Sunday, October 26, 2014

Data as art: X Marks the Spot

Niels Bohr portrait 4
Hayley Gillespie at Art.Science.Gallery in Austin noticed that some of my prints submitted for previous shows would also fit for their latest: X Marks the Spot. She describes the show thus:

Quantitative or categorical, discrete or continuous, dependent or independent, variables allow scientists to measure and describe properties of the world around us. They are common to every scientific discipline and assume a wide range of possible values. With gravity and humor, precision and abstraction, record-keeping and experimentation, variables are made visible through the works of eight contemporary artists.

So, from October 25 to November 23, 2014, you can find my portraits of Niels Bohr, Caroline Herschel and Florence Nightingale, on exhibit. The show features eight artists, many of whom are 'data artists' and the images online look fascinating.

Caroline HerschelIt's particularly interesting to me, since I haven't really thought of my work as illustrating data or variables, per se, so much as illustrating the scientists themselves, since their work is integral to a full portrait. I believe mine are the only portraits and other works are more abstract, less figurative.

Each of these portraits does actually, now that I think about it, contain some precise representations of variable data. Niels Bohr's portrait contains the Balmer series of spectral lines given off by excited hydrogen gas. Caroline Herschel's portrait contains her own diagrams of the night sky and her observation of one of the several comets she discovered (hence, a mapping of position over time). Florence Nightingale's portrait shows her own statistical investigation of the causes of mortality amongst British troops during the Crimean War, shown plotted as a polar area diagram – her own statistical and data visualization innovation, sometimes called a Nightingale Rose Diagram.

Florence Nightingale portraitThe other artists involved in the show have taken data -both their own personal life data, they have gathered themselves and freely available datasets and created artworks where they have developped their own methodologies for representing the data. They are working with everything from an artist's own personal experience of cancer care, the weather (where storms themselves are involved in the mark making), using algorithms to turn winds into drawing, to the instances where H.G. Wells specifies colour in his novels!

One of the artists involved had been turning her own data into art - things like walks she takes, daily activities and nightly EEG sleep data - and then recognized that she is doing something algorithmically which could be translated into a phone app which would allow anyone to make art from their own daily lives. If you're in Austin, check out the artist's talk by Laurie Frick on November 8. She'll explain her process and her smartphone app FRICKBits, and how you can use it to make art of your daily life too. How cool is that?! The app is for iPhone, and I have an Android, so I might have to ask RJH if I can play with his phone.

In other news, if you happen to be in Europe and read German, check out the Christmas/New Year issue of Happinez magazine, which will be featuring my Chinese Zodiac series!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

OOAK Prep - Multimedia


My next big adventure is the Christmas One of a Kind Show! I have a piece in the upcoming 'X Marks the Spot' show at Art.Science.Gallery and I need to complete my 'In the Round' artworks for the Graven Feather show, but the big thing on the horizon is OOAK. RJH has been building parts of my booth. We're planning hard walls on which I can hang framed artwork, with an overhead lighting system affixed to it, and some hopefully simple flooring. He's also planning to build me frames for my artwork. I've been researching where I can get glass, and we've ordered a proper mat cutter and we hope to have this scheme underway shortly.


Right now, I want to stock up. I've been making more of my multimedia series: unicorns, ships and balloons. Soon I'll move on to two-headed turtles! I've also been printing second editions of popular prints. I'm almost out of poppies so I made a new edition with thicker scarlet kozo paper. I want to list it before Remembrance Day.


On the home front it's been a challenging week. When I was doing laundry, soapy water started flooring up from the basement floor drain. It turns out that the roots from the neighbour's tree have crushed our clay drain pipe underneath our front lawn. While the water appeared soapy it had gone down the drain until it couldn't proceed and then came back - which means it had been where our sewage goes. This needs an immediate and expensive fix. I also did some emergency gardening as I suspect plumbers might destroy my garden if I didn't transplant any fragile plants before they did up and replace the pipe. Meanwhile, I think the baby must be getting another tooth because it's been some pretty sleepless nights. I'm not always sure when I can get some studio time; he's not much of a napper, and if I try to work after he goes to bed the cat stages a vocal protest*, which risks waking him up (and another sleepless night). So, I am now trying to make art when there is a quieter moment during the day and working at the computer after baby's bedtime, whilst keeping our cantankerous elder cat company.

So it's 8:40 pm and I'm going to bed. G'night!

*she makes this cry which would be useful if you were producing sound effects for horror movies, which means "I'm bored and lonely, come downstaits". It's horrible.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Portraits of Women in STEM for Ada Lovelace Day

I'm slowly gathering my own chronology of women in science and technology. I've printed their portraits and written about the their lives. Check out these heroines of science:

Hypatia (sometime between 350 and 370 - 415 C.E), mathematician, astronomer, inventor

Caroline Herschel
Caroline Herschel (1750 – 1848), astronomer, comet sweeper and 1st professional salaried female scientist
Mary Anning
Mary Anning (1799-1847), Great Fossil Hunter & Paleontology Pioneer

Ada Lovelace, 3rd edition
Ada, Countess Lovelace,  (1815-1852), world's first programmer

Florence Nightingale portrait
Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910), nursing, statistics and data visualization pioneer

Sofia Kovalevski linocut
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevski (1850-1891), mathematician and writer

Marie Curie linocut glows in the dark
Marie Skłodowska-Curie (1867 – 1934), physicist, chemist, double Nobel Laureate

Henrietta Swan Leavitt
Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868 – 1921), astronomer whose work set the scale of our Universe

Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968) and Nuclear Fission

Inge Lehmann print
Inge Lehmann (1888 – 1993), seismologist who discovered the Earth's inner core

Mme Wu
Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) and the Violation of Parity

Hedy Lamarr linocut
Frequency-hopping with Hedwig Keisler, aka Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

Jocelyn Bell and the LGM-1
Jocelyn Bell (Burnell) (born 1943) and the LGM-1, astrophysicist who discovered pulsars

Mae Jemison linocut
Mae Jemison (born 1956), astronaut, chemical engineer, biotech innovator, dance and choreographer

Ada Lovelace Day 2014: The hard-earned fame of Marie Skłodowska-Curie

Ada Lovelace, 3rd edition
Ada, Countess Lovelace, 3rd edition linocut by Ele Willoughby
Today is the 6th annual international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology, science and math, Ada Lovelace Day 2014 (ALD14). I'm sure you'll all recall, Ada, brilliant proto-software engineer, daughter of absentee father, the mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Lord Byron, she was able to describe and conceptualize software for Charles Babbage's computing engine, before the concepts of software, hardware, or even Babbage's own machine existed! She foresaw that computers would be useful for more than mere number-crunching. For this she is rightly recognized as visionary - at least by those of us who know who she was. She figured out how to compute Bernouilli numbers with a Babbage analytical engine. Tragically, she died at only 36. Today, in Ada's name, people around the world are blogging.

This year I'm participating in an entire group art show celebrating Ada Lovelace Day. The Art.Science.Gallery show Go Ahead and Do It: Portraits of Women in STEM culminates today! I will share all of my portraits of women in science (and links to where I tell their stories) below.

Marie Curie linocut glows in the dark
Marie Skłodowska-Curie, linocut with glow-in-the-dark ink by Ele Willoughby, 2014

In previous years, I've specifically avoided writing about Marie Curie because she is often the one historical figure people can name. I don't like to do the obvious thing and particularly want to highlight the under appreciated heroines of science. However the result is that her truly remarkable achievements haven't been celebrated here, just because of her fame. So, with a collection of portraits and stories written on the less well known, today I'll write about the well-known and why she in fact deserves her fame.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934), Polish-born, naturalized-French physicist and chemist, as the first woman to win a Nobel prize, the only woman to ever win TWO Nobel prizes, and the only person ever to win in two different sciences: physics and chemistry! She was also the first female professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris. Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska in Warsaw, she studied secretly at the Floating University there before moving to Paris where she earned higher scientific degrees, met her PhD supervisor and future husband Pierre.

She was one of the pioneers who helped explain radioactivity, a term she coined. She was the one who first developed a means of isolating radioacitve isotopes and discovered not one, but two new elements: polonium (named for her native country) and radium. She also pioneered radioactive medicine, proposing the treatment of tumors with radioactivity. She founded medical research centres, the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw which are still active today. She created the first field radiology centres during World War I. Each one of these achievements alone would warrant being memorialized in the annals of science and medicine; she did all of these things. She died in 1934 from aplastic anemia brought on by exposure to radiation, including carrying test tubes of radium in her pockets during research and her World War I service in her mobile X-ray units.

Her pioneering work explaining radioactivity earned her the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and with physicist Henri Becquerel. At first, the Committee intended to honour only Pierre and Becquerel, but Swedish mathematician Magnus Gösta Mittag-Leffler, an advocate of women in science, alerted Pierre to the situation. (You may recall that it was the same man who helped Sofia Kovalevski secure a University position in Stockholm and that she collaborated on works of literature and had what was called a "romantic friendship" with his sister Duchess Anne-Charlotte Edgren-Leffler).  After Pierre's complaint, Marie's name was added to the nomination. The 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to her "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."

Her life and legacy are truly extraordinary!

Marie Skłodowska-Curie, linocut with glow-in-the-dark ink show in the light and dark by Ele Willoughby, 2014

Not only was her work original and providing revolutionary insight on the theoretical side at the time, but the sheer heroic dedication and labour involved in her experimental work cannot be overstated. Having recognized that pitchblende ore must contain multiple elements which were giving off radiation, she and Pierre were able to show in 1898 that two new elements Polonium and Radium were needed to explain their observations. They then sought to actually isolate these elements. From a ton of pitchblende, she separated one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride in 1902. In 1910 Marie Curie isolated pure radium metal - a full 12 years after she and Pierre published their preliminary evidence for its existence. This involved working in a shed, meticulously separating the radioactive material from the inert and then dividing the radioactive material into its various sources for many years - all the while raising their young daughter when not at the lab.

Both of the elements she discovered are radioactive, meaning that they spontaneously give off radiation. All of the isotopes of polonium emit alpha particles, but Polonium-210 will emit a blue glow which is caused by excitation of surrounding air. Radium emits alpha, beta and gamma particles - that is 2 protons and 2 neutrons, electrons as well as x-rays. Thus, I've shown her sample surrounded by the symbols of these particles: the straight and wiggly lined arrows for the massive particles and high-energy light photons or gamma rays respectively, and made the sample with glow-in-the-dark ink. While the materials she discovered and worked with would have glowed due to radioactivity, never fear... these prints glow due to phosphorescence - a different process which is not dangerous. The ink will absorb UV light (for instance, from sunlight) and re-emit it in the dark.

The linocut is printed on Japanese kozo paper 9.25" by 12.5" (23.5 cm by 32 cm) in an edition of eight.

You will soon find links to my previous Ada Lovelace Day posts and other short bios and portraits of heroines of science in my next post.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Etsy: Made in Canada wrap-up

Etsy: Made in Canada at MaRS
Etsy: Made In Canada at Mars

I feel like I'm still recovering from Etsy: Made In Canada. Our show was a great success! We think we had 8000 visitors - Etsy fans all.

The Toronto Standard interviewed me about the show, the team, and life as a geophysicist/printmaker.