Memories of a teenage goth

Satin and Tat by Myfanwy Tristram, work in progress

I’ve been pretty quiet on here of late, mainly because I’m working away on one massive comics project that will be another several months before it’s ready to share.

I do sometimes post work in progress over at Instagram though, so anyone who follows me there may already know that I’m deeply immersed in my Eighties memories — and in particular, my life as a teenage goth.

Here’s some work in progress (click any image to see it bigger):
Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Remember crimpers? All bunged up with Elnett hairspray…? I sure do.

But it’s not just set in the past; there are some present-day scenes too, and these have a different colour palette:

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

Satin and tat by Myfanwy Tristram, work in progress

Talking of colour palettes: there was one image, in particular, which people on Instagram seemed to really take to; it’s a dream sequence right at the beginning of the story, when the main character (now middle aged) has been taken right back to her youth. She has a very graphic dream about cycling along the riverbanks in her goth finery.

The first version I drew of this was in these colours:

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

… but I subsequently changed my mind, because I wanted to differentiate more between the past and the present within the story.

Work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram - Satin and Tat

I’m glad to say that people seem to like them both, and as I won’t have any actual new comics at the Lakes Festival this year I thought I’d offer both colourways as prints. They’ll be nice and affordable because they’re not fancy giclee or anything, just standard digital prints on nice card.

Also as a taster for the forthcoming comic (which SHURELY will be ready for the Lakes NEXT year…), I’m also going to be selling a paper cut-out doll based on all the clothes I wore back then.

So much of my memory of that time is hazy, but I can recall every single item of clothing with crystal clarity. I wanted to share the enjoyment I’ve had as I’ve drawn the leggings, split down the seams and laced back up, or the stripy mohair jumpers that everyone got their grans to knit them, and the pixie boots, oh, the pixie boots.

The dolls come with an extra cartoon (or more of a rant really) on the back — so you’ll have to buy a couple if you want to cut them up. But that’s ok, I’m also planning on making these super-cheap.

If you like these and you won’t be at the Lakes, don’t worry, I proooomise I’ll set up my online shop again after the festival. Just as soon as I’ve stopped having so much fun trawling through old copies of Smash Hits to find authentic hairstyles to draw.

80s comic part 2: what medium?

While thinking about character design, I was also giving lots of thought to what medium I’d use. Here are some experiments with digital colouring.

I was impressed to find that the digital drawing app I use, Leonardo, can do a very convincing pencil crayon effect:

In the end though, I decided I don’t have enough expertise with digital drawing to make a whole comic look as good as I want it to. Always one for the time-consuming and effortful method, I’ve plumped for gouache.

Planning a comic based on the 80s – character design

punks by Myfanwy Tristram

I wouldn’t have said I was a particular expert on anything, but when I started planning a new comic based on my teenage years, I realised that we’re all extremely knowledgeable about one thing: our own lives.

And if you live long enough, that makes you something close to a historian.

Yes, it has come as rather a surprise, but I suppose the eighties can now firmly be described as a historic era — and one that I could probably use as my specialist subject on Mastermind, should that particular nightmare ever become a reality. Dipping back into my memories of those days, I found that I can strongly evoke the clothes I wore, the bands I went to see, and the lengths we went to in styling our hair (cue a half hour reverie about crimpers and backcombing).

crimping by Myfanwy Tristram

And where there are gaps in my memory? I’ve been gratified to find that even though this was, of course, pre-internet, there are plenty of websites whose owners have carefully scanned in pages of Smash Hits (my magazine of choice at the time) and photographs from their own nights out, with which I can complement my own photo albums.

All this is to say that, over the last few weeks, I’ve been living in an age of stripey mohair jumpers, Doc Martens and my old army jacket, complete with old lady-style brooches and CND badges on the lapel. This is turning out to be an absolute joy of a comic to research, and I’m enjoying being able to include all these little details that mean so much to me (and will, I hope, also mean something to its readers, especially if they are of a similar age).

When I say ‘research’, what I mostly mean is gawping at the internet in astonishment that there are blow by blow accounts of a gig I went to in 1984, or looking up what Bananarama were wearing on Channel 4’s the Tube, or trying to find a photo of exactly how we danced when we were trying to look like Morrissey.

Crass by Myfanwy Tristram

But back to the drawing. There’s something about this comic, probably the fact that it’s so close to my own experiences, that means I want to get it right. Of course, with every comic you want it to be better than the ones you’ve done before, but that feels particularly important in this case. So, before making a start on the drawing, I’ve spent a long time in preparation.

I spent ages on the script, and even got my playwright husband’s (very useful) input on it. I thought for a long time about what medium to draw in, trying to consider the cost and time involved with colour illustrations, and how best to depict the two different time periods (the action switches between the 80s and present day).

I began with a long period of sketching to try and get the characters right, working first in pencil crayon for the freedom it affords in terms of how easy it is to overdraw any mistakes. Here are some of those very early sketches.

long fringe by Myfanwy Tristram

mohican by Myfanwy Tristram

teen by Myfanwy Tristram

carryint the tv out the window by Myfanwy Tristram

another mohican  by Myfanwy Tristram

punx by Myfanwy Tristram

punx by Myfanwy Tristram

coloured in punks by Myfanwy Tristram

Scanning pencil crayon drawings

rats-drawn-in-pencil-crayon-by-myfanwy-tristram-scan-showing-errors

I know I’ve been quiet on here lately, but that’s not because I’m not drawing.

In fact I’ve been drawing quite a bit, between a weekly life drawing class, comic stuff, and even a visit to the museum to sketch with my daughter. I just haven’t managed to blog about it.

I’ve nearly finished my latest comic, which I’m hoping to have ready for sale at the Lakes and Thought Bubble festivals. (By the way, you can see all the other wonderful comics people we’ll be sharing a hall with at Thought Bubble, here.)

While I normally do my comics in inks or watercolour, for some reason I blithely drew this one in pencil crayons, without a moment’s thought about how well it would scan in and print out. That may have been a little foolish, especially given that scanning is always my nemesis.

It turns out that pencil crayons scan horribly. You get all the harsh contrasts and none of the subtleties.

Fortunately, though, after some Googling, I have a couple of plans up my sleeve. First – I might just photograph the images. It turns out that the camera on my phone is pretty good – the resulting pictures certainly look better than the scans.

For example, compare this photo:

wild dogs drawn in pencil crayon by Myfanwy Tristram - photo

With the scanned version:

wild dogs drawn in pencil crayon by Myfanwy Tristram - scanned showing errors

Urk!

Other images are slightly less alarming, but you can certainly see a difference:

rats drawn in pencil crayon by Myfanwy Tristram - photo

Above, photo; below, scan:

rats-drawn-in-pencil-crayon-by-myfanwy-tristram-scan-showing-errors

Second, I read that covering the images with transparent cellophane or acetate can help deflect the light. If the photos don’t work out, I’ll try that.

I’ll let you all know when I’ve finally beaten the reproduction issues into submission and these comics are ready – and of course, any that don’t sell at the comics fairs will be available via my online shop.

Meanwhile, if you’re curious to see some more of the work in progress, you can visit my Instagram account. You might have to pick through pictures of my cats and various flea market finds, but there are plenty of drawings too, promise.

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Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary, part 2: otters, steam trains and Ballardian dystopias

This is the second part of a holiday sketch diary in which we stayed in Totnes and Lyme Regis. Probably best not to start on day 2: you can read part 1 here.

As ever, click on the images below, and then click again if you would like to see them at a larger size.

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

More in part 3.

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Return to the low-tech zine

colouring book cover by Myfanwy Tristram

make a zine

Above is a picture of a print that my husband picked up at Comica London. Sadly, my pedantic side will not allow me to hang it above my desk until I’ve added that missing apostrophe, but the message is a good one nonetheless.

As it happens, in the week running up to Comica I was already rediscovering the joy of self-made comics, unprompted.

It is a lot of fun to have your comics made by a proper printer, and have them arrive with their lovely silky covers and their professional binding, that’s for sure. But it can be expensive too, and I wanted to have something on our stall that customers could pay a little less for.

And so the Slightly Annoying Animals colouring book was born. Quite what possessed me to go into production the week before Comica, while also trying to hold down a full time job and all the other aspects of a busy life, I’m not sure, but never mind: I did.

Don’t leave the house

I work from home during the week, so couldn’t easily go out to buy new materials. So I decided to see if I could make something with only what I already had at home.

When I looked into my stock of paper, it was clear that – even for a print run of just ten copies – I would need to mix and match. As I pulled out tracing paper and sugar paper, along with nice thick watercolour paper, I realised that this could be a deliberate design feature, adding to the book’s quirkiness.

Fortunately, the inks in my printer were pretty full (such is my faith in printer inks that I am always surprised when they manage to print a single page, let alone a project like this). I quickly drew several animals, not thinking too hard about the theme nor stressing too much about making them my best drawings ever. After scanning these in, I chose a limited colour palette that I hope is reminiscent of the so-trendy-right-now riso printer, and changed the line colours.

Then I made a small dummy book so that I could remember which pages backed onto which others. That, and a label I stuck to my printer many moons ago, to remind me which side of the paper it prints on and which way up is the top, were my saving graces.

To the joy of my inexplicably printer-obsessed cats (seriously – the three of them came into the room at a trot), I switched the printer on and then fed the pages through mostly singly, by hand, to ensure there were no snarl-ups.

colouring book by Myfanwy Tristram

Then the next night, I bound them. The household machines were still clearly on my side, because when I got my sewing machine out, absolutely certain that last time I’d tried to use it, it had been irrevocably jammed, it was working like a song. That meant I could do some really quick and really rather pleasing stitched spines, and while I was at it, I sewed a silly little label on the back, too:

silly label by Myfanwy Tristram

Overheads were so low on this that I was able to sell them for just £3 at Comica: well within pocket money budgets, I reckon. Most of the paper had been sitting unused in my drawer for years, so the price really just reflected the time spent drawing, scanning, and worrying.

OK: so you always learn from making anything, even if you’ve done it before. What did I learn this time?

  • I have to admit it – tracing paper is a fun material but it’s not really great for comics because (obviously) the picture on the next page shows through. Perhaps this could work if the subsequent pages were mainly blank, with an invitation to draw something for yourself.
  • Having said that, I think the mixture of different kinds of paper is really appealing and if I was going to do this again, I’d go and invest in some squared paper or something else with an interesting texture or pattern.
  • The pictures weren’t my greatest works of art. I’m not the sort of artist who does her best work within a tight timescale (unfortunately. I’m working on it) and in fact the whole concept could have been refined. I like the idea of ‘slightly annoying animals’; with a bit more time I reckon I could have worked up their personalities into something that would amuse adults while their kids enjoyed the colouring bit.
  • So maybe I’ll do that one day.
  • But the main thing that I learned was that, for low runs of cheap comics, it’s still totally practical to do it yourself at home. I mean, when you think about it, of course it is: the whole zine culture grew up before people had computers and printers at home, with copies made at print shops or on photocopy machines, so it’s a lot easier now.

So, here’s a pen and some paper and a typewriter scanner, printer, and sewing machine. Now what are you waiting for?

Three handmade birthday cards

tapir card by Myfanwy Tristram

It took me about 30 seconds to decide what to draw on my daughter’s birthday card this year.

We’ve both recently been charmed by Neko Atsume, a Japanese kitty-based tomodachi-style game/app, bonding over our collection of pussy cats and trying out different virtual cat food to attract them.

If you’re hooked too, you’ll recognise the smiley cats below (apologies for all the phone snaps in this post, but hopefully you can still get the general idea).

Neko Atsume birthday card by Myfanwy Tristram

The cats in Neko Atsume are almost all the same basic shape, and are seen in one of a limited repertoire of poses.

My original plan was to make a little rubber stamp of one of those standard poses, but it turned out too be too fiddly for the amount of time I had at my disposal. For my second attempt, I went for the primary-school technique of tracing paper and pencil (basically a monoprint if I want to make myself feel better about it).

As always, I learned something from sitting down to try and replicate someone else’s drawings. The Neko Atsume cats are all marked in some combination of a small group of colours: dark grey, light grey, orange, light tan, white, and black — and all marked in a combination of stripes, spots or one colour all over.

Neko Atsume birthday card by Myfanwy Tristram

Inside was the greedy white cat Tubbs, who comes and snaffles all the posh cat food from time to time.

The card went down even better than I’d expected: those Japanese kitties sure provoke some strong emotions!

Just a week after my daughter’s birthday, it’s my husband’s. Recently, he’s been going through a mid-life crisis sporting a surprising range of hair colours: I never know what my own husband will look like next!

This quick card is meant to be a gentle mockery of that.

Hair birthday card by Myfanwy Tristram

That t-shirt was one I picked up at Thought Bubble as a way of saying thank you for staying home and doing the childcare while I flitted off to Leeds.

Finally, while I’m showing greetings cards, here’s one from last summer.

My friend and colleague Dave has a particular fondness for tapirs. Sadly, he also has a particular dislike of people making a fuss for his birthday, but it was too late by the time we’d discovered that: a rousing round of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ and a candle in his cafe breakfast granola it was, then.

Hopefully a nice tapir card went some way towards making up for the embarrassment:

tapir card by Myfanwy Tristram

It was a layered accordion-style card so that it had room for all my colleagues to sign it.

Inside, we wrote the very best tapir-based pun we could come up with after several days of hard thinking: Hope the celebrations don’t TAPIR out too soon.

Dave accepted the card, read the inscription, then replied, I don’t mean to sound UNGULATE-ful, but…’. Ah, his pun was better than ours.

People-watching and people-sketching on the Level

Sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

Have you ever tried to draw while your pages are gently splattered by the spray of a water pistol? Me neither, until last week.

Sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

Here in the UK, we’ve had an unusually consistent, hot summer, and for residents of Brighton, one obvious place to find some relief is at our new playground, the Level, where, every half an hour, fountains spurt up from the paving slabs.

They run for thirty minutes, and then, in some sort of energy-saving or equipment-protecting policy, they disappear again.

level sketch2sfw

You can tell when they start up, because there’s a ragged cheer and children run from every other part of the playground. Toddlers walk blithely through the columns of water; cheeky kids figure out how to obstruct part of its exit so that it squirts violently in unpredictable directions; hot kids just stand blissfully on top of a fountain and let it soak them to the skin.

character sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

As a sketcher, it’s a blessing of a subject but also an immense challenge. Kids, especially excited ones, never stop moving. And it was hot, which makes one feel lazy.

Sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

My friend Giuseppe – who happens to be an art teacher – and I sat in the only bit of shade, and we had a go at sketching  anyway.

I gave up on the actual children pretty early, and started drawing the adults around the periphery of the area instead – they were far more likely to stay still (well, relatively speaking.. under normal circumstances I’m sure I would have been complaining that they were moving too, but compared to the comet-like accelerations of the children, they might have been statues).

Afterwards, Giuseppe said that what he liked best were my small sketches showing parts of children before they had moved off. I looked at his sketchbook, and he’d managed much more complete compositions, including the actual fountains themselves – quite a different approach.

Sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

I think if I’d been less lazy that day, I could have made some composite children that wouldn’t have represented any single one of the kids who were really in front of us, but which took some generic stances and movements and put them together. Hmm, maybe next time.

Meanwhile, back at home, I have been doing some first exploratory character sketches in watercolour, for a children’s book idea.

character sketches by Myfanwy Tristramcharacter sketches by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Comics Unmasked, Posy Simmonds and Steve Bell

Comics Unmasked poster

Comics Unmasked poster “Have you read Posy?” asked the elderly woman who slipped into the seat beside me. “How did you first hear of her?”

I thought back: “Well, the Webers were part of my childhood – my parents took the Guardian”, I said – but I could have added how, later in life, once I’d discovered a passion for illustration and cartooning, she became a hero of mine.

Or how, during the early years of parenting, when it’s hard to fit in any art appreciation, I was still able to admire Simmonds’ deft characterisations, when I read to my daughter from Lulu and the Flying Babies, or Baker Cat.

What I particularly noticed in those years was how she captured the blank, podgy face of a toddler so well, or a baby’s form, all wrapped up in winter layers- representations so pertinent to my own life that I could see how truthful they were.

I might also have mentioned that ‘Posy’ had been high on my list of names, should a second child ever have made an appearance – but by that time the lights had dimmed and the event – a chat between Posy and her contemporary, risqué political cartoonist Steve Bell – was beginning.

 

I travelled up to London on one of the hottest days of the year, leaving the slightly more bearable coastal temperatures to step into the hot soup that was passing for air in the capital. Thankfully, my destination was the British Library, meaning only a five minute walk between air-conditioned station and air-conditioned interior.

I’d booked to see the Comics Unmasked exhibition – an in-depth history of British publications – followed by this talk. The exhibition took, as publicised, a good time to view. With comics, you’re not just glancing at each exhibit, but reading it, a few minutes for each one – and there were hundreds on display.

It was an interesting selection, featuring those comics which loomed large in my own life, from Spellbound and the Beano to Deadline and Crisis, and giving due deference to the UK’s acknowledged masters Alan Moore and Grant Morrison – and introducing many publications that were completely new to me.

Exhibits included political comics through the years: sexually permissive editions from the Seventies, and a strong strand of women’s liberation from the Suffragettes onwards (I would contend that the Suffragette material wasn’t ‘comics’ as such, but it was still interesting to see).

There were two high points for me: seeing plenty of original artwork (just for mundane comparisons with my own work, like whether artists worked at double size, and whether they stuck down the lettering after the artwork was complete), and – a bit of a surprise, this – a fifteenth century bible, done in woodcut cartoon form.

Sometimes you see an ancient artwork that still speaks to you as clearly as it presumably spoke to its intended audience all those centuries ago: the hand-painted colour choices and the thick lines, were just like one of the pulp comics from the Seventies, although they showed angels hovering above dragons, rather than tanks or Action Man.

I had time to bake a little more in the still-oppressive heat before heading into the auditorium for Bell and Simmonds’ talk. It was a genial chat, and they generously spoke for over 90 minutes, accompanied by a dual slideshow of their work, from juvenalia to the present day. posyandsteve bed of watercressAs with the exhibition, the parts I found most fascinating were when Posy (in particular) described her working methods.

She showed many character sketches: “I always work in sketchbooks first”, and spoke of going on location to research not just scenery, but vocabulary too: “I try to get their lingo right, which usually means riding on buses… drawing a graphic novel, you do location, props, make-up… it’s like doing a film”.

And, she said, you can’t just draw a location once: you’ll need it in different weathers – what does it look like in the rain? – and at night.

Simmonds says she works on an A2 pad, and showed us a page divided into three. She writes the dialogue and narrative in one column, then tries to condense it down as much as possible, sometimes going through this process three or four times, because space is so precious: her favourite panels are the ones where she can tell the story without the need for speech balloons.

For stories like Tamara Drewe, she sketches out the floorplan of the houses and a map of the village, so everyone’s always entering from the right direction, etc. posy workings Bell was clearly as much a fan of Simmonds as any of us: “You were the only reason I bought the Guardian” was one of his opening lines, as he revealed, to disbelieving laughter, that his family had always read the Daily Mail.

Steve has drawn all his life – zombies, trains and war as a child, then ‘every station in South Buckinghamshire’ as a teenager.

He puts his early employment as a cartoonist down to ‘dogged persistence, taking my wares around”, and the way he tells it, that certainly seems to be the case, as he went back to see editors several times with his work. The back of Post Simmonds by Myfanwy Tristram (Here’s my sketch of Posy: as you can see, I picked a really lousy spot for actually seeing her face)

After the talk, I bought Tamara Drewe and got it signed – then travelled all the way home to Brighton on a hot train, revelling in it.

I think that Posy Simmonds has just about attained the highest peak of the graphic novel form. When you look at her work, it’s incredible what she’s done: she plots as well as a novelist, but then has to unfold this story, with all its subtleties, through drawings so accurate that you can tell what characters are thinking through the cast of their eyes, or the slant of a mouth.

Often, cartoonists rely on great artwork carrying a weak story, or vice versa – and it’s nice to know the form  can actually still work under these conditions (there were plenty of examples of both in the exhibition, many reassuringly badly drawn, yet still compelling).

But my goodness, when one woman does both, well – you wonder why she hasn’t been elevated to some sort of national treasure status. Maybe because it’s “just cartoons”.

Buy a Myfanwy Tristram print

As you’ll remember, I had a few giclee prints made up for Spitalfields Market. I now have a few extras for sale – very few, so please act fast if you’d like to buy one.

Here’s what I have available (if you’d like a close-up look at the images, click on each picture below – or see the original artwork here.):

Meusli Mountain, small size, by Myfanwy Tristram

Meusli Mountain, large size, by Myfanwy TristramMuesli Mountain, large size only (small is sold out) (above). This drawing is based on the Hanover area of Brighton, featuring its trademark grid of terraced houses and the Pepperpot at the top. Now sold out

Skittle Cat small size, by Myfanwy Tristram

Skittle cat (above) – small size only (large is sold out). Here you can see the cat that the sketch was originally based on :). Note, the cellophane wrapping is still on the prints in these pictures, but once it’s off, your print will not feature those pesky diagonal wrinkles, promise! Now sold out

Animal Tea small size, by Myfanwy Tristram

tea-large

Animal Tea, small size only – large now sold out (above). In this image, a variety of animals take their tea in suitable ways – the penguin likes his iced, while the camel, of course, likes his with two lumps. Mr Beaver, meanwhile, likes a cup of builder’s… you get the idea.

framed-tins

Tins (above) – small size only (large is sold out). This one looks lovely in the kitchen. Now sold out.

Sizes, etc

The prints come in two sizes:

SMALL: 21cm by 30cm, (A4)

LARGE: 30cm by 40cm (the same width as, but just a bit shorter than A3)

These are both standard sizes which will fit into the sort of frames you can find anywhere – for example, Ikea’s RIBBA frame (£6) would fit the smaller or the larger size, with or without the mount*.

All prints come unmounted/unframed, wrapped in clear cellophane. They are giclee prints, and archival quality which means they will last for many years without fading or discolouration. I have to say that they actually exceeded my expectations when I first unwrapped one and took a look at the depth of colour and print quality.

Prices

Small prints are £15.00

Large prints are £25.00

Postage and packing is £3.50 in the UK, for one or more prints. International shipping? Please mail me for a quote.

Every pound I make from this sale will go into funding the next batch.

How to buy

I accept payment by PayPal. Drop me an email and I’ll be back in touch to confirm your print is still available, and to give you my payment details. As soon as your payment has cleared, your print will be on its way to you, safely backed by cardboard and in a padded envelope.

As there are only a couple of each design, I’ll be operating strictly first come, first serve.

But don’t worry if you miss out, because…

What would you like to buy next?

As I say, this sale will be funding the next print run.

I’d like to get some other images printed up, and I would love to hear if there are any images you particularly like. Consider it market research, on a shoestring.

One of these, perhaps?

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy TristramStamp forest by Myfanwy Tristramred-roaster-in-shade

* Disclosure: I have’t actually tried it! I’m going by Ikea’s measurements. But what I’m saying is, you won’t have trouble fitting them to a frame, ok? Ok. :)

Jonathan Cape/Comica/Observer Graphic Short Story competition

The shortlisted entrants for the Jonathan Cape/Comica/Observer Graphic Short Story competiton (that is *such* a mouthful. I think they need to rebrand it as ‘Plonk’ or something) have been decided.

For me, as someone with a history in cartooning, it looms large as ‘THE competition’. This year I was determined to enter, because, apart from anything else, it’s super to have such a well-defined comics project to work on. I’m not sure I’d have the impetus to sit down and work on a four-page graphic short story without a good reason.

Anyway, now that the shortlist has been announced, I feel I can blog my entry – there’s a clause in the rules about the work not having been published anywhere before, and I’m always a bit paranoid that that might mean ‘even on your own blog’.

I’d also like to use this blog post to collect links to other entries – so, if you entered and your work is online, leave a comment. I’ll keep editing the post to add new links as they become apparent. Here’s what I’ve found so far, via a quick Google (there must be LOADS more than this… please shout if you have a strip I can add).

Now here’s mine. It’s called ‘Overstock’. Click to see each page larger.

Overstock by Myfanwy Tristram page 1

Overstock by Myfanwy Tristram page 2

Overstock by Myfanwy Tristram page 3Overstock by Myfanwy Tristram page 4

Drawing characters – and two kinds of eye-openers

I’ve had a couple of eye-openers this week – one artistic and the other cultural. Let me try to explain…

birdkid by Myfanwy Tristram

Eye-opener one: mess

So, it’s time to think about the protaganist in my picturebook – the one who’ll be telling the story. Here’s what I know about her so far: she’s very, very sad because her mum’s gone away on business, not just for a day, but for LOTS of days, AND THE NIGHTS too.

And that sadness is manifesting itself in a wild, uncontrollable rage. It is ALL NOT FAIR.

Well, that unfettered emotion fits in rather well with this week’s class, which was all about mess and letting your water-based materials go with the flow – literally. The tutor showed us various methods of creating textures and backgrounds that might kickstart creativity.

Sure enough, when he painted over an old painting with black ink, then rubbed a little away, it was – shall we say? – miraculous.

In portait orientation, I could see a cartoon cowboy’s head. In landscape, I saw a spooky marsh, lit by a single light. Either way, I could have grabbed that paper and started drawing. That was eye-opener number one.

The tutor went on to show us things we could do with window-cleaning squeegees, edges of cardboard boxes, emulsion paint, acrylics, squirty water bottles, bleach, and more.

Ideally, I’d have come home, taped tarpaulin on every surface, and gone wild. But I use the same desk for my day job as I do for painting, and I haven’t yet found the time to prepare that thoroughly for a painting session.

All the same, I would definitely say that I was inspired to let myself go a bit, to unfurl plumes of ink into water-sodden patches of paper – and that suits the wildness of this particular kid very well. I will be pushing it further, and I’ll report back.

birdkid studies by Myfanwy Tristram

Eye-opener two: feathers

I posted an Instagram snap of the page these two sketches come from, and a friend, who is from the US, asked me about the feather headdress. My first response was, well, the book is about birds, and I want to weave in as many visual references to birds as I can in every image, plus, in this picture, she’s meant to be wild, and being dressed up in warpaint and feathers is kind of a visual shorthand for that.

But then I took a couple of moments to contemplate why she had asked. And I understood why. Because in the US, there is far more sensitivity, and indeed understanding, around the whole issue of the Native Americans’ culture, traditions and ceremonies being appropriated for children’s play.

When I was a kid, in sunny Devon (where, funnily enough, my American friend has settled now), we were untroubled by such issues. I suspect most of the UK was, actually. I’m pretty sure you could buy ‘cowboys and indians’ costumes in Woolworth; I know I had a Ladybird book with an exquisite painting of some lovely middle class children playing ‘Indians’ in a toy teepee. The phrase ‘Native Americans’ had not percolated to our corner of the universe, and indeed I don’t think I heard it until well into my 20s.

But when I thought about it, well, I realised that I probably should steer away from using a feathered headdress in the final images. Not just for reasons of self-interest, though goodness knows, no-one would want to draw a book that would be reviled in the States. And perhaps avoiding what was, to me when I sat down in class and started doodling this picture, the ‘obvious’, I will find myself driven to greater creativity.

You never know.

Consequences

Exquisite corpse2

Last night, I left the house, walked over the big hill, and didn’t come back until after bedtime. AND I had charcoal under my fingernails.

It was week one of an evening class on Children’s Book illustration, taught by the self-styled Baron Gilvan.

When we were asked to draw enormous body segments, as part of a giant game of ‘Picture Consequences’ (also known as ‘Exquisite Corpse‘), the first one I drew was this yawning girl. She’s symbolic of the tiredness I was already feeling, at being out of the house when I’m normally winding down ready for bed. Yes, I am a lightweight.

Exquisite corpse

Here are the finished works. There are only four of us – it’s a really small group, which’ll be great in all sorts of ways I think.

Out tutor gave us some questions to think about – what were these people’s names, jobs, favourite foods? It seems like a very good way to generate some totally offbeat characters, if you’re stuck in a rut. Even if I never use this technique for generating book characters, it’ll sure come in useful for children’s parties.

Another useful question: what does your character look like from the top, from behind, and the sides? This might in fact be more interesting than what is apparent from the front.

Talking of consequences, I’m looking forward to seeing what the consequences are of taking an illustration class for the first time in years.