On Research and Reviewing

*blows dust off blog*

Yeah, I’ve definitely neglected this blog a bit over the last year or two. Since I started my PhD in mid-2013, the majority of my time has been taken up with research and academia, as well as tutoring work. As a result, I rarely find the time to work on my novel anymore (I do occasionally, but generally I’ll write a few pages over a week or so and then not touch it for months).

Still, while my fiction-writing has become much more sporadic, I have been doing a few reviews, which I divided into different blogs for the sake of organisation. They are:

ArtDragon86: This is where I review art supplies and post examples of my art work in various stages.

BookDragon86: Here I review books, though there’s not much there at this stage.

GameDragon86: This is where I review video games and gaming-related merchandise. Mostly Nintendo, but there will be the odd PS Vita and PC game here and there.

Many of these reviews are also posted over at DarkMatterZine.

Most of my research-related waffling happens over at my research blog (when I can be bothered dusting the cobwebs off it).

I’ll keep chipping away at the novel, of course, but for the near future, most of my writing will be either short reviews for my other blogs or will be part of the eternal slog that is my thesis.


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Art Supply Testing: Watercolour Paints

I have moved all of my watercolour lightfastness tests to my dedicated art blog at artdragon86.wordpress.com. You can find the final results of my lightfastness tests here.

Posted in Fine Art, Graphics | 2 Comments

Watercolour Mixes

When one gets started out in watercolour (or in any artistic medium) it is easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude of brands and colours available and get sucked into thinking that you absolutely must have every single one you can get your hands on, for if you don’t, all your paintings will be rubbish and you will never be able to paint like <insert favourite artist here>. Likewise many people buy pre-arranged sets of colours, only to find that two thirds of the colours go unused while a few often-used favourites must frequently be replenished.

I was no different; after seeing the different palettes recommended by artists in every painting instruction book I read, I went nuts on eBay and in local art supply shops and other online art supply retailers. My response to receiving art supply sale coupons was “Buy ALL THE THINGS!” I got pan sets of various sizes (from 12 to 48). I threw in several tubes whenever I ordered anything else online. I even spent the better part of an hour in the campus bookshop at uni, rummaging through their art supply clearance bins like a hobo in a dumpster as I made sure I had dug out every last tube of discounted watercolour.

But when it came time to actually do a painting, I spent more time digging through tubes and trying to work out which colour I should use than actually putting paint on the paper. After reading more and more about limited palettes, I decided to go through all my paints and see which ones should become part of my working palette and which ones could easily be replicated by mixing other colours. I thought I’d post the results of my experiments online so that anyone else trying to decide whether they really need that extra tube of colour could hopefully save themselves some money if they can mix it themselves. These experiments will be on-going so I will post more swatches as I work out how to duplicate more colours. At this stage most of the colours I have are Winsor and Newton but there are usually similar (if not identical) colours across all brands (eg. the Holbein Leaf Green is almost exactly the same as May Green from the Lukas or Schmincke lines), so you can still use these mixes as a guide regardless of which paints you own/intend to buy.

Brand Guide
AS = Art Spectrum
DR = Daler Rowney
HWC = Holbein
WN = Winsor Newton

I have broken my mixes up by hue for convenience. Click any of the images to see a bigger version.


Colour Mixes - Greens

Some people prefer to mix all their greens from a yellow and a blue, while others prefer to start with a ‘base’ green and then alter it by adding yellows, blues or earths. So far I have used the latter method but either works equally well; it just depends on the preference of the artist. I have used Winsor (phthalo) green (Yellow Shade) as my base, but you could also use the Blue Shade version if you wished; it might just change the mixing ratios slightly. Also, as I have shown, you can replicate either phthalo green by adding a touch of blue (to YS) or yellow (to BS). The trick is working out the exact amount of each colour to add, and this can take a bit of tinkering. For the Leaf Green, you need to only use the tiniest amount of green. Hooker’s Green appears in most brands’ line-ups but is often made of completely different pigments, and sometimes has slightly different hue/shade. However there are as many ways to replicate these variations as there are variations themselves. Perylene Green could also have been mixed using Winsor Green and black, but I like the more vivid hue of the Payne’s Grey mix.


Colour Mixes - EarthsBurnt Umber is one of those colours that seems to have a different pigment formulation in many brands. Though the ‘expected’ BU pigment is PBr7, I have seen some that include PR101, Pbk9 and other random guests, including Winsor and Newton’s Burnt Umber, which for some reason is a three-pigment mix. Some artists care less about the pigment and more about the actual appearance of the colour, so it is just a matter of what they think works best. I actually prefer MaimeriBlu’s Burnt Umber to the WN paint; it is a good, deep, dark brown and it is what I envisage a Burnt Umber to look like, as opposed to WN’s slightly orange-hued BU. But the WN one serves its purpose, so for now it remains in my palette. Mars Violet was a bit tricky to mix (and I still didn’t get it 100% accurate) so if it is a colour you use often, it might be worth just having a tube of it rather than having to mix it all the time.


Colour Mixes - Darks

Payne’s Grey seems to have a completely different pigment combination in every brand I have looked at, being composed of variations of blacks, blues, violets and even earths. Some lean towards blue while others are more neutral. Luckily it is fairly easy to mix; most dark blues mixed with an earth brown will usually give you what you want. The grey I have mixed here has a bluish cast but this could be neutralised by adding a bit more Burnt Umber.

So before rushing out to buy a Shiny New Tube, first look to the tubes in your own collection; you may find that you can easily mix that tempting colour from paints you already have.

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Art Supply Comparison: Water-Soluble Crayons and Pastels

My comparison post for watersoluble crayons and pastels has been moved to my dedicated art blog at artdragon86.wordpress.com. You can find an updated version of the comparison here.

Posted in Fine Art, Graphics, Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Art Supply Comparison: Coloured Pencils

My coloured pencil comparison post has been moved to my dedicated art blog at artdragon86.wordpress.com. You can find the comparison post here.

Posted in Fine Art, Graphics, Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Art Supply Review: Derwent Artbars

I have moved all my art supply reviews to my dedicated art blog at artdragon86.wordpress.com. You can find my review of Derwent Artbars here.

Posted in Fine Art, Graphics, Non-Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Art Supply Review: Sakura Koi Watercolour Pocket Field Sketch Box

I have moved all my art supply reviews to my dedicated art blog at artdragon86.wordpress.com. You can find my review of the Sakura Koi Watercolour box here.

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Belvedere – My Illustrated Children’s Book

A month ago I was rambling and raving about how much hard work it was to plot, illustrate, write and publish my children’s book for uni. Back then I wondered how I would ever get it finished in time, and I was convinced I’d either end up submitting something rushed and dodgy just to avoid a late penalty, or I’d still be working on it a month after the deadline because my inner perfectionist couldn’t leave well-enough alone (I’ve been guilty of both of these extremes in the past). As it turned out, I was given an extension because of serious illness (which may seem like a big help, but painting and drawing when you constantly feel like you want to pass out or be sick is no fun no matter how much time you’ve been given to do it), so I was still working on it up until last week.

I am happy to say that, last Thursday night, I finally finished and uploaded my book! Bask in its cute, dragon-y glory:

Blurb from back cover: Belvedere isn’t like the other dragons. After being shunned by his own kind, he leaves the forest and goes on a journey to find new places and meet new friends. In doing so, he discovers that being different isn’t always a bad thing.

I am really quite proud of what I have created. And even though while I was doing it, I was constantly whining about how time-consuming and difficult it was, I really enjoyed the process of painting the backgrounds and creating the environments out of various cut-up materials. I loved drawing the characters and using scanned and digital textures to bring them and their story to life. In a fit of exhaustion after uploading my book for print, I declared that I would never again commit myself to such a feat as creating an illustrated children’s book from scratch… But one day, just maybe, I will 🙂 The feeling of actually completing a creative work of this scale (this is from someone who has at least five unfinished novels languishing on her hard drive) is like winning the lotto, and it’s motivated me to try harder to complete one of my larger writing projects.

Belvedere is available for a 15-page preview (or purchase in hardcover, paperback or eBook format) here.

UPDATE 8th Nov: My hardcover copy arrived in the mail today! Yay! It looks even better than I thought it would:

Rex may not be excited about it, but I certainly am 😀

Posted in Academic, Children's, Fiction, Graphics, Illustration, Publishing, Writing | 4 Comments

Writing a Children’s Book is Easy…

At least that’s what I told myself at the start of the semester, when I chose to do Designing and Producing Illustrated Children’s Books as my non-IT elective for my post-graduate studies. I’ve always been a creative soul, writing and drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil without thinking it was something to chew on. I have two novels at 25,000 words. I’ve churned out 2,000, 3,000 and 6,000 word papers for uni. Writing a 32-page illustrated children’s book should be a walk in the park, right? … Right? Yeah… no.

Coming up with the idea was one of the hardest parts. I think I went through about 6 different ideas (some of them more than once), before settling on my final concept (it contains dragons; are you surprised?).

It’s usually recommended that an illustrated children’s book contains 150-300 words. My first draft of the text came in at more than 600. The freedom of writing descriptive novels and the necessity of padding out academic papers with pointless waffle appeared to have broken my ability to write concisely. After much text-wrangling and hair-pulling I managed to get it down to about 200 words, and then started trying to work out which words would appear on which page, and what images should accompany them.

While writing the story, I also started playing with different background styles. I quickly settled on doing simplistic background with acrylic, since they were bright and bold and could be reused in several scenes (also experimented with watercolour, but it wasn’t quite vivid enough, and the acrylic gave me more control). The fact that they were simple meant it was fairly easy to redo them after many of them – along with some character sketches – were destroyed in a freak red lemonade accident (don’t ask). I’ve made some trees out of random bits of cardboard/felt/tissue paper, and I also created some nice fire and bubble effects by scanning bits of painted gossamer ribbon and vandalising them in Photoshop.

The character designs proved to be much more of a challenge. Since the originals (which were ruined) were more detailed, they had taken much longer to do; there was no way I’d have time to redraw all of them. To adapt, I had to change to a more simplistic illustrated style (the characters’ features are almost manga-ish), but I’ve still been able to have fun with the colouring, scanning in different materials or creating textures in Photoshop and using them to bring the characters to life (though there are some bits I’ve just coloured in with the good old paintbrush tool because I’m getting to the stage where I care more about getting it done quickly than getting it done to a high quality).

At this stage I’m still madly trying to get all my dragons drawn before tomorrow, when I’ll draw the children. Once that’s done I’ll more or less have everything I need to start putting together the final book layout with all the text and pictures. I have to send it to the printer by the middle of next week, so I’m on a pretty tight schedule. I also have to find time to keep working on my fantasy eBook prototype for my thesis, as well as keeping up with other assignment and tutoring commitments. No idea how successful I’ll be, though, since I seem to have come down with some sort of nasty virus and it keeps getting worse 😦 I’ll try to post an online version of the book once it’s completed for those who are interested.

Anyway, fortified by chocolate and energy drinks, and I shall continue to scribble away through the day and night, nursing the somewhat vain hope that I might actually complete this thing before the deadline (and that afterwards I can descend into the sweet, sweet oblivion of sleep).

I just hope I don’t end up like Bernard and Manny.

Posted in Academic, Children's, Fiction, Graphics, Illustration, IT/Multimedia, Publishing, Writing | 3 Comments

Magic Mushrooms

I first came up with this recipe more than a year ago, while foraging for something, anything to eat because there was no quick and easy food in the house and I was too busy (or lazy) to walk up the street to get something. After finding these random ingredients in the fridge, I decided I’d experiment, and it was one of the few times something I’ve cooked (other than instant meals that you just stick in the microwave) actually turned out really well. When it comes to kitchen wizardry, I tend to take after my dad; for every nice meal we produce, there are tens to hundreds that aren’t even fit to feed the dog (and Rex will eat anything, so that’s saying something). Since this has now become one of my favourite ‘study snacks’, I thought I’d share it with the Interwebz…

Ingredients (to serve one person):
6-8 small cup mushrooms
30-40 grams cracked pepper cheese
1/6th red capsicum (chopped into roughly 1cm long strips)
1 teaspoon butter
1 tube garlic paste

Preparation/Cooking Instructions:
1. Lay a sheet of aluminium foil on a baking tray and fold up the sides, forming a foil ‘box’.
2. Pull the stalks out of the mushrooms, leaving the cup intact. Put the mushrooms hollow-side up on the baking tray and lay the mushroom stalks around them.
3. Slice off small wedges of cracked pepper cheese and stuff one into each of the mushrooms. Then take pieces of capsicum and poke two or three into the cheese in each mushroom. Any spare capsicum can be sprinkled over the mushroom stalks.
4. Take teaspoon of butter and mix with garlic paste in a small microwave-safe cup (I used a ratio of about 2 parts butter, 1 part garlic paste, but you can use more or less, depending on how strong you want it). Microwave it for 30 seconds or so until melted, then drizzle it over the mushrooms and the stalks.
5. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and then bake the mushrooms for 15-18 minutes.
6. Serve on a small plate and eat immediately.

Alternative extras:
-Fill the mushroom cups with spinach before stuffing them with cheese
-Sprinkle chopped chives or parsley over the mushrooms before cooking
-Use different varieties of cheese
-Add slivers of tomato
-Decorate it with one of those little coloured toothpicks or mini-umbrellas.

It makes a nice savoury snack or side meal, and it could also be ideal for a party/special occasion platter. Enjoy 🙂

Posted in Non-Fiction, Recipes, Writing | Leave a comment