Saturday, July 28, 2018

Exactly A Quarter Of A Century Later...Part Two.

A few months later, art director Louise sent me an email containing one line:

"I'm enclosing a brief that I think will make you very happy."

She wasn't wrong.

Finally the opportunity to illustrate the cover of this book that had been such a part of my DNA since the age of 11 was here, and I was excited. A special 200th Anniversary Edition of Wuthering Heights in hardback, to mark two hundred years since Emily Brontë's birth, was indeed a brief that made me very happy.

I expected to feel intimidated and a bit daunted by the responsibility, as I had with To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman, but in fact, I just remember feeling calm and mega-keen. I didn't have long to do it - I prescribe a sharp deadline to cure all procrastination ills - and all of the material was still there, stuffed away inside my head, after all; I just needed to draw on it.

Rather than plough through the piles of work I'd done for my degree, when I produced a stage version of WH set in the modern day, I decided to approach it afresh, as the reader I am now, and at the age I am now. There were to be no clichés on MY watch - no wailing Heathcliff, no bodices or moody/sexy Catherine. Instead, the landscape to the story - the moors, heather, sky, graveyard, stone buildings and the flora and fauna, not to mention the weather - is really the most important character in it, since it dictates and controls the livelihoods, personalities and actions of everyone living in it, so I let that be my guide.

And after all - every fan of this book has his or her 'own' Catherine and Heathcliff, so it was not for me to try to portray these people, who are different every time.

So actually, in an opposing path to the one taken in the creation of 'Ill Will' (in the last blog), one of the very first ideas I put together ended up being the final, pretty much un-messed with.

There were developments along the way, which looked like this - the first two inspired by cooooooooold snowy Japanese landscapes, together with my memories of the Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack to Peter Kosminsky's 1992 version:

(OK, I thought maybe I might let myself explore a ghost or two.)

I thought the house needed to be in the picture, and this house is very much based on the shape of Top Withens - which is not the 'real' WH as there is no 'real' one, but its location was correct.

I confess to loving the lettering on this one, and praying that they'd go for it.

One of the very first ideas was this one, using strips of hand-inked work representing the different textures found on the moors - heather, grass, gorse, stone, threatening sky, clouds, gravestones, the moon. I'd have been extremely happy if they'd gone for this one, too - especially with that bold lettering!

In the end, it was the movement and colour of this one-take piece, combined with a little paper collage, that was the winner. The lettering was replaced with a font so that the background became the main focus, and away it went.

I could not believe it was done, and so quickly.

Printed on cotton wrapped around the meatiest of hardbacks, it's an incredibly satisfying book to hold:

And that, dear reader, is how it went.

A bucket list job, completed in just a couple of weeks. What's next, I wonder?

Buy your copy here 

Thank you to Louise at Harpercollins UK for asking me to do this project.

(If you'd asked anyone else, there'd be a curse upon you forever. But you already knew that.)

Exactly A Quarter Of A Century Later...Part One.

It's the weekend of the 200th anniversary Emily Brontë's birth, and the 25th anniversary month of my graduation from art college.  I've just read my 6000-word degree essay for the first time since handing it in; the one that pushed my mark up into a First when the visual work fell one mark below that grade, compromised, according to my tutors, by a last-minute decision to create a stage production of 'Wuthering Heights' for my final project, rather than go for something more traditionally in the realm of 'illustration'.

Aged 11 I watched the film with my Grandma. Against my Mum's better judgement (she didn't know till I told her that evening) Grandma casually got on with her chores while I gauped at the black and white screen as Heathcliff, insane with grief, dug Catherine out of her coffin. It was GRIPPING. Aged 13, I read it for the first time, and voracious reader that I was, I'd never read anything like this. Better than the film, violently engrossing as that was, this was no cosy period drama, lacking witty bright heroines and happy boy-girl matches and sparkling dialogue. This was ultimately a story about loss, or of never having had anything in the first place: Catherine cannot own property, being a woman, and therefore has little to no control over her fate beyond marriage; Heathcliff arrives shoeless without even so much as a known parent or identifiable ethnicity.

Growing up against the homely things of ever-blazing hearth, clanking pots in the kitchen (just like Emily would have known at her Parsonage), and well-run stables housing big snuffling horses, the people inside the book are nonetheless helpless against the landscape in which they exist, both politically and environmentally. These isolated children of darkness fight for survival in a freezing, remote area away from polite society, hardly knowing how to interact with it when they do encounter it, and attaching themselves to each other in a way that guarantees mutually ensured destruction: each is dependant on the other, whether that's for financial, familial, emotional or societal reasons - in most cases, all of the above. Continually warned and threatened about the murky consequences of the godless life they live by bible-thumping Joseph, and a two-faced housekeeper who hides her passive  love of drama under a facade of obliging innocence, their existence is one of fundamental outcomes: life, death, starvation, hypothermia, poverty, wealth. The exploration of class feels way ahead of its time - the message being that you can never truly migrate from one class to another, since you'll always be 'one of your own kind' - and the sense of 'othering' is vivid: Heathcliff is neither one race nor the other, he has no known parentage, and even when rescued does not live long in the comfort of his adoptive father's care before he is reminded cruelly of his floating nature: he is an outsider, an immigrant, and he's welcome nowhere. Which is why, when Catherine attaches herself to him as all-encompassing companion, carer, sister, lover and mother-figure, he implodes when she appears to leave him behind.

All this coupled to the tingle of incest, revenge, the supernatural, the preternatural and grave-robbing - how could it not have worked its way into my impressionable psyche? I have often wondered, actually, if it explains some of the less than desirable characteristics I still struggle with from time to time.

The tutors' warnings were, then, appropriately and amusingly melodramatic. 'Don't risk it, it's too much of a deviation from your chosen topic!' 'You're set to get a first and you might throw it all away!' - probably, with hindsight, reverse psychology from a set of canny tutors who knew that I responded to competition and anyone saying 'no' by going into production overdrive. (Tellingly, on my 40th birthday my college mate Mel and my family colluded to make me a pair of earrings, on the box of which was Emily Brontë's quote, 'I'll walk where my own path would be leading'.) Whatever their plan, it worked, as I've spent my whole life since that time illustrating professionally full-time, which is what I'd aimed for (but not once, as I would often tell students, have I been asked for my grade. So anyone who's worried about that: stop. Right now!)

My Degree Show Face! (Body Shop Autumn lippy)

My stage production for Wuthering Heights was an all-consuming, lonely six-month project in which the outcomes were a full stage design, 8 one-third-size costume figures, two full-size adult costumes, a storyboard, location-based photoshoot series, poster design, and 18 crammed sketchbooks. I used every material I could - metal, fabric, wood, plaster, clay, found objects - watched every version, read every stage script, and listened to my oddly electronic 'Wuthering' mixtape repeatedly to get me in the doom-zone:

Plunging back into this visceral and violent story with no true happy ending, about ungrateful, hateful characters who bring all the misery on themselves (yes, even Isabella - she was warned!) I was obsessed, and immersed. Equal parts gutted and relieved when it was over, I used the work to get in the papers, get two solo exhibitions, and freelance for the Brontë Society and assorted theatres including the Royal Shakespeare Company.

My first ever bit of press (after birth, 28th and graduation announcements!)

...and my second ever press.
As the years went by I illustrated many famous books, but the much-loved WH never came my way - paperback editions came and went, cloth-bound Penguin classics and exotic foreign editions came and went, and my stage set and costume figures gradually fell apart, so I dismantled them and hid their heads in the pond and garden, their creepy eyes ready to unnerve whoever peered too deeply into the water on a clear day. The 'Catherine' costume made it out of the loft for a Hallowe'en event one night, then went carefully back in. I secretly wished that this book would one day require a new cover that fitted my work, but never gave it too much thought, figuring Emily B was an important part of my past, but she was definitely part of my past. In time Andrea Arnold's film version was released, the closest to my own envisioning of it, with a non-white and resolutely not Laurence Olivier Heathcliff (just like mine). Set in the right time period environmentally, it used thoroughly 21st century language. Hindley would absolutely have been using the C word, and the debates the film triggered online reminded me satisfyingly of my own dramas when designing a 'modern day' version of the story.

So, you've probably figured out what happened next!

I ended up designing the covers for not one, but two Brontë-related books. In 2017, my old client Louise McGrory, from my previous days illustrating covers for chick-lit, got in touch to ask about a cover for a new hardback book by Michael Stewart, called 'Ill Will - The Untold Story of Heathcliff'. Imagining the years in which Heathcliff - now revealed to be William Lee - goes missing, it posits a life in which he makes an ungodly living from the self-styled 'medium' daughter of a highwayman, a living which will take him back to Wuthering Heights where the story will pick up at the familiar chapter.

I've always been dubious about books which attempt to 'fill in' missing bits of famous novels, or propose 'alternative endings' - there was a particularly dodgy one where Catherine Earnshaw doesn't actually die post-childbirth but survives and secretly runs away with Heathcliff - so I wasn't sure I wanted to be associated with it at first. I said yes on the strength of Louise's glowing review, and the author's respected profile and renowned research. And indeed, the book is excellent.

There were MANY roughs and mockups for this cover. Should 'William' be shown? Should he be handsome? Look like a devil? Keep it abstract?

'My' Heathcliff of more than 24 years before - for every fan has their own -  had a definite look. Here is mine  in his 1993 photo shoot, angsty and wearing his hand-stitched patchwork waistcoat. I *really* needed to avoid channelling him for this cover!

Note: my model, obliging as he was, was not mixed race, nor did he have the luxury of time to get a ripped body, like the one in my sketches:
(I wonder where Anthony, the second-year graphics student I borrowed as a model, is now?)

 So I tried all the above approaches and more (here are a few):

until we began to narrow it down to a more atmosphere-based look, created entirely of ink on paper:

Before it was decided that the figure was actually too much of a distraction and possibly more suited to a young adult book (which this isn't) - so he was removed, leaving just the cold moon, and unusually for one of my books, deleting the idea of hand-drawn lettering:

At the last moment the bare-branched tree was added at the author's request for dramatic effect, and the job, after four weeks (or was it 24 years and 4 weeks?) went to press in full colour on a cotton-wrapped hardback, and it was done!

The finished book, on one of my sketchbooks for the stage production of WH. That's drawn from a real-life abandoned farmhouse up near Top Withens.

'Ill Will' over an A3 double page painting of the moors, made after my solo research trip up there in January 1993, on the worst weather day of the year. My beloved Grandpa died the afternoon that I was up there, so I designed one of the characters, Joseph, in his image.

And there it is!

Stand by for the next blog about what happened next. For it was a biggie...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

P'inkymole. It's pink, over-powered, spits flames and is ours!

In May 2017, while looking for car parts on Yahoo Auctions Japan, we stumbled across a very specific pink Nissan Pao - for sale from the video above.

It's a typically bonkers car on a typically bonkers TV program made more bonkers by a man who decided to make a "pretty drift car" crossing a low-powered, front wheel drive Nissan Pao with a (relatively) high-powered, rear wheel drive Nissan Silvia S13.

We couldn't really afford it and certainly didn't need it, but y'know, it's a nice looking car, 'interesting' and it'd match the other one! So we decided to 'just see how much it would cost' by asking JDM Auction Watch that 'if' they could bid on this random find on our behalf, transport it to a port and ship it to us on the other side of the world...would that be affordable? It seems that it was. Patrick at JDM broke it all down for us, each stage and the cost depending on how much we'd like to bid on it, so we put a reasonable low bid in, expecting to be outbid.

And we weren't! We won. Not sure at first whether we'd brought a curse or a blessing on ourselves,  it's been a massively fun ride, starting in an internet auction window and most recently bezzing around the track at Silverstone.

Below is a broad overview of the what we found when Rich at Dynodaze Customworx's took on this mammoth job (but in a small space) (alongside other multiple projects) - a job that lasted for 7 months! Delve in. If the minutiae of restoration and modification aren't your thing, you can just skip to @inkymolesmotors on Instagram where we'll be posting the updates and adventures of the car.

World - we present 'P'inkymole'!

Collecting the new toy from Southampton port:
Amongst the millions of pounds worth of cars being shipped in and out of the port is our new little oddball car, genuinely being 'one of a kind' next to so many mass-manufactured cars all around it.

Rich meeting the Pao for the first time and holding down his excitement or trepidation of what lay ahead!

The Pao was misfiring badly when we collected it from the port, Rich being Rich found out why in about 2 minutes, luckily there were some spare sparks in the glove box.

What Rich found once the Pao was on the ramps:
Interior (what there was of it) stripped out to see what's what.

  Under the sealant and waxoyl equivalent we found a patch work of metal bits from around a Japanese workshop holding the car together, this is the point we knew we were going to go over budget!

Rust holes, never good to find on your new project.

A good representation of a lot of the welding/patchwork around the car.

The inner arches were found to be not safely welded to the rear panels...

The first injury of many to come... sorry Rich.

The metalwork commences:

Rich getting stuck straight in.

 Seam welded and safer.

The floor was so bad that most of it ended up being removed.

Cleaned up!



All shiny and new where necessary.

All new steel underneath, built to last.

 A worrying amount of steel removed!

Out with the old! 

 In with the new. Shiny new floors from underneath.

Chassis rails and reinforcement welded in!

 Cleaned up and repaired inner sills.

 Both floors done.

 Seat positions fixed as well as doubling up as strengthening.

Adapted seat rails.
Onto the engine bay and inner arches:

Cleaned, reinforced/strengthened and very, very shiny chassis arms/inner arches.

Offering up new things!

All the old cut away metal...

Exhaust parts ready to be made (w)hole. 

Exhaust mock-up.

 The exhaust coming together.

Weld porn.

Mocking up the extended screamer pipe!

Starting to seal, undercoat and Shutz the bare metal areas:

Sills Shutz'ed and fresh!

A test pot of pink for touch-ups, touching up the pink..

Getting the Paower back in the car:  
Steve of SRL, greasing the wheels of progress since 1989!

Welded up screamer pipe, ready to do it's job.

Getting ready to offer up a test-fit of the engine etc to the car.
Just do these bolts up...

Back in!

Starting fresh new pipework, one of Rich's favourite jobs!

Then, engine back out an time for paint:

Uncle Keith gets right in close for the detail.

Looking nice and shiny!

Inside the car is all done.

Quality work Uncle Keith.

So shiny!

Engine bay finished, painted by 'Uncle Keith', put back together by Rich and Steve.

Can't find coolant pipe that fits that particular space, Rich will make one.

Painted by Uncle Keith with Fuel tank and battery fitted centrally.

The noisy fuel pump bastard!

Finished exhaust!

A shiny clean diff back in to get that Paower down!

The tentative first 'steps' off the ramp:

Onto the dyno to check the Paower for the first time!

It's first power run on the dyno and it spits flames!!

 Not bad for a 750-800 KG car!

Stable mates with a Supra turbo conversion also done at Dynodaze Customworx.

P'inkymole's first outing at JapFest, Silverstone:

 Then, straight onto the track at Silverstone with the Dynodaze Customworx 400+ bhp Civic!

It's worth noting that there is absolutely no way we could have even considered buying this car if we hadn't known Rich at Dynodaze Customworx, it was always going to be a tough job to make road-worthy (tougher than any of us thought) and there's no way an average mechanic (and very importantly, a welder!) could have overcome the issues and problems we encountered.
Rich eats problems, that stop other people in their tracks, for breakfast, anytime anything didn't quite fit or needed a bespoke part for this very bespoke car, he'd get his thinking cap, tools out and just get on with the job, all the time making creative suggestions to help make the car look the best it can within budget and be as safe as possible. While all the time being patient with our whimsical, sometimes impractical ideas and working out a payment system that worked with us, while keeping the project moving, which was our number one priority.

Special thanks to everyone who helped, contributed, supported, cajouled and just passed the tea: Steve @SRL, Rob and Andy @ Art Fabs, Keith @ Uncle Keith's Paint Shop, Patrick @ JDM Auction Watch, Ashley @ Mira, Casey @ Fyve, Steve @ Gartree Press, Jay @ Jay's Detailing and anyone else who's had to put up with us.


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