Big Norm and the ski frauds

The clocks went forward one hour this weekend (spring forward, fall back, in case you’re looking for a useful mnemonic) to British Summer Time. If not exactly summery yet, the last week-or-so has emphatically heralded the arrival of spring with daffodils sprouting up all over the place, trees blossoming and the sun – at last! – shining again after what seems to have been an interminable absence. The soundtrack to this annual re-awakening has been the reassuringly suburban sound of hover-mowers drifting into my studio through the open velux window which until recently has spent 2011 firmly closed to the elements.

The general sense is one of finally emerging from a long and largely joyless winter but even a cursory glance back at the diary for the last three months reveals that the winter murk has in fact been flecked with a number of cultural highlights.

Early in January I made the first of two visits to the Dulwich Picture Gallery for ‘Norman Rockwell’s America’ – remarkably, the first ever exhibition of the famous illustrator’s original work in the UK. With his somewhat idealised depictions of the American family and way of life, replete with a cast of doe-eyed children, cats, dogs and kindly grandparents, he’s an artist that divides critical opinion to say the least but was revered as a bit of an art God among many of my illustration contemporaries at art college. The show included all 323 covers he produced for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916-1963 (over the course of which it was fascinating to observe the artist’s thematic and technical progress) plus numerous original oil paintings, sketches and pencil studies. An inspirational feast of an exhibition. A remarkable day of artistic stimulation was rounded off with a visit to the South Bank with Lynn to see the Fela! musical celebrating the life of Nigerian Afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti at the NT, during which on-stage booty was vigorously shaken and this audience member entertained some deeply unworthy thoughts. The sketch-book came out on the train journey home and I proceeded to demonstrate that Norman Rockwell I ain’t.

I actually went to see the Rockwell show again in February, with a Brighton Illustrators’ coach party. It was just as impressive second time round.

The annual boys’ ski-trip to La Clusaz is a guaranteed highlight and this January’s jaunt was well up to standard in spite of worryingly poor snow conditions for this time of year. Our usual access-all-areas approach had to be abandoned this time owing to positively verdant conditions on the lower slopes which somewhat restricted our ability to roam.

Another double-page guest-book entry was required this year after I foolishly raised the bar for myself with last-year’s effort. It gives the impression that the entire time in the chalet is spent slouching around reading novels but it’s actually the only time any of the guys sit still for long enough to draw.

I also casually suggested that it might be fun to construct a photo montage of the five of us with a view to creating a flattering, if entirely misleading, impression of our Alpine skills. “Anything is possible with Photoshop”, I assured them. The boys seized on this idea with alacrity; an amusing and very childish hour was subsequently spent lying in the snow assuming dynamic poses for the camera. I had of course massively underestimated the time it would take to manipulate these ridiculous snaps into anything like the heroic image I’d promised but did eventually manage to produce the following, wholly unbelievable frieze. I’m the one on the far right.

I think I’ll call it ‘Male mid-life tragedy’.

An interesting technical exercise that probably extended my Photoshop repertoire slightly but… in future I’ll try to keep my bright ideas to myself.

We celebrated Lynn’s birthday in fine style in February. Lunch at the Gingerman restaurant where our daughter Chloë has been waitressing as one of her gap-year jobs (and receiving some eye-wateringly generous tips!), followed by another trip to the NT for the premiere of Danny Boyle’s ‘Frankenstein – a theatrical spectacular.

Some more Illustrator experimentation. Made this into a card for my better half's birthday.

Just over a week later, Chloë took off for a three-month adventure around Asia and Australia, leaving us with an empty nest to come to terms with.

Work-wise, 2011 has been busy so far (in stark contrast to this time last year) mainly due to a huge publishing project for a US client, leaving little time for much else. I still play around with the Brushes app on my iPod Touch whenever I get a chance though, and have been reading with excited interest about a vector drawing app, Ink Pad, produced by the same developer. It sounds fantastic but is designed for the iPad only.

iPad 2 was released a couple of days ago. I’m just saying.

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