Saturday, February 28, 2009

White River II

This is where I'll be at 5 a.m. tomorrow: The Polka Dot Restaurant in White River.

This week has been packed. New work was on display last night at the reception at the STAART Gallery in St. Albans. Exhaustion (brought in the last piece 15 minutes before the opening), followed by excitement and a case of nerves because it was the first showing of my Rural Urban stuff (you know, trying to light my ciggie with a flash drive), followed by anticipation of White River (took forever to get to sleep).

Goes without saying that I'm bringing my camera and I sincerely hope it is not as cold at 5 a.m. tomorrow as it was on January 4th. Looking forward to this evening at the Tip Top, and realizing that what, in January was nervousness at meeting everyone, is now pleasure at meeting folks who are no longer complete strangers. It is a very nice shift.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Identity is 'round the back

Now that I've almost resumed my pre-AOA schedule, I'm reading the NY Times again on a nearly daily basis. Somehow today I ended up at this article on "Saving the Suburbs".

Near the end are some fascinating images, well worth looking at. But, in reading it I was reminded of two things out of my visual past:

When I was living in Canada, all three times, I often took trains from London to Montreal or from London to Kalamazoo, or from Hamilton to Cornwall or Detroit. One of the things I loved most about riding trains was that in the urban areas, you saw back yards--back yards of houses, apartment buildings, industrial structures. Scenes you would never have occasion to see unless you worked, lived, or had business at one of these structures.

In one of my graduate design classes with a master designer, I remember him saying about suburbia--starting with the idea which we all know, the little box houses that, row after row, all look the same--that though from the street you really can't tell them apart, if they were all reversed so that the back yards were in front, there would be instant individuality. Some with mini-playgrounds, some with pools, some with lush gardens, some with dog runs and picnic tables, etc. Awnings or not, porches or not, bird feeders or not.

Our dwellings in such settings are Janus-faced. Conformity in front, individuality to the rear. Maybe as satellite imagery gets better and better and closer and closer, all will be exposed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Apologies to Diane and the VAC. . .

. . . not that it matters to them, but it does to me. I had told Diane I would be in Burlington yesterday at the VAC brainstorming session. I was not. (And I am one who, unless I'm dead, will do what I say.)

And, in my own defense, the reason I wasn't there was because of art. The image here is a top view of a treasure. It is the paper equivalent of a chest of gold and precious stones, heaped up in spilling splendor. The book runneth over with creation.

This is one of the myriad sketchbooks of Meta Strick, a Fairfield artist (YES! Franklin County!) One of these is apparently filled every two to four months. Filled with a maturity of visual thought, from a mind that must be a maelstrom of imagination.
I met her in the St. Albans Artists Guild, and she has asked me to design a web site for her. I saw her work for the first time a week ago. And what I saw was one of these sketchbooks. I only got a moment's look at it, but my mind immediately flashed to "how on earth can I get enough money to buy this?" "Can I rob a bank and get away with it?" What I saw was stunning. She said she would bring more next week. Well, "next week" was yesterday. And so, I did not go to Burlington. Instead I photographed a few pages from the four sketchbooks she brought. She allowed me to take them home.

Page after page, spread after spread, colors upon colors, mediums upon mediums--the January/February 2009 book is already filled.

After the morning meeting we were both at, we went to lunch. For almost two hours, then I went to the STAART Gallery hoping to find the owner, Stina Plant, there. I did. I spread these books out before her and she was as entranced as I was. (And we are both photographers.) I was there for an hour, and, without thinking, and in a state of euphoria, I drove home--instead of to Burlington. Meta's black bag with the four small books in it, and now on the floor of my living room would not let me leave.

I have a short list of split horizon times in my life: this is/was one of them. Needless to say, when her site is done, you will find the announcement here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Butter? A non-organic substance?

At my cousin's birthday party this past Sunday I overheard one of his sons say something about "going organic" in his maple sugaring operation. Instantly my mind went over the list of what goes into maple syrup: one item--sap. Startled, I moved in to listen.

Apparently, because he, as have generations before him, uses butter to quell the foam in the pan, his operation is not organic. I still can't digest this one. Admittedly, I've done no research other than recording the synapses that went off in my brain, but, as far as I know, cows eat grass and hay and produce milk. The milk is used to make butter. And, Tom, my cousin, throws a dab of it into the pan every so often during boiling to calm the foam. And, what's boiling is sap from the trees. There just ain't nothin' else in that pan.

And, yet, it's the syrup that comes out of that pan is not organic! I'm still chewing on this one. Inquiring minds want to know!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Art for the Poor

A cell phone can be a food stamp camera for artists. And, I debated this issue with myself when I was mulling over my AOA project design--at least the part of the guidelines that wanted us to involve Vermonters in art. In the end, I didn't include my idea in my proposal and I'm still chewing on it.

Then I thought of all the "bad art" this idea could spawn. This morning I decided that whatever this produced in the way of "art" could be no worse than the thousands of fake "countrified" craft pieces that only someone who had never seen a vernacular antique could love.

This shot was taken with a Nokia cell phone--back in the day (all of a year and half ago) when I was desperate to get back to photography but didn't have a camera. And here's another from that same time period. Same phone, same desperation.

Both are mucked about with in PhotoShop, but nothing too complicated.

My reasoning that this might be a good teaching idea is that, fundamentally, the source of all art is vision. Whether that vision appears to you in the real world or in your mind, when it gets turned into art it presents a vision for others to see. Of course then acceptance of that vision turns on others' taste--educated or not.

A cell phone is just as good as anything else at capturing a composition and offers a wonderful and ubiquitous tool for teaching a great many aspects of "making art". As to the PhotoShop part, well, there are some excellent and FREE programs that do everything needed.

I'll continue to chew on this for a while, and any comments will be much appreciated.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The inevitable has occurred. My current obsession with color has collided with my lifelong passion for words. Try to get to sleep after that accident!

Much more than Finlay does, Ball drops bits of information about the words by which we refer to colors. Both bemoan the incredibly complicated linguistic history of "red"; and that being my favorite color, more about that will undoubtedly appear at some point in this blog.

However, last night the nugget concerned "ultramarine". All my life, well, anyway since I learned the word, it has meant blue; dictionaries concur: bright deep blue. And, for me, that's always been it. Red is red, black, black, blue, blue, and ultramarine, a blue special enough to have its own name. "Deep blue"? As in deep (ultra) blue sea (marine)? But of course. If I ever thought about it, that's likely the association I would have made, and perhaps others as well. (I'm in danger here of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, for which the punishment should be death.)

I am however, teaching myself to suck eggs! I've studied both Latin and Greek and have always been able to call upon those languages to decipher unknown words I come across. Where in hell were they whenever I've used the word "ultramarine"?

The color of the sea is not germane here. These are Ball's words that kicked me in the cortex last night:

Lapis lazuli is found primarily in the East. . . . Its use in the West did not become widespread until the fourteenth century. The name reflects the pigment's status as a long distance import: in 1464 the Italian A. A. Filarete wrote in Trattato dell'artchitettura that "fine blue is derived from a stone and comes from across the sea and so is called ultramarine."

I knew that! NOT! Though I do know that the pure Latin word "ultra" translates to beyond, on the far side of. As in, "beyond the sea". Sometimes the synapses simply take forever to establish a connection -- ummm, something like broadband in Vermont.

AND, a footnote here to mention a new page attached to this blog: because once posts roll off the first page, they are rarely accessed by readers. Which means, books I've mentioned fall off the edge. I've added a link (top right) to the White River Book List. All books mentioned here, and some from my former blogs, will be kept there with my annotations.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Recovering Lost Data!

The image here is an example of what I was mucking about with when I was swept away by the AOA wave. It is a coffee-toned cyanotype made from a PhotoShop-created negative that was printed on a transparency. This particular print is on Arches paper.

This is a detail from that image:
There is a lot of info on the web about this process, generally referred to as alt-process photography. I first fell over it when I was reading Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien early last spring. As I read on through the early history of photography I got more and more excited and then I came to the section on cyanotypes and thought, "I can do this!" I got the two chemicals, mixed them up and slapped an old 2-1/4" x 2-1/4" negative onto a piece of paper and sandwiched the pair between a piece of glass and a piece of wood with clamps. Of course, being spring in Vermont it was a day of mostly clouds and a fitful sun. But I ran around in the yard, my sandwich held out before me, catching the elusive rays.
And, sure enough, I got a small blue image. (With a UV light set-up you can expose inside, and at night, and when it's raining!)

And here may be the best part in these environmentally-conscious days: NO nasty chemicals go down the drain. Also convenient: you don't need a darkroom.

The two chemicals are massively diluted with water, and they are Ferric Ammonium Citrate and Potassium Ferricyanide. Their solutions are kept separate until use and then mixed in a small flat, hake-brush-wide container. Paint the solution on the paper and let it dry. After exposure, develop the print IN TAP WATER!!!!!

Well, now I've dug out my alt-process journal and am trying to recover all that I knew before setting it aside for AOA. More later on this stuff.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Digging Out from Under

WARNING: This post is shameless self-promotion.

I was in stasis because I had put so many things aside for the AOA work that I couldn't decide what to do first!

Well, I decided I can live in a pig sty but I can't not eat. So the first thing I've done is update my other (geeky) web site--the one that occasionally brings in money!

VT2000 Technical Services

You might recognize the name from my email address--same email address, same server since 1996 or '97, I forget which now, it's been so long.

So, if there are any artists out there who need web work, heh, heh, I'm here. Don't do shopping carts, flash, or other bells and whistles, just sharp, fast, safe, well-designed sites that handle images properly. Oh, and as long as I manage the site, I can host it as well.

And, as one artist to another, the cost for both is very reasonable.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Round Earth

Well, Bright Earth has led me to Round Earth as a result of researching the relationship of the bluish-green ice falls cascading from the rock cliffs along I-89 that were extremely numerous yesterday.

The previous day I had read the section in Bright Earth about how glass might have been discovered, learning that clear glass is harder to make than colored simply because "natural" glass contains impurities that often give a bluish-green cast. Aha! Is this cause the same as that which creates the bluish-green ice? What's in the glacial silt that is common in glass? Haven't finished yet--more later.

BUT, I did stumble across this article on the how the fact that the earth is round can be determined from a ship's wake. My immediate interest in this stems from the time I was taking classical Greek and became fascinated by the science of the early Greeks. I remember, on a full moon night, using trigonometry against the vertical side of brick building to determining the distance of the moon from the earth. I was close, maybe off by 20,000 miles.

There's a lot of math in the linked article, but the salient parts are the Introduction on p. 1, the magnificent image on p. 2, and the Conclusions on p.4. The simplicity of the reasoning is stunning. Worth taking a skim at.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Sometimes there are surprises when I dump my card after a shoot. Not often, but when there is one, it's lagniappe--that something extra which was unforeseen but good.

This one was snapped when I was pacing in a parking lot waiting for someone to come out of the building. I was hanging out in a photographer's nightmare: a gazillion cars, snowbanks, and the flat boring landscape of big-box Williston.

And I saw this, as you see it now--wholly untouched except for making it smaller for the web. When I looked at it, on my screen at home, I was startled by how much it looked like a painting. And, those of you who know me, know that I'm a black and white photographer and a black and white person. But occasionally I stumble out of my groove.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bright Earth - a must read

A while back on my former blog, I posted about getting a copy of Finlay's Color and how excited I was about it. Well, let's revisit that. I finally gave it up on page 258 (out of 302). There was just too, too much of "cute".

Frederico Buskak in his little boat wandering among the Greek isles looking for a home, how excited he must have been to come with his little bag of colors to the shores of Venice.

I made that up of course, but damn I hate that kind of stuff. Once maybe, but such passages increased in number as the book went on. Does the author think that people without imaginations read books like this one? I can do my own imagining, and do it when I care to do it. If that stuff had been edited out, the book would have likely been a lot shorter--oh and there was the young Greek girl pining for her absent lover by means of charcoal on a wall. And!! And!! Finlay spends a large chunk of the book on Australian Aboriginal paintings and makes them sound incredibly interesting--however, among the 21 plates, there is not one example. And "lake", though mentioned often, is not in the index, etc., etc. Grrrr.

Anyway, in my first post about that book, our David Kearns commented that I might enjoy Bright Earth by Philip Ball. A long time ago I had that book on a list, but it never got bought. So, to celebrate turning in my proposal I bought it. NOW this one is a book worth reading!

Here is Ball on why color's use and its theory should go hand in hand:
But only by appreciating the why [of how color comes into being] can one truly understand the social and technological factors that brought these colors onto the palette. Moreover, some basic facts about color mixing have a strong bearing on the uses to which painters have put their pure and shining pigments (whether they knew it or not). . . . I should reprise my assertion that in the end the differentiation between the two is only a relatively modern idea. I feel sure that Leonardo would have damned any book that claimed to speak of color without explaining it.

Bright Earth: Get a copy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From a View to the Death

Exit Stage Left!

(Well, I could hardly exit Stage Right could I?)

For my tiny blog following, I invite you to change any loitering links to this:

White River

I will leave this blog intact here, because, hell, there are some good things amongst all the blather.

Slice of LIfe Here

Supplicant, er, Applicant, heal thyself.

The following is excerpted from one of my posts:

Maybe this is what we need to do. Go after that grail of "touching blood". Make them hurt, dance, weep, howl, feel heat in the blood, but above all think. I now know this might not have been such a good idea for my last project! However, I think it stands up in the wider world. If we don't go after this, what are we after? And, what are we about? Artists don't make art to hide things from the world. And what we choose to show is what differentiates us. Selection is everything in art; it slices up the world into one's own mosaic. It is the depth of the cut, the sharpness of the blade that determines value.

At the risk of belaboring this metaphor, we hone that blade on books, on people, on history, on glimpses caught by the corner of our eye.

It is my intention in this blog, among other things, to keep a record of my sharpening tools and a box of band-aids within easy reach.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Swan Song Here

Too bad that four months of passionate work and thought came down to five seconds in the end.

Nothing more to be said, except heartfelt congratulations and good luck wishes to those who got it right! (edit: This refers to my non-selection as an Art of Action Finalist. Ten of 20 were selected.)

Image Prep for Online Images and more

I have a tutorial about getting the IPTC information into your images. It's not finished yet, but there is some information that may help you get started.

NEWS FLASH re Blogging

If you have any doubts about the efficacy of blogging, try this: in the Google search bar type Vermont + "art of action" (including the quotes) and hit enter.

After the links you would expect to see first, my blog is 5th, Susan's On the Easel is last, and, the link to my AOA Database which I only put up this past week, is 7 or 8 on the FIRST page.

Also in the first page mix is a pdf/html link to John Zwick's AOA stuff on his own site. If you haven't stumbled on JZ's professional site yet, here it is.