Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Draw what you see

So coloured pencil week is over and I’m back to my learning to sketch class which is phenomenally well put together BUT also horrendously boring at times.   It really is from scratch so there’s lots of shading circles to turn them into spheres and drawing apples etc.  And while I both 100% see the need and the reason for it, I also sometimes find it tediously boring.   Watched a YouTube the other day about a guy who spent 100 hours learning to draw “from scratch” (wife is a pro artist so he had a custom built program and pro coaching along the way) and I was mildly amused that he was just as bored as I was and had all the same exercises (although he started slightly better than I did - albeit not by much).  AND ended up really decent.  So I have hope.  He said about hour 30 it started to be less painful and about hour 60 it started to be enjoyable πŸ˜‚ 

So maybe there’s hope.  So far I’ve done:

YouTube (and book) Follow Along tutorials.  These were a good start and helped me get a feel for certain things, and, of course, instant gratification.  But they don’t help w actual learning.   Like the skills weren’t highly transferable to my own work.


Also - I want colour!   πŸ˜‚ so I did Coloured Pencil week which was awesome.  And then back down the YouTube rabbit hole cause it turns out there are a ton of artists who just teach colouring?!?!    Who knew?   So when I want “easy” learning I do one of those (I even bought a colouring book?!?) cause it’s helping me expand on coloured pencil week with layering, colour theory (I may or may not have also acquired a book for that), techniques, etc.


That, however, is also frustrating cause I can spend HOURS on something and work really hard on it and be mildly impressed w the outcome and still feel like it’s “just colouring”.  Sigh.  Baby steps.


So today I had gathered all my supplies, sat down, had done one of my drawing class exercises and was pleased w it, then one that was brutal but got better - in which I was pleased I made it less-bad πŸ˜‚. So overall a pretty good mood.  But for the next section I needed my laptop which was upstairs.  And both Tucker and Nola were sleeping on me, so obviously I couldn’t move (completely trapped by a blanket being held down w a pet on either side).   I wasn’t quite ready to close up for the night but any and all reference material was out of reach :(


Except….  I mean, the whole point of this is to just draw right?   So while it’s fast and basic - I’m pretty happy w this beginner sketch of my sleeping critters from the viewpoint I had, with no how tos, measuring, or anything else.   I’d put it in the “5 min sketch” category (or maybe 10 cause there’s two critters).  Except that most of the sketches I’ve done from my 5 min sketches book take me 20-30 so yeah.  It’s not fast, but I enjoy it, and I’d argue this time both animals are reasonably recognizable :).  I’ll take the wins where I can find them!


When your tiny animals work together,
they can trap you using only a blanket!



Trying to learn two unrelated skills? Why not practice them together? ;-P

Right, so I was flipping through YouTube to find a drawing tutorial for the night (I'm taking a course but it requires more brainpower - YouTube usually delivers that quick hit of "finished product" endorphins ;) and thought I'd go back to the original driver of dragons.   However, I couldn't find any I really liked, but I did find a lion that looked good.  

When I clicked through to the video, the instruction was good, but the person was definitely new-ish to English and I couldn't tell if his accent was Spanish or Italian -- until he happened to mention he had the same video in Spanish.   So I went to his channel and while English videos are a new endeavour for him, he has a TON of Spanish ones.   And one I just LOVED and it was like 20 mins.  Perfect.

Okay so just to put in perspective - 20 min videos even in English usually take me at least an hour.  Sometimes more.  And this drawing...   well, suffice to say it's well beyond my current capabilities.   But I wanted it.   And so down the rabbit hole I jumped.

20 min video - that showed start to finish him drawing the same picture he was teaching, took me about 3h.  Maybe 2.5 given a quick "walk Sasha around the block" and a few other minor things that came up.  And I would've placed it at about 45 min.  I really lose time when I'm drawing, but I kinda love that because it's the ultimate "in the moment".    Now, let's put this in perspective.

1 - the first 3 mins of his drawing took me about 20.  It involved drawing a person.  I have never drawn a person before.  The first effort got scrapped and I started over. All good learning but wow so slow.

2 - It's FULLY possible that he filmed it first and then sped up the drawing with a voice over.  There was no time lapse that some you-tube artists use, but he was SUPER-FAST.  Speaking in Spanish and drawing faster than he spoke.   Which means I feel justified that it was taking me longer ;) 

3 - And it was more of a follow along so the language wasn't super necessary, although it certainly did add extra value it wasn't critical to understand to be able to execute the drawing.  But that also means there was no instruction beyond trying to mirror what he was doing (which conveniently applies the same techniques as in my sketching class - win!).

4 - I can understand Spanish or I can draw.  I cannot do both at the same time.  (I also cannot read out loud in Spanish and understand what I said, or listen in Spanish and write notes at the same time).   So basically I'm at the level where I can follow most things barring extreme speed or accents - both of which pro YouTubers tend to avoid - BUT, it takes 100% of my attention.   So at very least, I had to watch/listen, and then replicate.  Sometimes more than once.

5 - I've drawn some very cool animals (all with the help of YouTube) and some average things either by myself or with books, but I've never done a person, or a landscape...   And this picture?  It was a fairy looking at the sea (or some random body of water at least).  I HAVE at least drawn butterfly wings before -- that was how the teacher recommended thinking of it πŸ˜‚.  And the landscape part was pretty simple.  And I've done hair before and for some reason disproportionately enjoy it.   So sure, why not?

Tomorrow am is why not.  But for tonight, it's still all good :).  In the end, I'm thrilled with what I did.  I'd like to do it again, with colour (which is not on the video so I'd be all on my own - scary!).  And I'm disproportionately pleased that both I found a channel I like in Spanish AND that it was essentially a non-issue.   All round, it's been a long time since I've had a 3am night for anything other than work or stress, and it's put me solidly in my happy place.

The end result makes me wonder what is she thinking?  What is she watching for?
I want to tell her story, but now it's bedtime.
Credit to the original artist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn3FVT3PEkw


Coloured Pencil Week

So Coloured Pencil Week with the Bonny Snowdon Academy was an adventure.  I learned more than my little brain could take in and I really enjoyed it.  And I was super proud of my "cumulating" project ;).   The focus of the academy is realistic drawing w coloured pencils.   Their work that group turns out is nothing shy of stunning.  However, they also have a collection of material for us beginners ;)

I knew going in that we would learn to draw a cat's eye, a dog's nose, some fur, and an otter.   One of the things I wasn't expecting though, was the whole focus really was colour.  As in to the point of providing you a sketch to trace.  In all cases I used the sketch provided to make mine occur, but the only one I actually *traced* was the dog's nose, mostly cause I was lazy that day and in a hurry ;).  The otter I would've traced just for the sheer overwhelmingness of the project (a scheduled FOUR hours of drawing?!?!) but I wanted to use the "real" coloured pencil paper (still not the stuff they use, but the one I found at Michaels that was aptly named "coloured pencil paper" πŸ˜‚) and it is too think to trace through even if I'd wanted to.   My sketchbook, however, is not - so I traced the nose.  The eye I've done several variants before and, let's be honest, cat's eyes are as simple to freehand as it gets.   And the fur was just a few squiggly lines on a paper - I figured I could make that up as I went along ;)

There were 5 days of live drawing classes and two days of pre-recorded miscellaneous videos: one about materials which I watched but had actually learned most of from YouTube already and the other about mindset which I half-watched on fast forward, but isn't really my thing.   The actual drawing ones though were excellent.  Unfortunately these were at 7pm UK time, which meant 2pm our time, which meant I only got to go to one (and was lucky about that one); they were posted a few hours later though so I did DO every one of them.   The wknd ones were slightly earlier, but I wasn't prepared for the first one and it wasn't a convenient time, so I made the executive decision I'd watch those on repeat.  

It's a REALLY good thing I did, because there was a lot of watching closely, pausing, trying to replicate.  And that "long" four hours???   Oh my sweet summer child.   It took me closer to 10.   And I really didn't notice.   Which, I've discovered before, this new hobby is one that I can fall into the zone and not come out of for a very long time - the only thing other than writing I've ever experienced that with.  Which is a mental health and interest win, but a productivity fail ;-P

I did a thing!
Also - I used 17 colours to make this little guy?!?!

I also discovered I have no interest in full realism.   I want to get to the point that I can both draw and colour something that people can identify, but it doesn't need to look indistinguishable from a photograph.  I probably already have the photograph ;-P.  I AM super-impressed that other people can do that with pencil crayons?!?!   Like completely mind-boggling.   But it is not something I'm inclined to do - at least not right now.  Maybe when I retire ;-P

So in the course I learned a lot about layering, drawing what you see, not what you think is there (although for the life of me I still don't know how they see some of the colours in the fur (17 colours - I'm not exaggerating; and the instructor was lamenting that she hadn't added more to the list)  It all works out in the end, but my eye isn't trained that well yet!), different types of pencil marks to achieve different effects, a tiny bit on blending, some colour theory (super important to me cause I never know what colours to pick!), lots about values (light and dark) and they basically drilled home that if your values are right, the colour doesn't particularly matter.

I learned a ton, it was a super experience, but the actual academy is probably not the right fit for me at this particular moment.  The instructor is a lovely human though and if anyone DOES want to learn it, I'd highly recommend.   She's got a strong business going and very much runs it as a business, which was refreshing to see.  

I AM, however, taking a sketching basics course (all prerecorded) to learn to draw (rather than colour) that I'm getting a ton out of.  It's more the level I need right now.   More on that if/when I actually finish it.  It got paused for this one cause this one was only open for a week.

Living life in colour

So it turns out learning to draw and learning how to use colour are two different and almost unrelated skills.  Shocker.  Plus side, there are ways of separating them lol.   Lots of sketching / drawing / etc learning approaches online.  I've found one I like and am learning from it the basics of drawing.   But, obviously, that's a lot more work and a lot less fun than just following instructions and turning out cool stuff πŸ˜‚.   The only thing getting me through it is that it asks you to do a "before" drawing that "you wouldn't mind repeating" that will have an after drawing at the end.   I drew Sasha - she's recognizable as a dog (lol significant progress over before starting the follow along videos!), possibly even recognizable as an Aussie.   Not necessarily recognizable as Sasha.   We'll see if that improves ;) 

In the interim though, since this course is working on real basics, it's about as exciting as hours and hours of up-down lessons.   So to not lose interest entirely, I figured in parallel I would learn about colours.   Turns out, people teach this as well.  I found a book that I'm really enjoying for learning about pencil crayons, bought a physical colour wheel, AND - discovered from YouTube - lots of people seem to learn to use colour through adult colouring books.   It takes the stress of "ruining your drawing" out and lets you focus on the colour alone.  

I'm enjoying this one cause it has spaces to test and learn
(aka fuck around and find out)

So I have a lovely dragon colouring book that I bought YEARS ago.  Started two or three - using markers cause I couldn't get good colour with pencil crayons - and quickly got frustrated and annoyed because it didn't look any better than anything I'd done when I was 10.  But it's dragons and other relevant things, so why not give it a try?

Fully expecting to be frustrated again, I dug out the book (the other ones have long since been donated  since colouring, rather than being cathartic, was stress inducing and frustrating), and found one that I had started but only just.  Hey - if I'm going to ruin a page, it may as well be one I've already ruined right?

So - turns out random YouTube videos have taught me stuff as I went along.   I'm super slow and this is literally the first thing I've tried to come up with colours on my own, BUT - I made a solid effort to layer colours, I made an actual colour swath the pencil crayons I own (which are, admittedly, significantly better quality than the ones I had previously lol - one of those cases where good quality can help compensate from lack of skill).   

There may or may not have been a significant amount of googling to figure out how to do things, but - the important part is - I eventually put colour on paper AND I'm pleased with how it's going.

Things I've learned while colouring:

  • I would 100% have colour paralysis if I were doing this on a drawing I'd made that I cared about, so definite win on the safety zone of a colouring book ;)
  • Conversely, I'm remarkably blasΓ© about fixing errors; I figure this comes from the last few years of stabbing things.  I figured out how to modify on the go a long time ago.
  • While I am trying to "colour inside the lines" (just this once, I swear! ;-P), it was a lightbulb moment that that doesn't mean you can't add NEW lines and/or use multiple colours in one outlined area.   I tell you - the last time I coloured I was a little kid and still believed in following rules ;-P. This has made things So. Much. More. Interesting.
  • It's a symmetrical drawing, so I'm testing q-tip blending on the left and using a blending solvent on the right so learning + and - to both.   So far what I've learned is I like the look of the solvent more, but I need a *much* thinner brush to use it effectively.
  • What a HUGE difference good quality pencils make.  Lol I couldn't get any vibrant colour at ALL when I tried before.  I'm sure a really skilled artist could make beauty out of any tool, but I am not that person so where I can, I'm going for quality *g*. 
  • It takes a LOT longer than I would ever have imagined.  I'm not even drawing it, JUST colouring it, yet even the small portion I have complete took me literal hours.  Admittedly got faster once I had an approach in mind and my swatches made but still.
  • I learned some of this colour theory in grade school (which tells you the level of it lol) but definitely couldn't have told you what a complementary colour was or how or why to use it if my colour wheel hadn't told me ;)

Anyways - I am super amused at how disproportionately proud I was of my silly mix and match colours.  Esp when I decided that a fantasy drawing does NOT need to reflect reality, and so I wanted leaves that were blue but would still go with the greens.   For she who has no ability to mix and match colours, this was an adventure in itself.

Tonight's WIP, complete w all the notes I made while doing it ;)
The bright orange dragons and their wings were done in marker a lifetime ago.
Drawing came from a book called Mythical Enhancements by Kathryn Marlin


Mexico - The Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort

The Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort

Work has been, shall we say, intense for quite a while now.  With both Chris and I feeling stressed and worn out.  So we took a break and ran away to Mexico.   There were some significant changes to our usual travels and they worked out beautifully for what we needed this vacation.

Things such as:

- we travelled in March instead of February; therefore places that are not quite warm enough for me in Feb, were now open options

- we went for as-simple-as-possible.  All inclusive.  I even fairly quickly gave up and called in the expert as to where to start - Kes Smith (find her here if you need or want to book anything - she put a ton of effort into solving a challenge we had while away, AND also was the one who recommended this resort, having been there herself, which we absolutely loved).   We had no plan for excursions although I'll admit I did a bit of digging after picking the location to find what I'd like to do if I were so inclined, but it didn't drive anything about the planning or selection.  (in the end, we only left the resort one day - I'll give it its own blog post.

This, or very close to this, was our view for most of the week.
With a *few* more people, but never crowded.

- we were on a HUGE resort.  By far the biggest we've done.  Usually I intentionally look for smaller ones / more personal / etc.  BUT - what this allowed was that even though they were full, we could always get a seat at either pool or beach, there were three different pools and each one was dedicated to a different preferred experience:  the games pool, the high energy music pool, and the tranquil pool.  One guess where we spent most of our time ;). Also, the tranquil pool was farthest from the accommodations, so it wasn't the one people would just "stumble" over first.  Which meant those with kids, those who just couldn't be bothered, etc ended up at one of the others.  It also had no swim-up bar and lots more trees.  Win all around.   It WAS closest to the beach, which was a win for me since every day I went there at least for a bit :) 

There were even hammocks available!

- it was comparatively far from the airport.   Usually we try to limit transit time - that sweet spot between not hearing the planes and not having to drive for hours to start your vacation.  But this time - I think it saved us a mountain of children.   SO many other resorts closer to the airport and closer to the excursions likely to appeal to families, that it wasn't a kid-heavy experience despite being March Break.  I heard also that they actively discourage "spring break" groups of any age.   Our room was in an "adults only" area, said on the booking 18+, but I'm not sure what that means since for at least a few days we had a baby in an adjoining room.  Not a big deal though.

I sat out on our balcony at some point pretty much every day.
Sometimes monkeys visited :)

So all of this made for a lovely vacation.   Our room was clean, a really good size, and generally kept up.  We were on the ground floor and still had a little balcony that faced trees where occasionally monkeys came to visit.   I would say the maid service was not quite up to the standard we've seen at other places, but it wasn't bad by any means.  It was also comparatively well located as we could get just about everywhere without too far a hike once we knew our way around.  

Running was the opposite of our objective, but this gives an idea of the size.
Our room was in the "Chac" section, "our" pool of choice was the horseshoe-shaped one.

That being said, the resort is huge, if you do the loop of only the main part of the resort it's about 3km.   I averaged 17.5k steps a day.   Now, I partially did that on purpose cause I like to walk and we were eating a LOT and at home if I don't make an effort I'll walk less than 3k (home office remember - and it's winter).   There are shuttles all day going all over the resort - electric golf-cart types, so they're quiet (although Mexico drivers, so slightly terrifying lol).  

Re food and drink, there were all the typical all-inclusive type things: many bars (incl swim-up bars in two of the pools), multiple buffet options, a la carte restaurants (pro tip: book them all the day you get there, they fill up fast), beach snack bar (hot dogs / hamburgers / nachos, etc), etc.   What it had that was awesome that I haven't seen before were:

  • the Italian a la carte restaurant would make pizzas at lunch (think medium size) - you could have 2 per room (C and I together couldn't finish one).  These were thin crust and surprisingly just right after several days of way too much buffet food.  Also, portable - you could easily eat them by the pool or beach or room.
  • there was a coffee shop (still included) that was absolutely lovely.  Multiple coffee options (both hot and cold, and of course alcohol addition options) AND hot chocolate (for she who doesn't drink coffee).  They also usually had light snacks (think tiny wraps,  breakfast pastries, etc).   Chris was there multiple times a day :).  But I really loved going there after dinner, where for at least a few nights there was a woman singing salsa music.   Very much outdoor cafe style, had our coffee at a little table and watched the woman sing and a few of the guests dance.

Even the sleeves of the coffee cup had words to make me smile.
  • my daytime spot which I'll admit I visited more often than Chris was the ice cream bar.   Ideally at the FAR end of the resort from where we were, so helped me get my steps every day.   The ice cream was really good, and they even had sprinkle options :)   Coconut became my go-to, but of the several flavours I tried, there weren't any I wouldn't do recommend.  It was by the loudest pool, so reaffirmed each day that we chose the right location
  • right next to our pool of choice was a smoothy bar.  It and the ice cream bar were the only two that had no alcohol at all.  The smoothies were actually healthy which means, of course, I did not partake as they all had some form of vegetable smuggled in. But Chris enjoyed them and they were always busy, so I have to feel the option was appreciated.
  • re a la cartes: this resort had WAY more options for a la carte than others I've seen.  We chose Steak, Brazilian, and Mexican.  Next time I'd pass on the first two; Steak we do better at home, while Brazilian was interesting and I'd recommend others try it, but too much meat for me.  The Mexican I'd do again and I'd love to try the Mediterranean and the Italian ones.   For real foodies there were lots of others too, but they appeal less to me since I am the extreme opposite of an adventurous eater with the preferred diet of the average 8-yo child lol.  But options include French, Japanese, etc...  I'm definitely forgetting at least one, possibly more.   
On the lazy river - "our" pool was attached via the cut through at the right.

Now - the true highlight was the lazy river.   It's NOT fully connected, it has a stop and an end and one lap is about 15 mins.  But it is extremely well done, very lovely, we never had a problem getting tubes and rarely even found it crowded (even when we knew fully well almost all the tubes were in use).  It twists and turns and most of the time you're under trees.   You go past the loud pool and hear the music for a bit, and other areas you hear more birds or critters.   We did many laps every day and it will be missed.

Gratuitous lazy river shot

That being said, because we knew there was a lazy river and that it was March Break, we were concerned about ability to get tubes so brought some of our own.  We didn't need them for the lazy river but did it ever up our general resort water enjoyment.   The days the ocean was safe (yellow flagged instead of red) we floated on the waves - paddle out, float back in, rinse and repeat (the beach was such that it had very easy/obvious stop points to ensure we didn't end up beyond a safe point).   Other times we floated in the pool (which was not crowded so this worked - other resorts we've been at floaties wouldn't have been a good idea at beach or pool but here it worked, and worked well enough they sold them in most of the shops on the resort).

There really isn't any better way to relax

The beach was stunning, broken naturally into three sections.  There was a lifeguard on duty but they were mostly hidden in the trees.  One of the three sections always had a ton of fish, so usually people there snorkelling or fish watching (super shallow so snorkelling was tricky there).  The other two were more likely to have people swimming.  We tended to go to the farthest one which tended to be smaller and have almost no people.

About half the week the beach was yellow-flagged and we went in.
The rest of the week was red, and we respected the warning.
The area we usually swam was the other side of the ruin from this viewpoint.

There was a ruin on the property that you could get to with just a short wade.  Thought that was really cool (if you squint or make the picture bigger, it's in the photo above :). It was tiny but still great that it's there and protected.

Also, it seems that the resorts here own property all the way to (and possibly into?) the ocean, which meant down-side: paying spa rates for a beach massage (that was *awesome* btw), but serious up-side, no hawkers trying to sell you stuff endlessly on the beach (looking at you Grenada) or just off the beach in the water (Jamaica comes to mind here!).  Potentially it's the tight security at the gate that keeps that under control too, but either way, was appreciated.

I would not want to get in-between these guys and their food
I'd consider them Mexican racoons, except they *also* had actual racoons!  Albeit skinny ones.
Probably because their daytime cousins ate all the food.

There were lots of animals on the resort; some of which I recognised ;). MANY of which would consume any food left out, which resulted in people being less sloppy than normal about leaving stuff around the pool.  lol the 30 or so Coati's swarming somebody's pizza box was fascinating - esp when they came single file from another side of the resort.  Well-organized critters.   Also many cats, monkeys (equally likely to steal food), racoons (dusk and evening), and Sereque.  Those were rat-type critters that I saw a few times but not as many of and know very little about.

Lots of learning opportunities around the resort

The people working at the resort were awesome - they're definitely hiring and/or training for friendly and customer-service oriented.  The resort IS a chain, albeit a small one, and I would definitely consider other versions of it.  I would say it ranks in the middle of the Riu type ranking - it's not top end by any means, but it's a lot better than many and we had a very lovely week there despite them being fully booked (I almost find it hard to believe they were fully booked because it never felt crowded.  If it was, they did something really right).   

Everything was beautifully lit at night.  This was "our" pool after dark.

The only challenges we had on this trip were with Sunwing/Nexus and, well, at least Sunwing has been bought so hopefully service will be better under new ownership.   I would just book the resort and flight directly next time to get around that.  

Random Mexico things :)


So our March Break escape lead us to the Riviera Maya and except for one day, we didn't leave the resort we had booked.  So I can't by any stretch say we experienced the "real" Mexico, but we did experience a lovely dream.  But some random things I learned:

- "Retorno"s are terrifying part of highway life πŸ˜‚ and I would have a very hard time driving without dying in Mexico.   So this situation occurs because their divided highway has no overpasses, so if you need to reach something on the other side, you drive past it, and essentially pull a u-turn at a designated space so that then you are pointing the right direction to reach your destination.  Except this means you're turning from fast lane to fast lane, and - to add to the drama - cars will do this two deep.  Now - technically the speed limit in the fast lane drops to 60 right before each retorno, however - when speedlimits were clearly just suggestions at best and is 80 or 100 before, definitely nobody was slowing down simply cause other people were trying to merge from a halt. And of course, all the resorts are on the same side, so either going out from the airport (our situation) or coming back (if you were the other direction), this has to be done at every resort you go to, and then again to get back out.   Speedbumps are also an extreme sport in Mexico (at least this region of it) but, fortunately, only a couple of them on the highway at police checkpoints.  On the side roads though they were significant.

- People also cross the highway on foot, on bicycle, carrying an infant...   It is beyond terrifying.   Our taxi driver sadly acknowledged "there are lots of accidents" - uh, you think?!?!  

- Heavily armed police everywhere and nobody seems to think anything of it.  I found it a jarring reminder that we clearly were not experiencing the reality, but rather a carefully structured tourist experience.  And honestly, I was grateful for it - although some day I would very much love to see Mexico City.  Not this trip though.   

- Safety is an interesting contrast:  lots of people riding seatbelt-less in the back of a pickup truck on the highway (incl armed police with sirens blaring), people crossing said highway on foot, construction zones that would make and health & safety inspector cry (hard hats are definitely not a thing), and yet...  my can of coke had health warnings on it (too much sugar and caffeine apparently - shocker!). 

Somehow this just encouraged me to drink more ;)

- Likewise, security at the resort was more than we've seen at other places.  No difference at all once we were in, but every time we crossed the gate the driver's name was written down and they needed our names (and room number after we were checked in).   Even when we left the resort-proper to go for a brief walk to a convenience store (still in the broader gated community which included a lot of condos) we had to show our armbands to go back on the resort property; we were on foot, past the first check point, wearing nothing but beach wear and coverups, but still proof required.  That being said, we had zero security issues.  Even in the airport, there were constant messages, in English, of how and where to book a "safe" taxi and not to get in a car that wasn't explicitly airport-approved.  We had our ride pre-booked so less of a concern there but I was aware of it.

- I'm not bad at math for figuring out Canadian currency in USD, GBP, and even usually the Euro (advantage to having to manage multi-country budgets for work).   I failed horribly at trying to calculate Peso exchange rate; thankfully Chris took on that responsibility for us ;)    In Tourist Mexico, USD is accepted everywhere, but peso rate is sometimes cheaper.  Also, if you pay cash with USD, odds are you'll get pesos in return (this was actually helpful as I failed to acquire pesos before we left due to timing and living far away from anywhere likely to keep them on hand).

- People - across the board - were incredibly friendly, positive, and - importantly to me - patient with my efforts at Spanish, even when they were fluent in English.   Picture trying to speak intermediate French in Paris and what a horrible experience that is (if you have't had the pleasure, trust me on that one) -- this was the extreme opposite.   Again, this could be Tourist-Mexico rather than real life, but I have met enough other people from there to suspect it might be fairly wide-spread.

- the pace of things is slower, but not slow.   I didn't ever feel like we were on "island time" or "tico time" (the Costa Rica variant).  Again though, IDK if that's Mexico or Tourist-Mexico.  That being said, organisation was a bit of a flexible thing.  I would not want to have to deal with anything government-based (passports / visas / etc).   

- tacos come with pineapple!!!   I wondered if this was just for tourists πŸ˜‚ or to cause a war like pineapples on pizza, but a Mexican friend confirms it's legit.   And while I was a little unsure of the concept of it (fruit and meat aren't usually two things I combine), I actually loved it.   Also, if you haven't had real Mexican tacos before, what you're thinking of is not the same.  I hated tacos all my life till I had *actual* tacos and they are now a favourite food.  Yup, that's right, I'm a taco snob.  lol. But only because North American tacos generally make me physically ill.   Although I admit I really do like cheese and sour cream on my tacos which is definitely not the Mexican take on them ;).  There's a taco truck near our house that makes amazing tacos and the ones we had in Miami last year were, not surprisingly, fabulous.  So they can be found, but you've got to be committed to the search *g*

    Mmmm tacos...
- that being said, I found all food had less flavour than I'm used to, and I never quite figured out the difference.  Sweets obviously have to do with the amount and type of sugar, but other things?  I'm really not sure.  Was still good, and arguably healthier since I wasn't inclined to keep eating just for taste, but curious.  I know with a lot of things the locals season with super hot/spiciness which I'm sure is awesome if you can eat it without dying lol, but just the scent of most of that does me in.  So plausible, at least with the meats, is the issue is I need an in-between level of food that doesn't exist (I tried the tiniest drop of 'hot' on a nacho before starting in on the above tacos - wow.  I swear my eyes start to water at just the thought of it now).  But not sure about things like eggs, cheese, grapes (?!?! - the grapes were huge, but again, less flavour).   Or maybe it's all just me.  Fully plausible.

- I googled whether or not Mexico was considered a developed country and found a really interesting read that for the life of me I can't find the link to right this second.  The 2-second summary is they're considered a Newly Industrialised Country (NIC) which means they're growing fast financially; however, there are still some pretty significant human rights components that have a ways to go.

- overall, I had a great time; I really loved getting to speak Spanish; I would 100% go back to both the country and / or the same resort; and I feel like there's a whole lot we didn't experience that was probably very different, but I don't actually have any thing to base that on.  I think I'd go back here again before returning to Ocho Rios in Jamaica -- and I truly didn't expect that going in.  The people made all the difference.  

TIL: Even adults can "earn" participation awards ;)

If I can't pat one, maybe I can learn to draw one?

I don't even really know where to begin.  Okay - well I'm definitely chuckling that I got a legit participation award for a free online course.  But hey, I'll take what I can get ;).   And it made me and some of my friends laugh, so obviously it had SOME benefit.   And, to Jael's point - somebody, somewhere, for sure has this participation award on their LinkedIn ;-P

So, as those who follow this blog will know, I've been playing with the idea of learning to draw, and recently discovered that "coloured pencils" isn't as simple a concept as I'd thought.  And while most of the YouTubers tend to use primarily "normal" (in my head) coloured pencils (eg wax or oil based - not that I knew either were a thing until very recently), the pros who do primarily animals seem to like pastel pencils.  Which are, of course, even more expensive ;). 

But I like animals...   I don't remember how exactly I ended up there, but I found the Colin Bradley School of Art -- and he had a free "for complete beginners" class that only needed 6 pastel pencils to create an impressive looking tiger.   Hmmmm potentially I could justify that for a new experience (they're about $3 each!  At least at the only place I could find to buy them individually - which was conveniently less than a 20 min walk from work on a week I had to go to the office anyways).

Well.  The top thing I learned is this is NOT the medium for me.  Ugh.  Sad.   Which is a shame cause I LOVED the class.  And while he does have a handful of classes for coloured pencils, the things I'd really love to draw are all pastels.  Blah.

So - first of all - things I loved about the class.   It is friendly, patient, calm.  It's kinda like sitting with  a storybook grandfather teaching you the basics (if your grandfather happened to sound and teach like  David Attenborough lol).  Patient, relaxed, and once in a while unintentionally made me laugh (eg "you don't have to follow my way."  *pause*  "But I suggest you do.").  They tell you up front what you'll need, including the exact brand and colour of pencils, paper, etc (easier to follow if you have the same materials).  I'll admit, I only got the pencils - mostly cause none of the rest was easily available around here, but I did at least get "pastel paper", if not the specific brand, having learned my lesson about impact of paper before!   I believe the whole site is run by the artist (who my guess would be in his 80s?   Said he didn't start learning to draw until he was in his 30s) and his either son or grandson (I think son, but not 100% sure on that) who seems to take care of the online portion of the business while the artist does the drawing and teaching component.

He provides a sketch to start you out and suggests printing it directly onto the paper (like with an actual printer) which was my first indication of the difference in medium because, of course, you can't erase those lines!   However, A - my pastel paper wouldn't fit in the printer, and B - I also would like to actually learn how to draw so...  I did my best to copy his example and sketch it myself.  I used a grid, so that certainly helped.  It wasn't perfect by any means, but I would argue it was close enough (hey - when I took a pic of my finished work, my phone identified it as a tiger, so I'm deeming that a win!)

Probably kinda hard to see, but my attempt at copying his sketch.
So that I could *start* lol.

Now - this course is 1.4h long.  I know from prev YouTube to double or triple the time depending.   This one...  We're not even going to discuss it.   I was likely an hour in before he started (aka with getting the sketch in place!)  Probably a good life choice to go back to learning some sketching basics first!

I came to learn pretty quickly why pastels wouldn't be for me...  The first thing is, part of learning to draw was a hobby I could do on the couch while C was watching TV.   Pastels kinda need a desk.  I already have lots of "in my office" hobbies - piano, Spanish, handstands...   So that in itself wasn't a strong start, but could certainly be worked around fairly easily if it were the only blocker.   The next was enforced structure.  Because of how smudgy pastels are, you really do have to fully complete one section at a time.   There is no agile to this approach ;).  You can't stop in the middle and have a usable project.  So I'd have part the was amazing and I loved and part that I hadn't even started yet.   I'm not great a lifetime commitment projects ;). I'm here full for the quick wins.  I have a lifetime commitment stabby that I'm working on - one is enough!

Great ears!  But that's a lot of work to still have the rest look like...  Well this ;)

One thing that made this course more of a course than just a follow-along video is the nature of the picture lends itself to repetition.   So he'd teach how to do one ear, and then let you go off and do the other.   Teach how to do one type of fur, and then let you extrapolate that to the rest.  Super frustrating if you just want a pretty picture at the end but actually awesome for teaching you to figure it out.   And after the face, it was pretty much a DIY approach with a "you don't need to watch me do this, I'll meet you back here when you're done". Again - great for learning, less good for successful results πŸ˜‚    Although I certainly could've replayed the video from before to help refresh that for sure.

I think the above picture is about where I stopped on day 1 (or day 2 actually - day 1 was the sketch, day 2 I started with colours).  I was now a couple hours into a 1.4h video ;)

The eyes were my favourite part by far.   I'm so amazed at them, I loved doing them, and they were totally worth the effort for the results.  It really helped me to pay attention to details of colour and the impact of shading = realism/depth.  And I know that's really 101 level, but come on - I AM 101 level lol.

Even after all was said and done, the eyes remain my favourite part.

They warn about smudging, and keeping a piece of paper over any work you've already done.  What I didn't clue into was the paper itself could cause smudges 🀦‍♀️, so I found that an added degree of stress that wasn't necessary for a complete beginner ;).  Now normal pencil crayons do the same, but nowhere near the same degree.

The layering of colours I still don't entirely understand why it works in areas that you don't need or want to ever see all the colours, but I definitely appreciate that it does ;)

Part way through a technique was introduced that I could *not* replicate.  SO far beyond my skill and capability level it was laughable.  So I gave it a go, but yeah.  A definite miss.  And combine that with a complete inability to get my pencils sharp (apparently the trick is whittling them with a knife - which, thanks to C, I have a knife.  Alas, I have no skills).  And now smudgy paper and colours being flattened, my frustration level was definitely growing.   The smudgy paper was easy enough to manage once I knew about it - so that's simply a newbie mistake.   Skills it's fair not to have on day one, but still sad :( 

And then I had to disappear for basically two weeks for work.   lol so when I came back, I finished off what I could, decided not to include the background mostly cause I didn't have the patience for it today and I wanted it done, and partially cause I'd have to tape the paper and I wasn't sure that would be a good life choice at this point ;)  Whiskers were pretty much a complete fail lol.   I got one or two that I think looked right, but man are they a risky edition - the same skill I had 100% failed throughout the whole drawing, but has to be done fast, in one stroke, with confidence or it doesn't work AND risks a complete redo of significant parts of work (plus side, I now know it's reasonably easy to redo pastels - far more than coloured pencils).  So not sure how I'm feeling about that atm, but I'm calling the tiger done.    

I'm gonna take this as a win for a first effort!

First experience with pastel pencils taught me a LOT, I *loved* this particular school and would 100% sign up for their paid stuff too if it were graphite or coloured pencils.  But likely again some day.  We shall see :).  After all, they did give me a participation award!   Nobody else has done that in decades ;-P.  But I can't imagine how long one of the LONG videos would take me!  lol.  This was pretty close to the shortest option.

I'm not even kidding! ;)


Beginner drawing adventures

As always, I'm forever amazed by the learning curve when I target something really new; especially things that seem so obvious once you know them.  These are some of the things I've discovered in the last few weeks:

- there is a distinct difference between tutorials that aim to teach a drawing skill and tutorials that aim to have you successfully draw an image at the end.   I'm getting much better at following the second type (see pics below ;).  And honestly, still so green I've learned something from literally every one, so Follow-the-Leader it is.  For now.  As to actually learning to do anything on my own - I'm being a little facetious - I do try those too and it IS making a (slow) difference.  But I very much love the "follow along and get results" version for now (yeah endorphins!).  Except there's a sad dearth of dragons, so at some point will need to apply those skills to creating my own.

- there are coloured pencils that are wax based, coloured pencils that are oil based, coloured pencils that are really pastels in disguise, and who knows how many others lol.   And while the online pastel enthusiasts tend to be serious purists about it, the others tend to mix and match intentionally.   All of the above are friggin expensive.  I should go back to a nice affordable hobby.  Like riding.

- Pastels generally, but of course not always, are layered dark to light.  The others go light to dark.  In both cases they need WAY more layers and colours than I would ever have imagined.   And some of those colours are wildly not something that would ever have occurred to me; this is an example of the difference between ability to follow and ability to do it myself ;).

This one theoretically took 22 pencil crayons, of which I had about 15 ;)
By far my favourite in-colour follow-along artist (Bonny Snowdon Academy) so far.

- my thought of learning to draw with pencil first seems to be the right track - all the others seem to start with very light pencil (cause it's erasable) and then build up from there.

This was one of the first, and still a favourite.
Follow-along instructions by my overall favourite YT instructor I've found yet:  Mark Crilley

- many "beginner" tutorials still often assume more skill than I posses.   Also, some of the ones for pencil crayons will share a sketch to trace first for colouring - I tried this a couple times and found it even more confusing since sketches for colouring often don't look much like what I would consider sketches lol.  So now I either take their version and use a grid to try and draw a simpler version myself (this is most reliable although still involves a ton of erasing) or I just do the outline and make up the rest as I go along.  Kinda depends how much patience I have at the time (eg - the kitten was a grid, the flower below was 100% freehand DIY lol - I just can't bring myself to care about the flowers at this point). 

- paper matters.  OMG does paper ever matter.  These two pictures were a day apart (first coloured pencil effort), with no practice in-between, following the exact same instructions, using the exact same materials.   All I changed was the paper.   Unfortunately though, I generally have no idea what paper to use for what and why -- and of course the internet has ALL the opinions ;).  In some cases it makes sense (if you're water painting you prob want something thick enough to handle being wet), theoretically all the pencils need to be layered so something with texture to allow layers is good.  But too MUCH texture gives what happened here.  And then on the flip side - the kitten above would've had whiskers if I'd had thicker paper lol - apparently the trick is to emboss the whiskers into the paper before ever starting anything w colour, except it was just in my little sketch book; there wasn't enough paper depth to emboss anything lol.

The difference the paper can make

- my social media doesn't know what to do w me having another hobby - mildly amusing to see it trying to figure out whether I want drawing, embroidery, handstands, fitness, dance, or something else completely random ;)


I see a long hot bath with a ton of epsom salts in my future ;)

So the free week of Ninja Warrior / Yogi Flight School classes has come to an end.   Although apparently they'll continue to provide feedback for another week, so if I manage to Stack my Shit anywhere in that week I will take advantage of that.

Day 2 was Wed and the focus was headstands.  I watched the video to see if there was any good learning (spoiler alert - there was!  But far too much of a visual aid required to translate to text - had to do with a cue for how to engage your core upside-down), but I actively don't want to stand on my head so I just did a normal workout to replace that day in my week.

Day 3 was on Friday, which I tried today, and was the one I'd been waiting for - handstands.  It was super useful because it helped me solidify some concepts which I've heard before in my adventure but hadn't yet fully grasped.  Some reason I used to both go to riding clinics (even when I had awesome coaches at home) AND encouraged my students to do the same thing.   Sometimes it's a different phrase, expression, approach - whatever - that makes the light go on.   And then you go home and do the hard work :)

So nothing really new here - less focus on strength and flexibility, although I am *completely* toasted rn, so obviously still required.   But they just acknowledge that if you don't have it, it will be harder for you (and you prob won't be straight, but conceptually can balance upside down), and move on.   

Their philosophy is the warmup should get the body ready for the movement you're trying to do.  While this is not stated in Karin's course (that I've been taking), certainly all of her w/u exercises are relevant in exactly the same way so not life changing.   Except for two things - one, when I'm NOT following the program and just do my own warmup, I'd never even considered that.   And two, this one called out which w/u exercises were *also* relevant to the modifications.   THIS was key for me.   

In particular - we were doing hollow body hold (those who know...) and w/ one knee bent I can do it solidly (aka back firmly attached to the floor and straight leg hovering just above the ground), with both legs straight I'm not even close.  And never have been able to.  Last summer, through Karin's program, is the closest I've ever come to having the lower-back strength to have both legs straight and low with back connected (Squirrel note: to be fair, I'm 90% sure that program fixed it NOT through repetition of this exercise but through the flip-side which she calls body-line hold but when I google that I get a million things so not sure what it really is.  It worked though ;).

Now... to execute what I've learned ;)

Back to our story -- the in-person clinician before xmas of course also had hollow body hold in his warmup, as has every other pilates class ever, and he came around and checked that everyone could get their back connected which is pretty standard.   But with both him and the online program, I took it as a strength building exercise.  Super useful, super brutal, but somehow my little brain didn't make the connection to mirroring the handstand (because - well - NOTHING is straight lol).   But in today's workout, it introduced the modification (again standard) of bringing one knee to the chest.   Which I can do.  Cool.   And then the line that turned on the light - "you're now in the position you'll need to be in for X modification when you're upside down".

Because it showed me how easily, lying on the floor, I could correctly perform the movement for one of the modifications (one knee bent) that I CANNOT do with both legs straight. But since I mentally filed it under "building core strength", I never clued it that the fact that I can do it w one knee bent means I'll be potentially able to engage that same part if one knee is bent when I'm upside down.    

Not that you can't do a handstand w/o - just that it will likely have a fairly dramatic banana bend to it ;) 

So yeah, that was key.   There was also "the wall is lava" lol - point being, once you can kick up, the wall is only for strength building.   Move a bit further off the wall and kick up, but if you touch the wall, you fail ;).   Honestly, I'd figured this out ages ago, but I just loved the idea of turning it into a kids game - made it way more entertaining.  They also suggested trying this one with a split stance, which was new to me so I gave it a go.

The wall is lava!

And then lastly was the feedback from when I sent them my video for coaching from my free-standing handstand (with said bent knee), in the middle of the room.   "...squeeze the glutes to stabilize the hips.  Your hips opened to the left side and that's why you needed to bail out."  I, wait, what???  lol. If it had ever occurred to me to consider it, I would've figured my hips opened *because* I was bailing.  But she's absolutely right, at that point I wasn't focused on squeezing my glutes (which 100% requires attention, but so does pushing away from the floor, and engaging the core, so since you start bottom up, I have to just keep cycling through them.  Lol in some videos you can actively see when my mental focus shifts).   And when I looked at the video *many* times after it's obvious once a pro has clearly identified it for me ;-P

Alas I was exhausted by then so will have to wait a day or three before I try that again.   That pinpoint accuracy though is super useful.   If I'd shown up to the live instead of watching the replay, that's what they do in the breakout rooms.  And what the clinic I went to before xmas in-person did as well.

So the adventure continues.  I'm hoping to get at least one more coaching feedback set in, so we'll see.   Right now though my body is on strike.  lol, happy, but on strike.  If I get off the couch there might be consequences that I can't risk.   

Down the rabbit hole...

Sometimes this is how it seems ;)



This meme has been around for years and exists with most "how to draw" things, but have to admit, sometimes it seems all too accurate!

Also - hyper focus much?  I started about 8:00pm, give or take a bit.  C went to bed I think 10:30 or 11 - I know it was before 11:15 cause I sent a text then and wondered at that point if he was still awake ;)   I took one break when C went to bed to let the dogs out and chill them out, and relocate upstairs where it’s quite and comfy and doesn’t spin the animals that OMG FUN THING SHOULD HAPPEN.   And shortly after that I finished and was thinking about whether I wanted to do some Spanish before reading my book and going to bed, and realised it was only a min or two shy of 2am.   Oops.  So I’m writing this post and THEN heading to bed.  Targeting 2:30 ish ;)


Was an interesting experience though.   I WAS able to follow the tutorial (if you're selective, YouTube is way more helpful than books that teach as per the meme) - I know it's teaching me to duplicate rather than draw myself and I'm okay with that - for now, because it's also giving me the basics and teaching me to notice details and visualise the world differently (squirrel note - it now drives me insane to see the dots that Nola's whiskers grow out of - I never really clued into how defined they are and that they're in rows before I tried to draw a cat  πŸ˜‚.  A degree of detail that has just never been relevant in my life).


In today's adventure though, The most frustrating part was that I could NOT replicate the level of black seen in the tutorial with my black pencil crayon that also broke EVERY time I tried to sharpen it; it’s prob a decade old Crayola so…. Fair enough.  I did just buy some new pencil crayons but for some reason that pack doesn’t have a black.  Sheesh.   And I was super disappointed cause for all the other issues with the fact that this was drawn by a complete beginner, it would’ve looked WAY better with a deeper black and layer upon layer upon layer wasn’t really changing anything.


SO - then I figured, what about a different medium?  Lol one of the books I’ve been entertained by suggests pens every once in a while.   I had some very real doubts about this and - consider how many hours were invested - it’s not like there’s an undo for a sharpie.   Honestly, for all the crazy things I’ve done randomly in my life, this one took the most internal convincing.  AND - I should’ve gone w my gut, cause I liked the original better.  Fail.  Lol certainly not tragic and actually looks better if you don't look too closely, but it's too obvious if you do ;).  But the end deciding factor was - it’s in a super cheap sketchbook and is not something I’m super proud of, does it really matter if I wreck it?  Well….  Turns out, a little bit ;).  But the rest holds true so some day, that’s not today or this week or next week, I will try it again and see what happens if I do the same thing with:

  • Better paper (I never in my life thought I’d know or care about different drawing papers.  Although given how much of a difference *writing* paper makes to me, I can’t believe I didn’t clue in to that earlier.
  • A really good superstar black pencil crayon (or 6!)

I am more proud of myself than I should be for testing out the marker though - I’d rather learn that lesson ruining something that was really hard but the end result wasn’t awesome than something I’m thrilled with.  I DID do a practice run on another page, but it wasn’t enough to give me a real feel for if it’d work.   My compromise was to take a pic of the "finished" pencil drawing before adding marker.   


I also learned that I have absolutely no idea what a “rubber pencil” is or why one would want/use one.  But it definitely did NOT do what I’d hoped it would ;). A set of 4 of them, all white, came with my other pencils.   On that thought - a few weeks ago I learned about different weights of pencils lol - I made it all the way through life without ever knowing what existed beyond HB or why anyone would care.   For the most part, this exact situation is why people might care lol.  But even that doesn't get to true black. 


Next step - colour!  Lol.  OR maybe 30 steps from now.  But some day!