a word about

The 'Front Room Arts Trail' in Totterdown is an annual event where hundreds of artists open the doors to their homes and exhibit their art in (typically) their front room.

Having studied and lived in the heart of Bristol for the last three years, Totterdown was always just a little further than a hop, skip or jump away. But now with hopes of moving closer to the area, the arts trail was an ideal excuse to explore.

I hadn't heard of this arts trail, or even heard of the idea of an arts trail, until just some months ago. I wasn't sure what to expect.

It was a gem of a day, fostering a very real communal atmosphere, as the neighbourhood was transformed into a sort of fayre – with hundreds of small groups touring each home. I'm sure I'm not the first to express this, and I'm sure this atmosphere is the reason such a strange event continues to this day.

While the day generally started with coffees in hands and upselling, as Totterdown grew colder and darker, the artwork almost took a backseat to enjoying the warmth and light of being welcomed into another's home – small talk and offers of mulled wine – all for just ten minutes, before setting back off into the cold in search of the next.

We were never the only ones, often find ourselves walking into the middle of a conversation, fighting the strange gut feeling that we'd intruded. The awkwardness of it all is perhaps even the main appeal — introverted artists suddenly cast into the open, trying to gauge just how much of your admiration for their artwork is genuine or simply politeness.

It's a trouble I didn't end up buying anything. Maybe it's my instinct to walk away from impulse purchases, or maybe – as Rachel tells me – I'm far too picky. Our flat remains virtually undecorated after two years, just the nails in the walls where something would hang. It's important to support local artists, and it's important to cut out the middle man if you can. We walked away with a good handful of cards and details, which I have hopes we'll be returning to.

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Rachel and I attended our second farewell party for a friend moving to Australia in two months. We often joke about why we know so many people going to and from Australia. We can only assume it's because it's the furthest place from home.

We've run into an interesting scenario where a lot of our friends are a small sum older than us, although we typically forget. The older you get the less age matters, it seems. We've been to parties before feeling ten years too young, doing our best to seem aged and established. Fortunately, this party was full of people from all walks of life, all worth talking to.

There was even a toddler attendee, who revelled in providing entertainment and discussion for the whole room. A very large inflatable unicorn occupied the centre of the space, though I can't say why. Efforts were made to have the kid ride the unicorn, but he was much more interested in the toy aeroplane brought along.

Excitement arose when the kid decided to give the unicorn another try. In a Larry David moment, shifting my leg with the charitable intention to give the kid more room to play on the inflatable unicorn, the air distribution in the unicorn rebalanced, causing the kid to slip and fall, landing in the space my leg had been. Tears ensued, and despite a wash of reassurances that it wasn't my fault, I couldn't help but feel awful.

It was all smiles and laughter and quickly forgotten.

They've got a girl on the way, and said they don't want to be too precious with her simply because of the fact. It was great talking to them. They seemed like great parents.

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The cold came up on us quickly this year, as the autumnal weather has now swept over the UK. Crazy weather reports are already in abundance — Rachel just sent me 'Coldest Winter in 50 years'. I suppose it has to happen eventually.

Our current flat features two, single glazed, ceiling height windows. They're gorgeous, but also make our living room feel more akin to a tent than a house in the winter months. Equipped with just one electric wall heater, the heat leaves the room seemingly faster than it surrounds it.

Last year I haphazardly installed temporary insulation, by taping (what was essentially) heavy duty cling film to the windows and shrink wrapping them with a hairdryier. This was a tip I found online, I figured I had nothing to lose. It made a remarkable difference — a difference I'm feeling now, sitting here without them.

With our move seemingly imminent, it hardly seems worth the hassle to go to such measures again. It's the coldest November I can recall, although actual weather reports suggest a return to normal temperatures next week, which I'll certainly welcome.

On the brighter side, along with the colder weather, these months do bring with them festivities and comradery that can't be beat.

We went with my brother and friends to the Bonfire in Totterdown for bonfire night. The fire itself acted as a good excuse to watch over with conversation, not only for us, but for the hundreds of strangers who joined too. It's remarkable how little you need to bring an entire community out, especially given the weather. Add in a beer tent and some hotdogs (funds of which went to the local school, funnily enough), and a large fire is more than enough entertainment for an evening for an entire neighbourhood.

(I should have had a photo. I'll get better at taking photos.)

A belated pumpkin pie was made, as Rachel had spent Halloween week in Ireland, and we agreed we needed to use up the can of pumpkin puree that had been living on our shelves for many seasons in anticipation of autumn.

It's a remarkably easy recipe at its core. We swapped out condensed milk for cream, which resulted in a much more mellow, less sweet pie. It's a shame it's not something we enjoy more often. The spices are certainly autumnal, but it's best enjoyed fully cooled from the fridge – the warmth then is provided by the hot cup of coffee that's required alongside it.

Seems as though every corner of Bristol is having it's own 'Christmas Lights Switch-On', perhaps each in effort to be earlier than the other, like a kind of political caucus.

I'll be waiting until advent to begin my festivities — admittedly complaining that Christmas is starting too early is a cliche at this point. November (at least in a the UK) is great because it has space. It's a breather month — the final lap before Christmas to be productive, uninterrupted by new years, summer holidays, easters or scary-themed plastic junk.

Let November be November. It's only the long-wait until Christmas if that's what you make it.

The darker evenings are alive with the city lights, and everyone walking to where they need to go. It's time to wrap up warm, and continue our living.

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With October now behind us, so too is my second year of Inktober – the challenge to draw an image, preferably in traditional media, every day for thirty one days.

I figured I could spend a bit of time reflecting on how well things went, especially now that I have two years to compare, while also discussing which of my illustrations worked well, and which didn't.

Overall, I think this year was less successful than last year. Certain decisions I made, as well as certain circumstances, made my thirty one drawings a little harder to be proud of. That isn't to say I'm not proud, but it's good to take some time to review what I've learnt.

I had less time this year.

While last year I had just one interruption, I was pretty much able to draw and upload an image every day, on the day.

Coming into my second year freelancing now, I'm have more work lined up and more responsibility. While last year I allowed my inktobers to be completed in my work hours (feeling a little like Arthur Conan Doyle), this year I reserved it for out-of-work hours.

This worked fine for the first week or so, winding down with a drawing, but the novelty soon wore off (as with every habit), where it felt like I was just working late into 7-9pm sometimes, making it seem increasingly more like a chore, especially as the missed days start to stack up.

Ideas weren't so easy.

So much of inktober isn't the drawing, but coming up with what to draw. Not only matching the day's theme, but also something that looks interesting, isn't too ambitious, and is something I would actually want to draw.

I don't know how the words are chosen for the official inktober list, but having shifted away from the medieval fantasy theme of last year to science-fiction, it felt as though the words this year were much more geared toward the former.

Words like Ancient, Ghost, Treasure, Legend, Dragon, Enchanted, don't really invoke science-fiction so easily. And while last year I was more concerned about not doing the obvious thing, this year I was more concerned with coming up with any idea at all.

A fun challenge at it's best, but unfortunately an extra hurdle at it's worst.

I didn't properly consider the addition of colour.

This is possibly the most important. I wanted to add an extra element to my illustrations this year, so I decided to pick up a red and blue pencil originally with the intention to add very subtle coloured highlighting.

Without making any kind of rule as to what would be and what wouldn't be coloured, I was experimenting on the fly, and quickly forgot any kind of original guide.

It wasn't until around #20 that I realized using the blue for shading didn't translate too well from pencil to screen, and I should have been using the blue tones and the hatchings to compliment one another, instead of using them in unison.

Once I tuned down the colours, and just used them to highlight important elements, I think the images were more successful.

I didn't contextualize my uploads.

Lastly, when uploading my illustrations, I hard cropped them so there was no border. Last year, I put my drawings at a counter clockwise angle (because I'm cack handed), leaving the edge of the paper in view.

I really wish I'd giving more of an outward place to my uploads this year. Without any visible border, there's less of a sense that the drawings exist tangibly in the real world – which is what inktober is all about.

There's also less of an appreciation for how small the drawings are, which (admittedly) excuses some of the clumsiness.

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I wish I'd spent just a little more time preparing and thinking through how my uploads would look, as I did last year. Instead, I figured I could just pick up from where I left off last year.

Both years I've really enjoyed the small canvas, and small time frame. There are some inktober artists there who seem to drop incredible, meticulous artworks everyday, and it's easy to start comparing yourself against them.

What I'm most proud of is that my inktober's are unique. I didn't see any others that looked like mine. They exist within the boundaries I chose, and I like to believe only I could have drawn them.

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So, with that all out the way, let's quickly compare a few that were most successful and less successful.

I thought I would compare the inktober's that performed the best and worst on social media, against which ones I'm personally the most and least proud of.

I would take the social media results with a large grain of salt. As I tell myself everyday, the internet is a fickle beast. There are so many variables, it's impossible to know that it's the image that made the difference. So this is just a bit of fun above everything else – something to scratch a curiosity.

I tallied up the likes on all the inktobers across twitter and mastodon (since Instagram works differently), while making some exceptions.

Almost without comparison, my very first inktober performed best, but this is largely because there's an initial rush of interest, and a want to be encouraging.

A couple of my inktobers were also picked up by much bigger accounts than my own (100,000+ followers) and so got a lot more exposure. While they did perform better than my other inktobers, it wasn't by a huge amount. It's difficult to know how they would have performed otherwise, so we'll forget them.

The least successful was #17 – Ornament.

I remember illustrating this and chuckling to myself that it wouldn't do very well, and so this doesn't surprise me. The concept takes a bit of time to understand and digest (the alien using the astronaut as a tree decoration), but I also didn't do a terribly good job putting it across. It is, however, one of my favourites, for being a little unusual, and for my execution in illustrating the astronaut himself, and the ferns decorating the image (even if the composition is a little cluttered).

The most successful was #22 – Ghost

Even despite me accidentally crunching the paper while rubbing out the pencil lines.

I think probably because people saw a bit of Ghostbusters in it, a bit of Luigi's Mansion in it (which was being promoted at the time), and acted on that familiarity. I spent all day trying to think what I could do with 'Ghost', and eventually settled with what I think was a bit of a cliche. The execution is solid, with the ghosts creepy hands, and the astronauts ghost busting gear being particular highlights, but it ranks pretty low in my own opinion.

My personal least favourite: #7 – 'Enchanted'

I was embarrassed to upload this one. I was in a very low mood after putting it up, and was endlessly eager to get my next inktober done and uploaded to bury it.

With a splash of irony, it ranks as one of the most well received, yet I can hardly stand to look at it. Nothing about this image challenged me, or showed off anything about me as an illustrator. There's no depth, it's flat, and each individual element is poorly executed. The hatching is off and inconsistent, and the colouring is little better than scribbles. Who knows why I decided to hatch shade the moons in the top left, and the red shading on the trees looks like a clumsy afterthought (which it was).

It is, in my view, my poorest effort across both years, although, I will say, I'm happy with how the craters on the moon turned out.

So, let's end on a positive note..

My personal favourite: #20 Tread.

It's hard to say why I'm particularly fond of this one. It's just simple, and I captured each element well. It's difficult to make minor tweaks with ink on paper, so sometimes you get a good astronaut, sometimes you don't. It's an interesting angle, and the concept of floating shards acting as stepping stones is just strange enough to be magical without feeling too alien. You get the sense he's in another world, but that it feels familiar to him.

This was the point where I shifted how I used colour. Red is only used to highlight the astronaut and the red of the shards, while blue isn't used for shading, but to mark the shards submersion into the water. It's subtle, and I resisted the obvious choice to colour the whole image blue. Instead, the negative space works in its favour.

I think during both years I learnt, somewhere toward the middle, that simple images well executed often yield the best results. It's easy to start getting clever with the prompt, and try to come up with something that puts it on its head. Ultimately, the prompt doesn't matter, and the illustration should stand on it's own. The central character will always be what makes it unique, and the prompt is only that – a prompt.

The beauty of inktober is that it forces you to make certain decisions that you may or may not like, but by putting it out there, and encouraging you not to be too precious, you learn that different people might see something in an image that you never did, and may have never put out there.

So while it's great to return to traditional media (and ease off the habit to Ctrl+Z), it's really about the quickfire – getting acclimatised to the discomfort in knowing that everyday, whatever you draw, good or bad, you're putting something up.

31 days is probably enough, though.

*

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I thought I might start a personal blog.

I've had blogs in the past, and the same caveats lead me to eventually abandon them.

It's been bubbling in mind for some months (maybe even years), and a couple things have nudged me into action.

I thought maybe I could use this first post to outline my thoughts on why I'm making a start on a blog, and set down some house rules to get things rolling.

So, here's a handful of reasons that have been pushing me along the pipeline.

1 ~ I read an article...

...Some weeks ago, and it outlined why it's valuable to have a personal blog, even if you have nothing original to say, no one reads it, and you're bad at writing.

It's a space to write and settle your thoughts into something cohesive. Making the space public provides accountability, motivation, aspiration and possibly even discussion.

2 ~ I like the idea of being a person that writes a blog.

Which (let's be real) doesn't seem all too uncommon.

There's an absolute abundance of blogs online and most serve no real purpose.

Statistically speaking, people rarely even read past headlines in the news, let alone read personal blogs. That's me included – and that's no good.

I figure perhaps by writing more it would give me a better appreciation for other's writing, and make me more keen to read. You can only find out by trying.

3 ~ My game dev log is doing better than I thought it would.

If even a tenth of the folk that read my dev log read this blog, that's more than enough to keep me motivated.

4 ~ I reckon it'd be alright.

I could be crap, but I'll be crossing my fingers.

5 ~ It's a good excuse to be productive on weekends.

I get to bust out the old ThinkPad, and do some old fashioned writing. Weeks can go by quickly, so it'll be a good chance to stop, collect my thoughts, and make a mark.

6 ~ It harks back to a different time.

The internet is continually becoming shaped by only a handful of content spheres. We log in to just a couple services, submitting our content to them and receiving our content from them.

Having recently spent more and more time in more niche nooks on the internet, I've discovered some of the most thoughtful and valuable content.

I remember growing up with the internet, and having a bookmarks folder filled with different gems that were always worth returning to. Places for reviews, comics, stories or thoughts. Learning of new sites was done almost entirely through word of mouth.

With the rise of these few services, discovering content became easier – and that's no bad thing. But now as content is being housed under just a few umbrellas, we hand over a large portion of control to what content gets pushed and what content gets lost. We shape our content to the conventions and rules that these services expect.

So, since this is my corner of the internet, the following are some of my own rules, for the sake of transparency, that I'm going to be abiding when considering

1 ~ This blog isn't for you.

It's for me. But don't worry, that's cool. It's great that you're here.

2 ~ I'll be posting on weekends, but it's not the end of the world if I miss a week.

The 'don't break the chain' method of habit forming (or breaking) doesn't work for me. When I break the chain it usually ends up with me losing all hope and abandoning the chain.

So let's not be too serious about this. This is about good vibes, not rigid expectations.

3 ~ ...And it's not the end of the world if this doesn't work out.

Maybe I'm not the type of person that maintains a blog. That's okay – most people aren't.

4 ~ If I don't update the blog for 6 months, the whole blog gets nuked(!).

There's nothing sadder than an abandoned blog, where no one turned out the lights after being the last one out. I need a point at which I can know that I had a good stab at it, but it just wasn't right for me.

As with all abandoned things born from good intention, there comes a time when we need to thank them, and let them go. That way, we can make sure we're keeping things fresh.

And that just about does it. I've actually been sat on this blog post, half written, for about a month. Perhaps that's a bad omen, but I won't dwell on it.

So, let's get things started, and begin getting words down.

But until then..

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