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Selfie from the Past

Updated: May 7

Here's something from the deep archives. I've just been sent a bunch of photos from my early days in Japan in the late '80's, mostly modelling test-shots, and it reminded me of this self portrait from around the same time, recently re-discovered hiding in the pages of an old sketchbook.



Boy, did finding this bring back the memories!


This was painted in my first year in Tokyo, in my flat in Ueno Sakuragi, an anxious period just after I'd split with my initial sponsor, some months before I properly re-established my freelance career as an illustrator in the Japanese creative industry. Finding myself suddenly free, but also without regular income in a city where almost nothing comes free, I wasn't ready to give up and return to the UK (yet), nor was I interested in getting a "job" teaching English - I don't think I have the right skill-set for that! My initial plans of taking time off from my illustration career in London to travel and study Japanese culture for a couple of years had been largely squashed by a difficult relationship with my former sponsor. Now those hopes were completely overtaken by an urgent need to update my UK portfolio and find consistent illustration work in Tokyo, a very different market from London, so it was a period of adjustment.


No digital distractions in those days, just me, my sketchbooks & paints, and a very clear target!


It's an interesting contrast with the many adjustments going on for illustrators today, where so much of what we do is engaged with, and threatened by, the web. Today, in the ocean of media online, it's harder to identify the target, and the means to an end.


I've not been posting much on social media for a while I admit. Twitter stopped twittering for me, Bluesky turned cloudy, Instagram became Instant-spam. I kind of fell out of the habit of regularly posting after an epiphany of disenchantment - the realisation that Silicon Valley is not my friend, that Musk is a moron, and Zuckerberg (possibly) a zucchini*. Of course I knew these things before, but it all seems to have crystalised these last few years - I lost my appetite for the stew of social media.


This will change soon, hiding away is not very good for an illustrator, in a world where we're under pressure to engage more and more online - to connect with our audience, and possibly attract clients. Though I've been quiet online, things have been very busy in my studio, mostly on writing and sketching out picture book proposals, which I've no intention of revealing online until I get a deal! Stuff is going on, I just haven't been sharing on social media, let's just say I've been having a break from the old web.


But this face of 1987 is telling me something, for sure, so expect more posts soon.


*(that's a courgette I believe)

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I commiserate with your despair over the value of social media platforms. They just seem to be opening up avenues for potential hacking and spamming rather than raising work opportunities. V frustrating, given the standard of some of the stuff that is being published. Love your work John. Your the best.


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