Making new words, illegible writing.

Fig.1 A form of asemic writing – a design for sounds of conversation (Ann Kiernan 2017)

During the past few months I have been on a great journey of exploration, and I feel more excited each day when I unearth a nugget of information I had not read before. One of these exciting discoveries is the visual art form of ‘asemic writing’. This is a graphic art form of storytelling without words or recognisable images. There are some exceptionally fine artists who have used this art form. Ideally the art should need no explanations, so I’ll allow the work speak for itself.

Fig.2 Martha Dermisache – Malba retropective 2017

Fig. 3 Max Ernst, Maximiliana ou l’Exercise illegal de l’Astronomie 1964

Fig.4 Léon Ferrari,asemic writing, visual poet


The Archive of Mirtha Dermisache[online]

Tim Glaze – Asemic[online]

Asemic Front[online]



The Sound of Snow

It was snowing here in Berlin when I walked the dog this morning. It makes me pause when she rambles slowly about the park. I conjure up in my mind the pictures from school books of Berlin in the early ’80s, most of those photos we saw were stark images and many were snow covered to emphasise the bleakness of the living situation in East Berlin, the snow never looked soft and fluffy and fun, it was heaps of grey hard slush.

Fig.1 The big snow, Ireland, 1982 – user ‘spokety’

The streets are quiet on weekend mornings at this time, but a car passes on the street behind, the sound of the engine is muffled because of the snow, that sound brings a rush of memory to my mind of the winter of 1982 in Ireland. A big snowfall arrived just after Christmas that year and schools stayed closed until the middle of January. It was the first time I had a proper snowball fight, we used socks on our hands because all our gloves were soaked through and lined on the radiators drying. I had never before tobogganed and the kids on the road gathered at the big hill every day with heavy duty plastic fertiliser bags to be used as sleds and a glassy runway was quickly established. I remember the cold clean air, the ‘wet dog’ smell of damp duffle coats. I remember the atmosphere, the quietness snow brought to everything. The sound of snow never fails to bring these memories but also because of these memories my present experience is richer.

Sound brings back memories, especially music, which triggers highly charged emotional memories. How the information is brought in by the senses and retained in limbic areas of the brain, which are connected to emotions, creativity and daydreaming is fascinatingly complex. This is fast becoming an obsessive subject matter for me, this connection between sound and image, whether the image is in the mind or on a page I’m eager to explore this and see what it might stir up.

References (Aug 27, 2011). Sensory Memory. [Retrieved Dec 01, 2017] from 

Written by Bergland C.[december 13] – world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist. [online] also





Ink and paper

Fig.1 Conversations on the train – Ann Kiernan (2017)

I love ink , it breathes and flows and creates organic shapes that are so pleasing to me. When it is added to paper, I can get lost in it’s unpredictability, and that beautiful crisp edge it offers when it finally dries on the thick paper.

The Chinese black ink stick dates back to approximately 12th century B.C, when monks found that the soot of pine needles or burnt vegetation which was caught in the ovens for firing porcelain, could be mixed with animal glue and moulded into a stick form. The ink stone is used for grinding the ink stick on with some water to become fluid, depending on the amount of water used it can take between five minutes to thirty minutes. In this period the monks would use the time to meditate, contemplate the painting and warm up fingers and wrists. The Ink stick, ink stone, brush and the paper make up the set of what known as the ‘Four treasures’ of East Asian painting.

Of course the ink was a result of a need to make more permanent marks on paper which had been around for quite some time by the 12th century. In Mediterranean parts a material called papyrus was used but is not considered real paper, it was strong but rough. The first know paper making process was recorded in China by Cia Lun some time between 25 and 220 AD. This invention was probably one of the greatest achievements for civilisation. Great treaties, great literature and great art have all been put to paper, holding records of historical events in safekeeping for generations.

The tooth of paper, that little bit of resistance when using pencil or dip pen triggers in me many happy memories of getting lost in drawing right throughout my life. For me my process will always begin on paper, like the monks it’s my form of meditation, a warm up, but also it brings a focus that digital sketching can not, and that is the fact that it is not so easy to ‘undo’.


Jaranson C. Traditional East Asian Brush Painting[online]

Lityuga, M.A. The invention of paper [online] / M.A. Lityuga ; EL Adviser A.M. Diadechko // To Live in a Safer World : materials of the eighth scientific practical student`s student`s, postgraduate’s and teacher’s of LSNC of the foreign languages department, Sumy, March, 28, 2014 / Відп. за вип. Г.І. Литвиненко. – Sumy : Sumy State University, 2014. – С. 151. A history of paper[accessed December 2017]

Chinese Ink and Inkstone[online]

Hearing sounds in silent images

Fig.1 Skipping Pylons – Happy Toast (2011)

So twitter has been going crazy this week over an electricity pylon jumping rope. Why?  Even though the GIF has no sound, viewers are hearing the sound of a thud as the happy pylon lands, or, are they just seeing sound and their brain is filling in the blanks?

There have been many articles in the past few days written about why this can be heard (by some people, not all) and Happy Toast Animation, the creators, are over the moon. Getting featured on international news channels and international newspaper websites.

On reading an article written about the phenomenon on the science based Illusion Index the author suggests there are a couple of possible reasons why we can ‘hear’ the thud. One is the McGurk and McDonald study.

“McGurk and MacDonald hypothesise that the effect is due to the fact that the brain is trying to make a “best guess”, given the information that is coming from different senses is contradictory. The effect is reported to be particularly salient when the quality of auditory information is poor, in which case the visual information trumps the auditory information (Massaro & Cohen 2000).”

Fig. 2 Documenting sound (2017)

The ‘skipping pylon’ GIF is a version of what I am endeavouring with my ongoing project to document sound in a visual sense. My goal is to create a dictionary of sorts for use in images which I can include sound or make reference to sound. Sound is an interesting subject to settle on illustrating because if you are a hearing person, you certainly have witnessed occasions when you believe you have seen the sound, be it a heavy bag dropped on a dusty floor or a whip cracking. Now to capture the visual essence of it, that is my challenge.


Happy Toast Animations. Retrieved from   

Macpherson, F. in F. Macpherson (ed.), The Illusions Index. Retrieved from

Baysan, U. (July 2017) “McGurk Effect” in F. Macpherson (ed.), The Illusions Index. Retrieved from

Akvariet Trio – drawing jazz and free improvisation

Fig.1 Akvariet Trio playing live at Theatre Unterm Dach.

Jazz is not my bag, usually I find it too conflicting and it becomes just noise to me rather than identifiable music. The Akvariet Trio though, are different, they work under the ‘jazz’ label but they are not jazz as I define it. The music is hypnotic and intense and there is a definite musicality which feels like its surrounding you as the set becomes more fervent.

Akvariet Trio present themselves as “deeply rooted in jazz and free improvisation”, making “music full of melodic beauty, rhythmic intensity and exuberant joy of playing” and you feel it. The potency of their music flows up and swirls enveloping the room and everyone present seems under the spell. Including the three musicians, who huddle over their instruments to a point where it’s difficult to know where one begins and the other ends.

So this is where my final piece was conceived, my end goal for my first project was to report on a live event and include some of my explorations of sound into my image. The venue is small and intimate and also quite dark. I found the best position for me in the room so that I would be out of the eye line of the audience and settled in. The music and performance were intoxicating. A fog machine belched out white breath which seemed to gather in the crouched form of Rieko Okuda, the piano player, who rocked back and forth on her stool, each time releasing a plume of fog which looked like it carried the notes she was playing with it toward the lights above.

The bass player, Antti Virtaranta  hypnotized me. His hands moved up and down the strings so deftly as he held the instrument like a lover, he plucked the strings and bowed them, rubbed the belly of the instrument and tapped and created sounds from a double base I never new it could emit. It felt at times we as an audience were watching a private intense moment, and then, suddenly it becomes light and we can look away.

Wieland Moeller on the drums played the rhythm like he was dancing, it is no surprise to discover he is also a contemporary dancer. Such a gentle sound came from these kettles and cymbals and once in a while a slow build gong flowed over the audience.

This was the perfect performance for my piece with repetitive rhythm allowing me time to build the image in ink and capture movements and more importantly to visualise the sound. Researching reportage and sound regularly brought me back to the work of Jenny Soep (who I have mentioned in a previous post) who ‘Draws the Experience’. She began drawing live gigs around Dundee Jazz festival in Scotland back in 2000 while studying, and has developed into a respected reporter and finder of new musicians and bands. She uses anything to make a mark even human hair and the results are energetic and lively compositions caught in the moment. Making notes in the drawing of important lyrics or comments she hears.

For my piece I wanted to not include side notes as she does but to just mark the sound and using my inks to create a fluidity that reflected the music. My process involves painting sections – for this image the first stage was making the black backdrop –  using water and dropping the ink in which causes a very fluid looking effect as the ink finds its way to the edges. I set this aside to dry and begin some pencil sketching to get a feeling for the music and movement of the musicians. I also began making experimental marks for how the sound looks to me. This process is repeated, inking, allowing to dry, sketching and repeat until I have the full stage set-up as I want it. The hardest part for me was putting the marks of sound over an image I was quite happy with, but this was the goal. So I bit my lip and closed my eyes and followed the sound with my pencil.



Akvariet trio website biography

Sketching the Scene – Jenny Soep – The Scotsman, Lifestyle (August 2008)

Jenny Soep: Drawing the Experience




Human Flow – A Film by Ai WeiWei


Fig. 1 Human Flow by Ai Weiwei (2017)

When I think about reportage illustration, this would be the ultimate goal – to document with compassion and understanding a story for human beings who need a stronger, louder voice so that they can be heard.

My expectation for this film was high, I am an admirer of Ai WeiWei, his provocative work and voice for the persecuted. I was not disappointed, this film is one of the strongest documentaries I have seen in a very long time, it is upsetting and uncomfortable to watch in the comfort of a warm cinema to see footage of lines and lines of desperate people walk along roads, across fields and mountains seeking refuge away from their homeland. The numbers are staggering to see in a physical sense when this film was made during 2015 and 2016. Our time.

As an exile himself Ai WeiWei can identify with displaced people and it is quite clear in his film ‘Human Flow’, the connection he makes with the people he engages with. Very often through-out no words are necessary, there is a clear understanding and empathy for their plight, even though language could be an obstacle. The use of drone footage is the most effective use of drones I have seen in any film. Ai WeiWei creates large collections in his art installations, the drone footage is an extension of this. The footage is not used as a tool to display beautiful vistas, but is used to emphasise the size with full impact, the refugee camps hundreds of thousands of people are waiting in. Waiting not living.

As an illustrator looking through the eyes of an artist (Ai WeiWei) making a film instead of a filmmaker, there are so many pictures I see that would be very worthy subjects for reportage. To get in close, to draw these peoples stories would be emotionally difficult and tremendously rewarding. I need to brush up on my skills, this film has given me a lot more drive and inspiration to pursue the genre of reportage illustration.


Human Flow a film by Ai Wei Wei (2017) Retrieved from

Ai Wei Wei, artist. Retrieved from

Drawings For Europe – exhibition at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Berlin

I read a recent article in The Guardian reporting on an exhibition of illustration at the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs. It’s a reaction to a comment made towards Axel Scheffler that he, as a German/European is “taking away work from our British illustrators”.

Fig.1 Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Berlin

He agrees “he might never have come to Britain and worked with the author Julia Donaldson on books including The Gruffalo, were it not for the EU. But he doesn’t necessarily expect that to convince Brexit supporters”.  Wouldn’t we all be the poorer if he and Donaldson never collaborated, life without the Gruffalo is almost unimaginable.

I took myself along the the imposing building which is housing this exhibition, passport in hand, as there is a strict entrance policy to all government ministry buildings. To my delight I had the exhibition to myself, although it must be said, the room had the remains of what seemed like a very jolly opening event the evening before.

Fig.2 Axel Scheffler – mice

Of course I made a bee-line to Axel Schefflers two pieces, they are simple in their execution of ink line and gouache. My favourite of both is his four little mice leading each other along holding aloft a European flag and balloon. Axel Scheffler has a very distinctive style, his character designs are usually outlined using a scratchy wobbly line and they possess large eyes. His illustration spreads carry much detail, so that a new item can be discovered with a fresh look at the illustration. He also makes subtle plays with colour, using it to create suspense or threat throughout, by darkening the pallet or making it lighter when the mood of the story requires.

Fig.3 Jutta Bauer – Europa, Skeptisch

There were Euro sceptics in the room also, Jutta Bauer has her Lady Godiva type character sitting aloft a proud bull (perhaps a nod to the Catalonians) looking slightly bewildered with her modesty covered in a thin veil of three european blue strips. The illustration is in pencil and gouache, with the bull very noble and angular in contrast to the delicately coloured and rounded figure of lady Europa, she is precariously perched on the bulls back, looking like she might easily topple off if he makes a move.

Fig.4 Anne Brouillard – Killiok prend soin de l’Europe (Killiok takes care of Europe)

Anne Broulliard, the french illustrator of such wonderful illustrated books as The Three Cats and the Wolf Smile, created for this exhibition an amazingly detailed piece detailing the character of the Killiok taking care of Europe. In the forest behind lurks sinister creatures between the trees and under rocks. It’s a beautifully executed illustration with a setting sun perhaps a symbol of what she believes is the outlook for Europe.

For myself as an Irish artist, living in Berlin & studying through a British University, I feel extremely fortunate to have the freedom to work, live and travel without borders within this vast richly cultural landscape. It is difficult to imagine the change. I only hope it is not past the point of no return.


‘We can’t be quiet’: Gruffalo co-creator and fellow illustrators respond to Brexit. by Kate Connolly for The Guardian in Berlin

Room on the broom in the primary classroom – GRIN, your knowledge has value.


Watching Others Watch My Work

Fig.1 Nature in binary – Group show, Berlin (2017)

Participating in a group show is a great opportunity to present your work.  It’s an interesting exercise to communicate what your art represents to you, what compels you to create art, where your inspirations originate from and so on. To stand back and watch people spark up conversation in reaction to an image you have planned, actualised and selected, brings a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

This past weekend (11.11.17) brought this opportunity to me and it was a wonderfully immersive experience. Not only did I get to converse with other interesting artists from a selection of disciplines but I had some pretty awesome and interesting confabulation with members of the public.

Fig.2 Bees Are Golden – Ann Kiernan (2017)

The goal is to introduce yourself and talk about your work but that’s usually a pretty big ask for most artists. My plan usually is to try my best to involve the person with the piece, engage them in the anecdote of how it came about, encourage them to experience the work on a personal level, and hopefully make it a part of their lives. At the end of the day your art is not only about you if you decide to show it, it also has to resonate in some way with viewers.


Fig.1 Courtesy of Justin Robert Thomas Smith

Zeichenerin und Zeichner aus Weisensee – Illustrators Exhibition

Fig.1 Theater unterm Dach, Berlin

There is a feast of art exhibitions in Berlin at any time but this month there is quite a focus on illustrators. I’m spoiled for choice usually and extremely fortunate to have a great exhibition space directly across the street. The Gallere Parterre is housed in the old factory building named “Kulturhaus im Ernst-Thälmann Park”. It was opened in 1986 in the former Municipal Gasworks of Prenzlauer Berg/Weissen See/ Pankow district of East Berlin. This month runs an exhibition of about 25 illustrators from the district of Weissensee.

First to catch my eye was Tim Dinter.  In this exhibit we had a sample of the sketch, the inked drawing and the finished piece in the newspaper Der Berliner Tagesspiegel.

Fig.2 Tim Dinter – Die Nackte Wahrheit – Berliner Tagesspiegel (2017)

Tim Dinter is a tremendously popular illustrator in Berlin, he has regular spots in Der Berliner Tagesspiegel and he is very accessible as an artist. His work speaks a normal language of everyday life, drawing in a ‘relaxed, realistic and easy-going style’.   He was born in Hamburg and moved to Berlin to study illustration at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee. While still a student he set up a kollectiv with fellow students called Monogatari – Pictures for Readers. It has been a great collaboration for him. In 2005 he travelled with the Goethe-Institut in Tel Aviv with two other German comic artist in exchange with three Israeli comic artists for a project to record personal reports, the resulting published work was Cargo – Comic Journalism, Israel-Germany

Fig.3 Cargo – reportage

I visited his studio during ‘The Long Night of Illustration’ (Die Lange Nacht Der Illustration) and it was a great inspiration to see the work space of a very busy comic book/strip/Graphic Novel illustrator and to chat with him about the work.

Fig. 4 Handi Song –  Wohnen in China – Life in a container (2017)

Handi Song is an enigma – there is no information I can find on this artist, at the exhibition or online, but I loved the work. Tremendously detailed and precise drawings in pen. A simple white cover with black ink make up a book telling the story of construction workers who move from the countryside to the big cities in China. These men who work long hours and in shifts, call a shipping container on the construction site home. Their story is told sensitively and in great detail through the drawings, the lines are honest and as a result add to the story of these workers. There are many detailed sketches on display that did not make it into the book, but they add proof that Handi Song spent quite some time with these men, drawing their story.

Fig. 5 Alexandra Klobouk – Polymeer (2017)

Alexandra Klobouk is an author and she self describes a “culture illustrator“. She has a strong voice in campaigning  against Xenophobia through her self initiated work.  While I am not drawn so much to picture book illustration, I found Polymeer a really interesting concept for a book. It’s not a children’s story. It’s an apocalyptic utopian story about a character who wakes up one day to find the glaciers have melted and Holland has been swallowed up, he finds safety in a floating pink wardrobe. The colours are dark greys and black and a really interesting choice of highlighter marker, pinks, oranges, yellows. It’s a disturbing tale of climate change and the story is supplemented by facts such as the pacific garbage whirlwind and the UN figures of expected 250 million climate refugees by 2050.

Fig. 6 Ariane Spanier illustrationen für Green Peace Magazin (2016-2017)

Editorial illustration is a genre of illustration I’d like to put some focus on, this great selection of process sketches and final published pieces by the design group Ariane Spanier brought me to their online portfolio to find these finished pieces became animated GIFs. They have a heavy hitting client base and their work is very present in Berlin

I spent and inspiring couple of hours browsing sketchbooks and reading notes, I’ll make another visit across the street before the closing.


Tim Dinter – Avant-Verlag artist bios

Berlin Interviews

Alexandra Klobouk

Ariane Spanier

Kulturhaus im Ernst-Thälmann-Park



Christoph Niemann solo exhibition.


Fig.1 Christoph Niemann, Galerie Max Hetzler 2017

Last evening I had the pleasure to attend the vernissage of Christoph Niemann at Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin. The small room upstairs in the Galerie Max Hetzler was full.  Very noticeable in the centre surrounded by friends & admirers was the tall slim frame of Christoph Niemann. People were excited to be there, there was a pleasing buzz of chatter in the room.

The exhibition is a collection of his newest series of collages, using a combination of aluminium foil and black ink. This is a slight change from his usual style in that it is a collection, in marked difference to previous exhibitions of his work, these are uniform pieces. Painted in black ink on paper, each drawing is embellished with silver aluminium foil giving an almost clinical feel, but they certainly have the Christoph Niemann dry quirky sense of humour, putting a little twist in an image you’d never normally make an association with. He  has great skill in making images using negative spaces, forcing your brain to work a little bit, just enough to give you a small buzz of satisfaction when you make the connection.

Christoph Niemann is a favourite illustrator of mine. His work has donned the covers of the New Yorker, The New York Times magazine, Wired and many more. He has sketched the 26.1 miles of the New York City Marathon and live sketched at the Olympic Games in London 2012.

He has featured in the ‘Abstract’ series on Netflix, which give a brilliant insight into the man himself, he is openly and candidly insecure about his work, it seems we all carry that coat.

Christoph Niemann has quite a few published books including the brilliant Sunday Sketching and Abstract Sunday. The collection of work in these books use simple lines and everyday objects to bring humour or absurdity in an almost poetic way never ceases to inspire me.

“This might be the most important skill you can have as an artist: Open your mind as wide as you can and check out every connection between any two elements. Most of these experiments yield nothing, but somewhere in this ocean of meaningless gibberish, something might click.” – Christoph Niemann, Sketching Sundays (2016)

When I look at his work, it always reminds me that sometimes, less, really can be more. It has certainly been his influence, to cause me to remember to take a step back and look on my work, strip back my busy lines and think how I might impart the story more effectively.

Fig.2 Christoph Niemann – Machine (2017)

Alongside these collages pieces Christoph Niemann is entering new territory with a group of video works. The video works are, I can only describe as quite a surreal experience. He has taken many short films of everyday moments, for example, a tractor driving across a field, then cut, mirrors, duplicates to produce a challenging viewing experience. Although this is a new visual medium for Christoph Niemann, it is still his process to make use of mundane objects and with a few simple shifts he manages to create completely different perception.