Friday, November 27, 2009

Day 268, 271109 (gingerbread)

Concerning gingerbread people.

You know, if we were professional bakers we probably could have had this done and dusted in half the time. A third of the time. Total man hours required for myself and Sam (of Tea and Cake fame) to make 100 gingerbread people turned out to be about 14; my standard hourly rate (for callouts) is £50, which makes these some of the most expensive gingerbread men ever made. Or, would do, if we were charging for anything other than ingredients.

But, we did it, they are done and we did them. 100 gingerbread people, as a T&C enterprise for one of Sam's friends, getting married on Saturday and wanting wedding favours for people. You know how I say things like "try everything once, just so you know you'll never have to do it again"? Well, without a bigger oven, a higher working surface and something to pulverize crystallised ginger without gumming up I'm never making this many gingerbread men again...

The recipe was the standard one that I swiped from my mother, and modified slightly with some different spices and some maple syrup, with the extra addition of a couple of tablespoons of blitzed crystallised ginger. It's a bit gummy, that stuff, so my hand mixer didn't really like it very much. It makes quite a difference to the mixture, though - a bit of texture and some more ginger in there, without having big lumps of mouth-searing surprise. Fifty raw gingerbread men look like this:

Dough Raw

... and as they were cooling, but before I put them in airtight tins, they looked like this:

Awaiting decor


They stayed crisp overnight (hoorah!) in the airtight tins, but I did have to make another batch before going to bed because some were a bit too singed around the edges and were more like those biscuits you get in plastic packets when you order coffee in hotels that are trying, but don't quite get coffee. Perfectly edible if you like that sort of thing, but not really suitable.

Met Sam at the station, we went home and took out the ladies that she'd done, melted some chocolate (which set really quickly, so I decided that properly tempered chocolate was a luxury we couldn't afford in this situation and went for speed and simplicity over my own "technique above all else!" aesthetics), and decorated the ladies.


Then we set the chaps out, melted more chocolate, and did them. By the time we got to the end of the chaps it was 10pm, we were shattered and backs were really aching, and you can tell by the lack of suits and more... odd decor some of the chaps got. There was a skellington (userpic), someone in an X-ray machine, and a member of the Syndikat.


We did special ones for the bride and groom, too. Lots of chocolate! We did comment on the decoration as we were doing it; some of the ladies were very obviously grannies, some were in evening wear, some in dungarees. The gents were... eclectic, I think.

We certainly had fun making them - a lot of fun - but it's hard, hard work. I have much more respect for bakers, especially ones who do artisinal things like this. We could have done single colour, five blobs and a smile, and be done in ten minutes, but where's the artistry in that? This was all about the handmade product, the joy of uniqueness, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.

Richard was a star and ran out for tupperware with mere minutes to go before Sainsbury's closed; when packed up, the 100 gingerbread people looked like this:

What 100 Gingerbread men looks like

Fun, yes. Next time though, I'm charging more :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Day 262, 211109 (Thought Bubble)

This weekend was the best sequential arts fair in the North, and possibly the country (although Birmingham may argue on size, I think this is the friendliest). By which I mean Thought Bubble.

In a city with two indie comics shops (one of which does games) and a FP, you'd think that a comics convention wouldn't be a huge thing here, and if there was one it'd be a small affair, stuffed in a church hall or in the basement of the Town Hall, or something. In fact, in year one it was in the basement of the town hall, and it was a fairly sedate affair with only a handful of names attending, and it wasn't bad, but not really enough to hold interest for very long (also, I was very ill at the time). Then in year two - it amazes me that it's only three years old now - it exploded into Saville Hall, a huge conference venue by the Armouries. It was rammed solid last year, with the queue stretching quite some way at opening time and not really shortening very much before lunch. At that one I looked after the fetishman stall for a bit and pretended to be Geof for an interview, and spent a bit of money - but not that much - on indie comics.

This year was something else entirely.

I went with a budget, and with the intention of spending money on indie comics. I arrived at lunchtimeish, found Mavis who gave me a quick tour - showing me some Doctor Who artwork that made me think "Oh, it's a shame t'other Penny isn't here" on the way - and then stood with me as I carried out my first purchase of the day, and one I've been looking forwards to for two years, a copy of Grandville.

A quick note from my diary from back then:
[...] A two-hour session with Bryan Talbot as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival, who was talking about his techniques in graphic novel design with specific reference to The Tale of One Bad Rat. He started off with a retrospective of his work up to that point - which took 40 minutes - and pointing out how he learned to use a brush, crosshatching, lines of convergence, vanishing points, use of colour (which happened very late on), and some seriously interesting things about passage of time - how he spread a six-second sequence in Luther Arkwright across 72 panels, for example - and plotting. Then he gets into One Bad Rat, which pulls all of this together. He talked about the nine-frame grid a lot, and intuitive reading, and how people's brains work when reading comics - their eyes jump everywhere, even though the conscious brain is only aware of the linear flow - and putting little things in a frame which aren't necessarily supposed to be seen, per se, but help the brain work out what is supposed to be happening. Really, it was an incredible session. I made a ton of notes, made a note of all his references and work, and thought "gosh, that's the sort of thing I learned in photo classes!" a lot.

Just as we were leaving he pulls out his portfolio and asks if people want to take a look at some of his stuff for Grandville (the first ten pages, which looked outstanding), the thing he's currently working on ("Steampunk meets Sherlock Holmes, with animals instead of humans.") so of course I did, and then someone suggested a beer. So, three of the attendees (a graphic designer, a philosophy lecturer at UoL who is taking a year out to write about comics, and, erm, me) took Bryan to a boozer where we spent the time between his two events getting gently sloshed, discussing his work, who is up-and-coming, why comics aren't really taken seriously in the UK as opposed to, say, France or Belgium, trying to get graphic novels published and how much easier it's getting - aha - and technology. Plus going over two versions of Grandville, one in vibrant colour, the other slightly desaturated and trying to work out which was the best ("I brought these along to get opinions - here, what do you think?") It was at this point that I learned about Thought Bubble, as we started talking about conventions and the characters who turn up.

Bryan is a nice chap, and seeing as I've known about him since I was nine years old and stealing my Dad's copy of Luther Arkwright (Book 1), it's quite nice to realise that one of my childhood, um, heroes is really accessable. No kidding, being asked to rate his work? That's a bit of a "wow" for me.

Of course, I got Grandville signed by Bryan, we had a quick chat about a panel in Luther Arkwright I'd been wondering about for over twenty years, and I mentioned my perhaps somewhat dodgy thought that his cover for Erskine's Dan Dare does look a bit like a, erm, "book cake" shoot (look, those cruisers are seriously phallic, ok?). Anyway.

We headed back to Geof where I deposited bags and biscotti, with the instruction to use the biscotti as they saw fit. Geof had a bottle of "Mr Reynold's Genuine Hand-Squeezed Kraken Ink".
Fetishman working

Next, to see John Allison, bought badges and a poster, and pestered Ellerby for more ellerbisms and requested he sign things. Also demanded "what's new?" of Lizz Lunney and had a quick chat to the guys at We Are Words and Pictures, from whom I bought my favourite print of last year.

I spotted Bunny! So went and got volume two, having loved volume 1; this is one of those comics that really deserves to be read in print. Reading it on the web is fine, but this is something else when it's a book. Next door to Bunny (ish) was Gunnerkrigg Court. Wandering over to the chap behind the desk my opening gambit was "where do I know your name from?" and we eventually worked out it was from John Allison. I picked up his book, thinking it was a little expensive, but was instantly hooked. This was some seriously good writing and printing, and whilst the art seems a little naive it picks up really quickly. When I got home I read Grandville, and then I read this; it was stunning work and I loved every panel. Much hard work has gone into producing this and I can't recommend it enough.

Some people had work that looked fun, but wasn't my cuppa; a book of lovingly rendered watercolours telling a mermaid's tale was startlingly expensive but obviously a lot of love went into it's production, for example. I just didn't like the story that was being told enough. There was a lot of "trying too hard" stuff; semicompetent artwork and writing basically consisting of vomit, scatalogical references and poorly-thought out storylines, all of which turn me off. Some sort-of big press items that were ok, but there were better artists not getting book deals. Oh, and I didn't queue up to see any of the Names other than Bryan (and there wasn't much of a queue for him). I should have gone to see Paul Cornell, but he wasn't there when did go to see him and the crush of people trying to see Templesmith was getting ridiculous. And then Tony Stark turned up (sorry, rubbish photo - my decent camera was at the bottom of my bag by this point) and everything stopped wherever he was standing.

Ollie East was there for Blank Slate, who are publishing Trains Are... Mint and Proper Go Well High (instead of him selfpublishing). I bought copies of both, and loved them; these were sweet watercolours with a nice, otherworldy feel to them, the stories being Ollie's walks from Manchester to Blackpool and Liverpool respectively. Love these books; they're great artifacts, beautiful objects to have. Won't be everybody's cuppa, though. (I later discovered Ollie was the cover artist for Seldom Seen Kid.)

I bought far too much small indie comics costing under a fiver, too. I'll do proper reviews of them when I've read them all, but particular highlights were My Cardboard Life (oh! so lovely!), and The Rainbow Orchid, the first volume of a gorgeous-looking series of three, inked in the very best Belgian style. Brilliant work, can't wait for volume two.

Finally, I coughed for some Fetishman stuff as well, including a mug this time. Swag:

Penny joined me, and we decided to make up some sort of creative salon. There was a talk about Grandville held in the casino, so I had to go along to that (learned all about anthropomorphic cartoons through history, as well as some of the in-jokes in Grandville itself), then I made balloon doggies for a bunch of people, and then I was shattered and had to come home. But I did well, and did my bit to support the indie comics industry. In amongst everything else I met the model for the Doctor Sketchy's event they were doing - I love that idea, a burlesque evening where you're encouraged to draw - and had an extended gossip session with Michelle Culturevulture.

Oh! When I left it had been raining, and Clarence dock looked like this:

Seriously, this was an outstanding day; Lisa does a brilliant job of organising the festival and it showed on the day. Of course I'll be back, and loving every minute, again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 258, 161109

This is a bit of a catchup post.

I've not been doing much on 101things recently, because of other stuff getting in the way. Fully aware that you chaps aren't necessarily interested in that, I won't write about those things in great detail.

The beetroot pasta task (#36) needs a little explaining; I don't want to make pasta out of beetroot per se, but to use beetroot as a colouring agent so I end up with reddy purple pasta. Funky colours, see? The problem is, you need quite a lot of beetroot to get the colour. As an example of this, I present some marshmallows that I made a couple of weeks ago:
See that faint pinky colour? Two beetroot (grated and steeped in 100ml boiling water) in about 750ml of liquid. If a normal pasta dough is 500g of flour, I'm going to need the colour of six beetroot to get anything like the colour I want, and I can't have that much fluid in it, as the dough is basically egg and flour, with only a few sprinkles of water. Cooking beetroot juice turns it brown, too, so I can't concentrate it through evaporation. This is going to take some thought. Yes, I could cheat and make gnocci, but where's the fun in that?

Sam and myself are making a gingerbread army. Wedding favours for a friend of Sams, with proceeds going to charity, like we did with the Charming Armley Cake Comp. This has meant my making a lot of trial runs of gingerbread, but the final batch will be started next week; a mixture of maple syrup, pulverized stem ginger and careful use of bicarb will make these the finest gingerbread men and women the world has ever seen. Photos when available.

Exposure Leeds (#85) continues to skip lightly forwards; I think I've attended all the indoor ones to date and given talks at three of them. I was thinking about this the other day; in the 18 months since I met Jon Eland I've given four separate talks at Photocamps and three talks at Exposure Leeds sessions, and become involved in a pretty huge technology project. It's fun, I enjoy doing it, it's just an odd thing. Anyway, at the last Exposure I gave a talk on Panographs and Panoramix, the slides of which are available in four parts: [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4]. If you'd like me to present this anywhere - because obv, 80% of this is in the delivery - I'll do it for expenses :)

Because I needed to do proper research for my talk I popped into Leeds University's Arts library, the Brotherton. This enabled me to tick off another library from task 17. The Brotherton is a fab library, with special collections, books that are never checked out, and little corners to hide in. The little corners can be occupied by "characters" as in the case of the Library Foot-Sniffer, the scourge of many when we had open access to the libraries, but on the whole it's a lovely place to be. As a part of the talk I made a panorama of the interior...


... and came across a book that I had to check out; David Hockney's Cameraworks. This book contains most - not all - of his "joiners" and some I didn't know existed, and has an interesting monograph at the front by the compiler about the hows and whys. I may spend a bit of time writing about this book at some point.

Once the gingerbread army is out of the way I'll be making more chocolates, and trying to write up some articles for T&C. But... I had an idea for a cookbook. I shouldn't waste time on it, but as an idea I love it and want to take it forward, just a little bit.

That'll do for now. Just a quick state of the nation -type posting.