Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I love the updated craftsman-type houses (above) that are popular now. They're pricey, though. All that wood and stone...the irregular room shapes, the architect's fee...they don't come cheap. Fortunately a number of neo-craftsman innovations have been incorporated into other more affordable styles, and I thought I'd discuss that here. 

For comparison here's the home of a friend. The house has a good vibe and my friend and his wife like living there. I see Mediterranean, craftsman, ranch and post-modern influences. I even see a little Cliff May and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The two posts are Craftsman. The ultra wide living room entrance/central corridor is Cliff May and the vestibule area is post-modern. I don't know who invented the sunken living room but I'll attribute it to Wright because he introduced so many similar ideas.

This view (above) is from the front door area looking into the central corridor. To the left we see a hint of the dining room and to the right we get a glimpse of the kitchen.

The pillars look like an obstacle in the photo but that's because I didn't photograph them well. In reality they come off as playful and even sheltering.

The very latest house theories would have the kitchen entrance at the end of the corridor rather than off to the right, but the right access is a nice counterpoint to the rest of the house so it works for me.

The dining room (above) is raised above the sunken living room and that works just fine. The steps look like something you'd trip over but I'd be surprised if anyone ever did. The raised floor lends importance and a sense of fun to the dining room and the abundant daylight makes it very inviting.

I'll bet lots of people sit on the steps during house parties.

I only have room for one more photo, so I'll put up this one, showing the door and darkened vestibule area. This probably suits my friend who has to stare into a brilliant computer screen all day, and no doubt welcomes a little rest for the eyes. Me, I don't have that problem right now so I'd opt for more light.

I'd put translucent glass panels all around the door. The light would bounce off the nearby walls as if they were additional light fixtures, and probably unpredictable mood lighting would result. Of course the neighbors would think I was crazy for undoing something that worked fine at the start.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Here's a composite view of Pluto taken by the New Horizons probe on July 14th. Most of the closeup pictures taken then are still stored on the spacecraft and are only now being sent back slowly.

Above, a detail of Pluto's surface. The smallest details are maybe a kilometer and a half wide.

Above, a solar prominence. Thanks to the old Voyager spacecraft which is now in deep space between us and Alpha Centauri we now know what happens to these ejections when they leave the Solar System.

The ejecta that faces the center of the galaxy is stopped when it collides with intense radiation coming our way from other stars. The interface consists of a crescent-shaped cloud of magnetic bubbles. It's speculated that this cloud shields the Solar System from lethal radiation emanating from the galactic center.

A study of the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus now reveals that the plates of ice in this hemisphere are all moving in the same direction, something which reinforces the case for global underground seas.

NASA's going to announce a major finding about Mars on Monday, but they're keeping their cards close to the vest until then. The news media is speculating that it might have something to do with water being discovered on that planet; not billion year-old dry river beds but fresh, currently existing water. Actually, if it's there it's probably just enough to temporarily wet the ground in a few places...but that certainly qualifies as news.

On the other hand...you don't think they found evidence of old life, do you? Naw...that would be too good to be true.

[Update, Tuesday: Yep! It was water, and water only. Seasonal changes in the water patterns on hills confirm its existence. The water doesn't last long, though. It evaporates on its way down the slopes. A chemical in the soil allows the water to stay liquid for a time, even in the cold Martian air.]

[Another Update 10/8/2015: Small pockets of liquid water have been found on Pluto! Most likely it came up to the surface from an underground source, indicating internal heat within the planetoid.]

Thursday, September 24, 2015


 Where did Halloween come from?  According to Halloween sites on the net, the version that Americans and Canadians celebrate is influenced largely by Celtic traditions, especially those from Ireland and Scotland, and from the North European tradition of Walpurgis, which is celebrated on the last day of April.

Germans who live near the Harz Mountins celebrate the holiday by making a trek up to the "Brocken," a mountain (above) reputed to be a favorite meeting place of witches.

Those who don't want to hike can take a train.

Lots of girls come dressed as witches.

Come nightfall big bonfires are lit and, I assume, alcohol is consumed in vast quantities.

Somewhere in Germany is Walpurgis Castle (above). I have no idea what goes on there.

Boy, there's no lack of Walpurgis artwork on the internet!

Is this (above) a depiction of Walpugis? I can't tell.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


It's Halloween season again and my first task for the holiday is always to search the Halloween sites for old-time die-cut window decorations. I had a collection of them even when I was a kid. That's because they were cheap and sold for a price that even little kids like me could afford.

The pearls of greatest price were the ones that were holdovers from a much older period, maybe the 1910s and 20s. They seemed to come from a time when people actually believed in witches and ghosts.

It's as if the people back then used humor to ease the anxiety they felt about a holiday which threatened to unleash real supernatural weirdness on the world.

Some of the best cardboard masks were done by artists (above) who weren't the best draughtsmen, but who had a visceral feel for the holiday. I wonder how they made a living the rest of the year? 

Halloween decorations also made me aware that there were different kinds of artists in the world. Some were what we would call "graphic artists" today. Content for them was less important than pleasing composition.

There was a real pagan influence in the Halloween cards (above) of this period. It was as if the Druids had never died out.

Yikes! Talk about supernatural weirdness.....

Friday, September 18, 2015


Whenever I show this picture to artist friends they invariably respond with something like "I know who did that...it was Beatrix Potter, right?" Wrong. The artist was Jill Barklem, who deserves to be better known.

Barklem did most of her work (above) in the 1990s, I think. She's not as well known in America as in the UK. I'm guessing that her publisher didn't promote her enough, but that's just a guess.

For comparison, here's (above) a picture by Beatrix Potter. Potter emphasized line quality and a gritty watercolor texture. Barklem was more architectural.

Big, natural wood cabinets like the kind Barklem liked to draw were common in the 1990s but are scarce now. Seeing this reminds me that for a decade or so romantic English country-style was in and sentimental cottage artists like Thomas Kinkade were popular. All that disappeared, seemingly overnight. Maybe if Barklem had continued to paint, that movement would have lasted longer.

The artist's real-life desk was full of thorns and brambles. She worked in pencil from photocopies of her rough layouts then inked leafy details derived from the samples that were in front of her.

Above, an example.

She liked drawing fine detail (above) and that was her undoing. She had an eye problem that was mostly resolved by surgery but which made rendering difficult. She abandoned children's books and did doll houses and miniature sculptures instead.

Interesting, eh?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Sometimes I wonder if Gustaf Tenggren was indirectly responsible for Disneyland. His paintings of Geppeto's workshop were so appealing and so real that they must have created a desire in the viewer to walk into the shop and examine the toys close up.

This is Tenggren at the peak of his powers, when he was at his most inventive and charismatic. I wish you could buy reproductions of these toys at Disneyland.

For comparison here's (above and below) backgrounds from the same film by (I think) Claude Coats, who's no slouch himself. They're great but I wouldn't say they fill the viewer with a desire to walk into the painting and look around.

A painter as good as Coates (above) would normally dominate a project like this but Tenggren wipes the floor with him.

Who painted this one? The clock designs are specific and real like Tenggren's but are a tad generic like Coates'. Maybe the two artists collaborated. Notice the Horvath-type detail on the clock at the lower left. I'll return to this in a moment.

Here's the Geppeto's workshop from the ride at Disneyland. Some of the toys have a Tenggren influence and some seem disconcertingly generic.

The dolls seem oddly spaced at first glance, but the passenger car goes through this pretty quickly and you could argue that they wouldn't read if they were more densely packed. Even so....

I don't see many of the unique clocks that are in the film.

Apparently some earlier attempts were made at reproducing some of the clocks and toys in the film.  Seeing this photo (above) makes me appreciate how difficult that job must have been. The sculptures contain some nice elements but don't capture the flamboyance of the original artwork.

There's that clock again (above). Why did the artist delete the Horvath-style bottom?

Saturday, September 12, 2015


For those who don't recognize the name, William Steig was a wildly popular New Yorker cartoonist in its heyday in the 1930s. He eventually left the magazine because they were lukewarm about a new style he developed which was influenced by Picasso. After leaving he went on to develop two or three additional new styles, all good. Think about that the next time you find yourself agonizing over the perfection of just one new approach. 

Anyway, Steig had to pioneer new techniques because what he had to say was constantly evolving. The cartoons here are from his middle period when he was obsessed with the  problems brought on by middle age. 
 Youth is great, Steig seemed to say. You look good (above) and everything you do is imbued with romance and dash.

Then comes middle age, and everything you do seems like a grotesque caricature of what you used to do. Observations like this used to be reserved for long, wordy literary novels, but Steig put them into one panel cartoons. That's what I call economy! It's tempting to conclude that Steig almost single-handedly made a certain kind of long-winded novel obsolete.

People don't engage in swordfights or horse races in Steig cartoons. His work is all about the little things of life.  What he seems to be getting at is that we're all misled into believing that our lives are defined by the highlights. We think the important events are things like the big fight we had with a schoolyard bully or the day we met our lover, the day we had our first child, etc.  Actually, for Steig, those aren't the most important events at all. 

What's really important...I'm positing on his behalf...are the daily low profile events that nobody ever talks about. What's important are facts like, the fact that pizza tastes good, that your wife and neighbors can at least tolerate you, that the world is interesting, that family arguments about little things are inevitable, that your car doesn't break down too often, and that your family concedes the fact that the ratty old easy chair is yours and not the dog's.

In other words, the millions of events between the highlights are what life is really about. The handful of big super events are just punctuation.

I don't know about you, but that strikes me as profound. If life is about the little things, shouldn't we cultivate a strategy to maximize our enjoyment of them? That means being good at our job, being charming, being capable of having fun, cultivating self-discipline, being analytical....geez, it would be a long list. 

That's really all I have to say, but I can't help but throw another couple of cartoons in, even though they (below) don't fit my commentary.

Haw! A husband and wife quietly argue while walking down the street. Yikes!

Here (above) they're not arguing at all, but a third party causes grief. Boy, life can be tough!

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


Shortly after WWII Orson Welles did a show for American TV called "Around the World with Orson Welles." It was never shown here because half way into the filming Welles got a feature film okayed and he instantly abandoned his other projects. That's too bad. I saw some of it on European formatted discs at Steve Worth's house and can testify that the show was first rate.

His first subject was Basque country which straddles the border between France and Spain. Actually the Basques are neither Spanish nor French and have to put up with a pesky border check right in the middle of their land. It's okay, though...at the time Welles was there the Basques seemed to have a sense of humor about it all.    

Welles could have handled the project as a standard Lowell Thomas-type travelogue but instead he decided to focus on a couple of the people who live there. If I had Orson's job I would have picked interview subjects for their diversity: some good, some bad. Orson, on the other hand, picked only one type: people who had kind, civilized faces...people who he knew he'd enjoy talking to. What do you know? That turned out to be just the right thing to do.

He started with an American writer who lives there with her 10 year-old son. Actually she lives in the States and every two or three years takes a Summer in Basque country. She had a theory that everyone needs to escape to an alternative reality on a regular basis.

I'll add that this woman was interesting for another reason. Orson apparently charmed her into attempting to charm him. He brought out the best in her, and when she countered with a seduction of her own...which was meant for Orson...she seduced the film audience as well. Welles was smart to go after that.

But I don't want to give the impression that Welles only interviewed women.

He interviewed this guy (above), who had actually worked in Montana for a while. He was an extremely nice guy who had an admirable wife. It makes you feel good to imagine that the world contains people like that. He was a quiet man of few words but, amazingly, such a person is still capable of holding an audience's interest. How did Welles know that?

In another episode Welles set up in the kitchen of a Viennese restaurant that was famous for its pastries. Here he interviewed only one person, one of the owners. She was a rather nervous woman who had a sunny smile which frequently lapsed into something tragic. For that reason I wouldn't have chosen her for an interview subject, and once again I would have been wrong. The camera loved her!

She had one of those rare faces that seemed to reveal everything she was feeling, no matter how hard she tried to cover it up. She was a bundle of contradictions. She was alternately attracted to Welles and worried that he might do something that would hurt the business. She was vulnerable and strong, romantic yet practical. She definitely wasn't a natural-born restauranteur, yet the business she presided over continued to operate at a high level. She made it work, as G. A. Henty would say, by sheer pluck.

A fascinating subject for an interview!

BTW: a commenter speculates that the writer in the Basque village was New Yorker writer, Lillian Ross. Could that be? I wish I knew.