Tuesday, April 15, 2014

West Coast Road Trip April 2014

I have been creating digital images with a smart phone for nearly a year. Several months ago I started to create collages using a free application called PhotoGrid. I manipulate the single images first using other free applications and then assemble the collage. 
It is an immediate way to explore ideas about content and layout and establish a visual order whith a changing pace .  

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 Leaving Whidbey Island, Washington State.


Camping among white oak trees in Oregon and sleeping at Motel 6 in Stockton, California.


Spending a couple of days in Monterey, California,  to go diving at the breakwater. Witnessing for the first time the giant dendronotid's hunting behavior. 


The weather was a bit restless: sometimes a gorgeous sunshine would appear and other times huge dark clouds would move in and weep for a while.


Driving south on the scenic and stomach twisting SR 1.


 Sunny and warm Santa Barbara! 
After blogging on Scubaboard  Force Fin forum for several years and exchanging online  messages with the designer and owner of Force Fin, on April 6 I was able to meet Bob Evans and his wife Susanne Chess in "flesh and bone".
Recently Bob and Susanne have started a new company called  HaeroHance that produces gaspods for motor vehicles. 
Susanne is also a fashion designer and owns a fabric store in downtown Santa Barbara called Fine Fabrics. It was a lot of fun!  


Breakfast before meeting singers and songwriters Rebecca Wave and Steve Powell.


On my way back to Monterey I spent some times with elephant seals at  Piedras Blancas rookery, San Simeon, California. 


Spending another couple of days in Monterey to dive at the breakwater where I had a lot of fun photographing a red octopus who was attracted to my buddy's bolt snap attached to his camera. 


Diving, hiking and  harbor seal, sea otter and  bird watching at the beautiful Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

What an amazing day! The giant kelp is growing again. For the first time I saw harbor seals nursing their pups,  mom sea otter holding her pup with her arms while floating belly up and nesting cormorants. I also witnessed a viscous fight among nesting Canada geese.


Driving day on I 5  through California Central Valley made me think about intensive agriculture: How many farms are organic in this valley? How much herbicides and pesticides are spread on this soil? Who picks up the strawberries that we buy at the grocery store?


Sea Lion Caves, Oregon: Sketching Stellar seat lions in semi-darkness while holding binoculars and taking photos. My nostrils were filled with the pungent smell of marine mammals' body odor and their collective barking sounded like the cry of a disturbed sea monster. The 19th century Romantic artists would have loved this place! 
This is the first collage where I combine drawings and a photograph.

These sea lions looked like 19th century models. Their bodies were sometimes twisted in rather uncomfortable and funny poses.


Last chance to sunbathe in surprisingly warm Oregon before driving back to Whidbey Island.

© Elisabetta (Betty) Bastai


Friday, March 14, 2014

First Black and White Photograph with Partial Color Effect: White-Lined Dirona

Digital black and white photographs with specific areas in color are very popular nowadays. After seeing them all over the place on the Internet and printed on greeting cards, calendars etc. I kept wondering how the photographers managed to achieve that effect. Yesterday I decided to try it myself. I picked an underwater wide-angle image of a white-lined dirona. I patiently selected the area that I wanted to keep in color with the magnetic lasso tool that's available in Photoshop and then converted the rest of the image into black and white.
 I think small areas in color work better than large ones.

© E. Betty Bastai


Thursday, February 6, 2014

February 5, 2014: Arctic Memories

It's February 5 and there is a cold spell in Puget Sound. Temperatures have dropped below zero, a meteorological phenomenon that does not happen very often in the temperate Pacific Northwest Coast. Today it's a bit harder to keep the Rock House warm. I have a small oil electric radiator on but right now it's struggling to cope with the lower temperature.  Instead to switch on the basement electric heater, which uses a lot of electricity, I wear extra layers. As I type the chill in my hands brings back memories of my working wintry trips to the Northern Slope, Alaska.

During my first stay in 2010 I created a series of drawings that capture what I saw on the streets, my reactions to the Arctic spellbinding environment and stories that I would hear from the villagers while interviewing them to compile socioeconomic surveys.

The dog that chocked to death by eating a chicken bone.

Chick Bone, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 7 x 10 inches (18 x 25 cm), 2010 


One day a hunter saw a polar bear feeding on a seal. 

Polar Bear and Seal, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 7 x 10 inches (18 x 25 cm), 2010 


There is no need for a large freezer to preserve a seal for future butchering during the Arctic winter. Seal meat is roasted and the bearded seal skins are sewed together and stretched on a wooden frame to make the traditional umiak, a small boat used to hunt bowhead whales. 

Frozen Seal and Dog, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 10 x 7 inches (25 x 18 cm), 2010 


Polar Bears do wander in villages when they are hungry and look for food. Unfortunately there have been incidents where polar bears stalked and  killed local residents.

Polar Bear Man, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 10 x 7 inches (25 x 18 cm), 2010 


At home I am used to go hiking without thinking about it. When I was working  in the coastal villages of the North Slope I could not simply take off and walk outside the villages' boundaries into the sea ice or tundra as I pleased because of the danger of  encountering a polar bear without the protection of a local or the possession of a fire arm. So I ended up walking along the villages' perimeters keeping my eyes alert and making sure that I was not wandering off  too far from houses. I couldn't help feeling "trapped", though.

Boundaries, mixed media drawing on brown paper, 10 x 7 inches (25 x 18 cm), 2010 

© E. Betty Bastai


Monday, January 20, 2014

Stag Beetle Photo Featured in the January/February 2014 IPad version of All Animals Magazine

The Humane Society of United States has published  my photo of a stag beetle in the January/February 2014 IPad version of  All Animals Magazine:

© E.Betty Bastai/ The Humane Society of the United States


Monday, December 23, 2013

Hermit Crab Horse Nativity

A visual journey to the development of a mixed media drawing on paper.

The creation of my mixed media drawing on paper titled " Hermit Crab Horse" is the result of my interest in horses, exposure to Greek Mythology and experiencing the Pacific Northwest.

Sandro Botticcelli "La Nascita di Venere"
(courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Studying the birth of a zebra and with the help of a photograph. It would have been a bit complicated to draw it watching a mare giving birth to a foal in a stable from life. 

Sketches of horses from life.

Sketched of shells from life.

A hermit crab horse is taking shape.

Hermit crab horse studies.

Hermit crab horse final study.

The final drawing has expanded its boundaries to four different sheets of paper.

Hermit Crab Horse
 charcoal, pastels, watercolor and acrylic on paper
 18 x 36 inches (91 x 122 cm)

© E. Betty Bastai


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cross-Country Road Trip September 2-15, 2013 Part One

On Monday September 2nd after stocking up my Ford Escape with groceries I began my exhilarating road trip from Vermont to Washington State. Twenty-three days later I reached my destination feeling physically tired but mentally euphoric as if I had been on some mild recreational drugs throughout the entire trip. I crossed 17 different states driving 6,200 miles. I visited five national parks, camped in several state parks that I had never heard of and ventured on a variety of roads that allowed me to see different American landscapes that otherwise I would have had missed if I had stayed on the interstate.

A few months earlier I had driven across the continent for the first time in my life covering 500 miles a day and completing this ‘biblical’ journey in six days. It felt more like doing a forced march on wheels than traveling. But then, I had to be in the small town of Waitsfield, Vt., at a specific day to start a video production internship with the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail. I took the quickest possible route through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. One of the few things that I remember of that trip is a monotonous strip of asphalt endlessly rolling in front of my eyes.

This time, instead, my schedule was more flexible and I decided to visit places that had captivated my imagination as a child growing up in Italy while watching popular American movies and documentaries on television. Figuring out the destinations all at once turned out to be an overwhelming task so I decided to plan my itinerary a few states at a time. I roughly knew which places I wanted to explore; some were a thousand miles apart from each other. I could have covered those distances in one day by testing my driving endurance, which after my first cross country trip and driving an extra 2,000 miles in New England for my job, had gotten stronger but I decided not to. ‘I will start with a couple of places in New York State first then add more destinations as I go along’ I thought.

The day before my departure, I fitted the roof of my car with nine magnetic gaspods, which are exterior auto accessories that enhance airflow. The creator of the renowned Force Fins, Bob Evans from Santa Barbara, Calif., designed them after studying the fluid dynamics effects of tubercles on humpback whales. I was hoping that they would improve the fuel efficiency of my vehicle. After driving west on curvy roads through the lush Green Mountains of Vermont, I crossed Lake Champlain and entered New York State. Then I reached I-87, headed south to hit I-90 and then headed west toward Niagara Falls, my first destination.

A sense of elation mixed with a light feeling of uncertainty permeated my mood. The driving conditions on I-90 were fine until I noticed a huge dark cloud that looked like a gigantic UFO looming on the horizon right in front of me. I was heading straight into it. I had never seen such threatening weather on a road before. I was afraid that it was a so-called supercell that could develop into a tornado. As soon as I was able, I exited I-90. At the tollbooth I asked the attendant if he had heard of a tornado warning.  Unconcerned, he quickly replied that hail was expected. I scouted the area looking for a covered place to park the car but there was none.

It began to rain; lighting cracked the air somewhat close, and then got closer as the wind speed increased. I had no other choice but to stop the car in a large exposed parking lot hoping that the hailstones would not be the size of baseballs. As soon I turned off the engine, the persistent rain turned into an apocalyptic downpour that reduced the visibility almost to zero. Through a wavy windshield, I watched motorists passing by thinking: ‘I don’t know how those folks can drive in these conditions’.

I had experienced thunderstorms while on the road before without worrying too much about my safety but this one was different; I guess it was scarier because it reminded me of a type of dangerous weather system that nutty storm chasers hunt down to photograph, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Sitting in the car, feeling somewhat protected but at the same time at the mercy of the wild force of nature, I began to have doubts about the feasibility of heading west.

I kept wondering ‘How long is this meteorological hell going to last?’ Then, it occurred to me to check if my smart phone had a signal. It did, so I was able to call my husband Sam and ask him to check the weather forecast for me. Fortunately, he told me that although a severe storm watch and flash flood warning was in place for that area, it was only until the late afternoon of that day, and no tornadoes were predicted. Relieved, I decided to wait until the worst of the storm was over and stuck to my original plan to visit Niagara Falls the following day. While the wind was shaking the car and the relentless rain was pounding its roof, the company of other drivers, who, in the meantime, had parked their vehicles close to mine, comforted me; it was then that I began to wonder about the strength of the gaspods' magnets...  

Luckily, the rain never turned into hail and the thunderstorm, after exhausting its energy in a relatively quick outburst, moved eastward leaving behind blue sky and sunshine. I did not take the time to check the gaspods then because I was eager to reach a campground before it was too dark. After checking the road atlas, I planned to spend the night at Lake Side Beach State Park, which was located on the shore of Lake Ontario next to state route 18. On the map, the campground did not seem too far. I drove until any traces of daylight disappeared from the sky. I drove further into the early part of the night without seeing any signs of it. At that point I began to wonder where on earth the campground was. My eyes were getting tired and my back was slightly aching. I couldn't wait to be done with driving and rest in a horizontal position. Eventually, feeling increasingly frustrated, I miraculously noticed a road sign that pointed to a campground. It was called Four Mile Creek not Lake Side Beach, though. I figured that I must have zoomed by the one that I picked without noticing it because, ironically, I was too concerned to get to my destination in a hurry.   

The following morning, I stood for a little while on the shore of Lake Ontario. Filled with awe I thought: ‘Wow, I cannot believe that this vast expanse of fluid is fresh water! If it wasn't for those skyscrapers in the far distance that I know are part of Toronto, I would have imagined the lake to be a salty sea instead’. 

Then my mind shifted to more practical thoughts about my next destination. If I wanted to visit Niagara Falls without rushing around like a tourist on a packaged tour, I had to get there several hours before midday, so I left. After a short drive, I parked the car close to the falls. I was pleased to find out that the all day parking fee was only $5. Before walking to the park I remembered the gaspods. I quickly glanced at the roof of my car to check them out. I was happy to see that despite being beaten up by the storm they were all still in place, unharmed.

I spent most of the day exploring America's oldest state park, something that I did not know about Niagara Falls. Initially, I was slightly disappointed to notice that it looked more like a city park than a wild wonder out in the woods. A lot of buildings and other man-made structures circled the falls. There is no doubt that this natural marvel has become a highly profitable money making show. However, once I focused my attention to the Niagara River, my perception of the park changed.

I walked on a trail alongside the river’s bank listening to the sound of rushing water and gradually began to forget about the human presence around me. I followed the river until it disappeared with a muffled roar below the edge of a cliff that reminded me of an uncompromising knife blade. 

I admired the river’s blind leap of faith. I walked closer and watched how gravity pulled its water in innumerable long white silky filaments that looked like the thick hair of a wise giant’s groomed beard. I rejoiced at the sight of the river’s resurrection after dropping from a height that would have been deadly for us. The power of the falls was irresistible and I decided to buy the $11 ticket to experience the falls from a lower viewpoint. After putting on a pair of sandals and a yellow poncho, I followed other tourists, who were dressed up like me, to a set of wet wooden staircases that led to the base of the Bridal Veil Falls.

The muffled roar that I had heard at the falls’ crest earlier on turned into a deafening boom that almost cracked my eardrums. As soon as I climbed down the first staircase a dense mist enveloped my body. An unimaginable amount of water was crushing onto rocks and boulders and splitting into a myriad of droplets. 

The mist soaked my smart phone, digital camera and legs. I kept wiping off my electronic devices with a cloth but eventually even that got drenched too. However, I remained fairly dry in comparison with other visitors who were standing on the far end of a deck closest to the face of the falls. They totally and literally immersed themselves into the spray as if they were taking a magical shower. Water was dripping from their hair and soggy clothes. In our yellow wet ponchos we looked like a swarm of bees, which had been heavily rained upon. I felt that I was participating in a religious ritual performed in a distant corner of India rather than on a tour in one of the most popular tourist attractions of North America.The realization that I had exposed my phone and camera to a lot of water long enough to potentially jeopardize their functionality made me think about time. It was already mid afternoon and I wanted to get to my next campground at Watkins Glen State Park, NY, in daylight so I left Niagara Falls State Park without further ado feeling damp and cold but mentally energized.

© E. Betty Bastai