An icon of Britain and probably the most famous timepiece in the world, Big Ben towers over that infinitely less reliable institution and the seat of British Government, the Houses of Parliament. Famously regulated by the adding or taking away of pennies to its mechanism Big Ben is used all over the world as a symbol for marking the new year. The British Budget is likewise watched the world over and regulated by the adding and taking away of pennies.
Traditionally every March the Chancellor (currently Rishi Sunak) presents his budget to a boisterous parliament, after the press has whipped up a lather of speculation and the public has sunk into a stupor of indifference. Those MPs not too inebriated to leave the duty free commons bar(s) trundle into the chamber with all the exuberance of a gang of stockbrokers visiting a strip club.
The Budget is presented by the Chancellor live on national television with all the gimmicks and showmanship he can muster. The MPs harrumph and guffaw appropriately, the heavyweights of the government squeeze in around him cosily and a jolly old time is had by all.
It is of course a total sham. The Chancellor is picked for his malleability, expendability, and briefcase brandishing capabilities and has as little knowledge of how the economy actually works as a sea cucumber does of quantum physics. The average MP doesn’t know his GDP from his RPI and the whole thing is cobbled together from stolen school maths exam papers and whatever can be retrieved from the hard drives of rusty old Civil Service computers after the vice squad have finished with them
The penny slapped on a pint of beer and the penny “slashed!” from the litre of petrol will make the next day’s tabloid headlines and the obscure, quietly mumbled “reform” of XYZ duty that will actually crap all over the average person’s disposable income will not be discovered or unscrambled until the weekend Budget Special pull-outs. By which time England will have been thrashed at a sports event and some celebrity will have climbed out of a car with no knickers on, commending interest in the budget to the dustbin.
The whole event is really just a chance for those who can be bothered, to watch their local MPs reactions in the glow of publicity radiating around the Chancellor; raising a querulous eyebrow, frowning speculatively, looking outraged and generally hamming it up whenever a camera comes in range. This is in stark contrast to everyday parliament “live” on television which consists usually of some obscure geriatric backbencher droning away interminably surrounded by a “doughnut” of wannabes, the remaining half a dozen MPs sleeping off last nights excesses on the plush green benches.
The Budget is like a cutaway window to the intricate inner workings of a stately grandfather clock – the glitter of wheels whirring away conveniently disguising the fact that the rest of the case is just a pretty empty box filled with a old rope and swinging lead.
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There are, a simple tap on the calculator concludes, 17576 different possible Three letter Acronyms available from our 26 letter alphabet. The Russians can rustle up twice as many. Their alphabet is 33 letters (35,937 combinations). I blame the KGB (КГБ), although to be fair The global use of TLAs is, as I suspected an American export, and much more recent than anybody’s alphabet. A comprehensive list of TLAs can be found at The Australian Kid’s Encyclopedia. They lay the blame for these ALBs (annoying Little Bastards; Ok, I made that one up!) firmly at the feet of FDR –
TLAs became common in the United States during the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, including NRA for National Recovery Administration[?], and TVA for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Detractors of President Roosevelt’s policies called the new agencies “alphabet soup.”
in any alphabet there are finite number of TLAs. There are certain to be overlaps and multiple uses . Ambiguities, misunderstandings and even puns are inevitably the consequence of shorter words. A quick look to see what TLA actually stands for, gives an intriguing and incomplete list:
Tom Lord’s Arch, a revision control system now known as GNU arc
The WWW, TLDs, URLs, SEO…. etc .. DOH! Three letter acronyms and the internet
AS one can quickly glean from the list above, the petri dish for spawning millions of conflicting, competing and confusing three letter acronyms was of course the internet. The early days of the internet were a veritable goldrush of TLD (Top Level domain) registrations. Small, tech savvy upstarts, jostled with organisations, big companies, and quite a few speculative individuals to establish a foothold on the new media. Short was good, short was modern, and suddenly even well established big name companies were suddenly getting hip and rebranding to three letter acronyms. In some cases slowness out of the starting blocks led to some amusing spats.
I was working for a press cuttings company in the 1980 and 1990s and some of the stories floating around certainly brightened up our nights. I can’t vouch for their veracity, some of them were probably made up!
British Airports Authority’s privatisation in 1986 and its subsequent rebranding as BAA hit a slight snag when it was discovered BAA.com had been registered by a sheep “appreciation” society. The airports authority has now changed its name to Heathrow Airport Holdings (HAH) probably causing the sheep fanciers to LOL. Incidentally BAA.com is registered by HAH, but not used. The BBC was chagrined to discover the Baltimore Basketball Club had got there first.
Initially grabbing a three letter acronym as a domain name, (you could always make up what the initials stood for later) was a fairly good way of getting the jump on a big company, but now a lot of these companies have discovered that a longer, more descriptive name will do better for their SEO.
Three letter acronyms are of course a godsend to organisations who need simple codes to describe places and things. Airlines have carrier codes, train companies have station codes, ports have codes, post offices have codes, Car registrations have a three letter element. In fact lots of three letter codes exist. some are three letter acronyms, some are not. If we take a three letter acronym to mean the first letter of a three word phrase and not just the first three letters of a word then that narrows it down… a bit.
Three letter acronyms at work.
Three letter acronyms are at their finest when working in the confines of a occupation. It is a sign of belonging to be able to rattle off a list of important sounding TLAs which can serve to disguise the true phrase behind a cuddly sounding abbreviation. The military love them. From MIA, KIA down to POW and even two TLA TLAs! (Temporary living allowance and Theater Logistics Analysis!). Police love them. DUI, ABH, GBH, ARV and share with the military, a passion for anything with tactical or strategic as the first word. The medical profession love them; a disease or syndrome hasn’t arrived until its coined a three letter acronym. Economics loves its RPI and GDP, Governments love their DOD, MOD and any starting with Ministry of, or Department of
And three letter acronyms at play
Not coy about, well, anything, sex has a whole telephone directory of three letter acronyms which you will just have to go and look up for yourselves!
Three Letter acronyms FAQ
As someone whose computer knowledge is strictly NTK, I often find myself referring to FAQs and getting TIA (Totally Incomprehensible Answers -Yes! another I made up) from ISP to DNS, FTP by LAN, SSL, PHP, CSS, XHL.. WTF! IMO we need a bigger alphabet!
Three letter acronyms and the long arm of the government
USA government agencies seem to still stick to three letter acronyms. Thanks to American TV exports everybody knows what they stand for and nobody wants to mess with butch ex-marines wearing bomber jackets with CIA, FBI, or CTU stencilled in big yellow letters on the back. Somebody should warn the National Sheep Association though.
Time zone three letter acronyms
Time spans the globe and its myriad languages. There are presently 38 different time zones. The standard measurement used to be set from GMT (Greenwich mean time), established by the lobbing of many cannonballs. This however changed in 1963 with the introduction of UTC (co-ordinated Universal Time in English and Temps Universel Coordonné in French). Apparently the French and the English argued over the abbreviation and to avoid more lobbing of cannonballs, a compromise was reached. So now we have a three letter acronym that isn’t actually a three letter acronym! Of course each time zone has its own TLA just to confuse matters.
The not so humble TXT
Mobile phones arrived in the 1980’s and became actually mobile in the 1990s. Apparently there was a little bit of signal left over and the phone companies decided to let users send short message through this spare bit for free. No one wants to type on a tiny non-qwerty phone keyboard argued the highly paid executives at the big phone companies. How wrong they were. Within a decade thumbs were being dislocated across the world as the young grabbed that almost overlooked channel as their own. They soon overcame the length limitation and often their parents! by using abbreviated code for common phrases.
Smart phones were just round the corner. Jack Bauer was in his CTU SUV, and downloading to his PDA. Qwerty keyboards, longer texting, email, messaging, and posts arrived. Grown ups got it PDQ and three letter acronyms escaped from their military, technology and utilitarian confines.
Continuing the history of past paintings and why I consider them “Keyworks” in my own development as an artist.
I remember having an big sumptuously illustrated book about the formation of the Earth. One double page spread artist’s impression featured seas of molten lava, meteorites plummeting into towering cliffs and a steamy, swirling, angry sky. The other pages featured more text, pictures of ferns and fossils, plains of placidly grazing dinosaurs and a particularly hirsute chap with a club. It was the rivers of fire and doom laden sky that grabbed my attention, not the dinosaurs or even the bloke with the club; Jurassic Park wasn’t a thing back then.
Later when I got taken to the cinema, it was the epics – on cinemascope screens that stretched for ever, a thirty foot high Charlton Heston stoically clamping his jaw and battling the odds, Ben Hur and the fleets of galleys raining fireballs from one side of the cinema to the other with the drums beating out ramming speed. I re-enacted that and all of the chariot race with my LEGO whist the soundtrack (which my mum had on record) looped around my head.
Nothing grabs our attention more viscerally than a disaster movie. whether it be brought on by act of God, aliens, weather or just our own stupidity, and I must have gone to see most of them over the subsequent years. I sat patiently through the love interest, sympathised with the expert whose warnings went unheeded (but still hoped no-one would do anything in time), and looked forward to the hopefully spectacular panorama of destruction which was the main climax of the film, and had been featured so prominently in the trailer. I gripped my seat when it rumbled (in the absence of any credible CGI, shaking the seat about was a thing), donned cardboard 3D glasses as polystyrene rubble was hurled towards me and watched in awe as yet again Charlton Heston saved the day.
Before disaster movies, alien invasions, atomic bombs, and even back before Charlton Heston, there was; the Bible.
Now, I am not religious, but I would say when it comes to apocalyptic scenarios the Bible has got all the Hollywood screen writers well beat. Coupled with faith, churches, priests and unrivalled organisational back up, this was for hundreds of years the only show in town. Pretty much every artist had to refer to the Bible. The only exception was paintings of rich people (mainly men), and stuff they owned. Paintings that pandered to popular culture had to be veiled (or in the case of nudes, unveiled) in a veneer of classical allegory or religious instruction.
I first came across these and similar works whilst studying History of Art at Working Men’s College in 1982, and I was stunned at first by the sheer scale – these are big; the biggest, the Francis Danby Deluge is 15 feet by 9 feet, and I can only imagine the effect they would have had on an audience that was both religious and unfamiliar with such vast images. All these artists were aware of each other and to a certain extent rivals. John Martin had strong mercenary streak and his large paintings were closely connected with contemporary dioramas or panoramas, popular entertainments in which large painted cloths were displayed, and animated by the skilful use of artificial light. Martin has often been claimed as a forerunner of the epic cinema, and there is no doubt that the pioneer director D. W. Griffith was aware of his work.
“It shall make more noise than any picture ever did before… only don’t tell anyone I said so.” John Martin
As a painter and printmaker I found myself gravitating towards the paintings and mezzotints of John Martin, and as my work moved toward abstraction I found my paintings strongly influenced by the mood and tone of these paintings and the feeling I had, and still have, watching apocalyptic films on a big screen. “The Deluge” has been a reoccurring title amongst my paintings since the early 1980s.
These days I am not painting cavasses as large as I did in the 1980s (although 1000mm x 1500mm comes nowhere the near the size of those earlier delugists), but I do now have a 55 inch TV set which I’m sure would make John Martin’s eyes water!
I am not, what, in modern parlance would be described as a “hard core gamer” I buy no magazines, follow no feeds, very rarely dip into forums and am completely lost when classic video games are referenced. I am a perpetual “noob”, a “scrub”, that lowest of the low; a “casual player”. I am a (slightly) overweight, balding 64 year old in a world populated by aggressive gung-ho confident 12 years olds, long time nerds who have moved on to well paid jobs in IT, and proud dads dutifully trying to bond with their offspring over their latest birthday/Christmas present. I have however always been fascinated by games and completely susceptible to immersing myself in their allure of an alternative reality.
I was, what was simply called in the 60s an awkward, difficult, or sometimes more cruelly, retarded, child. Only recently have I established that I am on what is called the “Autistic Spectrum” What bugged everybody was that I didn’t want to play with other kids, would find alternative uses for just about any toy bought for me and generally seemed to live in my own weird world. My mum had been a commercial artist, and encouraged me to draw and paint and also took control of selling the idea of reading and writing to me. I got it, eventually, and after a very slow start was reading everything I could get my hands on. My dad, an economics lecturer didn’t know what to make of me – which wasn’t surprising, as it was from his side I had inherited the AS!
By the age of eight I was reading every spare minute, even under the desk at school during classes, my head was full of other worlds; Just William, Biggles, Hornblower, Sherlock Holmes, H.G Wells, Edgar Alan Poe…
I also got bought Lego. For birthdays, Christmas, Easter and at random moments in the year – in fact any time I needed sedating. Back in the 60s Lego came in a very limited set of brick sizes, a small range of colours; mainly red and white, with grey bases and a very few yellow, blue and black pieces. I soon had the biggest Lego set of any kid at school and those uniform bricks became my passport to all the new worlds bubbling up in my confused little head. I never built the stuff on the box covers; the bricks became icons, symbols for what I wanted them to be, soldiers, sailors, spitfires, bombers, battleships, chariots, horses. I built castles, mazes, ocean liners, prisons and even an airship. I piled the bricks up, knocked them down, smashed them apart and threw them at one another, floated (and sank) them in local streams, set fire to them and generally abused the hell out of what those enlightened Danes had envisioned as a “educational toy”
In October 1967 my parents, being quite liberal, and suspecting I knew a little about it from the reading, decided to let me stay up late and watch a BBC documentary on the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We were living in a small flat in Epsom and I had my own room for the first time. The floor was black and white, a lino tile chequerboard and the bed was pushed into one corner. Later that week my mum came in to tidy the room and could hardly open the door.
The floor was a a Lego re-enactment of the Russian Revolution and subsequent civil war; lines of white Lego confronting lines of red Lego with regiments, artillery, cavalry, officers and generals and a set of game rules which I can only vaguely recollect; not at all figurative – each brick on its end was a soldier, a square brick on top denoted an officer, a longer brick with a standard brick on top was a cavalryman and artillery was a combination of bricks with soldiers around it. The bricks were not “clicked together” The black and white tiles were territory, there was a currency, based the small selection of yellow bricks (gold) and some torn up writing paper “banknotes”. The whole game was essentially turn based with me lying on the bed flicking the small single spot black Lego pieces into the chosen frontline square and removing the white or red pieces depending on how they had fallen;
Face down = killed, Faceup = wounded, On the side = captured.
Survivors were promoted, squares changed hands, and currency was exchanged for prisoners, used to heal the wounded or to buy more artillery.
My mum complained about the mess and despite explanations, and protestations, eventually swept it all up.
A long series of other games ensued, I spent my pocket money on dice, roulette wheels and packs of cards and even enjoyed a brief surge of being good at maths, when the syllabus touched on probability.
In the early 1970’s I came across Pong, but after a interesting half hour or so realised its limitations and got bored.
Pong is a table tennis–themed arcade video game, featuring simple two-dimensional graphics, manufactured by Atari and originally released in 1972.
I was living in South Africa and got roped into one of the school’s rugby teams. I questioned the illogical way in which the points were awarded and had to escape to the wing, where all I had to do was wait for the ball to be thrown to me and then run like hell. A lot of the kids weren’t that keen on this weird British kid questioning their national sport, but luckily I developed a knack for speed and avoided most of the heavier tackles. I was never much of a team player. 50 years on and the points system has changed drastically, I still don’t get it!
I started a casino at school and briefly ran a book on the school sports day – an extremely silly thing to do given the strict laws about gambling in South Africa at the time; luckily the school, scared the press would hear of it, didn’t want to run the risk of the bad publicity, had no actual rule against gambling (it hadn’t occurred to them) and decided to let it run its course, confident I would learn my lesson by losing money, which of course I did, (school sports days are pretty predictable and my maths really wasn’t that good) I got a telling off and my days as a hustler were put quietly aside.
I played the average amount of arcade games in the 80s, (high score at Space Invaders in college for a couple of days) but by now I was aware of my addictive personality and started to realise some stuff should just be left alone!
As a press cuttings reader in the late 1980’s I did come across an interesting article in The Independent on why certain scoring systems are used in certain sports – tennis being a prime example; the weird scoring, game, set, and match formula is designed to make games more edge of seat for spectators (as opposed to first past the post). Don’t get me started on electoral systems (I’ll save that for another blog!)
In Harry Potter; am I the only one who thinks the scoring in Quidditch doesn’t add up?
In 1989 I became the proud owner of an Atari 1040st, but gave games a miss, settling for DTP, the cheaper black and white monitor, and “grown up stuff” with the exception of backgammon and chess. A flirtation with an F16 flight simulation program soon led to frustration when I realised I couldn’t even get off the ground, even after strafing the airbase buildings with cannon and missiles, (first by accident, then by bad temper.) The platform and puzzle games of the 1980s just didn’t interest me; (cute Italian plumbers and cuddly animals bouncing about for fruit, yearrrg!) despite having a cousin who made a small fortune as founder member of a games company in in the early 90s.
So I missed out of what many older gamers regard the golden age of computer games. I came across “Cossacks – the art of war” sometime back in the early 2000’s and played it incessantly on various PCs, even installing (with much time and effort) a 3rd party modification to update it and improve the AI, which had a previous tendency to wander about aimlessly and get stuck up hills; from the very beginning it took me back to my Lego Russian Civil war on the black and white tile floor in the Epsom flat.
So when, after much agonising we decided to get a PS3 in 2013, it was more for the Blu-ray player and compatibility with our Sony Bravia TV than for gameplaying – I was more into strategy games (which are almost exclusively a PC genre), right?
Well, if controlling vast armies, herding up peasants to dig for coal, and building factories to produce cannons is your thing (it was mine) then, yes PC, mouse and keyboard, is there for you. In fact you can do pretty much anything with a mouse and keyboard, BUT, when it comes to aiming down the barrel of a gun and moving around, jumping and dodging, without basically having to learn a strange form of typing, then a controller (as in PlayStation or Xbox) is far more user friendly.
My first experience of a games controller came with the arrival of the PS3… and Destiny; a bundled game I hadn’t even heard of, nearly took straight to the local 2nd hand game store and hated for the first couple of days.
Destiny: the lost hours
In the beginning I just couldn’t get the hang of the controller and spent the first few hours walking into walls, punching the air and falling off things. The fact was I was so unprepared for the massive leap in game graphics I didn’t move for the first 5 minutes, not realising the cutscene had finished and I could! My first gun, a battered, hideously underpowered AK47 knockoff juddered in my hands and sprayed a stuttering dribble of “bullets” at the creatures who nimbly jumped out of the way and disdainfully killed me. Eventually though I fought through the pain, got better weapons, a spaceship, travelled to other worlds, picked up a few dance moves, made a few friends , killed them in the player versus player arena and the game opened up.
The basic mechanics of this, and most computer games can best be summed up as “wash, rinse, repeat” i.e
pick up the stuff that results from this
get more powerful weapons/abilities
kill more powerful things
return to 1
A lot of game play is what players call the “grind” whereby certain activities are done repeatedly in order to slowly accumulate a high enough power to attempt the next level and so on. This is where finding team mates or being matched with random other loners comes into its own, adding variation to an otherwise stale environment and providing some genuinely quirky human moments.
There is of course a “Campaign” – a linear story illustrated with breathtakingly film like cutscenes, that rewards you with the basics to enter the final phase of the game and after all gives you a valid excuse to go round slaughtering all those pixels.
The endgame consists of increasingly more challenging patrols, missions, quests and strikes until you attempt the virtually impossible Raids, which require a well organised group possessing extremely hard to come by, supremely powerful, exotic weapons with unique attributes, able to communicate and with good team skills and a passion for the timely despatching of almost indestructible bosses. If that sounds like an online job description – that’s not far off the mark, as groups will actively recruit and interview candidates to make up Raid teams.
Needless to say I have never actually done a Raid!
In the old days it used to be a simple matter of buying the disc/cd rom/dvd, shoving it in the pc and you were in a world of your own. Games were advertised with cinema-like trailers and cutscenes that that promised much but were as far removed from the actual game play as the serving suggestions are on modern convenience food packaging. In the utilitarian world of computers games were a side product – 2 dimensional animated games of solitaire, for loners and social misfits. The internet has moved them smack bang into the middle of mainstream entertainment, The biggest games are populated by characters voiced by some of the best known actors and actresses from film, TV and stage and the majority of games are online only. Player interaction is increasingly important and with devices such as player “emotes”/animations and a much wider range of movements some genuinely laugh out loud moments spontaneously occur amongst the more inventive and irreverent players – seeing a group spontaneously form up after a public event; guitarist, drummer, and keyboard player, play to another group who danced in front of them for a short time before deluging them with grenades, people drinking tea up flagpoles, handing out popcorn or just sitting around in trees, does build a strange, but wonderful sense of online community. With downloadable content, expansions and seasons, games can be refreshed almost in real time and to the constant annoyance of players, weapons can be “nerfed” or “buffed”
In the early days of the Ps3 we did look around to see what games were available and ended up watching walkthroughs on YouTube, specifically by a player and reviewer TheRadBrad. We actually watched some back to back like they were a TV series. For most games now there is the option to share screenshots and videos of gameplay, and stream contests. Any number of forums, companion apps and websites are available for managing inventories, communicating with team mates, or looking up how to progress if stuck. The player is no longer tied to the PC or console and can arrange to meet up with a team, or clan for a future game from a phone or tablet.
Which is probably the conclusion I was looking for. Games are no longer the lone, slightly anti- social and ultimately unrewarding addiction they were once considered. They are to all intents and purposes just as worthy as watching a film, a tv series or reading a novel. and require far more participation. They can be as social as players want them to be
I have a PS4 pro now, still not big on the social side, and still really only play a couple of games, I still don’t get too involved with the formal group activities but am not averse to joining other “randoms” for some light hearted, explosion filled silliness. Other times I can spend hours enjoying the scenery and vast isolation of No Man’s Sky
Working hard at relaunching my almost 21 year old website!
The old ryepress.com site was cluttered and blocky; designed, as many were back in the late 90s with a rather, old fashioned sort of magazine layout, It took me a while to appreciate the way in which the internet was changing how people digested media. At first I was aghast when people copied my images and saved them to the new “social media”, and took great pains to degrade the quality, limit the size of the pictures and generally discourage everyone from downloading… anything.
I am now, , however, a convert. Embarrassed by the fuzzy, pixelated , low resolution pictures that have been released (I think some just got bored and escaped) to the world, I have decided (in so far as broadband speed and storage allow) to upload much higher quality files to better represent the detail in my pictures – still not good enough to print off at any re-sellable size (I hope), but much better ambassadors for the originals.
So please feel free to share , re-blog, postbook, tweetagram, whatever – accreditation would be appreciated, though!
A rueful, and philosophical look at image copyright in the digital age…
So… I’ve got off my arse and finally decided to revamp my website – had a few sales off it just before Christmas and realised to my embarrassment that I hadn’t updated it for a couple of years. Anyhow, full of fear and trepidation I timorously took a look at the sprawling behemoth that had once been my baby; 90 pages, more links than a suit of chainmail and absolutely horrible on a smartphone, laptop or any screen capable of higher resolution than VGA. Technology had indeed moved on. The program I’d done it on – a DTP program with a publish as HTML option- had been discontinued in 2013 and wouldn’t have worked on the new Windows 10 PC anyway . So heeding advice, I decided to come on over to WordPress and leave all that “under the hood” stuff to the CSS boffins (I imagine somewhere deep in the bowels of WordPress there is an elite team of sunglasses wearing ex-navy seals wearing black bomber jackets with CSS written in big yellow letters on the back, but I watch too many American TV series)
Somewhere down the line I found myself testing links and looking to see how the omnipotent search engines were digesting my move and whether any of my paintings and etchings were still getting airplay.
They’re up there all right! On Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram and quite a few places I hadn’t even heard of – retweeted, reblogged, shared and in some cases blatantly passed off as someone else’s “photo”.
I’m not really annoyed, it would be nice to get a credit, possibly even a link, or even just the sodding title right, but at the end of the day they’re out there and not rotting at the bottom of a plan chest and to be honest following their tracks through the streets, alleys and dingy passageways of social media is turning out to be quite an adventure!
So I’m not really closing the stable door, the horses have bolted and are grazing in greener pastures and I suppose the only thing any artist really wants (apart from a shed load of money) is for their work to outlive them – where better than the internet?
So feel free to share to your heart’s content – just give me a credit, a kind word, and possibly a link?
Its my birthday next week; Sooo… When I’m 64 I will be looking back at the Tapestry of my Life, the occasional Walk on the Wild side, theinevitable struggle to earn Money, and the brief brushes with Fame. I suppose I am now technically an Old man, but consider myself still very much Young at Heart and still have The Long and Winding Road to travel before climbing that Stairway to heaven to The End.
Time has treated My Generation well, we have experienced hundreds of Changes that All the Young Dudes take for granted – they won’t be Pretty Things, Forever Young and As Time Goes By they’ll realise The Times They are a Changing.
And as I approach my Golden Years, I will concentrate on Staying Alive and relax, safe in the knowledge I am Still Crazy After All These Years
How do I sell my art? At some point everyone who has ever painted or drawn a picture will ask the question “How do I sell my art?” You know your pictures are good, your family and friends tell you they are – and you start to wonder whether you could sell the odd painting, drawing or photograph, maybe even supplement your pocket money, salary, pension or welfare. From there it is but a small step to imagining you are earning a living from art and, maybe, perhaps, even eventually becoming a famous artist! Probably one of the best films for any artist is the comedy “The Rebel” with Tony Hancock. Tackling every artistic cliché in the book, and cutting artist, public, and galleries down to size. he struggles through the gamut of disdain and admiration that every artist will experience in his attempts to be eventually be “discovered”
So how does one go about selling pictures and and ultimately making a living from being an artist?
GALLERIES As musicians have to perform so artists have to exhibit, and the misconception is that this has to be through a gallery. Unfortunately this is easier said than done. Galleries work on different systems and levels but have one thing in common: they all exist to make money! The majority of galleries are not owned or run by artists, may know little about art, and will not hesitate to shatter your delusions of genius at the first opportunity. Art is a business and at the higher end dealers and gallery owners are not dissimilar to stockbrokers (or indeed, dare I say it: pimps!). They have a list of clients and collectors whom they jealously cultivate. They only take work that they know they can sell. The most prestigious galleries will collect a “stable” of artists, often straight out of art school. This they will slowly build until it can be harvested most profitably. Many of these artists will receive an allowance; contracting to provide enough work for a series of exhibitions from which they will receive none of the proceeds but might just propel some of them to the next level.
The backing of a top gallery can in turn ramp up the price of a fashionable artist’s paintings almost regardless of the artistic merit of the work involved. Approaching one of these galleries with a tatty portfolio of grotty little daubs is not advised for those with low self esteem!
GROUP OR SOLO Group or solo exhibitions in rented galleries or venues only really work if the gallery has a decent mailing list or regular flow of visitors. By the time rental, commission of around 25%, cost of transportation and hanging, postage and the inevitable private view are taken into account the artist will probably be out of pocket. Can look good on a CV though.
PRIVATE VIEWS The Premiere for the exhibiting artist. At your first private view expect some measure of success! Around a third of the people you invite will turn up – most, if not all of these, will be friends, family and colleagues. In some cases someone will buy something. Copious amounts of (artist supplied) cheap wine will be consumed, nibbles will be trodden into the carpet and glasses will be broken. The rest of the exhibition will be a complete anti-climax as the general public, who don’t know you, are indifferent to your work and won’t be getting any free wine, stay away in their droves. And for subsequent exhibitions It only gets worse as PV fatique sets in and friends, family and colleagues tire of the novelty of your artistic endeavours and rediscover their TV sets.
EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES. Most people, to quote the well known phrase; “know nothing about art but know what they like”. Unfortunately, when it comes to art very few people have the confidence to rely entirely on their own judgement; and so what they actually like can very easily be moulded by what they perceive to be the superior knowledge of gallery owners. All people are extremely wary of looking foolish – and buying the wrong piece of art can be as agonising to the art buyer as buying the wrong trainers is to a peer pressured teenager. The gallery system gives the public the cultural safety net of knowledgeable advice delivered in a reassuringly highbrow environment and at a satisfyingly painful price.. If a Picasso painting were to turn up at a local boot fare at a tiny percentage of its real value nobody would touch it with a barge pole – a Picasso forgery on the other hand, underwritten by the learned opinion of experts, would be snapped up! The approval of a major gallery can make or break an artist, sometimes both in, short order. At the lower end of the scale there are many galleries (many simply glorified gift shops) that will accept a few pieces of work on “sale or return” but usually at a rate of commission that ranges from 40% to 50% or even 60%. The artist is still responsible for framing etc and has little control of how or where the work is displayed.
THE EGGS FACTOR Open exhibitions and competitions are supposedly another opportunity to leapfrog the art school to gallery scramble. The concept is simple. Your artwork is better than anyone else’s: You get accepted, win an award, do not pass GO and collect instant fame or at least gain a few brownie points on your CV. These exhibitions usually have an entry fee, and then, if you get in, a hanging fee, and then, if you sell, commission at around 33%. Most are situated in big towns and so may well involve considerable time and cost transporting work, attending the private view, etc, and of course you still have to get the work back if it doesn’t sell. VAT is added to the commission and generally speaking the best strategy is to enter limited edition prints which will spawn red dots like a plague if you are lucky. The granddaddy of these beauty contests is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Unfortunately, the model from which many a provincial art society takes its lead.
LOCAL HEROES A far more amenable way to enter the arena with your potential masterpieces is the local art society. These have a loyal and hardworking following, are organised with military precision and have a modest subscription, There is probably not a corner of Britain that isn’t covered by at least two of these societies! All have an annual exhibition, which unfortunately usually straddles the same bank holiday in August – causing some problems for the serial exhibitionist. Commission is usually a modest 20% and sales and standards are surprisingly high.
FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS IN A SEA OF INDIFFERENCE A different approach to expecting the public to come to see you is to stalk them in their natural habitat. In the same way a trawler chases shoals of fish the artist can cast a net over the smaller waters of such venues as wine bars, restaurants, hotel lounges, or even train stations. A surprisingly large number of these venues have wall space begging to be used, have neither the time or inclination to buy or organise work to display, and are indeed grateful when asked. They are however, businesses and aggressively selling your pictures or massaging your ego are not their priorities. As long as you are professional, your work well presented and you do not impede the real business of the venue you can expect to pay a nominal 10% – 25% commission, get a free meal or drink or two, and probably sell a couple of pieces of work. Most of these venues actively encourage a small private view although at this point you might find it hard to press gang your PV weary mailing list and may be lucky to achieve an attendance in double figures! Presentation and organisation is the most important criteria for the artist in these exhibitions – it may sound like heresy but the quality of the work is almost irrelevant!
FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENT! In a large cosmopolitan city it is possible to build up a circuit of venues and have exhibitions running concurrently all year round – 15/20 pieces of work – 4 weeks per exhibition. Unless you are particularly prolific the only way of doing this comfortably is with a large portfolio of limited edition prints. For the public this will also build up the perception that you are a successful artist as they may come across your work in several different venues during the year and will slowly become familiar with your style.
NET PROFITS Finally we come to the media by which we are communicating! Artists have been pinning their hopes on the internet for the last 20 years as the means of marketing art to the whole world. Individual artist’s web sites have proliferated and art directories and online galleries have been swamped with what, lets face it, is a dismal representation of all forms of visual art. While artists may complain about the arbitrary and often baffling decisions of selection panels and the ignominy of collecting work with a big friendly chalk X on the back, can this indiscriminate wallpapering of the planet with amateur art be progress? On the positive side the internet and especially image searches do throw up art unexpectedly, which is in conclusion, my answer to the initial question: how do I sell my art? Display it where people are not looking for art! A picture discovered whilst you were looking for something else is one you will always enjoy!
The 1980s. Having left college in 1982 I found my self basically unemployed, living in a squat in Kings Cross with a 2.2 Arts degree that had given me a great foundation in almost every form of graphics and media, but that was no match for the more specialised skills of those graduates emerging from The big art schools. I had done film, photography, video, sound, typography, graphic design and a bit of almost every different form of printing.
Thatcher had been in power for a couple of years, but so far the benefits system was relatively easy on graduates – I went swimming for free in the council pool up the Caledonian Road, flashing my UB40 like an American Express card, and took full use of a scheme by which I could join any evening or part time class for £1. Piecing together my own art course I joined etching, life drawing and history of art classes at Working Men’s College in Camden, screen printing at the Mary Ward Centre and lithography at the City Lit. Technically you couldn’t do more than a limited number of hours a day, but I managed to squeeze in extra afternoons screen printing and when I became a voluntary etching teacher could often use the press out of hours.
The history of art course sent me off in all sorts of directions and I found myself particularly drawn to Mondrian, De Stijl and threw in a bit of Russian constructivism and the English vorticists for good luck.
Channel 4 had started in 1982 and its blocky flatly coloured logo seemed to start a trend in graphic design across the country ending up in the greys, and pastel colours that would become the look of the 1980s
In 1983 after several months attempting rather unsuccessful forays into the bric a brac markets of Camden, trundling our brightly painted pushchair and tea chest through the back streets of Mornington Crescent at ungodly hours of the morning every weekend, Felicity (my partner at the time) hit on the idea of collaborating to screen print postcards using the same deep turquoise as the cloth we covered our stall with, and the same colour we had mixed up to paint our tea chest. This with the addition of some vivid orange, red and yellow shapes would become our brand and would identify our stall full of overpriced crap from everybody else’s!
I screen printed several hundred of them and to our surprise people started buying them instead of our objet d’art. We sat down with felt tip pens and spent all night producing dozens of designs which we edited down into 8 designs each which I screen printed and which we named NAFF Cards. These in turn paid for a slowly expanding screen printing studio (The bedroom of my Kings cross flat) which at its peak boasted four 30in x 40in fine mesh screens, which could be clamped to hinges onto the top of an A0 plan chest , a drying rack (a chain stretched from corner to corner threaded with picture wire and bulldog clips) capable of drying 100 A1 prints at a time, and an old 1950 kitchen larder which held several dozen mixed pots of Sericol ink in old cleaned out Whiskas cans sealed with tinfoil and marked with a dab of the resident colour.
We started building on our halves of the postcard designs to produce large screen printed posters and limited edition prints using up to 18 colours – Felicity tended toward more organic Matisse like shapes, I went sharp and angular. Arrow of God had started out as a painting, but became much cleaner and sharper as a screen print. The title was borrowed from the Chinua Achebe book of the same name (an “A’level set book) and in turn was a key picture in the exhibition “Things Fall Apart” ( the poem by WB Yeats who was also on the “A’level reading list, and again a Chinua Achebe book)