© 2020 Chris Muhl Art. All rights reserved.

The Blog

I have been working on a small project developing a map for an area of farmlands and grasslands in the San Joaquin Valley in California. The area presents a unique cartographic challenge, as the landscape is generally very flat with small hills to the east. Developing visually appealing shaded reliefs for landscapes with relatively minor elevation changes can be somewhat difficult. To overcome this challenge, I built up a color ramp in Photoshop using multiple layers, each individually altered. Texture was developed using a curvature layer. Croplands, water features, and structures were digitized using imagery from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP).

The map was developed using ArcGIS Pro, ArcMap, and Adobe Photoshop.

Please note that certain features and labels have been removed and titles have been changed to protect the privacy of landowners in this area.

Recently, I came across Bradford Washburn’s map, “The Heart of the Grand Canyon.” The map was published in 1978 by National Geographic.

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Image Source: ICA Commission on Map Design

Unlike cartographers today that have access to mountains of geospatial data to produce maps accurately and quickly, Washburn had to produce the data himself. The entire process of planning, fieldwork, and map production took eight years. The final product is considered the most beautiful map of the Grand Canyon ever created.

I thought it would be fun to attempt a quick reproduction of Washburn’s map using modern technology tools. I used the image above as a reference. The colors in this photo are not quite true to the original map, but I liked them, and so used it as the reference.

Washburn’s original map contains cooler colors that represent the true colors of the Grand Canyon according to his observation.

Screenshot_4

Image Source: National Geographic

I wanted to use warmer colors that, to me, correspond to the vision of the Grand Canyon that I hold in my imagination. Admittedly, Washburn’s use of tone and contrast produce a far more interesting and beautiful visual experience.

I used ArcGIS Pro, Photoshop, and Illustrator to create the map and elements. Data sources include the National Elevation Dataset, the United States Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and National Agriculture Imagery Program.

Here’s my version below (and in the page banner above).

GrandCanyonReferenceMap_36x48_Port_20200206_1543_HoodRiver_Oregon_Muhl_ContourLabels_2200

To conclude, Washburn’s map and the story behind it are sensational. The surveying and cartographic skill that went into producing it are beyond words. However, it is amazing how far GIS/cartography has developed technologically. Washburn’s map required eight years to produce. Today, with ESRI and Adobe products, we can all create decent looking maps in a tiny fraction of the time. Production time on this 36″ x 48″ map was about four to five days.

Below, the two maps are compared side by side. With more time, I would strive to enhance contrast in the color ramp for the canyon area. Additionally, I would increase the contrast between highlights and shadows in the plateaus.

Thanks for reading my post! Best wishes to all!

Update 2/15/2020:

I found a little time and was able to make the changes that I discussed above. I believe that by adjusting the color ramp to achieve more variation and contrast between colors, and increasing highlights in the plateau areas, the map has more character. Here’s the new version below.

GrandCanyon_36x48_Port_20200215_2103_HoodRiver_Oregon_Muhl_960

I’ve been working on a number of small projects recently, mostly related to cartography. I recently produced an ice-mass recession map of the Columbia Glacier area in Washington state. With this map, I explored ways to depict the loss of ice-mass over time. The ice-mass data in this map was obtained by classifying and digitizing Landsat satellite imagery. Landsat images of this area became available in 1984. The red polygons in the map show the approximate extent of ice mass on August 4, 1984. The light blue polygons show the approximate extent of ice mass on August 5, 2019. In future maps, I will include charts of recession over time with respect to unit of area.

© 2019 Chris Muhl Art

A few years ago I started laying down the framework for a web map called the Human Impact Map. However, after several weeks of coding, work pulled me away from the project. Since then, the map concept has lingered in the back of my mind. From time to time, I have searched the Internet hoping to find a similar project given the value that I believe something like this can offer. I thought that National Geographic or Google or some other company with robust, mapping tools would embark on a similar endeavor. I’ve found that small attempts have been made, but I have yet to see the concept built out into a fully immersive and interactive web map experience. Unfortunately, I lack the Javascript/JQuery knowledge to develop the concept as it is envisioned in my mind, but I have made an attempt. With the functionality mostly in place, I am now building out the map categories.

The alpha release is now available for viewing. Click here to check out the map. Please note that there are still many bugs that need to be worked out. The primary issue relates to the zoom function. Currently, it is best to interact with the map markers and popups from the default zoom extent. To return to the default zoom extent, click the home button or refresh your screen.

Thank you all for your support!

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to exhibit my work at West Elm Los Angeles. This three-day event made it possible for me to reveal my artwork and the cause that I promote to hundreds of West Elm customers.

Some people have asked me, why West Elm? Why not place your art in a gallery? It is said that art holds three primary values, 1) aesthetic, 2) social, and 3) commercial. In developing artwork to promote causes, the social value is extremely important me. I want the cause of my artwork to reach a broad audience. With their roster of clients and designed to cater to art lovers, galleries are an excellent place to sell artwork, and I do hope to have my work in galleries. However, foot traffic through most galleries is a tiny fraction of that moving through a major interior furnishings company. West Elm LA’s weekend foot traffic reaches roughly 2,000 people per day. That’s some major exposure for Drawings for Africa!

During the event, dozens of people took the time to read through the materials that I had presented about African elephants. I spoke with people from all walks of life. I met many people who knew about the current poaching crises, but I also met many who did not. An exhibition for elephants in a gallery might draw elephants lovers from far and wide, and I might sell more work. But elephant lovers aren’t generally ivory consumers. In getting my work and its message in front of everyday consumers, perhaps I was able to inform one or more potential ivory buyers of the true impact of their actions.

It means so much to me that a major interior furnishings company has supported my artwork and the cause. Thank you West Elm for this incredible opportunity!!

What I love most about art is the opportunity to develop an experience in which the audience can feel a connection. I strive to create works that have value, both aesthetically and socially. To achieve this, I enjoy merging mediums. I find that mixed media provides me with a broader range of possibilities for expression.

Two of my favorite mediums are wood and metal. For My Life for an Ivory Trinket, I have designed brass, corner accents to accentuate the message of the work. Development of the accents was a multi-step process integrating Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, AutoCAD, and 3D printing and laser cutting technologies.



Created from African designs, each accent contains a primary symbol with a meaning relevant to environmental protection.


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In the upper left corner, the primary symbol is symbolic of knowledge, and the human capacity to learn and grow. Resolving the environmental issues of our time will require a continued commitment to improving our knowledge of the natural world and the effects of the material world upon it.

In the upper right corner, the primary symbol represents the importance of Mother Earth and her role in sustaining life. Our planet provides, not only all the resources that make life possible, but also critical ecosystem services that cannot be replaced by human-made systems. To ensure a viable future for all life, we must protect nature.

In the lower left corner, the primary symbol signifies learning from the past. If we are to create a sustainable way of life, we must strive to learn from our mistakes, and move forward with the wisdom of lessons learned. We must act deliberately and consider the true long-term consequences of our actions.

In the lower right corner, the primary symbol represents the importance of striving for the best in human endeavors. The environmental troubles of our time can only be resolved if we strive to be the ideal version of ourselves. This requires an honest evaluation of our individual impact on the world, and the will to change our ways.

In preparation for moving My Life for an Ivory Trinket for shows and exhibitions, I built an art exhibit stand.

My goal was to create a stand that can, 1) withstand the weight of the artwork, 2) be rolled around easily, and 3) matches the visual appearance of the artwork.

The design interates wood and steel to create a strong structure that is also visually appealing.

I want to thank Schlosser Machine Inc. of Hood River, Oregon for welding up the base brackets. They were able to provide a finished product within 24 hours. I am extremely impressed with the quality of their work and the amazingly quick turnaround!

After a few weeks in Portland for scanning and framing, My Life for an Ivory Trinket is now back at home!

Along the way, I have met some extraordinarily kind and talented people. Tekoah of Pearl Gallery and Framing is constantly amazing me with the breadth and depth of his framing and art history knowledge. Justin of Makers Woodworks created a frame that far exceeded my expectations. And David of Pixelpoint Artistry has done an exceptional job scanning and correcting the digital reproductions of the work. I feel so fortunate to have met each of these individuals.

Thank you everyone for your support!!

Transporting big art has proven to be an interesting experience requiring far more labor than I had expected.

I have already posted about the apparatus that I created to contain the artwork during transport. That apparatus has proven to be quite effective. To learn more, check out my block post titled The Art Transport Apparatus.

In order to transport the art from one location to the next requires renting a U-Haul van or truck. So, I’ve been getting familiar with the ins and outs of renting and driving U-Haul vehicles.

Additionally, to move the art and frame around, I have been using a dolly. However, the casters (wheels) on the off-the-shelf dollies available at hardware stores are small, and I have found that they can easily get caught up on small rocks and cracks. The hard rubber wheels also create a rough ride with a good deal of chatter. To get around this issue, I have created The Dali, designed to provide a smooth ride over rough terrain, keeping the art safe throughout the journey.

After completing DFA No. 1, I set out to create a custom frame. In my mind, a frame is an extension of the artwork, enhancing the experience that I strive to present to the viewer.

I know that many artists struggle with the question of whether or not to frame their work, knowing that a buyer may prefer to choose their own frame. As a mixed media artist, I see the frame as another area for artistic exploration and expression.

DFA No. 1 is meant to reveal the extraordinary texture and beauty of an animal. In creating a frame, I wanted to expose the exquisite color and grain of wood. The aim is to create an experience in which the viewer can see the extraordinary nature of non-human life.

After several hours of researching wood colors and grains, and of developing frame mockups in Photoshop, I decided to use Oregon black walnut acquired from Goby Walnut in Portland, Oregon. The Company specializes in salvaging wood from dead and dying trees.

To build the frame, I chose to hire a carpenter. I went with Makers Woodworks, out of Vancouver, Washington. Their work is exceptional and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.

I have also used Adobe Illustrator, AutoCAD, and 3D printing technology to produce plaques made of a bronze-steel composition. These plaques detail the frame maker, the artist, the artwork title, date, location and so forth.

I strive to produce galvanizing works in which every detail is addressed at the highest level of quality. I hope that the audience and the buyer of DFA No. 1 can see the love and passion that went into this piece.

With the artwork completed, the next challenge is transporting it safely into Portland to have it scanned to produce prints, and then to have it framed.

The artwork is about 50″ wide and 70″ tall and is delicate. I thought about attaching handles and wheels to the easel and leaving the artwork taped to it. However, the easel is too big, too heavy, and too awkward to maneuver.

The challenge was to create an apparatus that was sturdy, compact, and lightweight. I initially envisioned building something out of wood, but I was concerned about weight. I then drew up a design using PVC pipe. This would be lightweight, but I would it be rigid enough? Additionally, I don’t like using so much plastic if I can avoid it. I decided to go to Home Depot and look around and brainstorm.

Then I saw the 1/2″ copper pipe. Would 1/2″ copper pipe be strong enough? I looked back to my days sweating pipe with a landscaping company. I remembered sweated pipe being pretty sturdy.

Then I thought about oxidation. Humidity is on the dry side where I live, and the apparatus will be kept indoors. Oxidation should occur fairly slowly.

I quickly sketched out a design, bought the materials, and got to work. The final product should last for years, and will also serve as a means of storage, or a display board for finished artwork and prints.

The video below shows the process and final product.

The Elephant Arrives

I am excited to announce that DFA #1 is finished!

It has been nearly two years since I began the Drawings for Africa project in the summer of 2017. In total, I have made 4,902 measurements to ensure that all elements of the drawing are in near perfect proportion to one another, and that all wrinkles, folds, and other features are true to life. Using scientific sampling techniques and GIS software, I have been able to estimate the number of shapes that I have drawn in developing the texture of the skin. DFA #1 contains around 205,000 discernable shapes within a figure that is 35.5” wide by 50.5” tall. To draw a comparison, it is said that on a cloudless and moonless night, a full-sky reveals to the human eye around 9,000 discernable stars.

It is my hope that DFA #1 finds a home in a place open to public viewing. In my mind, art achieves its most valuable service when it inspires an audience to feel an intimate connection with the world beyond the self or encourages the viewer to contemplate the morality of their own way of life.

When we question the morality of our interactions with the world, compassion is alive within us, and there remains a potential to achieve greater degrees of equality among all life. But when we become indifferent, when we no longer question right and wrong, nor the impact of our actions on the world, we lose the ability to grow and progress together and to the benefit of one another. Questioning the goodness of our actions marks the difference between being truly alive, and somewhat dead inside. It is this deadness that I seek to change through art.

As the writer, Viktor Shklovsky remarked, “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.”

We tend to accept life in the form in which it is handed to us. We adopt ways of living defined by technological innovation. And our interactions with the world are shaped by the ideologies of our time and the forces of social conditioning. But the abundant extravagances of the modern world often tarnish the quality of our own lives. As many people have remarked, we are so busy trying to experience everything, that we no longer feel the full substance of anything. And all too often, our encounters with the animate life occur through the inanimate window of technology. So, the stone loses its texture and the rose its fragrance.

Drawings for Africa is every ounce of the artist and environmentalist within me poured out onto a sheet of paper. It’s my attempt to “make the stone stony,” and to help an audience avoid the deadness of indifference.

Thanks for reading!!