How Post It portraits helped me wrestle with my completion monster

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I had become so used to falling short of the goals I set for myself that the promises I made to myself and others felt empty. While almost certainly partially fun-monkey related*, I do think that part of my procrastination was a submission to the fate of the partially completed project. And somewhere in you-tube-athon or possibly procrastination click-fest I came across the tiniest piece of advice. A snippet of a frase, and frustratingly I’m not even sure where it came from – really – because I’d love to say thanks.

The advice was: lower the goal. Set yourself the minimum achievable goal. Something you can definitely do. Build your confidence in your willpower and creativity by achieving at first, the ridiculously easily achievable.

I’d tried the sketchbook route before, which I know works very well for a lot of people. I have a tendency to become frustrated with the “bad” pages, and an equally frequent tendency to mislay the book when I’m looking to draw. I understood: the low goal had to include fail safes. I settled on the post-it note. One note, one face, one day.

An unexpected upside of the post-it note was the very visible nature of the activity. “What’s going on here?” said my flatmate, and she’d visit the wall to laugh at the squished faces of the people hastily sketched at 2.43 am. I can’t tell the number of times I’ve retired to bed to face the wall, feeling sweaty with the realisation that I haven’t done the days drawing.

The theory went that provided it was a face, some drawing was better than none, and keeping that bar ground-scrapingly low I  wasn’t allowed multiple attempts. After drawing inspiration to scribblers everywhere, Danny Gregory, for a week, I switched onto an actor in a TV show I was watching, then my family, and then my Facebook friends from a randomised list.

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The eagle-eyed among you will spot a faceless day. Failure. A real low.

The success of the post-it portraits had significantly improved my ability to take on and complete other tasks, and in the week of the 4th of February my flatmate and I successfully launched, on a very tight deadline, a special project (which is ongoing). I hit the sack on the night of the 11th without even realizing I’d not done a face.

I felt pretty crappy about it the next day. I felt like a 2 ball juggler who’d added a third to her repertoire and dropped one without even noticing. I felt like I’d be a 2 ball juggler all my life. And my drawings were crappy. They weren’t even great – unlike in the first weeks I was rushing them, and many were a late night afterthought.

I put a blank post it on the wall, giving ditching the project some serious consideration. And with that I realised how pitiful I was being. With one setback, and some subpar images, I was ready to sabotage the whole – let’s face it – frivolous project. The polar opposite of grit, it’s not too great to realise that when the going gets tough (or even just doesn’t continue being super easy), you’re the first with your hands in the air saying “well that didn’t work”. I grumpily and begrudginly continued onwards (what a champion I am!). Although the quality of the work didn’t greatly improve I was certainly faster at getting down a likeness and some shadows and contours seemed to be becoming almost like friends.

For a few years, I’ve thought of doing a drawing for my parents’ birthdays. They are the proud owners of the publishers’ proofs of their wedding photos that they couldn’t afford to print properly, and I’ve always toyed with drawing one (minus the big “proof” stamp). This year, I felt it would be possible: I knew I was faster and with the strict no multiple attempts rule not in place, I started a drawing 3 days prior to the event (because although I might be better at follow though I still have the tendency to be a bit last minute). About 1 hour in I had some doubts, and then banished them. The whole thing is about A3 size, took nearly 10 hours, and is the most serious piece of intentional drawing I’ve done in years.

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Please excuse the glare on my dad’s shoulder from my desk lamp! It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a solid likeness. I am 100% sure I would never have done it without all the crappy 3.25 am faces, I’m sure my power of observation and possibly even technical ability has improved slightly, but more important was the belief that I could take on the project (albeit only lasting 10 hours in the end) and see it through.

Thanks post-it notes. Thanks internet artists (notable mentions Danny Gregory, Mark Crilley) Thanks whoever it was that helped me set the bar low.

 

*the best article/post on procrastination ever written by Tim Urban. I imagine everyone’s already read it but i’ve linked it anyway :-).

Advertising (kind of)

Empty wine bottle (sketchy)

With the firm agreement that Sketchy Behaviour (Jaén’s best drawing club) should be resurrected for 2016, we thought we’d start things off with a bang! This particular cheeky number is only just over 2€ in Lidl, and very delicious it is too (if in a slightly ribena-y way).

The Camino Cleanse

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No lemons, cayenne pepper or questionable bowel habits – I promise! I’ve already posted about the inevitability of a sexier post-camino ass so you’re not going to take need such drastic measures. And if you don’t know what this camino I’m going on about is, feel free to investigate here, here or here.

This cleanse is an altogether different kind of cleanse. A cleanse that one might achieve by first becoming (arguably) a little bit dirtier.

It started with the realisation that an albergue is simply no place to apply concealer: the lighting is TERRIBLE, you probably have to share the mirror with at least two other people and the all pervading smell of feet will make your efforts seem a bit, well, dirty.

I’m not going to go on an all-out war on make up on or off the camino: there is a pan-species precedent for adornment (thanks Darwin!), and personally I like wearing a bit of lipstick and mascara. But few animals have taken quite as far as the court of the sun king or it’s modern equivalent: Somerset House during London Fashion Week.

At the risk of sounding like a “feminine personal care” advert, we all need to be clean and well presented, but do other people care what we look like as much as we’re lead to beleive?

The back story (or, how I obliterated any sign of my actual face, daily)

As a very long time acne sufferer, I spent at least 20 years covering my skin in “product”.  My skin was very red, bumpy and I would have new painful “blind” spots and whiteheads almost every day. I spent, probably (I’m pretty ashamed to say) thousands of pounds over the course of around 20 years trying to clean, cover or otherwise rid myself of this broken .

I’m eternally thankful to Elaine Mummery whose dietary advice has almost completely rid me of this issue: no topical products required.

But it’s made me angry: mostly about my own naivety . Claims made by cosmetics companies via their generally beautiful and delicately complexioned staff who, (visibly not suffering from skin complaints) could reasonably peddle any advertising information they had been given as some manner of universal skin health truth.

My own profession too, seemed to play into, rather than stand to oppose expensive and medicated solutions.

A free face at last (I know, this back story is going on a bit isn’t it?)

Imperfect, but reasonably clear appearing skin has been a liberation: from the mirror (minimum half hour prep before leaving home) to the obligatory financial toll of all that snake oil from both the skincare and make up industries.

I was glad about the liberation of my own face, but I hadn’t really considered properly stripping back on, say moisturiser, masks, the odd bit of concealer here or there, nor indeed had I thought in any detail about the products which I continued to buy and my role in continuing to fund an industry which is worth more in the

But the camino forced me to pare back further: to really consider the cosmetic choices I continued to make. I left my first albergue with the decluttered wash bag: a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, body wash, a nail brush, razor, tweezers, black mascara and red lipstick.

No Poo? Low Poo.

The observant among you will have have noted there was no shampoo or conditioner in that list. I’m not technically “no poo”: I do wash my hair once every three to four months – but I did wonder if the sweat and soil of the camino might push me over the edge. I decided to risk it, in the knowledge that shops were never too far away.

But for every one person who recoils in disgust for my “no poo” lifestyle, many more are disturbed, grossed out or squeamish about my “no deo”. I have intermittently not worn deodorant: at home, at the weekend, and the camino seemed as if it might be a bit sweaty regardless, so I dumped it for the 30 day duration as well.

The Unadorned Face

How will people react, when I speak to them, face (and indeed, hair and armpits) unadorned?

It turns out: totally fine. Although my face would best be cast in the part “scullery maid number 3 (no lines)” in a period drama, or on a bad day (and let’s face it, on the Camino there are bad days) as a stand in for Woody Allen, it turns out that other people couldn’t give two hoots.

And yet, in the UK the average spend on cosmetics and skincare alone last year was £1,759 for 19 to 24 year olds, rising to £2,238 in the 45-54 year olds. The beauty industry say women spend this money because it’s fun and empowering to experiment with your look – and I did too – what am I going to say “I spend the money because I’m ashamed of my face”?

Did I (a vegetarian and pet lover) consider animal rights too heavily when I was trying to rid myself of my suppurating skin? Nope. My face became an ethical blind spot: everything was justified in the name of promise never delivered.

The scientific evidence for the products with which we layer our skin is nigh-on non existent. The marketing budgets for all international cosmetic companies dwarf any spending on product development: their investment in really trying to improve our skin.

Still Travelling Light

The make up bag I carried on the camino continues to serve me now. I have some locally made soap in place of the body wash, and I’ll update the make up with ethical cruelty free brands (more difficult than it first appears – advice appreciated) when they run out.

My hair was rinsed many many many times (particularly after swimming in the sea) but no ‘poo was used during the walking. Although I did wash slightly prematurely at the end of the 30 day walk, and my “low poo” regime continues to this day.

As for the antiperspirant? I certainly wouldn’t bother heading back down that road. Ditch your cosmetics for a small soap and a travel face towel and really “freshen up” in the toilets.

Am I saying “ditch a cleaning ritual”, “ditch the pleasure of beautiful scents and fragrant skin”?

No. Feeling relaxed and pampered is a wonderful gift. I’m more likely now to spend money on going to a hamman or spa: paying a person for their time, and some oils or honey than a pot of high-tech empty promises on a shelf.

Although my cleanse was perhaps less spiritual than  most, removed from daily life, this journey across Europe’s north coast can become a place of experimentation: assumptions, possessions and values which we carry can be challenged, and if necessary discarded. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Must we all be beautiful? It’s very tiring and and sometimes a bit of a chore, and I’ve not seen all of series 2 of “House of Cards” yet.

 

 

 

 

What it feels like to not show up for work, or what I learned from Whiplash

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A trembling cymbal and fine motor control of a rhythmic iteration have brought me to my senses.

I’ve realised what it feels like not to have been showing up to work.

Possibly for years.

I put more time and effort into my transitory job, than into the reasons I took this low paid but commitment-lite work in the first place.

I know what “bone tired” feels like, but it’s not a sensation I’ve had for years. I’ve not poured my heart and soul into anything, and it’s killing me.

Whiplash is a raw film about the demands and exhilaration of excellence.

I have a moderate life and I detest myself for it.

I fear late nights, when I am at my most productive, for feeling tired and raw the next day. I think, better go to sleep, and have that lie-in anyway because I’m really not at my best then anyway.

This year, my aimless existence has even been subsidised by a sibling, so I can’t even claim self sufficiency.

I feel deeply uncomfortable in my high level of comfort.

Before I slept: 2 drawings. An attempt at Terence Fletcher’s concentrated but at once contemplative face (a justly oscar worthy performance from JK Simmons), and a scribblier Miles Teller in a relatively neutral pose from the final scene. Expressions and likenesses are obviously a challenge. In particular with regard to Teller, I’ve learned from this to choose a stronger facial expression to give the thing some life!

On looking at these images again this morning, I made some adjustments – but my international adaptor is currently in Seville, so better to upload these now than later.

Where’s weird now?

Move over Austin, there’s a new weird kid in town

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Jaén. No, not Jane. “Hayen”, and if you can cough up that “h” like a furball, all the better (you’ll be needing it later).

I’ve often not chosen great places to live, rather, I’ve had great places thrust upon me.

Saving some money to live in Paris, I found myself in London’s Homerton during the “fried chicken years”. First impressions weren’t good. The only shop open after 9pm was “Senoritas”, whose services I was unlikely to require. But over the subsequent four years, and during the early days of it’s gentrification, Homerton was an edgy and exciting place to live.

And throughout my time in Paris, I felt like I’d ditched my quirky, funny boyfriend for a superficially superior specimen, but longed for the weird goings-on at the canals and in the basements of Stoke Newington.*

I came to Spain to learn Spanish and live in Seville. And I did, for four months.

I found some quirky cafes (Thank you Alameda), some tourist strongholds and a picturesque river walk but when I started to look for permanent work, I cast my net wide, knowing this postcard city and I weren’t a match.

I wasn’t keen to come to Jaén, but soon-to-be-beggars certainly can’t be choosers, and I passed up some poorly paid work in the charming Cadiz to come to a town which advertises it’s self as “an interior paradise”. Someone should tell 1) the Jaen tourist board: “ONLY ONE HOUR FROM GRANADA”, they scream, and 2) the Jaén wikipedia entry, which features a large roundabout as it’s main image. I was reassured by my at the time Pamplonian flatmate “It can’t be that bad” she said, “it’s got a  Corte Inglés”.

But she makes a striking impression, arriving from the west, with white houses lapping on the steep hills of Jabalcuz (“Habalcooth”, again go for it with that furball).

Architecturally, she’s underwhelming. Four weeks prior to the famously commemorated bombing of Guernica, Jaén suffered similar, devastating losses during a bombing raid as part of the Spanish Civil War. Narrow arabic streets provided a high concentration of deaths and casualties, and many of the old parts of the town were lost.

There’s not much said, on the internet or otherwise about small town architecture post war and during the Franco era. With good reason: the preferred style was ugly, or should that be cheap.

But Jaen got’s something about it.

It’s weird.

And it’s ok with that.

*There was an excellent Tuesday evening life drawing group in a Stokey basement. Great tunes. I hope it’s still there!

Culinary discovery on the Camino

  
A walk through the Spain’s North Coast with an unlimited food budget would be a discovery indeed. The Spanish culinary Renaissance is in full swing and the Michelin guide has been complementary in it’s sprinkling of stars over this region.

For the moment, I’m better placed to review relative prices of jars of chick peas in Carrefour and Dia supermarkets.

That’s not to say that there aren’t revelations to be had. The other day I discovered that it’s possible to guzzle non-liquid foodstuffs (chocolate raisins… 2 packets) and that under the right conditions (no other food for 20k) the proteinacious brine surrounding beans can be surprisingly tasty in and of it’s self. I don’t think the palates at Michelin have anything to worry about.

I first saw this contraption at Castillo, walking from Laredo to Güemes. It seems to aerate the drink, adding, I’m told, to ‘El sabor’. Very nice it is too.

A delicious slice of Morroco in Spain

 
 Thank you Cafe Alsafir (Calle Castillo de Maya, 39. Pamplona).

Twelve and a half hours of changing scenery and family friendly movies have brought me to Pamplona, home of the controversial San Fermìn bull running extravaganza. I’m no expert but I recon British health and safety would make pretty short shrift of it: see example gougings and crushes here.

I’m just passing through though and on a ration of tapa sized tortilla, pisto and 2 peaches, sightseeing was not a priority.

I’d walked by, discounting a Marrocan style meal, usually heavy on the kebabs (from my Andalusian experience) but was powerless to resist the aromas of coffee , cloves and mint following me with the warm breeze.

I was looking for a small but filling plate which wouldn’t be too heavy before sleeping. The waitress recommended the €3 ‘potato salad’. A revelation in taste! Potato, green olives, a shallot (it could have been a mild, pink onion, I’m not great on my alliums), olive oil and a dusting of paprika! Not a large serving , but more substantial than a typical tapa – exactly what I was looking for. I couldn’t identify any other ingredients and yet it was a taste masterpiece. 

I’m the sort of person who likes to finish a meal with a coffee – the Arabic coffee served was DIVINE. The scent lingers with me, and I feel all the more exotic for it! So with a soft drink it set me back €7 in total. If your camino is heading through Pamplona and you can stretch your food budget just a smidge, consider a short respite from some of the camino staples and treat yourself!

The drawing tonight was a slightly secondary affair but ups and downs with the drawing, the path and life!

You’ll never believe what this dog is doing here!

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Oh wait, yeah you will. I just remembered my account isn’t the Huffington Post, although the disappointment on clicking on such a leading title is probably similar.

My sister’s dog. Already subject to a number of indignities (wears various outfits) is now subject to gracing one of my journal pages as a virtual card to my sister (it’s been a bad year with the back pain 😦 !).

The dog photo (my reference) was posted this morning, and for some reason TAKEN DOWN by her partner mid afternoon. For this reason (and none relating to my own draughtsmanship) it’s more a “Crombie inspired” image than a faithful reproduction :-).

BTW: Crombie is a poodle cross… but we don’t know what with….