Monday, August 31, 2015


Our friend Rich is a kind and busy soul who has petrol in his veins, wiring looom diagrams printed on the inside of his eyelids and big nut-wrenching fingers, just the sort of bloke you want to hand your precious special car to.

Which is what we’ve been doing for many years now. His Dynodaze Customworx garage has looked after, embellished, repaired and modified our Soarer UZZ32 V8, our Mazda 323 V6, Chrysler Jeep Straight 6, Pao, Micra(s), Peugeot 406, Peugeot 406 Coupé V6, the Surprisingly Great Mondeo ST (V6…), The Carry Van and The Other Pao. He’s patient and tolerant of our vehicle-based whims and ideas, and is just as happy* forcing a Micra engine under a Pao bonnet as servicing our incredibly dull Family Saloon.


So when he asked if I would look at the graphics for his big project, his Honda Civic EG, I said OK. The car was to advertise his business, Dynodaze Customworx, and he’s been working on it for a year (while maintaining his Supra, rebuilding the engine on his 'daily', a VW Passat and modifying his son's Seat Arosa and now new Honda Civic). He’s just painted it white:

and added SHINY NEW PEARLESCENT ORANGE WHEELS, so this became the original of the colour palette:

Oh sorry, didn’t you get a proper look at that?

I first of all tweaked his Customworx logo as it had become a bit dated, so I backed into it with my calligraphy pens and gave it a fresh flow and up-and-down energy.

Here’s the old logo, all bruised from an over-revved vectorising:

Here’s all the penwork:

And here’s how it ended up - still vector’d, but still very much looking like its spiky youthful self:

Then we put that together with some slabs of starts-every-time Impact, in grey:

A rev counter drawn in Illustrator, to Rich’s specification:

And TA-DA!
Vinyl man came and stuck it on, after thinly-veiled threats from me to ENLARGE OR REDUCE IN PRO…

and here is the finished beast:

Ouch! Those tricky br(e)akes! No wonder Vinyl Man was a bit 'cool' towards me at first, till I bought him a coffee!

It's always good to see one’s daubs on a different surface. Next thing is to sort out the colours for the engine bay, which we think will be orange and purple…or will it be purple and orange…?


About three years ago Leigh and I were talking about how my visiting lecturer spots were becoming fewer, and about how when I did them, the fee had been squeezed or hadn’t increased (or had even decreased) for years.

At these lectures, which the colleges and universities seemed to have sadly stopped being able to find the money for, I’d talk about promotion, trying things out, getting your tax sorted, arranging your working day, and getting your first job - the nuts and bolts - and what one student now famously described to me afterwards as ’the meat in the sandwich’ that had been missing from her course.

Me, at a public engagement, being Friendly And Approachable:

At around the same time, I became uncomfortable with my growing awareness of the proliferation of new blogs and sites claiming to offer help and advice to ‘new illustrators’. These were articles written by people with some experience in the trade, which seemed well-meaning and well-researched in the first instance, but carried a mildly bullying tone and a certain, almost imperceptible sense of oneupmanship**. What they also gave off, I’d begun to notice, was a sense that you did it their way, or no way - the fetishisation, for example, of the super-early riser;  the urgency of the tech-obsessed social networking evangelist, or the puritanism of the ‘you must get a studio/move to London/suffer to be taken seriously’ preachers. These articles often took the form (and still do) of scary lists, looking something like:


Nice eh?

Now, even I don’t want to read anything with that title. I’d scared of it. I’m also slightly insulted by it - and its unneccesary capitalisation - so goodness knows how a new graduate feels about it. I’ve got a lot of experience at being an illustrator, but more importantly I have a lot more experience of being a human. And although I have never been without work - since before graduation, when the first tentative low-paid paid jobs peeped in - it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been very hard work, and sometimes a struggle, and sometimes, a big old thousand-piece funny-shaped jigsaw puzzle.

So we talked and talked about this, Leigh and I, and he came up with the idea of talking to some of the other creatives we know, the ones who’ve also arrived at a creative career but don’t think they’ve ‘arrived’ at all, and are busy still developing, learning and trying. What would they say about how to ‘get there’? What would THEIR definition of success, or even of creativity itself, be?

Could we take those thoughts and put them into a film some kind of documentary to be take right into the same educational environment that seemed to need it so badly?

The result came in the form of eight interviews, conducted over an approximate 18-month period in New York and the UK, at assorted venues depending on when and where we could hook up with our chosen colleagues. In a noisy West Side apartment, in a Bristol Barber’s shop, a Battersea Park bench passed by endless runners, a kit-filled front room, a workshop beset by clucking hens, a steamy kitchen and a toy-covered studio, each of the improvised locations provided an accidental atmosphere and a charming DIY-ness to each interview.

We wrote a set of questions beforehand, and with cameraman in tow, each individual was asked those same questions. The outcomes were simultaneously surprising and predictable - people said the same thing, in a very different way; or had an opposing experience, with the same outcome; some were non-stop chatters, whose miles of footage we had to chip away at like a block of granite, and others said just enough, right on cue!

Whichever way the interview went, we ended up with 55 minutes of rich, golden nuggets of advice, thoughts and reflections culled skilfully by our famous editor Lisa - herself a candidate for a Stupid Enough interview at some point - which formed the final film, ‘Stupid Enough’.

The title, in case you’re wondering, was used as a working title after film director Gareth Edwards rather clumsily answered the question, ‘what is creativity?’

If we had a quid for everything we’ve done business-wise that seemed bonkers, expensive, risky, a financial black hole, or a foolhardy experiment that could completely exhaust us, we’d have a lot of quids. So we know where he’s coming from - this is the man, after all, who wrote and directed and produced a film 'entirely off his own back’, with no idea of whether that would lead to worldwide fame or bankruptcy, or even just ‘back to the day job’. (If you Google him, you can find the answer.)

And the answers of course ARE out there, it’s just that they can’t be found in one place, on one blog, and certainly not from one person’s mouth, no matter how experienced or confident they might seem. Only by having conversations and trying things out for yourself can you get along. And certainly, you won’t do very well if you feel bullied, patronised or belittled into trying to measure up to someone else’s vision of 'how it should be done’.

So if you think your college, lecturer chums, department, colleagues or fellow students could use a bunch of heads handing you friendly-shaped solid gold in the form of reassurances, thoughts, ideas and advice, get them to look at and book us in for a session. We bring the parallel but contrasting experiences of our own lives, plus the gems from eight other people’s. We think it’s going to be helpful.

**Not all books and sites offering creative career advice are like this. Some of them are ace and written by very well-rounded and experienced people. We just don’t like the passive-aggressive ones, so we made the kind of film WE’D like to have been shown early on in life.

Seven Stories

In April I began working on some pieces for Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books in Byker, Newcastle. I’d been involved with them before when they had their Fairy Tales exhibition, and had used illustrations from my Grimm’s Fairy Tales book, cover published by Puffin Books, on the walls of the show.

Earlier this year Alison Gwynne at Seven Stories explained that they were about to undergo a massive overhaul of the 18th century building they were housed in, part of a previous paper mill on the River Ouse with big windows, loads of light and, as she explained, lots of bits ready for an upgrade! Nestling in the Ouseburn Valley, ‘birthplace of the industrial revolution in Newcastle’, Seven Stories is a big 7 storey (of course) wendy house of books, stories, shows and collections dedicated to celebrating British children’s books, and based at Lime Street. (Right now, you can see an exhibition about Michael Foreman, who I met while working there - now there’s a body of work to admire!)

Seven Stories is on the left behind the trees, helpfully:

Oh and yes, these you can pass as you stroll to 30 Lime Street, courtesy of the City Farm right in the belly of the valley:

The first task, completed in the studio, was first to develop a repeat type-based pattern for the big wide reception desk, and the desk inside the fulsome book shop. I wrote out the words for the seven basic types of story from which ALL stories are evolved - tragedy, comedy, rags to riches, voyage and return, monster, quest, and redemption - which were then set into a repeat pattern and printed at a huge scale on the specially-built desks - here’s the desk before and after:

Thereafter the job was to have these words applied to a set of seven bespoke lightbooks, which were to flap and hover over the heads of the visitors as they entered. Though I produced the design for them in April, we didn’t get to see these until the last couple of days of actually being on site, but here’s how they looked, lit up and wafting through all the LED colours of the rainbow:

See them glowing here!

The big task however was the one which took us up to the Ouseburn Valley itself, saw us installing ourselves in the cosy Cumberland Arms (vegan full English brought to your bed every morning, ales and a fine view over the valley) for eight days, slapping on our Inkymole overalls and walking down the valley to work every morning: The Big Mural.

We printed up some workmanlike Proper Overalls (do workmen wear gold embroidery?) and some Inkymole On Location threads - we thought it was about time - and packed them with our fresh brushes and new paint collection, and embarked on the mega-drive to Newcastle.

The Café had had three empty walls since it opened ten years ago, but was a bit flat and tired looking. Alison’s idea was to create a food-inspired mural to fill these walls and give the little munchers and their families something their eyeballs could feast on as well as their tummies. Taking inspiration from the hundreds of children’s books whose central theme is food - or which are famous for a single foody reference! - and using Dulux Trade colour sample pots, we decided on a tryptich of images with a large, busy central illustration hiding the word ‘I’m Hungry’  in its negative space. Would it work? It did on paper, but whether it did on the wall we wouldn’t know till we started painting!

[If you would like to see the massive selection of books which contributed to the illustration, you can see it here. This is only about half of what I could have included!)

Fuelled by morning sausages, packed lunches and exquisite midday fresh-roast coffees from Ouseburn Coffee Company, just over the way, we embarked on The Big Mural.

The Café before:


Watch some of the frantic action here:

My plan was for either side of this central motif to explore the darker side of ‘food in children’s books’ - the stuff I remember from childhood; ancient classics such as Three Billy Goats Gruff, Red Riding Hood, the three tragic little piggies, terrifyingly large beanstalks and the horrific Wolf and the Seven Little Kids on the left, with the right hand side dedicated to possibly the most famous book about food, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, which has its own murky morals and lessons.

To be executed in a less playful Mole-style silhouette with brooding atmospheric skies, we wanted spray paints to achieve an almost Photoshoppy gradiented sky, and after consulting assistant Graham to look at some slighjtly left-of-centre sky gradients - this had to look a little unusual - we enlisted the help of local spraypaint expert Dan.

Dan owns the nearby spray paint emporium, Colours, and was delighted if a little surprised to be asked to come and paint our backgrounds for us. With a sandwich and *the appropriate health and safety gear*, Dan arrived on the Sunday and got those skies and aurora borealis down in a fraction of the time it would have taken us, to breathtaking effect:

After which it was down to us to add the foreground, stars and my giant cheese moon, stencilled and dabbed with more spray paint:

And the last job was - in response to demand from a few of the people we’d called out to for requests - Agatha Trunchbull's stolen chocolate cake, eaten in secret by Bruce Bogtrotter who’s then forced to scoff the lot till he…well...

Along the way we had plumbing dramas, floods and access issues - all part of the process of major works being done around us as we painted - but we also had some delicious Lebanese food, great coffee, massive breakfasts and a proper Byker welcome, and despite feeling like I could have painted for another two weeks, the mural was duly completed and the team were delighted. We are returning in early October to paint the reception wall - welcoming guests with the line ‘There are sevens stories in the world, but a thousand ways to tell them’, and I can’t wait to go back!

Seven Stories is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, with tickets costing from Free to £7.70.


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