Shallow Thoughts : tags : art

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 22 Oct 2016

Los Alamos Artists Studio Tour

[JunkDNA Art at the LA Studio Tour] The Los Alamos Artists Studio Tour was last weekend. It was a fun and somewhat successful day.

I was borrowing space in the studio of the fabulous scratchboard artist Heather Ward, because we didn't have enough White Rock artists signed up for the tour.

Traffic was sporadic: we'd have long periods when nobody came by (I was glad I'd brought my laptop, and managed to get some useful development done on track management in pytopo), punctuated by bursts where three or four groups would show up all at once.

It was fun talking to the people who came by. They all had questions about both my metalwork and Heather's scratchboard, and we had a lot of good conversations. Not many of them were actually buying -- I heard the same thing afterward from most of the other artists on the tour, so it wasn't just us. But I still sold enough that I more than made back the cost of the tour. (I hadn't realized, prior to this, that artists have to pay to be in shows and tours like this, so there's a lot of incentive to sell enough at least to break even.) Of course, I'm nowhere near covering the cost of materials and equipment. Maybe some day ...

[JunkDNA Art at the LA Studio Tour]

I figured snacks are always appreciated, so I set out my pelican snack bowl -- one of my first art pieces -- with brownies and cookies in it, next to the business cards.

It was funny how wrong I was in predicting what people would like. I thought everyone would want the roadrunners and dragonflies; in practice, scorpions were much more popular, along with a sea serpent that had been sitting on my garage shelf for a month while I tried to figure out how to finish it. (I do like how it eventually came out, though.)

And then after selling both my scorpions on Saturday, I rushed to make two more on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and of course no one on Sunday had the slightest interest in scorpions. Dave, who used to have a foot in the art world, tells me this is typical, and that artists should never make what they think the market will like; just go on making what you like yourself, and hope it works out.

Which, fortunately, is mostly what I do at this stage, since I'm mostly puttering around for fun and learning.

Anyway, it was a good learning experience, though I was a little stressed getting ready for it and I'm glad it's over. Next up: a big spider for the front yard, before Halloween.

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[ 20:17 Oct 22, 2016    More art | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Mon, 12 Sep 2016

Art on display at the Bandelier Visitor Center

As part of the advertising for next month's Los Alamos Artists Studio Tour (October 15 & 16), the Bandelier Visitor Center in White Rock has a display case set up, and I have two pieces in it.

[my art on display at Bandelier]

The Velociraptor on the left and the hummingbird at right in front of the sweater are mine. (Sorry about the reflections in the photo -- the light in the Visitor Center is tricky.)

The turtle at front center is my mentor David Trujillo's, and I'm pretty sure the rabbit at far left is from Richard Swenson.

The lemurs just right of center are some of Heather Ward's fabulous scratchboard work. You may think of scratchboard as a kids' toy (I know I used to), but Heather turns it into an amazing medium for wildlife art. I'm lucky enough to get to share her studio for the art tour: we didn't have a critical mass of artists in White Rock, just two of us, so we're borrowing space in Los Alamos for the tour.

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[ 10:38 Sep 12, 2016    More art | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Sat, 27 Feb 2016

Learning to Weld

I'm learning to weld metal junk into art!

I've wanted to learn to weld since I was a teen-ager at an LAAS star party, lusting after somebody's beautiful homebuilt 10" telescope on a compact metal fork mount. But building something like that was utterly out of reach for a high school kid. (This was before John Dobson showed the world how to build excellent alt-azimuth mounts out of wood and cheap materials ... or at least before Dobsonians made it to my corner of LA.)

Later the welding bug cropped up again as I worked on modified suspension designs for my X1/9 autocross car, or fiddled with bicycles, or built telescopes. But it still seemed out of reach, too expensive and I had no idea how to get started, so I always found some other way of doing what I needed.

But recently I had the good fortune to hook up with Los Alamos's two excellent metal sculptors, David Trujillo and Richard Swenson. Mr. Trujillo was kind enough to offer to mentor me and let me use his equipment to learn to make sculptures like his. (Richard has also given me some pointers.)

[My first metal art piece] MIG welding is both easier and harder than I expected. David Trujillo showed me the basics and got me going welding a little face out of a gear and chain on my very first day. What a fun start!

In a lot of ways, MIG welding is actually easier than soldering. For one thing, you don't need three or four hands to hold everything together while also holding the iron and the solder. On the other hand, the craft of getting a good weld is something that's going to require a lot more practice.

Setting up a home workshop

I knew I wanted my own welder, so I could work at home on my own schedule without needing to pester my long-suffering mentors. I bought a MIG welder and a bottle of gas (and, of course, safety equipment like a helmet, leather apron and gloves), plus a small welding table. But then I found that was only the beginning.

[Metal art: Spoon cobra] Before you can weld a piece of steel you have to clean it. Rust, dirt, paint, oil and anti-rust coatings all get in the way of making a good weld. David and Richard use a sandblasting cabinet, but that requires a big air compressor, making it as big an investment as the welder itself.

At first I thought I could make do with a wire brush wheel on a drill. But it turned out to be remarkably difficult to hold the drill firmly enough while brushing a piece of steel -- that works for small areas but not for cleaning a large piece or for removing a thick coating of rust or paint.

A bench grinder worked much better, with a wire brush wheel on one side for easy cleaning jobs and a regular grinding stone on the other side for grinding off thick coats of paint or rust. The first bench grinder I bought at Harbor Freight had a crazy amount of vibration that made it unusable, and their wire brush wheel didn't center properly and added to the wobble problem. I returned both, and bought a Ryobi from Home Depot and a better wire brush wheel from the local Metzger's Hardware. The Ryobi has a lot of vibration too, but not so much that I can't use it, and it does a great job of getting rust and paint off.

[Metal art: grease-gun goony bird] Then I had to find a place to put the equipment. I tried a couple of different spots before finally settling on the garage. Pro tip: welding on a south-facing patio doesn't work: sunlight glints off the metal and makes the auto-darkening helmet flash frenetically, and any breeze from the south disrupts everything. And it's hard to get motivated to out outside and weld when it's snowing. The garage is working well, though it's a little cramped and I have to move the Miata out whenever I want to weld if I don't want to risk my baby's nice paint job to welding fumes. I can live with that for now.

All told, it was over a month after I bought the welder before I could make any progress on welding. But I'm having fun now. Finding good junk to use as raw materials is turning out to be challenging, but with the junk I've collected so far I've made some pieces I'm pretty happy with, I'm learning, and my welds are getting better all the time.

Earlier this week I made a goony bird out of a grease gun. Yesterday I picked up some chairs, a lawnmower and an old exercise bike from a friend, and just came in from disassembling them. I think I see some roadrunner, cow, and triceratops parts in there.

Photos of everything I've made so far: Metal art.

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[ 14:02 Feb 27, 2016    More art | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 16 Apr 2015

I Love Small Town Papers

I've always loved small-town newspapers. Now I have one as a local paper (though more often, I read the online Los Alamos Daily Post. The front page of the Los Alamos Monitor yesterday particularly caught my eye:

[Los Alamos Monitor front page]

I'm not sure how they decide when to include national news along with the local news; often there are no national stories, but yesterday I guess this story was important enough to make the cut. And judging by font sizes, it was considered more important than the high school debate team's bake sale, but of the same importance as the Youth Leadership group's day for kids to meet fire and police reps and do arts and crafts. (Why this is called "Wild Day" is not explained in the article.)

Meanwhile, here are a few images from a hike at Bandelier National Monument: first, a view of the Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins from above (click for a larger version):

[View of Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins from above]

[Petroglyphs on the rim of Alamo Canyon] Some petroglyphs on the wall of Alamo Canyon. We initially called them spirals but they're actually all concentric circles, plus one handprint.

[Unusually artistic cairn in Lummis Canyon] And finally, a cairn guarding the bottom of Lummis Canyon. All the cairns along this trail were fairly elaborate and artistic, but this one was definitely the winner.

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[ 14:01 Apr 16, 2015    More | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Fri, 06 Jun 2014

Santa Fe Highway Art, and the Digestive Deer

Santa Fe is a city that prides itself on its art. There are art galleries everywhere, glossy magazines scattered around town pointing visitors to the various art galleries and museums.

Why, then, is Santa Fe county public art so bad?

[awful Santa Fe art with eagle, jaguar and angels] Like this mural near the courthouse. It has it all! It combines motifs of crucifixions, Indian dancing, Hermaphroditism, eagles, jaguars, astronomy, menorahs (or are they power pylons?), an angel, armed and armored, attempting to stab an unarmed angel, and a peace dove smashing its head into a baseball. All in one little mural!

But it's really the highway art north of Santa Fe that I wanted to talk about today.

[roadrunner highway art] [horned toad highway art] [rattlesnake highway art] Some of it isn't totally awful. The roadrunner and the horned toad are actually kind of cute, and the rattlesnake isn't too bad.

[rooster highway art] [turkey highway art] On the other hand, the rooster and turkey are pretty bad ...

[rabbit highway art] and the rabbit is beyond belief.

As you get farther away from Santa Fe, you get whole overpasses decorated with names and symbols:
[Posuwaegeh and happy dancing shuriken]

[Happy dancing shuriken] I think of this one near Pojoaque as the "happy dancing shuriken" -- it looks more like a Japanese throwing star, a shuriken, than anything else, though no doubt it has some deeper meaning to the Pojoaque pueblo people.

But my favorite is the overpass near Cuyamungue.

[K'uuyemugeh and digestive deer]

See those deer in the upper right and left corners?

[Cuyamungue digestive deer highway art] Here it is in close-up. We've taken to calling it "the digestive deer".

I can't figure out what this is supposed to tell us about a deer's alimentary tract. Food goes in ... and then we don't want to dwell on what happens after that? Is there a lot of foliage near Cuyamungue that's particularly enticing to deer? A "land of plenty", at least for deer? Do they then go somewhere else to relieve themselves?

I don't know what it means. But as we drive past the Cuyamungue digestive deer on the way to Santa Fe ... it's hard to take the city's airs of being a great center of art and culture entirely seriously.

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[ 12:40 Jun 06, 2014    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Wed, 03 Jul 2013

Mad Moon Models

[This a slight revision of my monthly "Shallow Sky" column in the SJAA Ephemeris newsletter. Looks like the Ephemeris no longer has an online HTML version, just the PDF of the whole newsletter, so I may start reposting my Ephemeris columns here more often.]

[Plate IX: The Lunar Apennines, Archemedes &c.] Last month I stumbled upon a loony moon book I hadn't seen before, one that deserves consideration by all lunar observers.

The book is The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite by James Nasmyth, C.E. and James Carpenter, F.R.A.S. It's subtitled "with twenty-six illustrative plates of lunar objects, phenomena, and scenery; numerous woodcuts &c." It was written in 1885.

Astronomers may recognize the name Nasmyth: his name is attached to a modified Cassegrain focus design used in a lot of big observatory telescopes. Astronomy was just a hobby for him, though; he was primarily a mechanical engineer. His coauthor, James Carpenter, was an astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The most interesting thing about their book is the plates illustrating lunar features. In 1885, photography wasn't far enough along to get good close-up photos of the moon through a telescope. But Nasmyth and Carpenter wanted to show something beyond sketches. So they built highly detailed models of some of the most interesting areas of the moon, complete with all their mountains, craters and rilles, then photographed them under the right lighting conditions for interesting shadows similar to what you'd see when that area was on the terminator.

[David North explaining the moon] I loved the idea, since I'd worked on a similar but much less ambitious project myself. Over a decade ago, before we were married, Dave North got the idea to make a 3-D model of the full moon that he could use for the SJAA astronomy class. I got drafted to help. We started by cutting a 3-foot disk of wood, on which we drew a carefully measured grid corresponding to the sections in Rukl's Atlas of the Moon. Then, section by section, we drew in the major features we wanted to incorporate. Once the drawing was done, we mixed up some spackle -- some light, and some with a little black paint in it for the mare areas -- and started building up relief on top of the features we'd sketched. The project was a lot of fun, and we use the moon model when giving talks (otherwise it hangs on the living room wall).

Nasmyth and Carpenter's models cover only small sections of the moon -- Copernicus, Plato, the Apennines -- but in amazing detail. Looking at their photos really is like looking at the moon at high magnification on a night of great seeing.

So I had to get the book. Amazon has two versions, a paperback and a hardcover. I opted for the paperback, which turns out to be scanned from a library book (there's even a scan of the pocket where the book's index card goes). Some of the scanning is good, but some of the plates come out all black. Not very satisfying.

But once I realized that an 1885 book was old enough to be public domain, I checked the web. I found two versions: one at and one on Google Books. They're scans from two different libraries; the scan is better, but the epub version I downloaded for my ebook reader has some garbled text and a few key plates, like Clavius, missing. The Google version is a much worse scan and I couldn't figure out if they had an epub version. I suspect the hardcover on Amazon is likely a scan from yet a fourth library.

At the risk of sounding like some crusty old Linux-head, wouldn't it be nice if these groups could cooperate on making one GOOD version rather than a bunch of bad ones?

I also discovered that the San Jose library has a copy. A REAL copy, not a scan. It gave me a nice excuse to take the glass elevator up to the 8th floor and take in the view of San Jose. And once I got it, I scanned all the moon sculpture plates myself. Sadly, like the ebook, the San Jose copy is missing Copernicus. I wonder if vandals are cutting that page out of library copies? That makes me wince even to think of it, but I know such things happen.

Whichever version you prefer, I'd recommend that lunies get hold of a copy. It's a great introduction to planetary science, with very readable discussions of how you measure things like the distance and size of the moon. It's an even better introduction to lunar observing: if you merely go through all of their descriptions of interesting lunar areas and try to observe the features they mention, you'll have a great start on a lunar observing program that'll keep you busy for months. For experienced observers, it might give you a new appreciation of some lunar regions you thought you already knew well. Not at super-fine levels of detail -- no Alpine Valley rille -- but a lot of good discussion of each area.

[Plate XVIII: Aristarchus & Herodotus ] Other parts of the book are interesting only from a historical perspective. The physical nature of lunar features wasn't a settled issue in 1885, but Nasmyth and Carpenter feel confident that all of the major features can be explained as volcanism. Lunar craters are the calderas of enormous volcanoes; mountain ranges are volcanic too, built up from long cracks in the moon's crust, like the Cascades range in the Pacific Northwest.

There's a whole chapter on "Cracks and Radiating Streaks", including a wonderful plate of a glass ball with cracks, caused by deformation, radiating from a single point. They actually did the experiment: they filled a glass globe with water and sealed it, then "plunged it into a warm bath". The cracks that resulted really do look a bit like Tycho's rays (if you don't look TOO closely: lunar rays actually line up with the edges of the crater, not the center).

It's fun to read all the arguments that are plausible, well reasoned -- and dead wrong. The idea that craters are caused by meteorite impacts apparently hadn't even been suggested at the time.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it. The plates and observing advice can hold their own against any modern observing book, and the rest ... is a fun historical note.

Here are some places to get it:


Or, try your local public library -- they might have a real copy!

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[ 16:12 Jul 03, 2013    More science/astro | permalink to this entry | comments ]

Thu, 13 Dec 2012

Miss American Stuck-in-Green-Cross

[Mis American Green Cross]

This is one of the creepiest statues I've seen in a park. A bronze lady has her feet embedded in a green cross, with cut tree stumps below her.

On the pedestal below her, it says:



A small plaque below that says:


On the wide of the pedestal, it says:


The title of the work, as given on an even smaller plaque on the gruond in front of the statue, is "Miss American Green Cross". Apparently it was created in 1928 by sculptor Frederick Willard Proctor, for an environmental group (although I don't usually think of "the lumber supply" being a prime concern of environmental groups).

[Miss American Green Cross, side view] The statue was first erected at Glendale High School in 1928. But she suffered some damage and abuse over the next few years, including being hit by a car. And then at some point in the early 1930s she disappeared. No one knew what had happened to her.

She wasn't officially rediscovered until 1954, when some hikers reported seeing it near the old Brand family cemetery, now part of Brand Park. She stood there for another three and a half decades, where she continued to be vandalized, acquiring scratches as well as grafiti, and eventually losing both arms.

Eventually, in 1990, after some debate over materials and methods, the city of Glendale restored the statue and moved down the trail to itsmis current location near Brand Library at the foot of the Brand Park hiking trails.

I've chuckled at this statue for years, whenever I visit Glendale and hike Brand Park. I still find her trapped legs, crucifixion motif, and pile of razed stumps creepy. But I must say that her history is a lot more interesting than I had imagined.

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[ 21:04 Dec 13, 2012    More humor | permalink to this entry | comments ]