virtualDavis \ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur. Thu, 19 Nov 2015 21:27:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 My Cartoon Crush on Ximena Maier Thu, 19 Nov 2015 21:26:53 +0000 Ximena Maier (Source

Ximena Maier (Source

Ximena Maier () is a madrileña (but Scotland-based) illustrator, and she is — sin duda — my newest cartoon crush. My latest doodle dalliance. Right up there with Elizabeth Graeber, Oliver Hoeller (aka the visual flâneur), Mike Lowery, Hallie Bateman, and Keri Smith.

Ximena Maier… has been working as a full time freelance illustrator since 1999, mainly with Spanish newspapers and magazines. She also illustrates cookbooks, travel guides and children’s books. (Source: Ximena Maier)

I discovered Ximena Maier’s whimsical artwork when an Essex friend (and printer) shared a sumptuous letterpressed illustration of a scene from Anna Tasca Lanza‘s Sicilian cooking school. A delicate and doodle-y (not precious) black and white line drawing sumptuously sunken into paper nearly 1/8″ thick… Bliss.

It turns out that most/all of the illustrations at their website,, were created by Ximena Maier. If you like what you find, you may also want to visit Ximena Maier’s food blog, Lobstersquad, and her art blog, Ximenita dibuja.. Enjoy!

]]> 0
Old Books Smell like Vanilla Sun, 11 Oct 2015 20:39:31 +0000

According to this video from Abe Books, “Chemists at University College, London have investigated the old book odor and concluded that old books release hundreds of volatile organic compounds into the air from the paper. The lead scientist described the smell as ‘A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.'” (Source: Huffington Post)

Secondhand bookstore fans are especially attuned to the olfactory wiles of dusty old tomes. Even as many of us shift our reading habits from printed books to digital books, we still wax nostalgic and romantic about the aesthetic pleasures of old book odor. But do old books smell like vanilla?

Stick your nose deep into an old book and inhale deeply… As it turns out, dozens of different chemicals that are emitted by paper, binding, ink, and glue… break down over time… One prominent compound results from the breakdown of lignin, a polymer found in plant cell walls, as well as paper. As it degrades, it’s converted into vanillin, a chemical naturally present in vanilla beans, accounting for the hints of vanilla. (Source: Vox)

I’m keen on old books and I’m keen on vanilla, but I’m not certain that old books smell like vanilla. According to Matija Strlic (the scientist who lead the 2009 study that has fueled recent aromatic rumination on old books), the grassy, tangy, and slightly vanilla smell of old aging books “is as much a part of the book as its contents.” I better keep sniffing…

Hat top to Todd Goff who brought the Vox article to my attention last summer. Yes, I’ve been dawdling and field testing ever since. Conclusions still pending!

]]> 0
Marginalia: Book Traces Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:00:33 +0000 Marginalia: Book Traces

Marginalia: Book Traces

I return to the woeful fate of marginalia in the digital age. It’s worth noting that the image above first startled me as a spider tacked into a tawny tome. But this blessing of mistaken identity introduced me to Book Traces, and I am the richer (and more distracted) for it.

Book Traces is a crowd-sourced web project aimed at identifying unique copies of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century books on library shelves.  Our focus is on customizations made by original owners in personal copies, primarily in the form of marginalia and inserts.

Sponsored by NINES at the University of Virginia and led by Andrew Stauffer, Book Traces is meant to engage the question of the future of the print record in the wake of wide-scale digitization… (Source: Book Traces)

As for that musty, magical photograph above?

Title: The Changed Cross and other Religious Poems
Author: Anonymous
Publication date: New York, 1872
Library: Richter, U Miami
Call number: PR 1191 .R24
Submitted by: Andrew Stauffer
Description: Memorial volume for Annie R. Deering, wife of Charles W. Deering and daughter of Rear Admiral A. Ludlow Case. Annie died just a few days short of their first wedding anniversary. Charles was 23 at the time, and Annie probably about the same age. Printed death notice attached. Gift inscription from Charles to Mary E. Deering, dated a few days after Annie’s death (on their wedding anniversary), November 3, 1876. Flower pinned to dedication page, with small slip dated Dec. 20, 1877. (Source: Book Traces)

]]> 0
Storytelling, Dramatic Arc and Neurochemistry Mon, 14 Sep 2015 15:26:53 +0000 Classic Dramatic Arc: exposition/rising action/climax/falling action/denouement

Classic Dramatic Arc: exposition/rising action/climax/falling action/denouement (Source: Aeon Video)

What does neuroscience have to do with storytelling? What do cortisol and oxytocin have to do with a narrative’s dramatic arc? Perhaps everything!

“Stories that fail to follow the dramatic arc of rising action/climax/denouement—no matter how outwardly happy or pleasant those stories may be—elicit little if any emotional or chemical response…” ~ Dr. William Casebeer (Source: Future of Storytelling)

Too elementary? Too pedantic? Not so quick.

Paul Zak, an econ./psych./mgmt. professor at Claremont Graduate University has lifted the cranial hood on stellar storytelling and discovered that the dramatic arc powers effective storytelling.

“Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry — and that’s what it means to be a social creature.” ~ Paul Zak (Source: Brain Pickings)

Here’s the video you want to watch. And rewatch. And just possibly forward to your writing teachers, partners, mentors,…

Empathy, neurochemistry, and the dramatic arc Neuroscience suggests that the classic dramatic arc can change our brains and spur us to action. In this 6-minute documentary, a neuroscientist’s study suggests that the classic dramatic arc can change our brains and spur us to action. (Paul Zak, Future of StoryTelling 2012)

Here’s a tidy summary if you prefer reading to watching a video:

In this animated exploration of one of his most illuminating experiments, [Paul] Zak discusses the surprisingly calculable effects that the classic dramatic arc (exposition/rising action/climax/falling action/denouement) has on our brain chemistry and, ultimately, on our decisions and actions.

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. (Source: Aeon Video)

Indeed. Repeating and practicing. Thanks, Paul Zak for confirming what we storytellers already knew (or claim to know) but sometimes overlook. Or ignore. At our narrative’s peril!

]]> 0
RIP Authonomy Wed, 19 Aug 2015 11:30:28 +0000 RIP Authonomy: HarperCollins' to close online writer community on October 1, 2015.

RIP Authonomy: HarperCollins to close online writer community on October 1.

It is with great sadness that we must announce the closure of Authonomy.

We created Authonomy in 2008 as a way of discovering new talent by throwing open our doors to unagented, aspiring writers, and asking likeminded writers and readers to help us discover and champion great work…

HarperCollins remains committed to discovering new writers, and this is reflected in our dynamic, genre-focused, digital-first lists such as HarperImpulse, and our open submissions windows for innovative commercial imprints such as Voyager and The Borough Press. We would encourage the very talented members of the vibrant Authonomy community to continue to show us their work through these channels. (Source: Authonomy Blog)

]]> 1
Artists and Illustrators Mon, 08 Jun 2015 18:12:09 +0000 Artists and Illustrators, by Hallie Bateman

Artists and Illustrators, by Hallie Bateman (Source:

Perhaps you’re already familiar with Hallie Bateman (@hallithbates)? She’s a cartoonist and illustrator, and she will make you smile. And laugh. And think. While chuckling. At yourself…

This cartoon answers the inevitable and perennial question:

“What is the difference between art and illustration?” ~ Hallie Bateman

Smile. Laugh. Think. Chuckle. On with the adventure!

]]> 0
Greenfields & Graytones Thu, 12 Mar 2015 13:46:15 +0000

Cancel your conference call. Skip lunch. Toggle your status settings to “Do not disturb.” On everything. Switch your phone to vibrate. Better, turn it off.

Now click the play button (bottom left). Then click the full screen option (bottom rightish).

Greenfields comes to you courtesy of Luis Betancourt, Benjamin Vedrenne, Joseph Coury, Michel Durin and Charly Nzekwu. The graytones are courtesy of your own imagination. Or memory? Saturate the color and invent your escape!

]]> 0
Mark Strand: What I Have to Say Mon, 01 Dec 2014 12:58:00 +0000 Mark Strand

Mark Strand (Credit: The New Yorker)

I usually have no idea what I will say before I begin to write. This is especially true with poems, and only slightly less so with lectures or essays. I write to find out what I have to say—not what I have to say about a given subject, but simply what I have to say. ~ Mark Strand, Poetry in the World

Mark Strand died on Saturday. There are many tributes to recommend including the following:

What I Have to Say

That opening passage above says much for me, though I’m often overly confident about what I think I want to say before I start. I’m almost always mistaken. Overconfident. It takes me some struggling to admit it. Several revisions. Sometimes years. Often humbled, but still stubborn. At best I write through the hubris, break into uncertainty, risk, discovery, perhaps find what I have to say by revising, redacting, rewriting,…

And yet the lesson takes relearning. Again and again.

A Kind of Wonderment

Strand’s entire lecture/essay is worth reading. It’s a clever “inside out” way of wrestling with the challenge he’s been asked to tackle. It’s also a brave and honest reflection on the what and why of poems. A search for what the poet has to say. A search that never quite ends, never quite reaches its quarry.

It is a selfperpetuating search like chasing a mirage that deepens the poet’s (and the reader’s) appetite for, and receptivity to, wonder. It offers the possibility of feeling more alive.

When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive… ~ Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998 (The Paris Review)

Thank you, Mark Strand, for searching for what you had to say. You have deepened our wonder and encouraged us to search for our own Holy Grails.

]]> 2
3D Chalk Art Revisited Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:11:18 +0000 3D Chalk Art by Leon Keer (via

3D Chalk Art by Leon Keer (via

A recent trip to Paris rekindled my fascination with 3D chalk art. Half performance art, half epic mural… Witnessing a completed image is amazing, but watching the process of creating something like that snake charmer scene above is spellbinding. Before diving in, here’s a micro-intro for newbies:

3d Street Art, often known as 3d chalk art is 2-dimensional artwork drawn on the street itself that gives you a 3-dimensional optical illusion from a certain perspective. (

Sidewalk Art Flashback

I first posted about 3D chalk art that will blow your mind a few years ago. I saw it as a form of street art, or street performance art since observing the creation of 3D sidewalk art can be so enthralling. I even acknowledged the crossover with another form of public art that is often decried.

3D sidewalk art makes the best graffiti ever! ~ virtualDavis

I even wondered if a great gaping 3D chalk art chasm or some similar dramatic scene sprawling across the road in front of our house might slow speeding cars and trucks. Maybe an arresting scene of a police barricade with armored swat team? Or Champ, the friendly Lake Champlain monster, rearing up and pretending to be super unfriendly. Am I pushing too far? Yes. But I’m not being flip. I’m trying to remember that there’s an exciting alternative on the flip side of most coins.

In a subsequent post I revisited the graffiti question but inevitably slipped into a reflection the 3D chalk art as a form of storytelling. Not that I’m obsessed with storytelling or anything… ;-)

[3D chalk art] transcends mere graffiti and many other art forms in its capacity for interactive storytelling. 3D art on sidewalks introduces a narrative possibility that engages viewers. Pedestrians and drivers stop and look. Perhaps they reorient themselves to better appreciate the optical illusion. They pause and let their eyes wander over the mural, actively suspending disbelief in order to engage with the image. In many cases the audience/viewer even choose to step into the image, playing along with the illusion, often posing for friends with cameras to memorialize the encounter. ~ virtualDavis

Maybe you’ve had the is experience. If not, make time for it the next time you come across 3D chalk art. It could very well change your day. (Your mileage may vary.)

3D Chalk Art Goes Mainstream

While I’m not yet able to report that street chalk artists and law enforcement have partnered up, it’s fair to say that 3d chalk art has entered the mainstream. I mean, any time advertising adopts a new art form, you know that it must be on its way into the mainstream. If you feed the Google monster a search string related to three dimensional chalk art, you’ll discover millions of hits, and a surprisingly high number of them are directly or indirectly related to advertising.

For example, the team at We Talk Chalk can transform your marketing campaign into crowd-stopping marketing.

Creative Visual Solutions for your event or marketing needs through the innovative use of 3D Street Painting and 3D Chalk Art. (

Many of the most successful street chalk artists like Manfred Stader now have slick promotional websites touting their work. And scan any of the top articles (i.e. 33 Brain-Melting Works Of 3-D Sidewalk Chalk Art), videos, etc. celebrating three dimensional sidewalk and street artwork many of the biggest dazzlers are actually promoting a product or brand. Johnnie Walker scotch and Coca Cola were among the early adopters.

But despite the migration of 3D chalk art from the margin to the mainstream, I remain intrigued. No, more than intrigued. A little obsessed. One benefit of the widespread popularity is more artists creating more inspiring projects, and celebration/recognition of top street artists. Result? 3D chalk art is improving in leaps and bounds.

Creating 3D Chalk Art

The increasingly massive, intricate, sometimes beautiful (though often grotesque) murals are often magnificent once completed. No doubt about it. But for me, the most appealing aspect is observing the process of creating the 3D chalk art murals. In public. Often under considerably less than ideal conditions. With the threat of rain, snow, wind, pedestrians, and even police or other authorities who consider the art form graffiti, etc. From soiled ground to transcendent illusion. With chalk, a straight edge or two and an unshackled imagination.

Rather than than blathering on, I’ll finish with two examples. Enjoy!

Illustrator Eric Maruscak creates a chalk mural at the 2013 Utica Music and Arts Festival, September 14th, 2013. The mural was 10 feet square and took approximately 8 hours to complete over the course of the Festival. The art is known as an anamorphic drawing, where a distorted perspective is used to create the illusion of a 3D image when viewed from the proper angle. For more illustrations, cartooning, chalk art and time lapse photography visit Eric’s site at (YouTube)

Chalk Urban Art Festival, Sydney 2014 – Australia’s largest 3D Street Art ‘Wasting Time’ designed by Artists Jenny McCracken and Leon Keer. Support artists Rudy Kistler, Bernardo von Hessberg, Mealie Batchelor, Dom Intelisano, Brian Tisdall, Mike Walton. Creative Producer Andi Mether. (YouTube)

]]> 0
Illiterate: Lost Narratives Wed, 12 Nov 2014 21:00:03 +0000 Discourse is dead. Soundbite hypnosis prevails. We’ve forgotten how to hear, watch, and read the lost narratives that swim around us, that weave us together. We’ve forgotten.

The lion's head from the side of the lost and found bin... (Photo: virtualDavis)

The lion’s head from the side of the lost and found bin…

Or we’ve chosen to forget, to be illiterate, to ignore the narratives. Chosen to muddle them, to mask them, to distort them.

This is what I see when my optimism is smudged with soot and grease. This is what I was seeing when I came across Tim Akimoff’s thoughts on lost narratives. Or narrative illiteracy.

The saddest thing in the whole world right now is that we’re illiterate.

We’ve lost our sense of narrative. We only remember a few basic things, and into these things we try to cram every thing that makes us happy or sad.

If they fit nicely, we are comforted. If they don’t fit nicely, we re-write them or try to bury them…

The world is full of narratives. It is not ours to decide if they fit something we already understand…

It is ours to listen, to read, to watch. To look beyond the craftsmanship of story to the truths that tie us all together into one big, ugly, beautiful tribe…

And sometimes ours is to suffer in the lack of knowledge. Sometimes ours is to feel, with others, the tragedy that defies explanation. This too is story. (The Narrative, by Tim Akimoff on October 28, 2014, Medium)

Perhaps we can create a lost and found bin for narratives. Perhaps we are that bin… And we can filter through the lost narratives, listening and feeling, even suffering, the truths. And then perhaps we will wipe the smudge from our optimism with a hankie. And sally forth!

]]> 2