Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Happy Holidays!

May you have a happy festive season,
and may 2020 bring you everything you wish for!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Highlights (and Lowlights?) of 2019

2019 was a pretty low-key year for me. It seems fashionable these days to say that the year just past was a rubbish fire, and I was tempted to say that too. I had some setbacks, especially health-wise. But then I looked back through my blog and Instagram and realised that I actually did quite a lot this year. It just wasn't in the categories of what I used to do in the past, or what people 'should' do. There's nothing wrong with that, though.

I only worked for 2 months this year. I secured a two-month contract in March-April, then decided to take a month off to concentrate on my exhibition (more details about that below!). Not long after that was finished, I developed some new health issues and some existing ones got worse. I developed a severe pain in my knee and could barely walk for about a month, something I hadn't experienced before. The doctor seemed to think it was arthritis, but I'm still not sure. Thankfully that got better, but I wasn't able to follow up on it because then I caught a virus which made me nauseous and dizzy for several weeks. Then my Adenomyosis treatment failed catastrophically and I was unable to leave the house again for some time, even just to try and seek treatment. I eventually ended up having a hysterectomy at the start of December, and I'm currently recovering from that. I was also dealing with my Ulcerative Colitis (my 'usual' chronic illness) all during this time. I don't normally go into this much detail on the blog, but I just wanted to acknowledge how much I managed to do this year, even despite all of these restrictions.

So what DID I do?

✽ I held my first solo exhibition! (May) -- this was actually a pretty massive achievement!!
✽ I made a lot of art! (all year)
✽ I was accepted into and had a piece in Fat Feminism exhibition! (October)
✽ I joined a collective: Lucy Goosey Women's Art Collective! (November)
✽ I went to my first life drawing class! (October)
✽ I had a piece in NOIR Darkroom's Kris Kringle art swap! (And got an awesome piece of art in return!) (December)
✽ I made a flatlay! (October)

✽ I finished my first blanket! (Sure, I had to make it for my exhibition, but it still counts, I think!) (May)
✽ I tried a new craft: Lucet braiding! (April)

✽ I made some plushie monsters! (May-September)
✽ I joined the #makenine challenge ... and only made one item! ... It was my blanket that I keep mentioning. (all year)

✽ I grew potatoes! (January-February)
✽ Husband and I built a garden bed! (November-December)

✽ I set myself several reading challenges and read lots of books! (44 books and 39 short stories, novellas, plays, etc) -- this is double what I normally read! (all year)
✽ I re-read The Lord of the Rings and wrote a blog post about it! (August)
✽ I set myself a challenge to write short stories and I wrote 12! (June ; November)

✽ I achieved many victories over my social anxiety!
✽ I went with Husband and my foodie friend on a road trip to the Geelong Show! (October)
✽ I started making videos!
✽ I ate a lot of food at a lot of places! (all year)
✽ I changed my fringe-style!

Whether you did a lot or a little in 2019, it doesn't matter. I had a few experiences which made me remember that I'm lucky just to be here. And I'm looking ahead to 2020!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Holiday Traditions : Jólabókaflóðið (Iceland)

Jólabókaflóðið means "Christmas Book Flood", and it's a tradition from Iceland that's been getting a lot of attention around the world in the last few years. Iceland has a strong and passionate literary tradition going back hundreds of years. A lot of Icelanders read, and Icelanders read a lot. More books are printed per capita than anywhere else in the world. Because of the country's small population of just 360,000 however, books are not released year-round. There's a book release season, from late September to early December (just in time for Christmas!). Most books are printed in hardback; paperbacks and ebooks are much less popular because Icelanders are just not interested in them. The book is seen as valuable as a physical object as well as for what it contains.

Picture Source.

This strong love of literature came together with another circumstance to make books the most given item at Christmas. During World War 2, most things were rationed and imports were prohibitively expensive, but paper was still widely available, which enabled publishers to continue producing books. Since they were one of the few things available as gifts, giving books became a universal tradition amongst Icelanders.

Picture Source.

While I suppose the Jólabókaflóðið technically begins when the books start to go on sale in late September, the season culminates on 24th December with the giving and receiving of the books. In Iceland, Christmas gifts are traditionally given on Christmas Eve. Since most people give and receive books, a practice has organically grown up of people staying in to read their books, often accompanied by chocolate or a hot chocolate drink. (No-one's quite sure where that last part came from, but I don't think anyone complains about it!) This is one tradition that I can definitely celebrate very happily, and I hope you think so too!

Picture Source.

* I have also seen it written as Jólabókaflóð.
* Here's an interesting article about some issues in the Icelandic publishing industry.


Friday, 20 December 2019

My Art Lately

On Instagram there's a yearly tradition called Art vs Artist. People make up a 3x3 collage photo with a picture of themselves in the middle, and their artworks all around them. I always love looking at them. Some of the artists draw characters that look very much like themselves, some have art that's very stylistically consistent, and some are all over the shop -- like me! Here's my version for 2019. Although some of the paintings are from last year as that's all I could find on my phone.

Since then, I've been doing some new and different things, mainly with watercolour. I found a wooden board in my stash, so I've been using it as a base to stretch the paper (it prevents warping when the paper is wet). I can fit two pieces of paper on the board (A5 size) so I've been doing the paintings in pairs. Also it's more reassuring because if I ruin one, I always have another.

Here is a scene I had a dream about years ago. I made a sketch at the time, meaning to paint it properly one day. For some reason I don't have any photos of the finished paintings; I'll dig them out again and show you next time.

On the left here is a painting that was heavily inspired by a lithograph by Odilon Redon, a 19th century French artist. Click here to see the original (Sorry, I probably shouldn't post it here, it's copyrighted.)
The painting on the right is still in progress.

This is another painting that was inspired by a dream I had. I've done about 4 in this series, with different hair colours, face shapes, etc. The yellow band is supposed to be very bright, but I got some smudges on it. I tried to remedy it by adding some white paint. I think it looks OK. Art isn't supposed to be perfect anyway, is it?

This is a teeny tiny painting. Again, inspired by a dream in which I did two paintings as tall as myself of these figures with vine-like veins running along their bodies. One was in blues and greens, and one in reds/pink and orange as you see here. It's not quite as I pictured it in my dream, not quite as dynamic, but I can always keep trying until there's a version that's more pleasing. The background paint is one I was using for the first time, and I thought it would be more skin/pink shaded, so I'm not entirely pleased with that either. But I do love the way watercolour looks -- the varying shades and edges. I guess you might call this an experimental sketch for a full-size work.

A few months ago I joined an art collective called Lucy Goosey Women's Art Collective. It's very much in its infant stages, there are only 8 members and we've only had 3 meetings. Still, we've already applied for a space, and already been rejected, even though I turned my not-inconsiderable writing skills liberally to the task. The proposed exhibition was to be called Invisibility. I had a concept for what I wanted my part of it to look like, so in preparation I started making a series of delicate watercolours with painful messages, two of which you can see here. I jokingly call it my 'Mopey Series'. Once the rejection for the exhibition came through, I no longer had the motivation to make more, though I might be able to make the concept a reality one day.

Finally, here is a painting I made for NOIR Darkroom's annual Kris Kringle exhibition. I was matched with a fellow artist and made this painting especially for them. The text came to me while I was in the shower. It's about communication and connection, and how hard that can be sometimes.

I made a typo!! But it kind of fits in with the theme of the painting, so I'm not too embarrassed about it.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Book Review : Celestina's Burnings

Please note: this ebook was provided for me to read and review by Library Thing's Early Reviewer programme. As always however, you can rest assured that this is an honest review!

Celestina is sick of working in her grandmother's bakery and hates her fiery red hair. Rinaldo is a stonemason dreaming of a better life as a fresco artist, and knows Celestina is his muse the moment he first sees her. But Celestina has other things on her mind -- she has vowed to catch five witches to free her father's soul from purgatory. The greatest witchhunter in the world has just arrived in Florence and Celestina sees her chance to fulfill her vow ... but something isn't quite right about him. Will she find out what it is before it's too late?

Celestina's Burnings is set against the backdrop of Renaissance Florence, and Pederson brings the art and sculpture, the heat and the crowds to life vividly. I could almost touch the marble statues, and smell the bread from the bakery oven. Amongst it all is a rollicking tale of romance and adventure. The lovestruck Rinaldo will do anything for his muse Celestina, from fighting witches to travelling all the way to Rome to petition the Pope. Meanwhile, Celestina finds that nothing is what she thought it is -- not her grandmother, the Monsignor, or her father's killer: the witch she hated.

I very much enjoyed this historical adventure romance. The characters are well-developed, and I came to feel for them in their trials and triumphs. The world evoked is that of 15th-century Florence in Italy, where the monied elite and the church vied for power, and art and culture were foremost. There are many mentions of famous artists and sculptors sprinkled throughout the book, but you don't need a degree in Art History (like I do, not to blow my own horn!) to appreciate the atmosphere saturated in the arts. There's even a cameo from the master Leonardo da Vinci.

Celestina's Burnings does have some scenes that aren't suitable for younger readers, so I would recommend it for adult readers rather than young adults. The mixture of fast-paced action, romance and sensuality will have readers racing to the end and wishing for more.

Would I read more by this author? Definitely!

Sunday, 1 December 2019

My November

November seemed to go by very slowly for me. It was a typical late Spring / early Summer month, perhaps a little more rainy than usual. There were a couple of really cool thunderstorms, and only one very hot day. I was feeling better health-wise than I have been, and I managed to get out to see a couple of exhibitions and do some shopping for some things I needed (art supplies) and things I already have a lot of (books!).

I tried to do NaNoWriMo, vowing to write a short story every day, but I didn't get very far unfortunately. I think I wrote 6 before I ran out of steam. I think I will have to actually crack on and write a novel one day though, just to prove to myself that I can do it.

What I've been growing ...
Here is our cherry harvest for 2019! It doesn't seem like much, but it's more than last year. The tree itself has grown quite a bit too -- not taller but wider. We decided to try picking the cherries while they were still unripe, to prevent them being ravaged by birds. It worked very well. They ripened up in about 3 days sitting on the kitchen bench, and we ate them for dessert last night.

The larger fruits are coming along nicely too. They take a bit longer to ripen up -- the apricots here should be ready at the end of December. I really want to be ready to harvest them and process them properly this year.

The roses are blooming strongly this year, too. They seem to be in larger clumps (as opposed to single flowers). Perhaps it's because we've had slightly more rain? They smell divine, too, and when I leave the side door open, the smell wafts into the house.

What I've been planting ...
The garden bed I showed in last month's update post is coming along nicely. It's taken a long time because it kept raining, and we needed a few sunny days near the weekend so Husband and I could lay the concrete base, let it dry, and then later lay the bricks and let them dry. After that was achieved, things went much faster. We bought some bags of garden soil and filled up the bed with them, then put in the lemon tree. The final steps to go are adding a layer of pebbles over the soil, and planting some smaller decorative plants around it. I already have some chosen out. Stay tuned for the final result!

What I've been painting ...
I've been having fun with watercolour painting lately, and also drawing human people, which is different for me. I had a dream that I painted this, and then I turned it into reality. There are a few more too, and I'll show them in a separate post soon. P.S. the painting is still attached to the stretcher board in this photo.

Where I've been shopping ...
I finally visited a Melbourne institution -- City Basement Books. It was pretty overwhelming at first, but after browsing the whole shop I felt settled in, and I think it's become my happy place! I only bought 8 books on my first visit, and I'm resisting going back again too soon. It's one of the few bookshops I've been too (new or secondhand) where you can go in with a shopping list of books by certain authors or on certain topics and have a reasonable chance of finding most of them.

What I've been designing ...
I created a meme, and yes, this is really happening to me tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Bonus pic ...
I dressed up for a fancy birthday brunch for a friend earlier in the month, in my fancy dress in a fancy pose, against a fancy background. Excuse the fancy look on my face! I've let my fringe grow out in the last few months, which you can see quite well in this photo. I like how it looks.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Re-Reading my Favourite Books : Dragonriders of Pern

Dragonflight, the first in the Dragonriders of Pern series, was written by Anne McCaffrey and originally published in 1968. It is set in world where the chosen ride huge beasts bred to defend the world of Pern against a deadly interplanetary threat that returns every 200 years. This threat comes in the form of the Red Star which, when it nears Pern, gives off silver Threads which burrow into the earth and kill every living thing. Last time though, that threat never eventuated, and while traditionalists still hold onto the training schedules and teaching songs, many don't believe it will ever return, and much knowledge has been lost. Too, the population of dragons is no longer big enough to protect the planet effectively should the Red Star throw off the deadly Threads on its return.

I first read this book somewhere around 13 to 15 years old, and I remember really enjoying it. I went on to read several in the series (there are now over 20 books in all, some written by McCaffrey's son). The world the series is set in is unusual and intriguing, enhanced by the terms used for some common words, such as 'turns' instead of years. It has a strange mix of technology and archaism, with flamethrowers used to combat the threads, but knowledge is passed on through songs because they no longer have a reliable way of writing it down.

And, of course, dragons!

I can see how the particular way dragons are presented in this series would appeal to a lonely teenaged reader. Each dragon is matched to a rider, who Impresses on it when hatched, much the same way a mother duck impresses on its baby. From then on, the dragon and its rider are physically and emotionally inseperable: a love beyond any mere trivial human emotion. Dragonriders are a class above the holders, the ordinary people who do the farming, cooking and cleaning to support the riders. I'm sure I would have imagined myself as a Dragonrider, soaring through the skies on a magnificent golden beast, not to mention understood and loved by it unconditionally to boot.

Upon reading this time, however, I was brought back to earth with a jolt. This book is so problematic that I just couldn't enjoy it. It smacks of racism and sexism. There's domestic violence, unchallenged adultery, disturbing sexual references and repeated fatphobic commentary.

The main character, Lessa, is a woman in her early 20s, hardened by 10 years of domestic slavery. Her status as the rider of the golden Queen dragon makes her joint leader of the riders along with her male counterpart. However, he dominates her, mocks her, treats her like a child and physically abuses her by grabbing her by the arms and shaking her. She responds by gradually coming to feel affection for him and feeling jealous of his cheating on her. In a moment of danger and fear, her first reaction is to be afraid of his being angry at her. She is clearly a victim of domestic violence, but the text presents this unchallenged. She is expected to serve him and his visitors food and drink. The treatment of women in general is little better than of servants.

The sexual references in the book are also disturbing. Every time the Queen dragons mate, their two riders are compelled to mate also, no matter how much they may hate or be repelled by each other. It made me feel sick to read these passages.

The previous Queen leader and her dragon failed in their duties to produce enough offspring and keep the numbers of dragons up. She is repeatedly referred to as lazy, incompetent, obese and obstinate, and contrasted with Lessa, who is slender and delicate. She is blamed for all of the riders' current ills, and her death celebrated as a case of good riddance. The dragonriders are in their current situation partly because of past failings, but they are all blamed on a single person, and her physical appearance is irrelevant to what happened. The repeated references to the appearance of the female characters seem to say more about the author than the characters.

Dragonflight was published in 1968, so it must be remembered that it's a product of its time. It's also set in a fantasy world, where social norms are different to our world. Having said that, I'm not arguing that these flaws can be excused. The Lord of the Rings, which I wrote about in this post, was written slightly earlier, and while it doesn't have any central female characters, the ones it does have are treated with dignity. There are many more and better examples, but I'll leave it there for now.

I tried reading the second book in the series, Dragonquest, in case it was any better, but unfortunately it was worse. I only got a couple of chapters in before I had to stop. I didn't even get time to talk about the florid writing style. I have no problem with a more formal writing style, but it was so highblown as to be annoying and distracting at times. I can't help but wonder if the author felt she had something to prove.

Unfortunately I have to conclude that on re-reading, this is no longer one of my favourite series. Part of me thinks I should continue reading the series to try and find some redeeming qualities in it, but there are too many other books and too little time!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

My October

October has been a typical Spring month here, alternating between cold, wintry days and 34C (93F) scorchers, with everything in between. There was only one thunderstorm, but it was a pretty impressive one. I had my ups and downs too -- feeling sick, feeling good, tired/energetic, enthusiastic/sad. I could make the usual apologies for not blogging more often etc etc, but I didn't feel like writing, so why force myself? I'm here now, that's all.

What I've been building ...
It's not much to look at yet, but Husband and I are building a garden bed in our front yard. If everything goes according to plan, it'll be an adorably retro, white-pebbled brick-bordered oval bed with a lemon tree in the middle and some quirky succulents or something dotted about too.

What I've been drawing ...
I went to my first ever life drawing class, and it was a very interesting and inspiring experience. That voice in my head which tells me my art is rubbish was very persistent for the first hour or so, but eventually it got quieter and I was able to get into a kind of flow state. If you can call a lot of scribbling and grimacing a flow state! I found that being forced to just sit there and draw non-stop for a couple of hours a really interesting experience, and it left me very excited about my art and the future.

There have been quite a few developments in my art lately, so I'll do a separate post on that soon.

What I've been photographing ...
A few weeks ago I did my first flatlay! I don't know why I became suddenly obsessed with them. I went down a rabbithole of research and finding pleasing examples for inspiration. I decided to base mine around a manga I'd recently read, because of the interesting colours on its cover. I was worried I wouldn't be able to find enough orange-coloured items around the house, but it turns out that wasn't a problem. There were plenty more I could have squeezed in! I'm generally quite pleased with it, though I notice a few gaps and the lighting could be better.

Where I've been visiting ...
Husband and I and our foodie friend went to visit the Geelong Agricultural Show, and it was so much fun, embracing our inner kids (and inner bogans, somewhat). I got to see baby animals and prizewinning vegetables, though unfortunately we couldn't find the handicrafts and I was too tired by the time we realised where they were. I can always see them next year!

What I've been reading ...
I didn't set myself a reading challenge in October, because I decided to participate again in the Dewey 24 in 48 Readathon, which was on the last weekend of the month. Reading for 24 hours out of a 48 hour period is almost impossible for me, but on the other hand I'm known to jump into improbable challenges pretty often. As usual, I used a page in my Hobonichi to keep track, reading in 20 minute increments this time (or half an hour if I was feeling like I could concentrate for a bit longer). I read about 13 hours out of the 24, and got several books and stories finished, but not the ones I was aiming for. That's life sometimes!

Thursday, 3 October 2019

My September

For a short month, it seemed like so much was packed into this September. And yet, it seemed like nothing much happened at all. I was still very sick for most of the month, due to a sort-of-new, sort-of-ongoing health issue (yeah, my health is complicated lately!), and wasn't able to leave the house. Finally in the last week, I was given some medication which has let me live a bit more normally again. However, I'll need to have an operation to fix it permanently, hopefully in a couple of months. That's left me in a strange limbo where I'm well enough to work, but there's probably no point in getting a job until after I've recovered from the operation. Oh well, may as well take advantage of the situation.

Let the art and craft commence! (Or continue, really...)

What I've been reading ...
I completed my personal September reading challenge very successfully, in my opinion! I read several short books and stories, and discovered some new authors that I'd like to follow up on in future. I've decided that for the month of October, I'm not setting myself a formal reading challenge. I'm still planning on reading, but some other things have piqued my interest lately as well, and I want to make sure I have enough time for everything.

What I've been showing ...
I seem to have neglected to mention it here, but I had a piece in an exhibition called Fat Feminism at NOIR Darkroom (actually it's still on until 6th October 2019!). I'm too shy to show my piece, so here's a photo of some of the other amazing art from NOIR's website:

What I've been drawing ...
After procrastinating for months, I finally started to draw a little bit again. I created a Terrible Drawing Challenge, in the hope that it would be less pressure, and I think this reverse psychology worked ... some days, anyway.

Here I copied a picture from the Voynich Manuscript. This mysterious book in an undeciphered script has been endlessly fascinating to me lately. The original is on the left and my drawing is on the right.

A Terrible Drawing of Saiki from The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. I really should have started further down the page! I really enjoyed this anime and liked the bright colours so I wanted to give it a go. I coloured it in with pencils because I don't have any watercolours bright enough for his hair.

A baby monitor. Don't ask me why. I just love the combination of smooth curves, soothing colours, buttons and what's basically a spy camera.

What I've been eating ...
Husband and I went with a foodie friend to a Rotary Hotpot restaurant, a new thing for us. It can be described as a cross between hotpot soup (or shabu-shabu) and sushi train. The soup is cooked at the table on an induction cooker, while the ingredients pass by on a conveyor belt for the diners to choose and add. (For anyone worried about food safety, the meats are kept separately in a freezer. They are cut very thin so that when added to the soup, they cook almost immediately.) There were several different soup bases to choose from and, as you can see from the photo, there's an option to choose two bases with the divided bowl. With all the different ingredients to choose from, the potential for different soup flavour combinations is truly endless. It was a lot of fun as well as delicious, and I would definitely go back!

What I've been observing ...
Spring happened. It's getting quite warm.

What I've been knitting ...
Aaaaaand, right at the very end of the month, I became interested in craft again. I was all crafted out after finishing my blanket. I guess it took me a few months to recover. Plus the nerdy/obsessive part of my brain seems to be quite perverse, as it always seems to point me in the direction of crafts that are inappropriate for the season. After visiting my friend and her baby, I was inspired to finish this dinosaur plushie which was supposed to be a birth gift. I might be in time for her first birthday, though. I have just under 6 months, and it's already half done, so I'm quietly confident.