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Sketchtember

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Janey’s airstream by Kevan Manwaring (Medium: water-soluble pencil) 2017

The artist Paul Klee once wrote that “Drawing is taking a line for a walk”. Well, how about talking a line for a month-long walk, by rising to the challenge of Sketchtember (AKA ‘Septpencil’) and attempting a pencil sketch every day throughout the month of September? Sketches can literally five minute doodles or two hour masterpieces, in graphic or coloured, on any subject you fancy – the main thing is to have fun!

The idea came to me while undertaking Jake Parker’s great initiative ‘Inktober’ last year. I enjoyed the challenge of doing an ink sketch a day for a month immensely, and really noticed how my drawings improved over four weeks. I thought a natural predecessor would be a month of pencil sketching (I love the sensitivity of pencil and I’m huge fan of masters like Burne Jones and Alan Lee) and Sketchtember was born!

As a schoolkid drawing was my superpower, the art room my ‘Fortress of Solitude’ – well, not quite, as I’d often hang out there with fellow scribblers, away from the rough-and-tumble of the playground, the dark sarcasm of the common room. I flourished at art – it was great to have a subject I was good at, but more importantly, I sketched at home for enjoyment. I drew everyday; it was as natural as breathing. I made up comic strips with friends, and used my illustrations for the world-building of roleplaying games. It was perhaps inevitable that I ended up at art college, but although I got a great deal from the creativity bootcamp of my Foundation degree, three years of Fine Art was like aversion therapy. It made me too self-aware, as an artist, to the point of paralysis, and made me realise how pretentious and vacuous the art world can be (back then the cult of the personality that was Brit Art was very much in vogue – and the art of the sacred that I was into very much wasn’t). Instead, I turned to community arts and, apart from the odd poster, left my sketching behind. One by-product of my degree was writing – the dissertation taught me something of the discipline, but it was during a gap year that I started to write poetry. Poetry is an act of perception, a way of seeing the world, and I soon realised my art-training enriched my writing, and vice versa. Use of imagery, symbolism, detail, and close observation of the human animal – all of this fed into my poems and stories. And when I started to create pamphlets, and then eventually found and run a small press, the art and design skills really came into their own. They hadn’t gone away. But perhaps I had lost some of the joy. I no longer sketched for fun.

Over the last couple of years, during the intensive process of working on a PhD I have rediscovered the joy of sketching (cue 1970s manual with interesting poses…). After a day on the computer, working exhaustively with words, it is very soothing to just push colour around on a page … shapes, tones, shading. I found it actually enhanced my mental health – one becomes absorbed for an hour or two and all the voices, all the white noise of the day, fades away. It is no coincidence that the colouring-in books have become massively popular in recent years (although creating your own sketch is very different from just colouring in someone else’s). So, for that reason alone – for the ‘well-being’ factor, I recommend having a go. See it not as another task on the ‘to do’ list, but a bit of self-care. Don’t do it for anyone else, to compete or compare – do it for yourself, because it’ll make you feel relaxed, even good about yourself.

The blank page is a gift of freedom – a doorway for your imagination. It invites you to step through.

All you have to do is post your sketch, however embryonic, each day on Twitter, using the hashtag #SKETCHTEMBER  Encourage friends to join in, even those who say they ‘can’t draw’ (everyone can make a mark – we’ve been doing it since the dawn of humankind). Follow other sketchers – support one another.  And feel free to share inspiring pencil art to motivate and inspire. There must be a world of great pencil art out there. The classics of Western Art are to be admired and studied, but outsider art, and art from other traditions and cultures is waiting to be appreciated too.

Of course, racist, sexist or offensive sketches are not welcome in Sketchtember, but you know better. Let’s celebrate our creativity and use Twitter for something other than the Trumposphere!

I’ve decided not to create a list of prompts this time – I’m going for (mainly) portraits and animals this time. If you need some ideas, then look for ‘the 30 day drawing challenge’.

Let me know how you get on. Remember to use the hashtag. Happy Sketching!

Kevan Manwaring

31 August 2018

If you need tips and techniques the best place to start is with Betty Edward’s classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence. There are many other books, websites, youtubes clips, etc, out there, but this one worked for me when I did my Foundation in Art and Design back in the late eighties!

A month of sketching not enough? Keep going, in ink with Inktober! Jake Parker’s site: https://www.mrjakeparker.com/inktober-1/

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Creative Resistance

 

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Be more than a Selfie. Revellers awaiting the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge, 21 June 2018. K. Manwaring

 

In these challenging times it is easy to lose hope, to feel powerless against the dark forces active in the world – racism, sexism, child imprisonment, jingoism, xenophobia, animal cruelty, destruction of the environment, and institutionalised inequality.

But we are many, and they are few. Our time to step up is now. History is our witness.

Creative Resistance encourages

  • Acts of solidarity
  • Community
  • Resilience
  • Art
  • Writing
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Fashion
  • Film
  • Comix
  • New media

It’s easy as 1, 2, 3 …

  1. Create – paint, draw, dance, sculpt, write, cook, tailor, garden, code…
  2. Connect – face-to-face, online, cafes, conferences, pubs, symposia, festivals, parks
  3. Communicate – by any means necessary, get your work and your message out there.

Organise Creative Resistance:

Meet ups (face-to-face); Sharings (online); Happenings; Publications (print/digital); Recordings; Exhibitions…

The effectiveness of such a movement will be in a grassroots, non-hierarchical approach. Organise your own gatherings, create your own messages of resistance. A wikimanifesto is better than one person or a small group defining things. All can add their voice.

It is important to fight Fascism (let us call it by its name) on all levels. Let us fight using our skills, our talents, in ways which are empowering and nurturing. If you are a political campaigner, let that be your poetry. If you prefer direct action, then make that your art. But those of us who are creative may prefer to use our abilities to resist, critique, and create positive alternatives.

Be a local Creative Resistance organiser. Bring folk together. Start the conversation, get creating, and get organised, while we still have the liberty to do so. Fight for your Human Rights before they are taken away. Defend the vulnerable. Do not be a passive witness. Defy and challenge with glorious acts of creativity celebrating the diversity of humanity.

Kevan Manwaring 20 June 2018

Swimming in the River of Time

News from Nowhere, or An Epoch of Rest, Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance (1890) by William Morris

 

 

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Kelmscott Manor, the beautiful home of William Morris. K. Manwaring, 2018

 

News from Nowhere is an iconic ‘fantasy’ novel from the Arts and Crafts visionary and polymath William Morris. Although it is an important work for its lucid dramatisation of Morris’ Socialist ideals, on the surface it appears to be a work of the Fantastic (a timeslip narrative with a loose science fictional device): a man called William ‘Guest’ (a thinly-veiled alter ego of the author) goes for a swim in the river Thames in the late 19th Century and emerges in the early 21st Century, to see a vision of England transformed into a place of restored beauty, craftsmanship, and co-operation. Guest explores this land, with the Thames providing the common link, as he slowly wends his way upriver. The novel’s extent is demarcate by two of his homes: in Hammersmith and Kelmscott, and focuses on a stretch of the river that Morris knew well. In this sense the novel is geographically unambitious, but in many other ways, it was thinking big – certainly beyond the consensus reality of his day. Morris reimagines reality according to his principles, providing a blueprint to aspire to, for some at least.

Morris’ utopia is vividly imagined and alluring on the surface, as pleasant to dip into a wild swim in a glittering river on a summer’s day: an aesthetic and harmonious Arts and Crafts utopia, with an emphasis on ‘work for pleasure’, common ownership, co-operation, and liberty to choose where one lives, one’s profession, and one’s morality. The self-governing anarchists live in beautiful houses, wear beautiful clothes, and make beautiful things. It is perhaps all too good to be true, and in most fictional utopias this is when the protagonist discovers the ugly truth, the mask slips, and they find themselves trapped in some nightmare.

Well, for some, Morris’ utopia undoubtedly would be.  It is perhaps a bit like living in a Tolkienesque Shire – a bucolic aesthetic that belies some worrying subtexts. For a start, it is completely Anglocentric – Morris depicts a very English utopia: what has happened to the rest of the world is not discussed, except for a brief, disparaging reference to America being reduced to a ‘wasteland’. There is a worrying emphasis on women being pretty – every female Guest meets is assessed in this way. The novel is clearly written from a male gaze. There is nothing ‘wrong’ about appreciating female beauty – but when it becomes the chief characteristic, the defining trait, that is problematic; in addition, the women are on the whole portrayed as being content in domestic roles, or being a bit empty-headed (except for the stonemason and the free-spirited Ellen, who is inquisitive and seems to know more than she lets on – a portrait of Jane Morris, similarly ‘snatched’ from the working classes; in the way Guest is clearly Morris himself?). Also, New from Nowhere is very white, cis-gendered, and straight, but Morris was writing from his time (late 19th C) even though he was imagining the early 21st Century. His imagine didn’t stretch far enough to imagine alterity. His vision seems impossibly idealistic, and relies upon the common decency and common sense of the masses – everyone being nice and abiding by agreed values – which, as we can see at the moment, is very unlikely, even when laws are enforced…There is the odd crime of passion, but these are forgiven by society as the perpetrator is left to come to terms with their actions. Yet human nature doesn’t tend to be that enlightened. Even if one society achieves this level, there will always be other groups wishing either to seize its resources or simply destroy it (as Aldous Huxley imagines in his heartbreaking utopia, Island).

Yet, Morris’s ‘utopian romance’ is a hopeful act of positive visualisation – a thought experiment for the world the Socialist Morris wish to see manifest. For him it was a vision much-longed for; and one he tried to implement with his restless energy and huge output. He perhaps achieved in at Kelmscott and the other centres of Arts and Crafts activity.

Now there is an appreciation of artisan skills, of the hand-made, the hand-crafted, the home-grown – farmers markets and craft markets are very popular; and Transition Town schemes are skilling people up for the ‘power down’… Alternative currencies such as LETS and Timeshare have been trialled, but the lack of money seems the least convincing of Morris’ notions – though with the devastation caused by Neoliberalism, perhaps the one that needs addressing as urgently as the environmental one. We need the replace the false economy of venture capitalism, of ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ (based upon finite, dwindling resources and catastrophically damaged biosphere) with the more sustainable one of Deep Ecology.

Morris’ vision is a message in a bottle cast in time’s stream, and although it has many alluring qualities, perhaps it is not radical enough, as it clings to some medieval paradise that never was, yet these thought experiments are worth undertaking. Morris throws down the gauntlet for us all to imagine the world we would like to live in.

 

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The river Thames begins near Kemble, K. Manwaring 2018

 

 

Kevan Manwaring 17 June 2018

 

 

 

The Alien DJ

 

Dodgy Space Themes album

A crime to art, music and science fiction, but this dodgy 1978 album got me hooked.

 

Is it me or am I the only one who finds it hard to separate Sci-Fi from soundtrack? It is almost impossible to think of the opening credits of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope without the adrenalin-surge of John Williams’ classic theme-tune blasted out to the backstory disappearing to its vanishing point (or Darth Vader and his stormtroopers without the Imperial march); the shock and awe of the apocalyptic opening of Blade Runner without the vertiginous electronica of Vangelis; and the opening of Kubrick/Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would not have the same sturm-und-drang impact with Richard Strauss’s ‘sunrise’ from Also sprach Zarathustra.

Growing up a Sci-Fi addict (thanks to Lucas’ gateway drug that made me watch anything with Special FX in however risible, and it often was) I received my ‘hit’ often via the opening credits and theme tune of classic TV shows such as Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Thunderbirds, Dr Who, Blake’s Seven, Star Trek, and The Prisoner. 

And as an adult connoisseur of big screen Fantastika, I often find myself enthralled as much by the soaring soundtracks as much as the visuals – as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Brazil, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, Sunshine, Interstellar, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049 to name but a few.  

So it is no surprise to discover that during the writing of my novels I often have an ‘unofficial soundtrack’ running in the back of my mind. Perhaps this is why I need to write in silence, as I need to be able to tune into this internal symphony – the mood and movement that underscores the scene or chapter I am writing. Sometimes actual music is cited in the prose. In my science fiction thriller, Black Box, the protagonist listens to Chinese death metal while out on the ice, conducting one of his endless routine maintenance circuits of the vast ice-shelf he is tasked to transport to the ends of the galaxy. Back in his tugship, out of his suit, Lake relaxes to Hendrix while shooting up an artificial opiate he has managed to synthesise. Other settings required different tracks, evoking a different ambience – very few of these are explicit, but they nuanced my depiction of each, through diction, description, and pacing – the micro-choices that create tone.

If, in some fortunate future, my novel gets turned into a movie – which since it was first conceived as one, would be a satisfying full circle – then I hope the director will choose one of the fine composers out there (Hans Zimmer, for instance!) to score it rather than opt for the populist ‘mix-tape’ approach, which worked for The Martian and Guardians of the Galaxy — initially, a refreshingly iconoclastic contra-tonal device, but one that’s become something of a cliché, a lazy form of film-making (like the cheesy pop song montage sequence of the 80s it emulates) that does a disservice to the craft of the film composer, the under-rated geniuses of modern cinema, for it is they who translate the music of the spheres into reality.

Black Box is being published by Unbound – with your help! Pledge your support and pre-order a copy via this link: https://unbound.com/books/black-box/

 

Muse of Tragedy

 

Melpomene

 

Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy,

we come to greet you,

clad in dark attire,

wearing widows’ weeds,

faces covered in ashes,

the mask of sorrow,

weeping for the world.

The vast tragedy of it all.

 

Yet seeing the beauty

in every small miracle,

the heaven in the disaster zone.

 

O Melpomene, let us sing your goat-song,

so we do not forget.

So we remember and honour.

Work through our grief,

dance our sorrow

and let go when we’re done.

Move on, move on.

Let not our grief become our identity.

It is only a mask, a costume,

for the danse macabre.

The sun still shines; the birds still sing.

The world still turns, saying, Begin! Begin!

Aid us to heal conflict,

to bring peace

through understanding, through empathy.

 

Time to stop playing soldiers;

time to put down our guns.

Time to dismantle the warheads;

time to defuse the bombs.

 

Melpomene, from your deep heart

bring peace, end suffering.

You know the depths of humanity’s sorrow.

Listen and release it. So.

 

 From ‘House of the Moon’ by Kevan Manwaring

featured in the forthcoming collection Silver Branch: bardic poems, Awen 2018.

https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/