All About the Red Planet: Getting My Ass to Mars…

Mars! Yeah, MARS. The Red Planet rocks and is having a bit of a moment right now so let’s all be slightly awestruck and look to its immense ochre majesty

They’ve discovered that there’s water on Mars! They’ve released a movie about Matt Damon getting stuck on Mars! They’re getting nostalgic and remembering classic Martian literature! Me? I’m wearing my ‘Get Your Ass to Mars’ t-shirt , singing the Martian Song in twilight car parks and trying to get my ass to Mars. In reality, this mission isn’t making much progress but in my mind I’m bare-naked and bouncing about the canyons of Barsoom like John Carter. I just leaped over a minor Martian mountain and beat up sixteen Tharks bare-handed so, yeah, take that reality…

Anyway, I’m all about Mars right now. With the release of The Martian on my mind I wrote a fresh article on space movies and loneliness for the Den of Geek website. It talks about isolation and how sci-fi films are really good vessels for exploring the theme and feelings of solitude and if that sounds interesting to you, the link is there.

Otherwise, still contemplating space and Mars, I ended up creating the following epic miniature doodle. When I get into these things I kind of get carried away and start meditatively inking and then next thing I’m scribbling out the entire cosmos…

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Mars…

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I’m now going to go back to my fantasies of being a naked superhuman warrior on Mars. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back soon with more stories and stuff (and probably some bruises on my ass).

 

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles August/September 2015: Drawing Pictures in Padova…

You know what I doodly-do when I do English-language summer camps in Italy every summer? Well, one of the things I do – aside from singing, dancing and struggling to control Havoc Beelzebambini while I teach them essential vocab like ‘tape’, ‘shame’ and ‘toilet plunger’ – is draw diary sketches during the lunchbreaks. Sì, signore e signori! Its time for another round of lunchtime doodles from summer camp! *fanfare*

As it was in Torino in June, so it was again in the countryside near Padova in late August/early September. Technical background and insight into ze process for those interested: this time I had to use standard paper rather than canteen placemats because there was no canteen arrangement at this school. Doodles were therefore done in the public park next door and were powered by packed lunch (mostly tuna sandwiches). Furthermore, I was determined that I’d make these daily diary doodles the most Jamazing yet and I sought to raise my game from ‘Yeah! Alrighty!‘ to ‘Oh Gods! Thor Almighty!‘. More sketches! Better sketches! More imagination and in-jokes and off-the-wall absurdity and semi-topical creative lunacy!

I think I did a decent job of that and rate these as my best batch of lunchtime doodles so far (until next year, if I make it that far and if they have me back). I won’t go into detail or try and explain ’em – just appreciate them for what they are. Then again, if you wish you can always try and dive deep into esoteric theory and try and discover the occult symbolism and the secrets of my subconscious manifest in miniaturised ink dribbling.

Here are the fortnight’s daily doodles from Summer Camp No. 2 collected together for convenience (you can also see them and my other arty bits on Instagram y’know). And stick around after the two weeks are done with – I promise that there are bonus extras…

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Back-and-Forth, To-and-Fro: an Update Between Italia and Britannia…

H’oookaaay’aayyy! (That’s how many Italians say ‘okay’, y’know) I’m back! Yeah, just to update those interested, last week I came back again from bella Italia. Again? Yes, again. I keep on doing this thing of going to Italy and coming back to Britain only to then swiftly go back to Italy again and then it’s back and forth and to and fro and there and here for a little bit and so on, so on, per sempre. And now I’m going to tell you that I’ll be taking off back to Italy again in under three weeks time. I see a pattern here. Do you see a pattern here? I hope you’re not bored of all these ‘Sorry guys, gone to Italy’ notes. (If you are, well, sorry guys, I can’t do owt about that ’cause I’m going to Italy again.)

Whatever, for a relatively brief moment I’m here in England and it’s nice to be home in many ways but at the same time it’s not so nice in others. Do you see my sad face and pouting? Just know that there is a sad face and pouting and sometimes anguished, forlorn and teary-eyed outbursts of “ma perché?!” Leaving Italy is always a wrenching ordeal (punctuated by lots of expressive hand gesturing). I have all these feelings, guys, and the comedown can be (nay, is) sometimes brutal. Here, share in my grief pizza…

Ah, I miss pizza – and pizza is not about the pizza but about the people you’re eating pizza with, and I miss the people I’ve eaten pizza with. Anyway, putting my grief pizza to one side, I realise that all this to-ing and fro-ing has sorta-kinda positioned me in a constant state of flux. Right now I’m a bit of a drifter caught between two lands not knowing exactly where he’s up to or even who he really is anymore. Being back here in the summer, things don’t make sense. How can I can reconcile my Italian side and the rock-star status I have over there with my humdrum homeland state? (Rock star status from being an all-action almighty hero English teacher) I keep on thinking “Where are the children?! Where’s my fan club?!” and automatically using Italian words all over the place (and even though I’m nowhere near fluent, a lot of basic words trip off my tongue faster than English ones if I’m not thinking about things).

These are strange days I’m floating through, often in a dislocated haze. But that’s okay, because life is perpetual confusion and constantly trying to work out who you are, where you are and what this world and existence are all about (possible answers: “I am a pizza“, “I’m going through chaaaaaanges” and “don’t ask me“). In total – to try and make some kind of point before I pass on the maybe-important information – I’ll say this: there is a lot of movement and some confusion, but there is living in the moment and in the moments there is bliss and the realisation that life is living in the moment and that life is perpetual change. There’s my deep, philosophical, spiritual point.

Allora, the point I originally aimed to get in this blogblast at was this: I’m sort-of in-and-out-and-off-and-away at the moment but I am creatively juiced and regardless of where I am I’m going to be knocking stuff out (all kinds of stuff) and uploading it onto the interwebs. New projects are being spawned and they will see daylight fairly soon on all the usual channels. I’m also thinking about makeovers and upheavals and ripping-up-and-starting-agains and fresh conjurings. We will see and you will see in time…

For now, there’s a lot of doodle action happening up on Instagram and, simultaneously, on my doodle blog. In addition to that tonight – Friday 24th July, from 10pm to 1am – I’ll be making a cameo appearance comeback rocking out and sharing anecdotes on BBC Radio Lancashire’s FNAT show. The rest is all secrets and esoteric mysteries, conceived in a hot ambivalent mess of bittersweet emotions and beautiful memories. Oh, and it’s also partly fuelled by grief pizza, so I’ve got to go back and get some real pizza and share it with great, real people. That’s what I will do and the adventure carries on, so here’s to adventure, creative action and being alive…

H’oookkkaaay’aaay? Good. Bear with me, watch this space and I’ll keep you in the loop. In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other – live in the moment as much as possible and live good… 😀

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles June 2015: Arty Tricks in Torino…

You draw is very beautiful! Is very good!” Awww, you’re too kind, kids…

That is what I doodly-do when I do summer camps. I get sketching, mesmerise Italian children with my doodles and then bat away their compliments because I’m not Moebius and am therefore not satisfied with my artistic (in)ability. Regardless, when I’m away in Italy I really look to raise my game and get art action on and amped up to a higher frequency. I do this because: 1. Camps require arts and crafts and visual didactic materials; 2. Italian children love drawing and love looking at drawings and art is a great communicative art and means of providing entertainment; 3. I love doodling and it makes me feel good and when you’re in a beautiful place with beautiful people feeling good anyway, yeah, perché no?

Drawing is fun, but it’s most fun when you’re doing it for and/or with children because of their childishness (‘good childishness’ in terms of a sense of wonder, curiosity, playfulness and an open-hearted and ever-present willingness to be amazed). At summer camp, the best drawing time is at lunchtime and that’s because I’ve sorta-kinda created a tradition of ‘lunchtime diary doodles’ (like these from two years ago! And these from last year! And those! And yeah, them as well!).

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Epic Advent(ure) Time Christmas Countdown Sketch Action…

Hark! It’s the first day of December and that means it’s time to open up the first door (or window or portal or eyeball) on the Advent Calendar. I did that and here’s what I found…

Hey! It’s an adventure! Every day until Christmas Eve I’m going to be doodling a similar adventure for my Adventure Calendar. Adventure Calendar. You see how that works? And that’s what I’m going to be working over the next few weeks as a daily creative exercise. Inspired by festive good-feeling, a fondness for short-and-specific-time-sensitive drawing projects and my love for fantasy and stuff like Adventure Time, here’s a new project. I intend to draw up a fresh scenario every day and simultaneously stick it up on my ‘art’ blog and on my Instagram feed.

Otherwise, more Christmas cheer will be coming to the interwebs very soon and you’ll find details in my weekly newsletter/blogblasts, if you wish to read them. In the meantime, Happy December and here’s to the season and adventures!

A Whole Hock of Halloween Horror…

Hail hail! Happy Halloween! I hope you’re enjoying your All Hallow’s Eve however you’re choosing to mark it and that this finds you in good spirits (possibly with good spirits. Or maybe by now you are a good spirit. Or the spirits could be bad and, if that’s the case, I can come of over tomorrow morning to perform the necessary exorcisms. I can do that for you. Yes, I can…)

Anyhow, here are a few timely tricks and treats to commemorate the occasion. I’ve now finished my month-long sketch kick which was Schlocktober Horror and the whole rogue’s gallery of grim entities and monstrous beings can be found on my sketch blog or on my Instagram feed. They may raise a few chuckles or chills down your spine. Feel free to steal my ideas and turn them into successful trash horror film franchises (I’m really looking forward to seeing ‘The Mixtape That Should Have Been Left Behind: The Movie’.)

Elsewhere, I figured that my Friday Den of Geek column this week would be a Halloween special and I thought about the pop cultural things that unnerve me the most. Ultimately I worked out that that was H.P. Lovecraft so I spent the best part of the past fortnight re-reading a whole load of Lovecraft ’cause I love, love, love Lovecraft and I’m a guy who loves to freak himself out. As a result I have been extra-disturbed lately (damn you Howard Philips!) but the outcome is an article on one of my favourite authors for Den of Geek with ideas about how some of his best stories could be adapted as feature-length movies…

And that’s not all fiends, erm, friends. Tonight I’m going to dress up (read: attack myself with hairwax and eyeliner) and head out into the night to Blackburn (’tis a very scary place) for rock ‘n’ roll radio action. Instead of doing what I normally do on Halloween (confusing kids who’ve never encountered anyone in drag or anyone who wants to talk to them about H.P. Lovecraft instead of giving them sweets) I’m going to be making one of my occasional ‘guest‘ appearances on BBC Radio Lancashire‘s FNAT show. Tune in from 10pm until 1am (or later on on the iPlayer) if you want to listen to an eclectic rock music mix and irreverent rambling. I intend to force a lot of seasonally-suitable metal on proceedings…

*waves hands, secret signs* As you were. Enjoy and have a very Happy Halloween… *sound of membranous flapping wings*

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Schlocktober Horror no. 31: Halloweenzilla… #Schlocktober

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Sketching up Schlocktober Horror….

Horror! Oh, horror! Witchcraft! Witchcraft! It’s October and that means it’s Halloween month. Horror is in the air, horror is in my lair, horror is slithering up the chair and horror is in my hair. (“AHHHH! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HAIR!“)

In total, I’m feeling horrific and want to channel that energy into a timely month-long creative project for kicks. That short-term project is Sclocktober Horrors and for the next 31 days I’m going to be doodling up a fresh original nightmare on a daily basis. Then I’ll be uploading them onto the sketch blog and Instagram so you can see them and fear them (or maybe enjoy them). Here’s Day One’s creation – the Were-Boar – as a sample…

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Schlocktober Horror no. 1: Were-Boar… #Schlocktober

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More will follow, and some of them will be terrible and some of them will be more-than-terrible but the point is to work at a specific daily creative challenge and have fun getting in the horror mood ahead of Halloween. The spirit is ‘quick, craptastic, schlocky as hell with a stoopid, gleeful, grueful grin‘. I hope you like them and, hey, Happy October! Here’s to fantastic nightmares…

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part Three: Wriggly Squiggles in Rescalda…

Allora, I miss summer camp. Just over a week on from last Friday’s grand finale and the ultimate Lo Spettacolo show of summer 2014 and I’m already thinking “awww, I’d like to do it all again!” I miss making an ass of myself in front of Italian children. I miss all the singing, dancing, uptempo activity and all the rest that is the remit of an English language tutor in the field (the trenches?). I miss the kids – even the ones who may be identified as ‘otherwordly, disturbed and possibly deeply evil’ – and have withdrawal symptoms. Honestly, I’ve put my red company t-shirt back on and am shouting “listen and repeat!” at the mirror. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way so solidarity shout out to all kindred spirits who get what I’m talking about and who’ve come home and are staring down the barrel of a long winter. Bereft, I’m going to deal with these difficult emotions by opening up my bag and bringing out my camp diaries for some fond reminiscence…

As per convention, my camp diaries are the lunchtime doodles I did every day at camp. The ninety-minute break bang in the middle of the madness is probably the best segment of the schedule for everyone involved. For the kids, it’s a chance to eat, not worry about speaking English for a bit and play freely doing whatever they want to do (play football, swing on swings, construct elaborate death cult grave sites, whatever). For me, it’s a chance to relax back and take a breather, get some much-needed food myself and – most importantly – draw. My sketches tend to reflect the theme and events of the day and my headspace at the time, so in effect they do stand as sorta-kinda journal chronicles. For old examples, see the June collections from Camp One and Camp Two

Alternately, see below for this fresh bunch from Camp Three which was located in the town of Rescaldina, just outside Milano (though the camp was called Rescalda, which is one of the subdivisional zones of the place). Some context before I begin and bring out the bad sketches: this camp didn’t have a special mensa/canteen area for us to eat in or any catering arrangement so we had packed lunches and ate them outside in the front yard. (Parents were the main driving force behind the camp and the school was ultimately just a location with a couple of classrooms, a hall, a front yard and a smelly toilet block for us to use. The school really didn’t want us there but that’s a rant for another time and place.)

These are not what I’d call ‘ideal lunchtime doodle’ conditions – ideal conditions would be paper placemats for drawing on, tables for resting on and seating arrangements where I’m with the children while they’re eating. I may be a Control Freak Princess who’s very precious about certain things, but I’m not going to let minor obstacles get in the way of my fun. As it was, I got some of my own paper, dragged chairs and a desk outside with me and doodled anyway because I have a reputation and a tradition to uphold. I’d then sit there for that hour-and-a-half alternating between eating, talking and laughing deliriously with my colleague Sandy while doodling. The moral to this story is either “You can make your own fun anywhere in spite of inauspicious circumstances” or “Control Freak Princesses will get always get their way”.

Anyway, that’s more than enough rambling so let’s get to self-indulgent sketch action. Here are the daily doodlings with some explanatory annotations…

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part Two: Goofy Sketches in Gussago…

Buongiorno mi amici! How about some more summer camp lunchtime doodles? These ones come from the second camp which was located in the beautiful town of Gussago on the outskirts of Brescia. Having finished up in Fino Mornasco (see this blogpost for sketches) the company sent me off on a train to the other side of Lombardia to work there.

First, some possibly-not-very-interesting contextual background info for those who are interested in ‘ze process’. Conditions for the daily drawing action were different – and better – at this camp. The school had a large, well-lit mensa and a great grassy garden outdoors in contrast to the dark canteen cave and cramped stone courtyard of the first camp. The actual ‘eating inside’ part of the break took longer because the meals here were provided on-site (not packed lunches). With the organised distribution of several courses – and it’s Italy so there are many courses as standard – I had a bit more time to draw in relaxed fashion. This was also the case outside where I had a lot of space (temporal and physical) to doodle away. The Gussago kids liked my sketches but, with a whole massive grassy area in which to freely play, they weren’t as interested as the Fino Mornasco bambini. Regardless, I did sketch requests (two particular children demanded daily vampire bats) and kept on doodling. Here are those daily diary doodlings with explanatory annotations…

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part One: Inky Fingers in Fino Mornasco…

Allora, by way of trying to (literally) illustrate what I’ve been up to over the past few weeks, here’s a blogpost with some pictures. (Woohoo! Pictures!) They are pictures drawn by me on the fly during the lengthy lunch breaks in the middle of the summer camp day. I’ve been away in Italy working as an English language tutor in a couple of Italian schools. Every day in the break from all the singing, dancing, didactic classroom activity and suchlike I’d sit down with my lunch and doodle. I’d do this on my canteen placemat (my personal daily diary sketches) and then take the art action outside and reel off sketch requests for bambini to take away. Seeing kids’ faces light up because they love the little scrappy cartoon kittie (or horse, or shark, or panda, or erm, carnivorous plant) that you’ve drawn for them is so rewarding, plus it potentially helps them learn some English. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun for me and, y’know, I like having fun…

Without much further ado then, here are my lunchtime sketches from the fortnight of the first camp which was in Fino Mornasco, Como province, Lombardia. The children here really liked my sketching and I got a lot of requests every lunchtime. I’ve probably never been so popular. I mean, look at these enthralled fans…

I’m like the Pied Piper with a pen…

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I’m Back from Italy and I’m Confused but I’m Gonna Create Some Stuff…

Ciao ragazzi! I’m back. Here. Here I am, sono qui. Mi scusa, I had to go off and have some adventures and abandon ‘th’norm’ for a bit because I’m in love with a state (both a geopolitical state, state of existence and a psychological state of mind) called Italia. There are lovely people there. There are amazing experiences there. There are children there who have been sent to summer camps to learn English and they need people like me to draw things for them and sing at them for their entertainment and education.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past six weeks but now I’m back in Blighty, plugged into this laptop and connected to the wider internet and ‘th’norm’ again. This feels very strange. Where am I? What am I doing? What is this alien land? I’m in a weird-and-confused state (both a geopolitical state, state of existence and a psychological state of mind) and I’m very tired, lost and listless. I haven’t had much sleep these last few days. I’m all out of kilter and discombobulated. Mamma mia, I’ve left my love behind.. *cue beautiful memories, bittersweet sensations and then the inevitable melancholy when imminent reality seeps back into conscious awareness…*

Allora, anyway I’m back and I’m now trying to adjust (re-adjust?) to the stark change. I’m doing this as a changed person because I think I have changed or have been changed because travel changes you. In spite of that, I’ve got to get back into some of the loops I’ve not been looped into for a while and move to some ‘old’ grooves I’ve not channelled for six weeks. For a start, I’ve got to get back some keyboard mojo and relearn how to type stuff on a computer.

I’ve also got to get these camp songs out of my head (no more ‘No More Monkeys On the Bed’, per favore) and condition myself to stop automatically responding with words like sì, grazie and salute! (that last one for when someone sneezes or farts). Mainly I’ve got to accept the fact that I’m not in Italy though I still think I’d like very much to be in Italy. È troppo difficile, so I’m going to find some progressive and therapeutic comfort by doing what overemotional creative types do when they need to perk themselves up or deny reality – imagine up some stuff and create things. I then might share it on the internet, ’cause I can do that again now that I’m reunited with my beloved laptop. (But it doesn’t show me as much affection as all the sweet Italian children and their families and hasn’t even touched the frittata I made for it yesterday afternoon. A laptop is a poor substitute for real love…)

In summary, avanti, creative action is go and there will be writings and doodlings all over the show again (on this site, on my art blog, on Instagram and possibly other cyberspaces). There may be some blogposts about my adventures, there should be some fresh fiction bits, maybe some new ‘projects’ and ideas and there will definitely be a lot more sketching. At least there will be when I’ve refound some rhythm. Anyway, welcome (or welcome back), I’m here again and – in spite of my melancholy and yearning to be somewhere else – I’m psyched to get back to earnest, online creative action again. Here, have some of my delusional fancies and some frittata. I’ve got a lot to spare…

 

August is On, August Art is On…

Hey, August has Augusted! It’s the most august of months! Hail to the swansong of summer and all squeeze out every last drop of sunshine before we descend into autumn’s dark abyss!

On an artistic front, 1st August means that #DrawingAugust (or ‘Drawing August’ if you don’t like hashtags) is go. Every day I’m going to make sure I produce a sketch and stick it up on my sketchy blog. They’re all going to be simplistic doodles of something backed with scratchy text bits resembling some kind of narrative. I started today with an occult white rabbit. Saying “White Rabbit” at the beginning of a new month is an irrational superstition I tend to follow (but I don’t even believe in luck so why do I do that?) and I decided that she should be a cult leader conducting arcane rituals. This is a different rabbit hole, Alice. Please, pick out a robe and join us in the circle…

Beyond the same kind of format, I don’t know what I’m going to be drawing or if they’re going to be any ‘good’. It could be interesting and it’s a guarantee that the art other people will be creating will be amazing. Keep an eye out for #DrawingAugust and here’s to an excellent last month of summer!

Squiggly Squid Sketchings, Fresh Tentacle Ink Thrashings…

Cock-a-doodle doo, space chickens! (In the dystopian future you are all going to be space chickens. It’s a clucking awful future.)

Here’s some fresh action: I took a feng shui swipe at my old Tumblr art blog and cleaned it up for a bit of a reboot. I used to do a lot of doodling then scaled back from the sketching and didn’t do very much (I’m a writer really and my pencil skills are amateurish). Recently though I’ve been drawing more and I’ve committed to a daily art challenge for August so I figured a blog overhaul was due.

In keeping with the vague kung fu/chopsocky movie theme of all these sites I’m maintaining I’ve called the freshened up site ‘James Clayton’s Celestial Squid Ink Slaphand Style‘ because all my artistic martial arts moves are influenced by and adapted from the form of the cosmic cuttlefish. (She/he/it is destined to liberate us from space chicken state in a far distant epoch.)

There will be photos – because scanning and photoshopping and all that jazz is time-consuming and frustrating – of my rough sketches, comics and doodly suchlikes. I’ll also put up my #DrawingAugust entries. I have some bad ideas. I have inept drawing abilities. Combine the two and you get something, erm, potentially interesting…

Anyhoodle, doodle do, I hope you enjoy the doodly doodle that I do do and deposit in that section of cyberspace I’m directing you to

Here’s a comic strip about sowing macabre seeds…

Lunchtime Doodles for Little Italians…

Allora! The post-exile re-organisation continues apace and that involves going through bags, plastic wallets full of printed paraphernalia, photo archives on digital devices and much much more. One of the plastic wallets contained these: paper dinner placemats I doodled all over during my two-week stint working as an English tutor at a summer camp for Italian children in the town of Candiolo just outside of Torino.

Sketching is fun. It’s even more fun when you do it with enthusiastic children during lunchtime. What follows is a pictorial diary of the fortnight, all of the instalments quickly inked up in the half-hour breaks from all the singing and silly games when I got a moment to free-create a bit while quickly cramming some pasta in my mouth.

The theme of the camps was ‘The Seven Seas’ which explains all the nautical and piratical pics. Each one also has annotations so you can get insight into what inspired ’em and where my mind was at the moment. The children enjoyed ’em, I enjoyed doing ’em (damn it, I enjoyed the whole experience!) and I hope you enjoy them as well (click on them to see them bigger if you so wish)…

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