Book recommendation: “Barfuß auf dem Sommerdeich” by Katja Just

I just finished reading this book. First of all, I’m quite proud of having been able to read it all without looking at the dictionary!

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I picked it up in my library, attracted by the wilderness and remoteness of the Halligen, small islands in the North Sea, near the coasts of Germany and Denmark. The story of the city-dweller who leaves the busy streets for a remote, natural environment invariably fascinates every human heart.

Katja Just’s journey from Munich to Hooge is however not so close to a dream. She had hard times, not only because of the trying living conditions on the island, but, according to my impression, the deeper cause was her approach to those hardships. She does an amazing journey of introspection and acceptance, of herself, of the life on Hooge, that is unique and brave. This makes me think that just following her example and move to Hooge myself would not necessarily be a good decision: my starting point and my mindset are different. Nevertheless, the lessons I wish to learn from her experience are:

  • observe, assuming that the information is out there and deserves to be noticed
  • learn more about myself through the analysis of my reactions – being honest and open, rather than intolerant to my weaknesses
  • be ready to stand for my ideas, firmly and politely

I hope there will be soon an English translation, so that more readers can have access to the book. I’ll update the post accordingly.

Until next time, good reads everyone!

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Photobook: seasons and weather

I have started to take a picture of the large tree next to my usual bus stop, to track the colour of its leaves during fall, and the changing light. I make the pictures standing on the same manhole cover, so that the framing is quite consistent. I am not very regular in taking pictures, but I try to remind myself about it every time I walk there.

Drawing session: mammal profiles

Today I went to my favourite library with my sketchbook and looked for a book with a lot ot pictures of mammals, as I wanted to put into practice a few tips from John Muir Laws’ lesson. Here are the results:

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African wild dog
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--chimp-eating
Chimpanzee, handling a stone
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--chimp-water
Chimpanzee, playing in water
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--cinghiale
Wild boar
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--grizzly
Grizzly bear, hunting fish
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Indri (lemur), on tree
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--jaguar
Jaguar, climbing on tree
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--young-tapir
Brazilian tapir, calf

I observed attentively before starting with the drawing, and then drew the outline very fast (1 or 2 minutes maximum). I didn’t use the eraser, just drew more lines. I tried to notice proportions, so that few pencil strokes could suggest the species, without the help of colour or surrounding habitat.

I am quite happy with the result, given that it’s the first time I draw most of these species in a realistic way (I have drew some in cartoon style before). My next step is to work on the outline, adding details (fur texture, eyes, precise shapes of legs/head/body/tail, 3D suggestion through line width). Stay tuned for next posts!

Watercolour painting: red fox

A couple weeks ago I saw a picture of a fox that invited me to make a watercolour painting. Today I stumbled upon this watercolour lesson from Laurie Wigham on John Muir Law’s blog and, after browsing the lesson’s slides, I grabbed my watercolour set, a largish pencil, my sketchbook and the watercolour pencils I have never used before, and started painting.

This is the outcome:

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I enjoyed experimenting with watercolour. I was initially worried of doing mistakes that I could not correct, but instead felt a lightness in filling large areas so fast, with a light touch of the brush, and see how I could move paint around thanks to water. I added pencil details after the paint had dried a bit, so in some areas the wet paint diluted the pencil and made very rich colours.

I’m happy with the right side of the drawing, I consider the colors right and the pencil addition quite balanced; the left side was too lightly painted and I used a lot of pencil, a bit too much. The proportions of dark and light areas on the left side are also not so similar to the picture, maybe because I started painting when I had observed the picture too quickly (especially that part).

Overall I am satisfied with this painting, it gives me a positive sensation and it motivates me to try again! I liked the speed of the paint part and the combination with pencil. The video and slides give a lot more information and techniques, so I’ll consult them in the future to pick new tips and improve. I hope I inspired you to grab a pencil and try this yourself! I’d love to hear your feedback on the post and hopefully see your own paintings 🙂

Picnic at the park

I recently have been so inspired by this list of 50 activities to do on your own, published by Jo Chunyan, that I printed the picture version of the list and hung it in my living room.

I loved the idea of giving value to time and activities done alone: in fact, there are many things on that list that are done outdoors, and/or involve physical activity, or let you improve the state of your home, and so on. For the shy personality of mine, it is a gentler invitation to get out and move my body, without the implication that I must interact with people or exhaust myself – and most importantly, that time alone can be spent in many ways (more than those 50, for sure!), which include my current indoor favourites: decluttering my room and reading.

Long story short, today the sun was shining, so I picked up two items from that list:

  • 42: Go to the park with some sandwiches, a picnic blanket and a good book
  • 49: Take a photo to depict each hour of your day (I actually read it as: take a picture of the same place at one-hour intervals)

Out I went to the park nearby with my packed lunch (I had leftovers from yesterday’s pasta, and fresh fruits and vegs, so it was really quick to put together) and a book that I have to read for my Montessori diploma.

I ate, read, dozed, smiled to passers-by, and took three picture at one hour interval:

Then I left because it had become too warm and sunny, but it was a great time outside, relaxing and interesting 🙂

 

“Nature connection through deliberate attention and curiosity” – John Muir Law’s TEDx talk

I was introduced to John Muir Law‘s learning materials for natural illustrators by fellow participants of NHI101x, bought his book “Nature Drawing and Journaling”, enjoyed the bubbling stream of ideas and excellent illustrations (I’ll write a review as soon as I finish it, stay tuned!) and now I follow his blog, where he regularly posts drawing tutorials and other useful tips. Today I watched his TEDx talk about enhancing the quality of our observation of nature, by the means of simple and effective methods that unleash our curiosity on natural subjects. I find it a brilliant summary on the art of observation – a compact starter kit like very few others. Enjoy!

Book recommendation – “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau

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Walden is a such a famous book, whose reviews and analyses sum up to many times the length of the manuscript itself. My review is mostly about the waves it generated on the lake of my mind. I finished reading the book a couple weeks ago, and initially felt sorry not to have read it before; but I am glad I had read it now, because I enjoyed many more aspects, that the younger me would not have taken into consideration.

Thoreau narrates two years of his life in the woods near Walden Pond, in Massachussets, in 1845. He built a minimalist cabin with his own hands (with an accurate description of the process, and a precise account of costs and time), practiced a little agriculture, fished and hunted, interacted with the few people who lived or worked there. He recalls many moments of contemplation of the surrounding nature, that he describes in his lyrical prose, that sounds now maybe oldish and pompous, but immensely reverent.

His survival experiment is both simple and extreme. Simple in its practical steps, extreme in the meaning it can convey to the society as a whole. He returned to civilisation after two years, not because the life in the woods ended up as a failure or a delusion, but because he realised that he had learned the lessons he needed. Through his experience, I feel more easy on my own decisions, especially the ones that sound drastic, because they show a true need for changement, even if for a given time of my life, and as such should be heard and handled.

From Chapter 18 – Conclusions:

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

Thoreau’s experiment made me immediately think of the more permanent one (so far) of Simone Perotti, who left a promising career to dedicate himself to seafaring and art. His book Adesso basta [Enough of it – own translation] is definitely an angrier and irrevocable refusal of civilised modern society, but I feel that he and Thoreau had something in common when they realised that society (and career in particular) could not give everything they needed. You can follow Simone’s blog, regularly updated, and savour his terse and shiny Italian prose. I remember reading his book in a time where I was angry and disappointed myself, and it only made me angrier to hear relatives and friends that such a definitive refusal of society was not possible. I think I got to that point anyway, but slower and with unneeded waste of energies.

A more similar meditation parenthesis is the diary of Sylvain Tesson, Dans les forêts de Sibérie. The author settles for a few months in a small cabin on the shores of Lake Baikal, with even less human presence than Walden Pond, and a less forgiving climate. I enjoyed Sylvain’s reflections, blooming from unbroken hours of silence, of stillness. They look so similar to Thoreau’s , despite the 250 years and half of the world’s distance between them. I’ll make a more detailed review when I get back the book from my mum 🙂

Lake Baikal (15849197826)
Baikal lake, by Aleksandr Zykov

These experiences made me think about how societal occupations changed in time (jobs, pastimes, duties), while the reflections of the mind, when it is given an appropriate amount of time off, converge in so many countries and ages. Is that the common ground of our humanity? I hope so, and even if there is no solid fact behind it, I like to see it as a fil rouge that is suitable to connect us all.