Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Gods Must Be Crazy (working title)

This is an odd comic piece I did a few weeks ago - I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with it but it's my twist on the classic folklore story of being cast out from society. I don't want to give too much away but I'm hoping to get my teeth into in the next few weeks - technically it's going to be quite a challenge. Comics are hard enough to do anyway so I'm not sure why I've set myself such a difficult task for my first proper comic but I'm rather taken with the story that's evolving in my head so it needs to be done.

Friday, 29 July 2011

San Francisco - The Records

There's a couple more San Francisco blogs to come but I'm waiting on some photos from Annie. I got back yesterday and I'm feeling a bit jaded with England. In the meantime here are most of the records I got whilst in the US. Believe it or not I'd barely bought a record in the previous twelve months before leaving but they're so much cheaper over there it felt rude not too. I think the most I paid on a record was the new Fucked Up lp which was $20 (£12 or so) but the majority of these were between $2 and $5. Budget buys rule okay.

I've set up a record deck in my make-shift studio and spent the day listening to my purchases which has cheered me up no end. Viva la vinyl.

Monday, 25 July 2011

San Francisco part 10

We left Santa Cruz at midday on Friday (8th July) and drove back up to Orinda to dump our bags before going straight onto Berkeley. I spent the afternoon in Amoeba and Rasputin's record shops. Everyone raves about the Amoeba stores but I actually think Rasputin's in Berkeley is my favourite record spot in the Bay Area. The selection of older records is more extensive, they have continual knock-downs on newer vinyl and it seems to be a bit cheaper in general. I picked up Nilsson's terrific children's story/concept record 'The Point', Jefferson Airplane's classic psychedelic rock album 'The Surrealistic Pillow', Melanie's 'Garden in the City' featuring the ace folk funk of 'People in the Front Row', a Harry Taussig folk guitar repress and another Randy Newman lp all for less than $20. Admittedly none of it's rare - God knows I've stupidly left 'The Point' behind in more charity shops than I care to remember over the years - but good records all the same.

We grabbed a beer on Telegraph then made our way to Oakland to see some bands at the definitive Bay Area hardcore/punk venue Gilman; a long standing volunteer ran club where the shows are cheap with a strict no alcohol policy. Fortunately it sits directly opposite a brewery so we got our drink on there first. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances we didn't make the show in the end. I don't think I'm ever meant to make it inside the Gilman for one reason or another...

On Sunday (10th July) we got BART into the city for the Renegade Art fair which is a huge touring art and craft event that travels through the US. I've been to a few of these type of things in London and their usually pretty lo-fi taking place in the basements of musty Working Men's Clubs. This was altogether a more polished affair. And massive.

There was still a substantial amount of 'kooky' knitted owl type shite but I suppose that's to be expected with so many 'quirky creatives' in one place. In fact knitted moustaches seem to be the new knitted owl. I was a bit disappointed by how good-looking everyone was as well - I like my art/craft/zine folk to have horrendous acne, smell of charity shops and be painfully awkward. That aside there were some decent illustrators and printmakers in attendance; I chatted to Kevin Tong for a while about his work, the US poster making scene, how rad Rich Kelly is and general screen-printing techniques. I also bought this stunning print from him.

We then set off to the Castro for a button exhibition at a ceramic studio to meet up with some of Annie's friends and after a couple of street PBRs went onto the dimly-lit Elbow Rooms for a few more happy hour beers.

The following week was a mixture of working on illustrations, some design work and a couple of days in the intense heat of suburban Sacramento for an incredible bbq where I discovered that hot links aren't nearly as nice as spicy Italian sausage. In addition to some swimming (floating) I also found myself inexplicably drawn to the latter stages of the Women's World Cup. I can only assume it was due to the lack of football in general but it was really rather good all things considered. Which isn't meant to sound nearly as patronising as it does.

On Friday I squeezed in another super secret Threadless submission for Threadwars IV (more later) finishing off the art-working at about five in the morning and then had a day of concrete laying in the basement. The concrete traveled up a long hose from a concrete mixer at the base of a steep hill and I had the job of directing said hose accordingly. Handling the hose full of concrete was rather like wrestling an anaconda and combined with the heat of the day was incredibly hard work. We laid five square yards of concrete in about two hours. I'm not entirely sure what that means either but it seemed quite impressive. We finished the day in Balboa with a welcome bowl of caldo de camaron - a delicious Mexican spicy tomato and prawn soup that's eaten with crackers.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

San Francisco part 9

Okay I'm playing catch up again after a hectic fortnight - apologies for being a bad blogger.

On Friday (July 1st) Annie had demolition duties all day so I set off into the city in the morning for another day of rooting around for records. You would think I'd get bored of this activity but apparently not. First stop was the Civic Centre where I negotiated my way through the tourist hordes to Rasputin's. I spent a while going through the records there but didn't find anything that quite grabbed me enough to exchange money for goods so I left and hopped on a bus up to Haight. I got off again just below Lower Haight slightly earlier than I wanted to when a crack-addled couple decided to sit on top of me and swear at each other loudly. It did mean I stumbled across a nifty Jeremy Fish statue that I didn't know existed.

Rather than blather on about all the individual record shops I'll keep it succinct - I got Bob Ray's 'Initiation of a Mystic' from Groove Merchant which has been a long-time want and a cheap second-hand copy of indie miserablists The National's 'High Violet' from Ameoba. I'm still not entirely convinced by the latter but I'm hooked on this song and some random old bloke kept telling me I needed to buy it. I'm not entirely familiar with interaction with strangers so I generally assume anyone that talks to me is massively mental and/or trying to lure me back to their sex dungeon but apparently American people do just talk to strangers. It's a little unnerving but I'm gradually getting used to it. I'm still not comfortable with all the hugging and touching though.

I gave the chatty weirdo the slip in the Jazz section and made my way through the hippies and bums to Golden Gate Park where I found a quiet spot for a beer-in-a-bag and bit of a read in the sun. Rock and roll. My initial plan was to walk all the way through the park to Ocean Beach but after a couple of beers realised my tiny bladder would never hold so instead walked back to Haight to a bar for a wee. And another beer. It's a vicious circle - drink a beer or two, need a wee, go to a bar for a wee and buy another beer then need a wee again. I should probably just drink coffee instead but it tastes ugly.

A couple of beers later I wandered down to Lower Haight to Molotov's for some more beers and some impromptu drawing. I'm not one for getting my sketchbook out in public (not a euphemism) but drinking alone in bars isn't something I do very often either so I forced myself to do some drawing. The results were surprisingly okay considering but I'm yet to finish inking the pencil work so I can't share yet. I made my escape soon after when some women insisted I draw their horrible little precocious dog. I declined gracefully insisting I don't draw animals. Ahem.

The following day we headed down to Santa Cruz for a week taking the stunning scenic route on Highway One that travels alongside the ocean for most of the duration. After an evening of hot links, beers and a fire we spent the next day riding around town on cruisers. We set off past the giant concrete whale at the Santa Cruz Museum of National History where I paid my respects to the mighty Bear Spirit. He's not a shy fella.

We rode on past the boardwalk to the wharf - it was the first official weekend of the summer holidays and blazing hot so everywhere was heaving. We made a quick detour into town to cool down and eventually rode back to the Borden house and down to the end of the road to sit watching the sea and drinking beers in the sun. I turned up my t-shirt sleeves white-trash style for a no more than two hours (baring in mind it was already four o' clock or so) only to get quite burnt. Feeling suitably buzzed we returned to the house where I proceeded to fall asleep on the sofa and then wake up again at ten or so with minor sun stroke. Early boozing and sunshine had taken their toll on me.

The following day was July 4th which is apparently some kind of day of celebration for American folk. Given the location of the house and it's close proximity to the beach the entire neighbourhood was buzzing with people. The beach itself was guarded all day by security ensuring no alcohol or fireworks were permitted but there was talk of people stashing both in advance under the sand and in bushes. I was still feeling a little rough from the previous day so I was especially wary of being out in the sun. The buzz about town grew progressively during the day and by early evening there were already plenty of beer/sun casualties out and about. I strolled up to the local store for some beers only to find the police had blocked access to the beach and were man-handling a drunken frat-boy in the store car park. The more raucous it got the more inclined I felt to stay at home and draw. Roaming gangs of overly patriotic drunks aren't really my thing whatever country I'm in and Annie wasn't getting any pangs of loyalty to the Stars and Stripes either so we tucked ourselves away for the night making one skirmish to the beach for a few rogue fireworks in the fog. I think in retrospect my mum does July 4th better than the Yanks.

The morning after the night before it dawned on me one pair of boxer-shorts would not last the duration of this week long excursion so inexplicably I found myself searching for underpants in Santa Cruz. It's an odd place to find yourself. After a successful pant mission to Capitola we returned to the Seabright harbour for an incredible lunch at Aldo's - deep fried cod, calamari, prawns and chips with sweet and sour dipping sauce. I wouldn't usually allow myself such extravagance but I was made aware of the fact my time in the US was slowing coming to an end so decided to push the boat out. The rest of the day was fairly low-key; I did a couple of illustrations including the one below which was from memory looking down at some rocks at the harbour. I've been playing around with water colours and gouache and trying to simplify my line-work just to give you an idea of why it looks a bit odd. That and the fact it looks like a mountains leading off into the sky rather than rocks leading off into water. Oh well. In the evening we went to see Submarine at a small cinema in town. It's actually the second time I've seen it but it's brilliant so I wanted to see it again with Annie. She approved.
The next day (Wednesday 6th July) we decided to drive down to Big Sur to see what all the fuss is/was about. If it's good enough for Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson... Annie employed all her skills of cartography by illustrating this annotated map for us to find our way, we stopped off for some provisions for the journey at the supermarket deli and we set off.

The drive down was aesthetically fairly typical of what I'd seen of California already but as we got closer the scenery started to get all kinds of epic. Vast rugged mountains dropping off into thickset green forests on one side and stunning ocean views on the other. We even saw a bleak farmstead looming out of a dense bank of clouds over the sea.

It took a couple of passes but eventually we found the turn off towards the beach and trundled down a narrow winding lane following a handsome orange camper van. Twenty minutes or so later we sat in a queue of vehicles waiting to get into the beach car park with a one in one out policy - not the most encouraging of signs and certainly a far cry from the Kerouac's Big Sur but inevitable in this day and age I suspect.

After a twenty minute wait we drove into the car park and set off towards the beach. The canopy of trees gave way to a spectacular sandy beach surrounded by impenetrable rocky slopes. I'm struggling a bit at this describing things with words shit so I'll just post up some photos instead...

Despite what the photographs suggest there were some other people there - mostly Europeans - but not too many. We spent a relaxed afternoon reading, drawing, drinking cold beers and even managed a quick dip in the ocean but the sea is incredibly cold in California. Colder even than English seas I think.

It was so beautiful there I was keen to stay and camp nearby but Annie isn't very keen on camping so instead we stayed until the sun started to go down and headed back up to Santa Cruz. There was a one-off showing of Lost Boys at the Beach Boardwalk in the evening which we were quite keen to see given that much of it is shot in and around Santa Cruz but by the time we got in we were too tired to do anything.

The next two days in Santa Cruz were more of the same - a mixture of illustration, cycling, a quick foray into town for some record shopping (the new Kurt Vile lp, some dirt cheap Randy Newman lps and a battered but by the looks of things playable copy of 'Exile On Main Street' for a dollar, since you asked...), beers and beach-lounging. I did a pencil sketch at Big Sur of a fuck-off big rock and finished it later with inks and water colour. I'm reasonably happy with it - the line-work is good and the subtler colour washes on the rock are okay but the sea errs a bit on the wrong side of water colour hell. In hindsight I wish I'd just done a block of colour for it rather than try and do waves and such but it was a quick experiment so it doesn't really matter.

I took a photo for reference that I didn't use as I had no access to a computer but I've included it here just for reference. The scan of the illustration is a bit rough and ready too and far too bright but I'm without Photoshop again so can't tweak it accordingly. I will say in my defence it looks better in the flesh.

It's a new technique I'm trying to develop whereby I reference things from real life but not explicitly so I can be as vague as I like. And I like to be vague. I think I mentioned in the past I used to draw virtually everything from my head without any referencing at all but increasingly it's good to be able to draw from real-life but by doing it like this without the baggage of having to get stuff to look totally correct or take a veritable fucking age to do it.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Giant Blue Bear of Portola

This is from a collection of illustrations I've been working on inspired by California and my imagination. I actually submitted this to Threadless for a secret challenge and it scored really well despite me not being able to promote it which is great.

I had this idea of a giant bear spirit keeping a watchful eye over a variety of places around California. The original piece is below in pen and ink with an additional series of ink washes and I used gouache for the bear. No macs were hurt or indeed used in the making of this illustration.

For Threadless I refined the colour a bit by using a scan of the original linework and colouring it cleanly in Photoshop on a few seperate layers and eventually added the moon to balance the composition. I attempted to make the moon have more texture and depth but it actually proved distracting so I ended up keeping it simple.

And below is the final submission on Threadless - it's always worth taking a bit of time on the presentation so I took a photograph of an old book and merged the illustration onto the page. The theme of the Threadwars challenge was 'epic' and I was a bit concerned people would potentially miss the 'epicness' of a giant blue bear (!) looming over a house so I rammed the concept home by adding the book title - 'Epic American Folk Tales'. I also simplified the bear spirit concept to a giant blue bear as it fitted the theme better somehow. To see how it faired click here.

'If you look out of the window on a moon-lit night you just might catch a glimpse of the gigantic blue bear of Portola as he goes about his business making sure all the town-folk are sleeping safe and sound in their beds. He's mostly gentle but a cumbersome brute so don't be too upset if he accidentally dislodges a tile or two from your roof as he works, but be sure not to startle him as he's been known to devour delinquents and hoodlums who are up to no good.'

Sunday, 10 July 2011

George B. McClellan

Since arriving in California I have been illustrating virtually every day often for several hours at a time which for me is very prolific. Much of it has been purely experimenting with different mediums and techniques and some of it will be made in to prints when I get back to the UK but I've been keeping it all rather quiet for now. Probably the biggest break-through was the discovery of blue non-photo pencils for drafting work. I knew of them but could never track one down in London, however they're really easy to find out here and they are so nice to use. I can't really explain why they're any different to regular lead pencils but I think the fact that they are so light allows me to ink more effectively later on. The page doesn't get dirty in the drafting stage and it's really easy to eliminate the blue lines once scanned although I rather like seeing the faint blue lines so I've tended to leave them in for the purposes of this blog.

Below is an illustration of George B. McClellan who was a Major General for the Union Army in the American Civil war. I stumbled on him in a book whilst cat-sitting in the Tenderloin and felt the urge to draw him just to test out my new blue non-photo pencil which you'll be able to see if you click on the picture for a close-up.

Monday, 4 July 2011

San Francisco part 8

After a week of demolition, concrete laying, website design and illustration we were needed in the city again for cat-sitting duties in the Tenderloin. We headed in on the Thursday (23rd June) and made the bum run from BART to the flat in about six minutes which is not unlike doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. Inevitably I needed pizza so we walked up Polk Street to one of the several branches of Escape From New York pizza where I eat my face off for eight bucks. I swear every slice of pizza from Escape From New York tastes like the best slice I've ever eaten. It renders all other food useless.

We headed down Union Street which is all posh boutiques and fancy shoe shops (so of no use to me whatsoever) and jumped on a bus to Lower Haight where we met up with an old friend of Annie's at Molotov's for happy hour. It rapidly turned into three or four happy hours before we made our way back to the TL for a few pre-Chutney beers at the Nite Cap where I made friends with some dood called Leroy. See below. He was a nice guy but didn't do rounds which is always a bit annoying.

Waking up the next day with a sizable hangover and a pizza sized hole in my stomach I decided to go on a mammoth record trawl around SF starting on Valencia Street which is conveniently only a block over from another Escape From New York pizza. In a fair and just world I would be the size of a large barn but apparently my metabolism is just about busy enough to stay on top of things. At least for now. Valencia Street runs parallel with Mission Street and is a long stretch of vintage clothes shops, book shops, art galleries and hipster hang outs, not forgetting the excellent Aquarius Records which stocks mostly new and interesting vinyl from the likes of Finders Keepers etc. After having a mooch about in Dog Eared Books and a few other shops and galleries I attempted to find my way to Lower Haight via Needles and Pens which is still showing the Nigel Peake exhibition we originally saw in May.

As mentioned in previous blogs Haight Street has several great record shops so I spent the afternoon rummaging through them all where I managed to pick up a few off my wants list including The Poppy Family lp which I've been after for a few years now but I've always been slightly hesitant to pay over the odds for shipping from the US/Canada. Unfortunately in leaving it so long it's gone from a $3 record to $40 - I think somewhere along the line it must have been sampled or comped so what I saved on shipping I paid for in hype but I still managed to find a copy for $13 in Recycled Records.

A few hours later I tried to navigate my way back from Haight to the Tenderloin. Annie had told me in no uncertain terms to explicitly avoid the Western Addition - a government housing project that borders Fillmore Street and Japantown. Obviously I got thoroughly lost en-route and managed to walk directly through it but it was fine. In the course of the day I'd somehow clocked up ten miles plus of walking mostly I expect from getting a bit lost. We eat at Japantown in the evening before having some drinks at the Ha-Ra on Geary - a dive bar in the TL owned by a friendly fella called Rick.

The next day I spent the morning illustrating until Annie woke up and then we set off towards Fort Mason to see the Ed Hardy exhibition. There are some pictures below - we'd seen a lot of the pieces previously as Annie's friend had helped put together the frames and assemble the show but it was still great to see them in a more formal setting. The early city scape illustration is stunning.

Afterwards we got the bus up to Outer Richmond to have a look in Green Apple Books and then headed back to the TL before making our way through the craziness of the Dyke March in and around Union Square to BART. Zig-zagging through the crowds of revelers I heard a succession of what I thought sounded like gun-fire only to be told it was probably firecrackers. On arriving back in Orinda we discovered it was in fact gun fire - there'd been some gang-related shootings a block over from us as we made our way through the city.

The next few days involved mixing up nearly one hundred bags of concrete for the foundation of Annie's parents house, an afternoon in Berkeley to purchase an authentic ninja costume, working on a super secret illustration and a rainy drive through SF occasionally stopping at the more far-flung record and book shops. We also went to see Terence Malick's 'Tree of Life' at the cinema. I have mixed feelings about it. There are some genuinely stunning cinematic moments at the beginning of the film with the creation and evolution of the universe that demand viewing on the big screen. Elements of the [slightly] more traditionally narrative sections of the film involving Jack O'Brien's (Brad Pitt) suburban 1950's family life are endearing but like most of Malick's films it's also exceptionally ethereal; unfortunately to the point of actually traveling up it's own celestial arse. I'd liken it to a magical multi-coloured fart - fantastical to look at but ultimately just air-bound tiny molecules of poo. Actually that's a bit harsh but I would say it's the dullest dinosaur flick I've ever seen and certainly not on par with 'Badlands' or 'The Thin Red Line'.

On Wednesday (29th June) we got BART into the city arriving at the Civic Centre where we took a quick tour of the Town Hall. I tend to feel slightly guilty for not ticking enough tourist boxes when I'm in other countries but not quite enough to actually stop going to record shops, book shops, pizza joints and dive bars to do touristy stuff instead but I made an exception for the Town Hall. It's quite spectacular inside - so much so there are lots of other tourists drifting about taking exactly the same photographs which tends to make me not want to take photographs at all. So I've googled one instead.

We paid our respects to Harvey Milk and departed walking to Valencia Street to eat pizza and mooch about in record shops, book shops and thrift stores before meeting one of Annie's friend in a dive bar. Feeling suitably buzzed we made our way through the Mission to an art/zine fair in Potrero where despite a low turn-out managed to buy ace (and dirt cheap) original artwork from up-and-coming Bay Area illustrators. I was drunk enough to attempt social interaction as well which is always fun so I got to talk about various technical stuff ("what pens do you use? ") and the joys of trying to work with colour despite having a deep-seated fear of it. Good to know it's not just me then. Pick of the bunch were illustrators Taylor Wessling and Chelsea Brown. I managed to get a couple of pieces from them including this original pen and ink work by Taylor which I'm totally in awe of.

We left feeling a bit on the wobbly side but happy to have attended and participated in such an event. By participated I mean I gave some zines away. On the way back to BART we stopped off for a quick beer in the most Mexican bar I've ever been to. We were the only gringos in there but were warmly welcomed with only moderately over-priced cans of future Mexican beer. Such was the decor and atmosphere I was dying to take photos but Annie felt this would be in poor taste. If you're ever in SF make sure to stop by for a drink - it's on 16th and Capp Street...