Looking back on the early years of my education, though I haven’t retained many memories from that time, there are a couple of standout moments that I remember. I consider them to have been quite formative in the development of my personality for the rest of my time in school. The first was during an art class when I was 7 or 8 years old, in which we were being taught about the use of colour pencils.
“Colour pencils”, the teacher warned, “cannot be rubbed out like drawing pencils can”. She said, before handing us a project that would involve the heavy use of said hue-sticks. I don’t think this was earth shattering information to anyone at the time. Most of us would have figured that out at this stage. It got me thinking though, if they don’t rub out, what else happens, if anything? Do they fade a bit? Does it spread the colour about? Can you make them blend together? I didn’t have the foggiest, so I decided to try it out.
While I was rubbing away at the page, the kid next to me looked concerned. “She’ll see you!” he growled. I was informed that this was a teacher nobody wanted to cross. I looked around at the rest of the class and saw that, sure enough, everyone else was obediently leaving their erasers untouched on their desks. I ignored my neighbour’s pleas and plowed on with my work.
“AND WHAT’S THIS?!”
The shrill voice of our authority figure boomed around the classroom, bringing everyone to a standstill. pencils dropped, jaws fell and all that. I looked up to find her eyes fixed on mine in a deeply unsettling way. I never liked being the centre of attention. For the next torturous minute or so I would be the unwilling star of the shit-show in which I was at the business end of a few choice words…
- “WHAT DID I SPECIFICALLY SAY TO YOU BEFORE THIS PROJECT?!”
- “CAN’T YOU LISTEN?!”
- “YOU DO NOT USE THE RUBBER! IT’S REALLY QUITE SIMPLE! IT CAN’T BE DONE!”
- “ARE YOU COMPLETELY STUPID OR SOMETHING?!”
I was asked to explain myself. I offered a weak response about wanting to see what would happen. Of course we all know what would happen because she told us in the preamble! She tore me a new one with relish. I could hear some of the other kids were laughing at me and whispering among themselves, quite likely about what might be wrong with me to not be able to follow basic instructions like this. I did feel a bit embarrassed, but mostly pissed off. I knew what I was thinking at the time and after a few days to get over it I had no regrets over the incident. I knew the bitch was in the wrong and I would continue to do my own thing and try to find out things for myself, however it might make me appear to others. My dislike of attention though, grew to an active avoidance of participation in lessons. In the years to come, I would sometimes know the right answer but would never put my hand up to receive the accolades.
That all changed when I was 10 or 11. The topic in conversation was the difference in properties between hard and soft water. Before the answers were explored, the class was offered the chance to provide some ideas. I knew with 100 percent certainty that one type of water would lather up bars of soap easier than the other, because on a holiday trip I was told all about it and tried it out myself and saw the fucking difference with my own bastard eyes. So, contrary to my usual nature I put my hand up to the apparent shock of the teacher. Her face contorted as I talked until she could take no more and laughed. Where on earth did I get that from? she wondered out loud. The rest of the class joined in the giggling as, red-faced, I sunk in my seat and stared at my textbook. Later, as she read out the text from the book about water stuff to the class, the thing I said before came u-
The teacher stopped in her tracks and looked at me. I averted my gaze and looked about the class to the open jawed faces of the other kids before looking down at my book again. Some seemed happy for me, others didn’t seem to know what to think. Someone, I don’t know who, patted me on the back. My answer was right fucking there in the textbook. The teacher offered an apology, but I was too pissed off to hear it. Our class were about to make the step up to big school which would be full of new people and new things & new beginnings, but I wouldn’t participate vocally in any class for many years to come.
This week I thought I’d talk about depressing stuff, if that’s alright? No? Well tough! It’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to…
World mental health awareness day occurred this week. I marked the event across my social media with throwbacks to a few of my cathartic comics. It’s been a recurrent theme in my work as an illustrator. Depression has been a big feature in my adult life, even before I started taking my art more seriously and using it as a topic of reference. It might come as news to some, but no, it wasn’t the art that made me this way. In this case, art does imitate life. So, how did I get the blues?
Let me rewind time back to 2008. I was in my final year of university in Sunderland, not doing very well with the course as I have talked about previously on my blog. In the space of about 6 months, I limped out of full time study without a clue in the world about what to do next. I was required to retake a module the following year to complete my degree to an acceptable standard. I was increasingly listless and directionless, as a result of which, I had a relationship come to a crushing end and faced threats of eviction from an aggressive landlord while I struggled to keep up with the financial stuff. I bounced around for a bit from job to job. In turn I experienced being let go after a trial period, made redundant and unpaid after a month’s work after a company went bust and gained valuable insight into what the ongoing struggle of life on a part time wage felt like, before I settled on a kitchen job in a Wetherspoons pub and tried to salvage what remained from the blasted remains of my art degree. My recent huge personal disappointments hung over me as I battled to keep up with life’s ongoing challenges. To top it all, while training up in the new job, I was on the business end of a bit of workplace bullying at the hands of the kitchen manager, who started cutting my work hours leading to more angsty times for me. I was urged by many employees to stand up for myself, but I was sadly lacking in confidence and even blamed myself for the way I was being treated. If I was good at this job, I reasoned, none of this would have been happening.
What does it feel like, when it hits? For me, it was almost like being full of flu, cold to the aching bone, tired beyond reason and so weak that gravity, the weakest of the forces, would usually win the day. Any and all interests in life fades away to insignificance. Forget socializing. Forget planning. The only timeframe fathomable is the moment that exists now, the past and the future don’t exist. Feeling good about anything is an impossibility. Feeling is possible, but only the negative kind. Upon Waking up in the morning and feeling nothing at all, that’s the best state of being to expect all day. I remember for a while not even really being able to taste food, I couldn’t even enjoy that.
Several months blurred past in which I did nothing except eat, shit, work & sleep. With my work hours been cut down like they were, it’s quite extraordinary that my life would only consist of these things. Hopefully that gives some measure of how perpetually exhausted I was. Even so, I found sleep harder and harder to come by. The dread of what I might face the next day kept me from resting properly, meaning I wasn’t ready for whatever faced me the next day… and so the feedback loop continued. The bullying got worse in correlation with my deteriorating mental state. Eventually I changed my job role to the customer facing side of the pub business, just to get out of the kitchen manager’s way, though my confidence never recovered, not that I had any to begin with… but slowly, surely, my state of mind improved. There were still tough days and weeks ahead, but I felt I was on the right path. After I came around from this weird time, I found I’d thrown all my personal electronic equipment out of my third-floor bedroom window. My printer, scanner and some other tools I bought myself in anticipation of a career in illustration was strewn and shattered in the front garden. I barely remembered doing it. I’d drawn a clear line under my art career. Whatever I was going to be in the future, an artist wouldn’t be it.
Suddenly, I felt like I was bursting with energy and enthusiasm for life again. I could get through work shifts and pay my bills. I was in a position I couldn’t have dreamt of merely months, even weeks before. I spent a hell of a lot of time in the library writing shitty stories because I still felt like doing something, ANYTHING creative. If the illustration door was closed to me, then maybe I could learn to write? I didn’t think too deeply about what I wrote or why, I just spewed for hours, often working right through the night. Getting my head into something else was an absolute joy. I was high on feeling good again and I felt like I had a lot of ground to make up. But, even though I had all this new energy to burn, I had no real direction for it to go. I’m not a writer. At the time, I didn’t even fucking read. Who was I kidding? Plus, my obsessive pursuit of this new creative fad didn’t go unnoticed by my friends who knew I’d long withdrawn from almost all social contact but now for the sake of what? One day it was suggested that I should go home to Bradford and recover. It was the correct idea. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if I continued with what I was doing. Clearing my head was for the best. So sometime between spring and summer of 2009 I went home.
After a couple of months of recovery, I went back to work at Bradford’s Wetherspoons branch. The next few years were marked by long and regular dips back into functional depressive episodes. It settled into a regular seasonal pattern. The low moods would come and go like the weather, with no real rhyme or reason except the certainty of them being longer and darker in the winter. During the lows, I hadn’t much interest in things as I probably should have been. My old hobbies, my art, even my sweet and dear writing fad, all never grabbed me the way they should have. Sexually, I was apathetic. I mistook that as an inevitable side effect of growing up. I still chased girls, like a small puppy might chase a cat and not have the slightest clue of what to do if he actually caught one. I thought this lack of desire was the new normal. I developed a distinctly self-depreciating style of personality. I felt like I had nothing clever or funny I could ever say to anyone about anything, and as a defensive measure I would poke fun at myself for the amusement of others hoping it would be enough to get them on my side.
Creatively I might have dabbled, but never in a serious or sustainable way. I didn’t manage to find an artistic method with which I could stick to. Professionally, I was hot & cold for the work. Sometimes I’d summon some actual self-motivation and get proper into it having decided that it had to be done and that would allow life to happen around it. At other times I’d feel totally adrift. It was as if I’d taken a wrong turn a long time ago and now I was stranded in a place I shouldn’t have been in and where the currents were too strong and persistent to resist. There were times I was hardly there, my head seemed to be somewhere else. During the lows, I would struggle to perform even basic tasks. Reports were written, investigations into my underperformance undertaken and warnings were issued. At other times I was a realistic candidate for promotion. There wasn’t really a middle ground with me. It was an exhausting way to be. When I felt depressed, I had no energy. When I wasn’t depressed, I worked really hard to make up for being terrible, IE: also tiring.
Kitchen work continued to be a particular and peculiar source of anxiety for me. I would mentally implode almost as a matter of routine, experiencing episodes of sheer panic, an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and a genuine yet absurd feeling that the situation would kill me. Since the bullying episode, I’ve never been able to do kitchen work without it being a problem. Unable to deal with the feelings in a stressful environment, anger was the prominent go-to response, effecting colleagues and costing the company money in broken equipment. Still, I put myself in for those shifts thinking that those feelings were simply the price that people have to pay to get through a day’s graft. I didn’t think there was an alternative.
But it was during one of my more enthusiastic periods that I had a breakdown. I was deep into a prolonged period of saying ‘yes’ to every work request that came to me, covering any shift going, and doing everything anyone every asked of me hoping that the work would fill the gaping hole in my sense of personal validity. After a few months of this I’d begun to pay off bits of student debt off my minimum wage, to give you an idea of how much I was working. My sleeping pattern was completely all over the place. It was quite common to do a shift having not slept a wink, and at other times sleeping for 14 or 15 hours at a time. One evening, I had a phone call from work and agreed to go in at 6am the next morning to cover another shift. As the night went on, I felt that awful sense that I wasn’t going to get to sleep again, so out of desperation I started to drink whiskey. As the dawn arrived, I’d drank the entire bottle and still not been to sleep. I spent the 1st two hours cleaning the place before opening I was in floods of tears. It was at this point I realised that this line of work really wasn’t for me. I needed a change, and that it would have to revolve around a real attempt to get back into the illustration game.
My big change came in 2012. I went to work in a live music venue near Bradford university, knowing full well I’d be called upon to produce artwork for posters and all the other advertising needs of the business. I’ve already talked about that time, but suffice to say, it was the best move I ever made in my life. Over the next few years while working there I developed a style, methodology and a unique artistic voice of my own. I still regularly experienced dips in mood, but they never turned into unending downward spirals… Not until very recently when it was time to push the boat out with my art career. The past year has seen the overwhelming depression come back with a vengeance as I have faced up to some of the biggest challenges in my life in my efforts to turn a fledgling art business into a thriving one. All the while, trying to sustain my relationship with my girlfriend who has shown heroic levels of patience and understanding about how my depression has effected my behavior over the past year.
At the start of this year, I was running my own art shop in the centre of Bradford. I was only there for 3 months, but for 8 months in total this year have been self-sufficient on my artistic endeavors alone without the need for a part-time job. For how splendid that all sounds, it masks the challenges and pressure I’ve faced. While in the shop, I was robbed on two separate occasions, which I’m told is fairly normal, and had the shop attacked by a gang of mindless teenagers, which might well also be normal in Bradford, I don’t know. The security guards were having a cigarette break I presume. Before they wrecked my shop and left me to tidy up, their ringleader promised that the gang would visit me again, next time armed with knives to rob me. While I dealt with the emotional and practical fallout of all that, there was an infinitely more pressing concern that I had to face up to.
It was dawning on me that, despite a great start, the whole endeavor was simply not financially viable. These were the biggest numbers in my bank account I’ve had to deal with in my life and I was looking at my money dwindle to a terrifyingly rapid degree, I fell yet again into a depressed state at the prospect of losing the shop I’d worked so hard for so long to make a reality. I was disappointed at things that seemed out of my control. That there still wasn’t a functioning website in place to tell people what was to see and do in the complex was baffling to me, and I was frustrated by the lack of uptake on the shop units. Only 4 or 5 shops were in business leaving about 10 empty units, which didn’t exactly enthuse the public to make return visits anytime soon. I didn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth there considering the going rate for shop space in the corn exchange in Leeds would have been about the same. Something had to change. I came to a heated disagreement of opinion with the lead developer of Sunbridge Wells. My idea of a new rent structure, having a baseline of half the current rate and increasing the amount of rent paid by the shop keepers in line with the number of shops actually occupied, went down like a lead balloon with him and the other investors. They were particularly miffed about my inclusion of all the other retailers in the airing of my idea, telling me that it was unprofessional of me to talk to everyone about their rent, though they were all already talking amongst themselves about how unaffordable it was to make it work and how long they were thinking of giving it before getting out. I couldn’t help but think that a loss of more retailers would only hurt the rest who remained even more than they were already. If a viable alternative arrangement could be agreed, a shopping scene would be given a chance to build and in the end, well worth the inclusion to the conversation of everyone with a stake in it. Not knowing what to do was the worst. The stress of whether to stay or go was crushing. Would I regret leaving this? If I stay will I be carrying debt for years to come? I just didn’t know, and the depressive fog hung over me once again. While I was on the receiving end of a drunken and foul-mouthed rant from the lead developer in front of my own shop while passing members of the public watched on, I decided I’d be leaving. It made the decision really quite easy in the end. It was the best bollocking I’ve ever had.
Since moving on from the shop venture, I’ve had a similarly steep learning curve in regards to living the life of a freelance artist. The delays in payments from many clients being a constant source of worry to me at the end of every month. (If you’re a client who paid on time, I salute you!) Despite finding enough work on paper, I just haven’t been able to get ahead on it at all in reality. Money worries have led to stressful and negative thoughts about myself which have affected my relationship, which in turn hurt my productivity, which in turn hurt my finances… and so another feedback loop goes. I’ve often wondered to myself if someone who didn’t have the history of depressive patterns of behaviour would have handled my troubles any better than I’ve been able to. Many times I’ve asked myself if I’m really up to doing this. I’ve thought about quitting. Out of frustration at a situation that never improves, I have self-harmed. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t want to wear it as some sort of badge of honour. I’m just telling you that in times of high stress, a painful rush would calm me down. But what a terrible way of dealing with feelings it is, feelings about problems that will still be there, unchanged, once the blood has dried. There has to be another way. All year long, I have played 5 a side football with an excellent group of lads in Bradford. I set up the group because I was sick of feeling depressed and I was sick of the loneliness that is part and parcel of gym visits. I thought the regular physical exertion and social contact would keep depression at bay. Though it most definitely helps, it isn’t enough on it’s own when practical problems in life present themselves. A practical problem is worse than a perceived one, to solve it you need to have way of dealing with negative feelings. As with most things in life, it helps to practice.
I’ve found that it has helped to organise my thoughts and feelings in a mood diary. Basically, I note down very briefly what I do and how I feel regularly every day. When I first started keeping one, I didn’t expect for it to have any effect at all. I discovered that not only did writing down what I did alleviate my own personal guilt about what I thought I’d achieved every day, but I felt more equipped to tell people close to me about how my day actually went and if I had things on my mind, what they were. Remember I said earlier that when it hits the only fathomable timeframe is the moment that exists now. The mood diary is a point of reference for myself so I can better understand the events and feelings of the day, without which I would struggle in hindsight to summarize and understand myself. A good exercise I’ve tried is to take 3 bad things I might have written down that week and try to think of 3 good things, looking back on those events in hindsight. I often find that I can think of 3 things that are different ways of looking at the negative things I had written at the time. For example, one week I wrote that I had to stop exercising about 10 minutes into a gym session because I just felt too worn out and lethargic. The good thing in hindsight was that at least I did some exercise that day, much better than if I didn’t bother at all. A mood diary might not work for everyone. We’re all wired differently. Some will find that writing down their worries on a page is actually worse because all it will seem to do is clarify and reinforce negative feelings. Some people will find different techniques will work better. The only solid advice I can give is to seek out help if anything I’ve said in my ramblings here chime with what you go through yourself. You don’t need to do it alone. Struggling is not simply the price we pay to exist.
It’s not my intention to impress anyone with my story. I’m not claiming for a second that I’ve had it tough or anything. In fact, at many stages in my life it’s been quite the opposite. I had the help and support of many great people through the years. I realise there are many people in the world who have had it much worse than me and how lucky I’ve been. No matter who you are or what you’ve gone through, there’ll probably be someone who’s had it worse. That’s not the point though. The point is that there is a significant number of us who go through mental health issues, and to remember that if you are reading this and feel effected, you are not powerless. Though others around you can help in many ways, ultimately it is your mental health at stake, so do seek medical help. Take the steps as soon as you can to learn ways to manage your emotional wellbeing.
Anyway, I’ll stop typing now and let you get on with it.
The series this week sees us visit the good olden days when people weren’t so easily offended.
I didn’t know Bradford had it’s own local dour photographer, but Bradford being what it is, it was bound to happen sooner or later… & it’d only be a matter of time before I found him/her. Lo and behold, I finally met the person in question while I was working at Wetherspoons, sometime in the month of April in 2016. I was working there in the months running up to my brief shop venture down in the yet to open Sunbridge Wells tunnels development (but that’s another story for another time). An order of a drink was placed, which I obediently poured, earning me a few pennies from Mr. Wetherspoon and before leaving the bar with the drink we’d established that we both do something creative and exchanged business cards & everything. (So professional!) I went home to check out the website on the card. I didn’t really know what to expect, since I was still unaware that I’d met the local dour photographer.
I was pleasantly astonished at what I found.
Gritty, black and white street photography, largely set in and around Bradford, dripping with a that dour tone throughout & shot with a distinctly cinematic feel to it, every shot looks like it could be a frame from a movie drama.
I’d been doing my own version of monochrome dour imagery with my pens for a couple of years, drawing sad/humorous cartoons of myself struggling to be a productive and useful human being with my beloved Bradford as the bleak backdrop. Here, I found that setting so familiar to me, presented in a way I never seen before. It was taking the mundane every-day, and elevating it into something surprisingly beautiful.
I realized I had met the local dour photographer. He went by the name of John Cade.
After a few months of mutual arse-licking (not literally) on social media, John suggested a collaboration might be in order. His photography and my illustration working together to further the cause of dour art. I agreed, and this was the result.
He chose his image of sunbridge road for the first one. He predicted, quite correctly, that It would provide the perfect 2-D canvas for me to play with, adding my characters haphazardly in the windows and on the pavement, interacting with each other and with the real people who happened to be in shot. I had a lot of fun responding to what was in the picture in whatever way I saw fit. E.G: changing the shop front signage. Anyone who’s familiar with this particular shop in Bradford knows it is famous (or, infamous) for selling pellet guns, drug paraphernalia, stab vests, ornamental weapons, and actual weapons. It’s a terrible place, basically. It feeds & encourages the inane, violent fantasies of immature plebs. Every city probably has one, but in Bradford there is precious little of anything else on offer, culturally speaking, and this shop’s continued existence feels like a slap in the face to hard working, decent people trying to make something positive happen in the city. It’s hard to know who to blame though, the shopkeeper, for having the temerity to run a place like that, or the shop’s patrons who make it a viable business model, and another thi- ahem…
Sorry… getting carried away with myself a bit here. Back to art stuff.
The second image to be used in a colab was my suggestion. I had an idea for things that mindless consumers could be wearing as shirts, and so I asked John if he wouldn’t mind heading down to consumer central to get some images for me to draw on. This was the result!
There will be more where this came from. I had far too much fun on the first two to stop there. Keep ’em peeled!
Find John’s incredible body of work here:
In this week’s edition of hustling history: Martin Luther King was a very naughty boy!
(I asked google how many times this outlaw got himself arrested, and I found a number of answers from different sources, ranging from 29 – 34. I went for the lowest number to avoid sensationalism.)
Dear beloved Bradford,
My name’s Glenn and I live in you. I live in you and I draw things. They’re like 99% black and white. Nay colour. I don’t tend to draw happy things, if at all. Sad stuff is kinda my schtick. I just went that way with it when I was figuring out my voice as an artist. It mostly fits with the way I am, I’ve always been full of doubts about myself, so taking this stance with my artistic response made the most sense.
Why the sad face, Bradford?
I know you might be disappointed that a more optimistic artist hasn’t become of me. It’s not really your fault. It’s me who wrecked my own degree and had to come back to live here without a plan or set of skills I feel I could use in life. It’s not your fault I had to spend a few years drifting listlessly through jobs I knew I wouldn’t be able stick to. For a long time, a fulfilling career for me seemed to be a laughable concept. Anyone living anywhere would grow rather despondent in that situation I think. When I was finally ready to get back into my art, I had developed all this pessimism about myself and my place in the world. A mentality entirely of my own making. Though I don’t always feel like that, I have found it more practical to simply channel negative thoughts into my art rather than ignore or try to fight them.
I know it might hurt you to know that I’ve been able to use you as the perfect backdrop for my sad themes. The way I present you doesn’t put you in the best of light. I appreciate that sometimes the sun does shine in Bradford, that sometimes people are happy here. Sometimes even I’m happy here! But I haven’t had much chance to get out of Bradford much since I started my career, so understand it might look like I’m picking on you a bit. I don’t mean to make you the particular focus of all the sadness in the universe. As I begin to expand my horizons a bit, I will be able to set my sights on other places & things. The challenge I have set myself as an artist is to respond to the whole world from this rather bleak viewpoint.
Please don’t feel sorry for yourself! If there’s happiness anywhere I am likely to ignore it for the purposes of my work. What I choose to depict while wearing my dour-tinted spectacles is an honest account of what I see, but I’m aware that it’s an entirely subjective way of viewing things. The negative vibes are there to be felt, but please don’t think of my portrait of you as being truly reflective of who you are and what you’re about.
Glenn “hustler-by-name” Hustler.
PS: There’s plenty of sadness in the world for me to draw on. If you were to become a more confident and vibrant version of yourself don’t feel like you’d be putting me out. You shouldn’t feel like you have to be the very worst you can be on my account! You have my full permission to use some deodorant and brush your teeth occasionally.
The second edition of my hustling history series: That photo of those people kissing at the end of some war or other.