Adventures In Watercolor 4

As promised, here is my final piece from my watercolor class:

For our finals, we had to pick a photo (NOT a painting!) and reproduce it on 18 x 24 paper. Mine was based on this photo of the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland. As you may have noticed from my previous paintings, trees are kinda my specialty, so this seemed like a good choice. I’m pretty satisfied with the end result; I only wish it could look more transparent, more like a watercolor painting – here, I added so many layers that it looks more like a gouache/acrylic piece. I guess I just need to practice more…

And here are some more paintings that I’ve been working on since the class ended:

There is still a lot I need to learn though, so once my schedule slows down a bit, I’m going to see if there is another class I can take.

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Adventures In Watercolor 3

So here is the next batch of my watercolors. After tackling flowers and still life, we were on to landscapes, which I prefer, because it doesn’t require drawing precise shapes. We started with monochromatic landscapes first:

Then we moved on to full color:

Stay tuned, because it’s our “graduation ceremony” this weekend and I’ll get to pick up my final piece to show you guys. And I’ve been painting regularly (now that school has started again, I try to complete one painting per week) so there will be more to come!


Book Reviews: August 2018

It’s a good month of reading – 6 books, and they’re all more or less enjoyable, with one exception. Here goes:

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters:

I only know Sarah Waters from the adaptations of her works (Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch, I haven’t watched Affinity), but I’ve never actually read her novels before. So when I came across this in the used bookstore and remembered seeing a trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation, I decided to pick it up. It takes place post-WWII and revolves around a country doctor whose life becomes entangled with an aristocratic family living in a crumbling mansion as they are plagued by increasingly strange and sinister incidents. It’s a ghost story in the vein of Henry James and Shirley Jackson, in that the supernatural elements are very subtle, and you have to wonder if they are really supernatural or merely psychological. It can be frustratingly slow at times and don’t expect a tidy explanation at the end, but Waters is so good at creating a creepy and oppressive atmosphere that I had to stop reading it before bed. 4.5/5

Spook by Mary Roach:

After a ghost story, it seems natural that I would read about the scientific studies of ghosts and the afterlife. I’ve quite enjoyed Mary Roach’s other books (Stiff and Packing for Mars), and this one, while not as informative as those two, is still very entertaining. And no, she doesn’t come up with a tidy explanation for ghosts either, but it’s fun to read anyway. 4/5

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton:

I picked this up because of the pretty cover. And also because it’s a fictional account of the life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, an eccentric 17th-century writer, which sounds right up my alley. The blurb says it’s “not a historical novel but a modern novel set in the past”, so I didn’t expect a bildungsroman, but I did expect the normal stuff – you know, plot, character developments, details about life in 17th England and Europe. What I got instead is a rambling series of prose, like the diary entries of someone with ADHD, written in an overwrought, clumsy attempt at being poetic. There is no character development; the main character comes off vain, silly, and delusional, not brilliant and misunderstood like the book tries to make her out to be. Oh and, it switches POV halfway through (the first half is written in first person, the second half in third person). Why? No reason. The real Margaret Cavendish deserves so much better than this drivel. The only good thing I can say about it is that it’s short, so I didn’t waste too much time reading it. 1/5

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes:

With a title like this, I was expecting something in the vein of “What We Do in the Shadows” or at least “The Reformed Vampire Support Group“, something humorous that details the mundane, everyday struggle of a vampire and subverts all the usual vampire tropes. It turns out to be a series of very standard adventures with all the usual – werewolves, zombies, mages, etc. Sure, there are things like a were-pony or an ancient dragon masquerading as a 7-year-old boy, but it’s nowhere near as clever as I hoped. Also, the writing is super expository. It is trying to be personal, like Fred is addressing the reader, but it just ends up flat. It’s not terrible, actually, just disappointing. 2/5

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly:

This has a typical fantasy premise: a boy in WWII-England, mourning the death of his mother and resenting the presence of his new stepmom and his half-brother, ends up in a world that contain elements of his favorite fairy tales, but they have been twisted into something dark and dangerous (in fact, I once wrote a screenplay with a very similar premise). Although the main character is a kid, it’s not a YA book by any means – it goes to some pretty dark places. And that’s also my problem with it. The story is good and the world is interesting, but it’s just so grim. I don’t mind dark fairy tales; heck, I live for dark fairy tales (especially Neil Gaiman’s), but in those, there is still a sense of magic and wonderment. Here, aside from some communist dwarves who are oppressed by Snow White, everything is so somber and heavy all the time. 4/5

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams:

You may have known that nature is good for you, but have you ever wondered why? Well, this book goes into all the scientific research behind the restorative power of nature and how it is being used to improve our life in general, from “forest bathing” in Japan to bushcrafting (sort of like survival skills, like making fire and shelter, but less about the survival and more about interacting with nature) in Scotland, and also how much time you need to spend in nature to feel its positive effects (5 hours/month, according to the Finns). I’ve always loved being in nature, but I have to admit, I don’t go outside as much as I should, so this book has made me a lot more mindful of that. 4/5

What did you guys read? Let me know in the comments and make sure to check out my friend Mike’s book reviews here.


Adventures In Watercolor 2

In the second week of class, we moved on to still life and flowers from real life. I was still struggling a bit with the shapes and how to create light/shadow, but I did improve slightly.


My painting and the real-life setup, for comparison

We also tried our hands at portraits – humans or animals (again, by copying from existing paintings or photos.) I’m completely hopeless when it comes to drawing people, so I chose a rooster. He turned out… OK-ish, I guess? I can’t get the face and the eyes right, so it looks like he’s in shock 😛


Adventures In Watercolor 1

As promised last week, here are some of the watercolor paintings I did over the course of my class (it’s a 5-week class, and we’re in our last week now). I put this in chronological order – as you can see, my earlier attempts were pretty clumsy…

Anyway, the themes of our first few weeks are still life – flowers, fruits, and food. We only copy from existing paintings, since we weren’t good enough to paint from photos and real life yet (that would be later.)

This is a cake, in case you can’t tell…

This I did at home, based on a photo I took of our fairy lilies. I wanted to try the wet-on-wet technique, but I wasn’t quite there yet:

More to come soon!


SIA Inspiration: John Singer Sargent 2.0

It’s Daenel’s turn to curate SIA, and she picked a classic piece:

This, of course, is the famous Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent. The portrait caused a scandal when it was first exhibited, both by the reputation of the model (Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, a Parisian socialite and beauty) as well as by the suggestive way Sargent painted her (and indeed, when I first knew about this portrait, I was struck by how modern her dress is.)

The obvious way to intepret this would be a little black dress, but since I don’t have one, I’ll have to figure something else out. Remember to send your outfits to Daenel (livingoutsidethestacks@gmail.com) by next Tuesday, August 14, to be included in the round-up. Can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!


Book Reviews: July 2018

I’ve been rearranging my bookshelf and rediscovering some classics, so this month I only managed 3 new (to me) books, and here they are:

Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn:

After the brain-buster that is The Name of the Rose last month, I wanted some light, easy read, and this cozy mystery just fits the bill. It features the Honorable Daisy Darymple, an aspiring journalist who visits a country estate to write an article about it and ends up entangled in a murder case that occurs during her stay. It’s very standard stuff, and at another time I may find it boring, but it’s a super quick read and the main character is refreshingly relatable, unlike the leads in some detective novels I’ve read (Flavia de Luce and Mary Russell come to mind). I might check out other books in this series. 3/5

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows:

This epistolary novel revolves around a writer in 1946 England who starts a correspondence with some people in Guernsey and learns about their experience of the German occupation in World War II. It’s mostly about books and book lovers, so of course I enjoy it. Don’t let the twee title deter you, the story is sweet but not cloyingly so, because the World War II stuff always adds a somber note. My only complaint is the romantic storyline, which I finds a bit predictable. 4/5

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly:

I adore the movie, so naturally, I was excited to read this book, which is a non-fictional account of the black female mathematicians’ work at NASA from World War II up to the 1960’s. Unfortunately, the book is nowhere as good. It’s well researched, to be sure, but it seems the author was so in love with her research that she didn’t want to leave out any details. What’s worse is that she is not much of a storyteller, so the book is just a dense collection of dry facts and the women featured in it are just a series of names, instead of being actual characters whose lives you want to follow. It’s a shame, really. These women’s stories are extraordinary and they could have been told in a much more entertaining manner. 2/5

What did you guys read?