Thursday, March 28, 2013

Of Fountain Pens and Dinosaurs

For those of us who use fountain pens regularly -- whether for correspondence, art, calligraphy, or business -- it is inevitable that at some point someone will (or has) asked, "Why are you still using that old dinosaur?" (or words to that effect). Well, while researching pen nibs recently I learned that there actually is a connection between fountain pens and dinosaurs!

Most of us are already aware that, in order to reduce wear and to provide a smooth writing experience, nib manufacturers have, since 1834, tipped our nibs with a tiny ball of iridium during the manufacturing process. This hard metal is a rare member of the platinum "family" of metals. In fact, it is so rare that it is found primarily in the Earth's core (where, of course, we can't get at it), in meteors (ditto), and in a thin layer of the Earth's crust called the K-Pg (formerly known as the K-T) Boundary. What, might you ask, is the K-T Boundary? Well, it is the thin geological layer (usually no more than 1 inch/3 cm) of pulverized minerals that lead Walter Alvarez and a group of like-minded geologists to postulate that a meteor measuring approximately 6 miles in diameter (and containing a sizable amount of iridium) struck the Yucatán Peninsula some 65.5 million years ago with a force roughly equal to that of a one million megaton bomb. (I know, that's way too many zeros for me to get my head around too.) The result, however, was: A) the extermination of the dinosaurs, B) the creation of deposits of iridium in what would become known as the K-T Boundary, and (possible) C) the tip of my smoothest-writing nib.

So, the next time some wise guy unwittingly asks you, "Why are you still using that dinosaur?" you can respond, "Say! Do I have a story for you!"

Dr. Walter Alvarez, who led the team that first identified the K-T Boundary. 

Parting esoterica (or "six more degrees of separation"): I never heard of Walter Alvarez and his work while I was an undergrad at California College of Arts & Crafts -- even though he was a celebrated professor at the school just down College Avenue from us (that would be UC Berkeley). But I did know of his great-aunt, Mabel Alvarez, and her work (as an avant guard California artist and member of the "Group of Eight"). The world is such a finely interwoven fabric, don't you think?

Mabel Alvarez self-portrait, 1923


my son and his "pet" raptor

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Rim With A View, Part II (Let's Get It Started)

over the next few weeks I'll be looking at this image a lot -- every time things get too hectic and 
ask myself "Is it worth all the madness and frenzy?" (Of course, the answer is "You bet!")

Before I get to Crater Lake, before I settle into my little cabin on the rim, and before I start exploring the quietude of a magical winter wonderland I've got to deal with the logistics; I've got to actually make this adventure happen, and (given that I have six weeks or so to pull it all together) things will certainly get a little crazy around here!

So, when I get to Crater Lake I'll take a deep breath (a very deep breath!), relax, and start listening to Cat Stevens' "The Wind". But, starting today, I kick it into high gear, put on the Black Eyed Peas, and crank up the volume -- "Let's Get It Started In Here!"

The Kit, Evaluation & Update

never leave home without it

Already having several travel adventures under my belt, my "daily carry" and "long haul" art kits are pretty much set. But, before each new journey, I like to reevaluate my kits; see what new developments and new products may have come on the market since my last outing, and confirm that I've selected the best gear for the project at hand.

My daily carry sketch kit (the one I never go out the door without) is a small canvas tote containing my journal, my red Sakura Micron pen tote (black ink in assorted nib sizes), a tin of graphite pencils, a tin of Prismacolor pencils, a tin of Sakura Micron color pens, a fully loaded 2-pen "fountain pen kimono" (watch for more about this in a guest post on Cathy Johnson's blog just as soon as we get the sewing machine de-bugged), my spare pair of eyeglasses, and my clip-on 2-lens magnifiers.

During my residency with North Cascades National Park two years ago I found that my 3.5"x5.5" Moleskine pocket notebook was not up to the demands I put on it and I will definitely be carrying a different pocket-sized journal. (Watch for a hands-on evaluation of the "finalists" soon.) I also carried Moleskine 5"x8.5" Japanese Albums & Watercolor Journals. Both served quite well, but I'm still looking at a few remarkable options that have been introduced since then.

my "long haul" art kit

My long haul art kit (the mobile studio that supplements my daily carry anytime I will be away from home for more than a day) fits into a small backpack that I've carried since our two-month sketch crawl of Europe in 2009. It contains an Arches 10"x14" HP watercolor block, a 24-color Daniel Smith watercolor box and a 12-color DS "Bijou" watercolor box (both of which I've carried for over 20 years), assorted watercolor brushes, a pocket-sized pair of binoculars, a Cannon digital camera (which doubles as an HD video camera), my Apple iBook Pro, power and connection cables (for the Cannon and Apple), a first aid kit (including any prescription meds), survival kit (bivouac bag, emergency food, and fire starter), water bottle (which will remain empty during the flight up and back), and one change of clothing.

Field Work

sketching this week at the Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth

OK, this is without a doubt the most enjoyable part of getting ready for any new adventure. It's where I establish the daily routine I want to maintain while I'm off in the woods, make certain that I really have everything I'll need to sketch on location (and shed anything that I only "thought" I'd need).

The goal is to be at a point where I routinely go out drawing every day (easy), all day (a bit more challenging) by the time I depart for Oregon. Already I'm going for long, slow walks, stopping frequently, and strengthening my perceptual "muscles" (not only by sketching, but also by soaking in all that I can experience of the moment -- the long song of a mockingbird singing its heart out, the sound of a gust of wind as it swooshes through the new foliage of a tree freshly awake from its winter sleep, and the sighting of a tiny bird newly returned from its winter residence. And, equally important, I am looking for the "artifacts" of earlier generations of human inhabitants -- buildings, old fence lines, and any other signs that another set of feet passed my way before. I am also on the lookout for small artifacts or bits of nature that fit easily in the hand or pocket and that can be carried home to draw later -- thus increasing the number and range of my subjects. (Of course, National Parks have strict rules on what may or may not be gathered and I adhere to these rules meticulously -- both for the health and wellbeing of the park, and for the experience of future visitors.)

Stay tuned to see how I do.

Getting In Shape

taking a group of sketching enthusiasts out for a bit of nature journaling at CLNP may be "challenging" 

If you're a "flatlander" like me and have been a bit too sedentary over the winter months, getting into shape is an important consideration for the outdoor artist before venturing to a destination that sits at 7000-8000 ft. (2100-2400 m.), doubly so when trekking from one scenic spot to another may likely involve hours of cross-country hiking on snowshoes, and even the remote possibility of getting stuck outdoors over night could involve temperatures in the range of 19º F (-7º C).

So, I've begun a daily regimen consisting of 1 hour on a cross-country ski machine (which will be increased in duration each week till departure) augmented with daily hikes with my border collie (She'll make sure we maintain a brisk pace.) bike rides and sketching safaris (all venturing farther and farther afield over time).

The Gear

As with my studio kit, I don't have to begin from scratch here; much of the gear I used in Stehekin is perfectly serviceable for this adventure too. However, I will be experiencing more snow, more frequently, and in greater depths than at North Cascades National Park. So, a few extra items will likely be called for. (Fortunately, my hosts at Crater Lake have already indicated that they'll be able to provide snowshoes and some other outdoor essentials, which will be very helpful.)

The first order of business is inventorying my outdoor equipment and determining what might need repair or replacement. For example, my hiking boots are in very good condition but have developed a pronounced creaking noise when I walk in them; I'll have them checked out by a cobbler and apply a new waterproofing treatment before I go. I have two pair of cargo pants that should suffice. But I'll check all the stitching and deal with any needed repairs before packing. Already I know I will need some additional liner socks** and outer socks for the trip, and winter underwear.

Sadly, my trusty folding stool won't be making this trip as it would immediately sink into the snow. For this trip I'm thinking a roll-up square of neoprene would be far more serviceable: both waterproof and well insulated against the cold.

** A note about outdoor clothing: I'm a big fan of light cotton in warm weather. In fact, I live in t-shirts and shorts for much of the summer. However, cotton has no place in my winter outdoor wear. It looses all heat retention when wet and, once wet, is very slow to dry. So, my cotton socks, underwear and outerwear won't be making this trip. (Staying warm and dry will help keep you safe and comfortable, and that in turn will make it easier to focus on enjoying the experience and making art.)

Watch for more details about my gear selection in upcoming posts.

The Budget

Of course it shouldn't come as news to anyone that adventures cost money. And underwriting a venture of this magnitude can call for almost as much creativity as the artwork I'll produce while in the wilds of Oregon's Cascade Range.

It looks like air travel will be on the same carriers as our NCNP adventure!

Option 1: "Say! What's that?" -- The first addition to my new set of fundraising tools is the new PayPal "Donate" button in the sidebar -- safe, secure, and simple. It allows individuals to donate an amount of their choosing either via their PayPal account or credit card.

Option 2: Kickstarter -- Kickstarter is a relatively new, secure online "social fundraising" option for creative projects. An individual or group comes up with an awesome project that needs funding, they complete an online application by put together a project description, a budget, a schedule (both for fundraising and for completion of the project), a verified Amazon account (more about the money in a moment), a list of contribution levels and the perks or rewards that donors will receive at each level (kinda sounds like PBS Pledge Week doesn't it?), and (this is optional but highly recommended by the folks at KS) a short promotional video. Once the application has been completed it is submitted digitally to KS for verification that the project adheres to the KS guidelines. If it does (and if the project author(s) have done their homework it should) the project will be visible in Kickstarter online catalog of fundraising ventures. All that's left is to start getting the word out and hope the pledges start rolling in!

Now, I promised an extra word or two about the Amazon account earlier and here it is; Kickstarter is all-or-nothing! That is, if (and only if) the project receives enough pledges to meet the budget set by its creator Amazon will collect the funds and distribute them to the project. If the financial target isn't met, however, nothing is collected and this fundraiser is a bust. The reasoning behind this is that if the proposal is honest the target amount is truly what is needed to make the project feasible. Anything less and the likelihood of a successful outcome becomes unrealistic.

So, how about visiting my Kickstarter Project Page today, watch the short video, check out the amazing range of rewards I'm offering for your support, and consider making a pledge? (Some of the items offered are limited in number so be sure and reserve yours while supplies last. And note that international donors are welcomed and international shipping of rewards is available.)

Option 3: Shopping Amazon -- If you can't spare an outright donation but still want to support my Crater Lake project, consider doing your online shopping through my Amazon Affiliate page. You pay no more than you normally do at Amazon and your transaction is completely secure. (In fact the entire checkout process is handled by Amazon.) But I receive an Affiliate commission that will be applied toward the trip, and (without spending a penny more) you have the satisfaction of knowing you've supported a worthy cause. (Thanks!)

Option 4: Shopping Etsy -- Why not take a look at the selection of vintage and handmade goods I offer at my Etsy shop. Again, any revenues will be applied toward making this breathtaking adventure a reality.

Option 5: Please tell a friend -- The more people who know about the "Rim With A View Project" the greater the likelihood that I'll be able to bring it to fruition. And, too, folks who find out about the venture are more likely to subscribe to the blog and share in the (free) online postings.

May at Crater Lake will be a little bit different than May in North Texas


OK, in Part III I'll be posting artwork from the "Field Work" portion of the preparation stage, and both my final Kit and gear selections. Part IV will be posted "on the road" -- en route to Crater Lake, from the rim of the crater (or at least from my cabin near the rim), and the trip home. In the meantime watch for other interesting articles covering everything from urban sketching and "lost" history to this year's crop of spring wildflowers (and, believe it or not, dinosaurs even play a part in one upcoming article).

Happy trails!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Little Texas 01 -- Fort Worth Public Market

Texas is a big state. The driving distance from Los Angeles, CA to El Paso, TX is shorter than the driving distance along Interstate-10 from Texas' western border to its eastern boundary. Texas also has some big attractions -- some well known the world over and drawing thousands of visitors each year (places like the Alamo and San Antonio's River Walk).

But there are also hundreds of gems that are known only to a few -- neighborhoods that were very tony in their heyday but (like Sleeping Beauty) quietly slipped into a deep slumber when they fell on hard times, one-off architectural treasures tucked away in out-of-the-way corners of larger communities, towns that went dormant after the coming of the Interstate system, and tiny communities that were never more than the intersection of two Farm to Market roads. I call these forgotten and undiscovered gems "Little Texas" and in this new series I'll endeavor to seek out, sketch, and share some of the best with you -- starting this week with the Fort Worth Public Market.

main entrance polychromatic tiles

The Public Market sits in what is today a quiet, nondescript neighborhood that sees little car, and even less foot, traffic. (On the bright, sunny day I sketched it I counted fewer than a dozen vehicles and maybe two or three pedestrians who passed by.) B. Gaylord Noftsger's design utilizes an eclectic blend of Art Deco stained glass, Spanish Colonial polychrome tiles, and red framed windows and doors that are particularly appealing to the eye when set against the prevailing clear blue skies of north Texas). Built by John J. Harden in 1930 as a central marketplace for area farmers and retailers, the beautiful building was challenged by the economic hardships of the Depression and finally closed its doors in 1941.

If you happen to find yourself in the area of Henderson St. and Rio Grande Ave. in Fort Worth (just south of Lancaster Ave. in the downtown area) keep an eye out for the Market's distinctive tower. (And don't forget to bring your sketchbook!)


In Part 02 of Little Texas I'll visit an enchanting neighborhood that has slumbered mostly forgotten and neglected for nearly a hundred years, but that was one of the most affluent and beautiful in the city at the beginning of the last century. I hope you'll join me then.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Rim With A View, Part I

Some 7,700 years ago two very spectacular geological events occurred in south-central Oregon that are now set to have a profound effect on my journaling. During the first event Mount Mazama blew its top. During the second "event" Mother Nature filled the volcanic cone with water, creating the deepest lake in the United States with some of the cleanest, clearest water in North America. (The record for visibility in the lake stands at 144 vertical feet!)

how's this for a rim with a view?

Fast forward 7+ millennia to 28 February, when I received a telephone call from the Education Coordinator at what is now Crater Lake National Park and an invitation to be the Park's 2013 winter Artist-in-Residence. Now, for those of you who are a flatlanders (like me) let me interject that "winter" in this case does not mean next November or December. No, in the higher elevations Oregon'c Cascade Mountains, winter means May. (And lest you think that's a joke I will share with you that I've been told that I can expect to find snow depths of as much as 8 to 12 feet when I arrive!) So, I've got just over two months to pull my kit together, get myself in shape, make my travel arrangements, and reestablish a rigorous day-long sketching routine. And I thought you might like to come along through a series of articles -- both as I prepare, and on the adventure itself.

So, in the next post in this series I'll share with you the kit I'm putting together for this expedition and some of the exercises (physical and artistic) I'm doing to get "in shape" our trek into the High Country. Please stay tuned -- and welcome aboard!


OK, I should probably apology to E. M. Foster for taking the title of his delightful novel in vain -- but, as you might imagine, I'm in a particularly "exuberant" mood, and my sense of humor tends to get a bit quirky when that happens.