Drawing streak – seventh week

It’s becoming more of a marathon than a streak… and it doesn’t look it’s going to end soon!

This week I used felt pens a lot and drew a raccoon, as I read about South American raccoons and the fossil remains of related species. I also drew a whale that dives in the dark deep waters, after taking a good breath at the surface. Day 46 was an experiment about rendering knitting patterns – and it works, from a distance! Yesterday’s post is about a new way of filling areas with pencils, not by straight strokes, but by circular, spirally lines. It is sort of relaxing and it makes a much smoother surface. It was challenging to render the shiny surface of the small teapot, but I am quite satisfied with this experiment.

You can find bigger images on my Flickr page, as well as next week’s doodles, that I post every day as soon as they are ready.

Hope this inspires some of you too!

Book review: “Souvenirs entomologiques” by Jean-Henri Fabre

Around a year ago, I stumbled upon the 10 volumes of the Souvenirs entomologiques while browsing ebooksgratuits.com. I feel ashamed not to have known about him in a more direct way, both as a naturalist and as a francophone, because there is so much passion in his scientific work and so much taste in his sublime prose.

Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915) was a teacher in Southern France and an avid explorer of the nature around him. Along his books you discover his simple and fresh attitude to life, his admiration for insects, which he describes as complex and brave living beings, treating them with care and respect even when he interacts with them to test a scientific hypotesis.

I would recommend to read the original text, or hope that the translators created an equivalently rich and expressive prose. There is true poetry in the way he describes how the whole family, dog included, participate to his curious experiments that fill his room and the house’s garden with jars and cages for any kind of insect and spider; sometimes his children, who eagerly help him, are the ones who spot a crucial detail and are regarded by Fabre as true scientists too. He has a simple yet rich way of talking about his life, his ability to find positive aspects of a grim situation, his admiration for his human and animal teachers.

There has been some debate about his opposition to evolution theory, that is quite clear in this series of books, but this has not diminished the value of his work in my eyes: the theory was only being drafted at his times, therefore I am not surprised by Fabre’s point of view. He also sometimes associate moral virtues to insects and creation. I don’t agree with that, but it is a layer of his interpretation that I can easily peel off.

You can find all his texts in a neat classification on the website dedicated to his life and works [in Italian, French and English]. Happy reading!

Picture credits and sources:

From the kitchen: baking bread

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I assumed for a long time that bread baking was not for beginners, and even good bakers needed an especially good oven in order to bake decent bread.

My friend Madi recently broke this spell by publishing her wholegrain bread recipe [in Italian]. Knowing that I could ask her for help if needed, I decided to try myself. The recipe was really simple; my electric oven seemed good enough for the task. Actually, the first bread was pretty good! Madi gave me some tips on how to improve the process, and I wish to share them with you.

For example, this bread had too much water in the dough (or not enough flour – I stopped adding it as I thought the dough was firm enough):

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You can see it came out very flat and with a lot of holes that correspond to many big bubbles. It was not bad, but as the water evaporated during baking and afterwards, it became quickly dry.

How to avoid that? Add all the flour that the recipe or the flour bag indicates. The dough could look firm and soft enough, but if you wait around one minute and it becomes sticky again, keep adding flour.

This other attempt was overall pretty good, but the crust was too dry and hard:

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The crust became too hard because the oven temperature was insufficient. Even if the knob was set at 200°C, it was too low, so the crust dried instead of becoming crisp and brown. My solution was to set the oven at 230°C and closely monitor the baking process (especially with my nose: when bread is baking well, it always smells wonderfully!).

With the experience gained, here are two breads I am especially proud of:

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Bread #4
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Bread #9

I hope this inspires you to start baking! Feel free to ask me for clarifications 🙂

(More pictures of my baking successes on my Flickr)

Drawing streak – sixth week

Here I am again with my scribbles:

Day 36 was the day of the supermoon, that I saw above the trees of my neighbouring park. Day 37 is drawn with a small graphite pencil, I forgot how easy it is to smoothly fill areas, I should remember to use it more often! Day 38 is a watercolour sketch of my moka machine. It is not a particularly good result, but I got to try painting a new layer only when the underlying one was dry (well, almost, you can see the black areas which leaked in a still damp grey area). Day 39 is dedicated to a small Poinsettia plant that I just bought. This way of using flat colours and black borders is inspired by ligne claire, a style that I am very fond of. Day 40 is a horse rolling in the grass, just sketched, but I plan to take more time to do a proper copy of that sweet picture. Day 41 are metro lines – guess where – and Day 42 shows three of the four horses caught on camera by Chad Hanson.

Still one week to go, or more? I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Book recommendation: “The night worker” by Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben

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I read this childrens’ book in its German translation, “Nachts auf der Baustelle”.  I have been fascinated by the accurate and yet dream-like illustrations, the richness of technical words in simple sentences, the nightly atmosphere of the construction site. I could almost feel the freshness of the air, the silent city around, the noise of machines, the starred sky.

It makes a great present for a child, or an adult who loves construction sites and proudly defines himself an umarell.

See more of Kate Banks’ books on her website!

From the kitchen: easy chocolate cake

I’d like to share a recipe of a super simple chocolate cake I made recently. I was back from a 20-day trip abroad and I had not yet gone shopping, but this recipe asks for so few ingredients, none of them perishable, so I was able to bake this amazingly tasty and fluffy cake on the fly:

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Picture and recipe on Flickr

I have no other pictures, as it disappeared too fast!

Ingredients (for one cake or 12 muffins):

  • 200 g flour
  • 200 g sugar
  • 100 g dark chocolate (as powder or in bar – then melt it with some butter or milk)
  • 250 ml milk (cow milk or substitutes)
  • baking soda (the quantity recommended by its package)
  • optional: spices like cinnamon or vanilla

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the cocoa powder or the chocolate, previously melted with some butter or milk. Add milk, baking soda and spices. Mix well. Pour the mixture in a cake pan and bake for around half an hour at 180 degrees Celsius.

I was used to bake this kind of cakes with eggs, so this eggless recipe left me initially cold. After it came out of the oven and we tasted it, I changed my mind, the texture was perfect!

Recipe source: Il Ricettario Segreto del Lago Maggiore e d’Orta, by Franco Mora and Elisa Tognasca.

Drawing streak – fifth week

The streak is ongoing, with at least two more weeks to go… I am running out of ideas. Sometimes I draw before going to bed. I decided to draw something that shows my mood or captures a relevant fact of the day, like yesterday’s supermoon… that will be featured in next week’s post!

Day 29 was a comeback to high school graffiti-style shadowing. Day 30 and 31 were connected to NHI101x, the natural history illustration course I am following online, held by University of Newcastle in Australia: a great source of inspiration, both from the teachers and the fellow course participants (over 12.000 all over the world!) – I like how it gives a reasonable set of information, opens up several paths for further learning (dedicated websites, other courses…) and how the course participants share tips and tricks and questions on the course’s forum.

Day 32 was inspired by a podcast from BBC 4 about Hector’s dolphin, an endangered species in New Zealand. This dolphin has similarities with the more common hourglass dolphin, that I drew in my notebook.

Day 33 was a simple study of an adjustable wrench|spanner that happened to be on my desk when I decided to draw.

Day 34 is a tribute to a funny memory: I was at a conference in Italy in 2010 with a friend of mine and we booked a room together. There were some noises during the night that I happily ignored. My friend mentioned them in the morning, and I told her that nothing can wake me when I am sleeping well, not even “a cat with cymbals” – so here it is 🙂

Day 35 is a sleepy dog. I loved the peace of the picture, the patience of it, maybe waiting for someone. I tried to use only three colours and the result makes the German shepherd look like a wild dog, but still, I like it 🙂

Here are the posts from past weeks: Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4 — stay tuned for week 6!

Drawing streak – fourth week

Here are this week’s doodles:

Only six, because on Saturday I didn’t draw.

On Day 22 I was flying and so I drew the plane engine that I could see out of my window. Day 23 was still about travelling, and I thought about migrating birds. Day 24 I felt that my streak was getting quite far, so I drew a summary of it in small squares, like Paloma does in the movie “L’élégance du hérisson”. Day 25 was inspired by a walk near the lake, which was crowded with swans. Day 26 is the map of a trail in the mountains, and finally day 26 a comeback of colour after many days of black and white.

See previous weeksposts for the whole streak, and my Flickr page for full-resolution images!

Sara, Abraham and Hagar – two paintings from Matthias Stom

I have been visiting Gemäldegalerie for the exhibition “El siglo de oro” and I have been very moved by a painting from Matthias Stom, a Dutch golden age painter.

“Sarah showing in Hagar to Abraham” (source: Wikimedia):

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“Sarah leading Hagar to Abraham” (source: Wikimedia):

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At the museum I found the second version of the painting. I felt as I were in the room, in the silence of the scene.

The first painting, that I later found on Wikimedia, shows a more lively scene, where Sarah is at the side, the center of the scene is taken by the young body of Hagar, her bright red cloth, and Abraham raises from his bed, can’t wait to have her near him, takes the red cloth with a strong grasp. There are many symbols in the scene that I haven’t decoded, but the overall impression to me is that it is a classical rendition of this biblical extract.

The second painting is very different in the sentiments. Hagar is now on the side of the scene, she looks a bit scared and unsure. Sarah is next to her and offers Hagar’s arm to Abraham, with a quite official pose. Her look is directed neither to his husband nor to Hagar, it is lost in the air in front of her. She has a half-smile on her face, I can’t say why. Abraham, that I noticed first in this painting, is sort of surprised. His hand makes a open gesture, his face is perplexed, as if he didn’t expect this turn of events, as if he has no interest in what is going to happen. I felt so near these three characters, as if they were actors who didn’t believe in their parts, but had orders to complete their tasks.