I have a never-ending to do list and a tip of a work room, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Something I’ve been putting off for a while now is doing a catalogue page of all the books and comics I’ve made. Probably an updated online shop too, but that’s further down the list. Before starting to catalogue myself I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became the maker and publisher of a goodly number of books I haven’t yet counted.
In Leicester, East Midlands, I was born and raised. Messing with paper and crayons and glue and scissors and glitter is how I spent most of my days… ugh, I’m bored of the Fresh Prince-ing. I always always enjoyed making things. Sometimes pictures, sometimes stories, sometimes crafty things. Most of my arty crafty skills come from my mum’s help and encouragement – thanks, mum! Some more come from Blue Peter projects and getting craft kits for Christmas and birthdays. I always always also read, looked at things, and listened to and played musical things.
I liked some art classes at school but found others boring. I did some evening and weekend classes in pottery and wood- and metalwork. I got a GCSE grade A* in Resistant Materials Technology (wood, metal, and plastics). I didn’t do art GCSE because I was already doing RMT and it didn’t fit with the GCSE options blocks offered at my school. I did A-levels in History, English Literature, and German at school, and French at evening classes at the same time. Design A-levels weren’t a credible option, and without an Art GCSE I wasn’t eligible to consider Art A-level. I did a History degree, I went on an exchange year to California, I worked all manner of low-wage jobs – sometimes because I liked them, sometimes whilst sending endless applications for higher-status jobs. I did a teaching qualification and moved to China to teach English. I saved to move back and do a Master’s in Education. I got a job in Higher Education.
I’m telling you my job history because it’s also the story of how I kept doing art. Going to university meant I made fliers and drew chalkboard posters for the student cinema society and painted tshirts for friends’ bands, and also studied darn hard. Working in a craft shop meant I answered customers’ endless queries about how to make a thing out of another thing. Working in shops meant I was the one asked to draw the same signs. Teaching English meant I drew vocabulary pictures, made resources and worksheets, and got kids to draw things. I also made a classroom into a haunted house for Hallowe’en, and made frog masks. I made a lot of PowerPoint slides and decorated a large number of rooms and flats.
[Models are former colleagues]
I also went home and made my own art/craft/drawings. Not every day, and not to the exclusion of everything else. But consistently. And without getting bored of it or giving up.
I made a fair few travel books. Not quite diaries, not quite scrapbooks, not quite comics. All one-offs, and all treasured by my mum. Thanks, mum!
I made ‘The Book Of No’ for my friend K: she asked for advice on how to set a central heating timer and other life skills, I said ‘Oh, I’ll write you a book’, she said ‘Yes please’, so I did.
I made a fair few scrapbooks and collages. Sometimes from magazine and catalogue pictures, sometimes from what is grandly known as ephemera. Sometimes to tell a small story, sometimes to make a picture.
There’s also the point about the books, museums, galleries, shops, gigs, ordering systems, and places along the way. Not ‘along the way’ as incidental, but as part of growing up, meeting people, going places, and doing things.
At some point in 2010/11, having finished my Master’s I was both hopelessly nostalgic for the fun of making worksheets and in possession of a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job for the first time in a long time. I had weekends and evenings, and was no longer painfully poor. The motive which had been there pretty much since birth was now joined by means and opportunity.
I made a colouring book and photocopied 25 copies of it. 25 because that’s how much cash I had on me when I went to the stationery shop to use their photocopier. I took it to the local comics shop to see if they knew how I could get it out to people who’d like it. They, being Newcastle’s own dear Travelling Man comics shop, were and are home to a cracking awesome small press comics and stuff section. They gave me an email address for some dude who’d set up the mighty Paper Jam Comics Collective, who invited me to a PJCC meeting. I went. It was in a weird basement. I stayed.
It was PJCC friends who suggested I have a go at printmaking, and I’m now a studio member of Northern Print in Ouseburn. It was PJCC friends I spoke with when the very first rumblings of ‘Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic’ rumbled. 10,000 copies later, we’re still friends. Sickening, isn’t it?
Dear reader, I was 28 before I met other people who make books and comics and I had any idea that small press was a vibrant, living thing. Maybe if I’d been an internet addict at an earlier age I’d’ve met people like them, like us, sooner. Maybe if things had been different I’d’ve gone to art school. Maybe I wouldn’t’ve become the same person. I’m glad things worked out the way they did, and I’m glad about the way they’re still working themselves out.
So there you go. I get cranky when people ask how long I’ve been An Artist, because I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making things. I have little sympathy when artists complain about doing non-art jobs to earn money, because I’ve always done a combination of both. I have a fair amount of empathy for people who talk about the importance of self confidence for doing and sharing creative work, but only when they produce evidence of a thing they’ve made. I have no time for people who woulda coulda shoulda gonna make something some day. I like having art as a love and a luxury, but still a necessity, and perhaps eventually a way paying my bills.
This doesn’t belittle my or anyone else’s work. Hopefully it explains some of my constant tiredness and frequent eyerolling. It gets me a little closer to doing a catalogue page of books and comics I’ve made, but I’m shoulda gonna do that later this weekend.