A Kindle ereader

A Year of Reading Dangerously

So it turns out I’m not much of a blogger. I design, I make, I craft, I read… But not so much the blogging in 2018.

I thought I’d attempt a dramatically titled comeback post because this year I have been well and truly glued to the Kindle. Scoff if you like; I’m still a big affectionado of the real-life strokable hardback or humble mass-market paperback. It’s just that when waiting around in hospital for 4-5 hours (that happened in an rapid access DVT clinic no less) you need something to do. Reading is good. Finished that first book already? If only there was something else on hand to read- Oh wait, there are a whole load more ebooks right here. So while a real, tangible book is nice, portability and practicality means my little old second hand Kindle has become my friend.

It’s also meant that this year I really discovered indie fiction. Self-published books can have a bad reputation, and to be honest, it’s not always wrong. You can’t be sure if that sweet romantic fantasy novel is going to suddenly include acts of brutal violence that an editor could have pointed out didn’t fit the tone, or if the sentences are going to be typo-riddled, or have grammar issues (fellow apostrophe fans will know what I mean).

And yet when you find that gem amoungst the seaglass (you know the ones – beautifully polished covers but the content… not so much) it’s something special. I have never been more amazed by the art of writing, especially by many of the indie authors I’ve come to know and love this year. Some have even been kind enough to talk to me. As an anxious person, it’s hard to remember that these are normal people. They just write things. Good things. Amazing things. And if you want them to know that, you should tell them. So I did. They deserve to know that their work has given positive meaning to someone’s life, and to be thanked for sharing it with the world. I’ve also been a bit of a busy-body about some things: typos and grammar. Indie authors are human like the rest of us and can’t always catch every misplaced letter or damn-you-autocorrect word swap. While it’s been frightening to speak up, the vast majority of authors have been receptive. Even more amazingly, I’ve been allowed to join ARC teams (you receive an Advanced Reader Copy of a book before it goes on sale and leave a review on Amazon and/or GoodReads). Some authors like feedback in general, others might just like if you pick out a typo, but they’ve all been very nice people to support.

I’ve learned a lot from reading. It can be as simple as not judging a book by its cover to discovering the meaning of the word “finagled”. I even know what people mean when they say they’re looking for a YA RH PNR with a HEA (that’s a Young Adult Reverse Harem Paranormal Romance with a Happily Ever After to the uninitiated).

This post is a bit of a thank you to all those indie authors and GoodReads lurkers who have been such wonderful people to me this year. I’ll have to do a post celebrating my favourites ASAP. Who knows, maybe blogging about books as well as design could help me practice my own writing… Even if it is only to blog more often.

Be seeing you.

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Christmas Tree Upcycle

Craft Exploits: Christmas in August? And other adventures with paint

I said I’d update on my crafting, so here goes nothing.

I missed the Christmas in July event, and it’s still a bit early for the real thing but I finally finished off my Christmas tree! This was one of those unloved charity shop finds when I was volunteering after Christmas. It was originally a sickly shade of red with brown, not to mention split at the bottom, covered in scuffs, scratches and stains, and missing hanging loops for those cute little German ornaments. So of course I made a donation to save it from the bin, took it home and got to work (then got sidetracked by various other things, hence it only just being done!)xmastree2017.jpgOK, so it’s still missing some hooks, but it’s rejigged to only have the central ones empty. And OK, some of the ornaments have seen better days. But now it’s blue the ornaments really stand out, and if the empty spaces look too bothersome I could glue in some eye pins to hang some sparkly beads.

There’s something about volunteering to stock sort at a charity shop that can make you become determined to try and make something better out of poor unloved items. One manager had to always remind me “you can’t save them all”. Sometimes it’s worth it.

Like how about this wooden doll’s bed? It was a rickety Ikea thing with watermarks and crayon making it unsalable. I gave it the sand-paint-varnish treatment and ran up a little pillow and cover. I covered the bottom panel in fabric too which stopped it rattling around.dollbed.jpg The pink paint was kindly donated by one of the customers who had found out I upcycled for the shop, and the fabric pieces are from what’s considered “rag” (aka unable to sell, goes for recycling). It was sold for by the charity within a few days. Hopefully it’ll make someone happy!

I think that’s enough paint for now (and there have been many painty projects!)

Be seeing you.

Cross stitch patterns for YellowBirdieStitches on Etsy

Back again

So… It’s been a while.

Poor health, getting caught in up hospital paperwork, and extra long waiting lists for operations don’t really make you feel like blogging regularly. Or at all it seems (2014?!)

So other than the bad bits, what have I been up to? Crafts have become a big thing, especially in light of needing something to do while waiting/recovering from hospital. I’m making cross stitch patterns based on my sister Vicky Scott’s illustration (available on her Vicky’s World Etsy shop) and more recently opened my own Etsy shop of designs: Yellow Birdie Stitches (more to come soon!). Volunteering is something as well that’s helped. It’s led to more craft opportunities such as painting chairs and a doll’s house for a local charity shop, as well as doing a few video intros for charity films based on learning and health.

Cross stitch and upcycling projects

Clockwise from top left: Vicky’s World cross stitch, Yellow Birdie Stitches cross stitch, a chair for upcycling, a Scandinavian doll’s house

Hopefully I’ll be able to do do a few posts my crafty exploits as well as a few more K-pop packaging pretties and other musings on graphics, games and curiosities (you would not believe some of the things that end up in a charity shop…).

Be seeing you (I hope!)

Another year down

So, 2014, how were you?

Design
Videos! Gifs! Animation! Websites are getting movement, and it’s not just parallax scrolling anymore. OK, so it’s a bandwidth killer for some of us, but it adds another curious element to a page. Do we have the attention span to take note of video background, or are they a more acceptable form of the autoplaying music? Tumblr is effectively spilling out onto the rest of the internet. The good: it’s different and another layer of interest. The bad: slow internet speeds are actually a problem for the majority of users without “super-fast” broadband (or even broadband in some areas), rendering some sites as painfully slow as 2005 MySpace covered with animated Flash banners urging you to hit the mosquito.
We’re also still big on the Metro squares and flat design (colours seem to be going to the extremes of either very pale or very bold to the point of clashing) only with more elements. Full screen landing pages with big text and a button is quite a big thing, but there’s more to it than that. Hand lettering, flat illustration, “real” photography over obviously staged stock images, images creatively cut out… It’s all natural progression from what started to appear last year. There’s nothing amazingly new here, but it’s evolving.

K-pop (Oh you knew it was coming)

Not bad at all. Not the best year, but some nice packaging and decent music to go with it. I present my award for The Most K-pop Video of 2014: Red Light by f(x). Dancing in a laser-filled box-room set, check. Pretty people wearing slightly odd clothing, check. Strange potentially symbolic imagery that has no meaning, check. A strange, disjointed song that on first listen is bizarre but will grow on you even when you still think it’s not quite your thing, check. You get the picture. I never thought I would like f(x), but after listening to the rest of the album on Spotify (yes, K-pop on Spotify happened this year) I was won over. Track 3, Nabi (Butterfly) sounds essentially like a pop song based on the Jill of the Jungle soundtrack, so consider me a fan. It’s also got quite nice packaging

Packaging-wise, special mentions for TVXQ’s two releases Spellbound and Tense, Super Junior’s Mamacita (another good album, also on Spotify) and Boyfriend’s WITCH. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these come to mind (and as I’ve said before, I’m a little bit biased towards SMEnt artists).

And me
Turns out 2014 was not wonderful. On a personal level things got pretty bad, particularly round September time (hence the lack of updates). Out of the blue I ended up in hospital. I’ve had one operation, so now I’m looking at a bit of a battle and a long waiting list for the one I really need to ensure I’m well again. I might even need hospital treatment before I get that far. It’s not a particularly stable time. But while it’s disappointing, perhaps there is some kind of opportunity here. Time to learn more, do more (albeit carefully), and just generally be prepared for when I can take control of my life again. Sometimes these things just happen and all you can do is try to make the most of a bad situation.

Happy New Year! Fingers crossed for 2015 🙂

We need a replay (君は僕のeverything)

OK, so it’s a Japanese release. But, y’know. It’s SHINee.

SHINEee – The First (2011)

What’s so great about this?

Style change. It’s a j-pop release, but it still has some of that SHINee scribbley-sketchy-doodle and ripped paper styling that turns up in a lot of their CDs. That said, the style seems a lot cleaner than their earlier k-pop albums. It’s becoming less personal and more commercial. It’s still big on odd fonts and random motifs (in this case it involves a rabbit and a slightly creepy clown) but it’s more vector based than hand drawn, although the vectors aren’t all clean cut computerised lines. It’s very boyband-y, but what did I expect from a k-popsicles-gone-to-Japan boyband? It’s still more interesting than a 40 page photobook purely of their faces (though some fans may disagree there).

Other than that it’s very… plaid. The photoshoot theme is another of those “give those kids some random props and see what they do with them”. Don’t get me wrong, I do quite like this album as an object, but it’s not as successful as some of their others in a similar style (like Romeo) or as nicely done as their second Japanese album Boys Meet U (that CD+DVD randomness with it’s prints, patterns and vectors will be mine one day, oh yes).

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that Helvetica for the lyrics? J-pop loves Helvetica, and not just for functional text. I’ll have to do a post on it one day.

Want to see more?

The album comes in a medium format book (almost A5) with the disc held in with a plastic CD clip (down with the tyranny of the foam circle tab!)

Anything to declare?

To-to-to-todoke to-to-to-to your heart.

This place is a paradise

Infinite – Paradise (2011)

What’s so great about this?

Wait, what is this thing? It’s a cardboard box with a sticker and you open it to find a massive photo book which houses a CD. It’s a bit like k-pop packaging pass-the-parcel. It sticks with cardboard-brown, deep pink and gold hues giving it a classy but back-to-basics fashion shoot feel. Compared to some of the other k-pop albums I’ve bought, this one has quite a quiet design and is pretty basic. That is not a bad thing. I think my favourite thing about Infinite CD packaging is how it’s keeps simple and cohesive but with some detail that makes it stand out, like the foil logos on the EPs or the unusual size cardboard case here. I can think of a few unusual k-pop albums made of different materials, usually vac-form plastic, but the plain old cardboard is something different.
As I’ve mentioned before, I also have a thing about the infinity logo that always changes. Most k-pop grounds don’t really do consistent branding, but the symbol allows for endless re-imagining while still being representative.

Want to see more?

Cardboard. Photobook. CD. Buy it new and it comes with a photocard (I’m not bitter that mine, secondhand, did not. Not bitter at all.)

Any more info?

Infinite are a 7 piece boyband whose sound has occasionally veered into 80s inspired territory (Exhibit A: Mini-Infinite’s single “She’s Back”). Their producer is often Sweetune, who’s done a great job of giving them a sound style. They’ve had a lot of EPs, 2 albums, a few sub-units, and goodness knows how many versions of the infinity symbol.

Infinite homepage (Kr)

Lets bring it back to 140 (+K-pop collectability)

Ayo GG! It’s inspiration time again.

Girls’ Generation – I Got A Boy (2013)

What’s so great about this?

It’s such a… a thing. A nice object, something you can keep coming back to and noticing more details of. The graffitti style motifs (one specific to each of the girls), the extra little flowery twists on the woodblock style type, Jessica Jung looking like a doll (omo, how are these girls even slightly real?), the insane mish-mash of styles and colours (and also the abuse of the font Lobster in all caps. All those flourishes together… No thanks). I do like the packaging overall even if some of the details are a little odd or grating (type in caps probably only bothers designers). The sheer brightness of it is k-pop in a nutshell. Try doing this anywhere else and it’d look like an identity crisis (well, it still does but sometimes k-pop works on the concept that a load of different concepts piled together are in fact one concept). My favourite part is the area on the back/inner front cover where all the motifs are used to create a repeating pattern.

Then there’s the collectability. Great for the record label, possibly not so great for fans’ wallets. Unwilling to go for the usual album + individual photocards, we’ve instead been given individual album designs. The nine girls each had their own version, plus one group version. That’s 10 possible covers! Each has their own distinct photobook, colour scheme and motif.

There are some downsides though. 10 covers mean if you want a certain member’s version, you might be out of luck. Mine is the Jessica version. Personally I think it has the best colour scheme out of the 10, although I like the photoshoots of some of the others more. And I really dislike the boy illustration/motif that Jessica got for her cover sticker, but again it’s personal preference.

See what I mean? And I’m not even a cover collecter. Some fans will hunt high and low to collect the version of their bias (favourite member of the group).

The other downside to this packagaing is the CD holder. While the front booklet is protected by the plastic slipcover, the disc is only held n place by a little bit of foam. Mine arrived having fallen off in the post (undamaged, thankfully). Other unboxings show the same having happened to other people, and their discs were brand new and shrinkwrapped! This album isn’t really travel friendly. I’m sure they sit nicely on a shelf though.

Want to see more?

Scroll over the version you’d like to see to be linked to the full unboxing or check out the version from my photos below:

The main box is a large rectangle format (slightly bigger than A5) that has the photobook in a tray at the front held in by a transparent plastic sleeve. The disc is held in an indent in the foam backing of the box, with a transparent disc cover featuring the girl whose version you have.

Bonus stage! : K-pop and Collectability

K-pop likes collectibles. While in the Western market that sort of thing is limited to special editions with small runs that come in a fancy box or have a poster and some extra tracks, k-pop believes everyone should be able to join in the fun. Yes, there are the super-duper-special-deluxe editions of certain things (although that happens more often with J-pop and Japanese releases), the best way of doing this appears to be the humble photocard. You buy your album or EP, open it up and out falls a picture of one of the group members. Haven’t got your bias? Trade it online, or buy another copy and cross your fingers. I wouldn’t count myself as a bias-collecting sort of person, but even I’ve been oddly disappointed or pleased by the card I’ve gotten in a new album. It’s playing on that Pokemon card idea of “gotta catch ’em all”.

There are some more problems for collectors. There can be Version A and Version B cards for ever individual member plus group shots. Sometimes there are limited runs of individual member cards, and everyone else gets the dreaded group card. Also there is the horror that is the “repackage” or re-release with new artwork and a bonus track or two, which never comes with a card. Buying second hand? The card will most likely be missing.

What’s a collector to do?