Monday, 28 April 2014


Sidmouth to Otterton

The lack of a coastal path lead us to make some last minute changes of route - Budleigh Salterton, due to be our next landmark, was replaced by Otterton.  That was fine by me - Otterton seemed to reflect the nature of the walk quite appropriately.  Rather than immersing ourselves in the 'salt' and ocean spray that we had originally envisaged, we ended up flirting with the water, spending our time divided between land and coast, always having the water within reach, but being essentially linked to dry land.  Like an otter.  And Otterton was really fun - the main road was coupled with a miniature stream, both following the same course through the village.  Mini bridges lead up to every house, it was very quaint.

Otterton to Exmouth

It was leaving Otterton that I took over map and compass duties - it was revelatory.  The experience of walking, and my relationship to the landscape and the territory that I was traversing transformed immediately.  I had a key to the country all around me - I could see things in front of me (roads, paths, rows of houses) and I could see what that meant for our journey.  A sighting of a church would lead to a decision being made.  A dialogue was suddenly taking place between the landscape I could see, and the landscape pictured in the map - and I was constantly having to interpret one and then the other.  Somehow these sources of information were both the same, yet they were such different experiences of the same thing.  I was never quite certain I was interpreting correctly, but the sense that I started to feel - that I was very present in a precise location, something that I could pinpoint - really altered my sense of place on the journey.  It kind of became like a game or puzzle, and I was brought further out of my own thoughts, and into this new focus of landscape, map and they way they expressed each other.

We followed the map's paths and curves into some sunlit heath-lands, and through some quiet pine forests.  It started to remind me of other forests - places very far from the sea, places that were very far from here.  It felt so detached from the morning's walking, and yesterday's coastal struggle - these scrubby, lush places, drenched in late-afternoon sun.  We were calm, nothing was very challenging, we just had to keep walking downhill into Exmouth.  And then the journey would be over.

The knowledge of being near the end had a few effects on our walking.  I think, on the whole, we felt less tired.  We could approach it in a rational way, and talk about what we had learnt for future walks and future travels.  We were looking on the experience favourably, with a sense of achievement.  There was a sense that we would no longer get lost, so map-reading became somewhat more relaxed.  We still had quite a way to go, though - OS maps are not the greatest tool for using in a town.  Traversing Exmouth in the dark was far trickier than we imagined.  My phone had broken the day before in the rain, so GPS couldn't be harnessed to help us out.  For some reason, road signage in Exmouth is scant and misleading. 

The train station remained illusive right up to the last minute - Adam was sprinting along the dual carriageway, a sudden burst of strength and determination fuelling his tired limbs.  It was impressive - his pack was pretty heavy, and I knew how tired his whole body must be (because I knew that mine was…)  With two minutes left on the clock, we jumped onto the train home and sat in silence until we got our breath back.  Back to earth with a jolt, our adventure was over.  And we were heading on the dull and cold tracks back to London and our normal lives.


After yesterday's ordeal I was less eager to take risks.  I became a very dull travel companion, constantly in fear of the coastal path.  Were we heading too close to the coast?  Maybe we should take a different route…one that we could be sure wouldn't lead us to the edge of the cliff as torrential rain and gusts spiralled towards us.

I was looking around constantly for signs of inclement weather.  High up on the cliff I could see many.

The morning lead us through the village of Branscombe, where we had spent the night.  A very pretty village - we saw a flock of doves.  Along the road the banks were piled up high against us, so we couldn't see much of the farmland that we were passing through.  Occasionally we were treated to a glimpse of fields of young shoots, emerging from the soil.  Other times, we could see above the bank dozens upon dozens of small huts for the shelter of pigs.  Masses of giant pigs.  We saw this a few times throughout the day, it was horrid.  It was like a caricature of how you imagine pigs would live - in small, messy huts surrounded by miles of filth.  The earth all round them was churned to rancid mud and slurry (in their defence, the UK had just experienced the wettest winter since 1766.  Mud is to be expected)

We also walked past a donkey sanctuary.  This was particularly problematic for me, in light of a particular childhood memory of my Gran going to visit said donkey sanctuary.  I remember being completely scandalised as an 8 year old when my Grandpa suggested that my Gran was only going to the donkey sanctuary to "look at donkey dicks".  Confused and horrified, it has always left me seeing the sanctuary in a grim, unsavoury light.  It was embarrassing to be in such close proximity to it.

Whilst approaching the donkey sanctuary we saw two rather severe hikers who had sat near us at breakfast in the Masons Arms.  They were frightening and agile with their walking sticks and exposed thighs.  It's March, for fuck's sake.  Wear some trousers.  I plodded on, jealous of their superior circulatory systems and tanned muscular legs.  Real hiking seemed very far from my grasp.  Will I always seek an evening's shelter in a B&B, spending cold rainy days just yearning for the hot shower and pint of stout at the end?  Does that make me morally (as well as physically) weak and inferior?  Why were we doing this?  As I pondered on these questions, I realised that we weren't straying from our intentions at all - we were walking exactly in the manner we had intended.  This wasn't envisaged as a challenge, or any kind of physical endurance - it was time that we would spend together, time spent outside.  It was far from invaluable.

After many a steady incline for the last two days, we reached a descent - the entirety of the upward distance we had gained plummeting all at once into Sidmouth.  Oh yeah, we would have to reach sea level.  Of course we would.  It's a seaside town.  A rather painful and hairy descent ensued, leaving me shaky and grateful to be at the bottom of the cliff.  We could climb back up again after lunch.





The other day I gave a talk in Oxford about self publishing, and why it might be a really good creative practice for someone.  Here's a summary of some of it, if you're interested.  Thanks to Cath Watson at The Old Fire Station for asking me to come down and present it - I really enjoyed the day, in particular the other fascinating talks by Lisa Busby and Sunil Shah.

This talk will be talking the creative process of self publishing, how it can be a really valid choice to make for your work.  I want to explore the position of self-publishing as a conscious and liberating choice, and a satisfying medium for creative expression - it doesn't need to be seen as a last resort for your work, or some kind of self-indulgent and vacuous vanity publishing.

It will be split into 3 sections:
1) Self Publishing and Book Production
2) Self Publishing and Storytelling
3) 'The Elder' as a case study

Book Production

This month's program at The Old Fire Station has really interesting with its emphasis on the 2D - exploring the physical page, the flat plane of the object, and the 2D space.  It allows us to ponder on ways of playing with this space, and the form of the page or the book. 

Personally, as a printmaker, I have a desire to produce physical objects which explore the limits of the processes that I use, as well as investigating what can be expressed with the book form.  Naturally the physical form of a thing is really important to me, and I find pleasure and intrigue in the making of an object or artefact - the process of its design, and the physical problems and challenges of making it.  I find it rewarding to work with the specific materials - the paper and inks, and their respective physical properties (and limits that they will set to a project).

The methods of production will present new challenges, and decisions are constantly having to be made - the use of  appropriate methods of printing, the learning of new skills in binding or setting up a book to print.  To me, these decisions and the outcomes that they influence are not completely separate from the final content of the book, and the experience of reading it.

If you are trying to tell a story, the method of its telling is really important.  If you're trying to tell the story of Star Wars then a flipbook is probably not the best way to do it.  It's an epic spectacle, full of striking imagery of space, action and sound - it is not intimate or small in scale.  Star Wars would perhaps not be great as a small A5 pamphlet, printed on textured handmade paper.  It probably shouldn't be stab stitched with wool or natural twine.  They wouldn't be appropriate decisions for the content.  The scale, the feel of the paper, the kind of binding will all contribute to the message that you are conveying. 

So books and printed matter give someone the opportunity to be immersed in your project - they are highly interactive.  Without someone actively reading and turning the pages, the story does not unfold.  You need to generate the right atmosphere, the right introduction to your story, and you can do that with book design - through the process of touch, the scale and other elements that will make someone want to spend time with the object and engage with its content.  I think that this is something interesting to learn and explore for yourself - does the design of the book and the decisions you have made in its production aid the overall storytelling?  How do they contribute to each other?

As I have said, the making of a book is important to me, but I feel its important to recognise that they have the potential to be objects that have a purpose.   I like to see (and produce) work where the content and form of the are created side by side, as perfect expressions of each other - and where the BOOK is the best way to express them.

With Star Wars, cinema is undeniably a great medium to express the story.  It has the grandeur of large spectacle and loud soundtrack to convey its message.  It can present actual movement to display the action, and the fast pace of editing to heighten the excitement.  Cinema's essential characteristics are perfect for Star Wars.  And that's also the charm of the book - you have some fundamental properties to work with.  Like The Hungry Caterpilar, which works so cleverly with the essential book form.  It uses the turning of the page (something quite unique yet essential to books) to reveal information. 

When I consider the content and the form of a book, each helps me understand the other better, and allows me to see how they can function together in a single object.  They are also both areas that you might not want to compromise on in your own projects - things that you want to work out for yourself, and your very personal vision that you have.


Potentially, the story or content of the book might be something very personal to you - the message you are trying to convey, the characters or the kind of narrative that you want to express.  Self publishing can be a very effective avenue for being able to explore story writing that doesn't fit squarely into mainstream target audiences or the output of a commercial publisher.  Where a publisher will have to consider the commercial viability of a project, which will have to suit the tastes of a lot of people, your work can be more exploratory, or have certain aims that are personal to you.  It might be that you want to explore certain kinds of characters that are often marginalised in mainstream cultural products (like this unusual character from Up - a wonderful counter-example)

And personally, I feel it's rather important to explore stories and characters that can encourage people to question their preconceptions of certain character types, or demographics within society.  I'm sure that instinctively many young children might not empathise with the plight of this lonely old man, but he is given a platform so that they can better understand and appreciate him.  It is valuable to encourage others to see the world from a different (and perhaps marginal) perspective, and it can be a lot easier to have that kind of agenda with self publishing. 

So, self publishing can be a good home for the non-standard kind of story, and it can also allow you to experiment with the mode of storytelling - in particular, a more visual narrative.  With a visual narrative you have the opportunity to create a story that might be quite ambiguous, powerful, and have the potential to cross language barriers.  You can see in the work of Decadence Comics that there is great potential for economy is a visual narrative - very quickly we can understand and relate to imaginary worlds and alien characters.  We don't need to know that much about them or their world to start to empathise with them - we can be dropped right in there.

With a visual narrative you can create atmosphere and characters quite economically - an image is quite easy to understand and empathise with, and makes you perhaps more comfortable to engage with the topics that are being discussed - possibly challenging things like loss, isolation, and confusion, which can be quite abstract and tricky to define.

Visual narrative can allow the atmosphere to become central - the feel of the world, and the feelings of the characters can be expressed more easily than individual thoughts.  I think it is this potential for empathy, ambiguity and challenging traditional kinds of characters that lead me to develop my recent graphic novel The Elder.  So, using that as a case study, I'm going to talk about how self-publishing has been really instrumental and important to the creation of my own work, and my development as both a printmaker and a creator of images and comics.

The Elder

In my own work, I feel the urge to tell stories is pretty strong.  I have always been drawn to working with literary sources, or trying to tell my own stories.  I'm consistently impressed by the power of storytelling and its ability to make us think about human experience.  The Elder is hardly a great literary work, and the form of the story is very simple - it's childlike or fable-like in its simplicity.  It deals less with character studies and more with wider themes of misunderstanding, isolation and fear.  There's not much to it, to be honest, to express as a literary work, but it functions OK as a visual narrative which explores feelings, dreams and atmosphere.

It's intended as a short piece which highlights the fears we experience on an almost daily level about social interaction, isolation, misunderstandings and errors of judgement.  The characters make honest mistakes, not driven by malice.  Even though the story is very simple, it was always important to me that the bare bones of it explored something more than standard tropes that might be found in mainstream comics, children's stories or popular fiction.  Being freed somewhat for the need to think about the constraints of such target audiences and their preferences, I felt able to create characters that challenge standard gender roles - in particular, my isolated female protagonist.  She's self-reliant, independent, anxious, ancient, wise and timid.  She is scared of the unknown, like all of us. 

With the central character of The Elder, I have used a very familiar motif - a witch who lives in the woods, using spells and has familiars - but I invite people to explore her moral compass and reassess the presumptions they might make about her character.  The reader can see the ways in which this familiar character might be vulnerable or lonely, anxious and socially inept.  In this more visual narrative, by using a witch (who looks like a very iconic idea of a witch) you can present them in a less one-dimensional way.

As I say, the story is rather scant, and most of the actual time spent in the production of this book was spent on the image making, and making the world seem coherent and the narrative flow.  Without the useful tool of language it can be quite hard to tell if you're making any sense at all, and I wanted to make sure that elements of the plot were coherent and understandable.  The last thing I wanted was for people to leave the book feeling that the witch was evil, and making sure that people could empathise with her was really important to me. 

I really valued the freedom that I had to explore these things, as well as the independence, exploration and learning that came from the process.  I had complete control over my personal aims and goals for the project, and didn't have to compromise on what I thought is important.  That's the joy of self publishing - if you think something is important you can make it happen.  Over the course of the project, I began to feel that screenprinting the whole book wasn't that important.  But there were many other elements that I did not feel that I wanted to compromise, and which I felt would diminish the integrity of the whole project.

With self-publishing you can set your limits and intention for the project and make it your personal journey, and at the end you will have a book that hopefully you can be satisfied with.  You have seen it from start to finish, you have made all the most appropriate decisions, and now you have something that expresses your creative vision. 

In many ways, my knowledge of the print process is a central theme of The Elder - I was able to test so many coloured inks and papers, and use the medium in the fullest way, which not many people would be lucky enough to do.  I have great access to the print techniques, and I think my work reflects and expresses that - my enthusiasm for risography.  In many ways it's as much an exercise in riso as drawing or telling stories.  It's hard for me to pin down what my main intention was, as it has always been as much an exercise in printing as it has comics - it has always been a small press venture, from it's initial conception.  And for me, that is why self-publishing makes so much sense to me - it's a complete experience, creating a complete object.  Content and form, printing and drawing, start to finish.

Friday, 25 April 2014


Oxford was kind enough to invite me to take part in its Makers' Month celebrations of drawing, printing and the 2D page, taking place at The Old Fire Station.  Events take place throughout April, including exhibitions of drawing and printed works, the Press Up small publishers' fair, and a series of talks exploring publishing and the world of small press.

 I am taking part in their printmaking exhibition from the 15th-19th April, and will be giving a talk on 'Self Publishing and Creative Practice' on the 26th April.  More info can be found HERE on their site.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


This weekend sees the first outing of Press Up, an exciting new event in Oxford, UK.  Masterminded by the great people at The Well-Met Press, the day is set to be something special and different.

Press Up is an exploration of the DIY culture of zines and self-publishing.  Bringing together an eclectic mix of small run and hand printed publications, it will celebrate the subcultures, oddities and creativity that artists and writers print and bind into physical objects.

Press Up will encourage sitting down and flicking through; taking time out to appreciate printed pages and the ideas on them.

Press Up will show local outputs as well as zines from further afield, showcasing the potential of printing and self-publishing. It will also operate as a pop-up shop, where everything will be for sale, a potential of tabletop discovery and ownership of artists work.



Expedition No.1:
The Eastern Forests
(Ekspedition No.1:
De Østre Skove)
Jægergårdsgade 57, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
17th-20th April, 11am-5pm, 21st April: 11am-4pm

Exhibition and 'adventure supplies' store with food, drink, books and artefacts (including my book The Elder)

Saturday, 12 April 2014


Lyme Regis to Seaton
This was a critical point - at Lyme Regis we found out that the coastal path would be closed.  For the entire length of our journey, pretty much.  And we were set to be walking the entire width of this map.

We took the news surprisingly well.

Heading inland was fine - somehow we always seemed to be walking in hidden tracks, with raised beds reaching up above us on either side.  Or walking through gnarled and ancient forests which were pleasantly soft beneath our boots.  It was so different from what we had planned, but it was wonderful, like a hidden, magical realm.  And suddenly, we found ourselves in a mystical gated community, unlike anything I could have expected.  On the map it's nothing to look at.  We walked through an impressive arch, like a coach house, and commented on how cute it was.  Like tourists, "isn't that a cute house.  It's like a coach house".  And then, out of the mist and the densely planted trees, there was a giant hall.  And then churches and houses and postboxes, and maps of the village.  Was it a village?  It was like a small campus, or a feudal settlement.  There would be a lord and members of the clergy and all the workers that pay tithe to the lord.  It seemed like possibly another self-sufficient community (a peculiarly popular model for living in Dorset?), but this one had no people in it.  After walking along the straight road for a good 10 minutes, with the strange village unfolding around us on either side, we left under another arch that was just as cute as the first.  We didn't see a soul.

As I say, the rain set in.  It was in for the long haul, getting heavier and more piercing, and joined by stronger and stronger gusts.  But at this stage it wasn't too bad.  The most depressing thing at this point was Seaton itself - the most hideous dive of a town we have ever encountered.  It was the ultimate kick in the teeth.
Seaton to Branscombe
We passed through a few villages that seemed incredibly picturesque but we just couldn't stop to admire them.  Beer looks like a really nice village, but the experience was marred somewhat by our journey over Beer Head, where the wind was so strong that I couldn't move forward unless I ran.  Near the edge of the cliff, these strong gusts were particularly frightening - I kept picturing my mother being so cross when she found out what a foolish end we had met - "and they were on the coastal path, even though there were signs that it was CLOSED?!  The folly!"
My patience was tried so much by the weather that we hopped two barbed wire fences to get to the Masons Arms at Branscombe.  Adam's glasses blew off his face and he fell flat on his ass running down a steep slippery hill.  When we reached the Masons Arms I looked so bedraggled, and was fumbling so much with all my stuff that a woman was moved to undo all my buttons for me.  A tender and intimate moment I had not expected.

The Masons Arms
I could have wept with joy in the steaming hot shower, and wept again when I sat down for dinner.  I did not wear any shoes in the restaurant as they were drying in the bath.  Again, I fell asleep staggeringly early and woke with the break of dawn.  Our bathroom stank something rotten where we had hung up all our wet jumpers to dry.  It was like an old dog's mouth.


I was very pleased to be asked to take part in A Secret Club's latest show in Denmark, 'Ekspedition No.1 - The Eastern Forest'

The show brings together an explorer's findings of the territory of The Eastern Forest, presented for the audience to develop an appreciation of that land's customs, inhabitants, flora and fauna.

I have chosen to depict the elaborate burial rituals of the Eastern Forest

"Deep in the forest, burials of the dead involve a lengthy and musical communion with the deceased spirit. Human mutterings and delicate chiming bells intertwine with the spirits' parting wishes, desires and secrets."


Axminster to Monkton Wyld
The day was sun-suffused and comfortable, and gently rolling hills lead us playfully to our destination at the bottom of a lush valley.  Along the quiet tracks we talked as we rarely get the chance to do in the city - why is this?  We talk all the time at home - we're always talking.  We never stop.  But somehow time is more generous when you're strolling together, in peace and seclusion.  Talk is clearer, we understand each other better, we feel nourished by the talking and understanding.  We feel very close.

There were flowers blossoming luxuriantly along the paths we walked - it seemed very early for flowers.  

Monkton Wyld Court
Living by someone else's rhythm can have profound physical effects.  At Monkton Wyld Court we had to eat dinner with the live-in staff at 6pm.  We ate homemade pizzas in silence, while a woman softly and eerily sang ballads to herself in an old-English traditional style.  They may have been hymns.  After this I went to my room as the sun went down - I curled up in bed, as the room was cold, and I was asleep by 8.30pm.  I woke the next day when the sun came up, at 8am.  This has never happened before.  I guess I felt pretty refreshed by it.

Monkton Wyld to Lyme Regis

Heading to the coast, on a windy and bright morning.  Is this the most idyllic that life can get?  It was definitely the most idyllic part of the day, which slowly descended into a stormy and frightening ordeal.  More of that later.


We expected a coastal walk.  I was worried we might get tired of plunging through pebbled beaches for three days.  I thought we weren't up for the challenge.  Walking on pebbles is challenging.

From Axminster in the East, to Exmouth in the West - three days of gentle seaside strolling, following the coast.  It would be light on the brain - there's no way we can get lost!  Just keep walking forward, following the shore! Our map was a quaint formality, a manifestation of my insistence to champion Ordnance Survey in a world of GPS.  The maps and compass would be fun, but predominately walking accessories to mark the difference between town and country.

Our experience was so different from what we had intended - a journey marked by its simplicity, its cleanness, its clarity of air.  Flat and simple, peppered with small villages and towns that had local museums and galleries, chip shops and pleasure gardens.  Our scant research had told us this much.  We knew where we would be staying, we knew how we would be getting home once we got to Exmouth.  We could not have been less knowledgeable about the territory that we encountered.