My wish for the new year, 2023: Love art, love artists

Individuals have given too much away on the Internet for free for the simple love of exchanging knowledge and art, while big companies have been completely unashamed about demanding that absolutely everything pay for itself.

This leaves users/consumers – PEOPLE as individuals – all too eager to get content for free when we can.

When people put free fiction and art and knowledge up online for free – because we love each other and want to share it as widely as possible, for the sheer pleasure of connection and growth – we resist contributing to politely-voiced requests for tips because we have so little money ourselves, and everything from the big companies that dominate knowledge, entertainment, and art, COSTS. Sucks us dry and reaches into every crevice of our lives on the off chance that it can be sold.

We have to rebalance that. Somehow, we just have to.

Obviously, proper regulation would make a HUGE difference. Govenments have to step in and break up big businesses and litigate what can and cannot be sold. Companies have got around the EU demand that permission must be given to sell data by making the dialogs to give permission as obnoxious as possible. That should be prosecuted too. The law exists because people, as a whole, DO NOT WANT their information sold and used without their ability to control it. Just as artists and writers do not want their content scraped from the web.

We need to vote for people who are prepared to radically shake up the system and not make small steps on the false belief that we will only break ground with centrists if the left-leaning-parties ask quietly or lurch ever more rightward.

We need the broad, proud, socialist steps that so many countries – even the US and UK – made after WW2 that caused such huge growth.

But we also can’t count on that.

If I have one wish for the new year it is that everyone, in their personal capacity, to the extent that they’re able, support creators.

If you can afford to (and by God, some of us can) BUY books and art and tip people who write good articles and posts. And if you’re addicted to free fanfic (that’s OK, I am too) seek out those ko-fis and paypal.mes and GoFundMes etc, which those creators whose work you devour certainly have. Give them something as a thank you for what you’ve gained, even if you can’t buy their art.

If you can’t afford to: promote. Spread. Sing about the people whose work you love.

If they have non-free works you can’t pay for, shout about them too. Say, ‘Hey, this person wrote 300,000 words of fic that kept me alive when I was struggling and I ADORE them and I’m willing to bet this other thing they wrote that costs money is astonishing – please check it out!’

Make 2023 the year we love art and artists, writing and writers, crafts and crafters.

Make the radical choice to be AWARE of what makes you happy and share it. Promote it. Be the marketing individuals can’t do for themselves. Sincere, word-of-mouth-celebration of things you love.

I’m willing to be stepping back and really appreciating the things that make you happy will lift you up and make you more aware of your own joys, large and small, too.

The value of art

Painting: Yes, it hurt when I fell
I’m talking about art today, so I’m using my own work for colour.

I saw a series of gifs the other day from an interview with Kevin Conroy, who died on November 30. Conroy was the voice of Batman, in Batman: The Animated Series, and he was recounting his experience of meeting a fan at a convention.

The fan wept and embraced him, and he did his best to reassure her. But she was aware of how strange it must seem. She said: ‘You don’t understand what you did for me,’ and she explained.

She’d grown up in an impoverished area, and every kid she’d known had died or ended up in jail or on drugs. Her parents had worked hard and couldn’t watch her after school, but when her school mates had been outside, getting into trouble, she had been at home watching Batman. It gave her a safe space in which to learn and grow

That time with a guardian-like figure who seemed to genuinely care saved her life. And she was meeting her saviour.

It is such a wonderful thing to have done for someone else. And yet, as Conroy reflected, we so rarely get a chance to know of the deep impact our art can have on others.

I am so very glad he got to know.

It made me reflect on the value of art, and how easy it is for us to not know how important even small and rough works of art can be to others.

I thought about a piece of GCSE art that was displayed in my school’s assembly room. All GCSE art was displayed there for a week after it had been submitted, and I always LOVED that part of the year. Those works of art made my heart soar in a way I’ve rarely felt in adult life.

I remember one tiny work very clearly. Most GCSE students (myself included) take the opportunity to produce art on giant canvases – or at my school, pieces of wood. We see what ‘the greats’ do in galleries and think that bigger is better; although many of us lack the skill to fill that space. Not this artist, though.

It was small – smaller than A4. A painting with a frame cut from lino. The image continued out, carved into the frame. We’d all had a go at making prints out of lino in Art, so I shouldn’t have been surprising that someone used it, but this was pure genius. To make a print with lino – fine. But actually seeing beauty in the form – making the lino itself a work of art – that was another level. And then they had used that to extend the work of art beyond the painting and into a 3D form – sheer brilliance!

The painting itself also caught my attention. It was a little fantasy landscape. Villages stood, implausibly, on top of great spikes of rock that rose up from a green valley. I knew enough at 13 or 14 to suspect that physics would not support this and it would be a very impractical place for a village, but I didn’t care. I was transfixed. Even now I feel my own inadequacy when it comes to describing this with words.

I wish I could recall the artist’s name or that of the painting, but it’s gone. I wish I could have spoken to that artist, to tell them how looking at their tiny work, in a room full of gigantic pieces, had made me feel. Perhaps they already understood the power of art. Perhaps the lino frame was a metaphor for how art can empower the fantastic to escape its frame and impact the real world.

At the time, all I could do was vainly wish I could talk to them and ask them what it meant. What else they might have imagined in the world they showed me through the lino frame.

They may not even think of that piece at all anymore. Maybe they threw it out. My art teacher threw out one of my paintings before I could rescue it. I was horrified. I still am, to be honest, but I now realise that was common. Part of the reason they let us create those gigantic pieces was because often they were not collected, and those works would be painted over with white emulsion, ready for next year’s students.

It’s something I struggle to get my head around. I never throw out old art or old writing. And yet I never wondered if any of my GCSE artwork had moved anyone the way that small piece moved me. Which is strange, given how I poured myself into it with complete and unabashed confidence. I was a different person at 16.

This was one of my first times with oil paints. The complete lack of face is, uh, deliberate.

We often hope to create a Great Work that moves others the way we have been moved ourselves. I think that’s fair to say. I suspect most of us do not think our current project to be that work.

If you did anything creative at school, would you ever imagine that a stranger might still think about your project twenty-five years later? That they still regard it as one of the most powerful pieces of art they’ve ever seen, even though they are beginning to forget the details? That whenever they’re reminded of it, their heart still soars?

I doubt that unknown artist imagines such a thing about their piece. They may have affection for it, but I’m sure they can see childish flaws in it the same way I see the flaws in my own old schoolwork.

The point is that art does not have to be recognised as a Great Work to have value. To make someone’s heart soar. To save someone’s life.

There are books I’ve read and TV I’ve watched that saved my life too. I escaped into Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series as a teenager, and Menolly’s story of success and escaping through her music helped me hang on through my own experience of bullying. Those books are not without flaws, but they made my heart soar and made me believe there was a way out. That life could get better.

When I first got sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but had no diagnosis, I ran into trouble at work. My anxiety about the situation was so bad my heart never stopped racing. At that time, my escape was Fringe. I watched it for hours and hours, and when Peter Bishop was taking care of his father, it felt like, finally, someone was taking care of me.

Fringe is a great show, but it’s not without it’s flaws. The first season is uneven, and I found the last season unwatchable. It doesn’t matter. Those middle three seasons still saved me.

I could go on a long time about the invaluable impact on my life of imperfect art, but I fear I’d just be entertaining myself. Instead I want to spend a few minutes thinking about a comic that’s often passed around among creatives.

Original comic, by stuffman

The comic, in its original iteration, has only two panels. Both show a person looking at two cakes. One cake has tiers and lots of detailed icing work. The other has only two layers and sloppy frosting. The first panel is captioned ‘The Artist’ and the figure in it looks glum because their cake isn’t as good as the other cake. The second panel is captioned ‘The Audience’ and shows an excited person saying Holy shit! Two cakes!’

This comic is well-liked for good reason. It shows that even if your work isn’t perfect, it can still delight someone. But I think (in this version anyway) it misses some of what’s disappointing for an artist when they compare their work to someone more skilled.

Because I think we’re all secretly hoping to produce that Great Work that really moves someone. And one of the two cakes is visibly better than the other, at least by some standards. An audience that just wants something sugary will be pleased, but will they really be moved? Which cake will they remember 25 years later? Which cake could save a life and inspire someone to become a baker themselves? Which cake will make them feel like there is love and beauty in a hopeless world?

I may be stretching this metaphor, but that’s sort of the point.

The ‘Holy shit! two cakes!’ response suggests that the audience has no deep appreciation of, or response to, either cake. So a creator can easily look at the comic and secretly think to themselves, ‘Yes, this is an important message for others. But MY problem is that I want my audience to get more from my work than that. Maybe it is foolish of me, but I do want to move someone and to satisfy more than a momentary craving for sugar.’

What the comic – and discourse generally – fails to celebrate, is that our imperfect works can also save lives. Offer comfort and escapism. Encapsulate beautiful, moving, and original ideas. Make someone’s heart soar.

Kevin Conroy was surprised by his fan’s reaction to what was, for him, just a job. You can never know the impact your work has on others. Or when you created the right thing for someone else to find at just the right time.

It does not have to be your best work. Not because the audience doesn’t care about the content, but because imperfect works can still be of incredible, priceless value.

At the moment, it feels like the work of creators has never been so undervalued.

Even for Great Works that have an estimated value in the millions, that value seems utterly divorced from their ability to move their audience. They are trading cards for the super rich. A Van Gogh painting does have value, but does it have really so very much more value than the work of millions of artists around the world who cannot earn a living?

This Van Gogh self-portrait is in the public domain. Nice.

Let us all remember, Van Gogh’s work was not valued that way in his lifetime. How is it a recognition of greatness to overvalue a work of someone who will never profit from it, and undervalue the work of a living artist who needs to heat their home this winter?

In the last month, creative industries have been under attack like never before. It’s been part of a steady, longterm devaluation of art by those with a vested interest in framing art as ‘unproductive’. (Often the same people who can afford to own Van Goghs.)

But if that were the case, why would so much money have been poured into creating AIs like DALL-E 2, which automate art creation?

I’m not actually against artistic AIs as such. I think some of the works that have been produced that way are haunting and beautiful. I also think there could be skill in selecting which works to train an AI with and the teaching methods employed. In this sense, developers can be artists. Moreover, as a philosopher of mind, I have long been fascinated by AI – what it tells us about our how we think and what it could do for us in the future.

What’s alarming is the reports that both art and writing AIs have been trained using databases for which the owners of the AI did not have any rights. Art not in the public domain, not licenced for commercial use. Art to which the companies that created the AI did not have any right.

Most notably, DeviantArt – one of the oldest and larget art archives on the web – launched an AI art tool called DreamUp. As part of the announcement, they noted that DreamUp was based on Stable Diffusion, which scraped the web for art to create its database, and many have reported that it’s likely to have used artworks on DeviantArt itself. DeviantArt paired their launch with an announcement of a way for users to opt their work out of being used in the future, but the opt out system was impractical for artists and relied on developers voluntarily respecting the marker that the opt out added to the code for works.

Even artists who had been pro AI art before reacted to this with horror.

Then, this week, evidence was found that Open AI, which is a writing AI, may have been trained on Archive of Our Own – the largest and most well-known fanfiction archive. That’s not currently been confirmed, to my knowledge, but the evidence is striking. For example, this prompt:

Steve had to admit that he had some reservations about how the New Century handled the social balance between alphas and omegas.

This one’s public domain, too. From Pixabay.

creates a story in which Steve is roommates with someone called Tony, with pretty detailed reference to omegaverse dynamics. Steve (Captain America) and Tony (Iron Man) form one of the most popular ships in the Marvel fandom. Being roommates (Oh my GOD they were roommates!) is an extremely well-loved fanfic scenario for setting up romance. And if you don’t know what omegaverse is, don’t click that link if unless you’re prepared for it to awaken something in you. Suffice it to say it’s a set of very specific, usually erotic, highly kinky tropes that arose from fandom and is unlikely to be referenced outside of recent erotic romance stories.

This is especially concerning as fanfic writers produce their work entirely for free. As fanfic usually uses copyrighted characters, its legal defence lies in the fact that the writers do not seek to profit from their work in any way. Archive of Our Own has no adverts and is a charity. But a for-profit AI does not and should not have the same protections. Stealing from work offered for free is immoral, but if the AI produces works that involve copyrighted characters, that seems open to legal challenge by intellectual property (IP) owners. Especially as it’s clear that the works produced are likely to involve situations that the IP owners would not approve for their characters.

There’s a risk that large, litigeous companies (such as Disney), that have been turning a blind eye to fanfiction (because no one profits from it) target fanfic writers again if AI writers use fanfic to endanger their IP. While the last 15 years have seen a swing towards fanfiction being generally accepted, many still remember attempts by the likes of Anne Rice and Lucasfilm to suppress fanfiction – especially erotic fanfiction.

And beyond these specific troubling developments, there’s the more general concern that the recognised value of art is disappearing as AI seeks to replace it. AI art is already being used in posters and on book covers by companies and individuals who do not want to pay artists. Many now worry: could the future see AI making all our art and telling all our stories?

My thoughts on this: in the near future? No. Not all of it. The stories in particular are not good enough. But some of the art is very good. And AI could easily replace a lot of formulaic writing, such as clickbait articles.

In the abstract, this shouldn’t have to be a bad thing. Automation should make all our lives better. If AI could take over the kind of work that’s often uninteresting and uninspiring and generate profit more easily, in a just world, that extra profit would go back into society to enable more funding for arts and humanities. Artists and writers who have made a living churning out low-value work to uninspiring briefs could be freed up to make the art and novels that would really fill our lives with purpose and meaning.

But this is not a just world. We have seen that automation has not been used to make the lives of the people whose labour it has replaced better. Instead, the people at the top of the pile, who are furthest away from production (let alone creativity) earn ever more, and the people are the bottom of the pile can no longer earn a living wage – let alone pursue a career in something they enjoy.

Don’t despair yet, though. Just as artists have apparently used big company’s like Disney to take down T-shirt bots that steal their designs by tricking them into stealing Disney’s IP, it may be that Open AI scraping from AO3 will be its undoing. The Organization for Transformative Works (of which AO3 is just one project) also has its own legal team, which has been defending fanworks from the outset. They have been alerted to the matter.

Similarly, there’s already a lawsuit against Github’s Copilot for stealing code that was shared for free and using it for profit. Which is to say: AIs that are using databases they have no right to are probably going to land themselves in hot water, and there is reason to hope that some kind of sensible regulation will result.

Moreover… I don’t know. I’m not especially interested in reading stories written by a robot. Unless that robot has reached true artificial intelligence, and has ideas of its own, in which case, it’s not a robot anymore. But that is a very long way off. Part of what I get out of reading is a sense of connection and recognition from other human beings.

Stephen King has called writing a kind of telepathy. It’s one thought transmitted from one person to another. I cry at some books not simply because I imagine something painful, but because reading those books makes me feel seen. I see a pain I recognise on the page and I know that somewhere out there is another person who understood.

Reading lets me know I’m not alone. It can’t do that if it wasn’t created by a person. If it was made instead by something that knows nothing at all in itself.

And I think the same is true of art. For artistic work that isn’t meant to make you feel anything particularly profound or interesting… yes. AI might take over that. The artistic equivalent of clickbait. It’s not great. Because society is injust, it will hurt the livelihoods of artists. But it won’t end art.

You might get a few gallery displays out of AI art, but it will be a novelty. A curiosity. I very much doubt any of us will still be thinking of a work created by AI twenty-five years later.

A mindless robot isn’t going to save many lives. It’s not going to make people feel less alone. It’s never going to make anyone wonder what it was thinking when it made the piece (not if it is mindless, and the audience knows enough about AI to know that this kind of AI is extremely simplistic and could not possibly think).

Your works matter. Even your student works and your fanfics and the little things you did and only shared on social media and got a handful of likes. Because art can stay with the viewer for decades after, even if they never spoke to the artist.

Art – creativity – has a value that is dismissed because it is hard to squeeze capital from. That doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s so valuable it can make someone weep in a stranger’s arms. It can make you stay up all night reading. Fill hours of anxiety with love. Provide hope that humanity can be better than it often is. It helps us hang on when we feel like there’s nothing else to live for, and it helps us dream of everything wonderful that life could be.

Art can do all that, without ever being perfect.

We should pay creatives more, because their work is already so very valuable, to all of us.

Speaking of which, if you got something out of these thoughts, you can always buy me a ko-fi…

Chairs in Space: a comparison between Escape Vehicle no.6, Space Chair, and the internet legend of a chair in space

@SpacePorn's garbled description of a chair in space.

@SpacePorn’s garbled description of a chair in space.

I think I found it, my favourite thing in all of space: Escape Vehicle no.6.

Or maybe simply the idea of Escape Vehicle no.6.

I was thrilled to see the above tweet retweeted into my Twitter feed earlier today. ‘Wow!’ I thought. ‘That’s amazing and surreal and glorious – oh please let it be true!’

It was. Sort of.

@SpacePorn’s tweet reads:

There’s a kitchen chair floating in space. It’s referred to as “Escape Vehicle No. 6” by astronauts

And below that is an image of a browny-orange armchair hovering above the Earth. But SpacePorn’s account isn’t quite right.

The picture used in the tweet is actually of Toshiba’s Space Chair, which was based on, but not the same as, Escape Vehicle no.6. Neither chair actually achieved orbit and the name, Escape Vehicle No. 6, was not assigned by astronauts. But the chairs are real.

In 2004, artist Simon Faithfull launched a kitchen chair to the edge of space via weather balloon. The chair was part of a series, titled Gravity Sucks, in which Faithfull sought to defy gravity via various ‘escape vehicles’. The name, Escape Vehicle no.6, is not a cute nickname given by astronauts, it’s the name of a work of art. The artwork consists not simply in the chair, but rather existed as a live video relay which was watched by an audience at the Artists’ Airshow 2004, and exists now as a non-live work that you can watch online.

Space Chair is by Toshiba and is based on Faithfull’s work (although more on the exact nature of the ‘collaboration’ below). They recreated it in high-definition to advertise their technology. In contrast to Faithfull’s more scrappy concept, Toshiba’s work cost £3,000,000 and set the rather specific record of ‘Highest High-Definition Television Commercial’. Both chairs reached approximately 30km, and you can watch the advert, entitled The Toshiba Space Chair Project, online.

What I find interesting is how each work differs, and how SpacePorn’s garbled reframing of Escape Vehicle no.6 presents a new work that is different again.

The original piece evokes a sense of loneliness and fragility, as the cheap and insubstantial-looking kitchen chair is hoisted jerkily and at unnerving speed towards its fate, before finally being torn apart on the edge of space. Simon Faithfull’s website provides the following interpretation:

The chilling nature of the film is that the empty chair invites the audience to imagine taking a journey to an uninhabitable realm where it is impossible to breathe, the temperature is minus 60 below and the sky now resembles the blackness of space.

 – from the Simon Faithfull website page ‘Escape Vehicle no.6

The overall thematic purpose of the series, Gravity Sucks, is a confrontation with human limitation, failure, and a sense that our dreams and ambitions overreach our capacities:

Gravity Sucks is a body of work that mourns the human condition of being a three-dimensional object that is stuck to a two-dimensional surface.

– from the Simon Faithful website page ‘Gravity Sucks

By contrast, the lux, high-defintion Toshiba project with its comfortable looking armchair is not an admission of limitation or failure, but a boast – this is what humans can achieve! And in particular: this is what Toshiba has achieved!

Both films end with the destruction of the chair at the edge of space, but the take away from the Toshiba film  is certainly not one of human limitation. I feel like they loved the idea of sending a chair to space, and of being patrons of the arts, but I don’t feel like they quite understood this artwork. We can look at it as a reinterpretation, straightforwardly rejecting the pessimism of the original piece, but then one has to wonder why they didn’t simply end on the image of the chair hanging in space. You can also look at it as them helping an artist realise his dream… but Simon Faithfull had already done that, and done it with funding from Arts Catalyst, and it’s clear that his original piece is more cohesive with his broader work.

It’s a perplexing and interesting tension, but one that I feel ultimately reflects a corporate body not really understanding the artwork they are celebrating. What’s more, although Simon Faithfull did meet with Toshiba once to discuss the project, this article suggests he was not aware the film had been made until it was on YouTube, suggesting he may not have had much creative input and very likely was not paid for the use of his idea. So any notion of celebrating creative innovators falls even flatter.

Then there’s what SpacePorn has done. Which is perplexing in its own way.

Given that correct information about both Space Chair and Escape Vehicle no.6 is very easy to find, one can’t help but wonder just how little research SpacePorn did before they posted that tweet. Or were they deliberately obfuscating the issue to create a new myth, one that was more captivating and humourous?

And it is, you know – captivating and humourous. I love the idea that a chair is up in space right now for reasons of pure sureality. Although, as responding tweets were quick to point out, the sheer cost of putting anything in orbit made it highly unlikely that any space organisation had shot the chair up there just to amuse the astronauts.

I’m even more intrigued by how the meaning of the name changes in SpacePorn’s version. An escape vehicle named by someone shooting it up into the sky is obviously expressive of a wish to escape the Earth. But a whole different light is cast on the matter if it’s an object thats already in space that the astronauts have decided to dub ‘Escape Vehicle No. 6’ – like if something went wrong on the ISS an astronaut might attempt to escape by scooting along through space in an armchair.

On the one hand, I love this image. On the other, I’m irritated that yet another internet denizen is presenting lies as facts, and that they are obscuring the work of artists in order to create their own content. At the same time I’m fascinated by the philosophical issues raised by these cases: of the importance of originality, of what it is for something to be fake, of duality and duplication.

I’d say that all three represent works of art.

Toshiba’s is not very good art. It’s such a cliché to say a large corporation took something with originality and spark and smothered it with branding, but I think it’s hard to deny that that’s what’s happened here. It’s not a ‘fake’ per se, but they have copied the idea and, because they didn’t understand it to begin with, they managed to spend £3,000,000 on making an inferior version.

Part of me really wants to go against the obvious and encourage you to consider this not as a copy, but as a work in its own right, trying to do something different to the original. We can evaluate it as an advert: is it memorable? Does it demonstrate the product’s features? Does it create positive connotations for the brand?

Well, it’s fairly memorable and it does demonstrate the technology positively, but I don’t know that that makes it good, even as an advert. By sticking so closely to the original without understanding its themes the advert they’ve created ends oddly, uncomfortable with itself.

I don’t think SpacePorn’s version was necessarily intended as art, and yet it was a crafted work that evoked an interesting and pleasing concept. A concept that makes me wish that SpacePorn’s version was the truth. I like the version where we do witty things in space more than the version where we shoot for the stars and are doomed to fail. I’m actually even amused by just how confused their account of Escape Vehicle no.6 was – to the extent that this is a work of art that works because it presents another work of art as though it were not a work of art. I have to admit that I am madly curious about how much of this was deliberate. But at the same time I’m narked by the fact that they present themselves as an authority and yet they spouted such nonsense. The truth was pretty awesome, but not awesome enough for this twitter account, apparently.

Mostly I’m just intrigued by how much one can be driven to think about when presented by the thought of a chair in space. I end on no resolute conclusions, as what has tickled me most are the questions and the uncertainly of their answers.

Also? Two chairs definitely went to the edge of space. Humans did that. Because art. Enjoy.

Box Art

Now that Christmas has passed and all presents have been given, I am liberty to post them in the world.

A local shop started selling these nice-but-plain-looking wooden boxes, you see. And as I’ve got a bit of a black and silver paint thing going on at the moment, I thought it might be quite effective to paint them up in such colours, especially as a very dear friend had a significant birthday approaching, and I couldn’t afford to get her anything exciting. And so, came the first box*:

Box 1 from 1st angle

Box 1 from 2nd angle

Box 1 from top

Box 1 from 3rd angle

Box 1 from 4th angle

I was really pleased with the effect, so I did another one as a Christmas present, this time on a tentacle theme for a friend of the Lovecraftian persuasion:

Second box from front first angle

Second box from front 2nd angle

Second box from back 1st angle

Second Box from back 2nd angle

But the one that took me the longest, and of which I am now most proud was one I made for a friend who’s been there for me a lot over the last few years and who watches Game of Thrones with me (her husband has, too, if he’s reading, but after I made this I didn’t have time to make one for him and so got him Darth Vader chocolate/ice cube moulds instead):

Game of Thrones front

Game of Thrones top

Game of thrones top and front

Game of Thrones box front, side, and top

Game of Thrones box from side

Game of Thrones side, back, and top 1

Game of Thrones box back, side, and top 2


When I first started this I really had no comprehension of the work it would involve, but I am nonetheless pleased with the results. You can see here the sigils of the houses of the contenders for the Iron Throne: Lannister (lion) and Stark (dire wolf) fight it out on the front, embodying more typical coat of arms poses; Baratheon (the stag) is on the side, to the right hand of the Starks, sheltering under a weirwood tree; on the back is the kraken of house Greyjoy, its tentacles sprawling with the branches of the tree onto the top; coming from the back round onto the side is the three-headed dragon of the Targaryens, with the flowers of the Tyrells just edging up the side.

Anyway, once I was finished I wanted it for myself, which I think is always a sign of a good present.

*Please excuse the poor camera skills throughout. It said it was running out of battery, so I rather rushed things… now suspect if may have been lying.

I had an idea, but I’m unsure how to realise it

So, I had what I thought was a really great idea. I checked it with some trusted friends who would have pulled faces at me if it were utterly daft, and they agreed that it sounded like a pretty good idea, like an idea they could get behind. The idea was to illustrate one of my pieces of flash fiction, or, more ambitiously, a set of pieces of my flash fiction – most of which would be things I have already had published – and, in the less ambitious vein, to produce a PDF that could function as some sort of give-away when I reach 500 Twitter followers (or other suitable milestone, depending on how long this takes me). In the more ambitious vein (possibly if the giveaway goes well) I might launch a Kickstarter (or non-US equivalent) to produce a short run of quality illustrated books.

I haven’t done much art lately because I’ve been busy with my PhD. But I’ve done some good work in the past and it seemed like a reasonable and fun thing to do whilst I’m on a leave of absence from said PhD. One never gets paid very much for flash fiction anyway, and if one has already had one pay cheque from it there doesn’t seem to be that much wrong with turning the piece of flash fiction into artwork for kicks and giggles.

So. But. I’m impatient. I had the idea and I wanted to start as soon as I got home. As depression has been kicking my enthusiasm and motivation for pretty much everything, lately, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea to just go with the flow. Unfortunately, it turns out that a lot of my paper was damaged by the mould and damp in the various hell holes I lived in prior to Lovely Flat. Also, I didn’t have any good sketching pens, and I knew I didn’t want to work in pencil. What I did have was a silver pen and a small amount of black card. So, I sat down and did a number of sketches that surprised me by actually looking pretty good.

Problem 1: I really didn’t have a lot of the black card.

So, I sketched away and produced a lot of things I really liked but which would need scanning into the computer and separating out from each other in order for me to do anything with them. I went into town the next day and found some slightly less good quality, but much more plentiful, card, and a black pen, in case the whole black and silver combo turned out to be as bad an idea for scanning in as I feared it might be.

A scanned image of what would be my first illustration, depicting a stylised partridge in a pear tree.

My first scan.

Problem 2: The black and silver combo does not work well once you scan it in. At least, not on my old HP psc 1317 all-in-one printer and scanner.

I also tried photographing it, which in some ways was better, but is still not really like the quality I’d need for my project. My results turned out like this:

I then tried fiddling with the scan settings, but it didn’t really make a difference.

I also tried using PaintShop Pro to render it all into black and white, but I’m not sure the results look all that great, either.

A black and white conversion of the original image, along with the first few lines of the story.

My attempt at converting it to black and white, plus the first few lines of the text.

You can see, here, I also made my name smaller, as it had been throwing the composition off, and I tried it out with a few lines of text just to see how that would play.

(Note: this one looks OK small like this, but if you click through to see it full size you’ll see what I mean about the pixelation. It just looks amateur, and that’s not what I’m going for.)

Finally, I had a go with my camera. The silver looks OK, like this, but it’s hard to photograph at a high enough quality, properly focused, and with the paper not at the right angle.

A photo of the drawing.

The best of the photos I took.

Well, I like to do things for myself, but if you can’t get it right there comes a point where you need to ask if anyone with more experience can give you some guidance. None of the above make the picture look as good as it does in person. I have limited equipment and resources. Should I give up on the silver-on-black thing altogether? Is there a better way to work with the camera or the scanner? Are there cheap professional services that can do this for me? Should I just redraw it all in black on white, or is there a way to render the scanned image into black and white that doesn’t make everything look a bit pixelated?


What I said, but better…

I don’t often post just to point you somewhere else, but sometimes it’s worth it. Sophia McDougall is one hell of a writer on gender issues in modern SF&F. This was first brought to my attention by her post in response to Steven Moffat’s unbelievably mysogynist comments that half the Internet seems to know all about, and the other half seems blissfully ignorant of and even defensive-about-in-ignorance. To be fair, since the whole Riversong thing there’s been less of the ‘Yes, I’ve heard he’s secretly sexist, but I don’t believe it – he writes such strong women!’. Sophia’s post came out before the ‘My whole purpose in life – becoming an archeologist and a badass, everything – was to catch up with the Doctor because I love him and need him to complete me’ second-half-of-season reveal. When I read it, I felt like the scales fell from my eyes. Now it feels generous.

Given the number of times I’ve seen her post linked to I was surprised to find that no one I spoke to at the SFX Weekender had read it. So, in case you missed it, here, complete with full and damning quotes from the Moff himself, is one post you should read: Capes, Wedding Dresses, and Steven Moffat.

But that’s not the post I started this one to draw your attention to. It’s this: SFX Weekender and the Nudes in the Metropolitan Gallery. She points out a number of things that I had missed, and (again) makes a case I want to put forward better than I could. I didn’t notice the gender disparity in panels, but then I only went to two, one of which was the Q & A with the kickass Eve Myles. But yeah – Sophia really would have been an ideal person to have on a panel, especially when relative unknowns like my mate Dave (who, for all his good qualities, only had his first book come out on the Thursday of the SFX Weekender itself – promotional, yes, but perhaps not an authority) got a look in alongside the obvious choices, like China Mieville.

Anyway, where mine is one person’s point of view, Sophia’s post has breadth, style, and nuance. Go read.

Relevant to my Interests: Man with Wings

As some of you will know, I’m currently writing a superhero novel. Some of those people know that its lead character is a man with wings. Others of you will have seen the background of my twitter account, which includes a copy of a painting I did four (?) years ago, of a man with wings. This is not the only piece of artwork I have done of people with wings. I like drawing wings, I like drawing people, I like the combination. Anyway, point is that this was a thing that was likely to be relevant to my interests, hopefully it is also to yours!

Sufjan Stevens, with wings

(image via @mhtoomes on Twitter)

This, I’m reliably informed, is Sufjan Stevens. Who it turns out is a rather cool musician. I would not have heard of him but for his admirable wings. Kudos to you, sir! Only too happy to spread the love and point people at this rather beautiful song of yours:

(via @Contrarah on Twitter)