Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Richard III, pt.I

Almost precisely a year after the body of Richard III was found to be exactly that in a car park half an hour from where I live, in a spot passed possibly hundreds of times in mine and Leigh’s lifetimes, I got a call from the people I’d worked with on the Robert Burns Museum. They asked whether, should they be awarded the job, I’d like to create some illustrations for the planned Richard III Visitor Centre, to be built right over the spot where he was found.

Nothing was certain, but if they got the job, would I be interested? I couldn’t get the words ‘yes your majesty' out of my mouth fast enough. With the Battle of Bosworth colouring our school trips and local history and growing up within biking distance, it seemed I was royally obliged to say yes.

Within a couple of months the job was indeed awarded, and the briefs were here. As is typical of this kind of work, they changed and shifted and some were deleted, briefs re-written and until three major pieces were finalised.

Now, friends and colleagues will be aware that although my Richard III project started in 2013, it still hasn’t finished, with two of my pieces still to be installed. The complexities of local authorities, funding, architects, planners and designers are myriad and mysterious, but suffice to say this was an involved project with many hands on deck. I’ve resisted announcing the project till it’s finished, but since it’s clearly an evolving project, I shall bring you news of the pieces one by one!

The first of the three to be installed are what became known as the Death Quotes. One dark corner of this very atmospheric and incredibly carefully-lit building (the ground floor being about Richard’s life and death, the upper floor exploring the science of his discovery) deals exclusively with the horrific manner of his death, the violent struggle and injuries which caused him to die there on the battlefield.

These were explored visually via three contemporary quotes about his death, each rendered in a historically-inspired lettering style which did not, thankfully, have to adhere to any particular font or level of accuracy - I was free to interpret and after a little wrangling back and forth, to be as spiky and writhing as I wanted it to be. The quotes would extend out from a central point suggesting the fatal blow to the back of the head.

Here’s a close up of a section, ink-soaked and written in inch-high or more letters on A2 cartridge:

And here is a section of quote being created:


Once finalised - which was a long process - they were put in situ with the cracks of the 'glass panels' and the shards of splintered glass all, unusually for me, created in Illustrator to go alongside the very organic hand-lettering:

Finally the built structure complete with its Tudor weapons was built around the ‘glass’ panels, thus:

No matter how many pictures we took none of them seemed to capture the essence of this structure, so I think you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself.

So, there are two (actually three) more large installations to happen, one of which is possibly the most significant one in the whole centre. I don’t have an update on when, since the centre has to close each time any work is done (as it has recently, but Richard’s reburial approaches, so I’m anticipating that they’ll want to get it done before then. I’m extremely pleased with the two pieces to come, and cannot wait to show them, but they unfortunately have to wait until the centre has them in situ!

Keep your blog-reading eyes on, then.

Richard III Visitor Centre

4A St. Martins, Leicester, LE1 5DB



0300 300 0900

Master Thatcher to you.

This is our friend Lee Miller, a Master Thatcher and, actually, a World Champion Thatcher. The tall beaming bloke next to him is Andy Cowling, his right hand man on the job.

I love a good skill set and delving into processes which are nothing to do with my own, and Lee Miller’s work is not only incredibly specialist, it’s HIGHLY skilled and evolved through years of practice. He’s spent his entire post-university life thatching, after deciding he preferred working outdoors, starting with an apprenticeship with his uncle and eventually opening his own business in 2007.

His work is beautiful and mind-bending - it’s difficult to picture how such a material can be formed into the array of shapes and patterns shown on his website. If you think icing a cake with a fancy edge is tricky, have a go at doing it 2000% bigger out of reed or straw and 30 feet in the air.

Miller is re-thatching the roof of Hinckley’s only thatched building, the Framework Knitters' Cottages which are now Hinckley Museum. They’re a five minute walk from our studio, and are very old (though altered a little in the 1920s).

This thatch, says Miller, will last decades, and is attached to the roof via a sequence of time-consuming steps that can only be carried out in reasonable weather conditions - though on the day I gatecrashed their thatch party, the winds were terrific and thatch-dust blew in our eyes every few minutes.

I don’t know the first thing about thatching really - you’d have to ask the man himself if you wanted details - but there are certainly some marvellous processes and intriguing tools involved. Here is Miller attending to the underside of some recently-applied thatch:

He’s patting it into shape with a home-made tool, fashioned from a table leg for a handle with regular slices of copper pipe pinned to a board:

(That’s my knee and my winter tights you see next to it.)

This is the view down from the exact spot Miller was working in. Ooh!

The bundles of thatch are corried up the ladder to the roof, thus.

Then they’re laid in bundles, like this:

The T-shaped ‘pins’ that are holding the bundles in place are ordered in bulk, and are quite handsome objects in their own right:

View from the top of the roof:

Looking back toward our place, you can see the very neat rows of thatch that will be trimmed at the apex and formed into a ridge:

And a view looking back at the work in progress:

It doesn’t look that spectacular yet, but feast thine orbs dusty and windblown on these examples of Miller’s previous work. Absolutely beautiful.

Thanks for letting me on the roof Miller.

Monday, January 19, 2015

150 Years Of Ink.

Diamine is a British ink company whose inks I discovered relatively recently (about four years ago) and they not only have a bewildering range of colours, they make their inks right here in the UK - Liverpool - and have done so for the last 150 years. I have a big box full and if any of my projects have used colour in the last four years or so, it’ll be Diamine inks you’lll have seen.

The company is headed by a Christine, a formidably organised and ambitious woman who always makes time for a chat while overseeing her modest but hard-working team of ink makers and packers. The inks are created by family member Phil, who invents new types of inks and new colours.

Having had a really nice working relationship for a while, they asked me to design a 150-year anniversary edition box which reflected the company's longevity and the diversifying users of their inks.

The bottles themselves were a special edition, made in Italy like all their bottles, in the shape of triangles which have to be snugly fitted into an easily-stackable rectangular box. (At first I misunderstood their brief and designed a triangular box then a pizza-style box to fit all the colours in as a set…I think I was quietly re-writing it!)

Looking across the years, it only made sense to reach back for the detailed flourish-adorned turn-of-the-century advertising style with one hand while grabbing a handful of my own vivid blobby ink-splats with the other:

I also suggested the inclusion of some good old-fashioned ‘Happy Birthdays’ and party balloons!

But finally this was the outcome, complete with a hand-drawn version of the company logo:

- and a panel left on the front of each box for the inclusion of the relevant colour sticker. Here are the boxes piled up in a delicious splendid colour pile:

The bottle itself had a matching sticker and, as you can see from this example, my bottles of the new colours have already been thoroughly waded into by my brushes.

Thank you Christine and Phil for letting me design this most significant of birthday outfits. Here’s to more collaborations to come!

Now…if they would just let me get their hands on that website…

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The idea that you can have too many metallic stickers is bizarre and ridiculous.

Finally, after buying stickers from the US for years, these are British-made, affordable, no-fuss fast-turnaround stickers that sparkle (you can have non-sparkle of course, but why would you?) and are crisp as a bag of Walkers.

Mine were done in the name of Christmas print-bingeing but there’s no need to wait for an excuse.
And then all that remains to be done is to see JUST HOW MANY PLACES YOU CAN PUT THEM. ALL of them! the gold AND the silver!! 



Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Vinyl Results Are In


We suspected this already but this morning’s BBC article confirms that record sales are higher than they’ve been for the last 20 years. This is good news!
We knew our (that's me and Leigh, as Factoryroad and our record label Blunt Force Traumaown vinyl sales were up but, as record buyers all our lives (that’s going way beyond 20 years, FYI) we’ve seen its glory days and the weird and difficult days in the 2000s when music buying seemed to become a messy, confusing maze of dead ends, closing record shops and an off-gassing slagheap of discarded CDs floating in a toxic sea of legal and illegal digital. We seem to be through that now and the places we can go to listen to, test out, buy and sell music are clearly defined – the wheat having been cut from the chaff of endless streaming and music-nicking sites in the form of confident, creative independent record labels (whatever it is, always buy it from there first!) – stores stores such as Boomkat, Piccadilly and Juno; Spotify – albeit controversial, still a place to audition your new records, just as you would stand in a record shop listening to a copy before buying – and Discogs, where that long-sought missing record can be found with a little diligence.
Added to the recent story about the pressing plants being overwhelmed with business, something we’re pleased about but feeling the sharp end of at the minute as we wait for our own new vinyl to be finished, this all makes for a rosy-cheeked industry. One that I'm proud to be involved in, albeit in a small way.
At long last. For a minute there, we all got a bit confused.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Open Your Mind!

This was a simple and fast job for Staffordshire University via TBWA Manchester, with whom I previously did the Co-op Christmas Campaign - one of my favourite jobs ever!

Type was hand-painted in red ink on paper and skilfully applied using skills picked up at TBWA’s Hogwarts Department to apply it to the door. Look how the door handle makes the point of the full stop - nice eh?


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