art non-fiction writing Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing by others Writing tips

33 Steps to Being an Artist

33 Steps to Being an Artist is an excellent read by Jerry Salz originally appearing in New York Magazine. Archived here by the Vulture (external link) Well worth fifteen minutes.

I’d add that being an artist means taking away, reducing, eliminating the unnecessary. Strunk and White wrote in the Elements of Style that,

“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

This may not feel natural as it is a process of tearing down, not building up.

Salz says something I find impossible to follow,

Lesson 24: Artists Must Be Vampires

Stay up late every night with other artists around your age. Show up. Go to openings, events, parties, wherever there are more than two of your kind.

Artists must commune with their own kind all the time. There are no exceptions to this rule, even if you live “out in the woods.” Preferably commune in person, but online is more than fine. It doesn’t matter where you live: big city, small city, little town. You will fight and love together; you will develop new languages together and give each other comfort, conversation, and the strength to carry on. This is how you will change the world — and your art.

I’m currently trying to explain the basics of crystallography for my book. After a discussion of idealized crystal forms, I mention terms describing the aggregates of crystals. Words like acicular, bladed, and botryoidal. I don’t know anyone I can “commune with” that can help me with my writing. Another writer would have to be familiar with the same subject matter, both of us struggling at the same time to sort out an inherently difficult language.

I don’t know of any openings, events, or parties that cater to my kind or to any non-fiction writer working in the sciences. At the coffee shop I go to, at three in the morning, each person is intensely focussed on their own work, whatever that is, staring fixedly into a screen in front of them. I don’t know what they are working on and no conversation takes place among us, talk being confined to those out being social. We are all alone with our work.

For me, the only telling summary of our often excruciating creative process is a quote by 4 Non Blondes:

And so I cry sometimes
When I’m lying in bed just to get it all out
What’s in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar

That’s it. I don’t feel right until I get my words right. I feel out of sorts when my thoughts are out of sorts, when I don’t yet know enough to explain something well enough. It is only when I think clearly that I can write clearly. That’s the struggle. if I could find someone to party with who understands what orbicular means, well life might be fine indeed. But right now I have a deadline to meet and a solid red jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces to put together.

Returning back to the aorticle that Salz wrote, I do not mean to criticize his work as a whole. It is a fine piece of writing and well worth your time.

art Uncategorized

Make Sure That You Warn Me If You’re Coming to Birmingham

Sorry, listening to The English Beat. “Jeanette.”

“No, no, no I’ll never forget you
Shared one last cigarette and swapped false addresses”

The English Beat had absolutely the best cover art of any 80’s band. To wit:

Speaking of art, I just bought four pounds of foreign language magazines at my local library. Discards, for a total of forty cents. One French and three Japanese. They’ll make great collage material if I get the urge again. Returning to that subject, I learned some lessons from my last hasty project. (internal link)

First, my materials should be pasted onto something firmer. Board, not construction paper or heavy cardboard. When I applied a gesso like material to seal my collage the underlying paper curled up and warped. Secondly, to keep thin or narrow pieces firmly in place, a glue stick won’t do. The whole project should be done in something like Elmer’s Glue or another substantial paste. More work, slower work, but better work.


Photography Photoshop rocks and lapidary Uncategorized

We The Few

“We the few, who have done so much with so little, now attempt the impossible with nothing.”

My week long road trip has returned me to a seemingly impossible problem: producing professional looking closeup and macro photography. I have located many fine rocks, gems and minerals to illustrate my book but none of them possess any value unless I can photograph them in sharp focus.

On the positive side, my recent purchase of a light tent is allowing me to take publishable photographs of larger specimens, those three to five inches and bigger. Success! But the world of macro photography is a dark art. It requires specialized equipment and patience beyond that of art restorers working on bringing back the Last Supper.

I do have some right equipment, a macro lens bought at great expense some time ago. And a tripod that should be steady enough. Even with the right tools, however, this process is like handing professional equipment to a beginning woodworker and asking them to produce fine cabinetry in a week. Money can’t buy experience.

Taking a close up shot of a minuscule mineral requires multiple photographs of the object at different focal points or ranges and then blending them all together in Photoshop. I’ve produced images I can tolerate myself, perhaps good enough for the web, but nothing approaching what I see in the rock and gem magazines.

I’m thinking of taking two weeks off from writing to devote myself solely to photography. I’ve considered hiring a professional photographer to give me pointers but this is a labor intensive pursuit and the cost of a consultant for even one day would be prohibitive. Check out the photo below.

Notice how the dark crystal is in focus, more or less? And the feldspar closest to the lens, the material closest to the camera, is in best focus? In the ideal photograph, all surfaces of this crystal cluster would be in focus.

The idea is to take ten or twelve shots of different points, each of these in sharp focus, neglecting the rest of the subject. Then, Photoshop merges all of the images, resulting in a photo that combines every sharply focused point into one glorious photograph, everything well defined. Unlike the photograph above.

I am trying to be positive.

Update! I may have a way to make smoother progress. My current light box is great but there is no way for me to reach through the small openings to take a photo of a specimen in the middle of the box. My head would get in the way of the lights and the reflective interior of the box, even if I could manage to get my head through.

But, using a horizontal arm on my tripod, I could easily slide my camera in to get as close as needed to the specimen. I’ve just ordered such an arm. How, then, might you ask, will I be able to see anything through the viewfinder, since the camera will be inside the box?

Canon makes an app for remote shooting. I can view an image through my phone and take shots from it. Previously, when I got my camera two years ago, the app was balky and unpredictable and a general pain. But they have improved it tremendously and this morning I was getting good, predictable results. Between these two developments I may be on my way toward my goal.

Update! Smartphone not needed. Nor the fancy horizontal arm I ordered. Using the slider mechanism below and my backup cameral I have managed to take a series of good photos using just the lightbox. Here’s a post where you can see my best image. (external link)

Keep in mind, however, that photo stacking is not point and shoot. I may have to take a dozen individual shots just to produce a finished, publishable photo. A real time thief. To aid in this precise, individual shooting, I’ve also ordered an inexpensive rail slider. It fits on the horizontal arm and allows precise back and forth movement for the camera. With all this fiddling, I may be heading in the right direction to make macro a manageable feat.

What’s a professional’s setup? They use what are called full sensor DSLRs, not mirrorless cameras like the one I have. (I bought my EOS M3 for its compact size, low cost, and low weight.) For a professional, a standard camera body, Canon, used, starts at $600. The recognized Canon macro lens for such a full sensor DSLR is the EF 100 f 2.8L. That’s $650 to $700. The enabling industry recognized software is from Helicon, and license packages go up to $200. ‘Course, these are all minimum costs. While passable photography can be had from a camera phone, publishable macro photography is the province of the well heeled or the supremely inventive.

non-fiction writing Photography rocks and lapidary Uncategorized

Another New Post At

My road trip and vacation  continued with a visit to the Rio Tinto:


Another New Post At

Here’s a link to the latest blog at my rockhounding site:

I know I am concentrating lately on all things rock related, rather than writing itself, but it’s all part of working on my book. I’ll try to come up with some writing content soon. Thanks for your patience.


New Post at

New post at

Uncategorized Writing by others

Amazing Grace, The Future, No Despair and Dying

It’s been three decades since my insomnia, bad dreams, and nightmares started. And my daytime anxiety years before that. Although I don’t long for death, I long for its peace. Unless I am cast into hell, my thoughts return to a stanza in Amazing Grace:

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

I’ve been very fortunate to have the life I enjoy. It would be more satisfying without my troubles, but everyone has their own private nightmares stalking them. In the end, I have my art and the means to conduct it. We’ve all made it this far. As the  song reminds us:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

More at:

books Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing by others Writing tips

The Inadequate Index — Another Writing Time Bandit

A book writer may have thirty or forty books aiding  his or her research and writing. I certainly do. Unless one has years before deadline, it is impossible for a writer to read each book cover to cover to gather three or four quotes from each one. Instead, we rely on indexes, which too often are inadequate.

Right now I am pushing through The Desert Reader, edited by Peter Wild. It’s a collection of writings about the Southwest and it is an excellent book. But Wild has a different orientation than I do, consequently, his index is lacking for my work. He has excerpts from Peter Banham’s Scenes in American Deserts and the quotations I am interested in are on the creosote bush, the background plant of the desert Southwest.

Creosote is ubiquitous on the desert floor and it possesses no thorns. But its sharply oriented branches can puncture the sidewall of a truck tire and it is stiff enough to whip the paint off a passing vehicle. For these reasons and others I want to mention creosote in my book. But nowhere does creosote appear in its index. Instead, one has to read the entire book from cover to cover, or fast scan it, in the hope of finding something on point.

Years ago in writing a telephone history I quoted from the biography of an engineer who worked for fifty years for Motorola. He had invaluable, first hand insights on the development of that company. All 125+ pages were without an index. I am sure I was the first researcher to cite his publication because I eventually read the entire work. That book is and remains closed to the world of research without an index. The only hope is that someday its pages are scanned and made searchable by machine.

All of this is a long way of saying to keep to books with good indexes, lengthy ones, ones that will help keep your writing on track. A book with no index should not be considered unless it contains material so original and so unavailable elsewhere that a great effort is worthwhile. Books lacking an index are yet another unexpected bandit that robs us of our time.

Photography rocks and lapidary Uncategorized

New Post to

On indoor photography and light boxes: (external link)

art Uncategorized

Collage: The Poor Man’s Art

Collage is for people like me who can’t draw and don’t have much money. Some construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, and old magazines. Although artists like like Matisse and Ella Richards (internal link) produced fine art with just scissors and paper.

Every few years I get the urge to collage. This is tonight’s creation. The age old question: when to stop? I could fill in every blank space or leave them blank. I may want to fill in everything.

Because I was impatient I didn’t get acid-free paper. This black background paper will eventually fade, becoming a dull gray in between the images. But every graphic needs room to breathe, so perhaps it’s best not to cover much up.

Let me know if you collage and I may be able to post them here.

Click here or on the image to call up the full size file.