Operation: Wexodus (a quick 3,655 mile road trip)

Part 1

I recently relocated from Rhode Island to sunny Seattle and wanted to share my experiences. This was an excited drive consisting of 3,655 miles, 26 days on the road, fifteen states, four time zones, a combined three conferences, conventions and national park visits, two ocean coastlines and one voice-mail from my bank saying “Er, we’re noticing a lot of charges on your account from all over, is this legit?”

While planning this I came to call it “Operation: Wexodus”, a portmanteau of west and exodus. It starts with an ending, the final photograph of the Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) Natural Science Lab. You can see Reginald the Red Fox, center right. He was featured in a previous article.

Found in the RISD store. It, ironically, made me laugh.

After earning a certificate in Natural Science Illustration it seemed fitting to celebrate with a visit to the world’s biggest cartoon animal convention. I don’t have any pictures of the event itself, but here’s a few of Pittsburgh, the hosting city. The convention was held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. It has interesting architecture, you approach it through a wide, sloping street. Here the entrance is off to the right. Or if you continue walking down the center sidewalk or the two higher ones on the side…

…you emerge on this balcony, overlooking the Allegheny River. You can see the Andy Warhol Bridge, named for the Pittsburgh-born pop artist.

After the convention I header west, through America’s heartland. Here’s an evening in Gretna, Nebraska. Gas stations featuring a large, fiberglass wolf mascot on its roof are known to attract breathtaking sunsets.

Each hotel room had one of these. It’s good to know what to do should a pesky tornado waltz through town.

Here we are at a Colorado Welcoming Center, in the extreme northeast part of the state.

Later that day I arrived in Boulder, Colorado, for the Guild of Natural Science Illustrator’s (GNSI) annual conference. This took place at the University of Colorado, a very scenic campus located in the western part of town, right against the Rocky Mountains.

(Kittredge was the name of the dormitory we all stayed in.)

Here’s the University Center, the hub of campus life. Every building had this classy and classic Southwest architecture style, making them all match. This is great for aesthetics, but bad for navigating.

Said building had this plaque by its entrance. I like this.

Boulder in general, and Colorado University in particular, is really environmentally minded. These stations are everywhere on campus. There, sustainability is king, recycling is heavily promoted and littering is punishable by death.

A rare cloudy day in Colorado. Low-hanging clouds rolled down from the mountains, moving like a lazy stream. Note the curlicue to the left of the lamppost, just above the building.

“Hi, I’m Colorado. Enjoy my very varied weather. You know how the skies were clear twenty minutes ago? Well here, have some hail!”

The Conference Itself

The GNSI conference was great fun, involving everything from leading-edge data visualization tools to prophylactics.

A keynote speaker gave a talk titled Science on a Sphere (SoaS). SoaS is a display featuring a six-foot carbon fiber sphere, four giant projectors and lots of computers. Data is processed, modified for accurate visualization, and projected onto a sphere resembling the Earth. The data is animated and can be almost anything, from global weather patterns to airline flights. (This was demonstrated. Each flight was represented by a tiny line a few millimeters long, the resulting plethora of plodding squiggles was dubbed “marching ants”.) Here a NOAA scientist demonstrates SoaS showing animated high-altitude wind speeds.

Same demonstration, this time with water surface temperatures.

The panels were quite varied. This one was from The Beehive Collective, an all-volunteer artist group in norther Maine. They make large hand-drawn posters several dozen square feet promoting various causes. Here artist Nicole DeBarber shows their latest work, “Mesoamérica Resiste” (Middle America Resists), which protests corporate globalization. While I don’t agree with all their views I do admire their dedication and craftsmanship. This poster took over nine years to make and featured symbols and icons from many different Central American cultures, past and present. The GNSI president attended and posted his thoughts.

Another panel was about art and entrepreneurship, given by the very accomplished Linda Howard Bittner. It was an excellent panel focused on finding new opportunities and markets, promoting one’s work and forging win-win relationships. For example, Linda described how she stayed at a African safari resort for free in exchange for making educational wildlife brochures for them.

Linda also mentioned a friend of hers earns a living by rappelling from helicopters down to eagle nests to tag baby chicks. That is absolutely the most awesome job description I have ever heard.

The conference wasn’t all artists talking shop. Saturday night featured an auction, with items from traditional art books and supplies, to souvenirs from past Guild conferences, to environment-themed novelty items. Yours truly bid twenty dollars on, and won, condoms from the Center for Biological Diversity. These were in cardboard boxes featuring an endangered species, suggestive poetry, and a blurb inside promoting birth control to ease over-population and hence stress on wildlife habitat. While the logic is a bit convoluted I don’t dispute the novelty factor. One attendee suggested I frame the empty boxes and hang them in my bedroom.

Enough conference, let’s head for the mountains!