Monday, 14 June 2021

ADVENTURING WITH CATS

When we got Beanie, we realised she wasn't quite like other cats. Sphynxes are known to act a bit like dogs (they are known as puppy cats!) which means that they like to follow you around, they are total sooks for physical affection and want to be on or near you at all times, they are friendly to other animals, they are happy with baths, and they don't have any hesitation about walking with a collar and lead.

As Beanie's so relaxed about everything and we live in a little flat without a garden, we thought it would be nice for her (and us!) to get outdoors. We got her a little harness and lead (I thought she'd need loads of time to get used to it, but no, she was instantly fine), and started off with little walks in the car park behind our flat. These went well, so we ventured a little further afield! Before we knew it, Beanie was happily coming along to parks, and we've started taking her on bigger trips too.

We didn't have any trouble getting her used to her harness or lead, she adjusted straight away. If you are walking a cat you have to accept that they'll go at their own pace, and that isn't always the direction you want to go in! We've found that if she's on a woodland path Beanie's quite good at following the trail, but when we take her out in the city, we usually carry her until we get to a park or a cat-friendly space where she can just explore as she likes. It's important we don't force her to do anything, and keep the experience positive for her.

As Sphynx don't have a proper fur coat (they do have a peachy fuzz which is incredibly soft), they can easily get cold, so we only take Beanie out on warm days, and will put on her jumper or tshirt if she needs it. We always take water and some treats - she's never tried to wriggle out of her harness or get away from us, but you never know, so we have Dreamies to reward her for being good and as an emergency bribe in case it's needed. 

Exploring heather

We've got a little cat backpack (this one!) which makes us officially cool guys, but it's really great. We let her get used to it in the house first (she loves sitting in things, so she took to it really quickly), and it's a convenient way to carry her whether we're on our way to somewhere, or if she's got a bit tired of walking. If we're just chilling out in a park or stopping for a rest she'll often use her cat backpack as a little den too, and takes herself to sit in it for some shade or if she wants to just look at things.

Other animals LOVE Beanie, and luckily she's very relaxed about meeting people and animals, probably because she's been used to this since she was a kitten. She used to be quite curious about dogs, but now we think the excitement has worn off, and she's less bothered about them, but very patient and calm when they come to say hello. Obviously we're hyper cautious when dogs approach, but normally dogs are on the lead and their owners are polite and make sure their dog is being careful.

A rare no-harness moment when we were in the Highlands last year

People love to say hello to Beanie too, but even if they don't come over, people will NOTICE - so prepare to get a lot of attention if you have a cat out on a lead! At first I was a bit nervous about feeling embarrassed about being such a massive weirdo (let's not sugarcoat it, walking a cat is pretty unexpected) but other than getting a few strange looks, most people are just really pleasantly surprised to see her and have lots of questions! People tend to assume she's a tiny dog at first, and often it's the first time they've ever met a Sphynx - Beanie's super sociable, so she's happy getting lots of pats from strangers.

Beanie's an energetic, super inquisitive cat, so it's so nice to feel like we're giving her a more interesting life, and it's so nice for us to get to take her places! A few weeks ago we hired a car and drove up to Killiecrankie and she was just such a good girl in the car, on the walk, everywhere. It is like having a little dog, except on rainy days you don't have to worry about leaving the house. We're hoping to try going camping with Beanie soon (we are just fully obsessed with her, so why not), so we shall see if we can take our adventure cat to the next level!

Monday, 7 June 2021

10 THINGS TO DO AT EDINBURGH SCIENCE FESTIVAL

 Can you believe that we are actually allowed to go to things again? Since my last slightly-nervous-about-everything post, I'm starting to feel a bit more relaxed about the return to normal life. I'm still being pretty cautious, but the idea of doing things with other people isn't the big stress it was for a while.

So on that note, it's very exciting that this year's Science Festival is just around the corner! This year's Festival (running 26 June - 11 July) is themed around how science connects us - from how we've relied on technology to keep us connected in the last year, to the scientific breakthroughs that have guided us through the pandemic, and how we're all connected to Planet Earth and the wider Universe. 

This year's Festival boasts 160 online events and experiences (so many) for people of all ages, but they've also got a fun programme of live experiences with outdoor events, walks, exhibitions and installations. This year loads of their events are free too! 

There's a lot to choose from, so here's my top picks from this year's Festival.

1. The Dead Interesting Tour Take a journey back in time to Warriston Cemetery and hear the tales of its fascinating tenants and the trails they blazed during their time on earth. This is hosted by science storyteller (and my pal!) Sian - I can confirm she is wise and funny, and definitely worth following around a graveyard.

2. Women in STEM street art trail I am ready to get out of the house and this art trail encourages you to go explore the city, discovering 9 remarkable women who have made amazing achievements in science, technology, engineering and maths. 

3. Elemental This event promises a magical, multi-sensory journey through an intriguing, immersive digital world where magic meets alchemy and alchemy meets science. I don't really know what that means, but it sounds fun and it's free!

4. SciMart A Science Festival favourite, SciMart is a farmers market with a scientific twist! This year it's hosted in Edinburgh's beautiful Royal Botanic Garden, and will be packed with local producers, artisans and scientists who'll reveal fascinating facts about food. 

5. Ask the Experts at Edinburgh Zoo Imagine working at the Zoo and getting to hang out with penguins, lions and zebras all day! At this event you can find out what it's really like behind the scenes and ask whatever you'd like (for starters, I'd ask - do the penguins like doing their little parade? Do you think any animal has wanted to eat you? Do animals secretly ever escape?).

6. Glitter Bar: A Makeover Takeover! Promising to teach you how to sparkle without shame, this event sounds ace! Hosted by Dr Nicole Seymour, a queer ecology scholar, and Mystika Glamoor, the high priestess of Edinburgh drag (what a title!), this event showcases biodegradable alternatives to microplastic cosmetic glitter. You'll get glitter and glues to try on at home - this ain't your usual Zoom call.

7.  Botanicals - The Heart of Gin Imagine the scene: it's a balmy summer evening, you're walking through a beautiful Botanic Garden with a Botanist who's showing you a unique blend of botanicals that have been combined to make a lovely gin. You then get to drink that gin and learn cool facts from Edinburgh Gin's Head Distiller, followed by a private viewing of an art exhibition. Culture is baaaack, and I bet it tastes amazing. You can do all of that at this exclusive gin tasting! 

8. Spacewomen I always scout the SciFest programme for space (and dinosaurs), so I'm pleased to see this online talk, taking place 60 years after the first woman was launched into orbit. This panel of cool space women talk about their experiences and hopes for the future as we enter an exciting new space age.

9. Cheeseology at Home It's fair to say that the Science Festival loves cheese, but don't we all. If you're not quite ready to hang out in public spaces with strangers (fair), elevate your at-home entertainment with an evening of cheese facts and a special cheese tasting (I.J. Mellis are producing a special SciFest cheese box so you can eat-a-long as you learn). 

10. The European Stone Stacking Championships If you fancy a day trip, you can head out to sunny Dunbar and watch some champion stone stackers! Stone stacking takes materials found in nature and works with Earth's gravity to create sculptural towers, archways and over awe-inspiring structures from rocks and stones. You'll see some cool things, and can have a go yourself!

This year's Edinburgh Science Festival runs Saturday 26 June - Sunday 11 July, and you can browse their full programme here.

Monday, 31 May 2021

MYSTICAL MAY

When I first set up my little instagram art account (@julietpaint), it was mainly because I didn't want to spam my personal account with drawings, but I still wanted to have a little space to show them off! What I hadn't anticipated was how nice (and inspiring!) the insta art community is - I still have a tiny following, but I've connected with really cool artists, and it's so encouraging to get nice comments or messages about what I've been making.

Prompt: Watchful eye/stars

I've also discovered the wide world of instagram art challenges and it's been great! Even though I'm painting and drawing pretty prolifically, I sometimes worry I'm not a particularly imaginative person - I can't really picture anything in my mind (I mean, I literally can't - I discovered aphantasia last year and it blew my mind), so I tend to scour pinterest for interesting reference photos before I can feel inspired to draw something.

Insta art challenges have really helped me focus and think creatively. Sometimes it's a set theme or idea, other times it's artists asking you to recreate one of their artworks in your own style (which is also super interesting, as you can see how lots of people, of all different abilities, approach the same subject). This month I took part in Mystical May - a weekly prompt of spooky subjects! 

Prompts: Keys, mirrors, witch

The weekly prompts had several suggestions each week, giving you flexibility to focus on one subject or mix and match. I'm still obsessively drawing women (one day I might draw a man, but that is not this day), but I think I ended up with a cool group of portraits.

Week 1 was phoenix/keys/wings and I pictured someone keeping their heart locked up tight.

Week 2 was forest/mirror/twilight and I loved the mirror concept so much I ended up doing two drawings, a reflected woman (which was HARD, I had to draw each face separately!), and a hand holding a mirror (also hard - hands are hard!).

Week 3 was witch/phases of the moon and I was a little unsure how to do this, so I just painted a cute pastel witch. I thought this was a bit basic, but it's gone on to be one of my most-liked posts on instagram?! 

Week 4 was stars/crystals/watchful eye, and I wanted to do a cute take on a third eye. I definitely gravitate to bright colours, and I think I'm finally starting to find my style with digital drawing. It's been a fun month!

Monday, 24 May 2021

PAUL RUBENS WATERCOLOURS

I've been painting again for about a year and during this time I've slowly been weaning myself off beginner art supplies,and investing in artist-grade materials, and I cannot believe what a difference it makes! I got some fancy watercolour paper from an art shop last Autumn, was a bit skeptical at first, but it blew my mind and I've not looked back. Having proper paper that lets the paint pool and blend and layer without buckling is a game-changer.

Painted using Paul Rubens watercolour and Opera paints
So I had nice paper, I got a nice new mechanical pencil, and lately I've been on the lookout for new paint! Up until now I've been using a Winsor and Newton student set, which I've had for years. It's been a great set to learn with and it was super affordable, but I hadn't even thought about the difference between beginner and professional paint until now. I learned that student/beginner sets tend to be cheaper as the paints contain less pigment and more filler, which means they can be trickier to blend, can get muddy, and it can be difficult to make vibrant colours. Artist grade paints are more pigmented, meaning they dilute and mix easily.

The problem was that professional paint sets can cost over £100, and the more I looked online, the more confused I got! I saw a lot of love for Schminke, Sennelier and Rembrandt paints, but as I tried to delve into the differences of these paints, I saw a lot of art reviewers/bloggers/youtubers highlight Paul Rubens watercolours, and remark on how Paul Rubens paints were much cheaper than the big European brands, but really held their own.

That was enough to convince me! It felt significantly less scary paying £60 for a new watercolour palette, than paying £120 (I also had a weird imposter feeling that I didn't 'deserve' the very pricey paint as I wasn't a real artist, but that is a weird insecurity for another day). 

Paul Rubens are a Hong-Kong based brand (which is possibly why I could only really find them on Amazon?), who boast that their watercolour paints are produced with high-purity and finely ground pigments, using natural gum arabic as the mixer. This means the colours are vibrant, easy to use, and easy to mix!

I ended up buying the 48 colour watercolour pan and LOOK how beautiful it is! It came packaged beautifully, and is a perfect pastel pink metal tin, with loads of space for mixing colours. All of the paints can be removed individually, so you can swap around the colours to suit yourself and add new colours in. The packaging is in Chinese, but that didn't bother me, and it includes all of the pigment numbers in English if you want to refer to them.

I also bought (because I'm a sucker) their bright neon Opera paints which were £20. I've been painting a lot of portraits lately, and I've really wanted to be able to capture bright make up in my paintings, and I thought this might do the trick!


I was quite nervous using them for the first time - what if they didn't live up to the hype and it was just a pretty tin? Pleased to say, they were a dream! The colours were rich and flowed beautifully - up until now I've thought my paintings often looked a bit pale or muddy, and I really noticed a difference with these. A little bit of colour went a long way too and they mixed really well together. I use a lot of yellows, reds and pinks, so it was nice to have a much bigger range to work with, and I'm excited to make my way through the palette and discover all the many colour possibilities it offers!

The neon Opera paints were amazing too - just look at them (first photo!). The photo barely captures how bright they are, it's like using highlighters on the paper. I found they blended well with the normal watercolours too, so I think they'll be quite useful when I want to add a bright pop to a painting, and it's just quite fun to have them in my art supplies!

Overall, I'm really pleased. I think I'll get loads of use out of them, and I'm happy to have found a product that's affordable, great to use, and looks super cute! Exactly my kind of thing.

Monday, 17 May 2021

BEST COUCH CO-OP VIDEO GAMES

Okay, I know this isn't the usual topic I'd write about, but I've always tried to blog about the kind of things that I want to read online, and I cannot tell you how many hours of my life have been spent trying to find the perfect couch co-op video game! 

I've been playing video games my whole life - I grew up attempting to play The Lion King on my friend's Nintendo before I got a Playstation of my own, and most of my life's been spent navigating one RPG or another. Luckily my boyfriend is a massive video game nerd too, so we love playing co-op games together.

Remember events? Photo from the National Museum of Scotland's super cool video game party

The problem is that I have a pretty narrow set of parameters that games have to meet, before I can get into them. I cannot COPE with games where we don't have equal control (it is torturous if Player 2 has no control or agency), I have limited interest in platformers, I can't be bothered with twin-stick shooters, I want a story, not just a party game, and I want a game with good artwork - nothing that feels too kiddy, or feels like ridiculous animation pitched at teenage boys! 

So, on the off chance you ALSO want these things, here's my favourite couch co-op video games. We played these games on Nintendo Switch or Playstation, but I'm sure a few are on Xbox too.

Eternal Sonata

I'm going to start with my favourite - WHAT A GAME. Eternal Sonata is a fantasy RPG centered on the life of composer and pianist, Frederic Chopin. The story is set in a fictional world that Chopin is dreaming of in his dying hours, influenced by his life and music, where you can play as Frederic (with appropriately music-themed attacks and moves) through a tale of magic, corruption, political espionage, rebellion and escapism. Throughout the game there's Chopin's music, and cutscenes featuring real paintings and photographs, so you travel through Chopin's life as you play and learn about the real man and his life.

I mean... that's bonkers, right? But AMAZING The gameplay is great, the characters are fun and cute, it takes you to all sorts of fantastical lands and interesting levels, and the co-op battles are challenging and fun as you can link your attacks and take part in fast-paced strategic battles! When you are navigating the world you can only have one character moving, so we took turns to be the person walking about, but otherwise the co-op is fairly balanced. We loved it so much, we ended up doing a little pilgrimage to visit the town Chopin lived in and felt emotional, because honestly it was like we knew him. Wild.

Dragon's Crown 

It's fair to say that some of the character's outfits/attributes are questionable due to the stylised illustration, but we had a lot of fun with this game! It's a beat 'em up action RPG, where you can pick your character and head off on some dungeon adventures, getting treasure, fighting dragons, chasing thieves and going on quests. It's a lot of fun to play as a co-op as you get to blast through dungeons together, the fighting is satisfying, it feels like a really nostalgic old-school RPG game, so it's a good Sunday afternoon choice. You can also team up with random online players, and we had a happy couple of months playing with some random French person who often was online the same time as us. 

But the thing that makes it stand out for me? The surprisingly brilliant cooking minigame! Some dungeons trigger a little campfire scene where you can cook little meals that increase your character's statistics and it is SO weirdly satisfying and fun to play, we used to cheer when the sizzle of the campfire started. Worth it just for that.

Divinity Original Sin 2

You'll notice a theme with these games, I like an RPG! This game is hyped up, but it deserves it - it's a beautiful, complex, challenging game with a great story, interesting characters, a massive world to explore, and satisfying turn-based battles. Each character has a unique story, meaning you'll experience a different journey than your co-op partner, and throughout the game you are faced with choices which all have consequences and lead to different endings, so you have to think hard about who you want to be in this world! The whole world feels alive - you can pretty much go anywhere and interact with anyone (even animals), there's so much thought and detail put into it. 

Kingdom: Two Crowns

We played through Kingdom: Two Crowns in 2019 on the Switch, and we loved it so much we've started again on the Playstation. This is a side-scrolling strategy game where you build your kingdom, recruit subjects, and protect your town from the monsters that attack each night! It's a super cute game with pixel artwork, which is nicely atmospheric - and pretty scary if you get caught in the woods after nightfall! 

For us, this works so well as a co-op game as we both will pick a side of the town to look after - so I'll have one side to explore, build farms, build defensives and look after people, and my boyfriend will have the other. We'll team up to take on baddies and share resources and building costs, but it totally fulfills my need for independent gameplay in a co-op! It's hugely addictive, and even though it's pretty brutal if it all goes wrong (and it can! This game can throw pretty tricky things at you), we keep coming back to it. 


For the King

This is a super fun tabletop adventure game where you have to navigate around a map to battle enemies, go on quests, find cool new weapons and armour, and save the kingdom! It's a turn-based game which works great for co-op, we pick complementing character types and we can team up to take on challenging enemies, or go off and explore on our own. The game is cute, but it is hard, and you constantly have the clock ticking towards something bad happening so you have to be super strategic about how you spend your time. It's got a good sense of humour, and is a lot of fun to play.

Spiritfarer 

If you're looking for a very gentle co-op, this is it. Based on classical Greek mythology, this is a game about dying, but it's sweet, poignant and surprisingly soothing. You play as Stella, a ferrymaster who has to guide spirits across the seas to release them into the afterlife, but as you journey you can build a boat, go fishing, cook and care for your new spirit friends, explore islands to collect resources and even hunt jellyfish. There are a couple of things that annoy me - as Player 2 I play as the cat (which is great), but the cat can't talk to spirits (which is annoying), meaning I have to wait while my partner does some of the important parts. But it's beautifully animated, with lovely music and good vibes.