Interrupts: The very first programmable computer, the ENIAC, could just run a single program with no user interaction. To cope with intervention by users with early devices such as punched card readers and paper tape readers, the “interrupt” was invented. This was a special code sent to the processor which meant “Stop whatever it is you’re doing, and attend to this other high priority thing for a bit”.

Life as an artist is full of interruptions: the making and displaying of art always seems to be the lowest priority in a long list of competing concerns. Once it was just the basic stuff of cooking, eating, phoning the landlord, shopping, etc.

As life has become more complicated with children, step-children, “other parents”, schools, universities, day jobs, etc. etc. the interruptions have become the norm, and the creative moments have become the interruptions.

30 years ago the succession of seasonal celebrations provided an endless excuse for ritual art-making and event organisation. 30 years on and the seasonal celebrations are now the rude and chaotic interruptions to an otherwise organised and regulated life.

I used to eschew the custom of sending Christmas cards. As a radical environmental activist the unrestrained consumerism and waste of natural resources offended my sensibilities.

However, last time I was creatively silent for a period of years – about 17 years ago – my audience began to forget me. When I’d meet someone on the street, instead of asking “Are you working on any exciting projects?” they’d ask “How’s the computer work going?”.

This time around I’m determined not to let my audience forget that, at the root of my life, is a creative process which is driven to engage with the wider world … and home-made Christmas cards are an excellent opportunity to provide an annual reminder to my old audience that I may have been silent for a while, but I’m not done-for yet!

Thus it was that I was stuck in the studio for the whole of last weekend with encaustic wax equipment, photoshop, my printer and a box of card blanks.

But what message to put on the cards? Personally I like to celebrate the winter solstice, but I’ve found that while Christians feel it is perfectly OK to send me “Happy Christmas” cards, they are deeply offended if I send them “Happy Solstice” cards. Years ago I did just that as a way of “getting people to challenge their preconceptions” and lost several friends, but now I’m basically marketing, so I need to pander to the customer’s sensibilities, at least a bit!

So I produce cards with a selection of messages, to suit the recipient: “Happy Christmas” for the Christians, “Happy Solstice” for the new-agers, “Happy Yuletide” for the pagans and “Happy Midwinter” for everyone else.

This year’s are still in the post, but here’s a selection from previous years:


In my view, some form of engineering lies behind almost all works of art, even if it’s just the question of the best way to hang objects in a gallery.
One of my favourite books is “Engineers of the Imagination” by Welfare State International, a manual of “how to” for the ambitious maker. For example: “How to” build a flaming tower without it collapsing and spraying your audience with burning tar. Within that book I’ve found countless tips and tricks which have made events quicker to prepare and safer to execute. And my work with fire sculptures wouldn’t have been possible without the knowledge of materials and suppliers provided in those pages.
For my first Summer job while still at school I worked for 8 weeks as a draughtsman in a local engineering company. I had already been honing my drawing accuracy for my Biology ‘A’ level, for which detailed scale drawings from the microscope were required. Now I had to try and keep up with professionals 15 years my senior.
I did OK. I wasn’t as quick with the drawing, but my accuracy was good. My writing was rubbish, so I was constantly being brought up for illegible labelling. On the other hand, my triangle calculations were exceptional, and by the end of my 8 weeks stint the other draughtsmen were habitually asking me to double check any complex calculations they had to make – and I found a few mistakes.
It was incredibly satisfying at the end to see the “Quarry Conveyor Terminal Unit” that I had been designing all Summer produced, shipped and fitted. Rocks continuously tumbled over the end of my unit for years to come!
I’ve never seen myself as an engineer though. An artist with a day-job, and both art and day-job include aspects of engineering. But not “An Engineer”.
Until this week. My employer wants “Chartered Engineers” in his company. Apparently it’s good for marketing: “We’ve got [some number]  of Chartered Engineers leading our projects”. I’ve been asked if I would make an application as a Software Engineer.

I’ve been messing about with “caricatures”: carefully measured drawings from photos including subtle distortions. Here’s one of my boss, who has quite narrow eyes when smiling, with his eyes widened … kind of unsettling.

I’ve looked it up online. Opinion is sharply divided as to the value of the qualification. Roughly 50% consider it the “Gold Standard” of engineering competence and leadership, while the other 50% consider it the “Gold Standard” of an old fart. Being the latter, I should at least be in with a chance.
I’ve just had my initial coaching interview with the Institute of Engineering and Technology who would be sponsoring my application. My coach’s opinion is that I stand a good chance, so now I have to fill in the application forms and a detailed work history, ticking off each competence that I have to demonstrate as I go. Apparently I should include all voluntary, community and creative enterprises as well, as Chartered Engineers have to demonstrate some level of community involvement and ethical standards, as well as straightforward technical skill and experience.

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