Sunday 29 July 2018

Logo love

Just a quick post to say how enthralled I am by the new logo/branding concept for the famous Battersea Dogs' Home, now known as just 'Battersea' - that's how familiar it is to us here in the UK, we don't even need to mention the dogs (or cats).

I love it.  It's so simple.

I adore the fact that a loose watercolour splodge in a totally unrealistic colour, with some basic lines, roughly drawn but at just the right angles, can signify something so utterly, perfectly recognisable. As an illustrator I find it easy to get hung up on the vital step between keeping something looking relatively realistic and reducing it to something that's only implied.  It's hard. The simpler something looks, the more difficult it may have been to actually get to successfully.  Often I think the best results are those we draw without inhibition, when we're instinctive and have tapped into another part of our brains, which is tricky when bogged down with all the trappings of convention and expectation and pressure.  Sorry, that's a bit wordy, and probably for much the same reason.  Anyway, yes, what I'm trying to say is that a kind of primal rendering often yields the most striking results.

And in this way, a bluey-purple blob, with a couple of uneven triangular lines and and a flat black oval in the middle is able to represent, so successfully, a particular breed of dog, and an expressive one at that, even though it has no expression....    Our brains and our imaginations will fill in the blanks, but they have to be given just the right directions first.

I reckon the creators of Battersea's new brand have got it absolutely spot on and I can't stop looking at their brilliant blobs.  Have a look here to see the full set of pussycats and pooches, created by illustrator Hiromi Suzuki.

Friday 27 July 2018

The long hot Summers of childhood

It wasn’t just that one of 1976, I’m sure.  Perhaps we’re programmed to only remember sunny Summer days and the things we did on them, because I swear that all my childhood years were absolutely full of them.  No dull, rainy July mornings linger in my memory at all.

Instead the memories are characterised by the feeling of hot black tarmac under my bare feet when I ventured out onto the quiet bit of cul-de-sac out the front without my flipflops - footwear abandoned because the soles had already cracked and split like wafers.  Hard gritty lumps of road stuck to my naked heels like chocolate chips in cookie dough, is there something masochistic about that I wonder, a tactile pleasure bordering on pain? - and I loved the smell;  how do you describe the smell of hot tar?  Kind of oily, burnt-toasty, strangely satisfying.

We sucked on Ice Pops that melted so quickly you could drink the last few mouthfuls: undiluted fruity syrup so deliciously intense in flavour it almost made you wince.

There was the Summer gang - 1973 or ’74 perhaps.  Jill, Liz, Richard and me, rolling down grass hills, riding our bikes over home-made ramps of splintery planks, jarring our wrists on landing and carrying on regardless.  Bouncing psychedelic Super Balls against the back of the houses for as long as we could keep it up.  Thud thud thud; wall ground hand, over and over and over, getting the trajectory just right so you barely had to move.  I loved my Super Ball, me.

We didn’t want John to join our gang of Nerds-cum-Secret Agents.  We weren't sporty or tough in the least, we were normally pale, bookish children, but Summer meant being outdoors and uncharacteristically physical.  Liz's kid brother was too babyish, so we set a really hard initiation test.  It was dangerous, you had to jump off the high wall and land on Jill’s concrete patio, do some high-kick 'French Skipping' moves, other stuff too that we figured would test the limits of endurance for an average 9 year old.  All in a set order as well, ten or maybe twelve tricky manoeuvres which had to be remembered and successfully completed to join.  One of them might have been a spelling test - we were the kids who'd had first editions of Watership Down after all.  We met in Liz’s dad’s garage, sitting on old paint cans with dented lids or the faded deckchair sticky with abandoned spiderwebs and their previous inhabitants' dismembered legs.  It felt important and secret, even though we didn’t really have a clue what to do….  apart from setting difficult initiation tests for future members who didn’t exist.

John didn't get in, by the way.  We may have engineered that slightly.

It’s 32 degrees here today, I believe.  Just like it was every single day of every single school Summer holiday, the ones in the ‘70s that lasted for years and years.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Lost for words - part one

The long dusty Summer continues without let-up -  sorry for lack of posting lately – less screen time, more sunscreen time.  Work, sleep, rat-catching (no killing involved, I would never - just relocation), books, freckle-cultivation, too much Prosecco (if there is such a thing).... is that it?

Well, not completely...   I also had a fab time at Latitude Festival, which must be just about the friendliest place on earth, quite otherworldly, and where I mistook the map symbol of a Pepsi Max Drink Station for the obelisk where I was supposed to meet a friend and ended up looking for a monolith akin to Nelson's Column when in fact it was all of about four foot tall.  But it worked, it all worked, and we pals all found each other amongst the crowd of thousands.

The whole experience has taken on a bit of an Alice In Wonderland feel now, and what with all that confusion re. size – first the tiny huge obelisk and then later, when texting my location: “We’re near big fish flagpole” and the hilarious reply: “Can only see a little red goldfish on a stick”.  When does a little red goldfish on a stick become a big fish flagpole?  Or is it all just relative?  Big… or little… who knows which is which in such heady surroundings?  And who cares - you are away from the violent, screaming world and in this escapist bubble, where complete strangers offer you their pink fondant fancies whilst bass lines rumble like trains through your guts.

I was only there for one day so missed quite a bit, but loved what I caught.  I thoroughly enjoyed Sleeper who were even better than I’d expected after all these years (also prompting a new girl crush on Louise Wener who was on top form and utterly charming).  Wolf Alice also hit the spot for me; I’d been really looking forward to seeing them and especially their performance of Giant Peach during which, as hoped, they wigged-out full Hawkwind-style...

It was also the first time in a long, long while that I’ve woken up in the morning with smudged eye make-up all over my face because I was too lazy to take it off the night before.  Ooh, a long while!

But there will be far better reviews and summaries floating around and I'm happy to leave more detailed descriptions to those who do it best; for now this is just a post to break the silence and to rediscover my blogging mojo which has been AWOL for almost as long as it is since I've slept in my make-up.  Irony is that I have had a few things I’d like to write about but just haven’t been able to find the words and the energy, somehow.

Talking of lost words, though, I’ve deliberately/foolishly labelled this as a 'part one' to force myself into following it up with another post, hopefully before the Summer is out, which is about a beautiful book I recently bought, and once I can actually catch those elusive words and put them into some semblance of order they might land on these pages soon.  In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me!

Sunday 1 July 2018

RIP Peter Firmin

Such a shame today to read of the death of Peter Firmin, co-creator of the much-loved Clangers, Pogles Wood and more.  There's a lovely piece about him here.

In the meantime, I wrote about an exhibition of his work a couple of years ago, so - please forgive the lazy repetition today - here it is again as a reminder of some of his superb creations, ones that are sure to evoke many happy childhood memories for those of us of a certain age.


(First posted September 2016)

The other day a friend from the West Country sent me this fantastic card in the post.

She would be staying in London for a while, cat-sitting, she said - did I have time to get down to the East End? So I made time for a flying visit yesterday.

We met at Liverpool Street, from where she, in her vivid blue jumper and me, in my new bright green coat, took a rainbow-coloured No. 8 bus

to see a large pink stripey cat (not the one my friend is looking after.)

More on that in a minute.

First we stopped at what must surely be one of the most memorable and wonderful East End caffs (or is it a restaurant?  or a greasy spoon?) in the city - E Pellicci.  Everyone is greeted like an old friend, many are old friends - it's no wonder.  Hugs, chat, banter.  Total warmth.  It's noisy, vibrant... just real.  A far cry from the English tea room vibe which proliferates around my locality - sweet as that can be for visits by ageing relatives, sometimes I feel what I can only describe as an underlying sense of uptightness to our rural establishments.  You couldn't get much further from uptight at this place, though.  I had a lovely cuppa and sponge pudding with custard and learned how to say my friend's name with an authentic Italian accent.  Loudly!  The ebullience of our host was contagious. The surroundings are interesting too - beautiful Italian art deco marquetry on the walls had been put in during the 1940s, the old cash till (think Open All Hours) is still in use; the same warm and welcoming family have run this place for over a hundred years on hospitality and home cooking - why change?

After good conversation and a sugar fix, my friend and I dash on up to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

This is where we see Bagpuss... and Professor Yaffle..

... as part of a small, but beautiful, exhibition of the fabulous world of Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations that are forever lodged in the memories of those of us who spent our childhood in their joyous company.

Bagpuss was a bit after my time - first aired in 1974 - so, lovely as he and his companions are, I didn't get that same special thrill at seeing him.

I got my special thrill from seeing these, ohh! the Pogles!  My favourite!

Look at little Tog on the right.  He was some indeterminate species of animal, sort of squirrel-like with rabbity feet.  Apparently they all had to have weights in their feet to stop them falling over during filming.

"I'll be respectable when I'm dead, Mrs Pogle," says Amos (on the left). "Until then, I'll shout and sing as I like".  Go for it Amos!

The witch was extremely scary, I mean really scary, and even scarier to see pinned up under glass yesterday.  Apparently a number of stories were planned for the witch but were never screened because the BBC thought them too frightening.   I tried to take a photo of her but I think she cursed it as all I ended up with was a nasty black smudge.

If you remember Pogles' Wood, then you'll no doubt recall Noggin the Nog. I love the artwork for this 2-D animation classic.  I'm currently working on a book with human characters and, quite coincidentally, I'd recently been looking at some of Peter Firmin's illustrations for inspiration, so it was brilliant to see his work for real.  Look at this wonderful art for the Ice Dragon!

And then of course we have The Clangers.

They were a bit larger than I expected.  Peter Firmin's wife knitted them and apparently some of their space-age clothes were inspired by pictures of Twiggy.

Well yes.

And you can't have Clangers without Froglets, nor the Soup Dragon....

"Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?" I heard a young bearded man say to his friend in disbelief.

Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?!  I couldn't get a good shot of said chicken, but I must say it was lovely to see him again after all these years.

Well, it was good to see them all, after all these years.

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