Saturday, October 30, 2010

Art So Far

Alex's painting course is going well. He took a couple of lessons over summer, when he went to Oregon. And now he is enrolled in his first painting class. I wish we had known better where to place him, because I think he would have held his own in an AP class. And his teacher must agree, because he hung Alex's paintings in the Advancement Placement Art Gallery at school. (w00ts! says a beaming Mommy!) I only just learned about this, and so yesterday I popped over to school to have a look at Alex's work.

His first painting, on the left, he had completed in in time for Portfolio Day, when he went to meet with art schools and colleges for evaluations. That was an interesting day. So glad we went, because it gave him a nice initial experience with thinking about the future, his options, and getting critical points of view about his work.

His second painting he finished this week. It's still drying. It was his first time working in oil paint. So different from acrylic, he learned. While he was painting it, I would hear an evolving perspective about the nature of oil paints, the challenges, the bonuses, the smell.

What strikes me about both paintings is that I immediately recognized qualities in the faces that are familiar. Influenced by art he has seen, by people he has met, he has actually captured enough of their look, that I can appreciate some of what he was thinking. Yet, I know that they cannot be deliberate copies, or studied portraits, because they were brief encounters, and there are no images to copy from. Anyway, it gives them an added interest for me to recognize those faces.

I still get excited by the fact that he does more than imagine a SteamPunk automaton. He designs and engineers the robot. He is as interested and mindful in the working of the gears, as the shading of the shoulders, the color of the lamp.

His assignment is to create a series of paintings, to practice telling a story within each painting, and in multiple pieces.

This is the first work of his that I have seen done, without having seen at least some of the rough drafts, sketches, or process. It feels the least familiar to me. I am getting used to it, and again feeling amazed by the familiarity of her face. I was seeing the Art Gallery during Alex's lunch break. We took our time, saw other works too, but I haven't had a chance to talk to him about this painting, to ask him to tell me the story.

As we were leaving the Gallery, he asked if I wanted to see the next painting. Oh yes! It's a strange and unfamiliar experience not seeing his work in progress, so I was thrilled to have this opportunity.

We crossed campus, over to the art studio. What an awesome place that is! Now more familiar with oil paints and what they do, how they work, Alex is excited about this third painting. He says he likes it better. I imagine it is easier to enjoy the art, when the medium is less mysterious and frustrating.

This elaborate automaton is under construction, the tinkerer is inserting her eye. The gears and pistons are exposed. I like the robot's slight leaning in, the anticipation in the parted lips and jaw line... she is looking forward to having her eye. I wonder if she can see already. I am so glad I got to see this painting at this stage. The details are beautiful.

The studio is like a massive work of art. This older campus holds a lot of local history, and in this room, I felt like every art student left behind a layer of color, a piece of their story. I would love to be in there when everyone is working, to join them. It makes me happy that they have such an inspiring place.

"Art So Far
Yet So Near"
~The Art Gallery theme.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Silly, Spooky, Stormy, Stuff

This day, last week, was definitely the stormiest. It was the same day I had to herd the chicas out of the flooded shark cage and in to Betty's old apartment.

Gee whiz, it just never seems justifiable, me posting about "bad" weather. I know people in tornado states, or hurricane zones probably think I am a weak wienie. Oh well. I know it was ferocious.

This week we have seen blue skies and felt the warmth of the sun, which is nice, but honestly, I am looking forward to the new storm in the forecast. I can't remember the last time we had such a marvelously turbulent October. And except for the leaky roof, and the danger of drowning my chicas, I hope we enjoy this stuff all autumn and winter.

In other news...
I saw a piece this morning about an Illinois town where they have outlawed trick or treating for children over twelve years of age. Outlawed. They can be fined. And apparently this is not an uncommon ordinance. My reaction? WTH?!

I think I was twenty the last time I went out on the free candy march, dressed as Hobbes. Geoff got a crew cut and dyed his hair comic strip yellow so he could be Calvin. It was awesome.

Three years ago I took Maria, Max, Mitchell, Alex, and William around the neighborhood. Yes, they wanted free treats, but they were also really excited about sharing their costumes, and observing Maria's impressions of the whole Trick-or-Treat scene. Neighbors were amused by Max's pop-up straw bale, and with Alex's wizard dragon, and the children practiced those basic and necessary socialization skills, engaging with the people in their community, sharing a time honored tradition of silliness.

So. In the news piece, the emphasis was on the "scariness" of answering the door to a "six foot tall" kid in a mask asking for candy. I do get that. Some kids fail to play nice, dress up, or even say thank you, and maybe it can be a little uncomfortable to be greeted by a demanding teen, but whatever happened to keeping our expectations high, and our patience higher? Why can we not teach children how to be silly and appropriate? Why are we legislating every last corner of our culture and traditions, and then marginalizing teenagers from the fun and social celebrations that make childhood enjoyable?

Childhood. Shouldn't it be preserved and condoned, at least until they are told to register for a draft, pay taxes, move out? Shouldn't it be okay to be a "six foot tall" kid that wants to hang out with friends, collect candy, and be a part of the community.

Drags out soap box... Maybe it isn't the children we should legislate against, and fine. Maybe it's the parents we should ask more of. Where are the moms and dads? Why aren't they out there too, playing and engaging, and participating in the fun, so that they can be observers and role models? Instead of staying home "scared" of the very people who are the future of their society, I think they should get off their posteriors and parent. And yes, I do believe in hanging out with teenagers, not as a helicopter-parent, but as a caring, interested person, responsible for the well being of the people in my community.

In an ideal world we could send the kids out on their own, and trust that the village will share in the common purpose of looking after its young people. Life is not that idyllic any more, not around here anyway. I do not think it makes any sense to ban the "old" kids, or the "too tall" kids from community activities. It makes me sad to think that, at the ripe old age of twelve, a kid is expected to bow out of the fun, and find something else to do... and talk about scary... the unsupervised, bored, and marginalized kid will find something else to do. It makes me sad that a generation of children have heard their community say, "You are twelve, and scary, and we are banning you from participating in your community's celebration of Halloween."

Golly. I am all riled up. I wish I could throw some flour at something, and send the banshees away forever!

"Tootie, if you don't hit Mr. Braukoff in the face with flour and say "I hate you", the Banshee will haunt you forever!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin Mission Accomplished

Inspired by a pumpkin past, I challenged Alex and William to re-visit their face carving stylings, but this time with someone we know and love:

Happy Stimpkin Day!

Here he is, when he is not a pumpkin, but a dedicated and inspiring physics, and history teacher, and most honorable Paradox coach and mentor. That's right: I threw in a Robotics plug!

Team Paradox is full of good people, exceptional teachers and mentors, and I thought for sure I would find a post specifically about some of them, like George S… evidently I made George S. and robotics synonymous, which is appropriate, but he deserves to be singled out. Like I have said before: This man is FIRST. He teaches it, lives it, exudes it, and his students love him for it.

And it is the team's great fortune that there is more than one dedicated and awesome teacher looking out for robotics and the Paradox. Jason B., I have just the picture of you that would make a pumpkin glow!

Making a pumpkin in to a favorite teacher takes planning, daring, humor, and a team effort. Gee, robotics really does prepare us for all of life, you know?

Step One: Find a good pumpkin. Sound, steady, dignified. It should already exude those qualities you plan to accentuate from your subject.

Step Two: Someone has to get in there and clean things out.

In deference to the beret, a signature accessory of Mr. S., I cut the top in a beret-like shape. Trust me, all of this is thoughtfully designed.

Maria, resident Mini-Paradox, was more than happy to help with the scooping.

Now comes the pattern. This picture came from the last all-nighter of the 2009-2010 build season, when the robot had to be finished and crated before 8 am. Mr S. looks to be in good spirits, right? Good spirits is a specialty of 2102 Team Paradox.

Step Three: William played with the original photograph, converting it to black and white, then he used the threshold tool in Photoshop to contrast and highlight Mr. S.'s features.

Step Four: Transferring the image onto the pumpkin.

Someone wished to remain anonymous for as long as possible. Shy. This actually provided some hilarious moments, when we realized how much trouble we could get in if any of our intentions were misinterpreted.

This part is important and time consuming, and also causes hand cramps...

which is why it is so nice to have two or three people working on it.

William did transferring, and I did transferring, and Maria offered to do transferring. Gently poking the tiny holes in the pumpkins skin created an outline so that we could then carve away the lighter sections.

Step Five: Carving away the light sections. This is the part that can cause you to lose hope, give up, surrender, quit. For one thing, we did not have good tools. Again. So, just like when the boys did this three years ago, we were using a variety of inadequate kitchen gadgets, and losing confidence in the outcome.

Step Six: Never give up! Never surrender! Seriously. Working up close with the pumpkin and concentrating on the details in the pumpkin flesh makes it impossible to appreciate the impressionistic effect of this kind of pumpkin carving. So, it pays to be patient, and to see it through to the end.

Because when you turn out the lights, and illuminate the pumpkin from within, then step back...

It works. Somehow, it works, and suddenly you see your teacher glowing back at you, and you can almost hear him asking, "Have you finished your homework?"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Time Traveler

Another time traveling Halloween visit. This time we go back to 2007, when we were a very busy and creative family. Very busy… recovering from Firestorm '07, evacuation, and the usual domestic perils, but nothing could deter Alex and William from their ingenious pumpkin carving plans: To re-create El Fauno, from Pan's Labyrinth.

William found an image of El Fauno, and using a "threshold tool" on Photoshop he divided the image in to black and white, strongly contrasting the key features of the image. They printed the El Fauno pattern and then taped it to the pumpkin. The next step involved transferring the pattern to the pumpkin… this job was shared between William and Alex, and it took several different approaches before they struck on the best method. They tried poking throughout the pattern to make a pinpoint outline, but the image had so many details that they also resorted to freehand drawing directly on the pumpkin.

Once they could see the image outlined on the pumpkin, they took turns carving away the darker sections, which then become the lighter part of the face. The part that is not carved becomes the darker part of the face. This part is hard, rather tedious work. They had to be very careful around the fine details... too much force could lop off a key feature. The frustrating part is they were relying on inadequate tools... kitchen gadgets and knives. I distinctly remember thinking how much easier it would have been with better tools, like linoleum cutters, wood carver's tools etc.
(Unfortunately, this mistake is doomed to be repeated.)

El Fauno's eyes were the only part that were opened all the way through the pumpkin. The rest of the pumpkin is scraped as thinly as possible, without actually breaking through. This allows the flesh to glow when lit from within.

And it's the glow that really brings the effect to life. It also helps to step back. We realized that close-up scrutiny of the subject can give the appearance of a failure, because the success is not in the details, but in the Impressionism of what is there, and not there.

I am impressed. They made this haunting figure an exceptionally memorable one.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wrapping Up A Halloween Passed

Step in to my time machine! Fasten your seat belt, sit back, while I turn the dial to October 2003.

It was my intention to post these party pictures about seven years ago. Better late than never?

Welcome to our Pirate-themed Halloween party. We were still packing up El Rancho, and before moving in to the TreeHouse we invited friends over for a night of laughs and silliness. That's me, the pirate wench, and Geoff was… ready for this? a software pirate!

Hey! Here come Linda and Jeff! Cody and Lucas too.
Mmmmm and look at those scrumptious caramel apples!
Let them in, let them in!

Oh gosh. Do I know these people? Just kidding. This interesting bunch is Maddie, Dan, Nate, Lydia and Janice aka Dr. Atkins: Got Meat? Nate can't find his dog.

Has anyone seen a small, tan dog? Anyone?

Tom and Karen came, gorgeous couple, and so did Kelsey and Serena.

Hi Kelsey!
Hi Serena!

Two pirates: Holly the swashbuckling lady-pirate, and Geoff, the software peddling pirate! Ooh arggh!

Geoff and Jeff.

Anna Pirate Banana, and Max. Oh my gosh, my little Max. He's all bones.

Rich and Holly were there, and that's Nick, the dinosaur… dragon?

Belinda, Ron, Spencer and Titus were there, as were Josie, Jamie and their three boys, Nicholas, Zachary, and Joshua. Adam was being elusive. Maybe you can spot Captain Jack Sparrow. You have heard of him?

Also not pictured: The children that set stuff on fire in the back yard. Oh my.

Everyone split in to teams for a Mummy Wrap game. Cheapie fun with TP.
This is Team Dan. Lydia and Nate are competing against the other teams to wrap their mummy in a roll of TP the fastest.

Team Janice looks confident. Maddie is ready to wrap her mummy!

The wizarding team of Alex and Geoff. Can they magically wrap up the competition?

Team Tom seems to be going for many hands make light work. Lucas, Spencer, Kelsey, Cody, and Serena on the job!


Another team: I see Jacob and Jamie, and is that Zachary? wrapping Nicholas? They are looking organized, like a precision team. The wizarding team is getting help from Ron. They have a good start.

Team Tom is strong. Spencer and Kelsey seem to have worked out an effective wrapping technique.

Gosh. I cannot remember who won!
Regardless, the night was a fun one. It took seven years to put this together: I am glad to finally have this post all wrapped up!

Sweetie Pies

Making my Monday brighter, Dominic and Maria.

Alison sent this gem from my brother's mobile.

Makes me wanna write to Santa.

Dear Santa,
Another year is winding down, and our thoughts turn to home and family, the hope of peace and love for all. We will certainly put up a tree, and fashion it with lights and things that sparkle. My own reflections turn more and more to our traditions and blessings... and so, if anyone should ask:
What would you like for Christmas? I would reply: My greatest desire is to have more time with family, and friends. I do not need, or want for things, thank you. I would love to see my brothers and sisters, my parents, and their parents. I want cousins to play together, to sing. I look forward to constructing gingerbread cottages, and the Advent, the counting of days filled with anticipation. If we could all be closer, as close as I feel in my heart... then that would be a very good gift.

More time with these sweet pies, what could be more delightful?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Full Steam Ahead

On our way
to ultra hip
where we plan
to sketch and scheme
over hot drinks
and tasty eats
Pointing out
the Juggernaut
riding the rails
unstoppable mass:
Never walk the tracks
Beware the Juggernaut
fast moving mass

Like me? I ask
at the taco buffet?
That is a Juggernat

On our way
to ultra hip
denominated Juggernat
Unstoppable lass am I
over hot drinks and tasty eats
We sketch and scheme