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When you're out shopping, it may be a little difficult to make smart money decisions - especially when those perfect shoes are calling your name. Omar Green wants to help; his company is developing software that tracks spending and - just like mom - reminds you about your financial goals.
While President Obama is trying to convince members of Congress that action is needed in Syria, one Washington-based group is already aiding opposition forces. Host Michel Martin talks with Dan Layman of the Syrian Opposition Group about their efforts to fund the Free Syrian Army.
The Portrait Society of America (April 2013) held its annual conference in Atlanta and featured illustrator James Gurney. As a parent, I was familiar with his book Dinotopia but had never looked beyond the bedtime story scenario. At PSA’s conference, I chose a Gurney break-out session and began to learn how approachable he was. Gurney showed his to-go-kit, minimal art supplies he takes on the road, to an audience of painters ranging from beginners to the highly skilled.
Gurney has a keen sense of his surroundings which he records with the simplest ingredients: pencils and watercolors, a fountain pen and markers, all rendered in the tiniest sketchbook. He draws with HB and 4B pencils, and preloads water brushes, which I’d never heard of. So I Googled art stores to research this seemingly handy tool. Apparently, you load the water brush’s hollow handle with liquid watercolor and away you go. On location you might need several water brushes loaded with different hues—very convenient and I plan to try some. Gurney gets his to-go supplies into a hiker’s fanny-pack.
OK, I’m a slob when it comes to packing paint and brushes for going on-location. I can’t imagine a sketchbook being smaller than a legal pad or my paint tubes and brushes being carried in anything less than a Home Depot rolling tool box. I don’t think I could even write my grocery list on a Gurney sketch pad, but then I haven’t been endorsed by Dream Works Animation or Johns Hopkins School of Medicine or the Denver Museum of Natural History, either.
Gurney was the key speaker at PSA’s gala and enthralled even those, like my husband Dave, who only uses a paintbrush for touch-ups to the exterior of our house. During PSA’s art weekend, this king of dinosaurs stole around ballrooms unobtrusively drawing visiting artists who demonstrated how to render a figure in paint. The packed audiences eagerly caught the posing models on their iPads while Gurney professed to get as much as much down on his sketch pads using plain observation.
Dinotopia is celebrating twenty years in print. Gurney has written three sequels which center around nineteenth century biologist Arthur Denison and his adolescent son Will. The two are shipwrecked off the schooner Venturer and land somewhere uncharted. Even more mysterious, everyone on this dinosaur-inhabited island appears to have arrived by shipwreck with no apparent way to leave. For explorer Denison, travelling around Dinotopia with trusty dinosaur sidekick Bix becomes a series of adventures encountering bizarre people and creatures, while becoming fascinated with unique flora and fauna. For Will, Dinotopia becomes a path to manhood, as he begins a tame relationship with a dinosaur rancher’s daughter, the red-headed Sylvia.
Will and Sylvia have their own quests as they become accomplished pilots on dinosaur-esque flying conveyances called Skybaxes. Enough revealing the plot lines that give young readers a taste of how to imagine, similar to more advanced tomes: Harry Potter, Star Wars and Homer’s Odyssey. As Gurney says in the introduction to Dinotopia, “the book you hold in your hands is an odyssey for the eye. You can check with the nearest eight-year old; all the dinosaurs are real, based on fossil evidence. Whether the rest is real depends on you.” Although this tale is very readable, it is the narrative illustrations that keep bedtimers flipping back and forth.
Gurney successfully marries Dinotopia’s story to the pictures as well as his additional diagrams of island mysteries, thus allowing adult readers to become just as enchanted.
Gurney’s extreme attention to detail, often peppered with humorous imagery, is generously explained in his how-to book, Imaginative Realism. As anyone who has begged for someone’s chocolate chip cookie recipe knows, you can mix up a batch of your friend’s morsels, but the results will never be the same. Hence, Gurney has no fear that giving away secrets will result in copycat Dinotopia illustrators.
My art training has been largely couched in abstraction, the dominant genre of Modernism. As the adage goes, Abstraction is always found in the shapes of Realism, which means even the most die-hard devotee of Jackson Pollock can benefit from lessons in representation, as I did when reading Imaginative Realism.
Although Gurney uses a camera, small theater spotlights for rendering shadows, and Photoshop, he explains that modeling with clay, cardboard and even an old pair of pantyhose can produce great maquettes that grow into fantasy locations. These models can stand alone or become focal points for a still life leading to composing multiple paintings or photographs. If you close-read, Imaginative Realism you’ll discover that this modest artist has the stature to call the Jim Henson Creature Shop for assistance.
Gurney feels fantasy needs a ‘lived-in look.’ Even new or make believe civilizations have to deal with yesterday’s detritus. So Gurney builds dents and rust into his robotic concoctions. One example is a Gurney book cover for The Digging Leviathan (1982) which depicts a boy operating pretend earth moving equipment, recycled from old bicycle and umbrella parts. The boy sits atop a trash can wearing a mask and snorkel (eye protection) while steering with an old wood drilling auger.
Gurney travels worldwide, bringing ideas back to his upstate New York studio. Imagery of Salamanca, Spain and Venice eventually become superimposed and morph into Waterfall City, one of Dinotopia’s main drags.
Tremendous research goes into a Gurney work. When constructing a fire fighting dinosaur he consulted Ernesto, a senior product specialist, ‘for a firm that designs and builds modern fire engines.’ Hosing that needs to travel up the neck of a dinosaur must be properly fastened so firemen who ride these creatures don’t get knocked around by the force of water rushing through heavy hoses. Ernesto applied physics to dinosaur anatomy and cleverly affixed both hosing and ladders to Gurney’s mythical firefighting apparatus.
Gurney has illustrated bygone civilizations for National Geographic, photography would be impossible. When reconstructing an Etruscan iron works, circa 700 B.C., he consulted an archeologist to get primitive smelting techniques, placing rows of chimneys authentically on the Populonia Beach. In keeping with his adage that nothing should look perfect, he renders an Etruscan foreman daydreaming as he leans on his staff while supervising sweating grunts. As Gurney quips, “it always struck me that paintings of work scenes show everyone looking too earnest and industrious.”
Gurney believes artists, especially young ones, should, “study nature as faithfully as possible and portray it with as few mannerisms as possible.” This may not go down well with those who like to be Impressionistic. However, this method proved fruitful to Gurney who was asked by the US Postal Service to create Jurassic scenery on stamps. Of course he had the authoritative green light to consult scientists about plants and dinosaurs. But, he also did research at Brooklyn’s Botanical Garden. Although he shows what renowned artists have at their disposal, he also provides information for the “average Joe” artist.
Gurney is curious and digs deeper. What do viewers initially gravitate to when first looking at his work? For this, he consulted Eyetools. Did you know it takes 3½ seconds to zone in on context and detail? And apparently no two people visually scan in the same way. Gurney subjected his paintings to heatmapping which revealed that ‘sharp detail or strong tonal contrasts’ don’t necessarily attract a viewer the way the canon of art teaching has insisted. Aha…maybe those judges didn’t award you that prize because they didn’t see your work the way you did!
And Gurney never wastes time. Once when waiting for his clothes to dry, a parking lot outside the laundromat became his studio much to the astonishment of another mall attendee who said, “I’ve lived here twenty-five years and I’ve never seen an artist painting the CVS.”
Some Gurney neighbors don costumes and morph into storybook characters while others become stand-ins for dinosaurs. Here, Gurney often resorts to quick snapshots, making up for fidgety drama queens. Like magic (or is it?), friends begin to look more and more like their Gurney portrayals.
I love acrylics; I might try some acrylic modeling paste mixed with matte medium the next time I need texture. And I think I’ll buy one of those small stage lights too. Even if you are never going to design a video game or illustrate a sci-fi paperback book cover, it doesn’t hurt to know what other artists can accomplish.
Imaginative Realism can be read as a companion to the Dinotopia series or can stand alone as an artist’s reference; it’s clear and instructive. Gurney nicely situates himself and his readers on art’s timeline by referencing masters like Rembrandt or illustrators like Norman Rockwell. He insists it is not the name brand art school that will make you famous and, “never be afraid of teaching yourself.”
The Art of James Gurney: Part 2 will appear on Town Square 49 in October. The Dinotopia series and Imaginative Realism are available on Amazon. Gurney is a contributor to International Artist Magazine; his blog Gurney’s Journey can be Googled.
Congress is going to consider the president's request for the OK to take military action. Obama says he's confident the resolution will allow the type of strike that cripples the Assad regime's ability to use chemical weapons against its own people. House Speaker Boehner is supporting the president.
Some rainfall over the weekend may have eased a looming crisis for pink salmon stocks in Southeast Alaska. The summer’s fine weather and record salmon runs have both made headlines – but they’re a recipe for trouble without enough water in rivers and streams for fish to spawn.
KCAW’s Robert Woolsey visited Sitka’s Indian River to learn how the salmon were doing.
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The Indian River is a mid-sized system. It drains a large valley to the east of Sitka, but there are no glaciers or permanent snowpack feeding it.
I’m standing in the river bed – wearing running shoes. It didn’t even occur to me to wear boots. The Indian River is low, and there are more fish in it than I’ve ever seen.
We spook two or three hundred pink salmon, and they surge away across the shallow gravels, leaving us standing among carcasses.
I’m with Dave Gordon, the area management biologist for Fish & Game, and his tech, Jess Coltharp. A stream plugged with salmon is a good thing, but there is a problem. Gordon picks up a pink salmon and cuts it open.
“It’s been dead a long time… There’s another one: still in the skein. Obviously didn’t die from spawning. It died from stress of some kind. So based on that sample, I’d say a high percentage of the mortality you’re seeing here are unspawned fish.”
Gordon cuts open five dead females and all still have eggs. But he is not necessarily alarmed. For these salmon to have survived two years in the ocean, and then come this far upstream only to die on the banks is not that unusual.
“I think you always have a certain amount of stress mortality associated with the spawning event. So you’re going to see pre-spawned fish die even when the water is in better shape than it is here. The water quality in this case is definitely adding to the stress a lot, and it’s probably causing a higher number to die before they spawn.”
Decaying fish rob the stream of oxygen. In a normal year, carcasses are flushed out to sea. Obviously, low rainfall is at the heart of the problem here – but are there also just too many fish?
“This is an all-time record for Alaska. Right now something above 250 million fish have returned,” says Steve Reifenstuhl, the general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. In this job, and in his previous position with a local processor, he’s worked closely with the seine fleet, who’s bread-and-butter is pink salmon. In Southeast, fishermen have taken nearly 90-million pinks.
“We probably left 10-million – maybe 20-million pink salmon in the ocean – that weren’t needed for escapement that could have been harvested, if there would have been sufficient process capacity.”
But catching those fish, Reifenstuhl says, would have been unrealistic. The industry in Southeast can best handle about 70-million fish.
“You know, you can’t build infrastructure for a once-in-a-120 year event.”
“Less fish would have been a good thing at this stage,” says Dave Gordon, “But there’s a lot of systems that are much smaller than this, much smaller watersheds, much more dependent on the rainfall to have any water at all. Those are getting desperately low.”
Gordon thinks there are probably about three times as many fish in Sitka’s Indian River than it can accommodate, and more are holding off the mouth in saltwater, waiting for the stream to rise. But they can’t hold forever. Enough will make it, though, to maintain the stocks. Gordon thinks the system would be at risk of a crash only if dry weather persisted well into September.
That’s not a big worry at the moment. Gordon, like any fisheries manager, is worried about taking my call next year.
“I think what happens when people see this – and next year we’re going to get something more normal – they’re going to go, Where’s all the fish?”
The Republican senator supports military action that makes it harder for Syrian President Bashar Assad to wage war against his people. The Senate on Tuesday starts debating the president's request for authorization to strike Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Retired basketball star Dennis Rodman called Kim Jong Un an "aweseome" man after a visit earlier this year. His trip there this week follows a prediction by Rodman that he would persuade Kim to release Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae. But Rodman says that's not the purpose of his visit.
About one-quarter of all Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, many to neighboring nations. New data on the number of refugees come as Congress begins debating the president's request for authorization to take military action in response to the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.
Last week, the Sitka Assembly made its choice for municipal administrator. His name is Mark Gorman, and he’s called Sitka home for 35 years. At the moment, though, he’s thousands of miles away, in the last days of his current job, which is based in Asia.
When he gets back to Baranof Island, he’ll be responsible for the management of more than 150 city employees, and the day-to-day operations of the City and Borough of Sitka.
KCAW spoke with Mark Gorman late last week about his background and his hopes for the job.
We’re going to begin on the other side of the globe, in Laos. The country faced heavy bombardment during the war in Vietnam. Today, it’s one of the five remaining countries on the planet to describe itself as communist, and is home to about 6.5 million people.
It’s also where you’ll find Sitka’s new municipal administrator at the moment, wrapping up work on his old job at the nongovernmental organization World Education.
Mark Gorman is standing in front of a cafe called “Craters.” The place is decorated with old bombs dropped by the U.S. Air Force. We’re talking on a scratchy Skype connection, and I can hear traffic in the background. Gorman turns on his camera and lets me have a look around.
“This is a 2,000-pounder, this one right here,” he says. “This is the real deal. This is the work that the organization I work for does here. There’s an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs still in Laos.”
In Laos, World Education teaches children how to avoid unexploded bombs, among its other projects.
“It’s been a remarkably rewarding, stimulating job,” Gorman said. “The Lao people, and the culture is really wonderful. It’ll be hard to leave, but Nancy and I are ready to return home.”
Gorman says it wasn’t difficult was deciding to apply for the Sitka municipal administrator job.
“It’s really the honor of my professional career,” he said. “It’s a position I’ve looked at for well over a decade, and to have the opportunity now to perform in that position is really very exciting to me.”
Municipal administrators have seven bosses — the various members of the Sitka Assembly. Those bosses change on a regular basis, and with that change can come major shifts in course for the city. It’s a high profile position that can include a lot of blame when things go wrong, and not a whole lot of credit when things go right. It involves long, irregular hours. So, what makes a guy look at that job for more than a decade and want it?
“I guess that’s one of the things I’m very attracted to about the job,” he said. “I’ve watched it for many many years, and I’ve watched the Assembly change in terms of its orientation and its strategies. I think to function highly in that environment is something that really attracts me. I’ve always enjoyed professional challenges, and I’d like to believe that I’m up to the challenge.”
Gorman’s has done relief work in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Bosnia. And he spent more than 20 years at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, including about five months as interim CEO in 2007.
But it was the U.S. Forest Service that brought him to Sitka, in 1978.
“It was kind of a mistake,” he said. “I’d been in the Peace Corps, and I really wanted to come to Alaska after my Peace Corps service. As a Peace Corps volunteer, you had noncompetitive eligibility for federal jobs. So, I sent my standard 171 form to all federal agencies in Alaska. I got a call from the U.S. Forest Service in Sitka saying ‘We liked your application, would you be willing to come up and work for us, and we’ll pay for you to come up?’ And I said ‘That sounds great.’
“I didn’t know where Sitka was, but I was eager to come to Alaska,” he said. “The first day on my job at the Forest Service, I was brought in to the HR department, and sat down and the HR director said ‘I’ve got some bad news for you.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘Well, in the Xerox copy we got of your application from the regional office, where it said ‘major in college,’ all we could read was ‘-ology,’ and we assumed it was biology. But now that we have the hard copy of your application, we can see it was anthropology. We can’t start you at the GS-7 that we offered.”
GS-7 is the name of a pay grade. His starting salary in today’s dollars would have been around $64,000. Instead, they offered to let him work at a much, much lower rate. Gorman said he wasn’t fazed.
“The moment I stepped off the plane in Sitka, in July 1978, I was infatuated,” he said. “There was no way Sitka was not going to become my home.”
Gorman says he’s hoping to be back in Sitka by the third week of October, to start work as municipal administrator.
“Job No. 1 for me is getting to know all the departments within city hall, and developing the relationships with the department heads and the employees… and developing that trusting relationship which, from everything I’ve gathered, was nonexistent five months ago.”
Sitka’s budget will be a big concern for Gorman. The current budget is balanced, but city staff and members of the Assembly have been warning for years that the trajectory is alarming. They talk about infrastructure needs that vastly outweigh the money available to fund them. They say the money coming in might drop off soon, and the city will always have rising costs to cover.
Pete Esquiro asked each administrator candidate if they understood the difference between a balanced budget and a sustainable budget. Think Band-Aids for balanced, surgery for sustainable. Gorman says he understands.
“From my knowledge, and my conversations with Jay Sweeney, the current budget is not sustainable, but it is balanced,” he said. “Somehow revenues have to come in line with expenses in the next few years. How that is achieved is something I’ll be learning more about the first few months I’m on the job.”
Sitka, he says, has a lot going for it.
“It’s got a remarkable talent pool,” Gorman said. “I was in Sitka for six weeks before I returned to Laos, and I spent a lot of time talking to people. The energy, the innovation, the ideas, the vision that are in all parts of the community, whether it’s private sector, nonprofit, small business, community organizations, there’s a vitality there that I’ve not seen anywhere else in my professional career. That’s asset No. 1, just a tremendous collective energy to move the community forward.”
And what is Sitka missing?
“I’m not sure I would say ‘What are we missing?’” Gorman said. “Some of the challenges we’re looking at are the high cost of doing business in Sitka, the high cost of housing, the lack of affordable housing. I think the workforce is becoming an issue in terms of attracting a young workforce that work in our service industries.”
If you’re listening to this in Sitka, chances are you’re affected by some of those issues. And chances are you’ll have some interaction, directly or indirectly, with the new city administrator. We asked him about his management style.
Gorman: I was just talking to my current supervisor in Boston about my transition and the timing of it. She was saying how the staff in Vientiane, Laos, are feeling very anxious about me leaving. She said ‘Mark, they really like you. They feel very safe with you.’ That word safe would be one that I’d start off with. I’d like to believe that people are comfortable with me, and they feel safe, which means I can listen to anything, including views and ideas which I might not initially think are the best. But I’m open to that.
KCAW: When you look at this job, what are your concerns?
Gorman: A question that was repeated in both my interviews is the longevity of Sitka city administrators. I forget what the average is, but it’s not multiple years. One of the things I want to look at is what contributes to the short tenure of city administrators. I’ve certainly already had some conversations with Jay Sweeney about this. It’s a huge job, and whether it’s entirely doable by one person, I think that’s a legitimate question that needs to be asked and answered. In a proactive way, I want to look at how that job is organized, what are the supports that are going into it, and are there different approaches to making it a more achievable assignment.”
Longevity brings up another question.
KCAW: How long before you start thinking about the retired life?
Gorman: (laughing) One of the [things] I heard when I first moved to Sitka was from an old guy who was teaching me how to take care of my boat. He said ‘When you stop building your house, it’s time to die.’ I can’t really answer that question. I see myself being active till I drop.