In Print…!

graphic_novel_event_postcard_picture_ofHere’s the postcard they made to advertise the event of tomorrow (Tuesday)*. I’m pleased with how the design worked out, and I’m extra pleased about one important thing. This is the first time that any of my graphical work for the book has been printed professionally in any form on paper, and I am pleased to see that the pdf that I output actually properly gives the colours I’ve been working with on screen. There’s always been this nagging background worry (especially after the struggles I had to do to get the right output from my home printers) that somehow it would all be terribly wrong… that the colours would […] Click to continue reading this post

Experiments with Colour

Well, that was interesting! I got a hankering to experiment with pastels the other day. I am not sure why. Then I remembered that I had a similar urge some years ago but had not got past the phase of actually investing in a few bits of equipment. So I dug them out and found a bit of time to experiment. pastel_experiment_18_jan_2015_small It is not a medium I’ve really done anything in before and I have a feeling it is a good additional way of exploring technique, and feeling out colour design for parts of the book later on. Who knows? Anyway, all I know is that without my […] Click to continue reading this post

A Special Graphic Novel Panel!

graphic_novel_event_postcardI’ll be on family leave this semester (because… see here), so that means I’ll be intensely busy with other matters most of the time, and will be doing a lot less in the areas of teaching, events, committees, etc. But there will be some things here and there, including things that I’d promised to do before I knew I’d be taking leave. One of them is a discussion on graphic novels for the Harman Academy of Polymathic Study here at USC. (While sitting up bleary-eyed with a very small person in the wee hours of Monday morning I designed the graphics for the postcard they will use for advertising the event. They kindly asked me if some samples of my work could be used, and so the graphic above is what I came up with (they added the logos and event info), made from parts of pages of the work-in-progress book.)

In various ways, the graphic novel is a nice example of the confluence of lots of disciplines and different modes of communication, and as such is a good “polymathic” topic to discuss with the students of the academy (part of the point of the enterprise is for them to learn about how going beyond the narrow constraints of subject or discipline can be of tremendous value, so they study people and creative endeavours that have benefited from that approach – see their website for more). I’ll be joined on the panel by Professor Henry Jenkins (from the Schools of Communication, Cinematic Arts, and Education), and Professor Dana Johnson (from the Department of English), both of whom are real experts in the graphic novel – they are involved in teaching the form, and […] Click to continue reading this post

New Live Model!

Sorry I’ve been quiet here the last week. I was busy with helping complete the acquisition of a new drawing subject! Within 24 hours of said acquisition, I found a few minutes to do a quick pencil sketch of him (as it turned out) in my notebook, through my profound lack-of-sleep fog. (I did a little bit of extra chiaroscuro finish work on it later on.)


This is a whole new challenge, since: (1) his physical features are of course quite different in proportion to the usual grown-up faces I often draw, (2) when he is actually still enough to draw, I really ought to (2a) be catching up on […] Click to continue reading this post

Grabbing Fun Shapes

culver_city_building_8th_dec_2014_smallA quick sketch of a building in Culver City, done while waiting for a meeting to finish (I was in my occasional role as chauffeur). A very classic and pleasing combination of shapes for Southern California. (I splashed on ink and colour later on, once home).

In other news, I’m all ready for the last teaching event of 2014. I’ve written, typeset, and checked (multiple times) the final exam for the graduate electromagnetism class. There are some interesting things on there. I hope they like it!

-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Cabinet Caper!

Remember I mentioned that I was building something? Well, I finished the project:


The usual thing happened. I could not find the right kind of cabinet that fit the space and function, and so decided that I might as well build one designed to fit exactly what was called for. It holds all the living room media needs, and keeps them discretely hidden away (no electronics and cables everywhere) until called upon. The top chamber opens up to deploy a projector (the holes […] Click to continue reading this post

Monday’s Quarry

red_line_guy_24_11_2014_smallMonday’s quick grab on the subway on the way to work. I claim that one of the most useful aspects of the smartphone is its facility for holding people in predictable poses in order to be sketched.

He had a very elegant face and head, and was engrossed in his game, and I was done reviewing my lecture notes on scattering of light, so I went for it. I was able to get out my notepad and a pen and get a good fast […] Click to continue reading this post

Three Cellos

three_cellos_14_11_14These three fellows, perched on wooden boxes, just cried out for a quick sketch of them during the concert.

It was the LA Phil playing Penderecki’s Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos, preceded by the wonderful Rapsodie Espagnole by Ravel and followed by that sublime (brought tears to my eyes – I’d not heard it in so long) serving of England, Elgar’s Enigma Variations.


-cvj Click to continue reading this post

Subway Glances


Just a few grabs of parts of faces of people who I see on the subway journey to and from USC each day. Sometimes I get a good look, other times not… Sometimes they disappear before I get anywhere. I’ve been busy on other things (like prepping lectures and reading endless books and files for one duty or another) and so have not got as many done as I like to. This collection is about three weeks’ worth. Also, when travelling in rush hour I seldom get a […] Click to continue reading this post

Big Draw LA

Big_draw_la_11th_october_2014_1_smallThe Big Draw LA event downtown today (in Grand Park) was a lot of fun! There were all sort of stations of activity, and lots of people were jointing in with drawing in various media, including making masks (so drawings and cut-outs) and making drawings on the concrete plaza area using strips of tape, which I thought was rather clever. (I forgot to photograph any of those, but look on twitter – and I presume instagram – under #thebigdrawla for things people have been posting.) One of the most interesting things was the construction made of drawings that people did on pieces of slate that lock together to make a larger structure. Have a look in the pictures below (click thumbnails for larger views). There were several, but maybe still not enough adults involved, in my opinion (at least when I went by). Perhaps this was due to a “I can’t draw and it is too late for me, but there is hope for the children” line of reasoning? Bad reasoning – everyone can draw! Join in, all ages. There are events all around the city (see links below).

big_draw_la_11_oct_2014_3 big_draw_la_11_oct_2014_2 big_draw_la_11_oct_2014_5

The pursuit that had the highest proportion of adults was the costumed figure […] Click to continue reading this post

Expo Line Chain Lady

expo_line_chain_lady_8th_oct_2014So I looked up from my notes and saw this striking person in a remarkable, and presumably deliberately forthright, amount of chain-based jewellery. She had a heavy looking gold chain that started from one ear and stretch over to the other, with the slack resting on her chest. She had wrist shackles of some sort that were in turn connected via chains to rings on her fingers. It was amazing. I was frozen, mesmerised. I was mostly thinking about all the ways one could accidentally snag those things on something as you walk by and…

Then I was thinking I ought to get a record of this to show… But it is rude to anonymously take a picture of someone… Then I remembered. I could draw her, that’s what I do – what was I thinking? So I got […] Click to continue reading this post

Make Your Mark!

You know I’m a fan of mark-making. I think it is an important tool, as well as a fun thing to do. Taking the time to draw an idea, or your surroundings, brings a certain pace to the whole relationship that enhances it. You really have to look when drawing, and so you see more, and further.

Anyway, lofty babble aside, it’s Big Draw Month, internationally! So participate. Don’t get hung up on the – pardon my French – bullshit phrase “I can’t draw” that everyone reaches for. That’s meaningless and fundamentally missing the point. Get out there and have fun. Or stay in there and have fun. Either way… draw something. Then share it.


(Incomplete companion to the sketches I posted two days ago. It is of some fellow who was also waiting while we waited for a delayed flight to Ann Arbor. Actually it was the 2nd, not the 5th, and a gate in concourse B, not C. I mis-labelled before scanning. Not that you care.)

The Big Draw has a website here, but your local city […] Click to continue reading this post

Airline Routine

Since it has been a busy semester so far, I welcomed the flights to and from Ann Arbor (on Thursday and on Saturday) as opportunities airline_sketches_4th_oct_2014_colour to get in a bit of sketching practice. One must keep in shape, especially for work on the graphic book project, when that resumes soon.

airline_sketches_4th_oct_2014 I did some partial sketches of live people while waiting for one flight, and on board the flights dug into the in-flight magazine for faces (as I’ve reported doing here in the past, see e.g. here and here), and found two interesting ones to do quick sketches of. This time I did light pencil at first, to allow me to get […] Click to continue reading this post

But How…?

I get questions from time to time about where the drawings on the site come from, or how they are done. notebook_and_tools The drawing I had in one of last week’s posts is a good example of one that can raise questions, partly because you don’t get a sense of scale after I’ve done a scan and cropped off the notebook edges and so forth. Also, people are not expecting much in the way of colour from drawing on location. Anyway, the answer is, yes I drew it, and yes it was drawn on location. I was just sitting on a balcony, chose which part of the view I wanted to represent on the page, and went for it. I wanted to spread across two pages of my notebook and make something of a tall sketch. See above right (click for larger view.) A quick light pencil rough helped me place things, and then a black […] Click to continue reading this post

Meanwhile, Somewhere Down South…

hotel_down_south_1st_Sept_2014So while at a hotel somewhere down South for a few days (pen and watercolour pencil sketch on the right), I finally found time to sit and read Graham Farmelo’s book “The Strangest Man”, a biography of Dirac. (It has a longer subtitle as well, but the book is way over in the next room far from my cosy spot…) You may know from reading here (or maybe even have guessed) that if I were to list a few of my favourite 20th century physicists, in terms of the work they did and their approach and temperament, Dirac would be a strong contender for being at the top of the list. I am not a fan of the loudmouth and limelight-seeking school of doing physics that seems all so popular, and I much prefer the approach of quietly chipping away at interesting (not always fashionable) problems to see what might turn up, guided by a mixture of physical intuition, aesthetics, and a bit of pattern-spotting. It works, as Dirac showed time and again.

I’ve read a lot about Dirac over the years, and was, especially in view of the title of the book, a little wary of reading the book when I got it four years ago, as I am not a fan of going for the “weren’t they weird?” approach to biographies of scientists since they serve too […] Click to continue reading this post

And Back…

subway_sketches_27_08_2014It is a new semester, and a new academic year. So this means getting back into the routine of lots of various aspects of the standard professor gig. For me this also involves being back in LA and taking the subway, and so this means getting (when it is not too busy as it seems to get a lot now) to sketch people. The guy with the red sunglasses was on his way to USC as well, and while he was reading or playing a game on his phone (such things are a blessing to sketchers… they help people hold in a fixed position for good stretches of time) I was able to get a quick sketch done in a few stops on the Expo line before we all got off. The other guy with the oddly trimmed beard was just briefly seen on the Red line, and so I did not get to make much of him…

I’m teaching electromagnetism at graduate level again this semester, and so it ought to be fun, given that it is such a fun topic. I hope that the group of […] Click to continue reading this post

West Maroon Valley Wild Flowers

west_maroon_valley_sketch_10_aug_2014I promised two things in a previous post. One was the incomplete sketch I did of Crater lake and West Maroon Valley (not far from Aspen) that I started before the downpour began, last weekend. It is on the left (click to enlarge.) The other is a collection of the wild flowers and other pretty things that I picked for you (non-destructively) from my little hike in the West Maroon valley. There’s Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, and so forth, along with […] Click to continue reading this post

In Motion…

subway_sketch_5th_august_2014_smallBack in Aspen. I went back to LA for a long weekend, and my travel back to Aspen today gave me a lot of good thinking time. Also, I got a few very quick drawings done, such as the one on the right of a cooperative fellow (looking at his phone) on the subway on my way to Union station to take the LAX Flyaway bus.

I’ve been thinking about two projects, one physics and the other about physics, going back and forth between the one and the other, trying to not let them interfere with each other. The “about physics” one is of course the graphic physics book project. In itself it is in two parts. I’m adding more pages from time to time – drawing, inking, and painting/colouring when I can – and I’m also having the odd conversation with potential publishers from time to time, and sending off proposal packages to appropriate places that accept them… trying to explain the nature of the project to those who are willing to listen to something new and exciting. As I’ve said before, “new and exciting” are not words that most publishers want to […] Click to continue reading this post

Café Talk

cafe_sketch_27_06_14 Here’s a quick sketch I did while in Princeton last month, at a new café, Café Vienna. (See earlier posts here and here for sketches in an older Princeton Café. I’m using a thicker marker for this one, by contrast, giving a different feel altogether, more akin to this one.) This new café promises to recreate the atmosphere of the Cafés of Vienna and so I kind of had to have coffee there before I left. Why?

Well, two reasons, one obvious and the other less so: […] Click to continue reading this post

Hey, You…

page_extract_27_07_2014_2Today (Sunday) I devoted my work time to finishing an intensely complicated page. It is the main “establishing shot” type page for a story set in a Natural History Museum.

This is another “don’t do” if you want to save yourself time, since such a location results in lots of drawings of bones and stuffed animals and people looking at bones and stuffed animals. (The other big location “don’t do” from an earlier post was cityscapes with lots of flashy buildings with endless windows to draw. :) )

Perhaps annoyingly, I won’t show you the page_extract_27_07_2014_1 huge panels filled with such things, and instead show you a small corner panel of the type that people might not look at much (because there are no speech bubbles and so forth). This is seconds before our characters meet. A fun science-filled conversation will follow…(Yes these are the same characters from another story I’ve shown you extracts from.)

[Update: I suppose I ought to explain the cape? It is a joke. I thought I’d have a […] Click to continue reading this post

It’s Dynamical Cosmological Constant Day!

airline_sketch_28_06_2014As you may know from three previous recent posts on research (here, here, and here), I’ve been thinking and calculating a lot in the area of dynamical cosmological constant – concerning mostly (but not entirely) thermodynamics and quantum gravity. Specifically, the cosmological constant becomes the pressure variable in the thermodynamics. I think it is important, and will teach us something about things like gauge/gravity duality, string theory, black holes, and perhaps even cosmology, but I am not sure what yet. I’ve made some suggestions in recent papers, and computed some interesting things along the way.

Anyway, the larger community has not been following this story much, since: (1) It means a break with some powerful and still very fruitful frameworks where the cosmological constant being fixed is a given – like AdS/CFT – and it is not clear what that means yet, so the motivation is not super-strong; and (2) Let’s be honest, there’s no superstar working on it, so it is not going to get anyone any points. So I’ve been trying to shout about it in my little way from the periphery, as I think it might be useful, and since several people have been doing really good and interesting work on this issue for many years and it is worth more people seeing what they’ve been up to.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when I looked on the listing of new papers on the arXiv for today and saw three (!) papers on the subject, moving things forward in various ways. (They all seem to have noticed some of what I’ve […] Click to continue reading this post

Strings Talks

20140627-080640-29200119.jpgThe conference is really rather good, with a varied program involving topics and speakers from all over the map. This includes the parallel sessions we had on Wednesday, which were held down at the Institute. Those were a lot of fun, because of the dodging back and forth between different auditoria at the IAS to get to talks of interest. I was chairing one of the sessions, and so did not get to dodge about in the first 90 minutes, and had to miss some interesting talks, but did a little talk-surfing in the second 90 after the break.

It had been many years ago now since I began to talk about there being a need for parallel sessions at strings conferences. Some people would object to them, saying that it would somehow be damaging to the field’s connected nature, where everyone is following many strands and topics in the field. To me that concern was always balanced by the problem of only having a small cluster of people and ideas represented each year due to the constraints of only having five days to present the activity of such a diverse population of researchers in the field. The main objection to having parallel sessions were, to my mind, based on a view of the field left over from when the field was smaller in terms of both people and thriving ideas. I think the conference organizers this year found a way of combining the two models rather well, with the single afternoon of parallel sessions, along with well chosen sets of half hour talks for the main sessions where we all sit together, roughly grouped by themes. There were three one hour big marquee plenary/summary talks. Theses are really useful. If I were to make a change, I’d perhaps have four or five of those, putting the two half hour talks that were displaced into the parallel section.

There is a two hour session of “Vision Talks” this afternoon. Should be interesting to hear what is said. We will perhaps get some good discussion going about where various ideas may be headed. I hope there is a lot of audience participation.

Poster sessions and the “gong show” were also great things to have as part of […] Click to continue reading this post

Small World

I’ve been looking at some of the many changes to Princeton, as I get the chance between sessions at the conference. A significant one for me is that Small World Coffee has really thrived and grown significantly. I can’t over emphasize how big a deal the place was to the lives of many in Princeton when it opened in 1993. Believe it or not, there was no real cafe in Princeton when I arrived the year before. The arrival of small world was a huge deal. It meant not just decent coffee, but a gathering place, a place to hang out, and a little art and performance space. Such places existed before, but on campus, and mostly for the benefit 20140625-075311-28391849.jpgof the student population. I was not a student at Princeton, although many of my friends were, so although I went to such places as well it was nice to be in a cafe that was part of the actual community that was the town of Princeton. Several postdocs loved that the place opened, and we went there a lot. Perhaps it helped balance out the ratio of trips up to New York to choosing to stay in town… Ok, just a little bit, but a significant amount. I remember my friend (and fellow IAS postdoc and neighbour at the time), Marc Kamionkowski, playing his saxophone there (sometimes putting on his “Cat in the Hat” hat for a number – he may not forgive me for mentioning this), and I’d go along to support him.

I sat there yesterday and was pleased that the expanded seating at the back meant lots of nice vistas from which I could look at other patrons without being […] Click to continue reading this post

Magazine Practice

magazine_sketch_16_06_2014_smallAs a way of degaussing from the heat of physics research involved in producing the recent paper, I spent a bit of time getting my hand back into some proper drawing shape… I looked into some magazines and catalogues for interesting faces and found a couple.

magazine_sketch_18_06_2014_smallThe woman was done more or less directly in ink, which is a good challenge for the eye – you must be sure about a line before you put it down, since you’ve not got a second chance. A day or two later I sat in a cafe after a visit to a garden centre to pick up some supplies, to draw another interesting face I found (in a gardening catalogue). This was done more carefully, starting by doing a quick pencil sketch first for accurate layout, and then doing ink afterwards. Since people are sometimes curious about process, I include below a sequence of stages on this one as well. Enjoy.
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Sketchy Freedom

downtown_towers_26_05_2014Memorial Day – 26th May 2014. I arrive at downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a few moments of the pure joy of looking. Of seeing something in front of me well enough to make a rough representation of it on a piece of paper in front of me, for the pure hell of it. This is the essence of sketching. It is about seeing. I’m looking for the… something.

My hunt is over. I see the scene I want, just off the Water Court, a few minutes from the top of the (closed) Angel’s Flight rail. The sun is streaming through the portal framed by the two closest buildings. The further ones make sharp geometry against the 4:00pm sky. I’m also curious to try some new coloured pens, and I like that each building suggests a different colour. I’ve got about 15 minutes before I have to leave to pick someone up.

I sit. I start. Immediately I see the guard see me from across the way, and within a minute or two he is by my side, standing in front of me. He has the “You’re not allowed to do X” look on his face, but he’s trying to start out well. I’ve had this before, right in this public space, when a guard decided that I should not take photos of the buildings. Despite all the other tourists who do so. He begins:

You know, usually we… Are you an architecture student?

Excuse me?

Are you an architecture student?

Well, what are you asking me, really?

Are you an architecture student? […] Click to continue reading this post

Making Marks

Been a while since I got to do some sketching. It is good practice to try to do something every day, but that fell by the wayside a little as far as proper sketches went. It has been busy the last week and a bit, and my subway time has been during very busy times when there’s not enough space to get out pen and paper and sketch a person without becoming a spectacle… and during the moments where I might have caught something, I’ve actually been calculating – working out questions for the final exam in the General Relativity class, and (more recently) doing some computations for a paper I’ll tell you about shortly.

Anyway, when time is short, I sometimes like doing quick sketches with a thicker pen. Stops me from digging into the details too much. In fact, I’m really liking that as a sketch mode these days… You make your lines boldly and you’re stuck with your choices, and so it gets you thinking about what’s globally important carefully before jumping in.


It is great and satisfyingly distracting fun. Anyway, between this and that over the last day or two I did a few quick faces based on some photos I found in a […] Click to continue reading this post

Participatory Art!

As you know I am a big fan of sketching, and tire easily of the remark people make that they “can’t draw” – an almost meaningless thing society trains most people to think and say, with the result that they miss out on a most wonderful part of life. Sketching is a wonderful way of slowing down and really looking at the world around you and recording your impressions. If you can write you certainly can draw. It is a learned skill, and the most important part of it is learning to look*. But anyway, I was pleased to see this nice way of getting people of all ages involved in sketching for fun at the book festival! So I reached in and grabbed a photo for you.

artists_row_latfob_12th_april_2014 […] Click to continue reading this post

Harmonics Can Make Metals Flux

I’m sitting on the bus, on my way to the LA Times Festival of Books. I’ve opened my notebook to maybe sketch a face or two, but then I spot an algebraic error on a page from a few days ago, so I set about correcting it….(you know, either for those historians who will argue about my intentions while poring over these once-lost manuscripts…. Or more likely for me in a few weeks, likely to get confused by my own blunder-in-haste with a kindergarten level variation.)

20140412-122335.jpgA bearded fellow had boarded the bus and sat next to me while I was doing this. He eventually glances my way, then away, then he does a double take. I’ve been watching him out of the corner of my eye. He starts to speak to me.

Calc or Trig?
Excuse me?
Calc or trig?
Er…. Physics.
What are you studying?
I’m not…studying. It is my research.

Silence from him for a few beats, then:

Into what?
Charged black holes.

I should say at this point that I get this a lot. No matter who I meet out there in the random world, or what they see me writing, the assumption is always that I am taking a class in high school mathematics. Why is that? People, at least guess for some of the time that I might be at least teaching it, even if you can’t imagine people doing research in this area. The grey hairs in my beard are a guide to your assumptions.

Another gripe: if you see someone writing words, and want to engage them in conversation about it, you don’t assume they are practicing the basic structures… Imagine the analogous exchange: Are you practicing joined-up writing madam, or spelling? Neither, I’m writing poetry.

Anyway, back to the conversation. So, as you recall, I said Charged black […] Click to continue reading this post

Around Fifteen

While on a hiding retreat in another town or city, I like to seek out a local group that might be doing a “drop in and draw” session. You show up, pay your money, and there’s a safe environment (in a studio, a back room, upstairs of a pub, etc) for a model and artists to work on the wonderful business of capturing the human form in various media. I’m a reasonably private person so I like to keep the anonymity level reasonably high, but it does not only work. People are of course on the watch out to protect the group from perceived problems, so they ask questions. Others are just trying to make friends, and so they ask questions too. I just like to be polite and friendly, share the odd joke or remark, but mostly keep my mouth shut and listen to the various small talk that breaks out during breaks. Most of all, I want to get on with the business of drawing.

sketches_17th_march_2014_smallI went to one on Monday. This time around it was sort of amusing to me at one point when one of the organisers of the group asked me why I’d come down from LA to their small seaside town drawing group and I said I was hiding. I could sense alarm immediately (I can imagine the pictures he might have had in his mind even before I said “hiding”) and so I then went further, by way of reassurance, and said something vague but standard about wanting to get out […] Click to continue reading this post

LA Phil Rock Star!

When calling to mind the Los Angeles Philharmonic, everyone’s (and all the posters’) focus is on Gustavo Dudamel, (or, the Dude, as I call him), all unruly hair and visible enthusiasm and so forth, and that’s great. He’s an excellent conductor. However, one of the unsung (as far as I know*) visibly spectacular performers of the LA Philharmonic is the excellent principal viola player whose name I do not know [update: see below*] who puts on the most remarkable physical performance every time I go (and presumably those other times too). Actually, the violist who sits next to her is also remarkable, since she manages without being distracted by her neighbour to maintain a very upright and solid, firmly planted, legs wide stance, in part providing a canvas upon which the viola player I first mentioned can splash bright splashes of movement all over the place! la_phil_sketch_28th_February_2014_smallShe rocks, sways, jerks, and contorts (sometimes even during quiet slow bits)- doing the craziest things with her legs, head, and bow arm, and so much of the time looks like she is about to spectacularly fall off her chair and wipe out at least half the viola section! This is why her colleague right next to her is also remarkable, as she acts as this wonderful un-distractable “straight man” to the physical pyrotechnics helping make them all the more remarkable by contrast. Last night I tried to capture some of the energy of the hyper-energetic viola player in a quick sketch (during […] Click to continue reading this post