Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Road to Wembley #10

With my intended fixture for this round (Coventry v Spurs) moved to the Monday evening, it was time for 'plan B': Championship side Leicester City against WSL fourth placed Reading. Unfortunately, this didn't materialise either thanks to Storm Dennis, which we found out en route to the game. Being unable to make the rearranged midweek fixture, our only hope to see a game from the fifth round proper (last sixteen) was another trip to north London to watch the rescheduled Arsenal Women FC vs Lewes FC Women at Meadow Park (home of Boreham Wood FC). The things we do for the love of the game, eh?!

Whilst Arsenal are the most successful top flight English women's side to date, having won more trophies and titles than any other, Lewes have their own unique story. In 2017, Lewes launched their EqualityFC campaign, which saw the Lewes Women players being paid the same as their male counterparts. At the time of writing, they are the only club in the world to be doing so. Lets hope it's not long before more clubs start to follow suit. Having visited The Dripping Pan in November last year for a women's game, it was a fantastically positive match day experience, with a great atmosphere and attendance. I would highly recommend a visit if you are yet to do so. They are a really progressive club.

The Dripping Pan

Despite it being raining on the drive down, by the time we arrived at Borehamwood it had cleared up. Cleared up even so that the yellow object was visible in the sky. I don't mean my photo vest (or hat, for that matter):

Meadow Park is a four sided affair, with two distinct looking stands (one seated along one touchline, one standing at one goal end), another large seated stand (which was almost full by the time the match was underway) and some uncovered more traditional looking terracing at the other one of the ends. This was where the Lewes supporters situated themselves for the first half. The most poignant feature beyond the realms of the ground was the singular tower block behind the main stand. Pollok anyone?!

This game was the designated Heads Up game, encouraging supporters to #KickOffAConversation about mental health. You can read more about the important campaign here. Both teams wore Heads Up t-shirts whilst warming up.

The last time Arsenal and Lewes met was a nil-nine thrashing. Were we going to see a repeat in this game? Perhaps not... Ninth placed championship side Lewes were able to prevent third placed WSL side Arsenal from scoring until the second halfDespite Arsenal obtaining the majority of possession, they were unable to break through Lewes's strong line of defence until the fifty-fourth minute. Indirectly assisted by Danielle Van de Donk, it was Caitlin Foord who knocked in the rebound, scoring on her debut outing for the Gunners. A promising start for the Australian international. 

Van de Donk did end up getting her moment too in the eighty-fourth minute, doubling the host's lead. It was almost always going to go Arsenal's way, though I was impressed by the performance Lewes put in. I'm sure the 1,663 spectators would share similar feelings and hopefully found the match a great afternoon's entertainment. Lewes bow out of the cup in the best possible fashion.

Arsenal will take on Spurs (again at home) in their quarter final match on the 15th March. The ties in full are here, with one yet to be decided:

Click here to view the full photo set.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020


I'm assuming how you've got to this blog post is through my social media, therefore you may have seen me post various animated skate clips of late. This is a post about those.

I used to skateboard in my teens and I still really like the culture and aesthetics surrounding skateboarding, despite not having ridden a board in around ten years. In 2011 I shot a skate video of one of my talented skater friends Fred Simmons and I still have the footage from that video.

I've been animating a lot of either animals or hands recently, so I was trying to look for something I could animate which would look great rotoscoped, but also something aside from what I have done lately. Digging deep on my computer I found the skate clips, which proved perfect for my animating needs.

My intentions for the animations were to create something which was looser and more flowing than my usual moderately fixed outline pieces. This was for a number of reasons:

• Force me out of my comfort zone by trying different styles
• Diversify my portfolio

The first piece (below) I tried a super loose style on the outline of the figure. As you can see, I used a brush tool at varying thickness, re-drawing over each line roughly, building up a layered messy effect. I also drew 'random' lines elsewhere on some of the frames, to exaggerate the inaccuracies of the drawing. To fill out the figure, I used what TV Paint calls the Chinese Brush, which has a lot of texture to it. I was purposely inaccurate about applying it: not being afraid to leave gaps or go outside the lines. The more of that, the better.

The background was a blurred out version of some analogue painted frames I did some time ago. I toyed with using a plain coloured, non moving background, though it didn't fit as well as this one did. This did take some trial and error, especially in terms of getting the colour 'right' or at least right for this particular video.

The second one was a direct development from the previous one. I loved the loose outline, though to make it differ, I used a thick marker-like brush, varying in weight. I also drew around the figure using one line, rather than the build up of lines in the previous piece. I liked the use of the shadow in the last one, so continued its usage into this one. I've never really used a shadow before, though I enjoyed the look it created, so I think it will be something I take into further work. It does make the whole piece take longer to produce, though I think the overall outcome makes it worth it.

I also like what I did regarding the bar he skates on: where it appears as he uses it and disappears when he doesn't. This is a technique I think would integrate well within other aspects of my rotoscope work, skate related or other.

After having completed two animations where the inspiration came fairly naturally/ instantly, the third one (below) took some time to develop and finish to a clip which I was happy with. I felt I had somewhat used up all of the 'good' styles and it became difficult to find a style which was equally as loose, without being *too* repetitive or similar to the other two. A hard task.

I left it a while after drawing the outlines and colouring the fill, to allow for more inspiration and thoughts to creep in. I eventually thought back to some previous animations I had carried out using paint and pulled upon the ideas from those:

I feel it's a fitting continuation, as in no way was I ready to 'park' those ideas or techniques. The red painted squares made for a really textured and bright background, a simple and effective technique in my opinion. It contrasts well with the black and the greys of the skater, whilst satisfying my visual style and processes.

So, did I fulfil my two aims as stated earlier in this post? In regard to forcing me out of my comfort zone and usual styles, all three of these pieces did. They don't have the clean look a lot of my work displays and I feel my portfolio is stronger and more diverse for it. This fulfils my second aim, as I plan on including at least one of them when I compile my next showreel.

From having completed these three pieces, I don't want this to be the end of me experimenting with different styles and reverting back to what I feel 'safe' with when creating new work. The idea behind these was to help me move to new techniques and I hope to carry this fluidity into future projects.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Photography | Finding Direction

I have always had an interest in photography, or even just cameras. I remember when I was a child, my dad had a draw in his filing cabinet full of his old film SLRs and I thought they were really exciting. At least to look at: I never dared ask to use one! It wasn't until 2010 where I got one of my own: a second hand manual Praktica from eBay:

This was off the back of me using a compact digital camera beforehand- remember those?! I loved taking photos on my compact and I think I had a good eye for composition (background is in fine art), though my output wasn't giving me the 'look' I had seen everywhere and what I wanted to achieve.

Taken on my Nikon compact
The 35mm SLR was fantastic, but a very cumbersome and heavy object. It was also costly to run and didn't have a filming capacity either, which is what I needed at the time to improve my moving image output. After all, I was studying Film Production and didn't want to rely on the equipment the university provided, especially if I wanted to progress outside of university time. I also really wanted a camera which could 'make the background blurry'. Bokeh, as I now know what it is called. So yep, I cracked and bought a Canon 550d. This is still the camera I use today, maybe that is surprising. I have upgraded from the kit lens, mind!

Above and below: images taken on my Praktica, 2012

I used to use my DSLR a fair amount, but never had a specific focus or style- I think I was just trying to take photographs which looked 'nice', it didn't matter what of. As it wasn't a subject I was studying at university or my main medium to work in, I didn't ever see it as something I could take seriously, though obviously that isn't (or shouldn't be) the case.

Despite enjoying it to take photos with, I sort of left it mainly for shooting video, as that was really why I bought it. After selling my Praktica film SLR due to its bulk and weight, In 2016 I bought an automatic 35mm Olympus Trip, which was lighter and easier to use. In 2017 I sporadically started what now is clearly my main hobby: groundhopping, though without realising it at the time. I brought my Olympus along to the games, because I didn't like taking photos on my phone, but still wanted to take images. Below are some of the ones I took on that camera:

Looking back at the images I took around that time, I had built the foundations of what I create now, though the standard and compositions of the imagery is less considered.

It was only until the latter half of 2018 when I decided to take my DSLR to the football, but even then I had no idea what I was doing. I was still new to watching football at the time. I didn't know whether I wanted to take action shots, pictures of stands, of spectators and I had no reference points or inspiration. I must have enjoyed it though- perhaps I saw it as a challenge(?), as I persisted with taking it along to games. It was probably more-so to keep me distracted from the cold!

I had also stopped drinking completely by this point, so time spent in pubs and photographing portraits of friends and local musicians became less frequent. This used to be largely what I took images of between 2014-16. I obviously needed something to fill that hole and another creative outlet.

I even bought a zoom lens so I could attempt action shots, too. I quickly developed my style and attention towards stands, spectators, landscapes and quirks around the grounds. This was with some action shots and gameplay included, creating a 'story' or 'essay' if you like, taking in all aspects of the match day experience. This direction came after plenty of trial and error, having attended many games without exactly knowing what I was doing with my camera. I sometimes look back at the grounds I attended back then where I didn't fully take advantage of any photo opportunities which I would be 'all over' now. I also look back on it in a positive way, in the fact that if I didn't take my camera to games early on, then I might not have progressed at the speed or indeed in the style that I have.

I really relish in the fact that now my photography has a direction and because of that, it makes it all the more enjoyable, rather than 'just taking pictures'. That is fine, too if that suits you, but this is giving me something I wholly enjoy and thrive in, while building an archive of non league grounds and women's football matches.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Road to Wembley #9

With both the Championship and WSL teams having been added into the draw for the fourth round, I knew it was going to produce some really exciting ties. The one which caught both mine and Ben's eye the most though, was Tottenham Hotspur Women vs Barnsley FC Women. While Tottenham the newly promoted side in the WSL sit seventh, Barnsley stand top of the FAWNL Division One North. Three divisions lower than Spurs. If that doesn't sound like an exciting draw, then I honestly don't know what does.

Having previously seen Barnsley against Crewe Alexandra in the First Round Proper, this was obviously a fixture I did not want to miss. Tottenham play at The Hive, home to both Barnet FC and The London Bees, a 6,500 (5,419 seated) capacity stadium based in North London.

An aesthetically designed new build (opened 2013), clad in orange and black made for a pleasant contrast against the overcast sky. The stadium consists of four separate stands: two large seated ones, with a smaller seated family stand and media area along one of the long sides. There is a terrace at one of the goal ends. The large main stand was open for this game, as was the smaller long stand. Both contained all 621 spectators. All four corners of the stadium were open and when facing the large stand, you could see trains passing.

As Tottenham are in the WSL, I acquired photo accreditation for this match, meaning I was able to go pitch side (rather than be restricted to one spot in the stand) and had to wear one of those bibs. It probably makes an improvement to my dress sense, maybe! The accreditation was secured a few weeks ahead of the tie, so it was just a case of keeping my fingers crossed for no rain..!

We set off from Preston at 8am on Sunday and arrived at the stadium in good time before the 1pm kick off. This left me plenty of time to collect my pass and take a sufficient amount of photographs of the ground before the game began. I was also able to identify a couple a good photo spots around the ground, for when match was in play. We bumped into our groundhopping friend Paul who is also following the Women's FA Cup, so it was nice to catch up with him and provided Ben with some company in the stands while I was sat pitch side. Thankfully Ben was able to take the Monday off work in lieu of an extra day worked, so we wouldn't have to do eight hours of driving in one day (phew), so we thought we would make a mini weekend of it and watch a couple more games on the Monday, before heading back up north.

With Spurs being a full time professional team, it was almost a given that they would come out of this round jubilant, though with Barnsley in such a good run currently, they were perhaps the team to cause an upset. After a strong start, it looked like this might have been the case, though it was twenty minutes in when Spurs broke the deadlock and doubled their lead not long after. They were then awarded a penalty, which Ayane put cleanly away, advancing their advantage.

After fifteen minutes respite, the teams were back out. The temperature had dropped and the skies looked even more gloomy. It looked like it was about to rain at any moment, but it seemed to be holding off- at least for the time being. The second half saw Spurs tally up a further two goals, with Barnsley still pushing to get on the score sheet. Unfortunately for them, this didn't happen, but to keep a mid table WSL side to just five goals showed how strong their performance was and should definitely come away feeling proud.

The rain did end up coming, though a lot later than forecast, but it had me heading for the stands to enjoy the last fifteen minutes of play with a roof above my head. Overall, it was definitely worth making the trip for and the match lived up to it's expectations (or at least mine)...

Spurs have drawn Coventry away in the last sixteen of the cup. They currently stand at ninth in the Women's Championship and play their home games at Butts Park Arena.

You can view the full photo set here.

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.