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.

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.

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.

Night Run

I really like how the two watercolours on this page “melt” together, and in general this is one of my favourite sketchbook spreads created as part of the Sketchbook Design course.

Sweet Box

Catching up on some more sketchbook pages from my Sketchbook Design course as I’m working on giving my palette the largest overhaul it’s had since I started painting with watercolours. This page was inspired by the final box I got from the Tel Aviv muncipality’s “The Box” project, created to support local businesses during the lockdown.

Schmincke Horadam Super-Granulating Watercolour Review

Schmincke recently came out with a new series of limited edition Horadam (artist grade) watercolour paints that are super-granulating.Granulation in watercolour is the an affect that is created when the pigments in the paint separate and settle in a diffused patten on the paper, oftentimes allowing other pigments that they are mixed with to show through. In my everyday watercolour palette Schmincke’s Ultramarine Finest (494) is a prime example of a granulating paint that I use both for its effect as an individual paint and when mixed with various browns and greens. The new 900 limited edition series of Horadam watercolours that Schmincke has issued is composed of 25 paints that are divided into five sets: Galaxy, Glacier, Deep Sea, Forest and Tundra. I decided to purchase all five sets out of curiosity, since limited editions in artist grade watercolours aren’t common, I already use Schmincke almost exclusively, and I’ve been embracing granulation more lately in my work.

The 5ml set boxes.

The paints can be purchased in individual 15ml tubes (which is a lot of watercolour paint), in fancy wooden boxed sets of 15ml tubes and in cardboard boxes of 5ml tubes, which is what was available at my local art supply shop and what suited me to buy anyway. 15ml of watercolour paint is a commitment, and artist grade watercolour in general and Schmincke in particular aren’t cheap. The paints aren’t sold in half pans, which I would have preferred over the tubes, and which means that you are going to need empty pans or a palette to use them.

Schmincke Galaxy set

The Galaxy set includes Galaxy Pink, Violet, Blue, Brown and Black. There are some naming peculariaries in this entire series of paints, such as the fact that the paints are super-granulating but the set is called: Supergranulation on the box, and Super Granulation by the dealers. In any case, like all the colours in this set the paints in the Galaxy set have good lightfastness. They are all non-staining (which means that they can easily be lifted off the paper), the Violet and Blue are semi transparent, the Pink and Brown and Black are semi-opaque. This is the most vibrant of the sets, but don’t believe the photos on the package or in the various marketing materials, none of the colours in any of these sets really pops or is as vibrant as they appear to be. All these colours tend towards naturalistic, landscape painting tones.

Schmincke Forest set

The colours in the Forest Set are: Olive, Green, Blue, Brown and Grey. They are all extremely lightfast, the Olive and the Brown are semi transparent, the Blue and the Grey are semi opaque and the Green is opaque. I have no idea why the Forest Brown (944) is called Forest Brown as it’s not a brown at all, it’s more of a greyish green. Forest Blue is also a misnomer, as it’s also a green, this time one that looks like it was mixed with indigo. This is the most monotone of the sets, though if you are focused on landscapes, there are some interesting greens here.

Schmincke Glacier set

The Glacier set boasts the best paint in the series in my opinion, the Glacier Green which is just a delicious paint to have on your palette – a phenomenal and unique green with pronounced brown undertones. I can’t wait to use it in my work, and I’ll be buying a 15ml tube of this. The rest of the colours in this set are Glacier Blue, Turquoise, Brown and Black. Despite what the marketing material may say, there is very little difference between the various blacks in these sets, and if I could I would have skipped all of them and used the Forest Grey and the Tundra Violet instead. All the colours in this set rate in the 4-5 star lightfastness range and all apart from the Brown (which is semi-staining) are non-staining. The Blue is semi-transparent, the Turquoise, Green and Black are semi-opaque and the Brown is opaque.

Schmincke Deep Sea set

The Deep Sea set features the following colours: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green and Black. The Green here is a misnomer, as it’s also a blue (with only the slightest green tinge) and the violet is greyish and flat compared to the Glaxy Violet (and in any case if you’re looking for a vibrant violet look elsewhere in Schmincke’s lineup). This is probably the most redundant set of the five, and you can pretty much skip the colours here without missing on much. Indigo, Blue and Green are semi-transparent, Violet and Black are semi-opaque. Lightfastness is very good to excellent and non of these are staining.

Schmincke Tundra set

The Tundra set contains Orange, Pink, Violet, Blue and Green. Tundra Violet is another misnomer as the paint is practically black with a tinge of purple. This is the most staining set (Violet and Green are staining, the rest are semi-staining), but also a pretty mixable one. Orange, Blue and Pink are transparent, Violet is semi-transparent and only Green is opaque. It’s also one of the most compelling greens in the set, with it’s olive like tones and its pinkish undertones it’s both unique and generally useful for landscapes.

Paints on my palette and in half-pans

Schmincke aren’t selling these in pans, which is pretty inconvenient if you just want to swap one or two of these into your existing palette.

The paints in the series on Stillman and Birn Alpha paper

I first saw these paints on Schmincke’s Instagram and then on the Jackson’s Art blog. In both the paints are much more vibrant and with much more pronounced granulating, to the point of almost marbling, than what I got when I first created a the above reference drawing. I had a feeling that this was somewhat due to the extreme closeups that they took, and likely also the paper that they used.

Sketch on Stillman and Birn Alpha paper

In any case, since I and many others also use Stillman and Birn Alpha paper for watercolours, I decided to try and create a painting using these paints exclusively. In the end I also added Schmincke Indian Yellow (220) for the signs, but I didn’t mix it with anything else. As you can see, the granulation is still pretty pronounced throughout, but the colours, with the exception of the Glacier Blue aren’t exactly vibrant or saturated.

Paint samples on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

I then decided to break out the good paper, and tested the paints on 100% cotton 300gsm cold pressed rough watercolour paper. Here you can see the granulation at its best, and yes, as promised it is pronounced in all of these paints. Yet as I suspected the choice of paper does nothing to make these paints more vibrant, which means that I certainly won’t be using them to replace large swaths of my current palette or recommending that you use them exclusively (especially since there are no yellows here and the red selection is pretty poor).

Paint palette on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

Here are the paints all labeled (I got the Deep Sea Black and Green swabs out of order).

Sketch on Magnani 1404 Toscana 100% cotton 300gsm rough cold press paper

Here’s a very quick sketch with these paints on the cold press paper. They are built for washes and wet on wet work, and so relish this paper.

Sketch on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

And here they are on Stillmand and Birn Beta paper, which is better watercolour paper than the Alpha but still not good watercolour paper. You still get much of their effect here, especially if you don’t much around too much with the paint. These aren’t the best for mixing on the palette but do work well with layering and working wet on wet on the page. If you like to put down paint in washes and see what it does, these paints are for you. If you like to work in a more controlled fashion, you likely aren’t a fan of granulating watercolours anyway.

Closeup of granulation on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

You can see the granulation here, and some of the best colours in this set at work (Tundra Orange, Glacier Green, Tundra Violet, Forest Green, Tundra Green and Glacier Brown).

Closeup of granulation on Stillman and Birn Beta paper

Again you can see the granulation at work and how the effect lets the whiteness of the page show through, bringing light to a dark patch.

So, would I recommend all 25 paints? Of course not. Of the paints in these sets here are the ones that seem worthwhile:

963 Glacier Green (the best of the bunch!)

983 Tundra Violet (a great replacement for black in your palette, if you have it)

952 Deep Sea Indigo (bonus points for a transparent indigo with reddish purple undertones!)

964 Glacier Brown (the best brown of the bunch and the most saturated of them, with dark black green undertones)

942 Forest Green (a saturated green in a natural but not easy to mix colour with reddish undertones)

985 Tundra Green (a natural greyish yellow green that is not easy to mix and has brown undertones)

981 Tundra Orange (because this is a transparent paint in a colour that is rarely otherwise granulating, with pinkish undertones and a good generally useful hue that will work well in mixing).

If you’re looking to buy sets, the Tundra set and the Glacier set are the best in my opinion, but it depends on what colours you use most often in your palette.