Friday, January 29, 2016

An Enviable Rig

Winter quarter started recently, and as usual many a bulky piece of wheeled luggage was being towed up the Ave. One guy approached with what looked like a levitating combination of duffle and back pack. After he passed, I turned for a better look and found the gear was perfectly balanced and lashed to a long board.

The kit was as well-considered as any I have seen, and it appeared to be adequate for nearly any sane life-support scheme.

More after the jump.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Drum Table

Casual reading in interior design brought drum-shaped side tables to my attention. It's trivial to set a round tray on a real drum. Check with the drummer first.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Recently an acquaintance lost the painting tutor who had introduced her to the wonderful experiences that manipulating color brings to daily life. These remarks are intended as a modest guide to assure her that all is not lost along with her mentor. Any trained art instructor can probably better these comments.

Everything I have learned about art has been incidental to learning something else. An early influence was Alfred Fairbank, who maintained that "an artist is not a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist." He also commented that "art is man's expression of his joy in labor." 

My favorite color is black. There are many different colors of black. Sometimes when I mix black l load in a bright color until it almost breaks through into visibility. Novelist Ken Kesey nailed black when he said "it can always be made funnier".

Black, white, and red ochre are the earliest palette. A true red is orange rather than scarlet. It's not simple or limiting to work with the three, since one can be the color of the support (paper, wood, whatever) and all have many variations. Medieval scribes added ground lapis for blue and gold leaf for yellow in their archival work.

Commercial art perceives color as the degree of contrast between black and white. Gray is rendered by breaking black and white into progressively smaller units. Commerce perceives two kinds of gray, a cool mixture of black and white or a warm mixture of reddish black and white that comes across as beige. The curriculum I enjoyed omitted color as a topic, leaving it open to personal preference. Color is subjective. It can be used in a number of ways, but I recall just two: symbolically or emotionally. I suppose realistically might be a third way. One of the last traditional East Indian manuscript painters observed that "to draw a thing as it is is very, very vulgar".

Literally at my mother's knee I learned that all colors derived from nature are harmonious with all other such colors. She may have been referring to natural dyes like woad and madder. In "Affordable Splendor", interior designer Diana Phipps mentions a palette common to traditional architecture and furnishings: chrome yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw sienna, burnt umber, raw umber, Vandyke brown, Venetian red, cadmium red, vermilion, alizarin crimson, terre verte, viridian or chrome green, cobalt blue, ultramarine, Prussian blue, black, and white. Any white used before the 1970s was yellowish, since it would have been based on lead.

Interestingly, earth-based colors are the most light-fast and least toxic. The last time I looked, caution with dyes was recommended since their toxicity was not well studied. Consult a safety manual like Michael McCann's "Artist Beware" for best practice. A tox/haz specialist with Seattle's waste utility advised me that heavy metals like cadmium are second only to plutonium in the degree of risk they pose and in their persistence. I have found that the most toxic color is also the most stimulating to work with. Spray paint is narcotic.

There are two ways to look at color. One is the traditional academic palette of opaque pigments. In this system, red, blue, and yellow are the primaries. Crayons and oil paint are typical media. Opaque color works with light that is reflected off surfaces. Light was perceived as a reflected phenomenon starting with the French Enlightenment, and seeing understood as a passive experience. Versailles' Hall of Mirrors comes to mind when I think of reflection. Print is opaque.

Earlier, during the Middle Ages, light was understood as passing through things, like stained glass. The eye was understood to project beams of light onto objects in the process of seeing. Understanding light as transparent is the second way to manipulate color, one I comprehend as being especially suited to a culture that is dominated by photographic and electronic imagery. Yellow, cyan ("see'-an"), and magenta are the transparent primaries. Add black to those three, and you have the colors of commercial offset or computer printing.

A tutor of my own reminded me that in the present, painters feel free to work with whatever combinations suit their fancy. I sniff the wind through the magazine "Juxtapoz", SF's White Walls gallery, KEXP radio, and skate shops.

Seattle's academic bookstore is my go-to for supplies and publications. Children's water color sets are fun to play with. Richie Kehl and Norman Laliberte are trustworthy writers. Kehl's "One Hundred Ways To Have Fun With An Alligator" is the antidote to excessively linear thought. Koberg and Bagnall's "Universal Traveler" is good navigation, and Fred Griffin's on-line design curriculum is a card game of infinite variables.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dodging The Iron

As long ago as 1977 a local matron claimed that her ironing basket was labelled "Goodwill". Her attitude was inspiring during a period when I had time, inclination, and the inventory to provide well-finished linen hand towels in the powder room. The practice was an inside joke that tended to unbalance female visitors, so I trimmed and framed the best embroidered section of the best towel and hung it on the wall over a roll of paper towels. 

Dabbing one's pinkies on a smooth piece of heirloom linen is a civilizing experience, though, like using a fountain pen to note oatmeal on a shopping list. Either case demands a moment's change of pace.

The other day I harvested the week's wipers from the wooden drying rack in the basement and realized that they were bone dry. Usually I collect them when they are very faintly damp. A tender dry napkin can be smoothed flat and folded into nearly ironed condition. Bone dry goods have to be wrestled into shape.

Over Christmas, I experimented with laying an unironed linen cloth on the sideboard-it seemed suitable for the guests and the menu this year. It was fun and easy to set out a holiday display that fostered badly needed relaxation for a table of digital types who were coming off twenty-day work weeks of twelve hour days.


More after the jump.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Raw Edges

What do Martha Washington and a logger have in common? No hems on their lower garments. The logger style is a safety mechanism: cut edges make it easier to pull a leg free if it is trapped somehow. Mrs. Washington lived before the turned hem evolved.

I noted with interest a raw edge on the facing of a designer garment on display in Seattle's tony mini-mall-the one that replaced Frederick and Nelson's parking garage. Designer Number 5 has been showing raw edges for some time.

Layering clothing makes it easy to cope with the local weather's convergence zone. Conditions can change from soaking downpours to balmy to dangerously damp and windy in the same hour. I find it most comfortable to change sleeveless underlayers because I like to be able to move my arms freely.

For grubbies, I cut the sleeves off a shrunken but excellent wool undershirt, and the thing has become a favorite any day of the week. A well-designed chambray shirt lost its sleeves, too, and it is getting more wear since I modified it. In the past, I have hemmed newly exposed armseyes, but the shirt and undershirt have doubled seams where the sleeves were set in. The minor eyelashes left after the first washing don't bother me much. A round of trimming with the sharpest scissors in the house will clean them up.

When the world was trying to teach me to sew, I learned (and still believe) that the inside of a decently constructed piece of clothing should look as good as the outside. Producing that kind of elegant finish is great fun. I learned, however, from the daughter-in-law of a professional seamstress whose work was breathtakingly elegant that Eleanor did not hesitate to sashay out with irregular flapping seam allowances next to her own skin.

More after the jump.