Friday, August 31, 2007

Fenton Art Glass

Earlier this month, Fenton Art Glass announced that they are going out of business. Their press release suggests that they have been running in the red for some time.

Their giftshop and website will remain open for the time being; I may have to go down to Williamsburg to see if I can pick up a couple of pieces before they are gone forever. I'm especially thinking of getting one of the famous Burmese pieces.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Student research

I will have two undergraduate students working in my lab this fall; both will be doing working on mushroom body evolution projects. One student will be helping me with a collaborative project with Paul Eggleton at the British Museum of Natural History, in which we will compare the brains of termites (above) to see if there is a relationship between mushroom body structure and social organization. We tend to think that social = big brains, because this is the case for humans; my research in other insects suggests that other factors rather than social life are more important in driving the evolution of large brains. This project will be a little time-intensive, with many hours spent preparing brains for staining and then measuring the volumes of different brain regions.

The other student only has a few hours to spare each week, so he will be doing some methods development on Collembola (above left), which are tiny little six-legged arthropods (hexapods) that are closely related to insects. They can easily be found in the damp leaf litter in wooded areas. I also hope to catch a few of the tiny guys in the right hand picture, Diplura. An old paper I have suggests that they have huge mushroom bodies, which would suggest that they evolved independently twice in the hexapods. This is because there are at least two groups more closely related to insects that lack mushroom bodies: bristletails and Collembola. I am wondering if the Collembola have mushroom bodies, but they are so small (in an already small animal) that they aren't visible using traditional staining techniques. So we will try to prepare the brains of these little guys for use with more modern techniques such as immunostaining.
The termite pictures are from, and the Collembola and Diplura are from the beautiful collection of invertebrate photos by Krister Hall.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Playing with Photoshop

I have been looking for some good plugins and protocols for antiquing digital photos on Photoshop. I found one cool tutorial here, and the results are shown on the black and white versions of the photos. The Buddhist shrine turned out great, I think, but the old picture of me is a little too "distressed." I prefer the sepia version of this latter photo, which I found in the preset actions list in Photoshop 7.0.

Once every decade I go to the dentist...

...and today is the day for the new millenium. I'm not having any problems, but Ron has started to be good and visit the dentist occasionally, so I figured I would, too.

So I'm up in Washington PA today since this is where the dentist's office is. Ron's building is full of interesting critters. The left hand picture is a robber fly that he found on his windowsill (dead) and the right is a freaky scary spider he found in the hall (alive). Check out the fangs on that spider! It was really about the ugliest spider I have ever seen.

One of our neighbors stopped us yesterday evening while we were walking the dogs and offered us some veggies from his garden. Look at all of the peppers! The tiny orange ones are Thai hot peppers, and they are scorching. I ate a tiny piece of one last night and my mouth burned for probably about 15 minutes. Anyway, Ron suggested that I take a picture of all of the peppers since they are so colorful.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Saturday hike

Last Saturday was a beautiful, if warm day, so we headed up to Cooper's Rock for relatively cooler temperatures. The dogs had a nice time, as usual, and Ron and I got some exercise. I also took pictures: with all of the rain we've been getting the variety of mushrooms and other fungus visible just from the trail is wonderful. I experimented a bit with some super closeup shots, holding the camera on the ground or even tilted slightly up.

Also saw some interesting insects. A group of larvae were feeding on a branch overhanging the trail; I'm guess they were sawflies based on this behavior, but I didn't check the number of abdominal prolegs (the best way to tell between sawfly and moth or butterfly caterpillars) because I didn't want to disturb them too much.
Around a big pond (that was filled with fish that were as interested in Wizard as he was in them) was a stand of woody bushes, grasses and milkweed. Japanese beetles were nearly defoliating the bushes, and the milkweeds were home to quite a few Monarch butterfly caterpillars.
Overall a nice hike, and it wore me out. I took a four-hour nap when I got home.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cool bugs on the walk home

I am trying to make my walk to and from work more interesting by carrying the camera and hunting for neat looking stuff. The first picture is of a horntail, a sawfly that is in the same taxonomic order as ants, wasps and bees. I have never seen one before in real life (although this one was barely alive since some goof decided to step on it). Just beautiful.
The other picture is a scene of terrible debauchery, with two milkweed bugs fornicating while a juvenile looks on.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New cards

This week I've been concentrating on teaching my class and doing a lot of reading and research about the lifestyle of an artist. I've also done a little bit of actual art, two collaged ATCs just put together on the fly by rummaging through my bag of printouts and scraps. I'm pretty happy with them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My favorite quote

In one of Henry Rollins' books, he talks about a schizophrenic vagrant he knew when he was a teenager in DC. Rollins collected bits and pieces of wisdom from this man's schizophrenic ramblings. Rollins was blown away by one phrase in particular: "I always wanted to be a dancer, but I could never get the shit off my shoes." Initially it's pretty nonsensical and kind of funny, but think about it for a minute. It's basically the best metaphor I have ever heard for dreams left unfulfilled because of all of the things in life, big and little, that keep us from chasing those dreams. I am referring to anything that prevents us from achieving our dreams, or that convinces us that those dreams are unachievable. Anyway, it's what I've been thinking about lately. The other picture is a self-portrait after I finished teaching today. I'm not grumpy, I just look grumpy if I'm not actively smiling because in my old age gravity is starting to drag my face to the floor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New tunes by disturbed women

I am currently enjoying the latest albums by Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, two heavy partying British women. Winehouse has kind of a 70's movie theme jazz sound, while Allen is more quirky pop. Both sing about rude topics using well-placed swears, which my 10th-grade sense of humor finds endearing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cool animals big and small

On the top is a nice slug that was crawling across our patio after a rainstorm this morning. On the bottom is a feeding humpback whale, that I saw on a whale watching trip from Provincetown, MA this summer.


Several houses in the student slums were condemned by the fire marshal this weekend. Why this couldn't have been done before the students moved in is beyond my understanding, I guess.
One of the houses is just down the street from me. I knew instantly which house it would be when I read the address. This place is always a pit and has a nice collection of shoes hanging from the power lines in front.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

New page header image

Incorporating some of my 3D art, a diagram of insect wing venation, and some funky fonts.

Sunday nature walk

Today I just stayed home and did some reading, but Jasper and I went for a walk around the yard and one point and I took some pictures. Probably the most exciting thing was the woodchuck that Ron spotted in one of the trees, apparently believing that it was a koala. I tried to take a picture (top right with arrow) but there was no way to get close enough and also have a good view not blocked by leaves.
The butterfly bush has been attracting- surprise!- butterflies, and I got a couple of nice pictures of a somewhat worse for wear tiger swallowtail.
Finally at bottow right is a little grasshopper nymph that Jasper startled out of the grass and into a good position for me to photograph. Don't miss the little jumping spider at the bottom of the picture, as indicated. That awesome message is courtesy of my new graphics tablet and pen, which is so sensitive as to make it somewhat difficult to write in a steady hand.
And don't forget Her Royal Highness in the bottom picture, shown here enjoying the warm morning sunshine.

Recent 3D art

It took a few tries, but I managed to get some decent pictures of non-ATC art I have done recently. At the top is an Altoids tin that I beat the hell out of with a hammer and sandpaper, and then subjected to a combination of chemical (vinegar and bleach) and natural rusting. The rusting process was a lot of fun, as the tin looked so different after each treatment (or rainstorm) that it went through. On the outer lid is a packing tape transfer of a picture of toadstools, that I first tried to glue to the tin but later removed and glued on top of an old piece of heavy paper. The tape picked up flakes of rust and that ended up looking pretty crusty, which is what I was going for. Around the edge is some old string that has been weathering out in the garded for about a year and a half. Below the picture is a seed pod I picked in the garden, and more old paper that I crumpled, burned around the edges and stamped with the word "decompose." Inside the tin are a variety of electronic bits from a smashed cellphone I found on campus, attached to some branching stems I found on the same walk. Above is cracked glass from a windshield, also found in campustown. On the other side is a medieval portrait I found on the web, printed and colored in with colored pencils. She is decorated with a pelvis and wasp nest crown and is holding a vole skull. Behind her are two quilled leaves, a leg bone and curving rodent teeth. All bones and such were provided by Jasper the Killer Kitty.
The two lower panels are complete experiments using found objects and new techniques. At the left is a watercolor painting with a skeletonized leaf that I coated with black ink and then red and gold embossing powder. I tried to do a gel transfer of a print of an old picture I bought at an antique store, but the head didn't transfer. So I cut out a head from a fairy doll maker that I had done and glued that on. The stamps I crumpled up and antiqued with brown ink. Overall I'm not so happy with this one for some reason; it isn't very satisfying. I think the fairy head is too incongrous with the rest of the picture.
Finally, the bottom right panel is a metal plate with a picture of a train crossing a bridge that I got at an antique store. I embossed the train with gold powder and then scratched a lot of it off; the effect is that the train is moving and throwing off sparks. The sky is coated with sapphire embossing powder and decorated with a silver mirror moon and silver stars. Elements of the bridge were traced with a silver gel pen to look like reflectionsin moonlight.
The last picture is something silly I tried, carving a rubber stamp out of a pink rubber eraser. I had this idea to make fake postmarks, and while trying to think of a design that incorporated a large circle with wavy lines streaming out in one direction, I got an image of sperm fertilizing an egg in my head. It was easy to draw on the eraser, and then cut out using a scalpel. I haven't tried to stamp yet, but hopefully it will work.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Artist Trading Cards

Artist trading cards are responsible for getting me back into arts and crafts (and partially restoring my sanity) after a couple of years in which every ounce of my creativity was poured into my job. I needed an opportunity to be creative without fearing being clubbed over the head with grant proposal rejections and bad student evaluations for my efforts. These little cards (2.5" x 3.5") are small enough not to be intimidating, and have introduced me to a number of new art methods as well as motivating me to return to some of the simpler drawing and painting that I have done throughout my life.
I have a gallery of my completed cards posted at The picture here is one of those cards, that I titled "Insolent Goddess." It is a combination of rubber stamping and embossing powder, collage, watercolor painting, metallic gel pen and fabric sewn onto the card.


I love Tokidoki. Anime-style art is always visually appealing, but I think it's the heavily tattooed women that really do it for me here.
Anyway, I'm participating in a bracelet charm swap at Artist Trading Cards, and my first idea fell through technically. So I got the idea to do some Tokidoki inspired charms, but focusing on unusual and less cuddly animals. I drew several critters with colored pencil, scanned them into the computer, and now I'm in the process of digitalizing them using Illustrator. The last part takes forever, but I just got a new graphics tablet so things should be easier now that I don't have to trace lines with a mouse.
Once I've digitalized all of the drawings, I will transfer them to small wooden discs (either gluing the prints directly or using a gel transfer) and then coat the image surface with Paper Glaze, to give a clear glass-like surface. I haven't yet decided what to do with the rest of the charm- maybe cover with copper tape and solder?

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Delicate Beauty of Cats

Cats are known for their grace and fastidiousness, among other things. But anyone who actually lives with a cat (or two) may wonder how such impressions came about in the first place.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Yet another avatar

I'm addicted- this one is a Lego version of me.

Otter Creek Wilderness hike

Ron and I took the dogs out for a hike this weekend. I really liked this hike because it was scenic with a lot of mountains all around and the river was close by at all times. Everything was green and wet and so I got a lot of good pictures of mushrooms and other fungus. The dogs had a very nice time wading around in the water.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

My day in a nutshell

I just can't get my shit together. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Dollmakers and Photoshop

I've recently discovered that there are about a million little Java apps all over the web that allow you to create and dress digital paper dolls. Many of them have a distinct anime feel, no surprise. Yesterday I found a particularly good dollmaker over at DeviantART, and today customized my creation so it's a little more "me."
As usual, I should be working...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Yangtze river dolphin

Here's a link to an article in the UK Independent about the dolphin being declared extinct.

They're either with us or against us...

This video from a David Attenborough series demonstrates the amazing mimicry abilities of the lyrebird. While I've heard of mockingbirds that learn to mimic car alarms and other city sounds (as does the lyrebird), the individual in the video has an added to it's repertoire the sounds of chainsaws and trees being cut. Turns out the bird's forest is being cleared, and it will soon be without a home.
Coupled with today's announcement of the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, I am imagining a near-future where the only animals left on earth are 48 billion humans and two other groups of animals: those that we maintain through domestication, and those that thrive on the conditions we create. Alas, river dolphins and lyrebirds just get in the way of the parking lot juggernaut. Good thing the roaches and termites will be happy to take up residence in the new pressed wood jungles, so I won't be out of a job.

Shoulder arthritis- ouch

I don't know if my shoulder actually looks this bad in situ, but it feels like it sometimes. After my rotator cuff surgery the surgeon mentioned that the inflamed synovium around the joint was the color of raspberries, which seems to be the case in this picture.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Carl Zimmer, author of myriad thorough yet accessible books on biological science, has posted on his blog a call for tattooed scientists. I couldn't resist and sent in a couple- now I'm the subject of my very own post! Yes, I am a little more tattooed than most folks...

My new home office!

I managed to cram all of my computer and art supplies in one room. Now I can do computer stuff on one side of the table and art stuff on the other side, and have all of my materials in one place and not all over the house. Not pictured is the litterbox in the closet...

Even my avatar is grumpy

I made this yesterday on Yahoo! Messenger's new avatar maker. For some reason, I can only get the portrait and not the full avatar to show up today.