A map of the stars – an early Christmas present.

Winter is upon us.  There’s frost in the morning, the light is a soft blue in the daytime. In the evening, the moon shines hard and white.  If you are lucky (and live somewhere in the wilds), on a clear night you can see the stars.  One of the highlights of my year so far was to see the Milky Way. I was lying on a sunlounger at midnight in the middle of the Dorset countryside looking up at the constellations and trying to remember their names. It really got me thinking about a map of the stars.

Man has documented the stars since the stone age but the age of the enlightenment saw a boom in astronomy maps.  I love how the traditional constellation forms were described through illustration  – no cold Scientific digital maps here.

 

V0025744 Astronomy: a star map of the night sky in the northern hemis

This historical astronomical map comes from the Wellcome Library.


My most recent map honours the historic tradition of charting the constellations and how they all fit together in the skies using not only notes as usual but images as well.

A Map of the Winter Constellations in the Northern Hemisphere (or Winter Star Map for short) is a circular map on midnight blue mount board.  It’s drawn in white ink and the original has been handfinished with genuine silver leaf to pick out the stars themselves (NB : the prints available are simple blue and white).  The notes tell some of the legends behind the constellations which vary from culture to culture.  What we see as the Great Bear can be understood as a wagon, a skunk, a canoe, a camel, a shark and even a coffin by other peoples for example.  Other notations include folk beliefs associated with the constellations and interesting facts about the history of astronomy and contemporary astronomical thinking.  Belief and the idea of the ‘fact’ is constantly changing as time gallops forward.

Giclee prints can be bought exclusively from ONCA Gallery in Brighton in person or online for £65.00.  They’re printed in archival ink on heavyweight paper and measure 40x40cms unframed, meaning they can fit into a standard off the shelf frame easily.

I’m pretty sure they’d make a great wintery Christmas present for someone forever wondering about the stars and the legends behind them.

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TEDx, a Map of Brighton and more about Babies and Colour Science.

When I’m looking for some intellectual stimulation or inspiration, I often listen to TED Talks online, delving into subjects like Creativity or Motivation for example. TED was originally set up as a design and technology conference in 1984 but has now grown into an online media giant, freely flowing with talks on science, culture and any academic subject you can think of under the banner of ‘Ideas worth Spreading’. So it was with great honour to find one of my maps has made it to a TEDx talk.  TEDx helps independent organizers to create a TED-like event in their own community in order to ‘spread the ideas’ too. Smaller in scale but in an age of sharing, size doesn’t matter so much anymore.

This particular TEDx talk was held at the ISM University of Management and Economics in Vilnius, Lithuania this October.  The theme was “Question The Expected” and asked the 500 strong audience to be curious about their choices, beliefs and perceptions of the world.

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You may remember my involvement in September with the Baby Lab at the University of Sussex. In connection with that, the talk was given by Doctoral Researcher, Alice Skelton, who works there. Her research is particularly about colour perception in babies and how humans develop the use of language to talk about colour.
One of the largest projects Alice has taken part in is the Categories project, which looks at how infants below 6 months categorise colour. And by categories, I mean grouping colours into ‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘green’, ‘yellow’, ‘brown’ or ‘pink’ etc. There is a huge difference between a rich dark wine red and a bright perky pillar box red but in our culture we still group them together or categorise them, as ‘red’. In the study, babies were tested to see if they could tell the difference between colours without having the words for them, if they were categorising them and how they did it. The results will ultimately tell us how we talk about colour as adults.

It turns out that pre-language babies in the study could naturally distinguish 5 different colour categories. The suggestion is that distinguishing any further subtleties or disregarding some subtleties must come after language is learnt. Different languages divide up the spectrum differently- so some languages only have 5 main categories they group colours in but others use 6 or 7 or 8… English has 11 and Greek and Russian for example both have 12 categories.  The environment you are born into (and therefore what your community labels as important) teaches you names for colours, in which groups they are categorised and the subtleties in colours you are most able to distinguish.

The ability to see in colour is a skill that humans enjoy very much. It’s what allows us to appreciate great art.  But it’s a practical tool in our box too. We can find things at a distance more easily;  distinguish between objects (are you about to eat a carrot or a parsnip?); or highlight important features in a simple way.  And this is where my map popped up as an example on the TEDx presentation screen…

This map of Brighton (from Hand Drawn Maps) is designed as a sensory map. Instead of focussing on physical features in the town, I have mapped the smells you might encounter using simple coloured icons. Brown for the beer smell wafting heavily outside the many bars, pale yellow-green for the lemongrass smell lingering outside the Thai Restaurants and a dirty lilac for the smell hovering over the rubbish bins in the less brightly lit corners. The intensity of the smell is shown by the intensity of the colour. Sometimes the smells combine, shown by the colours lapping over each other.

Without being able to distinguish the subtleties of the colours I’ve used and categorise them, (as a red or a brown, for example), the map would be much harder to understand. Being able to distinguish those subtleties relies on your language and culture. So although it’s a fairly decorative art-map, leaning more on illustrative aesthetics than pinpoint accurate geography, you can only read it easily if you have the right words and your culture has taught you how to.

And that, my friends, is not art but science.

Buy my prints at the Onca Gallery Christmas Ecoextravaganza!

It’s December, Christmas is jingling fairly insistently now on the far (snow laden?) hills and you have finally got round to thinking you should buy some Christmas presents…. How about one of my prints from the new Onca Gallery print collection, launched at the gallery in Brighton on the 14th at a truly spectacular Christmas Ecoextravaganza?! As it’s the Season, I’m going to sprinkle this with a good ole cliche and say that there’s something to suit all pockets….

A cute present for adults and kids alike, pick out a print from my children’s book illustration portfolio. ‘Birds live in Nests’ is small but perfectly affordably formed and is taken from the work in progress called ‘In My Garden’. The original was painted in watercolour and gouache and includes elements of collage from my vast collection of patterned papers. Like all the prints available at Onca, it’s printed on quality heavyweight paper in archival inks so won’t fade in sunlight.
Birds live in nests
Or before the publication of my book about maps in 2017 (Thames and Hudson) secure a map of the moon print for the astronomical geek in the family?  It’s covered in fascinating lunar fact and fiction notes – for example, did you know that Ting Fang of China first recognised the moon was spherical as early as the first century BC or that English tradition declares that the man in the moon drinks claret (presumably along with the cheese he eats…)? An elegant giclee print of the original drawing in white ink on a slate grey with a black background, it looks great with a black mount and a boxy black frame.

Map of the Moon

Or there’s my best selling map of Brighton print, ideal for someone who lives in or has a connection with the city. Or indeed has a fascination with town planning….  First shown at the ‘Tracks’ show at Onca, like the moon map, it’s covered in handwritten notes. A previous customer recently told me that she has it in her kitchen and still finds new things whenever she looks at it which is lovely to hear. As a suggestion, I framed the original in a white mount and boxy white frame contrasting the classic Victorian inspired cartographical elements with contemporary minimalism.

Framed map of Brighton
There’s also the chance to buy a triptych of prints of ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ – An unusual present for sailors and lovers of the sea. Dotted with painstakingly detailed illustrations of boats, marine creatures and fabulous sea monsters, the map charts the stories heard on a journey across the North Atlantic searching for whales. It’s an ideal size to fill a feature wall or chimney breast. First shown at Onca in ‘The Whale Road’ show, it definitely would make an eye catching statement piece in any room with a maritime flavour.

We Dream of Blue Whales triptych 72

I’m honoured to be sharing a place in the collection with the work of Peter Driver, Fiver Locker, Kate Walters, Hannah Alice, Kittie Jones, Sarah Gittins, Gary Parselle (The Private Press) and Dopple Press.

It will be launched on Wednesday 14th December 2016 at the Onca Gallery Christmas extravaganza from 5pm. Mulled wine, mince pies and cheesy Christmas music are promised alongside stalls showcasing work by Onca members and supporters such as the very cool Ernest Journal and What You Sow.  The famous Onca Christmas window display is being created by internationally renowned performance artist Clare Whistler and designer Tamsin Currey.  Eco friendly gift wrapping will be available, and if you’re feeling creative there’s a chance to design and make your own – sounds like a good way to have fun and make your gifts properly personal….

Hopefully see you there but if you can’t make it, the work will be available to buy at the gallery till the 23rd December and then as part of a planned online gallery shop at a later date.

Oh – and last but not least, have a very happy Christmas!

 

Christmas extravaganza: 14th December. 5pm onwards.

Email: info@onca.org.uk

Website: www.onca.org.uk

Address: ONCA, 14 St George’s Place, Brighton, BN1 4GB, UK

Telephone: 01273 607101

 

 

 

 

I wrote my first book!

I have illustrated many books before but a few weeks ago I delivered the first book I have both written and illustrated to the publishers. Not only was writing it a first, but it was also about maps and for adults – another couple of firsts.  It was a total unknown for me and what a ride/learning curve/marathon it has been… To say I hit the road with only a very basic map to my final destination would be an understatement.

The deadline was an incredibly tight one – so tight that when I planned it out I knew there would be no weekends off or much of a social life for a couple of months.  I would need to write 500 words a day and complete 5 illustrations by hand every week.  Almost one picture every 24 hours. Usually I’d expect a couple of days for an illustration….

I wasn’t totally sure it was doable but the only way to find out was to get pedalling and see.

Marvin the cat did his best to advise...

Marvin the cat helped with quality control…

It turned out that I loved writing although I had never really done any professionally before. I’d wake up and while I was still in bed, over toast and coffee, I’d start. The 500 word per day limit seemed daunting but actually I found I was writing more and having to heavily edit and cut back. My tendency was to go for wordiness and the struggle was to remember this was a fun ‘how to’ book about hand drawn cartography and not a scholarly treatise. I also had to find the balance between writing about me and my personal experience and writing for the reader. A tricky one realising how loud your ego can shout.

The research was heavy because the plan was to include writings about both historical and contemporary maps.   My PC was jammed with a row of open sites and my reading list similarly stuffed with links.  Pinterest became overloaded with a library of images I’d obsessively collected, finally divided into chapter headings after the sprawl got too much. The book will eventually run to a couple of hundred pages but I can’t imagine what it must be like to write a novel or anything academic requiring way more research. I learnt so much though and it felt like a crash course in cartography.

Creating the illustrations was fun and meant I got to be particularly playful in my work. I’d planned out the design of the book initially so that each page looked different from the others with a variety of media. I got to incorporate the methods I used in my fine art practice and hand lettering (drawing in pen and ink) with the more painterly side of watercolour and gouache that you see in my picture book illustrations.

It started to become a very personal book;  Friends and family became inspiration for any representations of people; maps were based on places I had visited like New York, Reykjavik and Tokyo.

My nieces became the inspiration for these two characters....

My nieces were the inspiration for these two characters….

Regularly working 10 hour days, I stopped when the light dimmed or my eyes started complaining. But somehow, because it was so enjoyable, that lovely combination of resentment, boredom and exhaustion never really came knocking.

And now I have delivered the final package to the publishers with a weird selection of envelopes of mock-ups for the photographer, covered drawings, paintings, digital scans and instructions written to an embarrassing level of control freakery.  The say I have over the book may be small and my copious planning is perhaps slightly redundant, but this is all part of the learning curve.  In the end, I am purely creating work (rather than a Nobel-Prize-winning life-time’s worth of research) for a client who has his own remit and understanding of his market. Both my words and images may be changed to fit into this and it’s good, if hard, to be accepting of that.

We will just have to see what comes of it all, won’t we? However the final publication looks, the adrenaline fuelled insomniac scribbling, hours spent painting that just flew by and wonder-filled map discoveries will have been totally worth it. It’s been some adventure.

And next time, if there is a chance to both write and illustrate another book, I’ll be able to take a more detailed map with me for sure. In the meantime, a celebration is definitely in order.

Marvin and fizz.

Marv agrees….

 

 

 

‘You never know what will happen…’

In 2008, there was a devastating recession in the UK.  Money was tight and as a freelancer, work was very thin on the ground.  Contracts were cancelled and I took on second and third jobs to keep the wolf from the door.  I struggled to create sample work that I thought would be commercial, bring in money, give people what they wanted. All resulting in a big fat Nada…
I was worried but friends kept telling me not to give up because, ‘you never know what will happen….’

It was a difficult period but with hindsight, also creatively very productive.  Once I had relaxed into the acceptance of having no work and without the constrictions of deadlines and designer visions, there was time to make art that was entirely my own.  It was a surprise that my heart steered me towards fine art and what I wanted to make had very little to do with children’s picture books.

I was drawing regularly at life classes and at a weekly drawing-in-a-pub meetup group.  Paintings and portraits were created in biro, in acrylic – so little like my usual watercolour illustrations that they looked as if they had been done by someone else.  Only a few have been exhibited and looking back, seem a little clonky, but I learnt so much and was so excited by, I suppose, the idea of transformations, of new choices and other, future possibilities.

It was also the time I became interested in making maps as fine art objects.  I’d illustrated maps for children’s books before…

…but had come across the illustrative map work created by fine artists such as Grayson Perry, Adam Dant and Stephen Walter – for adults, shown in gallery contexts and with something different to say about how we perceive, or indeed map, the world in general.

Inspired, I made my own map of my home town, Brighton, annotated with stories both personal and historical.  Further maps of the history of coffee, the flightpath of a particular Barbestelle bat and the moon followed.  Always I mapped places that fascinated me.  There were no particular rules to follow and I mapped purely for the fun of it.

Out of the blue, a few gallery shows came afterwards; at Onca Gallery and for Correspondence. My most recent mapping adventure took me sailing across the North Atlantic as part of an artist residency tracking whales which also resulted in a gallery show – ‘The Whale Road‘.

It is from there that we come most up to date.  In 2015 I was approached by a fairly well known publisher to see if I was interested in writing a book about hand drawn maps.  I was asked to make a rough list of potential chapters and a few sample pages back in September and after a long, long, long wait (during which I had actually given up on the idea that it would be published), have finally been given the go ahead.  It will be the first book I have both written and illustrated, my first book for adults and my first book about maps.  My first meeting is tomorrow.

I suppose my point is (and also note to self…) that you never know where life will take you and even if it’s tough, good things can eventually (sometimes years later) come from the times when you think you are struggling.  It’s always worth opening yourself up to exploration and playfulness – doing something just for the heck of it even if you don’t expect to make any money from it.  And if another recession hits, or my book illustration work dries up for a while, I’ll try to continue to make new work which comes from the heart.

Perhaps I’ll go back to those paintings and drawings again…. You never know what will happen…

We Dream of Blue Whales

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My maps are finally ready to print!

In the Summer of last year, I took part in an artist’s residency across 1300 miles of the North Atlantic in a sailing boat mapping whales for an international maritime conservation database.

The resulting work was the triptych, ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ which was shown in the exhibition ‘The Whale Road’ alongside work by the three other artists on board. You can read more about this huge adventure on my fine art website, about the journey itself, my work process shortly afterwards, and the final pieces and exhibition… There are tales of drownings, hurricanes, smuggling, ghost ships and the hunt for some very elusive sea monsters and finally about the inspiration behind ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’…

I am very excited to get the prints back from the printers so please feel free to contact me on here if you would like to know more.

Illustrated artists map of the flightline of a single Barbastelle bat.

An artists map commissioned by ONCA gallery in collaboration with Sussex Wildlife Trust for the exhibition ‘Making Tracks’ in July 2013.

The map is based on the flightline of a single Barbastelle bat – Starbeard 3 – from a roost in Butcherland, Ebernoe Common in Sussex using data from a SWT field survey. I was interested in how bats use echolocation to navigate; they effectively shout and listen to the echoes returning to locate themselves. With that in mind, I included echoes of the people and history of the Wealden landscape that you can still see if you look closely too. I learnt lots about that area: – the old days of charcoal making, forest glass and limestone kilns and the fact that there are 30 words for the word ‘mud’ in Sussex dialect…

The long shape of the map is based on the original English strip maps of the first days of mapping.  You can see a larger and complete version here.

The name Starbeard comes from the translation of Barbastelle – Beard: barba and Stelle: star.

The exhibition opens on July 5th 2013 and continues for two months in Brighton, UK.

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