- The Piano Shop on the Left Bank – TE Carhart
- Adaptive Strategies for Small Handed Pianists – Deahl and Wristen
- The Art of Piano Playing – Heinrich Neuhaus
- Playing the Piano for Pleasure – Charles Cooke
I had a few hours free in London lately so I prioritised them to do a couple of wants and technically wants but really needs.
I went to the British Museum because I wanted to see the Rosetta Stone again. I remember the first time I saw it; pretty sure it wasn’t locked away in some sort of glass/acrylic jail cell. It’s a measure of how the world has changed I guess. Also, it is now subject to the Mona Lisa effect where crowds of people hoard around it and really you can’t get to see it in any comfort any more. Either way, I still went. For me, it is THE iconic thing in the British Museum. You can take the girl out of translation but possibly not translation out of the girl.
While I was there I hopped along to see the Lewis Chessmen. There are a few of them in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but really, the bulk of them are in Bloomsbury. They really are worth a look – I think they are beautiful. I zipped by Sutton Hoo which used to be one of my go tos – obviously still is, and the German ship clock. Then I had a look at the Parthenon Marbles and the Assyrian wall hangings. Absolutely wonderful. I bought *some* stuff in the shop but not much.
After that I made my way to the main Fazioli dealer in London as I had heard a lot about those pianos but had never actually met one for real. So I dug out the address and went and had a look. Beautiful pianos, no doubt about it. I played a couple very, very briefly – I was really short on time – and while I would have favoured one piano over the other, I really regretted that I had not time to sit and learn to relax over one or other.
There were two main musts I wanted to achieve in London – one was new clothes for work – irritating as I am between sizes so this year’s acquisition of trousers will potentially need to be redone a second time before normal re-purchase – the other was acquisition of the Hanon piano technique book which I figured I’d find in Foyles.
I love Foyles Bookshop but because I was whistlestop touring the place, I went straight up to the sheet music section and found H.
It’s phenomenal. I could get lost in there. GIve me a ladder and I am happy. The classical stuff is kept in drawers which I could happily explore for hours. The Hanon was surprisingly unexpensive and now I have no excuse not to sort out my whole piano technique issues (later).
The last thing I did was go to L Cornelissen which is a fabulous old art supplies shop. It has lots and lots of drawer units which I really, really want.
I went to university in London but after a weekend there I’m not sure I could go back there to live. It’s stressful and crowded. My experience with Transport for London customer service in the face of lines closed for engineering works wasn’t great; the tubes are packed to sardine tin levels. I do regret that I did not get a chance to play the Platform 88 piano in Tottenham Court Road.
I went to a stationery shop in one of the retail parks the other day to buy a couple of gel pens which I had not found in the city centre. It’s a great shop; it just costs me a lot of money every time I go there. I’m swimming under Pilot G2 gel pens and because I have a collection of ball and fountain pens to write with that would be the envy of the average person on the street, I’m not tending to write with the Pilots so much. But I use their G-Tec Cs to draw with, when I can find them.
This is one of the things I loathe about myself. I can’t just use a Bic crystal like a million people on Instagram to do monochrome pictures. No, I like to chose a pen that is…difficult to get. TBH, if I had any sense I’d buy a box of black, brown, turquoise, red and violet off Cult Pens and then that’d be it. The problem is Cult Pens now has Sepia unipins and frankly about 150E worth of other stuff I didn’t know I wanted and now I have to have and I already did serious damage on Friday buying 4 gel pens and a pile of other stuff including some ore G2s.
When I lived in Ireland, there were issues around getting the kind of mechanical pencils I wanted. My favourite at the time were Uni Kuru Togas but you could not then get them in Ireland (just as I left, ArtnHobby discovered them The net result is I tend to panic buy stuff that historically, I have found very difficult to get a short notice. Between Friday and yesterday I bought about 10 more mechanical pencils
Today I was actually drawing with pencils. I have a couple of personal sketchbook projects on the go, one on kraft paper, and one on white paper. They are in side stapled sketcbooks, That’s not really important.
I have a massive and overwhelming choice of pencils available to me. I wanted to draw here so I tend to favour the finer pencils to do that with. Most of the brands do 0.3 although I have not yet got my hands on a Kuru Toga 0.3mm mechanical pencil. But I have some Pentels, Pilots and Staedlers Argubly, I probably don’t need any Kuru Togos given how many Pilots and Pentels I have.
This isn’t a pencil review per se. This is more, just after I finished today’s drawing it occurred to me that the mechanical pencils were a bit chaotic The new ones I bought, I haven’t space to fit in the drawer and anyway, I wanted to set up some drawing kits. I’m drowning in drawing toolboxes but that’s another day’s story. I dragged out the drawer of pencils and sorted it according to size. I was a bit surprised by the outcome. Pencil size wise, I have 0.2, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7. After that I’ve a bunch of 2mms and what look like 4mms. Faber Castell have a couple of odd sizes as well. But I have a frightening quantity of 0.5mm pencils, and the bulk of them are Uni pencils, either Kuru Togas or Shalakus. There is an array of others but I dared not count.
After that, I’m really kind of good on 0.3mms as well. What surprised me was that I didn’t have a whole lot of 0.7s. I tend (at the moment) not to buy 0.9s as they are probably a little too broad. I don’t own any for now and I’ve tended to manage to avoid buying any in the last few panic buy of pencils. After that, there aren’t a whole lot of 0.2mms and the ones that I have are all Pentel Orenz. I think, again, there is a Kuru Toga that narrow but like the 0.3s, I haven’t found them.
I sorted out two sets of pencils – a full set of Orenz from 0.2-0.7 and a set of Pentel P20s from 0.3-0.7. Then I sorted out some of the pencils I tended to want to use more often and instead of shunting them back to the drawer, I have them in a pencil cup.
If you asked me 2 years ago what was my favourite pencil, I’d have said Kuru Toga. Given the constraints I was working in, they were for a long time the narrowest pen I could find until I eventually tracked down a Faber Castell 0.35. I still love them and where I need a default pencil, like in my stationery drawer at work, or in my handbag, there is usually a Kuru Toga there, or a Shalaku. For a long time I struggled to lay my hands on Pentel Graphgear 1000s – they are gorgeous pencils; I have them from 0.5-0.7 and I think there is only one 0.5 although there were two of the other sizes. Mostly I stopped buying 0.5s for the most part as I had loads of them. The pencils in my tool box are all Graphgears bar one Orenz 0.2.
I can’t answer the question “what is your favourite pencil” at the moment. Most of today’s drawing I did with Orenz pencils in various sizes – 0.2,0.3 and 0.5, and while it takes a lot to get used to the way the lead is hooded, I had a lot of fun with them. I only have 0.5mm Orenz though as I tended not to buy them because I have loads of them. Same is true for 0.7 although I have fewer 0.7s than I thought. But I like the Tombow Mono shaker too, it’s just, I don’t have a lot of them so I hate risk losing them and there’s nowhere to buy them locally so I tend to hoard the two I have.
I could put different lead weights in the pencils – I’m not short of lead either – but only some of the pencils have lead weight markers and I find with the Orenz pencils that I was using today that the weight broadly doesn’t matter when I am using the finer mechanical pencils – this is probably because I draw with fineliners a lot and it’s the width rather than the colour depth that I focus on.
I have wooden case pencils as well; a full set of Caran d’Ache Graphwoods, a near complete set of Mars Lumographs including the extra black and aquarelles, and I’ve a few other randomers from Faber Castell, Tombow and Uni Mitsubishi. One of the reasons I am not allowed go near Cultpens is that if I did, I’d buy a full set of both the Tombows and the Unis. They are gorgeous pencils to draw with. So are the Caran d’Ache pencils.
The tl;dr version of this is that Treasa has too many pencils.
It is 34 degrees here in Luxembourg. I went to the shopping centre this morning and engaged in bold shopping but at least the clothes I bought are suitable for work. I pretty much expected to spend the afternoon drawing. I have digital stuff lined up to do and I skipped yesterday on a daily sketch project. I also had a load of art supplies to find homes for as I have bought a load of mechanical pencils lately (mostly Pilot and Pentel it seems). I panic buy these things because a few years ago it really nearly failed me to find a 0.3mm mechanical pencil (eventually Kennedy Art). You can buy them in the central Railway station here in Lux and as for what turns up in the run up to the Rentrée (ie, the kids are going on holidays, let’s make them really happy by pointing out all the lovely stuff they have to buy for going back to school in mid September), well it beggers belief. I do not need any ore 0.3mm pencils or, indeed 0.2 mm pencils but I could draw a lot more rabbits and squirrels given Fur Was the Reason.
But the drawing never happened and I’ve only just unpacked the new stationery, never mind the new clothes. My life on twitter went a bit crazy today. The emergency services in Ireland posted aerial photographs of Bray Head in Wicklow. Various elements of them do so every once in a while, and the pictures are beautiful.
Bray Head, however, is an ugly burned out mess following a gorse fire a few weeks ago. It was a huge fire and it cleared all before it. What was underneath was an EIRE stone sign, along with the number 8.
I have a special interest in those signs. About 7 years ago I spent a whack of my time poring over aerial photographs trying to identify what signs were left and, how many were built and with the information I got, I built a website and a map. People brought me information and occasionally sent me photographs. Via information from pilots doing aerial surveys now and again, I learned some sites had 2 signs, for example. It was fascinating and fun, and at a point, I figured I had probably found what ones were likely to turn up. Two, I think, were likely to be still available under gorse but I didn’t expect that to clear any time soon. Neither of them was Bray Head in Wicklow. I had spent hours combing photographs looking for the slightest sign and nothing. At a certain point, the information on the site stopped needing to be updated quite so often; occasionally people let me know if one was renovated and occasionally I got photographs sent to me. I honestly didn’t expect to see any more signs turn up and in that I was wrong.
The photographs of Bray Head are exceptional. The number is still intact. For a sign which hasn’t seen the light of day in years, it is in remarkably good condition. Elements of the frame are still in place. The initial letter E is a bit less healthy looking but in general, compared to the condition of a lot of the signs when I started looking for them, it looks really well. The shape of the letters if fantastic. I’m really, really excited by this news.
Very few of the signs on the east coast survived – there is some of Howth Head in place apparently but I couldn’t locate it for sure, and there are remnants of the sign around the lighthouse in Wicklow Head too. It’s possible that a few more which have sunk might be more obvious if you knew where to look in light of the recent drought. I’ve been told that the sign in Clogherhead is still there, under the gorse there but I haven’t found it.
The map has been updated to include Bray Head, and I know from social media that discussions are ongoing now amongst people who have an interest in restoring the sign. That pleases me. But the result of this news story is that my online life went a little busier than is usually the case. My site got cited by a bunch of media sites which I didn’t expect.
While we’re at it, the Independent mentioned the site a few months ago as well.
I have a playlist on my phone called Music I am Learning.
I put it together when I tore the world apart looking for the transcription Alexandre Tharaud did of Dance of the Blessed Spirits, which is from Orfeo and Euridice by Gluck. There are a couple of transcriptions of it floating around; I had trouble tracking down this particular one which is on an album of encores that Tharaud put out a few years ago. There is some lovely stuff on it. The net result is I have a bunch of different recordings and arrangements of it, all in that playlist. I started adding other stuff to it.
At the moment, on repeat, is Comptine d’un autre été: l’Apres-midi. It’s by Yann Tiersen, and it, along with Sur Le Fil, are in the list of Music I am learning. I own two books of Yann Tiersen sheet music, and both pieces are in the first collection.
I live in a building with four apartments. There are pianos in three of the apartments; mine, upstairs and the top floor. Upstairs is also learning Yann Tiersen; also learning Compte d’un autre été, L’Apres Midi. She has had more time to devote to it, and I know from past experience of listening to her through the ceiling, that she is probably better at reading music than I am. For me there are challenges; I may dive into sight reading from time to time, but every new piece of music I have played lately I have learned by ear and arranged myself. Someone asked me for the transcription of one piece in particular, and now I find myself having to develop the skill to do this; I’m cheating by using an app on my phone. Much to my surprise, the technology to listen to an audio recording and transcribe it isn’t really there yet. So best that I do it by trial and error.
The recordings of the two Tiersen pieces I am learning are by Jeroen van Veen. There is something incredibly relaxing about them which, I think, is why I want to learn them. In an ideal world, I would get up at 6, and play for an hour and then face the rest of the day. The day job. The walk/bus to work. The weather. It isn’t happening because I tend to burn the midnight oil at the other end. But L’Apres Midi is not impossible to play and all told, repetition is what I need. It might help my fingers to toughen up.
Somewhere in one of my swimming instagrame accounts is a comment that if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if not you’ll find an excuse. I have many things I want to do. Maybe if I were single minded it would be better.
I ordered more sheet music tonight; transcriptions by Vyacheslav Gryuznov. I came across him on a concert recording from RTE Lyric where he had just played some Rachmaninoff. He did one of the transcriptions as an encore so I went investigating and discovered he had a album of them, along with published sheet music. I’d like to have a go at two pieces which I know are beyond me but there’s a freedom in trying stuff anyway even if you know it’s going to be hard. This is one of them:
I already know it’s going to be hard. But if I learned some of it, it would be great. I really wish I had all the time in the world.
I went looking at second hand pianos at the weekend. I’m kind of on a journey – I don’t expect it to end for a few years but some time ago I read The Piano Shop on the Left Bank and in it, he referred to some French manufacturers, including Erard and Pleyel. Two came up for sale so I went and had a look. They were both about 35 years old, both built in Germany by Schimmel, under licence, so it was hard for me to treat them as French pianos when they weren’t manufactured there. The dealer told me that Pleyels would be manufactured again, but in China. He was not positive about that prospect. It got me thinking – there is an ongoing debate about the difference between German and US built Steinways, for example, and also, there is some debate sometimes around the difference between Indonesian and Japanese built Yamahas.
Of the two German built pianos, I favoured the Erard although I believe it still had some servicing ahead of it.
Luxembourg has an annual project called My Urban Piano where they lodge a few pianos around the place – I played one of them before I went to play the Erard and I played another one when I came back. I’m hoping to find all 21 although time is running out for me and I am busy this weekend. I know that a piano went into Connolly Station in Dubin, so I think that means there is one in Heuston, Connolly and Pearse. I do love in Metz and Paris Est to go and play the pianos there. The piano in Paris Est is a decent enough Yamaha and appears to be in very good condition despite the hard life I imagine it has.
Where I live in Luxembourg, you can often hear the sound of a piano. It seems to be just done here that people learn and this might explain why it’s easier to hire digital pianos – something I just could not do in Ireland. I think it’s a good thing; I suppose I think people learning any musical instrument is a good thing.
For me, it helps me to dream. In the meantime, the Gryaznov book should arrive by the end of the week. I am so looking forward to finding out just how hard it is. And I am wondering about lessons again.
A couple of weeks ago, I played in public for the first time in many years. It was of mixed success so we will gloss over that. I played the piano.
I have a piano here in the apartment – it is a digital piano and I’ve rented it more or less since I moved in. Last week I had a mild yen to change it to a silent system upright so that on occasion I could get the feel of a real piano. I’m sure the manufacturers of digital pianos would grimace at the thought their pianos are not real pianos but there is a whole lot of vibrations missing. Digital pianos don’t touch the heart the way a strung instrument does. Anyway, I wandered down to the piano shop to see about silent pianos – when you are hiring a piano you are at the mercy of what is available, and they did not have one which interested me on the occasion so the change of piano will have to wait. But it’s a piano shop full of acoustic pianos and usually, when I’m done talking business, I take a look at the pianos and play them for a while. I don’t allow myself to fall in love – or at least I say this to myself – but I’m lying.
For a very long time, my heart was given to an 1882 Bechstein which Pianos Plus in Dublin had in their show room – I don’t know if it is still there because it is almost 2 years since I was there – but I’ve always recognised that it and I were not destined for one another. It cost more than I could conceivably save for in while I was working in Ireland. I’ve generally assumed I would be ordering a brand new Kawai baby grand at some point. Mostly I have chosen not to like Yamahas or Steinways and on occasion I’ve come across second hand Kawais, about 30 years old which were beautiful pianos. I’ve always known that the piano will be a confluence of time, house, what’s available and how much money I have at that time so while I think it’s safe to assume a brand new Kawai is achievable, deep down I would prefer a slightly older piano. Leaving aside the chance that they can be less expensive as well, the fact is, they tend to be a little softer to the touch. One of the reasons I don’t like Yamahas is that I have played some very hard pianos. Resistant touch. I am not such a fan.
But against that, I’ve met some beautiful secondhand Yamahas, all at least 30 years old. Pianos Plus had what I think was a G3 – it was already sold when I got to touch it but it was a beautiful piano. Huebner in Trier had a beauty the last time I was in there and I think it was a G3 as well. Today, I played an S4 exdemo in Kleber in Luxembourg and it was a breathtakingly lovely instrument to play. If I had the required 40,000+ it was on its way to me but…I didn’t.
The thing is, it was not the piano I loved the most either today or last week. Kleber’s big Steinway concert grand was in the showroom – it wasn’t the last two times I was in there – so I asked if I could play it and that was okayed
I have a meh relationship with most of the Steinways I’ve played. I’ve played quite a few brand new baby grands, say around 6 feet – various model numbers but what they all had in common was they had an imperiously bright sound. Because they were brand new, I tended to find the keyboards stiff as well. In Dublin, it was much easier to turn to a 140 year old Bechstein whose keys were like extensions of my fingers. But I hadn’t ever played any of the big concert grands, the nine foot or so pianos. While the dream of a grand piano might be somewhat unicorn level in terms of dreams, I’m realistic to know that I’m unlikely to ever have a place I can justifiably put one. But something caused me to play this one because I could.
Unlike a lot of the Steinways I’ve played, it has a gloriously comforting sound. Wrapped around my soul. I truly fell in love with the piano which was unusual for me with a Steinway. I loved it enough to think, you know, I could actually see myself buying a Steinway grand if it felt like this. Coincidentally, there was a baby Steinway in the showroom too, a second hand one. I don’t remember seeing a build date but I’m willing to bet it was about 20 years old. The keys were not stiff and the sound was a soft enveloping sound rather than the very bright sharp sound I’ve been used to from pretty much every other Steinway I’ve ever played.
It gave me pause for consideration. I’ve at least 2-3 years before I can consider buying a forever piano so that gives me time to save. A secondhand Steinway is going to take a lot of saving and of course, it is never going to be a nine-foot concert behemoth. But I think, when the time comes, and I start the journey of selecting my piano, I’d like to have enough money that a second hand Steinway might be an option. So I need to start planning now.
I’m a fan of the artwork of Pascal Campion on instagram, not necessarily because I like the basic techniques he uses, but because every single one of his pictures tells a story, and you can get a very strong feel for the story. I love it and while I haven’t done anything about it, I would, at some point, look at acquiring a print or two. I say the same about Iraville too. I will get this one when her shop is open again and if she makes it available.
Both are very different to the stuff I tend to do.
Today’s piece of work was a watercolour. I spent a lot of time thinking about this. In a way, I struggle with painting lately because I seem to need work space and I don’t always have it.
When I started painting I used to do it anywhere. Including bed. Watercolours in bed. Madness. I don’t do it any more, although that’s mostly because I don’t keep the art stuff by my bed any more. And I don’t use waterpens as often any more which means it’s a far riskier activity.
Anyway, here is today’s piece.
First the technical stuff – because I look for it so I assume other people probably will – I used Saunders Waterford rough white paper because it was the top of the pile of watercolour paper – and then for this version of it, I used Winsor & Newton Artists colours. The brushes are mainly an Escoda Number 8 and a Raphael Number 4. Not sure where I picked that up actually but it’s a nice size.
I did two versions of this and while it’s not so obvious in this version, I had a lot of trouble with the blue of the sea I used French Ultramarine which is a granulating colour and I struggle to control it. The first version, I used my beloved Sennelier paints. Second round I decided to have a go with the WNs. Neither was easier or so than the other and I seriously screwed up the sand above. So this painting will be redone at some point.
But it caused me to think about paints. I have a lot of watercolour media – the standard European paints, Japanese gouache, watercolour pencils, watercolour pastels. I will also buy an Inktense travel set whenever Derwent eventually start to sell them because their pencils are quite intense and travelsets tend to be easy to lug around.
When I started painting, I started with the Cotman sketch set. It’s a small set that has 12 Cotman pans in it. If you read any of the online watercolour forums, like wetcanvas, you’ll probably come across conversations about buying the best you can possibly buy. I’d temper that by saying buy either the Cotman sketchset or the Sennelier 8 pan travel kit. The Sketchbox in itself is incredibly usefully sized which is why I own two of them although the second one mainly has WN artist pans in it because you could not get the Cotman pans individually in Ireland when I started. I don’t know if you can yet. They were small and handy. They explained why I could paint at lunch hour (Sennelier) or in bed (Cotman box). After falling in love with the Sennelier set, I had to make a decision about a bigger paint box and it was down to WN, Sennelier or Schmincke. In all cases, I was going to buy a 48 pan set and I chose Sennelier. It’s a great box but it’s not conducive to painting in bed. Painting has become a bigger production than it used to be. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
I bought a WN 24 pan Artists kit in London about 2 years ago in a sale – we are talking a serious chop in price at a reputable art shop – and have occasionally considered passing it on to my niece who was using mainly Cotman paints at the time I’m sort of glad now I didn’t The kit is smaller, takes up less space than the Sennelier, and means decisions about colours are quicker. I think it’s part of growing as a painter that initially you want ALL TEH COLOURS and then you start thinking meh. So I am considering buying a Sennelier 24 pan set. I don’t live in Sennelier country but Schmincke country so yeah, that’s going to be an online thing again. There is also really the problem that I don’t necessarily want Sennelier to decide what colours I get, but for me to get an empty tin and a list of the colours I want. You could argue that really do I need a 24 pan set when I have a 48 pan set and why don’t I just get the empty box and blah blah blah. I don’t know yet. I mean, yes, there is the 24 WN set but I also have a 24 pan set of Schmincke Akademie watercolours – that’s their student range but I bought it because frankly, the tin was gorgeous. Rather superficial but there you have it.
So, basically, not sure yet. I’m still not ready to move over to the whole tube thing mostly because pans are easy to organise and tubes interfere with my need for order.
I’ve realised I sort of hoard stuff and this is obvious in that, you know, some people they spend their art life doing everything with a 2B pencil and an eraser. I have ooh, with me here in Luxembourg ca 7 paintboxes plus watercolour pencils plus watercolour crayons, I have several million different pencils, I have both uni Posca and Faber Castell markers I have pastel pencils. I have art tools. Arguably, you could say I wouldn’t notice another paintbox or more to the point, mainly I don’t need another one. I will go to the art store on the quays in Paris the next time and think deeply about it.
The second piece I did this weekend was a marker piece, or more mixed media. I used dry coloured pencils as well
I wanted, at some stage, and still do sort of, to do the occasional comic. I already, somewhere, have a piece involving sheep acting as ramp agents in Galway Airport but I think it needs to be redone and lined properly. I also suspect they should probably done using the uni Poscas rather than the Faber Castells. But anyway, these are two sheep in the market for a country pad. It grew out of a conversation I had with some friends and the main reason I don’t develop them as characters is that there are some wellknown sheep characters around. Shaun the Sheep for example, and there’s a whole gamut of Irish tourism merchandise that is sheep focused. So if I were to do anything with it, I’d need to be thinking very carefully about it. I’ve looked at building a Surfing Annie character but the big issue with that is lacking the drawing skills.
When I was a photographer, I came to the conclusion that effectively, a massive change in the photography world coincided with my getting interested in it. Maybe it caused the interest, maybe not. I’ve never worked out. But just at the point where I wanted to do certain things, digital SLRs made it possible for me to do it without bankrupting myself.
I sometimes thing that there is an element of that with the drawing stuff. I struggled big time in the early days discovering I wanted stuff that I could not easily get. There are still things I find it difficult to get – I own 3 0.03mm Copic fineliners and blood will spill if anyone other than me touches them. Such fine tips are extremely difficult to find here. I used either Faber Castell or Uni Pin fineliners otherwise. I have bulk bought Uni Signo white gel pens in bulk because they could not be got in Ireland. One of the most useful pens in the world – a white gel pen – could not be bought at all. But over the time from where I started to when I left Ireland, I noticed it getting easier to get stuff. Some of the other stuff I only need to buy once – but the consumables, choice of paper. It could be very painful. But I love the Faber Castell Pitt pens now. It took me a while to get used to their brush tips and now they have softbrush tips in the greys and black range and I love them (and want them in the rest of the range. But the stuff I do, I probably couldn’t really do without them and 10 years ago, they weren’t really there and markers weren’t something that people lauded per se.
I was not organised and did not get out swimming this week – in part it’s because I wound up with some kind of ear infection last time I went and it was painful. Very painful.
But I follow a bunch of swim related accounts across social media and stuff and there are themes from a lot of them which would leave you with the impression that swim culture is utterly toxic.
There are some seriously aggressive attitudes there. I don’t know why but there seems to be this underlying narrative that the swim world fights against that swimming is not a sport. They should try figure skating once in a while to know how it feels to be considered not a sport.
I wonder how much of this is driven by American culture. I wonder this about other things – women in tech is another example where I think specifically American experiences which are particularly toxic drown out the discussion world wide. And also, we have Uber because they can’t arrange taxis in some cities over there, and that to the detriment of functional taxi services elsewhere.
Anyway, swimming for me is exercise. I don’t do it to race, except against myself, and last week I swam – freestyle 800m. It’s not a lot for some people but as someone who struggles with freestyle rhythm, it’s good. It’s a pity about the ear infection afterwards but I will try again.
The last time I bought a guitar, prior to yesterday anyway, was sometime in 1991. I bought an Applause with a wooden neck in a shop in Fussen in the south of Germany. I traded in an Applause with a metal neck against it. In truth, the main problem with the metal neck was that I was at the limit with what I could do with very high action in terms of fixing it and I struggled to play it. I wasn’t looking to change but there was this lovely looking and sounding guitar that looked just like mine, except it had a wooden neck. I named it Andy, after I took delivery of it, and that was it. I liked the guy who owned that music shop. He let me play his pianos, and he spoke to the guy who owned the bar across the way and said things like “she can play the piano, and you should let her”. The day he did, my friends spent a lot of money on beer and someone called Craig spent hours asking me to play something called Misty. I have no idea but this is probably a lack on my film culture part
The Applause went everywhere with me. Ireland. France. Germany. Finland, Belgium, UK. It opened doors, and got me friends and acquaintances. But sometime while I was living in Dublin I seemed to stop playing very often. I think social media had something to do with it; I also think part of it was the pressure on IT people to be constantly adding to their skillsets in their free time, and then of course, there was the photography which swallowed every spare minute I had for about 5 years. When I came to Luxembourg, Andy did not come with me.
I’ve had mixed feelings about this. I got a piano sharpish after I arrived in here because Kleber rented digital pianos which is handy when you are in an apartment block but the guitar thing was , well you don’t play often and you have a guitar. At some point I went and looked at some Taylors. I fell in love with a Taylor when I moved to Dublin in 1999 but I did not have the money for it so was saving. When I had the money, none of the Taylors felt right so I left the decision, pretty much forever When I went back last year to look at them as it seemed easier to buy a midrange guitar (ie far less than three thousand euro but a bit more than 85E with a sparkly box and a Santa Claus) than to shop a guitar across a bunch of flights and surface travel, I looked at Taylors and yet….nothing.
This is the thing about musical instruments, particularly stringed ones. You need to feel them. I cannot describe to you what I want from a guitar only that I have to play it and either it feels right or it doesn’t. None of the Taylors felt right. I think I played a Seagull the same day and possibly an accoustic Fender. Nothing.
I had this conversation during the week at work with someone. I don’t know if he plays music or not because he has not told me. He did tell me there was a good music shop not so far away which I had not been to and that maybe it might be worth a trek out on the bus. It wouldn’t be hard, and on that, he was really right. It took about 15 minutes from work and I went and had a look. There were a bunch of Martins, a couple of Yamahas and a few others, and a wall of acoustic Ibanezes
I kind of went off Yamahas at some point. When I was 15 they were THE guitar to play. I wonder how much of this is driven by what’s available locally and how it is priced. Anyway, the Yamahas today tend to fit into the Christmas present for starters bracket and I wanted something a little more than that. I started playing more than 30 years ago and could do some quite nice things with a guitar, like, sing. So I had a look at the Martins. One of my friends in Dublin had a Dreadnought which he had, if I remember rightly, bought second hand, and which was the absolute love of his life. Before his wife and children.
But none of these really appealed to me. I mean, a guitar is a guitar is a guitar is a guitar but meh. 1000-3000E worth of Martin wasn’t hitting the spot. So I went and looked at the Ibanezes. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I know they have good reps as electrics, and most of the names I hear endorsing or playing Ibs are electric. But there were three rather lovely looking guitars hanging on the wall and two of them caught my eye. They were both priced at somewhere between Christmas Present for Teenager and Been saving up for 5 years adult guitar nerd, which is to say they were the same. One was a cut away and rather unusually, it looked to have a slightly narrower neck. I asked if I could play that one and they said yes.
Yesterday, in many respects, was not a good day to test guitars. My nails were long, and protected by four layers of nail polish, and of course, having not played much for a few years, my fingers were going to hurt. They did. They do, even though I cleaned off the nail polish and cut the nails to what I thought was short enough (clue; it isn’t). But the guitar resonated remarkably for what was quite a small body – in fact, it’s an AE205Jr which means in practice, a slightly shorter fretboard and a smaller body. 10 years ago, I’d probably have turned my nose up at it and I would have been wrong to do so. It feels remarkably perfect in my hands; it has a gorgeous sound and it resonates with my heart. I’m obviously very rusty in terms of playing but the speed which which things are coming back has astonished me. There is a little getting used to the shorter frets and the slightly narrower neck but not much. I have small fingers as I know to my cost from the piano.
There was a time I knew every single guitar shop in Dublin, and every single acoustic guitar on sale in Dublin. I spent hours of my life playing them. I was heartbroken to hear Waltons on South Great Georges Street was closing – I used to go in there to play at my lunch hour when I was working in the area. In a way, it’s surprising I haven’t really don’t the same here although I imagine part of it can be explained by having a piano at home now. But I have played a lot of guitars in my life in shops in Dublin, London, Germany and wherever. In truth, I have never played a guitar quite like this. It really packs a punch way above what I would have expected for its size and especially, what I paid for it. Every review of the guitar which I have seen since has been immensely positive, both in terms of the sound, and its value for money. Despite the JR label on it, anyone I’ve seen playing it has actually really liked it. I found that edifying, and validating.
Mostly, the plan for me is to start playing trad again after a 10 year break away and while my list of desired features was “made noise, sweetly” and “doesn’t bankrupt me”, it didn’t occur to me that I would also wind up with a really light weight guitar that was easy to carry around. So that’s a useful bonus.
It’s funny though; old feelings never go away. I bought a couple of plectrums to tide me over until I get back to Ireland to pick up my box of tricks (I have hundreds) and the smallest that I found was a .46mm Dunlop, a plec I know well as I probably have about five in various boxes at home in Ireland, and yet it still felt really hard. It’s just occurred to me that in fact, I mostly used to play with a 0.38. Almost like paper.
Like my previous guitars, it has been named, and unusually, it hasn’t got a male name, but a letter, F. Mostly, when I went to tune it yesterday it was a couple of tones below concert such that the A was nearer F. So….
I can’t really compare it to my other guitar (and it feels wrong to talk about “other” guitars) as they are very different, and, more specifically, separated by an ocean, an island and a lot of land. So I don’t know how I’d feel about having the two of them in the same place. But then they were bought at different times in my life and I’ve done different things with them and I expect that playing them even now would feel different.
I went to the arts and crafts store in Trier yesterday. The shopping list consisted of two items – a 12 pan set of White Nights paints if they had them and an inch brush of some description that could handle water and water colour but which did not require a mortgage to pay for.
Broadly, this is what I came back. It was a bit more than I expected to be buying but there is an inch brush in there, and the White Nights.
One of my friends asked me during the week how many paints I had. He asked about pens too. I think he was brave.
I’m not short of paints so you might wonder why I eventually capitulated when here in Luxembourg I have with me:
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t “need” paints as such. But I was intrigued by the White Nights paints. They provoke a certain amount of polarisation. There are arguments over how light fast they are, and there are people who love them, and people who really don’t think they are all that. I’ve found that I like a lot of stuff on instagram which comes from Russian artists and I wondered if by any chance Russian manufactured paints behave any differently to my western European and to a lesser extent, Japanese paints. The White Nights are not that expensive – depending on where you buy them, that is. I paid about 24E for mine and they are apparently Artist grade paints so that would put them in the zone of least expensive Artist grade paints
I’ve painted up a reference sheet and looking at it here beside me, I can say I like the neutral black which is opaque, the umber and light carmine too. The Emerald is very Viridian like, the Green is quite dark to black and opaque so that will need watering down in the future. All in all the set of colours looks to be reasonably useful. We will see how I get on when I start trying to paint roses with them.
There was nothing too exciting in the rest of the pile – some Pigma Micron brush pens as I tried them out in store and they seem fun. More for brush lettering than painting or colouring. I also added to the collection of Uni Signo pens – found a midnight blue which I did not know existed (but they even do refills for this – yay). I am now so well kitted out for Uni Signo it will take a while before I need any more. There were some water colour canvases which I hadn’t seen before but knew existed. I will probably put a van on one of them. We will see. I added another square block of watercolour paper and now I really need to figure out how best to store that as I have about 4 blocks on the go at any given time (different paper size, surface, blah really, 1st world problems.
The one other thing of note is I found a Zentangle set with a couple of white Gelly roll pens in it – these I cannot find individually at all and they are well spoken off for highlighting so, not being that expensive, I picked up that set and added to the collection of white pens.
So at the moment I cannot think of a single thing that I need other than to actually spend time doing art, painting and drawing. No more shopping in other words. Oh and stop hoarding paper – I have more than enough of it now.