Quentin Blake at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

You’ve only got a couple of weeks left to go see Quentin Blake’s Life Under Water - A Hastings Celebration at the lovely Jerwood Gallery, and if you’re in the area you really should.

I’m a huge fan of Blake’s illustrations (even though I’ve always found Roald Dahl’s books to be rather alarming) and these are extra lovely because they’ve been specially produced for Jerwood’s Festival of the Sea, and depict characters from in and around Hastings going about their everyday business, but underwater. And, as you may have noticed by now, underwater art is my favourite kind of art.

Quentin Blake - The Pirate Family

The 26 new works have been created specifically for the gallery and won’t be shown together anywhere else, as they’re all for sale and will be off to their forever homes after the exhibition. When I visited they were all sold except the brown one. Because, brown.

Another of Quentin Blake’s new works for Life Under Water

At £8 a pop to get in, it might seem a bit pricey, but there are lots of reduced rates available, and with council funding cuts you can probably expect to pay a similar fee at most small galleries and museums soon. With your ticket you get to go in and out all day if that’s how you roll, and there’s a nice cafe with a few good veggie choices and lots of lovely cake.

Quentin Blake - Ice Lollies

You get see lots of other wonderful stuff as well, including a decent permanent collection, and two exhibitions running alongside Blake: Lowry by the Sea, and Rachel Howard at Sea, an oddly fascinating representation of the human condition in which I’m sure I spotted a chunk of wallpaper from my old student accommodation.

Rachel Howard at Sea

While you’re in Hastings, popping in and out of the gallery with that all day ticket, there’s lots of other stuff to see and do right by the Jerwood Gallery, including two funiculars (one of which is the UK’s steepest, but only mildly terrifying) that will take you to a castle or a country park, and a tiny wee train that you can ride to the funfair, crazy golf, bouncy castle and swan boats. Here are some pics I took on my phone:

Hastings has all the usual seaside town stuff, including fish and chips, and seagulls that steal your fish and chips, and it’s really rather picturesque. 

Amongst all the family stuff to do, there is probably some grown up stuff to do as well, but I have kids, so I didn’t get to do any of it. Interestingly, Blake says of his exhibition that ‘it is not an exhibition for children, even though it’s one they won’t have any difficulty with’, but I assume that’s just to draw in the adults, because, like Harry Potter, even if it’s not just for kids, it most certainly is for kids as well. And really, who doesn’t like Quentin Blake?

Skip to the end:
Hastings: pretty;
Quentin Blake at the Jerwood Gallery: excellent;
both things together: a splendid day out by the sea.
Go see if you can, you’ve got til September 6th.

(Blake images copyright The Artist, via Jerwood Gallery; Howard image via Blain Southern via Jerwood Gallery; Hastings photos copyright Candy Medusa, 2015)

Protect the Bering Sea Canyons

I love the sea. And the things in it. And art. And when those things come together it makes for some of my favourite projects, especially if I can maybe do some good while I’m at it. So when Creative Action Network came to me to make a See America poster to raise awareness of the Bering Sea Canyons and Greenpeace’s campaign to protect them, I was pretty chuffed to have been asked. However, as is often the case with what I guess one might call my ‘creative process’ (it’s such a shame that term has become so loaded with pretension), I wasn’t entirely sure where to start.

I wanted to produce a piece that would sit well with my other See America works, mostly because my best friend has the collection displayed in her living room and wants them all to match, but I also wanted to go for something charming and endearing, to bring out empathy for the region and its inhabitants. And I like cute stuff.

Some of my other See America pieces for Creative Action Network

So what’s the Bering Sea like and what delightful creatures call it home? Well, for a start, it’s really quite big. As Douglas Adams once said, ‘you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts’ compared to the Bering Sea. It covers over 770,000 square miles between the Alaskan and Siberian coasts and is the source of over half the seafood caught in the US, contributing an estimated $6.7 billion to the U.S. economy and providing thousands of jobs, as well as supporting native Alaskan communities, some of which have been feeding themselves from these waters for 10,000 years. But it’s not just that its surface covers an area of about two hundred and eighty million football pitches, there’s rather a lot going on under the waves.

In the depths of the Bering Sea are the Bering Sea Canyons, or Grand Canyons of the Sea, a unique environment in which some of the largest and deepest marine canyons are found, including the rather impressive Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons, either of which the Grand Canyon would cheerfully fit inside of. 

It is the uniqueness of this region that makes it home to such a diverse range of marine life, much of which we didn’t even know was there until recently. On their 2007 and 2012 expeditions, Greenpeace found new species, as well as species of coral and sponge that had never been seen so far north before. These deep sea corals and sponges form the basis of the habitat for juvenile fish, crabs, and many other creatures, with different species being found throughout the water column, from fascinating bioluminescent comb jellies at a thousand feet down, to many species of marine mammal including the critically endangered north Pacific right whale, and the endangered Stellar Sea Lion.

Deep sea coral. And you thought coral only lived in popular tourist destinations. (public domain)

The surface and the skies above are populated by a huge variety of birds, including albatross, terns and cormorants, with the Pribilof Islands providing breeding grounds for more than two million sea birds. That’s a lot of birds. And amongst them I found my inspiration. The Bering Sea is home to both the tufted and the horned puffin, which are just about as adorable as they come. The only obvious drawback is that puffins are known as the clowns of the sea, but I decided that it probably wasn’t fair to hold that against them. So, after a few preliminary sketches, I settled on an image that in my mind will forever be called ‘Jazz Hands Puffin’.

Layout sketch I made at 2am.

Jazz Hands!

You can buy prints from Creative Action Network here, as part of the See America Campaign in association with America’s National Parks, or if you prefer a version without text, you can buy that from Society 6 here, along with all sorts of wonderful art gifts for your spending pleasure. If you’re in the UK or Europe and don’t want to pay shipping from the US, just drop me a line and I can send you signed giclee prints direct from the UK.

But why do we need to raise awareness? It’s a phrase you hear a lot, seemingly most often in connection with things that everyone is already aware of. And you probably are already aware of the Bering Sea (apparently it’s on TV). But the takeaway here is that every part of this fragile ecosystem is dependent of every other, and right now fishing gear is destroying sponge and coral on the canyon walls that provides essential habitats for fish and other marine life. It’s not just about saving cute dolphins, it’s about the Bering Sea fishing industry collapsing when there’s no longer a suitable environment for the fish to live and breed. That’ll be a huge blow to the US economy, to Joe Public who expects to eat fish whenever he wants, and to Native communities who depend on the Bering Sea as their main source of food. Plus not really that great in terms of knock on effects all the way up the food chain, right up to those endangered whales and sea lions, and a lot of hungry puffins.

We have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of the bottom of the sea, and it’s impossible to guess what as yet undiscovered species might be found in the depths, and what roles they might play in the ecosystem. Given that corals are really, really slow growing, and can be hundreds of years old, only to be swept away by industrialised fishing boats in a matter of seconds, it might not be long before it’s too late to find out.

A friend of mine advised me to break up all this text with a picture of Venus in a clamshell.

Even McDonald’s have backed moves to protect the Bering Sea Canyons, presumably because without those delicious Alaska pollock there won’t be any more Filet-O-Fish. And whilst Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski urged McDonald’s not to support the campaign amidst fears of short term negative effect on the fishing industry, a new study has found that limiting the use of destructive fishing methods in the Bering Sea Canyons won’t have a significant negative impact on fishing, but will increase fish and seafood yield longer term (it doesn’t take a scientist to work out that last part, surely). Another recent report has found that more than half of the sponge and coral habitat in the Bering Sea is located in the Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons, while they make up only a tiny fraction of the fishing area, making them a perfect site for protection - yet currently they have none.

You can pledge to protect the Bering Sea Canyons here. And you really should. Just think about all those hungry puffins.

(Sometimes I’m hungry too. Please buy my art before I’m dead)


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Lost Thing

Apparently I’m five years late to the party, but today I
finally discovered the Oscar-winning animated short film adaptation of Shaun
Tan’s ‘The Lost Thing’. And it’s just wonderful.

I have no idea how I was completely oblivious to the film
until this morning, given that I love Shaun Tan’s books, but it was worth the
wait to see it in all its glory on the big screen at the Duke of York’s
Picturehouse in Brighton, which is surely one of the best venues of all time,
not least because you get to watch the movie with a cup of Earl Grey in one
hand and a slice of cake in the other.

My ticket blew away in a freak incident, so the nice lady made me this.

The plot revolves around a lost thing, out of place in a
dystopian future, looking for somewhere to belong. If, like me, you enjoy
creatures that are largely made up of tentacles, pincers and cogs, you’re really
in for a treat, but even if steam punk sea creatures aren’t your bag, the
animation is gorgeous, and the story is as delicious as the cake. Oh, and Tim
Minchin narrates, which is really rather charming, even if he was kind of rude
to me on twitter one time.

Read it. Watch it. Love it. Go do it now. It’s only 15 minutes long, I’ll wait.  (image copyright Shaun Tan)

So, so beautiful, the illustrations for the book are multi-award winning, and it genuinely loses nothing in the transition from page to screen, presumably because Shaun Tan himself was at the helm of
the project, which was more than three years in the making. That’s less than
five minutes of animation a year. And there was me thinking that the week I spent
rotoscoping frames of animation for HitRECord on TV went on far too long.

A frame of rotoscoping I drew for HitRECord on TV. It didn’t take three years. But sometimes it felt like it did.

Showing as part of a collection of shorts from the London
International Animation Festival, the screening kicked off the ‘Stories on
Screen’ season at the Duke of York’s Kids’ Club. You childless folks out there
who get to go to the cinema any night of the week are out of luck this time
though – no unaccompanied adults allowed. But if the rest of the season is
anything like ‘The Lost Thing’ it’s definitely worth borrowing a friend’s
offspring for the morning.

Other stuff that’s on as part of the ‘Stories on Screen’ season. Yes, that piece of paper has been crumpled up in my bag all day. What’s your point?

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