Aaaaaaand … done!

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I could start by spitting out a random quote about how time flies, blah blah, but I won’t. Because everyone knows that already.

When I started Uni in September I felt like I was pretty clued up about the world, I thought I knew about art and about being cool (loljk), and I didn’t really expect to make many friends, but I was so wrong.

I know I’m only a third of the way through my degree and in the sense of how much I have learnt about myself, my creativity, and about how naive I am most of the time, it’s actually scary/incredible how much further I know I can go.

I have worked my bum off this year: for most of the year I was spending five full days in uni and the remaining two in work, and that essentially meant brushing aside my responsibilities as a parent, which made me feel such heart-wrenching guilt every single day I’m not really sure how I kept plodding along. But it’s all been worth it. I’ve had some incredible marks from my modules – ones that I am so proud of (but that I’ve been afraid of sharing because I feel like I’m bragging). And now I’m only working one day on the weekend and the summer holidays are only a week away (after the end-of-year exhibition) so now I can get back to spending quality time with my awesome kids and just having a bit of time to reflect on everything I’ve learnt and all the ways in which I’ve progressed.

Despite everything I’ve learnt creatively, though, I’ve learnt other stuff too:

  • How to use snapchat (who knew you could use it for anything other than nude pictures? Just for the record – I haven’t done any of those. Not that it’s any of your business)
  • That when things get boring, getting the whole class to draw pictures of the teacher creates instant buzz and promotes spontaneous creativity.
  • Being in a gay sandwich with Harry and Brad was pretty epic. (Half of that epicness disappeared when Harry moved away to the gay corner, but I was still left with Brad.)
  • Talking about breastmilk, pregnancy and birth with 18/19/20 year old artists (most of whom aren’t parents) is surprisingly fun and funny and enlightening.
  • I’m definitely a mature student for the sole reason I never had to pull any all-nighters. I’ve done enough of those when my children were babies.
  • My friends are crazy! And awesome and hilarious and smart and creative and talented and pretty much just wonderful human beings. I love them very much.

Roll on summer! (and then roll on year 2!)

Some books I love … #15

Book reviews

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Thank you Michael Grant! (I could probably just leave it at that but I guess I should probably give it a proper review.) If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know how much I loved Grant’s Gone Series, and this one was just as much a treat as I was hoping. However, to say I was a little apprehensive about it would be an understatement as I can be a bit squeamish when it comes to horror, but I’m so glad I gave it a chance. It didn’t disappoint* and I am very much looking forward to the next instalment.

The novel tells the story of Mara, an apprentice of the Messenger of Fear, who enters a world of dead grass and ethereal mists where time stops and space bends and she’s never sure what’s real or not. Together with the Messenger, she must find those sinners who will never face justice for their crimes and make them play or pay. The games that the Game Master invents are so horrific they would make anyone think twice about committing a crime again (although I found myself thinking throughout that they would serve as perfect punishments for the xenophobic verbal diarrhoea that falls from the mouth of Katie Hopkins, but that’s a different blog post ..) and reading the vivid, visual description of someone being burnt alive made me wonder if I was actually reading Stephen King. (So gross but oddly fascinating). The case of Samantha Early that is investigated in stages throughout the novel made me feel such torment and sadness that my heart was smashed to bits by the end.

The Messenger himself was a great character, if a little guarded, and through Mara’s eyes I felt safe in his presence. I really can’t wait to uncover more of him in the next book – at the end of the book there were so many unanswered questions about him, which is awesome and has made me hungry for more, but at the same time is unbelievably frustrating. Oriax was another great character, she kind of reminded me of a pretty, punk-like pixie, her dialogue was playful and sassy and, again, I feel like I need to know more about her. Mara’s character was deftly crafted and beautifully examined throughout: even though her memories were kept hidden from her until the end of the book her personality still shone brightly. I did find myself wondering about Mara’s sexuality throughout the book. She made no attempt to cover up her feelings about Oriax, and I was kind of hoping that she would be a gay protagonist without it being a central plot line, but I knew I was wrong when she was crying about the prospect of never having a boyfriend and getting married.

The prose was tight and although the plot felt a little thin on the ground in some areas, it was made up for by some gorgeous, gruesome descriptions and mind-bending events that pushed the narrative forward. Saying that, I think the “thin” plot may have been purposeful – like in sinister movies where the audience experiences intense fear and chills just from a shadowy scene with chilling music, I think this may have been Grant’s intention.

The book really did it for me. I know it’s a good book when I can’t physically tear my eyes away from the pages, and this was definitely one of those. And now I have to wait a million years (well, actually, 115 days, but who’s counting?) for the next one and it’s making me feel like there’s a teenage tantrum brewing in my belly. Pleeeeeease hurry up, Mr Grant.

You can buy the book here or alternatively, put on some shoes and walk into your local bookshop and purchase it from a real, live human being. Those human being things, especially the ones that sell books, are pretty awesome.

The second book is called The Tattooed Heart and will be published in August. You can preorder it here.

*The only “disappointment” was the overwhelming use of the word taciturn to describe the Messenger. I did have to look it up after the third time it popped up, and every time it was used thereafter it felt jarring, almost like noticing a massive spot on your friend’s face and then never being able to look away from it after that.

Why my daughters will never be “princesses”

General scribblings

Two words: Gender. Stereotyping.

What’s the deal? Seriously, why?

Why, in this world of endless opportunities and infinite experiences available at your fingertips, would you box your daughter in by calling her your Princess? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not normally one to judge and if someone else wants to do it then that’s fine – your kid, your rules. But in my house, with my children and with the epic future they have in front of them, Princess just doesn’t do it for us.

When someone calls their daughter a Princess, they are buying into a world of pink and glitter and Disneyfied shit-for-brains, where beauty is a more desirable attribute than kindness or compassion or humanity. A world where companies rely on parents separating the personalities of their sons and daughters so rigorously that to buy a pink glue stick for a boy would be utter sacrilege. A world where boys can only be branded as “tough guys” and the only past time a girl should enjoy is looking in the mirror applying lip gloss.

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Totally Vom-worthy slogans

I have seen and heard such an inordinate amount of gender bullshit in the past few months. For instance, this beautifully sarcastic list of unnecessarily gendered products that gave me fist-curling, exasperated rage giggles. And then there’s a story a friend told me about a woman she’d overheard shouting at her daughter in a supermarket because she picked up a Mike the Knight magazine. Because apparently reading a “boy’s magazine” will magically turn her into a boy. Or perhaps she’ll morph into a raving, uncontrollable lesbian who would embarrass her mother and cause worldwide alarm at the unnaturalness of it all. I mean, what the …
And if that isn’t enough, you’ve got to battle through the swathes of gendered baby clothes, because babies give so many fucks about what they’re wearing, then there’s pink and blue pull-up nappies, potties, dummies, hair grips for babies that don’t .. even .. have … hair! When will these ridiculous companies and conglomerates realise that children are living, functioning, multi-faceted, amazing bundles of molecules that have so much potential for so many wondrous feats, and yet they are separated into these boxes and told from the age of zilch that unless they remain in these boxes they are not valid humans. That is not humanity. That is greed.

Because that’s what it is. Money. Companies can make one gender-neutral product that would work for both sexes (take a stick of glue, for example) or they can make one of each colour, market the shit out of it, give it some fancy packaging and lo and behold, mum of two buys a pink one for the girl and a blue one for the boy. It’s mind-bogglingly dumb in an anthropological sense, but a bloody genius idea for boosting profits and CEO bonuses. Clap clap. Bravo. Well done.

And the even more amazing thing is that parents buy into all of this. They call their daughters Princess and their sons Tough Guy and expect them to live up to this. There is nothing wrong with a child feeling comfortable with their gender, in fact it is a wonderful thing, but to push it so far, to shovel spoonfuls of gender bullshit down their little necks at such a young age when they are fresh and sponge-like, soaking in the world around them and forming their own thoughts, feelings and perceptions of the world, the only thing that this pink and blue Berlin Wall is doing is damaging our offspring and fencing them in.

You could say I’m a hypocrite, considering the amount of pink that is splatted around my house in the areas the children frequent the most, but rest assured, most of these have been gifts. I’m not going to get shitty about that kind of thing because it’s a loving, thoughtful thing for friends and family to bestow gifts upon my daughters, but the idea I object to is that everything must be pink. Who needs pink science equipment? Girls, of course! Because obviously the female brain cannot possibly function scientifically unless there is at least one pink object in view.

My six year old hasn’t been overly bombarded with pink and glitter, but now that she’s in school she has inevitably picked up from other, more “girly” girls, the idea that she is only a “proper” girl if she likes pink and barbies and plays the princess in their games of make-believe. A member of my family seemed shocked when I told her that I was buying some Lego for my daughter for Christmas, labelling it as a “boy’s” toy, a notion I found pretty ridiculous considering the amount of fun and enjoyment I got from playing with Lego when I was younger. Talking of Lego, what’s with the girly lego now? Why can’t girls be allowed to play with construction toys without being slapped in the face with pink all the time? Oh yes, sorry I forgot. Girls only function when they receive pinkness intravenously.

Seriously, what message are we sending to those children and young adults who feel they don’t fit into the socially acceptable male or female framework, where girls are expected to be dainty, softly spoken and with the life goal of settling down and starting a family? That’s not a terrible path to choose, but it’s not the only one. Girls are more than just a pretty face, more than just a uterus, more than just objects to be viewed, appreciated and admired. Boys aren’t just macho, muscular bread-winners who aren’t allowed access to their emotions without being labelled gay or pussy. What ballsed-up world are we living in when parents are so doggedly determined that their children fit into a pink or blue box that gender conversion therapies even exist? Why is it an issue if your child was born into the wrong body? Why is it an issue if your child is gay? If your child’s gender identity or sexuality is a problem, not only are you a terrible parent, you are a terrible human being. If you can’t look at your own child, this amazing creation that exists on this earth entirely because of you and you can’t see past this malleable, fluid thing that is gender (or sexuality) and love the human being behind it then you are denying them the loving, understanding and emotionally connected parent that they so deserve.

Boxes shouldn’t even exist. We as human beings are made up of so much more than gender that to hem ourselves and our children in is just that: hemming ourselves in. And that really, really sucks.

Some books I love … #14

Book reviews

I’m just going to brush over the fact I haven’t reviewed a book for four months. Hey, what can I say? I’ve been a busy girl!

Anywho, I was casually strolling through work last week when I was smacked in the face by the beauty that is this:

I'll Give You The Sun

I wasn’t expecting much more than a happy teen romance (because that’s what the insanely yellow cover told me …) but boy, was I wrong.

Rest assured, it was happy and sunny in many places, but there was also a buttload of heartache, hogwash and hunky English boys (yay!) thrown in that made for a twisty, winding, swirly narrative that kept me hooked all the way through.

Nelson tells the story of Noah and Jude: boy/girl twins who are both arty and whom have very different relationships with their parents. Noah is the more promising art genius, so much so that his mum pretty much ignores Jude’s work. This causes Jude’s relationship with her mum to fray at the edges, and pushes her towards the spirit of her dead grandmother, who has left her what is essentially a bible of superstitions that Jude takes wholly to heart.

The novel is told in long chapters, each chapter seen through the eyes of either twin at different ages, and explored at different points in their teen years, flitting back and forth between ages thirteen/fourteen and sixteen. I loved the smoothness of the transitions between the chapters and the intricacy of plot is superb, the pacing phenomenal. Every scene in each chapter is bursting with life and unravels the story in wondrous ways – sometimes with a gentle twist, other times with a massive punch to the heart.

I found it refreshing to read a novel in which one of the main characters is gay, as opposed to just a secondary character, and I feel that Nelson’s handling of what was a fairly difficult issue (for Noah) was sensitive and pretty raw in parts. Overall I really enjoyed building a picture of the characters, all of whom were really vivid, especially Guillermo Garcia, Oscar the sexy, charismatic English guy and Brian, the hat wearing, meteorite-collecting love interest of Noah. Characterisation was a huge success in this book and I offer all my thanks to Jandy Nelson for introducing these fictional people to my brain.

However much I loved it, I did guess quite early on what the big twist was, which didn’t exactly spoil it (I was more like “hah! I was right!”) but left me with a kind of deflated feeling. But I don’t think this was down to the writing, just that I’ve experienced the same thing in my own life and so I read more into the clues than others might have. I also found some of the more arty parts a little on the cheesy, pretentious side but I think that’s because I’m totally un-pretentious in my art tastes and in my own art style.

Saying that, the fact that the twins were artists spoke to me on a deeper level, I felt like I was in some kind of club with the protagonists of the book, and that’s a pretty cool feeling to have, and probably what Nelson, or any other author, strives for. Knowing a lot of the artists referenced made me feel like an art god and a lot of the emotions that the twins were going through when they were creating their masterpieces – not feeling good enough, not being arty or conceptual enough and not putting enough of one’s self into their artwork.

I think what I most loved about the book, aside from lively, lifelike characters and the awesome artiness of it, was the lucid, believable relationships between characters and the impressive story arcs that lifted, dropped and wrung out the relationships right until the very last page.

This is a truly epic story, and a much-deserved winner of the 2015 Printz Award. Jandy Nelson’s debut novel was the widely-acclaimed The Sky Is Everywhere, which I will be adding to my humongous to-read pile.

To learn more about Jandy, go visit her website.

Day Eight

Location Drawing

Pretty sad to be saying goodbye to this project. I have enjoyed it so much more than I imagined I would, and even when it was bitterly cold and blowing a gale I was still learning so much. I haven’t done a huge amount today as I had to pop back to uni to sort out my digital stuff, and I spent an hour drawing a couple of ducks and then making an illustrated thank you letter for the staff.

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Illustrated thank you letter for the staff. Cos they were awesome.

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjOlhXY4Uok

 

And I also did a bit more on the library drawing, although sadly didn’t finish it :(

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So I guess that’s that! Cue running around like a lunatic trying to get everything ready for deadline on Monday.

Day Six (and Seven)

Location Drawing

Ok, so I forgot to update yesterday, but considering I was in yet another tutorial in the morning and then had lots of work to catch up on for next week’s double deadlines, I only had about an hour at Saltram in the afternoon. So here are yesterday’s drawings:

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More cafe doodles, this time with my charcoal pencil. And I saw a real life actual pirate!! With one of those triple pointed hats!

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One of the requirements was for a completely tonal drawing … no outlines. So I drew a chair.

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I started drawing the welcome centre with my lovely fine liner but then had to go and pick the rugrats up.

 

 

 

Day Seven

Today went much better. It’s the first full day I’ve had to draw since last Friday, so I took full advantage and tried to get some proper stuff done.

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Cafe doodles.

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More cafe doodles. Different media

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The cafe counter.

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cafecafe2 Welcome centre, cafe and outside seating area. Dip pen and indian ink. Will be making these into an animation … somehow.

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Vertical 1:8 inch fineliner drawing of the Chapel Tea Room.

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Five drawings, 2cm x 2cm. Fineliner, also depicting the Chapel Tea Room

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Last but not least, half-finished library room. Really pleased with this so far, and it got lots of compliments from the volunteers. Yay!

I’m looking forward to my last day tomorrow, but I really wish we’d had at least another week. I feel like I just haven’t had enough time to fully explore the place and show it in all its loveliness.

 

 

 

 

 

Day Five

Location Drawing

Day Five

Today has been another short one, as I had a tutorial to attend at uni, which went on about an hour longer than I expected it to. Anyway, here are the goods:

Cafe drawings

Cafe drawings

Courtyard.

Courtyard.

Statue in a nook on the outside of the house.

Statue in a nook on the outside of the house.

2cm x 2cm drawing of the library shelves

2cm x 2cm drawing of the library shelves

Half-finished ink pencil drawing of a lovely quiet pond area behind the tea room.

Half-finished ink pencil drawing of a lovely quiet pond area behind the tea room.

Day Four

Location Drawing

Day Four

Today was good, but annoyingly the day was broken up as I had to attend uni for a pretty pointless exercise halfway through the day. But never mind, I have made a few drawings that I’m happy with today, and a couple that I’m not so happy with.

 

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Duck-watching at 9am. I was in a funny mood so added some sound effects to the page …

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The duck pond. Not particularly happy with this one but I think you can tell what’s what.

 

 

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Just a few cafe sketches again. Really enjoy sketching in the cafe. And no one ever seems to notice me staring :D

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I really loved the adoring gaze between mother and son at the top, and I hope I’ve captured it. The two at the bottom looked very bored.

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These two were talking very animatedly.

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The house. Really hate this one.

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This is my favourite from today. Had a look in the library and spent more time ogling the books than I did drawing.

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Just an antique newspaper stand.

I’m hoping I’ll have a better day tomorrow, but I won’t get a full day again as I have a tutorial. Grrrr.

 

 

Day Three

Location Drawing

Day Three

Today was fruitful but bloody COLD!!! I left at about 3 feeling slightly dazed and confused, having been battered by freezing cold wind for several hours and wishing I’d had the foresight to get into the house and warm up first thing. Nevertheless, here’s what I did today:

Rough sketch of the cafe

Rough sketch of the cafe

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A group of ladies at a table

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Really crap drawing of a lady sat on a chair. Looks like she’s balancing on one foot!

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Just a few people in the cafe

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Quick coloured pencil sketch of the cafe.

 

 

A tree that reminded me of the Whomping Willow

A tree that reminded me of the Whomping Willow

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Really quick sketch of the path through the woods. Loved the sloping hill.

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This was a labour of love in the bitter wind but I’m super-pleased with the results. It depicts embankment road and the river plum. Measures 1″x8″

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Brush pen drawing of the arches.

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Dog walker on the woodland path. Charcoal pencil.

 

 

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Not even slightly anatomically correct but I kind of like the quirkiness. I was trying to make a single line rather than sketching.

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One of the tasks was to draw in a circle, so I did one freehand (you can probably tell) and drew the lovely pathway in the gardens. I wanted to show the scale of the trees and mercifully, just as I was drawing a trio of ladies walked down the path.

 

So there you go. Now I’m going to collapse in a heap and bang my head against the desk.

 

 

Day Two

Location Drawing

Day Two

Day two has been pretty miserable, weather-wise, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to have a poke around the house. I had so much fun drawing, and making friends with the dear old volunteers has been great. They seem to appreciate having someone artistic there, and apparently I’m the only person they’ve ever seen drawing bits of the house, which surprised me. I told them I’ll be back next week and they seemed very enthusiastic, so I will definitely have to give the house another look. Also, the library room looks very inviting, so I think I will have to spend a bit of time getting acquainted with it.

Here are today’s offerings:

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Cafe people again. And my friend’s little lady.

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My friend and her little girl at the window watching the ducks.

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My view from my table. I wanted to capture the light and I think I did it.

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The Salloon. I wanted to show the vastness of the room, so decided to do it portrait. Charcoal pencil on sugar paper.

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The grand staircase.

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The four poster in the chinese bedroom. Made by Chippendales apparently. Brown pencil in my sketchbook.

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Irregular shape. One of the tasks was to draw within an irregular shape, so I found an archway and drew the view of the courtyard through the archway. Coloured pencils.

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Some of the period costumes in the costume room.

One thing I’ve learnt from today is that I need a lot more than five hours to get to grips with this house. It’s a vast cavern of regal delights.