This week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was to include song lyrics or the title of a song in the art journal page. You may recall that I enjoy vague prompts that allow my imagination to wander off in all sorts of directions but with music I did not know where to start. We listen to a lot of music as a family and have very eclectic tastes. When doing chores, I have music playing so I can karaoke my way through the house and I also always play music when I am at my art table drawing or painting. I, therefore, could have chosen any number of songs as the inspiration for my page this week.
I thought about springboarding from the last piece of music I had listened to before reading the prompt. That was Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens which had massive potential as a subject for illustration (and, in fact, I had illustrated it when I was in High School) but I knew I did not have the free time available this week to take on something with that degree of detail. The last album I listened to in its entirety was Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ so I pondered that for a bit. Meanwhile I asked my kids for suggestions since they are always a great resource for inspiration. Elvis, Prince, The Beatles, The Beastie Boys, Elton John, The White Stripes and Frank Sinatra all featured in their suggestions but one idea immediately gave me a strong visual: Space Oddity. As soon as my 10 year old said it, I knew that was going to be the song I depicted on my journal page, perhaps because David Bowie was always so strongly and uniquely visual.
I kept my illustration simple partly out of choice – I do love just plain old pen and ink – and partly out of necessity – my old nemesis, time. It depicts David Bowie (I hope that is clear even though I am not a good portraitist) floating through space in spacesuit, untethered but calm. I obviously did not use any reference images in creating the spacesuit. It is definitely more ‘Lost in Space’ than NASA, that’s for sure. I swithered over including either the song title or the lyric “the stars look very different today” in the illustration but decided against it because a) my calligraphy is not the best and b) I could not work out the placement for the words in the composition. I hope the song reference is clear without the words.
Last week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “music”. I love music and as a family we listen to music a lot. I listen to music when I am doing household chores as a distraction from the boredom and monotony and I also listen to music when I am sitting at my art table creating. The struggle, therefore, was trying to condense such a wide ranging theme into an art journal page. Some weeks I want for inspiration and other weeks I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head that I simply cannot focus and determine which would be worth distilling into a visual page. I decided, therefore, that I would base my art journal page on the very next piece of music I heard. That so happened to be my two youngest sons singing ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles.
‘Blackbird’ was the perfect selection because there was automatically an obvious and strong visual element for the page – the blackbird itself. I created a neutral, muted background by scraping paint across the page using an old hotel key card. Then I painted the black body of the bird. Then my week got massively busy and I did not add to the page for almost an entire week. Happily, on Sunday I had my monthly meet up with some other local art journallers. That then gave me a block of time on which to work on this page (and another) but it also meant I was limited to using portable art materials. The rest of the page, therefore, was created using Posca paint pens. I wish I had used a ruler to organise the text on the page. How many years now have I stated that I will work on my typography? Some day.
As of this past Saturday, I have now officially missed out on the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in my life.
Watching Eurovision was a tradition in my household growing up, a tradition I then introduced Mr Pict to and which became part of our calendar as a couple and a tradition that then grew to include our children once they were old enough to stay up late on a Saturday night. Therefore, what I am really missing is the loss of one of our deeply ingrained family traditions.
It is possible that if you have always lived outside Europe you have zero idea of what I am even referring to in this blog entry. Let me clue you in. The Eurovision Song Contest has been held every year since 1956 and involves member countries submitting a song. Each song is then performed on one (very long) evening and each member country gets to vote on which they like best which then determines the winner, nominally the most popular song. The contest was long enough when I was a wee lassie but, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent creation of new nations, the number of member states has increased massively in the last quarter of a century so that now they have to hold semi-finals and the voting takes an even more interminably long time.
In the decades before I was born, Eurovision was taken quite seriously. It was regarded as an honour for a country to win and to then host the next year’s contest and the acts performing the song could have their careers significantly boosted by a win or even an appearance. Some credible careers – such as Abba – were launched by success at Eurovision. The joy of Eurovision, however, is that in more recent decades the musical and artistic merit has declined so that the songs are utter drivel, frequently sung out of key and the performances are often bizarre. It is an absolutely wonderful night of randomly kitsch and camp entertainment. For most of my life, the BBC’s commentator on the night’s events was the DJ Terry Wogan who would make sarcastic quips as the show progressed and gradually sink into his cups as the voting stretched out before him. He retired and was replaced by another sardonic Irishman, Graham Norton. A lot of the pleasure of watching Eurovision was the commentator’s witty put downs reflecting our own view of the show.
Then there is the voting. There is admittedly not a great deal of merit in any of the songs or performances but merit is rarely how Eurovision is won. Instead, there are complex political relationships at work which lead to certain countries always awarding top points to the same allies every single year and denying points to countries with which they have fraught relationships, regardless of the quality of effort. It is actually perfectly possible to predict what some countries will award from the “public voting” each year. In recent years it has also been the case that some countries have, it is suspected, deliberately thrown the contest because they do not want to win. Winning involves hosting the following year. This can be a drain on finances for some and a welcome boost to tourism for others. If, however, you are like Ireland and have hosted several times then it might be time to submit a song performed by a puppet turkey. That actually happened. It is believed that singing in English creates an advantage. There was a rule for a time that songs had to be sung in each country’s native language but it was determined this unfairly advantaged the English speaking nations since English is the second language of most European countries. If you have ever sat through Eurovision then you might agree with me that actually it is probably advantageous to sing in the most obscure language and dialect possible so that as few people as possible can understand that the lyrical content is entirely dire. I also think part of the fun is hearing other languages and it is always a bonus when a country decides to go for a bit of a flourish using an ethnic instrument of some kind- double bonus if done so while wearing some bonkers version of national costume.
Anyway, our Pict family tradition was to score each country’s performance out of 20 with a maximum of ten marks being awarded for the song, five for the performance and five for the costumes. As a family that usually meant that there was much discussion surrounding how low the score should be for each song and it also meant it was possible for our top scorers to have sung in a way that emulated a camel belching so long as they had a top drawer performance and some natty costumes. In recent years we have evolved the tradition of eating nachos in front of the TV while chortling through the musical turns and debating whether the song that made our ears wither deserved even a single point. Of course, the children also love the fact that they get to stay up late – really quite late indeed – while glutting themselves on telly watching. There is also an unspoken tradition of seeing who can come up with the most scathing put down or come up with the most witty one liner about a song or performance. The boys do quite well in that regard. My apprentices.
But no more.
Possibly next year I will find the time to investigate if the Eurovision’s website broadcasts the event online in any other way than live. A Saturday afternoon will never do for Eurovision for one reason or another but watching it “as live” in the evening would be fabulous. So long as I manage to avoid the news of who the winner is which I singly failed to do this year. I turned on the BBC World News and learned that 2014’s winner was Austria with a song performed by a pretty drag performer with a beard. Now that’s Eurovision at its most magnificent!