Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year!

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt sing in 2012 with style, panache and a ukulele.

365 Doodles - Day 365 - It's all over!

And thank God, or the flying spaghetti monster, or a godless universe for that. 2011 was a monstrous, petty bastard. It poked me in both eyes, kicked me in the conkers and gave me a wedgie. I am not, by nature, a pessimist. The glass has always been very much half full my whole life. I have always been a cheery and often annoyingly happy chappie. Ask anyone who knew me prior to 2011. But the events of this past year made all of the glumness, misery, cantakerousness, moodiness and general humbuggery I'd avoided my whole life come flooding in to fill my soul with disappointment, vitriol and sadness. I'm not going to go into details; suffice to say that pretty much everything went wrong for me in 2011. Work dried up, everything I tried failed ... in 2011 I couldn't get a thing right and I earned barely enough to keep my dogs in biscuits. And one of them died. It's been a year in which I've felt depressed, unwanted, unemployable, obsolete and old. It was often hard to keep a smile on my face when circumstances kept pushing shit pies into it.

But wait! Don't go! I'm just setting the scene! Things are going to get better, I promise. First of all, contained within this post you'll find the final doodles in my 365 day marathon. It's all over. As is my career as a pro artist (see here for the reasons behind my decision). It just didn't work out at all, sadly.

But that's okay because, as I approach the end of this purulent canker of a year, I'm loading my creative guns and plumping the pillows of enthusiasm. I intend to step out into 2012 with a big smile on my face and bags of the old fire and vim that I used to have in spades. I've picked up the jolly stick and I'm beating the packs of black dogs from my doors. I'm saying a resounding 'Fuck you' to the naysayers and the trolls. I'm flipping the bird to Bad Luck. I'm going to grab Opportunity by his big hairy balls and I'm going to squeeze and squeeze and squeeze until the bastard gives me a break or his cobblers pop. I'm abandoning all of the projects that went so hideously wrong for me in 2011 and starting afresh with spanky brand new ideas. I'm ditching my rubbish career as an artist and focusing on my writing which, at least, has earned me a few bob in the past. I'll continue to apply for jobs and attempt to rejoin the workforce of course. No bugger wanted to employ me in 2011 but a year of failed applications is now forgotten. New year, new opportunities. New me.

So, to put me in the right frame of mind before I set off on the journey, I thought I'd take a look back over my annus diarrhoeus and pick out the golden shiny pieces of sweetcorn among the stool. There were many good things that made 2011 bearable.

Let's talk TV first. Despite the rising tide of mediocrity, there were some absolute gems. Downton Abbey continues to shine brightly - thank goodness it hasn't become Dumbed-Downton Abbey yet - and Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror was refereshingly satirical and thought-provoking. The BBC's Great Expectations was wonderful. Fringe continues to be the best sci-fi show the USA has produced in years and 30 Rock, Community, Modern Family and Curb your Enthusiasm are never less than brilliant. On this side of the pond, Psychoville, QI and Friday Night Dinner scored high on my funny scorecard and - though it physically hurts me to say something good about Rupert Murdoch's empire - Sky has worked much harder than the terrestrial channels to produce new comedy this year. It was a bit hit and miss but there were some notable successes. This is Jinsy has some promise but just missed the mark for me. If they get a second season I hope they can up their game. If they do, there's a classic in the making there. Meanwhile, Darren Boyd, Robert Lindsay and gang have scored a double top with Spy. And it scored at the British Comedy Awards too. I look forward to series two (Helen Mirren has already signed up to appear).

On the non-fiction front, I've continued to hugely enjoy James May's Man Lab and the controlled madness that is Mythbusters. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has kept me rooted to the spot with his River Cottage series on vegetables and Stephen Fry's Planet Word was excellent. I enjoyed Waldemar Janusczek's series on The Impressionists and a whole raft of fantastic behind the scenes documentaries about artists and their work on the Sky Arts channels. David Attenborough has thrilled me with his Frozen Planet and Adam Curtis's All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace proved that you can write smart, entertaining and informative programmes and put them on primetime TV without the Daily Mail claiming that watching them will give you cancer. BBC4 and Channel 4 ran some truly excellent one-off shows too including the fascinating and nauseating (in equal measure) After Life: The Strange Science of Decay and the truly exceptional Mummifying Alan; a tasteful, respectful and astonishing attempt to recreate the processes used at the height of the Egyptian empire using the donated body of Alan Billis, a Torquay taxi driver (Click on the photo to see an interview with Alan and his wife. Then come back to the blog - please!).

Yes, there have been a few other shows I've enjoyed throughout the year but not so much that they stood out for me. Even my very favourite show of all time, Doctor Who, seemed lacklustre, sadly. Only my opinion you understand. Feel free to pelt me with jelly babies and cybermats.

Oh, and radio so often is overlooked so I will say thanks to BBC Radio 4 for The Museum of Curiosity, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, Fry's English Delight, The League of Gentlemen's Ghost Hunt, Just a Minute, The Unbelieveable Truth, Chain Reaction, Another Case of Milton Jones, Sarah Millican's Support Group and The Now Show. Special thanks to john Finniemore for some of the best rants I've heard all year.

I must also mention some online content too. Good old Fosters - the brewers - have sponsored more than just the comedy awards in recent months and my hat goes off to them for bringing us Alan Partridge's Mid-Morning Matters and brand new Vic and Bob and The Fast Show. I also loved Harry Hill's Little Internet Show but the crowning glory of this year's crop of interwebby goodness must surely be the wonderfully insane Danger 5. The five episode web series was amazing. When the full series starts showing in Australia this year, I'll be praying that some UK channel picks it up.

I did take possession of some wonderful art this year from the likes of Moose Allain, Jonathan Edwards, Deborah Burrow, Mr Bingo, Kate Fantham, Julie-Ann Madison, Warwick Johnson Cadwell and others. They include this exceptional piece by Ben Cameron. I'm not sad in the photo by the way. I was trying to make the same face as the Stevyn in the cow onesie:

Now, cinema. Considering just how many blockbusters are coming our way in 2012, 2011 seemed positively bereft of good movies. I didn't go to the cinema much this year as there was very little that excited me enough to get off my fat arse and pay their ridiculous ticket prices. Everything seemed to me to be unoriginal or uninspired. Did you know that 2011 premiered more sequels than in any other year in cinema history? Yup. Twenty-Eight of them. And a whole bunch of ill-advised remakes too. Now I'll admit that there may have been some wonderful films that I missed. If so, do educate me. What I saw was mostly dross but the best of it included Captain America (not bad), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (not too shit), X Men - First Class (passable) Rise of Planet of the Apes (pretty good) and Super 8 (surprisingly fun if cliche). What would I consider my personal best film of 2011? It's a four way tie between Attack the Block, Another Earth, Sherlock Holmes - Game of Shadows and Tintin (although I haven't seen The Muppets yet). Let's do better next year Hollywood, eh? The signs are good with John Carter, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Pirates (in an Adventure with Scientists), Jack the Giant Killer, The Avengers and many others on the starting blocks. How many of them will turn out to be classics is debatable. How I yearn for the day when I can put the words 'Film of the Year' against something as good as Lawrence of Arabia or It's a Wonderful Life or Brazil.

And talking of movies, here's a short film of my good friend Steve Hills and me on the disco dancefloor. It's in honour of all of those glorious evenings of drinks, fine conversation and food that 'The Two Steves' participated in during 2012. They would not have been the same without the others who came along to josh with us including my splendid chums Mo McFarland, Khandie Khisses, Huw Williams, Rowan Laxton, Ash Gardner, Nommie Stolow, Terry Bergin, Marc Abrahams, Mark Page, Dan Schreiber, James Harkin, Rich Turner, Kal and Tim Bonner and others too numerous to mention.

The world of music has been slightly more generous this year. I enjoyed new albums from Kate Bush, Bjork, Emmy the Great, Gotye, St Vincent, Feist, Peter Gabriel and Seth Lakeman. My favourite album of this year, however, was the debut LP - Route One or Die - by Three Trapped Tigers. They produced, without doubt, the most exciting and original music I've heard all year and I got to see them live on two occasions. Stunningly good. My thanks to the aforementioned Terry Bergin for introducing me to them. Here's the opening track from the album:

And I've met some exceptional people this year. Special Happy New Years go to Dave Gorman, John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and Graham Linehan who have been so supportive and helpful and who have been the best lunch companions and beer buddies you can imagine. And there were others too:

They were (if you didn't recognise them) the glorious Brian Blessed, Dave Gorman, Alan Davies and Ross Noble, Graham Linehan (with the lovely Dr Helen Scales in the background), Sir Ken Robinson, Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss, Neil Gaiman, Andy Nyman, the legend that is James Randi, Professor Richard Wiseman, advertising guru Rory Sutherland and porn star Sasha Rose (for research purposes you understand).
So you see ... among the riots and austerity cuts there was quality and there was fun. Despite the best efforts of greedy bankers and uncaring politicians, unethical tabloid editors, gutless lowest-common-denominator TV commissioners, vacuous reality TV stars and profit-obsessed make-anything-for-a-quick-buck-and-to-hell-with-quality Hollywood studios and publishers ... many good things happened in 2011. It was a tough year for all of us. And yes, I'm acutely aware that many people had it a lot worse than I did. But that doesn't negate the fact that 2011 was, without any shadow of a doubt, one of the worst bloody years of my life.

I'm positive that 2012 will be better. It has to be. It better fucking be. If not, expect to read the headline 'Fat Cornishman in X Factor Chainsaw Massacre'. I'm going to attack it (the year, not The X Factor) with enthusiasm, unparalleled creative output and with a big 'Bring it on!' smile on my face.

That old bugger 2011 is dead. Hello 2012, you lovely shiny sexy beast. Let's have some fun together.

Happy New Year!


Friday, 30 December 2011

365 Doodles - Day 364

Wow. One more day to go an my epic doodling adventure is over!

Here's another commissioned piece I did back in November as a Christmas gift. The recipient, Ian, is a huge Ray Harryhausen fan so I had some fun with the iconic skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts.

Tomorrow will be the final 365 Doodles post. And, in all likelihood, one of the last pieces of art you'll see here. From tomorrow this blog will be more focused on my writing.

I hope you'll find it as entertaining and informative as ever.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

365 Doodles - Day 363

Another Christmas commission piece that I did. The client wanted me to draw his family - all huge Doctor Who fans - in a variety of costumes and situations with him and his wife playing a role reversal of Doctor and companion. Good fun!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

24 Hours of Madness and Joy

I must be mad. Yesterday morning I left my home in Buckinghamshire at 5am and drove all the way to Plymouth in Devon where I collected one daughter and two grandkids. I then drove to Hayle in Cornwall to visit my mum and then to Marazion to walk on the beach by St Michaels Mount. From there it was on to Camborne to meet my brother Simon and then to St Austell and the world famous Eden Project. Walking around the biomes at night is quite magical and walking up to the high observation deck - 100 feet above the floor of the dome - was exhilarating (my apologies for the ropier than usual photographs - the darkness plus the humidity meant I had all kinds of autofocus, steamy lens and lighting problems). The place is a mass of festive coloured twinkly lights and there's a temporary ice rink on site too. Wonderful. Then it was back to Plymouth for a few hours of kip before driving all the way back home this morning.

As I said, I must be mad. But it was worth the effort. I loved every minute.

Naked Cartoon Characters

If cartoon characters were real ... what would their skeletons look like? That was the question that artist Michael Paulus asked himself. Here's what he came up with:

365 Doodles - Day 362

Now that Christmas Day has passed us by with a safe margin, I can show you some of the commissions I did for people as presents this year. I'll start today with this one, a full blown painting. The brief was simple enough: 'Something involving aliens and caravans.' Here's what I came up with. As always, click on the picture to see a larger version.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

365 Doodles - Day 361

A doodle done for a friend who'd bought Coldplay tickets as Christmas presents for her daughter and boyfriend. The tickets wouldn't arrive 'til later in the New Year. this meant that when she opened her pressie she got slightly more than a simple print out of a booking receipt.

Monday, 26 December 2011

365 Doodles - Day 358 - 360

I'm not sure what I did but I've buggered up on the numbering of my 365 Doodles project. December the 31st should be Day 365 ... so today should be 360. I certainly haven't missed a day but, to make up the deficit, here are several doodles. They're some of the sketches for the aborted Secret Santa book I mentioned in the last blogpost. Enjoy!

I drew 364 of these! Who knows ... I may find a use for them one day. Happy Boxing Day!