A little while ago, in fact just after I published my post about reaching out, I got an email from the lovely Shanelle Chua asking if I would be interested in collaborating on some work. Naturally, I said yes. Shannelle’s lettering work is absolutely gorgeous and I love having the opportunity to work with other creative people and really push myself and my work.

After a bit of discussion, we decided to make some desktop backgrounds based on words from some of our favourite poets and combine my love of portraits and Shannelle’s love of lettering to create something really beautiful to share with you all.

Both of the backgrounds we created are below, along with a few words on why we chose the lines we did – hope you like them!

EMILY DICKINSON, I DWELL IN POSSIBILITY – Shannelle’s pick

Emily Dickinson was how I got into poetry. They were able to convey so much in so little, and I loved that. She also was the first person to make me realize that I didn’t need to seek approval from other people at a time when I needed it the most. At this stage in my life, though, I’m keeping this one close because it’s an accurate representation of my life right now, as a college student.

Download the background

WALT WHITMAN, LEAVES OF GRASS – my pick

Despite having studied English literature for quite a while, I only recently got around to reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Rather than reading it all in one go, it’s something I’ve dipped in and out of, but one section I’ve come back to time and time again is “Give me the splendid sun” from Drum-Taps. I love its repetitive refrain. I love the real sense of yearning it creates. I love how Whitman captures the beauty and fleshy vivacity of nature. I love that it sums up pretty much exactly how I feel living in London, wanting to escape and just have fresh air. Whenever I want to run away to the Lake District this is a passage I love to come back to because it brings that longing to life and because it makes me a feel a little less alone in my desire to just lie down on some grass and look up at the sun.

Download the background

If you’re not already, please go follow Shannelle over on Instagram too, she’s ace and posts so many positive messages! 

I am a sucker for a RomCom. There’s something about their familiar feel-good factor that I just love and can’t stop watching. But, I don’t really ever read Romantic Comedies. I’m not sure why. I think it’s perhaps something to do with an internalised stigma that they’re somehow less worthwhile than “more serious” fiction. I know they’re not, and yet something has held me back from really getting into them.

That was until I chose Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project as my holiday read last month. I knew I wanted something easy and fun, and I thought, after reading glowing review after glowing review, I thought The Rosie Project would be the perfect pick and it really was. I had such a good time reading it, and honestly, it felt so good just to be sucked into a story and get to revel in an upbeat love story.

This month’s cover redesign takes inspiration from Don’s relationship with ice cream (and relationships)

The Rosie Project is the story of “a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, [Don Tillman], who’s decided it’s time he found a wife”. So, he decides to apply logic to the problem and designs what he calls ‘The Wife Project’, a survey to find his ideal woman by filtering out the smokers, the heavy drinkers, the late arrivers, and those with any dietary requirements. Surprisingly, he runs into a couple of hiccups along the way.

One such hiccup is Rosie Jarman, who although being recommended by one of Don’s only friends Gene, quickly fails to meet The Wife Project’s standards. Despite not being wife material, the pair do embark on another project together, one to find Rosie’s father. The progression of that project sees their friendship begins and many hijinks ensue.

As I said in my intro, what really stood out to me was just how easy The Rosie Project is to read. That might sound like a strange thing to praise, but finding a book that really pulls you through its pages and makes you smile as you go can be hard to find. While I didn’t find it to be laugh out loud funny (it’s rare I find a book that makes me audibly chuckle) I did find myself grinning at the end of each chapter. It was a story I could imagine on screen, which is I think why I enjoyed it so much.

That enjoyment was sustained throughout. But there were moments when Don’s Asperger’s seems to be skated over or easily forgotten in a way that doesn’t quite ring true. For example, he describes his intense dislike for being touched, but when it’s convenient to the plot that seems to be forgotten. As a novel that tries to get into the mind of a man with high-functioning Asperger’s to me at times that felt like it didn’t ring completely true. However, maybes those quick solutions are just part and parcel of creating a book with such pace, and similar plot solutions are generally taken as part and parcel of the genre.  

If like me you’re a fan of a romcom, or you just want a story you can race through I’d highly recommend The Rosie Project. It’s fun and light, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • Romantic Comedies characteristically have quite set plot points, how does having a sense of what’s going to happen before you go into a novel change how you read it?
  • How well do you think Simsion presents and handles Don’s “cognitive difference” in the storyline?
  • The Rosie Project was originally started as a screenplay, do you think that has had an effect on the writing style?
  • How does Don’s initial Wife Project compare to how the web has tried to make a science out of dating?
  • What’s your favourite ice-cream flavour? Can you tell the difference between it and something similar? (This is the aspect of the book I’ve probably spent the most time thinking about)

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

 

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

Why not use The Rosie Project themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read The Rosie Project, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

People have been drawing portraits pretty much for as long as people have been drawing. They were the only way to capture someone’s likeness whether that be in a painting, a sculpture, a drawing, or a print. But portraits have always been about more than just documenting what someone looks like, they’ve been about capturing something more of that person whether that’s their wealth, their status, their taste, their work, the nobility, the political agenda, their virtue, or their intelligence.

Portraits began as something only available to royalty, and then the wealthy, before making their way through the middle classes and the working classes. These days portraits are for everyone. Whether that’s a 5ft oil masterpiece or a snapchat selfie.

I love portraits. I’m always drawn to the faces in galleries to try and work out what they’re thinking, to catch the light in their eyes. That’s why I’m now offering portrait commissions! I do a weekly portrait on my Instagram, but I just want to draw more faces and offer more people the chance to have their likeness captured. My portraits sit somewhere in the middle of the oil painting-selfie spectrum and are, I hope, perfect for their digital context. Simple and easily recognisable but still able to capture something of their subject and ripe to be personalised.

Today I thought I’d share with you three of my favourite portraits of all time, and a little bit of why I love them, as well as some info on how you can get your own.

THE NOBLEMAN WITH HIS HAND ON HIS CHEST, EL GRECO

I first saw this portrait in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and it has stayed with me (in my heart and in postcard form) for the 5 years since. I’m not sure quite what it is that I find so captivating about this image but it stopped me in my tracks in the Prado and it has the same effect still. I’m normally just drawn to faces in portraits, as I think most people are, but I think I could spend as much time staring at his hand as I do any other aspect of the portrait. It’s such a quiet and muted painting, but there’s a kindness in his eyes and a gentleness in the hand that betrays a softness you wouldn’t expect from a Nobleman and the other regal portraits of the time. Perhaps that’s why I love it. Also, if you haven’t seen El Greco’s Portrait of Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara I would highly recommend it for the glasses alone.

JOSEPH ROULIN, VINCENT VAN GOGH

I never really understood why people loved Van Gogh so much until I saw this painting in person in MOMA in New York. There’s just so much tenderness in this painting it can’t help but to move you. It’s truly  “the modern portrait,” a picture that renders character not by the imitation of the sitter’s appearance but through the independent, vivid life of colour, that he wrote to his brother Theo about. You can really see their Roulin and Van Gogh’s friendship in the composition and the softness of the eyes. I’ve since seen a number of the other portraits Van Gogh painted of Roulin, but this one remains my favourite, because I love the character of the darker green wallpaper and the way its depth is sits almost at the same level as the portrait, as if Roulin has become a part of the furniture.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II, ARNOLD MACHIN

Machin’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II is the most reproduced artwork of all time, being printed on stamps over 220 billion times. Despite being in circulation since 1967 and being printed so many times it hasn’t aged at all. Perhaps that’s why the Queen has said it would take a “real work of quality” in order to replace it. I love the balance of grace and beauty with a real determination and authority. I love how you can see the relief in the plaster sculpture so well, even when printed. I also love that it took Machin about a year to create the portrait, with his first attempt being decried as “unrecognisable”. It wasn’t until he started working from the photographs taken by John Hedgecoe, as backups in case Machin didn’t produce anything, that he made the image we all know so well. As someone who’s just starting in portraiture, and often uses reference photos rather than live sitters, I find that really heartening.

 

If you’re a business looking for a set of matching profile images of your team, a blogger in need of a new profile image, an editor who requires a portrait to go with an interview or feature, or someone who just wants a portrait of themselves/their mum/their partner/their best friend/their crush/Ryan Gosling, I’ve got you covered.

Portrait prices start at £20, but if you’ve looking for a group or a rolling commission we can definitely chat! Plus if you include the magic code words “Joseph Roulin” when you email me, you’ll get a special friends and readers discount of 25% meaning you can have your very own portrait for a real bargain price of £15.

So, if you want your face up there with the Queen’s, just drop me a line.

I almost picked up a copy of Naïve. Super by Erlend Loe a few years ago. It was a staff recommended read in Waterstones, and its unusual size and simple cover caught my eye. But, for some reason I didn’t buy it. Then, earlier this year, I came across Naïve. Super again, in another recommended reading list, and it brought me back instantly to reading the first page of it in store. So, I got myself a copy, nestled into my favourite reading nook, and got started.

Naïve. Super is the story of an unnamed man having a quarter life crisis. At the age of 25 he has lost his sense of purpose and joy, and so leaves his master’s program and goes to stay in his brother’s apartment while he is away. He has nothing to do all day but send the occasional fax, throw a ball, and mindlessly play with a hammer and peg game. He’s trying to quiet his thoughts, to feel okay, but he’s not quite sure how.

Along the way he befriends a boy named Børre and takes a trip to New York. But all the while his focus moves between the tiny details of the day to day and huge questions of the nature of time and the universe.

It’s a navel-gazing novel, but it never feels like its wallowing. Even when the plot isn’t necessarily moving forward, he has a sense of progression of hopefully looking towards a solution towards a happier future. He’s finding his way rather than being completely lost. That really struck a chord with me. Even if all feels lost, you can look forward and you can still be good. He’s depressed (or at least he seems to be for many of the novel’s pages) but he’s also a good person, who is impacting on so many other lives without even really noticing. That’s what’s heart-warming, at least for me, about this short little novel.

Loe’s prose is remarkably simple. The sentences, like the chapters and the book overall, are simple. The language is simple. The structure is simple. But it never feels unintelligent, or lacking depth. There’s something endearing about the narrator’s voice, just as there is something about how he views the world. That endearing simplicity was what I enjoyed most about this book. It was a much needed 150 pages of respite from books, and quite frankly a world, that are so jaded.

I’m so glad that I waited until now to read it. I think I got a lot more out of it than I would have when I was in my teens. There’s something about its naivety that I really appreciated now, and found almost soothing, that might have irritated me before.

I will say that if you’re looking for a book that’s packed with action or fast paced dialogue, this isn’t going to be one for you. But if you’re looking for something hopeful and reflective, and that can act as respite for a busy mind and a burdened soul, you should probably go and grab yourself a copy.

It’s a little bit weird. It’s a little bit introspective. It’s a little bit philosophical. It’s a little bit sad. It’s a little bit hopeful. And it’s more than a little bit readable.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • There are a number of reproduced searches and letters in the book, did you enjoy their inclusion? Did the change in reading format add to your reading experience?
  • Loe writes in very simple language, how did you relate to the naïve voice of the narrator?
  • Naïve. Super is extremely short, are you a long-read or a short-read kind of person?
  • If you’re reading Naïve. Super in English, as I did, you’re reading a translation, to what extent do you feel you’re reading the same book as someone in Loe’s native Norway?
  • The narrator makes a lot of lists, lists of things that used to make him happy, things that make him happy now, how do his lists compare to your own?

IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

There’s not as much out there (in English at least) about Naïve. Super as previous reads, so this list is a little short than the last few book club’s recommended reading lists.

IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS HAVE A LOOK AT…

Why not use Naive. Super themed bookmark I designed to keep your place as you read? You can print and download it for free here.

As ever, let me know if you’ve read Naive. Super, or if you have any recommendations for what I should be reading next.

This year I really want to embrace summer. Take it by the hand and dance with it like its Gene Kelly. Make the most of it. Really enjoy it.

That’s not to say that I don’t always love summer. I am not a natural sunshine baby. But I love bright warm days. I love how they make me feel, and how they seem to make the rest of the world feel around me. So even though I’m prone to getting too overheating and my all black wardrobe perhaps isn’t suited to hot weather. When (not if) the sunshine comes, I need to remember that, and all the grey days we’ve endured to get there, and really bask in it. Nowhere more so than when I’m on holiday this year, because I’m making the effort to take a proper relaxing summer break this year that’s all about the “aaaaah” of feeling the sun warm your skin, then the “mmmmmm” of cooling it back down in the pool, and is completely devoid of worrying about what work I could be doing.

With that in mind, I’ve created these backgrounds so every time I log on to my laptop or pick up my phone I’m reminded I shouldn’t be so attached to them and I should get my pale butt outside. They’re all free for you to download as well, because I think this is an important cause and summer if you’re in the UK is usually gone in the blink of an eye.

NB: please don’t forget to wear sunscreen, especially if you’re as pasty as me, when you head out. I know you already know, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. It’s so so important.

MOBILE

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