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. 


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.



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.


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.



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.


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).


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


Devil Owl

Use your imagination on this one. 

I've held onto this lovely little creature since my days as a summer arts instructor during college. So often, the best artwork done by young children is on the opposite side of the paper they're working on.



Today is my first day back at school. In honor of the auspicious day I've posted a sketch that was given to me following one lengthy faculty meeting last year. I was so pleased with the gift that I discretely pinned it to the bulletin board in my classroom the next day. As one student after another took note of it a collective pall settled over the usually boisterous room. 

The students found the imaginary portrait creepy and soon asked me to take it down. 

I was a bit surprised at their reaction; it had only inspired a mild jealousy in me for, try as I might, I'd never been able to sketch anything nearly that nice while trying to keep track of a meeting.


110 Specters

Near the end of the last school year I made simple pinhole cameras with a few of my students to coincide with our studies of the Civil War. I had missed the opportunity to share my love of pinhole when I taught Optics so I wasn't going to lose out again. The incredible challenges that Mathew Brady's field photographers faced to secure their images served as a brief introduction to photographic science. 

Soldiers in the trenches before battle, Petersburg, VA. 1865
Courtesy of the National Archives, photo no. 111-B-157

We then constructed simple black boxes with a copper pinhole to adhere over the rather diminutive film plane of a roll of 110 film. 110 film has become an antique itself, originating in 1972, it eliminated the need to rewind the film roll and was one of many Kodak products aimed at ease-of-use. Only one store in Portland still carried it: the decidedly old-school Blue Moon Camera in St. John's. Apparently, the frame numbers and edge bands are pre-exposed on each roll of 110 film, which explains the black line that's evident in two of the three examples posted here.

One of the things I prize about pinhole is its unpredictability, but whether or not my students will look upon these results with the same exhilaration remains to be seen. It has been my experience that most new photographers prize pictorial exactitude over atmospheric color burns. Nevertheless, I think that these images display a spiritual energy that would be difficult to preconceive and harder still to execute. Here is the play of light in time creating momentary specters on a physical form— not all that different from the faces of the long-dead staring back at us before entering the battlefield.