Bragging sARTSurday: Plushies At Home

#plushie #plushieathome #seagull

In this week’s sARTSurday, I want to show off my own creation, for once.

Because of the lockdown, we had to sacrifice not just our conventions, but also our visits to Kew Gardens — and despite it reopening next month, we’re not sure if we feel safe enough to go and visit, since with diabetes I’m considered at risk. And Kew is where I would usually spend some time taking pictures with the weather we had… and that’s not happening any time soon.

Instead, since I started this weekly column, I have been taking quite a few more pictures inside the apartment. I even decided to invest in a couple of accessories for my camera to make it easier to take pictures of those and my art project — namely a flashgun, and an L-bracket (which will be useful even in Kew when I’ll be able to get there again.)

So for the past week or so, inspired by the last post header picture, I decided to take “candid” shots of the plushies that we have home. Most of these used to be on my desk at the office, both in Dublin and London — but given the current situation, they are likely going to stay at home for a while.

Good morning! Your usual?

I’m clearly not a professional photographer, I’m not even a particularly good photographer. But I thought it would make people smile to see them, and that’s all I care about.

If you want to see more pictures, particularly of squirrels, you can find them on Flickr, Facebook (separately from this blog) and Instagram. I have some more pictures to take of Star Wars plushies and LEGO sets, so keep your eyes on them if you’re into those.

Sweet Slice of Life: Sarah Graley

It’s a bittersweet time to post this, but very sweet content in it, so I hope it’ll brighten your days, as all sARTSurdays aim to. This weekend was meant to be the MCM Comic Con weekend in London, but in the current situation, the ExCeL center where it was supposed to take place is still the NHS Nightingale, as far as I can tell. With the rescheduled July date also cancelled, we’re currently not sure when, or even if, we’ll be back to a convention. And in particular at this MCM we were planning to look out for Sarah and Stef (again), to grab the set of Our Super Adventure books.

At the last MCM (October 2019), we were just walking the floor when we saw a giant kitty showing clearly on top of the booths — cat people as we are, me and my wife ran straight towards it. We had at that point no idea what Sarah and Stef were — but the Pesto plushie was too cute not to pick up, so we bought it, and for the following day I had her mischievous glare staring out of my bag.

A little later we were queueing for my photoshoot turn with Simon Pegg and decided to take a look at the comic — and loved it! But content warning: if you’re the type of person who suffers being alone or lonely, it might be bad for your mood. I know that I wouldn’t have appreciated the comic nearly as much, if I hadn’t found it as a newlywed. But otherwise, it’s one of the sweetest and cutest online comic I’ve ever read — and positive, too! It’s not trying to make it sound like life is completely carefree, but it’s also making light fun of the harder moments of a relationship, and that made out outright laugh on the floor of the con.

Our plan for this MCM was to go and see them again, and pick up a book or two (or three) — we had a preference to pick it up directly from them, also to thank them for the many laugh we got from their comic — but given the situation, online ordering will do. And this weekend there’s an exclusive pin thrown in, which was supposed to be exclusive for the MCM. (Sigh, I did say bittersweet, right? Every time I type MCM I’m sighing.)

In addition to Our Super Adventure, which is posted on their website, Sarah’s Instagram and Facebook page, and probably a few more syndication websites, they stream their game sessions on Twitch, where this very Saturday they have been running an “Our Super Stream Con” from home. (Although by the time you read this post it’s probably mostly over, unfortunately).

So if you’re up for a sweet laugh, particularly while laying in bed with your significant other after an exhausting lockdown day, give a read to Sarah’s and Stef’s adventures. You won’t regret it.

Metal Spotlight: Beast in Black

I have overlooked music in this past series of sARTSurdays, and it’s time to fix this mistake, with a metal band that is close to my heart — Beast in Black. And the reason they are close to my heart is that it was thanks to them that I met my wife — she was coming to the Rhapsody Reunion concert to see them being support, while I was there for the main act.

As you probably can guess by, uh, everything up to now (title, Rhapsody’s involvement, the style of the T-Shirts, …), Beast in Black are a metal band, and so if you don’t like that kind of music it’s unlikely you’ll be interested, but if you are, stay with me. It’s not just metal, it’s metal with 80s throwbacks, pretty much what our generation would find nostalgic if we ever went into that kind of music. Which is why my wife loved them from early on, and I found myself appreciating them with gusto.

I think that for me personally, part of the pleasure is that they are not bass-heavy music — my ears tends to prefer higher pitch sounds (funny how ears work), which is why I originally started listening to Dragonforce. So between Yannis’s voice and Anton’s guitar work, my wife didn’t have much work to convince me.

Speaking of Yannis, make sure you check out his YouTube Channel — in addition to singing in Beast in Black, he’s releasing vocal covers of… lots. Nightwish? Check. Disney’s Frozen? Check. Zayn (uh?)? Check. I shouldn’t be surprised that he seems to have quite the fan club, as proven by the folks we chatted with in the queue to see them in Amsterdam.

Okay so I should probably point out that we can come out a bit… strong in our support. After seeing them in London the night we met, my wife went to Japan explicitly to see them at a festival there, and together we saw them again in London (twice), and then went to Amsterdam and Budapest for two of their concerts — taking the time to make a proper holiday out of them. And thinking back, I’m fairly sure I gained a few kilos in Budapest, the food was so good.

You may have noticed from the t-shirt picture the Beast riding a very surprised unicorn. For once this is not a reference to Unstable Unicorns, but rather to the band joining the Scottish band Gloryhammer in their British Isles tour — Gloryhammer being known for the Unicorn Invasion of Dundee, which does make me wonder whether there’s something up in Scotland when it comes to supernatural invasions.

So, pick your poison between Spotify, Google Play Music YouTube Music, Apple Music, Amazon Music, CDs, vinyl, cassette tape — and have a listen. Pump up the volume (if you can, your mileage may vary depending on whether your neighbours would like the music), and enjoy some “expensive cheese”, as Derek once said.

Artist Spotlight: Patrick’s Art Room

As you might have noticed from the previous post about Sezzadactyl, we like our Pokémon art. And while a lot more people might have seen Joshua Dunlop‘s Pokémon Zoology renderings (and we have some of his art as well), today I want to put a spotlight on a less well known, but totally worthy artist, who we have seen multiple times in the past few years.

Patrick’s Art Room in particular has a very distinctive mark: the terrariums. These sizable dioramas set into a Pokéball are very eye-catchy at a conference, and I have to say we had trouble deciding on which one to get for home — we might get more later on, because they are just so cute.

In addition to the terrariums, Patrick has lots of other cute art. The same pictures can be found in various formats, including as cushion covers, and the postcard format you see in the picture. We went for postcard size this time because we didn’t know where else to fit everything otherwise, and we loved the red/white colour on the frame and mount, to stick with the Pokéball theme. The frame is, by the way, again from Frame Company.

It’s not just Pokémon, though — other games, and mashups of other games with Pokémon, with a very soft texture that fits neatly both the cushion covers and the canvases.

If you want to follow Patrick’s work, in addition to Instagram, you can find him on Facebook. And hopefully soon at the conventions, when they restart.

Clothing Showcase: Genki Gear

A selection of Genki Gear shirts — and a Latte plushie!

This week’s sARTSurday is not going to be surprising for any convention goer in the UK, given that Genki Gear is a staple at conventions around here (and in Ireland, too!) Which makes it more sad not having seen them around in so long now.

Known for their quirky, original t-shirts, some not really safe for work (even when honest), they recently started adding plushies licensed from Tokidoki and BT21 (which you may know for stickers on various messengers — or, if you visited Los Angeles in the past couple of years, for the huge cutesy store, downtown.)

Their webshop has content for pretty much any taste. D&D? Check. Cat people? Check. Terrible puns? Check. Not safe for work jokes? Check. Big fluffy ears? Check.

Also, the folks running Genki Gear are good folks. Not only they have some of the most inclusive range of shirts and gadgets, but during this situation they have been boosting other traders on their Facebook page, which was a great thing to see.

On the photo you can also see the one shirt I have that is a convention exclusive — for the defunct Nine Worlds Geekfest in London — which again shows the care they put on making products available even for smaller events (when compared to other events happening in London, that is).

I also want to spend a word or two on the quality of those shirts: they are soft, and warm, and nicely printed. You can possibly notice that the Nine Worlds shirt is a bit worn off — but that’s because I have used it many times (it’s one of my favourite colours), and I used to just put everything in the tumble drier with not much care. And it still looks better than some other shirts in my closet. So don’t worry about that. If you’re not as bad as me to care for clothes, they’ll last forever!

sARTSurday Sci-Fi Books

Not all arts is visual — and so after a number of terrific visual artists, let me bring you some written words artistry. And because I’m trying to just point people at arts rather than provide full book reviews, I’m going to point at a few different authors and different content.

First of all, my Gentoo-focused readers can possibly remember Tobias Klausmann as a Gentoo developer — some of my ex-colleagues might remember Tobias as a colleague as well. The Slingshot Trilogy is an awesome science fiction trilogy of books, that take place in a distant future, where technology progressed, but human interaction… pretty much stayed the same.

Tobias’s work was particularly enjoyable for me, not just because he’s a friend, but because it’s lightweight, it’s dark and gritty, but it also comes with a positive message that if somehow we work together, we can change things. I like that. We have plenty of terrible negative narratives out there.

Speaking of a bit more dark books, this month John Scalzi‘s The Interdependency trilogy came to conclusion with The Last Emperox. This is a bit more gritty, definitely more adult-oriented (and at times NSFW) sci-fi. This is one of the funniest series I’ve read in a while, starting from the various names of starships, but also considering the way characters behave and all.

From adult to young adult, Brandon Sanderson, of Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive fame, published over the past couple of years two out of a sci-fi book series called Skyward. It’s much more clearly aimed at young adults, and it avoids swearing, any more adult themes, and so on.

Of this whole set of sci-fi books, this is the one that I would suggest for those who are looking for readings for teens, or who prefer some more lighthearted readings. I definitely enjoyed it even at my age, particularly because Sanderson is a real artist with words!

To switch again gear, Chen Qiufan‘s Waste Tide is another awesome title, and he brings you not to another galaxy but, if you like me grew up in continental Europe, to a completely different culture. The book take place “fifteen minutes into the future” in China.

While I’m sure that for quite a few people reading this post China is not that far of a place, or that unknown either, I have to say that for me it has been a mystery up to a few years ago. I took a shine to Chinese sci-fi after listening to Christine‘s talk a few years ago, while I was supporting a whole product development team in Shanghai — it was actually very helpful to have a (small) inkling about the different culture when I landed in the city to work closely with them, and I started keeping an eye on anthologies and new books.

Chen Qiufan’s book is probably my favourite when it comes to the “expansion” of the story, and I totally recommend it, even more so in the current political situation.

Happy reading!

Artist Spotlight: MrEchoAngel

Back to the convention scene for our artist of the week! MrEchoAngel is an artist that we saw multiple times at conventions in London last year — and I’m glad I managed to find them the second time while my wife was busy somewhere else, so I could surprise her with the set of lovely Studio Ghibli art cards that you see pictured on the right.

The brown paper look of the prints is what probably attracted me at first, but the way the artist is presenting the well known characters makes my heart warm — every time I see Jiji I want to scratch his belly!

Despite not being a particular fan of the frames I used here – they are not from my now-usual supplier – I find the 4-in-row arrangement very satisfying for the prints. I was happy to show it to MrEchoAngel themselves when we stumbled across them again later last year.

Like many other artists on the convention scene, you can also find quite a few vinyl stickers, which for a lot of tech-conference goers, at the very least, tend to translate to laptop stickers. I have honestly stopped sticking things on my laptop simply because I kept scratching them, but I found that there’s another good use for them: identify (and name) devices that you have multiples of in the same environment: powerbanks, Kindles, Nintendo Switch, … This works not only when using them at home, but most importantly when you meet up with friends.

Subject matter wise, take a look at their Instagram, as well as the website. You’ll find a variety of different anime and videogames. As well as a number of original characters that might not be entirely safe for work (although, with everyone working from home, that might be less of an issue).

Comedians Spotlight: Sarah Millican and Jen Brister

Visual arts (i.e. paintings, drawings) are not the only arts. And definitely not the only arts that we enjoy in our household. After we started going out, I introduced my wife to the idea of British and Irish comedians, and we started enjoying live performances as well. Among those, there’s two that I think pair up very well together, and do for a good sARTSurday post: Sarah Millican and Jen Brister.

I knew of Sarah because of QI and Museum of Curiosity — she was the Curator before, and I really had a good laugh with her, and I ended up listening to the audiobook version of her autobiography, How to be Champion, which she’s actually reading on her YouTube Channel during this lockdown period. We like her, particularly because she’s “one of us” — to reuse the words from one of her shows, a “cheery childless”: not having kids and not interested to have any If you’re among us, you probably would enjoy her shows a lot.

I didn’t know about Jen — until we went to see a live recording of Museum of Curiosity at Broadcasting House, and she was a guest. She was smashing! We laughed a ton, she kept the whole recording running and fun, and we really wanted to see her live again. We had a chance at the recording of Sarah’s show Elephant in the Room just a few weeks later. And it was also a very funny evening.

And when her Edinburgh show Under Privilege came to London on Valentine’s Week — we knew what we had to do. The show was great fun, and as I expected it does make you quite a bit uncomfortable as a straight white cis man — but guess what? That’s a big chunk of the point! And Jen was a great guest selling and signing books in person by the bar. The show is meant to come back to Soho Theatre (in the heart of London’s comedy) this following June, hopefully, fingers crossed and all. If you happen to be from here, or happen to be in town, consider grabbing a ticket.

So what do you do to enjoy some of these comedians in your locked-down home? Here’s the good thing: Soho Theatre On Demand is the video-on-demand service by Soho Theatre. Jen’s set is in there, as are a number of other quality comedians. The Theatre is also under a lot of pressure due to the Covid-19 crisis, so providing them with a bit of income by streaming their best offerings help them as well.

Sarah’s shows are available even more widely. Chatterbox and Thoroughly Modern Millican are available for free on her YouTube channel. Control Enthusiast and Outsider Live are available on both Google Play Movies and Amazon Prime Video — and I would expect other platforms such as Apple TV, but I wouldn’t know about that one, sorry. Audible and Google Play Books have the BBC Radio 4 series Sarah Millican’s Support Group, which is also golden, and we both enjoyed it very much.

I already linked to Sarah’s biography, so let me not forget Jen’s The Other Mother. My wife has been reading it, so I have not had a chance to do that myself (for once, we have a physical copy rather than the Kindle version), but she’s definitely enjoying the read.

Artist Spotlight: Jenika Ioffreda

Micia is us: at home, around the world, at a concert.

This week’s focus is on an artist that is special to me and my wife both — Jenika is a friend, and comes all the way from Italy. I first met her back in Dublin, at what at the time was the MCM Comic Con, and we kept bumping into each other at various cons, both in Dublin and London over the years.

Her work is focused on Micia — the black cat you can see above, following effectively our family life: at home, around the world, and at metal concerts, but it’s not just cutesy prints, it’s also a character from her very own comic book story.

Micia has been for months the first thing we see when we wake up, as the frames are directly across our bed, and it makes us smile.

Since this year’s convention scene is likely going to be significantly scaled down, make sure to stop by if you see her, and keep yourself posted by liking her page.

Also you can see more great frames from Frame Company — we loved the colour (Candy purple), and they executed great for the custom mounts to keep the related pictures side-by-side.

Artist Spotlight: Sezzadactyl

A sampler of different art by Sezzadactyl

The times are bleak, with a fourth of the World’s population under lockdown or quarantine. I don’t particularly like dark times, and so I would rather bring some fresh air and happiness to people instead. For this reason, I decided to add a third weekly post on my blog, not to rants, or technical content, but rather as a way to show off more artists that deserve appreciation, and probably the support of those who can share, given that conventions are being cancelled left and right.

Sezzadactyl was at the top of my list. Her art is awesome, we stumbled across her booth at the MCM Comic Con London last year, but we were in a hurry at first (I had a photoshoot booked), and we just promised to come back. Unfortunately we forgot to write down the booth we were at, so it took us a while to find her again, but we were very happy to have a chance to get some prints of hers.

And we didn’t stop there. My wife got me as presents her 2018 and 2019 art books, for my birthday and Christmas. I was (and am) so happy, because I really couldn’t choose which prints to get!

As you can tell from the Instagram feed, she covers a wide range of subjects, from Pokémon (which admittedly was the first thing that caught our eyes) to Studio Ghibli characters, to video games, to dragons and pets.

Her Etsy store is currently on hiatus, but I do recommend, if you like her work, to get a notification for when it’ll reopen. As you can see we already have quite a few pieces, but we’ll look forward to get more in the future!

By the way, I want to give a shout out to Frame Company, where we bought the frames and mounts you see in the picture above. We have so far ordered more than a dozen frames from them, and they don’t just have a great selection to match any art style, but they do custom mounts, including multi-opening ones (you’ll see more of them in the future).