This drawing is called Pepinster. You can see a bigger version here. It has a fairly long history. I drew the first elements in March 2003. Actually, I should explain the name first. In 2002, when I was living in Berlin, I went to visit friends in Belgium. The train went through a town called Pepinster, not far from Liege. It struck me as a fairly British-sounding town name. And an anagram of “pert penis.” I’d be lying if it wasn’t the latter of those two things that helped keep the name in my mind.
I did a sketch of a town with flat two-dimensional houses in a notebook, and then decided to do a pixelly drawing of what a town called Pepinster would look like. I started with the pub. And a bunch of other buildings, all of which have been discarded. The only elements from the 2003 version of this drawing that still exist are the pub, the train station, the river, and the bowling green. Over the years, I’ve opened the Photoshop document intending to finish it many times. I did a little more work on it in 2008. Last weekend, though, I opened the document and added a row of terraced houses. And kept on going.
It’s difficult to remember what I was thinking nine years ago. I vaguely remember some grandiose plan to animate it (cars moving, people walking) and having a narration that, in my head, would be kind of along the lines of – but obviously not as good as – Under Milk Wood. I also find it difficult to pick up old things later; it’s hard to get the feelings in my head back, and re-start with the same enthusiasm and goal. But that was kind of what allowed me to finish it. Working on it in June 2012, I viewed it as simply a drawing of a made-up British town drawn by a British person who has not lived in Britain for twelve years.
Whilst it’s mostly a made-up town, there are references to various things from my own history in there. The pub is based on the Harrows Inn in North Hykeham, not from from where I lived as a teenager (Google Street View). The parade of shops either side of the pub and next to the river are influenced by similar parades in Crystal Palace (where I lived in the late Nineties), and Barnet (where my friends John and Sarah live, and where I usually stay whenever I visit London). As anyone who has tried will know, drawing “random” is tough. The brain doesn’t work like that. (If you’ve never tried, and feel like giving it a go, try drawing a skyscraper at night, and choosing which lights in the building should be on or off; it’s really difficult to get it looking randomly realistic.) So when it came to deciding on what the terraced houses would look like, I used Google Street View to find colours and styles of windows and doors. Mostly I looked at houses I walked by on the journey from my house to the university in Derby. The church is All Saints Church on Brant Road, Lincoln, near my Mum’s house (Google Street View). The bus is a Lincolnshire Road Car bus. My grandfather drove one of those buses. And the swans and boat on the river are yet again influenced by Lincoln. The overall layout of this section of the town is kind of based on Brighton, if you imagine the river is where the sea would be.
It’s not really meant to be some horrible Little England, idealised version of a British town, even though it might look like that. When I’m drawing something like this, with lots of elements, my mind drifts and I tend to get into the details and back stories. There are Polish immigrants here in Pepinster. There’s a Chinese take-away, an Italian barber, and no St. George’s Cross flags. Fuck that shit. I guess there are things that would set this drawing in a time that isn’t the present (the British Rail train, the old design of the Road Car bus, the lack of billboards everywhere, no graffiti), but that’s mainly because I feel more comfortable drawing things I have personal experience of seeing. Because I’ve been away for such a large chunk of my life, whenever I go back, seeing the different designs of buses and trains these days feels a little disorienting. One of the fun things about getting really into the details of things is how I’ll take half an hour or more to draw a shop front. I’m entirely aware that nobody else will ever look at this drawing as closely as I have, just because nobody else has spend such a long time drawing it. I’d guess there’s over 50 hours worth of work in this drawing. Anyway, that’s enough explaining. Hope you like it.