Sunday, August 22, 2010

Amazing pole dancers

I'm afraid that most trapeze and circus acts leave me cold, so when someone told me I 'must' watch this I thought, oh really? Must I?

I'm glad I did though, because these two dancers achieve the seemingly impossible with wonderful grace. You find yourself looking for hidden wires or supports. Astonishing stuff.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Scraperboard technique: a masterclass.

This is not a photograph. Amazingly, it has been rendered by hand, a supremely authoritative scraperboard illustration by the late Joseph 'Joe' Mendes.

I've written about scraperboard technique before, and people have been kind about my own efforts, but here's a man who's in a different class entirely. A master class. As we zoom in, you'll see what I mean.

Scraperboard is essentially drawing in reverse. You start with a board coated in solid black, and use a special blade to scrape away that coating. Every white line and dot that you see here is actually a patch of exposed board, where the blade has removed a little of the ink.

These pieces were sent to me by Edward Mendes, Joseph's son, and it's an absolute privilege to be able to display them on my blog. There could hardly have been a finer exponent of the art at the time, and I seriously doubt that anyone could match it now.

In part this will be because the need has vanished. Commercial artists like Joseph Mendes were kept in employment largely by advertising agencies, who needed to be able to show their clients' products in newspapers and magazines.The pin-sharp line of a scraperboard illustration could be reproduced by letterpress far better than a photograph, which would look very dull and grey by comparison. Nowadays we have Photoshop, we have CGI, and the means of printing and reproduction have improved enormously. Human craftsmanship to this degree is no longer required by the industry, at least not in this field, and so it has largely died out.

Try to imagine the level of skill required to produce artwork of this calibre, the hundreds of hours of painstaking effort spent on what's essentially a newspaper ad. It's simply boggling. And yet Edward tells me that this wonderful artist referred to his job as 'scratching for a living'.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


Here's a  story to gladden the heart. I received this lovely email just today.

Dear Steve

I was walking through the Valley Gardens in Harrogate the other day, near the bandstand, when I spotted a book left on a bench in a polythene bag (the book, that is, not the bench) by an old gentleman. Being a public spirited old gentleman myself, I picked it up and was about to call the old gentleman, but he had disappeared. On closer inspection, I found that the book was not lost, only travelling the world in search of new readers, courtesy of

I am in the process of joining said organisation, but while I wait for my email confirmation to come through, I thought I'd google you too. I had never seen your work, and the book, (The Various), is silent about you, but your illustrations speak volumes - they are wonderful. I began illustrating a book in 1975. I may start on the text tomorrow, but no, I must start on your text tomorrow.

The Various has not come far since it started its 'travels' in Lincoln in 2008. It was left on a bench in a polythene bag (the book that is, not the bench), in a park, near the bandstand, by Stargirl...........

I have to say that Bookcrossing sounds like a wonderful idea, and I shall certainly be taking a closer look myself, with a view to joining.