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It's-a me, Mario!

Painting pixels as a break from printing...

So it's a little different this week - it was the fabulous Missus' 40th birthday on Wednesday, so we took a couple of days off (in addition to the Bank Holiday) and had some lovely trips out to celebrate. Avoiding as many people as possible of course. But that (much needed and deserved) time off meant that I basically ended up with only a day to create something for the blog this week. I can't design, carve and print in just a day, I'm way too slow for that, but I can paint something simple. And it's a great opportunity to have a break from printmaking, try a new(ish) medium, and practice with layering and colour mixing.


I've only started painting recently. I wanted to give it a crack and see if I liked it, so bought some cheap canvas boards, brushes, sponges and some economical acrylic paints. They've been kicking around in the studio for a while, not really being used, so now was the perfect time. I had no idea what to paint at first - knowing I only had a day or less to do something made deciding on a subject a bit tricky. As I've eluded to before, I tend to start off with a simple enough idea, but it usually quickly evolves into something much more complex. Then Nintendo announced a collection of old Super Mario games to celebrate 35 years of Mario, and it got me thinking about my own gaming history. So my mind was made up - and so appeared a little celebration of my own in the form of a mini Mario painting.


Originally I was going to paint this freehand - you can see the faint grid lines I drew on the canvas as a guide. But as soon as I started I realised that it wasn't going to work. I don't have nearly enough of a steady hand for that! So I created some stencils, one for each colour layer, and stenciled the image with an artist's sponge. Am much happier with that way of working! It was a really relaxing process and I'm happy with the result, even if it is a bit rougher than I'd usually like. And doing it gave me some ideas for printmaking techniques I want to try out - using stenciling as part of monoprints, or creating large scale pixel images using a square stamp to print each individual pixel one by one. I quite like the idea of creating a huge 'pixel' image using 1" square stamps - that could look quite striking, especially from a distance. I might have to experiment with that and create a much bigger Mario, 5 times the size of this mini one. Or maybe a large Luigi!


Mario has a special place for me - Super Mario Bros 2 was the first console game I ever played. I can't have been more than about 9 or 10 when I first played it at a family friend's house but both my little sis and I were hooked straight away. Within a year or so of that the Super Nintendo console was released, and you can guess what was at the top of our Christmas list that year! Father Christmas was obliging and so my Mam and Dad lost us to Super Mario World for the months following that holiday season. Soon followed Mario Kart (as well as much sibling rivalry) and a slew of other Mario games over the next few years. I had a Gameboy with Super Mario Land too, which I played to death (goodness knows how much my mam spent on batteries for that power-hungry thing!). I have such fond memories of those gaming sessions with my sis, even if she was far superior at them than I was!


The years that followed were the gaming dark ages for me - during my mid and late teens I had other hobbies, and kind of left gaming behind. I still had the SNES at university, but it only really got brought out once in a blue moon. Then I met my buddy Joe ( from last week's post). He had an Xbox, which he would bring over to mine to play all day during the summer vacation period and I was reintroduced into gaming in a whole new way. And so began a new obsession. I got into new sorts of games, things I never would have been interested in as a kid - role-playing games, racing games, action games to name but a few - I tried everything. Gaming as an adult has been hugely important to my mental health - it's my escape when I can't get into the hills for my fix of the outdoors. I think that's why I like the sorts of games I do - big open-world role-playing games, with grand vistas and huge areas to traverse. I can adventure from my armchair.


I hadn't paid much attention to what Mario had been up to until recently though. My tastes had changed, as well as my console of choice - I'm currently on a Playstation 4. Then this April, for my birthday, I got a Nintendo Switch. I was reunited with Mario. And all those childhood feelings came flooding back - I could even re-play all the old Mario games I'd devoured as a kid. It couldn't have come at a better time either - my mental health was poor (largely due to the state of things re. the pandemic - I know I'm not alone there!) and really needed some out-and-out fun, wholesome gaming to distract me. Videogames have, this year more than most, been a huge savior of my sanity.


Gaming will always be a huge part of my life I think. It's often the only form of entertainment that is active enough to fully distract me from whatever's on my mind. I love it for it's ability to tell stories, take me to wonderfully imagined worlds, to challenge my puzzle-solving or just to help me chill out with some relaxing building/life simulation. I love the variety of games out there, and marvel at the talent of the artists and programmers who pour their hearts and souls into their projects. I hope that if I make it to 80 years old, I'll still be there in my chair, controller in my lap, fighting dragons, wandering post-apocalyptic civilisations, building a farm or off on another adventure with Mario and friends.


Until next time,


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© 2017 Alex J Gardner. All images belong to Alex J Gardner.