As is our little household tradition, we print up our own Christmas cards every year on a tiny, hand-operated letterpress. We usually try and let our experiences of the past year direct what the design is, and after the second year of pandemic-life, we almost didn’t get our cards made in time for the season, because we couldn’t think of anything exciting that happened in our house in 2021.
Then we spotted the elephant (or should it be cat?) in the room: Of course something totally awesome happened this year – I had my first children’s picture book published! So we went pretty simple with the design, and I drew up Asta driving another absurd vehicle, but in a Christmas stylee. It’s one of my favourite seasonal accoutrements, the yule log!
If you haven’t checked it out already, have a look at Alley Cat Rally – perhaps someone small might enjoy finding it under their tree!
I continue to find documenting some of my projects by way of video an interesting challenge. I’ve averaged one video a month in 2021, which is a pretty good pace, and think I’ve been getting better at making them, though I’ve no idea how I could get anyone to actually watch them. Here are a few of my more recent short videos I haven’t mentioned on my website until now:
Improving my Game Boy Advance
My little old Game Boy Advance got the consumer-tech-equivalent of sunburn this year, so I set about making it look less putrid, then got carried away making technological improvements to it while I was at it too.
Painting a Portrait of My Dog
I set about painting a portrait of my dog, and timelapsed the process of painting it. I thought it was a really terrible portrait when I was done but not a bad video – and now I think the portrait is OK. I still don’t know if I’m going to put it up on a wall somewhere though.
This video wasn’t very favoured by the YouTube algorithm, if the fact that nobody has watched it is anything to go by. Or maybe it’s just too random – my better half certainly thought so. Just a little video about finding inspiration somewhere strange and making something from it!
Hospital Top 5
I had posted about the Hospital record cover exhibition in a more timely fashion here already, but over the course of the past couple of months I put together a video about my five favourite covers from the exhibition, and some of the design thinking behind them too. I think it turned out pretty good!
Papa’s Garage Door
My grandpa, who helped me on so many of my random endeavours over time, passed away in 2020. The pandemic dragged the process out, but his passing means that we have been clearing my grandparents’ house recently. So before the house leaves the family, I thought I would document one of my grandpa’s finest domestic engineering moments for historic value. I think an automatic garage door doesn’t seem very remarkable to anyone these days, but if you watch the video, you’ll see how brilliant his home-made one is!
My grandpa passed away last year, and though it wasn’t Covid-19 that got him, one of the nth-order-effects of the pandemic is that I’ve had loads of time to explore my grandparents’ legacy. They were fervent travellers, and I recently discovered a box of old tourist maps from some of the places they visited across their lives.
Tourist maps may not seem like such an interesting artefact today, but some of these were just plain lovely. Products of a pre-computer design era, and before they became cheaply-printed vehicles for advertising, they’re just nice to look at.
While I’m sure a 45-year-old map of bus routes in Rome isn’t going to have a functional purpose any more, they’re still such attractive images that I’ve decided to share them with the wider internet under a liberal usage license. I think some of these images have the potential to be used in artwork in interesting ways, which is part of the reason I’ve digitised them myself, in arbitrarily high resolution.
How high-res they are largely depends on how big the physical map was – for the bigger maps I photographed them in pieces, then did a quick stitching of them in my ancient version of Photoshop. Some of the seams aren’t perfect, but that’s not really why the images are there.
Surprisingly, this isn’t anywhere near all of the maps in the collection I found, but I just picked out the ones I thought were the prettiest. I particularly like one of the maps of Venice, a surprisingly-cheerful and hand-drawn map of Manhattan, and how much Washington DC looks like a Sim City map.
I hope whoever finds them makes something interesting with them – hopefully something better than opportunists selling overpriced prints of them on Etsy, because that would make me sad. Make something cool, internet!
Twentieth century maps in high resolution
I’ve never really thought of Hospital as the establishment, but having been a going concern for a quarter of a decade now, it suddenly seems pretty well-settled in the musical landscape. For one of the many facets of this anniversary, Hospital organised a virtual art exhibition with our old friends at Art Vinyl, makers of nifty ‘Play and Display’ record cover frames.
The virtual nature obviously makes it pandemic-friendly (I still haven’t got my second vaccine yet!), so after a couple of false starts and venue changes, Chris at Hospital and the Art Vinyl guys got set up in Defected Records’ basement event space.
Chris and I had to pick fifty covers, which seems like a lot, but was pretty difficult considering Hospital’s catalogue is closer to 450 now, and that doesn’t even include the not-quite-100 on Med School as well. We filtered it down to albums that came out on vinyl only, and began whittling down to our favourites from there.
There’s more than just the record covers in the exhibition though – there are a selection of some of the original pieces of art I made for the covers dotted around, as well as many other bonus features. And! Chris and I also wrote a little commentary about some of our particular favourites in the exhibition.
I’ve been designing covers for Hospital for about fifteen years now, and I’m not sure if I’m proud or terrified when looking at this exhibition!
On the subject of how I make record covers for Hospital…
I also recently revisited the footage of making a pair of EPs for Logistics, from just before the pandemic-era. I’ve edited them into a nice new ‘How did this happen?’ video, which talks through the inspiration, and how I made the artwork. Check it out below!
And check out the 25 Years of Hospital Art exhibition!
I love watching Wimbledon – it’s full of so many weird traditions that make it pleasingly out-of-step with today’s capitalism-motivated world. There’s so much I don’t understand about it though – like why they play this competition on a surface that ends up completely wrecked by the end of the tournament, just in time for the most important matches.
I took a screenshot of the first serve of every set played on Centre Court this year, at least as best as I could manage, then used Photoshop to auto-align all the frames and export them as this gif. It’s funny to see what becomes of it each year, only to be regrown and re-manicured, ready to be wrecked again next year. Life is a funny thing!
Alley Cat Rally is now broadly available in all English-speaking territories in the WORLD! This Tuesday, 6th July, marked its publication in USA and Canada, and it was also published at some point in the past month in Australia and New Zealand too, so along with its April release here in the UK, that covers it all pretty well.
I’ve still got no idea how well it is doing, but I have been entered into what for me is a crazy new world, of the odd complement on social media. It’s been a few months of lovely surprises, videos from parent-friends, and generally nice people, which is incredibly gratifying.
I have made a couple more ACR-related videos in the past couple of months too.
Flying Eye managed to connect me with doing a window-painting job at a local bookshop to me, in Tring, which is just a little further out in the Chiltern Hills from where I live. I ended up doing it on a miserably rainy day, but with a bit of help, I put all the alley cats up in the window. It turned out pretty good!
I also made a video I titled ‘How did this happen?’, talking through the conception and making-of the book.
Here’s to people actually buying a thing I made, and to me dreaming up Asta and the alley cats’ next adventure!
The release of my book is creeping closer! It’s less than a month before Alley Cat Rally is published in the UK, and over the past few weeks I have been nervously trying to think of things I can do to promote the book myself.
I’ve started by making a mini-site that gives a good overview of the book, the characters, and the places you can preorder it, alongside some other fun graphics and odds-and-ends.
That’s table stakes though, so I’ve done a couple more interesting projects that I’ve also made videos about.
The first mini-project is the ballad of the little washer. I’ve had this on my shelves for years, but a desire to open it up and add some ballast to it became a mission to connect it to the internet, programming it so it will spin whenever anyone visits the short link I set up to preorder the book:
The second project is a bit less technical, but only slightly: I made a plush version of Asta, the star of the book. She wears a great pair of goggles in Alley Cat Rally, so I had to figure out how to make them, and ended up rigging up my own vacuum-forming setup, on a home kitchen scale:
I am pleased with both of these projects, and also with the videos themselves! I think I am slowly getting more natural at using my voice, which I’m hoping will come in handy as I try to join my publisher in promoting the book!
A slightly different project for Hospital Records has gone live! The label needed some artwork for two looping videos to use for 24/7 live streams, so they brought the project to me. I was gifted with a tonne of creative freedom for the videos, so I put a bit of effort into them both. Hospital then brought in motion graphics maestro Adobe Toby to bring the two projects to life.
The first one is Drum & Bass Non-Stop Bangers, a 24/7 stream of the more club-oriented music from the Hospital catalogue. I drew up a huge urban cityscape for this project featuring notable venues from Hospitality’s rich history – from the early days of Herbal and Heaven, right up to the tents of Hospitality In The Park, as well as a few other easter eggs.
The second is Drum & Bass Non-Stop Liquid, which digs into the label’s more musical side. This artwork was well into my wheelhouse – pictures of all kinds of ridiculous machines – medical, musical, and pointlessly domestic, and all strung together in a completely nonsensical way. Classic Hospital, and fits the mono illustration style I’ve been employing on several label-focussed projects over the past couple of years.
The live streams have been a success for Hospital so far, which is particularly good to know in an era when the live club event business has been decimated by our pandemic. I’m glad I put the time in, and glad that Toby did too, as the videos feel so alive now!
I can’t wait to write more about this in the coming months, but I’m really excited to announce that I made a real, honest-to-goodness book, and it is being published internationally this spring!
‘Alley Cat Rally’ is a children’s picture book about a cat who makes a racing car out of her washing machine, and makes some friends in the process. It’s being published by Flying Eye books, and is available to pre-order now: Preorder link for the UK (releases April 2021), Preorder link for USA (releases July 2021).
If anyone has been dedicated enough to follow the depths of my work, you may have seen some earlier iterations of this in their various forms, and that might give an idea of how long this has been in the process (many years!). I’m really looking forward to receiving my own finished copies of this, and for seeing it on sale in real shops too!
2020 was a strange year for us all, and one of the (unimportant? privileged?) ways it impacted me is it meant I didn’t travel for Christmas for the first time in more than a decade. The nice thing about this is it gave more time and need for craft projects!
I did multiple projects for Christmas, but a couple stand out enough that I made videos about the creation process on my YouTube channel.
We letterpress our Christmas cards every year, but this year I made a video of the process of creating them, from trying to figure out a design all the way through to trying to figure out who to send them to.
I really like how these turned out – the design is a little out of our usual Christmas card comfort zone, and I think it was all the more successful for it. Watch the video to see the process!
The other project I videoed was a mini-project of making a stained-glass tree topper. It was my first time needing to decorate my own tree, and when we realised we didn’t have a topper, I put the skill I learned from making my cat flap (see previous post!) to work, making one out of glass.
The project came together surprisingly quickly, and surprisingly effectively too. Christmas champion!
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