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I like this lady

Neat idea: a crowd-sourced database of historic watercolors. It’s a British charity and they’re just starting, so it isn’t very fleshed out yet, but click the link and you can do a word search of their db.

Before the camera, watercolors functioned just like snapshots. They were quick takes, often by amateurs, usually intended to capture data rather than pretend to great art. There are millions of them in collections high and low, in drawing rooms, museums and ladies’ diaries. This could be an important resource, if they don’t run out of money.

Go have a poke around. It’s fun.

This very skillful portrait miniature turned up on a search of “North Carolina.” She is Mrs John Willis Ellis, smilin’ at you from 1846 and I love her.

Good weekend, all!

March 1, 2019 — 8:27 pm
Comments: 14

The brown acid, man

I was a printmaking major in art school. Did I ever mention that? Maybe not. I was a printmaking major for about two weeks before I dropped out. It was mostly down to financial issues; I loved printmaking.

Downside of being a printmaking major: I ended up with a big glass carboy of nitric acid in my closet that worried me exceedingly, especially when it came time to move. How do you get rid of such a thing?

As it happens, I paid a man to take it away. I have no idea what he did with it. All’s I know is, the answer to most problems in life is to pay a man to take it away.

I signed myself up for a local printmaking course today, hoping to get back into it. I then went shopping for materials (shopping for materials is the best bit of any artmaking endeavor). These days, it’s apparently murder to get your hands on nitric acid — you can’t mail the stuff and you have to promise you have a proper chemical hood and everything before anyone will sell it to you in person.

All the tutorials are saying to use copper sulfate instead, which is safer to handle and and etches metal just as quickly and well.

My question is…if it’s safer to handle and just as good, why did we ever use nitric acid?

Stay tuned.

Pictured: acid carboys from my field trip to the True Crime Museum in Hastings. They were bought from the workshop of John George “Acid Bath” Haigh. The Museum bought six empty carboys; the acid from three of them was used to dissolve the body of Olive Durand-Deacon…and they don’t know which three.

February 18, 2019 — 8:47 pm
Comments: 10

The heartbreak of fish breath







Images from the Comedy Wildlife Competition.

Given the mission statement, I was kind of hoping for a better selection of funnies, but they’re mostly fairly meh. Still, I’ll look at animal pitchers all day long.










January 29, 2019 — 8:59 pm
Comments: 5

Nailed it!

Two fingers bent over…check. Two fingers in the air…check. Thumb alongside, pointing up…check. Yep, it checks out. That’s just what a priest’s blessing hand looks like.

Some days, correcting Medieval drawings is a sad and lonely job.

January 22, 2019 — 9:46 pm
Comments: 4

From my clipfile

I don’t have anything in particular to report today, so here’s an illustrator from my clipfile: Willy Pogany (Vilmos András Pogány) (1882 1955) (full illustration here).

Pogany was Hungarian, though he took American citizenship in 1921. He was one of the great names of what is called the Golden Age of Illustration.

No doubt, there was one of those strange historical throwings-up of an unfeasible number talented people during this era, but I’m inclined to blame the Golden Age on technology.

Book illustration went from the sophisticated black and white wood engravings of the late Nineteenth Century (giving rise to geniuses of ink illustration like Charles Dana Gibson) into early, cheap color reproduction (leading to the ascendance of figures like Rockwell).

Illustrators who surfed the timeline just right — like Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth and Willy Pogany — moved successfully from one style to the next.

I admit, though, I like Pogany’s line work most of all.

Have a good weekend, everyone. I have to do my taxes this weekend, or at least get a start. They aren’t complicated on account of I am poor, but they still aren’t a lot of fun.


January 11, 2019 — 9:42 pm
Comments: 10

Happy New Year!

An homage to the great J.C. Leyendecker. Homage. That’s what we call out-and-out art theft, right?

You probably know Leyendecker better as the “Arrow Shirt Man” illustrator. But before Norman Rockwell, Leyendecker was THE Saturday Evening Post cover man. He was brilliant. Much beloved of painters for his technique painting hair (among other things).

Of course, me being me, I screwed up. I intended to find the Leyendecker cover from New Years a hundred years ago, but this is actually the 1909 one. Because math. Because, consarnit, I’ll see 2018 out as innumerate as I saw it in.

Happy New Year, everyone!

p.s. watch me get done for child porn.

December 31, 2018 — 8:04 pm
Comments: 15


In the prior thread, Wolfus asked if “lossy” was a Britishism. It ain’t. And because I’m desperate for stuff to post about at the moment, I shall explain what it is.

“Generation loss” is a thing in graphic arts. It means that every time you make a copy of something — every time it goes down a generation — it loses quality. If you have an illustration, and you photograph it, and then you do a color separation, and then you print it in a magazine…every stage of that process involves a degradation of the original.

Then if you make a photocopy of the magazine article and digitize it to put in your slide presentation…don’t laugh. I often deal with images that are many generations removed from the original.

That’s generation loss; the term “lossy” is used specifically for digital file formats.

The Targa tiff file — which you may never have run across — was a common early digital file format that purported to be lossless. In theory, you could make a tif file of a tif file and every one was as good as the original. Downside: they were huge.

Lots of file formats have used all sorts of clever algorithms to try to squeeze file size without losing quality.

The jpg file came to rule them all because it’s very, very good at the trade off…it can look very good, or it can compress very small, or it can be a compromise, depending on what you ask it to do. That’s what it’s asking when a graphics program gives you a jpg quality slider.

The image at right is a jpg compressed at a quality of about 70% (100% means very little loss, very little compression) and it’s about 36K on the disk. The inset is compressed at around 10% (lots of loss, lots of compression) and is about 7K.

Notice the characteristic big square blocks that are the hallmark of jpg compression. I bet you’ve seen that before! Different lossy formats are ugly in different ways and when I get my Photoshop back, I can show you.

That’s not my big white rooster, by the way. That’s my old lavender hen Violence (may she rest in peace). I’ve had three lavender chickens, and they’ve all hated me.

November 28, 2018 — 9:32 pm
Comments: 7

This image is from one of my favorite FaceBook pages: Strange Things Found in Churches. Caption is: “Probably my favourite roof boss. Early 16th century, Tawstock, Devon.”

Sadly, this is the very last image ever posted to the group. Without warning or explanation, the owner of the page shut it down. I hate it when people nuke sites like that.

Oh, right. You need to see the whole thing to make sense of it. Scratch that — it makes even less sense when you can see the whole thing.

I know what you’re thinking, but I would just like to point out that there are four hands in the picture, and two of them can’t belong to any visible body. NOW what do you think you’re looking at?

I leave you to ponder. Good weekend!

November 2, 2018 — 6:44 pm
Comments: 15

Day 19: scorched

Because they’re sunbathing.

One of the happiest sights for a chicken keeper is watching a pair of birds dust-bath together in the sun.

Sadly, it’s completely unpaintable. Because a bird with its eyes closed and its wings spread blissing out in warm soil in the sun is visually indistinguishable from a dead chicken flung on a dirt heap.

October 19, 2018 — 7:44 pm
Comments: 4

Day 18: bottle

Yes, I suppose a chicken would stick her beak in a bottle, if she thought there was something worth eating in there.

I think she’d be much more likely to peck it for the tink sound. I’m not the first to notice that chooks will peck things they cannot possibly mistake for food, over and over, because they appear to like interesting sounds.

October 18, 2018 — 8:00 pm
Comments: 9