Tiny pictures

This summer, I took an excellent class for teachers called “The Science of Art, the Art of Science”. It was run through both the deCodova Museum and Mass. Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, which was a great collaboration between the perspectives of art and of science. Besides thinking a lot about integrating the two this year, I also got a fun toy out of it! To help us look closely at things, they gave each of us an 8x loupe. One of the first things I tried with it was putting it up to the lens of my phone. It worked surprisingly well.

You can buy a loupe like this on Amazon. I really like the one I have because the rubberized grip and housing lets you hold it on your phone easily and at a set distance. The focus works best when you’re about an inch away from the thing you are trying to take a picture of. Who needs a macro lens when you’ve got a magnifier for your phone camera!

2013-08-26 13.41.48 2013-08-26 13.56.50 2013-10-04 14.57.41 2013-10-24 16.04.32chart tv screen wool blanket sheepskin wicker chair thyme bulb wheat fibers gingham pins loupe

Beach Closeup from Stephen MacLellan on Vimeo.

Lil’ bug’s lil’ closeup from Stephen MacLellan on Vimeo.

Posted in Art

Stories from Yeti: Snow Day

As a teacher, I have a few snow days just about every year. The best ones are a chance to do some creative work, catch up on some sleep, and spend time working on lessons and unit planning.

A couple of years ago, I drew a snow day comic. This time, it’s a story I wrote for the Yeti I made in a class with Jen Gubicza last week.

Yeti snow day

The Yeti Snow Day

It was the first big snowstorm of the year. As soon as he woke up, Yeti peered out from behind the curtain at the white drifts slowly piling up in his backyard. He paused for a minute to stare out the window, his eyes wide with wonder, imagining all the fun he could have if he was out there.

Yeti asleep

Yeti raced downstairs to the kitchen.
“Dad, is school cancelled?” he asked.
Yeti’s dad looked up from the pan of scrambled eggs he was making. Yeti thought he could see his dad try not to smile, be he couldn’t be sure.
“Is it, dad?” he asked again, more insistently this time.
“I don’t know,” his dad said. “You should go check on the TV yourself.”

Yeti snow day announcement

Yeti ran into the living room and turned on the television. It was already tuned to the news channel, the weather report blaring from the speakers, as if someone else had already been watching with the same question in his head. As the glow of the television light danced across his face, Yeti scanned the list of school names slowly scrolling along the bottom of the screen.
“The Yeti School starts with a Y,” he said. “Why does it have to be the second-to-last letter of the alphabet!”
He waited, not so patiently, until…

Yeti School is closed!

The Yeti School! School was cancelled! He had a snow day!

After he finished eating his breakfast, Yeti asked his dad, “Can I go out and play?”
“Not until we clean up these dishes,” his dad replied.
So they got to work. Yeti scrubbed the pan while his dad loaded the dishwasher. Soon, they were done.

Yeti doing dishes

“Can I go out and play?” Yeti asked again.
“Not until you make your bed and your room is clean,” his dad replied.
So Yeti tromped upstairs and got to work. He straightened the sheets and the cozy wool blanket. He put his dirty clothes into the basket. Finally, he put his books back in the bookcase. Soon, he was done.

Yeti making the bed

“Can I go out and play?” Yeti asked a third time.
“Almost,” his dad said. “We just need to brush off the car and shovel the sidewalk.”
So Yeti and his dad got suited up in all their snow gear and trudged outside, shovels in hand. Yeti shoveled the sidewalk while his dad brushed off the car. Soon, they were done.

Yeti shoveling snow

“Now can I go play?” Yeti asked.
“Yes!” his dad replied. “Have fun, little Yeti!”
Yeti built a snow fort, rolled giant snowballs for a snowyeti, and caught snowflakes on his tongue. He was having fun, but something was still missing. When Yeti realized what it was, he ran back inside.

Quickly, he pulled off his boots, hung up his coat, and put his hat and mittens on the radiator to dry.
“Back so soon?” asked Yeti’s dad.
“Can I use the phone?” Yeti asked.
“Sure,” his dad said.

Getting snow gear off

Yeti dialed the number and waited as the phone rang and rang and rang. Just as he was sure no one would pick up, he heard a voice on the other end of the line.
“Can you come over and play?” he asked.
“Let me check with my mom,” said his monster friend.

Yeti calling Sasquatch

Waiting seemed to take forever. Yeti stared out the window as more snowflakes silently floated to the ground.
“Maybe it will all melt before we can play together,” he thought to himself.

Yeti staring out the window

And then, he heard his friend’s voice again on the phone.
“Yes!” his friend said. “I’ll be over in five minutes.”
Yeti was so excited. He ran back to the hallway and put on his boots, his scarf, his coat, his hat, and his mittens. He came outside just as his friend Sasquatch was rounding the corner of his house. The two of them spent a long time playing happily together. They enjoyed a nice cup of hot chocolate on Yeti’s couch when they got too cold and too tired to play any more.
“Do you think we’ll have another snow day tomorrow?” Sasquatch asked.
“I sure hope so,” said Yeti.

Yeti and Sasquatch playing together

Posted in Art

Homes for Things for Making Things

I recently found myself looking at toolboxes, the red metal ones with lots of drawers, but not for my tools. My tools already (mostly) have boxes. There’s one for wrenches and one for sanding supplies, one for the angle grinder and one for drywall. I have boxes for electrical and plumbing parts, tiny organizers for screws and for nails, and another just for hammers. I’m planning on building one for my hand tools. And this doesn’t even count all of the cases that my power tools came with. Having all of these boxes, having them all labeled, is really helpful for keeping me organized, but it is also a convenient justification for ignoring the larger issue: I have too many things for making things.

I’ve been buying tools for several years now, mostly one at a time, on sale or for a specific job. I’m very good at telling myself “I need this because…” And they have all been useful, and they have all been used. There just are a lot of them.

The same is true of crafting supplies, camping supplies, cooking supplies, art supplies, brewing supplies. (And I’ll ignore completely the enormous quantity of things I have bought for teaching and for my classroom.) I don’t have two of anything (except for 16 ounce hammers, of which I have four, because maybe someone else needs to be using one at the same time as me?), but I have one of a great many different things. And they are hard to give up. Each one has a purpose and a useful life ahead of it.


Having all of these things means that I have an apartment (and my parents garage!) full of things. I have gone through periods where various collections of things became too much for where I had been putting them, and I was forced to step back, rethink, and develop an organization plan. How many times has Heather come home and found me in the basement, a few hundred tools all laid out on the floor, new toolboxes waiting to be filled? And so, to corral this potential madness, I keep buying containers to put them all in.

This doesn’t mean that my life is as clean and organized as I would want it to be. Anyone who stepped into my studio, my classroom, or my apartment would figure that out pretty quickly. Having things away, organized, and ready is a goal, not always an extant state.

Which brings me to the red toolbox I have been thinking about. While my carpentry tools are carefully put away, the same is not true of sewing supplies, knitting supplies, or art supplies. I have drawing tools in three different places, knitting tools in four, and printmaking supplies in two. If these are going to be useful, they need to be easy to find and quickly at hand.

I am left with a feeling that two divergent ideas can exist peacefully together. I can have tools for making things because they are tools which satisfy a greater purpose. But, I need to stay vigilant in the war against having things just to have them. If I want to buy something “because I will need it later,” I wait. When the time comes when I need it, I can think about getting it then. For now, my things are away, and I am ready to make.

Class with Lizzy House

Iggy helps out

Back in November, Heather and I took a class with the fabric designer/printmaker/quilter/all-around-crafty-lady Lizzy House. As part of my quest to know how to make anything out of anything, we have been taking a number of sewing classes at gather here, a fabric and fiber store in Cambridge. It is the kind of place where there are always a few people just sitting on the couch knitting, snacks waiting for you when you come in, and lots of amazing things to look at and think about buying. I have so far taken three classes with Virginia, the owner, who really knows what she is doing. We stay up late the night classes are posted, so we can pick something we really want to take before they all fill up. If you take the last spot in one we want, we will have to stop being friends.

This class was on color theory and mini quilts, two things I know very little about. I tend to make what feel like obvious and readily-apparent color choices, avoiding fine differentiation whenever possible. Add to this tendency my issues with situationally-dependent color confusion (known to most of you as color blindness, a gross overstatement of fact) and some degree of indecisiveness. The wall of paint chips at the hardware store is completely overwhelming. So I had to be brave with this class and step out of my comfort zone in a big way.

Little did I know, but Lizzie House is a very critical teacher. Within five minutes of class starting, I found myself out in the hall, writing “I will not make poor color choices. I will not make poor color choices.” I was not allowed to have a gold star at the end, and Heather was so ashamed that she pretended not to know me.

Oh wait, that’s not how it happened.

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Fabric colors before the workshop.

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After playing with color temperature, one of my classmates named Becca took off her tape in a very artistic way!

2013-11-21 22.02.35 Figuring out the quilt. I have never quilted before, so it was fun to mess around and teach myself how such a thing is done.

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Piecing the quilt together.

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Front done!

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For the back of the quilt, I designed and block printed a fabric with this forest.

One of the biggest takeaways I had from this class was a renewed interest in making art. Before it even happened, I took out my sketchbook and played with ideas. I made sketches, I doodled little cartoons, I did some meditative mark-making. After spending so much time back in college making and thinking about art, this kind of creative thinking and work has been an unfilled hole in my life, and it was so wonderful to have a project to jump into once again. And so, with encouragement from Lizzy, Heather and I are going to try designing a line of fabric together. We are going to make some prints, make some drawings, play around in Illustrator, and get back to doing something we love. Thank you, Lizzy.


It has been a busy summer, but I did get to play with the pinhole camera my brother gave me for Christmas last year.

Using the camera is still very experimental. Exposure times are just guesses, not made in any kind of scientific way. But that has also meant that I haven’t taken anything too seriously. Normally (well, back when I used a film camera regularly) I didn’t take too many pictures because I only wanted to take ones I was sure were going to be good. With this camera, I can just take pictures, and not worry about them too much.

Posted in Art

Nahant, part two

I found my card reader, so here are my pictures from bright and early on Nahant.

These are two other submarine-spotting towers.

My polaroid right after developing.

In other news, it was my birthday yesterday (Sunday). Having a birthday always makes me think about what I really liked about the last year and what I want to do in the next one. Kind of like New Year’s resolutions. I think one of them will be to read more. I like the idea Heather, of Walden Street, had, the book club of one. I think I’ll try that. Look for something in the sidebar in the next week, if I get around to it.

Posted in Art


Bright and early Saturday morning, my brother and I drove out to Nahant to get pictures of sunrise on the beach. Of course, rather than waking up at 4:30 am to get there in time, we chose to just stay up and then go to sleep after we were done. We got lots of good pictures, and it brought me back to doing my senior project. The spot where we were taking pictures has had several military purposes over the years, from early American defense of Boston onwards. Most recently, the site – which is now a marine biology lab site for Northeastern University – was part of the Nike missile system surrounding Boston. During World War II, there were gun emplacements and several large concrete towers for spotting U-boats or other German naval vessels.

This picture is a 4 x 5 Polaroid instant color print taken with my homemade pinhole camera, a 10 minute exposure in the early-morning light. In it, you can see one of these towers (it is the rectangular thing in the center of the frame). It just so happens that this tower is owned by the family of my brother’s friend, whose house is just feet from the structure. So, after his friend woke up, we went over and visited him and got to go see it from the inside.

It is always interesting to see how former military sites are reused or adapted after they are no longer in service. Some of them get bulldozed. Often they are bought and used by towns, for schools, highway departments, or other public services. If they are abandonded in place, they often become covered in grafitti and strewn with the remnants of teenage partying. This submarine-watching tower is now home to a darkroom, a pinball machine, and a set of bunkbeds, which are on the very top floor.

I’ll put up more pictures after I hook my card up to my computer. Until then, you should go see my brother’s pictures here.

Posted in Art


Lately, I have been doing part-time temp work at the Tufts Institute of the Environment. It has been fun and has given me a small but steady source of income while I wait to get hired somewhere full time. I’ve been able to do creative things, building them some furniture, designing and updating several websites, making signs for upcoming lectures and events, and doing general office work. Today, I was making some block print cards for renewable energy credits. They want to give these out as gifts for speakers, as an environmentally-conscious alternative. For me, it was just a great chance to pull out all of my printmaking equipment and go at it.

It has been a while since I have made any prints, and doing it tonight reminded me why. From start to finish, the process took seven hours: designing on the computer, transferring the design to the linoleum, cutting it out, setting up for printing, cutting the paper, inking up the block, and making the prints. All of my stuff has exploded over the living room, but I’ll put it all back tomorrow.

I promise.

And it all turned out well in the end. The letters got a little ink-filled by the end, but I now have 22 nice prints.

It is nice to get paid to do this, even though I love doing it on its own. Tomorrow, they are giving one to Erin Brockovich, who is giving a talk at Tufts. I feel famous by association.

It’s not that I don’t like cats…

It’s an idea for a math project, I swear!


I am trying to think of lots of fun math-related activities and projects to do with elementary students, and this popped into my head when I was thinking about making rockets. 

No cats would be harmed or attached to rockets, it’s just the idea of launching the cat that matters. If one rocket is lifting x pounds, then how many rockets would you need to lift the weight of a cat?

After doing a little research, it turns out that a few cats were used in space flight tests by the French in the 1960′s. They sent a Parisian stray named Felix, who made it back alive. Lucky Felix.

The farm


A quick sketch of a farm in winter, based off of a photograph of my brother’s. I think that there is a starkness to winter that is quite beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like the other seasons. But there is something there during the winter that just isn’t any other time of the year.