Fly Across London

by Myfanwy Tristram

Fly Across London by Myfanwy Tristram

I’m not normally the type to squeak deadlines – you might have noticed that I had my Cape/Comica/Observer entry in weeks before the closing date. And then what happened? I started talking to friends about how little chance I felt I had of winning, and one of them suggested hedging my bets a bit by entering a strip into the Thought Bubble Comic Art Competition.

Well, that deadline was only a few weeks away (it’s still open! Enter!), but it only involved submitting a single page, and I managed that. And THEN the same pesky friend said that since I had turned that around so quickly, maybe I should submit something to the AOI Prize for Illustration*. The deadline was something like 10 days away at that point – 10 days which included a weekend we had booked away for a family reunion.

Anyone sane would probably have shrugged and said, oh well, maybe next year then, but it appears that  a) I’m very suggestible, and b) I find it hard to turn down a competition.

It’s not even as if I sprang into action right away, either. No, I spent a while casting round for inspiration. The competition has the theme “London Places and Spaces”, and goes into some detail about the requirements, which include the fact that you must at least nod to a form of London transport. Eventually I landed on the idea of all the backs of houses and gardens you see from the Overground train windows, which always grasp my attention as the train trundles through the suburbs. You get just enough of a glimpse to imagine yourself down there, bouncing on a trampoline or picking flowers from the pristine beds, lying on a garden bench or picking up toddlers’ toys.

Once I’d played around a bit with composition I suddenly thought, of course! The theme lends itself very well to the collage form I’ve used before… but would I have time to do something quite so intricate? Well, now I know the answer.

As a rough estimate, it took about twenty hours’ work, mostly crammed into the time between finishing the day job, and going to bed when I reached exhaustion (which actually isn’t that late for me! I wake early for the school run, so by 11 or 12pm I’m bushwhacked). The knock-on effect of the late hours was that I was too tired to do my normal exercise at lunch time – something I’m usually very strict about – and that my husband started giving me the side-eye over the share of housework I was(n’t) doing.

Hopefully it was all worth it: I’m pleased with the end result. If I’d had more time, though, there are things I would have done differently. My stocks of maps and stamps – my favoured materials – were very low.

A friend has been promising me some old maps for months, and I’ve been too lazy to go and collect them, so that’ll teach me. I had to use my very last scraps, which didn’t give me a full tonal range of materials to choose from. Also, because of the London theme, it would have been just great if it could have used London maps and tickets – but I had no such thing in my stash.

Never mind, though. It is, as they say, what it is.


* Warning, this website flashes in a very disconcerting and headache-inducing way.


Work in progress – more aerial views

It’s such a funny thing.

Or perhaps I should call it a highly irritating, baffling thing. You can plug away for weeks on a picture, and not be sure that it’s working at all. Then one day, you can start a new one, and feel absolutely confident that it’s heading in the right direction from about five minutes in.

I feel good about this one: still work in progress, but I can just see it’s going to come out the way I want it to. Gullholmen aerial view - work in progress by Myfanwy Tristram

[Click to see it nice and big, and count how many versions of the Queen’s head you can see]

Which is a relief, because of course the side-effect of going down a few dead ends is that you start losing all belief in your abilities.

Hmmm. Does this mean I should ditch all work that I *don’t* feel good about right away?

Actually, I already know the answer to that, even though I seem to have trouble acting on it: it’s to experiment more before setting off down the route of a finished piece. I wonder how I can make myself stick to that way of working.

A few details: it’s a collage of stamps and tickets again, with inked additions, like my previous aerial views.

It’s loosely inspired by a real place: Google the name ‘Gullholmen‘ and you can see lots of pictures of it. It’s funny to spend all afternoon drawing somewhere, and only then look at images taken from other sides, or showing you the view from down amongst its little roads.

I think one of the most fun times you can have while drawing is to create little worlds that you’d like to visit yourself: this is something many of us do as kids, but perhaps not so much once we become adults.

I’m really confused now about whether I want to visit the real Gullholmen or my own version, although I suspect the real one would hold up to the weather better.

Stamps don’t really make great roofs in real life.

Stamp forest

Stamp forest by Myfanwy Tristram

This is another of my aerial view collages – click the image to see it bigger.

Birds fly over a forest at twilight, taking messages to a loved one. Between the trees are little houses and lakes; on some of the lakes are boats.

This one is almost entirely composed of stamps; the sea and the birds are tracing paper, put through my printer* and superimposed with wavy lines from postcodes. The beach is made from manilla envelopes.

Notice that each bird is now carrying a tiny little letter, too.

It accompanies others in the series: Green Shield stamps paddyfields and Stamp Valley (which I am eventually going to redraw now that my style has developed a bit on this project).

* Yay for the uncomplaining HP 5524 – you might change your IP address far more frequently than anyone would think necessary, but you aren’t afraid of a bit of non-approved paper stock going through your innards.

On the other hand, if Santa is listening and has any extra space in his sleigh, I think an A3 scanner is currently top of my wishlist. Sorry HP 5524, I still love you, I just hate aligning multiple scans of a single picture.

Green Shield stamps paddyfields

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

In the last few days, I’ve put the finishing touches to a complex collage of paddy fields. It’s made of tickets and postage stamps (many contributed by kind friends) and maps (including one I used to navigate around Japan, before the advent of smartphones in my life). These elements symbolise travelling over great distances.

I also used Green Shield stamps, which don’t symbolise anything, but which seemed so right for the landscape. Then there’s a bit of ink.

You might remember my first drawing of these steppes, which was a simple version in painted inks, from this post.

Paddyfields by Myfanwy Tristram

Then came this valley, also populated with random stamps.

stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

Now the two ideas come together in a new landscape. I’m really pleased with it: from a distance, I think the details of the stamps and maps make it look like an aerial photograph.

I’ve been fiddling around with placing birds over the top of it*, and then I went away for a while and had the idea of just showing their shadows.

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

This is all still work in progress, and I am going to have to get the original collage scanned professionally. As you’ll see if you click and view it larger, this is a composite of several scans. Why don’t they ever match up?!

* These are drop shadows, created from the airmail label bird I showed earlier. That took a bit of thinking through: once I decided I wanted the shadows, but not the birds themselves (because the background is so fussy, it’s really hard to make out any detailed birds, no matter what colour they are), I had to figure out how to do that. Make the bird layer invisible, and the shadow becomes invisible too.

In the end, I expanded the canvas, put the birds outside the main frame, pulled the drop shadows way out from their ‘parent’ shapes, then flattened all the layers and chopped off the margin with the actual birds in it.

I bet there’s a more conventional way to do this. As a self-taught Photoshop user, I am aware I often go all around the houses to do something that a pro would be able to do without thinking.