Tuesday 26 March 2013

Chalkboards - Ephemeral Art for the Waggon and Horses, Milton

Some messages are irresistable - such as "Chalkboard writer wanted" outside the Waggon and Horses in Milton at the end of last year. But I resisted! Then the milton-chat e-mail came around with "Chalkboard writer wanted, would suit student". So I went to visit the Waggon and Horses for a chat and get to know David and Louise, the new publicans. A fortnight later, no students had volunteered and I found myself amongst the bustle of a pub in full redecoration and renovation by not only Louise, David and Batty, but by their family and friends. I was about to tackle my first chalkboard.

But Why?!?

1. They were (and still are) a friendly bunch. 2. The challenge of a new art form and 3. I like the thought of ephemeral art. You create something with a limited lifetime.

View full album of chalkboard pictures to date

Chalkboards are done with chalk pens which are like giant felt tips. The chalk colour is either waterproof or at least water resistant to rain. This means that you are working on something that will look quite rough close up as you cannot do very fine detail. However, that is not a problem - you want to create an impact at a distance.

Half the work is sorting out your layout and lettering. The message has to be as minimal as possible, so the writing does not get too small to read. If possible create additional features that also give the message, perhaps as a picture or decoration. I had naively thought that a board would take about an hour to do. For me as a novice with the medium, it takes longer!

Apart from the pleasure of making a new Chalkboard, the thing that I really learnt was an appreciation of other chalkboard artists.

Chalkboard Art

Next time you are out and about, look out for the chalkboards outside the pubs and restaurants. You will find three distinct groups. 1. Do it yourself by the owner. 2. Commercially made, over-precise signs and 3. Work by artists who may have traveled halfway across the country to spend a day or half a day at a venue to create signs to order, on site or back in their own workshops.

Chalkboard signs have to grab your attention, albeit fleetingly, generate thirst or hunger. Signs make you subconsciously decide - this is a place to stop. They give an impression of the quality and type of an establishment.

When you look closer, you then see how a good chalkboard artist cleverly uses colour, bold strokes, shading and blending to create the unique and yet ephemeral images and writing.

Chalkboard art is a successful commercial art form that survives in a highly digitised and graphically precise and visually educated world. Each writer or artist will have their signature strokes and designs. And the work will last until the next offer, season, change of menu or beer hosted at a pub.

I enjoy the challenge of chalkboard and cheerfully acknowledge that now I can appreciate those who are far far better at it than me. If you cannot get out at the moment to sample what is near you, or if you are interested in becoming a chalkboard artist, here are some random links and inspirations, starting with John Neal, who also shows you some of the techniques and skills:

Chalkboard pictures on Google Images

Sunday 10 March 2013

Observing sunspots with a camcorder and home-made filter

The moment I saw a TV demonstration of how to view the sun safely with a simple, affordable home made filter, I knew I had to have one. Observing the sun has always had its fascination for me. It is our nearest star and we are entering a period of increased sunspot activity. In the past, I had been able to film the sun at high magnification, simply on a camcorder. However this was at sunset when its brilliance was greatly diminished.

The video below shows how I made a filter and used it to record sunspots on a Panasonic HC-V700 camcorder. If you have problems viewing, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUbNgma2e2I.

WARNING: do not look at the sun directly by naked eye or through any type of telescope etc, even when using filters as you can damage your eyes.

The almost magical material is a thin film that cuts out 99.9% of light passing through it. AstroSolar (TM) is made by Baader and it arrived as an A4 sheet by post after ordering on Amazon a couple of days later.

Useful instructions to make a sun filter that could be slipped over the front of a telescope barrel were included. My problem was going to be the fact that camcorders do not have much of a barrel. There was a simple solution.

To make my filter:

  • I first cut out two equally sized squares of stiff cardboad, about 10cm x 10cm.
  • I then drew diagonal pencil lines from opposing corners on each card, to find the centre.
  • My camcorder front lens aperture was about 4cm.
  • I therefore cut out a 4cm diameter disc from the centre of each card, using a circular cutter.
  • The A4 Astro Solar film was sandwiched between two sheets of paper to protect it.
  • Using scissors, I cut out a square of about 6cm x 6cm from the paper-film-paper sandwich.
  • The side of one of the pieces of card was coated with glue from a glue stick (Prittstick).
  • The glue covered card was placed sticky side uppermost on a table.
  • The AstroSolar film square was carefully placed on the glued card, completely covering the 4cm diameter hole.
  • The second piece of card was then placed on top of the first card and film.
  • I now had a Card- Film-Card sandwich with the filter exposed where the card had a hole.
Frustratingly, it was another few days before cloud cover broke and the sun shone through and I could try out the new filter with my camcorder.

To use the filter on the camcorder, I made a roll of Blutack and placed it to create a ring on the cardboard, around the filter aperture. The camcorder face was then pressed gently and accurately onto the Blutack to create a light-tight seal.

Mounting the camcorder onto a tripod, I dashed out of the house and prepared to record the sun. Despite there being a light high altitude haze that might blur any sunspots, I had a go at finding them.

Using the Panasonic HC V700 to zoom in on the sun's disc, I could see two faint islands of sunspots. These corresponded to those numbered 1683 and 1686 on the daily images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/


Modern camcorders can have a sufficiently good optical and digital zoom to observe sunspots with an appropriate filter!