Monday, 19 April 2021

BOOKS I'VE READ LATELY

I don't know about you, but for the first half of 2020 I found it IMPOSSIBLE to concentrate on a book. Normally that's one of my favourite go-to hobbies, but I just could not settle, and kept getting distracted after just a few pages. In the end I just had to stop worrying about it, and I eventually lured myself back to reading with a few trashy adventure novels, and finally found the brainspace for it again.

Since then I've been on a roll, and I thought I'd share some of my favourite books I've read lately.

Transcendent Kingdom - Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi's first novel, Homegoing, was one of the best books I read last year, so I was excited to finally get my hands on this! Transcendent Kingdom is a really moving and poignant story of a young neuroscientist who is trying to carve out her career and step into her adult life, while haunted by the grief of losing her brother to addiction, and looking after her mother who is suffering severe depression. I found it very heavy at parts, but it's such a beautiful look at love, family, faith, science and religion. Can't wait to read whatever she does next!

Earthlings - Sayaka Murata

This is an absolutely bonkers book, and I'm not sure how to describe it (and a huge part of the joy is just the wildly surprising journey it takes you on, I don't want to spoil it!). It's dark and twisted, it covers pretty shocking, intense and taboo topics, it's totally unsettling (do not be fooled by that adorable cover), but it also just draws you in, and is a super entertaining coming-of-age story. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, but it's a bold, magical, unique novel that uses pretty grim imagery to explore questions of love, family and what it means to be human and be part of a society. 

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett (not pictured, read on kindle!)

 I loved this book! It follows the lives of the Vignes sisters - identical twins who grow up in a small, Southern black community and run away at age sixteen. More than a decade later they are living completely different lives - one sister has returned to the town she grew up in, and the other is passing as white, with a white husband who knows nothing about her past. This is a really complex, powerful, beautiful and poignant book, which deserves all of the hype it's been getting.


I've had this book on my shelf for years, and I am so glad I finally got round to picking it up. It took a little while to pull me in, but when it did I was transported to the streets of Barcelona! It's an incredibly immersive and atmospheric tale of a young boy who discovers a mysterious book, hidden in a secret library, the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He starts an innocent quest to find the author, and gets wrapped up in a plot of mystery, murder, love and revenge. The memory of the book has sat with me, it feels like a wild adventure I went on a few summers ago, or as if I was told the tale by a stranger in a smoky bar, drinking wine on a rainy evening. Just a beautiful experience! 

Monday, 12 April 2021

ANIMAL CROSSING ART

 If you follow me on my art insta (julietpaint), you'll see I've had a wee flurry of Animal Crossing inspired activity! 

I'm really enjoying finding my feet in instagram's art community (although I am such a tiny fish in a huge pond), but I'm keen to share some of my favourite paintings on this blog too - I always thought of it as my little corner of the internet, and now this little corner is obsessed with drawing!

The trend of drawing Animal Crosssing characters as if they were people, was definitely a big thing in 2020 when Animal Crossing New Horizons came out (I'm just going to assume you know what the game is!), so when I started thinking about this I did wonder if I'd missed my chance... but then I reasoned that yeah, sure, others have done it, but I haven't done it yet!

I've spent most of this year practising portraits, so this felt like a fun step to keep practicing faces and poses, but this time add a bit of creative thinking into the mix, as I tried to capture the spirit of each little animal character.


I tried not to look at what other people had done (I wanted to use my own interpretation, not be influenced by others), but the few Coco-as-a-person drawings I had seen were pretty creepy! In the game she is obviously quite a spooky character, with big black eyes and an empty head... but her personality is pretty chill! I imagined her as more of a hippy girl, with big round sunglasses, and I thought the peace sign was a nice nod to her rabbit ears.


Pango is one of my original villagers, so I felt obliged to paint my girl! She's a peppy character that wants to be a pop star, so I pictured her as a very cool girl, super sure of herself, with bright bold eye make up. 

On each painting I tried to include a little detail that was a specific nod to Animal Crossing or the character, so human Pango is wearing ant earrings (a little nod to AC Pango being an anteater). On reflection, while there's a lot I like about this painting, I think it's the least successful - the pose is a bit too stiff. Wah, sorry Pango! I still think you are cool.


Celeste, the star-gazing owl, is an Animal Crossing fan favourite, and there's loads of beautiful Celeste art out there! I really like the wistful expression, I think it captures her vibe, and it was easy to include the character's outfit (the big pink bow and argyle top). I added a star earring and necklace inspired by her wing feathers. It took me a while to get her nose right, that is a surprisingly tricky angle to draw!


Finally, it's Merengue! I think this is my favourite painting - the sketch was pretty hard to do (eyes! Mouth! Hand!), but it just feels so friendly and full of life. Definitely a good lesson to pick reference photos that aren't super serious staged shots!

In the game, Merengue is a baking loving rhino that looks a bit like a strawberry shortcake, so it was an easy theme to translate to human Merengue. I kept the colours pink and peppy, added a strawberry hair clip, and drew the fruit on the cupcake in the same style as the cherries in the game. 

This little series was SO FUN to do, I could probably just keep going, but I know it's good for me to mix things up, so I don't get bored. I'm just feeling so lucky I found this hobby! Keeping me sane while lockdown goes on and on. 

Monday, 5 April 2021

LIFE LATELY

Hi! It's been a while since I just chatted on here, so I thought I'd share a wee update on how life is going.

It's weird to think back to this time last year. The reality of lockdown was kicking in, we had a tiny brand new kitten (obviously brilliant, but a big addition to our lives), my partner was about to be furloughed for months, and I was about to go through some of my most stressful days at work (being a fundraiser for an arts charity was pretty stressful in 2020!). 

In comparison, this year, while I'm obviously not loving lockdown life, I feel much more zen about everything. Work is busy and pretty stressful still, but in more of a predictable way, I've settled into working from home (please don't make me go back to an office full time), we've found new routines, and I'm starting to feel a bit more hopeful about the future.

Self portrait, March 2021

A big part of that is that I got my first vaccine in March! I was surprised to be called so early, but it seems that there are some advantages to the various health dramas I've been through over the last two years. I felt surprisingly emotional getting it, then surprisingly horrible for 24 hours of flu-like side effects, but I'm buzzing to be a big step closer to normal. It's not just that I feel safer, but that I'm less likely to pass it onto others - living in the city means that it's been hard to properly distance at all times (try going to big Tesco without people charging past you), so I feel much better that I'm (hopefully) less likely to infect others when I'm just out and about.

Because outdoor adventures were my highlight of 2020, I'm feeling motivated to get fitter so I can venture further afield when we are allowed. I've already talked about my new bike (which is a dream!), but I've been doing Yoga with Adriene videos, and I've started Couch to 5k again! If you've read this blog for a while, you might recall that I have a rollercoaster relationship with running, but this time around I actually feel motivated to do it! I think I'm just so glad for an excuse to get out of the flat for fresh air, and it is so much easier to do it when I can run at lunchtime as I'm at home (trying to get the motivation to run before commuting to work was truly impossible in the past). I'm only on week 2 of Couch to 5k, so we shall see, but I feel good about it, and I am embracing the small moments of goodness these days.

My favourite hobby these days is still painting, I cannot get enough! I recently tried a self portrait, which feels like a big improvement from my last effort (which you can see here). I'm alternating between watercolour paints and digital art and drawing loads of faces these days, it's just so nice to have a satisfying hobby and create things! On my art instagram (julietpaint) I am currently working my way through an A-Z challenge of alphabet portraits (so far I've painted Awkwafina, Billie Eilish, Claire Saffitz, Dana Scully, Emmy Raver, FKA Twigs, Gwen Stefani, Helena Bonham Carter, Idina Menzel, and me - phew!), but next up I actually quite fancy revisiting the paintings I did YEARS ago for my Illustrated Blogger series. I feel like I owe them a nice portrait! 

Other than that, we're using the time to start putting things into motion for our future, and while I'm pretty sceptical that things will just magically go back to normal in the summer, I am excited for lots of things. Can't wait to sit in the sunshine with my pals, to go to the cinema, to wander around a gallery and look at things that aren't on a screen (!), to go to spin class again (a surprising joy in my life), to go camping, and that sweet, sweet moment when we're allowed to go to beer gardens again. It is nice to feel things are a little brighter again. 

Monday, 29 March 2021

MY NEW BIKE: RALEIGH PIONEER GRAND TOUR

One of the highlights of last year was the time I actually got to go outside - I live in a flat without a garden, so the first lockdown felt particularly hard - I longed for outdoor space of my own, and I've never appreciated fresh air more! When I look back at last year my best days were definitely the ones where I made an effort to get out and go exploring.

For the last 7 years (!) I've owned a Dutch-style bike (this one!). It looked very beautiful, but it was very heavy and only had 7 gears which meant I was pretty limited whenever I wanted to cycle up hills. Living in the city, it's too risky to leave my bike locked up outside at night, which means whenever I want to use it, I have to carry my bike up and down three floors of stairs - not fun!

I've been swithering for a while, but as the weather has got nicer I decided it was time to finally bite the bullet and buy a proper bike - so say hello to my new steed, a Raleigh Pioneer Grand Tour!

My beaut new bike parked outside lovely Filmhouse Cinema

I hadn't planned to buy a bike online, but I went to a couple of bike shops (which are actually open, even in lockdown) and both had barely any bikes left in stock - apparently there's been a massive demand for them since last year, and manufacturers are struggling to keep up! I knew I wanted to buy a good bike (which meant spending a bit of money), so I really wanted to make sure I wasn't settling for whatever was left in stock, and I took time to find the right bike for me.

I've always like Raleighs, I've had them before and the brand has a great rep for making high-quality bikes. I knew I wanted something light (to make lugging it up stairs a little easier), that I wanted something with a low bar (I'm pretty short and I want to be able to cycle in a skirt if I want to!), and importantly, something with lots of gears to make it easier to get around Edinburgh's hills. My last bike had been beautiful but impractical, so I was trying to look past aesthetics, but obviously I'm a sucker for a nicely designed bike. 

I also needed a bike that was good for both city cycling and country adventures - so decided that a hybrid bike was the way to go.

Looking like a happy potato

I spent AGES looking through all the options, watching videos, reading reviews, and obsessing over the difference between a 14kg bike and a 15kg bike. It was also tricky trying to work out what frame size I wanted - it would have been nice to be able to try some bikes out, but I just had to make do with sizing guides online.

In the end I took the plunge and bought the Pioneer Grand Tour in Low Step. It pretty much ticked all my boxes: it's got a light aluminum frame; 24 gears; big grippy tyres that are happy on pavements and country paths; and it came with mudguards, a pannier rack and a bell, so I didn't have to pay extra for those. It was £525, which feels quite expensive to me and was definitely the top of my budget, but I know I'll get years of use out of it (and we don't have a car, so it really is my main mode of transport these days!).

The bike is an absolute DREAM. I was worried that I'd get carried away imagining how much better this was than my old bike - like, how much difference can a few extra kgs and gears make? Turns out, it's LOADS. The gears are a life-changer! Hills are so much easier, I'm much faster, and I feel so much more confident cycling in traffic. The bike doesn't have suspension, but the seat is fitted with mega springs, so it's much comfier going over cobbles or uneven ground. It looks great too!

Now the weather's improving, I've been able to go out for a few rides already, and I love it. Such a great decision to buy! I'm really looking forward to going farther afield on warm sunny days - bring on the summer! 

Monday, 22 March 2021

WOMEN MAKE TREK

As you might have spotted I am a big Star Trek fan, so I am over the moon to get to be part of Women Make Trek - an amazing fan art celebration of the women in Trek!


Women Make Trek was born from a love of Star Trek, art and design, and the incredible artists who have been collectively making Star Trek art for over 55 years.

The exhibition is packed with beautiful portraits of Star Trek women - from the iconic female stars (look at these beautiful portraits of JanewayUhara and Dr Crusher), to characters who may have had smaller roles, but still made a huge impact on screen (like these beaut portraits of Keiko O'BrienEzri Dax and L'rell).

Each artwork is accompanied with a story of what the character and/or actor means to the artist, so you really get a sense of how much these cool, strong, inspiring space women have impacted people's lives. That's really the ethos of Star Trek, and why I like it so much. It's about adventure and exploration, sure, but it's also about celebrating the diversity in the universe, and using our differences to build a better future. I grew up watching and loving it, but even now as an adult I'm learning things from re-watching it that are helping me be a better boss, pal and all-round person. That's pretty high praise, isn't it? I just love it!

Tilly - painted by me!

And that brings me to Tilly! You can see my story of why I love Tilly here. I still can't quite believe that my little portrait is sitting alongside so many amazing artworks, but it's been so lovely to be part of it, and get to connect with so many cool fans. 

Alongside their amazing art showcase, Women Make Trek are doing a couple of great things: they are fundraising for Breast Cancer Research, and they are collecting letters for Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) to spread a bit more love in the universe!