Monthly Archives: February 2013

Week 7 of Making Something Every Day

Day 43: Made one AMAZING cut in the watercolor page & now I have a book! Worked on digital portion of content.
day 43
Day 44: Day of many flubs and near disasters. Quitting while I’m ahead.
day 44
Day 45: Inside page of “Roll away your stone” book. (Mumford & Sons obsession reaching annoying proportions.)
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I love it when I see another artist’s work and it is song lyrics. I love it more when they are songs that I recognize and I know it struck a cord with them too. Enough to obsess over it and make art from it. Mumford & Sons isn’t my usual kind of band. But these songs have been playing on the Pandora station I listen to and I’ve gotten addicted to them without realizing it. Last week after Ash Wednesday, I heard “Roll away your stone” and that image just knocked me flat. I listened to it on repeat for two days after that. This little book came out of that.

Day 46: Today, organizing the paper supply is all I’ve got the brain power for.
day 46I felt bad for using my 20 minutes on paper organization but I felt ill and was hurting for ideas. I found lots of good paper to use and I have an organized stack now!

Day 47: Working out my inner goth in the old art journal.
day 47
Day 48: Goth page lightened up with addition of adorable offspring.
day 48
Another song lyric. This time Death Cab for Cutie. This is my kind of band, thanks to Depeche Mode and James A. McMurry. I obsess over this song off and on all the time. I love the imagery in it and especially this line about “living in my own head.” I think just about everybody can relate to feeling like that. (You’ll see the finished page on Day 50!)

Day 49: Waited too late in the day to work on my black page. Started a small notebook instead.
day 49
Becky commented on Facebook that it looked like fish scales. I think that that is just about the most charitable description ever. I might be able to pull this gray mess back from the brink but I’m not making any promises.

Thoughts from the seventh week:

-I had lunch with Mary this week. She and I talked about the creative process and how it is made up of work, work, failure, more work, one shining moment of bliss followed by more work and more failure. It’s a theme I keep circling back to. Will Wheaton had a great post about it this week as well.

It boils down to this: Keep Working! It’s a theme we talk with Eli about all the time. About how life is made up of practicing things you love or want to become good at or are required to for school. Sometimes I feel like if my kids only learn this one thing they will be successful people.

-I’ve started to get some feedback about the work I’ve been doing and oh boy! Is it ever gratifying! I feel like sometimes I’m spamming people a bit with the Twitter posts linked to Facebook every day with the roundup post once a week but three different people have said they enjoy seeing the work every day. I know there’s going to be days later when I’m bogged down and out of ideas but for now, it’s feeling pretty awesome.

Week 6 of Making Something Everyday

Day 36: Glue drying on purple bottle.
day 36
Day 37: Bottle side done. Next up: figuring out how to get the words on the other page.
day 37
Day 38: Holding onto anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. –Buddha
day 38
I got a lot of response to this page. More than I’ve gotten to anything else I’ve done so far this year. I don’t know quite what to make of it other than it strikes a cord with people. I only wish that on the finished page I’d remembered the ‘h’ in Buddha. Ugh! I loved the idea of making the bottle out of torn paper. Some of the purple at the bottom even has tiny skulls in it. So appropriate!

Day 39: Valentine cards in progress.
day 39
Liza's book
Eli's book
Here’s a couple of photos from the insides of their books. We’ve always sung “Twinkle” to Eli at night before he goes to sleep and we tried with Liza but she chose “You are my Sunshine” as her song to close out the day. So their valentine books are those lyrics. Eli’s book is made out of a page from an old wall calendar and it worked out so well in several places, like this ‘shine’ page.

Day 40: Played with stamp making idea from this awesome book. @stephaniecorfee
day 40
You’ll probably see these squiggles in future work!

Day 41: Made a drawing mini book for @Obajoo’s sekret project. Love it when projects overlap!
day 41
My friend, Renée, is working on project similar to mine. I wanted to make something to get her started!

Day 42: Watercolor and salt.
day 42
I don’t know what this is going to be yet. But there’s a gallon of water on that paper and the salt is soaking up the color. The end result will be sort of tie-dyed, I hope. We’ll see what we have tomorrow!

Thoughts from the week:

– I have a ton of resources.
Part of this year long process is for me to use the tools, supplies and resources I have so that I will appreciate all of it. I have lots of reference books. booksI pulled a few off of the shelf to look for ideas for a Valentine’s thing. And while I was looking through those books I realized that I have a really nifty collection. Would I be even as good as I am (and that was by no means a statement of how awesome I am) without all of this? What would I create with only a few meager supplies? What are the fewest number of supplies I could have and still be able to create? These are all interesting questions and I’ll probably take a week at some point this year and explore them.

-What makes my style?
I like a lot of different things and ways people create. I admire a lot of people’s style. Some styles I wish I could do. Some I know that I can’t replicate even in the slightest. So while I am doing this year long project, I hope to see a pattern emerge over time that I am happy with. I’m collecting the photos every day and at the end I hope I can look at them and see something cool. Either growth, or a style, or just to be able to point and say, “This is my body of work.”

Themes From Science Online 2013

I’d never been to a Science Online conference before this year. When I began concentrating more on science outreach I asked some of my friends if there were conferences I could go to to help me communicate more good. They all pointed me to Science Online, so I dutifully registered and attended the conference last week.

It did not disappoint.

Scio13 attendees
Attendees at Scio13. Pic by Russ Creech.
What makes Science Online such a great conference is its attendees. They come from many different communities, but they’re all interested in science communication. You’ve got scientists who blog talking to science journalists. You have video creators and science artists swapping tips on communicating visually. You’ve got teachers and book authors everywhere. And because Scio is organized as an unconference, the attendees help create the agenda and most of the sessions are discussions rather than lectures or panels.

Even with this disparate group of people and many different discussion topics, I kept hearing the same themes echo through the sessions and conversations, leitmotifs of science communication that cut across disciplines. So I did what any good attendee would do: wrote them down so I could blog about them. These are the themes that summarized a lot of my experience at Scio13.

Science is a process and a perspective. The common perception of science is that it’s a collection of facts, a repository of knowledge that we use to answer questions like “why does the moon look so big when it’s near the horizon?” and “is eating eggs really bad for me?” But science isn’t just made of facts piled up like grains of sand. Science is a way of thinking about the world and figuring out how it works. In communicating science, we want to help people understand the scientific way of thinking. We want them to know that science doesn’t stop. There’s always more to know, and what we learn changes old theories. Science is jazz, with new songs riffing on what’s come before.

In addition, science is a human activity. There is no emotionless machine turning grant money into knowledge. There’s just a bunch of people trying to figure out how the universe works. Sometimes they agree; sometimes they disagree. There are arguments and academic slap-fights, and that’s to be expected! People don’t agree perfectly in any other activity. Why should science be different?

If we want to communicate the process of science and make people care about it as a human activity, it helps to ground science in history and in people. Talking about the history of a scientific idea shows how science develops and undercuts the impression that it produces static knowledge. Talking about the people doing science help humanize it. We’re a bunch of hairless apes who’re wired to be social animals. We tend to be more interested in people than in abstractions. It’s why I loved how people responded to the #overlyhonestmethods hashtag: it’s showing a more human side of scientists and lab-work.

This is Nicolas Cage on the deficit model.
The deficit model isn’t the best way to think about science communication. The information deficit model is a common belief about science communication. People are skeptical about science? It’s because they don’t understand enough about science, so fill their heads with facts bestowed from on high. They’re still skeptical? Add more facts! This approach seldom works. In fact, people often dig in when confronted with facts that conflict with what they believe. I hadn’t heard the term “deficit model” before this conference, but the concept nicely captures something I need to take into account when talking about science.

As Perl taught me, there’s more than one way to do it. It’s tempting to think that there is one true and blessed way to tackle whatever science communication problem we’re facing, but that’s not true. There isn’t a single style of communication that’s best for everyone. It’s why we benefit from having as many people involved with science communication as possible. Having artists, bloggers, journalists, scientists, speakers, teachers, video producers, and more means we’ll have a lot of viewpoints and approaches.

Scientists are bad at communication, and why aren’t they communicating more? This is an extreme characterization of some conversations at Science Online, but there was a definite undercurrent of frustration with how often and how well scientists communicate. I was excited to see that Science Online attendees were tackling this problem from both sides. People like me from the science side of the divide were wanting to learn how to communicate better, while those from the communication and journalism side were interested in how better to work with scientists.

Performance, Feedback, Revision. That’s the title of a song by Baba Brinkman from his show The Rap Guide to Evolution. When he performed it at the conference, I realized that it was one of the conference’s theme. It’s both a nifty metaphor for how evolution works and a great guide to how you get better at communicating science.

Respect the audience you’re engaging with. “Respect” doesn’t mean that you agree with them, but that you’re willing to meet them where they are. Preaching from on high may give you a hit off of the pipe of righteous knowledge, but it’ll turn off the very people you’re trying to reach. You climbed up on your pedestal somehow; now climb back down so you can be alongside the folks you’re talking to. Emily Willingham had a great post about how doing so can change minds.

I went into Scio13 with a nebulous cloud of thoughts about how I communicate science. The conference sharpened my thinking and made concrete a lot of what had been abstract about my process. I’m excited to see how the themes I’ve highlighted will make me better at talking science.

How I’d Moderate a Discussion Session at a Conference

A little over a week ago I went to Science Online 2013, a yearly conference for people interested in communicating science, especially online. (Yes, I get the irony in having a conference about online science that took place face-to-face. If it makes you feel any better, it was also filled with printed books.) It’s the first unconference I’d been to. Attendees put the agenda together on a wiki ahead of time, and most of the sessions I went to involved moderators leading a discussion instead of panelists talking amongst themselves. The discussion sessions reminded me of a cross between a fan panel at a science fiction convention and a discussion class at school.

Stephen Granade talking at Scio13
I didn’t moderate, but I did talk at Scio13.
One of the side-effects of attending those sessions was that each one spawned two or three ideas for related sessions, which I’ve put on the wiki for Scio14. That means that I may end up moderating a session. It’s been years since I taught a discussion class, and most of my science panels at science fiction conventions are more lecture than group discussion. I spent a fair amount of Scio13 taking notes on how I’d moderate a session based on the great work the moderators were doing. I ended up with ten guidelines.

Plan with my co-moderators ahead of time. The best discussion sessions had moderators who were comfortable with each other and had worked out ahead of time how they were going to approach the session.

Set a session goal and communicate it. What’s the purpose of the session? Is it a conversation among people working in a field, like the session on being a freelancer? Is it to talk about what techniques do and don’t work for communicating science, like the science deficit model session? Is it to let people vent their frustration before working towards something constructive, like the Chemophobia panel? There can be multiple purposes, and the session goal can change based on audience feedback. In some cases the moderators explicitly developed the session’s goal with the audience, which was great! It helped that those moderators then summarized what we’d collectively decided the session was going to be about.

Have a structure, but be prepared to abandon it. The first Scio13 panel I went to was DeLene Beeland’s and David Dobbs’s on narrative. They had three major topics that they used to give the session a beginning, middle, and end. In a session on chemophobia, Dr. Rubidium and Carmen Drahl made sure that the last 15 minutes were spent on constructive ways to deal with people’s fear of chemicals. But a structure isn’t a straight-jacket. It’s not a Play-Doh Fun Factory for me to shove conversation through to make it a certain shape. It’s meant to guide and enrich the conversation.

Go for a round room setup. Most of the session rooms were set up like a traditional classroom, which meant I spent a lot of time craning my neck and turning around to see someone behind me who was talking. One of the session rooms had the chairs in a circle, and I found that a lot more conducive to conversation. It can’t have been easy for the moderators, and I’m sure such an arrangement would make me more uncomfortable than a traditional room layout, but the benefit for conversation would be worth it to me.

Talk some at the beginning, and then shut up. If it’s a true discussion session, then my job as a moderator is to keep the conversation going and help direct it, not hold forth at length. In the session on talking about what we don’t know, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Maryn McKenna talked for a bit about what they wanted from the session and then let the audience do most of the talking.

Summarize conversation points on a white board or poster board. Some sessions were lucky enough to have Perrin Ireland drawing the major discussion points. In the Outreach in Unusual Places session, Bug Girl and Emily Finke jotted down suggested outreach allies and places to do science outreach on a whiteboard. Doing so helped me keep track of the conversation and is something I’d want to have in all sessions.

Have questions prepared ahead of time. A lot of the sessions I was in started slowly until enough conversation had happened that people were fully engaged and had Definite Opinions to share. Having an open-ended question or two can help jump-start the conversation. And they have to be open-ended. Yes/no questions or ones with a right answer don’t spark an on-going dialog as well as open-ended questions do.

When someone asks the group a question, seek follow-up questions. Discussion groups are many conversations that have to happen linearly, since only one person can talk at a time. That means that comments queue up as more and more people raise their hand to talk. It’s easy to ask a question and then have it go unanswered as the next three people comment on what was talked about five minutes before your question. Some moderators made it a point to say, “Does anyone have a response to so-and-so’s question?”, which helped get those questions answered.

Have a volunteer monitoring the session’s Twitter stream. Space at Scio13 was limited, and a lot of the people interested in the conversation weren’t there. Every Scio13 session had its own hashtag, which meant that non-attendees could comment on the session based on a session livestream or the flood of tweets coming out of the session. Some sessions had a person in the room monitoring the hashtag and relaying incisive comments or questions to the attendees, which added to the conversation.

Watch for people who are working through thoughts, especially dissenting ones. When I taught, I learned to look for people who were disagreeing with what I was saying. You get crossed arms, mutters, head shakes, and the like. In a discussion session, asking dissenters if they’d like to comment can keep the session from being just a group of people who all agree with each other.

Call on people I don’t know. This was a hard teaching lesson for me. I knew who my most engaged students were and felt most comfortable calling on them. Almost half of the Scio13 attendees were there for the first time, including me, which meant that there were a lot of new faces in the crowd. Now that I’ve been for a year, if I go to Scio14 and moderate, I know I’d fall back into old patterns of calling on people I knew and would have to fight that instinct.

Know who in my audience you can go to for a good comment or summary of what’s being discussed. When I’ve run discussion classes, I’ve had to strike a balance between including as many voices as possible and keeping the conversation productive. Having people in the audience whom you know can help steer the conversation can be a life-saver. I’ve gone so far as to seed talking points or questions with attendees before.

I’m hopeful that these guidelines would make for a good discussion session, and I’d love to hear from previous moderators who tried any of these guidelines about how well they worked.

Week 5 of Making Something Every Day

Day 29: New art shrine out of a cheese container. I’ll see what develops with it tomorrow.
day 29
Day 30, photo 1 of 2: A cheese box turned into an art shrine for my dog.
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Day 30, photo 2 of 2: Inside the cheese box art shrine.
day 30-2
After Saturday night of the dog being so sick I didn’t know if she would make it or not, I was feeling sentimental about the corgi butt. She looks regal in this photo but most days, she’s all butt.

Day 31: Secret Valentine project. Shhh! Don’t tell @Sargent!
day 31
Day 32: Minor scissor accident slowed down secret project.
day 32
Shouldn’t I direct some of my making-stuff mojo towards making a Valentine’s card for Stephen? The scissor gods say no. After my injury I decided to abandon this line of crafting and go a different route. I saw something way cute on Pinterest I’m going to attempt.

Day 33: What can I say? I was listening to Nirvana while working on this and taking pain meds for my tooth.
day 33
Day 34: Piles of purple paper. Hope I can pull off what I’m attempting with this. More tomorrow.
day 34
This page in my art journal is going to hold one of Stephen’s favorite quotes. I’m going to attempt to piece together an image using all of those torn pieces of paper. I’m pondering the correct way to accomplish that.

Day 35: Liza and I visited @greenpeapress to make letterpress valentines.

day 35
Green Pea Press had a Walk-in Workshop for valentine making today. Liza and I headed over and enjoyed using their 100-year old letterpress. It was so much fun, I’m going to take a class there in March!

Thoughts for the week:

-I’ve never been awash in ideas I need to accomplish. I’ve always had one or two at a time and then I work on them to some sort of conclusion that I’m satisfied with. I won’t say I’m having lots of ideas while I’ve been doing this daily project but it’s made me see that I do have plenty of visual ideas that I’m interested in working on. Making the time to accomplish it is always a pressure but I’m getting better at it.

-Having Liza be a part of my crafting experiences is a lot of fun as well. Eli gets bored with these kinds of projects easily but today when Liza and I went to Green Pea, I was ready to go long before she was. In fact, her valentines look loads better than mine do. In many ways, she makes a better daily crafter than I do. I have all of these preconceived ideas and thoughts and she just starts gluing stuff down until she is happy with it. I enjoy that about her tremendously.

Week 4 of Making Something Every Day

Day 22: Glued felt to the back of the coasters. Started yellow page in art journal. Don’t know what it will be yet.
day 22
Day 23: A place to make a list of all the good things in my life.
day 23
Day 24: Few finishing touches & I’ve started my list of good things around the frame. I’ll keep adding to it all year.
day 24
Love me some van Gogh. Never more so than after the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor.” Amy and The Doctor are talking and she says, “We didn’t make a difference at all.” And The Doctor responds, “I wouldn’t say that. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” So this page is about my pile of good things.

Day 25: ATC. “Keep thinking about it.”
day 25
I think this is one of the best ATCs I’ve done to date. Love the purple to peach color combo. Don’t know how I managed that, it was completely unplanned.

Day 26: Ganesha art shrine started inside a Japanese candy box.
day 26
Day 27: Om art shine done. Remember to breathe today.
day 27
I think art shrines are so fun. I first saw one while we lived in North Carolina at this crazy greeting card shop in a mall in Chapel Hill. In the very back of the store was a tiny room that had been given over to local artists and it was full of art shrines. In fact the whole room was a shrine full of tinier shrines. There’s something about taking a mundane element, like a used candy container, and making it into something better, different, interesting.

When I was in high school, we’d take our lunch trash every day and build an art object which we called “Lunch Deceased #___”. (If I were doing that in today’s internet world, I’d probably have a Tumblr blog dedicated to it.) As I was building this shrine this week, I kept thinking about “Lunch Deceased” and the giggles we got out if it. And yes, I ran with a very nerdy crowd in high school, why do you ask?

Day 28: Sick dog & stopped up sink = no art today. 🙁
Yeah, Saturday started out well but by late afternoon when the kitchen sink was backed up and the dog was barfing every 30 minutes I knew that art just wasn’t in the cards for the day. I broke my streak at the month mark. It was kinda a sad moment and then I went back to cleaning the carpet.

I’m back on the job today though!

Thoughts after the fourth week:
Learning to hang in there and work on things a bit every day. Some days I get excited and want to spend way more time and I have to remind myself to leave a bit of something to do the next day. Having fun exploring my supplies and tools. Trying to resist the urge to buy new stuff and just use what I have on hand.