February 4, 2013

New Cover + New Techniques

It's time for another album cover!! It's been now quite a while since the last one. And this is the second album cover for my very talented sister, Ashia Grzesik.  Here is the work-in-progress of the first cover that we collaborated on.

For this new album, named "Diesel vs. Lungs", I decided to try two "new" techniques. The first was watercolor painting. I'd always been an acrylic girl, but wasn't getting the results that I needed with certain techniques. I wanted to do washes, and washes on washes on washes, and using acrylics for this was borderline dumb. I'd like to say that the adjustment to using watercolors was totally easy, but there was a bit of a learning curve, as you have to approach the layering in a different way, and get accustomed to the translucency and the malleability (or lack of it) once it's on paper. 

Here is a snippet of the background, pre-processing:

The inspiration for the background, as given to me by Ashia, was the city of Ostrava in the Czech Republic. It has earned the nickname “steel heart of the republic”, due to heavy industry there, and it remains one of the most polluted cities in the EU.

I also couldn't help but realize that after I had finished it, it reminded me - albeit loosely - of the hand-painted backgrounds of my all-time favorite children's cartoon, Krtek*, which hails from the Czech Republic (!)  Specifically, my all-time favorite episode of dear little Krteček, "Little Mole on the Town", which shows the transformation of a beautiful forest filled with adorable wildlife into a dirty, polluted city (!!!) 

Here is the entire 28-minute episode, which is totally worth your time to watch to the end.  But if you're ADD like me, just watch the first 5-6 minutes, which shows the adorable woodland creatures helplessly watch their forest home being torn down...so intense! {Please note: It may take a few minutes to load and currently, it won't upload with sound. Standby and pretend it's a silent movie for now and thanks for your patience!}
This isn't the first time that Czech cintematic talent has been featured by me...hmmm.

On to another element of the cover, a snippet of a spray of poppies:
The final watercolor painting was outlined by a dark brown pen, roughly à la Alfons Mucha (see a pattern here? ha!)  I felt like I was still reverting to old acrylic techniques while painting this, though, so looks like I have to keep working on my watercolor technique. Apparently, using watercolor pencils for years and years wasn't as big of a help as I thought it would be! And oh yeah, should have anticipated the paper buckling as much as it did with so much water on it ;)

More on the second "new" technique in a later post...

 * Have I talked yet of the genius of Krtek?? I smell a doozy of a great post idea.

August 22, 2012

A Tale of Two Jans

It may or may not, to all of my three readers of this blog, be obvious that I just post stuff that fascinates me. I guess the hope is that others will find it fascinating as well.  Although it may not seem obvious, there may be a common thread linking everything if you look hard enough...

Today's fascination is stop-motion animation from behind the iron curtain.  I stumbled upon this Czech stop-motion gem from 1988 by Jan Švankmajer, in a somewhat unlikely place: it is currently streaming on Netflix.  I also found it so very strange that it was stumbled upon literally a day after I came across this stuff.  We had started watching the movie, and the pace at the beginning was so slow, and with very little dialogue.  I could see how some people have a hard time watching European films. I myself found the pace sucking me in, holding me in intrigue. You realize that you've been entranced and haven't moved a muscle.  The over-the-top foley, at first almost annoying, ended up just adding to the surreal state.

Then, also popping up seemingly randomly, I came across Polish stop-motion animation By Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk. There are a few short films on You Tube, ranging from the late 50's to early 60's (!!!)

They can be pretty out there.  I am also really digging the music in this one...

If you see any similarities to Monty Python's Flying Circus, you're not wrong: their work influenced Terry Gilliam.  It also took me a minute to realize that this is the same Jan Lenica that was famous for his posters, some of which are on view at MoMA...

And this is a poster by fellow artist Franciszek Starowieyski that I am now obsessed with...

A bit about the fascinating history of Polish posters:

"By the end of the 1950's Socialist realism had been dumped in Polish art. The Graphic Arts Department at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts divided its areas of instruction into fine arts, visual communications, applied arts, and poster art. It helped, thereby, to establish what is known as the Polish Poster School.

Many of their posters were commissioned to advertised events, and that they did. But, almost always, there is an underlying dig at some aspect of society. It seems that the Polish poster artist will take any chance they can to express the frustrations they, and their audience share about the status quo. In America it would be like making a public service announcement for the American Heart Association in which President Clinton is the victim of heart disease. It truly would make us change our health habits, but it would also be a statement about the artist's dislike for the American Government."
 Source: http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/poster/poster.html

"There was much to divide these artists as every one of them had arrived at his own idiom, immediately recognizable, even from a distance. But at the same time there was something very important to link them together, something that made the Polish school something real and distinct.
This can be attributed to the fact that all of them were painting ambitious posters, expecting of the public an understanding of the signs, symbols and allegories. Polish posters were not only pieces of art, but also intellectual labyrinths and games of hide-and-seek. Posters referred not only to emotions, but to intellect as well. Viewers were required to think."
 Source: http://www.polishposter.com/html/posterart.html

I have yet to do some research into the surreal stop-motion animation. I will post an update if I find some good info.

Sometimes I pick up random work to put a little extra money in my pocket when my schedule slows down. The last 2 days I worked at Union Hall in Brooklyn. Apparently, one of the owners there is really into taxidermy, and has a few cases with specimens in them, along with some bones, fossils, etc. A favorite was this two-headed chick... 

That got me into thinking how neat it would be to learn a little about taxidermy, if I could stomach it. I feel like I'm not too squeamish when it comes to dead animals, though, so I could tough it out.  A quick search on the interwebs came up with a gallery in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, Observatory, that offers an anthropomorphic mouse taxidermy class.  In fact, it is so popular and sells out so fast, they have to keep adding more sections due to the demand.  Who knew so many people in NYC were into that?!  Here are a few anthropomorphic mice to carry you through the rest of your Wednesday afternoon...

(thanks to http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.com/ for the mouse pics)

August 13, 2012

Final Photo Roundup

Oh my, did it take me forever... But I finally uploaded the last of the Great Gull Island photos.  I have split them up into three sets.... You can see them below as slideshows, or you can visit here.

July 31, 2012

2 Great Articles

...both from the NYT.

The first is an interview with the wonderful Helen Hays, director of the Great Gull Island Project.  She believed in a little ol' sound engineer and allowed her to pretend she was an ornithologist for a week.  She has asked me to help her sort through the data that was collected, at the AMNH in the fall (fingers crossed!!); which may sound silly, but is a great honor.

The second is an article in which Bridget Stutchbury is interviewed in regards to birds reacting to climate change.  Dr. Stutchbury is also a great writer and has written several books including The Private Lives of Birds, which I'm currently reading.

July 22, 2012

Great Gull Island - Living Among Thousands of Birds

The island is home to thousands of terns.  There are so many that you can't walk anywhere without being only a few inches or feet from a nest, usually guarded by a very territorial adult tern.  This video shows the short walk that I had to do several times a day from the building where my room was to headquarters.  I had to wear a hat at all times to prevent the possibility of being pecked at (and pooped on) by the terns.

One of the really neat things about walking this trail repeatedly over a week, was watching the chicks along it grow bigger.  A favorite was a chick I dubbed "Pie" (short for "Sweety Pie"), who quickly became my muse.

Every morning I was sent out to trap adult terns to gather data on them.  I stopped for a moment to capture the morning sun hitting the west end of the island from my "trapping territory" on the east end.

July 21, 2012

Great Gull Island - Bird Life

I'm still sorting through tons of photos and videos and am having a hard time narrowing them down to just a few.  Some of the photos I've combined into GIFs so that I don't end up posting five times as many pictures.

One of the great things about my time spent on GGI was having a window onto the world of the terns...watching them do their thing.  The first series below illustrates a favorite pastime of mine: watching the "elephants" act like spoiled, greedy, obese teenagers.  Their appetites seem insatiable, as they don't ever stop squawking in their parents' faces, pulling their tail feathers, and constantly pestering them for more food.  This comical pair lived right outside the door of the building I slept in.

Below was definitely a "right place - right time" moment.  I managed to capture this scolding tern protecting her newly-hatched chick (underneath her) and another young chick behind her.

I managed to be lucky enough to catch a few common tern chicks hatching on my rounds. I paused to catch this one on camera. Unfortunately, it became obvious to me that it was going to take a long time before he was going to be fully hatched, so I could only catch a minute of it before having to move on (and also wanted to keep my disturbance to a minimum).  You can see his "egg tooth": the white calcareous point on the end of the bill that helps the chick break the shell.

July 14, 2012

Great Gull Island - Day 6 & 7

The past week has exposed me to experiences that were either new, or dormant and waiting to be exposed. The kind that you forget about and need a reminder of every now and then; that somehow manage to turn up at the eleventh hour. Sometimes you get kicked in the shin (or pooped on) and you realize that you've been waiting for that to happen for a long time.

It is amazing to be able to be an observer of the delicate world that is around us. It is always there, and perpetuates whether we pay attention to it or not, and in our day-to-day modern world, it is definitely easy to forget it's there. But sometimes you are given the opportunity, rather the privilege, to be an observer - to look through a window onto this now-disconnected parallel universe that we were once a part of. Suddenly all of the randomness doesn't seem so random and enigmatic anymore. For maybe a nanosecond, everything has its place, including you. You see the tiny working parts and intricate puzzle pieces. 

What brought on this introspection? Well I've always viewed things this way to some degree, but I got a healthy reminder of it this past week. 

I spent hours "out in the field" interacting with and observing the common terns, as I've been rambling on about the last few days. 

I've felt the excitement of watching chicks hatch in the early morning dew; feeling honored to be present as they start breathing in the oxygen that I, too, am breathing...their wet feathers starting to dry to downy fluff. 

I've also held a freshly hatched chick, barely hours old, that was cold and distressed and heaving, covered in dirt, with no parent in sight. I knew that his breaths would be few in number, and after watching from afar, found that he was indeed abandoned. I've also had to watch chicks that had made it to 25 days, wander drowsily with drooped wings, finally face-planting into the ground, to likely not get up again. They make no attempt to flee or protest when I scoop them up.

On the other end of the island, its peer stretches out his wings and hops, a couple inches off the ground at a time, flapping madly...building up muscle and coordination to, in a few days time, soar over the water in search of food.

And yet somehow even the morbid and ugly is beautiful, because there is comfort in that it is part of the larger, onward, unyielding, churning of nature, like heavenly geometry.

Okay, so I did have a glass or two of wine before boarding the train back to New York...and I'm not quite sure how to wrap up this rambling monologue. It just felt good to be very present and very aware.  We each occupy a very tiny mass of cells in this unimaginably large universe, and sometimes, you really feel like it - in a good way.

Stay tuned for more pictures and videos.  I have over 600 to sort through.

July 10, 2012

Great Gull Island - Day 5

I'm already starting to get bummed about the fact that tomorrow will be my last full day here. It has gone by very quickly, and I'm just now starting to adjust to the sleep schedule. In addition to all of the action of the last five days, I've also had the opportunity to see every sunrise and sunset; draw and journal; relax with new friends; and generally enjoy living in the rough on a 19-acre island with very limited electricity and no running water.

And also, stuff like this happens...

I was walking down a narrow path through the only stand of trees on the island, when I noticed a tiny fuzzy brown thing that blended in with the carpet of dead pine needles on the path. I quickly realized a) that I should stop walking, and b) it was a tiny chick, considerably smaller than the tern chicks. When I lifted it up, I was taken aback by its crazy long legs and comical big feet. It was a spotted sandpiper! I could not believe my luck. I brought it back to headquarters for banding. His striking and painfully adorable looks quickly turned him into a celebrity on the island. But alas, he only got his five minutes of fame, as we had to release him back to the pine grove after the banding.