Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Austen Power

It's the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's 'Pride & Prejudice' this week. At the weekend the Wall Street Journal's 'Arena' magazine ran the story with my pic, done in a day! (Editorial deadlines are among the tightest).

I've never read any JA, always preferring the coarse and unaffected darkness of the Brontes - but should I?

Artwork was commissioned by Manny Velez.

Shelf Stacker

I went into WHSmith recently to get some bits, some stamps and the like. It looked like I'd been in there and bought off the staff to line up a load of my books - but this is honestly just how I found them, all within a few feet of each other. If I'd been with somebody I'd have laughed my head off, but since I was by myself, I'd have looked like a nutter, so just did what anyone else would have done and iPhoned it.

I've now done over 250 books. I reckon I'm on around 260-something - it seems a lot, but remember I've been doing it a long while! I just rarely get to see so many on sale on one place (apart from the charity shops when everyone's finished with their Louise Bagshawes! Yep...they're all mine...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


This was a nice job. Done super-fast in the week before we went to New England for Bernard and Desarae's wedding, I worked with San Francisco agency Attik to produce a series of full-page ads for Scion, highlighting Toyota owned Scion's “Motivate” campaign. This is a forward-looking scheme that promotes entrepreneurship by awarding a small amount of capital, a vehicle and business mentoring to emerging creative businesses. I drew up three really detailed and bouncy illustrations covering the areas of design, fashion, and music, then created a nice hand drawn logo for the campaign. I also had to draw some little tiny cars! I didn't think I could draw cars.

All done over the space of about ten days, and in the bag with just a few hours to spare before the flight to Boston.

The Scion “Motivate” website shows these illustrations coming to life in assorted animations, and tells you a bit more about the scheme. If you're in the US, there's a good chance you'll have seen the ads dotted about in print.

Bernard & Desarae.

2012 was a good year, for all sorts of reasons. One of them was the wedding of our dear friends Bernard and Desarae, in the beautiful setting of the hills of Spencer, Massachussetts.

We've known Bernard a long time. Poet, writer, activist, musician and partner to Sage Francis, BDolan has informed our music libraries and idealogies for almost as many years as Sage himself. He performed at the opening to our 'If A Girl Writes Off The World' show in Manhattan, as Evel Knievel, and as Bombzo the Clown - one of our most memorable evenings ever - and this big, warm, creative human has had a place in our hearts ever since.

So to be asked to make his wedding stationery was an honour indeed. The wedding was, of course, never going to be ordinary, and a whole eighteen months ahead the punk marching band, the puppy groomsman, the record-label stablemates, the cowboy boots and the tux were already in place, and the stationery had to reflect what guests could expect. Their bees, their little house in the woods, and their pets all needed to be in there.

The final Save-the-Date artwork was exchanged an hour before a gig in an unsalubrious Big John's over a plate of chips on BD's UK tour - here's how it developed from sketch to final:

The invites came a few months later, and looked like this. My favourite bit on the whole thing is Cupcake, the pug. Ella, the kitty, is in her cowboy boots, and we met both of them at the wedding, naturally.
In fact, I'm gonna blow up the doggy so you can see her, right here. She was as cute as she looks, but not so anxious as I've drawn her here. And she was SOLID.

The original sketch had a bit more bat action - culling the bats was in the end the only concession to tradition:

And in September, high up on a New England hill, the wedding took place in a barn, under hot sun which forced all the guests into shades so we could ALL look like record company execs. Bride Desarae not only organised virtually the entire wedding, she was instrumental in making two pale English vegans feel welcome and most handsomely catered for (our own dessert table? come on!), was the model of a perfect hostess throughout the whole event - no mean feat at your own wedding - and was beautiful on the day, a sparkly princess wearing crystals and that precious vintage ring which formed the centrepoint of the illustration. We spent time with a lot of people we don't see very often but who play important parts in our lives. I'll always be grateful we got the chance to be part of this very personal event, and that my pencils helped to create it - it remains among my favourite jobs of all time. Thank you Bernard and Desarae.

C'mon, Vogue!

Free make-up arriving in a bag direct from Vogue HQ? Go on then!

Rebecca Mason at British Vogue asked me to illustrate an article on some of the golden rules of makeup for their January edition - you know, those rules you follow religiously as a nervous teenager but then flagrantly disobey as an adult! Quotes were taken from key makeup artists behind some of the biggest global brands like Dior, Nars, and Clinique and drawn using the actual pencils and liners they'd sent. Going from an ultra-fine liner pen to chunky pink lip gloss was a bit of a challenge - scale had to alter, and you can't apply any where near as much pressure as you can with a pencil or pen - but I conquered the learning curve, two versions and several hours later with a face full of the stuff. Well I needed to put those rules to the test didn't I? Here's the evidence.

Running on 45rpm.

As well as illustrating, there are a lot of things that go on here which involve things besides pencils. For example, a few people know we make these 45rpm record adapters, and have done for years.

I was interviewed in December by Computer Arts magazine for their 'My Design Classic' feature, whereby one is asked to pontificate on a piece of design which, for any number of reasons, has stood the test of time. Mine had, of course, to be the humble plastic 45rpm adapter. Long in love with the little shape and its iconic meaning, its power of suggestion, its universal symbolism, it was the obvious choice, one which pre-dates my love for any particular font or image.

We're what's known as a 'long-tail' business - one which makes a very niche product for a very specific market, but one of which there are so many, they collectively can rival large companies - and as such we'll never retire on these. But we are the only people still making them, and we sell all over the world, to record labels, collectors, Northern Soulers, promo companies and jewellers. We can make them in hundreds of colours - and, as it has nothing at all to do with illustration, It's always been a healthy diversion. There's nothing like wrapping up an order of 'stuff' when you'r used to emailing over a file.

The story is in the article itself, but it's posted at the end in its entirety, in case you don't fancy squinting at a jpeg. The more-readable PDF can be found here.

And the adapters themselves? In the shop, where else?

'I can't remember when these things first came to my attention, but I was quite small. I am of an age when you could pop into Woolworth's with £1.40 on a Saturday and buy a 7" single, and they would often come in a plain bag with one of these - a dink, spider, 45 adapter, whatever name you know it by - in the middle.

Designed out of necessity, it's endured as a symbol of music, dance, rebellion, teenagers, mods and collectors the world over. It's also something that has been adapted and customised for individual bands and movements, yet its form-follows-function necessity means that it always comes back to the universally recognised shape it is now. Even if you didn't know what it was for originally, you know what it means or represents. And I love them.

When 7"s were produced mainly for the jukebox market, they were designed around the machinery - big record players with inch-and-a-half fat spindles onto which a record once selected would drop, through the corresponding hole in the centre. When people began buying singles for use at home, the earliest record players (once moved beyond the 'gramophone!') had these wide spindles, but quickly began to be produced with the 8mm-or-so spindle we now know (I could give you the exact measurement in tenths of a millimetre, should you need it...) But record plants could still only produce singles with those ginormous holes in the centre, so the 45 adapter, first designed by Tom Hutchison for RCA, was created to fill it - snap it in, bung the record on, and hit Play. No more wobbling and sliding. As a shape, it's beautiful. Not only does it have absolute symmetry, and the ever-comforting continuity of a circle, it has personality - little limbs reaching out for the edge of the record, and gripping firmly - 'it's OK! I got it! Put the needle down!' It is additionally a symbol of an era in high-fidelity when a turntable wasn't an optional USB-enabled accessory - it was essential, and the warm organic sound of vinyl was the norm. It has the trustworthy, timeless feel of a long-established serif font - if it was one, it would be the delicious Cooper Black.

Much of my life has been shaped, flavoured and directed by music - I studied it, played it, did my courting to a non-stop stream of newly-emerging music, witnessing the birth of brand new genres as we did so. We ran a pirate radio station, made records, and met some of our dearest friends through music. This little shape is symbolic of all of that - we put it on our first ever t-shirts, we used it on our flyers, we became obsessed with the different shapes, materials and colours this elegant object was produced in.

So it was inevitable I'd end up making them, I suppose. When we discovered they weren't produced anymore, we decided to make our own. We're now the only people manufacturing them, and after four years of research, development and prototyping, they've been made to our own design right here in England for years. Niche - maybe. Nerdy - certainly. Big in Japan? You bet. But they're a timeless example of semiotics, and seeing one is like walking in under a big neon sign that says "Music Spoken Here".'

Lady in Red

You might have driven past this lady on a billboard this January - the new Kellogg's girl. I drew her with inks for the latest instalment in the Special K 'What Will You Gain?' campaign, and she's become an inked-in girl rather than a photographic one.

Or rather...she WAS. Although I did the dress which is pretty much the 'hero' (ad-speak) of the piece - by hand using three shades of red ink on paper - this was one of those jobs which started out magnificent but ended up a bit sad, in the 'tears-in-the-eyes' sense, not the sarcastic sense. For I was commissioned to create the girl and dress in one illustration, and I did, via several versions of our K girl - red hair, brown hair, eyes to the side, eyes straight ahead, reds lips, open lips, brown lips, and so on.

The result was this organic-looking thoroughbred beauty with her subtly confident sensual gaze. As is sometimes the way in the world of advertising, despite a bloody behind-the-scenes fist fight, she was scrapped (already three days past the original pre-Christmas deadline) by an unknown but higher-up link in the feedback chain. So my lovely girl was substituted for one formed from a combination of digital brush strokes and photographic features...which is the one you see on the billboards.

The art buyer, creatives and I fought the good fight, and were annoyed of course, but such is the way of advertising. Shit happens, (which is going to be the official title of one of my lectures these days) but thanks to this blog, I'm able to show you the 'proper' version right here!

Colouring in for a living No. 2

I thought I'd got a 'dream job' when Crayola asked me to work for them. (I don't really believe in 'dream jobs' actually, same as 'dream houses' or 'dream holidays', since my 'dream' if I had one was only really to earn a decent crust through drawing, which is where I ended up. Posh clients and status weren't really part of the deal.)

But...I digress. Crayola crayons? Why of course! And could I be paid partly in dosh and partly with goodies? Yes, I could! So I made these covers for their 'Wild Notes' notebooks, on sale only in the US I'm afraid, along with a pretty box to put things in, which as anyone who knows me will know, is exciting, as I'm extremely into compartmentalising and containers. And notebooks, as one glance at my desk will demonstrate.

Here are the covers, available from Target stores and other good toy shops in the USofA. Thanks Fran at Bernstein & Andriulli for posting these over. The Crayola lorry hasn't yet been seen reversing up to the studio's double doors, but there's still time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

His Master's Voice

Today the news of HMV entering the hands of the administrators broke. It IS a shame, of course it is, for the founders of the business (although no longer with us) and the 4000+ staff who are possibly about to lose their jobs.

But this is clearly a business that could not compete with the likes of Amazon. Either because they failed to see the future of music and film buying or because they did, but didn't make the necessary changes and plans to enable the company to absorb them. And because Amazon will eat everything in its path, skilfully dodging taxes en route.

A shame. But use it, or lose it. Our source of power comes from our wallets and purses. If you choose carefully who to spend your money with, you have the power to affect who stays in business and who doesn't. There's a reason the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury's own such an enormous chunk of the British grocery-buying public's budget.

So if you have a local record shop, patronise it. Even if you have to order in what you want and wait a little bit. The Record Store Day website will find your nearest record shop for you.If you have to order online, order music direct from record labels - Ninja Tune are an excellent example of this, along with online stores such as Bleep, Boomkat and Juno. For harder-to-find stuff, there's, predictably, Hard To Find in Birmingham (shop and online), Music Stack and the deeply impressive Discogs, where you can bash that long-sought record into their search engine and find copies wherever they lie - and buy one!

I'm sure at this point my record-buying friends will be only too pleased to suggest further outlets which circumnavigate the behemoths.

Books don't have to come from Amazon either - The Green Door Bookshop is a beautiful little outlet for children's books - and good grief, while we still have Waterstone's, bloody well use it (their website states robustly that their taxes are all paid within the UK). If you're in London, you're spoilt for choice - one of our favourites is Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace - physical and virtual - and the charming little chain Daunt Books is now online too.

Elsewhere will find your local book shop for you via a search for the book you're after, or via your postcode (a search for independant book shops in my area found eight). There's always the British High Street legend WH Smith (also online) - we may not pay that much attention to it, but we'll all be mourning when that's gone too. Use them. Their selection of stuff may be patchy and mainstream, but have you actually tried asking them to order you something? They can do it for you, again if you're able to exercise a little patience.

These gems are out there - use them. I saw a meme going round just before Christmas encouraging people to shop ''elsewhere', and while I applauded its sentiment, I got mad about its Christmas-centric message. Why not all year? Why not for all your stuff? I could write blog after blog on where to shop - the likes of Etsy, Folksy, artists' own shops, museum shops, Big Cartel shops and all manner of tiny 'long-tail'* businesses deserve your money far more than Amazon, and always offer more diverse, changeable but unique range of goodies.

Maybe I will write blog after blog, and share the love. After all, we're a nation of shopkeepers aren't we?

(Image created in homage to HMV, for our record label Blunt Force Trauma in 2005.)

*products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals, or exceeds, the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, but only if the store or distribution channel is large enough.

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