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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

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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 …

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Welcome // Return To The Void

I’m 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.  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 fulfillment that only I have control over, a way of challenging both myself and my preconceptions. 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 experimentation 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_