Monthly Archives: December 2012

Artists: Walter Crane

I love to go to art museums to new style ideas. On a recent trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), I visited the art nouveau section and saw a piece by English artist Walter Crane:

Walter Crane plate at VMFA.

The plate mentioned that Walter Crane did children’s books.

So I went home and ordered a couple of his books. A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden anthropomorphizes the flowers of the gardens in beautiful art nouveau fashion. Below is a photo of one of the pages. This page depicts bachelor’s buttons. All the little details, down to their boots, are done to match the characteristics of the plant. Another panel shows a battle between a thistle knight and a snapdragon. Walter Crane has several children’s books besides this one. Since Walter Crane died in 1915, his works have entered the creative commons, and they can be had very cheap, especially digitally.


Walter Crane also did more adult works. Neptune’s Horses reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings where the elf summons up the waters to fend off the nazgul, but it was painted over a century before.

Soviet Holiday Cards

Boingboing had a cool post yesterday about Soviet “Christmas” cards. Actually most of the cards say “s novum godom”– “to the new year”. I love all the science and rocketry themes. I also find it interesting how many things we associate with Christmas have been co-opted for a holiday the soviets found safer: New Year’s. You can find the original website for the cards here. Below are a few of my favorites, which can all be found at


Winter in Florida

Every year, I trek south to Florida for the holidays. The sun and warmth are great, but I especially like the feeling of going to a different world. The land is flat and riddled with little inlets and brackish creeks. Here in southwest Florida, there is a feeling that man does not control the wilderness. Things grow at an insane rate and they fight for space. The landscape takes on that wild, violent look. I like the greenery and the beaches and the boats and the sunsets all. And I like to drag my camera along for documentation.

Happy Friday!


A little on watercoloring

This week I am spending most of my time painting the line-art from The Galactic Adventures of Zish and Argo. One of the things I really like about watercolors is that they travel well. I’m on the road for the next couple of weeks, but it is just as easy to paint here as it is at home. A major reason for the portability is the type of materials I use. I bought a Windsor-Newton field box set several years ago, pictured below. At $50, you might experience a bit of sticker shock. I’ve only recently had to start replacing pans; it lasts and lasts.

I have used the liquid watercolors as well. I find I enjoy the quick set up of the solid colors. There is no need to dole out paint as you go, and you only use what you need. Plus it’s easier to travel with. The solid paints can still deliver good intensity and brightness. I roll all my brushes up in a bamboo case like this one, and then I’m ready to go anywhere and paint anything. If you have a pigment-ink printer, you can economize on your watercolor paper by selectively choosing what you print. I discuss that more in an old entry, here.

I read a watercolor book a few years ago that I found helpful as well: Watercolor Tricks and Techniques, by Johnson. If you are curious, it is worth a look.

So there are 13 paintings for the core of the Zish and Argo book. I have 7.5 paintings done, so I’m over halfway! The Robotoids say hello!!robot

Paper engineering (AKA: pop ups!)

Everybody love a pop-up book. The well-executed ones are a thing of joy. I got a pop-up book as a kid about dinosaurs, which I didn’t care that much about, in French, which I didn’t read. I read that thing to its grave.

Recently, I see more pop-up books in stores, aimed at more than just children. These books are made by not artists, but paper engineers. As an engineer, I approve of this shift in language. Perhaps I should strive to be a word and paint engineer, rather than writer and illustrator. A few years ago, I bought Moby Dick, as done by paper engineer Sam Ita. Amazon lists a few of his books here. He even has a pop-up Xmas tree, if you’re still looking. His Moby Dick is wonderful, with whirling whirlpools and ships complete with rigging and a looking-glass.

I have started my own attempts at pop-up (shown below). A fun project, but one on hold for now because I’m not sure how to put them together with any kind of efficiency. If you’re interested in learning about pop-ups, I have used a few books to guide my exploration:

popupHappy paper engineering!


Artists: Thomas Hart Benton

Previously I have talked about depression era posters and Soviet propaganda posters. Thomas Hart Benton was a depression era painter and muralist from southwest Missouri. Growing up in St. Louis, I was exposed to his art from a young age. His shading brings the people in his paintings to life. He often depicts scenes of work, as suits the depression. (Both of the images in this entry can be found on Wikipedia.)

Cut the Line (Wikipedia)

If you for some reason find yourself in Jefferson City, Missouri (unlikely), the capitol building has many of his murals. Then stop by Central Dairy, where you can get a pile of amazing ice cream for very little $. Then you have seen all there is to see in the illustrious capitol.

Fractals in Life: photos

Fractals are a branch of math that better describes nature. Before fractals, there was Euclidean geometry, the geometry of lines, planes, and spaces. Euclidean geometry cannot give the length of a rough coastline; neither can it give the surface area of shaggy tree bark. The answer you arrive at in Euclidean geometry depends upon the scale at which you examine an object– intuitively the distance an ant travels over rough terrain is different from the distance we cover walking. The ant interacts with the terrain at a different length scale than we do. Fractal geometry is designed to handle objects with multiple meaningful length scales.

Fractal objects are sometimes called “scale-free“. This means that the object looks roughly the same even if examined at very different zooms. Many natural objects look similar at multiple zooms. Below, I include a few. The craters on the moon are scale-free. If you keep zooming in, you could not tell the scale of the image.

frac (1)

Terrain is often scale-free in appearance– a few years ago there was a joke photo with a penny for scale. The owners of the photo subsequently revealed that the “penny” was actually 3 feet across. I couldn’t find the photo, but you cannot tell the difference. The reveal was startling. Below is a picture of Mount St Helens. The top of this mountain is five miles (3.2ish km) away. Streams carry silt away from the mountain, as you can see more towards the foreground. They look like tiny streams. These are full-sized rivers. Mount St. Helens lacks much of the vegetation and features we would usually use to determine scale. The result is amazingly disorienting, and demonstrates scale invariance.


Plants are often scale free too. Small branches are very similar in appearance to large branches. Ferns look very fractal. Below is a picture of Huperzia phlegmaria. Each time this plant branches, there are exactly two branches. Along its length, it branches many times. It is a physical realization of a binary tree.


For more about fractals, read my posts about fractal measurement and the mandelbrot set.