Monday, December 15, 2014


From an old ad about one of my favorite activities:

(Oh, yeah…I'm definitely a grown-up person in the visual arts!)

ColumbiaIn the beginning…a small bell chimed

Creativity! It chimes like a small clear bell at the heart of the human spirit.
Remember the first time you spoke to the world from a piece of shirt cardboard?
Chances are we made some of that board for you...
Now that the quality of your message has changed, however, you really should know more about some of our professional products.

…for all kinds of grown-up people in the visual arts.

Columbia 1776 Illustration Board

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Tumbleweed Society: review

Allison Pugh, The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity on Amazon

Tumbleweed Society book coverNeedless to say, the plant-people tumbleweed analogy won't parallel perfectly, but it's a colorfully useful image. Living in the southwest, I've seen lots of tumbleweeds, but still needed to learn a little about them. Via wikipedia, here are a few facts:

"A tumbleweed is a structural part of the above-ground anatomy of any of a number of species of plants, a diaspore that, once it is mature and dry, detaches from its root or stem, and tumbles away in the wind. ... Tumbleweed species occur most commonly in steppe and arid ecologies, where frequent wind and the open environment permit rolling without prohibitive obstruction ... Many tumbleweeds are ruderal species, opportunistic agricultural weeds."

Sociology sometimes is a quantifiable soft-scientific discipline that studies, analyzes, charts, and plots. At other times sociologists report in a more essayistic manner, using prose to describe their findings, as Allison Pugh does in The Tumbleweed Society. Our lives are about story, our lives becomes stories, and sometimes a narrative approach like this book uses lines out the truth a lot more clearly than charts, graphs, stats, and percentages do. Given the true employment insecurities many of us already have experienced, and every single one of us knows is out there, no wonder I found this book so interesting! Allison Pugh's writing flows well, without any annoying mannerisms, though I need to comment on what feels like her frequent use of "eschew" and its variants. Who on earth says "eschew"?

Pugh's and her colleagues' one-on-one interviews of and observations about eighty individuals demonstrate that these days job retention and change is mostly related to socioeconomic class, rather than being as ethnicity- or gender-driven as job and career opps were in times past. So we find high employment mobility and high residential relocation rates amongst those with high-end, elite level skills who tend to be sought out, sought after, and routinely draw high income levels. We also find high employment mobility and high residential relocation rates amongst those with approximately high school level schooling and skills.

But The Tumbleweed Society experiences not only "Working," but also "Caring in an Age of Insecurity," as the subtitle describes. Briefly, it seems as if a lot of people are okay with companies they work for having only nominal commitment to their workers' lives while the workers do their best by the company. On the other hand, we find truly dramatic, impressive instances of individuals maintaining "no matter what" commitments to family (parents, offspring, sibling) and significant others.

At any rate, I'd love to read a similar report about a similar population cohort about ten years from now. I also wonder where I'll be working, where you'll be working, if housing and employment will have settled down and stabilized? Or not?

my Amazon review: a book almost everyone can relate to

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Santa Fe Style: review

Santa Fe Style by Christine Mather and Sharon Woods, © 1993 on Amazon

Santa Fe Style cover
Solid, handsome, chunky and hard-bound, in pictures and in words Santa Fe Style details New Mexico's capital city's history, legacy, and currents. Including both full-colour and B&W photographs makes a nice visual mix—as well as keeping production costs down to make a more affordable book. Sources at the end include Lifestyle, Wearable Art, Resources, native Materials, "Santa Fe Elsewhere," ("elsewhere" meaning in different states of the USA), and an index. It's ©1993, and very recently I got my close to perfect copy for a fairly good price at the library book sale, so look around if this interests you!

my amazon review: beauty-filled collection

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

review: If you're not from the prairie...

If you're not from the prairie... by David Bouchard (author) and Henry Ripplinger (illustrator) on Amazon

if you're not from the prairie cover

I'm not from the prairie, but...

...I love and understand this book. If you're not from the prairie you don't know, you truly cannot know the particular feel of those winds that constantly course through the fields, the special warmth of the way the sun penetrates your entire being. So is being from the prairie so exclusive winds only blow on the prairie, sun shines only on prairie fields and prairie folks? Not at all! In a similar sense, I could claim if you're not from the coast of southern California (or if you haven't lived there long enough to catch its spirit), you can't know how the sun specially graces those beaches, how the ocean waves energize your imagination. If you're not from the southwestern desert, you may have seen southwest sunsets photographs, but without basking in their glow, you don't have actual knowledge of them. Maybe you've lived in a certain large city in a certain section of the world? After a while you'll know the spirit and the sense of that city, but you don't know, you cannot really know the sensibilities of another city of similar size the inhabits a different longitude, latitude, its geography and topography. Most likely you've experienced not only different quality of light during different seasons and differing times of day, but the sun does shine differently in different parts of the world, on different landscapes and cityscapes. In other words, one place is not every place.

Author David Bouchard and illustrator Henry Ripplinger both are native to the Canadian heartland, and capture the prairies with gorgeous full-colour, slightly retro illustrations. The book's layout is wide and open, with stair-stepped text and an image vignette on the left side, a large illustration on each right-hand page. At different prices for different sizes, you can buy limited edition prints of the pictures, as well as a "Frameable Art Card" on Hentry Ripplinger's site. You also can discover the title of each painting as well as closely related paintings―maybe that didn't make it into the book this time?

my amazon review: I'm not from the prairie but...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thomas Menino: Mayor for a New America

Mayor for New America: Thomas Menino by Thomas M Menino with Jack Beatty

Menino Disclaimer: I'm reviewing the incomplete Advance Reader Copy from Amazon Vine, so some of my remarks may not apply to the finished edition.

Multi-term Boston Mayor Thomas M Menino brings us a memorable account of his five terms in an introduction and only five chapters―but admittedly they're five long ones. The intro quickly moves us through the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath that created many days of national news during April 2013. As I read the intro about the Boston bombing, I felt I was there at the scene while I also clearly remembered sitting in front of my television in southern California for the next piece of news; it helped that I'd lived in Watertown and had a clue as to the lay of the land where police found the bombing suspect holed up in a boat moored in a backyard.

Chapters include: (1) Menino's early days in Boston's Hide Pahk naybahhood and how human connections, interactive politics, excellent people skills, and hard work took him to City Hall, first as acting mayor, and then as elected mayor; (2) Schools; (3) Police and Fire; (4) Getting Stuff Done; a concluding (5) "To Think I Did All That," expressing his amazement that he accomplished so much.

In contrast to most other major US cities, Boston proper covers only about 48 square miles. Nonetheless, as Menino describes and as I experienced, in historical and present-day influence, and in scope of problems such as crime, corruption, poverty, racism, educational underachievement, and wealth, Boston is very major big city. I lived in Boston more than once, so Menino's description of mostly Irish educational, police, and fire with their cronyism, deal-makings, and corruption took me back in time. Tom Menino was the first Italian-American mayor of Boston―he was the first mayor whose heritage was not Irish-American.

Some reviewers have mentioned the book emphasizes Menino's successes, and it does. Hey, he's a politician and this is in print, so of course he wants to memorialize himself well, yet he doesn't entirely omit a few endeavors that didn't bear healthy fruit. I know Grove Hall, Jeremiah E Burke High School, Roslindale Square, Roxbury... I also experienced changing Boston demographics. At one time my landlord was a second generation Italian-American; some years later, I rented from a fairly recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic.

The chapters are long yet engaging, and I was disappointed when I reached the end―is that all there is? I wanted more! My copy lacked the index I know I'd have enjoyed reading through because I'd have known most of the names and places.

Mayor for a New America leads us to ask questions about the role of government in different settings; in any case and place, how much government is too much? How much is not enough? Does a poorer or a literally poverty-stricken constituency legitimately need more services and more direct governing? How much can we expect under-educated and historically underserved populations to do for themselves? The work, the mystery, and sometimes the magic of politics helps create better lives. Thomas Menino accomplished that, and he laid a solid foundation for his successors to continue his legacy.

my amazon review: vivid memories, future hopes

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Train: The Definitive Visual History

Train: The Definitive Visual History

Train book cover What a fabulous surprise! Even better, brighter, bolder, bigger (yes, I noticed the dimensions in the product listing) than I'd anticipated, Smithsonian Train: The Definitive Visual History is visually delightful, informative, and inspiring.

From the embossed cover portrait of Southern Railway Locomotive 1401, to the detailed table of contents that lets you choose what to read about and learn about next, to the sumptuous feast of full colour photographs throughout, this has got to be one of the best books ever about any topic!

Although there's an extremely high ratio of images to text, histories and descriptions don't ramble, but tell you what you want to know. I especially love the final feature, How Railroads Work, Engines and Tracks (Signals, Wheels, Locomotives, etc.).

Like many people, I have some history with riding the rails: a couple of fairly long trips in the continental USA as a young kid, later as a teenager, then as a young adult; a few dozen or more Budd SPV-2000 - "Buddlliner" - jaunts to and from Boston and the North Shore of Boston; the almost impossibly efficient, on time EuroRail; and more recently the AmTrak. I remember returning to Salt Lake City from Southern Idaho Sunday evenings with a long freight train riding alongside the highway on our right and to the west; I can't count the times I waited at a RR crossing when I lived in Utah; who hasn't experienced with their entire being a train whistle piercing the night sky in small town rural, big city urban USA? My grandfather had planned to finish high school and then college, but got a job with the railway, at that time considered the future of the country, and never gave school another thought.

Another reviewed has outlined book content, so no need for a duplicate listing. Train is heavy to hold (both a lap book and a coffee table one), and very well bound. If you can describe a book as "Heirloom Quality," this one is for sure.

bright! bold! a treasure!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

all saints tree

All Saints Patio Tree in Spring Flower
All Saints Tree 02 All Saints Tree 01
All Saints Tree 09 All Saints Tree 06
Click on each image to open full-size in a new browser tab or window.

drawing and reinventing landscape

Drawing and Reinventing Landscape, AD Primer on Amazon

drawing and reinventing landscape cover It's wonderful having a multitude of full-colour illustrations of mostly non-computerized graphic landscape representations of many types – photographs, pencil drawings, ink and watercolour renderings, charts – in this book; details regarding history and current status of landscape architecture and garden design are interesting and illuminating, as well.

I chose Drawing and Reinventing Landscape because of my lifelong interest in cities and in the process of urbanization, and because of my current work as a graphic artist and designer. Author Diana Balmori has worked in the field of landscape architecture most of her life, and since she has achieved a well-deserved degree of renown; her expertise and perspective makes this book especially insightful and valuable.

However, I've removed a star because the text is too tiny for comfort, and its size adds an unattractive sense of miniaturization to the book. In natural light or with reading glasses I can read it easily enough, but a little less information – or the same information expressed more succinctly – would greatly increase the visual appeal. I assume all books in this AD Primer series carry the same general format, but related to my remarks about point size of text, if the publishers were not going to produce this book or the series in a larger format (not necessarily coffee-table size), I'd recommend increasing the font size. But happily, there's still enough literal "white space" on each page for create an altogether pleasing presentation.

My Amazon review: landscape representation and history

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The City as a Tangled Bank

The City As A Tangled Bank: Urban Design versus Urban Evolution – AD primer (Architectural Design Primer)

city as a tangled bank cover The City as a Tangled Bank has taken a permanent place in my growing cities-related library! Terry Farrell, principal of Farrells architect- planners (London, Hong Kong, and Shanghai) brings perspective and wisdom of the kind only a long life of experience and observation can provide! The subtitle implies somewhat of a contest between planning imposed from "outside and above," and growth that occurs from "inside and below" urban space and place, but that expresses it too simply. Along with intro and conclusion, throughout the nine chapters, we learn about the truly endless organic process of letting the city (any city―ancient, young, or in-between) itself show and guide you into what needs to happen for its health and growth―similar to Kevin Lynch's legible city: a city you can read.

Tangled Bank in the title, Evolution in the subtitle both refer to Darwin's Origin of Species. Sir Terry celebrates connecting, communicating, time, layering, adaptation, emergence, and conversion in any urban growth and development process. The author is no fan of Big Architecture, not enthusiastic about Mies, Corbu, et al. After all, that's the type of inorganic, imposed-from without style he decries and dislikes, because it does not spring up from within the urban organism, and is a product of human initiative rather than of the city itself as place-maker―at one point he describes "place as client." If the results are visually attractive, why is that so terrible? Because it does not result in a humanly livable habitat or surroundings.

The bibliography truly is brief, listing five books in the Emergence and Evolution category, a dozen in Urban Design and Architecture, although each chapter includes detailed endnotes. With some in black and white, others full-colour, the many many drawings, photographs, sketches, and maps (with a heavy emphasis on London) enhance the book's clarity and usefulness, helping make it a visual delight. However, I wish the basic text had been printed in a larger type size, and that goes double or triple for the microscopic end notes. Also, physical weight and dimensions make it a nice size to heft. This is not a school textbook or a how-to handbook, so please don't assess it in those terms!

my amazon review: helping cities become themselves