Thursday 22 November 2012

Not much of a post but some posters

Oh!  Time is ticking by and it seems I've not had enough of it to write a new post for over a week.  I've decided that my brain, which I've known for some time is divided into some very distinct and often handy compartments, finds particular conflict between writing and drawing.  When I'm not doing much picture-making, the words take over, but when I'm really busy at the drawing board, I seem to find it hard to write.  From this you may ascertain that it's been a while since I've been really immersed in any intensive art work - but that I've got a load of illustration to get on with right now.  This is of course a good thing, and I love what I do - but I don't want to neglect the blog either!  So, as a little pot-boiler, I'll just leave you with a link to a place that I've only recently discovered (thanks to a recommendation) and which I really like... Quad Royal.

It's full of great pictures, and the words are good too.


Wednesday 14 November 2012

Soft furry love

Here's a little teaser for you.

What's this?

It's not quite the same kind of soft furry love referred to in my previous post - but still it's soft and furry and lovely (although it can cause a rash...)

Found this little chappy on the wall today: 

A soft furry lovely caterpillar.

I guess he's looking for somewhere safe and warm to spend the winter before he pupates next Spring. By the magic of metamorphosis of course, which absolutely blows my tiny mind, he'll later become a beautiful Garden Tiger moth.  Wow.  Talk about re-inventing yourself.

He needs a soundtrack too.  Something fuzzy and raw, I think.  A little rough around the edges.  But are there any fuzzy, raw, rough around the edges songs with caterpillary connections?


Downliners Sect: White Caterpillar

Monday 12 November 2012

Garth Williams, racial rabbits and senseless censorship

My current infatuation is with the artwork of Garth Williams. 

This must be one of his most well-known images…

...and his drawings inside are wonderful.  Apparently it’s the best-selling children’s book of all time, first published in 1952.  I’m so glad they’ve kept the same illustrations in various reprints.

What I didn’t realise until embarrassingly recently was that I already owned two books illustrated by Garth Williams; in fact I’ve had them for over forty years and simply hadn’t appreciated that he was the same artist responsible for that memorable work. I hung onto only a handful of books from my childhood and the reason I kept these two in particular was that they just evoked so many feelings.  The pictures took on a kind of magical quality for me as a toddler; I was captivated.

From 'Bedtime For Frances' written by Russell Hoban (1963)
This book helped me through many a bedtime fear...

From 'A Tale Of Tails' written by Elizabeth H MacPherson (1965)
I  felt like I really knew each creature on every page.

And I’m still captivated, so I’ve been delving back to see what else Garth Williams illustrated.  Oh, there’s a lot - over ninety books!  He had an interesting and creative life which you can read about elsewhere but one little snippet I thought I’d share here is the controversy surrounding a book he wrote and illustrated in 1958 called ‘The Rabbit’s Wedding’.   I think most illustrators, when developing a pair of story-book rabbit characters who were frequently going to be shown together, would have done exactly as he did and made them each a different colour.  It’s an obvious way to distinguish them as well as being aesthetically pleasing.  However, back then, the Alabama library system decided that the depiction of a white rabbit getting married to a black rabbit was clearly a piece of integrationist propaganda and removed the book from circulation.   Somebody even went so far as to suggest that it was ‘brainwashing’.  I love Williams’ response: "I was completely unaware that animals with white fur, such as white polar bears and white dogs and white rabbits, were considered blood relations of white beings. I was only aware that a white horse next to a black horse looks very picturesque,” he said.  He added that 'The Rabbit’s Wedding' wasn’t written for adults, who "will not understand it, because it is only about a soft furry love and has no hidden message of hate.”

In some respects, things haven’t changed as much in the last fifty years as you might expect.  Sadly many editors and publishers still look at books aimed at innocent-minded children through the cynical, tainted eyes of adults.  Now, you’re probably a bit pushed for time and I do appreciate you sparing some of it to look at this post, but if you have a few minutes more then I urge you to read this article from just a couple of years ago.  It’s about banned books - oh, and as it says in the strapline, ‘Tibet, sausages and masturbating mice’ (I’m hoping that’ll reel you in…)  It's very funny but the facts may surprise.

I’ve experienced a little of the ‘masturbating mice’ type scenario myself (ha…you’ll have to read the article!  But I’ll save you a few moments if you haven’t yet, it’s in the paragraph headed ‘No sex please, we’re American').  On more than one occasion I’ve had to tweak some of my children’s book illustrations after they were judged to be too, ahem,  sexual  For instance, a mummy bear lying on her back cuddling her baby bear who is on her tummy, their faces close together - that was one where I had to make an adjustment to the position of mummy bear’s legs.  Originally they weren’t quite ‘shut’ enough.  I know.  The book is for 1-3 year olds.

So, from the ridiculous... back to the sublime.

From 'Charlotte's Web' written by E B White (1952)

Wednesday 7 November 2012


On every trip I make to London something small usually happens to me which sticks in my mind, always to do with a stranger. 

The time before last I was just checking my phone at a street corner and an old man made a beeline for me - uh oh - and then started to sing.  Directly to me.   I really didn’t know where to look.  He was serenading, Everyone is beautiful… in their own way which I wasn’t sure whether or not to take as a compliment, but he looked a little manic so I just said, “Thank you!” (?!) and then hurried off, my pace quickening as I turned my back on him.  His vocals continued in my direction and I found myself diving into the nearest shop - it could have been a funeral parlour for all I cared at that moment, as long as it got me out of his range.

Last week my brief moment of connection with a stranger was with a young guy who was homeless.  It's something I always find difficult to witness.  It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with walking past human-shaped mounds under blankets in shop doorways or studiously avoiding eye contact with swaying, swarthy street men whose hopelessness is hard to contemplate; sadly it’s something you expect when you visit any large town or city, isn’t it?  This boy, though – he was like someone I might have known.  He reminded me of the young lads I used to work with in an office several years ago.  Like the sort of fresh-faced trainee with whom I’d have shared some banter, or had a chat with at the coffee machine about the previous night’s episode of a sitcom.  Only... his face was no longer that fresh.  But I could tell he was intelligent and personable, and I wondered how come his life had got so messed up.   I realise that when he first approached me I must have automatically given him that defensive “PLEASE DON'T BOTHER ME!” expression - I just know it would have been all over my face, a kind of reflex, and I can’t imagine how it must feel to be on the receiving end of that type of response over and over again.  Anyway he asked me so politely if I had some change to help him pay for his hostel that night, but I knew I only had a handful of coppers in my purse.  “Oh I’ve only got a few coins – I’m a bit embarrassed!” I said as I scooped up the two-pence pieces.  You’re embarrassed?” he replied, gesturing towards himself as if to say, “Hello-oh!  Don't you realise who you're saying that to?!”  My tactlessness hit me as he went on, not harshly at all, but very genuinely, “How embarrassed do you think I feel, asking you?”  Stupidly, I just hadn’t thought of it like that.  I apologised (and explained that I’d just wanted to give him a more useful amount), and then we chatted briefly and said friendly goodbyes.  On the train back I found it hard to get him out of my mind, more so than I ever have in that kind of situation before.  There was something about him.   I was going home to a safe, warm house on this chilly October night, and he was going… where?   And I’m obviously still thinking about him now, aren't I?  I find it hard to get my head around how relentlessly tough life must be if you're homeless, especially in an English winter.

Mind you, I once knew of a man who actively chose to live outside in all weathers for most of his adult life.  He had a little camp in a copse by the side of a main road in a village not far from my home town.  He'd amassed all sorts of random objects that he’d presumably either found or been given  – toys, bags, old clothes, etc. and decorated his makeshift home amongst the trees with them, the more brightly coloured and shiny the better.  It was a cheery sight - and site.  Somehow he managed to keep himself, and his little dog whom he pushed around in an old pram, alive and well for years.  His hair never went grey and his skin looked like bark.  He walked for miles every day, complete with dog and pram, and always waved to each car that passed him (including mine – it was a pleasure to wave back).  Every Christmas Day he would accept the invitation from one of the locals to join them for a full, festive dinner.  This was the one and only day of the year on which he’d take a bath too, thanks to the loan of their bathroom and some sweet-smelling unguentsWell into his seventies when he died, he was liked and respected by all who lived in the area, his long life out in the cold no doubt made a little warmer by the kindness of strangers.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Today's fish and chip paper

I can finally stop checking The Sun every day, just in time to prevent any permanent facial damage being caused by my repeated gawping at what passes for news…  Phew, what a torture!

This is the (utterly pointless) feature I mentioned recently to which I 'could' have contributed. (Told you it would be a let-down!)   

Just in case you’re vaguely curious, it was thanks to this original post which had been spotted by a journalist.  She sent an invitation to take part in a photoshoot with other women, where we'd have to wear an item of clothing that we had once bought and then really regretted wearing, and provide a background story. I had no idea how many people were participating, or how much detail they'd want, so it was quite amusing... However, my closet is so small I don’t have room to keep those kind of sartorial skeletons and, thankfully, they’ve all gone, long ago.  (And as I don’t regret my leopard-print coat or my newly bought creepers, they don’t count…)

I made the right decision not to do it, didn’t I?   Plus there are so many much more interesting things to read about, after all.  I mean….‘Kim Kardashian defies gravity in low-cut top and no bra in Miami’….   Fascinating.

A clichéd college project take on tabloid papers
 from (aarghh) 30 years ago - nothing much changes...

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