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November 30, 2007

Digital Desk

The lead desk I made for web designers Digital Therapy continues to attract comment
"it's made of what?"
"well wood covered in lead"


Posted by john at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2007

The State of Matter

When we were small and largely innocent, when we were young and at school, we were told, with great confidence, that there were three ways stuff could be: solid, liquid or gas. And the world was a happier place because of this.


Then, when you leave school and start learning things, you find stuff ain’t that straightforward after all. And the world? – well it’s isn’t the place you were brought up to believe it was.

States of Matter:

Amorphous Solid
Degenerate Matter
Strongly Symmetric Matter
Weakly Symmetric Matter
Quark-Gluon Plasma
Fermionic Condensate
Bose-Einstein Condensate
Strange Matter
Hot Dark Matter
Cold Dark Matter

In fact the list goes on because, at this level, whether something is matter or not becomes somewhat blurred, which is not surprising when stuff like Hot Dark Matter is travelling at ultrarelativistic velocity.

a wispy ring of dark matter, NASA/ESA/MJ Jee/John Hopkins University

I like the fact that there are people working this stuff out and, if they work out just how weak and how symmetric Weakly Symmetric Matter is, we might be able to find out what happens next.

Though of course if the turtles ever get to hear of it we're done for.

Posted by john at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2007

World Beach

“What? Ikea, on a Saturday – you must be mad!”

But it wasn’t that bad, once you know which secret doors take you directly to the checkout. The bonus was bumping into Sue Lawty in the entrance.

Sue is a wonderful bundle of energy and inspiration whose interests start with textiles and spread out through texture, pattern and colour to lead, stone and light.

page from Sue's notebook

She told me of her latest project: WORLD BEACH where we are all invited to pop down to our local piece of coastline and arrange all* the stones lying thereon in order of size, colour or taste.

Sue starting to arrange all the stones on the beach at Porth Ysgo, North Wales, in order of colour

When you’ve done this you can put a photograph of your piece on Google Earth which is pretty sexy in itself.

*people living near shingle beaches are advised to take a sleeping bag.

Posted by john at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2007

Britt's Barn

Thursday afternoon, as the light was being lost to those on the other side of the planet and a fine rain began falling through the sodium glare of the nearby street lights, I was to be found in a farm unloading a 15th century barn from off the back of a flatbed truck.


What, you may well ask, is a fifteenth century barn doing on the back of a flatbed truck? Well, Britt bought the barn to save it from destruction. But the barn was in Wales and she had to move it from under the teeth of the demolition machines. So she moved it back here, in two loads, on the back of a flatbed truck and is storing it in a 20th century barn.

It’s all oak, several tons of oak, all labelled according to how it was. It’ll be great to see it re-built, mind you it’s then you find that the King Post fell off on the A5.

Posted by john at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2007

Orpheus of Underbank

Orpheus was a poet and musician. So good was his music, and his lyre playing in particular, that he could charm the birds out of the trees and change the course of a river into the same bargain.

One day he met Eurydice, and by the time he could pronounce her name [yoo-rid-uh-cee] they had fallen in love and gotten married. It was a blissful marriage and they lived happily in Underbank, doing elaborate puppet shows for passing tinkers.

Sometime later, when Eurydice was out shopping in Huddersfield, she was chased by some Chavs and, silly thing, ran into a pit of snakes – you know, the way you do.

Alas and alack, Eurydice died of the snake bites and Orpheus, back in Underbank was understandably upset. He took up his lyre from out of the cupboard under the stairs and played so sadly that even the gods and the nymphs wept.

Well, after a while the gods and nymphs got pretty fed up with Orpheus moping around all day, playing his sad songs and making them cry, so they suggested he go down into the Underworld, under Underbank, and get Eurydice back.

Orpheus was fair made up with this idea and immediately applied for an Arts Council grant. When the money came through, as it did in those far-off days, he set off, pausing only to ring his mate Dante, who was holed up in Florence trying to write a comedy, and tell him where he was off to.

The Underworld, as you can imagine, was not a friendly place, all manner of difficult characters abounded there. But Orpheus managed to lull everyone into a false sense of security with his wonderful music. Even Hades his self, aka Pluto – God of the Underworld, and his better half Persephone, fell under the spell of his lyre, and they agreed to let him take Eurydice back up top, back up to Underbank.

But there was a catch - gods can be right bastards. Orpheus must lead the way and Eurydice would follow him, and, here’s the catch, Orpheus must not turn round and look back until they had both safely reached Underbank.

Well, he hadn’t seen Eurydice for ages. What was a man to do? He tried, I’m sure. But it was too much for him and before they reached the safety of Dunford Road, Orpheus turned round to gaze upon his beloved Eurydice. And what happened? Eurydice disappeared in a proverbial puff of smoke.

Orpheus was right pigged off with this so he foreswore the love of women thereafter and took to entertaining young boys instead. This didn’t sit too well with some folk, especially the Thracian Maenads – a bunch of Mad Woman who spoke fluent Thracian. So next time he went out for a beer the Maenads tried to stone him to death.

But Orpheus had his lyre with him and his beautiful music prevented the stones from hitting him. The Maenads were furious, in fact they were so enraged that they tore him to pieces in a wild Bacchian orgy and threw his head and lyre into the river. So be warned, gentle traveller, don’t fuck with Maenads when they've had a few.

The Muses gathered up his bits and pieces and buried them for him up on Mount Olympus, where nightingales sang over his grave. And Orpheus’ soul returned to the Underworld where he was reunited with Eurydice forever.

[Editor’s note, for the sake of clarity: Underbank is in Holmfirth]

Posted by john at 10:58 PM | Comments (1)

Mad Puppets

Went to see Dead Wedding last night, a story of love, starring Orpheus and Eurydice

photo: JC

the latest epic from Faulty Optic, this time in cahoots with Mira Calix. It was excellent, as Faulty Optic's work always is. So if you haven't seen it go to Whitley Bay on the first of December and get a bus to Gateshead and go and see it at The Sage


sorry guys, doesn't say who took the photo, let me know and I'll credit them

Posted by john at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2007

Space, Time and Flushing Toilets.

Or, to maintain the abstract notions: Space, Time and Money, the artist’s classic conundrum. You can have any two, but not all three. If you’ve got the money to get the space you won’t have the time to use it [because all your time will be taken up getting the money] etc...

It’s a balancing act. A balancing act akin to juggling hot potatoes, sitting on a unicycle, halfway across a slack wire strung over Niagara Falls, in the rain.

I like space, I like to be able to move about when I work. If I had a cat I would probably like to swing it from time to time. To get enough space to work requires money. It’s ironic therefore that to get said money I often end up working in the smallest room in the house, where cat swinging would indeed be a challenge.

When I finish the current Warm Watery Pipe and Waste Water Facility project I will have tricked out five bathrooms in the past year, I might also have enough of the three magic ingredients to do a bit of my own work.

But let’s not hold our breath, eh? There’s always this sort of thing lurking in a small room somewhere, trying to divert me from my creative endeavours:


photo: Joseph O Holmes

no cats were harmed during the writing of this article.

Posted by john at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2007

Giant fish in the sky

Taking balloon modelling to its ultimate conclusion Plasticiens Volants [literally Flying Plastics Technicians] filled the streets of down town Huddersfield with giant fish, a lobster and other denizens of the deep.


Fish were an ideal choice for helium-filled inflatables as the movement, guided by said Plastics Technicians on ropes, was very floaty and watery. Helium-filled inflatables were an excellent choice for a mass-event – everyone could see, it didn’t matter where you stood.



And so floating above our heads, and sometimes dipping down into the crowd, the giant fish told a story, complete with a bad guy [a conger eel]. The oyster lost its pearl and the fish chased after it and the eel attacked them, then the octopus got the eel. A classic story of: koi meets pearl, koi loses pearl…



Truly a spectacular spectacular.

Posted by john at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2007

Washing Windows II

Cleaning windows again. Windows, I should point out, that I didn't clean last time.


Posted by john at 11:14 PM | Comments (3)

November 09, 2007

Experimenting with iron oxide

Playing with rust probably sums it up better.

Before deciding on lead as a cladding for the desk, I was thinking of rusty steel. So, in the interests of true research, I got a bit of steel and set about rusting it.

When you don't want something to go rusty it invariably does, but to get something to rust is a different story, particularly if, like me, you want it to rust evenly.

After de-greasing it and giving it a good going over with the emery cloth I added a heady cocktail of water, salt and, to increase the acidity levels, piss. This produced quite a spectacular result:


A few days more, spraying it intermittently with water, I got this:


Not bad, but not as even as I would like and not stable enough for the job [not to mention the fact that it was a bit too orange] so I chose lead. Lead also has the advantage of being gorgeous to work with. Dressing it round the desk was a delight.

Posted by john at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2007

Fun in the Sun


This picture was taken by TRACE a NASA space telescope. TRACE is an acronym* for Transitional Region and Coronal Explorer, not, sadly, a familiar form of the name Tracey, which would be lovely really – “Where’s Trace?” “What’s Trace doing today?”

What Trace does is look at the sun and take pictures. If you ask, NASA will tell you things like “high-resolution imaging of fine-scale magnetic fields and plasma structures on an 8.5 arc minute field” but that basically means it looks at the sun and takes pictures. Good pictures, even though I suspect someone's been at them with the crayons.



*as opposed to, say, ISS which is not an acronym, it’s just a set of initials that stand for International Space Station.

Posted by john at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2007

Pencils and pork sausages.

Q: What have pencils and pork sausages got in common?
A: Cumberland.

Pencils have been with us since the early 16th century when, one quiet autumn morning in 1565, following a violent storm the night before, a farmer, following his sheep across the dew-damp Cumberland grass, stumbled upon a bit of shiny rock next to an uprooted tree on Seathwaite Fell.

Seathwaite Fell, photo: Mick Knapton

He picked up the slippery rock and found he could write on things with it, well at least he found he could make marks with it, because, it has to be said, writing was probably not one of his skills.

Sausages have been with us for a considerable while longer. Their origins lie at the very heart of early civilisation, 5000 years ago in Sumer, lower Mesopotamia. Later they get a mention in Homer’s Odyssey: “as when a man besides a great fire has a filled sausage and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted…” book 20 verse 25.

Ulysses and the Sirens, Herbert James Draper, 1909

So the farmers of Cumberland, for many years, walked around with lumps of what they erroneously called plumbago in their pockets. It was, in fact, more akin to coal than lead, but, as is self-evident, the connections with lead have stuck.

Graphite, for that is what the shiny stuff that made marks on things was, is a high grade anthracite, and it wasn’t long before people were wrapping string round it and using it to make shopping lists, which included sausages I shouldn’t wonder.

Posted by john at 02:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2007

Fiddling with fine pens and coloured crayons

The use of crayons* has been dealt an unfortunate blow by geography lessons. Crayons are now synonymous with colouring-in – a mind numbing occupation suitable only as a distraction from the main reasons why the USA is or is not a major exporter of wheat. [I can’t remember which as I was too busy giving the wiggly coast well deserved attention with the blue crayon.]

But crayons, good crayons [Caran d’Ache Prismalo II are the crayons of choice here at the studio], are an excellent way of applying colour in a lively fashion to a drawing.


So when a company wants some illustrations for their newsletter out come the fine pens and the drawer of crayons.


But first things must need to be blocked out and prepared with line. And I go from the 16th century straight into the 21st century. From pencil to Photoshop. I’m drawing a newspaper advertising stand, and need the lettering in perspective. I could do it without Photoshop, but it takes a lot less time if I take full advantage of the tools available to me, and the skew tool in particular.

write it straight:

skew it:

then trace it into the drawing:

*For anyone reading this over the seas and far away to the west, by crayon I mean coloured pencil, not wax crayon.

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

November 04, 2007

Son et lumiere

It’s an old trick, but a good one if you can do it. Get a fancy building and throw some coloured light at it then turn up the volume of the record player. They do it to castles and other such ruins from time to time, if you’re lucky you get fireworks, fountains and some classical music into the same bargain.

But last night, in York, it was a bit different because we provided the sounds and a computer, on hearing our noise, provided the lumiere, all over the façade of the Minster.


It was hard to determine just how the computer reacted and what sounds did what, there seemed to be little rhyme nor reason to it, but it was fun. At one point Ninon played the flute and David recited Shakespeare, but to be honest, clapping humming and making silly noises produced the same effects. The computer made no distinction between classical literature and gobbledegook.


Posted by john at 06:12 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2007

How to fit a lead desk

thanks to Simon Jones

Posted by john at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2007

The Hasselblad Man

When Adrian came to take pictures of me last week, with the posh camera, I thought his website wasn't working. Turns out it was my browser that wasn't working, [sorry Adrian] or at least it wasn't able to see flash animation, because one of the plugs had become loose. I've now tightened all the plugs, stopped the windows rattling and generally shut doors, battened down hatches and reset the entire universe, so here is Adrian's website for your perusal, should you feel so inclined.

Posted by john at 08:39 PM | Comments (0)

ce debloque

When all this started, when I was stuck and endeavouring to become unstuck, I worked with French photographer Patrick Fabre a couple of times. So Unstuck became, momentarily, Debloque, which was as near as we could get the translation.


He took photographs of me taking photographs of the unstuck model.



If you open Patrick's site, enter the site, click on "portfolio", click on "reportage" then click on the square bottom left called “john” you’ll see some more pictures from the series. Then have a good look round as there are some excellent images on the site.

Posted by john at 08:26 PM | Comments (0)