My good friend the writer and performer Billy Spakemon approached me early in 2018 about an idea he had for a children’s story about Black Country artist Charlie ‘Chas’ Grigg and asked if I would illustrate it.
I’d already been involved in a creative project about Chas called ‘Our Best Kept Secret’. A group of fellow Black Country artists, writers and musicians contributed work about Chas for a series of live shows to raise funds to get a blue plaque which was installed at Rood End School where Chas had attended as a boy. Read the article.
Me, performing at one of the fundraising events for Charlie Grigg's blue plaque
Dream to reality: Creating the book
Billy knew I also did graphic design and illustration and so asked if I would illustrate a new story he’d written which tells Chas’s story for a young audience, about 6 years old and up. The message is an important one, that young people CAN feel that if they have a dream (like being a professional artist) then they should follow their dream, put the effort and tenacity in. Of course I said yes and then began the task of bringing Billy’s handwritten script to life.
I began by drawing outlines in pencil, then inked them and combined elements to make the required image. This example shows MY hand(!) drawing one of Chas's actual characters, Bloop (see above).
I then scanned the drawings and coloured them on the computer using Adobe PhotoShop®.
It took a lot longer than I originally imagined. I have empathy now for Chas, having to produce drawings for comics for strict deadlines, it’s a lot harder than it looks. I wanted to use a style that resonated with Chas’s own work – bright, colourful and full of wit and charm – and I hope I have done him justice and that people of all ages enjoy the story and images.
The finished book is 48 pages, 210x210mm in size and printed on gloss art paper. Please Contact me if you’d like a copy @ £5.99 each. Early indications are that the book is selling well.
Dementia and Dudley 'Me Myself & I' Support Group
BOOK LAUNCH SEPTEMBER 21st 2019
I was an artist on the Wolves in Wolves public art project in Wolverhampton in Summer 2017.
I designed and painted 2 5ft tall wolf sculptures: one called 'Old Gold' for Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club featuring facts and figures about the club and one called "Support Life" about suicide prevention and mental well-being in association with University of Wolverhampton. You can scroll down this page to read an earlier blog post about the ‘Support Life’ wolf.
The workshops that I held with various groups for vulnerable people (see various logos below) led to me reforming my community arts workshops company which you can visit here: Real Arts Workshops.
One of the things that was important to me was that the story behind the wolf was told via the dibond panel attached to the plinth.
Through the workshops for Support Life I was able to talk with professionals who work in this field and I was able to ask some of my questions. I gradually came to accept that even if Rich had been ready to talk (and he wasn’t) each person is a unique being with their own set of complex issues and my situation is different from his. See below for a list of these agencies with links to the work they do.
When Support Life was installed at University of Wolverhampton early in 2018, I noticed that the information panel wasn’t there. It bothered me that Rich’s name was missing when he’d been so important in the thought process behind the wolf design and painting. So I designed a new information panel and got in touch with the University about getting it installed. David Wedge from the Alumni office was really supportive throughout and I’m pleased to say the panel is now in place on the plinth and I hope people take the time to read about it.
We were over the moon to feature in the newly launched ZERO DEGREES magazine.
You can read the issue here: Zero Degrees Issue One. It features many local Wolverhampton business owners and personalities including Jody Craddock, DJ Janos, Alex Is, Mel Eves and of course me!
And another Express and Star article is available online. It's about my Support Life Wolves in Wolves design being relocated to Wolverhampton University.
I was over the moon when I was approached late in 2016 to get involved in the Wolverhampton City Council's public art project 'Wolves in Wolves' as the designer of not one, but TWO of the 30 5ft tall wolf sculptures dotted around the city. (Actually, 3 if you count the miniature Wolves FC one, but more on that in a later article).
I'd admired several similar art projects in previous years: 'The Big Hoot' Owls in Birmingham, the Gorillas of Norwich and of course Liverpool's Superlambananas (and, later on, Penguins) and always thought it would be great to get to design and paint a sculpture such as this, so this is a case of a dream becoming a reality.
My brief was to design and paint the suicide prevention and mental-wellbeing wolf. Part is this brief was to hold art workshops with different agencies who deal with people at risk of suicide: P3, Haven, Papyrus : prevention of young suicide and Base 25, to get their ideas about what design should go on the wolf.
Very early on came the idea of a jigsaw puzzle, which I tried to get away from, feeling it was too much of a visual cliché. However, I kept coming back to: usually a sign of a strong idea. It seemed to facilitate showing lots of viewpoints on the subject of suicide and mental well-being.
Also early on I knew that not all the pieces would be in place and actually one of them might be missing.
What was coming out of the workshops was this notion of people feeling disenfranchised and unable to talk about feelings. I thought it was important that the design address that, as well as other issues that came up.
Some images from the workshops: Snakes and Ladders, noticing artworks (in this case Mondrian), Home, Family, LGBT (the photos are mine, the artwork belongs to the artists)
I was really pleased with the work that was coming out of the workshops and so the next step was to collate all the imagery and start planning the design to go on the wolf.
Watch a video of the final bits of design going on:
The Official bit......
The design for this wolf came about following several workshops with different agencies. The jigsaw idea relates to how different aspects of life make up a whole person.
The five ways to mental well-being are picked out in the vibrant orange pieces and other imagery and words are used to support these.
Also shown is the board game ‘Snakes and Ladders’ which refers to how life can be full of ups and downs. The ‘missing piece’ can be found on the plinth.
Alex dedicates this wolf to the memory of his good friend Rich McMahon.
In Wolverhampton, between 2013-2015, 66 people ended their life by suicide. The majority of these 66 were men, a trend which is seen across the country and abroad.
Organisations’ and services across the city of Wolverhampton recognise the importance of taking proactive action to prevent suicide because suicide is preventable. In Wolverhampton, groups have come together to form the Suicide Prevention Stakeholder Forum. Coordinated through the Public Health and Wellbeing Team within the City of Wolverhampton Council, the forum is independently chaired and consists of a range of organisations from statutory, education and third sectors. Together the forum has undertaken a needs assessment on which basis a strategy and an action plan has been formed.
In January 2018 'Support Life' was relocated to Wolverhampton University.
Watch a video about the relocation project:
Alex Vann is a true all round creative. As well as owning Alex Vann Design he is the founder of the community arts group: Real Arts Workshops, a portrait artist and a gigging musician.