Friday, February 19, 2021

The Pianist

The book, “The Pianist”  has been on my Goodreads wanting to read list for about a year. I finally got around to reading this phenomenal story of the Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman who worked for Polish Radio amid the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent Nazi invasion of Poland. Wladyslaw was Jewish, so eventually, he, like millions of other Jews, was robbed of everything, and found himself living in the Warsaw ghetto in overcrowded, insanitary, and brutal conditions bestowed upon them by the Nazis. Children and adults starved, were beaten, ridiculed, eventually died of disease, and any combination of the former. Many Jews were shot at random, just on the whim of a brutal guard.  Wladyslaw witnessed the roundups, wailing mothers and children as they were separated and loaded onto boxcars for deportation to forced labor camps, and for many, extermination. Some of the scenes he describes will stay with me forever. I won’t say more except that I truly recommend Szpilman’s book, and I should let him tell his own story. Suffice to say, he tells a tale of fortitude, and bravery amid the daily ridiculous decrees, indiscriminate brutality, death, destruction, and cruelty that only those who suffered it can describe. The book was made into a movie also called “The Pianist”, by Roman Polanski and is outstanding. 

My portrait of Wladyslaw Szpilman is my personal tribute to him. In the links, I’ll post a video of  him in his winter years playing Nocturne No. 20 in C minor by Chopin. It was what he was playing at the Polish Radio Station when it finally went off the air during the occupation. Now more about the drawing before I add spoilers. 

I was in two minds about how to draw him. Should I draw him in his later years, or his younger years? I decided both, but for now, I will stay with him in his younger years since that’s how I learned about him and that’s the time of his life that form the basis of the book and movie. 

I found a photo on Wikipedia. As you can see from the reference photo, he was very handsome! There was only one catch; the photo had him posing with a hand up by his face. I have never drawn hands and wondered if I should try and improvise and just not bother with his hand? I decided to keep the hand up by his face because the hand of course was instrumental and key to how he lived... No apologies for bad intentional puns. It seemed to me appropriate to keep him in this charming pose.

I got caught up in wanting to do this drawing so well that I forgot some basic things about facial proportions despite using my proportional divider - a device used to get scale up or down from another surface. Proportional dividers are also used in drafting. On the whole, I’m moderately pleased with my portrait of Wladyslaw, but will spend more times on the proportions next time. I got the eyes almost at right height, but they aren’t quite the same size as each other and are a little too far apart. One thing I did try was a white acrylic pen for the reflection of the camera flash in his eyes which worked quite nicely. I used ink for the bowtie, and black color prismacolor pencil for the darker pieces of hair not highlighted by the flash... 

I look forward to the day when I can truly capture the eye twinkles and smiles of my favorite people... Meanwhile, they are joining me on my journey as I remember them and their stories that become my drawing stories.  Under the second photo, there are links to the book on Amazon and a YouTube video of Szpilman playing the Chopin piece mentioned in the book.

In memory of Wladyslow Szpilman 1911-2000

Wladyslaw Szpilman

Wladyslaw Szpilman


Reference photo used: 

Reference Photo - Wiki

Saturday, December 12, 2020


There is so much to draw about South Africa. I thought about the beautiful animals, the art, and the natural beauty that we encountered throughout our trip. One of the things that struck me is how the country grew up since ridding itself of Apartheid. South Africa is still on her journey towards equality. There are still townships that line the edges of freeways, and poor blacks working in rich white neighborhoods guarded by electric fencing, razor wire, and guard dogs. I was concerned since the neighborhood we were staying in seemed safe enough, but then why the heavily guarded fences adorned with razor wire? Our taxi driver in Johannesburg explained that it is a hangover from the apartheid days. In spite of that negative touch, I did get the feeling that South Africa is trying and will one day get to enjoy equality more on a par with other developed nations. Visiting the Apartheid Museum was a moving experience, and why three years later after taking up drawing, I chose to attempt to draw Mandela, The father of South Africa.

The Apartheid museum takes you through a timeline of brutal oppression by Dutch and British colonialists. The timeline begins when you buy your entrance ticket.You are randomly selected to be a black or a white person. I got a “Nie Blankes” ticket — Non-white, and my husband got a “Blankes” ticket. Believe me, there is something very visceral about being labeled and having to walk through a different entrance. It was a very powerful message, that is designed to strike a chord. It certainly did strike a chord. It was an odd feeling getting my ticket, that I can’t quite describe. It was impossible to try to walk in the shoes of a black person during Apartheid days. Whatever I felt must have been how black South Africans must have felt everyday only much, much worse. Imagine seeing the signs that were displayed along my walk way, “Pretoria Suburban Station for Non-Whites”, “Non-Europeans Only”, ad infinitum. And not just marginalized socially, but economically with no reprieve like I would have after a few meters. They certainly would not have been on a holiday. Every aspect of life was marginalized under apartheid. On my right, there were the ID cards or “Bantu Identity Card” which had the photo, and the name of the card holder’s group or tribe. The person’s card who I took a photo of was only 2 years older than me. It struck me again how recent this shameful regime existed. I also remembered and was reminded again of the murder of Stephen Biko. Stephen was beaten to death at 30 years old by state security officers. Black South Africans my age would have lived through it all. Sure, I was aware of it and the sanctions imposed by other countries, but nothing brings it home like seeing the signs, Bantu ID cards, and just how much the regime restricted the lives of blacks. Another heart-rendering story was of Hector Pieterson who got killed in crossfire by police during an upraising in Soweto. The photo of a neighbor carrying his lifeless body is another image that stayed with me. South Africa now commemorates him with a Youth Day which honors young people and brings attention to their needs. This is just one way that South Africa is healing from her recent past.

I remember being in London when the music world celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday at Wembley Stadium in 1988. He had been in prison at that time for 24 years. He finally was released in 1992 and became the President of the country. Against all odds he became educated and fought for his people. He galvanized the world and black people to resist a regime that built a society based on racial segregation. Apartheid affected every aspect of black people’s lives entrenching them into even more poverty. The Ferry Terminal out to Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, has quite an exhibit. I studied the black and white photos and pondered over the looks of black people’s faces as they had to uproot from their homes in urban areas and moved out to “Bantustans”. Another photo shows a woman with her two children, a baby in one arm, and a little girl holding onto her hand during a mass eviction that was part of the Natives (Urban Areas) Act of 1923. The little boy is crying looking straight at the camera. In the background, more people are running, fearful, and shocked. It’s an image that stuck with me. I felt sad and angry, and deep down — guilty — guilty on behalf of my white European ancestors who had bestowed such suffering on to a people based on skin color. 

I felt bad that we had not done more to get out to Robben Island. All the Ferries were fully booked and we were leaving the next day. We also didn’t make it to Soweto. I was in two minds about going to gawp at a township. It is where people live and I felt that we’d be engaging in some kind of voyeurism by going on a tour. I felt ambivalent about the whole thing. Now I wish I had gone especially to see Mandela’s home there. We will be back. No wonder South Africa is a wonderful, and beautiful country. She had a brave, and courageous father. 

Nelson Mandela

Wiki - Nelson Mandela

Links to Photos taken by me at the Robben Island Ferry Terminal:

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Facing the Devil

When I draw my faces, I usually post my progress to facebook, and have people guess who they might be. I recently drew John Oats of Hall and Oats where one guess was Al Pacino. Well the similarity was only with the goatee, but nevertheless, I added Pacino to my growing list of faces to draw. 

Before working on Pacino, I practiced a little more with proportions, and symmetry; particularly with the eyes. My drawing Anatomy book is great, but like a cook book, it makes it look so easy. Getting the face angle, the eyes looking the same way and looking in the same direction is very difficult. Replicating a twinkle in an eye, a dimple in a cheek, or a smirk that all form an expression is even more difficult. 

I was recently introduced to a famous portrait artist by a friend of mine who loves portraits. As much as I admired Lucien Freud, I really thought the artist himself had a very interesting face, so he is now on my list! To paint faces and capture real expressions like Freud did is a dream! 

Aspirations are important. Recently, I watched a youtube tutorial on drawing faces where the artists recommended practicing the features first and if you are a beginner, don’t start with faces. A small part of me deflated because I always try to run before I can walk. Practicing and learning along the way I believe is the only way. I practice features on their own and then build the face. I then refer to my Drawing Anatomy book which as a couple of methods on drawing faces. 

Sure I fall down a lot like I did with drawing Diana Rigg. We have to fail to learn. And I don’t even like the term “fail”. I see those not so good pieces as part of the journey. My work on John Oats led me to Pacino because of one guess. 

It just so happens that one of my favorite movies is “The Devil’s Advocate”... Al Pacino plays the character of the Devil, John Milton. Haha! Miracles of miracles, it just so happened that the Devil’s Advocate was on TV when I started drawing Al Pacino! After many times of watching that movie, I realized that the Pacino’s character’s name was John Milton, the poet who wrote “Paradise Lost” which of course is about the fall of man and the fallen angel Lucifer. The character John Milton is suave, sexy, and sophisticated who refers to God as an “Absentee Landlord”. I couldn’t agree more. I like the old devil.

I always think while I am watching John Milton, that if am going to worship anyone, I am going to worship someone who is sexy, gives me a lavish lifestyle, likes Frank Sinatra, and drinks good wine! What on Earth is evil about that? It’s his time, baby! 

Unlike God, the Devil aspires to create happiness where as God demands we suffer! The devil aspires too as explained in this line from the movie. 

 “ John Milton: Why not? I'm here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections, I'm a fan of man! I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist.” 

Well I know I am a humanist so, maybe that’s why I am attracted to the Devil aka as John Milton played by Al Pacino.

Seriously, I am an atheist so I believe in neither Satan nor God, but I do believe that practice makes perfect with drawing. And after all, the devil does not judge and accepts human flaws!

Al Pacino - Graphite pencils 

My photo Reference. 


Wiki has an excellent entry on the movie too. 


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Covid Dreams

One of the great things I am discovering with drawing is that it is providing another outlet to express my fears and anxiety. While anxiety manifests itself differently in people, mine usually results in insomnia, and then vivid dreams leaving me anxious until I get into starting the day. Since the start of the pandemic, my recurring dream is finding myself in a crowd of unmasked people not being able to find my way home, or find Ken. 

Another dream is that I am returning to work where none of the covid precautions in place are being followed. Nobody is wearing a mask. I am speechless and angry in the dream. I wake up relieved. I don’t see myself as overly neurotic, but I guess we internalize a lot of stress that we aren’t always aware of. I can be mildly amused by some of the craziness in dreams, but not the one I am about to recall.

This dream is far from amusing, and was the most intense yet. I am in another country (it’s not clear where possibly the UK) trying to get home back to my husband. I wake up in dormitory-style accommodation.  I quickly realize that I am in a hospital ward. Some people are laying in bed wearing metal masks, and what seems like long tubes out of them. The people look terrified. I try to comfort one of them; a youngish woman. A nurse instructs me to leave her alone, and to stay away. I ask her what the fuck is going on, and why am I near these people if they have covid... The nurse in a light green uniform tells me I have to stay inside. I said, it is better that we are outside in fresh air away from these people. I tell her to let me the fuck out, but somehow I leave desperately trying to reach one of my brothers to pick me up... 

I awake. All I see in my mind’s eye are the metal masks and tubes. I still feel a frantic urgency to get out. I get up, shower and head out for a much needed run which dispels my waking anxiousness. Few people are around. I pull down my mask, and breathe. 

“Covid Nightmare” charcoal. I drew the eyes staring, big and wide - expressing fear. The lone tear is the pressing want for this to end - she wants to live again. The hair disheveled, long and unkept kind of like the leadership we have had through this. The tube leads to nowhere as we don’t know when this nightmare will end. The jet black mask is nothingness. Death. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Amazing Faces

My continuing journey of drawing has led me down a path of trying to draw portraits. Something that I never would have dreamed of attempting (I was probably right!). However, anything can only get better with practice, right? 

Faces are fascinating, but challenging to draw for a beginner like myself. The instructions in books make it look easy. It feels impossible to replicate that twinkle in an eye or smirk right now. But that will come with practice, and learning from the masters. This old dog her will learn. new tricks. 

At least while I attempt to capture my subject’s twinkle, gaze, or smirk, I get to examine the faces of whom I admire for so much longer, and I learn more about them. 

 I was sadden by the recent passing of Diana Rigg, which inspired me to try to draw her. I sure hope my subjects are very understanding. Especially, Dame Diana Rigg.  

I imagined Dame Rigg growling at me from over my shoulder saying, “not another wrinkle”, and “my nose is not the long, for heaven’s sake!” I do hope she’d be forgiving for a beginner! 

Diana Rigg was incredibly famous as Emma Peel in, “The Avengers” which I vaguely remember as a child. Emma was badass. She knew martial arts and could get herself out of trouble without depending on a man. She was a perfect role model for women and girls at that time. 

Fast forward, 50 years later. I was mesmerized more recently by her performance as Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones. She had some brilliant lines and dished them out well. My favorite being in her last scene where she tells Jamie Lannister that, “Tell Cersie. I want her to know that I did it...” Did what? Sorry, no spoilers here. Watch the show! Interestingly, watching the show, was something that Rigg never did even after her appearance. 

The best story I heard regarding her “audition” for the part of Olenna Tyrell was when she told Benioff, “Dames don’t audition for you; you audition for them’” They loved her on the show, and so did we.

All in all, I focussed on the eyes, but still could not quite capture that tinkle in her eyes. However, I feel happy with the shape although I am a little disappointed with the facial proportions. Back to drawing board with that. Onward and upward to continue my journey with amazing faces. 

My photo reference.

Game of Throne fan: Links to some clips, one liners, and other trivia. Avenger fans, more when I draw Emma Peel!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Look of Covid

Well this is how a quick and dirty sketch panned out today. She’s kind of a sorry disheveled looking gal, and after I finished her, I wondered if she was me. She was not meant to be. Just a quick warm up practice for eyes, and hair. When I decided she looked like how I felt, I added her tear. 

I see her has having just woken up from a night of sporadic sleep where waking hours were spent worrying about the state of affairs, as well as shards of metal from the past that still dig deep. She buried them long ago, but they still cause pangs every now and then. 

She gets up and looks in the mirror, and this is what she sees. Her short trim hair is now an unholy mess in need of a cut. Her age is showing.  When did she last put make up on? Ah yes, that was it. It was for a zoom call with friends. She doesn’t bother anymore. 

She’s been out of a job for nine months now, not seen any family, or friends, and her life is confined to Zoom calls for work, and socializing. She knows she is not alone, but that doesn’t help the anxiety caused through uncertainty. 

What seemed like a shut down for a couple of weeks has turned into months with no end in sight. Her friends know they won’t be heading home for Thanksgiving, or Christmas. It was all suppose to be over by then. 

She pursues interests, explores new ones, and escapes to happy places, but is overall anxious about the future.  She is generally happy, but not today. 

The weather is glorious, but she is tired. The endless stream of political turmoil across both sides of the Atlantic weigh heavy on her. She has family and friends on both sides of the pond. Whatever the future holds, she sees no way to plan for it except be cautious. That isn’t her nature. 

This woman explores the world with eyes wide open, but they’ve been shut for her. A world led by arrogant, and ignorant politicians, denying the science of Covid, and its severity, climate change, and strife see to it that she is remaining in place.  

She awakes in dark hours with a sense of foreboding. Trapped by insomnia, her mind escapes hurtling along a highway to nowhere at a zillion miles per hour. The only destination is morning, and a sense of despair. Despair for the future, and not just hers. 

This is Adrenoverse — Today. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Issy’s Rose

At first, I was merely practicing my drawings and following a tutorial on how to draw a rose. This one is of my second attempt. 

I posted my efforts as usual to facebook and instagram. Outside of all the comments I received, the one from my niece stood out the most; “My mum’s favorite flower”... It stopped me in my tracks.

How could I forget? Sadly my sister died at the tender age of forty one. Like my mum, she loved to garden. She adored gardening and was good at it. She had the best front garden on her street. Always. 

Once she even dug out a pond, in the back garden, and got two ducks, Tululah and Gemima. She loved animals. She also had a penchant for penguins, so whenever I see penguins, I always think of her. I had forgotten how much she loved roses though, so I was thankful for her daughter’s (my niece) reminder. Now I will always think of her whenever I see a rose. That is a big thing for me. I love roses more than ever, because I see one more thing in them — my sister, Issy. 

This is for you, Issy. Rest easy, and thanks for the love and memories. 

A Rose for Issy