October 29 2016

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October 28th, 2016
I call this the Deadline Edition. It has to be brief. I have 30 illustrations due this week and, because I know the author of the book series I’m illustrating reads this newsletter, I will whisper, “It’s taking me a little longer than expected”. What’s the hold up? Bikes! Kids on bikes. My bête noire. Bikes are so hard, with all their fiddly spokes and cogs and chains and struts of metal that connect wheels to handles to seats. Nightmare! I once had to draw a couple of cats riding their bikes, chasing fish in gym shoes, running down a hill. I have drawn a cow on a bike (worst job ever). I have drawn a dad losing control of his wonky bike as his kid, on another approximation of a bike, looks on. I included a girl on a bike in my last art show just to show myself that I can draw bikes, even when it’s not a client request. BIKES, ugh. It turns out that I am not the only one who struggles. Drawing a bike has been used as a psychological test – to demonstrate how sometimes we do not actually know what we think we know (they had to create a test for that?).


Product designer, Gianluca Gimini, took this idea one step further and out of it came a celebration of accidental creativity. Gimini collected hundreds of drawings of bikes from friends and strangers, drawn from memory, and from these he created 3D renderings of what these bikes would actually look like in real space. They are all so quirky and whimsical – familiar and bizarre at the same time – a little like the uncanny valley of two-wheeled transport. My own drawn-from-memory bike is above. Fortunately, when working on Tan, I can use some source photos to make sure I figure out how the pedals connect to that back wheel. Fortunately, this time around I do not to need to find a source photo of a cow on a bike. So – here’s the list for the week:




Elsa Mora is a New York based, mixed-media artist and artistic director. Her Instagram is so joyful and creative. It’s full of cut paper, animations, family snaps, works in progress and artistic explorations. You will like it.



Black Mirror
; spooky tales about technology and dystopian futures:
 Streaming on Netflix is Season Three of Black Mirror, a character-driven, sci-fi meets psychological thriller series of six stand-alone stories. We started watching it this week, and maybe I’m a lightweight, but I am finding it so disturbing that I am NOT recommending it (yeah, yeah, even though it’s very good). I do, however, highly recommend watching Season Two. It is just the one, 72-minute episode starring Jon Hamm – also on Netflix. Also, Episode One of the third season is pretty interesting, especially if you happen to be concerned with the number of likes you get on any given social media platform. I do love that Black Mirror keeps us guessing, as it twists and turns like old episodes of The Twilight Zone, gradually peeling back layers of meaning and realisation. But it is so very bleak at times. Black Mirror creator Charlie Brookner wrote about his vision in The Dark Side of Gadget Addiction in The Guardian, after he finished the first season. Just this last Tuesday he was fielding questions in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit. And here is a really good list of books to read after binge watching Black Mirror – or even if you don’t.


Letter Writing:
One of my dearest friends has moved house several times in the last few months and then, suddenly, just recently, she seemed to disappear altogether – somewhere in Cornwall. I feared faeries. I feared that she had disappeared into an ancient stone circle and was living in Jacobean times riding around on a horse tracking down handsome Scottish men in kilts while fleeing evil English overlords. No matter how many facebook messages, emails or skype pings I left, there was no reply. Eventually I got an urgent chat message “I have two minutes in an internet cafe, tell me everything!” I maxed out the two minutes without getting a jot of her news. A week later I got this chat message:
“ah! my two mins was up but i have two mins now sitting in the sewing cafe in Lostwithiel. My parents bought a converted barn with an acre and a half field of weeds, they are moving into it at the end of november as my grandmother died and they can move now. J- and I are going to move into a caravan on said acre of weeds, im currently pulling out eveything pink in it which was A LOT and trying to imagine ways to make our life practical and nice like having beautiful washbasins or something….. we have no internet and im losing hope of it ever being fixed. I think that if its not fixed by the 12th of this month i will start writing you letters. I’m currently eating lemon curd cake. I quit my job cheffing because I hated it and ive just got a job working in the village shop. Reprise. I miss your bright sparkle. xxxxxxxxxx”
I have printed her message verbatim, as that’s the kind of friend I am.

So now, I am contemplating writing letters. I don’t think I have done this since… 1999?

  • Catherine Field writes in the New York Times;
    “A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.”
  • ABC (Australia) Radio National is creating a potential new show called Expressive Post and the producer is seeking handwritten letters from around the world: “Have you always wanted to write a letter to a particular someone but haven’t, for whatever reason? Is there something you want to tell another person but it’s a delicate topic, and you’re not sure how they’ll react? A topic so delicate that only a letter will do? I’m testing a potential new show for ABC Radio National that needs letters like these…..As part of the test run, I’ll select the most compelling letters. Then I’ll track down the intended recipient for each letter and deliver it to them. They’ll read the letter for the first time on the show.” If you are interested, the deadline is next Tuesday, November 1st, so perhaps get in contact with the producers via email first if you are intending to send one
  • Love Letters for Strangers is an old Ted Talk given by Hannah Brencher: “Hannah Brencher’s mother always wrote her letters. So when she felt herself bottom into depression after college, she did what felt natural — she wrote love letters and left them for strangers to find. The act has become a global initiative, The World Needs More Love Letters, which rushes handwritten letters to those in need of a boost.”
  • Please take some time to look at the beautiful blog Naomi Loves, by Naomi Bulger, journalist, author, and mail-artist. Her work is so cheery and inspiring and her blog is full of creative wisdom and excellent discoveries. It’s my new favourite. Her debut novel, Airmail, sounds like my cup of tea:“Reclusive old Mr. G.L. Solomon’s favourite things are single malt whiskey, Steve McQueen movies, and gingersnap cookies. He hates processed cheese, washing detergent commercials, and the way the teacup rattles in the saucer when he picks it up. Solomon has become accustomed to his lonely routine in Sydney, Australia—until the day he begins receiving letters in his mailbox from a complete stranger.

    “On the other side of the world, Anouk is a mentally delicate young woman living in New York who insists she is being stalked by a fat woman in a pink tracksuit. When Anouk declares to Solomon that she is writing “from the Other Side,” the old man breaks away from his daily grind of watching soap operas and reading Fishing World and travels to New York to find her. As he is drawn into Anouk’s surreal world of stalkers and storytelling, marbles and cats, purgatory and Plato, Solomon has but one goal—to unravel the mystery before it is too late.”


30 Days, 30 Songs
  This independent website will release one song per day from October 10 until Election Day, so far featuring artists such as Death Cab for Cutie, EL VY, Aimee Mann, Franz Ferdinand, R.E.M and Sun Kil Moon. As the Washington Post says “A playlist of songs that Donald Trump will hate.”

On the other hand, you could listen to some very poppy new tunes from Lisa Mitchell. Warrior is about as far from US political commentary as a sunny, wide Australian beach. And she is as sweet as a button. Here’s her guide to writing songs in Frankie Mag.

If that’s too saccharine (probably), I’ve been listening to the new Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam album, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, this week. I like its loosey-goosey, jangly indie-rock sound very much.



One of my favourite Australian visual artists is Del Kathryn Barton. She has won the Australian portrait prize, the Archibald, twice and is always exploring the outer realms of sexuality, spirit, mysticism and a deep personal psychology. Her work can now be found on a small range of products from Third Drawer Down. Personally, I am coveting this silk scarf.


Delighting – Eight delights for a Friday:
1) 10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brainpickings: This last week the formidable blog of brain-food, Brainpickings, celebrated its 10-year anniversary. This article summarises 10 things that publisher Maria Popova has learnt over her last ten years of extensive research, reading and writing. She is wise and interesting. Also, I want a name that I can say when wanting to invite people over. “Popova for a cup of tea!” – “Robertson for a cup of tea” doesn’t have the same ring. Congratulations Maria.

2) Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month is held every November so it starts Tuesday. 50,000 words in 30 days. Get your plot line ready and GO!

3) It was the last week of The Great British Bake Off: And an exciting episode, but time to say goodbye to my favourite people on television, hosts Mel and Sue. It’s old news that both they and judge Mary Berry will not be following the show to BBC 4 next year, so I fear the spirit will disappear from the almost perfect reality cooking show. Hopefully they lend their talents to something new and fun.  

4) If Women Wrote Men The Way Men Wrote Women: literary inversion by Meg Elison on the ever-fabulous McSweeney’s. Funny, of course.

5) Kitchen dance party track of the week: I know I linked to the official video a couple of weeks ago, but I am linking to this remix of Bomba Estéreo’s Soy Yo because I just dare you to put it on really loud through really big speakers and NOT dance your butt off to this. Prepare for a full cardio-workout.

6) Beautiful snaps: The Take A View Landscape Photographer of the year has been announced. I love a good murmuration – and this photograph by Matthew Cattell is stunning. The full gallery is worth a long linger.

7) Walking and creativity: Thanks Rob! Once a week we get to walk with Rob, and his fabulous dog Chaz. Some of the plans and ideas we hatch as we walk are inspired! Sometimes they bite. It swings between being a ‘think tank’ and a ‘stink tank’ but it’s always creative. So Rob sent me this link, which makes perfect sense.

8) Just don’t do this: 40 things you can stop doing right now (thanks Rob, again!) You may have seen this, because who doesn’t like a good list of things not to do? But as it is deadline week I am enjoying the idea that I don’t have to do any of those extra things.


Thanks for reading.
It is strange what a deadline does to me. It seems that instead of the brevity that I intended, I have rambled and wandered. My internal editor has checked out while I am battling bikes and nap-less afternoons.

Feel free to drop me a line or to send this on to a friend who might be interested in disappearing down this rabbit hole full of discoveries every week.

Over and out,

Claire Robertson,
The Small Batch List
Person with a keyboard

p.s. 100 points to those who guess the quote in the email subject line! I should supply a bingo-style card for this game.

p.p.s. There was what looked like a terrible spelling mistake in last week’s newsletter. A very kind and musical subscriber pointed it out to me. I had added an “h” to “cello”. Actually, it was no mistake at all. No, no. I was making a very subtle reference to one of my favourite and oft-quoted lines from School of Rock.  Jack Black says to a 12 year old cello prodigy, when starting his school rock band; “Ok. This is a bass guitar. And it’s the exact same thing [as a cello] but instead of playing it like this you tip it on the side and… chello, you got a bass.”… Really, I was. Ok, back to the bikes. xo

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