Friday, March 13, 2015

Spirograph aka My Super Fun Hypotrochoid and Epitrochoid Maker!

Yesterday I pulled out my 1967 almost mint condition Spirograph and sat down to play. I bought this little gem on eBay a few years ago because it was one of my most favorite things to do when I was growing up. I was looking forward to revisiting this old friend since I was certain that as an adult I would be able to eliminate some of the things that frustrated me about it as a child.

As I prepared my work surface I remembered how my uncoordinated child fingers always had trouble coaxing the little map pins out of their container. I discovered that my arthritic adult fingers have the same problem.

As I pinned my ring in place on the official Spirograph corrugated cardboard work surface, I had trouble identifying the holes in the ring that were meant for the pins. There are 4 of them and they're smaller than the other holes, which I still don't know the purpose of. Later I was reminded that it doesn't really matter which holes you stick the map pins into. They will eventually wiggle loose on your last rotation, causing a single misplaced mark on your otherwise perfect geometric creation.

I wonder if the modern versions of Spirograph include a work surface made from something better than corrugated cardboard. Even as a child I can remember thinking it was a poor choice. The corrugation lines sometimes show up on the large Spirograph doodles, not to mention the fact that the pin holes leave behind potholes that your pen will most definitely fall into, causing you to poke an irritating and unwanted hole in your paper.

My vintage Spirograph came complete with the original pens but, alas, the ink didn't survive the decades. I thought I would be really smart and use my Slicci gel pens with the .25mm tips. The tips are so fine they're like writing with a needle which I thought would be perfect for the tiny holes they have to fit into.

The tips did indeed fit nicely in the holes but I discovered that after 3 or 4 passes over the same area, those needle tips acted like little razors and sliced right through the paper.

One of the most frustrating things I remember about my Spirograph was when I got a big misplaced mark across my otherwise pristine creation when the gears accidentally slipped. I was certain this wouldn't be a problem since, as an adult, I would naturally be more careful so that those little plastic teeth stayed perfectly engaged. Okay that didn't happen. The gears slipped and I made a big misplaced mark. The only thing that changed was the string of colorful expletives I let loose when it happened.

I can't recall ever reading the instruction booklet when I was young so I flipped through it to see if maybe there was some helpful information that I might need. There may have been, I'm not sure because the whole thing is written in some kind of mysterious code. I would imagine it's similar to what a crochet pattern looks like to someone who doesn't crochet.

The only helpful information I was able to get from the instruction booklet was that the holes on the rings and on the wheels are numbered and it matters which hole you use and how you line them up if you're going to try to duplicate one of their suggested patterns.

Actually that would have been helpful information if I could actually SEE the tiny clear numbers next to the tiny clear holes on the tiny clear wheels.

And what exactly are the patterns that a Spirograph creates? I usually just call them doodles but according to Wikipedia they are actually "mathematical roulette curves of the variety technically known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids". Well, heck! What child wouldn't love that?!

But how, exactly, does it work? Thankfully, Wikipedia also offers this pictorial mathematical explanation for how the Spirograph works:

I just love it when things are demystified like that.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

My First Visual Zibaldone

Today I am commonplacing in my first visual zibaldone....and trying to define exactly what that means as I go. Since a zibaldone is such an obscure type of book and by definition it means hodgepodge, I feel like it's okay to just make stuff up.

Therefore, my zibaldone will be similar to my Journaling By 5s journal but without the limitations. I will work on the book as a whole instead of going page by page as in traditional art journaling. I will limit myself to about 20 pages since working on any more than that can get overwhelming or tedious. I will loosely follow the JB5 sessions and media recommendations but in no particular order and with more substitutions and repeats.

Some of the JB5 principles that I will continue to follow are that I only use things I have on hand. I will not buy and kind of media or embellishment specifically for my visual zibaldone. That doesn't mean I'm on a spending freeze. I'm a very thrifty shopper anyway but I will occasionally pick up some fun new stuff and I will use that stuff in my zibaldone but it won't be purchased specifically for that purpose.

Another JB5 principle I will adhere to is leaving my brain out of the process. Of course I will have a rough idea of what I want to do and how I want my pages to look but I will not plan out every detail of the book and I will not end up with a book full of perfect pages. To help with that I will work quickly but without a timer.

My plan is to end up with a book full of experiments, trial and error, "I wonder what would happen if...", do-overs, "What was I thinking??", etc... If I end up with a book full of awesome art pages, that would be a disappointment to me. That would mean that I played it safe and stuck to what I know and I don't want to do that. I want to push the envelope, make mistakes, learn from them and keep going.

As I continue to play in my first visual zibaldone I will come up with a more specific definition for it. Join me in the JB5 Facebook group to keep tabs on the process and see where it ends up:

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Visual Commonplacing in My Zibaldone

I've decided I don't like the words 'art journal' anymore. Art journals have expectations. They want you to fill them with beautiful works of art. Sometimes I'm okay with that but sometimes I'm not.

'Sketchbook' doesn't work for me because I don't sketch.

I don't do 'scrapbooking' because all those pictures of my family just got in the way of what I was trying to create. 

 'Notebook' isn't the word I want either. Those have lines in them and want you to write important stuff on their pages.

I think Strathmore made a wise marketing decision with their 'Visual Journals'. That phrase doesn't have the same expectations as 'art journal' or 'sketchbook. I can glue a picture of a dog wearing dentures into a visual journal.

But I'm still bothered by the 'journal' part of it. That word makes me think of a diary...a written account of thoughts, events, plans, dreams, etc. I journal on occasion but not regularly and seldom do I combine it with art. I just don't want to, it's not my thing.

And speaking of art...if I make an art journal does that make me an artist? Does scrapbooking make me a crafter? Where do I stand on the artist vs. crafter debate? I stand firmly planted on the I-don't-give-a-crap side of that debate. Sometimes I call myself an artist. Sometimes I call myself a crafter. Sometimes I'm a crafter who makes art. Lately I've been calling myself an arter or a craftist just so I can thumb my nose at the ridiculousness of it all.

Recently I stumbled upon commonplace books. These books are part journal, part notebook, part sketchbook, part scrapbook but not wholly any of those things. Early commonplace books from the 14th and 15th centuries contained medical recipes, poems, prayers, proverbs, notes on the best time of year for blood letting, etc.

The invention of the printing press started overwhelming people with information so they used commonplace books to keep track of it. By the mid 17th century everybody was doing it. Commonplacing was the Pinterest of the Age of Enlightenment. Since books were where it was at back then, most commonplace books contained literary quotes, thoughts, sketches, lists and similar marginalia related to the books being read at that time. I just learned "marginalia" today and wanted to hurry up and use it before I forget it.

Unlike a diary or journal, commonplacing is not chronological nor is it written as a narrative. Often times the writing is organized by categories throughout the book. A commonplace book is not a notebook because it may contain sketches or pasted in articles, receipts, letters, etc. It is not a sketchbook or art journal because it usually contains significantly more words than pictures. Although a commonplace book may contain photographs or ephemera, it is not a scrapbook because scrapbooks are "outward". They are meant to be shared or displayed or available for others to see. Commonplace books are "inward". They are for their creator only.

In 15th century Italy a new type of commonplace book was developed. It was called a zibaldone which means hodgepodge. Zibaldones contained the same type of information found in most commonplace books but they weren't as organized, the information was much more random or scattered. They also contained more sketches, poetry, and creative elements than the typical commonplace book.

Because of my newly acquired distaste for the words 'art jounal', I have decided to replace them with 'visual commonplace book' or 'visual zibaldone'. I haven't decided for sure which one I like better. Visual commonplace book would probably be easier to use since commonplacing is a legitimate verb that I can use with it, despite the dreaded red spell checker dots that usually accompany it. Since zibaldones were a form of commonplace book, I suppose it would be accurate to say I'm commonplacing when I'm working in my zibaldone since zibaldoning just doesn't really work at all.

So from now on I will be doing some visual commonplacing in my zibaldone instead of art journaling. How is that going to be different from the art journaling I was doing before? It's not. It's just a mental thing. But it does make me feel way cooler than everyone else.

Huge thanks to Google and Wikipedia for supplying me with all of this newfound useless knowledge that I spent hours and hours acquiring and will lose after one short nap.