Category Archives: Creative outbursts

Winter storms

We had sleet last weekend, and Dan is calling for a 100 percent chance of snow — to the tune of five to seven inches — in Tulsa this weekend.

I don’t like being stuck inside so much, but there are advantages to a good, deep snow over the weekend. One is that my commitments get canceled, leaving me free to spend the weekend cooking, tending the woodstove, studying, and hanging out with my dogs. I got a lot done last weekend, but I’ve got a lot on my list for this weekend, too. Another advantage is that snow is pretty, and if I get out ahead of the snowplows tomorrow, I might be able to get some nice shots of the snow before it gets dirty and slushy and icky-looking around the curbs.

I’m just going to spend this evening cooking … and cooking … and cooking … and cooking. My plan is to make two casseroles, a batch of chicken, and a batch of pasta and just pack them up in storage containers and freeze them for lunches next week. I’ve gotten rather spoiled to eating food that didn’t come in a paper wrapper.

If this stuff turns out like I hope, I’ll post recipes later.

Emily

UPDATE: It all worked! I didn’t make the chicken yet, but here’s the rest:

Cornbread stuffing casserole

1/2 c. chopped onion
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
3 c. stuffing mix
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream-style corn
1/4 c. water
1/4 stick butter, cut in thin slices
Breadcrumbs

Saute onions in butter or olive oil. Stir together stuffing mix, soup, corn, water, and onions. Spread mixture into an oiled casserole dish. Top with slices of butter and bake at 350 degrees F until the butter melts. Add breadcrumbs, cover, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes or so.

Spinach casserole

This recipe is modified slightly from one I found in the Threadgill’s cookbook. Threadgill’s is a wonderful restaurant in Austin. They’re known for chicken-fried steak, but the vegetable platter is worth a trip all by itself.

1 c. yellow onion, diced
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
2 tbsp. butter
1 lb. frozen spinach
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 lb. Swiss cheese, diced
Juice of one lemon
1/2 c. breadcrumbs

Cook bacon. When it is almost done, add butter and onion and saute until onion is clear. Mix with remaining ingredients (except breadcrumbs) and place in an oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, cover, and bake about an hour.

Ron absolutely loves spinach casserole. Personally, I can take it or leave it, but he likes it so much, and it’s such a simple recipe, I think it’s well worth the effort.

Pasta with Asparagus

This is my rendition of something Ron’s mom made for us, except I’m too lazy to follow her recipe, which involves a lot more steps than this one.

1/2 lb. fettuccine, linguine, or capellini
1 pkg. frozen asparagus
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
1/2 stick butter
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 c. grated Parmesan, Romano, or mizithra cheese

Cook bacon. Saute onion in bacon grease. Microwave asparagus for 1 minute to thaw. Cut asparagus into bite-sized pieces. Cook pasta until it is al dente. Drain pasta and add butter. Heat until butter melts and just starts to brown. Stir in asparagus, bacon, cream, onion, mushrooms, and cheese. Bake at 350 until asparagus is heated through and serve.

Dreaming of spring

labyrinth

The diagram above gives you a rough idea of the sort of dementia concretia I am planning this spring. The path at the top of the diagram will lead to the garden gate. The brown area at the center of the large cavern-design meander labyrinth will be a planting area surrounded by bricks, with a large semicircular stone at the bottom, etched with the word “UNLESS” — a reference to the place where “the Lorax once stood, just as long as it could, until somebody lifted the Lorax away.” In the center of this planting area will be either a birdbath, a sculpture of the Lorax (if I can figure out how to construct such a thing), or a smoke tree, crape myrtle, or other suitably Truffulaesque plant.

The smaller spiral will lead into a lawn ornament, stepping stone, sculpture, or decorative planting of some description (perhaps a birdfeeder or butterfly pool) and then back out to the pond. The two paths at the bottom of the image lead to the clothesline (to be purchased and installed when the weather breaks) and to the deck.

The path appears to be black and green in this diagram. The green represents some type of planting along the edges — probably oregano or another mint that tastes good and will tolerate partial shade and total neglect — and the black just indicates where the path will be. The path itself will be constructed of Sackrete and will have bits of broken dishes, mirror shards, colored glass fragments, interesting marbles, broken figurines, and various and sundry other castoffs embedded in it. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, look at this amazing house in France. Amazing work. My little labyrinthine garden path won’t come close to this level of artistry, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

As soon as the weather improves, I’m going to start making regular visits to Goodwill, thrift stores, yard sale outlets, and junk shops to acquire materials for the mosaic. I intend to build the path a little at a time, as my schedule allows, and let the work be very freewheeling and expressive of my joy at being outside, creating something pretty.

I think this will be a good project. I have no idea how long it will take, but it should be a lot of fun, and when it’s done, I should have something unique and very striking.

To give you a sense of the dimensions, the “UNLESS” circle is four feet in diameter. It will be built first, followed by the main spiral path. I’ll make the path to the clothesline after the main spiral is done and install the path to the pond, with its secondary spiral, last.

This picture doesn’t come close to what’s in my mind, but it should give you a rough idea of what I’m talking about.

Not pictured is the Green Man sculpture that I plan to build over to the left of the path leading to the garden. The rest of the yard as pictured will belong to the dogs, of course.

Exhausted

I had an idea I might do a full-color sketch of the labyrinth I want to put in the backyard this spring, but for various reasons, Thursday turned out to be extremely long and extremely tiring, and I am pretty thoroughly drained at the moment.

It’s supposed to be slippery this weekend — two meetings I was supposed to attend (one on Saturday and one on Sunday) have been called off — so maybe I’ll have time to work on a few projects while I’m stuck at home.

Emily

Dymaxion Christmas

dymax.jpg

I saw this unusual display on old 66 between Sapulpa and Tulsa the other night. The photo doesn’t begin to do it justice.  The best way I can describe it is “Dymaxion Christmas light display” — in real life, it looks like the result of some DNA-splicing experiment involving Bucky Fuller, Clark Griswold, and Peter Parker.

The concept is simple enough: It’s just strings of white lights stretched from random branches to random spots on the ground, like so many guy wires. The effect is amazing, though — as you approach, you get the impression that you’re coming up on some exotic street fair, with tents and pavilions everywhere, or perhaps some sort of geodesic structure outlined in lights.

As you get closer, you realize the lights aren’t outlining anything — they’re just an art installation unto themselves, and the way they shine through the branches makes them look like a giant spiderweb. It’s a really cool display, and one I’ve never seen before. I hope they leave it up for a little while after Christmas. It’s worth driving out there to see.

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sapulpa2.jpg

Downtown Sapulpa has a nice Christmas light display, too. The first photo is the view down Dewey (66) the other night. The second photo is from Martha’s Corner, a little park on an otherwise vacant lot on Dewey. Sand Springs has a little park kind of like that, right next door to the newspaper office, and it’s really nice. Tiny greenspaces seem to be popular in this area. I’m glad. I like little parks like that — they’re sort of like hidden treasures in the middle of a busy downtown.

Speaking of busy, I’ve been hard at work the last couple of days, putting together a little present for my little nephew. I am creating a book for him called The Hippy-Dippy ABCs. He’s too young for it just now, but I hope to have it done by the time he’s old enough to look at it. Here are a few illustrations from it:

aweb.jpg

bweb.jpg
cweb.jpg

That Fillmoresque lettering is hard to read, but I’m going to use inDesign to put the book together, and I’ll have the text printed below the images in a standard font. That way it will look cool on the page but will still be easy to read.

So far,  I’ve gotten up to J for Janis. I’m kind of stuck on K (“kynd bud” works, but I don’t think we need to encourage the baby to smoke weed, and “Kerouac” is too hard to illustrate), and I haven’t come up with anything for X. If anybody has any brilliant ideas, please toss them my way.

That’s about all for now. I had to buy India ink today because my ink had gotten old and started to congeal on the bottom, making it impossible to work with. While I was at the store, I found a great pen-and-ink set that had two pens and eight nibs for less than $8. It was too nice a set to pass up. I like using pen and ink to add details and outline things when I’m working with watercolors or colored pencils. I think that deep black ink really makes things pop out, and my style is cartoonish enough that I can get away with it. I use the same technique on murals, except I do them with acrylics and then use paintmarkers to outline things and add detail.

Someday I’d like to get into superrealism, but I don’t have time at the moment. I’m sure Jamie will enjoy colorful little hippie cartoons more anyway.

I’ve got a really cool art project coming up next month: My friend Terriann is loaning me her kids (ages 3 and 6, I think) for a decorating project in my home office. My aunt gave me a Barnes and Noble gift certificate for Christmas, which I am going to use to get a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. When the book comes in, I think Jaiden and Corbin and I will read it together, and then we’ll paint Max and the Wild Things on my wall. Jaiden is kind of a wild thing herself, so she should enjoy that. Let the wild rumpus start! 🙂

Emily

New project

I got some photos today in the snow. I’ll try to Photoshop them up when I get a hand free.

If I’m not blogging much in the next couple of days, it’s because I’m busy with a new project. Several years ago, I built a Web site called Route66Motels.com to provide an online presence for some of my favorite mom-and-pop motels that didn’t have Web sites. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a similar site for restaurants, and while I was having dinner the other night at Al’s Route 66 Cafe in Sapulpa, I was talking with the owner about the fact that he needs a Web site but doesn’t have the time or computer access to put something together, and professional Web designers tend to be prohibitively expensive for little mom-and-pop operations.

That conversation kind of lit a fire under me, and since it’s winter now, and my Route 66 schedule should be slowing down a bit (at least in theory … I still have to put together the Oklahoma Route 66 Association newsletter and get a couple of other projects off my plate this weekend), I will have time to work on the new site.

I sat down this morning, registered a domain name, and set up a Web site for restaurants on Route 66. All you’ll see there at the moment is a placeholder page that tells you what’s coming, but at least Route66Food.com is online.

I hope to have something more complete up and running by the end of this weekend. I’m using the site as an excuse to teach myself GoLive. If it’s like all the other Adobe products I’ve used, it will be incredibly efficient once I learn it, but the learning curve will be incredibly steep, and overcoming it will probably involve me getting all engrossed in my work and sitting up until 6 o’clock in the morning, by which point I will be more or less proficient with the software.

I’ll probably put the site together in chunks and upload them as I get them done, so check back there frequently if you want to monitor my progress.

UPDATE: As of 1:30 a.m. Sunday, the Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas pages are up, as is the “Today’s Special” page. The rest of the pages have a “Coming soon — stay tuned” message on them. I expect Oklahoma to take the longest, as I have at least 45 restaurants to list on that page. Our involvement with the National Historic Route 66 Federation’s Dining and Lodging Guide, coupled with our extreme laziness where cooking is concerned, helped us familiarize ourselves with WAY more than our fair share of restaurants on Route 66 in Oklahoma….

Emily

Ask the Hippie, Vol. 1, Issue 8

Q. How do I take sharp, clear photographs of neon signs at night?

A. This is what I refer to as an “impress your date” trick: It takes about five minutes to learn, but most people don’t know how to do it, so you come off looking brilliant if you can pull it off. I put it up there with making French silk pie or teaching the dog to “gimme four.”

Here is how you do it:

1. Set your ISO as high as it will possibly go.
2. Get as close to the sign as you possibly can.
3. Open up your aperture as far as it will go. The aperture is your f-stop. The f-stop is measured with numbers like 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, etc. You want this number to be as low as you can get.
4. Do not go below 1/100th of a second on your shutter speed. You can probably get away with something much faster than that, but that’s about as slow as you can go before things start getting blurry.
5. DO NOT USE FLASH. It will only lighten the background, which is exactly what you don’t want.

The cool thing about shooting neon is that you are almost guaranteed to get some kind of image, because you are shooting light itself. Since a camera works by recording light, it is almost guaranteed to “see” a neon sign, even if the sky around the sign is pitch-black.

Lower shutter speeds will produce a halo effect around the sign. Medium shutter speeds will give you a modest halo but will allow you to pick up detail, such as the electrodes and even the sides of the tube (which will look like faint black lines on either side of the light). Higher shutter speeds will give you a simple outline of the sign’s shape.

Here are some examples:


This sign at the Wigwam Motel on Route 66 in San Bernardino, Calif., was shot at 1/250th of a second, aperture f5.6, and 1600 ISO. The sign itself is maybe eight or nine feet off the ground, so I was pretty close to it when I was shooting. In retrospect, I probably could have gotten a nicer shot if I’d dropped to 800 ISO or used a faster shutter speed — I think this image is a little too bright, making it a bit hard to read (especially on those vivid white letters).

This neon swallow is mounted above a garage at the Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, N.M. It’s probably 10 feet off the ground, or thereabouts. The lighting is a bit strange, because the entire property is illuminated with architectural neon. I shot it at 1/125, f5.6, and 1600 ISO. Notice how the camera picked up the edges of the glass tube and the details around the electrodes. Running the shutter faster or slower would have lost that detail — a faster shutter would have faded the lowlights into the background, and a slower shutter would have given a blown-out halo effect, like this:


This sign is also at the Blue Swallow, but it is inside a garage, just at eye level. I shot it at 1/250, f4, 1600. Notice the difference a few feet (and a slightly more open aperture) will make: Even with the shutter speed twice as fast, I wound up with a much brighter image, because I was closer to the sign and thus picking up more of the light. See how the details of the neon tubes disappear? If I’d dropped to 800 ISO or upped the shutter speed to 1/500 or so, I probably would have picked up more detail.


The famous rotosphere outside El Comedor de Anayas (an excellent Mexican restaurant with absolutely killer posole) on Route 66 in Moriarty, N.M. Shot at 1/200, f5.6, 1600. This thing is at least 15 or 20 feet in the air, but it’s so big and so bright that you don’t have to get carried away with the shutter speed to pick it up.

Here are three views of the Oasis Motel on Route 66 here in Tulsa. Notice the difference in the brightness of each one, and the variations in the amount of detail you see on the sign itself (not just the neon) as the shutter speed and ISO change:


1/160, f5, 1600 ISO. Notice how fuzzy the light looks — the shutter is slow, the ISO is high, and the camera picked up a lot of glare around the letters. This is fine if that’s the effect you want, but I usually don’t.

1/160, f5, 800 ISO. Notice how slowing down the ISO reduced the amount of glare around the letters and made the edges look a little more crisp without losing the intensity of the light.


1/200, f5, 800 ISO. Just a tiny bit more speed on the shutter, and the yellow moon (or whatever that thing is) loses a lot of intensity. When you’re dealing with yellow, purple, soft violet-blue, and sometimes green, you have to be careful not to speed up the shutter or slow down the ISO too much, because the tubes that produce these colors are coated with a powdered chemical inside that can mute the color and make it less vivid.


The sign at Fenders’ River Road Resort on Route 66 in Needles, Calif., is about 12 to 15 feet off the ground, as I recall. It’s close enough that I could zoom in a little bit and get a very intense image at 1/320, f5, and 1600. I like how the “NO” part of “NO VACANCY” — which isn’t lit up — is visible, but the tradeoff is that the vacancy sign itself is way too bright for my taste.

Green is produced by using argon gas and a tiny bit of mercury inside a phosphor tube. Depending on the shade, you can end up with an extremely bright light, because the mercury intensifies the color. (It’s really cool to watch this process when a sign is being made. You put the finished tube on a transformer to age, but you leave the mercury at one end. After the argon has settled down and quit arcing inside the tube, you roll this little ball of mercury through it. If you leave it plugged into the transformer while you’re dropping the mercury, you can literally watch the tube change color as the mercury rolls through it. But I digress.) This is important to you as a photographer because, with a sign like this, which has both neon (red) and argon tubes, you have to make some decisions about how to shoot it, since one color is much brighter than the other.


This shot of the Blue Spruce Lodge on Route 66 in Gallup, N.M., is one of my favorites. I just love the way the sign glows in that dry western New Mexico air. The sign is very close to the ground (I seem to recall the bottom being about seven or eight feet up, if that), so you can get away with a very high shutter speed: 1/500 at f5 and 1600 ISO.

Below is another example of that decisionmaking I was talking about when you’ve got a sign with several colors and intensities. This sign hangs in a garage at the Blue Swallow Motel on Route 66 in Tucumcari, N.M. I am sorry to report that this room rate no longer applies. 😉

1/1600, f5, and 1600 ISO. I could get away with a shutter speed this fast because the sign is at eye level and very bright. The “$3” part looks about right, “UP” looks a little too intense, and “VACANCY” looks a little dim.


At 1/640, f5, and 1600, the “VACANCY” part looks better, but everything else gets a little too intense.

Hope this helps. I know it was a little long, but it’s hard to explain photography without going into a little detail and giving visual examples.

Emily

Distracted

My friends are so awesome sometimes. I was just finishing up my kitchen-cleaning project when my friend Jane — a great Route 66er from St. Louis — called to tell me she was in Stroud and wanted to meet me for a snack at the Rock Cafe. As it turned out, I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so I wrapped up what I was doing and lit out for Stroud.

Lest you think I’ve been a total slacker all evening, though, I took some before-and-after shots of my handiwork, which I will post later, after I finish cleaning the rest of the house. (If I start Photoshopping now, I’ll never get anything done!)

It’s amazing how much you can get done in an hour and a half.

In the course of cleaning the kitchen, I noticed that the walls seriously need to be repainted. The cabinets also need to be refinished, and the sink has needed to be replaced since we moved in, but those are expensive, time-consuming projects that will have to wait. I have masking tape, brushes, and a gallon of Kilz in the garage right now, so I think I might give the walls a facelift this weekend if I’m still feeling fidgety.

I need to make new curtains for the kitchen and living room, too. The last owners put in dark green curtains. They’re pretty, but they make the whole house look terribly dark. I think white or yellow curtains will open things up and make the rooms look bigger and lighter. It wouldn’t cost very much or take very long to buy a few yards of muslin and fire up the sewing machine.

Emily

Suddenly feeling productive.

I went to Paintmaster today, gave Randy his key back, and picked up my paints, which I had deliberately left in his lobby until I finished the mural. With my paints back home where they belong, I feel a creative outburst coming on. I’m not indulging it until I get this house cleaned: bathroom, kitchen, living room, office, bedroom. (I’m not messing with Ron’s office. He’s on his own there.)

Where to start? Paint some random trompe l’oeisl on the wall for no apparent reason? Bake a batch of elaborately decorated sugar cookies? Fire up the torches and bend a set of neon tubes? Sew curtains for the Starlight Express? Clean fast and get to Lowe’s before they close to buy materials for new shelves? Dig out some scrap lumber and see if I can improve my virtually nonexistent skills with the jigsaw? Work on that watercolor project I’ve been kicking around in my head for weeks? Plan next year’s garden? Redesign my other Web sites?

So many projects … so little time. 🙂

I will report back in exactly four hours. With photos. Unless, y’know, I get distracted and find something extraordinarily cool to do while puttering around the house….

Emily