On 16th April 2018 I set out to paste up a six metre by three metre painting on a billboard in the heart of Digbeth, Birmingham, UK. News events at the time have sparked controversy, and I’ve been working on a scaled up version of an exhibition piece from the same time last year with the Distorted Minds Crew featuring a suicide dove. It seemed like the perfect storm to get this piece up.
“You can’t lambaste a sovereign country as despotic whilst in every way acting like a tyrant yourself.”
There are a number of factors that have brought me to this point, but ultimately it boils down to a complete breakdown in trust with our government. Or moreover, the realisation that clichés about bringing liberal democracy to the world and the abject failure of our foreign policy over the decades, are actually just a pretext for us as one of the largest arms manufacturers, to sell weapons to despotic regimes, to steal resources, to destabilise countries we consider a threat, and to posture on the world stage as though there were any semblance of the British Empire left.
At the time of writing this we find ourselves caught in what appears to be a proxy war with Russia, railing against the use of chemical weapons with no clear evidence, compounded by the fact that we sold Assad the precursor chemicals he’s alleged to have used to produce sarin back in 2012. The OPCW completed a survey of the site we bombed in 2017 and declared it safe. Do we know something they don’t? Why wasn’t that shared and left to an independent body that was awarded the Nobel peace prize for their work in eradicating chemical weapons? Footage of the aftermath of our strikes clearly show there were no chemicals on site, else where are the hazmat suits? The breathing apparatus? I want any military action to follow clear evidence, not hyperbole and hearsay, else it sets a very dangerous precedent for the future. Have we learned nothing from Iraq?
There’s been a complete disregard for international law and the convention that military action should follow a debate in parliament. Why were these air strikes conveniently pushed through whilst MP’s were on a break? Because ‘outsourcing’ decisions to a democratically elected body is no longer good enough, or worse, considered a hindrance? You can’t lambaste a sovereign country as despotic whilst in every way acting like a tyrant yourself.
That Britain ought to stand against international war crimes is justified, but only when applied universally. Why is it acceptable to attack Syria under some pretence of moral duty, when in the same week journalists and civilians are being shot by snipers in the West Bank with not a word of condemnation from our government? When we sell billions in arms to Saudi Arabia whilst it’s widely known those weapons have been used for atrocities in Yemen? This government has blood on it’s hands and must be held accountable! When Theressa May’s husband stands to directly benefit from these strikes as a shareholder in Lockheed Martin, one of the worlds largest arms manufacturers, we should be very fucking alarmed!
Theressa May has no parliamentary majority, and is now sabre rattling in an attempt to cover up her shambolic record on everything from health, crime, social care, welfare, Grenfell, Windrush, the list is endless. May’s dismissal of criticism as a desperate humanitarian effort flies in the face of fantasy. You have to build peace, and you can’t do that with explosives, especially if it’s because you just want to be seen to do something. When our foreign secretary admits that “air strikes will not turn the tide of the conflict”, what’s the point? Its funny we always have money for war, [6 million for 8 missiles!] but nurses have to use food banks and disabled people are killing themselves under the weight of being erroneously deemed fit to work.
There’s something deeply disturbing going on in this country and it frustrates me to the point I feel I need to speak out. My work “Death From A Dove” satirises the oxymoron fighting for peace. It portrays the reality of a world where the concept of peace has been rendered a hollow platitude served up to justify war. The last green leaf has fallen from the laurels, withered in the mouth of a suicide dove pulling the pin on a grenade. It’s presented in prime sight as a crime site, because that’s how I feel about what’s happening. It all seems so brazen! For me, it captures the hypocrisy and sense of hopelessness that pervades the current political climate.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.