Monthly Archives: November 2012

Summer is gone, waiting for spring

Tomorrow is the first day of December. In the last week, the last of our colorful leaves have fallen. Even the confused daisy shrub in my yard is no longer in bloom. The daylight is short, and the foliage is bleak. This time of year, I love to review photos from more colorful times. The colors will be back before very long. Starting in February, the Lenten roses and the crocuses will return. Until then, photos can be our flowers. Every year when spring breaks, I walk through the gardens at least once a week and see what new flower has opened.

Check out my Flickr feed for thousands of other photos. 95% of my Flickr photos are fair use for non-commercial purposes, so feel free to use them, but please attribute and link to my flickr.  Most of all I love seeing where my photos get used. (Side note: the first picture on the Wikipedia swimming article is mine. That’s neat!)

Here’s some color for your Friday.


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Style: Soviet Propaganda Posters

The 20-40s really seem like it was a golden age for illustration. Color photos were not as vibrant as they are today, yet mass printing existed. Thus, beautiful and stylized portraits of life were used in advertising and propaganda (Alphonse Mucha did lovely art nouveau illustrations for advertisers since the late 1800s, I wrote about him here). Many of us have seen the posters created for the Great Depression and WW2 by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton.

When I visited the Czech Republic, Budapest and East Berlin, I was struck by their propaganda posters from the same period. There was such a contrast between the lovely illustrations and the content that we would likely find oppressive. It can be a window into history to understand how people chose (or were forced into) their path. For good collections of Czech or CSSR Propaganda, check out the Communist Musuem in Prague and Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The featured image for this post is the poster for the Communist Museum; one of my souvenirs from Prague are some nesting dolls with this design.

To have more we must produce more (Wikipedia)

The Czech, Hungarian, and German posters seem hard to find, and I only know the languages a little (if anyone knows good sources, let me know!) I find the role of small countries in the early 20th century especially interesting since they are underrepresented. The countries of central Europe endured many of the worst hardships during the 20th century. There are many sources for Russian propaganda posters:

 

10 years since the revolution

 

 

Getting creative with a printer

Last year I got a medium format pigment printer (epson r2000). With research, you can get a decent deal on these kinds of printers. I purchased mine for $300 (with rebate) while it now lists for $550 (but remember, the ink is always a swindle). If you know how to use color profiles and tune your screen’s color, these printers can be a ton of fun. Printing photos was the main motivation for my purchase, but the other less expected uses have been equally exciting.

Watercolor painting and pigment printing

Pigment inks are waterproof after they dry. Long ago I learned the hard way that normal ink jets are not waterproof. This feature of pigment inks has helped my watercolor process immensely. Now I can do line art on low quality paper. Then I scan the line art in and I can digitally fix it. This can mean a number of things: I can remove a badly placed stroke, or I can rearranged items in space. For the Zish and Argo stories, I did preliminary line art, and moved things to satisfy the needs of the page layout.

Once the line art is optimized, then I can print to the expensive watercolor paper. I probably only use half of my preliminary line art, which is an awful waste of premium watercolor paper. But now I can be efficient. Printing line art is additionally attractive because it uses little ink. Additionally, I can print several copies, and have several chances to get my work just right. I did the featured image art using this procedure.

Printing on fun materials

The printer can also print to some fun surfaces. It can print to basically anything you feed through it, like poster board, wood, foam board, canvas, or other sufficiently heavy fabric. Obviously, it can also print to any sturdy paper as well (I print frequently to drawing and watercolor paper).

I recently did my first project printing to canvas. I then used this canvas to cover a book, shown below. This canvas is also designed to stretch over a frame like any canvas.

Any additional ideas on creative printing? There’s nothing better than using a tool on hand in a different way.

Fun Science: Fractals in Nature and Fractal Measurement

This post continues Wednesday’s post about fractals and the Mandelbrot set. Fractals are a branch of mathematics that we can observe in our daily life. Something is said to be fractal when a small piece of an object resembles a larger part of itself. The featured image is of romanesco broccoli; as you can see, each small cone on the broccoli resembles the overall structure of the vegetable. For this reason, the mathematical terms “fractal” and “self-similar” are closely related.

Examples of fractals in nature abound. The heartbeat of a healthy person is fractal when plotted in time; interestingly, people with various health problems show less fractal character to their heart rate. For a great slide show with images of fractal-ness in nature, check out this Wired article. Fractals have been observed in ocean waves, mountain structures, fern, lightning, city layout, seashell, trees, and many others. Many computer graphics of natural phenomena are generated using fractal processes.

Koch Snowflake (Wikipedia)

The Koch snowflake (above), is a fractal generated from a line. As the fractal pattern is repeated, the length of the curve grows infinite. A line segment does not have infinite length, and yet the Koch Snowflake clearly does not fill space. So what is the dimension of this object? Through a method called the “box counting method“, we can determine the dimensionality of a fractal object. The box counting method is used to estimate area and coastal length from satellite pictures, as demonstrated below.

Using the box counting method to estimate the area of Great Britain (Wikipedia).

In short, we can see how the number of boxes needed to define a length or space changes as the box size changes. For a line, the number of boxes needed grows as 1n. For a space, the number of boxes grows as 2n. The method is explained in more detail here. Intuitively, we can tell the Koch Snowflake has a dimension between 1 and 2. It turns out that, using the Box Counting method, we can determine that the Koch Snowflake has a fractal dimension of log(4)/log(3), or about 1.26.

Lorenz attractor from Wikipedia

Fractal dimensions turn up in strange places. For example, chaotic attractors have fractal dimension. The Lorenz attractor, above, has a fractal dimension of 2.06. In the future I will discuss chaos and chaotic attractors. Check out my previous science posts on synchrony and art resembling science.

Fun Science: Fractals and the Mandelbrot Set

Fractals are often immediately visually appealing, even if the underlying equation is harder to understand. For this reason, fractals have reached a wider audience than many branches of mathematics. Beyond their visual appeal, fractals give us a way to look at many natural systems that math was not previously able to examine. How long is a winding and convoluted coastline? How does a one-dimensional system like the circulatory system serve our three-dimensional bodies? How does lightning disburse its energy when it strikes? (The image below shows how electricity dissipated through a block of plexiglass, more details here.) These are all concepts related to fractals.

from Capturedlightning.com

One very famous fractal is the Mandelbrot set (pictured at the top of this entry), named after pioneer Benoit Mandelbrot. The Mandelbrot set is generated by the iterative equation zn+1 = zn2 + c. This equation indicates that at a specific value of c, we get to the next z (that is, zn+1), by squaring our current z and adding the constant c. Let’s say that c is 1. z0 is 0, so z1 is z0 squared plus 1, and z1=1. Then z2=z12+1=2, z3=z22+1=5, and so forth. A value c is in the Mandelbrot set if zn→∞ goes to a constant value (so that zn=large is roughly equal to zn=large+1). When c=1, each z keeps getting bigger and bigger, so clearly it is not a part of the Mandelbrot set. c is a complex number, so we generate a map in two dimensions of which values of c belong to the set. The video below shows the Mandelbrot set (color giving rate of divergence, black giving a member of the set) and continues to zoom in. Even at incredible zoom scales, fine and self repeating structure can be seen.

Fractals can also be generated in a more directly visual way. Below is a fractal called the Koch Snowflake. The Koch Snowflake is generated iteratively as well. The base unit is a triangle. The middle third of each leg of the triangle is replaced by a tent. For the next step, the middle segment of all the legs of the new structure are replaced by a tent, and so on. You can see in the graphic that the Koch Snowflake gets complicated quickly. Many other visual fractals have been explored. The java applet here has a few that you can play with.

Koch snowflake from Wikipedia

I will have another post about fractals on Friday, where I discuss more numerical properties and examples of fractals in nature. Food for thought: what is the perimeter length of the Koch Snowflake? Also check out my previous science posts on synchrony and art resembling science.

New books in the Etsy store

I’ve been busy binding and I have two new kinds of products in the Etsy store.

  • Canvas-bound journal with original photo cover: a 90-page lined journal with a durable and colorful canvas cover.

  • Mini sketch book: 72-page 4.25″ x 5.5″ sketchbook with Strathmore sketch paper. Bound with a Coptic stitch for a very flexible yet strong spine.

 

All available books are listed here, or can be found at the Etsy store ViroBooks.

 

Beautiful Books

I love a well-made book. There is something awesome about a book with golden edges and an embossed cover. I like pages with heft and texture, and books with color illustration. However I am also a great fan of classic science fiction, and 1960s scifi seems rarely to intersect with fine binding techniques. I often go to the used book stores and find paperbacks with yellow cracked pages and broken spines. The cover art is often wonderful, but these books are dying and falling apart. Many of these books have not been reprinted recently, or are offered only for outrageous prices as ebooks.

Lovely books were always a source of inspiration as a kid. This Tasha Tudor fairy tale book was my favorite (and was a big source of inspiration for my own collection of fairy tales). I hope with the rise in ebooks, we will see a rise in beautiful books. When you need not spend space on books, perhaps that space will be spent on books that are also art objects. Lately, I feel like I’ve been seeing more attention towards the appearance of books. Right now it’s more limited to literary classics, but I hope it will grow towards science fiction, which seems like it could benefit from such visualizations. Here are a few pretty books I’ve noticed:

  • Hiroshige, by Taschen (pictured above). This book is gorgeous. Bone clasps hold together the cover, and the book is bound in the traditional Japanese stab-binding style. The paper feel like it is cotton, and it really suits the art it bears. Also at $40, it isn’t insane, and it’s even cheaper on amazon.
  • Barnes and Noble Leatherbound Classics Series. There are a ton of books in this series, from Hitchhiker’s Guide to Arabian Nights to Foundation and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. One complaint: it’s very hard to judge the contents from the web. I found in person that the older out of copyright works had many more illustrations inside. I especially like their Arabian Nights. Most of these are around $20, so they are affordable.
  • Basically anything by Folio Society. I am particularly intrigued by their Foundation Trilogy, which has some fun-looking illustrations. Folio Society is a bit pricier, so I haven’t gotten anything from them yet.

I would love to hear about any other finds as well. Good hunting! (And here’s some lovely bookcases as well.)

Style: Art Nouveau

My favorite style is art nouveau. I first learned about art nouveau when I was living in Prague. The works of Alphonse Mucha, a prominent Czech art nouveau artist, remain throughout the city. There is a museum of his various prints and a few paintings, that explains the motivation behind his work. The municipal house (Obecní dům) is in the art nouveau style, with stained glass windows done by Mucha. The Prague castle also has a stained glass work by Mucha, among its many others. Mucha often depicted images of slavic nationalism and women with slavic features. Mucha’s interest in the slavic and czech identity, and his works on this identity, make learning about him an interesting way to learn about Czech history.

One of Mucha’s famous posters. (pic from Wikipedia)

Thumbnails above, from left: Mucha stained glass at the Municipal House, the Municipal House and the Powder Tower, and Mucha stained glass at Prague Castle.

Besides the locations in Prague, I’ve visited several other Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Bauhaus collections. The Bröhan museum in west Berlin and the Horta museum in Brussels are both great. You can also sometimes find museum collections online, like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Fun Science: Art Resembling Science

Can you tell the two below pictures apart? Which of the following two images is a modern aboriginal painting, and which is a picture of an oscillatory chemical reaction?

      

The left image is of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) chemical reaction. The right image is a painting from Western Australia using aboriginal techniques. They are strikingly similar. Could it just be a coincidence? I believe some models with bacteria growing competitively yield similar patterns; perhaps such patterns existed in nature. (EDIT: traveling wavefronts like above have been shown in slime molds. A search on “cAMP spiral waves” reveals many examples.)

Art: Aboriginal designs from Western Australia

The image on the right above came from a book about Aboriginal art called Balgo-4-04 that I found at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal collection in Charlottesville, VA. Unfortunately, I did not think to write down the title of the exact work, or its info (hopefully I will go back soon and retrieve it).

The collection was put together by Warlayirti artists from Western Australia. I don’t know the year of this painting, but I think it is modern and based upon older sand painting techniques. Unfortunately I am not enough of an expert on this topic to provide any deep insights. If anyone else is, I’d love to learn more.

Science: Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction

The image on the left is an image of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction (photo credit: Brandeis U Chemistry). For a more technical overview, check out the Scholarpedia page. Transition metals at different oxidation states lead to these colors; the particular metal can be varied to give different properties. Cerium and manganese, as well as many others, can be used in the reaction. The curling waves in the dish are traveling oscillations. The video below shows the patterns in time.

Another good youtube video showing how the BZ reaction is set up is here. The behaviors observed in the BZ reaction occur in other oscillatory systems. The spiral waves are 2D analogies to the 3D scroll waves that occur in the heart during ventricular fibrillation (VF). VF causes the heart to quiver and is deadly. In this link, wave-propagation in the heart is shown under several conditions (using a java plug-in). If you click “java applets” on the left, under the “introduction” header, you can choose VF, VT (ventricular tachycardia), and normal heart rhythm. You can then apply defibrillation to these rhythms and see what happens. The website is maintained by a scientist, Flavio Fenton, who researches nonlinear dynamics in hearts and biological systems.

For more discussion on oscillatory dynamics, check out my post on synchrony.

Style: Aboriginal Art

I like to use different art styles for my various different stories. Lately there is nothing better than trying to find attractive illustrations of various origins. A few months ago, I found a children’s book at a library sale, very much by accident–Enora and the Black Crane. Enora is a lovely story, and the illustrations are beautiful. Before happening upon this book, I had seen little aboriginal art.

I wanted to incorporate aboriginal designs into my in-progress short story collection. Luckily, I live near the only dedicated aboriginal art museum in the United States, The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection in Virginia. This was a nice resource for additional inspiration. The illustrations for the collection are black and white woodblock style (as I mentioned in my previous entry). Aboriginal design uses a lot of color. I tried to capture some of the spirit while maintaining consistency with the woodblock theme. I ended up with the featured image for this entry. I ended up knowing a bit more about aboriginal design, and my final design was richer for it.