Our Old Friend Joe

We had our weekly zoom call with our old family friend, Joe. I did my best to sketch him while we talked. It was slow, hard work and came out only so-so, mainly because my neuropathy is really bad lately (which is also why there’s been a dearth of posts). Still, I’m glad that I tried.

Sketch of our old friend, Joe.

Drawn with a Lamy LX Palladium, fine nib, filled with Diamine Harmony (an Inkvent 2021 ink).

Writing done with a PenBBS 535 Year of the Ox, RF nib, filled with Pilot Iroshizuku Ina-Ho.

The sketchbook is a Stillman and Birn Alpha 5.5’’ x 8.5’’.

2021: Looking Back at a “Heavy” Year

My hands have been killing me with the worst neuropathy since my treatments began, so I’ve been trying to limit my typing to what I need to do for work. That is why this post took so long to write, and why my posting schedule may be a little off until things improve with my neuropathy.

2021 was a hell of a year for me. It started with me doing Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I also took some fantastic and very illuminating tea seminars with Juyan Webster from the Chinese Tea Company. If you have any interest in tea and you get a chance to have a tea seminar with her, I highly recommend it.

Early on in the year is also when a close family member got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and that’s also when my journalling went on the fritz. This was the notebook I was using at the time, a Moleskine Pokemon Charmander limited edition and I abandoned it 2/3rds of the way through.

Abandoned Moleskine.

Covid was raging, I was working from home, at a new job, and I spent the first quarter of the year trying to fit my drawing and running into the new quarantine rules that kept getting both stricter and more confusing with each iteration. I happily got vaccinated as soon as I could, and I’m still very grateful to the amazing scientists and doctors who came up with vaccines in such a short time frame.
I managed to participate in the OneWeek100People challenge, which is very demanding but also a lot of fun. If you can spare the time I recommend giving it a try.

In the beginning of April I started having shortness of breath (dyspnea) while running. It got worse with time and soon I couldn’t run at all, and then I couldn’t walk very fast or far, climb stairs, etc. After a long and laborious road to get a diagnosis, in the beginning of June I learned that I had cancer, and in the beginning of July I got a diagnosis and started ABVD chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
A few things helped me get through that incredibly difficult time. First and foremost, my phenomenal family (mother, father and brother) that rallied around me and took care of me from the moment of the first diagnosis and to this day. I can’t imagine going through this process without them. Almost as important were my friends, who visited me in the hospital and cheered me up, and kept in touch and cheered me on during the treatments. Finally it was journaling and reading. I started this Moleskine “I am New York” on the day I was first admitted to hospital, and writing in it gave me perspective and kept me sane.

Journal of a bad year.

And books? Books have always been my comfort and escape. I saw a few things on Disney+ while I was hospitalized, but books helped distract me from a lot the most unpleasant and painful parts of this journey.
I was happy to discover that one of my favourite Moleskine limited edition series, the denim ones, was back in stock, and so once I finished the “I am New York” journal I moved into this Moleskine “Skinny. Flared. Bookcut.” one. It’s such a well conceptualized and executed design, it was a joy to use. This was when I decided to regularly use fountain pens to journal with, and just use only one side of the page. I have more than enough notebooks to support that decision.

This notebook took me through the second part of chemo to the end of it.

And now, and the beginning of 2022 I started a new journal, a Moleskine Peanuts Sakura. Pretty, right? Let’s hope I get to fill it with good news and positive thoughts.

A new Moleskine for a new and better year.

Some favourites from the past year:

My favourite pen was the Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. Quite a surprise for me, but it hasn’t been out of rotation since I got it.

Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass – fantastic and beautiful pen.

Another pen purchase that came in at a close second was the Diplomat Elox Rings and the Diplomat Aero (basically the same pen with a slightly different body design). These are wonderful workhorses, and a joy to use.

Diplomat Elox Rings on the left and Diplomat Aero in Champagne on the right.

I didn’t read as much this year as last year, but I did read a few really great books. Here’s a list of a few standouts among them:

  • The Good War, by Studs Terkel. WWII as I’ve never experienced it before – as seen and told by the “regular people” who lived through it.
  • Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Not an easy read by far, but a breathtaking work of fiction nonetheless. Worth the effort.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. A surprisingly moving tale of a character that you won’t expect to fall in love with, and yet you will.
  • Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, by Hillary Mantel. Why should I care about Thomas Cromwell? How can you not care about Thomas Cromwell after reading these books? An era and place come to life, in a world filled with complex and compelling characters.
  • Nomadland, by Jessica Bruder. Watch the movie AND read the book. Both are excellent, and both offer a chance to look into a part of modern living that we were hitherto oblivious of.
  • Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir. Just a fun and interesting sci-fi novel. If you enjoyed the Martian, you’ll enjoy this.
  • Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. What happens in the deep dark places beneath our feet? A lyrical work of non-fiction.
  • The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. The love story between Achilles and Patroclus told with great gentleness and heart.
  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. An understated and masterful work of science fiction that explores themes of humanity, identity, friendship and love, among other things.
  • Harlem Shuffle, by Colson Whitehead. How can you write a heist novel that isn’t a heist novel but rather a story of a person, a time and place? Whitehead’s writing is exceptional, and Harlem Shuffle is just another proof of that.
  • The Expanse books 1-4, James S.A. Corey. I haven’t read book 5 and onwards yet, but I did read the first four books of The Expanse this year. They aren’t perfect (Holden is a bit much), but they are very good at world-building, with interesting and unique plots and complex and believable characters (apart from Holden, who is a bit much). The books are each written in a different style, and they improve with time.

In terms of art supplies, 2021 was the year of the super-granulating watercolours from Schmincke, and also when I added Daniel Smith watercolours to my palette. Schmincke just announced that the super-granulating colours will be permanently added to their offerings, and that they are issuing three more permanent sets into this series (Desert, Shire and Vulcano), and another limited edition set, Haze.

I’ll be talking about planning for 2022 on one of my next posts. In the meanwhile, have a great new year, and don’t forget to take time and breath.

Today’s Fountain Pen

Today’s fountain pen is also my first fountain pen, the wonderful Waterman Phileas. It’s filled with Diamine Ruby Blues from the Diamine Inkvent 2021 calendar.

My hands have been an utter nightmare this week and I’m only now starting to feel a slight improvement in my neuropathy. This is the most that I’ve been able to draw and type all week.

Strange Palm Trees

I finished the Ramat Hanadiv spread today, drawing the second page from photos, as I had a few moments when I could sort of feel my hands.

I wish I knew what these palm trees were called. They looked amazing.

Hanadiv Gardens

Drew this today and it was super painful to draw. Here’s hoping that things with my hands improve soon because I miss drawing.

Weekly Update: Acrylic Markers, Hilary Mantel and Podcasts

I was planning on posting a review this week, but I had chemo this week and it really took me to town. Two days of practically no sleep (due to steroids) and the terribly hot and dry weather we’ve been having meant that I had to spend more time than I planned letting my body recover from the wallop it received mid-week. As I’m typing this I can barely feel my fingers due to neuropathy (a common side effect of my treatment), which means that typing, writing and drawing have been a challenge.

HOWEVER, I’m still here, still smiling, still picking up my pens and journalling, and even messing around with new art supplies that don’t require the precision and control that my beloved watercolours do.

Sakura Pigma BB brush pen on a Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook.

I’m not sure if I’ll dedicate a review to the Sakura Pigma BB brush pen, but I will say that it’s a super soft, relatively wide brush pen that is very expressive and fun to use for spontaneous sketching. The Marabu Yono, which I got as part of a notebook package from Cult Pens, is a delight. I’ve never used acrylic markers before, and I love using this one. This is definitely opening up a whole world of possibilities for me.

Sakura Pigma BB brush pen and Marabu Yono acrylic red marker on a Maggie Rogers Field Notes sketchbook.

Health

I got Chemo number 9 of 12. Had a scary new side effect of the treatment or the blood thinners I’m on (likely the blood thinners), but I weathered that too. Next week I hope to get back to walking after the few days off I took for recovery (and because of hazardous weather). Also got to see a psychologist that works with cancer patients. Hopefully he’ll help me deal with the anxiety of what lies ahead.

Reading

I was planning on reading “Cibola Burn” by James S.A. Corey but Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies” has utterly mesmerised me and I haven’t been able to put it down. The quality of the writing, research and characterisation is evident in every page, and the result is a bewitching narrative – no mean feat considering the fact that very little happens in the book and the ending is well known.

Writing

None whatsoever apart from my journal and my three good things, and even they were backlogged for half the week. A combination of sleeplessness and neuropathy (which, if you’re wondering, feels like what your hands feel like after they’ve grown numb and then started to prickle back to life) made writing unattainable for most of the week.

Currently Inked

No change from last week because I didn’t write much. I’m about to write my Kanilea dry, after which I’ll probably hold off inking any new pen since I’m gearing up for my new Diamine Inkvent calendar. Like last time, I’m planning on filling 25 pens with 25 inks, and unlike last time I’m planning on writing them all dry.

Other Things

I’ve been building Lego sets as a form of meditation and relaxation. I’m currently working my way through the Lego Harry Potter’s Collector’s Edition, and will probably finish it next week.

I’m starting to get back to podcast listening. I used to listen to 3-4 hours of podcasts a day, every day. When I learned that I had cancer I stopped listening to podcasts entirely, and I’ve discovered that there are still podcasts that I can’t listen to right now. On my current listening list are: The Pen Addict, Maintenance Phase, and Reconcilable Differences.

Green Watercolour Mixtures

I’ve been trying to draw better foliage, which made me want to investigate the various greens I can mix from my current palette. So for the first time I dedicated time and a few sketchbook pages to experiment with green watercolour mixes. I thought that the process would be tedious and boring, but it ended up being very interesting. Mixes that looked like mud on the palette came to life on the page. I discovered a whole host of green hues that I had no idea that I had access to. And once again I fell in love with Schmincke’s Glacier Green.

Note: DS stands for Daniel Smith and Sch for Schmincke. The paper is Stillman and Birn Alpha.

Scene From A Local Walk

I’m playing with green watercolour mixtures and drawing better foliage, so I took the opportunity to make this quick line sketch during one of my walks. I worked on the watercolours later, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

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.