Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm at the Brown County Winter Art and Craft Fair today, just past Nashville on Hwy 46, at the Seasons Lodge conference center. Drop by and say howdy if you haven't already! I'll be there till 6. You know you don't really want to go to the mall, anyway. I sure know I don't-- I'm going to try my best to avoid it this year, after all the craziness yesterday (the trampling, the shooting. Sheesh).

The holiday season is handmade!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


It's finally here! Altered Paper Jewelry by Jenn Mason, featuring lots of nifty projects and an inspiring gallery section that includes one of my pieces! This is the first time my work has been in print, so I'm pleased as punch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday cupcake blogging

The philosopher is having one of his periodical parties to lure fresh-faced young graduate students to his Experimental Epistemology Laboratory. I have done my part in helping to entice them by sending cupcakes. To be specific, I sent them pumpkin spice cupcakes with caramel cream cheese icing!

I used this recipe in cupcake form, but found that I had to add about 2 cups of powdered sugar to the icing to get it to a non-runny consistency. It worked out well in the end. Mmm.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


This week's language, Bengali (Bangla), spoken by scads of people in Bangladesh and India. I cheated on this one, I put both words on one pendant, mainly because I liked they way they looked in parallel. So I still owe Bengali at least one more piece, or up to 4 more if I use each of the two other forms of the imperative for each word. The form of the imperative varies depending on who is addressing whom-- you use one set of forms for juniors and close peers, another set for a parent or someone close but older, and another set for addressing with respect (think grandfather-in-law).
Anyway, I love the script and will be coming back to it again soon. Many thanks to Traci Nagle and Anupam Das for the translations and help with the script!
Why is the picture sideways? Ask Blogger, not me. I have uploaded three versions of it all with small tweaks to layout and different file names, and it puts them all sideways. I refuse to let this ruin my afternoon. If you turn your head just right, you will see [Son] on the first line ([S] is pronounced like English 'sh'), 'listen', and 'bol', 'tell (me)' on the second.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pumpkin bread

Good smells throughout the kitchen this morning. I'm drying onions, and baking bread, and the combination of smells is wonderful, even though it's a sweet bread I made, not an onion bread (that comes on another day, when the onions are dry). What I made today was a pumpkin-cinnamon-cranberry-pecan bread. Yeah, you heard me.

So, there's this book I got for Christmas last year, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It has revolutionized my bread baking-- from intermittently performed with machine to semiweekly by hand. Basically, the trick is to use a wet dough-- you don't have to knead it, and it stores in the fridge for 5 days- 2 weeks, depending on the recipe. You stir together your liquids and yeast and flour, let it rise for a couple of hours, then stick it in the fridge and bake up a chunk whenever you want fresh bread. No kneading. It really is that simple, and the bread is FANTASTIC. Crusty French breads, sandwich breads, pizza dough, etc etc-- all good, and easy as anything. Way better than anything I ever got from my bread machine. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Anyway, the bread I made today is a recipe I came up with by riffing on the general principles given in the book.

1 c. lukewarm milk
1 c. pumpkin or winter squash puree
1/2 c. honey
1 Tbs white sugar
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbs salt
! 1/2 Tbs yeast
1/4 c. oil
3 eggs
6 cups flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg

In a large bowl, stir everything together. Cover loosely and let rise 2 hours (it's very dense, it won't rise much, but don't worry). At that time you can put it in the fridge and keep for a few days, covered loosely. Or proceed to the next step:

Lightly flour your hands and pull out a grapefruit-sized chunk of dough (the remaining dough can be stored in the fridge for a few days). On a floured surface, roll it out into a large rectangle, about a 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle it with brown sugar, dried cranberries, and pecans (about a 1/4 cup of each or more or less to taste), and sprinkle with cinnamon and ginger to taste. Roll it up and tuck the ends under so it's loaf-shaped. You can bake it in a bread pan or flat on a baking sheet. Let it rise 30 min (or an hour if you're using dough that's been refrigerated). Again, it won't rise much, but don't worry. Slash the top with a knife before baking it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.

The leftovers make great bread pudding, by the way. And you could probably turn the same recipe into a cinnamon roll recipe by just slicing it into cross sections instead of rolling it into a loaf. Then frost. A sorghum molasses glaze would be tasty on it, I bet! Gotta try that next time...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I just finished my Best Necklace Yet. I call this one 'Fragmentation'.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I recently watched a documentary about a font: Helvetica. It was surprisingly good! I mean, I like fonts, so I knew I'd be interested, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how interesting it really was. I had no idea of the history of this now-ubiquitous font-- its creation as the pinnacle of modernist typographic principles, its role in revolutionizing mid-20th-century design, and the sharply divided opinions about it amongst typographers and designers. And listening to these people talk about fonts is gloriously insightful and funny.

All of that, of course, is what the makers of the film were going for. For me it also highlighted an issue I hadn't thought about too specifically-- the difference between calligraphers and typographers. Now, I'm not formally trained in either, I just do what I do. I'd always assumed that medium was about the extent of it-- calligraphers work with paper and ink and gouache and so on, and make wedding invitations or cards or books or art objects, while typographers/ font designers might draw an initial version of their alphabet, then do whatever digital stuff it is they do so you end up with a font. I imagined there was lots of overlap, and of course the fact that many typographers are also accomplished calligraphers did nothing to disabuse me of this notion.

I also assumed calligraphers and typographers have a similar sense of how letterform effects your understanding of the text. And that assumption held up, but what became clear is that what typographers see fit to do given that observation can be dramatically different from the choices calligraphers make. Here in this film are these legendary modernist designers, saying that fonts should not convey additional information; they should fade into the background and leave only the message. They should not be a message in and of themselves. I guess this is a characteristically modernist perspective, but it surprised me to hear that so many typographers take themselves to be doing something that is diametrically opposed to what I try to do as a calligrapher.

Maybe I'm just postmodern at heart.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging

Belated cat blogging! I'm not sure you can tell from this picture, but Ballyhoo was giving Vindaloo quite the experimental coiffure here-- all the hair on the back of her neck groomed to stick straight up. She looks ridiculous.

And afterwards, he settles in to the little valley he had made by clearing all the hair out of the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ink making lesson #1

I was making up a couple of batches of ink yesterday from my new pigments-- Mars orange (love those iron oxide inks) and bottle green. I put some of one pigment in a bottle, then the other pigment in the other bottle. I added the right amount of gum arabic to one bottle, then to the other bottle. I picked up the first bottle again and started shaking it up. Then I noticed: Why is the gum arabic turning my orange ink green? Or is it turning the green ink orange? Then I galnced at the remaining bottle: it was full of gum arabic, no pigment. I had just mixed the two batches of pigment together. With a lot of colors this wouldn't be so bad-- orange and green, though, yech.

Actually, it isn't so bad. Kind of an earthy greenish brown. Still, be warned, O Novice Inkmakers: mix only one batch at a time, from beginning to end.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Eek, I've been tagged! BY JMWJewelry! Eeek, I say again. Well, ok, here goes...

* Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
* Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
* Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their name as well as links to their blog.
* Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I wear size 11 shoes. Actually, at this point it's more like my right foot is size 11, and my left foot is 11 1/2. I used to not wear shoes except when absolutely necessary (sometimes not even then) and when I was a teenager I would often walk the mile or so to the beach in the summer on hot pavement without shoes. My mother always told me this would make my feet wider, and I think she may have been right.

2. I've studied 6 languages in a classroom setting: Latin, Russian, German, Italian, Arabic, Yoruba, and Swahili. Swahili is the only one I can actually speak now, though. I'd still like to learn a Turkic language (Uzbek, anyone?), or perhaps Wolof, but I'm afraid that I'll lose my Swahili if I do since I don't get enough practice with it these days.

3. I used to raise mosquitos for the USDA-ARS. It's a long story, but it involved on a regular basis a) plunging my hand into a vat full of larvae; b) plunging my arm into a cage full of adult mosquitos (10000 or so); c) putting cow blood into a lambskin condom; d) chickens. There were also field trips to the cemetery, and lots of counting of squiggling things. I worked there for 4 years, and then moved on to another section with army worms, cabbageloopers, and eventually grain pest moths.

4. I don't like onions and peppers that are the least bit crunchy. Caramelized is best.

5. My ears are not pierced and never will be, no matter how many pairs of earrings I make for the world.

6. I once gave Marilyn Manson a superball. It was at a club in Daytona, in...1992? 93? He was still with the Spooky Kids. It cost $7 to get in. I came up to him after the show, handed it to him, and said, "I want you to have this". He accepted it and said, "Is it a Superball?" I said, "Yes". He said, "Thank you". Then I left. I still love superballs, but I'm not such a fan of Marilyn Manson anymore. Some people have heard this story several times alredy. To them I say: Sorry.

7. I'm an INTJ.

I've tagged Sandra, Kim, Dana, Carolynn, Elizabeth, Alice, and Abbi.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


The philosopher bought me a brand spanking new book on the history of writing, Amalia Gnanadesikian's The Writing Revolution. It's a very accessible book, probably destined for lots of good use as an introductory textbook on writing systems. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the history of writing. I just started it yesterday, so I'm still at the beginning in Sumer, when that first system, which was logographic (that is, using symbols for ideas, not to represent language directly), was slowly being transformed into a syllabary (a system using symbols representing pronunciation of syllables). So many of the symbols from earlier cuneiform took on additional meanings.
One that really caught my attention was the symbol 'gi'. At first (3000 BC) it just meant 'reed', and looked like a reed. Over time, it also came to mean a homonymous word meaning 'render'. Eventually it was used for the syllable 'gi', perhaps as a part of words having nothing to do with reeds or renderings. But it's those first two meanings that caught this calligrapher's heart-- reeds being the tools those early scribes used to press the symbols into the clay, and the result being a rendering. I just had to do something with this, so here's my ACEO of 'gi', done with my coke can pen and handmade ink. I just love the rough look resulting from adapting a pen to this writing form that wasn't ever done with pens at all.

And here's the symbol for 'ka', meaning 'mouth' and a whole host of ideas associated with mouths: teeth, tongue, language, speech:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One thing I've never been too good at is planning too far ahead. Left to my own devices, I think about a month ahead at most. No, it's never served me very well, and it's a good thing people usually nudge me when I need to do things sooner.

A month out won't do it in the art biz, either, alas. I have to apply to shows 6-9 months in advance, and now that it's noticeably fall, it's high time I start giving serious thought to my spring colors. I'm just now getting used to the idea that winter is coming, and I'm supposed to think spring colors?!

Thank goodness for Pantone. I certainly don't follow their suggestions slavishly, but it's very useful for getting my art on the right color paths when my mind is still lingering months behind in the present. What colors have I chosen? You'll have to wait to find out, I'm afraid...I will not inflict unseasonality on my unsuspecting readers. (In this respect I choose the moral high ground over retailers like our local Hobby Lobby, who had Christmas decorations out in August. That's just wrong!)

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Venue

I'm delighted to announce a new venue for my work: The Venue. It's a brand new gallery here in Bloomington, located right next to Soma and the Laughing Planet, across from the Snow Lion restaurant. They opened in early October, and carry a mix of local artists' work, including wall art, turned wood, pottery, and jewelry.
They'll be carrying my alphabet necklaces and asymmetric, dangly mosaic earrings; once we figure out how best to display them, they'll also have some of my wabi-sabi collection. If you're in the area, do stop in and check them out!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Poets Laureate were amazing! The two of them got up there are took good-natured potshots art one another for a bit, then read their poetry. It was like a cross between standup comedy and..well, a poetry reading. But minus any pretension. Kay Ryan was particularly willing to interrupt herself and make jokes at her own expense. I liked her poetry before; now I officially consider myself a fan.

Best of all, Billy Collins read 'Tension', which is my favorite of his poems, because it is a study in aspectual adverbials and their coercive effects on event semantics. These poets, give them an adverb and they really know what to do with it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What a beautiful day! The weather is going to be in the 70s, a precious occurance this time of year in Indiana, I'm playing with the new pigments I got from Sinopia a week or two ago, and there's a general sense of optimism in the air for some reason. And I get to go see Poets Laureate Billy Collins and Kay Ryan at IU this evening!

We were driving home from Memphis the other day, going through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and the afternoon light was just right on the trees turning for autumn. I think something has changed in me because for the first time I thought about the tree's colors like this: "Red earth, green earth, some ochre and burnt umber. Mars orange. Iron oxide."

Saturday, November 1, 2008


This week, I give you...Tariana!  It's an Arawak language, spoken in Brazil by fewer than 100 people.  This language is uncomfortably close to extinction, though some revitalization efforts are underway.  I think it's a great example of why I for one don't like to see languages going the way of the Dodo-- Tariana has so many interesting things going on grammatically, so many expressive possibilities that, though these ideas can in principle be expressed by any language, the way this language organizes them and codifies them in the grammar leaves open poetic possibilities that just aren't there in other languages.  

Ok, I have to reveal the true depths of my language geekdom, here. First of all, Aikhenvald's 2003 grammar of Tariana is one of the best written grammars I've come across so far. Such clear descriptions! It's really a joy to read, if you're the sort of person who gets joy out of reading descriptive grammars.  

Second, Tariana itself is fascinating.   You like nouns? They have a mixed noun classifier and gender system! Plus tensed nouns! You like verbs? They have recent past, remote past, and evidentials!   And a whole host of aspectual markers. And things like the 'frustrative', an affix that indicates that the action of the verb was, well, frustrated-- failed or bound to fail. A pessimist's suffix if there ever was one.

Still with me?  More relevant to Project Panglossia, Tariana has nine imperative forms.  Do it here, do it now, do it there, do it later, do it for the Gipper, please try and do it, let's do, please do, and my personal favorite, the 'detrimental'-- "fine, go ahead and do it then, if you don't give a darn what I think about it, and just see what happens!".  If only English could adopt new inflectional categories, I'd lobby on behalf of the 'detrimental'.  

So here's the jewelry:  nuna pikalitehna, 'please tell me':

and pihimathara, 'please try and listen'