All is Violent

All is Violent on Vimeo.

I treated myself to a new little camera at the weekend. Over the last year I found myself taking more and more photos on my iphone which is fun but not really useful for much since it’s still fairly low quality. I decided the reason was that my giant SLR is obviously too heavy and bulky (not to mention obtrusive) to carry around. I love the couple of film rangefinders I have and wanted something similar. Then last week, I’d been asked to make a short film and was going to rent one of the new dSLRs that films in HD, but after checking out this little Panasonic GF1 I couldn’t resist. Two birds with one stone and all that!

But, enough talk about cameras which I’m sure if any of you are like me aren’t all that bothered about since it’s a means to an end. I wanted to share with you the test video I took last night. It was very low light as the “sun” was setting [I assume it was there behind the cloud cover]. It took me a few hours to edit this really short 30second clip because in all my sleep deprived madness I decided to take the time to learn the full ins and outs of Final Cut (editing software).

And since we’re on the subject of robots head over to Quotidian Robotics to see the first comic! I’ll be updating it every Monday with illustrations and comics.

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Cupcake Throwdown [East Vancouver]


I know some of you are waiting for the next instalment of Coast Starlight photos, and I promise they are coming. But, for now I had something recent to share with you.

On Wednesday night was Vancouver’s first annual Cupcake Throwdown at Café Deux Soleil on Commercial Drive. When I first moved to Vancouver I spent a lot of time on the east side of the city since there is so much rich community there. Alas, I eventually made my way to Kitsilano and I think I’m stuck here [it's the sea I'm sure of it]. Occasionally I’ll jump on a bus [or two] and head back over that way to revel in the art and culture that’s so plentiful in that neighbourhood. Anyone that lives in Vancouver knows just what I’m talking about.

I do believe Café Deux Soleil is the perfect venue for a cupcake competition. I’m always so impressed by their food and they also have a liquor license for those who feel like a beer. While I enjoy a really good cold beer every now and then I think I may have overindulged far too much in my late teens and early twenties since I really dislike being even slightly drunk these days. Luckily there’s always a good coffee or tea available in this city!

The contest was a fundraiser for the amazing H.A.V.E culinary school. There was a great mix of professional and hobby bakers and the range of cupcakes on offer was really interesting. Of course cupcakes are a huge trend all over the world right now and I feel like sometimes Vancouver has gone cupcake mad (I keep seeing more and more cupcake-only bakeries opening). I definitely have a sweet tooth, but my threshold for very sweet things is fairly low. I grew up on English fairy cakes, which, while a lot like cupcakes they traditionally don’t have the huge mound of buttercream frosting that N. American ones do.

The deal with the throwdown was this: a $10 entrance fee and all the cupcake testing you could possibly fit in and then all you had to do in return was write down your favourites on a ballot. Simple, right? Well, I think I tried six different cupcakes in total [they were offered in smallish slices] and I had to give up. I’d estimate there were maybe 12 or more different kinds on offer, and I’ll be impressed if anyone managed to try them all. The few I did manage to squeeze in were so delicious. There were the classics [Red Velvet et al], but also some contestants willing to go out on a limb with some unusual flavours.

My friend Tanya Muller is a fantastic pastry chef who won first place with her Vegan Mexican Spiced Chocolate cakes. Look out for her adorable sugar skulls in the photos below. Two of my own personal favourites were the Lavender Brownie [sounds weird but if you grew up on sweets like Parma Violets you'd love that delicious icing] and an interesting “Tres Leche” which was a cupcake soaked in three different kinds of milk.

The winner of best presentation had a beautiful mini cupcake vegetable patch complete with peas, radishes, carrots and more. You can see most of the fun creations below. What a great night it was. I can’t wait for next year – I almost want to try out myself! Too bad my friends tell me that my cupcakes often end up looking like breasts [even if they always ask for more!]

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Usually it’s the beginning that I relish the most. However, when it comes to conceptualising an idea and bringing it to life it’s most certainly the end I look forward to. In illustration terms the conceptualisation process is relatively new to me. I usually just have an idea and I bring it to life with nothing in the middle but a spilling of what’s in my head. I suppose that’s dumbing the whole thing down, but there you have it.

Today, the piece I’m working on requires much more than that and it’s likely that many of the things I’ll be working on need the same. And, so that brings me to the practice of honing ideas into a clear concept. There are a few pages of sketches that brought me to the final character that I forgot to photograph, but it’s been an interesting and long morning of getting better at it all. Anyway, I just thought I’d show you a few of the pages from my process on this Sunday afternoon!

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The Great Train Adventure Part 1

[I took over 250 photos on the 12 hours that passed on December 7th 2009. I managed to edit it down to 160 photos. Very recently I took a quick poll on Twitter and the overwhelming response was that everyone wanted to see them all. So, I'll be bringing them to you in instalments.]

Go grab yourself a cup of coffee, tea or whatever your poison. Take a read and enjoy the first quarter of my journey with me.


On the Amtrak coffee cup are the words “Change how you see the world.” Often these things are just a clever marketing ploy designed to ensnare the imaginations of a certain subset of people. What makes good marketing is when there’s so much truth in the promise being made that it can’t be argued any other way.

When I lived in the UK I travelled by train frequently and often along one of the longest routes on the island (Edinburgh -> London). I longed for the days when travel wasn’t as stressful and inconvenient as flying. Sure, flying is fast, but that’s about all it has going for it. Canada has a very minimal train network and it takes about ten times longer than it should do due to the abundance of freight trains that get priority on the lines. Via Rail does have a Vancouver -> Toronto route that makes a few stops along the way and one day I hope I can take it. Unfortunately that is one of only three routes available in Western Canada. Out of the other two one is on Vancouver Island and the other is for a small part of northern BC. The cross-Canada journey takes a total of 3 days 15 hours. I believe there are more routes in Eastern Canada and they make a good method of travel similar to Amtrak (and other networks) in the US.

Of course since I got my Canadian permanent residence in 2008 I’ve been able to make trips to the US and I hope to be able to continue taking advantage of this position. I’d heard so many good things about Amtrak in the past two years that I simply had to try it for myself. I knew there was a Seattle -> LA route called the Coast Starlight and I’d been dying to take it after my friend Charley jumped on from here to Portland, OR. December around the time of the Induced Epidemics show in LA was the perfect opportunity for me to sample the wonder that is the west coast via train. Ideally I’d have taken the train the whole way there and back from Vancouver, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time that month for the full 70 hour round trip.


And so in the end I decided the only way I could satisfy my dire need for a train journey was to finally visit San Francisco and the good friends I’d made at SD Comic Con last summer. The journey between LA’s Union station and Oakland’s Jack London station takes a good 10 hours, while driving [I've heard] only takes 5 hours. What with the fact that I can’t drive myself and I’d hate to bully one of my friends into a road trip they never intended to take it was the perfect opportunity to take the train. Even though I’m a huge sucker for road trips I always feel bad that I can’t share in the driving duties and even if I could I’m sure they’ll never be as relaxing and beautiful as a train journey can be. With that I purchased my ticket (a mere $58) and eagerly awaited the day I’d be able to spend soaking in the world around me.

Of course before I could do this I had to get myself to LA for the show, visit my LA friends and do a couple of photo shoots. The only way to achieve that without using up the time I didn’t have was fly. There I was again heading to Vancouver airport, fighting the crowds and sitting in a tiny metal tube with gigantic mechanical wings while I tried not to make eye contact with any of the other stressed passengers. The whole time I’m left wondering if physics is really just some crazy black magic and one day it’s all going to fail me.

I told you that I found flying stressful.


In contrast the minute I arrived at Union Station in LA and walked through the giant and beautiful oak doors I felt safe and home. I do believe the interior of that station is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in all of LA. It most certainly gives the desert’s sunrises a run for its money. I’m sure I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past my fascination with everything American [mostly western] as I grew up a small child in the backend of England. I would sit and watch old American films every Sunday afternoon and dream of the day when I could go live that life for myself. In reality a good 20+ years later it doesn’t disappoint. Sure, things have changed and it’s not the Wild West out here anymore, but all you have to do is scratch off that shiny surface and underneath it all is my movie memories and they’re preserved! I like to think the world will carry on this way for people like you and me who revel in the great accomplishments of human beings.

For the many hours from when the train pulled out of the station to when it finally got dark outside at 5.30pm I only looked away from the window a few times. Once to get a coffee in the truth-filled Amtrak cup, to doodle a squid on my napkin and to answer a few questions from a delightful fellow traveller. The rest of the time I was absorbed completely and only the music from my iPod and the world rushing by outside existed.


The day started out with one of southern California’s rare overcast and rainy days. While far from typical I definitely wouldn’t have changed anything. It gave the streets of LA and the beginnings of the coastal desert a surreality that I’ll never forget. The fog was thick and low and the rain streaking past the windows brought back my fondest memories of train travel in the UK. One of the first differences I noted, however, were the amount of times the train crossed a level crossing on a regular street. In Vancouver we have train tracks all over the city and so many crossings that they just blend into the buildings around them. Nearly all of the street train tracks that criss cross our fair city aren’t in use today and so it never really crossed my mind that the giant Amtrak train would be zipping past busy intersections and passing through quiet suburbs.

Leaving LA the conductor pointed out locations that had once been used in many a Western film that I remember gracing my screen as a child. Back then they were completely deserted areas that were perfect for the iconic chases and shoot outs, but today they’re surrounded by urban sprawl and swimming pools. As the train made its way to the first coastal stretch of the journey the obvious human influences became scarcer and glimpsing the sea on the horizon I sat back in the giant reclining chair, popped up the leg rests and knew that I’d made the right choice for travel between LA and Oakland/San Francisco.


Below is a gallery of the rest of the first 40 photos for you to get just a small taste of what’s to come in the other 3 parts of my Great Train Adventure. Next up will be the coastal portion of my adventure.

Do you take the train regularly? What’s your favourite route [wherever in the world you are]? Please feel free to share your stories, since I’d love to hear.

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