Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Trials and Tribulations of Book Publishing

The Sagrada de Familia in Barcelona, Spain
One of the sketches that will be included in the book.

Many people have said when they saw my travel sketches that I should publish a book on the subject. I hemmed and hawed for the longest time and now that I have decided to do so, I realize why I have not began earlier. It is not easy. Unless you have a publishing company to back you with editors, writers, graphic artists, layout specialist, publicist  and a retinue of assistants, which I definitely can't even dream of having, the process is formidable. Today, many writers opt for self-publishing, mostly online as eBooks. There are many self-publishers who go the print book route with the help of a number of online book publishers, who provide some layout but mostly printing and some distribution services. In short, self-publishing is not as straightforward as claimed, even with all the geeky help around. But since I was already determined to write this book, I braced myself to face up to whatever challenges unfold. But not without a stimulus.  I promised myself that after I have completed my book on travel sketches, I will order a handmade brass palette by Craig Young in England ( website: http://www.watercolorpaintboxcompany.com/ ).

My targeted reward - The Craig Young The Paintbox Palette

It takes as much as two years or more from placing an order to receiving it and there is no communication whatsoever during the process, yet it is the most coveted palette by watercolorists  all over the world and used by famous ones around like one of my favorites, Charles Reid. It is also quite pricey. My niece, a mother of  four growing teenagers and pre-teens and a three year old, would balk at the price and say for that amount of money she could feed her family for a couple of weeks.  I feel that the palette would be a well-deserved reward, sort of in the league of ”the light at the end of the tunnel”, “dessert after a meal" and "the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow" all rolled into one.

Anyway, for the book, I started out looking at the sketches and notes in my travel journals to pick out which ones I could possibly include. After extricating all my journals from the cabinet (not an easy task as all of the other stuff stored in the cabinet came falling down like Humpty Dumpty), I was surprised that I had completed a number of watercolor travel journals already. I did not realize that I had been sketching our travels off and on for a long time now until I dug through the sketchbooks. That was a welcome surprise.  At the start, I was afraid I may have to dig out tons of old pictures to use as reference for sketching and we have boxes and boxes of those stored all over the house. Talk about daunting! Going through these boxes and searching stored files on the computer may just be what would have stopped this project dead on its track.

my travel journals

I took photos of the sketches in the journals, copied the ones in storage and uploaded them to my computer so I had an idea of how many I would use. I was thinking that the book would be limited to less than 100 pages with maybe just as many pictures and their corresponding narrative. Originally, my idea was that this book would be more of a how to on travel sketching. As I progressed, I decided to make it less of an educational book but more of a travelogue using my sketches and insights on the places we visited.

Then came the search on how I would layout the book. Yikes... so far this was the most challenging part of the project. I researched the internet for book publishing sites and layout software. I asked folks if they knew of any graphic artist that could help me. This is when frustration started to set in. I downloaded a few of the online book publishing software such as Blurb but most of them were geared towards novels. I am doing more of a picture book but not a photo album. Shutterfly had the capability of doing pictures with text on their pages but I would have use their set templates  and print through them which would  just be too cost prohibitive even with the limited print run I had in mind. As a matter of fact, most of the book publishing sites where they provide layout templates limits your capability to print elsewhere.

I, maybe foolishly, decided to do it on my own and design each page myself working to have a sort of cohesive unified feel. Inexperience is both driving me because I don't know any better and intimidating me, also because I don't know any better - but the willingness to try tilted the playing field. I reverted to the good old friend Microsoft Word which also had templates which I tried and chucked. Of course, there are limitations with Microsoft Word also but it helped that I was familiar with the software.  I am hampered by the bells and whistles that Word has. Some of my ideas on design just can’t be done with my limited skills or what is available on the program. If I like to use another line design, for instance, it cannot be done or maybe it can be done with a lot of tweaking and experimenting. Maybe I can find time to experiment later. For now, I am sticking with the basics so I can at least put the concept down.
Since I chose to use MS Word to put together the book, I am in actual book production mode - selecting pictures, writing narratives and tentatively, organizing and arranging them on each page. I am more than two months into this book writing business, my frustration level is down a few notches but I know I still have lots of work ahead. Each day gets me closer to getting my watercolor palette. May the muses be with me. Oh, I accept help, suggestions and inspiration from humans also.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Reviews: Jesus, A Pilgrimage by James Martin S.J. and The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman


When we go to another country, other than guidebooks on the area, I like reading fictional novels that are set in the places we will be visiting. In preparation for our trip to Israel and Jordan, even though one can get a lot of information online, we bought several guidebooks, downloaded The Holy Bible on our phones and tablets for handy reference while we are at a particular site and bought magazines and books on the life of Jesus and following His footsteps in the Holy Land. Finding a novel was not easy. I was trying find ones like those I previously  read  written by Anita Diamant and Marek Halter, who wrote mostly about women based on or mentioned in the Bible. We did buy a copy of Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly which I did not think was particularly well written but the book did give us enough atmosphere about the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Our tour operator included references on our itinerary to the Bible verses that mentions the places we would see, so we are able to relate them in the historical context as told in the Bible.
Unfortunately, I did not find a book that would satisfy my need to read a fictional book about the ancient history unfolding in the Holy Land. That is until, we got home. Browsing through Amazon and Goodreads, I saw a newly released book by James Martin S.J. called Jesus, a Pilgrimage, although non-fiction it was a great read. Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest and Gospel scholar who combined his extensive knowledge of the New Testament with his experiences on his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a sense of humor and imaginative and meditative thoughts in writing this book. It gave one a picture of Jesus as he was in the 1st century when he was preaching in Galilee and Jerusalem. It was such a delight reading about Father Martin’s experiences on his own pilgrimage and comparing them to our own. Many of his observations mimicked ours and so since we were reading this book after we came back, we had a wonderful time reliving our trip to Israel and Palestine along with him.  My husband enjoyed reading the book so much that he actually read most of the book aloud to me. You learn from the book also, as Father James illuminates the relationships between the places we saw and the New Testament. You get a feeling that you were there in the 1st century and hearing Jesus’ message as he delivered it then and appreciate its relevance to this day.



A 1st century boat found on the Sea of Galilee similar to what Jesus and His disciples may have used

And then I also came across the novel The Dove Keepers by Alice Hoffman at Barnes and Noble bookstore, one of the last major bookstores around and one which I still patronize as my own little campaign against the disappearance of bookstores.  The Dovekeepers was exactly what I was looking for and I immediately purchased it in paperback and could not wait to start reading it. Reading an ancient story seem to go well with turning pages of paper and enjoying the distinct aroma of the printed book. I do not think that reading this book would have been as pleasurable on Kindle or IBooks which has long been my norm for reading books and magazines due to convenience. Reading this book in print was definitely more enjoyable and gratifying than on an ebook although, at more than 500 pages, it was a long and challenging read.

Dovekeepers is set in Masada in 70 AD which was built by King Herod high on a mountain top in the Judean desert. Masada was the last stronghold of the Jews against the Roman army. The story revolves around four women, Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah, who were the dovekeepers at the fortress. The doves were used to send messages and their droppings were important source of nutrients for the orchards and plants in the fortress. According to Josephus Flavius, an ancient Roman historian,  two women and five children survived the siege and they told the incredible story of the men and women who died there at the last moments of the Roman attack.  According to Josephus, rather than allowing themselves to be subjugated by the Romans, the  men and women in Masada were systematically killed by the men among them who were selected by lottery, with the last man standing killing himself. Alice Hoffman was able to spin a great lush story based on these two women survivors. I was intrigued by the women in this novel, they are strong, courageous, passionate, resourceful and adaptive. In the end, these traits helped two of them endure and live to tell their story. I like the premise of the book, four supposedly unique women, coming from different places and status, with different backgrounds converge during the last months of Masada and eventually become fierce friends as they held on to their own secrets and helped each other instinctively.  What I did not like too much is that the four women seem to lose their distinct characters or identity from time to time in the book. But, I still recommend the book highly since for me, it brought Masada to life. I think I am glad I did not come across this book before we went on our Holy Land trip because I truly believe, it is a better read after seeing Masada. While reading the book, I can see the places we visited and put the characters there. So now, when I see Masada, in my mind’s eye, I picture it with Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah and the other men and women who were there as the defeat to the Romans became inevitable.
Storerooms of Masada