Find Time for Creativity With Art Before Breakfast and Other Books

Image: Chronicle Books

Image: Chronicle Books

It pains me to draw, to sketch, to doodle. I’m not one of those people who ever passed the time doodling while in class or in a meeting. If I’m drawing anything, it takes all of my creative energy and attention, so I’m definitely not paying attention to anything else. I’ve always been envious of those who draw with ease, and those who actually enjoy it. Part of my non-enjoyment of drawing is a self-fulfilling prophecy, though. The more I draw, the better at it I am. And I’m reminded to keep at it, to not give up or continue to resign myself to be bad at drawing, by books such as Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are.

GeekMom Lissa recently included this book in her impromptu-and-useful-and-inspiring tweet series, which she turned into a Storify story and a blog post. She recently finished filling her first sketchbook. I’d like to emulate her efforts myself, and have been encouraged to begin.

But how?

1. Get a sketchbook. Check. I have one. I’ve drawn a few things in it. But there are only about eight pages full, mostly with things for other purposes. But, I have it.

From Art Before Breakfast. Image: Chronicle Books

From Art Before Breakfast. Image: Chronicle Books.

2. Begin working my way through Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory. Full of exercises but not a step-by-step guide, it gives you examples of places to find opportunities to make art. The airport. While you’re eating walnuts. While looking at pencils. Using Post-Its. Of course, it helps to have your materials with you all the time, to take advantage of the little moments. But it’s also full of advice for how and why to include art in your life, which will add more beauty and richness to what you already have. Art helps you notice the small things. It helps you appreciate what you have and forces you to slow down your pace of life, even for just a few minutes. Consider it a form of meditation, if you will. Also full of humor, the book is a joy to read while you learn. And it’s dedicated to someone named Jenny. Not me, but I have yet to meet anyone named Jenny who I didn’t like.

From Art Before Breakfast. Image: Chronicle Books

From Art Before Breakfast. Image: Chronicle Books.

3. Utilize my other art-inspiring books, such as How to Draw a Radish and How to Draw a Cup of Coffee. These books I obtained a couple of decades ago in the hopes that I’d start doodling. Yeah, it didn’t work. But never stop trying!

4. Keep finding sources of inspiration, such as my children’s drawings, books like 20 Ways to Draw a Tree and 44 Other Nifty Things from Nature: A Sketchbook for Artists, Designers, and Doodlers, and other books in the series. I’ve been wanting to try this book out for a while. I’m horrid at drawing people, for example, but I can do flowers, trees, and birds more passably. Begin with my strengths!

5. Finally, don’t expect perfection out of myself. If I can just improve the resemblance of what I draw to what I am trying to draw, I will have succeeded.

I am successfully creative in many other ways, but enjoying drawing, and doing well at it, have always eluded me. But I won’t give up. And neither should you.

Note: I received Art Before Breakfast for review purposes.

Shaping A Life In The Sculptor


Image By First Second Books

When I introduce graphic novels to those new to the format, I advise them to read through once to get the story, and then look at it again, lingering on the images to catch nuances. Often, those used to novels-sans-graphics miss the extra dimensions to story and characters that the art provides.

This is especially true with The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I read many comics and graphic novels, both for GeekMom and for fun, and I appreciate when an artist puts in the time and effort to detail, especially the background. He literally draws you into the New York City of the main character, David Smith: a close-up swipe of a metro card or a birds-eye view of towering skyscrapers in the rain. What word-based novels provide with beautiful phrases to set the tone, McCloud gives in his expressive panels; each series cinematically moving from shot to shot, creating a consistent pace. The fact that The Sculptor is 490 pages makes that attention to detail extraordinary.

So the art is good, but what about the story?

The novel has an intro that only makes sense when you finish the whole thing, so let’s start with the first chapter. Meet David Smith, a young artist in a diner, talking to his Uncle Harry about his lousy life at the moment: his absolute positions on artistic integrity have cost him his career and social life. He’s happy to see his uncle whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. Nothing too exciting until David realizes he hasn’t seen his uncle in awhile because… he’s dead.

Uncle Harry reveals that although, yes, he lived the life of Uncle Harry, he is in fact Death. Yup, Death personified comes to this down-and-out sculptor to offer him a deal: David will be able to sculpt anything with his hands, but will only live another 200 days in return. It sounds like a dream for someone who has put art before everything, but having a superpower doesn’t solve his problems. That’s something he has to figure out by experiencing life, even if he only has 200 days left of it.

David is an unlucky person who has lost his mother, father, and sister to unrelated deaths in the last several years. His art is the only thing he has left, but even with the ability Death gives him, David has to find focus and meaning to make a name for himself in the world. Along the way he falls in love, but all people are complicated, and love doesn’t come easy.

Even if you are a regular reader of graphic novels I recommend lingering over the pages of The Sculptor. There is much to take in, and it’s worth it.

The Sculptor comes out February 3rd, for around $23. I recommend this book for upper YA and adults (sex and profanity).

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

Pirate vs. Ninja Christmas


Image By Rebecca Angel

In my house, there is a year-long… shall we say, “disagreement” between my son and I. He is a ninja fan, and I am most certainly pro-pirate. Both of us share a love of Christmas, so naturally our inclinations come into our decorating and festivities. Or maybe not “naturally”–but mashing two unrelated things together does make us giggle.

Now obviously pirates would be more fun at Christmas time than ninjas. Carousing! Singing! Hot Buttered Rum!

Pirate Christmas – by Captain Dan & the Scurvy Crew

But Santa is most certainly a ninja as “Ask A Ninja” explains. Probably one of the best lines about Santa’s suit I have ever heard: “The red comes from the blood of children who have woken up in the middle of the night…”

What about decorations and gifts? This pirate stocking really puts me in the spirit:

But then I came upon these Ninjabreadmen cookie cutters.

What about entertainment? I found a Facebook page for a ninja Christmas show, but no real details on it. Yet there is a published children’s musical called “A Pirate Christmas“. Obviously, pirates win on that one.

What do you think? Pirate Christmas? Ninja Christmas? Or, why do people try to ruin a perfectly peaceful holiday with karate and rum?

Chatting with Jen Wang, In Real Life


Image: Jen Wang, First Second Books

Last week I interviewed Cory Doctorow about the new graphic novel IRL (In Real Life). This week, I’m catching up with his artist co-creator, Jen Wang, to see what she had to say about this project. Please help me welcome her to GeekMom!

GeekMom: So Cory Doctorow said you did all the heavy lifting on this project. Would you say that’s true?


Image: First Second Books

Jen Wang: The way this project worked was I was given free rein to adapt the script however I wanted so as to offer my own vision to the story. After that Cory would go over and offer ideas of his own and help guide the script into something that matched us both. We went back and forth like this for a couple drafts before settling with what we have. So yes, I made most of the changes in the story from the original to the graphic novel version, but it was a melding of both our sensibilities. And of course I did all artwork!

GM: Could you tell us a little about the artwork in IRL? What inspired the images in your mind? Was there something you felt was important to capture in the images?

JW: The most obvious decision in the design was the contrasting color palettes between the real world and the online world of Coarsegold. This is all from Anda’s perspective so it makes sense that her real life is uninteresting and the online world is colorful and exciting. I ended up using a “brown” filter over the real life images to reflect a serious (but not depressing) reality, while I used a multicolored filter to heighten the colors in Coarsegold. Other than that, I was given free rein to illustrate the book however I liked so I just had fun making up a coloring landscape that I felt would be appealing to someone like Anda.

GM: What is the process like, making a graphic novel, and perhaps, working on IRL in particular?

JW: I start with a script, which in IRL’s case involved both Cory and I. My scripts are roughly four pages of comic to one page of script so from there I have a rough idea how long the book is going to be. From there I do really rough thumbnails one chapter at a time. I like the thumbnails to be as rough as possible, enough to give me an idea of where to go, but leaving it open to experiment during the actual drawing process. The next phase is the pencil drawing, and after that the inking, scanning, and coloring.

GM: I lived in Flagstaff for a few years, and I noticed the couple frames where you have some background imagery, like the outside of the school, for instance and the landscape behind it, are just spot on. They really capture just the right things about the atmosphere of Flagstaff. Have you ever been there? Or were you able to catch that just from pictures and ideas?

JW: I have been there! I was actually on a trip to the Grand Canyon when I first stayed in Flagstaff. I thought it was the perfect place for Anda to live. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, and you’re next to one of the great natural wonders of the world. And yet I could see how all this would be lost on a teenager. The town is small and there’s not a whole lot to do. Someone like Anda would easily be compelled to spend a lot of time online in a fantasy world.

GM: I loved the expressions on the characters faces throughout the book. I think you’ve captured so much of the dynamic teen personality in this book. How do you think you managed to do that?

JW: Expressions are a thing I love to draw, so it’s fun for me to indulge in. It’s like a form of acting except it comes out through a drawing instead of your body. I don’t like being the center of attention so I feel like having the emotions one step removed and projected onto a character is one way I can conjure these feelings vicariously without having the focus be on me. Who knows, maybe in alternate universe I would be an actor!

GM: This is your second book. Has anything changed for you in the way you approached the work between your first and second books?

JW: I definitely started writing full scripts after my first book Koko Be Good. With Koko, I scripted a chapter and drew it chronologically one at a time. Meaning I didn’t get to the ending until I got to the ending. I used to be more into stream of conscious writing and allowing myself to feel the surprises as they come. Now I much prefer being able to edit and improve on things and look at the piece as a whole.

GM: What was your favorite part about working on IRL?

JW: Finishing it! But no, kidding aside, the writing process for this project was hard but it taught me a lot. I’d never worked with another writer before and I’d never rewritten so much before, but I’m a much more confident writer now than I was at the beginning of it.

GM: We know that Cory Doctorow is a very active… well, activist. Would you classify yourself as such? What things are important to you?

JW: I wouldn’t say I’m as active as Cory, but I definitely feel very strongly about issues particularly with women, queer identity, and race. Sometimes I feel a little unsure how to approach activism because I know there’s an inherent privilege to being able to do that. It’s presumptuous to be in a position of education and outreach and tell people how to think even if I believe it is right. On the other hand, I’m in the unique position of writing literature for young adults and I definitely care a lot about what I represent as a creator and as a person. I hope at the very least as a woman and person of color my voice adds something of value to the young adult and comics readership.

GM: How do you think gaming can affect a teen’s life?

JW: Games are very time consuming and immersive. It can affect a lot! I don’t say that in an alarmist way because a lot of good things can come out of it too like friendships built, identities born, and creativities sparked. Like I think it’s so great kids are playing Minecraft and building their own worlds. On the other hand I wish there was more diversity in games and more variety in the types of games being made. That’s changing every day though as game-making becomes more accessible and I feel very optimistic.

GM: Do you game? If so, what do you play?

JW: Not a whole lot. I have a bunch of games on my phone and once a while I’ll play something off Steam everyone’s been recommending. Games are like comics in that the mainstream hasn’t appealed much to my demographic, but as the making and self-publishing becomes more accessible to creators I’m seeing more and more stuff that appeals to me. Gone Home, Analogue: A Hate Story, and Dear Esther are fantastic story-based indie games. I also like a lot of text-based games likes the ones made for Twine like Howling Dogs and Horse Master.

GM: Do you have any advice for a younger person trying to break into art or gaming?

JW: I can’t speak for gaming, but for art I’d say the best thing to do is just start drawing. Start drawing and have a lot of fun. It can be intimidating comparing yourself to others and what being an artist means for your future, but the best way to be an artist is to really love what you’re doing. Have fun and meet other artists online and at conventions. They will motivate, inspire you, and make you feel less alone as you toil away at your drawing desk.

GM:  Any thoughts for younger people who might be interested in helping others like Anda does?

JW: Get to know all different types of people! Listen to their stories and let their experiences inform you how to help them. Maybe some people don’t want your help, but they appreciate your support. Also, if you don’t see enough outlets for an issue you care about, feel free to make your own. Start a blog or a project that helps raise awareness like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not only can it be fun, but it might inspire new people to your cause.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Jen Wang! And for the rest of you, please check out IRL, available now wherever books are sold!

jen wang

Image: Jen Wang

Jen Wang is a cartoonist and illustrator currently living in Los Angeles. Her works have appeared in the Adventure Time comics and LA Magazine. She recently illustrated Tom Angleberger’s Fake Mustache. Her graphic novel Koko Be Good was published by First Second. In Real Life is her second book. 

Gotta Draw ‘Em All! Hands On With Pokémon Art Academy

© Nintendo

All images © Nintendo

Aspiring artists of all ages will love getting their hands on Pokémon Art Academy, out on October 24 for the Nintendo 3DS/2DS. If you have a Pokémon fan in the house, picking up this game is a no-brainer. Pokémon Art Academy walks players through step-by-step lessons, from novice to expert, to teach them how to draw some of their favorite pocket monsters.

The lessons, led by Professor Andy, introduce new drawing tools and art concepts for each level of expertise. You’ll learn about concepts like symmetry, perspective, and construction shapes, all while using the stylus to trace (and eventually draw freehand) some of Pokémon’s biggest stars.

Kids as young as preschool and kindergarten can even grab the stylus and play. You’ll need to do a lot of reading out loud to walk them through the lessons, but that can make for some entertaining family game time together. It’s also a perfect opportunity to work on fine motor skills like tracing and holding the stylus the correct way. (We are still working on that in my house.) While they will probably only be able to complete the Novice Course exercises, there are plenty of Pokémon for them to draw in the extra lessons and free draw.

Art by my five-year-old.

Art by my five-year-old.

My five-year-old is a big fan of the game. In fact, she wanted to tell you all about Pokémon Art Academy herself! Here she is demonstrating one of the novice lessons: drawing Oshawott.

Pokémon Art Academy is part game, part art lesson, and an altogether fun way to spend a fall afternoon. I even go through a lesson now and then when I’m looking for some quiet time for myself. It’s a great addition to your DS library, one of those rare games that you can pick it up for five minutes and still feel like you’ve accomplished something.

Pokémon Art Academy is available on October 24 for a suggested retail price of $29.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

Coming to Terms With The Aesthetic Brain

The Aesthetic Brain by Anjan Chatterjee. Photo credit: Oxford University Press.

The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art by Anjan Chatterjee. Photo credit: Oxford University Press.

The first time that I tried to read Anjan Chatterjee’s book The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, I made it about halfway through before angrily putting it aside—which surprised me. Chatterjee, the Chair of the Department of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital and also a professor of Neurology at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has published extensively on topics like neuro-ethics and neuro-aesthetics. He seems thoroughly vetted and respectable. So, why the vitriol?

The Aesthetic Brain examines monolithic concepts—beauty, pleasure, and art—all through a lens of evolutionary psychology, a theory that ascribes much of human behavior not to personal choice but instead to the choices of our ancestors. Because certain choices lead to a greater chance of survival, they became adaptive, became the preferences and behaviors that were then encoded into successive generations.

In this perspective, feminine beauty and desirability are shackled to fertility. Symmetrical features imply health, which can be passed onto babies, giving them a better chance at surviving into adulthood. An ample bosom and a 0.7 hip-to-waist ratio are also shorthand for physical health, as is youth. By this logic, it is not fat- or age-shaming when women are judged as less-than rather than beautiful when they fall outside of these proscribed criteria. It is simply evolutionary wisdom applying meager odds to their ability to successfully gestate, deliver, and raise a child.

Fortunately, there are also evolutionary limits to how far these preferences can be taken. On the topic of youth, for instance, research actually claims a caveat: While men across cultures prefer women with “some baby-like features,” they also look for high cheekbones and narrow jaws in their partners, because, while youth equates with health, too much youth could indicate that a mother lacks the necessary maturity to adequately care for a child. Hold this conceit to your ear and you can almost hear the gentle murmur of Cercei Lannister asking Sansa Stark if she has flowered yet with her first moonblood

Women get to do a little judging of their own, of course: Pear-shaped bodies seem to be a no thank you for both genders. In an ideal world, all male chins and jaws would be chiseled, all brows commanding—all a result of optimal testosterone levels. That being said, men also seem to get off a little easier in the appearance department. First of all, too much testosterone actually lowers overall health and ability to fight infection. Second, the hyper-masculine features resulting from high testosterone levels are equated with aggression, an undesirable trait in a co-parenting life-mate, though apparently highly desirable in a recreational-sex partner.

“The story of what heterosexual women find attractive in men is complicated,” Chatterjee says. “Across culture after culture, women rank physical attractiveness less highly than men do. Status, power, wealth, the ability to protect and provide are all more important to women than men.”

To validate this idea that appearance is more important to men while power is what women find desirable, Chatterjee references the internet search study completed by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam and reported in their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts:

“Ogas and Gaddam analyzed Internet searches to find out what men and women chose to search for on the Web. When it comes to desires in the virtual world, gender differences are strikingly clear: Men overwhelmingly search for pornography. The videos are visually graphic without much in the way of plot or emotional engagement. By contrast, women overwhelmingly search for e-Rom Web sites. These sites tell romantic stories often built around a heroic man.”

Personally, I read this and wonder: Is it that women aren’t actually interested in pornography? Or is it that women have received cultural messages telling them they shouldn’t enjoy pornography? Or that most available pornography defines female sexuality by what is actually pleasurable for men? Or as Violet Blue posits in a piece for O, The Oprah Magazine, does it come down to women’s (apparently-legitimate) concerns surrounding body image:

In my research and experience, the biggest roadblock for women (and men) to enjoying explicit imagery is the fear that they don’t “stack up” to the bodies and abilities of the people onscreen. Erotic models and actresses bring up a whole range of adequacy issues, from breast size to weight, from what you look like “down there” to the adult acne we all periodically fight.

This video contains NSFW language and a brief discussion of sexual violence. It is also quite funny.

In short, so much of what was deemed beautiful in the first third of The Aesthetic Brain reflected back on fertility, on youth, or on a particular body type that I grew progressively more concerned that Chatterjee was providing a research-shrouded rationale for the many ways our culture objectifies women and devalues the intelligence and experience that come with age—what comedian Sarah Silverman recently described when she said:

“As soon as you’re at an age where you have opinions and you’re outspoken and you know who you are, you’re very much encouraged to crawl under a rock, and be embarrassed by any wrinkle. Or by still being alive.”

And so, I put the book aside.


The second time that I picked up The Aesthetic Brain, having pushed past research I’d previously found oppressively reductive, I found that the book began to feel…more like science that I could embrace. Midway through, between discussions of food and money, there was an “Orgasm For Dummies” segment on the neuroscience of why sex feels good that detailed the neurological underpinnings of sexual pleasure:

As you can imagine, it is hard to study what happens in the brain during orgasm. From the little information we have, the ventral striatum is active in men and in women. That activity is to be expected, since so many studies link the nucleus accumbens, a major subcomponent of the ventral striatum, to pleasure. Interestingly, activity in many parts of the brain decreases during orgasm. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, the parahippocampal gyrus, and the poles of the temporal lobes decrease their  activity. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is engaged when we think  about ourselves and about our fears. The anterior cingulate is engaged when we monitor mistakes. The ends of the temporal lobes organize our knowledge of the world, and…the parahippocampus represents our external environment. What could a drop in neural activity in these areas mean? Perhaps it means that the person is in a state without fear and without thought of themselves or their future plans. They are not thinking about anything in particular and are in a state in which the very boundaries that separate them from their environment have disappeared. This pattern of deactivation could be the brain state of a purely transcendent experience enveloping a core experience of pleasure.

For me, the takeaway of this particular segment was more pragmatic than titillating, though: If all of the above is true and we are designed in our deepest neural wiring to engage in and enjoy sex, shouldn’t our attitudes toward birth control and sex education accurately reflect this, rather than relying so heavily upon shame, fear, and abstinence?

The final third of The Aesthetic Brain was full of big questions: What is art? What is it’s purpose? Can art exist outside of of its place and time or can it only be understood through context and analysis? Are we hardwired to enjoy and create art—is there an art module in the brain? An art instinct?

It is in this final section that Chatterjee introduces the concept of “drift,” the idea that the freedom to explore new forms of art and new ideas within art is a direct result of the level of social cohesion (control) exerted on the individual. During eras of oppression (high cohesion), art tends to stay within expected, narrow confines where it runs the risk of repeating upon itself, becoming stylized and exaggerated. Meanwhile, during times of revolution, the opposite holds true:

As the constraints on individual social behaviors diminish, acts that rose to be socially cohesive can drift. Art as an expression of social cohesion can change as pressure for art to do the work of social cohesion matters less. This new openness and variety in art can persist as long as countervailing forces do not weed it out.

Could this idea of drift also apply back to our understanding of human desire? In times of oppression when goods are scarce and punishment severe, almost as a safety measure, does our definition of beauty contract, hew closer to evolutionary dictates? Could the inverse also hold true? Chatterjee seems to imply, yes. This drift, then, becomes the space within evolutionary psychology where our species is allowed, when optimal circumstances exist, to experiment with the ground rules—not all of human experience is designed to be proscribed or preordained.

Ultimately, I was brought to a realization with regard to Chatterjee’s work: Just because I found much of the research in the first third of The Aesthetic Brain reductive does not mean that it lacks legitimacy. Among the challenges contemporary life has thrown at us perhaps we need to acknowledge one more. Social progress and the expanded roles women have taken on in recent generations have quite possibly outpaced our neural hard-wiring. To me, this makes a great deal more sense than the idea that we are living in a post-feminist world where sexism no longer exists or that those women who claim to be excluded in the workplace or judged more for their looks or submissiveness than for the quality of their minds are lying or exaggerating.

Disclaimer: A copy of The Aesthetic Brain was provided to me for review purposes.




The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards

Image: Laurence King Publishing

Image: Laurence King Publishing

You love artists and their artwork, but want to somehow make a game out of it? No worries. It’s already been done for you.

The Art Game: Artists’ Trump Cards is a bit like the old card game War. It has very simple instructions and you can play with any number of people. The cards are much thicker and higher quality than normal playing cards, and have a pleasing matte finish. Each of the 32 cards contains a painting of a famous or less-famous artist, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Edward Hopper, David Hockney, Cindy Sherman, or Damien Hirst. In addition, there is a brief biography, and numbers corresponding to six categories that are integral to gameplay. The categories are Influence, “Shock of the new” effect, Versatility, Top auction price (USD), Critical reception, and The “beautiful” factor. Other than the auction price, I’m not sure how the values are computed, however.

Image: Laurence King Publishing

Image: Laurence King Publishing

To play, deal the cards out equally, face down. Figure out who goes first. Players then hold their entire pile of cards face up, so they can only see one card. The first player chooses a category from their top card and reads it and its number out loud. The other players then read the value of the same item on their top cards. The player with the highest value wins all of the top cards and places them on the bottom of their pile. The winning player then gets to go next. If the top value is shared by more than one person, all the cards are placed in the middle and the same player chooses again. Whoever wins that round also wins the cards in the middle. The winner is the person with all the cards in the end.

If you think that it does sound a bit like War, I would agree with you.

Image: Laurence King Publishing

Image: Laurence King Publishing

In theory, players can learn quite a bit about each artists’ work and stats as they play, but in practice, players will likely just utilize the numbers on the cards to try to win. The game itself doesn’t teach too much about an artist’s works, but the information contained therein is a great starting off point for further study. You may learn that a Picasso painting sold for a vast sum. Research what painting it was. Or that Marcel Duchamp has a “Shock of the new” value of 99. What kind of groundbreaking work did he do?

Playing it with my family of four, we felt it was a bit too unbalanced and hard to gain control, just like War. However, the deck is smaller than a regular card deck, so the game doesn’t go on forever. We played two rounds in about a half hour.

The Art Game retails for $9.95 and is great for people who love the card game War but want it to take much less time and to be exposed to art and artists as they play.

Note: I received a copy of this game for review purposes.

Book Review: The Secret Language of Color


The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. By Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, by Joanne Eckstut and Arielle Eckstut, is a color-hoarder’s scrapbook, packaged up in a beautiful high-quality hardbound volume. Reading this book supplies you with tidbits of fascinating color knowledge to share with your friends and impress everyone at your next cocktail party or carpool’s curb occupation.

The book is a large format (10 inch by 10 inch) with diverse layouts filled with rich, brightly colored graphics and (mostly) short explanations and examples on the broad range of topics in its subtitle: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.

The first part of the book goes into the science of light waves, vision, and perception by humans and other animals; this is the most traditionally instructive and challenging material. None of it is too difficult for an educated adult or motivated teen; much of it would be fine for over-achieving youngsters to dip into. But those looking for a quick dip into distraction reading may not find the introduction to be their favorite section. For instance, there is a page that begins, “A review of high school physics may be in order…” and the next two-page spread is devoted to a well-delivered discussion and demonstrations of simultaneous contrast:

Because color is interpreted by our brains, a single color has the ability to shift and change depending on the color adjacent to it. A particular red placed beside a blue will appear quite different when it is set next to an orange. This phenomenon is known as simultaneous contrast.

After that, chapters alternate between focusing on colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, and contexts—universe, earth, plants, animals, and humans. This is the greater part of the book and its use of graphics and short articles tempts readers to dip in anywhere and learn something new and fascinating. Some page spreads have three or four brief items; some have one longer topic. I found I could usually open to any page and find something of interest to read, and usually get dragged along reading many more tidbits.

A few of my favorites:

— The grass is greener because when you look down around you, the angle allows you to see details of soil, bugs, detritus, and other mingled items and colors interrupting the green. When you look away to “the other side,” you gaze at an angle and see the uninterrupted green.

— Soft snow is blindingly white because it reflects nearly all the light that bounces off its fluffy crystals. Hard ice, like glaciers, can look blue or violet because of its rigid structure: Red and other low-energy wavelengths are captured and only the high-energy lights at the green-blue-violet end of the spectrum are reflected out to our eyes.

— In Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Judas’s robes are a different color of blue from those of Jesus. One is painted with the expensive pigment lapis lazuli, and the other with azurite, which is much cheaper. Guess whose robes is in which pigment…

Detail from The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Joann Eckstut is a color consultant and is a member of the panel of consultants that prepares the color forecast used by major industries to track color trends. Arielle Eckstut is a co-founder of girls’ brand Little MissMatched and of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to assisting authors with book publication. Both Joann and Arielle have published several books in addition to The Secret Language of Color.

I enjoy that I can pick up The Secret Language of Color and snack from various pages, reading an entry here or a whole page there—a bite of red, a soupçon of yellow, a blue amuse-bouche. If you or your child have a particular interest in the science and history of color, you could make a feast of the whole book, for both your mind and your eyes.

The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet, 240 pages, is available as a hardcover from major retailers. Published by Black Dog and Leventhal. Suggested retail price $29.95.

GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.

San Diego Comic-Con 2014 Artist Roundup

SDCC 2014: GeekMom Artist Roundup. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

SDCC 2014: GeekMom Artist Roundup. Image credit: Ariane Coffin.

Sure, the star-studded panels of San Diego Comic-Con get a lot of press, but my favorite part of SDCC is shopping the Artists’ Alley, Web Comics, and Small Press sections. The endless rows are filled with so much creativity, it is staggering and humbling. Artist after artist were present with their portfolios and prints for sale, most at very reasonable rates, all extremely different in style. You can find everything from superheroes to sexy elves, cute animals to steampunk cityscapes. I bought quite a few prints—fewer than I would have liked, more than I had room for! Because I couldn’t buy it all, I did the next best thing and compiled a list of my favorite artists I found at SDCC 2014 to share with you (in no particular order). Enjoy!

Chris Appalhans

Image credit: Chris Appelhans, used with permission.

Image credit: Chris Appelhans, used with permission.

Chris Appelhans makes such wonderful pieces that capture sweet, quiet moments. It’s never too busy or too loud; the focus is on just the right thing. I usually prefer obnoxiously colorful art, but I’m in love with the peaceful stillness of Chris’ paintings.

Kazu Kibuishi

Jellyfish Canyon. Image credit: Kazu Kibuishi

Jellyfish Canyon. Image credit: Kazu Kibuishi, used with permission.

Kazu Kibuishi is the writer and illustrator of the best-selling YA graphic novel Amulet. We had purchased the first book of the series at last year’s SDCC and returned this year to purchase the next four. The story gets dark and scary at times, but that doesn’t seem to deter our 4-year-old. We’ve read our way through three of them already since the weekend, as a read-aloud at bedtime. The art of Amulet is beautiful, dark, and epic, and Kibuishi’s other illustrations reflect that style as well.

Cari Corene

Umbrella Totoro and Secret of Kells Pangur Ban. Image credit: Cari Corene.

Umbrella Totoro and Angry Pangur Ban in a Puddle. Image credit: Cari Corene, used with permission.

Cari Corene does watercolors inspired by geek pop-culture icons such as Totoro, Pokemon, and My Little Pony. Her Etsy shop not only offers her art as prints, but also as zipper pouches, messenger bags, charms, and scarfs. Beautiful and practical!

Armand Baltazar

The Collidescape Chronicles. Image credit: Armand Baltazar, used with permission.

The Collidescape Chronicles. Image credit: Armand Baltazar, used with permission.

Armand Baltazar is a formally-trained artist who has worked at many of the major animation film studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar. As you can see from the example above, his art reflects a geeky twist on a more classical painting style. It’s detailed and exquisite.

Eunjung June Kim

Image credit: Eunjung June Kim

Image credit: Eunjung June Kim, used with permission.

Eunjung June Kim‘s art is so cute, I want it all over my walls! Out of all of her prints, I purchased the one above because I love the colors. Don’t get me wrong; the subject matter is great too, but the color palette is the reason I couldn’t put it down. Such a happy contrast!

Pascal Campion

Image credit: Pascal Campion

Image credit: Pascal Campion, used with permission.

Pascal Campion is probably the most prolific artist I’ve met. Some artists had many copies of a few pieces, Pascal had boxes and boxes full of prints and I could hardly find any repeats. In 2006, he began the habit of starting off every day drawing a “Sketch of the Day,” which now totals nearly 3,000 sketches! He is a father of three and many of his pieces are inspired by his family life. He seems to perfectly capture the greatest moments of parenthood.

Chris Ayers

Content Kitty. Image credit: Chris Ayers, used with permission.

Content Kitty. Image credit: Chris Ayers, used with permission.

Chris Ayers was a successful artist working in the film industry when he was diagnosed with leukemia. To help motivate himself through his battle against cancer, he started a sketchbook, drawing one animal per day for one year. The sketchbook resulted into a book, The Daily Zoo. The image of the Content Kitty featured here is one of my favorites. My husband and I purchased it at SDCC last year, framed it, and hung it in our daughter’s room. It still makes me smile every time I see it. I love the bright contrasting colors and, of course, the attitude! Such contentment, indeed.

Chris Uminga

TMNT. Image credit: Chris Uminga, used with permission.

TMNT. Image credit: Chris Uminga, used with permission.

Here’s another Chris, the third one on this list. I swear I didn’t pick these artists based on name alone! Chris Uminga is a recurring favorite of mine. I bought a piece from him last year and started following him on Instagram, so by the time I got to SDCC this year, I already knew what piece I wanted to buy from him… this Ninja Turtles print, of course!

Jackie Huang

Ice & Fire. Image credit: Jackie Huang, used with permission.

Ice & Fire. Image credit: Jackie Huang, used with permission.

Jackie Huang does beautiful illustrations, but even more amazing things with paper. Her originals will set you back a bit, but she has fantastic pop-up cards on for sale on Etsy. I’m flabbergasted by the details of her paper constructions. How can anyone do that? Incredible!

How about you, readers? If you have attended SDCC this year—or any other con for that matter—and found great new art and artists, please do tell!

Be the Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe


Get up close and personal with an image or subject like Georgia O’Keeffe did, and learn an entirely new way of seeing things. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe

When some people hear the name Georgia O’Keeffe, they think “western artist” or “southwest artist.”

It’s true, O’Keeffe created many of her most famous works during her time in Northern New Mexico. But her legacy is so much greater. In the art world, she’s recognized as the “Mother of American Modernism.”


American artist Georgia O’Keeffe gave art lovers an intimate look at the natural world. Images Public Domain.

She moved to New Mexico part-time in 1929, and by 1949, she had made it her permanent home. She was already making a name for herself in the New York art scene with her large-scale floral drawings of “enlarged blossoms.” These images were as if someone was viewing the flower through a magnifying lens.

In New Mexico, she painted flowers, churches, mountains, animal skulls, flowers, skies, and other aspects of the state she made her home.

In 1946, she was the first woman artist to have a one-artist retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Manhattan. She lived to be 98 and during the last decade of her life, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor awarded to American citizens) and the National Medal of Arts.

O’Keeffe loved painting the area around her famous Ghost Ranch home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. She knew how to zero in on the often-overlooked details of that world, a landscape or single object, and place it in the forefront of her art. She could make a dried-up pile of bones seem beautiful, a simple flower almost scandalously attractive, and rigid, dead environment look fluid and alive.

She said she wanted to “give that world” to others through her art.

Screen shot 2014-07-14 at 2.46.54 AM

Looking at just one part of a favorite image in a different way can be tricky. Once this is done, drawing the image (below) is the easy part. Images by Lisa Kay Tate.

“I want them to see it whether they want to or not,” she said, describing her work in her New York exhibits.

The Project: Super Natural Floral Close-Ups

O’Keeffe was a master at taking everyday objects and focusing on an aspect of it that showcased an entirely new angle.

Although she focused on natural elements, such as flowers or skulls, our project will visit fictional worlds that contain unique natural elements, such as Hogwarts, Wonderland, or Pandora. As imaginative as some of these items already are, try to use O’Keeffe’s up-close way of looking at things to see them in a new light.

First, find a photo of a “natural” object from a fictional movie or book. Or, take a picture of a toy, theme park souvenir, or park replica that might represent this object.

Next, find a small section of this image and “close in on it” by drawing a circle or square around it. If you’re using images from a computer, you can crop and print out the cropped version.

Finally, draw or paint  just the isolated area. O’Keeffe used oils, but they can be messy for beginning artists. Try crayons, colored pencils, markers, pastels, or other mediums as well.

Screen shot 2014-07-14 at 2.47.06 AM

The circled area on the original images in both of these pieces show that the area that has been “magnified.” Images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Try to look at the isolated area not as a “part” of a drawing or photo, but as the whole image itself.

These do not have to be excellent drawings, just as long as they are only of the area within the focused square. The purpose is to capture just one section of a bigger picture, not to duplicate it perfectly.

Younger artists might want to use easier images, such as animated drawings, rather than photos or intricate drawings.

When finished, show it to friends and family, and see if they can guess what it is. Sometimes, the answers may be as imaginative as the drawing itself. Other times, it will seem like they are looking at a whole new world.

Once O’Keeffe discovered the wonders of the close-up, art lovers never looked at a flower the same way since.

She explained this in her book, One Hundred Flowers: “If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.”


“Up Close with Audrey Two” by Lisa Kay Tate.

Man vs. Machine: Disney Artists Take on Robots

From L to R, Disney Television Animation’s Craig McCracken, Sam Levine, Dan Povenmire, Lisa Salamone-Smith, Eric Coleman, Daron Nefcy, and President of Disney Channels Worldwide Gary Marsh. Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

From the outside, Disney’s Television Animation studio doesn’t look like much. There’s no giant wizard’s hat out front like the Feature Animation building or seven stone dwarves holding up the roof like the Team Disney building on the Burbank lot. Driving through the gate and into the parking lot of the nondescript brick building in an industrial part of Glendale, you’d never know that it’s currently the home of some of the company’s most creative and prolific talents. At least, not until you step inside.

The small lobby is filled with computer screens showing clips and promos from many of the shows in production: Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Sofia the First, Gravity Falls, and the phenomenally popular Phineas and Ferb. Up one flight, down the hall and just past the cereal bar there’s a unique space that serves as an in-house art gallery, where staff members are invited to show original pieces they’ve created in their spare time. The art is periodically rotated and usually centered around a theme. GeekMom was invited to the opening reception for the latest exhibition, titled “Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show,” where some of the biggest names in the world of television animation mingled and appreciated the work of their colleagues.

Kimberly Mooney, manager of development at Disney Television Animation, explained that the rotating gallery was always imagined as a part of the studio’s office space from the very beginning. “It goes all the way back to when this building was being renovated and built for us to be an animation studio,” she said. “We wanted a dedicated space where we could showcase the artists’ art, their personal artwork. It helps to establish that real sense of community we have here.”

Alex Rosenberg, an assistant at the studio, added that everyone is welcome to submit work to the shows, even if they’re not professional artists. “Eric Coleman, our SVP, actually put in a piece this time,” she said. “And we have work from people who are in tech and a coordinator on our current series side who did one. We have writers who submitted pieces. It’s a really nice way to showcase the talent that’s here at TVA and celebrate artists who are outside of what we normally define as artists.”


Povenmire with his piece “Girl vs. Machine.” Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire contributed “Girl vs. Machine,” a drawing of his two daughters taking on a massive wave of technology with a pair of slingshots. “The theme was ‘Man vs. Machine’ and I was thinking about it for a while and I was like, ‘Screw it, I should just do “Girl vs. Machine” and then I can put my daughters in it and then I’ll have a place to put it when I’m done with it,” Povenmire said. “And they love it. They’re like, ‘That’s us!’ And they like looking at all the little things in there and trying to figure out what they are. Like, ‘Oh, there’s our Zoomer dog. That’s our boom box!’ I put a lot of other stuff in there too. I was basically just doodling for a day.”

He enjoys the opportunity for self-expression the gallery offers and the chance to see what the other Disney artists are all about. “We’re all in the same building but everybody who is working on a show is really working on one piece of art that they’re all doing together,” he said. “It’s a big, collaborative piece of art. And nobody gets to see what these people actually think of themselves if you just say, ‘Hey, go off in a direction.’ I love seeing the kind of stuff that people do at home. It sort of gives you a different feel for them. And it’s gotten so I can tell different people’s art, though it’s nothing like what people do here.”

I also got to chat with Craig McCracken during the event. He’s currently the creator and executive producer of Disney Channel’s Wander Over Yonder, but you might also be familiar with his earlier creations The PowerPuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. His piece, “Taishi,” features a graphic, 70s-inspired profile of a humanoid robot with flowing yellow and orange locks.


McCracken and his robot “Taishi.” Photo credit: Rick Rowell/Disney Channel.

I asked McCracken which piece in the show was his favorite. “I’m leaning toward Alex Kirwan’s,” he said. “He’s my art director on Wander and he built a model of a very obscure robot from a Donald Duck cartoon. It’s like so inside baseball because he’s in this one specific Donald Duck cartoon. And he’s like, ‘I’m going to make a sculpture of that.’ I’m like, ‘I think only you and like 10 people in this building are going to know who that character is and appreciate it.’ But if anyone would, it’s the people here.”

Why I Binge Read Ava’s Demon

The cover of Ava's Demon (hard-bound Kickstarter reward) by Michelle Czajkowski. Image: Cathe Post

Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski, showed up on my doorstep earlier this week. This incredibly heavy-for-its-size box was addressed to my husband. I didn’t recognize the return address let alone know how to pronounce the name attached to it. Then I remembered Tim had mentioned something about a Kickstarter reward coming sometime this week…

The book in the box was even gift wrapped. I found myself torn between leaving the pretty wrapping for my husband and just ripping it off to see what was so dang heavy! The wrapping paper lost, and I found myself looking at this incredibly simple, yet beautiful, hard-bound book cover.

To say that Ava’s Demon is beautiful is an understatement. The book measures almost two inches thick. Most of what those many pages contain is an illustrated story which is occasionally moved forward by character dialogue. It is a quick read if you don’t stop to look at the images…but why would you rush through such amazing art?

The art is so stylistically appealing and  the color is so warm that all of the artistic aspects lend to telling the story as much as the dialogue itself.

This looks like it could be a picture book/graphic novel kids would enjoy—but looks can be deceiving. Be warned that there are f-bombs and quite a bit of conversation about suicide. Also, the story is called Ava’s Demon for a reason: Ava has a demon who is haunting her. The behavior of that demon is less like a house ghost from Harry Potter and more like a trapped soul from Constantine. My advice would be to read it before handing it over to school-aged children.

If you received the Kickstarter book, you might have seen pages that looked like pictures of playable videos. The videos themselves can also be found on the Ava’s Demon website (normally at the end of a chapter as part of the archive). The addition and quality of the videos to the web-comic series is unsurprising since Michelle Czajkowski interned at Pixar and worked at Dreamworks.

I wasn’t aware of Ava’s Demon until it showed up on my doorstep. It captured my attention so quickly and fully that I knew I had to share it with you. If you are interested in checking it out, Ava’s Demon is a web comic which is updated on Mondays and Thursdays (the hardcover Kickstarter reward book contains the first six chapters). If you fall in love with the art as much as I did, you can also buy the artwork in print or wearable forms.

BrainBox: Educational Family Fun

BrainBox © The Green Board Game Co.

BrainBox © The Green Board Game Co.

Memorization is one of the fundamentals of education. Whether you’re learning your letters or complex chemical formulae, the ability to store and recollect information is vital to every step through life. BrainBox is a game with editions aimed at every age group and interest combining memory skills with other subjects in a fun game.

The game itself is very simple. You look at a picture printed onto a 8.5cm square card for ten seconds then roll a dice. Another player then asks you the corresponding question which will be related to the picture you just saw; answer correctly and you keep the card, answer wrong and it goes back in the box. The rules state that whoever has the most cards after ten minutes is the winner but that figure could easily be adjusted to compensate for different ages and attention levels.

BrainBox ABC © The Green Board Game Co.

BrainBox ABC © The Green Board Game Co.

Boxes start for aged three and up with subjects including ABC and My First Maths, and become progressively harder. Those aimed at older children include ranges from Horrible Histories and a new Roald Dahl edition alongside others focusing on inventions, the world, dinosaurs, art, and fairies. There’s even a Senior Moments box (recommended age 55+) featuring “scenes that most of us past a certain age will recognize, from pirate radio to the first Moon landing to memorable hairstyles!” Alongside this range is a smaller selection of BrainBox “On The Go” travel editions. These are quite Euro-centric and include Paris, Prague, and Devon.

My four-year-old son and I played with the ABC box. He immediately took to the game, understood the rules and wanted to play often. The questions were at just the right level for him allowing him to get most answers correct but not breeze through without even trying.He was also able to recognize most objects on the card, although he needed my help with a few more abstract items such as a “twist” or a question mark.

For a boy just learning his letters and starting to ask how words are spelled, this box was the perfect fit for our family, if a little easy for the many adults he dragged in to playing with him.

We really enjoyed playing BrainBox ABC as a family and I can certainly see myself buying more boxes once my son starts school and begins studying subjects in depth for a bit of extra stealth learning at home.

I’m quite keen on the Reminisce 1990 – 2010 edition for myself, too, so I can see how well I remember my childhood and teenage years!

If you like the sound of the game then you can have a go by playing online on the BrainBox website from a choice of 12 different boxes including the USA, English history, and Art.

GeekMom received this product for review purposes.

Let’s Make It With the Mister Maker App


I used the Doodle Drawer contents to make this design, showcasing some of the different brushes and tools available. Note the liberal use of gloopy glue!
Screenshot: © Helen Barker.

I have many happy memories of watching artist Tony Hart on television as a child. His programs Take Hart and Hartbeat were both required viewing for me, and I still remember the thrill of sending off one of my artworks, hopeful that it would be displayed in the “Gallery” section of the show. I was always trying out new techniques and media, inspired by the variety of artworks which he produced. This gave me a love of art, which has persisted my entire life, so I have him to thank for the fact that I always have at least one creative project on the go!

Mister Maker is the modern equivalent of Tony Hart. The Mister Maker program always includes a variety of different projects, including the fast-paced “Minute Makes” and the artistic “Frame It” section, presented by the entertaining (and rather wacky) Mister Maker. It works really well as a television program, but would it translate into an app? My daughter, already a big Mister Maker fan, test drove the Mister Maker: Let’s Make It! app and showed me how it worked.

The app includes all of the best bits from the TV show. Mister Maker himself pops up every now and then to lend a hand, explain instructions, or just offer encouragement. The most exciting and interesting section of the app is the Doodle Drawers. Just like in the show, this area is packed with all manner of artistic media, from paint to glitter via pasta, gloopy glue, and stickers. It’s really easy to use the different tools to create all types of pictures. These pictures are automatically put into the Picture Album, which means that they can be saved for later improvements, printed out, or emailed. You can also create a frame for the picture in the Frame It area, which uses the same tools as the Doodle Drawers to decorate a cardboard-style frame. The Doodle Drawer contents are used again in the Minute Makes section, where the clock is ticking as you try to decorate a picture. The last section includes the quartet of shapes and involves spotting the overlapping outline of your chosen shape.


Mister Maker himself pops up to help you with the menu choices. Screenshot: © Helen Barker.

The app is incredibly easy for children to use, aided by Mister Maker’s vocal instructions. My four-year-old was able to use the app completely independently, and enjoyed the fact that she could use lots of different stickers, glitter, and glue without making a mess in the Doodle Drawers area. In fact, the gloopy glue was my favorite tool, as you can sprinkle all sorts of interesting things onto it before it dries, including sequins and beads. My daughter also liked being able to take photographs and use those in her artworks too, as well as decorate the frames. She found the shapes game fairly simple, though. The difficulty does ramp up a little as you have to spot more shapes, but she was able to do this quite easily, so it didn’t keep her interest for very long. Unfortunately, this is one of the ways to unlock the items in the Doodle Drawers, along with completing the Minute Makes. This means that quite a few of the options in the Doodle Drawers remain locked, as my daughter prefers open-ended play rather than the game or challenges. It would be lovely if these locked items could be unlocked in the settings perhaps, for younger children or those not interested in playing the games.

The app is really good fun though, and has really captured the feel of a Mister Maker episode. Although it’s still important for children to use real art materials, this is a great substitute for when I really can’t cope with more glitter, stickers, felt pen, or paint decorating the furniture and my daughter as much as the paper in front of her.


Some of the roller options in the Doodle Drawers are still locked. I like the baked beans pattern though! Screenshot: © Helen Barker.

The app doesn’t include any adverts or in-app purchases and doesn’t collect user information either, meaning that I’m happy to let my daughter use it independently. This app is a firm favorite with both my daughter and myself and has given us hours of fun, so it’s well worth the $4.99/£2.99 price tag. Mister Maker: Let’s Make It! by P2 Games is available now in the Apple iTunes app store.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

ExtraGeektacular Activities: Power Rangers 20th Anniversary Art Show

Power Rangers 20th Anniversary art show at Toy Art Gallery

All photos by: justjenn.

ExtraGeektacular Activities are geeky field trips that encourage your child’s creativity and are a fun time for the whole family!

Pop-up shops are all the rage, retail stores are putting up mobile kiosks, and chefs are opening limited-time restaurants. Now, geek culture is getting in on the action. Pop-ups create quick interest, but their effects can give a brand longevity. Not that some brands need help remaining current, because this year, Power Rangers celebrates its 20th anniversary! To honor the occasion, Toy Art Gallery in Los Angeles held a two-day pop-up event, Saban’s Power Rangers Celebrates 20 Rangers for 20 Years, with proceeds  benefiting the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles.

The event showcased artists from around the world, with each taking a base 31-inch giant Red Ranger figure and creating their own twist. My kids got a kick out of seeing how each artist applied different textures and colors to make the Ranger their own.

Power Rangers 20th Anniversary art show at Toy Art Gallery

Artists: Fullmetto Casting, Josh Mayhem, Olek, Kano, Jryu.

The kids’ favorite work was the “Steam Powered Ranger” by Josh Mayhem. Making a collage of materials and then painting it to create one complete figure is a great lesson for kids, something which can be done in similar art projects of their own. Looking closely, they noticed that the figure was made up with pieces of one of their favorite toys, Lego Hero Factory!

As a Star Wars fan, I was obviously drawn to Kano’s “Mighty Morphin Power Vader.” At first look, it seems as simple as a Darth Vader head on a Red Ranger, but at closer look, there’s a lot more detail: the Ranger torso, Vader’s force-choke hand, and custom shoes. The gold collar is actually the Ranger’s mask! Little subtleties like that are what gives each figure character.

Power Rangers 20th Anniversary art show at Toy Art Gallery

Artists: Mathew Curran (left), various (right).

Power Rangers‘ popularity has remained constant. There were a lot of families at the gallery, with parents reminiscing as they viewed the artwork along with their kids. The kids pointed excitedly at their favorite toys in the displays of Power Rangers toys throughout the years. It was fun to see how materials and design has changed over 20 years.

Even though the Power Rangers pop-up was only for a weekend, the Toy Art Gallery is always a great place to check out new artists and pick up items like Munnys or DIY Labbits, which give you the freedom to be creative. The event really got the kids motivated to think of different ways to create art that is uniquely their own. Of course, my choice of artistic expression is always through sweets. I’m imagining a 31-inch tall Red Ranger cookie right now…

Toy Art Gallery
7571 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(877) 910-TOYS (8697)
Wednesday through Saturday 12:00 to 8:00 p.m. (PT)
Sunday 12:00 to 6:00 p.m.

How To Frame Your Fandom

how to frame your fandom bigAt this year’s Geek Girl Con I was on a panel called “Home, Geek Home” where we discussed ways to incorporate geekiness into your home. We talked a lot about decor and how easy it is to take every day decorating ideas and add a geeky touch. I like to use pinterest to collect ideas and then apply them to my geeky collectibles. To display all of the geeky artwork I collect, I created a small art gallery in my bathroom. It’s curated to my tastes and is a nice surprise when guests come over.

One wall in my mini-gallery is devoted to nothing but Wolverine art, which is pretty specific, and not always something you might want all over your house. By displaying the art in a hanging gallery format, it makes the pieces that much more special. You can definitely spend the money to get your artwork custom framed but it’s a cinch to do yourself. Here’s how to collect and frame your geeky art collection.

wolverine by thom zahler

all photos by justJENN

1. Art

If you collect something specific, like I do, a commissioned piece is great way to go. Artists at comic cons are usually open to commissions during the con, and you can request specific poses or details. I knew someone who asked every artist to draw pictures of Batman with a sandwich. If you can’t travel to a con, check out the artist’s website. If you don’t see a shop of prints you can also email them and ask about commissions.

While at Geek Girl Con I commissioned this fantastic Wolverine from Thom Zahler. His turn around was quick and he was willing to do pieces in a variety of price ranges. When you get the commission, most likely it will be just the art, so it’s your job to make it hangable.

Do your research and buy from an artist whose work you respect and who you can trust. Make sure you understand their pricing, payment, as well as terms of their time table. Some artists are fast and have a quick turn around time, while others are known to take your money and never deliver. Sadly, that’s pretty common.

sizing your art2. Frame

Choosing the right size of frame is crucial to hanging artwork. You want the piece to shine and a small frame that crowds the image won’t do the art any justice. Give it some breathing room and go a little bit bigger than the size of the piece. This happened to be drawn on a 9″ x 12″ Bristol. While that’s standard sketch size it’s not standard for frames, which means the paper would have to be cut or the image will just float in a large frame.

digital mattes3. Mattes

Here’s how you fix that offsize problem, my suggestion is to always go with a matte. You’d be surprised at how much a matte can help your print; it grounds the image and makes it look even more elegant. Think of the mood you are trying to set with mattes. White or cream provides a nice background, while black mattes are a great alternative for making stark images pop.

Frame stores now sell “digital print mattes” which have larger openings. These work great for sketches on odd-sized Bristol and they cost the same as regular pre-cut mattes.

Wolverine art gallery4. Hanging

Hanging frames in a straight line is fine, but when you have a hodge-podge of artwork from a bunch of different artists, it’s nice to create an art wall. I like to place the frames in a seemingly random order, in reality, it takes me a really long time to figure out how to “randomly” place the frames. I like to lay it out first, trying to keep the flow of the colors and feel of each print in mind as I place them next to each other.

Collecting artwork and creating a gallery of a character you love is a great way to grow your fandom. Over time, you can curate a beautiful collection too, and in the process you’ll be supporting amazing indie-artists!

Featured Wolverine artwork by: Thom Zahler, Jason Ho, J Salvador, Mike Maihack, Rogan JoshCliff Chiang, justJENN designs

How to Be a Super Batgirl Mom

super batgirl mom Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

When the news broke this year at New York Comic Con that Stephanie Brown was returning to Batgirl, interest was kicked into overdrive into an already devoted fan base. The character has gone through so much with Gail Simone‘s recent Barbara Gordon Batgirl run having the heroine go through trauma therapy with a doctor named after a fan and consulant for the book, Dr. Andrea Letamendi, who is an actual real-life psychologist that helps kids get through trauma. Even superheroes need to work on their mental health.

Batgirl is a strong female character and it’s easy to see why geek girls of all ages love her. Here are some great ways for younger fans to discover more about one of Gotham’s finest female crime fighters!

say it dont spray it - batgirl and robin

image by: Say It Don’t Spray It

1. Batgirl and baby Robin cosplay

The most fun you can have as a GeekMom is dressing up your kids in their favorite heroes’ costumes. There are a lot of options out there now in the girl superhero department or if you’re a DIYer you can always craft your own! Nanette of Say It Don’t Spray It‘s daughter wanted to be Batgirl for Halloween and did a great job striking a pose too—nice character development! What else would a mom of two girls do but get the younger sister into the act as an adorable baby Robin sidekick.


image by: Mike Maihack

2. Batgirl and Supergirl Cookie Exchange Art by Mike Maihack

Mike Maihack is one of my favorite artists, not only because his work is beautiful but his stories are also sweet and heartwarming. I have several (way too many) of his pieces and often buy them as gifts for friends. His Batgirl and Supergirl strips are begging to be made into a series. I’m particularly fond last year’s Batgirl and Supergirl Christmas comic because as we all know, cookies solve everything.

batgirl cake

image via:

3. Batgirl Cake

Doll cakes have been around for decades and have been turned into every girls dream from a standard pink doll cake, to Tinkerbell, and all the Disney Princesses. The superhero doll cake faction is definitely lacking out there, but never fear, Batgirl doll cake to the rescue! An innovative take on a classic, this Batgirl truly has the best superhero costume ever…because it’s made of cake!

batgirl little people

image via: amazon

4. Batgirl – Fisher Price Little People Wheelies

For the smallest Batgirl fan, Fisher Price’s line of cute superhero Little People are a great way to start off fandom at a young age. Batgirl comes in a two pack with another great female heroine, Wonder Woman, or solo in her own tiny Batmobile.

super best friends forever

image via: DC Nation

5. Batgirl – Super Best Friends Forever

As a rabid fan of anything adorable and geek girl superhero-related, I was jumping out of my seat when DC Comics started showing Super Best Friends Forever as part of their DC Nation shorts for Cartoon Network. Lauren Faust (My Little Pony, Power Puff Girls, and more) came up with ridiculously fun stories of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl and their crazy, feisty, kid-friendly adventures. At just a minute and a half apiece you’ll be wishing for hours more; alas, the series was never meant to be. At least you can still buy SBFF merchandise.

Fun With Vintage Comics

By Rebecca Angel

Last week I had an unexpected night free and ran over to Tiger Trap Studios, a local art place. The owner, Ira Marcks, has monthly adult collage nights (BYOB). I’m not an artist. I write songs, stories, posts on GeekMom. But I can cut and paste with the best of them, and an evening of only adults sounded like heaven. I made myself a to-go cup of cocoa with rum and headed out.

Oh, it was fun. I found a pile of old comics that I was appalled and fascinated with. I ended up cutting out several characters and swapping speech bubbles to create odd and silly collages. Up top is just one example. I’m not sure I should show the rest in public. Heh.

Now, I’m not encouraging anyone to start chopping up old comics lying around, who knows what is worth a million dollars. But I’m sure every comic store has a pile of no longer wanted issues lying around for cheap (or free). That’s the pile to have fun with. Have your own adult-only collage night with comics. Don’t forget the rum!

Geeky Halloween Crafts and Treats

I love Halloween. It’s such a festive time of year when everyone can dress up and be a kid again! Childhood memories abound of favorite costumes and movies, all of the geeky variety! Here are some crafts and treats that are twists on Geeky Halloween favorites.

hocus pocus cake

image by Danna Maret

Hocus Pocus Cake - Danna Maret

If there’s one influential geeky Halloween movie that everyone can agree on it’s Hocus Pocus! Danna Maret did a wonderful job in bringing the magic to life in this Hocus Pocus cake. Check out the fabulous details; it makes you  just want to yell “Boooooook!”

Charlie Brown Emily McCall

image by Emily McCall

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Cosplay - Emily McCall

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a favorite movie of mine. Every year I wander through the pumpkin patch and think…is this the year?? Emily McCall dressed up her little Charlie Brown for the holidays and surrounded him with real great pumpkins. No one would dare pull a football away from this adorable kid!

reeses pieces cookies by noshwithme

image by NoshWithMe

E.T. Chocolate Peanut Butter Reese’s Pieces Cookies – NoshWithMe

Who can forget the little alien that warmed our hearts and filled our bellies with those delectable peanut butter candies? NoshWithMe took our sugary childhood memories and turned them into cookie form with Oatmeal Reese’s Pieces Cookies. I’m sure E.T. would want some of these for the road home!

mad monster party print

image by Drake Brodahl

Mad Monster Party Art- Drake Brodahl

I know I keep saying this is my favorite movie—no this really is my favorite movie— but I love Halloween so much they are all my favorites! Mad Monster Party was a movie I watched over and over. The stop motion animation is mesmerizing and the character voices from the likes of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller really bring everything to life.

Artist Drake Brodahl shows off his love of the movie with this beautiful art print called “Just One Bite” from his etsy store.


image by justJENN

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Party – by justJENN

Ok, Buffy isn’t just for Halloween time; it’s definitely a geeky year round show for most of us. But wooden stakes, blood, vampires, and demons just seem fitting for October 31st. This Buffy the Vampire Slayer party had it all, from Giant Pocky “Mr. Pointys” to “Back From the Grave” cupcakes with zombie hands reaching out of cookie dirt. Spooky and delicious!

Grumpy Catbus is Out of Service


Out of Service by artist Tim Doyle. Image: Spoke Art

I fell in love with Spoke Art last year at New York Comic Con when I bought two prints from their Wes Anderson-inspired Bad Dads show. Then today I discovered this marvelous mashup of Grumpy Cat and My Neighbor Totoro, Out of Service by artist Tim Doyle. This lovely limited-edition print can be yours for a mere $40. I’ll add it to my shopping cart with my pink Mr. T.

ConnectiCon: Gamin’ and Art

Image By Lilianna Angel

Image By Lilianna Angel

ConnectiCon is such a visual treat. As Corrina mentioned in her post, the cosplay is fantastic, usually homemade, and enough to keep you entertained if you just sit and watch the crowd. I kept my giggles in check on the elevators in the hotel because they were always filled with random cosplayers having banal conversations.

Zombie: Have you tried any of the hotel restaurants?
Power Ranger: Not yet.
Wonder Woman: The one near the front desk is pretty good.
Zombie: Thanks.

Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)

Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)

Here is a family from The Legend of Korra.

But there’s so much to do! I’ve written about this con in the past, but this year I did something I’ve always wanted to do: play a long RPG. In previous years, I did performances and panels, which made it hard to commit to anything that took up a huge chunk of the day. But this time, I was there to help my daughter at artist alley, make sure my son was busy, and enjoy myself. Part of the fun was getting to talk with some of the guests. I kept exclaiming in delight while reading Jim Cummings’s bio. I had no idea he was the voice of so many characters! And a delight in person. I did not have a chance to see Marina Sirtis, but several friends did and filled me in with how cool she is.

I played Caravan on Friday and after four hours the group was in a walled, rat plague infested desert city surrounded by a tribe of gnolls, and huddled in a ziggurat where we just found a giant spider. Of course I had to go back on Saturday and figure out how to get out of that mess! Lots o’ fun.

TeaPunk. Image By Rebecca Angel

Guy McNorm by Purple Lantern Studios

I spent time with my daughter selling her art and eye swirls, chatting with our neighbors: False Mind, Purple Lantern, and Grinning Narwhal. Rayna of Purple Lantern did a great commission of my current RPG character from a home game: Guy McNorm of the Clan McMahan.

I also met up with friends I only see at this convention, juggled, danced, danced, and danced some more (with glow sticks!) A nod to the first DJ of Friday night who really kicked off the party. ‘Til next year!

Morey’s Piers Brings artBOX to the Jersey Shore

Morey’s Piers, located on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey, is welcoming artBOX for the summer. Image: Morey’s Piers.

Every summer, my family and I spend a lot of time on the New Jersey boardwalk. There are soft pretzels, rides, and plenty of gorgeous views. However, Morey’s Piers is showing off something really big this year.

The seaside amusement park is currently hosting an exhibition called artBOX. It’s actually a 10,000-square-foot “artists’ colony,” where visitors can check out local artist studios, a café serving fresh sushi, a museum shop, and live musical entertainment. However, the hook here is that the makeshift town was actually crafted out of 11 repurposed shipping containers.

No crawling or crouching necessary; the containers are clean and measure from 8-by-20 feet to 8-by-40 feet each.

Located on Morey’s Piers on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey, visitors are invited to stroll through each container to view the work of local and regional artists, as well as live demonstrations. Exhibits will include surf art, glass blowing, artisanal jewelry, speed painting, and live music nightly from School of Rock’s performance program.

To help kick off the festivities, artBOX organizers have invited 11-year-old artist and child prodigy Autumn de Forest to visit the tiny, improvised town on July 2, 2013. Autumn will unveil a tribute painting that she created to honor the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy. Her original work will be auctioned off with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund. At 2:00 p.m., a 40-foot replica of that same piece will be unveiled on the outside of artBOX’s only vertical shipping container.

Visitors can find artBOX on Adventure Pier at Spencer Avenue and the boardwalk. The exhibit will be open daily from 4:00 p.m. to midnight through the end of August.

History Geek: 1930s Week

Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Swing dancing! The creation of Superman! Adagio for Strings! Radio Plays! Migrant Mother photojournalism! Heath bars! The Wizard of Oz! Monopoly!

The last few weeks I’ve been preparing for and directing a History Through the Creative Arts Camp about America during The Great Depression. Originally history was written down by conquerors who took political power. This legacy continues in history textbooks that think that war and politics are the most important parts of history to study. I disagree. I think history is the whole human experience during a time period. Of course, this makes it tough to design a children’s summer camp that only lasts five days. So I turn to passion.


Rebecca explaining something with lots of hand movements…. Image By Lilianna Maxwell


Tasting historic recipes each day. Image By Rebecca Angel

Passion makes for great teaching. I’m passionate about the creative arts, culture, and social justice. So that’s my focus on history. And when students learn why certain songs were written, when the photographs were taken, how the plays were created, they learn about the power struggles during that time and place. I run the week by having the campers sing, dance, write, eat, sew, and create their way through the time period.


A student talking about their own research. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I also asked for help. During the week of camp there were other adults bringing their expertise (geeky excitement) to the campers. Plus, the kids themselves taught each other. My daughter ran the camp newspaper, “Typewriter Talk,” with the campers taking turns being reporters for the day. Another student of mine asked if I was covering Europe during the ’30s. I wasn’t getting into the details of the start of World War II with this camp. She asked if she could do a five minute presentation each day because she thought it was really important for everyone to know this stuff. Sure!


Campers taking their parents on a tour of camp. Image By Rebecca Angel

What I wasn’t covering in active learning, I put out on display. In the space I use for camp is a huge wall for push-pins. The other counselors and I fill this wall with all the things we found out, but couldn’t squeeze into the time allotted. Scientific achievements, slang terms, maps about the Dust Bowl (then and what’s happening now!), details on the stock market, the 1936 Olympics, weird advertisements, and lots more. My daughter created a display on photojournalism. My son did one on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP—he pointed out it sounded like a sound effect). There were puzzles and written activities available during downtime where the answers could be found on The Wall. Whoever completed a sheet got a tiny harmonica (so they could sound like hobos around a campfire…) or candy created during the 1930s.

In the spirit of the '30s, I asked the kids to wear the same clothes everyday (washing was encouraged) and they worked on making outfits for Friday's party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Sewing clothes for Friday’s party. Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I’ve run many history camps over the years, but this was the toughest to research; so many aspects made me cry. A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression is one example of trying to get to the heart of The Great Depression. I read some of it to the campers. I focused on the positive things of sharing and kindness, but the fact that people were so grateful for so little during this time—is enough to make the tears flow. (I kept myself in check during camp.)


Family history as decorations. Image By Rebecca Angel

I’ll write a few more posts about aspects of camp I think you might enjoy: games, comics, movies, and radio plays. If anything, I encourage everyone to do one of the projects during camp: Research your own family history. The campers presented how their families got through the hard times of the 1930s, and there were some great stories. My own grandfather was a newsboy in the lower East side of NYC.

I could write so much more because everything was so cool! I hope I inspire you to get geeked about history! Here’s a video of the swing dancing each day:

The Indiana Jones Mail Mystery Solved

Image Courtesy the University of Chicago

Remember that mystery package addressed to Indiana Jones that landed at the University of Chicago? Well the mystery has been solved. The solution is almost as awesome as the package. Ready for this?

The elaborately recreated journal was sold on eBay by an artist in Guam and intended to be delivered to a customer in Italy. It was wrapped in another, properly addressed envelope. The fake postage stamps and University of Chicago address were part of the inner packaging. Somewhere along the line, the outer wrapping was damaged, and the post office continued to deliver what appeared to the casual glance as a perfectly legitimate package.

The artist, Paul from Guam, has agreed to donate this package to the University of Chicago, where they promise to make part of an awesome educational museum display. I hear tell their Oriental Institute already looks like it could be the set of an Indiana Jones movie. The purchaser in Italy will get a new replica from the artist. Maybe also some stronger wrapping material.

Congrats to Young Women Artists Part 2

Womanthology: Heroic — described in a post last weekis a compilation of graphic art by women. It can now be found at your local art, gaming, and book stores. It is an exciting time for all who are involved in the project, including Summer Hemingray, a 10-year-old artist. She contributed an illustration of Joan of Arc. Summer kindly answered the Muse of Nerds questions, and I was intrigued by what inspired her:

1. How did you find out about the Womanthology project?
My cousin, Laura Morley, told me about it.

2. What was your process for selecting the pieces to submit?
I thought about the title, heroic, and I assumed it would be about heroic tales of women. I came up with the suffragettes and Joan of Arc. I didn’t know much about suffragettes so I went with a comic of Joan of Arc, which I drew both in and out of school.

3. What are your thoughts on the whole Womanthology project, how it impacts you, how it might impact other young artists, girls and women.
In my opinion the whole Womanthology idea is a truly magnificent one, which will go down in history. As for how it impacts me, I am proud to be part of something as great and as interesting as the project, and it is a great opportunity to be published. I personally think it will inspire hidden artists to send their work into the world.

4.Do you have a favorite time and/or place to do your art?
My favorite place is in my parents’ bedroom just after school when I’m full of ideas.

5. What/who inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?
I get inspired by lots of people who leave their mark, even if it’s just in a small area. I get my ideas at school when my teacher, Chris Youles, shows us Odd Box on the BBC Newsbeat website, or an amusing website where people have done interesting things.

6. What are your future artistic plans and/or career hopes?

I’d like to do paintings and/or models on my weekends, but most of all I would like to be a politician.

7. Part of the reason Womanthology was started is because women artists have a hard time being respected in the comics industry. What do you think about that? If you or another young girl is interested in being a comic artist, what do you think could help change this problem?
I think that the general comic society is quite sexist in that way and as an answer, maybe a group of famous female comic artists could build a comic company where they could display their work, by in doing so, get the public interested, therefore making a change in the way the comic society thinks about female artists.

Thanks, Summer! Good luck on all your future endeavors!

Art, Sex and Beautiful Men

Relying on seductive art to draw in your audience is akin to a comedian swearing. It doesn’t take skill to get a reaction.

There have been several recent posts GeekMom and elsewhere about the sexualization of women in comics. Although that’s nothing new, female geeks are finally getting fed up- realizing that being loyal and vocal fans does not grant any respect in the industry.

The discussions on the internet got me thinking about a conversation I had last summer with an artist friend of mine. We were on our way back from ConnectiCon where he had worked with his art and enjoyed chatting with other artists. He excitedly told me about a woman next to him who showed him her “boobie pictures.” Her out-front display was cartoon cats, but she showed him her Adults Only folder with mostly women in sexy poses with big breasts. She encouraged him to display his own “boobie pictures” because they’re fun to draw and sell really well. She said both women and men like pictures of sexy, naked women.

He then waxed poetically about the female figure in fine art, explaining to me how the female form is universally recognized as most beautiful. He talked about slope, curve, and roundness, about masters in the art world, and famous paintings and sculptures. He has a degree in Fine Art and I had no reason to doubt him.

The following day I departed to teach at a teen music camp up in the Adirondacks. The conversation with my friend would not leave me, and I realized I disagreed. However, I’m a musician, what do I know about art? But as the week progressed, I couldn’t let it go.

At a break time by the beach, I informed a fellow counselor about the whole thing. I explained that I don’t find the female form to be any more beautiful than the male form, in fact, I think men are MORE beautiful than women. Why? Because I’m freakin’ attracted to them- duh! And if the masters of the art world, and the majority of art teachers are straight men, then they are going to believe that women are more beautiful because they are attracted to them. Isn’t that obvious? Why should art have all these depictions of naked women? I shouted loudly, “I want more naked men!”

My counselor friend chuckled softly, and slightly uncomfortably. Perhaps this was because we were currently next to cavorting teens of both sexes in swimwear. Did I mention this was a Catholic music camp?

Anyway, comics are just the latest incarnation of the oldest way to show a story (music is the oldest way to tell a story.) I appreciate art with an uneducated eye. This does not devalue my opinion in any way. I know this because the value of an uneducated musician’s opinion is very worthy to me when I write my own music. If someone doesn’t like it, I don’t care how many degrees they have.

Comics are obviously marketed towards men. The covers are to attract the twelve year-old, straight boy’s eye. Do men purchase because of hyper-sexed women and powerful men bursting out of the pages? I know I purchase despite the covers, hoping there’s a good story inside, and wondering why a woman fighter would ever have that much skin exposed. Is it eye-catching? Of course. So is this:

Another Back By Akseru

Would I purchase a novel solely on this cover? My stereotypes tell me this would be called Fields of Passion. And unless the hot guy on the cover is going to come out of the book and snuggle with me while I’m reading, I wouldn’t buy it. I like plot (call me wacky) and many books geared towards women, the ones with hot men on the cover, are sorely lacking in it. That is why I pick up stories with a scantily dressed woman on the cover calling down lightning.

If I told a heterosexual man that Fields of Passion was a gripping tale he really would enjoy, would he try it out? Would he hide the book from friends? Do women hide the “boobie pictures” spilled on our favorite comics? It is taught in library school that girls will read a book with a boy or girl on the cover. Boys are rarely drawn to books with a girl on the cover.

So men only care about stories involving women if they are seducing them?

And women just want a good story?

The picture above is a sexy picture I found while perusing deviantart (some people watch YouTube videos, I browse artwork.) The Greeks believed the male form was the most perfect (and this is not because Greeks were fine with being gay; homosexual practices depended on the city-state) and women were rarely depicted in the nude until late in the age. Why don’t we acknowledge that any human body can be made beautiful by a skilled artist?

But you know, I don’t need a skin shot to catch my eye. All you need is a talented artist who can capture a moment, and I want to know more.

Unison IV By Lukas Sowada

Do I really want more naked men in graphic novels? If the scene requires it- I’m more than happy to drink in the sight. For that matter, I don’t mind looking at a beautifully drawn naked woman. Sex is part of life, a part of stories- a very exciting part! But if it doesn’t follow the plot, then no thank you.

Are the top graphic artists so talentless that they can’t create eye-catching, beautiful art without sex attached- women and sex to be specific?

I am not an artist, but I love art. I love beauty. I love stories.

Don’t give me swear words.

STEM to STEAM: The Importance of Arts in Science

For this month’s Muse of Nerds, I quickly grabbed onto the STEM to STEAM movement (adding ‘arts’ to the technical.) Creativity is the foundation for advancement in all fields. The arts — writing, music, art, theater and dance — paired with science, technology, engineering and math, foster a relationship between both sides of the brain for maximum human innovation potential. Trying to place STEM at the top of the educational plant stifles growth.

In 1858, Friedrich Kekule published a paper that showed, visually, how atoms bond chemically. He continued to play with the design until in 1865, he put carbon as a six-sided ring (hexagon) with chains and links, which gave rise to organic chemistry. Kekule started out as an architect before switching to the new science of chemistry. The visualization of chemical bonding didn’t come out of experiments in the lab, but a daydream while riding the bus. His brain looked at chemistry with an architect’s eye.

Daniel Tammet holds the European world record for reciting pi from memory. Daniel can “sense” if a number is prime. I think it’s important to mention that Daniel has high-functioning autism because many educators tend to steer children on the Autism spectrum towards STEM fields. However, Daniel uses the arts to “see” numbers. He is a lucid writer with his book, Born on a Blue Day. The way he was able to memorize pi was by creating a visual landscape in his mind. Clearly, art and math are tied for him.

Science News had a special issue on August 14, 2010  devoted to our minds on music. It was a fascinating look at how music influences our growth emotionally and mentally. In it there was a quote from Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, “In terms of brain imaging, studies have shown listening to music lights up, or activates, more of the brain than any other stimulus we know.” That’s just listening! As Daniel Levitin, director of the music perception, cognition and expertise laboratory at McGill University in Montreal explained, “Music processing is distributed throughout the brain…and playing an instrument, in particular, is an ensemble activity. It involves paying attention, thinking ahead, remembering, coordinating movement and interpreting constant feedback to the ears, fingers and, in some cases, lips. It is one of the most complicated tasks that we have.”

How could that kind of thinking be considered extracurricula? That’s the saddest part. STEM in education is not just getting the funding for special programming, but amazing mental tasks like music aren’t even in the BASIC CURRICULUM!

This very morning I was teaching a creative writing class to some junior high students. The stories will be used to later design and program robots (based on challenges the writing students come up with). The writing students have to be creative to make their challenges cohesive with their story lines. The robotic students have to be creative in designing and programming robots. Tying the two endeavors together gives the project more weight.

Have you ever been to a science museum? Did you attend any of the fantastic theater shows? Watching a story unfold is basic human communication. Lecturing is not.

My children were taking a botany course and convinced their teacher to demonstrate their plant family identification ability using interpretive dance. Seriously. Their teacher was cool about it and let them try. They took all the information they knew about these plant families (memorizing), decided on what was the most important and distinguishable traits (critical thinking) and then came up with movements to convey the information in a clear way (innovation.) By using their full body to translate the concepts, more parts of their brain were used. Do you think they will remember the information better than if they wrote it out on a test? Can your fingers remember a song on the piano from when you were a child? Muscle memory is a powerful tool.

My husband teaches genetics and is frustrated at the lack of “creative and independent thought” the students portray. Students walk in the classroom lacking good reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. The scientists getting prizes don’t spit out what they were taught. They dream, they doodle, they hum, they dance their way to success.

The GeekDad’s Guide to Weekend Fun, Put to the Test

The GeekDad’s Guide to Weekend Fun is the latest book by GeekMom publisher Ken Denmead. All photos by Cathe Post

GeekMoms are no stranger to the GeekDad books. Most recently, Ken Denmead’s book The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun: Cool Hacks, Cutting-Edge Games, and More Awesome Projects for the Whole Family was put to the test in our house. GeekMom Julia has already reviewed the book. So I am offering the outcomes – success and failure – of several attempted projects. Please keep in mind, I am doing projects with primarily early elementary aged children, so less than perfect results were due to our own mistakes.

Pokemon Bingo: This project was just done with my daughter. She loves Pokémon. The research involved with making the cards was good for her because she started separating the factual parts of Pokémon (Pikachu is an electric mouse), from the fictional character part. Since my daughter is learning how to play the card game, we incorporated the type of Pokémon (water, electric, grass, etc.) into the game as well in an effort to learn about animals and elements. Of all the projects we did out of the book, this was her favorite. She likes cutting, gluing, and crafting. The bonus of getting to watch Pokémon and go through Mom’s Guide to Pokémon was a complete bonus. Playing the game was the cherry on top.

Shaving cream art is on three different summer curriculum lists for my daughter’s age. It promotes sensory learning and hand eye skills. Plus, the shaving cream cleans up really easily. We started with toothpicks to draw our designs. My daughter wanted to do a Star Wars design, so we dipped Star Wars cookie cutters in the food coloring to create what we titled, “Abstract in Dark Side.”

Homemade Root Beer: The first time it was made by three kids aged 13, 7, and 5. The second time it was just the 5-year-old (with help from mom). The root beer was made on a out of town family trip. We had to leave before it was ready to drink. But it has been reported that it was very fizzy and had an odd aftertaste. I have a feeling this has something to do with the climate we live in, so I am going scientific this summer to find out recipe tweaks work best for the cool and wet Pacific Northwest.


Measuring speed of light with chocolate: This was a very cool experiment even though we were really far off in our measurements. The two younger kids layered the chocolate into a dish (and ate the chocolate), while the older kid worked the microwave and did the math problems. Due to an old microwave with no sticker, we used the frequency given in the book. The speed we came up with averaged out to 240.5. After we had cleaned up the project my husband posed the following: Given the constant of “C” (as in E=MC^2) “C” is measured in a vacuum. Doesn’t light travel slower through air than it would through chocolate? (We don’t know for sure.) This experiment prompted a compelling discussion about how different things move through air. I felt a little rushed doing the experiment and math is not my strong suit. Those two variables probably also contributed to the skewed outcome.

My kids and I will be attempting other projects throughout the summer from The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun. It doesn’t matter to us if the projects go perfectly the first time or not, it’s the science and learning from successes and failures that matters – just like in life. Though the root beer and chocolate experiments didn’t work out the first time, I would do them again. The hidden scientist in me wants to experiment with variables (different microwave, different storage for root beer, etc.) to see if my results come out closer to what is expected. I have a feeling the kids will enjoy helping…if I let them :-)

Try The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun for yourself. It is available in stores and on Amazon for $12.24 and can also be found at a bookstore near you.

*I received The Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun for review purposes.*

A Long Time Ago, on a Campsite Far, Far Away…

The approach of Memorial Day finds me waxing poetic about the joys of camping. After leaving the hills and valleys of England behind and finding myself in the foothills of Maine, a place that is home to mosquitoes, black bears and other such lovely treats, I find myself married to someone who camps… in a tent… in the woods. For many years now we have joined with friends in making an annual pilgrimage to Acadia National Park; this year we do so with our toddler and their (almost) one year old in tow. Certainly Toby will be relying mostly on his father for survival skills, but now I have something to pass on to him as well: The Pocket Guide to Camping by Linda White and Katherine L. White.

Maybe I have been misled in the past, maybe I am no judge of size, but when I got this book and realized that it would actually fit comfortably in my pocket I was already willing myself to enjoy the contents. It seems to be geared towards kids of all ages and levels of expertise, without being condescending or too far advanced. Quite honestly it’s also great for an adult who didn’t grow up with this kind of adventure. The authors ask questions that prompt you to think about what you are doing, and why, so that you might get the most out of the experience. “Feel the bark of the trees. Are they rough or smooth? Cool or warm?” This book contains enough useful information and hints to appeal to the seasoned woods-loving camper, as well as things that will make your average wired-in city dweller stop and smell the pine needles. It has short sharp paragraphs, lists and highlighted boxes to keep the attention of those whose minds might wander.

The Pocket Guide to Camping contains useful information about equipment—“Watch out when the tag says the tent sleeps three – that may not include room for even the next day’s clothes!”—and helps keep your expectations real by differentiating between long trips/hikes and day trips/hikes. The authors detail how to read maps, and how to mark your own trails. Since one of the things Toby has enjoyed on our recent hikes has been following the trail markers painted on the trees, I’d say they are very well tapped in to what kids want from a guide book. The Macguyver-like instructions throughout the book, such as how to make a shelter out of dental floss and an emergency blanket, or how to make a solar oven, will certainly appeal to the blossoming geek in the family. One of my favorite features speaks to my OCD in that it contains lined pages with headings such as, “Things to remember next time you pitch camp”, and blank pages for drawing things you have seen, so that things might be properly enjoyed through documentation. It also contains check lists so that you don’t find yourself caught unawares once you leave home. Check lists that I write, and promptly lose every year!

This book is great for the independent child, in that it uses symbols to highlight dangers, thereby putting parents at ease, but shows them how to do everything from skim rocks to making different kinds of fire. There is no condescension within. The authors also encourage the reader to explore further by taking full advantage of local libraries and information centers. As we tend to leave technology behind us when we camp, it’s nice to be pointed somewhere other than the internet for such information.

If your family’s camping inclinations aren’t adventurous enough for a car packed with supplies, then join in with hundreds across the nation on June 25 for Johnson’s Great American Backyard CampoutThe Pocket Guide to Camping contains all sorts of helpful information for backyard camping, such as making a tent out of a large blanket, and making your own sleeping bags. It even shows you how to make a camp stove from a tin can! We travel four hours to our favorite camp site, but there is definitely a backyard excursion in our plans now.

If your backyard doesn’t appeal, and state or national parks don’t quite cut your need for adventure, you might want to check out some sites further from home. Which brings me to my next must-read-guide this camping season. Should you choose to take things to the next level, I strongly advise that you peruse The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide, by Terryl Whitlach and Bob Carrau, before making your choice. It’s not suitable for travel, as is The Pocket Guide, but you’ll certainly be thankful you consulted it before picking a planet for your excursion.

This beautifully illustrated guide details the animal population of the eight most popular Rebel “vacation” spots, so that you might fully prepare. Organized by planet, it contains a brief description of each ecosystem, before delving into a more detailed account of individual species. Annotated and rendered in pen and ink, it is one of the more beautiful guides I have encountered, but don’t let its aesthetics fool you: this work is full of useful survival tips for the hardy adventurer. By putting themselves at great personal risk, Terryl Whitlach and Bob Carrau have gifted both the intrepid camper, and the Alliance, with an exceptional resource. Many thanks, of course, do go to the Intergalatic Zoological Society.

Combining the two guides will allow you to determine the weather you are likely to encounter on, say Tatooine, and the clothing that you should therefore bring with you. It will allow you to accurately track the native inhabitants, and avoid mating grounds as necessary. Certainly, now that we are made aware of the intense bond between a Bantha and its Tusken Raider, we know to avoid one for fear of being taken by the other.


Perhaps the most useful information offered by Whitlach and Carrau is the clear delineation between herbivore and carnivore. As many of these animals are peculiarly native to their terrain, one might be afraid of mistaking an Anoobas on Tatooine for a friendly bloodhound, whilst a Clodhopper on Naboo might be feared as one fears the vulture on earth, when in fact it is merely a dim-witted herbivore.

The detailed illustrations will be highly useful when wandering the grasslands of Theed or Forests of Endor but it is in the cross section of the Dagobah Rainforest that the artistry of the field guide really shines. Science and art are combined in a way that is sure to have universal appeal.

Little is left out by our guides; we are even given notes on the glacier fields of Hoth, though I would not want to pitch tent there even with my dental floss and emergency blanket. There is some description of Coruscant, of which most of the wildlife consists mostly of parasites, rats and politicians, by far the deadliest species encountered in this book. In the final pages we are also given a glimpse of the lost species of Alderaan, which is a wonderful way to end the guide, by reminding us to respect the surroundings we choose, to observe correct camping etiquette so as not to destroy the natural habitats of these beautiful, though often seemingly monstrous, creatures.

Note: I received a copy of both books for review purposes.

Steampunk Philosophy


© Dave Clifton 2011

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to host a steampunk discussion at Mythic Faire, a fantasy/myth/alt culture convention that features live music, masquerade balls and special guests. I had a stellar time, both as a guest and an attendee, with the steampunk panel discussion being the highlight of my weekend. I  type “panel discussion” with a bit of a smirk, because truth be told it was just me up there on the dais.  Every faire or convention has it’s little surprises and this wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself without panel partners. Thankfully I’m an experienced public speaker with a background in theater and improv, so crowds of people wearing expectant expressions don’t generally intimidate me. And hey, at least I know how to make an entrance.

The great thing about doing a panel discussion on your own is that you have the freedom to turn what would be an “us talking at all of you” experience into an “all of us talking to each other” experience. So that’s what we did. The result was a lively and informative discussion on the deep roots and underlying philosophy of steampunk. Beyond top hats and goggles, beyond modded keyboards and brassy rayguns, beyond cos-play, corsets, and Lord and Lady RPG – what exactly is at the heart of steampunk?

What we discovered as we explored this topic together is that to many of us (certainly to the people present in the room that day) steampunk is so much more then a simple aesthetic. It’s a philosophy for life. Steampunkian principles can be applied to any aspect of your life. A commitment to self sufficiency and the creativity of the individual, support of small and local business, respect of artisanship and traditional materials are core steampunk concepts. Hardcore steampunk enthusiasts tend towards a longing to downsize the material aspects of their lives, while simultaneously demanding more function, better design and romantic execution of the objects they choose to have around them.

In fact you might say that the steampunk philosophy could be summed up in this golden rule:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful‘

Guess who said that?

William Morris, the Victorian era designer and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement.

I firmly believe that steampunk as a philosophy has it’s deepest roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1860s. This movement was largely a backlash to the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s. Arts and Crafts philosophy favored the skilled work of human hands and master craftsman over mass-produced and commercially made items. It was this same debate that dominated the discussion at Mythic Faire. Is the value of an object inherent only on it’s surface? What about how, or where the piece was made? Is an object steampunk because you’ve glued cogs to it, or because of it’s purpose? It’s this very same discussion that spurred on the development of glorious movements of art and design that we so treasure today. 150 years later we are having the same debates over mass produced imported goods, versus locally made and artisanal items. It’s a good debate, with complex questions and few simple answers.

For my part I enjoyed the lively discussion that manifested and look forward to exploring the connection that steampunk philosophy has to current social and economic issues more in the future. What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments!

Editor’s Note: There’s still time to enter to win one of Brigid’s Steampunk figurines! Deadline for the giveaway is Sunday night.