January 28, 2011

Words of the Month - Made-Up Words

        Words come and go, developing over time, changing, embraced or forgotten according to the whims of speakers and writers.  But one category of words is a little different.  These are words that are deliberately coined and introduced by a single person, and (this is the tricky part) actually make it into enduring common usage.  Here are a few made-up words worth noting.

truthiness - n.,  the quality of seeming true, even when contradicted by fact or reason
        This is sort of the poster child for modern coinings. In fact, the form has existed for centuries, but only as an out-of-work synonym for truthfulness.  In its current meaning it may have been around by 1952, rather than being coined by Stephen Colbert, but Colbert certainly gets credit for popularizing it.  It got a lot of press when he introduced it on The Colbert Report in 2005, after which it made it into dictionaries.  Only time will tell whether it has staying power, but unfortunately it's likely to last as long as people continue to believe what they want to believe despite all evidence.

watchdog - n., a dog (or person) who does guard duty
        This word is first attested in The Tempest in 1610, and I mention it because Shakespeare is the poster child of older coinings.  You'll hear claims that Shakespeare invented around 1700 words, but when you're talking about making up new words there are two big problems with that number.  First of all, just because a word first appears in print in one of his works, does not mean that Shakespeare made the word up or was the first to use it.  A word could be in fairly common use and still not show up in any surviving writing from the time.  Secondly, even those words that Shakespeare was the first to use are mostly not true coinings but are new usages of existing words, such as the first use of "blanket" as a verb instead of a noun, or the first use of "assassination" when "assassin" was already in use.  So how many truly new words did Shakespeare truly invent?  We'll never know.  But I'm willing to give him credit for "watchdog."

runcible - adj.,  originally this had no definition at all and was merely nonsense.  But by 1926 a runcible spoon had acquired a meaning: spork
        Edward Lear coined the word runcible in his 1871 poem "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat":
(They dined on mince, and slices
     of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of
     the sand,
They danced by the light of the
He liked it so much that he later applied it to a cat and then also a hat.  He never gave any clue as to what definition it might have, but apparently people loved it enough to give it a meaning just so they could go on using it.  However, in my idiolect at least, the word spork, another nice made-up word (apparently coined in 1909 as a trademark) has won out in the hybrid tined spoon department.  But I think "runcible" is still worth applying to any indescribable household object you may wish.

galumph - v.,  to move along heavily and clumsily
        This was coined in 1872 by Lewis Carroll in his Jabberwocky.  It was one of his "portmanteau words," invented by blending two words together, in this case, "gallop" and "triumph."  (Another common portmanteau word is brunch, as is, of course, the aforementioned spork.)

blurb - n.,  short description of a book, etc., used for promotion
        This was made up in 1906 or -07 by Gelett Burgess of purple cow fame, with a picture on a book jacket of a fictional Miss Belinda Blurb shown in all her enthusiasm for the book.  Burgess originally meant the word to mock excessively complimentary testimonials and self-praise, but I think now "blurb" is a more neutral word.

supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - adj. (or sometimes more of an interjection), fantastic, wonderful
        Made up by Disney song-writers Robert and Richard Sherman for the 1964 movie "Mary Poppins," the catchy song about the word has cemented it in the brain of everyone who's ever heard it.  There was a 1965 court case over the word in which it was decided that one could not claim copyright on a word composed of preexisting words and grammatical parts.  What that means in terms of ultimate authorship, I'm not sure, and while I'm not in favor of Disney copyrighting words, I have to say that if supercalifragilisticexpialidocious doesn't count as a new word because it reuses existing English parts, then there's probably no such thing as a new word at all!

snalce - n.,  scheming, conniving vixen; one who uses seductive wiles to manipulate others for her (or his) own gain
        The derivation of this word is a misreading of my friend E's sloppy handwriting on a high school note to me (c. 1987), in which she described someone as a "snake."  I was so delighted with the sound of the word "snalce," which seems to me to capture so perfectly the scheming, seductive definition, that I've used it ever since, spreading it along the way to family and friends.  Please take it into your own vocabulary with my compliments.

        So remember, children, making up new words is always fun - the trick is in getting others to understand you!

[Pictures: The Owl and The Pussycat, drawing by Edward Lear, 1871;
Back cover of Are You a Bromide? The Sulphitic Theory Expounded And Exemplified According To The Most Recent Researches Into The Psychology Of Boredom, Including Many Well-Known Bromidioms Now In Use by Gelett Burgess, 1907.]

January 25, 2011


        "This majestic beast has pulled chariots of gods, guarded ancient treasures, cured human illness with its magic claws, pursued sinners.  It has been the subject of travelers' tales and scientists' doubts and regarded as an animal of whimsy."  This is how Joe Nigg describes what he calls the "most majestic of all mythical creatures" in his Book of Gryphons.  I'm not going to write a whole book on griffins, of course, but I thought I'd feature them today - and seeing as this is the blog about juvenile fantasy and block prints, naturally I have to feature block prints of griffins.
        Griffins seem to have originated in the Near East around 3,000 BCE.  It's fun to see how different artists through the ages have envisioned a beast that none of them has actually seen.  The model griffin is half lion, half eagle, with the head, wings, and forelegs of an eagle and the hind quarters and ears of a lion - but all kinds of variants have existed through history.  Perhaps that isn't surprising when we can't even agree on how to spell the creature's name!  Here (left) is a strange variant by Martin Schongauer, the fifteenth century master of wood engraving before Albrecht Dürer.  The poor emaciated beast has ears more
befitting a spaniel and the hind legs of some sort of cow or something, of all things.  As for Dürer, he designed this more standard version (left) in 1515.  (The block was carved by Hieronymus Andreae).

        One of the most classic griffins in more recent times is John Tenniel's illustration of the Gryphon in Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (below).  This is just what a griffin ought to look like - although he doesn't necessarily behave as majestically as a griffin ought.

        Here's a fun one drawn by Maurice Sendak to illustrate
The Griffin and the Minor Canon by Stockton (below).  Perhaps the interesting thing about this one is that while Sendak has shown a pretty standard griffin, Stockton's description of the beast in the story is a very strange griffin indeed.  It has no hind legs but instead has a "body running out into a long and powerful tail, finished off at the end with a barbed point."

        The gorgeous griffin at the top of the page is by eighteenth century etcher Wenceslaus Hollar.  I love how it's displayed along with other elements of natural history - and with such lovely detail, too.  It would be strange if they're all supposed to be to scale, though.
        And here, of course, are my own offerings in the field of griffin art.  This first fellow is based on a small carving of a griffin at the back gate of one of the buildings at Yale University.  I think it's a juvenile.  I adapted it, and added some details and texture, but the basic pose and proportions were copied from the carving.  I'd love to give credit to the artist who made it in 1932, but I can't find his (or her, but probably his) name listed anywhere.
        And my second griffin is Fastwings, from my book Kate and Sam to the Rescue.

        Finally, if you're not sated with griffin art yet, check out the Gryphon Pages, with lots of nice images.

[Pictures: A Griffin, etching by Wenceslaus Hollar, c 1646 (photo from University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection);
     The Griffin, etching by Martin Schongauer, 1475-1485 (photo by Vincent Steenberg on Wikimedia Commons);
     Detail from Triumphal Arch of Maximillian I, wood engraving by Albrecht Dürer, 1515-17 (from Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg);
     Gryphon, drawing by Sir John Tenniel, reproduced as a wood engraving for printing, (from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, Macmillan, 1865);
     Griffin, drawing by Maurice Sendak, (from The Griffin and the Minor Canon by Frank R. Stockton, Harper Collins, 2005);
     Little Griffin, rubber block print by AEGN, 2010 (sold out);
     Fastwings, colored pencil by AEGN, from Kate and Sam to the Rescue, 2008;
     Red-figure calyx-krater, c 375-350 BCE from Eretria, now in the Louvre (photo by Jastrow on Wikimedia Commons.]
Quotation from Nigg, Joe; The Book of Gryphons; Apple-wood Books, 1982; p 5.

January 21, 2011

Woodcuts by Vincent Longo

        Vincent Longo is an artist I knew nothing whatever about - and indeed I still know very little about him.  However, I ran into this interview with him by Julie Karabenick and found his woodcuts interesting.  (By way of bio, he was born in New York in 1923.)  Much of the interview has to do with Longo's use of a grid and geometric forms, which is certainly evident in these examples.  He does lots of brightly-colored geometric paintings, as well as various other media.  Obviously his abstract style, in all the media he uses, is very different from my style, but I imagine from my small acquaintance with his work that, like me, he appreciates both the vibrant colors of painting and the dramatic black and white of relief printing.
        This piece (above) is interesting because its shapes and lines are so rounded.  It reminds me of Lichtenstein's cartoon-style paint strokes, which is not at all the sort of marks I expect from a woodcut.  Longo says that he was generally not much influenced by Expressionists such as Pollock, except in his printmaking.  This is contrary to my expectation that carving wooden blocks would be more formal, while painting would be more conducive to spontaneous gestures.
        Longo, however, says that it's his printmaking that's spontaneous, without preliminary sketching or plans.  And after all I can really see how this piece (left) would be a very satisfying doodle: relaxing, yet fully absorbing.  It sounds like Longo considers the printmaking to be a break from his much more planned and structured painting.

        I think this one (below) is my favorite.  Longo said the piece of wood had a gash already in it, which he incorporated into the burst design.  I love the idea of using what's already there, even if - or especially if - some might consider it ruined and worthless.  I also love the energy of this piece.  It looks joyful to me.

        (You can link to Vincent Longo's website here.)

Untitled, woodcut by Vincent Longo, 2005;
Conversation Revised, woodcut by Longo, 1960;
Cutting Close, woodcut by Longo, 1981;
Imago, woodcut by Longo, 1954.]

January 18, 2011

Report on Arisia Geek Culture Convention

        D and I spent the weekend at Arisia, a sci fi/fantasy/geek culture convention where I had some of my fantasy-related art in the art show.  This is the first such con either of us had attended and it made an interesting mini-vacation.  D, who's interested in geek culture more generally than I am (and whose idea it was that I should try selling my art there), checked out a variety of panels and programs.  I, who am interested more narrowly in fantasy literature and art, tried to go to all the panels and activities that catered to those interests.  I found the con rather too diffuse to be useful: too many people with too many wildly diverse interests were all trying to follow their own thread.  Even though I ended up seeing the same people over and over at all the literature panels, I didn't get the impression that we necessarily shared the same taste or opinions on what makes a fantasy book great.  This was a little disappointing, as the whole idea of a thing like this is to get together with like-minded people.  (In all fairness I should admit that an introvert like myself is perhaps not one to get the most out of a convention!)  However, I did write down a whole list of books people mentioned that sounded like they might be interesting, so perhaps I will find some new favorites among them.
Top hat? Check.
Little round glasses with extra lenses?  Check.
Corset?  Check.
Cog decor?  Check.
We have achieved steampunk!
        Also, of course, there was most excellent people-watching with the costumes that paraded down the halls and milled around in the lobby.  The hot theme this year was obviously steampunk.  Any clothing vaguely Victorian in flavor, with the addition of goggles, becomes steampunk.  There were top hats and bowlers everywhere, and little round spectacles enhanced with extra lenses.  Steampunk was heavily represented among the dealers selling clothing and accessories, too.  (I'm all inspired to start smashing up old watches and seeing what I can make with the bits!)  I was rather surprised at how few of the more traditional medieval fantasy costumes there were, how little Star Wars, how little Star Trek, and no aliens to speak of.  I was quite surprised at how many kilts there were, but apparently geeks love their kilts.  There were also corsets corsets everywhere: Renaissance-ish corsets, bondage fetish corsets, Victorian steampunk corsets, completely gratuitous corsets…  Apparently geeks love their corsets.  I'm happy with kilts, but I hold no truck with corsets, so it would seem that I can never be a true geek.  ("But darling, going corsetless is so mundane.")  There were way too many six inch heels, too.  I would have thought the whole point of being a geek is so you don't have to be a fashionista wannabe, so I found it quite ironic that those who claim to be so counter-cultural have gone full circle and ended up acting exactly the same as the "in" crowd of supermodels.  *Shrug*  I guess I'll just stick with my comfortable shoes and be neither nor.
        The part of the con I enjoyed most was probably the historical weapons demonstrations (everything from medieval longsword to Roman legionary to Jedi lightsaber.)  There were also programs I enjoyed on Renaissance dances, and swing dancing, and a belly dancing show.  Don't ask me to come up with any intrinsic connection between the last two and sci fi or fantasy, but the fantastic thing about the belly dancing show was that the routines did have sci fi and fantasy themes: World of Warcraft, "The Fifth Element," "Metropolis"… How can you not like a belly dancing homage to "Tron"?
Me practicing my medieval swordsmanship
(in sensible shoes, of course.)
        I did come away with a number of interesting tid-bits of thought, many of which will be appearing in upcoming entries here.  As for the art show, though sales were not spectacular, I did sell enough to make it worth going.  And, of course, D and I got the weekend away, so what's not to like about that?

[Pictures: photos by D Nydam and AEGN at Arisia, 2011.]

January 14, 2011

The Most Popular Art in the World

        You may have seen something about this study before, but if not it's good for a laugh - and a little food for thought.  The idea is that people in 15 countries were polled on what they liked best in art (specifically paintings.  Print-making isn't even in the conversation.)  When the results were tallied, the two artists who came up with the polls, Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid, used the information to create what ought to be the ideal piece of art - and the least likeable piece of art - for each country.  You can see an introduction to the project here, with links to the results for each country.
         Predictably, making a painting to the specifications of a poll does not lead to high quality art.  Perhaps also predictably, the art beloved of the glossy Art Establishment magazines is often as far from popular as it can be, and I have to wonder why…  Why do artists and art critics concentrate so hard on the things most people don't like?  To prove how unlike the uncultured rabble we cogniscenti are?  To show how original we're being?  How edgy?  On the other hand, the study also found that the more educated people are about art, the more they view art, and the more they go to museums, then the more open their opinions are and the more willing they are to enjoy a wide range of art - including that unpopular highbrow art.  So that begs the question of why so many people don't take enough interest in art to broaden their views.  Have they already decided that they won't like any of it?  That it's irrelevant?  I confess I find it hard to imagine not being interested in and curious about art.
         It's also interesting to see how similar taste is across so many different countries (mostly Europe, but not entirely)… and then there's the Netherlands.  I can already hear the comments about legal drug use there.
        Naturally I had to apply the study's data by measuring the popularity potential of my block prints.  Here's how I score according to preferences in the United States:
This ought to be one of my most popular pieces - an outdoor scene
with a group of people in a leisure activity, plus it's a larger size,
it isn't black, and it's got animals both wild and domestic...
  Colors - bad.  Black and white would be a popular color combo for only a sliver of the population.
  Modern vs traditional - good, I think.  Most people prefer traditional, so I guess that would be me.  On the other hand…
  Older vs newer pieces - bad.  Most people prefer antiques.
  "Type of art" (by which they mean country of origin) - good.  Luckily we seem to apply our "made in the USA" principles to our art preferences.
  Wild or domestic animals - okay.  I've got them both, so I'm covered.  50% said they prefer wild animals, though, which is contrary to my own Cat Art observations.
  Outdoor or indoor scenes - bad?  I've got a few of each, but don't have a lot of scenes of either.  Fully 88% of folks said they prefer outdoor scenes, though, so I know what I have to work on next!
  Type of outdoor scenes - bad.  Apparently I really need to get busy on scenes of lakes, rivers, and oceans.
  Preferred season - bad.  Fall is the most popular, followed by spring.  Clearly I wasted my time on my recent winter scene, which is set to appeal to only 15% of the population.  At least it has a river!
  Type of indoor scenes - not so great.  People want people.  On the other hand…
  Type of people - not so bad.  Children are the most popular by a small margin.  Most folks don't care.  For maximum popularity I should specifically be doing groups of fully clothed people at leisure.
  And finally, size of art - very, very bad.  I need to get much bigger… the size of a dishwasher, to be specific.  By contrast, the size of a magazine, which is pretty much exactly what I mostly do, is the least popular art size of all!

[Pictures:  USA Most Wanted Painting, by Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid (I can't find a date);
Tree of Life, rubber block print by AEGN, 2005;
New-Fallen Snow, rubber block print by AEGN, 2010.]

January 11, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

        All right, I think "Award" may be a bit of an overglorification.  This is more like a cross between a chain letter and a lovely pat on the back.  I was tapped for this by the most excellent Penelope of Penelope's Romance Reviews.  Her intelligence and wit confound all my stereotypes of the Romance genre.  Thanks, Penny!
        As a recipient of this prestigious peer award, I now have to 
   1.  Link the blogger who gave this award.  [Check!]
   2.  Share 7 things about myself.
   3.  Pass this award on to 10 other bloggers recently discovered.  [This is great - it forces me to get my act together for my long-under-construction links section.  But 10 may be a bit many even so…]
   4.  Notify recipients.

        So I'll start with the seven interesting (? or maybe merely odd) facts about myself.
     1. The family story goes that I was born when my father was still filling out the hospital forms.  By the time he first saw me a little while later, I smiled at him.  My brothers commend me for this brilliant marketing move, but alas, that was the high point of my PR career.  My self-marketing skills have gone downhill from that day forward.
     2.  In my childhood I won a number of prizes in Cricket magazine's poetry contests, cementing my dream of being a writer.
     3.  I played field hockey in junior high and high school and was the nicest player on the field, though I say it myself.  I even apologized if I happened to knock anyone over as I blew past her with the ball.  (I did already admit that I'm a good little girl.)  But lest you think politeness is contrary to the winning spirit, let me assure you that in both junior and senior year I was our team's high scorer and was elected to the All-League and All-Region teams.
     4.  One summer during college I worked as a security guard at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  (This may be funny only if you've seen me.  I'm not exactly bruiser material.  But I was very good at saying, "Excuse me, sir, please don't steal the art.")  It was extremely cool to see backstage and to spend all that time with the amazing art.
     5.  While at college I worked in the cafeteria and was known for dispensing interesting vegetable facts with every serving.  (I was also known for draining the veggies decently before plopping them on the plate, something apparently none of the other servers did.)  Did you know that according to Pliny, ancient Egyptians invoked the onion when taking oaths?  And in 1696 Madame de Maintenon, wife of Louis XIV, said of green peas, "The impatience to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them, and the joy of eating them again are the three points of private gossip… It is both a fashion and a madness."  Maybe it's time you gave vegetables a little more respect!
     6.  Senior year in college I took Sanskrit.  The professor said he could teach us Latin in a week, but Sanskrit was hard enough that it would take him a whole month… This led me to wonder about what it means to "teach," if no one learns anything.  I can, however, still recite the opening lines of the Nala and Damayanti story from the Mahabharata in the original Sanskrit, for what that's worth.
     7.  I can tie a cherry stem in a knot with only my teeth and tongue.  I keep thinking that surely someday this skill will prove useful… (Disarming the bomb in the supervillain's lair while handcuffed to the crane over the shark tank, perhaps?)…  But so far it has not.

        And now for some blogs.  I have to begin with the confession that I'm not really much of a blog reader.  I mean, I read a lot of interesting stuff posted on blogs, but I tend to come to posts by wandering the internet "researching" whatever thread my curiosity happens to be spinning at the time.  And after reading the interesting post, I wander off again.  So I'm sorry I haven't come up with the full number of bloggers I should, yet.  I hope I'll add more to my list in time.
     1.  I'll put Collage Lab by Two first, because it may soon stop having new postings.  It's a year-long series of experiments with collage work, and it's really fun to get a detailed description of the creative process at work.  Even after Nan and Kay's official year is over, this will be a great resource for a much wider range of artists than just those interested in collage.  (That's one of their pieces pictured here.)
     2.  The Printsy: Printmakers of Etsy blog is neat because it features frequent interviews with printmakers.  I really enjoy seeing the different approaches different people take.  They've also started running links to tutorials of different techniques, which is cool.
     3.  Words on Woodcuts features one image in each post, along with commentary that ranges from art critique to a reaction in the form of poetry.  Martha Knox's taste differs somewhat from mine, which means that many of the images she features (including her own, of course) are completely new to me.  And that means that there's always something interesting to see here.
     4.  Jane Sassaman is an amazing quiltmaker and her Idea Book blog has gorgeous pictures and fun ideas.  If you're ever feeling the doldrums, a dose of her bright, beautiful quilts will lift your spirits.
     5.  There are lots of blogs that review juvenile literature.  Charlotte's Library is one that focusses on fantasy and sci fi.  It reminds me just how many books out there I haven't read yet!  I've already started taking notes for the next trip to the library...
     6. Here's a blog I just found this weekend while poking about.  Sunday Scribblings apparently gives a writing prompt each week.  I haven't done any yet - I can't even say whether I'll end up being interested in any of the prompts.  And since you're expected to do your writing on the weekend, I may not be able to do them along with the site at all.  (I guess I'd really want "Tuesday Scribblings.")  But I still thought it was a cool idea, and I intend to check back at this one regularly if I can.
     7.  And finally (for now, at least) here's another site where I haven't spent much time but for which I have high hopes:  Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts.  I hope it will be just the sort of ideas I need, since whatever skill I have as an artist and a writer is pretty useless unless I can also develop some skill in letting people know about the existence of my art and writing.  Does that sound dangerously like a New Year's Resolution?  Luckily I don't really make resolutions, so we'll just have to see how the year proceeds.
     8. (Added 2/2/11) Here's another: Books of Wonder and Wisdom, a blog about "children's literature that cultivates peace, justice, respect, and curiosity."  See what I mean about juvenile literature saving the world?

[Pictures: The Whole World, rubber block print by AEGN, 2008;
Tying up Loose Ends, collage by Nan Daly and Kay Villa, as shown on their blog, Collage Lab by Two.]