Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Moving on to the Next Era

This moribund little blog will hopefully pick up steam, as I have signed up for a Digital Arts class and a Photoshop class at Berkeley City College.  First class is today, though it's a lab session rather than the regular class, so there may not be much to do.....  I'm also taking a MOOC, UC Berkeley's Greater Good Center's Science of Happiness (free and open to everyone in the world; let's see how many of us stick it through to the end!).  Since I am a great skeptic when it comes to "positive psychology",  I'll be the one in the back of the virtual class, mumbling sarcastic comments about why they might want to make us all happy little clones willing to do their bidding without objection, whoever "they" are.  It should therefore be a lot of fun.  :-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gardening Styles of the Not-So-Rich-and-Famous

When we moved to  our newly built house when I was seven I watched my mom create a two-level yard out of a mound of rubble that the builders left behind, as landscaping didn't seem to be part of the package.  Over a year or so she hauled soil from one place to another until there was a top garden and a bottom garden.  Eventually we built a turtle pond on the top that drained into the bottom, where we encouraged bullfrogs to live.  The top yard ended up with a lemon tree, nasturtiums and an agave plant or two; these are only what I remember.  My mom propagated agave plantlets after the main plant bloomed and left a hundred descendents along its stalk.  I remember her starting a flat of multicolored coleus plants.  I've been hooked on gardening ever since.

I am fascinated by gardens, not just for the plants that they contain but the relationship of the owner to the garden.  People approach the portion of their property not covered by their house in several different ways.  I am inspired by and envious of many gardens, others make me shudder.  I make terrible assumptions about the education level and political leanings of the owners, even though I know this is this worst kind of idle speculation.  Still, what is obvious is whether a garden is loved, and lived in, or considered a wasteland leading up to the interior of the house that only needs to be tamed enough not to annoy the neighbors.

1. This is the blasted earth approach to gardening: bare concrete and rocks, or extremely low maintenance junipers and such things: the goal is not to set foot in the outside except to park in the driveway and approach the front door.  To me it's depressing, but perhaps the owner has health issues and cannot garden or afford a gardener.  Perhaps....

2. The overambitious approach: the gardener has big plans, more or less gardening knowledge, plants up a storm and then gets caught up in other aspects of life. Things become overgrown and die from neglect. There is a corner of my garden that shows quite clearly the result of this approach: leggy penstemon fighting against irises which are in turn being smothered by scabiosa and a nasty thistle  type of weed.

3. The person who hires a professional landscaper both to install and maintain the plants: an excellent garden may be created and the owner never has to touch it.  There may be a lot of appreciation for the effect, but the owner does not "own" the garden, the landscaper does, and, unless the house is a mansion with extensive grounds, the gardener will have a lot of other houses on her route and will only show up every so often.  There are no people wealthy enough for a huge garden installation and expert maintenance in my neighborhood.  One neighbor comes closest to a professional landscape on his own: his garden is filled with perennials and groundcovers, low maintenance but they come in a multitude of leaf colors and the yard is always fun to look at.

I thought he was a professional landscaper, but he actually has a desk job during the week; this is just his hobby.  I'm lucky enough to have a bird's eye view of his yard from my front window.

4. Then there are my favorite gardeners, like the neighbor above, the ones who play in their gardens constantly, as if it were another room or two of their house.  The owner's enjoyment of the garden is obvious. 

I often garden-sit for these nearby friends.  Like my first example they also have a huge slab of concrete in front of their house, but this concrete is more like a living room floor than a no-man's land.  It is filled with planters, garden sculptures, and a picnic table.  Dinner may be eaten on that table when the weather allows.

Their vegetable garden intermingles with flowers, many edible, and herbs. These plants often find their way to the dinner table; it all feels whole and intertwined, outside and inside.

I have begun to play in my own garden again, hoping to take it from a category 2, overwhelmed, to a category 4, playground and outdoor room.

Due to necessity, until the drier gets fixed, my backyard is also my laundry room.  :-)  It reminds me of the clotheslines of my youth, but somehow the laundry doesn't smell as fresh as I remember from my childhood.

I'm starting seedlings in hopefully slug-proof aquariums.  After two weeks several things are ready to plant out in the garden.

I have several garden beds actually cleared, mulched, planted with goodies from Annie's Annuals and seeded with radishes, dwarf marigolds, alyssum (we'll see who wins).

Elsewhere there are squash and cucumber seedlings (what some animal has left me after some midnight digging) plus some kale seedlings.

Here are my hands at the end of the gardening day:

Black bean seedlings; started in July, hope they bear before the cold sets in.

Two days later they all have their first real leaves and will need to be planted in a day or so.

Sweet 100 tomatoes and tomatillos that both overwintered.

Hollyhock in the front yard that the deer missed.

I'm trying to just sit out there and relax with a book off and on.  It's more difficult than it looks.  Here is a view up from the chair, juniper trees and scudding clouds.  Ahhhhh.  I picked the best summer to retire, the weather has been perfect.

So, I will never hire a professional garden designer, not even the mow and blow guys; I prefer to keep puttering, for better or worse, and am enjoying the new "rooms" of my house.  I have plans to propagate several cooperative perennials, like heuchera and primroses, so when I re-landscape parts of the front yard I won't need to buy more than mulch and some retaining wall stones.  Here's to gardening, as long as the back holds out.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Important Status Change

My old Blogger introduction:

I work at a large university in California.  If I could clone myself the other half would stay at home, pull every last weed from the garden, organize all my craft supplies, walk 15,000 steps a day, find time to do fun things with friends,  and achieve a general state of perfection.  Well, except for I kind of need the money, and I kind of miss talking to other humans after a couple of days.

My new Blogger introduction, as of June 27, 2014:

I have recently retired from a large university in California.  Now comes the time when I put my deferred list of activities to the test: stay at home, pull every last weed from the garden, organize all my craft supplies, walk 15,000 steps a day, find time to do fun things with friends,  and achieve a general state of perfection.  Hopefully the money and the human contact issues will work themselves out as I go along.

I have been panicking and whining to friends about the stress of the transition until the past couple of months, when I realized the transition was real, that I had some Europe travel to accomplish, and that none of the huge, life changing consequences would necessarily be felt in the first few months, so I could relax and save the angst for later.  So far it's just like a stay at home vacation, only, as I do each thing I ask myself: are you happy with this arrangement, do you want to make things better organized, cleaner, start working on the kinds of things you couldn't accomplish while working full time, etc. etc. 

Though there are a vast amount of things that need doing within the house, so far the garden has called with more insistence than the messes in the house and I have gladly answered that call.

It will be time for a bit of blog "meta" in a while, as my planned activities often get blogged in order to solidify things in my head.  I'm still a lists person, so will be making lists over the next week.  I've signed up for two classes at Berkeley City College this fall: Digital Photography and Photoshop.  I will be needing a new computer, updated software and eventually a new camera.  Also I'll be one of tens of thousands of people taking a MOOC offered by the Greater Good Center on the UCB campus called the Science of Happiness.  Anyone else in the world reading this, it's not too late to sign up.  I will be one of those Doubting Thomases who wonders if it's possible, or even desirable to seek happiness as a science, but that's why it will be fun.  We have nothing to measure against if we achieve constant bliss, but in reality I'm pretty sure the organizers are not actually advocating this, but are treating it more as a form of psychology, realizing that none of us are happy all the time and encouraging us to find ways to alleviate unhappiness when it seems to take over our lives.  Come and join me in the discussion, blog friends.....

on to the day, need to garden before the heat sets in......

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Those Camera Toting Tourists

 (above: the main church in Freiburg; below, horses delivering beer kegs, a special attraction, not an everyday way of delivering beer throughout Germany, as even the local folks were taking pictures)

Camera toting tourists: I am one of those, most certainly.  Almost everything we saw in Europe was in the public domain, seen by thousands of tourists every week or month or maybe even day.  Though I may get some lucky shots, my photos are not professional.  But, still, there is a world of difference between seeing an object in 2D or 3D.  No matter how high the resolution, how skillfully placed the image details in the shot, 3D is real and 2D is not quite.

Besides the ability to see an object from multiple sides, in different lights, there are also the physical memories that come with visiting the real thing: dark, incense-laden church corners, the pitted and warped surface of stairs that have been used for hundreds of years.  Then there is your background story, unique to your trip, of how you found the museum or building in a strange city, the inconveniences and annoyances gone through to take the photos (dying camera batteries just as you get to the "good stuff", allergy attacks that make you realize that most of the pleasure will be in the photos that go with a retelling of the tail of your adventure).  The smell of fresh horse poop on hot cobblestone streets.

In order to make these things "mine", the not so good parts as well as the good and great parts, I take my own photos.  I take large-scale, distance shots, to place the object in context, then I try to isolate medium sized to small portions: the expression on the face of a bas-relief over a doorway, the colors used to paint grapes and grape vines on the pillar of a church.  I am hoping to find that in the end I will have made some contribution to knowledge of these details, which the other camera toting tourists may have overlooked while concentrating on shiny golden alters and such.

I came to realize that the things I delighted in could be rather indiscriminate, not necessarily according to verified age and authenticity.  I began to wonder what, if anything, had actually remained intact since the 1100s or 1200s when they were first created.  Not only were there the bombings of the past two World Wars, but I learned that castles have been placed under siege, conquered, blown up, etc. throughout all the centuries.  I picked up a guide to the castles of the Rhine River region and all of these things have happened to most of them.  They have been rebuilt over the past 400 years, but only a few have survived without being destroyed at least once.

I hope to learn a lot more about this; a friend at work from Austria tells me that there strict regulations for repaired and reconstructed structures, that if the actual materials cannot be reused, at least materials from the same era should be found. In Amsterdam buildings that are authentic enough have a plaque beside the entryway.  But, though it would be nice to know the dates and authenticity of the reconstructions, still, does it entirely matter if the current form and colors are attractive?  No matter the history, this particular building is currently existing in this particular location, one that is not home to me and which I may not be able to revisit with ease, and I have recorded the features that please me.

I am not at all a knowledgeable student of European art and architecture, honestly I didn't come hunting for anything other than the "wow" factor of what I did see.  Others have done it better, but those others aren't me.  And the interest now remains, I want to find out more, collect other images, plan a hypothetical return where I get to concentrate on the areas that were of most interest.

At the time I thought I was taking too many pictures of mundane things, but even now I wish I could remember what each hotel room looked like, what the building looked like and the streets approaching it.

One more week to retirement, after which there will come a day when I need to rest my aching gardening muscles (you can drag a suitcase around Europe for 3 weeks, up and down spiral staircases and along cobblestone streets, and there are STILL a lot of muscles you haven't used and will rediscover with some discomfort after you have returned and pulled weeds in the back yard for a day!)  At which point I will complete my list of places we visited with the proper names of buildings and neighborhoods, I will research techniques, make links to visitor websites and image searches, links to the websites of modern artists whose work I admired.  Then I will take the first step of organizing the thousands of images, combining cell phone with camera, "borrowing" some of my daughter's higher quality photos, and start to come to terms with all that I've seen.

I hope to set myself a fairly high standard of accuracy, so that my half-information and mis-information doesn't accompany the image around the world on Pinterest.  I hope that some of my favorite shapes find a way into my GIMP experiments, and that I remember to give credit where credit is due.  I hope I learn much, much more in advance of my next trip.  I may not be able to afford Europe again right away, but San Francisco buildings are only a BART ride away and they also have some fascinating architectural details.

To the cookstove, my dears, with banana bread and pancakes to be made....

A Freiburg alleyway....

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trip to Europe!

Or how I spent the beginning of my summer vacation.....

This little obscure craft/design blog is about to become a little obscure art/architecture blog, at least part time, until I've processed my over 2,000 photos of Germany, Amsterdam, Bruges, and more Germany.  We've just come back from spending a whirlwind 3 weeks in various cities.  I can see why traditional artists were sent to Europe to study art, it is everywhere.  In many older buildings a corner was an excuse to insert a detailed sculpture, in churches a pillar was an excuse to carve and paint flowers and leaves, a nook in that same church an excuse for exquisitely detailed sculptures of saints and martyrs.  Building skylines have towers and stepped ridges and tiles; streets are cobbled and cobble stones are a modern as well as ancient building material.  Windows are an excuse for stained glass, again both ancient and modern.

This is a photo of a church that was in the neighborhood where my daughter has been living the past 2 months while studying German in Germany.  And here is a prime example of my mission: not to just say "here is a church in Freiburg.....here are some neat stained glass windows somewhere....look at these things that they do over the doorway of old houses in Amsterdam...." etc etc etc.  I want to instead make careful note of which museums we toured, what neighborhoods we walked through, what churches we visited.  Plus most of the photos need some sort of cropping and editing.  So, it's going to take a while if I am to contribute anything towards my knowledge as well as general knowledge.

We forged ahead, day after day, because we had planned to visit several cities, most for several days.  We landed in Frankfort, traveled that evening to Bacharach, along the Rhine river, spent several days there, including a river trip to a nearby town, Saint Goar, which featured a medieval castle.  Next we went to Amsterdam (the only difficulty of the trip, losing one set of luggage on a bus!), next to Bruges, Belgium.  Then on to Frieburg for several days, a night in Munich, three days in Rothenburg (which, by chance, was having a festival with people in Medieval garb, drums, bugles, horses, lots of beer and conviviality).   We ended up in Berlin, running out of time and money to spent as much time on poking around as we should have.

There was a pattern: except for Bacharach, which I loved from the beginning, I would spend the first day not liking each new place that we arrived at.  Not actively disliking, but rather distrusting.  As the Doors say, people are strange when you're a stranger.  By the second day I generally began to learn my way around my neighborhood, and that was the key to feeling more at ease with the people and the culture.  Not that I needed to strike up friendly conversations with people....most were content to pass by quickly, on about their business, sidestepping us as we sidestep the tourists who flock to Berkeley, with their photo shoots in front of the Campanile and their squirrel feeding in the little forest on the way down to BART.  I just needed to learn how to travel from my roosting place to what I wanted to see, safely, then I felt much better.

Also at each new location I took photos until I overloaded on taking photos.  After multiple images of architecture, art, canals, etc. my brain began to toy with me, asking me couldn't I manage to take a picture of a tuft of grass, a gum wrapper, a grimy sidewalk, and make it look attractive and art-like.  There are probably a few such photos that I will like enough to post, whether or not they are high art.  I ran around taking pictures of interesting metal sewage drain patterns, as I do at home.  The kids would sigh and roll their eyes sometimes..... "Mom, you don't need another picture of THAT!", but each of us had our little fascinations with the newness, and the sameness, of it all.

While we were gone there were several news reports of mass murders and attempted mass murders in the US.  Sometimes English speaking people would comment to us on how unsafe the US seemed, and I had to agree with them.  At the same time I wanted to say "but not in my neighborhood, but not where I work", though the UC Santa Barbara killings hit pretty close to home....nobody is immune.  And, though it is a matter of statistics, the larger the population the more total murders will occur, I almost never felt we were in danger in Europe, even in the seedier areas.  East Berlin felt most like the Bay Area, maybe some part of Oakland or Richmond or San Francisco, a combination of hipness and poverty, but people went about their own business, didn't leer or try to take advantage of you.  Well, I was never out late at night, and there were definitely drugs there, but still traffic seemed the greatest threat, not people.  The smaller German towns we went to were often spotless, with every old building and alleyway kept up and in current use.  Only in East Germany did I notice boarded up old buildings, covered in graffiti, and felt strangely, and sadly, at home.  But again, no gunshots, less threat of harm.

Bodily harm and crime must have been a factor, however, because all day long you would hear the constant call of European ambulances.  They are nothing like our sirens, which go up and down the scale, wheeeeeooooooo......wheeeeoooooo.....until they fade into the distance.  European ambulances and police cars remind you of air raid sirens from old WW2 movies:  NEEE NAHHHH, NEEEE NAAHHHH.  When two are going at once, slightly off kilter, it really sounds like the world is coming to an end.  And of course, if the kids were out on their own my first thought would be that one of them must have stepped out in front of a bike, if not a trolley car.

Ahhh, two more weeks of work call to me.  There is soooo much more to write, and if I wait until I retire to get it all down it will start to become stale.  I may write bits that I don't post until the photos are ready and save them without publishing.  It seems to me that I will get the most out of this once in a lifetime (probably, for me, but who knows!) trip if I record, and research and analyze as much as possible.  I find myself wondering which details, or colors, or concepts, will find their way into my art, and, even, which details and colors might be manipulated from photos into digital art.  Yessss!!!!

on with the day....

Friday, May 23, 2014

Star Novas and More

So while I was catching up with my postings, I had a few more ideas.  I wondered what would happen if one of the nova shapes was much smaller than the other.  For the sake of evenness, I made a small nova that was 400x400 px and used the bucket tool to distribute it evenly on top of one that was 800x800 px.  Note that the original below had a clear background rather than a white.

Here is the bottom image, with many more stripes and again, twice the size.
I added another layer with many less, and somewhat wider stripes.  Looks like the aerial view of a circus tent.

This is the complex pattern that results from adding 4 of the first nova.  Again it tends to make optical illusions in places where one stripe becomes either emphasized or covered by another.

Next I wondered what would happen if the smaller nova wasn't round but long, rectangular.  Again, the larger version is some even multiple of the smaller.

A neat thing happened here: the middle section has the green stripes vanish, only because they are exactly covered by the blue.  This is because though the novas are different sizes, they are the same number of radiating stripes, so they will have the same angles.

I made another version where I flipped the whole image 90 degrees:

And then I realized it would look interesting without the green nova layer at all, just one set of blue novas, flipped and added over another set.

This was a much smaller blue nova set of 4 over a large green nova.  But I warped both of them.

and here I kept a regular unwarped blue 4 part nova background with a warped single green nova foreground.

I haven't done enough with this idea.  The original nova, multiple copies of the 5 part blue nova above, has been copied from another image, but rather than paste the whole thing, I selected a triangle shape with the lasso tool and pasted the nova only inside that shape.  I repeated this, changing the color of the resulting shape before selecting a new one.  The novas that were pasted retain the position they would be in if I had pasted the entire image.  That is, they don't "start over" in any way with a new selection.  So the over all pattern matches, it's just different colored in different regions.  This color is a bit dark and subtle; I will try with brighter colors soon.

Here is a collection of 4 narrow novas, side by side.

Here is that same collection overlaid on a circle gradient

On a blue background, the whole thing warped.

Next I became fascinated by the idea of making composite shapes from various lengths and widths of rectangular novas.  There is one thing to note here: whatever I did to get most of these images caused them to pixillate to a high degree.  So in reality each is pretty fuzzy and bumpy.  Not good from a graphics point of view, but good enough still to generate a lot of design ideas. 

There now, dear old blogger is absolutely refusing to separate these images.  So, if you look above, you will see that the first star consists of one rectangular nova rotated 90 degrees over another.  Though the lines are ragged, the rotations are precise, and you will end up with a shape that is exactly 400 x 400 pixels if the longest side of your nova is 400 px.  The second image adds two more rectangular novas, at 45 degrees and -45 degrees.  I really love the starburst type shapes that result.

Here is a better example of how to make these.  This time the lines are much crisper, I will have to see what I did different.  this is the 4 crossed novas version.

below is the 45 degree cross:
and the 90 degree cross.  you end up with these attractive edges because of the overlap of some lines, giving it a much rounder final shape than you would imaging from the two layers.

fiddling around, not too attractive but interesting:

Another cross where I added one more layer of longer, thinner, redder nova lines.  It looks like some sort of foil, Christmas tinsel design.  Yummmm.
both crosses have the added red lines.  The center also becomes more and more complex.

Here is a collection of them on a black background.

I fiddled with color threshold to get a black and white version.
These original lines were thicker, one thinner gold gradient line over a thicker red line.  The gradient is not produced by line nova but by selecting the resulting nova and adding a shaped gradient to the selection.  If you are using a newer version of GIMP, by the way, the color choices are not available and the novas only come out black.  So you need to keep them on separate layers and select them if you wish to make them colored, or shaded in any way.

Here is a skinnier version:

red and black novas added:
Thin red and gold novas:

 I love this version with the green added, it makes me want to add some additional points, semi-transparent, maybe add new angles (half of 45 degrees, right? It can be precise if GIMP will rotate 22.5 degrees)

With a shaped gold gradient added to the background areas (I made a 5 px gap between the shape and the background that is actually clear.).
Here are 4 of those same shapes, added to a bright background.  Thin stripes of the background show through in the clear areas.  The gold was made semi-transparent so more of the background influences it.
Here is a screenshot showing the semi-translucent portion and the clear portion (GIMPs checkerboard background showing through to varying degrees).

Here I selected a series of the red and gold stars and applied them to portions of a golden circular gradient.
blue and black star.
The entire thing warped in a swirl.  Note, I often make these nova based stars in several layers. I then have the choice of warping them layer by layer, or merging the layers down into one if I want all lines to swirl the same relative to each other.  Note the faint, square background (really clear in the original)

When you put 4 of these together the breaks between them appear to be slanted rather than square.
Here is a doubled version of the warped nova shape, one layer flipped and added over the other.
Here I turned all of the colors into black, which made a shape with a very dense center. Next I selected the black, shrank the selection, turned it to clear, shrank it again, turned what remained back to black, etc. to get a more lacy effect.  By this point some irregularities and even a strange little spot of translucent gray color had built up.
Here it is with the thin red starburst on top.

The one below is a bit out of order, but blogger is cranky today so I'm not going to push my luck.  I love the way that the edges of some of the lacier starbursts overlap to form diamond shapes.

This starburst was on at least two layers, so I used iwarp to spin one clockwise, one counterclockwise:

Each component makes a new shape when they are side by side.
Here I further warped the shape above and place the warped version side by side.
These next images are based on that nice clear-edged black sunburst above.  I selected the background, non-black portions and added a shaped gradient.
Here I faded the gradient and put the whole thing over a brightly colored background:
another version:

and a basic shape.  At this point it looks like a lot of art deco style tile.  Can't go wrong with that, eh?
Here's a plainer version with a semi-transparent blue green circular gradient shape.  I notice little bits of white are clinging to the black star....probably they were some shade of off white and didn't get selected.

Here I took a version of that first cross on the black starburst and warped one layer and put on top of the regular one.
Next I took just the warped layer and transposed a version over itself

And in turn transposed the shape above on top of itself.

this goes on.....but not today.....I have a lot more ideas, but hope to make some versions that have higher quality edges.