Just the other week I managed to catch the Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern before it closed on Easter Sunday. It was inspirational, far better than the Picasso exhibition that featured the work he did in 1932. The Picasso exhibition made me come away feeling vaguely unsettled particularly by his depictions of his mistress. Genius he might have been but it was difficult for me to feel sympatico with Picasso.
So I came home and many days later, sat down and made an ink drawing, a rendition of one of my favourite Modigliani paintings, a portrait of an unknown girl in deep reds and browns.
My version of the Modigliani painting
My India ink has dried up, it has become a gloopy thick jelly stuck inside the bottle but I managed to pick up enough ink with my wet brush to use it for this drawing. Thankfully the Liquitex ink still worked so I used that for the fine hatching work with my Deleter pen. The brush had lost many of its bristles so it was hard to make a decent line. Still, it was all done within half an hour and it felt satisfying to be drawing something again, as if I was working out an elegant solution to some mathematical problem.
I don’t yet know if I have the stamina to start planning another story. Perhaps I will have to wait for inspiration to strike a second time.
Here is the opening image from my new short story, The Street Dancer’s Romance. It will be a wordless story comprising 65 images or so, each on its own page, much like in an old-fashioned woodcut novel. It is safe to say that I have been utterly beguiled by the work of Otto Nuckel and Lynd Ward, and presenting images in this way will also allow the reader to spend more time mulling over each image and absorbing the message behind it. I’ve drawn and inked more than half the pages in this book so perhaps a Christmas deadline is not so unrealistic after all.
Most of us will have seen buskers and street performers out in the street before. I can’t recall exactly where I saw a street performer like this, it might have been while strolling along the South Bank in London, but I rarely pay much attention to street performers in general. But anyhow, I’d mulled over doing a story about these people for some time and their lives away from the public eye. I chose to do a word-less story this time because it posed a unique challenge to convey a fairly sophisticated story without words, and I had enjoyed drawing The Snack Bar in ‘Painting Stories’. For some reason, it was also one of my more popular stories. It also felt liberating to work on a story without the burden of words.
Maybe I should get around to some tool talk now, having popped down the road to Cass Arts to pick up a Winsor and Newton Cotman III No 2 brush. I’ve more or less worn out my 6th or 7th sable brush so far, and the costs are definitely building up. Despite doing my best to clean the brushes after use, they tend to lose their point after some months and I no longer know whether it’s just an intrinsic problem with sable brushes or my own inadequacies when it comes to brush care. So I noticed on Craig Thompson’s blog that he used the Cotman III No 2 brush for his inking, and being a devout fan of Thompson’s art, I thought if it was good enough for him, it was definitely more than good enough for me. Cotman brushes use synthetic bristles and are therefore a lot cheaper than Kolinsky sable ones.
Well, unfortunately that didn’t turn out too well. I found the Cotman’s bristles rather too stiff, and inking with it felt like drawing with a felt tip pen, the line did not vary as much as I’d wanted. After doing one panel with it, it was a pleasure to return to my somewhat battered Winsor and Newton Kolinksy series 7 sable brush (size 3). Looks like I might have to shell out again to buy yet another one, having started using this one only a few months back in the summer… Despite arduous care, it looks like some of the bristles have fallen out and it is gradually losing its gorgeously pointed shape. But it is still a pleasure to use after a few minutes with the Cotman. But can anyone see the difference between the inking in the panels? Back to Cass Arts tomorrow then, another 10-11 quid poorer!
Right now I am part of the way through drawing and inking my graphic short story, “The Street Dancer’s Romance”. I’m a little more than a third through already so I am making slow but steady progress, achieving at least 2 panels a day. Not posting any previews here yet, but since a blog requires occasional updates, here I am again, pondering over what to write as a suitable update.
Oh yes. I’ve decided to stop using my Hunt 102 vintage nib with the fast-disintegrating wooden holder, and replaced it with a Japanese manga pen – the Deleter pen, to be exact. I ordered some wider G-nibs and the fine Naru nibs from Dinkybox along with an attractive, bright yellow pen holder which accommodates different nib sizes in its innovative nib-holder, so one doesn’t need different holders for different nibs, what a neat idea! Why didn’t anyone think of that before? Something that Speedball should learn from, as its current holder is frankly, quite substandard; an overly thin brown cheap plastic rod which one needs to ‘pad’ up for a more comfortable and steady grip. I’m a Deleter convert, so far I haven’t blotted anything since switching over to these fine nibs. And they are far easier to clean, which probably means greater nib longevity. So I can store away the remaining vintage Hunt 102 nibs for a rainy day.
Can I make Cabaret Voltaire volume II ready for Christmas? That might still be a pipe dream…
I have been dreadfully remiss about updating this blog! The main reason is that I don’t tend to update this blog when I haven’t done any drawing or planning what I am going to draw or write next. 2013 has been a very strange year, to say the least… hopelessly unproductive in some ways and a very long holiday in the far East also meant that my work was entirely put on the backburner and almost forgotten.
I had intended to work on two short stories for Cabaret Voltaire issue two – “Signal Failure” was one that had been rattling about in my brain for a while, but somehow the words wouldn’t come and I didn’t want to force them. I had storyboarded the entire sorry tale but only in my mind, and fleshing out the actual frames took more work than I could muster in the enervating tropical heat. I honestly don’t know how anyone does any useful work in that kind of weather. All I wanted to do was to move as little as possible and I suspect even my brain plodded along more sluggishly than usual. At the time, it was only capable of pondering on food and trivial amusements.
Anyway I am back in familiar environs and ready to get on with some work this autumn and winter, and my next new story will be word-less like “The Snack Bar”, except this time it will be about a street performer who dances with a dummy and lives a solitary existence. The preliminary title is “The Street Dancer’s Romance” and I have already pencilled a few pages on A3 Bristol board. It will be a tricky story to pull off right, however, and I’m still wondering whether it will be successful. I am doing it in the woodcut style, one picture per page — recently influenced by my favourite woodcut artist, Otto Nuckel, and a recent book I had bought by Lynd Ward called “Vertigo”, which was far more complex in style and plot than any other woodcut novel I’d seen so far. I wasn’t sure it was a complete success as far as elucidating the plot went, but the stark black-and-white compositions were gorgeous masterpieces. I cannot say my ink drawings will be anything like those woodcuts, but at least I can make an attempt to tell a story in my own way. I won’t give an estimated time for completion as this will depend on so many other things going on, but I do hope to get this story completed by the end of the year. And sent to the publishers. Cabaret Voltaire issue two is likely to contain only this one story instead of two as originally planned.
The Dream - cover image
I am already feeling the pressure of having to produce a small comic booklet in time for the Comica Comiket comics festival in November. After the deflating and disappointing sales performance at the Alternative Press Festival, I have realised that to pull some more people in, it is sometimes necessary to have more than one book for sale, especially if that sole book is by an unknown artist (me) and not extremely cheap. So I thought a cheap (2 or 3 quid) mini comic might be in order, and drew ‘Ash Wednesday’ for Emanata as well as for this comic, but that story was hastily written and drawn, and I didn’t feel it was up to my usual standards. Still, the Emanata staff sent me very positive comments about it and I felt encouraged by the reception.
Feeling somewhat pessimistic about successfully plotting another short story in time for press by mid-October, I became vaguely inspired by a telephone call with my mother where she detailed a recent disquieting dream she’d recently had. Various acquaintances and contemporaries of hers had fallen ill or passed away this year and so the content of the dream didn’t surprise me too much. I thought I had the germ of an idea for a dream story, which I found easier than others to construct and write, since dreams were usually surreal. I took the gist of my mother’s dream, incorporated a few “horror” elements of my own, not outright cliched-horror but a rather more personally disturbing horror, such as a disembodied wailing voice echoing around a dark hospital corridor. It might have been one of the recurring nightmares I’d had when I was younger. I didn’t have any problems building the tension in the story nor in whisking the reader from page to page, but I was completely stumped for an ending. Dreams always end with the dreamer waking up, but a possible (but cliched) twist might be for the dreamer to realise he/she isn’t really dreaming. But that ‘twist’ has been done to death, I thought, so my dreamer had to wake up with a lingering, unsettling feeling that the dream might cross over into reality at some point soon. The dreamer was insecure about his life, about his wife in particular, and her relationship with his best friend. I was insomniac one night, and at about 2 or 3am while my restless but exhausted mind ran the gauntlet of mysterious dream endings, I thought I had an appropriate final panel, one that didn’t end with reassurance but had a sort of portentous doom about it. I didn’t question this ending but instead, felt delighted about my early-morning epiphany, and then set about diligently drawing and inking the comic, 2 pages per day, in a sort of inspired frenzy. Hardly ever since ‘The Card Players’ have I worked almost daily on a comics project!
But upon rereading it after finishing the final page, it feels like it might fall a bit flat after all. A bit of a high school story, perhaps, with too little of the disquiet I’d intended to leave behind in the mind of the reader. I am undecided whether to submit this story and ‘Ash Wednesday’ to press because I am not sure of its true merit. It doesn’t quite stand together with some of my stronger stories in ‘Painting Stories’ and I’m afraid it’s not necessarily the best advertisement for my work, although I am quite satisfied with the artwork and feel that I have improved in that area. Anyway this story has also been submitted to Emanata for online publication in its next push – maybe then I’ll find out if readers will connect with it. I haven’t shown it to very many people at all and so other people might think differently, I’m often the harshest critic of my own work!
I’ve started on a new short story. This will eventually feature in a collection of short stories around a loose railway/trains theme. This one is provisionally titled “At Fourteen Minutes Past The Hour” for now and I have finished pencilling and inking the first page, if only to work out the general style of the rest of the pages. I haven’t quite finished writing it yet so I’ve got to be careful not to pencil any more pages until I am more certain of the overall structure this is going to take. I have learned from my past mistakes, when I meandered for far too long in some past short stories. In fact, I lost the plot structure completely in my story “The Cafe Terrace” and that is my least favourite story of the last collection and it took the longest to finish drawing as I struggled to tie all the strands together. This time, I intend to finish writing the story from start to finish before doing the pencilling, only refining the narrative as I ink the pages. I am taking a lot more care about my drawing as well as the panel borders this time, so it will hopefully, look like a more polished product than my past comics.
Anyway without further ado, here’s the link to the story on Smackjeeves, it will be updated at regular, if rather long intervals, as I have to squeeze in other work, etc. in between.
Smackjeeves is a real timesaver and I will be using it from now on as a dumping ground for my unfinished short stories, instead of putting them in hidden links on my website. It will definitely free up some time that would otherwise be spent building temporary pages to hold the images.
The fonts I am using were downloaded free from an excellent new site for retro fonts called Fontdiner.com as well as www.dafont.com and they are:
- Font-On-A-Stick for the narrative
- Kraash Black for the sound effects
- Rumpelstiltskin for the sound effects
It took almost a whole year from conception to the final product, but it is finished at last! This has been a rather difficult story for me to plot, draw and script the dialogue for, as I had intended it to be a few interwoven stories taking place at a cafe terrace based on Van Gogh’s famous night-time painting. The idea evolved from my original plan for the ‘cafe’ to possess a consciousness and a sort of omniscient narrator’s voice, to what it is now, interleaved stories involving the different patrons of the cafe and the young waiter, who begins and ends the tale with his melancholy, brooding presence.
After finishing “The Dessert”, I realised I wanted to explore a relationship along similar lines, i.e that of the secretly homosexual husband, and the emotions of the wife when she discovers the truth. Given my own limitations and inexperience in the comics format, I sometimes wonder if this isn’t overly ambitious story-telling, and I leave it to my readers to tell me whether or not it was a success. I have had such varied feedback from my stories and it is always interesting to hear different perspectives. It is all too easy to get into a cul-de-sac when one is interpreting and reading one’s own work, so feedback from others is always refreshing. Since I had been busy with other unrelated projects, there were many months when I did absolutely no work on the story at all. In September 2010, being confined in a hotel room in southern Italy while gales blew outside actually forced me to tweak the storyline and rewrite the final few pages on a borrowed laptop, after months of absolute paralysis as far as this work was concerned.
This was also the first work I had where I experimented with colour – just a few greys and blues, and I found it appealed to a lot of readers. However, I’ve decided in the end to keep it starkly black and white and more in keeping with the rest of my stories in this collection. I’m not averse to experimenting with subdued hues, but for now, I’ll stick to my black inks and see where my inspiration leads me next!
So, here it is, the Cafe Terrace is finally finished. And I hope it won’t take another year for me to finish another short story.
Well I made a major blunder. I had decided more than a month ago to move away from Dreamhost (after enjoying a full year’s webhosting for only $5, a special Father’s Day offer, ne’er to be repeated!) because of its high costs, to something a little more economical, in keeping with my very modest webhosting demands. After all, this site barely sees any traffic and there seemed to be little point in retaining a hosting plan with plenty of bells and whistles which went unnoticed.
I forgot to migrate my database before switching my domain name over to my new host, so excited was I at moving into a new home…. so now I have to rely on Dreamhost’s support team to help me. I may have lost all my old blog posts and am trying not to feel too dejected about it. I may end up rewriting my thoughts on all my short stories so far.
Anyway it’s a new beginning. Let’s hope this webhost proves as reliable as Dreamhost was for the last 12 months. I’m tied up for the next 2 years.
I have finally started my fifth story in the collection, based on Van Gogh’s “The Cafe Terrace At Night” – there are other titles, indicating that the cafe is in Arles, but I have shortened the working title to “The Cafe Terrace” to fit in with my storyline better. The plot is a departure from the others, as there aren’t any main characters but rather, it will home in on different characters who come into the cafe throughout the day. It may be difficult to pull off and I am already wondering if I can fit it all within my self-imposed limit of 10-12 pages or if it will stray to 15 or more. I have decided to work much more on the drawing this time, with an emphasis on setting and background detail. Also, I’m starting to experiment a little bit more with panel framing and will not use the standard rectangular boxes for all my frames. Like with all my previous stories, this will be a learning process for me.
I am using the vintage Hunt 102 dip pens that I procured from eBay; they seem no less scratchy or liable to clog and blot than the newer versions, so maybe I’ve wasted my time hunting down vintage nibs. I really did like the one that I borrowed from Martin though. It flows much better with the thinner Liquitex ink, but I prefer the thickness of the Winsor and Newton black ink. Maybe I really do need to experiment with different inks. The good news is that Cass Arts in Soho now stock Speedball nibs and pens (Hunt 102 nibs!) – I bought a Drawing set the other day. At the rate I’m going, I think I am going to need new dip pen holders every few months!
So keep posted, I will endeavour to update the story by at least a few pages every week so keep checking if you’re at all interested. As yet, I haven’t even completed the script for the story yet, am just ”winging it” as I go along.
Well I seem to have plowed through the starter, main course and dessert at last! After Lent began, I promised myself to sketch, ink and scan one full page every day apart from weekends, and apart from one missed day which couldn’t really be helped, it provided me with the final impetus needed to complete this short story. It’s far more experimental than my previous ones, more of a “slice of life” story that is steeped in a sense of melancholy and uncertain longing; it is also far more ambiguous than any of my other works, and I want to leave the readers still asking questions after finishing the story. I’m not completely how it will be received yet. One of the biggest problems of being a writer of such a story is that after mulling the plot for too long, it all becomes so obvious to one, but the pieces may not quite fit together the same way for the reader.
Anyway I’m off to take a break and do something completely different for a while. Maybe wait until I find more inspiration before I begin my 5th (and final, for the Painting Stories novella) short story.