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1. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.10: Tokyo Sketchbook, 1987

The final item in this History of my Archive in 10 Objects found in my father's loft are two sketchbooks from my earliest days in Japan in 1987.

Just after I arrived in Tokyo in January 1987 I bought a number sketchbooks of various sizes and spent a lot of the first year in particular being the sketching tourist, drawing, painting and photographing downtown Tokyo, the people around me, the whole experience of being in Japan. I didn't think any sketchbooks from early days in Japan had survived, I had a series of major purges for one reason or another over the 21 years I was there, the biggest down-size being at the very end when I left most of my belongings behind and threw away much of my commercial illustration artwork.

These two sketchbooks survived because I brought them back from Japan in the early '90's after buying a house in London, they stayed there until I later gave up the house, then found their way with a few other items to my dad's loft.

Iidabashi, 6th May 1987. This old building stood near the West exit of the station (the Kagurazaka side), and was I believe demolished in the early '90's development of the area. pen & ink.
Street vendor's cart, Yotsuya, 6th May 1987. pen & ink
There are so many memories wrapped up in these pages, that first year in Tokyo was a roller-coaster of experiences - I had a sponsor when I first arrived in the country, they had no real work for me but nevertheless required me to sit in their dingy downtown office every day, doing literally nothing except breathe in the permament fog of tobacco smoke (I was a non-smoker) and hope the editor would come back to the office and give me permission to go out. Initial joy at being in Tokyo was soon replaced by deep unhappiness, after six frustrating months of this our relationship finally unravelled, and I was out on my own in Shitamachi, free but penniless, fraught with fear over the future. These two sketchbooks cover that period.

The office, waiting for permission to leave, 17th June 1987. ballpen

Because I was under-employed (and yet tightly under the watchful eye of the sponsor), I leaped on any opportunity to slip out of the nicotine stained office in Iidabashi and study Japanese in the quiet of the British Council building, or go walk-about in downtown Tokyo. When I eventually found my own place to rent in Yanaka and parted company with the sponsor these sketchbooks were both a comfort and way to come to terms with Tokyo, it's architecture, atmosphere, details, all things that would serve me well later on.

Roppongi, 18th April 1987, ballpen

On the Hibiya Line, 8th October 1987. ballpen
So these drawings were at a point of change for me, initially a creative escape from my sponsor's office, they then became a comfort when I was on my own in Yanaka, it was a time just before things started to move for me, so looking back at them now brings a mixture of nostalgia and vivid memories of the turmoil I was in then.

Mishima village near Sendai, painted during a volunteer weekend with UNICEF, Summer 1987. watercolour
With these drawings I come to the end of the 10 pieces from my archives. Discovering all of these things in my late father's loft has made me very contemplative about my current position in life, especially after his passing. If there's any lesson looking through these old archive things has taught me, it's that change is generally good, and provided you keep moving forward, things will most definitely get better!

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2. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.9: Bag of Portfolio artwork, 1984

The penultimate item in this series of 10 objects from my dad's loft is a bag of unpublished portfolio material from circa 1984.

There was a lot of material from London in my dad's loft, when I left my studio just before I flew off to Japan it was the natural place to just shove everything, my entire output from 1983-1986, and it's pretty well all been preserved, waiting for me to reclaim thirty years later.

I moved to London in 1983, encouraged by two children's book commissions, but finding more work wasn't easy, a miserable, barren year went by with precious little work before I eventually reconnected with an old friend from Manchester Andy and eventually joined a couple of other illustrators and designers to set up Façade Art Studios in Crouch End, N.8.

I've blogged about Façade Studios before  (here, and here). The aisles of an old church on Crouch Hill had been converted into studio space and were rented to us by animators Bob Bura and John Hardwick (of Camberwick Green/Trumpton fame), whose studio was in the adjacent church hall. On the other side of the church New Statesman cartoonist John Minnion had a studio, while the old nave between the two sides was renovated and used for Sunday services by the Eternal Sacred Order of Seraphim and Cherubim. Bob and John retired soon after we set up the studio, selling the old church hall to Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox (The Eurythmics), who converted it into their recording studio. Cherubim and Seraphim then became our landlords. With such a hotbed of activity all around I found myself spending most of my time in Façade, the studio was my second home, it seemed to turn me into a full time illustrator almost overnight.

When I look through the piles of old artwork now there's so much material it's hard to choose any particular piece, but this bag of unpublished portfolio images from the very early days of the studio sums up the renewed focus I had on illustration. It was a very productive period, especially for editorial work, I experimented in all kinds of directions, from very tight to cartoons, though my ultimate target was always children's books. These were all aimed to grab real paying jobs, I was hungry for commissions and had nothing to lose - no back up plan, no more signing on, it was either make it in London or run back to Norwich and get a day job, and I was certain that wasn't going to happen. I was still gunning for children's book commissions, but magazine work paid the rent. Here's a few.....

Saxon versus Viking, A drawing aimed at the historical non-fiction niche, circa 1983

This drawing and the one above are the oldest from this era, I realised very quickly that there was a limited market for tight penwork, and quickly changed tack.

Two early experiments aimed at picture books

Bloody Mary - Part of a series on visualising cocktails

Give us a job! Self portrait in desperation - it probably wasn't such a good idea to show this to potential clients!

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3. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.8: The Blue Blanket, 1981-1982

Number 8 in this series of ten archive items from my dad's loft are some surviving copies of The Blue Blanket fanzine, which briefly flared on the streets of Norwich from 1981 to 1982.

Three years in Manchester may have seen a mixed development with my artwork, but it had a profound effect on other aspects of my life - especially through music. It was a fabulous time to be in Manchester - I moved there at the height of punk, and left just before the Haçienda opened. I saw all the iconic bands of the era, from Buzzcocks to The Fall to Joy Division, and all their touring contemporaries. Despite poverty as a student I loved Manchester and often wonder why I didn't just stay in the city after graduating, but I was penniless and disillusioned with my artwork, there were no potential clients for my drawings and the prospect of looking for a job or signing on in Manchester filled me with dread, I couldn't see any reason to stay in the city. A temporary return to the family home was inevitable, however while I was in Manchester my parents had decided to leave the West Midlands and move to a village outside Norwich. It was an entirely alien world to me, from the gritty streets of Manchester to a hamlet in the Norfolk countriside, which I'd only visited there on holiday once. What was I going to do now?

My head was full of musical and creative frustration, I needed some outlet for this energy, I was angry, disillusioned, full of post-grad angst and resentment. I needed to get something off my chest....
Cut from Blue Blanket issue 4, 1982

Musical ambitions were never to be fulfilled, so I did the next best thing -  I started a fanzine.

Why The Blue Blanket? The first thing my parents did after I returned to the family flock, after throwing away my entire wardrobe of arty (to my eyes) second hand rags (in theirs), was to tag me along on a short holiday in Brittany. I was really not in the mood, but there was a large blue blanket at the place we stayed, and blue fluff seemed to attach itself to everything - long after the holiday we were picking bits of blue out of things. I wanted a magazine that would get into the crannies of  Norwich, a blanket coverage that would stick everywhere. The name was a joke, but it also reminded me of Der Blau Reiter art movement started by Kandinsky and others.... this was to be a magazine about art as well as music (or so I hoped). Hence The Blue Blanket. 

The fact that I knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about Norwich, it's music or art scene didn't seem to matter, in fact I saw it as an advantage as everything came to me fresh, and to my eyes there really didn't seem to be that much of a scene to discuss anyway. Today, Norwich has several venues and numerous galleries, but in 1981 it was more of a city of antiques and second-hand bookshops, there were only a handful of pub venues and two small clubs that put on indie bands - The Gala (a former ballroom) on St.Stephens, and The Jacquard on Magdalen Street, plus occasional gigs at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Nevertheless there was an energy in the city, with some ambitious local bands, an energy which I soon connected with.

The first issue of The Blue Blanket extended to 16 sides of A4, printed (extremely badly) by the Freewheel Anarchist Bookshop in Norwich. It consisted of a manifesto, a news page, a band interview (the non-band Sans Culottes), some gig reviews and lots of opinionated noises from me (under various aliases) questioning whether Norwich was a creative cul-de-sac, a diatribe against the media, jokes, cartoons, an unplayable song and some truly awful poetry. I think the first edition stretched to 200 copies, some of which were stocked by HMV and other local outlets, Rough Trade in London offered to take some, and to my immense pride John Peel at the BBC gave it a shout out on his Radio 1 programme.

Spread from Blue Blanket #2, 1981

To my amazement it sold out, so I upped the price and print run and produced another one, followed by another, and another. My fanzine wasn't alone in Norwich (there was another  Is It Fish?, produced by Farmers Boys compatriot Kid Brian), but my policy was staunchly to focus on the whole of the local indie music scene rather than promote any particular band or cover touring acts. Succeeding issues ran features and interviews on Norwich bands The Vital Disorders, Carl Gustav and the 84's, Zod & the Universe, The Suspects, After Dark, The Higsons (author & comedian Charlie Higson's band!) and Popular Voice, though plans to include the local art scene as well as indie music never really materialised.  By Issue Four the print quality had greatly improved and it still regularly sold out of it's much increased print run, it was actually turning over a small profit, but the job of writing, compiling, designing and selling it was becoming a burden, though by that stage I had a few contributors and the distribution was much easier. John Peel's encouragement kept me at it for a quite a while (he announced the release of every issue and phoned me up once to talk about the Norwich scene on air, tragically I was out!), but my energy was being pulled back towards my illustration career. The focus and self-discipline of running the magazine was giving me a more professional attitude to my work, it gave me the determination to research the market and produce a new portfolio of illustrations to show around London.

The decision to finally hang up ambitions of journalism and close the covers of The Blue Blanket came when I was commissioned to illustrate my first children's book in 1982 - Jeremy Strong's Fatbag, published by A&C Black.

I thought I'd lost all but one remaining copies of The Blue Blanket, so was very happy to find a few surviving in my father's loft.

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4. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.7: college sketchbooks, 1978-1981

For the seventh selection in A History of my Archive in 10 Objects here are some surviving sketchbooks from my 3 years on the Illustration course at Manchester Polytechnic.

Collection of sketchbooks, 1978-1981
Okey, so this is cheating a bit - these are clearly more than one object! But the contents are pretty consistent and were all bundled together in my father's loft, so I think I can safely lump them together as a single item.

Actually, very little remains of my work from the years 1978-1981 while I was at Manchester, as previously mentioned on this blog I ceremoniously threw almost all of my course work out of the 4th Floor window of Chatham House on the final day of the last term, keeping only my degree show portfolio work. It was an act of bravado, but also a statement of the frustration and disillusionment many of us sensed at the end, I felt I'd somehow lost direction during the course. So I was pleasantly surprised to find these sketchbooks still in existence in my dad's loft.

Unfortunately there's not much I want to share, most of the pages are testament to a struggle within confines I'd placed myself in as a pen and ink illustrator. Some time during the First Year I was told by my course head Tony Ross (yes, that Tony Ross) that painting wasn't really my thing, I shouldn't worry about colouring and would be best served by concentrating entirely on pen and ink drawing, with just a splash of colour. I took this advice rather too much to heart and pen drawing was pretty much all I did for most of the 2nd and 3rd years. When I wasn't galavanting off to punk gigs I spent much of my studio time illustrating some of my favourite novels in black and white - The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Treasure Island, Tom's Midnight Garden, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH... all really imaginative books for an illustrator to explore.

College project: Treasure Island, pen & ink 1980. This drawing survived as a degree show piece.

I saw myself as a black-and-white specialist in the manner of E. H. Shepherd, Mervyn Peake and Edward Ardizzone, it didn't occur to me that in the late '70's fewer and fewer publishers were actually printing novels with text illustrations, that my heroes were all of their time. Most surprisingly of all (and this is something I was to particularly wonder about later), I either wasn't given, or chose to ignore, any guidance to study, write, or dummy picture books, the stock-in-trade of any would-be children's illustrator!

Years later when I met Tony Ross again at Bologna I questioned him about this, and was told, "you have to remember John, it was a commercial illustration course, not a children's book course"... which only partly answered the question. Tony was the head of the course and a children's illustrator, I was the only children's book illustrator in my year (all the others working towards the broader illustration market). I'd set myself very narrow constraints, my pen and ink drawings were still clumsy, the sketchbooks are full of marginalia, doodles rather than dynamic ground breaking work. Maybe I'm being rather hard on myself, but looking through the sketchbooks now from a professional point of view, of the illustration work there's very little I would want to share, I'm not surprised I wanted to throw most of my course artwork out of the window!

College project: Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, pen & ink 1981. Another degree show survivor.

However, mixed in with the heavy-handed experiments (which I'm NOT going to show!)  the sketchbooks also contain lots of drawings from life, sketches of those around me which bring back very clear memories of the time. As a break from struggling with pen and ink I drew fellow students, the things around me... it seems the more I tried to be a 'proper illustrator', the further away I was drifting from inspiration, yet the sketches from life have an authenticity and lighter touch I was somehow missing in my course work. Here are a few.

The most ready-to-hand subjects were the other illustration students on my course....
Fellow student Shirley Barker sketch mixed in with a page of course work on The Wind in the Willows, 1979

Melanie Dabbs, 1980
Bob Wood 1980
Jean Yarwood, 1981
Tammy Wong, 1981

... even occasionally the course teachers...

...then there were the places I lived...

A scruffy room in Didsbury, 1980. That's my Corona typewriter on the table.
The All Saints campus from the Halls of Residence, around 1979. Student Union on the right, Oxford Road in the distance.

...and there was the Thursday afternoon life class (regretably stopped half way through the course), which was a wonderful escape while it lasted as it was purely observed drawing.

My eyes were greatly opened by my time at Manchester, not least thanks to the Manchester indie music scene and my friends. The course itself though had narrowed my output and possibly development, but I don't exclusively blame the tutors, I've a tremendous respect for Tony Ross. We must have been a tough bunch to teach.

Tony Ross drawing in my sketchbook margin, I think he was  encouraging me to make my animals fatter.

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5. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.5: Birds, 1977

Number 5 in the History of my Archive in 10 Objects, is this triple set of bird studies from early 1977.

Buzzard, Kingfisher, Long-Eared Owl. Watercolour on paper, 1977
I was 17,  I was about to leave school and start a foundation course at the now-gone and much lamented Bournville School of Art, I was full steam ahead for a career in illustration, the world of graphic art, experimentation and adventure awaited.

But all that was in the future - in the meantime I was generating some income from selling these kinds of traditional studies in a local giftshop/framing gallery in Mere Green. The owner, Mrs Gameson, was extremely supportive of my work and gave me wall space to display and sell pictures of wildlife and familiar scenes of Sutton Coldfield, in watercolour (as here) or pen and ink. Gameson Gallery also  managed me as an artist on commission - word of mouth recommendations led me to draw many of the big houses on the private estate in Four Oaks, I'd cycle with sketchpad and ink bottle to anywhere that wanted a drawing - unfortunately this came to an end when one customer returned their house sketch, upset that I'd included the washing on her line in the drawing.

Virtually everything I painted at that time was sold by the gallery, but these three studies survived because they were a birthday gift to my mum in January 1977. I believe they were amongst my first attempts to paint in pure watercolour (that is, just paint, no pen lines).

 I carried on working with the Gameson Gallery even after I started my Foundation course, right up until I left for Manchester, Mrs Gameson gave me my first ever one-man (or one kid!) exhibition, mostly wildlife paintings. My parents were particularly proud of this and my father was disappointed when I drifted away from such work. Being an artist in the eyes of my father was to paint attractive pictures, exhibit them, sell them and put them on the wall. He could never really get to grips with my choice to be an illustrator rather than a gallery fine artist, there was a suspicion I was under-selling my talents. I'll always remember him saying "when are you going to paint a proper picture I can put on the wall?" By "proper", he meant a landscape, seascape or genre oil painting. But eventually he did come round to understanding my creative path.

The fact remains though, of all the work I created and showed my parents over all these years, the one thing that never left their walls, on display without a break for nearly forty years from 1977 until 2016, were these three bird studies.

I always wonder what became of Mrs Gameson...

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6. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.4: Corona 4 typewriter, 1924

Number 4 in this series of 10 Images from my Archives found at my dad's house is my old typewriter... and I mean old typewriter!

Corona Model 4 portable typewriter, 1924 pattern

When I was 16 I discovered the work of the Golden Age illustrators (Rackham, Dulac, Heath-Robinson, Stratton etc). In fact it was a re-discovery really as my mum had kept a couple of compendiums from her childhood that had been illustrated by these artists, but I rarely saw those. It was only in the mid-70's that I began seriously examining children's illustration, Arthur Rackham's work in particular began transporting me to realms of the imagination. Gradually my artwork at school began to take on the iconography of old fashioned ethereal fairy tales, anthropomorphised animals and so on. By the time I reached 6th Form I knew I wanted to be a children's book illustrator, so it was only natural I'd also pursue writing too.

My first attempts at writing children's books had been laughable copies of Enid Blyton adventures, written by hand when I was around 13.... none extended past the first chapter! But by 1977 I was serious, and so managed to persuade my parents to buy me a typewriter.

Of course, what I had in mind was a modern, zippy electric typewriter that I could churn out pages of manuscript. But, ever watchful for a bargain, my mum spotted an ad for something second-hand, and what I ended up with was a Corona 4 manual machine,  released onto the market in 1924. I remember the day we picked this up from a big old house on the private estate, I didn't quite know what to make of it - this wasn't hi-tech! though I fell in love with it's look.

I'd never touched a typewriter before in my life, so the fact the ribbon feed was rusty, you had to bang down the keys so hard it made your fingers ache, or that the 'e' was slightly misaligned didn't bother me, I had no other experience to compare to so just got on with it - it was the only way for me. I felt I was following the route of the great writers, rather than obsolete, it was 'classic'.

While other 18-year olds were discovering pubs, I spent most of my free time typing out my first manuscript In Search of Summer Gold - my one and only attempt at a novel - a long, pretty unpublishable tale of anthropomorphised mice and fairies in the 18th century, a mix of The Wind in the Willows meets The Lord of the Rings, with a good dollop of Brothers Grimm and Peter Pan thrown in for good measure. And of course I illustrated it with highly derivative pen drawings. From a professional level it was not very good and was turned down by two publishers before I eventually shelved it .... but at least it taught me to type!

Later on I used the Corona to type up my degree thesis, and in the early '80's the first issues of the Norwich post-punk fanzine/magazine The Blue Blanket ... banging those keys down with a satisfying smack! smack! smack! as they hit the ribbon, it was the perfect instrument on which to take out frustrations with the world. But thereafter it was retired, and I've never attempted to write a novel again.

It took a battering in the years I used it, 35 years in my dad's loft has not been good to my old stalwart either, but I was very glad to rediscover it there.

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7. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.2: The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, 1975

Number 2 in the discoveries made at my dad's house from long hidden archives of my work. In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd ever see this picture again, but there it was, in my dad's loft, warts and all, the very first drawing I ever attempted in pen and ink, from 1975, aged 16.

School project: The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, copy of an engraving in The Graphic, after the painting by John Collier. Pen & Ink with watercolour on paper. 73cm x 51cm. 1975.

Prior to this drawing I'd worked steadily but quietly at school on assigned projects. It was acknowledged that I was "good at art", but this was post modernist, late hippy mid 1970's, most of the art classes were light on drawing skills, heavy on texture and tactility, I found little to inspire me. Batik tshirts? Organic bio-plant patterns? Yeuk! No, I wanted to draw! Draw people! Things!

Away from school however I'd long since discovered the joy of the BIC biro, and filled old unused school exercise books with drawings, copied or inspired by WW2 Commando comics. After my dad bought me a couple of Adrian Hill guides to drawing and sketching I'd taken a sketchbook with me everywhere I went, and on every holiday over the previous year filled it with directly observed sketches from life in biro. This was all entirely independant from school. Finally a confrontation with a school bully ended up with the contents of my school bag scattered across the classroom floor, and my sketchbooks were discovered by my form tutor (and art teacher) Al Sayers.

Everything changed from then on. My wonderful art teacher Jackie Asbury (where is she now?) introduced me to a dip pen and a bottle of indian ink for the first time, and told me to draw something challenging. A 19th engraving of Collier's The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson seemed to fit the bill.  I knew absolutely nothing about Henry Hudson or John Collier, or for that matter pen and ink drawing, but I set to and produced this clumsy, tentative piece, little knowing that pen and ink was to become my chief medium for the next 40 years.

Well, this is what I wanted it to look like....

The source engraving, The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson, after the painting by John Collier

It's embarassing - those terribly badly drawn hands... it bears little resemblance to the source image, how could I hope to reproduce an engraving with a dip-pen? I had a lot to learn, but it was a start, and I never looked back.

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8. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.1: Sketch from the back garden of Butlers Lane, 1976

For the first in the Museum of My Archive in 10 Objects  (apologies to Neil MacGregor and the British Museum) I bring you a sketch of our house, drawn just before my 17th birthday from our back garden during the sweltering summer of 1976.

23 Butler's Lane from the Back Garden Rotring pen and Winsor & Newton ink on paper, June 1976.

We lived in Butlers Lane, Sutton Coldfield from 1970 until the end of 1977,  this was the house where I grew from child to teenager.

It was a corner house and significantly bigger than any of our previous (and subsequent!) homes. My parents bought it for a bargain, it hadn't been altered since it was built in the 1920's and was in desperate need of complete modernisation, much of which my dad did himself. I still have clear memories of when we moved in - there were slate fossils of ammonites and other pre-historic sea life left in the kitchen from the previous owner, also a big, black cast iron built in range, and in one of the bedroom cupboards an old clockwork railway set. All were disposed of very quickly in the urgency to fix up the house, much to my regret!

The reason this is the first in my History is because this house is where it all started, this is where I really embraced a love of history and of art, where I began drawing in earnest. I've more fond memories of this house than any other.

One of the best things about it was the long extended back garden, which had two large trees and several smaller ones (not visible in this drawing), a rock garden and an allotment at the bottom, which my grandfather cultivated when he later moved in with us. I shared a bedroom with my brother (on the whole amicably), on my side of the room my dad built a study alcove which we were supposed to use for homework, but which I actually used mainly to paint Napoleonic soldiers. Airfix model aeroplanes hung from the ceiling in an eternal dogfight. On my brother's side of the room was a large cardboard cut-out of Marc Bolan, Roger Dean posters and a fur trimmed record player. We gone on okey. My sister always had her own room, bedecked with posters of Black Sabbath and David Bowie. The house was easy walking distance to school and local shops at Mere Green, a bike ride from Sutton Park, and just a couple of minutes walk from Butlers Lane train station, which gave us access to Sutton Coldfield and Birmingham. In the summer I'd cycle the opposite direction along country lanes out towards Lichfield.

From this distance in time it seems a pretty well perfect place to have grown up. I loved this house.

This wasn't the first time I'd drawn it, nor would it be the last, but this particular image seems to me to sum up a perfect summer at one of the happiest and most carefree times of my life.

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9. The Museum of Me

My dad was the last of his generation in our immediate family. One of the consequences of his passing has been the sorting out of all the nooks and crannies of his house, which revealed a lot of things I'd completely forgotten still existed. Not only parental items we grew up with from childhood, but also things left behind by us kids as we moved on in life. As the artist of the family I've by far been the worst offender - when I set off to art college all my school art work was consigned to my dad's loft, where some of it stayed for 40 years. Even when my parents moved house, they loyally took my old artwork with them.

Other bits and pieces were thrown, but artwork was sacred, even the scrappiest of work. To this was later added my degree course sketchbooks (though I threw away most of my finished course work when I left Manchester), bags of artwork from my London studio days, and various bits and pieces from the 21 years I lived in Japan, including every single letter I wrote home to my parents.

They kept it all. Yellowed, damp and foxed from all those years in my dad's loft, great wads of the stuff. And now it's all in my possession again.

This is in addition to my dad's creative life - the contents of his little art studio room, his oil paints and other materials, some of his paintings, boxes of books and postcards that inspired him (largely seascapes, the Impressionists and Victorian genre painters). Plus his collection of First World War books, and most importantly for me, our family archive of photos and documents - as the family genealogist I worked a lot on these with my dad's encouragement, painstakingly identifying faces, scanning and photoshop restoring, compiling and researching our family history, these are all in my safe keeping now.

So I've been buying new storage furniture for a major reorganisation.

When I left Japan I came back to the UK pretty well empty handed, in grief over my wife's death I threw away virtually all artwork except children's book illustrations, abandoned my furniture, household items and record collection, and sold off 2/3 of my books. I brought very little back from Japan, It was a new life coming back to England, I wanted to start afresh, not be burdened by the weight of a previous existence. I regret throwing so much away now, but it did stand me in good stead over the numerous times daughter and I moved house.

But now with the arrival of all this material I'm in a bit of a dilemma what to do with it all, not the family archives, but particularly my old artwork. My dad's occasional paintings are one thing, but my adolescent stumbling art attempts? Some of these ancient works are truly embarrassing, for the prosaic subject matter as much as anything - what was I thinking? It always surprised me that my parents were more interested in displaying my immature work on their walls rather than my professional illustration career. But age has given this work a resonance and unique significance I can't ignore. It's now an archive, I can't throw it away, it's history!

..... some of it I'm quite proud of actually, these were important stepping stones.

So, inspired by Neil McGregor's successful BBC/British Museum tie-up series A History of the World in 100 objects, I'll share a few bits and pieces of in a History of my Archive in 10 Objects.

Coming up is Object Number One.... Read the rest of this post

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10. A self portrait portfolio sample - circa 1999!

A portfolio sample from WAY back. Kind of a self portrait/studio scene. Certainly some bears in the background sketches (and even a decorated trash can) that recall my first story submission for Practically Perfect Pajamas :) While I've never really done a book with quite this much detail, there is something about it that I really love. Enjoy!

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11. New York Public Library to Digitize Washington, Thoreau and Twain

The items include letters by Washington and a map of Walden Pond drawn by Thoreau.

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12. Organizing Your Research by DL Larson

When I first started researching the early 1800's for my American historical, I took plenty of notes. I was very careful to site the title, copyright dates, volume, author, and what library I was researching from. I even kept track of the page numbers I found important information. I wanted to make sure when I posted my Bibliography at the end of my novel, I would have all the accurate documentation. Well, I succeeded in accomplishing that, but it didn't take long for me to realize I needed another system to keep track of the information I acquired. You may need an organizing system as well.

After shuffling through notebooks, copied pages from books, and numerous notations in my own handwriting, I knew it would be quicker in the long run to index what I had already found. My system started out much like an inverted pyramid. I used topic titles such as: Indian Tribes, Routes, Military, Rivers, Towns: Indian/White, Maps, Laws Passed, etc. This was done well before excel was a household word.

Within any topic title I kept several folders, for instance the Indian Tribes I researched were many and varied from culture to culture. My story included real people in our history so details became very important. The Pawnee Indian Tribe was very different from the Shawnee, yet they knew of each other and cross referencing became even more important. Color coding worked well in keeping my notes accurate and easy to verify if I had a question that needed answering. I didn't want to state something as simple as the Pawnee were friends with the Potawatomi if they were in fact sworn enemies or had no contact with them during that era.

Timelines, as we've mentioned this week, are very important. When doing a historical about a real person (and well known) it's never good to have him in one part of the country in a your story when history has him in another place. I documented where my character was over a three year period and although I sometimes forgot and the writing took over, it was easy to search through my notes and sigh with relief when he was where I needed him to be.

Research may be tedious, yet once organized it will save hours of time for any writer. My system may not work well for you, but what ever system you develop, it will prove its worth as you write your story.

I always thought I would write more about Indians of the midwest since I acquired so much information, but I never have. Yet, I'm not willing to throw my notes away. Maybe someday I will revisit those archives.

What works well for you in note keeping or researching a special topic for your book? Tell us your secrets on keeping organized.

Til next time ~

DL Larson

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13. Data munging

Recently I’ve been importing the ancient Librarian Avengers archives to live within WordPress. Because the site goes back to…hrm… 1997, there’s some data munging to do.

Right now I’m concerning myself with the period after Graduate School, when I moved to Ithaca, NY for an ostensibly-cool digital library fellowship. I couldn’t talk about how much I hated it at the time so the entries are mostly tangential to the work I was doing, but there’s still some fun stuff.

Importing ancient blog posts involves a bunch of tagging, titling, category-setting, and general modernization. I’ve been progressively making my way through the old posts, adding images, fixing spelling mistakes, and generally adding a bit of polish.

Part of the reason I’m taking on data scrubbing as my One Designated Personal Thing to Do this evening, is that today has been a study in helplessness. My daughter has a (small) fever. It’s the first time she’s been sick, and I’m trying to direct my need to control something (anything!) in a positive direction.

Also, cleaning data is pretty therapeutic after some of the body fluids I’ve encountered recently.

Related posts:

  1. Shh. “The Library” is the subject of the Freebase Data Mob I’m a librarian by ethnicity, if not profession these days,...
  2. Another Data Mob at Freebase – Ethnicity Wanna enrich some data? Got OCD? Tired of trying to...
  3. Freebase Hack Day II: The Return of Hack Day Librarian? Data junkie? Obsessive compulsive? Come to the Freebase hack...

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14. Jayne Jaudon Ferrer: Your Daily Poem Editor & Creator

Jayne Jaudon  Ferrer is thepoetry editor and creator of my favorite poetry website:  www.yourdailypoem.com,and a first class poet. What she promises is that the poems she shares dailywill “not be boring.” I think she certainly fulfills that promise each day,while championing a website with TLC, whose cup run-eth over with inspiration,resources and poetry interaction. The quality of the poems she presentsencourages readers to leave behind positive poetry comments and seek more poems(written by the same author), thus affirming the daily poet’s path and writing process.

Jayne is a“poetry missionary” converting the skeptics to believers in the power ofpoetry. Go to her website, read a sample of the poems in the archives, and youwill discover that poetry can be “outrageous,inspiring, hilarious, heartbreaking, uplifting, sobering, and surprising.”Then sign up for a free daily poem delivered to your e-mail box. You will haveno regrets.

Want to know more about Jayne? You can find this biographical sketch on her website:  

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer is the author of four books of poetry that focus on family life, one of which has remained consistently in print for more than twenty years. An award-winning copywriter and freelance journalist, Ferrer speaks frequently at women’s and book events; her poetry and articles have appeared in publications ranging from Boca Raton Magazine to Christian Parenting Today. Jayne lives in Greenville, South Carolina; learn more about her at www.jaynejaudonferrer.com.

Since this month is National Poetry Month, Jayne showcases a month's worth of poem that even extra special. Subscribe and see for  yourself.

If you wander into the archives, you might even stumble on a poem of mine in the archives...
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15. Free Kid Poetry Contest Winner!

Each month of I have a free Monthly Poetry Contest for kids all around the world. The boy above, Sehen Dilkush Gamhewa has won three times. He's a young and gifted poet. He has his own web page, too. As long as my website exists, all winning poems will be in my archives to read and enjoy once again. And, of course, the winner has bragging rights. That is to say, any poet that wins the monthly contest should feel very proud of himself or herself. Congratulations, Sehen!
Silly Stuff for Kids

Poetry Contest Winners

December Poetry Winner:
Christmas Alphabet
by Sehen Dilkush Gamhewa
Lyceum International School — Nugegoda
Country: Sri Lanka

Christmas Alphabet

All of us are waiting for this day
Bells are ringing all over
Candy bars everyone gets
Delighted children run everywhere
Everyone celebrates this special day
Feeling happiness all around
Getting a lots of presents
Houses are decorated
In and out people go
Jesus, the Christ child was born on this special day
Keeping a lot of glory
Lighted candles illuminate houses
Making cards for everyone
No end of happiness
Opening presents and being surprised
People are pleasant
Quietly huddled at night
Rejoicing this day
Sharing gifts with others
Talking excitedly
Unforgettable day
Very beautiful sceneries are everywhere
Winter is coming
X-mas trees stand in the house
Young and old enjoy this day
Zeal we show at this time

(Joe's commentary: Co

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16. From the Archives: Wild Animal Actors

The year was 1936: truly the golden age of jungle animals in Hollywood.

Wild! Animal! Actors!

Wild! Animal! Actors!

Actually, we don’t know if that’s even true. But H.M and F.M. Christeson’s Wild Animal Actors lets us believe in a world where life was simpler, young ladies could match stripes and argyle patterns without fear, and the paparazzi followed Jalmers, the South American Puma, as he prowled around town shamelessly crashing fancy luncheons.

Jalmers, the South American Puma

(That girl on the left was so not having this.)

The featured animals in this book include an elephant, a tiger, a lion, two pumas, a rhino, and a penguin. Lest you think these profiles are all Hollywood puff pieces, Wild Animal Actors reveals that Jiggs the Chimpanzee (co-star to Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and at least six different Tarzans) often stole jam jars and was prone to tantrums, just like a tiny Mel Gibson.

Oh, Jiggs.

The penguin thespian was known as “One-take-Oscar,” who “always does his bit perfectly the first time, but refuses to go through that same bit again that same day.”  This earned him a whopping $125 a week, or nearly 450 fish in 1930′s prices. (We did not make this up. It’s really in the book.)

Oscar the Penguin

Really it was all we could do to keep from scanning every last image in this book and sending them to one of our favorite weird photo blogs. But it’s Friday, and we have our summer books to get to, so we’ll leave you with this vision until Monday:

Anna May, the Elephant

Happy reading, and have a good weekend!

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17. Research archive and educational resource: “Vancouver Art in the Sixties”

Vancouver Art in the 1960s

Maybe it’s our tendency to romanticize the past as better-then-the-present, but it often seems that Vancouver was genuinely hip and cool a few decades back, before it was trying to vie for the world-spotlight by packaging itself as hip and cool. This archive site is a nice find, particularly in light of the embarrassing and horrific cuts to the arts announced here in BC (from an annual $47.6M to $3.6M).

Ruins In Process is a research archive and educational resource that brings together still and moving images, ephemera, essays and interviews to explore the diverse artistic practices of Vancouver art in the 1960s and early 1970s. Drawn from private collections and archives as well as public sources, it uses the capacity of the internet as an ideal medium to present the interdisciplinary activities and technologies that emerged at that time. With hundreds of images, texts, audio and video recordings, Ruins In Process will reward repeat visits and ongoing research.

Pictured above is “Vancouver Art Gallery curator Doris Shadbolt sitting on a electronic sound sculpture by Dennis Vance. The work entitled “Fat Emma” was featured in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition Direction 69. “Fat Emma” was a fiberglass module that picked up various radio stations through movement.” I just love this.

Posted by Luc Latulippe on Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog | Permalink | No comments
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18. finger pointing when digital archives disappear

I really enjoyed this article about Google buying up the Paper of Record digital news archives and then “disappearing” it somehow. The timeline is a little unclear and it’s back online for now, but as Google figures out how to monetize it and researchers yowl about lack of access, it raises some pretty interesting issues about scholarship. As information ownership changes hands — and I think if we weren’t talking about Google here we’d be talking about someone else, so it’s not really about them — data can literally disappear either behind a paywall or just gone. Particularly poignant in this case is the comment (sorry no permalink) on the Inside Higher Ed story by Bob Huggins the original founder/creator of the archive discussing what’s happening with the archive now.

When exactly does the cat fight end? It slays me to see the great American Us versus Them debate rage on( I comment as a Canadian). As person who pioneered the digitization of newspapers in the world with our company, Cold North Wind, I fail to see how this acrimony between Academics and Google helps ‘joe public’ access the public record. I have stated on numerous occasions that the newspaper represents ‘our’ only record of daily public life for the past 500 years with a special emphasis on the word “public”… I have been through the grinding wheels of both Google and many public institutions whose goal it seems is to preserve and present history from Newspapers. Both have let me down.

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19. can you control public domain images? should you?

Peter Hirtle has a great post over at the LibraryLaw blog about the Smithsonian’s attempt to control reproduction and subsequent use of the materials they have made available digitally and online, many of which are in the public domain. A group called Public Resource decided to push the envelope on the Smithsonian’s terms of service, specifically their copyright notice, and downloaded all 6000+ images and made them available on Flickr where they still are. Hirtle questions the legality of what Public Resource has done, but also questions the copyright that the Smithsonian asserts.

Again, I wish the Smithsonian didn’t try to assert control over its images. And while I think that Public.Resource.Org crossed the line, it is ridiculous that anyone else can now take any of public domain images Public.Resource.Org has distributed and do whatever they want with them. (Any contract limiting use of the images can only be between the Smithsonian and Public.Resource.Org.) That is just one more reason why repositories should focus on providing good services to users, rather than attempting to establish monopoly control over images from their holdings.

Update: I made this for you.

fare yus lol

, , ,

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20. Friday Procrastination: Link Love

The joy of short weeks, Friday is here before you know it!  Here are some links to distract you from your work. 

Finally, a balanced look at e-books.

The joy of tabs.

Show Tango some love. (more…)

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21. our house

This is an old drawing. It may look a little familiar, I reworked it for the earlier pinboard drawing. It's one from the archives. 1993, in fact. The only drawing I have from that period. The only drawing I made in that decade, I believe. I always seem to revisit the same old themes in my drawings. I wonder what that's about? Anyway, this one is for Tim and for the good old days.

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22. why good cataloging matters

A President’s Day link for you. An NPR story about some recently surfaced photos of Lincoln’s inauguration, via MetaFilter.

The Library of Congress had discovered unseen photos of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration. They’d been housed at the library for years, hidden by an error in labeling.

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23. updatefilter - BPL’s evolving online collection

Just got this in my inbox this morning and figured I’d share. I edited a little bit and added some hyperlinks, also suggested that BPL needs an announcement blog along the lines of the nifty one at NYPL Labs.

Hi Jessamyn and Alison,

Thanks for blogging about our Flickr presence last week… your influence was greatly felt (to the tune of 2,500 hits on the day of your post, with virtually no other publicity at all).

I wanted to let you know about a couple of this week’s developments:

  • In response to comments on Jessamyn’s blog, we’ve gone ahead and opened up all of our items to tags and comments from any Flickr user; we welcome/encourage/request any and all submissions. We’ve made the photo titles more meaningful as well, instead of simply using our digital accession numbers.
  • In addition to the 1,227 items posted last week, we’ve added 4,523 really cool vintage postcards of New England, geotagged by the location pictured (and therefore viewable on our map). It’s so cool that I’d probably lose a lot of productive time playing with this stuff if it weren’t my actual job to play with this stuff.
  • We’ve got two or three more collections identified for uploading in the very near future, with plenty more to come after that.
  • We’re still waiting to see if Flickr will let us use the “No known copyright restrictions” license that they created for the Flickr Commons pilot project.

If you feel like any of this is newsworthy enough to treat your readers to a followup, we can always use a little pre-launch publicity. :-) Either way, I’ll be sure to keep you both posted as the project continues to grow.


Michael B. Klein
Digital Initiatives Technology Librarian

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24. some interesting reading/commenting from MeFi

I had been holding off on linking to the Web Tech Guy and Angry Staff Person video/blog post because I have mixed feelings about the idea generally even though I know it was a big hit when they showed it off at the conference. Then it hit MetaFilter and I found the discussion there helped me not only flesh out my own feelings about it but gave me a look into how other professionals from different perspectives saw it. Most notably, I was interested in this comment by Larry Cebula who works for Washington State and runs an award-winning northwest history blog.

I work for the Washington State Digital Archives. We have something like 80 million documents, mostly from Washington State counties, online and add millions more per month. After years of resistance the counties are really hopping aboard and have become great fans of our service.

But still we get these complaints and worries. It is even worse with archives than museums because so many county and local archives count on revenues for access to fund their offices. We are about to put up thousands of cases from county courts, some dating back to the late 1800s. But the county insists that we display only the top half of the first page of each record–and charge 25 cents a page for users to even view the records beyond that first half page! It is anti-democratic and eliminates many of the potential advantages of digital history, but there you have it.

Slightly related librarian topic over at AskMetaFilter, a question about questions: What questions do library users most often ask?

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25. Twittephemeraliness

Sometimes we tell people that things live forever on the internet and that anyone can find them (so don’t post that picture of yourself drinking alcohol, young man), but I want to highlight how some important things from just a couple of months ago are becoming impossible to find. If we’re not careful, the haystack is going to disappear, never mind the needle.

For example, take the discussion that happened on Twitter during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting just under two months ago. The Meeting had a hashtag for tracking content (#alamw09), and almost everyone used it most of the time. There was a lot going on in that tag, so much so that I thought it was a tipping point for the Association in terms of communication tools. I even debriefed what happened on Twitter for ALA staff afterwards so that they’d be able to see the patterns.

But try to find that discussion now, and it’s almost impossible. Most people (including me) rely on Twitter’s search engine (which was formerly called “Summize” and run by a different company until Twitter bought it). If you search Twitter now for the #alamw09 hashtag, you get exactly one page of results (yesterday there were two), and only a couple of those tweets were actually posted during the event itself. If you look up #alamw09 at hashtags.org, you’ll get more results from the Meeting itself, but there’s still only one page, and you had to have manually followed the hashtags.org Twitter account for them to have tracked your tweets, so even if you could see older results than what shows, it would be an incomplete archive at best. Search Technorati for #alamw09 and you get eight blog posts. Ironically, you can get most of the public tweets from Midwinter by searching FriendFeed

looking for anything from #ala2008 on Twitter, although there again FriendFeed saves the day, but for how long?

So for all of our aggregation attempts of that Twitter content, they may only work in the moment for the moment. It turns out they’re miscellaneous *and* searchable in only one place (for now), a pretty bad combination in hindsight. Thank heavens I favorited in Twitter so many of the alamw09 tweets, although that’s still not ideal. I have to manually page through them to find the ones I want, and I already have 35 pages of favorites.

After Midwinter, I tried to start moving my #alamw09 favorites into Evernote so that I’d be able to search and group them, but I haven’t had time to complete that process, and I just can’t seem to train myself to add new tweets there as I favorite them. The ratio of effort between clicking on a star and filling out a few words of metadata is just too much in the middle of my day, so this looms as a project in my future if I really want to save this stuff. Even then, there’s no guarantee Evernote will stick around, but at least I can export from it.

So if you were using a hashtag to aggregate content, thinking it would be easier to find it all again in the future, think again. You’re going to have to do something more proactive and manual than relying on Twitter’s search engine or Google. You’ll have to decide what level of ephemeraliness you’re comfortable with for that conversation, because you may not be able to get back to it if you let someone else manage access to the archive. In this context, it’s a shame so much of the conversation has moved away from blog comments (where individuals can openly archive it) to Twitter and FriendFeed. And if you’re a government or archive organization looking to preserve this kind of digital content, the stakes are getting raised on you.

Am I missing any other options for finding past hashtag conversations? Please tell me yes in the comments.

Addendum: Potential ideas for archiving - you could subscribe to the RSS feed of a hashtag in an RSS reader and export them, right? Or subscribe to the RSS feed via email? Other ideas?

Digg del.icio.us Furl StumbleUpon Technorati connotea Ma.gnolia NewsVine Reddit Slashdot Facebook Google LinkedIn Ping.fm Tumblr TwitThis Yahoo! Buzz

Tags: archives, conversations, disappearing, ephemera, friendfeed, hashtags, twitter

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