Friday, July 21, 2017

Common Cliff Dragon--Male


The Artdog Image of Interest 
This month I've been posting some of my own artwork for my Images of Interest. This is a representative image from my edition of multiple originals titled Common Cliff Dragon--Male. It was recently listed in my Etsy shop, Artdog Paper Sculpture.

My three drawings from 2012, inked and scanned.

It was developed from three pencil drawings I did back in 2012, each created to overlay the one below. The "cliff surface" is one layer, the dragon's body is the second, and the dragon's wings are the third. Once the three were aligned on tracing paper, I inked them, scanned them, then colored each using Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom "Bamboo" tablet.

These are the pieces I cut out.

The artwork prints out as five different pieces: the border base (on heavier archival stock) with the title in the rectangle; the cliff face (sculpted and floated over the base), the body of the dragon; and finally two layers of wings, one more heavily sculpted and glued over the lower layer for a better 3D effect.

Here's the assembly process.

Then it's time to cut the pieces out, which I do with small, precise scissors (they go dull so much less often than X-Acto knives! Then I sculpt with clay-working tools on the flat surface of paper laid over corkboard, assemble the pieces, and it begins to look almost alive, sometimes.

IMAGES: All images are by me, of pieces of a paper sculpture made by me, Jan S. Gephardt. You may use them online, if you'll provide accurate attribution and a link back. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Memories of the 2017 NASFiC

Perhaps you'd like to see a presentation my son Tyrell Gephardt and I prepared, about our experiences at this year's North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC), held anytime the Worldcon is not in North America (which it is not this year; it's in Helsinki).



We hope you'll enjoy it--we certainly enjoyed our time there! We've also shared this presentation with KACSFFS, our local Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, both at the July meeting last Saturday and on the KaCSFFS Blog (scroll down).

Ty and I also spent a couple of days afterward, wandering around in fascinating Old San Juan. It's possible some of the thoughts and photos from those peregrinations may end up in future blog posts here!

IMAGES: At least half of those in the NASFiC presentation, are by Jan S. Gephardt. Most of the other photos in the presentation are by Tyrell E. Gephardt; the remaining photos (credited at the end of the NASFiC presentation) are from the official website of the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, where the NASFiC was held. Thanks!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"Coming Through!"


The Artdog Image of Interest 
This month I've decided to feature several pieces of my fantasy artwork that I've recently added to my Etsy shop, ArtdogPaperSculpture. Yes, I'd like to sell some. But I also just enjoy sharing my artwork. I hope you'll enjoy looking at it. These works also travel to art shows with me.


I first began developing the composition Coming Through! in 2012, but my assertive little unicorn making his way through the day lilies has been through several variations since then.


The photo on this post shows one of two different Artist's Proofs that are variations on this composition available through my Etsy site. Here's the link to this one. Here's the link to the other. 


I'm now developing an edition of no more than 25 multiple originals (each piece made one-by-one, hand-sculpted and assembled, which leads to subtle variations. Thus, although the edition is consistent, each piece also is unique).

Subscribe to this blog for further updates on all of my available artwork! Note: this post was updated with additional images on 7/19/2017.

IMAGE: This photo of my art was taken by me for documentation purposes and to use for my blog, social media, and my Etsy site. Feel free to re-post it, if you wish, but please don't forget to attribute it to Jan S. Gephardt, and a link back to this post or the Etsy site is deeply appreciated!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Where have I been?

I apologize for the "radio silence" in this blog-space since the end of June. There just simply hasn't been enough time to do everything, as I prepared for two major sf conventions. I showed new artwork, and was scheduled for numerous panels.

My art display at NorthAmeriCon '17.

First came SoonerCon 26 in Midwest City, OK (metro Oklahoma City); then, less than two weeks later (time that included a lovely visit with a houseguest over the 4th of July weekend), came NorthAmeriCon '17, the North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I strongly believe that people who come to my programming items deserve for me to be well-prepared and organized. It makes for much more in-depth and interesting conversations, if all panelists have done their homework beforehand! I plan to turn my notes from some of those discussions into blog posts in the future.

My "Who is Mary Sue?" panel brought us together for a lively conversation. L-R, Johnathan Brazee, Jan S. Gephardt, Paula Smith (yes, she who coined the phrase!), and Mike Substelny.

Also, since Sunday afternoon, I've been taking full advantage of my short time window to see all I can of Puer
to Rico--or at least San Juan--while I'm here. You'll see pictures from those adventures, too!

But for just a little longer, a tropical wonderland awaits. I'll get back to you!

IMAGES: the photo of my artwork display is by me. The photo of the panel was taken on my phone, by an obliging member of the audience. Either may be re-posted online, as long as you include a link back and an attribution to this blog post. Thanks!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Snapshots from SoonerCon 26

I always plan to do better with my social media at sf conventions than I do. I get involved, and forget to tweet or upload Facebook photo albums. So I thought, "Why not make a blog post from a collection of things I should have posted from SoonerCon 26?"


Wait. What's SoonerCon 26, you ask? It's a science fiction convention held in Midwest City, Oklahoma (metro Oklahoma City), that brings together some of the best aspects of literary, media, gaming, comic, and costuming conventions. 

This year's edition began Thursday, June 22 with a Writers' Workshop, headed by Workshop Clinician Jody Lynn Nye, and ran through Sunday, June 25, 2017.

Since it is such a multi-focus convention, their theme this year was a nod to a three-ring circus, "Welcome to the Show!" Toastmaster--er, Ringmaster Selina Rosen did full justice to this theme in her Opening Ceremonies performance.

L-R: Jody Lynn NyeLarry NemecekSelina Rosen in Ringmaster garb, Matt Frank, and Todd Haberkorn, at Opening Ceremonies.

As ever, my first stop upon arrival (well, after checking into the hotel and Convention Registration) was the Art Show. It had a larger area this year than in recent past years, but still seemed cramped to me, and the straight-down-from-above lighting was not terribly illuminating for fantasy paper sculptures in shadowboxes or deep mats (too much shadow, not enough art visible). There was a lot of wonderful art on display, however, and despite the crowding it was well worth the look.

Art Guest of Honor Peri Charlifu brought a large and imaginative collection of gorgeous ceramics and prints. Featured Guest Mitchell Bentley also brought a wonderful, colorful display of his astronomical and illustration work, and other attending artists brought a nice variety of interesting work.

My art display at SoonerCon 26

Other highlights of the Art Show for me included a large, new painting in Angela Lowry's display, two new paintings by Dell Harris, and a lovely display by Hazel Conley. Perennial favorites Sarah ClemensJim Humble, and many others also mailed in artwork to the show, to expand the selection brought by attending artists.

Some of the most magnificent artwork this weekend was wearable, however--remember, one of SoonerCon's strong areas is costuming. Here's just a small sampling of the wearable art walking around the Reed Center this weekend.




SoonerCon 26 offered up a nice collection of interesting and thought-provoking panels for attendees of varied interests. These touched on podcasting, comics, film, writing, art, and media (specific discussions geared to fans of individual shows or franchises, including Star TrekStar WarsDr. WhoHarry Potter, and a wide range of others).

The witty committee behind the "Worst Novel Ever," L-R, seated: Phillip Drayer DuncanVickey Malone Kennedy, Craig WolfTyrell Gephardt, and KC-area fan James Murray. Behind them, standing: Larry Nemecek, facilitator (with microphone) and the unflaggingly-gracious Leonard Bishop.

A pair of wildly funny "SoonerCon @ Midnight" panels assembled a committee of quick-thinking wits and writers (including my son Tyrell Gephardt) to develop the "Worst Novel Ever" (held in the bar, where else?). The next day, a group of equally talented quick-draw artists conspired to create the "Worst Cover Ever" for it. In between gasps of laughter, I could only conclude that convention chairman Leonard Bishop is the "Best Sport Ever."

Probably my most gratifying moment this weekend was when the couple came up to me after my reading and asked, "Where can we buy your book?" I urged them to watch this blog for further updates, and I've been smiling ever since. I hope to have actual news about that very soon!

Literary Guest of Honor Timothy Zahn shared thoughts about his SoonerCon experience at Closing Ceremonies. To his right (our left) Artist Guest of Honor Peri Charlifu, and on the other side Writers Workshop Clinician Jody Lynn Nye attend to his comments.

Most of my panels dealt, not surprisingly, with writing, art, or some combination of the two. Using your creativity for Fun and Profit (focusing on best practices for creative small entrepreneurial businesses) and Imaginary Creatures: Essential to Fantasy? (with panelists from both art and writing backgrounds) definitely touched on both of my art forms.

Ethics and Art focused pretty exclusively on visual-art intellectual property, and the protection of both the creator's and others' rights.

Failing Better shone a spotlight on the rejection-fraught lives of writers, and how to deal with setbacks in a way that leaves one (a) not suicidal and (b) better equipped, going forward.

By far the best-attended of my panels, however, was the one titled A Girl is . . . about persistent gender issues, both outside of fandom and within. It quickly became apparent that not all "within fandom" groups are the same, when it comes to views on gender equality. Experiences of younger women--particularly some of those in the online gaming community--reveal we've come less far than we'd like to think.

All of these panel discussions struck me as worthy of possible future exploration in blog posts. If you'd like to see one or more, please leave a comment about it.


All too quickly, SoonerCon 26 came to an end. Time to strike the photo-background sets, fold up the tabletop games, and pack the costumes or new T-shirts into suitcases. But I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I'm looking forward to coming back next year, if all goes as planned.

IMAGES: The green header-banner is from SoonerCon's website. The other photos are my own snapshots, taken by me at SoonerCon 26 (they may be reposted online with an attribution of Jan S. Gephardt as the photographer, and a link back to this post). 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What's your positive difference?

The Artdog Quote of the Week 


We know Dr. West speaks the truth. We can only do so much on our own, no matter how selflessly we dedicate our lives to making the world a better place.

That "only so much" can amount to a lot, depending on our skills, calling, and opportunities--but save the nation? Save the world? That's a wider scope than any single human being can compass.

That's why allies are so important. If we seek to make changes for the better, our efforts are multiplied through work in concert with others. Whatever your cause, whatever the troublement in the world that troubles you most--it troubles others, too.

Find them. Make common cause with them. Work together to create changes that no single person, no matter how influential, can create on his or her own. Not only can "many hands make light work," but many hands can span a vastly greater distance.

And make a vastly greater difference.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Better World Quotes, from The Emily Fund for a Better World.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A "pawsitive" difference for Hospice patients

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest


This week's "making a positive difference" (perhaps I should say a "Pawsitive" difference) Image of Interest is drawn from a video. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while has undoubtedly picked up on my love and respect for service animals of all types, but this week's image is important to me for several reasons.

First, I have a family member whose certified Emotional Support dog has recently become a crucial part of winning her battle with addiction. Second, this week has been especially tough for several of my friends as a mutual acquaintance has gone into Hospice care for the final stage of her life.

I have long been an advocate of animal therapy for a variety of situations. this includes supporting children's reading with dogs, therapy animals in hospitals and hospice settings, and service animals that assist the disabled, or help those with health issues (diabetes and seizure disorders to name just two) stay on top of their conditions.



Does your pet have the makings of a good therapy animal? Purebred or rescue, critters with the right temperament can make an incredible difference. I hope you'll find inspiration in this video, which features the work of several different therapy dogs, including Lanie, who's featured in our photo above.

IMAGE and VIDEO: Both the still photo and the video about San Diego Hospice therapy dog program demonstrate their well-deserved reputation as a "pioneering organization in end-of-life care." Unfortunately, this program closed in 2016. I've chosen to post the images anyway, because they still demonstrate some of the best positive aspects of therapy animal work.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The choice is ours

The Artdog Quote of the Week 


We all know about Jane's choices. From the very beginning, she took the opportunity to step up, to observe, to think independently, to choose compassion. No one's perfect, but sometimes they're the perfect person for a particular job.

Our quotes this month focus on making the world a better place. Jane did, and does, amazing things. She has demonstrated she has the will and the determination to do things that make a massive difference--for chimpanzees, and for people, too.

What opportunities lie open before you? What passions call to you, for your labors of love? What callings ignite your energies to work for a better world?

Say yes to them.

IMAGE: Many thanks to A-Z Quotes for this image!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Cleaning up our act

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest 



Last week's Image of Interest opened my month's Image theme of volunteering in our community as a way of making the world a better place. That photo showed kids working in a food pantry. This week it's a photo from 2011, of the results from a cleanup effort along the Huron River. 

It reminds me of the sequence in the movie Spirited Away, when the Stink Spirit comes to the bath house for a much-needed cleansing . . . and of the aftermath left behind.


Water quality matters--just ask Flint, Michigan. Does your calling lead you to aid efforts that promote water conservation and anti-pollution efforts?

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Ann Arbor News, for the Huron River cleanup photo. I am grateful to Ouno Design for the image from the 2001 movie Spirited Away, from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What does it take?

The Artdog Quote of the Week


Nelson was onto something, although "making the world a better place" is a massive goal, when we take it in the abstract.

So don't look at it that way!

Luckily, we don't need to have godlike powers to make a difference. As our last quote noted, it simply takes acts of kindness (random or otherwise), and the willingness to do something.

So speak up for what's right. Pay it forward. Be gracious to those around you. Do something nice for someone, just because you can. Support a cause you believe in. Recycle. Think before you talk, or act, or hit send/post/reply. 

It really is in your hands.

IMAGE: Many thanks to The World Food Program's Pinterest board, "Food for Thought--Inspirational Quotes."

Friday, June 9, 2017

The value of volunteering

The Artdog Image of Interest 

One of many places where volunteers can make a world of difference is at your local food pantry.

One of the best ways you can make your world a better place is by volunteering in your community. Most places have a wealth of opportunities to volunteer.

Consider: animal shelters; food banks, soup kitchens, or homeless shelters; parks or beaches; libraries; retirement homes, nursing homes, or hospitals; charitable organizations; county elder resources, and many others. Most communities have a volunteer resource coordinator of some sort. Keep looking till you find the best fit for you!

The most amazing thing about volunteering for the betterment of your community is how good it can be for you! Making a difference in someone else's life is a satisfaction few other pleasures can match.

Haven't tried it? Consider doing it now!

IMAGE: Many thanks to AdmitSee for this post about the Lion's Heart program for teens and its post "7 Easy Ways to Volunteer in Your Community."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Random? Or not-so-random? Does it matter?

The Artdog Quote of the Week


Yes, it's late: not Sunday night/Monday. I'm sorry. Weird week--and one in which the occasional random act of kindness would not have gone amiss. We all need them.

It's true the random ones are unexpected blessings at unanticipated times. It's also true they can make the world a better place.

Perhaps you've noticed, though: random gets harder to do, if you commit to a daily repeat. Random tends to fall into patterns, when we're not a computer set on "randomize" (Actually, even computers set on "randomize" eventually fall into patterns, or so I'm told).

Is falling into patterns bad? Not really. Any effort to spread kindness in the world has its heart in the right place--and your patterns can tell you things about yourself, such as: what are my passions? My favorite causes? My calling?

Knowing those things about yourself is never a bad idea, either. And prepared acts of kindness? 

Well, what do you think?

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Pennies of Time Pinterest Page, "Quotes on Service and Kindness" for this image.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tales of ConQuesT (48)--The Writing Part

I love  participating in panel discussions at science fiction conventions--and I was part of several at ConQuesT 48 held this and every year in Kansas City on Memorial Day by my home science fiction group, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society



I participated in several panel discussions at ConQuesT. In addition to sharing an hour of reading with Sean Demory of Pine Float Press, my other scheduled panels all could be potential subjects for future blog posts. Please comment below, if you'd like to see more on any of these topics!

What Gives Characters Depth?
This panel focused on writing techniques, plus a review of "3-D characters we love" and why we chose them. It was ably moderated by Rob Howell. I was joined on the panel by P. R. AdamsLynette M. Burrows, and Marguerite Reed.

L-R: P. R. Adams, Lynette M. Burrows, Marguerite Reed, and moderator Rob Howell

Our discussion ranged through such questions as what makes a character come to life, our assorted techniques for "getting to know" our characters, and what happens when the scene you thought you were going to write takes a right-angle turn because "the character had something else in mind"/you realized it wouldn't be in character for the person to do/say/think what you'd originally intended. It was a fun and lively discussion.

Intellectual Property and Literary Estates
I got to moderate this panel (former teacher: I like to make sure the discussions are fueled by lots of good, well-researched, leading questions, that everyone gets a chance to talk, and that the audience is actively engaged in shaping the conversation). I'd signed up to be on the panel because of my connection with the administration of my late brother-in-law's literary estate.

My fellow panelists were Dora Furlong, who'd been involved in establishing a foundation to administer the literary estate of a writer and game-creator; Susan R. Matthews, who'd gone through the process of writing a will and discovered that there were all sorts of decisions to be made about who would administer her literary estate; and Craig R. Smith, whose focus was more on contracts and protecting intellectual property.

L-R: Susan R. Matthews' icon; Dora Furlong; Craig R. Smith's book cover.

We discussed the nature of intellectual property, the relative importance of registering ISBNs and copyrights, what is included in a literary estate, the kinds of decisions the executor or trustees of such an estate may have to make, leaving specific instructions (for instance, about what to do with emails and unfinished manuscripts), and many other issues that most writers, artists, or other creative people rarely consider--but which have everything to do with their legacy.

Writing Fight and Combat Scenes
I moderated this panel, too--but I did little talking about my own work on this one. Both of my fellow panelists, Rob Howell and Selina Rosen, are well-spoken, engaging, and knowledgeable, with a depth of background I could admire, but not match (SCA battle-experience, military history studies, martial arts training, and many more varied writing projects than I've racked up so far).

L-R: Rob Howell, a photo of an SCA battle by Ron Lutz; and Selina Rosen. Yes, it was a lively panel discussion.

It was a privilege to manage time and audience input, while offering them questions about varieties of research, frequent plot objectives of most fight or combat scenes, tips for keeping the action vivid and interesting, and pet peeves about other authors' bad practices. Rob, Selina, and the knowledgeable audience kept the panel fast-paced, interesting, and wide-ranging.

Horror Fiction and Xenophobia
Yes, I did moderate this panel also--but as with the "Fight and Combat" panel, I ended up mainly facilitating the experts, namely Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmeyer, and Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not much of a horror writer or reader myself, I approached this panel from the viewpoint of a multiculturalist who generally looks upon xenophobia (fear of foreigners or, more basically, fear of "the other") as a negative thing.

L-R: Sean Demory, Karen Bovenmyer, and the Facebook Profile Picture of Donna Wagenblast Munro.

Not to worry. While earlier traditions of horror have embraced the "fear of otherness" via unfamiliar cultural practices, deformity, and/or disease to create the objects of fear, my three fellow panelists are contemporary horror writers who have embraced the "feared other" as their protagonists.

This brought new poignancy to their responses to my questions about "who are the monsters of today?" and which is the most potent bogeyman of today, the terrorist (domestic or foreign), the corporate overlord, the hacker, or the community dedicated to conformity? Reactions were mixed, but ultimately conformity won as the most stifling on the individual level.

I See No Way That Could Possibly Go Wrong
This panel focused on new technologies just beginning to emerge today, and our thoughts about their ramifications in the future. The panelists were, L-R in the photo below, Christine Taylor-Butler, Bryn Donovan, me, and Robin Wayne Bailey. The photographer (and knowledgeable contributor from the audience) is the writer J.R. Boles.


I was not originally scheduled to be on this one, but the designated moderator (who shall go nameless) did not show up for the panel. Bryn and Robin invited me to join them and moderate. Since I actually knew a bit about the topic (thanks largely to researching and writing this blog), I was delighted to leap in.

We had a great discussion, with a lot of intelligent input from the panelists and our knowledgeable audience. We spent most of our time on the question, "What technology that's now in its infancy would you most like to see developed, and how do you think it would change things as we know them?"

Answers touched on flying cars, 3-D printed kidneys, earpieces or brain implants to transmit data, lunar colonies, asteroid mining, and much more.

IMAGES: I'm the one who put together the ConQuesT 48 banner. It features a logo design by Keri O'Brien and a photo of the lobby of our convention hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, which provided the photo. 
The photos of assorted authors with whom I did panels come from the following, gratefully acknowledged sources:
The photo of Rob Howell is from his Amazon Author Page. That of P. R. Adams is from his Amazon author page. That of Lynette M. Burrows is from her Twitter Profile @LynetteMBurrows, and that of Marguerite Reed is from her Twitter Profile, @MargueriteReed9
Dora Furlong's photo is from her Amazon Author Page. Susan R. Matthews' image-icon is from her website; I was unable to find a photo of Craig R. Smith, so I finally settled for a cover image of his book, Into the Dark Realm
I'd like to offer special thanks to the Society for Creative Anachronism, and photographer Ron Lutz, for use of the photo Clash of Battle.
The photo of Selina Rosen is a detail from a photo by the indispensable Keith Stokes, taken at Room Con 10 in 2014 (a party hosted by James Holloman at ConQuesT each year) and posted in the MidAmericon Fan Photo Archive
Many thanks to the Johnson County (KS) Library for the photo of Sean Demory (there's also a great interview with him on that page). The photo of Karen Bovenmyer is from her Twitter profile @karenbovenmyer; unfortunately, I couldn't find a photo of Donna Wagenblast Munro or a book cover for her anywhere, so finally I substituted an image from her Facebook page.
Last but far from least, many, many thanks to J. R. Boles for the photo of the "I See No Way" panel, from her Twitter account, @writingjen

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tales of ConQuesT (48)--The Art Part

My home science fiction group, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, put on their annual convention this weekend. I always enjoy ConQuesT, held each ear in Kansas City on Memorial Day Weekend--but I must say that this year's ConQuesT 48 was even more fun than usual.


There are many reasons why it all came together so well for me, but here are a few highlights from the "Art Part." Always first and last, for me, there is the ConQuesT Art Show.



Literally first, because I was once again the "shipping address" for the show. A few years ago I was the Art Show Director, and although I've now gratefully handed that job over to a talented and responsible young man named Mikah McCullough, his apartment is a tad on the "small side" for a large pile of incoming boxes of art. Thus, on the first day of the convention I haul not only my own artwork, but also all the mailed-in work from all of the wonderful artists who participate from afar.

My "White Clematis" variations available so far.

I'm showing a collection of new multiple-original artworks at sf conventions this year, the "Guardians" series (four separate designs) and the "Clematis Collection," which so far consists of three Artist's Proofs of White Clematis Panel with Golden Dragons, (honored with a rosette as Art Director's Choice at DemiCon 28 earlier this month), and an edition limited to six smaller pieces titled White Clematis with Dragons. A one-of-a-kind original from this collection, featuring purple clematis flowers and titled Gold and Purple, should be ready to debut at SoonerCon 26 in late June.


I also had a new, one-of-a-kind original to debut at ConQuesT 48, Nose for a Rose. Here's a glimpse, along with a look at my display at the convention. This is all you'll see of it, however--it was purchased by a collector on its "maiden voyage."

It's always fun to show and sell my artwork, and to help put the Art Show up and take it down. But another joy for me is participating in panel discussions at science fiction conventions--and I was part of several at ConQuesT 48. They'll be the subject of my next post, coming soon!

IMAGES: Most of the photos on this post are mine. Since I'm the Communications Officer of KaCSFFS, I'm the one who put together the ConQuesT 48 banner. It features a logo design by Keri O'Brien and a photo of the lobby of our convention hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, which provided the photo. All the other photos were taken by me, of my artwork (and other personal effects). The cat is my daughter's. Her name is Sora and she is Queen of the Universe (just ask her). All of the photos are available for re-posting, as long as you attribute them and provide a link back to this post or ConQuesT.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"When I am big . . . "

The Artdog Quote of the Week


A person could (people have and do) write many books about the value of outdoor play, the things children learn from it, and the reasons why "nature deficit disorder" really is a serious matter. We can't save what we don't value, but there are so very many reasons why we should and must value our natural environment, and cherish the many lessons nature teaches.

IMAGE: Many thanks to How Wee Learn on Pinterest, for this image. The board from which this was taken is loaded with other cool thoughts and ideas about teaching our children, too!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The balancing act: keeping them safe

The Artdog Image of Interest


As a parent, I know that delicate balance between letting kids explore and keeping them safe. It can be a dangerous world. A responsible parent can't disregard the hazards, even as we gradually expand kids' boundaries.

Playing in nature definitely presents a list of potential hazards, from sunburn to tick-borne illnesses (a particularly knotty problem this year!), animal bites, falls . . . a worried parent could go mad. I believe it's important to remember that our primary job as parents is to render ourselves unnecessary--to rear independent persons who are as healthy and well-adjusted as possible, equipped with the skills and judgment needed to succeed as fully-functioning adults.

But achieving that goal requires that they stay alive long enough to become adults.

So, where do we draw the line? And how do we adjust appropriately--because that line always keeps changing! Developmental stages flash by so fast, we have to work, to stay on top of "what's developmentally appropriate today?" I managed (with a lot of help) to shepherd two reasonably-functional human beings into adulthood, and for me the key always seemed to be information.

I have yet to meet the child who responds positively to "because I say so!" And they're RIGHT. That's an extremely unhelpful answer.

As appropriate for the developmental level, I always tried to take the time to explain to the child why certain restrictions had to apply, if I possibly could. Granted, sometimes there's no time. But that meant we needed a follow-up conversation. I discovered even the youngest child has the capability to be a rational human being (to the extent that someone can be, at any given stage of development). If we want them to grow into that capability as adults, we must treat them accordingly when they're kids.

As appropriate for their age, that means teaching kids how to prevent their own bad outcomes (wear sunscreen and bug repellent; know basic safety principles about approaching animals or walking on rotten branches or uneven terrain). They may ignore it, but at least they'll know why it happened, if they do.

It helps to remember the favorite saying of a friend of mine: "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." Giving them wide enough boundaries to explore and "push their envelope" means sometimes there'll be unfortunate results. That's why it's just as important to teach them what do do if something does happen. There's no emergency situation that can't be made worse by the victim's panic! The goal is not to terrify them, but to empower them.

It isn't easy, but it's worth the effort.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Citypages (Minneapolis, MN) for this image! (no info available, on who's the photographer).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Political correctness

Let’s talk about “Political Correctness,” since it's been thrown in my face recently. It came up at my writers’ group Saturday, when a fellow group member whom I normally respect brought a story that was riddled with ugly, offensive racial stereotypes directed toward a particular minority group. During the critique session I called him on this (I wasn’t the only one), and his defense was that he didn’t want to have his story “limited” by political correctness.

This quote cuts both ways in the "political correctness" debate.

I asked him what he meant by “political correctness” in this context, and he said he didn’t want to limit his range of expression. As if “artificial” rules of “correctness” constituted an intellectually narrow approach that fettered his freedom of expression. A story-critique session wasn’t the forum for a full-blown debate. The group’s leader very firmly changed the subject.

I probably wouldn't ever convince that particular fellow through direct confrontation, in any case. In my experience, when someone who already feels his privilege is under attack and whose area of greatest pride is his intellectual ability, is accused of intellectual malfeasance, his invariable reaction is to dig in his heels and prepare to die rather than yield to a different point of view.

I do, however, continue to challenge the validity of any “expressive freedom” that depends on not restraining oneself from employing demeaning stereotypes. My associate seemed to think that what he called “political correctness” was a kind of intellectual laziness, an unwillingness to “push the envelope” in certain directions, or to challenge social norms. Perhaps ironically, I see it as just the opposite. In my opinion, folks who decry too much “political correctness” generally don’t seem willing to exert themselves intellectually to stretch beyond their own comfort zones or seriously engage a different experience.

Which of those two approaches should one more accurately call an “intellectually lazy” attitude?


It’s a hallmark of privilege when a person sees the need to adapt to others’ viewpoints as an unwarranted inhibition. That’s a “take” on life and social discourse that  ignores or dismisses the fact that anyone from a non-dominant cultural group has to accommodate and adapt near-continually, just to survive and get along in the world. Yet the most blindly privileged folk are the ones who seem to complain the most aggrievedly about political correctness.

This is not to say that all members of minorities or persons of color are perfect. It isn’t even to say that sometimes the “sensitivity line” can’t be too narrowly drawn—although I’d say the most vulnerable among us probably have a better gauge of where to draw that line, and what’s offensive, than the most privileged among us. But it is to say that our art shouldn’t rely on the cruel crutch of cheap shocks at the expense of innocent bystanders. 


It is to say that vicious racial stereotyping is both a morally and intellectually bankrupt way to approach storytelling . . . or to anything else. For God’s sake, can’t we writers dig deeper? If we can’t be merciful, then at least let's be original.

There’s a truism that if a phrase or expression comes too easily to mind, it’s almost certainly a cliché. Using clichés is an obvious hallmark of weak writing, precisely because it betrays the author’s unwillingness to push past the easy or obvious, and explore new ideas.

What the apologists for ignoring so-called “political correctness” seem to overlook is that every offensive stereotype ever created is both mean-spirited and a cliché of the worst order. The only valid and original thing to do with any cliché is turn it on its head or expose its vacuity it in a fresh new way. That’s not easy, but then—isn’t that a given, if you’re trying to produce real, lasting, meaningful art?


IMAGES: Many (ironic) thanks to The Federalist Papers, for the Voltaire quote, and to Sizzle for the "Freedom to offend" meme. I am indebted to A-Z Quotes for both the Ian Banks quote, and the one from Toni Morrison. Many thanks to all!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A most important event

The Artdog Quote of the Week


Engaging kids with the natural world is serious business--but don't tell them that! Kids interact with nature in the way they do everything: with imagination and curiosity. Also, I'd like to hope, with spontaneous joy.

Getting kids out into the natural world is a matter of enormous importance--they won't save what they don't value--but we must couch it in children's native language, which is that of play.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Natural Healthcare Store, for this image, which shares a page with some other great kids-and-nature quotes in the source.

Friday, May 19, 2017

4 Powerful benefits from a simple nature walk

The Artdog Image of Interest



Some folks will look at this photo and see nothing but weeds, potential sunburn, probable bug bites, an annoying tick-check later, and dirty feet in the making. Grab the sunscreen and the bug repellent! They've let the kids loose in the the woods again!

Others will realize that these kids are receiving many more benefits than they are facing potential hazards. What are the benefits of taking a walk in nature? Let me count out a few for you!

1. Walking in nature improves emotional well-being. Children today suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety than past generations--yet walking in nature has been shown to counter "morbid rumination" (brooding on anxious or negative thoughts).

2. Walking anywhere promotes better fitness, but walking in nature is intrinsically satisfying. This makes it a more attractive activity than, say, walking on a treadmill or a track. The variations in terrain also can help foster greater agility.

3. The endless variety and movement in nature provokes a child's natural curiosity. Some experts suggest it may help foster greater focus and improve kids' attention span, while other folks have pointed out it can help improve listening and other cognitive skills. It's also true that things a child personally experiences in nature can make academic studies of topics such as biology, ecology and other sciences more relevant and understandable.

4. Exposure to nature can also improve the body's ability to function. While overexposure to the sun is a hazard, sunlight is essential to the production of Vitamin D in the body--a vital component for robust immune health. And speaking of the immune system, did you actually know that a little dirt is actually a good thing? A too-sanitized environment for children can actually backfire if the child's body has no chance to build up natural immunities. It's the same principle that applies to the immune-system benefits of household pets. Finally, being in nature can even improve kids' eyesight, if they spend sufficient time outdoors!

Nature walks provide so many powerful benefits, it's hard to overstate their value. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and get out there!

IMAGE: Many thanks to the writer/blogger Angela Amman for permission to use her photo "Walking in the Woods," posted on her Playing With Words blog.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

To automate, or not to automate? Working with kids

A Glimpse of the Future?
In recent weeks many of my mid-week posts have focused on the contemporary trend among all kinds of industries to increasingly use robotics or other types of automation, rather than hiring extra workers.

It's a phenomenon that impacts all kinds of workers--in ALL socio-economic brackets, except maybe for that seemingly-impervious top 1%--and across widely-varied industries. Today, in the last of this series, I intend to address the topic that originally inspired me to look into it in the first place.

I am a retired teacher. Indeed, from its inception in 2009 through mid-2013, the title of this blog was Artdog Educator, and it focused pretty exclusively on education topics. Although both I and the blog have shifted our focus since then, I have been and always will be professionally interested in how people learn.

Thus, I was dumbfounded to read in Education Week recently that there actually are people in New York who think it's a good idea to save money by replacing substitute teachers with e-learning. What is e-learning? In case you couldn't figure it out, it's training conducted via the Internet.

Now . . . educators have anything but a stellar history in the use of digital media for teaching. For a variety of understandable but lamentable reasons, it has taken heroic efforts to get educators anywhere close to up-to-speed in this area. I examined that dynamic in some detail, in a 2011 series that kicked off with the post Teaching Like it's 1980.

Slowly and painfully, however, educators at all levels have finally--somewhat--in spite of all countervailing forces--embraced digital media. Given that, and the global movement to automate all possible jobs (whether it's a good idea or not), some brilliant genius, sooner or later, was going to come up with this.

As with the periodic call to "run education like a business," I can guarantee you that no one who has ever actually BEEN a substitute teacher came up with this plan. I, on the other hand, have racked up ten years' cumulative, hard-won substitute-teaching experience. 

A little boy and his teacher observe as a Nao robot (by Aldebaran Robotics) writes an equation.

First, let's backtrack a bit. In my research for this series I've run onto the idea that robots or automation could take over several different aspects of childcare or education, from babysitting through early learning, distance learning, and substitute teaching.

It's intuitive, right? I mean, kids seem inextricably attached to their digital devices, and, after all, parents have been parking their kids in front of the "electronic babysitter" (AKA television/videos) for years.

Great idea! The Trix Cereal Rabbit as your babysitter. What could possibly go wrong?

Sure. And if you think "Nao" or the TV could actually be a good babysitter in the total absence of parents or other supervising adults, just try it. See how quickly you come up on child endangerment charges!

A robot, at the current level of development, couldn't control the situation. The kid knows that thing isn't a real person, and has no authority. S/he would play with it for a while, get bored, and go wandering off unsupervised to face the myriad dangers of whatever the world threw at him/her.

Digital media present the same problem in the substitute-teaching scenario. Used in conjunction with a good lesson plan and alert (adult, human, in-charge) substitute teacher, they've gotten many a class through many a lesson with some actual learning and student engagement taking place.

E-learning can't replace an engaging, knowledgeable human teacher who's firmly in charge of things.

Absent the alert, adult, human, in-charge substitute teacher, you've got guaranteed chaos. No matter what the grade penalties, 99% of any class will do anything BUT the busywork on the computer. Any class I ever stepped into as a substitute was extremely reluctant to conduct "business as usual." They generally required a very firm hand and a lot of creative engagement to successfully establish a genuine learning environment. 

The intrinsic fascination with learning via the Internet has long since faded for digital natives; to them, it's old hat. They need to believe it's worth their time--AND more interesting than all the other things they could be doing--for any plan to "replace substitute teachers with e-learning" to actually work.

Digital natives are doing their own thing, when they're totally wrapped up in their digital media. Doesn't mean they'll do lessons unsupervised.

Substitute teaching, done well, is hard work (kinda like nursing! Or developing and writing news stories! Or . . . you get the idea, I hope). It requires a dedicated professional who knows the discipline s/he is to teach, if it's not to be a wasted "babysitting day"--and we haven't been able to afford those, for a long time.

If the Independent Budget Office of the City of New York (or any other bright-eyed bean-counters in a similar position) think otherwise, they should try it for themselves. I dare them.

Meanwhile, if they can't get enough qualified substitute teachers, maybe they should try offering them "combat pay."

IMAGES: Thanks yet again to Before it's News, for the "vision of the future" graphic. The e-learning photo is courtesy of UNITAR/UN ESCAP E-Learning. Many thanks to International Business Times, for the photo of the NAO robot in a south Australian classroom (note adult human teacher also in the picture), and to Frenzy Advertisement for the photo of the kids watching a Trix commercial on TV. Many thanks to TheSHRINKRap's post "Engaging teachers means engaged students," for the photo of the teacher with an engaged group of students, and to CathNews USA for the photo of the student with an iPad.