Friday, 28 September 2007

couple of figures

Things are getting seriously busy now as deadlines approach, so in the absence of words here are some more sketchbook grabs to amuse.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Digging up old work (an occasional slot)

I've been rummaging through some of my old work looking for material to show my agent. Often I end up getting distracted by the pieces that I turn up and forget what I was looking for in the first place.

This is one example, an exhibition piece from several years ago which I've always had a soft spot for. The tree was actually in my local park, I did an on-the-spot sketch and developed it into this illustration.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Tea Pot Torment

Why can't you find as decent western tea pot in Japan (or suburban Yokohama to be more specific)? Could this be a rant coming on? Yes it is.

So the story's this. My old tea pot broke it's spout in the dishwasher, so the missus and I set out to buy a new one. Off we marched to new town shopping mall paradise "Center Kita" with our hopes high.

Center Kita - the very name ("Center North") conjures up images of modern Japanese blandness. Twenty years ago it was nothing but rice paddies, now it's the home to not one, but three air-conditioned mega indoor malls, and all of them are filled with the same old chain-shops you'll find everywhere else around the city - Starbucks, Gap, Sanrio, Orange House, etc etc. Together with the next station down the line (the equally imaginatively named Center Minami (you guessed it - "Center South"), where there's yet another big duplicate shopping mall, the area is a stark example of the Japanese fixation on shopping. For there is utterly nothing else to do there, outside the malls the land is a windswept concrete nightmare of train lines, dual carriageways and stark apartment blocks. I dread to think what would happen to the area if people stopped shopping, it's a disaster waiting to happen.

Anyway, back to story. I'm looking for a large, 4 to 6 cup traditional teapot, but can we find one? No. In all these vast palaces of retail overindulgence there's not one shop that sells a good sized, well designed teapot. What do I mean exactly by "well designed"? This:

Yes we found teapots - we found square ones and we found triangular ones. We found glass ones and aluminium ones. Pots without steam holes, pots with big fat bases that will render the contents cold within minutes. Maybe fine for sticking flowers in, but useless for making tea. I found one teapot which had the shop/company logo emblazoned all over it, but I will not have my kitchen turned into free advertising space for some chain conglomerate company. Most frustratingly we actually found a lot of good miniature teapots - good for two cups, but nothing bigger. And that's where the crunch of realization finally hit me.

Shops don't sell larger teapots than two cups because, according to the rules of fashion, black tea is something for trendy housewives to occasionally sip with a girlfriend, consumption is not the cultural cornerstone multi-cup guzzling of your average Brit.

For all Japan's obsession with accumulating things foreign, western lifestyles are a different thing. Tea-drinking culture in Japan is focused on green tea, not black. These department-store malls are selling not only products, but also lifestyles, but these lifestyles are still only transient fashions, largely targeted at young women. It's easy for a Westerner to be misled into thinking that because all the shops are corporate chains or outlets filled with trendy international goods, that consumers themselves are becoming more "international". Even after twenty years in this country I still fall for it. But the truth is that for the average consumer (and these malls are all focused entirely on Mr and Mrs Average), it's all just shallow fashion. For the Shelley's, as an authentic quirky international family, if we want to find items to match our lifestyle we need to go shopping in quirky international towns, but they have become a great rarity in Japan now, squeezed out or transformed into these souless money-spinning malls.

So why can't I find a decent western tea pot in Japan? Because, despite the appearances of the shopping malls, this is still very much the East!

Monday, 17 September 2007

More machinery

Something else from the sketchbook. I find the more constraining the environment around me, (concrete jungle, crowds of people etc) the more I escape into fantasy.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007


It's not only faces I've been doodling during those increasingly rare occasions I get a seat on the train into Tokyo. One day these doodles might develop into a finished product, then again they might not. I don't really think about where I can take them too much, it's where the drawings take me that's more important. It's just good to scribble away without any agenda other than enjoying myself.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Sunday, 9 September 2007

More Faces

Here's another page of rambling pen lines from my pocket sketchbook.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Sketchbook doodles

Recently I've been doodling faces a lot in my little note sketchbook, here's one page. All straight from the imagination, not so much observations of people around me. I regard it as a kind of imaginative work-out - free doodling without the pressures of meeting a brief. It's not for any specific project, though I'm actually preparing to begin work on the fifth Charlie Bone novel later in the autumn, so maybe some of these doodles will eventually appear in some form or other in the pages of the book.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Family Photos

Okey, this is definitely the last post on my family, the howling wolves of deadlines are baying at the door, henceforth I'll be focused on the present and the tasks in hand.

However I just wanted to show what a wonderful tool Photoshop can be for retouching. As various older members of the family have passed on my father's house has become a repository for a growing collection of old family photos, some of them in very poor condition. So I've been scanning them in and doing what I can to make some of the more important shots more presentable. It's amazing what can be done:

Anne Hern (born 1850) - original scan of a very
faded photograph before retouching.

Anne Hern after painstaking cleaning up and
judicious use of Photoshop's light/shadow &
saturation tools.

The Shelley family around 1932, my father is the toddler propped on the back
of the bike. Original scan with nasty creases.

The same image after careful retouching with Photoshop's clone tool.

In such a way have I been avoiding work and thinking of my family. I've a lot of pictures of my mother's family too, but since she's now gone there's plenty of time to work on those. But its back to work now! As my forever practical wife says, I should worry more about providing for those still around me than those who are no longer with us!


I've been researching my family history for some time now. A couple of years ago my dad had reached a blank on tracing his grandfather, and asked me to see what I could find on the Net. For a history nut like me this was an invitation to open a door into the past - I was instantly hooked.

Since then I've not only traced my great grandfather, but his father in turn and generations before that. I've traced the Shelley line back to 1715 to the small village of Broadwell in Oxfordshire, which last year we visited when I was back in the UK. The biggest revelation was that the family name was originally Shayler, and was mysteriously changed to Shelley in the 1850's, so I've no connections to the poet or the miniature painter Shelley unfortunately. One of the other families in my tree, the Herns, I've traced back to the 17th Century. I've been lucky in that many of the names in my father's line are quite regionally localised, although other families with more common names I've been less successful with. Notably my mother's family in Wales have been difficult to trace beyond the 19th Century as Welsh names are all very similar, the records are just not clear enough. There are just too many Williams, James, Edwards and Davies.

But I live in hope. Now that my mother is gone I have almost no-one of that generation to refer to for information on the family, so the buck pretty well stops here. The research I've garnered is for future generations to preserve, if they so wish.

Of course this has absolutely nothing to do with art, other than a search for some sign of where my meager creative skills descend from. So far the strongest contender for an artistic heritage is my paternal grandmother's family, the Griffins, my great grandfather worked in a Birmingham engraver's office in the 19th century.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Thwarted Summer Greeting

Here's an image I drew some time ago to celebrate the publication of Crockett Johnson's Magic Beach by Front Street in the US. I was invited to submit an homage illustration which would be posted with others on their website. I created it in an afternoon and emailed it over, but for some reason they never received the image, a fact which was overlooked until it was far too late.

Oh well! Had things worked out differently this summer, I'd intended to print it up as postcards and send it to publishers across the continents, but family circumstances intervened. I was hardly in a seasonal celebratory mood either of course. It seems this illustration is doomed forever to be hidden to the public. Well, not if I can help it, at least I can post it here on my blog!

Moving on

I've found the best way to cope with family loss is to concentrate on work, although I can't say I'm being particularly efficient at the moment. It's been a month since my mother's passing, and it's in frequent quiet moments that small details bring her memory sharply into mind, enough to make me stop whatever I'm doing. More particularly I worry about my father, alone now after 55 years of marriage. It's difficult to get enthusiastic about much around me in Yokohama, because I feel my right place is in the UK with him, rather than here the other side of the world. It's silly really, as Japan has been my home for 20 years, my career and family are rooted here. Nevertheless rather than pushing on with deadlines, I've been researching family history and doing other things that help me to place our lives into focus. These are the things that occupy my thoughts a lot of the time.

Though it may be hard to feel very creative right now, I've a lot of work to catch up with after three unscheduled weeks in the UK. Chief task is a 24 page picture book with November deadline for a Japanese publisher. I promise myself once I get stuck into it I'll be fine, but overcoming the first hurdles is not easy!