I’ve just cleaned my glass.
I have an aquarium table that runs along one wall of my studio area – just the table, no tank – about 35cm high, probably 6 feet or more in length, on top of which sits an old, falling apart wooden coffee table.
The space underneath the table houses a tupperware tub and a Quality Street tin in which I keep my paint tubes.- large tubes in the tupperware, smaller tubes in the QS tub. I have to keep them sealed like this because I have to keep fumes at a minimum. My studio is home to all of my creative outlets – music, painting, etc – and houses all of my instruments and my computer as well as my paints, so I am in this room for pretty much all of my waking hours.
To the left of the coffee table is a plastic storage unit containing painting tools and accessories – kitchen roll, wipes, palette knives, varnish, various jars, dustbin bags, etc., with some palette knives and jars of paint medium sat on top.
I lined the top of the coffee table with white paper and on top of this I placed a piece of glass that I had cut exactly to the size of the table. There are exactly four items allowed on top of this table – a desk organiser containing my paint brushes, a small blue pipette jar containing white spirits, and two jars each around ⅓-full with vegetable oil, submerged in each of which is a small metal mesh dome.
To the right of the coffee table is a 40-litre spring-loaded touch-top kitchen bin, which is where my painty rags, tissues and wipes go until I can muster the courage to actually leave the house.
My easel also stands to the right of the coffee table, in front of the bin and, since I’m left handed, the white-backed glass on the table top allows me to have a large, smooth, cleanable area on which to mix my paints.
Also, if I’m finding it hard to match a particular colour, it allows me to slip a reference photo or swatch under the glass to ensure that I’m getting the right tints and shades.
To the right of this entire apparatus is a boom-style mic stand, which does double duty, carrying its intended load of a mic when I’m recording, but, when I’m painting, using a Frankenstein mount to hold an IKEA tertial worklamp with a white daylight bulb.
At the end of a painting session I cover the glass top and any paint on it with cling film to hold in the fumes and prevent drying. Usually when I first finish a painting I will leave the paints on the glass for several days, while my eyes forget the painting and I can look at it afresh to decide if it needs more work. If it does need revisiting, the mixed paints are still there, ready to go – or at least the last lot of colours are.
If the piece doesn’t need to be changed I then I am ready for the next piece.
It seems to take a day or so to get the last piece out of my system, so I ignore painting completely and play my guitar and faff around on the computer for a day or so. “Faffing around” also includes slaking my visual thirst – looking at things that fascinate me visually, and maybe deciding on future pieces. The inspirations I find are not for the very next painting, but for the painting two or three or four pieces after that, or not even to be painted at all, just saved to my resources folder to give me a feel for something – colour, motion, light – a mood board of sorts.
It’s an odd folder full of sea, clouds, eyes, faces, bodies, liquid, fire, rocks and rusted metal.
After a while my next piece starts nagging in my head and then – usually at night – I suddenly know it’s time to start a new piece.
There’s a ritual to it all that surprised me when I first started painting, and still surprises me now, as it seems to have landed on me, fully formed, without external influence. It doesn’t feel forced or taught, like the safety concerns and preparations of a DIY project – it feels sort of personal and cathartic and a tiny bit scary.
The first part is the cleaning of the glass, which starts with the lifting of the film.
Although in day to day painting the cling film lifts easily off the paint in a single piece, after a few days of sitting there while I decide whether or not I’m done with the previous piece, the film has begun to break down into the drying paint and in places form a bond with the paint and glass.
So I lift what I can and then use a large paint scraper – the type you get from Homebase or B&Q for stripping paint and wallpaper – and start scraping the more moist parts of the mess into a big pile in the centre of the table top. I scrape this up into a couple of sheets of kitchen roll, wrap it and it goes in to the bin. I repeat this until there is only set, dry paint on the glass, at which point I squirt the entire table top lightly with white spirit from the pipette. I hate the smell of white spirit so I try to use as little as humanly possible, literally just enough to moisten the top of any dried areas of paint.
Then I go at it again with the paint scraper, harder than before, until I can’t see any dried areas, just white spirit and dissolved stuff, which I wipe up. I then repeat this, this time continuing with the scraper until the glass beneath it feels completely smooth with no catches or gritty bits.
A final wipe with a piece of kitchen towel and then I polish the whole thing thoroughly with a dry, lint-free cloth.
What amazes me is how cathartic this feels. It is sloughing off the old painting and clearing the way for the new. Setting out your stall.
The ritual continues.
First there’s the canvas. I use two types – stretched canvas, and canvas board.
They each have their merits – the canvas board is more robust – heavier and hard wearing, you can really stab at it with a brush, but mounting it for presentation or framing is a pain. The stretched canvas, by comparison, is very light, delicate and flexible. Every time I handle a stretched canvas there’s a little part of me freaking out thinking I’m going to damage it. I tell myself that it’s fine and that they aren’t that delicate, but that little part of me reminds me that I’m a big
Still, as I carry them to my easel I like to drum my fingers gently on the back of them and listen to the tones it produces.
It sounds like a bodhran.
I choose which to use, unwrap the canvas and run my hands over the surface, making sure that it is undamaged. After the first time, when I learnt my lesson by tossing a canvas into the boot of my car with some shopping, they always are.
Sometimes I paint standing, sometimes I paint sitting, so I set my easel accordingly and put the canvas on it.
This is the scary bit. I look at the blank canvas and try to imagine what it will look like with the finished piece on it, and at this point I honestly don’t believe I can do it. I have a little panic that the last piece and all those that came before it were somehow flukes and this is going to be a disaster.
Then there is the sketch. I use charcoal and/or pencil for the sketching and I enjoy this part immensely – that initial part of the creation, adding form to the blank canvas. I used to sketch a lot as a youngster, but stopped in my twenties, and this takes me back to the pleasure I used to find in it.
Trepidation returns with the first layer of paint.
I’ve settled into a fat-on-lean technique where the first coat of paint is mainly liquin – a paint medium – and white spirit, with just a little bit of pigment. This is the only time I use white spirit in any quantity – as I said, I dislike the smell, I need to avoid fumes as much as possible because of where I paint, and it kills both your brushes and the saturation of the paint.
So during (and after) the first layer of paint, the overall feeling is “that looks like shit”, feeding into the whole “this is a disaster” paranoia mentioned above. That is compounded by the fact that I’m swabbing this clumsy, insipid wash all over the sketch that had previously brought me such joy.
With each successive layer of paint there is more paint and less medium (and no white spirit after the first layer or two). There is the potential to ruin what I’ve started, nagging away in the back of my mind, but also, with each layer the whole thing is refined and things start taking better shape. Both pleasure and trepidation increase as I go on.
But it is also an extremely Zen process. The world recedes, the past and future no longer exist, all there is is that immediate instance of contact at the end of that brush, for the duration of that stroke. It is meditation given form, and I come out of each session feeling charged and drained at the same time.
By the time I finish a painting I feel a tiny bit ragged.
I love the fact that I can do what I do. I hate the fact that I can’t do it better. I hate that it feels like going through the wringer each time. I love going to bed thinking about how I’m going to approach the next day’s painting, and I love waking up the next day with purpose – almost having to assign myself “before you start painting” chores with painting as a reward – do the dishes BYSP or they ain’t getting done. Do the shopping BYSP or you’re not going to be able to eat when you finish.
Then when the painting is finished there is the initial euphoria of having Made something, of having caused something (hopefully) beautiful to exist that would otherwise never have been. This is followed by the slow suspicion that you could have, and should have, done it better and that you are a charlatan, a fluke – go on, do it again! you can’t can you?? – and the inability to see anything but the flaws and mistakes.
That’s the point where I break off and ignore my paints for a while.
But it won’t go away. It’s in me now and I only wish I’d discovered this twenty-odd years ago.
And so the whole process begins again
But it all starts with the cleaning of the glass.
It seems to me to be the most important part of the painting. It is neither a creative act nor a destructive one (or not entirely at least), it is cathartic precisely because it is an act of pure Intent. Everything else is The Past. I am starting anew.
So I’ve just cleaned my glass. Now for the scary bit…
Having watched the new Star Wars trailer, one thing I wish they would stop doing with the Star Wars universe is constantly trying to one-up the other films.
They do this in most aspects of the films – from the the pristine clothing and ludicrous costumes, lacking any of the thought and functionality of the outfits from the original, to the ever-present sci-fi tech. In fact, one of the many criticisms of the prequel travesties … er, I mean, films… was that the technology in the universe seemed to have taken leaps and bounds ahead from the original trilogy, despite the originals being set chronologically after the prequels.
I also noticed and lamented this, since one of the things I loved about the originals was that feeling of a lived-in world, with the same shabby, beaten-up, run-down and workaday stuff lying around as you’d find anywhere.
In most previous sci-fi, the cast, and indeed the directors, seemed to treat the sets and the props as things of wonder and awe. In the Star Wars universe, the people didn’t ignore the things around them, but neither did they revere them, and they were portrayed as neither miracle nor spectacle, just… things, things that people use every day – speeders, vaporators, astromech droids,spaceships, food mixers.
Luke’s landspeeder, for example – a wonder to us watching from the real world – was a piece of crap to all who saw it and was treated as such, in much the same way that an old Mark 3 Ford Escort would be a work of magic and wizardry to a 15th-century peasant, but is just… an old knacker to us, accustomed as we are to the million wonders of the modern world.
The prequels ruined that, that feeling of immunity to wonder that comes from being exposed to a thousand former miracles from the moment we wake up.
They reintroduced the prop-as-a-star, here’s-one-for-the-merchandise style of sci-fi set dressing and production design. Nothing was mundane, nothing beaten and ordinary, unless as part of a nod-nudge-wink in-joke.
It was thoughtlessly sleek, CGI ships that looked like they’d never been unwrapped, let alone flown through fire and smoke and war.
It was, in short, CGI tech-porn, and I would not have been surprised to find in the Making Of- out-takes a clip of George Lucas nursing a chubby while skulking round the ILM studios.
Now, if they’d have had an even half-way decent story none of this would matter and I would have still lapped it up and loved it. Pretty much the same goes for the new films.
You have a chronological excuse to upgrade stuff now, so there’s that, but I hope they at least try to keep that real-world-with-better-stuff feel.
But anyway, I digress.
As I was saying, it grieves me that the makers of the Star Wars films feel that they have to outdo themselves and each other in all aspects except storyline, and that each iteration of any aspect of the world must be better and shinier and faster than the last.
But I’m an adult (for the most part) so I can handle it.
Except for in one thing.
Stop fucking about with the light-sabres.
There’s still a year to go Mr Abrams – nip this in the bud. Change whatever else you like but leave the light-sabres alone.
Trying to make light-sabres more exciting not only completely loses sight of the explanation of them from the first film, it also ignores the fact that THEY ARE ALREADY COMPLETELY FUCKING AWESOME.
You cannot make them MORE awesome by adding extra bits or funny shaped handles to them.
Now we have a T-shaped one?? It was obviously designed and marketed by an eye-patch manufacturer. What other possible use could those silly extra side bits have?
Other than that, the Millenium Falcon is still the most beautiful thing that ever flew
I just cancelled my Spotify Premium membership.
Those who know me probably realise that this is huge for me.
I loved Spotify. When I originally discovered it, it was a light-in-the-eyes, Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase moment. When I signed up for Spotify premium I thought that it was a way of supporting artists directly, offering another way to sell their music. On top of this it was an excellent method of discovering new music.
Before Spotify, if someone mentioned a band and said you should listen to them, I had two or three choices -– I could borrow a copy of an album from a friend, play it, give it back and then buy it. Or I could buy it on spec and maybe hate it and never listen to it again. Or I could just pirate it -– either directly from my friend’s copy or from The Internets, and, if I had no friends that had the record or the type of music I wanted to hear, then I was stumped – piracy or blind-buying were the only options.
Then along came Spotify and, seemingly, a marvellous, glittering Fourth Way — track after track, album after album, sortable, playlist-ready, shareable and freely available. And that is important – freely available. Ok, so I paid a monthly premium for it or I had to listen to adverts and in a slightly lower quality (which, let’s face it, you’re not going to notice unless you have some serious equipment to play it back on) but essentially it was that magical word: FATPOD. Free at the Point of Delivery -– the way, in an ideal world, all art should be.
Suddenly, I could try new music at the click of a button. Not just a song or an album, but entire back-catalogues and an accompanying biography. I could follow an artist’s progression from debut to dotage, instantly and seamlessly and, if I liked it, I could buy the album, or all the albums. I could find other artists in a chosen genre or versions of a given song by a thousand different artists.
I loved it!
It was a lip-trembling moment of wide-eyed joy not equalled since Pinky succeeded in opening the vault at Fort Knox. I shouted and screamed and championed its cause left, right, and centre, until people grew bored of hearing about it from me. I thought it was win-win — a way to eliminate music piracy if we could just encourage enough people to use the service so that more and larger acts would make their material available.
I had a vision of Spotify championing the music and the artists, of freeing music up for the masses while still making money for the musicians. Rather naive of me, I know, but the alternative for downloading music at that point was pretty much piracy or nothing, unless you wanted DRM dictating how and when you listened to your music. At least, I thought, this was sending some money to the artists as I digitally restocked and re-lived my old vinyl collection.
So why cancel?
Well, I cancelled for pretty much the same reason I originally joined: I’m a musician, I love music and I believe in supporting the creators of things that I love, not just for some altruistic (or even non-altruistic) pay-it-forward sensibility, but because I want them to keep making the stuff that keeps me entertained.
However, the music industry is one of the few industries where the genuine makers of the art, the people who carry the art forward and breed the next generation of artist, are at the very bottom of the food chain. Back in the days of vinyl the recording industry was perhaps not balanced, but it was an ecosystem where the jobbing musician could survive, and in some cases even thrive. Sure, the record company fat cats were out there, chowing down, but there was money to be made and a halfway decent cut for the artist. The advent of the digital market though changed that. At first ignored by the labels, the internet was a bit of the Wild West for a while, until the industry noticed that their revenues were slowing down. Quite rightly, the Industry chaps decided that this would not do and they wanted a slice of the pie for their efforts.
On entering a brave new world one would think that the approach would be eyes-wide, arms open and baby steps. Unfortunately however, the industry fat cats were having none of that, and opted for a stance of blinkered belligerence and a nail-studded club in place of a peace pipe, flinging lawsuits here and there, stomping on the little guys that were the end user of their product, alienating them irrevocably. They didn’t want their fair slice of the pie: They wanted the whole pie. And the pie tin. And control of the oven that made the pie. And the pie delivery truck. And the very ownership of Pie — word and concept.
Unfortunately, with this being such a new arena, those in charge of judging the legality, blame and consequences of the initial free-for-all were at a loss for both precedence and context and instead of recognising the death of The Old Way, reverted to The Old Way’s rulings — not to bring back parity or equity but in a punitive, shock and awe kind of way: We won’t teach you the error of your ways, we will instead beat you to death with the book that explains those errors.
The end result is the situation as it stands, the knee jerk reaction of those early cases not restoring a status quo, but throwing mountains of digital profit at the labels that had made the noise and forgetting the artists themselves. Artists profits for vinyl sales could almost equal those for the record company. In the digital arena you’re lucky to see a tenth of the profit.
The recording industry is now a feeding frenzy — a fly-clouded mountain of bloated vultures, chomping on the carcasses of the labouring musicians beneath them, vomiting back just enough nourishment to sustain the muso-cattle’s output– while ignoring the fact that without the artists there would be no industry, no labels… and no Spotify.
And the sad Truth is, as you must know if you’ve been reading the news/twitter/facebook recently, that Spotify is simply an extension of the same outdated but self-perpetuating business model that that has kept the music industry an elite boys’ club for decades.
Having recently seen just how pitiful the artists royalties from Spotify play actually are (4/10000 of of a cent, anyone) I feel that it is very wrong of me to support the platform any longer.
It may be argued that the fault here lies with the record labels, that they negotiate the contract, but responsibility also lies with those people who support the record labels and their anachronistic business models.
Spotify could have changed all of this and made the playing field flat again.
Don’t believe that? Let’s do a bit of maths:
Spotify has over twenty million users. Now, I’m not even going to broach the filthy amounts of revenue a proven customer base of 20,000,000 users can generate in advertising exposure, but consider this: Of those users, over five million pay a premium of between £5 and £10 per month ($8-16). That means that the Spotify accountants are dealing with around twenty-five to fifty million pounds. PER MONTH.
That’s up to £600,000,000 per annum.
And that’s only counting the money made from 25% of their customer base.
That is a game-changingly obscene amount of money.
Some might say that Spotify have only been around since 2008 and could not possibly have foreseen their own popularity but, think about the point made above about convenience, about the huge, instant, global music collection. This is a service that could not fail. This was always going to be huge.
Spotify could and should have been something glorious, a chance to open up music to the world for various interpretations of Free, while still allowing the artist to make a very decent living from their music and still make a good profit for themselves.
Instead, they chose what has unfortunately become the mantra of the modern age -– get rich quick, which is usually followed by an under-the-breath “and fuck anyone who gets in the way”.
The record companies’ early posturing probably scared the then-newly-fledged Spotify into accepting draconian terms for their wares, but Spotify should have had, if not the foresight to see their own potential power, then the present day courage to stand up and admit the truth that the music industry seems to want to ignore:
The artists is everything.
These are the people you should be working to reward.
Without them you have no commodity.
I don’t have the words to express my feelings at Racist Tram Woman (youTube. Warning: NSFW language, NSFAnwhere diatribe).
My first emotion – shared, I would hope, with most decent and educated people – is obviously anger. Crude ignorance of this level breeds rage more easily than anything else – a fiery, white-hot ire that takes your tongue and leaves you only shaking and clenching fists and jaws. Unfortunately, this vileness feeds on and, in the eyes of one so ignorant, is validated by, that same rage. It’s a horrific vicious circle that takes every whit of my willpower to break away from.
Beneath the anger is a numbing incomprehension.
I believe we all tend to cast the world and everyone in it in our own image, and that image can be as simple or as complex as our upbringing and as all-encompassing or non-inclusive as our education. Our beliefs and attitudes are informed by the environment we find ourselves in, particularly – but not exclusively – in our formative years, and then we spend our lives (hopefully) expanding on those values. I have a dual heritage – black African on my father’s side, white English on my mother’s. I also have a duality in my upbringing – I lived as one of only two or three non-white families in a predominantly white-Irish area of Birmingham (though the post-code hinted at the rather gentler Hall Green, the reality of the locale was entirely working-class Gospel Farm). Brought up by a single, white parent in this down-to-earth white area, what racism I encountered – and I encountered it often enough looking back – was for the most part lightweight and low voltage enough to wash over me as the norm. It was the sort of embedded societal racism that is administered without thought or hate or any real judgement; it’s “just the way things are”. Sure, I occasionally got called Tarbrush, but at least they let me into their houses and let me play with their sons and daughters.
Don’t get me wrong – the area wasn’t a hotbed of racist fervour, filled with a gaggle of cross-burning hillbillies, chomping on chitlins and waiting for their next lynching. For the most part the families I grew up round were salt-of-the-earth hard-working folks, kind and generous, from amongst whom I still have friends to this day. But the world was a very different place then – the world of Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour on prime-time telly. A world where we read the tale of Little Black Sambo in infant school and I took part – in full black-face – in The Black & White Minstrel Show for one year’s school play. A world of a thousand constant tiny reminders that you were different and therefore not quite as good or important as everyone else.
It was just the way it was.
And anyway, I was okay because I was “one of the alright ones”.
I suppose this sort of thinking led child-me to reason that racism was something that everyone faced to start with but you could earn your way out of it by being quietly good-natured about the whole thing.
This ‘merit’ system held unacknowledged sway in my head for some time and I flexed my own racist powers in the same learned, low-level way in my young years, using “pakis” – newly arrived Indian and Pakistani families – as a handy bullseye that I could share with my white neighbours . As an added bonus, acting this way towards these Asian families made me even more of an “alright one” with the people around me.
I don’t remember the specific catalyst for my own eye opening, but, through a mixture of education, self-awareness and exposure – both as a victim to more sinister and violent forms of racism, and to the victims of my own prejudice – I realised that the world was not my neighbourhood, and my neighbourhood not the world and that what people around you do and say, though seemingly The Way of Things, is not necessarily normal or the norm. I learnt that the pakis and the wogs and the ragheads and chinks were people. Like me. Exactly like me. So much so that I myself was a wog when spoken of in my absence. And that these epithets, though mildly used and low in voltage, were a convenient first step on a very dark and nasty road, a road full of shambling horrors and pitfalls and danger that leads eventually to places with names like Lynch-Mob and Pogrom and Genocide.
And yet all of this was simply a learned way of interacting with those new faces and sounds and smells around our neighbourhood. The people there weren’t evil, they themselves were second and third generation immigrant stock who twenty or thirty years before had faced similar prejudice. Ninety-nine percent of those people were fine people, though as ignorant of other cultures or the niceties of social integration as I was myself. If I meet any of them now they are usually lovely, warm welcoming people, sometimes a little rough around the edges, but never anything other than that.
But the other one percent…
I’ve rather bizarrely had some Facebook friend requests from some of them, only to check out their profile and see that they are BNP supporters or that every other status update was about immigrants doing this or “blacks and pakis” doing that
In these few the low-level, low-voltage seed took hold and produced unreasoning, unquestioning hatred. They not only have no frame of reference in which to reconfigure their perception of other people and cultures, they have no need or desire for it, only a world-searing, animalistic malignance that should not exist in this day and age.
No matter how many times I come across, or am the target of, such blind hatred, the thing that I find most difficult to process is not the injustice or ugliness of it, but the utter lack of self-awareness that it shows. I can’t comprehend of a mind so lacking in compassion and empathy or just plain decency, that they can’t see that the people around them are just people. That the racist could really see those people as less than the racist themselves, simply because of their colour, is so utterly bizarre to me that just about every time it has happened to me in my life, my first reaction has been a surprised half-chuckle, followed by a blinking mental reboot as I realise that no, this is not a joke: This is what this person actually believes to be true.
As I said, I believe we cast other people in our own image and we tend to project ourselves into them. I want to believe that Racist Tram Woman’s scattergun ranting is a product of ignorance and environment. That, given a light to shine on herself, she would see – as I once did – just how that way of thinking robs not only her victims but also herself – both of dignity and of experience.
But in this case I think she is of the one percent, and the light would only find a cold core of hate in a dry void.
For this reason, and those listed at length above, I am as reflexively afraid of Racist Tram Woman as she is of me and my brown skin. And like her, I can do nothing but wish her away.
It’s about time you had some music. So here’s me, again, a-wailing and a-gnashing…
Firstly a bit of harmonica and guitar…
And then a cover of Scrapyard Lullaby by the mighty Chris Whitley
And America thought it had the monopoly on weird rednecks…