There is grandeur in this view of life – visualising Darwin


If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I had to have to give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else. It is not just a wonderful scientific idea; it is a dangerous idea. it overthrows, or at least unsettles, some of the deepest beliefs and yearnings in the human psyche.

– Daniel Dennett

Darwin. We all know his basic idea, it seems utterly obvious now, to the point of why bother with Charles? I thought the same: he made the idea very very public and very obvious, but that was back in 1859. We have come a long way since then. Hurrah for genetics.

But. Some years ago, I read his Voyage of the Beagle. It is great fun. He writes well with delightful english understatement, but his enthusiasm, awe and wonder is obvious and contagious. He is sometimes like a five-year-old in a toy shop. Think Sir David Attenborough of the 1830-ish. I get really interested in the little frog he tried to rescue (and nearly killed twice) and the fox he knocked over the head with his geology hammer (and in doing that, contributed a tiny amount to the extinction of a species). Continue reading


Voynich manuscript – secret knowledge or brilliant hoax?


Since we are on a roll with old books and manuscripts, I give you the  240-page Voynich manuscript. It is an unsolved enigma: a manuscript found in Italy; the paper has been dated to between 1404-1438. It contains text in an unknown script, unknown language, and illustrations of non-existing plants, constellations and humans apparently doing inexplicable things.

Voynich manuscript


No one has been able to decipher it. This is not for lack of trying. Cryptographers, linguists, codebreakers, statisticians, computer experts in all sorts of fields have tried; professional and amateurs alike. It seems to conform roughly to european language structures, but is inconsistent. Some believe the whole thing to be nonsense, the scribbling of a mad person. Or a personal secret language. The illustrations are fantastical, and the objects depicted does not correspond to anything we know. The book seems to consist of six sections, each dealing with a subject.

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Sofie’s book – bookbinding in the digital world


Back in the mist of time, I did my apprenticeship in hand bookbinding. There are basically two directions; two different apprenticeships: literature binder, or ledger binder. I am a literature binder (also called publishing or library binding). But back then it was considered essential to have a broad understanding. So part of the apprenticeship was three ledgers. They are all leather spine-and-corners, all materials of archival quality. They should hold out well for a few hundred years.

Ledger binding

Ledger binding

Ledger binding differ considerably from literature binding, library binding and publishing binding. These are books that will be written in, so the mechanism of the spine is constructed in such a way that you can write all the way into the margin. It will lie flat when opened, and this is not only due to the sheer weight: the binding is constructed from the bottom to make this work.

As opposed to traditional literature binding, the block is sewed extremely hard into tightly woven linen bands. I can still remember how much my fingers hurt. Continue reading

Skulls and bones


I have a thing about drawing skulls and bones. Not of any morbid fascination (I think), but because they can really be a challenge. The texture and colour of bones are interesting, and the ultimate challenge is to draw a skull first with graphite on white paper, then with white pencil on black paper. This is a massive challenge; drawing light instead of shadows. I have – as of now – no examples of the latter. And for bone structure; da Vinci is the boss.






Human anatomy


Weathered human skull

Beatriz Aurora: The art of the resistance


Beatriz Aurora calls her drawings “painted stories”, and her subjects definitely have a lot to tell.

The Chilean artist had to exile to Spain during the 70s. She knew she couldn’t go back to Chile, but there were other places in Latin America that could use her art, so from Spain she travelled to Nicaragua, then to El Salvador and finally settled in Mexico.

0fbd32ade98729362e02ce1670ca93fdIn the 90s, and when some stated we had reached the ‘end of history’ and the ‘end of ideologies’, others decided that a different kind of society was possible. From 1994 the Zapatistas had been building a self-sufficient community based on equality, respect for nature and love. Beatriz quickly joined them, and soon she became the brush and color of the EZLN*.

Her stories tell about the men and women of Chiapas (the birth place of the movement), mostly of mayan descent. They are simple, cheerful and positive, like the Zapatistas like to describe themselves, and usually include messages written in a beautiful semi-childish calligraphy: ‘We can produce without destroying the world’, or ‘Come dance with us’.

When asked if she is calls herself a revolutionary, Beatriz answers: “Anyone who loves nature has to be a revolutionary, has to be against multinationals that destroy our world“. Beatriz Aurora gave the Zapatistas a colorful voice, one that is only theirs. A beautiful reminder that freedom, independence and dignity are still something worth fighting for.

* Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, or Zapatista Army of National Liberation

Doodly deck of cards


Being a big fan of doodles, I got the idea some time back of making a deck of cards. The idea came when I found a few places that will print your custom deck of cards; and what is cool is that you could use it for business cards and such, and actually have 55 different ones.

So. 56 moleskine pages later I had a pile of doodles. Turns out, to pull this off you need to be a little more obsessive than I am, so the whole thing is on ice, as I am not sure what to do with it. Drawing, scanning and fiddling in photoshop, I cannot make up my mind as to what I want to do with colours. And 50-something individual cards is a big job. Here is a gallery of where it stands now, unfinished. Maybe I will never actually make a deck of cards, but it is a himalayan practice to come up with over 50 different doodles.


The colour orange – “bitwixe yelow and reed”


Orange is a tricky colour: when pale, it can be seen as yellow, when dark, it is seen as brown.

Bizarrely, orange did not get its English name until 1512. It was named after the fruit, though you could have thought it would have been the other way around. Even in the middle ages, English had no word for orange. Chaucer described it as:

bitwixe yelow and reed

Before importing the word orange from french, the colour was referred to as ġeolurēad(yellow-red). So orange was a really odd thing. To quote Alan Fletcher in his book The art of looking sideways:

Colour words are acquired by cultures in a strict sequence according to anthropologists who analysed 98 widely differing languages:

  • All languages have black and white.
  • if there are three words, the third is red.
  • If there are four, then it is green or yellow.
  • if five then whichever didn’t make four, yellow or green.
  • if six, blue.
  • if seven, it is brown.
  • if eight or more, then purple, pink, orange and grey are added in any order.

So there is orange, with an identity crisis amongst purple, pink and grey. That is not to say that the colour did not exists or that it was invisible or utterly unappreciated. It just did not have its own name.


saffSaffron is a spice and a colour that comes from the purple saffron crocus. It is the most expensive spice in the world for good reasons. One evening the sun goes down, the field is bare. Then the flower appears overnight, lasts a day, and is gone. If you are not ready to harvest at any time, your crop, and possibly your livelihood, will be gone. It is a delicate, vulnerable thing, and to grow them takes a good deal of effort. It is the bright red stigma that gives the dye and the spice, the rest of the flower, the Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao_in_Phu_Soidao_Waterfallstamen and leaves are useless. And here is an oddity: the flowers are sterile. They cannot reproduce by pollenating, only by bulb offsets. So you will never find a saffron crocus in the wild.

In 2007 Buddhists  monks were at the forefront of the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests, the uprising has been referred to as the Saffron Revolution. It is worth noting though, that their robes are not dyed with saffron, but with turmeric or jackfruit.


In 2013 the prices for certain spices (USD for 1ounce):

  • Saffron: $354
  • Vanilla: $8
  • Clove: $4
  • Cardamom: $3.75
  • Pepper: $3.75
  • Thyme: $2.74

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