Saturday, February 18, 2017

Of rabbits and ninjas...

It must have been 10 years ago when our Bujinkan Miko Dojo moved its summer training to a nearby park. To communicate this change of location to my fellow ninjas, I taped a note to the front window of the school which had been kind enough to let us use their gym. However, after one week I found the note had been removed.

I restored the note, only to find it removed the week after. It looks like the school was not too keen on blowing its insurgent ninja activity cover. This required firm measures. Ninja measures.

I designed a little sign with an cheeky homage to Dick Bruna's ever-popular Miffy character, or nijntje as she is called in Dutch: "Miffy trains outside". For the rest of summer, the school tolerated my note on its front window.

Dick Bruna has always been known for guarding his little rabbit girl against abuse: he objected to cruel jokes about 'nijn eleven' and 'nijn kampf'. This week he passed away, at the age of 89. I still wonder what his response to my ninja nijntje would have been...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Happy little poems III

In Nederland - J. Slauerhoff

In Nederland wil ik niet leven,
Men moet er steeds zijn lusten reven,
Ter wille van de goede buren,
Die gretig door elk gaatje gluren.
'k Ga liever leven in de steppen,
Waar men geen last heeft van zijn naasten:
Om ‘t krijschen van mijn lust zal zich geen reiger reppen,
Geen vos zijn tred verhaasten.

In Nederland wil ik niet sterven,
En in de natte grond bederven
Waarop men nimmer heeft geleefd.
Dan blijf ik liever hunkrend zwerven
En kom terecht bij de nomaden.
Mijn landgenooten smaden mij: "Hij is mislukt."
Ja, dat ik hen niet meer kon schaden,
Heeft mij in vrijheid nog te vaak bedrukt.

In Nederland wil ik niet leven,
Men moet er altijd naar iets streven,
Om ‘t welzijn van zijn medemenschen denken.
In het geniep slechts mag men krenken,
Maar niet een facie ranslen dat het knalt,
Alleen omdat die trek mij niet bevalt.
Iemand mishandlen zonder reden
Getuigt van tuchtelooze zeden.

Ik wil niet in die smalle huizen wonen,
Die leelijkheid in steden en in dorpen
Bij duizendtallen heeft geworpen...
Daar loopen allen met een stijve boord
- Uit stijlgevoel niet, om te toonen
Dat men wel weet hoe het behoort -
Des Zondags om elkaar te groeten
De straten door in zwarte stoeten.

In Nederland wil ik niet blijven,
Ik zou dichtgroeien en verstijven.
Het gaat mij daar te kalm, te deftig,
Men spreekt er langzaam, wordt nooit heftig,
En danst nooit op het slappe koord.
Wel worden weerloozen gekweld,
Nooit wordt zoo'n plompe boerenkop gesneld,
En nooit, neen nooit gebeurt een mooie passiemoord.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Call the police!

Making someone pay for a new logic board, and installing a patched up oldie instead fits the legal definition of a scam, so I decided to report my problem with Apple to the police.

The front desk officer glanced through my case and decided he did not have time for me, and asked me to make an appointment for a date later that week.

When I returned a few days later, a female officer apologized for the miscommunication, and told me she was not going to file my complaint, as this was a matter of civil law. I explained to her, once more, that taking someone's money for a product which is never installed is a clear case of a scam, so I asked her for the second time to file my complaint. She refused again, this time with the argument I could not prove anything, after which I explained that this is not required for reporting a crime. I asked her a third time to file my complaint, after which she refused, because the prosecutor would dismiss my case anyways. I repeated my arguments but the lady would not budge, so I gave up and went home to prepare further steps.

I learnt that the Dutch police is legally obliged to file a complaint (Code of Criminal Procedure, article 163) and the proper way to handle this is to file a complaint with the police, and to report the issue with the prosecutor's office, so that is what I did. My complaint was responded to by a standard letter and a phone call, and a few weeks later I was invited to report my case.

During my third visit a complaint against MacCity, MicroFix and Apple Inc. was filed, after which I went home with a fancy folder with the report. A few weeks later I received a letter which told me that my case was dismissed, as it was a matter of civil law. When I reread the report, I realized the crux of my case was not worded properly, as it merely suggested the new logic board was non-conform, so I reported once more to the police station to file an addendum.

As usual, the front desk officers did not have time, and this time they were not even willing to make an appointment: I had to contact them through a paid phone number. When I finally got in front of the queue, I got my appointment, and reported to the police for the fifth time.

This time, I was met at the front desk by the lady who had initially refused to file my case. She did not wear her police uniform, and immediately opened fire: she thought I had understood her and found it low that I had filed a complaint against her anyways. I tried to explain I had understood her, but did not agree with her, had asked her three time to file a complaint, that she had refused three times, which was for me a reason to try other channels, but the lady was not really interested in my defense. She barked "THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE SCREAMED: 'DON'T DO THIS TO ME! I DEMAND YOU TO FILE MY COMPLAINT NOW'." I fruitlessly tried to explain this is not my style of arguing, but the woman had already reverted to scream-only mode. I filed my addendum with a colleague of hers, and have not heard of it ever since.

This week, I read that Dutch crime rate is grossly underestimated, because the Dutch are no longer taking the effort to report crime: the bulk of all crimes reported is ignored by the police. It looks like the Dutch police has disintegrated into an introverted organization which is interested in itself only. The future of this country is that of a Mad Max desert where every man solves his own problems. Well, at least this means problems are solved.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Klachtenkompas complaint

I spent a couple of postings about the worrisome state of consumer rights in The Netherlands, and the way Apple cs. makes clever use of this to takes people's money. One of the steps I have not mentioned yet, is registering a complaint with Klachtenkompas, a site of the Consumentenbond.

Klachtenkompas promotes itself as a facility where you can issue a complaint, after which the relevant company takes action to solve your problem. As is often the case, reality is less idyllic: Klachtenkompas simply forwards your complaint, and relays the company's response, if any, back to you. Companies like Apple, which is expert in ignoring customer complaints, typically ignore emails from Klachtenkompas, so you might as well trash the complaint yourself: Klachtenkompas takes no action at all.

I did complain about Klachtenkompas itself, as its website is misleading, but the Consumentenbond, who is all too eager to publicly scold companies for ignoring complaints, remained silent. One employee mentioned that she seemed to remember about revamping the site, and her colleagues might choose to reword the relevant phrases, but she was not clear about a time frame in which things were going to be fixed. Six months after, nothing had changed.

I took it one step further, and registered a complaint with the Stichting Reclame Code (SRC), a Dutch institute which sees to it that commercials and advertisements conform to the rules as recorded in the Nederlandse Reclame Code. The SRC protocol allows the defendant to respond to the complaint, as well as the plaintiff to respond to that response, so the procedure took a while.

The Consumentenbond defended itself by referring to its terms of use, where they state that a successful solution cannot be guaranteed. In my response, I stressed this is a little weak for an organization that has more than once reprimanded companies for hiding aggravating conditions in their small print.

The SRC declared my complaint founded, and advised the Consumentenbond to stop promoting their Klachtenkompas in the contested wording (File 2016/00841 ). Although, the SRC is not authorised to issue a verdict with binding force, or to impose a penalty, its verdicts are usually seen as authoritative.

The Consumentenbond changed the Klachtenkompas site the same day, which lead to user complaints about inaccessible accounts and complaints disappearing. It shows all the signs of a haphazard redesign, with the cheap slogan "Met klachtenkompas sta je sterker" ("You are stronger with klachtenkompas"). It looks tongue-in-cheek but, as far as I can tell, does not break any rules of conduct.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My life with Kimon Nicolaides - Epilogue

Having worked myself twice through the bulk of 'The Natural Way to Draw', independently as well as supported by a variety of teachers, I dare say I am entitled to phrase my opinion on this workbook. Yes, the experience was Spartan, and, no, I do not believe it was worth the time and effort. Having spent four years at Max the Mutt, drawing from the model about eight hours a week, sketching on the streets of Toronto at least half an hour daily, I can only admit my drawing skills are basic.

In a nutshell, I believe the problem with Nicolaides is that he was an academic, as opposed to an artist. The art of his hand that has survived the twentieth century lacks the solid observational drawing skills I expect to see from an experienced teacher. It is possible that proof of his draftsmanship is securely locked away from the eye of the aspiring student, but for now I believe his work satisfies the qualification of being 'artsy-fartsy'. Kimon Nicolaides talked the talk; he could not walk the walk.

Of the few things I do agree with, the most pregant is that 'There is only one way to draw, and that is the perfectly natural way', and I do believe Nicolaides was sincerely trying to teach his understanding of this natural way. The same holds for teachers like Andrew Loomis, Michael Mattesi, and Glenn Vilppu, who all teach their view on the matter, each striking chords the others miss. In addition, their teaching job is severely complicated by the fact that students are unique, and a good teacher acknowledges this diversity. This is exactly where Max the Mutt fails, trying to cram its students in the founder's ragged old corset.

What has made Nicolaides' approach so popular over the past one-hundred years is its Spartan approach. It is easy to fall in the same trap as the disciples of  Malcolm Gladwell who believe that 10,000 hours of practice are sufficient to achieving world-class expertise in a field of choice, ignoring the original observation that the "10,000 hours rule" expresses a necessary condition. Just as running for 42 kilometers in the wrong direction does not make one a marathon finalist, completing The Natural Way to Draw does not make one an artist, although it is quite an accomplishment!

Another factor that contributes to the book's popularity is that it provides teachers a detailed curriculum. There is no more thinking about telling students what to do, how to and when to do it: work for three hours according to Schedule 13! Grading is a breeze: just score your students' efforts! Serious teachers will prefer to focus on students progress and skills, as opposed as their shutting up and doing as they are told, but for lazy teachers The Natural Way to Draw is a godsend.

Apart from Kimon Nicolaides being neither effective nor efficient, I believe his approach is not suited for the absolute beginner: I remember the fellow students who got the most out of it had already completed some form of art school, or at least had a solid grasp of the human figure. This is also acknowledged by accomplished illustrator and former Max the Mutt teacher Richard Pace in The Evils of Kimon Nicolaides. I believe there is wisdom in Andrew Loomis' Figure Drawing for all it's worth, where he first introduces human proportions and then presents his students with a simplified manikin as a starting point.

I am looking forward to the opportunity, one Glorious Day, to discuss life drawing with Kimon Nicolaides. I am sure he will agree to include Loomis, Mattesi and Vilppu for a good art class where everything life drawing will come together. For now, in this time and space, I will conclude by paraphrasing the Dutch computer science pioneer E.W. Dijkstra: "Kimon Nicolaides considered harmful."

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My life with Kimon Nicolaides - Part 2

My quest for a unified approach to art education culminated in Operation Switch, and I decided to enroll in Max the Mutt, an animation school which adheres to the teachings of Kimon Nicolaides.

I had been looking forward to go through 'The Natural Way to Draw' for a second time, under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher, only to find that my teachers were either sticking to one interpretation of the book, or just religiously following its exercises to the letter. My first Max the Mutt teacher made me do gestures blindly, i.e. without looking at the paper, hissing "fasterfasterfaster!" which was a complete disaster for me. My eye-hand coordination has always been bad, and my drawings ended as unintelligible scribblings. It was not until I decided to ignore her that my gestures started to make sense.

She was a believer. I remember she challenged us to show her even one sentence from the book which contained no truth, although she appreciated me pointing to Nicolaides' suggestion to order materials from the Art Student's League of New York, 215 West 57th Street, New York City. Fortunately, every now and then she was able to fill some of the gaps in my understanding of the matter. It was a real eye opener for me to learn that the Blind Contours exercise was all about line quality.

When working myself through the book for the second time, the nagging feeling that the exercises did not really amount to my drawing skills never left me. The enthusiasm of my teacher, who rewarded my efforts with High Passes and, eventually, Honours, made this even worse, as she seemed to mostly award students following directions, while she did not seem to be able to answer most of my questions about the approach.

I am still smiling when I think of her presenting Reverse Poses: we were to draw the model as seen in the mirror. When I asked, confused, where this mirror was supposed to be, she first claimed it did not really matter. When I looked even more confused she added "No no, the mirror is behind you!" and when I looked over my shoulder, she concluded "and you must draw what the model sees in that mirror". When she realized she had just lost the complete group of sixteen students, she told us to draw whatever we wanted to.

Throughout my first year, I was shocked to find how my drawing hand had started a life of its own. Whenever I was stuck in a drawing, usually because of lack of understanding of the pose, the structure of the human body or its anatomy, my right hand started to scribble frantically, as if to compensate for my lack of knowledge. I believe this misperformance was a consequence of my teachers' emphasis on drawing fasterfasterfaster, and of Nicolaides' prioritizing  feelings and intuition over solid skills and knowledge.

I do believe intuition and knowledge are two essential sides of the same medal, not just in art, but also in fields like mathematics and martial arts, and I feel that Nicolaides overly relies on the former. The vagueness of his approach to gestures, line quality and modeling strikes a chord in me, but the lack of solid technique and thorough understanding, as well as ignoring the outcome of the process, makes this intuition fall flat.

Fellow students introduced me to the teachings of Glenn Vilppu, and his thoughtful analysis of the pose, explaining how he guides the eye through the flow of the model presented me a whole new world. This man exactly taught what I found missing in Nicolaides!

My second year at Max the Mutt was a big disappointment when it came to life drawing. The same vague gospel of gesture was repeated over and over, and more emphasis was put on Quick Contours, where I was urged to draw faster in a way that had never worked for me. Seemingly pointless watercolor exercises were added, as well as box forms, modeled after the proportional model of Robert Beverly Hale. I kept working in my sketchbook religiously, and although my teacher seemed to like my work, I left this year with the feeling I had learned nothing.

The third year started well, with a new teacher who did not just talk the talk: he also walked the walk. Geordie Millar never failed to amaze me with his demos of life drawing and anatomy, in addition to being an established animal artist, well-connected to animation industry, having a broad and deep knowledge and experience in art and, overall, being a great guy. He did not so much care about following Nicolaides to the letter, seemed to be more into Vilppu, and breathed the latter's "There are no rules: there are only tools". On top of that, his positive mindset, challenging us to play, was a stark contrast with the negative reinforcement that permeated the school. I slowly felt how things came together, and started to make drawings I actually liked. I have no idea what happened, but Geordie did not last very long. The school's founder replaced him by no one else but herself.

This hard reset sent me back to square zero, with a teacher who barely knew what she was doing. She pragmatically made us repeat the few fragments from The Natural Way to Draw she liked or understood herself, and ignored everything else. In her Advanced Life Drawing course, she still maintained the course was not about making good drawings, categorically skipped the material on design and rhythm, did not want to see Daily Compositions, despite Nicolaides presenting these as the most important exercise of all. In addition to ignoring anything but the first few chapters, she introduced the vague notion of 'contour gesture' she could neither explain, demo or exemplify with course material, and she kept running in circles, stating this was the only way of drawing she could think of, which I believe is true, and that for any examples I was supposed to look at the work of the old masters.

I found some comfort in Andrew Loomis' 'Creative Illustration' which reads "We shall have no examples of Old Masters, for, frankly, what methods and procedures they used is virtually unknown" and concludes in all modesty that "There is but one course open for me if I am to stand with you for whatever value it has. You will thus have the chance to select what is of use to you." For your information, Andrew Loomis (1892-1959) was a renowned American illustrator.

I survived the Max the Mutt life drawing curriculum. My teacher was wildy enthusiastic about my sketchbooks and xeroxed the bulk of it for her archives, but, in all honesty, I have yet to find a single studio representative who shows even a minute interest in my work. So, I discarded my experience with Nicolaides and the Max the Mutt life drawing curriculum as a supreme misfortune where theory outstrips performance, to quote Leonardo once more.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My life with Kimon Nicolaides - Part I

My next stop was Kimon Nicolaides' The Natural Way to Draw, a classic from 1941 with no less than a Spartan reputation: it guides the aspiring artist through a curriculum of 25 schedules, each of which takes 15 hours to complete. Not discouraged by the cheesy cover blurb that promised it to be "not only the best how-to book on drawing, it is the best how-to book we've seen on any subject", I decided to go for it. As I was unemployed, I had the time to follow Nicolaides to the letter.

I believe Nicolaides is mostly remembered for coining the term 'gesture', meaning the action of the pose. However, he frustrated the living shit out of me with his 'draw not what the thing looks like, not even what it is, but what it is doing', and the examples in the book are not very helpful either. I did follow his directions of drawing 'rapidly and continuously in a ceaseless line, from top to bottom, around and around, without taking the pencil off the paper' without ever feeling I got anything out of it. However, letting the pencil wander around became a habit, which, like so many other habits, started to feel good.

The other directions from the book were not as problematic for me, and with iron discipline I drew myself through the exercises of blind contours, quick contours, modelling in crayon, ink and watercolour, composition, drapery, design and analysis. And yet, even after completing the full working plan, I neither felt nor understood how things came together into a coherent body of skills. The main thing I got out of The Natural Way to Draw was the benefit of drawing every day, but I am confident I would have experienced the same amount of progress, or lack thereof, if I had filled up the pages on my own.

Although the experience was a frustrating one, I did feel some formulae resonating in my mind. The book opens with a Da Vinci quote: "The supreme misfortune is when theory outstrips performance" and I cannot even begin to explain how much I agree, both from my past life in computer science and my attempts to study art; however, it was exactly this misfortune I felt having completed the Nicolaides work plan. Another tidbit is "The sooner you make your first five thousand mistakes, the sooner you will be able to correct them". Nicolaides kept bugging me...

The more I think about it, the more I see this as the weakness of his approach. I totally agree on emphasising the action of the pose, but doing so without paying attention to structure or proportions makes absolutely no sense to me.