Thursday, December 30, 2010

The geometry of nature

Jeannine and I went out on cross-country skis yesterday, taking advantage of some sunny conditions and the recent snowfall. The snow wasn't that great for skiing, as there were only a few inches and in places the snow had barely covered the grass, but we had fun sliding and tromping around.

While out in a field by our house, I noticed something curious, something I don't recall having seen before. There were perfect arcs drawn in the snow, with no human footprints anywhere nearby.

It only took a moment to realize what had happened -- the snowstorm of several days previous had been accompanied by brisk and blustery winds. The winds had pressed some of the taller weeds down and then pushed them back and forth, pivoting them on their stems, allowing the tops of the plants to scrape away snow.

Not much of a mystery, really, but it was interesting to look at... one more example of geometry seen in nature. -- PL

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "Masterpiece" by Elise Broach

   On the strength of a recommendation in a comment (thanks, Amy!) on my wife's blog post about the Albrecht Dürer show we went to in Williamstown, MA, I recently bought "Masterpiece", a novel for children by Elise Broach. It is basically a story about a beetle named Marvin who discovers he has a talent for drawing -- a talent so profound that one of his drawings (a copy of a miniature Dürer drawing)  is used in a scheme to catch the thief who has stolen several other original Dürer drawings.
    But it's more than that. It is also -- perhaps mostly -- a story about friendship. In this case, it is a most unusual friendship, one between a young boy and a young beetle. And I have to give the author a lot of credit for accomplishing one of the most difficult of tasks in this kind of story, and accomplishing it with seeming ease and seamlessness: the suspension of disbelief. Broach anthropomorphizes the beetle Marvin and his extended family -- they speak in English with each other (and understand the speech of humans, even though they cannot speak to humans), go on picnics, play games, and so forth -- but she does it in a very interesting way, coming right up to the line where you might expect that Marvin and his human friend James will start talking to each other like characters in a Disney cartoon (think Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, for one example)… but not crossing that line. Instead, she uses clever body language and an internal monologue (both on Marvin's part) to establish the method of communication between boy and beetle.
    I don't, in general, read books written for this age group, but Broach's writing style and ability to imbue insects (and people) with interesting personalities drew me right in. Marvin and his family are the kind of people -- uh, I mean beetles -- that anyone would like to spend some time with. And Broach makes the occasional wry aside (I liked the one about lawyers in the beetle world especially) which adds to the appeal of the story for adults.
    But I think the thing that I found most charming and evocative was the scene in which Marvin first discovers his talent for drawing, when he dips his two forelegs into the ink left in the cap of James' bottle of ink, and starts to use his claws like pen nibs to render an exquisite drawing of the scene outside of James' bedroom window. There is something about this that really appealed to me -- I think it was in part that Broach didn't have Marvin trying to use the pen or any other human drawing implement, but instead did what seemed completely -- well, natural. It made total sense that this is the way a beetle might draw with ink.
    To avoid giving away too much, I won't get into the mystery part of the plot -- suffice it to say that it involves a museum, an original Dürer drawing, and a plan to catch the thief who has stolen several other Dürer drawings. It is all well-written -- but I have to say that the resolution of the mystery is perhaps the weakest part of the whole book, and actually -- at least for me -- required more suspension of disbelief than accepting a beetle who draws in ink really well with his feet. But, even so, it doesn't ruin the story.
    (I must also mention one sequence involving Marvin and his cousin Elaine and their adventure with a hungry turtle in a terrarium -- it's well-done and exciting, but left me wondering why it was in the book. It had the feel of something added later, perhaps at the urging of an editor who wanted more action in the story. It's one of those things which could be excised entirely and never be missed. I will say, too, that it was in this sequence that the pretty realistic world Broach had created for her beetle protagonists started to slip a bit, with a bit too much "Indiana Jones"-style derring-do on the part of Marvin and his cousin. And can beetles REALLY walk up the sheer glass side of a terrarium?)
    The accompanying black and white spot illustrations by Kelly Murphy are amusing and charming, and perfectly complement the text. There is also a very interesting question-and-answer section with both author and illustrator in the back of the book. I would have no problem recommending this novel, especially for its target age group. And I think I will be reading more by Elise Broach. -- PL

Monday, December 27, 2010

It's finally here...

... the snow, that is.

It started yesterday around the time my brother Bruce had to head back home -- some light flurries which turned into heavier blowing snow. We heard the wind gusting all night, and woke up to...

... not too much snow. It looks like an accumulation of only a few inches so far, and although the wind is still blowing some of the snow around, I think it has stopped falling. I'm grateful we didn't get the twenty inches or so that fell on New York. I'm sure we'll get more before the winter is over... maybe even before this week is over... but this is enough for now.

The birds are out in full force, taking advantage of Jeannine's bird feeder, and she keeps me apprised of when any interesting birds arrive there (I sit at the breakfast table with my back to the window). A few minutes ago she pointed out this guy...

... and I managed to get a halfway decent photo of him. I wish that branch wasn't in the way, but what can you do? It's hard to get birds to pose where you want them to. -- PL

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas morning...

... and I was up to feed the pets at around 6:30AM. The sky was lightening in the east, with some beautiful color. Things felt very peaceful, even with Louis barking outside.

In another few hours our Christmas guests, family and friends, will begin to arrive, and the festivities will get underway. We still have a few things to do to prepare -- for me, a little cleaning, and making the salad. Jeannine is baking her fabulous pumpkin rolls, and probably doing a dozen or so other things.

My brother Bruce showed up last night, which was great -- we got to spend some time with him on Christmas Eve. I spent a lot of that time talking blogs with him, and I think he is finally going to get going with his. Once he does, I'll put a link up on this site.

Emily actually went to bed before us last night, and has yet to get up -- I suspect she is still tired from her "red-eye" flight home a couple of days ago.

And, in a very mundane yet very sweet way, this is a special Christmas morning for me -- for the first time in probably twenty years or so, I am up at the same time as my wife... and I got to see her initial reaction to seeing all the stockings I made for everyone lined up along the stairs. It's just one more benefit of adopting a sane sleep schedule. I'm looking forward to the rest of the day.

Merry Christmas, all! -- PL

Friday, December 24, 2010

Icy winterberries

I took this photo of the winterberries in our front yard a couple of years ago. My wife is very fond of these bright red berries, and I can see why -- they add such a lovely dash of brilliant red to an otherwise mostly monochromatic winter landscape.

When I took this photo, we'd just recently had a storm which dropped some freezing rain as well as snow, and it left some interesting residue in places, like these ice crystals of this leaf and the coating of ice on the berries. So far this winter, we have had virtually no snow - just a few flurries that amounted to no more than a slight dusting which disappeared within days. Although a significant snowstorm would lend our area the classic "white Christmas" look (and make my daughter happy), I am content with not having to plow or shovel or scrape or sand. -- PL

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blast from the Past #331: 2003 Christmas card

Jeannine and I got to talking a few days ago about our Christmas cards, and realized that we don't have an organized archive of all of them, which we both thought would be a neat thing to have. So I am going to try to put that together, which means starting with searching the hard drive on my desktop computer for any Christmas card-related files. So far, I have only come up with three -- not an auspicious beginning.

But one of them is something that before I started looking, I'd completely forgotten about. It's the card I made for us in 2003, and it was unusual in that unlike previous cards, this one was folded differently, in thirds in a kind of accordion fashion. That way, the image of the Turtle on the Segway was on the front of the card, and when unfolded you could see the whole image.

I kind of like this one... I think the colors work well. -- PL

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Okay, that title didn't totally work -- I was trying to combine the words "hummus" and "musing", to show that I was MUSING about HUMMUS... but it came out looking more like some odd version of "amusing".

Which I guess this post might be to some.

As most of my friends know, I am no fan of mayonnaise. In fact, I consider it one of the most vile concoctions in the condiment field, and I have long resented the seemingly widespread assumption in restaurants that if you are getting a sandwich or a burger, OF COURSE YOU WANT MAYONNAISE ON IT!!! Sad experience with many a ruined meal has led me to train myself to tell the waitperson several times, and very clearly, that I do NOT want mayonnaise on my food item. And that seems to work, most of the time.

I dislike mayonnaise so much that when Jim Lawson and I published "Planet Racers", we called our publishing company "Zeromayo" (get it?).

The one place I can tolerate mayonnaise is in tuna fish salad. I think it has something to do with the fact that the tuna flavor is so strong, it can overpower the horrible taste of mayonnaise. But the flavor of the mayo can still come through, especially if the mixer of the tuna salad has gone light on tuna and heavy on the mayo.

So I was happy this past summer when I decided to try an idea of mine which had been percolating my head for a few weeks. I'm not sure why this occurred to me, but one day I thought that I should try mixing hummus in my tuna fish salad instead of mayonnaise.

(Hummus, as fans of the spread know, is basically a mixture of finely-ground chickpeas and tahini, along with some other spices and things like lemon juice. It's great!)

I think the thought came to me because I realized that hummus is, in some ways, sort of like mayonnaise. Not in its flavor or worthiness as a food item (hummus is far superior to mayo in those areas), but -- especially when very finely ground -- in its consistency. I thought that maybe, just maybe, hummus might blend nicely with tuna fish.

And it does!

I substituted hummus for mayo in a batch of tuna salad, and it was great. The taste was better, and the whole mixture held together even better than it did with mayonnaise. And it is clearly a healthier alternative. So -- no more mayo in my tuna salad from now on.

And yesterday, I decided to try something a little more unusual. I'd made a mixture of tuna and hummus, with some finely-chopped up sweet red peppers and green peppers mixed in as well, a couple of days previous. I woke up yesterday thinking that I wanted to mix that with some eggs and scramble it for breakfast.

I wasn't entirely sure that the hummus would mix well with the eggs, but it did, brilliantly. I whisked them together (three large eggs and about a cup and a half of the hummus/tuna/veggies mixture) with a fork and within a minute or so had a smooth mixture which cooked up very nicely in the frying pan, looking for all the work like regular scrambled eggs (with a slight color difference). And they tasted…

… well, I was going to say "great", but I should be honest and say "good". The tuna didn't really work. It wasn't horrible, but the next time I do this it will be minus the tuna fish. I am happy to know that hummus and eggs blend so well, though -- this could lead to some very interesting omelets! -- PL

Monday, December 20, 2010

A minor "Star Trek" Christmas miracle

Anyone who knows me (or has read this blog since it started) knows that I am a passionate "Star Trek" fan. My wife is not, though recently she agreed to watch with me two of my favorite episodes of the original series, "Devil in the Dark" and "City on the Edge of Forever". Her verdict? She didn't care for the costuming, and some of the acting seemed dated, but she thought the plots and writing were strong.

But even though Jeannine is not, and in all likelihood, never will be, a big "Star Trek" fan, she knows what it means to me. And last Christmas, when I thought I had lost my treasured gold-plated U.S.S. Enterprise pendant, which had hung on our Christmas trees for many years, she felt my pain.

You see, my habit for the last few years, when it is time to get the Christmas tree out of the house, is to first use long-handled pruning shears to lop off the branches. This makes the thing easier to move through the house and out the doors without brushing against furniture and walls and dropping lots of its dried pine needles all over the floor. (It also has the added benefit of giving me a naked Christmas tree trunk, with which to craft something cool -- like a walking stick or something. I have yet to actually DO this, but as of this writing I have four such trunks in the garage from the last four Christmases, just waiting for the right amount of inspiration and perspiration.)

Sometime during the process of clipping off last year's Christmas tree's branches, the Enterprise pendant was apparently lost. When we put all the ornaments away, it was nowhere to be seen. With a sinking feeling, I realized that it had likely been left, unnoticed, on one of those branches I'd cut off and thrown out. I was bummed out.

That Enterprise pendant is something that I have had with me since high school. It's my understanding that when the original "Star Trek" series was cancelled, Gene Roddenberry formed a company called "Lincoln Enterprises" to try to make a little money off the dead show and also to keep the fans of "Star Trek" happy. One of the items I bought through this mail-order outfit was this little (about three inches long) gold-plated U.S.S. Enterprise pendant. I don't think I ever wore it as a pendant, but it made a wonderful Christmas tree ornament.

So it was very disappointing, to say the least, to think that this nifty little bit of my personal "Star Trek" history had vanished forever. Jeannine tried to keep my hopes up, saying that maybe it had been left in another box of ornaments, and we'd come upon it at some point in time. Well, maybe… but I didn't really think it would.

Fast-forward to yesterday. We were finally decorating the tree, and in the process decided to winnow down our collection of ornaments. There were quite a few which were falling apart, or just plain ugly, or both, and others which were fine and whole but just held no great appeal. So we trashed the first group and set aside the second to give away. And at some point in this process of going through the ornaments…

… Jeannine found it!

The Enterprise pendant had, somehow, come to rest underneath one shallow box which had been set, fairly snugly, into a larger box, and had thus remained out of sight. But Jeannine was keeping an eye out for possible hiding places for the starship, and this one seemed likely, so she pulled the shallow box up, and -- voila!

As you might imagine, I was pretty happy. Yes, I know it's a small thing, and not really a "Christmas miracle" (a wildly overused cliche these days, in my humble opinion)… but sometimes all you need is one of these small occurrences to brighten up the day. Thanks again, Jeannine! -- PL

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Seashells are almost a cliche in still-life drawing. I remember drawing them in classes at UMass years ago. But there's a reason that they are so popular -- they are very cool to draw. Their shapes are fascinating, often combining strong, sweeping youthful curves along with the crumbling, shadowed edges of age.

While we were in Maine this summer, and I was prowling the pebble beach near the house we rented, I found a number of shells of various types. Nothing spectacular, but some interesting (to me at least) pieces. I gathered up a few and brought them back to the house, where I sat on the deck with my sketchbook and drew them sitting on the weathered arm of the deck chair.

I'm glad I did. There is nothing particularly special about this drawing, but looking at it makes me feel good, for a number of reasons. -- PL

Saturday, December 18, 2010


No, I won't be talking today about the technique of putting together small colored tiles to create an image -- rather,  this will just be a small post about the restaurant in Northampton that Jeannine took me to yesterday.

It's called Mosaic, and it's on Masonic Street, and it is pretty cool. Jeannine's been there a number of times, and said a lot of good things about it, so when she offered to meet me there before her haircut appointment, I jumped at the chance.

It's a small place, but has a nice feeling to it. I didn't look over their extensive menu too carefully, instead going for a spicy lamb stew with sausage that my eye was drawn to. That was a mistake, I think -- when my meal came, I sat puzzling over why I couldn't see any chunks of lamb in it. (It turned out that the lamb was IN the sausage.) And it was one of those dishes that seems at first to be mildly spiced, but over a few minutes of eating starts to demonstrate its Scoville units content.

I like some spiciness in food, but this was a bit too much. It WAS very flavorful, though... and I did eat a bit more than half of it, so I don't consider it a total loss.

But Jeannine got the better meal -- both in edibility and presentation. She ordered the red lentil soup, and it came in a bowl with a crepe artfully placed on the bottom.

And it was tasty, too! I will definitely be going back to Mosaic... I think I will try the beef stew that Jeannine pointed out to me. -- PL

Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Christmas card

When Jeannine and I shared our first Christmas in Dover, NH, I drew our first Christmas card, a tradition I kept up with for around ten years (I've posted one or two of them on this blog). As time went by, I moved from drawing the cards to creating them with various computer graphics programs like KPT Bryce and Photoshop. And for the last few years, I've just taken some wintry photos and tweaked them a little bit in Photoshop to make them more Christmas-y.

They were fine, and served as decent Christmas cards, but I felt then and now that something was lacking. There was something about actually drawing the card that brought me closer to the holiday somehow… and I'd lost that. I'm not completely sure why -- quite possibly it was in part due to laziness -- but in any case, this year I wanted things to be different. This year I wanted to go back to drawing our card.

And not only that, I wanted to try to recapture some of the -- well, let me be blunt and call it what it was -- wackiness of some of those cards from past years. I recall things like "The Christmas Snail", a drawing which depicted a slightly anthropomorphic Christmas tree riding a huge snail on a beach.

So after I told Jeannine of my intentions, and she enthusiastically approved, I started thinking… and within a few hours an idea came to me in the form of an image of an octopus standing on its head on the ocean floor, its tentacles twisted into a rough approximation of the triangular shape of a Christmas tree, and holding in those tentacles, at the very top of the "tree", a starfish.

I got to work and within a short time had sketched out the idea.

Over the course of the next few days, I inked it with a variety of black brush markers.

Around  this time, I asked Jeannine if she would be willing to write a poem to go along with the art, and to my delight, she agreed. So while she was musing about that and trying out different rhymes, I had to decide how to color the piece. I'd thought about doing the colors in Photoshop, but decided I wanted to keep more of a hand-drawn look (though I knew I would probably tweak the art in Photoshop). So I got out my new box of Pitt brush markers -- I think there are sixty-four different colors in it -- and got to work. This was the result.

I liked it okay, and Jeannine thought it was fine, but for some reason, I wasn't totally happy with it. I decided to try a second version, this time using watercolors over the black and white line art. (I think I was inspired in this not only by that Jerry Pinkney show I talked about a few blog posts back, but also by seeing some of the beautiful watercolor art Jim Lawson has been doing recently.)

I don't have a lot of skills in this medium, but I figured I should just jump in and try it. And it went more easily than I expected, and I liked the results.

Now I had to put a background into the image, and rather than try to carefully mask out the image and attempt to do a watercolor background, I decided to cheat a little bit and use my computer to create something that I could play around with until I got the look I was going for… and after a few tries, I was satisfied with this one.

By this time, Jeannine had finished her poem. I made a few suggestions, of which I think she may have used one, and she tweaked it a bit further. This is the version that ended up inside the card. (You may have to click on it to get a bigger, more readable version.)

(Here's the poem in plain text in case the above is too difficult to read -- it isn't the clearest font, though I like the shapes of the letters.)

"Some say reindeer can't fly to rooftops

and holidays don't happen in the seas.
They say the sky is up, the ocean down,
and octopi can't be Christmas trees.

But there's more than one side to a story
and more than one side to a tree. An octopus
can twinkle. And special stars can swim.

We wish you many merry days with fishy lyricism!"

And because I was a little concerned that my original idea (that of an octopus pretending to be a Christmas tree) might not come across as clearly as I wanted, and also because I wanted to make sure that Jeannine got her due credit for the poem, I put the following on the back of the card.
It took more work than the cards I've done these past few years, but I have to say that it was much more satisfying than all of those. And I believe it marks the first (though I hope not the last) time that Jeannine and I have really collaborated in a words-and-pictures fashion. -- PL

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another sketchbook doodle

I'm not sure what made me do this one, which I drew in my sketchbook around the time I did the last one I posted...

... but I have the feeling that the curling tentacles were possibly inspired by the stylings of my buddy Eric Talbot, who has a nifty way with adding these little curly bits to the ends of things. -- PL

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dürer and Pinkney

I can't recall exactly when or how or where I was introduced to the work of Albrecht Dürer (though I suspect it was probably in college), but I do know that I immediately found his stuff, especially his engravings, very impressive and inspirational. The level of detail and the complexity of his images always appealed to me. And when I took printmaking classes at UMass and discovered exactly how difficult and time-consuming it is to engrave even a simple image on a copper plate, I was even more gobsmacked, as the Brits say.
So when I discovered a few days ago that there was a new show titled "The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer" at the Sterling and Francine Clark art museum in Williamstown, I immediately set to trying to convince Jeannine that we should go to it, perhaps even make it a "twofer" day by also heading south from Williamstown to see the Jerry Pinkney show at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

Because Jeannine had already wanted to go to the Pinkney show, it didn't take much convincing. She was a little concerned about running into a snowstorm while traveling over the Mohawk Trail, but we lucked out, and only saw a few slight flurries and an inch or so of snow on the ground up in the hills.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that admission to the Clark is free from November through May, but to be honest I would have been more than happy to pay double the usual price to see the Dürer exhibit. This was the first time I had ever seen any of his actual prints -- wood engraving, etching, and metal engraving -- and they were fantastic. Literally so, in many cases, because Durer had a wild imagination and some of his prints have some pretty crazy creatures, including a multi-headed monster in several of them which would not look out of place in a book by Dr. Seuss (if Dr. Seuss were a bit more gnarly, that is).

I'm not sure if it was because we were there on a weekday, or if it was the cold, or what, but I'm pretty sure Jeannine and i were the only people at the show (except for a few bored museum guards). There may have been one or two other people, but I was so into peering closely at the prints that I really can't say for sure.

In fact, I was looking SO closely at the prints that at one point Jeannine took my arm and started to tug me away, saying something about how the museum guards might frown on my getting so close to the art. And it wasn't but scant seconds later that one of the guards DID speak up -- but it was to offer us the use of magnifying glasses in the next room, so that we could look even MORE closely at the art. Cool!

So we did, and had even more fun. Dürer's work is full of serious religious imagery, and chock full of symbolism and hidden meanings that I can only guess at, but the neat thing, something that Jeannine and I both found delightful, were the touches of warmth and humor that could be found in many of the works. I pointed out to Jeannine a very cute little cherub struggling to get up on some stilts in the lower left corner of one print, and she directed me to a very tiny (about the size of a grain of rice) but beautifully rendered goat standing on a cliff way off in the background of Dürer's well-known "Adam and Eve" print.

Of the three different types of prints on display, I have to say that it was the ones made by engraving on copperplate that I found the most amazing. Dürer put so much into the shadings and textures in these pieces -- it was almost staggering to contemplate the level of intense concentration required to achieve those precise results with the difficult process he used.

We left the show feeling inspired and awed, and talked at length about the artwork we'd seen as we enjoyed a lunch of Indian (and Chinese/Indian) food at a restaurant in Williamstown, the Spice Root. Then it was back in the car to head south to the Rockwell Museum for a very different show -- "Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney".

Jerry Pinkney is a well-known, prolific and justly-lauded illustrator who has done tons of work over a fifty-year career. (In fact, he did an illustration for a piece Jeannine wrote which was published in an anthology titled "Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out". He is a master of watercolor, one of the more difficult art media (in my opinion, anyway). We were both looking forward to seeing this show. And it was nice.

But… well, maybe it was seeing all of that work in one place (the exhibit filled most of three galleries at the Rockwell Museum), but I found myself at several points just wishing for something, ANYTHING, with a hard-edged line and/or a dramatic juxtaposition of varying tonal values. (There was one piece with these qualities which really drew me in, a painting depicting -- I believe -- some fugitive slaves crossing a river at night… it had a great composition and beautiful colors, with a dramatically dark sky.) Pinkney's technique in most of these works combines an underlying pencil drawing with watercolors applied over the pencils. It's a lovely technique, and Pinkney does it exceedingly well (and it helps that he is a superb draughtsman, with an excellent eye for detail and the willingness to extensively research his subject matter), but I found it ultimately kind of disappointing. As I said to Jeannine as we discussed the show on the drive home, it was like wanting some milk and some chocolate… and only being offered milk chocolate. Most of the art seemed to exist in a kind of warm and friendly middle-ground of tonal values, which (at least for me) when seen in such quantities as in this show, becomes like a vaguely annoying background drone (if I can mix my metaphors for a moment).

One piece sort of sums up the downside of the technique. It's a beautifully drawn, well-composed illustration of the horrific conditions below decks onboard a slave ship transporting kidnapped Africans to the New World. It cries out for a real sense of gloom and darkness to capture the sense of deep despair in such a situation, with perhaps a few stray bits of dramatic light to suggest the desperate hope for freedom that these men must have kept in their hearts.

But in Pinkney's signature style (the slightly sketchy but assured pencil drawing washed with watercolor) it just doesn't have it. Again, everything exists in a kind of middle range of values, which for a piece of this nature, depicting this kind of situation, is ultimately uninspiring.

I would love to see what Jerry Pinkney could create if he broke out of this obviously well-loved way of illustrating and did some ink drawings with watercolor, or scratchboard, or maybe even woodcuts -- anything which would bring more drama to the tonal values in the work.

All that being said, though, I would still recommend this show.

(And the Dürer one!)  -- PL

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sketchbook drawing: Tree stump with hidden stone head

This is something that I pulled out of the sketchbook I took to Maine with me this summer, though none of it was done in Maine. I started the drawing a few miles away from our house, where I found an interesting old tree stump that had been pulled out of the ground, and was lying with its roots exposed. (You can see it in the upper center section of this drawing.) For some reason, I didn't finish the drawing.

It was actually a month or so later, while waiting in Los Angeles in the airport for our flight home, that I decided to continue doodling on this one and make up some stuff to go with it. I have always been fond of the "ancient city lost in the jungle" concept, so I kind of went in that direction, adding lots of vegetation and a weird, monolithic stone head. It was fun. -- PL

Saturday, December 4, 2010

San Diego trip, part 2

While going through some of my recent digital photos, I realized I had neglected to mention a few other fun things we did on our recent trip to California, specifically going to some of the museums in San Diego's wonderful Balboa Park.

The only one I'd ever been to before, back when I was coming to the San Diego ComiCon in the 1980's, was the Natural History Museum. I remember that one of the coolest things was an exhibit of full-scale animatronic dinosaurs -- something that was unusual at the time, but now is fairly common. Jeannine and I decided to go there first.

It seemed to me that the layout of the place was completely different from the last time I'd been, but as that had been at least nineteen years earlier, I suppose it just could have been faulty memory. But they still had some cool dinosaur stuff, including these life-size replicas of an allosaur...

... and a type of duckbill dinosaur -- Anatosaurus maybe?

One of the things that drew Jeannine's interest in this section of the museum was this beautiful painting and display of fossilized ammonites...

... in part because ammonites loomed large in the life of Mary Anning, the young English woman who found so many fossilized sea creatures on the shores of Lyme Regis, and Jeannine had written a picture book about her a few years ago. In addition, the things were just fascinating to look at. Jeannine particularly liked this one with a delicate pattern of fern-like vegetation somehow impressed on its surface...

... and this one appealed to me for its slightly "mutated" look.

We moved on to the arboretum, the one housed in what appears to be a quonset hut type building made of slats of slightly rusted metal, but which is actually wood. Here's a shot from the inside...

... and one of a nifty spiky pink flower which caught my eye.

From there we walked over to the Museum of Man, where we saw these huge castings of Mayan sculptures. Very impressive.

We didn't have time (or the energy, to be honest) to see all that we wanted to see that day, so the following day we came back and checked out the Air and Space museum, a veritable treasure trove for anyone into the history of air and space travel. Here's one view from the first section of the museum, with a number of WWI-vintage biplanes.

Nearby, we saw this display of Amelia Earhart and one of her airplanes which Jeannine agreed to pose with.

The museum had a relatively new exhibit about life beyond Earth, which was pretty neat but felt more oriented towards kids, so we didn't spend too much time there. But in one of those odd coincidences, I was brought up short by something in this display, which I think was supposed to represent the concept of "talking animals" as one aspect of how people have thought of the possibility of alien life (or something -- I didn't read the signs too carefully).

As I scanned the display, my eye was drawn to a group of small but familiar figures near the center...

I just can't get away from these dudes, it seems. -- PL