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Category Archives: Art!

Ian M. Dudley attempts to teach himself to draw

Best Pet at Home

Being as I’m so precise when it comes to homework, I’ve been trying to find ways to make homework time more fun and less drudgery-ish for the kiddos.

So when one kiddo started getting writing assignments, I decided to sit and write with him. And not just my own thing. Oh no. We read the directions together and we follow them together.

That’s correct. I’m doing my kiddo’s homework assignment as well.

First, the instructions introduce the topic and then call for the student to state their opinion clearly. Secondly, the writer must justify that opinion with reasons. Finally, we are also reminded (admonished?) that we must include an introduction and a conclusion, all while using linking words, whatever those are.

The first time we did this was a bit rough, because I made him re-write his composition due to poor planning and profound illegibility issues. I made him re-do the assignment on a fresh piece of paper, my thinking being he’d re-write it, get his thoughts in order, and then transfer the effort neatly onto the homework sheet. Make him write it enough times and maybe, just maybe, he’d be incentivized to do it right the first time.

(Ha!)

My son is a bit lazy, and as we all know, lazy is the father of ingenuity and invention. He decided we should just tape the paper with the writing onto the homework sheet and forgo an additional round of writing.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In fact, it’s resting against the trunk, putting off a lot of body heat and making me uncomfortably warm. Which is to say, I’m lazy too, and not wanting to endure the nuclear hissy fit of wailing and gnashing of teeth that would ensue if I refused, I rolled with his suggestion.

And once done, we read our creations to each other, followed, of course, by a standing ovation (from the dog, who looked a little confused to be standing on its hind legs while I forced its front legs together and apart over and over all the while bellowing, “Bravo! Bravo!”).

No nasty note from the teacher was sent home, so we’ve decided that our approach is OK. Or at least acceptable.

(Though this is the same kiddo who forgets to bring homework, report cards, library books, backpacks, his sibling home from school on a regular basis, so I might be setting myself up for a truly horrific parent/teacher conference in the near future.)

The dog, however, may be sending a different message, as it now hides from us whenever a backpack crosses its line of vision.

Tonight’s session started on the fresh piece of paper. The kiddo entirely skipped the part where he artfully applied vaguely letter-shaped scribbles to the homework sheet. Instead he demanded a clean piece of lined paper and wrote about the Best Pet at Home. And added a drawing of his preferred pet at the bottom for extra credit.

First of all, turtles are eseay to watch.

In my opinion we should have a turtle.

Since I’m not willing to make my child suffer something I am not willing to suffer myself, I cranked out a short paragraph of my own. So here, for your reading pleasure, is my virtuoso effort to describe the best pet at home.

I did not include a picture with mine. I did enlarge the font to more accurately portray my use of large letters to make my treatise look longer. Old school habits die-hard…

Snails are fascinating creatures and well worth consideration as a family pet. First of all, their spiral shells are an excellent hypnosis aid (handy if you have rowdy kids). Secondly, they are very slow, so if they run away, they won’t get far before you find them. Finally, they don’t eat much and so are inexpensive to keep. In conclusion, snails are the perfect pet for a family of limited resources.

Suck it, Herman Melville. Whales make terrible pets, you idiot!

 

 
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Posted by on 8 March 2017 in Art!, Life, Parenting, Writing

 

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The real reason I don’t eat seafood

Hello. My name is Ian and I’m a mercurial.

It’s hard for me to say those words, because it’s admitting to my greatest shame, my worst failing:

I’m a mercury addict.

A heavy metal fan.

A snorter of the quicksilver. (Also known as quickie, though you have to be careful when you ask for it by that name. Can lead to misunderstandings.)

That is, I am addicted to the consumption of the element Hg, and I’ve just come off a two month bender.

Big deal, you say? Mercury isn’t a controlled substance, so how bad can it be, you ask?

Well, it’s hardly the fun-loving addiction of other drugs, like heroin or crack. This one comes with severe, real-world consequences:

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Visual, auditory, and olfactory delusions
  • Death
  • Semi-permanent hiccups

But there are moments, moments of non-clarity (usually while in the throes of its metallic hug), that mercury seems worth all the costs.

I can see you, having now been appraised of the dire consequences, shaking your head in judgment, tsk-tsking.

Asking yourself what could possibly make Hg worth the risks, what could lead an adult male of reasonable intellect to fall into thermometer chewing, as it is sometimes called.

Two words. The two most dreaded, hated, and libido-killing words ever uttered:

Writer’s block.

I once wrote about where my ideas came from, but that post. like the cake, is a lie.

It was mercury.

It was always mercury.

Turns out mercury does something to your brain, something that leads to more creativity, more ideas, making it the ultimate writer’s block buster.

And before you get too judgmental, did you know that all the best ideas come from us metal munchers?

It’s true. Mercury bumps our brains up to ’11’.

Einstein: strung out on mercury for the first half of his career. He’d likely have come up with the atomic bomb all by himself if he hadn’t quit.

Tesla: Lifetime addict. Upon reviewing the body of his work, most experts suspect he probably started Hg in the womb.

Henry Ford: he originally envisioned a car that ran on mercury, but switched to gasoline when he realized his original fuel plan would make ‘recreational’ mercury more expensive.

George W. Bush: Like the English language, there are always exceptions to the rule. And that defines ol’ Dubya. He got all the liabilities, none of the assets of guzzling the merc.

Hawking: well, he’s never publicly admitted to it, but there’s this guy who comes to some of our meetings in a wheel chair with a voice synthesizer and ALS who bears a strong resemblance to the man.

Yes, we have meetings.

Mercury Anonymous, or HgA (pronounced Hug-uh).

It’s where we support each other in our fight to shake off the silver dragon. Where we ask for help and understanding when we fall off the wagon and land in that bright, shimmery puddle of lustrous, luscious liquid metal.

Which is not as pleasant (or visually stunning) to fall into as you’d think.

Believe me, you don’t know rock bottom until you wake up in an alley, a bunch of broken thermometers in your mouth, and your pants soaked through with mercury.

(Yes, it does indeed stain.)

Double rock bottom these days, because modern thermometers don’t use mercury. But, mortally desperate, that doesn’t stop you, doesn’t make the wishing override the facts.

So you wake up, your mouth dripping red, still seeking to douse the unquenched crave, and you don’t know how much is blood and how much is red-tinted alcohol.

The only thing worse is the series finale to Lost.

One of the tenants of HgA is that you need to stay motivated for success if you want to stay off the silver sasquatch. Which is why we have sobriety medals as part of our meetings.

Although to be honest, they aren’t very well thought out.

They’re made of mercury.

Usually sealed in plastic disks, but sometimes frozen, which means you have to keep them cold.

Really cold. As in “No, you can’t wear that against your chest, it will melt. Here, have some liquid nitrogen, no, I can’t pour it into your hands, where is your dewar? What do you mean, you didn’t bring it? You knew you’d be getting this medal tonight!” cold.

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I forgot my dewar… But I digress.

You get a medallion when you’re sober for thirty days.

The only problem with that? The idea-boosting effects of a single hit of thermo juice lasts about a month.

You can see why this might present a dilemma.

A mad hatter can go clean for a month, get a 30 day sobriety medallion, and then thar she is, lying there, so close, not so sober as we were led to believe.

So much the better.

You break it open, snort the contents, wait for the vomiting to stop and the mood swings to settle, and write your next blog post.

You ‘fess up at the next meeting, go cold turkey while still getting all the creative benefits, and then just as the month winds down and you need another hit…

You get that next 30 day coin.

I blame this lack of farsightedness on the fact that HgA was founded by addicts, and apparently mercury poisoning can impair your ability to reason.

Also, I can’t rule out diabolical ingenuity, because knowing you get that mercury if you stay off it for a month is a powerful incentive.

I said mercury gives you crazy ideas, not that it made you smart.

 
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Posted by on 2 June 2015 in Art!, Life, Writing

 

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An analog man in a digital age

Hidden puzzle game: find the cameras and lenses

This is what a contemplative life looks like.

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a new lease on life.

Specifically, a bag full of cameras (and lenses) that belonged to my grandfather.

35mm film cameras.

Now my daily camera these days is my cell phone, and it takes convenient but usually terrible photos.

On those (rare) occasions where I’m actually worried about picture quality, I lug along my digital SLR.

Which also takes bland, slightly less terrible but significantly more inconvenient pictures.

And you know what? I take a lot of pictures, but I rarely spend any time looking at them.

I point the phone at the subject and press the shutter button. The pictures are taken, and on some level my brain says, “Ah yup, that one’s captured for posterity.”

(For some reason, my brain sounds like Jon Stewart imitating a cartoon turtle while talking about Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell.)

And since that moment has been safely tucked away on digital medium, I do a quick check on the LCD screen to make sure everything’s in focus and exposed properly, and then never look at the images again.

It’s as if I’ve decided, on some level, that knowing I have the pictures is enough, and reviewing them later unnecessary.

Receiving these film cameras got me to feeling nostalgic for the early days of my youth, when I shot with an all manual Pentax K1000 with a 50mm prime lens and a bobbing needle light meter, then went into the darkroom to develop the film.

Because in those days, that’s how you checked if your pictures came out. You sat in the dark while they soaked in chemicals, and then you put them in an enlarger and made prints.

If they didn’t turn out, you couldn’t just quickly try again. The event was long over.

If was an important event, you did a lot of swearing.

And let me tell you, if you’re in a small darkroom with another person and they start shrieking expletives and slamming the counter over and over with their fist, sloshing chemicals all over the place, it’s a little unsettling.

Or so I’ve been informed when asked why I was being banned from yet another darkroom.

Which is to say, I realized that I miss film photography.

Also, one of the cameras was at least fifty years old, and I really wanted to play with it for the novelty, if nothing else.

That fifty year old camera? A Zeiss-Ikon Contina III.

Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster.

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

One thing about the Germans - they sure build great cameras!

Fortunately, the manual was surprisingly clear.

(Now calm down, lens aficionados, it doesn’t use Zeiss lenses. I had thought so too, but research revealed that there were problems with manufacturing at the time, and so they went with a different lens manufacturer.)

I went to the drug store and discovered they don’t carry what some people would call ‘a lot’ of 35mm film these days.

No, all they stocked was one roll of Fuji film.

One lousy roll.

Surrounded, to add insult to injury, by several brands of LED flash attachments for use with your cell phone camera.

I bought that lonely roll. Rescued it.

Rescued it from a long and miserable existence sitting untouched and unloved under Rite-Aid’s fluorescent lighting.

(I pick up a lot of stray rolls of film that way. Damn you, Sarah McLachlan!)

Upon examining the camera, I discovered I would need to read the manual. The light meter reports in EV (Exposure Value), and then you used that to lock the lens aperture and shutter speed to the correct exposure.

Also, it was a viewfinder, which meant I couldn’t focus through the lens. Instead, you turn the focus ring to the distance setting that matched how far your subject was from the camera.

This resulted in a lot of out-of-focus pictures on that first roll.

Turns out I’m not only a terrible judge of character, but of distance too.

Still, I had a lot of fun using the camera, and while most of the images were of poor quality, I have to blame myself rather than the camera.

Oh, it has its quirks, like the light meter consistently overexposing when shooting outside on a bright day, or there being nothing to remind you to set the focus. But that’s what the first roll was for: to help me get to know the camera.

What the heck do sprockets have to do with photography!? You were born in the 90s, weren't you?

Ironically, every single picture appearing in this blog post was shot using, what else, my digital SLR.

After my photo shoot, I couldn’t find a local place to develop the film that didn’t return the negatives.

(WTF?? I don’t get the negatives back, Walgreens? What do you do with them? Send them to the NSA so they can add to their database on me and my known associates?)

So I opted for mail order processing. That took, all told, nine days.

Nine days of wondering: did any pictures come out? Does the camera even work worth a damn? Is the light meter accurate?

And in the course of that fretting, I started thinking about the type of photography I wanted, nay, yearned to experiment with twenty years ago but couldn’t afford.

Medium format photography.

Back then, a decent MF camera cost many thousands of dollars. Far more than I wanted to spend on a hobby.

Not being able to afford it didn’t help either.

Bored, and needing something to distract me from the anxiety of waiting for my film to come back, I started researching MF cameras anyway.

I told myself it was window shopping.

It wouldn’t amount to anything.

And discovered that the bottom fell out of the market for MF film cameras when digital became established.

Suddenly the MF cameras I used to dream about were affordable (in the used market).

I won’t go into the hours I spent on research, staying up far later than was advisable on a work night, plugging makes, models, configurations and prices into a spreadsheet.

In the end, it came down to this:

Even used, MF film cameras are still pretty expensive. Affordable, yes, but advisable?

Not at my current skill level.

Interior (electronics) require a battery. No battery, no picture.

Compare this exterior to the Contina’s. Boring! All smooth lines and a complete lack of toggles! Pah!

Again, seriously, this thing is completely dead without batteries.

No film advance lever! Even THAT is automated!

I decided it made more sense to break out the ‘fancy’ 35mm film camera I bought in the 90s. Not a super high-end camera, but no all-manual K1000 either.

Which is what I was using yesterday.

I hate it.

It’s a Pentax PZ-70. I spent a lot of time-saving up for that camera, and I loved it. Took some classes, bought a bunch of lenses and gear, even photographed a wedding with it.

I marveled, back then, at the technology I was able to buy.

Here’s the problem with it now: it’s too automated.

The 35mm lens I use on it (and my digital camera) for a prime is a featureless cylinder. No f/stop setting ring. The camera chooses for you.

Sure, I can put my all manual K1000 50mm prime lens on it, and put the camera in manual mode, but I still can’t control everything. The aperture setting goes to ‘B’ and that’s it.

(‘B’ is bulb mode for those of you not familiar with cameras. The shutter stays open for as long as your finger is on the trigger.)

All the joy, learning, and exploring I was engaged in with the Contina was gone with this camera, and I found this sucked all the entertainment and interest out of using it.

I also found that, given the automation, I went straight into cell phone photography mode: point it real quick and press the trigger.

I didn’t frame the picture. I didn’t think about angles. The impact of lighting on the shot didn’t cross my mind.

I was making a Xerox of the scene rather than creating a composition.

Why?

Because I didn’t have to.

Focus? Camera does that.

Exposure setting? Camera does that.

Film advance? Hell, the camera does that too.

I was practically superfluous to the experience.

So I’m starting to think maybe that used MF camera isn’t such a bad idea after all.

But first I’m going to dig out my old K1000 with the bobbing needle light meter and shoot a roll on that.


 Proof the Contina can work (most, if not all, technical and artistic failings are the photographer’s, not the camera’s):
I've always held that animals are bastards. Here's a bastard taking a dump in a public park. Jerk.

I’ve always held that animals are bastards. Here’s a bastard taking a dump in a public park. Jerk.

The easiest way to ensure a sharp image is to photograph something far away and set the focus to Infinity.

The easiest way to ensure a sharp image is to photograph something far away and set the focus to Infinity.

It's rare to photography this kid and NOT get motion blur. Metering a bit off, but it tends to be outdoors.

It’s rare to photograph this kid and NOT get motion blur. Metering’s a bit off, but it tends to be outdoors.

 
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Posted by on 30 March 2015 in Art!, Photography

 

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Portrait of the non-artist as a middle-aged putz, Part II

For those of you following, this is part two of The Chronicles of Ian Attempting To Learn To Draw Purty (part one is here).

If nothing else, it should be entertaining in a watching-a-train-wreck-can’t-look-away sort of way.

The text I chose to work with for this self-guided journey is Drawing; The Head and the Figure by Jack Hamm. That said, all sketches, attempts at sketches, and oddly disturbing squiggles I have attempted here are the sole fault / responsibility of me, and not Jack Hamm.

You can’t blame an elephant trainer for being unable to teach a saw horse to use a kitty litter tray, so Jack can’t really be considered culpable for my output.

My efforts since last week started with the eyes:

I can't bear to watch this work progressing. I just want to close my eyes. All of them.

As you can see, if I keep my eye on the ball, I’ll soon have quite a following amongst the far-sighted crowd.

Once I got bored comfortable drawing eyes, it was time to move onto lips:

Looks like someone has tried to interbreed zebras with humans.

In nature, striped patterns often indicate something is highly poisonous. I think even a zombie would hesitate when confronted with lips like these.

Clearly this was an area where I needed a lot of work. Or a smudge function in my graphics editor:

These lips can't lie...mostly because they are an inanimate object.

When my model’s fever broke, the stripes on her lips faded and her mouth looked almost human again. Sadly, I don’t capture that here.

Fresh off this not-quite-a-failure ‘success’, I decided my ego needed a bruising to bring it back down to Earth.

I attempted a face again. The results were, to say the least, humbling. And not in a good way:

I bet she looks pretty good through one of my earlier efforts at an eye...

Beauty on the left by Jack Hamm, talented artist. Unconventional beauty on the right drawn by yours truly, untalented putz.

I am reminded of the original Star Trek pilot, The Cage, and the woman who was repaired by aliens who’d never seen a human before.

My main take-away lesson this week: the smaller my images are on the screen, the less horrible they look. I will be focusing on making my sketches much, much smaller going forward.

Next week, assuming I don’t feel honor-bound to try to improve the whole-face drawing skills, will be noses and then, possibly, if my noses pass the sniff test, ears.

Come back and see…if you dare.

And now, a word from our sponsor: me! My books are available!
 

The Santa Claus Gang:

The Santa Claus Gang: A Marlowe and the Spacewoman short story

Marlowe and the Spacewoman:

Marlowe and the Spacewoman

Kleencut (FREE, and another fine showcase for my artistic abilities!):

So bad it won a Voidy for the next THREE consecutive years (would have been FOUR, but 2012 was a leap year)

 
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Posted by on 26 January 2013 in Art!

 

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Portrait of the non-artist as a middle-aged putz

Books sales notwithstanding, everyone knows that I’m an amazing, perfect writer.

I built that writing skill myself, with only a minimal use of schooling or the infrastructure required to make that schooling possible (i.e., cars, roads, traffic lights, law enforcement to make it safe for me to go to school, teachers, text books, pencil manufacturers, Cliff’s Notes publishers, etc.).

That’s right: my books are 100% free of government intervention.

Given my fierce, own-bootstraps one-upmanship nature, I decided it was time to branch out creatively.

I decided to take up something easy.

Drawing.

Naturally, this is something I need to build myself, without costly taxpayer bailouts or subsidies. And my ultimate goal is to reach a level of skill where, once I put out the word for nude models to sketch, a legion of athletic 20-something nubile au pairs will volunteer to pose while watching my kids.

The only requirement I will use to winnow down the host of applicants, beyond the nubile, athletic 20-somethingness of them?

An ability to stand for hours under bright lights while glistening with oil.

The Missus, having just peeked over my shoulder and read what I’ve written thus far, has stipulated a new requirement, bringing the total must-have skills list of my potential models to:

  1. Nubility
  2. 20-somethingness
  3. Athletical
  4. Au pairish
  5. Able to stand for long periods under bright lights while glistening with oil and staring longingly and admiringly at their sketcher
  6. Comfortable with my wife glowering at them from behind me during the sessions
  7. Speak American, the language of America

However, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. One cannot simply walk into the role of a great artist. One must make himself a great artist first.

And to that end, I dug through all the how-to books I bought on drawing about ten years ago (total, 2), and settled on Drawing; The Head and the Figure by Jack Hamm.

(An additional selling point on this book? Lots of sketches of nubile, athletic 20-something women who may or may not have been au pairs at the time, but almost certainly spoke American. Alas, glistening in oil was evidently not in vogue at the time this book was published.)

I am also going to document my progress from virtuoso to prodigy here, on the blog. Because I know you all want to bask in the glory of my art.

The first exercise is The Head – In Six Freehand Steps:

What a lovely young lady. I'd be happy to have something this wholesome in appearance looking after my children

Jack Hamm’s ideal female face: soft, covered in charcoal, and comfortably minimalist for the neophyte artist.

Looks straightforward enough, yes? And now, my attempt. Please, withhold your accolades until I’ve completed this blog series on becoming a greater artist.

When I look upon this without my glasses, I am forced to conclude that I have a lot of potential. I choose not to view my work while wearing anything so pedestrian as corrective lenses.

Yes, but you have to admit, her hair is holding up quite well considering she appears to be in a wind tunnel right now. That takes real talent.

Just to put that in perspective, let’s place them side by side. I won’t say which is mine or which is Jack’s – let’s see if you can suss out the subtle differences:

When I look upon this without my glasses, I am forced to conclude that I have a lot of potential. I choose not to view my work while wearing anything so pedestrian as corrective lenses. What a lovely young lady. I'd be happy to have something this wholesome in appearance looking after my children

You can call me Jack Jr. if you want. Jack wouldn’t mind.

I have to say, I am very excited about my efforts thus far, to the point I’m starting to question the need to continue with the book and instead just put out a call for models.

But I made myself a promise to do the whole book, and if I lack discipline there, how will I ever amount to anything artistically?

Edit: And another lesson down. This one is called Head Construction – The Double Circle and I followed the instructions to the letter (except the part about using a compass to draw circles – that would just scratch my tablet screen!).

The first sentence? “A mechanical method of setting down the proportions of the ideal female head.”

I guess Jack thinks the ideal female is Batman or Robocop, in which case, nailed it!

BAM! POW! WHAP! na-na na-na na-na na-na BATMAN!

I wouldn’t want to run into her while mugging someone in a dark alley.

Part two of my epic artistic train wreck can be found here.

And now, a word from our sponsor: me! My books are available!
 

The Santa Claus Gang:

The Santa Claus Gang: A Marlowe and the Spacewoman short story

Marlowe and the Spacewoman:

Marlowe and the Spacewoman

Kleencut (FREE, and another fine showcase for my artistic abilities!):

So bad it won a Voidy for the next THREE consecutive years (would have been FOUR, but 2012 was a leap year)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on 19 January 2013 in Art!

 

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