Monday, September 27, 2010

The Shipping News. Now With More Flying.

Time to get back to some regular politics-free illustration. In an earlier Arsegravy post I think I mentioned taking way too long on a tattoo design of a flying ship for a friend. For myself, I've never trusted my own tastes to be long-enough lasting to take the inky plunge. Combine that with changes of general style, obviously happening all the time but usually in a very noticeable way say every ten years or so, & the idea of choosing poorly in the pretty permanent department of skin art has put me off. Sure, with the right person & design they can look great. But when it goes wrong, it can REALLY go wrong - how bout a picture of your fiance that comes out looking like Mr Potatohead? Fail. Then there's a photo in one of the art books at work of a fella whose back is one big glorious, full colour presentation of all the characters from... A Nightmare On Elm Street. Gotta wonder if he's still happy with that.

With this in mind I opted for a cooling-off period & dragged my heels. Not that I didn't like his idea - I really enjoyed the dreamy, Munchausen steampunk aspects of it - but I did want him to be sure. Kieren - the man with the plan - had given me a sketch of what he was after & as the months went by (3 of them I think) I slowly looked at references but kept it on the backburner. Eventually he spelled it out - super keen, classic idea, get a wriggle on. Even kept a shoulder reserved for it. So I made a start. 

In retrospect I'm very glad to have done this job - it was a great reminder of how rusty I'd got taking time away from constant illustration in the last decade. My perspective work was - well frankly, a total guessing game. After way too many stabs in the dark I bit the bullet & reread my old notes from uni. It meant a lot of redrafting but felt like it was good for me. An odd side-effect was the tendency to trace vanishing points for random objects wherever I went. Just double checking that everything was obeying the rules, I guess. Still, when you catch yourself being quietly entertained establishing the horizon by guessing the intersection of the lines of the supermarket lights & floor it probably is time to get a grip & take the groceries home.

From that point on I looked at a mountain of material dealing with hot-air balloons & dirigibles, steam engines, boat design & everything that stemmed from them - seafaring knots, anchors, mastheads, netting, boilers, paddlewheels, lamps, gas-burners, steam-whistles, rigging.. the works. Partly I went into the little details because the research side of illustration is something I enjoy - don't judge - but also it was because I've never been big on technical or machine drawing. I was never one of those kids who could sit down in school & draw a beefed up racing car or a Robotech monster from memory. People, faces, landscapes or cartoons, sure. But if you wanted to cross a Monaro with the Batmobile, not so much for me.

Despite the unfamiliar territory - or maybe because of it - the work was fun. One of the rules was not to make it too posh - no Spanish Galleons, much more functional & industrial. Also not to go over the top with minute detail, given it was going to be tattoo sized. So no pinching from Baron Munchausen, sadly. But I did find one really terrific & obscure image that turned out to be a big influence - it was a print from the early 1800's detailing the plan of a Belgian physicist, painter, ex-priest, balloonist & showman named Etienne Gaspard Robertson to build "La Minerve". Robertson (extending his name from Robert for the stage) was notorious for his exaggerations & seems to have "borrowed" substantially from previous designs. The seriousness of his suggestion is also doubtful, with one contemporary commenting that La Minerve was "of such baroque extravagance.. that Roberson was either mad or clowning.." And it really was a big idea - a massive 160 foot diameter balloon carrying a 150 foot ship below & a crew of 60, whose aim would be to travel the world on voyages of discovery for up to 6 months at a time. It would feature an observatory, kitchen, library, church, gymnasium, theatre & launching platforms for smaller balloons. It's goal was pure research & it took its name from the owl-loving Greek goddess of wisdom. She was goddess of a whole bunch of other stuff too & also showed up in Rome but that just complicated things, so I ah.. ignored it.

Unsurprisingly, Robertson's project never happened. People weren't keen. Hanging the toilet underneath the ship from a silk ladder probably didn't help. And admittedly the epic scale wasn't overly practical. But I did love the concept, and I felt like it was a nice sideways-reference to the enquiring mind of the tattoo's recipient. Just bring down the size & haul in the facilities, and we had a ship with a purpose - and a name. The Minerva.

^ Robertson's original Minerva design.

^Just a few of the references & sketches stacked up in the designing process..

^The finished Minerva tattoo design.

One last note - if there happen to be any odd format issues on the page, my apologies, but I really do struggle with the Blogger programming sometimes! A while back they changed some part of their code which deliberately or not, led to captioned photos being inactive. Which is to say no longer able to be enlarged by clicking on them. Although the old captioned ones still seem totally active & fine. So unless that changes I'll just be writing below the pics from now on I guess. Unfortunately Blogger also only allows you to write below pictures  from the left margin of the page if the image is medium size. I know that makes no sense, but them's the breaks.
Sorry folks, I'm just not the IT crowd.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tony's In The Hood - But Not In The Lodge.

Interesting few weeks. Since the last Arsegravy update the house-poxing preferences of the voting public have brought the first Greens member to the House of Reps & planted quite a few more in the senate, chipped off a parliamentary barnacle whose nickname should've sobered up his supporters years ago, shifted unprecedented power & attention onto 3 independents & really pissed off the powerbrokers of the 2 major parties. In short, & for those who came in late, it's a hung parliament.

I could happily rake the coals at tedious length, but everybody else has beaten me to it, so I'll keep it quick.. ish. The Green thing makes me reasonably happy because they're among a tiny few left in politics here that don't sound like robot versions of Humphrey Appleby. They also don't seem to give a toss about the spin priority of being On Message - which is to say, abandoning all the detail of an argument & endlessly parroting the line you wish to slap on the evening news, even if it means never once answering a question & sounding like someone with the memory-span of a below-average goldfish. Highlight examples in this campaign include Julia's "Moving Forward" & Tony's "Stop The Boats", as well as "Stand Up For Real Action", which unfortunately for him was easily misheard as Rear Action. Perhaps he was hedging his bets. Anyway, point is the Greens often tend to say the things I've been thinking. Long time since anyone in the majors did that.

Two more little but noteworthy items - first, the demise of Iron Bar. Yep, after 30 years Wilson "Iron Bar" Tuckey is no longer a Liberal MP. When he arrived in parliament in 1980 it was already more than a decade since the incident that earned his nickname. The story goes that as a publican in the 60's, he beat an Aboriginal man with a length of steel cable. While the guy was being held down. Other career highlights include boycotting the apology to the Stolen Generation, claiming that terrorists were among "boat people", blaming environmentalists for bushfires & using his ministerial position to try to get his son out of a driving conviction. On conceding defeat, Iron Bar described the victorious National Party candidate Tony Crook as "a nobody". Colleague Joe Hockey was once moved to describe Tuckey as the Liberals "mad uncle".  Keating preferred to go with "criminal garbage".  Clearly he will be much missed. Exit Wilson Tuckey, finally beaten by nobody.. but himself.

Second, it's official - Bill Heffernan is the devil. Might not sound like a newsflash, but it's now confirmed by Bill himself. In the last couple of weeks all the players involved in negotiating the necessary number of seats to rule have made "stable government" their absolute proviso. So when appealing for the desperately needed support of 3 independents, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan thought the best approach would be to ring up one of them, Rob Oakeshott, and tell the woman who answered the phone that person calling was "The Devil. Ha ha ha." Later the Senator defended this by saying he was not aware he had been talking with Mr Oakeshott's wife - he thought it was one of Oakeshott's children.

Now that's stable.

As it turned out Gillard got there - just. Given their already ideologically watered-down state, Labor's obligation to now work with independents from all over the political spectrum seems likely to mean we're in for a few years of extremely middle of the road government. But I confess it is a big relief not to be looking at 3 years of nasty neocons. This morning on ABC's Insiders show, old Howard mate Gerard Henderson felt it necessary to very gravely point out that while Mr Abbott had been called The Mad Monk by some media, in fact he was neither of those things. He was not mad or a monk. 

Sure, it was weirdly funny at the time, but Henderson's plodding deadly seriousness is not just the pitiable condition of one sad-o - while not confined to the Coalition, there is an intense concentration of Takingyourselfwaytooseriousliosis in their ranks.. (Maybe with the exception of Barnaby Joyce, but that's a whole other story.) To me that means there's a major lack of self-reflection, and that's an ailment that makes it way easier to do very shitty things to other people. Combine that with the personalities of Tony's whatever-it-takes henchmen - Eric Abetz, Philip Ruddock & Nick Mintion to name a scary few - and it does make me feel like the hanging parliament actually represents the public's dodging of an electoral bullet. Maybe I'm getting Waytooseriousliosis myself. Better stop.

So to finish, here's a few recent sightings of Tony, the boy in our 'hood.