Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red Tears.

Red Tears remains one of my favourite book covers, and dealt with the harrowing subject of self-harming in an extremely sensitive way but without sentimentalising it, and certainly without hiding from the grim realities of the subject. It pre-dates the blog, so has never featured anywhere till today.

Written by Joanne Kenrick - now Jo Cotterill - this was the first time I’d been entrusted with a ‘serious’ subject - I’d been doing masses of chick-lit and adult female fiction, so I suppose this was my early taste of teen fiction. Although, I had done a cover for Naomi Wolf which sadly became a photograph in the end!

I was determined not to make it maudlin or off-putting, and it definitely couldn’t be too graphic. I played with several ideas, starting rather abstract, using the ink to try to represent a swirling mass of concentric feelings, and then fairly quickly we settled on the one with the back background. The hints are there, but they’re very subtle, and the black lends the book a definite gravity. I was trying to suggest too the connectivity of everything - the way problems and issues and feelings and events all ball up together and become impossible to disentangle, till you can’t see the wood for the trees.

It was published in 2007.

Many years later I am happy to have united Jo with her original artwork this week, most of which she’d never seen, in return, this time, for a donation to our chosen charity Mind. The artwork will be living at her house now! Which only feels right.


Monday, October 06, 2014


Today Autumn came. Finally, albeit briefly, it padded in overnight on rainclouds and stayed the morning, letting us have the sun and blue sky for the afternoon, then returning this evening arm-in-arm with the chill and wearing an early darkness (though not before a spectacular sunset).

I think it’s probably here now, officially, and I also know it’s here because I’m having my annual pre-winter anxieties. I love this time of year but dread it too, since from October 1st a terrifying momentum takes hold as we slide and clang our way through the pinball machine that is Hallowe’en > Guy Fawkes > Thanksgiving > Christmas. So much to do, always, and never enough time.

But this time I feel a little more prepared. The wood shed is stacked, the winter coat has been away for repair and dry cleaning, I’ve put on my Mum-knitted olive winter-weight cardigan, curtains are being discussed and the Christmas ‘promo’ has been underway for months. Today I made vegetable stew and dumplings (I don’t know how I reached this age without making dumplings before), lit the fire, tidied the wood and bought knitwear.

We’ve always striven to buy our clothes from British manufacturers but none comes with quite the pedigree of John Smedley, who’ve had a knitwear factory in Matlock since 1784. They make very fine knitwear for men and women, and between us I guess we own about 15 garms. My favourite is a knee-length black dress with 3/4-length sleeves - very Jackie Kennedy, and excellent for work.

Today they were holding an open day with tours of the ancient but still-working factory - built right over the river from which they draw their water including that is required for washing and softening the garments - followed by a lengthy if scrum-like bash around the Mill Shop, always at discount and today at 30% off; ravenous Smedleyites Dysonning up sweaters, capes, leggings and shirts like the Luddites were on their way to smash up the knitting machines once and for all. We made a handful of beautiful purchases; each piece is made via a series of time-honed, time-consuming and time-honoured processes, carried out on handsome well-oiled machines by…well, handsome well-oiled men and women!

Although we’ve shopped there for a few years, the insight really did bring home the fact that it IS possible to make lovely things right here in Britain, and they don’t need to be monstrously expensive. Every Smedley we buy feels like an investment; a sound bet. It also framed very vividly the fact that similar garments made in the Far East will go through a great many of the same processes as those seen on the tour, yet can be sold for under a tenner, and we all know who are the losers in that equation. Besides - the Smedley clothes, if properly looked after, last for years and years, and because they’re quite classical in their design, don’t need to be replaced every few months. (And being so fine, they’re really good for layering).

So, watch the little videos and enjoy the myriad tiny details captured from around the factory. Knowing I finally have a proper winter hat and gloves is helping! So I’ll clear a few tired things out of the wardrobe - mainly the annual charity shop summer purchases for under a fiver - and after an emptying and re-oiling of the wardrobes, will introduce them to the rest of the Smedleys and get ready for the chill, the pumpkins and the fireworks.

The amazing turn-your-jumper-inside-out machine!

Woman cuts neckline with impressive precision!

The sneaky sleeve-knitter:

This guy was measuring the garments to check each one was perfect. The machine pulled the sleeves straight, then sucked the jumper in and ironed it, dropping it back out the other side neatly onto a pile of other ones:

This fella had just knitted some leggings - all in one piece, no sewing-up required! (we were all a bit baffled)

Ancient hallways, massive stone bricks painted white and the remains of the cobbled floor:

The day was rounded off in the staff canteen with a coffee, home-made root vegetable soup with a decent amount of scovells and a phallic bap, all for the imperial sum of £1.75. Darned good it was too (Sarah, OUCH).

And finally the purchases, clockwise:

- ‘Aggie’ women’s gloves in Bitter Chocolate (100% wool, the gloves reach to the elbow, 40s-style!).
- ‘Hindburn’ hat in Teddy, 100% wool - Sarah’s hoping for a very cold Guy Fawkes night.
- ‘Brock’ men’s pullover in S (but bought by Mole) in Dark Leather, 100& cotton.
- ‘Seth’ men’s collared shirt, 100% cotton.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Stand and Deliver.

This book, ’The Accidental Highwayman’, was released in the US recently so I am able, after a long (but not untypical) wait, to write about it!

It is the first book by Ben Tripp, who previously worked for Disney and thus is a bit of a dab hand with the ink pen - no pressure there then, ahem. Some of his internal illustrations were already done by the time I started work. You can see them below - they look digital, which if they are is quite marvellous - but the art director Seth fancied a typographic approach.

I did some little thumbnails as I had so many ideas - thumbnails are unusual for me as I normally go in with something a but more resolved - and Seth picked the one he liked.

It was then sketched out in proper detail and approved with a couple of minor changes but went to press almost exactly as I’d drawn it, in one take, ink a combination of dip pens and fineliners. My own pistol, mask and horse (I’m getting good at those considering I am not a horse fan) were substituted with Ben’s, since he did want some of his own input on the cover, but the cover is essentially unaltered.
In the process of researching I of course had to Image Search for ‘hanging’ and ‘lynching’, along with ‘pistols' and 'rearing horses' - not as ‘delete-history-scary’ as some of the things I’ve had to Image Search, mind...

There were plans for two versions of this - night and day as shown here on my final artwork - but I do not know whether these will make it to the shelves!

Here’s an excerpt from the book - which was finally published in red!

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Big Issue.

I daubed the cover of this week's Big Issue, always a decent read. Black felt tips on paper, nothing clever, just lots of references. And done bloody quick too - two days' notice.

Renaissance-man Eddie Izzard is on the front, interviewed about his new role playing the inventor of radar! Spot the SS cufflinks.


Jingle Bells In August!

It was nice to be featured on this get-your-geek-on blog about print called For Print Only, run by the team at Under Consideration.
Having submitted this to the site a few months ago, the timing is odd (Christmas cards in August) but hey - and it scares me to say this - it’ll be here in no time!

It reminded me how beautiful the block was that was created for the foiling - like a giant piece of jewellery.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Copper Mine.

We received this monster stash today from the Strange Famous HQ: all of the things that have been printed for Sage’s tour (halfway through, UK leg commencing October) and copies of the long-awaited album itself. It came in three boxes over three days and each one was scalpelled open with a child-like grin of excitement.

I’m particularly impressed by the sensitivity with which the delicate lines of the illustrations have reproduced on the tiny CD version, and the impact of the SAGE FRANCIS writ large over the t shirts. Careful printing has meant that even on the meaty hoodies, the detail of the little house and things like the riveted album title haven’t suffered - these things mean a lot when you’ve grafted on the minutiae of a thing.

Turn your eyeballs too to the copper and verdigris-coloured vinyl, which changes with each side (no two will be the same). The blue cassette tape is a triumph (one’s gone in our tape-only automobile) and the sparkling, presumably accidental show-through of a little silver on the CD itself makes for real glittery impact. And who DOESN’T wish for a pile of golden round stickers? All brought together in the experienced hands of Irena Mihalinec, Strange Famous’ in-house designer, who brought coherence and consistency to a wide range of difficult-to-design-for objects!

Sage is, to coin an oft-abused phrase, at the 'top of his game’ - lazy shorthand really for someone who’s spent long enough in a business to know how to give value and earn the love - and this is an artillery of connected, considered pieces which demonstrate that: the core product itself, with the extravagant coloured vinyl that ALL buyers deserve, the supporting items for tour sales, the give-aways and the add-ons. All must work together coherently, and the fewest amount of compromises should be made on quality when people are spending their hard-earned, whether after the gig or making a solitary album investment. Watch, and learn!

I’m looking forward to the UK tour, when I get to see all the audio jump to life on stage. Gulp.


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