The Paolini Family’s January 2015 Favorites

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As a sometimes-artist, I’m always on the lookout for information that can help me draw/paint/sculpt/etc. a little better than before. Over the past year, I’ve acquired four books that have really, really impressed me. The first is How to Draw, by Scott Robertson and Thomas Bertling. It’s the perfect resource for anyone who wants to master the oftentimes difficult skill of perspective. With this, you can not only draw an object from any angle or distance with near-perfect accuracy, you can also construct scenes entirely from your head (like Dwarven cities) and fill them with equally imaginary objects (like an Urgal siege engine). Although the resources in this book are no substitute for models, photographs, or other real-world references, they’re invaluable for anyone who wants to depict fantastical images.

The second book is How to Render, also by Scott Robertson and Thomas Bertling. This book shows you how to take the drawings you learned to construct in their previous volume and finish them off so they look the way things are supposed to look, according to the laws of physics. Both books are filled with hundreds of pieces of art, which clearly show each step of the process.

The third and fourth books are Imaginative Realism and Color and Light, both by James Gurney. These cover some of the same ground as How to Draw/Render, but they do it more from the point of view of the traditional painter. If you’ve seen any of Gurney’s work, you know how skilled he is at making an imaginary location look real. Plus, Color and Light provides an overview of . . . well, color and light, that you won’t find in any of the other books. Until reading it, I’d never really understood how to accurately depict reflections in water, how to use complementary colors, and so forth. I’d read plenty of books on painting before, but none of them were as clearly written or organized.

With these four books (and perhaps a book on anatomy), I’m convinced that a dedicated person could turn themselves into a world-class artist. I know I’ve certainly learned a lot from them.



I have always enjoyed a morning cup of tea. It’s a lovely way to start the day. The process of making that cup, however, has changed over the years. When Christopher and Angela were very young, we lived in a log house—not a fancy one, mind you, but a cabin put together by a Montana old-timer, who built some walls by stacking logs atop each other (still coated with bark), and others by stacking cut logs like cordwood, with cement and roofing tar pressed into the gaps. In the winter, we heated water in an iron tea kettle on our wood stove. In summer we used an old fashioned whistling tea kettle on our electric range.

Years later, during a trip to New Zealand, Kenneth and Angela became acquainted with electric tea kettles. Every motel room had one for that most British tradition of the early morning cuppa. When they returned home, it wasn’t long before Kenneth ordered a kettle for our family. At first I was unsure how another appliance could improve on our stovetop workhorse, but I was soon won over. The electric kettle would never boil dry, because it had an automatic shutoff switch; it was easy to clean with a bit of vinegar; and, best of all, it heated up really fast.

So how much do I like this appliance? Well, my uncle, Bruce, called last month, to inform me that he’d walked in the door to discover that he’d left the burner on under his stovetop kettle. Fortunately, he’d only been gone a short while, but his apartment was still filled with smoke and the kettle was ruined. Two days later, he was delighted to receive a package with . . . you guessed it! Here’s what I sent him:

Chef’s Choice 685 International Deluxe Cordless Electric Teakettle

So, dear readers, I raise a cup of tea or coffee in your direction. Cheers!



51WJ4R53S2LWant to watch a film that will make you feel better about your weather, wherever you live? Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) is—to the best of my knowledge—the only film ever made entirely in Inuktikut and with an all Inuit cast. Filmed in the Canadian tundra, it is a saga based on traditional oral stories. It is a difficult film to explain and challenging to watch, because it is just so different. Atanarjuat is a window into a culture and way of life that is more different from modern life than any fantasy book I’ve read. But beyond all that, it reinforces how people are still people. The circumstances my change, but silly humans will always make the same regrettable mistakes and glorious successes.



This month I finished off Assassin’s Creed Rogue and got all the achievements. I enjoyed this latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Then loaded up Max Payne 3, by Rockstar Games, which was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. It’s supposed to be edgy, but I hated it. There are tons of cutscenes and not that much user-controlled gameplay. The character you play, Max Payne, jibber-jabbers and yammers on with his film noir patter while you are trying to shoot bad guys. Nail a few of them and another cutscene appears with shaky-cam and fast cut edits. It’s dark, and to me had zero play appeal.

I also played Syndicate, a first person shooter from Electronic Arts. This 2012 sci-fi game is set in the year 2069, with the Eurocorp mega-corporation as the bad guy. The look was slick and polished, reminding me of Mirror’s Edge, while the story was strictly by the numbers—very predictable. Although I completed the game’s main storyline, I was not motivated to go for all the achievements. I rate this game as average.

71MSQ1p3l3L._SL1121_In 2007, when Christopher coaxed me to try gaming, Mass Effect was one of the first games I played. It’s an epic science fiction RPG third person shooter created by Bioware. Initially, I was clueless. Despite having a very hard time surviving, I slogged through. Finally I got Christopher to come and take a look at my gameplay so he could give me some pointers. The first thing he did was ask about my weapons and armor loadout, and my talent point allocation. I said, “What?” So he opened the menu to see what I had done, then started laughing hysterically. “Well, that’s your problem,” he said. “You’re at Level 20 and you haven’t assigned any of your skill points. And look, you have Level 1 weapons with no upgrades applied. No wonder you’re having trouble surviving.” He was impressed that I had managed to get to Level 20 (out of 60) in such a state.

I completed Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3 on a non-XBox Live gamertag. When I got an XBox Live account, I discovered that my name was taken. Since I didn’t know that I could change the name (duh!), I chose a new gamertag, in effect losing the ability to build on my previous achievement score.

This month, remembering what I had learned during my earlier play, I once again put the Mass Effect disk in the console and merrily played the game. What a difference from the first go-around. This time I not only completed the game, but got all the achievements, including the Hardcore and Insanity runs. Good times!

Now I’ve started Mass Effect 2 again. I’m at 92% of the achievements, having a blast, and getting prepared for the Insanity difficulty run, which is renowned for being one of the hardest achievements to get. I think the game developers wanted to make sure controllers were hurled at the screen with this playthrough. We shall see.

In contrast to gaming, I enjoy writing with a good fountain pen. And not just for jotting notes and letters; I sign documents and checks with them as well, using what are called bulletproof, document, or archival ink. These inks are waterproof and fade proof. You can tell if someone has tampered with them because they won’t scan or photocopy correctly. If a document is soaked, in an attempt to remove the ink, the color changes to show that someone has tampered with it.

I’ve been trying out the new DeAtramentis Document inks this month and have found them to be waterproof and lightfast; the ink flows well in my pens. The colors are vibrant and pure. I especially love the blue and fuschia. Although Fuschia sounds like a strange ink color, it’s a true magenta, not too bright. And it mixes well with the blue to make a nice purple or midnight blue.

As for pens, new fountain pen users can’t go wrong with a Lamy Safari or Lamy Vista pen. More experienced users may like the Pilot Custom 74 pen.