Learning to draw changed my life

As a student at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds, we had a most intimidating life drawing tutor in Laimonis Mierins. Cutting an intimidating figure dressed in black with silver hair, Lem would scare, bully, cajole and coax his students to be brave. If we didn’t take drawing seriously, he’d threaten us all with a tommy gun that was left over booty from the Second World War. Yes, he really did.

He started us off using pencil; soft and forgiving, then charcoal; sooty and pliable, but graduated—slowly, mind—to using the most unforgiving of media: pen.  One of the toughest mediums to draw with, ink is the ultimate in mark-making; no room for error, but what errors you make have to be incorporated and believable.

In this era of Instagram gratification, I still like the discipline of looking hard, committing and interpreting life into line. This drawing of the train station in Porto took a bit of time, gave me a few scares but rewarded my fragile patience, every detail burnt into the memory.

I worked with one of our designers at Turn Key, Brian, to add another dimension to the drawing by adding colour digitally. I gave him free reign to interpret the drawing how he saw fit. There’s two versions here, one without the lifework and one with it. I love each equally, the abstract one works for me as the artist who drew it, the lifework inserted in my imagination. The line and colour version works best for people who’ve not seen the original I think.

The image was submitted to an exhibition of other designer works to celebrate 30 years of Thompson Brand Partners. I was particularly pleased how the drawing skills I learnt all those years ago could still deliver in an engaging and contemporary way.

Lem would be proud I think.



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‘Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke’


Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

by Viv Albertine

I don’t read many biographies to be truthful. I don’t know why really. In the book club, biographies are frowned upon as a lesser form of writing, quite why I don’t know, it’s on of our many weird rules: no biographies. On the QT, I like a bit of historical bio action and in the past I’ve voraciously consumed weighty tomes on Churchill, Hitler, Julian Cope and Humphrey Bogart to name a few randoms. In truth I don’t remember much about them and perhaps that’s the curse of the biography: ephemeral in many ways.

So when I was handed a copy of Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys I thought I’d slip it in between ‘serious’ book club books for a little light relief. The title comes from what her mum accurately surmised as her primary interests when she was younger, and sets the tone for a bright and honest journey from seventies London, being in a punk band and to be honest, an ordinary woman’s life with no holds barred. The opening chapter coverers in detail her lack of interest in masturbation this honesty sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The first half of the book is a solidly engaging and innocent romp through London seen through a teenager’s eyes: the beginning of punk, it’s magnesium-bright pinnacle and its inevitable fizzling out. As someone who was too young to catch the first wave of punk, this is a breathlessly enjoyable sequence that shines alight on the surprisingly random and quite frankly coincidental series of events that led to the watershed in music that was punk. Just after punk in the early eighties, we all imagined it was some kind of co-ordniated movement to dethrone the establishment, but it was just a bunch of disaffected kids who were in the right place at the right time—with wrong kind of attitude.

Viv’s voice is clear and distinctive. She confesses to the reader all manner of surprising feelings centred on inadequacy and fear which is refreshing when punk was all about conveying an attitude with a look. For her the veneer and sneer of sexualised punk was just that, a front but it gave her the permission to be different. But we’re in good hands with Viv throughout and she never fails to convince even when she makes some quite frankly crazy decisions. I can completely identify with the attitude that lead to her embrace punk is such a passionate way: we were post war kids and we were part of a new generation that felt the old ways had had it and it was in with the new. I even felt the reverberations of that in post punk—new wave took a sanitised version of punk and ran with it, leather keks and all.

The second half of the book is where it gets really interesting for me. After she leaves The Slits her life opens up in front of her and she realises that she has to do something with it. Her story then becomes one of education, families, relationships ending, illness and some successes. In short, the normal life of any woman. Viv is always true to herself though and the bravery (and innocence) that led her as a 14 year old to travel to Amsterdam and live in a squat manifests itself in all kinds of situations in her life. But she is always true to herself—eventually—whether it is music or relationships.

So this is no light relief biographical sideshow, it’s a moving and engaging story of an extraordinary life and an ordinary life, meshed together.

Is art for the elite?

Visitors walk through the Royal Academy galleries during the Summer Exhibit


I finally got around to visiting the 246th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this week. I’ve always wanted to go, loving the romantic notion that all members are eligible to submit work and if it’s good enough, it will be in the show. Art lovers have long known that it’s the place to pick up a bargain piece of art from an artist on his or her way up the ladder and there are many stories of collectors having done just that.

I love the fact there is world famous artists whose work is for sale well into six figures sitting alongside complete unknowns. Artists like Tracy Emin also have fun with it too, selling limited edition prints at a very attractive price, OK it’s a print, but it’s a signed and numbered print by an internationally renowned artist.

The first thing to note is that the galleries are stunning. A hugely diverse collection of art has been curated carefully into 12 galleries, each gallery curated by a different member of the RA. This is a feat in itself as the eclecticism of the work means themes and dialogue have to be found to help make sense of the exhibition. For the large works by well-known artists this is clearly great fun for the curators but with the smaller pieces, the sheer volume and scale of difference is a virtue in itself.

Unlike a traditional gallery, where pace and them is easily controlled by artist or collection, the Summer Exhibition is an explosion of vibrant colour and thrilling execution, challenging the viewer to try to absorb not just an individual piece but an entire wall of artworks, all talking to each other. Each gallery is paced cleverly and allows respite where needed from the sensory overload.

I think modern art can sometimes feel like a club, excluding people who aren’t in on the gag. But this show feels truly inclusive in a way I’ve never seen before—the sheer democracy of style and subject matter makes it feel like a show for the people, by the people. Of course it’s still in a gallery and it still costs £12 to get in, but once past the hallowed porticoes of the Royal Academy, there is a truly levelling experience to be had.

Do you think art is for the elite or should be made more available for the masses?



Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson

Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson



work on paper by John Carter


Photography is strictly not allowed, so thanks to Benedict Johnson for use of his stunning images.

A proper artist materials shop

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about a proper artists materials shop. The smell, the rustle of paper, an exciting array of pens, graphite, crayon and a kaleidoscopic array of inks  all rub shoulders with each other, cheek by jowl with mysterious substances. Then there’s the smell…but don’t get me started!

Sadly, there’s not so many of them about these days, certainly outside of London you’d struggle to find one. Back in the day when I was a student there was handful, even in a city like Leeds. Dinsdales was my favourite but of course the rise of online retail and the march of technology in art and design has put paid to the physicality of the artists’ mecca.

In London however, it’s a different story even in 2014. In Clerkenwell where I work I discovered an exquisite store selling all manner of artists materials. Stuart R Stevenson, Artist and Guilding materials is right on Clerkenwell Road and is a real treasure trove. My fleeting visit for sign writer’s paint and sponges was too short but I’ll definitely return for a more leisurely mooch.  This brief visit recently yielded much joy and return visits will deliver much the same I think.

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