Don and George

Don Morris is a sculptor and carver and is one of the first people I met for a story when I moved down to Flora a little more than a year ago. Don is originally from Clay County, Xenia to be exact, but he lives in Rock Falls now. This is important because the town next to Rock Falls is Sterling, where my Dad grew up. So during my first week of work, my Uncle John calls me up and introduces me to Don, who comes down to Flora a short time later. I did a story on Don and I now catch up with him every time he comes back to town, which is at least once a year.

The reason Don is in the newspaper is that he’s the artist who made the statue of George Rogers Clark, a revolutionary war hero. Clark fought the Revolutionary War on its western front when he and a small group of soldiers (I think that there were about 100 of them) marched from Kaskaskia all the way across 18th Century Illinois to take the British Fort at Vincennes unaware. George also had a more famous younger brother, William Clark, who was famous due to his his expedition with Merriwether Lewis at the beginning of the 19th Century.

Don carved Clark’s form out of basswood and then had it cast in bronze using a lost wax process. The result is displayed in front of Flora’s newly rehabbed Old Depot. It is one of eight full-sized bronze statues Don has done. Since George, Don has been working with clay or synthetic carving materials instead of wood.

I’ve taken shots of Don by his creation before, but I have been on a bit of a kick to do some photo work for myself rather than for the newspaper and I thought to take a new picture of Don as a little project. This weekend, Don is in town for the Flora Academic Foundation’s Appleknocker festival. I had a him meet me at the statue at about 3 in the afternoon. It was a pretty overcast day.Previously, I did this photo with available light and this time I lit it how I wanted to.

Here’s the picture I chose:

Don is the guy in front. George is the bronzed historic figure in back.

Don is the guy in front. George is the bronzed historic figure in back.

Exposure was f8 at 1/500 of a second at iso 200 on the Nikon D70. I did adjust and spot the image in Lightroom too. Lighting Don was a 750 w/s Travelite with a 16 by 20 inch softbox set at 1/16 poser about 45-degrees of camera axis to the right. George is lit with the same light unit with a grid reflector. No grid for this shot, but I did some with a 10 degree grid spot. That light is directly to my left, about 8 to 10 feet away. That head is at full power, but it’s a much further away from George than the other is from Don and that bronze eats light.

I thank Don for letting me take the picture and I hop to see more of his bronzes in person in the future. Don retired relatively recently, after years of owning a septic tank business. Funny thing is, with all the statues and such, it almost sounds like he’s busier now than when he was a worker bee.


To eat, just add burger

I got a number of kitchen utensils from my paternal grandparents’ house. My Grandma died in 1995 and my Grandpa died just before I moved down here. Often, I’ll find these utensil after having forgotten that I had them. Many aren’t useful to me or are too old, but I found a french fry cutter. Since I’m broke/trying to save my money, making my own fries is a good way to keep eating the greasy food I love, but without paying so much for it. I cut up a whole sack of potatoes and then froze them. Here’s what one of my batches looked like:



Tasty, eh? This batch was fried once in vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet. I switched from a pot to a skillet to try to get the oil hotter. It didn’t really work though. I’m not getting these buggers crispy enough. I’ve heard they should be double fried: First once in medium to low heat oil, then once in high heat until they’re crispy looking enough. I think if I could get my oil hotter, it would work better. Still, they’re tasty and I made them myself, so it could be worse. After frying, I add Penzy’s Cajun seasoning and salt or Tony Chacheros seasoning with no salt. Good stuff.

Cat, meet world. World, meet Edward R. Meowrow

Yep, I’ve been busy. Lotta work, not a lot of money. I’ve been sick. And most importantly, I got a freakin’ cat.

I’m allergic to cats and I don’t particularly like them, so this is a bit of a surprise, especially to me. But I couldn’t resist the little bugger.

I was going over to the Downtown Dollar next to the newspaper office to get a soda to give me a midday kick. There are two doors and somehow, in front of both of them was this starving little kitten, probably too small to be away from its Mom, trying to figure out what was going on. I kept trying to get him out of the way, but where ever I went, he got in front of me. When I got the door open without hitting him, he darted inside. I couldn’t just leave him wondering the dollar store, so I picked him up. In retrospect, it was all over right then: Even if I hadn’t adopted him yet, he had claimed me.

I brought him to the office with me and proclaimed him as an office pet. Not everyone agreed, but enough that we kept him around. Initially, we named him Bob, after our recently retired publisher, but the current publisher, my friend Mark came up with his new name, Edward R. Meowrow, the newscat. This is the second newscat name Mark has come up with, the first being one of his cats, Kitty Couric. In practice, I mostly call him kitten.

Our sales manager Nancy bought Ed food, a food and water dish, kitty litter and flea drops. His ribs were showing for a while, but that ended pretty quick. Ed really liked curling up in our classified manager Natalie’s chair, whether she was there or not, but he would always come over to me when I came in. Edward came when I called once…and my dog doesn’t even do that. Plus, ed would sit on my shoulder when I worked, so I felt like a pirate with a way-too-cute parrot.

The incidence of errors has gone down since Ed started proofing my sotries.

The amount of errors has gone down since Ed started proofing my sotries.

Everyone in the office had pretty much recognized that Ed was mine. Ed had recognized it. I fed him, came in six times over the weekend to make sure he was alright, cleaned his litter box and cleaned up from when he couldn’t find his litter box. I pretty much knew he was my cat, but I was fighting it. I was, after all, allergic to cats and, as I said earlier, I don’t like them. There was another problem too. Even if I could live with Edward, the situation had to be cleared with my roommate. Here’s one of her early reactions to Edward:

That's a definitive moment...

That's a definitive moment...

Sookie is my three-year-old rat terrier. Most who have met her would say that she’s a tad…hyper. Her main experience with a cat before Ed was this one time in the yard when she RAN 6 FEET UP THE SIDE OF A TREE after one. Seriously. She came down, that cat stayed up. But it stayed scared too. Kyle, the artist who I featured in a previous post, who just stared at me and laughed when I asked him if he would describe Sookie as hyper(Everyone does!), was there as crowd control for Sookie and Ed’s introduction.

There was a lot of anxious barking. Plus on the cat side: Edward wasn’t scared, seemed like the barking hurt his ears, but that’s about it. Sookie really wanted to get her close to Edward. She wasn’t acting aggressive, but you never know. Despite being a little dog, she’s a lot bigger than the kitten. For the first few days, I kept Edward in a crate, to keep him safe, but still in the smelling zone.

I’d start out with a little contact, then a little more. Sookie kept wanting to lick Edward, which annoyed him, but didn’t seem to scare him. Eventually, I had them out together, unsupervised, whenever I was home. This transfer only took 3 or 4 days. Finally, the only reason to keep Edward crated was to keep his food and litter away from Sookie, who views both as a delicacy. In a moment of brilliance, I came up with this solution:

Yep, it's a ramp made out of a piece of plywood with a towel stapled on it.

Yep, it's a ramp made out of a piece of plywood with a towel stapled on it.

So gilded elevator it isn’t, but it does the job. I know soon enough the cat won’t need a ramp, but then I can just put his stuff up on counters or bookshelves, and he won’t have to eat where he craps like anymore anyway. Jeez, it’s like he’s some sort of adorable prison inmate.

Sookie has grown to like having the kitten around and I’ve seen flashes of a maternal instinct from her that I never thought I would, indeed, a certain population control procedure she’s undergone would seem to preclude it to some degree, but whatever, she likes taking care of her kitten.

Plus, they play together:

Demon cat attacks!

Demon cat attacks!

Yep, I love that photo. Finally, redeye is working for me!

Since this is a photoblog, I’ll go off on a quick tangent here. Redeye (Or bright, scary, yellow cat eye) is what happens when your strobe reflects blood vessels in the back of a subject’s eye. This can be avoided by using the anti-redeye flash on your camera, which fires several strobe bursts before the exposure to get your pupils to contract. It can also be avoided by bringing your flash slightly off of your camera axis. Put it up on a bracket or hold it off to the side or overhead, or put it way off by using studio strobes or by radio-slaving a handheld one. If it’s a pop-up flash, bounce it onto the ceiling and save money for a real flash. With a normal on-camera flash, closeup, it should be off-axis. At distance, it may be close enough to your camera axis to get redeye, so the problem is worse shooting telephoto stuff. Anywhoo, back to the cat.

I’ve also gotten use to some other adventures of cat ownership. It can go places the dog can’t. I think he might have pooped behind the aquarium and I can’t move it to find out (It’s a 40 gallon and on a stand). DVD’s are pushed out of their shelves where the cat has come through from behind the TV. A flexible lamp looks like a kitten may have very well jumped on one of its lampheads.

So, from this:

lamp 1

To this:

That bulb on the right. It looks like somthing tiny may have jumped up and tried to hang on it. Or attack it.

That bulb on the right. It looks like something tiny may have jumped up and tried to hang on it. Or maybe tried to attack it.

The cat is also more active nocturnally than Sookie or I. It’s knocked pill bottles off my desk for fun (The big 300 tablet jar of multivitamins is the loudest). It’s also woke me by batting at my head in the morning. Finally, the cat has also gotten me up by causing a beeping sound from my Macbook. Apparently, there’s a warning to let you now that a kitten has parked its but on your keyboard:

Maybe it's the heat the computers put off, but many of the cats I've seen love laptops.

Maybe it's the heat the computers put off, but many of the cats I've seen love laptops.

We’ll leave that big so that the ferocity of that half-pound furball can show some more. The last thing I wanted to comment on was the reaction I’ve gotten from my friends who are cat owners. I’ve talked to three female friends with cats and they’re all excited. Mark, from earlier in this story, is a cat owner too, but is slightly more negative:

Me: “So this cat is a little evil, huh?”
Mark: “They’re all a little evil.”
Me: “I’m feeling under the weather”
Mark: “It’s cause you got that cat. They’re a curse.”
Me: “Look at these scratches.”
Mark: “Cursed by cat.”
And so on and so forth.

In all honesty though, Mark has the right to complain about cats. The night before his wedding, his older cat, Joey, got out of he and his wife’s house. Mark tried to wrangle it by catching it in his jacket, but a claw and some fangs darted out from the jackets and drew some blood on his hand. On the wedding day, the hand was infected and Mark felt faint. He had to go to the hospital, again, on his wedding day, there, he got his hand put in a bactine bath and he got a course of antibiotics. Still, when some of his relatives said he should kill the cat for that, the thought didn’t cross his mind. When he was shaking hands in the receiving line I felt for him though.

This is art….and this is how we take pictures of it (the photo side)

My indy rock co-worker, who I talk about in my “about” section, is a fellow named Kyle Shafer. At the newspaper, Kyle is a graphic designer and ad compostionist, but outside of the paper, in addition to telling me what music is decent, Shaf paints. I consider myself a patron of the arts, mainly because I have been trying to drop hints to Kyle that I want one of his paintings. I also have given him some of my old art supplies and some surfaces to paint on, including a 20X30 inch print of the Daudi portrait I featured in an earlier blog entry.

Kyle has close to 10 years worth of art in his apartment, from high school, through college and up to his current projects, but has not documented any of it. This is bad, because, hell, what if there’s a fire. Honestly though, I just want to help my boy get his stuff out there more. With the image files I give him, he can put his stuff on his facebook page and on the web. If we’re really lucky, maybe he can sell some of it, because as far as my untrained eyes are concerned, this is some pretty good stuff.

Shaf works in multimedia, usually painting with acrylics onto whatever surface he can get his hands on, like the aforementioned photographic print, wood, cardboard, canvas, a wall clock and even onto t-shirts (which looks way cooler than it sounds). After work hours, when Kyle has finished creating lame ads for unappreciative clients, he goes home and drinks….er, paints. These are the fruits of that labor.

The entry below this has a selection of Kyle’s art, but  first, let’s go over how we do art copy photography. Originally, you would shoot this on slide film and then would send out the slides to get critiqued, or to get into an art show or a college. Slides also were the best way to accurately render colors. Now we shoot it digitally, and they can go pretty much anywhere, although I’m sure some schools and galleries are enough of stodgy luddites to stick with slides even now.

I learned this working with my first mentor right after high school, at a commercial photography company in Chicago. We used this technique to shoot slides of fabric swatches for a furniture manufacture trade magazine. It was bread and butter work, but it was good money for him and the art director was one of the nicest we worked with. The setup is something like this.

A copy photography setup. Kyle's not the only artist on this blog today, eh?
A copy photography setup. Kyle’s not the only artist on this blog today, eh?

We use umbrellas for a nice soft light. Ideally, you would also be shooting a gray card first for custom white balance. The same commercial photography mentor I mentioned above filled me in that 35mm cameras (and hence, 35mm sized digital SLRs) have a sharpness sweet spot between f5.6 and f11. I split the difference and shot this at f8. Shutter speed was 1/250 of a second so that I didn’t much have to worry about the room lights. ISO was as low as I could go, so that’s ISO 200 on my D70. Since I wasn’t shooting on a tripod, I shot this with a 35-70mm lens set at 70mm to minimize distortion and shot fairly far back. The larger pieces, I corrected perspective for keystoning in Photoshop.

With flat art, we usually try to light it flat, so the umbrellas should be pretty much straight on. The more they come at the work from the side, the more texture, and glare they will reveal. There needs to be some tweaking for shiny or highly texture pieces. With some of Kyle’s work, it couldn’t be avoided without drastically changing the light setup (A plastic wrapped piece), so I just minimized that glare.

Anyways, next entry down is Kyle’s stuff. Hope you like it.

This is art….and this is how we take pictures of it (The paintings)

So now, without further ado, here is the real art. Paintings are acrylic on mixed media, including canvas, cardboard, wood and even one of my photographs. See if you can recognize the silhouette from my portrait of Daudi in one of the paintings.

And Green Beans Too…

Just bragging on the fact that I also have somewhat successfully grown green beans now. Co-workers wonder how I grew ’em in a container garden. I think I did it because I didn’t know I couldn’t. Ignorance is bliss.

My greenbeans. My co-worker Nancy is the hand model.

My greenbeans. My co-worker Nancy is the hand model.

Oh and for all you experienced gardeners (not that I actually think I have that many readers) that think my small harvests are a touch pathetic…I don’t care. I managed to grow something. That’s a start.