I have a new plant

This is Rubik. It is a ruby rubber tree or ruby fig tree. But it is small now and I hope it will like it on my table. So far it lost one leaf and I cannot get it to be shiny but the patterns on the leaves are driving me to draw it often! This is an acrylic markers version.

Sketching while waiting

Little things that happen everyday - waiting here or there, sometimes outside, sometimes inside, sometimes with people, sometimes without. These little glimpses into my everyday life took just a few minutes but I enjoy looking back at them. All of these were drawn with uniball pen vision (gray barrell) on a 4x6 strathmore drawing pad - by current pocket setup that is always with me. 

Adventures with Acrylic Paint Markers

I accumulated a stash of acrylic markers (mostly leftom from classes that I no longer run). Then I got a few more of the less conventional hues - because colors are candies, and I could not resist. These are quite blut and often unruly tools that can be delicate and precise with some planning and a little bit of patience. I've been exploring them in different ways lately. I think I enjoy them as background makers or masters of adding accents. But mixing colors with these is still not working for me. Next I will do some texture filled experiments. But for now - here are some examples of what I've done:

Drawn reports in the form of the portraits - war in Ukraine. September 13-17, 2022

September 13, 2022. Day 202 of the war.
Mom was full of energy. We talked about African violets that my grandma used to grow on all the windowsills. She told me about people she worked with in Kyiv and Kharkiv, and how her thesis defense went all those years ago. We remembered some family members from the generation before her. Dad was having a medical procedure and was away.  

September 16, 2022. Day 205 of the war.
Mom told me about some "fat emails". I asked her: what does it mean - "fat emails". She replied - they wanted me to buy something. I am still not sure why she called them fat :) 
She feels very much uprooted and spoke about home a lot on this day. Dad is still away. When I called him on the cell phone, I got a message that he is on the other line. The way it was phrased was approximately like this: "Please be patient while the person you called is on the other line. Perhaps this is a call that is bringing our victory closer. Together we will prevail." This small touch made my day.  
September 17, 2022. Day 206 of the war.
Dad is back. We discussed two different poets (my parents were quoting, but I was not fast enough to write the text). The conversation turned to what haircut I might get - typical for me, I said that I might shave my head. Typical for my parents, they did not say "NO" - they started telling me how I will become a good find for someone practicing phrenology and how I might not enjoy that. We remembered some people who are no longer with us, and Mom said: they are lucky that they do not see this horror in our country. But we are lucky too - because we are alive. People in both groups are lucky - just in different ways.    

Fragrances of the season

The other day we had rain - which is incredibly rare - but it smelled heavenly. I wanted to sketch this fragrance, and I am not sure it worked. But there is another smell of the season which I think I got about right (I am eating one of these as I type).


I drew this plant with a dip pen and then painted these with my watercolor and gouache palette and then added some color pencils and neocolor II crayons. It was a much longer sketch than I am used to. Many times I felt like this is going nowhere. I started filming the process (see below) but as frustration grew I turned the camera off. And many times I thought that this will never work out. I am not happy about the final result - but I learned quite a bit about not giving up while I made this and some colors turned out really close to what I wanted - so here it is - to share the experience and to remember to keep going.     

Heatwave Aftermath

After the heat wave, decorative pear trees in my neighborhood started dropping the most amazing leaves. All of my marigolds died but I found some seeds germinating - not sure if I would be able to keep them alive - but I am giving it a try. All the dead leaves are trimmed, and all the dead plants are gone. Temperatures are back to very pleasant.

Drawn reports in the form of the portraits - war in Ukraine. September 5-11, 2022

September 5, 2022. Day 194 of the war.
Dad and I were discussing his exercise routine and Mom told me about some berries that are turning orange and almost red but not yet "real red". With the first chill nights, they will become truly red. The weather is quite chilly for early September and Mom got a cold. They were remembering all sorts of weather anomalies that they witnessed - but nothing can be compared to the snow we experienced once in June - all three of us were in Moscow on a trip and I remember the bright green and blooming trees covered in snow like some sort of dream. 

September 7, 2022. Day 196 of the war.
Now, Dad is sneezing and coughing too. But blood pressure is much more stable. We are discussing all the news from all the relatives and friends. Mom was telling me more about the department of biochemistry at the University. She is not going to teach this year and this is a huge change in her life that I am not sure she had a chance to process yet. Though this has been a year for things like that. 

September 9, 2022. Day 198 of the war.
Mom is almost back to normal, but Dad is still coughing quite a bit. They told me stories about the department of Chemistry at the University and all sorts of crazy chemicals that they got to work with over the years. Another shelling in Kharkiv left the school where my sister-in-law works partially without windows. Shelling of the city of Kharkiv continues non-stop for 198 days.

September 11, 2022. Day 200 of the war.
Hard to believe the number - 200 days. Dad was asleep as he is still working through his cold and I had a great time talking to Mom - remembering her Mom, my Grandma, and how she was able to grow amazing violets. How hard it was for her to stop working when Soviet System pushed her out of the University and how she tried to find herself in other things, none of which could compare to her interest in biology and learning. We talk about old books which are left in their apartment. And about the healing powers of cats who are bringing more "gifts" for my parents these days. The last one was a weasel!

Hot weather sketching

Hot weather means everyone is cuddled around one source of cooler air in the house. I took just my iPad, pen and sketchbook but then ran back to the hot studio to get something else (many times). By the third day of this weather I gathered an assortment of sketching tools in my "first Aid" bag. And then I sketched it. 

Wishful Sketching

We had a heat wave. I kept summoning fall weather with drawings of fall leaves and acorns and such. It definitely helped with expressing my feelings about the weather. Wishful drawing. 

Summoning fall with my sketches

These are some treasures that I picked up on a hike and drew in my sketchbook with acrylic markers and some neocolor II crayons. It is so hot in my area now that I am not powering up any additional equipment to scan drawings of how hot it is :) And I am drawing all sorts of things to summon cooler weather and fall foliage!

Drawn reports in the form of the portraits - war in Ukraine. August 30 - September 4, 2022

August 30, 2022. Day 188 of the war.
We had some difficult topics to discuss and I was doing a lot of talking so I ended up with a lot of small sketches which I later combined on this page with some notes. Uncertainty in all areas is putting a lot of pressure on everyone and decision-making is a process. So far - without results. 

September 1, 2022. Day 190 of the war.
Conversation with my parents was about Traditions around September First - it is the beginning of the school year for all educational institutions in Ukraine. I always liked that the whole country has this day in common. My parents read me some poetry and suggested more to find online. I realized that my Dad is not receiving my weekly newsletter and quickly signed him up. We gave each other reports about people that we were in contact with during the last day or two, about Kharkiv and the latest damage. Mom managed to catch a cold but hopes it will clear up by the time of my next call. 

September 4, 2022. Day 193 of the war.
Mom was feeling a little better but still ill. Despite her cold she found several mantises with eggs and spent some time hunting for the best angle to take good pictures for me. She told me that the first mantis she saw in her life was yellow as her Mom found one for her in Eupatoria (Crimea). But all the mantis that she shared with me were green. We used to build tanks and keep them when I was a kid.  Mom also remembered how she went to Leningrad with her friend for the conference, and they got two irons there and were walking with a super heavy bag between them. If you are interested why anyone would buy iron in another city - in the Soviet Union many things were available in central cities but not in smaller ones - but this I knew as I grew up with this. What I did not know was why two. My parents laughed and explained: electricity was expensive and gas was cheap - so everyone used gas to iron - with two irons. You would heat one on the stove and start ironing while the other one is heated. 

Bread, Textures, and Friends

A friend recently told me about a bakery nearby. The bread, the walk to it, the conversations during the walk - all are precious. 

Dibs on the corner piece.

Video of a Flip-Through - Sketchbook Number 143

I've made a flip-through video of the second part of my Sketchbook 143 and here you will find links to both of them: Part one was about our family trip to Europe in June 2022 and Part 2 is about coming home.  

Part 2:

Part 1:

Drawn reports in the form of the portraits - war in Ukraine. August 22-28. 2022

August 22, 2022. Day 180 of the war.
Six months ago people in Ukraine were living their life: working, raising kids, spoiling grandkids, dreaming about vacations, and choosing their paths for the future. My parents were planning to wash windows in the spring and get the whole family together for the summer holidays.

That life is over.
August 23rd is Kharkiv City Day and August 24th is Independence Day in Ukraine. Despite the six months of the war, lost lives, millions of people displaced, and many horrible wounds, both Kharkiv and Ukraine are standing strong. And my parents are still planning to wash those windows and get us all under their roof one day.

August 25, 2022. Day 183 of the war.
We did not talk on the day when Ukraine celebrated Independence Day (August 24th). My parents together with the whole country expected some new horrible acts from russia and unfortunately, many people died on this day when the train station was attacked. Even more distressing was information about Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. This is a fear especially felt because they lived through the Chornobyl disaster. So many conversations on this day were very somber. But my parents jumped at the opportunity to help me find some synonyms in Ukrainian and we had a chance to discuss some questions from the memoirs that my Mom is writing now.

August 27, 2022. Day 185 of the war.
Another attack on Kharkiv and more concerns about the upcoming winter. My parents talked to me about some of their friends who were much older than them. We talked about places in Kharkiv that we remember because of these people and how grateful they are to have that connection between generations throughout their whole life. 
Mom got quiet and then said: the beauty of evolution is in the fact that there is no one right answer, there is no ultimate good - all can do something, all can choose something. 

Drawing at the Benefit Concert in Support of Ukraine.

I had a chance to see my friend, listen to some very interesting, beautifully performed music, and draw it all. This was a 2nd Annual Masterworks Benefit Concert for Ukraine at the Union Presbyterian Church of Los Altos. Works by Mozart, Poulenc, Krol, Muczynski, Ewazen, Bacos, Stoner, and Di Marino were performed by:

Colby Bond, Clarinet
Jamie Mulfinger, Flute
Braydon Ross, French Horn
Kristal Schwartz, Harp
Jung Yeon Kim, Piano

Short but engaging and informal commentaries that were given before each piece made this performance extra special. 

Thank you, dear friend, for the invitation - and your support for Ukraine! 

War in Ukraine: Guide Through Posts on this Blog.

War in Ukraine.
There are many posts connected to this subject on my blog these days and this is a hub to organize different subjects connected to the war and provide a way to navigate through them.

Kharkiv, Ukraine is a city where my parents grew up and lived their whole life. We are a multinational family and we spoke and continue speaking russian language within my family, which is why most of the notes surrounding portraits are in russian. I try to put a summary of each conversation in English when I post it here.
I used to draw my parents during our video conversations but when the war began on February 24, 2022 we switched to daily video calls and I started drawing them and then sharing these portraits and notes on their day-to-day activities with the community online. These portraits are my War Reports in the Form of Portraits. We talk about Kharkiv, Ukraine, family, language, news, everything and anything. These are real humans whose life was uprooted and I hope to give people a chance to see it in this form.

Some of the things I do:
Donate: novaukraine.org - This organization is doing important humanitarian support for people in Ukraine and in Kharkiv in particular. 
Attend Rallies and Events: a good source for the upcoming events is stopputin.net
My road to the Ukrainian Language (with links to music, podcasts, and some learning resources). 

Ukrainian Language

I am working on making my ability to communicate in Ukrainian better. 

Below are some steps that I am taking - it would be interesting to look back at this (which is a reason for many things on this blog:). 

  1. I downloaded a dictionary on my phone, computer etc. (including the offline versions) - I am using Google translate and "star" the words that I think should be in my active use. My goal is to look up at least one word a day. I also write down new words in my pocket notebook and have a document going on my phone/in the cloud - for new and useful words and expressions. 
  2. In my daily news intake, there is one source that is totally in Ukrainian and I spend my time reading headlines out loud in my head. And, obviously - articles if there are any that I would like to read. But the daily goal is to go over the headlines.
  3. I found all the books in Ukrainian that were in the house and now I included reading in Ukrainian in my reading life. I started (and am still going through) the children's books or books adapted for children first. I plan to re-read books that I read at some point and hope to get to them next - before I start on literature that is new to me. (I tried - it was slow and discouraging). 
  4. I listen to videos and podcasts. These vary a lot and are often emotionally drenching. But there are many topics - like literature, economics, and science that are not as emotional and give me access to contemporary Ukrainian language and topics. Here are my favorite: Книгосховище, Літературні Балачки, Харківські Історії, Українські Казки, Буде тобі наука, Простими словами, та ось гарний епізод про перехід на українську. If you have an English speaker who wants to try and learn some basic words, a good place to start would be Ukrainian Lessons Podcast
  5. I listen to Ukrainian songs (and sing them when nobody is around :) - to practice getting words out of my passive vocabulary onto my tongue and to work on my phonetics). Here is my spotify list of Ukrainian Songs. It is a big pile of whatever I noticed, without order to sort later, ever-changing. 
  6. I found a good site with the words for many of the songs from my list: https://nashe.com.ua/  as I try to learn some of the songs by heart (as poetry). And I read some poetry. 
  7.  I follow this language marathon for some interesting subjects and might take their course too: https://www.instagram.com/shymanovski/
  8. I write in Ukrainian: letters to people in Ukraine, all communication with volunteers and companies in Ukraine, and Ukraine-centric projects that I support. I also found some accounts on Instagram which which use Ukrainian language. I read, and I write some comments regularly. 
  9. Quite a few of my friends with whom I always communicated in russian language switched to Ukrainian. And even though some offered me to keep russian as the main language I do my best to respect their choice and we communicate in Ukrainian. I often stumble or misuse words, other languages keep getting mixed up and sometimes I forget and switch to russian completely - but everyone I spoke to so far is patient with me and helps me get better. 
  10. We try to use Ukrainian in our everyday life within the family. It is always educational with my parents as they are fluent and enjoy reading poetry or telling me about some obscure words. It is frustrating for the parts of the family that have only the basics knowledge. And it is just plain hard. But it is getting better. 
I am looking for / would like to hear from you about: 
    • an electronic dictionary for my kindle; 
    • a place where I can buy electronic books in Ukrainian; 
    • a lists of books / authors to read, podcasts to listen etc.
    • more songs for my playlist;
    • what else would you recommend?

This post originally included a background of where I grew up, how come I am from the Ukraine but my first language is russian, some family history, and the story of Ukrainian language. As I wrote all of that I realized that many topics need extensive citation and many topics are tumultuous right now because of the war and how much havoc it wreaked on the world and individual people. 

So I decided to leave all of that in a draft to which I might return one day. 

Independence Day in Ukraine

August 24th is Independence Day in Ukraine. This year it is an especially important date as the freedom of the country is under attack from russia. I drew sunflowers to celebrate this day. 

Drawn reports in the form of the portraits - war in Ukraine. August 16-21. 2022

August 16. Day 174 of the war.
This was a hard day for Kharkiv and we mostly talked about it. Five separate areas of the city were shelled, with many casualties. My parents told me about the phone calls - checking on all the friends and relatives. And just supporting each other. They talked a little about their home and the weather. And how little things start to point to the approaching end of the summer. 

August 19. Day 177 of the war.
The news of the day was about another shelling of the city, one of which ended up one block away from their apartment. But the windows are intact. Life goes on. There are many concerns, uncertainties, and resolutions about the upcoming school year. This all brought up many memories of their parents. Somehow to me, they looked more lost and more determined at the same time. 

August 21. Day 179 of the war.
Almost six months since the war has begun. I drew my parents and then decided to try and not add words to this image - instead, I have a separate page filled with lots of notes about our conversations and some more sketches. There were so many big and small memories and stories on that day - we tried not to concentrate on the approaching date but talked about music and recipes. Apparently, they can sing parts from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev together. And they suggested I put apples in my vinaigrette salad. It was another day when I learned something new about them! 

My personal tips and tricks to stay sane on instagram

There is a lot to say about algorithms and social media but I will not go into the vortex of sharing my opinions. I will share some things that help me:

  1. I have folders on Instagram and lists on Twitter. 
  2. I opt-out of promotional content when possible (aka suggested posts).
  3. I made my Instagram stream contain those I follow only.

I had a 4th hack for Facebook, but it is broken now. When I find a way around it, I will post it too. 

And here are detains:

I created lists on Twitter and folders on Instagram. There I collect people or posts by the subject matter. For example, I have a list of the "epidemic-related" accounts on Twitter. And another one for local news. I collect things that inspire me in another thread. On Instagram, I have a folder where I save things that I want to draw, and another one, with humor/cartoons. There is a folder for everything I want to save related to the war in Ukraine. I collect quotes/expressions that I want to remember or find interesting to talk to people about. There is a folder for color. Materials. Recipes. Books. Music. And many others. The idea is that a) I can find things that I saved b) I can get a dose of tailored inspiration - and there is a finite amount of stuff there.

Opting out and de-personalizing targeted ads is a multi-step process and it is changing often - the proper way to do this is to do a research and adjust settings on your phone etc. But a simple (and very powerful - at least for the short run) thing that you can do is next time when you see a "suggested post" in your stream of posts on instagram - in the upper right corner of that post tap three vertical dots and opt out.

And the best present is adjusting your stream to those you follow only - in the app on your phone, on the hole screen there is an instagram logo in the upper left corner. Tap on it once and a n arrow appears to the right form the logo. Tap it and choose "following" - I think you will need to do it every time you restart your application. But this converts your stream to a chronological collection of things posted by the people you actually followed. Here is a screenshot that might help:

Drawing and Painting Well-Chewed Pine Cones in my Sketchbook

I found some extravagantly chewed pine cones on my walk and spent some time drawing them, painting them, then drawing on top of all of that, and then drawing some more. This is an example of how my sketchbook page is developed over time and also an example how I can make a few interesting lines, then ruin them but keep working and then bring it together to be a part of my sketchbook. This is the final result (actually the really really final result is at the very end of this post as I added a little piece I made later on this page).  

and a video of how it all begun:

I was not able to stop after I turned my camera off and there is a timelapse of the second part of the process on my instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/ChaHdTQJpnj/

And this is a really really final page from my sketchbook:

Drawn reports in the form of the portraits - war in Ukraine. August 9-13. 2022

August 9. Day 168 of the war.
We had some interesting exchange of news about preparation for the new school year on both sides of the ocean. I learned that teachers in Ukraine from the elementary school level to the university level are all getting ready (our family has lots of teachers). It sounded surreal to hear about cleaning classrooms and discussing lecture plans but it also sounded hopeful. My parents had some disagreements as to what to do with the ground-nesting bees that they found. We talked about the fact that the Ukrainian army is by large supported by volunteers and how we can support them. It was a good day. 

August 11. Day 169 of the war.
Some hard news from Kharkiv again - more buildings were destroyed, and more people were left without windows. Fires after the hits. But all people survived on this day. We discussed ways to help and support those we know and can reach. And back to how to support volunteers who take care of those who don't have support.   

August 13. Day 171 of the war.
A day with some hard conversations - as we are trying to navigate the inevitable approach of winter. The mood was somewhat somber as there is no clear and simple answer. Life, as it was, is broken but now it looks like it was perfect and it is hard to let go. Mom's blood pressure is off but she hopes that it will get better soon - "it definitely will get better when we win" - she says :) For now, I think pills will have to do the work but I assured her that we are working toward the victory.