Friday 19 December 2014

Some good reads

Since I've been focusing on vintage fairgrounds/travelling fairs and sideshows as inspiration for my tattooed lady project, I've been reading some great books to get me in the mood!

There's nothing I like more than being transported to another time and place through a good book, here's some of the best ones I've read so far...

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, has been a bestseller for some time now, and there's plans to make it into a film. The story is about a magical circus that only opens between dusk and dawn and is filled with fantastical characters and settings; the audience are treated to many tents instead of just the one and each tent houses an individual fabulous spectacle. The novel is filled with beautiful descriptions of decadent costumes colours and ornament which I really enjoyed and the imaginative ideas behind each entertainment was impressive. I found the love story a bit tepid and the fact there was no real threat meant the story lacked any bite or danger, but it did conjour up the theatrical world of the circus and that was what I wanted!

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury was a different kettle of fish entirely. A book of short science fiction stories held together by the idea that each one appears as a tattoo which comes to life at night and all reside upon the body of the Illustrated Man. I found this one pretty hard going, I'm not used to sci fi books but I was willing to give it a go, however after the sixth story featuring a rocket, a human settlement on a different planet and the pervading feeling that we're all doomed by our own evolution I'd had enough. What I did like was the premise; that the man had been working in a sideshow and decided to earn his keep as a tattooed exhibit. Unknown to him, he was illustrated on by a witch, who marked him with tattoos which told tales of the future and cursed him to never settle in one place too long so unnerving is the art work once witnessed. I really liked how the tattoos equated to stories as that is something I am investigating in my own project, and it is an imaginative take on the traditional story telling of the tattooed man or woman.

The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall is a book I read years ago but decided to re-examine due to it's perfectly suited subject matter: This novel follows young Cyril Parks as he evolves from awkward adolescent to apprentice of Morcambe's formiddalbe yet hugley talented tattoo artist Elliot Riley. Beginning in the 1900's during the travelling fair's golden age this story focuses on the Cyril's relationship with a mysterious young woman who commissions him to tattoo her entire body with eyes. The morbid thrill of following his progression with both relationship and needle is fascinating. Plus the gritty and realistic depiction of both the magic of the sideshow and the darkness behind the scenes is powerfully evocative. It is a real inspirational read and well researched. Perfect for the vintage tattoo inspired project I am working on!

Do you have a tattoo tale to tell? Share your stories of outdated love tattoos on the facebook page or anonymously on my website. All stories go on to inspire my work for the project The Tattooed Lady: Tales of Love and Regret to be exhibited in Manchester in the Spring.

Friday 12 December 2014

Being on the radio

So last night I appeared on the Alison Butterworth late night radio show on BBC Radio Lancashire to talk tattoos for my project The Tattooed Lady. It was a great experience; I met Laura another guest and tattoo fan who has roses and cupcakes decorating her skin, and had a real knowledge on contemporary body modification thanks to her job as a professional body piercer.

The show also featured some fantastic callers who rang in to discuss their tattoos. There was Pete, the man who you don't know whether to speak to or read, so covered is he in body art, who got his first tattoo in his 20's and is now hooked. Then there was Paul who was proud of his tattoos and after suffering a bad house fire was considering getting some flames tattooed to commemorate getting through the ordeal.

We covered everything from when is the right age to get your first tattoo through to fads and fashions which dictate tattoo styles, we talked cover ups and bad decisions not to mention wrinkley tattoos of the older generation. It was all fascinating and so great to hear real people share their opinions and personal stories about the controversial art form. Oh, and I got to read the weather! It was all pretty cool!

I have to say a big thank you to presenter Alison and producer Helen for being so welcoming and helpful and making the whole experience fun and interesting.

Remember, you can still get in touch with your ex love tattoo tales to take part in the work I'm doing for HOME in the Spring. Just add your picture to the facebook page The Tattooed Lady: Tales of Love and Regret with a description. Or if you'd like to stay anonymous you can post your story on my website in secret using the form provided. If your tattoo is an outdated declaration of love, be that for man or beast, film star or football team, whatever your past passion, I want to hear from you!

Monday 8 December 2014

Outdated declarations of love

I'll be travelling to Blackburn this Thursday to take part in BBC Radio Lancashire's night time phone in show as a guest talking about tattoos and tattoo regrets. This is part of the work I'm doing for the opening exhibition at the new multi disciplinary arts venue HOME, next Spring.

Up until recently I wasn't able to say exactly where the theme for this group show came from as the programme hadn't been announced, but now I can reveal that the idea for the show is based around the play Kasimir and Karoline which will be showing at HOME in a new version called The Funfair.

Taking the themes of the play into the galleries, the opening exhibition explores heart break and the dark side of the funfair and this is where I decided to concentrate on the concept of the freakshow and specifically The Tattooed Lady.

People love an oddity, but as one sideshow manager put it, 'it was not the show, it was the tale you told' which brought in the crowds. The tattooed exhibits of the travelling fairs, circuses and side shows were no different; as well as giving the public a chance to see naked flesh (always a draw!) they also treated  them to  a story or two about the pictures adorning their skin.

I have always been drawn to the vintage aesthetic of tattoos and this mixed with the fact that currently one fifth of the British public is tattooed seemed a great subject to explore. With the idea in mind that many people get tattooed for love; be it true love or a personal passion like a sport, film star or band, it isn't unusual for the passion to subside, the relationship to move on, but the bearer be left with an outdated declaration of love on their skin for the rest of their life. 

Not to mention that emotional scars can run as deep as phyiscal ones; a tattoo is a scar that can act as a lasting reminder of love, impetuousness, naivety, and also sadness.

I want to collect people's stories about their ex love tattoos as part of this project with the aim to create a tattood lady based on modern tales of love gone wrong and this Thursday you can share your own tales on the Alison Butterworth show 10pm-1am on BBC Radio Lancashire.

It promises to be an interesting night with tattooed guests and tattoo artists included. I look forward to hearing your stories and opinions!

Friday 7 November 2014

A visit to Blackpool's freakish past

Last week I visited Blackpool's Local History Library as part of my research for my tattooed lady project. I wanted to get a real feel for the sideshows and fairgrounds a tattooed lady from the past might have appeared in, and Blackpool, with it's entertainment history did not disappoint!

The library sits not far from where some of Blackpool's finest attractions have been drawing in excited crowds over the last century and more. Upstairs inside an unassuming room filled with filing cabinets and shelves crammed with books, I was lucky enough to learn something of the extraordinary world populated by robot men, starving brides and of course tattooed ladies.

Having access to the Cyril Critchlow collection and with helpful staff on hand I was soon immersed in a very different Blackpool to the one we know today. 

With no TV or home entertainment, the piers and promenades of the 19th and early 20th Century were heaving with amusements. 'The Golden Mile' written by Cryril Critchlow described the area as 'a strange conglomerate of wooden huts and canvas tents housing auctions of various orders of merit, photographers of every degree of ability, retailers of botanical beers, coffees and seafood, quack doctors, soothsayers, phrenologists and traditional gypsy fortune tellers. Then there were the swings, roundabouts, Aunt Sally stalls, rifle galleries and every sort of rough and ready amusements, the more freakish or macabre the sideshows the better the public liked it '.

I learned about a variety of the attractions on these freakish macabre sideshows, here are some of the best:

The Starving Bride (1930's): These young women were usually brides to be, or newly weds, sometimes joined by their spouses in a public display of starvation! Offered large sums of money they would forgo food for days or even weeks and be exhibited in glass cases for the fascinated crowds. In one particularly morbid photo a middle aged couple gaze down smiling at the diminished figure lying in her large glass coffin like case.

Anatomy exhibits (1920-60's): Showing at Louis Tussauds, the anatomies on display varied from the head of an Eyptian mummy to a freak of nature; a man found in the family way! The young man in question was actaully pregnant with his conjoined unborn twin sister.

One excerpt I especially enjoyed from the anatomy exhibits catalogue of 1949 read, 'This full length Florentine model of Louise Lateau posesses more than ordinary interest and for the truthfulness of this strange story I am about to relate I beg to inform the public that more than 100 physicians and other scientific gentlemen and professors of universities in Belgium have put Louise Lateau through every test that could be devised. These men of science have borne testimony to the following facts...'

It transpires Miss Lateau suffered from stigmata and ecstatic fits, but if they'd just put that in the catalogue it wouldn't have been half so entertaining!

The Robot Man (1950's): a mind reading robot man who could answer any question thrown at him. The poster advertising him read, 'Actually made in South Africa, A replica of the Robot shown to the Royal Family of England, Is this another Frankenstein Monster? How does it get it's knowledge? Can it get out of control? Can he answer your question? Come and see for yourself'.'

Other freakish favourites along the Golden Mile included: La Belle Eve, a teenage stripper! A child from Accrington born with no arms but could knit with her feet, Alf Pyott who stood ony two feet high and Mavoureen, the Irish woman who weighted 33 stone. 

All these characters perfectly fit our idea of the circus style sideshows from the past but they wouldn't be complete without a tattooed lady. Tanya the Tattooed Lady, real name Gillian Butterworth, was a former wall of death rider, who invited customers to try and rub her tattoos off to prove they were genuine. (Anyone who fancied their own tattoo after seeing hers could step outside to a kiosk where Price Eugene, a real prince, would give the choice of a clipper ship, a dragon or a nude woman on the upper arm. The figure would wiggle when the muscle was flexed). Another tattooed lady was the 'World Famous' Gipsy Castella who performed on her lute to the fascinated crowds as early as 1910.

One of things that stands out for me most from these weird and wonderful figures is that many had a story attached to them. As strange as it seems it wasn't enough to be an oddity, you had to be an oddity with something extra to capture the public's imagination. Whether that was being a poor little virgin bride starving away before her life had truely begun, or a stigmata phenomanon who has stumped the finest minds in Europe. Even the Robot Man, a real draw in the era of Science Fiction, proclaimed he had been shown to royalty to add a certain glamour.

The tattooed people of the sideshow, pulled huge crowds partly for their blatantly marked bodies, but also had their talents and speils. As my visit to Blackpool proved a good story is half of the show and I've got some great inspiration towards my own contemporary tattooed lady!

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Tales of Love and Regret

Imagine it's 1929, and that the travelling fair has just reached your town. You've heard so many things about it that you can't wait to visit and experience it all for yourself.

You've never travelled anywhere, not been far from home or ever seen much of the world, but suddenly a whole train of new people with exotic lifestyles sets up temporary camp on your doorstep.

That first night the sky is lit up with coloured lights and the air is filled with the squeals and delighted screams of your friends riding the big wheel and the ghost train. Every one of your senses is assaulted; you smell the tang of sweat from the boxing ring and you can still taste the syrupy toffee apple stuck to your teeth.

As you search for the next entertainment you eyes are caught by a bright billboard outside a tent, it reads, 'The Living Art Gallery - To be seen ALIVE!' 

Your interest is completely piqued, you pay your admittance fee and join the back of a small crowd waiting for the red velvet curtains in front of them to part. 

'Ladies and gentlemen prepare yourselves for a sight that goes against every notion of civilized culture. It should never have been allowed, but let her tell you herself about how an innocent young woman has been transformed into the extaordinary exhibit you shall witness this very night. I present to you, The Tattooed Lady!'

The curtains part, the small crowd gasps and you own eyes widen in shock. There on the low stage striking the most confident of poses stands a woman in a barely there costume. But she looks fully clothed, for every inch of skin below her neckline is covered in colouful pictures. You glimpse sailing ships on her chest, eagles swooping across her collar bones and flags and flowers playing down her arms.

It repulses you yet fascinates you at the same time. How could this have happened? Why would a woman let this outrageous thing be done to herself? But your curiosity doesn't have long to wait, for as you crane your neck to get a better view, the Lady bids you all welcome and asks you to step closer to hear her adventures, her travails and her tales of love and regret...

Welcome to my new project, The Tattooed Lady; Tales of Love and Regret. This work is inspired by heart break, break ups and the dark side of the fun fair and is to be shown as part of a group show in Manchester's new arts venue HOME next spring.

Join the facebook page HERE

I am fascinated by tattoos and those images of tattooed women from the early 20th Century are especially exciting to me as they would have been so shocking and disturbing to the public of their day. I find the aesethic is so uncontrived and beautiful that I couldn't help but be drawn to them as a starting point for my work.

This project aims to create a contemporary tattooed lady based on modern tales of love gone wrong. 

There are many reasons to be tattooed for love; teenage impulse, obsession with a celebrity or even a brand or character, and of course, getting inked in honour of your true love. But not all these reasons stick, even if the marks they leave are lasting. 

To create this work, I want to hear YOUR stories of love tattoos you now regret. Please share them either on the FACEBOOK page or anonymously through the form on my WEBSITE.

These stories will go on to inspire the finished work and your input will go on to create something beautiful and exciting for others to experience much in the same way as the audience of the travelling fair of the past.

More to come...

Sunday 7 September 2014

A wrap up interview with Grace

 Grace at Cornerhouse with her Pre Raphaelite portrait

Last week I met with Grace Oni Smith, the muse for my recent work on transgender femininty inspired by Pre Raphaelite paintings. We caught up on make up, drank tea, and talked about our time working together on the project which is currently on show at Cornerhouse as part of Cornerhouse Projects. There's only two days left so take a look while you can!

Hi Grace, how are you?

Very tired, I've been doing lots of gigs for Pride, apart from that I'm good thanks.

What have you been up to over Pride?

I performed at Mother's Ruin and Cha Cha Boudoir. I did the Drunk At Vogue Love Boat and a new night called Glitter Pig which is a fetish fantasy night, all very sexy where the lovely LGBT crowd can get all dressed up.

Sounds great! No wonder you're tired. So, we're sitting here now at Cornerhouse in relative peace and quiet surrounded by pictures of you. How does it feel to be the inspiration for this work?

It's surreal. Especially to see everything finished and shown together. Now it's all done it feels like such a long time ago when we actually started this project.

How have your friends from the transgender and gay community reacted to this project?

They're very proud.

Has this project taught you anything about yourself?

I think the main thing, even though we used artifice to explore creativity in femininty, was seeing myself with no make up and the way you handled that image. It's quite exposing to see my appearance through your artisitc filter. It's made me see things about myself I wasn't aware of. 

I tend to show myself in terms of a fierce femininty, no matter what image I decide to project. I see myself as a blank canvas which I usually paint on top of. It's interesting to see how someone else sees that blank canvas.

(At this point Grace went to bar to get tea)

The guy behind the bar was staring at me, then he realised I was all over the walls and he said 'I thought I recognised your face!'

 Ha! Well he's been looking at you for over a month so I'm not surpised! To go back to what you said about seeing yourself as a blank canvas, I think that's kind of sad. It's like your missing out on who you actually are before you paint on the character you're going to be. You're already great. Do you know what I mean?

I don't think I see that. I don't know if I will ever embrace that side of myself entirely.
I'm not happy with the way I look. I can see I've got a good face and a good body. I've got arms and legs and everything works, it's not like I'm an armorphous blob or anything, I'm just not where I want to be, but I'm interested in where I can take that. 

I hope in time you feel able to embrace yourself fully. I tried to capture something of you in the raw. I never wanted you become a character in the portraits. Even though we used drag as a way of exploring your femininity I saw that as just another way of showing who you are.

You had an incredibly interesting way of appoaching the subject matter. When you see it all together you can definately see it's from a female perspective. There's no fetishism there, it's very much anchored in emotion. When I've worked on other projects about being transgender I've felt quite exposed and exploited, but I never felt that in this work. You handled it in such a sensitive way.

I've learned so much from this project; mostly it given me an insight into the life of a transgender woman, which is something I knew nothing about before. It's also taught me how powerful drag can be as an art form and as a way of exploring infinate variations of gender. Will drag always play a part in your life do you think?

I think so. I can't look into the future and not see an element of drag. It's a way of creating who you want to be each day, creating an instant message. There'll never be a time when I don't sit down in the morning and take that route.

One day I hope to have kids and I can't imagine I'll still be getting up on stage with my boobs out performing,  but drag will always be a part of my life in some guise..

The feedback for this project has been really positive. I've had a great response to the way you have been represented, as a person who happens to be transgender. The 'transgender' is almost incidental but still very important in the context of the work. What can we/ people/ society  learn from this ?

It goes back to something you mentioned earlier about drag making you realise that there are lots of different gender variations. 

When it comes to gender, 99% of people have very defined ideas. The reality is I'm a woman, I'm a make up artist, I'm Jewish. I'm more than transgender, but not everyone sees that. 
That really becomes apparent when I meet new people and see their reactions. It is so tiring being a transgender person constantly being judged, I have to find ways to safeguard myself.

I feel very lucky to live in the society we live in and having the opportunity to change people's perceptions of gender, but a lot of people are oblivious to understanding it.

How do you feel about the recent focus on transgender issues in the media with Kellie Maloney being in the Big Brother house?

I don't personally watch that show, but I have seen the press around the story and how badly it was handeld. When Kellie came out the papers had a field day with the 'sex swap boxing coach'. They kept referring to her as 'he' this and 'he' that. It's upsetting to see how far behind things are, that people can't grasp the basics.

Kellie was always Kellie, she just found the strength to recently live as Kellie. The press focused heavily on the fact she was a boxing coach. Trans-people can do any job, what difference does it make?

When she went into the Big Brother house the trans issue just became a circus again. Even people in the LGBT community think it's a joke. A few years ago there was another trans person in the house; Lauren Harries. It's like there is a slot in there for the transgender clown. No well adjusted trans-person is being represented, it's like they pick the ones that will be most entertaining. I mean what other trans people are in the media?

There is a spectrum of transgender, yet we only see either the beautiful completely believable transitioned woman because society can deal with that, or the joke trans-woman. It upsets me that Kellie let herself in for that.

 She is still at the beginning of her journey and probably quite vulnerable.

Whenever being interviewed or reviewed in any way, trans -people have a responsibilty to not be put in that situation and not be taken advantage of. It's counter productive.

Is there anyone out there who you feel does it right?

Have you heard of Laverne Cox? She's in a show called Orange is the new Black. She is an amazing advocate for trans-people. She went on the Wendy Williams show and Wendy Williams proceeded to ask her really crude and thoughtless questions. She pointed out the size of Laverne's feet and asked her about her surgery.

But Laverne handled it perfectly; she was really centered and politely said she chooses not to talk about those subjects as it marginalises people's perceptions of trans-people and there's so much more to discuss. In the past she's pointed out the unemployment situation for trans-people in America among other things. There's no one else talking about these subjects.

Wendy Willaims attitude takes on the assumption that as a transgender person your situation is public knowledge. But it's no-ones right to know.

I'll definatley look Laverne up, she sounds amazing! What was her full name again?

Laverne Cox. Unfortunate really isn't it? She might as well turn up and say 'Hi, my name's Amanda Sexchange!' 

Hahahaha! Love it!


At this point we had finished our tea and Grace had to leave for a photo shoot inspired by Donatella Versace (Think gallons of fake tan huge lips and giant sunglasses. It sounds like a hoot!)

I'm so pleased we both got so much out of working together and had such fun doing it too! I hope this project has helped inform de-mystify and entertain you as much as the two of us!


Sunday 17 August 2014

My current work up at Cornerhouse

Grace poses in front of her finished portrait

It's been just over two weeks since my work celebrating transgender femininty inspired by the Pre Raphaelites has been on show at Cornerhouse as part of Cornerhouse Projects.
The private view went really well with a great turn out including friends family and members of the transgender and gay community. Grace arrived with her mum in tow and I'm proud to say got a little emotional as I took her round all the pieces. 

One of the main things I wanted to do in this project was focus on Grace as a person and show her in a way that would highlight her strengths and uniqueness. I wanted to show Grace as an individual, not as a transgender character. Even though this project involved the use of drag, as I have learned, it is just another way of exploring who you are, and I think certainly in this case it helped to emphasise the softer side of Grace, a side she doesn't often see in herself.

Some of the chalk studies of Grace in Pre Raphaelite drag and with no make up at all. In both cases her unique femininity shine through

 The show runs alongside the work of Layla Sailor whose beautiful work also explores female iconography

People have responded really well telling me it's great to see art that has a positive message and I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to explore a subject I knew so little about with such an interesting and lovely muse. I feel that if this has helped to melt away just a little of the stigma or preconceptions society holds about being transgender then that would be a great acheivement. 

Grace in her gilded frame with butterfly details. I named the portrait 'La Donna Della Grazia' meaning The Woman Of Grace as a tribute to Dante Gabriel Rossetti who was and is a constant inspiration

The exhibition is up until 9th Sept at the Cornerhouse cafe/bar Manchester

Thursday 24 July 2014

Grace in the frame!

Yesterday I explained how I was getting the frame I'd designed for Grace's Pre Raphaelite portrait delivered to the studio and it arrived courtesy of Tom the carpenter this afternoon. I absolutely love it! Here it is with the portrait in situ.

As you can see it has a wide flat surface and little roundals in each corner. The roundals are going to have small wooden butterflies placed inside. The butterflies are there to continue the theme of the painting. This being a celebration of transgender femininty, the butterfly is a symbol of transformation and beauty which I think is very fitting.

I based my design on frames that had been designed by Pre Raphaelite artists to enhance their art work and show it off it it's best advantage. Nature; flowers, animals and insects were a usual sorce of inspiration in the symbolism they used.

A detail of the frame for Holman Hunt's The Scapegoat showing Heartsease and Egyptian Palms to reflect the story of the Scapegoat


This weekend I will cover the frame in gold metal leaf so it will look something like the frames you can see above. Sumptuous, yet simple and stylised. I think it will look gorgeous! Once again thanks to Tom for making such a wonderful job of my frame. 


This work along with several chalk studies of Grace will be exhibited at the Cornerhouse from 31st July next week until 9th Sept. There will be drinks in the bar 6-7pm  on Thursday so come along and say hi and see the finished thing!

Gemma ***

Wednesday 23 July 2014

A trip to the framers...

Last week I took a trip to Frames in Didsbury to get some of the chalk studies I've done of Grace Oni Smith framed for the upcoming exhibition at Cornerhouse next week.

 I don't usually frame my work so this was a whole new experience for me. I went in and asked for 'some gold frames please'. I never realised you had to think about cool and warm tones when chosing mounts and frames, and consider colours that would enhance and not overpower the art work. The lady at Frames was so lovely and helped me choose a frame and mount combination that was contemporary but with a nod to the classic style you find in art galleries.

The reason I was so sold on gold is because I am having a frame made specially for my painting of Grace which is inspired by Pre Raphaelite designs, and I want this golden theme to continue throughout the work. I got very excited today as I got some photos of how the frame was coming along from Tom the carpenter who is the go to man around Manchester for all your carpentry art needs!

You can't see it yet but it will eventually look like this rough sketch I did.

Like the frames often designed by the Pre Raphaelites to best show off their work, this frame has a symoblic purpose to enhance the message in the painting it will surround. More to tell about this tomorrow, as the finished thing is being delivered to the studio. I can't wait to see it and show you!


Sunday 6 July 2014

Girl with a curl, or two

So this week the end finally looks in sight, and I have to say I am loving working on this portriat of Grace Oni Smith my beautiful transgender muse! I really really love this picture! This week I have been finishing off her hands and tattoos and filling in her masses of hair. Nothing says Pre Raphaelite goddess like a head full of glorious tresses.

I enjoy painting hair very much and this was no exception. There's are still a few little highlights and definitons to be added but this crown of curls is the definative statement of the painting. Next to add is the rose in her hair and just a suggestion of clothes (if you know Grace you'll know that's about usual for her. See her perform live if you don't know what I mean!)

I cannot wait for my specially designed frame to be made to finish this piece off once she is fully painted! Now I still have a few drawings to tackle and a trip to the framers for those. So keep posted and remember to put 31st of July in your diaries as this is the opening night for this work Cornerhouse.

More soon...


Tuesday 1 July 2014

Tips on how to write a press release

Hello hello! It's a lovely sunny day and the bright skies are making me feel all inspired!
Today I am writing the press release for my upcoming work to be shown at the Cornerhouse next month. Anyone who has ever written one of these will know it's not as straight forward as you may think. 

So here are my top five tips that you won't always find on 'how to' websites. I hope these help you if you ever want to promote an upcoming event or exhibition. (this applies to all subjects not just art)

1. Check the newsworthiness of your story.
You may be sending your press release out to blogs, newspapers or mailing lists, but in all instances a subject matter that has interest and will catch the imagination of the public will always be preferable. So think about your target audience and try to keep the 'golden thread' pulled tight throughout your press release.

Imagine you're a busy journalist, and you have hundreds of press releases to go through every week. You are going to use the ones that are easy to read, concise, detailed and basically ready for print. Make the journalists job easier:
  • Always write from their perspective (unless you are quoting someone).
  • Use a clear font
  • Keep it short (no more than two pages).
3. Proof read, then get someone else to proof read, then proof read again!
Sometimes simple errors in grammar can let a whole piece down and ruin your chances of it being used.

4. Good photos mean a better chance of being printed.
So spend time to get a good high resolution image that doesn't need any adjustments and relates exactly to your written material.
5. Research who to send your press release to
Don't send it to everyone at a publication send it to the most relevant person. If in doubt, contact the publicatiopn and ask. Also:
  • Send your press release in the morning
  • Never send at the weekend
 Writing this has reminded me of so many things I need to do in my own press release, so I better get on! Updates of my work to come soon :)


Friday 6 June 2014

Exhibiton plans

I think it's about time I shared with you the plans for my current art work. If you've seen this blog before you will have noticed I've been posting updates about my portrait of trans gender beauty Grace Oni Smith, who I've been working with for about a year now.

The finished Pre Raphaelite style portrait along with a selection of studies in chalk will be shown as part of Cornerhouse Projects between July 31st-Sept 9th to coincide with Manchester Pride. You can read the official write up on the website here:

I'm really excited to show this work in progress (I plan to continue exploring this theme after the dates on show) not least because I am also getting a custom made frame for the main piece made to my own design! It will very much in the Pre Raphaelite style and will further extend the theme of transgender and transformation. I'll share this with you as it is created.

I've got about 6 weeks to finish the portrait, and so far I'm pretty happy with it. Every time I sit in front of it I make about a million little alterations and changes. It's true that spending time away from your work really does allow you see what needs doing. I get about one full day to work on it per week at the moment so I plan on upping that, sticking some Kylie on full blast and making each studio day count!

Here's where I got to last week. I was having awful trouble with her neck the week before but I've managed to see where I was going wrong and put the foundations down for the right shading now. I'm going to put her tattoos in next week so that will be fun too! Can't wait to get going on her hands and all that hair!

Come back next time to see how I get on

Friday 30 May 2014

We're Born Naked The Rest Is Drag

Last week I went along to one of The Beauty Project events at Selfridges in Manchester; 'We're Born Naked, The Rest is Drag: Identity, Fantasy and Beauty beyond Gender'

Upon reading this title I would have bought myself a ticket and gone along anyway! However the added draw was that Grace Oni Smith, the subject of my current portrait exploring transgender femininity, was one of the guest speakers on a panel consisting of drag queen Cheddar Gawjus (AKA Dr Micheal Atkins) and Dr Sally Hines Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at The University of Leeds.

It was a brilliant talk and gave me me lots think about. Grace spoke from the heart and gave us an insight into her life as a trans gender female. How her discovery of make up was a tool she used not only to transform her appearance but also transform her life.

Taking inspiration from strong androgynous role models like Siouxsie Sioux David Bowie Grace Jones and Boy George, a teenage Grace began to experiment with her looks and built a goth persona who wore her make up like armour. Still living as a male in a small rural town, this act of deliberate defiance to the norm brought her much attention, most of it negative resulting in being beaten up for being different.

As the panel explained, gender is something we perceive through learnt roles and behaviour. We copy it from others as we develop and there are certain acceptable characteristics we associate with men and women. However as in Grace's case, these ideals are malleable, they can be played with, broken down and rebuilt into new and sometimes confusing formats that challenge society and make people uncomfortable.

Take for instance this years queen of Eurovision, Conchita Wurst. An undeniably beautiful drag artist who just happens to wear a beard along with her lipstick and wigs. Many people's reaction was one of bewilderment, even disgust; It was too provoking to flaunt both genders at once.

Cheddar Gawgus pointed out that while Conchita was challenging for many people, the fact they were introduced to a new concept of what gender can be was a positive step.

For Grace, her gender is no longer the same issue it once was. As she rather fabulously put it, she is 'a new person'. But it hasn't been easy to get to this positive stage in her life. As an individual of transgender she still scrutinizes her looks on a daily basis and it isn't easy to escape that very marginalised view of what acceptable beauty is in western society.

Cheddar illustrated this perfectly by showing us results of Google searches for 'Beautiful women' and 'Beautiful men'. Both searches showed white young symmetrical flawless faces and slim lithe bodies.This is not a representation of most of the worlds population. Yet so many people strive to attain it or as close to it as possible.

  Grace, Cheddar and Dr Hines all suggested drag was one of the most powerful ways of subverting our narrow view of beauty and gender and I found this the most interesting aspect of the discussion.

Despite drag making somewhat of a comeback in mainstream society thanks to shows like RuPaul's Drag Race, the idea of what drag can be is still to be fully explored. Traditionally viewed as a man dressing up like a woman to become an extreme character, it was argued drag can actually be a platform for anyone of any gender to play with roles and looks. Women men and people of transgender can all be drag queens or kings. However, sometimes drag doesn't even fit into these roles, as in the case of artists Leigh Bowery and Cindy Sherman. Their use of drag is both surreal and without limits.

It is this total freedom to play with the carefully constructed boundaries we put in place as we grow, and the unobtainable ideals which we try to achieve in everyday life which makes drag an awesome device to navigate your personal identity.

It really made me think. As the title to the show suggested ('We're born naked, the rest is drag' a wonderful quote by Ru Paul), we all indulge in drag to some degree to create our outward persona. From applying a dash of mascara to choosing which shoes to wear we are constructing the story we choose to tell each day. Drag, in it's fullest sense is just an extreme form of this. If you chose to ignore the learned patterns that keep our identities in check and felt free to wear anything and act in any way, how would you choose to leave the house this morning? 

I'm so glad I went to this event, I enjoyed every minute and I'm sure I'll be applying these ideas to future art work, and maybe next time I sit down at the dressing table too!

Saturday 17 May 2014

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Exactly a week after seeing glamorous bearded transvestite Conchita Wurst win the Eurovison Song Contest, its now International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. The timing is excellent don't you think?

To celebrate this important date I'd like to share with you the latest progress of my painting of trans gender stunner Grace Oni Smith

Grace's portrait as a Pre Raphaelite lady is really beginning to take shape now. I have been working on building up the contours of her face whilst keeping the many variations of skin tone and colour in order to give her that fresh glowing from within look that the Victorian muses had. 

But unlike those girls of yesteryear Grace is a drag queen and was in Pre Raphaelite drag when I photographed her. So I have also been working on getting the balance of classic beauty and stage diva just right. I want Grace to shine through but I also feel her make up is an important extension of who she is so I want that slightly over the top quality to add impact. 

As you can see in the photo above I test out lots of mixes of colour on a separate sheet before applying the paint, to make sure I've got what I want. You can also see the reference photo I'm working from and a glimpse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting, 'The Beloved' fixed above the canvas. This painting sprang to mind as I was working, as one of the models in the background has a similar pose and gaze to Grace.

One of the biggest visual anchors that both Pre Raphaelite women and contemporary drag queens share is big kissable swollen lips! 
I've been working quite intensively on getting Grace's smackers just right as she naturally has a very Pre Raphaelite look to her mouth.

 I think I'll make them slightly more red, but I'm pleased with how bee stung they currently look! For me, getting the right attitude and look to the features is the main thing when painting someone. I always strive to capture who that person is and this is the most time consuming part, but I love every minute!

I'm back in the studio on Tuesday so join me soon to find out more

Until then, I hope you are all having a fabulous weekend and a great International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia :)


Monday 21 April 2014

Make Up; how to go cruelty free

Today I'm going to write about one of my favourite subjects; Make up.

Let me get one thing straight, I LOVE MAKE UP! I love buying it, I love the thrill of the unopened packaging, I love testing new brands, I love applying it and trying out new looks, and I love wearing it! I don't know why I've restricted myself from discussing it before because my art work  encompasses elements of artifice and glamour and make up is just another art form that ties in so beautifully. 

 I frequently get asked by people which brands are good if you want to buy cruelty free cosmetics. So I've put this post together which might help answer some questions. Firstly, here's my story;

About two years ago I had a make up wake up call (sounds kind of fun if you say it slow). My all time favourite make up brand MAC went against their own manifesto and began to test on animals in order to sell their products in China. 

China insists that cosmetics sold in their country undergo animal testing to prove they are safe for use. This includes soaps, perfumes, make up and certain skin products. However China is a huge country, and the potential consumer market can prove all too tempting for some brands.

I can't quite express my disappointment in finding this news out. I'd always happily bought MAC because I thought their quality was outstanding and I could pat myself on the back for buying a brand I knew did not test on animals. It ticked all the boxes. However that bubble was now burst and I seriously had to question myself, can I still buy this make up and wear it knowing an animal is suffering in it's name? 

You'd think the immediate answer would be NO! But I really really loved this brand. I panicked; where would I buy my signature lipstick? How will I cope without THAT colour? But in my heart I knew I'd already made the decision and when I announced on Facebook (yes, I went public, this was my big news story that year) about my boycott of MAC cosmetics after so many years of loyalty, I actually cried!

That goes to prove the emotional link we can have with our favourite brands, and says something about the world we live in don't you think? 

So began my quest for cruelty free/ against animal testing make up products that deliver the goods. I made it my mission to find products that were as good or better than MAC. I felt cheated on and broken hearted. I wanted to wipe the floor with MAC and stomp all over it for ruining my perfect dream of make up bliss!

I have been quite successful in my search and I can tell you that there are lots of great brands out there but you have to know know your background info too:

Firstly what is the difference between cruelty free and animal testing?

You'd think this was a straight forward thing right? But in truth it's very blurry. If a company claim that they 'do not test on animals' as you may read in many FAQ's on different make up sites, it may be that company's tricky way of saying that none of their 'finished' products are tested on animals. However some of the ingredients used in the making of the products may at some point have been tested on animals making them non cruelty free. If you are unsure then contact the company for clarification.

Then again some companies are trickier still. I'm looking right at you MAC! When I contacted MAC to tell them of my upset about their decision to sell in China they sent me a very nice email back saying this:

'Our longstanding commitment to end animal testing has not changed:  we do not test our products or ingredients on animals, nor do we ask others to test on our behalf, except where required by law.'

Sounds fair enough doesn't it? They are against animal testing just like me. However it was this phrase, 'except when required to by law' that exposed them for the cheats they are! (I'll never forgive you MAC). It was after all, their decision to sell in a country that requires animal testing on all cosmetics, so to say they are against it unless the law asks them to is pretty low.

There is another issue to think about also. Some companies are against animal testing and adhere to cruelty free standards, but can be owned by a parent company which doesn't adhere to the same rules. Body Shop and Urban Decay are two such instances.They are both against animal testing but are owned by L'Oreal, who still test some of their products on animals. So buying from the smaller 'safe' companies can be subsidising less moral goings on.

It is a moral minefield. My own view is that buying from brands which publicly denounce animal cruelty whoever they are owned by will help boost the message that people WANT to buy cruelty free and hopefully press that message home to the bigger companies. That is my personal opinion, it is of course up to you to decide what you think.

The best way to find Cruelty Free products is to look for brands that carry the leaping bunny sign or cruelty free logo. Some will have this on their packaging or website (it's good to check they are legit and confirm the authenticity) or/and you may have to search online like I did. You can search for your favourite brands on The Leaping Bunny website to make sure they comply or other sites such as PETA are very good at whittling out brands that have animal testing in some part of their production. I warn you now though be prepared to be upset. I have seen LOTS of brands I've bought in the past not pass the leaping bunny test. Take a deep breath and plow on you will survive!

There are also some good blogs out there dedicated to cruelty free beauty.  My Beauty Bunny is excellent; not only does it list cruelty free products of high quality, it tries them out too to see how they perform! This is an American site so lots of the brands are from the US but with a huge international audience My Beauty Bunny is happy to answer questions and direct you to available links for your country.

So things to remember:

- Just because a company says it's against animal testing does not necessarily mean it is cruelty free. If in doubt do some research or ask the company itself about it's products and manufacture of ingrediants

- Read the small print. Check out FAQ's and Commitments online. It's only by looking out for the details that you can find out what is really going on

- Check to see if the company is owned by a parent company which adheres to cruelty free standards

- Do your own exploring. Having a route around the internet can help you discover all kinds of brands you never knew about. Also don't be afraid to talk to the staff working on the counters in department stores. But remember they are there to make the brand sound good so be prepared to ask for details and don't be fobbed off with the standard 'no we don't test on animals', there may be more to it than that

- Be aware. Companies and brands change hands, and policies all the time so keep up to date.

Here is a list of brands I currently use:

Illamasqua: Edgy, editorial top quality products and cruelty free even the make up brushes are synthetic and it's a British firm to boot!
Body Shop: They do not test on animals or have their ingrediants tested on animals but they are owned by L'Oreal (see above)
Eco Tools: Eco friendly, cruelty free and not tested on animals, win win! (You can buy them in Boots too)
Too Faced: Great colours, cruelty free and also produce Vegan friendly products!
Urban Decay: Amazing colours, do not test on animals and cruelty free, also produce Vegan friendly products, but are owned by L'Oreal (see above)

I try to buy cruelty free wherever possible, but it's not always straight forward. If you use any cruelty free brands that I haven't mentioned please share! The more people who know this stuff the better and good luck in your quest!