Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The last one is already sold, but one of them will go up in my shop tomorrow.

NOTE: When I went to post the lion off, the guy who sold me the envelope got cross about the lion's rude bottom. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO THE LION", he said, "I LIKE LIONS! THAT'S NOT ON!"
So I added a few lines.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Anxiety - The Book

I am working on making my Anxiety comics into a book. A full graphic novel.
It's a lot of work.
I need to connect all the little episodes up, a little bit, and have a few narrative arcs.
At the same time I am refusing to give the reader anything to latch on that might detract from what I want to say. I know many people will want to pick up a narrative that supports their favourite ideas about anxiety disorder - maybe about medication being a good or a bad thing. Maybe about trauma - how it's all about relationships or childhood or self-esteem. They'll be looking for somewhere to put the blame and some solutions that they can approve or disapprove of.
That's not what this is about, though. There's enough of those books already.

What I want to do is make a book that shows honestly the reality of having anxiety disorder. I won't tell people whether to cure it or not, or let them look for my scars and compare them to my story and analyse my life and explain it back to me. I've had enough of that, and I've read enough of that about other people.
What I want to say is: it's all life. Life isn't on hold while you have mental troubles. There's no walking off into the sunset after an episode of horrible non-life. It's difficult, but it's not worth any less than any part of anyone's life. Don't wait with life until you are better. You are good enough already.
It's not all about beating mental illness, fixing it, rooting it out relentlessly. It's about understanding it as well as you can without obsessing about it, about accepting it without giving up, seeing that it is a part of who you are without letting it define you.
And in the case of my anxiety, it's about putting it in its place, arguing with it or ignoring it, shutting it up or letting it ramble as needed, accepting the rare gifts it brings and refusing its everyday insults, and often laughing about it.

It'll take me a while to get it ready to pitch to a publisher, about a month I expect.
If you want to support me while I'm concentrating on this rather than my more secure and regular work, see if you'd like to buy something from my shop... every bit helps. 

P.S. Inevitable sods who like to comment explaining my own life to me or spam me with cures: I'll just delete that, why don't you just go do something actually nice for someone who actually needs you.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Working as a freelance artist, I have to switch between projects every day - sometimes several times a day. I work in a studio, at home, in caf├ęs and sometimes in-house somewhere. It's taken me years to work out how to stay more or less on top of it all, switching from writer to illustrator to teacher and remembering to have lunch and not panic too often.

Here's how I organise my day.

First of all I have lists which I keep online, using todoist.

I keep three groups of projects: LIFE, WORK and TELL THEM NOW. (It's a version of a system suggested in the classic "Time Management for Unmanageable People" which also encourages people to buy loads of random stationery if they want to).

The one you might find odd is TELL THEM NOW. It contains every task that can be completed with a quick communication. Typical entries would be:
  • Ben, did I leave my wallet at the office?
  • Omniat, let's have coffee
  • Give me a tax rebate form please somebody
It's surprisingly useful. Every time I feel like I am not getting anything done I see if there's something I can just tell someone. It's very satisfying. - Things like meetings and or discussions don't belong in here, only stuff I am sure can be dealt with in a few minutes. - You'd think I could just do these things when I think of them, but then I find I mostly think of them in the middle of doing other tasks, and it's better to just note them down and not get distracted.

WORK and LIFE have sub-categories: projects, a shopping list, that sort of thing.

There's also an inbox to throw in small stuff that I can't be bothered to categorise. The categories are mainly markers to check that my days are balanced, more or less.

There are repeating tasks that roll over automatically - breakfast, lunch, dinner, exercise, feed the orchids, feed the cats. It's easy to forget simple tasks, I find, and satisfying to tick them off.

I also linked my google calendar up via IFTTT, so that when I make a calendar entry it automatically creates a task for that day.

Every evening I check tomorrow's tasks - todoist automatically compiles them - and put them in some sort of loose order.
I go through all the lists and pick things to do the next day.
I reschedule what I didn't finish, and maybe delete some ambitious daily task that I never actually do.

Every morning I print the list of the day. That way I get the satisfaction of physically ticking them off on paper, I get to doodle around them, I can stick them in my sketchbook, and I can put my smartphone and laptop away when I don't want to be distracted.
It also creates a nice physical record.

I use a receipt printer, because it's awesome.
This is a Dymo LabelWriter 450. Dymo warns that it will only print on Dymo-brand labels, but I've found that it will happily eat rolls of cheap plain thermal paper from my local stationer's. It doesn't work from every program, but images and plain text in Chrome work perfectly fine. (It's happiest printing from Google Tasks, but todoist works ok.)
I work in half-hour sessions, using a kitchen timer. Twenty-five minutes of uninterrupted work - pretty much anything can wait for twenty-five minutes, including snacks, phone calls, anything except for the cat, generally. When it rings I take a five minute break, have a cup of tea, make that phone call, walk around, and settle back down for another twenty-five minutes. Sometimes I take longer breaks. It's pretty much the pomodoro technique.

For some tasks I prefer to use a record as a timer. One side of an LP record is a good time to spend tidying my room, for example. I have a portable record player to take to the park if I feel the need to just lie on my back and stare at the sky while calming down about something or other, or sketch, or think.

The physical act of turning the timer or the record really helps to give me a sense of time passing, and they run their course and then fall silent and require resetting in a way that digital timers and playlists don't, quite.

I use such small physical rituals that help me feel connected to the day, but also digital tools that help me keeping organised. It's my team of small robots. Without them, I get overwhelmed very quickly.

I don't always work in the studio and I do a lot of research, so I often need to carry projects around. I use A5 paper notebooks and sketchbooks which I keep all together in one leather cover, fixed with elastic. I can quickly switch them around so I always carry the ones I am working on, plus a general notebook and some loose sheets.

That's pretty much it! Works for me, if any of it helps you out - neat.

Saturday, January 3, 2015




From award-winning picture book makers Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz comes an enlightening new story about courage and making a difference. For budding philosophers of all ages, this is the uplifting story of Henry Finch the loveable little bird who strives for greatness, gets it all a bit wrong, then makes it right again in a very surprising way – truly becoming great. Henry Finch is a total inspiration. This is an inspirational book. It is also very funny. I Am Henry Finch is a book for everyone – from the very young to the very old. It is for dreamers, philosophers, artists, the foolish and the enlightened. And anyone with a big bright idea. Vegetarians will love it too. A profound picture book experience told with simplicity and style.

I am very excited about this. "I am Henry Finch" was written by Alexis Deacon and illustrated by me. It's our third collaboration, and seriously, we've got this down now. I am so proud of this book - Alexis has been my best friend for many years now, and he still surprises me with his ideas.

Alexis at work

He wrote this strange philosophical book. I could see it in my head instantly, and couldn't stop laughing. I had to draw one of the pictures to explain why it was so funny, and shortly after everyone at the publisher's was laughing, too, and we were off.

I decided right away that all the finches would be made out of fingerprints, and to avoid giving the world a complete set of mine I collected them off friends all through the project.

There's also a Great Beast in this book which is painted in watercolour. Alexis and I designed it by painting a load of blobs and interviewing them for the part.

Some hopefuls

The winner

I had an absolutely brilliant time drawing this book. 

Wibbly bits.

I'd just moved into a new work space with space to spread out and experiment, and I'd found the perfect fountain pen that I've been carrying every day since.

Every Finch in this book is carefully calibrated for maximum finchiness.

I loved the book so much that I have been using Henry as my Twitter avatar since, and, well, I had him tattooed on my arm.

Photo by Sarah McIntyre

I AM HERNY FINCH out in a whole load of countries. It's out! It really is!

So buy one already. Or two.
Try your local bookshop - though it's on Amazon as well, yes.