Flood Fine Arts Gallery poster design

Back in February, I came across an event poster I designed. Shot all the photos. Including the white elephant. It was a child’s toy. Laid out the type and and composed the image for the event.

The poster was almost almost tossed into the trash. Early spring cleaning. But that morning I heard Garrison Keillor read “Admiring Audubon’s Carolina Parakeets” by Rose McLarney on the February 6th podcast of The Writer’s Almanac. She was a featured poet at that Asheville event.

Memories of Asheville poetry readings returned to me. The night I heard Thomas Rain Crowe and Coleman Barks reading Hafiz and Rumi poems. Rose McLarney was a rising poet. The Flood Fine Arts Gallery provided the space and community for poets young and old to share and grow.

That summer grew me as well. June 16th, there were two poetry readings I did in Durham. Later that summer I enrolled in a 5-week writing course. And received a scholarship to attend a writers residency in Queen City.

Those were different times. All good memories. But what to do with this poetry event poster I designed?

Art making in quarantine

Inspired by Inktober 2019, I kept working on illustrations throughout November and December. For me, this was intentional art exercise. Keeping up the practice of crafting pencil compositions on illustration board. It was a private affair. No commercial application. Just me, a pencil, and board. But I hit a dry spell entering the new year. Actually, it was not a dry spell, but rather a lack of designated time to practice.

Commuting for two hours a day was part of the daily routine. By train and by street car. Or by automobile. Traveling sapped my energy. But now with state and government safe at home orders, I tried to ease back into evening illustration exercise.

Working from home had its own set of demands. Working from home with a family in an area of less than 1000 square feet presented additional challenges. But these are first world problems.

The first week was difficult. Routines and life patterns merged. A lot of discovery. Kidlingers and spouse realized what I did for work all day. Or at least attempted to do in spite of technological challenges with internet speed and video conferencing.

All evening activities outside the home had been cancelled until further notice. I had more time to catch up on reading and art projects. But resuming the exercise of illustration was difficult.

The first evening all I did was organize and clean the art tools and space. The next night all I did was ink one of the drawings. The plan for the illustrations were simple, clean drawings in the fashion of cartoons and comic books. Another night all I did was tone an illustration with shading and hatching. The direction shifted to a stylized portrait. The results surprised and pleased me.

This encouraged me to continue the practice. And it also encouraged the kidlingers to make art as well.

Last days of March

1.

Does it matter if I did not finish writing a blog post on the 13th? How many blogs posts have I written and intended to publish. But left the blog post in draft mode for weeks. . . months. . . years. How many times I have I typed a reply to someone’s tweet or text, and then deleted it? 

People tell me they are busy. They hardly have time for themselves. When was the last time you were invited to someone’s home for a meal in the last five years? There is so much noise. So much tweeting at each other. So much posing, pandering, and posturing for attention. So much energy spent on self-promotion. I do not want to impose.

I typed out a comment to a Youtube chat. And then deleted it. I do not want to interact through a third-party communication interface. Join me for supper. We will enjoy a meal together. No screens between us. We will tell stories. We will learn of likes and dislikes and overcome all with levity and grace.

But now it seems like an entire nation is at home exercising self-quarantine and safe-at-home orders by local and state governments. I now interact with people through video conferencing and other screens of interaction. It is not the same as in person. Almost everyone one I engage with using Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Teams says the same thing. They miss seeing each other in person.

2.

I walked with my kidlinger on a foggy afternoon — one of the last days of March. We walked along a gravel road. Kidlinger chatted with a friend on a mobile phone. We walked more than a mile. Then kidlinger looked at me and held the mobile down.

“He keeps talking, and sometimes forgets what he’s just said.” 

“That’s okay,” I said. “Keep listening. Be polite. And you might learn something more about what he likes and doesn’t.” 

Kidlinger smiled and held the mobile to ear level. 

Somewhere near the creek I thought I heard the trill of a red-winged blackbird. We crossed one road and continued on another gravel path. The sound of footsteps on crushed rock and an occasional robin were all I heard. 

We walked another mile. In spite of the fog, there was a cold wind. It made my eyes water. From time to time, kidlinger would chuckle and comment to the friend speaking through a mobile phone.

Milwaukee rail service

Public transportation is often the target of complaints. Usually because it is not on schedule. Or the arduous task of connecting with one service and the next. For example, on the East Coast, if the red line bus was five minutes late that meant that you would miss the green line bus at the transit center and have to wait 30 minutes to an hour to get to work. Or continue on foot.

But the Milwaukee street car, The Hop, remains consistently on time. At least that is my experience. For commuters traveling into the city from the south, it is convenient to exit the train station walk across the street and around the corner to catch a ride on The Hop. From there the street car delivers commuters to Historic Third Ward and East Town stops within 5 to 15 minutes.

The cost of commuting by train and street car is the same and sometimes less than the cost of commuting by automobile. And no need to hunt for expensive parking solutions. Avoiding the danger and hassle of traffic congestion on the interstate is a bonus. Especially during unfavorable weather conditions. The train has WiFi and outlets allowing commuters to work while they ride. And, for people like me who prefer no-Fi, the train has a quiet car (like library quiet) for commuters.

There are some downsides. If the first train is late or delayed in some way, commuters have to wait two hours or more for the second train. A difference of starting work at eight o’clock or ten o’clock. One commuter bemoaned the fact that she would like a train that came in from the west, or that connected Madison and Milwaukee. Maybe that will happen someday. Maybe people will see the advantage of commuting by train.

Most days when I commute by rail, train cars are comfortably full. By that I mean, each row has four seats separated by an aisle. Many choose a seat by the window. Like myself. On rare occasions I shared the two seats with another commuter. Similarly, the street car is modestly full during commutes to work. Did I mention that both the train and street car are heated? A wonderful feature for Wisconsin winters.

Public transportation can be a nightmarish hassle. And some days it still is. But for the most part, the Milwaukee rail services, train and street car, are relatively free of stress.

Snow and commuting in Wisconsin

There is something magical about taking the train to work in the snow. Most of the time I read a book or magazine on the way to the office.

But this morning I just looked out the window — watching the snow gently cover the landscape in a soft white blanket.

Collision of jazz and Chinese poetry

The train was late. Or rather, I was late for the train. Work ran later than expected. Missed the 5:45. The street car was running. No mechanical problems like Monday. But a few minutes behind schedule due to a presidential rally.

I decided to skip the street car and walk to the station in order to catch the last train home. There is almost two hours between one train and the other. Walking gave me a chance to find a coffee shop and some time to catch up on reading. The Public Market was on the way, but it tends be loud. And crowded.

Stone Creek Coffee is nice and near the train station. And open until 7 p.m. It displays a nice interior design. But sometimes the atmosphere feels a bit too mod. The baristas are often impertinent. And I feel inelegant when I visit. Maybe I am getting too old to haunt swanky coffee shops. Stone Creek coffee is luxurious. In spite of pretentious barista I bought a cup and then walked to the train station to wait and read a book. It is an autobiography of the Chinese poet Tu Fu. The fact that a book published in the 1930s is still in circulation at a public library is impressive. Also interesting are the translator notes. A few weeks ago I finished reading a recent translation of Li Po poetry. The translator, Seaton, made observations similar to those made nearly 100 years ago by Ayscough and Lowell.

I struggled with one passage in the book as the train station grew loud with passengers arriving from one train and departing on a Greyhound bus. Pulling a mobile device out of my pocket I placed in ear buds and cued up episode 88 of the Discovering Jazz podcast. As I listened I read that one Chinese ideogram may require more than one word to transliterate. Sometimes an entire phrase is used to convey the idea of a single Chinese character. The last train arrived. I boarded. Found a seat. Continued reading. And listening.

The jazz podcast explored absolute pitch. The show host mentioned that Asian languages are tonal. Pronouncing a vowel with one pitch may mean one thing while pronouncing the same vowel with a different pitch provides a different meaning. I experienced that when I visited Japan. But I did not have the knowledge to appreciate it then as I do now.

Reading a dozen pages was all I managed to accomplish before the train stopped at the home station. Thankful to be homeward. Grateful for the travel disruption that mingled American jazz and Chinese poetry into one commute.

Patience to reconnect broken hyperlinks

Ever come across an article or blog post where the hyperlink leads to a deceased web page? That is what I discovered when scanning through old web log posts.

Exhibit 1

How to keep your job in journalism

POSTED ON MARCH 8, 2008
  1. Create killer content
  2. Pimp your work
  3. Brand yourself

This from Jason Sandford, founder of Ashvegas and veteran reporter. I shared my summary [1] and linked to his blog post. However, the hyperlink at the end of the post leads to a web page that reads: “Sorry. The Squarespace account ashvegas is not available.”

After a bit of research, it appears that Mr. Sandford migrated the blog content from Squarespace to an impressive hyperlocal news web page.[2] After scrolling for a decade, I found the original post [3] and reconnected the broken link. Problem solved.

Reading his original post, I learned that he quoted from a Robert Niles article [4] published two days before he shared excerpts with his readers.

Exhibit 2

The Knife Metaphor

POSTED ON JUNE 13, 2008

I do not know who created the image,[5] but I did provide a couple source links.

The hyperlink to The Flowfield Unity reads: “Nothing Found. Sorry, but we can’t seem to find what you’re looking for.” Follow Aja’s link I read a similar note: “Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for.”

I used to follow Aja on Tumblr. That is, before I quit Tumblr. The proliferation of adult content by users and providers prompted me to delete my account.

Sometimes I re-posted an image with source attribution. Link love was the proto-social media expression and polite thing to do.

Exhibit 3

A 90-second GTD primer

POSTED ON AUGUST 25, 2008

Surprisingly, the 43 Folders hyperlink from my blog post [6] is still active. Merlin Mann shared this — abridged here — jewel during Google’s infamous [7] August 11, 2008 outage:

  • Project. Any desirable outcome that requires more than one physical action in order to be considered complete.
  • Next Action. The next physical activity I could perform that moves a Project nearer to the outcome I want.
  • Context. Any limitation, opportunity, tool, or resource that lets me do one of the physical actions in my Project.
  • The Four Criteria Model. The notion that Priority is only one of four criteria in deciding what to do at a given moment.

The full, original post is worth reading. Especially for young readers who may find it interesting that even Google has service outages.

Exhibit 4

Poetry, the highest form of art

POSTED ON OCTOBER 8, 2008

Posted this Guardian lead paragraph [8] on my blog.[9]

“Imagine living in a society where poetry was considered to be the most important art form. Where a poet could easily fill a football stadium. Where a poet’s death was the top news story for days.”

Not surprisingly, the hyperlink is still active. Even if the article is more than a decade old.

Closing thoughts

I expected to find a lot more dead web pages and broken hyperlinks than I did. The sampling from 2008 of blog posts offers insight into journalism and social media.

Social media is reactionary. At its best, social media sneezes an ideavirus [10] that is contagious. At its worst, social media spreads toxic influenc-za.

Journalism reports news and events. To provide a permanent record for this age and the generations to follow. Journalism informs and educates readers. When done well, journalism inspires.

It is an easy tirade to attack social media as harmful rather than helpful. Equally, it is simple to launch a screed against poor quality journalism. Especially when broadcast news makes it effortless. (Side note: I do make a distinction between broadcast news and print/legacy news. But that is a topic for a different day.) It is fair to say that both journalism and social media may effectively be broken. Like an old, broken hyperlink they need time and patience to reconnect to a valid source.

NOTES:


[1] How to keep your job in journalism, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/03/08/how-to-keep-your-job-in-journalism/


[2] Ashvegas.com.
https://ashvegas.com/


[3] “How to keep your job in journalism,” by Jason Sandford. First published March 8, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/06/13/aja-the-flowfield-unity/


[4] “Keeping your job in journalism,” by Robert Niles. First published March 6, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
http://www.ojr.org/080305niles/

[5] Accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/06/13/aja-the-flowfield-unity/


[6] A 90-second GTD primer, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/08/25/a-90-second-gtd-primer/


[7] “We feel your pain, and we’re sorry,” by Todd Jackson. August 11, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://gmail.googleblog.com/2008/08/we-feel-your-pain-and-were-sorry.html

[8] “Importing a passion for poetry,” by Sarah Maguire. First published October 6, 2008, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/oct/06/poetry.in.translation


[9] Poetry, the highest form of art, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/10/08/poetry-the-highest-form-of-art-2/


[10] Unleashing the Ideavirus, by Seth Godin, accessed January 4, 2020.
https://www.hachettebooks.com/titles/seth-godin/unleashing-the-ideavirus/9780786887170/

Reflections on a decade of sharing Advent poetry and art


A 183-word blog post published a few years ago became the most visited blog post I have written. How did this all begin? Part of the story started with a family tradition of creating handmade greeting cards. Part of the story involved a search for good seasonal, Christmas poems. Part of the story was how a father learned about Advent.

Last year I had the ambition to share a poem a day throughout the season of Advent. Newly discovered poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Christian Wiman, Edmund Spenser, and others. Unfortunately, work life became unmanageable due to circumstances beyond my control. Only six poems shared during last year’s 2018 Advent season.

This year the plan was to share twelve poems during the Advent season. But again, work life demands became excessively burdensome. The poems were not released. They remain in the draft category of the content management system. In spite of the hurly-burly of this December, one of the children drew a very nice drawing on the chalkboard. It accompanies the Advent calendar that our family has used each year for more than a decade.

Finally, I wrote a long-ish essay to mark the decade. A story about the handmade greeting cards, the search for good Christmas poems, and how a father learned about Advent. But I decided not to publish it. I doubt anyone is interested in the story. In lieu of that, here are blog links that highlight the last ten years of Advent art, audio recordings, blog posts, and poems.

2018

Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon
A Scandal in the Suburbs, X.J. Kennedy
Hill Christmas, R. S. Thomas
Remembering that it happened once, Wendell Berry
Advent, Mary Jo Salter
Advent, Patrick Kavanagh

2017

Exploring 12 Days of Advent poetry

2016

A holiday podcast for Christmas Day

2015

It’s that time of year
First Sunday of Advent — Poems
Second Sunday of Advent — Poems
Third Sunday of Advent — Poems
Fourth Sunday of Advent — Poems

2012

Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

2011

Mighty Mercy, John Piper
Advent Calendar, Rowan Williams
Annunciation, Denise Levertov
The God We Hardly Knew, Óscar Romero
Mosaic of the Nativity (Serbia, Winter 1993), Jane Kenyon
Advent, Donald Hall
For Christmas Day, Charles Wesley

2010

Into The Darkest Hour, Madeleine L’Engle
The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold, Madeleine L’Engle

2009

Woodblock printing on a budget
Diy woodblock prints/greeting cards
“Christmas night,” a limited edition woodblock print
Woodblock prints/greeting cards
“Peace on earth,” a limited edition woodblock print

Finish what was started

 

One of the challenges of an artist and designer is the amount of unfinished sketches or mock-ups (a working sample of an illustration or design) that collect over the years.

Found a unfinished illustration from over five years ago. Decided to finish the ink drawing. Added watercolor as a painting exercise.

Never too late to complete an unfinished illustration.

A good test of skills


Tested a couple old brushes using a dozen watercolor half pans on illustration paper. Purchased the art supplies for a book cover illustration project a few years ago. Have not had the occasion to use them since then. Apart from recreational sketches and practice.


Painted some studies of graphic design advertisement posters from the 1960s. Muscle memory atrophied more than expected. How does the aphorism go? Either control the watercolors or they will control the painting. Some clumsy mistakes. A good test of skills. Not ready to paint a book cover illustration. But the exercise warmed up the muscles and mind to consider more opportunities.