine to play at Supersonic's 10th Anniversary Festival.

First, to say I like electronic music is an understatement. Second, home-made music machines - or machines of any type, actually - appeal to me greatly. Third, I get to draw whatever I fancy. So I did. This one's wearing Dutch lace (I don't know why it's Dutch, it just came out like that). I can't help imagining the others are robustly male. It's electronic music after all. I had to paint it in the enamels that it was sent with, so some of the lines are a bit choddy.

This is how the noise box will look, ish:

The other reason for contributing is that the Capsule Girls, Jenny and Lisa, have been supporters of Inkymole activities for a very long time, and their festival, now internationally highly regarded, is a gem of Midlands curating and programming while being completely unhaunted by bullshit or indie-festy-pomp-fuelled bollocks. We were involved in the earliest Supersonics, as Factoryroad, and so it felt nice to be making a tiny something for its decade anniversary.

Good luck girls! May it be a mental one.

Into Battle.

I've not talked about this for a bit as we were very busy behind the scenes post-event. You might already know that as well as doing illustration I have a gallery which shares the same floor as the studio here.
And we have a review of the Gentleman Practice show, of creative responses to Buddy Wakefield's show, on our Factoryroad Gallery website at last.

I'm not going to add much as both Buddy and ourselves have written just about all there is to write about the experience of the creating, curating, hosting, mounting and debriefing of the show. It was one of the most exhausting and emotional things we're ever undertaken - perhaps it comes close to the Write Off The World shows - well, actually, as I begin to recall that, maybe close, but not the same - but It feels correct, however, to write about the piece that was my contribution to the collection.

I am a guilty person. I feel guilt. Most of the time; from all angles, guilt comes at me in assorted guises. It is usually my fault. Even when it's most obvious to other people that it isn't. I'm not Catholic, so can't blame that stereotype. I've never had pressuring or pushy parents. I've never done anything terrible to anyone. I always pay my bills on time. I've never exploited or bullied anyone. I give money to charity, I make cakes for people and I look after my sisters. I make coconut flapjacks for my boyfriend and sometimes he doesn't even need to ask me for them. And yet, my head tells me I'm never good enough, clever enough, kind enough, hardworking enough, friendly enough, relaxed get the picture. It's boring. It even bores me. But it's there, and actually, I feel a bit guilty right now, for even writing this and not doing my 'work'.

So when I read Buddy's poem 'Healing Herman Hesse' - one I've listened to a lot but never actually read - the following lines cuffed me around the back of the head:

‘Spends his time falling from the weight.
Got a lead brain.
It’s a battle magnet.
He carries it round by the guilt straps.
Don’t laugh.’

My own Battle Magnet was created by night, alone, from pure driven desperation to make manifest this source of negativity and mental collision. It was made from canvas, calico, a safety helmet, insulating fabric, tapes and straps, paper, ink, Sugru, ear defenders, a glue gun and some sewing. It had just two tiny pencil sketches beforehand, and whoosh, eleven hours later, it was there. Right in front of me. My own brain. Staring back at me in the mirror atop my own head (I made it to fit of course - the theatrical props maker of old Mole will look for any reason to force herself through any available gap). When on my head, the piece obscures my vision, makes it impossible to hear anyone properly, and adds real weight to my shoulders. Funny that.

So there she was. I didn't know whether to embrace her and soothe her, or set fire to her. The final part of the project came in the dead of night again - I simply had to pose wearing the beast, my own pale and worried body supporting the literal and metaphorical weight (it's very heavy, and not very stable when on). It has been thought that this photo shows the Battle Magnet atop a 'white mannequin', which I found funny, as I had clearly disguised myself sufficiently for people not to realise it is my skinny arms and chest underneath.

The Battle Magnet is still in the room and I don't know what to do with her. She is part of me, even though she's externalised now. But where will she live? Well the answer is easy, actually. Where I can keep a goddamned eye on her, and her destructive tendencies.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Taken In And Done For.

Recently, in between drawing, trying to sleep, eating, defrosting the freezer, washing and watering various gardens, I've finished reading this - available here.

Our friend and long-term collaborator Ed Garland has published his first book. It's been percolating for some time, but if you've seen the Snowtrees print, our Pendle Witches, or those springtime tote bags, or been to any one of several Factoryroad exhibitions, you'll have met Ed's words before.  He's been part of the gang for so many years we fail to remember how it all came about, but his writing has enriched our processes immeasurably.

Quoth he:
'I've been poking it with a stick for ages and today it finally asked me to leave it alone. A pungent glut of whimsical despair. A king-size bag of peculiar crisps. A lot of blank space and very little action. A series of one-day jobs.
One page of it was adapted from a bit of [my] blog, so I owe you 10p if you feel like that's cheating, but it's woven niftily into the rest of the story, a story so incredibly adequate that after it's over you'll think it was almost worth bothering with.'

And it's a curious read. Don't expect a happy ending, or even a happy beginning - there is neither, though there's a satisfying narrative arc which'll keep you ploughing on to the last page. As long as you're unafraid of seagulls.

He's frequently been the man who makes the words which unlock the pictures.

He wrote these words:

 And these:
 And this one:

This - beautifully succinct, for architect Nigel Axon (who designed Factoryroad HQ):

And he wrote the confession of all of our 13 Pendle Witches. This is only two of them. The rest can be seen here.

'I bet your handwriting's gorgeous.'

You'll know from my previous blogs, the header on the very blog itself and from the many pictures I've chucked around of my studio that I like pens. I'm using them all the time, and you very often see what I've drawn with those pens.

But one thing which troubles me is my handwriting. You know - my ACTUAL handwriting. The words which emerge unplanned, out of necessity; devoid of a prior sketch or purposeful positioning on the page. The note, the shopping list, the post-it, the forms I fill in from time to time. People often say 'I bet your handwriting's beautiful, isn't it?' and I've got too used to shrugging like an embarrassed schoolgirl while explaining that no, actually, they'd probably be really disappointed.

You see somewhere along the line I made some sort of unconscious distinction between 'writing for public consumption' and 'writing for me'. Who's going to see my shopping list? Only me. Who's going to email me feedback on that bizarre backward descender on that note to myself? Nobody. Who minds if I lazily switch from italic to infant 'a's? No-one. A graphologist would probably run from the room in terrified confusion.

In fact - maybe I've had to pose in so many hundreds of different handwriting hats over the years that I don't actually KNOW what my own real handwriting is like, unless someone's directing it - without art direction, the hand forms the essential shapes, but doesn't dress them. A sort of multiple-personality disorder, in autographic terms. If, as Philip Hensher says, 'Handwriting is what registers our individuality, and the mark which our culture has made on has been seen as the unknowing key to our souls and our innermost nature', then I am...what?

So it makes me uncomfortable, because it almost suggests that I decided gradually over time that if someone isn't paying me to write nicely, I won't. I have never actually decided that...but the handwriting says otherwise. My old tape covers are neat, legible, but very stylised. Old diaries (still have them) bear testament to a time when if I chose to write it, whatever it was, it got written properly - and slowly. Like a lady who wears her make-up and dresses nicely even though she knows no-one will call on her that day. My school file stores prizes for best handwriting, yet the notebook next to me, written in every day, is full of the footprints of an ink-sodden spider at Bangface.

I'm a pain-in-the-arse stickler for grammar and punctuation, and I can't blame emailing and typing - I like to write postcards, letters and keep notebooks. So I shouldn't be sloppy with the form. Thus, with the recent gift of another nice fountain pen, to join my Dad's yellow Parker, the Schaeffer twins and black and white Mont Blanc, and the many others, I have made the decision to start making the effort. It's good discipline. My hands can do it, it's a 'state of mind' adjustment.

It was this article about the importance of handwriting, sent by Melanie Tomlinson, who remembers when I had nice handwriting, which stiffened my resolve. The subject is also covered in this radio programme by the same person, Philip Hensher, on Radio 4.

'[Our] attempts to modify ourselves through our handwriting become a part of who we are. So too do the rituals and pleasurable pieces of small behaviour attached to writing with a pen. On a finger of my right hand, just on the joint, there is a callus which has been there for 40 years, where my pen rests. I used to call it "my carbuncle". "Turn right" someone would say, and I would feel the hard little lump, like a leather pad, ink-stained, which showed what side that was on. And between words or sentences, to encourage thought, I might give it a small, comforting rub with my thumb.'

I look at my permanently tattooed right thumb webbing - stabbed with a full 0.5 Rotring in 1991 - and know exactly what he means. I'm wedded to the letterforms, and they to me. I'd better start showing them some love - in and out of the spotlight.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Everybody knows..

Everybody knows I like pens. Dip pens, Japanese pens, felt tip pens, marker pens, tattoo pens, fine liner pens, biros, nasty souvenir pens, brush pens, fountain pens, crap pens, found pens. All pens. Once when on holiday I was in conversation on a rooftop and was asked for a pen. I had 11 in my bag.

So, it was an obvious though rather belated thing to do to join the Writing Equipment Society. On Saturday they held their annual Writing Equipment Show in London, and not knowing quite what to expect, but hoping to return with bags bristling with more writing tools, maybe even a twelfth handbag pen, we went.

Now this isn't a show that was particularly well advertised. In fact, if you weren't in the WES (with its beautifully minimal hand-drawn logo), you would't have known about it. Entry was a nice cheap three quid for 'members', and once inside the conference room opened out into stalls and stalls of...fountain pens.

Coloured ones, shell ones, wooden ones, bamboo ones. Old ones, antique ones, Titanic ones, ones which came with a compass and a hand-carved box. Ones with diamonds on. Ones with filigree, ones with broken bits and missing tops. And many men of a certain age counting out large quantities of notes onto tables, tooled up with loupes and magnifying glasses. Now I'm into my fountain pens (I have many, and between them they've produced a great many illustrations) but I confess the lack of ink and nibs was probably etched onto my face.

Still; it was fascinating to see the range of ways one might display a pen collection - if I wanted a hand-made Italian display case, I'd have found one. Or a tasty cast iron rack. Mine live in a cardboard pen tray, together, their branded cases removed and stored away - we'll have no assertions of hierarchy here, Monsieur Mont Blanc. Picturing my dip pens standing nib-down on blotting paper, drying in their old school test tube rack, I winced at the comparative preciousness of some of these instruments, coddled and squidged into velvety sleeping bags and walnut beds. At the same time, I felt sorry for them - how many would ACTUALLY be written with, their bladders, sacs and reservoirs tested to the limits, their nibs flushed through with myriad inks?

In fact I was asked a few times what my particular interest was. I may have attracted interest being female and half the mean age - I was one of only a handful of women; the others mainly wives of exhibitors, though still obviously enthusiasts, and servers of coffee. 'Well,' I said, 'I use mine, I draw with them'. 'Hmm. You collect?' 'No. Not really. Got a nice Mont Blanc and a lovely 70s yellow Parker off my Dad but that's it really'. Their attention would thus wane, though not rudely - there was clearly not quite enough mutual geek-ground on which to blot our respective frothings (or enough purple notes clutched in my sweaty hand!) Every person was kind and interested - but it was certainly very niche.

The antiques though were interesting. Instructions for pens and their use and maintenance had the same sobriety and sense of responsibility that you find in an old car owner's manual - when you were expected to change the oil yourself, check the headlamps, tighten the fan belt, watch your plug gaps with your feeler gauge (my first were 0.65). Same for the pens. Printed ephemera was present but had its own separate show later in the year - beautiful, but my own collection however small has come to me through flea markets, charity shops and relatives. And I rather like that.

Nibs did have a small presence, in their colourful boxes of assorted age. We live not 40 minutes from Birmingham's Gun Quarter, in which not only were small arms manufactured but at one time, the majority of the world's nibs, by companies such as Leonardt, Gillott and Mitchell - and home today of the brilliant Pen Room. So I have many boxes of nibs, and intend to use them all in due course, so on remembering how many there are at home (and that eBay exists) I restrained myself.

Man looking at a nib catalogue! yes! A whole ringbinder of them! He was actually reading it.

Short and sweet, we thought our one hour mooch round the show would be the sum of our autographic experience that day. But it wasn't. Having been fleeced of an additional £86 for a train ticket home (a result of misleading information, badly-printed timetables and robotic staff) we stood the entire trip home in that jostling chilly gap between train carriages - you know the space - and we weren't the only ones. When the similarly-treated besuited man trapped in the door next to us muttered 'f*cking unbelievable' under his breath in a comforting Northern accent, I barked out an enthusiastic agreement. When later, in the middle of his story of a complaint about a missing parcel, I asked if the parcel 'didn't happen to contain a pen, did it?', he eyed me as if I was in possession of special witchy powers. 'Ow d'ya nor that?' he asked, one eyebrow raised. 'Your wristband,' I said '- been to a pen show today?'

Turns out we were trapped in the chilly corridor with Stefan Jackiw, pen restorer and enthusiast of Ukrainian origin hailing from Stockport. We learned more about pens on the accidental train home than we had at the show, and now have a resource for servicing and repairing our own pens. What an enthusiast. Stefan's channel on YouTube is stuffed with tips and demos, found under the name Penkino. And I left the train with his gift of an old Parker Slimfold, with its 'so black it turns blue under moonlight' bodyshell, currently next to me on my desk. Though already full of Diamine Grey, it's not quite made it into the pen tray yet...I need to give it time to get to know the others.

Actually...I did come home with that twelfth pen after all, didn't I?

Grandmia Pens' film of the show:

More on the history of nibs:

and the emergence of the fountain pen:

and the Pen Room, Birmingham (next trip!):


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