Places you should consider visiting

Probably, if I were right and being right on and stuff, this would be illustrated with photographs (like I used to do) and drawings (oh wait, that we can manage) but…

Anyway, I was planning to go to Venice on my holidays to be all artistic and drink hot chocolate in this one café I hoped I’d be able to find having not seen it in ten years but I’m sure it’s near the university when events eventuated and I wound up not going to Venice on my holidays but going to a corner of Europe most people don’t usually holiday in, not from Ireland anyway. It’s best known for a few castles, and a lot of pan European administration. I started in Brussels and ended up in Frankfurt and went to Luxembourg on the way.

However, this allowed me to knock an item off my bucket list by visiting Trier and Heidelberg. Heidelberg has a Lamy flagship store which of course should be everyone’s number one reason for going there provided everyone has the taste to like their pens, but it also has one of the all time great castles in Europe. You should go.

Trier is, as far as I know, the northernmost Roman city on the European Mainland (I’m saying this because there’s almost certainly one further north in the UK somewhere, only that less of it remains that remains of Trier. It has quite a few Roman monuments still lying around, such as the Porta Nigra which:


I endeavoured to draw into my marker notebook. Later I shall try to put it in my travel notebook as well along with some words.

Trier is a lovely town. It is a university city and in addition to this, it also has a cathedral which is basically an epitome of what I feel cathedrals should look like. Worth visiting. ON the downside, I missed the Roman baths, and Considine’s Basilica although that was careless as I did pass right by it at some point, lost.

To get to Trier, you’ve a couple of options:

  1. fly into Brussels and get the train. This is likely to be your cheapest option courtesy of Ryanair.
  2. fly into Frankfurt Hahn and hire a care. This may be cheaper than (1) but I don’t know as I haven’t priced it.
  3. fly into Luxembourg and get the train. This has limited availability in that unlike Brussels, there are not six flights daily between Aer Lingus and RYanair, but one five or six times a week with Luxair.
  4. Fly into Frankfurt and get the train.

Once you’ve checked out Trier, it’s not that hard to get to Heidelberg. I recommend the castle in Heidelberg and the funicular (it’s only 12E and includes the top and the bottom and all stations in between and entry into the castle. I strongly recommend the castle in Heidelberg. I gather you can walk up (but get the funicular it’s easier).

I like holidays like this. You get to do stuff and no one is trying to ram cheap holiday cocktails down your throat.

Notebooks and sketchbooks (again)

I’m just back from my holidays during which time I visited three countries, two capital cities and an ancient Roman ruin.

I’ve realised that the internet, and the always on internet at that has changed how I pass my free time. So while I was away, I did not get much written in my journal which goes everywhere with me, and as for the painting, well despite the fact that I packed 24 water colours, the fact is I spent most of my time doing my marker journal instead.

At least I did that.

When I got home yesterday, I made a start on the travel journal and during the course of a conversation – online – with a friend, I realised that I did not actually know how many active sketchbooks I had at the moment. When I say “active” mean “not finished, and currently being used for some purpose or other”.

Back in the day before I started drawing, painting, using markers, I used to carry around my journal. That was it, Mostly it was an A5+ Clairefontaine or, since I settled in Ireland, as likely to be a Paperblanks journal. I also used to have a total of 4 good ballpoint pens and about the same number of fountain pens. They’ve all been engaging in serious orgies in the last few years so I think i have about 8 amazing ballpoint pens (used to be classified good), as many again good ballpoint pens (less expensive Caran D’Ache pens in other words), at least 14 Lamy fountain pens, two Caran D’Ache fountain pens, and a bunch of good Faber Castell ballpoints with matching mechanical pencils plus loads of other mechanical pencils, mainly Kuru Togos or Pentel Graphgears. I think there are a bunch of Caran D’Ache mech pencils of various flavours too. I’d like a Rotring or five but being honest, I can’t manage what I have at the moment. Usually I call this having a stationery problem. Today I’m inclined to think part of it is a living in Ireland problem. Anyway.

Back with the whole travel journal thing leading to musings about sketchbooks, I have the following in operation that I know of:

  • Stillman and Bern was supposed to be a general sketchbook but somehow isn’t. Should take watercolours and markers but doesn’t
  • Rhodiarama webnotebook, handbag, basically the “so I always have a sketchbook” sketchbook. I drawn into it with a fineliner (currently a Pigma Micron and we will talk about fineliners later)
  • Rhodiarama webnotebook, homeless, markernotepad and “mixed media” where mixed media includes “stamps I like”. Somehow travel stuff sneaks in here too because of the whole stamps things.
  • Moleskine WC Travel journal: this is supposedly my travel journal but I somehow tend to draw into it from photos on my phone after I get home.
  • Moleskine WC TravelMemory journal for those trips I did before I started drawing and painting
  • A3 cartridge: bought to do detailed architectural drawings and detailed pencil drawings. Currently there is a bit of a lighthouse in there.
  • A4 cartridge: bought to learn in
  • A4 Hahnemuhler sketchbook: houses last year’s Inktober, was an attempt to find a nice journal that handled watercolours. It’s not bad with water colours per se, it’s just not excellent either.
  • Square Hahnemuhler: visual diary for personal stuff. Not sure where it is
  • uhem
  • A5 cartridge: bought to learn in. Mainly pencil stuff
  • Provence journal: this is a Fabiano Venezia, bought to depict my imaginary life, the one I’d have if life was fair, in other words, as opposed to the one where Paris Hilton is fabulously wealthy and I have to work.
  • Craftpaper journal: this is the beige coloured paper journal
  • Moleskine black sketch pretend A5: this is the black paper journal.

That’s a useful census to have done; it’s almost certain I have forgotten.

One of the big, big problems with all this is that I now have sketchbooks everywhere because apart from the one which lives in my handbag, these things broadly have no permanent place. I don’t have adequate shelving or storage of any other class for these things, and not for the art stuff. The art stuff arrived very late into my life, at a time when I had developed certain habits and choices. It isn’t yet fitting in very well.

While I was on holiday, another set of notebooks arrived, a set I had backed on Kickstarter (I don’t usually do this but) and while it is exactly what I ordered, the truth is I backed it months ago and now, my life is still kind of not fitting it. I like the idea but I still need shelf space. The list above doesn’t include all the new pads I haven’t used yet, or the blocks which I use for “good” paintings, the ones which I haven’t found a way of displaying either.

I’ve spent some time looking online for how other people solve this problem and to be frank, it seems to me that they don’t. I see pictures of piles of sketchbooks, and piles of markers, and piles of paintboxes. I never had a reputation of being particularly tidy but I am organised (yes, that sounds contradictory) and while things might not have looked tidy, they were orderly in the way of “things had a place and that place was where they were kept”. As a result, despite apparently being untidy, I almost never, ever lost everything and I made a good fist of keeping things together that logically belonged together. I’m utterly failing to do this in rented accommodation in Dublin.

Mainly because I didn’t get much choice about the furniture here tbh.

So if I were going to say anything, I probably have a sketchbook problem. One of my friends told me the other day he likes how I organise the drawings across different sketchbooks. I like that he likes that because in a very serious respect, that’s how I like organising stuff. It’s just that on the actual physical side of many sketchbooks I feel hunted, seriously hunted. The sketchbooks are generally scattered across four locations and I tend to have to go moving stuff around the place to ensure all the art stuff I need is in the same place as I want to go painting, drawing or whatevering.


Coloured pencils and black paper

Learning with the coloured pencils. #bubbles #planets #pablo #carandache

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

I have quite a lot of art gear lying around the house (so much for the idea that it would take up less space in my life than camera gear did), and amongst it are coloured pencils by Caran d’Ache, from the Pablo series. For a long time, Pablo was their top of the range dry colour pencil (as opposed to their water colour ranges) until the eye wateringly expensive Luminance pencils came out. I have about 4 of those but they aren’t quite doing it for me yet. I like the Pablo pencils for stuff like the above.

Anyway, I had previously gotten some metallic Derwent pencils which weren’t really doing it for me so I passed them on to my small niece, but kept the black paper which came with them for “experiments” of which this was one of the first. I think it was inspired by something I saw somewhere or other on either instagram or pinterest and it was a huge experiment. I don’t think it turned out badly and I have a couple of friends who did double takes before realising it was drawing. I liked this drawing on black paper lark so I went and bought one of the Moleskine black sketchbooks, the 8×5 ones because I tend to prefer sketchbooks rather than loose leaf sketches. I am having serious issues trying to figure out what to do with them.

I’ve done a few things on the Moleskine paper now, mostly in coloured pencil, but some in gel pens and while I’m going to finish it out, it is unlikely that I will buy another. The pencils – while not shockingly expensive Luminances, are good soft pencils – but the white really struggles to stand out on the Moleskin black and the blue pencils just don’t feel right. I didn’t have this issue with the Derwent paper which I don’t hugely like because it’s on a gummed pad (and therefore is basically looseleaf) but it is easier to draw on.

The Moleskine sketchpads are not cheap. I have a handful of the watercolour ones which I would describe as being “mixed” in terms of how pleasant they are to paint on. It’s a pity they appear to be the default of their kind here. I think I have an A4 Fabriano black spiral bound pad floating around – I certainly picked up one and coveted it anyway – and if I am lucky, it will turn out to be better and I will switch in that direction.

A to Z of needlepoint

Most people who know me very well know that one of my hobbies, at certain times of the year is tapestry. I love the large canvases, the coloured thread and basically doing colouring in using a needle and thread instead of in a colouring book. The patterns on tapestry canvases suit me better.

While I was wandering around the city centre, I wound up in WH Smiths, downstairs in Arnotts and came across a book called the A to Z of Needlepoint. Needlepoint is that term which encompasses tapestry and a bunch of other similar habits like counted cross stitch.

I questioned seriously whether I wanted another book but in the 10 years plus I have been doing tapestry, it’s safe to say that I had never actually seen a stitch dictionary for needlepoint in general. Mostly, if you want to do this stuff in Ireland, your choice is counted cross stitch, tapestry or general embroidery. So I picked it up and looked through it.

It is an utterly inspiring book. It has 65 different stitches of which I use.knew about just one, the half cross stitch. But it opened up so many ideas for me. I could not leave it behind.

I have a bunch of stitch dictionaries and am slowly coming to the conclusion that social media is worse for me than needlework is and the tapestry gets picked up more and more often lately.

I have ideas for this book, ideas which I don’t know how I am going to implement yet but, I’ll figure it out. It is one of the few books I have ever picked up and thought “this belongs with me”.

The quest for knowledge

First up, I am going to recommend a book which I am in the process of reading called The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan and it is the history of civilisation and trade geographically from the Middle East rather than from Western Europe. It is absolutely fascinating. I bought the paperback the other day because to be frank, it is one of the rare text dense books which is worth having a hard copy of rather than loading up to your kindle. By the way I need new bookshelves.

With that said, one of my guilty pleasures lately has been reading below the line on Guardian articles regarding the impact of the UK vote to leave the European Union – I will not call this Brexit – I did not much like the term Brangelina either. The Guardian was broadly in favour of rejecting the referendum to leave and it has a bunch of columnists who are ready to write reams on the impact. So far, they have not yet found any benefits although below the line, there are plenty to say “we got more sovereignty”.

Before the vote, I questioned an online interlocutor based in the UK how he was able to convince himself that voting to leave the EU would gain him in democracy since the Head of State was a hereditary monarch and their second chamber was also unelected and part hereditary. Plus, they have that awful first past the post system which is designed for “stability” but means that they get sea changes rather than stable incremental changes. It was a start, he advised me, pitifully.

I’ve tried to understand his argument, particularly in the context of him favouring the so called Norway Solution where you have to comply with a bunch of EU legal instruments, pay into the EU and allow all four pillars of the single market, specifically freedom of movement of labour being the contentious one in the UK at the moment.

You could write reams on the unintended consequences of the UK referendum result – for me one of the fascinating one is that it has pre-empted a change in views across Europe with EU membership currently gaining in favour in countries like Finland where the True Finns party is now desperately trying to shore up support for a referendum in the face of a population which has looked at the UK, looked at their borders and gone, you know what…things could be a whole pile worse.

Within the UK, though, the comments pages of newspapers are a fascinating reflection of the different facets of British society. Even if you choose not do discuss the geographical differences, there are clear differences in understanding the issues. Because I have friends who work in the academic research sector, I happen to have somewhat more of an interest in the impact on research budgets so I tend to read pieces on that. There have been a few lately because grant proposals are being prepared for Horizon 2020 – a huge European research funding program – and uncertainty about the UK’s position in Europe over the next five years – is causing grant applicants grief. Do we apply with UK based researchers even though they might be out before we draw down funding or start the project? The answer is increasingly “wait and see”.

This was forecast pre vote. Like a lot of forecasts, it was written off as fear mongering.

I do not especially want to talk in detail about the impact on science funding, or the impact on jobs or what will or will not happen with immigration and points systems. These are all details. What has struck me most about reading below the line is the absolute certainty of people who cannot accept that voting in favour to leave the European Union has huge costs associated with it. From the ones who point out that the UK pays more into the EU than it gets back but who still can’t work out that if their economy takes a hit, the money won’t be there to finance the science that historically got money from European budgets – and getting funding from UK research budgets has become increasingly difficult.

This kind of certainty worries me sometimes. It is indicative of people who are far too willing to reject other people’s experience in favour of what they know to be true. Very often it is indicative of a closed mind. One of the biggest problems the Remain campaign had was that explaining reality was generally rejected. Even now, as things are starting to rise to the surface in an none too positive way, there is still a strong desire to reject reality in favour of what people know to be true when in fact, what they know to be true is a) untrue and b) based on some misinterpretation and or misunderstanding.

There is some evidence to suggest that there is a correlation between those who left school early and those who voted in favour of exit. One of the things which interested me – and stunned me – about the UK as I was growing up was that it was more or less common and socially acceptable to leave school at what was then O-level stage, or 16 for the most part. People doing A-levels seemed to be sort of special butterflies.

The UK has recently updated its legislation to make sure that young people stay in full time education or some sort of training until 18 now.

Online discussions become heated because a lot of people – particularly and often on the wrong side of a debate – refuse to take a step backwards and ask “could I possibly have gotten this wrong” whereas people on the right side of the debate frequently do, and frequently own their lack of knowledge, and they also demonstrate that they are willing to add to their knowledge.

I suppose this is where I am getting down to the crux of the matter. Where do people learn to step back and question their own knowledge, and where do people engage in certainty so certain that demonstrating to them that they are wrong has no impact?

It seems to me that people who have a greater knowledge are more open to a) adding to that knowledge and b) updating that knowledge than people who have a lesser knowledge. You see this in any debate online although a few generate a lot more heat than others.

If I had one question for the world today, it would be: how do we get people interested in learning more and recognising the limits of their knowledge (and then pushing them back) rather than hiding in their comfort zone of certainty.

It’s not a question of making information and sources available there – this is already done although sorting valid sources from invalid sources is increasingly hard – but it’s something in education and something in media. What is fascinating is that…it works for some people. And it doesn’t work for some people.

How do we get people on a quest for knowledge that changes attitudes and dogma in this way? In my opinion, if the UK is to respond effectively to its decision to leave the European Union, it needs to do this for its population as a whole because it otherwise will not develop the agility to respond to its new place in the world order.

In the meantime, The Silk Roads was number 2 in the UK non-fiction chart last week. That desire for knowledge does already exist. Harnessing it now…that’s the next question.

Hyperrealistic drawing

Or, photorealistic drawing.

I am not saying I fully aspire to it (currently I aspire to “vaguely accurate”) but I came across a discussion online (where all the best/worst discussions take place) in which the skill required to do a hyperrealistic pencil drawing in graphite or charcoal (I’m equally bad at both) was basically denigrated as not being art.

I love drawing. I love painting. While I was in London lately I bought more pencils to draw more dragons with, and more paints because they were good paints with a near 80% discount (always welcome). I remain completely impressed at people who can do the whole hyperrealistic thing because they clearly have very strong drawing and value skills.

I sometimes wonder if denigrating people who apply their skills in that way is based on envy more than anything else.

Nice is news

Late last night before I went to bed I saw a worrying headline in my social media feeds to suggest some sort of tragedy had happened in Nice. I like Nice. I’ve been there on holidays a couple of times. Some gorgeous buildings. The city is colourful. Not a big fan of the somewhat stony beach mind, but the prom is lovely.

And today it is in mourning because someone decided to drive a truck through a crowd. There is no valid justification for doing any such thing deliberately, no matter what your political stance is, no matter what your purported religious faith is. It’s a stupid, ungodly, evil thing to do.

I cannot watch the news and I don’t want to see the papers. Far too often I’m waking up of a morning and the world is a little bit stranger than it used to be the night before when I went to bed.

Funding for science

One of the core concerns raised prior to the referendum in the UK on 23 June related to funding for scientific research. In a way, it was one of many aspects of exit which was either ignored by the greater part of the population, or simply did not exist for them. Since the referendum, anecdotally, researchers are finding that they are less likely to be included in new applications for EU grant funding for large scale research projects. Projects which may have budgets of over a million euro. We are not talking about fiddly little projects.

The response in the UK to this has been sadly rather illuminating. There are some people who just see the EU as an amorphous blob and assume that reports of funding opportunities at EU level dropping off is the fault of the EU (rather than the fault of the UK for voting a desire to be out). There are some people who saw this coming and are irate that they were ignored in the run up. What is said is that there are people who just don’t want to hear when they are wrong.

What the EU are doing, they declare, is illegal. This is evidence that they do not know what the EU are doing anyway, which, in this case, is nothing. People putting projects together are less likely to include British based researchers because Britain’s position in the EU over a time frame of 5 years is now extremely unclear. This is hardly the EU’s fault, nor is it the fault of the researchers putting projects together. They are dealing with reality here.

I find it extraordinary that people who want to be out of the European Union are complaining bitterly about things happening that are on their road to being out of the European Union.  What did they think was going to happen? That nothing much would change, that they would retain every facet of their lives currently only that the gold starred blue flag would go away and that they’d get all the benefits of being part of the European Union without actually having to contribute to it?

There is a view about in the UK that this will lead to the loss of a lot of researchers who will choose to move where things interest them rather than remain in the UK where there has been a lot of messing with local funding for academic research. Equally, there are views around that researchers are bleeding the country dry and not doing real work (not like those private sector employees). In all of this, I wonder where we lost the ability to recognise that sometimes, we don’t know (when you have people who do no scientific research at all screaming that senior scientists do not know what they are talking about when it comes to scientific funding, there’s a serious problem with the inability to recognise the limits of your own knowledge).

Even if the UK are to make a reasonable success of having to create links with all those countries they already had links with, I do not know how we fix society such that people listen and learn rather than listen and scream back.

As it happens, I spent a year at university in the UK. I am reasonably sure that people will adapt and cope. But you know, adapting and coping with a self inflicted injury is somehow harder than avoiding the injury in the first place. The UK is on a journey, now very much without a map I suspect.

How to draw dragons

I drew a dragon yesterday evening and you can see her here:


#dragon #coloredpencils #dailysketch #carandache #pablopencils #craftpaper.

A photo posted by Me (@wnbpaints) on

It has shown me two things 1) I have gotten better at drawing in the last 2 years or so, and 2) I’ve a bit to learn about coloured pencils. Either way, I am not here to talk about how to draw dragons directly, but more…metaphorically.

Most days when I am talking to people, we talk about stuff with a small s and Stuff with a big S. Rarely, however, do I get a 10 minute speech from any friend along the lines of “You have to listen to this for 10 minutes because It Will Change Your Life”. But lots of my friends post such screeds to me. Yesterday, I had some time tossing up between doing housework and drawing dragons. I find drawing challenging. I wasn’t really taught how to do it properly as a child and we tend to assume the ability to draw is innate rather than a teachable skill. I can only hope this is changing. Anyway, the net result is that I’m often wanting to draw something but too terrified to start. Every time I lift a pencil or pen, it takes an enormous amount of motivation. I liken it to the motivation required to starting to get exercise.

Since I started doing this, and since I started summoning up the courage required to try and, probably fail at something, I have seriously started to question the reasons why certain things go viral, why many of the advice pieces on making your living blogging and related items seem to focus not on creating something, or even teaching someone to create, but on telling someone how to live their lives, and to explain to them, they’re really not happy.

I’m really not happy about a lot of things but a ten minute video exhorting me to think about someone else isn’t the solution. This morning’s one – before I bailed on it (it helpfully had subtitles so I did not have to listen to it) went on about being caught by your dreams and risking all for it. Like many of these things, it ignores circumstance and has an unspoken message of if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault.

In a way, it’s part of the trend we have of over simplifying life. This guy was prancing around some nice landscapy place and the overwhelming message I was getting was that we were sheeple who hadn’t seen truth the way he had, and frankly, we should all be living our dreams. It is the sort of message that I look at and think, you know, this guy has no idea how privileged he is. I used to use the word “lucky” there but I’m not sure how much luck has to do with it in the end.

The thing is, the dragon turned out (in my opinion) quite a lot better than I expected. It’s not getting loads of social media love but I’m coming to the conclusion that’s not why I do this anyway. The key point is that while it is far from perfect, it is far less of a failure than it might have been 12 or 18 months ago. I’m not in favour of the try/fail paradigm of making progress particularly as it frequently doesn’t include the bit that goes try/fail/learn. In the tech work, the whole try/failure thing is often presented as a success in itself. It becomes party of the myth and narrative of successful founders.

I find that just a little bit toxic. The whole try/fail thing really doesn’t work unless it’s try/fail/learn and I suspect any founder who eventually makes it would probably agree.

Anyway, back with the dragon. I spend a lot of time looking at other people’s art, and especially, decomposing what they do into lines because I can draw lines and the whole problem for me is drawing lines together successfully. Sometimes, I wonder, if we do take enough time to decompose what other people are doing, when they are doing something we want to do. The whole

  1. idea
  2. ??
  3. profit thing

really does not work with drawing dragons. But I will say this. It’s a metric tonne easier if you have a battery operated eraser for dealing with those little slip ups.

I suppose the lesson I’m hoping to give away for free here is “use the best tools you can get, and use them properly”.

For my next trick, there will be more lighthouses.


The small joy of tidying as you go.

Sunday’s go far too fast. I’ve already been outraged at least twice today and I have had breakfast and written a bunch of other blog entries and it’s already 10am.

I came across a couple of the Marie Kondo books in Easons the other day while trying to find their art section – the bit that wasn’t 100% colouring books. They didn’t have a techniques section (Hodges Figgis moved Art around as well and now Art Techniques is not near Art which made that trip interesting) but they had both Marie Kondo books on sale for around 16E.

I love bookshops but I’m not sure I want the Marie Kondo books for that much money. Anyway, I remain astonished that she, or indeed anyone else, makes money out books which are essentially about house keeping.

But then, I get surprised by many people in the world. When nearly every “Tips to keep your house uncluttered” starts with “It sounds crazy but if you make your bed…”

I used to live in student accommodation when I was a student. As I lived, worked and drank tea in the same 10 square metres for months at a time, and eventually lived in small studio apartments, I worked out fairly sharpish that no matter what clutter was on the floor or strewn on my desk, the world looked a lot better if I at least made the bed. It is not in me not to do it now. Even in hotels I make some effort at order.

Anyway, I suspect the issue for a lot of people is the inability to make a decision. My small piece of advice for life in general – and let’s be honest, I don’t always manage it myself – is “do it now if it means your life will be easier later”.

No one wants to have to make their bed before they get into it. Ergo, do it in the morning when you get up. Wash the breakfast dishes in the morning and come home to a reasonably uncluttered kitchen.

Make your life easier by doing it now. I can’t spin it into 160 pages to sell in its millions but that’s the way I see it.

Also, try and figure out why you buy stuff. For me, half the time it’s because getting some stuff in Ireland is hard.

waves and numbers and stuff