Thursday, March 31, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 90

Two more from the 'I remembember' book. From a story about a really big fish that pulled Bernard Cribbens (as a child) into the river and a speculative look at the first fisherman.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Midsomer Murders - The British 'Twin Peaks'?

That's the opinion of comedian and science lover Robin Ince. I had the pleasure of meeting him last week and, among other things, we fell to discussing Midsomer Murders and how deliciously bizarre it can be. 'In what other programme', said Robin, 'Would we see a man pegged out on a croquet lawn onto which has been drawn a target with a white lining machine. An unseen assailant then uses a replica mediaeval trebuchet to launch the man's valuable wine collection at him, bottle by bottle, until he's been bludgeoned to death. Meanwhile the victim's disabled wife watches from her wheelchair on a balcony above and smiles quietly to herself. I tell you ... it's the British 'Twin Peaks'!' He may have a point.

Here's the plot of tonight's brand new episode:

The supposedly dead daughter of two bonkers 1960s free love hippy types didn't die by crashing an Austin 1100 into a river in 1975 after all. She survived, kept this fact a secret, and had a child by her brother (who did die) and then became part of an artists' commune and a horse whisperer while her son unwittingly started sleeping with his own aunt and got engaged to her stepdaughter. Meanwhile the hippy parents went doolally and reclusive with grief and stocked their stately home with huge towers of newspapers and empty pizza boxes, and lived almost exclusively on tea, Battenburg cake and the aforementioned pizzas. A nosey social services type starts asking questions so he is forced into a kayak at shotgun point and set afloat unconscious to drown. Then the murderer - old doolally bloke - kills his own wife by pushing a tower of newspapers on top of her and then builds a bomb with which to kill himself. Meanwhile, the husband of the aunt who's bonking her nephew (unwittingly) is double book-keeping by using the maths skills of the deputy head mistress of the school that DCI Barnaby's wife has just become head of and ...

See what I mean? I think Robin may be right. Midsomer has been through a wholly unnecessary scandal recently that was much more about the producer's rather old-fashioned and borderline-racist views rather than the show itself. Long may it stay bizarre.

365 Doodles - Day 89

A couple more illustration from 'I remember' (see previous couple of 365 Doodles blogposts). These both illustrated short nonsense poems. One was about how thankful we should be that sharks don't live on land and the other was about a Critical Fish that ate your reputation.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How many?

Fascinating short animation by National Geographic about world population (Via Andy Nyman.)

365 Doodles - Day 88

Another one from the fishing book. This was a story from Roger Daltrey about falling in the river and drying his trousers over a fire ... and setting fire to them. Consequently he had to walk home in his pants darting between cars and bushes etc...

Monday, March 28, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 87

One of a series of illustrations I did for a book called I remember: Reflectios on fishing in childhood for the NSPCC/Summersdale Books. It was edited by Joe Cowley and featured short essays by celebrity fishing fans such as Frederick Forsythe, Roger Daltry, Bernard Cribbens, George Melly and many others. A fun project. I'll post some more this week. Meanwhile here's the cover (by Paul Sample):

Sunday, March 27, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 86

My last day of pirate illustrations. Here are a final few from my unpublished kids' book concept. One day I will redraw the whole lot and try to get it published. Meanwhile, enjoy!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 85

Nobeard the pirate meets Angus the sea serpent. Another illustration from my unpublished kids book that I will redraw some day.

If you're bidding on any of the monster pics currently beingauctioned to raise money for Comic Relief here, you could own a black and white original pen drawing of Angus that I've donated. Go on ... you know you want to.

Friday, March 25, 2011


'Looky Looky' by Giorgio. From a French TV Show 'Musicolor' aired October 18th, 1969. Extraordinarily, this is an early incarnation of electronic pioneer Giorgio Moroder who went on to write disco hits like 'I feel love' with Donna Summer, 'Together in electric dreams' with Phil Oakey and the soundtracks to Neverending Story and Midnight Express.

But oi! that scarf ...

365 Doodles - Day 84

As this week is all about pirates, here's a pic of a tavern in Tortuga Bay. Never was very happy with this one. In fact, I hated it so much I destroyed it and this photo is the only record I have. I will redraw it now that I've got better. It's for a kids' book I was developing. Yarr.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 82

More pirates. Above is the poster I designed for Tom Scott for ITLAPD. Below is another of those 'designed by kids' pirates I painted. This one is called Lucky Pierre.

Baftariffic! Part 2

A month ago, I posted a pic of myself and a school friend called Paul Gooch here. Paul had just won a BAFTA for his hair and make-up work on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland so it felt only right to commemorate the event with some dodgy old school photos.

Today I have been trumped. Another school chum called Bat Barnett sent me this one. That's me centre and Goochy at left. See? We haven't changed a bit.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 81

In 2006 I was the official artist for the National Children's Book Fair run by Scholastic Books. It was extraordinarily exciting to see my posters and banners hanging outside almost every school in the UK. In support of the event I ran a 'Design a pirate' project where I turned kids' designs into finished illustrations. This was the brainchild of a girl called Leah - Captain Kool. That's her brilliant doodle above and my interpretation below.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 79

Some cow and sheep sculpts I did a couple of years back. I did a horse too. Must finish it ...


I thought I'd try to take a photo or two of the 'Supermoon' tonight. The Moon is currentlythe closest it's been to us for 20 years. Among the photos was this curious accident, a 'Moonflare'. just like the lensflares you get from the Sun, the paler small Moon at left is actually an internal reflection within the lens of my camera. Cool eh?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 78

The Anatomy of a Folkie. Done for the now defunct Crnish interest magazine 'Peninsula Voice' around 1992. I wrote the words too by my mate Chris Hale did the caligraphy.

Up with this sort of thing

A splendid second recording last night for series four of The Museum of Curiosity. The show will be broadcast on Radio 4 in October. Last night, hosts John Lloyd and Dave Gorman accepted donations from surprisingly enormous comic genius Graham Linehan, saxophone playing marine biologist and seahorse fancier Dr Helen Scales and 'the worst dressed man in advertising', the rather brilliant Rory Sutherland, Creative Director at Ogilvy Ltd.

This Graham is tall but the Stevyn is small and not far away. Dave Gorman (right) and Helen Scales (left) behind

I won't spoil the show by revealing what their donations were but I will invite you to watch these excellent TED talks by Rory:

After the show and drinks, my friend Steve Hills and I were invited to the Groucho Club by a friend. Apparently Take That were doing karaoke in the bar. However, it's a sign of my age perhaps that I chose to go home. Steve, meanwhile, jumped in a cab, prepped his tonsils and said 'Groucho please'. The deaf cabbie subsequently took him to Crouch End. He eventually got back to Dean Street just as the piano lid went down. Ah well. A good night out by any standards.

Friday, March 18, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 77

One of a number of illustrations I did for a book called 'I remember: Reflections on fishing and childhood' published in the 1990s. The book featured celebrity memoirs from the likes of Roger Daltrey, Bernard Cribbins, Frederick Forsythe etc.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 76

Here's a picture of a sea monster arguing the toss with an unseen protagonist. It's a character from an as yet unpublished children's book that I've had kicking around for a few years. And the original illustration is going to be up for auction tomorrow as part of the 24 Hour Monster Red Nose Day Project. Get bidding!

In my element

I attended a talk in London last night by creativity and education guru Sir Ken Robinson. If you've not heard of him or listened to any of his lectures, I implore you to do so. The man has a deep understanding of how we, as human beings, learn and how the current education system is failing our children. If you have the time, watch this splendid RSA animated version of one of his recent talks. It lasts around 12 minutes and when it was first put onto the net, it got half a million viewers in the first day.

Isn't he right? This whole idea of an academic/non-academic split is a nonsense perpetuated by an education system run by politicians. Politicians, incidentally, who have no background in teaching. As Sir Ken commented last night, the only qualification the current Education Minister has for his role is that he went to school: 'That's like making someone Health Minister, with complete control of the nation's hospitals and surgeries and aftercare services, solely because they once had their appendix out'. He spoke at length about the utility of education where kids are treated as product and schools as factories, and where the measures that make a school 'successful' are based on the numbers through the system and how much they retained on the way. He talked about 'cohorting' where kids are taught in batches by age rather than ability or aptitude, even though it's plainly obvious that kids don't always learn at the same rate.

He talked about the inflexibility of rigid systems and recounted a personal story from his schooldays. When he was doing his 'options' for what were then GCEs (O Levels) and CSEs, he was told that he couldn't do both Art and German. When he asked why not, he was told 'because of the timetabling we've designed on the grid'. He was then pushed towards German rather than Art because that was an 'academic' subject. And he was awful at it. His education was dictated not by his passions nor what he was good at but by an inflexible timetable. I had the same experience. At my school, I wasn't able to do Art, one of my two strongest subjects. Instead I had to choose between Music or Religious Ed. When it came to A Level, I was then told I couldn't do Art as I didn't have the O Level. Thankfully one of my art teachers came to the rescue and he persuaded the school management to let me do A Level as long as I did O Level at evening classes. I consequently did them simultaneously. I now work as an artist. All of the academic subjects I did have been of some use but have nowhere near the same importance in my life as the arts.

Of course, Sir Ken was also plugging a book. It's called The Element and I'd recommend you read it. It talks about finding the thing that makes you happy and which you're good at - both have to be present - and how being 'in your element' will make you a much happier and productive member of society. The book is littered with anecdotes from any number of extraordinary people telling their stories. Uplifting and fascinating.His other book Out of our minds is equally excellent.

To end with, here's another of Sir Ken's talks, this one for TED. It's excellent.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 75

Four ways to trap and/or kill a rabbit. Unpublished art from Sean Lock's Guide to foraging in the QI 'F' Annual.

Walking on white eggshells

I make no secret of the fact that I really enjoy watching Midsomer Murders. I blogged about it here just a few months ago. In enthusing about the show I said that:

'Despite being set in the modern day, the show harks back to a time when people did know all of their neighbours and community spirit was strong. There are no kids in hoodies, no ram-raids, no crack cocaine addicts and, seemingly, no graffiti. It's an English idyll. Well, apart from the murders anyway. It's an England that might have existed once but is very hard to find now except in the smallest rural communities. It's rife with class prejudice and full of very familiar stereotypes.'

It is cake for the mind. However, I also made the point that:

'If I have any criticism at all it's that it doesn't really reflect the multi-cultural face of modern Britain. It's very white. Even in the smallest of villages there are, at the very least, Asian run cornershops, Chinese or Indian restaurants and NHS services. These kinds of 'backbone of the community' roles are very often run by people from minority cultures. And where are all the Dutch and German tourists? And are there no council or housing trust estates? Everyone is so terribly middle class.'

And today, it seems, that point has taken on some gravity. The show's long-time producer Brian True-May has been suspended after saying in an interview with the Radio Times that, 'We just don't have ethnic minorities involved because it wouldn't be the English village with them. It just wouldn't work. Suddenly we might be in Slough ... We're the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way. Maybe I'm not politically correct ... I'm trying to make something that appeals to a certain audience, which seems to succeed. And I don't want to change it.'

Unsurprisingly, there's been a huge backlash against his comments. For example, the director of the Runnymede Trust, Rob Berkeley, said, 'Clearly, as a fictional work, the producers of Midsomer Murders are entitled to their flights of fancy, but to claim that the English village is purely white is no longer true and not a fair reflection of our society, particularly to this show's large international audience. It is not a major surprise that ethnic minority people choose not to watch a show that excludes them.'

That's pretty representative of many commentators views. But is this a storm in a teacup? After all, the show has been running for 14 years and I don't recall this kind of furore before. As Guardian columnist Hugh Muir writes, 'What's really wrong here is tone. I don't need minorities in everything. The televised Tudors might not have worked so well with a Rastafarian as Thomas Cromwell. The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, set in Botswana, probably didn't need white characters. But language is important and by boasting of his all-white idyll in such wistful terms, True-May does sound like a phonetically refined Alf Garnett.'

That, it seems to me, is the issue here. I live in what you might call Midsomer land. I'm on the borders of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire and many of the places that appear in the show are on my doorstep. I can tell you that many of the larger towns have diverse populations. But head out into the smaller villages and they are unremittingly white. And that's because most of the houses cost a bloody fortune and, rightly or wrongly, the majority of English millionaires are white. If that's the world that Midsomer represents then there really isn't a problem with the lack of minority characters. It's no different from the fact that I wouldn't expect to see white faces in a drama set in Railton Road, Brixton or in the heart of Southall's Hindu population. It would also explain the lack of complaints until now. It's aimed a certain demographic. As writer Anthony Horowitz commented in The Telegraph today, 'The audience is probably quite elderly and quite conservative. I wouldn't expect young rappers to be tuning in every week for Midsomer Murders.'

However, where Midsomer does get it wrong is the total lack of minority faces. Take the county town of Causton, for example. I'd expect to see a lot more diversity there. The real town of Thame often doubles for Causton and I can assure you that while it does have an AGA shop and some wonderful gastro pubs and antiques dealers, there are also Indian and Italian restaurants and other businesses run by minorities. Causton Hospital would most certainly boast a diverse workforce. And surely the Midsomer Constabulary has a policy of positive action like most other forces? Where are all the cops from minority ethnic backgrounds?

In issues of race, people tend to walk on eggshells desperately trying not to upset anyone. It would be so easy to act out of panic and spoil the TV show by clumsily shoe-horning characters into it for the sake of political correctness. So, producers, let's keep it real please. There is no reason at all why there cannot be the occasional rich black architect or millionaire Asian businessman occupying the grand houses of Midsomer. It would be perfectly acceptable to see Chinese food deliveries, black or Asian police officers and doctors, nurses and ambulance crews with African or South American accents. Many pop stars and sportsmen and women are from minority backgrounds and are some of the highest earners in the UK so why wouldn't they own mansions and estates in Midsomer?

If True-May truly thinks that adding black or brown faces will 'spoil' the show then he has a problem. That kind of small-mindedness and ignorance just isn't acceptable in 21st century Britain. Matthew Cockman is the real-life landlord of The Six Bells in Warborough, Oxon, which is used as the pub in the fictional village of Badger's Drift. He says, 'I think most countryfolk don't give a toss about skin colour. That's just how it is. At the end of the day we have one black guy who lives in the village. He drinks in the pub sometimes and is made welcome when he does.' And, just a couple of weeks ago on the Channel 4 show Love thy Neighbour, the predominently white residents of a small Yorkshire village chose a black couple over a white couple to join their community. The issue here is not racism in rural England or even racism in a TV show.

The issue is True-May's outdated, insensitive and shameful comments. They have already possibly cost him his job. I hope they don't tarnish the series too. It is loved by millions. And, maybe, if the producers are shrewd, it could attract an even bigger audience by just being a little more inclusive than True-May has allowed it to be in the past.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 74

A couple of pieces I played with for the QI 'H' Annual but never submitted. These were to illustrate some obscure H words.
Hetaera (A heartsome harlot gifted in the arts of huggery, houghmagandy and hornwork.)

A Heterotrichosis (Hair of varied colours)
B Hist (To attract attention)
C Hock of Ham, Haggis, Habenero pepper
D Holland (Coarse cotton or linen)
E Huckaback (Linen used for towels)
F Harn (a coarse linen)
G Hent (To grasp)
H Harengiform (Like a herring)
I Hyacinthine (Blue or purple)
J Hulchy (Swollen)

Headborough (A petty constable responsible for harrying, hectoring and haranguing the hobbledehoys.)

A Havelock (White cover for a military cap)
B Helm (Helmet)
C Habergeon (Sleeveless mail coat)
D Helve (Handle of an axe or similar tool)
E Hallux (Big toe)
F Hamiform (Shaped like a hook)
G Harpagon (A harpoon)
H Hirsute (Hairy)
I Haqueton (Stuffed jacket worn under mail)
J Hyponychial (Underneath fingernail or toenail)
K Hyperpyrexia (excessive body temperature)
L Hemianopsia (Blindness in one eye)
M Hauberk (A long mail shirt)
N Hircismus (Smelly armpits)
O Helminthiasis (Infestation with worms)

Literally the best thing I've seen this year

Click for a larger image. Thanks to Anna Adderley for bringing it to my attention.

Monday, March 14, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 73

A couple more illustrations for Sean Lock's foraging feature that didn't make the cut for the QI 'F' Annual. The words are his.

'Dazzle Frogs at night with bright light then club them to death (Not as much fun as it sounds.)'
'Grind insects between two stones and add them to stews. Insects are more nutritious than vegetables and, if you’re eating them, they’re not crawling up your trouser leg.'

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I didn't think anything could top Trololo ...

I loved plastic-haired insanely-smiling Eduoard Khil and his wordless Russian song, best known as the internet sensation 'Trololo'. I didn't think it could be topped for cheesy goodness. But now we do have a serious contender in this delightfully weird video from 1978 Czechoslovakia. It is dreamily brilliant in every way.

Oh, and in case you never saw 'Trololo', here it is:

365 Doodles - Day 72

Something cute today. A baby squirrel.

An unused illustration from the QI 'F' Annual that was done for Sean Lock's guide to foraging.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 71

Two Fat Ladies. Illustration for a flyer for some friends who set up a cleaning firm. The name was their idea. I suggested 'curvy' but got sat on.

Friday, March 11, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 70

No fresh doodle today - way too busy sadly.
An old one this, drawn in 1989. It was inspired by seeing a tiny lady walking a massive dog in Mayfair.

Doing my bit for Comic Relief

One of my paintings is, at this moment, up on e-bay for auction with 100% profit going to Comic Relief. If you can afford to, please do bid. and if you can't, spread the word. x

Here's the link.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 68

If you follow me on Twitter, you might recall that yesterday I said I was drawing a picture of a bedbug with an erection. I then had to qualify that the bedbug had the erection, not me. well, I wasn't lying. Here's the doodle that started it all:
And here's the finished illustration (digital). It illustrates the very real fact that female bedbugs don't have sexual openings and so the male is equipped with a stabby willy with which he makes one. You can tell how often a female has mated by the scars.

Can you think of a better illustration to prove that Intelligent Design is a nonsense?

The greatest pop video of all time

Welcome to the best video ever. It's Bobby Conn singing a hugely expurgated version of his song 'Never get ahead' (You can hear the original rude version here).

This video has it all: dodgy hair, mad starey eyes, contorted facial expressions, haphazard dancing, appalling miming and an audience apparently bussed in from a psychiatric hospital. I love the fact that the audience can't dance in time (and one is holding a baby?!). I love the ropey camerwork that means that Conn actually disappears several times. I roar whenever I hear the presenter say 'Trup-tuck-truckstop records' before walking off with Conn's microphone. The final 30 seconds in particular make me feel sick with laughterness.

I've watched this video literally hundreds of times and have found something to smile at every time. It's car-crash telly at its best.

An astonishing performance? Absolutely.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 67

Following on from the last blogpost on the future of technology, here's an illustration I did a while ago (the iPod in the pic was the latest model then) for a feature on 'dinosaurs must embrace technology'. What fun.


I went to an interesting talk this morning in Oxford. OxPub2 was, as the name suggests, the second open publishing event put on by lovely people from Perera, Chandos and Osprey. It was free and there were free teas and pastries. How could I resist? But the draw for me was a talk by Ernst Kallus, digital media director for Oxford University Press. The subject was XML and the future of digital publishing. Sounds dull eh? Anything but, I assure you.

I should start by saying that I am an IT numpty. I know how to use a hammer, but I don't need to understand the physics of how it works or even how it was constructed in order to twat some nails. It's the same for me with IT. I don't understand technology. I just know how to use it to make my life easier. Therefore, anything that has superfluous bells and whistles or which doesn't progress my work is discarded. I've played with several iPads and I still can't see what one could do for me that a laptop can't. The last time I played a computer game, it was Lemmings.

Therefore, I hoped that by attending this event I'd get a greater insight into digital publishing. Thanks to Ernst, I now do.

Several important points emerged during his talk. The first was that we need to stop saying 'digital publishing' as if it's distinct from 'publishing'. It isn't. Not any more. Digital media is here to stay and the market is growing at an ever accelerating rate. We need to change the way that we view publishing; up until recently innovation has revolved around delivery - types of printing, format (hardback, paperback, magazine etc.). What's happening now in publishing is revolution rather than evolution. The paradigm has seriously shifted.

Things haven't changed much for 500 years - an author writes some words and maybe gets together some pictures and they are arranged on a page. That page is followed by another page and another and then another in a linear numerical progression. However, digital media operates on what the nerdier types call 'granular reflowable substance'; pages are no longer simple pages. Instead of linear progression, we have a network of interconnected, searchable and almost infinitely combinable pieces of data that can be arranged as we see fit. From one 'page' you could conceivably jump off in a multitude of different directions not just forwards or backwards. Instead of encyclopaedias being alphabetical lists of entries, they can be search engines.

We still tend to think of digital as a bolt-on, something we do after the print edition of the book has gone out. But the smart money is now going into commissioning e-books from the outset. The author, agent and editor triangle now becomes a working team that explores all of the possibilities for a book project rather than just print. The page is no longer the master format.

I know many of you reading this will be resistant to the change. I was too. It's hard to turn 500 years of tradition on its head. I've watched the evolution of e-books and digital media and a little voice in my head kept saying 'Flash in the pan - it'll never catch on'. But I was wrong. Sales of digital media grow exponentially while bookshops are disappearing from our High Streets. It's no good me saying 'Ah, but people will always want proper paper books'. Will they?Really? The generation that includes my grandchildren are far more comfortable with multi-media than books. Why will they want to carry a heavy bag to school when the entire works of William Shakespeare can fit easily onto a Kindle? In fact, the Bard's entire canon takes up fewer megabytes to store than one song in MP3 format. They are completely searchable; you can find the soliloquy of your choice in seconds. And you can build in critique, background historical information, music, images ...

I can understand why people like me - and publishers particularly - didn't immediately invest in e-books. Just think of the formats we've seen disappear in the past 30 years – 8 track, reel to reel, audio cassette, laserdisc, Betamax, Phillips 2000, minidisc, vinyl ... CDs now seem to be on the way out now and my local charity shop won't accept VHS tapes any more as they can't shift them. No onw wants to invest in something that could be quickly obsolete.

I was at a recording studio in the City of London a fortnight ago. It was very modern, very digital. But in one room is a vinyl lathe. This is the big and expensive machine that used to cut a master disc from which vinyl albums were cast. When it was bought, it cost a fortune. Now it's just so much scrap metal. And yet, when it was bought, people said the same about vinyl as they're now saying about paper books. No format, I'm afraid, is forever.

The one good bit of news is that format isn't likely to be a huge issue for digital publishing as XML and XHTML will probably be around for some time yet - especially as the internet is virtually built from it.

In case you don't know what XML is, it's basically a roadmap of content. Any characteristic on a 'page' can be recorded using XML code; the start and end of sentences, font size and type, colours, where graphics are placed, where tags and hyperlinks are added etc. And because XML is going to be around for a while, publishers who invest in training and expertise are futureproofing. Even if XML is surpassed by some new language, the experience gained in designing digital media with XML will give those publishers the edge.

The point really is that we can't ignore this bugger any more. Old traditionalists like me have to start thinking about how our books can benefit from the new publishing paradigm. If we don't, we'll be dinosaurs. and we all know what happened to the majority of them ...

Monday, March 07, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 66

A doodled design for a sculpt called 'Bedhead'. I'll probably never sculpt it. It's one of a series I also probably won't sculpt.