what a magnificent octopus

magnificent octopus

mrs washingmachinepost is, as i may have advised previously, a childminder. keeping the little darlings occupied, happy, and satisfied is the prime concern of her day(s), something i am most definitely cut out for. you need only ask laura at rapha how easily i have contrived to turn impatience into a virtue. mrs twmp has my ultimate admiration.

there are, however, many ideal distractions with which to have them occupy their time, not least of which is the old standby, pencil and paper. indeed, these modern times have omnipresent digital alternatives such as the ipad to which even her two year-olds have taken like a duck to water, employing their little digits in efficacious ways that have all but stumped the adults for whom the devices were originally intended. however, there is still a great deal of mileage to be extracted from real world methods prior to entering any virtual universe within clicking distance.

it would be churlish to deny that pencil and paper did not play a large part in my own childhood, for i did eventually end my formal education in an art college, having previously undertaken every school certificate in the subject available at the time. as is amply demonstrated by the plethora of artwork that decorates the hallway of washingmachinepost cottage, self expression is the kernel of young minds in possession of a drawing implement. in truth, any direction to keep within the lines of a colouring book falls on deaf ears; scribbling is as much an art form as any other involving a packet of crayons.

magnificent octopus

in the absence of specific external influences, and left to their own devices, children of an early age take great delight in detailing the things that interest and excite them, and they are devoid of any self-consciousness regarding the accuracy and realism informing the end result. which is, as far as i am concerned, exactly how it should be. as formal education plants its 'interfering' finger, that delight of innocence usually subsumes itself to the imposed structure of indoctrination. or it leaves well alone and moves onto other things. of course, the latter is not a practical solution for some of us.

even taking into account the well-meaning ministrations of the worthy, some continue to plough their own furrow well into adulthood, in many cases proving they were right all along. which, in a circuitous fashion, brings us to the magnificent octopus, the calling card of edinburgh-based artist andy arthur. there is a prior connection of which i was unaware at the time of contacting the man to enquire further as to the whys and wherefores of his art. andy and his parents holidayed on islay around twice a year since before he entered this world, and up until the age of 17. he figures that's perhaps where the lighthouse/seabird bug may have transpired.

however, before i investigate further, it seems prudent to ask the question that is on the tip of all our tongues, why 'magnificent octopus'?

magnificent octopus

"I happened to be watching a particular episode of Blackadder back in 2003 when I was looking for a domain name. I did precious little with the name for the next 7.5 years, but kept on paying the bills and using that email address."

my eventual departure from art college brought me to question the veracity of my years' of formal training. many too many were the drawings and illustrations that seemed way too facile to be construed as a visual investigation of each and every subject. yes, i had a style, but it seemed one that existed in spite of my drawing rather than because of. this leads me to ask andy as to whether he has received formal art training or whether he's simply darned good at it? "(I'm a) formally trained marine & wildlife conservation biologist to Masters level. Informally untrained artist who never even got as far as Standard grade art. I have always doodled and scribbled, but I'm not that good with pen and pencil. Turning to digital illustration in about 2004 I've progressed from there, but only really begun to be comfortable with my style and become confident with it in the last year or so. "

as you will be tired of hearing, i moved to islay in order that i might pursue the occupation of full-time artist, for it seemed to me that occasional dabbling was not capable of producing works that might be deemed satisfactory either in my own eyes or those of others. having a day job can be regarded as something of a distraction, often a financially necessary one, but a distraction nonetheless. (strangely it seems less the case concerning the act of scribbling this stuff on a daily basis, but you can't have everything). does mr arthur ply his trade as the day job, or is he also beholden to other distractions to put food on the table?

magnificent octopus

"I am distracted by a day job. This is my evening job, and I will often put in more hours of an evening than I do at my desk job. The writing is on the wall for the day job, but I haven't broken that to my boss yet, so officially it's just an aspiration. Unofficially it will be by the end of the year."

in the process of transforming from an art education to that of bona fide session drummer, it was a necessary part of my percussive endeavours that i be able to play pretty darned near everything asked of my drum sticks and snare drum head. as with every musician, there are genres of music that are dearer to me than others, but if you want to work day to day, week to week, those preferences must be subsumed for at least a modest period of time in the beginning. when fame and fortune beckons is the time to stand up and be counted. it is a similar world when applied to illustration; there may be subjects at which you deem yourself more adept, but initially at least, you ought to be able to illustrate anything and everything.

bearing all this in mind, did andy set out specifically to be a cycling illustrator, or is this the sign of a mis-spent youth? "Neither. I never cycled in earnest until about three years ago when I took up commuting to shed some pounds. I only got into more recreational club cycling two years ago and it's snowballed from there. I only started doing cycling-themed stuff after that. A couple of things for a cycling mad friend, and it's just progressed naturally since then, as my love of cycling developed."

magnificent octopus

though i have briefly described my recent visit to the national gallery's titian exhibition, the first that made a major impact was a previous sojourn to view paintings of french artist, cezanne. though i cannot claim to have produced any art that could be compared to the frenchman, he was a great influence all through my later school years and art college. the titian exhibition was beautifully curated to demonstrate the varying influences that brought the italian to his first great masterpiece flight to egypt. any artist that denies external influences is, to my mind, fooling him/herself, and those influences need not be of an artistic nature. what influences andy the most?

"Trying to put across a sense of fun and humour around cycling. If it's not fun, you're doing it wrong. I like the 'in jokes' of cyclists. The turns of phrase, the lore and the black humour of it all."

the most striking styles are rarely consciously developed, for that would ultimately lead to accusations of contrivance. many an artist or illustrator develops a specific style through necessity being the mother of invention. in short, the end results that you see are invariably the only way the perpetrator can achieve that which they have sweated hours over. my early watercolours looked the way they did because having declared myself an 'artist' i suddenly found that it wasn't as easy as i'd promised myself. visually, andy's work is reminiscent of traditional screenprints. are those generated electronically in software such as (adobe) illustrator, or are they indeed crafted through more traditional media?

magnificent octopus

"They are all done digitally on a rather old version of a cheap competitor to Illustrator. I've tried the latter, (but it's) far too complicated and expensive for my needs. Beyond teaching myself how to print the things out on a high-end digital printer, I'd have to turn to a better educated / trained person for more traditional printing. If Plan A becomes a reality, I'll try and get myself taught though."

if i might return to my opening description of the subjects that intrigue mrs twmp's kids, the ones that consist of princesses, ponies, cars, tractors etc., many of the subjects ripe for illustration have a habit of re-emerging more frequently than conscious observation can account for. would andy admit to inhabiting the world of the thematic? is each day different, or does he concentrate on one theme at a time?

I skip between different subject matters / themes in little groups. It's all things I like or am interested in. I had fun doing a series of lighthouses / seabirds recently, then it was Tour-themed things. It will be something else shortly. I need to do some more Obree-homage, but I'm waiting to see what comes of his latest madcap contraption. I'd also like to do something (non-cycling themed) about Edinburgh where I live. It badly needs a sense of humour injection at the moment. I've always lots of ideas floating around my head, so I bought a sketch book and some decent artists' pencils and have learned to sketch (badly) to put things down on paper before I forget them. "

magnificent octopus

once into the comfort and joy of producing a fine body of work, receiving at least modest praise from one's peers and the cycling public at large, horizons that were previously obscured begin to offer enticing prospects. at this point, a sword of damocles often appears overhead and plans can be formulated. has this happened to andy, or is the future as much of a mystery to him as it is to the rest of us?

"If I can pay the bills and feed my cycling habit through these means, then the cunning plan has been achieved. I have a few illustrated book ideas..."

the possibility of commerciality can be viewed as a double-edged sword. on one hand, the bills can be taken care of perhaps without undue concern, and the opportunity to explore alternative avenues of expression could be brought to bear. but on the other, one may have to subjugate one's art or principles in the process. would he welcome commerciality with open arms?

"Not all forms of it. I could have (and have been encouraged to) simply submit designs to online click-to-print sorts of webshops, but I've resisted that entirely. I saved up (ahem, credit carded!) for a top of the line reprographics printer so that I could begin to turn things on the screen onto paper, so that I could control the whole process myself and be in charge at all times. The printer has at least paid for itself over the last few months. If I found people I could trust to work with, I would welcome that sort of thing with open arms."

magnificent octopus

there is, i am reliably informed, more than one way to skin a cat, though why anyone should wish to indulge in such a pastime is quite beyond my ken. similarly, there are many ways to bring illustrative explorations to the attention of an eager cycling public. websites have provided a far simpler and oft-times cheaper method of so doing, but there is still considerable kudos and satisfactions to be gained from having a series of works framed and hung on the walls of any appropriate room that might serve as a public gallery. does that magnificent octopus have any forthcoming exhibitions?

"Currently three things later this year - Art Crank in London, the Vulpine Christmas Cycling Fete and another online exhibition piece not yet announced but in the pipeline. I hope there will be a few more local things; I've got a few makers' markets / independent gallery-shops who are keen. With the day job I struggle for preparation time for any events just now, so I haven't approached anything, but have agreed happily to those that have approached me (less chance of disappointment too!)."

magnificent octopus

twednesday 25th july 2012


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