Since I moved to Carmarthenshire, West Wales to purvey my services as a graphic designer and illustrator I’ve been pretty quiet on here. By my reckoning this is the first blog post I’ve written in over two years. Oops! I thought I’d better write another as I noticed I’d been getting a few hits on my blog lately & thought I’d better get typing.
The best way to keep up with what I’m up to is by subscribing to my monthly newsletter – I write them every month around the 21st (although there won’t be one this December). You can subscribe in the link above and read previous newsletters here. Your information will only be stored on the MailChimp secure servers, I won’t share it with anyone else & you can unsubscribe at any time. The newsletters are quite brief, with lots of photos of my graphic design and illustration work, and every month there’s a picture of a kitten, so that’s worth it alone, I think you’ll agree.
Other places to follow what I’m up to are Twitter and Instagram – I do a mixture of personal and professional posts.
I’m going to try and write blog posts with more regularity, but I thought I’d just check in to point you in the direction of other places where I do write a lot, so you can subscribe or follow as you please!
Until next time,
(or, why following your dreams is bloody terrifying)
Maybe you’ve seen some of the lovely weird images I’ve been sharing on social media? smeary black and white oil paintings of Princess Diana, ghostly mushrooms, bleak storms at sea and other blurred visions from the edge of purgatory?
They’re possible illustrations for this project. It’s the final major work for my Master’s in Illustration: Authorial Practice at Falmouth University.
(go back to academia! follow your dreams!)
I’ve written a book of 33 passages of 333 words focused on gender, queerness, being outcast, depression, breakdown, death, magic and cats. I’m thinking about the inconsistent nature of the self, the unreliability of memory, of irony and earnestness and the definition of queer.
Once I have finished the book it will be printed and made-up and bound (book binding is one of the many very useful things they are teaching us on this course) and I will crowd-fund to publish it in a limited edition press. This will be around September/October 2018.
The sales pitch (don’t worry, I’ll move onto The Terror shortly, because I know we’re both more comfortable with that state of affairs)
If you’d like to support the creation of the project I’d recommend signing up to my patreon
(you would say that, you say)
(ah but have you seen the rewards? you get many and varied lovely things in return, say I. It is a win-win deal, say I)
You’ll get to read excerpts, see illustrations as they progress and, depending on the amount you subscribe for (up to $10 USD a month) you’ll get lots of art and maybe a copy of the book. There’ll also be little essays – thought responses – to the theory I’m reading and the art I’m looking at.
I’m working part-time to do this MA – I couldn’t afford to take the time off to work on it full-time, so your support of my patreon really does keep me going.
I’m creating this book because of the dire need for a diversity of trans voices.
I’ve read egregious well-meaning cisgendered people’s writing about the trans experience that are deeply harmful and it makes me want to sick up my lungs.
There are good trans writers out there and they are getting published – hooray! – but this work is different from what I’ve seen so far, straddling image and text, fiction and biography, and if I can do it right, it will lead you somewhere else. I’m very proud of it and I’m only halfway through. I can’t wait to share it with you.
That’s the sales pitch done – and now onto the terror
the terror is this: that I should be working on a cute kids’ book aimed at big publishers
the terror is that I am being self-indulgent, that no-one wants to read about trans experience, and that I should stick to drawing dinosaurs
the terror is that I have taken out a £10,000 student loan for these two years during which I should be Doing Something For My Career
And the protestant work ethic and conditioning of late capitalism is such that though I am exploring all sorts of wonderful things, though I am communicating just what I want to in these images, in this writing, though I know that this work is needed, and that it will set me off towards what I want to be doing, the voices (and ah, they are in the tone of my dear departed mother) the voices are concerned that This Work Will Not Be Profitable
this is the terror
and quite frankly, the terror can get fucked.
I have done a children’s book, and very popular it was too, and perhaps I will do another one one day. But now – now is the time of the queerdo. Now is the time for portraits honouring Marsha P Johnson, of fear and queer lust, of dark intentions and bright bones. Now is the time to other heteronormativity, to centre the weird, the obscure, the frayed-at-the-edges.
I hope you will join me on my journey, and I hope that we will both enjoy ourselves beyond and above the bite of terror.
And all shall be well
and all manner of thing shall be well
when the tongues of flame are in-folded
into the crowned knot of fire
and the fire and the rose are one
-T S Eliot
Poster illustration and design
I was commissioned by Buddhafield to create a poster advertising their popular month-long Total Immersion retreat. I meditated (of course) on the themes of stillness, mindfulness, nature and the sacred, and came up with this.
I’m very excited because it is the first time I have created a paid commission in oil paints. The green and white treeness is oils and acrylics (I threw the rulebook out of the window and mixed them together and the mismatch lends the depth and texture of the green). The face is created with my usual medium of Japanese ink brush and photoshopped on top. Lastly I added clean and simple typography, making sure the words had plenty of space and room to breathe.
A great job for LGBT History Month – pop-up roller banners for a series of queer-themed talks at M Shed in Bristol. You can see one of them at the end of the room on the left!
New website design!
I’ve been freelancing since July 2003 and in that time I think I’ve had five different website designs. They’ve been built with WordPress since the second one and I think I can say, hand-on-heart, that this is the first one I’ve been truly happy with.
Another designer gave me the phrase “the carpenter’s door always squeaks” with reference to his own website – we’re so busy making our clients’ communications look beautiful that we neglect our own.
My last site was okay, I suppose – but the theme used to build it was slow and clunky and regularly broke. It looked pretty in the sales pics (doesn’t everything) but the proof being in the eating, this pudding was half-baked.
I’d tried Divi, the theme this site is built with, before a few years ago and couldn’t get on with it. But either it’s changed or I have and it now behaves impeccably and I’ve got it to do everything I want. It’s fast, easy to use, intuitive and seems to work well across all platforms and all devices I’ve tried it with. I’d really recommend it. & if you need a bit of help getting a design together, getting it set up or getting it to go live, you know who to call 🙂
“For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pay a few bucks per month OR per post you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new.”
Some of you will know that as part of my MA in Illustration (Authorial Practice) I am writing a book that will consist of 33 illustrated passages of 333 words each.
I’m keen to spend time working on this. It will be a document partly about what it is to live life as an non-binary trans person in a binary world. It’s inspired by my own life experiences and the queer theory I’ve read, as well as avant garde writing by people like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce (though I promise: the text is very accessible!) You can read the first passage here – you’ll see what I mean.
The visual language I’m developing for the book is delicate and visceral, dark and strange and very nature-based. I’m using oil paints – a new medium for me – and I’m enjoying discovering what I can do with them.
I think it’s really important for marginalised voices to be able to tell their own stories. We don’t need people to speak for us – we need our voices boosted.
This Patreon will enable me to do tell such stories. It means I will have a fixed income I can rely on every month that grants me the time to work on this project, and for only a few dollars my supporters get exciting rewards such as hand-printed cards, limited edition prints and copies of the book when it’s printed.
You’ll also get to follow the progress of the book, comment on the text and images and generally get involved.
Sign up here! 😀
I created these fabric wall hangings for a client in West Wales. They’d just had an extension to their house and wanted large and striking artworks that would also soften the reflective sound – the echoes – from all the new plaster and glass in the room.
Fabric wall hangings – how we did it
The first part of the work was like any other illustration project. We chatted about what the client liked and what they wanted. I came up with six designs sketched in pencil – three for the tall hanging and three for the sets of four. Here they are:
The client chose one of each and I created larger, more carefully-drawn versions which were to scale, and decided on a colour palette. Though the fabric wall hangings are different colours they are all based on the same colours.
Here they are coloured up:
And here is the colour palette:
Fabrics for wall hangings
Once I had the designs and colours approved I stuck together enough paper to create full-size versions of the designs. The tall one is 2.1m high by .8m wide and the four are .8 high by 1.2m wide each. I chose a sturdy cotton twill for the background and dyed it using two different colour dyes for the four. I salted these while wet to give a slight mottled effect and then dripped acrylic paint onto the bottom third of these to create a forest floor.
As for the other fabrics, many I got from a friend who has an amazing collection, and some I bought from a local shop. I wanted to create interest with texture and pattern, because accurate detail is difficult with a sewing machine! I cut out the shapes using my full-sized paper guides, and with the animals I actually drew them carefully and cut them out to make templates. I pinned the fabrics to the surface, working from the background to the foreground, and satin-stitched them into place with a sewing machine. Some fiddly bits – the feathers in the water froth and the long-tailed tits, for example – had to be glued and hand-sewn.
Silver birch bark was created by ironing on backing to a satin with a slub, and then with dilute acrylics darkening the bases. Sharpie ink held onto the satin so it bled works magic for the horizontal dark bands on the tree trunks.The branches are decreasing widths of satin stitch.
Some parts of the sewing – alright, most parts of the sewing – were very fiddly, but it was really exciting to see it come together. Once the panels were created I sewed fabric loops top and bottom, bearing in mind the diameter of the poles to be used to hang them. I then encapsulated sheets of thick wadding slightly smaller than the panels (so they can’t be seen from the front) in curtain liner and sewed that to the backs. This is the sound insulation.
And then they were hung!
As you can see from the process involved these aren’t the cheapest or quickest creations to make but if you are looking for a large statement piece they really do grab the eye but with a wonderful softness. Commission me!
I’ve created many large works in the past – most recently these A1+ maps for National Army Museum and this huge mural for Wales Millennium Centre.
Musings on living in a housing co-operative
After writing this yesterday about helpful mindsets when applying to live in a housing co-op I thought I’d update it with a few quick thoughts about helpful mindsets when actually living in one. This’ll be a quickie – I need to go and chair our weekly co-op meeting very shortly!
It can take a while for decisions to be made; it can take a while for fellow communards to come around to your point of view. It can take a while for things to get done. This is good: you learn negotiating skills, you learn non-attachment.
You might have an idea about how something should be done. But someone might have a better idea. It isn’t about winning in a co-operative – it’s about getting the best result for everyone. Don’t lose sight of the goal because you have too much attachment to your particular means of getting there.
Also, sometimes you might have yourself set on doing a particular task and suddenly you get overtaken by another one – a community member might ask you to move some furniture, help them unblock a sewage pump or (heaven forbid) plan a wedding. You can always say no – but it really does help if a lot of the time you can say yes.
Willingness to learn
I am one of those people who, when they are nervous or unsure, try to show that they are capable by communicating how much they know about a situation. Sometimes this unwittingly comes across a bit know-all-y or splain-y (I’m using this as a cut-off of mansplainy but obviously I am not a man, so…). But this doesn’t mean that I actually do think I know more than someone else or that I am not really bothered about learning new things – in fact, I am happiest when I am devouring new information or skills. It’s more that I’m trying to show that I’m interested in the subject. It’s good to approach living in a co-op with a kind of humility – even if you’ve lived in community before each one will be different, and you will learn new things, not least about human nature and especially about yourself. There’ll be people at the co-op who have been doing this a lot longer than you – it’s a good idea to show them some respect! And often, there are several ways to skin a cat, so be open to others’ views.
Willingness to listen
And this doesn’t just mean hearing. Sometimes someone will react badly to a suggestion. You might get angry at their reaction but it helps to have a kind of attitude of sitting back and watching and listening – we all have our little weird psychological triggers and if you can get into the habit of instead of thinking “so-and-so is being a dick right now” deciding to think “so-and-so seems weirdly angry about this – I wonder what’s up with them and how I can find that out without upsetting them even more” your people skills will power up close to final boss level*.
Awareness of others’ boundaries
When I moved in I checked really carefully with the people in the rooms next to mine – whether they could hear my music, hear me watching a film. I checked if it was okay to use this room at this time, eat this food, weed this bed, light this fire. It’s better to ask than assume – feel out those delicate invisible boundaries, don’t stomp all over people’s heads, and try and make sure that most of the ripples you cause by moving in are positive ones. It’s basic respect, isn’t it?
That’s pretty much it for now. Will add to this if I think of anything else.
*I am not a gamer and haven’t played anything since Super Mario Bros on the original gameboy. I am just trying to be down with the kids here. It’s pathetic isn’t it.
IDK why I’m using this pic of an open day we hosted here. It’s nice & there’s a school steel band – what more do you want?
Further musings on living in a housing co-op
I’ve written a series of blog posts about living in Beech Hill Community Co-operative & you can find the other ones here. Today I’m thinking about the kind of outlook I think it helps to have when applying to join, and living in, a co-op.
“What’s in it for me” doesn’t get you in it
Well, it is important that you benefit from living in a co-op. You shouldn’t need to make profound personal sacrifices to join. But once you’ve decided that you’re interested in living in a community, I’d suggest thinking along the lines of what you have to offer them, rather than the other way around. You can find out the cost of the rent, the kind of work expected of you and the facilities that exist onsite with an attitude of seeing whether a place is a good fit for you and your needs. It’s probably a bad idea to rock up to a co-op and say, “I’m just looking to see what you have to offer.” (it has happened).
For example, when I was looking at co-ops I visited a place where they didn’t have much land to grow veg, and seemed to have a lot of conflict, and I figured that both of these factors didn’t fit with me. When I visited Beech Hill they had a lot of space for growing and also they all seemed to get on really well, and so once I’d decided that we were a pretty good match I wrote them an email listing what I could do and also what I wasn’t so good at.
A lot of what you get from living in community is what you bring to it. Bear in mind that there is always a lot of work to be done, so list any practical skills you have, talk honestly about how much time you’d be able to commit to working, and how you’d make your money in the outside world. Rent is often cheap in co-ops, allowing members to work part-time and also meet the co-op’s work commitments. Here’s a post listing some of the work I’ve done here.
It’s a family affair
It’s worth realising very early on that what you are doing is moving into what is in essence a large family home. Make an effort to get to know the members, be honest about yourself, and realise that you and them both have to get something out of your moving in. In a small community often there is an issue with the balance of members being older, so younger members are always welcomed. A small community will need energy and skills and enthusiasm.
Ask ask ask ask
A lot of fuss and bother can be saved by asking questions about anything you feel you couldn’t live with. We recently had one person who was interested in joining coming to stay from overseas, and they asked about the meals. “They are all vegetarian, mostly vegan or with a vegan option as there are 6 vegans living here now, and often gluten-free too. You are welcome to cook meat in the other kitchen or in your own space. You sign up to cook once a week or fortnight,” I replied. This person looked horrified at the thought of having to cook vegan food and I think it put them off. If they had asked in an email about this they could have saved themself an airfare.
If you’re thinking of moving from outside the UK, bear in mind that most communities will want to meet and spend quite a lot of time with you before agreeing that you can move in – and all community members will likely want a say in this decision. As I said, you’re likely moving into a family space. If you’re coming from abroad this could get very expensive. It’s worth asking about the joining process before you consider a place. It is probably wise to check out whether you are able to move to the UK right at the start – our immigration policy is becoming tighter and tighter and the horror that is Brexit is looming. It would be terrible to spend time and money visiting and moving to a place only to be chucked out again by the Home Office.
Honesty is always the best policy
If you’re a bit of a loner who needs a lot of peace and quiet, mention it. If you have seventeen cats, mention it. If you’re planning to be away for three months a year, mention it. Be honest about what you think you’ll cope well with and what you think you’ll struggle with.
“Have you thought of…”
Communities always get people turning up who have a really good idea about how they think a community should be run. Sometimes there are wondrous ideas but mostly it’s pretty tiresome. If you go in with the attitude of learning why things are done a certain way in your particular community before suggesting fabulous adjustments your ideas are more likely to be heard. Go in with the desire to learn. Yes, I still think Beech Hill’s accounting system needs to be completely overhauled and started again from scratch. But we work by consensus here, and I’d need to find a way to convince the other members of the accounting team that it would be of material benefit. And to be honest, I’m generally too busy cleaning out jammed sewage pumps.
In it for the money
Some people want to move to a co-op because they are skint and it’s cheaper to live here, or they are having a difficult time and need some respite, or they’d like a nice relaxing place to live out their retirement and be looked after in their old age. None of these is a reason to join a co-op without a profound desire to live communally and do the work needed. Community living can be frustrating and it can be hard physical and emotional labour. (It can be bloody wonderful too though). I’ll admit that I had had a difficult time of it in the few years before I moved – a few deaths in the family and related upheavals meant I was exhausted and did need somewhere to regroup. But I had always been interested in co-op living, had a desire to set one up for myself and was really looking forward to throwing myself into the work here. Community members can smell when someone really isn’t after co-operative living and there’s just no point trying to fake it.
This isn’t to say that I believe housing situation in this country is acceptable. It isn’t to say that I think the options for older people’s accommodation are perfect. It’s possible to acknowledge this situation and also be very aware that we are one little community of (currently) eight members working very hard to keep a rambling old 16th Century manor house upright and six acres reasonably productive of veg, and we physically aren’t able to cope if more than a few of us aren’t able to work. This is sad and it pains me but there it is.
I get asked to do a lot of weird and wonderful things and this request has been my favourite in a long while – illustrated fabric wall hangings.
The client has recently had a house extension and has large areas of his new living room to cover with art – and he also wanted to soften the reflection of noise on the bare walls.
I’m no stranger to creating large works – I created this four-metre bilingual mural using watercolour pigments and salt for the Wales Millennium Centre, but this is even bigger – four panels that together make a forest scene progressing through the seasons that is five metres by .8 metres, and one tall piece to go above a fireplace that is 2.1 metres by .8 metres.
I’ve initially working the illustrated fabric wall hangings up in pencil: the first job was coming up with various concepts using rough layouts – below is a close up of the set of four panels as roughs.
The next job was working up the selected concepts to a larger scale to improve the composition and increase the detail. Here are some critters from the seasonal scene, set in a forest of silver birch.
I’m keeping the designs fairly simple. I’m planning to do a lot with colour and texture on them – I see them as being a delicate balance between detail and simplicity. So the birch trees will be of a fabric with a subtle sheen: in spring they will have catkins dangling from their branches, in summer leaves, in autumn the leaves will be orange and in winter there will be snow. There will be a subtle gradient of colour in the sky in the background and the ground will be textured.
Snippet of design for tall illustrated fabric wall hanging
The next job is to work in colour – I have a strong palette in my head (I am obsessed with colour – did you know this? I really am) and I can see them coloured up very clearly – now the pencil works are all approved I will colour them up. The client’s paintwork is a slightly lavender grey and my colours will work well with that.
Once we have the colours, it’s on to buying the materials and creating some of the details in advance – the animals, for example. The hangings will be appliqued and machine-sewn with some embroidery, quilted to aid the limiting of sound reflection, and hung from bamboo poles. I’ll travel up with my sewing machine to Cwm Gwili and spend a week constructing these illustrated fabric wall hangings. I cannot wait to see them in the flesh!
PS have you seen my new rook screen prints?