Monday, February 27, 2012

I can stop any time I want

I'm starting an internet meme. We have all read those articles (actually, probably about 1/3 of the articles) that say the internet is destroying our attention span and will power and making us stupid. But few of these have much to say to us about kicking the brain-suckage habits.

There are some of us who have no choice but to spend hours a day on it, and few of these articles ever offer any sort of practical suggestions on how to take control of this activity that seems so easily to take control of us.

I've noticed that sometimes I can find myself doing some mindless thing on the internet and not even really be aware of how I "got there" or even, in some cases, how much time has passed.

A recent study found that social media like facebook and twitter can be harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.

Experts around the world are seeing a rise in internet addiction and the effects can be just as damaging as drugs.

So, I'm collecting suggestions for an article on how to combat the habits that make the internet into a brain-trap. What do you do to stop yourself melting into the net?

Here's mine: Lately, I've been having a hard time remembering to take my medication, and have often remembered only several hours later than the scheduled time. I have two pills to take each day and they can't be less than about 11 or 12 hours apart, so if I forget to take the morning pill until three pm, then I'm facing difficulties taking the second one. Some days I've skipped a dose because of this and have suffered for it.

So, lately, I've been setting the alarm on my phone for when it's time to take my pills. This has the secondary effect of jarring me out of whatever time-sucking thing that I'm currently fooling around with on the internet, reminding me of the existence of the outside world.

So, in order to try to control my internet use, I thought maybe I'd try to set a timer, to go off once an hour or so, to kind of wake me out of my internet trance state and remind me that the world is still there and that there are other things to do in it.

Another big trap is first thing in the morning, when your will power is not at it's strongest, to have the computer sitting there from the night before on the coffee table. It's not quite the first thing I do every day, (my first thought in the morning is always the same: tea) but when the tea's made and I've brought the tray in and put it on the dining room table, there it is. It says, "why don't you just have a peek around Internetland while you're having your tea?" Next thing I know, it's noon.

The solution to this one is to put the computer away at night. Roll up the cable, pack up the laptop and put it in the cupboard over night. The problem with the net is that it's there all the time and it's really easy to get. You just plop down on the sofa with your tea and toast, open the Mac and voy-lah, you're in again. But I've found that I'm not so far gone that I'll do the morning surf if I have to go looking for the computer and plug it in. So, putting it away at night works pretty well.

OK, now you.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cool idea

The blog "Paint and Draw Together" puts up a photo and you paint it and then submit your painting to the blog.

Neat, huh?


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Another truly awesome classical realist student blog

Julie Beck, Paintings in Progress.

She's quite a bit further along than I am, and seems to also be quite a bit more disciplined, doing a "mandatory" half hour every day and working on anatomy.

I can only offer the excuse of having a job that takes precedence over drawing (but it's a crappy excuse since I can sometimes go for weeks without picking up a pencil, and there's all that time futzing about on the internet, watching kitten videos and posting Shatner videos to Facebook...)


Friday, February 24, 2012

Double Gold Star for Mark

who sent me
Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life

It arrived home yesterday evening. It really is full of exactly the sort of thing I've been trying to find. Full of poetic explanations and notes on what is involved, what you have to remember to think about, when drawing the human figure. Balance, rhythm, distribution of masses and details about the body's mechanisms.

The illustrations are also a blast. They are a combination of Baroque and superhero comic books.

Thanks Mark, and all my readers for ongoing support of this project.


Dorothy has a go

at what I like to call the "Confessional Frump look" that is so popular with "conservative Catholics" in the US and Canada that seems to be fixated on the shapeless plaid jumper, white t-shirt and ankle socks paired with practical shoes, usually sneakers.

Money quotes:
I suppose girls and women don these things as a sort of modesty uniform, a sartorial placard reading "I am a chaste and modest woman who would not have shoddy, unthinkable affairs with local tradesmen while you are at work."

"Modesty is a good and noble thing, but it is all the sweeter when it is subtle. The virgin who reminds people constantly that she is a virgin is not as modest as the virgin who keep her mouth shut on such a personal subject."


"If a man wants back all the beauty, romance and fittingness of the Mass before 1963, he might very well want back all the beauty, romance and fittingness of men's fashion before 1963. And if he is that interested in men's fashion before 1963, imagine how he thinks women should dress. The Well Dressed Woman of 1948 was not wearing what Americans call a jumper, people.

You should not be thinking Laura Ingalls Wilder; you should be thinking Veronica Lake."

OK ladies, claws out; harpy-screech at the ready...



A few little notes on the news

OK, I get the whole "let's not kill off our future" thing that the American black pro-life movement is saying, and I'm with it all the way...

But I have to say, I really don't understand American race issues at all. Never have. I mean, in what universe is this person "black"? What counts as "black" in the US seems to be more a political question than a question of genetics.

And finally, what the hell difference does it make what colour you are? Isn't there something... well... racist about the 'black pro-life movement' altogether? Is it asserting that people have value in spite of their colour or because of it? I'm really not sure, since the message is so confused. I understand that the people who founded Planned Parenthood, and the people who run it today, have been and remain very interested in killing as many black children as possible, both domestically and abroad.

Some years ago, I was having a conversation with a woman in the pro-life movement about some issue or other, and she asked me, "I'd like to know what you think of this as a woman." I had absolutely no idea what she meant. I don't think things "as a woman". I just think things. I told her that it was a meaningless question. The moral law does not make such distinctions. I have not looked very closely at the "pro-life feminist" sub-branch of the movement, but I can't help think that there is some deep contradiction at work there, some profound misunderstanding either of what feminism is and where it came from or what the pro-life philosophy means taken in its entirety.

I don't think the "black pro-life movement" is saying that it is more wrong to kill children who are black. But maybe they are saying that it is more wrong to kill a child because he is black, and I'm not sure I would go with that. The end result is the same. A child is dead. The child is just as dead if you kill her because she is black, or because she has Down's syndrome, or because the mother simply didn't feel like having a child. Dead is dead.

The same question can be applied, and is being applied, to this latest kerfuffle in the UK over sex-selective abortions. What difference does it make if you kill a child because she is female or kill the same child because she cramps your personal style?

We've got a video clip that illustrates perfectly the absurdity of British abortion laws and procedures. In Britain, you can get an abortion, paid for on the public dime, if you give the right reason. The kerfuffle now is over women getting abortions after giving the wrong reason. This means that if you want to kill your child because she's a girl, that's "morally wrong" (according to Andrew Lansley, the health secretary) but if you want to kill the same child because you're "not ready for pregnancy" that's just fine, morally respectable and perfectly legal.

So, the Telegraph reporter and the pregnant woman go to the abortion facility and she says, "I want to kill this child because she's a girl..." What happens next?

"Is that the reason?” asked the doctor, who introduced himself as Dr Raj. "That's not fair. It's like female infanticide isn't it?"

When the pregnant woman asked if he could put down a different reason for the termination, the doctor said: "That's right, yeah, because it's not a good reason anytime

… I’ll put too young for pregnancy, yeah?"

So there we have it. That this is how the law works in Britain is, I suppose, something very few people ever think about. So, despite the whole thing seeming utterly silly to us, people who do understand why the entire premise of the UK abortion law is insane and self-contradictory (not to mention evil), this is probably the first time that regular, normal people, people who do not have a lot of training thinking logically, are being confronted with such a stark presentation of that insanity that we all know so well.

If this matter gets enough attention, and if the pro-life people in England make the right points, this may actually do some good. It seems possible that this will open a debate in Parliament in which something might get said that makes some sense. At last.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Today in Euclid

I learned today the correct definition of a ratio. Book V, Definitions 1-4.

I'd been messing about with Golden Rectangles and Fibonacci spirals in my notebook, noting how close one can and cannot come with a pencil and a hand-held compass on paper, to the absolute values for these mathematical ideas. I don't know if this is very close, but I got it to three decimal places.

I also noticed that the drawing I've been working on, little tiny bit by little tiny bit, of the statue by Borromini of St. Andrew in the Lateran Basilica, is also based on the Golden Thingy. I took the postcard I've been working from and now that I know how to do it, measured out the square and the leftover bit, and voy-lah, it was a nearly perfect fit. 1:1.618.

I'm probably going to start seeing it all over the place now.

Here's some other stuff.

I'm trying to get the knack of charcoal (Pitt pastel) so I'm back to doing the flats. This is the head of St. Francis by Caravaggio. (The one on the left, I mean.)

You start with straight lines...

Then put in the first values evenly and lightly in blocks.

Then you start darkening up the darks, all the while adjusting the contours.

So far, I've mostly done this with very simplified lithographs of casts and statues. The Bargues. This painting is a heck of a lot more subtle in the changes from the highlights to the darkest darks. It's like a puzzle.

Kathleen working.

My dining room table is now almost entirely work-benchified. There is a two foot square bit at the end where we sometimes squeeze in a couple of plates or the tea tray.

I have been working a bit on value studies from simple objects. But only in pencil. I tried it in charcoal and it was just too much to think about all at once.

Carry on... carry on... don't give up...


Birthday presents for the budding art nerd

Fibonacci gauge.


Teens "groomed" for sex exploitation in Manchester

It is notable that the Party That Dare Not Speak Its Name has been trying to alert the public about this for decades.

I have a teenaged cousin in Cheshire I'm quite fond of, and the thought makes my skin crawl.


It's getting light out

I spent the whole night looking at YouTube videos about Geometry and the Divine Proportion, and drawing Golden Rectangles and Fibonacci spirals in my notebook.

And learning how to make Platonic Solids out of fruit.


Buddy System

Anyone want to work on Euclid with me? It always helps to have a partner or a little group.

The edition I'm using is the Dover reprint of Thomas Heath's 1925 translation of the earlier work of Heiberg, 1888. Three volumes, kindly sent along by an O's P. regular reader.

There appear to be various online study guides as well. I've found this one from the Dept. of Math and Computer Science at Clark university. I'm sure there are other good study aids to Euclid online, but I like this one to start with because the notes, at least that I have looked at so far, are brief and comprehensible.

I've come to the conclusion that I really can't do what I hope to do without a comprehensive look at classical geometry and proportions. This, I assume, is where my stick-to-it mettle is going to be tested. I'm quite excited about the prospect of studying geometry as part of my study of classical drawing, but I know from long and sad experience that the feeling of eagerness at the beginning cannot be counted on to pull one through to the completion of a project. If anyone else has a sound reason to want to study this subject with me, I would appreciate the companionship. As we all know from our various gym and weight training experiences, it's always easier on the buddy system.

I'll be keeping my eye open on Amazon and elsewhere to see if there are any good study editions. I was commenting this evening that when I studied Latin at King's College, the text we used was Wheelock, I think maybe the 4th edition...? Since my Latin time, 1998/99, I see that Wheelock has been turned into an entire one-man Latin industry, with work books, flash cards, readers, study guides, vocabulary books, 501 tenses and declensions and even whole websites dedicated to helping you get through the 40 chapters. I was remarking that the same thing could certainly profitably be done with Euclid if there were to be a revival of classical education. I will certainly be looking around.

In the meantime, if there is anyone who would consider committing to this project, let me know. As I implied above, it would be best if someone has a good reason to want to study geometry, rather than simply thinking it is a neat idea. I have thought it would be a neat idea, and have never got 'round to it. But I am starting now because I have an actual concrete need to know. The point of having someone to do it with is to keep both people going through to the end (or at least as far as our wee brains can go), which generally requires a serious motivation at the start.

I plan on doing, or I hope to be able to do, about 1/2 an hour a day, most days of the week first thing in the morning. I've started already, a little bit of Book 1, but I'm still pretty weak, so that might take a little building-up-to.

Let me know if you are interested and have the time to devote.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012


This is my father, taken, I guess, not long ago in a cafe in Duncan, British Columbia.

I'm amazed at how much he looks like my Grandma. You can see her peeking out behind his eyes.


Monday, February 20, 2012

What are we going to do today, Brain?

In fact, if I really wanted to set myself up as a Mad Scientist, it certainly would be easy with enough money.

You can order the entire Frankenstein Kit online.

And they deliver!

Not sure where I'm going to get a Ruhmkoroff Induction coil, Jacob's Ladder and Line Transformer to boost my electrical output, and make awesome sparks. And of course, I'm going to need a steady supply of glassware and human organs in jars of formaldehyde.

But I see there's places where you can learn to build your own Tesla coil, so that's that taken care of.

Apparently the best university to take courses to become an Evil Genius is Cambridge, so get studying.

Isn't the internet great?!

(But if you are looking for role models, please don't become this guy.

In fact, don't even read about him. I read that the other night and had to spend a couple of hours afterwards watching kitten videos and I had nightmares anyway.

Be this guy, instead.)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

3.5x-90x Trinocular Stereo Microscope + USB Digital Camera and 54 LED Ring Light

Beautiful isn't it?

It's what I want for my birthday.

It's something I don't talk about very much, but that I've always regretted. I didn't stay in university, mostly because I couldn't justify the enormous debt that was going to accrue and at the time I was there, in my early 20s, I really had no idea what my interests were. But I really wish I had had the self-knowledge and the courage then to go into the natural sciences.

So little did I know myself and so deeply afraid was I of Doing It Wrong, that I finally realised I needed to understand myself better before committing to such enormous, long-term expenses. Like a lot of modern people that age, I had no sense at all of what I really loved, no sense of my natural aptitudes or even interests and I was never calm enough to have time to figure it out. The result of having been cut loose without guidance at too early an age.

I'm glad now that I didn't stay. It really would have been time and most of all money wasted. (Japanese? French philosophy? What the...?). But it's a shame, now that I do know myself better, that I am of an age where I have no more interest in making a massive directional change. I'm very happy with what I do and fairly proud of myself for having worked and read my way into it on my own, and I don't want to go "back to school".

It wasn't until I was in my 20s, as I noted below, that I discovered that I was not really bad at maths after all and that if I had wanted to, I could certainly have upgraded and worked my way up to undergraduate level to start with biology.

Long-time readers may have noticed that this is a serious side interest. Botany, gardening, zoology, wildflowers, taxonomy, ecology (as it was called in the olden days)... Natural History, in short. It is a big ambition in art to combine these interests and do botanical painting. I hope to do a botanical and entomological catalogue of local Italian wildflowers, plants and insects. Maybe even a medicinal herbal. Certainly, one of the reasons I was most happy that cancer is (probably) over, is that now I have time to pursue these things.

It all started in childhood, and was mostly my mother's doing.

When I was still quite small, mum started her university studies, a double major in marine biology and mathematics at UVic. And she spent a lot of time with me, teaching me about the things she was studying. And of course, we had a library of books on it all, field guides, taxonomic keys and the giant, two-volume Larousse Encyclopedia of Animal Life. From an early age, I started on the books by Gerald Durrell, a personal hero. And of course, I had a sizable collection of Nature Things.

Essentially, I was homeschooled before it was trendy. Mum was studying marine biology with Alan Austin, and took courses in the summer. Well, she couldn't afford a babysitter and it was the 70s and the Left Coast so no one minded, least of all me, that she would just take me with her to classes, labs and field trips.

I'll never forget the Saturday afternoon when I was about nine and she had a lecture. I was allowed to spend the afternoon by myself in one of the salt water labs. This was a room of wonders. It had a big white tank in which were kept the specimens found on the beaches around the Islands. Alan was a specialist in seaweed, so there were all sorts of different species in the tank that were kept alive with a cycle of fresh sea water at the right temperature (cold). Fortunately, along with the seaweed collections were always little critters, various crustaceans, invertebrates, star fish, tiny crabs, and whatnot that clung to the seaweed.

Also in this lab were a set of binocular dissecting microscopes which I had been shown how to use. These were wonderful machines. They were fairly low power microscopes designed so that the viewer could see the object in 3-D, which meant no microtechnique slides were necessary. You could put the whole critter under the scope. It was dual-light, with a light on top and one underneath the glass plate to eliminate shadows.

I had also been given a student's dissecting kit and kept a notebook.

Well, needless to say the afternoon went quickly. I'll never forget finding a tiny starfish; it could not have been more than 5mm in diameter. I flipped it over and sat there for a good half hour, drawing pictures in my notebook and just watching it with its incredible multitude of colours and mathematical perfection, waving its little sucker-ended legs at me. I watched this amazing thing flip itself over several times. Incredible. (No! of course I didn't cut it up! What would be the point of that? Starfish just grow more starfish out of the cut up pieces. And besides, I was not a mean kid.)

I had less luck with a tiny hermit crab. I picked it out of the tank by its shell and I guess it panicked. It plopped right back into the water and scrambled under a leaf. I felt awful, and carefully placed its shell near where it had landed, and spent some time watching it to make sure it climbed back in. Since then I've been careful to pick hermit crabs up in my palm. They don't bite, after all.

My mother taught me how to make a trap using a jar and a net to collect interesting things from freshwater ponds and streams, how to build an underwater viewer (with a juice tin and cellophane) so you can stand in the water waist deep and look at the creatures swimming around you and how to do accurate field notes.

I wish I had kept going. One of the things that makes me mad about the Modern World is that the irrationalists have taken over the biological sciences and turned them into exercises in idiot leftist politics. When I lived in England, stomping around the countryside, I went through a period where I seriously reconsidered upgrading maths and getting into environmental sciences. I looked all over the place in vain for college programmes that didn't stink of the pseudo-religious claptrap that has become intertwined with this field.

Anyway, since that long-ago Saturday afternoon in the salt water lab, I have yearned for my own dissecting microscope. Of course, I had always thought when I was a kid that such things were only bought by universities and were impossibly expensive. But I've since learned that anyone can buy one, and there have been significant improvements on the one I used way back when. They're still pretty pricey, but in the hundreds of dollars range, not thousands.

A good trinocular stereo microscope will have a magnification of 20x-40x-60x-80x, zoom lenses, dual lighting system with fibre optic lights (no heat to cook your specimens), a boom stand so you can get bigger things under it and best of all, a third viewer with a built-in or attachable digital camera and USB, so you can take pictures and make videos of what you're looking at.

I've always wanted to be a Mad Scientist, or at least a Naturalist. But I'm going to have to save my pennies, because neither I nor anyone I know has the spare dosh for a toy like this.


pretty snazzy huh? Some day. And of course, you have to get all the cool stuff to go with it. Collecting jars and bottles, nets and things to poke and magnify with. Wonders!

One could make splendid micro-still lifes with one of these. Portraits of tiny, magical and mysterious things from another world, nearly invisible, but right under our feet.


Friday, February 17, 2012

By the numbers


is why I want to go back to geometry.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Those damned graphic images!

They Just. Don't. Work!

I have observed that the people (always claiming to be pro-life) who object to the use of graphic images use precisely the same arguments against them that the pro-aborts like to use: "But what if children see them?!!" (People who have experience with actually using the images will tell you every time that it is the adults who become upset. Children know the difference between truth and bull____, at least until their teens.)

In addition, the people who get all shrieky over the nasty pictures love to claim that they "don't work". "They just put people off". The claim is that the pictures "shut down the argument". That "they are just so horrible that the only reaction you ever get is anger. All people do is flounce away in a huff. There's no opening for discussion."

What I have noticed is that for the most part, the people making this claim are those who have never actually used graphic images in a pro-life demonstration. I usually want to ask the people making these claims how many times they have participated in projects like the Genocide Awareness Project. If they had, they would know from their own experience that the exact opposite is the truth.

Here is one of the many reports from people who use the images all the time, who work exclusively with them on college campuses and on the streets of towns all over the US and Canada.

abortion advocates often insist that the debate is over- no one wants or needs to discuss abortion. However, we have found that this is not the case, especially on a university campus like Florida Gulf Coast University, when we hold the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP).

For example, whenever we hold GAP on university campuses, Planned Parenthood representatives usually react by putting on their pink t-shirts and setting up a table with free candy and condoms. They have a supply of signs with various slogans like “Women’s Health Matters” and “Pro-Woman, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice”. This is a positive and attractive message, and always gathers a crowd of supporters.

In contrast, we put up graphic, ugly, bill-board sized pictures of babies that have been killed, along with victims of other terrible injustices. One might think that this would turn people away, and be a barrier to dialogue but we have found just the opposite.

These terrible images are the catalyst that many students need in order to seriously engage in the abortion debate.

The one thing that the claim does make clear, however, is just how utterly self-serving it is. They just don't like graphic images. The dead baby pictures upset them. Why? I don't know but I could hazard a few guesses from experience.

I've seen much the same reaction from people who don't like Trads but who like to claim to be deeply devout and faithful Catholics, who become angry and defensive whenever the issue of the Traditional Mass comes up. Underneath their indignation is a nauseating kind of smarmy, self-congratulatory patting of their own backs. They don't like Trads because they don't like the implication that there's something they need to do, a few things they might need to know that they don't know already. Something they might need to give up or repent.

I've seen people become hysterical, actually shrieking and ready to launch into a physical attack at the sight of the pictures. But these are the same people who become hysterical and violent at the mere mention of an opinion opposed to abortion. These are the people we want to upset. The people who really need to be upset.

And yes, in many cases they are post-abortive themselves. They have often never had anyone say anything to them but the usual lies of the abortion movement. The politically correct crap that they've been fed from the day of their abortions, "I'll support you whatever decision you make." "You had a hard choice but in the end you did what was best for you."

And, frankly, so what if they're upset? Is it going to kill them? Are they going to leave your dead baby pictures display and go immediately to be incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital? Why do we bother our heads about the passing, temporary emotional reactions of some people to an unpleasant and powerful truth?

There's been a kind of hypersensitivity to being "upset" in recent decades. All sorts of arm-chair pop psychologizing that gives an excuse to the sort of people who want to be thought fragile and delicate to claim that they have been "traumatized". Mostly this is a means of controlling everyone around them. "Be nice to me at all times, never disagree with me, or I'll be traumatized."

But a real psychologist will tell you that the human psyche is extremely resilient and tough. People don't react well to being lied to and duped, but if the thing they are seeing is verifiably true, they will adjust to it after an initial moment of shock.

The fact is, abortion is horrifying. If you are not horrified by it, by the very thought of it, perhaps you are not actually a fragile delicate flower; perhaps you are exactly the opposite. Perhaps the real problem is that you are hard of heart, as it says in the Big Book, that you have had your conscience deadened and eroded away by a lifetime of listening to too many lies, and seeing too many conscience-deadening things on television.

People who become angry when presented with an unpleasant truth have a few things in their conscience that they really do need to deal with. By making them "upset" and telling them the truth, forcing them to confront these unpleasant realities, you are helping them.

That it is unpleasant to be yelled at and called names is something I suggest you offer up, for the sake of your soul or for theirs.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Art and Fear

A new book I'd like to read. Art and Fear talks about the problems everyone seems to encounter when embarking on Doing Art of any sort.

This book is about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people - essentially (statistically speaking) there aren't any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time. Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar.


Making art and viewing art are different at their core. The sane human being is satisfied that the best he/she can do at any given moment is the best he/she can do at any given moment. That belief, if widely embraced, would make this book unnecessary, false, or both. Such sanity is, unfortunately, rare. Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did.

In fact, if artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product; the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork.

... Your job is to learn to work on your work.

(Yes, It's on my Amazon wishlist.)

It all reminds me of something I read once about St. Jean Vianney. He once prayed to God to allow him to see from God's own perspective, the true state of his soul. God replied that this would not be good for him. The great saint's soul was so grotesquely deformed and ruined by his sins that he would give up the Christian life in despair if he were allowed one glimpse of its true condition.

It is, essentially, none of our business to be eager to know exactly and with perfect perspective where we are in either the spiritual life or in the making of art, a universal human spiritual activity. It is our business only to get on with what we have to get on with and let it be in whatever state and level it is in. It is equally fatal to art as to the spiritual life to compare our progress with others.

As the book Art and Fear says,

The viewers' concerns are not your concerns (although it's dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever.

Your job is to learn to work on your work.




I love my readers, and my readers love me!
At the risk of ruining any surprise but because I've never even placed an order on before and because for years I've been terrified to even try it, I'm going to tell you that "Art and Fear" should hopefully be arriving sometime between now and April 2. I might have chosen expedited shipping except that I could not tell what any of the charges were going to be until after I chose something. I will send a screen shot so that you will have a record in case something goes wrong. This could definitely call for a book for me called "Computers and Fear." :-)

One of my dear friends, a fellow artist and teacher gave me this book some years ago and it is a wonderful commentary on the obstacles that artists face when viewing a blank sheet of paper. It is full of insight and "aha" moments as we recognize ourselves on each page.

I don't often leave comments and sometimes I'm a little intimidated but I really enjoy reading your blog and following along with your life as it unfolds. We still include you by name in our night prayers.

Best greetings from Arkansas,

May you be filled with awesomeness.


More fun with Taxonomy: Tamarix Gallica

One of the things that I found somewhat unsettling when I first came to Italy was all the weird plants and trees that I didn't recognise. When I was a small child, my mother started teaching me the Latin and common names of most of the plants and trees in the area where we lived. She said I was the only ten year-old in town who could identify by sight all of the major conifers of British Columbia, Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars and whathaveyou. Of course, the climate there is very similar to England's and there were a great many imports from the Mother Country in Victoria, a big gardening town, so most of the plants and trees I knew were also common in England.

But upon moving into this totally alien climate, I started realising that I had no idea of the identity of many of the plants around me. It was the first time I had really noticed that I had been paying attention to it all my life, and it was odd to suddenly realise that this was a big part of the reason I felt out of place. It was simply something I had taken for granted all my life (and I still find it odd when I meet people who can't tell a sycamore from a broad leaf maple).

So one of the first things I started doing here was buying wildflower and tree identification books. The Italian isn't a problem because much of the botanical language is based on Latin in English and in Italian so it was very easy to suss it out. But there are still a number of local varieties that I have never seen before and can't find in a book.

For example, I've been seeing a lot of these very odd-looking shrubby trees around Santa Marinella. In the summer the small ones look like ferns with very fine frond-like leaves and stems. The big ones grow as large as an ornamental cherry and have trunks that are woody and have a bark similar to hawthorne. But the leaves, if that is what they are, most closely resemble cedar, and so I took them for some odd alien type of conifer. They look like a tree that sprouts very fine ferns instead of leaves. But yesterday I noticed that the trees that had been green and frond-y in the summer were all bare now, so despite their appearance, they are clearly deciduous. In the spring, moreover, they produce masses of lovely mist-like purple/pink flowers.

Certainly one of the oddest plants I've seen so far.

I finally managed to find a reference in a book that I didn't buy (60 Euros!) and jotted it down in my notebook.

Tamarix Gallica or French Tamarisk. My observation that they look like cedar shrubs seems not to have been far off, since one of the common names for it is "Salt Cedar". But it is not a conifer, nor is it French. They're considered an invasive pest in Texas because of their ability to tap deep into water tables and soak up more than their share of water. Wiki says it is native to Saudi Arabia, the Sinai Penninsula and the hot dry parts of the Mediterranean in general.

One to add to my future Botanical Catalogue of Wildflowers and Trees of Santa Marinella.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Books to read about art

I'm working on The Book, and a huge part of it is researching the original sources of what we now refer to as Classical Realism (but was then just called "painting").

I've found a complete text online of Leon Battista Alberti's treatise Della Pittura, and as I said below am having a great time with it. It's leading into all sorts of other things that I want to know about.

This has led me to start developing a reading list of indispensable, as well as merely useful and interesting works, ancient and modern, on art and artists, aesthetics, natural philosophy, the Italian Renaissance and all that stuff.

I'll stick it up on the sidebar and add to it as we go along.

LBA treatise On Painting
Leonardo's "treatise" (really a compilation of his notes on painting)
Euclid, Elements
De Divina Proportione (Which seems to be available in reprints, but so far only in German)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On re-creating the Renaissance education

So, I took today to work on my book and I've been reading a little of Leon Battista Alberti's "brief" treatise On Painting, and it immediately became apparent that in order to even follow this great man's thinking on the subject of painting, I am going to have to revisit mathematics, particularly geometry.

A few months ago, a reader kindly fulfilled one of my Amazon Wishlist wishes, and sent me all three volumes of Euclid's Elements. Many years ago, I took a remedial mathematics course and did quite well. I later discovered the reason for this. It was obvious from the layout of the course that its author had been a big fan of Euclid. All the proposals were laid out in my course in a logical and wondrously clear pattern from simplest concepts to greater and greater complexity.

By the end of this short course, I had discovered that not only was I not completely hopeless about maths, but there was in this Geometry business some elusive key to the secrets of the universe. Like a kind of map to God. It certainly became clear why the Pythagoreans worshipped mathematics like a god. This revelation is one of the key things I hope to lay out in my own book on re-creating the thought processes of the study of classical drawing and painting.

Book One of Alberti's treatise consists of over 6000 words on the mathematics behind perspective and composition. The work was, of course, intended for the sons of educated 15th century gentlemen who would have received Euclid as the beginning and end of their studies in mathematics and for whom Alberti's ideas were merely the application of these abstract concepts to a concrete form. But to us half-illiterate moderns, the damn thing is nearly incomprehensible. (And the edition I have found online has no pictures. This subject really does need illustrations!)

I think I'd better fetch my copy of Euclid from the office where it has very eruditely decorated my desk for some time.


What? People do Euclid as a hobby all the time, don't they? It's not weird.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Winnie approves the new monkey

She likes Kathleen.

Who feeds you?! Huh?

Ungrateful animal! Who?


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Manet's cats

Artists seem to like cats.

Maybe because they sit still long enough for you to practise on them.

I think it's time I started sketching Winnie for posterity.

The internet can't last forever, and she needs to be immortalised.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Attention denizens...

Please take a moment, if you are religiously inclined, to pray for a reader who kindly wrote to me offering her good wishes and prayers for my cancer recovery.

She does not say directly that she has cancer, but that seems to be the implication.

(I do not pass her name along, since she did not write into the commbox, but God will know if you just say, "That lady Hilary was talking about".)

I'd been in university two years before I suddenly remembered, "Gads! I hate school!"

It's all fun and games

until you realise that you live in an unheated medieval house at the top of a tiny Italian hill town, the impossibly dangerous roads have been iced over for a week,

...and you're out of insulin.


Monday, February 06, 2012

Province of Lazio declares "state of calamity"

Not making it up. And yes, they brought the army out.

Take THAT Toronto!

Everyone seems to be mad at the mayor, Alemanno.

Rome in the snow.

Romans, playing in the snow.

But Romans really shouldn't complain if all they've got is a little trouble with traffic.

260 die (so far) in record European cold snap.
the poor weather also hit boat passengers, when the ferry Sharden hit a breakwater shortly after setting off from the port of Civitavecchia near Rome on Saturday.

It caused panic among the 262 passengers who feared a repeat of a cruise ship tragedy in the area last month that is thought to have killed 32 people.

Coast guard spokesperson Carnine Albano said the accident, which tore a 25m hole in the ship's side above the waterline, happened after the vessel was buffeted by a violent snow storm from the north-east.

All passengers were evacuated and no injuries reported.

Apparently, 16 people have died in snow-related traffic accidents in Algeria.


Happy anniversary, Your Majesty

The Queen of Canada took the throne 60 years ago today.

Ad multos annos.

If you want to sing along, here is the Canadian verse of God Save the Queen:

Our loved Dominion bless
With peace and happiness
From shore to shore;
And let our Empire be
United, loyal, free,
True to herself and Thee
For evermore


Sunday, February 05, 2012

Last blooming

I'm into my fifth week as an unwoman a post-operative hysterectomy patient, and I can tell you, it's an interesting experience to be surgically so altered. Things you never noticed before, and things you'd never really thought much about, suddenly enter your mind, like Penelope's houseguests, and stay there.

I'm not entirely sure I should be writing about this, and I'm sure Dorothy will be speaking sternly to me about it later, but obviously that has never really stopped me before.

Oddly, I think in terms strictly of physical appearance, I am prettier now than I have been in years. Between nausea and indifference, I have lost enough weight to fit into clothes that have been haunting my wardrobe like ghosts of youth for fifteen years. The other day I wore a very long woolen pencil skirt that was two sizes too small when I bought it but which I had intended to take apart and rework as a shorter skirt. This weekend I just put it on and zipped it up. And a rather nice tweed suit I've had since the mid-90s now fits in both pieces after I had been wearing the jacket with other things for years.

By fluke, the short haircut, shorter than I have ever had my hair before even as an infant, seems to be exceptionally flattering and after an adolescence and early adulthood plagued with bad skin, I have achieved the kind of flawlessness I only dreamed of when it mattered. They told me at 18 that having oily, blotchy skin in youth would work out much better in later life, but it seemed irrelevant then. Still more, I seem to have an odd glow that I don't remember noticing before. Maybe it's the almond oil, but I'm more inclined to think it is something to do with the strangely altered chemistry. I can't imagine it will last long.

Looks like a picture in a book...


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Snow in Rome


This was taken in Rome Saturday morning at the Parco della Caffarella by Chris Altieri, denizen. Biggest snowstorm in 20 years. A friend of mine texted me just now to say he couldn't come over because he got "snowed in" in the City last night.

It's bright and sunny here today though. Not much sign of the last 24 hours of storms.

It's cold though. My radiators have been going full blast 24 hours a day for three days, and it's still not what you would call "warm" in here.

The pope's back garden.

Romans love snow as much as I did when I was a kid in sunny, non-wintery Victoria. What I want to know is how come Roman kids own snow pants?

He looks a little surprised.

Sliding (very few sleds) at the Circus Maximus.

Someone has one though.

"For Rent"

The sun's out again in Rome and it's so bright with light reflected off the white stuff that it's blazed out the webcam.

Photo hat-tips to C. Altieri, D. Kerr and others via Facebook


Friday, February 03, 2012


Here's what St. Peter's Piazza looks like now

Here's the link to Vatican Radio's webcam.

I woke up this morning after running the heat all night and it was quite chilly. It's not snowing yet out here, but pouring with rain and really cold (for Italy). I'm bundled up in a wooly sweater, scarf and fuzzy hat.

I kept the link to the webcam open this afternoon and with my good Bose speakers plugged into the computer, I've been hearing the rolls of thunder in Rome, the bells chiming and a crow calling. It's made my afternoon very Goth...


Thursday, February 02, 2012

I think I'm getting the wrong message from this article

This nice-looking young man is complaining that the new tuition fees (£9000 a year, no matter what you're studying) are likely to be a bar to "working class" applicants to medical school. He says that doctors in Britain are usually chosen from the upper classes and has a go at the "posh" accent.

The other thing he seems to be complaining about are the high standards, and requirement to be a well-rounded person...
I’m no sociologist but the lack of working class kids becoming doctors is fairly understandable when you consider the huge number of hoops that have to be jumped through in order to successfully gain entry to medical school. Not only do you need to get top A-level results but you need to be able to pad out you application with tales of work experience, charity do-gooding, sporting prowess and musical genius. You then have to be adequately well spoken to impress during the medical school interview.

Oh No!

"Adequately well spoken..." Shocking!

I don't know about you mate, but as an oncology patient who was forced to put her life in the hands of other people, I'm pretty happy that doctors are required to have "top A-levels" and are skimmed lightly off the top of the cream of society.

But maybe I'm just an eeeviiiil elitist.

And forgive me but, if you're writing an op-ed for a major national newspaper complaining about the high standards of education required for medical students, do try to learn the difference between a plural and a contraction. Really, if you can learn the secrets of microbiology, the secrets of the apostrophe shouldn't be a big challenge.

Nor spell-check neither.


Most of this video is just annoying, on both sides (sorry Ezra), but skip to 8:15 and you'll go


(Though I did find myself wondering if he checked his wallet after.)


OK everybody,

...with your best high-pitched self-righteous shriek...

"GRAPHIC IMAGES DON'T WORK you evil extremist hater!

...Oh, I'm just so offended"

I remember talking to someone who brought the GAP to Canada. She had been all over the place with the nasty pictures and heard every. single. complaint (and it's funny how the people on "our side" almost always make exactly the same complaint as the pro-aborts...)

She thought she'd heard it all until the day, at some university campus in Arkansas I think, when they got a call from the local pro-life pregnancy care volunteer centre. You know those nice woman-friendly places that are all about the nice snuggly warm feelings you get when you give them a package of diapers once a year so you can say you've done your bit? The ones with all the nice pictures of cuddly babies on the walls...

She was told that the GAPpers were causing them all manner of trouble and would they please knock it off with those pictures, for heaven sake?!

They were getting too many calls you see. All those university kids who had seen the pictures had changed their minds about abortion and, instead of calling the local abortion mill, were calling them and they just weren't used to such a high volume of work and didn't have the manpower for it...

Yep. That actually happened.

You can be pro-life, but for pity sake! Don't be that pro-life. Have some moderation!


First portrait sketch

So, I've been reading the book, Lessons in Classical Drawing, and practising with charcoal, and I thought I'd have a go at doing a formal sitting. I picked a friend whom I knew would not be offended if I made him look like a bowl of pudding.

As it turned out, I think it looks OK...for a first go. This is the sight-size method that Andrea has been teaching me. You place the easel in such a way that you simply do a one-to-one copy of what you see.

Here's the original

It wasn't easy to get him to sit still until I hit upon the method of letting him watch a movie on the computer while I worked.

Also, yelling.

I'm going to have to keep working on charcoal technique, I've not really got the knack of shading and judicious smudging that brings the whole thing up to a fine polish, but at least it's a start.

I think I am going to call this a "portrait sketch" because I realised as I was doing it that I did not have either the time or the expertise with charcoal to do a more closely rendered drawing. With a real portrait, there are all sorts of wee teeny details that you have to get just right in order to go from it being "just a sketch" to a real finished portrait drawing. (For example, look at the shape of the shadow just on the inside corner of Chris's left eye. It's not round is it? It's got a little point on it at the top... Stuff like that.) There's also a whole lot of shading that can be done by putting down layers of charcoal where you deepen a shadow and then do another shadow on the inside.

Also, I think I'm going to use toned paper for the next one. I thought of just doing a value over the whole face and then bringing up the brightest highlights using the white paper with the eraser, but (because I'm still recovering and my hands are still somewhat shaky) I was not very confident about my use of the charcoal pencil for doing a light tone, and because the paper was the cheap crappy stuff I bought to just futz about on.

With toned paper, either grey or tan, you don't have to do that fine layer of mid-tone value over the whole thing and then erase, and you get to use white chalk to bring up the highlights and go really dark with the darkest shadow shapes. All in all, a much more pleasing effect.

Something I definitely learned with this though, is that I don't like drawing small. I think next time I'm going to have the easel and the subject close to side by side to get a much bigger drawing. I think I'm going to be one of those Draw-it-Big artists.

For a little while I think I'm just going to practice on some of the Caravaggio pictures I've got out of books, heads of Christ and St. Francis, etc., to get the hang of doing values with the brown charcoal pencil. Also, get ready for a long and fascinating series that I think I will call "Getting the white milk jug right".

Keep trying. Try harder...

(Also, I'm taking applications from any of the Rome/S. Marinella people who want to be next.)