The Strange Pen & Ink World of Phlegm and the Demons of Tom J. Newell

The main thing I love about blogs is the wealth of knowledge and boundless enthusiasm possessed by the people who write them. The endless diversity of subjects covered and the information contained within most blogs is truly staggering, something I couldn’t possibly have imagined I’d have access to during my pre-Internet teenage years. I have found several such blogs recently which cater for my somewhat outré taste in music and books resulting in a rapidly expanding list of items requiring further exploration.

The other kind of blogs which I like to frequent cover art and photography. One of my favourites in this category is Little Bits of Sheffield (here) which documents street art and other intriguing pieces discovered around my home city. One of the artists frequently covered here is Phlegm who has rightfully gained a worldwide following of late, his paintings cropping up at various locations all over the globe. There are some fine examples on his own blog too (here). I had commented on a brilliant photograph of one such piece on Saturday evening and began a conversation with the blog’s author during Sunday morning regarding a recently issued book of Phlegm drawings. I had attempted to purchase the book last week but was disappointed to find that it had been temporarily withdrawn from sale and headed over to eBay to see if I could find a copy there. I was horrified to discover that the vultures had already begun to circle and ‘buy it now’ prices were reaching £150. I totally object to this sort of crass exploitation of other people’s hard work and talent so resigned myself to waiting for the book to reappear in the online shop (here). During our exchange of comments however, the blog’s author kindly informed me that the book was being stocked by an establishment called The Old Sweet Shop in Sheffield and so I decided to give them a call to check if any copies were available. I spoke briefly to the shop’s owner Emma Hudson who confirmed that they had plenty of books available and then headed straight into the city in a state of excitement.

The Old Sweet Shop is located on Nether Edge Road in Sheffield and is a small gallery shop which stocks a variety of art, prints, cards, t-shirts, fanzines and other pieces which are sourced from local talent. A website containing contact details and full address is here. I chatted to Emma about the Phlegm book, copies of which were lined up neatly in rows across several shelves. She explained that Phlegm had worked on every aspect of the book’s production and was personally dispatching copies purchased through his online shop but had suspended sales until he returned from a trip abroad.

As I spoke to Emma my eyes were drawn to a grid of small square frames hung on the wall, each frame contained a print depicting the head of some kind of fantastical demon. She explained that the gallery was hosting an exhibition by local artist Tom J. Newell and directed me to a small room filled with a selection of prints and original pieces. The various images hanging on the walls featured snakes, skulls, vinyl records, bizarre creatures and oddly morphed faces. They almost looked like the glyphs, ciphers and crests of lost, eldritch societies. Tom’s exhibition is running at The Old Sweet Shop until the 31st of July and is very highly recommended. He also has his own site (here) which contains links to other work and an online shop. I couldn’t leave the gallery without buying at least one piece and so I opted for this stunning print which was made by Tom with assistance from Phlegm;

Tom J Newell Sweet Demons

When I returned home, I sat down with Phlegm’s book and spent the next hour poring over the beautiful drawings contained within its pages. There are no words to be found anywhere except for the spine and an embossed stamp on the cover which has a wonderfully tactile feel, almost like the image has been etched into the card. The drawings within are executed in an incredibly detailed manner showing layer upon layer of texture. It’s astonishing to think that each stroke was made using an old fashioned ‘dip and scratch’ ink pen which leaves absolutely no margin for error. The quality of the printing throughout is crisp and clear too, each drawing almost leaping off the page to reveal its myriad secrets. Phlegm’s style is instantly recognisable, the bizarrely clad figures, animals and weird contraptions he depicts are all products of a singular and hugely fertile imagination. When I reached the end of the book I discovered a fold-out section inside the back cover featuring many of these peculiar denizens of Phlegm’s mind in their natural habitat. These three panels alone contain so much lavish detail that I spent another hour trying to absorb everything that was going on.

Below are a few small examples of larger drawings but these don’t do this incredible piece of work justice, it truly has to be seen to be believed. However, don’t be tempted for a moment to part with obscene amounts of money over at eBay for this book. Make arrangements to visit Emma at The Old Sweet Shop in Sheffield to secure your copy for a much more reasonable sum then prepare to spend many hours in quiet contemplation as you lose yourself in Phlegm’s wonderfully strange pen and ink world.

Phlegm Pen and Ink Book Cover

Phlegm Pen and Ink Book Drawings


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