Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wading Through Walden: Live Like Thoreau

by Sarah Rush
Spring 2017 Intern

I grew up in a small New Hampshire town and whenever I needed a moment to myself or a breath of cool, fresh air, all I had to do was walk into my backyard to enter the woods. I welcomed the escape from civilization, the solitude, the quiet, the diverse array of forest life. But for many people—including me, now that I’ve moved to Boston—nature can be difficult to come by.

Now there is a digital way for everybody to experience the beauty and simplicity of the woods, honoring how Henry David Thoreau did centuries ago. How? It’s called Walden, a Game, and it’s a highly detailed simulation of Thoreau’s years living by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. A famous author, philosopher and environmentalist, Thoreau was one of the leaders of transcendentalism, a movement that prized the natural world over civilization, emotion over reason, and the individual over the masses.

In 1845, Thoreau moved to Walden Pond for two years to practice a mostly self-sufficient way of life and write about his experiences. During this time he produced a renowned collection of essays called Walden. Now we can all share in these revelations through a rather unusual medium: the computer. Walden, a Game, is a six-hour simulation of Thoreau’s experiences, beginning in summer and ending after his first year.

In the game, you spend the year building and maintaining your cabin, harvesting beans, exploring the woods, interacting with animals, collecting wild fruit and vegetables, fishing, entering town to buy supplies and chat with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and recording observations in your journal. Meanwhile, excerpts from Walden are read to you over soothing music and the sounds of birdsong. The game’s dedication to reality is uncanny—you can faint from lack of energy if you don’t eat enough, and if you work too hard, your “inspiration” will lower, causing the colors and music to fade. Don’t forget to spend time contemplating and meditating, just as Thoreau did.

Designed by the founding director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, Tracy J. Fullerton, the game is intended to encourage balance and a love of nature in our technology-crazed world and inspire young people to read Thoreau’s Walden. An alpha version of the game is currently available for about $19, but the full game will be released some time this year in 2017.

While most of us cannot take two years to completely immerse ourselves in nature, we can certainly spare six hours to wade through Walden Pond with Thoreau. What will you discover out there?

Did You Know?
This isn’t the first digital venture honoring Thoreau and Walden. In a previous blog post, we covered Digital Thoreau, a project that provides digital access to several versions of Thoreau’s work. Check out the blog post here!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Business Behind Beatrix’s Bunnies

by Marianna Sorensen
Spring 2017 Intern

When I think of the books of my childhood I hear the warm words and picture the creative illustrations. But I have never considered the business ventures behind those pages and images. Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books, was a pioneer for lone authors leading their own businesses.

Potter used her books and her ideas to build a business empire and became an innovator in licensing and merchandising literary characters. It all began in 1893 when she wrote letters to the child of her former governess with stories about a character she called Peter Rabbit. Her former governess suggested she publish the stories along with the hand-drawn illustrations in the letters. The publishers she approached with The Tales of Peter Rabbit rejected the early draft, saying it was too plain and small. So she decided to publish it herself, and wanted to make sure it was inexpensive and easily accessible for readers. A year later, she came to an agreement with one publisher after a compromise on the length of the stories and colored illustrations. From October to December of 1902, the publisher sold 28,220 copies.

Thanks to Potter’s approach, Peter Rabbit is one of the oldest licensed literary characters, but he had existed in Potter’s mind for far longer. Her childhood had a great effect on the creation of Peter Rabbit and the stories she wrote. She loved drawing and would spend time drawing her pets, which included mice, frogs, snakes, a bat and—of course—rabbits. Her two pet rabbits were named Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper, and they gave her the inspiration for her future books.

Potter also planned, patented and sewed together a doll of Peter Rabbit. She even designed a board game. In the end, she was able to secure an unusual amount of merchandise and patents to accompany her books—an idea unheard of at the time. This merchandise also included tea sets, handkerchiefs, bookcases, stationery, slippers and wallpaper.

If you would like further proof of Potter’s legacy consider this: two million of her books are sold a year—so approximately four books of hers are sold every minute. So next time you see Peter Rabbit, consider the business behind him and the publishing pedigree he began.

Did You Know?
Though rabbits and hares appear very similar, they actually have many differences. The jackrabbit (which is, in fact, a hare) can move up to 40 miles per hour and leap more than 10 feet high. Rabbits just can’t quite reach those levels.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Maps as Art: Collages, Clothing and Culture

by Samantha Perry
Spring 2017 Intern

A lot of my early memories seem to take place in the car with me sitting in the backseat with my siblings. We always had a stack of maps with us in the car, usually tucked into the pockets behind the seats or on the floor beneath our feet. During family trips, I loved looking through the maps and tracing my fingers along the outline of the coast or over the serpentine curve of roads that stretched out across the page. To me, the maps I looked through on these trips played just an important role as the memories I made with my family during our adventures.

Even though our relationship with maps might be changing in the digital age, artists are still finding ways to incorporate maps in their work. You can easily spend hours losing yourself down a rabbit hole of map-themed art, including those that specifically use old maps as a medium. Some are collages of maps that create people’s faces, others are ghost-like sculptures of bodies made out of pages of rivers and roads. One artist, Elisabeth Lecourt, even makes clothing out of maps!

Other artists enjoy putting a graphic twist on maps. A common cartographic interpretation features typography. Artists like Nancy McCabe strip out everything but the continental outlines of world maps, and fill the “land” proportionately with text in a variety of typefaces, colors and font sizes. Some of these font maps have country and city names sized by area or population, others create the “land” with keywords that apply to the area.

Some other great examples of map art can be found on the website Mapping London. I spent four months living in London during my junior year of college, so looking at these maps brings back a lot of great memories! The website includes hundreds of different renderings of maps of the London Underground (“the Tube”), a map of ghost story locations in a Pac-Man layout, a typographic map of the different greetings from the many prevalent languages used in the city and a map detailing the olfactory level of each street. The street I lived on was pretty stinky according to this map! 

Did You Know?
There are 270 Tube stations, each of which inspired a graphic design by artist Mark Wallinger. Labyrinth is a collection of maze-like maps rendered in minimalistic black, white and red graphics. Each station’s unique labyrinth has a red X to mark your starting position at the entrance of the Tube station, and you are encouraged to trace the path that represents your journey.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Micro-Literature: Short Tales Going a Long Distance

by Sarah Rush
Spring 2017 Intern

Have you ever texted or tweeted a story to a friend? If you have, you’re officially an author—you’ve written micro-literature, or micro-lit for short.

What exactly is micro-lit? It’s literature designed to be consumed quickly, often thanks to technology. In the mid-2000s, videophones and the first smartphones hit the streets, and people wanted to read and write on their phones. But at the time, no one could really squeeze a 300-page novel onto those tiny screens.

A solution presented itself: smaller screens called for smaller (read: shorter) writing. In this way, new technology gave birth to a new writing format. The increased use of text messaging and tweeting also encouraged a character-limitation mindset, which helped the idea of micro-lit grow. Classifying what is and isn’t considered micro-lit is relatively subjective, but the concept has certainly expanded over time.

Numerous programs and websites began popping up where users could share their micro-lit, such as textnovel.com, which still runs today. Contributors have transformed classics and bestsellers into condensed micro-lit versions and added their own stories written specifically to fit the short format.

Micro-lit became quite popular, especially in Japan—tens of thousands of cell phone users read micro-lit in 2005. This is perhaps due to the fact that certain traditional genres like mystery, thriller, horror and humor seem to adapt well to micro-lit’s disjointed rhythm. Micro-lit also appeals to readers who are running low on time—they can consume complete stories in short bursts whenever they want.

Some writers turn to Twitter to publish micro-lit—a single tweet can tell a whole story, or authors can choose to serialize a tale through multiple tweets. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jennifer Egan published a Twitter micro-lit short story in 2012 called “Black Box,” a sci-fi tale grouped into 47 “chapters.” Click here to give it a go! Others have turned elsewhere to serialize their writing. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes published a full-length novel, Belgravia, in 11 weekly “episodes” via his website and corresponding app. Serialization of the past is gaining a renewal thanks to today’s technology.

Prefer books to screens? Micro-lit has also migrated into the realm of traditional publishing. Check out a list of six print examples of the writing form here.

Always dreamed of being an author? Just sit down at your keyboard (or pull out your smartphone), punch out a few lines and send it to a friend or coworker through your favorite social media. I wonder how new forms of electronic communication will transform the way that we write and read in the future.

Did You Know?
The world’s heaviest book is a stainless steel tome weighing just over 4,400 pounds! It’s a Hindi translation of The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957), originally written in English by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. The 24-page colossal volume contains all the text of the original book, but each page is about 9 feet tall, 5.5 feet wide, and 2 inches thick. This is certainly no light reading!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Museum Makes Way for Ducklings!

 by Marianna Sorensen
Spring 2017 Intern 

Children who’ve grown up in Boston have likely seen the bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack. The children’s book that inspired the models, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, is fondly remembered by many Bostonians. Honoring the book’s 75th anniversary, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) currently has an exhibit showing some of McCloskey’s original illustrations, as well as some of his independent work.

McCloskey was born in 1914 and lived until 2003. He wrote and illustrated 8 children’s books and illustrated 10 more for other authors. He won the Caldecott Medal twice for his books, the first for Make Way for Ducklings, which is at the center of the MFA’s exhibit. When I heard about this exhibit, I knew I had to go!

As I walked into the exhibit, the first thing I saw was a series of panels displaying the original illustrations for Make Way for Ducklings. Along one wall, at a child’s eye level, there were various activities for kids: “Honk! Quack! Look for drawings of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings making sounds. What do you think they are saying to each other? Can you honk and quack like a duck?” Not only do these activities inspire kids to look closer at the illustrations, they also offer them ways to interact with the art.

Nearby, McCloskey’s books are laid out on a cushioned bench to show how the drawings appear in their final form. A basket of books gives children something to focus on that they can touch, unlike the paintings and prints on the walls.

Duck footprints are laid out on the floor leading from the main entrance of the museum to the McCloskey exhibit to ensure that visitors find it and that kids have fun following the ducks’ tracks. The exhibit also has a miniature version of the sculptures found in the Boston Public Garden. The policeman from the book is actually included in this version, but he never made it to the Public Garden—if he had been created to scale to the ducks, he would have been much too tall!

The surrounding walls of the exhibit also have panels with illustrations and information about other books McCloskey worked on. Anyone who enjoys the story of Make Way for Ducklings, cultural icons of Boston, art history or book illustrations would, like me, most certainly enjoy this exhibit, which can be viewed until June 18, 2017.

Did You Know?

When he was working on Make Way for Ducklings, McCloskey felt stuck on the illustrations so he bought the real thing and brought them back to his apartment to study. McCloskey studied these ducks for more than two years and during this period he lived with no less than 16 ducks!

Photo Credit: Rizka 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Motion Paintings: New Movie Brings Van Gogh’s Masterpieces to Life

by Tess Renault
Editorial Assistant

A few summers ago, I found myself exploring the streets of Kraków with some classmates. We had just arrived in Poland after a train experience we were eager to forget and had one thing on our minds: pierogi. We eventually stopped at Pierożki u Vincenta, a hole-in-the-wall café near our hotel. The pierogi didn’t disappoint, but the atmosphere is what I remember most. Living up to its name (which translates to “Vincent’s Pierogi”), the café was reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting—even the ceiling swirled with blue and yellow paints to create a mural of his iconic The Starry Night.

In other parts of Poland, artists have created a tribute to Van Gogh in a different way—through film. Loving Vincent is a biopic on Van Gogh’s life and death, but the film adds another dimension to his story by being the first ever hand-painted film. Altogether, the movie is composed of 62,450 oil paintings created by 125 artists in Van Gogh’s characteristic painting style.

Dorota Kobiela, a Polish painter and filmmaker, came up with the idea for the film after revisiting Van Gogh’s extensive letters. Intrigued by both his personal life and his art, Kobiela wanted to make a short animated film about his work. However, her husband, producer Hugh Welchman, convinced her that a project of this magnitude deserved more than a few minutes of screen time. Together they’ve directed Loving Vincent, which turned into a full-length feature that took six years to make. 

Described as “87 minutes of relentless interplay of colors,” the film was an ambitious undertaking. Each shot of the movie consists of a series of frames painted on top of one another so that each resulting oil painting is the last frame of the shot. In order to make the scenes appear seamless, each second of the film was created from 12 frames. With each frame taking between one hour and two days to complete, it could take an artist up to a month working on a single second of the film!
Artists from all over the world traveled to Poland where the creativity flowed in special studios called painting animation work stations (PAWS). Professional actors assumed the roles of the characters in the film and they performed in front of green screens. This live action material was then used as reference points for the painters, who had to make sure each frame conveyed a sense of movement while retaining Van Gogh’s signature style of thick, heavy brushstrokes. 
Blending painting and film is certainly an artistic feat, but considering Van Gogh’s place in art history, it’s a perfect homage to his innovation. In the end, Kobiela hopes that her film, which is slated to come out this year, is an accurate representation of this line from Van Gogh’s final letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.”
Did You Know?
Ever wanted to live inside a painting? For a brief time last year, you could! As part of a Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, the museum created a life-size replica of Van Gogh’s room, which he depicted in several paintings that were the focus of the exhibit. For $10 a day, guests could stay in the room overnight and dream within the walls of a painting come to life.