Sunday, 28 July 2013

Summer Sale!

It's Summer time and the livin' ain't so easy so I'm having a clear out. These paintings are all up for sale and I've slashed my prices.

If anything interests you, do contact me at Prices include postage and packaging. I'll take cheque, Paypal, bank transfer ... anything except credit cards really.

Dead Astaire - Acrylics on 20" by 16" box canvas - £150
Arrr Pod - Acrylics on 20" by 16" box canvas - £150
But is it Art? - Acrylics and Mixed Media on 20" by 16" box canvas - £150
April Showers - Acrylics on 35" by 27" box canvas - £175
Lord of the Rainbows - Acrylics on 39" by 27.5" box canvas - £200
Also these signed digital art prints are available for £6 each, or £15 for the set of three. 
Cosplayers 1, 2 and 3 are all 11.5" by 15.5" and printed on heavy acid-free art card.

Some brilliant science-based GIFs

Explosive Polymerization of p Nitro Aniline
Two puffs of smoke colliding
Dissolving an Alka-Seltzer in Zero G
Setting fire to smoke
Creating a vacuum in an empty tanker
Via Reddit

New Painting - Vicars and Tarts

Having my first work-free week in months this week, I thought I'd bang out a few new paintings - just for the practice. For some time I've been toying with the idea of doing a set of portraits of British stereotypes; the toothy vicar, the beefy butcher, the lusty landlady, the cheery chimneysweep etc. So I kicked off with the vicar, based on these doodles in one of my sketchbooks and with the old phrase 'Vicars and Tarts' in mind:

Here's how the painting developed on Day 1:

Overall, I was quite happy with the basic composition but I didn't like the blue of the sky and I really didn't like the vicar's smile. Things would have to change ...
So, on Day 2, I remodelled his mouth (much happier with it), painted the sky a much nicer blue and added a few marquees and some bunting to give the impression of a fete. And voila, I thought it was done:

Only ... it wasn't. The more I looked at it, the more I (a) didn't like the marquees, (b) didn't like the bunting, and (c) didn't like the shape of the vicar's body. So I painted out the tents and pennants, re-painted the sky, added a finger, and took out part of his body. Then I added a signpost, a sky-borne balloon, some more subtle bunting and a cheeky 'Darwin Fish' lapel badge. Then I realised that I'd done his dog collar wrong so I re-did that too. The final result looks like this:

It's a much better painting as the result. I really enjoyed this one. I stayed in the right frame of mind while painting by watching some classic old British comedies. On Day 1 I watched Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Two Way Stretch. On Day 2 it was The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Naked Truth and Hue and Cry.

Ripping stuff.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Words we should adopt

In a month or so, my good friend and boss John Lloyd, and co-author Jon Canter, will see their new book published. It's called Afterliff  and it's a 30th anniversary follow up to John's and Douglas Adams' magnificent 1983 volume The Meaning of Liff. The 'liff' books are based upon a simple premise, explained here by the authors:

'In Life (and indeed in Liff), there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist. On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places. Our job, as wee see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.'

The result was that John and Douglas gave us words like:

Brumby (n.) The fake antique plastic seal on a pretentious whisky bottle.

Detchant (n.) That part of a hymn (usually a few notes at the end of a verse) where the tune goes so high or low that you suddenly have to change octaves to accommodate it.

Lusby (n.) The fold of flesh pushing forward over the top of a bra which is too small for the lady inside it.

Sidcup (n.) One of those hats made from tying knots in the corners of a handkerchief.

...and so many more. Do seek both books out immediately.

But there have always been situations for which English has no single word and so we've sensibly borrowed them from other languages. Here are a few more that I believe we should add to our lexicon:

Age-otori (Japan): To look worse after a haircut

Arigata-meiwaku (Japan): An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude

Backpfeifengesicht (Germany): A face badly in need of a fist

Gigil (Phillipines): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute

Ilunga (Congo): A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time

L’esprit de l’escalier (France): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it

Pena ajena (Mexico): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

Tatemae and Honne (Japan): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

Tingo (Easter Island): to borrow objects one by one from a neighbour’s house until there is nothing left

Waldeinsamkeit (Germany): The feeling of being alone in the woods

Yoko meshi (Japan): literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language.

You can find many more in Adam Jacot de Boinod's excellent book The Meaning of Tingo.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Latitude - by phone

This time last week I was on my way to perform at the Latitude Festival. I was doing a slot for Salon London with Dr Suzy Lishman the eminent pathologist, and Booker Prize judge, comedian and classicist Natalie Haynes. Suzy was going to do a virtual autopsy of the brain, Natalie was going to talk about how the ancients philosophised about thought and memory, and then I was going to talk about lateral thinking. Sadly, however, someone whose brain wasn't quite working properly mucked it all up for us. A chap got up on the roof of Ipswich Station and was threatening to jump in front of the next train that came his way. Consequently, all trains going in that direction were cancelled and I found myself stranded at Liverpool Street Station in London, along with an ever-growing crowd of frustrated festival goers.

And, as the morning wore on and turned into afternoon, it became more and more crowded and ever so much hotter because the station has a glass roof and it was in the high 80s outside.

At 1.30pm it became intolerable and I also hit the cut off time where I'd be able to get to the Latitude site in time for my slot. Natalie couldn't get there either. So I phoned the organisers for a hasty conflab and we hit upon a cunning plan ... maybe I could do my piece remotely using technology? Using something like the Facetime application on my iPhone would have been ideal but, sadly, the WiFi at the station was next to useless and it wasn't so good at the Latitude site either. However, we were able to rig up a phone link to the speakers in the Literary Arena. So, it was suggested that the crowd give me 10 things to link together, I go away and figure out the connections while the other acts went on, and then I'd return and read my answers to the Latitude audience over the phone.

So that's what we did. As WiFi was rubbish, I knew that a lot of the work would need to be done from memory so I asked the crowd for 10 things beginning with K; having just helped write and record 16 K-themed episodes of QI for the new series, there was a lot of fresh info in my head.

The good news is ... I did it. I won't reveal my answer as it might spoil some of the treats in store when QI returns to your screens in September. All I will reveal is that the 10 things I had to connect were: kittens, kites, knickers, ketamine, knives, kayaks, kissing, knockers, kangaroos and the Kardashians.

And the link I suggested between the final two was that female kangaroos and the Kardashians both have three vaginas.

Such a shame not to get there in person but at least the audience got a show.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Beautiful Abandonment

Here are some truly fantastic photos of abandoned places, some modern, some ancient. I was blown away when I saw these.

Image by Dimitar Kilkoff / Getty Images
Source: alveart
Those were Kolmanskop in the Namib Desert, the Kerry walking way between Sneem and Kenmare in Ireland, the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, and El Hotel de Santo, Colombia.
Want more? I found these and 26 more beautiful images here at My Science Academy.

Best Craigslist Posting EVER

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Pen IS mightier ...

I'm really liking these detailed pen and ink pieces by French illustrator DZO Olivier. He uses no pencil and no eraser and says that 'Every mistake is an opportunity to create unexpected images'.

You can see more of his work on his Behance page.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Shake those agitrons

As ya'll know by now, I love words. I frequently post lists of obscure words (like here, here, here and here) and, not long ago, I posted a list of words we might have been using if William the Conqueror hadn't conquered (the list is here). I also love cartoons and if you put the two together you get strips, comics and graphic novels.

Mort Walker was one of the great strip cartoon artists, most famous for his Beetle Bailey character. But Walker was also a great teacher of the art of cartooning and someone who loved to play with language. In 1980, he wrote a deliciously tongue-in-cheek book called The Lexicon of Comicana in which he created names and bogus origins for all of the little graphic effects that cartoonists use in their work.


Take, for example, the final panel in the strip above; the little clouds under the running soldiers are there to indicate movement. Walker called them briffits. Here are some others:

Agitrons: wiggly lines around a shaking object or character.
Blurgits, swalloops: curved lines preceding or trailing after a character's moving limbs.
Dites: diagonal, straight lines drawn across flat, clear and reflective surfaces, such as windows and mirrors.
Grawlixes: typographical symbols standing for profanities, appearing in dialogue balloons in place of actual dialogue.
Hites: horizontal straight lines trailing after something moving with great speed; or, drawn on something indicating reflectivity (puddle, glass, mirror).
Indotherm: wavy, rising lines used to represent steam or heat; when the same shape is used to denote smell, it is called a wafteron.
Lucaflect: a shiny spot on a surface of something, depicted as a four-paned window shape.
Plewds: flying sweat droplets that appear around a character's head when working hard, stressed, etc.
Solrads: radiating lines drawn from something luminous like a lightbulb or the sun.
Squeans: little starbursts or circles that signify intoxication, dizziness or sickness.
Vites: vertical straight lines indicating reflectivity (compare dites, hites).

Every artist should have a copy and, I'm delighted to say, it's still in print. The book is brilliant and has been a constant joy to me since I first got my copy in 1985 in a now long-gone bookshop in London called Dark they Were and Golden-Eyed.

Damn, now I'm feeling all nostalgic. Add some lapsebeams around me.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

No Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens

This week I've taken part in Creative Boom's Favourite Things feature in which creative people select five things that mean a great deal to them. Creator Katy Cowan says, 'Favourite Things is a very clever way of drawing out the true human spirit of the people we feature. Obviously, I'm after a creative theme here and it has to be stuff, things, tools, materials, books, CDs or hobbies close to your heart. It doesn't have to be literal - you could, for example, take a snap of your walking boots to imply you love getting out into the hills.'

It's a lovely insight into what inspires creative people. For mine, I chose five objects here in my office/studio. One of them was this:

If you want to know what it is and why it's important to me, go and have a look at my Favourite Things page.

And why not submit your Favourite Things? Just write a paragraph explaining why each of the five 'things' - objects, people, dates etc. - mean something to you, take some photos (prefereably in natural light) and email it to:

Go on. I've shown you mine, now you show me yours.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Ghost Shops

This is extraordinary. Very sad, but still extraordinary.

Once upon a time Northam Precinct, a housing estate in Southampton, Hampshire, had a thriving parade of local shops. Now only a newsagent and a fish and chip shop remain, the others unable to compete with the cheaper megastores. With the grey shutters down over the closed premises, the estate looked run-down. So, a collective of artists came up with a great way to commemorate the lost shops and brighten the estate up. They painted them back to life.

It's a wonderful project, such a great idea and a brilliant way of involving the community in improving their environment. Each of the painted shops is a recreation of the original shops, right down to the portraits of the people who worked there. The community provided the descriptions, school kids helped decide what the designs would look like and a team of four artists took four days and around £1,000 of spray paint to revive the drab precinct.

Chris Chalkley, who runs community regeneration projects, oversaw the makeover. He said: ‘On this housing estate most of the trading units were no longer trading, so what should have been the heart of the community had been knocked out. It's something we are seeing all over the country - the increasing growth of supermarkets is causing the closure of local shops and high street. This pattern is being repeated ad nauseum everywhere you look.’

He continues: 'The row of grey shutters was a pretty grim scene so we took a list of the types of shop that used to be there and recreated it. 'In some ways it's ironic that we painted murals of how the shops used to look - how they should be - on units that stand closed. I know that the council and residents were very pleased with the results. We made a huge change to the area for very little money. For me, the units really need to be let out at low rent to get the community back into them. Painting the units should be a precursor to action.'

It's a fantastic idea. Let's see it replicated all over the UK. Or, better still, how about affordable rentals so that these shops can open again?

To see all of the paintings visit the Southampton Council website.

Photos by Jamie Lorriman for the Solent News.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Final visit to the Museum

Last night we recorded the final episode of Series Six of The Museum of Curiosity with Sir Howard Stringer (former head of Sony and NBC and possibly the only Oxford graduate drafted to fight in Vietnam for the US Army), Richard Ingrams (co-creator of Private Eye and The Oldie magazines), and Jane Bussmann (Comedy writer for Brass Eye, The Fast Show, Smack the Pony, South Park and the woman who exposed African terrorist Joseph Kony's activities to the West). What an endlessly fascinating group of people they were.

Photo: Stevyn Colgan

I'm very proud to work on such an amazing show. It's just a shame that more people don't know about it. In this age of myriad hi-def 3D TV channels, the radio is seen as very much the poor relation. But radio is where all the interesting stuff is. I doubt that we'd ever be able to sell the idea of the Museum to TV execs and yet it fulfils everything that Lord Reith insisted upon when the BBC was created: It educates, informs and entertains, absolutely to the letter. How many other shows can say the same?

Roll on Series Seven.

Barbie coo!

I love this.

One of my favourite conceptual artists, Dina Goldstein ( I featured her Fallen Princesses series on my blog back in 2009), has created a delicious story about the iconic couple of Ken and Barbie by using real life models, beautifully made props of Barbie products and some computer jiggery-pokery. In the Dollhouse offers us an intimate glimpse of a relationship in crisis. Now we know why the couple split!

Found at Katy Cowan's fantastic Creative Boom site

Monday, 15 July 2013

Clever Cuckoo

The news that J K Rowling has been 'outed' as the author of the crime novel The Cuckoo's Calling has caused me some mixed emotions. The book, supposedly written by a former RMP investigator called Robert Galbraith, sold fewer than 500 copies before the secret leaked, which isn't a huge amount but is a realistic number for an unknown first-time author. I don't know if J K got an reasonable advance for the book but I suspect not; certainly not enough for an author to live on while she wrote it. The days of the decent advances have long gone - unless you're famous. Not that J K has to worry about such things of course.

The book enjoyed some good reviews although it's also known that several publishers rejected it. Only one, to my knowledge, has owned up; Kate Mills, the fiction editor at Orion Books, admitted on Twitter that she had turned it down, saying: 'So, I can now say that I turned down J K Rowling. I did read and say no to Cuckoo's Calling. Anyone else going to confess?' She later told The Telegraph: 'When the book came in, I thought it was perfectly good - it was certainly well written - but it didn't stand out. Strange as it might seem, that's not quite enough. Editors have to fall in love with debuts. It's very hard to launch new authors and crime is a very crowded market.' All of which means that 'Robert Galbraith', without the support of being a celebrity, apparently managed to write a book and get it out there without the support of being a celebrity, which, in today's climate, is heartening and brilliant. J K herself has said that 'It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name'. The news initially made me smile and gave me hope that the industry is slowly moving away from its obsession with celebrity. It also made me smile because it appeared that J K Rowling had proven to the critics that she can write a decent book and not simply live off the success of the Harry Potter franchise.

But then came the news that, since the revelation, sales of the book have risen by 150,000% and that The Cuckoo's Calling has soared more than 5000 places up the Amazon best-sellers chart. Which means that thousands of people who wouldn't otherwise have poked the book with a shitty stick have now purchased a copy simply because Ms Rowling wrote it. That sends a pretty strong message doesn't it? The public is still as obsessed with celebrity as it ever was and I therefore can't blame publishers if they pander to their desires. It's supply and demand. The next Galbraith book is going to cost the industry a fortune. My smile was starting to fade.

And, as I read more and more about the affair, my ex-police officer investigation glands started to kick in and things started to smell like very clever marketing. J K may have been acting wholly honestly when she wrote the book under a pseudonym to see whether the strength of her writing would stand up without the crutches of her celebrity. But I do find it hard to believe that The Sunday Times, which supposedly had its 'suspicions aroused' and 'did further investigation to find the truth about Galbraith' hadn't had a tip off. Why else would they have identified one crime book - that had sold 445 copies - among the thousands published annually as worthy of 'further investigation'? It doesn't stand up to scrutiny. And if there was a tip-off, where would it have come from? Is it just coincidence that the book was published by Sphere; the same imprint that published her previous adult book, Casual Vacancy? What does that mean? Was that the plan all along? Or is it the fact that it was rejected by every other publisher?  Her spokesman said: 'I can confirm the book was treated like any new novel by a first-time writer. We are not going into any more detail than that or commenting further.' Hmmm.

If I come across as cynical, it's because I am. I wish J K all the best; goddammit I wish I was in her position. She's a good writer and no one can argue with her success. But this story, which initially tasted as sweet as candy floss, has now turned to ashes in my mouth. The Cuckoo's Calling is very probably an excellent book and I will get around to reading it. But everything surrounding the book points to a very clever piece of marketing. All of which means that we're no better off than we were; the money available as advances for the real Robert Galbraiths out there, who don't have the free time and the personal wealth to write their own Cuckoo's Calling, is going to remain pitifully low and the chances of getting a book published if you're an 'unknown' are just as remote as ever.

As I said, mixed emotions.