What Victoria Beckham Can Teach Us about Reinventing Ourselves as Women | Illustrations For Women About Women (E. 3)

What Victoria Beckham Can Teach Us about Reinventing Ourselves as Women | Illustrations For Women About Women (E. 3) | By Yaansoon IllustrationVictoria Beckham does not get a lot of respect when interviewed by “veteran” media personalities or design gurus. This is evident in the YouTube videos I had the chance to watch the past few days, where she’s treated like a 15-year-old, at best. Even when she gets praise, there is always that underhanded message about how she might be just another flash in the pan. And there’s also that quick reminder about how she has “surprisingly” outlived the many short-lived brands that were started by pop celebrities like herself.

Victoria Beckham is probably the fashion industry’s top underdog! I don’t know why YouTube decided to put her in my path via their Recommended Videos section, but I’m grateful for this serendipitous coincidence that made me see that even “rich” and “famous” women get to be treated badly, even in an industry that is primarily created for women – i.e the fashion industry.

What Victoria Beckham Can Teach Us about Reinventing Ourselves as Women | Illustrations For Women About Women (E. 3) | By Yaansoon IllustrationVictoria Beckham is no flash in the pan. She is a hard-working woman who has learned from her past experiences, and who deserves to be acknowledged as an inspiring and entrepreneurial fashion designer with a great taste and a piercing vision!

This 40-something mother of four, and husband to former British football player David Beckham, has paid every effort to reinvent herself – and I believe she did it with real grace, determination, and style. What’s most important to me in her journey is that she has reached the heights of success “despite” the way she has been treated by fellow fashion designers (who seem to feel like they were too important to be in the same boat with her) as well as other design personalities and fashion magazines.

What Victoria Beckham Can Teach Us about Reinventing Ourselves as Women | Illustrations For Women About Women (E. 3) | By Yaansoon IllustrationA Fashion Industry Dominated by Males

Although in each of her interviews there is great emphasis on how she couldn’t have done it without “the team” that surrounds her (another way to say she couldn’t stand on her own feet), I believe this hardworking fashion designer is so smart and strategic that it can elude the most experienced of fashion gurus in her field.

Simply put, Victoria Beckham is the first-of-her-kind in the fashion scene and there is no blue print to compare her to.

When I told my husband I was thinking of creating a series of illustrations about Victoria for my “Illustrations for Women about Women” blog series, he made an interesting comment about how she was a woman who was being super successful in an industry that is mostly dominated by men.

Any driven and hardworking woman is probably too familiar with the way egotistical men undermine women in their field, and may also treat them like an easy target. The sad thing is when women treat women that way out of jealousy and insecurity, and other maladies of the heart. To see a young woman like Victoria start a brand, lead it from a 10-peice collection in 2008 into an international brand in a matter of years, and be able to successfully wear two hats (as a designer and as a businesswoman) is probably too much for fashion-industry egos to handle!

What Victoria Beckham Can Teach Us about Reinventing Ourselves as Women | Illustrations For Women About Women (E. 3) | By Yaansoon IllustrationPeople Grow and Change, They Don’t Stay the Same

Asked by Chief Editor of British Vogue about whether she finds any similarities between her mindset as a former Spice Girls performer and her current vocation as a fashion designer/businesswoman, Victoria answered with an emphatic, yet polite, “No.”

She does reiterate this in other interviews, as she obviously is struggling against an industry that can’t move beyond first impressions and has no ability to acknowledge people’s growth and evolution.

Today, Victoria Beckham is a responsible, serious, and very inspiring woman, who is looking to create something real. And for this reason, I have great respect for her and wish her more success in all her future endeavours. I also hope that the media and the fashion industry would re-set their judgmental glances at her, and follow The Guardian‘s lead by starting to appreciate her journey and her evolution as a woman.

NOTE: Although my blog series, “Illustrations for Women about Women” was initially about female heroines I have met in real life, I now feel this series can grow to include other inspiring women I haven’t met.

About this blog series by Yaansoon

Early May 2016, Yaansoon launched her new series, “Illustrations For Women About Women,” featuring portraits of ordinary and extra-ordinary women from the 20+ countries she has been to, including matriarchs from her own family. Although the series was originally about real women she actually had the chance to meet, the series will now start to include stories about inspiring women who can teach us something about inner strength, their searing vision and tireless dedication, despite of adversity and/or hardship.

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New Blog Series – ‘Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes: Food Stories by a Multi-Cultural Couple’

New Blog Series: 'Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes - Food Stories by a Multi-Cultural Couple' | By Yaansoon Illustration

I’m very excited to share with you all my new blog series, ‘Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes: Food Stories by a Multi-Cultural Couple,’ which will bring you mouth-watering dishes from the different cultures and culinary roots that my husband and I hail from.

I’ve already posted a recipe back in April for Turkish Pizza with a Lebanese Twist, where I shared with you all my husband’s yummy and homemade signature recipe. I also wrote that this savoury pastry dish is popular in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Armenia, and Turkey, and that there are so many versions for this boat-shaped pizza.

Which got me thinking – most Middle Eastern dishes come with localized versions, and essentially, recipes do vary from household to household!

My husband, being an excellent Italian home chef with Middle Eastern roots, has his own way of cooking dishes that I have slightly different recipes for. We’re always mixing and matching his version of a certain dish with the version I have, based on recipes and notes I have collected from my late grandmother. The results are always exciting and unexpected.

So I thought why not write about homemade Middle Eastern dishes that have more than one version, with focus on the most delicious varieties that we like to cook at home?

I also thought that this would be a nice idea for an illustrated blog series, which will also give me plenty of opportunities to expand my food illustrations portfolio, with focus on the kind of food my husband and I love to cook!

New Blog Series: 'Illustrated Middle Eastern Recipes - Food Stories by a Multi-Cultural Couple' | By Yaansoon IllustrationMulti-Cultural Middle Eastern Food

Although generally speaking people don’t usually deem North Africa as part of the Middle East, but I do have Moroccan roots that I have been reconnecting with for the past few months through my illustrations. This deep-rooted connection has been basically the inspiration behind the Tajine pot that I have included in my illustration (above) as I went on to create a logo-style badge for this new blog series.

As some of you may know, Moroccan food is completely different from Jordanian, Syrian, or Lebanese food. It follows a completely different rationale, and a different way of mixing the ingredients. Whereas the concept of sweet-and-sour is a staple flavour in the Moroccan cuisine, flavours that originate in the Levant are more polarized, often leaning towards saltiness or sweetness, and seldom the two together.

But what East and West of the Mediterranean have in common is the dominating language, which is Arabic. And again, Moroccan Arabic is completely different than Lebanese Arabic. It’s not only the dialect, but also the choice of words, and the structure of sentences, which I found to be quite interesting when I had the chance to visit Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

I want to reflect this multi-culturalism in this new blog series’ recipes, which I am really very excited about. I hope that in the coming weeks I will have the chance to put together a post or two from the Middle Eastern cuisine!

Until then, take care and I look forward to seeing you in my next post!

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New Blog Series: ‘My Travel Illustrations Journal’

New Blog Series: 'My Travel Illustrations Journal' | By Yaansoon IllustrationI’ve always wanted to keep a travel journal where I could glue train ticket stubs onto the pages, or draw tiny drawings to remind me of my experiences in the 20+ countries I have been to. I guess that’s the main drive behind my illustrated travel posts series, dubbed ‘My Travel Illustrations Journal,‘ Naturally, as a former PR gal, I want to take this blog series to the next level by introducing a special badge that sort of ‘brands’ it all and makes it a fixed section in my blog.

I come from a PR and media background, so there is nothing more exciting for me than to engage in a mini branding exercise. I like to create badges (or logos) for each and every blog series I introduce into this blog. The illustration above is my new travel series badge. What do you think? Do you like it?

'My Travel Illustrations Journal': Tunisian Ceramics | By Yaansoon IllustrationHaving a travel journal has always been a dream of mine, but I never got around to it. Over the years I sort of opted to keep my travel pictures, plane tickets, and post cards in a small cardboard box that sat on one of my shelves (mostly collecting dust). I also have another box where I keep my souvenirs and the trinkets I have collected from the different handcraft markets and tiny indie shops I’ve been to around the globe.

This series basically started back in June when I was marveling at the contents of my souvenirs box. That’s when I felt a strong urge to illustrate these knickknacks and baubles and sort of tell their story. As a result, my first official travel post was born and it was about my collection of Tunisian ceramics.

New Blog Series: 'My Travel Illustrations Journal' | By Yaansoon IllustrationWhy I Love Travel

Travel for me is a reminder that life is about endless possibilities. It makes us realize that there is so much more to life than our own narrow experiences. It helps us expand our horizons and keeps us from getting fixated on our own set ways.

Not all people who travel end up expanding their understanding of the human condition. Some take their prejudices and narrow-mindedness with them everywhere they go. They get all judgmental about the customs and traditions of the countries they visit, and constantly keep comparing them to their own. That’s definitely not the kind of traveller I ever wanted to be!

Travel Illustration: 10 Things to Pack When You're Traveling to Morocco | By Yaansoon IllustrationTravel and Cultural Respect

When I was lucky enough to visit Morocco a few years ago, I remember going off on my own to visit the local Souk (market). I wanted an authentic experience that wasn’t affected by some of my colleagues’ moods, or maybe the lack of respect they seemed to have for other cultures. The age range varied so much and some of the people in my group were too self-involved for my taste, so I decided I didn’t have to ruin my trip on their account.

In my post, Travel Illustration: 10 Things to Pack When You’re Traveling to Morocco, I talk about suitable attire for visiting public and spiritual areas in Morocco. I had to learn that the hard way, as I went completely unprepared with my sleeveless shirts and torn pair of jeans. I remember buying traditional humble clothing from the market because I wanted to enter a small spiritual mosque, traditionally called ‘Zawya’ in Muslim countries that have a strong Sufi and spiritual heritage, like Morocco.

Respecting other people’s traditions is really the backbone of travel. It helps tame our own judgmental nature and be open to a different way of life, even for just a little while. Otherwise, what’s the point from travel if we are going to come out of these experiences exactly the same people as we first started?

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Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationMaking stuffed grape vine leaves is probably one of the most time-consuming dishes in the Middle Eastern cuisine, but it also is one of the most delicious! Served hot with a dab of chilled yogurt on the side, many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern households cook this delicious dish on special occasions, or from time to time, as it most certainly is not your quick, every-day, go-to dish.

Although I am a serious foodie and cooking aficionado, I am quite impatient in the kitchen, a vice I am trying so hard to let go of. That’s why, creating an oil painting with my impressions of one of my most favourite dishes is more like the thing I would spend my afternoon doing. I guess I’d rather create art than spend the time creating this mouth-watering dish on a hot summer day!

This is the second canvas art I make after “discovering” my oil painting style. In a previous post, I spoke about how I finally found my oil painting style after taking a mini social-media and life-in-general break to really free myself from any distractions that may have been affecting my illustration style. I also got the chance to experiment with new materials, including a Cobalt Siccative medium that quickens the drying time of paint – by French manufacturer, Pébéo.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationThe Many Names of ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves’

There’s a bit of a confusion over the internet with regards to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern name variations of the stuffed grape leaves dish, or shall I say, dishes.

There are actually two main dishes that use grape leaves with some kind of stuffing in both the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cuisines:

One is served hot and comes with a minced meat and rice stuffing (and is usually cooked with fat or Middle Eastern ghee, aka Samneh). And the other is usually served at room temperature or even cold, and comes with a rice and vegetarian stuffing, and is generally cooked in olive oil.

  • Where I come from, we call the hot dish Warak Enab, and that is the dish depicted in today’s painting. Other people call it Mehshi Warak Enab or Warak Enab Mehshi – Mehshi being the word for “stuffed.” In Syria for instance, they call it Yabrak.
  • We also call the oil-based dish Yalanji, which is the Turkish word for this savoury dish originating in this beautiful Euro-Asian country. Now, if you stuff other vegetables (like aubergine or eggplants) with the vegetarian oil-based stuffing the whole dish becomes Dolma, in Turkish.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationRecipes for Warak Enab, Yalanji… and Dolmathakia

Here is an excellent post by a blog I discovered recently, Orange Blossom Water, on Warak Enab and Yalanji.

And here is another lovely blog by a Lebanese lady, dubbed “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms,” where you can find authentic ways to clean and store fresh grape leaves, learn the technique to roll grape leaves, make Lebanese Warak Enab and Yalanji-style vegetarian grape leaf rolls. The last recipe uses chickpeas in the stuffing, which is also common in Turkey, but the recipe my grandmother and family uses has no chickpeas. This is how versatile and truly vast the Middle Eastern cuisine is!

I also found several other Greek and Armenian variations over the internet for the oil-based stuffed leaves dish. The Greek have a different recipe for Yalanji, which they like to call Dolmathakia. Instead of diced vegetables and rice, they keep it simple with rice, onions and herbs including dill, which is a Greek cuisine staple. Quick note… Dill isn’t used at all in the Lebanese and Syrian cuisines. I think it’s a new comer, and we may have the Egyptians to thank for bringing the Dill herb into the Middle Eastern pantry, thanks to their proximity to other Mediterranean nations.

So… do you have a stuffed grape leaves dish from your culture that you would like to share with us today? Please feel free to share your recipes, thoughts, and links in the comments box below!

Meanwhile, take care and I look forward to seeing you in my next post!

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Travel Illustration: 10 Things to Pack When You’re Traveling to Morocco

Travel Illustration: 10 Things to Pack When You're Traveling to Morocco | By Yaansoon IllustrationEverything about Morocco is exquisite and special! Its architecture, home decor, food, local fashion and traditions, are all a delight to the senses. Rich with colour, motifs and patterns, Morocco is not like any other country. This North African gem is steeped in tradition, yet very hospitable and welcoming of visitors from all corners of the globe. To make sure you are prepared to experience the Moroccan culture, here are a few fundamental packing tips to help you pack.

The following suggested list includes the very basics, but you can always build on it. It’s also a list for the ladies, as I am sure men have different needs that I myself wouldn’t know very much about :)

  1. Souvenirs: Bring along a few light-weight souvenirs that reflect the culture of your country, but make sure nothing in there is too controversial or culturally offensive (I drew a Dala Horse in my illustration above, assuming the traveller in question is from Sweden). Moroccans are very hospitable, so don’t be too surprised if a total stranger insists on inviting you over to a family meal at their own home. Be prepared with a few interesting trinkets as a thank-you gesture.
  2. 1 pair of sneakers: You will need them for hikes and long walks around Morocco’s beautiful souks and markets.
  3. Socks
  4. 1 pair of flip-flops
  5. 1 pair of loose-fit jeans: Baggy jeans are your best bet as they won’t attract unnecessary attention in public souks. Since it can get very hot during the summer, a loose-fit will also help you stay cool. The general etiquette in Morocco for Women usually involves modest clothing.
  6. At least one long-sleeved shirt, that is also loose-fitting: If you’re planning to visit one of Morocco’s beautiful Mosques, you will need modest clothing for the occasion.
  7. A scarf: Having a scarf on hand is a great idea, especially if you happen to pass through a religious corner (Zawya) or district.
  8. Sunscreen: The sun in Morocco can be very intense during summertime. You will most probably get a tan by just walking down the street during daytime!
  9. Your mobile phone
  10. Your charger + adapter

My enchantment with Morocco began as a little child. Back then I had no idea I actually had Moroccan ancestry from my mother’s side. I found out relatively recently that I have a great great grandfather from Morocco, and then one of his descendants married a Moroccan lady. I couldn’t be happier knowing I actually had roots in a culture I so admired and found to be so inspiring and resourceful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s illustrated post. I look forward to seeing you in my next one!

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