Musical Stuffs

All seeing eyeSo in my ongoing quest to stave off boredom and continually do new things, I’ve got back into making music again. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything but I grabbed myself a fantastic mini M-Audio keyboard that sits neatly on my desk, and I’m getting to grips with Ableton Live for the first time. Been noodling away at ambient and electro stuff, partly inspired by The Knife, Susumu Hirasawa and Blanck Mass, among others. Have a listen!

 

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LGBT History Month Cultural Commission

Amy copy

In 2013, LGBT History Month launched their second Cultural Commission programme, supported by Creative Scotland. I’d gotten to know one of the previous recipients, Lucy Holmes-Elliott, through I AM ART, the visual arts programme I ran through my charity, Cosmic Designs, and she encouraged me to apply when it opened.

The I AM ART project was working with young LGBT people on exploring the theme of identity through art, and we worked with a group of participants who totally excelled through the project, many of them embarking on artistic careers after it was finished, their creative juices flowing after exhibiting their own brand new work during the Glasgay! Festival of that year.

I enjoyed the I AM ART project, although it was difficult to engage with young people who wanted to explore LGBT themes through art. There are many reasons for this – some folk just aren’t artistically minded, there hasn’t really been a history of participative visual community art projects within the LGBT community in Glasgow (although that’s quickly changing) and, I think importantly, there isn’t a huge amount of out LGBT artists who can inspire young folk to get into it.

While I spent the year managing the project, I was aware that my community arts work was also taking up time I could, and perhaps should, be spending on my own practice. So the Cultural Commission was a really inviting proposal. Receiving funding to spend a year working on a new piece of art that was intrinsically connected to the LGBT community felt like the ideal next step for my career.

As a comic book creator of around 6 years, it was tempting to put forward a proposal to do an anthology comic, or to create a comic of my own, but I felt that if was afforded the money, and with it the time, to spend a year exploring my practice, I would be better trying to push myself to try something new. I decided to propose an animation based on interviews with community members across Scotland. I’ve long had a love for animation, but only a very basic experience of making them. The community interaction was important as it felt like bridging a gap between my own community work and my personal practice.

I was overjoyed to be awarded the funding, and embarked on a journey where I met many people who shared their stories with me, learned frame by frame hand drawn animation techniques and software from scratch, and discovered a lot about myself and my relationship with not only the community, but also my own sense of identity.

I’ll post more specifically about that journey soon, as it’s deserving of a post of its own. But for now, I want to concentrate on what the Commission meant to me as a queer artist.

Freelancing in art is a difficult career. Most of your skills development and practice has to take place in your own time, which means that any paid work you do not only has to fund your living costs, but also your time. That time is used to literally practice, to draw, or paint, or write, or whatever, over and over again to get better. To learn things like perspective, anatomy, architecture, composition, colour theory etc.

Clients usually aren’t paying for any of that – they’re paying for a specific finished piece of work, and they genuinely aren’t interested in how you got your skills to the level they want, they just want the product.

On top of that, you’re also running your own business, buying new equipment, keeping accounts, regularly going to meetings to develop your business. Most of that comes out of a fairly meagre wage.

That’s why arts funding is so important.

It mitigates some of the time you need to spending getting better at art. You are, after all, judged only on the quality of work you produce, and you have to continually push yourself to be better, to excel.

Creative Scotland is an important resource for that, and we’re very lucky to have it, despite obvious grumbles with the arts community. Taxpayer money and lottery funding is specifically diverted to ensuring that Scotland’s arts sector can survive, and while there are many debates around how that money is, or should, be allocated, we should be glad that it’s seen as important enough to our cultural and social existence that we have a body specifically tasked with supporting the arts.

It’s equally important that some of that money is funnelled to specific areas. Until LGBT History Month Scotland’s Cultural Commission, there was no specific funding in Scotland for LGBT artists. Of course, there are many organisations and projects that work within the community and receive funding, but this is certainly the first time I’ve been aware of a funding pot specifically for artists who are either LGBT themselves, or are making work specific to the community.

Contributing to the artistic life and career of LGBT artists encourages us to work within our community, to respond to it, and to our relationship with it. It takes visible artistic work to encourage new artists to come forward and use their practice to explore and raise awareness of those lives, issues and experiences that are unique to being LGBT.

The Cultural Commission not only afforded me the money, and therefore the time, to go and learn a new practice, animation, it also gave me the opportunity to travel the country and speak to people who had shared experiences, whose experiences differed due to age, location etc, and whose lives are rich with the kind of detail that “LGBT” doesn’t cover as a label.

That work is now part of the cultural landscape, and will be archived for history, keeping those stories alive for future generations. ‘Out There’, the anthology of LGBT writing edited by Zoe Strachan, which was the other Cultural Commission that year, does a similar job – letting the lives of people, in this case writers, speak for themselves.

So what am I saying with all of this?

LGBT History Month Scotland has announced this year’s Cultural Commission. There’s only one this year, and the funding pot is a bit smaller (that crucial arts funding I talked about earlier gets squeezed, every single year, unfortunately), but it’s there, that chance, that opportunity.

If you’re a queer or LGBT artist based in Scotland, or if you’re an artist who has in mind a piece of work that would talk particularly to our community and history, then there’s no reason not to apply. That funding could give you the time to explore not only a new piece of work, or a new medium, but potentially yourself, and so develop your own practice and career even further.

For more information, head over to the History Month website here, and feel free to get in touch with me directly if you want to ask any questions about my own experience with the commission.

The work itself, a short animation now titled ‘Own Words’, was shown as the SQIFF film event at Summerhall. While the commission is now complete, I’m taking some time to sharpen up some rough edges and improve the sound quality before sending it out to film festivals. That means I can’t put it up online just yet, but it’ll be up very soon!

Process Process Process

I’ve had a busy old week, starting on two projects simultaneously. One of those is the third issue of Freak Out Squares by gentleman deviant Harry French. Coming back to comic work after a fairly long break (the last thing I did was a strip in December, then I was focussed on the animation) has been fantastic. I seem to have loosened up a bit – I feel like I’ve got a style that’s working for me, and I’ve gotten much faster at producing pages thanks to a refined, all-digital approach.

Harry and I are in discussion about some exciting prospects for Freak Out Squares which we’ll reveal when and if, but we’re keen to share some process and work-in-progress work with you.

Here’s the stage by stage work on page 1:

01Thumbnail

02Panels and Guides03Large Sketch

04Layout

05Final

For those who’ve read the first two issues, you’ll notice that the Blanck Mass are returning for more digital erotic thrills and adventures, whilst the Uberminister watches intently…

This issue, I’ve dropped back the spotted blacks from the last – that was an experiment, but I don’t think it worked as well as just letting my lines breathe, so I’m concentrating on detail this time around.

Working in Photoshop digitally has become ideal thanks to some wonderful brushes, the Lazy Nezumi plugin (which smooths brush strokes, has ellipse guides and and and! perspective tools that make perspective in PS a total breeze now), and my increased use of things like the the Ruler tool (which I didn’t even know existed) and the grid.

All of these things have combined to make it really intuitive and simple to go from thumbnail to layout to finished digital pencils/inks, doing perspective on the fly for each panel, setting up grids and stuff and just making everything look clean. A lot of this stuff saves a lot of time, which means I can do a lot of preparatory work without taking ages, and leaves me more time to spend on the finals.

Here’s a look at page 2:

01Thumbnail 02 Sketch03 Panels 04 Layout05 Finish

So that’s that then.

Working on page 3 just now, which is where the new sense of symmetry and asymmetry really starts coming into play – we’re pushing and pulling elements of the book against the grid, depending on the mood and narrative of the page, so being able to set up everything digitally is really helping.

I should say as well that this is the first book I’ve ever sat and thumbnailed sitting with the writer. Me and Harry had two sessions of sitting going over the script while I thumbnailed, and it was really worthwhile.

For Harry, it’s given him an idea of how I think visually, which is something writers can always benefit from – it can go into the scripts from the off. And for me, it was great sitting with Harry, bouncing ideas for panel placements off him, knowing we could alter the script structure without me having to try and explain it by email and waiting for the yay or nay.

I’d urge anyone who has the opportunity location-wise (or even through Skype) and the inclination to work this work to try it. While I wouldn’t expect much of my other work to follow this pattern, it’s good to do it at least once. Makes for more confident pages, I think.

Anyway, FoS 3 will be out soon, looking to have the art completed by early April, and then colours (by the brilliant Harry Saxon) and letters (by ‘Gentleman of Comics’ Colin Bell) so shortly thereafter.

It’s going to be brilliant, so keep your eyes peeled.

Thing

Last Tuesday, something happened. This was unusual in itself; nothing usually happens on a Tuesday. I was therefore unprepared for the eventuality that something might happen on that day.

Of course, when I say nothing happens on a Tuesday, I’m being slightly facetious. Obviously lots of little things happen – I get up, I wash, I eat, I drink, I smoke, I look out the window, sometimes I go outside, mostly I stay inside, I write, I draw, I spend time with my significant Other, that kind of thing.

What I actually mean to say is, nothing important usually happens, on a Tuesday.

Last Tuesday was different.

I had no sense of the numinous, no instinctual clairvoyance that A Thing would happen. Nothing to set this one Tuesday apart from any other Tuesday. It was like any other Tuesday; any other day at all, in fact.

But then, it happened.

Some Thing occurred that shook me from my usual stupor, some Thing that was so out of the ordinary that I could no longer pretend it was a Normal Day. As soon as The Thing occurred, it would be difficult to ever pretend again.

Where once No Thing important or noteworthy happened, now some Thing had. That was a state of events I was unprepared for, being as generally this was not the case.

When the Thing took place, I had to check myself to ensure my faculties were appropriately intact, that my sensory input was all working correctly. It was definitely not a dream; I was aware of being awake. Not in the way that sometimes in a dream you can feel sure that you’re awake and that it’s actually happening, even though that is proved to be patently false, either by the introduction of some ridiculous, nonsensical event that pushes the limits of the reality of the dream too far, or by the horror of the dream (and they are, mostly, horrific in some fashion or other) becoming so much that fight or flight sends you reeling from the world of sleep to awake into your sweat-heavy pillow. Not in that way.

In the way that even though the World is full of things that seem ridiculous and nonsensical, we’re usually aware of the rightness of the fact that we are not sleeping or dreaming when we are, in fact, very much awake.

Nor were my faculties dulled or enhanced by anything stronger than instant coffee and Golden Virginia. I had no hallucinogens, no amphetamines, no drugs of any kind in my system, save the coffee, the tobacco, and also an SSRI, one which basically took the nervy edge off being awake and not dreaming, but nothing so strong that it would convince me that a Thing was happening when it wasn’t.

Checking myself in this manner, I quickly (and I mean quickly, these kind of checks take no time at all, really, since we’re usually already sure of the results, even if we have that momentary fillip in our gut where it becomes necessary to just be on the safe side) concluded that the Thing was definitely happening.

Given that, the only thing to do was to form an adequate response. Since the situation was otherwise ordinary – the scene and setting just that of any other Tuesday – it seemed only right to not panic, to not act out in a manner unbecoming of a Tuesday, even though this Thing was definitely changing the tenor of the day in a way that could not be ignored.

I carefully assessed the Thing, taking in the nature of the event from as many angles (physically and philosophically, if you take my meaning, which meaning is complex when considering the nature of the information I’m relaying to you now) as I could, moving slowly to experience it without becoming involved with the Thing, as such.

It was important to me to maintain the sense that the Thing was occurring in an otherwise humdrum environment, that its nature was its own boundary, the fact of its occurrence part of the uniqueness of it, and that to get, as we say, up close and personal, might alter the nature of the Thing in such a way that it would no longer be the original Thing, but some other Thing, tainted by my interaction.

This is not an easy task, as you might be aware. Without getting into quantum physics, which I couldn’t even if I wanted to, as I’ve not the mind for more than the merest understanding of such, it’s almost impossible to witness a thing, any thing, without becoming in some way involved, and that was certainly true of this Thing, perhaps more than any other, so obviously contradictory was it. The more I studied the Thing, attempting to remain detached, the more I was changed by it and, I could only presume since it seemed perfectly natural to do so at the time, was it changed by me.

The results of these changes were subtle and ontological; once, there was no Thing, no Important, New Thing in my existence, and therefore in my memory or my experience, and now there Was. My brain was already adapting in ways too subtle to recount, too subtle for me even to be aware of them exactly, save that I experienced that existential sense of something being different in me. Watching the Thing, I could sense that somehow the same was taking place for it.

Simple shifts and shudders in its totality seemed definitely to me to be a result of it having been experienced. There was no way for me to directly engage the Thing in discourse, as it was too unusual and out-of-the-ordinary, as one might say, to even know how a rapprochement might be reached.

That is to say, in less obtuse language, that the Thing was of such a nature that I wasn’t even sure I could communicate with it in any way. Although I was able to experience it, and know the sense of it having experienced me, I was completely unable to discern its nature. It was a Thing, completely other from every other Thing I had ever experienced.

How does one engage with a Thing when it is of such a new nature that one has no context for it?

Its very existence was contrary to everything else on that Tuesday, its being delineated only by its opposition to the natural, normal mundane day that was pushed aside for the space of its being.

It was there, but only in a negative fashion.

It could only be experienced as that which it was not – normal, mundane, everyday, Tuesday. Me.

For while I was definitely experiencing the Thing, I felt sure that it was not Of Me, not something I had begotten, not something created by me, nor willed into Being.

The Thing had independent existence beyond me, which in itself was not unusual (I’ve seen many things that existed independently of me – toast, newspapers, coins, dust), yet the fact that it was independent and yet unlike every other independent Thing I had witnessed in my time on this planet made it not only unique in and of itself, but also contrary to not only my experiences but also the limits of my imagination.

With no context to ground its existence, my continued study of it became a battle of some kind, my ground disappearing inversely with its continued presence – the longer it stayed here, contrary, existing despite its unusualness, the further I slipped from certainty, from the safety of catalogues and concepts.

I quickly rebelled at the Thing.

What was it? Why was it here? What did it want, if wanting was even a function of a Thing so distant that the mind could barely contain its existence except by rebellion and opposition?

My initial attempt to not interfere was dashed against the need to define the experience of the Thing somehow, to contain it in my head along with every other thing, thing or Thing, I’d experienced, to own it, the knowledge of it, to conquer it and say, this is smaller than me, it can fit within the meat of my brain, my neurons can make light work of this. I am clever, as far as it goes, and experienced, broadly, if not fully, in many things, and know the world around me, and I’ve conquered Every Other Thing, but not this.

As earlier presumed, my interaction with it was changing its nature, but instead of becoming more solid, more real, the way places do once you go back there a second or third time, once they have made space in your head, this Thing was becoming even more elusive, more distant, formless, bigger and yet smaller? or further away.

I raced with it, running alongside the essence of it, chasing down the reality of the Thing, desperate now to have it, to be one with it, to know the nature of this Thing that demanded to remain UnKnown. I stood still, but travelled highways of a topology I no longer recognised, nor knew how to process. The further it ran from me, the finer my enquiry became, now squeezing itself violently inside the very being of the Thing, lacerating it mentally, pressing myself inside ontological wounds that instantly rejected me and resealed themselves.

It was playing with me.

The Thing was enormous, size beyond comparison, distant in a way I could never break down enough to measure. I was exhausted by it, by the dance it led me, knowing that the faster I ran, the further it got from me, and in that exhaustion, I felt a strange kind of abandon, that I might never know it, and that I was now becoming too tired to care.

It was no Thing to me. Just a Thing, unusual in itself, but too remote to have meaning, meaning applied to No Thing, and I was happy now to see it go.

A Thing such as this does not ‘go’ in the way one might see a loved one ‘go’ as they walk down the street to work, or how a train or bus might ‘go’ as it leaves the station, or how oneself might ‘go’, with purpose, from one place to another, or even being still, go through time, and yes, space, as one’s going or not going is barely predicated on purpose, and just a function of being here, as the planet turns and swoops through the strange plasticity of Spacetime.

Instead, a Thing like this, or maybe just this Thing, who am I to judge the nature of Other Things based solely on the experience of this one, goes differently. In going, it comes, in leaving , it arrives. In becoming No Thing, it remains indelible – that is how it is catalogued. The memory holds the space of it, those boundaries of opposition, that which it was Not, instead of that which it Was. Not burned in memory, the burning is the experience of the Thing and all that’s left after is smoke, the memory of smoke, the concept of smoke, smoke produced without a real fire.

In going, it reveals that it was never gone, will never go, will always be here, and every Tuesday, and every other day from now on will be changed beyond the ordinary by its presence and yet, and yet, never remembered, never understood, never…

Extra Astronomical – Gonzo Cosmic #2 is out now!

Cover
FINALLY. After a long, difficult labour, Gonzo 2 is now finished, and is available FREE to download. This is DRM-free, so if you download it, feel free to share it with anyone you think might be interested! And please, share this post – GC is now an intense labour of love, and I’m giving it away free in the hope of getting more readers, but they’ll only read it if they know about it!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/tqcw815pkb4jmr0/Gonzo%20Cosmic%20Issue%202.pdf?dl=0

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In case you need to get up to speed, issue one can be downloaded here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/a0gtxuuwnssp2k2/Gonzo_Cosmic_1_DRM_Free.pdf?dl=0

Gonzo 2 has some male nudity in’t, so probably NSFW…