Monday, November 04, 2013

October 2013: Illustrations, boots, concerts, driverless automobiles, Halloween and Michelin star dining.

I've had a pretty eventful October and I'm going to share it with you because this is my blog, and this is what it's for. I hope you like the phone-quality photos.

First up, you may not know, but I've been selling my illustrations for a while now on my own webshop, as well as on Etsy. Earlier this month, I woke up to an email saying one of my birthday calendars had been purchased. Hoorah!

My friend Riri likes to order cards from me, and she orders A LOT. Because she always seems to be celebrating something or other for someone or other. That girl has too much energy. So anyway, this is a birthday card for her friend who moved to Stockholm, and who misses Dutch things. Riri and her friend decided to send a care package of Dutch items to her. Sweet.

I have been searching for these boots ever since I moved here. I finally found them after researching online (yes, online), and then heading to the store to grab them. Yup, I can't believe how I'm being efficient now while shopping.

We bought the tickets months ago, and the concert was finally at our doorstep. This is Goldfrapp performing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. It was fantastic. This woman does not need any post-production on album recordings. She was perfect, everyone was perfect, it was so energising and the all-enveloping electronic orchestral sounds just lifted me up into the clouds.

I went for a meeting with a client for the first time at their office in the Brainpark in Rotterdam. It's a super cool place, but the coolest thing there were the driverless busses. See how I took a photo including the windshield wipers so that you'd see that's the front of the bus... and THERE IS NO DRIVER. Very cool indeed.

In case you haven't noticed yet, I've been playing around with photo effects on my photos. How fun.

Halloween this year was at our place. For part of the decor, I made ghosts. I first tried a method I found online and even bought bloody clothes starch to get the fabric hard enough to stay in a ghost shape. But I think the fault was in the fabric. It just freaking doesn't get hard! So I used a needle and thread and hung the ghosts up from the ceiling instead. Simpler, cleaner and quicker.

This did not work.

This worked. With some fairy magic.

That's me, as an attacked librarian.

And finally, last night - although technically November, I will still add it here because who knows when's the next time I'll blog?? - I dined at a Michelin star restaurant for the second time in my life. This one, Amarone in Rotterdam, is a bit less posh than Parkheuvel (also in Rotterdam), but the service was still good and the food still interesting. Taste-wise, but not concept-wise. But well, we had ordered a special group menu, so I'll cut them some slack.

The amuse. And I can't remember what it was. Calf is there somewhere, I think.

The fellows I dined with.

The appetiser of liver terrine and quail.


And that's where a photo of the halibut should have been, but I forgot to take the photo.

The main dish of fantastically cooked beef with beets and other veg. This beef was awesome.

I always find it strange when you have such a big build-up to the main dish - first you have amuses, then several appetisers, and then you get the main dish... and all of a sudden, like reaching the top of Mount Everest on your feet and then parachuting down, they present you with dessert. I mean, where are all the other amuses to prepare you for dessert?

ANYWAY, this dessert was my favourite of the night and I can't be more enthused about it. Finally, here was something that was a bit different, a bit more interesting and exciting. Here's a coconut on sand, made of chocolate and other coconut-based delights. This. was. brilliant.

This annual dinner was also an opportunity to thank the man who had been the council secretary for nearly 10 years. Congratulations, Ed, a job well done!

Shameless advertising of their restaurant on the chocolates. Well, the chocolates were yummy.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Aloha Bar @ Tropicana

Yesterday evening, Rik and I met up with Wayne and Martijn for pizza and drinks at the Aloha Bar, newly opened in the dilapidated and abandoned swimming pool of Tropicana on the Maasboulevard.

It's a horrible old building that makes me feel like I've caught a few diseases just breathing in the air, but thankfully, the bar is located outdoors, in and around the dried up swimming pool.

I'm not presenting it very well, am I?

I guess there's a reason for that. At the risk of rambling on and on about what I thought, let's put it in bullet points.

What I liked:

  • Fantastic atmosphere with lots of space between patrons.
  • Fantastic weather really helps and it was probably the best day of the year yesterday.

What I disliked:

  • Rik and I grabbed two chairs and sat at a big round table before he went off to get drinks. Two minutes later, while I'm playing on my phone, I see out of the corner of my eye someone grabbing his chair without so much as a "is anyone sitting here?". Well, look at me, idiot! Am I likely to be just sitting here at this big table alone, with an empty chair next to me, in this bar? So, although the idiot is not indicative of all the clientele, it did start getting me annoyed.
  • Rik came back with a beer and said that they didn't have their signature ice tea. A bar that doesn't have their signature drink? Yes, you heard me right. Double idiots. So I went to the bar myself to see what I could get. They only had sodas and alcoholic drinks in bottles, so I just ordered a wine. As I walked away with my drink, a girl behind me ordered a cocktail, which is the most expensive drink on the menu. And the bartender just went: "Sorry, our blender is broken". Now, isn't it common sense that if you open a bar, you would have at least one backup blender, if not more? Besides that, the MediaMarkt is just a 10-minute bike ride away and a blender isn't expensive when the drinks you can sell with that blender are twice as expensive as any other drink.

Right, so that's where I stand. Awesome concept, failed execution, something I've said many times in this country, but that's what pisses me off so much. If they would only work harder and pay attention to the operation of things, they could go a lot further. Wasted potential!

All things said and done, I would recommend anyone to go just for the great atmosphere. They won't be around when the summer's over.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I met Neil Gaiman, yes I did.

If you know me well, or if you're a stalker on Facebook who reads everyone's About details, then you'll know that I absolutely love Neil Gaiman stories.

And not just love like, "Oh, his stories are really good and he writes about the things I enjoy reading about". Unlike actors and singers, I actually will only proclaim that I like very few writers; three, in fact: Agatha Christie, Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman. And I will only go through massive crowds to attend interviews and book signings with these three.

Okay, cross that out, you and I both well know that Mrs Christie is alas gone and will never write again (goddammit!!), so let's amend the previous sentence to "go through massive crowds to attend interviews and book signings with these two".

Anyway, I have to admit that I owe a big debt of gratitude to one of Rik's ex-colleagues who passed him a book voucher, therefore leading me to the bookstore, where I stumbled upon a tiny poster announcing Neil Gaiman's visit.

And I'm not exaggerating any of this. I usually scoff at people who don't read, but I am just so happy now that this ex-colleague doesn't read and happened to see Rik and pass him the book voucher. Because I would never have known about the visit otherwise, since I don't go shopping that much in the city anymore. And I spent about an hour in the bookstore choosing books to purchase, but if I hadn't decided to walk into every nook and cranny on my way to the cashier, I would never have seen an A4 poster tucked away in the fantasy corner. It was even facing the corner and not the stairs which have more traffic. Geez Louise, someone can teach these people a thing or two about publicity.

But really, they didn't need much publicity, not for someone like Neil Gaiman, because the reservations closed pretty soon after I reserved my two spots.

Anyway... I'll get on with the story.

So Rik and I arrived on 16 August at Polare in Rotterdam. We got pretty good seats, slightly right from the centre, and you know how author interviews go, they have two armchairs facing slightly towards each other. And we had a better view of the red armchair so I was desperately hoping that Neil would be in that. Which he was ;)

The interview was fantastic! It was more like Neil telling stories rather than answering questions. All the interviewer would have to do was make a statement and Neil would go off on his own, starting from one end and taking us on a journey to an end which we wouldn't expect at all. Like talking about being married to a recording artiste half a world away and wanting to write a short story for her so that she would think of him:

I know she likes me, so I decided to put a lot of me in it.
And she's not British, nor a man... so I put a lot of feelings in it.
I started writing, and I called my publisher and told him that I was writing a short story.
And I kept writing, and I called my publisher again that it was now a novelette.
And then I told him it was a novella.
And when I was done, I had written a novel.

In short, that was the story of how his latest book, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, came into being.

As usual, being organised by the Dutch (I've begun to realise that this will be one of my stereotypes for them), it was terribly disorganised. The interview was scheduled to begin at 7pm, and half of us were already seated by 7pm, but there were still about 50 people lining up to come in and buy his latest book to be signed. By 7.20pm, a lady came onstage to tell us the format of the evening:

Neil will be interviewed.
Neil will read a short piece from his book.
Neil will answer some audience questions.
Neil will sign our books and write a message that we have written down on a form beforehand.

At 7.30pm, there were still people buying books and everyone was getting restless and annoyed. And hey, Mr Gaiman was already in the building, because he arrived at the same time as us, at 6.40pm. So don't blame him.

The lady came onstage again and announced:

Neil will be interviewed.
Neil will not answer any audience questions.
Neil may still sign books but only with our names and then we have to move on like a factory belt (okay the last bit I made up but basically that was the picture she gave).

Cue sighs and annoyed whispers. But how annoyed can you get when you are about to see your favourite author? Talking about favourite authors, Neil Gaiman's fans are something else. Think about comic book lovers and kids who stay in their parents' basements till they're 25, no, 30 years old. People who shower once a week even in summer. People who sweat and wipe their entire face with the front of their t-shirts. And I'm talking about the girls here.

Anyway, luckily the interview was amazing, so everyone was all happy and cheerful again. And then the swarm towards the book signing began. Now normally, you'd expect that there'd be a sort of rope or sign to tell people where to queue in an orderly fashion to get to Neil Gaiman. But, again, they are Dutch and therefore will not have thought that this might be a good thing to do when it comes to 100 people and Neil Gaiman. Hence a big crowd of people, while polite, still telekinetically fighting with willpower to get to Neil first.

That's Neil over there in the centre, next to the red shirt.

It took me probably an hour, but I was finally there.

We are having a chat!

Me: Thank you for writing.
NG: Thank you for coming.
Me: I wouldn't have missed it. There are only three authors I would do this for, and one of them is dead.
NG: Who is the dead one?
Me: Agatha Christie.
NG: Yep, she is most definitely dead. But I understand why you would do it.

And this is him with Neverwhere (we could bring one book other than his latest), reading the description of himself ("Neil Gaiman is a messy-haired white male author trapped in the body of an even messier-haired white male author...) before turning the page.

So far, I've only painted Neil Gaiman in a very positive light, so I will now add some footnotes to make the whole experience more realistic.

While he was indeed very gracious and funny and brilliant (he stayed back till really late to talk to everyone who came to get their books signed, instead of following his timetable which I assume the bookstore lady had with her), he did have an empty look in his eyes while talking to each person, which I don't blame him for. After all, you can't sign books and chat with 100 strangers with your full energy, especially when you'll hear the same things over and over again. When I was chatting with him, he was busy signing, and I assume only had half his mind on the activity anyway. Again, I think all this is understandable, but I just wanted everyone to get a realistic picture of (and for me to remember exactly) what happened.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Summer activities

It is well and truly summertime with summery weather and summer temperatures!

Here are some of the things I've been up to.

After three years of living in Rotterdam and 5 minutes walk from the cube houses, I finally went in. It was very interesting for sure, but I don't think I would ever live there. Not because of the inconvenient shape and having to customise all my furniture, but because they simply don't take care of the damn buildings. The exterior is old and dirty, and the windows, as you'll see in the following pictures, seem to be cleaned "once every twenty years" as Irma put it (or once every six months, as Rik says is more likely).


All these photos are taken from the top floor, a sort of awesome guest space where you can play on the Ouija board quite comfortably or have some kinda weed smoking party. If you're wondering why Rik's panting like that, it was a very hot day yesterday at 31 degrees, and while the whole cube house museum is air-conditioned by one unit, this unit is located just under this room. Making this room supremely warm. You have to wonder how people live like this? Obviously with the slanted roof/walls, there's no way you can have an aircond up there ever, and if there are more hot days like this in a year, you won't wanna be doing your Ouija or weed there, would you?

Fantastic view though.

Warm days are perfect days for Fentimans.

We've been spending a lot more time in the park this summer because we actually have a pretty decent summer this year. And we have friends now who enjoy sitting in the park rather than sitting at a cafe. So here we are having some fun with a frisbee on a weekend, and a random visit during a weekday after work.

We also hang out on the Maasboulevard because it's beautiful at the water and it's so close to our house.

Rik's taken up skateboarding again ever since he's had nothing to do during the day and the weather's been so nice. The road along the Maasboulevard is nice and smooth so we headed there one evening before dinner to enjoy the fresh air. I was lying on a little grassy slope reading a book and every few minutes, there'd be this dude just gliding by left to right and right to left. It was like this:

Selexyz & Donner, the big bookshop in the city centre has changed ownership and changed its name to Polare. We were checking it out one day because I had a book voucher, when I saw this poster. Cue excitement and freaking out.

I hope he won't mind terribly if I bring five books for him to sign.

One of Riri's friends is going on a journey to she doesn't know where - I'm guessing it's some kinda soul-searching journey (where do people find the money for these journeys?!) - so Riri ordered a card from me. She only gave me a day to come up with this, so I'm a little ashamed to say but should admit that I copied this idea from someone from the internet. There we go. Please don't sue me - it's for a friend and I think your idea is really, really cute :D

Now that the updates are done, it's back to work.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Painting a Hari Raya greeting card

I hate greeting cards.

I was requested to make a Hari Raya greeting card for the company my mum works at, and at first I was very hesitant because I do hate greeting card designs. Meaning the cliché Hallmark, Memory Lane type greeting cards that companies send to clients and suppliers every festival. That's just not my cup of tea. And as I explained to a friend a few weeks ago, even cliché design is a style, and you need to be able to recreate that style as if it were an original style.

In case you haven't gotten it yet, I'm a bit of a snob when I think of cliché designs. But by golly, if I had a cliché style, I bet I could make a whole lot more money!

Anyway, as I was saying, corporate cards mean making standard designs, and I can't do that. Not I won't do that, but I really can't.

I decided to give it a go anyway, because beggars can't be choosers, and I could do with the money. I scoured the internet, and spoke to my Muslim friend over here (who buys cartoon greeting cards, so she was absolutely no help), and decided to go the calligraphy way and inject my own watercolour style.

Here's the process.

By the end of it, I loved it, but once I tried to give it the 'corporate' look, I failed miserably.

So it's back to square one.

I hate greeting cards.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrate the summer, 2013

The weather has been so grey and pressing this whole week that I've been quite down in the dumps and just not in the mood for working. That's the great freedom of being a freelancer, isn't it? If I have to stress about getting new projects every month, I should be able to reward myself with some down time if I need it.

Anyway, I wasn't in the mood for work, but more specifically, it was design I wasn't in the mood for. So I decided to get started on the latest project for my webshop, my Summer Recipes series. It's a series that I can finally use my lovely typewriter for.

So I got started on some layouts and sketches for the first in the series, but then a friend's birthday gathering came up yesterday evening and we needed a birthday card to go with the present. As with all financially-challenged artists, when you don't want to spend on a card, well, you just make one yourself! And it usually turns out better than a store-bought card anyway. Just depends if the recipient knows how to truly appreciate a piece of art...

This friend's birthday is in the summer, so we decided to get her a summer-themed present and card. I drew a beach scene with all the typical girl's beach essentials, and wrote the message: "There is only one thing missing..." And she would then open the present and find a beach blanket!

I hope she likes both presents, because, really, a piece of artwork that I spent more time on than the actual shopping, is pretty much a present on its own, isn't it?

Because I liked the theme so much, I decided to reproduce it as a watercolour print, which is now available in my webshop. I repainted the card in stronger colours and I think this second version is an improvement. You can pick any message you like for in the balloon, as long as it fits ;)