A Certain Lack of Focus

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

Ever since I was a little kid, Halloween has been my favorite holiday. I'm not sure why, it wasn't the candy, which always struck me as a bit anti-climactic, I think it was just the joy of pretend, the one day of the year that EVERYONE has to pretend to be something else. Preferably something spooky. Of course I've gotten a bit lame lately, but it's not my fault. Since I've been at that media conference for the last three years I've consistently missed, if not the actual day, the weekend where everyone has the big Halloween party, which is a real bummer for someone who thinks Christmas is the second rate holiday. This year I actually managed to get some Halloween activities in, and it took me unprepared. The weekend before last there was a Halloween party which was supposedly really a party for the pagan holiday that inspired Halloween (don't ask me what it's called I don't remember), but mostly it just felt like Halloween. Although it wasn't your typical party by any means (one of the reasons it was cool) there was a drum circle, and belly dancing and a friend of the hostess doing henna tattoos. I love Henna.

Last weekend of course I was in DC for the conference, but I was surprised to get a little taste of Halloween even there. The zoo was all set up for their version of "Boo at the Zoo" (does every zoo do Boo at the Zoo?) so we got to see some fun spooky decorations. Unfortunately I didn't get a good picture of my favorite decor: hanging from the long metal bridge that takes you to the main part of the zoo were a line of ghosts, swinging in the wind. Presumably they were the souls of people that had been hung, but since the Boo @ Zoo thing is geared partially towards kids I'm thinking maybe I'm not supposed to think that deeply.

I got back in town about 4pm Sunday afternoon and at 7pm Matt and I went into Lakewood to visit friends and carve pumpkins. Much fun holiday spirit (or spirits) was had by all. My big brother had decked out the house to look quite spooky, much better than many of the houses on the block, with high class bones that actually kinda feel like dried out bones, like driftwood from Lake Erie. Meanwhile Kim is still hard at work in the garden (even though it's freaking October) which is looking cooler every time I go over. I'm sure this wasn't her intent, but the mass of plants and colors went much better with the haunted feel than the boring grass lawns lining the rest of the street. Brian (brother), Amy, Matt and I all carved pumpkins, but Kim didn't get the chance between gardening and roasting pumpkin seeds.

And tonight we all went over to Kim and Brian's for trick or treating. Amy handed out the candy, apparently with the wisdom of Solomon since we ran out almost exactly at 7:55 (trick-or-treating ends at 8). As an added bonus, the garden kept the kiddies from stomping through the front yard. Unfortunately Kim had volleyball and missed out on most of it, Matt had to stay inside and get work done, but it was still a fun time. Lots of cute costumes and only a few crying children. Scary award goes to the toddler in the Elmo costume... carrying an axe.
I'll post pictures of costumes and pumpkins etc. as I get them...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


While I was in Washington, the one thing I wanted to do above all else was visit the National Zoo. I went to three sessions the first day, four plus a critique the second. The day before the convention I did have some downtime, but by the time we got checked into the hotel and settled there wasn't much time to kill before we needed to register. I made it to the grocery store to stock up on granola bars and fruit, then crashed in bed to watch part of the crappier Willy Wonka. It rained all through the first three days, particularly on the third day (second convention day) which worried me, because if the trend continued even I, Oregon Duck blooded as I may be, wouldn't have wanted to brave constant downpour. Fortunately the last day of the convention was beautiful, I chucked my convention schedule aside (nothing interested me anyway) and set off for the zoo. It was a 30 minute walk from the hotel and, to my surprise, I was sweating by the time I got there. The sun was out, I wrapped my hoodie around my waist, walking comfortably in just a T-shirt. I was there from 12:45 or so to 4 pm.

Andrea, one of the girls from the Cauldron, was with me, and at her request our first stop was to see the Panda's. They didn't seem all that happy, but it was the first time either of us had ever seen one in person (at great distance, granted). Andrea wanted to go in the enclosure and cuddle with it. We both know better, but I have to admit, laying over the rock as he was, the Panda did really look just like a big floppy stuffed animal.

My first impression of the zoo was that it was kinda dinky. Sure, there were Pandas, but otherwise the size alone made it kind of disappointing. Finally, thinking we'd seen nearly everything, we took the last path available, guessing it would lead us to maybe another small exhibit, maybe just a different vantage point.

After crossing the bridge we realized how greatly we'd underestimated. This zoo is HUGE. Of course, as the National Zoo it had really better be, but it's amazing how hidden it is, how impossible it is to understand the scale from within. I'm still enamored with the Cleveland Zoo, don't get me wrong, but the Smithsonian Zoo really kicks its ass.

Cleveland does a pretty amazing zoo, the animals seem well cared for, there are tons of yearlong activities to get kids interested, a membership is cheap and pays for itself quickly. There are also a pretty good variety of animals and a pretty vast space. The zoo in DC though is just so much bigger, obviously better funded, and for crying out loud it's free. There is a subtle difference in the environments designed for the animals: I think those in Cleveland are just as carefully crafted, but in DC they're bigger which really does make a difference to the captives. The animals also just seem happier and healthier (except for the Panda which looked pretty depressed). I don't think that's necessarily because we aren't taking care of our animals, I think these animals are just younger. Our lions, especially the male, look pretty ancient by comparison. This may also be due simply because of the problem mentioned before; we just have less space to give each animal.

Something really cool the zoo in DC is working on right now is a project for the elephants. It sounds as if they're planning on building enclosed paths all through the zoo for the elephants to wander. That way they get a larger territory without turning the whole place into an elephant zoo. I think that's an incredible idea and I can't wait to hear how it turns out. In fact I'll probably be back in DC next year and I'm hoping they'll be well underway by then. Obviously I'll have to go back when it's finished, and see how the elephants are enjoying their paths.

Possibly my favorite exhibit wasn't even an animal. The zoo had a building called the "think tank," there were some assorted monkeys behind glass, but mostly the building was one of those learning exhibits, you know: the kind that have all these tiny wooden doors you pull aside to see the answers to trivia questions on the front? Well running all around the room there was tall glass shelving full of resin made, to scale, brains. I want this in my future library. Seriously, they had, maybe not every animal you can think of, but a good handful, to compare to the size of a human brain. I tried to get a picture but it didn't really turn out. The biggest brain was not surprisingly the blue whale, but it wasn't as large as I expected, only maybe three times, maybe four the size of a human brain. In fact if you averaged the size of the blue whale brain and a human brain you'd get the elephant brain, which, when you consider the relative sizes of a person, to an elephant, to a blue whale, is pretty interesting. Canines and Felines on the other hand had fairly small brains, again smaller than I would have expected. About the size of a fist (we're talking lions and tigers and wolves, not Fido and Socks). This was less surprising when I got a good look at a cat skull and was reminded how much of a cat head is probably 70 percent MOUTH and these creatures have much thicker skulls than we do. At any rate it was a fascinating exhibit and as I said, I will someday replicate it in my personal library.

There are a ton of things to see in DC, next time I'm there I want to see the Aerospace museum, natural history museum, art museum... but I think I'll have to make revisiting the zoo a priority. Andrea and I wandered, much more quickly than a family with children would, for over three hours and were unable to see all of it. We kept thinking we were near the end of our circle, then we'd see a sign to an area we hadn't even seen a hint of before. There were even sections we could see, but couldn't figure out how to get to, suggesting that we missed even more than we thought. The zoo was more than worth the wait, I'd like to go back soon. Next time I'll wear hiking boots.

Color Craze

I've been playing around with color on this blog for the last couple days. I'm not sure I really like this but I suppose it doesn't matter since I'm going to redesign in the end anyway. I do like the layout up top and I'll probably keep something similar when I change everything else around.

Colors are important, they can completely alter the mood of any piece, whether it's the frame color of a watercolor or a room, or a website. On the blog I discovered that a color I really liked, an energetic blueish, hurt to look at for too long which is obviously a bad idea. Another color, a sort of tangerine, was easier to look at although it was just as bright. I didn't like the overall effect however: it was too much like a party style which isn't exactly my style. Eventually I realized I needed something dark to sort of calm down the design. A dark purple looked nice with the other colors but the result was a bit too girly. It ruined the clean technical feel that drew me to this template in the first place. A dark orange is really just a brown, it might have looked ok but I didn't even try it: The limited template of cool colors (no blues mind you) is pleasing here, a balanced color palette is both unnecessary and undesirable.

I played around with all sorts of background colors for my portfolio site. Since the subject matter tends to be a bit dark, eventually I'll probably return to a dark color or a dark grey, but for now I've settled on just white in the background. This leaves it feeling clean and free of distraction, allowing the focus to settle on the artwork. Of course that's all destroyed by the fact that I have no logo, so instead the top of my website just says: "logologologologoHADESARROWlogologologlogologo." I've found it's more amusing if you imagine saying the logologos to the tune of "BADGER BADGER BADGER BADGER" and the hadesarrow can be the "MUSHROOM MUSHROOM!" Someday I'll make myself a real logo, but even when I do I think I'll leave that text as the scrollover because it makes me laugh.

For this blog I settled on a background color of dark grey. I tend to like greys. Most people think of greys as boring, too neutral and symbolically dull. I guess I like neutral colors, and grey in particular I've found has a lot of potential for background space. The walls in the studio/computer room are painted a pale grey/brown color, a color that looked much warmer on the sample, but on the walls seems an almost icy smoothness. I love the color, it's the perfect tone for a workspace: not so glaring and blank as a white wall, not so energetic as a bright color, to make me restless or agitated. Instead it's cool and awake. I won't go so far as to say it makes me want to work, but it doesn't give me an extra excuse not to work either.

Our bedroom is also painted grey, dark dark grey, I am constantly greeted with skeptical faces when I describe it. Believe me it's lovely, someday I'll post pictures. I can't remember what the color is called, I think it's the color of thunderstorms. There's an ugly aqua carpet on the floor that I can't afford to replace, and next to it the dark grey walls look like the same color purple that I rejected as too pretty for my blog. For a bedroom it's perfect, the comforter and curtains are deep red and there are several lights in the room to fight the darkness. At some point I'll have to put up crown molding, just to finish the effect, dark and light. The wood of my bed is stained a dark red, adding warm and cool to dark and light. The rest of the furniture is either dark stain or raw and unstained, and somehow they all blend together just right. Matt's red-brown leather recliner sits in one corner as a reading spot, the whole effect is calm and luxurious, just like a bedroom ought to be.

In other living areas grey would surely be boring, ugly, pathetic, but in areas where the walls should not invade, grey works quite well. I've found the same is true when matting drawings, sometimes white is just too boring, too like everything else. Black on the other hand can be too dramatic, overcoming the drawing in the center which is delicate and small. Grey again, strikes the perfect chord.

A little while ago, some scientists did a study showing that children prefer food in McDonalds cartons to food in unmarked, brown packaging. They used this study to prove that children are easily targeted by marketing, but I think it proves something else entirely, that we probably already knew. Kids like bright colors. In fact people like bright colors, and marketers have been taking advantage of this for ages. We are bombarded with color, screaming buy me, have me, you need me today! In a world where everything is bright and fast and exciting, I think that when I'm home, it's nice to just surround myself with grey.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I just returned from Washington DC where I spent three days at a student media conference. This is the third year I've been to this conference, (different location every time) and while I'm never really excited to go, I always end up getting valuable insights in spite of myself. This year I was particularly reluctant. For once it was being held in a city I actually wanted to visit (haven't been to DC since I was 12) but I was a bit burned out on the conference itself, and hated leaving home, going away from my fiance. I realize that's a bit pathetic, but there it is.

Since I was pissy about being there, and had attended the majority of sessions in various incarnations over the last two years, I concentrated entirely on topics that interested me personally, instead of those that related to the Vindicator. I'm glad; first I attended a couple sessions on writing for magazines that I think were really helpful (we'll see whether anything comes of it long term). I also went to several web sessions that sort of inspired me. In particular, there were two sessions on blogging that made me sit up and listen.

I should mention at this point that over the last few years I've been putting together a weird collection of skills for a job that I didn't think existed, but I guessed would exist sometime in the next couple of years. From the University of Notre Dame I have a BFA in studio art, which isn't really useful at all, but it does mean I spent four years training an artistic eye and I did manage to scrape a class in multimedia: web design. Once I came to Cleveland I landed a student position as a web assistant which was really more of an education than the class. At about the time I started my MFA program I switched jobs, starting work for the Vindicator. So basically when I graduate I'll have an artistic eye, limited web skills, creative writing, and editing skills. I'll also have a year of work experience as a web... person, and three years experience editing. Even if it is all student work. I've been keeping an eye out, waiting for jobs like... web content editor or something to show up.

Of course it didn't occur to me that that's almost exactly what a blogger is. Or that people are actually starting to pay bloggers and that I expect this will become more standard in the future. The trouble is I don't bother to update my blog all that often. And I KNOW there's no one reading this. However, I expect if the one changes, the other may follow, so here's my promise: from now on, with the exception of emergencies or other unforeseeable obstacles, I will update this blog at least once a day. Sometime this winter I'm going to get rid of (most of) this template and replace it with my own web design, hopefully increasing my technical skills in the process. In about a week I'm hoping that Matt (fiance) and I can get some extra shelves for my art desk built. Once I've got the table cleared off and have space, I'll start posting a sketch/drawing a day as well. So if you are reading, come back! I'll start being interesting any day now.
As far as a theme, I have in my head what this blog is going to do, but it's a little hard to describe. This is going to be an idea blog. I'm loosely calling it "living in space" because it will be about living, in small spaces, in relationships, or in my head. I'll post many of the weird ass ideas I get that have no practical application in reality. Come back here tomorrow and you may read about things such as dragon mating, hunting elephants with range rovers and building cat furniture.