Adventure In Sketching II

I’ve been trying to sketch every day, and the results are looking… well, I wouldn’t say “better”, but less clumsy than my first attempts.

I’m trying different styles. I can’t draw very well, so first I tried sketching very lightly with a pencil and then going straight in with the colors, but I think that this style is too loose for me. I’m not comfortable enough with watercolors yet, so I keep making mistakes and making a mess of everything.

 

Here are the more controlled, pen-and-wash sketches. I prefer this, though so far I’ve only tried it with simple drawings like houses and barns. The moment I tried to add something spontaneous – like the tree and bushes in the sketch of the houses – it ended up looking like a mistake again.

I’ve also tried a mix of the two, like with this flowering branch (it’s a crepe myrtle, in case my sketching skill isn’t up to par) and this tree. I’m more careful with the branch and the tree trunk, but I can afford to be freer with the flower and the foliage because they don’t require a lot of details.

Still a lot to learn, but so far I’m enjoying it.


Book Reviews: July 2017

I actually read 5 books this month but two of them are re-read (both by Bill Bryson) so I won’t bother with reviewing them. I re-read them mostly because two of the new books I was reading annoyed me so much. You’ll see which one.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

This is considered a classic now, but for those of you that don’t know it, a quick summary: a group of people stay at a house rumored to be haunted, where, naturally, supernatural incidents do occur. It sounds deceptively simple and even boring, but Shirley Jackson is a master at getting us inside the character’s head and building tension from the most normal of interactions. The supernatural incidents are not actually scary, but they are really, really disturbing, mostly because they are described from the characters’ POV. My only complaint is that the ending feels a little rushed. 4/5

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs:

This is the third and final book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series (or, as I call it from the movie adaptation, Tim Burton’s X-Men). I enjoyed the first book and didn’t care much for the second, but that one ends on such a cliffhanger that I decided to check out this one anyway. I’d say it’s on about the same level as the second book. The photographs, which are so creepy and cleverly used in the first book, feel forced and gimmicky here, the plot is drawn-out, and the characters boring. The ending picks up the pace a bit, but then it gets wrapped up in a really lazy way. 1.5/5

Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi:

I admit, I picked up this book because of the pretty cover of the Vietnamese edition. Plus, it’s a murder mystery set in Giverny, the village where Claude Monet spent the last 30 years of his life, so I expected some nice scenery descriptions and a fast-paced plot. Well, the scenery is there, but not as much as I would’ve liked, and as for the story… gods, this must be the most boring murder mystery I’ve ever read. The plot moves like molasses; I cannot relate to any of the characters, and it features one of the most idiotic “twists” I have ever seen. Basically the book lied to you the whole time and then called that a twist. And then there is the writing. The POV switch is all over the place – one chapter would be in first person, one chapter in third person limited, and another in third person omnipresent. Also, almost all the dialogues end in either an ellipsis or an exclamation mark, which gives the impression that these characters have the annoying habit of not finishing their sentences or yelling them out. By the end of it, I wish they were all dead already. 1/5

Here’s hoping that the books next month will be more enjoyable.

 


Adventure In Sketching

It’s been a while since I dabbled at coloring with watercolor, and I’ve missed it, but the whole thing has become so much of a hassle – finding the drawing, printing it out, and tracing it – that I didn’t feel like getting back into it. I briefly contemplated buying those adult coloring books (they’re all in the Vietnamese equivalent of the 99-cent bin now – told you guys it was just a fad) and a box of pencils, but it didn’t really appeal to me. So my art supplies just languished in my drawer for nearly two years.

Lately, though, I’ve been itching to paint again. Inspired by my blog friend, Mike, and several Instagram accounts I’ve been following, I wanted to try actual, proper watercolor painting, not just coloring. There’s another reason, too: I’ve been really busy this summer, but the work is so tedious that my mind was constantly wandering, and I found it difficult to concentrate. I knew I needed something to relax my mind. So I dusted off my brushes, dug out my watercolors (which, thankfully, are still good), and whipped up two quick sketches:

They’re pretty clumsy, but considering I haven’t touched a brush in two years and haven’t painted in even a longer time, I think they’re OK. They took me about an hour, and I felt so much freer with these quick sketches than with the coloring. I don’t have to worry about the techniques, and I can experiment more – I did watch a few Youtube tutorials, but just to get myself in the zone. Plus I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of basing the sketches on my photos (these are from my Euro trip last year) so I won’t be short of subjects. Let’s see how long I can keep up this new burst of inspiration – I get bored and distracted so easily – but for the moment, I’m enjoying it.


Homecoming

As much as I love to spend my entire day in my pajamas, there always comes a time when I feel sick of looking like a schlub. Well, friends, this is that time. After nearly a month of working from home, I just want to dress up for no reason at all, so I did. Although, I didn’t exactly dress up for no reason – I did wear this to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. And yes, I was kinda coordinating my color scheme with the red-and-blue scheme of a Spider-Man costume. At first I was only going to wear the t-shirt, but then I noticed this lace collar and thought, Hey, that kinda looks like spider web, so I added that too. This looks like something I would wear about five years ago – I haven’t worn a Peter Pan collar in so long – but I quite like it.

I quite liked the movie as well. It’s definitely the first movie that manages to make Spider-Man seem like an actual teenager and capture his smartass humor (The Amazing Spider-Man made a stab at the humor too, but Andrew Garfield ended up more smug than smartass. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man didn’t even try.) On the flipside, it also means that the movie is more like a high school comedy and less like a superhero film, but that’s OK. At least it’s not another freaking origin story.


A Week In Buon Ma Thuot

I just got back from a week-long trip with my family to the city of Buon Ma Thuot, the biggest city of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. It’s in the same region as Da Lat, but it’s less of a touristy place, which was why we chose it as more of a getaway destination for some relaxing time rather than a place for dicovery. Plus, we were traveling with my niece and nephew, so a slower pace is much better for them. I appreciated it as well – I had the misfortune of getting sick right before we left, which means I spent the first three days being high on cold medicine and the next three days coughing my lungs out, so the slower pace allowed me to at least enjoy myself to some extent.

Just because Buon Ma Thuot isn’t a touristy place doesn’t mean that it’s short on sights. Within the city, you can visit the Dak Lak Museum (Dak Lak being the province of which Buon Ma Thuot is the capital city) with its awesome architecture, the hunting lodge of the last emperor of Vietnam, and the various Roman Catholic churches and Buddhist temples. Most of these are designed to mimic the traditional “longhouses” of the Central Highlands ethnic people, so they’re really cool.

The central square of Buon Ma Thuot

Dak Lak Museum

The hunting lodge (an art class was having a field trip there on the day we visited)

An ancient camphor tree on the museum’s grounds

The outside and inside of a Buddhist temple

The bishopric of Buon Ma Thuot

Some traditional houses in the suburb

Outside of the city, there are more natural sights. There’s Buon Don (‘buon” means village), well-known for its domesticated elephants and the Srepok River, there’s the Dray Nur waterfall and Lak Lake, the second largest fresh water lake in Vietnam. You can hike around, or just pack a picnic and enjoy the cool shades by the water, which is what we did.

Srepok River

Dray Nur waterfall

A corner of Lak Lake

Another thing Buon Ma Thuot is famous for is its coffee – it’s known as the “capital of coffee” of Vietnam. Unfortunately, I don’t drink coffee, and we were there in the wrong season to see the plantations – they’re best when the plants are in bloom (around March) or when the coffee cherries are harvested (around November). On the other hand, if you want to see the waterfalls, the river, and the lake, the rainy season is better. The weather was super nice anyway – the rain mostly came at night; during the day, it was clear and sunny – so I didn’t mind.

And finally, as is the tradition, let me end this post with a photo of a local cat:


Book Reviews: May – June 2017

Last month I replaced my usual book review posts with a TV review post, so this time there are a few more books than usual, but I’ll try to be brief:

History of the Vietnamese Civil War from 1771 t0 1802 by Ta Chi Dai Truong:

It’s one of my ambitions to write a series of epic/historical fantasy books using the history of Vietnam in the vein of A Song of Ice and Fire, so I’ve been reading more books about Vietnamese history. This deals with a fascinating subject matter: the war between three different factions (the Le kings in the North, the Tay Son rebels in the Midland, and the Nguyen kings in the South) before Vietnam was finally united and entered its modern history. It’s well researched, but unfortunately, the writer is not a very good storyteller. This has been my problem with historical books lately – the information is interesting, but the writer doesn’t arrange or tell them in an interesting manner, so the book becomes a chore to read. A good source for references, nothing more. 2/5

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty:

I quite enjoyed the adaptation by HBO, so I decided to check out the book. I’m happy to say that the mini-series stayed pretty close to the book (for a summary of the story, check my TV review), except Reese Whitherspoon’s character is less bitchy and more sympathetic, and the book ends on a much more finite note. The suspense is still there, even though I already knew where it was going. Overall, it’s a quick and enjoyable read. 4/5

City of Thieves by David Benioff:

I really, really dislike what David Benioff has done to Game of Thrones, but I have to admit that I quite enjoyed this book. It’s sort of a buddy tragi-comedy set during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II: a teenager arrested for looting and a deserter are given the impossible mission of finding a dozen eggs for a colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. It’s funny, but can be very visceral and tense as well. Also, this is the second book I’ve read set during the Siege of Leningrad (the other is Catherine Valente’s Deathless), and to be honest, if those are fictional accounts, then I don’t want to read about the real thing. 4/5

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu:

Usually, when I want to check out a new fantasy/sci-fi author, I would start with their short stories before moving on to their novels. With Ken Liu, I did the opposite – I enjoyed his novel The Grace of King, so I wanted to see how he is in the short form. There are some interesting stories here, but just like with The Grace of King, Liu’s writing feels very flat, almost pedantic, to me. It seems he is so concerned with getting the science/history/mythology right that he forgets to use good characters and plots to make the story stand out. 3/5

Maskerade and Jingo by Terry Pratchett:

These I read during my week-long vacation. I didn’t want to slog through some book that I hate during my vacation, so I picked something I would be sure to enjoy. Unfortunately, these are probably two of the weakest Discworld books that I’ve read. “Maskerade” is a Witches novel, which finds Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg following the potential third member of their coven into the crazy world of opera, while “Jingo” is a Watch novel revolving around Sam Vimes and his ragtag Watch trying to prevent a war between Ankh-Morpork and a neighboring country. Of course, they’re still a lot of fun, but the jokes are a bit… obvious, you know what I mean? 3.5/5

So that’s it for me. What did you guys read?


Accessory Slump

On Wednesday’s post, I talked about feeling unmotivated to put together an interesting outfit. I think part of the reason is that I’m bored with my accessories (but don’t want to buy new ones) and don’t know how else to jazz up my outfits. Scarves are out of the question; light-weight, summery shirts don’t hold up brooches well, and sometimes you have to choose between necklaces and printed shirts. Occasionally, I would bring out my bracelet/cuff, but it always feels forced and doesn’t go well with the outfit at all – like here. Actually I wasn’t planning on wearing this cuff with this outfit, but then I was going to see Wonder Woman after work, and since I don’t have a tiara or lasso or invisible jet, I decided to play homage by wearing the cuff.

As for the movie… weeeeeeeeeeell, I’m going to be the unpopular opinion here and say that I wasn’t impressed. I think I got overhyped on it – everybody is gushing about how great it is – so I ended up underwhelmed. Sure, I appreciate the fact that it’s a female superhero movie, and I’m happy that it’s directed by a woman, but it’s… kind of boring, to be honest. I think the praises come from the fact that the bar for DC movies is set so low and this is the first decent female superhero movie (like, first ever), so it is just the thing that people want right now. It may be an important first step toward more diversity and equality in the genre, but it didn’t change my mind about the DC Extended Universe. I’m going to stick with Marvel, thank you every much. (I mean in terms of superhero movies in general. I know the portrayal of female characters in Marvel films is problematic. If I want an action film with good female characters, I’ll go with Mad Max: Fury Road.)


That doesn’t stop me from doing a Wonder Woman pose though…