Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Little Art from Unexpected Places

We often see a great divide between scientists and artists - one is cold and distant, the other passionate. They see the world in different, irreconcilable ways.

At this point someone will mention how Einstein played the violin. He did - quite badly according to some (others thought he was a good player, so I will leave it to the gentle readers to come to their own conclusions). I want to share a different scientist who was also an artist.

Richard Feynman - physicist, Nobel prize winner, elected one of the top 10 scientists of all time, lifelong curious guy - was also a bongo player (pretty well known fact) and a semi amateur visual artist. His views on beauty and art was simple:

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe…

I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

You decide if he was any good.

One minute line drawing

And some more here:

Book Review - Provence, 1970

This is a review for Blogging For Books.

Provence, 1970 is about a group of influential American cooks and food critics (Julia Child, Richard Olney, James Beard, Judith Jones and M.F.K. Fisher) travelling to Provence in 1970 and how this ended up changing food culture in the USA. The author is MFK Fisher's great nephew and uses her diary as a basis for the book.

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it a lot. I wanted it to show me how cooking changed in the early 70s and how this group of people did it. I wanted to see cooking through their eyes and experience

I did not like it, though. The book assumes the reader knows who all these people are. Forgive my lack of food history, but I only knew Julia Child and only because of the movie Julie and Julia. So the whole narrative is structured around people I didn't know and mentioning all their important, influential works I had never heard of. 

From the blurb in the back, I knew something huge was supposed to be happening but I had no idea what. I felt I was reading about several people I did not know, without much character detail, talking and complaining.

Not only that, but I also have to ding some points for the writing itself. I am not particular about writing. I appreciate a well crafted sentence but I won't notice awkward ones until they get very awkward. For example, a paragraph tells us about roasting chicken and serving it. Midway through, "it" starts to refer to the pasta the chicken will be served with. Colour me confused when the author mentions boiling "it"!

If the reader is already well acquainted with these people, I am sure they will think this a fascinating behind the scenes look. For me, it just dragged. On the bright side, several of the cook books mentioned are now in my to-read list!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another book review and random musings

This book was provided by Blogging for Books. A good side effect of Blogging for Books is that I am finally blogging semi regularly. The downside is that I may need to rename my blog, since it is being overrun by book reviews. 

This week's book was Inside the Criminal Mind, by Dr Stanten Samenow. Dr Samenow is a psychologist who works with criminals and chronic law breakers. His basic thesis is that criminals act based on choice: they know they are harming others but don't care. The criminal mind is basically self centered, acting for their own benefit regardless of others. In the author's view, this is as true of a petty street thief as of a white collar crook and not everyone with a criminal mind is in the criminal system. This book is a revised edition of the original 1984 text.

The opposite view is the one that criminality is a result of poverty and circumstance. In this case, the way to end criminality is to attack poverty, to educate everyone and guide them to proper jobs.

Personally, I take both views as right and wrong. There are people with criminal minds and there are people who are the result of circumstance. There are people who see stealing from a corporation as a "victimless" crime and, therefore, justifiable. There are those who see some criminal actions as retribution in an unjust system. 

As an insight into a particular type of criminal, the book is fascinating. As a generalization, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Now, to other subjects.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review - Lincoln in the World

Another book review and, this time, I am back in my milieu - non fictional (and non speculative) history. This week, I read Lincoln in the World (once again provided by Blogging For Books).

One thing that always puzzled me was why Britain didn't enter the Civil War, since the South provided most of the raw cotton needed by Britain's huge cotton spinning and weaving industry. On the other hand, Britain was also strongly anti-slavery. Had they entered the war defending the South, there is little doubt that the North would lose. So how was this accomplished?

The book, however, has a wider scope, trying to show how Lincoln's foreign views worked through out his career. It includes the French invasion of Mexico and even adds a (very weak) chapter on Marx. Some are intriguing, others puzzling. The French invasion is more properly tied to Jackson (Lincoln could do little more than send a telegram), the Marx chapter does stretch credulity. 

The best part, however, is the entire cast of characters, from Seward (the Foreign Secretary) to Napolèon III, including an interesting and little explored side to Mary Todd Lincoln.

Veredict: well worth the read

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kicking off 2015

Now that I've wrapped up 2014, let's get 2015 started.

I like to start a new year with an experiment, something I've never done before. This year, I attempted to use a braided shank for a ring. I've been mulling over this idea for a while now and it was time to get it down in metal.

Yeah, I won't call that a success. The ring ended up bulky and awkward. But the idea is out there. A thinner braid would probably be better but I was very happy at how sturdy the shank is after heat treatment. Also, a lesson learned: don't ever quench argentium wire, even if you think it has cooled enough. If just one point is still too warm, it will crack and cracked wire is broken wire. On a ring shank, that isn't a big loss. On a neck piece, that would be 15-20 hours of work ruined. Not good.

My main worry in this project was soldering the braid to the bezel. It still isn't perfect, as you can see, but I got the knack of it. Next one will be perfect.

So, what now? I am wearing this ring for several weeks, so I can be sure the braid is comfortable and that it will withstand abuse. Then I can create a more fluid, delicate piece.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wrapping up 2014 - part 2

I've shown the last piece of 2014, the pearl necklace. But, of course, that doesn't mean that everything was neatly wrapped up in 2014, leaving 2015 a blank slate. Quite the contrary; there are several (ahem, nice understatement) unfinished projects around to be taken up this year.

Most of the unfinished projects have a clear direction and I just need to sit down and finish them (the nice rubellite cab ring, the large gold rose, the silhouette pendant, etc). This is the big unfinished project, though. It was an answer to Peter's challenge for us to slay our beast and face the design and fabrication issues we most avoid. In my case, it was asymmetry, multi metal and ornamental. A quick look at my work will show that I tend to symmetrical pieces, in a single metal and a somewhat minimalist look.

The first challenge was braiding the neck piece. It is significantly more complex than braiding a bracelet. The wires are much longer (hello, safety glasses!) which make them both harder to control and the ends get quite work hardened by the time they are braided. The shape has to have more curves to sit correctly - they have to curve around the neck as well as over the shoulder and over itself, so they look rounded. The braiding itself is quite time consuming.

The first attempt was an unphotographed failure. I have some pride and I won't share that one with you. I tried to mock it up with copper wire but the wires hardened much too fast for the work. Then, I tried argentium silver, so the entire thing could be heat hardened at the end. Have you any idea how easily argentium wire will crack when annealing? Yup, another attempt bit the dust.

Over and under, over and under, over and under ad nausea

This was my final try. I am not completely happy with it but it is decent and very wearable. The photograph greatly magnifies the unevenness at the back - by the time you consider all the curves plus the distortion caused by the wires, it looks a mess even though it isn't. Really, I promise.

One semi finished neck piece, ready for ornamentation
At this point, all I can say is that it is neither asymmetrical, ornamented or multi metal, which means it is time to get to work to make a profusion of flowers and gemstone settings to adorn this basic shape. And that is work for 2015!

The Woman Who Would be King - Book Review

This review will be short and bitter - just don't waste your time

I am not going to go into a detail oriented rant, since I am working on my self control. Sufficient to say, this book should not be classified as non fiction, since nearly all of it is speculation. It would have been a better book if the author had just decided to plot out the story line, add dialog and call it fiction. Of course, in that case, she would have had to learn how to write dialog, character development and how to drive a plot.

A short summary: the book proposes to tell the story of Hatsheput, the queen who became a Pharaoh in her own right and how she built her own characterization to support the Egyptian political and religious views. The difficulty lies in that the Egyptians did not record the details of political chicanery, so there is almost no detail about her rule or why it was almost completely erased some 20 years after her death. That is where all the author's speculations come in play.

Leaving aside the speculation, the book is also extremely confusing. Dates are left very vague. In part, this can be attributed to the lack of source materials. However, a better structure would have solved this. Much is said just in passing but later referenced as important events. One line of speculation is used in one chapter (Hatsheput's daughter pre deceased her) but then a different one is taken up on the next chapter (Hatsheput's daughter may have officiated at her burial). A lot of the book is dedicated to how Hatsheput built her political power but almost none is dedicated to why it unraveled still in her lifetime

The best part of the book were the foot notes, which points to many interesting scholarly works.

Once again, this is a review for Blogging for Books, who provided me the ebook.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Wrapping up 2014

Wow, 2014 was a roller coaster year. Between moving cross country, getting married, family health problems, Etsy issues, etc, it was anything but boring! Overall, I will say it was an awesome year. I feel I made huge progress artistically, in no small part thanks to Michel Sturlin for guiding me in developing my artistic vision (yes, I do have one! I think of myself mainly as an artisan but now I can see how my design sense works and that there is a strong artistic core there) and to all the wonderful people I met online, way too numerous to name individually.

Don't these pieces look coherent together?
I admit I am somewhat ritualistic on occasion. For example, I didn't want to end 2014 just working on humdrum things, I wanted something special to close it off. Since I discovered how gorgeous and varied pearls can be, I decided on a pearl necklace. Since I had this gorgeous strand of button pearls waiting for something unique, I decided I was on the right path.

Isn't the luster nice? It is almost mirror like and, yes, I have a black camera.

I also wanted to balance the classical with something a little edgier. Instead of using a white silk to knot the pearls, I chose this beautiful navy. The navy adds contrast and helps to visually separate the pearls, so each one can shine on its own, instead of blending together. I also double knotted for heavier knots, to help the navy stand out and further separate the pearls.

Button pearls separated by navy silk

And, finally, I needed a clasp. Better yet, I wanted a versatile piece that would work with multiple clasps.

My first inspiration were the 18th century pearl chokers. They are so elegant! Some were worn impossibly high (giving literal meaning to "choker") while most were just nicely nestled in the curve of the neck.

The French must have used anti-gravity technology to keep that necklace there!
That line of research led me to a simple navy blue satin ribbon, tied in a bow and streaming down the back. To avoid looking over the top, I used a thin ribbon, but a wider, shorted one would also look great.

Then, for the second look. I wanted a stone clasp, with small hooks to hang from the jump rings used for the ribbon. Lo and behold, I had the perfect lapis lazuli just waiting for this project. Rarely does a project come together so easily, with everything already in hand.

Lapis Lazuli in lightly hammered setting

Isn't this a lovely way to end a year?