© 2020 Chris Muhl Art. All rights reserved.

The Blog

A New Reality

The Trump presidency has been an eye-opening experience that calls into question the condition of our society. Prior to this presidency, I had no idea how politically polarized our country had become. I had believed that the most extreme division existed only within a small segment of the population. While I still believe this to be true to some degree, I am surprised by the results of the 2020 presidential election. President-elect Joe Biden has won. This is not surprising. However, I find it puzzling that President Trump, a person who, by all accounts, has embraced the capital vices as his guiding principles, has received more than 70 million votes. And I am even more perplexed to read that he has received substantial support from the conservative Christian community.

Desecrating the Moral Code

I am not religious, but I embrace religious values and appreciate the role that religion plays in promoting moral behavior in our society. As an outsider, I look upon the Christian community in bewilderment. In an article published on November 8th, 2019 by the National Catholic Reporter, the journalist Michael Sean Winters wrote:

“But, what we see with President Donald Trump and his cast of sycophants and co-conspirators — some of them beginning to flee the sinking ship on advice of counsel — is a rare thing: All seven deadly sins on display at once.”

Link to the National Catholic Reporter article: https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/distinctly-catholic/seven-deadly-sins-donald-trump

In my youth, I attended an Episcopal elementary school and a Catholic high school. I was taught the difference between right and wrong behavior from the Christian perspective. While I am not well-versed in all teachings of Christianity, I do not think considerable teaching is necessary to see the immorality of the President’s behavior. He is grossly consumed by the cardinal sins and incessantly violates several of the Ten Commandments. The man is the embodiment of sin.

Am I missing something?

This is an individual consumed by lust (adultery, e.g., affairs with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, and sexual harassment, e.g., Trump’s recorded confessions regarding his behavior with women, including the obscene “Grab ‘em by the p-ssy” remark), gluttony (as detailed by Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump, in her book Too Much and Never Enough), greed (a clearly insatiable, lifelong quest for money, fame, and power), sloth (negligence in fulfilling the duties of the President of the United States as described by John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Advisor, in his book, The Room Where it Happened), wrath (Trump’s “Thumbs of Wrath” have provided a well-documented record of extreme anger on Twitter), envy (adulation of dictators and autocrats, again as alluded to by John Bolton in his book, The Room Where it Happened), and pride (examples too numerous to mention, but on display every day).

How could anyone who sees value in morality vote to promote this egregious behavior in our society?

Perhaps the answer lies within the President’s own comment, “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

I find myself wondering, where is the line at which point the President’s supporters turn away? Does this line even exist? Is there no crime this man can commit that would dissuade his core from supporting him?

Sadly, and alarmingly, I fear that there is no crime against law, religion, or morality that this man could commit that would repel his core.

What does this mean for our society? What does this mean for the future of our Nation? Is the path forward characterized by unity or increasing divisions?

Divisions

Romans 16:17–18

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

While these words were spoken to uphold faith within the Christian community, I believe they apply to any set of beliefs, be they religious, political, or moral.

Over the past four years, it has been disheartening to see overwhelming support for elected officials “who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the” moral norms of our society and the fundamental principles of the US Constitution.

The Importance of Respecting the Moral Standard

While morality, in a descriptive sense, varies from culture to culture, every society must embrace some moral standard if it wishes to maintain a foundation upon which it can delineate conduct that is right from conduct that is wrong. In the United States, this standard arose over centuries of religious and philosophical deliberation, cultural evolution, and more modern contributions from the field of psychology. Morals are fundamental to the maintenance of societal order. As such, defiance of the moral standard disintegrates the cohesive and harmonious character of a healthy society.

It is bewildering to watch crowds of Americans cheering for leaders who entirely and incessantly defy the moral standard. To be clear, to bully, to lie and deceive, to incite violence, to spur social division, to cheat, to perpetuate fraud, to commit adultery and sexual harassment, these are not virtuous acts. And to indulge in, or support anyone who indulges in such behavior, not only undermines our Nation’s moral standard, but destabilizes the security and viability of the institutions of our society.

Failure to Uphold the Oath of Office

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

When I read the preamble to the US Constitution, I think of the Presidential Oath of Office, that is:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”


Has the President fulfilled his Oath of Office?

When I read the words, “in Order to form a more perfect Union,” I think of the President’s interminable stream of divisive rhetoric and the social and political divisions that have arisen in consequence.

When I think of the establishment of “Justice,” I see only the President’s improprieties and his ongoing attempts to evade justice via the deplorable abuse of legal mechanisms.

When I envision a president, who works to “insure domestic Tranquility,” I certainly do not picture a leader who, by the reckless use of divisive rhetoric and obstinate refusal to condemn hatred and racism, fuels violent protests and domestic terrorism.

When I contemplate the President’s Oath to “provide for the common defense,” I think of Article I of the Articles of Impeachment Against Donald John Trump. Specifically, how the solicitation of interference from a foreign government exposes our electoral process to the influence of foreign powers.

In reading the words, “promote the general Welfare,” I see the greatest failure of all. I think of the 258,000 (as of 11/24/2020) Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and of the millions of family members and friends who are now grieving. I contemplate the impact of the President’s negligence and his incomprehensible defiance of sound guidance from medical experts. And I wonder how many lives could have been saved had we the blessing of adequate leadership.

Ethical Fading Distorts Rationalization

Despite all that I have said, my greatest concern for the well-being of American society is not the current presidency. Presidents and their administrations come and go. What troubles me most is the apparent fading of ethics among voters.

The President’s transgressions likely extend far beyond what I have mentioned in this post. After leaving office, he faces a litany of lawsuits, including defamation suits involving rape (E. Jean Carroll) and sexual assault (Summer Zervos), along with potential indictments for insurance and bank-related fraud, tax evasion, and grand larceny.

Given that the President’s unethical conduct jeopardizes the stability of the Nation’s institutions, I struggle to understand why people would cast their vote in his favor. Have people made ethical sacrifices to rationalize their vote, or have they simply tossed the whole of morality out the door?

From what I have seen in the news, I have come to believe that many Americans have embraced an idea that they can support leaders that every day defile the entirety of society’s moral standard, yet so long as they (the supporters) do not commit the sinful acts themselves, their hands are clean.

This calls to my mind the words of the character Mildred Hayes in the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

“Y’know what I was thinking about today?


I was thinking ’bout those street gangs they got in Los Angeles, the Crips and the Bloods?


I was thinking about that buncha new laws they came up with, in the 1980’s I think it was, to combat those street-gangs, those Crips and those Bloods.


And, if I remember rightly, the gist of what those new laws were saying was if you join one of these gangs, and you’re running with ’em, and down the block from you one night, unbeknownst to you, one of your fellow Crips, or your fellow Bloods, shoot up a place, or stab a guy, well, even though you didn’t know nothing about it, even though you may’ve just been standing on a street corner minding your own business, what these new laws said was you’re still culpable.


You’re still culpable, by the very act of joining those Crips, or those Bloods, in the first place.


Which got me thinking, Father, that whole type of situation is kinda like your Church boys, ain’t it?


You’ve got your colors, you’ve got your clubhouse, you’re, for want of a better word, a gang.


And if you’re upstairs smoking a pipe and reading a bible while one of your fellow gang members is downstairs f-king an altar boy then, Father, just like the Crips, and just like the Bloods, you’re culpable.


Cos you joined the gang, man.


And I don’t care if you never did sh-t or never saw sh-t or never heard sh-t.


You joined the gang.


You’re culpable.”

We the People

As established by the Constitution, We the People have the power to determine how we will be governed. And by our individual and collective actions, we define the character and condition of our Nation. If we vote in a way that promotes immoral behavior in our society, our hands are not clean. We are guilty of perpetuating immorality. We are culpable.

We may not agree with one another on health care, on foreign policy, on immigration, on gun policy, on climate change, on abortion, and so on. However, if we desire to live in a Nation in which we can vote to promote the values that we believe in, we must agree to act in accordance with a moral standard that maintains societal order and preserves the functions of our Constitution. To do otherwise, is to sew corruption into the fabric our way of life.

I have heard people make statements to the effect of, I do not condone the President’s behavior, but I prefer his (or conservative) policies to the alternative. In response, I think of the words of Henry David Thoreau:

“What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”

Well, what is the use of policy if you haven’t got a tolerable government to enforce it?

Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice is irrelevant in a society in which corruption impedes the effective application of law. Of what value is the Second Amendment if the power of the Constitution has been undermined by the People’s tolerance of unconstitutional behavior?

We must remember that one of the primary functions of the Constitution is to limit power, and in so doing, prevent corruption. Think of the words of John Dalberg-Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The principles of Separation of Power and Checks and Balances established by our Founding Fathers are intended to prevent “absolute corruption” by limiting the powers wielded by any one person or any one branch of government.

The political turmoil of the past four years is the consequence of a President desperately grasping for absolute power and a Constitution restraining him from attaining his goal. Take a long hard look at the President’s actions and tell me this isn’t so. If given the opportunity to seize authoritarian rule, do you honestly believe President Trump would refuse it? Both his character and his actions suggest that he would embrace it and abuse it for personal gain. In his book, The Room Where it Happened, John Bolton (a staunch conservative) clearly reveals that every action the President made was done only in consideration of how it would benefit himself and his reelection prospects.

Corruption is an ill that blackens all that it contacts. If left unabated within the highest ranks of government, it will in time permeate all branches of government and all the institutions of society: economy, education, healthcare, and so on. If you doubt my words, simply look to the effects of corruption in other nations.

Folks, this is the United States of America, not Russia, not China, not North Korea. For 244 years, we have evaded the ills of authoritarianism and tyranny by upholding a moral standard that preserves the democratic ideals of our Constitution and ensures our “unalienable Rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is not to say that injustice and oppression have not occurred. They certainly have and continue to, but in the broadest sense, justice and liberty have improved dramatically. And if we wish to see continued social development in this country, we must embrace a form of patriotism that truly promotes American ideals and protects our freedoms.

Increasingly, I see a peculiar phenomenon in which people seem to believe that acting out a right, such as bearing arms in public, equates to the protection of that right. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unnecessarily waving a gun in public doesn’t protect the Second Amendment. Wielding firearms in front of children and unarmed women and men doesn’t protect the Second Amendment. Attempting to intimidate voters at polling sites by brandishing assault rifles doesn’t protect the Second Amendment (it’s also illegal, see Title 18 U.S. Code § 594. Intimidation of voters). These acts only create controversy. These acts only serve to call into question whether the Second Amendment should be repealed. Freedoms (e.g., the right to keep and bear arms) can make people feel more secure. However, abuses of freedoms (e.g., the right to bear arms) by a small group of outliers, can make the majority of people (voters) feel insecure. When this occurs, the majority may very well vote to trade certain freedoms for a feeling of increased security. In other words, increasing restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms are the fault of those who, by their behavior, convinced the majority that society would be safer with increased gun control.

As another example, protesting police brutality by rioting and looting the businesses of innocent Americans only reinforces the need for law enforcement. The First Amendment ensures that we can peaceably assemble and exercise the right of freedom of speech. And as history has shown repeatedly, speech is infinitely powerful. There is a reason why Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s words, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” has endured for almost 200 years. Protesters need not employ violence to be effective. As described by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, the most powerful moments of the civil rights movement were achieved when peaceful protests fostered a violent reaction from law enforcement. If we want to enact change, we need not act violently. Violence only begets violence and creates increasing social divisions that weaken our society. Rather, we must act cleverly within the framework of morality. The clever mind is more apt to enact change than the violent. The clever thinker, who cares not only for his or her group, but for all of humankind, can achieve victories that benefit everyone.

Our system of government is not perfect. Injustices occur. There is much to be improved. However, unlike so many other countries, we possess a Constitution that defends our individual freedoms and enables our collective dream of what this Nation should be, to become reality.

If we truly want to protect the freedoms afforded to us by our Constitution and create a more equitable society, we have to protect the Constitution itself. This means respecting, not abusing the rights that we enjoy. This means preserving the moral standard of our society and voting for representatives that act in accordance with the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Patriotism requires working together to champion American ideals.

Furthermore, we must understand that the preservation, protection, and defense of the Constitution is not the sole responsibility of the President of the United States, but the collective responsibility of all Americans. As such, We the People must never allow corruption to prevail. We must never allow the immortality that fuels corruption to permeate our institutions unabated. We must never allow incessant abuses of power to go unchecked and unpunished. It is our duty, the People’s duty, to ensure that absolute power and absolute corruption never prevail. To do this, is to be an American patriot.

Exploring New Mapping Methods

I love to explore new ways to visualize spatial information. Lately, I have been working on techniques to transform 3D models into 3D maps using ArcGIS Pro, ArcMap, ArcScene, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

I recently completed a 3D recreation map for Hood River, Oregon. Hood River provides extraordinary outdoor recreation opportunities, including windsurfing/kiteboarding, whitewater rafting/kayaking, flatwater kayaking/paddle boarding, mountain biking, hiking, and fishing. With so much to do, I thought a general reference map would be a useful tool for locals and tourists alike.

Using 3D Models to Enhance Spatial Awareness

The map is intended to serve as a visual tool, enabling people to quickly locate areas where they can enjoy recreational activities. For example, the map contains all the mountain biking trails of Post Canyon (one of Oregon’s top mountain biking destinations), along with trail ratings and information about the features they will encounter, such as berms, jumps, gap jumps, drops, and wooden ramps. Other information in the map includes launch sites for windsurfing and kiteboarding, kayaking and paddle boarding spots, local trails and trail heads, local parks, scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, and popular fishing locations.

Data Collection

The Map is a compilation of public domain data obtained via Federal, State, and Local government online and print resources. I supplemented existing trail data with data obtained in the field using a recreational grade Garmin GPS unit.

In field data collection is one of my favorite parts of any mapping project. For this endeavor, I mapped all of the non-motorized, motorcycle, ATV, and 4×4 trails on a mountain bike. Over the course of five days, I road about 120 miles and strained through roughly 25,000 feet of climbing. The end result is a complete trail dataset that I know is accurate and up-to-date.

Using ArcGIS Pro, I processed the trail data and then digitized it in Illustrator.

Achieving Relevance

I had initially set out to create a mountain biking trail map, but as it came together, I saw that it might offer increased utility as a general recreation map. While Hood River is a hot-spot for mountain biking, the adjacent Columbia River Gorge is world-renowned for windsurfing/kiteboarding, fishing, and sightseeing. As such, I expanded to include most recreational opportunities in the nearby area.

A Value Driven Approach

In creating the map, I sought to provide answers to questions that I have had while living here. For example, when I first moved to Hood River, I wanted to know which mountain biking trails had berms, jumps, and drops. Unfortunately, local trail maps only provide ratings, and online maps can be surprisingly time consuming to navigate. In this map, I have attempted to make information easily accessible. I provide information, such as trail descriptions, park locations, and fishing opportunities, in visual depictions that I hope can be interpreted quickly and effectively.

Project Highlights

Wandering Through the Woods

There is something oddly exciting about not knowing exactly where you are, especially in a forest. The Post Canyon trail network is spectacular. However, some of the 4×4 trails above the Green Point Reservoirs are not so easy to follow. At times, I believe they blend into old dozer lines from the Eagle Creek Fire. Other times, they simply seem to vanish, and I’d find myself walking through the forest hoping to find the trail again. To track some elusive trails, I spent considerable time comparing contours on a print map with those on my GPS. So much time in fact, that eventually the print map just gave up. Note to self, “practice better map care, and/or bring two maps.” Especially, if you’re wandering off the beaten path.

Incredible Views

The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen. The Gorge lies between snow-capped volcanoes and contains an abundance of waterfalls and breathtaking views. And Sunsets over the Columbia River are, well, as Sam Neill put it in the Hunt for the Wilderpeople, “Pretty majestical…” If you haven’t seen the Gorge, I highly recommend that you come check it out… when it’s safe to travel again.

If you’re ever riding the Post Canyon trails, be sure to check out this lookout. It’s off the 160 trail, slightly northeast of the junction of Riordan Hill Dr. and Forest Road 1006. Though not in the photo, Mount Saint Helens is also visible from this lookout.

I hope you’re all well and keeping safe. Wishing you all the best this holiday season!

Winter is fast approaching here in Northern Oregon. Temperatures are starting to dip below freezing. Growth in the Gardens has slowed almost to a standstill.

I am amazed how much these two little gardens have provided. The first round of radishes were harvested around the 20th of April. Now, more than six month later, we are still harvesting kale and broccoli.

It has been rewarding learning about how to grow and harvest food. And who knows, with the uncertainty that climate change brings, it may be increasingly important for all of us to learn about and reconnect with the basics of self-sufficiency and sustainable living. Luckily, nature does most of the work. All we have to do invest a little time and a little love.

I hope you all are doing well and continuing to stay safe. Happy holidays!

Here are a few highlights from the 2020 growing season.

The tools and techniques of science provide extraordinary opportunities to document and analyze the world around us. With each passing year, researchers among the various branches of science (astronomy, botany, physics, chemistry…) make new discoveries and unlock the mysteries of our planet and the universe beyond. In the process, they generate mountains of data.

In geospatial science, the branch of science that I studied in college, we work with spatial data. In other words, information about a particular location. Satellite imagery is an example of spatial data. It is a snapshot of a particular location on the surface of the Earth. Land ownership boundaries, such as parcel data and the boundaries of the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) are another example. Stream locations and classifications are also spatial data.

In the US, most federal, state, and local government agencies utilize geospatial science to record and analyze events unfolding upon the lands they manage. The result is a wealth of publicly available spatial data.

The end product(s) of most geospatial projects is a map. And here is where the fun begins! Cartography, aka “map making,” provides endless opportunities to explore the art of science. Cartographers combine cartographic tools and techniques with principles of fine art to transform spatial data into fascinating depictions of moments in time. In this way, the cartographer bridges the gap between science and art and marries the instruments of the scientific process with those of the artistic. For example, while a GPS unit is a means of recording a position, it is also an initial step in the cartographic journey to a work of visual art. The record obtained via the push of a button in the field will be transformed by the click of mouse into a visual product that is “hopefully” perceived as something beautiful and informative.

I recently finished a project in which I had the opportunity to enjoy the full process of map production, from in-situ data collection to printing. And I was fortunate to be given considerable creative freedom.

The project objective was to develop a reference/operations map for a privately owned property. The client requested a final product that could be appreciated within the home as a work of art and utilized in the field as a tool for day-to-day operations.

The process integrated data collected via a desktop study with data collected on-sight with Garmin and Trimble products. Extensive digitizing was conducted on aerial images to record features both within and beyond the boundaries of the property. Data was processed and transformed using Trimble Pathfinder, DNR Garmin, ArcGIS Pro, ArcMap, Adobe Photoshop (for raster elements), Adobe Illustrator (for vector elements), and MS Excel.

In the end, several print maps were developed and either framed or laminated.

Here’s the end product. I can only provide low resolution images of the entire final map to ensure the client’s privacy, but I hope it conveys how spatial data can be transformed into functional artwork.

One of the challenges that I encountered was developing a color ramp and visually appealing hillshade for a relatively flat area. In my experience, it is much easier to develop an attractive color ramp for a mountainous area where the wider range of elevation values enables a more striking transition of color. Additionally, I wanted to use earthy colors to generate a somewhat natural looking backdrop for the content within the map. The use of a curvature layer, along with vertical exaggeration enhanced the character of the final shaded relief.

Another challenge involved labeling. With over 500 labels in the map, ensuring that all were legible, while not detracting from the visual appeal of the map was a little tricky. I initially used halos around each label to ensure that they were legible. However, matching halo colors to background colors is, not only time consuming, but inherently flawed in that background colors can vary considerably within the distance of label. The end result is a halo than blends well into the background for only part of the label. Ultimately, I used masking on all labels to create a halo-like effect, but without the color issue. Masking essentially hides all data within a specified distance of the label, revealing the background color, which in this case contrasts well with the label color. In the following image, the masking effect is most discernable where the lower arm of the letter “E” crosses the dirt road.

For the legend, I opted for a fairly simple structure. The layout resembles legends found in older maps. I find that a combination of considerable white space and perfectly aligned items create an aesthetically pleasing effect.

Thanks for reading!

I previously posted about a Grand Canyon map reproduction that I developed with ArcGIS Pro. As mentioned before, I was curious to test ESRI’s new software and to see how quickly a decent reproduction could be produced. I discussed this all in my previous post, so I won’t bore you with the details here. However, I decided to do a full-size print to hang on the wall. This is the final step in the map production process. So, I wanted to share it here.

This is the first test print. If you look closely, you may notice some dark lines in the images. These will be removed and the final map will be printed on fine art paper and then framed.

CMA_GrandCanyon_1800w

CMA_GrandCanyon_1800w_3

CMA_GrandCanyon_1800w_2

I’m working on a framing concept. Here’s a simple mock-up.

GrandCanyon_DarkHydrography_36x48_Port_20200716_2253_HoodRiver_Oregon_Muhl_1800w_Thick_Walnut

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re all doing well, learning new survival skills, and finding unique ways to have fun and enjoy life.

This here’s a garden update.

CMA_Garden_2

The first garden came together nicely. It is so incredible to watch nature just doing its thing; plant seeds, give them water, and sit back and watch. I also marvel at the thought that these plants are performing the same internal functions, growing in the same soil, drawing in the same water and minerals, yet they produce flavors that are so unique from one another.

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I’ve been enjoying gardening so much that I decided to expand. Collecting stones from around the property, I’ve been able to create two garden areas.

CMA_Garden_4

The gardens lie on a slight slope, so they are sunken into the earth on the uphill side, and fairly level with the surrounding area on the downhill side. Basalt stones and boulders line the perimeter. Additionally, I trenched the perimeter of each garden and lay slate down vertically to a depth of about 14″. This is meant to serve as a natural gopher and mole barrier. So far it’s working. However, not so much for the cats.

Unfortunately, our furry friends were playing around in the garden and trampling the veggies. So, I had to build a fence around each area. I found a heap of free wood scraps at a local lumberyard. I grabbed a few pieces and ripped them into stakes.

CMA_Garden_1

While spending time in the garden, I have noticed that there are ants everywhere. A quick Google search revealed that ants are great for insect control. And sure enough, I see the ants combing the leaves of our vegetables for other insects. Or, perhaps they’re just farming aphids, which I hear they also do. Either way, it’s enjoyable to create a space in which life thrives.

I’ve also planted marigolds and sweet alyssum around perimeter, but they have yet to arrive. These two flowers are supposed to attract beneficial insects to the garden.

All in all, creating the gardens and growing veggies has been a fairly simple project. If you have a little space and some time, I highly recommend the experience.

Again, I hope you are all well and finding unique ways to be productive during these days of COVID-19. Wishing you all the best.

Dear Friends,

What an interesting situation we are in. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well during these trying times.

While we are separated by distance, we are united in circumstance. We share the same concerns. We share the same hopes. It is not often the thoughts of everyone on Earth dwell in this degree of unity.

I recall a book I read some time ago. The author wrote of interviews with survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and of his surprise in hearing survivors describe the event as one of the most magnificent times of their lives. The earthquake killed an estimated 3,000 people, and ignited fires that burned roughly 500 city blocks and left 400,000 residents homeless. Yet, despite the devastation, an air of unity arose. A community of people united in circumstance came together, bonded with one another, and in caring for the well-being of each other, triumphed over despair. For survivors, the memory of this camaraderie was cherished for a lifetime.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual incident in that we cannot physically unite. Many of the traditional ways in which people find solace, such as group exercise, therapy, or congregated prayer, are beyond the boundary of safety. So, it is a time in which introspection and creativity must flourish. We must find ways to soothe our emotional and physical condition and to keep the mind actively engaged. As the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”

Luckily, technological solutions for mediated conversation abound. We can unite with family, and friends, and communities virtually. And the Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for learning and entertaining. But the virtual world has its limitations. Movies, TV series, and online entertainment eventually become quite numbing.

I often think about the transformation of entertainment over time and how it ties into our concept of “progress.” Today’s entertainment is characterized by immediate and effortless, short-term gratification. I am not sure this is “progress.” Today’s entertainment offers little to personal or social development. We watch movies and TV series, we watch hours of YouTube videos, we play video games, but all too often, we gain nothing from them that lasts in the long-term. In fact, often we are actually just watching others who are doing interesting things with their lives, while we are just sitting, numbly watching. There was a time when entertainment fostered personal and social development. I think of the days of Jane Austen, when entertainment was walking in the woods (physical development), reading a book and conversing about its content (intellectual development), and playing music together (social development). Today, many of us are simply watching the people who are doing these things. We are watching the athletes who wander in the woods. We are watching the intellets presenting their TED talks. We are watching the musicians playing their instruments. We are watching, watching, watching, while they are doing, doing, doing. Yet, all of us possess the capacity to be a doer of any skill. We can all wander in the woods. We can all become an expert on any topic. We can all learn to play and sing and dance.

Well, here we are now, confined to our houses. What a wonderful time to reenvision the entertainment in our lives. What a perfect time to be doing and growing. Better still, we can share this experience with those around us, either physically or virtually, and improve the condition of our relationships and social bonds. We can foster camaraderie by encouraging each other to learn and grow and supporting one another as we do so.

While this is a trying time for most, I believe it can be a time of tremendous growth. As a muscle does not develop without strain, the mind does not develop without toil. Struggle is what makes us strong. And strong we will certainly become as we persevere through these trying times.

As for myself, I’m taking this time to learn more about the condition of our world. I recently read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent climate change synthesis report. And I am currently reading the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Future of Food And Agriculture report and a book on the threat of climate change to national security. For anyone who wants to know what we’re in for in the coming decades (including the increasing threat of infectious diseases), I highly recommend these readings.

Here are the links to these materials:

The IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report
The United Nations FAO Future of Food and Agriculture, Alternative Pathways to 2050 report
Daniel Moran’s Climate Change and national Security, A Country-Level Analysis

It has been said that what humans seek most, is the sense of purpose. And I have read that in times of disaster, people who seek and embrace roles of purpose fare better than those who do not. In studies of people who have been stranded at sea or lost in the woods, a common characteristic in survivors is the tendency to assume a role of value to the individual’s or group’s survival. For example, taking on the role of gathering food or checking a lifeboat for leaks every morning. These roles keep the mind focused on the tasks of survival, reduce the mind’s tendency to panic, and create a sense of purpose. This seems commonsensical, right?

With this in mind, I have taken some time to create a garden with my family. It’s amazing how soothing gardening is. And it has been truly exciting watching these little plants grow! In filling up the day with various roles, I keep my mind engaged and provide value to the family, which in turn, creates a sense of purpose.

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Watching the growth of plants within our garden, and the beauty of the natural world awakening from a winter’s rest, calls to my mind the words of Richard Dawkins, “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous-indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”

So, it is that nature has brought the material kingdom to a standstill, while at the same time it provides us with the boundless beauty of Spring. Here in Oregon, the trees are budding and blooming. The flowers are giving their gift to the world; pollen for the birds and bees, and beauty for the passerbys.

Should you find yourself bored, don’t forget there’s a wonderful natural world out there just waiting to be enjoyed.

In sharing the activities of my days, I hope to have encouraged you to try something new, to discover new purpose, and to learn and grow, if you are not already do so.

To everyone out there, I wish you the best possible outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope you and your family and friends are safe. For those of you who have lost loved ones, I am so sorry for your loss. My heart and thoughts go out to you in this time of sorrow.

I hope in the future, those politicians in the highest levels of leadership will respond more appropriately to such events to prevent such catastrophic consequences. Hopefully, lessons will be learned from this pandemic, and measures will be put in place to mitigate the severity of similar events in the decades to come.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.