Hearing the weather

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain lashing against my windows, accompanied by wind. This is not unusual for where I live, especially at this time of year.

More or less my first conscious thought of the day was “The weather sounds pretty horrible today”. This was followed by a time of pondering the fact that if we can hear the weather at all it is usually a bad sign.

Obviously it’s quite possible for the weather to be very bad in complete silence, for example heavy snow. However, I am at a loss to think of anything that would be considered as good weather by most people in most circumstances that would make a significant noise. All the loud weather phenomena I can think of (heavy rain, strong wind, hail, thunder etc.) would definitely fit into the category of bad weather.

Fortunately by the time I actually set off for work, an hour or two after waking up, the rain had eased off substantially and the wind had dropped quite a bit. It was actually quite sunny (albeit still moderately breezy) by the time I cycled home, though it did start raining again fairly soon after I arrived.

Figuary is finished (for now)

Figuary 2019 is now over.

As I have mentioned once or twice in recent posts, Figuary is a daily life drawing challenge set by the Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing YouTube channels, running through the month of February. Serendipitously, I discovered these channels (or more strictly speaking, I restarted drawing after a long gap, joined a weekly life drawing class that happens to take place in the building where I work, blogged about it mostly because I accidentally came up with a too-cool-to-ignore title for a post on the subject and was subsequently directed to the channels by my brother Wulf — I don’t know how or when he first came across them but I’m very grateful for the pointer) just before the first ever Figuary took place.

I have very much enjoyed watching the daily instructional videos from LoveLifeDrawing and trying to put the lessons into practice with the daily pose videos from Croquis Café. My results were quite variable from day to day, but I think there was a definite improvement in my drawing skills over the course of the month. I managed to keep up with all the daily videos and draw all the poses from each one (as well as a couple of extras on a day when I got fed up with the model moving too much and ended up pausing the video!). Having switched from a single page to two pages of my (A3) Figuary sketchbook each day from about the middle of the month (when they tackled the subject of drawing on a larger scale – I’d already given myself an extra page on the second Sunday to allow for the extra poses in the longer session that day) I ended up filling 43 pages of my sketchbook, as well as half a dozen A5 sheets on the first day (when I didn’t have my sketchbook ready — I did another set of drawings from the same video the next day), doing a total of 192 sketches specifically for Figuary, not counting all the ones I did in my life class or from the back-catalogue of Croquis Café videos or other sources). As well as putting copies of all of them in my general Croquis Café album on Flickr, I have now set up an album specifically for my Figuary 2019 drawings (I have another one for my life drawings done at my actual life class and one for miscellaneous figure drawings based on other sources)

Now that Figuary is over, I may not do life drawing every day, but I certainly intend to keep up my daily drawing habit. As for the figure drawing, I’m planning at least to keep going to my weekly life class for as long as possible (as drawing from life beats drawing from videos hands down in almost every respect) and to keep up with the new figure drawing resource videos appearing weekly at the Croquis Café. I’m also due to be attending the Oxford Summer School this year (at the end of July) to have 3 days of instruction on drawing from dance, so I’m hoping that the life drawing (and general drawing) practice I have done and will have done by then will give me a good foundation for that.

I gather they are planning to run another Figuary next year (presumably sometime between the months of January and March!) and I very much hope they do. If so, I fully intend to participate again. And since it’s due to be a leap year, I guess we may even get 29 days of drawing instead of just 28.

Getting there

As I mentioned the other day, I have been working through Figuary, a daily series of life drawing videos provided by Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing during the month of February, with a view to encouraging daily drawing practice.

One of the recent videos included a quote I rather liked, and which is applicable not just to life drawing but to a wide range of other subjects:

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

This quote originated with Arthur Ashe, an American tennis player (described in the video where the quote was mentioned as a “tennis legend”, though I must confess that I’d never heard of him). I’m guessing he’s more likely to have had tennis than drawing in mind when he said it.

It occurred to me that if you wanted to be slightly obscure you could paraphrase this quote as:

Getting there is more important than getting there

Cutting the cheese

A number of years ago, I made a very minor linguistic discovery concerning the geographical distribution of a certain idiom.

The phrase in question is “to cut the cheese”, a somewhat colourful description of flatulence that was quite common in the parlance of the young people of North West Kent in the mid 1990s (of whom I was one).

My discovery was that this same phrase was also current in Sussex about 10 years later, but evidently not (or at least not very widely known) in either North or South Wales. Admittedly my research was confined to the group of three friends with whom I was having lunch on one occasion when there was an opportunity to make a joke about cutting the cheese, which only one of them understood.

The reason I mention this now is that I was watching an episode of Bones a few days ago and a couple of the characters in that amused themselves with a reference to cutting the cheese, clearly in the same context. The episode was from around 2008 or so, and was set in Washington DC. I assume that the scriptwriters were from somewhere in the USA, not necessarily the DC area, so it doesn’t allow for the particularly precise location of another time and place (other than Kent c. 1993 and Sussex c. 2003) where the phrase had currency. Still, it was interesting to discover that its not a purely British idiom. I wonder whether it travelled from South East England to the eastern seaboard of the United States or vice versa, somehow bypassing Wales on the way, or if it reached both places via other paths.

While I’m on the subject of cheese, I should perhaps mention a surprisingly nice taste combination I stumbled upon a year or two back and still enjoy as a snack from time to time mdash; cheddar cheese and wasabi paste.

Deja Vu

I said a couple of weeks ago that I wouldn’t blog about my life drawing sessions again unless anything particularly noteworthy happened.

Well it did (near enough for me, anyway) today.

Last week we had a new model (new to our session, not new to modelling). This week we had her again. This was somewhat unexpected as we had been told that we would be having the model with whom we started the year (and my very first session), but she cancelled and fortunately last week’s model was available instead.

The end result is pretty much the same from my point of view in any case — a second opportunity to draw a model I have previously drawn. I’ve already had that experience with some of the Croquis Café videos but this was the first time in my 21st century experience of actual life classes. Actually, I was quite looking forward to redrawing the first week’s model, since I think my drawing has improved quite a bit since then and the progress is less noticeable since last week (in fact, I think I got better sketches then than today!). Not to worry, as it’s very likely we’ll be seeing both models again before too long (as well as the others I’ve drawn so far, and doubtless several I haven’t).

Speaking of Croquis Café, I have a cunning plan which will be much easier to do with the videos than it would with a real live model. In a few months’ time (or perhaps sooner, though I don’t want to make it too soon) I intend to revisit some of the videos I started with, and then compare my first and second sets of drawings of the same scenes. I’d expect to see  significant improvement from one set to the other. With live models, it may be possible to get more or less the same pose (and in fact, one of our poses today turned out to be quite similar to one from last week, though I was viewing it from a different angle) but it would be relatively hard to get a complete set and to ensure that they were drawn for the same duration and from the same position, with the same lighting conditions in both cases, while the videos are infinitely repeatable.

Also on the subject of Croquis Café I wanted to put in a brief plug for Figuary. This is a month long initiative put together by Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing, with the aim of providing daily life drawing instruction and practice for the 28 days of February (check out this earlier post or just google them if you want links). Each day, there is a short (roughly 3 or 4 minute) instructional video from LoveLifeDrawing and a pose video from Croquis Café to provide practice opportunities for the techniques discussed in the other video. The pose videos have a different model each day; I’m not sure if we’ll be getting 28 different models, but most of the ones we’ve so far had are familiar to me from the regular CC figure drawing resource videos I’ve been working through. Most days the videos are a bit shorter than the regular CC videos  (about 18 minutes), with 6 poses each day (three 1 minute ones, two 2 minute ones and a single 5 minute one to finish) but the Sunday videos are the same format as the regular ones (24 minutes, 10 poses, with 5, 4 and 1 each of the three durations respectively) — in fact, the Sunday videos are the regular videos but have just been rebranded for Figuary.

So far I’ve managed to work through all the Figuary videos on the appropriate day, and I’m just about to do the ones for today. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep that up for the rest of the month too, so my figure drawing (and my general drawing, for that matter) should continue to improve quite a bit over the coming weeks.

Incidentally, I’m putting photos of all my sketchbook pages from Figuary into the same Flickr folder as my other Croquis Café drawings but if you just want to see the Figuary ones you should be able to get them here.

Patience

Yesterday (shortly after I’d decided to write about my bike) I came across a wonderful quote, used as the title for a photo (which you can see at Flickr if you want to — I haven’t included it here since it belongs to somebody else and I haven’t sought permission to reproduce it).

The quote (which happens to be in Spanish) is:

La paciencia es un árbol de raiz amarga, pero de frutos muy dulces

A translation (by me, without recourse to dictionaries, Google Translate etc., so I hope it’s reasonably accurate) is:

Patience is a tree with bitter roots but very sweet fruit

Actually, after I came up with the translation I looked back at the picture from which I borrowed it and discovered that a translation was given there, which was the same as mine but with a comma (as in the Spanish version) that I deemed unnecessary in the English rendering. I wasn’t aware of it before providing my own translation, but it’s possible that I’d subconsciously glimpsed it.

Also, since I first mentioned this quote on Facebook (very shortly after stumbling across it), it has been drawn to my attention that this is pretty much the same as a quote that’s variously attributed to Aristotle and Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet

I couldn’t find any references to a specific source for the attribution to Aristotle (such as, for example, any of his writings) but I did find evidence that it didn’t originate with Rousseau. It appears (in French, as La patience est amère, mais son fruit est doux) on page 175 of the book Voyages en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient by John Chardin, published in 1711, the year before Rousseau was born (a copy of the page can be seen here, courtesy of Google Books; I got to this information via Wikiquote). That’s not to say that Rousseau didn’t use it (perhaps having read it in Chardin’s book), or that Chardin didn’t get it ultimately from Aristotle, or even that Aristotle (if he did say / write it) didn’t get it from someone else.

I think it’s highly likely that the quote as used in the picture title came from this one that may or may not have been from Aristotle or Chardin, whether or not the artist who made and titled the picture was aware of the source, or whether she herself altered it to include the reference to the tree or came across it in that form (perhaps introduced more or less by accident when it was translated from Greek or French into Spanish, or perhaps done deliberately for extra poetic effect). In any case, I particularly like the version I first came across (not to mention the picture that went with it).

Definitely one to think about (and to take your time doing so!).

Incremental Upgrade

My cycle ride to work this morning was definitely the wettest I’ve had so far this year (though with 11 months to go, I suspect it won’t retain that crown permanently).

This reminds me that I haven’t so far got round to mentioning that I got another new bike just after Easter last year.

My previous new bike had only come along about 15 months earlier but on that occasion I made what in hindsight was the mistake of going for the cheapest one I could find on eBay. It has a very heavy steel frame, needed some fairly major work (such as truing the wheels) to get it roadworthy in the first place and within just over a year it had got quite rusty and the bottom bracket had worn out, with several other components probably not all that far behind.

I’m fairly confident that I can repair the bottom bracket, and indeed I have by now got the replacement part I need although I haven’t got round to fitting it yet (it’s only been 9 months, after all!). This bike could at least still be useful as a backup, but I decided that since I use a bike on a more or less daily basis for my commute to work, and occasional longer rides, it would be better to bite the bullet and invest a little bit more in a slightly better one.

It turned out that “a little bit more” amounted to only around £100 (the first bike had been around £150, and the new one was valued at £300, about the same price as I’d paid for my bike before last about 16 years ago, but I picked it up cheap in a sale at my local branch of Halfords and even managed to get a pannier rack and mudguards out of my £250). So far I’ve only had to do minor routine maintenance (adjusting brake cables etc.) and repair a handful of punctures, but not had to take it off the road for any extended period or do any major repairs.

The new bike is, I think, technically classed as a hybrid. It’s got a nice sturdy (and lightweight) frame, 27″ wheels with relatively fat but not too knobbly tyres, reasonably low gearing (great for the steep hills round here) and no suspension. This latter was a deliberate choice, as I do the vast majority of my cycling on fairly well-surfaced roads, where suspension is not really necessary and is arguably counter-productive since some of the energy that would get transferred to forward motion instead gets eaten up by the up-down motion of the suspension. In other words, the bike is somewhat optimised for road use but can stand moderately heavy handling and at least occasional forays off-road, which is just what I need.

Apart from the slightly better build quality, this bike has two main features that I was particularly keen to get for the first time: disc brakes and trigger shifters.

Disc brakes have been around for a pretty long time but seem to be becoming a bit more common on relatively low-end bikes these days. They work by friction, just like pretty much any other sort of brake I can think of, but instead of pressing rubber pads against the rim of the wheel to obtain this friction (like rim brakes do — the clue is in the name), they have a separate metal disc (again, hence the name!) attached at the hub and rotating parallel to the wheel itself, and the brake pads are applied to this. The major benefit of this is that you get a lot more stopping power than a rim brake; presumably this due to the much smaller thickness involved, since you’re generating considerably less torque that close to the centre of rotation — essentially, if I’ve understood the physics correctly, you need to clamp the braking surface more firmly but that’s much easier to achieve. Another advantage is that the disc is much further away from the water and mud etc. that tend to reduce stopping power in wet weather. Since we get a lot of wet weather round here (and have quite a few steep hills to cycle down), this is a good thing. Mine are mechanically-actuated disc brakes, which means they are operated by steel cables just like on most rim brakes. Many, probably most, disc brakes are hydraulic, which give more stopping power (though the mechanical ones seem to me to give plenty) but tend to be a bit more fiddly to maintain.

Trigger shifters (for the gears) have also been around for quite a while. I’m fairly sure I remember seeing them in bike magazines back in the early 1990s but I’ve never previously had them on any of my bikes. With the twist-grip shifters on my old bike, I was beginning to find that my thumbs would get quite sore when changing gear, although I wasn’t sure whether the pain was caused by the gear shifting or a symptom of some other cause, such as general wear and tear. In any case, when I came to get the new bike I decided to take the opportunity if possible to try out trigger shifters instead and see if they were more comfortable. After a few days getting used to the system and remembering that I have to use the big lever to shift down and the small lever to shift up on the back gears, but the big lever to shift up and the small one to shift down on the front (which actually amounts to increasing the tension with the big lever and decreasing it with the small one in both cases), I have found them to be much easier on my thumbs. Another thing I like about them is the facility (on the back gears) to change down a couple of gears at once by pressing harder on the lever (you could possibly do the same thing to change up both chain rings at the front, but I rarely go down to the granny gear range anyway, and when I do I nearly always need the intermediate range for a bit before I’m ready to go all the way back up to the large chainring); this is particularly handy if you need to change in a hurry, such as one or two places on my regular commute where the gradient suddenly increases quite sharply.

All told, I’m very pleased with my (not so) new bike and look forward to travelling many more miles with it.