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Review of the year 2018

In 2018, I did a couple of nice things. I went to Venice (and got bitten by any mosquitoes), I went to Paris and London for Alex Hill Kurtz workshops. I got better at drawing and painting and I bought fewer pens. I was hoping for a zero pen year in 2018 but Lamy are not allowing that to happen so there are 4 pens on the shopping list. I don’t need them of course. 

I discovered 7-Up Free Mojito. Great, great stuff. 

I read a lot more than I have done on average in the 10 previous years, even allowing for no new Terry Pratchetts. 

2018 was not, on average, a bad year, but it closed out with a death which cast one hell of a damper on everything at Christmas and so, it will probably always be coloured by that. Prior to that there was some other family events which might have preferably been avoided. 

Work was enjoyable too. Without going into the details, I changed jobs and lifestyle a few times in the last 5 years and where I am now suits me. I pass through Dublin every once in a while and wonder how I did that for so long, and how anyone does it now. I’m not sure things won’t change again this year. But not back to Dublin, that’s fairly clear.

I’m not a great fan of new year resolutions; I’m not a fan of the whole flagellation thing at all. I grew up in Holy Catholic Ireland so low level guilt of some description is a constant companion. I read an article this morning from a few people who seem to have frankly unrealistic lives in terms of their clean living habits. 

But I am a fan of reevaluating the things I do versus the things I want to do and identify the gaps. It seems twitter and facebook are things I do, without actively wanting to, all that much. Comments on Ars Technica articles about Elon Musk as well for some reason. Against that I want to swim, run more often, and paint more and buy fewer art supplies, for example. Finish that doily. Write more. Read more. Do more. Buy less. 

When we were very young

I started blogging on livejournal about 15 years ago, and then went to blogger, and then, got my own domain and set up a Drupal site on a host that has since gone bust, and then moved the whole lot to WordPress and another (still my current) hosting company. 

I ran a few sites, covering photography, general stuff, art, more photography, ore general stuff. I got nominated for a couple of original of the species Irish Blog Awards. It was fun; I didn’t win and I never wrote a book but I got profiled on RTE at some point, and assorted photos turned up in newspapers and magazines. I’ve been thinking about how it used to be lately as Facebook and Twitter have been infuriating me in different ways. 

I never really loved Facebook. Twitter, I sort of got, but Facebook was a bit meh. Its network however means it replaces functionality from personal correspondance that I’m not sure I’d get back. I’m looking at paring it back (but cannot find the time). Twitter is more problematic because the network changes as people come and go and so, while I’d probably benefit from dropping it, the truth remains I don’t get what I used to get. I used to get interesting information and reads and conversations. Now I get flagellation about whether I’m right on this, support that cause, aware of this other cause complaining about this action by one of about 140 different governments and am I outraged by this view by some plonker in central Missouri whom I have never heard of and could not care less about. 

So in a way, I prefer blogging and then I wonder if part of the issue is I’m just getting older and not getting with the way social media has changed. As Damien and I are much the same age. I hope he’ll forgive me for wondering if he has hit a similar wall

I built a new blog for the first time in a while last year (the piano practice one) and I am toying with an art one. I don’t take so many Photographs lately (I point a phone at it and if it works good if not, well I’ll not be seeing any more sports photos published, anyway). But I don’t expect the world to be the same as it used to be. Most of my online life is on a phone lately and that sucks to write anything long on. I don’t spend much time sitting at a computer lately, not outside work anyway – because I’ve found life essentially much better fun, and also, because I’m not talking 10000 photos a week I don’t have to spend time on Photoshop. But I could make time, like I think I do for the piano site. 

It is just, some of the admin side of blogging wrecked my head. Almost all of my sites now have comments switched off. For every one valid comment I was getting here, I was getting about 10,000 spam comments. I don’t have time for this, even allowing the automation of a whole pile of it. It takes away a lot of the plus points of blogging. 

Also, the whole label blogging is another thing. There are individuals out there who think that blogging is getting free stuff and reviewing it. It is not. 

Anyway, the point is, I want to write more and here is as good a place as any. If I’m going to do that, though I probably need to rethink the social/comments side of things. The downside to all that is my hobbies are as follows: 1) painting/drawing 2) playing the piano 3) needlework and so, they’ll probably feature heavily. I don’t cook much so Experiments with a Cookbook is dead. 

December Blitz

I have this shiny new editor experience and frankly, the jury is out; what can I say? I don’t know. 

It’s 19 December. Less than a week to go before Christmas. 2 days to go before my Day of the Year. The Shortest Day of the Year. The turning of the year. 

I find the dark evenings hard; although this year I barely noticed them; December is as though it never happened. It may be a factor of age; it may be a factor of this year’s workload. But normally, I am attached to the shortest day of the year; for me the start of the lengthening of days is more in line with making me feel happy, and more a starting point than Christmas or New Year 

Last weekend I went to Basel to see the Christmas market there. I occasionally drop into Switzerland; I love the country although I find it terribly expensive. I loved the Christmas market in Basel, in particular the MarchenMarkt section where all sorts of craft stalls were teaching kids how to do things like wood turning, glass etching, soap making and the like. Brilliant idea. There were also a couple of guys demonstrating woodsculpture using chainsaws but not necessarily letting the kids try that. 

I went to Basel in the hope of finding snow; but it did not materialise; had I stayed in Luxembourg, snow would have found me. 

Happy Christmas. 

Paints and stuff

It’s a reflection of how the last few months have been that today, I finally got around to swatching out a paintbox which I bought in London on 8 September. The paintbox is an 18 pan quarterpan box from CassArt. They don’t say what paint is in there which is a pity; it would be nice to know whose paint they do use. I’d guess Daler Rowney though as their set looks almost identical.

Anyway, I don’t know why I wanted it only Shiny, I guess. I like the idea of the little quarterpan box; it’s an enamel box and I have carefully been avoiding buying it. I also own a lot of other paint boxes and mostly use my 12 pain (with three extra added) Sennelier box lately. The fact that it was there, and was instant gratification, was probably a factor.

I haven’t done any sketches with the little Cassart box though. I did manage to make a mess of it, ironically, while cleaning it after doing the swatching but past experience has taught me that’s no big deal.

Quarter pan set

You an see the swatch that comes with the box, plus the little swatch I did as well. There are a bunch of the colours which look a little different for me – the permanent rose and the viridian green for example – but I can see use I would get out fhtme. The Prussian blue is a bit deeper than I am used to with my Senneliers. The selection of colours is not bad at all.

The palette comes in a little case (to the left of the picture above) and a small sable brush which is a bit bigger than the travel brushes which Winsor & Newton include with the sketchbox.

I’m not totally sure what I am going to do with these though. It’s only ever going to be used for small stuff because the pans are so small; so more likely than not, things into the A6 sketchbooks, or postcards, or even the artist trading cards. But it’s probably too small for most of my brushes – I already struggle with the half pans in some cases.

For comparison, here are my three main commercially available small watercolour palettes:

Small watercolour boxes.

Clockwise from Left:

  1. Sennelier 12 half pan set with added quin gold, quin red and light yellow ochre.
  2. CassArt 18 quarter pan set, as delivered.
  3. Schmincke 8 half pan set – in fact I own this and the waterbottle version of this – colours as delivered.

The Sennelier is in my toolbox but my toolbox is causing me trouble as it has missed the original plan for being a toolbox – ie, being portable. The Schmincke is in a small travel kit with a couple of liners and pencils.

Quarter pans are not available so the question will be what I do with the 18 pan set if and when I get to use it – and the speed with which I am going through pans in the 12 pan set suggests this will not be long – the obvious answer is tubes. I own the Schmincke granulating tube set and I use tubes when I am painting with gouache. But I cannot see myself making a wholesale switch to tubes – I simply have too many paints in half pan format that I want, for environmental reasons, to start using.

Small pleasures

I went bookshopping today. This does not automatically mean spending money although that happened today – but it is one of the few browsing pleasures left to me since all the record shops closed. I hope the pleasure is not lost to the children of the future.

I have a long book queue at the moment and I am gradually switching from twitter to books again. I have a kindle full of books and have come to the conclusion that while it’s handy to drag around 300 books with you in your handbag, the truth is, there are disadvantages. I tend to know that I am reading a book about something or other but these days, because I never see a book cover, I often might not know what the actual name of that book is, or who wrote it.

I don’t like this.

And okay, the instant gratification thing is good with the kindle but then I have three hundred books on it and I definitely have not read 300 books. The interface for managing those books sucks too. The interactive design of a bookshelf has yet to be improved on by the nice engineers at Amazon. I’d prefer the books.

Against that, I cleared a house in Dublin and books are heavy. I cleared out a lot of them – Chapters got a pile of my fantasy books, for example – and I dumped some more. It pains me to think of it. I’ve accumulated some books here but most of my books are in Cork, such as are left in my collection. I read the last Philip Pullman on my kindle; I regret not buying the physical book and probably will, when the next book in that trilogy came out. But buying books, because of the hell that was clearing out the house, is fraught with guilt. I will most definitely move house again, at some stage. I regret not having my own personal library, a lot of bookshelves and a gorgeous grand piano. But such is life.

The downside of e-readers, I think, is that it changes people’s relationships. As it happens, during the week, I received The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, and read it while doing some business travel. I have since loaned it to someone whom I hope will find it as fascinating as I did. But…the only reason I could do that was because I had the physical book. You cannot do this with ebooks. And yet, actual books can create so many conversations.

It is never just the words on the page.

I spent some time reflecting about the difference in my life now (usually stressed, too much to do) and my life 20 years ago (Saturday’s lasted a long time and the summer seemed full of weekends) and realised that when I was 25 years old, I spent my time in FNAC and Virgin, perusing books and CDs. Well one of those pleasures is gone.

Amazon cannot replace this pleasure; the smell of new books. Its recommender has been desperate lately, and the curated selections of my local booksellers fascinate me. Alinea, possibly the most dangerous of the bookshops in Luxembourg, does a sterling job. If I had shelves enough, I could have spent 1000E on books. When I might find the time to read them might be questionable. But they had many, many books I wanted, many books which tugged at my heart.

Somewhere on Facebook, I saw a comment that said that buying craft supplies and actually crafting were two separate hobbies. I could attest to that for yarn, crochet hooks, paint, paper. I think it’s true for books as well. There is something very special about wandering around a bookshop, exploring. For this reason, on the short list of things I miss from Dublin, Hodges Figgis is up there after the Pen Corner and Pichet. Bookshops cannot survive on browsers along – one bookshop in Luxembourg closed last year and one of their managers told me they needed to be selling three times as many books.

The easiest way for me not to lose the other of my simple pleasures – browsing bookshops – is for me to buy books as well as browse bookshops.

For this reason, my Christmas present to myself will probably be some more bookshelves.

little idiosyncracies of mine: Mappa Mundi sketches

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This is from one of the 17th century globes in the Museo Coreo in St Mark’s Square in Venice. I took a lot of photographs of what I could find on what are basically hard to read 17th century globes.

These things fascinate me. They are remarkably beautiful but simple illustrations which you find on a lot of maps and globes of the era. We don’t put much effort into making our tools look beautiful these days I think.

 

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Anyway you’ll find an album of them in various stages of bluriness here.

they. are. lying.

It is just 25 minutes. 25 minutes out of your day. Can’t you just find 25 minutes to do a bit of sport and live better?

Argghh

Every time I go running, I think about this utterly predictable conversation. I had it with a gym instructor in Dublin too. It’s only an hour out of your day, Treasa.

It never is.

I spent most of the day cooped up in the apartment today and I hadn’t slept well last night. Eventually I decided to go out for a “run”. If my  Garmin were a human they’d be balled over in fits of laughter at my notion of a run but it’s a couple of months since I tried and that, along with the fact that wet leaves made a skating rink of my usual route meant that I wasn’t running very fast.

The actual run itself amounted to 27 minutes which is like yay. Usually I target around 25 minutes. It’s only 25 minutes.

But.

From the point that I decided to go running and put that decision into action, to the point that I was back dressed in human level clothes and ready to continue with the non-running focused part of my day took from 5.58 to 7.20.

The point is this: when you decide to go running, you have to change into running gear and when you come back from running, you have to change out of running gear, usually via a shower. Today the changing into running gear bit was fast. I’ve yet to meet a male running/gym instructor who has understood that getting into a sports bra is hard work. Today it took 30 seconds and that is ca 10 minutes faster than usual. I have breasts, end of.

The run itself wasn’t bad mostly because the yardstick I judge runs by, ie, this one run I did in August 2017 in a thunderstorm where I got drenched and wanted to hit many people by the end of it, was so much worse. This was a benign run, marked only by passing a police car at some stage, and realising that running on wet leaves on concrete was a bad idea. I didn’t run a whole pile of it; maybe more than I expected, a lot less than the last time. My reward was 3 blisters across both my ankles. I’ve run with the shoes in question before but in truth, I don’t much like them which is annoying as they are the latest model of the previous pair which I loved.

The run itself was 27 minutes, apparently 2.8 KM, and yes I know that’s basically walking pace, but it’s faster on average than the previous one even if I ran less of it. I’m not sure how I might be fitter as I haven’t been walking much since the whole tram thing came online.

I’m an organised person so the whole getting ready to go out running is sharp. The running gear is hanging at the end of my wardrobe, and my shoes are within reach. There is always a sports bra to hand along with running trousers and a top. I do not have to dig for anything. The running bag which I use to carry my phone, a bottle of water and  a copy of my identity papers just in case I ever get raped and or murdered is to hand and always ready. I always have a bottle water. Aside from getting into the sports bra, the prep is seamless and takes ten minutes.

The far end of the run involves a shower, drying up and tidying up the sports gear, making sure that there is a running kit ready to go the next time.

If you’re going to say to me that it’s only 25 minutes I can only assume that you don’t change out of normal clothes to go running and you don’t have a shower afterwards.

In other words, have you considered that you might smell at all?

Venice, my love

I spent my holidays in Venice this September.

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I have not yet finished bringing the sketchbook up to date because to be honest the photos were really only accessible on my phone and it’s a drag to draw, sketch and paint from there.

This is the view towards Salute on the Grand Canal. I love, love Venice and over the coming couple of months will probably post more photographs and sketches as they are done.

Collecting stuff

Most people who know me know that I tend to start collecting things. Yesterday I was at the annual pre-Christmas vintage fair in Luxexpo – 12 months ago I picked up two nice antique pens, but six months ago the pricing hadn’t gotten a bit wiser and this time, I picked up an entry level Waterman for 10E. I haven’t checked it out yet and to be honest I’m not writing much with the fountain pens lately – mostly ballpoints.

During the year, though, in a fit of serious self indulgence, I bought a limited edition Caran d’Ache rotary pencil sharpener. Mostly I had coveted for a long while, but had been making do with a vast array of hand sharpeners varying in price. I have a frightening collection of them and erasers because when I lose art stuff, it’s nearly always an eraser or a sharpener. Many of the sharpeners are Faber Castells.

During a pre-period shopping fit though I bought the Staedler Mars Lumograph rotary sharpener as it was a) less expensive than the Caran d’Ache and b) not such a disaster if it didn’t work out. In particular, I had been having serious issues sharpening charcoal pencils. I don’t much liking charcoal blocks because they end up covering everything in black so I’d lean towards the pencils.

But not if I wrecked a bunch of sharpeners and several pencils trying to get an even remotely usable tip.

I figured if the Staedler could handle the Faber Castell charcoal pencils, I’d be a happy camper. It could and I decided that I’d buy the Caran d’Ache metal sharpener as clearly, the things were not useless. I must be the only person in the world who tested a ***E metal sharpener by checking out how a 30E plastic one behaved.

Anyway, rotary sharpeners are not things I previously cared that much about but now of course….things are different. The Caran d’Ache is a limited edition colour run; their rose gold – you see it on their rose gold 849s too – absolutely gorgeous, but the design is a fairly old design. I could have bought a grey one for less money but where is the fun in that.

When I was at a vintage fair in Venice during the year, I came across an Eberhard Faber one and thought, you know, rotary sharpeners would be an interesting esoteric thing to start collecting. I left that one behind as I just did not have room to carry it and common sense popped up. It had a hard battle yesterday in Luxembourg too as I came across two – one Dahle 55 and a Palm Sweden one (no, I had not heard of them either). I’m not really equipped to assess what sort of health these things are in, and there are more moving parts in them than there are in pens. I know how the pen restoration market operates. I couldn’t get quick research online at the vintage fair yesterday so I left the two behind. Both were rather beautiful looking pieces of engineering.

Later on, research took me to the sites of two sharpener collectors – there are a few. They had dated enough looking websites and both had at least 5000 – five thousand – sharpeners of all shapes – not just the rotary ones.

I started thinking about this in real terms. I have enough trouble with the stuff I own. I occasionally worry about the accumulation of things I create myself, like my diaries which are a record of the last 25 years of my life, and the art works which no sane person will ever want to buy, the doilies I crochet, the tapestries I stitch up.

I don’t really want a collection of stuff growing to 5000. I mean, I’m not sure exactly how many Caran D’Ache Ecridor and 849 ballpoints I have. I don’t buy all of them; I buy the ones I like (and the wretches have released 2 for Christmas which I must, must have).

Okay so it might be hard put to accumulate 5000 sharpeners but without a little discernment, what is the sense in mindlessly buying every sharpener that ever was? I use every pen I own, including the single most valuable antique.

The rosegold sharpener, limited and numbered, is clamped to my desk and used to sharpen non-carbon pencils (look, I ruined several cheap hand sharpeners with charcoal pencils so the Staedler can take care of the charcoal and pastel pencils). It handles my graphite and coloured pencils. These things are tools.

In addition to the rosegold, Caran d’Ache have previously issued black and red rotary sharpeners in metal, and there is the default grey one.

As a result, my shopping list for rotary sharpeners contains just three items, one of which is generally available and the other two of which are going to be a hassle to find.

And that will be it.

Planners and organisers – work

I bought another Filofax during the week, another Finsbury. It’s my second and I feel a bit bad about that as they are not cheap, they are self indulgent and there are cheaper solutions around but…But I operated on a single notebook for a long time and that wasn’t cutting it any more.

I have two Metropolitan Filofaxes somewhere in storage and I needed to solve immediate problems which is why I didn’t wait until I could go looking for them. During the year I bought a Filofax to try and be able to organise my personal life and cross reference it at least with work commitments. This was all fine for 2 or 3 months – work was generally organised using a notebook with a stripped down version of the bullet journaling system. Essentially at work I did the following:

  • basic agenda
  • to do lists
  • meeting notes

It wasn’t complicated and mostly it worked in chronological order. I occasionally cross referenced stuff using the page numbers but it would have been easier if I could move pages. It worked until I went on holidays in September, and then when I came back, my workload increased such that managing things on a day by day basis became borderline impossible. I needed something a bit more flexible and able to cope with sudden increases in workload. I toyed with multiple notebooks, looked at my digital options, and eventually decided what I wanted was rearrangeable pages. But I didn’t want that to be A4 sized as it is a hassle to lug folders around the place. In the end, I decided that work probably merited a filofax of its own so I ordered one during the week and used up some amazon vouchers.

Both Filofaxes which I bought this year are FInsburys. I chose them because I could get the Aqua colour which I liked locally, and the texture of the cover is very pleasing. I bought a Raspberry coloured one for work. The storage areas in the leather cover are handy but not deal breakers at the end of the day.

One of the things I noticed the minute I bought the work one was that what I needed from it was a lot more flexibility and a lot more bits. I have a section for filofax admin until the habits I need are built up. For example, I use colour as an organisational tool and in the notebooks that was generally off different coloured pens. Filofax comes with assorted colours of paper and I use blue for to do lists and yellow for meeting notes, for example. Remembering things like that are habits that need to be built. The plus side though is that I just use blue pens now and there is one blue and one black pen attached to the organiser.

But now I can break down work in terms of categories, be those categories projects, departments or assorted tasks within business as usual. This is extremely handy because it means that – for example – meeting notes or work notes are stored by category rather than date. They are easier to find.

Being a social media child, I went on pinterest and instagram to look at other people’s filofaxes and what strikes me is that there is a major focus on appearances there. Lots of headers in brush script, lots of washi tape. Even where they deal with trying to organise work, it has no relationship to the kind of work I am trying to do.

I work in IT management. A pretty day page that has a to do list with space for 8 items is unworkable for me. My daily to do list regularly runs to 20 or 30 items. There is no real coverage of the business of actually having a job, but plenty to the business of running a social media site.

I want my planner to look beautiful – I’m of an artistic leaning my self – but I also need it to be professionally useful. The key issue with Filofax over the years – and why I have failed with them in the past – is that their paper has been pretty dire in the future. This is something they appear to have fixed.

Starting an organiser in November is…interesting though. I’m not a huge fan of the vertical week on two pages for work – I have historically used a month on two pages and then transferred meetings into the daily lists. But one of the reasons I wanted to move away from the notebook is that I really didn’t have the time ot be drawing up the agenda pages myself any more so for the remaining 2 months of this year, I’ll use the planner that came in the filofax and sort things out differently for next year.

After that, what I need are lots of unmarked dividers. Both filofaxes came with numbered dividers 1-6 and I wish that Filofax would reconsider this. So one of my first purchases to feed the filofax habit has always been unmarked dividers that I could mark myself.  The other main thing is to ensure that you have an adequate supply of the paper you use. I haven’t tended to use the filofax to do list preprinted for my personal stuff but I am finding them useful for my work filofax for use as a master to do list. This basically is all the stuff that I have to do but not stuff I necessarily have to do today. To be honest, trying to manage this wrecked my head with the notebook solution so movable pages is dead handy here.

In the meantime, I continue to look at planners and filofaxes on Pinterest and Instagram for ideas about organising the paper, whatever about the content. I struggle with writing around the rings – this is something I will just have to get used to. Mostly, I’m really only interested in things like printed dividiers, how people organise dashboards.

For me, I’d say that the following items are required:

  • some sort of calendar agenda
  • blank paper of your choice, be it lines, grid, blank, dotgrid
  • at least 1 book mark and probably 2
  • Page markers
  • Dividers.
  • some sort of hole punch. I use the cheaper plastic one that fits i the planner itself.

After that… your options are fairly unlimited. Basic point is, you can find stuff so put effort into ensuring that you understand why things wind up in separate sections.

My primary sections at work are:

  • calendar
  • daily to do list
  • master to do list
  • meeting notes
    • these get moved to the relevant project when complete – this is to ensure I always have meeting note paper
  • projects
    • subdivided as required
  • work journal.
  • careers planning

I tend to think it’s important to review each day, and note any important stuff on an ongoing basis and review those notes from time to time to ensure that you are aware of what is going on and how different people are reacting.