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:

Which Witch are You? Urban Decay’s Oz-Inspired Palettes Dazzle

Both palettes inspired by Disney’s new film; Theodora on top, Glinda on the bottom. Image: Urban Decay

I’m a makeup geek. While the topic is of makeup is a somewhat sensitive topic among some geek ladies, I embrace it with no reservations. I’ve always loved makeup–not just the application, but the history and the science behind it. Even better is when makeup intersects with a particularly geeky favorite.

When I saw that Urban Decay, my favorite cosmetics company, was putting out two limited-edition palettes inspired by Disney’s upcoming film Oz: The Great and Powerful I did a little happy dance. I did an even bigger happy dance when the two palettes–one for Theodora and one for Glinda–showed up for review a few days ago. I’ve been an Oz fan since I was a little kid, and while I preferred Return to Oz for its altogether creepiness and sense of the bizarre, the idea that I myself could wear some looks inspired by these famed witches made me happier than Princess Mombi in the Hall of Heads.

I stumbled upon Urban Decay by accident at Sephora, about four years ago, while on the lookout for a new eyeshadow palette. I stumbled upon their brightly colored display and immediately felt I was on to something. With eyeshadow names like Midnight Cowboy, Loaded, Oil Slick, Radium, Rockstar, and Half Baked, I knew I wasn’t in my mom’s makeup bin anymore (which is fine, because my Mom’s Mary Kay stash smelled like old wax). It’s the cheekiness that got me first, but the quality that kept me a loyal buyer. I’m an absolute devotee to their eyeshadow primer (I honestly had no idea that you could keep eyeshadow on all day until I found this product) and almost everything I’ve ever tried in their line rocks (save the mascara, but you can’t be perfect, right?).

Anyway, I wear Urban Decay almost every day, and I’m particularly fond of their eyeshadow. An artful stroke here and there really can make all the difference in your day, and I have always loved experimenting with their fun colors. While most days I use the Naked 2 set, I still use a variety of their other colors when seeking that extra flair.

There are two new sets for the new Oz film, and as I mentioned one is for each witch, Theodora and Glinda respectively. One is darker and more earthy, the other brighter and more ethereal. The packaging is gorgeous (nice, sturdy metal like their Naked series) and uses different versions of the film art, and the colors are smooth and sultry. Some have iridescence, others more matte. Each comes with an eyeliner and lip gloss (which is long-wearing and better than many lipsticks I’ve used). The names of the colors are predictably delightful, including Beware, Spell, Magic, and Jealous.

As a bonus, there’s a card in each palette that tells you exactly how to achieve the look from the films (cosplayers, rejoice!). I decided to go ahead and try each look myself, and show you the results (see below). I’m very happy with the end result, even though I expected it to rock. I’m much more akin to Theodora’s coloring, though, so even though the Glinda set looks pretty decent it’s not something I’d wear every day. But the movie look is just the beginning–there are eight shades in each palette (two of each are split in two) so there’s plenty of room for experimentation. Which I will surely do. The eyeliner is creamy and easy to apply, and I’ll be using both colors frequently.

Me, having fun with the palettes. Glinda on the left, Theodora on the right. Image by Natania Barron.

I always advise adding primer potion before adding the eyeshadow, which I did, but otherwise the look is entirely out of the box. All in all, it’s an ideal gift for the Oz fan in your life, or as a treat to yourself. I can vouch that every penny is worth it.

The Glinda and Theordora palettes retail for $49.00 each, and can be found online and at various retailers (like Ulta and Sephora). Buying online does give you their “Love it or Leave it” guarantee, which is pretty sweet.

I was provided a pair of palettes for the purpose of this review.

The Comics Factory Turns You Into A Superhero

Your kid wears capes and masks and flies around the house playing superhero? Just imagine the look on his face when his superhero identity is hanging on the wall. The Comics Factory creates personalized superhero-based (both generic and Marvel-specific) portraits based on your photos.

The process is easy, and the results are both really fun and high quality. I chose the base art I liked from The Comics Factory Gallery and sent in a photo of my son. Within three days, I had a proof of the art–handmade, not Photoshop–and a few days later, had the portrait in hand.

The real test, of course, is in the eye of the superhero. When I took it out of the box and showed my three-year-old, he instantly exclaimed, “That’s me!” You can also judge for yourself. Here is the photo I sent and the result:

My stretched canvas piece came pre-wired with the hardware for hanging. Framed paper pieces are mounted on acid-free foam board with a non-glare UV protective sheet. (Read here about specific mounting and framing options.) In addition, you can order a digital file, which you own the copyrights to and can reproduce as you like.

The Comics Factory is licensed to create pieces based on Marvel characters, as this one was. That line includes both Superhero Squad style pictures and more traditional Marvel ones. They also have their own superhero character designs, which is a good way to get the whole family into the picture. And if you have a whole other idea, you can ask about custom creations based on your idea.

Pieces from The Comics Factory start at $99 for a 10×16 portrait. (And custom creations are of course more.) You can order your creation on paper or on canvas with optional frame.

There’s still time to order for Valentine’s Day (the couple that kills zombies together stays together), and The Comics Factory is offering GeekMom readers a 10% discount with the code GEEKMOM. You can also take advantage of the free shipping currently being offered. And if your family’s faces on superheroes just doesn’t say “Happy Valentine’s Day!” to you, it’s never too early to drop hints about what a GeekMom would like for Mother’s Day!

Illustrator Steve Thomas Takes on The Wizard of Oz!

Image: Steve Thomas

I’ve been a fan of Steve Thomas’s work for years, and have written about him before. He makes poster art reminiscent of an earlier time, in a classic look but with modern content. Mostly.

Image: Steve Thomas

This time around he has tackled The Wizard of Oz with a series of posters showing a few different locations from the story. Which one is your favorite? Just when I think I like the Kansas poster the best, I am drawn to the castle (which, somehow, also keeps making me think of Strange Brew), or Munchkin Land, or… What do you think?

Steve’s art is available for purchase. If you’re a fan of this kind of art and The Wizard of Oz, these posters would make a really fantastic way to decorate your home or office. He also has done a wide variety of other posters, including ones about space travel, and travel a bit closer to home. Just visit his site for details!

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.

James Stowe’s D&D For Eight Year Olds: Streamlined Character Sheets for Kids

Image by James Stowe, via his website. A bard gal. Couldn’t love her more.

This weekend I was looking for easier 4th Edition D&D modules, and came upon the art of James Stowe through the magic of a Google Search. I couldn’t be more in love! This dad was searching for the same sort of thing I was, but instead of waiting for someone else to put it together, well, he did it himself. His series “D&D For Eight Year Olds” is ideal for starting a game with the younger crowd not quite ready to jump into the nuts and bolts of D&D.

I absolutely love the artwork and his clever re-tinkering of the spells, but it’s even better that he did an entire series for boys and for girls. As an avid RPG gamer girl, I can’t tell you how tickled that makes me. Extra super bonus? They come in wide variety of shapes and sizes! Because no matter what you look like you can still rock out and have a blast playing D&D.

You can find the whole set, as well as more of his great art, over at his website.

Give a Box of Fun: Five Subscription Kits for Kids

print block tshirt
Print block t-shirt by Rilla, age six. Image source: Melissa Wiley.

Is there anything nicer than getting a package full of surprises in the mail? How about a package full of surprises in the mail once a month! I’ve noticed a growing number of monthly subscription-box services popping up lately; I decided to check out a bunch of them and report my findings here. Previously reviewed: Knoshbox and La Bella Box, two great gift ideas for adults. This time around, I’m looking at subscription boxes meant especially for kids.


Wonder Box contents
“Once Upon a Time” Wonder Box. Image source: Wonder Box.

I discovered Wonder Box when I was looking for a birthday gift for my three-year-old godchild, the brilliant daughter of my fellow GeekMom, Kristen Rutherford. When it comes to presents, I’m usually sort of a one-note giver — books, books, and more books — but this time, I wanted to give something different, something Kristen and Vivi could do together. Something hands-on, creative, and fun. The second I saw Wonder Box, an assortment of crafts and activities aimed at kids ages 3-6, I knew I’d hit a bullseye. You can order Wonder Box as a one-time gift, or sign up for a monthly subscription.

Sample contents: The Once Upon A Time theme box contained materials for three projects: a Story Cape (cape and fabric crayons); Puppet Play (felt puppet body and decorations); and illustrated Story Cards. There was also a Stone Soup storybook with pictures to color in, and a recipe for Stone Soup. Other recent themes include the very enticing Mad Scientist box and a Nature box. The projects are simple and appealing, and the materials are high quality. As for how it went over with the birthday girl, here’s what Kristen wrote me:

“THE WONDER BOX IS AMAZING. We have melted crayons and painted with this crazy powdered paint. I’m going to subscribe to this. I’m absolutely buying them as birthday presents for some folks coming up…”

Age range: 3-6 years.

Cost: Single box: $30. 3-month subscription: $75. Ongoing monthly subscription: $19.99/month.

UPDATED! Use code HOLIDAY5-03 at checkout for $5 off one order now through January 13.

Gift subscriptions available? Yes. You’ll include your recipient’s email in your order, generating a “you’ve got a Wonder Box” notice for the giftee (or presumably, her parent).


BabbaBox contents
Sample BabbaBox. Image source: Melissa Wiley.

Well, after my soaring success with Wonder Box, I became curious to know what other kids’ subscription boxes were out there. My search led me to BabbaBox, and this one was a tremendous hit with my own daughter, age six. Rilla is my little artist; there is truly nothing she enjoys doing more than some kind of painting/drawing/cutting/glueing project. She was pretty much in heaven when the BabbaBox arrived.

Continue reading Give a Box of Fun: Five Subscription Kits for Kids

Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart Because Dinosaurs Never Stop Being Cool

Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart, Image: Amazon

It seems like every kid goes through a dinosaur phase and there’s good reason. Dinosaurs are amazing creatures made almost mythic because we can’t see them for real. This makes them the perfect creatures for a child’s fertile imagination. Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart will appeal to these kids with beautiful illustrations that are equalling engaging for older kids or adults.

The book is a collection of art from ten modern paleoartists whose work will be familiar to paleontology fans. Each artist has own section in the book that starts with a description of who he is, his background, and his prior works. The pages following are his interpretations of not just dinosaurs, but their whole prehistoric world.

It’s a bit like getting ten separate books compiled into one beautiful hardcover volume. Each artist has a distinct style so although their illustrations are consistent with current paleontological beliefs, they still look entirely unique to each artist.

There may be bright, digitally painted dinosaurs on one page and black and white pencil sketches on the next. The contrast from artist to artist and medium to medium makes flipping each page a surprise. Along with descriptions of each image and a bit of background on its creation, there are also artist interviews to add context to their works.

Those with an interest in dinosaurs and prehistoric life will find Dinosaur Art: The World’s Greatest Paleoart ($34.95) a joy, seeing something new and beautiful on every page. This truly was created for, and by, those who’ve never left that dinosaur phase of their lives.

I received this book for review purposes.

Mix (Medium) Tape: Artist Creates Gorgeous Art From Cassette Tape

Photo: copyright Erika Iris, via DesignTAXI

Who says the cassette tape is a dead medium?

Artist Erika Iris has taken the defunct cassette tape and turned it into something jaw-droppingly beautiful. Her muses include The Beatles, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Hendrix, and Lenny Kravitz, among others. Her film series uses movie reels and VHS tapes to great result, and feature iconic figures like Marylin Monroe and Alfred Hitchcock, as well as other more unusual (but certainly influential) people like Traci Lourdes. Of her art, Erika explains on her blog:

Most of my pieces become portraits of people associated with the item I’ve chosen. I don’t really add any paint or pigments… I usually just take things apart and re-arrange the pieces, cutting away portions when necessary. A lot of my art is made with cassette tapes and old film reels in a series I call “Ghost in the Machine.”

One of my favorite pieces is her Oscar Wilde. Just perfect!

Don’t forget to check out her Flikr stream amazing works in progress, too.

[via DesignTAXI]

The Existence of Mermaids… and Other City Art

Do you believe in mermaids? I do — especially as these beautiful works of art that grace my hometown, Norfolk, Virginia. My oldest son had his grandparents driving him all over the city to take pictures with these works of art in 2007. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Yesterday GeekMom Judy pointed out an article on Yahoo News about the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issuing a formal statement denying the existence of mermaids. Because it came out of NOAA, it was routed in my direction for commentary. It appears that NOAA had to issue the statement as a reaction to the public’s reaction to a Discovery Channel documentary about mermaids that ran during Monsters Week.

Read the Yahoo News article here, and the original NOAA statement here.

The original NOAA statement is using a picture of one of the Norfolk, Virginia “Mermaids on Parade” works of art. The city commissioned artists, mostly through corporate sponsorship, to decorate mermaids. This brought back memories of my own 2007 tour of Norfolk’s mermaids with our oldest son.

…and then this post, which was going to start out about the legend of the mermaid, took a left turn and is now about art…
Continue reading The Existence of Mermaids… and Other City Art

KinderBard: Music + Shakespeare + Kids = A Beautiful and Educational Project

I recently discovered a new Kickstarter project called KinderBard. They are putting words, music, and art together to introduce children to Shakespeare. Depending on the level at which you pledge, you can get a book, a CD, an iPad app, an eBook, and more.

The people behind this project are very passionate about it, and have included their whole family in the project, among others. The child singing the songs is the developer’s own four-year-old daughter.

Take a look at KinderBard, and if you are inspired by their words, music, and art, consider supporting this worthy project.

Bid in a Charity Animation Art Auction, This Weekend!

Images used with permission.

The lovely wife of our friend, GeekLife‘s Bob Boyle, has put together a charity art auction including names that will be familiar to many of you. Art from My Little Pony, PowerPuff Girls, Spongebob, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Ren and Stimpy, Dilbert, even Phineas and Ferb. And… Mo Willems!

Images used with permission.

The auction opens in Los Angeles, California, tonight, Thursday, but there will also be an online auction on eBay starting on Friday night for those of us who aren’t close enough to attend in person. Check out the preview for the auction on the website!

A charity art auction needs a good cause, and this is a very good cause. Storyboard artist Joey Adams and his family are in need of help. To quote the website:

To be brief, he nearly lost his twin boys over the Christmas holidays, due to a possible genetic illness. Two years ago, he and his wife Ginger, lost their daughter, under similar circumstances. The boys survived, but baby Ian is currently undergoing grueling chemo, while undergoing extensive genetic testing. He will need a bone marrow transplant, and his brother Henry may need one as well.

You can get more information on their more personal website. Please bid generously! If you have the winning bid for any of the pieces of art, come back and tell us in the comments what you bought.

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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.

You-Topia Contest


Cheryl Lee


Sitting down to sketch or paint a place you love is one of the best ways of revisiting it. That’s because getting the images on paper forces you to re-imagine the sights and sounds, making it come alive more fully in your memory.

The folks at They Draw & Travel know all about this process.  They urge you to map out your favorite place, then share it with others on their site. There you’ll find unique and imaginative glimpses of places like Mtscheta, Georgia and North Devon, UK and Orange, Texas.

Tinatina Wieczorek


Lauren Bowler


Catherine Fontenot



If you need further encouragement, they’re currently running a contest called You-Topia which offers a total of $1,500 in cash and prizes.

Don’t forget their companion site  They Draw & Cook, and freshly released book They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World which we covered last year in GeekMom.

Now start drawing!


Geeky Crafts at the Maker’s Fair

I let my geek flag fly and made a little money at the Texas Avenue Maker's Fair in Shreveport, LA.

Every once in a blue moon I get in a crafty mood; I put my laptop aside and take out the paint, scissors and glue. Occasionally, I take my hand-made wares to a craft market, or in this case, a maker’s fair, and sell them to those who might appreciate them. This past weekend, I took some of my usual; aged gift tags, a few painted signs, and highly-scented potpourri (which has been dubbed “Christmas Crack” by one of my frequent buyers; she says she can’t start the Christmas season without it).

I took my chances and made some geeky wares to sell this time. As a kid, I loved making Shrinky Dinks. While browsing Hobby Lobby a few weeks ago, I found a new product: Shrinky Dinks that you can print on. My imagination reeled with the possibilities. I made earrings, necklaces, book marks, zipper pulls, and cell phone charms. Now many people in my town and the surrounding area are sporting Dalek and TARDIS jewelry, Nyan Cat book marks, and even a few pieces that feature The Goonies, Ghostbusters and lots of other fun stuff you won’t find at your local shops. As proud as I might be of my geeky goodies and the profit they turned, I am even prouder of the fact that both of my sons participated in the maker’s fair for the first time and made their own little bit of money.

My fourteen year old, Michael, played two separate sets on his acoustic guitar, and with permission from the organizers, collected tips in his opened his guitar case. He got a lot of compliments on his playing skills and choice of songs; he is a fan of classics like The Eagles and Bob Marley, and good old grunge-rock, Nirvana.


My son Michael playing some tunes to entertain the shoppers.

Sammy, who is eleven, set up a small area within my booth space and sold his hand-made duct tape items. Most popular were the wallets, which several people had custom-made while they shopped. He turned a pretty darn good profit, and was excited that even our mayor bought a wallet from him!

Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover holds his new duct tape wallet, made by Sammy.

All in all, it was a pretty fun day. There were so many different and interesting makers, so many cool things to see and buy, and lots of yummy food to eat. We are looking forward to being a part of the next Texas Avenue Maker’s Fair, which I am pretty certain will be happening again!

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.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: An Interactive Puppetry Experience You Can Really Get Into!

When I saw the advertisements around my humble town of Shreveport, Louisiana for a production of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I thought to myself, “Oh, a puppet show. That’s nice; another way to enjoy the story, besides just watching the movie.” After actually experiencing it a few days ago with my husband and 11-year-old son, Sammy, I quickly realized that my previous thoughts on the matter were glaring understatements and didn’t do the production justice at all. In the words of the well-traveled Sammy, “This is the best thing I have ever been to in my entire life; it’s even better than Legoland!” That’s a serious comparison coming from a boy who for three years, before actually spending a day at Legoland, saved up every single free pass to the theme park that came with a new Lego set, even after they had expired.

Sammy gives his review of Fox after the show while hagning out with narrator Caleb Gaston, who is his buddy and fellow Whovian!

After buying our tickets online, I did a little research about the production and the people behind the making of Fantastic Mr. Fox. I found out that it is the brain-child of three totally cool guys (in my personal opinion). Arthur Mintz, who had previously worked on Disney’s James and the Giant Peach, came up with the idea of adapting the story of Mr. Fox’s adventures into such a cool, interactive experience. He got together with pals Jacques and Rene Duffourc, who agreed to help make it all happen. It wasn’t long before Hi-YAH! Productions was started. Fantastic Mr. Fox opened in New Orleans, in late 2010, to rave reviews and eventually sold-out shows. It had to be extended several times due to its immense popularity.

William Joyce, creator of the PBS animated series George Shrinks and the hit Disney cartoon Roly Polie Olie, calls Shreveport his home and is on the Advisory Board for a local art, theater and music exhibition center, not to mention all around amazing place, in our downtown called artspace. I got to chat with Jacques Duffourc after the show, and he told me that Mr. Joyce made them “an offer that they couldn’t refuse” to bring Fox to artspace in Shreveport. Even with a list of demands, like needing to cut holes in walls and take up space on several floors of the building, Jaques told me that artspace has been wonderful and that they couldn’t have pulled it all off without the support they’ve gotten from everyone involved. I have to admit that I am glad it all worked out:  I’m about to tell you a little bit about the show, without spoiling it, because if you are lucky, you may be within driving distance. If not, Jacques seems pretty confident that Fox is on it’s way up; several agencies from New York and Los Angeles have shown interest in the production, so it could be headed your way sometime soon, after a hoped-for blessing from the Roald Dahl estate.

The creators of the show, Hi-YAH Productions. L to R: Rene & Jacques Duffourc, Arthur Mintz. Image courtesy of

We first entered downstairs, to a normal looking basement-type of room, decorated with the artwork of children who had drawn their own “wanted” posters for Mr. Fox. A television played a loop of a short preview of what was to come. It wasn’t long before Jacques greeted everyone and lead the audience of about 25 kids and adults (the maximum per show is 30) to an elevator that we we all rode up one floor, ten at a time, to a seating area where the show would begin. The first thing I noticed was the curtain; it was sewn together with bits of fabric and various clothing; most recognizable was a pair of khaki-colored corduroy jeans. “Neato!” I said, pointing them out to Sammy. The curtain parted and the very exuberant narrator, wearing two different-colored Chuck Taylor All Star tennis shoes, began telling us a little of the back story of Mr. Fox, the main character. He imparted a few gags that the kids got quite a kick out of, but I won’t ruin it here, in case you are ever an audience member. One in particular got praise from Sammy, considering that the narrator that night happened to be one of his older classmates from kung fu class, a young man named Caleb, and he gave a little extra attention to my son, who was sitting on the front row.

Over the Hill, image courtesy of

The audience didn’t sit long; we were soon given headlamps and adults were offered knee pads (which I later wished I had taken advantage of) so that we could literally crawl into the story book! Our head lamps lit the path as we found our way through dark tunnels, pieced together quite creatively from pieces of cardboard boxes, and came out into the first of many wonderful sets, called “Over the Hill.” Being inside the set like that, crawling around and sitting on the cardboard-covered floors, looking around in wonder at all of the great detail and artistry that went into making it all so wonderful and elaborate, made me feel like I was a kid again. I was back in my own bedroom, an eight-year-old little girl, playing house inside of a shelter that I had carefully built with the sheets and blankets confiscated from all of the beds in my home. It was magical, without a doubt.

We moved into different sets, by means of more tunnels, a ladder and even slides. Some parents opted to take the “back way,” and I even did that a time or two, to save my knees a little grief and to get to see what the outside of the set looked like. It was amazing! Overtaking the stairwell and several floors of the building were the tunnels and slides, covered in up-cycled cardboard that had been torn apart and pieced back together again. Jacques later told me, after the show, of the “cardboard parties” they hosted in order to build the set, inviting volunteers to come and piece it all together, with the promise of a little food or drink in exchange.

Mr. Fox and his puppeteer for our performance, Cazes Verbois.

The audience never sat back and just “watched a puppet show.” We were actually in the show. The puppeteers were in the sets with us; they wore clothes that blended into the background and although it was obvious they were there, after awhile, you just didn’t notice or care that they were. At times throughout the show, the narrator encouraged us to shout, to yell, to tell the characters what they should do. We all formed a bond and were very comfortable with one another; we were are in this experience together and we were having a great time! A few of the younger kids got a little frightened at moments, like when scenes went dark or a rather large puppet would come into a scene unexpectedly. The show is recommended for ages four and up due to the “athletic nature of the performance and crawling and sliding required,” but I think that is a good age to judge its appropriateness by also, considering the few screams and whimpers I heard from the under-four crowd when a few thematic elements got underway. It seemed so real at times that a few toddlers wanted to leave, but to me, that just shows the high quality of the production itself. I also noticed that towards the end, some of those same kiddos showed a little more bravery and were no worse for the wear. When I asked him what one of the most rewarding parts of putting on the performance was, Jacques told me that for him, it was watching the transformation of the children, going from unsure and a little bit frightened, to brave and ready to take on whatever the next tunnel would bring. I would have to agree with him on that; after reassuring a few kids that it was all going to be just fine, I noticed them later cheering and exclaiming about how much they loved it and wanted to come back.

The puppeteers of Fantastic Mr. Fox, showing for a limited time at artspace in Shreveport, Louisiana.

In today’s day and age, our children are over loaded with digital devices and electronic entertainment. It’s rare to find a kid who doesn’t own an iPod, iPhone, Nintendo DSi or other hand-held device that keeps them from ever having a dull moment. Even in taking our children out of the home for entertainment, we all usually just sit and watch, depending on someone or something else to dance, sing or make bright colors interesting enough to take us away from something else that could possibly be even more interesting and engaging. It is truly refreshing to be a part of an event — yes, I will call it an event, because it is not just a “show” in my opinion — that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the story, and the only way they will find out more is to get on their hands and knees and crawl to the next scene. Instead of just absorbing moving images on a screen, we were participants and we had to be engaged. The children got to touch, jump, slide, climb, crawl and even at one point, snack, right there in the performance.

Sammy hangs out with Cub, who is a little geekling, much like he is!

Parents in today’s society, as a whole, seem to have gotten away from letting kids really have fun. We’ve all heard of “helicopter parents,” the kind that constantly hover over their children, fearful that something bad may happen to them if they don’t watch over them all the time. Kids need to just be kids; they need to jump, run, crawl, slide and get dirty sometimes. I did it when I was a kid and I seemed to have turned out okay (for the most part!). How else can children learn to rely on themselves and figure things out on their own, if their parents are always making every little decision for them? Fantastic Mr. Fox at artspace is a wonderful example of good ideas, creative interactive theater, great fun, and a great way for kids (and parents) to let go and have a good old-fashioned fun time, while leaving the television and video games systems at home for a night. I truly hope that a lot of GeekMom readers are within driving distance; it is well worth whatever number of hours away you have to travel to see it. It is only showing until the end of November, and there are plenty of other great things to do in the area, so it would be well worth it to make a day, or even a weekend out of it.

For more information, including showtimes and tickets, visit

Learning Through Legos: S.T.E.M. and Back Again

Lego Bricks
Lego Bricks by Gina Clifford

Legos are internationally cherished small plastic interlocking building blocks and minifigures that can be taken apart and used to build other objects. Over the years, Lego has expanded its creations to include products like gears and pulleys and even electronic parts for constructing programmable robots. As a result, there are popular Lego robotics leagues and Lego education products focusing squarely on programming, solar, and even wind energy exploration. So, we see the science, technology, engineering, and Math (S.T.E.M.) connection, but what do Legos have to do with other stuff like reading, writing, or art?

Learning by Doing

First, kids love to learn by doing. Period. In fact, noted computer scientist and constructivist from the MIT Media Lab, Seymour Papert, believes so strongly in learning by doing that in 1998 he worked with Lego to create Lego Mindstorms, a programmable brick that can be used to make robots. The name for the product came from Papert’s book, Mindstorms, published in 1980. Lego even funded some of his research! Let’s take these little S.T.E.M. jewels and extend their reach into non-traditional starring roles in the arts and humanities.


Lego Pirates
Lego Pirates by Gina Clifford

There’s nothing like necessity for prompting a child to read.  Lego kits come with detailed instruction manuals that a child must read and follow in order to complete the model.  Therefore, young Lego builders are developing their reading comprehension every time they follow the instructions for a new model.

More interesting, though is tying a piece of literature to a building project.  Imagine building scenes from Alice in Wonderland out of Legos.  Alternatively, build and then reenact your favorite scenes from Treasure Island in Lego. Check out literacy expert Susan Stephenson’s great suggestions on this topic.


Susan also provides ideas for using Mini-mizer, a free online digital Lego minifigure creation tool.  Mini-mizer is a cool tool for creating a wide array of digital minifigures that can be saved by taking screen captures.  It would be fun to use these neat screen captures in original comic strips, stories, etc.

Digital Storytelling

Lego-themed stop-motion videos are extremely popular.  A quick search on YouTube yields thousands of kid-created Lego stop-motion animation videos riffing on popular movies like Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Creating a stop-motion animation video isn’t kid’s play, though. Stop-motion animation takes serious time and skill. Creating even a rudimentary Lego stop-motion animation video requires developing at least basic photo, video, and sound editing techniques. More elaborate videos often involve developing a story board, writing a script, creating an original music score, adding special effects, learning about copyright rules, and even marketing a video to friends and fellow fans. In spite of the time and effort required to learn, young Lego fans painstakingly learn these skills on their own without prompting. In addition, young Lego engineers who explore stop-motion animation end up developing writing and story-telling skills as they explore new ways to express themselves through Lego.


Batman minifig
Created with Mini-mizer

Creative kids are in good company, too. Pixar animator, Angus Maclane, builds with Lego bricks to help him unwind after animating all day.  He also builds Lego models of animated characters to help him visualize his digital creations in 3-d.


Nathan Sawaya, a New York-based artist who has taken Lego bricks beyond child’s play with his traveling art exhibition, is an inspiration to all aspiring Lego artists.  As a child, Sawaya drew cartoons, wrote stories, perfected magic tricks, and played with LEGO. Nathan’s Lego sculptures are stunningly realistic  fine art that adults and children can enjoy together. Check out Nathan’s museum tour schedule to find an art museum near you that might be hosting an exhibition of Nathan’s work.

So, those sweet little bricks are really kids’ prototyping laboratory wares.  Fertile imaginations unleashed beyond STEM flow freely wherever the creative spirit dictates.  Oh! Don’t worry. Leaving the S.T.E.M. path actually leads back to it, sometimes profoundly. Check out Jim Bumgardner’s 2007 GeekDad article explaining how he erased his classroom math failures through creative discovery — outside the classroom.

Now go build some cool Lego creations with the kids!



Mal’s Gun from Firefly – Made out of Paper!


As a Browncoat, I am amazed by the amount of creativity that my fellow Browncoats seem to possess. I’ve done a few things like re-create Kaylee’s Layer Cake dress from the Firefly episode, Shindig. Along with painting parasols that match the one that Kaylee has in the pilot. But my feeble attempts look really poor when you consider that the Mal’s gun that is pictured is made out of paper!

Leo Firebrand, a papercraft artist, created this replica of the Captain’s pistol using some floral foam, paper and some paint. It is really amazing and so very shiny!

You can see more photos of the finished product at the Firebrand Creations website, along with progress shots that show that this gun is really made out of paper!

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.*

Math in Short: Visual Multiplication

Part of the reason I was never a brilliant math student had to do with the chasm of difference between how I was taught math and how I understood it. Art has always been ‘my thing’ so in spite of all my math teachers’ best efforts to learn by the book, I inevitably accessed the subject artistically. Specifically, through patterns.

In school, I was an incorrigible margin-doodler and I would always get mad whenever a teacher scolded me for not showing my work. The crazy cartoon geometry framing my homework showed how I worked the math problems! I never understood why my teachers got so annoyed with me for finding answers in my own way. It was an early and often-repeated lesson in how seeing the world differently is widely equated with cheating.

Now look at me. Parent of a school-aged child and worried sick about the cookie-cutter curriculum he’s up against… Sometimes it still seems that way, doesn’t it? Like it’s us versus classrooms? But kids and parents are better armed these days; we have the internet, and it is full of useful alternatives for students who need them. I even found an example of someone demonstrating multiplication the way I taught myself to understand it. Specifically, through patterns.

Vi Hart is my favorite mathematician and among my top five favorite YouTubers. Her videos are an effective combination of straightforward, smart and charming, and I recommend them highly to geeks of all kinds.

James Hance’s Firefly and Muppets Mashup


James Hance is an artist who is known for putting a geeky spin on childhood classics. And his latest product has combined two of my favorite things: Firefly and the Muppets.

He has recreated the characters from Firefly as Muppets. Kermit, of course, is Mal, Fozzy is Jayne, Miss Piggy is Inara, Wembly from Fraggle Rock is Wash, and so on. He has even done some of the more obscure characters like blue gloved agents and even redid the ship, Serenity, itself!

These Firefrog prints are a lot of fun for Browncoats who also were fans of The Muppet Show back in the day. This project is now completed and prints are available at his store. He also blogged that there would be a limited edition print of this art at select Can’t Stop the Serenity events with the proceeds going to Equality Now.

So if you are a fan of either Firefly or the Muppets, check out the character prints – they are very shiny indeed!

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.

Change the Subject – I Dare You!

Many of our daily conversations are dominated by some combination of these four topics: Our homes, our partners, our children, and our appearance. This is particularly true for women, as social pressures drive us to focus on these things above all else. However, habit can become stifling, and it’s probably not healthy to fulfill any stereotype too well.

So here’s the challenge: Go one day without talking about your home, your partner, your children, or your appearance. Do what you must to make it happen. If you find yourself veering into a conversation about these things, change the subject to one of your other interests. Plan ahead to keep yourself busy with or distracted by something new!

It’s just one day. It may not even be hard. But it might be interesting, it might be fun, and it might add a little self-appreciation to the things that already matter to us. And who knows? We might find we have even more of interest in common than our everyday lives suggest.

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.

2011 Golden Kite Awards Announced


The Golden Kite Awards are given each year to the most outstanding children’s books published during the previous year, and written or illustrated by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The following blurbs are from the SCBWI Press Release.

Jennifer Holm’s novel Turtle in Paradise receives this year’s Golden Kite Award for Fiction. Based on stories Holm’s mother used to tell about her childhood, this hard-scrabble, Depression-era coming-of-age tale follows 11-year-old Turtle who is sent to live with relatives in Key West, Florida from New Jersey. Hilarious and heart-warming, Turtle in Paradise draws in the middle-grade reader with vibrant imagery and a fast-paced plot with an adventurous twist.


The award for Non-Fiction goes to The Good, the Bad and the Barbie by acclaimed nonfiction author Tanya Lee Stone. In passionate anecdotes and memories from a range of girls and women (including a forward by Meg Cabot) this compelling book takes an insightful and incisive look at how Barbie became the icon that she is–and at the impact the doll has had on our culture (and vice versa.)


Rooted in the experience of an immigrant family, siblings of all nationalities will see themselves in Rukhsana Khan’s Big Red Lollipop, this year’s winner for Picture Book Text. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Khan’s honest story reminds us of how assimilation is transformed from generation to generation, and offers a heartfelt, moving, commentary on sisterly relationships.



The Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration goes to A Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes in which Salley Mavor’s gorgeous fabric relief techniques offer precise and intricate illustrations of beloved nursery rhymes. Even old poems are fresh and new in this beautiful reinterpretation that will delight many generations.


The 2011 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor goes to Alan Silberberg’s second novel Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. Hilarious and poignant, the story of 13-year-old Milo’s struggle to come to terms with the loss that hit the reset button on his life comes to life through text and cartoons.