The Power of Money

April 30, 2005

A few weeks ago I spent a day or two making simple Galvanic cells with pennies, nickles, dimes, and a generous amount of citrus fruit. The principle behind this is clearly explained in the nicely produced, albeit soporific, video below:

Note that a galvanized nail is used in the video— this does produce a stronger current than using a dime or nickel, but the general effect is the same. One other thing to bear in mind is that a single lemon (which serves as the electrolyte) and two different metals constitutes a cell, not a battery. A battery, as far as scientists are concerned, consists of two or more cells working together is a sequence. 



April 29, 2005

In the late afternoon sun I scattered painted canvases and charcoal drawings from art school all over the brick patio and gleefully took a gesso-laden roller to them. After three or four coats all trace of juvenilia had disappeared.

They are all still blank four years later.


Beauty is a Void

April 28, 2005

In college I took a concept seminar class on beauty. The first assignment was to make an artwork that was as unattractive as possible. For some this meant creating a piece of kitsch, for others it was an exercise in audacity. I chose to subvert a historical masterpiece and, with apologies to Van Gogh, turned Starry Night into something utterly banal.

It's difficult to intentionally make something ugly. Maybe this isn't true in the industrial world of consumer goods, but at an art school tethered to a historical tradition of craftsmanship, it is a challenge. Many people didn't succeed. Most people struggled with the idea.

After our critique we were randomly assigned someone else's hideous object to somehow beautify. The parameters were fairly loose: essentially, you had to have the object serve as the primary material for the new work.

I was given a ceramic mosaic fish with kissy-lips and cartoon eyes. As Ceramics  was a studio I studiously avoided (too dirty), it would prove difficult for me to work in that medium. I opted instead to document the creation utilizing some pinhole cameras I'd recently built. 

I draped the fish in some white muslin and then sprayed it with water for that "wet drapery" look so adored by Classical sculptors of the Hellenistic Period. Between that, and the softening effect of the pinhole camera, I was fairly certain that I could create a few images that would be considered beautiful.

For the most part the results weren't that intriguing.

But, oddly enough, this image of the fish lips. . . 

. . . would unexpectedly mimic earlier work. . .

. . . and remain one of the more enigmatic photographs I've ever taken.


Putting Children in Children's Theater Design

April 26, 2005

One of the most difficult aspects of children's theater is involving the kids in the actual production of the set pieces. I feel it important that the setting also be a representation of their labor, but often the practical aspects of safety and efficiency must take precedence. If one has the luxury of preparing for a play over the course of a few months then more opportunities emerge for student involvement, but often the types of tasks they are best suited for are also some of the most repetitive and, therefore, the least interesting to them. Paint 20 feet of glittering brick wall. Cut 2,000 strips of green fabric. Paper mache 20 rocks. Even most adults would lose enthusiasm after an hour or two of the same task. The only difference being that the adult recognizes the need to finish the task and the child often does not.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice about involving students in set construction and dressing:
Always have a detailed drawing of the entire set and, if at all possible, a completed prototype of the project they will be tasked with. 
In the examples above this might be 1 foot of completed castle wall, or a small bush that will be made from the green strips of fabric, or a painted rock. By seeing a "finished" object kids are given a tangible outcome and they understand that it is not just busy work or some Sisyphean task. 

This presentation of the final object shouldn't take the place of careful explanation and demonstration of the processes involved in making the project, it only established the feasibility of the project and sets the bar for the quality of the finished items.

It also opens up your design to student critique; which should not be shied away from. Such critique is an opportunity for the students to actively engage in the design process, sharpen their ability to offer constructive feedback, and devise new solutions for completion (or, in plain teacher speak, problem solve). While I often find such critiques challenging in the moment, they almost always provide some benefit to teacher and/or student by the time the curtains rise for that first performance. Sometimes that benefit is having the doubting child see the proposed plan completed, and sometimes it is having the teacher be shown that a simpler process exists for achieving the same result.

In the end, if students are to be involved in the process, expect that the process will be rocky and commit to their involvement at the beginning. If you're going to make the journey together you might as well start at the same spot: an empty stage that needs to become so much more.



April 25, 2005

I'd reached a point of acceptance by this time in 2005. Not at all dissimilar to that point in a relationship when it's clear that the end has come, but a state of confusion about what might follow cements you in stasis. I knew that I'd failed to achieve my goal of a movie a day yet I continued on out of habit. Continued on sporadically. . .

The movies that come now might be a bit more honest however. They are genuine moments of visual interest, devoid of the spectre of responsibility for completing some project. As a result, they generally say more about my visual proclivities than many of the images that precede them (with the exception of the first few weeks of January 05).

So from this point forward dear reader know that I won't be just posting a black box when a day is missed, for that would be an exercise in redundancy sure to annoy both you and me. No, from this point forward I either have something to offer or I don't. I've reached the point where I can more freely write about the present because the continuity of the past has begun to unravel.


Ediger Illuminated

April 21, 2005

The Photo Phazer reduces Ben Ediger's Jar Light to a cord, cap, and radiant burn on the wall. In reality their effect is much more subdued. Here is a cluster of them created for a store here in Stumptown.

Ben Ediger, Jar Lights
sand-blasted recycled glass jars, lacquer, electrical hardware
dimension variable
Photo: Jeffrey T. Baker

Ben was kind enough to send me a prototype when he first conceived of them. It was the second lamp I'd scored from Ben, who also gifted me one of his "log lamps" after an off-handed remark I made regarding a chunk of cedar he'd been storing around the wood shop. To this day Split remains one of my prized possessions. It never fails to whip up real curiosity when folks come over to visit.

Ben Ediger, Split
cedar log, wood bleach, waterborne poly, enamel spray paint, electrical hardware
18" x 10"
Photo: Jeffrey T. Baker


Jalama Beach

April 20, 2005

So what's my excuse for not having Photo Phazer imagery the past two days? Simply put: technological difficulties. 

You see, the Photo Phazer can only store one 1-minute movie at a time, so if someone were to, say, go on a camping trip to Jalama Beach on the California coast for a few days, then that person would only be able to capture one movie for the entire trip unless they were lucky enough to own a laptop at the time (which they weren't). Ergo, only one bit of video must suffice as a record for the entire trip.

Well, one video and two eye witnesses. The eye witnesses would probably give you a much richer narrative than this one parting shot (taken as we drove away from the secluded little beach).

The eye witnesses would probably mention "toaster forks." I'm sure that the highway death of one Toyota Camry would come up. As would getting stuck in traffic with Jake Gyllenhaal. And then there's the midnight raccoon raceway, the bleeding tree, the wind, and the crypt. . . 

If only I could have captured more on film.


Diffusion Magazine

April 19, 2005

Tomorrow we will return to imagery from 2005. Today let's turn our attention to the imagery of 2009. 

Fellow OCAC alum Blue Mitchell has spent the past year creating a magazine devoted to that unquantifiable realm known as unconventional photography. As stated in the recent press release for Diffusion:
Diffusion focuses on unconventional photographic processes and photo related artwork. We showcase artists working in alternative processes, experimental darkroom derived work, analog/low-fidelity, mixed-media photography, as well as unique digital processes. We believe the print market is saturated with traditional photography and conventional digital photographic practices, therefore Diffusion showcase’s artists working with unusual photographic methods.

I am one of a handful of artists profiled in the magazine. Apparently, spending weeks producing a drawn photograph (whatever that means) places me squarely in the unconventional photography camp. Now that Diffusion has created some sub-categories for the unconventional I find myself wondering if I'm more "alternative process" or "analog/low-fidelity." 

Last night, the Director shared his belief that the artwork I create is a physical re-creation of using Adjustment Layers in Photoshop to build an image. That might be the most pithy insight I've ever heard about my work, and I'm ashamed to admit that I'd never thought of it that way before.

However, plenty of what I have thought of before awaits you in Diffusion, along with some sage words from Blue Moon Camera's Zeb Andrews, and a phenomenal gallery of contemporary alt process photographs. Click on over to www.diffusionmag.com for a digital preview and purchasing information.


Set for a Midsummer Night's Dream

April 18, 2005

With nothing to share from April 18, 2005 I'll direct your attention to some stills of the stage set I designed this year for my class production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. While I've written a bit about this production before I thought it would be easier to discuss some specifics of the design if there were some pictures to reference.

The tree trunks are cardboard stapled to tall stands constructed from a single 2x4 and assorted bits of scrap lumber. The cardboard is then wrapped in burlap pieces and, in some cases, adorned with cheap floral ivy from the Dollar Tree.

The tree tops are created by shaping green plastic garden fencing with twist ties and then stapling this topological form to a few scrap lumber limbs that jut out from the top of the 2x4 that served as a trunk. Every other row within the garden fencing was woven with long strips of dyed muslin and the leaves were simply 5" strips of the same dyed muslin placed in the remaining rows. No glue or sewing was required to create this canopy.

The starry night was large sheets of painted cardboard with white holiday lights poked through from the back. The stars were then swaddled in a soft blue tulle. The tulle softened the light and created an attractive halo effect for each star.

Bushes were formed through a combination of straw bales, green plastic garden fencing, dyed muslin, old sheets, cheap fake plants/ivy, and an assortment of crepe paper flowers created by the students. While not pictured here, on the night of the performance, we also had about a hundred flickering electronic tea lights hidden among the flowers and foliage to create a glittering effect on the greenery to rival the stars in the background.

Students created the rocks from cardboard, tape, toilet paper, white glue, and paint. The moon was also illustrated by a student using india ink on foam core and glitter paint.

When the summer grants me a bit more time I'll turn my attention to creating some actual tutorials about the assorted processes you can use to create similar stage effects. 


Irrational Fear

April 17, 2005

I spent many sleepless hours staring at this ceiling fan. In earthquake prone California I had a hard time suppressing fears that one good jolt was going to plant that fan directly onto my sleeping face. It never happened in reality, but in my mind I died thousands of times.


Toxic Tide

April 16, 2005

Perhaps to celebrate the passing of another tax day the family took an outing to the beach on April 16th. After winding our way down some precarious one-lane roads north of LA we found ourselves a tiny little sliver of sand not owned by some individual or business. It seems that half of LA County was equally relieved about filing on time and had decided to join us on said sliver of sand. It made for a rather loud and crammed experience with nature. I marvel that I was able to get a still without someone walking into the frame.

My wife and I had attempted to go the the beach a few weeks earlier only to find the shoreline littered with signs about the dangerous toxicity of the water. Beach goers were advised to not let any ocean water contact their skin. Needless to say, the need for a hazmat suit tarnished the romantic sentiment of the evening. 



Day of Woe

April 14, 2005

On this day in history Abraham Lincoln was shot and the Titanic hit an iceberg. 

* * * * *

On this day in 2005 I neglected to film a short movie with the Photo Phazer. So, as there is no image to share for this day, I thought I'd post two alternate stills from two other days this past month. I think one of them should be fairly easy to guess, but the other might take a little lateral thinking.



April 13, 2005

I think my favorite portraits are those that omit part of the face. The diminished visage leaves more to ponder and more to assume. In classic portraiture the intent was to not only represent the sitter but to please the patron. With the advent of cheap photography however we are under few (if any) financial obligations to those we photograph, and while vanity may still be a major factor behind why we take pictures, the need to memorialize events is just as important for a short-sighted culture. Portraits now are proof. Proof of youth. Proof that we visited someplace exotic. Proof that we loved someone. Proof that we were happy.

Memory, it seems, is a poor substitute for proof.


Flintridge Funk

April 12, 2005

We walked the McDuff quite often. He was always quite keen to get out, and we used him as a rationale for getting whatever counted for "fresh" air in La Canada-Flintridge. 

One of the many ironies of La Canada-Flintridge was that all of its ritzy estates were saddled with ailing sceptic systems. It had never joined the municipal sewage system so every sprawling mansion had to be on sceptic and, without fail, one sceptic tank or another was always in need of some attention. The pungent odors of decomposing waste would waft over the oak hillsides and manicured lawns on hot summer days. Frequently, one would wake in the darker hours before dawn with invisible tendrils of funk tickling the nostrils. We called it the "O" for short; its root word being that classy French noun odeur— for Flintridge is a classy place.

I'm sure that all of this sweet scent was most appreciated by our dear McDuff, who took his greatest delight in rolling about in fresh cat poo at every opportunity.



The Frisbee Files

April 10, 2005

On this day four years ago I launched a frisbee over a long grassy field for my wife to catch. At the same moment, she was lost in conversation with her little brother, and when I yelled her name she looked up just in time to receive the frisbee directly between her eyes. You know, the same spot that brought down Goliath. She fell over on the spot while I had a near heart attack.

We went home. I made her an ice pack. She re-made it correctly. I was exceedingly apologetic and she was understandably miffed. She sat wincing for at least two hours as the ice pressed against the bridge of her nose. At some point I must have decided I was forgiven for being such a wickedly accurate frisbee player and I worked up the nerve to film her with the Photo Phazer. I don't recall how that was received.

* * * * *

Two year later karma would have me laid out on a stretcher in an emergency room corridor as nurses yelled orders and I was put into various braces and machines. I'd been hit at the top of the spine, where it connects with the brain stem, with a frisbee thrown full force from six feet away. One of my students had meant to throw the frisbee for the dog at my side and had miscalculated the incline of his throw. Thankfully, no major (discernible) brain damage resulted, and I just spent the next two weeks on major pain killers and muscle relaxants.

Life as bad contemporary fiction. That's your true story for today.


The Sun and the Failed Portrait

April 9, 2005

The Spring sun really lent an ethereal grace to the studio mess that plagued our LA digs. There is no chaos so dismal that it can't be improved by a strong natural light source and the dramatic contrast it engenders. 

Looking at this image reminds me of how fortunate I am to have a studio space separate from my home where I can make cheery portraits like this:

This is also derived from a Spring morning, but one many years ago, in the worst little bathroom I ever had the misfortune to call my own. The original photo was an early Photo Phazer test, and I've had it set aside for years to transform into a drawing. Now that I've done it though I find myself disappointed. It seems vapid. The composition is bland. The flesh tones in the photo (a motley assortment of pale pinks, blues, and greens) are gone, and only the skull- like black hollows of the eye sockets provide any real intrigue.

Not everything you make can be a success. I understand that reality— I just wish I had more time to make things so that sheer quantity would take the sting out of my periodic lapses in quality.


Announcing Fine Arts the Film

Jonathan Ashley Hall as Sam in Fine Arts
Photo: Jeffrey T. Baker

Fine Arts, the 30-minute short film that serves as The Company's first (legitimate) attempt to join the cinematic milieu, is finished. Completely finished. With credits.

Now comes the relatively difficult part— getting people to watch it. Festival submission fees await; and we are ready to shovel our hard earned lucre into the burning promise of a national audience. Grab your hats people because the deadlines, rejections, and kudos are just about to begin!

Music of the Spheres

April 8, 2005
The shine of the stars makes the melody, Nature under the moon dances to the laws governing this melody.

Johannes Kepler, Harmonices Mundi, 1619



April 7, 2005

My wife and I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon working in an artist's studio on Bainbridge Island over Spring Break. I devoted my time there to experimenting with my new favorite pen: the Farber-Castell PITT artist pen with a brush tip. This little baby puts out a lovely variable line in waterproof india ink and might just be the answer to all my fears about inking a comic book. With enough control, and a bit of forethought, I bet I could eek out one page per pen and rarely (if ever) have to resort to brushes or other technical pens. This works out to about $2.50 per page to buy the PITT pen, but could save upwards of ten hours in work time: a fair trade even by the impoverished comic book artist's standard.

The first thing I did with the PITT is quickly ink over the very loose sketch I did from memory of a short-tailed weasel eating a squirrel. Do you remember that day? I do. I still think about the way that squirrel's eye looked at me without really seeing me. The drawing doesn't really capture much from that moment— it really only indicates that my memory transforms weasel heads into the shape of tiny bear craniums. Oh, and that I have no sense of proportion for weasel limbs.


The Deal With Blogging

April 6, 2005

Clearly the people prefer it when I type something. Google Analytics* informs me that my lapses in prose have been a big blogging faux pas as readership has dropped by half. For those of you who prefer actual data points that means instead of having eight readers on average I've had four. I really do have things I'd like to say everyday, but the past two weeks have been exceedingly packed; first with a trip to Seattle over Spring Break, and then with everything I didn't do over Spring Break because I had the audacity to take a few days off. 

I will attempt to be more consistent again, but I offer this consistency with a few caveats:

1. You must understand that I am nearing the end of daily practice material from 2005. There have already been a few lapses in the past month, but as April progresses into May a woeful inconsistency develops. At that point I had already blown a few days and, in my mind, once I missed that first day the entire project seemed like a failure. When June of 2005 finally dawned I had all but given up. After this imagery dries up I will not be posting every day as I have been since the beginning of 2009. I simply have too many other things that need my attention.

2. I don't think of my blog in the same way that many people think of their blogs. This is not a vehicle for simply regurgitating the present (or recently passed) moment. I have been known to go backwards in time and add posts for events that occurred two years ago: and I've past dated these posts so that they appear in the chronological stream at the appropriate time. As I don't expect anyone to be neurotically checking THE ARCHIVE this really is more about my wanting to consolidate experiences into one life-long narrative. 

And that narrative is very susceptible to my perception of myself at the current moment, which means past posts have been known to disappear once they've fallen out of my favor. Likewise, I'm already considering what posts I'll be future dating to appear like time capsules in fifty years. There's so much potential for shaping one's autobiography with a blog— so many tricks with linear time and narrative that I could see this electronic record becoming the most involved artwork I've ever produced.

3. There are some days when I will just post pictures. It's inevitable. As I enjoy taking pictures and sketching more than I enjoy writing I could foresee some future entries being nothing more than reproductions of the week's photographs or sketches. This may seem like a cop-out, but one of my favorite blogs belongs to an artist who frequently does just that, and I can certainly see the many merits of putting art before documentation, not vice versa.

*Google Analytics is a free online service that allows you to track how many people visit your site, how long they stay, how they got there in the first place (i.e. keywords), and from what geographical location they accessed your site (i.e. LA, California or Tunisia).


Sis and Science

April 5, 2005

This has been a big science week for me. I've been regaling my class with stories of electrical pioneers Luigi Galvani and Count Alessandro Volta; the two men who reportedly share the distinction of inventing the battery through countless tests sparked (pun intended) by a mysteriously animated amputated frog leg. No joke.

To coincide with these stories of 18th century science we've been attempting to generate electrical energy out of pennies, dimes, and an assortment of acidic juices. The amount of power you can actually obtain from three lemons is remarkable, although many tests to date have yielded inconsistent results with our citrusy voltaic piles.

I was pleased to see that this image from 2005 closely corresponds with the scientific inquiry theme of the past week. This photograph is something of an injustice to author and illustrator Peter Sis' remarkable book about Charles Darwin entitled The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin. It is one of the most achingly lovely children's books I've encountered in some time and I often checked it out from the library in California to fuel my daydreams of becoming an illustrator. Naturally, the Photo Phazer couldn't do it justice so if you're truly interested in seeing all of Sis' skill it's time to head to the local library.




Direct Current

April 2, 2005

Switch on. Switches off.


Poisson de Avril

April 1, 2005

In America we have April Fools Day, but in France it's all about the poisson. The "fish"of April are to be drawn and then slyly attached to the backs of the unaware. What, I ask you, could be more humiliating than wearing a paper fish all day? 

It's a rhetorical question actually. I've never been tricked into wearing one for longer than a second, and thusly have remained immune to the acute shame of being fished.