Sunday, 13 December 2009

Standing Stone at Avebury

Standing Stone at Avebury, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

It was an unplanned visit to the stone circle at Avebury, on the way back from visiting a friend in Brinkworth. A cold, foggy morning so I thought it would be worth stopping for a few photos. The fog cleared more than I would have wished but without any sunlight breaking through so it was a very flat light.

Anyway, this shot pleases me. Looking at it on screen still gives me a weird and uncomfortable feeling. There are so many histories here.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Roger Frames and his dog Debit watch the Chancellor's Speech

This is a blast from the past. An ink and wash illustration commissioned by Commodore Format magazine in the early 1990s.

I illustrated many "Roger Frames buys Budjit Games" for the magazine involving the penny-pinching antics of Roger, who acted out his computer game role-play with disastrous consequences.

Working with Ollie Alderton, the art editor of Commodore Format, on Roger Frames has to be one of the most fun things I ever did.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Looking to Quakers Walk, towards Devizes

A view of the historic bridleway known as Quakers Walk in Devizes.
This view will be lost for ever when the green field the other side of the track is filled with housing. The roads are already being built. The sales offices for Wimpy and Persimmon Homes are in place, flags fluttering in the chill breeze. I spoke to a lady who was walking her dog and she told me that the walk will be closed for six months while it is dug up to allow for the laying of major new drains.

It's sad when owners* of agricultural land sell out to the developers. (*The Merchant Venturers, based in Bristol. Try Googling it.)

For me, it's even sadder that all the new homes will be cramped little boxes with pocket handkerchief gardens (if lucky) and all looking like pattern book variants of various Victorian village buildings. But with smaller windows. Mean and cheap.

Why can't these companies build 21st century homes that include the new technologies for renewable energy? Can't they build zero carbon housing? (c.f. BedZed) Where's Kevin McCloud when you need him?

Quakers Walk, Devizes
Quakers Walk, Devizes, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

Friday, 2 October 2009

Sea and Light

Sea and Light, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

We had a Day Out in Dorset on Wednesday. Emily (aka Garmin SatNav) guided us to Kimmeridge Bay, which I'd never visited before. I wasn't expecting to be so excited by the pure play of light on the sea, especially on the horizon line. Almost a dead calm day, the light was ever changing all day: sometimes magical, sometimes flat.

My only regret is that we left there at 4.45pm, when the sky was looking distinctly unpromising. Two hours later, standing by the bridge in Wareham, the sky had cleared for a golden sunset and I tried not to think how wonderful it would be back at Kimmeridge. Damn. Lesson learned.

Sea and Light
Sea and Light, originally uploaded by mike(toons)

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Real materials versus computer software

Salisbury Plain (from memory), originally uploaded by mike(toons).

August Bank Holiday I spent some time playing with ink and watercolours in my sketchbook. Doodles really. Playing with the medium. Simply enjoying myself. But the first time for absolutely ages.

I had to take advantage of a clear desk space in my wife's studio - well away from my tiny home office which is dominated by the computer.

Some of the resultant pieces I've scanned from the sketchbook and a couple are uploaded to Flickr.

Looking at the Flickr set of my artworks I was struck by two pieces that I created with a computer art application (ArtRage). It's a clever piece of software, similar to Painter but cheaper.

Midnight in Badalamenti, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

But those ArtRage pieces have no soul. Nothing feeds back to me from them. They are empty images. If only 'Midnight in Badalamenti' existed as a real acrylic or oil painting! It's just an jpeg image in a world flooded with jpegs. There isn't a real version I can hold.

I feel the same way about a lot of the work that I've done since the mid 90s using Adobe Illustrator. At first I used inked line work that I scanned and converted to vector. Pressures of lower and lower fees meant short-cutting this stage by using 'brushes' built into the software.

Nothing comes close to real ink, paint, colour on real paper, board, canvas.

I must find more time away from the computer. Computers have provided me with employment for the past 15 years but are now stopping me doing the very thing that gives me most enjoyment and creative nourishment.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Chelsea Buns

Chelsea Buns, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

Chelsea Buns

This is mainly based on a recipe I found at the Great British Kitchen Cookbook with changes to make them even more scrummy.

60g raisins
40g sultanas
25g cut mixed peel

1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon

40g butter (soft enough to spread)
50g Demerara sugar

Mix fruit in a bowl and add 25ml of hot water, a mixture of ruby port and hot water or 100 per cent port. Cover with cling film and soak for at least an hour - longer is better. Stir the fruit occasionally.
- - - - - -
Yeast ferment/batter
75g wholemeal flour
10g natural caster sugar
10g fresh yeast (or 5g of dried yeast)
125ml of milk at 30 deg C

Add enough milk to the yeast to make a paste, then add the sugar and enough milk to dissolve the sugar. Add the flour and the rest of the milk a little at a time to create a fairly sloppy batter. Make sure the bowl is big enough to have enough room for the mixture to froth up. Cover with cling film and leave until the ferment has bubbled up and is just starting to drop back - an hour or more depending on room temperature.
- - - - - -
Ferment/batter (above)
175g strong white (plain) flour
25g butter
50g egg (1 medium egg) beaten

Measure flour into a large bowl. Cut butter into small cubes, adding a little at a time into the flour and rubbing in using thumbs and fingers to create a 'crumb' mixture. When all the butter is mixed with the flour, add the ferment/batter and beaten egg and mix thoroughly.

Knead for about 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the mixture feels smooth and elastic.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover with greased cling film. Allow to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled.
- - - - - -
Prepare a 20cm square cake tin by lining with baking parchment.
Drain any excess liquid from the fruit (if you've used port, this is where you get your bonus tipple) and stir the spices mixture into the fruit.
- - - - - -
Roll or spread the dough on a lightly floured surface until it makes a rectangle 20 x 30cm. Spread with the soft butter. Sprinkle spicy fruit and Demerara sugar to cover evenly. Roll up from the long side (like a Swiss roll) and then slice the roll into nine pieces.

Place the slices in the cake tin (with the cut sides top and bottom) in three rows of three. Cover and allow to rise for about an hour. I use a very large re-sealable polythene bag for this purpose.

Preheat the oven to 200 deg C. Remove the cover and then bake for 30 to 35 minutes. If the top is browning too much, cover with baking parchment for the last few minutes.

Glaze while still in the tin with warmed liquid honey (3 tsps). Leave to cool for 10 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

Best eaten warm!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Roe deer in the bluebells

Roe deer in the bluebells, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

Last weekend I went to a 'Nature Photography Beginners Day' given by Colin Varndell. One message he kept repeating was that the most wonderful light to shoot in is fog.

I looked out at 6.30 this morning - fog!

Having decided to go to Oakfrith Wood to shoot bluebells, at the last minute I packed my old Canon and telephoto lens. It's a crappy bog-standard 75-300mm lens but (sigh) all the glass I can afford at the moment.

After half an hour of wandering around the wood taking misty morning photos of bluebells I spotted a roe deer buck. It also spotted me but wasn't sure what I was. When it disappeared behind a tree trunk, I frantically swopped cameras and then (hand held) got some shots.

The deer did come closer and I took more shots but this is my favourite composition.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Imber village: Imber Court

Imber village: Imber Court, originally uploaded by mike(toons).

Imber village is in the middle of Salisbury Plain and was commandeered by the army in 1943. They promised to return it to the villagers after Herr Hitler had been defeated. The army reneged on their promise.

Imber village: Imber Court notice

On certain days during the year the MoD opens the roads across the Plain for people - including surviving village inhabitants - to visit Imber.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

"Buy 'em by the Sack!"

"Buy 'em by the Sack!", originally uploaded by bayswater97.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

No More Land Art on Clougha

No More Land Art on Clougha, originally uploaded by escher1.

I've been following the work of artist Richard Shilling. He's a Land Artist, similar to Andy Goldsworthy. In fact he acknowledges that, studying Goldsworthy's work and using it as a launching pad for new ideas.

He has recently done some wonderful sculptures on Clougha, a looming hill to the south east of Lancaster and where there is already a large sculpture by Goldsworthy.

However, the owners of the land, Abbeystead Estate, have instructed that all Richard's work be dismantled and none be newly constructed.

There's got to be a way for this to be resolved. Land Art is a wonderfully free art - public art in the best sense. Galleries can't sell it, traders can't deal in it. In money terms, it's worthless. But Richard's work, in the shapes he builds, in the settings he chooses, is priceless.

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