Let’s get physical (with linocut)!

PJD_aerobics chicks_11

Had fun making some lino prints of aerobics babes this weekend and learnt a lot. Started out with  printing in pink, and overlaid some with gold for an 80s lo-fi feel.

I’ve started playing around with linocut, and I’m loving it. I like how tactile it is, how every print is different, and how I need to be so involved in the process but can’t determine the end result 100 percent.

In high school, my mum bought me a book about printmaking techniques and I fell in love with the bold, graphic result of block printing (I also like ink drawing/painting and papercuts for the same reason).

I’ve been wanting to try linocut since, but only found a place that sells supplies to make it a few years after I moved to Singapore. Plus, there’s always a mess with carving and applying ink – so mostly I stuck with drawing and sometimes embroidery as creative outlets. (I love the end result of embroidery but the process is just so tedious and repetitive!)

This afternoon I carved this picture of an 80s aerobics chick and did some test prints with it. I must say I’m pretty happy with the result and the number of details I could capture, given the piece is way too small – only about 12cm across. Note to self: make things easier for next time and carve something bigger.

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She started out like this. Just a small sketch in my Moleskine.

It started with a sketch of a girl in a leotard and leg warmers in my sketchbook. Well actually, it started with the fact that I’ve always liked the 80s/90s aesthetics. Last weekend while lazing around at home, I started on a Youtube marathon of Key & Peele and stumbled upon the Aerobics Meltdown episode – Which was based on a 1987 aerobics competition video (They even used the same song). I was inspired! And I knew I had to draw some aerobics babes in my sketchbook.

I realised that I had some pink and gold printing ink lying around in the house, and BOOM. Lightbulb moment. What else would be better to be printed in pink and gold other than something from the 80s like aerobics babes?

I bought the two tubes of ink two years ago, as I was planning on printing my own Christmas cards. But then lazy happened. I hoped that the inks didn’t harden and I was lucky that it hadn’t. I bought them from Art Friend, which I think is the only place where I can find printing supplies easily in Singapore – but they only sell one brand of block printing ink and one brand of linoleum carving knife.

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Some tools I used. Apparently Speedball’s inks are Gluten-free. Are they edible? I don’t know. 

Since the sketch was done in a little Moleskine, it was small to begin with. And I couldn’t be bothered to scale it up for the linocut.

First mistake – It was so hard to recreate the details with the carving tools I had. It didn’t help that the lino I had was the softer, rubber-like type – which means it’s difficult to end each cut cleanly and it doesn’t take small details well as it stretches under the carving knife. Second (very noob) mistake: I didn’t copy the sketch in mirror image.

The project I was carving was soft and small in size, so I also realised I had to glue it to a hard backing. This was what I did for my last (bigger) project. But I didn’t have any dispensable boards at home, so I settled with pressing the linocut with a coaster – Which worked pretty well!

I only had a relatively large ink roller, so I worked the ink and applied it with a sponge brush instead, as can be evidenced by the visible brush strokes in the print. Far from perfect, but it’s another thing I learned while working in this medium. And it resulted in a pretty interesting texture, too. I tried applying it different ways, but there’s a reason why an ink roller is a common tool to use in block printing as it gives a much more even and consistent coverage.

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The printing block and some results. Carving the small details almost broke my eyes. Also, I need to take pictures with a better camera next time.

On the first print, I was actually surprised by how much details I could capture in the linocut, given I had difficulty carving it. I was happy with the result! After using the pink ink, I wanted to try out the gold and decided to print over the dry aerobics girls to give it a bit more lo-fi feel. The gold came out a bit more yellow ochre than anything, though. I suspect it’ll look better, bolder with a thicker layer of ink on a piece with not so much tiny details. One thing I didn’t try today was printing with gold and overlaying it with pink. Might have an interesting result since the gold appeared as a much darker colour than the pink.

So here I have a series of aerobics girls on paper. Once I get the colours right, I’m thinking of making it into a pattern, which can work as postcard, wrapping paper, or plain art print.

All in all, I’m very happy with today’s playtime with linocut. There are so many unexpected things that turned out to add on to the character of the final work – so long as I’m open to using them to my advantage. It’s really about learning to love mistakes, working with them and taking notes. With more experience there should be more and more aspects of the process that I can control, but not everything. Therein lies the charm of printmaking – there’s always an “imperfection” left by the process and no two pieces are the same.

I feel like there are so many more things I can do with lino and that it fits my personality very well – even more than drawing or painting. I must say it may just become my favourite medium.

Since we’re on an 80s theme, here’s an 80s cover of the Justin Beiber song, “What do you mean?” I found on the internet a few days ago. I think it’s amazing and you should have a listen. Enjoy.


How to watch a movie in 2016. Also, a brief review of X-men: Apocalypse.

I'd call him Emoblue

Apocalypse a.k.a Blue Emo God

On my way to the cinema to watch X-men: Apocalypse, I spent some time quizzing myself on what happened in the first two installments of the Fox franchise of the movie. Was the last one where Mystique shot a plastic gun? What was it called again, X-men: Back to the Future? Was X-men: First Class the one where Professor X got paralysed? Unsatisfied with my own answers, I Googled “Things I need to know before watching X-men: Apocalypse.”

Going to the movies these days needs as much preparation as going to a history class. You need to do more than just buy a ticket and some popcorn. As more and more movies are remakes and sequels, the more you need to know the movies’ backstories to enjoy the full experience. This is especially true for adaptations of comic book superheroes that already have well-established character histories and story arcs.

Quick. Off the top of your head, what are some of the biggest summer movies this year? See if these sequels are on your list: Captain America: Civil War, Kungfu Panda 3, X-men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the shadows.

According to this article, this year, six of the top 10 films are sequels, while in 1996, none of the 10 biggest films were sequels or superhero movies. There are many arguments on why this is the case – from it being the biggest magnet for movie-goers, to ease of creating merch – but I’m not here to discuss this. Additionally, it seems this strategy doesn’t seem to be working any longer.

With the last minute cramming on Charles Xavier, Magneto and Wolverine in the cab, I felt ready for my eXam Apocalypse. However, at the end I was again unprepared – the post-credit scene stumped me and I had to reach for my phone and type “Xmen Apocalypse post-credit scene explained”.

There’s a great video on Youtube about another phenomenon closely related to the matter: Hollywood’s obsession with intertextuality – referencing things that the audience is assumed to already be familiar with to evoke an emotional response.

This just adds on to the pressure to “get” references in the movies. Watching a movie in 2016 is more like watching a TV series – you have to watch the first five seasons to understand what’s happening in the sixth*.

As to what I think about X-men: Apocalypse, Rottentomatoes’ critics consensus captures my sentiments succinctly: “Overloaded action and a cliched villain take the focus away from otherwise strong performers and resonant themes, making X-Men: Apocalypse a middling chapter of the venerable superhero franchise.”

It had great visuals and action (although they verged on a little too much) along with solid actors who were perfectly cast but unfortunately not complemented by similarly good writing and directing.

I didn’t read any review of Apocalypse before I went to watch it, but if I did I would still go if only to gain a sense of closure to the story established in First Class and Days of Future Past. For now, I’m back on Wikipedia and Youtube, learning more about the X-men so that I will be well prepared for the next installment.

*I watched the first few episodes of Game of Thrones Season 6 without having watched any GoT except for a few episodes from the first season.

Because everyone needs to know how it feels to fly for the first time


My first trampoline experience made me high

What if humans could fly? It’s the question that plagued humankind for hundreds of thousands of years until the invention of the hot air balloon. It’s the question answered in the legend of Icarus (his father became the first acrophobic). It’s the question that led to the invention of the airplane – and subsequently budget airlines, to the story of Superman – who with his Krypton-inherited leg muscles had the power to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.

Andrew and I took the day off on Monday, and in a Superman-inspired moment that morning, I suggested that we go to a trampoline park.

I’ve never been to one and I thought that jumping on trampolines would be a fun date. Who knows, maybe I would also find my inner superhero who had not manifested due to lack of opportunity.

There were a few indoor trampoline parks to choose from, but I picked one that had just opened, Bounce. Since it’s new, I figured the place would be the cleanest and least crowded. Plus, they had a grand opening discount.

After we arrived, they made us wear bright blue socks with yellow sticky bits on the bottom and sign an electronic waiver form. The former to ensure that we don’t slip and fall face-first, the latter to ensure that we don’t sue  if we slip and fall face-first.

A cheerful young man gave us a short safety briefing, which included reminders such as “Don’t land on your face”, and then we proceeded to step on one of the dozens of trampolines in the area. On the first jump I made on the trampoline, I thought, “Well this is fun. And easy.” At around my fiftieth jump, I thought, “Well this is FUN. AND HARD.”

The park had an area with a huge airbag where I did flips flops with terrible form. The climb out of the airbag pit was as much of a workout as the jumping itself. There was also a free-jump area with vaults and platforms. Andrew hopped from the shortest one to the tallest with minimal effort like a James Bond villain, while I buckled my knees and opted to keep my trajectory mostly vertical.

The place was very Instagram-friendly, with inspirational quotes on the walls, like “Free Yourself” and “The Harder You Fall, The Higher You Bounce”. The bright decals all around made it look like a perfect place for an all-night rave that kept you going on and on and on. Before I knew it, I had acquired trampoline legs – on solid ground, my brain still expected the floor to be bouncy and the earth’s gravity felt stronger than it actually was. It was a very surreal, disappointing feeling like I was coming down from a high, a trampoline rave high.

I had a great time and it was an absolutely great idea for a date. By the end of the 45-minute session, I had learned a few things: That I was more scared of heights than I thought I was; that between the two of us Andrew would make the better gymnast (I would make the more elegant one); and as with any experience that’s a good mix of fun and terrifying, I wanted more of it.

Postscript: According to this article, trampolining is a great whole-body exercise. I can attest to it, as three days later, my whole body aches and walking down stairs is torture. I still want more of trampolining, though.

Doctor Hartbreak : the origins

“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.” – Bhagavad Gita


“Twenty-four millimeters. And it’s beating regularly.”

Francis Hart couldn’t believe what he just heard. He had been working on growing a human heart in the lab. Cells he put in Petri dishes had grown into beating blobs of tissue, which usually die off after a few days.

That was what it was just yesterday, but this morning it had actually grown into a tiny beating heart the size of a strawberry.

Francis asked Brian, his assistant, to look up who the cells were taken from. It’s usually people who donated their bodies to science – their bodies going under the scrutiny of medical students and researchers.

“Dr Hart? The record only says ‘John Doe’.”

“Scrap it.”


“Stop the experiment we have now. We still have stem cells from this John Doe. Put them in a bigger container. I want to see how big this thing can grow outside the human body.”

The best heart transplant surgeon in the world, and one of the most successful medical researchers. That’s what the magazines said; what the collection of awards from medical conferences said. An unfortunate coincidence that he himself was dying of an incurable heart disease. Truth is, Francis was doing all of it for an entirely selfish reason. He had a plan: If he could grow a working heart in the lab, he could use it himself.

“I have a bad feeling about this, Dr Hart. It feels like I’m playing god a little. And this… this is not normal,” Brian looked at the petri dish with a look of fear and disgust.

Francis scoffed at Brian, “Your ‘feeling’ is not rational. It’s baseless. Imagine what we can contribute to science. To humanity!”

Brian shrugged, “I’ll go inject it with some cyanide.”

But it wouldn’t die. The heart was still beating. Five days later, it became a fully-formed human heart.


The team of surgeons was four hours into transplanting Francis’ new heart when Francis opened his eyes, breathing heavily.

“Oh shit. Give him a little bit more, we’re just stitching him up now.”

“Uh.. something’s not right, Doc. His readings are all over the place.”

The anaesthesiologist heard a scream, a loud crash and when she turned her head to see what happened, she saw Francis, who twenty minutes ago was on the operating table with his chest open, standing up and beating one of the surgeons to death. Francis then grabbed a scalpel and in one single practiced movement slashed open the necks of two nurses who were standing side-by-side, frozen by fear. That night Francis escaped the hospital, leaving a trail of bodies.

Brian saw the report on the news and raced his car down to the lab. He muttered under his breath.

“I knew it. I knew it! It wouldn’t have turned out well. It’s just too good to be true. That heart must have something to do with this. Dr Hart never listens to me.”

He had been doing some digging on John Doe since that day in the lab, with no luck. Now he was even more eager for answers. Brian spent hours sifting through his stack of notes and medical records – he wasn’t the most organised person and he’s starting to regret it. Worse, he had now run out of coffee.

“Might as well take a drive to Starbucks,” he thought. “A break might help.”

Just as he was putting on his coat, it struck him: Bodies of death row prisoners were donated to the hospital.

Brian scrambled to his work station and searched the city’s newspaper archive online. Thirty-first April. That was when the hospital received John Doe’s body.

He saw the headline:

The end of THORAX: level-5 supervillain executed.

Currently at the Singapore Art Museum


Is It Tomorrow Yet? – Highlights from the Daimler Art Collection
27 Nov ’08 – 1 Mar ’09

An extensive showcase of Daimler’s art collection. This traveling exhibition currently takes over the space used to display the museum’s permanent collection. Mostly modern contemporary art from the last 80 years or so with emphasis on minimalism, Bauhaus, and the like.

Recommended route: start from Gallery 1.3 (oldest works, basis of the collection), then go upstairs to cover Galleries 2.1 – 2.6 and finish in Gallery 1.1 (latest works). Not to be missed.

Transcendence: Modernity and Beyond in Korean Art
8 Nov ’08 – 15 Mar ’09

The exhibition examines Korean contemporary art development over the last five decades and features over 40 works by 12 artists. I like this one, especially the earlier works.

Recommended route: start from Gallery 1.10 (across the courtyard, near the glass hall), climb the stairs up to level 2, and don’t miss the gallery on the 3rd floor (just follow the arrow).

APAD: Tradition, Innovation and Continuity
13 Dec ’08 – 5 Apr ’09

This exhibition showcases works by current and former members of APAD (Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya), a society of artists with Malay heritage founded 46 years ago.

The galleries are quite hard to find, make sure you cover Galleries 2.8 – 2.10 and take the lift next to 2.8 up to level 3.


This is Not a Print!
10 Jan ’09 – 26 Jul ’09

A play on Magritte’s “Ceci nes’t pas une pipe” – this exhibition features a selection of over 70 multiples and prints from the SAM Tyler Art Collection; presented to the museum from master printer Kenneth Tyler’s collection in conjunction with the inception of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. Don’t miss works by Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Richard Hamilton, and Roy Lichstenstein.

Looming the Memory

Guiness Theatre, The Substation
7-8 January 2009

Part of the M1 Singapore Fringe festival


Who would’ve thought a handmade rug  could transport us to a rural village in Greece? Thomas Papathanassiou does just that. His astounding one man show, Looming the Memory, is a memoir that draws on the theme of identity, family, heritage, and home – things that are close to the hearts of people in immigrant countries such as Singapore.

The stage is bare but for a rug rolled on the floor. The play opens with childhood memories: an old woman at her loom, weaving strips of garment of a deceased relative – weaving the memories. As the play unfolds and the rug unrolls, snippets of memories are brought to life, one interwoven with the other.

Thomas Papathanassiou’s parents migrated from Greece to Australia, leaving all their relatives behind. Papathanassiou spent part of his childhood in Greece and he tries to explore his own  family history through stories told by relatives and neighbours during his visits to Greece many years later. He discovers untold grudges, connections, and stories through his conversations with people from his childhood.  It’s his  struggle to understand where he actually belongs, as with many migrant children who never feel they fully belong to one place.

Papathanassiou plays eighteen characters that makes up episodes of the story, including grandmothers, uncles, neighbors, himself and a chicken, very effectively – even when they are conversing between themselves. With just the slightest change in posture or expression we can easily identify the character he’s become. The transition between characters are done seamlessly, making it look almost effortless.

With his powerful emotions and effective story-telling, we are taken through a crowded market, rows of fig trees, an old school building, just as if we are walking with the characters themselves. We can feel the festivity of a dance, the blue skies and warm sun of a Greek summer, and the commotion of a village fire.

As we leave Greece, the rug is rolled up and the characters were flashed once again in rapid succession without Papathanassiou ever losing one bit of control or intensity. The phrase uttered at the end reverberates with me: it is a difficult thing to have your heart in two places. This journey of self-discovery asks us to question ourselves how family and culture has shaped us to who we are.

Looming the Memory is a very personal and intimate storytelling that grabs the audience’s attention right from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end.

Thomas Papathanassiou trained in Curtin University (Theatre / Literature), WAAPA (Music Theatre), and VCA (Grad. Dip. in Animateuring – Performace Creation). He is an actor, writer, choreographer, dramaturge, and theatre-maker. Looming the Memory won Best Actor (2006 Perth Theatre Trust Equity Guild Awards) and Best Production (2007 Blue Room Theatre Awards)