Archive for October, 2009

Sketch for a friend

October 31, 2009

Although not full-blown repetitive strain injury, my fingers have been a bit tingly lately. This has happened to me before and I have to cut down on the amount of time I spend typing, playing keyboard, and playing guitar. So I shall be brief and shall be posting less frequently for a while. Fortunately, it does not affect drawing. Speaking of which, one of my friends asked me to do a sketch of her daughter and here it is:


My friend's daughter

Ok. I’ll keep this short n sweet. Talk to you later.

Improving the sound

October 28, 2009

I have been reflecting upon my sketchbooks. I have several of these but there is one that I tend to use for watercolour and pen & ink sketches. Those that I do for this blog I attempt to get more or less right, first go. This runs counter to the advice that I was given last year at university by the illustration tutor who urged me to generate loads of paintings or drawings quickly and freely, scanning in the best to work up digitally on computer. I was once told by a professional photographer that he would shoot a whole film on the basis that maybe one or two pictures might turn out well, or at least could be salvaged in the dark room (nowadays, digitally in Photoshop or whatever). He suggested that that was a major difference between him and the average amateur photographer who would try to make each shot count; would try to get the perfect picture with one click of the shutter.

There are parallels to all this in music. In the studio it is possible to lay down endless takes of all the tracks one might need for a song, and then to craft the perfect version in the mix-down. Let me extend this to Second Life music. It is possible to produce an excellent backing track ahead of time in the studio working in this fashion (I believe some folks actually buy professionally produced karaoke tracks). The advantage to the singer is a perfectly executed backing, with no fumbled notes and no sloppy rhythms. The disadvantage, of course, is that the singer is then mechanically tied to the tempo and emotional expression cued by the backing track henceforth on every performance of the song; not my cup of tea at all.

I think the reason for my distaste of karaoke stems from many years in the contemporary folk music tradition of singing live in English pubs. Although I am now extremely critical of most pub gigs (singing to a bar full of people talking, shouting, laughing and generally ignoring one’s performance is no longer my idea of fun), I have put in a lot of hours doing it in the past. The excitement of live performance seems to be coming across in the blossoming of Second Life music jams in first life (there has just been one in Texas, and there was a very successful one a few months ago in Montreal).


Car sponge mic sock

Be that as it may, the thing that is occupying my attention right now is the quality of my vocal sound as I stream it up for my Second Life shows. After much thought, I have decided to complete change the position of the vocal mic I use when singing with piano. This has required hammer, hooks, clips and the re-routing of cables around my mini-studio at home. I need to check the sound levels out this afternoon before I play my show this evening at Club Falling Waters. I don’t wish to give away all my secrets but the wind sock I made for the mic out of a car wash sponge seems to be working extremely well!

Before I can do this, I have a feeling that I am going to be called upon to be taxi-man for a trip to the city and after that there looms a mid-week trip to the supermarket. Somewhere in amongst that I am hoping for some time to ponder on the advice my piano teacher gave me this morning. I had better get on with things. Speak to you later.

Shirt as objet d’art

October 27, 2009

Shirt as objet d'art

I wake up and creak down the stairs to the kitchen. Kettle on; I brew tea. Plod back up the stairs and swing left into my little studio. Point bottom into Ikea easy chair and dunk the first biscuit. Assume some brain activity going on but to call it thinking might be taking it a bit far. Dunk second biscuit and focus eyes on the clean shirt which last night I hung on the back of my swivel office chair. Extend right leg, hooking foot under seat and pull it towards me. Chair becomes footstool. Look at shirt, vacantly. I have to sketch this shirt today. Don’t know why, just have to.

Still in PJs. Get out sketchbook and a 2B pencil (Staedtler, my favourite). I am having difficulty with the left shoulder; this is not going to be done in 10 minutes.

Interruption #1: I put on a pair of jeans and some shoes, slipping a leather bomber jacket over my PJ top, and take the recycling bins out ready for early morning collection.

Back up in the studio I ponder the fact that I cannot both sketch my shirt and wear it at the same time, at least not the way I have posed it now. This reminds me of my friend Tom’s decision not to photograph our full English breakfast as a project last week because it would have interfered with eating breakfast.

Interruption #2 I find another shirt to wear for today.
I am having problems with the pocket. I realise that there is something structurally adrift when I look at the negative space formed by the line of the shoulder, the arm the top of the pocket and the row of shirt buttons going up to the neck. I work on this for a while.

Interruption #3 I have to drive someone somewhere. This is not a surprise, since I had said I would do it last night. I would have liked to have sorted that pocket out.
I decide to play some piano, now that I am back home. This doesn’t go too well. I return to the sketch and start to put in some detail and a little shading.

Interruption #4 I agree, reluctantly, to drive somebody into the city.

I am now home and instead of continuing immediately with the sketch, I make some lunch. Back in the studio I finish the pencil sketch and start to mix the colour for the watercolour washes I want to use on the shirt and chair upholstery.  This is going well; I am enjoying myself. I put the wash on the shirt first, then dry it off with an old hairdryer I keep for the purpose. Then I put on the second wash and finish things off. I scan the pic and then upload it for the blog here. It is now 4 pm and I  am feeling sleepy, so I am going for a nap……

…. That’s better. I popped some spuds on to boil for my dinner and slung some supermarket quorn and mushroom pies in the oven. My watch timer is on; I have about 20 minutes to finish this blog, unless I continue during or after my meal. While I was getting the potatoes ready, it occurred to me that this post has been primarily about my sketch. In an illustrated journal the illustration should provide comment on the primary diurnal activity. I seem to have gotten things round the wrong way at present. Yesterday was the day of the boot, today that of the shirt. I shall get this posted now, so I can eat in peace. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.


October 26, 2009

I am writing this to avoid slipping into a blogging block. I think I am already in a sketching block and this might be impacting on my writing here, since I had hoped to establish this blog as an illustrated journal. In order to kick start a blog, I open a simple word processor, such as Notepad, and then let my fingers dance around the keyboard; the stream of consciousness becomes the choreographer. I wish the equivalent would happen on the page of my sketchbook when I pick up a pencil, but it seldom does. Danny Gregory urges me to draw every day and, in his book, gives me lots suggestions as to how to overcome the sort of block that I seem to have.


Not a Guptill boot - pencil 26.10.2009

Not a Guptill boot - pencil 26.10.2009

Arthur Gupthill, writing back in 1922, advised me when I was reading him before I went to sleep last night that I should start today by drawing an old boot. At first, I didn’t think I would be able to do that, but here is a rather pathetic attempt at a modern boot (as opposed to Gupthill’s 1922 boot). 


I thought about taking a few reference photos in my garden but it is windy and that makes the close-up photography difficult. I abandoned that idea and went down to the local newsagents shop, instead.

I found that I had won GBP 10 on the national lottery. I spent GBP 8 on an entry per week for the next two months and pocketed the remaining GBP 2. I then spent £1.05 of that princely sum next door at the bakers on a loaf of bread. My winnings most certainly would not have stretched to a bottle of champagne. I have to say that I am ambivalent about doing the lottery. On the one hand it does seem to offer support to a lot of worthy causes but, on the other, it thus seems like a form of indirect taxation.

Progress on the piano continues to be painfully slow, although I have learned a few new songs on keyboard over the past few weeks. I shall stop this post now, and struggle with the decision between tickling the ivories or sharpening the pencil. Speak to you later.


October 21, 2009
Cherylesque - pencil sketch 21.10.2009

Cherylesque - pencil sketch 21.10.2009

This blog features a pencil sketch of Cheryl Cole and, once again, I do not claim an accurate representation. I therefore follow  the convention I established in naming my sketch of Marilyn Monroe as Marilynesque, and I title this one Cherylesque. I arrived at the decision to draw Cheryl somewhat obliquely. Woody, from Cascadia in Second Life, had suggested that I might look into the Pet Shop Boys repertoire for possible covers. I’ll come back to this in a minute, but Neil Tennant hails from Newcastle and I started to explore other pop singers from the North East, setting aside Eric Burdon and the Animals, and discovered that Cheryl did too. I am not terribly familiar with Girls Aloud songs but I have now listened to Cheryl’s single. I have to say that it didn’t do very much for me; just not my sort of thing. Still, she seems to be a very attractive young woman and I felt that it would be a challenge to draw her. Hence the sketch.

I know little about Pet Shop Boys, although obviously I remember some of their hits from the 1980s. I think I enjoyed their music for dancing to at parties. At the time I was into worthy folk singers, such as Ewan McColl, and I did not devote any time to seriously listening to PSBs. Yesterday, I read a bio in Spotify by Jason Ankeny and immediately became curious. I then listened to the 50 minute track by track commentary by Neil and Chris on the Yes CD tracks. This is an excellent commentary presented with intelligence and good humour. I now wish that I had followed their musical career more closely but it doesn’t matter too much; I can enjoy delving into their past albums over the coming weeks instead.

As for the Cheryl sketch, I have decided to start signing my artwork. Last year while I was taking the life drawing class at university I spent some time playing with ideas for a signature or mark. I have always disliked my real life name (John Smith) because of it being so common. This is a problem when you want to put your name to creative works, be they songs, poems, pieces of fiction, sketches or paintings. When I joined the Performing Rights Society back in the 1970s they insisted I use my full name and so I published my vinyl LP in 1982 as John Lewis Smith. One of the ideas I had last year for signing my sketches was to write my name as if it were a swan (the S of Smith providing the main shape in silhouette, with the J and L fitting into the head and making a beak). So, today sees the first public outing of my signature logo.

Time is moving fast. It seems only a moment ago that I was having my early morning piano lesson and now it is time to make lunch. Speak to you later.

Middlesborough guitar show

October 19, 2009
Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves

It is a bright morning and the leaves are moving to their autumnal hues. This tree is glinting in the sunlight as I wait for my lift to the Middlesborough Guitar Show. I see the 4×4 approaching. It is so off-the-road rope and pitons might be helpful. Clamber… grunt… clamber.. I am seated in the back. Sigh of relief and some good humoured banter with my mates as we make the drive to the show. We swing into the car park of a brick built 1960s hotel, gleefully savouring the ambience.

We pay in  and reconnoitre the stalls.  The unanimous conclusion is that the fair is smaller than the one we went to in Gateshead about six months ago. At this point Alan dives off to buy pots and bits and pieces for the mandocaster he is building (don’t ask). I mooch around in a much more leisurely fashion with Tom and he talks me through some of the ukeleles that are on display. There are some very nicely made wooden ukes going for about GBP 100 (the baritone does look good). They do come in a case, although the salesman keeps apologizing for the fluffy pink lining. Me and Tom quite like the lining. I move away from the stall, since this would amount to a major purchase and I did not come out prepared for that. I content myself with buying a 10 foot guitar lead for GBP 6 and a steel bottleneck for GBP 3. Tom snaffles some Elixir strings for a snip at GBP 6, too. Suddenly we are standing in front of another uke stall and listening to a much more extroverted sales pitch and demo. The ones on display here are made of plastic, sound passable and are going for GBP 17. The issue is no longer whether I buy, but rather what colour to opt for. I reject the yellow and red and plump for the blue. And off I toddle, the owner of a little uke.

Bacon Banjo

Bacon Banjo

We meet up with Alan again and decide to get coffee. As we join the queue, I notice a makeshift menu and am attracted to the idea of a bacon butty. Tom and Alan inform me that another name for that is a bacon banjo, and this seems highly appropriate for this occasion. I present a pic of the said banjo for your inspection. It is a bit dry in the eating; I should have taken a pat of butter for it but I can’t be bothered to go back to the counter. We discuss the show and our strategy for the remainder of the day. We decide to got to a demo of guitars by a company that makes vintage guitars but with contemporary design and equipment improvements.


Gavin Coulson

Gavin Coulson

The demo hall is almost full; I leave Tom and Alan and find a single free seat. A very pleasant and unassuming young man with extremely long hair takes the stage and starts to explain what the company he represents (he is Gavin Coulson of John Hornby Skewes & Co  Ltd) has to offer. Gavin then starts playing the guitar and an awed silance descends upon the audience. At one point he plays a bass guitar, fingering the bass notes and picking out a classical  tune with harmonics on the higher strings. He finishes his demo by playing a Gary Moore piece on one of their flagship guitars. I have heard some good guitarists in Second Life but this guy just puts all that into a very parochial context as far as I am concerned. The demo ends. I go up to Gavin and ask him if I can take a pic for my blog and then hook up with Tom and Alan again. They could barely speak; they seemed almost stunned by the brilliance of Gavin’s technique and the emotional quality of his sound.

We shuffle out and make one final lap of the exhibition. Then it is a case of hauling on the rope and pitons once more into the back of the 4×4. A leisurely pint of Guiness in a delightful hostelry down by the river wraps up our day out. When I get home I mess about with my uke for a while and soon have enough chords to do a very basic accompaniment for Girl of the North Country and I play that at my Cascadia show. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.


October 18, 2009
Marilynesque - pencil & watercolour 18.10.2009

Marilynesque - pencil & watercolour 18.10.2009

I was speaking with Nad the other week and I had thought that he did a cover of Elton John’s Candle in the Wind. He told me that he did not and so I said I would learn it and play it at Cascadia. I did play a very rough version last Sunday but I was not satisfied with my treatment of the song. This past week I have been looking to see how I can improve both my accompaniment and also the way I handle the irregular phrasing of the verses. Given that the original song is about Marilyn Monroe (not the later version that Elton sang at Princess Di’s funeral), I thought that it might be nice to attempt a sketch of Marilyn. I think the best that I can claim is that my drawing is moderately Marilynesque. Anyway, here it is for your enjoyment.

Now, I have to get myself to a guitar fair at a hotel in Middlesborough. I must get my skates on! Speak to you later.

The Leader of the Opposition

October 15, 2009
The Leader of the Opposition

The Leader of the Opposition

I woke up this morning and decided to sketch another politician. So here’s David Cameron. I think I prefer yesterday’s drawing of Gordon Brown. I mustn’t get hooked on politicians or I’ll end up drawing the whole of the House of Commons! I am trying hard to draw something each day but I’m finding it difficult to keep up the momentum in terms of everyday scenes and objects. I have decided to draw famous people in order to keep my hand in, on days when I don’t have much else to draw. I have started re-reading Danny Gregory’s book on the creative license for the third successive time (as soon as I get to the end, I go back to the beginning and start over). Maybe, eventually, what he says will rub off.

PedalBoardEarlier this morning I made a board to raise my feet when I play the piano. As things are, the pedals on my piano are a little high and I find it uncomfortable to have my foot resting on one when it is not pushed down. The pic shows the board near the end of its construction. I used an off-cut from a kitchen worktop that I had lying around. I have now tried it out and I find that the worktop is a little too fat. I shall keep the shape as it is but replace the board with something about an inch thick. I made all the measurements in feet and inches. I like to do that in the privacy of my own workshop. Can’t stand metric. I’m thinking of introducing in internal household economy using pound, shillings and pence tokens.

The Prime Minister

October 14, 2009

PrimeMinisterSmallI woke up last night very early in the morning and could not get back to sleep. I practiced some piano, although from the way I played later this morning at my lesson, you would not think I had. I decided to do a sketch but I got into one of those moods where I could not think what to do. In the end, I drew Gordon Brown from a reference pic that I found on the internet. I gave him a blue suit and a pink tie. Speak to you later.

Cool to sit in garden, literally

October 9, 2009

I find myself bundled up, sitting in the garden once again. It is not very warm but I wanted to get out of the house and breathe some fresh air. I remember reading that Roald Dahl used to write his children’s books sat in a shed at the bottom of his garden, wrapped up in a rug when it was chilly. I have some empathy for a man like that.

The day started well enough. I awoke early and spent an hour or two playing piano. Because it is a digital piano, I can do that through my IEMs whithout waking up the household. I was able to use my Bose IEMs for the first time for several weeks. I had had a bad connection problem (although I did not realise that was what it was until a few days ago). Toby Lancaster, from Second Life, advised me to get some Halfords Electrical Contact Cleaner and I did that yesterday. A couple of good squirts, and it seems to have worked very well, so far.

I had a pleasant breakfast at the Bungalow cafe overlooking Roker harbour. When I came home, I felt tired so I went to bed (I had been up playing piano very early this morning, as I have already mentioned). I was woken up from my nap prematurely, but I don’t think I will go into the details of that. Suffice it to say that the shine of the day has been tarnished somewhat.

Out here, sitting in the garden, a sprightly robin red-breast comes to see me from time to time. Some of the shrubs are continuing to flower. I have taken a pic. Last night I read some more of the book on keeping an illustrated journal (by Danny Gregory). The author advocates drawing frequently each day. I still have not got my head around that. The act of drawing interferes with the activity of the moment to a considerable degree. Yesterday, for my blog entry I made a pastel sketch of the supermarket car park. I looked closely at the carpark when I was there, and took a reference pic to work from. But the actual drawing took me quite some time to complete. And I had to do it back in my studio. I just did not have my full set of pastels with me in the car when I went to the supermarket. And in any case, I had some frozen food in the boot, which needed to be put into the freezer. I am clearly drawn to the idea in principle because this is the second time I have read the book. However, I do have problems about drawing in public, because I am very self-conscious. I don’t like doing it.

I know that sitting here in the garden, at this time of year and on a day like this, would be considered strange by many people. Of course, if I were to potter it would be ok. And there are lots of things I could do. The easiest would be to weed a border. I could even run the mower over the lawn. I just don’t want to do any of that. If I am not careful my watchword will become I can’t be bothered. My friend Tom asked me whether I was now starting to enjoy the freedom of not having to go down to the studio and meet the deadlines of my MA degree. I said that although I had felt very sad about leaving it, I was now beginning to enjoy the lack of pressure.

Sitting here, I suddenly miss Harold Hake. He was the hero of my e-novel. I read it in instalments on the first Sunday of the month, about a year ago in Second Life. There were about 6 installments and a little group assembled at Hexx’s Rastafairy Beach venue. Each reading lasted for about two hours and  I played some songs during the reading, relating them fictionally to the story. It was, for me, a very exciting thing to do from a creative standpoint.

I remember when I was writing the fiction. My characters lived with me in my mind. If I went shopping, then Harold came with me to the mall. It was like having a cast of invisible friends. My everyday life became a scratchpad for possible episodes in the plot, as it unfolded. I would make a few notes on a scrap of paper (the literal back of an envelope) about any ideas that had occurred to me while I was walking around the stores (or whatever else it was that I was doing), then at the next opportunity I would type them up into draft manuscript and file them into an appropriate chapter folder.

Sometimes I wrote longhand drafts on a pad. I would them type them up, often word for word, or sometimes making a few alterations here and there. I also had a very small computer, not dissimillar to the one that I am using now and I would frequently use that on location. I would park my car, preferably somewhere I would not be disturbed, and turn the steering wheel so that I could lodge a stiff plastic bread board against the rim (the other side resting on my tummy). This provided a stable enough table to enable me to type using all fingers (my mother taught me how to touch type when I was a teenager).

I have just read over what I wrote concerning my fiction writing practices on location. Why on earth I can’t adapt that strategy to include sketching, I do not know. I must give this some thought.

Fyrm Fouroux is about to enter some changes in Second Life. His little performance venue will cease to exist in a couple of weeks time. Already The Vibe island, where he performed two Mondays per month, has vanished. There is only ocean visible where it once stood. Fyrm’s performance island, Terra Fyrmusica, is going to the south ocean in Acheron. It is bound to take a while to adjust to these changes but I think they will be good in the long term. Tonight there is no gig, but it will be Foxy Hollow on Saturday morning as usual, followed by Cascadia Harmonics on Sunday.

It is starting to get a little cold out here. I shall get on with something else for a while. I’ll speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.