New art contest: Celestial soul portraits

My sister-in-law Erin has linked me to what must be the most fabulous thing to ever grace the internet: Celestial Soul Portraits! An artist will do a “magical” portrait of you by taking “normal” photos that represent “the real you,” getting “your unique essence,” and “transforming” it into a Celestial Soul Portrait (his use of quotes, not mine). …For a small price of $150. But don’t let that bother you, look how fabulous they are!

and
I’m dying. They’re so horrible they’re awesome. It’s like Lisa Frank got high on shrooms and discovered Photoshop. I love it.

Your challenge: Make me your own Celestial Soul Portrait! Do a self portrait, do one of a celebrity, do one of me – I don’t care. The most creative/lol-tastic/well-done one will win a doodle from me.

The only rule is that you should link to both the before and after photo for the full effect. Oh, and from what I’ve seen so far, I think “your unique essence” has to somehow include rainbows. Use caution when “transforming” flamboyant gays – their portraits may result in blindness and/or diabetes.

This is post 23 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Results from my modern art contest

A little while ago I challenged you guys to write the best summary you could of the painting I did at age 2 that would make it worthy of an art museum.Here are my favorites!

Most creative interpretation: Chabneruk

“Genius rarely shows itself in a pure, elementary form. But the early work of Jennifer McCreight demonstrate the instinctive, pure emotion of an artist yet unaffected by trivialities like form or training. Her famous ‘watercolor hanging in my bathroom that I did at age 3′ – the title underlining the naive importance of the work – has fascinated generations of young atheists-to-be, symbolizing the struggle to overcome ancient systems of belief. The central piece, washy in its definition, is mostly though to represent the respective deity. The red center symbolizes the conflicts every religion brings with itself, gradually weakening towards the green rim – a sign of the positive possibilities religion might bring. This contrast of a strong, violent center towards the soothing outher ring has also been a topic in Dan Brown’s new bestseller “Watercolour”, where protagonist Robert Langdon deciphers McCreights secret code. The points that move towards the edge of the painting represent the people that left their religion and their way to freedom – leaving the frame of the painting. McCreights work is currently exhibited in the Center of Modern Atheistic Art in New Town.”

Most lol-worthy: Annie

A consideration of Jen McCreight’s watercolor, “I named my cervix Rob Bior.” McCreight’s early work denounces toddler conventionality by breaking the color spectrum at the third level. The metamorphic deprecation of “Roy G. Biv” to “Rob Bior” boldly illustrates this artist’s youthful abandonment of the unwritten “Preschool Principle”. McCreight’s obsession with her own cervix haunted her work well into her preteens. Other examples of this fixation include “My cervix is like a camera lens”, a bold multi media exhibit, and “My cervix hates you!!!!”, which is an exemplary example of the modern use of charcoal on dry dog food. The original of this replica is housed in the lavatory of the McCreight family estate.

Best inspiration for a new piece of art: Matt

Here we have a watercolor ripe with political satire from Jennifer McCreight in her typical avant garde Post-Toddlerist style. As one can plainly see, the picture conveys the anger the artist feels from her frustrations with potty training and being denied by her mother the fundamental right to eat dirt. Bold in her defiance of typical artistic norms, she uses amorphous concave shapes as a method to display her imagery breaking with strict adherence to geometric and mathematical principles popularized by M.C. Escher. One may be familiar with Jennifer’s more recent artwork such as her recreation of Georges Seurat’s, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte” by means of vajazzling Martha Stewart.

And the winner is… Stephen!

The “painting” “entitled” “the watercolor hanging in my bathroom that I did at age 3″ stands in purported postironic metacontext as a subliminal representation of Neo-Foucauldian sexuality contrasted with the hegemony of the religiopatriarchal discourses that typify the extradominant, self-perpetuatory narrative of spiritual immortality. Introspective re(cap)itualtion of the painting’s historiography demands that we make a choice: either accept the privilege of a Pre-Raphaelite objectification of the biological as “G/god-deposed” interrelative to the broader Leftist mythological discourse, or reject hypertrivial assertions of hierarchical dominance /en rejoivivant/, which typifies and creates a counterpublic expression of modern /Dasein/, as counterrevealed in analysis by Heidegger. Of course we must not and cannot unprejudicially disregard the Derridian supplementarity called by the work within it’s own subtextual, self-referentiality. The drawing (re)presents the “cell” as deemed by imperialist Western “biological” standards and recuses itself of those standards by both reifying itself as its own creation, but by suggesting its status as part of a larger social organism, recreating and allegorizing the struggle of the global proletariat against multicultural capitalism, contra Lacan Overall the work succeeds in drawing together and unifying diverse /narratif(ve)s dehors l’hors-texte/ and challenges our assumptions about the state of our privileged day-to-day lives.

Congratulations, Stephen! You’ve won a doodle from me. Comment here with your request.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

This is post 22 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

lol modern art

Yesterday I went to the Art Institute of Chicago with my parents, aunt, and uncle. I love the Art Institute. Between many art class field trips and my mom being an art teacher, I’ve been there so many times that I no longer need a map to navigate it. Definitely in the double digits. But they had built a whole new modern art wing since the last time I visited, so I was excited to check that out.

Oh boy.

Now, I probably have more of an appreciation for modern art than your average person. Up until my senior year of high school, I thought I was going to be an artist, not a scientist. I’ve taken many advanced classes, won art awards, yadda yadda. There is plenty of modern art I really enjoy, including some crazy abstract/weird/symbolic stuff.

But man, I just don’t get some modern art. Seriously, what the hell?That is an old oversized car mat someone bent and pinned. And it is now hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. WTF. And this wasn’t the weirdest stuff. There was a black canvas, a pile of rocks, a painting of a date, a video of an electric guitar being drug through grass…

I’m sorry, but just because you were the first person to think to do something doesn’t make it good art. Nor does writing up some flowery bullshit post-hoc explanation of what deep symbolism your piece has. Gah, artist pet peeve.

Some of the stuff there looked comparable or even worse than stuff I did as a toddler. For example, The First Part of the Return from Parnassus by Cy Twombly:

“Cy Twombly’s famously inimitable art is tensely balanced between expressively abstract and suggestively pictorial impulses. His work originated under the auspices of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s and early 1950s and advanced uniquely along lines afforded by its freedoms. Twombly’s entire enterprise is characterized by unruly marks—stammering, energetic, and raw—that merge drawing, painting, writing, and symbolic glyphs. Scrawled, overwritten, erased, or willfully misspelled, words cite people, places, events, and stories nominally derived from Greco-Roman culture and history, especially literature, poetry, and myth.”

…And here’s the watercolor hanging in my bathroom that I did at age 3:Let’s have a contest.

Write the best summary you can of my piece that would make it worthy of an art museum. “Best” can either be most humorous, most deep, most similar to the BS descriptions we’re used to hearing. This is art, I’m not going to make strict rules!

The one I like the most will get a quick sketch by me of something of their choice. I’ll post my favorites in a couple of days.

My art background

This is a question from formspring.me. Go ask me something!

Have you ever had art classes or did you learn on your own? ‘Cause you’re pretty good!

Thank you! And the answer is both! My mother was a middle school art teacher (just retired), so I was surrounded by art my whole life. My bathroom back home is decorated by watercolor paintings I did when I was 2 years old – basically just blobs, but my mom thinks it’s as good as some modern art. I was an introverted kid, so I would always sit around and draw for fun. People who knew about my artistic ability always thought my mom sat me down and trained me, but she really didn’t. I was way too stubborn to listen to her then, and I mostly figured it out on my own. But if I did want advice on how to make something look better or more realistic, she was there for the tips.

Priorities – This is hanging up in my high school because it won a major award.

Even though I didn’t like to listen to her personally, she really enriched my life with art. We went to the Art Institute of Chicago nearly every year, to the point where I could have given you a tour of the exhibits by age 10. I was well versed in the history and style of most famous artists. In addition to art classes I took at school, I also took some summer classes.
Lift-off painting of Jude Law I did during my sophomore year of high school. Had no idea who he was at the time, just found a pretty magazine photograph of him.

School classes were my favorite though. I always looked forward to art, and teachers gave me a lot leeway. I was an honors student and good in most subjects, but in art I was years ahead of everyone else. Every year since first grade I had at least one piece in the Northwest Indiana art show, and I usually won at least something. Whenever there was a class project that needed an illustration, I was the go-to girl.
Oil painting and colored pencils are my favorite medium. And if you can’t figure it out, I love drawing people. And yep, this one is a self portrait.

My mom was actually my art teacher from 6th through 8th grade, which was a little awkward in the beginning (especially since it took everyone forever to figure out that she was my mom!). At the time I was annoyed that she graded me tougher than the other students, but in the end it made me a better artist. My high school art teacher was wonderful too – she was so spunky and creative, and had a good mix of teaching skills and encouraging creativity. I took AP Studio Art my senior year, with a class size of one – I just sat in the corner and painted while another class was going on (by the way, I got a 5 on my exam – woot). And on top of all that, I was the Art Club President for two years. Yep, I was more of an art geek than a science nerd!
My favorite piece from AP Studio Art – Pygmalion

So how did I end up a scientist? Well, I liked genetics and art equally. My logic at the time was that art can be a hobby, but genetics kind of can’t. Not to mention I like doing art my way, and I couldn’t imagine doing it as a job. So here I am, a geneticist. I’m very happy with my decision, even though I don’t do as much art as I would like. Regardless, that artistic ability still helps me in science. I have labmates come to me to help with figures and posters (No, do not use neon green and orange for that figure…). But more importantly, art has trained me to think creatively. You can do science without it, but to ask the innovative, cool questions you need to be able to think outside of the box. So to all those people who don’t see art as a worthwhile class to have – think again!
Proof that I’m actually doing these!

I haven’t updated my art much since high school, but if you want to check out my other stuff, I have an old deviantART page.

What we can learn from ancient human DNA

What can we learn about a person just from looking at their DNA? As our knowledge of genetics continues to grow, we may even be able to figure out what they look like. Research published in Nature looked at the genome of an ancient human using 4,000 year old hair that had been preserved in Greenland’s permafrost. From looking at genes that cause known traits, we can learn a lot about his appearance.

  • Male
  • Type A+ blood
  • Brown eyes
  • Darker skin
  • Stocky body
  • Dry earwax
  • Shovel shaped teeth
  • Thick, dark hair
  • Tendency toward baldness

Okay, as an aside: Who is the lucky artist who gets to draw a reconstruction of an ancient human, or the feather patterns on dinosaurs? Is this someone’s profession, or does a grad student do it? Maybe I can finally find a way to combine my art skills with my biology skills!

Anyway, it’s pretty cool that we’re able to learn about the actual physical appearance of someone just from their genes. Think about the implications in forensics cases when all that’s left is tissue that’s beyond identification. But that’s not the thing that made this paper Nature-worthy. All of these genotypes are very similar to modern Siberians, which tweaks our current understanding of human migration. Jerry Coyne summarizes it well over at his wonderful blog, Why Evolution is True:

Oh, and the really interesting result is this: the DNA suggests that the individual had components of genes still present in East Asian and Siberian populations, but not found in modern-day Inuits or people from South and Central America. This suggests that there were two separate invasions of North America from Asia: the one that gave rise to native Americans, South Americans, and modern Inuit on the one hand, and that leading to the presence of Saqqaq in Greenland. Those latter individuals probably came across the Bering Strait, and then, hugging the Arctic, made their way eastward across North America and then to Greenland.

That conclusion is of course tentative because it’s based on only this single genome. Still, based on the sequence, and the tentative phylogeny showing that this individual’s ancestors split off from the ancestors of their closest living relatives (the Chukchis of eastern Siberia) about 5,000 years ago, anthropologists may have to revise their conclusion that there was one invasion of North America from eastern Asia around 18,000 years ago.

Very neat stuff! Though I would like to see a study using modern humans to see how accurate these sorts of predictions are. Take maybe ten individuals with various phenotypes, sequence their genomes, have the researchers try to reconstruct their appearance without previous knowledge of what they look like, send it off to an artist, and see how close we can get! I’m not sure what profound result this would show other than if this method is useful or not – just seems like a really cool thing to try out. Can’t we do science for fun every once in a while?

When art meets biology: Caddisfly jewelry

No, this isn’t jewelry in the shape of a Caddisfly – sorry, entomologists. It’s actually quite stranger than that: the Caddisfly larva are the artists!You need to know a little bit about Caddisfly life history to completely understand what’s going on:

Caddisflies have aquatic larvae and are found in a wide variety of habitats such as streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, spring seeps, and temporary waters (vernal pools). The larvae of many species make protective cases of silk decorated with gravel, sand, twigs or other debris.

They usually look something like this:Then artist Hubert Duprat got an idea:

Having been in the past a naturalist he knew that the larvae are remarkably adaptable: if other suitable materials are introduced into their environment, they will often incorporate those as well. So in the early eighties he started to collect the larvae from their normal environments and took them to his studio. There he gently removed their own natural cases and put them in tanks filled with his own materials, from which they began to build their new protective sheaths. When he began the project, he only provided the caddis larvae with gold flakes. Since then, the larvae have enjoyed various semi-precious and precious stones, including turquoise, coral and lapis lazuli, as well as sapphires, pearls, rubies, and diamonds.

Isn’t that neat? I know some people would be a little grossed out owning jewelry that was once an insect’s armor, but I think it’s pretty cool. Sometimes art created by nature is just as beautiful as art created by a human.(Via sex, art, and politics)

The Endangered Species Print Project

I just found out about a really neat project used to raise awareness and funding for endangered species: The Endangered Species Print Project.


The Endangered Species Print Project offers limited-edition art prints of critically endangered species. The number of prints available corresponds with the remaining animal or plant populations. For example, only 45 Amur Leopards remain in the wild, so for this edition, only 45 prints will ever be made. A different organization, whose mission is to the ensure the survival of the species depicted, is chosen for each print. 100% of the sales of ESPP prints are donated to these conservation organizations.

As both an artist and a biologist, I think this is an excellent idea. If your walls are looking a bit bland and you have a little extra money, consider contributing to this great cause. The also have a corresponding blog where you can keep up with information about endangered species.

(Via bioephemera)

My first atheist wedding art commission!

My friends Julie and Don are getting married this summer, and instead of including a dorky photograph with their wedding invitation, they asked me to draw a cartoon of them! (Click image for higher quality)
If you can’t tell, all of my friends are a bit nerdy. Julie is working towards vet school and takes care of shelter animals, especially exotics – hence the snake. And apparently Don is just a big super hero dork on the inside, because he requested the Spiderman outfit.

They’re also both active atheists and skeptics, which is why they’re getting a little plug here. Julie is a frequent member of the Society of Non-Theists and often comments here at the blog. And some of you may actually know Don – he blogs over at Action Skeptics and gave a talk at TAM 2009 on Kids Thinking Critically, a “strategy to bring critical thinking skills to at-risk and underprivileged youth.” He’s also working his butt of organizing speakers for the upcoming Skepchicamp in Chicago, which Julie and I are speaking at.

An early congratulations to you to! Who says us godless heathens aren’t capable of love?

Erotic pottery, sleeping around, and the gaydar

Okay, now that I have your attention…

Today was just full of sexual news! Usually each of these stories would win their own post, but I guess I’ll just make one super sexy entry. Try not to get too hot and bothered.

1. A new exhibit has opened featuring the erotic artwork of ancient Greece and Rome. Ah, I’m so proud of my ancestors. I can’t imagine having the dishes in my apartment covered in drawings of gay sex. …Well, okay, I can, but some of my guests probably wouldn’t want to eat off of them. …Who am I kidding, my friends are all strange like me. They’d love it. That being said, I love their description of the prostitutes kiosk, with the walls covered with illustrations on what’s on the menu. “Eh, you like the retrograde wheelbarrow over there? That’s two chickens and a loaf of bread.” (Via Boing Boing)

2. A new study from University of Minnesota researchers has found that casual sex does not have a negative psychological impact on those that practice it. So to all of those people out there who say sex without love is evil or imply that something is wrong with people who enjoy sex for the sake of sex – HA!

3. Oh, the inner workings of the Gaydar. Not only do people fair better than random guessing when it comes to speculation on a stranger’s sexual orientation, but they can make that decision in under a second. Original article talks about the evolutionary implications and some of the studies flaws, though it left out my major criticism – how do fag hags do compared to the general public?!? I’m pretty sure I would have been an outlier if you threw me in that study.

New Merch: Evolution of Christmas

There’s new a new design up at Blag Hag Swag, titled the Evolution of Christmas (click for larger image):Who can deny the resemblance between Darwin and Santa Claus? Except his sleigh is a bit different. I need to include stuff like this in my grad school apps to show how passionate/geeky I am about evolutionary biology.

You can buy it on t-shirts, mousepads, coffee mugs, greeting cards, and postcards. I think the coffee mugs look especially nice, since the design wraps around the whole mug:And this is a bit late, but you can get 50% off if you buy 10+ greeting cards or post cards if you enter the code 12DEALSCARDS at checkout before 11:59 pm PT tonight! Even better, you can customize the text of the cards however you want. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Monkey, witty evolution pun – whatever your heart desires. Go spread some nerdy love for the holidays!

If you’d like this available on any other sort of merchandise over at Zazzle, let me know and it shall be done.