December 2007 Archives

illustration technique

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Campus scene, winter.Experimenting with a different sort of technique. I like working this way, but I'm not completely happy with how it looks. I'm liking the simplicity.

...and this blog needs more pictures, less talking.

dried beans

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Foreign matter in dried beans.Ever use dried beans? Did you notice the line on the bag that says something like, "this is a natural product and may contain..."?

I hope you spread the beans on a tray and pick through them. I do. Every week I cook a pound of lentils and I place most of the foreign matter that I find in a little metal cup on the back of my stove. It's full of mostly grass seeds, flower buds, odd legumes, and only an occasional stone, weevil, or grasshopper head.

thoughts on hollandaise

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Hollandaise.The time I took to do Hollandaise was a moment of meditation between setup and service. I could relax and focus on one thing, gather my thoughts, prepare for the onslaught. The others looked at the task as a major chore and stayed out of my way, but I saw it as a gift.

Service started at 5:30. On a busy weekend, the cooks would start rolling in sometime before lunch, depending on responsibilities or hang-over. Without prior agreement Lin and I would arrive within a few minutes of each other. We'd check the walk-in and try to figure out what was needed for the night.

There were major items; a box of tenderloins could be sitting on the walk-in floor after early morning delivery, or salmon might already be in the prep room laying whole in the boxes of ice they were delivered in. It would all have to be cleaned and portioned- the beef for the following week, the salmon for the night's service. We both knew what to do and were able to carry on a completely unrelated conversation while we worked through the procedures, completing each others actions.

After the major tasks were taken care of we'd start carrying supplies up to the service coolers and prep sinks. Fifteen pounds of shrimp frozen in five pound blocks would go under running water. A dozen dover sole would go in beside them. I'd de-bone ducks that were partially cooked, pound fifty or sixty chicken breasts, then grab the sole to clean and fillet as soon as it was pliable. Every trip downstairs let us grab something extra: a bucket of chicken stock for soup, racks of lamb to french, a bucket of turned potatoes.

It was six hours of very focused non-stop work; no one sat. When you walked you never walked empty handed. You kept every one's needs in mind, and knew where each stood on their list of tasks. If for some reason any of us needed to stop- to wait for a burner, wait for table space, wait for ingredients- we filled the time by helping with someone else's set-up, or by carrying someone else's supplies up for service or down for storage. We all did it; someone would put something on my table that I didn't know I needed yet, or I'd grab something for someone else because I saw them close to running out.

Service was about five hours of a different sort of focus. On very busy nights, I'd expedite. I called orders and pick-ups. I followed what was going on in each station so that if something was needed I could grab it, or work the station while the assigned cook made a run. Again, it was a time of focus on a very dispersed set of information, both from cooks and from wait staff. Six hours to set up camp, five hours for battle, and an hour to count the dead. Hollandaise was my moment of respite right in the middle.

At 4:45 the wait staff arrived. I'd grab a flat of eggs and put 24 yolks into a large steel bowl. For each yolk I'd add a dash of tobasco and a scant handful of water, and for every four I'd squeeze in the juice from half of a lemon. McGee claims that the recipe isn't as important as the technique when building hollandaise. The man doesn't need my approval, but I certainly agree. The water and acid raise the temperature at which the proteins coagulate. That's important not for flavor but because the steel bowl goes onto a searing hot charcoal grill while I use a balloon whisk to bring the yolk mixture up past ribbon to three times the initial volume. For fifteen minutes I gather my thoughts while I beat the yolks- switching hands without stopping, spinning the bowl with my other hand while trying to avoid catching my rag on fire. When I hit the right consistency, I can move to the griddle where Lin has a large container of melted butter that I ladle in while continuing to beat. At this point the bowl is so hot that stopping would scorch the sauce. One hand grips the ladle, the other the whisk and I hold the bowl against the side of the griddle with my hip. If the sauce is too thick, I dip deeply into the butter scooping water from the bottom. Too thin and more butter corrects it. It's all technique.

And wonderfully relaxing.

a chance to succeed

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Will shill for DIGGs.I really appear to be against everything. Twitter, blogs, eportfolios, service names, wall decorations, Lawrence Lessig.... but I'm not really. The abrasiveness comes from me trying to work out whether or not folks are thinking things through.

Chris Stubbs had another of his many thoughtful posts in November when he asked about kids and technology How Young is Too Young? My own thoughts are that it's never too soon to teach when questions arise. The mayor of New York along with NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein joined to enforce a school ban on cell phones. Teachers agreed with the move when they responded to surveys appearing in several blogs; I posted counter thoughts. Who was thinking this through? Students exhibit bad behavior with useful tools so we ban the tool rather than train the child? When do the students get "trained" in social and technical correctness with gadgets, services, and situations specific to technology? Responsible people have stepped aside in droves, because by the time the kids reach high school they still haven't learned the implications of their actions in MySpace. No one is thinking it through.

If we give students blogs and encourage their use, where along the continuum of public education did the students learn the implications or consequences of their posting? Does their use of facebook, a service more representative of college age kids than high schoolers, show that there was very much learning going on since high school? It's great that students are mastering the technical skills on their own, but should educators be leaving them high and dry to learn social, moral, ethical guidelines on their own? As well as the implications on their futures? With absolutely no direction? How can we do that? Who's thinking this through?

So now we bring a guy to campus who fully supports "CC" instead of "C". As a commercial illustrator, I never had a quibble with copyright. When I sold illustrations, I specified that they were complete buy outs- the new owner could use them any way they wished. If I retain copyright, I don't see the big deal with having folks ask before they use. There's a popular move towards "Creative Commons" licensing, though. Slightly different. Popular in that many folks think that it promotes creativity. I don't get that either- creative is something you are regardless of promotion, so who does "CC" benefit? Well for one thing, it benefits services that get revenue from selling advertising, names, and information around "mashed up" stuff that people "create". YouTube, GoogleVideo, now both the same company. Who's thinking this through? Yes, people have the right to publish or not and retain copyright or not; but we're talking about students who haven't learned facebook common sense or even the social implications of cell phone use. Where are students learning the full implications of giving away rights to their own photos, blogs, videos or music? Are they making an informed choice? Are there conversations being held? Any guidance being offered?

I did an "intensive search" (five minutes online... it's a holiday...) and in the Bluebook I couldn't find any course listing with the word "Copyright". I would think that it would be a great offering in the School of Visual Arts. Or the School of Music. Communications offers COMM 454 and 458 Media Law and Ethics maybe that's it? I'll spend more time on this. I think if people were really thinking this through, these seminars would be in place already. There would be a conversation where students discuss the realities of sharing creations as well as where Google gets their money.

See? I don't hate everything. I share a good deal of the vision. I just want to feel confident that people with better brains than mine are thinking things through.

CYA

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Hiny Hiders.I never thought something like this would have a brand. Silly me. Here's to the manufacturers of corporate stalls the world over. I guess every thing has a brand- planned or not.

e portfolio

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ePortfolio page mock-up.I was recently at a meeting where Penn State's ePortfolio was discussed. Before, during, and directly after the meeting I maintained a number of misconceptions. It wasn't until several days later, after digging through information and talking with Wendy and Barb, that I realized the depth of my idiocy. I had thought that ePortfolio was an actual thing, a service, a repository. I thought the folks at the e-Education Institute used software of some sort to help student clients create portfolios that would reside on servers at and maintained by the Institute. I thought the portfolios sat in the space not in perpetuity, but at least until the students had their careers well under way. At this point I don't have to explain what an ePortfolio actually is- I'm sure everyone else already knows.

Some sort of explanation of my thoughts might help me feel like less of an idiot, though. Every high school student hoping to enter an art program at a University must have a portfolio. It's required for acceptance; you don't get in without one. The portfolio is reviewed regularly as an indication of progress. Every graphic designer I know has a portfolio, and yes, they're all "e". It is the 21rst century after all. From this, I just assumed something new had to be going on. There was also discussion of "moving students away from Dreamweaver as the creation tool" and to me, that meant there were specific tools, templates, and guidance for an ePortfolio. I hand code, and have to design that way; I don't know designers that use Dreamweaver. I didn't realize that some people use the term "Dreamweaver" to mean "create a web page." But wait... I get stupider.

There's an on-going discussion of the publishing capabilities of blog software. Again, I don't use the WYSIWYG capabilities of this blog and don't use it to facilitate displaying content. For me it's much easier to type in bbedit and test on an actual site than to type in the little box and test in a preview mode that has none of my style around it. But a word in my favor- I can see the potential for the environment and am willing to go on faith. I know someone will soon use the MT platform to publish what they think is a great example of a professional portfolio.

But the bottom line is that an eportfolio is just a web page no matter how you generate it. The easiest most "student accessible" method should be our preference and it's looking like Penn State blogs could be that. So sign everybody up, damn it. What's the problem? You'd think we could give them a blog for that IT fee. And a freshman seminar on the importance of representing themselves well online.

I guess we should hope all graduates get jobs in their first six months, too. I really did think Dutton hosted this for a reasonable amount of time. Seemed like such a good idea...

Charlie Brown Christmas

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I know of two great Charles Schulz biographies. One is by David Michaelis and came out very recently. Another, by Rheta Grimsley Johnson, came out in 1989 while Schulz was still alive. I've read and own Johnson's, but have read only snips of the newer volume. It was covered fairly extensively on many of the illustration blogs that I follow. (For the non-readers, there's Charlie Rose's interview of Schulz on YouTube; Schulz is about 20 minutes in...)

Before starring in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, the gang appeared in animated form in Ford television commercials. I don't remember them at all. The spots had been animated by Bill Melendez, once an animator with Disney and then Warner Brothers. Shultz respected the man for his ability to stay true to the spirit of his characters and asked that he be the one to animate Charlie Brown in animated snips to be included in a biographic documentary being filmed of Schulz by Lee Mendelson. The documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown also included the music of Cast Your Fate to the Wind jazz pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi. Guaraldi wrote Linus and Lucy originally for the Mendelson documentary then used it again when he scored the Charlie Brown Christmas special for Mendelson.

I love the quietness in the Christmas film. There are moments when it seems that the sound has been turned off. The jazz, the delicate line, the gentle voices, all make the film memorable. For me, the colors could have been toned down a bit, though, in the end it's good that they followed a singular vision, didn't listen to critics, and waited till the last moment to present it...

Quotes from the two biographies help describe the specialness of the special, and point out how close it came to not being the show we love:
From Good Grief, pp.193

The jazz of Vince Guaraldi audibly marked the feature as adult fare, whereas cartoon specials in the past had targeted children exclusively. The traditional laughter soundtrack was left out at Schultz's insistence. Important too was the "voice" of the film. Charles Schulz was not and is not the voice of Charlie Brown. People often ask. Children did all the talking.

and from Schulz and Peanuts, pp.358, 359:

A week before the show was to air Mendelson delivered Melendez' first print to Coca-Cola and CBS. In a screening room at network headquarters in New York, two CBS vice presidents watched the show in silence. "Neither of them laughed once," Mendelson recalled. When the lights came on, the executives shook their heads and shrugged. "Well," said one, "you gave it a good try." "It seems a little flat," said the other. "Too slow," said the first, "and the script is too innocent." "The Bible thing scares us," said the other. The animation was crude-couldn't it be jazzed up a bit? The voice talent was unprofessional-they should've used adults. The music didn't fit-who ever heard of a jazz score on an animated special? And where were the laughs?"

Almost half the people in the United States tuned in-some fifteen and a half million households-and found themselves breaking out in gooseflesh as Linus walked in silence to center stage, dragging his blanket, called out, "Lights please?," and filled the auditorium with his clear recitation of the Gospel's tidings of great joy to all people.

(Michaelis, on page 359 in Schulz and Peanuts, claims the premiere of the Charlie Brown special preempted The Munsters at 7:30 on a Thursday night. Johnson, on page 193 of Good Grief says it preempted The Beverly Hillbillies. I wish I could recall. Wikipedia says it was The Munsters; or is that just where Michaelis did his research? In '65, the Hillbillies were on Wednesdays at 8:30. Maybe Johnson is wrong? Damn life's mysteries.)

First map to name America.

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Old map of the world.Several years ago I was at a LionShare demo and had a chance to ask someone from the Penn State libraries their thoughts on JPEG 2000. The short story here is that Pattee uses it. The Library of Congress does too, but more on that momentarily. I've mentioned the format's demise on these pages, but this morning-first time ever- I needed to use it. Or rather Photoshop actually needed the plugin which I no longer have.

I caught a story about a 500 year old map of of the world showing America labeled as America. It's going on permanent display at the Library of Congress. I use their Prints and Photos Online Catalog regularly so I jumped over and did a quick search. Sure enough, the map is on file and available as a download.

I downloaded the file thinking that if it was large enough, a print might be an interesting temporary image for our walls and the file might be interesting to investigate. But when I tried to open the file, I couldn't. I got a warning that said Photoshop couldn't find the plug-in. The Library of Congress adopted the JPEG 2000 standard in January, 2005 and I guess they don't read my blog. I went online and grabbed the plugin again. Later I found information on "How to View" on the LOC site that claimed Preview in OSX will open the JP2 file format. It did, but it also froze and I needed to force quit. Perhaps there's a size limitation, but 26 megs isn't all that large. I was ready for the file to be packed with metadata, but nothing shows up in Bridge, and the File Info option is even grayed out. Go figure.

diversity rough

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Could your work use additional points of view?

Very rough, but approaching the idea with honesty and respect. I'd like to do the same sort of thing with, say, Jason Johnson at a table in the IST cafe. Maybe with a plea for help? And an offer of scholarships to those who can?

Old sketches from SquareSpace

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This is old material (September 2006) transferred over from my defunct SquareSpace blog. I wanted to warehouse the drawings:

My old sock monkey.

Sketch of Tim; a friend since 1957. He's posed a few times over the years. This is a simple freehand pencil sketch, scanned in to the computer.


Sno-ball mic.

This is a quick sketch of a mic on my desk- done with a pressure sensitive pen. Ideally, I should've drawn Tim the sock monkey for a fair comparison, but he's visiting family for the holiday. I need to build my technique so I'm more natural, and pay more attention to stroke direction and tonal builds, but this has real possibilities.

When I was hired, I was hired for my drawing ability and design skills. At the time, I didn't know what a window was or how to turn a computer on. The smart folks who hired me placed me on a computer with a pressure sensitive Wacom tablet that was so natural, I didn't think to call it intuitive. My mouse, however, was an implement of torture. I rarely used it, and it took me a good while to understand what was going on when colleagues troubleshooting my machine would pick the pen up mid stroke and move it to the other side of the tablet if the cursor approached a screen edge. What happened was that I had naturally mastered an uncommon, though totally appropriate, input device which required others to "unlearn" old skills before they could use it.

Our unit has participated in TabletPC tests with the Engineering College. It seems that Tablet PC technology, working with a pen on screen, is always aimed at engineers- whether it's taking notes or entering math notation- and never to my knowledge, has it been tried with the visual arts: Field sketching, figure sketching, set design,  layout roughs, story boards. We tried to set up a tabletPC for just such an experiment; but the PC was faulty, and input was impossible. Rather than the TabletPC, which didn't seem to support pressure sensitivity or even antialiasing, the Wacom Cintiq would be my choice: pressure sensitivity on a wide, responsive screen. They're a bit out of our price range, though.

The point to this is to introduce the work of Jeff Han (NYU) on multi-touch, multi-user graphical touch screen interfaces. His site is here but more visual is the video at Google Video Maybe as an inadvertent "computer guy" I should be drawn to the algorithms needed to distinguish multiple users and the complexities of interpreting intent from subtle touch and movement, but good grief- more importantly, this is the way I want my tools to work. Don't give this one to the engineers; let the illustrators and sculptors, the set designers, dancers and cartoonists, the people who have style determined by subtle nuance of touch- have a crack at showing what this sort of "input device" could be used for.

Penn State
April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.

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