Category Archives: Crafts

Voyager – The Interstellar Mission

39 years ago today, Voyager 1 took flight on its Grand Tour. It has gone farther than any other man-made object in history and won’t stop until it reaches the stars long after we and all that’s important to us are dust. Idealism wasn’t for chumps back then. Or maybe it was. JPL and NASA post the mission data from all these interplanetary missions and it is all free.

Filmmaker Santiago Menghini brings an artist’s perspective to the journey in his short film, “Voyagers.”


Adriaen and Hadrian: Lost Wax bronzes

I had the great fortune of looking out my grad school office window into a sculpture garden of Rodin bronzes.    The lost wax process used to make these marvels keeps eluding me.  Every time I think about it, I forget steps and/or get them mixed up.   These two videos from the Israel Museum and The Getty go a long way to shoring up a sagging memory.

The Juggling Man by Adriaen de Vries:

Hadrian: An Emperor Cast in Bronze

(Found via Khan Academy and Hyperallergic)

Back to the garden: So, did we chemists appreciate what we had in front of our eyes? Yes, quite a bit. The program was stressful and we’d wonder darkly whether we were on the wrong side of the Gates of Hell while having lunch in front of it. The fate of an adjacent parking lot stirred a lot of debate between a supportive faction of chemistry faculty, staff, and students and the late Prof. Albert Elsen of the Art History Department, eminent Rodin scholar, and advisor to the Cantor Foundation that donated the works. The Loma Prieta earthquake intervened and gave us all other things to worry about. The statues don’t look any worse for wear decades later despite fears that they’d dissolve into nothing. Careful stewardship and loving cleaning, enabled by a little chemistry, have served them well.

“Stuff Happened Anyway”: Paula Scher on design

Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica subtly did more than examine the ubiquitous font. Most of us would like to be designers in the same way we’d like to be athletes or musicians and we’re interested in those who do it well. Hustwit tapped into that need and let several prominent figures from that world have free rein to discuss what they see and how they see it. Elegant Paula Scher and twitchy Erik Spiekermann come off well, others sound like prats best avoided.

Scher has looked at information design and presentation with the artist’s eye, quite different from, say, an Edward Tufte. Her perspective, driven by artistic and marketing concerns, are at once intriguing and disturbing. She stretches and distorts to make larger points such as claiming that Helvetica was the font of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. It’s not a literal accusation, only that it is the kind of calming gloss that corporations and governments use to disguise their little murders. But, she also cops to fabricating the data she’s (re)presenting to make her point. I admire a lot of her work; it is bold, brash, and political. I don’t know whether I would enjoy living, working, or studying in something so shouty. Nevertheless, I’ve got my autosearches configured to let me know if she’s ever speaking within a couple of hours of LA.

Several of her other lectures are on the web and worth a look. Scher sounds like the canonical good seatmate on a long flight. I doubt she travels coach, though.

Hustwit’s films Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. are available for affordable digital download from his website, $5.99/ea.

ARTIST SERIES: Paula Scher from Hillman Curtis on Vimeo.

The craft so long to learn – Paul Sellers on woodworking

The online resources for wannabe woodworkers are so good and so vast, it is possible to get lost in them and never actually cut any wood. On one side there is the Vulcan brilliance of Matthias Wandel whose ingenious machines make even more ingenious products. On the other, there is Paul Sellers, an Englishman whose patient explanations of hand tools and their uses are no less mesmerizing.

Sellers’s videos are unusually long and detailed with some projects spanning multiple videos. The videos are in turn an extension of a school he runs in the Merrie Olde after having lived, worked, and taught in the U.S. for many years. He takes little for granted, shows the intermediate steps, tweaks tool and wood to bring out subtle knowledge and pitfalls, and works through the inevitable glitches as and when they happen. No strategic edits for him. With fifty years in the craft, he knows how to keep things moving. As many commenters have noted, he is to woodworking as Bob Ross was to painting – no mistakes, only happy accidents, and a voice that lowers blood pressure better than medication.

Some playlists from the master:

Matthias Wandel – Beyond woodworking

The Internet has been kind to the woodworking craft. The Wood Whisperer and other sites offer excellent instruction and active communities of the like-minded.

The site is ostensibly about working with wood. There are a range of projects for those looking for something to make with tutorials and plans also available. But, much more than that, it is a glimpse into the incredibly sharp mind of Matthias Wandel the site’s sole contributor.

Looking through his many excellent videos, we see that Wandel has been working with machinery since his youth. He has an uncanny ability to assimilate information and become “at one” with it. In parallel, he comes up with nice problems that he wants to solve often for no obvious purpose than they interest him. He then puts the two together, creates tools as he needs them, films his inventions, and makes smartly edited videos available. Many sites claim to update on a schedule, Wandel delivers all of this weekly. The obvious question is how does such a young man have such time available? The best guess is that he applied these innate abilities early in life, got himself well set up, and now does what he likes.

Here are some links to get started on this addictive site and its associated Youtube channel. These are random selections. There isn’t a weak offering in the bunch.

Youtube Channel: