Monthly Archives: March 2013

Week Twelve of Making Something Every Day

Day 78: Wet paint, wet glue. I think my work here is done.
day 78
Day 79: Working through collage ideas.
day 79

Day 80: My creative partner & I painted some wooden blocks. She declared the blue “perfect TARDIS blue.” I agree!
day 80
We had a good time painting these blocks and now she has a set of blocks she can play with that have some really cool decoration. One of a kind, even.

Day 81: Reworked.
day 81

Day 82: Last day of letterpress class. 4 hours total with a field trip.
day 82
The class was super informative and I learned a lot about letterpress. I had really wanted to get my hands dirty though so in the end, I was a bit disappointed. I’m interested in going and seeing if I can get some time on the letterpress machine to do some prints.

Day 83: Glued everything down. A bit bummed because I reversed the fish layer. Will pay better attention next time.
day 83
Day 84: Added some finished high lights and low lights which are hard to see in the photo. Finished!
day 84
This turned out pretty well. I was disappointed that I got the fish paper turned around backwards. My biggest concern, besides the fish paper, is that in person it feels all the same tone. I need to look at it under some different light to see if its better with different light. Ready to start something new this next week.

Week Eleven of Making Something Every Day

Day 71: Finished 4″x4″ squares. Fun project. I like making a piece and then cutting it down.
day 71
I feel like I am searching for a size of a piece that is ideal for me to work on. All of them present their own challenges and working on a variety of sizes lets me see how I feel working in each space. When I was in college, I always wanted the largest space possible but that’s neither sustainable on a regular basis or necessary for every project. I think I will always be drawn to larger than life pieces though. This 8″x8″ cut down into four 4″x4″ was fun. I like the concept of making and cutting down and then working on the smaller pieces individually with an eye toward making an interesting stand alone piece or one that can work in the whole.

What happened to Day 72? I was too tired to remember to work.
This was a hard week. At some point I sorta lost my drive and started wondering what I was doing here and why. This particular day I had a lot going on and I was seriously sleep deficient so I just spaced. It was so hard to get going again. As is apparent by a yarn post instead of a paper post on Day 73. I’m hoping I can start really digging this time again. I don’t want to give up. I feel like I’m doing some fun stuff and except for college, there hasn’t been another time when I have been this productive creatively. It really is about working every single day.

Day 73: Sometimes it’s a yarn kinda day. “One Step at a Time” shawl in progress.
day 73
A bereavement shawl I’m working on.

Day 74: Working on a new collage. Something I could actually sell!
day 74
Day 75: Now it has a bird on it!
day 75
Day 76: Little additions today. Baby steps.
day 76
Day 77: Finished!
day 77
This piece I started working on because I had such fun in my art journal last week with the spontaneous paper collage/paint piece. This is a 10″x12″ piece that I had leftover from the 8″x8″ from the first part of the week. I grabbed it because it was handy and I really like this size. It’s big enough but something I can still finish in a few days. I like these layers of paint and paper together and I love the bird and the flower at the top. The blue area I’m not in love with but it was fun experimenting with the pen.

Week 10 of Making Something Every Day

I can’t believe I’ve made it 10 weeks! I have to say, I’m a little bit proud of that.

Day 64: Visited with friends from out of town at our favorite Mexican restaurant. No time at the art table.
day 64
Busy day ending with dinner with some friends. I took a photo of these flags because they reminded me of Nepal and because that was all the art I could generate that day.

Day 65: Finished mermaid-themed mini journal.
day 65
A friend suggested “mermaid” as a theme for this little journal. It’s some mermaids and some just general beach-ness.

Day 66: Thinking about impulse control today and how the art journal is the very best place to give that up.
day 66
Day 67: Watched some great collage YouTube videos today! Inspired!!
day 67
Day 68: Finished art journal spread. Named it Impulsive. Thought of this poem.
day 68
I loved working on this spread in the journal! I did things a little differently. I was intentionally a bit impulsive with my decision making. The first layer, I pretty much just slapped on there and then started pulling it together in the next 2 sessions. Loved it!

Day 68b: Letterpress class!
day 68b
Didn’t do any actual letter pressing but it was a nice history lesson on letterpress.

Day 67: Started some teeny tiny art. 8″x8″ to be cut into 4″x4″ pieces.
day 69
Day 70: Cut into 4″x4″ squares and added more stuff. (Mislabeled yesterday as day 67 instead of 69.) Ugh!
day 70
I’ve been watching YouTube videos of other artists doing their thing and I’ve learned some really nice techniques I want to try. One of the things I saw was this 8″x8″ that you cut down into 4″x4″ pieces. I like the idea of the group making an interesting larger whole or a single piece being able to stand alone. Fun stuff.

Week 9 of Making Something Every day

Day 57: Mixing it up a bit! Playing with yarn.
day 57
This yarn winding session turned into a full scale stash reorganization. I loved it! It also made me want to ditch the art stuff and play with yarn exclusively for a while.

Day 58: Started a set of rainbow inchies. Yes, that’s a technical artist term.
day 58
Day 59: Sadly my photo treatment of these little guys is better than the actual work. They’re headed to the trash.
day 59
Sometimes things just don’t work out. These little guys made me think I need remedial stamping classes because I mangled it so badly. Truly, the best thing about them are the photos I took. Oh well, moving on.

Day 60: Quick ATC tonight and I am off to take my own advice!
day 60
I had no idea how this would turn out. The paper is silver reflective. I stamped it and then painted it. It was short and sweet to make. Exactly what I needed after the long day I had.

Day 61: Too much likes previous day? Maybe I need new colors?
day 61
Day 62: This is why you tape the watercolor paper down. Back of the blue paper.
day 62
Day 63: Making a book out of the green/blue page. I’ll entertain suggestions as to what to put in it.
day 63
I like making books out of this watercolor paper. We’ll see what it turns into next week!

Thoughts from the week:
I’ve been thinking a lot about the artist community that has sprung up around me as I work on this year long project. I’ve mentioned Mary here before. While she and I don’t practice the same sort of art (she’s a musician) I find my chats with her on creativity and the process of creativity line up nicely regardless of which art we are discussing. I did some design work for her last fall and she introduced me to Starr Weems. Starr did the amazing artwork for Mary’s last album. And I have a bit of working artist crush on her at the moment. The three of us met for lunch one day and formed the Vague Coffee Wavers. I’m pretty sure that’s the name of the artist commune we will start if we ever get around to it. I also have Renée, who is working on a project quite similar to mine in scope but she’s abstaining from the Twitter/Facebook/blog attention seeking that I seem to be engaging in at present. It’s a nice group of women that I enjoy checking in with to see what they are working on. It reminds me a bit of college and my studio classes. I loved being able to come together as a group and work on our individual pieces and then take a step back and talk about what everyone was doing and then offer suggestions. The brainstorming was so valuable to me! It helped me learn to creatively visually problem solve.

Next week I start a letterpress class at our local Printmaking Collective. Amy and I will be going the next three Thursdays to class, so those days will feature some prints! I’m absurdly excited about it. Here’s to finding more artists for the collective.

One Time Science Tried to Kill Me

When I looked down and saw that I was on fire, I finally admitted to myself that Science was trying to kill me.

Science’s always been a bit dangerous for me. When I was a kid I decided to apply the scientific method to the chemicals in our bathroom closet and see what burned the best. This involved mixing random stuff together in a can and lighting it on fire. After a while that got old, plus my can melted a bit, so I started pouring the chemicals in the open-ended pipe that ran along the top of our backyard swing set and setting that on fire to see if I could make a flamethrower.

I kept this fascination with fire and science for a good long time. In my senior physics class in high school, when we got to the end of the year and there wasn’t anything left that the teacher wanted to try to drum into our heads, he let us play around with the lab equipment. Some of my friends and I decided to explore the scientific question, “What happens if you hold coins over the Bunsen burner for a really long time?” Mostly the coins glowed a bit and then smoked when we dropped them in water. Then my friend Kevin pulled out a penny. We didn’t know pennies weren’t copper through and through, so we held it over the flame. Suddenly the penny turned into a tiny numismatic Terminator, all liquid metal dripping all over the Bunsen burner.

Mr. Smith didn’t let us play with the lab equipment after that.

In undergrad I was a chemistry major until I realized that I hated glassware and titration and that physics involved a lot less of either of those. I still got the chemistry degree, though. I’m no quitter, except for the part where I quit chemistry after being an undergrad. I got chemistry, physics, math, and theatre arts degrees. My major chemistry professor told me one time, “It’s okay that you’re in the major-of-the-month club, but you’re supposed to drop the old ones.”

Anyway, my chemistry classes taught me that Science was dangerous. On the first day of organic chemistry lab, our professor told us we couldn’t wear contacts because it would be very bad if some of those organic compounds bonded to the water in out contacts and made us blind. I dutifully wore my glasses, which was a big deal because I’ve got nearly -10 diopters of nearsightedness. If you’re not versed in optics speak, that means that I run into doors and slow-moving children when I’m not wearing contacts, and I occasionally accidentally set fire to things with my glasses. That organic chem lab was where we distilled the caffeine from a pound of coffee beans. As soon as we finished the professor scooped up the caffeine because we’d made somewhere in the neighborhood of the LD50 amount of caffeine, and also it was cut with toxic organic compounds. The most impressive, though, was when Billy and I let some chemicals we were working on bubble out of our Erlenmeyer flask and onto the Bunsen burner beneath it. Suddenly we were blackening the ceiling tiles above us.

When I went to physics graduate school, my chances to injure myself doing Science increased a thousandfold. Looking at a good physics lab is like staring at an explosion seconds before it happens. I did quantum optics, specifically laser cooling and trapping, so we had optics tables and lasers and power supplies. We had a dye laser, which used an organic dye that we shot with another laser to get the precise wavelength of light that we needed to trap our atoms. The dye in dye lasers is mixed in a solvent and then pumped through a jet nozzle. It goes whizzing through the air to be shot with that other laser. These lasers are maintained by grad students, so they’re always breaking down and spewing dye and solvent everywhere. I was helping our senior grad student Tom clean up one of those spills when he turned to me and said, “You know, the dye container says that the carcinogenic and teratogenic properties of this dye have yet to be determined.”

Then there was the time I was rummaging around our racks of equipment over the optics table when something shocked the shit out of me. I jerked back, carefully climbed up onto the frame above the optics table, and looked at the equipment. There, on the back of one of the power supplies, was a tiny sign that read: CAREFUL. THIS MOFO WILL SHOCK THE SHIT OUT OF YOU. There’s nothing like a warning sign you can’t read. Though I didn’t move the sign to the front. I’d learned the hard way, so everyone else could, too.

But nothing beat the homemade laser we built to trap atoms. I mentioned that we used a dye laser to trap atoms by using a precise wavelength of light. It turns out that if you change that wavelength by a lot, you can cool the atoms even more. But when you’re using a wavelength that’s far away from an atom’s natural frequency, you have to have a lot of light. So we built an incredibly powerful CO2 laser. This thing was like a mad scientist’s dream. Gas lasers like CO2 lasers are essentially one continuous lightning strike in a bottle. We had a big hand-blown glass tube that we put 12,000 volts across at a current that’s high enough to kill you dead. It was fed by gas in giant gas bottles that we bolted to the wall. The two power supplies had been built in the 1960s and leaked PCBs. To start the laser, we shocked it with a Tesla coil to get the lightning strike going. It was a 50 watt laser, which doesn’t sound that impressive until you realize that manufacturers use 50 W CO2 lasers to weld metal. Best of all, a CO2 laser beam is invisible. So you’ve got highly charged electrodes stuck in a glass tube and fed from carcinogenic power supplies, putting out an invisible beam that can cut metal. Oh, and this was a one-of-a-kind bespoke laser, so we had to be very gentle with the laser.

To make the whole thing safe — sorry, to make it kind of safe — we always had a graduate student holding a kill switch. If anything went wrong, he could flip a switch and turn off the laser. So our typical day started off with three of us graduate students working on the death laser. One graduate student would adjust the mirrors that directed the beam, one graduate student would find the laser beam using a special metal card that turned dark when the invisible CO2 laser beam hit it, and one graduate student manned the kill switch.

I was the guy holding the card one day to help align the beam. I told my friend and co-worker, “Mike, the beam’s not centered in the beam stop. It needs to go right.”

So, yeah, giving directions relative to yourself isn’t a great idea in these circumstances. Mike turned the mirror knob and the beam vanished. That’s when I looked down and saw that I was on fire.

I did what any normal person would do: I thought, huh, that’s weird. The beam’s creating circular wavefronts of fire across my shirt. That’s an interesting pattern. Then I yelled. Ming-Shien, my colleage on the kill switch, froze. I had to dodge around him and turn off the laser myself.

Thankfully this was the 1990s, so I was wearing a flannel shirt over another shirt and I wasn’t burnt. But I’d dropped the metal card in my panic. My adviser in the next room heard it and rushed in. “My God!” he said, taking in the scene. “Is the laser okay?”

These days I don’t do a lot of dangerous science. I write proposals and suggest cool ideas that other people get to implement and the most powerful laser I have these days is a wimpy red laser pointer. But occasionally, as part of our robotic helicopter work, I get to go under the whirring blades to check our equipment and I think, ah, yes, this is science, and I feel much better.

To Eli on His Ninth Birthday

This year you requested one final birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese before the video game token embedded in your hand begins to flash and signal that you’re too old for the Pizza Rat. How could we say no to something so overstimulating? For adults, Chuck E. Cheese is actually a wight, draining life out of us by his very presence. He gathered you and your friends to him as if he was the pied piper and led you to the front stage, where he made all of you dance. As a reward, his assistants made it rain tickets on you, which you enjoyed but all of the adults found unsettlingly weird.

Eli is excited about SkylandersYou had another awesome Renèe cake, this one Portal themed. Last year’s cake theme was World of Goo, so you’re continuing your trend of wanting video games everywhere in your life. One day I’ll look at you and see ghostly life and mana bars floating over your right shoulder. Your current video game obsession is Skylanders, which combines addictive platform adventuring with collectible figurines. One night I said, “go brush your teeth,” to which you replied, “Did you say, ‘go play Skylanders’?”

“No,” I answered, “I said, ‘go brush your teeth’, which doesn’t really sound a lot like ‘go play Skylanders’.”

“Well, that’s what I heard.”

I don’t know how much longer you’ll be addicted to Skylanders, though. At lunch on Sunday you announced that you were planning on getting into Pokémon soon. That sounds remarkably like “I think I’ll develop a crippling meth addiction next month” to me, but we’ll see how it goes.

Eli reads on his KindleYour big gift from all of your grandparents was a Kindle, because, hey, we might as well get you addicted to electronics early. It’s been great because you love reading and you really love gadgets. If the Kindle also mass-produced Legos out of a 3D printer on its side then it would be the most wonderful invention ever. You’re as in love with reading as I was at your age, and just like me, you get so lost in what you’re reading that you don’t hear other people talking to you. You discovered Roald Dahl’s books and have been tearing through them. I’ve also been reading The Hobbit to you at night. I’ve discovered that I can’t keep the voices I’m using for all of the dwarves straight. I’m not Peter Jackson, so I can’t use funny beards to help you keep track of who’s who in the book.

Eli and his Nerf gunWhen you’re reading, you’re still and quiet. The other 120% of your life is spent talking. You’re incredibly social, wanting to talk to anyone and everyone about your day, their day, what’s been going on, and what Skylander character you’re most in love with right now. Most every thought that comes into your head pops out of your mouth, as if your brain is on speakerphone. When I get home from work you start telling me stories about your day and what random junk you found at school and the Lego figure you just built and also what are we going to do tomorrow, no, not school, after school. Even when you don’t want to talk you can’t help yourself, the words piling up in your brain and threatening to squeeze out of your nose and ears if you don’t open your mouth and let them escape. “Dad,” you’ve said on more than one occasion, “I thought of something but I don’t want to tell you about it.” “Okay, then don’t,” I’ll reply. “Okay.” (beat) “So what I was thinking was…”

Eli inna boxNot only are you an extremely social person, you’ve got a flair for the dramatic. When you want to express puzzlement, you cock one eyebrow and purse your lips. If you’re unsure about what we’ve told you but you’re willing to accept it anyway, you say, “Oooooooooooooookay,” threatening to use all of our city’s allotment of the letter O. You don’t walk into a room, you make an entrance.

Eli mugs in his knitted capThis year we decided to tackle your all-carb diet and try to make you appreciate other foods. Every day you have to take one bite of food you normally wouldn’t eat. This is tricky: if you really don’t want to eat something, you fret so much about it that you make yourself ill. It’s not helped by how you want to take that bite. Instead of eating, say, one green bean and being done with it, you eat half of a green bean. Then you eat half of the remainder. Then you eat half of that remainder, until the ghost of Zeno rises up and threatens to slap you if you don’t just eat the damn thing. But you’ve gotten better at trying out new foods. You try something and give us a thumbs-up that turns to a thumbs-down and rotates between the two options before settling on a final value that is usually mostly thumbs-down. We got a 45-degree thumbs-up from you one time, which was a miracle. It’s also improved your negotiation skills. “Can I eat hummus for my one food today?” you ask innocently, hoping we’ll forget that you’ve been eating hummus since you were two.

In fact, you want to negotiate everything. You’re nine, which means you want to argue a lot, but since you’re Eli those arguments are more akin to hostage negotiations. “I know you said I couldn’t bring a toy in the car, but I really want to take my Nintendo DS. I can’t? Then maybe I should take a small Lego figure, but since they’re so small, I’ll take two. How about just one? Maybe a single Lego brick?” You’re also a planner. Your mom and I will often hear you playing with your sister Liza and saying, “So first we’ll build up a Lego fortress and then your My Little Ponies can attack.”

Eli and his eye handI’m always amazed at your creativity and how your thoughts dash from topic to topic. You’re constantly dreaming up new things. You went bowling as a school field trip, because this is Alabama and when it comes to educational field trips it was either bowling or a trip to a deer taxidermist. That evening you excitedly told me, “Dad! I invented three new ways to bowl!”

“Do any of them involve rolling a ball down the lane towards the pins?”

“I invented four new ways to bowl!”

Eli and his crazy maskSpeaking of school, the pace of learning has dramatically increased. This year you’ve added an accelerated learning section every Monday. When your mom and I first were told about it we thought it was called AGS, which we could only logically assume stood for “Alabama’s Got Smarts!” We imagined it as a reality show where you have to answer trivia questions or Ken Jennings shoots you in the head. Anyway, you’re enjoying the accelerated learning class, but it’s one more thing to deal with every week. Third grade is when they really start bearing down on you to learn what you need for the standardized tests that will pave the metaphorical highway of your grade-school education. Overall you’ve taken it in stride, with the exception of spelling. You learned to read very quickly and have a gestalt approach to reading, so you’re not absorbing spelling words from what you’re reading. Even worse, you’ve got my dislike of memorizing stuff just to memorize it, and that makes your weekly spelling tests a chore.

Along with being super social, you love people. You have a deep reservoir of empathy that you draw on every day. Last December your mom went to Nepal as part of a group of women to help Nepalese women. That left you, me and Liza on our own for two weeks. Early on I was having a hard time, pulled between your needs and work and missing your mom something terrible. I was frazzled and unfairly taking it out on you and Liza, a time-honored parental pastime of directing frustration at our kids. You came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, dad. What can I do to help?”

Eli and Liza togetherYour one empathetic weak spot, the wood to your Golden-age Alan Scott, is Liza. You love her and you want to be with her, but you can’t help doing things to get a rise out of her. When the two of you are playing, you alternate between including her in what you’re doing and ignoring her completely. You want her witnessing every thing you do, and yet you don’t want her having her own opinions. Welcome to life as an older brother! Think of it as training for middle management, the kind of job kids dream of having.

Eli shows Legos to GeofYour birthday celebrations lasted longer this year than they did last year, and yet the entire year has flown past faster than ever before. You’re a living refutation of the Theory of Relativity: even though you’re now moving faster than before, you appears to be aging more quickly than ever. You’ve lived with us for nine years. Chances are, we’ve been through half of your time with us. I try to pay attention to every moment, treasure them so that I’ll always remember, but they’re soap bubbles, popping even as my hand closes around them. That doesn’t matter, though. I have to remind myself that what you need is for me to live with you in the moment. After I was grown, when I talked to your grandparents about what I had learned from them and what I remembered, I was surprised to find that I mostly remembered things that had vanished from mom and dad’s memory. I have no idea what will become part of the mental tapestry you’re weaving out of your childhood. That’s scary and liberating, a reminder that now is what we have, and I am grateful beyond expression for that gift.

Eli and me and his Lego Egyptian pyramid

Week 8 of Making Something Every Day

Day 50: Finished goth spread. Renamed hermit spread. Enjoyed new watercolor pen technique.
day 50
Love the way this black page turned out. Used watercolor pencil and then went over it with my water pen. It was the first time I had tried anything like it and I am pleased with the almost chalkboard effect I achieved with it. Love, love, love this Death Cab for Cutie lyric.

Day 51: Worked on book cover: worse & worse! Gessoed over it. I’ll see if I can revive it tomorrow.
day 51
Day 52: Notebook cover overhaul. Now to embellishments!
day 52
Day 53: Inside of finished notebook.
day 53
The cover of this book is made of Grungeboard. It’s something I’ve had for so long, from the looks of the site they don’t even sell this kind any more. I’ve not ever had a project to use it, so it’s hung out in my stash. It’s definitely a different kind of material to work with as it soaks up paint more than regular paper will. I painted it and it was a grey blobby mess so I covered it with gesso and used the Gelatos on the front that I had played around with on the back. The finished product is pretty keen, if I do say so myself. Shows how even the grossest mistake can be repaired with some time.

Day 54: The editing process. 3 yellow/orange ATCs in the middle and all the possibilities around it.
day 54
Day 55: Further editing down for the 3 ATCs. I love it when things start coming together.
day 55
Day 56: Finished ATCs. Got too much green on the first one but otherwise pretty happy with them.
Day 56
So often I don’t know where I’m going when I start. I started with yellow and oranges because I almost NEVER use yellow and orange. Then I started pulling out stickers and tiny embellishments and paper. Then, as on Day 54, I have it all laid out at some point to look at it. Then I start editing down. Making decisions as to what belongs and what is not the right color, or the pattern is too big or the style isn’t right. I like the yellow, orange and green wallpaper looking paper that I chose to go with it. I started building the style from that. At the end of Day 55, I still didn’t know exactly where I was going. Sometime in the afternoon I realized that I wanted to do tags and grommets or grommets and ribbon. I had really awesome orange ribbon, so this is where I ended up on Day 56.

Thoughts on the week:
– On making the notebook: I was surprised at how many comments I got on the redo. People asking me what was wrong with the first version. All I can say is that I know when it’s not right. I’m learning to really rely on my instincts here. Once again, leaving projects to sit until the next day gives me some time to ponder and I’ll wonder into the office and look at it and wonder off again. I think about it during the evening and then when I go back to it sometimes I have a better feel on what I want to change.