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lastcall-01My week has been punctuated by bangs, crashes, occasional curses and the wonderful beep of reversing trucks. Yes, the demolition men have moved into the nearby college and they’re knocking down an old, disused block. Originally a middle school, the buildings were converted into college music rooms some time in the sixties and, indeed, I would enjoy the sound of singing and drumming from my bedroom (not in the sixties, mind you. I’m not that old). More recently, they have stood silent, entangled in ivy and generally looking rather sad. It’s probably their time, though there is a poignancy there; I believe they were built in 1906, so that’s a lot of classes and a lot of people passing through.

More poignant, though, are thoughts of the birds who have made the place their own. Countless sparrows seem to dart to and from the overgrowing ivy, often visiting the garden. Then, there are the pigeons and gulls who take it in turns to stand atop the facade and call. While surveying the progress from my window, I could see several birds standing around a pile of rubble, almost mournful, wondering what happened to their favourite lookout. This inspired me to make a quick sketch of the demolition from my usual vantage point – the back window – with our pigeon friend standing tall one last time, before moving on to a new perch. I normally hear said pigeon every morning, hopefully they won’t go too far!

rhcpflea-2c“No matter what level you’re doing it on, playing music is an opportunity to give something to the world.”

While there have been several artists that have been with me since childhood, I think the Red Hot Chili Peppers were one of the first that I discovered myself, with a hunger to learn more and track down new material – the eclectic mix of hard rock, funk and soul makes them a truly alternative act, and one with proven longevity. Being that first major stop in the pursuit of musical discovery, finding my way back to their material is always a tremendous nostalgia trip.

Though all are hard to ignore, it was always the bassist, Flea, that grabbed me the most. The origin of the nickname is clear to see, for he bounds around the stage – typically wearing next to nothing and/or doused in neon paint – with such enigmatic vigour, all while slapping the guitar and making it sing. He’s a skilled multi-instrumentalist, but his work on the bass is quite rightly acclaimed as some of the best ever. A proper rock star.

All of that surely explains the rather pedestrian portrait of our man dressed up in a snazzy shirt. I just found this particular reference quite cute, and wanted to focus on that. Perhaps I’d better do another, more animated attempt which can do justice to the showman…

 

morten-1bIf I were around in the eighties, I’m sure I’d have been swooning all over the place whenever the gorgeous Mr. Harket made an appearance. Not that it’s any different today. He’s even more stunning now; the boyish beauty now elevated with experience, character and the lack of mullet-esque bouffant. Hence, the inspiration to use him for a quickie.

Well, I’m only human.

Relative quickie, at least – a couple of hours. Something about the facial structure is off, but there are elements of the man I can see coming through, so I suppose that’s good. Mostly, I was just happy it came together, and faster than normal; with all that’s been going on lately, I’m just drained. I guess that’s for another time.

Anyway, it’d be remiss to post Morten without sharing the best music video ever created. Pop perfection.

Hmm, I can see an encore before too long!

 

catfieldmill-2The annual Christmas weariness is well and truly here; stuck in that seemingly unending in-between stretch before we’re all forced to be jolly once more. Yay! Perhaps as a means of killing time, nostalgia is rife at this time of year. Last year, I ended up revisiting Doom – as indeed I have this year, too! – this year, in my lethargy I found myself drawing a windmill; a good old two-dimensional drawing of the thing, rather than a model, for the first time in quite a while – a miniature throwback of its own. It was a relative quickie, coming in at just over an hour, but it was nice to be ‘sucked in’ and rescued from my wandering – I suppose I ought to have known by now, I can always turn to a windmill!

The mill you see is Swim Coots Mill, a drainage mill that also ground animal feed. Situated in the village of Catfield just beside Hickling Broad, and indeed owned by a family who ran several mills in Hickling, it was built in the early nineteenth century and makes for a charming little structure, with its tiddly sails atop a tower with a very pronounced batter. The mill worked until the mid-twentieth century, when, like many of its colleagues, it was obsoleted by electric and oil pumps; the tower still stands, but is today capped by a rather unsightly tin helmet.

What intrigues me the most is the chap in the reference (there were others, but in my haste they turned out really quite badly, so I removed them). Who is he? The miller? Me in a past life? Both…?

confused1-00It seems a lifetime ago now that I was wandering around Norwich as student of art – Graphic Communications, to be precise, at NUCA. It’s a little scary to think it’s been six years since my first semester. While not a period I look back on with tremendous fondness – regrettably, much of that is my own fault – I met some unforgettable personalities and had great fun making stuff with them.

I delved quite heavily into typography and font design in my second year, when we were given much more freedom in our practice. I believe it was also around this time that my mother picked up her first smartphone. Besides the frightful interface, she was most perplexed by the ‘mispellings’ and the ‘weird little faces’ that were now peppering her friends’ correspondence. Granted, there was mischief to be had in deliberately sending messages loaded with as many ‘txt’ words and emoticons as possible, but I shared her pain, not so much with emoticons but the over-egged text speak. I’m fine with a casual LOL or OMG, and can make allowances for platforms with character limits, obviously. But when u c ppl rly strt pushin it 2 xtrmes it cn bcum a bt of-putn, ye? We’ve all been there. My entire brief was written around this; exploring text speak, its usage and impact – if any – on general parlance, and how, for the uninitiated, it can slash a romantic sentence into an ugly code puzzle. By this, I essentially mean I spent the research phase sourcing beautiful quotes and playing word games. Not bad!

confused1-01The entire face, naturally, spiralled from the ubiquitous :S emoticon. It was a purposely minimal, cold and trying construction. Application mainly came in jumbling words up, or taking quotes and cutting characters wherever possible.

confused0002These chaps was going to play a big part of my degree show – optical illusions and Jenga-esque towers of text speak dystopia were in discussion. In having to drop out of university, these frightening characters sadly never broke out of the screen. With Cinema 4D at my disposal, however, I had a quick punt and created some 3D impressions of that landscape.

confused-3_0003I’m reminded again how much I enjoy working with type. I should really make an effort to do more.

steveblackman-lw5I should know better by now than to deprive myself opportunities of fresh fun – how many years was it before I finally put that Carpenters CD on? – but apparently, I don’t. It was seemingly about eighteen years (five months) ago now that I read of a fun alternative digital painting software, MyPaint, over at the excellent blog of photographer Nigel Borrington. Having tried to draw Steve Blackman many times recently, each time to little avail and much regret, I ventured over to the new software more in desperation than intrigue.

But the intrigue soon won over. I didn’t attempt stippling in my initial grapples, nor did I especially intend for it to happen here – MyPaint rather made the decision for me. Scrambling through the brushes – of which there are plenty, each loaded with intuitive and satisfying blending behaviours reminiscent of my brief affair with Corel Painter – I came across a ‘splatter’ brush which was weird in that I didn’t actually have to click to put a dot down, only glide the cursor across the canvas. Quite an unnerving experience to begin with, but ultimately less strenuous and a lot speedier! I could easily make a dotted brush like this in Photoshop, but the added urgency of automated dots made it curiously dangerous. This might be nowhere near to the degree of precision that Antoine de Caunes was afforded, but it did come much, much quicker; about three hours, while Antoine took as many days!

One other thing I have to say about MyPaint is just how smoothly it runs and without requiring nearly as much of the memory that others do. The only minor niggle I would have with performance is that it took a little while to save work – as someone who has long been in the habit of frequently hitting CTRL+S, these minute-long waits started to grate a bit. But that’s just me being hideously impatient, and could be down to my PC being from the dark ages and not the software itself.

I would recommend a look to anybody with an interest in digital art, especially those with a graphics tablet, as with the pen you’ll realise the full potential of the brushes. Its interface and some of the behaviours might take a bit of getting used to, but ultimately looks a productive tool that brushes away many of Photoshop’s distractions, focussing purely on the illustration aspect. I’ll certainly be giving it another look. Thank you, Nigel, for sharing it with us! Nice to have a new weapon at my disposal.

Did I mention that it’s free to download? See here: http://mypaint.org/

Below is the raw MyPaint splatter/stipple painting. Looking back at his awesome poses, I find it almost unforgivable that he ditched the alluring chest hair of his early days, so I’ve attempted to restore it here, in stipple form. The various dots surrounding Steve were not intentional; they were where I kept throwing the cursor out to think about what to do next, such was the frequency of these dots marking the page, before braving a return.

steveblackman-orig1

“Lethal Weapon” Steve Blackman was incredible. One of the things I loved about him the most was that his character’s icy demeanour seemed perfectly pitched, and thus was almost too convincing. He didn’t appear to care for showiness – which in turn provided many a beautiful straight-man moment with some of the more ludicrous characters on the roster – and really did look like someone you’d rather not mess with, even before you get to his martial arts kicks, nunchucks, and very large kendo stick.

Though his notable reign in the WWF began in 1997, Blackman actually began wrestling for them almost a decade prior, in 1988. However, while performing in South Africa later that year, he became very ill, contracting malaria and dysentery which left him bedridden for over two years. After that he spent another four years in physical therapy to recover his impeccable conditioning, which is where he also accrued his martial arts smarts, becoming expertly educated in karate and jiu-jitsu, among others. This is a strong guy.

His time was spent mostly dominating the ‘hardcore’ division, mixing impressive skill with outright mayhem in bewitching fashion. But being apparently at home here meant that he was never really propelled to the main event scene before his retirement in 2002. Perhaps they didn’t feel he had the charisma, or similarly perhaps they thought a legitimately tough athlete had no place representing the WWF at the time. A shame though that might be, his work is looked back on with great fondness, seen a key part of that golden era. He was very refreshing.

After wrestling, he returned to martial arts for a short while, later running a number of schools dedicated to the cause. Now a family man, he apparently lives a somewhat less smash-mouth life these days. But I’d still prefer not to piss him off!

reddit2-2

Another Saturday, and another voyage into the unknown as I get a little further acquainted with the brave new world, Reddit, moreover Reddit Gets Drawn. I like the idea of fashioning it to become the basis of a weekly challenge of sorts, although knowing me now I’ve said that I’ll probably never go there again… I’ll try me best!

I’ve always been slightly curious of just how long it seems to take me to make a half-decent portrait, even though I know that ultimately matters very little. But seeing others knock superior stuff out in sometimes under ninety minutes, I just like the idea of someday being that efficient. On that vein, I’ve begun using these images to pit my wits against the clock – this was done under a firm two-hour limit. It probably shows, considering most of my other portraits unless otherwise mentioned generally consume more than double that, if not even longer. Our voluntary subject looks a good few years older than I’d estimate he is going by the photograph, thanks to the shading being very, um, shady in places – such smooth skin, and yet so apparently hard to render! I think it was a combination of going a little quicker than I needed with the time limit in mind, and generally having a touch of the ‘off day’ – I wouldn’t say I’m pleased with it, but I got more done than I thought I would. I realise now just how much of that work time is spent fiddling, tidying up and generally losing the will to live!

Tick tock. The presence of the time limit was a bit of a perk as it encouraged me to not to get distracted, as I always do. Encroaching deadlines often have that effect, don’t they, much as fear them. If I’m feeling brave, maybe I’ll try 60 minutes next Saturday and see how I get on. The countdown starts now!

self-portait-1

I grumbled in only my previous post on the haunting prospect of the self-portrait. Well, this one’s actually been floating around for a couple of weeks and I haven’t had the balls to post it… until now, when it’s quiet!

It has a pair of reasons behind its creation, actually, neither of which vanity: to test out a new custom pastel-esque brush I’d made in Photoshop, and second, to mourn the passing of my beard, which I removed shortly after the source picture was taken, for reasons I don’t really know. It had been there so long that I felt quite guilty and bereaved after the deed. Fear not! I am growing it back, for I quickly grew tired of looking like a haggard fifteen-year old.

OK, maybe one of the motivations was vanity… but still, there we are. Indeed, there I am. Another mildly curious point of interest is the fact that I actually have neglected my glasses – with the angle, they (or rather, their reflections) were almost completely obscuring my left eye, and besides, they just weren’t working very well. Must try harder!

I’ve kept the colour version predominant due to its luminous qualities, though as a whole I think I prefer it black-and-white, in truth:

self-portait-2

There we are. There I.. oh, I’ve already said that. I DID A SELFIE and posted it. More of a gold star moment than you will ever be aware.

(pats back)

isy1All of the drawings you have seen so far have been done with a helping hand from Photoshop. This one is no different, except I have been less resourceful. Normally, I only sketch either shadow or highlight, affording me the option of then using the program’s magical blending capabilities to create a colour overlay with some ease, giving me a full-colour alternate, or leaving it as just a black-and-white drawing. Here, however, I have painted the old-fashioned way, for digital art at least, with full swatches and mixing palletes and all that carry on. It’s not something I have done for some time, perhaps a couple of years, and that probably shows. This is a reminder not to let practice flag! Use it or lose it, and all that.

The unsuspecting victim of this experimentation is the wonderful Isy Suttie, comedienne and actress. She’s wonderful, but I’ve already said that once… her hair was tremendous fun to paint this way and seemed to come off much better.

Well, as the clock strikes 3, that’s another early night down the pan. And so to bed. At bloody last.