Tuesday, February 4, 2020

A tiny bit of resistance to the throwaway culture

A while back I decided to get a typewriter to assist my letter-writing (I like writing old-fashioned snail mail, but my lefty handwriting is atrocious), so I found an old 1948 Royal Quiet DeLuxe in an antiques shop that was broken and filthy and fixed it up into a sparkling machine. 

This made me inordinately happy, so I found another broken and dirty typer and fixed it up so I could have a typer upstairs to use to type my notes for my botanical project sketchbooks, and a typer downstairs so I could type my letters in the morning without disturbing Walu’s sleep. (Also, he mocks my anachronistic ways roundly whenever he hears me typing, so that is another advantage to having one where I can type away from the madding crowd.) I enjoyed getting the second typer and fixing it so much that when another little gem showed up...

And so it goes. This latest typer was one I went looking for because it is a true portable: A 1953 Swiss-made Hermes Rocket, weighing in at 8.5 pounds. Typewriter aficionados call it “the laptop.” It was the usual sort of dirty that a 60+ year old typewriter would have, but though the keys were sluggish, none were actually stuck. So I cleaned it up and set to tinkering. The cleaning made the key action snappier, but there was a problem with what is called the “trip”—when the carriage moves forward as the key slug approaches the platen. Maladjusted trip can cause letter piling or crowding (when letters literally pile on top of each other instead stringing out in a line), and that was the problem I had with this Rocket. I put out a query on the FB Antique Typewriter Maintenance page, but nobody had any good ideas about how to adjust the trip. Fortunately, there are typewriter fanatics in the world, and some of them have collected typewriter repair manuals, which they have reprinted and bound, and so I ordered one. It came in the mail yesterday, and there on page 26 were instructions on how to adjust the escapement trip (shown in the photo with the screwdriver). I got my pliers and two minutes later I had a Hermes Rocket that is a good as the day it was born. 

I got the Rocket to take with me on my field excursions. I think it will be perfect for typing up my notes at the end of the day—a computer and word processor in one, that needs no power but that of my fingers and mind.

What I like best about all of this, though, is that here was an object someone had decided was no use anymore because it was broken. And now it is not broken. And it is still useful.

Just like The Maggie

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Adding solar power to The Margaret Mee

I am waaaaaay behind the updates on my work on the MM, but one of the big projects--arguably the biggest--was adding the option of running off solar power. The camper came with a 12 volt system, which, when plugged into electric at a campground, runs just fine with the use of a converter. By adding a 100 watt solar panel and 20 amp charge controller, however, I am not tied to using only campgrounds with electrical outlets. This way I can run LED lights, charge my phone, and play a radio while in camp. The solar power is not enough to run a heater or AC, however, so if I decide to add and use those luxuries, I will have to plug in.

Anyway, here are some photos of the work:

Ordered everything online: 

Did some investigating to see how to tie into the existing system:

Tied everything into a new 75 ah AGM battery:

Hooked up the charge controller:

And then hooked up the solar panel (this should always be the last step--otherwise you can ruin the electrical system):

Made a nice panel to hide the charge controller (the botanical print is by Elaine Searle):

I will not lie, this was hard for someone with very little electrical experience, but I read up on it quite a bit, asked a lot of questions of people who do have experience on the Facebook DIY Teardrop Camper group page, and then had it checked out by a neighbor who is an electrical contractor. I think I spent about $600 total. I probably could have done it for less, but I didn't have many of the tools or materials lying around for this.

There might be one little hiccup, though: I tried hooking up the Maggie to practice backing up last week, and the trailer's brake lights now do not work. Since I did not mess with that particular wiring in the installation, I am hopeful it is not something I did. I had my car mechanic check the car, and that system is working just fine, so there is the possibility that it is the four pin connector that connects the car wiring to the trailer. It was old, so I replaced it, but I have not yet had a chance to see if that fixes the problem. If It doesn't I'll have to take it somewhere to have someone work on it.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Botanical art field kit for greenhouse work

I have loved field gear since I was a kid, and that did not change once I became a botanical artist. If anything, doing field work for botanical art opened a whole new world to gear. But there is a balance that you have to strike between carrying gadgets into the field and and unwieldiness (or wieldiness, as the case may be). Doing my work on the cotton project in greenhouses is no different--especially when sometimes my subjects can only be reached at the top of a ladder:

So for this project, I've really had to pare my equipment down to just what I can carry up a ladder safely, and in one or two trips. That includes the sketchbook, a pencil box with dividers, mechanical pencil, eraser, and paint brush, a small container of water, small paint box, and small mixing tray. Oh, and I also carry an old fashioned transistor radio; I don't like using ear buds for some reason, but I do like listening to the local classical station while I work. (The music keeps me relaxed while I am concentrating and helps me work longer.)

And here are some images from the top of my perch:

This is Gossypium raimondii; it blooms very rarely in a greenhouse, so I have been scrambling over the past couple of weeks to draw as many specimens as a I can. Each flower blooms for only a day, so when I am notified that one of the buds has opened, I drop everything and go draw it:

The greenhouse struts make a nice shelf for the radio. The music helps to drown out the greenhouse fan, which is noisy and puts me on edge:

Balancing precariously on a ladder mysteriously speeds up the amount of time I spend on my field sketches. But by this time, I have drawn these flowers enough that I am looking for very specific morphologies to note:

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Early morning in the studio

Most mornings I wake up naturally between 4:30 and 5. I make myself a cup of tea, do my physical therapy exercises for my hips, and then climb the stairs to the studio to work on a painting or write a letter. Some mornings I am struck anew just how much I love being able to do these things, in this space.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Galley before and after

I’ve been meaning to write a nice, long post a couple times in the past few days, but it is the last week of the semester and I find myself distracted and harried. Still, I am behind on my updates about my progress—and there has been progress—so I thought I’d just do a quick picture show. My grades were submitted last night, commencement ceremonies will be behind me after Saturday, and then, for a while at least, I can sit down and think straight.

In the meantime, here are some before and after shots of the galley:

The galley as it came.

There was a spare tire on the back that would fold down, but you had to step around it to use the galley, so I removed that feature. I'll carry a flat kit in the car that should be sufficient to air up the tire long enough to get me to a place that can fix the flat, should one occur.

I added a fold down counter and a pull out stove, added storage below the long counter, and painted the doors. The counter on the right will serve as both a sink for washing  hands and a typewriter/work table. I'll do a separate post on the sink when I finish it.

I turned the empty space that was originally under the long counter into a storage cabinet. I think this was originally meant to be for a refrigerator or ice chest, but I never could find anything that would fit in such a shallow space.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

On deliberate distraction

This weekend I am applying spar urethane to the cabinet work I’ve been doing in the galley. I have been dreading the job because finishing is my least favorite part of woodworking. I hate wearing a respirator, hate the stickiness of the materials, hate dealing with clean up, hate putting on a layer of varnish, then sanding it down, then another layer, then more sanding, and so on, and so on, and so on. It is important to do it right, but I always end up rushing just to get it over with, and the results are not satisfactory. It has felt like I am rushing this project in general (and consequently making more mistakes than I should), and I would rather slow down and do it well. After all, I don’t have to go out to the field for the Proboscidea project until next summer, and while it is true that I still have many tasks ahead of me (not least of which is adding solar power to The Maggie Mee), there is still plenty of time.

So I decided to slow it down this week by finding some deliberate, productive distractions. If anything can take away from the compulsive need to work on a big project, surely it is to throw other, smaller projects into the mix. Accordingly, among other things that I have worked on this past week or so, I have finally finished this painting of the Proboscidea louisianica that a neighbor found and transplanted for me this summer while I was laid up from surgery:

I also went looking for a typewriter I could use to document this project, and found this one, a 1948 Royal Quiet DeLuxe, in a junk shop masquerading as an antique store. It was in terrible, terrible condition—covered in rust, dust, spilled coffee, and seventy years of tobacco tar. All the keys were sticking, and two wouldn’t budge even a bit, and I was not at all sure I could get it up and running again. It was daunting to think about. Still, the price was right, and I do love a good project. It took a lot of patience, elbow grease, and helpful advice from antique typewriters aficionados on Facebook, but it is now a dream machine. Here are the before and after photos:

Finally, I have been looking for a project for an upcoming exhibition on heirloom plants, and on a hunch, I texted one of my tennis partners, whose husband is a cotton researcher, and followed several threads to this, the wild ancestor of modern day cotton, Gossypiodes kirkii:

As it turns out, the evolution of spinnable cotton is more fascinating than I knew, and this plant, one of the few specimens in the world, exists in a greenhouse right here in the 806, where it is tended by a loving team of workers. I’ll do a separate post on it at a later date, but I am really, really thrilled to be working on this. It feels important, you know?

In the meantime, finding all these productive distractions has enabled me to be much more deliberate in Maggie’s cabinet work, and I have spent the afternoon wearing a respirator, applying finish, and listening the sandhill cranes as they fly overhead. It is a good day.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Wild cotton

My friends, you are looking at my winter botanical project, Gossypiodes kirkii, the progenitor species of modern cotton:

 I am so excited about this project, I can hardly sleep at night. More to come...