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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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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.

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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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