Thursday, July 12, 2012


Painting of the Chapel of the Macchabées in Genève.

So, first of all, I'm in Switzerland. If you follow me on any other social media, you probably know that, and you've probably LONG SINCE given up hope of any updates here.

Here is the rundown:

1. Why am you in Switzerland?

I was asked by my MIT thesis advisor and research supervisor, who now heads a lab at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (in English that's the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne), to do a three-month internship in her lab over the summer. She also asked if I was interested in applying for a Master's of Science program in Energy Management and Sustainability, which would allow me to continue to work with her. I did, and I was accepted in early June.

2. How long will you be in Switzerland?

Probably until May 2014, with occasional trips home.

3. Do you speak French?

No. I am learning. It is awkward. Also at the university a huge percentage of people speak English.

4. But how do you manage in restaurants?

I don't eat out because Switzerland is even MORE expensive that Japan. Otherwise, I point and smile. This is pretty universal.

5. What's Lausanne like?

Very steep. I live near the city center, which is very charmingly medieval and very bad for your ankles. Nothing is open on Sundays except the Coop Pronto. From many places in the city there are gorgeous views out over Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva) to the blue Alps on the other side.

6. Have you done much traveling?

Not so much so far. I went to the Chateau de Chillon, which is on the east end of Lake Geneva, on a boat ride. I went to Fribourg (an attractive Swiss town about 40 minutes north of here) one Sunday, but it was incredibly rainy, so I ended up coming home after about two hours. Last weekend I went to Marseille, which made me remember how exhausting traveling on a tight schedule and a tight budget is. (I also missed every train I planned on catching and usually ended up on a train 3-4 hours later, so that probably contributed to the stress level.) At the end of August I am going to Rome for five days. Before then I plan to go to: Zurich, a castle some of my labmates recommended to me in Switzerland, and probably another weekend in Geneva. (Due to the aforementioned train-missing, I spent the morning in Geneva on Saturday. Sigh.)

7. What do you do in your internship?

I research daylight-interacting technologies (like fiberoptic systems that collect sunlight and use it to light regular fixtures inside a room, for instance) and enter them into a visual database for architects.

8. How are things?

Things are pretty good. I really enjoy having my own space again. I have not yet found a place to live for the fall, but I am actively moving toward that point. I went to an English-language book club. I've read a couple books. I've written a couple stories. My labmates are pretty cool. I went to an English-speaking church. I have my bank account set up. (SWISS BANK ACCOUNT! Except it's with the post office, so that makes it less dramatic.)

In short, I'm starting to craft a life here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

a random post of updates.

Hey, horse eating hay in the Old Market. How's it going. Make any important life choices recently?


I have not been keeping up here as well as I might have. Forgive, forgive, I beg you to forgive, and so on.

MANY THINGS have happened. SO MANY THINGS, so I shall give you a brief (if scatter-brained) post about as many as I can think of.

First: Many persons who know me are probably aware at this point that I am possibly going to be doing an internship in Lausanne, Switzerland, this summer. If all my visa paperwork goes through correctly, I will be starting June 1 with the same professor I did daylighting research with undergrad for three months. I also applied to a two-year energy management and sustainability program at the school she now teaches at, EPFL, and if accepted I may be staying in Switzerland for a bit.


Second: Illustration continues apace. I am back at the Hotshops in Omaha doing life drawing once a week (you can see several weeks worth of work and experimentation here), and I think I've improved noticeably from last year. My illustration production has slowed somewhat (more on the reasons for that later), but I've finished some new paintings, including a still life, a the proscenium at the Rose Theater, and some of the Durham Western Heritage Museum architecture. I'm working on another painting now, and have a lot of ideas for things to try in the next month and a half (though I am making sure all my art supplies are portable so I can trundle about Switzerland sketching and painting if possible.)

I was in my first show this month, at the Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with the plein air group I painted with 2-4 times a month from October to February. I have twelve pieces in the show, which is up until April 30. Yesterday we held an artists' reception in the afternoon, and I sold two paintings and six prints, so I am quite excited about that.

Third: Writing continues apace. I am still working on my book (bit stuck on it, to be honest, so I've been developing the outline), but I've also written three (and a half) short stories and submitted them to magazines.  The first was an attempt to be literary and local, and the second two were fantasy (and I recalled the reason I write fantasy, which is that it is SO MUCH EASIER.) So far I have no takers, which is rather discouraging, but to be expected, I suppose. (I did burn my first official paper rejection notice in my mom's Christmas Yankee candle, so that made me feel a bit better.)

The Kansas City Design Week experience did yield up three articles for This Big City blog: one about the graphic identity of the city, one on density and transportation, and one on interpreting architectural history.

Fourth: I have had some adventures! I went back to Kansas City for a weekend two weeks ago to spend time with a friend; we went to the Kemper, walked about Westport, and went to the new H&M (I got a sweater! DON'T JUDGE ME.) In two days I will be going to a live performance by Eric Hutchinson and Graffiti6 at the Waiting Room in Omaha, which admittedly I bought a ticket to because a. they were cheap and b. I like Graffiti6 (though after finding some music by Eric Hutchinson on Grooveshark, he's not too bad either.)

I continue to work and hope and plan! Hopefully I will have more and more interesting posts soon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kansas City Design Week -- part 4: nonlinearity

FIRST OF ALL (and here is the nonlinearity): I want you to go to the first post I wrote on KCDW for This Big City blog and read it. It is about branding! Graphic texture! Go read it.

Also, I wanted to note (in case I didn't before) that it's thanks the Kansas City Development Council and Hotel Phillips (who apparently donated a bunch of rooms for various speakers/attendees of KCDW) that I was able to go on this trip at all. I am appreciative.

Now, on to discussing my fourth and final day at KCDW! Ironically, though this was an incredibly packed day (two events and driving home), I didn't end up taking too many pictures. 

In the morning/lunchtime I attended the "Design Psychology" event at Johnson County Community College. Guess what! JCCC is in Overland Park, which is waaaaaay south and west of downtown Kansas City, and also in KANSAS. I wanted to stop at Union Station before going, because if you Google "Kansas City" the first ten pictures or so are all Union Station. (I exaggerate, but you get my point.) It's also a cool point of reference, given that the last time my mom remembers driving by it, it was derelict and unused, but now they've renovated it and cleaned it up so it is both the actual Amtrak station and has a number of little shops and restaurants. It was pretty empty when I was there, but maybe mid-day on a Tuesday isn't its most bustling time. I love railroad stations. Except for North Station in Boston. I do not love that station. 

Entrance to Union Station, built in 1914, when there were twelve railroads going through KC.
See, to me, this ceiling pattern just screams "We're on the verge of Art Deco but we're not quite ready to make the leap." But maybe that's just the paint job.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Kansas City Design Week -- part 3: The sandwich

For various reasons yesterday (working on blog article, waiting on interview scheduling, etc.) I did not go out much yesterday. However, I did go to Arthur Bryant's to get a pulled pork sandwich, such that I would not have failed in my barbecue consumption duties.

It was very tasty.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Kansas City Design Week -- part 2: The West Bottoms

In the interest of getting something posted, this is going to be a picture-heavy, text-light entry about the walking tour of the West Bottoms neighborhood that I went on yesterday, led by the very knowledgeable Cydney Millstein, an architectural historian and preservation consultant who works in Kansas City. The vast majority of the information in this post came from her talk.
Sketched this while sitting in my car and waiting for the talk to begin. Not my best sketch, especially given that the wall actually said "STANDARD SEED CO./GRASS FIELD AND GARDEN SEED" rather than what I drew it as. . . . There's a monument to the railroad on the left and a monument to slaves who escaped through this neighborhood to Kansas just out of the frame on the left of that.
The West Bottoms is akin to Omaha's North Downtown or Old Market -- an industrial neighborhood with close ties to the river and the railroad, originally a home of factories, warehouses, and stores (and in both cases, one of the major train stations), which since the height of their commercial importance have fallen into disuse. In Omaha's case, the Old Market has largely been revamped into a trendy area of restaurants, boutiques, and expensive housing, while the North Downtown remains in a state similar to the West Bottoms -- a few artists' studios, a few stores, and a lot of buildings that are either abandoned or appear disused. (Unlike Omaha, the biggest stockyards in Kansas City were also found in the West Bottoms, whereas I am pretty sure Omaha's stockyards were mostly in the southern part of the city.)

1895 birdseye view of West Bottoms
1895 view of the West Bottoms

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kansas City Design Week -- part 1

A view from my hotel window.

Well, first I'd like to extend an apology to anyone who at previous times has enjoyed reading my musings or looking through the pictures on my blog. I have been writing a ton about a ton of things, but unfortunately, it has not been on this blog.

In recent days I have written ~20 pages of my book, two short stories, drunk roughly my body weight in cinnamon tea, read a number of amazing books, and -- (and here we come to the point of this post) -- volunteered to cover a few events of Kansas City Design Week for This Big City blog.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LINOLEUM PRINTS: the beginning of an epic adventure

Let's talk about linoleum printing.

First, I'll admit: I really had no idea what I was getting into with linoleum printing at all. All I really knew was that I had come across some really cool limited edition art prints (like this one and this one) and thought, "Hey! Those look really cool! I should do that!" One can, of course, reproduce similar effects using Photoshop, but for someone like me who is still more or less a novice in the illustration world, the easiest way to get nice textures is to . . . use real materials.

If you clicked through to the links, you'll note that neither of the two prints I was inspired by were actually linoleum prints -- the first was a letterpress print, and the second was a screenprint. I really like both of those styles and hope later to be able to make prints that way, but a letterpress requires an actual wooden press (thus the name) which would require either a lot of money or time to construct. As far as screenprinting goes . . . essentially you use a light-exposure technique to create a stencil of your design on a cloth screen. For reasons best known to myself (ha), I decided to start with something I had done (sort of) in middle school art class instead (hey, we carved little 2"x2" stamps out of rubber), because the principle was more straightforward and I was more confident in myself not to screw it up. I watched the Dick Blick videos (yeah, I know) here and here and decided that I could handle a process that was more or less making a giant stamp.

There were a few things I did not bargain on; one is that it's much harder to transfer an image exactly with linocut, because you are drawing it twice, more or less -- once with pen on the block, and once with the lino cutter as you chisel out the unwanted pieces. I also found that it's sort of a bad idea to draw the image on a different piece of paper, because the level and type of detail one gets with a pencil are not the same as the equivalent with the cutter. At some point I will probably learn to screenprint as well, in no small part because I also didn't figure on this:
This is a linoleum cutter, sketched very handily with my new tablet (heh, I'm learning new artsy things all over.) What it also represents is a tool that will make you lose feeling in your hands if used excessively, which I most certainly did in the first few days of experimentation. Screenprinting, I think, is less likely to cause muscle strain. The little cheap Blick-brand cutter I bought for $7 came with five blades; so far I've use mainly the deep V cutter (enough that I ordered another box of them rather than risk the one I have getting too dull to use) and the deep U cutter. I also decided to use Blick blockprinting ink, the main attraction of which is its relatively low price. I think at some point I will switch to oil-based rather than water-based ink, because this ink dries extremely quickly (meaning that I waste a lot by the time I get it spread out), and smudges very easily if I try to add other paints or color on top of the print.

Here are some photos from my first print, which was sort of cute but in several ways was moderately disastrous. Note: Do not attempt to make a heavily detailed two-color print on the first go. It's just not a great idea.

One of Mom's old pan lids got commissioned into service as a linoleum shred catcher/inking plate. I bought a bench hook, but have not really used it a lot yet. This was the second color. . .

And here is me trying (somewhat hopelessly) to line up the second color with the first. It was a miracle it worked as well as it did, but it still came out . . . kind of goofy. This print series ended after about three.