This years’ reading

I’ve read a lot of books this year, almost sixty already, and these are my favourites so far:

Drew Williams, The Stars Unclaimed. A great big slice of action-movie fun, with pace, invention and humour poured on generously.

Kirsty Logan, The Gloaming. A slower-paced book than anything else here, this is Logan’s second novel and it is beautiful. It manages to be about island life without ever feeling isolated, and is entirely magical.

Luke Pearson, Hilda and the Stone Forest. The Hilda series continues with this latest instalment, and it’s my graphic novel of the year.

El-Mohtar & Gladstone, This is How You Lose the Time War. Short, crystalline, and without a spare word.

Wells, Murderbot series. This series is up to four novellas, with a novel coming next year, and my word they are fun. An extremely efficient robot security operative with a heavy case of social anxiety and a sarcastic attitude might be my favourite character in any medium this year.

Valente, Space Opera. Every single page is studded with inventive touches, there’s not a humanoid with a prosthetic head in sight, and Valente goes all-out in writing, imagination and wit with this Eurovision-in-space that is soaked in her love for the subject, and the whole book shines in the best and most glorious way.

Jamie Smart

I’ve been a huge fan of hard-working comics legend Jamie Smart for about fifteen years now, ever since reading Bear straight through back in 2004, and my oldest kid has managed to catch the fans off me. Well, Jamie just wrote Flember, an illustrated novel, and he sent us a signed copy. Look at the inky glory!

Yeah, he’s an actual Boss. Cheers Jamie!

Lino printing tips.

I’ve been making lino cuts on and off for twelve years now – it’s a very satisfying medium, as the results of your drawing, cutting and inking all come out in one big reveal. Here’s some tips on what I’ve found are the most effective ways to turn out good prints at home.

Lots of people swear by heating your lino – maybe the average lino is a little harder than my supply, but if you store it in a warm room, or have a table set up to catch a sunbeam, you should be good to go. If it’s cold inside and the blade is absolutely refusing to dig in, then yes, absolutely, use your oven on the lowest setting. Use short, careful strokes, like you’re slowly writing a word, instead of longer ones like you’re using a knife, and you’ll be much less likely to slip.

A toughened glass chopping board is my surface of choice for rolling out ink.

Your printing surface will make a big difference as to how your prints will come out (I am writing about oil-based inks here). Cotton t-shirts are by far the easiest surface to ink onto, as they grip the ink amazingly well. As a rule, softer papers like newsprint or printer paper take ink much better than artist’s papers, which is pretty soul-destroying when you’re at home trying to make nice prints to sell. My advice for paper prints is to try and find a local college or print studio that has a relief press and will let you use it, as it is just about impossible to get clean prints on thick paper if all you have to press with is a big spoon. That same spoon, or a big book, are all you need for printing on fabric though – for the most consistent results, I use a wool felt mat as a base, with a newspaper cover, as this lets the lino and the printing surface join together evenly.

Clean-up is important. For oil-based inks, stay away from white spirit – the best solvent is cooking oil. Use cotton rags, because paper towels mush up and fill in all your glorious fine details you slaved over. Have some extra newspaper on hand, and make some quick newspaper prints to soak up the extra ink – wipe off your lino and get the excess off your roller too, it means there’s much less scrubbing to do.

Lastly: drying. If you have a sunny, windless day, go right ahead and hang your prints outside to speed things up. Otherwise, leave them in the warmest, most out-of-the-way spot you can find – if you’re in a mad hurry, some very careful ovening will do the trick.

Duncan of Jordanstone Degree Show 2019

It’s Local Degree Show time again! I spent a good Saturday afternoon looking around, with the one bad point being that the Illustration kids were too hungover to open their shop table. Anyways, my favourite dozen, in no particular order, were:

Cecile Bec combined illustration and sculpture, such that her whole show formed one giant composition.

Joanna Migut used a tightly restricted colour palette to great effect.

Eleanor Begg used enormously energetic lines in her paintings, with vibrant colour splashes

Catherine Paterson was my favourite in sculpture – an interactive show encouraging people to make rubbings of her brass and laser-carved wood wildlife images. It looked like it had been enormously popular on opening night as well.

Courtney Szabo had one of my favourite shows – intense, spontaneous movement, massive energy and great colour contrasts all over the place.

Hannah Benassi was another stand-out show, with subdued tones layering into some remarkable compositions.

Sam Renson left me utterly confounded and entranced – giant painted seascapes that look like distorted aerial photographs on crumpled paper.

Kirstie Behrens had some beautifully crafted near-abstract landscape prints on show.

Maia Aitken had some wonderfully expressively alien compositions, with careful colour work.

Lucia Pearla was another highlight, with highly detailed abstracts giving the impression of cityscapes, dominated by almost-legible letter forms shouting into the illuminated dark.

Maike Herrmann was one of several shows in Textile Design that caught my eye. Amazing multi-layered prints, with great depth and complexity.

Katie Scott, likewise, had enormous vitality and playfulness in her work, with a great interactive board for kids to add to her designs.

Molly Marshaley completes the set of vibrant, joyous textiles, with geometric shapes abraded and worn into textures.

Aimee Coulshed finishes my list, with sublime landscapes created in fabric.

That’s fourteen, but don’t make me choose.

Continued chewing – books April – June

Continuing last year’s reading:

April 4th – SPQR, Mary Beard: A very strong contender for non-fiction book of the year, this is a beautifully written history of Rome that is soaked in detail and characterisation.

April 21st – City Stained Red, Sam Sykes: This is a great fantasy story revolving around a team of adventurers who mostly can’t stand each other, with hilarious/blood-stained consequences

April 25th – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers: I absolutely fell in love with the characters, the setting and the story. Maybe the best fiction of the year.

May 15th – The Blue Blazes, Chuck Wendig: A solid noir urban fantasy.

Also May 15th – Born to Run, Christopher McDougall: In any other year this would have run away as the best non-fiction book, and if my spine still let me run I’d call it life-changing.

June 2nd – Hyperion, Dan Simmons: I started this thinking it looked like a possibly-overlong, needlessly complicated book. Oh, cover blurb, you lied to me so! Hyperion is delightful, a genuinely surprising pilgrim’s tale that twists a hundred strands intimate and stellar into a delicious whole, and wraps it up with a strong contender for the best final page in all of fiction.

June 17th – Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain: Yes, I read this after his death, but god, what a story! The absolute passion here is breathtaking, and even with a question mark over whether it’s true or not it’s a great read.

June 21st – Savage Season, Joe Lansdale: Short and sweet, a punchy thriller that starts a little awkwardly but finds it’s feet for a strong finish.