Surfing the Sea

Since 1995

American Boys: Washington, Dallas and Chicago (2009) — Sep 25, 2016

American Boys: Washington, Dallas and Chicago (2009)


In last week’s exhibition, I showed off some of the final characters I created for the Britain Boys series, and dropped the hint that a new series was soon on the way afterwards. This new series, though taking much inspiration from Britain Boys and following the same formula, would be using place names from a very different country.

That country turned out to be the United States of America, and so the series was appropriately named American Boys.

Taking the Britain Boys model Stateside would bring a whole lot of changes to the basic formula. First off, the characters would need to be named after American places and speak with American accents, rather than with British as in Britain Boys (although Britain Boys was mostly from England, with some Scotland thrown in but no Wales or Northern Ireland, so it isn’t really ‘Britain’). Secondly, it would base itself on American cultures and customs rather than British. Thirdly and lastly, the characters themselves would be completely different.

So as soon as the new year rolled around and the time came (I’d set the release date for American Boys as the 4th of January 2009), it was time to get creating again! I’d already had a preconceived idea for the first few characters, so I decided to draw on those first.

So I – or rather my sister Melissa – designed Washington, Dallas and Chicago.

As with London in Britain Boys, Washington is named for the capital city, making him the protagonist. I imagined him with a grey curly-haired wig like George Washington, the first American President, whom incidentally he and his namesake city are named after. He is the host of the popular prime-time variety TV show House of America, which airs every night of the week and attracts many viewers wanting to get their evening entertainment fix. His assistants on the set are named Nashville and Des Moines (more about them in the next exhibition).

Dallas is a cook. He runs his own restaurant named ‘American Delicacies’, and has written up numerous recipe books and amassed a vast collection of food magazines and recipe cards. In his spare time, when he isn’t concocting any new recipes for his eager fans to try out, he likes surfing the Net (possibly for even more recipe ideas?), going swimming at the neighborhood pool, or listening to his tunes on his iPod.

Chicago is a writer. Writing for the child and teen audiences, his stories are frequently based on his dreams, meaning he will start writing up on his ideas the morning after while the dream is still fresh in his mind. He has won many awards for his writings, like the American Gold Medal for Literature, and they often make headlines in the papers and on TV.

Melissa actually helped design Chicago’s appearance. I can’t exactly remember what was my own imagining of him beforehand, but she probably took design cues from the musical/film Chicago or the Chicago Theater and gave him that glitzy showbusiness look. I actually seemed pretty satisfied with how she’d drawn Chicago, and soon after I designated it as his ‘canon’ (‘normal’) outfit!

Of course, American Boys had only just begun, and these three just wouldn’t be enough. As I briefly mentioned before, I obviously still had a lot more characters in the works for the new series. Starting from next week…

(And yes, I did use American spellings. They’ll be used for posts about America or American Boys from now on, but any other posts will use British/Canadian spellings.)

Britain Boys: Sheffield, Liverpool and Blackpool (2008) — Sep 18, 2016

Britain Boys: Sheffield, Liverpool and Blackpool (2008)


In the last exhibition, I showed off Bristol from the Britain Boys series once again, along with two ‘new’ (not really new by now) characters named Watford and Rainham. By that point, I’d very nearly finished up with Britain Boys, with a brand-new production coming well on its way for the new year of 2009. But that didn’t mean I would stop creating new Britain Boys characters just yet.

So I drew these three – Sheffield, Liverpool and Blackpool. For some reason I had imagined Sheffield as being dressed up like a clown, or at least some sort of party entertainer, so I drew him with a pointy conical hat like those worn by clowns (or school dunces, but without the big D). I added a white bobble on the tip, so it looks more like a Santa Claus hat. I coloured in the polka dots on Sheffield’s outfit in rainbow colours so he can look pretty for the kids he entertains.

As you can probably deduce by now, Sheffield is a party entertainer. Now the reason for making him like that has come back to me: as a little girl, I went to see a live kids’ show in Sheffield (I was around 6 or 7 at the time). This childhood memory may have stuck itself in the back of my mind for many years and made me associate that with Sheffield. So when I came around to creating a character for Sheffield in Britain Boys, that memory was re-awoken, and I chose the party entertainer job for him to match that memory. Even looking at him today, I still get that memory back (as if the emotions from Inside Out play it on the projector in my mind each time).

Liverpool is a girl who is a little bit on the jokey side too. It might be to do with the Scouser sense of humour (a Scouser is a person from Liverpool, for those who don’t live in Blighty or have never heard of the term before). Her littler brother Blackpool (see what I did there?) also loves to make a laugh, although he’s more into playing with things rather than playing with words as his bigger sister does. I partly derived Blackpool’s love of fun from his status as a seaside city known for entertainment by the ocean (the Blackpool Tower being the most famous example, and it’s sometimes even called the British Las Vegas because of its bright lights and fun atmosphere). The other half simply came from being the brother of a witty girl – the funny gene seems to run in their family.

After these three, I created a few final characters for the Britain Boys series – two of them meeting a rather sad ending, which seemed appropriate as the new year was fast approaching by this point, and some new characters were about to break some new ground…

Overnight Stay in Bristol — Sep 15, 2016

Overnight Stay in Bristol

On September 13th, I went on an early-morning coach trip to Bristol from London to see my sister Melissa at her university dorm. On the way to Bristol, we whisked through the beautiful green Cotswolds with blue lakes, clear blue skies, yellow hay fields, and cows, horses and sheep grazing on the green grass.

Map of the Cotswolds
A typical Cotswold scene

Once we arrived in Bristol, however, the glorious light blue sunny skies we’d seen in London had faded down to dark grey cloud covers pouring slightly heavy rain. Luckily, there was a department store just a few minutes away from where our bus dropped us off, so we took shelter to wait for the rain to dissipate while we shopped for some suitable clothes and shoes and ate some lunch – I had my Christmas dinner three months early with roast turkey and potatoes! Eventually, Melissa arrived, and by then the rain had thankfully cleared up, giving way to blue skies again. We strolled through the centre of Bristol, riding a bus to Melissa’s dorm and buying some food and drinks for the upcoming night.

Bristol Shopping Quarter

Once at Melissa’s dorm, I asked her to draw another picture of my characters as she’d done with the Halifax gang from A Nova Scotian Way of Life (which I’m really quite proud of, even though she drew it and not me). We got ourselves all set up, introduced ourselves to each of Melissa’s friends and dorm mates, and began our ‘welcome’ party with Netflix-and-chilling, pizza and Coca-Cola. I made myself comfortable in Melissa’s room with my new laptop computer, phone and tablet, happily tapping away on the Internet. While I loved to nibble on my pizza (it was my favourite topping, simply pepperoni and cheese), it did give me a few bad vibes later on…

Halifax Davison, Dartmouth McKinnon-Graham, Jollimore Ferrison, Sambro Ketch-Prospect, Peggy’s Cove-Clam Pond & Cole Harbour-Rainbow Haven

The next day, having recovered from gorging on pizza the previous night, the weather was a whole lot better than the previous afternoon. (They say it’s the hottest September in a century, which I why I went to Margate the previous week!) We jumped on a bus going to the in-city village of Clifton not too far off from Melissa’s dorm, where we had a good stroll through the pretty streets and architecture, giving it a small homely village rather than big-city feel.

A little later on, we climbed up a hill to the Clifton Observatory, which gave fantastic, wide views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the muddy Avon Gorge, the river being a thinnish line of water in the centre of the mudbanks. We even found a little pet prancing around the hill, and I nicknamed him the ‘Clifton Cat’ for alliterative appeal.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge
The Avon Gorge
The Clifton Cat

Heading down the hill, we began a rather fearful (to me) walk along the bridge to the other side. I couldn’t keep myself from breathing heavily as I frightfully looked over to the gorge and the river far down under the bridge. I’d become scared of crossing bridges ever since I saw a movie while in Colombia where a steel bridge fell apart and crashed into a river, taking down many people who were crossing with it. Luckily, a part of me inside reassured me that wasn’t real – it was only fictional – and I got even more amazing views of the Avon Gorge and Bristol cityscapes, including the traffic traversing the road beside the gorge.

Upon the bridge
Looking along the Avon Gorge

Arriving at the other side of the bridge, we visited the museum just off the road to find out about the history of the bridge itself and how it was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, possibly one of the most famous engineers of the Victorian era. I even got my hands on a few souvenirs, like a badge, a tote bag depicting the bridge and gorge, and a little red phone box filled with toffees doubling as a coin bank.

Statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Brunel and his history of engineering feats

Returning to Melissa’s dorm to pick up all our things, we went back out into Bristol city centre to have lunch at a pub – I had hot chicken tikka masala curry with a refreshing glass of cool lemonade. We had one last stroll through the Shopping Quarter before just about catching the bus back home to London in time, where I listened to some music to help me relax before tiredness set in and I had a little nap. I caught a little glimpse of Bristol’s many Canadian connections just before I left out of it completely:

This road is called Newfoundland Way!
Britain Boys: Bristol, Watford and Rainham (2008) — Sep 11, 2016

Britain Boys: Bristol, Watford and Rainham (2008)


A few exhibitions ago, on the Britain Boys Swimming Pool People drawing, I showed off Bristol, who was displayed as the fourth member of the eponymous swim-loving gang. A rather shy and reserved 21-year-old man with a bladder problem, he finds it very difficult to be around other people due to his low confidence and fear of embarrassment. This doesn’t stop him from hanging out at the swimming pool with Rochdale, Southsea and Heysham, however – although it can come up with even more embarrassment for him in the water.

Here, Bristol isn’t shown with the Swimming Pool People, but rather with two more new Britain Boys characters: Watford and Rainham. I mostly just created these two on a whim to satisfy my overworking imagination (and it still overworks today: just look at Canadian Boys and A Nova Scotian Way of Life!)

Watford is, as you can probably tell by the drawing, a very loudmouthed young man. He doesn’t care where he is or when it is, he’ll just shout out as noisily as he can to attract the most attention – and possibly get pulled away in the process. He’ll show his very strong opinions on all kinds of matters – even something he can’t control, like the weather or traffic (if it’s particularly suffocating on one day). Sometimes he gets on board the megaphone at the park or shopping centre to prove his (sharp) points.

Rainham was mostly created as a joke character to make a pun on ‘rain’ (which is in his name. Which sort of rhymed). He is fashioned out rather like a water deity, which is made prominent in his long, flowing navy-blue hair and silvery-blue mermaid (or merman) tail. He frequently drips with rainwater when walking or swimming about, which is why his name is Rainham. (Rhymed again!)

I still wasn’t quite yet done with Britain Boys at this point, though. I still had more characters in store… (Triple rhyme… three’s a charm!) 😉

Day-Trip to Margate — Sep 8, 2016

Day-Trip to Margate

On September the 7th, I set out on a little road-trip to the seaside town of Margate in Kent, just to the south-east of London. The weather was very warm and sunny for September (even though it’s still technically summer until around the 20th, when the autumn equinox kicks in), so it was perfect to spend a day out beside the seaside.

County map of Kent
Red pin on Margate

While on the way to Margate, we drove through Dagenham in far-east London and even rode the Dartford Crossing Bridge, also known as the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which spans the Thames Estuary leading out into the North Sea. Entering Kent, the riverside factories gave way to emerald-green hills and forests, the light grey clouds dispersed to reveal a gloriously light blue sky with the shining hot sun, and I even got to catch a glimpse of some of the apple orchards which Kent is famous for.

Kent apples on the tree

Approaching Margate, the thin blue line of the sea slowly edged into our view – to my left I could see wind turbines jutting out of the water, spinning away to make green, renewable energy. The forest-green of the fields contrasted well with the sapphire-blue of the sea on the horizon, making for some beautiful land and seascapes. Once we’d entered Margate proper after breezing through the smaller towns of Birchington and Westgate, we were greeted with golden-yellow sands, the sparkly sea, and seagulls cawing loudly on the ocean floor at low tide.

Boats in Margate Harbour at low tide

When we set upon the beach itself, I found many small surprises hiding in the sand – like mussel shells, unusually-shaped rocks, and seashells with fascinating colours and patterns, like this strawberry seashell:

Strawberry seashell in the sand

Making a space for ourselves on the shore and gearing up into my swimsuit and new goggles, I ran down the rippled golden sand dunes and dark green beds of jelly-like seaweed into the cool, blue sea. While it obviously felt cold at first due to the sun warming me up during the day, my body soon adjusted to the water, and it felt somewhat warm. Because there was almost no wind, the sea was barely making any waves – it just calmly pushed itself towards the sandy shore without knocking anybody down, including me. While I splashed about in the sea and went beachcombing for seashells and sea glass, my mind was running up with new ideas for the current story I’m writing, Life is a Beach, with Dartmouth and Jollimore from Secondary School by the Sea. It felt like the sea was pushing me and my imagination to work with its small waves.

The seashore at Margate
Dartmouth & Jollimore in Swimsuits

In-between swimming in the cool, glittery sea, I rested upon the shore to eat my lunch and read a magazine. While I was munching on my chicken-and-bacon sandwiches, a horde of hungry seagulls began to gang up on me. They seemed to be anticipating me throwing them some pieces of bread with chicken and bacon at them, so when I’d eaten enough of the sandwiches and they’d been whittled down to bready stubs, I tossed the leftovers to the eager seagulls. Inevitably enough, they started squawking and pecking furiously at each other for the lion’s (or seagull’s) share of what was left of my sarnies, diving straight for their dinner like excited kids rushing for a pile of sweets from a burst piñata. As I always like to call them, seagulls are the pigeons of the sea – except they’re a lot louder and much sneakier, as I later saw another one trying to snatch something from someone else’s picnic spot!

Seagulls on the shore
A sneaky seagull

Sadly, I couldn’t stay on the beach – or in Margate – for long, because of traffic worries on the way home. We stopped in a nearby café, where I had a chocolate brownie and fudge ice-cream with a bottle of ginger and lemongrass fizz, enjoying a view of the brilliant blue sparkling sea and the colourful Margate waterfront. The boats in the harbour were now floating on top of the water rather than lying on the ocean floor, because by now high tide had come in. Even the seagulls were floating upon the tiny waves.

Boats in Margate Harbour at high tide

Just before leaving for home in London, we went up on a viewpoint near to the café, where we enjoyed one last glimpse at the big blue sea in all its vast glory.

Big blue sea and ship

I left Margate feeling a little disappointed that I couldn’t stay longer, but happy that my big day out beside the seaside had filled my imagination up with brand-new ideas for Life is a Beach. It may just be my new favourite seaside town… after a certain place in Nova Scotia, of course.

Artistic map of Margate
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