March 23, 2015

The Wordless Skill

"If art has entered a Post-Skill Movement, so has the rest of life. There was a time when we had a different relationship to our hands, when simple skills of coordination required serious investment, and education was focused on the physical process. Our technology literally takes these skills out of our hands. Who cares about penmanship anymore? Just learn to type. What we lose in this, however, is that specular relationship to our bodies, the direct encounter with the material world sans prosthesis."
So writes MB Goodrich in this article on the art of shaving in Salon, and it made me think of something that recently happened to me. 

As you may or may not know, I am posting a sketch every day, as a promise to myself to practice at the art of drawing and improve my skills. There is nothing like a bit of pressure, and I am fairly good at putting some on myself. Sometimes, I have forgotten to do that drawing, and one night, I had already gone to bed when I remembered. It was a bit chilly, so I just reached for a handheld mirror and a piece of grey-tinted printing paper (I sleep some nights in my study, so these materials are pretty close to hand) and did my drawing lying down under the duvet, more or less. 

For a drawing that was initiated by a sense of duty, once I got into it, I executed it with some care, and was fairly happy with the result. I put some highlights in there, and so far, it´s the only time they have worked really well for me. I published, and felt pleased. 

A week later I ran into a friend who apparently looks at the drawings sometimes, and he complimented me on my skills. But, he said, that self-portrait you made, and he tut-tutted a bit, meaning that it wasn´t very good. You do not look like that, he said. 

I had to go back to it to see what he meant. Ok, so it looks like a person looking down at something, very attentively. I agree, not my prettiest face and certainly now how a man a bit taller than I would see me. But it never occured to me that this was a representation of me or that anyone would consider it somehow representative of how I view myself. For me, this was, and is, a pretty successful drawing, the subject being irrelevant. At another place in the article, Goodrich writes this about having to learn your face while shaving with a straight razor:
"Young women, too, learn their faces when they start to use makeup, but unfortunately they learn to see their faces for their flaws. But shaving is almost clinical. It’s about gradients and textures—materiality rather than image."
Drawing does that to your self-image, too, makes your gaze upon yourself clinical. The judging comes later, and is focused on the drawing, on whether or not I succeeded in transfering what I saw to the paper. That chin, is it a double chin? That line, is it a wrinkle? Words don´t come into it, it´s just the eyes speaking to the hand. (If you are a typist you know how this works: you can work at a manuscript, typing away at speed, while thinking about what to make for dinner.) Most adjectives are judging, either in themselves or in relation to the context in which they are used. 

I am pretty chuffed I have come to a place in my life where I can do this. I was pretty proud of this drawing before, I am even happier about it now. 

March 20, 2015

Solar Eclipse!

Ok, so I was not prepared. I don´t know what I was thinking. I have seen eclipses before, and this is what I have done: poke a small hole in a piece of cardboard or similar, then project onto a surface and watch the thing happen. I don´t want to look into the sun, even with special glasses, it seems unhealthy. But I thought I would photograph the projection, anyway. This was the setup and if it looks awkward it is because this was the only place where the sun shone in between 10 and 12 today. It´s my stove. (It occurs to me now that I might have been able to catch it on our second floor, shining on my laundry, but as I said, I was not prepared.)

That´s just a lowly envelope taped to the kitchen ventilator and a
black plastic box turned on its side.

I got two reflections. 

This was the best photo I got, at precisely 11 o´clock. Then it occured to me that I have a camera of some ability in my hand. Perhaps I could photograph the sun?


Well, with some hurry I first dug out the tele lens and put that on, which gives me 200 mm, turned to Manual and set the shortest time I could, a 1/6000 of a second, the smallest aperture, 32, and set the exposure down as much as I could from that. That worked a bit better, but still pretty fuzzy.

Then it occurs to me that I have a tripod. (It´s been a while since I took photos, as you can tell.) That makes one heck of a difference.

Slightly astigmatic, but kinda interesting.

Here I activated the delayed exposure button, to minimize
the handshake effect (in spite of the tripod).

But what really made it good was this little setup. Those are two sunglasses taped onto the lens. You take what you have, right? That took care of the astigmatic effect (I´m sure it has a name, but I don´t know what it is). I got this fairly sharp image at about 11:15, så the eclipse maximum was over, but still pretty good.

I didn´t get this close with the lens, but chose the RAW format and then
cropped all the photos later in Silky Pix. 

Also kind of interesting, a plastic paper towel holder reflected the sun onto the ceiling, and you could see the eclipse in the reflection!

After the eclipse. 

And below are photos of the last half hour of the eclipse. I got more light effects in the end, after the cloudiness cleared up completely. You wouldn´t think clouds would be good on an occasion such as this, but they helped, actually.


March 16, 2015

Sign Language Music

I don´t watch the Eurovision Song Contest, but I´m glad the Guardian reported on this, wouldn´t have wanted to miss it! Again, proud to be Swedish.

Studio 54

The Guardian has this gallery of photos by Swedish photographer Hasse Persson, from the infamous nightclub Studio 54 in New York. The nightclub was sold in 1980 or 1981 and lost some of its glamour, but continued to operate to 1988 or 1991 (the facts depend on what source you go to).

I actually went there in 1983. Kind of. I was one of a plane load of Swedish foreign exchange students, about to be transported to small towns all across the US, having a few days of assembly and preparation in New York. One of the girls was determined to go to Studio 54 and I, and two others, joined her late one night in a taxi that let us off on the other side of the street. It was, in my memory, a rather grey, dull street, and there was a quiet queue in front of a rather unassuming entrance. We stood there, meekly, our shoulder bags cluched in front of us, for ten minutes or so - I guess the three of us hangers-on were waiting for the girl in charge to take an initiative; remember, we were only 16 at the time.

In the end, we walked back to the hotell without even crossing the street. Just as well, I think. I don´t suppose Bianca Jagger, Brooke Shields, and Andy Warhol still went there anyway. Or that they would have let us in. On the way, we saw the steam rise from under the street (massive ambience!), bought an unexpectedly salty pretzel (still don´t like them), and just gawked.

And that´s all there was to that.

March 13, 2015

Wanting to look like someone else

Here is an interesting project that I just found. The blogger Nell Frizzell, a British journalist, is - using whatever she has at hand - making doppelgänger portraits of herself, trying to resemble celebrities, painted portraits, and sometimes herself as young or even her father. It really drew me in, and it makes me realize that however much we try to copy someone´s style or dress too look a certain way (some seem to think a hairstyle can radically alter a face), in the end, we will look like ourselves anyway. Our own face and body are the strongest ingredients we bring to any new look we try, and it´s just as well to try to make friends with them.

March 11, 2015

Dream workplace

Ok, so being a kindergarten teacher is really not my dream job, but if I got to work here, I´d love to do it! I imagine a place like this will make everyone happy and eager to work. Every kindergarten in the world should look like this; the UN should write a declaration about it!

March 8, 2015


What is going on? We are barely out of February and I can already see the lawn in our yard. Only weeks ago we broke the snow record from almost 50 years ago! Driving is hazardous, the roads are full of potholes, both temporary (ice) and permanent (the roads crack from all these weird temperatures). The school children have been on sports holiday and most of them have had little to ski on.

But! the sun is shining, and I am up and running in the daytime, trying to change my hours to be fit and sharp for a special thing I´m doing later this month. That´s the thing about working nights - you must plan any serious daytime activity well ahead. It´s just that I keep loosing all my routines; the light in the morning is so glorious I sit down to play with paint instead of doing the stuff I´m supposed to be doing. I have found some really good sources of information on paint and an excellent filmed workshop, explaining what I´m doing wrong, so now I´m practicing for the summer trip when I´m expecting to do so much more interesting sketches than last summer.

I am slightly pleased about my watercolour sketch of the heron I photographed two summers ago (two? time flies, doesn´t it?). Not because it´s perfect, but because I made it after figuring something out that I didn´t understand before. And guess what? Sketching is tiring. I guess I must burn a lot of calories doing it, and hopefully I´m keeping dementia at bay (one must think about these things, right?).

March 3, 2015

Flying Saucer Retreat

When I was looking at photos from last summer, I came across this. It´s a piece of furniture, of a sort, and I seem to recall that I saw it when we passed one of the department store floors leading up to the roof café of John Lewis in London. We don´t usually hang out in department stores, so perhaps these are everywhere, what do I know.

If I had a garden, I would definitely want one; a safe haven from all those mosquitoes and gnats and gadflyes and wasps (I was stung last summer by a wasp who lay down in bed with me, did I mention that? I passionately hate all flying, stinging creatures). If I planted a flower bed around it, it would look like a landed flying saucer. That would sooo appeal to me!