Friday, 17 April 2015

The Joy of Doing Stuff

I've been watching a lot of woodworking videos on YouTube recently. No, wait, come back.

A while ago I found a rich seam of old motor racing documentaries on YouTube. They were mostly from the 1980s and almost always narrated by Martin Jarvis. In spite of the fact they were about racing cars, however, the thing which I enjoyed the most was watching a bunch of Midland craftsmen carving, from mahogany, a wooden former for the casting of a new engine block. The sight, sound and skill of it were mesmerising. Always a wise owl, I wondered if perhaps there might be some more examples of woodworking for me to watch on the site.

Of course, there were, as everything ever made is now on YouTube. It is by some margin the greatest site on the internet, ever. So, this is how I came to start watching a lot of YouTube videos about woodworking.

I can't particularly explain why I have been watching these videos. They are, for one thing, mostly tutorials and I have no particular interest in the practical side of woodwork. Make no mistake, if someone has a load of nice sharp tools and wood ready for me to have a wallop about with, I'd be in there like a shot. But to commit to making it happen for myself, the thought has never really crossed my mind. My last experience of woodwork came in Design & Technology class, which I stopped doing when I chose my subjects for GCSE in 1994. The ultimate result of this was a lot of unfinished crap and one tetanus shot.

And yet, I've been watching a lot of woodworking videos on YouTube recently. Hours and hours of them. I believe there is a basic desire in every human being to make things. To watch a craftsman produce a tangible object is extraordinarily, if often inexplicably, satisfying thing to do. But more than just satisfying. There is something profound in it. Something which is closer to the soul than our conscious brain can properly understand.

Paul Sellers demonstrates the advantages of his weapon of choice, the no. 4 smoothing plane

I quickly found a favourite producer of YouTube videos. It is Paul Sellers. Paul Sellers is a 60-year old British furniture maker and master craftsman with 45 years of experience and all the necessary tools to share and impart this knowledge. His videos are sometimes short affairs - mythbusting, tool maintenance or useful techniques - and sometimes hours and hours of masterclasses, where the viewer could, if they wanted to, make the piece along with him. The first video of his that I watched teaches how to carve a spoon using simple hand tools and I was absolutely hooked from the first axe cut.

Sellers is the teacher of your dreams in these videos. Calm, unambiguous, accomplished and authoritative without ever being steadfast, set in his ways or preachy. Plus, just the merest glance will tell you that he knows his stuff. What Mozart was to the pianoforte, Paul Sellers is to the Bailey-pattern number 4 bench plane. Coupled with the zen-like delivery - think Bob Ross, but with less happy clouds and more old-fashioned Salford common sense - I honestly think that anybody, of any walk of life and any set of interests, could happily lose themselves in his films.

I suppose that I am, too, a craftsman after a fashion. I, like Paul Sellers, have ploughed my own furrow in a world increasingly dominated by mechanical shortcuts and kept faith with traditional techniques. He does it with a lump of oak, I do it with bits of paper and pens. Although I may never necessarily do any woodwork, I have learned an awful lot from him. The importance of believing in your method. The fundamental seriousness of following your own vision. The simple joy of doing things rigorously, patiently and properly. These are basic lessons but also ones that strike at the very heart of learning about being human. I would like to thank him for that.

I recommend that you drop everything and indulge yourself in some Paul Sellers, right now:

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Christmas cards

A goose just walked past. It was getting pretty fat.

Yes, Christmas is on its way. It is six weeks from today, in fact. I know that a lot of you will treat this news with some exceptional disdain but we all have to face up to it sooner or later. Unless you've booked yourself into the Dignitas clinic between now and December 25th.

And even Dignitas are starting to think about putting their tree up.


What better way to share the joy of the season than by sending a Christmas card (potentially of dubious taste) to your friends, family and colleagues? You can get these cards in many retailers at the moment but a lot of them are rubbish and feature pictures of some kid in a manger, and donkeys and camels and shepherds and all that. Which has little to do with the realities of the season.

We wish you a merry Christmas and a Picasso new year

So instead, why not try a Dotmund Christmas card this year? You can buy them all from my Redbubble page and they'll even send the things out to you so you can avoid going out into the crowded, bustling shops and catching a cold, or Ebola.

There are many designs available this year. Let's have a look at what £1.55 can get you these days.

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, rebooted for the MTV, legal highs and web 2.0 generation.

Christmas on the Serengeti Plain. I bet they still make room for pudding. Christmas, eh?

And, inevitably, the Christmas top seller-cum-Albatross around my neck, Naked Father Christmas.
(This is the censored version, obviously. CHILDREN might be reading this blog post).

All these, plus others, are all available RIGHT NOW over on my Redbubble page. If you buy 8 or more cards, there's a 20% discount on the deal. Buy 16 or more and the discount is 30%. There may be even bigger discounts if you buy more cards than that, but I haven't checked. Mostly because I don't know more than 16 people.

People wishing I'd shut up and just draw some pictures could do worse than to head over to Facebook and LIKE my Dotmund Facebook page there for regular updates of my oeuvre.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Brand new bollocks

The other evening Twitter alerted me to the fact that erstwhile comedian, actor and television presenter Russell Brand had occupied Wall Street. This came as little surprise, as he is turning into a right prat.

Russell Brand is an interesting sort of chap. Most people grow out of the risibly simplistic and teenage desire for revolution, or any other such tearing down of the existing social fabric, in their early twenties or whenever else they have finished college. Alas, Brand claims to be interested in doing so only now that he was reached comfortable middle age. One can only assume that this is born out of a desire for self-flagellation stemming from a lack of self-esteem, because come the revolution the first people against the wall will be big-gobbed Pre-Raphaelite millionaire fannies.

Brand cannot just be dismissed out of hand. He has respect and an eager audience, not least off the back of a lot of his intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful journalism. But his transformation into a slacker messiah is particularly ill-timed. His arguments against voting could not really come at a worse time.

There are elements to his argument which are easy to sympathise with. British politics has been turning itself into a grey-brown morass of sameness for the best part of twenty years, ever since Tony Blair decided that the Labour Party were unelectable without transforming themselves into a nasty bunch of Thatcherite weasel bags. Voting is an increasingly difficult sell in these circumstances.

But there are still significant differences between the major British parties. No-one could pretend that a Labour government would have different inclinations and priorities to the current Coalition one, or that the path of the current government hasn't been influenced or tempered by the lousy, Quisling stink-bag Liberal Democrats. Yes, British political figures are a largely unlikeable bunch of braying, over-privileged tits, but ever was it thus.

The only result of apathy, however, is demagoguery. Political parties will tailor their policies towards those people who are likely to vote and to people who are likely to vote alone. What sort of policy would that make? Well, just check the polls and see how well UKIP are doing. Young, open-minded liberal people may feel increasingly marginalised by this but they're not going to see any improvements by disenfranchising themselves further; worse yet, by disenfranchising themselves through their own choice.

I like Russell Brand. I like him as a comedian, I like him as a broadcaster and I like him as a writer. I respect him. As such find his efforts to turn himself into David Icke all the more painful, not least because of the fact that he - ironically enough - represents many of the good things and positive things that a British government should be interested in fighting for. He is an intelligent, engaging and stimulating presence in our cultural life. But, to paraphrase Chris Rock's thoughts on Flavor Flav during the 2008 US Presidential election, Russell Brand needs to shut his fucking mouth until after next May. Because this is more important than his ego.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The idiots are winning, on both sides

What is happening to the UK now only time will tell, but it's a chastening period nonetheless. Experience and knowledge of national character suggest to me that in the end there will be very little change, as to gain any measure of wider acceptance in Britain has always required a degree of moderateness. Moderation is, however, not currently in abundance. There is a distinct sense of the lunatics taking over the asylum.

On one side you've got UKIP, let's face it. One could try to find some sort of overarching name for them, but it seems a futile challenge. "Right-wing" is too relative a term while "fascists" is far too inflammatory and dense with historical implication. They're just UKIP. UKIP is the name given to the thing that embodies a recognisable British trope: deeply conservative, aggressively against change, NIMBYish, easily scared, blinkeredly nationalistic. All UKIP the political party have done is given them something specifically targeted to vote for.

They don't like Europe, the barmy EU or that crazy European Court of Human Rights. We don't need that sort here. We got by without them before. And by the way: re. World War II, you're WELCOME.

These people are idiots, but they've always been walking amongst us. My grandparents would probably all have been UKIP voters, given the chance. My grandparents weren't bad people. They certainly weren't snarling fascists, though people like that, too, have undeniably also always been part of the Great British melting pot. No, my grandparents were just not particularly clever.

The good thing about people not being particularly clever is that the situation is relatively easy to address: you educate them. Doing so is fairly easy, too, in this case. Tess Daly, Simon Cowell or Keith Lemon strongly coming out against the UKIP mentality would do it. As would The Daily Mail, The Daily Express or The Sun stopping being such unutterable bastards. A little bit of education would go a long way.

Of course, a little bit of education can create problems of its own. On the other side of the British equation these days are people so bleeding heart liberal it's a wonder they can even stand up. Their brand of hyper-equality is so relentlessly unquestioning and accepting that they would be just as big a problem as UKIP if they hadn't been brought up so well. They're less in-your face, but don't ever doubt that these sweaty, hand-wringing wassocks are just as big a bunch of idiots as the others.

They're the ones who argue that a there need to be more black football managers, disabled contestants on The Apprentice and that dogs and cats over five years old should get paternity leave. They are so busy trying to level the playing field that they don't realise that behind them they've been ploughing it. Call me old-fashioned, but I've always thought that the best person for the job is probably the best person for the job. If that person happens to be a 50-year old white man from Surrey, then so be it. 87% of people who live in the UK are white, after all, despite what the UKIPs will tell you, sweatily grinding their teeth down to powder.

The hand-wringers do have a point. It is, sadly, inescapable to note countless times throughout even this country's recent history that someone equally as qualified, as good for the role, will have been passed over because they are a woman, because they are disabled or because they are from an ethnic minority. Luckily, there are now laws against this. The victims of such discrimination have recourse to compensation and the culprits can and should face prosecution.

This is not an ideal scenario. In a perfect world, it wouldn't happen at all. But it is a good fall-back position. Better than the idea that, for every future managerial vacancy at a football club there should be at least one black candidate in the mix. Oh goody. We've (somehow) negotiated our way through the most turbulent and dangerous century in human history and what has popped out at the end? Tokenism. Get a token black candidate in. Make sure someone is disabled, too. There probably ought to be a Muslim, now we think of it. And a Christian, yes, OK. Anyone else for anyone else?

It's a hard-fought battle between two equally blinkered, difficult and self-righteous foes. For the people stuck in the middle it seems like an unrelenting deluge of shite. Luckily for us, social media at least lets us accurately design our own little worlds, free from the bellicose forces of dumb that rain down all around us. They're also a good place to share the latest viral videos! Today's one is of a child with a really very bad case of headlice!

Yes, they are speaking Spanish, why do you ask?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

News from the world of art

I've been neglecting to update this blog, which is a shameful state of affairs not least because I definitely enjoy doing it. The fact that I seem to get as many, or sometimes even more, page views when I'm not updating this site will be of supreme disinterest to me from now on as I try to amend my errant ways. I know what the public want, which is for there to be less of me. As an avowed contrarian and noted sociopath, this is a challenge I couldn't turn down.

One reason that I've not been hammering words into this fountain of knowledge is that I've rediscovered masturbation been doing a lot of art. So much art that it has come at the expense of other things. Principally among these other things is "selling art", which will perhaps not come as any surprise to anyone who has closely followed my business career.

Nevertheless, I have been doing some moving and shaking in the creative community. I put together a collection of some of my better pieces and toddled off to Brighton to decorate (or decimate, depending on your point of view) the walls of Munch Coffee Shop in Kemp Town. If you're in the area you should definitely call in: the staff are friendly, the atmosphere is nice and the food and drink are made on site right under your very nose. Plus it is located just a couple of minutes' walk from the Brighton Magistrates Court, so there's always a chance you might see a defendant or two furtively skulking about with a muffin.

This is all over the walls of Munch, Brighton.

All but one of those pictures are on sale to the public, so just drop by the shop and have a look. If by some strange and inexplicable set of circumstances you don't live in Sussex, you can always instead drop me a line. Contact details, as ever, are in the sidebar on the right of the page.

BUT WAIT! Getting all of this stuff out of the house to stretch its legs gave me a giddying glance of the joy of having a bit of space to put new things in. As such, I've got some other things that didn't make it in time for the walls of Munch but are just as excited by the prospect of finding new homes, away from the moths, at LOW LOW sale prices. Take a look.

THE TITLE FIGHT - 25 x 25 x 3.5cm, acrylic on box canvas. £75

UK BORDER PATROL - 14 x 19 cm, pencil and watercolour on 300 gsm paper. £30

RHINO - 19 x 28cm, pen, ink and watercolour on 300 gsm paper. £40.

GROOMING CAT - 21 x 29.5cm, pen, ink and watercolour on 220 gsm paper. £35,

GOJIRA! - 30 x 34cm, ink, tempera and pencil on 300 gsm paper £50

HM REVENUE & CUSTOMS & ELEPHANTS - 21 x 29.5cm, ink and watercolour on recycled paper, £20

ADELAIDE CRESCENT, HOVE - 28 x 38cm, acrylic and watercolour on 300 gsm paper. £75.

DOG - 20.5 x 29.5cm, acrylic on recycled magazine page. £25.

PACHYCEPHALOSAURUS AND STEGOSAURUS - both 15 x 21cm, pen, ink and watercolour on 300 gsm paper.
£20 each or £30 for the pair.

As ever, if anything catches your fancy, get in touch. My contact details are in the sidebar on the right of the page or you can click this link HERE to email me. If buying original artwork isn't your bag of pulses, you can always check out my Redbubble page. There you'll find all sorts of pictures I've done and there's also the option to buy them as prints, phone covers, tote bags, t-shirts or cushion covers. There are also some Christmas cards available to buy, for the fatalistic among you. But there'll be more about that closer to the time, no doubt.

Putting a tree in your house is a pretty daft thing to do, when you really analyse it.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Which country has the best flag?

Flags are important and powerful things. They represent a whole nation's personality, history and identity. That is a lot of responsibility for anyone to take on, so it's little wonder that so many flags try to keep it as simple as possible.

But simple, formulaic flags are boring. Someone from France, Ireland or Romania might be moved by the sight of their tricolour, but it hardly sets the pulses racing from a purely aesthetic point of view. The majority of the world's flags fit in to these same-old, same-old templates.

This is not the case for this fly twenty-five. Unique design elements, unusual patterns and unexpected colours are their calling card. Imagine being from one of these countries and seeing your flag fluttering up its pole. "Hell yeah!", you'd scream, probably fit to punch a horse. Maybe you are. If so, rest assured that you are very lucky and leave those horses alone.

(NB: This list is 100% accurate and non-negotiable. Only flags from sovereign nations have been considered. Sorry Wales.)

25 Zimbabwe
A bird hat on your flag is worth two in the bush

24 Brazil
"Ordem e Progresso" is Portuguese for "check THIS flag out"

23 Qatar
Almost unique in design, completely unique in proportions and in colour. Score.

22 Vietnam
It's not a unique design (Somalia has the same one but with a white star on a sky blue background),
but something about this flag just screams "I AM VIETNAM". You'd probably guess it was the
Vietnamese flag even if you didn't know. It is almost unimaginably beautiful as a piece of design.

21 Switzerland
It's one of only two square flags in the world (Vatican City has the other) but this one wins.
The subtlety and crisp accuracy of this flag gives me the horn and puts holes in me cheese.

20 Cyprus
Cyprus go for the map flag. An over-literal approach, perhaps? Like hell it is.

19 Panama
Oh HELLS yeah

18 Brunei
There's all manner of things going on here. Keeps you entertained for hours.

17 Swaziland
This flag wails "don't mess with us, we've got old time African tribal weapons up in this gaff"

16 Eritrea
Like someone shot a tricolour through a prism, then folded it up wrong. Plus hand tree!

15 Comoros
"What elements shall we put on our flag?" "All".

14 Uganda
"Double Belgium sideways with a stork, please"

13 Papua New Guinea
Stars. Bird. Diagonals.

12 Saint Lucia

11 Central African Republic

10 Seychelles
"Because fuck you, that's why"

9 Bhutan
Diagonals. Dragons. Didragonals.

8 Guyana
Bitchin' flag, this way >>>

7 Kiribati
Come on

6 Nepal
Because rectangles are for wimps

5 FYR Macedonia

4 Mozambique
Star. Book. Hoe. And...AND... A MOTHER FUCKING AK-47.

3 Sri Lanka
Every single thing about this flag rules.

2 Grenada
Like playing the world's funnest board game, in the world's best circus, in space. On fire.

1 Antigua and Barbuda
Look at the way the blue band seems to bend to form a horizon. More flags need optical illusions, please.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The almost completely inexplicable artwork choices of The Beach Boys

I love The Beach Boys. I always think more of people who say the same thing. But we seem to be an increasingly skulking, cowed band of largely silent disciples. We all consider that of all the groups in the history of popular music, The Beach Boys are the one who deserve more credit and critical recognition than they generally receive. But on the whole we keep it to ourselves.

There are a few reasons why they have generally been last in the queue when retrospective accolades of greatness are being distributed. Perhaps a lot of them have been identical to the reasons why their fans generally don't try and push their music onto anybody else.

First is that there was a fundamental break in their creative output at the height of their powers in the mid-1960s. Creative differences within the group and Brian Wilson's increasingly parlous mental health - exacerbated, no doubt, by the truckloads of drugs he was taking on a daily basis - caused the Smile album project to dissolve into a series of half-worked tracks and afterthoughts which gradually peppered all of the band's future releases. Shorn of their proper context, they were never as potent as they might have been.

Then there are people who consider them to be an itsy-ditsy band of one-trick ponies. Simple pedlars of surf music or lovey-dovey hippy peaceniks. These people could probably be shown that this isn't the case with a little education, but you'll probably find that they are spectacularly resistant to submitting themselves to such.

And I think that this might be because of a third reason, one which has increasingly been vexing me lately. Specifically, it is the fact that The Beach Boys had a troubling tendency to give some of their most important record releases peculiarly awful, strange and unsuitable cover artwork.

Pet Sounds (1966) - pioneering, epoch-making, pop masterpiece. So, you know, obviously goaty.

Why did they do this? It's hard to say, especially considering that early in their contractual negotiations with Capitol Records the group managed to gain a more autonomous approach to recording at their own expense in exchange for a greater share of the sales royalties. In other words, they needed their records to sell more than most of their contemporaries did. And this was all OK when they were being acclaimed as superstars and Brian Wilson as the Mozart of popular music. People would have bought those records even if the cover had been a splayed anus. However, an album of the half-baked songs spat out by a failed concept album, performed by drug casualties and the worst kind of late 1960s hippy, is a rather harder sell. Putting the record in a paper bag with a $1 bill stapled to the front was probably the wisest course of action, and one which of course the band did not take.

Friends (1968) - low key,  understated and quietly beautiful post-Pet Sounds hidden gem. Best depicted
by a dazzlingly terrifying glimpse into the shattered, disembodied astral plane of an alternate dimension.

Maybe they were making a broader philosophical point about the nature of perception? Of appearances and realities? The records were, for the most part, still great after all. As I clearly implied in the opening sentence. It's possible, albeit a slim possibility. But The Beach Boys were never a band who dealt in slim possibilities. They were all about telling you that you should meditate, growing big beards and imagining that they were a tree.

Surf's Up (1971) - perhaps the last great collection of original material released by the group in
their classic era. So a dismal, unsettling image of a man and horse being impaled in a storm, then.

No, the likely scenario is also the conclusion that I'd hoped I'd not have to draw. But here it is: they were fannies. The sort of fannies whose fannydom did nothing to impair their ear for music, but in any sphere outside of that, all bets were off. Oh well.

Endless Summer (1974) - huge-selling mid-1970s compilation of all of the group's biggest hits,
by extension virtually perfect. Coupled with a picture which could be distributed to every school
in a successful campaign to warn children about the dangers of almost anything. Especially
approaching strange middle-aged men who skulk in bushes. During a tsunami.


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