An art page and a shop

The more perspicacious amongst you might have noticed an extra page in the menu bar of my blog entitled MY ART.

AthensLettersArt. My Etsy shop logo

Since I seem to be spending more and more of my time painting, I decided to add some information about this aspect of my life. It is a change in lifestyle which makes me happy. Art is fun and great therapy! As Picasso put it, Art washes away the dust of everyday life.’

Click on MY ART to find out more. I have no idea how this will develop, we shall see.

Also, bowing to popular demand (drum rolls and applause), I have set up an Etsy shop, AthensLettersArt,  for my smaller watercolors. I invite those interested to take a look.(Click here)

And that’s all for today, folks!

The Worldwide Tribe

Meet Jaz.

And Nils, her brother.


The O’Hara siblings used to work, respectively, in fashion and advertising. Then they visited the Jungle, a large refugee camp near Calais. They’d been hearing little bits about it, mostly about how it was affecting holiday makers by delaying the trains going across the English Channel.
They became interested, because their parents were already involved in the long and complicated process  needed to foster a refugee. Since it wasn’t so far from their home in Kent, they decided to go over for the day and take a look.



Two years later, they have acquired two new brothers, one of whom comes from Eritrea and the other from Afghanistan. And they have founded the Worldwide Tribe.

The first time they visited Calais, there weren’t many volunteers about yet. They were, of course, shocked by the conditions there, and by the fact that there weren’t many people helping at all. However, what made the greatest impression, was, in Nils’s words, ‘How nice and welcoming the refugees were to us. Everyone wanted to share what little they had, to feed us and make us tea.’ People were polite, smiling, and full of optimism. The siblings went home, feeling very emotional about what they’d seen, and Jaz wrote about it on her Facebook page. The post went viral. Overnight, people started sending donations, both physical and monetary. In a short amount of time, they’d gathered a lot of clothes, shoes and food, as well as money.



Jaz and Nils soon realized that in the long run they weren’t best placed for managing warehouses and dealing with the distribution of donations – others were better at it. What they felt they were good at was telling people’s stories. They started diverting donations and volunteers towards other organizations, and they created the Worldwide Tribe.
They see their organization not so much as a charity, but as a platform for people to share their stories.



Jaz concentrates on content creation and writing, setting up talks in schools and universities and organizing different events. Both siblings manage the production of documentaries, of which the latest is the film DIASPORA.



Meanwhile, Nils and two friends have been setting up WiFi in camps. This is very important to refugees as it is the only way they can keep in contact with what’s left of their families, and also get information about their status, prospects, etc. This activity has resulted in the creation of a product which has generated commercial interest, which they believe has the scope to get bigger, and maybe result in the generation of funds towards their projects.



I was curious about the two boys the O’Hara parents are fostering. One, Mez, comes from Eritrea, which he fled because his only choice was to spend his life in the Army, where his brother already is. Having arrived in England aged 14 speaking not a word of English, he has now done all his GCSEs and is heading to college. He still has family in Eritrea and keeps in touch with them. In the beginning things were difficult because the cultural differences are huge but he managed to adapt quite quickly and has done ‘incredibly well’, according to Nils.

The other boy, Arash, is Afghani. He saw some of his family killed before his eyes, has lost all contact with them and doesn’t know if his mother is still alive. Speaking to Nils, I found it hard to imagine how difficult it must have been for this family to open their home – and how ultimately rewarding. I asked Nils how the two got on and he laughed and said: ‘They get on OK – but they are classic teenage boys.’



The O’Haras’ vision for the Worldwide Tribe is to inspire as many people as possible to share and contribute in any way they can, whether by volunteering, sharing a post or just talking about things. They hope this will create change from the ground up, while pointing out that their platform is not at all political.

Nils hopes the WiFi project will take off – if they manage to commercialise the product, it will earn money they can then plough back into the Worldwide Tribe, to help more people across Europe and the Middle East.

I asked Nils if it was hard to keep positive at all times. His answer was that they do see a lot of misery and it’s difficult not to take it home. What helps them is that although they spend a lot of time in the camps, in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon, they are not there all the time, so they manage to get some distance. Of course, they have seen bad things, and violence, but they have mostly been inspired by the positivity and humanity they encounter. They feel they’ve learned a lot and are awed by the human spirit, and the incredible stories they’ve heard. They are amazed by how people in such difficult circumstances keep trying and finding resources, and they reckon the experience has generally been far more positive than negative.



You should go on their site, and read some of the incredible stories there.  Such as the one about Noor, who’s in a wheelchair but is determined to become a judge, or Besh, who, with his four younger brothers, searched practically every refugee camp in Europe to find his mother, and then miraculously located her in Dunkirk. You can also follow Jaz on Instagram or Facebook.

Young people spreading good will – perhaps it will offset some of those intent on spreading havoc…

And it’s done

July 31st – the month is over, and so is the watercolor challenge. I’m happy to say I managed it, but then I tend to draw or paint most days anyway. There are many more art challenges to be had on the web – drawing 100 people in a week, or new prompts on Doodlewash for August – but I think I’ll give it a rest for now. At least until Inktober (making an ink drawing every day in October). We shall see.
Meanwhile, here is my output for the last week of July, much of which was taken up with my floral triptych.

Day 24

Started adding background to my floral paintings.


Day 25

Fruit and veggies on the kitchen table – three green tomatoes, a nectarine, two apricots and a pear. I drew these in a Moleskin journal which has glossy pages that reject watercolor, which made for interesting effects. You can see the paint pooling on top of the paper instead of sinking in.



Day 26

Having picked this red cabbage in the garden, I was fascinated by the shape of the outer leaves curling around the central globe, and the subtle colors going from purple to blueish green. I made a quick sketch – on khadi paper this time, which absorbs color beautifully. Not very pleased with the result, but unfortunately I couldn’t start over, since it was time to cut it up for the salad!



Day 27

Artist Caroline Magerl posted a picture of her westie on Instagram. I loved the shape she made from the back, so I used her for today’s sketch. Looking at the photo, I now think the background needs to be darker.



Day 28

Today I felt like drawing a figure, and I came upon some origami paper, so I added collage. This is a small sketch in my khadi journal.



Day 29

I’m hard at work on my triptych, so no time for anything else today.



Day 30

Today’s garden harvest: courgettes, some whiskery leeks, a couple of small and barely ripe tomatoes and a lone strawberry (actually there were a couple more, but I ate them). All begging to be painted.




Day 31

I think my floral triptych is finished. Here it is, propped up on the kitchen counter, since I don’t have an empty wall big enough. I’ll contemplate it for a day or two, in case I feel like making any changes, then I’ll pack it of to its new owners.



And that nicely concludes the challenge. New bird painting planned next.

Three weeks down, one to go

Here’s my progress with World Watercolor Month:

Day 16: Drawing people is not my strong point, and World Watercolor Month is all about trying new things, so I thought I’d challenge myself. I love Francesco Clemente’s watercolor portraits, and I used those as my inspiration. Still a long way to go…(sigh…). But they were fun to do, and I’ll definitely repeat the exercise.



Day 17: Everything possible went wrong with this drawing of a starfish – the masking fluid wouldn’t dry, the masking tape ripped the top layer of the paper off… I think it was all due to the heat. However, I still enjoyed  playing with the stencils.



Day 18: Very busy day, and I got back late, so I only had time to doodle these little blue flowers.



Day 19: More people drawing practice – this time inspired by a photo I took on my visit to Metsovo.




Day 20: Found time to start my new project, a floral triptych. I’ve been doing studies for this since the spring, when the irises were blooming in the garden. I find it really makes a difference to draw things from life, rather than from a photograph. It’s easier to distill the essence of your subject, rather than just its image.




Day 21: I’m now obsessed with this project , so just carrying on. I’m using Canson Watercolor paper, very thick (640msg). I’ve never used this before, and I find it very interesting. It absorbs the color, and leaves it very vivid. Good for wet-in-wet, but also for a hard edge, although the surface is very rough. The back of the paper is smooth, so maybe I’ll try that next time.



Day 22: Started on the leaves. I got interesting effects from lifting the paint with a paper towel, although it won’t lift with a rag. Still playing about, not sure what I’ll leave in and what I’ll paint over.




Day 23: This ‘week’ has eight days, since there are another eight to the end of the month. Here’s the next step to my painting.



I wonder if it’s cheating to post consecutive images of the same drawing? Who knows, and, more importantly, who cares?

Trying to keep up

Well, it’s been a busy week, but I was determined not to fall behind on the World Watercolor Month challenge, so I mostly resorted to quick sketches at bedtime.

Day 8: Seagulls.  I seem to be inspired by birds lately, and it is the summer and beach weather. After making a quick and splashy background, I drew the seagulls in ink and added oil pastel for highlights.



Day 9: Mother and child. I have to force myself to draw people (not my strongest point, so I need the practice).  I had a little more time tonigh, and I found an appealing photo as a reference – it would have been better drawn from life, but no models available (sigh…)



Day 10: Garden produce. I’d gone out to pick some lettuce, onions and cauliflower, so I just dumped them on the kitchen table (I used a tea towel not to get dirt onto the table, and that proved quite a useful addition to the sketch!)



Day 11: Three bowls of fruit and a tomato. I do love summer fruit. These are peaches, yellow cherries and red currants. What could have been more inspiring than to make a sketch of them in a large Moleskine journal.



Day 12: Roses. Really no time tonight, so I just sloshed some paint around and doodled on top. It was a good way to test some new Daniel Smith watercolors, too (Quinacridone Rose, New Gamboge and Deep Sap Green).



Meanwhile, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my bird project, ‘Sandhill Cranes In Flight’. This is watercolor, oil crayon and gold leaf on two large sheets of Arches paper (100x60cm). It has now been packed off to the recipient, who I hope will be happy with it. I’m a rotten photographer, only use my iPhone and couldn’t get the light right, but you get the idea (I blue-tacked it to the wall to take the picture, but the left side was in shadow).



Day 13: Three-panel study of floral painting. This is my new project, so I started making some studies to help me decide how to proceed. It will be based on plein air sketches of irises, tulips and hyacinths I made when they were in flower in the garden. Always gives a better result than painting from photos.



Day 14: Six-panel study. Another version, using six pieces of paper instead of three. I probable prefer the first one.



Day 15: Chickens. Really got back late today, so when I came upon a piece of paper on which I’d been testing color mixes and some flower stencils, I just added a rooster and a hen on top.


That’s the week done, phew!

New Q&A – the writer

I love crime fiction – so when I came upon Eftichia Giannaki‘s books, I felt I’d stumbled onto a treasure trove. They’re very atmospheric, with three-dimensional characters, and a hero who is just troubled enough while being likeable.

Eftichia is a rising star on the Athens literary scene. Her first book, On the Back Seat, a crime novel featuring an interesting cast of characters, is a page-turner set in the Athens of today, a city beset by the crisis. It won the PUBLIC  prize for Best Greek Novel of 2017, and the second book in the proposed trilogy, Halcyon Days, has just been published. She has also written a previous book, Hardcore, under a pseudonym, which has been made into a film. Two of her plays have been staged in the Greek theatre.



Tell us a little about yourself

I was born and live in Athens, where I write crime novels and theatre scripts. My first two books, On the Back Seat and Halcyon Days, are both published by IKAROS publishers and are part of the Athens Trilogy featuring Superintendent Haris Kokkinos. One can understand a lot about me and my relationship to the city and its inhabitants by reading my books, which are all set in Athens.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

The most serious difficulties are connected to matters of plot, seeing as I pose my readers the problems and questions that concern me in the first place. The social commentary I attempt and the deeper psychological analysis of my heroes unveil the difficulties and problems I have faced over the last few years.

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I’m inspired and helped by the people who live around me.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

My hope is to have good health so that I can continue to make plans.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

My wish is for the country to acquire a plan so that it can aspire to better days.



Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

I considered it seriously three years ago, because many people close to me are now living abroad. But when I decided to dedicate myself to my great passion, which is writing, I stopped thinking about it.

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

If I decided to leave, I don’t think I’d change my mind. Usually I think things through before deciding.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I think of writing as my positive contribution to the situation. There’s always more to be done, but it has to be achieved first, before being discussed.

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I can’t see that far.



How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

With optimism. I see obstacles as a challenge, otherwise probably I would not be writing crime fiction

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

The people, the people, and, again, the people. As are people in every country. In every difficulty it’s always solidarity which touches me and thankfully there is a lot of that surrounding us.

Read more about Eftichia on her site, here (in Greek).

(The translation of the book titles is my own.)

Ode to A Market

Who doesn’t love a market? Debi has taken some fabulous photos of her local Greek “laiki”, which I am re-blogging for your enjoyment.

An Evolving Life

No poetry could do my local market – laiki – justice, or at least the kind of poetry that I might come up with. That said, I am sure that many others who are gifted wordsmiths could create a beautiful ode. In fact, Michael Llwellyn-Smith, in his 2004 travel book Athens, in Signal Book’s ‘Imagined Cities’ series, has eloquently described (albeit in prose) our Friday laiki:

It is one of the most vivid displays of everyday life in the city, with its regularity, the personal encounters with neighbours, the cheerful noise of the vendors crying their wares, the quiet purpose of the shoppers stocking their trolleys and baskets.

What I can offer is a photo essay from images I’ve taken in the market over the past year. The great majority of the photographs I have taken record the seasonal produce, but every once in a while, people catch…

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