Thunder and Lightning – Laura Redniss (2016)

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Lauren Redniss has finally completed Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future (2017), another book in her own style that makes it so hard to categorize. It’s a combination of art and science, of fact and passion, of words and graphics, so that in the end, it’s tough to put under one label: Scientific manga, perhaps (except it’s much more than that).

After my read of Redniss’ earlier work (Radioactive, a slightly more straightforward and controlled graphic representation of the Curie family’s lives), I know somewhat to expect with her work, so I wasn’t too surprised to see her rendering of scientific phenomena linked with weather and climate. I just haven’t really seen atmospheric science presented in such an innovative way. And actually, the book covers more than straight atmo sci… It’s a huge ranging book, and is similar to how someone would fall down into related Wikipedia rabbit holes if they had some time to spare. The topics are related, and yet ramble widely across the hemisphere, but it’s all interesting both in content and how it’s presented.)

(Sidenote: Redniss defines Weather as state of the atmosphere. Climate: prevailing weather patterns on a larger scale. FYI.)

Chapters are titled with fairly self-explanatory headings, some of which cover huge topics leaving you, as the reader, to wonder where you’ll travel in the next chapter. “Profit”, “Pleasure” and others are presented, along with “Cold”, “Rain” and the more obvious categorization. (The “Pleasure” chapter, incidentally, was a lovely topic to read about as it included the BBC shipping forecast which I remember hazily from my youth. I am not sure what exactly the forecast is saying, but it’s sounds lovely to hear if you’ve ever searched it out.)

So, this is non-fiction ramble through both the hard science and random facts linked with weather. In fact, I was never quite certain what I was going to be reading about when I turned the next page, which was in equal amounts both exciting and frustrating.

I think most people would learn something from this book, whether you are an expert or not, and so much of the information was new to me. For example, Redniss designed a new font just for this book called Qaneq LR, Qaneq being an Inuit word for snow. (Interestingly, Redniss also addressed the legend that more northern First People groups have loads of words for the different kind of snow that they experience. True or not, you decide.)

This ended up being a good read.

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A Letterpress Weekend…

 

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Very kind and patient artist who was helping us with the new skill…

I’ve recently been itching to do something arty (as in drawing or something along those lines), and to try to scratch that itch, Superhero and I went along to the monthly First Friday Art Trail that is hosted by the arts organizations in our community. It’s a big event and happens once/month when most of the big galleries here in town open their doors on a Friday evening, rain or shine, and you can just walk around and see what’s shaking up in the local arts world. (There are also food trucks, which also helps gets us downtown on those evenings. Yum.)

As we were strolling around, looking at the hundreds of great artworks on display in both indoor and outdoor venues, I caught my eye on a flyer advertising a printmaking workshop for that following Sunday, and having seen some really good letterpress pieces hanging around town, decided to sign up for that afternoon’s activity.

If you’re not certain what letterpress art is, it rather looks like an early example of printing, and it’s a piece that typically comes out of an old-fashioned heavy iron printing press, and is usually heavily reliant on fonts and words of some description. (Naturally, as it’s a LETTERpress.) So off I trundled to see what I could learn.

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Some of the letter forms used to make the print on the piece of paper….

It was a very casual workshop set in a really well-lit renovated studio that used to be a former gas station (or maybe an old fire station) years ago. Now it’s this great creative space with really good light and with loads of space to spread out and do artist things.

It was a small workshop, only a few participants, and led by two printmaking artists who were very patient at all our questions and inquiries as we learned the process. It’s typically used for broadsheets (large pieces of paper) only printed in very small quantities. You may have seen examples for graphic pieces or perhaps a short poem with plenty of white space surrounding the words. I’d been dying to have a go at this, so was pretty excited to get to do it.

letterpress_workshop_June2017Seeing as it was more of “experiential” workshop than a 100% serious “teaching” workshop, we all got to try our hands at creating some postcards and notecards which, obvs, was very exciting because – ohhh. Writing materials! Each piece was pre-cut with a matching envelope with really good weighty paper that the ink would not be able to bleed through. (Pet peeve.)

(If you’re curious about my results, check out the pic on left. Most of playing with space and graphic design, so no worry if they don’t make much sense.)

Such good fun, and although it’s incredibly unlikely that I will ever get my own printing press (big, expensive, bulky), I had a great time and it really scratched my creative itch which was good. If you ever get the opportunity to try it, it’s pretty easy and extremely satisfying. (Instant gratification. Hooray!)

We’re just about to head off to Albuquerque, NM, and drive with my mum and sister around to look around so things might be quiet here on the blog for a couple of days. Fear not. I will return, and then we can catch up with reading, news, and all those other things that make a life well-lived.

 

So – my trip to Vermont…

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…Was a lot of fun, so thought I’d put some photos up to show some of the sites that we passed.

As none of us had been to Vermont before and as we were all arriving from different far-flung places across the globe, we started the trip landing at Burlington Airport in one of the state’s larger cities. Didn’t see a great deal of Burlington, but I had a rather late arrival so after chatting a bit (and finding our first set of rocking chairs*, we went to the hotel and bed. (I had no idea that Vermont was so close to Canada! Hmm. Learn something new everyday, right?)

We tootled around Burlington the next morning, with a must-see (for me in particular) being the huge Lake Champlain. In Texas, it’s rare for me to see any large bodies of water, freshwater or sea, and so it’s always very high on my to-do list when I travel to places that do have one of those. So we took a ferry tourist ride around the lake, which was interesting and refreshing and a really fun way to spend the day (especially as all three of us had traveled across multiple east/west time zones to get there).

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The next day, we went to the Shelburne Museum which is a huge ranging historical place with authentic buildings that have been moved (in some cases) from elsewhere and then filled with artifacts anywhere on the spectrum from modern fiber art (e.g. art quilts) to sixteenth century kitchen tools and a covered bridge. (The covered bridge was outside, of course, and was interesting in and of its own right. We’d never seen one before, so found it to be an interesting experience. Are the bridges covered due to the frequency of severe cold weather events in Vermont?

One of the buildings at the Shelburne Museum...

One of the buildings at the Shelburne Museum…

Inside one of the old covered bridges that are scattered through Vermont (and other states?)

Inside one of the old covered bridges that are scattered through Vermont (and other states?)

Credit of artist: ?

Credit of artist: ?

My (rather small) mum sitting in a (rather big) chair at the Shelburne Museum.

My (rather small) mum sitting in a (rather big) chair at the Shelburne Museum.

Anyway, highly recommend a visit to this great museum if you’re in the neighborhood. It was really a fantastic place and we ended up spending most of the day there. (Of course, we found some rocking chairs to sit in for some of the day. 🙂 )

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We also visited the really well curated Robert Frost Interpretive Trail run by the National Forest Service and set in the middle of the Green Mountain Forest. There was a beautiful winding drive to and from the trail, and then, during the walking trail at spectacular scenic overviews, there were signs with relevant Frost poems written on them, and this was a really interesting touch. Frost had spent some time living as a forest ranger in this particular forest, so it was interesting to see similar views to the ones he had seen. I also had no idea that Frost is quite a recent poet. (I had thought that he was very Olden Times, but he’s not really.) (The views were really great in and of itself, but with the addition of poems, the trail breaks became a cultural tour as well. Well played, National Forest Service, Well played.)

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More booky photos next time. Suffice to say, that this was one of our family’s favorite trips. Thank you, Vermont!

IMG_8315 * One of the ongoing themes of the trip was searching for three or more Adirondack rocking chairs. I don’t know what came over us, except that it was really fun to spot them and go and commandeer them for a while. 🙂

Play: Red by John Logan

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Over the weekend, a last minute invitation from some friends led to us attending a really good local drama production which was really unexpected fun.

Hosted by the tiny drama group, Hub Theater Group, Red has a small cast of two in a plot focused on modern artist Mark Rothco and his star-struck apprentice. As their working relationship develops over the next couple of years, the audience learns to appreciate the rather acerbic Rothco and his insecurities over being an aging and perhaps irrelevant artist, railing at his innocent apprentice who eventually learns to stand up to the bullying and force the older man to face some uncomfortable truths. (See more on the play’s plot here in our local paper’s review.)

It was a literate and interesting theater experience and made a really good change from the traditionally “safer” play choices usually selected by Am-Drams here. (Not a slam by any means as most productions are fine but this was definitely a more challenging selection than the 32nd showing of Steel Magnolias.)

It was also played in a black box set up so it expected more participation from the audience (in terms of higher expectations) which I just loved. So – an unexpected treat for the weekend and fit the bill perfectly for a good evening out.

One of Rothco's pieces...

One of Rothco’s pieces…

Trying my hand at something different…

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As work and life was getting so demanding, I was having difficulty with doing much reading so I turned to other ways to relax. Watched a few movies – the old Roman Holiday movie was a blast to watch. (Really funny in places – much better than I had thought it was going to be!) Still working on The Wire, and started the new Dennis Leary series about an aging rock star. (Good stuff.)

And I wanted to do something with my hands — crafty stuff. I don’t know what came over me, but I signed up for a community evening class to learn how to make wire-wrapped jewelry – earrings in this case.

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Way back in my teenaged years, I taught myself how to make earrings using springy wire, some random beads and a round-nosed pliers. They were pretty basic in design, but I enjoyed the process and had fun distributing the end products to friends. Thirty years later, I’m at it again, but this time, I’m learning to do it right from a professional artist.

Our lovely artist teacher...

Our lovely artist teacher…

What fun!

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It’s been so long since I’ve done something meditative (such as this) that I’m really interested in integrating this more into my life as balance, and to continue this spate of hand-crafting, I’ve dug out an old cross stitch project and I might even get with some friends to do some coloring.  The world is our oyster. 🙂

Flying to Fort Worth…

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Just before my mum left this side of the world for UK, my twin sister and I met up with her in Fort Worth as an easy place to meet between us, geographically speaking. Fort Worth is also well known for its art offerings, and as we all like a bit of culture every now and then, this was a perfect spot.

So, Fort Worth is known to be a cowboy-town as its history revolves around that. It started in the late 1800’s as an Army outpost on a bluff overlooking the river, and then evolved into one of the main stops on the cattle drive trail via train to leave (and enter) Texas. It’s right next to Dallas, so for many people, Fort Worth gets all swallowed up in one vast metroplex, but the two cities seem to have different feels to me.

So, we stayed in Fort Worth, right in the Cultural District, and we all had so many laughs – it was so fun. Culturally speaking, we visited the Kimbell Art Museum  which was FABULOUS. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about this place as it was very very well done plus it was designed by famous American architect Louis I. Kahn (which was also a nice touch especially as I have a slight craze on that field at the moment). I’d done some research before the visit so I could astonish my family with such intriguing nuggets as “look at the vaults – Kahn liked Roman structure” and similar. 🙂

The art collection was fabbo. (Technical term for you.) It’s not a huge collection, but it’s curated extremely well and so they have some excellent pieces there. This was one of my favs:

Sorry - not sure who the artist is here... Any ideas?

Sorry – not sure who the artist is here… Any ideas?

But there were loads of others as well. The descriptions beside each of the pictures got to be pretty funny after a while — once we’d read the 20th over-earnest art statement about it, they started to seem to be a bit ridiculous and stretching to make a point. (It’s a picture for crying out loud.) However, it was fun,  it was culture, and the building was superb to see the art. (All natural light.)

Oh, and in the museum gift shop, I happened to find a book written by my favorite uncle Peter Inskip who is an expert in renovating historical architecture and works with Yale University on some projects. How about that? “I see famous relatives…”

And here's my lovely Uncle Peter on the spine of a book that he co-wrote...

And here’s my lovely Uncle Peter on the spine of a book that he co-wrote…

So once we’d finished there and had a nice lunch, we went driving around and found a Target (as is our family wont) and then really just messed around for the rest of the day. (Loads of laughs too.) The next day was sunny and pretty and we spent the morning walking around the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens which were just plain lovely to see. As it had just rained the day before, everything was very green and lush which was beautiful to see plus my sis, mum and I were just casually chatting about anything and everything. Nice combination of things to do.

So – a lovely weekend with the fam…

Envelopes: A Puzzling Journey through the Royal Mail – Harriet Russell (2005)

Ever contemplated just how a badly-addressed envelope actually makes it to the end of its journey in the right place? Well, author and artist Harriet Russell has, and thus was born an art project involving envelopes addressed in puzzles (or anagrams or…) and it was up to the Royal Post (and US Post) employees to work out just where was its end destination.

An interesting and well designed book of an art project completed by Russell (who was in art school at the time). She had noticed how efficient the Royal Post was (and, as it turns out, also the US Postal system) and decided to do a project sending envelopes to herself but with the mailing address formatted into a puzzle – one that the mail employees would have to solve.

So – Russell designed and mailed 150 envelopes  (75 of which were successfully delivered), and this book was born, consisting of photographs of each of the envelopes (both front and back where relevant).  I thought that the sheer number of individual ideas that the author had was really impressive, and she really stretched the perimeter of the project to challenge postal workers. She employed everything from tricky anagrams to dot-to-dot pictures to a table of chemical elements, and so kudos must go to the good-natured postal employees for joining in the fun. It would have been very easy for them to just dump the various envelopes in the “undeliverable” box, but perhaps they found entertainment and challenge by solving her various puzzles.

What added spice was that Russell didn’t always use the same address – she varied it, and even sent some from NYC so it wasn’t just a case of “weird envelopes always go to this address and that art person”.  I thought this was pretty impressive for both the US and the Royal Post employees.

I had fun browsing through this heavily illustrated book. Every page was a picture (front and back) of an envelope that had been successfully delivered and each clearly showed whatever puzzle the postal workers had to solve. I can imagine that some of the post workers really enjoyed this project as they took the time to carefully work out where each envelope was going.

Overall, a fun project to read about, and probably a fun project to implement. I am not sure that my Texas postman (lovely as he is) would be up for a similar challenge – he sometimes can’t get the address correct in the traditional format, let alone in a puzzle. (Although he could surprise me, as people do.)

The book also had a good introduction by Grammar Guru Lynn Truss. (Always a nice extra touch.) Enjoyed this one and found it to be creatively inspiring.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt – Caroline Preston (2011)

A lovely and very different novel of a young woman growing up on the East Coast with a widowed mother and two brothers during the 1920’s. What’s particularly interesting about this particular book is that it is composed entirely of snippets and various scrapbooking bits and pieces to tell the story of Frankie’s life as she graduates from high school and moves on (thus the “scrapbook” of the title). Scraps such as old event programs, magazine ads that have been snipped out, locks of hair, old photos – all are gathered and arranged to further story very effectively.

Most of Frankie’s friends had traditional dreams of getting married and having children right after high school, and Frankie also would like that, but first, she wants to attend college and be a writer. However, life is not that easy and as the story details the twists and turns that Fate sends her way, the reader is drawn into the various ephemera that Frankie uses to illustrate her life in the scrapbook. Vintage clippings and other odds and ends all add detail to give a complete picture of her as she graduates from  Vassar and moves on to the next stage of her life.

This was really an interesting reading experience: the various bits that were used to describe the events of the story on each page had been carefully chosen and then placed artistically on the page. Lovely old typewriter fonts were used for the labels and I really did feel as though I was going through a vintage scrapbook of someone’s life.

One reviewer of this book added that the vintage scrapbook idea (of using multiple objects to detail a life and its many aspects) was pretty representative of the 1920’s in the US: it was when people started to experiment more, life was more prosperous now that the country had almost recovered from the Great War, and women had had a taste of career freedom which they could not forget.  Preston also does a good job of expressing the excitement and anticipation of a young high school graduate and then a college graduate.

If you have enjoyed the “Griffin and Sabine” books by Nick Bantock, or perhaps “Radioactive” (by Lauren Redniss) that I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, then you would like this. The story by itself is not the most entrancing, but the addition of the pictures and other details that raises this book above that.

The author is an archivist for the Peabody/Essex Museum and for Harvard University so she has a good grasp of using the various historical pieces of social history and life back then. She has also had a lifetime hobby of collecting vintage scrapbooks which was put to good use here.

An enjoyable and quick read (or browse) of the early life of a young and interesting woman she navigates her way through her early adult years. This was a pleasure to look at and a pleasure to read.

Other reviews from across the Blogosphere:

* Sophisticated Dorkiness review