Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bless the beasts

Sarah Green loves pelicans!

I love pelicans!

But wait! (I protested in the guarded confines of my head) I don't know how the hell I can fit a pelican into the shirt design for Sarah's charity swim, the Humboldt Bay Critter Crawl.

(Thanks, Dixon Lanier Merritt — and sorry for thinking you were Ogden Nash.)

After all, the swim in far northern California benefits the North Coast Marine Mammal Center — seals and such. When asked if I could create the design, I pictured a seal in acrobatic swirl, enwreathing the swim's name in the bubbles of its wake. Or harbor seals and sea lions forming the words, or hidden in the words. Something like that.
I am thinking about expanding the concept to a larger population of ocean *critters* - water inhabitants, pelicans (a personal favorite) and other sea birds
Said Sarah,
. . .  swimmers swimming among them, Humboldt Bay, maybe The Fisherman statue from Woodley Island.
Having swum the inaugural event last summer, I knew the statue — knew it not only for its rough-hewn figurative style, but as a beacon ushering me to the finish line. It's a memorial by Eureka sculptor Dick Crane to Eureka's fishermen lost at sea; I already thought of including it in the shirt design.

But a pelican … !

They're lovely. When I see them, I feel I know the ocean is wild and thriving, and that they guard the water somehow, scooping in tight formation through the wave troughs. Ungainly and clownish on land (curse our anthropomorphic tendencies!), pelicans rule the sea air.

Now the challenge was to give bird and beast equal billing, using two colors (the screenprint ink and the shirt color). I tried and tried and tried, and sketched and sketched.

And sketched, trying to fit them into a seamless whole.

The filigree of pelican wing had to fit into the warp and woof of wave and fin — I just didn't see how.

I took a different tack as a result, trying a second solution, thinking I'd see the first solution out of the corner of my eye in an unguarded moment.

For the completely second solution, I decided the common element in this swim was in the eye of the beholder — swimmer human, swimmer pinniped and avian fisher extraordinaire.

I would focus on the eyes, and began sketching that idea.

The image taken together would be like a doorway, the eyes being windows of various and sundry souls, and at the top would be the landscape, the sweep of the north Humboldt Bay with The Fisherman in the foreground and the lush forest of Arcata Bay in the background.

It would be a kind of map for the 4.5-mile swim from the mouth of the bay into the marina at Woodley Island, done on a generous tide. It is a grand event, and I recommend it. You want a warm crowd applauding your finish, appreciative of your physical and fundraising effort (and relieved they don't have to swim the cold water)? This is the event.

Despite throwing energy into the other concept — or maybe because of it — the solution for the other still eluded. I batted the two ideas back and forth.

Maybe the pelican's wingtips could diverge into the rough diamond patterns of choppy water, and within the positive and negative spaces the words and a seal would emerge.


I returned to the second idea, which I could see more clearly. I just had to make others see more clearly that these are the eyes of a pelican, a human and a seal.

It was getting close … I felt it was time to start messaging it on the computer at this point.

Back to the drawing board on the first idea.

I was getting nowhere fast.

The solution came, fittingly, on a long swim. It's counterintuitive, but my habit of counting strokes actually frees some part of my brain to see ideas in the jade depths of my beloved Lake Natoma.

Voices of reason sometimes also bubble up from the dark water. One voice told me, "Stop being so literal." I had kept the bird in the air and the seal in the water, neither to meet. What I really needed to do is fit the shape of a swimming seal into the curve of the pelican's wing, leveraging the yin and yang of positive and negative shapes.

Swim done, I was back on the computer, moving around sketch fragments until the seal's body formed the void of pelican flight, and everything else took shape, literally. Wingtips repeated and echoed in the shapes of liquid and the embrace of kelp, holding everything together with nothingness.

A towering stormcloud became at once the world in which the two could exist, and the swimmer's environment, sea and sky.

While I was at it, I finished out the second idea too, just in case.

The next challenge was creating a related image for the swim cap, perhaps by isolating an element of the art, because the T-shirt art would not reduce well.

I tried and tried and tried.


Nothing jelled. Until, without my looking the solution jelled on its own:

Stop being so literal, the voice repeated.

In other news:

The Boy Scouts of America, pending ratification by its national board, has agreed to allow gay adult Scout leaders. About time!

New President Robert Gates called on Scouts to change its policy, after it had agreed to allow gay Scouts in the organization.

"We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be," said Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. secretary of defense, in calling for a change.

Not exactly a warm welcome. More like a "(sigh) … if we must," but whatever. At least it recognizes this isn't 1955 anymore.

I'm curious how my old Troop would treat this. It's chartered to a Catholic church, and under the decision, if ratified, each chartering organization would be able to decide whether to allow gay adult leader for its Scouting units.

Religious organizations account for some 70 percent of Scouting's chartering organizations.

Our charter organization had an arm's length relationship when I was involved, probably still does, providing rooms for meeting and a shed space for equipment.

Except for one former pastor who wanted to know why he didn't recognize all the Scouts and why they all didn't attend Mass (uh, because they're not all Catholic? And I'm pretty sure some are agnostic?), the parish didn't pay a lot of attention to the Troop. We took part in Scout Sunday, which amounted to carrying the colors to the altar at the start of Mass, and feeding cookies to parishioners and showing them how to pitch a tent after Mass; and we gathered food for the food locker once a year. Other than that, we were invisible.

I'm going to guess someone with pull will pay attention and my old Troop won't be one of those including gay leaders.

It's always 1955 somewhere.

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