Lost Princesses and Weird Magic

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Romanov by Nadine Brandes

1918, Tobolsk, Russia. The revolution is rapidly moving towards its peak. The Bolsheviks have taken over from Lenin, and the Romanov Czar family are living their last months as prisoners in exile. While the hope that the White Army finally will set them free is fading, Anastasia, the youngest princess, a shadow of her former self, is secretly trying to keep her critically ill brother alive by using forbidden spell magic, the kind that got Rasputin killed. At the same time, she’s starting to connect with Zash, one of the family’s guards. But is he to be trusted? And what will happen to the family members that suddenly gets moved? As the slow days move by, Anastasia realises that she’s gotta move quick in order to save the last drops of both the magic ink and the Romanov blood. The question is just how.

Rating:🐖🐖🐖

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I received this book in May’s Seize the Crown-themed BBC box, so I didn’t have any special expectations on it prior to getting it, except that I knew it would be a re-telling, and I do LOVE re-tellings. As soon as I opened the (oh so gorgeous) package with the book, I realised it was gonna be a retelling of the Anastasia legend. I remember liking the movie, but even more so the mysteries surrounding this presumed lost princess, as a child, but it wasn’t my favourite ever and I don’t, as opposed to my buddy read comrades, recall all the songs. So, all in all, I was excited to read it because mysteries, but also not overly thrilled by the historical fiction and fantasy parts.

Romanov is a slow book. It’s sometimes thrilling, but in a VERY low key way. The whole story pretty much felt like a long prologue up until the last hundred pages, and even then, when it finally kicked off, it isn’t a book I’d stay up all night reading. I found the magic to be a bit … unbelievable? It didn’t really make sense. My biggest issue with this book though, is how it totally lacks all nuances and perspectives regarding the Russian revolution and the Bolsheviks. The Czar family are the good guys who have nothing but the people’s best interest in mind, and the Bolsheviks, or just the politically aware and engaged public, are wrong and don’t understand what’s best for them. The end. Kind of.

During the read, Anastasia did however grow on me (or maybe she just finally got to my brain). Romanov is a story about living in exile, and if you like historical portraits of royal families with a tint of magic, you should really read this book. After all, it’s beautifully epic, and it surely makes you think.

Dr. Bea approves

If you’re in for more fairytale re-tellings, check out The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Less complicated fantasy, more fast paced sci-fi, and definietly more interesting and badass princesses!

On being an artist I

I will move away from books today and talk about art. As you may know now, I am not only crazy about books but I also draw and have even done a design for Book Box Club.

And it has only been recently that I realised how much I actually enjoy doing this and creating artwork for projects I am passionate about.

I am not going to go on a long post about how you should pursue your dreams or how to do art, there are so many guides, posts and tutorials on this topics I would only be repeating what has already been said.

Instead I want to talk about something that marked me deeply and which I am still carrying around with me to a degree.

I have been drawing since I was a child but only started doing it more seriously when I started writing stories. I needed to illustrate what was going on in my head and some things, words didn’t do them justice. They were not the prettiest drawings ever, at all. But they made me happy and thankfully my family knew it was the best I could do at the time so they appreciated them.

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From around 2000-2003 when I started writing and illustrating my stories

Then the internet happened and I discovered Deviantart and e-shuushuu. I was mesmerised and realised that maybe, maybe I could be considered an artist because I drew a lot and was conveying ideas on paper and maybe this was for me.

And this way the funny stories, the weird ideas my friends and I exchanged, our own world started to be translated into short stories and drawings. Sketches I would lovingly draw with my mechanical pencil and then ink out with a Sharpie marker (because 10+ years ago I didn’t know any better). And they made my day. I was also very proud of my ability to reproduce at scale scenes from manga and comics and I even challenged myself to colour these scenes without using any black lines and blending colours together.

It was all well, and then I shared them on Deviantart, on the internet, and that is when it all went wrong. You see, I was improving, admiring others (I never copied, traced or stole from others), attempting to understand their styles by trying to replicate it (not because I was trying to be them but rather to understand why they would draw things a particular way, this is called finding your influences), and I was slowly settling into my own style and my own ways, slowly improving (all self-taught, without any guidance).

But the Internet is vicious and people started assuming I had just copied and then scanned and edited to make it appear as if I had drawn it (though errors were blatantly obvious) and calling me out because I didn’t know how to draw and fan art was not allowed and I should not draw fan art of manga and my favourite cartoons.

Then came the critiques on my line work.

I sketch on small/short feathered strokes, partly because I have issues with my wrists (I struggle to open bottles, the twist required is difficult for me, and don’t even talk to me about child proof caps/taps, those are the devil’s inventions and a child would have more success than I do) and partly because I like the soft feathered effect it creates. And in the last 3-5 years it has been admired and I have received compliments on how it looks soft and fragile and delicate.

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Perfect example of my feathered sketches. Moire, one of my oldest characters, she’s a Fox Fasquee.

But before the praise came, the critique came. Someone told me the feathered strokes meant I was never going to be a good artist. That the only way to be an artist was to make perfect long lines full of “flow”. I was told I was good for nothing and that my art would never be good. I would never make it and unless I completely changed my style and all I knew about drawing, I had no hope at all.

I can’t even remember who was cruel enough to tell me I was bad at art, but I am sure that they are not artists anymore or that they plateaued and haven’t moved from the same style they had 10 years ago.

Still, the bad critiques, the poisonous comments, the accusations of not being a legitimate artist, all left their mark on me.

Yesterday I was completing some sketches for bookmark designs and showing them to a friend, and I kept saying “oh this doesn’t look as nice but it’ll better when I clean it up” or “It’s missing this but I’ll add it in when I transfer it to my laptop”, apologising for each sketch I sent because it wasn’t perfect, because it was a sketch.

Thankfully, I am blessed with good friends and she told me I shouldn’t apologise about it, that it was amazing artwork and just a sketch, not the finished version. It was then that it dawned on me that I was apologising for things I shouldn’t. These were only rough sketches (and for sketches, looking at them objectively, they are extremely detailed, see below), but here I was thinking I should apologise because it wasn’t perfect.

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I even bothered to learn how to make a dream catcher so I could draw it right (talk about going into details)

Let me tell you something, I have a full-time job and several other responsibilities in my life. I didn’t major in arts, instead I have an engineering degree and a lot of experience behind my back and yet I am also an artist and pursue this branch of creativity. And considering the amount of time I can give to this and that I am doing it as a side gig rather than my main job, it’s something I should be proud of. I am able to design pieces for book subscription boxes and other independent businesses while at the same time keeping a full time job and all my other responsibilities and paying my bills.

So to close this post, if you are an artist, a writer, or looking for who you are, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to learn and to become good, and yes there are good things to learn, but we learn by following what others have done (or not at times) so build yourself up. Find artists that can point out your mistakes but gently help you fix them rather than make you feel like you are doomed.

And please, do not doom anyone. We are all learning in this journey. Rather than putting them down, help them build themselves up.