Kingdom Ka #1 – New Beginnings

It’s been a while! And in that while the holidays and the new year have already flown by, and we found ourselves in the last part of Winter. I’ve no doubts that this year will represent a permanent shift. Certainly no part of my time in education has flown by as fast as the last three years. As things conclude in the Summer, I’ll be turning my efforts towards entirely personal projects that I’ve been excited to start work on for a number of years, as well as my freelance work.

But, as they say, summer is so close but also so far. Before then I’ll be completing my single largest body of work to conclude my time at University. It’s daunting and exciting. A few weeks have already passed me by, but I feel confident I’ve been productive. With nothing but my project on ‘Awakenings’ to complete now, it’s very theraputic to return to a fresh mindset, not dissimilar to where I found myself last year with Crossing to the Cold Valley.

I’ll be returning to Visionnaire to build another interactive designed piece. ‘Game’? Maybe. But I’ve been hesitant to describe my idea as a ‘game’ when there really isn’t anything to play. Following my investigation into Buddhism and Awakenings, I will be creating a piece where you are invited to explore a digital, fictional, ‘spiritual kingdom’ that will be mapped and made. Every corner will feature a new story, concept, conversation or imagery to consider. It will be experimental, but I’ll be working hard to not let that turn people away.

Kingdom Ka at its core is designed to be something to bring to light many ideas and states of mind to the user – parituclarly that of focusing on their own body, their selves, and their finite life. That said, there’s nothing I want less than the piece to be labelled as New Age, or (on the other end of the spectrum) cynical.

Death and rebirth will be keen topics, but explored in ways that feel contemporary and tangible. That’s the biggest challenge – making the piece feel relevant today. Because so much of life and death within religions is not, in itself, religious, but is still ignored or been made taboo. I think above everything, the piece will be a celebration of the cycle of life, and the importance of ‘living in the now’.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks both collating stories, writing music and defining an art style. My current direction seeks to combine traditional patterns, as well as modern objects, photography, typography and sounds. I always want it to feel like something that’s aged and old that’s been strangely taken over by things that seem alien, but contemporary to us – because that’s ultimately what this will be, taking old ideas and bringing them to light in the present day.

And it’s been a lot of fun, playing with pattern work and collage, rather than my typical illustrative style, to build the world’s and characters. I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks, but heres a quick glimpse into my efforts so far.

Crafting Kingdoms

thangka

It’s Monday.

Continuing on from my project of ‘awakenings’ I’ve played around with a number of visual ideas and methods to get my message across. It’s not proved easy—the message of ‘wake up’ is pretty vague and maybe even a little condescending. ‘Wake up’ is the sort of thing your mother tells you to do before going to school.

While my project isn’t specifically focused on major Asian religions, it’s certainly settled somewhere in that field. At least for now. It’s a subject that would be almost impossible to entirely wrap my head around in the time I have. The sheer number of ideas and books and people is as exciting to read into as it is easy to forget due to the language barrier. ‘Manjuśrīkīrti’ has proven to be an important figure, for instance, but I can barely say it, let alone remember it.

It makes sense then not to pretend to be the expert. I want it to be clear from the start that none of my work is attempting to be authentic, only inspired. Combining my ideas with ideas formed through hundreds of years of culture. I’m always going to be straddling a dangerous line of pretence.

Still, while looking into the various aspects of these religions, one concept that particularly grabbed me is the idea of ‘realms’ or ‘kingdoms’. ‘Shambhala’, despite losing a lot of its meaning through Westernisation, is originally a mythical kingdom that is believed to have existed as a concept long before both Hinduism and Buddhism. Another realm, ‘Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring’ is a place where happiness is a tangible substance and the entire place is made from it. What I think makes these ‘Kingdoms’ particularly interesting is how they can be tools to teach and to guide. I’ve put it to myself, then, that I could design a similar ‘Kingdom’ that leads its audience to think differently about the world.

That’s a tall order, but it’s early days still. There’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Over the weekend I decided to experiment with artwork inspired by Buddhist Sand Paintings as well as Thangkas—large Buddhist paintings on cotton or silk. These are often built as patterns, and since I’ve never really explored creating patterns before, I felt it could be an interesting challenge.

Krita is an open source bit of software that I’m falling in love with more everyday, and its Mirror Tool makes creating patterns with ease. By creating a mirror line directly down the horizontal and vertical centre, I only have to draw a single corner and then see it repeated in the other three.

I kept referring back to other pattern work from East Asia to guide me when I was stuck, while also making a few creative decisions of my own to give it my own flavour. I knew it wanted it to feel more hand-drawn than traditional, and with just a hint of punk to give it that Western edge.

Once I’d drafted everything, it was easy enough to vectorize in Flash and have repeated three times to make up the image.

Next, I had it in my head that I wanted the image to appear as though it’s drawing itself, like a ‘Kingdom’ rising from the dust, or something romantic like that. We all know destroying is easier than building, so I worked backwards. Frame by frame, I erased more and more of the image until there was nothing left. This was fairly arduous work, taking the better part of a day to complete, and some 730 frames. Still, once reverse it gives it a really gorgeous effect that I couldn’t be happier with.

I created a short bit of music that I thought was both mysterious, melancholic, with hints of Eastern and Western history. Put together and I’ve got something that I think would work very well as an introduction to my ‘Kingdom’, whatever form that might take.

It lacks substance, or a message, or a direction at the moment. What I think I was really able to capture was a certain meditative tone. Where this takes me next, I have no idea.

We Have But Little Dust In Our Eyes

dust

As the expanded outcome for my personal project experimentation, I created a 36 page publication designed to reflect the things I learnt during my short time at the Bristol Buddhist Centre. I wanted to create something where all the artwork was one thickness and as simple as possible, deliberately missing out certain details for effect. This was done in part to reflect Chinese markings and artwork, but also to appear almost like the drawing of a child, or at least someone naive seeking to learn something new.

The story follows a character who feels unsettled with his current way of life and goes on a journey of self-discovery, making a number of realizations along the way. The writing is designed to be both abstract but also very simple to understand. The writing was also set out to help lend itself to a number of different visuals and illustrations on the page, which allowed me to take a lot of creative liberties when piecing everything together.

The final piece was printed as B6 on 90gsm parchment paper, which gives it more weight and texture and feels really great to pick up and flick through. The rough surface of the paper also smudged and misprinted some of printer ink and allowed it to appear almost hand painted.

Response to this piece was really positive, despite being made in a very limited time frame. I’d love to print a small edition of these publications, but for now only the one exists. As I move forward with my project I’ll be taking my approach and designing choices from this publication to create something more interactive and digital. Exactly what, I’m not about yet.

The full story can be downloaded as a PDF for free.

dust1

Download PDF

An Afternoon In Meditation

Over the next few weeks (and past couple weeks) I’ve been exploring the idea of ‘Wake Up’. I chose this term because there’s a great degree in which it can be explored. Of course, there’s the literal waking up we do most mornings, but also the idea of having a ‘wake up call’, so to speak. Many times we have these realizations that can very much feel like the sensation of waking up. Sometimes we wish to show things to people to wake them up about topics of politics or their lifestyles.

I’ve created a number of small, test outcomes already (all of which I hope to share here at some point), but most recently I’ve been exploring the connection between Waking Up and our consciousness. After watching CGP Grey’s fantastic video on teleportation (which, while geeking out over star trek, also delivers on some interesting food for thought) I wanted to look into the idea of the ‘self’ a little further. In essence, the argument goes, the only way for future teleportation to work is if we somehow copy all of our atoms, perfectly reproduce them somewhere else, but then delete the atoms in the original location. So is the teleported person still you? They would, of course, hold all the same memories, personality traits, experiences and so on. Regardless, it’s hard to shake the idea that your original body would have to die for the new one to exist, and then perhaps the new one is merely just a clone of you.

So, taking this idea further, if the clone at the other end isn’t you, then you start getting into ideas of ‘what is you’. If we define ourselves as a single stream of consciousness, which would be halted by this teleportation process, then likewise we have no way of knowing whether or not our consciousness dies each time we sleep, only to be replicated and replaced by an entirely new one. Sleep, after all, requires us to be unconscious. It’s impossible to know without attributing the ‘self’ as something that exists intangibly. Really it’s just something fun to think about, but it opens up a number of other questions that ought to be discussed.

When assuming the ‘self’ is something that exists beyond science, we enter the realms of spirituality. While not convinced myself, I’m certainly open to the idea. This idea of being ‘reborn’ or ‘awakened’ or even ‘enlightened’ has always interested me, though I’ve never investigated it much in the past. Haven’t really had any oppurnity to.

For my research, I decided to attend an open meditation session with the Bristol Buddhist Centre. I was very warmly welcomed as a newcomer, and explained a couple times that while I’d attempted meditation before, I never really had the patience to persist with it. We sat around a coffee table and had a short group talk, which soon ended up with our eyes closed, focussing on how our feet felt on the ground, and how it felt to be in that particular place at that particular time.

Before I knew it we were told to make our way to the other room, and without hesitation everyone got up to grab copious amounts of blankets, matts and pillows. Obviously I look a bit lost, and was selected a beginners recommended selection, which consisted of a mat, and five stacked pillows for me to sit on. Once everyone had constructed their pillow forts of maximum comfort, we were asked to pray to Buddha. This wasn’t something I was familiar with. Some did, some didn’t. I decided I would stand up and copy those that were, saying each mantra one after the other, because I felt I was there for the full experience. We sat for what I think must have been forty-five minutes, mostly in silence, occasionally pointed towards a certain thought we would replay in our heads for a piece of time.

It was quite alien for me, perhaps slightly surreal. Being sat, completed still and silent, in a room of twenty people doing exactly the same. Once the time was up (just enough time for people to get back from their lunch breaks), I certainly felt a wave of something over me – maybe calm, or refreshment. Most people grabbed their bags quite quickly and left. I stayed for a cup of tea and a chat about Waking Up, the Buddha, consciousness and so on. It was certainly interesting discussing things in this more abstract sense – something you don’t always get the opportunity to do.

It’s hard to gauge if everyone there was attempting to work their way up towards enlightenment, or feel closer to Buddha. Or maybe there’s something comforting in just sitting still for a while, maybe with a group of people, and being welcomed in. Before I left, one gentlemen got to talking with me about how much better he sleeps now since starting meditation in January. I’m sure there’s still something that’s not necessarily spiritual about the experience.

Everyone was eager to hear about my project – something I don’t always get the privilege of!

So I went home and finished of my animated typographic piece. I’m not sure why, but since going to the meditation session it all feels a bit too clinical now for the subject matter. Limited to just 30 seconds (which I liberally went over) and knowing I should probably leave the part out about Star Trek transporters, I found it very difficult to get across my ideas in this one. Adding some abstract sounds and music has given it that slight edge I was looking for. Oddly enough some sounds help illustrate some points better than when they were absent, but I feel like most of what’s trying to be said here would go over most people’s heads. It’s all a bit too fast and a bit too much.

Oh well, the animations are quite pretty.

Where’s Its Pair?

Over the past year or so I’ve been working with Jef Lippiatt over at Star Pupil Books to help illustrate a number of children’s stories. It’s been a real delight bringing these stories alive and I’ve contributed some of my best work over this time into the books will be available to purchase in the near future.

I’ve illustrated a handful of children’s books before, but it’s very exciting to announce that Star Pupil Books has published its first story ‘Where’s Its Pair’ featuring illustrations from yours truly – making me, for the first time, a published illustrator. It’s a fun little story that looks at the secret lives of those socks that go missing one day and never seem to return, resulting in you having a collection of unwelcome odd socks.

socks

 

The story really lent itself to creating a cast of different socks and their personalities in various quirky situations. I really wanted to capture that sense of mischeif that I think is only natural to associate with unruly socks, but always to be clear to the reader that they’re only doing it because they’re adventerous at heart, and simply can’t help themselves.

Jef’s written a really charming story here, which is currently available at the US Amazon Kindle store, and is more than worth the $3 asking price (if I can say so myself). I’ve been informed the book will become available in other regions quite soon.

There’s a good few more books that are finished up and on the way, and we’re in the process of illustrating yet another short story right now. After all this work over the last year and a half it’s great to finally see it in the wide world, and I hope you’ll enjoy what Jef and I have in store in the coming months.

Buy 'Where's Its Pair?'