Monday, 31 May 2010

Cover me: an interview with Cat Lane

Cat Lane is a photography student from the south of England with a passion for fashion. At the end of last year she entered a competition to become the cover model for The New Goodbye, which she won. As well as the cover, the app also includes a handful of her self-portraits.

Like many of the entrants for the Mila competition, you’re a photographer rather than a fashion model. With this in mind, why did you enter the contest in the first place?

The main reason was that I thought, if I won, it would be great to be part of a shoot like this and to get to see and experience first-hand all of the work that goes into a shoot of this kind. It was great to watch the process from beginning to end: from the hair, makeup and styling, to the set construction, and to the actual shooting of the image itself and the reviewing of the photographs afterwards. I've never worked with a creative team before so I found it especially fascinating to see how everybody works together to create the final picture.

You’re pretty active on Flickr, where you post a lot of your work. Do you think the network is a positive thing for serious photographers?

I believe networking is of huge importance these days and is also a fantastic way to get regular feedback on your work. And I find it incredibly inspiring as well, I love being able to see great new work from the people I follow every day and to be able to watch their work grow and develop.

One of Cat's self-portraits.

A lot of the work you did have on Flickr consists of self-portraiture. Would you say you’re inordinately vain?

Absolutely not. I think now, especially on Flickr, it's almost normal to take quite a lot of self-portraits. I see more and more people doing it now and I think that self-portraiture is a great way to improve. For me, self-portraiture helped me to gain confidence with my photography, and in the early days it helped me to become familiar with my camera much quicker and helped me to experiment as well. Self-portraiture also meant that I was able to shoot portraits whenever I liked without having to arrange anybody to model for me. I also find there is less pressure with self-portraits because if the pictures don't turn out how you wanted them to, it's not a problem.

Tell us about the shoot for The New Goodbye, being in front of the lens rather than behind it.

Although I shoot a lot of self-portraits, it still felt bizarre to be in front of the lens because it wasn't me shooting the pictures. The part I especially enjoyed was seeing how the whole team worked together with one image in mind to create the shot they wanted. And it was also lovely to have my hair and makeup done and be pampered a bit. Ha ha!

You’ve recently finished a photography course at the London College of Communications. Is this a route you would recommend to others interested in becoming professionally involved in photography?

I would say so, especially if you're self taught. I think being self-taught is great but for me it got to the point where I wanted to learn more. More than I could teach myself with the little equipment that I own, or that I could access. I have learnt so, so much on the course about different photographic equipment and techniques, and although I can't currently afford the equipment I've learnt to use yet, at least I'll know what to do with it pretty much right away when I buy it in the future! Another thing I found especially beneficial about the course was being able to socialise and meet with others with an equally strong interest in photography. I think being immersed in that sort of an atmosphere is especially inspiring.

I only dozed off for a minute. Now my head's stuck to this tree.

Now your course is at an end, what are the next steps for you?

Moving back home, learning to drive and just to continue working on my portfolio. Shooting more fashion editorial style work. I'd also like to look into getting work assisting other photographers also.

To see more of Cat's work visit her Flickr page or drop by her own website.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The New Goodbye has landed

The day has finally arrived. The New Goodbye, here it is. Download it free from iTunes

Feedback very welcome.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

An interview with Rich Watson

Rich Watson is a singer/songwriter with a line in melodic, sixties-tinged guitar pop. As well as contributing the title track to The New Goodbye, he has recently worked with Ford and The Times, and recorded with musical statesmen Mike Rutherford (Genesis, Mike & The Mechanics) and Kenney Jones (The Small Faces, The Faces, The Who). He is currently working with producer Tim Woods on Department 66, his debut album. 

Rich playing The Albert Hall with Neil and Andy from Travis

You’ve been writing songs seriously for a number of years now. Recently you seem to have found a more distinctive voice. You’ve retained that sixties musicality you have always excelled in, but there’s a more modern feel to the music, that I think is very much a good thing. The New Goodbye is probably the first public demonstration of this, but is this a conscious move? 

I have been writing fairly consistently since I was about 14, when I started my first band at school. I guess I've been refining and honing the sound that is gradually crystallizing into Department 66. Ultimately, the bottom line is to make something of quality with a strong melody, an interesting lyric and that is reflective of its time. A tall order, but that was the brief I gave myself when I started the project.

Tim [Woods. The producer] has been invaluable in bringing this to life and Avatar, another track we worked on together (before the arrival of the James Cameron film I hasten to add), is in a similar vein.

They’ve updated The Prisoner. Shame they didn’t give you a call for the soundtrack. Marriage made in heaven, I reckon. 

Funnily enough I've just completed work on a new track for the album, entitled Just Around The Corner. It’s an instrumental piece, directly influenced by the likes of Lalo Schifrin. I’ve recently been turned on to his work, like the score he did for the Bullitt (the Steve McQueen film).

Can you tell us a bit about Department 66? 

I’m planning it as an album of 10 songs. The writing kicked off with Avatar last year, and the album will of course include The New Goodbye. I'm halfway there now. Ultimately, I'm keen to have something that incorporates the full range of my writing. I've always loved albums like London Calling [The Clash] or The White Album [The Beatles] where each track effectively creates its own little world.

So individual concept songs, rather than a concept album. And the title? Where’s that from? 

Department 66 is the road that crosses the border between France and Spain via Catalonia. I overhead the name on my travels last year and it struck me as an interesting title. I chose it for the sound of it, but also for the sense of transience it evokes; that place between borders.

That’s one of the themes of the novel too. It fact, it’s directly referenced, except in the book it’s the Mont Blanc pass between France and Italy.

You tasted a level of success a couple of years back when Six O’Clock was picked up by Ford (who, I have to confess I think helped murder a great song), and then there was the tour for Teenage Cancer Trust. But is that how you see yourself, as a front-man of a band? 

I enjoyed both experiences very much and certainly performing at the Royal Albert Hall was a particular highlight. I guess the idea of fronting a band and performing my own songs has always appealed, as, like most musicians, I have a very clear, defined view of how my songs should be performed. That’s not to say I’m not interest in writing for other people.

Originally from the Midlands, Rich now lives in Kent and works in London. Department 66 should be with us sometime next year. If you’re interested in contacting him, drop him a line.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Apps for art's sake

It may have escaped your notice that in March 2010 Anne Rice announced the launch of her inaugural ‘vook’, that’s a book with video; prose chapters interspersed with dramatisations. As a serious reader, I can’t help but think this sounds a bit rubbish. It puts me in mind of nothing more than the poorly-filmed video on the old Sega Mega CD games. Remember the pre-Scream sleepover girlies in peril? I think ‘vooks’ are a stupid idea. I’ve also little doubt they’ll probably prove hugely successful for bestselling commercial fiction.

But fortunately I think there’s more to Apple’s entry into the books market than ‘vooks’, eyestrain and competition for Amazon.

The home page of the McSweeney's app

E-readers like the Kindle offer an immersive experience in the written word that is surprisingly comparable to that of a printed book. If it weren’t they wouldn’t be selling in their millions. But for anyone who considers that a physical book—and not just the words between its covers—can be a work of art, there’s something a little dry and disappointing about them.

Despite the early sales, I doubt the iPad, without the benefit of e-ink, will earn the favour of the serious reader looking to supplement print with digital, but what Apple has in its touchscreenproducts is a possible alternative to bland e-readers for anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship that goes into a beautiful book.

The market for such a product has barely begun to be explored, and certainly the iPad, with its reasonable entry level pricing, will open up opportunities that have been limited by the diminutive screen-size of the Smartphone. Even with its current limitations, designers, publishers and developers have already made good use of the medium. Last year Enhanced Editions released a well-conceived version of Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro in association with Canongate Books, which featured a text-synched audio book, along with an exclusive score by Cave’s long-time collaborator Warren Ellis and footage of the charismatic but slightly sleazy author reading from the book.

Nick Cave's The Death of Bunny Munro

Larger publishers are putting some effort in, but it’s all a bit wanting at the moment. Penguin seems content to produce more generic ‘enhanced’ versions (there are extra pictures) of some of its Classics series, and Faber is beginning to experiment too.

Save the recent impressive Alice app for the iPad by Atomic Antelope, perhaps the biggest literary app success to date has been Russell Quinn’s Small Chair for McSweeney’s (TIME named it one of its Top 10 apps of 2009). Quinn intelligently blended the spirit of McSweeney’s printed product and the furnishings (excuse the pun) of its popular website with a healthy respect for the ‘user language’ (i.e. the familiar functionality) of the iPhone itself.

Main novel page from The New Goodbye

Although they are few in number, such projects, added to impressive sales for the Stanza and Kindle apps, have proven that, given a sensible treatment, literature and digital can combine and produce something for us to savour. I should probably make clear that Quinn is also developing an app for me, so I’ll be putting my money* where my mouth is this May.

We should be encouraged. Despite the ‘vook’ concept beginning to take hold in America, digital doesn’t necessarily mean dumbing down. For proof of that beyond the examples I’ve already mentioned, just take a look at the V&A’s recent and highly successful Decode exhibition.

Whether book publishing is able to see the iPad as an opportunity in the same way that newspapers and magazines do is unlikely. Publishers may be able to play Amazon off against Apple for a while, but it’s doubtful whether Amazon and Apple will be willing to bow to publishers rather than the demands of their customers if new sources of quality fiction begin to materialise. Now that entry costs have been slashed and potential royalties increased, smaller, successful publishing ventures are likely to emerge from the indie presses where hobbyist publishers and frustrated authors have been treading water since the earliest days of the web.

A firm sense of direction seems to be eluding mainstream publishing and progress towards a consensus on how ebooks and printed books can co-exist is frustratingly slow, despite it being a hot topic of conversation.

Cue far-from-rocket-science prediction: I don’t necessarily think that book publishers’ reluctance to embrace ebooks is going to lead to a wave of self-publishing successes, but the major publishers who are resistant to digital may be outplayed by smaller companies during these early stages. No doubt many artistic trailblazers will be swallowed up by the bigger houses in time but, for now, well, book publishing lives in interesting times.

The recession has meant a lot of good, creative authors—many with several books already on the shelves—aren’t being published at the moment. I’m going to be so bold as to count myself among their number. But I for one am not going to hang around waiting for mainstream publishers to regain their sense of adventure and their long-term responsibility to authors. If they don’t want me, I’m going to beat them at their own game.

* There’s no money involved here. It’s just a figure of speech.

This article first appeared on The Literary Platform, April 2010

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Johanna Basford interview

Johanna Basford specialises in finely detailed monochrome pen and ink illustrations, and last year came to the media’s attention after she conceived ‘#TwitterPicturee, a crowd-sourcing exercise in which she asked tweeters to suggest images that she then compiled over a 48 hour period into one giant montage, letting those involved follow her progress using the picture-sharing site Twitpic.

Here she talks about working with the Edinburgh Fringe, the ongoing success and continuing permutations of #TwitterPicture, agency representation and making sure, when it comes to her work, that she’s always a little bit scared.

For those that don’t know, and at the risk of making you cringe, you’re the ‘#TwitterPicture girl’. The first #TwitterPicture was a big success, but it was evident to anyone who was following your progress that it was pretty exhausting. You decided to follow it up with an even more gruelling version. Was this really sensible?

I’m a firm believer that if something isn’t challenging, it’s not worth doing. I work in a huge industry saturated with talent. My thoughts are that you have to put yourself on the edge a little bit to make yourself stand out. There's nothing captivating about mainstream. 

You recently used the #TwitterPicture premise to create artwork for the Edinburgh Fringe. You’re also illustrating all of the literature for the coming festival. What other work has this involved?

I'm working with Edinburgh-based design agency Whitespace to create a series of illustrations for the programme, as well as having produced the final artwork which was the result of the #FringeCover #TwitterPicture. As the Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival, it’s obviously been a privilege to work on the project. I’ve tried to capture the bubbly sense of excitement and eccentricity which is at the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe. I managed to smuggle a few little quirks and surprises into the final artwork which I hope will delight and intrigue the audience.

And any more #TwitterPictures on the horizon? I’m sure it’s nice to be the go-to person for something, but are you in danger of becoming typecast?

Every time I finish a #TwitterPicture, I get a little over emotional and swear, ‘never again’. Yet I find myself being drawn back to the format of live drawing and crowd sourcing just a few months later. I would never run the same project twice, but I do believe evolving an idea to fit different formats and meet new challenges is both positive and interesting. Whether it's adding the webcam, the non-stop 24 hour drawing or teaming up with a commercial client, each evolution of the #TwitterPicture has explored something new in the idea and pushed the concept to more extreme levels. 

As for the danger of becoming typecast, one look at my desk would reveal the dozen or so projects I am working on at any one time. Be it textile designs, custom packaging, illustrations, limited edition prints, website graphics or tattoos - my practise is diverse and always developing, the only constant thread is my love of monochrome.

Tell us a bit about how you came to do what you do. Have you drawn pretty much since you were knee-high to a pencil?

More like a Crayola crayon. I've always drawn, much to the peril of my parents who had to put up with a toddler who drew on walls. It’s a cliché, but I've always known I was going to end up drawing, I just wasn't quite sure of the exact format. 

I went through phases of wanting to be an architect and a fashion designer, but at the core of everything was this passion for drawing. 

After school I went to art school and studied printed textiles, specialising in silk screen printing. I graduated and spent a couple of years making hand-printed wallpapers and fabrics, feeling a bit confused and very unhappy about the direction I seemed to be heading in. Then, thank God, the credit crunch hit. The recession was the best thing that has happened to me. It forced me to seriously rethink what I was doing, to be completely brutal with myself. I re-evaluated my business and the work I was producing and made some big decisions. I stopped messing about making and selling products. I set myself up as an illustrator, focused on the one thing in life which never fails to inspire and delight me. I’ve not looked back since. Life is good.

Hand drawn images layered over fashion photography for Vogue, 2009

And how have you managed to carve a career in what’s a notoriously difficult industry to break into. Did you start out with any form of game-plan?

I'm very conscious that my industry is jam-packed with talent and ambition and that each year a new wave of eager graduates swarm into the pool of illustrators competing with each other. I’ve always thought it was better to do something different, something a little unusual, which would help me stand outside the crowd and be different. So I concentrated on creating the most detailed, intricate, hand-crafted designs, done almost exclusively in monochrome. I can't compete with everyone on every level, so I focus on creating the best work I can for a specific niche. That’s not to say I’m not flexible in my work, and I would never limit myself on a brief, but for the main part, I want to be known as the girl who does ‘the-super-detailed-hand-drawn-black-and-white-drawings’.

Pen and ink illustration, later screen printed as part of a limited edition print series created with Heartbreak Publishing, 2009

We’ve worked together on a project recently, to republish a novelette, The Dialogue of the Dogs, by Miguel Cervantes [author of Don Quixote] as part of an iPhone app. Illustrating an old, respected text must have proved a different challenge to the type you’re used to. How did you go about it? There are hundreds of different elements in the finished illustration—is there much preparation involved?

Reading is not my strong point, so I did have to plough my way through the story a few times to really get to grips with it. I then made lists of important events, main characters and iconic images from the text and started time lining them together into a sequence which mirrored the narrative of the story. Using my trusty lo-fi methods, I stuck together lots of sheets of paper to make one long canvas and started drawing in the top left hand corner. The drawing process was unplanned. I just followed the flow of the story, sketching in the characters and scenery as I came to them, orking from left to right. As the paper filled up, I stuck another sheet on. The creative process was organic and rambling, which I felt fitted the narrative thread of the story. As the drawing grew, I moved off my desk and worked on the floor, finally, several metres of paper later, the artwork was complete.

Chapter illustration for iPhone app The New Goodbye, 2010

You’ve worked with some interesting clients, particularly high-profile in the creative industry (aside from the Fringe there’s Heal’s, the V&A, BBC, among others). Do you have any particular ambitions in regards to your illustration?

I love the challenge of working with new clients in mediums and contexts which are unfamiliar to me. I've just finished working with Oxford University Press on my first book cover which was brilliant. My primary aim is to keep things scary. The anxiety of working on a project in which I may be a little out of my depth always inspires my best work. Looking forward, I’d like to work with some more big name clients; I’d like to see my drawings come to life through animation; I’d be keen to work on some more multimedia projects. And as specific examples, I’d love to get my hands on a Selfridges’ shop window, a Boutique Hotel and a Starbucks’ coffee cup. I’d also love to tackle more installation projects and supersize my artwork. I have a lot of plans. I just need more hours in the day.

You’re represented by NB Illustration, and this is a relatively recent arrangement, right? How’s that working out?

I signed with NB at the start of the year as a way of opening up my work to a new audience. NB has been crucial in introducing my work to a segment of the industry I just wasn’t able to tap into alone. They handle all the horrible or slightly boring stuff and leave me to the joyful task of drawing.

They warned me when I signed with them that it might take a few months for the first piece of work to come in, but we had just a week to let the ink on the contract dry before they lined me up with my first job. For an illustrator, they’re a great agency. Not so large that my work is lost in the chatter, but big enough to have a firm standing in the industry. If the first four months is anything to go by, it’s going to be a fruitful partnership.

Do you still feel the urge to push your work as well as relying on the agency?

Most definitely. I think you have to work in tandem with your agent to ensure you are reaching as wide an audience as possible, not just sit back and wait for them to come to you with work. I’m always working on numerous other projects direct with clients alongside the work I’m producing for NB, and usually have a few self-initiated and collaborative projects on the go too. I like it busy. I believe keeping the mix of work, clients and collaborators constantly evolving forces me to learn new skills, develop my craft and push my work to new levels.

Johanna has a website and blog at or find her on Twitter: @johannabasford; The New Goodbye, the app that includes her illustrated narrative of The Dialogue of the Dogs is released on the App Store in a couple of weeks and the Edinburgh Fringe takes place 6-30 August.

This interview with Johanna first appeared on Amelia’s Magazine, April 2010

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

What is The New Goodbye?

The New Goodbye is a pretty special iPhone app, designed and developed by Russell Quinn, the man who brought McSweeney’s to your pocket, along creating the Wallpaper*’s City Guides and Creative Review’s Annual 2010 apps.

The New Goodbye is also an arts project, managed by me, Neil Ayres, and centred round my new novel, also called The New Goodbye. As well as Russell’s beautiful design, which helps thread the separate elements together, the app features illustrations by Johanna Basford, photography by Nicole Heiniger and others, music by Rich Watson and writing by Miguel Cervantes, arguably the inventor of modern fiction. Also, in a month or so, anyone who has downloaded the app will find it updated with a music video, created by creative collective Order.

How do I get it?

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you get it from the app store. But not for a couple of weeks or so. There’s a free ‘lite’ version, which includes a sampler of most of the content, along with the 'Romantic Gestures' feature. The full version will set you back £1.99, or $2.99 or so if you’re Americanically-inclined.

Why would I pay that?

Because that would get you a novel, two short stories, some fantastic visuals, an exclusive music track and a sorely under-read novelette by a master of fiction that will help you impress your friends/dinner party guests/mates down the pub with.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Welcome to The New Goodbye

So here you are at the official site for The New Goodbye, an iPhone app coming out in a few weeks and made by a team of various people who like making stuff up, in different ways. The app includes fiction, illustration, photography, music and film. More soon.