Monday, March 30, 2009

Fun with Bruce

After Steve Lavigne left, I had another visitor -- my brother Bruce. He came up on Sunday to geek and ride. Unfortunately, the wonderful, sunny, warm weather we had on Friday and Saturday deserted us... we had thunderstorms on Sunday, and today started out rainy and cold. It stayed that way until the afternoon, when the rain petered out (but it was still cold). Bruce REALLY wanted to go for a ride (he had not been out riding yet this year), so when the rain stopped, it was "go time". We bundled up and took the two Victory's out, riding up to Shelburne Falls for a late lunch at McCusker's. It actually wasn't too bad -- I mean, I've been riding in colder temperatures than today's 43°.

At one point on the ride home, we stopped by a little marshy area to take some photos I wanted to try stitching into a panorama. I think it came out well.

It's interesting how the straight road gets distorted into what looks like a curvy stretch. I continue to be impressed by the way Panorama Maker4 works. -- PL

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fun with Steve

We were graced this weeked by a visit from Steve Lavigne, who drove down from Maine to hang out and goof around. We were originally planning to wait until Saturday to go for a motorcycle ride, but Friday afternoon's sunny skies and pleasant temperatures convinced us to head out earlier. There is a motorcycle shop up near Keene, NH called "Eddie's Vintage Motorcycles" that Jim and I have been wanting to check out, so we decided that would make a good destination (and close enough so that we would have plenty of time to get back home for Wii bowling, pool and pizza with Mike and Eric and Dan).

Eddie's was a pretty cool place, where the friendly dude in charge (I think his name was Joseph) showed us around. We saw back rooms filled with lots of old motorcycles and pieces of old motorcycles, including one rare Japan-only V4 250cc Honda street bike. In a small barn about fifty feet away from the main shop, there were other vintage bikes, mostly complete and in good condition. Here's Jim standing in front of one of his lust bikes, a Norton 750 Commando.

Just down the line from the Commando was this nifty old Yamaha two-stroke scrambler -- I think it's from the late 1960's or early 1970's.

Eddie's also sells new motorcycles, including Piaggio scooters and Aprilias. In the shop when we visited was this gorgeous green Benelli Tornado, here seen with Jim sitting on it.

After gorging on the sight of all these lovely motorcycles, we headed back to my house. While blasting down Route 91, I snapped these two "action shots" of Jim on his new Moto Guzzi "Griso"...

... and Steve on his favorite bike of mine, the Honda Rune.

We timed getting back just right to meet Eric, who was first to arrive. You may not be aware of this, but Eric is poised to join our brotherhood of road-riding motorcyclists! He's ridden bikes before, but only off-road, so this is a big step for him. He's doing it the sensible way -- starting out small (I'm lending him one of my Honda 250 "Big Ruckus" scooters) to get the feel of road riding before he steps up to a bigger bike. Once he gets his motorcycle learner's permit (probably next week), he'll get started. Here's Eric checking out the bike he'll be riding, while Jim and Steve look on (and offer words of encouragement).

Here are a few photos from our pool game. Mike watches Dan shoot...

... Jim lines up a shot...

... and Mike contemplates a new look.

Saturday, Jim and Steve and I took off on another motorcycle ride -- it was an even nicer day (reaching 72 degrees at one point, by the thermometer on my Victory Vision). Jim had switched bikes for this ride, taking his Yamha FJR1300 instead of the Griso. We headed up to Adams, MA (my Mom's home town) via Route 116, a great riding road (albeit suffering significantly from potholes after the long winter). We stopped along the way for a break near this beautiful, still-icy lake.

Jim wanted to go to this diner in Adams which he had been to years ago, where he had gotten some really good soup. I can't recall the name of the diner right now, but we had some good grub there -- Steve and I each got a "Thanksgiving in a wrap" sandwich (turkey, stuffing, and -- in Steve's sandwich, at least -- cranberry mayo). After a brief stop at another motorcycle shop in Adams (Ronnie's Cycles), we blasted over to Williamstown for a coffee, and enjoyed sitting out in the bright sun in the 70˚ temperatures.

Then it was back on the road, heading home. We took off down Route 7, out to Pittsfield, a quick stop at Barnes and Noble, then off down Route 143 and back home. All in all, two great riding days.

Not so today, unfortunately -- this Sunday is a wet one. It's been raining pretty steadily since I got up. I'm not going to complain, though. It was great having Steve come down to visit, and to go riding with him and Jim, and to hang out with them plus Dan, Mike and Eric. It made the house seem a little less empty (my wife is in England this week with my daughter and her roommate -- not riding motorcycles, but I'm sure they're having a wonderful time!). -- PL

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More panorama fun -- on top of Mount Monadnock

I am continuing to play with Panorama Maker 4, and having great fun doing so. I've been scouring my digital photo archive looking for material to try with it, and I found this set of photos.

Back in 2001, Gary Richardson suggested a hike up Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. I'd heard of the mountain, and had probably driven or ridden in sight of it many times, but had never paid much (okay, ANY) attention to it. From what I understand, it is the second most hiked mountain in the world, after Mount Fuji in Japan.

I thought that statistic, which Gary enlightened us (me and Jim Lawson) with on the way to the mountain, might be an overstatement... until we arrived in one of the parking areas at the base of the mountain and saw multiple tour buses and a lot of cars. It was a beautiful day to hike, and I think it took us a little more than two hours to make the ascent. There was much beautiful scenery along the way, but the views from the top were fantastic. I was amazed at how many people were on the summit -- it was actually crowded! You can see what I mean in this panorama.

I stood on the highest rock I could find at the summit and took these photos showing the whole 360 degree vista. That's Gary giving the "thumbs-up", with Jim sitting across from him (about to eat some trail mix, I think).

The walk back down the mountain took somewhat less time than the climb up, and as I recall was enlivened by Jim's invention of the word "haltoids" to describe those muscles in the backs of your thighs which control your pace when descending a slope... said muscles (generally not given this much use, at least for us) aching quite fiercely from about the halfway point. But it was still a great day and a great hike. I wouldn't mind trying it again, though I suspect it might take me longer to get up (and down). -- PL

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blast from the Past #170: Georgia O'Keefe portrait

I did this one, a portrait of the artist Georgia O'Keefe, back in 1979, when I was seriously into the stipple technique. I was inspired by seeing a fantastic photograph of her face -- there was so much character in it. I based this drawing on that photo. -- PL

Monday, March 23, 2009

Blast from the Past #168 : Fun with Bryce

Some years back, I enjoyed playing around with a 3D program called "KPT Bryce". It was basically a landscape generator, but if you were persistent enough, you could do some cool things with the available tools. I built this scene for fun -- obviously, the big robot/vehicle thing was inspired by the AT-AT walkers in the "Star Wars" movies.

Bryce was one of those "magic" programs which really kept me interested in computers. I remember just watching the rendering process with rapt fascination. -- PL

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Maybe some "Dead" things should just stay dead

In the last few years, since the advent of reasonably-priced complete season (or series) DVD sets of many TV shows, I have altered my TV viewing habits -- I rarely follow episodic TV as it is aired, preferring to purchase the DVD sets and watch a complete season over the course of several days. In this manner, I've enjoyed series like "Deadwood", "Rome", "Pushing Daisies", "Reaper" and "The Wire", to name a few.

Recently, I picked up the complete "Dead Like Me" series, which included the two seasons of the show and the special TV movie. I think I gave it a shot mostly because I really like Mandy Patinkin as an actor, especially from his role as Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride". I was pleasantly surprised by this show -- it started a bit slowly, but really came into its own about halfway through the first season, and was really developing into a fascinating meditation on life and death, grief and regret. It's unfortunate that it was canceled.

But perhaps equally as unfortunate was the abysmal TV movie of "Dead Like Me", which was apparently put together four or five years after the series was canceled. The producers got most of the cast back together, which I guess is some kind of achievement, but could not/did not get Mandy Patinkin to return, nor the actress who played "Daisy Adair". The latter was disappointing (the replacement actress just didn't "get" the character, nor did she have the right "look"), but the former was a disaster -- Patinkin's absence really pointed out that he was essential to the core appeal of the show.

But even worse was the writing. I'm not sure what happened, but it really seemed like whoever wrote this TV movie basically forgot all of what made the show interesting. It made me glad that I had come late to the show, and was not one of its devoted fans who had waited five years after the series cancellation... and were rewarded with this dismal offering. -- PL

Monday, March 16, 2009

A different kind of fun with Panorama Maker 4

While at coffee today with Jim Lawson, Mike Dooney and Dan Berger, conversation at one point veered around to what I've been doing lately with the Panorama Maker 4 program. Mike made a brilliant suggestion: If this software was so good at stitching together photos, why couldn't it stitch together pieces of scans?

You see, one of the minor annoyances of life in the digital age for artists is that most scanners are not big enough to scan in one pass anything larger than 11 by 17 inch originals. What you end up doing is scanning half of the piece, then turning it around and scanning the other half. Because it is almost impossible to put both sides in at exactly the same angle, you must then carefully piece both sections together, rotating one (or both) of them JUST enough so that they match up. Depending on how complex the art is, it can be a VERY frustrating task.

So, taking Mike's suggestion to heart, I decided to try it out when I got home today. I did three experiments, and they all worked. Here's one of the more difficult tests.

I scanned this piece -- an original TMNT Volume 2 cover which Steve Lavigne had painted -- in two pieces. I even rotated both pieces a little bit more off-kilter than they were scanned, just to make it a little harder for the software. Here are the two pieces...

And here, after less than a minute of processing, is the stitched-together result. (I didn't rotate the finished piece into perfect vertical alignment, so you could see exactly how it came out of Panorama Maker 4.)

Pretty darned good, I'd say! -- PL

Another panorama... sunset over North Adams

I took the photos which make up this panorama back in 2001. I had taken a motorcycle ride on one of my favorite roads, the Mohawk Trail (known more prosaically as Massachusetts Route 2), up to my old home town, North Adams.

This is a view from what's called the "western summit" of the Mohawk Trail, looking west out over the valley in which North Adams is sited. I had stopped there at a little gift shop which had this great viewing spot, and I really liked the late afternoon sun coming through the clouds over the city. -- PL

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mossy rocks on a back road panorama

I can't stop! Here's another panorama. I took these photos last fall. I was out doing one of my favorite things -- riding around on my motorcycle (in this case my Gold Wing), looking for interesting back roads. I found this one not too far from home. It was mostly dirt, and would be a little scary in a car if there was traffic coming fro the other direction, as it was a pretty narrow road. But I had to stop and check out these beautiful mossy rock formations.

I'm not sure if they are natural or if this was a man-made cut through a rocky hill. Given how small and out of the way this road is, I can't imagine why anyone would go through all the trouble of blasting through it. Who knows? In any event, the rocks and moss looked nice. I wish I had taken a few more photos so I could have shown the road stretching out into the distance on the left side, too. If you look closely, you can see my Gold Wing way off down the road on the right. -- PL

Mt. Skinner panorama

I'm having a whole bunch of fun with that Panorama Maker 4 program I got last week. I've been going through my hard drive looking for photos I've taken in the past with the intention of eventually making panoramas out of them. Here's one result:

This is a view from one of my favorite spots in the Valley -- Skinner State Park on the top of Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, MA. (I bicycled with my wife here on our first date.) I took the photos which make up this panorama from a rock ledge just below the ranger station on top of the mountain. From this perspective, you get a nice view of Northampton across the Connecticut River. -- PL

Monday, March 9, 2009

VICTORY!!! (sort of...)

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in the Pioneer Valley -- mid-fifties, sunny, blue skys, snow melting away...

I had managed to get the Victory Vision out of the big garage the day before, wrestling its sizable bulk over a stubborn, slow-to-melt hump of compacted snow and then across about fifty feet of soft, muddy dirt. But it was worth it.

I took a lovely ride on the Victory yesterday, keeping an eye out for the treacherous layer of sand still on the roads (residue from winter sandings by our Highway Department, a must for safe travel in these climes during the snowy part of winter), and enjoying what seemed to be -- finally! -- the arrival of spring. I stopped beside a beaver pond on the way to take this shot of the Victory with evidence of the large volume of snow still hanging around.

I rode up to Shelburne Falls to get coffee at McCusker's, after which I strolled over to the "Glacial Potholes" viewing area. I always like to look at these rock formations, especially when there is dramatic water flow happening.

Here's a panoramic view of the dam and most of the glacial potholes, along with some of the winter ice still clinging to the rocks. (I recently discovered a very useful "photo-stitching" tool for the Mac called "Panorama Maker 4", which is probably the best of all such tools I've tried so far. I used it to create this image, as well as the one from a few posts ago of part of the UMass campus.)

All well and good, and I rode home yesterday envisioning riding to work today on the Victory. But... here's what greeted me outside my kitchen window this morning.

Arrghhh!!! At least it is not a huge amount of snow... and warm temperatures are forecast for the next several days. Still... aaarrgghhh! -- PL

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I watched "Watchmen"...

... yesterday, along with my daughter (home from school for a brief visit), and enjoyed it a lot. While there were a couple of scenes which seemed to either go on too long or just felt a bit superfluous, and some really unnecessary (in my opinion) over-the-top bits of violence, as a whole it was extremely entertaining. It certainly held my attention for the entire two hours and forty-three minutes. It's quite a beautiful-looking movie, with some great performances and memorable characters.

I purposely held off re-reading "Watchmen" before seeing the movie (the last time I read it was when the original comics came out), and with that caveat, I think it was a fine adaptation. Now I'm planning to read the graphic novel and see if the film left out -- or added -- anything substantial. And I'll probably go to see the film again after that. -- PL

Blast from the Past #159: Triceratops birthday "card"

Continuing the "Jim Lawson/Triceratops" theme begun a couple of posts ago, here's a nifty little thing I found out in the old studio last week. Jim drew this to go along with a birthday present some years ago. -- PL

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Blast from the past #158: "Woman riding Triceratops" by Jim Lawson

This is a cool drawing that Jim gave me some years back. It's interesting to see how much his depictions of dinosaurs have changed over the years. As readers of Jim's "Paleo" series of comics can attest, he draws them in a far more realistic manner now.

I'm not sure, but I think this drawing may be associated with the short-lived "Dino Island" comic Jim did which was published by Mirage back in the 1990's. -- PL

Sunday, March 1, 2009

You can't go home again...

Yesterday, I decided to go for my daily walk on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, my old alma mater. (I usually just walk around Northampton, but that can get boring after a while.) I parked at one of the few metered spaces on campus, next to a new art building that was built a year or two ago. It just so happens that this new building was constructed in what used to be part of a parking lot across the street from the first dormitory I stayed in when I went to UMass. I spent my freshman year in that dorm, which was subsequently converted into offices a few years after I graduated, and underneath one or more coats of paint on one of the walls in one of those offices on the third floor is a large painting I did of a Kirbyesque cosmic character, right over where my bed was at that time. I wish I had taken a photo of it years ago.

So I walked past my old dorm, then around the dining commons at which I took most of my meals that freshman year, and then up the hill towards one of the older buildings in which I'd had a number of art classes.

However, the closer I got, the more confused I was. Where was the old grey clapboard building where I had taken my first design class, my first sculpture class? Then I remembered -- a few years ago, that building had burned down. Now there is nothing left of it. New paths crisscross the lot on which it stood.

Here's a partial panoramic photo of the area where I think that building once stood.

If I had been blindfolded and set down in that spot, I would not have known where I was, at least not until I looked to the west and saw the twenty-story UMass library tower looming over the campus. It was weird -- I had walked to or by that art building literally hundreds of times when I was going to school at UMass... and now it's like it was never there. As I pondered this, I realized that even my memory of its location was beginning to fade... I could only be sure of the general area in which it once stood.

Thinking of that old building (whose name I can't even recall!) made me think of some fun stuff I used to do there. As one of the places on campus where sculpture classes were held, this building housed a fairly large and well-equipped wood shop on its top floor. I learned to be pretty proficient with the jigsaw and the bandsaw there.

One of the things I did there was not technically schoolwork, though it was art-related. I had taken to making these -- I'm not sure what to call them. What I did was this: I would take a piece of comic book art I really liked -- for example, a drawing of the the Fantastic Four's Thing from a cover drawn by Jack Kirby -- and carefully redraw it on a piece of 3/4 inch-thick pine board, first in pencil, then inking those pencil lines with a brush or a crow quill pen. This could be tricky, as the wood grain would want to take the ink in different directions. But with a light hand, and making sure not to load up the brush or pen with too much ink at once, I managed it. Once I'd finished the inking, I would take the piece of wood to the shop and carefully cut, with the bandsaw, all the way around the outer edge of the drawing. Once I'd done that, I would cut out any internal spaces -- say, for example, the space formed between an arm and a torso if the character had his hand on his hip -- with the jigsaw. I'd sand the back side of this cutout to clean up any stray wood fibers, then take it back to my dorm room where I would color the artwork with inks, usually the Pelicans that the campus store sold. When done, I would use black ink to cover the sides and back of the piece, then give the whole thing a coat (or two, or three) of polyurethane to protect it.

It was great fun. I loved the smell of the wood as I cut and sanded it. I made about two dozen of these things, ranging from relatively simple single figures to more elaborate complete cover compositions, done in two or three layers of wood (foreground, middleground, background). I gave most of them away, but also sold a few to a comic book store owner I worked for at that time.

I thought I had saved one of them, and when I got home yesterday I searched through my studio for it, to no avail. I was hoping to take a photo of it to include with this entry. Oh well..

I wonder if any of those things survive, thirty-three years later? If treated with care, they probably could last for many years. The colors would fade (those Pelican inks didn't hold up well in sunlight), but the black ink I used for the line work would likely remain dark. Pine is not terribly strong, so any small details could very easily break off. Maybe someday I'll see one on eBay. -- PL