Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Siobhan Ryan, black and pale pink outfit, 28 October

Another nice outfit for Siobhan Ryan last night, though I think it looks a bit old on her.

More bad weather on the way! The map shows the rain we got yesterday morning. It was pretty bad, sheets of heavy rain, relentlessly peltering down.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Siobhan Ryan, classy LBD, 27 October

Simple but classy, and beautifully accessorised. Siobhan Ryan got it spot on with this little black dress last Sunday evening.

And as you can see, some cold weather on the way this week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Little House in the Prairie 2

For this second attempt (it's the 4th actually, but the first two were really bad - it does take me a while to get all the elements lined up: composition, center of interest, colour dominance, values), I was trying some techniques I found on a Cheap Joe video for mixing colours on the paper without ending up with mud. No mud here, that's for sure! I even went a bit mad on the orange. But the whole scene lacks harmony. I used something like 10 different base colours, so no wonder it's like a mad orchestra without a conductor.But I like the composition. So I'm going to have another go!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Breaking Bad

We were on the lookout for a new TV series to watch over the winter when Niall recommended Breaking Bad to Brendan. I don't know how we had never heard of it - maybe it's not been showing on the Irish & UK channels? Like all the best in American television, what gives it its power is a good story, with characters who feel like real people. If you're not afraid of a few violent scenes, this story of Walt White, a struggling chemistry teacher and family man in New Mexico who finds he has lung cancer and decides to start cooking meth, is just amazing. No special effects (well, apart from the occasional explosion), no vampires or special powers. Just the exploration of how a terminal-cancer diagnosis changes your perspective on life. In a very different way from The Big C, it has to be said. I can't imagine my old chemistry teacher getting involved in the drug-dealing trade. I guess you have to accept a certain level of suspension of disbelief to enjoy these things.

There are plenty of side stories that will develop over time, I'm sure. Like that of Walt's sister-in-law, whom we've just found out, has a propensity for shop-lifting. And Jesse, his drug-dealing partner, who comes from a posh family and whose little brother is a high achiever. But so far (we're at Series 1, Episode 7), it's mostly about Walt, his humdrum life as a teacher, his meager income supplemented by a part-time job in a car-wash, his son Walter Jr, who has cerebral palsy and is in high school, his wife Skyler, who is expecting their second child. One interesting complication is that his brother-in-law, Hank, is a DEA agent. I won't go into too much of the detail of how Walt discovers he has cancer and his impulse decision to make money for his family by making and selling drugs. But each episode so far has been full of surprises, twists, horrific turns (it's a violent world, after all), family love, and lots of good chemistry.

And the great news is - they're making Season 5, so we'll have plenty more to look forward to.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Little house in the prairie

Well, sponge painting is not as easy as you'd think! While my little trial trees looked lovely, I wasn't able to reproduce the effect on a proper painting. Where I went wrong, I'm really not sure. The colours are lovely, but it lacks structure and shape. What happened, I think, is that I got colour-happy and didn't create an individual shape for each tree.

I still went on with the rest of the painting, as I wanted to experiment with how I'd paint the little house. As it turns out, it became the centrepiece of this watercolour. I had really intended the trees to be the centre of interest, but it didn't work out that way. The trees ended up looking more like fire actually, which is quite interesting, if that was the effect I had been looking for!

You'll notice also that I didn't paint the lime-green tree beside the house. It's not that I forgot, no, no. I was trying to use some of the tips from Powerful Watercolour Landscapes, and as I wanted the trees on the hill to be my "What" (the focus of the painting), I decided to eliminate the bright-green tree altogether. Well, the little house became the "What" instead (and, yes, I know the roof isn't quite right - I'll fix that in the next version). I've got a lot to learn! We'll get there eventually!

We'll always have Paris II

OK, I'm slowly building up to the large size painting. I've moved from 405x305mm to 508x405mm. It doesn't sound like much but if you were to see the two side by side on a wall, you would notice. This is still on acrylic canvas paper, which is lovely and fine, but a bit too thin for the kind of knife application I'm thinking of. My next step is roughly 700x550mm, on canvas.

Anyways, I'm happy with this first step. Let's hope things go well for my next.

I'll just have to learn how to take better pictures of acrylics paintings. They tend to catch the light, so I guess I should photograph them in a North-facing room, using a tripod to minimize camera shake. Next time, next time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, wasn't an easy book. I nearly gave up on it at the start. I thought it was a war story, but there is a long preamble, set in prewar France, where our hero, a young Englishman, is falling for his boss's wife. It's not that I don't like a good love story, but I felt the emotions were over-exaggerated, not to mention the sex scenes! I just didn't see the two lovers as a likely pair.

Where the book's strength lies, though, is in its meticulous depiction of WWI, in the trenches and the tunnels and on the hopeless battlefields of Northern France, where the bodies are so pulverised by artillery shells that most of them can't be identified, where lice cause an incessant itch, and where friendships, brief or lasting, depending on your luck, are formed.

I'm sure I studied WWI in school, but it didn't make much of an impression. In the case of WWII, I suppose Saving Private Ryan gave us all a sense of the butchery that is war. But, until I read this book, I didn't really have any idea of what it was like for the soldiers in the trenches in 1914-1918. The depictions are so vivid that I don't think I'll ever need a movie for a better sense of the conditions that the soldiers had to endure.

There is a third part to the book, set more or less in the present day, which took me by surprise. Not sure if it really worked for me, but I suppose it ties the whole story together. I felt it was more a literary tool than an integral part of the story, and I don't like to be manipulated by an author.

All that said, I think Birdsong is worth the read, just for its central story of men and war.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Day

Just finished reading One Day. It wasn't bad but I don't really see what the fuss was all about - Dexter doesn't deserve Emma, he's a spoilt, selfish, rich kid, with not too many redeeming qualities. I kept on thinking "what does she see in him?". And the ending was (spoiler alert) a bit like Cold Feet, not very original. Don't get me wrong, I loved Cold Feet. But that's a few years ago.

Aha! I just read that the author, David Nicholls, used to write for Cold Feet. So that explains it all!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Satyagraha - Philip Glass on the piano and Richard Croft singing

At the end of the day, it's always about the music (I picked this up from the Met website).

Satyagraha - Staging

Interesting little video showing different aspects of the production of Satyagraha, Philip Glass's opera about Gandhi's formative years in South Africa. As there is little action per se in the opera, the staging was essential in creating a visual projection for the characters' emotions, with all sorts of unusual props - newspapers, giant puppets, sellotape, fire, clothes, lanterns and people pulled up into the sky.


One of my favourite parts from Satyagraha, Philip Glass' opera, broadcast from the Met HD Season last night. Visually beautiful, and full of emotion.

I loved the fact that the words didn't matter so much - I often find that I get distracted by the sur-titles. Here, you could just relax and let the visuals and music sweep over you.

 PS: I think this version is played faster than at the Met. It's actually better played slower, as the "hahahahahahaha" of the men's chorus sounds more sinister at a lower pace. Have a listen here to compare (+ some photographs showing the stunning staging production)!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Walk Walk Walk

OK, she's still scary, but I just did the three-minute walk-at-home, and I feel good.

Don't Feed the Fairies

Don't Feed the Fairies, was recommended to me by one of our customers, who told me that this book was Eileen Gormley's first work of fiction.

I don't normally read fantasy/science fiction (though I watch a lot of it), but Don't Feed the Fairies grabbed me  straight away. Great start to the story, good characters and a roller-coaster of a ride. Don't expect something too serious. This is simple light good fun.

It's the story of an alien woman who finds herself stranded on earth after her plans to farm humans don't work out. You see, these aliens are not exactly vampires, but they suck the energy out of animals on their planet, and they have found that humans are very tasty. She meets a few humans on the way, and rescues a baby alien, who looks just like a cute little fairy.

The only thing that disappointed me in the book is that it ended too abruptly. All of a sudden, it was all wrapped up, a bit too swiftly for my taste. But I guess the author is planning plenty more stories around Cytolene and her motley crew, and I can imagine it quite well making the transition to the big or small screen.

And it's great value too. You can buy the Kindle edition for $3.51 on (For some strange reason, Irish customers still can't buy Kindle books from the site? I don't get that.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I decided to play with the gorgeous burnt sienna colours that I used in The Eye of the Tiger, and I have big plans. The problem is that I always try out my new ideas on small acrylic canvas paper (405x305mm), like this dynamic abstract painting here.

And when they turn out well, I feel that I will never be able to achieve the same again on larger canvas. There is the question of size of course, and the tools to use to create lines and areas of colour. But there is also the question of the canvas density. Acrylic canvas paper is very finely-woven, whereas the canvases I have (from Lidl - I'm not at the stage where I want to spend big money on expensive canvases, but maybe I should!) are rougher, more of of loose weave. The issue is that paint will always seek the lowest ground and pool in the weave.Which makes it hard to draw quick sharp lines. I'll try it anyway. In the meantime, we'll always have Paris. That's what I just decided to call this one! Better than Abstract Number 10.

BTW. the background colour is a mix of Phthalo blue and Raw Umber - a beautiful rich dark. I've also tried Ultramarine blue and Raw Umber - not as vibrant, but really really dark too, particularly when you apply two layers.

Fall Colours

I can't resist a good challenge, me. I'm already on my second disastrous attempt at painting this lovely pastoral scene I found in The National Geographic. At each step, I'm learning more. Or rather realising that I'm not applying anything I've learned over the last few years of painting. That's the problem when you're jumping from one medium to the next. But I think I'm on the right track now - I'm going to do sponge painting. Great fun and quite a good technique for trees and foliage - I hope!

I tried out a small sample yesterday and I'm pleased with the result. I'll just have to find a way to vary the pattern more, and to increase the contrast between background and foreground, without going too dark.  What I'd really like to do is stamp painting, as I've seen some lovely effects in books, but any attempts I've made in the past have been no good.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sattelite pictures

The same glacier in Iceland - just a bigger view of it

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Satellite pictures

Glacier in Iceland

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Satellite pictures

Another idea - Unidentified reef - Maldives

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Satellite pictures

View of Mount Fuji in Google Maps. I have lots of ideas for paintings. One of them is to paint interesting Satellite pictures. I might do this one in different colours maybe.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Eye of the Tiger

Painting is like horse-riding, you might fall, but you have to pick yourself up and get back in the saddle (on the saddle? It's the little words, isn't it?). Well, I've never done any horse-riding, so I wouldn't know.

I got myself some nice burnt sienna paint at the weekend and played with shades inspired by a Creature Comforts colour composition.

Here is the result - not frameable, but a whole lot more colourful than my previous efforts.

Christmas Cards

Today, we received the Christmas cards we designed, me and BB, on Zazzle, and I'm really pleased with them. Simple but gorgeous!

Autumn in the United States Photos - National Geographic

I'm always on the lookout for art inspiration. I have tons of beautiful photographs, taken by ourselves or found on the web.

Some lovely ones on National Geographic, as always:
Autumn in the United States Photos - National Geographic

No wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed! How would I even start to tackle something like this!

Friday, November 04, 2011

We need to talk about Kevin

It sucks you in. "We need to talk about Kevin" follows the mother of a Columbines-type school murderer in the aftermath of her son's actions, as she tries to make sense of the events that have taken her life from under her feet.

She remembers Kevin as a baby, how difficult he was from day one, how she was too exhausted to bond. And yet, she never gave up on him, even if she found him strange and disturbing.

It's not a conventional movie. Tilda Swinton is not a conventional actress. There is a lot of red colour, but not much blood, so don't expect to be shocked in that way. But this movie is so powerful, you will not forget it.

Pan Am

Still not sure if we like Pan Am or not. It's light. What I find really grating about it is the bad sets - In this day and age, surely, there are ways to give the illusion of Paris or Berlin without spending a fortune. In Pan Am, unfortunately, it looks like they left the set designs to a teacher producing the school musical!

Not sure if we'll stick with it!

Siobhan Ryan - grey dress with zip, 31 Oct

Siobhan Ryan is becoming more confident in her delivery of our weather forecasts. It's not always good news, but that's the life of a weather forecaster!

Don Giovanni

I love Mozart's operas. They are so much fun, and there is a great tune kicking in at every turn. Don Giovanni is no different, every time a singer takes a breath, it's to start a beautiful aria, charming duet or bracing ensemble. No other opera composer does it with such verve!

And, for that, I enjoyed last Saturday's Met HD transmission. The singers were fantastic. And I loved Mariusz Kwiecien's baritone in the title role, and the energy he brought to it, despite his recent back injury and operation. And Luca Pisaroni's Leporello was full of mischief, just as he should be - I loved his first aria, Madamina, il catalogo è questo. (And if you like cute dogs, make sure to check his "Dogs on the Road" and Dog Blog page. Lenny & Tristan even have a facebook page!)
To me, it is pure Mozart, lively, fun, light and bubbly.

Special mention also has to go to Barbara Frittoli and Marina Rebeka, in the roles of Donna Elvira and Donna Anna, respectively. Though it has to be said that Donna Anna is a rather dull character, or, as Marina Rebeka herself explained, she is mourning for most of the opera, so she is quite a difficult one to play - she is sad and angry, not a wide range of emotions.

The production was quite traditional, nothing new or modern about it, and for that reason, a bit disappointing. But when you have such beautiful music and great acting, you don't really need a fancy set, choreography or interesting lighting.