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Radical Cartoons

Political cartoons and book illustrations

My recent entry into the British Civil Service Art Competition

Added on 08 May 2010


Civil Service Art Competition – my diary
Reading Ideas Street one day before Christmas I came across a thread about Art in government buildings and the civil service art competition, deadline May 2010.
Thinking I’d quite like to have a go, I looked up the competition guidelines.
If you go to this link, then to the link for "uploading your entry" you will see a "view entries" tab, you can see all the entries in so far including mine.
The criteria is that your work of art: “has to bring to life what being a civil servant means to the artist using one or more of the Civil Service values of honesty, integrity, impartiality and objectivity.”
Eh… what?
 I’ve got a couple of arty colleagues in my office, so I ran it by them. Neither had a clue how to “bring to life” what being a civil servant means, in a work of art, although I remembered what one of my favorite bands did back in the 80s, with their record sleeve design for their first album (UB40) !
So the idea went to bed over Christmas, (same as me, actually, but that’s a whole other story!)
Then one morning after Christmas  I was listening to Radio 4 Today programme, as usual, getting ready to go to work, and they were having guest editors every day. This one guest read out a poem, a poem I vaguely remembered from school, “Timothy Winters” by Charles Causley.
Well, the poem blew me away, I thought , that’s it.
If you don’t know it, it’s a poem written just after the austerity years and just before the start of comprehensive education. “Timothy Winters comes to school, eyes as wide as a football pool, ears like bombs and teeth like splinters, a blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.”
My favorite line is, “He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor, and they say there aren’t boys like him anymore.”
That’s the line I chose to illustrate – not exactly sleeping in a sack, but someone at the bottom of the heap, the people we aim to help through the benefit system.
Immediately I thought of my friend Alan, who sells the Big Issue near where I live.
I’ve known Alan, and his girlfriend Emma, over three years now, and have helped them out as much as I can. Alan is a great guy, he started as an actor and has a degree in Theatre Management, but  life on the road, drugs, alcohol and health problems put an end to all that. He’s had the honour of being described by a magistrate at one of his many court appearances as “the most un-aggressive beggar in Bristol!”
So I got Alans permission to take a few photos of him – I’ll be doing that this week coming up (w/s 18/01)
Civil Service Art Competition – my diary
Update – 8/1/10
FINALLY – I’ve made the first marks on paper!
The chippie put up the shelf and the board over the weekend, and after a few adjustments, like jamming objects behind it so it’s at a slight angle off the wall, there were no more excuses.
Bearing in mind that I haven’t done any serious drawing for ages, I had no artists equipment left, except my lamp.
So I still need a couple of things; one of those little wooden men that helps you get the proportions of the body right. when I was younger I used the old Palitoy Action Men, which had perfect proportions! The real ones I mean, with the voice- box in their chest that you pulled out the tag and they spoke in little Dalek voices: “Action man Patrol, Fall In!” Happy days eh?
And I need one of those sticks artists use to rest your arm on when doing fine work standing up. Bristol Fine Arts shop didn’t have them, so I’m on the look out for a suitable piece of wood, then I’ll just tie a wad of cloth round the end that rests on the work, and another at the other end that will rest on my shoulder. I’m disabled in my right arm, so I can’t hold things up like other people when doing something fiddly like this.
But at last I felt everything was in place, so I’ve made a rough start. There’s a lot of confidence- building involved in drawing; even writing these diary pieces is part of forcing myself to get on with it!
So I’ve now started my ‘portrait ‘ of my friend Alan, the Big Issue seller. It’s based on him, but it’s also the character Timothy Winters, from the poem.
As the drawing develops, we’re going to send a picture of him & me posing with it off to the The Big Issue to see if they are interested.
January 4th – I found out from the comp. site that they will do all the framing/transportation/insurance side of things, all you’ve got to do is produce the work of art. But – big snag! To get chosen even to enter the comp, you have to get your work photographed & turned into a jpeg so you can email it.
That’s going to be quite a challenge. I’m aiming the piece to be 3ft X 2ft, and  I live in a 10ft X 15ft bedsit, so the lighting situation isn’t great for photography.
 Years ago I knew how to do this, but the technology has all changed. I don’t have a computer at home or know anyone who does, and has the photographic gear as well.
So  I got my workplace to send round one of these e- mail templates, the ones they usually use to report lost property. Mine asked “Is there a photographer in the building?”
Within a couple of hours I had 5 people offer!!
I’ve put them all on a list and told them that when I’ve done the work, whoever will find it the most convenient will have the job. I’d rather pay a work colleague than a commercial photographer.
If my work does get picked and displayed somewhere, their card can go beside it as a contributor to the work, plus it can go towards their pdp!
Next- getting the right materials. So next week when I’m off work, it’s an expedition to the Art shop!
Next instalment – in week starting 1/02/2010
Civil Service Art Competition – my diary
Update – 24/2/10
Writing this on my 50th birthday – (“things can only get better!?”) this project is coming on quite nicely now.
Its about 1/3rd done, and the next diary piece will include some photos, courtesy of the administrator of this blog, ‘cos I don’t have the technical know-how to do these things!
 The pic is developing in all sorts of ways, some of them have taken me by surprise.
For example, it’s now going to be semi-coloured; if you have ever seen the film “Rumble Fish” you will have seen how a mainly black & white work can be made vivid by a single splash of colour.
 Hoping that it gets picked, and will eventually be exhibited, I’ve had to think about how people will see it.
When you walk towards a picture that is hung at eye level, or (preferably) slightly above eye level, you will automatically see the bottom third of the picture first. Then your eye will travel in a circle, up, and clockwise, because we read left to right, taking in the parts of the picture that jump out at you.
It’s up to the artist to make the parts that draw your eye vivid in some way. In a figure , it will be the eyes, the gesture of the hands, maybe the colour in the clothing, or some striking prop in the foreground.
The background is used to emphasise these points. So as I’m working on this picture, I’m thinking of how a casual viewer will approach it.
Just like when you take a photo of someone you make sure they are nicely framed, without a tree growing out of their head, so you have to adjust the landscape around the figure.
At the moment the picture has photos and notes stuck all around it , also some props – there’s the label from a NATCH cider can, a carefully screwed up lottery ticket, and some fag-ends.
(As I don’t smoke, I’ve will have to carefully singe the ends and then glue them on. I will have to protect them with varnish eventually.) Oh, and a roll-up that doesn’t actually contain any tobacco!
 It’s starting to sound more like a sculpture than a drawing! Thank God for the man who invented Tippex, I say!
There’s a lot of water in the picture, because it’s raining, and water is hard to draw, the best artists in the world have problems with it. To help me out I’ve been studying some art books – my three favourite artists for water are; Maurits Escher, Gustave Dore, and David Hockney.
But I was getting in a knot about how to do it, and as the water is in the all-important bottom third of the picture, I was stumped for several days. Then last night, hiding the diabetic meter away, I went out in the rain to get some cheap choc éclairs for a pre-birthday feast, and because it was raining, there weren’t many people about. So coming out of Sainsburys I was able to loiter and have a good look at the rain and the puddles, and suddenly it went “Bing!”
Looking at the art books was worth it. I suddenly realised that I’d been looking at the problem the wrong way round: I was puzzling over how to draw water that is lying on the ground.
I had been hung up on the fact that the water is coming down out of the sky!
 But the most important thing is (just like you have to trace in a rough skeleton to get the proportions right of a body) is the substrate the water is lying on.
Civil Service Art Competition – my diary
Update – 24/2/10
This update shows the picture about half finished. I was very lucky to find a retired photographer who has done a superb job, and only charged me for an hour of his time.
The technology has really moved on from when I was doing digital photography a few years ago. In those days the more you enlarged it on screen the more pixillated it became, but with this picture you can zoom right into it with no loss of detail.
The Big Issue have shown an interest in this project, but they are so going to hate it – they won’t like the can of cider, or the silly cat face on the badge, or what’s going on the other badge (the Anarchist symbol, which Alan suggested because it’s the first tattoo he ever got!) or the fact that there are no actual Big Issues in the picture…but of course it’s not an advert for them, but a portrait.
You might well ask how this fits the criteria for the competition. It takes a bit of searching the small print of the civil service code, but I think it fits in with impartiality.
In the DWP we are involved with dishing out benefits, and it’s very easy to be cynical. The Victorian concept of “the deserving poor” and the not-so-deserving.
Many people would look at my friend Alan and object to him receiving benefits, on the grounds that he probably earns more (tax free) from a day on the streets than most of us do in normal jobs, and plus his housing costs etc are paid as well.
But on the other hand he is on long-term sick,,he is almost deaf and is having regular hospital treatment, he’s a recovering drug addict, and has a variety of health problems, both mental and physical, that would make him unemployable except for the most casual type of work. Quite apart from a long criminal record of minor begging offences and fine defaulting, as a result of his street life style, which would mean no employer would look at him twice.
There is very little he can do apart from sitting on the street selling a few papers – and would you seriously like to earn your living that way?
Civil Service Art Competition – my diary
FINAL ENTRY! 19/04/2010
Four months later – it’s finally done! Just when I finished it, I moved out of the tiny bedsit and into a flat with my partner, so it was a bit nerve wracking wrapping it up and bringing it round to the new place on the bus!
The retired photographer came back, and this time he had enough space to put up a tripod, and had loads of natural light. I think he’s done a great job with it.Well, if it’s not accepted into the competition, it isn’t for want of trying, and at least doing it has motivated me to take up the art again.
Good luck to everyone going into the competition.