7 Nostalgic feel good movies

I get my love of movies from my parents. When I was a sprat, I’d try all kinds of strategies to stay up later and watch movies with my parents. They liked musicals and westerns, dramas and comedies, love stories and tales of swashbuckling pirates. It often surprises me how much we talked about the stories, and about the books that inspired them. Years later, what I remember most is the movies that were just about feeling good. Some were diversions created to boost morale during the Second World War; others were pure entertainment created in the era of the Hollywood studio machine. As a family, we loved the classics best.

harvey1. Harvey – About a six foot tall white invisible phouka called Harvey, and his gently alcoholic and pleasant human companion, Elwood P Dowd, or is that vice versa? I loved this tale at the time, and it continues to be one of my favorite movies of all time.

2. Mary Poppins – I loved the books, the stage play is terrific, and the Disney movie is a lot of fun too. The wind changes, and blows in a new nanny for the children of this family. Mary Poppins is part fairy, part witch, and all about improbable circumstances. Whimsical and serious by turns, it features Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, and Dick Van Dyke in a range of roles.

3. Auntie Mame – Who wouldn’t want an Aunt like Mame? Eccentric, bohemian, extravagant and devoted to her nephew. I always wanted an aunt who was just like her. I found her inspiring. Another wonderful musical.

Singing-Rain4. Singing in the Rain– One of many great Gene Kelly dance movies.One of my first leading men, I fell for his charm, his smile, and the way he was comfortable in his body, a wonderful choreographer and dancer. Another favorite with him as leading man was For Me and My Gal.

5. The Unsinkable Molly Brown – A wonderful tale of an indomitable woman who was rescued from a river as a child, grew into a tomboy determined to marry a rich man, and who was brassy, bold and determined to live the good life. Through various trials and tribulations, adulation and rejection, she found her way into people’s hearts as a hero who saved people from a sinking ship, the Titanic. The critics didn’t always love this movie, but we did. It’s outrageous, over the top, and delightful.

6. Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend – A signature Marilyn movie, with an excellent cast, great musical numbers, and the delightfully dippy main character who, if she’s going to fall in love, says she might as well marry a rich man. Amazing sets. This is the classic era of Hollywood at its best.

bringingupbaby7. Bringing up Baby – My vote for the most hilarious movie, with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. He’s an about-to-be-married absent-minded professor, and she’s a ditzy socialite who decides she wants him instead. Along the way Baby, the pet leopard, gets confused with a circus leopard.

Hilarity ensues as mistaken identities, human and animal, rile the local authorities. I watched it again recently, and it stood the test of time.

 

Food: Fresh seasonal recipes

strawberries with curried cashews - snack

Strawberries + Curried Cashews

I love the idea that we live in a time when we can get any produce at any time, at least hypothetically. Yet recently, I’ve come to notice that foods that are forced to grow out of season just don’t taste as good. The out-of-season foods may be uniform in size and shape, and they are made to pack and travel well; that makes them reliable in a sense. Yet what is missing, for me, is the concentrated flavor and organic variation that makes the food visually and aesthetically pleasing. As an artist, I cannot imagine wanting to draw a perfect apple or raspberry; that would make for an artificial-looking image composition at best, more like wax than something edible. Curiously enough, apparently my taste buds feel the same way about visually perfect produce.

Lately, I’ve been making fresh fruit snacks from whatever fruit is in season, usually from local growers. Organic is a preference, where available, though a good wash removes most of the chemicals. I choose fruit that is just at, or nearly past, its peak, firm but starting to get a little soft. Ready to eat today or tomorrow is my general rule, and it has to be “smelly”, that is to say ripe. If there is no scent to the food, then I walk away. From May onwards, local farmers markets are opening in school parking lots and community centers, and that’s my favorite place to shop for fresh produce. It’s always good to learn something new from the grower, and the sensory experience of seeing the food and being amongst community members makes me feel connected. Being in the moment, and noticing what my body wants to eat is also part of the experience.

Balances of sweet and savory appeal to me most, things like pears with curry cashews and chopped dates, pistachios sprinkled over nectarines, accompanied by a sharp cheese (Beecher’s Flagship), some pickled onions, snappy crackers (Ritz baked). Here are some snacks I’ve enjoyed from March through May in Seattle.

pear and honey cashews

Pear + Honey Cashews

mango and strawberries

Mango Strawberry Parfait

strawberry and nectarine with dates

Strawberry Nectarine + Dates

Brolga: A dancing Australian crane for a children’s story

As long as I can remember, I have loved images of Brolgas. They are a crane-like bird that lives in marshes and on the plains. One of my favorite images is from Sidney Long called Spirit of the Plains. It has a woman with pipes, walking through long grass, followed by a dancing set of Brolgas.

Here she is the piper, and they her companions. Dancing, weaving, living spirit beings. It is almost as if the flute and grasses dance together to create their wild energy.
Long_Spirit-of-the-plains

Along the way to finding my own art style, I found these illustrations for inspiration. I particularly admire the metamorphic image towards the right. The transformation image by Judy Prosser is brilliant. This image gave me the idea of playing with watercolor for my own images.

BrolgaInspiration

My first drawing steps were in pen and ink. I typically like to use a .01 pen as it creates very fine lines. I use a gestural style, where I don’t try to fill in all the details. Later, I come back and add the color, let the watercolor dictate the color blends. Then I take it into digital and push the values, erase where needed, and focus on areas around the ‘face’ of the animal.

Brolga stories
These images are the sketches for the Billabong Flats children’s stories. Brolga dances in the grasses, down by the water.  The spirit of movement, the play of wings and wind, these are her ways.

BrolgaDancingRiaLoader

The graceful cranes, high-stepping in the marsh make me want to move. I am drawn to the rhythm, the sweep of the wings, and the capture of lively abandonment to the moment. Watching and drawing these birds gives me joy.

The first image above is available as a print from my store at Society6.

Creating vs Editing: a writer’s challenge

Context switching between writing and editing is often a challenge for me as a writer. When I’m in the creative flow, the words come easily, without hindrance. However, when I shift over to editing mode, to polish the words, the well seems to dry up. The hypercritical internal editor does not seem to be compatible with the internal novelist. I know, I know. It’s a little weird to call them out as separate characters, however, they’re so very different. They feel like different characters in a story.

It seems like the only way to balance the two ways of perceiving is to give them their own stage. For the most part, I am finding it useful to schedule my time month by month – a month of outlining and writing, followed by a month of editing and polishing. When I’ve tried switching between the two on the same day, neither the writing nor the editing seems to be any good. The editor is so very picky.

This is in addition to the more normal challenges of switching between being in work mode for my full-time job and carving out two hours a day to attend to the various aspects of being a writer.

At work, where I manage a team of designers, I context switch all day long. There are meetings, consultations, design work and planning sessions. Sometimes I’m thinking as a front-end web developer, which is very specific about the code and the alignment of every pixel. Sometimes, I find myself staying late at work, where I am already in the mode of looking at the details.

There’s a sweet spot at the beginning of the day, before work begins, when the world is new. That’s the time I find myself writing in my journal. It’s freeform, about the world I find myself in. Occasionally, I’ll finish up writing journal entries, and will find myself writing a scene from a book. During the month of November, when I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org – a challenge of 50K words in 30 days), I go into work at least an hour early each day to get the fresh time of day to write. My goal is around 750-1000 words for session one. I do another 750-1000 words in session 2 after dinner. However, during that month I don’t plan to do any editing.

Gradually, I was finding a rhythm, however, life events made it challenging to keep up. I was doing:

  • Early morning free-form writing for two months
  • Late day editing for a month
  • Back to free-form writing for a couple of months

After a six month hiatus, where nothing went according to plan, I am working out what my new writing rhythm looks like. Somewhere in there, I hope to create at least one blog post a week. Blog posts are short enough that those might fit the early morning time slot. Getting an editor (someone other than me) would also be a help. If I’m honest with myself, I like doing the developmental edit, and then the final edit at the end, polishing the commas. All the other steps in the middle are about as exciting as stirring a pot of oatmeal. That’s terrible of me to say, isn’t it? Still, other folks tell me they feel much the same way. One friend says he leaves a piece of work alone for six months after he’s done the first draft, giving it time to settle. That’s not an entirely bad idea, in my humble opinion.

For a while, I’m going to try breaking out of the month-long assignment of time. I’ll try outlining in the evenings and writing first thing in the morning for a week at a time. Then I’ll try a first pass on editing on a weekend afternoon. We’ll see how that rolls along. The advice I’ve read goes like this

  • Write at the same time every day
  • Write in the same place to establish a habit
  • Outline first, even if that’s just 40 sentences
  • Type fast – 60 words a minute becomes 3600 in an hour.
  • Do micro-sprints. Write for 20 or 25 minutes at a time. Many times a day.
  • Write without editing to keep up the pace
  • Edit what you did yesterday, then outline and write for today
  • Carve out at least 2 hours a day to write – 10 hours weekdays / 4 hours each day on weekends
  • Try a transcription app. Temi is great. For a couple dollars, you get quick transcripts from hands-free recordings. Car time is made productive.

What I’ve often said at work is, “There is only one thing, that being the work in the moment”. I need to remind myself to worry less about the task that is out of sight at the present.

I wonder if others have the similar issues in context switching between writing and editing? I’d love to hear tips and tricks others have found to level-up in writing and editing with complete focus on one or the other.

Sketching with the iskn tablet

isknpackageIt was a quiet day at home on Saturday. Picked up the iskn tablet for the first time and installed the software. It was a bit mysterious at first, with some back and forth to the manual. Once it was connected and charged, I was good to go. The tutorials were surprisingly helpful. The only thing I had trouble with, at first, was the orientation of the tablet and screen. I wanted portrait, and it kept coming up landscape. If all else fails, read the directions. Got that sorted, and started drawing. It was an intuitive and expressive tool to use. I’ll be giving it a good try out over the next week, to see where it fits into my drawing patterns. My first impression: how easy and fluid it was to use. It felt just as natural as drawing with a pen.

BrolgaStandingRiaLoader2018WebMy first drawing, using the iskn, was about getting used to the pen device. I played around with pressure and such, angle of the pen, and pretty much stuck to the default pen setting this time around. There’s a ring that fits around your own pen, and a couple of magnetic rings around a stylus and pen that comes with the iskn. The drawing tablet has all these magnetic spots that line up with what you are drawing. It’s really quite smooth. Using any paper of your choice, you are freed up to draw and have the illustration appear on the screen as you draw it. It felt quite a lot more expressive than a Wacom tablet, which I already have. It also has a cord-free mode and some online storage, so you can use it on the go. Haven’t tried that yet, but will do so in short order.

I’m in the midst of illustrations for a kids book that’s set in the Australian Bush. The place is Billabong Flats, a mythical place where everyone gets along and has fun. The story I’m working on is about a Brolga, a kind of crane, who likes to dance. She meets up with Koala, who has been wistfully watching her from her perch up in the big gum tree. Koala wants to dance too. The set up illustrations are of Koala and Brolga, down near the water. I decided to draw Brolga in a steady stance, much like a dancer being in first position, before movement.

The iskn will record a movie as you draw, showing the process. That’s a fun and unexpected delight. It records all of your movements throughout the drawing and allows you to export it at the end.