12.30.2008

The Symmetry of E


A few months ago I worked on creating a calling card for someone lucky enough to have both their first and last name begin with 'E.' Now, the letter 'e' isn't necessarily exciting en and of etself,* but when such symmetry exists it provides an immediate design possibility that, at the very least, must be attempted.**

I began by playing with the arms of the uppercase E as branches on a tree diagram that would lead to words that described qualities of the client. This only really makes sense with a sans-serif font and, as I had two E forms to work with, the potential existed for six lines leading to six qualities. After laying this out in a variety of ways I realized that the idea was conceptually bloated and inappropriate for the immediacy of a calling card.
On to the next idea— an abstracted cloud formed from a staggered stack of E forms. I chose Ed Benguiat's Edwardian Script ITC because the sweeping capital E had a lyrical and classic feel, which makes sense considering the fact the Benguiat was a consummate musician who designed his typefaces in the old days when you actually had to put pen to paper to realize a font (as opposed to electronic stylus to Wacom, or pen tool to virtual art board, or however it's done these days).

The resulting shape struck me as fantastically elegant and I loved it unconditionally.


Too bad it looked like a black rain cloud. And black rain clouds are depressing. They make for very poor calling card iconography. Changing the color didn't really help either and in the end I had to accept that I'd created a lovely little design element that would only be useful in some future design project. Then I became depressed; verifying that black rain clouds really are a bummer.

In the end, another design featuring floral dingbats became the calling card and I shelved the cloud. But I can't let it go. It has taken up residence on my desktop until I find a reason for its existence. Perhaps someone will eventually want a project that emphasizes silver linings.

*The worst alliteration ever.

**Although such immediate design solutions can also be traps if you can't shake them and experiment with other ideas or forms.

12.28.2008

Mull-It


I wouldn't want to be accused of being stingy this holiday season so I thought I'd pass along a bit of information related to hot wine. I also want to give credit where credit is due, so I'll provide the recipe that served as the foundation for our experimentation, and I'll also state upfront that all of the ideas you read here came from my gifted wife— I'm just the messenger. Finally, I want all the kiddies to remember that, although some of the alcohol undoubtedly burns off through the heating process, this is still a drink for mommies and daddies.

There are as many recipes for mulled wine as there are names for this seasonal beverage: to the Germans its Gluhwein, to the French its called Vin Chaud, and to our Nordic friends its Glogg. Searching the net using the different names will yield different recipes. As my wife and I were introduced to this beverage by French friends one blisteringly cold night in Joshua Tree we started by searching for "Vin Chaud" and discovered this recipe from About.com.

Through a bit of trial and error we came up with the following modifications to the recipe:

WINE— The quality of the wine makes a difference so you should strive for something that is relatively inexpensive but not rotgut. We are partial to an Italian table wine called Antica Osteria that has been available at Whole Foods recently. Beaujolais tastes great too, but brought about acid reflux in the more sensitive stomachs.

COGNAC— No. No Cognac. See the "acid reflux" mentioned above.

VANILLA— The missing link to the Ms. Franklin's otherwise good recipe on About.com is vanilla extract. Give a small splash of vanilla to the mix and your wine will really sing. Well, not really sing, that's a figure of speech, but it makes it taste a whole lot better. On that ill-fated overnight at Joshua Tree our friends had insisted on vanilla for the wine and, for some reason, my wife managed to remember that all these years later. 

It goes without saying that your cinnamon shouldn't be so old that is was shipped by caravel. Also, you'll need to come up with a way to strain the wine so people aren't sucking down cardamon pods; after a few light burns I can recommend a wire strainer with hooks and a handle that allows it to rest over a small pot that is set on low heat to keep the vin chaud.

So dust off your mugs and get to the Glogg! Just remember, hot wine doesn't last as long as you'd suspect it too so plan on making more than would seem prudent.

12.27.2008

Recap



You'd think that two weeks of inclement weather would have compelled me to blog more; after all, my car was under 26" of snow and my winter vacation was extended by four days, but alas I found myself with far too many seasonal commitments to take time to type. Furthermore, as the days progressed my back log of topics to blog about ballooned into a frustratingly insurmountable number. Paralysis set in. As did the mulled wine, and two weeks drifted past.

As I value you very much, dear reader, I will summarize some of the major tidbits of recent experience:

1. With thirty pounds of clipped cedar branches and four unexpected days off I refined my seasonal garland creation skills. Every lintel in the public area of the house was treated to fresh cut evergreen boughs, prickly holly, and many strands of white lights. They cast amazing shadows on the ceiling at night when the white lights were left on to cheer the hearts of pedestrians who might be peeping through our windows on their cold journey through the snow.

2. During numerous bouts of insomnia I uncovered a slew of websites devoted to free Photoshop tutorials, free PS brushes, and free vector art. These searches were driven by a recent need to create very specific vector art for a holiday gift project. More on vector art and its inherent awesomeness in some later post.

3. The aforementioned insomnia might have been slightly aided by a blossoming interest in hot spiced wine which, mysteriously, disappears at a far faster rate than the same wine served straight from the bottle. Now that I have a basic Gluhwein recipe under my belt I may devote next year to devising a mathematical equation that explains the rate of wine disappearance in relation to the temperature at which it is served.

4. This Christmas brought an abundance of photography related swag to your truly, perhaps indicating that I have been a better behaved person this year than in others. My excitement knows no bounds, and as soon as I've geeked out on camera-specs I will be heading out for a day or two of experimental shooting in the PDX area. 

5. I can't seem to shake Blonde Redhead from my, um. . . head. If you aren't familiar with this band then today is your lucky day because you can both discover their music, and do so for free, by downloading a number of jaw-droppingly good tracks off CNET.

I hope the holiday has been a happy one for you and yours. Let's all turn our thoughts now to the year ahead and how, at this moment, it holds nothing but promise and glory. 

12.17.2008

Winter Revels


When the stage is dark and everyone waits; that is my favorite moment of a theatrical show. Rarely does a production live up to my hopes for it in that hushed anticipation. 

Anything is possible before the beginning.

* * * * *

In the dark of the theater this past Friday night there are towering aspens backlit by an undulating field of soft "Northern" lights. The stage has the blue cast of moonlight and all cell phones have been set to vibrate. We wait for something to happen.

From the dark of the wings sounds a collection of human voices imitating the shrill calls of hungry animals. Their cries die down into a haunting harmonization that is then shattered by similar calls all around the theater. Behind and above me the answering calls settle down into a chilling harmony of tones and Portland's Christmas Revels begin.

If you're unfamiliar with the Revels let me share the briefest of explanations. Each year in cities around the US a group of musicians, dancers, and actors put on a stage show featuring a mash-up of Christian and pagan holiday customs from some European culture. The show is quite a production, with elaborate costumes and complex musical arrangements supporting a tenuous plot based upon winter solstice fears and the redemptive power of children and audience participation. Anachronisms abound, Morris dancing is a must, and there's always at least one person on stage whose smile seems cemented in a Botox-induced mockery of joy. Nevertheless, the music rarely disappoints and there are always some fascinating staging tricks employing different percussive sounds and lighting. 

* * * * *

This year the theme for the Revels was based around "A Visit to the Scandinavian Northlands." Much of the story was an amalgam of gnome lore and an epic poem of Finnish folklore penned in the 1800's entitled The Kalevala. It contained a very amusing mummer's play (an English/Irish tradition) and the audience favorite Lord of the Dance (lyrics written in 1963 to the tune of the Shaker song Simple Gifts) despite the fact that neither of these things have an origin in Scandinavia. Thankfully, the show contained a number of very quiet moments, such as the mysterious Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, which featured a dark procession of archetypal characters and the subdued rutting of antlered men. St. Lucia's procession was also depicted well although some of the magic is naturally lost when electronic candles are used for her crown.

Apart from the bracing opening the finest thing about the Revels this year was the music of the Karelian Folk Music Ensemble. This acoustic trio originates from an area that straddles the Finnish and Russian border. Every song they performed, be it for dancing or for crying, stirred up a deep resonance in me. These three men were the authentic heart of a show attempting to present a sense of yule in inhospitable Northern climes; they had no real need for artifice or costuming because they were of the place they presented. Without them I might have left entertained, but not moved. 

* * * * *

Upon returning home a rare snow began to fall accompanied by a bitter wind. I couldn't help but think that a few bars of music must have escaped the theater to call the winter out.

12.09.2008

Wrapper


I enjoy wrapping gifts. I might enjoy wrapping them more than I enjoy making them (and, at the risk of sounding crotchety, I don't like shopping for them whatsoever).

I've made a unique birthday card for each of my students for the past three years now. Sometimes they follow a theme. For instance, last year all of the cards were adorned with dabs of watercolor and decorated with different Spirograph designs in an assortment of colored inks. Once, I drew two-tone portraits on mat board of famous historical figures that I thought might inspire the student.

Last night I completed a card using india ink and watercolor pencils* which was quite nice, but I was especially proud of the wrapping job— a simple combination of a magazine advert, sticker waste, and adhesive letters. 

In some ways though, a wonderfully wrapped gift can be a downer if the item inside doesn't live up to the grandeur of the packaging. I've witnessed this problem before and it can dampen the mood. At such times I always comfort myself with the thought that I'm just providing another subtle lesson in the spiritual vapidity of the consumerist paradigm.

*Watercolor pencils are the artistic refuge of the draftsman playing painter. A wonderful medium that has saved me many times.

12.07.2008

The Lord's Gyre

Gustave Dore's depection of Dante's Paradisio, Canto 31
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Last night I dreamt that I was standing on a sidewalk in an empty night. 

From the impenetrable darkness I heard a child's voice begin the Lord's Prayer. Each word seemed to gather whispers off the sidewalk, and these whispers, speaking in time with the child, multiplied and magnified as the prayer continued, entwining my feet in a vortex of sound. The air around me quickened as the ever-widening spiral of voices gained a stormy momentum, and it seemed the whole of humanity was aiding and assisting this one child's words. In a moment the prayer had wrapped about my knees, and then it encompassed my sternum, until the tempest of voices, in ever expanding numbers and circles, rose over my head and into the darkness above.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Here then, is my confession: I never once looked up in the dream to witness the prayer's trajectory. My eyes remained rooted to where my feet contacted the Earth; at that spot where the first murmurings of prayers voiced for twenty centuries rose to support a lone child in the dark. My cells were expanding and my lungs no longer supported me. My heart felt like an organ pumping life down a million passages into the surrounding dark. But I never looked up. 

And so I remain tethered; to be greeted by another grey dawn.

11.28.2008

20 Minute Layers


The three most important things I took away from my Photoshop classes at PNCA:

1. Blending modes (found in the layers palette) may follow some set of arcane parameters, but you don't need to bother knowing anything about them so long as you're building your image in a reactive manner— that is, you're not aiming for a specific outcome but are embracing chaos as integral to your design.

2. You need fodder. Alot of it. 

And you can't rely on the low-res offerings of a Google image search to provide said fodder for you (for both practical, and ethical, reasons). The fodder you need should contain high-res images of all manner of subjects, textures, and colors. Even more importantly, rich fodder really needs an array of hand-made paint textures, tea stains, ink splotches, and scratched negatives that have been scanned into the computer.

Now, as I've been both photographer and painter for years, compiling such a library of source material was simple. After a few hours of scanning I had enough potential layers to last me a decade. Perhaps even more exciting was the realization that the aesthetic quality of this fodder was of little importance. Mediocre images of rocks and lichen could be blurry, poorly composed and underexposed; it wouldn't matter one bit when these images were applied as a blended adjustment layer to another image. 

3. Know thyself. Infinite possibilities can lead to endless tasks, so without a solid sense of your aesthetic leanings you could end up working on one image for months.

If I'm working toward a deadline I'll start a project with a vague sense of what I'd like to convey and some imagery that might work together toward that end. 

However, if I've just got a few minutes that I want to put toward playing with an image, I'll simply start layering textures and tones at various levels of opacity until I see a direction emerge. This is more an exercise in intuition than Photoshop technique, and while not all of the images are destined for any life beyond the hard drive, they are a good way to jump start the right side of the brain.

The photograph below was the starting point for the image above. I played around with it for about twenty minutes before moving on to other things. Other things like typing this. 

I don't believe this image is finished yet. The left eye seems oppressively heavy, and there's not enough visual noise to disguise the string. But a starting point has been established and the direction found. All I need now is another twenty minutes.

11.26.2008

The Thread of Truth



The week I went to Wordstock I also took my students to the World Forestry Center to see the Wolf to Woof exhibit. Being a responsible teacher, I previewed the entire exhibit the weekend prior to the field trip. Being a dutiful artist, I brought along my camera. Without a tripod I was only able to obtain a handful of photos, and of that handful only a very few were of any visual interest. They are currently available for scrutiny at Flickr.

I must confess that I love photographing museum displays— the subjects don't move, and with the right depth of field an entire dioramic fiction can become reality. Depending on my mood I might gravitate toward photographing those displays that can be easily mistaken for some scene outside the climate controlled exhibition hall, or I might feel more inclined toward those displays that fail utterly at their illusion. Those failures, once committed to the still image, become beguiling sources of wonder, as the viewer's inclination (despite the proliferation of Photoshop) continues to lean towards accepting photographic images as expressions of truth.

Now that I think about it, whether founded or not, museums also have the aura of truth wrapped about them. Our visits to them are meant to provide a curated experience endorsed by the diplomas and dissertations of experts. More than any other cultural institution we expect nothing short of complete veracity from a museum, for without the assurance of truth, they become nothing more than mausoleums we must pay to enter: tax-dollar vampires that preserve the past from the ravages of fire, time, and context.

I suppose the thread of implied truth could be construed as a tenuous connection between photography and museums, but it is the thread I unwind when I visit an exhibition, and it is the thread that I follow back out into the daylight when I start feeling oppressed by the hushed white walls and gleaming vitrines that fill my viewfinder.

11.22.2008

Open Studio Event


Cleaning up the studio tends to be both distracting and profoundly futile. There are few reasons to undertake such a Sisyphean task and yet, it is currently part of my Thanksgiving "to do" list.

And I do it for you.

I do it because I want you to visit me on Friday, December 5th* during the Troy Laundry Building's Annual Open Studio event (see discretely placed advert above). 

It is not my intention to sell you anything, nor do I plan on coercing you to visit any of the other studios where my fellow co-op artists may try to sell you something. It is just an opportunity to share ideas and libations in honor of the creative impulse. 

Apart from a couple drawings that were part of my show in Seattle earlier this year I'll have some works in progress on display along with a few pieces of juvenilia. I may even do a demo or two if folks are interested. So mark your calendars and bring your friends— it would be wonderful to have cleaned for a reason.

*Please note that I will not be taking part in the open studio day on Saturday as stated in the flyer posted above. An English high tea calls me on to rural Washington that day so my studio must remain locked. 

11.18.2008

Spurned


For those of you following this escapade I present my rejection letter from New American Paintings

I would have posted it sooner but my weeping and gnashing of teeth hindered the ability to type.

11.16.2008

The Last Word


Well, the last word from Wordstock 08 anyway. . . I wouldn't dream of throwing in the blogging towel now that my readership has doubled to six people. 

The exceedingly gregarious Turiya Autry of good sista bad sista led a workshop entitled Sensing Writing that was to be my last of the day. Most of my senses were bordering on numb by the time I sat down in that final class, but Turiya's exuberance shook the room free of its tryptophan haze (turkey sandwiches at lunch do not lead to wakeful students in the afternoon) and we set to work.

First off— write a sentence that relies on as many of the senses as possible. To which I wrote:
The sky was still a polluted grey, but crisper now, and full of crackling brown leaves brought down by the season.
That toxic Inland Empire* never fails to provide grist for the ol' mill. A number of us offered up our sentences to the squeaky dry erase board and then a few minutes were devoted to organizing them into a poetic mash-up of free form verse. The process was unequivocally more inspiring than the output. Nevertheless, the poetics of disparity were successfully conveyed.

Onward then to a setting rich with sense words:
I wasn't tall enough to look inside the pot on the stove but I liked to stand near it and listen to the low rumble of the boiling stock.

"You'll burn your nose on that eye if you get any closer." Mama would warn, with her back to the stove. The smell of onions engulfed us but my eyes were too dry to respond, warmed as they were by the glowing orange electric coil that heated the mid-day meal.
Thankfully, we Wordstockains were never asked to have any concrete ideas about the plots of our prompts, so it was very easy to just pick an object or topic from the ether and start writing. As the majority of my classes that day were devoted to helping the reluctant adolescent writer put some collection of words on blank paper it seemed fitting that the vast majority of our activities were geared towards the beginnings of writing— the assumption being that once the imagination is in motion it will remain in motion, at least until an alternate force affects it.

*My God, the Inland Empire has a Wikipedia entry. A very long Wiki entry at that. It reveals a startling paucity of the word "wasteland" but seems forthcoming about pollution, San Bernardino's startling crime rate, our cultural achievements, and "a trend toward lower educational attainment." 

When people ask me where I'm from now I just say Monmouth.

11.14.2008

Tilou


I interrupt these self-indulgent posts about my slap-dash writing at Wordstock 08 to bring you a cloying post about the new member of our household. In writing this entry about my pet I fully realize that there is no turning back from blogging about one's dog/cat/hamster/etc. and that in taking this path I open the door to both ridicule and a profound mediocrity. I wish I could be apologetic, but she's just so darn cute!

Tilou is a term of endearment that the French commonly use for their children. It is derived from "petit loup" which translates into "little wolf." The French also refer to their kids as small cabbages and fleas, which may explain something about why French children inevitably grow up to be so very French. As there is a tradition of christening our pet with a vaguely elitist foreign name we felt that Tilou was a tres super choice for this little biter. 

We adopted Tilou from the Oregon Humane Society. The description posted about her on their website stated that she was a good lap cat who liked to snuggle under the covers and was prone to some "playful" biting. Due to her penchant for latching down on human flesh it was recommended that she be placed in a home without children. Apparently, adults are more used to being bitten and don't react as negatively as a child might to the sight of their own blood. Not that Tilou bites that hard— more often than not she just wants to hold your hand gently with her teeth. I think it's a Siamese way of saying, "I love you."

Tilou is a Lynx Point Siamese, or a mix of Tabby and Siamese. She has a primarily Tabby face and front legs with two adorable white tennis socks on her front paws. Her mix of coloring gives her a vaguely toasted look and it is hard to say which breed's traits seem more dominant. 

She is not as vocal as one would expect of a Siamese, but this may partially be a result of having been first purchased by an elderly woman. Tilou uses quite a bit of body language to express her needs for food (as opposed to meowing) so I suspect that her first owner was hard of hearing and Tilou had to adapt if she wished to get any attention. Since moving in with us she has found her voice a bit more, but she still prefers to leap atop human bodies until they reward her with platefuls of wet food.

The decision to adopt a cat came very quickly, but my wife and I had both been feeling exceedingly lonely since losing Pneu, and one day we simply decided we needed another presence in the house again. Like Pneu, Tilou has an abundance of personality, so she'll fit right in to our eclectic household. 

Thanks for sitting through a pet post. For those keeping score I used the words: darn, cute, snuggle, playful, love, and adorable. Next time I'll try to work in a "loveums" or two.

11.12.2008

Wordstock 08: The Blank Page III


The first word I took from among the scraps of paper in her hand read: illness. I tried not to read too much into this. This was a topic I could write about.
You question your sanity. 
Am I doing this to myself? Do I punish my own body? Is my life an exercise in loathing so subtle even I cannot find the root of my discontent? I'm improbably writing my own conclusion with the misfired synapses and imbalanced chemistry of a flawed mind. 

Perhaps sanity was never mine to question.

Now, not all illnesses are like this. Some are just periodic interruptions of the seasons that we understand to be the result of outside influences— germs, or children, or a profound lack of sleep.
"Time." 

I'm to change words with the person next to me. She holds a scrap of paper that reads: hallways. Three more minutes is granted to formulate a connection between the first word and the second.
But the most unfortunate sickness is the undiagnosable: those ailments that occur, and reoccur, with such frequency that they define the shape of your life. These illnesses erect walls on either side of you, blotting out awareness of anything else until you walk a hallway of horrific fixation. A hallway where every step is in service of the proliferation of greater discomfort and self doubt.
And like that the class is over. The room has grown oppressively stuffy and the orderly rows of convention center chairs have lost their regimented appearance. Ms. Ergenbright offers us a quotation from Emily Dickinson and we leave the room a-buzz. 

11.11.2008

Wordstock 08: The Blank Page II


Erin Ergenbright handed out an image trimmed from some anonymous magazine and asked us to come up with the name and occupation for the person pictured. Then we were to include this information within a narrative that explained why this individual was kicked out of their family. The morose young adolescent toying with two small plastic animals in front of a brick wall inspired this incipient text:
Esmeralda May Eddy preferred Esme— in this way she used two out of three given names with nominal effort. She had been labeled a dreamer by exasperated caregivers and school teachers, but she preferred to think of herself as an adolescent spiritualist on a mission to reconnect the Santa Lucia Preparatory School with the soul of the natural world.
The next task was to write about the character we'd created from the point of view (that's POV, for those who like acronyms) of a family member. A different lens exposes a different picture, so I chose precocious Esme's exasperated mother and her recollection of the day her daughter left for Santa Lucia:
Esmeralda had plastered her Samsonite with hundreds of sheets of origami paper within twelve hourse of it being enlisted to hold her clothes for Santa Lucia. Naturally, I made no mention of it, as words only vindicated her recalcitrance and I had no desire for her to leave with any sense of self-satisfaction. 

We had reached a verbal impasse on far more than luggage, and it was with two years of heavy regret that I stood by and watched Charles lug the gaily colored case into the trunk. Esmeralda bowed her head with great exaggeration as she got in the back seat of the car: perhaps imagining the rough hand of the law pushing her into a squad car or, more likely, the unyielding palm of God himself sentencing her to four years of the most prestigious preparatory education in New England.
And then my six minutes was up. 

The fact that I ended up with a cliched and overly melodramatic family drama wasn't particularly bothersome; rather it was the fact that I'd become completely wrapped up in my trite fiction that gave me a moment's pause. I almost felt resentment when Ms. Ergenbright stopped our pencils in order to have a few minutes of sharing. When would I find time to outline my sub plots of guilty maternity, obsessive horticulture, and contemporary animism?

One last exercise remains for The Blank Page. Next up, I will respond to two disparate words in a weak homage to Susan Sontag.

11.09.2008

Wordstock 08: The Blank Page I

Image courtesy Mary K. Baird at morgueFile

I spent Friday attending an all day teacher education event hosted by the Community of Writers in conjunction with Portland's annual Wordstock festival. All four of the classes that I chose to participate in offered insights about how best to engage reluctant creative writers in the classroom. There is a good reason that continuing education workshops like this are often referred to as intensives; it tends to take a day or two to recover from the information overload. In looking back I realize that I was asked to produce a tremendous amount of writing in relatively short periods of time over the course of the day. 

While I don't claim to be any great shakes as a writer, I thought it might be interesting to post the results of these quick responses to prompts with a bit of contextual information.

* * * * *

The workshop entitled The Blank Page presented a wide variety of prompts and exercises that could be used to move students beyond their fear of an empty white paper. It was skillfully managed by Erin Ergenbright, who provided ample enthusiasm and a respectable amount of collegiate-worthy quotes from literary luminaries past.

When asked to write a quick response to the prompt "Now I know. . ." I produced the following:
Now I know there is no pickle bush. I'd always puzzled over the lack of discussion about them in my elementary school studies of farming and food. They certainly weren't in the Central Valley that we drove through every summer on our way to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Sacramento. Dad had never planted a pickle bush in his desiccated raised garden bed out back. Visits to the nursery offered no clues.

I decided that pickles, and the bushes that birthed them, were an exotic crop imported to America as a means of moistening the mealy cardboard of cafeteria hamburgers.
That was as far as time constraints allowed. I never even got to the revelation of pickles being a common vegetable that was simply pickled. Imagine my surprise at age 22 when this mind-blowing fact was presented to me. Oh, the sheltered upbringing of a suburban child. . .

Our next task was to respond to something visual. Join me again soon for the tale of Esmeralda May Eddy; told in two parts, with strong Emo overtones.

11.02.2008

The Privilege of the Nimble Mind


The American Revolution dwarfs all other concerns now. In a few weeks I must teach the events, ideals, and people that shaped the first true democracy of our world. While enthusiastic, there is much I don't know, cannot fathom, and will undoubtedly miss this first time through the topic. 

* * * * *

I'm often struck by how little I've retained from my early education, and how only now as I endeavor to teach a topic, do I truly internalize information. Age has provided me context and a better sense of time. Now that I'm older I can recognize motives and effects. As I stand before my class I sometimes wonder if they too will lose what I've worked so hard to share with them, just as I did years ago. 

Perhaps, ultimately, it doesn't matter. Children must only grow up to enjoy learning— what is learned is of far less consequence. No amount of fact, no collection of historical dates, no application of theorems will assist an adult who has had their imagination deadened and their sense of self-worth consumed by apathy. 

Liberty is the privilege of the nimble mind and receptive heart. 

* * * * *

I've been enthralled with a book from 1976 entitled Liberty Book. It is the work of an illustrator of immeasurable talent named Leonard Everett Fisher. Within his introduction Fisher quotes John Adams:
"I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children the right to study painting, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."
Adams understood that the proliferation of the arts was the final stage of an educated and peaceful republic. The Athens of Pericles provided not only a respite from warfare, but a flowering of ideas and creativity that continues to shape the culture of the Western World. It was the promise of peace, a true and lasting peace that nurtured aesthetic and philosophical inquiry, which guided our forefathers into war with the British. 

I wonder now about how we honor their dream, and whether or not we are capable of the bravery required to offer our children a world of beautiful reason.

10.28.2008

The Whispers of Michelle Ross


Small Wild Things gets its due this month with not one, but two, venues featuring this collaborative project orchestrated by Michelle Ross. If you're a fan of Tantric paintings, Walter Benjamin, or adults co-opting the games of children then I invite you to take some time and visit these exhibitions.

Homage (November 3 - December 7, 2008)
The Art Gym @ Marylhurst University, BP John Administration Building
17600 Pacific Highway, Marylhurst, OR 97036-0261

Tuesday - Sunday, Noon - 4pm

Preview Reception: Sunday, November 2, 3 - 5pm
Gallery Talk: Tuesday, November 18, Noon

* * * * * 

Small Wild Things (November 6 - November 29, 2008)
Nine Gallery
1231 NW Hoyt Street, Portland, OR 97209-3021

Tuesday - Saturday, Noon - 5pm

Opening Reception: Thursday, November 6, 6 - 9pm

While I have much to say about this project (having seen it in its entirety earlier this summer) I will put off any further commentary (for now) and simply encourage you to come and experience it for yourself.

10.27.2008

Duty and Context

Lincoln, Abraham; three-quarter-length, standing, ca. 1863 
Photographed by Mathew B. Brady 
Courtesy of the National Archives, photo no. 111-B-3656

Two hours later I emerge from the voter pamphlets with a completed ballot— all of the measures have been measured and my chosen ovals are completely filled in with a black pen. As usual, I'm a tad stupified as to exactly how some measures even make it to the ballot. I also harbor an underlying nervousness about such measures passing and wrecking havoc on our social services and/or state infrastructure. 

Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to live in a country enlightened enough to allow all of us a voice regarding government policy. As a somewhat biased educator I strongly believe that we must bend all our energies towards educating each successive generation about this privilege or it will be lost. Complacency is the first step towards authoritarianism and many signs point to the encouragement of complacency over education in America these past twenty five years. 

Perhaps voter turn-out for this election will be the first break in the chain of national complacency, and this break will help the populace feel empowered to renew our ownership of the democratic system. Owning the means for just government far outstrips the ownership of any material good or monetary amount. So while it's ironic that more people may turn out to vote because of their leaking pocketbook, it doesn't change the fact that this may foster a renewed recognition that the power for change lies within the will of the people.

* * * * *

I have never witnessed an election that devoted so much time to referencing the past. Lincoln, Hoover, FDR, Kennedy, Carter, and Reagan have all been given their due and put in whatever context best suits candidate or party at the time. The fixation on Lincoln and FDR are perhaps the most telling, as they each speak directly to different stories of American struggle. 

* * * * *

The most recent issue of the Smithsonian Magazine (November 2008) features an article entitled Election Day 1860 by Harold Holzer which outlines Lincoln's actions on the day of his election to the presidency. It is full of wonderful examples of voting procedures and campaign etiquette of the day. For example: stump speeches were seen as the resort of desperate and weak candidates, the vice president was chosen by party and not by the candidate himself, and to vote for oneself was a mark of immodesty. 

Lincoln is given his due as a witty and thoughtful candidate who recognizes the magnitude of his bid for president. Holzer alludes to Lincoln's understanding of what his presidency might entail. After all, on that day a portion of the states would not even allow his name on the ballots (which makes the issues of hanging chad in 2000 seem almost quaint in terms of voter rights) and partisan politics sowed such fear in the populace that all manner of rumors circulated the nation as election results began to come in. 

It's interesting to consider Lincoln's bid for the presidency in light of his famous "House Divided" speech just two years earlier. Without intention or malice Lincoln became the wedge that split that metaphorical house on 1860 and yet, one almost feels that it was within the destiny of the country to elect the man who would spark and subdue the most devastating ethical dilemma in American history.

Although the situation in America this coming November 4th isn't as openly volatile as the one facing the nation in 1860, who can say that it is any less important? It will be the job of history to make sense of our present— all we can do is vote.

10.24.2008

It's Official



I've finally been granted some blogging credibility— www.breakingmurphyslaw.com, a site devoted to staving off disaster when giving presentations, referred to my recent post about Andrea Zittel's lecture at PSU as "snarky." Truly one of the most highly coveted monikers in the blogosphere, I have written so many posts in the past hoping to attain the distinction of snarky that I'd completely given up on it ever happening. Now all I have to do is put up a post about my pet and/or child and I'll have a chance at being called "insipid," which is another distinction I long for. With a new cat in the house it can't be long before I will be a blogger with a capital "B."

All of the hits that have resulted from the link on breakingmurphyslaw (to date, five, which is a veritable landslide of visits on my blog) bring to light another way that I have failed in my duties as a blogger. I rarely link to other sites, comment about other sites, or in any way indicate that I'm at all connected to internet culture apart from using it as a way to subject my ideas and experiences to those poor few who fall upon my page. 

If, up till now, you believed that I log-on to the internet only to type messages on Blogger you would be only half right— I also neurotically check my account balances and the most recent lotto numbers. And every few days I look at the following sites. Most of them have a fairly narrow focus (which displays a single-mindedness that I have difficulty understanding, but certainly can appreciate), while one is more akin to my blog, in the sense that it eschews a single subject and operates more as a personality dissemination platform. So without further ado:

Fruit Slinger— Two teens work on a newspaper (this is not a lead-up to a joke): one teen goes on to attend a prestigious university and obtain a degree in journalism. The other teen goes on to become me. 

Prestigious degree in hand my friend becomes first a copy editor, then a freelance writer, then a freelance traveler who writes, and finally the author of the best written blog I've come across. Now, it's almost entirely devoted to fruit, and his experiences selling fruit to a motley assortment of locals at a farmers market, but it is so exceedingly witty that this seemingly narrow focus is not limiting in any way. Dan could write a blog about peeling paint and it would still be the first blog I visit. 

Photoshop Disasters— Everything that can go wrong when good software is put in the hands of aesthetically incompetent people. The flubs are often jaw-droppingly bad and the accompanying text is appropriately, um, snarky. If you're new to using Photoshop then I strongly encourage you to learn from what others have not.

Drawn— A blog managed by a number of people who troll the internet looking for exceptional bits of illustration, animation, drawings, and typography. While the focus here is much more on the commercial end of the spectrum than the conceptual end, the artists and designers who are featured tend to be very talented and I always find something that I end up bookmarking or smiling about. If you need a way to gauge the pulse of contemporary illustration/design, Drawn is your best bet.


Bunny With an Artblog— Hilary Pfeifer has made a living as a professional artist for years. If that fact alone doesn't inspire awe then you are clearly not an artist trying to make a living with your art. 

Envy isn't the only reason I visit her blog however; take a look at her "Some of the Things I've Blogged About" sidebar on the right side of her page. It turns out that Hilary is also a polymath with relevant things to share about both the Pacific Northwest art scene as well as the larger art world. There are quite a few artist blogs out there, but most of them are simply postings of recent work or upcoming publication and show announcements. I appreciate that Hilary offers more of herself than simple self promotion.

So there you have it. I've linked to something other than my previous posts. I'd like to think that this signals not just my growing maturity as a blogger, but as a person. Enjoy!

10.15.2008

Serfs and Lords


This week in the classroom has focused on the social hierarchy of the Middle Ages. I have yet to encounter the sixth grader who isn't fascinated with the feudal system and its blatant disparities between the classes. 

As the divide between the rich and poor has never really closed, I suspect that this peek into the past allows a neutral ground in which to speak about fairness and equality among people. I find these conversations to be profoundly important to the students, and I don't recall anything similar in my own early educational experience. I suspect that it is only in an environment that honors all the players in history, rich and poor alike, that such a dialogue can occur. When I was a child learning history we were still under the sway of canonical conventions that emphasized only victors and land owners. So while post-modern thought hasn't been a boon in all cases, it has forced a more honest assessment of what actually constitutes the historical record.

* * * * *

Each week I place a thematic drawing on the chalkboard to serve as backdrop for the lessons. This image of a peasant threshing spelt was one such drawing that I managed to capture with the digital camera about two years ago. In general, I try to derive the imagery for my chalkboard drawings from art history, so that the students are not only taking home thematic stories and activities, but a visual record of history as well. 

10.14.2008

If I Turn This Off Now We Will Go Into Darkness


Image courtesy simonfilm at morgueFile

Andrea Zittel rocks. 

I think that will serve as commentary aplenty for her lecture last night at PSU's Shattuck Hall.

There are undoubtedly finer writers with more nimble minds who can provide a comprehensive, heavily syllabled, dissertation on the work she presented over the course of the evening. I have opted to put my energies towards a low-brow rant instead.

I've been attending artist lectures since the days when humming slide projectors glowed hot in the back of darkened halls. With a couple exceptions, I can safely say that very few of the lectures in those days suffered from one tenth of the technical difficulties that plague modern presentations. Fancy laptops and digital displays may be the norm for every new speaking venue today, but you can tell that as a society we take for granted our mastery of these new technologies. Plug-and-play (which, by the way, was a concept that couldn't be realized until 1996, roughly ten years after computers entered the middle class home) continues to be about as easy as changing your oil— which is to say that anyone can do it, but few can do it without some unforeseen difficulty. 

So after some fresh-faced Portlander bumbled through what might be the most painful introductory speech I've ever encountered: rife as it was with "ums," random shout-outs for local artists, feeble fundraising plugs, and frequent confusion about which canned biographical tidbit he was meant to be reading, Andrea Zittel took over the podium. The audience visibly relaxed, and the fear that we might all have just been represented to a preeminent contemporary artist as West Coast bumpkins dimmed in time with the overhead lights.

Then the real trouble began. Ms. Zittel immediately realized that the image ratio of her slides was wrong. Such an observation is expected of a visual artist, although I doubt many of us in the packed lecture hall would have noticed. She started fussing with the settings and the screen went blue. Then it went black. 

The narrative ground to a halt as Zittel attempted to work through the technical difficulties and then, in slight frustration, she picked the narrative back up without any projection. Instead she hoisted her computer up and turned the screen toward the room. The artist lecture with 200 odd audience members became an inane library story-hour wherein only the ten closest people to Zittel were able to see the images on her laptop monitor. Despite her gently swinging the monitor in an arc to show the image to the entire crowd, it was impossible to make out any detail on a 15" screen when seated 12 rows back in a lecture hall. Was there no one who could resolve this aspect ratio debacle? 

Enter PSU IT guy (well, enter his speaking role anyway, as he'd been poking about at the podium for a few minutes at this point). Oh higher educated IT guy, explain to us simple art enthusiasts why things have gone so wrong: "Well, the old projector had this button you could push that fixed this problem and this new projector doesn't have the same buttons."* 

Phew! A wave of relief flooded over the room as the root of the difficulty was so brilliantly exposed. Granted, none of us grasped how to resolve this fundamental problem of button absence, but we felt better knowing that the foibles of our technologies could be quickly assessed and diagnosed.

Eventually things got back on track and Ms. Zittel was able to turn her attention to the task at hand— outlining a decade of artistic inquiry into an aesthetic of manicured simplicity. Those of us concerned with Portland appearing like a quaint artistic backwater slowly forgot the pathetic gaffs of the first half hour as we sat back and admired the prodigious output of a woman who might be better described as a fierce individualist rather than an artist. Had Zittel come of age in a time prior to Duchamp, she would have just been considered a kooky community eccentric rather than a purveyor of contemporary domestic aesthetics. 

In America today, where individuality is no longer a construct of idealism, but a marketing tool for moving cheap commodity, I suppose the only place a character as unique as Zittel might be appreciated is in the ivory tower of the art world. I was in the midst of considering this idea when Zittel came to a close and, with the slightest trace of hesitation in her voice, proclaimed with a slight nod towards her computer, "If I turn this off now we will go into darkness." 

I don't think she was afraid of the dark, she was simply afraid that we wouldn't be able to find the lights. And that might be the best metaphor to come out of her presentation. Obviously, she would be fine— 

We were the ones who needed some help.

*OK, this isn't a quote verbatim, but it is certainly close enough to be considered the gist.

10.08.2008

I Heart Analog


I miss my hi-fi. To be honest, the iPod* has been a woeful substitute despite its space-saving allure. I realized the depth of my regret at having relegated my audio components to the closet only after purchasing a few albums this month. I came home, used cds** in hand, flush with the excitement of shopping in the midst of financial catastrophe, ready to throw them on and bliss out. But life isn't that simple now.

First I must load the tracks into my computer and then I must plug my iPod into the computer and allow the songs to trickle onto the music player. Then the iPod demands more juice if it's to deliver a continual stream of music for longer than sixty minutes, which leaves me sitting about waiting for the battery to charge. 

It is at this point that my interest in listening to the albums begins to wane. I wash the dishes or sort the recycling. I add items to my TO DO list. I contemplate the exact date when JP Morgan will slap their branding on all of WAMU's printed collateral. I look up the word collateral and realize I'm not applying it correctly in the previous sentence. I check the iPod. Still charging. . .

When the earbuds are finally wedged into my ears I'm subjected to a very tinny sounding Cee-Lo. The Cure suffers from an aggressive treble and half the tracks on Bjork's Telegram are bogged down with mushy bass. I think back to the first time that I heard Massive Attack's Protection on something other than a boom-box and how the quality of the sound seemed so expansive and engulfing. Exactly how I managed to stray again from that experience I'll never know. I fell victim to the hype. I chuckled at those silly Mac and PC commercials and I lay my money down on the shiny counter of the Apple store. 

Now my ears often ache from the pressure of formed plastic and I can't remember what it was about the album art of OK Computer that affected me so much in my teens. My hi-fi collects dust in the closet, ashamed of its bulky cases and thick speaker cables. The CD collection has also entered the closet and is only briefly perused when a new album has been loaded onto the computer and needs to be stored out of sight. 

Meanwhile, the iPod travels about with me, delivering far more storage than sound. I watch everyone on the train nod their heads half-heartedly to the music being drowned out by the screech of the wheels on track and I think that we've all been fooled yet again. Now we own music; because experiencing it doesn't sell albums with the same frequency.

*I would put a TM symbol after every instance of the word iPod because I respect the Apple and do not wish to anger the Apple, but I cannot find this feature on Blogger, so let this serve as my disclaimer that iPod is a registered trademark of Apple. I understand that I have no rights to type the word iPod without a TM symbol but I respectfully submit that it is Blogger, not I, who has violated international intellectual property rights by not providing the appropriate typography to legally credit copyright and trademark holders.

**For those of you who care, the purchased cds in question were:
Gnarls Barkley- The Odd Couple
The Cure- Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Bjork- Telegram
Peter Gabriel- Peter Gabriel
MC Solaar- Paradisiaque
Massive Attack- Danny the Dog: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Underworld- Pearl's Girl

10.03.2008

The Director Directs


Tomorrow may, or may not, wrap up filming for the short film I've been producing with The Company. Last weekend was derailed by a tooth extraction  that was in no way exacerbated by our director's recent flirtation with cigarettes. Don't smoke kids— cigarette smoke eats molars.

* * * * *

I've served as cinematographer for this outing, which is a fancy way of saying I've held a relatively heavy camera for very long periods of time while draping myself over cubicle walls or pressing my body into stucco corners. The Director fancies the exceedingly long takes. When I say long I mean takes so long that they potentially border on the uncomfortable for the audience. Relentless monotony isn't the objective of every take, but used sparingly, it may prove to be a very effective way of conveying the indistinct personality of the lead character. 

I must confess that I find it odd to serve as a conduit for someone else's vision on this project. I've spent so many years working alone on my artwork that it has required some readjustment on my part to not be the peanut gallery every time I hear the word, "Cut." 

At the same time I find it strangely liberating to not be the person controlling the final vision. I power up the equipment, check the settings, point and shoot. In some ways it is akin to my relationship with pinhole photography— I can't really control the outcome so faith is the only confidence I can hold. In this instance my faith rests with my friends, with the script, and with the actors. 

* * * * *

My wife has often pointed out that film is a communal art form. It is inclusive because it is impossible to realize alone, and perhaps this contributes subtly to the magic film works over our culture. We must labor together to create it, and then we choose to sit in a darkened theater for two hours and share in the viewing experience with a broader public. Stories are projected onto a screen so that they might add another perspective, another sorrow, another joy to the chronicle of our own lives. Story telling may be one of the few constants in the history of mankind and the moving image shows no sign of relinquishing its century-long domination of our narrative landscape. 

In two hundred years art history texts aren't going to be extolling our contemporary painters with nearly the same vigor that they'll be studying the cultural relevance of James Cameron or the cut-and-paste narratives of Quentin Tarantino. 

Knowing this has made me seriously consider the frequency with which I should be putting down the gesso to pick up the video camera.

9.29.2008

Sloth


Here is a bit of 5th grade free-association during a discussion of Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Sloth being one of the seven deadly sins. Bob (not Cratchit), Jimmy, and Goerge [sic] being quasi-mythical nonsense characters of tremendous importance to the younger contingent of my class. Peperika being, I can only assume, a spice on par with those carted over desert lands by the wise men during the rule of Herod.

What is it about the unchecked lettering of children that is so mesmerizing? All of my artistic training and typographic inclinations couldn't yield letter forms with one tenth the personality of these. How is it that this composition looks like the inchoate foundation for a lost Cy Twombly painiting and yet stems from nothing more than a child pushing time forward with  a few flicks of the fountain pen.*

*Yes, at my school, students still use fountain pens. It is part of our old-world approach to nurturing a more conscientious craftsmanship. 

9.26.2008

Woohoo! Campaign Fun 2008


I suppose if you're a Republican presidential candidate following eight abysmal years of mismanagement by your own party in the Oval Office that it makes sense to align yourself as strongly as possible with the Republican president that preceded the current one. 

Of course. . . that won't work out too well because that Republican president had the same name as the standing president you're trying to distance yourself from (I think they might even be related). What is a radical new elderly maverick of the Republican party to do?

How about painting yourself as the embodiment of Ronald Reagan's legacy. After all, Reagan was the Godfather of trickle-down economic policy which clearly continues to work in our favor today. Why just this week my bank of ten years was seized by the government, which will undoubtedly result in an immediate trickling-down of my retirement investments. 

There's really nothing bad that can be said about Reagan now that he's passed on to a better place. During his presidency supply-side economics took off, lobbyists began their ascension to political power, and all the top-40 radio stations had at least one peppy New Wave single on their playlists. I think the only down side that I can remember to the 80's might have been watching my middle class parents struggle to make ends meet while "naively" working public service jobs when everyone else was investing in Wall Street. But the plight of the average family is so Main Street. . .

Let me turn my attention to something else instead. Like Jim Lehrer's flaccid moderation of tonight's presidential candidate debate. Is my memory faulty or didn't there used to be some structure to the way speakers were allowed to address each other's comments? Since when does a moderator insist upon the candidates jumping down each other's throats? Why was foreign policy so heavily covered when the country is in the midst of the greatest financial debacle of decades? Not to trivialize foreign policy, but foreign policy is really only an issue for countries that are still countries, and if the bottom continues to fall out of our financial system we may not really need a president who is all that hip to the intricacies of border skirmishes in Afghanistan. It takes all the willpower I have right now to not bring up a certain Jeffersonian inaugural address from 1801 that, had we any sense of our own history, might have prevented a great deal of our woes these past fifty years.

9.22.2008

Whiteface


I don't shoot all the photographs that I end up creating as drawings. Some are just discarded memories sold for a buck or two in old cigar boxes at junk shops. A select few are actually images that are given to me by friends or family. I confess that I like mixing up the sources of my imagery (yes, I take ownership for the antiques as well as the gifts: that's the artist prerogative) as it challenges the viewer to formulate a narrative that encompasses different time periods, people, and places. Huge temporal shifts must take place to draw a story line between the images, and in many cases those pictures that appear to be taken at a certain moment in history might have been shot with a digital camera a week ago, whereas the most modern of compositions is actually a 100 year old negative salvaged from a shack in Idaho. There's no veracity in life, why should there be in art?

I could tell you that the image above was taken on a night when my wife and I were dubbed Prom King and Queen, but I would understand if you didn't believe me. If I shared with you that this image brings me equal parts joy and pain you might fashion a narrative as to why that may be, and your version could be just as intricate as mine. 

I won't go so far as to take credit for releasing the shutter, but when I finish putting this image to paper there can be no refuting that it will belong to me. If I have any skill as an artist at all then perhaps someone else will view it someday and the memory of it will belong to them. And in this way my fiction may be perpetuated indefinitely, like so many fictions that have preceded me.

9.19.2008

Eating Squirrel


On the hunt for a letterbox last weekend at the Audubon Center in Forest Park I heard a peculiar squealing ahead of me on the Woodpecker Trail. It came in spurts and had the high pitch of an animal in extreme fear or pain. I moved slowly down the trail toward the noise until I saw a spastic burst of writhing fur in the ferns just a few feet ahead. Each fit of movement would immediately be halted and then the horrible noise would ensue until another flurry of movement sent the furry bundle scurrying erratically through the underbrush. I briefly considered that it might be squirrels mating. After all, I could clearly make out the bushy brown of a squirrel's tail whipping around, but the sound seemed too deathly to be anything that might contribute to further life.

I stood very still for a minute or two trying to catch a clear view, and eventually the squirrel rolled onto the clear patch of trail a few feet ahead of me. It lay there panting, with a horrible glazed look in its eye, already clearly past the point of saving itself. From its back sprang a spry little short-tailed weasel. The weasel had been slowly killing its prey with a bite to the neck; even as it pinned the squirrel's franticly kicking legs with its own small limbs. The weasel was clearly startled by my presence and it stood stock still for a moment to consider what threat I might pose. After only a second, before the squirrel could do much more than roll his eye imploringly in my direction, the weasel seized upon it again and yanked it into the ferns. The death cries continued with less urgency, and I walked on.

* * * * *

I decided to tell the docent at the Audubon Visitor's Center about what I'd seen. After relating that I'd accidentally interrupted a weasel taking down a squirrel she stopped me abruptly and asked if the weasel had gotten away with the squirrel. I assured her it had. She breathed a small sigh of relief. 

"It would have been tragic for all that energy to have been wasted." she said.

9.15.2008

Letterboxing


I'm going to describe something to you and you're undoubtedly going to think it very quaint. Nevertheless, I'm a bit of an old soul in an increasingly vapid world, so nostalgic adjectives are rarely a negative with me. I'm going to tell you about something I was introduced to a few weeks ago that has flitted about my mind ever since. It is called letterboxing, and it has produced an entire secret world that exists all around us everyday.

Letterboxing apparently began on the bleak moors of Devon, England that are now part of Dartmoor National Park. Legend goes that a Victorian-era gentleman out walking the soggy ground placed his calling card in a bottle one day and left it to be found by other hikers who also placed their cards in the bottle. Slowly, this singular act, gave birth to an eccentric pastime wherein modern letterboxers create personalized rubber stamps that they carry with a small logbook and a set of clues. The clues, which can range from straight forward orienteering directions to cryptic stories or puzzles, lead to small water-tight boxes that also contain a carved rubber stamp and a small logbook. Upon finding the box the letterboxer stamps their book with the stamp found in the letterbox, and then they leave an impression of their personalized stamp in the logbook found in the box. In this way, both the letterboxer and the box contain evidence of a successful deciphering of clues. The letterboxer goes home with another stamp that will serve as a snapshot of their time that day, and the box carries a record of all those who've visited before.

In essence, letterboxing is an amalgam of hiking, orienteering, craft, and problem solving. It is a treasure hunt that permits the hunter to also create their own treasures to hide. Many letterboxers not only hunt for stamps, but also fashion their own letterboxes to stash away at favorite locations. Clues in England are apparently much more closely guarded than clues in the States, where simply visiting www.letterboxing.org allows one to search for boxes state by state. The stateside letterboxing phenomenon is very young and can be traced back to a 1998 article in The Smithsonian about the hard-core letterboxers of Devon. 

While American letterboxes might be more free with their clues, most do still abide by a set of principles established by our friends across the Atlantic. In short: letterboxing should follow a 'leave no trace' policy in order to protect the natural world, private property and hallowed grounds should always be respected, and spoilers who post pictures of stamps from various locations deserve no less than to become pariahs of the online letterboxing community. Furthermore, every letterboxer should take care to protect the secrecy of box locations, even to the point of lying to other hikers who may inquire about what you are doing sitting in the middle of a muddy trail making rubber stamp art. 

As I'm relatively new to the hobby I feel that I should honor the mildly goofy entreaty for secrecy and avoid posting my actual stamp and trail name with this entry. Instead I will share with you this awesome drawing from our household collection of juvenilia. If you can decipher what would happen to this flightless bird were it to go on a hunger strike you'd have the key to my secret identity.

9.12.2008

Fine Arts


Fine Arts is the working title for the short film that the Company has opted to shoot this month. After an initial foray into the woods (literally and metaphorically) over the summer we learned a few valuable lessons about undertaking the production of a full length movie. First and foremost we gleaned that shooting a full length movie would make more sense after shooting a few shorter films. We also realized that striped shirts filmed through gently rocking steady cams yield footage that can only be viewed after throwing back a few Dramamine. 

So while there was an initial deflation of spirit around our cinematic endeavors following the weekend in the woods, The Company has come surging back with a lovely little character study that requires very few moving shots, very few locations, very few props, and very few actors. While this may sound like we're caving a bit, the truth is that the film promises to be better for the limitations because no detail can escape our attention. The entire production can be methodically considered, and as four out of four Company members are known for their own particular brand of perfectionism, it's safe to say that we can manage being methodical. In fact, the scale of this film compliments the scale of The Company itself, and we could easily manage it without much outside help if we had to— luckily, help is one thing that we've got in spades it seems. 

You see, we had our pick of actors from a collection of talent pooled by a local casting agency. A bit of cash was gifted to help feed the aforementioned actors. Our musician is still on board for the score. Friends and coworkers have offered to help on their very precious weekends. Why are the Fates suddenly so kind? Well, many a person I know would state that the tide has turned in our favor because this is intrinsically the right project for us to be undertaking now. Others might be more callous and chock it up to the right connections coupled with the audacity to ask for assistance. Whatever the reasons, it feels good to be underway.

The curious can grab the first few pages of the script over at I'm Not Arguing That With You (check the sidebar on the right-hand side of the blog).

9.06.2008

On the Burner


Here's an overview of the weekend. I've opted to include only the most important things.
  • Consider the sequence and structure for teaching about circumpolar constellations, longitude, latitude, the Sun's effect on Earthly seasons, planetary retrograde motion, and the astrolabe.
  • Reread short film script and sketch potential shots.
  • Scan a crown of thorns, penguin, and small leaf.
  • Drive half-way to the Oregon coast (and back).
  • Upload fine art portfolio to CaFE exhibition web site.
  • Research the lives of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo.
  • Edit fourteen short stories.
  • Create an hour-long presentation complete with visual aides.
  • Soothe a few bruised egos.
  • Move patio furniture up and down a stairway to accommodate the fickle painting crew.
  • Clean the kitchen.
  • Pay the devil credit cards their monthly tribute.
  • Wash a load of lighter colored clothes.
  • Deposit other people's money in the bank.
  • Design a business card.
  • Consider the ethical disposal of five packs of cream cheese.
  • Open up about my upbringing without sounding overly melodramatic.
  • Finish revealing a golden landscape