Here’s my current favourite… it’s coffee brown and clear resin picture disk with a photograph of my Grandma Joy and Grandad Jim with their two friends on Brighton seafront, Boxing day 1947.
You had more than a brief glimpse into my inner nerd last time we did this. I was humbled by the nice response from friends, music and blog followers, collectors, writers and a few DJs on the whole home-made vinyl project. We know I’m not the first to have made records using this way – but you lot seemed to enjoy the story and all the small triumphs and frequent mess-ups I encountered as I went. And that meant a lot.
I sent my first run out to a couple of DJs who helped me to spread the word a little bit about what I was up to in different ways. Chris T-T played ‘Natalie’ on his radio show that comes out of Brighton – from start to finish and direct from the solid one-piece white vinyl I sent him. Sure enough, amid crackles and spackles, the song played all the way through. Mark Radcliffe summarised the story for the folkies on his Radio 2 folk show – though warned us that ‘they look better than they sound.’ The 405 published photographer Carl Osbourne’s photos of me making a few of those early 7″s and gave me a boost.
I was asked to take part in a scheme here in my home city, Norwich, where signed-up subscribers receive a piece of art every month from a new artist from the city. So the tentative first ten white one-piece records became an order for nearly fifty records to go off in little pizza-box style mailers and all around the world too. It was exciting, but it meant I had to turn my kitchen into a little factory. I made three moulds for Natalie and worked up a design for an unreleased version of a new song, that would later close out my album Edison Gloriette. The song was called In Brooklyn. I had three moulds for In Brooklyn too. In all I started with a whopping six moulds, though as things went on they’d get a bit beaten up, a bit damaged and a bit worn down by the resin itself. I probably churned out nearer sixty-five of these records – because I kept snapping them in half when I made the holes in the middles. Eventually I did have to upgrade from my gently-pressing-body-weight-on-a-biro technique to a good old electric drill.
During the process of making this large run, I got myself over a little hill that had been holding me up – which was to do with making coloured records. I’d wanted to make coloured records from the beginning – but had found it too difficult to get the colour mixed in well enough. When the colour isn’t well mixed in you risk getting tiny flecks of neat pigment in the record grooves which take forever to dry and doesn’t dry with the hardness of resin.
I don’t know how the thought came about but I had wondered whether I could get away with just using colour for the middles of the records – so that any naughty flecks of pigment would be in a safe area. So over the course of the large run for Take Away Art, I tried out a few experiments. The crucial thing would be working out whether I could fill the moulds with layers of resin and for them to dry seamlessly and without a join that would affect play.
In classic fashion, I began mixing pigmented resin using something in a small bottle that turned out not to be colour pigment at all. I just stupidly mixed up all the bottles and grabbed the little orange one. The results weren’t terrible. They were much worse in fact a few years when I mixed up mouthwash with nail varnish remover. That time I was bleary eyed and just grabbing for the small blue bottle. The records were playable and I produced a very gentle peach colour, albiet using what turned out to be addition catalyst meant for the silicone rubber. I corrected myself once I’d seen the mistake and began working with orange and green proper stuff, to make coloured middles and experiment with building layers with resin.
With the method working for me, I then produced another twenty copies of In Brooklyn with green and orange to augment the original American coin design – and made those available as part of my album’s pre-order campaign with Pledge Music.
The best thing to come out of this period of factory-style making was that the more I mixed pigment to make these coloured middles – the better I got at it. Furthermore, the more records I made and broke the less discouraged I felt by failure. So I started using colour on more than the middles.
Now that the initial drive to send out some records, then Take Away Art, and then Pledge Music were out of the way there wasn’t any demand. I had thought that this would be time to clear down, pack away and call it a day on the project. However I still had ideas and a newfound courage to make endlessly duff records and not care. I was back to a stage where I could freely play and experiment again. This time around though, I had to ban myself from working in the kitchen anymore… that got a bit much.
I bought a container of my old nemesis – clear resin. This time I went for a slightly tinted one that dries in an almost amber colour. I had an idea to make a picture disk with an ancient black and white photo and i thought it’d look nicely whimsical. Although this time I managed to get the stuff to set, it was a little difficult in that it wasn’t as hard as the white stuff. It had a tendency warp a bit and it was very sensitive to moisture. Even the simple thing of mixing the parts with a wooden lollystick instead of a plastic implement would introduce moisture enough to cloud up the resin. Although a little cloudiness is ok, it does kind of spoil the idea of a picture disk if you can’t see the picture!
I had the best success in trapping a picture in the clear resin – working on the centre first – then using white resin around the outside to give the disk it’s strength and a structure to hold it flat. I mixed green colour and orange colour together to create a coffee brown colour and give the first experiments a vintage – almost smoked glass – look. I used a few little photos that I’d found at a flea-market in Frankfurt years back. I’d hung onto the pictures – hoping that i’d be able to use them some how. [I actually used one picture eventually in the artwork of The Bournemouth EP in 2015.]
I used paper, tissue, photos and careful mirror-writing in Posca pen to add decoration before sealing it all in with a second layer or clear resin or a finishing wash of white or colour and produced a handful of playful one-offs. For me, nothing beat the grungy black, white and coffee coloured picture disk.
Right now, I’m working on a record and a sleeve design for a picture disk style record sticking with a photograph and a splash of black marker. I am working with a new song ‘Still In Fashion’ from Edison Gloriette and I’ll have a very limited short run which I’m aiming to have signed, numbered and ready in time for Record Store Day 2017. I’ll be in Cambridge at Relevant Records on April 15th – where I’ll be playing an instore session and I’ll have a very short run up for grabs.
I’ll keep you posted on how it’s all going.
Thanks again for reading!