Monday, March 30, 2009

it's spring, BECAUSE IS I SAY SO

Marjorie, the coffee lady says that there is always one last snowfall. It is considerably colder today than yesterday. However, April is immanent (how this could possibly be true, I cannot say... but it is). So, I say, it's spring. It's bad enough I am fighting off a second cold this year, after not being sick in years... I will not abide more snow. Hear that, elements?

When Minouette wasn't hogging the sunny seat by the sewing machine (yes, I make these things with the antique Singer, because the more modern Singer is on the fritz) I managed to make a pillow yesterday:

blossoms & butterflies pillow
reverse of blossom & butterfly pillow
close-up butterflies
close-up blossom corner

So the cherry branch and blossoms in yellow on fuschia, and the two butterflies in yellow on turquoise are printed by hand (with a Japanese ukiyo-e style baren) on fabric. The two print fabrics are newly available at The Workroom, which I follow on flickr, to the chagrin of my wallet. I love the memento mori aspect of the echino fabric on the reverse. Squirrels, deers, birds, ladybugs, butterflies and skulls, oh my! See, they know, butterflies are the new pirates. ;)

I have a postcard of a memento mori in my micro-studio. It is Picasso's Nature Morte Avec Crane, a painting I saw one visit to San Francisco, when they had a retrospective of art he made during WWII. In context, the painting was particularly moving. The juxtaposition of life and death is traditional. This being Picasso, those are the most suggestive looking leeks ever painted. But he has quite literally scratched the date into the canvas: 14/3/45 - the day Paris was freed. A day of celebration, and a day to remember those who were lost.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Z is for zebra...

Z is for zebra square for quilt
Z is for zebra, of course

This is my lino block printed zebras (Chevy and Burchell varieties) in black water based ink on fuschia and red fabric, with a white impression of a letterpress zed, for my alphabet quilt-in-progress.

Letters remaining: Q, U, V, X, Y.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Zebras: Chevy's and Burchell's

Zebras: Chevy's & Burchell's
Chevy's variety of ZebraBurchell's variety of Zebra
stiped hind-quarters

This is a first edition lino block print of two zebras. The one on the left is known as Chevy's zebra and the one on the right is known as Burchell's. These are carved on a single block, and printed in black water-based ink on Japanese kozo, or mulberry paper. The sheets are 14 inches wide and 8 inches tall (35.6 cm by 20.3 cm).

Zebras are such an obvious animal to print - so graphic. They have differing anatomies though. As you can see, their manes, tails and striping depends on variety. I put them back to back to highlight this. Eventually, I will get to Z on my alphabet quilt...

Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace linocut by Ele Willoughby
Today is Ada Lovelace Day! I've blogged about the brilliant proto-software engineer before. 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.

In honour of her, Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Almost 2000 people have pledged to blog about a women in technology, to help remedy the fact that women in technology and their "contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised."

Frequency Hopping with Hedwig Keisler, aka Hedy Lamarr, by Ele Willougby
So apart from Ada Lovelace herself, I thought I would tell you about another, historic, under-appreciated figure: Hedy Lamarr. It's not often one gets to talk about a Hollywood star/scientist and innovator (as well as mother), but this woman could do it all. Austrian, of Jewish heritage, she worked as an actress in film, until she married. Though her arms-manufacturer husband was part Jewish, he was a Nazi-sympathizer which infuriated her. She escaped from Europe where in 1937, by disguising herself as her maid. She came to Hollywood and made 18 films in 9 years. Meanwhile she was working with her neighbour, avant garde composer George Antheil and experimenting with automated control of instruments. Together, the two submitted the idea of a Secret Communication System in June 1941 and were granted a patent (U.S. Patent 2,292,387). This early version of frequency hopping* used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.

They were ahead of their time and the mechanical technology did not exist for decades. "It was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba, after the patent had expired. Neither Lamarr nor Antheil (who died in 1959) made any money from the patent. Perhaps owing to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for this contribution." [wikipedia]

The frequency-hopping idea lives on in modern spread-spectrum communication technology - a basis for a lot of wireless communications. It's also popular in my field; geophysical electromagnetic researchers often transmit pseudo-random binary sequences (PRBS) into the earth to get a spread in frequencies and take advantage of the wider bandwidth (which means more information about a larger array of different depths below the earth's surface - different frequencies penetrate to different depths).

"Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but she was told that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds. She once raised $7,000,000 at just one event." [wikipedia]

So there you go.

I write about these late, great women inventors, not to say that women in technology were extraordinary figures from the past, but rather to highlight that crucial innovations have been made by women for a long time, and that even when they had the good fortune to also have fame, fortune and beauty, as well as brilliance and innovation, they remained in the shadows.

If you want a living local hero, my favorite is Ursula Franklin. Definitely one of my heroines. Maybe I'll blog about her next....

I am so going to do a lino block print of Countess Lovelace.

Friday, March 20, 2009

mad scientists and mutant turtles

Darwin and Galapagos Tortoise Detail Regarding my Darwin entry in the MSOE March Darwin Challenge, jackbear suggested, "That must be Darwin in his "teenage mutant ninja turtle" phase of life!" to which auntcindy replied, "Jackbear - I think it's less of a hero-in-a-half-shell... more of a scientist-on-a-half-shell."

I *heart* crafty scientists. They make me laugh.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Tortoise is Not For Surfing

The inhabitants believe that these animals are absolutely deaf; certainly they do not overhear a person walking closely behind them. I was always amused, when overtaking one of these great monsters as it was quietly pacing along, to see how suddenly, the instant I passed, it would draw in its head and legs, and uttering a deep hiss fall to the ground with a heavy sound, as if struck dead. I frequently got on their backs, and then, upon giving a few raps on the hinder part of the shell, they would rise up and walk away; but I found it very difficult to keep my balance.

-Charles Darwin, 1835, Galapagos Islands (as quoted in Tortoise by Peter Young)

Darwin & tortoise suspendedDarwin on Galapagos

The Mad Scientists of Etsy (MSOE) challenge for March, 2009, honours the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. I have depicted Darwin as a young man, during his famous voyage on the HMS Beagle and its stay in the Galapagos Islands. The giant tortoises which thrived on the islands, and the variations in species from island to island were instrumental to his thinking, when he later wrote "On the origin of species" which divulged his understanding of biological evolution.

I like the irreverent image of Darwin on the stately, ancient tortoises, but don't try this at home kids! Tortoises are not for surfing.

This is an original lino block print on pale green Japanese washi paper. Each sheet is 12.5 inches tall and 6 " wide. This is one of the first edition of 12.

Darwin Detail

Galapagos Tortoise detail

I have got to say, this one was quite the compositional challenge. The perspective and anatomy were a challenge. There just aren't many images of a young Charles Darwin, nor (luckily for the tortoises of the world) are images of people standing (rather than children sitting) on tortoises common. So, I needed to figure out: Darwin's facial structure (man, did he have a prominent brow, much to the glee of the chariacturists), men's clothing typical of ~1835, the anatomy and relative scale of a Galapagos tortoise, how to combine these in a pleasing and hopefully plausible (if somewhat humourous) way. I had wanted him to really be in a surfing stance, but I couldn't get that to work. I think I got something; it amuses me how, through no effort on my part, he looks inexplicably serious, while doing this silly thing. Also, it appears to me that this tortoise is contemplating how to unbalance him.

Also, things stacked on turtles or tortoises really seems to be an archetype in the collective unconscious. This also interests me, particularly as an earth scientist (who happens to collect turtle-shaped items).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book of Hope 2009

So I wanted to make my 4 inch by 4 inch (10 cm by 10 cm) chunky page for alteredmommy’s collaboration, the Book of Hope 2009, but I wanted to figure out how to symbolize hope without being... well, twee. You need some contrast for meaning, some darkness with a hint of light. Last year I went for hope as strength with the phoenix rising from the flames. This year I came up with a break in the clouds.

hope 2009
The thick clouds are sponges a few millimeters (say, a quarter inch) thick which I have painted with acrylic. (The sponge was part of the packaging of the pineapple cake from our visiting student from Taiwan: reduce, reuse, recycle!) The other clouds are layers of translucent Japanese hand-made washi paper, as is the rainbow. The word hope is stamped in silver ink.

reverse of chunky page for book of hope 2009

hope, 2009 with shadows from above
hope, 2009 with shadows from below

Because the clouds have depth, they cast shadows, depending on the direction of the light source (sunlight in this case).

In other news: it is spring out there! Let’s hope that in traditional Toronto fashion, the weather does not revert to winter again. I am ready to scale back from my heavy winter coat. and I took Sukie to High Park, which was veritably infested with thankful Torontonians, soaking up the sunlight and looking at swans, ducks, geese and woodpeckers. It seems my friends are scheming about housing right now. Change is afoot.

I had kind of planned to go to the craft swap at Freedom Clothing... but I think I might try to tackle Project Darwin instead. Though I feel like I should be outside.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

hope and rosehips

Last night I went and saw Coraline in 3D with Reynardin and Faunalia which we all really enjoyed. I remarked that a lot of love went into making that movie.

Faunalia claimed that thoughts of spring are wrong, my maple tree is falsely optimistic to be budding- it will snow again, and lo, this morning there is snow. I'm blaming Faunalia. ;)

So "hope" as a theme has been theme co-opted by all and sundry of late. However it has come up twice recently in invitations to me to donate art to raise funds for cancer research and associated charities - one place where hope is precisely the right theme.

Last year I made a 4" x 4" (10 cm by 10 cm) 'chunky page' for alteredmommy's collaboration on the theme of hope. Initially she intended to auction the book to raise funds for the cancer society. She decided to feature the book at the auction but donate it directly to a cancer survivor. This year she has invited people to contribute a chunky page once again. She will make a wall hanging to auction to raise funds for the Cancer Society. She herself is a cancer survivor.

Yesterday, I got a lovely (& lengthy) message on etsy from local musician Erin Lang. She is involved in raising funds for a lymphatic cancer charity called the Hibiscus Fund For Hope. In her words, "they do really amazing things for people going through cancer treatment in terms of helping to have their families with them if they can't afford to be there and paying for drugs that are not covered by OHIP and things like paying for daycare when a low income or single parent family suddenly find they have to be at the hospital everyday.. and so many more things.." She decided to start an associated music and arts group called Hibiscus and Rosehips to do a series of fund-raising events. She's lined up a long list of musicians* and bands (local "quirky original artsy folksy" indie bands from Toronto and Montreal and some international) who are donating songs for a CD. There will be Folk Tea Party/Bake sale with live music and the CD release and local crafts, on Sunday April 19th in the afternoon. 100% of all says will go to the charity.

So, I will be donating some art for this event. I appreciate that they help the families of those with lymphoma. Money for research is important, but until we learn how to grapple with these diseases, it is the families who need immediate help. I thought some of you might be interested in also participating, or donating, or baking, or giving art. It's a very pleasurable way of giving (through creating).

*Some of the musicians involved:
Timber Timbre
Luxury Pond
The Youngest
Owl Eyes
Kite Hill
Jesse Smith
Roger O'Donnell

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Urban Dodo

More pillows!
Urban Dodo pillow
This pillow front is a patchwork of my hand-printed lino block dodo on handwoven Thai gray silk floral, a cotton print urban scene of many buildings in white on brown and dusky rose upholstery fabric. One of a kind.
reverse of dodo pillow
Dodo on silk detail
I like how my lino block printed dodo turned out on the handwoven silk floral fabric. I think of the pink flower like a parasol for dodo.
tentacle and flower detail
The brown fabric is from the R. & F.'s neighbour Snoflake and Dagg's excess fabric sale.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Walrus dreams of dinner...

I made a new pillow:
walrus pillow
This is the front with a patchwork of my "Winter Walrus" lino block, printed in brown and blue on striped white-on-white canvas, with a sushi print cotton, corduroy in lime and blue fabric.

The reverse shows a blue whale lino block print on lavender cotton, green cotton print and grey pin-striped fabric, with the minouette label block printed on a goldfish-print cotton (care of Reynardin - thanks R.!).

walrus and whale pillow

And in a new and creative entry in the "Injuries Which Only Happen to minouette" file, I managed to cut myself while photographing this pillow. Yes, I know. You have never heard of someone injuring themselves while photographing a pillow. This is how it's done: I wanted more light, so I detached my angle-lamp from my craft table and held it while photographing. Then I propped it up to use two hands on the camera. Then it fell over, shattering the lightbulb. I unplugged it and picked up the pieces. Then I noticed the blood. Clearly my fear of electrocution is stronger than my foresight about gravity and the dangers of cut glass. I'm telling you, not everyone can injure themselves with such creativity and regularity as I. It's an acquired skill, but I can't recommend it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

minouette is out there

map Minouette products can now be found at Freedom Clothing, 939 Bloor St W., Toronto, M6H 1L5, a cute little shop between Ossington and Dovercourt. blogTO says, Freedom Clothing Collective "is a fun scavenger adventure into a realm where random eclectic finds are plenty and affordable designer pieces deviate from the mass market and their questionable labour practices." They have clothing for both men and women, accessories, some art and other lovely indie products. I was particularly taken with some of the screenprinted, re-worked vintage jackets.

Amanda, one of the Collective, invited me to stop by next Sunday when they are having a craft swap. You should stop by, if you are in the neighbourhood.

Looks like my things are in good company. I am really pleased!
frog and lily cushion

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reading is sexy XVII

Van Gogh - Yellow Chair
13. A. S. Byatt Still Life. This is the second book in the quartet, which started with The Virgin in the Garden, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and harkening back to Queen Elizabeth I, which I read some time ago. I don't think I realized at the time that it was one of four. But, there are the characters, the Potter family, strangely still living in 1954 in England, where I left them. Frederica is still as cursed with intelligence, red hair, and little sense of the interior life of others; she goes off to Cambridge, of course, and continues to fall in love with impossible men. Stephanie starts her more docile, womanly life as wife and mother to Vicar Daniel. Marcus is recovering from his bizarre folie à deux and the strain of living with his angry, demanding, atheist father Bill. He is living with Stephanie and Daniel, and Daniel's horrible mother. Mother Winnifred is left alone in the house with Bill. Alexander is trying to follow up his play Astraea, and his writing about Vincent Van Gogh, and his relationship with Gaugain and his letters to Theo. His new play is The Yellow Chair. The staging involves the two paintings above, of Vincent's own chair and the chair of Gaugain. Many secondary characters are there too, including Wilkie and the Pooles and so on.
The story is compelling. The characters are real and full. She manages to evoke the time and place and its conventions and culture. To the point, for instance, that she made me angry at the way pregnant women in Yorkshire, in 1954 were treated like cattle, herded from waiting room, to hallway, to waiting room, without so much thought as to provide sufficient chairs. The prose however, feels dense and abstruse, in a way which differs from later novels. I found myself reading and rereading sentences thrice to try and glean their meaning. I have really enjoyed the way she weaves in allusions to other literature, say in Possession. Here it seems almost too academic, occasionally like a novel for people who read English at Cambridge in the 50s - a rather limitted audience. I am glad at least that I have read Lucky Jim, thanks to , so I could understand the discussion of it in terms of contemporary fiction. At times though, I felt like I would have to go read Mallarmé, Milton, D.H. Lawrence and Pound to know what they were going on about (even if I could recall the metaphors of Woodsworth or Andrew Marvell). Also, she managed to work her obsession with insects and taxonomy into this novel as well; this time it is ants.
Sociologically, it is very interesting to see how these people lived their lives. We tend to think of the 50s as sort of innocent and sheltered. Though the people are English - uncomplaining, reserved, polite - they are anything but innocent or frigid. Frederica of course, lives life to the fullest, and goes through quite the collection of men. At Cambridge they outnumber the women eleven to one. These characters are memorable, especially her Scottish cameleon friend Alan. Also the household in which Alexander lands, living with Thomas and Elinor Poole and their three children in London, while he writes his play, is certainly a fascinating arrangement.
She also breaks your suspension of disbelief sporadically by commenting on her own goals as novelist, or revealing the image in her mind which inspired the novel. She discusses how she planned initially to write a novel without metaphors, a particularly odd goal for her it seems to me. She quickly gave up this plan, and resorts instead to simply discussing it with the reader directly. She writes about her process and what happens in the minds of readers. Today this seems a bit self-consciously post-modern. However, she does seem to convey that the characters are none the less real, as if they were people, who lived their lives, and she just came along and wrote about these particular lives, to reach her stated goals, to look at the lives, particularly of women in England in the 50s, and the meaning and role of metaphor.
Not an easy read. Perhaps I needn't worry so much about the details. But, I will say, that I intend to read the remaining two novels in this series. I want to know what happens to these people. I do feel invested in their lives.