So while at a hotel somewhere down South for a few days (pen and watercolour pencil sketch to 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, since 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
It 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
I 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
Back 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
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
Today (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 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
As 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
The 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
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 of 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
As 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.
The 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
Memorial 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?
Are you an architecture student?
Well, what are you asking me, really?
Are you an architecture student? [...] Click to continue reading this post
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
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.
[...] Click to continue reading this post
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.)
A 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?
Calc or trig?
What are you studying?
I’m not…studying. It is my research.
Silence from him for a few beats, then:
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
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.
I 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
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! She 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
After a long weekend of a two-day meeting of an American Physical Society committee (hosted in LA this time, so I did not have to travel far), I decided last night to go and do a drop-in-and-draw session at an art studio, to clear my mind.
The model was excellent, with a smashing hairdo and good body-awareness that made for interesting poses. I was in the mood to disappear and listen to Hendrix for three hours while focusing on the simple task of representing what was in front of me. So I did.
I’m horribly slow again. Lack of regular practice (on full figures), of course. The good news is that I have been able to hold on to some of the more important foundations that allow me to lay things out, and see forms and shapes. But it does mean that I don’t get to get to some of the finishing processes that I intuitively prepare for in the earlier parts of the drawing.
As you know from many posts of mine on the subject (see e.g. here and here) I actually like incomplete drawings where you can see a lot of the process [...] Click to continue reading this post
There is always a mixed set of emotions for me when I come to change notebooks. It means that I stop carrying around pages and pages of ideas, impressions, sketches, and other things from the last few months that I can accidentally stumble upon. Instead, I start a whole new blank book that does not connect back to anything. I must fill new pages (which I love doing) that will become those favourites I will look back on. So I always like to start off with a drawing that I’ll like to look back on. It helps set the tone for the pages to come in the many months. (See an earlier post about this matter here.)
Yesterday gave me a nice opportunity. I took my mum (who is visiting for a while) to the beach in Santa Monica and we walked together on the sand for a little while. I then sat on the sand and did a sketch while she continued walking and looking around. My focus was the Santa Monica pier, and I wanted to [...] Click to continue reading this post
Holiday time is upon us, and in this part of it, it is coming up on Christmas time. Really fast, it seems. The semester sort of petered out mid-week for me with the submission of the final grades for my graduate electromagnetism class (everybody did really well… fantastic group of students this year), and one last two hour committee meeting for another of those committees I can’t tell you about. I’ve found some time to think about some physics, and work on a new page for the book, among other things. There’s a panel [...] Click to continue reading this post
Finished the inks and threw some (digital) paints over the lunch group. I think it’s time to move on to another part of The Project. I’ve spent far too long fiddling with the light in this.
-cvj Click to continue reading this post
Actually, this new tool is pretty old school, and I love it! There are times when I want to have a change of venue while doing rather detailed work for The Project… perhaps go sit in a cafe for a change, instead of at the drawing desk. But when not at the drawing desk, I could not use the lovely large illuminated magnifying glass […] Click to continue reading this post
Well, since yesterday was all about eating here in the USA (Thanksgiving, in case you missed that), I thought I’d share a partially inked panel from The Project, of a meal in progress. I got a bit of quiet time to work on it this evening, while listening to Jimi Hendrix and then Freddie Hubbard. They helped a lot. It is at times like this I wonder what insanity has come over me […] Click to continue reading this post
Sunday saw me spend a bit of relaxing time in the morning at a breakfast bar sketching a colourful pan of tomatoes, apples, and a yellow pepper. I spend ten minutes doing a quick pen and ink outline sketch of all the elements, which was fun and pleasingly simple enough.
But then I decided to lay on some colour and so pulled the sketch into Brushes on […] Click to continue reading this post
It has been a long and tiring week so far and I decided that I needed to withdraw for a little while. So I left campus early and went on a wander downtown. My goal? It is the last day of the worldwide Big Draw month of October (but see below*) aimed at raising awareness of drawing (you may have seen events in your own town – maybe even participated in some), and I’ve been so busy I’ve not done much outdoor on-location drawing this month (not counting subway drawing) and so I thought that I’d get one in on the last day. My own little contribution to the local Big Draw LA, if you will.
Anyway, I considered doing some well-celebrated landmark like one so many of the splendid buildings available (Union Station, Central Library, Eastern Building, Walt Disney Concert Hall…), and as I walked I pointed myself in the direction of some of these, but just after I turned away from the library on Fifth, heading to Pershing square, I saw what I wanted to draw. If you stay on […] Click to continue reading this post
Managed to find a little time over the last few days to lay out, draw, and ink a page in The Project. It has been insanely busy for me, so this is a little bit of a triumph in stealing some time back. It’s actually the same seminar that you saw in earlier posts (here and here). Now it is over. It remains a tradition in our field to give a little round of applause after a talk, which I find rather nice and quaint. It was a pleasure to depict that.
It is a wider view of the room, which meant (aaaargh!) drawing even more faces and bodies than before. Then there’s the challenge of doing them in different states of attention, applauding, with different faces, bodies, states of dress, etc. When I come to paint it I’ll be wanting to pick colors that together communicate the right mood for the panel and for the whole page it is part of, and so forth. It can be daunting to do all those faces, bodies, shirts, feet, and […] Click to continue reading this post
I realized just now that since I set a midterm exam on Monday for the graduate electromagnetism class, and since there’s only one midterm for the class, it really is… midterm. The semester is sort of half over already. And indeed, a glance at my calendar shows this to be more or less true. I’ve mixed feelings about this since on the one hand it is a busy and tiring semester and I’m glad to have it go by, but on the other hand… slow down life! What’s the rush!? Yes, I definitely keep wanting to make sure I stop to smell the flowers, or what’s the point?
The midterm itself (Monday, in class) was fun. Or at least, I found it fun to put together on the weekend. There were no complaints from the students, so I hope that means I got the balance about right. We shall see during class tomorrow, when [...] Click to continue reading this post
I must say that I had fun doing this drawing (click for larger view), and it was a long time coming. After returning from New York I decided that after a lot of tiring travel back and a long day of work the next day that I would keep the momentum from the plane drawings and go and relax and do a drop in and draw at a studio for a few hours.
It has been a long time since I’ve popped into a studio to draw a model and I am happy to say that I was not as frustrated in the end as I thought I might be due to lack of practice. (In fact, it is best to try to enjoy getting done what you can get done, and not get frustrated since that just makes things worse…) I was a bit slow, yes, but was happy that the processes of how I draw best came together readily, and by the [...] Click to continue reading this post
I’m going to admit something maybe a little naughty right now. One of the things I was most looking forward to about the whole New York trip was the plane ride so that I could spend time drawing. It has been a long and busy several weeks into the semester already and that means that I’ve been not getting as regular drawing practice in as I’d like. So the airline downtime (blogged about here and here) is actually rather a welcome activity since I can bring out the sketchbook and draw. I’ve been regularly requiring myself to work directly in ink, so this means no correction of mistakes as one goes along. To proceed in drawing, you incorporate poor decisions about lines you’ve made into the drawing if you can, and move on. It also means that you learn to look more closely and think a bit more about line choices, and what you’re trying to capture.
Anyway, this fellow was sitting on a hydrant on one of the streets bordering [...] Click to continue reading this post
Well, not a lot to say except that this is the painted version of the panel you saw a few days back, part of a page of the graphic book starring science that I’m working on (follow the link for more). Was a long time coming, this page. Too many [...] Click to continue reading this post
Another fun combination of science and sketching! Photographer Volker Steger decided get his subjects – a selection of Nobel Prize winners – to try to represent their work (what they got the prize for) with a drawing. You can see a discussion of the results (and find links to the prizewinners talking about their work) here*
Click to continue reading this post