April 15th, 2011

a typical spring-loaded solder sucker

A desoldering pump, colloquially known as a solder sucker, is a device which is used to remove solder from a printed circuit board. There are two types: the plunger style and bulb style.

I got my own soldering iron and it came with a desoldering pump. It’s alarmingly satisfying to suck solder. And the noise it makes: Creak, Sklunk!

I’m only posting this because I like the caption for the above image on the wikipedia page for desoldering (“a typical spring-loaded solder sucker”).

February 12th, 2011

Parsley Seaweed Soup

A recipe I wrote for parsley and seaweed soup. The parsley soup element is based on various recipes I found online, and the seaweed was just an afterthought that actually works very nicely. If you like seaweed.

January 1st, 2011


Koupepia is the Cypriot name for stuffed vine leaves or what the Greeks call “dolmades”. Yesterday I tried a variation on the traditional recipe, using apricots instead of raisins, and it was very successful. So I typed out the recipe for future reference.

October 24th, 2010

you’re doing it wrong, Panamarenko

Bernouilli by Panamarenko. Photo by Dirk Pauwels.

Panamarenko is a contemporary Belgian artist whose work is often aeronautical or mechanical in theme. His work had quite a large presence at the recent Xanadu! exhibition at Ghent’s museum of contemporary art this summer. That’s where I saw his Bernouilli (pictured above).

Most of all I like his humour and the idea behind his methodology. From the Xanadu! guidebook:

What Panamarenko does in fact in all his works is not to try to make something work that will never work. What he does is to ask himself how something might work even if it’s approached in a wrong manner. When he makes a flying rucksack with a Suzuki engine like Hazerug (1992-1998), he turns the Suzuki engine upside down because it looks better that way. It doesn’t function because the spark plug is flooded. Then he searches for ten years for ways to make the engine run after all, even though it’s used upside down. Anyone that knows anything about engines sees right away that the engine’s hanging upside down. It’s a joke. Yet from that joke flows an in-depth study from which Panamarenko learns an awful lot. After ten years study and testing he knows why the Suzuki engine can never work upside down. He is constantly acquiring fresh knowledge by saying that for aesthetic reasons something should be able to function even if it’s approached in a wrong way — that’s the funny side of it, because it always starts from aesthetic reasons that interfere with the usual approach of a mechanism and then begins a period of amazing research that can last a long time and that can lead to very many formal and technical results.

The idea of starting with an apparently unworkable concept is appealing to me because it aligns with a recent revelation of mine. Often I am prone to a perfectionism in my own creative work, to the extent that it actually debilitates me or prevents me from starting work in the first place. Recently I’ve discovered that the key is not to set standards of perfection towards which to work, but rather to be constantly aware of the process and to make unexpected or contrary developments work in your favour. To always be open to improvisation, even when you had the “perfect” outcome in mind already. This way there is no point of failure — there is only a rising gradient of difficulty, the end of the process being marked by a gut feeling of arrival.

To start out with perfection in mind is crippling to any creative process. When your initial expectations are (inevitably) disappointed, you can either become frustrated or try to re-evaluate the project. If you become frustrated and upset, you are no longer in the frame of mind necessary to be creative, i.e., open, resourceful, confident, interested.

Perhaps you could see the difference in practice as not seeing the artwork as yours until you have arrived at the end point. If you are attached to a project or artwork from the start, it becomes already an extension of you. And when you see something you don’t like developing in the project — something worrying because unexpected — the initial reaction is to disown the project. To cast it off as a failure, and to either restart or quit at that point. This is like when something unplanned and apparently unresolvable happens to us, or in us, in everyday life; there’s a tendency to be taken by self-pity, which is a way of disowning the self. Of saying “this is no longer my responsibility, I give up”. Just like in life, the solution is a combination of persistence, flexible thinking and a sense of humour.

October 5th, 2010

about suffering

Click to Enlarge.

Above: Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus (1558). The painting is a scene of everyday life in which Icarus’ personal tragedy is given a tiny corner by the artist (see his white legs disappearing into the water in the bottom right corner). The painting is kept at the Museum of Fine Art in Brussels.

W.H. Auden wrote a poem inspired by the painting and named the poem after the museum in which it hangs:

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

This was given as an example of intertextuality in my first literature class.

August 13th, 2010

‘Flavours of Cyprus’ Soup

A flavoursome and satisfying soup of brown rice, lentils and vegetables with the traditional Cypriot flavourings of lemon and mint.

Very nutritious, providing plenty of fibre and a full protein compliment through the combination of whole rice and lentils.

I coined a recipe for a soup that reminds me of the flavours of Cypriot cooking. See the recipe at We Gotta Eat.

July 5th, 2010

a lesson in meanness

I don’t have a scanner here so this reproduction isn’t very good. (It’s a photo.)

I’m in Ghent! I went for a walk yesterday to relax a bit, and I took my watercolour gear with me. I found an interesting subject beside the river and sat down on someone’s stoop to begin sketching. After a basic sketch I was ready to create the details and the atmosphere with the paint itself. That’s when I realized I’d brought everything except the paint.

Getting ready to leave, I began to pack away my things. And I noticed there was still a skin of old dry paint on my palette, from the last painting I did, in Mallorca. I had to be very mean with the application of paint, and very creative with the colours I had, in order to save the picture. In the end I also used grass to colour it. The picture isn’t perfect but I was delighted to have found a solution, and to have learnt quite a lot about layering and texturing using watercolour paints.

June 24th, 2010

curried marrow and mango soup

A marrow is a courgette (Americans read: zucchini) that’s getting on a bit.

Dad’s courgette plants are producing in overdrive and we have courgettes coming out of our ears at the moment. We’ve been searching for new ways to cook courgettes (and marrows, as the courgettes are maturing to their marrow stage faster than we can eat them). This soup was really easy to make and one of the most (unexpectedly) flavoursome I’ve had in a while.

serves 5-6

For the spice mixture (to be ground with mortar & pestle):

2/3 tsp cumin seeds
2/3 tsp coriander seeds
2/3 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/3 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
1/4 tsp ground white pepper (optional)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/5 tsp anis seeds
2 cloves

(or cheat and use 2 tbsp curry powder and chili to taste — won’t be as good, though)

For the yoghurt mixture:

1 pot of greek style yoghurt (approx 2 tbsp).
4 tbsp mango chutney (I used the “Patak’s” brand).

The main ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized onions, chopped coarsely
2 medium-large marrows, peeled and largely diced
500 – 750ml vegetable stock (depending on how thick you want your soup — save some of it and add later if necessary)
a few handfuls of fresh spinach (optional, adds depth of flavour)

The onions are sautéed in the oil and spices until they’ve softened*. Then the stock is added with the diced marrow (with salt to taste), and it’s left to simmer for 20 minutes**.

Then the spinach is added (if you have it) and left for another 10 minutes. Then the whole thing is blended smooth and the yoghurt mixture is stirred in.

*If the spices mop up too much of the oil and the pan becomes dry… add more oil!

**If, during the previous stage, there are spices clinging to the pan, you can loosen them with a dash of vinegar.

Adapted from this recipe (whose portion sizes are very mean; I doubled most things and it was about the same number of servings, in my opinion).

June 23rd, 2010

sheep shed

A sketch from earlier today.

Like the rest of my watercolour sketches so far, this is a scene depicting rural Santa Margalida. I ought to make the most of my environment here and practice more in the coming days, because I’m off to Belgium on the 29th.

This one’s a bit messy… clumsy… Not very pleased with it. I had the sun on my back and was sat on a rock. Lesson learned: paint in the shade. And think about getting a tripod seat!

June 20th, 2010

upcycled plein air kit bag

I made a roll-up kit bag for when painting outside.

And a bag for my digital drawing tablet, from the same material.

They’re both made of the same material (a durable shopping bag), except the digital tablet bag is padded with a thick black felt lining.

See the entire post below for more pictures.

Read the rest of this entry »

April 20th, 2010

an artist’s diet: fire and hot water


I wish I had the creative fire burning under me at the moment that Joan Armatrading seems still to command:

Before I can begin work on any album, I have to observe an important ritual: cleaning. It clears my head. Everything in the studio must be cleaned, dusted and tidied. It takes as long as it takes – sometimes even two days.

Then I check my recording software, select my guitars, ensuring they have new strings, and set up the computer ready to record. I play everything myself – guitar, keyboards, mandolin, mouth organ, whatever, and record on to Apple’s Logic Pro 8 software, which is much easier than the old analogue tape recording. Before starting the actual writing, I unwind with a cup of hot water with nothing in it, not even a slice of lemon – I’ve never drunk alcohol.

I can typically work from 6am and finish at 8am the following morning. I have to be completely alone when working – other people only get involved when it comes to mixing the album. Such solitary existence means no one prompts me to do normal things like eating, drinking and sleeping. It is only when I’m about to keel over that I remember to rest and refuel.

I used to work like that on animations: wake up, and jump on to the computer to finish the work that I abandoned the previous night at the point of exhaustion. I never knew I was capable of such concentration and passion before I got into that hobby. Time dissolves!

More from Joan’s diary entry at FT.com.

March 24th, 2010

mother’s day poem

Mum and I go on walks
for exercise,

though we scarcely exert.
I give my hand
to her.

COLD HANDS, she says.
Circulation perhaps,
we say.

I say,


Dad made me a framed sieve
from wood and mesh.

Finishing up,
he said:

He left to light the fire,
pour a whiskey,
and smoke.

I stayed in the garage
making paper,
heart warm.

March 21st, 2010


Unemployed Girl. Kasimir Malevich, 1904.

February 6th, 2010

frogosaurus lives


Hurray, I’m now a Cambridge certified EFL teacher! And for the moment I have a much more relaxed schedule, so my blog will see more love than it has in past weeks. Starting with this fantastic creature, Japan’s Giant Salamander.

But impressive it certainly is: about 1.7m (5ft 6in) long, covered in a leathery skin that speaks of many decades passed, with a massive gnarled head covered in tubercles whose presumed sensitivity to motion probably helped it catch fish by the thousand over its lifetime.

If local legend is to be believed, though, this specimen is a mere tadpole compared with the biggest ever seen around Maniwa.

A 17th Century tale, related to us by cultural heritage officer Takashi Sakata, tells of a salamander (or hanzaki, in local parlance) 10m long that marauded its way across the countryside chomping cows and horses in its tracks.

It’s referred to as a “living fossil” because its skeleton still resembles closely that of 30 million year old examples (see right).

The full article describes the creature’s highly unusual manner of (external) fertilization. It sounds almost as alien as slug sex. It really is from another world: see the video and accompanying article @ BBC News.

Photo by wikipedia user Haplochromis.

January 9th, 2010

porridge deviation

I am deviating from normal blog activity to report on the best porridge (ever).

A debt of gratitude is owed to Mother Beaton for this recipe (I must get my experimental streak from her), whose secret is in the milk.

  • Equal parts almond milk and semi-skimmed goat’s milk
  • mixed nuts/berries
  • and/or a handful of muesli
  • oh, and porridge oats
  • I’m aware that almond milk and goats milk are not exactly common in most parts of the world. Well, neither is the best porridge (ever).

    December 17th, 2009


    Unlike Popeye, I do not endorse canned veg.

    I referred in a previous post to a mysterious bite which caused my forearm to swell up and make me look like Popeye. Well, the swelling is gone now but my arm is weaker than before.

    My interest piqued, I began Googling around to see if the bite may have somehow caused a degeneration of muscle tissue in my arm, whereupon I found many instances of this lovely word: envenomation, which according to dictionary.com is “The injection of a poisonous material by sting, spine, bite, or other similar means.”

    Local and systemic skeletal muscle degeneration is a common consequence of envenomations due to snakebites and mass bee attacks. Phospholipases A2 (PLA2) are important myotoxic components in these venoms, inducing a similar pattern of degenerative events in muscle cells. Myotoxic PLA2s bind to acceptors in the plasma membrane, which might be lipids or proteins and which may differ in their affinity for the PLA2s. Upon binding, myotoxic PLA2s disrupt the integrity of the plasma membrane by catalytically dependent or independent mechanisms, provoking a pronounced Ca2+ influx which, in turn, initiates a complex series of degenerative events associated with hypercontraction, activation of calpains and cytosolic Ca2+-dependent PLA2s, and mitochondrial Ca2+ overload.

    So maybe it is possible that the bite is to blame for my “muscle necrosis”. The above quote is from an article at Science Direct.

    December 12th, 2009

    this quiet earth

    A second experiment in stop motion. The soundtrack is First Light by Brian Eno and Harold Budd, with added samples from the film The Quiet Earth.

    Something bit me on the arm when I was in that tree and now my forearm is swollen and looks like a club. I’d be ok with that if I were happier with the video.

    December 6th, 2009

    new bamboo


    I just got a Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch. It’s small, ergonomic and beautiful. And i’ll probably be doing a lot more drawing and animating as a result.

    Above is an unfinished sketch of the local landscape here. Features are missing. I will probably do different versions of this scene, as it changes with the light, fog, weather, etc.

    Below is a portrait that I gave up on, unsatisfied. But I’ve come to believe that it’s better to do lots of quick sketches than to chase individual ones around until I get frustrated and demotivated.

    Click for larger.

    I think the reason I’m not completely satisfied with it is because I started drawing it before I really knew what I wanted to do with it. It’s helpful, with anything, to know what you want before you begin.

    Powered by Wordpress. Theme info.
    Original content © MMIX Jonathan Beaton, all rights reserved.