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April 30, 2008

scratching through photographs

I’ve been harnessing the manipulative power of these grey machines, and fiddling with photographs.

Palimpsest disappeared from our lives around 1440, when your man Gutenberg began using a new piece of paper for each imprint. Only recently has the phenomenon reappeared with the likes of old tattered hoardings subject to waves of pastings by fly posters and the opacity tool in Photoshop.




Posted by john at 08:40 AM | Comments (1)

April 29, 2008

the inbetweenlands

The film is with the duplication boys. The talk on The Balkans is over. So there’s possibly a bit of nothing before the Next Thing.

The organising of time is an art in itself, some never master it. Some spend all their spare time watching television. Clay Shirky worked out what that time means.


If you take Wikipedia, all of it, all the entries, all the edits, all the comments, all the discussions, in all the languages and all the code, it amounts to about 100 million hours of thought/work. 100 million hours is what the good people over the water in Amerikey spend, every weekend, just watching the adverts never mind the sitcoms.

Normally the inbetweenlands are occupied by television, but when, like me, you don’t have a television, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.

Posted by john at 09:56 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2008

a brief history


Posted by john at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

Extracts from: A Brief History of the Balkans

This, according to some, is the most influential man in the 20th century:


Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand Gang, who, on the afternoon of June 28, 1914, sprang from a side street in Sarajevo, with the safety catch of his 9mm FN semi-automatic, blow-back, pistol in the off position.

On the road, touring the area, was Archduke Franz Ferdinand Karl Giuermo Anikò Strezpek Belschwitz Mòric Pinche Bálint Szilveszter Gömpi Maurice Bzoch János Frajkor Ludwig van Haverbeke Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, with his wife, Sophie.


Gavrilo fired two shots. One hit Sophie, the other hit the Archduke. Apparently the Archduke’s aides couldn’t get to the wound because the Archduke had been sewn into his jacket to make him look thinner. Both the Archduke and Sophie died in the next few minutes.

Your man, Gavrilo’s, actions were the catalyst that sparked off the First World War, and therefore by association the Second World War, and so the Cold War and a lot of the trouble in the Middle East. Not bad for a hot-headed twenty year old.

Posted by john at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2008

Chaos and cold coffee

The Second Law of Thermodynamic is quite clear on this subject. If you leave it alone, a mug of hot coffee will soon become a mug of cold coffee. No question. And this is a Good Thing.


Of course you can buy insulated mugs, mugs that are designed to keep your coffee hot, but this is NOT a Good Thing. Apart from anything else they are universally ugly, attempting to do far too many things at once.

Hot coffee getting cold is a fundamentally important part life, it reminds us of our mortality. It reminds us that there are greater things afoot than trying to get Photoshop to save a brush that is too big to save.


That cup of soon tepid liquid on the desk is a glimpse out there into the far reaches of the universe, a brief crack in the space-time continuum, that allows you to experience all existence in a moment. Chaos and entropy are combining right there in front of you. And what do we do? We invent the Thermos Mug with its goddamn sippy top. I ask you.

Posted by john at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2008

Gutenberg's cows

According to Stephen Fry, or, I suspect, Philip Crocker, the programme researcher, it took 140 calves to make one of Gutenberg’s bibles.


Gutenberg originally proposed to make 180 bibles – that would have been 25,200 calves.

It was one thing inventing the printing press, but they hadn’t invented the freezer by 1440, and there was only so much veal that the good people of Mainz could eat, so they used a newfangled invention from the east - paper.


a photograph of Gutenberg’s printing press [honest]

programme also available on You Tube if the BBC iplayer doesn’t do it for you.

Posted by john at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

The Droste Effect

Named after some tasty Dutch hot chocolate [served by nuns, clearly] this is called the Droste Effect - when the packet has a picture of the packet on it, which in turn has a picture of... well you get the idea.


They get very small artists with tiny brushes to do the last few packets.

thanks Jason

Posted by john at 02:30 AM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2008

InDesign and the Balkans

I’ve been working on my talk for next weekend, when I tell all the students going out to Kosovo this summer, a little bit about the history of the Balkans. It’s hard to tell a little bit about the history of the Balkans, because there’s an awful lot of it, especially if, like me, you start at year dot.

OTTOMAN EMPIRE 1299 to 1923

At the end of the Thirteenth Century the Ottomans came up from Turkey, with their large foot-stools and strong coffee. Perhaps more to the point they brought Islam, which added a third religion to a cooking pot already boiling over with the curdling mix of Eastern and Western Orthodox Christianity. The stew thickened.

The Ottoman Empire lasted for over 600 years, though a lot of the foot-stools had to be recovered. The locals never quite managed to kick the Ottomans out, but not for want of trying.

Then I decided I would print out the stuff I had unearthed and oh-my-lord things got complicated. A few sheets of A4 paper have now ended up as a 34 page booklet, the size of a CD case, complete with pictures.

To do this I had to climb the computer equivalent of Mount Everest, well alright then, Snowdon – but in the fog. [and just for the record here’s a picture of me standing on the top of Snowdon, in the fog]


So, back to book design. Mr Jones, quite rightly when all’s said and done, insisted I use InDesign to do the job right. But first I remembered my Art College days, when Eric Bain taught us this sort of thing in the typography class, start off, as always, with a pen and paper.


Then go make the computer do what you want. Ever tried getting a computer to do what you want? Exactly. Anyway, I wrestled for a bit then found a few buttons that did exciting things and have ended up with 34 pages, 33 of which are not entirely dissimilar to this:


Posted by john at 07:49 PM | Comments (2)

April 19, 2008

up a bit on the left

The sign went up today.



I hope this might help the odd lost postman find where he is, and more to the point where we are.


Posted by john at 04:32 PM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2008

Old Stones

Spent the day yesterday, photographing some of my favourite stones. Sue Lawty does stones, in a big way.

Call and Response: Linen Lead Stone Shadow, Sue Lawty 2008

I’ve spent many a day, amongst the sand and pebbles, poking around on umpty beaches looking for stones that tell a story.


I once spent two days on the massive pebble beach at Walberswick, looking for completely round stones – I found about five.


I’ve pocketed many stones, most get thrown away before the sun sets, but some make it back to the studio, and some get to sit on my desk. These stones are stones that contain entire worlds, carried here carefully and placed in order of their distance.




Posted by john at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2008

Round and round in ever decreasing circles

The phone rings…

…and, yes, sadly I’m no longer excited by the prospect of scintillating conversation.

It’s rung three times today, twice was a recorded disembodied voice telling me they had an important announcement. They never get further than that before I hang up.

The third time it was the ordinary voice of a northern girl.

“Hello, is that John Coombes?

What was this? Someone wants to speak to me – someone wants to commission a large painting, or even meet for a coffee and discuss the finer points of Kino-Pravda.

“I am he”

“who? - er – what?… oh, my name’s Trudy from the Universal Group and…”

“Hello Trudy, before you go any further I must explain that I am an artist, self employed and currently starving in an unheated garret above a glue factory.”

“Well I can offer you great savings on your phone bills”

“I don’t have a phone.”


“er, well, what am I speaking to you on?”

“oh, this phone –“

“You’re currently with BT –“

“Yes, and before you tell me you can save me the mind-numbing sum of £1.30 a year, I’ve done a special deal with BT whereby they keep my mother locked up in their cellar for two years while I enjoy considerable savings on my monthly account. I fear that should I elect to go with another provider my aged blood relative would get it.”


“Ha! My friend said he heard from someone that BT had their children in a cage.”

“Yes, that was me, last week, thank you for calling again so soon, goodbye.”

Posted by john at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

Coach Lining

Well not really coach lining, but, still, painting a line – the last bit of the job.


There’s a man, called Mark, who works for Rolls Royce, it takes him three hours to paint a 3mm line, by hand, along the side of one of their cars. That’s coach lining.


Posted by john at 07:02 AM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2008

A Girl Sewing

My cousin left me this painting in his will. It used to hang in his study, in his house on Anglesey.

Girl Sewing, oil on canvas, 440mm x 370mm

Don’t know why he left me this particular painting. It’s a bit of a mystery. I often went to see him, when I was at college in Liverpool, but I can’t remember seeing this picture, let alone admiring it.

It’s full of Victorian attention to detail and demonstrates deft skill with the oil paint, especially when you consider that these details are only about 80mm across [that's 3" for those still stuck in the Dark Ages].



The back suggests it could be by either Thomas Webster RA or Thomas Brooks.


Sir Kyffin Williams, photographed in his studio in 1974, by me, JC

Posted by john at 12:15 PM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2008

the nameplate

I originally thought the sign should go above the front door:


I feel the Post Office and delivery people need as much help as possible.

But, the size of 1930's wardrobes being what they are, I think it looks better set to the right of the building:


more like a street sign.

Posted by john at 08:59 PM | Comments (1)

Art Bollocks

“In the filmed performance, the artists trace, with sticks and string, the outline of the church. This symbolic recuperation, based on a performative understanding of the monument, gains resonance in relation to present-day plans to build a commercial mall on the same site. The bags of concrete, dribbling inert dust, function as a historical hourglass between an unclear 'then' and a problematic 'now', pointing at loss and at entropy that architecture 'constructs' while it seeks to embody power…”

from the Romanian Pavilion, at the 2007 Venice Biennale

Well only I hope their performative understanding of the monument gained enough resonance for a truly meaningful symbolic recuperation.

Posted by john at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2008

Babbling Fools- screening


Babbling Fools is on tonight, in Leeds, at Seven artspace, 8:00pm

Posted by john at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2008

writing with paint

To write with paint you need writing paint, or more specifically Keep’s Synthetic Enamel for Writing. You can use other paint, but Keep’s enamel is cooked up specially to have the right consistency, which is all nicely thickly sticky.


You also need writing brushes, brushes which have long bristles and a flat end, Hamilton’s your man every time. The idea of the long bristles is that they hold more paint and lay flat on the surface then cling to it as you make one long down-stroke, affording enough lateral control to maintain a straight line while not running out of paint.


Then there is the mahl stick, a short stick with a thick cloth end, which you reach over the painting area and rest your hand on so you don’t smudge the work-in-progress.


An old signwriter once told me, many years ago, don’t worry about your horizontals, concentrate on the down strokes, if these are equal thickness everything will be OK . You should also flare your corners a bit and the eye will bring them in square. He could do this sort of thing freehand with just a few guide lines.



Posted by john at 09:37 PM | Comments (1)

Bankfield Mill writ large

First find a nice flat long thin bit of wood, say an old 1930’s wardrobe door, give it four coats of primer and two coats of gloss.

Then pick your typeface – and I use the word advisedly. Computing has given us many exciting new words, but it’s misconstrued a few along the way. Maybe it was just to save space on the menu bar, I don’t know, but now people always call a typeface a font, when it’s not.

A font is the collective noun for all the bits that go to make up one size and style of a typeface. One typeface can have many fonts: bold, italic, condensed, 10pt, 11pt, 12pt. Helvetica is a typeface, Helvetica 24pt, extra bold condensed is a font. But I digress.

Choose your typeface.


Gill Sans, though elegant was too long for the sign, Helvetica, bold condensed fitted the panel but was too modern for a nineteenth century mill. Times Roman, I felt, was a bit formal. So I went for Baskerville, which was designed in 1757, by Mr Baskerville himself, which is appropriate for a building built in 1826.

I laid it out in Adobe Illustrator, set the size and spacing – or, as Mr Jones would say: kerning, because he knows about these things – then I projected it onto the panel and drew round the letters.



Time was I did this sort of thing by hand, enlarging each letter by eye and arranging them on the panel.


But that takes ages. Why keep a dog and bark yourself?

Posted by john at 10:42 AM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2008

Trouble with parcels part II

The Post Office still seem unable to find a post code, let alone a three-storey mill with a 100 foot chimney.

Two parcels returned to sender this week. I do struggle to see what the problem is. Both had the correct post code in the address and, as I have mentioned before, the post code is for this building and this building alone.

The address is Bankfield Mill and, not unreasonably, the building is a mill, and it adheres to many of the visual clichés: it’s tall with a sloping roof, loads of windows in rows and a tall chimney. My name is on the door. What more do they want?

I would apply to the council for permission to erect a 200ft red arrow on the roof with the accompanying legend: ‘IT’S HERE, DICKHEADS”, but I fear I would be turned down.


So, in lieu of the obvious, I’m making a sign for above the door that says, simply: Bankfield Mill, to distinguish it from all the other mills that don't surround it. It may help.


Posted by john at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2008

The Glasgow train

We went to Glasgow on the train last weekend, took the scenic route up, on the Settle – Carlisle line, all viaducts, tunnels and sheep, very nice.

Ribblehead viaduct

Came back down the East coast which would have been equally nice, Northumberland beaches, Bamburgh Castle, puffins and the like, but there was a Japanese girl on the train.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t got anything against the Japanese. Only this girl was loud and managed to speak non-stop for two and a half hours. And when I say speak I’m being generous, she squawked, high-pitched, incessant oriental gibberish. People were throwing themselves off the train to get away.

voluble far-eastern cacophony shaking the entire train

After what seemed like an eternity – and you can’t help listening when this sort of thing is going on, pulling ohmylordissheevergoingtoshutup faces when you catch the eye of other passengers - she finally stopped and the carriage fell into an eerie silence.

But just before everyone started to go about their book-reading, card-playing, starey-window, railway-passenger lives once more there was heard a low Japanese murmur coming from her friend. He must have said something like: “what was that bit about when your step brother’s friends grandmother’s cat got stuck in her next door neighbour's trouser press?” because she started up again.

We got off at York, and, as the giant Intercity 225 whirred and creaked its way out of the station into the enclosing darkness, we heard the girl still going strong, just getting to the bit about how she’d found some chewing gum stuck to her shoe when she was getting on the number 37 bus to go to her cousin’s birthday party in…

Posted by john at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2008

Natty Bumppo

In 1826 James Fenimore Cooper called the main character in his novel The Last of the Mohicans, Natty Bumppo. In 1992 the producers of the film clearly decided it would be slightly less ridiculous to call him Nathaniel Poe.

The French, as you may remember, called him La Longue Carabine, after the gun, which Natty referred to as Killdeer. The English called him Hawkeye – after the surgeon in M.A.S.H. *

NC Wyeth

It is a memorable moral tale eschewing the dangers of drink and following the Victorian ideals of the Noble Savage. A story of true romance and adventure – boy meets girl, girl meets Native American, Native American tries to cut boy’s hair off.

It’s set in a time [1757] when the French were fighting the English for who got to keep Canada, and the shifting allegiances of the Native American Nations made the plot often difficult to follow.

Magua, a Huron who had been kicked out of his tribe for being drunk, is living with the Mohawks in upstate New York. He has kidnapped the English Colonel’s daughters because the Colonel has had him whipped for, well - drinking too much.

He is being chased by Chingachgook, the Next to the Last of the Mohicans, Uncas, the Last of the Mohicans and Daniel Day-Lewis. They, in turn, are being pursued by other Hurons, who, for their part, are being chased by the Oneidas, who are Iroquois and generally on the side of the English. The Delawares, who manage to be on both sides at once, chase everyone.

Now it turns out, in the real world, there weren’t any Mohicans after all. There were Mohawks from the Mohawk Valley, and there were Mohegans from Connecticut, and there were Mahicans from the Hudson River Valley. As with so many of these things is was due to a mistranslation by one Adriaen Block, a Dutch explorer and fur-trader, understandable given the circumstances, especially after a long flight.

There was an Uncas, he was a Mohegan, and was a guide for the English during the Pequot Wars of the early sixteenth century.

Well I’m glad we got that sorted out.

*it was the other way round of course.

Posted by john at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

That Native American haircut

As a kid I was captivated by Philip Madoc leaping about through the long grass with a shaved head, as Magua, in the 1971 TV series The Last of the Mohicans.

As Paula wants some photographs I thought I would do some images related to this particular tonsorial delight.

So first of all it’s out with the clippers.



Then a poke about on this internet thang to see what sort of things Mohicans got up to down the barbers on a Saturday morning, and in particular, your man Uncas.

by David R Wagner

Then some white paint and…

homage to the Last of the Mohigans

Posted by john at 07:21 PM | Comments (1)

April 07, 2008

That'll learn ya

from the comments:

I love these pictures.......Lets do a whole room full of your photographs for Holmfirth Art Week PLEASE : ) "paula"

Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2008 22:50:21 +0100
Subject: Artweek
From: kkfl@kosnppsdwew.com
To: jdkkishebalelauhd@hotmail.com

Photographs now is it?

On 7/4/08 10:50, "paula" wrote:
YES PLEASE..............And like last year - JUST DO AS YOU ARE TOLD ! : )

Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2008 10:19:21 +0100
Subject: Artweek
From: kkfl@kosnppsdwew.com
To: jdkkishebalelauhd@hotmail.com

Ohh... for goodness sake... it costs a fortune... and what about my... oh god... Well I could, of course, but... ohh... WHAT? when? Oh Lord, I’m already having ideas about doing some big prints and being totally unsaleable and generally radical – but that will pass. I’ve got hundreds of photos – d’you mean I’ve got to choose? Then there are the frames and the mounting and the fact that no-one buys the fuckers [umm maybe less flour and bandages, more dried flowers and clothespeg dollies] NO! NO! NO! Not the clothespeg dollies [naked clothespeg dollies, covered in flour?] NO! Look, I guess I’ve got the odd Polaroid I could put in a clip frame, but, honestly, I mean, what? WHEN? Heaven forfend, am I to be held guilty for all my foibles? Is there no peace, no sanctity, do I have to hang my undies out in public AGAIN? Yes, yes, I know – that’s why I do it [is it?] but, really. Oh god. OK.

Posted by john at 11:16 AM | Comments (2)

April 04, 2008

Scratchy Bandages


Posted by john at 09:28 PM | Comments (1)

April 03, 2008

Another Foolish Clown


Posted by john at 07:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2008

The Last of Easter


Easter's over in Moldgreen.

Posted by john at 01:03 PM | Comments (1)