Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Book Soon Finished...

I'm rather happy about the new book I'm just finishing...
It's full of things I care about.
Including Duct Tape.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why I don't write about school

I'm getting ready to take up work on one of my novels about anthropomorphic animals again.

Every so often someone suggests that I should write something set in a school, because "that sells".
I don't really want to. My school memories don't make a story. They make the opposite of a story, images of a place where nothing follows from anything, and nothing ever changes.

Here are some of my clearer memories:

In primary school I get desperate about the shrieking and yelling that happens every time the teacher leaves the room for a minute.
This is year one.
I think about the years still ahead and feel something needs to be done. I can't tell them to shut up, but maybe I can bribe them...
I make a list of everyone and start crossing out the names of the noisy kids, planning to give the quiet ones that are left at the end of the day presents, whatever I have. I go through my belongings in my head and wonder what I can spare. Not my pencil case. Maybe I can draw them something?
Some days later I notice that no one has spoken to me for ages. I don't have friends yet, so it takes me a while to become aware of it. I speak to some classmates and they just turn away. It's bizarre and frightening.
When I collapse in a puddle of tears and my mother phones the school to ask what happened, it turns out that the whole class has decreed me an outcast and informer because I "write down names for the teacher". - I did manage to silence them, after all. I have to apologise to my classmates, and they graciously agree to talk to me again as long as I behave. But I don't think they ever quite forget that I'm a spy.

For the first couple of years, I am just about the smallest child in school, and I have no idea how to communicate with all these people. They don't like my drawings and they don't care for my stories, except the teacher who always reads out my homework to the class.
I get beaten up so much that it makes me late for lessons. I hide in the classroom so I don't have to go to recess, which doesn't work out. Once I get thrown down the stairs to the boys' toilet. I tell a teacher and she only says: "What were you doing by the boys' toilet?"
Then I get punished for telling.

One day a girl squeezes my pack of orange juice so it squirts into my face. A teacher sees it and grabs both of us. She forces me to spray the rest of the juice onto the offending girl, then walks off.
I cry because I am really thirsty. Why did I have to lose all the juice? I would have just ignored that girl as usual. Everyone gets stuff sprayed in their face after all, and it wasn't even ink.

The worst thing I get beaten with is a stick of climbing roses. I have no idea who the boys are, they just happen to be passing and they have a thorny stick to use on someone, it just happens to be me.
Another time I have to lick someone's shoes.
Eventually, there are some smaller kids than me in school. I think that will improve matters, it turns out they are exactly the right height to punch me in the stomach really hard.
I never get to eat my lunch or keep any money that I carry. The usual thing is that they punch me, take what they want and tell me to count to a hundred. I would just give them the stuff without getting punched first but it doesn't seem to be an option.

I get told that I should stand up straight and smile more to make friends.
I smile at a boy who seems nice and he throws his backpack at my head hard enough to knock me down and make me see stars. I smile at him again, get up and go home, keeping my head high.
I learn to smile at them in a way that sometimes makes them stop.

I discover that sniffing Nutella makes me sick enough to stay home for a day. I have to put my nose right into the jar and breathe really deeply as long as I can while my mother is not looking. It makes me pale and dizzy just long enough for her to put me back to bed and go to work. Then I spend the day drawing and making up stories.
Life greatly improves, except that now I get bullied by a whole new range of kids who say I am pretending to be sick, no one can be sick that often.
I don't really care.

I am standing on my table on class as a punishment. The teacher cackles and screeches and points at me, saying: "Look, look, this is what a stupid girl looks like." She makes them all laugh and point. What I said is that there is only one kind of black. She was showing us a famous painting of a man in a golden helmet that is mostly dark, and she told us to notice the different shades of black. I say that there is only one black, the colour of no light at all. The rest are just very dark colours.
"Only one kind of black!" she screeches. "Ha ha haaa!"
Black, incidentally, is my family name. That's why I forgot that you don't speak up to this teacher.

Another day a child gives her a painting of a blue bird as a present. She holds it up and says to the class: "This painting is sadly wrong on two important counts. Firstly, birds do not fly with their legs dangling down. They tuck them up. Secondly, there are no blue birds in this country."
She makes us laugh at the wrong bird.
The girl who painted it silent. I want to say that there are blue birds in other countries, but this time I remember it's a bad idea to disagree about colours here.

I want to be friends with the tiny girl who throws a pose when she is made to stand on the table. "Look at her, the smallest girl in the whole school but all the boys have noticed you already", says the teacher. "Look at that girl, boys, you will be spending a lot of time with that one." The tiny girl laughs and curtsies.
I don't know how to make friends, though.

I give up the idea that school is for learning anything at all. I have no idea why I'm here.
Somehow I managed to get the attention of the Headmaster, who calls me a witch child. I snapped at him once when he grabbed the back of my jumper while I was running past. I hate it when people touch me without warning. He made a face like he had touched a turd, and is remembering me still. When he hands out worksheets, he makes sure to throw mine in my face, making a dry spitting noise.
I'm starting to think that it is my job in this place to get beaten up.

Sometimes I fight back, especially if someone won't let me go and can't be ignored. One boy claims he needed to get a rabies jab after school because they didn't fully believe that it wasn't a dog that attacked him.

I'm not going to write any novels about school, because I don't really know what school is like. My mind was elsewhere most of the time.

These days I'm fine with it all, with distance. Life is brilliant. I am what back then I was wishing hard I could be: an adult. And that's thoroughly wonderful. Nothing has ever been as rubbish as being a small school child. Sometimes I hear of children having bad times, often much worse than I did. It makes me feel sick and angry, especially if it's parents telling me about it - strangers on the train, telling me that their badly bullied children are "gutless wimps" who will "fail". They ask me for advice on how to toughen them up, seeing that I make books for children and thus "maybe understand these things". All I want to say is "No, I don't understand YOU. My parents helped me out whenever they realised what was going on. That's why I'm able to talk to you without biting you, I think." But I am not completely sure I can, so generally I just pretend I have to leave.

I'm going to stick with fantasy stories about anthropomorphic animals, which, incidentally, is exactly what I was making up when I was small.
I have loads of great memories of that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nintendo Drawing Workshop at the V&A!

Check it out! I'm doing a workshop at the V&A on the last of the month.
Everyone will get to use a Nintendo 3DS XL, and I will demonstrate how to paint a cat (and other beasties) using their Art Academy software.
It's pretty cool, I have had the console for a few weeks now and found that Art Academy actually teaches some proper transferable skills - they have a set of digital tools and materials that approximate traditional physical materials surprisingly well - including the fact that there is no undo function, and if you try to draw with pencil over wet paint you'll have no joy! You can even take a 3D photo for reference and work from that. It's neat.
I've mostly been painting improvised beasts starting from random blobs of paint - digital paint dries a whole lot faster!

Full disclosure: yes, they are paying me to do the art lessons and workshop - but not to tell you that it's nifty, which it is.

Book a place if you're interested, click on the flyer for details.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Maze is Down.

I haven't got any photos of the maze in action, but here is what was left of it after three days, laid out in the Royal Festival Hall.
I kept the sharks, the hammerhead and the octopus and the whale with the two little red fish, if anyone wants them let me know, you can pick them up in East London. Seemed a shame to just chuck them, they'd make a nice decoration somewhere.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Painted Maze

I have blisters on my hands, my fingers are glued together with paint, my back hurts, my clothes are covered in paint blobs.
I spent all day painting 150m or cardboard together with the help of my friend Matthew (he painted that whale).
So you better come to the Royal Festival Hall this weekend to see it all, RIGHT?

If you come around Sunday afternoon when it all ends you can pick a bit of the maze and keep it, I believe, maybe for a small donation, maybe for free, anyway, its a fine way to get a huge painting, if you like sealife.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It's extremely Sunny.

I decided to take my studio to the park.

There's still so much to draw and ink and colour in and paint and do... I move my little box of pencils and paper and sketchbooks from the desk to the sofa to the park and back, and scribble and think and work.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hello Doggie!

I am artworking the third Cat Book. Meet a new friend!
This one is about to cause a whole lot of mayhem.

I'll be very, very busy all month with this, and with another book which is due for complete artwork in a couple of weeks, plus the maze game, plus two smaller but urgent projects. The landline is unplugged, the mobile mostly ignored, and non-urgent emails may take more than a day to get a reply.
All my spare time will be spent sitting in a cafe, or reading in bed, or walking about to clear my head. No socialising until October.

Books are happening.

Keep Studying

I bought this book, which is an anthology of international contemporary children's book illustration, to study what other people are getting up to.
I've been taking it out with me to lunch, taking notes on post-its and sticking them in. It's important to keep studying after college - studying properly, taking notes, thinking critically. Just buying and owning a book with great art in it doesn't magically make you a better artist.
Also: look, Fentiman's makes cherry cola now! So exciting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

COME SEE the Treasure Maze and many other brilliant games!

Right. This is what you will do on the weekend from the 14th this month:
Come to South Bank and play games. Hide and Seek, the famed and excellent makers of  social games and playful experiences, are running one of their best-of events on Southbank, London.
There will be games for every taste, stategic and silly, with varying degrees of running around, creativity and all other good things to do with play. Children and adults welcome.

And there will be my game: 150m of cardboard turned into a corrugated labyrinth. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY. That's a lot of cardboard.

Hide and Seek's Holly wrote about it:

Treasure Maze is a massive winding installation and a game all in one. The game itself is simple – collect treasure in the maze while avoiding the roaming shark. There are safe places in the maze where you can shelter, and of course you can always leave the maze, if you can find the way – but if the shark gets you before you make it out, then all the treasure you’ve collected is lost. So when you play there’s a classic balancing act between sticking around and collecting more treasure, or getting out while it’s safe instead of risking everything you’ve accomplished so far.
It’s a game that children and adults can play together on a pretty even basis, which is rare – adults might be better on average at plotting and doubling back, but kids can get into the safe spaces much more easily.
What really makes the game special, though, is the physicality of it – squeezing through corridors, crawling into safe caves, feeling the burr of movement as other players move past on the other side of a corrugated cardboard wall (or is it the shark?).

We ran it before at the National Maritime Museum where it really took off--- literally, I sometimes had to herd it back into place because it was physically running away, full of people excitedly hunting treasure and each other.
This time it will be sat in the Clore Ball Room, which in itself is amazing.
Also, I will take a whole day to paint the thing as well, and we will have to cut it up on the last evening - you can reserve your favourite parts during the weekend, and take them away Sunday night.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Somewhere Around Blackfriars

I was doing some research for a novel yesterday, walking around Blackfriars. I did not take a proper camera, just my replacement phone, and that turned out to not work very well. So I only have three photos. They are quite good, though.


Back alleys.

Hard to read, but: St.Andrew-By-The-Wardrobe.
I walked into a number of small churches around there. They are quite hidden, squeezed in between buildings, sitting by the side of busy roads, waiting, promising peace and quiet, somehow. They may have very specific names, as if to make sure you don't walk into the wrong one, and often the thing they refer to is long gone, as in St-Andrews-By-The-Wardrobe (the king used to stash his clothes next door, apparently).
They are all open to people who just want to sit and think, and sometimes there is someone who is happy to answer questions.
I asked about everything I saw mentioned on the leaflets or on the signs balanced on cupboards or taped to the walls. "It says you have a pelican, where is the pelican?" I asked in one tiny church. "Ah, it's hidden," said the man with the "Friend" badge, opening a door to a stairwell. There, indeed, was a very detailed sculpture of a pelican, thrusting her beak into her chest to feed a clutch of chicks. The runnels of blood were neat white marble drops.
"Wow," I said.
"There are more spectacular ones", he said, "but this one is pretty good."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Active Poetry by Ewa Partum

I saw this at Tate Modern today. Here are my notes:

I love Tate Modern so much. I only meant to sit in the cafe and work, but I ended up soaking up art for hours, looking and thinking and sometimes crying and laughing. Now I feel recharged and like I can make things again. I had not even noticed that my batteries were running low...
I also bought some books, look:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Zombie T-shirt

Just to say that the Tshirts in my shop are now all beautiful flex-print.
Also: there is a zombie shirt.