Resilience: A Health Update

While I was taking a walk a few days ago I saw this tree branch grow out of a tiny crack in a solid stone wall and I was impressed enough by its tenacity and resilience to draw it. By chance this drawing is on the opposite page of the one I made for my last health update, which seems appropriate.

I underwent a PET CT on the 9th of September, and thankfully the results were good. The treatment is working, kicking my cancer’s ass and not just making me feel bad. I went through another round of Chemo on the 12th, my fifth round so far, and the side effects are stronger and taking longer to fade away between sessions. This is to be expected, as the Chemo’s effects are cumulative, but I’ve decided to be like that tree: resilient. I’m making minor adjustments to get me through the post-Chemo days, working out ways to help me ride out the pain and unpleasantness of the worst of the side effects. It’s hard to pick up a pen or brush in the first days after treatment, and I sometimes lose fine motor control. So I’m using larger and lighter pens, and I take photos of things that I want to draw instead of working on location. At home I can take my time while sketching, take breaks, experiment with looser drawing. The drawing above isn’t large or complicated, but it took me two days to complete (one for line work and one for the watercolour).

Resilience. One treatment at a time.

Yom Kippur 2021

I had a strange Yom Kippur this year, as is to be expected. I decided to commemorate it in my sketchbook, this time using Faber Castel Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils in addition to my usual Schmincke and Daniel Smith watercolour mixture.

Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Alpha. Ink is Iroshizuku Ina Ho (lines), Robert Oster Fire and Ice (heading and text) and Sailor 123 (2021).

Health Update for the New Year

It’s been a while since my last update, so I thought that I’d write a new one. On August 24th I had my fourth chemo treatment, and it went rougher than the ones before it in terms of side effects. The worst of the bunch has been my neuropathy, which until now has been not so bad. This time however, both my hands were numb and tingly, and the tips of my fingers actually hurt. It’s been hard typing, holding a pen, drawing. It’s not that I’ve stopped doing these things, it’s just that it’s been a challenge to overcome the pain, to focus more to get my hands moving the way that I want them to. But I haven’t given up, and I’ve managed to type, write with my pens, and even create this drawing:

Not bad for someone with semi functioning fingers, right?

My hands have gotten better with time, but they are getting better slowly, and they still haven’t returned to normal. I’ve discovered that lighter fountain pens with bigger barrels are the best in terms of being easy on my hands, and although my handwriting has suffered a bit due to the pain, it is still recognizably my handwriting.

What’s next? On Thursday I have a PET CT which will determine what the rest of my chemo treatment will be, and on Sunday I’ll have the fifth chemo treatment. I’m not looking forward to either of these things, and as the PET CT is approaching my anxiety levels are rising (I really need good results on it). Meanwhile I’m trying to distract myself with work, books and season 2 of “Ted Lasso”. Here’s hoping for good results, and less pain for the Jewish New Year.

Sketch/Doodle Session

There is a local group of illustrators and animators that have set up a delightful new tradition during the pandemic: they meet up every Tuesday morning on Zoom for a sketch/doodle session, where they do quick, loose sketches and doodles just to warm up and experiment. Once a month the morning Tuesday meeting is replaced by a night Monday meeting with a guest artist leading the session with various prompts. Tonight my Urban Sketchers chapter head lead the session, and through her I joined the fun.

As I’m neither an illustrator or an animator, I’m posting everything here as quickly as possible before I see the other artists’ amazing work and lose my nerve.

We started with the suggestion to just doodle while we waited for people to join. I was using a new sketchbook that was very cheap, laid flat and had thick textured paper (good for pencil). I used a Caran d’Ache Fixpencil with a 2B lead, and a Tombow brush pen throughout this one hour session.

Doodling before we started. Testing out the paper. Warming up.

We started with a few blind contours, which I haven’t done for years, and so I kept catching myself automatically glancing down at the page. Definitely something I need to practice to get used to drawing these again. We were using Shutterstock films as our models, so that subject was moving around, some of them quite a lot. The idea was to get used to sketching people in motion, grasping as quickly as possible what captured their character.

Not so blind contour.

This looks good if you don’t know what the original looked like. I do, however, like the boldness and flow and expressivity of the lines here. Something to recapture in the future.

Blind contour.

Then we did an exercise where we had 10 seconds to look at a moving person and try to remember what made them them, and then draw a portrait of them from memory. As Marina suggested, it’s easier if you describe the person to yourself in a few sentences.

Portrait from memory.

The second subject drawn as a blind contour:

Blind contour.

And from memory:

Portrait from memory in a minute.

We only had a minute for each portrait, and that was too little for me. It’s a good challenge to practice in the future (working under such short time limits with such complex, moving subjects).

The next exercise was to capture the subjects feelings. Again, a 2 minute time limit would have been more in my wheelhouse.

Can you guess what he’s feeling?

The second subject for this exercise went through every emotion in the book so I couldn’t settle on one.

Feeling? Gesture?

The third was just fun though:

What is he feeling?

Then we did a caricature exercise, where we tried to draw people as not overly stylized caricatures. We has a minute for each, and I was starting to warm up at this point:

The next exercise was a strange one – to draw a person as if he was morphing into an animal and we caught them in the middle of the morph.

Bulldog man.

This was fun and very creative:

Parrot man.

The next one was to draw people in action, in one minute. To capture as many gestures as possible. I guess that the animators had a field day with this one, but I really struggled.

Finally we had 15 minutes to draw each other. I had a lot of fun with this, and the earlier exercises really did help me warm up and loosen up and work faster.

These exercises are definitely something that I’ll try to warm up before drawing portraits, and they’re also just a lot of fun to do. If you have a minute, a pencil and a blank page I recommend that you give them a go.

The Field Notes Sketchbook: Field Notes Maggie Rogers

I am a big fan of Field Notes, so when I saw that they came out with a sketchbook in collaboration with musician Maggie Rogers, I had to give it spin. The Maggie Rogers Field Notes are in the “Dime Novel” size, and are bound with and contain Strathmore paper. That is a promising start: an uncommon sketchbook size, with artist quality paper inside.

The Maggie x Field Notes edition comes with two sketchbooks in each pack, one with a red tinted spine and one with a blue tinted spine. On the cover of each is a Joshua Meier photo that was featured on Maggie Rogers’s first two albums: Blood Ballet is on the red tinted one on the left, and The Echo is on the blue tinted one on the right.

Blood Ballet is on the red tinted one on the left, and The Echo is on the blue tinted one on the right.

Beyond the normal “Pertinent Coordinates” design on the front cover, there is a vellum fly-sheet in each sketchbook featuring Maggie Rogers’s original hand-written lyrics. It’s a nice touch that really adds to this edition’s design.

Hand written fly-sheet in the blue The Echo sketchbook.

I also like the decision to print these on vellum and not on Strathmore paper that is in the rest of the sketchbook. It gives the words an airy feeling that doesn’t weigh too heavily on the user. You don’t feel the need to compete with them, so to speak.

Reverse side of the vellum fly-sheet in the blue The Echo sketchbook.

The inside of the back cover features Field Notes’ usual spiel and some information about Maggie Rogers and this collaboration. As usual, it also lists all of the technical details of this sketchbook, which I love. It would have been nice to get the Strathmore paper weight in a more standard gsm notation.

The inside of the back cover of the The Echo edition of the sketchbook.

The red, Blood Ballet edition of the notebook is the same as the blue one, just with a red brown tint to it.

Front page of the Blood Ballet edition. Vellum fly-sheet and pertinent coordinates.
Reverse side of the vellum fly-sheet with hand-written lyrics.
The back page of the Blood Ballet edition.

So, to business. How does the Maggie Rogers Field Notes perform as a sketchbook? For that I tested it with some Uni Pin fineliners and brush pen, a Fixpencil with 2B lead, and finally with light watercolour use. Unsurprisingly, considering the paper inside is light weighted Strathmore, it’s a good sketchbook to have in your bag or coat pocket. It’s versatile and not too precious to make you feel bad about “ruining” pages.

The first sketch that I made was done with a grey Uni-Pin 0.5 fineliner. The paper isn’t entirely smooth, but I no problem using the fineliner on it. The ink doesn’t spread or feather, but it does show through and even bleed through to the other side. I won’t be using both sides of the paper here.

You can see through the relatively thin paper to the drawing on the next page. Not ideal, but that’s part of what makes this sketchbook not precious.

You can see the show through and even a spot or two of bleed through here. I really don’t recommend drawing on both sides of the page here.

Show-through and bleed-through even with a 0.5 fineliner.

The next drawing was done with a Uni Pin brush pen. The paper isn’t glass smooth, and that actually makes it more fun to draw on. There was no spread and less bleed-through than with the fineliner somehow. I still wouldn’t use the other side of the page, because it will show through.

Brush pen drawing.

The paper shines with pencil, and I had a lot of fun sketching this palm using a Fixpencil with a 2B lead. If pencil is your medium of choice, you are going to love this little sketchbook.

This paper made even a relatively pedestrian subject like a palm tree really fun to sketch.

As for watercolour, you can use the Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook for light washes in a pinch, but it’s clearly not made for this. Washes come out patchy and grainy, and while the paper holds and doesn’t buckle too much if you are vey careful and only use a small amount of water on it, I really wouldn’t use it for watercolour.

Watercolour sketch featuring the work of local graffiti artist Erezoo.

The reverse side of the paper shows just how much it buckled under the strain of even a small amount of water (pun intended).

Buckling on the left is the reverse side of the drawing in the previous picture.

I think that the Maggie Rogers Field Notes is a nice sketchbook to try out quick ideas and vignettes in. It’s a nice sketchbook that’s not too nice, the vellum fly-sheet actually reduces the pressure of the first blank page, and so long as you don’t insist on using watercolour with it, it’s versatile and will do as your main pocket sketchbook in a pinch. Its main weaknesses (the thinness of its paper and the binding that doesn’t allow the pages to open flat so you can’t use a whole spread) actually work together to make this a sketchbook that encourages you to burn through it. It’s not precious. It’s not too nice. It’s a workman-like sketchbook, which works perfectly with the Field Notes brand.

Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress

On the day before our last of our latest trip to London we went to see the Royal Style in the Making exhibition at Kensington Palace, colloquially known as the “Diana Wedding Dress Exhibition”. The tickets included a visit to Victoria’s childhood rooms in the palace, and the exhibition had other dresses on display, but you knew immediately what it was about once you entered the exhibition pavilion.

The dress was prominently displayed, most of the visitors (not many, due to Covid restrictions) were congregated around it, and it was HUGE. The thing was large, and puffy like an overdecorated wedding cake, and had a train that was just bananas. I can’t imagine what it was like being cramped with so many meters of lacy, embroidered fabric in the back of a car on her way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Looking at that dress I thought to myself that it ended up being more symbolic of Diana’s life than designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel had envisioned. She was stuffed into an overly symbolic, stifling, uncomfortable life that made it difficult for her to show her best qualities: her warmth, her ease with human connection, her genuine care for people, and the simple way she just lit every room she entered.

Royal Style: The Wedding Dress and Two Better Dress Designs.

There were two other dress designs in the exhibition that caught my eye. The first was a salmon coloured dress that David Sassoon created for Princess Diana as her wedding day dress and she ended up wearing as a “working” dress. It’s much more sensible, colourful, chic and warm and it although it still has terrible 80’s style stamped over it, you can see how it would have worked well on her at the time.

The second dress is prototype of the Queen Mother’s Coronation dress, and it is sleek, chic, and yet also intricate and sophisticated. Of all the dresses in the exhibition, this dress best stood the test of time, and I could see it be worn by an A-level star at the Met Gala.

If you are in London and you can get tickets to this exhibition, I do recommend going, both to see Victoria’s childhood rooms, and to see the dresses on display (although fair warning, there aren’t many of them). Princess Diana had a good eye for fashion and how it would allow her to connect with people (she didn’t wear hats because you can’t cuddle a child with a hat, and she liked costume jewellery because it gave the children she picked up something to play with), and to send subtle and not so subtle messages about what was going on in her life (search for the black sheep sweater or the fabulous “revenge dress” to see what I mean).

Phoenix Garden Take 2

I finished the spread that I started here, drawing another view of the Phoenix Garden in London’s West End.

The Secret Garden

In the middle of London’s West End there’s a beautiful secret garden, the Phoenix Garden. Ever since I accidentally discovered it, it has been my number one favourite place in London. There’s something about the green and the peaceful quiet in the middle of one of London’s busiest areas that is mesmerizing. During the rough parts of my latest hospitalizations I shut my eyes and transported myself to my favourite bench there.

So I decided to create a very quick sketch of one of the benches there, and try to work on my plant textures. This is clearly something that I still need to work on, but it’s good to know where I started.

Watercolour sketch of a bench nestled in greenery at the side of a reddish path.
Quick sketch of a bench in the Phoenix garden

Here’s a photo of this magical place:

Skyscraper in the background, pigeon flying on the left, and green garden with a red brick path in the foreground.
The Phoenix Garden in all its glory.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich

When I visited London in June Greenwich ended up being one of the biggest disappointments of the trip. The place was hard hit by the pandemic, and everything that made it so special to me seemed to have been wiped out because of it. There was no vintage and antique market next to the movie theatre. There were no grandmas selling baked goods for charity in the movie theatre foyer. Nauticalia, the maritime themed shop on zero longitude, had shut down. A good third of the stores around the Greenwich Market were permanently closed, and there was a general dismal aura around the place. The Maritime Museum required pre-booking an entrance, and so not many people visited it. Greenwich is a place that needs tourists to thrive, and with a pandemic and pandemic restrictions it felt deflated, a shadow of its former, sparkling self.

What still is vibrant and lovely is the place itself, and to remind myself of its potential and of my potential to visit it again someday in better times I created a quick sketch of the road leading to the Cutty Sark.

The Cutty Sark ship in the background, with a circus tent before it and buildings to the left, all drawn in ink and watercolour.

Schminke and Daniel Smith watercolours, Noodler’s Lexington Grey ink, Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha.

The Herb Garden, Greenwich, London

My brush got frazzled on the way which made it tough to use. I fixed it later that night with some hot water.

London is weird right now, with Covid-19 measures still in effect and very few tourists around. A lot of places are closed or have closed down. I still love the city, though.