About ClockworkSatan

I'm a forty-something Scottish bloke who has aspirations on being an artist. When I'm not daubing ink or graphite on paper (or farting around with a graphics tablet), I work as an IT Monkey for a famous Scottish University. When I'm not being an IT monkey, I live with my lovely Fiancée and look after a small (but very old) mog called Maurice and a less old and delightfully cuddly Highland Pony called Einar. I'm a Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror addict, lover of music (most often of the crushingly heavy variety) and also love to rattle the pots and pans in the kitchen whenever I get the chance.

The Wildhearts – The beginning of their Renaissance?

It’s funny when you form an opinion in your head about something and, when it comes to the point when you decide to express it, it becomes clear that you’re very much in the minority.

This happened recently in the ‘All things WILDHEARTS’ Facebook group because, after a good few listens, I suggested publicly that I thought that their new album ‘Renaissance Men’ might have (finally) beat their seminal debut LP ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts’, and while a certain amount of the members agreed with me, a surprising portion of them reacted with disdain, surprise and even a little revulsion.

Expressing an opinion such as this is, of course, an entirely subjective matter to anyone not inside the kooky confines of my head, so I just thought that it might be fun to try and drill down into my thoughts on why I would dare to come up with such a seemingly controversial opinion.  Before I get started however, I should state for the record and make it clear that while I absolutely love all of the band’s output (even that one record of theirs that not everyone loves), I’ve never been so audacious before to even come close to suggesting that any of their subsequent releases have even came close to besting ‘Earth vs’ as it has always – and will possibly forever more – remain at the very top of my internal ‘best albums of all-time’ list.

I can totally understand why there’s a general feeling that I’m spectacularly jumping the gun by coming out with this opinion in relation to the new album, though.  It has, after all, been out for around three weeks at the time of writing this in comparison to ‘Earth Vs’, which was released waaay back in August 1993, so why oh why would I dare to suggest that the new one equals or even betters the classic one?  Read on!

Reason #1 – The worms… Those filthy little earworms

I guess the biggest factor for me as to why the new album comes magically close to equalling or bettering ‘Earth Vs’ is quite naturally down to the sheer quality of the songs on it.  The Wildhearts have always been a band to rely on when it comes down to writing melodies and lyrics that have a particular talent for worming themselves through yer lugs and into your brain, and while there are plenty of songs on ‘P.H.U.Q’, ‘Fishing for Luckies’, ‘Endless Nameless’, ‘The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed’, ‘The Wildhearts’ and ‘Chutzpah!’ that have this ear-worming ability, I personally find that it’s the ones of ‘Earth Vs’ that still come back to haunt my cranium the most and it’s not unusual when I find myself vacantly singing ‘Greetings from Shitsville’ or ‘The Miles Away Girl’ from time to time rather than the songs on any of the other albums.  When it comes to the songs on ‘Renaissance Men’ however, it’s like Ginger and the lads have been channelling the spirit of that debut album as the earworms on it are every bit as strong.  Take, for example, one of the leading tracks on the album called ‘Let ’em go’, which immediately launches into a melody which will get lodged into your head for days and has a huge sing-along chorus that, once you know the lyrics to it, will plague your noggin for the weeks and years to come.  It’s an instant Wildhearts classic and no doubt about it.


That’s not the only track on the album that’s got those ear-wormish qualities, though.  I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that, much like like those found on ‘Earth Vs’, every single track on ‘Renaissance Men’ is armed with at least one big, barbed hook that will ensnare you and let those naughty little worms crawl through your ears.  As much as I love ‘Chutzpah!’ and the other albums prior to it, it’s the immediacy and sheer quality of songwriting on the new album that elevates it to the lofty position of being contention of being the best album by the band, in my humble opinion.  And let’s face it, that’s probably what they want to hear, right?

Reason #2 – It’s all about the attitude

There’s no denying it – the world has changed an awful lot since ‘Earth Vs The Wildhearts’ was released back in 1993.  Technology has leap-frogged several times to the point where we now carry devices around with us that are massively more powerful than the desktop computers were back then and feature cameras that are massively superior than any of the digital cameras at the time.  Not only that, they allow us to connect to the internet; something that was barely existent in any public form back then – which possibly gives some insight into how vastly things have changed.  There’s also the fact that the political landscape has changed an awful lot since 1993 too.  The UK was still limping away from the recovery of the Thatcher years and was still under Tory rule, but was more or less on an even keel.  With that in mind, anything that seemed wildly controversial and problematic when politics was concerned in 1993 pales significantly when you measure it against the things that are happening across the world in 2019.  Oh, yes – I’m talking about the absolute clusterfuck that is Brexit, the presidency of the twitter-posting, arrogant and tangerine buffoon that is Donald Trump and the general rise of the right-wing worldwide which has empowered racist and sexist scumbags around the globe to the point where they’re now comfortable with expressing their toxic opinions in public.  

These are things that get us all angry and evidently, as the music would attest, it’s something that has fuelled the Wildhearts in the creation of ‘Renaissance Men’, which bristles with a fresh-feeling punkish attitude – and it’s this attitude that elevates the album into being one of their best because the themes on it – which include online
online bullying (‘Dislocated’), the failings of the UK mental health system (‘Diagnosis’) and casual racism (‘My side of the bed’), amongst others – resonate with many of us on a personal level. Granted, the band previously skimmed around the fringes of political themes in some of their earlier albums, but not with the same level of conviction and passion as is evident on ‘Renaissance Men’, as the anger, frustration and fury pours out of this album like none other, which makes it a compelling listen.

Reason #3 – Repeat Plays

Since I suspect the majority of the readers of this post will most likely be fellow Wildhearts fans, I’d take a guess that most of them have the majority of the band’s back-catalogue and have got all of their albums on a high rotation in their listening habits. I know that’s certainly always the case with me (alongside Ginger’s solo output and other bits and bobs), but I’m also acutely aware that I’m one of those people who can find themselves getting a bit worn-out if I keep playing an album on constant repeat. Another reason I believe the new album is on a par with ‘Earth Vs’ is down to the fact that I’ve had it on constant repeat for nearly three weeks now and its ability to smack a great big grin on my mug and make me sing along with the songs (or at least the ones I’ve learned the lyrics to) hasn’t waned in the slightest.

Reason #4 – The live potential

I read something in an interview with Ginger in which he was talking about the way in which ‘Renaissance Men’ was recorded. Unlike most of the other albums, he said, the majority of the tracks on the new album were recorded almost like a live session rather than them individually laying down multiple guitar tracks, so what you hear on the record is what they sound like when they’re playing live. I wish I could track down the interview so I could link to it, but I can’t!

The point I am going make however, is that because the album is very raw and bare-bones when it comes to the way it was recorded, this is undoubtedly going to translate incredibly well when the songs on it are played at future gigs. For those of us who have been lucky enough to have caught them on tour over the past couple of weeks, the opening bombshells of ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Let em Go’ proved that and then some as they went down an absolute storm with the crowd, who were miraculously singing along to them despite the album only being released two days prior to the gig! I’m actually gutted they never played ‘Diagnosis’ at the Edinburgh gig, but hey ho – there will definitely be a next time and I’m going to cross all of my appendages in the hopes that they play it then along side any of the other equally juicy tracks from the album.

Reason #5 – The beginning of the Renaissance?

If there’s one thing that’s become clear since the release of the new album, it’s that the Wildhearts are still one of the best bands around. Okay, yes – I know I am somewhat biased when it comes to this opinion, but in all honesty I can’t think of an album that I’ve heard from any other band recently which can hold a candle to the new Wildhearts one, and the glut of glowing reviews from music magazines and websites around the world would tend to suggest that I’m not alone in this opinion.

As fans, we can only hope that this really lights a fire beneath the band and we see a Renaissance for them, which is surely another reason to feel excited about the new album as it could mark the beginning of something really special and we see this undisputed champion of underdogs finally be elevated to the status they so richly deserve.

Viva le Renaissance!

Album review: Renaissance Men – The Wildhearts

Being a fan of The Wildhearts has always felt a bit like being a member of a secret society, where you feel privileged to be a devoted fan of one of the very best bands on the planet that almost nobody else has heard of.

On the other hand, being a fan of the Wildhearts has also felt a bit like being the owner of a dreadfully unreliable car. On good days it’s the best car in the world; it handles like a dream, goes like stink, looks awesome and makes a noise that can make grown men go weak at the knees, but there have been periods where it just wouldn’t start and longer periods where you were almost certain that the wheels had come off it and it seemed destined for the scrap-heap. Take, for example, the period between the last album ‘Chutzpah!’ and now, which accounts for a whole DECADE of no new material – a painfully long time for fans of the band to wait, hoping that there was still life in the old girl yet.

Rather thankfully, anyone that’s a fan of the Wildhearts is no doubt abundantly aware of the fact that Ginger Wildheart is probably the most hard-working, creative and prolific artist in Britain and has released a massive glut of material over the last decade since then, such as his record-and-site-breaking PledgeMusic campaign that led to the 30+ track monster that is ‘555%’ and its pared-down commercial ‘100%’ release, two excellent ‘Hey! Hello!’ albums, three gloriously noisy ‘Mutation’ albums, the huge ‘GASS’ project, his beautiful ‘Ghost in the Tanglewood’ solo album and several other projects, which have kept the engine ticking over nicely alongside the three (absolutely brilliant) solo albums from CJ Wildheart, as well as the output from Danny’s own band The Main Grains, which certainly all helped to make the absence of the ‘hearts more bearable.

It was with not with a small amount of excitement then, that the events of the past few months saw the mighty engine of the Wildhearts fire up and come thundering back to life after it was announced that a new album was in the works and that one of its constituent and long-missed components had been reinstalled (albeit missing a part of one of his legs) in the form of Danny McCormack, meaning that the band was back to what could arguably be called its classic lineup of Ginger, CJ, Ritch Battersby and Danny, which was very exciting news indeed for a long-term fan such as myself.

Two days ago, the new album ‘Renaissance Men’ landed and I’ve been playing it pretty much constantly since, and… Well… Here’s a bit of an understated spoiler: it’s rather good.

It all kicks off with the track ‘DISLOCATED’ and I don’t think I’ve heard an album opener of this quality in quite some time. If ever there was a track that served well as a portent of things to come it’s this one, as it’s comes at you with such a generous fistful of punky aggression that it seems like it wants to pick a fight with you, wreck your house and piss on your bed. It comes belting off the starting line with all cylinders firing with a MASSIVE buzzcut riff and when Ritch starts pounding his kit it becomes clear that this track is going to be an instant pit-filler wherever it’s played. I doubt the credentials of any rock music fan that’s not even gently moshing within seconds of this track starting, so deliciously infectious is its riffage and intensity.

Like an arch-demon heralding the beginning of the apocalypse, Ginger seemingly manifests and channels the spirit of the late, great Lemmy of Motorhead with the opening line of “and all the while the enemy was just around the corner” in a gutteral howl the likes of which we’ve never heard from him and the floodgates of chaos are flung open with carefree abandon. In true Wildhearts fashion however, it’s not long before the song does a complete one-eighty and switches to a slower, wonderfully melodic and tender-sounding section which is driven by Danny’s bass and Ritch’s drums. This is a short-lived breather of course because, quite naturally, it’s not long before those floodgates are flung open again and the track returns to the frantic intensity that it began with. This doesn’t relent at all until it closes with a righteous, air-punching frenzy of riffing. Flippin’ hell, what a blinder to start with, and after a ten year drought of Wildhearts songs, I think it’s fair to say that this track feels like a gift from the great gods of Rock and Metal and provides a much-needed adrenaline shot right to the heart. Oh, yes my friends – the Wildhearts are back and they mean business.

Never a band to be pigeonholed, you can always expect the unexpected from the Wildhearts, so it’s not unexpected when the intensity of the first track makes way for something completely different (but not a man with three buttocks) in the form of the second track, LET ‘EM GO.

Much like the first track, this one also sports a punkier edge to its sound which means that it wouldn’t sound remotely out of place alongside anything from the likes of UK punk stalwarts such as Vice Squad or UK Subs – which is surely a good thing. Yep, it’s a rollicking good track, capable of smacking a grin on the mug of even the most hardened punk, with its rowdy refrain of “Let ’em go / Let ’em go / Let the shit-filled river flow / While your belly burns in anger / No one ever needs to know” and once again in true Wildhearts fashion it switches direction several times to masterful effect without ever sounding awkward or gimmicky.

This song features a guest appearance by none other than Frank Turner (formerly of Million Dead and a good friend of Ginger) who gets his very own solo bit in the middle of the song, which was a lovely surprise. Out of all of the songs on the album, this is probably the most instantly accessible one as it’s easy to learn the lyrics to and is without doubt a future crowd-pleasing sing-along at gigs.

The album’s one and only song which strays into the lighter sound that ‘Chutzpah!’ dipped in and out of is the delectable RENAISSANCE MEN, which features that genius blend of pop-rock sensibility that Ginger seems to be capable of writing in his sleep and, for a long-term Wildhearts fan, is a song that excitingly sounds like a statement of intent from the band. I have to digress that, what with me being a big girl’s blouse and all, the lines “Some thought that we were through / Some prayed that we were too / But you need us around / You can’t keep a good band down” made me wail with joy at the prospect of that long, long drought of new material being turned into a veritable gushing river. It’s a big ol’ feel-good foot-stomper of a track and no doubt about it. Ariba, indeed!

The track that follows on from that one, FINE ART OF DECEPTION, sounds much more like a classic Wildhearts song and surprisingly seems like it wouldn’t be out of place on the white album. As you might expect in that case, it’s bursting at the seams with catchy hooks and has a glorious chorus which will have the crowd shouting ‘BULLSHIT’ in response to Ginger’s lines.

One of the best things about this song is the immense guitar solo in the middle of it, which is possibly my favourite Wildhearts one since ‘My baby is a Headfuck’ as it just drips with the pure, unbridled DNA of rock’n’roll and never fails to plaster a great big grin on my mug when I’m listening to it.

At this point in the album, you’ll probably find yourself nicely limbered up and ready for the rest of it, which is a good thing because DIAGNOSIS, the next track, is about to come and knock you on your arse. The intro of it features one of the best build-ups I’ve ever heard before it explodes into the sort of swaggering, strutting ballsy rock’n’roll that would hypothetically result from a dream collaboration between AC/DC, Status Quo and Motorhead. It sounds absolutely MASSIVE and elevates the Wildhearts to a higher plane on the rock pantheon. One can’t help but wonder and muse over how things might have been if they had managed to maintain the momentum generated by ‘Earth Vs’ and ‘P.H.U.Q’ in the nineties and had become as big as they deserve to be. I can imagine a whole stadium packed full of fans singing along to this.

The subject matter of the song actually centres around Ginger’s long-documented battle with depression and the generally shoddy state of mental health services in the UK, so the attitude and anger pouring forth from it is raw, genuine and heartfelt. Under the guidance of lesser hands it would probably have turned out to be just another angry, shouty song, but it is with typical aplomb (and in some ways similar to what he did this on ‘Ghost in the Tanglewood’) that Ginger and the lads manage to weave the anger into a force of positivity, with the chants on this track being “You’re not an animal / I’m not an animal / I am a human being” and the whole thing turning into a air-punching, feel-good, ‘us and them’ anthem. For me, this is the stand-out track on the album (which is a difficult thing to say since they’re all barnstormers) as it’s so utterly anthemic and epic – I can’t wait to hear it played live.

Once Diagnosis is out of the way, there’s a chance that you might be expecting a slower, less anthemic track next? Haha! Nope, dream on, sucker – this is the Wildhearts, so what you actually get is MY KIND OF MOVIE, which is exactly the opposite as it marks a return of the shit-kicking, punky, angry sound that the album kicked off with. It comes screaming out of the trap with a big dirty riff, grabs you by the scruff of yer neck and drags you unwittingly through the sort of horror-tinged world Ginger previously described almost 30 years ago in Splattermania and doesn’t let go until the very end, which will leave you breathless, grinning and begging for more.

You’ll be thankful then that you get a bit of a breather in the next track MY LITTLE FLOWER, which turns the pace down a few notches. Penned and sung by CJ rather than Ginger, it’s a big, cheery love song which still sounds like it would kick your head in if you spilled its pint.

I absolutely love CJ’s solo stuff and this track has undoubtedly got his fingerprints all over it. You’ll probably laugh when I say that I sometimes think that some of CJ’s stuff sounds a bit like ‘Angry Weezer’ (we’re taking blue album-era Weezer). It’s a description which actually fits this song nicely too and is indeed a compliment!

Next up, EMERGENCY (FENTANYL BABYLON) comes clattering into the room sporting a great big honking mohawk and jack boots, then proceeds to headbutt you in the ears with its rowdy racket. It’s yet another track which makes me believe that what we’re witnessing with this album is a rebirth of sorts for the Wildhearts as they sound almost like a different band to how they sounded on the last album ‘Chutzpah!’.

The clean sounding pop-rock anthems have made way for big, scuzzy punk ones and there’s never any doubt that the ever-strong undercurrent of hooks and melodies that we love the Wildhearts for aren’t present and accounted for on this new one, meaning that while it feels familiar, it also feels big and bouncy and new. Lovely jubbly!

Starting up with the sort of burgeoning, discordant noise that’s reminiscent of some of the tracks on Ginger’s ‘Mutation’ project albums, MY SIDE OF THE BED quickly settles into something that sounds equal part scuzzy punk and Vanilla Radio-era ‘hearts, with Ginger singing in a happy melody about his dismay over the UK since its post-Brexit transformation into a hotbed of racism and ring-wing arseholes, with a glorious ‘uh-huh’ bridge and a quieter melodic breakdown it’s a truly brilliant track which once again features a solid-gold guitar solo and will leave you absolutely grinning from ear to ear as it’s got all the hallmarks of yet another classic Wildhearts track. Uh-huh.

If you’re thinking at this point that this latest Wildhearts album has been somewhat bereft of the sky-high harmonies and sing-alongs of their earlier albums, never fear because PILO ERECTION is here to poke it’s boaby into your ears and make you sing along at the top of your lungs while at the same time make you stomp your foot so hard there’s a danger that it might shortly be transformed into a bloody stump. Yes indeed – this song features a beautiful chorus of such an unbelievably epic proportion that Galactus himself would either hear it and tremble with fear or just grin massively and join in with its glorious racket.

Of course, being a Wildhearts song, there’s more to it than just than just that glorious sing-along bit; there’s two other parts; the verse bit which I think sounds very T-Rex-ish (which is definitely no bad thing) and the other part, which is a gloriously raucous football-stand chant of “Pilo eee-rect (rect, rect, rect, rect, rect, rect), eee-rect” (which is not rude, btw – it’s the medical term for goosebumps) that will have you punching the air and grinning vacantly like a slack-jawed fool. Or maybe that’s just me.

The end of the song descends into a chaotic, distorted beast of a riff, setting the last few seconds of the album off with a bang. Beautiful!

So there we have it. The spectacular return of (and yes, I am somewhat biased) Britain’s best rock band™ is upon us, so it’s time to wear those Smileybones t-shirts and hoodies with pride and spread the word far and wide, because it feels like they’re back for good this time.

Rather luckily, my better half and I experienced them playing some of the new tracks last weekend in Edinburgh’s Liquid Room in possibly one of the best gigs we’ve ever seen.

The Wildhearts have always been a tight live band, but there was something different in the air about them this time that I couldn’t put my finger on – perhaps it’s due to the return of Danny being back in the band or the fact that they’re in a much better place now, but it’s hugely exciting to see that not only are they back and making new music, they seem completely reinvigorated as a band.

Back to Renaissance Men, I think it’s fair to say that it will feature high on my top ten albums list of 2019.

…Er, actually, who am I kidding? It’s going to be at the VERY TOP of it, of course! It’s a glorious, life-affirming, noisy beast of an album with big, pendulous swinging balls and a phlegmy gobful of punky attitude. It’s the perfect antidote to the calamitous bullshit that is Brexit and Tory rule as it’s spunky, riotous and effervescent energy can’t help but brighten your day and remind you that not everything in the world at the moment is rubbish. It also marks a very important point in the history of music, as it flips the world a double-middle-finger salute and announces clearly and without any doubt that the Wildhearts are back.

And by golly it’s good to have them back.

I’m still alive!

Hey guys! Hello! Yes, yes, I know that you were worried, but… What’s that? You’ve been putting up ‘lost’ notices on lamp posts and milk cartons? Aww, that’s lovely, but honestly… Police? You told the police I was missing? Ah, bugger – well, that’s a bit more of a problem, isn’t it?

Well, for what it’s worth, here’s a much-belated happy Thanksgiving, merry Christmas, a happy new year and, if I missed it, a very happy birthday to you all. I guess I’ll phone the police later and tell them that no, I’ve not been brutally murdered and had my corpse secreted away by a rampant serial killer – I’ve only been busy doing some other ‘life stuff’, which has sadly distracted me from doing much in the way of arty stuff.

On the Saturday just past however, I finally completed that tiger piece I started what feels like months ago (pics soon!), but I have to admit that I’ve been having a little difficulty in getting the creative cogs in my brain turning again. Yes, once I’d completed that piece on Saturday, I done that irksome thing where I sat staring at a blank piece of paper for a while, feeling completely uninspired – but I’m hoping that inspiration will strike shortly and I’ll get a new piece started. I’ll be back here as soon as that’s actually happened… But if I’m not, please do not send out any search parties or call the police.

Thanks!

Tiger, Tiger

Hello?  *tap, tap* Is this thing on?

Ah, yes – there you are!  You’re looking good today – got a healthy glow, so you do! Me?  Pfft, I’m fine – just rejoining the rat-race after two weeks off and… Well… I’d love to say that it’s a nice feeling being back at work, but in all honesty I’d rather be back at home with my pencils, paper and pens and a hot mug o’ coffee.

I got up to various things during the two week break, but importantly to this blog, I managed to start and am nearly finished a new piece of art.  I bet you’re excited, huh?  I can tell by your face.  Before I get into that however, I’m going to have a little rant and regale you with a tale about an experience I’ve had when trying to purchase my first set of Copic Ciao marker pens…

After deciding on Friday the 28th that I was going to make my first purchase of a few of them, I had a mooch around the interwebs and decided to buy ten of them from ‘copic-shop.co.uk’.  With a URL like that, it was surely going to be the best place for me to get them, right?

WRONG. 

The experience of purchasing the pens from the site was simple enough, but from that point onwards things took a very sharp dip, as although the order confirmation I received via email said that my pens had been picked and dispatched, the tracking number and link to the Royal Mail tracking service website brought up the message ‘The system is currently unable to confirm the status of your item.  Please try again later’.

Hmm.

‘It’s ok’, I thought.  ‘Perhaps it’s just a Royal Mail blunder’.  They do tend to blunder with great and magnificent frequency, so the tracking error didn’t necessarily mean that my pens had been lost somewhere in the system or hadn’t been posted.  Right?

In this age of Amazon Prime and ‘I wants my goodies and I wants ’em naaaow’ next-day delivery times, it’s easy to find your patience dwindling when things haven’t arrived within two or three days, but when it came to it being a full seven days since I ordered the pens and they still hadn’t arrived on the Friday, my alarm bells started ringing.  It prompted me to do the first thing that most people would do in my situation; I contacted the shop via email.

I got a fairly fast response more or less telling me to wait a few more days.

I waited until the postie had been on the tenth day (and, surprise surprise, no pens dropped through my mailbox) and after getting no response to a further two emails to them, I resorted to picking up the phone and speaking to the shop.   I explained the situation but the chap at the other end of the phone said that he couldn’t do much because the manager wasn’t in.

Yeah.  Great.  

He then went on to more or less tell me to wait another 2 weeks as the pens could have been delayed.  This was unacceptable, but it was clear that he was going to be about as much use as a wet fart in a hurricane.

Rather thankfully, I paid for the pens via PayPal so have started a dispute/claim process with them so will hopefully be able to get my money back at some point.

The morale of this story is DON’T BUY ANYTHING FROM COPIC-SHOP.CO.UK.  Seriously, don’t give them your business.  Go somewhere else to buy your pens.  If, by any chance, any of you have a recommendation on a good (and cheap) place to buy Copic pens in the UK, I’d be delighted if you’d leave a comment.

Easy, Tiger

Now that I’ve got that grumble out of the way, let’s get back onto the art.  As I said, I’m just about finished a new piece and I’ve decided this time do do something a little different this time.

Unlike my previous pointillism efforts, which have been mostly solid blocks of dotty goodness, I’ve decided to add big, bold blocks of black to this latest one and I think it’s worked out rather well.  My subject this time (as you many have guessed) is a tiger, which is a fair bit more detailed and larger than anything I’ve attempted so far, which also means that it’s taking a fair bit longer to complete.

I’ve also decided to take some progress photos to document my work this time as I’m going along, so here’s how it started…

cof

…A simple sketch, yes?  Well, no – not quite.  Apologies with regards to the horrible image compression, but you can just about make it out.  Note the grid in the background.  I tend to use a grid to copy the main shapes from a photo reference, then get jiggy with a dash of artistic license.

cof

Using the brush tip on my black Copic Ciao pen, I then did the tiger’s facial markings in thick, chunky slabs of black.  Sexy.

cof

…And continued to keep doing this, adding more detail with technical pens.  Gratuitous fur.

cof

…And let the dots begin!  I usually start out laying out the colours in large dots using the chunky nibs of my Sharpie markers first, then bolster the colours with multiple layers of tiny dots from my Stabilo Point 88 pens, which appears to be a winning combination.  It does however take a heckuva long time to do.

 

cof

…And this was the most recent photo I took of the piece, resplendent with the pens I’ve been using.  It’s almost finished.  I decided to make the whiskers black in the end, and by my reckoning it’s ended up turning to look almost a bit like an Andy Warhol rendering of a Tiger, which is totally unintentional.

That’s all you’re going to get to see for now – I’m building up a portfolio of my pointillism pieces and will dump the completed piece(s) on Etsy when the time has come to do such things – and of course there will be links to them in my currently-unused Shop link above.

 

 

The shy boy

Something happened recently that came to us as a bit of a surprise.

Jo & I were (and undoubtedly are) still reeling from the loss of Maurice, and part of our coping mechanism comprised of us deciding to take a whole bunch of stuff that we had for him (along with a hodgepodge of random household items such as a slow cooker, some shoes, books and the likes) to donate to Lothian Cat Rescue, a wonderful cat rescue and sanctuary place in Bonnyrigg.  We tend to go there every now and then, usually when it gets to the point that our garage starts almost bursting at the seams from the amount of stuff that we’ve been collecting for them – and it was no different this time as Wolfgang’s boot was stuffed full, with other bits and bobs spilling out and onto his back seats.

It’s good for the heart, so it is.

Before we set off, we decided to take our cat carrier with us ‘just in case’ and duly headed down the road to the rescue place, which is a good seventeen miles away from home. Once we’d arrived and disgorged Wolfgang’s boot of its many and varied items and carried them into the rescue’s reception area, we decided to ask the staff if we could take a peep at their cats. Y’know… Just because we were there and it would’ve been rude not to.

We were guided around the place, which comprises of a rag-tag collection of small and incredibly well-maintained outbuildings, by a lovely chap who quite correctly perceived that we were the ‘right type’ of people to rehome one of their cats.  He shown us a total of four cats which he reckoned were suitable for us since we both work full-time.

The first cat that he shown us was a big bruiser of a ginger tomcat (I feel bad that I’ve forgotten his name) who had a head that was roughly the size of a very large grapefruit and didn’t appear particularly friendly.  Next, we were introduced to a lovely little eight year old lady-cat called Coco, whose owner had recently passed away – she was playful, cute as a button and evidently a bit stressed by the upheaval she’d been through, so made a good candidate for rescuing.  We were then introduced to a very chatty little black & white boy called Bruce.  This cheeky chap was going to have absolutely no problems finding a home.  Finally, we were shown a big tabby boy called Tommy, who was cowering behind a tub in his little room.

Tommy broke our hearts the moment we saw his eyes, as they looked so sad, worried and utterly, utterly terrified.  Even though it was evident that every fibre of his being didn’t want to, he accepted a stroke on his head from us both without showing any aggression.  Tommy desperately looked like he needed a home.

The chap that was showing us around decided to leave us to have a think about things.  It took approximately a nanosecond for Jo and I to decide that Tommy was coming home with us, so we returned back to the reception where various forms and things were signed while the chap who shown us around set about the task of bundling little Tommy into our carrier.

We said our goodbyes to the staff and headed back home, with Jo sitting in the back seat of Wolfgang with Tommy, cooing and talking to him all the while and trying to decide on a proper name for him. He was very quiet but surprisingly looked happy and unstressed.

Tommy

Tommy in transit

There was, however, a bit of a problem; we had dropped off Maurice’s (admittedly broken) litter tray at the local recycling station and packed away his toys and things, so I had to pop into the Pets@Home store in Straiton on the way home (while Jo waited in the car with Tommy) to buy a new one, a comfy cat bed and a few other bits and bobs. By the time I got home, I had to run into the garage to get the food, litter and things that we’d packed away.  While I was doing that however, Jo had discovered that the base of litter tray that I’d only just bought had a great big hulking crack and hole in one of its corners, and had come running out of the house to show me.

I may have uttered a few expletives, as I had never thought to inspect the tray for damage in the store, and since the top cover of the tray was attached to it when I bought it, I hadn’t noticed it.

We’d been here before with litter trays from Pets@Home.  Despite the fact that they charge £30 for these ‘premium’ litter trays, they’re manufactured using cheap-feeling plastic that’s stiff and brittle, rather than being flexible and strong.  This was basically why we thrown out Maurice’s old one, which had cracked while Jo was (carefully) cleaning it one day.

DAMN and BLAST!

To make matters worse, despite hunting high and low for it, I couldn’t find the receipt for the litter tray.

Again, I may have uttered several expletives.

I had to resign myself to the fact that I was going to have to take the broken tray all the way back out to the Pets@Home at Straiton and hope that they would be willing to give me a refund without me being in possession of the receipt for it, so I jumped back into Wolfgang and started my journey.

If this was a movie there would undoubtedly be a montage at this point, with me zooming along the Edinburgh City Bypass towards Straiton, while Jo had to leave Tommy in the carrier and go in search of a better litter tray elsewhere.

When I arrived at Pets@Home, I was horrified to see that all of the checkout staff that were stationed at the tills had earlier changed; including the girl with the long, dark curly hair who had served me.  I had no choice but to rock up to the counter and explain my plight, describing the girl that had served me earlier and admitting that I’d lost my receipt, without sounding too whiny.

As luck would have it, the girl with the long dark curly hair who had served me turned out to be the supervisor/manager of the store and had remembered serving me, so I had absolutely no problems in getting my refund. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief – or at least I would have if I hadn’t had to jump back into the car and check with Jo to see if she’d found another tray.  It turned out that she had indeed found one in B&M for the bargain basement sum of £10, and said that it felt ten times tougher than the frankly crap £30 Pets@Home one.

I turned my key in the ignition and headed back home.

The Vanishing Act

When I got back home, I came through the front door to find a rather puzzled-looking Jo armed with a torch, peering into the various nooks and crannies in the house.

It turned out that the moment she’d opened the cat carrier to let Tommy out, he’d shot out of it like a rocket-propelled and greased otter and had hid briefly below the bedroom radiator before vanishing.

As we searched, my overactive imagination made me wonder if Tommy was in fact a magical cat that had transmogrified himself through a window or phased through the back door to escape the house…

After looking in every obvious hidey-hole and crevice in our hallway, kitchen and bedroom that could harbour a mog, I eventually turned my attention to my wardrobe in the bedroom, which sits on four short legs in the corner of the room and has a small gap of roughly four or five inches between its base and the floor below it.

I lay down on my tummy and shone the torch beneath the wardrobe and… Aaah, there you are!  There were two green kitty eyes gleaming back at me from the gloom.

Before I get ahead of myself however, I must say that we decided that Tommy is most definitely…

Not a Tommy

Although Tommy is a perfectly good and serviceable name, this little tabby boys gentle, shy nature and resemblance to a supper-cuddly teddy bear means that the name ‘Ted’ came up pretty early and we kept coming back to it.

So Ted it is, then.

The magnificent Theodore ‘Ted’ the first. Teddy-boo. Teddy-tootles. Ted. He’s most definitely a Ted.

The Scaredy Cat

To call Ted ‘Timid’ or ‘Skittish’ would in fact be a bit of an understatement.  An unexpected noise or the sight of one of us moving a bit more quickly than a snail’s pace can be enough to send him scurrying to his sanctuary beneath the wardrobe.

Having never had a cat before that’s utterly terrified of seemingly everything and everyone, we decided that the best way to let him get used to both us and his new surroundings would be to leave him alone so that he could make his own mind up about things, so for the first couple of days we didn’t see him at all, nor did we go out of our way to look at or bother him in any way.

We did have a couple of small worries initially, though.  We really, really hoped that he wasn’t going to be doing his ‘business’ beneath the wardrobe and we worried that he was going to be starving, so we pushed plates piled with chicken slices beneath the wardrobe which he quickly polished off, so he was at least getting some food.  During the comfort of  darkness when we were in bed however, we could hear him crawling from beneath the wardrobe and have a mooch around, crunching biscuits, eating food and scrabbling about in his litter tray (thank goodness), so those worries were at least laid to rest.

We had to suppress silent ‘squee’ noises when we heard the tinkle of bells and the sound of him playing for the first time.  It turns out that he’s a big fan of ‘Lurkey Turkey’, a small, floppy catnip toy we’d bought for him.

Big Brother

It occurred to me that I’d been trying for months to flog a webcam on Ebay that I’d acquired when I was in the practise of accepting ‘free samples’ from Amazon sellers (long story cut short: I had to stop doing that because Amazon were not happy and threatened to close my account), so I decided to break it out and set it up so that we could keep an eye on Ted without bothering him.

It’s a nifty little pan/tilt number with infra-red night vision, meaning that we can pan and tilt it around to keep an eye on him, pretty much wherever he goes in the room.

This was the first image I captured from it…

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Tommy beneath the wardrobe

It’s actually worked out as an invaluable way to keep an eye on him, particularly when he’s such a timid wee boy.  He pays it absolutely no attention, too – so can can spy on him at any time of the day without having to peer at him under the wardrobe while laying on our bellies.

Plucking up the Courage

It’s now two weeks since we first brought Tommy-now-Ted into the house and we’ve seen some changes in him since then.  He’s still incredibly skittish and timid, spends a good deal of his time in his sanctuary beneath the wardrobe, and is in no way ready to approach us and let us touch him.

Jo and I have adopted a somewhat strange set of behaviours when he emerges from his sanctuary; we try to act in a way that he will interpret as friendly and submissive, even going as far as making ourselves as low to the ground as possible (even moving around on all fours) and not staring at him directly.  We also speak softly, with an encouraging tone to our voices and it actually appears to be working as we’ve had a few ‘breakthrough’ moments.

The first was the evening when he sat just outside the wardrobe and tolerated me getting close to him when I had to clear out his litter tray.  Instead of looking terrified, he simply looked curious and even moved to have a wee sniff of my hand when I was clearing the tray out.  I wasn’t going to attempt to push him on that; he’ll come to us when he’s ready, but it was a delight to see.

Since then, he’s gradually been coming out of his shell and will now sit for ages studying us as we sit on the bed.  He’s getting braver by the day and really appears to be settling in, getting used to the bowls of food that we’ve placed in the hallway.  This morning, however, he had yet another breakthrough while I was in the kitchen making coffee.  I saw his wee face peeping around the corner at me at the end of the hallway and was astonished to see him slinking along the hallway towards me.  This was a first, as I’m so used to see him running away from me, so I sat on the floor and let him nom his food without bothering him.

Right now, he’s allowing us to move around the bedroom without watching us constantly and looks incredibly relaxed.  He’s so cute that there’s no denying that we’re absolutely desperate to stroke and fuss over him, but his debilitating fear of us will probably prevent that from happening for weeks, if not months.

It’s going to be so rewarding when the time does come that he gets over his fear and lets us, though.   And I cannot wait for it!

Back to the art

If you’ve been following my posts, you might have noticed that the billowing sails of my newly-launched artistic venture have had the wind knocked out of them recently with the horrible business of having to deal with Maurice, our beautiful, sweet puss-cat who we had to get put to sleep.  On Saturday, I decided to climb back into the saddle (so to speak) and managed to complete a new piece.

My latest subject is still equine-based, albeit one with a slight fantasy slant as I’ve decided to do a Unicorn; the fabled and mythical horned beast which farts rainbows and can bring people and other creatures back to life with a drip of one of it’s teardrops.  The appealing thing about doing a unicorn is that it would allow me a chance to really have a lot of fun with colours.  Here’s a low-res sneak peek at the semi-finished article…

cof

 

As you can see, I’m bravely forging onward with the pointillism work, which seems to be working out rather well and I’m really pleased to say that I can see a big improvement with my technique in this piece when compared to my last one.  I could have went down the route of just using a single pen for each of the blocks of different colours, but no – I’ve decided to use a technique where I’m using 2-3 pens (Sharpie & Copic Markers and Stabilo Point 88’s in this piece) to embolden each of the colours and blend them into one and other.  It’s working pretty good, methinks!

The one thing about doing work like this is that it takes absolutely ages to do, with this piece taking the best part of ten hours from beginning to end.  It’s still early days for me with this technique though, so I’m no doubt going to be refining it and getting a bit more brave with the things that I’m doing in future pieces.  Knowing me, this most likely means that it will probably start taking even longer to complete them as they’ll start to become more elaborate.

Zen Drawing

The best part, for me, is that I actually find this whole pointillism way of doing art incredibly relaxing.  Applying the colours dot by dot to the paper with good quality pens puts me in a very ‘Zen’ state of mind, which actually really helps as it keeps my mind off other things in life that can otherwise be fairly stressful.  In fact, when I start a piece and begin to do the pointillism it always surprises me at how addictive it is and how quickly the hours vanish as I’m doing it, to the point where I’ve completely lost track of time a few times.

If (and it’s a very big ‘if’) I was somehow manage to get to a point where people are interested in buying prints and originals of my stuff and/or I manage to start doing commissions, it would mean the world to me. To be able to quit the 9-5 rat race and sit at home doing art, drinking coffee and listening to music sounds like my idea of heaven, so I need to buck up my ideas and carry on creating stuff.

What’s next?

Well… That’s a very good question.  I think I’m going to create several more of these pointillism pieces with an animal theme before moving onto something else.  I think I’ll stick with the pointillism, but who knows?  It’s the beginning of what feels like an exciting journey at the moment.

 

A digital memento mori for Maurice

It’s the week after what Jo & I can only describe as the worst weekend ever and we’re now adapting to living in a world without our beloved Maurice.

IMAG0363

Maurice back in June 2014

In the end, his passing was incredibly peaceful.  At the vet practise we always took him to, we were lucky to have got one of the older vets – a lovely lady-vet called Kay – to help him on his journey over the rainbow bridge and she did so with a great amount of compassion and love.

It felt deeply odd leaving the vets with an empty pet carrier.  We drove back home in a daze, feeling oddly misplaced and disconnected from reality.  When we got through the front door of the house, it became immediately apparent that the place felt very strange indeed.  Although we were both within its walls, the house felt like its very soul had been removed.  Maurice was always such a seemingly-perennial presence in the house that the sudden lack of him being in it was – and still is – difficult to deal with.  It was always the case that if you made your way into the kitchen, he would silently appear like a little furry ninja and would follow you around the place like an ever-present shadow, would boop his head against your shins and twirl around your feet in his constant quest for noms – or he’d sit down and stare at you, breaking your will to resist with those gorgeous eyes of his and cheeky chatter.

Our fallibly human minds are so familiar to Maurice’s presence that we’ve been reduced to tears on more than one occasion over the past few days because we keep expecting him to appear – which is possibly an attempt at wilful deception by our minds to try and convince ourselves that he’s not gone.  There was and is the imagined movement seen in the corner of an eye; a tail vanishing around a corner or a vision of his feline form slinking up the hallway.   Items settling in cupboards, the noises and creaks of the house heating up and cooling down could be him in his litter tray or pottering around in the hallway.  Phantom memories dancing in the ether of the mind.

While the lack of his presence is raw and like an open wound at the moment, we are able to temper it with the thought and justification that we did the right thing, even though it was was so difficult to go through with it.  Like I said in my previous post, we had watched him gradually get worse for the last few weeks, but a strange thing occurred on Sunday where we started to feel guilty.  We began wondering if we should have perhaps had him put to sleep weeks ago, ending his suffering sooner when he was a bit more capable, but I’m of the opinion that it would be pointless for us to beat ourselves up over this.  There’s was definitely an element of us not wanting to let him go, which ultimately boils down to the simple fact that we loved him so much.