Peony in pencil

I never liked peonies before. I always associated them with Chinese paintings and bad tattoos. I’m not a fan of either.
But ever since I first found them in the market here in late April, they’ve become my favorite flower. I love the huge blossoms (statement blossoms?), especially the ones that are colored intense shades of fuschia and coral. And I love how the petals don’t dry up or simply drop off, but fade slowly to white, each blossom at a different pace. Death by ombre, what a way to go.
The only thing that I could conceivably hate about peonies, I discovered during my last Monday sketching session. And that is the fact that they are a real b*tch to draw.

I almost gave up a couple of times. Now I know why the Chinese have stylized their shapes, otherwise these would never make it into traditional motifs. The repetition would have driven the illustrator (at least, a lesser one like myself) totally nuts.

Luckily, we have scanners and printers today. So, working with some fluorescent papers I bought for my Singapore job hunt more than three years ago, I reproduced the sketch I made to create my own peony print. I used Mod Podge for the first time and had awful wrinkles everywhere. Thankfully, most of them disappeared with a little ironing.

The fluo on black kind of reflects how I’ve been feeling about having these flowers at home: they were the only visual bright spots for me during the first two dark, dismal weeks of “summer.” Summer, I’m beginning to suspect, is a figment of the imagination over here, with as tenuous a connection to reality as corporatese, or marketing jargon. 

Ah, enough about this fictitious summer. If I can’t get it outside, then I’ll just have to find some way to enjoy it in my home. In petals or on paper, by nature’s hand or by my own.
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Back to the drawing board

After a long-ish break, Make it Mondays are back!
Two out-of-town trips and three guests took (more on which later) me away from the drawing board in the last two months. When I returned, I knew what I wanted to do: teach myself to draw Amsterdam’s very own canal houses.
I’d like to say it was a simple undertaking, but I’d be lying. My hand just isn’t used to drawing anymore. I like doing fine details, but it doesn’t come as easily as it used to. 

While the less-than-perfectly-straight lines of Amsterdam’s lopsided canal houses are forgiving to a hand that’s learning how to draw again, my houses are definitely leaning a lot more than they ought to!
Still, it was a fun exercise. I love using pens, and bought a couple of new ones over the weekend to get me back into the groove. I rarely use a pencil to make a first draft since I find retracing tedious. With so many different canal houses to draw (it seems no two are alike!), there’s a lot of material to keep me going. I will keep at it in the hopes of coaxing my drawing hand back to life. Wish me luck!
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After a two-week hiatus (sister’s visit and Portugal trip, both of which are next on my blogging agenda), Make It Monday is back!

This was very different from my first Make It Monday, when I had absolutely idea what I wanted to make and took three hours to do it when I finally figured it out. I’ve been collecting ideas since that first Monday, and this time I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish. It took me less than an hour!

I first saw these old photos of my parents last Christmas. My mom had unpacked an old box of family photos, and both my sister and I took snaps of our favorite ones since we didn’t have a scanner at home. These were taken in Hong Kong, probably when they were in their late 20s, somewhere in the vicinity of how old Marlon and I are now.

Mom really looks like my sister here! Through most of her 20s, actually.

Some of my favorite design blogs feature homes with cutout silhouettes hung on the walls. So I made my own version using these old photos, strips of this fluorescent yellow translucent paper that I’ve been obsessed with, and sections of unused Laura Ashley (80s flashback!) wallpaper that Marlon found on the same street corner as our dining room chairs.

Then I put them into vintage gold frames that I bought during the Queen’s Day flea market in our neighborhood, just a few doors down from where we got the chairs, actually. A little old lady (there are legions of them around here) was selling them for €4 apiece. In hindsight, I wish I had bought a few more.

Now they’re hung on our dove gray living room wall, beside a pair of Indian miniatures from Udaipur. Or at least they will be until Mom visits at the end of the month… I suspect she’ll make a bid for them then!

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Make it Monday

I’ve now been living in Amsterdam for an entire quarter. Time goes by so fast, doesn’t it? The last three months were all about leaping up and down, clapping my hands and squealing “I’m living in Europe!!!!! I’m living in Europe!!!!! I’m living in Europe!!!!!!” Now, I’ve entered a phase where it’s more of “I’m living in Europe! What now?” Multiple exclamation points give way to a question mark as I begin to ask myself: What do I want out of my time here?
So last week I sat down and looked into areas that I want to devote time and attention to this year. I won’t go into all the details because it’s very personal to me. But mostly I thought back to last year when I was dying to move here. What made me so excited was a picture of the kind of person I thought I could become, wanted to become, for which The Big Move would be the catalyst. 
One of those versions of me that I pictured was a more creative me. I know, it’s ironic for someone working in the creative industry. I mean creative beyond what is required. I used to draw, but don’t anymore. I love to write, but I don’t make the time to do so apart from work and blogging. So I made some promises to myself, and to give them extra weight, I placed those promises in a structure. I drew up a plan to do certain things, for a certain amount of time, on certain days of the week.
Which is how Make It Monday was born. I designated Monday as the day on which, every week for one hour, I will sit down and make something with pen, paper and/or paint. I will draw, paint or collage something fun, creative and very me! I just wanted to give it a name, so Make It Mondays it is. It might change if I think of something better.
So here’s something to kick off my first ever Make It Monday.

“Stepping Out,” mixed media collage

Did I say one hour? Once I sat down at our long wooden dining table, I didn’t get up for the next three hours. I had completely forgotten how much I love doing this and how much fun it is.

I love collage. I used to draw and paint when I was a kid, but when I was about 18 I started my long-term love affair with collage. I can remember exactly when I made my first collage and why. I’d just come back from my first Europe tour with the ACGC and had this inexplicable hunger return to Europe. (It really bothered me back then. I thought I was depressed.)

One evening at home I found a Newsweek picture of a girl trapped behind a barbed wire fence. I tore it out, and started filling the holes between the wires with bits of maps, brochures and photos from my trip. When I was done, I felt that each little piece of paper that I had chosen with such care finally, adequately expressed everything I couldn’t say. I still have that first collage. And what I so yearned to do 11 years ago has been fulfilled: I’m back in Europe.

This collage is a little about that fulfillment, and more. Strange, when I was choosing all the elements I knew exactly what it was about. Now all I can say is that it’s about flight, spring, leaving the grayness behind to start anew, testing the waters, and walking on air. And that making her outfit was fun, like playing grown-up paper dolls!

I started out being slow and uncertain, but when I was done my mood had completely changed. From thinking “I’ll just throw something together to make a start, I’ll make it better next time,” I found myself quite pleased with what I’d created. And when I stepped outside to receive a delivery, I saw that I wasn’t the only one who had been busy creating today.

Here’s to Make It Mondays… may they make Monday blues a thing of the past!

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