a word about

On Friday morning we handed over the keys to our flat and home of the last two years.

It's always a surreal (and I'm sure, universal) experience, having done it a few times between student residencies — stripping a place bare before looking at it for the last time and closing the door.

This time it was particularly poignant, as it was the first flat of ours as non-students. I remind myself that I know better – the brick and mortar isn't what made the place special, but rather the people and the things that surrounded it for those two years, which aren't the things you leave behind.

It's been a busy 4 weeks, and today marks the first day we had in the new house without anyone to see, or anything we had to do.

I thought I'd mark the occasion by beginning a new sourdough starter. A year ago, I began a starter of my own in our old flat, and got some great use out of it. The trouble was that the oven in the old place had some quirks — the majority of the heat would always reside in the front of the oven (unusually), and the baking tray we had would buckle under the high heat required to bake the bread.

Our new oven, unfortunately, isn't working at the moment. The circulation fan motor is busted, but it will hopefully be fixed on Tuesday. While I wait for that, and scout for a new tray, I have plenty of time to get a new starter up and running.

50g of flour and 50g of water is all you need. Every day for two weeks I'll throw away 50g of the starter, and reintroduce 25g of both flour and water. While a week is likely all you need to see some action happening, I'll be patient and keep it going for two, so that it's got a bit of a head-start when it comes to baking. I'll be reporting back next week.

Cold weather is also a slower time for fermentation, and we're certainly going through a cold spell – one I hear they call 'winter'. Today was 'Storm Ciara' – I prepared this morning by moving our food caddy off the street incase it blew half away across Bristol. Seems like the worst of it was elsewhere, as I spent a large portion of today spectating images of flooded towns north from here.

We had a visitor toad on our back door step earlier just before the worst of the storm. Apparently despite their hibernation, it's common for them to forage during milder days, which today certainly was. It's the first bit of wildlife we've had in our small patch, and one I wasn't expecting. I can only assume a nearby neighbour has a resident pond for the guy. Seems he was looking for somewhere to sulk in the rain. We didn't disturb him.

Otherwise, the day was spent organizing and preparing. The biggest job on our list is to sand down the floorboards in our to-be office. We've had plenty gawk at the prospect of us sanding it by-hand, but really we're only looking to unsettle the top coat of paint, not strip it down to the bare boards.

The previous owner used the room to paint in, so there's flecks and spills of different colours in all corners. They likely patched it up with white emulsion as they went. By sanding it down we make sure there's no unwanted blobs of black paint, or other colours peaking through. A fresh coat of much tougher paint should really smarten the place up, and if all goes to be plan, be finished by the weekend.

The yellow wall paint has been a contentious choice. Being the office, it's not a space we expect any guests to be seeing. I've always been fond of yellow, the room gets the most light of any during the day, and it's an expressive colour that will hopefully look great as we begin introducing some plants. I've since painted it a more mellow yellow than it was originally, which I think looks particularly great as the sun comes into the room.

We're already well over half way sanding it all down, and it's only been a couple hours work over a couple of days. Saves us buying a power-tool we'd likely never use again.

A good portion of the house is a dumping ground while we wait on the room to be finished.

The wheels are rolling, and I'm sure it won't be long until it all feels like our own, and each quiet day like this is a piece of the puzzle.

*

As promised, my top ten songs, in no particular order, of 2019, each with a little write up of my thoughts.

Enjoy!

mariner's apartment complex

It really feels like Lana Del Ray set out to write a classic with 'Norman F!cking Rockwell'.

Having cemented herself as the soundtrack to any suburban tween's angsty first-world-problems, Lana abandoned the spacey americana sound, instead filling over an hour of runtime with orchestration, and broody piano ballads. All while still clinging to that classic, mid 20th century aesthetic that helped define her.

This could be put down to her collaboration with producer Jack Antoff, the man who's been quietly redefining the world of pop music over the last 5 years. But this is, without question, still a Lana Del Ray album.

'Mariner's Apartment Complex' is the song that kicks the record into gear. And it's immediately clear, Lana's lyricism had matured from generally sad ambiguity to being as sharp as a knife.

The chorus is this tragic, sweeping melody that's absolutely timeless, rooted in its metaphor of being guided through a storm at sea, and is every bit as large.

And as we can expect from our queen of sadness, it's never quite clear who's perspective we're hearing the song from, and we're never quite sure whether this grand rescue is emotionally rectifying, or whether this lost boat at sea finds itself drifting back from where it came.

Lana whispers and repeats: 'I'm your man', and we're left to wonder how true that could be.

change

Maxo Kream is a storyteller at heart, and unlike so much of the posing in trap rap, Maxo delivers the gritty truth from a place of experience. 'Keeping it real' is at the heart of Maxo's sound, and in that he rises far above his peers.

'Brandon Banks' is an anthology of the lessons learnt on the streets, the allure of big money, the tragic spiral of drug use. It's an ode to the millions of lives of black men spent in the US justice system, and the confusion of life when back on the outside.

It's not the easiest listen. With no hooks, and only a handful of features throughout the entire runtime, it's mostly Maxo's straight, unfiltered bars over twitchy trap beats.

'Change' is the song I found myself returning to more times than I care to admit. Maybe it's the floaty psychedelic electric guitar and flutes on the beat, maybe it's the sheer sense of urgency the runs through every second of it, or maybe it's the unapologetic tragedy of every word spoken by Maxo.

'Change' is a song about the will to change, but being caught in the cycle of futility. It's about the change in your pocket, or how climate change is seen as nothing more than a 'damn shame' when there's nothing you can do in the face of it.

It's a tale of 'the best laid plans' – the dreams of young men who's fate is to be killed on the streets that raised them.

ibtihaj

Rapsody is proving herself to be one of the most important figures in hip hop today. With two solid releases already under her belt, her project this year, 'Eve' is perhaps her most accomplished and focused yet.

'Eve' is an unashamedly feminist album, with every track titled in ode of different influential and powerful women of colour. The album is about empowerment through positivity, dialogue, and inclusivity. It's a celebration above all, but a celebration with a message, and she invites a huge range of artists, old and new, to make their mark alongside her.

'Ibtihaj' is named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, the olympic fencer, and in-keeping lifts it's beat straight from GZA's classic 'Liquid Swords'. The song includes what might just be the greatest feature of D'Angelo on any song, and, somehow, even the legendary GZA himself.

I might just be an absolute sucker for anything that D'Angelo touched, but regardless, 'Ibtihaj' is a beautiful fusion of the new and the old – of that smooth neo-soul sound, and the now immortalized old-school boom-bap beats. Rapsody isn't at all overshadowed, using the song as a love letter to the genre that inspired her, and the nostalgia she finds in her formative years. D'Angelo is just as bizarre as you might hope, singing in both impossibly high and low harmonies about killer bees, while GZA pays homage to his famous diss of clock radio speakers.

The combination of the three is basically mythical – it shouldn't exist, but it's every bit as good as I could ever imagine.

sad day

An FKA Twigs release is always a big deal, and 'Magdalene' is only her second full length album.

Having faithfully listened to all her work, 'Magdalene' is the album that finally made me understand what the hype was all about. Combining R&B with some light touches of hip hop, all oozing with an unquestionably British 'trip hop' style production, and you have a collection of songs that somehow go hard and soft at the same time.

'Sad day' might just be FKA Twig's biggest accomplishment. A hook that gets caught in your head, and one that couldn't better suit her ghostly vocals. It's all held up by twitchy, glitch-like percussion that often cuts right through the wash of ambient sounds.

Every aspect of the song sounds slightly artificial, slightly sped up or tuned down, like it's being heard from some old, alien recording format.

It's strangely haunting, but it's unquestionably pop.

bright horses

Nick Cave is a hard one to pin down. A career spanning 40 years, and more than twenty studio albums behind him, it's very possible he still hasn't made his best work.

His age certainly isn't making him stale, if anything his music has grown deeper and deeper into itself. 'Skeleton Tree' was released three years ago now, and some are heralding it as a modern classic. I'm not so sure, but then, I like Nick Cave the most when he's not trying to be too clever.

'Ghosteen' ultimately is an album reflecting the sudden death of Nick Cave's son in 2016. It's painful, overlong, breathtaking, and unresolved. How can you write something that's so personal, and still designed to be shared? It's a task I imagine is impossibly hard.

'Bright Horses' feels like the entire album, perfectly condensed into just five minutes. The low humming of the melody could almost be a war cry. Nick Cave's lyricism is nothing short of being poetry, as he explores how the world is revealed to him for what it really is.

'And horses are just horses', Nick Cave sings, and it's terrifying how simple that statement could be.

true & livin'

Blu & Exile defined themselves in the 2000s as the kings of West Coast Hip Hop. Exile's lush, soulful beats seemed like they were put on this earth for Blu to rap over, with his witty, wise-guy demeanor, and seemingly endlesss attention to detail in every line delivered effortlessly. He might just be my all-time favourite MC.

The duo unfortunately have a rocky relationship. And while each have other collaborations they've worked on over the years, it's like Blu just isn't Blu without Exile, and visa versa.

So you can understand why I was so excited to hear that their 'True & Livin' EP' would finally break a seven year hiatus. Just three songs in length, I can only hope it's a sign of things yet to come.

While it's no leap of innovation, the two have clearly spent their years apart honing their crafts, and enter this release doing what it is they do best.

The titular track is the standout, if only for how smooth it is to listen to. It's the perfect song for a sunny May day in the city. Blu lets the song be a celebration of day to day life, the power of change, and how far we've come. It's a reminder, one that in today's climate we all often need, that there's so much to be proud of in this world, and there's no shame in sitting back and appreciating the good things in the life.

The true, and the living.

forgotten eyes

'Big Thief are the best band in the world right now' is a sentiment I've seen more than once. It might be true.

Rock bands are a dying breed, and even the big ones at the moment are really just moniker's for a single figure-head. Maybe bands are in dire need of reinventing what rock music is, instead of reiterating the innovations of the past, or maybe a world obsessed with social media needs single personalities to attach themselves to.

Big Thief surprised everyone with two full length albums this year. 'U.F.O.F.' is the longer, more sophisticated album, while 'Two Hands', labelled by the band as the 'sister album', is the rougher and more lighthearted entry.

As a result, 'Two Hands' is the more listenable of the two, packed with great tunes that hold up perfectly on their own.

And while most are applauding 'Not' as their greatest song to date (and they might not be wrong), a song that's just bursting with raw energy – 'Forgotten Eyes', the much softer addition, is that song that's stayed with me.

It's the soundtrack to any ending of every american indie movie ever made. It's wistful, with that uplifting sense that there's so much more left to experience after the goodbye. The chasing rhythm of the song gives it that sense of marching, off and onward, to whatever the future holds.

It's the looseness of the instrumentation that gives Big Thief that unique twang, and 'Forgotten Eyes' puts it at the forefront.

Adrianne Lenker is best when she steps up from the twee vocals she's known for. With this instrumentation, it would be so easy for her not to and remain in her shell, but instead she rises above it, and gives an unforgettable performance.

spider hole

Billy Woods is an enigma. An MC defined by his anonymity, his spoken-word style delivery and abstract lyricism, and unfaltering ability to sound absolutely pissed on everything he records. He's always been on my radar, with a huge body of underground albums released nearly every year of the last two decades, but despite a few highlights, he's never quite found his footing.

'Hiding Places', his collaboration this year with LA producer Kenny Segal, finally gave him the space and sound he needed to create his masterpiece. It's an absolutely harrowing record. It perfectly reflects its album artwork – crumbling and suburban, riddled with a claustrophobic sense of poverty. It's that creeping, unshakable heat that riots are born from.

'It's not the heat, it's the dust' Woods repeats throughout the album – the world this record occupies is so arid and dead that's it's becoming difficult to breath.

'Spider Hole' is the first song where I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The rumbling distortion that resonates in your chest, the distant and darting electronic signals, the thunderous distorted guitar and jazzy piano, all come together to form the most dissonant, unshakable song released this year.

'It's just me in the spider hole, that's the best part' Woods shouts, almost laughing, at the song's apex, and it's revealed what the song is about at heart – being the unfortunate king of our own hiding places.

With the release of 'I Am Easy To Find', The National have seemingly immortalized themselves. Is it possible at this point for The National to release a bad album? Or have they found a formula they can keep reusing?

No album is perfect, and there's certainly been a decline since their 2013 release 'Trouble Will Find Me', but The National are proving themselves to be pure, middle-class comfort food. Never terribly exotic, but just the right balance of fruitiness and sophistication.

The zest of the new album is the deliberate decision to have a female voice at the heart of almost every song. Perhaps it's in keeping with the '#MeToo' movement that's rightfully pierced western culture, or perhaps the band realized they were all boring old men with a platform. Either way, it's a decision that almost always feels masterfully woven into the songs, and never just a cynical attempt.

'Where Is Her Head', for me, is the center piece of the album, launching us from the slightly naff first half of the record into the immediacy of the second. I've always loved songs that have a single rhythm and melody, and allows itself to ride confidently on, unchanged, throughout the run time.

The song is repetitive almost to the point of being hypnotic, with the snare hitting on the same beats every time, and the fluttering vocals of Eve Owen.

The song is almost certainly about obsessing over a woman, but I think the song is much more beautiful when you listen from the angle of a parent under constant worry of the wellbeing of their child. It's chaotic, monotonous, and utterly gorgeous.

no halo

Brockhampton defined themselves with a DIY aesthetic that became threatened by their $15 million record deal with RCA. Couple that with the departure of one of their lead vocalists on accusations of abusive relationships, and the sheer force of their momentum from 2017 – having recorded and released three, full length studio albums in the space of six months – seemed like it had grinded to a messy halt.

Their release this year sought to amend the lukewarm reviews of their 2018 LP, by returning to their roots. 'Ginger' proved polarizing — despite applaud from some critics, it didn't have the bedroom produced awkwardness I love about their prior records.

What it is, is a more mature album, and perhaps no song is a greater testament to that than its opener 'No Halo'. The infectious acoustic guitar beat acts as the foundation of the whole song, as each of the group's members take turns to riff over the top in their own signature style.

Brockhampton have always been guilty of lacking cohesion. Rarely are their songs about anything in particular, built from different verses from different members, with lyrics about whatever each of them . In 'No Halo', however, this incoherency somehow works to it's benefit.

'I'm sure I'll find it', the chorus claims as it's mantra, and each of it's sections feel like a different cry for help, a different sense of loss, as the camera changes its focus to each one of them. Each member gives potentially their best performance to date, resulting in what is the most complete sounding Brockhampton song of their careers.

It really feels as though the 'boy band' have grown up, and it only took them two years.

*

Follow me on Twitter, or maybe Mastodon.

What's that? Still autumn?

I'm afraid so. Much to the chagrin of many, I'm a staunch believer in the seasons aligning with the solstices and equinox's of our calendar, rather than the start's of the month. Winter, therefore, will start on the 22nd of December, as our wonderful earth's axes intended.

Regardless — 2019 is coming to a close. It hit me like a brick that the end of this year brought with it the end of a decade. I can't say why, but I had it in my head that we had still one year to go.

And what better way to celebrate the end of anything than the traditional list? A look back across the decade lends itself to lists of all kinds – the most pivotal political moments, biggest advances in technology, and the best art that defined an era.

Along with the realization that the decade is drawing to a close, I found myself immediately looking over all the music that's help soundtrack these last ten years.

It wasn't until 2012 that my interest in new music really cemented, and it's a hobby I've carried with me passionately ever since. So, while not entirely a decade, it's near as dammit.

From purely my own anecdotal experience, there's thin dialogue when it comes to new music. Big cinema releases get talked about to no end in all circles; the latest AAA video game will storm social media for weeks to come. Yet, music often comes and goes, the discussion housed within the existing fans of the artist.

And sure, music isn't alone. Theatre probably has it even worse, and you'd probably have to be in a very niche circle to be discussing the latest work of a prolific choreographer.

But why should music fall short to movies, games or novels? An album often doesn't take up even an hour of our time, and requires only the attention of your ears — you can cook, clean, craft, all whilst consuming music. Films can require two hours of your attention, games and books typically vast sums more, and undivided.

And then there's access. In today's age, access to the internet is all that's required to enjoy more recorded music that we could ever hear in our lifetimes. Even if you do pay extra for a music streaming service, all of the services offer 99% of the same libraries, so you're not forced into corners by exclusivity deals.

And yet, it's likely that this access is the very culprit. As you look over the late 20th century, each era would be defined by a series of releases that are looked back on as defining a generation. Today, when our exposure isn't limited to simply just what's broadcast on radio of television, we have the freedom to hear exactly the music we want, when we want.

Freedom can often be a curse disguised as a blessing, however, and such freedoms in exploring music can make it easier to become complacent with the music we already know we enjoy. Algorithms now recommend music it knows we've not heard, but knows is similar enough to what we've already heard to keep us comfortable.

Music is the most human of any art-form, because, at it's core, there isn't any pretence. In movies, we watch people pretend to be people that don't exist. In music, rhythms and patterns are created that, completely beyond our understanding, make our bodies and minds react in very different ways.

Perhaps this is why watching a bad movie is rarely any worse than being a waste of our time, whereas music we don't enjoy makes something deep inside us recoil — it goes against how we define ourselves.

But it doesn't need to. Watching 'The Wire' doesn't make me a wannabe gangster, nor should listening to Mobb Deep. Watching 'Saw' one time wouldn't define me as some kind of brutalist, neither should listening to Swans. Despite our tendency to listen to what suits the clothes we wear, the town we live in, the money we earn, music — just like movies — can let us into worlds and outlooks other than our own.

Which is all to say: listen to new music! I can think of nothing in this world that fills me with more joy. Rarely a week goes by where an album is released that isn't worth hearing. It doesn't matter whether or not it's music you would or wouldn't usually listen to — follow the dialogue, not your taste.

I have both friends that embrace new music and those that reject it. With almost ten years behind us, those of us that follow the latest releases now have fond memories of long drives, holidays and get-togethers, soundtracked by the music that dropped that year. We can look back at music from ten years ago, and remember exactly what we were doing, and who we were, when that music came out. I don't want to be 50 years old, with no stories to tell surrounding the classics that time will eventually canonize.

There's so much great music already behind us, all absolutely worth listening to, but new music is always an event that hasn't yet passed. It's exciting.

I used to do a little thing on my old blog I called 'The Jam Awards', where everyday, for the last 20 days of the year, I would feature a song from that year, all in ranked order. I won't quite be doing that this year. Instead, next week I'll be sharing my top 10 songs of 2019, all at once, and in no particularly order. Then, in a fortnight from now, I'll be sharing my top 10 albums of the last decade, again in no order.

I'm looking forward to collecting my thoughts, re-listening to some old favourites, and sharing it all.

I can think of no better way to see off these last ten years, and to welcome in the new decade, and the strange and wonderful sounds yet to be heard.

*

Follow me on Twitter, or maybe Mastodon.

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.

*

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.

*

Follow me on Twitter, or maybe Mastodon.

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.

*

Follow me on Twitter, or maybe Mastodon.

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

Follow me on Twitter, or maybe Mastodon.

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..

*

Follow me on Twitter, or maybe Mastodon.