Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Hallowe'en!

Minouette's costume

Happy Hallowe'en!

Minouette has chosen her costume; she's dressed as an angry box this year. I'm going to busy this evening, so I won't have as much opportunity to see all the little monsters dressed in their costumes, so it's sweet my darling cat has decided to dress for the occassion.

Neighbours might be interested to see the giant papier maché Totoro at Grenadier and Sunnyside. He's as large in real life as he was depicted in Miyazaki's films. Seriously.

bat linocut

Sunday, October 30, 2011

it's a tapir, baby

I know what you're thinking. Wow, there's no toping the undeniable cuteness of the stupendous Malayan tapir, with its massive tuxedo-coloured core and its unexpected proboscis. Well, there was only one thing I could possibly do. Obviously, the only thing cuter than a Malayan tapir, is a baby Malayan tapir.


Unlike the saddle-back adults, the babies have a delightful pattern of what spots and stripes, and like most baby mammals, come complete with big round eyes, and disproportionately big feet.

This lino block print is one of an edition of 12 printed on Japanese kozo, or mulberry paper 21 cm by 20 cm (8.3 inches by 7.9 inches).

Like an aardvark crossed with an elephant, wearing a tuxedo.


There are four types of tapir; this linocut is of a Malayan tapir. He looks very dapper, if improbable, in his black and white coat. Like an aardvark crossed with an elephant, wearing a tuxedo.

The Malayan Tapir (Tapirus indicus), also called the Asian Tapir, is the largest of the four species of tapir and the only one native to Asia. The Malayan Tapir was once found throughout the tropical lowland rainforests of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Vietnam. Sadly, like other tapirs, it is now endangered due to deforestation. These were always one of my favorite animals to visit at the zoo and hope that they not only survive, but thrive and flourish in the future.

This lino block print is one of an edition of 8 printed on Japanese kozo, or mulberry paper 23 cm by 25 cm (9.0 inches by 9.8 inches).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Giant Pacific Octopus screenprint

My friend Faunalia and I are taking a screenprinting course. It's a nice way to try out a variety of methods. Our first class, we used paper stencils. Though this is the method with which I've made most of my screenprints, mine was a complete disaster. I managed to destroy my stencil on my first attempt at pulling a print by over-doing it and getting ink everywhere. Failure is a harsh teacher sometimes, but I need to remember I am there to learn, and I did learn something. I'm happy to say my second print is much more what I had in mind.

Giant Pacific octopus screenprint

This is my screenprint of a Giant Pacific Octopus. It's large (the sheet is 50.5 cm by 36 cm or 19.9 inches by 14.2 inches). It's printed in a dark raspberry colour on white paper. I made it using screen drawing fluid and screen filler, which allowed me to paint directly onto the screen, so it has a rather spontaneous feel. This is one of an edition of 9 prints. I was inspired by seeing some of these amazing creatures off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Sometimes we work with remotely operated vehicles (basically, submersible robots) which allow us to see what, or who is on the seafloor.

detail: Giant Pacific octopus screenprint

Enteroctopus dofleini, also known as the Giant Pacific Octopus or North Pacific Giant Octopus, may be the largest octopus on Earth. They have been weighed at as much as 71 kg (156.5 lbs) and measured with arm-spans exceeding 6.1 m (20 ft) ! Though more typically, adults usually weigh around 15 kg (33 lbs), with an arm span of up to 4.3 m (14 ft). They are quite astounding creatures.

My former neighbour was a scuba diving instructor who had a job at certain BC tourist trap, where visitors were able to descend into a building with windows on the shallow ocean floor, where there was a small aquarium collection of creatures. More than anything, my neighbour dreaded the giant Pacific octopus, which he felt was mischievious to a frightening degree. He swore that the octopus pulled pranks. Often, the tourists would complain that there was no octopus visible in the window. So, my former neighbour D would have to enter the pen and coax the octopus into view. He said it would hide above the window, just out of sight. After the octopus tired of this game, it invented a new one. D would swim into the pen, only to find that the octopus had hidden above the door, swam out as he entered, and the latched the door behind him, locking D in the pen until he could alert his co-workers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

T. Rex with Flowers

So, I made another mini print (10 cm by 10 cm; or 3.9 inches by 3.9 inches for you metric hold-outs). RJH said, "Fierce, but pretty, just like you."

"That's right," I told him.


It's a Tyrannosaurus amongst flowers. The block is 10 cm by 10 cm (3.9 inches by 3.9 inches), inked à la poupée (i.e. one block inked in more than one colour, in tiny regions, like as by a little doll our 'poupée'). It is printed on 14 cm by 14 cm (7.1 inch by 7.1 inch) unryu or 'Cloud Dragon' Japanese washi paper, a beautiful tissue with visible silky fibres. Variations in the paper makes each print in the edition of 12 rather unique.

Tyrannosaurus rex (rex meaning "king" in Latin, "tyrant lizard"), commonly abbreviated to T. rex, is a well known giant Cretaceous dinosaur with tiny arms, which roamed North America up to the end of the dinosaur age at the the Cretaceous–Tertiary mass extinction event, 65.5 million years ago. Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the largest land predators of all time. Flowering plants evolved, spread, and began to dominate towards the end of the Cretaceous, so though whimsical in nature, the imagined scene isn't actually impossible.


And, a variation on a theme:

Tomorrow, RJH, my brother the DJ and his wife, and for all I know one or more of my step-sisters, will be running the half-marathon. Actually, L could be running the full marathon for all I know. I feel strange to be surrounded by such perverse behaviour so many runners, but I'm proud of them.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Winged Walrus

I wanted to make a linocut which would qualify for a mini-print competition. The printed area must only be 10 cm by 10 cm (3.9 inches to 3.9 inches) on a 18 cm by 18 cm (7.1 inches by 7.1 inches) sheet. So, I returned to an idea I've played with before: the winged walrus.

Winged Walrus

The walrus is printed on Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper with collaged or chine collé wings pale yellow Japanese tama paper (a lightweight watermark tissue). There are 15 prints in this first edition.

I like the idea of a massive walrus supported by delicate butterfly wings. Here are some of the ways I've interpreted this before:

Walter, the winged walrusWilt, winged walrus, topwingedwalrus

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day

Ada, Countess Lovelace

Today is Ada Lovelace Day! Today, people around the world are celebrating their heroines in engineering, science, technology and math. Somehow, it crept up on me, and I would like you to consider my (lenghty) post on Chien-Shiung Wu and the Violation of Parity as my contribution for this year. I posted it an hour early... but Madame Wu is a great choice.

About the image: This is a lino block print of Countess, Lady Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), who published the first computer program.* She worked together with Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine (the first - analogue! - computers), correcting his notes on how to calculate Bernoulli Numbers with the Analytical Engine. More importantly, she (a great communicator, daughter of mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron) was able to understand and explain the workings of the analytical engine and the potential of computing machines. Her comments seem visionary to the modern reader. Babbage called her the Enchantress of Numbers and the Princess of Parallelograms.

The print is in gold, purple and turquoise water-based block printing ink on mauve Japanese gampi paper 15.25 inches x 10.5 inches.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Madame Wu and the Violation of Parity

Scientists are trained to avoid bias (as much as humanly possible). Some biases are particularly hard to see. In physics, if there's a bias which is commonly forgiven (and viewed as harmless, or even right) it's beauty. I bet that wasn't what you expected, but it's true. Physicists are suckers for beauty, and generally speaking, suspect that the Universe is inherently beautiful. I confess, I, like most physicists, share this bias insofar as I believe the Universe is beautiful. However, I think it's imperative to keep tabs on what we assume is beautiful and therefore true. One thing physicists invariable count as 'beautiful' is symmetry. The concept is invaluable in physics; symmetries are very powerful tools for figuring things out and there are many symmetries inherent to the Universe as we know it. Each symmetry leads to a conservation law.

Mme. Wu and the Violation of Parity

Long before we had (Einsteinian) Special Relativity, there was Galilean Relativity which tells us that the laws of physics are the same in all inertial (non-accelerating) frames of reference. This means that if you do an experiment here, in your living room, or as Galileo noted, on a smoothly travelling boat floating at constant velocity, you get the same result. Einstein had the great insight that there are limits to Galilean invariance at great velocities approaching the speed of light. He made this based on a symmetry, by the way, which can be seen in Maxwell's equations which govern electromagnetics; this is a great example of how symmetries are invaluable to understanding our world.

Parity, in physics, is the name we give a certain symmetry of anything which is invariant under spatial inversion, by which we really mean if you reflect things as in a mirror. So, anything which doesn't change if you flip sides like in a mirror conserves parity. If you drop your pencil with your right hand it drops at 9.8 m/s2 and if you drop your pencil with your left hand it drops at 9.8 m/s2. We expect things to behave the same even if we reflect everything in the mirror. We assume parity is conserved. This is the sort of bias which is hard to see. Because, parity is conserved for gravity (like the pencil dropping example), electromagnetics, and even for the strong force (which explains how atomic nuclei hold together). But it turns out that the weak force (which explains beta decay) does not conserve parity; it doesn't obey the mirror symmetry.

Left: Mme. Wu and the Violation of ParityIn 1956, the work of theoretical physicists Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang suggested that perhaps the weak force might not be the same 'through the looking-glass'. Further they noted that this remained untested. The bias was strong. In fact, physicists thought of the "Law" of Parity Conservation and thus Lee and Yang weren't taken seriously until Lee convinced his colleague at Columbia University, the brilliant experimentalist Chien-Shiung Wu to test the theory.

Right: Mme. Wu and the Violation of ParityChien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997, Chinese-born American physicist, whose nicknames included the “First Lady of Physics”, “Chinese Marie Curie,” and “Madame Wu”) came up with a truly beautiful experiment to test whether the weak force conserves parity. In my print on the left I show Mme. Wu in her lab and a schematic diagram in the box shows the heart of one half of her experiment. Mme. Wu is reflected in the mirror on the right side, and the second half of her experiment (shown schematically) is shown in the box - what actually happens when the reaction is reflected in the mirror. She chose to use Cobalt-60, which I've designated with the cobalt blue sphere. Cobalt-60 is radioactive and beta decays naturally; neutrally charged neutrons within its atomic nuclei spontaneously give off electrons and become protons. (This shows another symmetry and conservation law: conservation of charge. A neutron is neutral, it has zero charge. An electron has charge -1 and a proton has charge +1. So the total charge before is equal to the total charge after). She placed the Cobalt-60 withing a strong magnetic field, designated by an electromagnet on the print. You see a power source (a long horizontal line with shorter horizontal line on top labelled '+') connected to a wire spiralled around a horseshoe-shaped metal piece which becomes an electromagnet. The top side becomes the North pole of the magnet and the bottom the South. The electrons given off by beta decay (the tiny dots) are preferentially given off in the direction of the North pole (upwards). Now, when you reflect this set-up in the mirror the poles of the magnet must switch, with the North pole on the bottom. The directionality of the magnetic field is determined by the 'right-hand rule'. Using your right hand, if you curl your fingers in the same direction as the spirally wire, your thumb will point toward the North pole of the magnet. If you reflect the horseshoe and wire in the mirror, you find your thumb points the opposite way. When Cobalt-60 is placed in this spatially inverted set-up, the electrons emitted go the opposite way, downward toward the North pole of the magnet. As you can see in the print, the result is not the mirror image even though the set-up is the mirror image. To actually measure this effect of course, more care and subtlety were required than shown in my schematic; it involved cooling the Cobalt-60 in a special cryogenic facility and very large magnetic fields - but it was as ingenious and elegant as the simplified version. To my mind, this is undoubtedly a beautiful experiment and the results were nothing short of stunning. For their theoretical work on the question of parity in the physics of subatomic particles, Lee and Yang were quickly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957; the Nobel committee neglected to include Wu.*

Schematic of Wu's Cobalt-60 experimentShe did receive many other honours. Wu took part in the Manhattan Project (wikipedia states she is believed to be the only Chinese person to do so) and literally wrote the book on beta decay. She was the first: Chinese-American to be elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; Female instructor in the Physics Department of Princeton University; Woman with an honorary doctorate from Princeton University; Female President of the American Physical Society, elected in 1975; winner of the Wolf Prize in Physics (1978); Living scientist to have an asteroid named after her. She won many awards and fellowships including: the Research Corporation Award 1958; the Achievement Award, American Association of University Women 1960; John Price Wetherill Medal, The Franklin Institute, 1962; Comstock Prize in Physics, National Academy of Sciences 1964; Chi-Tsin Achievement Award, Chi-Tsin Culture Foundation, Taiwan 1965; Scientist of the Year Award, Industrial Research Magazine 1974; Tom W. Bonner Prize, American Physical Society 1975; National Medal of Science (U.S.) 1975; the aforementioned Wolf Prize in Physics, Israel 1978; Honorary Fellow Royal Society of Edinburgh; Fellow American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Fellow American Association for the Advancement of Science; Fellow American Physical Society. And I bet you hadn't heard of her! I'm trying to redress that.

I've been wanting to do a portrait of Chien-Shiung Wu for a while. Probably since I read The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson, a book which I enjoyed, despite its complete lack of female experimentalists - a fault I might have overlooked and forgiven if it weren't for the half-hearted mea culpa in the irksome afterword. I paraphrase, "Why these 10? Well it could have been another 10, but these are my 10. It was pointed out to me there are no women, sorry about that, but these are my 10. I could have included Marie Curie, but she was really just patient and precise rather than making a beautiful experiment. I could have included Mme. Wu, but, I didn't." The fact is that not only have women been under-represented in physics, but even when they have been as extraordinary and successful as C.S. Wu, they have not been celebrated, making the female minority in physics even more invisible.

Wu herself said,
... it is shameful that there are so few women in science... In China there are many, many women in physics. There is a misconception in America that women scientists are all dowdy spinsters. This is the fault of men. In Chinese society, a woman is valued for what she is, and men encourage her to accomplishments yet she remains eternally feminine.
(As quoted in "Queen of Physics", Newsweek (20 May 1963) no. 61, 20.)

She also said,
I sincerely doubt that any open-minded person really believes in the faulty notion that women have no intellectural capacity for science and technology. Nor do I believe that social and economic factors are the actual obstacles that prevent women's participation in the scientific and technical field.

The main stumbling block in the way of any progress is and always has been unimpeachable tradition.
(As quoted in Nobel Prize Women in Science by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, 1993)

Also, since I'm conscious of the lack of portrayal and celebration of women in science, I've managed to highlight some amazing women in The Scientist Portraits. However, I note that the collection thus far has represented Europeans, or scientist of European decent, which is an unintentional bias. The history of science is predominately presented from a Western viewpoint, but it isn't really a story of Westerners and this is a bias to root out too.

*If you thought the Nobel awards were 'fair' or 'unbiased' I can recommend some books to disabuse you of this misunderstanding.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Screech Owl

Oh hey! My Screech Owl is on Etsy's front page right now. :)

October 4, 2011

Unicorns Amongst Umbrellas

So I've been continuing my Unicorn Amongst Umbrellas multimedia series. Each one is block printed on to various washi (which, by the way, means 'Japanese paper') and collaged. Sort of a poor man's chine collé, where you use papier chine (which means 'Chinese paper', but of course, any special thin paper will do - thus chine collé means 'glued Chinese paper') for coloured detailed bits. Usually that involves rice paste for the paper and printing one onto the collaged paper, rather than multiple prints then collage, but the effect is similar. Except, people usually use unpatterned paper, and they usually use it more sparsely. Anyhoo, printmaking madness, now with more unicorns:


Monday, October 3, 2011

Nuit Blanche


NuitBlanche5NuitBlanche7So we did make it to Nuit Blanche, but though I read everything I could, we didn't have a thorough plan or make it out the door very efficiently. We did however manage to see a lot of interesting things, sometimes through sheer serendipity. We started out on the U of T campus trying to find a place to park, when we passed the International Student Centre - which wasn't on my list - but we were drawn in by the pink cords and suspended labels wrapped in a web around all their trees. Maleta Stories was one event with, to my mind, superceded its description. The installation was about immigration, particularly people who came to Canada with one suitcase from the Philipines. By inviting participation from attendees, who could fill in tags and attach them to the wires through the trees, it really became much more universal and fascinating. We wandered under the wires reading people's stories. I imagine the installation would have grown more layered and interesting through the night.

NuitBlanche10NuitBlanche11Next we headed to Hart House, passing various installations involving lights and music, and apparently video games, along the way. I wanted to see AirSHIP. The Music Room, with its pseudo-medieval vaulted wooden ceiling was a wonderful venue for these luminous blimps. They proved very difficult to photograph, but imagine the ceiling filled with transparent blimps with globes of interior light, trailing strings to a mirrored floor, with ambient music. I heard someone compare them to giant jellyfish. It had a sort of magic. Also impressive was that this art installation was made by engineering and architecture students who are part of a solar blimp team.

Next we headed over to Victoria College (technically University, but whatever, I say, as an alumni). NuitBlanche23Slow Moving Falls was projected on a two and half storey screen in front of the building. It shows a film of Niagara Falls, projected upsidedown and in extreme slow motion. It was mesmerizing. It was funny to see people try tp bend over and look at the screen with their heads upsidedown. Around the corner was Radiophonic Territory which involved an exterior "confessional" where confessions were broadcast within the building and on the radio. Since this installation wasn't on my priority list, we didn't stand in line to hear the confessions, but we watched people consider entering the box.

I was anxious to see and participate in L'écho-L'eau, a simulated log-run within the MaRS building. Despite the long line on the exterior of the building, the wait wasn't too long - in fact we spent far less time in lines this year. We even had to sign a waiver, but that didn't slow us down. There was an immense but shallow pool set up in the large lobby. We had to remove out shoes and walk through the water. At the far end was the 'log-run'. We were given large umbrellas and got to walk on the logs under similated rain. I enjoyed the experience. After the log run we were encouraged to look at the 'reflecting pool' with illusion on the floor below. (On our way we passed Taddle Creek sound installation at University and College - which, while not substantial, was evocative of the sound of a river).

I wanted to see The Heart Machine, a flame-throwing installation from Burning Man. We went down University Ave. and were confused by one of the nomadic installation, which I heard called the 'Renegade Parade', though I haven't found it on the website. The travelling installation was a rave on wheels; a pickup truck with DJ, dancers and light show which was advancing through the streets. When we reached the Heart Machine, so did the rave. RJH wanted to photograph the rave, but I wove through the cars to the flames, and found myself behind the Heart Machine. Though cordoned off, we had a better view than the crowd at the front. Soon, using his trusty business card (not even a press pass) RJH talked himself up onto the scaffholding to photograph the scene from above. The woman at the cordon allowed me in and said I could stay out of the way by the truck. Much to my amusement, while RJH photographed the scene, Nuit Blanche volunteers assumed I was on staff and started reporting to me. I was told that the Renegade Parade performers were going to come through. I asked if I was in the way and was told, "Oh no, I just thought you should know," so I played along and granted my approval. It was quite the spectacle with flames on one side and rave on the other.

Next we headed downtown. I wanted to see installation at the Eaton Centre and City Hall. We parked and headed through the crowd. Fist we hit Barricades, a sort of commentary on the G20 and surrounding events in this city, which turned barricades on their heads.


Then we made it into the Eaton Centre and found the Paparazzi Bots. Moving robots, equipped with point-and-shoot cameras and facial recognition software could choose (or not choose) people to focus on like paparazzi, to photograph and broadcast their image. It was interesting to see people grinning hopefully, wanting to be the centre of attention.

We headed past Shannon's Fireflies, which unfortunately was having technical difficulties, and thus was not lit, to City Hall. He heard the eery invisible parade (music broadcast without visible source). I was interested to see people 'flying' around Nathan Phillips Square. I knew lines would be long, but thought they would be something to see. It turns out that the lightshow was much more interesting. Flight Path allowed visitors to ride a bird-shaped zip-line container to 'fly' across the square - except they moved quite slowly, so it wasn't that exciting. The lightshow, on the other hand was very impressive. Lines and planes of multicolour light were visible throughout the smokey square. It seemed that images of clouds were projected onto the light planes. This gave the illusion of a 3D projection, and the feeling of being embedded in the sky. The lights also formed archways, squiggles and other shaped.

To the south of City Hall, someone played drums within a disassembled car, which exploded outward as in an 'exploded technical diagram'.

I needed to see the glowing wolves, so we headed to the Cloud Garden, north of Scotia Plaza to see INFRA. To be honest, I was expecting more from the resin wolves glowing with fluorescent colours allegedly micmicking their heat energy as viewed in the infrared.


Inside the Scotia Plaza, I was keen to see City Mouse, a sculptural investigation of what is natural. Within the skyscrapper's lobby, a miniature simulated forest is filled with taxidermied animals (raccoon, wolf, bear and hawk). The animals in turn are filled with unusual and detailed scenes of masked business people, at their desks, in their cubicles, waiting for the elevator or shredding documents. I was not disappointed, despite the wait to see a small exhibit; I really admire what worlds artist Julia Hepburn created.

We headed home after that, quite slowly. We debated going to Trinity-Bellwoods, but only drove by. I wanted to see the balloon installation outside the Drake Hotel. It was a mistake to attempt to drive along Queen Street just as the bars let out, but I did catch a glimpse of the giant clown, the patchwork covered van, and other Parkdale LEITMOTIF entries.

Overall, it was a good night. I felt perhaps less moved than on other previous Nuits Blanches, but, we managed to see some intriging and beguiling art, some great spectacle, no one fell off a dubious scaffholding, and we had some unusual experiences we won't soon forget. This is really a wonderful event in the life of the city, and everyone should check out what they can.