Entries for March 2008

March 28, 2008

A photo of a tree

This is my favorite tree in San Francisco:

Golden Gate Bridge tree in San Francisco

I was going through my photo archives this morning and found this picture from a trip to San Francisco a few years back. I’ve always enjoyed this photo, but I never found a use for it. I generally don’t like taking pictures from the exact spot that millions of photos have already been taken, but I found this tree so compelling I couldn’t resist.

March 25, 2008

Idea: The Wikroll

A Wikroll is when a person rudely interrupts an on-line conversation to provide a link that seems to have nothing to do with the topic at hand, claiming that it goes to the video for Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” But the link actually goes to a Wikipedia article that adds relevant insight to the discussion.

For example, lets say I write a blog post about macaroni which prompts discussion in the comments about the origins of macaroni and the best tasting brand of macaroni. Then someone leaves this comment:

Hey, everyone. I really like that Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up” so I thought I’d post a link to the video on YouTube so everyone can watch it. Click here to check it out: http://tinyurl.com/296l7r

Did you click on the link? Snap! You’ve been Wikroll’d!

March 17, 2008

Idea: The Bulbdial Clock

Update 12/4/09: In conjunction with Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, I’m pleased to announce that you can now buy a kit to actually build Bulbdial Clock! Visit the product page for more information.

I think we can all agree that sundials pretty much suck. They only have an hour hand, they don’t work at night or indoors, their accuracy changes with the seasons, and if you happen to live in the Southern hemisphere they run backwards. And yet, we all would love to be able to tell the time by looking at shadows, right?

That’s why I’ve come up with the Bulbdial Clock.

The Bulbdial Clock has no hands — just one pole in the center of the clock, and three light sources of varying heights which revolve around the pole casting shadows. In the model illustrated above, the light sources are each attached to a ring which rotates around the pole. The innermost ring rotates once per minute, casting a “second hand” shadow. The middle ring rotates once per hour, and casts the “minute hand” shadow. And the outer ring rotates once every 12 hours, casting the “little hand” shadow.

The Bulbdial Clock can be used flat like a traditional sundial, or mounted vertically on a wall. A variation on the design intended for large-scale installation (such as in a museum) involves a pole sticking up in the middle of a room, while the light sources are mounted on the ceiling, shining down on the pole as they rotate around it.

The Bulbdial Clock solves most of the sundial’s problems, but it still has a problem of its own: It doesn’t work in bright light. So the Bulbdial Clock is best suited for dim spaces such as restaurants and nightclubs.

Update: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has built a working model and posted several photos of the process. (4/7/09)

Previously: An Orange Clockwork

March 13, 2008

Animated Manhattan: G.I. Joe: The Movie

Part 20 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Okay, so most of G.I. Joe: The Movie takes place outside of New York. But the ridiculous opening battle takes place at the Statue of Liberty, so that’s what I’m going to concentrate on. I debated whether or not one location is enough to qualify for the “Animated Manhattan” series, but the waves of nostalgia I had watching this convinced me to include it.

It all starts on a pleasant night at the Statue of Liberty.

Balloons are sent up in celebration of some sort.

Oh, no! The evil forces of Cobra are parachuting down to ruin everything!

But wait. Who is that watching from the torch? [Note: This movie came out in 1987 but still depicts the statue’s original torch, which had been replaced the year before]

Yo, Joe! G.I. Joe is there!

They’ll surely save the day. If they can stop Cobra from planting a bomb, there’s no way any harm could come to the statue.


The damage doesn’t look so bad from here.

Cobra has been defeated!

A lot of the movies and TV shows in the “Animated Manhattan” series have scenes at the Statue of Liberty. In general, they tend to get the details right, especially in close-ups. This sequence doesn’t really fare much better or worse than the others, but it’s nice to have a scene where Lady Liberty plays such a prominent role. Unfortunately, this all has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, which is about Golobulus, the leader of a reptilian race who is trying to steal a Broadcast Energy Transmitter so he can mutate everyone on Earth by ripening space spores.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Bonus: An edited version of the sequence is on YouTube.

March 5, 2008

If you’re attending SXSW this weekend…

If you’re one of the thousands of people attending SXSW Interactive this weekend, you can come see me pitch one of my ideas live on a panel called Worst Website Ever: That’s So Crazy It Just Might Work.

Andy Baio will serve as moderator, as eight creative people each take turns pitching their worst possible website ideas to venture capitalist David Hornik, who would probably be crazy to provide funding for any of our proposals. But who knows? Maybe he’ll decide that one idea is so crazy that it just might work.

I’m sure the competition will be tough, as the full panel also includes Lane Becker, Jeffery Bennett, Ben Brown, Katie Spence, Michael Buffington, Lia Bulaong, and Merlin Mann. All are smart people with smart ideas. But whose smart idea will be the worst?

Find out this Saturday at 5:00 in Room 9, wherever that is.

More info here.

March 4, 2008

The Other Art of Courtroom Sketch Artists

In 1996, Supreme Court Justice David Souter told a congressional panel that “the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.” While the controversy over whether or not cameras should be allowed in courtrooms rages on, sketch artists remain fairly non-controversial, covering even the most important trials. The general public sees their artwork on the news, online, and in print. These artists see the trials for us, and often their artwork is our only glimpse into the proceedings.

I found myself wondering who these artists are. Is courtroom sketching a full time job? Are these people fine artists or commercial artists? And what kind of artwork do they do outside the courtroom? I decided to contact a range of courtroom sketch artists and see what I could find out. There are many more talented artists in courtrooms than just the seven I contacted, and I present them in no particular order. (All artwork shown with permission of the artists).


In the courtroom: Mona has been covering celebrity trials in Los Angeles for more than 25 years. Her courtroom sketches have appeared on ABC, CNN, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She recently released a book called Captured! featuring sketches and commentaries from a quarter century of celebrity trials.

Outside the courtroom: Before she began sketching trials, Mona was a fashion illustrator. She has illustrated several fashion books and has taught fashion sketching at UCLA. Some of her fine art is available in posters from Winn Devon. I think she conveys a lot of elegance in seemingly simple lines.

On the web: www.monaedwards.com


In the courtroom:In 1975, Steve was passing through Philadelphia on his way to Hollywood, when a photojournalist friend offered him a press pass to watch the moving of the Liberty Bell with him. As luck would have it, the bad weather that day prevented the photographers from getting the shots they needed, but the fact that an illustrator was present meant that the media could at least get an artist’s rendition of the event. The Philadelphia Daily News was impressed by his work and asked if he’d ever done courtroom sketching before. He hadn’t, but he was willing to give it a try. For nearly 30 years since then, Steve covered court cases for every major media outlet, drawing his courtroom pictures with color markers. A drawing Steve made of Judge Lance Ito, his staff, and all the major players from the OJ Simpson trial hangs framed above the juror box in Judge Ito’s courtroom.

Outside the courtroom: Steve finally made it to Hollywood, where he has a prolific career drawing storyboards for major motion pictures including The Day After Tomorrow, Along Came Polly, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Steve also does fantasy and sci-fi illustration and is working on a book of stories from his illustration adventures. Here’s an example of his storyboard work for The Day After Tomorrow:

On the web: www.stevewerblun.com and www.famousframes.com


In the courtroom: From 1973 to 1998, Marilyn worked for WABC in New York, covering some of the city’s most famous trials. She was there for the courtroom appearances of Woody Allen, Martha Stewart, Don King, Sid Vicious, Mick Jagger, and more. In a 2006 interview, she recalled drawing notorious mob boss Jon Gotti: “He was always turned out in his Armani suits with his hair blown out and back, he exuded charisma. I saw him as terrifying. I used to watch him through binoculars. And one day he wagged his finger at me and pointed to his neck. I had been drawing his fat neck, and he didn’t like it.” Marilyn recently released a book called Art of Justice recounting 30 infamous trials from the artist’s perspective.

Outside the courtroom: Besides her illustrious career as a courtroom sketch artist, Marilyn is an accomplished painter whose post-impressionistic work has earned several solo exhibitions. Here are some examples:

On the web: www.marilynchurch.com and www.courtroomartonline.com


In the courtroom: Patrick recently moved to a state that allows cameras in the courtroom, which pretty much put the kibash on his courtroom sketch art. But for 10 years prior to the move, Patrick’s courtroom art appeared in numerous regional and national press. I quite like his style, which he executes in chalk pastels and colored pencils (“very messy” he notes) because it’s not exactly what I imagine when I picture typical courtroom sketch art. These sketches are from the Kirby Puckett trial and the Marilyn Manson trial:

Outside the courtroom: Patrick describes himself as “a reality-based artist” adding, “I do still lifes, landscapes, and illustrations that make wry comments and witty observations on modern life.” His website features oil paintings depicting Bob’s Big Boy, a series of Pez Dispensers, and a cow-shaped creamer. Others depict seemingly mundane corners of suburban landscape. And his portfolio is rounded out with commercial work showing both creative and technical illustration skills.

On the web: www.3flynns.com and www.simplysilhouettes.com


In the courtroom: Dana says that the most memorable court case she’s sat in on was NBC Sportscaster Marv Albert’s sexual assault trial, which she describes as “one big surprise after the next.” In that case, Albert was accused of biting a woman, and it was revealed that he sometimes wore women’s underwear. Sometimes, Dana says, time restraints don’t allow her to finish her sketches in the courtroom, so she adds the finishing touches afterwards, even if that means setting up shop in the courthouse bathroom, using the sink for her watercolors. Dana’s courtroom art has appeared on CNN, ABC, FOX, and elsewhere.

Outside the courtroom: Dana’s illustrations have been featured in national publications like Newsweek, which used her work extensively for its article “The Day That Changed America” about the attacks of 9/11. On a more local scale, Dana does commissioned portraits for clients, and is even available as a caricaturist for events.

On the web: www.danaverkouteren.com


In the courtroom: Paulette says about courtroom art: “Being a courtroom artist is like capturing lightning in a jar. The artist must grasp the image of the moment, hold it, and express it onto an 11x14 drawing pad in their lap without spilling ink, paint or supplies onto the lap of the person sitting beside them. The composition must tell the story at a glance. In all my art I go for essence. The essence of my subject in the mood of the moment is my goal. I have written a biography with artwork of the great radical criminal defense lawyer J. Tony Serra, and I’m working on a book about the world’s greatest mime, Marcel Marceau. I learned about essence from Marceau and about drama in the courtroom from Serra.”

Outside the courtroom: In addition to being a courtroom artist and author, Paulette is also a photographer, a magician, a mime, and a fine artist who work was first exhibited in a joint show with her father, designer Paul T. Frankl. Here are two of her portraits:

On the web: www.pauletteart.com


In the courtroom: The United States Supreme Court is Art’s regular beat, drawing for NBC News. But he has covered cases across the country, and even as far south as Guantanamo Bay where his sketches are the only visual records of various military proceedings. He began doing courtroom sketches in 1976, and works mostly with colored pencils and watercolor markers. I asked Art what he thinks of cameras in the courtroom. He said, “My fear is that trials could become reality shows. The viewing public, not realizing that the trial they are witnessing, with commentary from pundits and sandwiched between commercials, is very different from the case the jury gets.” Here is Art’s sketch of last week’s Supreme Court arguments in the Exxon Valdez case:

Outside the courtroom: Art’s courtroom work make up most of his visual artistry these days, but he does practice two other kinds of art that I think are worth mentioning. First of all, he writes an interesting blog where you can see Art’s latest drawings, along with commentary about the cases he covers. And until recently, Art was playing Mandolin in the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra. You can see Art in this photo, partially obscured, third from the left:

On the web: www.courtartist.com

Thanks to all the artists for their participation!