Friday, 24 January 2020

Back to Basics

Having just finished rotoscoping some fish, I was in one of those slumps or limbo type periods, where you've been working on a project for some time without considering where or what direction or project to take on next. This is because you've been putting so much time and energy into one project, thinking about another is not really on one's radar. Or at least not in my case. Once completing said project, I often feel empty, blank and directionless. Not a nice feeling, especially when you've just completed something quite substantial and have the drive to continue creating, but not necessarily the urge to do so.

Sometimes I find it hard to pick myself up after these moments and find the inspiration and motivation to move onto the next project difficult. This emptiness can last for sometime. Welcome to the world of being an artist! I think it also comes from the fact that I don't want to create a piece of work which is pointless (can argue that all art/ everything is anyway, but will leave that for another day) or doesn't reflect the type of work I want to create.

When this happens, depression starts to creep in and then the motivation to create work diminishes. Then the less work you create, the worse you feel and so on and so on. These days I'm better at managing these sorts of emotions, though I'm aware that I shouldn't use my creative output to define my worth or perceived happiness within myself.

Despite having a couple of afternoon's where I really slacked and decided to watch a few films instead, I decided to move aside from my computer and get out the good ol' sketchbook. To be fair, I'm quite surrounded by the things, but I only really use the 'big one' in between projects when most of the creative work and the bulk of thinking bits take place. This is opposed to when I have filmed all the footage to rotoscope and can just begin animating. I use an A6 one day to day for idea jotting, scribbling, meeting notes and also my daily and weekly plans.

Getting out the big sketchbook though was a good move, as was sitting elsewhere in my room rather than in front of my computer, even if it was switched off!

After some mind mapping, script writing and further ideas generation and development, I decided to paint some abstract animation frames to just (in the most hippie phrase ever) free up my mind (dude) and see where my ideas might take me. In my experience, it doesn't always matter if you know where you're going before you begin a project- sometimes beginning a creative endeavour will lead to inspiration and a clear pathway in the act of doing so. Sometimes it doesn't and that is also okay. It's good to make mistakes and experiment often in your work, or else it poses risk of turning stale.

Here's the 'before' if you will:

And the 'after':

Out of 140 frames and two hours of scanning in, it lasts for 9 seconds. Lovely stuff! I applied a wave warp filter to it in Premiere Pro in post production to give it another dimension and appear less 'flat' looking. It also was a bit too (unintentionally, mind) reminiscent of Ed Sheeran's album art work. Despite being a fan of his music (don't @ me) this was whole heartedly not the case and any likeness is genuinely pure coincidence.

Without especially knowing where the project is going (if at all), it definitely served it's purpose in terms of ideas generation and getting the creative flow, urm flowing again.

It is good to experiment. I might do this for a while.

...Talking of which, here is something the same, but different:

This time, I painted some squares different colours in an abstract way and combined it with some rotoscope animation to see what the techniques will look like when combined. I just did a pretty simple/ meaningless animation of me picking up a top, to test the technique. I feel it works quite well, though hard to say when it doesn't have much meaning attached. It would definitely be a technique I'd like to progress with and explore even further...

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

The Two Towers

It must have been November last year when a picture of Ravenhill Park, home of Sunday league team Brereton Town FC popped up on Twitter. Since 'getting into football' a couple of years ago, I had always wanted to watch a football match with cooling towers as a backdrop, because for some reason I have an affinity towards them: so far I have visited nine across the UK. Not that I'm counting. The closest I have come was this cricket match back in 2018 at Ferrybridge:

Despite saying that, I had actually watched a game where a singular cooling tower was visible in the shape of Bedford Terrace (Billingham), where I saw Middlesborough Ladies play early last year:

...But since seeing the images where the Rugeley towers were up close and pretty personal, the research began and the desperation to attend a game at the ground was inherent. As luck would have it, I found that there were actually two grounds in Rugeley, both of which you can get a good view of the towers from. Was this too good to be true? Apparently it wasn't.

As well as a Saturday team (Brereton Social FC) who play at The Red Lion Ground, it also plays host to Sunday league matches. This was the more favourable option, as with shorter days in the winter combined with my wanting to visit as soon as possible, a morning game would provide the best light for the whole 90 minutes: perfect for photographs.

After a failed attempt one week, we made the what seemed like a weekly pilgrimage down to the ground on the 22nd December for the Staffordshire (Sunday League) Premier Cup Quarter Final between Brereton Lion and Greenhoffs. When we pulled up and saw cars in the car park, to say I was ecstatic was somewhat an understatement! There had been heavy rain during the week, so with the match being 'on', it was such a relief.

The ground was a modest affair, boasting a small seated stand and a good sized social club. Around all four sides (albeit overgrown) hard standing, with a dilapidated red rail separating the pitch from the spectators. At one goal end there was a raised bank, which gave a good view of the game and of course, the cooling towers.

I was pleased that we visited in the winter, not because I enjoy the cold (quite the opposite), but because if it was summer the leaves on the trees would have obscured the view of the power station. You could also see The Red Lion pub on one side of the ground, along with an aesthetic row of houses situated behind the social club/ changing rooms.

As only our second taste of Sunday league at the time, we didn't quite know what to expect, though this match wasn't short of a two footed tackle or few.

It was exactly three weeks after, that we set off again at 8.30am on Sunday to visit the aforementioned Ravenhill Park. This ground is pretty much just 'across the road' from the towers, though separated by an out of place Amazon building, blocking off the bottom half of the towers. I'm sure preserving a Sunday league ground view of what most would describe an eyesore wasn't one of the contractors priorities whilst erecting said building, but a few hundred yards to either side would have been favourable...

The ground didn't have a stand, but that didn't matter because the cooling towers provided a perfect focal point. It too had a social club at one end, with a section of covered standing which came in handy at various points throughout our visit.

The ground had an oval gravel track around it, offering some hard standing for those who wanted it, though at each end was grass. The pitch was fully railed off. The ground was situated in a public park, where there is one of those outdoor gyms at one end and the ground was hemmed in by some picturesque trees. Even without the towers, it would have been a lovely little ground.

We couldn't quite believe it when the double rainbow appeared: I'm not sure cooling towers are everybody's cup of tea or pot of gold for that matter, but for us they definitely are and it made our visit all the more special.

Unfortunately the towers are set to be demolished at some point during this year (timescale currently unknown), so if either ground takes your fancy and have not already visited, then now is the time to do so. Check the Cannock Chase Sunday League for fixtures for both teams.

You can view my photographs from The Red Lion Ground by clicking here and images from Ravenhill Park if you click here.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Road to Wembley #8

With only eight ties to choose from in this third round proper (four north, four south), it was inevitably going to be a harder round to watch a match in. Having been to all of the northern grounds bar one, it was naturally a trip to The Loughborough University Stadium to watch Loughborough Foxes Women take on Huddersfield Town Ladies.

Both teams play in the FAWNL Northern Premier Division, so a competitive affair was expected, though Huddersfield are at position 5, while Loughborough currently sit at 10th.

Having only been to Loughborough once and not had a proper look around (I went as a child to play in a cricket tournament), it was another reason why we didn't decide to travel to the second nearest tie at Watford. We actually decided to make a weekend of it, so booked a place near Loughborough, which afforded us to take in a Sunday league game in the morning, as well as having a little look around the town centre itself in the afternoon before walking to the stadium.

Walking from where we parked the car, via the town centre to the edge of Loughborough University Campus where the stadium was situated, took around twenty minutes and from there, it was around another twenty to the actual stadium. The campus was vast and like a small town within itself! We eventually found it, with around ten minutes before kick off. The entry was free though with a donation bucket, which of course we obliged. There was also a team sheet, but no programme.

The ground was a new build, opened in 2012. It was a (very well kept) grass pitch, with an artificial 'cage' adjacent, where there was a men's match being played. One of the long sides was taken up by a large seated grandstand housing 300 covered seats. This is where we started watching the game- mainly to get a couple of overview photos, but also because we were unsure on entering whether we would be able to watch the game at ground level. We soon realised we could, so after getting slightly lost within the building, we eventually found the exit which lead us to pitch side. Here, there was ample stepped contemporary terracing (capacity of 3,200) around all four sides.

We did our usual lap of the ground, taking photos at regular intervals, before it got too dark to take any more. This brought us back around by the time 45 minutes was up and we went back in the grandstand building/ clubhouse for a coffee (£1pp).

The first half would have upset the bookies, due to Loughborough scoring twice, despite them being positioned five places lower than Huddersfield in the table. Both teams played some excellent football throughout, each having ample shots on target forcing each keeper into making some brilliant saves!

For the second half we decided to sit in the stand, due to having taken enough photographs in the first half and to get a different perspective of the game. It was a great view and we sat with fellow hopper John, who is local to the area. The second half kicked off and Huddersfield seemed to have come out from the break the stronger team, holding the majority of the possession.

Just over twenty minutes in, it was the visitors who scored and then equalised eight minutes later. Loughborough took their chances when possible, replying with multiple shots, though failing to get another mark on the scoresheet. It was Huddersfield who then scored the winning goal. A late resurgence from Loughborough almost had them equalise, though the ball strayed wide of target.

A really exciting and competitive game as expected, with both teams fighting hard until the end. I'm no pundit, but Loughborough definitely put in a strong performance against a competent Huddersfield side and either team could have come out on top.

The fourth round draw takes place this evening (Monday 6th), with the addition of the WSL and Championship sides. There could be some really interesting ties drawn out and perhaps even some upsets in the next round, which takes place on Sunday 26th January.

You can follow Loughborough Foxes on Twitter here and Huddersfield Town here.

Photo link here.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Project Update 3/1/20

Just a quick update on what I am currently working on animation-wise (rather than football/ bowling). Some of you may have seen clips of animated fish on my social media accounts, which is, in short, what I am currently working on.

I've not shared a lot of the project- just a select few clips, because a) I'm currently unsure of where the project is exactly going and b) I don't want to give all of it away before it's completed. That being said, I know it is going to be the basis of my next short animated piece. The last short I completed in full was in June last year, called 'Nothing New'. It was a collaborative piece I made with my good friend Alan Livesey. We still haven't published it online yet, because we're still waiting to hear back from a couple of film festivals, though when we do, I'm sure you will know about it!

One of my goals for 2020 is to complete two short animated films, which this will be the first of. I'm making better progress with it than I thought I would be before I started the project, because I found a shortcut in how to colour the clips. After almost four years of using TVPaint I only just discovered it a couple of weeks ago! Insert face-palm emoji. Anyway, you basically change the source on the paint bucket tool to 'display' and hey presto colouring each clip is much, much easier! I was doing it the manual way, where I painted each layer of colour under the outline layer. Yes, it did take f o r e v e r.

The film is currently untitled and currently sans synopsis (not a new typeface name), though when this part of the whole animation is complete, the rest should fall in to place. Fingers crossed! It's mainly just fish rotoscoped on some 16mm film, which I applied indian ink to and ran it through the projector.

Here's a clip:

...and here's a clip of a section which I coloured in, condensed into 53 seconds:

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 Summary: Football Grounds

Arguably the best hobby in the world, here's some 2019 stats (just for fun):

New grounds visited: 182 (57 in 2018, 252 in total)
Countries watched games in: 6
Women's games: 56
Men's games: 126
Most seen team: Barnsley FC Women (3 times)
Total goals (home team): 412
Total goals (away team): 337
Furthest ground away from home: 1,100 miles (Strandangens IP: Bromölla v IFK Berga) 
Nearest ground to home: 1.2 miles (Preston's College Sports Ground: Bamber Bridge v Bacup Borough u19s)
Region watched most games in: North West
Region watched least games in: East of England
English Football League grounds: 18
English Football League matches: 1 (Forest Green Rovers v Cambridge Utd)
Month most games watched: October (25)
Month least games watched: February (10)
Highest attendance: 60,195 (Emirates Stadium: Arsenal 3-2 Guimarães Vitoria SC)
Lowest attendance: 6 (Market Road Pitches: Northern Line 6-1 Metropolitan FC)
No. of days with multiple games watched: 21
Longest gap without a game: 7 days
Most exciting game (men's): Stoke City 2-3 Shrewsbury Town, Bet365 Stadium, Men's FA Cup 3rd Round Replay
Most exciting game (women's): Scotland Women U19 1-2 France Women U19, St Mirren Park, UEFA Women's U19 European Championship
Best atmosphere (men's): Whitehawk FC
Best atmosphere (women's): Durham Women FC
Best programme (men's): Lower Breck 9/3/19
Best programme (women's): Manchester Utd Women 11/5/19

...And now for my top 10 grounds this year. Well, kind of. It was an extremely difficult task, so I decided to take a flavour across the different styles of grounds I've visited to compile a list of 10 grounds I really, really liked. I have also included photo links in red, where I have a full set.

North Street

A mass of radiant red seating combined with some wonderful terracing, various covered stands and stacked houses as a backdrop, this one really stood out for me in the latter half of the year.

Somervell Park

Choosing between Scottish Junior grounds is like choosing between favourite teddy bears, so I'll just pick one at random! Crumbling terracing, a large stand and views of Glasgow, I would recommend this to anyone.

Y Traeth

I already referenced this one in my list of favourite grounds I visited in the 2018/19 season. You can read what I wrote about it here. More photos here.

Malmo Stadion

I decided to include something bigger than the style of grounds I usually go for and it was definitely an easy choice to include Malmo FF's previous stadium. It was very unique architecturally and included a sea of blue bucket seats. Absolute bucket lister.

The Dripping Pan

This is a ground contained in many lists such as this one and you can really see why: unique stands, terracing, beach huts, great atmosphere and equal treatment of the men's and women's teams, this one just had to be included!

Park Lane

The ground, set below sea level, makes a brilliant location to watch a game. Not only in the way that you can see ships pass by, but also in the presence of extensive terracing and conglomerate of stands.

Iodine Park

Again, was included in my previous list. Scroll up for link. This, like a few other local grounds is one I hope to revisit during the spring/ summer.

King George V Playing Fields Patterdale

This was my first taste of the James Cropper Westmorland League and it didn't disappoint. I feel my photographs will describe it more eloquently than I ever will, so I'll leave those here... More scenic grounds I have visited of late are Askam, Keswick, New Mills, Hepworth, Steeton Reserves and Ruthin. Most have full albums on my Flickr. All highly recommended. 

The Stanks

Perhaps the most unique place I have ever watched a game. The ground hosts the Berwick Charities Cup, held every summer. It's one I'd like to revisit, again and again and again.

The Red Lion Ground

Rugeley Power Station provides a unique backdrop for this one, which really should be on everyone's hit list. The cooling towers are set to be demolished sometime in 2020, so be quick if you want to visit.

That's all for this fantastic groundhopping year, but looking forward to what 2020 will bring. I have already started planning a few (well numerous, actually) trips around the UK and further afield, along with compiling a list of grounds 'to do'. Hopefully see some of you at a ground/ hop or two in the year to come...

Monday, 30 December 2019

2019 Summary: Tenpin Bowling

As some of you may know, I find visiting and playing at different bowling alleys a perfect accompaniment to groundhopping. In 2019 I bowled at 39 different bowling alleys, which is slightly less than the 42 I bowled at in 2018. This brings my total tally up to 118. Despite this, it has still been another good year of bowling, visiting some interesting centres around the UK and beyond:

My highest score this year was 214 (Pro Bowl Airdrie), though I still haven't managed to top my all time highest of 221, scored in 2015 (on lane 14), at my local bowling alley in Preston.

Also of note this year, both me and my partner Ben reached our landmark 100th centres: mine, in June at The Garage Kilmarnock and Ben's, more recently at Spectrum Bowl Guildford, in November.

I don't like to be negative that often, but the worst one I visited this year was Hollywood Bowl Liverpool. When we visited, it was the only bowling alley in the city, which for Liverpool being such a large and vibrant place, it's only bowling option proved very poor. Now, they have a boutique bowl (Lane 7) in the centre. I visited this one in September and it was a much better experience overall.

Negativity aside, I'll move on to some of the highlights. First up is Rowan's Tenpin Bowling, situated in the Finsbury Park area of London. This was high on my wish list and it didn't disappoint. Here's a mini review:

£1 admission gets you through the turnstile (yes, they do have a turnstile) and into the entertainment complex, housing more than just a bowling alley: it boasts a large arcade area and karaoke, along with a bar and numerous pool tables. Once in, the reception is easy to locate. £16pp for 3 games including shoe hire was a good price, especially for London and especially compared to what some of the chains charge, even up north!

The receptionist was very friendly and perhaps a little taken aback when I said I was attempting to 'tick' off all of the bowling alleys in the UK and that this was my 89th!

As for the quality of bowling, the lane was excellent, ball selection very good and no lane faults, either.

Interestingly decorated, it even had a rowing boat replica attached to one of the walls! Place was clean tidy and music not too loud, though perhaps this was because I visited just after 11am and it hadn't long since opened... There was a sign inside advertising the Saturday and Friday night live DJ, so if that's not your sort of thing, then probably best to avoid those times! Alternatively, if that is your thing, then I guess you should pop along. You won't regret it.

Also of note is Metrodome Bowl, Barnsley. This is a bowling alley located in a sports and leisure complex near Oakwell Stadium (still to visit). I was first made aware of it during the 2017 Weber Cup (Google it) where the competition was held that year. On that day we actually bowled at the other bowling alley in Barnsley (Barnsley Bowl) without knowing they had one in the leisure centre, too. On entering for watching the competition (which was held in the hall), we saw that there was a bowling alley in the Metrodome and had been on our wish list ever since. We had the opportunity to go in summer this year and it was really worth the visit.

A few more honourable mentions are Lane 7 Middlesbrough, Glasfryn Park and Farnborough Bowl.

Also of merit is Böckmans Bowling, Bromölla. This one was so special, it's already got it's own blog post. You can read that one if you click here. 

On a loosely bowling related note, in January we visited The Flying Pins sculpture in Eindhoven. This is an enormous sculpture of well, urm, flying pins:

Me for scale!

Unfortunately this was the closest thing we managed as for bowling goes whilst in the Netherlands, because we walked five miles to one which was closed! This was no where near the centre of the city, so we were left without any bowling options, as shortly after it was time to catch our flight. All the more reason to revisit…


In 2020, I hope to bowl at at least 45 new bowling alleys, though I understand this will be a tall order: the more centres one bowls at, the target gets harder, because it means travelling further afield to get to a 'new' centre. Luckily, there should be a number of 'easy' ticks in the way of a few dreaded chain bowls we've not yet endured in the Lancashire and Yorkshire area. I have already started kicking around a couple of ideas for my 150th, one strong contender is the alley based in Scotland's Theme Park- that's if I can wait that long...

The Weber Cup is back in England this year (after it was played in USA in 2019) to be held in Leicester 5-7th June. I plan to tie this in with a visit to Leicester's newest bowling establishment, which was opened 2019. I have already ticked off the Hollywood Bowl there.

What's hot:

Chorley has recently (21st Dec) opened a brand new six lane bowling alley and Glasgow has had a boutique one built recently in the centre, both I plan on visiting soon. 

Lane 7 (small boutique chain) will bring new alleys to Leicester, Sheffield, Durham, Glasgow, Dublin, Bristol and Nottingham, whilst Superbowl UK will bring fresh lanes to Bishop Auckland, Newbury and Barnsley, after having already opened a number of new ones in 2019. This will mean Barnsley will have three centres. Is Barnsley about to become England's capital of bowling..?

What's not:

Pins on strings. Or are they? The first sanctioned 300 (perfect game) on a QubicaAMF TMS pins on strings lane was bowled at Airport Bowl (Heathrow) by Paul Pasion on the 15th January 2019. Airport Bowl had their lanes converted from the traditional free fall to pins on strings in 2018. It looks like they are here to stay.

There are still no bowling alleys in either Dumfries or Cumbria, besides Eclipse Bowl (Workington).

The majority of the MFA chain closed during 2019/18, leaving a mere 6 out of 32. Some were reopened under new independent ownership such as the one in Worcester, though some have permanently closed, such as the one in Southend. Some have reopened as chain bowls, such as the one in the Merrion Centre in Leeds, which is now part of the Tenpin chain.

Well, if you have managed to read to the end of this post, congratulations and I hope it was worth your while. If I have bored you, then I can only apologise! If anyone ever visits a unique bowling centre, then please tag me as I'll love to see! Perhaps I'll start to write more about my bowling ventures on here...

Anyway, until then, it's goodbye from me!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Road to Wembley #7

If you have been following this seasons Women's FA Cup, or indeed this very blog, then you will already be aware that the main round date for the Second Round Proper was held last weekend (1st December). If you have also been following real life, then you will know that the weather, especially 'up north' was, shall we say grim, deeming a number of pitches frozen and therefore ties postponed to this weekend.

Perhaps this worked out better on a personal level, because last Sunday morning we were in Glasgow and needed to drive to Chester le Street to reach the closest tie at a ground neither me or partner Ben had visited. This would have meant almost five hours driving in total that day, which thinking about it, wasn't exactly ideal. For this week, we decided against heading to the north east and saving Moor Park for a later date when we could make more of a weekend of it. So this week, we opted for another Midlands clash, this time between West Bromwich Albion Women and Lincoln City Women, whom we previously saw at Sporting Khalsa in the Third Round Qualifying.

WBA play their home games at Oak Park home of not only Walsall Wood FC, but also Walsall Town Swifts. It boasts a rather elegant main stand, complete with wooden benches (and a row of plastic chairs). The other sides are uncovered hard standing, with a clubhouse and a small covered standing section canopy on the opposite side. The ground was painted red and white, the colours of the Walsall side.

Besides the stand, another notable and rather remarkable feature of the ground is the view of the life sized pit head monument at one end, the largest mining sculpture in the world. This was designed and built between 2008-10 by sculptor Luke Perry, as part of a larger sculpture project in the village, which you can read more about here.

The entry for today's game was £5 per adult, which included a 15 page colour programme. This game was also in support of Stonewall's excellent #RainbowLaces campaign, which aims to make sport more inclusive and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people, whether you are a spectator or player.

With West Bromwich in the FAWNL North Premier Division, a league above Lincoln in the FAWNL Division 1 Midlands, it came at no surprise that they had the first chance around 10 minutes in, forcing the visitors keeper to a fantastic save. Lincoln replied some minutes after, with a brilliant strike by Murrell, who scored twice in the last tie we saw Lincoln in, though just going wide of the net.

Both teams battled end to end each having chances, though it was WBA's Hattie James who broke the deadlock at 27 minutes, along with the onset of rain. This is where the covered canopy came into action, though wasn't much use as the rain was blowing towards and into the cover. It soon passed and after a yellow card distributed to one of WBA's players for a tackle on Lincoln's keeper, it was half time.

After our usual half time coffees (£1), the players were back out and ready for the second half. By this point we were really starting to feel the cold, which was mainly the doing of the strong wind blowing south westerly across the ground.

Despite WBA obtaining the majority of the possession for this half, Lincoln denied most of their chances with excellent keeping and defence. They too took their chances when available, though not amounting to a mark on the score sheet. It was looking like a goalless half, until WBA's Keeley Davies found the net in the 90th minute, furthering their lead.

It was a predictable win for WBA being a level above Lincoln, though the game was much more competitive than we imagined. WBA will progress to the next round, where they will travel to Southampton WFC on January 5th.

You can follow WBA Women on Twitter here and Lincoln City Women here.

Full photo set here.