Tuesday April 23, 2013
More From The Sketchcrawl
I’m quite tardy in posting any sketches from the 39th Worldwide Sketchcrawl, held a week ago Saturday. For some reason I felt very much in the zone on this outing. Several technical details: first, I switched to a different sketchbook. The day beforehand, I looked in the campus bookstore for a 140 lb. watercolor Strathmore Visual Journal; they were out of these, and only had the 90 lb. version in the size I wanted. This slightly thinner paper turns out to behave quite well with a wash. Second, I was drawing solely with a Uni-ball brown Signo pen, which I had never worked with before, and found I really liked it. It’s a very lively fine rollerball pen which doesn’t bleed at all with a wash. Finally, I came up with a trick. It turns out discarded white socks make great rags on which to clean waterbrushes while changing paints, and one can then hang the sock out of one’s pocket for instant access.
At upper left is a sketch of the florist’s next to the cafe where we initially met. Next, at right, is the view south up Sanchez Street, drawn while Pica was sketching in Imagiknit. Finally at lower left, is a sketch of the Castro Theatre. A good day throughout.
Saturday April 13, 2013
Back From Juneau and Still Sketching
I had a great time in Juneau with family and got back a couple of days ago. I wasn’t sure I’d be up for any more running around but today was the 39th Worldwide Sketchcrawl and we decided to go to San Francisco on the train.
I switched from purple to brown-black and the Uni-ball Signo pen is almost waterproof, which makes a very different kind of drawing. Not quite as soft as the purple that bled into every wash I laid down, but not as harsh as black. I really like it. I spent some time sketching at Imagiknit.
Traveling down on the train with Pete Scully we talked about how we tend to draw things always facing the same way (in my case, I almost invariably sketch birds facing left; he always draws streets pointing right; Numenius always seems to draw cats facing right). It is a neurological thing and seems worth working on because you can discover new things, like when you draw with your non-dominant hand. At right is a sketch of Pete. It is not a good likeness, but in my defense he moved just as I was drawing his face. We also talked about how there’s a move afoot to get “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” to number 1 in the British charts but everyone’s downloading different versions in a predictably British way.
At our sketchcrawl meetup in the Castro I heard a man with a blonde child on his shoulders singing “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.” I couldn’t pass up the chance to stop him and say we’d just been talking about that on the train. Turns out he’s from Dorchester, and his parents were from Barnsley, which Thatcher pretty much demolished, so he sang with feeling and gusto.
We got home later than we’d planned, having just missed the Amtrak bus from the Ferry Terminal, but the bonus was… more sketching. It’s a fantastic city, it was a beautiful day, and we had an excellent time.
Thursday April 11, 2013
I had a milestone birthday today — the earth has orbited around the sun 50 times since I was born. Unpacking that statement a bit, I puzzle over what point exactly marks that milestone? The usual notion I suppose would be to say that since I was born way back when at 4:04 PM on 11 April, therefore that time this year would be the milestone point. But that however is with reference to the Gregorian calendar, which keeps the date of the equinoxes more-or-less in the same point in the calendar by inserting leap days every four years except on centuries not divisible by four. Obviously, leap days are discrete insertions into the calendar, which is why the actual date of the vernal equinox varies between the 19th and the 21st of March depending upon the year.
Defining one’s calendar with reference to the equinoxes still isn’t exactly the same thing as the earth being in the same position in its orbit. The year with reference to the equinoxes is called the tropical year, and is 365.242190 days long. The year with reference to the fixed stars is the sidereal year, and is 365.256363 days in length. The latter seems to be what I’m interested in identifying in my milestone, so how do we determine this?
What it seems we want to do is calculate things in heliocentric coordinates, that is, with reference to an observer standing at the middle of the sun. To figure this out, I reached for a venerable piece of astronomy software, XEphem, and did some calculations. The heliocentric longitude of the earth from the sun at the time of my birth was 201:23:09 (degrees-minutes-seconds). Changing the date in the program to April 2013, I then stepped its clock forward and back until the heliocentric longitude was 201:23:09 again. This I find occurred at 7:50 PM on April 10th. Not today at all. Hmm.
All of which is a good reminder that time is a lot more subtle of a concept than many people realize.
Friday April 5, 2013
8,403 Miles by Train - and 211 Sketches
We got in after midnight, the train that had carried my mother and me from Chicago and lost both engines limping off toward Emeryville in the dark. This last leg was the longest of my trip — two nights by train, even without the nine-hour delay. The ground felt oddly solid beneath my feet.
I set out on this journey for many reasons, some of which I’m still discovering, but mainly to clear my head from the past few months leading toward a layoff. It’s hard to know what to do when you are older but seem to have moved on from your chosen career path; it’s disorienting and holds the potential for huge anxiety and depression. My body is at a transition time also, and the anticipation of major change was almost too hard to take at times. When it came, though, and the final date was set, it was a huge relief — and felt like cause for celebration. I discovered what I’d do next, almost by chance (but actually because I was ready to; I’ll be talking more about it later). I needed a big, long break.
A continent-long break, it turns out. Davis – Los Angeles – Albuquerque – Chicago – Tyrone, PA – Philadelphia – Boston – Brunswick, Maine – Boston – Chicago – Davis. In the middle there I took a fantastic side trip by car to see some dear friends in Montreal, managed a little time with my cousin in Maine and my uncle in Boston. Managed to catch up, too, with Lorianne and Leslee in Cambridge, a merging of many conversations.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the most unexpected delight, serially, was all the fantastically interesting people I met (pretty much everyone). People who take long train journeys area almost uniformly interesting. (The people who felt as though they’d been duped into taking theirs were the very rare exceptions.)
I brought too much to do, hoping to stave off boredom, but nothing was boring. I did very little knitting and almost no reading. What I did was lots and lots of sketching, dozens of tiny pen-and-wash drawings with a purple Pilot G-Tec-C4 and a set of Schmincke watercolors—having spent some time with these I can say I love the saturation but need to tweak, in a major way, the reds. The blues are good though I’d perhaps add cerulean to the mix; I need to find a good color to use for flesh tones of winter Caucasian midwesterners, because what was in my box certainly didn’t provide that.
I brought along my good (read heavy) binoculars and was glad of them for the day spent looking in vain for the fieldfare in Carlisle, Massachusetts, but more especially for the two life rosy-finches in the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. They proved almost useless on the train if it was moving—I should have brought a much lighter pair. I will compile a bird list, separating out birds seen from the train and not (a real treat was the woodcock near my sister’s in Maine that was flushed by her dog, especially since the one I’d hoped to see at Dave’s in Plummer’s Hollow was taking a break during a big snowfall). I don’t know what it means other than that I’m still, deep down, a lister, even if not a very serious one.
The return leg of the trip was taken with my mother. We’re going to go and see my brother in Juneau and she was up for the train ride across the country. We worked out some surreptitious signals in order to avoid killing each other, but actually didn’t need to avail ourselves of them; we are good travel companions, even through nine-hour delays in the Utah desert (it might have been better if there had been a bird — any bird — but we still had a good time; after five hours of looking at the same five acres of sagebrush I did pick up the knitting, it must be said). A sense of humor goes a long, long way in mishaps beyond your control.
Friday March 29, 2013
We had the day off today so I took the opportunity to play tourist in my own backyard, and headed to the Aerospace Museum of California, which is in the north Sacramento area next to the former McClellan Air Force Base airfield. I had never been there before. Their collection is strong in U.S. AIr Force planes but they have some other noteworthy planes as well. I sketched three of the planes and one pair of rocket engines. The plane at left is a MiG-17: according to the plaque how the Air Force acquired this particular plane is still classified. At lower right is the pair of rocket engines from the first stage of the Titan IV rocket. This rocket was used mainly to launch large military satellites into orbit but was also used to launch the Cassini space probe which is still orbiting Saturn collecting data.
Wednesday March 27, 2013
Feathers of Hope Turns Ten
in 2003, not long after we had started out on Feathers of Hope, I came across a blog by an interesting woman in Vermont. Beth of the Cassandra Pages quickly became one of my go-to places, and through her, I discovered lots of other like-minded bloggers. We started the Ecotone Wiki for bloggers about place, which sadly succumbed to hackers and is no more. But I have kept in close touch with a lot of blogging friends from those days.
On this incredible train journey across the continent, I’ve even seen some of them. I type this in an Arabic restaurant above the rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal, across from Beth. Ten years after we first met in Vermont. I’ve spent time in Plummer’s Hollow with Dave of Via Negativa, I’ve seen Leslee of 3rd House Journal Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries, partners on this journey.
Our posting on the blog has slowed way down. Sometimes I wonder whether its time is over. But the blog serves a different function than every other type of social media I can think of. I think a blog is an ideal venue for sketches, for instance.
Thank you to Numenius for joining me on this journey. Wish you were here. Thanks for holding down the fort while I peregrinate.
Friday March 22, 2013
A Universe of One
Yesterday I noticed on Twitter that #Planck was trending. I knew by that time what this was about, but was still surprised to see the name of the great early-twentieth century physicist having moments of social media fame. What had happened yesterday was that there was a press conference announcing the release of data from the Planck satellite mission to map the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation with ultrahigh precision. Universe is a teeny bit older than thought reads this story on Science News. Cosmologists have much to tackle ahead of them with this new data, so a few folks will be kept busy for years here.
Here’s the bit that most intrigued me from the Science News story: “Planck also found several features that surprised scientists. Most notably, it reaffirms a quirky WMAP finding that one half of the sky seems to have more fluctuations than the other. Theory predicts the universe should look the same in all directions. “ (WMAP was an earlier space mission, the second one, to produce a map of the CMB.) So this portrait of the universe at an early age is not random in all directions. Anyway, I am bothered by a statistical puzzle. We have a sample size of one — just one universe to look at here. There’s no population against which we can make a statistical test. So how can we possibly distinguish between this anisotropy being the remnant of some oddball random fluctuation during the early inflation of the universe, or the case where there’s undiscovered physics going on here?
Not that I know much at all about cosmology! At any rate I’m in one of my phases where I’m extremely interested in astronomy. I think this all started a couple months ago when Pica was knitting herself a Celestarium shawl.
Monday March 18, 2013
Underway on the Rails
I’ve been away for a week now and have seen hundreds of miles of country, some arid, some snowy, such as it is here in Tyrone, home of Via Negativa’s Dave Bonta.
Travelng by train is a curious mix of fast food convenience, nineteenth- century nostalgia (several stations in Illinois had hosted debates in which Lincoln was a participant), and the feeling that you’ve entered a fifties-style diner where a group of locals is sitting around shooting the breeze, but by virtue of having boarded the train, you are automatically a member of the group.
Several people pointed me to a recent New York Times article about train travel in the US. Most of what’s in the article has rung true for me, though I think every single passenger on every train I’ve boarded since last Tuesday could have written a different version of that article.
Nice to have two nights at Dave’s. I’ll be on my way to Boston tomorrow via Philadelphia. I’ll travel through my mother’s childhood and adolescence, feeling their force with none of the details that memory catches like butterflies, rising on a warm spring day. I am not sure what my own childhood train memory trip would look like, but I’m about to follow my mother’s.
Saturday March 16, 2013
While Pica was passing through 30-degree weather in Chicago, back in Davis it reached 79 degrees today, fine weather for a sketchcrawl at the east end of the Arboretum. The subject matter was plants plus a couple of egrets.
Thursday March 14, 2013
Off on a Journey
The train is full of things to do. I’ve been sketching like a fiend and seem never to do as many as I’d like, but there will be a good stack of pages when I’ve finished. Everyone is so friendly on the train, I’ve met some really interesting people and this is just getting started.
Connectivity is minimal though so posts will be scant.