Bookish Winter Challenge 2013

This winter, I’ve begun participating in a Goodreads group called Bookish. It’s a great group of people who are both smart and kind and upbeat. The thing that I’ve loved the most is the Bookish Winter 2013 Challenge. I had a great time searching for books to fit the tasks and am having an even better time reading them! As silly as it might seem to care about points, it really has been a fun and motivating game to play, and the result has been some of the best, most focussed reading I’ve done in a long time. I had no idea what I was missing not being part of a book group whose tastes are similar to mine.

In recent years I haven’t been as ambitious about my reading as I’d like, but I didn’t realize until participating in the Bookish Winter Challenge just how unadventurous my reading had become. The challenge involves a whole bunch of tasks that have parameters and points associated with them, some of them thematic to the time of year and some invented by group members. They are really creative and fun. When I first started to try to find books, I had no idea how much fun it would be to go searching for books to fit the criteria. I have spent hours making lists and using search terms on and the Library as well as looking at other sites related to literary movements and geographical areas, and tracking down authors, looking at page length, and noting dates of publication. I’m actually sad that there’s only a month left and that I’m going to have to wait until the fall for the next challenge!

So far I have completed two tasks. The first is two-book task called “As Seen On T.V.” that required me to find two books read by two different television characters. I ended up with The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maughm, which was on Rory Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls extensive reading list and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, which apparently Lisa Simpson of The Simpson read. Luckily I wasn’t required to also have watched the shows mentioned. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed watching the shows, but both of those shows are ones I have missed or only watched a few episodes of here and there. The other two shows that had particularly interesting book lists associated with them were Lost and Mad Men.

The second task is called “The Three Rs: Reread, Restart, and Reassess.” I reread Anna Karenina, restarted The Adventures of Augie March (which I’d somehow put down and never gotten back to even though I thought it was some of the best writing I’d ever read), and reassessed Sophie’s Choice, which I posted about here, and which I’ve long thought I might have judged unfairly.

I’m almost finished with the “Upstairs/Downstairs” Challenge, which is in honor of Downtown Abbey. I read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh for the “upstairs” half and am three quarters of the way through Raised From The Ground, by José Saramago. I’ve also read Will In The World, one book of a three book challenge that has me picking three out of four suits from a deck of cards on the theme of Socializers (Hearts), Achievers (Diamonds), Killers (Clubs), and Explorers (Spades.) Pretty fun stuff, huh?

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is the only book I’d had already been planning to read. I was happy when I saw that it was on Lisa Simpson’s list, but I could probably have fit it into one of the other challenges. All of the other books I’ve read and plan to read were books I’ve never heard of or were books I’ve been heard of and was interested in reading someday but hadn’t actively sought. The challenge has been an excuse to range farther afield and find things I otherwise wouldn’t have read, or at least not right away.

Hipstamatic, Instagram, and Flickr

I’m having some fun with photography using my lovely new iPhone 5. Having instagram and flickr make it really easy to share images and also get that slight critical distance I only seem able to get when I show my work to others.

It’s interesting to note some theme emerging. It’s also really fun to have my camera with me on my morning walks. Since it’s winter, and I leave early, I have quite a few images of trees with bare branches. I just never seem to get tired of trees!

The app I like best is Hipstamatic. I have a bunch of the lenses and films they’ve released over the years because Chris has been collecting them. I’m really having fun using that app with random combinations. Then if I like a particular film/lens pairing, I save it as a favorite. Hipstamatic works well with instagram because they are both in the square format.

I’ve been doing lots of still life photography as well as sketching and posting other stuff on instagram and flickr. And now that it’s getting a bit warmer, I’ve gone further afield with my handy camera, just driving out to find images. Having the phone is very helpful for helping me get oriented to the landscape and also to help me find coffee and food along the way!

As is evident from this sampling of the photos I’ve shared, natural reflections and abstractions appeal to me a lot. Oh, and the mutts. Can’t forget them!

Book Review: Reassessing Sophie’s Choice

Sophie's ChoiceSophie’s Choice by William Styron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m halfway through my second reading of Sophie’s Choice. I read it in high school and I don’t know how I got through it. I had loved the movie and was so disappointed in the book. Then I found out that some of my literary idols named it as their favorite book. The humor, especially the sexual comedy, went completely over my head, and all the literary, cultural, and historical aspects were just so much filler to be gotten through between the sections of narrative of Sophie’s life. I remember just hating Stingo and thinking he was boring and self-indulgent. Well, yes, he is, but I didn’t get the ironic significance of that fact. I also had no clue how to read “unreliable narrators” and took it all literally as Styron himself, kind of like when theater or opera audiences not only hate the villain but the actor or singer who plays him and thus don’t applaud but boo.

I’m reading Sophie’s Choice after having just read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany and The Adventures of Augie March. I can’t think of a more perfect book to be reading along with those excellent books.

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A Sketch A Day: 2013

Setting The Stage

I am working on some monster videos! For real! I made a few very rough tests this past two weeks and today I set the still camera up for my first ever time-lapse video to document the building the set for a video I’m making of La Société des Monstres Célèbres trimming a Christmas tree! Last year, the monstres helped trim our people sized tree, but this year, they’re going to have one to their scale and a cozy room with a fireplace to hang out in, too!

I started by testing out a tree I made from cardboard. For the past year, I’ve been curating several set design inspiration boards on Pinterest, and I browsed through them to get some ideas. (This one and this one in particular.) Next I got out some samples of Rosco scenic paint. Chris and I took a class in set painting a couple of years ago at Hollywood Lighting and the Rosco rep showed us some great techniques and gave us some samples of their super saturated paint, which is specially designed for set painting. It’s perfectly matte, so it doesn’t wreak havoc on the lighting by creating reflections and the high pigment concentration means it can be highly diluted and still cover a large area.

Next, three dear and talented friends, Kate and her two boys Henry and Ben, came over for a few hours to help me get the creative juices flowing and conjure up some Christmas spirit! We all crammed into the tiny overstuffed room that is the photo studio and sat down with paper and pen to chat about the project.  When we were done we had a prop list—special thanks to secretary, Henry—and a rough outline of the story.

Then it was time to cue the Christmas music and get crafting!  Our materials were cardboard, wooden blocks, empty plastic food containers, fancy pipe cleaners, tape, glue, ribbons, yarn, felt, construction paper, odd bits of packing foam, faux fur, and scraps of wrapping paper from Christmases past. By the time we were done, we had the beginnings of a really festive living room filled with wrapped presents for under the tree, a fire in the fireplace under a mantel decked in garlands, a flower arrangement, and stockings, and a window with a view of a snowman that even has snow on the windowsill. I am truly enchanted by the experience of working with such lovely, creative friends to bring the monster’s world to life.

Here it is, a time-lapse video of the set coming together, with music by my talented brother, Geordie Thompson, a track from his 2010 project, P-Beat. I hope you enjoy the show!


A Sketch A Day: November

I got started a bit late in the month because I went to New York (more on that later!) and ended up not having time to sketch. Then I got sick while I was travelling. By the 19th, though, I was sketching again.

At Shakespeare and Co., a book and art supply store right near Baruch College in midtown Manhattan, I bought myself a great little sketch book of the moleskine type, but with the toothier paper I prefer. In theory, this much smaller sketch book and limiting myself to only pencil (not watercolor) will help me sketch every day instead of spend several hours one day and then skip several because I don’t think I have time for an elaborate drawing. My goals for this practice are: to become fluent with the tools through sheer repetition, to practice finding a sketch, and to start to get a sense of what truly interests me over time.

I am still using up the larger sketchbook that I started in Hawaii this summer. I hate leaving sketchbook pages blank. I never feel justified putting them onto the finished journal/sketchbook shelf until every last page has been used, but I also don’t like have large gaps of several years between the beginning of a book and the end.

Book Review: British Landscape Watercolors 1750-1850

British Landscape Watercolors, 1750-1850British Landscape Watercolors, 1750-1850 by Jane Munro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has almost driven me crazy with love. I’ve made discoveries of artists like Peter DeWint who I’d never heard of before. After looking and looking, I have to say that I very much appreciate transparent watercolor, particularly the skill (which I don’t have), but I am consistently drawn to the works in which the artist uses some “body color”, what I’m taking to be gouache. Over all, the drawings and painting in this book are lovely, quiet, mostly monochromatic, and sensitive renderings of landscape. I think I’m most surprised by JM Turner’s watercolors. Somehow I had never seen any of them, and now understand why he is justifiably famous for them. I like them better than his oils.

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Because I’m getting back into working with watercolor after several years, I decided to make a few palettes to re-familiarize myself the colors I had in my collection by making some palettes. I’m getting ready to go to New York (!) in a week and a half, and I’ve decided to bring a sketchbook, a watercolor block, and some paints. I’ll probably stick with a limited palette based around ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, cadmium yellow pale, alizarin crimson, and spectrum red.