Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Angry Robots are the best.

Well you already know that if you pay any sort of attention to my news feed - cage fighting, Jason Statham, Iron Men, Transformers, Robocop, horror films...

But I'm talking in this instance about Angry Robot the publishers. Marc Gascoigne and his team publish sci-fi, fantasy and 'everything in between'. And I can tell you, it's a juicy change from norm, and coupled with the teen fiction, gets my creative fluids flowing.

I've done four books for them, the latest being announced in a cover reveal by them a couple of weeks ago. The second instalment of a trilogy by Emma Newman, Any Other Name deals in gargoyles, secret organisations, magic, deception and arranged marriage. The cover was thus ripe for a little ink-heavy scribbling...obvs. I love them because quite frankly I can settle into my comfort zone of black, detail, swirls, splots and hidden things...and the moon. I love a good moon.

Below is the cover to Any Other Name and its predecessor, Between Two Thorns, and the other two books for Angry Robot, by Cassandra Rose Clarke. Check out my furious Manticore - it's female, you know.

An Act of War (or, If You Create Anything Visual At All, You Will Want To Read This.)

OK. This means war.

For many months now I've been considering a return to that relic of the 90s, watermarking. As of ten minutes ago, that consideration became a steel-hard resolve. Allow me to tell you why. Because you'll want to know.

When I learned about Google Image Search, I decided to drop in one of my images to see how it worked. Within seconds, I'd found that image being used without permission or payment on a perfume website. The owner was easy to find, but her breathtaking ignorance was something else. 'If I hadn't found it on Twitter, I'd have contacted you to ask permission', she bleated.

What? And 'what?' again? I reminded her in idiot-proof terms that it is illegal to steal an image and use it without either asking or paying for it. She knew, she said, because 'I'm an illustration major myself so I know this is how you earn your living'.

Quite. Idiot indeed. She took the image down immediately, with an apology, but nonetheless I was mad, and more than a little unnerved. But she had, presumably and if this is even on her radar, relied upon this being an 'orphaned work' and thus usable by anyone.

Orphaned what? Quick time-travel back to 2008. We went to the ICON Illustration Conference in NYC where I drew a piece on their creative wall about the horror that was the then-proposed Orphan Works Act.

Cute name, but the meaning of it is far from cute:
'An orphan work is a copyrighted work for which the copyright owner cannot be contacted. In some cases, only the name of its creator or copyright owner is known, and no other information can be established. A work can become an orphan because the copyright owner is unaware of their ownership, or the copyright owner has died, or the copyright owner is a company that has gone out of business, and it is not possible to establish to whom ownership of the copyright has passed. In other cases, the author and origin of a work simply cannot be determined, even after great diligence has been conducted.'

'Diligence' in this case can mean a simple internet search. The woman in my case didn't even try - she just took her chances. But if she had, she would have been considered to have carried out a search of due diligence.

Why is this important? Well, in the US anyone can use an image they've found if they have satisfied themselves that although it has a copyright holder, they cannot be traced. How they do this can be as rudimentary as a web search. The Orphan Works Act required anyone who wants to be sure of protecting their work to register in, in a huge central register (the Copyright Act 0f 1976 meant that this requirement to register your copyright in an actual step, introduced in the 1909 Copyright Act, had been eliminated).  In 2008 the Orphan Works Bill was introduced by three Members of the U.S. House of Representatives overseeing intellectual property legislation - it attempted to attach further conditions to try to protect both the copyright of those people whose images were theirs but difficult to locate, and the rights of what are termed 'good faith' users - academics, writers and librarians perhaps who wish to use an image 'in good faith' and for which they can find no owner despite an 'exhaustive' search. The bill was fought hard in that country by creative bodies, organisations and lobbyists, and eventually the bill died having never passed the House of Representatives (although it was passed by the Senate).

At this point, I'd like to remind you that copyright is regarded in most parts of the world as a basic human right. Ownership of your creation is automatic, and legally considered to be an individual's property. It's enshrined in the Berne Convention and other international treaties, where it's considered to be a basic human right. What this means in practice is that you can go after somebody who exploits it without your permission - even if pursuing them is cumbersome and expensive.

Fast forward back to 2013. Having been sent link to a paper cutting artist's website, I viewed the work it and right at the top of the page was a piece of new work under which were the words 'Just need to work out how to make this more 'me' (nabbed the design)'. 
Yep. She said that. Either foolish and very naive or horribly arrogant, her rather derivative works are being sold at reasonable sums of cash. Horrorstruck at the brevity with which the statement was made? I was.

All of this is occurring against a backdrop of ever-more common examples of illustrators' work being appropriated by clothing, bag, jewellery and other companies for use on their goods. A trickle of angry posts and blogs with assorted side-by-side 'My Original vs Their Copy' jpegs are appearing in my daily read, sometimes with triumphant outcomes, sometimes not, but always accompanied by a nervous weariness that, very soon I, along with my creative comrades, will need to dust off our weaponised illo-suits and come out fighting, our intellectual property hiding behind us like terrified bear cubs in need of legislative or self-protection from the tedious but increasing horrors of the 'nabbing' of images.

I thought I had left watermarking and its associated paranoia behind as a relic of the late 1990s, never having to add that extra layer of type over an image, relieved at the welcome spontanaeity of 'jpeg > upload > share'.

So this morning came as a shock. With great stealth, and without it having appeared on any news programme, our lifelong, ancient, inherent right to our own automatically-generated copyright, which has existed as long as time itself, was altered by our own coalition government, courtesy if its 
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Actnauseatingly-nicknamed Instagram Act. Were you consulted? No. I wasn't either. Gory detail here.

Here is the key paragraph from the clearest article doing the rounds this morning:
'For the first time anywhere in the world, the Act will permit the widespread commercial exploitation of unidentified work - the user only needs to perform a "diligent search". But since this is likely to come up with a blank, they can proceed with impunity. The Act states that a user of a work can act as if they are the owner of the work (which should be you) if they're given permission to do so by the Secretary of State.'

Which means what, then?

'In practice, you'll have two stark choices to prevent being ripped off: remove your work from the internet entirely, or opt-out by registering it. And registration will be on a work-by-work basis.'

Since applications like Tumblr replace any naming conventions with a string of numbers and/or letters, a carefully-labelled piece (the equivalent of a label with your name on sewn in your school gymn pants) will instantly be removed, and once it's been reposted only a handful of times, it can be near-impossible to cite the original creator of the thing you liked and wanted to share. Insta-orphaned?

I have spent my entire teaching career reassuring students of the simple fact of automatic copyright. 'Besides,' I would posit, 'exactly what can you do with a 72dpi image? Not much'. I feel teary at my own naivete; though I still refuse to believe the web-using population at large are a bunch of evil, lazy fucks who get a buzz from nicking hardworking people's creations, I still feel a teeth-clenching predictability at having to eat my own words, courtesy of the 'handful that do'. 

So. On the eve of embarking on my new website, built from the ground up, I realise this is a site that will need to be built to take all of this into account. I will need to spend longer online preparing my images, labelling them, cropping them. I will tool them up in armour plating. I will use links to my site instead of just plopping an image in there. I will metatag everything. I WILL use Photoshop's info-embedding tool. And I will hunt you down if I see you using my images. And I'll be checking. 

But more importantly, I will go on using the web and sharing the joy of my creations. I'll keep Facebooking things I've made and want to show you. I'll carry on Tumbling a thing I'm excited about.

Why? Because Fuck Them, that's why.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

To Have And To Hold.

My terribly efficient agent and friend Aaron and his wife-to-be Chris are getting married in July. How could I not offer to do their invitations for them?

Our copy was received in the post this morning. They’ve done the right thing and foil-stamped these expertly in white on a nice stiff manila board, replete with brown envelopes, round postage stamps and the cute little RSVP cards I put together to go with them. Hand-written addresses of course…

The type was created with black ink on paper (what else, I hear you sigh?). The original artwork is travelling over to NYC with our friends Kama and Dave in May, who will hand-deliver it to Aaron.

It’s going to be a beautiful wedding!

Friday, April 26, 2013

To infinity and beyond!

I've done massive illustrations before and they scare me when I have to draw them 'actual size' (unlike my brave compadres Solo One and Carl Rosati, who just draw big and fearless).
So when I say the biggest illustration I've done was over 550 square feet - it was, but the actual artwork was only about A1.

This is another big beast. At 70ft this Holiday Inn Express billboard in Times Square towers over the streets of Manhattan showering onlookers (uplookers?) with mathematical formulae. They were provided by mathematician Professor Cody Worthington, and the job was commissioned by Ogilvy NYC by Dagmar Wong, through Bernstein & Andriulli.

The little guy at the bottom isn't real...but I believe he is named for the professor who helped with the math(s)!

Since the piece is actually made up of 10 separate A3 sections of inverted soft pencil drawings, it was all hands on deck in the Inkymole studio with the fingers of Brook Valentine (link) taking some of the strain. Each separate section was scanned at such a high res it weighed in at a whopping half a gig, thus the transit of a composited piece via an upload link would have made for a very slow and possibly unmanageable file - the whole piece had to be assembled in house at Ogilvy.  The centre lock-up was created in coloured pencil, scanned here and overlaid.

Most important was the scaling - the lettering had to be around 6" when on the board, so all calculations had to be worked back from that. The actual equations themselves were drawn from quantum physics, Butterworth's Lowpass Filter, Radar Equations, Matched Filtering, Electrodynamics, Calculus, Harmonic Motion, Newton's laws, Projection Slice Theorem, Gamma Distribution and more. And yes, of course; we understand every single one of them now!

Here's Justin at Ogilvy experimenting with a test piece of my lettering, blown up and pinned to a window:

Here's a section of untreated formulae:

A detail of the lock-up drawn in in coloured pencil:

You can see the billboard up until mid-June. I wonder what it looks like with those lights on?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Girls And Pens

This is the latest tattoo I've designed for Taylor Mali, New York based poet and teacher.

This is nicely demonstrated on Brook Valentine's fine canvas - don't worry, he's used to seeing photographs of his words emblazoned across assorted female body parts. He attracts those kinds of moves - as he puts it, 'I got interesting photos sent to me of the last tattoo you made for me. Here's one of the ones I can show you.' (Cue photograph of girl pulling knickers aside...you'll need to scroll...)

An imposing and deep-voiced gentleman, Taylor performed at 'If A Girl Writes Off The World' in New York City, along with Shappy Seasholtz, Christine Aptowicz, Bernard Dolan and Sage Himself. Since then, I've offered the use of my pen for his temporary tats as and when a request comes in and time allows.

If you like temporary tattoos, let me know. We've done lots of of them but have few left, and we might do some more. Meanwhile, here is one of my favourite poems by him, 'The Impotence of Proof Reading':

And my second favourite, 'On Girls Lending Pens'.

Friday, April 12, 2013

My So-Called Life

In this blog, two stories combined in a strange and spontaneous way.

In summer 2011 I lay on a beach on a little holiday and announced to Leigh my retirement from chick-lit in favour of the teen fiction that seemed to have been gradually replacing the women's lit for a while. I had got a bit typecast ('scuse the pun) - the Louise Bagshawes, Sophie Kinsellas, Cecilia Aherns and so on) and I was increasingly being asked to do work that wasn't 'me'. Plus, there were plenty of up-and-comers who would be happy to take up that mantle, and good luck to them!

So. It turned out to be the best decision I'd made in years as work rolled in soon after of a type which seemed to suggest 'you were right Mole', including series such as this one, the Rachel Riley Diaries! Number 7, the last one in the series, went off to press last week, but won't be seen on this blog for a bit as it's too new. And it's different from the first six...!

Like my other favourite teen author, Hayley Long, Joanna Nadin has been twice nominated for the Queen of Teen Award; she also has a previous life as Tony Blair's Special Advisor, and as Labour Party Policy Writer. Hmmm, impressive. Equally impressive to me was her working for a pop star (I get the feeling we're the same age) - over to you Joanna:

'I have certainly had a random career path, from being an assistant wardrobe mistress (I got to wash and iron clothes for Fine Young Cannibals’ singer Roland Gift, who was very famous in the 1980s) to reading the news on local radio, to writing scripts for the Prime Minister, and advising John Prescott what to say on TV. Working at Number 10 was incredibly exciting, and without a doubt the best “real” job I have had. And I still write speeches for Ministers now. I just get to do it from the sofa, instead of the corridors of power. As for deciding to become a writer – it was a kind of happy accident, really. I spent so much of my time as a teenager (and later on) inventing a life for myself, like Rachel. A life where things “happened”. But reality never worked out quite like it did in the script. And I felt cheated, until I realised I could give other people the adventures I had wanted for myself. That’s how I ended up writing my first book. Rachel was written as a kind of testament to what I saw as my tedious youth. Because at the time I was desperate to get out. But looking back, it was actually pretty exciting.'

As the news breaks mid-blogging session, I learn we both grew up Thatcher's children with Dads tutting and frowning concernedly at the TV. A fellow outspoken teenager with a mouth as big as her ambitions, I too dreamed of changing the world but through drawing not writing. I may not be changing the world, but on a day when arguably one of the most controversial leaders has just been announced as having passed on, and all that that means, I feel privileged to be drawing for people like Joanna, whose detailed, charming, highly gigglesome stories speak directly to my perma-teen...the same teen who still wears her '85 Top Shop hoops and wanted to marry Limahl but who was always impressed that Margaret Thatcher was a woman - a terrifying one, a misguided one maybe, but a woman. With earrings and everything.

Read about Rachel Riley and her So-Called Life:


And the books can be bought here:

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Graham Robson.

Graham is a student at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, and is about to take his startlingly ready-for-the-universe folio out into the galaxy to try to make a living from his rather charming drawings of animals, characters and journeys.

He also makes books, by hand. A self-taught bookbinder, he designs and prints his own endpapers and packages his books beautifully in hand-cut paper covers.
We were so enamoured of his productiveness, attention to detail and enthusiasm for making things that we decided to put some of his sketchbooks in our shop. They were duly manufactured and sent to us with this typed notelet of instruction.

The one shown at the top is mine, with its special wrapping, and the blue one can be bought in our shop!

You can buy them here:

Box of light.

This is my lightbox, which I made at home in the garage with my Dad's help one weekend in 1990, when I came home from Birmingham Institute of Art and Design. I'd just started a Visual Communication degree, and needed one for the typographic projects that came thick and fast in the first term (26 briefs in one term, plus seminars and written work - a degree WAS a degree then - yep, controversial...)

Macs existed - there were three in the department - but they could only be booked by second and third years, who even then needed supervising. As first years we were banned from using them. And quite rightly so - our tutors were keen for us to work with real leading - that is, blocks of lead between rows of type - practice kerning on paper, use depth scales to typeset 6pt type with a 0.35 Rotring pen; to understand ems, picas, x-heights and descenders; appreciate ascenders, bowls and serifs; to recognise and avoid orphans and widows and to get the right number of dots in an ellipsis.

I loved it all - typography was very nearly the thing I did especially when Bob The Hunky Viking Typography Tutor told me 'I could have a career in it'. The poor chap would be rolling his flashing blue eyes at the liberties I take with letterforms now.

But the lightbox was crucial to tracing those first beautiful characters, and I haven't stopped using it to this day. Made of an old drawer, a spare plug, a strip light from B&Q and a bit of white perspex (from the perspex shop in Digbeth) it traces photographs, enlarges work, creates 'real life' layers outside of Photoshop, and many other tasks.

I've never replaced any of its parts. Proper workmanship you see: Dad + Garage + daughter's request + a screwdriver = 23-year warranty...and counting!

In a Trance.

Danny Boyle's Autobiography was re-issued recently with a new cover by me. The shot of him is lovely - what a nice face! - and it was therefore easy to produce the energetic type and little drawings around this beaming director who clearly loves his job.

The cover is an illustrator's joy as it is both embossed and treated to a spot varnish on the main title and motifs. If you see a copy make sure you stroke it.

If you wanted to buy a copy you can get one from Faber and Faber's website (because we don't to Amazon now, do we?)


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