Just Draw It! – Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philip

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” 
― Pablo Picasso

I met up with Search Press at last year’s London Book Fair and they kindly sent me a copy of one or two of their books to review. Among those I received was Just Draw It! The dynamic drawing course for anyone with a pencil and paper. Get prepared for a rather lengthy, creative review!


Just Draw It! begins with a short note, explaining the aim of the book, which serves as a beautiful insight into the background, as well as the dreams and aspirations, of the authors. In creating Just Draw It! Authors Sam Piyasena and Beverly Philip planned to help people revisit their childhood, and to rediscover and nurture their dormant creativity. They explain that they both loved drawing from a young age – “Both of us spent most of our childhoods bent over a sheet of paper with a pencil in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other” – and that, for them, time spent with a pencil and paper served as a form of escape, as well as a way of making sense of the world around them. This, they suggest, is common in many children, but is often lost as a child gets older and the focus in school shifts towards reproducing the realistic, rather than exploring creativity.  At this point, that which once provided joy and freedom can be lost, and many people go through their adult lives thinking that they cannot draw.

In writing Just Draw It! the aim was clear – to provide a way of allowing people to reconnect with the simple, unadulterated pleasures of childhood, and learn to enjoy the simple act of making marks on paper.

Just Draw It! begins with the basics, exploring simple line and mark making, the ‘very heart of drawing itself’. A series of tasks explore making lines through different mediums, focusing on how the simple action feels. The artist is encouraged to draw using ink and sticks, make marks in the sand, draw on windows and create simple line images.

As the book progresses, light and dark, dimensions, form, movement and texture are all explored, allowing the artist to rebuild their knowledge of art by beginning with the very basics, and working up. The focus is never on the realistic – but on the process itself.

The final chapter is perhaps the most exciting, as it is completely dedicated to creativity. There are some amazing activities to be found nestled in the back of the book, graffiti, drawing from dreams, overlapping, sketching with your eyes closes, combining textures – there is so much to explore.

I had an amazing time using this book – it was so much fun to discover so many methods of creation that I’d never tried before, even as a child. I was also able to involve my friends in some of the activities, which was a definite hit during social occasions. I’m not the most artistic person in the world, but I do really enjoy getting creative when the opportunity arises. I can be quite shy, but if this book has taught me anything is that it is that it really doesn’t matter what my drawings etc look like.

So, I’ll share a few of my pictures with you.

The very first task in the book is to attach a large piece of paper to the wall and put on a piece of music to listen to, then, with your eyes closed, to allow the sounds to inspire your movement as you begin to make marks. Initially I didn’t have a large piece of paper so I used a page in my sketch book and a pencil, and then later revisited the task with a torn up paper bag and a box of oil pastels (they were always my favourite medium). I really loved having the freedom to just do whatever I wanted, and was actually quite pleased with the results of this task – I’ve even had a few guests comment on my art work, which is still pinned to the wall in my reading room where I first made it.

Another task in the lines and marks section was to create a simple line drawing and then trace over the lines with ink before blotting the original to make a copy. This task didn’t quite go according to plan – I think my initial paper was too absorbent – and I ended up with a rather smudged copy in my sketch book. The ink also passed through the pages and made another, fainter copy, which I then traced over to create a second copy. Even though this didn’t go as it was supposed to, I really like the result – and I absolutely loved using ink for the first time. There was something really satisfying about the fluidity of the pen nib and the ink and it passed over the paper.

I asked a friend if she wanted to accompany me down to the woods for this next task. We wandered down to my local nature reserve, armed with a huge sheet of paper and a pot of ink, and got ready to unleash our creativity. With the paper pinned to the uneven ground using dirty rocks, and with an assortment of sticks, twigs and other plant material at the ready, we let loose, doodling, stamping, splashing and dripping to our heart’s content. It was so much fun, and I now have another interesting piece of artwork to show my guests.

This next task was also carried out with a friend – ‘Just a minute’ – the idea behind this is to draw the profile of a person, with whatever medium you like, in just 60 seconds. My friend and I had spent an exhausting afternoon preparing for a dinner party before we sat down with a large glass of red and decided to draw one another – later on we drew one of the dinner party guests together, I started the image and she finished it.


The last piece I’m going to share with you is from the final, super creative section of the book, and was by far my favourite activity. This one involved using sharpies, or markers to deface, or add to, images in a magazine. Again, I sat down to do this with a friend, we actually managed to fill up an entire afternoon with repurposing (read – destroying) black and white photos from old copies of the New Statesman. Here are a few (many) of our creations.

It actually pains me to write this, given how much I love this book, but I do have just have one small gripe – this book is definitely not for ‘anyone with a pencil and paper’ as the titles claims. In fact, there are a lot of tasks which require some pretty specialist art equipment, the sort of stuff that art students and fanatics might have lying around, but those wishing to revamp their creativity probably won’t. Needless to say, armed with my tin of pencils and new sketchbook I was pretty ill equipped for what this book had in store for me. If you want to complete the book in its entirety you may find yourself having to invest in canvasses, sewing equipment, permanent markers, fine liners, polystyrene cups, Indian ink, paint, paintbrushes, conte crayons and a putty rubber (whatever that is).

On the whole, I think this book is something really special. If you want to revisit your childhood, and explore a lost love of art and drawing, or even if you are casually interested in drawing and want a fun project to complete, then this is definitely the book for you. I also think this book would be a good addition to any budding artist’s bookshelf; it is full of great ideas for exploring different mediums and methods of creation. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I had a great time trying this book out, and I am definitely going to keep using it.

I received a free copy of the book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.


Daylight After a Century – George Jerjian

“Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. ” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

744832 (1)I first met George Jerjian last month at the London Book Fair. It was early evening, the time of day when notepads were slipped away and the drinks began to flow. Crates of beer and bottles of wine had appeared and ties were loosened with a satisfied sigh. We made our way around Olympia, stopping here and there to grab a glass and have a chat with this or that person whose books, or drinks, had caught our eye. It was over in the Armenian section that we ran into George who we got to know over a glass of fine Armenian brandy – The kind Winston Churchill favoured, or so I’m told.

Jerjian, who was born in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1955, has a rich family heritage that traces back to the former Ottoman Empire. When his paternal grandfather George Djerdjian left his hometown of Arabkir in Ottoman Turkey for the last time in 1907 he left behind a homeland which would never be the same again.

On 24 April 1915, Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested and executed some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople, marking the beginning of the Armenian genocide, the systematic extermination of Armenian subjects living within Ottoman Turkey at the hands the Ottoman Empire. In 1915 the Armenian Population of the Ottoman controlled region was reported to be approximately two million, by 1918 it is estimated that over one million had perished, with thousands more left homeless and without refuge, by 1923 virtually all of the Armenian population had disappeared.

The events of the genocide left Armenian areas of the empire completely devastated, assets were seized, property was demolished, and the historical monuments of the Armenian people were destroyed. Today, little remains of the Armenian society that once existed within the realms of the Ottoman Empire. Let us be thankful that when George Djerdjian left the Ottoman Turkey in 1907 he took a little piece of history with him.

Between 1900 and 1907 George Djerdjian took 240 photographs of his hometown of Arabkir and his college town of Erzeroum. For many years these photographs were stored in a grey steel box, dutifully following their owner, and his descendants, on their travels around the world. They travelled from Ottoman Turkey, to Egypt, Sudan, England and the United States. Now, a century after they first left Arabkir, they have finally emerged to see the light of day.

Jerjian explains how he came across the photos clearing out his elderly fathers flat; he found a ‘small treasure trove’ of artefacts and photographs. ‘In that box’ he says, ‘were close to about one hundred glass plates, photographs of Arabkir, my grandfather’s home town.’ The photographs were remarkable in that they were pre-genocide, taken of a time which has long been shrouded in mystery. It was fascinating, he said, to go into this world that has long since been extinguished.


Daylight after a Century is the story of a photographer who was able to capture life in eastern Anatolia in the early 1900s. George Djerdjian took everyday pictures, he captured people, schools, churches, nature, and life – social life, political life, economic life, the lives of the people of Arabkir. These unremarkable pictures have become remarkable, in that they show a time before: ‘Before the great war, before the genocide, before the lights were turned out on a civilisation.’

The photographs depict a life, a community and a place, that has long been lost.

In the film accompanying Jerjian’s book Hayk Demoyan, the Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, speaks of the importance of the photos not just for the family of George Djerdjian, but for all Armenians. The images, he says, serve as ‘pieces of a puzzle’ which glimpse into the life of the Armenian people before the genocide.


The Armenians of Arabkir and Erzeroum had lived in the area for thousands of years; these pictures are not just a snapshot of life at the time, they are the some of the only remaining evidence of the last moments of an ancient civilisation which was about to become extinct.

These glass plates have traversed oceans and continents, countries and generations, and today after a century of darkness they have seen daylight.

It is extraordinary the distance the plates have travelled and the events they have lived through and emerged out the other side of, to tell the story, not just of George Djerdjian, but also the Armenian people of the Ottoman Empire. Daylight After a Century serves as a testament to a truly remarkable collection of pictures and a fantastic tribute to their photographer, who could never have known the significance his work would one day hold.

The Whitehall Mandarin – Edward Wilson

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy. The murderer may have acted on a sudden mad impulse; he may be penitent and amend; but a spy is always a spy, night and day, in bed, at table, as he walks abroad; his vileness pervades every moment of his life” ― Honoré de Balzac

the-whitehall-mandarinCritically acclaimed author Edward Wilson returns with another seething spy thriller to add to his repertoire. A teeming broth of secrets, sex and scandals, the Whitehall mandarin is sure to be a hit with mystery fanatics and long standing Wilson fans.

Wilson specialises in spy fiction, with a strong focus on the Cold War, and there is no doubt he is a master of his subject. His novels blend seamlessly between fact and fiction, and The Whitehall Mandarin is no exception. The books alludes to a phenomenal amount of research on the part of the author where the smallest plot detail has been unquestioningly scrutinised and researched.  Through Wilson’s novels the reader travels back in time to rub shoulders with the upper classes, and witness firsthand the scandal which occurs behind closed doors.

Edward Wilson hones in on the year 1957, the Cold War is full swing, and British intelligence unit MI6 are investigating a soviet spy ring operating in London. They call upon secret agent William Catesby to keep a close eye on American cultural attaché Jeffers Cauldwell, who is accused of leaking somewhat compromising photograph of British officials to the Russians. The book begins with Catesby, his boss Henry Bone, and MI5 investigator Jim Skardon crammed onto the roof of a building overlooking St James’s Park, London, observing a secret liaison between Cauldwell and an employee of the British Admiralty. The Whitehall Mandarin follows Catesby on his hunt to uncover the truth in an intricately developed web of secrets, a journey which takes him from the scandals of 1960s London to the muggy jungles of Vietnam.

How strange, thought Catesby, that when you look through a telescopic sight and see another human being fixed in the cross-hairs you end up looking at yourself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the lens reflection or imagination. You try to concentrate on your target but find your eye superimposed over their eyes. Those other eyes, so blissfully unaware of your unblinking predatory stare, are no longer evil. You feel your hate drop away and realise you can’t do it. It was Catesby’s most shameful secret from the war: he had never been able to pull the trigger. But he had learnt to since.

The Whitehall Mandarin is an intricate and multilayered book with a number of interweaving narratives; the plot is complex, and full of twists and turns. This is not the sort of book you can pick up and put down halfway through a chapter – not if you want to stand any chance of keeping up with the plot anyway – but requires considerable concentration on the part of the reader. Let your mind wander for even a second and you could well find yourself having to reread whole chapters.

Wilson portrays the British upper class as a literal hotbed of corruption and sexual scandal. Before reading the novel I will admit to being clueless as to the different between furries and plushies – in fact in all my innocence I’d never heard of either of these things – I’m now something of an expert on the topic. Did you know, for example, that ‘plushies’ are a rather difficult target for ‘honey-trap agents’? In fact, the scandalous things which the upper classes get up to provide the backdrop for the majority of the plot – this is somewhat epitomised by the photograph of a steamy reconstruction of Poussin’s The Triumph of Pan.

The very nature of spy novels makes them incredibly easy to ruin, so I am wary of sharing much more. But to give you a flavour – expect sex, high speed chases, intricate plot lines, and a beautiful English lady who is not quite what she seems.

The Whitehall Mandarin is a page-turning thriller which will leave you desiring more at the end of each chapter. If you are a fan of spy novels then this is undoubtedly the book for you. It is masterfully researched, stunningly written and, most importantly, utterly believable.

I was sent a free copy of The Whitehall Mandarin by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.