Reminiscences of Wicked Old Soho

This nostalgic post will not mean much to most people – except perhaps to men of my generation who had to live through such a deprived era and have seen how the Internet has changed everything we know.

sohomapNow in my sixties I am sitting outside a cafe on Old Compton St in London’s notorious Soho district. Or it least it was notorious. Today, much like Times Square in New York – as I understand – it is completely cleaned up and un-notorious with only a few shops remaining of the once prevalent sex trade, now mostly catering for the gay pound. It changed not through any heavy legal crack-down but, like a lot else, through the changes brought by the onset of the Internet removing the need to go out to buy porn magazines, books and movies.

Over thirty years back it was completely different. Then I would never have sat outside a cafe and would have been very cautious of even coming in by daylight – but then I had a guilty conscience. A shopping trip to Soho was a furtive affair usually made under cover of darkness, armed with a shoulder bag, and planned with a clear itinerary so as to quickly move in and out of doorways.

My own particular interest here was for books, magazines and the predecessor to DVDs and videos – Super 8 films.

Moving swiftly inside the shop you’d be pressed against a heaving mass of tightly pressed male flesh with barely enough room to jostle your way through to the shelves. Many men – it was always just men- were simply browsing with no intention of buying. Occasional ineffectual calls from management failed to shift them. Of course I always bought something – even at the outrageous prices they changed. Kink commanded higher prices with 10 pounds being usual for a magazine -a lot for a young man in those days.

With my burgeoning interest in kink and the bizarre I had my own favourite haunts:-
1. Swish publications
My main port of call. CP with a femdom bias selling their own “Madame” magazine, “Sadie Stern” magazines and even a few ripped-off and pasted together collections of Namio Harukawa drawings.

Site of the Swish shop-now fashionable dining : Greek St.

2. Janus Bookshop
Mostly catering to CP erotica with more of an emphasis on subfem, stocking its own magazines including Janus, Roué and others.

The Janus shop- now a trendy clothing outlet: Old Compton St

3. Lovejoys
Commanding a presence along Charing Cross Road, the ground floor was nominally a book shop but a discreet staircase downstairs led to a wonderful treasure trove. Not so much kink but best stocked general erotica.

Site of Lovejoys -still an adult shop but not half as interesting! : Charing Cross Rd

4. Unnamed
I cannot remember the name of this one. Cut off in an alley in Chinatown it was one of the first I discovered and may have been Swish before they moved. Can anyone enlighten?

Kinky sex shop -name unremembered-now Chinese souvenirs: Newport Court

5. Original Soho Bookshop One of the last bookshops now standing, stocked mostly with DVDs and a few magazines or books. Very little fetish and most gay-oriented. In the spirit of “research” I bought one product for old times sake but without much enthusiasm.

The Original Soho Book Shop: Brewer St


Figure Drawing

Every few years or so I like to spend a few months reviewing my knowledge of anatomy which forms the basis of my figure drawing. Starting from the head down to the feet I test my knowledge by sketching all the bones and muscles in the human body.
I think it is imperative to be able to draw any human figure from imagination if need be. If you can find good reference so much the better but you cannot be reliant on it. These days of course reference is abundant and free…you search the big G for “man bending over to kiss woman’s heel” and there is the photo or even video, with or without the original creator’s permission. Previously the model for such a subject was simply not available so you’d draw from imagination. A reference though will only provide an indication to work from. Unless you thoroughly understand what you are drawing  you might slavishly copy the outlines but it will fail to look convincing, distortions that the camera might make will not be understood and the drawing will look inexplicably wrong .
So how do you learn to draw human figures? By studying human anatomy -there is no way round it. The books that were published when I started learning many years ago were and are still of varying degrees of usefulness. My all-time favourite is “Figure Drawing” by Richard G. Hatton (1904). I foolishly lent and never got back my original hardback but still have a now well-thumbed paperback Dover reprint.
The well-thumbed Hatton
A typical page from “Figure Drawing”
Other books will teach you basic proportions but I found most rather lightweight and insufficiently detailed. There is a recent vogue for books teaching you how to draw figures in Anime style or superheroes. I am no fan of either but I think it is necessary to be able to draw figures as they are first, then modify the features afterwards to a style rather than pursuing the style first.
On no account attempt to learn artistic anatomy from a medical textbook. This will not distinguish which parts of the body are relevant to figure drawing. You’ll only get distracted by features that have no relation to what an artist needs to know, and may even imagine you have “every ailment except Housemaid’s knee”.
Figure drawing at art college often involved a human skeleton with an amusing name like Harry. We mused whose bones he might have been in life before he was hung up for our benefit. It was useful to examine his bones to understand their form so he may be reassured his bequest to us was not in vain.
One development I recently discovered, which would have been very useful when I was first studying, are apps that allow you to see muscle insertions and skeletons at any angle by rotating a 3D model. One in particular -Visible Body -is highly commendable.
I recommend these however as adjuncts to an explanatory book or website to further elucidate what is not so readily understandable in print.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite figure artists – Watteau, 1684 – 1721. A consummate French draughtsman equal to many of the Renaissance artists  but a greater lover of female beauty and more delicate.


Situation Normal All Fouled Up*

This post is about things going wrong. You may imagine -at least I hope you imagine -that paintings roll off the Sardax production-line effortlessly, fully formed and perfect. Nothing of the sort of course.

These days things do generally proceed well but that is because I have learn a few things throughout my career that have helped me to foresee problems and minimise unexpected trouble.

The best way to a successful outcome, as any ship’s captain will tell you, is thorough planning. If you do not plan sooner or later unforeseen events will come and blow your brave little ship off course. It is very tempting to just set sail hoping for the best. Many times I have foolishly done so -I’m a bit of an impetuous sort driven by the fire of inspiration – and bitterly regretted later not spending a little time planning in advance, thinking about the steps I would proceed through. Previously I would have to imagine in my head how things would work out but these days it’s so easy to make a digital rough that there’s no excuse before the brush even hits the paper.

But even with good planning if things start to go wrong you can still find ways of getting out of trouble and at least disguising the mistakes that have been made.

There are many ways of ‘wriggling out” but take this portrait of retired Japanese dominatrix Mistress Waka as one example.


As is often my way I will start with the face and get this correct before continuing with the rest of the painting; after all why expend effort on the rest if the main focus is wrong?

So I pressed on but found out that the watercolour paper I had chosen was bringing out blotches in odd places-thankfully not the face-but I perhaps had spilt water on it previously and I was left with needing to cover the rough patches but looking like I meant to in the first place! So the chequered pattern on the panel in the background actually disguises some bad blotches and to a lesser extent the marble effect on the right hand wall. Thankfully after that was done I could bring the painting back on course but it was a situation that depressed me enough to consider ripping it up and starting again -a lot of cursing that day!

If you cannot retrieve the situation you may have to burn your bridges and go back to the start, something I have not had to do very often but which is quite humiliating. However it is not so bad as you have learnt from your mistakes what NOT to do and the result is far better than if you had pressed on with the previous effort. Though a lot of time has been wasted.

But doesn’t that all sound too rigid and what about freedom of thought and inspiration? Yes, of course you need that too and the unbridled imagination should come in the development stage but in the final painting it needs to be reined in and at that stage the head has to rule the heart.

Mistakes will occur..that’s understood but planning first will minimise trouble. If all else fails just start over!

* a more polite version of this popular acronym.

(Mistress Elizabeth Swan also makes her own blog-post about what goes wrong in her line of work)


What people say to artists

Having been an artist/illustrator all my life it is not easy to put myself in the mind of someone who cannot draw. You think to yourself,  “Why can’t everyone do this?” It has always been a talent I’ve had which was thankfully though inexplicably encouraged by parents. You become ‘top of the art-class in school’ until you go off to art college and then discover you were not that good – all the students are there who were best at art in their school. I can however empathise with unskilled art-lovers as I love music in its various forms and have always wanted to play on a musical instrument, but failed miserably in my attempts, so that I feel astonishment and envy at anyone who is proficient that way. I recognise too that it is not just about talent but about hard work, endless practice, an individual style, knowing when to stick to rules and when to break them, etc. All the skills that any creative artist needs to function at best.
So here are some common things folks say about my work:-

“How long have you been drawing?”

If we are talking about actual drawing – since I could hold a pencil and from watching other ‘tops of the art-class in school’ wishing I could do better. Femdom artwork from my late teens . See “The Lightbulb Moment”

“How long does it take to do a drawing?”

The classic “how long is a piece of string?” It varies enormously depending on subject, composition and technique. Some take a few minutes, some weeks. I don’t like to come back with “how long is a piece of string?” as it just sounds too abrupt to an innocent question, but really it is exactly that. Every one is different.

“What do you think of this modern art?”
Old guys watching me drawing outdoors

This used to be very common, asked by older members of the society but has tailed off in recent years. Perhaps we no longer care about art we don’t understand. It really is such a broad subject as, like most people I expect, there is some modern art I like and some I distinctly don’t like. But usually the tone of the question suggested I give an unfavourable response and so I obliged quite often with a negative view which led to much satisfied agreement.

“My  –insert obscure relation here- is an artist”
Young kids watching me draw outdoors

Well it happens. Those ‘tops of the art-class in school’ have to fulfil their dream somehow – and you go out far enough in any family you’ll find one mad enough to imagine they can earn a living as an artist. How to respond…positively, encouragingly (of course!)

Other artists

When two artists meet do they talk about the latest exhibitions and wax eloquent on the refined palettes of the great painters? Do they hell! More often than not they moan about money, payment and the lack of it!

“I like your art – you can draw me if you like”
Vain but beautiful princesses

So drawing is a pleasant way to earn a living, but it is also my work and as such needs to be properly remunerated – a fact which is difficult to comprehend to some people who imagine that just drawing is so pleasurable it should not need any payment. So, vain but beautiful princesses, why not consider a commission of yourself and please the artist too?

Art is a cruel mistress….


Oh, cruel muse!
Who do I draw for if not for you?
You come to me with your haunting visions and compel me to draw them for you.
I am just your vehicle on earth, a mere slave to be used for your ambition.
I draw, and draw but you demand ever more.You can never let me rest!
Then guide my hand and if I never satisfy you, at least let me draw as well as my strength allows…



Visiting an art gallery and enjoying it

For a change I’m writing a little about something other than Sardax art, and an experience practically all of you art-lovers will have done at one time or other- visiting an art gallery.


If you have been to the Louvre in Paris you may well have witnessed this scene – the great crush to view THAT painting. Are you one of those who have felt a sense of dread at a plan to visit a famous art gallery? You are not alone!

You’ll find it a bit odd but I actually dislike art galleries; some modern ones I won’t even enter but that’s another post. I’ve tried to work out why this is as I’ll happily read books on art or watch a TV documentary but the experience of being in a gallery just overwhelms me. Thankfully a book will only show you a page at a time and leave it for you to decide when you have finished one painting and wish to move on. Similarly a documentary on an artist will at least pause for a while on one work of art before progressing to others.
But a gallery will throw any number of artworks at you at once and your attention is drawn from one to another no matter how long you wish to stay on one that has caught your interest. Moreover there is the certain feeling that unless you have seen every work you will be missing out.

So I now stick to a rule. You might like to try it next time you are taken to a gallery, but be prepared for anyone accompanying you to storm off in protest.

Decide to look at only three paintings on your visit and concentrate on them. At least 10 minutes on each. Take in the work as the artist who made it concentrated on it, and try not to be drawn to others around it. Never mind the crowds that move in front of you – they will pass soon enough. It doesn’t matter that you will be missing out on many others – there will always be art you did not see anyhow.
Flitting from one painting to another for a glance of a second or two will not make any impression other than a sense of bleary-eyed visual indigestion, irritability and a determination never to go there again. But this will leave you with a sense of great satisfaction, and each of those three paintings will be memorable to you. You will be able to comment on them intelligently over coffee with your irritable partner. Try not to sound too smug about it though.

By the way for obvious reasons this strategy will not work with the Mona Lisa.. just take a selfie and forget it!



My labour of love – Venus in Furs


This is a book that almost did not come into the world. A few times. It had a long gestation and very delayed birth. The project often shuddered to a halt as either life took over or I just got discouraged from pursuing it. The day the actual book arrived in boxes was like seeing a new-born child. I felt immensely proud of it.

Venus in Furs, though not the book which awakened my interest in femdom, was always there in the background as a reference to femdom and as an inspiration. It wasn’t even my favourite book either, as I found the ending off-putting, but I came later to appreciate its incisiveness and vision, written at a time when the whole nature of that sexuality was completely misunderstood and undiscussed. Sacher-Masoch was writing in 1870 when feminism was barely making its voice heard, and though he was aware (though dimly) of his own ‘topping-from-the-bottom’, his creation of a woman who really thinks for herself and “does femdom” her own way is remarkable. It’s odd that while it is regarded as an erotic novel, there is in fact no sex portrayed. It’s more about a philosophical outlook which is developed by the author and either spoken by Wanda or more often, Severin. Sacher-Masoch knew the subject he was writing about from the inside, and details all the joys and perplexities that beset the submissive mind. Often I hear of experiences from my friends describing the ups and downs of their femdom relationships and think – that’s ‘Venus in Furs’ all over.

Of course, being one of the few illustrators who specialise in this genre, I was often asked my thoughts on the book and it was suggested I make my own version. My initial thought was simply to illustrate a few scenes from the novel and try to find a publisher who might wish to republish the book, but after a few approaches there appeared to be little interest in a new edition and the rough sketches just lay around for a few years. I sometimes toyed with the idea of releasing them as a set of prints, a portfolio of artwork or even as a graphic novel but it did not seem economically sensible. Previous experience taught me that prints of niche erotic artwork are difficult to sell (how many people would put them on their walls?) so I abandoned that idea and never having had any interest in comic strip could not seriously go down that route either. My interest to develop them remained however and so at last I conceived the idea of making my own book with my own translation. I reckoned that given the broadly popular appeal of the novel a book might be saleable and that perhaps seeing everything put together in a readily marketable form I could also at least approach publishers again.


So throughout 2012 I translated the novel myself. I had been dissatisfied with other translations, especially the copyright-free version by “Fernanda Savage” of 1921 which is rather stiff and old-fashioned in style. I preferred not to license an existing modern translation, nor did I know how to go about it.  How could I feel confident enough to do this translation effectively?  Well, I admit that my German is not that of a professional translator. But I took comfort that in the past translation was a more informal affair than it is today – Thomas Carlyle, for example, translated Goethe without a formal degree in German using only a basic dictionary. More importantly, I could justify that I understood the author’s thoughts better than any other translators and so I overcame any hesitancy in that regard. In parallel I proceeded to work on the ten main watercolours and cover and wrote to literary agents and publishers asking if they would be interested in publishing an illustrated book with completely new translation. Surprisingly or not, depending on your experience of the publishing world, I received only politely phrased refusals.

Early in 2013 all the translation was complete but I felt that to market it as a printed book it needed to have more than just ten paintings. So I designed twenty more line illustrations, and with the aid of a publishing programme laid out the book myself inserting all the illustrations into my own translated text – well, I have a training in graphic design as well as illustration so although it was not a simple matter, it was within my capability. I also received a lot of help from Tim Woodward of Skin Two, who is very experienced in publishing. You’ll be asking now if I printed the whole book by myself. Well, much as I’d like to impress by showing you my own printing operation, in fact I did need to find the services of a printer, but apart from that it was very much self-made.  Thanks to a few ‘angels’ and some good luck financially I was able to fund the printing of the book and the book was eventually published within the imprint of Stiletto Books.

The book has had a great reception and now I am beginning to see the stock approaching depletion. It will not be re-published and stock will not always be available. Now is the time to buy unless you wish to buy second-hand copy for an inflated price later on.

See the dedicated page to Venus in Furs

Internationally renowned Mistress Evilyne reads an extract from chapter 13ms_evilyne_reads


Eric Stanton

Stanton1Eric Stanton must stand as one of the most influential fetish artists of the last century. If you’ve never seen his work the admirable blogger “Richard” provides a very good archive and intro . He really was the first purely fetish artist I’d ever encountered though I remember not being too keen on his bondage art at the time. I was then – unlike now 😉 – a little squeamish about seeing women suffering, so while I liked the artwork and the sense of the bizarre it conveyed, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. But as there were few enough artists working in the field I initiated a short correspondence with him in the eighties, sending some of my art by post and asking his advice on directions within the fetish art world. My letters to him came back marked up with his friendly comments – I guessed he was a busy man and he told me he was suffering from eye problems at the time. In those days he was a respected artist within his field but by no means as well known as he is now. I cannot recall much of the content of our letters but I do remember he just told me to wait until the world came round to see things as we did and joked bitterly, as many an artist does, he’d be famous after his death. And now he is.

Bound in Leather from Book Two

I really preferred -and still admire -his earlier art. “Bound in Leather”, for example, conjures up such a magically perverse world, though only portrayed with a simple black & white watercolour. It is obvious how much love he had poured into the series. There are no submissive men in these compared to the later “Stantoons” series, but I was not such a fan of the latter as I felt they were sketchy and produced under duress. As a commercial artist working in a narrow field the quality of Stanton’s artwork was probably affected by external circumstances – lack of time to complete, dissatisfaction with payment, family issues, etc. so that he may not always have given his utmost attention. He may also have been fulfilling requests to draw in that way.  I perfectly understand that pressure myself.

Later Stanton art-one of the many Stantoon comics

Or maybe I was never into physically powerful women -or wrestling.

Without his influence though and the advice he gave then, I doubt I’d be persisting in this field of artwork. Even if you know it, take time to look at Stanton’s artwork again – even in an age of overwhelmingly abundant imagery it still inspires.

Leg Show

Leg Show was my first regular femdom illustration work, sustained over a period of 5 to 6 years and allowing me to develop my art in a way which had not been possible in previous publications. I was introduced to the editor, the legendary Dian Hanson, by one of her writers – an  author of femdom erotica with the preposterous pseudonym Titian Beresford (like I can talk!). I had read his work in some paperback novels and I had struck up a friendly correspondence with him.

Pre-email our business would be conducted by phone and the trusty fax. Dian would call me every other month or so, briefly explaining in her husky drawl the story she wished me to illustrate. Then followed the fax, spewing out the manuscript 15-20 pages long for me to read and over the next few days I’d draft out a rough on paper, fax that back to her, then she would phone back to let me know how she felt. (Thank heavens for today’s email attachments and phone pix!)

My first illustration for “Leg Show”- The Butler

Once the artwork was produced -conventionally of course, no digital art then – it would be couriered via Fedex to land on her desk 5 days later and just hope it was all ok -there was no luxury of just fixing a little digitally. Later to reduce costs I might get a transparency made and mail that off instead of the artwork itself.

At that time Irv O’Neil was writing under the name Neil Wexler and I was sent some of his stories to illustrate, though at that time I had little idea he’d be the media sensation he is these days. He has written his own impressions of Leg Show days on his site and you can find out more about his range of femdom ebooks.

One of numerous collaborations with Neil Wexler aka Irv O’Neil- “Punishing the pornographer”

This fruitful relationship with Leg Show lasted until the turn of the century and Dian’s departure. Once she had left I thought it was time to move on myself and the magazine did not survive that much longer once the popularity of free pirated media on the Net seriously started to erode the printed magazine market. In retrospect Leg Show was at its peak at that period and I look back on the time with pleasure, feeling fortunate to have been a part of it .

Christmas issue -“Korean tennis players”



The Lightbulb Moment

How did it all start? For some it started it very early but for me it was a ‘lightbulb moment’ at the old age of 18 – a shiver down the spine that made me feel all wobbly, something strange but delicious at the same time. Browsing the top shelf in a London newsagent (news dealer) and seeing a specifically femdom magazine for the first time.

People under 30 must try to conceive of a world without digital imagery. These days you innocently think you might enjoy an obscure fetish, you Google it and a vast array of arc-lamps spring to life, illuminating you with huge quantities of information. We had to catch sight of candle flames flickering in the distance and wandered stumbling towards them, not understanding ourselves what it was we wanted. The problem then was starvation of information, whereas today it an indigestible surfeit.
You were really at the mercy of what your newsagent felt might be saleable or what you might find on a furtive trip to a sex-shop in Central London. Femdom was very much the Cinderella of kink back then (is it still?) and it was an occasion for rejoicing (by yourself usually) when a new magazine came out that hit your spot. Up until my eyes met this magazine I’d never seen one specifically devoted to femdom, nor did I even know that word.

Sadie Stern’s magazine . One of very few femdom magazines in the U.K. during the ’70s

So this is the magazine. I saw it in 1979 somewhere in North London. My memory played tricks on me. I could swear the cover girl was wearing a tiger skin print dress, though it was in fact a model on the inside who was dressed that way. The models were rather tired-looking and disengaged from the current vantage-point, but it didn’t matter, it was all so new, rare and I was just younger – what I saw then was cherished so much more. You had to wait a month to get another issue so you’d actually re-read the copy … again and again.

I never in fact worked for the magazine. It was too early, before I even got into drawing femdom. By the time I was beginning to look for openings it had descended into a graveyard of phone-sex ads, with minimal photo sets and hardly any text. But my memory holds its importance as a spark that set off something. I wonder if people these days remember their first google-search ?

Together with “Madame” magazine, my interest in femdom was sustained and developed until I felt confident enough to start producing my own artwork.

“Madame in a world of fantasy” Entirely B/W mostly writing with pirated photos, but still popular and one the few specifically femdom magazines.


Reminiscences of Wicked Old Soho

Meeting a mistress pre-Internet


There can’t be many of us who don’t find at least something disgusting. I’m not going to say what is or isn’t – that would (suitably) open up a huge can of worms – and it varies in response from one of us to the other. But we all shrink from something and say “yuk.”
When I was a kid I was quite interested in nature study and once on a field trip with the school I excitedly picked up a louse but the teacher – with a disgusted look – told me to throw it away, as she regarded “nature” as song birds and tree identification. The irony of that response irritated me so much that it remains a memory to this day.

“Disgust” is related to the French “goût“, that is – taste, or rather distaste.
It is an inbuilt protective reaction, that causes us to pull away from something that would do us harm – and it seems possible to neutralize it by attempting to understand the resistance or by gaining familiarity with it, as if to tell the body – “thanks for the warning but this is actually ok” so it loses its disgusting aspect. Learn about the wonderful world of moulds and you’ll never feel disgusted again by dank corners of the kitchen. A stronger response to disgust is horror and I think disgust in limited quantities can be quite exciting in the same way as a horror film – it can give us enough shivers to arouse us but not be completely unmanageable. I wonder if you have seen something you feel is disgusting but sexually arousing at the same time?


This illustration here is erotic for me yet it evokes disgusted reactions from some.

“Ugh ! she’s feeding him an insect? that’s disgusting!”

But then a lot of what we consider disgusting is considered delicious by others. I don’t know about slugs but certainly some insects are prized as delicacies. In some ways a certain amount of disgust can give an added piquancy, in the same way as a mouldy blue cheese can be prized by familiarity even though some will inevitably hiss out “yuk” on sight.

Chacun a son goût!