Monday, May 18, 2020

I've designed face masks before, but not like these.

Close to the start of lockdown I designed two masks each for every member of my family, and in order to purchase them I had to upload them to the shop system I use for some of my illustrated products; my Christmas jumpers, leggings etc.

I kept them private as I was unsure about the ethics of sharing a product which would earn me commission out of a pandemic, but without having breathed a word about them to anyone outside the family, I immediately started getting emails - chiefly from the US - confirming orders. Two weeks went by, with sales rolling in rapidly and increasingly, until Leigh convinced me that this was a product that people not only wanted, but needed.

Thus I decided to make them public, and donate all my net profits to the Trussell Trust, the UK's food bank organisation, which has since been joined by a number of other organisations who've all benefitted from the sales. As soon as I did, the sales went bonkers, and at the time of writing, they've continued to escalate, raising an unexpectedly handsome amount for the food banks.

So now you too can buy an Inkymole face mask! There are 4 in each pack and there are loads of packs to choose from, in almost 30 individual designs, which you can find here:


Suitable for children and adults, they come in S (fits younger children), M L, and XL.
Here's everything you need to know:

- Designed by Inkymole; printed, cut and sewn by Contrado in the UK

- Breathable fabric; no metal bits, clasps or fastenings, just soft elasticated fabric

- Please note that at the current time, Contrado are not offering sets in mixed sizes (although I keep pushing them to offer this!)

- I make the absolute minimum on these - the price is set as low as the system allows me to go, which is £5 per mask. All net profits are being donated

- No money is made on the postage costs - the masks are sent directly from the factory to you

- If you have more detailed technical queries, email them to

—————— Size Guide: —————— 

Small / 11 cm height - 11cm elastic at each end, looped

Medium / 12.5 cm height - 12cm elastic at each end, looped

Large / 14 cm height  - 13cm elastic at each end, looped 

Height / Select the height that will best cover your mouth and nose .

Width / One size fits all.

Machine Washable / between 30 and 60 degrees C.

- Please note these face masks are NOT medical grade masks (which are recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an infection preventative measure, i.e. grade FFP2/N95).

- Please DO NOT purchase these face-masks with the false understanding they will prevent infection from Corona virus.

- Wash your mask regularly, ideally daily, to keep it fresh and hygienic.



Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Last month the DJ Food album 'Kaleidoscope' had its 20 year anniversary.

It's obviously a strange time right now in which things like birthdays and anniversaries, anything with associated memories or emotional significance, arrive with additional gravitas and tend to trigger a period of reflection and pondering. We've been on 'lockdown' for such a short time relatively speaking, but we're already pining for suspended associations and swerving off down nostalgic paths of reminiscence. This particular record's anniversary has had us reflecting for a few weeks!

DJ Food is really called Kevin Foakes (but see below) and has been a chum for about a quarter of a century. It feels completely bizarre to type that, having been a bunch of cocky, sleep-deprived twenty-somethings when we first met, with the concept of middle-age not even a speck on the horizon of expectation, but here we are.

'Kaleidoscope' the album was released in 2000 and was the first DJ Food album produced by PC and Strictly Kev, two producers who'd been part of a larger squad known as 'DJ Food' for a few years, around a core of Matt Black and Jonathan More, themselves otherwise known as Coldcut. So Kevin Foakes is Strictly Kev - come on, keep up - everyone's got a DJ name haven't they? (Well we should, even if we don't DJ) - and it was buying and playing his records on the new and exciting Ninja Tune label from the early 90s that brought him into our line of sight (he designed the label's iconic logo).

In the early to mid 90s Leigh and I were fast and furious, setting the pace for future life, playing, buying, performing and reviewing records with a voracious appetite. With no 'online' or streaming - just tapes, CDs and vinyl - music was sourced through record shops, gigs, trips to London, word of mouth, sharing and swapping, making tapes for each other, radio (both legit and otherwise) and through hassling record companies for their new releases. We were just beginning to play regularly on a pirate radio station in 1997, and 'acquired' much of our material by telling record companies just that, who in turn were eager to get their releases heard by the people who were bored with the mainstream and would be the hands that spun the records on the turntables of clubs and festivals. If you wrote an honest review and faxed it back to the label, your feedback helped shape what was released and in what form (this remix or that one?) and the deal worked handsomely in both directions.


We met Kev in 1995 or 6. We were fans, and I'd sent a keen and wordy fax from my Grandma's vacant bungalow where we were living. I'd sent it to what I thought was his Openmind fax number - that being the design and art direction side of his operation - by phoning directory enquiries for the number. We knew roughly where he/Ninja were based, so when a London number came back I didn't question it. I think it was a children's television company who politely rang me back to say 'wrong number, but thanks for the enthusiasm' - so I tried again, I think via Ninja direct.

Either way, we got through and swapped a few faxes (the phone phaux pas breaking what little ice there might have been), talking about music and art and life until at some point, Kev pointed out I didn't have to keep faxing, we could just have a phone chat. So we did!

And that was the beginning of a friendship that went on longer than any of us could even be bothered to think about at that time. Leigh and I went to gigs, we visited, drank tea, we swapped little pressies; we made him post-gig cakes, he gave us records and coveted guest list spots. Nevertheless, when April 2000 rolled around, the annoying millennium guff finally out of the way, and we received an advance CD copy of 'Kaleidoscope' with a hand-written note, we were chuffed to bits.

It was a barking mad but brilliant record made of cue balls, jazz, riffs, big meaty breaks, velvety Ken Nordine voiceovers, the near-goth sulk of 'The Crow' and some Debussy. You could dance your bollocks off to it (let's say in Hoxton Square's so-cool-it-got-annoying Blue Note, long since closed) or noodle away to it in an armchair with headphones,  pontificating about the samples and nodding. Or, in my case particularly, you could get a shitload of work done to it, such was its pace and absorbing texture. It never, ever feels old, or tired; we're wary of nostalgia, and are reluctant reminiscers, so we never like to ruin a good record by loading it with too much memory or colouring it with one of those emotional time-stamps from which it can never progress. Thankfully, though, this record never succumbed to that; as well as being very much of its time, 'Kaleidoscope' was always well ahead of its time, so it's still as fresh and silly and ornery as the day we first played that CD.

What 'Kaleidoscope' always was was a 'trip' - in both senses of the word. Composed of what feel like two distinct halves, the album is nonetheless a journey, rollocking through tracks which flow into one another despite being very different from each other (hmm, I sound like an apprentice music reviewer...) You can dip into it repeatedly, if you just, for example, fancy the pick-me-up of 'The Riff', or the soothing goth-tinged murk of 'Nevermore', a swooping fantastical thing of whispers which erupts into a drum frenzy of trumpets and cymbal crashes.

One of the noticeable features of the DJ Food albums that Kev had more of an influence on - those he worked on with PC or, later, solo - is that sense of a voyage, with stops along the way, rather than a collection of separate tracks. They're more like epics - 'The Search Engine' is something of a magnum opus - than the early DJ Food albums which were essentially a box of DJ tools which you could remove one at a time and fit to your DJ set! We adored them though, because nothing like that really existed before; they spoke to our love of beats, scratching and hip-hop, and also ANYTHING coming out of Ninja at that time was exciting and novel. Picture these albums arriving at about the same time as Portishead, also new and vivid, and you can begin to visualise the scene. (I also thought the knife and fork in the Food logo were supremely clever.)

What Kev's always done is something we feel we've always done too: projects that he WANTS to do, which may or may not work, and are certainly not driven or shaped by commercial outcomes or monetary gain. 

If it's interesting, creative, hasn't been done before and represents a bit of a challenge - and we think we people will enjoy it - we'll give it a go. Our working lives have been peppered with projects that wouldn't make any commercial sense - in that they cost us more to do than they will ever return - because we want to do them, and we think we can do them, and because we're only on the planet once. We've been inspired by Kev for many years; who memorably told us "I look forward to Mondays, I can do exactly what I want every day of the week".

Take his 4-tonearm turntable project for example. When he told us what he was plotting to do last year, we were delighted at this gleeful release of the (not so inner) nerd, being an investigation into using four tonearms on a single turntable. It's more sophisticated than that of course, but I'm writing as a turntable outsider with almost no technical knowledge. He's also got the confidence to recruit his heroes into his work - weaving his writing, archiving and design prowess into live projects based on his love of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and all thing ZTT, for example, and bringing in "The" Matt Johnson to work with him on his own cover of The The's GIANT, a boyhood favourite, on 'The Search Engine'. Bold moves, you might say, but it shows you really can work with your heroes when you're offering something creatively interesting, relevant and authentic.

Now sharing all of the outcomes of his new turntable experiments with locked grooves and effects on Bandcamp under his new label Infinite Illectrik, you can hear the present and future sound of DJ Food.


Kev and his music have remained in our lives ever since we first made contact, through over two decades of creativity, house moves, a wedding, new albums, kids, life and evolving careers. Funny, kind, prolific and a total realist (not to mention hardcore archivist and mighty handy with the pencils and a Mac) he was the first person we thought of to feature in our 'Stupid Enough' documentary - about how real people carve out creative careers for themselves - and we liked his 'Search Engine' album and ensuing body of visual work with Henry Flint so much that we put on an exhibition of it in our little gallery space. We hope we'll creatively cross paths again in our lifetimes, we just have no idea yet what form that might take, if it does.

So I suppose having said all of that 'Kaleidoscope' is loaded with emotions and memories, just not the sort that hobble you with backwards glances in the middle of doing something, or leave you thinking 'those were the days'. Those WERE some days, and then there've been all these other days too, since, full of more music, and friendship, and laughing inappropriately at things in the small hours.

It's awkward to write about your friend when you're also still a fan of them, but what a wonderful thing to be feeling awkward about.

~ † ~

'Kaleidoscope' can be heard on Apple Music or Spotify

can be bought from Ninja Tune

or read about in more detail on Kev's massive and incredibly thorough blog

DJ Food's visual work can be explored here

and he has a busy Mixcloud collection here, which is added to weekly.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Lady Who Paints Legs

Amy Shane is a book reviewer and special events editor for the Independent Voice Newspaper in Missouri, USA, and first came to my attention on Instagram when she recreated one of my book covers...on her own body!

I'm used to seeing my artwork pop up on people's skin via the tattooist's gun - always an unexpected thrill which fills me with admiration and curiosity for the brave human who's done it - but this was different. This was a full-on, body-paint recreation of the cover in all its detail, on a difficult and unusual surface.

Amy's recreated more of my covers since, and as someone will happily talk in public or in front of an audience but doesn't exactly embrace selfie culture let alone photographing anything from the neck down, I wanted to ask her about what she does and why. This blog's normally about what I'm doing, so I thought I would probe someone else about their strange and fascinating hobby!

We, of course have the common ground of the printed book, so I think Amy and I will be in touch for a long time to come.

 She can be found on Instagram as amy_fortheloveofbooks

Please explain what your ‘real-life’ job is, and how you came to be the amazing Amy Who Paints On Her Legs?

My “real-life” job is also book related and why I ended up with an Instagram account in the first place. I am a Professional Book Reviewer, and have a newspaper column called 'For the Love of Books'. I'm nearing on eight years now, so I guess you could say I am always surrounded by books. I started on Instagram because the publishers wanted to see an online presence; honestly, I went in kicking and screaming, afraid I would never figure how it all works. 

After about eight months and totally lost on how to find my own presence, I started thinking about what books really meant to me - when you read an amazing book it’s as if you become part of it, you fall into the story, and well that’s where the idea began. I then thought about making myself part of the story and started researching paints. To be honest, I have never painted before or have taken an art class. I just doodle when I am bored. So, I bought some body paints and started playing, and the rest is history. 


My ‘Forest Queen’ was one of the first ‘leg’ paintings that you posted on Instagram. The legs seem an odd choice at first but they’re the natural resting place for a book when reading. Have you painted anywhere else? With or without success?

I originally started on my arm and hand, then my chest. I enjoyed painting on my chest (and matching lipstick to the paint colors) however, I have to paint completely backwards, which at times can be a bit complicated, especially when dealing with words. It took me awhile to realize I could just paint on my legs. My legs also give me space to get in more detail and aren’t a flat surface, which is easier for me to paint on. I still can’t paint on canvas or flat paper, it doesn’t make sense to me either, lol.

Some technicals:
What do you paint with? Do you use both hands?  

I only use Mehron Paradise AQ body paints. After a lot of research, I really value the company and the ingredients they use in their paints. They include:  aloe, cocoa butter, avocado oil, lemon grass, cucumber extract, and vitamin E so they smell and feel wonderful.  

They have also been around for over 90 years, so they have to be doing something right! I also use NYX brand spray primer (Just to get a smooth surface and prep the skin) and matte sealer just as an added protection when I am done.  I just paint with one hand. When it’s nice outside I love painting on my back porch, overlooking the cornfields (where I take pictures for  my stories). My neighbors must truly think I am nuts!

How long do they take you - from x hours to…? 

An average paint takes anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 4 hours, depending on how much detail there is, or how particular I get with myself. And yes, if any of you are wondering: I have gotten so frustrated that I have scraped the whole paint and washed it of before I changed my mind.

How do you wash it off? 

Just plain water. The whole paint washes off in about 10 seconds. Which is why I have to be super careful, and why I add the sealing spray. And yes, I have spilt water on my legs and lost the whole paint. 

What’s the criteria for choosing a book cover to reproduce? 

The cover art is really the first thing I look at, and if it is it something I can attempt to replicate. I can’t do photos, or people. Parts of faces yes, whole people – no way lol. I will also choose a book if I read the book and loved it, or by the author or publisher reaching out. Sometimes I go in themes. Really there is no rhyme or reason to my brain - lol!

Is there one you haven’t done yet that you really want to do? 

There are so many that I want to do, my list grows everyday. One older title I would love to do is 'Splintered' by AG Howard. I loved the series and the cover art. 

Do you have aspirations to create covers yourself? You’re clearly creative, with dexterous skills! 

I honestly never thought about it.  

And how many books do you have lined up to paint at the moment?  

At the present moment I have a list of 13 that are lined up with upcoming release dates,  and 3 already painted ready to be posted.

~ Thanks to Amy for answering my mildly predictable but nosy questions! ~


A Cautionary Tale...from myself, almost 20 years ago!

I've done a fair bit of digital archiving and backing up recently, and I found this article I wrote for the AOI in 2003. The incident it refers to happened a year or so before, even so; the fee will make your eyes water!

I've posted it here as it made me laugh - at my belligerent, horrified self - but it was a reminder that I still think illustrators need to be bloody careful. This could have happened today - companies will still royally try it on, more often than not these days in the form of a 'competition' in exchange for 'exposure' or those special shiny social media coins - you know, the ones you can't spend in shops! At least I was offered fifty quid! (oof).

I also chuckled at the mention of a faxed brief - I loved my fax machine. Getting one, in 1996, meant I was finally 'on the radar.'

Finally I was tempted to name Company X. But the professional in me still says no. I might be tempted to yield, however, if enough people ask...


A cautionary tale to warn the unwary illustrator: Sarah Coleman reveals how even an experienced illustrator can strike a bad deal.

This is the tale of a momentary lapse of reason, a failure to apply the Golden Rules of Illustrating and the burning cheeks that followed.

I'd worked for Company X before, a creative and enthusiastic team with an approach to briefing that wasn't my usual:
      "Here's the theme, do what you like, no real rush, ideas finished or half-developed, invoice us for whatever you think is appropriate when you send the work in. We may or may not pick out bits we want to use and if we do, we'll pay you again to publish it."

With an almost entirely editorial/design background, I was used to a faxed brief (sometimes, if I'm lucky, treated to an art director's 'helpful' sketch at the bottom), a pretty tight spec and a quick deadline. So this was bliss.

I knew that the fee for any use of the work was bad - £50, to be exact. I also knew that this was a company with a turnover of millions. But somehow, the client filtering software in my head had managed to overlook these things. Now don't get me wrong. I knew what I was doing. This was the same Sarah who
was neck-deep in a fierce court battle involving hundreds of thousands of pounds and winning. This was the Sarah who threatened to turn down years of work with a major magazine group unless they deleted the copyright section of their contract: they deleted it. The one who refused a fabulous wrap-around book cover because they just weren't paying enough. But my enthusiasm, and my belief that the exposure would give my portfolio a turbo-injection meant I was able to start work, fully aware that we'd signed no contract. I can even say I was probably a bit flattered by their requests for so much work. (Oh! The shame!)

Now a lot of the work, though well received, was never used. But I wasn't prepared for that which was to show up in every branch up and down the country, flying off the shelves before my very eyes as I went shopping. 

It turned up on my own Christmas presents, wrapped by an unsuspecting friend. 
My students told me they'd seen their mums stockpiling my 'Best Wishes' paper. 

At a quid a sheet, I began to get miffed about imaginary royalties, and much time was spent gently kicking my own shins that I had failed to negotiate some modest royalty or at least a worthy publication fee. I soothed myself with thoughts of how nice it looked in my folio and of how a momentary lapse of reason wouldn't confuse my business head again.

So by the time sample copies of a brand new gift wrap dropped through the door almost a year and a half later, I had long decided I wouldn't work for the company again. The note accompanying the samples asked me to submit 'my invoice for the £50 publication fee.' The horror of what I'd done - or not
done - rendered me incapable of acting on the invoice for several weeks. I almost wrote it off, fearing that my foolishness in not doing things properly would be best kept unacknowledged by both me and the company concerned.

But a quick check in the middle of the night confirmed what I had thought: no contract, no fee agreed, so still open for negotiation - right? Five minutes on the phone to the AOI and I was sufficiently galvanised. They might have stuck it on the shelves already, but there wasn't a thing to say what I could expect to be paid for it.

I was surprisingly anxious about calling the company, but wasn't surprised to learn that the girl I'd worked with was only too aware of how bad the publication fee was.

The designer was helpful but ultimately handcuffed by a fee structure clearly never influenced by anyone involved in the creative side of things.Royalties were completely out of the question. The four-figure sum I quoted as a second-best option was equally hopeless. Eventually, the fee paid for the original A3 board of ideas was doubled retrospectively with the £50 publication fee on top. I explained that although I had loved the organic and relaxed way I had been asked to work, their publication payment was appallingly low. 

In response the designer explained that Company X did appreciate that after a while 'developing illustrators' became 'priced out of their market and moved on to bigger and better things' - which burned a little, having spent the best part of a decade earning a living as an illustrator - but I understood the sub-text: you might be too posh for us now, but there are many more who'll think this is a great deal.

The invoice was re-submitted with a prominently-positioned reminder that the copyright stayed mine and any secondary or future uses were subject to separate and further negotiation. Meanwhile, the burning face is subsiding. You, Company X and I are the only people who know about this, and I'm using home-made paper to wrap my presents this year. 

You of course can get a nice sheet of funky gift wrap from any branch of Company X for a pound. Don't buy it. The real cost to illustrators could be far higher.

~ This article first appeared in the Association of Illustrators Magazine in 2003. ~


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