Sunday, 31 March 2013

Etsy Shop Haul : Ananda Beauty

Update: Unfortunately this Etsy shop is now closed.

I'm a complete sucker for a cat-in-need story, and when I heard that Etsy indie beauty shop owner Jill was raising money for her cat Roland's vet bills, I just couldn't resist making a purchase. (~~Note: I placed my order a few months ago, so the promotion is over now.~~) Ananda Beauty stocks a range of hand-made tinted lip balms, mineral eyeshadows and eyeliners, hair balm and other goodies. All products are vegan and tested on humans only. The aesthetic is metallic and sparkly, with shades of grey, bronze, peach, red and pink.

I chose the Lip Tint in Ripe Shimma, Hair & Body Balm in Woodsy Scent, and three eye products: Cumulus and Taupe Eyeshadows, and Black Amber Eyeliner powder. Ordering through Etsy was easy and safe as always - the hardest part was choosing which colours I wanted most! The order arrived quickly. My parcel was carefully packed in a bubble-wrap-lined bag, and the items were wrapped in sophisticated black tissue paper, with a lovely thank you note. There were also 4 free samples, which is very generous: Raw Brass and Blue Velvet eyeshadows, Rosalina Highlighter and Sunset Blush. They are all colours that I can see myself using, so thank you to Jill for choosing well!

The Hair & Body Balm is marvellously thick, and once warmed between my fingers and smoothed on, made a difference to my dry ends. The Woodsy scent, with cedarwood and patchouli, is a delight. The only eye product I've used so far is the Taupe Eyeshadow, and I was pleased with its colour payoff and longevity. Here are some swatches!:

Photo taken indoors in sunlit room.

This was my first purchase of beauty products from Etsy and from an indie beauty brand. I was very happy with my experience and would definitely purchase from Ananda Beauty again.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Latest Nerdy Obsession, Part 2

To continue my obsession with writing systems and languages -

In my study of learning to read and write in Block Script, I decided to kick it old school and go back to basics! I want to do some practice in writing the script before I get all fancy and inundate my art journal with it. I went to Incompetech and printed out some 2cm square graph paper. (Love that site, by the way!) At lunch time I studied the information and sample text, and then tried to write a little of my own. I experimented with using a dot to separate words, combining blocks, different word endings, etc.

I just copied out some of the phrases from the back cover of the book I'm reading at the moment. It was fun and I really felt like a little kid all over again, copying out her Ps and Qs all huge and wobbly! I realised very quickly that transcribing the text very much depends on the phonemes, or sounds of how words are pronounced. I spent a lot of time muttering, "arrr...." "stoooo...." "werrrrr...", etc! It could get very interesting, for example, people may pronounce 'the' as 'thuh', 'theh' or 'thee'. This depends on their accent, but also on what words come before and after it in spoken speech. But there's also the standard written form 'the'. Block Script is obviously designed to follow spoken words - there are different symbols for the sounds 'uh' 'eh' and 'ee'. Could a person's accent and therefore their origin be detected in the written script? Fascinating!

Before I go ahead with any more research, I'm going to get myself a proper notebook and writing materials to practice with.
To Daiso!

Also, I downloaded a really cool app called Zen Brush which allows you to draw or do calligraphy on your i-whatever-you-have. I've been using it to practice my Block Script a little:

Badly-drawn capital K.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Welcome to my Latest Nerdy Obsession

I'm fascinated by writing - handwriting, alphabets, languages and how they're expressed visually. One of the reasons why I love The Lord of the Rings is Tolkein's creation of languages, and writing systems to go with them. Fonts, calligraphy and artistic uses of the alphabet all please me, and I love seeing artists write in their art journals in florid versions of their handwriting. When I was in school, I spent many hours reading books on calligraphy, medieval Gothic fonts and the Book of Kells. I dreamed of going back to a time when writing was appreciated for its beauty as much as its ability to convey information. So different to our standardised, Times New Roman, Arial world.

Later, when I had access to a University library and the internet, it gave me the opportunity to delve deeper into the amazing world of non-Western writing systems as well. Did you know that speakers of Mandarin and Cantonese use the same writing system? They may not understand each other if they try to speak to each other, but if one writes something down, the other can understand. That's a huge reason why China has such a long-lasting and cohesive culture. Fascinating! Pictographic writing systems like Chinese were built on stylised drawings of objects the writers saw in the world around them. Yet they thrive in the modern world and are able to express new concepts and technologies their inventors never dreamed of. I find this amazing. I've always been quite sad that the Western alphabet is so simple and boring. Only 26 characters and they look like stick figures. Even writing systems like Arabic and Cambodian, though with a similarly limited number of symbols, are much more elegant and beautiful than our alphabet. I guess it's all a matter of perception though - clothes and accessories featuring Western text are popular in Asia because they're exotic and represent membership of a global culture. Still, even with the most beautiful fonts and distinctive handwriting, our bog-standard alphabet just isn't that satisfying for me!

For many years, I've been interested in Chinese and Japanese style brush painting, calligraphy and poetry. When I was at Uni and had the time, I would go to the Asian art section of the gallery and admire the calligraphic works on paper. On weekends I would do Asian-style landscapes of scenes around the campus. Sometimes I would make up haiku to accompany them. (I didn't know it then, but this is an art form called Haiga in Japan.) The English words always looked wrong on the page, though. Those stick figures marching from left to right spoiled the aesthetic of the painting. And trying to write the letters with a Chinese calligraphy brush and ink was never successful. They just ended up looking like those cheesy fonts you used to see on Chinese Takeaway signs with English letters made up of wedge-shaped pseudo-brushstrokes. If only there was a way to write the haiku in English, but in a style that more closely resembled Japanese or Chinese! I was thinking about a more "realistic"-looking and -functioning text that can be written vertically and drawn with a brush. When I finished Uni I got a job and didn't have time for lazy afternoons of painting anymore, but I never quite forgot that artistic dream.

Years later I was surfing the intertubes and somehow randomly came across the unromantically-named Block Script. This experimental writing system was invented as an attempt to slot the English language into a syllabic writing system. Our familiar consonants and vowels are re-formed and built into blocks. Of course, English is very different to Mandarin and Cantonese so concessions needed to be made. But I think this system demonstrates its point remarkably well. I know it's meant to be written left-to-right, but when written vertically, it looks somewhat similar to a primitive form of Chinese.

From Omniglot.

Could this be the solution I'd been looking for all these years? At the time though, my interests were elsewhere, so I filed the information away. It must have been in the back of my mind though, because "learn to write in Block Script" found its way onto my List of 40 Things to do Before Age 40, a list I drew up a couple of years ago. Looking for new experiments to try in my art journal, and remembering my old love of writing in all its forms, I've now found myself studying Block Script. The entire body of knowledge for this writing system (as far as I know) consists of a single page of information hosted on But learning to read and write fluently using this system may take me years of practice. I'm already thinking of ways I could streamline and beautify it. I need to do some research on word construction in English, as well as text formatting in both Chinese and Japanese, and possibly Korean as well.

To the library!!

Monday, 18 March 2013

What I Wore : Variations on a Theme

So, the story. Yes, it's been about a year since I attempted a What I Wore drawing. I say 'attempted' because the last few I did are still unfinished. Lately though, I've been trying to be a bit more bold and colourful in what I wear, and I thought these two efforts deserved to be recorded. Especially when I think about them together. Obviously, one is neat for work, the other casual for a fun weekend afternoon. Yet they are similar in many ways. I love how the colours are the same, and even the garments themselves mirror each other, but the looks are so different.

I have learned ... makeup is really hard to capture with watercolour! Also, still hopeless at drawing hands, but at least I gave it a try this time. =)

On an unrelated note, if you've ever wondered why my netname is ApartmentCat, view this animation on YouTube: Le Chat d'Appartement by Sarah Roper. When I first saw this video many years ago, I was absolutely charmed. I chose the name to remind myself to take risks and follow my dreams, just like the cat in the animation did.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

[Creative Warriors] : Gelatin Printing!

Creative Warriors host Kira posted an art journalling video last week featuring the Gelli Arts Gelli Plate and I was instantly dying to get one. Unfortunately, being a fairly new product, there's only one company that makes it, it's only available in Australia from online specialty supply shops, and it's rather expensive. Bummer.

But what exactly is this thing? I've never seen anything like it before. Is it possible to substitute something else for it? I searched the Intertubes for "gelli plate substitute" and it turns out that the Gelli Plate is only the latest innovation in the world of gelatin monotype printing. Officially known as a Hectography, the process of producing prints on a gelatin plate has been around since the nineteenth century. It's been used for everything from high art to postage stamps to printing subversive flyers in prisoner of war camps! - see the Wikipedia article for more info. This makes me want to try it even more desperately!

Thankfully, making and using a gelatin plate seems very easy and cheap to do. One of the first articles I came across was this blog post called "Gelatin Printing with Four-Year-Olds". So I figured if they can do it, so can I! There are also plenty of YouTube videos detailing the process.

For some reason I had plenty of unflavoured gelatin in the cupboard. So all I needed was a suitable flat pan to harden it in. The gelatin is supposed to be very solid: a slab that can be picked up, certainly not your everyday jelly! The proportion of gelatin to water was a bit vague, though one video did say at least 2 heaping tablespoons per cup of water. For this plate I used 4 cups of water (2 cold and 2 hot) and 9 tablespoons of gelatin.

I mixed the gelatin with the water and, after waiting for it to cool a little, poured it into the pan. I lined the pan first with plastic wrap so I wouldn't have to cut it out, I could just lift it out. I skimmed off the bubbles with a scrap of cardboard and put it in the bottom of the fridge. Now for the sucky part - I had to wait for it to harden! That's one big plus for the Gelli Plate - it's ready-to-use straight out of the packet.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen issues (i.e. I was too hot and grumpy to feel inspired), I didn't actually get to use it for about 4 days. It was perfectly fine in the fridge for that time though. The videos warned that getting the plate out of the pan and onto a flat surface can be a bit tricky, but I found it quite easy using the plastic wrap. I put it on an upside-down serving tray. The gelatin plate was a bit crinkled at one edge from where the plastic wrap had lain on top of it while it was hardening. I'll have to watch out for that next time. There was also a small crack in it - I'm not sure if this happened while it was in the fridge, or while I was lifting it out of the pan. Nevertheless, I was ready to begin printing!

Comparison with plastic gift card to show thickness.

Using inspiration from the YouTube videos and blogs, I had collected various materials to use as stencils and mark-makers. I had a new stencil that I'd just bought recently at Riot Art 'n' Craft, one I'd bought years ago on Etsy but never really used, plus some mod-style circles that I cut out of scrap cardboard. I'd collected a lot more items as well, but I didn't use them so I won't list them.

I chose just a few colours of paint from my stash because I didn't want to be too overwhelmed with choice. Included are a new flourescent green and a turquoise that I bought from Riot Art 'n' Craft last weekend, plus some pink, gold and Children's Easy Wash Paint in primary colours. Kira's video had demonstrated how the prints can be made directly into your art journal, not necessarily onto a loose sheet of paper. My spiral bound journal seemed like a good candidate as I can fold it right back and lay it flat. I was worried that peeling the paper off would make it rip at the holes, but that didn't turn out to be an issue. The issue turned out to be that I got paint everywhere and the other pages were sticking together! So I swapped to using loose blank pages that I ripped out of the back of my journal. They're also easier to peel off without worrying about ripping, etc.

My first attempt at paint application.

I started out using the Children's Easy Wash Paint but quickly realised it was really unsuitable. It was way too runny and just left splodgy splodges on the page with no definition of the stencils at all (shown in photo below). So I put that aside and just used the artist quality paint which is a bit thicker. Even still, unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with the results I was getting. They just didn't look like they did in the videos! When I tried to apply paint to the plate with a scraper, I couldn't get it in an even layer and the scraper left marks in it. Then when I did a print, the stencil shapes came out very blurred and the print had that striated look of something gluggy and wet being pulled apart. Not what I was expecting and/or hoping for at all!

See the glugg? Where are my circle prints??

I persisted though, and found that if I did a couple of prints from the same application, then the second or third ones came out really well. The paint was a lot dryer and thinner, and it didn't have that gluggy look. I felt brave enough to have another go at doing a print directly into my journal. The first one came out all gloopy, so I rubbed the paint all over the page with my fingers (that's why there's pinkish-gold paint all over the background on the left-hand side!). The next ones came out really well and I'm happy with them. There was a slight 'gloop' effect, but the stencil shapes came out much more clearly. I stopped worrying too much about cleaning the plate between applications and let the colours live together in the prints. This mixed, more grungy look was more satisfying and more my style, I think. In the end I was quite excited and started grabbing magazine pages when I ran out of paper!

According to the sources, the gelatin plate can be used for about 4-5 sessions, slightly longer if stored in the fridge. After that it starts to dry out and crumble, or cracks appear. However, this can add some interesting dimensions to your work and you can squeeze a few more prints out of it before throwing it away. One source even noted that you can melt down the gelatin and re-form it into a new plate, though I'm not sure I'd go that far. It's very eco-friendly (though not very vegetarian-friendly, I have to admit!). I decided to throw my plate away and make a new one next time.

Things I'll do differently next time:
* Find a pan that's larger and rectangular so I can do prints that fill up the whole page.
* Add more gelatin and make the plate more dense. It may have been too springy. Even though I could pick it up, it still seemed 'flobbier' than the ones in the videos. It was possibly too thick as well.
* Use thicker paint. Kira said she gets the best results with "Craft Paint" rather than acrylics - I'll try to find out what this is and try to get some.
* Apply the paint with my brayer. I don't like to use it with wet paints as it was quite expensive and I don't want to ruin it. But in the videos it really seemed to give much better, even coverage and a thinner layer of paint than using the scraper. The thin layer seemed to be important for the desired effect.
* Have all of my journals at hand and plenty of loose, blank paper. That way I can continue making prints while I wait for the earlier ones to dry.