June 16, 2019

hip bone
Human hipbone, summer 1990 (airbrush and some colored pencil on crescent board)
brochure for airbrush
GNSI (Guild of Natural Science Illustrators) description of summer 1990 natural science workshop, Philadelphia

Monday, June 10, was the last day of school for me. When working at a school you spend a lot of time in the weeks before summer vacation talking about looking forward to summer vacation. You do this with the kids as well as the other adults. Such conversations usually also always come round to discussions of plans for the summer. Adults seem to be obsessed with trips, spending time with his or her own children and sleeping in. My summer list includes sleeping in (of course), but reading is also an important part of my summer plans. I am always for sleeping in, whether it’s summer vacation or the weekend, as I am a night person in a day person’s world. And I can easily stay in bed dozing and reading until 10 on days with no imminent or important plans. I often ask my students what they plan to do, trying to suggest they read of course. The kids don’t usually ask me about my plans because it is all about them, of course. But if I can slip in something about me, I say that I plan to read a book whenever possible and draw or paint, of course.

What I have posted today is what I did one summer vacation almost 30 summers ago. The airbrush of a now 130 year old human hip bone from a Smithsonian collection, was done as part of an amazing 2-week scientific illustration workshop in Philadelphia at the the University of the Arts Philadelphia. It was sponsored by GNSI and we took inspirational illustration classes with some of the best scientific illustrators working at that time, many from the Smithsonian. I have also included a brochure created by one of the artists I met then and there, not to show something amazing that I had created (out of at least 100 or so possible pieces), but to show some of the other art that my fellow scientific illustrators produced. If I think back on that time, there were a couple illustrators working with various software programs to produce such art. I think we all had an inkling of future computer programs that would take over what we were doing by hand. But we kept protesting that real scientific illustration (e.g. ink wash, silver point, carbon dust/pastel dust, scratchboard, pen and ink etc) could only be done by hand. Nothing like having that kind of monastic attitude of “wearing a hair” shirt for bonding some geeky artists. I posted some pen and inks I later did at the CA Academy of Sciences (October 7, 2017, May 19, 2018) that I am sure could today be generated with the aid of a couple drawing programs. 

I suspect the domain of airbrush then as now is part of car detailing. But today, it seems that some use an airbrush to apply make up, or to spray on a tan. Sounds like a bigger event than I would like to engage in because whatever you are spraying there is still a problem of getting the pigment to the right consistency to go through the fine sprayer. If it’s too watery, it will be drippy and run. If it’s too thick or lumpy, the nozzle will clog. Oh yes, it doesn’t matter what kind of pigment you are spraying as it is drying out as you work. Not to mention you really need to have a cursory knowledge of how a compressor works. There is probably one advantage to an airbrush spray tan and make up as you are probably only mixing one color. But if you have cut a bunch of friskets for car detailing or art of tiny swimming fish, you will need countless color changes as you go. And oh yeah, do you know about friskets? That’s the sticky film that needs to be applied to the surface you are painting on to mask the spots you don’t want covered in paint. For the hip bone, I had to cut and apply a frisket to the crescent board to mark the clean edge around it, as well as the opening below the socket for the femur and above the ischium. When exploring this technique with a gifted illustrator at the workshop, she told us that when she had a big job to finish, she actually hired someone to help her cut the friskets. She also reminded us to be sure to wear some kind of protective mask over your face, as you don’t want to breathe in any of the airborne particles that are actually the magic of airbrush. And some people actually spray airborne pigment towards his or her nose and/or eyes? I wasn’t a complete novice for this technique as I had learned to use it the summer before at the CA Academy of Sciences. At the time I was a volunteer plant fabricator for an exhibit that was called Life Through Time. We were hand painting gingko leaves and using the airbrush to spray redwood branches that had turned brown when preserved and needed “life-like” green needles. We did those branches outside and that helped greatly with the ventilation you should have with such a medium.

So, what else do I plan to do this summer? Glad you asked. I haven’t had many opportunities to do any volunteering recently, so I hope to work in the garden at Heritage Square Museum. I also hope to do some sketching out there as well. 

As I have already written I hope to try my hand at making some YouTube presentations based on my One CA Girl theme of presenting a piece of my art and responding to it. As always I plan to talk about the materials and technique used for each piece, and when and where the CA image came from—northern CA through the central Coast and then on down to SoCal. The third part of my blog has also included stories of my CA family. Not really sure how that would translate to a moving picture of me creating art and talking about it. Not really sure how interesting that would be to anyone unless you knew me or my family. So, I think I will focus on the art and the places in CA I have seen, past and present, in and out of different mediums, techniques and inspirations.

But the vacation has only begun and I am just trying to keep up with what I have been doing for over two years now. Oh, and I am assiduously working on the sleeping in and reading part. Not sure why I started with Catch 22…

Henry, so glad I saw you graduate from UCSC on Friday, 6/14. I love you!

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