Monday, July 29, 2013

Mr Robson Takes The Floor.

Assistant Graham has mounted a small but perfectly curated exhibition of his work here in the gallery space.

Along with his neat and thoughtful stories told with and without words, he's stepped gently from his comfort zone and painted two large-scale pieces on the walls, in Dulux's delicious interior matte mini-pots, which involved a trip in the toy car to the Dulux Centre armed with colour chips and an iPhone. (Which is where, incidentally, Graham introduced me to the joy of the Adobe Kuler app).

His work is ready-to-go, an unusually confident and resolved folio of characters, stories, colour and life, and he's already plugged himself into a few different creative projects here, the results of which we can share once they're live.

We had a few friends and colleagues round at the weekend to enjoy his work, and it'll be here for a few more days if you'd like to see it too. Just email, phone or message us through this blog!

A-grades on other side of the world.

I was contacted the other day by an educational board in Australia who were clearing permissions for an Australian schoolgirl to use some of my images in her research project. I've never heard of this being done before, but apparently they do it for every student.  In the light of the new ERR Bill and changes to Orphan Works legislation here, I thought this was an excellent practice to introduce and make pupils aware of in the very early stages of their creative careers. So I asked if I could see the project in question, and whether it was OK for me to write about. They said it was, and sent it to me.

It's awesome, frankly. Awesome not only to see the impact my own scrawlings are having on a little girl I don't know on the other side of the world, and that she likes them enough to write about them, but awesome because it's so very thorough, well-written and observed.

I once wrote a blog containing the sentence 'there IS no School of Inkymole', but if there was one, this girl looks as if she's attended and been on time every single day of term. She makes connections between my work and historical illustration that I never have myself (but was pleased to see), observes influences from classical art and design movements, and notices inspirations which to me are largely unconscious, but clearly obvious enough for her to identify.

Having worked all of this out, she proceeds to reverse-engineer the work to find out how she can do it herself, with a series of well-executed pastiches and practice pieces, to satisfyingly high standards (I particularly like 'In The Style of Inkymole'.) She colour-codes the work so you know what's hers and what's mine, and what's an external reference. She then tops it off with a forensic bibliography showing references extending way beyond the internet. (Fabulous. Degree students - take note!)

Some illo-grumps I've come across might say this is a thing to be wary of, a schoolkid 'aping' my work with an apparently laser-like view to upstaging my career one day, but I don't see it like that at all. A), she's obviously already skilled and hard-working enough to have her own style one day. B), by the time she does, I'll have moved on, several times. And then C), the work's so carefully done, and she writes with so much warmth, that I can't find a single reason to be grumpy about anything!

I'm not allowed to know who the student is (and I've had to edit some bits of the info), but whoever she is I applaud her little project and feel the absolute wonderfulness of being a positive creative influence on somebody I've never met. Thanks, mystery stude! You made my day.

Male Me Heart.

This is the piece I created for Mail Me Art 3: Short and Sweet, which is coming to our gallery this year after its London showing.

The brief, in case you're unfamiliar with the show which is fast becoming a regular in the illustration calendar, is to put a piece of art work on a C5 envelope and post it. No props, no wrapping, no hiding inside a box - if it gets battered, so be it!

Like the joyrider I am, I once again mine the words of Sage Francis. I have a content void which I frequently need to fill with other people's words, as that is where the visual stuff starts. Without that I can be a pen without ink, if you will. Desperate to create, but not sure of what to say. The open-heart here has references to male and female genitalia but they are quite subtle - it's a reference to how you can't really DO ANYTHING creative unless you have the proper thrust (you know, a hard-on for it) and it also refers to how Leigh and I have totally different skills but can only ever achieve things if we work together. The song I've written out here is called Specialist, and we're specialists, if you like, at our own skills, but we cannot function without each other's.

So there you have it. Personal work eh. No wonder it takes me eight times as long as client work. Male Me Heart can be seen at the MMA Short and Sweet show from Friday August 9th.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wobbily Painted Stones: Ethics.

I've been asked lots of times about whether there is anyone I wouldn't work for.

Well, there is, in theory. There are jobs I've declined - they include one for KFC (as a vegan this was unpalatable to me), one advertising cigarettes to a 'pre-choice' audience (in other words, directing underage as-yet-potential smokers toward their eventual brand choice), and one for a supermarket clothing company launching a range of padded bras to pre-teens. With those jobs, it's pretty clear why I chose not to do them.

But it isn't that simple. I've found that it's impossible to have a black-and-white rule. So we have a set of criteria and a process instead. This is our system, As something that's evolved over the years, I thought it would be helpful to share it.

1) Ask how strongly you feel about the client. For example, for me, McDonalds would be a no, under any circumstances and regardless of any fee. An organic butchers however I'd not have an issue with.
However, should McDonald's one day announce they were sourcing ALL of their meat products globally from 100% organic sources - that might be a campaign I'd jump on.

2) Then look at what they're asking you to do. If it is an ad campaign, promoting products which you yourself would never buy, and you feel that they are ethically and/or morally unsound for whatever reason, then your answer is likely to be no. If it's a repeat pattern for the staff's new uniforms, does that change how you feel about it?

3) Someone will get paid to do the job, whether it's you or someone else. If you take the job, how likely are you to take that money and feed it into 'healthy' or ethically/environmentally/morally sound and positive organisations or systems? For example, we are vegan and largely organic - thus we might consider that the fee money is 'laundered' because it will be spent on organic foods from tiny independant stores, and to our friends' little organic farm down the road, supporting and feeding their businesses. You may feel differently.

4) Are you happy for your creations to be associated with the brand? Things live for a long time on the web!

5) Finally, can you take the work you've done and use it to gain more work? If you do, are you likely to attract similar clients, thus creating potential for similar dilemmas? Is it something you would rather keep quiet afterwards? And if so, are you ready to make similar compromises in future?

The main rule we follow is that there can be no blanket rule - assess every job on its own merits, and you'll always come to the right decision.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I was asked recently for some pointers on buying vegan shoes. After a few minutes' conversation, it dawned on me that there is a much longer reply than just handing out a couple of vegan shoe contacts.

In fact, we've realised that after 16 years of being vegan we have come to the (initially awkward) conclusion that with our footwear, it really does have to be about the wider picture. We make no secret that we are vegan and live our lives as ethically as possible, with the smallest footprint (er, pun, soz) that we can manage practically and economically, but the place we have arrived at is one that has formed gradually from a mid-90s fug of confusion, severely limited options and no internet, to one of well-stewed consideration, thought and rationalising, as time-served shoppers.

Our criteria, for every purchase we make, covers the source of the object, its manufacture (location and process), transit, and ingredients. For shoes - the topic I was originally consulted on - we can no longer make 'but is it made of animal parts?' our only consideration.

So in compiling my response, I thought it might be helpful to others vegans, or potentials, to share it. Here goes.

A shoe-buying decision ends up being almost mathematical, for example using these scenarios. It's a X or a √.
They're all based on personal experience.

Recycled Plastic + Made In Taiwan = x
(Why? Recycled plastic better for environment, but cancelled out by exploited workers earning 1p a day with no wee breaks + cost to the environment of shipping)

Plastic + Made in the UK = √
(Why? Plastic is environmentally unsound, but supporting a British-based company outweighs this. No air freight. Recycled plastic + Made in the UK would obviously be ideal, but doesn't yet exist)

Chrome-tanned Leather + Made in the UK = x
(Why? leather = unappealing for us as vegans + chrome tanning is catastrophic for the environment, regardless of where shoes are constructed)

Vegetable-tanned Leather + Made in an Ethically-approved Chinese Factory = √
(Why? Unappealing for us as vegans BUT veg tanning is virtually harmless to the environment, and ethically-approved factories in China are acceptable, though cost to the environment of shipping must be thought about too)

Vegetable-tanned Leather + Made in the EU - √√ (
Why? unappealing for us as vegans BUT veg tanning is virtually harmless to the environment + EU manufacturing is safe + shipping most likely by sea or land)

Second-hand shoes = always a √√√

Once you also factor in the durability of non-leathers, like Pleather, plastic, PVC, nuede, fabric and nylon, you can see there is more to working this out than first thought.
Here are some examples.

Example 1:
£150 vegan shoes which last 2 years = x (expensive, should last but rarely do in my experience, and thus uneconomical)

Example 2:
Second-hand leather shoes = animal copped it years ago. The shoes are likely to last - they have done so far. If they don't though, you've only spent a few quid, all of which went to charity = √√√

Example 3:
Nice £70 Tom's brand shoes = vegan, every pair you buy the company donates one pair to someone in a third world country.
Thus, your £70 actually pays for two pairs. Great ethics.
However, they are fabric and are thus strictly dry weather summer shoes - a good investment? Could last many summers? Only you can decide this for yourself!
Made in China...but they are working to maintain standards. Make of those kinds of statements what you will - some will be genuine.

Example 4:
£10 non-leather shoes from the High Street = x (will be made in the Far East where at least one human if not several in the chain are being exploited - leave well alone. ANYTHING AT ALL from Primark is poison, non-leather or not. I care not how skint you are - you can make better choices with that hard earned fiver.)

Example 5:
£60 leather shoes from Clarks = traditionally, they will last a long time, but they are a) leather b) made now in the Far East! and c) definitely not vegetable-tanned

Example 6:
£50 shoes from Vegetarian Shoes = not, in our experience, built to last = x
Thus you will most likely end up buying another pair in a year = 200% more synthetic materials used to make shoes in a period which one pair of properly-made shoes should have covered.
Consider instead the possibility of ONE pair of well-made properly sourced leather shoes which will last for many more years.
Total toll on humans and environment is therefore much lower, though animals skins HAVE been used.

You can begin to see why it really isn't that simple. And only you can decide what feels right.

Hot tip: I do a LOT of phoning companies ahead to find out where things are really made. Sometimes they are hostile towards you, or defensive. Don't be put off. Companies need to get used to answering such queries. If they have nothing to hide, they'll answer you.

I do not eat or use animals in ANY part of my life and haven't done for 16 years - this extends to cosmetics, all bathroom stuff, food, drink, materials, clothing, shoes - everything - with the first pair of leather shoes bought earlier this year, after much research and reading and thinking. So I do not take the decision to buy them lightly. I DO put human suffering above animal suffering, since the reality is I feel I have more control over that, but my entire lifestyle is built to cut out my part in any and all animal suffering, and has been for a very long time.

But I would always, always say, however, that it is worth it. Always. My conscience is tortured by many things, but playing a part in inflicting damage on any other living creature is not one of them.

My entire shopping archive is below, male and female, organised by type - and not just shoes!

Enjoy the freedom.



John Partidge
Smedley (BEAUTIFUL knitwear)
Oliver Spencer (some things made in England)
Nudie Jeans
(Japanese/English/Swedish made, organic denim, no sinister finishes)
Vivienne Westwood
Dries Van Noten
Edwin Sen jeans on Liberty website
J Lindeberg (navy trousers etc. made in Croatia)
(has an actual UK factory shop near Derby too)

Beavers of Bolton! 'Country attire' - fitted coats and Tweed

Thundercrackers, smalls etc.:

Philip James Hinckley: Socks, Pantherella
Co-op: Socks,
Socks by HJ Hall, made in Hinckley
Howies: Long Johns
Underwear: look for handmade on eBay



General: (you'll LOVE THESE - clothes manufactured in Leicester!)

Great Plains
(check both of these first - a lot of things still made in China, but a lot in the EU - based in Leicester) (coats) (good) (tights, stay-ups etc.) > Bernard wedding outfit! (accessories) - they're particularly good (sportswear) (underwear) - SUPERB coats and shirts (nice tops) (general)

Cardies and cute dresses:

Arm warmers!

Lace/crochet collars and things:

REAL NICE Dresses:

We live across the road from an enormous tights and stockings factory, Pamela Mann.
We watch tights being made in hundreds of colours and styles.
You can't get much more ethical than that.

For legwear a little more sturdy, try (German engineering, incredibly hardwearing)
and the Austrian wonder that is
with is AWESOME near-porn photography. Everyone's a winner!
These till will probably outline you. My peacock-feather-topped stockings and winter tights are testament.


+ Your creative mates!
Most of my jewellery is either second hand, inherited, my own but decades old, or made by chums as pressies etc.


Some Co-op bags are vegan and not made in China - check the labels.

Handmade hemp/nylon bags ACE!

SHOES: (beautiful and very hardwearing/practical) (USA)
Loints of Holland
Hotter (British company, but check the things you like for manufacturing) (USA)


Actual physical shops:

Junky Styling, Dray Walk, off Brick Lane, London

Equa Clothing Limited
28 Camden Passage (just off Upper Street)
(market stall nearby)

Ekyoga 186 Kings Road SW3 5XP

Oxfam Boutique 123a Shawfield Street SW3 4PL

Viv Westwood! 430 Kings Road SW3

Top Shop's basement, Oxford Circus has local designers and very small independant makers
78 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002 USA

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mail Me Art 2013 - Short and Sweet!

Every year for the past few years Darren di Lieto, who runs the massively popular Little Chimp Society illustration blog, has put together a labour of love he calls Mail Me Art.

The idea is brilliantly simple: ask 200 of your favourite illustrators to create artwork on a C5 envelope and post it back to you. Any theme, any subject, any media - the only stipulation being that the art is what it is, without folding or other attachments, and whatever state it arrives in when Darren receives it, that's how it will go into the show!

First coming to our attention a couple of years ago when he was doing a book signing at the big Borders in Leicester, we popped in to see him and ended up chatting online a bit later. We kept in touch, and in the meantime, our gallery space was built here at 71.

It was therefore natural that when it came to thinking about a new space in the Midlands for the Mail Me show, whose traditional home is in London, Darren being a local lad thought of our gallery. And thus, we are proud to announce that Mail Me Art 'Short and Sweet' will be opening here on August 9th at 6.30pm.

This year the show includes work by ex-Inkymole assistant Brook Valentine, eyes-and-ears collaborator Bob Neely and Inkymole's writing department Ed Garland, alongside more established illustration stalwarts like witchcraft-in-metal Melanie Tomlinson, Jon Burgerman, Linzie Hunter and The Boy Fitzhammond. And me (there's a modest slice of mine on the flyer, a black ink eye-strainer).

Oh - and 192 more of course!

RSVPs this time will go to Darren: (But as usual, any questions can be directed to me or Leigh!)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Boo-tiful Creatures.

My colleague and friend at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design Robert Sharl was watching 'Beautiful Creatures' with his daughter over the weekend, when he noticed what he thought was my To Kill A Mockingbird book cover in a classroom scene.

And lo, on rewinding and screen-capturing, it is!

I haven't seen the film but it appears in a classroom scene where each student has a copy. A quick Wikipedia (and conversation with Rob) confirms that the books isn't an accidental choice; the film draws parallels with Harper Lee's story of the feared and mis-trusted Boo Radley in his shadowy existence, and that of the Casters, a breed of human capable of casting certain kinds of banned and rare spells, like changing the weather and casting illusions.

Described by Rob as 'flawed but enjoyable', as opposed to Twilight's 'po-faced horribleness', I think I have to watch it now! For the costumes alone...have you seen some of those dresses?

(Image © Alcon Entertainment)

71 + The Little Hidden People.

Graham's just painted us a new 71 on the front door. We like to ask guests to do this for us sometimes - we had Richard Hogg make us a geometric turquoise one when he had his show here, and the last one by Brook Valentine was in vulgar gold in my choice of much-loved Cooper Black.

Graham's was a nice surprise. If you come round to see his work currently adorning our walls, come and knock! And count the hidden people while you wait for us to answer.

Graham Robson.

We are pleased to introduce our new assistant Graham, who comes to us fresh if a little tired from an excellent degree show at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design's Visual Communication BA.

Graham is responsible for the terribly appealing Mole you might already have seen if you're been near my Facebook or Twitter page!

From the tedious to the horribly pressured, the everyday to the mucky-hands-at-the-coalface, Graham is already weaving himself info the fabric of our creative existence with his calm blend of flat-clean graphic illustrations and love of narrative. Coming to us with a high degree of technical prowess as well, he already has a folio which is eager to run off into the world of freelancing, which we hope to be able to ease him into during his time in our slightly chaotic, unorthodox studio.

His nicely organised website is here:

He likes 'making stuff' too, and we're already selling his beautiful hand-bound books in our shop:

And he currently has a little show of work in our gallery space and is working on some first-time large-scale wall paintings. If you're in the area and would like to pop in and see it, just message us.

Rather than get Graham to talk about himself in the traditional way, we just asked him some probing questions. Here are his answers!

Would you like to be an axeman like your character? He looks like he has the most idyllic, if a little lonely, lifestyle.

In some respects yes - the freedom: to explore and adventure through a landscape where nobody has been before, to build a home with his own hands wherever he pleases. But yes, like you say - It would be rather a lonely way to go through life.

Tell me about things you have made with your hands (ie, without a computer).

The way my work looks today in many ways was born when I was introduced to linocut, I loved everything about it - the way I had to design everything backwards, even to lifting the lino and  hoping I had a clear print. But I especially loved using limited colours. Although I don’t do as much linocut these days as I would like, it is still at the heart of what I do even when I’m working completely digitally.

I also enjoy book binding, although I have had no training, I love designing little sketchbooks of my own design. I like to give them a theme, e.g. ‘Nautilus’ for my ocean themed books and ‘Lunar’ for my moon themed ones.

And what have you found on eBay recently that took your fancy?

I have recently developed a rather strange interest in Soviet era Russian cameras. There’s just something about them that I love. They look quite different to any other cameras I have seen before; they have this awesome cyrillic script engraved in them and in true Russian style they are built like tanks. The only downside is they seem to have a strange musk to them, that, in the 50 years since my camera rolled off the production line, doesn’t seem to have lessened even slightly.

Why did you choose illustration and not graphic design?

Graphic design is something that has always interested me, and when I started my Visual Communication course at BCU I almost went for it. But I would have definitely missed designing fun characters and interesting landscapes that I’d want to explore, and I would especially miss working with narrative. In some ways I think my illustration has a graphic quality to it, so I think my love of design still creeps through without me choosing it as a career path.

Did you have a plan for after college, you mind that we are gatecrashing that plan (or lack thereof?)

As the end of university crept nearer, it started to dawn on me that I might want to make plans for when I finished. I knew I wanted to be a freelance illustrator - and still do. But the finer details of this - working with clients, finances & all the other important parts that enable the drawing bit of being an illustrator were something of a mystery. So when I was asked to help out at Inkymole I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss out on.

What would you like to learn while you’re at Inkymole HQ?

Like I said, I want to learn what it takes to be a working illustrator - to actually make a living from doing what I enjoy. As much as I wish being an illustrator was just making fancy doodles all day, there are lots of other parts that are just as important. And the more that I can learn, from folks who have been through it all before, the better!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bee Troot.

I boiled a load of beetroots the other day and kept the juice in jars.

A casual question from assistant Brook Valentine got me thinking. A bit later I dipped my pens in it to see what would happen. Would it stay as neon pink as it was when it spilled all over my kitchen surface and hands? Would it stain the paper the same way it stained my top?

I drew a spontaneous beetroot and set it to dry for a few days. I forgot to photograph it when it was fresh, but the ink looked like this:

Four days later, it's faded to practically grey in places, which I quite like:

And looks for all the world like I've scanned it and taken the saturation down to about 25%:

I think because it has no pigments or light fasteners, optical brighteners and so on, it won't hold its colour. Unlike the particular inks I'm trialling at the minute, who are proper attention-seeking 'life and soul of the party' inks. Not quite as neon as Doctor Phileas Martin's inks, but very satisfyingly close! I used my latest inks to design my Christmas cards, and the artwork was until recently still up on the wall, with not a hint of fade or tiring.

Anyway. I just thought I'd experiment. It's in a fountain pen at the moment, and it seems to flow through it OK, though I'm not sure the manufacturer nor hordes of pen geeks would approve.


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