Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ursula Franklin for Ada Lovelace Day #ALD16

Ursula Franklin, linocut, 11" x 14" by Ele Willoughby, 2016
This year, to celebrate the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math, Ada Lovelace Day (ALD16), I am returning again to my first subject: Ursula Franklin (16 September 1921 – 22 July 2016). Every year since 2009, people have devoted the 2nd Tuesday in October to blogging about (and otherwise celebrating) the under-recognized and under-appreciated women who have made pivotal contributions to STEM throughout history, in the name of Countess Ada Lovelace. (I hope 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.)

A preliminary mock-up of one of the Phylo cards
in this new Women in Science and Engineering set
featuring my portrait of today's namesake: Ada Lovelace
I began participating in Ada Lovelace Day in 2010, and I knew immediately I should write about Ursula Franklin. For me she really personifies the goals of ALD; not only did she represent excellence in science and engineering, but she was a great, perhaps even visionary, thinker on the very role of technology in our society, as well as a fearless and tireless advocate for women in STEM, peace and social justice. Her research interests and achievements were clearly guided by her principles, including gathering evidence of the harmful health effects of radiation from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons to or her work on the political and societal impacts of support of the technologies and their use. When she died earlier this year, I wrote about her life, work and how she has been one of my heroes since I was too young to fully appreciate the importance of role models in my scientific career. Her influence as a roll model of women in physics and engineering here cannot be overstated. She was one of the most impressive people I have ever met. I got some encouragement from friends to do something I had long contemplated: add her portrait to my growing collection of scientists. When I finally sat down to do so this September, I was really tickled to open my email and receive a commission to do precisely that! I'm really pleased to say I'm going to be contributing some artwork to latest edition of the Phylo Project from Dave Ng and the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (the science education facility within the Michael Smith Laboratories, UBC): a trading card game about Women in Science and Engineering! Sometimes you get several hints of what work you should do next; this portrait's time clearly had arrived.

Franklin was born in Munich in 1921 and survived being interned by the Nazis. She received her PhD in physics from the Technical University of Berlin in 1948 and immigrated to Canada, where after a post-doc at U of T, she joined the faculty. She pioneered archeometry - the use of modern materials analysis in archeology, dating prehistoric artifacts made of metals and ceramics. In my portrait I include an image of an ancient Chinese ding vessel to represent both her metallurgical research and archeometry and her writing about "prescriptive" versus "holistic" technologies used in mass production versus technologies used by craft workers and artisans. Her science was always engaged with societal concerns. During the 60s she advocated for the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty, citing her studies of strontium-90 radioactive fallout found in children's teeth. Strontium-90 (90Sr) is called a "bone-seeker" because biochemically it behaves like calcium and when absorb it in our bodies what isn't excreted finds its way to our bones. Thus, this radioactive product of nuclear fission (for instance, in atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons) is particularly dangerous and can cause cancers. It decays by beta decay, giving off electrons, as shown by the child's tooth in my portrait. During the 70s she was part of the Science Council of Canada investigation of how we could better conserve resources and protect nature. She began to develop her ideas about complexities of modern technological society.

She consistently has stood up for her beliefs in peace and social justice. As a member of the Voice of Women (now called Canadian Voice of Women for Peace), she tried to persuade Parliament to disengage Canada from supplying any weapons to the US during the Vietnam war, to shift funding from weapons research to preventative medicine, to withdraw from NATO and disarm. She later fought to allow conscientious objectors to redirect part of their income taxes from military uses to peaceful purposes (though the Supreme Court declined to hear the associated case). She joined other retired female faculty in a class action law suit against the University of Toronto for claiming it had been unjustly enriched by paying women faculty less than comparably qualified men. The University settled in 2002 and acknowledged that there had been gender barriers and pay discrimination.

As an applied scientist, her writings on technology benefit from the insight of an insider, but her priorities are justice and peace and she critiques and analyses technology in this light. She does not view technology as neutral; it is a comprehensive system that includes methods, procedures, organization, "and most of all, a mindset". It can be work-related or control-related, holistic and prescriptive. Franklin argues that the dominance of prescriptive technologies in modern society discourages critical thinking and promotes "a culture of compliance". She investigated the relationship between technology and power. She investigated how we interact with communication technologies and advocated for the right to silence - long before our contemporary concern with these issues.

Many of her articles and speeches on pacifism, feminism, technology and teaching are collected in The Ursula Franklin Reader (2006). A nod to her pacifism and feminism is built into the structure of her portrait which encompasses the symbols for peach and women in the negative space. Franklin is one of many respected scholars and thinkers to have delivered a series of Massey Lectures, in 1989. Hers were gathered and published as The Real World of Technology. She has been recognized for her work in many ways, including receiving the Order of Canada, Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for promoting the equality of girls and women in Canada and the Pearson Medal of Peace for her work in advancing human rights. She was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 2012. Locals may know the Ursula Franklin Academy, a Toronto high school, named in her honour. I think this University, city, country and in fact, society at large were made a better place because Ursula Franklin was a part of it. So, though she has received this recognition, I think she should be a household name, so that's why I am happy to add her to my portrait pantheon of scientists and write about her again this Ada Lovelace Day 2016. I also think that it is very apt to combine making her portrait using holistic technologies of the artisan and sharing it through more prescriptive digital technologies with the world.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Etsy: Made in Canada Toronto III

It's me at the minouette table (photo: Peter Power)
Central atrium with suspended
critters by LoveLetteringToronto (photo: Peter Power)

So we made it through our third year of Etsy: Made in Canada Toronto at MaRS! We had a great turn-out, and despite some signage snafus and unplanned early morning musical tables (like musical chairs, but with craft show locations and no music), it went really well and together with my fellow organizers we pulled this feat off once again! This takes months of work and planning to make an event like this happen and really I just want to sleep for a week. You can read my post about the show here - but let me reiterate my thanks especially to my team of organizers, our volunteers, staff, workshop teachers and everyone who came out to see the show!

I put my marine geophysicist's skills of "how to lower things on ropes" and tie proper knots to work suspending our decor with fishing line from catwalks on the second and third floor of the soaring MaRS atrium (pro tip: don't look down or get yourself locked in an elevator) on the Thursaday evening prior to Etsy's Press Preview on Friday. Etsy wanted me to meet their new COO, who visited the show on Saturday and bought a 'Raccoon Greetings' print for her office, which was pretty nifty.

My parliament of 150 owl linocuts I made for swag bags!
Preparing for this show is why I've been pretty quiet here; in recent months it's really taken all of my time not spent caring for Gabriel. Our team had some bad luck this year, with members and their loved ones having a variety of health problems, which meant that we had fewer people doing more work. It's really imperative that people do put their own health first, and I'm glad that those who needed to do so stepped back. But, that's left me with the unenviable role of finding and picking up the slack and taking on a bit too much. I need a better approach in the future. I got off easy with one minor trip to Emerg, having cut right through a fingernail chopping onions (because I was over tired). They glued me back together, gave me a tetanus shot and sent me home. Others had far more serious issues to contend with... but all of the above are the signal that things will need to change as we go forward.

Being interviewed by What She Said about Etsy: Made in Canada
In the lead-up to the show I did get some exciting press. I was interviewed on What She Said (which has a large listenership here in Ontario) about Etsy: Made in Canada (and you can watch the whole thing on YouTube at the link). I was also on CBC radio's Here and Now. They did a great little feature not just about the show, but since their Arts reporter was intrigued by the idea of a geophysicist/printmaker, about me and what I do!

In less MIC-related press, I was interviewed by the CBC for the local newscast earlier this summer about the impending (and mercifully avoided) postal strike and its potential impact on small businesses like mine. They also took a clip of that - and to our surprise - played it on the national radio news the next morning. I've been so busy, I didn't even mention that here.

Also, early this summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Gloria and Caroline of RogueStories, a series about people who have made unexpected bends in their career path, especially women entrepreneurs. Check out the great article they published about me.

Now... I'm going to go take it easy for a while! Happy autumn all!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ursual Franklin: physicist, thinker, feminist, pacifist, technology theorist, educator, role model

Ursula Franklin at work (via the Fisher Library, U of T)

Saddened to learn of Ursula Franklin's death. She was a hero of mine - a role model from before I was old enough to know I needed role models. As an undergrad in physics at U of T (one of a grand total of 2 female specialists in my year), I had zero female physics profs and she was the first female physicist I ever met. She has been a faculty member in Materials Science & Engineering (the first female engineering professor at the University). She was a fearless advocate for women in STEM and astonishingly incisive and astute. When I was a grad student, she joined a class action lawsuit against the University for paying women faculty less than comparably qualified men; they settled and acknowledged there had been gender barriers and pay discrimination.

She was perhaps best known for discovering radioactivity in the teeth of Canadian children and her subsequent advocacy for the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty. She was such a strong voice telling us that both that technology isn't neutral, but also for what we now like to call 'evidence-based decision-making'. She reminded us that in advocacy it isn't enough to say no; why is a much stronger argument. She could have said I'm a pacifist, stop testing nuclear arms, but instead she showed unequivacally that such tests were impacting our children and needed to stop.

She also pioneered archeometry (the use of modern materials analysis in archeology, dating prehistoric artifacts made of metals and ceramics). She always put technology into human context in her science and her writing. She was a great thinker on the social implications of technology.

She was likewise fearless in standing up for peace and social justice; this was a formidable woman who survived being interned by the Nazis. I wrote more about her for Ada Lovelace Day in 2010 here. She was a great scientist, thinker, Canadian, human, and I was lucky to have met her.

When I was expecting Ursula was on my list of girl names because of her.

She's long been on my 'to do' list of portraits of scientists.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


This is my cat Minouette (1996-2016) with her tiny likeness. She was my first real pet and was with me for almost two decades, which is a good, long, life for a cat. She moved from Toronto to BC and back with me and made friends along the way. RJH says he knew he had to pass muster with her if he had any hope with me, and his lap became her favourite place to sit. I was amazed at her patience with Gabriel (as babies are sometimes not as gentle as they intend, or think cat tails are for pulling), but she loved him too. Saturday was a hard day; she let us know it was her time and we had to say goodbye. She was tiny, and fearsome, and clever. I loved her very much. If you've ever wondered, I named everything I do online after her. We miss her already.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Moss Piglets and Cameras - Some Etsy News

Voting ends tomorrow! If you haven't yet had a chance, please take a moment to vote for my mighty Tardigrade for the #EtsyAwards!

Shoot: Canon Ftb Classic Camera linocut by minouette
Right now, Canon is partnering with Etsy! As part of their #EtsyXCanon promotion, Canadian Team Captains can share a promo code which adds a special quarterly promotional discount to your overall sale price on purchases in the Canon eStore! So if you are in the market for any Canon cameras or other products, be sure to take advantage by applying my promotional code at the checkout: ETSYXCANON1689

NB: promo code only works on the Canadian Canon website

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tardigrade for Etsy Awards!

I hope you're having a fabulous Victoria Day! I had a wonderful surprise this morning. I've been selected as one of the @EtsyCA #EtsyAwards finalists! My linocut Tardigrade stuffie is in the running in the Kids & Baby category!


 I hope you'll vote for me! You only get one vote, but you'll want to support the nearly indestructible, microscopic water bear (or if that isn't cute enough, the moss piglet). Ever finalist is in the running for the Community Choice award, worth $10,000!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bees & Stars: Opening, Book Launch and Album Cover

The 'Bees of Toronto' and the page featuring my bee art
It's been a busy week! Yesterday I had the unusual experience of a book launch in the afternoon followed by an art opening in the evening. Quite coincidentally, it was a bee-themed day. The City of Toronto hosted their official launch of their the latest titles in the biodiversity series, including the 'Bees of Toronto' at City Hall. In the evening, 'Bees (& the Birds)' opened at Graven Feather gallery. I've also been busy with meetings with Etsy and our Etsy: Made in Canada venue as well as copious behind-the-scenes planning. And, much to my surprise, I licensed my Taurus constellation linocut image as the album art to a Hungarian indie band!

I might not have gone to City Hall, but I was tickled by the idea of having a day where I could swan around from book launch to art opening, and was intrigued to meet some of the others involved in this great series of books. I think the City does have reason to be proud that they have manage to bring together a this collaboration with natural historians at the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as local academic scientists (particularly from York University for the bee book), the Toronto Public Library and the TDSB, as well as artists, writers and other contributors. I got a chance to meet some of the researchers involved, as well as artist Charmaine Lurch. When we got to talking, I figured out that I have seen her bee sculptures at Nuit Blanche. Because the world is very small, we also figured out that we have a couple of friends in common in Sarah Peebles (who got me involved in this book in the first place) and Christine Pensa (who curated the bee show as well as being part of our TEST & Made in Canada team). Charmaine ended up walking with me from City Hall to Graven Feather and we talked about balancing family life with working in the arts, whether my experience avoiding corrosion at the bottom of the ocean could help her make more weather-proof wire sculptures and some of the great projects she's working on including an illustrated historical novel set in Toronto, and bring STEAM teaching into the schools using both her bee works and knowledge and also talking about Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells.

Some of the biologists who were at City Hall also came to the art show and I heard that Prof. Packer (who leads the bee lab at York) approved of the message of my piece. It was very crowded so while I managed to speak with his wife (a bird researcher) he actually gave a friendly thumbs up from across the room.

Some of the 'Bee (& the Birds)' show including Japneet Kaur (or Story of a Seed)'s ceramic plates and my mixed media 'Solitary bees don't dance'. If you aren't following Japneet's instagram you are missing out - and I don't say that lightly! Her drawings and ceramics are magic and her feed is filled with whimsical stop-motion animations.

Some more favourites: at the bottom left is my friend Michelle Reaney's recognizable bold, graphic style and the four tiny paintings on the right look like trails made by bees by bookbinder Carolyn of Sprout's Press Designs. Oh... and the one which looks like a black and white photo is in fact drawn in ballpoint! I must find the artist's name because it's the most amazing thing. There were many others I didn't get a chance to photograph well. Don't miss Christine's own work, all the fabulous prints (relief prints, serigraph and etchings), and clever textile works by Michelle and Katie Sorrel.  

My Taurus constellation linocut in the album art for 'Lay Low Butterfly' by Anton Vezuv
Last week I was contacted by singer Gyulai István of the Hungarian indie band Anton Vezuv. They wanted to use my Taurus constellation for their cover art for the new album Lay Low Butterfly. We had quite a lot of conversation back and forth, because they were working on a very short time line and sometimes international wire transfers can be more complicated than you would imagine. Anyway, I checked out their music (some of which is in English and is perhaps what you would imagine) and liked what he had to say about my art, including
yes, well, bull is usually visualized with head down. like your artwork. because bulls are fightin like this. BUT, with heads down they look kinda sad and vulnerable also. so for me this figure show strength and sensitivity. that's why I wanted a bull figure, and our producer found your artwork somehow, and it has a cool style, kinda handmade-vintage-illustration stuff which fits to the art concept.
so I'm pleased to be involved, and I love the idea of my art making its way out into the world and into unexpected places, like schools in Toronto, or albums in Budapest.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dance of the Honeybee

Honeybee Dance, 9.25" x 12.5", linocut by Ele Willoughby, 2016
Again this year, my friend Christine Pensa of Art That Moves will be curating a pollinator themed 'Bees (& the Birds)' show, May 18 - 29, at Graven Feather Gallery. This was my instigation to make my latest linocut print, though I've been thinking about the diagram which inspired it for years.

Years ago I read the most marvellous speculative essay by Ursula K. Le Guin, 'The Author of the Acadia Seeds' (written in 1974) about therolinguistics, the scholarly study of communication in non-human animals. There is translation of fragmentary ant texts, a discussion of a glossary of Penguin and its assorted dialects with comparisons to Dolphin and other Cetacean languages, Fish texts and so forth. The essay culminates with an editorial calling for the study of possible plant communication or art... but warning, "For it is simply not possible to bring the critical and technical skills appropriate to the study of Weasel murder mysteries*, or Batrachian erotica, or the tunnel sagas of the earthworm, to bear on the art of the redwood or the zucchini," - to give you a taste of this wondrous fiction. What I particularly love is that it is written not as science fiction so much as speculative science, much in the same way that I am trying to write about my imaginary miniature linocut menagerie in progress.  And of course, in the 40 some odd years since Le Guin wrote her essay, there has been a lot of actual scientific progress on animal communication - and in fact language. Not only are there non-human primates who have been taught to sign, but there is evidence that animals have words (including evidence of prairie dogs who "describe" humans by size and clothing colour, or gibbons who have specific words for cloud leopard or snake, and of course the incredible complexity observed in whale song, as explained in this great blog I stumbled upon while trying to recall the name of Le Guin's essay). For that matter, there has been significant progress in studying plant communication too!

You may have heard about honeybee communication and how they pass information from one another through dance. One of the sorts of dance is the subject of my print. A worker bee can return to the hive and through the way it aligns itself with respect to the sun and the honeycomb, the waggles and loops of its movement convey information on the location in terms of distance and direction of tasty flower pollen sources to its fellow bees.

'Bees of Toronto' and description and images of some of my bee art.
I am considering making a more complex piece which incorporates this print along with other types of bees, to submit to the show. Part of my motivation is to "think locally". Honey bees are not native to North America. While the Colony Collapse Disorder is of great concern and honey bees are very popular, if our aim is to protect pollinators, we should perhaps focus attention on native bees. In fact, as York University's Prof. Sheila Colla points out, European honey bees are in fact "fierce competitors for pollen and nectar and can transmit diseases to our wild bees" and that we should encourage biodiversity of pollinators for ecosystem health, rather than encouraging the honey bee. I've been thinking about all this particularly since I recently received copies of 'Bees of Toronto,' which has been in the works for a few years now.  Part of their ongoing series about biodiversity in the city, it includes information about the hundreds of bee species who live here, where and when you can see them and what you can do to help our beleaguered pollinators. It also includes some cultural history of bees in Toronto and features the work of local artists (visual art, sound and poetry) inspired by bees, including my linocut and multimedia bee series. I especially love the gorgeous photos from the bee researchers at York University. If you're interested in our urban wildlife and conservation you should check this series out! Full pdf of released volumes can be found online. Complete with introduction by Margaret Atwood (and I am chuffed to think my words are published in the same book as hers).

*This also makes me happy because as a child, my mother kept my brothers and I occupied by telling us stories on long car trips, and I'll always remember the lengthy gopher murder mystery she spun as we slowly crossed the Prairies.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

SciArt, women and wunderkammers

my linocut portraits of women in STEM, left to right, top to bottom:
Hypatia, Skłodowska-Curie, Nightingale, Atkins, Leavitt, Jemison, Merian and Lamarr

my linocut portraits of women in STEM, left to right, top to bottom:
Anning, Wu, Lovelace, Lehmann, Kovalevski, Tharp, Bell (Burnell), Meitner, Herschel

I'm sharing my women in STEM portraits for International Women's Day today. We're fresh off the second annual #SciArt tweetstorm, which is rapidly becoming a fabulous institution on Twitter. For the second year, the first week of March has been a celebration of the place where art and science intersect - everything from technical drawings and data visualizations to comics to fine art in all media to textiles and fashion and basically, whatever you can imagine. It's a great way to find like-minded creators and share your work, brought to us by the great team at the Symbiartic blog on Scientific American.

Like other participants I'm really thankful for this opportunity to connect with a greater audiance. This just blows my mind. I've shared my leaf prints before and usually get great feedback, a few favorites and retweets, but during the tweetstorm this was the response:

Though my friend @faunalia likes to think I'm some sort of craft celebrity, I'm not remotely famous and 107 retweets and 130 favorites are astronomical numbers for me! The tweetstorm brought my art to the eyes of chemists and plant scientists. It really has the power to help bring people together and forge a SciArt community.

Some SciArt from TEST teammates: The Vexed Muddler,
Slashpile Designs, nanopod, The Chemist Tree, Honey Thistle,
HOPSCOTCH, Tanya Harrison Photo and Wild Whimsy Woolies
During February, the Toronto Etsy Street Team did a daily #WeBeTEST Instagram challenge, and that too was great for community building. On Valentine's we shared some love of our teammates work and amongst other things, I wrote about other science-artists on the team. I've long been a fan of the otherworldly jewellery and sculpture metal and glasswork of Tosca from nanopod. You can see that Haeckel is a influence to her too, along with myth and some of the more astounding natural history. You can find radiolarians, jellyfish and other biomorphic forms in her work. She's decided to add a some retail to her studio and teaching space Nanotopia (322 Harbord St, at Grace). She's invited Honey Thistle and Never Wares and I to also sell a cabinet of curiosity of items, along with her works, minerals, fossils, bones, taxidermy and other strange ephemera! So I brought her some small prints of weird (real and imaginary) creatures as well as some stuffed animals (extant and extinct) today. Next week, two women from Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum and Evolution store will be in town and teaching Entomology 101 and Jackalope and Squirrel taxidermy mounts at Nanotopia. The retail space is planned to coincide with their visit March 11 -13. If you're in the neighbourhood you should go check it out! To be honest, this is pretty well my definition of cool and it was all I could do not to squeal with delight and act like I'm a professional grown-up doing something normal and every day, because how cool is that?

This is a photo I took of the window of Evolution, NYC, June 18, 2011
The Morbid Anatomy blog, by the way,  is somewhere you could loose hours of your life if you too are inspired by the intersection of art and science, or love magpie&whiskeyjack but wish it were more gothic.

Tosca said she would like more stuffed things and I think I really must make tardigrades. By the way, I printed a linocut tardigrade last week. If you don't know, these mighty microscopic creatures of 0.5 mm (0.02") maximum in length are found in environments from mountaintops to the deep sea, from tropical rain forests to the Antarctic, and can survive conditions leathal to most other animals including: temperature ranges from near absolute zero 1 K (−458 °F; −272 °C) to about 420 K (300 °F; 150 °C); roughly six times the pressures found in the deepest oceanic trenches on Earth; ionizing radiation at dosages hundreds of times what would kill a mere human; the vaccuum of space. That's right; these animals have been to outer space and lived to tell the tale (or, at least lived and had someone tell the tale). The can go without food for 30 years, dehydrate, and then just rehydrate and go about their lives.
Tardigrade, linocut 8.5" x 11" on Japanese paper, Ele Willoughby, 2016

Tardigrades have short, plump legs and are prevalent in mosses and lichens and feed on plant cells, algae, and small invertebrates, hence their second nickname in case "water bear" isn't cute enough for you: the moss piglet. Tardigrades have been around at least 530 million years to the Cambrian. Don't you think it would make a cuddly plushie?

When you're done catching up on the #SciArt hashtag on Twitter, be sure to look up #5womenartists - another great one for this #WomensHistoryMonth. It occurs to me that all the work I'm writing about here today are all by women artists, and if you like what I do, you'll love their work too.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Snowflake Beetle

Snowflake Beetles, linocut with chine collé 18 cm x 18 cm, Ele Willoughby 2016
This is a whimsical mini lino block print of a couple of Snowflake Beetles a widely unknown, and quite possibly, completely imaginary creature. These miniscule insects are camouflaged to match their environment, the fresh fallen snow. Each of their hexagonal shields (the elytra) are disguised as snowflakes. Through an extraordinary instance of biomimicry, each pattern is as unique; it is believed that no two Snowflake Beetles are the same.*

Both their minute size and their successful camouflage adaptation have long hid the Snowflake Beetle from discovery. The Coleopterans include more species than any other order, and the diversity of beetles is very wide. Yet, the Snowflake Beetle is exceptional in several ways. At a typical size of 1.5 m (0.06"), they belong to the Ptiliidae, a highly diverse yet poorly known group of minute beetles, and are amongst the smallest beetles anywhere in the world. Like other ptiliids they have feathery wings and are colourless to white throughout their lifecycle. But unlike any other beetles, they thrive in high latitudes, high altitudes and polar regions where snow is abundant. Other arthopods do live in snow, including mites, snow fleas and some spiders, but insects and beetles in particular were previously unknown in such cold conditions. It is believed that they make a warm little burrow or igloo in the snow and farm fungus for food. Like aquatic beetles, it is believed they hold a pocket of air between their abdomen and elytra (the snowflake shield) to breathe when "diving" in snow.

*It should be noted that the adage "no two snowflakes are alike" is in fact just an adage. It is virtually impossible to prove the non-existence of any naturally occuring snowflake twins. Simple hollow collumn snowflakes are quite common and observers do report (subjectively) identical flakes. Essentially identical snowflakes - even complex ones with hexagonal plate symmetry and elaborate dendrites - have been produced in the lab. While photographic evidence of naturally occurring identical snowflakes may be lacking, it's actually unlikely that they never occur. So, strictly speaking it is more precise to say that Snowflake Beetles are as variable in pattern as snowflakes in nature. Familiar snowflake forms including hexagonal plates, triangular patterns, 12-point star patterns, sectored plates, radiating dendrites, simple stars, stellar dendrites and fern-like stellar dendrites have all been observed on Snowflake Beetle shields. The six-fold symmetry, as in snowflakes themselves, is generally not perfect... though it may appear so at a glance.

An aside: Okay... the joy of my producing my "quite possibly imaginary" cryptozoology creature series is in inventing the fictional science and I would love to produce a book of them where I never explicitly stated this is SF. The point is to make a sort of scientific pastiche. The reader isn't literally supposed to be hoodwinked**... but needs to suspend disbelief to enjoy it. But, allow me to stop being coy and tell you a bit about the process of creating creatures. Hitting the balance of 'not quite plausible enough to fool' but 'real enough for us all to pleasurably pretend it's out there' is harder than I imagined, for an unexpected reason. Namely, the animal kingdom is a hell of a lot weirder and more varied than most of us know. For instance, I can safely assume that my far-out hybrids, like the Cactibou, Winged Walrus and Mandriltee, will be recognized as unreal animals. Though, hybrids are more common than I realized when I started this project. Merely playing with scale, habitat and amping up more unusual skills like biomimicry on the other hand, may not be enough. I think I inadvertently fooled someone with my Iceberg Squid. Likewise, I imagined the Snowflake Beetle, only to later learn that, of course, there are arthopods who live in snow... luckily for me, they happen to have the wrong number of legs to be insects or beetles in particular. I shouldn't be too surprised. A recent study which got a lot of press, showed that even our homes are complex biomes filled with thousands of insects and other arthopods. They're everywhere! Sometimes, like here, I rely on one peculiar, someone would say magical, attribute to indicate that the animal in question is "quite possibly imaginary". In this case, the idea that each one has its own pattern, as unique as a snowflake, may be the only thing which is unlikely enough to be untrue. Other "facts" are indeed true of existing beetles, including the surprising act of fungus farming or holding air bubbles under their elytra wing covering to breathe if submerged. The beetle igloo though might also be a tip-off.

**Friends will tell you I'm generally horrified when anyone is hoodwinked by pseudoscience, whatever its intentions.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Brains & Owls in Pantaloons

Burrowing Owl, linocut 5.5" x 7" by Ele Willoughby, 2016
One of the things I want to do this year is participate in some new (to me) print exhibits and exchanges. BC based printmaker Lori Dean Dyment and I were discussing on FB the yearly Chinese New Year exhibits and print exchanges held by PROOF Studio Gallery. We weren't sure if they were going to do one this year (the call for submissions for their Year of the Monkey show came one only recently*) and she suggested we both participate in Leftovers, a print exchange hosted by Wigtip Press. I was very flattered that she said she'd love to do an exchange together, because I think her prints are really quite magical and you should go have a look at her portfolio. Also, I had hear of Leftovers which has been growing in size year by year. The idea is that printmakers can make tiny prints, no larger than 5" x 7", and use of all the scraps of precious papers we've been hoarding. They have multiple exhibits of all the tiny prints and auction off prints from hunger relief (with funds going to the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force). They invite printmakers to choose any subject, but suggest that food or hunger might be appropriate.

Thinking of you, linocut by Ele Willoughby, 2016
I thought about that for a while and I had no inspiration. Whenever I thought about hunger, what came to mind were all-too-real images from the news, of starving people in Syria (though there are starving people in many other places too). It was not a topic I wanted to live with intimately, while composing a print. So, I took them at their word that all subjects were welcome and looked for something which was a little more in my wheelhouse, so to speak. Then I saw an image of a juvenile burrowing owl who appeared to be wearing pantaloons. And while fluffy-legged owlets might not be as serious seeming a topic as hunger, I am able to celebrate the beauty and whimsy of wildlife (and perhaps bring some attention to how endangered burrowing owls have become on the Canadian prairie) while helping some fellow printmakers raise some funds to combat hunger in their community.

Every year I print a Valentine. This year I also chose to revisit an old brain block by carving a second block, so a one colour print could become a two colour print. Cause love isn't really about hearts at all, is it? It's about our minds and brains. Plus, brainy Valentines are great for zombie (or anatomy) lovers.

If you're reading my blog, pretend to look surprised on the 14th, husband.

Hou: The Monkey, linocut by Ele Willoughby 2008
I do enjoy the PROOF Chinese New Year prints shows and plan to submit my Monkey this year, and perhaps select a few random Chinese Zodiac animals for their print exchange.

*Due date for submissions is February 15th, 2016 for their
15th & FINAL International Print Exhibition and Exchange
Celebrating The Chinese Year of the MONKEY 2016

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dave Pillow

The one and only Neigh Horse
Last night, wishing to spare our neighbours from the yowling and comfort our seemingly scared but actually sly, beloved tiny tyrant, we let the baby into our bed at 2 am, where he proceeded to squirm and flail, hitting each parent in the face. He insisted on going to the bathroom. He amused himself at length by tickling his ticklish father. He requisitioned my pillow, and named it "Dave". Why Dave? I have no idea. Sadly, Dave was not needed for sleeping, but in order to examine his pocket (i.e. the pillow case). Also, we were offered a running commentary on his all too audible flattulance. BIG toot! I'm hopeful tonight will be less eventful, though he asked for Dave Pillow before bed.

I've been meaning to tell you all about how he learns language, but this anecdote sort of tells you why my blogging has decreased. Some days you just drink coffee until you are able to make it to nap or bedtime.

He's quite the little talker. He's been learning to speak over the last year. At his last appointment with the pediatrician they forgot to ask me to fill in a survey about development. The doctor said she really wasn't worried; they wanted to know if your two year old could string together three words and Gabriel had not ceased talking since she had arrived. I loved signs of extrapolation, when last summer, for instance, he would say things that were logical, but wrong, so he clearly had inferred words, rather than heard them (like "mans" insted of men). Now, I am particularly enjoying seeing him invent and name things. Many toys had utilitarian names, because his parents had to be able to identify and describe them (like Puppy, Monkey and Dinosaur). Lately though, he's named his own toys. A stuffed rabbit at his birthday was instantly Peter Rabbit. A Christmas monster is now Smelly Fred (after the Denis Lee poem). The rocking horse his father built him is Neigh Horse. Amazingly, a blue shark from blythechild was named Rocky Go Shark. But Dave Pillow is the first named, random, inanimate object. I didn't give it to him. You gotta draw the line somewhere. Dave is mine.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

COSMIC turtles

A graphic cosmic timeline, from the
Big Bang to the present day
(Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)
This year, to coincide with PrintAustin, Art.Science.Gallery is hosting COSMIC, a show of prints about "Origin of the Universe. Evolution of the Universe. String Theory. Dark Matter. Dark Energy. Multiverse. Unification of Space + Time. Our Solar System. Cultural Cosmology." I mean, how could I resist? I've been working in every spare moment to produce two brand new prints for the show. (As it happens, most of my astronomy related prints have appeared in previous exhibits there, so I needed new cosmological material).

My first instinct, the first images I imagined were something like the NASA spacetime diagram shown, which is a graphical representation of a lot of the major concepts of cosmology: the Big Bang, Inflation, the formation of galaxies and so forth and even dark energy and our current accelerated expansion... It's a great use of imagery to communicate science, but it's far too literal. It's a diagram, not a piece of art. So I turned to the figurative, imaginative, metaphorical, to avoid the trap of the literal.

Turtles, All the Way Down, 11" x 14" (27.9 cm x 35.6 cm)
linocut with chine-collé by Ele Willoughby, 2016
In some cultures there are origin myths explaining that the (apparently flat) Earth is in fact supported on the back of the World Turtle (occassionally in conjunction with other beasts). In cosmology - or the astrophysics of the origins of our Universe - there is an expression "turtles all the way down" which relates to a well-known anecdote, and metaphor for the problem of infinite regress. There are many versions of the anecdote. It appears, famously, in Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, amongst other sources. The story goes that a physicist, after explaining the origins of our planet, is confronted by a disgruntled audience member who claims this is nonsense. The Earth is, according to him or her, supported by a great turtle. When the physicist asks about what supports the turtle, the answer is a larger turtle, of course. When the physicist persists and asks what supports this next turtle, why, it's "turtles, all the way down!" of, course. The same problem in epistemology is known as the Münchhausen trilemma, after after the story of Baron Munchausen who claimed to have pulled himself and his horse out of the mire by pulling his own hair, in the ultimate example of bootstrapping. (Incidentally, bootstrapping is a favorite tool of physicists, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, is one of my favorite films).

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: 'What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.' The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, 'What is the tortoise standing on?' 'You're very clever, young man, very clever,' said the old lady. 'But it's turtles all the way down!'
— Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1988

I've illustrated this expression with a variety of wonderful turtle species using collaged or chine-collé papers to show their various colours. From the top we have an eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), a black pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii), a painted batagur (Batagur borneoensis), a Oaxaca mud turtle (Kinosternon oaxacae), a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the hint of something larger.

Those who've known me a long time will know that I've illustrated this concept before, I love turtles, am obsessed with origin myths and am rather found of zaratans. I am now wondering what, if anything, is the difference between a zaratan and an aspidochelone (incidentally, also encounted by none other than the Baron Munchausen, of course)?

The second piece I've submitted for COSMIC is Noh Spacetime. So it's metaphors all the way down.
Ele Willoughby, 'Noh Spacetime', linocut 12" x 12", 2015

Friday, January 1, 2016

Spacetime, Noh & New Year

 Happy New Year! I hope you had a great New Year's Eve to launch a fabulous new year! Personally, it was a bit quiet; I spent my evening looking after my little guy (who is under the weather), keeping an eye on my feisty, elderly diabetic cat (who had some cat medical drama this week, but who, fingers crossed, may actually be able to come off her daily insulin injections) and printmaking in my pyjamas. My husband was working the late shift... though he magically did arrive in time for us to greet midnight together.

2015 was definitely not my favourite year. I'm old enough to know that the challenging times come and go and there will be a time beyond them. My hope for our next year, is that it is less stressful for us all, and any lessons it has to offer are gentler. Health, happiness, love and adventure for everyone.

I suppose I have been thinking a bit about space and time. Inspired by Art.Science.Gallery's upcoming printmaking show about cosmology, and wishing to avoid being to literal (my first instinct is to produce the sort of diagram you might see in a textbook, rather than art), I finally took a crazy idea from my head and put it on paper. It's all about Noh and spacetime.
Ele Willoughby, 'Noh Spacetime', linocut 12" x 12", 2015
I've tried to be succinct, but I realize, to do so, you would have to happen to have several of my interests in common, and read the same books and so forth. So, here goes nothing. If this is gobledegook to you, please feel free to ask questions!

This is a linocut print on 12" x 12" (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm) Japanese paper with collaged or chine-collé gold paper, of Noh masks on a spacetime diagram. The masks shown are a woman (Onna-men, a young girl Ko-omote mask), man (Otoko-men, specifically a warrior Heida mask) and a demon (Onryo, specifically a jealous Hannya mask).

Years ago I stumbled upon a book about Noh in a used bookstore. I collect masks and am interested in Japanese culture, so I bought, 'Noh, The Classical Theatre' by Yasuo Nakamura. I was very surprised to read how the author described the difference between the men and women characters and the supernatural "beings not of this world" in Phantasmal Noh. The humans live in a 3D world and the otherworldly characters like demons live in a 4D world. As a physicist, I know that we all actually live in a three spatial dimensions with a 4th dimension of time; this would mean that the supernatural Noh characters have access to a 5th dimension - 4 spatial dimensions and time. What surprised me even more, was the explanation of this 4th spatial dimension of spirits which is "not for the purpose of setting up positions in time and space as we know them". Nakamura explains by way of analogy, and his analogy is almost identical to that used by Edwin Abbott in his 1884 satirical novella 'Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions'. This strange little geometrical parable of a book gained fame after Einstein had published his theories of Special and then General Relativity. In hindsight, Abbott's book, which tells the story of how flat shapes one day encounter a sphere, seems like it is foretelling how we in our 3D world are in fact embedded in a 4D reality, and teaching us to think about higher dimensions outside our experience. Both 'Flatland' and 'Noh, The Classical Theatre' explain higher dimensions by imagining first linear creatures trapped on a line and how 2D creatures on a plane could in fact be free to move around them, and then proceeding to describe planar creatures encountering a 3D creature and how its freedom of movement would seem supernatural.

So, I've shown the Noh masks on a spacetime diagram. Special relativity tells us that we can't separate space and time and our world is actually part of a 4 dimensional spacetime continuum. It also tells us that while speed is relative to your frame of reference, the speed of light called c (about 3.00×108 m/s, or 299 792 458 m/s) is the universal speed limit. Nothing can go faster. So to envision this 4D world, we use spacetime diagrams. There's no easy way to draw 4 dimensions on a flat 2D surface, so we use the trick of showing time as the vertical axis, and only showing 2 of the 3 spatial axes on the horizontal plane. Where the axes meet is here and now! Everything below the plane is the past. Everything above the horizontal plane is the future. Everything we know is limited to a volume of spacetime known as a "light cone". This is the cone on the diagram. The slope of the cone gives speed (specifically it's the inverse of the slope, or the distance in space divided by the time); wishing to avoid extra math, we simply scale our units of time such that c = 1. So, the cone makes a 45 degree angle with the vertical and horizontal axes. I've shown the light cone as if it is filled with stars, because remember, it represents everything as we know it, the observable universe. Everything which can possibly have affected us in the past, now, and everything we can possibly affect in the future. Any object or thing or person or planet or what have you has a lifeline - the line it traces through space and time within the lightcone. The slope of the lifelines can never be flater than the lightcone, or the speed can never be greater than c, the speed of light. For the Noh masks, the dotted lines are their lifeline. The man and woman are together and here and now. The woman was a young girl in the past. The man will be a warrior. All the white space outside the light cone is what physicists call "Elsewhere". Elsewhere is unreachable; you would have to be able to go at superluminary speeds - faster than the speed or light - or have access to higher dimensions. So the demon does precisely that; her lifeline goes much too fast and in and out of elsewhere!

Incidentally, according to some flavours of modern cosmology or string theory there may in fact be more than 4 dimensions. So perhaps our Phantasmal Noh characters have access to these dimensions, or maybe they are tachyons - postulated particles with imaginary mass which can go faster than the speed of light. Certainly, this classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century, comes complete with characters not limited by causality.