Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hello from Austin

I arrived in Austin for Tom Herman's workshop on carving precious metals. It starts tomorrow and I am so excited! Tom is a master jeweler and his work is simply amazing.

Tom Herman -

Austin has been getting more than its share of rain and storms lately, so I am taking a day in with my sketch book and some tea. My lovely hostess from AirBnB also has a lovely cat and friendly dog, so I am in excellent company.

I was able to take a nice long walk yesterday, when I arrived. After 10 hours in a plane plus too many hours to get to the airport and waiting around, my legs needed it!

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Should I keep the book reviews here or spin off a separate blog? I am thinking of spinning off since they usually have nothing to do with my usual topics but I will keep them here if you guys want me to.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

New works and works in progress

While I have plenty of new work, I have been very lazy about photographing and sharing it. Most of these pieces have remained my preciouses for now but just for a little while more.

Just some of my new pieces

But all that backlog doesn't mean I am not working on others. Right now, I am exploring these shapes

These are formed by dropping molten metal into water, creating soft, organic shapes. By varying the amount of metal, the height and the water temperature, different effects are achieved.

And here are some of the pieces they were made into. I combined them with pearls, harmonizing the shapes and soft textures.
Sterling silver and Tahitian pearl

Sterling silver and freshwater pearl

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The essence of art

I recently found out that there are people who debate whether ballet is an art or a sport (yes, I have been reading YouTube commentary again - bad, bad me!).

The argument for sport seems to center around the physical effort required of dancers and that seeing it as art would diminish that effort (as I said, I am going by YouTube comments so please feel free to correct me or to expand the argument).

I am no doubt in the art side of the argument. It seems hard to relegate artistry to second plane in dance. Even the more abstract choreographies still attempt to transmit ideas, explore artistic concepts, etc. If we compare a gymnast's routine with a dance, the former is focused on the physical accomplishments with the aesthetic as a second thought. The later is focused on the expressive and the physical is a means for this.

Top Gymnasts in action

In the video, we can see what the athletes are being judged on: strength, precision and formal perfection. We can see that the movements are in a sequence but not necessarily an artistic sequence.

Let's look at a review of a ballet performance:
"She then joins the vengeful ghosts of jilted brides in the forest as a mature woman who defends her beloved betrayer long enough to save him. Eastoe's portrayal is an emotional journey in which every changing aspect is believable. She has always been a strong actress; now, as she ends her stage career, her technique and ability to convey meaning through body language are at their peak. I am sorry to see her go.
[...]The corps de ballet is in top form: vivacious and communicative in Act I, softly synchronised in Act II. Peter Farmer's traditional designs, lit by Francis Croese to William Akers' original plan, look good. Adolphe Adam's music gets melodious treatment from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Nicolette Fraillon."Read more:
The critic focuses on communication, emotion and storytelling. He doesn't ignore the technical side, of course, but as a mean, not an end. Of course virtuosity has an important place on the stage. But a dancer doesn't just go on stage and do . That would just baffle the audience. In the context of a choreography, though, such a display of technical mastery is breathtaking.

Ballet video, just because

Another difference between ballet (and other dance forms) and sport is the choreographer. If we see dancers as athletes, what are choreographers? Their entire role is to develop an idea and communicate it through movement and music. A brilliant choreography will be picked up by other dance companies and still have meaning a hundred years later, while a skating routine (which also integrates music and movement) is disposable and will be forgotten after a skater moves on to a new routing.

But why did this debate resonate so strongly with me? It goes back to an idea I've already written about. Saying dance is sport because it requires training and strength goes back the idea that art is effortless. And art is never effortless.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Better than Before - Book Review

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Sometimes, I am a sucker for punishment, I have never been fond of self help book but I have been thinking of my habits for a while. When I saw this title at BloggingforBooks, I decided it might have some interesting information and might help me. It does but you have to put up with the author along the way.

Gretchen Rubin reminds me of a cross between an over eager puppy and a second rate business consultant. Once she takes hold of a subject, it seems to become her life. So far, that is her problem (and her husband's - I feel a lot of pity for the poor guy!). But she also wants to spread her new revelation to everyone around her. Habits! Habits are good! Habits will solve your problems. Let's push exercise and diet on her sister, house organization on a friend, etc. Any conversation seems ripe for her to introduce a new habit on someone (ok, there is a bias here, since conversations that are not about the book's subject would not be included in the text, but...). Her sheer enthusiasm can be exhausting.

She also takes things to extreme. She is nice enough to answer reader email and comments on her blog. However, she decided to save time by cutting out salutations and closings on her messages (no saying "hi" or signing off since those must take all of 10 seconds and are a habit for most adults). When someone mentions that her emails sound unfriendly this way, she argues through that the time saved is more important (saving all of 5 seconds per message at the risk of sounding brusque).

She also reminds of the worst kind of business consultant: her book is filled with "The 4 Tendencies", "The Essential 7", "The 4 Pillars ", etc. She also likes pompous titles: "Strategy of Monitoring" or "Strategy of Convenience". I haven't seen so many lists of all encompassing principles since the last management seminar I went to. Some are explained in the book but I suspect others were introduced in her previous works and just tossed in casually.

However, there is also good advice in the text (but don't get pressured by Gretchen to see things her way - she acknowledges that different things work for different people but she also tries to push her on the reader). I enjoyed her analysis of rewards, where the motivation for the habit becomes the rewards and not the result of the new behaviour, and of loopholes (guilty as charged!).

Overall, when I think back on this book, I remember my annoyance with the author and not the good parts of the book. I do want to go back and reread specific parts. Would I recommend it? I am not sure. I am not going to read another book on habits, though.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth

Another review for BloggingForBooks

This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth? From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets by Patrick Di Justo 

A friend once forswore gelatin forever when she found out it was made from animal carcasses (like a good friend, I decided not to tell her how broth is made, as that would have too much of a negative impact on her life). She is the type of person who would hate this book.

Based on the author's Wired column, the book consists of many very short chapters, where the main ingredients of a food or other product are shown, discussed and analysed. Sometimes, there is a short background section as well. The writing is always casual and fun. The author's sense of humour runs along similar lines to mine, so I really enjoyed myself.

For me, it was interesting to understand more about about ingredients such as taurine or calcium phosphate. Yes, many of those are also used in other products (such as Plaster of Paris) but there is a huge difference between eating a food grade ingredient and Plaster of Paris. Of course, not everyone agrees with this view and they may have very different reactions to this book. The author himself has a very balanced view, showing why an ingredient is used but, at the same time, often not hiding his reaction of "I am eating this?"

Part of it may be that we are very distant from our own food. Not that long ago, most cooks would know what gelatin and broth is made of. Using every part of an animal or plant was also seen as positive. Today, we seem to think that any part of an animal that isn't a steak shouldn't be eaten or that all plants should be pretty to be eaten. For some reason, it seems more reasonable when the little old lady makes tortilla the traditional way (with lye) than to read that an industrial plant uses the same chemical.