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September 27, 2007

Old Arrows

When they cleaned the wooden posts supporting the floors of the Backhausen textile mill they left some of the old signs:


I love the outline of the white arrow under the red one, true palimpsest.

Posted by john at 06:11 PM | Comments (1)

Unimaginable Possibility

In Gmünd, in North-Eastern Austria, the border with the Czech Republic is actually in the town. We crossed the river and there, in amongst the buildings and streets, were the small concrete cabins sitting strangely under tall all-weather roofs, looking every bit like a set from a 1970s cold war spy film. All that was missing were the red and white lifting barriers and the coils of barbed wire.

Today the Border Guards, in their small concrete cabins, were not really interested in us as we walked across. We held up passports but they just nodded and carried on reading their newspapers.

The first buildings are "American" casinos and large supermarkets selling shoes, plastic flowers and cigarettes, run by Vietnamese. Then about a mile further the Czech shops start and the first Czech shop was an ironmonger. Hooray! There´s something wonderful and fascinating about foreign ironmongery. The hinges are different, the hooks and locks and catches are different, even the nails are different. There are boxes of strange bits of metal carefully fashioned to perform unknown tasks - boxes of unimaginable possibility.

Posted by john at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2007

Over the zee and far away

There were no posters for ROBODOCK in Amsterdam, which seemed a bit strange, though we knew that the DOCK in ROBODOCK was the NORTH DOCK. But Amsterdam, being the busy seafaring port that it is, has a lot of docks and most of them appeared to be to the north.

So we had some apple pie in a café, the way you do and it happened that the people on the next table were talking loudly (in Double Dutch naturally) and every now and then we heard “ hoojp dee maar robodock de groön” or similar and figured they might know where it was. Which they did and they were very helpful and, like almost everyone in Amsterdam, spoke excellent English.

They said go to the Centraal Station and catch a ferry, and shlooozooom… it was driven by Michael Schumacher, and, Amsterdam being the busy seafaring port that it is, it was a very exciting trip. We dodged huge barges sunk deep into the sea, water washing their gunwales, small open boats with men, in dark jackets, collars turned against the wind, standing up with serious expressions on their faces and hands dug into warm pockets, sailing boats, rowing boats, police boats, other ferries and a rubber dingy, somewhat out of place, bobbing precariously amidst the chop and chase of the sea-lanes, a worried man gripping a sputtering outboard motor.

We landed in a desolate spot just as it was getting dark and starting to rain. Most people on the ferry rushed ashore on foot, on bike or on scooter and disappeared, obviously going home for tea not heading for a Rusty Robot Festival, but we were confident. The 15 foot high red metal arrow with the word ROBODOCK welded to it helped, it has to be said.



Posted by john at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2007

Rusty Festivals

Off to see Robodock, in Amsterdam,


Then on to Germany, Austria, Vienna, Czech Republic, yes, another road trip. But I suspect the temperatures won't be quite so high this time, and the borders a little easier to find perhaps, well, what borders there are in New Europe.

Posted by john at 05:04 PM | Comments (1)

of rusty metal and temperature gauges

Been asked to design the reception desk for an advertising agency. More on that later, first things first: get some quality pictures up on the wall... ha ha


Posted by john at 03:31 PM | Comments (1)

September 16, 2007

Those locomotive types

From the 1921 Wonder Book of Railways:


The Pacific, The Mikado, The Mastodon, The Santa Fe. Time was names like these could raise the hair on the back of your neck, but the days of the Steam-Men are over. Great iron horses eating coal and breathing smoke as they hauled their heavy goods across country. Strong men stripped to the waist shovelling the black stuff into the glowing maw of the fire box. Blowing down to reduce priming, always watchful not to jam the valve open, then shutting off the cylinder oil feed when drifting. It took a skilled man to work a steam locomotive's draw-bar horse-power up to 3870.

a 2-8-2 Mikado class locomotive, at the Bell Fontaine refuelling facility, Ohio, photo Fred C Stoes

Posted by john at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2007

the thought and the deed

the idea...


the reality...


hmm... never did get the bit of old rope

from Babbling Fools, a Foolish Clown production for Bikeshed Digital Media

Posted by john at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2007

S’more from Tiger Tim and his pals

One of the illustrators whose work I gazed upon in those far off days, tucked up in my bed, with the paisley eiderdown, was W. Heath Robinson. He’s remembered now as merely a designer of bizarre machines and his name given to any complicated contraption of a particularly home-made variety. But, damn, he was a mighty fine illustrator, mighty fine.

this from Playbox annual 1921

this from the Wonder Book of Aircraft published in 1920, which has the wonderful image below as its frontispiece:

the Vickers-Vimy Passenger Biplane … ahh, the days of air travel in Lloyd Loom chairs is sadly over.

Posted by john at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2007

Sticky images

Images that haunt you, images that stalk the neural pathways and lurk in the synaptic corridors of the mind. Images that you think you’ve forgotten. Then for no reason they spring to mind.


This is from Tiger Tim's Annual of 1923, it used to be my father’s.


I found the books, in a dusty box, under the deep shelves, beside the old Welsh dresser in the back of the studio [it wasn’t hard – I knew they were there]. Lots of memories came flooding back. Not least Webster the Dog eating the spine when he was no’but a puppy, grrrrr… the Little Tyke tried to hide in the bread bin – I soon found him too.


I used to thumb through these books endlessly, sitting up in bed resting them on the pillowy paisley eiderdown, looking at the illustrations mainly. I have to confess I never read the story of Susie and King Twinkle. In those days it was the pictures that fascinated me, they were so rich with detail.

Who knows what influence all the images we see as children have on us in later years. The lasting image I had of this illustration was a girl in a tutu sitting on a giant mushroom, umm, I think the wallpaper might be peeling in the synaptic corridors.

Posted by john at 12:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2007

Laque de Garance

Colours often have a long and troubled past [some, like Prussian Blue, have a long and troubled present]. Picking one of the colours from Cezanne’s palette, Laque de Garance, we find it is a Rose Madder, which is made from the juice of the root of the madder plant, not unreasonably called Rubia Tinctorum.

The best Madder root came from Palestine and was brought to Europe by the returning Crusaders. As a result it was a rare commodity, because, well, not as many Crusaders returned as left, I guess – they kept sending them out, “fetch some more madder root” the artists would cry. “But there are fierce Saracens out there guarding the madder beds” came the reply, “and they’re not Christian!”

Something like that anyway. So precious was it that the French Authorities fixed the price and it became known as La Garance, or the guarantee.

The Laque, or Lake, part comes from the fact that the dye produced from the root is a liquid, and thus useful to the cloth dyer but useless to the painter. Painters needed a solid form, so in 1808 George Field, an English dye maker, produced a lake. That is: he turned the liquid dye into a solid by precipitating it with a mordant, in this case alum, and called it, again not unreasonably, Madder Lake.


However, as is so often the case with lakes, the resulting colour was fugitive. Ha! Just when you thought it was safe to go into the studio. This meant that it faded quickly when exposed to natural light. Not good in a painting I think you’ll agree.

So the chemists of Europe worked through the night to come up with a lightfast chemical alternative. In 1826 Pierre-Jean Robiquet, in France, found the two active ingredients in the madder root, namely: Alizarin and Purpurin, and in 1868 Carl Graebe and Carl Liebermann, in Germany, finally synthesised alizarin from anthracene.

This was a lightfast, quick and, probably most significantly, cheap alternative to Madder. So the market for madder root collapsed overnight, which was probably a Good Thing as the Crusades had packed up long ago.

Posted by john at 04:09 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2007

And so goodbye to Kosovo … almost

It was time to leave. The Summer School was over for another year, e-mail addresses had been exchanged, the last of the glitter had been swept up from the floor of the art room and Jane, Anthony and myself, having stayed a last night with Fikrije and Basri, were ready to drive home.

We didn’t want to take the motorway this time so we planned to cross into Montenegro then down to Croatia and Dubrovnik, into Bosnia Herzegovina for a few miles, then back into Croatia, up past Split to Trieste, across Northern Italy, up through France [dropping Jane at the Bellows Blown Border Bagpipe Festival near Le Veurdre, bien sur] and back under the wet bit care of Concrete Pipes R Us.

Some borders, we’d read, were closed. So we studied the maps and we talked to the locals. They, the locals, not the maps obviously [well Basri’s father to be precise] said that for Montenegro you go to Pejë and turn left. So, not being ones to ignore local advice, we went to Pejë and turned left.

It wasn’t quite as easy as that. Pejë is a bustling town and there was more than one crossroads to turn left at. So we sort of turned left wherever we could in a turning-left sort of way, all the while keeping the sun over our left shoulder, our eyes on the road and our sandwiches in a cool-box behind the driver’s seat.

And the road left the town and headed for the high mountain ranges that separated Kosovo and Montenegro. And there was a camouflage-net-strewn UN Patrol Post with guns and green vehicles and soldiers in funny hats with large red pom-poms and stern expressions which defied you to ask what exactly the red pom-poms were all about, and a large sign which read reassuringly: LAST UN POST IN KOSOVO.

The road threaded its way through spectacular scenery, following a steep-sided gorge, above a white-water river, up into the mountains.


All very nice. The sun was shining, young children splashed in the river where it widened out over shoals of pebbles and insects spent their last moments staring in wonder at our fast approaching, though largely unseen, windscreen. Then we got to the bridge, or should I say: …The Bridge, for it was here the tarmac stopped.


Er, ok, well we’d been told some of the border crossings were a bit rough. The sign said BOGË to the right and QOKORR to the left.


I took out the map and sure enough there was a fork in the road and yes there was a place called Bogë to the right and the left fork led to the border, though no mention of Qokorr it has to be said.

We drove for several miles along a dirt road, reassuring each other that this was indeed the way to a Major International Border Crossing.


Look – people going fishing to the border we said as we passed an abandoned people carrier. [Look, we said as we passed the abandoned people having a picnic]

The road got dirtier – we were driving over fallen branches and the bushes were beginning to brush against the side of the van – just as you would expect as you approached a Major International Border Crossing.


Dropping to second gear, we negotiated a bend where the bushes on one side threatened to push us over into the steep gorge on the other side, and found out why this wasn’t the busy road you might expect connecting two countries struggling for recognition in the European Theatre of Commerce.


Ah. Well it was the border, but no one was interested in us crossing over into Montenegro apparently.

We managed to turn the van round – just, and drove the hour and a half back to Pejë, waving at the soldiers in the red pom-pom hats as we passed. We went straight through Pejë and, er, turned left, sign posted: MONTENEGRO, simple when you know how.

Posted by john at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2007

and the shepherds are jumping for joy

As the day drew to a close and heavy clouds heralded a dark night over Huddersfield things got really rather spectacular:


And behind me, high above, was heaven itself:


Eat your heart out Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Posted by john at 09:08 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2007

Cezanne's palette

Jaune Brilliant
Jaune de Naples
Jaune de Chrome
Jaune Ocre
Terre de Sienne Naturelle
Terre de Sienne Brûlée
Laque Brûlée
Ocre Rouge
Laque Carminée Fine
Laque de Garance
Bleu de Cobalt
Bleu d’Outremer
Bleu de Prusse
Noir de Pêche
Vert Emeraude
Vert Véronèse
Terre Verte
Argent Blanc

Posted by john at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)