Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Leafcutter Bee

This is an important local leafcutter bee, Megachile relativa, in a lino block print on Japanese kozo (mulberry) paper with yellow and translucent washi chine collé (collaged fine Japanese paper). Each print is 15.2 cm (6 inches) square. The print is one of only 16.

Because the Megachile bees do not make honey, people are often unaware of them, though it is one of the largest genera of bees, with well over 500 species in over 50 subgenera, and they play an important role in pollinisation. We think of bees in hives and making honey; these bees are solitary and make no honey. They are known as leafcutter bees since the build their nests with tidy little pieces which they cut from leaves. They build these nests in cavities in the ground or hollow twigs or similar tunnels. These bees are cosmopolitan, spanning most world habitats. Here in Canada they are common up to subarctic zones.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Local Bumblebee

I've been planning a series of six local bees (both native bees, and common transplanted bees) and chose a bumblebee. I recently discovered that I had previously (and inadvetently) selected a common European bumblebee (lacking peer review of the science behind my art) and decided I would make another bumble protrait, this time of ­the Common Eastern Bumblebee, or Bombus Impatiens.

Bombus Impatiens

If you live in eastern North America you may recognize this guy. It is yellow on its upper thorax, with a black spot in the centre of its back, and is black on the lower abdomen. I wanted to capture the round, fuzzy bee in flight and show how unexpected proportions of the bee make it appear as round and cuddly as an insect could be. Bumblebees are social insects that are characterized by black and yellow body hairs, often in bands. This hair comes in soft (long, branched setae) pile, that covers their entire body, making them appear and feel fuzzy. Like their relatives the honey bees, bumblebees feed on nectar and gather pollen to feed their young. This one has orange pollen on its fuzzy leg.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ada Lovelace Day post... about me!


I like to see how people find things from secret minouette places, thus I do check out the shop statistics. I was flattered and surprised to see that QUEST ("an award-winning multimedia science and environment series created by KQED, San Francisco, the public media station serving Northern California") had posted to their blog about Ada Lovelace Day, including my portaits of both Ada, Countess Lovelace and Chien-Shung Wu in Madame Wu and the Violation of Parity. Further, the author was kind enough to write,
Women like Lovelace and Wu are particularly inspiring because they entered STEM fields at times in history when few women saw it as an option. But valuable role models can also be found among contemporary female scientists–such as the creator of the Madame Wu woodcut!* For her day job, geophysicist Eleanor Willoughby studies** marine gas hydrates at the University of Toronto. But as minouette, she makes and sells beautiful linoleum block prints on Etsy, many of them inspired by science and scientists–including the print of Countess Lovelace, Enchantress of Numbers, shown above.

(If you aren't familiar with the term, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.) I'm very flattered to read this, and to be described as a role model. They found my work through the recent post on The Finch and Pea and the brief description of my scientific research through the university website.

Mme Wu

physicsworld I'm glad to see that the version of Madame Wu and the Violation of Parity included is the second edition. This is because I made a small correction! Never before have I corrected a linocut for scientific accuracy. You see, I got a friendly note from the editor of Physics World inviting me to respond to a letter to the editor about my artwork on the September issue cover. Though I (and, actually, a fair number of scientists I know) had looked at the image many times, it had escaped my notice that the polarity of the currents did not match the direction of the magnetic fields. I felt quite sheepish to read this as it was something I had thought about and specifically intended to avoid. However, it's the printmaker's perpetual pitfall; just as type must be reversed, it turns out that the wrapping of a solenoid must be reversed in a relief print! So, in my sketch and on my block, the physics is correct, but the process of making a relief print reversed the geometry (so the currents no longer matched the magnetic field directions). The irony here is that this parallels Madame Wu's experiment and the violation of parity itself! The physics is simply not the same when reflected as in the mirror. The simple correction is to change the current direction by removing the '+' symbols and reversing the short and long lines in the symbol for the power source. I wrote a response letter which I thought was very cute, explaining that the error was 'an artifact of my methodology', which is how physicists speak to one another (but I think my little joke did not make the cut).

*the process is very similar, but it's actually a linocut
**should be passed tense, as I am not currently at U of T

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Constellation Capricornus


The silver stars and silhouette of Capricornus the goat with the fish-tail are illustrated in this handmade block print. Capricorn (♑) is the tenth astrological sign in the Zodiac, originating from the constellation of Capricornus. I printed an edition of ten prints, 5.75 inches by 10 inches (14.6 cm by 24.8 cm) on lovely, handmade, Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper with a deckle edge. Since the paper is handmade, there is some small variation in size and the edge of each sheet. The word Capricornus (the name of the constellation) and symbol ♑ appear at the bottom of the image. The lines linking the constellation appear in black-on-silver or silver-on-black as appropriate. There are several star clusters, shown as circles.

Capricornus was recognized by Ptolemy. It is located in a part of the sky known as The Sea or the Water, and is near other water-themed constellations Aquarius, Pisces and Eridanus. It's fascinationg how we a) see a group of stars and a constellation and often agree upon groupings across cultures and b) decide what the shape delineated by the stars might represent. Apparently we decided that this particular, faint group of stars was a goat-fish as early as the Bronze Age, at least in Babylon. Unlike some constellations which seem to have the same interpretation across many cultures, you may not be surprised to learn that the Chinese do not view this a goat-fish. Rather, these stars are within in The Black Tortoise of the North.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Constellation of Cancer the Crab

Cancer Constellation

The silver stars and silhouette of Cancer the crab are illustrated in this handmade block print. I printed an edition of eight prints, 7 inches by 10 inches (17.8 cm by 24.8 cm) on lovely, handmade, Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper with a deckle edge. The word Cancer and symbol ♋ appear at the bottom of the image. The lines linking the constellation appear in black-on-silver or silver-on-black as appropriate. There are two star clusters, shown as circles filled with stars. The Beehive Cluster (M44 in the Messier star catalogue) is inside the crab itself. The open star cluster M67 appears by the lower claw.

Cancer is one of the dimest zodiac constellations (or those constellations which cross the ecliptic). If you imagined all celestial bodies we see in the night sky as mapped onto a sphere (the Celestial Sphere) around our Earth, the ecliptic would be the line you would draw to map the apparent path of the Sun through the various constellations. The ecliptic is marked as the dashed line in this print. Because of its dimness Cancer was often considered the "Dark Sign", quaintly described as black and without eyes. It has been recognized as various crustaceans by different peoples at different periods. I've shown it as a crab, which is most common today.

I realize I have many series on the go now. This suits me better than a single-minded approach. I like to switch it up to avoid having creativity blocks. I'm working on completing the other 9 zodiac constellations; I plan two more local bee species; I have 7 provinces and three territories yet to print; I plan monograms for the other 18 letters of the alphabet. This is on top of open-ended series, like 'figures from the history of science' or the 'terms of venery' series, or just plain 'animals'. I have series I would continue (like the 'Imaginary Friends of Science' series) if I ever discovered any further subjects. I also have possible future series, quietly brewing in my brain.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

L is for Lynx

L is for Lynx leafy

This 'L' monogram linocut features a lynx. This is an open edition print on Japanese kozo washi (or mulberry paper), Thai and other interesting papers. It is available in a variety of colours and some prints! Each sheet is 5.5 inches by 8 inches, or 14 cm by 21.6 cm.

The lynx can be one of four types of wildcat. This one is a Eurasian lynx native to European and Siberian forests. I've been a fan of the lynx since childhood. I recall writing a report on the subject in grade 4. In fact, I might have found said project in my mother's storage locker earlier this month (not to say I'm a complete pack-rat... but, this might have happened).

L is for Lynx obonaiL is for Lynx spot on khakiL is for Lynx yellowL is for Lynx spots

Also, a little aside. Some of you, like me, are fans of printmaking and appreciate the work involved in making a hand pulled print. Etsy recently reorganized its front page in an effort to facilitate browsing. The trouble is that Printmaking, formerly an obvious category, is now stuck in a subsection of Art labelled 'Prints and Posters'. Unfortunately, many people use the word 'print' to signify a reproduction. There's nothing wrong with reproductions - I have some giclée and archival prints which I enjoy. But they are entirely different from original artworks made labouriously by hand by printmakers, like relief prints, etchings, sérigraphs, lithographs, collographs, woodcuts, engravings and more. If you are an Etsy user, please add your two cents worth here. It's important that they hear that this is not a move which serves artists or art buyers. It might be particularly meaningful for them to receive feedback from buyers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Darwin on Galapagos

Darwin on Galapagos

I made a 2nd edition of my 'Darwin on Galapagos' block print on pale gray Japanese washi paper. Each sheet is 10.5 inches (26.7 cm) tall and 7 inches (17.8 cm) wide. This is one of the 2nd edition of 3.

"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

Madame Wu on Finch and Pea

Mme. Wu and the Violation of Parity

The blog The Finch and Pea, which bills itself as "The Public House for Science . . .

. . .in which Items of Interest and Curiosities of Nature are discussed employing the latest techniques in Logic and The Scientific Method for the furtherance of Human Erudition and the promotion of Critical Thought. "
A lot of important scientific thought and communication occurs in pubs, so why not on-line? A fellow Mad Scientist of Etsy, artist Michele Banks (who paints and does collage on scientific and medical themes) writes a column called "The Art of Science". Today, she's featured my linocut portrait of 'Madame Wu and the Violation of Parity'. Check out the post here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lise Meitner for Ada Lovelace Day!

AdaLovelaceIIToday is the fourth annual international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology, science and math, Ada Lovelace Day 2012 (ALD12). 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 about women in science and technology, whose accomplishments have all too often gone unrecognized or unacknowledged.

I made a new edition of my 'Ada, Countess Lovelace' print for the occassion. The print is in blue, indigo and dark silver water-based block printing ink on cream coloured Japanese kozo paper 12.5 inches x 10.5 inches (31.8 cm x 26.7 cm). There are 4 prints in this second edition. The first edition was printed on plum coloured paper.

This year, I would like to tell you about Lise Meitner. I made her portrait along with her explanation of nuclear fission. She was the first person to provide a theoretical explanation for nuclear fission and was an integral member of the experimental team as well, though her gender and her heritage interfered with her being properly acknowledged in late 30s Germany. Meitner is shown in dark silver ink with a neutron flying from her brow towards a uranium nucleus, and the ensuing chain reaction is shown in red. The print is in an edition of 6 printed on white Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper, 12.3 inches by 12.5 inches (31.2 cm by 31.8 cm).

Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was a world-class physicist who collaborated with chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Straßmann1 in the 1930s in Berlin. The team was investigating whether there were any stable elements beyond uranium, on the periodic table. They discovered that by bombarding the nucleus of uranium-235 with neutrons that they actually triggered it to fission, or break, into two nuclei of roughly half the size and some free neutrons! Hahn's chemistry allowed the startling discovery and identification of barium, but no explanation of the mechanism involved; Meitner's physics provided the explaination of how fission could be possible and its implications. Otto Hahn was awarded the 1945 Nobel prize for chemistry. Though Meitner won many accolades, the Nobel committee neglected her contribution, in one of the most blattant and eggregious instances of their overlooking women's scientific acheivements.

Hahn and Meitner's research was disrupted by WWII. Meitner was of Jewish heritage. Her Austrian citizenship provided her some protection prior to its annexation, when she had to make a daring escape via the Netherlands to a new home in Sweden, in 1938. Despite their seperation, Meitner and Hahn continued to work together, planning the experiments which lead to the discovery of fission at a meeting in Copehagen. Hahn and Straßmann performed the experiments and Hahn realized that the presence of barium could only make sense if the nuclei had split, but he needed Meitner's help to understand how this could be. Meitner was able to apply the latest physics, the liquid-drop model of the nucleus (as shown in my print), to explain how the absorption of an extra neutron could produce an unstable nucleus which split into two large pieces, the daughter nuclei, and more free neutrons. Most importantly she saw that the combined mass of the neutron and uranium-235 was larger than the products and that the 'missing mass' would all be transformed into vast amounts energy according to Einstein's famous equation E = mc². She also saw how the newly produced high-energy neutrons would in turn strike other uranium nuclei, leading to a chain reaction. She worked with her nephew, physicist Otto Frisch to develop this theory. In Germany in 1939, Hahn could not publish jointly with Meitner. Hahn and Straßmann submitted the team's results (that bombarding uranium with neutrons produced barium) for publication in 1938. Meitner and Frisch interpreted these results correctly as nuclear fission in Nature in 1939.

The physics community recognized that the huge energies produced by these fission chain reactions could be used to produce a bomb, and further, that expertise existed in Nazi Germany. Physicists on the Allied side, lead by Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner immediately worked to persuade Albert Einstein2 (whose fame would receive attention) to bring this danger to the attention of F.D. Roosevelt, which ultimately lead to the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. Meitner herself refused to be involved in weapons research or the Los Alamos project and declared, "I will have nothing to do with a bomb!"3 She never returned to Germany or her Austrian homeland, even after the war, making a life in Sweden and retiring to England. Her nephew Otto Frisch composed the inscription on her headstone. It reads "Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity."

Apart from her role in discovering and explaining nucleur fission, Meitner had many great acheivements. She was the only second woman to be granted a doctoral degree in physics by the University of Vienna, where she studied with the great Ludwig Boltzmann.4 She moved to Berlin and worked for Max Planck5 (who had previously refused to admit women) before beginning her 30-year long collaboration with Otto Hahn. Together with Hahn in 1917, she discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, for which she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences. That year, Meitner was given her own physics section at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry. (It's worth noting that she and Hahn were relegated to a basement lab because women had not been allowed in the building, and that she had to go to another building to find a woman's washroom). In 1926, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin. She was praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie". She visited the US in 1946, where she was hailed as a heroine and received the honour of the "Woman of the Year" by the National Press Club, many honorary doctorates and lectured at Princeton, Harvard and other US universities. She received the Max Planck Medal of the German Physics Society in 1949. Meitner was nominated to receive the Nobel prize three times. In 1966 Hahn, Fritz Straßmann and Meitner together were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. In 1997, the element 109 was named meitnerium in her honour. Today the Hahn-Meitner Institut in Berlin, craters on the Moon and on Venus, and a main-belt asteroid are all named in her honour.

(This post was made with information from Lise Meitner's wikipedia entry and Sime's biography. Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics by Ruth Sime is one of the best biographies I have ever read. I recommend it highly to anyone interested.)

1 Straßmann, incidentally, was hired by Hahn and Meitner at a time he could not be hired elsewhere in Germany. He had resigned from the Society of German Chemists when it became part of a Nazi-controlled public corporation and was blacklisted. Hahn and Meitner were able to make a position for him at half pay. He and his wife hid a Jewish friend in their apartment, during the war, at great personal risk to their family.

2 The irony is that Einstein had been a dedicated pacificist throughout his life. At the onset of WWI, Meitner had not been able to see his point of view. Her experience as a nurse handling X-ray equipment during WWI changed her attitudes about war. (Contrast this with Hahn's WWI work developing chemical warfare under Fritz Haber, and we return once again to the question of the scientist's ethical obligations. Haber, incidentally, died in exile in 1938, because of his own Jewish heritage). Einstein saw the Nazi threat as such that it warranted pursuing an Allied fission bomb to avoid being devastated by a Germany weapon. He, of course, later denounced using the bomb as a weapon and campaigned against further development of nuclear weapons.

3 Ruth Lewin Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (University of California Press, 1996), 305

4 Sime's biography made me a huge fan of Ludwig Boltzmann. He was a talented and kind man. He fought for his wife's right to study mathematics in the 1870s. He was a great teacher and dedicated mentor to his students, including Meitner. Tragically, he suffered from bipolar disorder and took his own life.

5 Planck's own wartime experience is quite the story. He worked hard to shield his employees at the KWG from open conflict with the Nazi regime, though he thought Hahn's suggestion of a public proclamation by scientists, against the treatment of their Jewish colleagues, would be futile. He helped secretly employ Jewish scientists and the blacklisted Straßmann. He held a memorial meeting for Fritz Haber in 1935. He was accused of being "a white jew" by Johannes Stark (Nobel Laureate and Nazi) for continuing to teach Einstein's theories. His own son Erwin, was implicated in the attempt made on Hitler's life in the July 20 plot, and was killed by the Gestapo. Though this and other personal tragedies made the end of his life very difficult, he survived to see a the Nazis defeated and lived to 1947.

Monday, October 8, 2012

British Columbia & Happy Thanksgiving

British Columbia

The symbols of British Columbia, its provincial flower, the Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttalli) and its animal, the Spirit Bear (also known as the Kermode bear, a white morph of the American Black Bear, Ursus americanus kermodei) cover the hand-carved map of BC in this linocut. The block was inked 'à la poupée' (with different colours, green and gold, in different areas) and printed by hand on lovely Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper. Each print is 23.5 cm by 31.8 cm (9.25" by 12.5"). The print is one of an edition of eight.

The lovely dogwood flowers thrive along the west coast, and can even be found aas far north as Haida Gwaii. The Pacific dogwood has been a symbol of British Columbia since 1956. Once protected it is now considered secure and not at risk of extinction. The same fate is hoped for the newest symbol of the province, the Spirit Bear. This colour morph of the Black Bear is due to recessive alleles common in the population. Genetically, this means they are more like human redheads than albinos. National Geographic estimates the spirit bear population at 400-1000 individuals. Because of their ghost-like appearance, "spirit bears" hold a prominent place in the oral stories of the First Nations people of BC. They were named after the Kermode Bear after Francis Kermode, former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, who researched the subspecies.

I was never lucky enough to spy a spirit bear in the temperate rainforest of Canada's west coast, but saw many dogwood. I was a bit torn when designing this linocut. The provincial bird is the Stellar's Jay, which was very common and a bird I saw quite regularly when I lived on Vancouver Island. In the end though, there is something magical about the Spirit Bear and it was on my 'to do' list of animals to depict in linocuts.

I hope everyone celebrating had a great Thanksgiving long weekend! I know Minouette loves any holiday which involves turkey. This is a photo RJH took two years ago. He titled it "Turkey Dazed". I hope this is how you are feeling, but not too much.


Saturday, October 6, 2012



I've followed up my home province print with the home province of my mother: Manitoba.
The provincial animal the bison and flower the prairie crocus (Anemone patens) cover the hand-carved map of Manitoba in this linocut. The block was inked 'à la poupée' (with different colours, pale violet, umber and brown, in different areas) and printed by hand on lovely Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper. Each print is 23.5 cm by 31.8 cm (9.25" by 12.5"). The print is one of an edition of seven.

It's no mystery how the bison could symbolize this prairie province. Manitoba is one of the few places where one can still find free-ranging herds of woods and plains bison. The early spring flower, Anemone patens, known as the "Prairie Crocus" was chosen by the school children as the floral emblem of the province in 1906. I imagined a bison roaming a field replete with prairie crocuses. I was sure to include Lake Winnepeg, Lake Manitoba through Lake Winnipegosis to Cedar Lake and even Reindeer Lake, because they are part of the arc of immense lakes extending from the Great Lakes which are cut into the fabric of this country.

Thursday, October 4, 2012



I've always been a big fan of map art - art made from maps, with maps, inspired by maps - and have recently seen several handmade items based on the shape of US states, and the Great Lakes. I noted both that Canada and its provinces are un- or underrepresented and that while the geometrical shape of a state can be interesting and graphic (and I can appreciate elegance in simplicity) it isn't really me. So the idea of making prints of Canadian provinces and territories, starting with my own, has been at the back of my mind for some time. To me, it always seemed that where I grew up was defined by the Great Lakes - perhaps because I've spent so much of my childhood driving from the shores of Lake Ontario to the mouth of Lake Superior and back. Both finding triliums in the woods and the haunting call of the loon have something of the mysterious to them, despite their familiarity and association with home for me. So covering my map of Ontario and the Great Lakes with our provincial symbols is obviously the way for me to go.

The block was inked 'à la poupée' (with different colours, black, green and yellow, in different areas) and printed by hand on lovely Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper. Each print is 23.5 cm by 31.8 cm (9.25" by 12.5"). The print is one of an edition of eight.