I have tried in my way to be free…

Yes, I know… the title is shamelessly borrowed from Leonard Cohen, but as his music is my faithful companion these days, there’s no way around it. I have been stuck with the idea of painting for some time now. Nothing seems important enough to justify using one of my few remaining canvases. There is nothing eternal I  seem to be able to express on a single square of canvas. There have been ideas, indeed, yet on a second glance they always reveal themselves to be cliche, boring, trivial, already done by someone else. And so the painting materials  have just sat there … until yesterday.

I checked Illustration Friday for their this week’s topic. It was “Tape”. Tape. Unusual, considering that usually they have something more in the lines of “Aquatic”, “Exploration”, “Summer”, etc etc. But the oddity of the topic moved something in the mind, some of my own old works surfaced, some works by some others… I had tape. Different kinds, in fact. A quick rough sketch of an old couple – an old man sitting, bent over, with an old woman next to him, with her hand on his shoulder. Perhaps my grandparents, perhaps some others. A piece of cardboard, black tape, paper tape, ripping, pasting, occasional swearing… the old couple was there no more, two old women had taken their place. My grandmothers, of course, they always are when I draw old women.

And it was good, as it came from the heart. Neither forced, nor  called for, it had simply been waiting for the right medium. This must be a form of freedom – simply letting go.


Here is another, older one about my grandmothers.


On writing

One of the last thoughts that I remember before falling asleep yesterday (or technically today, as it was almost 6 a.m.) was, that I’m going to write today. It was a happy thought. Writing relaxes me, helps to unwind tangled thoughts, cleanses the mind.

Six years ago I tried to follow a system called ‘morning pages’ from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”. The idea – as much as I recall – was that every day, right after waking up, one would sit down and write 3 A4 pages of text. Doesn’t matter what exactly, structure is irrelevant, even correct spelling somewhat optional. I hardly remember anything else from that book, so evidently it didn’t make that much of an impression. However, this particular idea of un-self-censored writing has some merits. It is definitely not applicable in the idealized fashion depicted in the book, as not all of us are a) morning people who enjoy getting up at 5 a.m. in order to have an hour for peaceful writing and b) have windows sufficiently high and well-placed in order to see the sunrise and feel “creative energy”.

Nevertheless, I wrote the morning pages for about a month and this notebook is one of the few that made it here to Greece with me. One of the most striking sentences I found in there was “I’ve kept 28 notebooks and diaries”. Precious few (plus a number of torn-out pages) still exist – as the cost of transport from Denmark to Greece necessitated draconian choices in terms of books and personal papers. Of course, perhaps the greatest loss (in retrospect) were the teenage diaries that I destroyed almost as soon as I had filled the notebooks. Small apartment, no lockable drawers – the only way to safeguard the thoughts and secrets was to send them back to nothingness.


Cleaning up hand-drawn images for riso printing

A quick, yet important note on printing hand-drawn images with risograph. Even if the drawing looks nice and clean in RGB, it is (apparently) NOT enough simply to scan and print. Because…



This lovely grey haze around the edges, yes. Invisible if you zoom in on the RGB image on the screen and very visible, when riso printed. Zoomed in, it looks like this:


However, good news is that there is a rather simple (and meditative) way to get rid of them. Assuming the image is originally saved in RGB, open it in Photoshop (I have CS2, but I think these functions are still in the same place in the new versions), choose ‘Image’ -> ‘Mode’ -> ‘Greyscale’. Say ‘yes’ to discard colour information and voilá, now the image is in greyscale. Then go back to ‘Image’, choose ‘Mode’ and ‘Bitmap’ to convert it to black and white only. When saving the image, you’ll be asked about the type of coverage you prefer. In this case I used ‘Halftone screen’, but from image cleaning point of view, it does not matter which one you choose. Now, with the image in bitmap, zoom in to 300%, choose a good eraser size (I switched between 4-12px) and get to cleaning. It gives about the same level of satisfaction as cleaning dirty windows, so it’s a great meditative task for anxious days. After the pesky extra pixels are all cleaned up, I’d recommend to switch to brush about same size or smaller (2-5px) and fill in the white gaps on the black areas. When this is done, you’re done and can either save the image in bitmap or convert it back to greyscale.

rose card clean.jpg

And the text looks now like this:


There you go.

Can I do it?

The last few days I’ve been listening to Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech on Youtube on repeat. It is strangely soothing to know that even the greats have had their times of being broke, miserable, doubtful. The first half of Bulgakov’s “Diary of Master and Margarita” (essentially a collection of his letters and diaries) is filled with entries about how much money he owes to whom, living on potatoes, struggling to pay for his room (room, mind you, not an apartment). Even Picasso admitted to having been broke numerous times in his conversations with Brassaï. Yet he continued, refusing to succumb to the safety of a ‘second career’.

Will I have the nerve, the courage to follow this path? Can I take the uncertainty, the ups and downs, the humiliation of perhaps having to borrow money, after the relative complacency by the meagre yet steady monthly paycheck so far? If the payment comes through as it should, I’m set for another month. But what if it doesn’t?

Fear is one of our most basic instincts as humans. It is vital for our survival. Nevertheless we should be guided by something higher than our lowest, darkest feelings; motivated by a quest towards rather than escape from. Fear seems to be everywhere these days, all-pervasive like nano-fog, penetrating what we read, what we consume, what we feel, what we breathe. I remember, it started with the Charlie Hebdo shootings two years ago. It is as if dark clouds started to gather after that, covering the sky little by little, blocking out the sun, so the world we live in now is perpetually overcast, the air humid and stagnant, waiting for the thunderstorm…

But enough of this. We might be in the gutter, but let us rather look at the stars. Last year I translated this little poem by Ilya Selvinsky (with the help of both original Russian and translated Estonian version) – it is also about expectation, albeit a more hopeful kind.

From the cycle “Alisa” – Etude 10

There are five million people in Moscow,
and you are among them. Hello!
Square. Park. Street. Boulevard.
Perhaps was it you? No.

So many post offices, pharmacies,
and people are everywhere…
There are five million people in Moscow.
How do I find you there?

Chance, you are always like brother to me,
please help me! Just one more time!
Stratenka. Trubnaja. Pushkin. Arbat.
The streets are passing me by.

I mutter magic words under my breath,
some old and forgotten lore.
Cast her out, Moscow, cast her to me
like the sea casts amber ashore!

The Mental Purge

It was already somewhat overdue. When the to-do-list is acquiring snake-like proportions and thus beginning to lose its essential purpose, it’s time to slow down, take a step back and think. Too many plans and ideas is a sign of lack or loss of direction, a scattered thought process and hence detrimental to getting anything valuable done.

So, it was time for a purge. What was I planning to do out of fear that there might otherwise be no income and what was I planning to do because I thought it was something worth saying? The list split into two near-equal parts. I didn’t actually throw the part with potential income-creating ideas – it went to the pinboard to hang there with its brothers and sisters. However, fear is no base for making decisions about what to create – it is most likely to lead to creating something of precious little value.

The mountain (as Neil Gaiman would put it), is visible again, now that rubbish has been cleared away. I can’t go on. I go on.

The most suitable song here is definitely Leonard Cohen’s “Slow”.

Printing watercolour with risograph

A few months ago I was experimenting with printing my watercolour images with risograph, and as I haven’t come across any other articles about this, I thought I might share the experiences. I printed a small watercolour portrait in three colours and daresay the result was successful – meaning that it looked nice.

So, let’s get to it. First, the technical data.

Risograph printer RZ 570EP, A3, with three colour drums – black A3, sunflower yellow A3 (which I’ll soon have to to change to orange or fluo orange) and medium blue B4. The different size of the blue drum means that in practice any print in three colours should be maximum B4 and ideally A4.

Scanner -Epson Perfection V37, A4.

Programs I use for colour separation and conversion – Irfanview v. 4.38 and Adobe Photoshop CS2. (As my laptop is old, it can’t really handle the newer ‘heavier’ versions)

The image I used was this little portrait in same colours as my colour drums – pure watercolour on cold pressed A6 (postcard size paper), no pencil lines.


I scanned it with 300 dpi resolution and ran directly into the main conflict issue between risograph print and watercolour, namely colour separation. Ironically, the same lightness and mixing of colours that gives watercolour its beauty and charm, makes its conversion into riso layers a proper pain in the neck.

However, magic wand in Photoshop, with tolerance upped to  78 (it needs a bit of playing around in order to find the best value) did a decent job. Not perfect, but decent – luckily this type of watercolour painting does not need absolute exactness.


Clearly, none of the layers are separated cleanly, but for printing it didn’t actually prove to be a problem (in terms of the end result). I’m not sure whether it is an issue of the separation method I chose or it is simply inevitable that below a certain level of darkness, Photoshop doesn’t seem to distinguish between colour and value.

Anyhow, as the next step, I converted all layers to greyscale. For this I used Irfanview, as there it can conveniently be done with one click (I’m not particularly good with Photoshop, so I use Irfanview for most things). Values remained unchanged.


And then to risograph… Unfortunately I forgot to save the orange layer on its own, but together with blue it already looked pretty promising.


In fact, riso seems to duplicate the watercolour effect rather well. And after adding the final, black layer:


The black layer left a stripe down from the beret, but as the whole image doesn’t have exact lines, it almost seems organic. Now, let’s see both the original and riso print next to each other:


Everything considered, I’d say that it worked. I used ordinary copy paper to make the riso print, and quite probably using a paper with some texture might have produced better results. Also, designwise, having the strongest colour (black beret) just at the upper edge of the image was a mistake, as it got stuck to the drum. Some space (from other experience, minimum 1 cm) at the upper edge is definitely necessary.

So. This was the success story. One of the next posts will be about the spectacular failure of using the same method on riso printing a comic.