Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Three skills (and a hobby)

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Three things I will never forgive to my old school:
. The fact that they were never able to teach me mathematics properly
. The fact that they not only did not teach me music, but actually scared me away from it for a decade
. The fact that they completely killed my early passion for sketching

This is particularly frustrating because these are communication and self-expression skills (yes, maths too) skills that are also highly marketable.
Later I tried and taught myself what had been left out by inadequate teachers and poor school programs, but self-taught achievements are not the same one could reach had school done its part.

9780658000843-usI found out that I like mathematics when someone takes the time to kindly explain to me its connections with reality – and in the end I taught myself statistics (the most crude form of mathematics according to “proper” mathematicians) and was able to actually teach it in university.
I still read maths books with a certain amount of awe, but I can hold my own and give maths lessons to high school students.
Not bad.

252768And I taught myself to read and write music (with the help of two excellent books by a progressive musician named Dave Stewart1) and managed to become a very bad flute player (with a side line in tin whistles). It’s been a long while since I last practiced the flute, and currently my fingers are too gnarled with the early onset of arthritis to manage anything worth mentioning. But it was fun while I was having a go at it.

And then I am artistically inept.
Can’t make it really. It’s a matter of eye-hand coordination or whatever, I used to tell myself – but turned out it was not.
The real cause of my poor drawing skills is twofold:
. First, in primary school, we were actively discouraged when drawing and sketching were the issue – we were supposed to write, not to sketch. Indeed, I was quite adept at taking notes and writing under dictation.
. Second, when it came to art classes, my teachers were more interested in babbling about art than teaching us kids how to old a pencil and see as a firs step in identifying shapes and then put those shapes on paper.

Also, all my teachers had a savage aversion for erasers, so that we kids grew up with this idea that you must use the rubber eraser only when you make a mistake, and shamefully you have to erase and do it again.
The idea of using a soft pencil for building the shapes and then erasing them softly to do the definitive with a cleaner line was never explained to me.
I know, I know, I had some awful art teachers.

5161WpgxJHL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_Back when I was working the night shift in the control center of a switchboard, I got myself a copy of The Keys to Drawing, and lo and behold, it did teach me how to hold a frigging pencil and how to watch and sketch, in order to put on paper what the eye saw and not what the mind expected the eye to see. It was good, fun and refreshing, and finally being able, at the tender age of thirty-five, to sketch from real life models was a little triumph.

I also used a few handbooks about sketching and cartooning human and fantasy figures, but never went beyond the basic concept that “anything is just a bunch of ovals”

Now I’m going back to sketching, I’m using massively the tutorials found on Toad Hollowand I have half a mind of buying myself a drawing course online, to give some sort of structure to what I am doing. A guy needs a hobby, right?


  1. NOT the one from Eurhytmics, the one from Hatfield and the North. 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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