Doodles in the margin from an artist living and working in the Scottish Borders.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

My One Two Three Legged Fiend

What with moving house and Bostin' Heroes and what have you, the War of the Worlds illustrations I was footling with rather slid out of view. I did three in the end:

In order: first sighting of the tripods in a storm at night; the destruction of Shepperton by the heat ray; the aftermath of the engagement of the tripods by HMS Thunderchild. I picked this incident, when an object appears in the sky and cascades the deadly black smoke over the land, rather than the actual battle because a) it's something of a curtain-down moment on a section of the book, and I tried to reflect that sense of conquest and doom in the image of the black cloud falling, b) I had a feeling it would be the same as the Shepperton image only with more sea and bigger boats, and c) it's on the cover of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds album and whatever you think of that it's an iconic sort of image.

I'm ambivalent about the results. The book was inspiring, as it creates very vivid visual images to pursue. Doing it did throw up a couple of issues. Firstly, depicting something very tall and three-legged brings about compositional issues; as you can see, two of these are very similar, although I tried to vary them as much as I could. Secondly - dear me, look at the difference between the two tripods. It's as if the Martians had time to redesign and bring out a Tripod Mk. II, leaner, sleeker and more in tune with invading today's world. That's just carelessness. It's why - which I did, luckily, with the Bostin' Heroes - you need to spend a lot of time on preparatory sketches, so you don't make accidental 'improvements' as you go. Lesson learned.

I also learned a lot about indian and acrylic inks, the different finishes they give, and how well they blend in washes and in layers. I had to work hard to get that smoke/steam effect in the Shepperton drawing as I was using acrylic white ink; the indian ink (Windsor and Newton) blended much more smoothly and with softer edges in the black smoke image. I also liked using latex masking fluid to show the heat ray, which is invisible in light but is shown up in the steam.

Even so, I don't think I quite captured that mechanical, crustacean look that I got in the sketches:

I tried to be fathful to Wells' descriptions, which are both mechanically precise and nicely suggestive. (The notes on the sketch say "no plain pivots / like spiders / like crabs / ball joints / alive / lifelike and striding / scuttling / parody of human gait.") Even so, I think that my tripods are more stiff-legged than Wells' intended - his have a series of round plates that seem to be far more flexible than my crab-creature. It wouldn't be the first time someone's got it wrong, though, so I'm in good company: Warwick Goble drew some rather splendid illustrations to accompany the first appearance of War of the Worlds in Pearson's Magazine in 1897. Splendid to my mind, anyhow - Herbert George did not like them, and even added an extra passage to later editions of the book which is a swipe at Goble's work:

"I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first pamphlets to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the fighting-machines, and it was there that his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff tripods without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect. The pamphlet containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. They were no more like the Martians I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the pamphlet would have been much better without them."

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

I Am That Pale Man

Language, as has been noted elsewhere, is often an expression of power. I tend to experience this most often in garages, for example the time when a mechanic showed me my [I forget what] which was rusted into some clump that wasn't recognisably a part of any car. I went 'tch!' nonetheless.

This morning, I was in a bicycle shop and looking for the bit of tube that goes on the back of the bike and through which the cable to the rear derailleur runs. I'd settled on 'cable housing' as I'd read it and it sounded appropriately technical. To raise the ante a little the bloke at the counter before me was a tractor repair man who had previously repaired tractors for the British Antarctic Survey and mine clearing machines in Afghanistan, so they were practically sweeping testosterone-based competence out of the shop with brooms.

So, I told the Man I was looking for rear derailleur cable housing. I even pointed to one. "Just like that," I said.

He said, "index gears?"


I said: " The warriors are cutting timber with brash chainsaws; they are trimming hardwood pit-props and loading them;/Is that an order? they hoot at the peremptory lorry driver, who laughs; he is also a warrior. / They are driving long-nosed tractors, slashing pasture in the dinnertime sun; / they are are fitting tappets and valves, the warriors, or giving finish to a surfboard. / Addressed on the beach by a pale man, they watch waves break and are reserved, refusing pleasantry; / they joke only with fellow warriors, chaffing about try-ons and the police, not slighting women. / Making Timber a word of power, Con-rod a word of power, Sense a word of power, the Regs. a word of power."

He said, "That'll be one fifty."

Sunday, 23 May 2010

What's The Score?

It's upwards from here: the taking apart has been completed and the putting back together starts. This is my restored Dawes resplendent in midnight blue - two cans of Rover Midnight Blue and then, when Halfords ran out, two cans of Peugeot Midnight Blue. This morning I took it down from its hanging in the garage roof (managed to chip the paint in carrying it between the garage and the house) and applied some Turtle Wax and brought it up to a wondrous lustre.

It's not flawless, but considering I did it in the garage it's not bad, and the most important bits are glossy and fine - the most important bits being those that I can see when I'm on it.

From now on it's putting on shiny new parts and cleaned and polished old parts. I shan't be riding it, though, the roads here get dusty and then wet and muddy. So I'll be on the lookout for something scruffy to actually use.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


An update: Matt Craig sent me a low-res copy of the completed strip, now he's added the dialogue bubbles, and done a fine job of it, too. As I said: Bristol Comic Expo if you want a live copy handed to you by the creator. (I won't be there because I'm an eccentric recluse.) If you happen to be the comissioning editor for a major publishing house looking for a thirty-eight year old beginner, all the better.

Nicely done, Matt.

East - West

Work in progress. Oil on board.

I'm very reluctant to post work in progress, because it invariably looks a bit rubbish. I returned to this yesterday, when it was a rough draft with promise, and slowly ruined it throughout the day. Today I've started the upwards path again and I can see how and where it should be going. I was doubly put off because I read a disparaging remark in a John Cheever short story about people's taste in art not stretching "beyond baskets of flowers and marine sunsets." So that was me in my place, but then Laura discovered Scottish landscape artist Ken Bushe, whose work is very fine, and restored my faith in what I was doing, although his seem rather better than mine.

I began it in the Midlands, when it was a painting of sunset at Tywyn, Wales, but with an eye to the local market it could equally be an east coast sunrise. The choice is yours.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Joy of Shed

A shed, yesterday.

I have a shed.

It's the first shed I've ever had. I installed a workbench (I say workbench, it's two planks of wood at the moment) and cleared out the stuff that had ended up there as the overflow from the house move.

I began to turn my mind to the renovation of my Dawes, now that Judge Dredd is done and dusted, and the prospect of tinkering with it in a bona fide shed is an appealing one. As it happens, we went to Kelso this morning to pick up a mountain bike and a lightweight aluminium frame that we bagged through Freecycle. They were from a man called John (thanks, John), who was being slightly forced to get rid of them by his wife, who seemed to think he had come up to some sort of bicycle plimsoll line. I had the chance to see what she meant, because John showed us his shed. "Do you restore bikes?" he asked, and I said I was working on one - hesitantly, because I could tell from the way he asked this was a man who'd spent the greater part of his life tinkering in sheds, knew vastly more than me and could probably identify fourteen brands of British Lightweight by feel alone. And then he took us to see his "projects" he was working on.

Man, what wasn't he working on. He had a couple of hand built Flying Scots, a 1960s Dawes frame waiting for stripping and powder coating, a couple of Brompton-type things (he said he had a bit of a thing for small-wheeled bicycles), and was on the lookout for a Raleigh Twenty folder, and he'd just completed a fixed-wheel project with a frame he'd got from Vancouver. And there were others, stacked and dangling in said shed; road frames, mountain bikes, BMXs he was doing up for neighbours and so on. He delicately removed a lightweight alloy mountain bike frame from a cardboard box; it was worth about four thousand pounds and, I couldn't help but notice, splendidly finished in Tartan. "If I'd not been here," John said, "my wife would probably have just given you this."

As we were leaving, he was still offering tools, odd bits and pieces, handlebar stems, nuts and so on. And this was all Freecycle, mind, he didn't want anything for it. I take my hat off to you, John; thanks a lot. I've put them in the garage and will be compiling a good bike for Laura out of the one frame and two bikes she's got. Which brings me back to the shed.

I can't wait to start hanging tools from nails and finding an old chest of drawers to put stuff in. I dream of one day having a drawer entirely full of anonymous and inscrutable offcuts of metal such as I found in my dad's workshop this afternoon when I was looking for something else. In the meantime, I'll be happy to aim for a chilly autumn evening, a mug of tea, a small portable radio, the Sports Report theme tune and the voice of James Alexander Gordon. Magic.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Blue Lump

I have this week completed another piece of work for the estimable Matthew Craig, perpetual motion creative comic dynamo, in which foppish new Dr. Who unwisely materialises on Judge Dredd's beat. Evenin' all. BLAMM. (Plus a very surprising new regeneration.)

Matthew will, I think, at the Bristol Comic Expo on 22nd-23rd May, promoting his own fine work, and this will be available as a handout from him.

There's a Tardis in it. I made sure that the details were correct, as I didn't want to send him alone into a comic book crowd to disseminate printed material showing an inaccurate Tardis. There's probably by-laws about it, let alone the anger of the mob.

Over The Hills and Far Away From the Midlands.

Finally, finally, we have moved house, wrestled with the interweb and become connected to the world again. Life is very slowly settling down and the process of living among boxes is gradually going in reverse and getting back to normal, only a new normal. With, ahem, more frequent and regular blogging.

We have an open fire (romantic, messy and inconvenient), a splendid garden to look at, and regular views of the Cheviots and open farmland for miles around. I saw at least two vistas I wanted to paint on the first day we were here. The oil seed rape and the gorse bushes are in bloom, competing shades of yellow, the beech trees are coming out in young, acid green leaf. However fond of the last house I was, this is better than life beside the A5190.


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