Sunday, 19 December 2010

New interview as of 19/12/10

Just a heads up that the Zine Queen, Texan-born and UK-resident Teal Triggs has included me in her own blog covering the international 'zine scene'. The material, featuring a new photo by Mette Ambeck, appears in the form of an interview, Number 18 in an ongoing series.

This is a great honour for yours truly, and a nice way to round off the year in which I first dipped a toe into the bloggosphere or whatever it's called!

My interview can be found at:

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Thames Beach - Tuesday November 16th 2010

A blessed day off for both Mette and I, she from the rigours of bookbinding, myself from the psychological erosion of a tutoring job.
A strange, misted aspect to the London distance as we descended to the foreshore opposite Tate Modern. A surprisingly soft sand at the head of the beach, touching the slab-like building blocks of the wall, but descending into the crazy detritus of the water's edge, where Victorian clay-pipe fragments mix it up with red brick shards, crockery of unknown provenance, clogged mud and other delights.
In the distance the tapering bulk of some new novelty-shaped monolith towers already, dwarfing Southwark Cathedral, while on the Millenium Bridge a pretty patchy saxophonist trailed through some standards.
I momentarily felt like waltzing in the sand, but Mette had already walked on, eyes glued to the beach in search of that perfect pipe.
Splendid afternoon, in short.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS – 'The Common Senses' set Pt.1:

This is a complex one – I’m breaking it up into parts and putting them up here in reverse order.
can then simply continue down the screen reading one after the other and get the full effect.

Now read on. . .

In recent posts I have noted a few Ensixteen Editions pieces that were produced for submission to gallery exhibitions. My drive to write and draw the books even in these cases remains very personal, with triggers sometimes being as simple as a single word or short phrase, open to my interpretation.

The largest number of separate issues collected as one release so far are ‘The Common Senses’
– five books linked not to gallery exhibitions but rather to two trips to Smith College, in the small Massachusetts town of Northampton, between July 2007 and December 2008.

Pt. 2 – Gathering. . . Common Senses

A double visual ‘code’ carried through the series and gave it coherence.

Firstly, each of the five was aligned to one of our human senses.
As you can see in the first post above, alongside connected images of the body the front cover compositions made use of falling stacks of words or phrases that came from the US trips, also tied to that sense (sight, sound, taste etc.), while back covers carried quotes that felt apposite, one example – from Volume 5 – being Aldous Huxley’s:
‘Every man’s memory is his private literature.’

Secondly, on opening a volume the reader finds it carries a theme;
learning, identity, Smith, place and self, respectively.

Pt. 3 – Embracing. . . Common Senses

I travelled on a budget provided by 'research funds' from my academic place of employment at the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom, Surrey – such support being available to salaried staff developing ideas which tie into what comprises valid 'research activity'.
These are muddy waters, and I had come to the realization that being awarded such funds was to some degree a kind of shell game, reliant upon unpredictable and unknown management agendas, beyond a point.

Despite that, I set out an idea that sought to link reportage drawing and reflective writing with interviews conducted both inside and outside an academic institution.
As a student and – more recently – tutor I have remained bemused at the occasionally antagonistic relationship between colleges and the communities within which they sit.
It certainly seemed rich territory for human stories.
A kind gentleman called Martin Antonetti – Smith's Curator of Rare Books at their Neilson Library – agreed to help.
Martin's generosity led to many insights into the process and experience of education – the pleasure it can bring as well as the tensions and personal conflict, the things it leaves with us after we leave it behind.
Alongside Martin – in facilitating elements that meant the series worked on lots of levels – was my old friend Karen Leet, who also provided introductions to people and places that embedded the local area outside Smith into the set.

Splendid folk and many, many happy memories to keep, from the baked heat of July to the tight cold of December 2007.

Pt. 4 – Seeing. . . Common Senses

After probably my most intense working period since I started the ‘bio auto graphic’ series, I wrapped the books up and released them into the wild at the November 2008 4th Manchester Artists' Book Fair – and at Smith College itself shortly thereafter.
They drew from the widest range of material I had ever used (location sketchbooks, interviews, photography) – a dizzying patchwork quilt of a thing at times – and I was hugely satisfied with the results.

Pt. 5 – Being. . . Common Senses

Even these books still fall into step with my broad agenda; using my own personal experiences – and the stories spinning out from them – to link with the larger issues within society.
And telling yarns about it all.

Regular themes surface again; identity, morality, personal hope and public fear, the nature of our obligations to each other and to our community, the power of love and friendship and humour to take us through our days in meaningful ways.

What else is there?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

AWARD - WINNER! Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck

We had a great time at the 2nd Whitechapel Gallery London Art Book Fair - lots of old friends and faces, some very promising new interest in the work for both of us.

Best moment for me was when my dear friend and co-exhibitor Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck was the recipient of a Birgit Skiƶld Memorial Trust Award from the selection panel (Richard Price, Head, Modern British Collections, The British Library, Elizabeth James, Documentation Manager, The National Art Library at the V&A, Gill Saunders, Curator of Prints at the V&A and Trust representatives Marc Balakjian and Victoria Bartlett).

This was for her new laser-cut volume 'Steam, Salt, Milk' - made in July at the laser-cutting facilities at the University of West England in Bristol with the skilled help of artist Tom Sowden.

Here are images of both winner and book – both beautiful.

See her website link in the right-hand list here on the blog of my inspirational things.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Oh, My Followers! A REMINDER -

Just a quick mention of an imminent event that I know you will all find a way to attend (but best not all crowd in at once as the venue only has a capacity of 650 and it wouldn't be fair on other exhibitors).
Despite the fact that several of you don't even live in London - one of you is across the Atlantic, and another in Oz - I KNOW you won't let me down!


will run from Friday to Sunday (24th to 26th September) between 11.00am and 6.00pm!!!
It's free admission and Mette Ambeck and I are at stand 88 on the 1st Floor, in the 2nd of the large gallery spaces.

Drop by and we shall shoot the toot and exchange money for beautiful things.
Best - M & M xxx

Saturday, 18 September 2010

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS - THE BOOKS - bio auto graphic - 'A Place of Interest : Mapping Myself'

The final edition of the three produced between May 2009 and early Summer 2010 was this one - responding to an open call from the 2nd Doverodde Book Fair, in Denmark.
After last year's theme of 'Island' they had selected a curious symbol

– currently used to indicate 'A Place of Interest' in Scandinavian mapping and signage – but actually with a cultural provenance of half a millennia or more – as the focus.
My own modest piece is of particular note – in relation to the ongoing series and my creative agenda – because I was drawn to use a hand-printed component - a very messy hands-on image, made with cut corrugated card, roller and printer's ink.
I can't say why I was moved to use this method - but I think I instinctively wanted a more random, distressed, textured feel to my own visual interpretation of the symbol at the core of the project. Something that would imply the rigours of passing time perhaps?

Once printed on the fly during my lunch hour at college - my own secret intervention in our new Print Area - I then took the image through the lovely Quick Gratification Machine (AKA photocopier) to duplicate, before remixing it in a cut-and-paste fashion with the hand-drawn artwork.
With each new edition of 'bio auto graphic' I have tried to incorporate something new in format or visual approach, so this fitted that personal remit nicely.

Return from the Americas - a mind-expanding 2010 jaunt

This image was taken while my partner Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck and I paused on an already hot Sunday, just before 12 of the mid-day clock, in the splendid little town of Northampton, Massachusetts. We had already travelled many, many miles – from the horizontal rain and 40 mph winds of Boston to the quiet suburbs of Nashua, New Hampshire and the bizarro shennanigans at the Duchess County Fair in the Hudson Valley, NY State (Funnel Pie and a Pig Race anyone?). . . Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
Our heartfelt thanks to our various hosts - Kay and Faith and Brian and Martin, Nina and Gigi - and my thanks to dearest Mette.

The world's big and it's all too easy to forget it.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS - THE BOOKS - 'Night and Day/Day and Night'

As one of the invited speakers at Manchester Metropolitan University’s ‘The Story of Things’ conference on narrative – in all kinds of formats and manifestations – I reviewed my working process, inspirations and agenda in a tight twenty-minute slot.
The event tied to a wonderful exhibition of the same name which local artists and collaborators Jonathan Carson and Rosie Miller (AKA Carson & Miller) had curated – an ‘artistic intervention’ of sorts in which they sought to juxtapose elements from MMU’s impressive and exotic Special Collection. Ceramics, stage wigs, fascinating film from the North West Film Archive (researched with the help of Marion Hewitt). . . all contributed to a genuine ‘cabinet of curiousities’.
Each speaker drew from their own field (journalism, photography, archaeology) in a discussion of their relationship to storytelling, with the usual mix of artist/practitioners and academics/researchers.
I felt I did a pretty reasonable job of stating my case, and had created such a ruthlessly stripped-down ‘script’ for the day that I was able to relish the speaking of the words – the performative aspect of public presentations that has consolidated through years of tutoring and which I really enjoy. I was able to take pauses and let the audience (academics, artists, librarians et al.) appreciate the details from the images I had selected.
While talking I surprised myself with how passionately I felt about the Ensixteen range of issues. Creatively I have to ask myself if these books – these modest paper testaments to what I see as the higher qualities and baser instincts of life – are the thing of me that might outlive me?
My testament?
(Never underestimate the ego of an artist.)
They’re a humble mark on the cave wall, certainly, but I can’t say I feel any particular comparable pride in all the many, many published pieces I made in my years as an illustrator, or the countless frames of the storyboards I made in film and television.

Why don’t I seek out a more professional, broader outlet for the work If they’re so important to me, you may ask?

All I can say in my defense is this: I feel I stepped out on a journey with Ensixteen’s ‘bio auto graphic’ series and the road’s still stretching away into the distance with no end in sight – and that’s good. I literally don’t know where I’m going with it all. But that’s not a cause for fretting. The unexpected is good in this context.
Everything’s copacetic.
I am touched by the enthusiasm of readers, enjoy the act of surrendering to instincts honed over a lifetime and excited by the experience. I feel in many ways they – the books – express my drawing skills at their peak after such a long time allowing them to be shaped by professional, commercial contexts.
Don’t get me wrong, I always felt great pleasure at the delivery of a job – a craftsman’s pride in his trade, perhaps – but as many a poor movie trailer has said: This time it’s personal (in that stupid husky voice, you know the guy).

Anyway, as a gift to the delegates I made a freeform, curate’s egg of thing – a new edition called ‘Day and Night/Night and Day’ which sought to offer a 24-hour record of my head/thoughts – weaving up into the conscious world from sleep and on through typical varied episodes in a day. The parallel upper and lower segments of the page attempted to get across the endless, intertwined strands of our outer and inner selves. It’s dense and highly experimental in the way it juxtaposes images and words.
I was rather pleased with it, and have since made a 2nd edition for wider distribution at book fairs.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS – THE BOOKS – 'Every Man Is An Island' 2009

In the period between early Summer 2009 and early Summer 2010 I produced three new editions of Ensixteen material.
As of this writing that feels like a small amount of work for a year - especially given my rapid rate of productivity when I'm actually engaged in the process of writing and drawing new books. . . but there was too much other interference cutting across my concentration, usually from the direction of my salaried college tutor job but also personal matters, family illness and other things that were, frankly, more important.
My partner Mette Ambeck's links to the Doverodde Book Arts Centre, in Northern Denmark, sparked the 1st of these three editions – 'Every Man Is An Island'.
As part of the ongoing event there had been an open call for book arts pieces linked to the theme of 'Island'.
What resulted was a really enjoyable experience for me – with a narrative that allowed my usual Ensixteen alter ego to travel South to North up the length of Windermere as well as through time. Along the way I revealed stories from family and friend’s lives and history, tales from local communities, all tied to the geography of the place, islands included.
An arbitrary subject here gave me rich pickings, and two small incidents from the subsequent Leeds Contemporary Artists' Book Fair (March 2010) perfectly exemplify the strange, capricious connection to a readership at such events. 'Island' sold well enough, but two rapid sales in particular I found strangely pleasing - one to a girl in dark glasses who had lived for awhile on Canvey Island, in Essex and was drawn to the theme, and the other to a local PHd student who was studying the 'role of the island in art'.
They came, they saw, they asked brisk questions, they bought.

Random, unexpected, pure meat and gravy book fair incidentals.


Ever weakened by an attraction for badges, I naturally succumbed a few years ago and Mette and I have produced (with the marvellous generosity of Better Badges in Tottenham (highly recommended) occasional sets and singles ever since. Best of all are the modest and likeable 'small' sized ones, with proper metal pins at back - an enduring classic which has proven very popular to an audience of varied ages. The sets celebrate my passion for language amongst other things - some words are to be said with relish, and in this supposed era of unbridled communication we stop less and less to roll them around our tongues and TASTE them.
And none of that text-friendly abbreviation either, thank you very much.

RIP James Campbell - 1966 - 2010

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Type Set - St. Bride Library, May 27th 2010

Ultimately, the first day of the 'DIY Design' 2010 conference at wonderful St. Bride Type Library was notable for two things:
1) – the successful delivery of my partner Mette Ambeck's 1st Conference paper – entitled 'Cutting, sewing, scanning, printing – a personal design journey into publishing'
2) – a bizarro tale of the unexpected wherein she and I, along with three complete strangers we had never met before, WON the 'Type Quiz' that evening. This regular event was hosted and devised to a level of fiendish detail by the Grand Moff Tarkin of Type, Phil Baines (fellow traveller in the 1982 intake of St. Martins School of Art Graphic Design course and my old flatmate). None was more surprised than he.
We must have won though - Phil marked the paper personally.

How weird is that?

(Photo provided by Becky Chilcott - lovely screen-printed certificate by Sarah Hyndman.)

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS - THE BOOKS - 'In A Single Bound Volume Our Hero Is Free' 2008

As with the earlier 'Sitting Ruminations' edition, in 2008 I responded to an open call for submissions – this time from artists Chris Taylor and John McDowell, who organize the annual Leeds Contemporary Artists' Book Fair.
They sought book art that investigated the nature of the book form itself, and – as I had exhibited relatively little at that point – I was keen to submit something.
Ultimately, I created a 'silent' issue – the pages and the action they carry are completely without text. While this began as a pragmatic decision (the preparatory process of writing takes far longer for me than the drawing) it resulted in probably the most visually playful edition to that point. The book, the page and the spreads act as doorways, windows, places of acrobatic transition.

If I was that active in real life I'd be thin as a rake.

The title, if you hadn't guessed, tips the hat to a certain champion of Metropolis, and in using it I painted myself into somewhat of a corner – it became the first 'Ensixteen' edition to be bound by thread and needle sewn-style.

The edition was selected for the subsequent exhibition 'From Book to Book' at Leeds Art Gallery (6th to 20th April, 2008) and has proven to be very popular with buyers since.

People I like very much No.17: Robert Rankin

The Bard of Brentford, the Sage of the Age, the Gurus Guru. . .
Robert Rankin - author of around 30 novels and pioneer of Far-Fetched Fiction. I have known and enjoyed the company of The Lad Himself since my early college days, when he welcomed me as an itinerant art student & illustrator into his West London home to talk the toot, shoot the breeze and chew the fat.
And it still goes on, though now mostly in Brighton.
Here we see RR on the occasion of his wedding to steelpan artiste extraordinaire Lady Raygun (AKA Rachel Heyward) in the parish of Brentford, in the Year of Our Lord 2007. He is the one on the left - the other being Mister Jonathan Crawford.

See for the doings of his new fan club.

What a nice man.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

My Partner In Crime & I

Ten years and many, many book fairs later (Halifax, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow, Small Publishers, Barbican, ICA, Whitechapel). . .
Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck remains my hero, star and inspiration.
See her website for some gorgeous work, shot through with an acute design sensibility and fine Danish craft skills in the making.

Our next gigs will be:
2nd London Art Books Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery on 24th/25th/26th September 2010

5th Manchester Artists Book Fair at Holden Gallery, Manchester Metropolitan University on 6th November 2010

Small Publishers Fair at Conway Hall, Holborn on 12th/13th November 2010


This small set of postcard designs were created in 2007 for the ongoing 'Random Project', at the invitation of designers Sarah Hyndman and Becky Chilcott. They extend and elaborate on themes that were beginning to recur in the 'bio auto graphic' books; senses of home, personal happiness, society and our place within it. . .

You can find a wealth of visual material related to the project at both and specific detail on the amassed postcard designs at
I'm on page 3.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Elsewhere in the press, from our correspondent in West Cumbria. . .

RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE: School Knott Drive, Christmas Day 2009

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS - THE BOOKS - 'Ensixteen Editions Seasonal Range' 2006 - 8

The 'Ensixteen Editions Seasonal Range' was created during the course of around a year and some spare change, 2006 to 2008.

My inspiration was the grab-bag style of the kids comics of my youth, especially the seasonal 'Specials' they brought out – albeit usually just in summer as an extra treat during school holidays (the heavy-hitter, hardbacked 'Annuals' being saved for Christmas stockings). They would contain familiar characters as well as articles, photo quizzes, joke pages and maybe longer versions of regular strips.
As regards the significance for Ensixteen, these books allowed me to create new strip stories - some along seasonal themes like 'Baked Meat in a Can' in the 'Special Summer' edition – but also pool together lots of sketchbook material which I had begun to accrue in recent years. Some single pages and small sequences were from other sources, but almost all the material was previously unpublished.
Page counts were higher across the quartet, giving particularly good value for money, either when sold separately or as a set within an attractive 'belly band' design.

A couple of points are worth noting, and are illustrated in the previous post.

First point: Some strips herein feature the last appearances to date (2010) of my earlier alter ego character 'Ron', who I had drawn since 1970's school exercize books and had most recently starred in my 'Stokey Comics' line between 1999 and 2003. In the 'Autumn Almanac' (actually the first in the set to be completed) I return from work to find him in my flat, having somehow crossed the divide between drawn page and reality.
I guess in some senses this was my guilt surfacing – at having abandoned him in favour of all the fun I was having drawing myself and my own life in 'Ensixteen Editions'.
Certainly Ron himself is unconvinced during this metafictional little 'team-up', as he reads some of the recent stuff. He and I proceed through my pen and ink Stoke Newington to mull it over, walking through Clissold Park, eating at the – now sadly-departed – Shamsudeen Restaurant and taking ales at The Rochester Castle public house, allowing cameos by both the living and the dead.

Second point: In the 'A Winter's Sale' edition there is a more coherent narrative from first page to last, as I consider my home town in the Lake District as it must have been in the 1960s in winter – a more isolated and characterful place, I suspect. I experimented here not only with new elements like family photos but most significantly with selective colour. In this I was aided by my old friend David Ellis at the Why Not Associates, who essentially took my art direction in the use of an intentionally understated colour palette.

It seemed to me, in the season we least associate with colour, that I should use some for a change.

Alone – and together – the issues proved popular, and were collected by regular customers who now included public collections like the Tate Gallery and Manchester Metropolitan University's All Saints Special Collection.
Indeed I'm pleased to say that the latter has made sure to retro-collect the entirety of both Ensixteen and Stokey Comics output published since 1999.

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS - THE BOOKS - 'Ensixteen Editions: The Seasonal Range' - 2006 - 8 (Covers & illustrative detail)

ENSIXTEEN EDITIONS - THE BOOKS - 'bio auto graphic': Sitting Ruminations 2006

In 2006, with the 'Sitting Ruminations' edition, I responded to a call from artists and co-curators Lucy May Schofield and Tom Sowden, who had the idea to create an exhibition wherein the 'preciousness' surrounding certain incarnations – and exhibiting formulae – of the artists' book could be left behind. They had decided to: 'Take them out of glass cases, out of libraries and away from the artist’s book fairs, resituating them in an environment that was conducive to reading and engaging with the books.' (Tom S on the UWE book arts website.)
This they did, in the form of a recreated 'sitting room', with books available and accessible on shelves and surfaces, as in a pre-television era where they arguably played a more central role in our informal entertainment and education.
Beginning in Manchester the 'Sitting Room' show toured in Europe and even as far as Mexico over the next few years.

My own book – the only time to date (2010) I have done so – gathered drawings made on or near forms of public transport during my daily commuter travel to my college job.

I had a tight schedule, and used a beautiful sketchbook hand-bound for me by artist Mette Ambeck. The limit of its page-count was the limit of my raw material. As marriages of form and content go, it provided a perfect sufficiency for what I needed.
I wanted to capture ordinary folk in their ways of distraction, using books or printed word as a means of escape or a barrier to the boredom of dreadful daily repetition.

For more on this see the exhaustive and exemplary website at University of West England's - most particularly

People I like very much No.85 : John Bently

John, John, Johnnie B.

See for the man, his work – and his shed.
Here we find him during the Bristol Artists Book Event 2 (or in a nearby hostelry anyway) as, in early April, 2009 turned it's face towards warmer times.


This is inside my mind, always.

Commuted sentence - Number 76

Aside from that. . .

Distancing myself from the kind of thing in the box below preserves sanity – and not in a bad, dead way, like pickled eggs in a jar, either.

Before the dog days of August. . .

Good weekend to those who read - at least a bright and breezy Saturday here in N16 - London's green and pleasing Stoke Newington - as I type these words.
The day being 17th July, 2010.
Where are you right now as you read, I wonder? Has time passed - is it Winter yet? Are you having a nice day that has already made you smile or feel good in yourself?

Remiss of me to miss posting anything here for some several weeks - it may even be a month or two - but such are the interferences run by other commitments and demands on the time we have. I hope you will understand.
The pressures of my academic job are eased as members of the Graphic Design Team take their various Summer leaves. A full-on year, a madhouse at times. And New Dawn awaiting us in September - a profoundly rewritten and revalidated course, with much that will be new and energizing we hope.
All of the above against the background context - since last I wrote - of the country's new 'Coalition' masters - headed by interchangeable Etonized Clone Twin technology that sound the same, make the same earnest gestures and sounds, convince no more than the last mob.
Bland, bland, bland.
The bland leading the bland?

In other news, a fellow Cumbrian has run amok and killed many people one bright day in Whitehaven, and on the East coast a stone cold killer called Raul has apparently become a 'People's Hero' to some of the morally bereft followers of Facebook. Read it and weep.

Upcoming here: the ongoing catalogue of Ensixteen's Evolution and back-catalogue, as I head for the present day through posts on each issue that I've produced under this self-publishing banner since 2004.
There will be insights, thoughts and lovely pictures aplenty.


Thursday, 6 May 2010

N16 Number 16

Some weeks away from this virtual realm - Life and other details getting in the way, you know how it is.
Here now - on the eve of a Brand New Day in British politics (or just a stir of the Spoon of Fate a couple of times around the Swill Bin of Westminster?) - a few mysterious glimpses from a new Ensixteen Editions. Indeed - cue fanfare - the SIXTEENTH. . .
This inspired by the common symbol I have re-created here as a home-made relief print - you can find it on the 'command' key of your Mac, wooden skis from the Middle Ages. . .and on Danish maps indicating a 'Place of Interest'.
Following on from their last (2009) theme of 'Island', the 2nd Doverodde Book Arts Festival has issued an open call for new book pieces inspired by this phrase and this icon.
Here you can see some early sketchbook trials for my page designs, as well as the original print.
The event itself runs from 13th to 16th May and you can find more at