My family crest

October 19, 2011


A couple of weeks ago we were challenged to draw a family crest for ourselves. I scribbled mine out during brief interludes in the relatively autopilot production project I had going at work. Usually I like to hand-draw (as much as you can call what I do “drawing”) with my navy Sharpie, but I don’t have one right now. Nor do I have my other favorite color, the brickish-maroon (I’m sure I’ve horrified some Sharpie executive with that description). I used a lowly graphite mechanical pencil for the initial line drawing which turned out to be a good thing, in this case, because then I could get it right (as right as what I call “drawing” can be). Usually I like to do free and easy gesture drawings on which I don’t waste too much brain power, but a little more care was called for in this case. I had intended to color it with the bazillion colored pencils we have at the office, but they seem to have disappeared in the last clear-out, so I was left with fabric paint markers or crayons. Crude crayons it was!

It will come as no surprise what I included.

Animals. Crests often have some beast of valor. I used beasts of favor, the rabbit that has become my symbol, and the closest I could come to a cat in the same style. Interesting side note, I only ever draw the rabbit facing to the left, so it was utterly awkward to draw the cat the other way.

Activities. You will often find a weapon on a crest. I included my weapons of choice for the zombie apocalypse, a bowling ball and bowling pins. Oh wait, no zombies? Bowling is the quest upon which I embark twice weekly. Still appropriate for a crest. The pins give the animals a platform for sitting.

Foliage. What crest would be complete with some kind of viney, leafy thing sinewing its way around? You guessed it. I gave my crest a few hop vine leaves and hop flower cones, representative of the beverage that keeps me going strong, beer, in particular, hoppy ales.

Shield. The above elements will be arranged around a central anchor, usually some kind of shield shape. I decided to use a beer bottle, upon which the cat and rabbit can lovingly gaze. I took poetic license with perspective and had the thumb hole of the bowling ball double as the opening in the bottle.

Banner. Well, isn’t there always some wavy thing containing the family name? This is my least favorite part at the moment. It’s like a big old cummerbund around the bowling ball’s beer belly. And it’s my username not my real last name. But it serves its purpose.

I am mostly so pleased by how it turned out, and I fully intend to create a more refined version on the computer. Then I can adjust some of the things that bother me. 

It was a very fun little project. I challenge you to make your own family crest. If you do, post a link to it in the comments!


October 3, 2011


Perhaps you read the tale of how I came to the decision, despite having professed for years that I’d never ever want one, to go ahead and get a tattoo. Here, then, is the account of the experience, from designing the perfect rabbit suitable for permanent emblazonment to, tee hee, Sparky McFuzznuts the squirrel.


I have drawn this rabbit a lot in the last year and a half, yet when it came time to draw one for the tattoo, well, I guess I experienced some performance pressure. I thought I’d whip one out in a maximum of ten rabbits. Turns out, it was fifteen pages of twenty-four rabbits. That’s just under one rabbit for each day of the year.


I didn’t love any of them on paper, but I picked the ones that passed as my favorites, cut them out and taped them to a single sheet of paper, and scanned them in. As a graphic designer, I was confident in the digital magic that could be done. I narrowed it down to parts of three or four rabbits that I knew I could Frankenstein together for The One.

In choosing The One, I practiced what I’ve preached to my mother on many a Teddy bear shopping excursion. It’s true that there are ten or twenty Teddies to choose from. And I know you want to choose the one with the cutest face. But once you get any one of the ten or twenty home and away from the other nine or nineteen, you won’t know the difference.

Once I got the rabbits to where I liked them, I employed the same strategy. It came down to one rabbit with two minor variations. I knew that once I got one away from the other, I’d never know the difference. Having also learned from playing Trivial Pursuit, I went with my first instinct.


The final decision was the size. After I had drawn a bunch of the rabbits, I started to think that maybe it didn’t need to be quite that big. I printed out the final rabbit in a range of sizes and decided to go just a little bit smaller.


Jers was my tattoo artist at Saint Sabrina’s. I tried to draw him out on some advice—he was the professional, after all—but he kept insisting that it was my tattoo and my decision about anything I asked him. Then I realized that the squirrel he was holding on his business card was actually his furry companion, Sparky McFuzznuts. Then I saw the back of the card.

During the process, I quizzed Jers about Sparky. I refused to look at what he was doing. It’s not that I’m afraid of needles or blood, but I just have this habit of psyching myself out and I didn’t want to take any chances. Learning about Sparky was the perfect distraction.

Jers said he rescued Sparky as an orphaned youngster. He nursed him to adulthood and tried to set him free, but Sparky just hung around the yard so Jers accepted him as an indoor companion. Sparky is about three.

It wasn’t too painful. I had figured it would be akin to when my cat CJ is in her basket just to the side of my mouse arm and decides that she needs to be in physical contact with me. She reaches out and doesn’t exactly dig in, but still she kind of grapples my arm and hangs on and it’s prickly. I anticipated that the tattoo would be heavy-duty prickly. It was more like CJ was scratching. Not painful, but quite noticeable.

I endured—adrenalin was definitely in play—but I was very happy when Jers let up and it seemed like he was taking a break. Then, before I could remark, he said, “You’re done!” What? It didn’t even take fifteen minutes. It is a simple design and I had no previous experience to judge by, but I sure wasn’t expecting to be finished that quickly.

It’s been a week and a half and, thankfully, I’ve not had a moment of buyer’s remorse. Jers did a wonderful job and I love my tattoo!

Tree fractals

March 7, 2011


As I was waiting for the train to work last Friday morning and looking around for things to take Instagram pictures of to kill time, I had the sudden feeling that one of my favorite things about winter here in the deciduous northern hemisphere is seeing the bare trees reaching toward the sky and knowing that what I see above ground is happening below ground as well.

I hadn’t thought of tree branches as fractals until I saw an episode of Nova a few weeks ago, but I have known for a very long time that trees have root systems underground that are equivalent to their branch systems above. As I stared at the beautiful, veiny, starkness of the winter bare branches, I was a little overwhelmed by the thought of the symmetrical happenings in the dirt.

I didn’t have time to leave the train platform to take photos of the trees that were uncluttered by power lines, apartment highrises or other impediments, but the images stayed in my memory all weekend and were the inspiration for this illustration based on tracings of my hands.


A smidge for your fridge

January 16, 2011


Today was one of those rare occasions when I made art for the sake of making art. You have my permission to print out this picture and hang it on your refrigerator, because that’s why I created it.

As you’ve learned from previous entries, woodcut is my preferred medium for art-making. But for work as a graphic designer, I used to have to illustrate simple stories and did so with photo and clip art, such as in the Billy Goat Can Float book. I didn’t usually have to draw stuff from scratch though, it was just a matter of combining elements. That’s fun, too.

Today, however, I created this original illustration in Adobe Illustrator and jazzed it up a bit in Photoshop. Guess what, it’s a rabbit.

Has anybody printed it out and hung it on their refrigerator? I have no idea. But I did. Yes, those are rabbit-shaped magnets holding it up, and there are many other rabbit things present on my fridge. I also have some bowling achievement magnets, a few Minnesota Twins baseball things, ephemera from my favorite radio station, The Current, and a few beer items. Oh, and my guest pass sticker from the day I visited my friend who works at Yahoo.

My new picture definitely brightens things up. I printed out an extra one for my mom. Well, it’s actually an extra that I thought I was printing with a border, but the rule only showed up on one edge. But I know she’ll like it. She hasn’t had refrigerator art from me since the mid-seventies.



If you have been following this blog for three or more months, maybe you remember that Christmas weekend I went on about having done a woodcut. At the time, I didn’t want to reveal the picture, because the person for whom it was intended had yet to see it. That moment of suspense passed, and I can now reveal what was originally redacted.

It is this, readers, another version of My Rabbit, and here is a picture of it. It’s the third unframed original woodcut taped to my front room wall. One of these days I should take care of that.

March 14


In situations like this, I will not be reinventing the wheel. Today’s assignment was to do something unconventional with Duct tape. I didn’t think twice about how I would use this manmade wonder. I spent more time standing in Target trying to decide which of the five non-grey colors of “Duck” tape I would choose.

I was presented with flourescent purple, blue, pink, orange, and green. Given the subject matter, my first instinct was to choose orange. But as you may recall from a previous post or two, I do like my bright green. But what I learned from game after game of Trivial Pursuit is to trust your first instinct. I finally picked up the orange roll.

My orange hare is entirely duct tape. I wadded up a bunch to make a core ball for the body, then artfully wrapped strips smoothly around the outside. It was kind of interesting working in foil and tape, and fun trying to coax the desired shapes into existence, such as the haunches and the ears. They’re both pretty malleable media; tape was quite a bit easier to control than the aluminum foil as it had the advantage of being adhesive.

Okay, so I’ve created two masterpieces. Now what do I do with them? Enter Mom.

My mom is a complete and utter pushover for both rabbits and bears. She really only needed one look at Foil Hare and Duct Tape Hare perched atop my television to start gushing. Although I have piles of stuff all over my house, at times I am able to have an unnatural detachment about the possession of things (and people, for that matter). I asked my mom if she wanted them and it was a done deal. I sort of wanted to keep them because I feel sentimentally about the reason for and process by which they were created.

As my mom was preparing to leave and stashing them in her things, she was dismayed when one of Foil Hare’s ears fell off. I said that I had only required it to hold together long enough to be photographed. I had a brief moment of clarity as I separated the sentimental from the practical. On a number of levels, I am a lot better at being unemotional than my mother. But that’s a whole different subject.


I believe that quite a lot of people, though they profess otherwise, are secretly hams. I am a case in point. If you asked me whether I was shy, I would unhesitatingly answer with an emphatic YES! But anyone who has spent even the smallest amount of time around me would beg to differ. I inherited an odd combination of my mother’s effervescence and my father’s reserve. The bubbles often win.

But I digress.

The assignment was as stated in the title above. My first victim was our office mailman, Jim. Jim was our mailman when I started my job in March 1995. We are in our second office in the neighborhood and a couple of weeks ago, Jim started his third stint as our bearer of bills and junk mail. I know him pretty well. He is a bowler. I thrust my fluorescent green Post-It™ pad and brick red Sharpie® at him and said, “Draw for ten seconds, please!” Not surprisingly he asked, “Draw what?”

After clarifying that it could be anything, he put pen to paper for a good two and a half seconds. Not surprisingly, he drew a bowling ball. I also would have accepted an envelope or a stamp. I informed him that he still had seven and a half seconds left. “Would you like me to enhance it?” Please do. He added the brand name Hammer.

Back in college when I started bowling “for real” and throwing fingertip, my first urethane ball was a Pink Hammer. It was hard as a rock and is still my sentimental favorite, even though in technology terms, it would be like surfing the internet using a 256 baud modem.

But I digress.

I took my Post-It pad along to my bowling league in the evening, where I figured I could talk one or two other people into drawing for me. My first target was Brett. I know all of his team well, we were on neighboring lanes, and Brett and I were sharing space on the same table. It was inevitable.

At first, he blinked at me like a deer in headlights. Fortunately, I had to go take my next shot, so the performance pressure was lessened. When I came back, there was the upper right nice little drawing. I know Brett likes his tropical vacations so I was able to reassure him that it was was determinable as a palm tree and beach.

The team opposing Brett’s was the one of which the bowler Tom Kasper (of Tiny-bunny fame) is a member. I determined that Tom would be my next artist. That was when all hell broke loose and my ham hypothesis gained some traction.

Though it was to Tom to whom I next offered the Post-It pad and pen, he barely had time to make his nice little sketch of the target arrows on the bowling alley before the next and next and next people were clamoring for their chance to make a ten-second drawing.

Tom’s teammate Craig made a quite accurate caricature of their teammate Gary. From there, sometimes substitute bowler Randy confiscated the pad and pen and gave them to the youngster Jasmine, a five- or six-year-old who I assume was one of the bowlers’ daughter (must have been Craig’s? because I’m pretty familiar with everyone who was on that pair other than him, and nobody else has young children), who drew the second face of the evening. At least I assume it’s a face; otherwise, it’s a bowling ball with facial hair. After Jasmine, Randy made his own drawing, the hypnotizing swirl.

From there, I tapped my own teammate Ken, who was one of the brainstormers for the Tiny-bunny ideas. He produced the second tree of the evening along with what, at the time, made me think of telephone poles but which now I see more as silver dandelions in summer—a hopeful scene from the depths of a Minnesota winter.

Our final contestant was my friend Dick, Brett’s teammate (or vice versa, depending on how you look at it), who plaintively asked, “Can’t I draw, too?” Well, of course you can. His entry was this content-looking face. I see it as someone resting peacefully on a really comfy pillow.

I don’t think any of these people would say they can draw. Would you? I sure wouldn’t. I’m a graphic designer, and I get by because I can use a computer. When my hand is required to manipulate a drawing implement, I am stumped. But in the social situation, the lemmings raced each other to the cliff.


Huh. Going in, I was thinking this would be one of my shorter entries but it turned out otherwise. Once again, interesting what happens when you do not choose the topic.


This could sort of be considered the prequel to my horse notebook entry. Before I got the horse thing going, I occupied my child self with other forms of artwork. As an only child, I was always good at keeping myself busy. This was back in the days before, you know, Pong.

I spent considerable time making paper cutout pictures. I don’t really remember my favorite subject; it was probably just trees and flowers and houses—pretty easy stuff. Today in an homage to those days, I created the two things pictured here.

Whatever else I did, nothing could compare with the time and effort I put into making paper chains. It probably started out as a homemade Christmas tree decoration, but by the end, it was a minor obsession.

My parents were very good to let me waste paper and either Scotch tape or glue (I don’t remember which) in these endeavors. Length became everything. At a minimum, a chain had to stretch from one end of the house to the other. If it was long enough to go back again, so much the better.

I have no recollection of what, if any, displaying we did of these chains. I think sometimes we might have taped them to the ceiling with graceful swags. And I always just used white office paper; today I used the leftover colored paper from my rabbit picture.

I think today’s chain adds a nice bit of extra color to my kitchen window.


I made a woodcut!

December 25, 2009


We now interrupt our regularly scheduled blog entry so that we may brag about having made art this evening. That’s hand-done art, people. I made a woodcut! Usually I only do this in the summer at Chris Gargan’s Paint ‘n’ Party, but I haven’t had that opportunity for two and a half years.

(In case you’re interested, the topic was supposed to be about sounds that drive you bonkers, and mine is listening to other people cut their fingernails. I would rather listen to 100 people dragging their nails down a chalkboard than hear the snap snap snap of one person with nailclippers.)

I decided to get motivated to do a woodcut today, after having cooked a lot, shoveled a lot, and cleaned a lot. A little me time. Fortunately, my parents, and my mom in particular, found it fascinating to observe the process. So did Robbin Rabbit.

I’ve never been good at deftly sharpening my tools, but it went well enough. Until it was time to get out the ink, that is. Turns out that when you don’t open the tube for years at a time, its artery hardens and must be dug out with a nut pick. Then it also happens that the ink becomes thick and goopy and is just barely usuable.

But it was usable and I got through the printing. When I’m at the Paint ‘n’ Party, the hood of my car is my mobile printing press. Tonight, it was my counter and stove. Instead of hanging the prints to dry on the side of my car, my microwave and pantry cupboard served the purpose.

Tomorrow when the light is better, I will select the best one. I would like to show you, but then I’d have to kill you.

The world is flat

November 15, 2009


(Prologue: I thought this entry was going to be about artistic prowess or lack thereof, but it isn’t. I absolutely never intended for it to be even a third the length it is, but it is. But if you stick with it, you’ll learn a lot about how I got to where I am today.)


I made and printed this woodcut at a real-world get-together with people I no longer stay in touch with. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, for a few years completing my eternal college experience, and for 11 years after I moved away I looked forward to my annual pilgrimage back to Madison in June (usually on the weekend before my birthday) to go make art.

Chapter 1

I went to the University of Wisconsin to obtain on my Masters degree in meteorology, because I’ve always loved the weather. In making that decision, I didn’t take into account all the math and science I had not had as an English major for my Bachelor’s degree, not having taken more than algebra theretofore. (In a completely anomalous experience, I had the highest grade of the class in that course, with a 98.6% for the term. To this day, I’m not sure how that happened. All I can think of is that the instructor was the second best teacher I’ve ever had. We’ll get to the first by the end of this story, I promise.) 

Before I could even start taking the meteorology courses, I first had to make up three semesters of calculus, two of physics, and one of chemistry. I  managed to squeak by in trigonometry so that I could begin the calculus. I eked out a passing grade in chemistry by the hair of my chinny chin chin. But when it came to the calculus, I failed the class. 

By now I was beginning my third semester in graduate school and I had changed my major to cartography, because I’ve always loved maps and I could see the writing on the wall. The math and science requirements were less stringent in cartography, though I did still havbe to get through the first calculus.

I had managed to be hired for an internship in the university’s map lab. They knew I didn’t have any computer experience. They plopped me down in front of what must have been a Mac, because I was to use Adobe Illustrator, probably version 0.5 or something. I hadn’t begun my transformation into geek yet. Bezier what? It was very frustrating, as I was provided with very little guidance. I became convinced that the department was an old boys network.

Meanwhile, I had joined the bowling club, because one of my regrets at the University of Minnesota during the acquisition of my Bachelor’s was that I hadn’t participated in any extracurricular, social activities. My parents had always trotted me off to Saturday morning kiddie leagues, and when I was in highschool, I was in some league or other, so for college I thought, what the heck. I learned that the squad for the college meets was drawn from bowling club participants, and as one of only six women members vying for five spots, I got to compete sometimes.

(Okay, I couldn’t stand it, I looked it up. That would have been around 1992 that I was attempting to use Illustrator. It looks like that would have been about version 4. I’ll stick with my contention that it was on a Mac—well, shoot, I guess I better check that, too—because even with my zero experience, I don’t remember that the computer itself got in my way, so it surely couldn’t have been a Windows machine. What Mac model? I can’t tell anything from these charts.)

Well, I flunked that second try a calculus, too. I attempted to negotiate with my cartography advisor but he was unwilling to work with me and my fate was sealed. I was booted out of graduate school in shame. That of course meant I couldn’t continue to participate in university bowling. That bummed me out. This was the crew that I rocked out to Faith No More’s “Epic” with.

The bowling advisor—I call him that because he was not himself a bowler, he wasn’t a coach, he was simply the guy in charge—suggested that I go to the local two-year school, Madison Area Technical College, to take their calculus course and then transfer the credits back to the UW. He had no idea what a life-changing suggestion that was.

Chapter 2

It was a glorious day when I walked into Madison Area Technical College resolute in my intent to sign up for calculus.

I must have been in some admissions-type area waiting to talk to someone, but I soon discovered a spinner rack of brochures for each of the school’s programs. I idly picked up the one detailing Commercial Art degree. I thought, hmm. I was a graphic design major for a semester during the eight years it took me to get my Bachelor’s degree. I did pretty well and thought it was interesting. Hmm. Maybe I’ll wander upstairs and have a chat with someone. That was the second life-changing action in this story.

(I didn’t stick with graphic design at the University of Minnesota because there is an acclaimed, dedicated four-year art school in Minneapolis and I didn’t feel like I’d be competitive with those graduates. For goodness sake, at the time, the U of M’s graphic design program was in the College of Home Economics.)

I got a quick summary from the department administrative assistant. She had me wait while she went to find one of the instructors who could talk to me more. She came back with Chris Gargan, the man to whom I owe the last 18 (and counting) years. (Wow about the years, when I put it like that. I always put it like that regarding Chris.)

We went down to the cafeteria and got some lunch. He told me about the program, the classes, other instructors, and generally seemed interested in me. That was a complete 180 from how I had been last treated at the University of Wisconsin. I was convinced. And because I already had the Bachelor’s degree, I didn’t have to take the basics, like economics, psychology, and college algebra. I could whiz through the two-year Associate of Applied Arts degree in a year and a half.

What a year and a half it was. The classes were taught by people who had actual practical experience in the areas they were teaching. Classes were small and there was plenty of opportunity for one-on-one interaction. Computers were just beginning to take over in the nascent field of desktop publishing. I learned Adobe Illustrator the right way!

Back to the original premise of this entry, sort of

After I graduated, I worked in Madison for a year, then moved back to Minneapolis. But I stayed in touch with the Madison people, and made that pilgrimage every June.

See, it wasn’t just any art-making get-together, it was Chris Gargan’s Paint ‘n’ Party. It was in his illustration class that I learned woodcutting, along with many other methods, including an architectural illustration of an old Victorian house in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and an isometric, exploded illustration of a fuzzball shaver. Woodcutting is the one that stuck. It was a crude enough medium to forgive my inadequacies, but the end result usually had a wow factor.

So every summer, Chris hosted this art-making party at his farm 20 miles southwest of Madison. For the entire day, you’d sit in the yard, or find the right angle on the barn, or make a nest in the field and paint the landscape. In the evening, we all came back in to eat, drink, and hang our pieces in the barn for a show of the day’s efforts. Chris was the “judge” and came up with goofy prizes in what became standard categories.

I still can’t draw or paint by hand (unless I’m using my opposite hand, then the drawings have a certain charm, I think; see yesterday’s post), but thanks to Chris getting me to stick around for a degree, I rock Adobe Illustrator at work every day.

My croquet set won the Best Balance award that year, even thought the mallet stand is missing its side supports. I got a little trophy of a gymnast on a pommel horse.