Behind The Mask // The Void Oni

It’s been just over a year since my last blog update, but this doesn’t mean for a second that I’ve stalled in terms of my creative output. Much has changed. I’m now working full time to enable me the funds to pour into my artwork. I’m no longer taking commissions in the traditional sense. I’m painting what I want to paint, instead of scrabbling about trying to find freelance work. Gainful employment has given me the freedom to experiment without the pressure of deadlines and the compromises that come with working to a brief and struggling to pay my way. This is also the reason my blog posts have become scarce.

There are a few big projects coming together at the moment, but one in particular that’s now finally complete and worthy of a write up is my mask. It’s difficult to know where to start with this project as it represents the culmination of a lifetime of work and creative development, but I’ve always been fascinated by masks.

We all wear masks in some sense, projecting characteristics we find agreeable when faced with the myriad of situations life throws at us. Masks have been used for ritual and ceremonial purposes for millennia, to take on anthropomorphic forms, for war, to give us protection or power. I’m not about to expound the history of masks, needless to say, they are an intrinsic manifestation of the human psyche and I wanted my own.

I’m no stranger to the casting and mould making process, having worked in a gnome factory at the tender age of 16, casting and airbrushing characters from The Wind In The Willows and Alice In Wonderland. It’s without doubt the strangest job I’ve ever had! My mum also works with special effects make up, so the materials for casting with plaster and silicone have been readily available for years. We’d often talked about me getting a cast done of my face and attempting some sculpted features to produce in silicone. I’d played around with some clay on a cast of her face, and was keen to attempt something for myself. So, one afternoon I began what was to become one of the most challenging projects of my life, a physical embodiment of the character I’ve been developing for the last two years; The Void Oni.

I use the term Oni loosely to mean demon, as in Japanese folklore the Oni often represents a demon, or devil. The word itself means to conceal, and often describes invisible spirits that were the supposed malevolent cause of disasters, disease and unpleasant events. For me, the Oni was my alter ego, the invisible force that coerces me to create, and something I intended to use to conceal my face when lurking in the shadows painting.

I wanted the mask to fit perfectly, so I first needed a cast of my face. The face casting process is pretty simple. My face was covered in Vaseline to stop the mould sticking, especially on things such as my eyebrows and lashes. A thin layer of silicone was applied to my face to catch all the details, followed by a thicker layer to reinforce the mould. A layer of plaster bandages was then dipped in water and used to create a shell for the silicone.

The first attempt was a bit of an experiment, as is often the case, and having poured plaster into the mould and being left to set for a few hours, I revealed some form of Quasimodo version of my face. Whilst hilarious, it wasn’t something I could use. The second attempt fared much better.

 

I then wrapped the cast of my face in cling film and started to work clay onto the plaster cast. I used two different densities of non drying plasteline clay to sculpt the mask, beginning with a medium clay to provide strength, followed by a soft clay for the smoother facial features as it was easier to work the contours by hand. Working with the softer clay was a nightmare at times because the slightest knocks meant a lot of tidying up. Finer details like the teeth were worked in the harder clay as I could achieve a much sharper finish using a scalpel. I decided to create the horns and the large pointy teeth separately to make the mask easier to remove from the mould. This would also allow me some customisation options at a later date if I decided to make more than one. I spent a good amount of time trying to make the mask symmetrical and attain the finish I wanted. Any imperfections in the clay at this stage would transfer to the cast, so it was imperative to keep it as clean as possible.

Once I was happy, it was time to start thinking about the casting process. Whilst I knew how to cast, the materials have now developed considerably, so I went for a chat with the people at Bentley Advanced Materials to discuss my options and the process I had planned. They were extremely helpful! Based on a discussion with one of their representatives, it was decided that I should paint the clay with an acrylic paint to seal the mask and prevent any possible chemical reactions between the clay and the silicone.  The silicone comes as a two part system, mixing an A and B in a pot to begin the chemical process. After pouring the silicone and waiting for it to cure, I brushed on a layer of Sonite Wax to prevent it sticking, then reinforced the mould with a plasti-paste cover. Again, a two part system that formed a plastic shell for the mould to sit in. Once the plasti-paste shell was cured, I removed the plaster cast of my face from the rear of the mask and made some slight adjustments to the clay before repeating the process on the back.

 

Once cured, I slowly pulled the mould apart and began to remove the clay from inside, a testy procedure as I would have to destroy the clay sculpture to reveal the success or failure of the process. There were no second attempts. I would only know how well the mould had turned out once I’d cast the mask in resin, which was the next stage.

After cleaning the mould in soapy water and coating the inside of the mould with an easy release spray, I was now ready to cast. The time frames involved with the curing process made casting in resin a little hectic. This was to be the culmination of many hours work, I had limited resin to work with and would only be able to pour twice. Working with a smooth-cast onyx slow curing resin, I mixed the two parts and poured the resin into the mould. The resin leaked quite a bit from a few places, which led to some frantic cleaning operations! I made a complete mess of my mums kitchen, and there’s still resin stuck to the slabs of concrete in the garden. The wait was excruciating! After about an hour, I tentatively pulled the mask from the mould, trying not to damage it so it would be possible to attempt a second pour. I was happy enough with the front, but the back was a little distorted, so I repeated the process. The second mask was perfect! I could now relax a little. It had been a long night …

Void One - Resin Mask Test

The mask was nowhere near the finish I was looking for, so I used an epoxy putty to smooth out the imperfections. My only regret at this point was that I went for a white epoxy putty initially, meaning if the mask was knocked you’d see a white mark under the final paint work. [I managed to source a black epoxy putty eventually, and this was a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.] Many hours were spent sanding down the mask with a super fine sand paper! For some reason, I decided to make life just that little bit more difficult by adding LED lights to the rear of the mask in an attempt to light up the inside of my hoodie when being worn. I wanted to do an urban exploration photo shoot at some point wearing my merchandise and thought this would move the mask away from the more traditional look to something more futuristic and in keeping with my style. This brought problems of its own, however, as it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to store the batteries for the lights inside the mask without a very uncomfortable fit. It was at this point that I decided to add neck armour, in keeping with many of the samurai mempo masks I’d seen whilst researching. The mask would become modular, with the batteries stored in the neck armour plates connected by a small power port on the bottom of the mask by my chin.

 

Channels were carved around the edges of the underside of the mask using a dremel. I then soldered and installed the LED lights, securing them with the black epoxy putty. Attaching the cables to the tiny power port was very fiddly. The connections were extremely close together, which meant lots of time spent making sure none of the soldering short circuited. It was imperative to get this right, as once the LED’s were embedded within the mask, it would be impossible to correct without some severe surgery. The process of installing the LED’s was without doubt the most time consuming part of the whole process, but I was now ready to attach the teeth and sculpt the gums. I was really looking forward to this part of the process, as it felt like I was finally getting somewhere.

 

I drilled holes into the mouth area and back of the teeth so that I could push epoxy putty through the holes and into the cavities in the teeth as a means to better secure them to the mask. The epoxy putty came through to the rear of the mask, where another layer of putty was used to fill the mouth and tidy up any rough areas. I finally sculpted the gums, which also helped to fix the teeth into position.

Once the LED’s had been installed and the teeth had been fixed, the mask was ready for painting. I used a matt black spray paint and applied a good few layers to both sides of the mask whilst covering the LED’s with some carefully shaped pieces of blue tack. The mask was repeatedly sanded between layers to remove any minute imperfections, then I applied generous layers of matt lacquer to achieve the final finish, or so I thought! A hair had somehow managed to land on top of the lacquer, and as I attempted to remove it, I left a blemish that needed to be reworked. I was vexed! The lacquer had also pooled around the nose area and peeled away the paint from the mask. It couldn’t have happened in a worse place. I had to wait until the lacquer was dry before I could proceed, which was absolute torture. Once dry, I spent about 5 hours sanding and prepping those areas again before I could repeat the painting process.

For painting the mouth and horns I decided to use Citadel Miniatures paints as their colour range is exceptional. I’d just been gifted a pretty extensive set, and I was well accustomed to working with them from my early dabbles with Warhammer. The grimy bone colours were perfect for the look I was trying to achieve and would hopefully contrast nicely with the matt black face. Lastly, I decided to stencil my logo onto the rear side of the mask in the position of the ‘third eye’.

 

It was at this point, in between waiting for layers of paint and lacquer to dry, that I began work on the neck pieces. For the sake of time I opted against making another mould and decided to render the two pieces in epoxy putty. I cut out the basic shape in paper as a template, then flattened out the putty and cut it to size. I have a climbing helmet I’m planning to use to make a full samurai kabuto for the next mask project which I used to create a gentle curve in the pieces by placing the flat putty across the centre front of the helmet. Using the helmet as a template also meant I could easily replicate the same curve for the second piece of amour. It was important to utilise as much ‘dead time’ as possible as I was working towards a rough deadline for a forthcoming exhibition in a few months. It basically takes a day for the putty to cure and I found it best to leave the lacquer for the same period of time. Hence, whilst waiting for one, I would work on the other from now on.

 

Once the lacquer had finally taken and I was happy with the finish, it was time to begin sewing together the straps that would secure the mask to my head. This was by no means easy, as the mask had to be fully adjustable and this necessitated the use of sliders and clips that would fasten at the back of my head. Experimenting with different techniques demonstrated that the mask could be easily damaged via the attachments on the straps. I didn’t want to fix anything directly to the mask as the points at which the fixings would need attaching were on the thinnest part of the mask. The last thing I wanted after all this work was to have the mask snap in half, so I’d opted to drill holes either side of the eyes and in the centre top of the forehead for stability, then to find some way of tying the mask to my face.

I’ve been renovating my katana for another project and came across a Japanese silk ito chord used traditionally to tie Samurai armour together, also used for the Sageo and Tsuka wrappings on Japanese swords. This type of chord was an obvious choice for my mask as it gave it a more authentic feel. The chord would also be used to tie the neck pieces together through a series of holes, following from similar designs I had seen whilst researching the project.

I opted for components for tactical webbing [commonly used by the military and on sports bags etc] for the basic layout of the straps, both for strength and style. The plan was to thread the chord through the holes I’d drilled in the mask, then tie them with a butterfly knot leaving two pieces of chord hanging from each knot. I sewed plastic sliders to the ends of lengths of tactical webbing, then threaded the chords through the sliders, sewing the chord to the webbing to create a banded solid strap. I realise it’s difficult to follow this part, and I didn’t really take enough photographs to show the exact process. Just know that it was a pain in the arse and took bloody ages!

I considered using black and red chord initially as it looked incredible, but in the end I had to go with black as it was easier to work with, more flexible, and much easier to thread. Using the coloured chord would mean drilling larger holes into the mask and this was impossible due to the channels at the back through which the cables for the LED’s were embedded. This though, is one thing I regret not spending more time thinking about in the planning stages, as it would have been nice to incorporate some flashes of colour into the straps. Ultimately though, this was a ninja mask, and black would work just fine.

 

To give the face a bit more character, I decided to add some evil pointy grey eyebrows. I wanted it to look like some kind of evil shogun from one of Kurosawa’s samurai flicks. I layered up and glued together a few pieces of cut out fake moustache hair to give the eyebrows some volume. I probably trimmed them back a little more than I should have, as they looked a little too neat, but being bushy meant the hair fell out much more easily, and by the time I’d arrived to this point, I was willing to allow myself a few compromises. I gently dry brushed the hair with grey acrylic paint, then glued them into position. I used the two part epoxy glue to set them in place, but was worried that this could ruin the finish if they didn’t fix to the surface of the mask properly, or that I might fix them unevenly and destroy months of work. This became an overarching theme with this project. I’d simply spent so much time on it, that every step needed to be carefully managed in terms of meaningful progression and potential damage limitation in the event of an accident. If anything, working on this mask has taught me a level of patience I thought I was incapable of. It was better to solve as many problems in advance as I could foresee and to wait until I was fully confident to proceed, rather than rush in and damage the piece.  It was at this stage that the mask itself was now finally complete!! However, this was not the end of the project …

Void One - Finished Oni Mask

With my mind now firmly focused on the forthcoming group exhibition with the Distorted Minds, it became imperative to display the mask properly. There was no point hanging it from the wall, as nobody would see the LED’s, and I’d spent too much time installing them to then have them hidden. My solution was initially to suspend the mask strapped to a human skull with the spine hanging from it, but I went for something simpler, as many of the materials I wanted to use could only be sourced from China and I had less than a month at this point to finish everything. So, I decided to make a wooden trophy style plinth that would display the skull with the mask attached, including 5 spinal vertebrae. Easy, right?

I managed to locate an anatomically correct skull that had a removable skull cap and jaw from a medical supplies website based in the UK. I specifically chose this piece because the teeth had a slightly glossy finish compared to the rest of the skull and this made it look extremely realistic. Next, I sourced a model spine that broke apart into the top five spinal vertebrae and discs, held together by 4mm threaded bar through it’s core.

Void One - Skull

By this point I only had two days until the exhibition and I was well on my way to having consumed two full jars of coffee. All of my paintings had been framed and the plinth was the only piece left to finish.

After screwing a wooden plate to the inside of the skull and fixing the first vertebrae to the base of the skull with epoxy glue and a couple of screws, I then fed a length of 4mm threaded bar through the holes that ran though the core of the vertebrae into the skull and fixed it to the wooden plate, securing at both ends with some nuts and washers. Next, I glued the skull cap back into place, and once dry, began to remove the casting lines in the plastic and sanded down the skull to make it look like a single piece. I masked off the teeth, then painted the skull, jaw and 4 other vertebrae with a slightly off white acrylic spray paint. I now had a skull on a stick!

 

For the plinth, I built up 2 layers of MDF with the bottom piece 2cm square larger to form a small stepped pyramid. I then cut some beveled strips of wood to create a swept design on the base. I nearly killed myself several times during this process using my new mitre saw, as when cutting the thin beveled strips they would often ping around my studio at extremely high velocity. Genuinely terrifying! Needless to say, I wore goggles, and a hat, a couple of hoodies, gloves … safety first!

I spent a very long time working out how best to cut a 3 sided pyramid using the mitre saw. Mostly trial and error, and an incredible amount of saw dust scattered about my studio. I tried and failed more times than I can remember to produce a perfect tetrahedron, only to realise it would be too large to work with anyway. So instead, I cut pieces of MDF to have a 60 degree x 60 degree angle to create one step of a 3 sided pyramid, then placed  a smaller piece on top, trimming the excess with the saw to smooth out the surfaces. After gluing the pyramid to the base, I applied a few layers of PVA to areas where there were gaps between the wood, then proceeded to sand down the surface till the top layer of PVA was removed. This meant areas such as the corners didn’t have any unsightly holes and made the steps in the plinth look like they were part of a single piece of wood.

Once painted, I drilled a hole through the centre of the pyramid which would support both the threaded bar with the skull on, and a brass tube I had wet and dry sanded to an almost golden finish to hide the threaded bar from sight.  I then fixed the column in position, gluing a washer over the hole for extra detail.

Void One - Skull Plinth

Finally, I threaded the last 4 vertebrae onto the bar at the base of the skull with rubber discs separating the vertebrae, then fixed them with a washer and nut. I cut the bar to be just long enough to fit through the height of the plinth, held in place by more washers and a nut on the underside of the stand.

 

With that, the project was actually finished! It was a pretty surreal experience, as I’ve never put so much time or effort into a project before. Whilst an extremely challenging undertaking, I could not be happier with the result, but it wasn’t until placing the completed mask on the display stand at the exhibition that I was able to see all the components together and fully appreciate the piece as a whole.

 

On reflection, one of the most challenging aspects of this project was trying to source the materials I needed at various stages. It’s not that they were difficult to find, but rather that I struggled to discover the names of the materials I was attempting to purchase. From threaded bar to epoxy putties, webbing sliders to cervical vertebrae, my google search history read like a mad mans catalogue of chemicals, metal work and bizarre human anatomy.

This project was an absolute roller coaster of emotions, from ecstatic highs to infuriating bouts of self deprecation. Evolving well beyond the boundaries of what I’d initially conceived, this mask has tested me in every way imaginable. A quick thank you must be said to my poor mum for putting up with me during the casting stages and allowing me to destroy her kitchen.

Plans are now afoot for the urban exploration photo shoot, incorporating my renovated katana, and I’m also beginning to work on the second mask and helmet. For more pics of the exhibition, check out my portfolio from the links above.

Void One_

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Shadow Work // Rise Of The Oniwaban Elite Ninja Death Squad

It’s fair to say I’ve been sitting on this project for what feels like an eternity! I’ve dropped a couple of hints via some of my other blog posts, but it’s finally been unleashed. Many moons ago I was commissioned by Shamanic Technology to produce some album artwork for a project he was working on. I had already previously worked with him via my exploits with UK Glitch Hop and had released one of his tracks on Beta Test Record‘s debut vinyl ‘Chemical Coercion’, so it was nice to produce something for him in return. There was no real brief per-se, but the title of the album was ‘Shadow Work’, and as such, my mind was immediately drawn to Ninja. Evidently, I am that predictable, but it was a no brainer as far as I was concerned!

I like to extensively research my subject matter, especially if I have an excuse to sit and watch low rate ninja films & documentaries! As I trawled through Japanese history, I came across a fascinating tale of the Oniwaban, or garden keepers, an elite group of undercover agents established by the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684–1751). I loved the idea of these ninja hiding in plain sight whilst guarding the Shogun, and so I decided to take the oni, or demon, mask from my samurai character and adapt it for this project.

I had been asked to produce an image that would cover the inlay of a CD sleeve which is 12 x 24cm. Due to the awkward shape of the image, I decided to produce a short comic that would show the Oniwaban executing his duties in a storyboard of crimson! I’m a big fan of hiding details within my work that may often be overlooked. As such, I thought it would be a nice touch to incorporate a short haiku, each cell representing one line of a three line stanza.

It took me a good week to finalise the haiku and accompanying imagery. Once the idea had properly set in my mind, I went to work on the first, largest of the three, and what would become the most challenging drawing I have produced to date. This cell was to represent the Oniwaban lurking in the shadows awaiting the opportunity to enact his swift, merciless reckoning.

I had originally intended to go with my usual process of producing an outline, then colouring it, either by hand or on Photoshop, but this time I wanted to challenge myself and attempt to dot shade and keep the drawing black on white. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but I seem to always add these extra obstacles during projects for other people, when time is a factor, and in situations where there is little room for error. It took me weeks of dot shading to produce the first image!!

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban 3

It was good to see a black and white drawing to completion and it’s something I’m trying to do much more of late. I really want to enter Secret Walls at some point, so working in black on white is something I’m keen to master, if not within a much shorter time frame! Having said that, I recently performed some live drawing at what was The Bulls Head pub in Moseley, Birmingham, for Canvas. I recklessly decided to try drawing this character live and was surprised by the result. It still took me a good 4 / 5 hours to complete, but being in a packed bar is hardly helpful when trying to be productive!  I wish I’d added some details in the background, but all things considered, I count this as a win. I’ve had to add my name as this image was cropped for Instagram and I can’t find the original. Incidentally, I’m now on Instagram! Just search for voidoneuk.

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban Live at Canvas

Anyway, we digress. I decided to edit the the main cell in Photoshop by changing the spiked hand claws to look a little more brutal and to make the oni mask red so it looked more demonic. I used speed lines to accentuate the face, like a kind of halo, and added some glow to the moon. For some reason I had given the character massive gums, so I decided to clear this up too.

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban Master

I realised there was no way I could produce the other two images in the style of the first cell as I’d still be producing the artwork now, so I adopted a more familiar technique for the final two cells and just stuck to simple outlines and colouring on Photoshop. One cell was to represent the Oniwaban murking his prey, unseen apart from a trail full of blood splats. The final cell would represent the victims soul transcending this world and returning to the infinite void, staring into the abyss that is death. I had originally intended the victims head to be flying off with blood pissing into a vortex to hell, but it proved a little difficult to realise and was apparently too gory, so I kept it simple and stuck with a spiral. It was a really nice compliment that one of the tracks was renamed ‘Return To The Void’ in homage to the artwork.

I’m loving the noire feel to the work and the contrast between the black & white with the red blood splatters is really effective at creating movement in the images. Something I’ve also learned, especially in creating comic style imagery, is the use of speed lines. Really simple to create, speed lines almost instantly make the image jump out of the page and are great for filling up backgrounds, especially for action scenes. In the end, I took out the majority of them whilst I was experimenting, but I fully realise their potential for the future.

Void One - Shadow Work Final Small

So, the final work, including the haiku [Click on the image to enlarge]. It’s odd looking at the image now, as I can see so many ways that I would improve it. It would have been nice to keep the smoke emanating eerily from the blade, and also to have maybe worked more on the flowers to be perhaps falling from a cherry blossom tree, or something of that ilk. It was really challenging to fit everything in such an awkward space, but it just means I’ll have to revisit this piece to incorporate all the crazy ideas I came up with. Having said that, I’m really pleased with how this turned out! This project has both given me a new character to explore in the future, and also shown me a glimpse of the possibilities that may be achieved through dot shading.

That’s only my contribution to this project, but there is so much more to be found over at Shamanic Technology’s Indiegogo campaign page!! As well as a double LP of some seriously fresh neuro inspired Electronica, there are also the artistic stylings of fellow Brummie Cujo Cussler, plus Mantis Mash, “Hare” Krishna Malla, Sponge & Ben Leonard. The campaign only has a few days left to run, so please check out the links below and help materialise this epic collaboration.

Shamanic Technology – Shadow Work Indiegogo Campaign

Void One_

Bulmers & Big Noise // Summer Jams & Samurai Graffiti // Lessons In Freehand Painting

Another busy few months recently, so I haven’t had too much time to post updates on my projects. I’ll be steadily updating this site once the summer’s quietened down, so expect a torrent of new work! In the meantime, here’s a run down of a few things I’ve been working on and some of the processes I’ve put myself through towards being able to paint more of my work freehand. I’ve levelled up a few times during the course of the last few commissions, by no means where I see myself needing to be, but it’s fulfilling to see some real progression after all these years. I’ve got the paint bug back in a big way and I’m really looking forward to throwing up some of the designs I’ve been working on recently! So, where to start …

The first notable step forward came after receiving a commission for Bulmers at The Junction pub in Harrow, London. I’d wondered into a small gallery in Moseley, Birmingham, and got talking to the artist [Ian Muir]. I mentioned that I did some artwork myself and he said he was looking for someone to do a photo-realistic commission, but I politely refused as it’s wasn’t something I considered myself able to do. I gave him a link to this site and thought nothing of it. A week or so later I received a phone call asking if I wanted the commission. I had a gig coming up in London for the UK Glitch Hop Awards in Finsbury Park that week, so it seemed fateful.

Harrow.shed.panel
Bulmers Live Colourful – Draft Artwork

Initially, I was terrified about the prospect of painting the image I was given, but I’ve been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone recently, and from past experience, it’s at times like this that I make huge leaps forward in both skill and confidence. They’d given me a rough idea of what they wanted, I was ok to play around with the background a little, so long as there was a photo-realistic style bottle as the main focus of the piece. I’ve never painted anything like this, it’s my first professional painting commission, plus it was in a public space again where it would be seen, often. I was super nervous about taking this on, but the money was good, and sometimes you just have to jump and hope that you land well.

I had no choice but to go freehand for the background and the block coloured areas of the bottle, then to stencil in some of the text details. I figured no matter how bad my freehand work was, so long as the bottle proportions were ok, the stencils would sharpen up the image. This painting was a real challenge for me, but I’ve realised that so long as I spend a bit of time breaking down how I’m going to put things together, I don’t really struggle any more. I work best when I’m feeling confident, and this confidence often comes from planning ahead, so I now develop what I call retreat points. I plan for a point at which I can abandon the painting where both myself and the client will be happy. Anything past this point I consider to be extra detail and tidying up, a process that can be as long as a piece of string. In this case, I knew I only had to make the letters on the bottle stand out and I would be fine.

The only real problem I had was that the surface I had to paint was uneven and caused a few issues creating straight lines. Also, on the upstrokes I kept hitting my index finder which was really painful. I got around this by painting into the side of a piece of card to straighten up my lines in some places. It’s a technique I use quite a bit now, both for touching up and for creating super thin lines and details. Even though I had used some stencils for the text, due to the surface I ended up having to paint a fair bit of the detail by hand with a paintbrush and with some Posca’s. Obviously it’ not a carbon copy of the image I was given, but it was never going to be. For my first commission of this kind, I’m pretty pleased with it.

The next notable painting I did was for Big Noise Festival in London working with The Big Issue Foundation, where I was commissioned to paint a giant Kaishaku piece live at the event. I also played a Glitch Hop set later in the evening alongside a host of other incredible artists and acts. At this point I guess it’s a good time to explain a little more about why I’m painting samurai heads.

Void One - Kaishaku 2
2014 © Void One – Kaishaku 2

This first Kaishaku piece originated from my design for City Of Colours last September. I’m fascinated by the concept of honour, what it means to live honourably, and the similarities in perception that different warrior cultures have about respect. In Japanese culture, a Kaishakunin is an appointed executioner, or second, whose duty it is to behead a samurai who has committed seppuku, or ritualised suicide. Samurai would be given the opportunity to commit seppuku to preserve their honour if they had been considered to have disgraced themselves or in circumstances where defeat was certain. The role played by the Kaishakunin is known as Kaishaku.  During battle, samurai would also collect the heads of their slain enemies as trophies and as a means to prove who they had killed so that they could reap the rewards of their victories from their lord.

This idea is still not yet a fully formed concept in my mind. What started out as a random scribbling in a sketchbook is slowly becoming something much bigger and I’m loving exploring this idea. For now though, it’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue, you know what you are trying to say, but lack the words to fully describe it. As such, I’m not going to explicate the idea fully here as I want to wait until I have a larger body of work to underpin the concept before I go into too much detail. Moving into my new studio means I can now think about painting the series of images I have planned at a decent size with a view to trying for an exhibition early next year. Ultimately, I’m going to sever the heads of my enemies through my art. Some will be given an honourable death, others will face my Shinobi Oniwaban…

Whilst I still used a couple of stencils for this painting, much of the work was undertaken freehand. I’m feeling loads more confident with my scale, proportion and line work these days, though I find that there’s a bit of an internal struggle going on between the graffiti and street artist in me. As a graffer and a bit of a purest, I find myself demanding I paint everything freehand, yet the street artist in me is a bit more liberal and considers it of no concern how an image is thrown up, so long as the final image is a good representation of the original concept. I think I’m resigned to still using stencils as and when the circumstances dictate it, but moving toward a more loose freehand style is something I’m determined to master.

Both this piece and the Bulmers commission are the biggest paintings I’ve ever undertaken and it’s taught me to be a little more free with my lines and has meant a much more pleasurable experience painting. I’m so used to making every line perfectly straight and precise from working with pen and paper that in many ways it has held me back. Painting big means you need to stand back more, and the kind of attention to detail my OCD’s require isn’t necessary at these scales. Below is a little video of the event where I make a little cameo at the beginning, but it really doesn’t reflect how epic this party was! So many good people lurking about showcasing their various talents for a very worthy cause. Respect to everyone involved! #tbnf15

Now that I’ve painted this character a few times it is becoming much easier, so I decided when I was asked to paint for City Of Colours at the Bromsgrove Summer Jam, that I would take a risk and go fully freehand. Like I said, it’s something I consider both challenging for myself and makes painting feel much more free. This wasn’t the only obstacle for the day though. I find it difficult to paint an image within a restricted space as it becomes much more difficult to get the scale right. For this event I would be painting the side of a skate ramp and this meant I would only be able to paint a small section of the face. I decided to make things a little easier for myself by photoshopping the samurai onto the image I’d been sent of the ramp I was going to paint. In this way I’d find it much easier to get the scale right. Well, that was the plan anyway!

What I learned from this experiment in freehand, was that getting the first outline correct before you start painting is critical. It’s worth spending extra time getting this right in the first place and taking your time, rather than rushing into the painting because people are watching and you feel you need to be making progress quickly. Almost every painting I’ve done over the last year has been in a live environment and at times the pressure of feeling like I’m being watched can cause me to panic and start making mistakes. What I find really helps in this respect is to listen to some music! It’s easy to escape into my own world listening to some beats and it definitely helps the painting flow, it’s loads more fun this way too. Somehow listening to old school Hip Hop albums and painting pictures just feels right! Admittedly I couldn’t paint as much of the face as I wanted onto the ramp, but I think it still came out well. I had to make the face a little bigger in the end as the ramp was much smaller than I had expected and I’m still working on getting those elusive thin lines. One detail that annoyed me was missing out part of the helmet, but the rain on the day meant we kept stopping and starting for hours, so I’m going to forgive myself this time as I doubt anyone else would have noticed.

This blog post is about documenting my first attempts at freestyle painting since my early 20’s. In that respect, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t try out some graffiti. I’ve decided I don’t just want to do characters, I want to try to incorporate some of my old graffiti designs into my work somehow. So, as a little practice I hooked up with a few friends for a paint in Digbeth, Birmingham. This is the final piece of the jigsaw for me. If I can start to competently throw this piece up, I can start to hit some of the more complex designs I’ve been working on recently. The plan is to create bio-mechanoid samurai graffiti on a huge scale, where the abstract letter forms become part of the character. I’m still a long way off where I see this all going, but with each painting I’m pushing myself and learning fast with every outing.

2015 © Void One
2015 © Void One – Infinite Void

I tried to keep this piece quite simple as I didn’t want to go crazy on the first attempt. The lines are fairly clean, but I’ll be looking to include a bunch of robot elements, like pipes and vents etc, to add more detail. One thing I know I definitely need to work on is my use of colours and how to fill in my letters, but I think adding the mech parts will sort that out. Like I say, there’s still a long way to go, but having a destination in mind has pushed me forward in leaps and bounds this past 10 months. There are so many more projects I want to talk about, but that’s for another time.

Void One_

City Of Colours Winter Showcase // The Revolution Will Be Merchandised

I’ve been saving this post for a while now as this project has really grown in scale and I’m pleased to see that the concept has evolved and developed as far as it has. This project is now going to become a model for my future escapades as it encompasses everything I’m trying to achieve with my work.

This design was initially created as an avatar for my musical exploits under the alias Terrorbyte, but was switched up to become the inspiration behind a print for, and what I wanted to paint at, the City Of Colours Winter Showcase on December 6th last year.

void one - facebook teaser mechanized

I’ve been researching war propaganda posters from the first and second world wars for a series of satirical posters using the tag line ‘The Revolution Will Be Mechanized’. I love the track by Gil Scott Heron called ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, especially line about there ‘being no re-runs brother, the revolution will be live’.

In Gil’s lyrics, the revolution will not be brought to you by xerox, or taste better with coke, you will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. For me, the heart of Gil’s message is that true social revolution comes from inside the individual, it’s down to you to manifest the changes you want to see in the world. The revolution isn’t out there waiting to happen, it’s your responsibility to mobilise yourself to live a more conscious existence. It’s not something you can capture on film or sell as a commodity, it’s a thought process, and it’s only when enough people embody such a paradigm shift that revolution in a more broad context can occur. It’s small changes in the way you lead your life at grass roots level that make the most difference to local communities and the world at large.

This message could not be more relevant than in today’s climate of shallow, catchphrase, PR politics from millionaire career politicians who are scandalously out of touch with the general public. Advertisements abound with platitudes from companies and governments promising to make your life better, to solve the most inane of first world dilemmas with a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social status they project. I’m not railing against people having nice things, but the best things in life aren’t things and it’s important to keep that in focus.

The revolution will be mechanized is meant to satirise the notion that we are now slaves to our devices and that our devices have come to define us. It represents a dystopian vision in which humans have become mindless automata under the governance of an oppressive system, one that has coerced us to embrace technology as a means of liberating ourselves, whilst actually placing us in perpetual slavery to our upgrades and the debt that results from our misplaced desire to own the latest models.

It is with this concept in mind that I produced the above prints for City Of Colours. The robot head was coloured and I added a few simple shapes to make it look almost like a badge or medal. The triangle design is my new logo, I’m thinking of using it like an abstract signature for my work in general. Now I just had to paint it.

Once again, I was lacking any meaningful amount of sleep due to all the last minute tweaking and preparation. I don’t know what it is, but I never finish a project with any real time in advance. I need the pressure of an impending deadline to motivate me to make often hard or drastic decisions about where something might be heading. I never miss my deadlines, and sometimes it annoys me in retrospect that I could have spent more time on finer details, but I find that so long as I have a solid concept before I start, such pressure often leads to moments of frenzied production and moments of inspiration, circumstantial happenstance, or unplanned yet happy accidents.

So, I arrived bright and early. If I remember correctly, I had spent my last £20 on paint and had no cash for emulsion for the background. I thought the black sprays I had would cover the boards I was painting with some to spare, but this was yet another schoolboy error I should have learned at the main festival a few months earlier. They did just about cover the background, but it was by no means a solid colour and I think it really let the piece down. Again I went with using a mixture of stencils, masking off areas with tape, and hand drawn / sprayed details to throw up the image. I worked much more quickly this time for two reasons. Firstly, there wasn’t a bar right next to me and far less people knocking about to distract me. Secondly, because I had given myself a real headache as far as how much work was really involved and how much could be done in the dimming winter light. The plan was to get the main image up and then spend any spare time working on tightening it up and maybe do some sort of border to frame the image. In hindsight, I think I was lucky to have enough light to get as far as I did!

It was a little while later that I revisited this . Before even thinking about the print I had created a few simple logo designs featuring the mech head artwork. It was from these initial ideas that the print had evolved. I tried a few designs on T-shirts to see what they would look like and decided the ones below looked the sharpest. At the time I didn’t really have any plans to move forward with production, it was still very much wishful thinking, but I went with three really simple visualisations.

I posted them to my Facebook page to see what the response was and the whole thing just blew up! It was clear from that point that this was something people would wear. In an ironic twist the revolution will be merchandised too, and this sits nicely with the whole theme. After seeing a few other crowd funded projects cross the line recently and some friends recommending Kickstarter as something to look into, I decided to give it a try. I had nothing to lose! The general response was that the red triangle artwork was the strongest, and after pricing up the order, I was confident it would be successful. So, I ran a campaign to print the artwork on some T-shirts & hoods. I couldn’t believe it, the project was funded within a couple of hours! Thank’s to everyone for backing the campaign! Everyone wins really as the artwork will look sweet.  I’m loving the concept of crowd funding, as it demonstrates there’s backing for projects before you waste your time and money.

Mech Tee FINAL resize red

Something I really like, and hope to expand on more, is how this process gives me the capacity to custom tailor people’s orders, colour combinations etc. I’m definitely going to be running more of these campaigns. The reward system is perfect for offering different products and a really easy way to update people about the process. I like being able to show a few designs to people and see what works best before committing to anything. I’ve decided on a policy of only running one campaign at a time, as I want the quality to be high and I don’t want to bombard people with too many products all at once. The T-shirts will be ready and shipped out next week. I have been able to press up a couple of spares but they are virtually gone. I did 30 in total, so that’s been a great success in my mind! I’ll update this site to include some pics in due course, but these are some of the other visualisations.

Check out the campaign page @ https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/609532185/void-one-classic-tee-shirts-hooded-sweaters

So, more Tee’s  once I’ve shipped this project off and I’m thinking about a three colour stencil from the layered artwork I used for the T-shirt screens. I want to throw loads of these around, maybe some stickers. I want to try to keep re using all the bits of work I’m producing and test out a few different mediums, in the same way I have been doing with my Tetsuo work previously. The summer is fast approaching and I’m booked for a few paint jams, including this years City Of Colours and Big Noise. Good to be able to sign off another chapter for this piece though. Shadow Work is finished and will be coming soon, one of my most challenging works to date.

Void One_

Digital Graphics // UK Glitch Shops & Digital Whomps

I’ve updated and tidied up my website a little more now, I’m also officially resident at voidone.uk, but I now want to cover some of my most recent digital work as it links in nicely with some of my musical endeavours. As I’ve mentioned before, I produce electronic music under another alias; TERRORBYTE. It’s through my music production that many of my most recent commissions have come about.

Working with UK Glitch Hop to broadcast weekly 2 hour radio sessions and releasing a few albums on Beta Birmingham / Beta Test has brought me in contact with some great musicians, labels, and all manner of characters along the way! UK Glitch Hop fry the fattest chips and battered beats on the UK circuit, served up with a dope dollop of whomp sauce for your fish and glitch.  This all came about just around the time I had launched the first compilation album under Beta Birmingham in April 2011, Graffic Equalisers. Yes, that’s one of my pieces too!

I had sent the album to a music blog called Musical Mana and it transpired the guy running it had been working with some labels I knew of, Skanky Panky Records and Colony Productions, and intended to put together a weekly radio show on Glitch.fm to be called UK Glitch Hop. I’d brought William Breakspear up to represent Skanky Panky and had done a Colony Productions showcase with Moudly Soul and Mike Wallis for a couple of shows for Beta, it was at this point that Chris Ra Baker aka Morbidly Obese Midget or M.O.M suggested I could take a show too. Over the years we’ve interviewed and hosted guest mixes by a swathe of artists from the Glitch Hop, Neuro Hop, Ghetto Funk, Electronica and down tempo scenes. Respect to everyone involved for their efforts in helping to keep the sound evolving in the UK!! Check out the UK Glitch Hop Soundcloud for the archives. If you’re new to Glitch Hop, this is a great place to start! My Beta shows are listed below:

So, the first of my music related commissions came from 4bstr4cker, who runs Parisian Glitch Hop label Digital Whomp. I had interviewed him for one of my shows  and after he saw some of my work I was asked to produce something for a forthcoming release. The brief was simple: glitch girl. I’ve been really getting into more abstract work lately, almost surreal. I started by making some shapes for the background, like screen tones, to give the picture some depth. I messed around with a couple of images for the girl but this one sat well so that the eye met at the vanishing point. I now wanted to make it look like the eye was exploding and make her look a little 3D by layering some of the details of her face and playing with the blending options. I wanted it to look like light was emanating from her eye. I love working in Photoshop because of the freedom there is to mess around with the colours and layer blending. It’s similar to music, in that smashing layers together can create some incredible glitches and perfect accidents. It was agreed that the blue one was the most striking. That was the original colour anyway, so I was happy. I think there’s a better contrast between the face and the background.

Void One - Glitch Me Color Test

Void One - Glitch Me

I fully support the tunes these guys are putting out and it was great to work on this piece. It was nice to try to envision someone else’s concept for a change too. I’m going for a super clean abstract style at the moment, so that the more you look at the images, the more fine details there are, yet at the same time without over complicating the composition. It’s a fine balance, but I think it worked with this image. Subsequent to this release one of my tracks was featured on their second Whompadelic Trip compilation album, I love the artwork for that release too! This, along with the vinyl I produced for Beta Test Records are both short listed for this years UK Glitch Hop Awards. Please take a second to vote here: UK GLITCH HOP AWARDS 2014

Following on from that, I randomly put myself forward when I saw a post asking for graphic designers by Roo Raptus who runs another label I know through UK Glitch Hop: The Glitch Shop.  They wanted a revision of their logo and a wallpaper for their social media. The only real brief was to have their name encapsulated by a circle, like the original.

zOvDpPzU

My first thoughts were to do a HUD style graphic behind the text and then it just went all Tron. I was pretty happy with this so I moved on to the wallpaper. As far as mech and digital HUD effects go, you can’t beat Tron!

Void One - The Glitch Shop Tron

I wanted to create some kind of abstract alien technology to be almost projecting the HUD logo. I’m getting much faster at making the abstract backgrounds now, again using my process of creating simple abstract shapes repeated at varying scales to form an emergent complexity. I added a few more HUD details to tie it all together and then did a few colour tests again. The plan for these was to have each colour represent a different genre on their You Tube channel. I often get to a point where I’m over working an image, so I stripped down some of the designs for the different colours too for a little variation.

It was decided that the dark grey background with green HUD was the one to use for the social media avatars and such. I had to fill in the text to make it stand out more.

FACEBOOK BANNER 851 X 315 FACEBOOK INVEERTED BANNER 851 X 315

TWITTER BANNER BLANK 1500 X 500

The above are a couple of banner variations I made for their social media. Again, really happy with the results for this project and given the brief I think I nailed it again. I’ve had some amazing feedback about my more abstract work and it’s something I’m beginning to find quite easy, so there’s plenty more of this style on the way! For the future, I think I need to focus on my typesetting and letter work. I highly recommend checking out some of their releases anyway, they too are nominated for a few UK Glitch Hop awards, so don’t forget to have a look at the link listed above and check out some of the nominations. Obviously vote for Beta Test Records though! *twists arm 😛

So yeah, I am now taking commissions for album artwork and a little re-branding amongst other things. Loads more art / music crossover projects are approaching completion, lookout for another update soon! I can’t wait to go public with my Shadow Work ninja comic for another forthcoming release. That’s more hand drawn and in keeping with my samurai work, there’s plenty of blood! The summer is looking incredible! It’s going to be another busy year!

Void One_

Operation Peace Take // The Tower Poppy Takeover

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write this piece up to be part of my portfolio. It’s a sad indictment of the society that we live in, that politics and politically driven work is so often ignored. I understand the mentality. Life can be nasty, brutish and short, and people have a right to retreat to their safety net of cat videos and inane internet memes. However, on a cold November evening, the seeds of dissent were sewn in my mind and Operation Peace Take was conceived.

I love how my ideas manifest themselves. Small snippets of information about the remembrance commemorations had been steadily seeping into my subconscious, but it was actually a football story that got the proverbial ball rolling. Some footballer was being castigated about not wanting to wear a red poppy because he was Irish and felt that to commemorate what he saw as an occupying force was wrong. This news story resonated with me and made me remember that the red poppy wasn’t solely about the great war, that there existed a white poppy which represented an opposition to war and a commitment to peace as a core cultural value.

The red poppy is traditionally seen as an emblem of Remembrance Day, their red colour symbolising blood spilled in the first world war. Yet, in the years that have followed, it has come to symbolise a broader remembrance of all armed forces personnel who have laid down their lives in service to their country. By excluding the non-military victims of war from remembrance, the red poppy upholds a moral hierarchy of worthy and unworthy victims. The heroic soldier who is worthy of respect, official commemoration and national pride, and the unworthy, unnamed civilian killed or maimed by the heroic soldier who remains faceless, unacknowledged and unremembered. Lest we also forget those who refused conscription and who were shot for their unflinching conviction as conscientious objectors to institutionalised murder.

The red poppy is intimately tied up with a series of myths about heroic sacrifice and necessary violence perpetuated by media led sensationalist propaganda that fuels a naive and ignorant patriotism. The truth is that war is vicious , bloody, inglorious, and that the soldiers we remember are there to kill and maim fellow human beings. The truth is that many of our wars are nothing to do with freedom, liberty, or democracy. They are often illegal, and predatory in their conquest of resources, lobbied by corporations with a vested interest in the perpetuation of a continual state of war for profit. The images of politicians, and the royal family laying wreaths at the cenotaph to commemorate the slaughter of millions of people, used as fodder to maintain the class privileges which they enjoy, is truly an act of shameful hypocrisy!

People from all over the world had been travelling to London to see the tower poppies exhibition, where ceramic poppies were used to fill the moat of the tower of London to represent our glorious dead from the ‘great’ war. So, with all this simmering away in my mind, I decided to plant a few huge white poppies at this now world famous tourist attraction. I was cautious about how I was going to tackle this because it was imperative I didn’t portray myself as disrespectful. This protest was out of a greater respect for all victims of conflict, whilst denouncing the current climate of militaristic values that celebrate a history that ought to be a source of shame.

This wouldn’t be easy, however, as the exhibition was about to be taken down and I had literally no money. If I wanted to get on this idea, I had 24 hours to do it! I needed some cash, a lift, or both. I decided to put out a post on Facebook asking for people to buy some of my left over prints from City Of Colours. I didn’t want people to give charity. I was overwhelmed by how many people came forward to donate! I had been incredibly vague in the post about what I was going to do. It simply read:

“ALERT: I NEED YOUR HELP! I have an art terror installation i’d like to throw down tomorrow in London. This promises to be the most poignant piece i’ve ever done. I have all the materials ready to go but no funds to get there! I need either a lift to the big smoke or to raise £40 by tomorrow as it’s a proper last minute dash to get this done. I’m not asking you to give me the money. I have prints, canvas’, CD’s & vinyl for sale via the links below.”

I achieved the £40 mark, then called it a day, though I was still being offered more money for the next 24 hours! I can’t thank people enough for supporting this project blindly. I have some incredibly trusting friends, else they just wanted to see me get arrested! With the cash in my account, I began making 2 giant white poppies out of cardboard. [I rightly decided against the initial white paint bombs idea] They were an exact copy of the red poppy only about 3ft and 5ft in height! I’d managed to find someone to take some photographs and booked my tickets. It was now very early in the morning, but Operation Peace Take was a go!

I ‘d been awake all night trying to make the poppies, but they weren’t finished. I decided nothing was going to prevent me from doing this now I’d come this far, so I took the poppies in bits and planned to put them together once I arrived. I needed to find a paint shop, the poppies needed another coat of white and I had decided to splatter the poppies with red paint and a red hand print that I felt represented blood on the hands of those responsible for sending generations to their slaughter. Once I’d dealt with the mission for paint, I dutifully headed toward the tower of London.

I love that feeling just before I’m about to cause some trouble. A heightened state of awareness, plus a mixture of nerves, excitement and determination. I had to wait for my photographer to arrive, so I cased the security and possible locations for me to place the poppies. It was going to be a doddle! It makes me laugh to think no one saw me coming a mile off, I was being so blatant. I finished painting my poppies right in front of the tower with spray paint flying everywhere, there was every chance I would get caught red handed!

Void One - Red Handed

The photographer arrived, it was showtime. I’d chosen to get my white poppies as far into the metaphorical river of blood as possible because they would be impossible to remove. The plan was for my photographer to follow me to view my locations, then for us to split up. I would go in first, they would then follow shortly afterwards to take the images, hidden amongst the countless other people taking tourist snaps. I wasn’t bothered about getting arrested, as it would mean a much bigger story. I would try to avoid it, but I didn’t want to get my photographer in trouble. They decided to remain anonymous.

Sadly, the largest of the poppies broke up and was removed almost immediately, but one of them was right in the fray. A perfect location! It would have been nicer if the red hand could have been made out, or that the poppy was a little more clear to see. Perhaps there should have been more of them, yet the sight of the lone poppy almost made it more significant as a beacon of hope among a brutal reminder of our imperial past. In the weeks that followed, I was inundated with theories about how I had broken in, or whether I had used a drone. The truth is, I’m not going to tell you. It’s much more fun that way! I love a bit of intrigue. If someone guesses correctly, I promise I will admit as much! It’s hilarious, because no one really noticed me do it, bar one disgruntled citizen that chastised me as ‘silly’. The deed was done, and it was time for a celebratory pint before the journey home.

Void One - Operation Peace Take 5

The photographs had turned out brilliantly, I was so happy. They were later sent out to literally hundreds of journalists, blogs, news broadcasters and newspapers. Sadly, the only people who ran with the story, or even replied, were more obvious institutions like The White Poppies For Peace Organisation and The Stop The War Coalition, even though I pretended at times to be an offended member of the public, morally outraged at the heinous disrespect shown to our troops.

I think it’s time for an honest debate about the morality of our wars and their justification, our role in the world, and time for transparency and accountability by governments for their actions. I found it disgusting that less than a week after the poppies were removed, a private dinner was held at the tower of London for all the major players in the British arms trade. It’s astonishingly crass and I’m ashamed of my country and our role as a major arms dealer. I’m a little disappointed that the story didn’t cause more of a stink, but in retrospect, I guess it was naive to think that anyone would run it. Nevertheless, I hadn’t done anything this subversive for a while and I was proud to have done something I had real conviction in. I have many more excursions planned for the summer.

Void One_

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-crass-insensitivity-of-towers-luxury-dinner-for-arms-dealers-days-after-poppy-display-9888507.html

City Of Colours // Cartography & The Samurai Sword Saint

I’ve covered a fair amount of my background in my first couple of posts, but it’s over the last 8 months or so that both my production and style have really kicked off. I think the first noticeable leap forward came when I was asked to get involved with Street Art Birmingham again to paint at the pilot of their City Of Colours Street Art Festival last summer.  It was shaping up to be something really positive for the city, so I jumped at the opportunity to get involved. I don’t really know what I was thinking, I’d never tried anything like this before. I’d hardly painted anything in 10 years, let alone in front of an audience at what ended up being one of the biggest paint jams in the country that year. I was initially asked to paint at the festival, but also volunteered to produce a series of maps to be used to direct people to the huge array of activities, venues and artist locations for the event.

Void One - City Of Colours Artist Location Map
City Of Colours Map © Void One 2014

I’m really proud of these maps, they broke my mind with the hours I spent on them! Again, I had never done anything like this before. I’m ashamed to say, that after 15 years using Photoshop, I hadn’t really bothered with the pen tool. So, I painstakingly mapped a good portion of the city centre and the Digbeth area, plus a floor plan of the Custard Factory complex that was acting as a base from which to explore the festival. It was incredibly difficult deciding which roads to keep or omit and what were the quickest and simplest routes from the city centres transport facilities. I’ve mastered using the pen tool now!

An affordable art market was planned, so I started a few images with a view to getting them printed and sold on the day. Work on the maps took much longer than I had planned, so I focused on finishing the print I was going to use as a template for what I would eventually paint. I’d had success with a few mech samurai designs and it was a theme I wanted to explore more, but I’d never produced one digitally. The result shocked me. I had, in my mind, never produced anything near this quality. I was now really excited about the festival, if not slightly terrified of the prospect of trying to recreate this live.

Samurai Sword Saint - 2014 © Void One
Samurai Sword Saint – 2014 © Void One

A plan was needed, fast. I decided that the best thing to do would be blocking out the odd key area of colour, some with pre-created stencils, some by masking areas off with tape, and the rest hand drawn with acrylic pens or painted freehand. I figured if I applied the same processes I use in Photoshop to the painting, I should be fine. I had no idea how long this was going to take, I’d only finished the print I intended to paint two days before the festival and I had a ton of prep to do. I had no time for a test run as the festival was fast approaching. I was exhausted, having spent much of the two weeks leading up to the festival working to the point of virtual collapse.

A last minute rush of adrenaline saw me arrive at the festival bright and early and a series of triple espressos helped me navigate the process of obtaining my paint. My home for the day was in the car park of The Old Crown, the oldest secular building in Birmingham. Beer was on tap, my mates from Brum Town and Jam Hott were arriving to provide the music, the sun was shining, I was high on caffeine and sleep deprivation, this was going to be a laugh!

Schoolboy error, not the best start. I’d decided to fill in the background using sprays, but faced with the size of the space I had to paint [8 x 8 feet], I realised I didn’t have enough and I had no cash to buy more. Mild panic ensued. Some of the other artists were arriving and thankfully I managed to blag some spare black acrylic and a roller from a very generous Miss Wah who was painting opposite me. I figured so long as I painted the face really well, I could abstract the rest of the body and it would still look ok. Whatever time I had left could be spent adding as many details as I could fit in.

I’d chosen a great spot right next to the beer garden and after being consumed by painting for a couple of hours, I looked up and the venue was heaving. People were enquiring about my painting and I received some great feedback. I had a few pints kindly brought for me and soaked up the atmosphere. I was loving this! I probably did a little more chatting than I should have, but it was impossible not to get wrapped up in proceedings.

A couple of no more than 10 year olds took over the decks with a stack of their own vinyl in tow. They absolutely smashed it in front of an astonished crowd, myself included. It’s moments like this that really made the event stand out for me, it was incredibly inclusive. There were three generations of families milling about happily, no matter their colour, creed, or roots.

Void One - City Of Colours 2014 - Samurai Sword Saint 2

The light was fading and I had to be at work imminently. It would be 12 more hours before I had any hope of sleep! I was working at a venue right next to the festival, which was really handy! I finished at 7am and headed back to the site to check out my work having not really had any time to take it all in, plus the light towards the end had made it difficult to see properly. At first I hated it. A typical reaction to something I have just created. I took some photographs and proceeded to head back to my studio to die. The next day I had the terrors, but I was still buzzing and thankful that a few people had captured some better snaps than me.

Something I have learned for the future is to try to stay more focused on throwing the painting up early with the live stuff so that by the time people arrive, I’m just filling in details, and there wont be so much pressure to finish. I wish I’d had more time to include the hand holding the sword, but generally speaking, I’m really pleased with how this turned out! It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly unique! It was my first painting for a decade, so I wasn’t about to destroy myself over it, and I now had the paint bug back! From this project onward I began to find it much easier to translate my ideas to an end product that I’m happy with. I am much more confident because of this experience, and it was one of the best events I’ve been to, or been part of. I’ve felt for a very long time that Birmingham was under-rated and had more to offer than just curries, canals, and faceless chain store shopping experiences. Birmingham represented in full force that day, so respect to the team behind it, all the artists, and of course everyone who made it down to be part of a phenomena I hope continues long in to the future.

I’d set the bench pretty high for myself now and I felt compelled to do more artwork. I wrote a list of images I wanted to tackle and projects I wanted to get started on, but they can wait, for now.

If you’d like to see more, I managed to get a cheeky mention in this article for the Huffington Post which is a great write up of the broader event. Else, don’t forget to check out the City Of Colours website for news about their plans for 2015.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/olly-macnamee/birmingham-city-swimming-in-colour_b_5793190.html

Void One_

Tetsuo – The Mandlebrot Mech // My Early Work

My earliest finished pieces were graffiti. I have no pictures really, other than a bunch of outlines and a couple of mech inspired sketches. I would love to see my early work again, though I probably overestimate it’s quality in hindsight. However, it was these early experiments with graffiti that set the foundation for all my later work.

Void One - Ghetto Blaster
Ghetto Blaster – © Void One 2005

It has been a long standing practice to get an image to the outline stage, then photocopy it for inking and colouring. It’s a confidence thing, it gives me a chance to experiment a little and I can always ‘undo’, something I have become accustom to as a safety net from my digital work. As a side note, I often find myself internally commanding undo in real life instances, if only. So, I had a bunch of photocopies of my graff outlines. I was bored at work one day and began to cut up my copies into small pieces of mech. I began to glue them together to form these strange shapes, Tetsuo was born.

Void One - Tetsuo Mk1
Tetsuo Mk1 © Void One 2006

I called the work Tetsuo because as the robot blob evolved, it reminded me of one of my favourite manga films, Akira. In particular, the end scene where Tetsuo becomes Akira, looses control and goes nuclear.  As Tetsuo attempted to regenerate his failing body, he mutates and his form is suddenly thrown into chaos. I was studying philosophy at the time, specialising in philosophy of science, and was fascinated by the principles of chaos theory. Put simply, chaos theory holds that even in the most simple circumstances, under which we know every detail of how a system will behave, such a system still has the capacity to behave unpredictably.  This principle is encapsulated in the Mandlebrot Set, or fractal patterns. In a fractal, even very simple patterns, when repeated to infinity, create an emergent complexity. So, I took my simple pieces of mech graffiti and repeated them many times to give rise to an emergent complex mechanical form. A form from which I drew parallels with the mutating globules of flesh that Tetsuo became before his ultimate demise.

Void One - Tetsuo Vs The Nebulae
Void One – Tetsuo Vs The Nebulae © Void One 2011

I liked where this was all going, and I began to make more bespoke pieces of mech to incorporate into the chaos. Tetsuo Vs The Nebulae became my first commissioned piece, and I now had a system of templates that enabled me to quickly knock out images, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, yet still looking raw, with plenty of splattered paint for good measure! The photocopies got larger and larger, and so did the pieces, so I took my work back to the street for some wheat pasting. Yes, that is my can of Red Stripe.

Void One - Tetsuo Street Apparel
Void One – Tetsuo Street Apparel // Brick Lane, London, 2009
Void One - Tetsuo Street Apparel
Void One – Tetsuo Street Apparel // Digbeth, Birmingham, 2011

It’s interesting, because the strides forward I have made over the last few years aren’t wholly down to me, per se. I feel more a victim of circumstantial happenstance than anything. I travelled to India, not to find myself, just by invitation, but I did discover something about myself on the beaches of Goa and the temples at Hampi. Seeing the gap between such abject poverty and opulent wealth living side by side in Mumbai was shocking, but the more I travelled, the more I saw that many of the people I met, who had absolutely nothing, were still seemingly happy. After a week or so, my hyperactive inclination to always have to be doing something subsided. So, on a beach in India, I watched the dolphins and sat and I sketched, for hours. I rediscovered that I really didn’t need much more than my creativity to be happy, and that my creativity was one of the few things in my life that had true value. Something that has stuck with me to this day.

Kali - Goddess Of Time And Redeemer Of Souls
Kali – Goddess Of Time And Redeemer Of Souls © Void One 2010

Upon my return I set up Beta Birmingham. A record label and media outlet I conceived to “diffuse twisted barrages of nefarious bass glitches and stuttered syncopation from the Midlands elite electronic producers”. I wasn’t happy back home, but rather than sit and moan about what was lacking in my home town, I wanted to be proactive in being part of the solution. It’s no good moaning about something that’s missing, if you aren’t prepared to do something about it!

Void One - Chemical Coercion
Chemical Coercion 2014 © Void One / Beta Test Records

I was getting much better at my digital work and releases on the label forced me to meet deadlines, something I had always struggled to do. It was at this point that I began to experiment with creating more obvious forms such as my Binary Mechanoid Chaos piece, meant to represent the duality of nature, chaos, the Yin Yang. I don’t think I have, as yet, fully explored this style, but for now I needed to switch things up. I was fully back on the artwork, with renewed vigour, and I felt that just copying and pasting my old work together, whilst creating something new, was not very progressive.

Void One - Binary Mechanoid Chaos
Binary Mechanoid Chaos – © Void One 2011

My album artwork was getting some attention before long and I was asked to take part in an exhibition for Street Art Birmingham, at which, all the artists worked with broken and used skateboards. I had only ever exhibited my work once before! This time out I was going for characters, for some reason I decided on Samurai.

Void One - Beta Skateboard // Street Art Birmingham
Void One – Beta Skateboard // Street Art Birmingham 2014 © Void One

By no means prolific, samurai mechs became my thing. I still wince away from looking at many of these images, as they feel really dated. In samurai I became fascinated by the concept of honour, but that’s another story. It gets much more interesting from here …

Void One_

Welcome // Return To The Void

I’m Harley Davies aka // Void One – A mixed media graphic artist from Birmingham, UK. I specialise in mech style samurai graphics and abstract robotic landscapes.

I’ve set up this blog as a means to document my thought processes and work flow. This is the most public I’ve ever been about my life, and it will probably be the only time I cover my history in this way. This isn’t meant to read as some bleeding hearts, feel sorry for me diatribe against things that haven’t gone my way. However, these things define me, and my work.  It’s been cathartic writing this, and I hope it brings some context. I realise that people like to see the working out, the background story, and this is mine…

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I’m from a broken home, all the worst council estates in my city, a product of gang violence and petty recriminations, and I could so easily have ended up residing at her majesty’s pleasure. I was an angry, partially deaf, hyperactive child, given sedatives at the age of two, that failed my secondary school education spectacularly, due in no small part to over-looked dyslexia. This didn’t stop me from getting an education, I wanted to learn, I had just never been taught how to, or why it was even relevant. Shitting statistics and memorising facts was virtually impossible for me, so I played the fool. Art was my only release from the stresses of a childhood fraught with avoidable confusion, upheaval and debilitating lung illnesses. I knew when I left school that I had to do something with my life, so I pursued a course in design, media and communication. I have never looked back.

It wasn’t until I went to University to study a bachelors degree in Philosophy that my dyslexia was finally picked up. I’d never attempted anything so heavily academic, and it became obvious that something was wrong. I was sent to Coventry to undertake tests, an irony only my native Brummies will understand. Once confirmed, I understood where my anger had stemmed from my whole life, my inability to communicate properly. I passed my degree, but more than that, I now knew who I was, and I had the confidence to express it, well, and at times very loudly. I’m a punk at heart after all! It is impossible for me to describe the sense of relief and freedom I gained in discovering that there where practical tools at my disposal to help me, that I wasn’t just stupid.  I hardly struggle with my dyslexia now and, if anything, it has become a source of entertainment. The reason I’m being so public about it this, is that I had no support. If I had, I know my development would be far in advance of what it is. If I had known sooner, I probably wouldn’t have spent so much of my time on self destruct. If I can in some way help other people through my shared experience, it was not in vain.

At the same time as studying my degree, I began training Southern Shaolin Steel Wire Mantis Kung Fu. A legitimate full contact Shaolin Style that can trace it’s lineage back to the styles founder and Shaolin Temple itself. I studied for 5 years and became a disciple of the school at grey sash level. It is this training that taught me the discipline I needed to focus, I had no focus, and this was the reason I had never really finished anything. I grew up here, and I will be eternally grateful to the people at this school.

Art, both martially and creatively, have  been my meditation for as long as I can remember. A chance to switch off from the chaos of my own internal dialogue, to unlock a sense of self fulfilment that only I have control over, a way of challenging myself and my preconceptions of what I’m capable of. It is the only true peace I have ever known.

For the last decade I have been predominantly producing Electronica under the alias Terrorbyte and putting together releases for the various record labels I founded. [Beta Birmingham / Beta Test Records] During this time, my artwork took a back seat, a skill set only dusted off to produce the occasional album sleeve or event flyer, and a little wheat pasting when I found the time. In the last 12 months my workflow has improved considerably. I find myself ‘returning to the void’, Void One being a pseudonym I used to use for my graffiti and spoken word poetry slams back in the day, meant to represent the at times extreme binary nature of my experience, things are rarely just normal in my world.

I find myself working on whole concepts rather than random images for shits and giggles at the moment. No longer are my ideas abandoned as light drafts or simple outlines to be finished ‘tomorrow’. I’m actually finishing my pieces and seeing things to their natural conclusion, there is no greater sense of satisfaction. I now work by hand to produce line drawings that are often then coloured digitally, though my ink work is coming on in leaps and bounds. Moving forward, I’m  recreating my digital work, using vector stylization, with spray paint and acrylic pens, performing at live paint jams and undertaking paid commission work. It is only now, at the tender age of 33, that my work feels like it is finally coming together! My style comes from experimentations with graffiti in my late teens and my love for cartoons and terrible B movies. Anything with Kung Fu, zombies, samurai, ninja, gangsters, robots or post apocalyptic visions of the future, but preferably all at the same time.

My first mission is to upload some of my old ‘Tetsuo’ pieces, a body of more abstract and passively aesthetic works, followed by my more contemporary commissions and projects. The rest is still to be written. I don’t know where this is going, I’m just enjoying the ride. You’re welcome to join me.

Void One_