art

Visualizing Effort on SEFI by Michael Johns

As the name would suggest, long-term datasets take a long time to develop. Not only does it take a continuous supply of resources to support the work, someone has to physically go out every year and collect the data. To visualize the time investment and sheer number of people required to collect 50 years of seabird and marine mammal data, I designed this circular bar plot, illustrating the extreme commitment by some and small contributions by many over the years. It depicts the total number of days spent on Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI) by current and former staff and interns of PRBO (now Point Blue Conservation Science). Each concentric circle radiating from the map of SEFI in the center represents an additional 500 days of service, with Pete Warzybok in the lead at over 2,000 days! To keep the plot from getting too cramped, I narrowed the number of names displayed to just partial or full PRBO associates with more than two months spent on island, so this plot excludes many more island residents affiliated with various agencies, contracts, and universities, as well as people with brief stints – sorry if that applies to you. The graphic was created entirely with the ggplot2 package in R, aside from the border and line below the title that were added later in Photoshop. A high resolution 16 x 20 .png file of the graphic can be downloaded here: DOWNLOAD FILE 

Data Into Art by Michael Johns

R is an open source statistical computing and graphics platform, where tasks are implemented through a coding language entered by the user. The flexibility of R is limited only by the collective ability of its community of users to dream up new functions and functionality; which means its potential is basically limitless. It has become the environment for researchers to carry out statistical analyses and produce publication-ready figures. 

Inspired by some cool new plots floating around the internet that mimic Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" 1979 album cover, I created the above image of Southeast Farallon Island using a new R package developed to better visualize changes in distributions over time. The image depicting the the change in elevation across a range on longitude for each line of latitude was produced with the packages ggplot2 and ggridges, using a dataset containing elevation information of the island at equally spaced points of lat and long. An example of using R for more than just stats and figures, creating something that could even pass for art. 

Download this .asc file and use this code to recreate the above image in R. 

Here's another way of looking at the same dataset using geom_polygon in ggplot2, where each polygon is colored by latitude. This shows the vertical relief of the island from the perspective of the waterline, looking north. The tallest peak at just over 100 meters is the top of Lighthouse Hill. The second largest at just below 75 meters is Maintop, which is separated from the main island by a very narrow channel. 

Linocut Printing by Michael Johns

In preparation for another long winter ahead, and to combat the lack-of-ocean blues we’ve been experiencing up here, Casey and I have decided to take up linocut printing. It’s a style of art similar to wood block printmaking; made by gouging designs into soft blocks of linoleum using special chisel-like tools. Ink is then rolled onto the linoleum block using a brayer and transferred to a sheet of paper by hand with a baren. Any raised or un-carved areas of the block show up as the ink color used for the “pull”. Essentially, you’re creating an oversized stamp. Many original prints in an “edition” can be made from a single block carving, and multiple colors can be applied by carving away the block with each successive pull, known as a reduction print.

Sketch of a pigeon guillemot next to the carved block ready for printing.

Pulling the second layer of black using the jig. 

For my first piece, I choose a two-color reduction print of a pigeon guillemot on water. It all started with a piece of reference art sketched out and colored in to get an idea of what the finished print would look like. The outline of the guillemot was then traced onto the block using carbon paper. I carved away all of the areas I wanted to remain white, such as the outline of the bird, its wing patches, and ripples in the water. I then rolled red ink onto the block and transferred the pattern to 16 sheets of paper. It took several days for this first coat of red to dry. Next, I carved away only the areas that I wanted to stay red, which were the feet and a small sliver within the bill. I then rolled on a coat of black ink and transferred the image on top of the red layer, using a homemade jig to ensure the layers would line up and come into registration. The jig worked okay, but there were some issues getting the two layers aligned for some of the prints. You can see in the above photos of the finished prints hanging to dry, that most of the red was covered up by the final coat of black. Lessons were learned from this first attempt and adjustments will be made going forward. Coming up next, a three-color reduction of a whiskered auklet. 

Layer 1 - Red

Layer 2 - Black