October 22, 2021

How to Summon a Giant Skeleton

         As we get into the Hallowe’en season, now seems a good time to share this epic fantasy/horror Japanese wood block print.  It dates to about 1844 and is by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japan, 1791-1861).  It illustrates a historical/mythological scene in which Takiyasha, the daughter of an executed rebellious warlord, uses her witchcraft to summon a giant skeleton monster.  You can see her using a scroll or spell book to work her magic, and the monster is menacing a government official who had come to search for any of her father’s allies.  The sheer size of the skeleton makes it absolutely monstrous, but apparently it was summoned up from the presumably vengeful bones of those who had died in the battle in which her father was defeated.  Another version of the myth says that Takiyasha unleashed this monster in vengeance for the disrespect shown to her father by displaying his head in Kyoto.  The monster wrought havoc on Kyoto until the head was taken down and treated properly.
        It is a rip-roaring illustration with wonderful use of contrasts for drama.  In the background we see slashes of shape and texture that make up the dilapidated manor where Takiyasha lives, as well as the monster tearing right through the wall and curtains.  The colors are dramatic, too, with dark blacks and reds punctuated by the huge whiteness of the skeleton.  The monster’s details are masterfully depicted with its shape barely even fitting into the borders of the print.  Indeed, it overwhelms two sheets of the triptych.  From my interpretation of wikipedia’s slightly contradictory explanation of giant skeleton monsters in Japanese mythology, this story - and largely this print itself - was the inspiration for a kind of monster popularized in the later 20th century.  Called Gashadokuro, these spirits are giant skeletons created from the ghosts of unburied dead.  Gashadokuro capture travelers at night, bite off their heads, and drink their spurting blood, until all their anger is finally sated.  If you are out after midnight, you can have warning of the approach of a Gashadokuro by the loud ringing sound of its rattling teeth, and Shinto charms can be of some protection from them.
        While my brief overview of the story doesn’t show any of the characters involved to be particularly noble or heroic, sorceress Princess Takiyasha certainly sounds like an interesting character.  I wonder what other magic she performed.

[Triptych of Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre, wood block print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, c 1844 (Image from Wikimedia Commons (from V&A)).]

October 18, 2021

Fantasy Fungus

         I said a couple of posts ago that when it comes to mushrooms, “for this blog it has to be block prints.”  But of course that’s not true; it can also be fantasy, and fantasy actually loves its fungus!  Here’s my most recent block print, which is one of the elemental aliens I was commissioned to illustrate (ruthenium).  I set it in a mushroom forest because that seems appropriately weird and alien.  And I’m not the only one to think mushrooms belong in the world of fantasy.  Tons of people have shared this sense that mushrooms are strange, alien, fantastical, magic, mysterious…  They appear on alien planets and have been a mark of fairyland for centuries.  Mushrooms become houses for magical creatures, tables and chairs, umbrellas, hats and skirts, island-like platforms… and that’s when they aren’t magical creatures themselves.
        In trying to find some images to share today, the problem is the ubiquity of fantasy mushroom art.  There are thousands of different illustrations of mushroom houses, from cutesy to creepy and everything in between.  There are endless parades of mushroom people, again in versions both adorable and terrifying.  I have chosen some older works, those by some of the more famous children’s illustrators, some that seemed to represent a bit of variety, and of course some I particularly like.  But this selection isn’t even close to being comprehensive.
        So the question is why there is such a prevalent sense of the appropriateness of mushrooms for sci fi and fantasy (and horror).  I think there are many reasons.  For one thing, the fact that some mushrooms are psychadelics and have been used in shamanic rituals for centuries gives them an association with magic, strange powers, and crossing into other worlds.  For another thing, they are neither animal, plant, nor mineral, 
but belong in their own strange group that can’t be categorized with normal, everyday sorts of things.  On top of that, their growth habits are unlike the plants and animals we understand better: they can pop up overnight, seemingly fully grown out of nothing; they have bizarre structures, which can change color and form in strange ways; they are associated with decay and seem to flourish in the midst of death.  Their colors can be beautiful or dull, their shapes and sizes adorable or disgusting.  They can be nourishing delicacies or deadly poison.  I think people have always simply sensed their strangeness - that they really are something quite alien.
        Thus we see mushrooms personified as sweet little fairies and babies, and shambling monsters of death and decay - and everything in between.  We see mushrooms turned into charming cottages for gnomes or dark palaces of necromancers - and everything in between.  We see mushrooms as the right and proper settings for all manner of magical tea parties and sinister goblin gatherings
 - and everything in between.  We see planets of mushrooms as horrifying or (as in one of my recent short stories) utopian - and everything in between.  The one thing that everyone can agree on is that mushrooms are no ordinary form of life.  There can be no doubt that they are magical.

[Pictures: Webs in the Mist, rubber block print by AEGN, 2021;

Mushroom Forest, illustration by Obsidian, 2006 (Image from Deviant Art);

Mushroom Town, illustration by Shinya Komatsu (Image from The Pnakotic Manuscripts);

Sophies Slip, ceramic sculptures by Renee Lewis (Image from artist’s Etsy shop CurlyFernCeramics);

“Alice meets the Caterpillar,” illustration by John Tenniel from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865 (Image from Wikipedia Commons);

“The Elf and the Dormouse,” illustration from Artful Anticks by Oliver Herford 1894 (Image from British Library);

Illustration from Liliana by Apeles Mesttes, 1907 (Image from Biblioteca Digital Hispánica);

Two illustrations by Arthur Rackham from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie, 1906 (Images from Wikimedia Commons);
Mushroom Folk, illustration by M0AI, 2010 (Image from Deviant Art);
Postcard illustration by Heinz Geilfus (1890-1956) (Image from Weirdland TV);

Mushrooms, illustration by Andrew McIntosh, 2015 (Image from ArtStation);

Morille, illustration by Xavier Collette, 2020 (Image from xaviercollette.com);

Zangarmarsh, screenshot from World of Warcraft (Image from Wowhead);

Cover art by Robert Henneberger from The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron, 1954 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]

October 13, 2021

She Moves! She Speaks!

         Today’s post is to share a number of recent videos featuring yours truly, star of words and pictures, and now moving pictures, too.  In truth, it’s always a little horrifying to see myself on video - the voice that sounds so strange, the hair that’s poking up all wrong - but I stand by my message, so I’m going to share.
        First up, the recording of my recent on-line author reading is now available on Strong Women-Strange Worlds’s YouTube channel.  The past three events are now available there, both in their entirety and each individual author’s reading as a separate snippet.  Here’s my snippet, in which I read three (very slightly abridged) creatures from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.  I hope you enjoy them!  And then by all means go enjoy some of the other readings.  (New videos will be added, both going forward and getting through our earlier events, so subscribe to the SWSW YouTube channel to be notified when new content is available.)
        Secondly, here’s a short video made last month by a group of local high school seniors for a school project highlighting a community organization.  They interviewed me about Needham Open Studios, as well as filming some scenes at our recent NOS Inside-Out art sale.
        While I’m at it, I’ll share some slightly less brand-new videos that are also available.  Here is the entirety of my talk about “The Fantastic Bestiary” as presented at Balticon 55 in May.  Unlike the other videos I’m sharing, it’s not a mere snippet, but it’s chock-full of fabulous medieval art - plus it also includes a reading of another creature from my bestiary at the 43:25 mark.  (Be sure to turn off the closed-captioning unless you actually need it, because it’s auto-generated and has some pretty bad inaccuracies!  Plus, it covers up some of the pictures.)
        Finally, I’ll include a video I may have linked before, made for the Medfield Holiday Art Show last December.  In it I talk mostly about making art, with just a little about writing.  (I’m hoping to take part in the Medfield Holiday Stroll in person this year, but we shall see what December brings…)
        And as a non-video bonus, an interview from the Boston Book Festival in June, in which I and fellow member of Broad Universe E.C. Ambrose discuss why speculative fiction by underrepresented voices is especially important (and fun).  You can read that here.
        Yeah, in all these interviews I’m hitting the same themes over and over: how art can remind us to appreciate and share the beauty all around us, how imagination can help us make the world a better place, how enjoying art and writing together can connect us…  But I think it’s worth repeating, and I hope you enjoy seeing at least some of these varied versions of the message!  (And please try to be tolerant of any bad hair you may witness.)

[Strong Women-Strange Worlds First Friday QuickReads, October 1, 2021;

Video made by K. Harris, N. Kelleher, and S. Cai for the Greater Boston Project, September 2021;

Balticon 55 presentation “The Fantastic Bestiary,” Baltimore Science Fiction Society, May 2021;

Medfield Holiday Stroll and Tree Lighting broadcast, December 2020.]

October 8, 2021

Monsters and Aliens - Poetry

         I decided to have a look at modern sci fi and fantasy poetry for children, and although my definition of “modern” is pretty broad (say, the past 60 years or so), it became evident that the subject matter has a narrower focus than I originally planned.  So much of fantasy poetry written for children is about creatures that for this post I focussed in on that.  And even within the poetry about creatures, I discovered that it’s almost entirely about monsters.  From Roald Dahl to Shel Silverstein to Jack Prelutsky, poets seem to be convinced that the way to a child’s heart is jocular horror.  Prelutsky wrote an entire book of poems about imaginary aliens from imaginary planets, and almost every single one of the poems tells how these aliens will slaughter you, or how you will die on that planet.  So much for the wonders of space exploration!
        But while there is no doubt that many children do enjoy such poems, I tend to prefer a wider range of marvels, inspiring delight as well as fear.  So I have a few poems for you today that introduce a variety of creatures.  First is one of Prelutsky’s few aliens that is not directly murderous.  Still horror, perhaps, but not actually violent.  (You can click on the picture to make it large enough to read the poem.)  I do like that the vocabulary and syntax in this poem are quite sophisticated and don’t talk down to children, and that it revels in dramatic sound, 
with rhythm, rhyme and other poetic stylings reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe.
        Next, another slightly dangerous monster, quickly dealt with in a very different style of poem, by Lilian Moore.  This one is more Ogden-Nash-esque, with its witty one-liner.
        I have to include one creature today that’s actually helpful and friendly, so here’s The Giraft by Jane Yolen.

If you’re out in the ocean, afloat on the deep,

With the sharks making straight for your craft,

Simply close your eyes tightly and whistle a shrill

S.O.S. for the nearest Giraft.

If you plan to be going away on a cruise

And you find your lifeboats understaffed,

Do not give it a thought, simply whistle a tune

That will call on the nearest Giraft.

For they sail very swiftly, can outpace a sub,

And their periscope necks fore and aft

Let them keep a sharp eye on the ocean so no

One can sneak up behind a Giraft.

I have rowed many miles and sailed quite a few,

And on none of those trips have I laughed,

For my travels all filled me with fear and with dread

Till I learned of the friendly Giraft.

        Since I like my creatures marvelous, I also have to include one by Dr. Seuss, although it’s perhaps a stretch to call his poems “modern.”  Nevertheless, he’s got plenty of fun beasties to choose from, and while some are ferocious, most are simply strange and silly rather than frightening.  This is an excerpt from If I Ran the Circus, which includes dozens of fantastical creatures.

And you’ll now meet the Foon!  The Remarkable Foon

Who eats sizzling hot pebbles that fall off the moon!

And the reason he likes them red hot, it appears,

Is he greatly enjoys blowing smoke from his ears.

        I shall conclude with a deadly monster from the swamps of Sleethe, to represent the common sort of screams-for-laughs poem.  After all, we are beginning to get into the season of Hallowe’en.  (For a couple more monsters, follow the links to Dahl and Silverstein above.)  It’s certainly a poem that takes exuberant delight in its own horror, and I like its eloquence.
        That’s plenty of creatures and plenty of poems for one post.  Which is your favorite?

[Pictures and Poems: The Beholder in the Silence, poem by Jack Prelutsky, illustration by Jimmy Pickering from The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from beyond the solar system, 2009;

Johnny Drew a Monster, poem by Lilian Moore 1972, illustration by Kevin Hawkes 1998, from Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was, selected by Prelutsky;

The Giraft, poem by Jane Yolen, 1994;

The Foon, poem and illustration by Dr. Seuss from If I Ran the Circus, 1956;

The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems from beyond the solar system, by Prelutsky, illustration by Pickering, 2009.]

October 4, 2021

Fungus Among Us

         This is the time of year when mushrooms spring up everywhere overnight like aliens.  In my last couple of walks through the woods - not even very long walks - I have come across dozens of different species (close to 50) pushing up through the leaf mold and appearing on trees, some shy, others bold as brass.  I took lots of pictures and you can see a few that I shared on my daily Instagram; but for this blog  it has to be block prints.  
        I’ve started with a pleasing linocut print found on Etsy, where, to judge by my quick search, mushrooms are fairly popular.  I’ll admit that I’m not a true mushroom lover, either to eat or to decorate my house with, but I do find them quite fascinating scientifically.  This first piece is definitely not a 
scientific botanical print, but it does capture some of the sheer exuberance of mushroomage that I’ve been seeing on my recent walks.  There are also some fun hidden details, such as snails and caterpillars.
        If we want to see some attempts to depict fungi more scientifically, we can turn to the early botanical encyclopaedias of the Renaissance.  These assorted fungi appear in the pioneering work by Carolus Clusias, one of the most influential of sixteenth-century botanists, whose study of the mushrooms of Central Europe was particularly valuable.  You can see that the wood block prints that illustrate his work are not particularly artistic in the sense of attractive compositions, but they do include careful details, and varied views in order to highlight distinctive features.
        The Honzo Zufu, a Japanese botanical encyclopaedia from the nineteenth century, manages to add some artistic aesthetic into its scientific illustrations.  These hand-watercolored wood block prints are less detailed than those from Clusius, but may be among the most cheerful mushrooms ever seen!  (You can see more about the Honzo Zufu in this previous post.)
        Returning to views of mushrooms depicted chiefly as art, here are two pieces from some of my favorite twentieth-century printmakers.  These both depict the famously poisonous fly agaric mushroom.  The first, by Grace Albee (previous post about her here), seems to be purely 
decorative.  Its red ink grabs the attention just like the red caps of the mushroom - but there is one tiny hint of memento mori to set off the deadly mushrooms: the small black fly.  (On the other hand, maybe there is no significance to the fly other than the fact which gives the mushroom its name: it is traditionally used for catching flies.)  The piece by M.C. Escher, by contrast, seems to be all about the allegory of the strange toadstool, which can be hallucinogenic as well as poisonous.  The Dutch verse beneath translates (according to the best efforts of the internet) as “Growth of mystery, afterglow of the night, void is my resurrection: a sworn splendor.”  I really have no idea what that means, but it’s clearly Deep.
        Let’s wade back out of these deep waters by a return to one last scientific image: a plate from 1562 that shows a variety of mushrooms - except that it really depicts very little variety at all compared with the amazing array of shapes, colors, and growth habits exhibited by mushrooms even just within a mile of my house.  Mushrooms really are strange, alien things, and if you have the opportunity to walk anywhere where something can get a toehold and grow, keep your eyes out for them and prepare to be astounded!

[Pictures: Mushroom Kingdom, linocut print by Laura K. Murdoch (Image from her Etsy shop laurakmurdoch);

Fungus, wood block prints from Rariorum plantarum historia by Carolus Clusius, 1601 (Images from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Mushrooms, hand-colored wood block prints from Honzo Zufu by Iwasaki Tsunemasa, c 1828-1844 (Image from National Diet Library);

Fly Agaric, wood engraving by Grace Albee, 1973 (Image from Davis);

Emblemata, Toadstool, woodcut by M.C. Escher, 1931 (Image from mcescher.com);

Fungi, hand-colored wood block print by Wolfgang Meyerpeck, from Commentarii in sex libros Pedacii Dioscoridis by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, 1562 (You can see an uncolored print from a 1565 edition at Biodiversity Heritage Library).]

September 29, 2021

Words of the Month - Metaphors in the Brain

         In neurolinguistic circles there is a great deal of curiosity and debate as to how the brain interprets and understands metaphors.  Metaphors, of course, involve comparison between objects and concepts, but they do so by treating the primary object as if it is the object of comparison.  She’s a little mouse.  Love is a roller-coaster.  His job is a train wreck.  I’ve got a boatload of work.
        The first question is often to debate how literally the brain interprets these metaphors.  Do we simply memorize their meanings like idioms, or do we interpret them anew each time?  A number of recent studies have shown that when someone hears a metaphor involving a physical action (He tends to bend the rules) the parts of the brain involved in the physical action do get involved, just as when hearing a literal sentence with the same word (He tends to bend the wires) — but not the same as hearing a sentence with the literal meaning instead of the metaphor (He tends to alter the rules.)  Similarly, a metaphor involving a sensory concept (She’s so sweet) activates areas of the brain involved in literal sensory sentences (The cupcake is so sweet), but not the same as the literal meaning (She’s so loving.)
        We use metaphors so ubiquitously that we often don’t even notice much of our own figurative language.  I’ve got a bright future ahead of me.  The future is here given both the visual metaphor of light and the spatial metaphor of being physically in front of a physical human.  The temperature’s falling.  We have mapped temperature onto a spatial framework: hotter temperatures call for larger numbers, and larger numbers are described as being physically higher in space.  We simply cannot understand or communicate our world without metaphor.  On the other hand, if we aren’t even aware of the figurative nature of language, is our brain still processing that language the same way, or has the once-figurative simply acquired a new meaning?  I haven’t seen any studies specifically on this.  That said, there are studies showing that the brain is most active in processing novel, meaningful metaphors, and that by the time a metaphor is so well known that it becomes a clichĂ© or idiom, the brain uses less and less time, less effort, and less varied areas to process it.
        The areas of the brain used in making up new metaphors are all those same areas involved in all kinds of creativity: the areas that allow unusual combinations of ideas to jumble up together, as well as the areas that oversee which of those unusual combinations are actually meaningful.  In some sense metaphors are creativity and creativity is metaphors.  So, our brains are brimming over with metaphors - we can hardly think any nuanced thoughts at all without them, and to me this is absolutely beautiful.  I love the idea that our brains are looking for those connections all the time.  It’s also true that our brains love a meaty metaphor, which probably explains some of the magic of poetry, art, and speculative fiction: all media that often ask us to consider old things in new ways.  It turns out that a good, fresh metaphor literally makes your brain metaphorically light up!

“A noble metaphor, when it is placed to an advantage, casts a kind of glory round it, and darts a luster through a whole sentence.” (Joseph Addison, The Spectator, 1712)

“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”  (Orson Scott Card)

“Cover the walls with mirrors of metaphor --

Silver and glass unmixed in space but fused in time.” (Anne E.G. Nydam)

On the other hand, apparently not everyone loves metaphors - "Had we but an Act of Parliament to abridge Preachers the use of fulsom and luscious Metaphors, it might perhaps be an effectual Cure of all our present Distempers." (Samuel Parker, 1671 - see a little more here)

[Pictures: Detail from an illustration by AEGN for Periodic Table of Alien Species by Miguel O. Mitchell, 2021.]

September 24, 2021

Howard Cook's NYC

         I featured a couple of pieces by Howard Norton Cook (USA, 1901-1980) back in 2017, but it’s time for a few more.  Born in Massachusetts, living in New Mexico, and fond of travel, Cook was inspired by the scenes he saw around the world, in cities, landscapes, and small towns.  He worked in a variety of printmaking techniques, but of course I’m only sharing his relief block prints.  Today I’m also sharing only a variety of views from New York City.
        One of Cook’s trademarks is his dramatic viewpoints, which are on full display here.  This view of Manhattan Bridge looks up along one massive pier, leaving the viewer dwarfed by the engineering.  Even the ship passing under the bridge looks small in comparison.
        The scene of the ocean liner Bremen is also an unusual view with, once again, an emphasis on the engineering.  Rather than seeing the entirety of the ship from the side, or a view of the luxurious decks or amenities for passengers, Cook has chosen to look along a 
narrow deck, with the hangers for the lifeboats along one side, and the vents and chimneys on the other.  It becomes almost abstract with its bold geometric shapes.
        A much simpler, more graphic black and white design is evident in Cook’s wood block print of the Christopher Street Station on the 6th Avenue El.  There are strong shadows, and areas of black meld together in the dark.  I like the way not every detail is outlined or indicated.  The artist trusts the viewer’s eye to interpret what it sees.  Cook recorded later that he enjoyed taking the El and preferred it to the subway, and I think you can feel affection in this piece.  There’s something a little whimsical about it that seems to me to reflect Cook’s feeling, “I always liked watching familiar aspects of the city passing briskly by.”
        Finally, another dramatic piece, with bright lights shining on the rain-slicked pavement on  a dark night.  The building shown here was the Weyhe Gallery, which was a center for printmaking in the 1920s and 30s.  Cook made this piece as a holiday greeting card commissioned by the gallery.  In addition to the dramatic lighting, dramatic skyscrapers tower up at odd angles into the sky behind.  The architecture of the neighboring buildings is suggested with just a few delicate lines, while Cook has added lots of fun details to the depiction of the gallery itself.  An array of artwork is shown in the ground floor window, and an umbrella-less man takes shelter in the doorway.  My favorite touch is the cat silhouetted in the upper window.

[Pictures: Manhattan Bridge, woodcut by Howard Norton Cook, 1930;

The Bremen, wood engraving by Cook, 1931;

Christopher Street, woodcut by Cook, 1928;

Greetings from the House of Weyhe, linoleum cut by Cook, 1099 (All images from The Old Print Shop).]

September 20, 2021

Show Report

         It’s been a long time since I’ve had a show report here in the blog.  On December 14, 2019 I was at the Winter Arts Festival in Needham Town Hall, and that was the last proper in-person show where I sat with my display of all my various goods and met with visitors, until this Saturday.  There have been a few other things in between that came close -- in-person art shows at conventions in January and February 2020, and the in-person sale on June 12, 2021 where I had a table -- but this was the first “normal” show in 1.75 years.  Of course, there were still a few things that were different.  For one thing, it was outdoors.  I hate outdoor shows.  If it rains it’s a disaster, if it’s windy it’s a disaster, if it’s too hot or too cold it’s not a disaster but still unpleasant… The stress of uncertain weather is just not worth it when there are other options.  But for a year and a half there have been no other options, so I borrowed a tent (Thank you, Dottie Laughlin!) and joined a dozen other Needham Open Studios artists in showing our work in front of Town Hall.  And it turned out to be a wonderful day!
        The weather cooperated, there was plenty of foot traffic, and everyone was delighted to be out and sharing in a cultural community event.  Sales were great, and it underscores once again the importance of seeing art in person and talking with people face to face.  Honestly, I do love on-line shopping -- the comfort and convenience of not leaving home, of being able to look for something whenever I want, the low stress of not having to deal with other humans -- for some things those conveniences can’t be beat.  But for other things that human connection makes all the difference.  (Thank you, Everyone who came by, who said hello, who shared stories, who bought things, and who made up part of the community!)
        Part of my bookkeeping after an event is to update my web site.  I make sure the “Upcoming Events” are current and I remove any sold-out pieces.  But my 15-year-old web building system, which has been glitching out worse and worse for some time now, baulked utterly at this most recent set of changes.  And this necessitated an emergency web site transplant.  Luckily I had been working at building the new web site for a couple of months and it was already just about ready to go.  A few final tweaks, and I hit “Publish”… and nothing happened.  But after about 16 hours, help from my in-house IT (Thank you, D!), some tech support tickets, and some more tweaking, I have a shiny new web site.  Honestly, it’s not much different.  I pretty much just tried to reproduce the old one with the new one, rather than doing any radical redesign, and the address remains the same.  Still, now is as good a time as any to remind everyone that my web site is up-to-the-minute and includes all my currently-available original block prints, information about all of my books, notecards, necklaces and other fun stuff with my designs, and a comprehensive listing of upcoming events including both on-line and in-person events for both art and writing.  Plus there’s information about how I make prints, what workshops and lectures I can present, the Alphabet of Mythical Creatures, and other stuff of possible interest.  Be sure to leave me a comment if you have any ideas of stuff I should include or how it could be improved.
        So, what about the future?  I am currently signed up for two more upcoming in-person holiday sales, but only time will tell what the state of the pandemic will be come December.  I’m not taking anything for granted — except that people will always need art and stories to hold us together and keep us focussed on the important things.  I will be teaching in-person block printmaking classes for both kids and adults in October, and I’ve also got an upcoming on-line author event that you can attend from anywhere in the world.  That’s on October 1, a Strong Women-Strange Worlds First Friday Quick Reads event in which 6 authors each read for no more than 8 minutes, giving the audience a delightfully diverse tasting menu of speculative fiction of all kinds in one convenient hour-long flight of fancy.  I’d tell you which of my books I’ll be sharing, but that would spoil the surprise, which is half the fun of these events!  It’s free, and you can preregister here.  I’d love to see you there!
        I am hopeful that last Saturday’s in-person show was not an island of connection in the ocean of isolation, but was rather a turning of the corner toward knitting our social threads back together.  (I think I may have mixed about three different metaphors there, but put it down to my being overcome with delight at the prospect of a return to in-person shows.)  And if art and story can’t help with that re-knitting of connection, then nothing can.

[Pictures: Needham Open Studios Inside-Out - my tent, me carving a block, my tent along with my neighbors, photos by AEGN and MJPG;

Strong Women-Strange Worlds October 1 Quick Reads.]

September 15, 2021

Flightless Birds

         We just had some block prints of birds printed in three dimensions so that they could soar (or at least dangle) in the air.  Today we have a selection of flightless birds.  Spanning more than 4 centuries and a range of styles, what these birds have in common is that they aren’t your typical fluttering flyers.
        We begin with the ostrich, and this wonderfully floofy example comes from the mid-sixteenth century, from Conrad Gesner’s Historia animalium.  I love how the feathers are a big pompom, going in every direction and with no indication of wings at all.  A fun detail for those interested in the science is that this ostrich appears to have external ears.  A fun detail for those interested in the printmaking is that the tail feathers are a little crushed down at their tips in order to fit them onto the wood block.
        The ostrich and the emu have traded in flight in favor of running.  The emu hails from Australia, as does this depiction of it.  Emus' feathers are not as fluffy as ostriches’ (which was probably lucky for them, as they didn’t get put on hats), but otherwise the two birds are everyone’s favorite example of convergent evolution.  My favorite thing about this piece by Gladys Reynell is the two little emu chicks scurrying along with their attractive stripes.
        The penguin, by contrast, has traded in flight in favor of swimming, and this piece by Rick Allen is a great evocation of the penguin’s streamlined athleticism when underwater.  I love the texture of the swoosh and the bubbles.
        As for the dodo and the kiwi, they traded in flight for having no predators, which was great, until the predators showed up.  We all know the sad fate of the dodo, but this linocut is not sad at all.  It’s a bright, cheerful, fun bird, with bright, cheerful, fun feathers in a variety of patterns and colors.  It looks like Richard Bawden used three blocks in making this print: the background, the leaves, and the bird.  The background and bird were then each inked with multiple colors on a single block.
        We end with one of my favorite artists depicting one of my favorite birds.  Jacques Hnizdovsky has perhaps made his kiwi a bit too tidy - Hnizdovsky does incredibly controlled, geometrically precise prints, while kiwis tend to be a bit like messy mops - but he has captured beautifully the kiwi’s benevolent expression 
and magnificent whiskers.
        Sure, we humans tend to idolize and long for flight, but as far as these birds are concerned, who needs it?

[Pictures: De Struthocamelo, wood block print from Historia animalium by Conrad Gesner, c 1555 (Image from Smithsonian Magazine);

Diving Penguin, wood engraving by Rick Allen (Image from Kenspeckle Letterpress);

Emu, linocut by Gladys Reynell, early 20th century (Image from Art Gallery New South Wales);

Dodo, linocut by Richard Bawden (Image from Bankside Gallery);

Kiwi, woodcut by Jacques Hnizdovsky, 1975 (Image from WorthPoint).]