Category Archives: annoyances

Movement motivation

In the way that you do, at 5.30 in the morning, I found myself looking at running pins on Pinterest this morning. I’m reasonably sure that I did not find what I was looking for but that’s life on the internet. What I did find were a lot of motivational quotes. They varied in quality. The one that sort of stood out this morning was this one:

No matter how slow you’re going, you’re still lapping people on the couch.

Or words to that effect. Anyway, it was nice and snappy and had an image, so I drew two people, one on a couch, and one running. I’m not very good at humans but we’ll leave that aside for the moment. The point is, while I was planning out the drawing, it occurred to me that this was a fierce judgmental way to go about things. And a lot of the motivational quotes were of a similar vein. If you go running, you will be better than other people. There were a few where they went with “the old you” being the other people you were better than but I’m not sure that’s any better.

I’m not getting anything near enough exercise at the moment. This I know to be true. But I do know from when I used to, that starting off is hard work, and then it gets enjoyable. I didn’t really see this anywhere in the motivational stuff for running.

And there’s lots of it. Run to beat yourself. Run to beat others. Run to be healthy. Run to reduce the risk of [some illness].

All good laudable things. But the most effective way to get yourself to do something is to enjoy it and very little around running involves the words “at some point it will get more enjoyable”. It must do but when the motivational quotes include “It won’t get easier; you’ll get stronger” well that’s really not motivating.

It’s the same with swimming. You see articles like “Why do we swim? It’s really hard. Why do we overcome this?”

Well personally, it’s because I enjoyed it. I actively like swimming and even though it’s rough going when you’re not fit and it’s been a couple of years, even the individual lengths are enjoyable despite not being fit enough to chain very many of them together. It’s that little spark that keeps you going.

I was browsing magazines in Easons a few weeks ago while waiting to get a train south, and picked up something that focused on trail running. I’m more interested in that than anything else. In it there was an article that pretty much hit the problem from how I could see it. No one talks about running because it’s fun. It’s not fun. If you haven’t run for years, it’s not fun. And if the big selling point is “you will a) get used to it and b) feel sanctimonious in some way”…

I can’t believe that this is all there is. If someone asked me, I’d say “look, swimming is hard to start off. No word of a lie. But, you know what, if you’re making it too hard for yourself, you’re not doing it right. What matters isn’t so much how far or how fast you swim, but how often you do. Just keep on going to the pool. Do one length, do 4, go up, go down. Just keep on going.” Three months later, I was doing 64 lengths.

Meanwhile, running motivations are “start thinking about the treat, like a massage, or a smoothie or a….whatever”. You need to be bribed to do this? Every single time?

And running gear. Art is a bit like this. “Oh you don’t need much. Just a pair of shoes and somewhere to run”. Sounds incredibly easy, doesn’t. Fantastic. Dead fecking easy.

And then there’s this kind of fabric top, shorter shorts, longer things, stuff to keep you warm, stuff to keep you cool. I read one piece on habit forming this morning that said “lay out your running gear the night before cos if you have to rummage for stuff, you will put it off.” Strictly speaking, this is true. I have two swimming bags so that there is always one ready to go and one drying if I am swimming daily. I need a new swimsuit but we’ll deal with that later. She then proceeded to list an amount of gear for running that was a bit kind of long to say the least.

It’s not very helpful in my opinion.

So, this long essay on motivation. What is it going to do for me? Well sometime ago I figured that I needed to start building time into my life to get more exercise. I’m going to be honest and say that while other people manage this, I struggle in Dublin. My efforts to find 2 hours a day to go swimming (time to get there, change, shower before and after and all that) have been seriously kiboshed by the fact that Dublin sucks as a city to try and move around in. Whether you’re driving or bussing, you’re losing a lot of time. I started walking early in the morning and while that has benefits in that there’s a marked lack of traffic and it’s reasonably quite and I did it on occasion even if it was raining, the truth is it was also concrete jungle.

But I want to trail run and to at least be able to run trails when I can find them, I need to be fitter than I am now. I need to walk more and I need to run more. And I have figured, having looked at what the running world has to offer me, that the best way to approach it is the same way as I approached swimming. Always do it. Never trash yourself for doing worse this time than you did the last time. You only ran 400m this time when you ran 600m the last time? Treat your body like it’s your partner, not your enemy. It’s a journey, not a war.

As an added bonus, I’m leaving Dublin and I expect the change of scenery; the novelty of nice European buildings will make it a more entertaining activity.

 

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.

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.

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.

Advertising is not the answer

In the grand scheme of things, the biggest two internet business are basically advertising agencies. We really need to think about that for a while.

I’m thinking about this because the number of promoted tweets arriving in my timeline is going through the room. And during the week, my google now, which is semi like an organiser software, had ads for Uber in it. This made me angry and since Google’s journey prediction times for Dublin on public transport are hilariously way wide of the mark, I’m looking at how I can set my life up to use software provided by people who allow me not to have to run the gauntlet of advertising. I’m willing to pay for it provide it works on my desktop and my mobile devices. Google are not doing this.

The ongoing battle over adblockers misses a salient point. No one minds advertising if it’s not too intrusive. Unfortunately, as far as advertising is going, the Americans don’t actually know how to cope with the idea of “not too intrusive”. As a result, they shove ads in everywhere, and because that’s what they are used to, they think the rest of the world copes with it. We don’t. I mean, RTE has ads but not that many. The advertising went down the quantity line. They could get more money for their online ads if there were far less of them polluting the average punter’s experience.

Pinterest hasn’t worked out how to annoy my feed with advertising yet. When they do, that’ll be another one gone.

Deceptively spacious

From among the pile of email newsletters I subscribe to came one describing the redecoration of an apartment in Dublin. The apartment, to be fair, they had managed to do quite a lot with. I went through a phase of wanting to buy my own place (fortunately I could not then afford one and now know I am safe from any bad news stories) so I’ve seen quite a lot of the smaller apartments in Dublin.

There is very little you can do to a small apartment to make it bigger. Loads of storage does not exist in a 60sqm appartment and a room which is maybe 15 square metres and which is living room, dining room and kitchen will never bee a big room. Ever.

And it is not going to get any better.