31 May 2010

Like a Moth to a . . . Porch Light

We get a lot of moths out here in the country, but there's so much other wildlife that I haven't paid them much attention until now.

Last I night I happened to notice that there were a lot of fat, pale moths on the screen door, so I decided to have a closer look.

Of course, you can't see much from inside the screen. Our screen door has those latches that snap shut with a bang, so I had to be reeeeeally careful when I opened it and crept outside.

Some work on the ol' web, and luckily this is a pretty distinctive moth, and I was able to figure out what kind it is. At first I thought it was the evening primrose moth (Schinia florida), which is very similar in colour and shape, but I know that insect species can be very difficult to tell apart, and my moth has a distinctly different pattern on its wings, even if the colours are the same.

So I kept looking. This gaily decorated fellow turns out to be Dryocampa rubicunda, the rosy maple moth. Pretty much their entire lifecycle centres around the maple tree, so it make sense that we have lots of these moths since we have a lot of maples. If you're interested, you can read more on the Bug Guide, or Wikipedia.

While I was out in the dark trying to get some good photos of D. rubicunda, I spotted another handsome fellow.

He's an attractive wood-grain brown and both smaller and less furry than the maple moths. There were a couple of them on the deck, and they both sat with their abdomens curving straight up.

The, as I was getting ready to go back inside to warm up my chilly toes, a big, furry brown moth landed on the screen next to the maple moths. Since I had the camera out already, I took his picture, too, though being dark brown, it was hard to get a decent shot.

Both of these brown moths are as yet unidentified. I'll give it a shot later today, though I don't have high hopes as there are an awful lot of brown night-flying moths in the world, even in this small area of it.

We also have a number of mammalian visitors. We have a resident vole who has an extensive burrow conveniently located near one of the bird seed spots. There is a pair of chipmunks (perhaps not a mated pair, but two of them, anyway) and at least one red squirrel. A few snowshoe hares are regular visitors, and then one day, this cutie wandered into the yard:

He's a woodchuck or marmot (Marmota monax) and would no doubt be a pest if we had a garden. He seemed quite happy to toodle around the yard munching on weeds and didn't seem too concerned when I went out on the deck to get a clearer shot.

And just yesterday, I was about to go outside during a break in the drizzle, to have a quick turn around the property, and found this almost right outside the front door:

He sat there quite content until he saw me out of the corner of his eye, and then he took off for the woods. I didn't get a good enough look from the right angle to tell if he was a small snowshoe hare or not. I don't have a good book on Nova Scotia mammals (just one on animal tracks), so I don't know what other lagomorphs there might be around these parts.

So, I need a book on Nova Scotia mammals, and one on Nova Scotia insects (or at least moths, butterflies, dragonflies and beetles), and probably soon one on Nova Scotia wildflowers and plants. Like these, maybe:


30 May 2010

[BFG] On Reading Digitally and the Design of Books

Or, What I Want in an E-Reader

While I'm fascinated by e-Readers, I should say right off that I'm also a traditional book person and always will be. I collect books and I'm a traditional hand bookbinder. I prefer reading something with actual pages (for various reasons largely having to do with tactility and the senses). But, I'm also a technophile, and I can certainly see the utility in e-Readers.

Why I, a Book Person, Needs an e-Reader

For some time now, I've been thinking about buying an e-Reader. Aside from the coolness of a new gadget, the idea of being able to have a whole bunch of reference books (and yes, probably some fiction) in a portable, vaguely book-shaped package is very appealing. And my former bookbinding teacher and current mentor has all kinds of out-of-print and extremely rare bookbinding books in photocopy form that he's gradually scanning and making into pdfs. Many e-Readers can also read pdfs as well as ePub and whatever proprietary format they might have. So an e-Reader would be immensely useful (and did I mention cool?).

I had almost decided on one of Sony's devices, as they seemed to be better with pdfs, at least according to what I read at the time. I might even have bought one then, but Bill hadn't found work yet, so our spending was rather . . . restricted, shall we say. But then the iPad was announced, and oh! how I want one. Not only does it have its own native e-Reader app, but you can also get versions of Kindle and Nook apps, making Amazon and Barnes & Noble's libraries available, too. (Interestingly, the iBookstore is currently only available to US users, but since I'm mainly after free out-of-print fiction and the ability to read Joe's bookbinding pdfs, that's not a major concern, and I expect it's temporary, anyway).

Anyway, I can't afford an iPad just yet, though I've got some teaching gigs coming up, so I may not have to wait too long. But none of this is quite what made me start this article.

No, what I've been thinking about most is the issue of design.

Design makes Everything Better, Even Books

Some of you may know that I came to Nova Scotia to study design at NSCAD, and though I didn't finish with a design degree (being too easily distracted by printmaking and photo and the ability to brush up my bookbinding skills with actual book arts courses), I did take enough design courses to be thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that design can make anything better.

But consider the book. In addition to being written, books are designed, and not just the covers. If they weren't, a book would look just like the stack of pages your printer spits out, and who wants to read that?

But of course, book design is usually invisible. It's there to help remove barriers to the reader becoming immersed in the story by making the text as easy and natural to read as possible. Why then, you might ask, don't all books look the same on the inside? It's because some books have better design than others, and also because there are some things a designer can do with layout and typeface and spacing that don't effect how we read to a huge extent, but which give each book a slightly different character.

Please, Can I Have my Book and Read it, Too?

So as I'm reading the info on the various e-Readers and e-Reader apps for iPad (and also iPhone, since I've already got one of those), I keep wondering, "But where's the design?" Most e-Readers offer various user-configurable typefaces, font sizes and colour schemes. That's all very nice, and I can certainly understand some readers wanting different sizes of type (it's why large print books exist, after all), but what happens to those subtle differences of character that a skilled book designer imparts to the pages of any given book?

I don't really think I want 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to look exactly the same as Mona Lisa Overdrive, even on pages of pure text.

What I want is an e-Reader that allows the reader to choose typesizes, sure, and maybe even colours, if black-on-white hurts their eyes. Heck, even let them choose between serif and sans-serif, and even between a selection of faces. But please, can I have a default that was designed by an actual book designer? Can I have an e-version that maybe even uses the same design as its print version? E-Readers (iPhone excepted) generally have big enough screens nowadays that you can even use the same page numbering as the print version, don't they?

Sure, keep all the configurable options for readers who want that sort of thing, but please let me have my book designed.

(And here's a great article on the subject from Wired: Why E-Books Look so Ugly by Priya Ganapati. Edit: and six hours after I posted this, I found this article from the NYT, via Twitter: Further Thoughts of a Novice E-Reader by Verlyn Klinkenborg, who has a pretty cool name.)

How to Make a Pamphlet With a Fold-Over Cover

My latest bookbinding tutorial is up on HandmadeNews: How to Make a Pamphlet With a Fold-Over Cover. It's the latest in a series of "Bookbinding 101" tutorials with the aim of helping interested folks learn bookbinding, starting simple and working through to more complex. You'll find the whole series (so far only a couple articles), plus other articles on bookbinding here (if you click on my profile thingy in the right column once you get to that page, you'll find the whole list of things I've done for the site, including a few other articles on books and printing, plus a pile of word finds and a few odds and ends of other things).

"How to Make a Pamphlet With a Fold-Over Cover" includes instructions for two versions of the basic structure, one slightly more complicated than the other. The first version leaves the sewing exposed, so in my model I used ribbon to bind the book, and sewed it so the knot would be on the outside instead of the inside as is usual with pamphlets.

I used that leaf green paper on the inside so the different parts would be easily visible, but then I ended up using mostly diagrams in the instructions instead of photos. Oh well.

The second version uses a longer sheet of cover paper and has more folds so the sewing on the spine is hidden under the fold of the cover. The book in this photo is one I made a few years ago when I took a bookbinding class with Susan Mills. I wish I knew what the paper is, as I'd sure love to have some more.

These variations on the basic pamphlet are super-simple to make, but with the right paper can be quite elegant. It would be a lovely form to use for a chapbook--say if you're a poet or story writer and wanted to give a little book of your work to friends instead of a holiday card (I've done that myself, and people really seem to enjoy it). I can even imagine a little book of sketches or even colour illustrations. I might try that next year.

25 May 2010

[BFG] Dr Shallowgrave, Before the "Dr"

Writing again which is good. And it turns out the infamous Dr Sophia Shallowgrave, during her student days and thus before the "Dr" part, is a character. I hope she doesn't take over the novel like she tends to take over a conversation. This is Maring's story, and to a lesser extent Watcher's. But anyway, here's one of the things she said today:
I’ve already declared my advanced degrees to be in cryptobiology and alchemistry. Which sound like crackpot disciplines, but are actually more scientifically advanced than the stuff they call science in Europe or America. Really I was supposed to be looking for new species this trip. But there’s no reason I couldn’t do a monograph on a lost people, too.
So there's the possibility that I may have to actually write her monograph on the Hill People of Frisland. Shouldn't be too hard. I had to read enough of them in my anthropology student days.

Drawing Norse Myth, Or The Animals, Anyway

So for my latest set of illustrations, I've been drawing cards for a Norse myth swap. I'm fascinated by the pairs of animals associated with the various gods in Norse myth.

Huginn and Muninn

Huginn and Muninn are Odin's ravens, whose names translate as "Thought" and "Memory." They fly out into the world and bring back news, so if you find yourself under observation by a raven or two, you might want to think about whether you've done anything to anger the gods.

Geri and Freki

Odin's wolves Geri and Freki both have names that translate as "Greedy," though the root of "freki" is "ravenous," so I like to call them Greedy and Ravenous.

Bygul and Trjgul

Norse literature has this very cool device called a "kenning" which is a sort of synonym or poetic word or phrase. "Ken" means something like "knowledge" or "understanding," so kennings are about naming some aspect of a thing. An example is "whale road," referring to the sea. Well, the cats that pull Frejya's chariot have names that are kennings. Bygul or "Bee-gold" and Trjgul or "Tree-gold" are kennings for "honey" and "amber." Coolest cat names ever.

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr

Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr (Tooth-grinder and Tooth-gnasher) are Thor's chariot-pulling goats (Norse gods seems to enjoy the grandeur of chariots, or maybe it's a military power thing). I wanted to make them look a little crazy, like their names.

At some point I'm going to have to stop avoiding drawing people. Drawing people is not one of my strengths, which means I should be drawing *more* people to improve my skills.

24 May 2010

Hey Diddle Diddle

Here are my latest tiny illustrations, finished and about to be sent off for swapping.

Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the moon

The little dog laughed to see such sport

And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Though apparently what I have painted is not a dish, but a bowl. I never really thought about it until now, but I suppose that a dish and a bowl really are two different things. Similar, yes, but a dish is shallower. But not quite as shallow as a saucer.

Also, it looks like I really need to figure out how to shade things that have no texture, like ceramic dishes and spoons. My quick, messy hatching is just not looking good.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll post the Norse myth illos, and after that I hope to get back to some book binding projects.

21 May 2010

Some Mythic Progress

Well, I didn't finish the painting last night, as I had hoped. I got distracted by unpacking a couple of boxes I've been saving for months for just the right time. Apparently, last night while I should have been painting was the right time. I can't complain, though, as I now have two less boxes in my way. And my library/dining room looks a little like a natural history museum. I'll get some pics later.

Anyway. Progress. I did manage to get the first wash of colour on all the cards. This is not really how I usually work--more often I complete one then move on to the next, but for whatever reason, I started with some pale colour on all of them.

As you can perhaps see, I work light-to-dark on watercolours. I have begun to suspect this may be backwards. It would certainly be backwards if I was working in, say, graphite, and perhaps digitally, too. But this is how you sort of have to work in printmaking (especially if you are doing reductive prints), so that's kind of how my brain processes these days. Any painters reading this who have other ways of working?

20 May 2010

Nursery Rhyme and Myth

Just so you don't think I'm getting lazy (hah!), here's my most recent batch of tiny art in inked-but-not-coloured stage. (And for those of you here for bookbinding rather than illustration, don't worry, I'll have plenty of book stuff to post very soon).

The top four are from the nursery rhyme "Hey Diddle Diddle," but with the twist that the main actors are all fairies (hence the wings). The idea came from an ATC swap in which the participants would illustrate fairy tales or nursery rhymes but populate them with actual fairies (if you've studied folklore at all, you'll know that fairy tales often have no fairies to speak of in them).

The bottom four images are not simply pairs of animals, they're pairs of animals from Norse mythology. Odin's ravens are Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory), and his wolves are Geri and Freki (Greedy and Covetous; though both names translate as "greedy," the root of "freki" is "covetous"). The two cats are Frejya's Bygul and Trjgul (literally "bee gold" and "tree gold," or more simply Honey and Amber), and the crazy goats are Thor's Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr (Tooth-grinder and Tooth-gnasher); both the cats and the goats pull their deity's chariot.

I hope to get them all painted tonight, though that may be a bit ambitious. They need to go in the mail as soon as I can get them there, to make it to their swap host in time.

16 May 2010


Here's the last of the three sets of artist trading cards I've been working on lately.

I think of the three specific bee images, the bumble bee (above) was most successful, while the honey bee (below) was least successful.

I used a conceit I'm rather fond of, which is to make them look like illustrations from an old natural science book. I did the same thing with Leonardo's Clockwork Scarab (which you can still purchase from my Etsy shop), and with a intaglio print of moths (which will soon be available in my Etsy shop).

I like science. Science is cool. Anyway. My favorite of the set of four, somewhat to my surprise, as it was my least favorite when I did the sketches, is this one, a little bee anatomy chart:

These have now gone off to their swap host in Germany, and I should soon be receiving little bee cards by other artists all over the world. Very cool.

Next up for ATC swaps, I have some nursery rhyme characters and some Norse mythology, followed by peacocks and mushrooms. I do love to keep busy.

And for non-trading-card art, I have several ideas in my head that will need to come out soon. I won't say much yet, as I want to see if I can make the sketches come anywhere close to what's in my head first, but a few hints: one is inspired by bird evolution and Gideon Grave, gentleman adventurer (a character from my Frisland stories); one by a line of poetry with an octopus in; and one by a scene from White Foxes, Full Moon, the Frisland novel I'm working on.

And I still have a number of book projects on the go. I have something I was asked to do for my sister eons ago, which I hope to actually get done for her birthday this year. Then I have "A Love Letter to E.A. Poe" to bind--it's a book of prints I did inspired by "The Raven." I just have to decide if I'm going to include the text of the poem, in which case I have some letterpress printing to do. It'll be in an edition of 3. And I've got some old zinc printing plates I'm going to turn into covers for blank journals. They've got fishes on them! These will be rather expensive blank journals, I'm afraid, but I think they will be very, very cool.

14 May 2010

Flying Fish!

Flying fish! I painted these as one long strip, to be cut up into four cards afterwards. It'll be tiny on the blog, but here's the whole thing:

When I drew these, I started by drawing some sketches from reference photos (thank you, Google Images). Then I used the poses I liked best, and changed some of the details--especially in the fins.

I came up with the colours in the same sort of way. I looked at a lot of pictures, then came up with my own colour scheme.

The result is Grave's Flying Fish, Cheilopogon gravesi, discovered by Gideon Grave on one of this adventures. Their geographical range is uncertain at present, but I'm hoping a thorough search of Grave's notes will provide some clues. It seems unlikely that it was a native of the waters around Frisland, but it is a possibility.

This last one is my favorite, because it ended up having the best composition when the four cards were separated. I also think it best captures the semi-transparent nature of their "wings."

I've now mailed these off to their swap coordinator, as hard as that was, but I'll be making greeting cards, and maybe a t-shirt with the full strip of fishes.

13 May 2010

Sea Dragons

As promised, here are the finished sea dragon illustrations I've been working on. They're each 3.5 by 2.5 inches (that's trading card size), and first drawn in pen and ink (india ink with a Hunt 102 "crowquill" dip pen) then coloured with watercolours (Windsor & Newton solid and Pentel tubes--whichever is closer to hand, usually), on Canson Aquarelle cold press 140 lb watercolour paper (which is probably more than most of you wanted to know). If you missed the last two posts here, they both had in-progress shots of these and some other work.

Portrait of a Weedy Sea Dragon

Portrait of a Leafy Sea Dragon

Weedy Sea Dragon

Leafy Sea Dragon

These were done for a sea dragon themed challenge swap (the challenge being to try to draw/paint realistic sea dragons, which are complicated little fishes), and they'll be mailed off to the swap co-ordinator tomorrow. And yes, they were some of the ones I'm finding it very hard to part with, as I mentioned last post. I especially like the last two.

Tomorrow: flying fish!

Work in Progress

I'll post more pics of the things I'm working on tomorrow, as I now have the flying fish and the sea dragon cards completely finished and am getting them ready to mail out, but for now, here's what my work table looked like earlier today:

One problem I have discovered in making little pieces of art to trade is that sometimes they turn out so well, I want to keep them all. That's the problem I'm having with these two sets of cards. Fortunately, I have a good scanner. Of course, scans are never as good as the real thing, but they help. Also, *not* keeping everything encourages me to make more. And it encourages me to make *better* so that even if I no longer have something I really liked, soon I'll have something even better. Hypothetically.

10 May 2010

On the Drawing Board

I've really been enjoying making ATCs for swaps, and I find it's especially good for motivating myself to make work. I love to draw, but without assignments or deadlines, it's hard to stay focused. And since I'm one of those anal people who will do something they've said they'll do, or feel extremely guilty for not doing it, signing up for swaps is the perfect way to make sure I'll get something done.

Here's what's on the go right now:

That's ATCs for 3 different swaps, because I somehow ended up signing up for a bunch that end very close together. The flying fish I need to get coloured and in the mail as soon as I can. I hope to mail them tomorrow. The sea dragons will need to go out by next week, and the bees aren't due until June 6, but they have a long way to go, so I'd like to get them out this week if I can.

That leaves a fairy tale swap and a Norse myth swap to finish next week, and yesterday I signed up for mushrooms and mythical beasts, one due mid-June and one mid-July. As long as I don't get behind, these will keep we working, but not insanely busy. That's the idea, anyway.

Now if only I could become disciplined about getting new comic pages drawn. Not that that many people read Fey, but the few that do may very well have given up on me by now.

08 May 2010

[BFG] Latest Reading: A Bit of Urban Fantasy

I seem to have somehow ended up with a whole bunch of books in progress. I think it may be time to sit down and finish a few before I start any new ones. Anyway, here's what I've actually finished since my latest reading post back in February.
  1. Swim the Moon by Paul Brandon (fiction) buy from amazon
  2. Widdershins by Charles deLint (fiction) buy from amazon
  3. The Rosetta Key by William Dietrich (fiction) buy from amazon
  4. The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (comics/graphic novel) buy from amazon
  5. The Boilerplate Rhino by David Quammen (non-fiction) buy from amazon

So, I continued my small streak of urban fantasy, in both fiction and comics. The Unwritten is pretty great, and because I haven't being paying as much attention to comics in the last few years as I used to, it was a total surprise when I found it in the bookstore.

And yes, I've added Amazon associate links. I don't expect to make much, if any, money off them, but whatever I do get will undoubtedly go towards more books and comics (or maybe videogames), some of which I'll write actual reviews of.

07 May 2010

Collaborative Book: Final Pages

OK, the pages are done. Six copies, all hand-drawn, hand-coloured and hand-lettered. Phew. First, the front page of the section:

I had originally planned to do the lettering in amber ink, to keep it nice and subtle, but when I was playing around with my pens, trying to decide which one to use, I discovered that some purple cartridges I bought mostly for the nice little tin they came in actually fit in one of my pens. It' a little darker than I had planned, but I love the colour (it's much lovelier in person than on the screen).

The centre spread has only about 1/4 of the text, leaving half the text for the last page, but I really wanted the tree to be the focus. I didn't have to include the text at all--I think some of my team members are and some are not--but I've always enjoyed the combination of text and image, so in it went.

Some of the text placement is less than ideal, but overall I think it's all right. Anyway, I'm pleased with the result.

Next up, I have a big pile of ATCs for swaps that I need to get done fairly quickly. I had intended to work on them this week, but they got pushed aside for the book project. Then, I have a couple of rather insistent illustration ideas in my head that will be really cool if they turn out half as well as they look in my imagination. Then on to more books probably. Also, I've got to get some actual images on my website so people can see all my work in one place, instead of scattered all over Etsy and ArtFire and deviantART and Zazzle and PrintFection. Oh, and I think I might have put some on Cafe Press too. I can't remember.

06 May 2010

Flowers and Weeds: Collaborative Book

Yesterday I finished off the colouring on the first and last pages of my section for the BEST collaborative book project.

Remember, although I set it up as a single image, the sheet will actually be folded in half so the right half will be the front page of the section and the left half will be the back page of the section.

Today I'll add the text, and then tomorrow it'll go off in the mail. Also tomorrow, I'll post pictures of the final pages, folded so you can see exactly what they'll look like in the book.

05 May 2010

More Trees: Collaborative Book Project

As I thought, getting both sides painted yesterday was truly wishful thinking. The tiny twisty tree branches really slowed me down, but I'm very pleased with how they turned out.

The grass and quick wash of blue for the sky went much more quickly. Then, as I was heading for bed, I realized I hadn't painted any leaves. Since this is supposed to be a strong tree, though bent and twisted, it really needs leaves to show that it is quite alive. So this morning I added some simple leaf shapes.

Now I'll leave it to dry a little more, and this afternoon/evening I'll flip it over and start on the weeds and flowers on the other side. They are less complicated shapes, so hopefully will go faster than the tree. Then again, I am picky, so I might take longer than I think I will. As usual.

04 May 2010

More Collaborative Book Stuff

Yesterday I transferred the images for the other side of my book signature for the BEST collaborative book project. This one will be folded in the middle, so the right half will be the first page, coming before the tree spread I showed yesterday, and the left half will be the last page, coming after the tree. When I've got everything finished, I'll fold one and photograph it and post them how they'll look in the actual book.

So here's the sketch I started with:

Then I spent a really long time inking. For some reason, I had thought these pages would go much more quickly than the tree, but they actually took quite a bit longer. Anyway, here is what the inks look like:

Today, after we run into Truro to drop off a few more resumes (BillyZ's this time), and maybe find somewhere that sells masking fluid, I'll start on the colours. I hope they won't take too long, as I've also got to get in some writing (and the videogaming to write about). I plan to stick to fairly simple watercolour washes, so I think it should go quickly. Maybe I'll even get both sides done today (probably wishful thinking, but you never know).

Anyway, here's one last image, of the six pages and their much-traced-over sketch: