Insecta Deck 10 of Hearts timelapse video & process pics

I’ve been making timelapses as I’ve gone along with Insecta Deck, and as well as sharing them with my Patreon patrons, I want to post a little here… So that all the lovely people who’ve helped me research the real-life relatives of my imaginary critters can enjoy the cards they’ve helped make. Because some insects can be really hard to track down reference for! So here’s 10H, featuring an imaginary relative of Mexican honey wasps (Brachygastra mellifica). Many thanks to Alex Wild for the photo reference to measure wasp butts from! This was made a couple of months ago & I’ve been meaning to upload this for a while but… busy days (weeks, months) are busy.

Part of the reason it can be hard to track the right reference down is that, obviously, most insects do not hang out quietly waiting in the perfect spot for someone to get an uncluttered dorsal view photo (which is ideally what I would look at for reference.) I try to work out the proportions of the real insect (width vs length for it’s various parts) before I measure out and draw its imaginary relatives. Thus my perfect pic is top down on a plain background... But hey, insects have busy lives! I can relate! I’m not expecting them to sit still for my convenience. That means I usually draw from a combination of (dead) specimens in museums/scientific collections, and photos of live critters. The live insect pics tell me what their real colours are, what kind of pose they stand in, how they hold their antennae (which I keep calling antlers by mistake), etc. This helps me construct an imaginary deck-dwelling insect that’s posed as if it was alive, with reasonably accurate proportions, and a top down view of the playing card pip it carries.

The music in this video is by Soft and Furious. Below are some process pics & WIP from the studio…

Paper Nightmares (is not my new band name...)

Imagine you’re an artist working primarily in pencils on paper. You’re 42 illustrations into a 60-illustration print project. And suddenly, the paper from the brand you’re using plummets in quality. That paper now sucks. You’re left hastily trying to find a new brand that gives comparable results to your former-fav, so you can finish the project. That would suck right?

Yes. Yes it does suck.

That’s what just happened to me though, because Daler Rowney changed their smooth heavyweight drawing paper to be considerably lower quality. That paper is now bad, and Daler Rowney should feel bad. I abruptly noticed the surface of the paper breaking up when I drew layers of colour. One of the reasons I (used to) like this paper was that it (used to) hold up exceptionally well to lots of layers of pencil shading. I also noticed that when I blue-tacked sketches or drawings onto my board, the blue-tack now tore then paper - which was both weird and crappy.

But because I’m a scientist as well as an artist, I did some tests just to satisfy myself that it wasn’t my imagination, and that something has actually changed. Yep, I’ve been that retentive about it. I’ll update my Materials page when I’ve tested & found a better replacement paper.

Two A4 Smooth heavyweight paper pads, an old one on the left, a new one on the right (I managed to find and old pad with a couple of sheets in to do some tests with.)

Visible differences in paper & packaging

Above are two A4 gummed pads bought from Jackson’s art a little while apart. The old nearly empty pad is on the left, the newer one on the right – the barcodes and paper description on both are the same, but there are some differences (see images below);

  • The old pad says “made in England” on the front, the new one says “made in France” on the back

  • The old pad is bound with a black fabric strip, the new one isn’t

  • Both new A4 and A5 pads are now packaged for shipping in such a way the paper curls slightly at the front edge, which is annoying

  • The new paper is a slightly different shade of white, which can just about be made out in a scan - because I get through a lot of this paper, the ‘old’ pads are not THAT old, so it’s unlikely to be due to paper aging

Visible differences in packaging - fabric strip, manufacturing location, slightly curled edge

Slight difference in paper colour

A change in manufacture location suggests that although the paper description is the same, something about how it’s made could have changed? So does the difference in colour of the paper (from a more off white to a lighter white) I guess? You tell me Daler Rowney.

Drawing tests…

Before anyone @’s me, I know these are not super-rigorous-n=6-blind tests, idc, they’re just to satisfy myself that the decline in quality I perceive is demonstrable. I numbered the tests in the order I drew them, and did two sets of tests, on different days. On the first day I drew old then new paper, and on the second day I drew new then old. It’s impossible to do a blind test when you’re the only one testing, but I wanted to at least swap the drawing order. I tested with freshly sharpened pencils each time, for;

  • Drawing feel with some quick shading tests (1-4)

  • Surface fragility using an 8-colour scheme/layers I’d be working in when I first noticed quality decline in the form of paper surface damage when shading in layers (5-6)

  • Resistance to blue tack tearing (7-8)

  • Another test of shading/layers (9-10)

Drawing tests; day 1 testing, day 2 testing & omfgs how much does that blue tack test suck???, all the tests side by side

Scanned tests on a black background

Test results

To be honest, the first set of results showed me it wasn’t just my imagination, and this paper now sucks. But I repeated the tests the next day, just to be thorough. Here’s my interpretation of the results…

  • Drawing feel; the new paper feels weirdly spongey – the pencil tip sinks into it more and becomes blunt faster

  • Surface fragility; in the 8-colour shading scheme I’d been using for beetle drawing, the new paper surface broke up on the 4th colour in the 1st test, and 3rd colour in the 2nd test. The old paper did not suffer any surface damage, and I could finish colouring

  • Blue tack; The old paper survived having blue tack stuck & unstuck with no appreciable damage. The new paper tore or was damaged EVERY TIME blue tack touched it. WTAF?

  • More shading; I did the last shading test with different colours because I was depressimazed by how badly the new paper did in the surface fragility stakes. So I used different colours to make it easier to see how many layers I could get through. Tl;dr, the new paper sucked again

  • & btw, when I took the tests of the drawing board to scan them, the blue tack damaged the back of the new paper too, because of course it did. Gahd. Damm. It.

Welp… [Scowls at Daler Rowney.]

I could have done the tests again a few more times to get more data, and maybe got a friend to number paper tome blind the test somewhat. But these tests already took half an hour each time, this new low quality paper has already messed up two of my illustrations, and I’m already wasting half an hour tetchily writing this post to vent my drawing angst. So Daler Rowney have wasted enough of my time. Quality testing their paper is their own flipping job.

I’ll be contacting Jackson’s for a refund on my last couple of orders, and I’m testing paper by Canson, Strathmore, Stonehenge, & Bockingford to try and find something comparable to the old style paper I was using. I shouldn’t have to to & I’m salty about it, but I need to finish my current workload, and I can’t afford to re-do more than 40 illustrations.

In summary - yes, I am retentive for doing these tests, but Daler Rowney smooth heavyweight paper has really declined in quality; don’t buy it, it sucks now. You’re welcome.

Inktober 2018 - I did it!

Amazingly, for the 2nd year running this year, I managed to complete Inktober - one ink drawing a day for the whole of October. This year I was travelling for part of it, so some of the drawings are in my travel journal. I really enjoyed making them though. I even did an extra generative drawing, which I’m giving away on my Patreon at the end of November! So head over there if you want some original art in time for xmas :) Below you can find all my inktober drawings from this year. The last one is the one I’m giving away to a patron. It’s on Bristol card in Sennelier ink, & it’s made with a set of generative drawing rules I refined throughout the month.

Week 1: Morse code drawing

Week 2: Generative drawing

Week three: Travel journal

Week 4 + 2 days: More travel journaling

31st October: test of the finished generative rules, & the final piece resulting from them

Chronic pain as a patient and a scientist; what I want you to know...

[I’ve been asked to turn a social media thread, about talking to university students as both a patient and a scientist/artist with chronic pain, into a more accessible/shareable post. Here it is. If you need a version of this post in any other format, please contact me. The artwork in this post is from ‘The Little Things Add Up’, a Morse code drawing project about everyday ableism.]

I’m an interdisciplinary artist, and I’ve worked for several UK universities as a postdoctoral researcher in both art and science. I have a pharmacology PhD (interdisciplinary ain’t just a word, I am up to my neck in it, send halp) so I come at chronic pain as both a patient and a pharma-flavoured scientist. I’m also disabled, and am definitely on team spoonie. Sometimes I give talks to students in educational institutions about what it’s like to live and work with chronic pain. Soon I’ll be talking to pharmacy students as a pain patient, in the uni where I got my PhD in pharmacology. I think it's great they run sessions where student pharmacists can learn from patient experience, and I wish more institutions did that. But… It also reminds me the last time I wasn't in pain was June 2015, and right now it’s 2018. Completely pain-free life seems like an aeon ago. So I’m taking a moment to reflect on what I’d like to communicate with students, in whatever discipline, about being a pain patient. Obviously talks will vary based on the subject students are studying – when I give a talk to pharmacy students, I talk about the meds I take, side effects, the impact of community pharmacy, yah de yaddah. But if I could only get across three things? This is what I’d share.

Before I start; patients can also be scientists (hi hello, yes, it me). Pharmacists can be patients. Medical professionals are human, & students in art or science or any field are human. So, it is highly likely some of the students and teaching staff could also be patients, and I don’t want to exclude anyone by talking in an ‘us & them’ fashion (although sometimes that’s unavoidable.) After all ~20% of the population have some kind of disability or chronic illness. There’s a lot of us about, and I hope it helps any student-patients to know they aren’t alone. Also; this is not about me bashing patient-facing staff, or scientists. It's about sharing my experiences... Not all of which are positive. If that bothers you, think about why. 

The 3 most important things I want to communicate are as follows, & each point is expanded on below;

  1. You can't tell how much pain someone is in by looking at them (You. Really. Can’t. Idc how well you think you can. Just no.)

  2. Chronic pain has a high cognitive load & energy cost, so it is tiring and affects all our daily activities

  3. Life goes on, & I love my life, friends, & work. Pain isn't all of it

1) You can't tell how much pain someone is in by looking at them

When I interact with other people, I get subtle & not-so-subtle suggestions that it can't hurt that much, or that I'm making it up, because I’m not howling or crying. I've experienced this from pharmacists & nurses, co-workers, family, you name it. I think it's very hard to understand, unless you've experienced chronic pain, how we can be in immense pain & still competently (albeit tiredly) go about our day. Medical professionals are not immune to misunderstanding this. But medical professionals, like pharmacists, have much more influence on our treatment than most people. I think it's sometimes challenging for even highly trained medical staff who don't have chronic pain to believe it’s even possible be in that much pain without howling & crying. But humans get 'good' at being in pain over time. (Plus I could spent all today howling but ya know… I got shit to do, eh?) I’ve been blessed with a GP who is an absolute treasure, many wonderful nurses, and a spine surgeon who has a sense of humour (and is willing to show me the surgical equipment and microscope that gets used on me in his lunch break!) But the people who have negatively impacted my care really did bring me down.

So I want to ask students to question themselves - if you haven't experienced chronic pain yourself; 

  • What do you think may change over time when a person is in pain for >6 months?

  • Do you think I was howling & crying on day 180 in the same way I did on day 1? (Hint; I wasn't)

  • Do you think every person reacts to pain in the same way on day 1 anyway, or days 180, 365, 900… (Nope, we don’t)

Pain doesn't have a 'look' - over time we generally get better at psychological and physical coping strategies for managing pain. Hopefully, management with medication gets refined for each of us over time too. Pharmacists (community & hospital), GPs, nurses, consultants, physiotherapists... All these people have influence over pharmacological (& psychological) management of my pain. It is really important for those people to critically examine their own preconceptions & unconscious biases. Not just biases toward pain patients regarding their behaviour, either. There are racial, gender, disability, sexuality, class, and educational biases in how pain is treated. (These are well documented, & I am not your google – but here is an example of the potentially fatal consequences - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/31/mother-died-paramedics-accused-faking-symptoms-attention-inquest/amp/.) Dealing with that is draining & has a psychological consequence for patients. Which brings me nicely to tiredness & spoons…

2) Chronic pain has a high cognitive load & energy cost

Although I'm not yelling or crying all the time now, being in constant pain is still an energy-requiring process. I have to constantly use energy in ignoring pain to go about my day. For example, right now my brain is constantly saying "your neck hurts, your back hurts, your leg hurts, your foot hurts, your neck hurts, your back hurts, your leg hurts..." It takes a lot of spoons to ignore (see; spoon theory and chronic illness https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory). Chronic pain is like having someone prodding you with a pointy stick 24/7. It's constantly up in my face. How pointy/loud it is varies. But I never get a day off. It's a loop.

That is tiring and distracting. So pain is hard work. But again, if you don't experience it, it can be hard to understand. If people can't note something obvious physically wrong with you, they may assume that you're lazy/faking. That's frustrating, especially if it's coming from people who can influence your clinical treatment. If it's a bad day, my brain is so busy managing pain it can be hard to talk or hold a long conversation. Sometimes even clinical staff have struggled to see why I could be so worn out, & thus to believe me. Dealing with their attitude then adds to the cognitive-pain-drain.

Honestly, I'm not really sure what to say to students with respect to rectifying this other than;

  • Please PLEASE pLeAsE believe patients

  • Please believe yourself if you have chronic pain too; because we sometimes internalise prejudices or ableist beliefs that apply to us

I have no great art or science way to explain how chronic pain sucks up personal resources, it just does. I'll maybe ask students what they think would help them understand that that facet... Odds are some of them will be pain patients too, & they're already pharmacists/artists/researchers/etc-in-training. Learning goes both ways, anyway. So I'll probable ask them how they'd explain to a colleague. (Aside; it's quite a privilege being a pain patient with a PhD in neuropharmacology because 1) medical staff who know that seem more inclined to listen to me 2) I get to share with/learn from students in my fields of work and study. Who knows, any one of them might end up being my pharmacist 1 day! That would be funny.)

3) Life goes on, & I love my life, my friends, my work. Pain isn't all of it...

Many people get a little bit pity-party/inspiration-porn-y when I talk about this and again, medical staff are not exempt. We all need to do better at this. The key advice I can give you here is; try not to make assumptions about other people’s quality of life or lack thereof. Don’t assume you know about our competence & capabilities, or our relationships... If you ever feel like saying any of the following, please stop and think;

  • “It’s so inspirational how you’ve carried on working”

  • “I don’t think I could carry on”

  • “Your partner/family/employer/whoever is so brave for sticking with you”

  • “I’d kill myself if I was you” (yes people say that pretty damn often)

I’m not here to inspire you. You don’t know if you could carry on if you were me, but I’m willing to bet you could, and that you certainly wouldn’t kill yourself. How'd you feel if someone effectively told you your life wasn't worth living? Or if someone used you doing normal stuff as inspiration-porn to make themselves feel good? How would you feel if someone said your partner was 'brave' as if you're a burden – I didn’t grow an extra head, it’s not so unfathomable change in my relationships!?!

Pain patients like me, and maybe you too, can get that crap * A N Y W H E R E * any day of the week, thank you. I do not need it from healthcare professionals. As I said, my GP is A+, a treasure. But I still get medical staff that will answer my questions to my partner when I'm sat right there… As if I'm a toddler. Or who'll tell me how 'amazing' it is that I still work, or how great my partner is for staying. There's a lot of assumptions in all of those things. And we're all human & mess up like that sometimes – I know I still fail, and assume things about my fellow disabled people. But in a healthcare context, I view it as training failure. So try and apply a little stop-and-think in your approach to others.

I hope part of the point of inviting patients in to chat to potential future researchers in arts or science, and especially to pharmacists/scientists/etc is to encourage us to think about how we might feel if we were on the receiving and of something – students might well be if they’re a patient too – and to consider the impact of our words.  It's a strange feeling to me, though... I'll be there talking as a patient but I've also been on the other side as a student, as a scientist studying human diseases, and as an artist working/making art with patients…

…In conclusion; my interdisciplinary life is weird AF, haha. But really, those 3 things are what I would communicate to students in a perfect world. I’m sharing it here in case it's useful to anyone else. Thanks for your time.

~

Translations of all the Morse code spirals in the the artwork in this post can be found here, and more information about ‘The Little Things Add Up’ project can be found here.

Cassini remembered; the first anniversary of the spacecraft's grand finale

The voyages of the Cassini spacecraft and Huygens probe to the Saturn system are something I have followed since before the launch in 1997, until the very last day of the mission in 2017. On this day last year, Cassini finished it’s mission and dived into Saturn’s atmosphere, sending data for as long as it could. This final course of action was chosen as the grand finale to preserve the pristine nature of Saturn’s moons (to avoiding leaving debris floating around.)

I have followed Cassini most of my life, and still shed the odd tear of joy over the hope it’s always given me, its images, all that data… and sadness that a scientific experiment I’ve looked at in awe for so long is over. It’s given me so much hope because, as it prepared to launch, I was an unhappy teen just escaped an unpleasant home life, getting a grant to go study biomedical science. It launched when I first graduated. Cassini represented everything about the potential and excitement of science to me, what humans can achieve when they aren’t being asshats to each other, and everything optimistic about exploring our universe. I know it sounds strange, but the mission’s been a constant as I’ve grown and life has changed for the better. It deserves to be remembered for all the wonder it’s created in the world.

Cassini & Huygens live on in data. Here is the Morse code art I made to remember it. It encodes goodbye messages to the Cassini spacecraft & Huygens probe, and a goodbye-for-now to Saturn and 23 of it’s moons. (There are also Morse spelling errors and correction sentences encoded. Because I’m a human, not a space robot.)

Find out more about Cassini and it’s legacy at saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

The Little Things Add Up - a Morse code drawing project about everyday ableism

TLTAU is a small Morse code-drawing project about spoonie life & everyday ableism. It turns the small unpleasantries people say to disabled and chronically ill people into art, to show how it all adds up (because it does add up to a pressing weight over time.) Using Morse code as a set of drawing rules, I transform small phrases into spirals. Periodically, I collate the spirals into collages to show how the feeling of unwelcomeness in a world designed to privilege non-disabled people grows over time. You can find out more about this project here - I’ll be updating that page with each spiral (with a translation) as it’s made.

The first 12 little things.

Image Description; a pattern of 12 spirals made of black & grey dots and dashes (representing morse code) around black charcoal-like smudges.

I’ve been experimenting with Morse code as a set of generative drawing rules for some time, wanting to use this as a way of venting things that are hard to say, or difficult to talk about. Morse code is particularly appealing to me for a project of this nature, because it can be converted into sound to make art that is accessible in both visible and auditory media. I also hope to experiment with making tactile Morse code art, using methods like laser cutting/engraving dot and dash shapes, or making raised marks with puff-paint or paste. I’ll update the project page as I go, to share how I get on. You can also read about how I use Morse code as a drawing method here.

 A single spiral - Little thing 11; I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.   Image description; a pattern made of black & grey dots and dashes (representing morse code) around a black charcoal-like smudge. The morse coded words are “I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.”

A single spiral - Little thing 11; I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.

Image description; a pattern made of black & grey dots and dashes (representing morse code) around a black charcoal-like smudge. The morse coded words are “I don’t like being around people in pain, I don’t want to absorb their bad vibes.”

Some of the little things are eye-roll inducing - so many chronically ill and disabled people get told we’d magically get better if only we ate more kale/goji berries/went vegan/did yoga/tried meditating, that it’s just farcical (check out the hashtag #shitabledpeoplesay on twitter, and you’ll find many variations on that theme.) Some are highly degrading; people assuring me they’d kill themselves if they had chronic pain devalues my very existence, as if my life is not worth living. Others are more insidious… The suggestion that other people’s taxes ‘pay’ for my accessibility is often trotted out because to many people it seems reasonable to suggest accessibility places a burden on the public purse. However, ignores that 1; disabled people pay taxes like anyone else 2; a person’s worth does not depend on how much tax they pay/use in services 3; accessibility benefits everyone! People with pushchairs as well as wheelchair users find ramps helpful, many sighted people still find captions/image descriptions useful, and I sure see plenty of non-disabled people using lifts and escalators instead of the stairs.

As an example, below are the first 6 little things in this project;

  1. Do you really need that stick?

  2. Don't call yourself disabled.

  3. I'd kill myself if I was you.

  4. It can't hurt that much.

  5. You just want the attention, you're not really sick.

  6. You look too young.

And below are three spirals with the morse code played as sounds. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep this project going for, but one thing I am sure of; when it finishes, it won’t be because I’ve run out of little things to add… The well of everyday ableism never seems to run dry.

The Insecta Deck; life evolving on the card table

It's week 36, & I'm 36 card designs into my Insecta Deck project to create my 2nd transformations poker deck. So it seems like an opportune time to review work so far, as I start the final stretch; making the court card, aces, & joker designs...

The Insecta Deck 7S card design being made, featuring metallic shield bugs drawn in polychromos pencils, & a rough edit. Shadows under each creature will be added to the designs after all the insects are drawn, in the final edit; this ensures consistency across the deck.

The idea behind Insecta is different to Cryptic Cards (although I do plan to make further camouflage/mimicry themed transformation decks.) In Cryptic Cards I was asking 'what would happen if moths evolved to hide on human-made materials, like playing cards?' For Insecta, I'm imagining card tables as a habitat for different types of insects, living in symbiosis with players.

Twelve playing card designs from the Cryptic Cards deck, with moths painted camouflaged onto every card face.

As climate change and habitat loss threaten many species of life on this planet, insects are not immune from extinction. Despite their multitudinous variety, many species will be wiped out before humanity is even aware of them. While this should give us all cause to fight for change in the way we (individually and collectively) treat the planet & it's many intricately connected habitats... We also need hope. We need to imagine ways to thrive alongside other living things, without their destruction, otherwise we loose hope, & can become apathetic. So the Insecta deck is my future expression of hope, my imagining of sharing a small niche with insect life.

We like to think of 'natural' biodiversity-friendly environments as pristine forests, or unpolluted lakes. But go and spend 10 minutes on a disused railway siding, & you'll find it teeming with life! From empty lots to sunken ships, humanity leaves a lot of new ecological niches in its wake, & nature is resourceful in filling them. What if we're creating niches that provide unexpected opportunities for new symbiotic relationships? What if we invited other forms of life to join us in our daily activities, and... What if that life stayed for a game of poker? Insecta Deck imagines insects from four different taxonomic orders that have evolved to provide a colourful form of card pips, in exchange for a sheltered niche in casinos and at card tables.

Below is a peek at some of the designs so far. The best is yet to come, so stay tuned for the court cards in the next few weeks. If you want to be the first to see finished artwork, timelapse videos, & get studio peeks, please consider supporting my Patreon.

New page for artwork from the Connecting Brain Tumour Narratives project

There's a new page & archive for the Connecting Brain Tumour Narratives project here, which also shows all the pages in the handmade book from the residency. The book contains artwork relating to stories from brain tumour pateints, their families & friends, and scientists researching brain tumours. Details of both the exhibitions, links to all the organisations involved, and more artwork images can also be found there.

If you get a mo please check it out.

'Connecting Narratives; Ink Game #2' - An 11 x 11 array of 121 ink patterns, made of mixtures of two colours of ink - pink and blue - representing the more than 120 brain tumour types arising from two cell lineages (neuronal and glial).

For the final exhibition in this residency, ink patterns were mounted on perspex circles velcroed to a wall, which exhibition visitors could move around in order to group patterns with like features (an analogy for histopathological categorisation of brain tumours.)

Morse code as a method for drawing

This post is adapted from an earlier piece that can be found here. My most recent drawing can be found on this site in the Morse code gallery.

After drawing generative patterns using fairly arbitrary combinations of dots & dashes (read about those here, or watch me drawing here), learning to draw in Morse code seemed like a natural progression… And although I resisted the urge to follow that progression for quite a while, I have now fallen down that encoding-drawing-rabbit-hole. I taught myself the rules of Morse code, and developed a way to draw in it. These generative drawings are not intended to be translated; I’m drawing them as aesthetic pieces, which may or may not be linked to information/data accessible online. But I want it to be *possible* for anyone to translate the code in these images (in the unlikely event anyone wants to), because I’m a dork. So… here we are. 

  [Image description; A pattern of light & mid blue dots & dashes on a navy background, spiralling outward from a central white & grey circle with a white dot above it, wrapping around more white & grey circles. It encodes a goodbye to the Cassini spacecraft, Huygens probe, Saturn, and 27 of it’s moons.]

Morse code is a way to encode information as a series of dots and dashes, and I was already aware of a couple of characters via the International Morse code distress signal SOS (…- - -…). It’s been around for over 160 years, & Morse code is still used by radio enthusiasts (often referred to as CW (for ‘continuous wave’.) Speed of transmission is limited, and thus abbreviations like PLS, ENUF, etc have been used in Morse code since long before SMS. However, if I’m drawing someone else’s words, I only use abbreviations where they do. I’ve included a list of Morse code characters I use as an image at the very end of this post, and you can listen to/read the characters here/here.

 

  [Image description; an irregular shaped pattern on a white background, made of dots and dashes in shades of light and dark green, spiralling clockwise outwards from and around green circles. It encodes words about forests.]

Finding a drawing method

In Morse code, one unit is defined as the length of a dot, and dashes are 3 units long. There is one unit between each dot/dash in a character, 3 units between characters in a word, and 7 units between words. I represent the spaces between characters and words visually, as well as the coding dots and dashes. I’m not fussy about dashes being exactly 3 dots long. I use a light and a dark tone of the same colour; one for characters, another for spacing marks. This hopefully makes it easier for anyone without full colour vision to distinguish coding & non coding markings. It’s easy to work out which colour is coding characters because spacing colours only occur as a series of 3 or 7 dots.

Using mid blue for characters and light blue for spaces, ‘My name is Immy’ looks like this;

  3 lines of mid blue dots and dashes interspersed with light blue dots, representing Morse code.

I’m appending punctuation that comes after a word e.g. full stops to the end of the preceding word, and punctuation before words e.g. opening parentheses to the start. So the words ‘Hi, I’m Immy.’ including the punctuation marks look like this;

  three lines of mid blue dots and dashes interspersed with light blue dots, representing Morse code.

And that’s it. A simple set of rules. Now I’m trying to make my Morse code drawings more interesting…

Drawing in layers

The six rule-drawings I make are made from dots and dashes in layers around black shapes, like the one below. They don’t encode words, and follow small sets of rules that use randomly generated numbers to decide where to draw shapes or dot-dash layers. I like the way these images often having irregular shapes, and I want to replicate those shapes in my Morse code drawings. (You can watch a video of the drawing below being made here.)

  A pattern of multicoloured dots & dashes, wrapped in concentric layers around hollow black circles, on a white background. These dots and dashes do not encode anything other than an arbitrary set of rules used to draw them.

My method is to draw spiralling outwards around a central shape, with further shapes added at the end of a sentence or paragraph. I work from a starting point around the shape where the Morse code can be read from. Below are five starting points followed by the encoded word ‘hi’; this illustrates the variety of starts I’ve used so far. I’m not sure which I like best tbh.

  five light blue circles with a dark blue border, with light & mid blue dots and dashes representing Morse code around them. There is a black dot above the first four circles.

Here’s an early ink drawing that encodes the poem ‘To know the dark’ by Wendell Berry, and uses starting point #4 from the examples above;

  A pattern of light & mid blue dots & dashes on a navy background, spiralling outward from a central white & grey circle that looks like a moon. It encodes a poem which you can find  here .

I am exploring what patterns and visual effects I can achieve using this method. Remember my aim isn’t to make art that should have words/data read from it; I’m trying to turn words/data themselves into visual art, and to sometimes hopefully lead people to the information behind the picture.

Testing the method

I’ve initially used poetry to test my method, and words I love from people I follow on social media (with their permission), as in the first piece below. It’s an ink drawing of a Twitter thread by Guilaine Kinouani (check out her recent TEDx talk on epistemic homelessness here.) However, translating a text longer than ~2000 characters (with spaces) into a single pattern creates very large drawings. This lead me to experiment with making each segment or sentence of a text into an individual small drawing and collating the smaller works into a grid. I’ve also started using digital drawing, which allows me to make bigger pieces that can be easily stored. The second image below is the first 9 tweets from this thread by @coffeespoonie, translated & drawn digitally.

  A pattern of orange & pink dots & dashes on a dark red background, spiralling outward from a central white & grey circle with a white dot above it, & wrapping around more white & grey circles. It is a Morse code version of a twitter thread by  @KGuilaine  that can be found at  https://twitter.com/KGuilaine/status/909855275984793602
  9 patterns of light & dark green dots & dashes on a white background, spiraling outward from a central brown blob that looks like a coffee drip. The patterns are arranged 3 x 3. It is a Morse code version of the first few tweets of a Twitter thread by  @coffeespoonie  which can be found at  https://twitter.com/coffeespoonie/status/895007499782377477 ]

The look of markings in my digital drawings prompted me to combine my brushpen drawing technique with Morse code. I love the feel of the drawings I’ve made in brushpen, like the one below. However, they’re extremely time-consuming; so I expect to use a mixture of digital and ink in future Morse code drawngs. I’m also experimenting with combining Morse code drawing with other generative drawing techniques such as overlapping circle rules, and with pencil and ink drawing. Some examples are below.

 a brown and green colour pencil drawing of a conker (a horse chestnut seed) in its shell, surrounded by a clockwise spiral of made of grey dots and orange dots and dashes which gradually change through brown to dark grey.
  a pattern of multiple overlapping circles in different shades of blue, surrounded by cobalt blue and light grey dots and dashes winding clockwise around it. At the bottom right under the pattern, there is a black date stamp that reads ‘18 JAN 2018’
 a circular spiraling pattern of ink brush marks going gradually from purple to red from the centre outwards, with small white dots and dashes painted over them.

A final word; why it matters to me to draw this way

I resisted making drawings that encoded words for a while. But today it’s more important than ever for artists to find a voice through their work, and frankly I need an outlet… Ever catch someone complaining about “all those people having all those children they can’t afford”? Hi. I was one of those children. Part of why I need an outlet is having all that “those people” shit chatted at me (again.) I recently talked to school students about becoming a scientist & artist. I grew up in a single parent low income family, and I talked about what it was like when my physics teacher told me I’d never be a scientist, because “girls like you from families like yours never do anything useful.” That is demonstrably crap, and always has been, but children like the one I was still get smacked in the face by it, and I still hear it.

Here in the UK, it’s not hard to find blame being shifted from the people who’ve trashed our economy, education, & NHS for their own profit to “those people”. Who is being othered and described as “those people” varies, but can include refugees, migrants, Muslims, millennials, anyone on state benefits, anyone poor, and disabled people (which includes me.) I’m so very tired of this nonsense, but it is for all of us to look individually at what we are angry about, and what we can do address it. And I’m an artist, so I’m going to make art. Angry art. I’m not quite sure where this will take my Morse code drawings yet… But if I go to paint a house and the house is on fire, don’t be surprised when I paint the flames. I know some people don’t think art should be political, & all I’ll say to that is; art history called and it wants some words with you… ‘:|  Anyway, that is my content warning; not all my drawings might link to poetry, happy threads, & rainbow unicorns. 

Thanks for reading.

  an irregularly shaped pattern on a white background, made of dots and dashes in shades of red, aquamarine and dark purple, spiralling outwards from black circles, with further dots and dashes inside them
  a list of Morse code characters I use as an image - a more accessible list of Morse code characters can be read  here  or heard  here .

a list of Morse code characters I use as an image - a more accessible list of Morse code characters can be read here or heard here.