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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_

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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_