Ness – a new(ish) book

Hello. Ages ago I wrote on here somewhere about a project that I’d started with Robert Macfarlane when we wandered the strange landscape of Orford Ness, a long shingle spit of longshore drift on the coast of Suffolk, in eastern England. We decided to make a book; he would write the words and I’d draw the pictures. I began working with sea-coal, mud and clay to make the pictures, working on the beach of an East Anglian estuary. The pictures were big and messy. When I started to figure out how to actually make the book that I realised I would have to start again; my original plan had been to photograph these chaotic, smeared and scratched drawings, work on the photos by adding other elements digitally and then print the pictures lithographically before adding gilded copper. This would have been quite nice, but when I costed it all it would have meant that the book, when it was eventually a thing would have been a very expensive object. So I had to think again. Which meant I had to start again.

My new plan was that the entire book – text and pictures – would be printed letterpress at Richard Lawrence’s workshop in Oxford; so the pictures would have to be converted into etched magnesium plates, meaning black and white, no grey, which in turn meant that I would have to work in pen and ink. Meanwhile Robert’s writing was approaching completion and it was unlike anything he had written before. I spent the summer in an isolated hut along the coast from Orford Ness with pens and paper and drew the pictures. Such as the one above.

Eventually all of the many strands that had to be found in order to make a book from scratch were woven together, a plan was formulated and a number of beautiful books – 525, in fact, for reasons I can’t quite recall – were printed, bound, jacketed and despatched to a phalanx of readers. Great, hey? But no. Not great. It transpired that in a moment of haste and inattention the books had been printed with the pages in the wrong order. The feelings of the creators of the book cannot be described here as language is insufficient to do so.

And so the process was repeated. Never mind, never mind. All this happened nearly a year ago now.

Another edition, a ‘popular’, ‘mass-market’ edition was proposed by the proper publisher Hamish Hamilton, which is an imprint of Penguin. There were no mistakes with the page order this time. That edition was not limited to 525 copies (sorry, I still can’t remember why it was that number – possibly something to do with the latitude of Orford Ness?) and is available from all good bookshops and also Amazon.

27th November 2019

The Language of the Wall

Hello. I’ve started on a series of small paintings called The Language of the Wall, a title I have nicked from the photographer whose work inspired the series; Brassaï. Brassaï was born Gyula Halász in 1899 in Romania and moved to Paris in 1924. He photographed both the rich and the poor, from slum to opera house, but the pictures he took that interested me were those he took of Parisian graffiti.

In 1956 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a show called ‘Language of the Wall’, an exhibition of around 120 of Brassaï’s graffiti photographs; pictures of faces, symbols, figures, words and so on scratched into the stonework of the buildings of Paris. I was in Paris a year ago and there was an exhibition of these photographs at the Pompidou Centre, but I had just seen an exhibition of Magritte’s paintings there followed by an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s paintings and I was so sick of it all that I had to leave very quickly and find a bar and smoke cigarettes angrily. So I missed the Brassaï show which, I’m sure, would have pissed all over Magritte and Twombly.

Anyway, I did see some posters advertising the show and when I got on to a computer I looked up Brassaï and the photographs of graffiti. They are really, really great, kind of timeless in that they could have been made any time at all. And you get a sense of how long they took to carve. Here’s an example.


See what I mean? That’s dedication to your craft, I’d say. No sneaking around with buckets of wheat paste for flypostering or mucking about with stencils and spraycans. This must have taken a while. I very much like the idea of a time when scratching or carving your name into a wall could take hours. I’ve seen some graffiti that’s written in letters with serifs, more like something you might see on a gravestone than a twenty-first century tag. Although I do like tags too.

My first idea was to get hold of a load of stone and take it to my studio and start from there, but I found that stone was hard to find and the stuff I did find had been quarried by machine and had no character at all. What I was after was a battered, worn out and re-used look, scratched over repeatedly, both accidentally and deliberately. So I improvised. The first pictures I made were for the covers of a couple of books that Faber Music put out, one of Radiohead’s music for guitars powered by electricity and one for guitars powered by acousticality. They looked like this, once they had writing put on them:

fabersI wanted the pictures to look like sections of an old wall that had been dirtied by soot, muddied, cleaned, dirtied again, accidentally gouged, graffitied over, had the graffiti scratched over, gaffitied again, and so on. I’m working pretty small, on canvases that are 18″ by 14″, although I might make some bigger pictures soonish. So far I’ve made five of these pictures. Here’s the most recent:

IMG_2698I don’t know how many I’ll make or what they’ll look like. So far I’ve been using the easy-to-draw creatures I’ve used on lots of Radiohead artwork because that’s what graffiti usually is – easy to draw (the kind that I’m trying to emulate, anyway).

Anyway, these pictures will be exhibited when I’ve made enough of them. Somewhere in the UK.



5th March 2018

We must catch up some time

Well hello. It’s been a while, has it not? I’ve been away from my venerable website for ages. Funnily enough I was attempting to remember what I’ve been doing with my life by accessing the pages of My Stupid Blog on the Archive bit of, and I realised that I used to write on here quite often, almost like it was a diary or a journal. Unfortunately the part of my past I was trying to recall predated the existence of My Stupid Blog so it was kind of a waste of time. But not entirely! because it made me feel all guilty and stuff about not writing on here much these days.

Anyway, rather than be all organised I thought I’d try to write this as a sort of stream-of-consciousness monologue like what I learned about in English Literature many years ago. It was quite the thing for Modernist writers, if I’m remembering right. So. What’s been happening?

On the eastern coast of England I met up with Robert Macfarlane again, to talk about a project that’s been about two years in the thinking-about so far. It’s called Ness and it will be a book, with him doing the words and me doing the pictures. It will be a slender volume, along the lines of Holloway but utterly different. It will be deeply strange, I think. Here is a picture of Orford Ness, where the book had its genesis.

orfordnessIf you wanted to visit the place you have to go to East Anglia and then through a big forest to a little village where you then have to get on a little ferry to the Ness. Most of Orford Ness is now administered by the National Trust, whose website can be found here. That’s where I nicked this photo from too. Due to Dr Macfarlane’s extensive contacts and winning manner we were able to get into various structures and places forbidden to the hoi polloi. Which was nice. And also hopefully useful for our Ness book.

I’ve sort of started my part of it by using sea-charcoal and mud and sea-chalk all scrounged from the coastline to make textures on large pieces of paper. At the moment I think that the book will consist of letterpress type text pages and giclée/screen printed/gilded artwork pages, in a hardback book that we will make nearly 500 of. But all of that could easily be subject to enormous change. Or, shall we say, to longshore drift


In other news I’ve started work on a new and stupidly ambitious series of linocuts. It’s like some sort of addiction. I’d rather be doing that right now, rather than writing this. So it will be a series of sixty four linocuts, telling a kind of story. It will be produced as a pocket sized paperback like those of Penguin books. And it will in fact be a Penguin book. It’s as yet untitled and I’ve done so pitifully few of the sixty four intricately detailed linocuts that I really shouldn’t be telling you, dear imagined reader, about it at all. But oh well. The damage is done now, isn’t it? I’ve probably jinxed it.


What else? Well, too much, if you ask me. I’ve just gone and looked at my list, which is stuck up on the kitchen wall. It’s a long list.

Firstly, over the summer I guest-edited a magazine. I’ve never guest-edited anything before, but then I’d never art-directed anything before all that business with the film about nuclear weapons and that turned out pretty much okay. So, right, the magazine is called Monster Children (don’t ask) and it will be out very soon. In it I have gone on at length about all kinds of things. It seems to be a magazine that’s normally about skateboarding and stuff like that, but I just went on about obscure French writers and long-deceased Italian engravers. The kids will fucking hate it, but I don’t care.

They are doing a boxed edition too which will have all kinds of fancy-assed things in it; like a 7″ record of holloway recordings and a little sketch book thing and a whole bunch of stuff that I’ve forgotten. It probably says on their website. Anyway, here’s a photo of it which the owner Campbell sent to me. It looks like he used his bed as a background.

monstrousI guess the black book with the grinning bear on it is the sketchbook. The other thing is definitely the magazine. So, yeah, right, Monster Children! They are having a launch party for it (who knew that you had launch parties for magazines? Not me!) next Wednesday in London. I imagine that there will be further information on the social media. Go seek, if you can be arsed.


And so next there is the continuing, deathless existence of Broadmead -The Movie. Attentive persons may recall that some time ago (fifteen months ago?) I and several other idiots ‘organised’ a Festival of Apathy in the delightfully quaint and olde-worlde city of Bristol in Merrie England. This was partly a response to the fact that there appear to be an increasing number of festivals for just about anything – guitars, books, eating, home-decorating, and we thought it would be, y’know, kind of fun to have a festival of sort of just not being bothered. And myself and my old comrade Mat Consume went on to think it would be, y’know, kind of fun to make a really boring movie about the most boring part of Bristol. So we did. Then we got John Matthias and Jay Auborn to compose a score for it, which the did in an exquisitely beautiful manner.

And on the 19th October, 2017, it will be screened at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in the east end of London town. Amazing, hey? Who’d a fuckin thought it?

More details here, fans of tedium!

Well, that’s all we have time for today. But I’ll try to update this a bit more often…



25th September 2017

paintings from a moon shaped pool

Hello there. I’ve just been sent these photographs of my exhibition at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. The show is until the 3rd September. Photos by Paul Cox.

_DSC4019 _DSC4020 _DSC4021 _DSC4022 _DSC4023 _DSC4026 _DSC4027 _DSC4028 _DSC4030 _DSC4031 _DSC4032 _DSC4034 _DSC4035I’ve been over there in Maastricht for the last few days, signing an edition of prints made from the linocut that I did in my spare time whilst painting the inside of the cupola, a subject I may have droned on about interminably in the past. It was the first time I got to see what the exhibition of the Moon Pool paintings looked like, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Everything looks great and it’s quite hard to believe that at times during their making I was thinking that I’d better find myself a proper job.

Anyway, hey ho. What’s next?


24th July 2017

a little film by joris peskens

Stanley Donwood – Optical Glade_480

17th July 2017

optical glade: day twelve

We have almost finished painting the Glade. Tomorrow the scaffolding comes down and the space will be revealed. What will also be revealed are several hundreds of kilometres of hand-painted edges between black and white; no one line painted by one person, every one a collaborative work shared between seven painters (my own presence included). At least two coats of paint. And once the scaffolding is down we have one more day to complete the second/third coats of paint on the wall area accessible from the floor, which will make it thirteen days that we have spent clambering on increasingly wobbly and loose-feeling poles and planks, thirteen days covered in blue chalk dust or black paint or white paint or all three.


Here is some blurb which I have just spent some of Sunday writing; whilst, incidentally, some kind of mad procession of what looked like 19th Century soldiers, a load of uniformed children (scouts? guides? army cadets?) and be-robed priests swinging silver incense things and carrying effigies of saints passed extremely noisily for ages outside in the street. Trumpets and tubas and stuff like that.

Anyway, sorry, I’d temporarily forgotten about this morning’s entertainment. Anyway, the blurb:

About the Optical Glade

Year: 2017

Title: Optical Glade

By: Stanley Donwood

Painted by: Stanley Donwood, Ralf Nevels, Jack Reubsaet, Jeroen van Bergen, Etienne van Berlo, Erik Habets and Jeroen Everts.

Optical Glade represents a sacred space, in the form of a stylised ring of upturned trees, the fluted trunks descending from the octagonal light-well at the apex of the Bonnefanten’s cupola, and the branches and twigs of the trees wrapping around the walls to create the illusion of a moonlit shadow-cage, a haven – or a trap. Inspired by the forest glades of northern Europe and the ancient and mysterious ‘sea-henge’ uncovered by a violent winter storm in the east of England, Optical Glade intends to transport visitors to somewhere they’re not.

This work has evolved from original drawings via linocut, digital photograph, 3D CAD model, perforated template, chalk-dust dots and pencil lines to this black and white painted glade.

No single line was painted by only one person – it is the result of seven individual painters each with their own style working together to create a harmonic space. There are no straight lines in nature, and there are none in the Optical Glade.


14th May 2017

hashtag bonnefanten

Hello again. It is me writing more words for the internet. And I have pictures too. Today I am going to write about Optical Glade. Here is a panorama of progress…



jeroen2As you can see, it’s climbing up the walls like a kind of geometric invasive weed. Except its not really very geometric as it’s all hand-drawn. As I mentioned earlier on (on the first day, I think) we used a technique from the Middle Ages to transfer the design to the white-painted walls, using chalk dust and pencils. Once all the pencil lines were drawn it was time to realise that the cupola is not a geometric shape as I had foolishly assumed whilst working on the 3D model back in London with ben_k, but instead is a creation composed of eight individually different panels.

Anyway, as soon as we started painting with the black paint things started to be more enjoyable than clambering up and down five stages of scaffolding in a cloud of blue dust, because now we could see what was emerging. In one week we have painted from the floor to the very apex of the dome. And in a few more days we will have finished with the black paint and will move on to the white paint. Then back to black paint to tidy it up. And then the scaffolding will be removed and the audio part of the work will be installed. More on that in the future.

The painting itself – the design of it, I mean – represents a sacred space, in the form of a ring of upturned trees. I will tell you some of the reasons why this happened. When I was a small boy there was a derelict cottage at a crossroads near where I lived. I found its ruinous and decaying nature very alluring and I investigated the cottage as often as I could. It was certainly older than most of the structures that stood nearby; a relic of a time before motor cars, tarmac, DIY stores and traffic lights. On the side of the cottage wall was a small weathered stone plaque with writing carved into it that said that the spot marked where the Peddars Way had crossed. The Peddars Way, I later found out, is (or was) a very strange and very straight track or path that crosses the part of England known as East Anglia. No-one knows where it starts, and it runs for hundreds of miles before going straight into the sea on the coastline of north Norfolk. It doesn’t connect towns, would have been of no use militarily, and couldn’t have been a trade route as it went, quite literally, nowhere. It is (or was) also reputed to be haunted by the Black Shuck, a terrible dog the size of a Great Dane that had one Cyclopean eye and meant certain death to anyone who caught sight of it.

In 1998 the destination of the Peddars Way was uncovered. A storm surge stripped away layers of mud and peat from the coastline and revealed what’s become known as Sea Henge, a circular construction made of huge wooden poles surrounding an immense upturned tree. It had lain, preserved, under a thick layer of mud for thousands of years, and for thousands of years the Peddars Way had continued to point to it. Of course, I’ve no idea what would compel people to undertake a hazardous journey for hundreds of miles through what would have been dense woodland along an eerily straight path to reach this strange structure. But they did, and probably for much, much longer than our current civilisation has existed.

So here in Maastricht, I’m painting my own version of a henge, or a grove. The trunks of the trees emerge from the octagonal window at the apex of the cupola, and surge down the curved dome walls, plotting out into branches and twigs that brush the floor. The trunks of the tree forms twist around the walls; the limbs of the trees have become formal annotations of actual branches – I’ve more-or-less obeyed natural laws of growth and structure, but with the aim of creating a moonlight shadow-cage. A monochrome haven in the noise and haste of 21st century Maastricht. Next to the river.


7th May 2017

yeah yeah yeah

Hello again. This is a surprise, isn’t it? Me writing in my stupid blog again so soon, I mean, rather than a totally ignorant authoritarian real-estate and reality-television person being in charge of nuclear weapons. Let’s not think about him for as long as we can, hey? Which is about one minute. But never mind. here I am again, talking to you via the internet for ONE MINUTE ONLY. If you read really fast.

Where was I? Ah yes. Today I’ve not done any more work in the Sacred Dome of the Bonnefanten because it was King’s Day here in the Netherlands and they take their holidays seriously over here, as indeed we all should. So instead I’ve been doing other stuff and also lazing around a lot. One thing that has come to light during my idle hours has been the artwork for this year’s Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts and Muntering Around which looks like this:


It’s called Hold Your Cool and it began life a fiendishly complicated linocut. Actually it began life as a vague idea and then became a scrawled sketch and then became a linocut, but it’s subsequently become a lino print done on a Vandercook proofing press at the workshop of the esteemed Richard Lawrence, then a digital photograph taken by the equally esteemed Peter Stone, then a colourful thing made by the total chancer Stanley Donwood i.e., me, and now it’s out in the screen world courtesy of @glastofest and so on. It is a long and strange and arguably arduous journey from idea to reality, so thank you to everyone that has helped me to do this. I really appreciate it.

Hold Your Cool is the title and it’s probably not too self-indulgent to use the internet to explain why. I spend a lot of time on trains because I can’t drive. And often I pass through Swindon, usually without stopping or getting off. This is not to denigrate Swindon. I know nothing about the place aside from the fact that it has a bus station situated underneath a multi-storey car-park that smells strongly of human urine and is frequented by characters unlikely to pass muster in a swanky restaurant. The rest of Swindon is probably great.

Anyway, the reason why I think Swindon is probably great is that, until quite recently, on the side of some huge and boring metal-clad warehouses along some railway sidings were the words HOLD YOUR COOL sprayed in letters about ten feet high. Every time I passed them I felt better. They were even spaced really well, like H O L D  Y O U R  C O O L.

It was like an instruction; whatever happens, whatever anyone says to you, however badly your work goes, however awfully your partner responds to your attempts to heal a rift, however frightening the newspaper headlines are, whatever your boss says to you, that idiot on the tube, anyone who takes you for a fool, all the people that treat you like shit. The feeling of inadequacy that’s the result of watching the news.  The feeling of guilt. The horror. The terror.

H   O   L   D    Y   O   U   R    C   O   O   L

Some fucking halfwit thought that this public service announcement was ‘graffiti’ so they covered it up. It’s my duty to the anonymous ‘perpetrator’ of the aforementioned ‘graffiti’ to take these heartfelt and beautiful words and spread them as widely as I can. Anyway, I’ll shut up now. Bye.

27th April 2017

Optical Glade: day two

cupola ext

So. It’s the second day of working on a project called Optical Glade at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. The weather is cold and there is snow coming from the north – I’ve just been up on the walkway at the top of the cupola, pictured above. But we are inside, using what I can only describe as Mediaeval techniques to transfer an immense drawing on to the eight walls inside the dome. These techniques include making millions of tiny holes in the paper stencil, dusting them with blue chalk and then connecting the dots with a pencil. At the moment we are doing the ‘easy’ part, but soon we will begin on the ‘difficult’ part, where the walls curve up to the apex. Easy and difficult are relative terms. It would be properly easy just to go to a café and not do this at all. But well, you know.

The aim is to create a sort of contemplative pagan space, surrounded by upturned trees stylised into optical confusion, but at the moment it’s more like being within a building site wreathed in blue chalk dust. There are five floors of scaffolding, clattery metal staircases and vertiginous walkways. I’m trying to make some kind of sanctuary but at this time it’s anything but.

cup int01

There’s a lot to do; the project will take four weeks, hopefully…

More later. Tomorrow, perhaps.

26th April 2017

An attempt to write about a painting

I have a list in front of me of all the things I need to do. I’ve crossed off some of them and this morning I read through the ones I haven’t crossed off and realised that I’ve done the easy ones first. The others have been lurking for a while, jumping through days and weeks in my diary, stubbornly remaining un-done, until reappearing on the list. One of them is to write about a project that I’m about to embark on at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. I suppose the idea is to write a sort of explanation of what the project is, so it can be printed in a programme or put on the museum’s website; something like that. I’ve been putting it off because I’ve had a few other writing projects to do and at the time they seemed to be more pressing, but now it’s only seventeen days until I travel to Maastricht to start work.

While I was dithering, looking for a book on the shelves, I thought that maybe I should use my stupid blog as a way in; if I write about it in the way i used to before I started using twitter and instagram, then maybe I can edit what I write in a sort of casual way into something worth printing. in some ways it’s easier to write in a more chatty way than try to be some sort of essay-writer. Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

The Bonnefantenmuseum is a really big purpose-built art museum, constructed in the 1990s. From the sky it looks like an upper-case E, and at the end of the middle bar of the E is a sort of tower that looks like an elongated dome. It reminds me of the Gherkin in the City of London, only smaller. It’s still pretty big though; taller than the rest of the museum. It must be one of the tallest structures in Maastricht, and definitely the tallest building that I’ve ever painted, except for perhaps a chimney in Plymouth. But that was a very long time ago. Anyway, the inside of the dome (which is actually known as the ‘cupola’) is an octagonal shape, somewhat like a closed flower, with each petal rising up high to a small octagon that lets in daylight. Acoustically it’s quite incredible; in fact, it is quite simply an incredible space. At the moment the work inside this space is a wall drawing by Sol LeWitt called Spiral, a thin white line which spirals around the walls from the floor to the very top; it’s about five kilometers long. Here’s what it says on the museum’s website about it:

“Sol LeWitt is one of today’s most influential artists and is best known for his large-scale wall drawings. At the root of every wall drawing by Sol LeWitt lies a precisely formulated assignment, or concise work description. This contains all the painting instructions which his assistants – often artists – have to follow as precisely as possible. In the execution, LeWitt’s strict concepts appear infinitely more inviting than one would expect from the original underlying principle. This is also the case with ‘Wall drawing #801 : Spiral’, which was executed for the first time in the Cupola of the museum in 1996. The essentially simple principle of a slightly sloping white line spanning the whole Cupola produces an overwhelming result in practise.”

So, no pressure there, as people say. Sol Lewitt died in 2007, so I won’t actually piss him off, but I might piss off other people who could wonder why someone who’s done a few record sleeves is painting over his work. Which is partly why I feel the need to write about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it; because in some way I feel the need to validate what I’m going to paint with words. It’s probably unnecessary. Never mind, never mind.

The work I’m going to make inside the cupola is called Optical Glade.

For a long time I’ve been very interested in the idea that the northern European sense of spirituality, and also religion, has its roots in the forests. The natural state of these lands is arboreal, and until the advent of agriculture they remained so, apart from limited tree felling. What remains of the sacred structures of the early inhabitants of Europe are often found in bleak areas not amenable to agriculture; barren moorland, remote, treeless islands. But when they where built they would have been in deeply wooded lands, long before domesticated ruminants and humans denuded the landscape. Spirituality, or religion, or whatever you choose to call a sense of awe that is inspired within would have been experienced amongst the trees. The cathedrals and churches of the region often have fluted columns and intricate stone tracery above, suggesting a woodland setting, the stone appearing almost as if it has grown from the earth.

The cupola at the Bonnefantenmuseum seems to me to capture the sort of feeling that I feel when I walk into a cathedral or a mosque or a long barrow; an urge to be quiet or silent and a sort of suspension of thought. Maybe my mouth opens a little, involuntarily. The need to look up, so infrequent in normal, everyday life, is much more evident.

I remember when I was small an effect I enjoyed was obtained by standing very close to a tall building and simply looking up. If you try this as an adult, you’ll find it still works, that you still get a sense of dizziness, as if the building will wobble and fall over, or you will, you’re not sure. It’s like spinning around and around as fast as you can. Children do this all the time, but as adults we ‘grow out’ of mind-altering activities (unless we are Sufi dervishes) and resort of drugs and religion to try to recapture some of these feelings.

So, putting these thoughts together… I see the cupola as a sacred space, in which I’m going to paint an optical glade, for refection and also to make people feel kind of dizzy. The painting is derived from a linocut I made a few years ago called Optical Tree, which was a geometric reduction of the essentials of a tree. Using 3D modelling software I’ve been able to twist the verticals of the image so where the walls begin to curve in towards the apex of the dome, the verticals will spiral around a little as they reach the top. I want people to feel the sense of awe and silence of a forest glade, and also the dizziness of looking up, to feel something that is older than the established religions that have dominated us for so long.

I’m also considering using the audio work Subterranea v2 which Thom Yorke composed for the show I did called The Panic Office in Sydney a couple of years ago. Not sure about that yet, though.

Anyway! That’s great; I’ve done some writing about it. Ok. Bye now.

7th April 2017