Chewing my keyboard

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Still life... (just not as we know it >8) )

I attended my first art class on Tuesday evening (after delivering leaflets - delivering leaflets always comes in somewhere) and I began a still life in acrylics - a hat and a tomato. I didn't get to the tomato and I didn't really 'feel' the hat, at all, as an object. It ended up being a set of random, abstract colour that I didn't feel looked much like a hat.

The instructor said that I had a good grasp of tone. I learned how to draw angles using a pencil as a guide.

Yesterday, I decided to practice drawing the hat and tomato (in a slightly different position) from imagination using oilbars since I knew the lighting angle and the shape and colour of the hat because I had been drawing it all Tuesday evening. Again, this was on a really tidgy bit of canvas paper (I've now bought a larger pad... and a larger white oilbar since I seem to have eaten the way through about 1/4 of my white oilbar).

I still haven't quite mastered the hat. I didn't remember how the folded edge of the brim looked so it's not quite right, and the shading isn't quite correct. However, this is probably my best piece with the possible exception of Le Signore del e aumentato.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

It shouldn't happen to a canvasser...

Felt the need to share what has been described as 'the funniest story on [the LDYS forums]'. Not sure if quite hits the height of the chap who canvassed a half-naked woman, who had a naked man standing behind her chained the bannister to which he remarked "Erm, I see you're liberal then". I should really have said that but it took me a while to catch on...

A friend and I were canvassing a block of scary flats (they didn't look scary, but the first guy we met told us that none of the other parties dare canvass said flats and the second person we met told us to "watch out for the druggies in this block"). Most people were out and the people we did get were very pleasant. However, one was just a little TOO keen to make my acquaintance...

I rang the doorbell of an elderly man who seemed to have a very large tongue (he kept licking his lips all the time). I gave him my spiel and he said: "Have you come to whip me?"

Assuming he meant 'whipping' in the parliamentary sense as in encouraging him to vote a certain way, I responded:

"Well, only metaphorically speaking. I'm calling on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and wondered whom you were considering voting for in the general election?"

"Oh" said the man "I thought you'd come to whip me. I'm expecting a whipping in 5 minutes"

Realising I had been mistaken for a dominatrix despite the fact I was wearing flat shoes and a big red anorak, I persisted. "Well, since I'm not the person you were expecting. Are you considering voting Lib Dem?"

"Have you brought your own whip?" [to which my friend shouted from the neighbouring door that was situated slightly around a pillar "I left it at home"]

"Erm, well, thank you for your time anyway" And made a swift exit.

"You've got nice tights" He shouted to my retreating back. Friend and I made a swift run at the door leading off the landing, my friend only pausing to remark "Thank you" in response to the remark about the tights (he was wearing slacks).

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

And tremendous fun was had by all...

Last night I popped into the candidate's husting at the student union. It was the most fun I've had in years (but I'm a very sad person)... ok, it was mildly amusing.

This was partly down to the Socialist Worker's Party candidate's stand-in who managed to sound so much like a cliche of a Socialist Worker's Party candidate that myself and friends were unable to stop laughing. We were debating if he had a sheet in front of him with a ticklist of 'things I must somehow work into my responses regardless of topic or question in order to sound like a stereotype'... Arthur Scargill... CHECK... repeated railing against privatisation... CHECK... Margaret Thatcher... CHECK... Miner's strike... CHECK... Palestine... CHECK... 'The Rich'... CHECK... Anti-Trade Union Laws... CHECK... I don't think he managed to work in Karl Marx, revolution or solidarity but perhaps he squeezed all those things in after we left.

The second main point of humour was the Tory candidate's introduction in which he felt the need to give us his entire life story including where he went to university, where he practiced at the bar, what he studied, where he moved too... Everyone did this to some extent by way of introducing themselves, but he did this at such great length and in such immense detail that it invited wonderful parody along the lines of "And in 1973 I married Freda Smith, a charming lady whose father was from Crewe. We married in a small chapel near Plymouth and the vicar gave a very charming sermon on that day. It was Corinthian's III if I recall and then we sang "There is a green hill far away" as the sunlight streamed in through the window. Shortly afterwards, we had our first child - John David and we bought 3 gerbils called Fluffy, Frederick and Nibbles... and a dog called Ernest. Then, after I lost my seat we decided to move back to the South West and I began to practice at the Bar and worked in a small practice on Queens Road..." I believe he was trying to establish that he had local roots. However, given the audience, he would have been better off doing what our candidate did and making jokes about storming the stage or something.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Love is...

So true, so true (well, certain types of love anyway... The Greeks did have 4 words for it :) ):

Love is...

When you are tied with invisible threads
When their pain is your pain regardless of the distance between you
When in facing the greatest trials of your life the last thought you wish to hold for eternity is of them

Unlike lust, love does not torment your dreams
For it is not what may be or what was but what is, as the stars are
The pain is muted, almost exquisite in its everpresent ache, and delicate as a caress

Love has neither the intense heat of infatuation nor the tepid familiarity of friendship
It is sex without desire and torment without demons
Instead it has a closeness and intimacy that transcends flesh, yet seeks to be made flesh
It is unselfconscious and sustainable through the turning of the years

Most of all, it looks beyond the trappings of external things the face and the body and taps deep into the soul embracing the spirit with the loyalty of kin…

Friday, April 22, 2005

Still Young, Free and Liberal

Apart from the obvious campaigning, I'm also helping with the final discussions, etc. for the release of Young, Free and Liberal: A Young Person's Guide to Liberal Democracy. My role has been mostly to pester contributors and my two co-editors, to draw the 'Liberty Belle' illustrations. I also wrote two of the sections! :D

After a consultation with the LDYS Chair (Chris) yesterday lunchtime, it appears we're going to have a formal launch a couple of weeks after the general election. I'm quite excited because the guide looks great and so many people have contributed vast quantities of time to it. We have 7 contributors, the 3 person editorial team, plus Chris who has done all the pagesetting for us. This excludes all the people who have input ideas, critiques, etc. at various stages. I feel really proud to have been involved in this project.

Since I'm really frustrated about some missing data then it's good I feel positive about something. I came home yesterday about 4:30pm practically shrieking with boredom and frustration after spending about a day and a half plotting a map of Greenland. If you don't understand how it takes a day and a half to do that, bear in mind that I had to go through 11000 points of coastline data working out how many segments there were and how big the segments were. Then I had to write this up into a file to tell the computer how to plot the coast. Then I had to write a short program to plot this and to overplot some data showing the coordinates of some photos. Then I overplotted millions of coordinates for some other data (laser scanner). Each of these laser files took about 3 minutes to load and made the map file so big it refused to load into Adobe for editing. I then had to write a further procedure to sample every 500th point so I only had 10s of thousands of laser points, not millions. I then had to reload all the files and replot them... I digress.

I was so irritated, I spent the evening 'virtual hiking' since I find it therapeutic. I probably could have gone canvassing but didn't want to end up beating someone over the head with my clipboard when they told me they were voting labour - I was that work-frustrated. My virtual hiking program is otherwise known as a computer game called The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I believe it's supposed to be an RPG with quests and such-like but it's so open-ended that I just go hiking. It has an entire island and, provided the slopes aren't too steep, you can pretty much walk anywhere (and it all looks entirely different! There is genuinely a whole uniquely designed island, rather than just repetition of the same bit of slope/lake, etc.). The graphics are beautiful, the sounds are immersive and it has a proper night and day cycle. I have the impression if you follow the footpath then you would pass various bandits, etc. However, they don't look up or move from their designated position. Thus, if you use the map and head as the crow flies rather than using any of the footpaths then the only thing you meet is the occasional bit of unpleasant wildlife (which is significantly easier to kill).

My in-game 'trade' appears to be alchemist, amateur mage and opportunist thief. I collect various bits of vegetation whilst hiking (I've always thought that the real world should have little labels that pop up over your head telling you what the plant is that you're looking at - it'd save buying a book), and if I don't have sufficient money, I nick things when no one's looking and sell them (I don't do either of these things in real life, you understand). I can cast the occasional spell and I use the plants to prepare potions. I'm hoping to be able to find enough useful vegetation (rather than vegetation that goes badly together) after I've travelled through a few different regions to be able to create potions that I can sell. Although I'm sure it's not everyone's idea of an exciting game experience (collecting plants and spending hours walking in unpopulated valleys admiring the scenery), I think it's wonderful. It's the closest I've got to playing AD&D 'live' (on in my case, a scenario of Planescape with some people from the walking club last year). Personally, I think scary has to be 'realistically' scary (like you can imagine yourself in that situation) and I'm never going to be a spy or a member of the SAS, but being jumped by a multi-legged green thing with a big mouth at dusk whilst admiring toadstools after walking about for ages without seeing anything is kinda realistically scary. It's somewhat akin to the feeling you get when you're trying to put a Focus through a letterbox and there's lots of vegetation and you're expecting a dog to come at you any minute... but usually dogs aren't green, multi-legged and have sphincter-shaped mouths... and I don't have a bow and arrow when leafletting...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Have you ever considered the inequalities inherent in capitalism?

Yes, frequently, but it didn't make me a socialist... Unlike the elderly gentleman that myself and the eminent PPC for Bolton NE had a brief and informative discussion with last night on the doorstep. After a discussion of how the collapse of Soviet Communism was the fault of the US, we agreed that we were both exceedingly principled but would sadly have to agree to differ. His wife, incidently, was considering voting Lib Dem.

A very interesting area generally with numerous people who seemed up for a debate about something or other on the doorstep be it the local council, the threat of the Tories getting back in in Bristol West, socialism, reasons for voting Green... Oh yes, and the students who invited us in to their house party before one of their friends told us to f**k off...

My enjoyment was only marred by the fact I realised the washing up refill I bought yesterday appears to be laundry fluid meaning I couldn't make my packed lunch this morning...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Contentment is being efficient at finding interesting things to do...

I've signed up for a 10 week course (2 hours, one night a week) at Bristol Folk House on 'Painting with Oils (and Acrylics)'. My mum was concerned that my oils would smell too much, it'd give me too much cleaning to do when I got home and I later decided that carrying wet compositions about Bristol could be moderately unpleasant (acrylics are water-based and dry fast). Hence, despite being a terrific material purist (I like the idea of producing dark, moody works that crack after about 30 years), I bought my materials list in primarily student quality acrylics. The cost of course and materials practically made me faint but I'm not going on holiday this year and I should learn something, even if it's that art classes are a waste of time. Interestingly, I loathe the smell of the acrylics more than linseed oil and 'Zest-it' - they smell like molten plastic and remind me of how I'd expected 'dip' in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to smell.

I'm 'double-booked' for Saturday (I'm heading off the campaign trail and hiking in Cheddar since I haven't done a good 15km walk for months and I've been campaigning every Saturday for weeks now) and am canvassing and delivering again this week. All incredibly lively and interesting! I'm just really 'on edge' at the moment, early waking and not sleeping very well. I think it's to do with my thesis - I've started a new part of my project and have been floundering for a week, skirting about the base of the mountain infront of me unsure of how to surmount it. I tried to relax last night reading about acrylic paint, The Turning Point (he just seems to be making the same argument applied to different fields of endeavour so once I'd read the first two chapters I don't seem to be able to summon up the enthusiasm to read the rest of the book since I know where he's going) and a sci-fi book recommendation, Speaker for the Dead. Usually if I get to a point where I don't appear to need sleep then walking for miles knocks me out of it - it appears walking to the Bristol constituency HQ wasn't sufficient to vent the excess energy so I'm hoping wandering around for hours on Saturday should knock me out of it and help my focus.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Ye typical potted flowers

I lost the ability to paint last week, probably due to reading far too many art books and trying several techniques that didn't seem to work for me... :( I was persisting with the oilbars and they weren't really responding as a medium. However, in 30 minutes whilst watching Dr Who I drew ye classical artists still life in charcoal and oilbar (multi-tasking, don't ya just love it. But then, flatulent aliens impersonating MPs and taking over Britain isn't exactly a very demanding storyline). Here it is. No idea what type of flowers those are - I saw them in the flower shop in Clifton Downs shopping centre. Neither the flower or the pot exist...

I'm probably going to be signing up on Monday for a 10 week art course on Tuesday evenings on 'Painting in Oils (or acrylics)'. Annoyingly, I only have about 4 of the course material list colours in student quality oils at the moments and mum recommends I use acrylics (since they are water soluble and smell less). I am starting to come around to this idea since acrylics also dry fast meaning taking a piece home should be a lot easier since it should be dry by the end of a 2 hour class. It wasn't booked up this afternoon and, hopefully, shouldn't be booked up by Monday. I thought I'd sleep on it since the course is pretty expensive and having to buy a set of acrylic paints is going to only increase the cost. They don't give student discounts off the course price, which sucks...

Postscript: Same picture again but without the distortion.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The man, the cat and the guitar

Slightly outdated since I was canvassing Wednesday and this is Friday but...

I was canvassing some flats. I arrived at the bottom of a flight of stairs leading up to a door halfway up a wall (Bristle is a bit like this) and there was a man, a guitar and a cat at the top of the stairs on this very narrow wrought-iron railed landing.

I enquired if he was an occupant of any of the flats I had listed since I had to canvass them. He said he was attending a guitar lesson at the middle flat. After some debate over which was the middle flat and where the garden flat was, I asked him if it was his cat and he said he hadn't brought a cat with him.

I then rang the top flat bell (bear in mind we were both standing on a narrow landing at the top of a flight of stairs in front of this door) and a bad tempered elderly bloke opened the door and demanded of the bloke with the guitar what he wanted. Guitar bloke told him it was I who wanted him.

Just as I was about to speak to him, the cat ran into the building. The elderly man excused himself, shouting "I've got to remove a cat that I don't own" back towards the door. Me and guitar bloke then waited patiently on this little landing whilst there was much banging and shouting from inside the building as the elderly guy (and evidently his housemate) attempted to chase the cat out (it was a very fine, black cat with large, lantern green eyes).

After about 5 minutes, he managed to get the cat out of the door and barked "Yes?" at me. I repeated my canvassing spiel at which point he shouted "Green" and slammed the door, leaving the gent and his guitar standing forlornly on the doorstep!

This probably isn't half as amusing written as it was happening (in the great tradition of slapstick) but I was unable to stop giggling for about 20 minutes afterwards which was very bad since I then had to canvass someone called "A. Spitterwick (Jnr)" and someone else with the surname "Pasta" (fortunately, both were out).

The only other amusing incident of the evening was the slightly inebriated chap who was leaning right over my canvass sheet breathing alcohol fumes all over me. He was very keen on voting Lib Dem and I managed to foist a poster off on him which was rather cool.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What were they thinking?

When they created such eminently spoofable posters?

If you haven't had the opportunity to apply your own creative talents, you can here.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Scowld today, int it?

As they say in East Yorkshire. In Hull, however, just 17 miles away, it's "Scurld today, innit?". Having something of a mixed accent (but definitely Northern), I talk about being 'curled' all the time.

Bristle is a bit quiet at the moment with it being out of term so I spent last weekend leafletting a residential area by myself. Hence, I decided since I was in Bristol West between now and the election, I would take a trip to do some campaigning in Cambridge where I happen to have a good friend who is also a PhD student and is thus around during university holidays. This did require getting up rather early in the morning to arrive in Cambridge by about 10:30 am and Cambridge was, erm, 'curled'. This was something I hadn't taken account of when picking my outfit. I am spoiled by Bristol which, warmed by the Gulf Stream, ranges between balmy and Mediterranean. Apparently they had a snowstorm on Friday in Cambridge, which didn't surprise me one bit.

Myself and friend took a short bus trip to one of the outer wards and were canvassing between 11 and 3pm, mostly on the same street. The only people who appeared to be in on a Saturday morning on my side of the street were elderly ladies who were predominantly Tory, and weren't particularly welcoming to someone wearing a Lib Dem rosette (one of them leant out the window and yelled "I'm not Liberal" before slamming the window). His side of the street was apparently quite positive (two people took posters to put up in windows); I do wonder if the demographic on my side of the street was repeated on his side of the street, but that the appearance of a well-spoken, handsome young man on the doorstep elicited a different response from said ladies. After all, I have had many conversations with gentleman of mature years who take the time to lay out to me at length their opinion on the issues of the age before adding finally "And, you know, dear, I'm 85 and I've voted Conservative all my life".

By the time I finished, I was blue up to my elbows (in fact, one of the older ladies who did speak to me said that she was so impressed by my dedication standing shivering in howling wind on her doorstep that she was going to vote Lib Dem this time, which was very gratifying). I went back to the campaign HQ and was huddled up shivering continuously. I also discovered that the mild pepping cough I have had all week became a full-blown 'hacking my lungs out' on exposure to the cold.

I ended up stuffing envelopes in the campaigns HQ for the rest of the afternoon, worrying that my friend was a) probably sick to death of listening to me making remarks about how cold I was and sorrowfully holding out my skinny purple and orange flecked limbs for inspection and, b) wanted to walk across town to do more leafletting (he was entirely sensibly wearing a jumper and a fleece).

Got home about 8:30pm sort of time. Cold apart, a really nice day out.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Women, women, women...

Article in the Guardian about women's magazines... To me, the whole concept of a 'women's magazine' is an oxymoron (is that the word I'm looking for?) since women are not a discrete category who have entirely separate interests from men. Thus, you either sell magazines about eyebrow plucking and lipstick lesbianism... or you sell a magazine about burning your bra and hemp t-shirts.

I would say that women who want to read about more politically charged and deep issues than what Jordan is wearing during pregnancy buy a specialised magazine on the subject rather than a 'women's magazine'. I buy with reasonable regularity - New Scientist, Artists & Illustrators and The Economist. I do, of course, read all the women's magazines on the newstand since they're very entertaining - I think the trick is not to take them too seriously (something the Guardian seems to have overlooked). I'm apparently not entirely unique in this. In a discussion with a female friend on the subject, she pointed out she did exactly the same thing (reading the magazines in the shop) but then bought Private Eye.

They also neglect the fact that a fair few of the 200 women's magazines are probably bought by 15-year olds aspiring to behave how they'll feel when they're a 30-year old professional (when, if they get to be a 30-year old professional -"First date dont's" is probably pretty much common sense... you know, don't inhale spaghetti, get roaring drunk and discuss how you firebombed your previous BF's car are kinda obvious) and socially inept young men who want to know how the opposite sex think.

May 5th

I thought I had better mention the election :D I'm doing a delivery of the 'start of campaign' newsletters this lunchtime, canvassing tonight (although it's raining so it's going to be very pleasant :( I had an easy time campaigning last week - about 17 degrees C leafletting all morning Saturday in a nice suburban area) and doing a youth activism event tomorrow lunchtime.

I probably need the distraction this week - my conscious mind is focused on my thesis but my unconscious mind is in turmoil. I'm a dreamer in the literal sense - most of my important thinking gets done by me running 'scenarios' in my dreams. When I'm powering unconscious and conscious through my thesis I'm hugely productive but it can exhaust me since I'm working all day and then I dream it all night. At the moment, I'm not exactly having recurrent dreams but my dreams are all part of a long running story. They're trying to tell me something that I don't think consciously I'm quite willing to accept yet (that said, it was a very nice dream opera house. It was pale coloured and that style of architecture where there are several stacked levels with pillars - unsure what that's called. It had the most wonderful heavy carved wooden stairways and was reached by crossing a white marble bridge - I may try painting it. It's a real shame I didn't dream about it under different circumstances since I wasn't really in a dream frame-of-mind to appreciate it. It's also a terrible shame that I woke up before the opera started). I think I will know what to do finally and absolutely by the end of the week.

Either way, I'll be campaigning somewhere on Saturday.... I'm unsure whether I'll be in Bristol West (4% swing from Labour needed) or a train journey away.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Death by leeks

Am somewhat concerned by the morbid titles that this blog is acquiring...

I'm still on the GI Food Plan (I say 'Food plan' because anyone who knows me will know that the only diet I probably need to be on is a rapid weight 'gain' programme... Despite the general consensus amongst gentlemen-friends that I would be better being a bit more curvy, I vigorously defend my right to look like a furry-ended pencil) and now have a cookbook (the Times Supplement recipes seemed to involve an awful lot of cheese and I felt eating so much feta probably wasn't healthy). The original intention was to avoid being hungry and low in energy in an afternoon which stopped me working since I left work to go home to eat something. Initially, I seemed to have a lot more energy than my previous diet (a lot simpler but not dissimilar to the GI diet), my hair looked better and I had fewer spots. I've either stopped noticing having more energy or it's balanced off. I certainly still don't seem to have the number of spots I used to (although I do have one or two at the moment). I suspect the difference would only be really noticeable if you'd been living on sugary trash food before you switched. How hungry I am in an afternoon varies although it is less acute than it used to be.

Following said cookbook recipes seem to involve an awful lot of cooking and vegetable buying. Thus, a fair bit of expense and need to stir fry things before I go to work in a morning. I also spend a lot of time worrying incase strange item 'x' causes me either food poisoning (because it's incorrectly prepared) or I'm allergic to it. After some fretting about the correct way to prepare an aubergine last night, today I am fretting about how to prepare leeks. In my experience, leeks are slimy, soggy things you boil in winter with potatoes but my recipe required I stir-fried them, which seemed very irregular. Upon consulting the internet it does appear that you can, indeed, stir-fry leeks but my mum concurred that although she believed them to be rather like large spring onions, they would probably be rather tough (which they were). I suspect I had to slice them thinner than I did and am now worrying about leek poisoning, especially since I want to do some general election campaigning this week.

Postscript: For anyone who has ever considered having (cold) a toasted wholemeal and lemon pitta bread stuffed with cream cheese and stir-fried leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes and parsley... don't...

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hmmm...

Still not sure what I think about the oilbar test painting thingy I did yesterday... I've got it pinned to my noticeboard and I keep glancing at it and I just don't know. Normally I either think "This is c**p" or "This is good"...

...relatively speaking... for me... although I think a fair few of my art problems are due to impatience. The longest piece I've ever done in conventional art media (I once did a very intricate silk painting) took 6 hours [working weekday evenings just before Easter]. Normally I take about an hour to two hours, and the oilbar painting took around 3/4 of an hour whilst I was washing up simultaneously just to see if I could get the things to produce anything half decent. The technically competant paintings I wish I could produce seem to take anywhere between weeks and years (full-time) involving draughtsmenship and preparatory sketches, preparatory paintings, underpainting, etc.

Oilbars generally seem to be used on a large-scale (like 1/2 m * 1 m canvases) of simple subjects (like a flower), as a way of laying down colour before conducting an oil pastel painting or by abstract painters. Hence, I probably should be proud I've produced something using 1.6 cm oilsticks in 30 minutes on a 17*25 cm piece of paper that looks reasonably compellingly like a harbourside from about 6 m away, even if it looks like something done by a Year 7 group close up. I could probably rework it using oil pastels but I'm afraid of losing the impression of a harbourside I have when I'm sitting at this end of the room (even if the Lloyds building does look like the Colosseum), esp. since they'd change the tonal values because they're more vivid than the watered out oilbars and I don't want to start Zest-it washing the whole thing again so I think I'll leave it.

In a mood...

Well, I'm trying to capture a sense of mood anyway...

I went leafletting yesterday in Bristol West with Alex from BULD. It took me about an hour to walk to the HQ, I did a few hours leafletting and then went home via the supermarket to do my grocery shop. Since I was leafletting way out beyond the Downs, I had to walk back home via the top of Whiteladies Road which was a financial disaster since it meant passing Hockney's art shop. I wandered in on passing and saw some oil bars (which I've read about but never seen). They are quite expensive (about £2.30-£3.99 each) and thus I purchased only two - an ivory black and an antique white out of idle curiousity.

Oilbars are a trademark of Winsor and Newton (although you can buy oil sticks from other manufacturers). Info is here under 'oil colour'. They are oil paint in a chunky stick form (bonded with wax). I bought 'slim' bars which are about a centimetre and a half across (the 'original' size are the size of a prittstick)! They behave rather like a combination between pritt stick and a wax crayon and thus subtly and detail are not really the essence of the technique unless you're using a large canvas.

I 'trialled' the oil bars on my minute canvas paper (25 cm x 17 cm) before Dr Who along with a set of 12 garishly-coloured oil pastels I randomly bought about 2 years ago during a camping holiday in Chamonix (and had no success with). I tried 'smoothing' the oil pastels by dipping them into liquin (which turned them into a gooey, sticky mess) and then tried to blend everything using 'Zest-it'. The experiment was good fun. Merryn and Adam came around just after I finished and informed me that the result was 'modern' which was enough of an excuse to throw it out as any I've ever heard!

Not deterred from playing with the oil bars, I tried again this morning after breakfast (I ended up putting a dirty jar of Zest-it into my washing up bowl with my breakfast pots which was a really great start :/). I decided that since I had very small canvas paper, very thick oil bars and could only work in greyscale, I decided to take a blocky tonal approach, use big dots of black and small dots of white for dark areas, vice-versa for light areas and then smooth the whole thing using copious 'Zest-it' and brushes. I tried copying a picture of Bristol Harbourside I'd taken and this is the result. Looks ok (according to my mum, I'm not convinced) from a distance - looks dreadful close up (just a load of damp splodges).

I may try adding a bit of highlighting and lost detail (some boats near the Lloyds building) using black and white oil pastel when it's dried (in a week or so).

Friday, April 01, 2005

Is not more, has ceased to be... just not quite yet

Simon Titley comments he finds the wall-to-wall coverage of the ailing Pope a bit ghoulish...

I agree... Take the BBC Q&A on the Pope's condition given by their medical correspondent/doctor (that I was stupid enough to read yesterday and now can't find). Did I really need to know that elderly men often get urinary infections because they can't empty their bladder properly? Did I really WANT to know that? He's an elderly, ailing chap who is very ill. That's all we really need to know to get the picture.

Other unusual and gross facts I learnt yesterday

Woad was one of the original blues. Woad smells bad and dyes your hands. It smells so bad that woad-dyers had to live on the outskirts of medieval towns... I know the last bit because I watched "The Worst Jobs in History" some time ago, amongst which was woad dyer. This program also included that most reverend of jobs - the guy who wiped the King's backside (a well-respected job that obviously involved a lot of trust since you were standing right next to the king and directly behind him several times a day).

Caput Mortuum means 'death's head' supposedly after the colour of skulls in the Rome catacombs. I ordered 2 Caput Mortuum pastels (it's a violet-brown colour that looks a bit like dried blood) and it did sound a bit of a morbid name when I saw it.

Red attracts attention because it's a long wavelength adn thus appears to come 'out' of the picture.

Being an artist was a pretty lethal thing to do in the past since from what I can see, a fair few pigments seemed to involve some compound of arsenic. As far as I know, a lot of pastels still contain cadmium (cadmium red, etc.) which means I'm pretty stupid working doing big pastel drawings in the space I live in and I'm also relatively stupid deciding I like doing oil painting (since turpentine and white spirit reek). In the latter case, I've bought an environmentally friendly solvent that smells of oranges.

And the most ultimately gross - mummy brown was used as an art pigment for around 120 years... The name probably gives away where they extracted the asphalt from...

Death by wallpaper

I've been having a crisis of faith recently. I've just started trying to pursue a social friendship with someone who I've predominantly known in a professional capacity and they're such a fascinatingly well-informed polymath that I feel the fact we seemed to have pretty much only ever discussed politics and thinking styles seems such a waste of a mine of potential conversational topics. I'm just concerned that some of my alternatives are found to be rather dull but I have the problem of finding extremely strange things really, really interesting (like whether you could produce a galaxy-wise computer network using fluctuations of the quantum vacuum as a faster than light speed signalling medium) and having the burning desire to tell everyone about them when I first find them out.

Generally I like random facts. For example, I have just bought a book on colour to help me choose pastels. However, it's absolutely fascinating. It contains a history of colour (pigments basically).

Did you know that Napoleon apparently died from his wallpaper? In 1822, they discovered true Emerald Green which is is copper aceto-arsenite. This was very popular in wallpaper pigment. The chemical name probably gives the game away - when damp, arsenic fumes were released from the wall, killing people including Napoleon in his prison home on St. Helena. Death by wallpaper is a bad way to go, a little like watching paint dry (groan) especially for a famous conqueror - although Wikipedia seems unsure how Genghis Khan died, the story I heard said he died on his wedding night to his 'x'th wife which seems a somewhat more pleasant method of expiry.

Everyone knows that why Roman Emperors wore purple, of course, was because Tyrian purple pigment was very expensive. This is because it is extracted from a small colour-producing cyst within a whelk. Apparently up to 12,000 molluscs were needed to produce 1.4 grams of dye.

Other interesting and random pieces of information about pigments include:

Ultramarine (the colour) was originally derived from grinding up lapis lazuli during the Renaissance

Earth colours were derived from soils and include ochre, chalk, sienna, umber, terra verte (green earth) and soot black. Green earth was the pigment used in underpainting Renaissance pictures of flesh which is why pictures like Botticelli's Venus have green tinged flesh.

Indian yellow was originally derived from the urine of cows fed soley on a diet of mango leaves in the 15th century. This ceased due to uncertainties over the religious status of the cows (whatever that means).