Studio Musings

Monday, June 29, 2015

Who Stole my Irregular Verbs?

Fair warning:  this is a totally random blog post about a crazy topic of purely personal interest.  Any one who's ever visited my home knows I'm an avid reader.  I love falling into other worlds, other lives through the pages of a book, and I've had a long-time love affair with the English language.  Most of all, I love beautifully written fiction where the language is part of the feast.  Over the past few years, I've noticed a disturbing trend.  The wonderful, eclectic, beautifully irregular past tenses of a number of verbs are disappearing from mainstream publishing!  Reading, "I hanged my hat on the hook by the door" makes me cringe.  It's just wrong:  wrong, wrong, wrong! 

In recent books, characters have hanged instead of hung, dreamed instead of dreamt, beholded instead of beheld, weaved instead of wove.   Beholded? Weaved?  Really?  Mrs Gates, my fifth grade teacher, would have made me rewrite my paper if I'd tried such a thing in her class! 

Interestingly, Blogger's spell check believes dreamed is correct, but cautions against beholded and dreamt (it has no opinion on weaved vs. wove).  The proper past tense of dream does depend upon context - 'I dreamt a lovely dream last night while sleeping', but 'dreamed of being a ballerina as a child'.  The lovely textual and contextual nuances of irregular verbs!  I find myself wondering, is this breakdown in the beauty and intricacy of the English language due to the tyranny of faulty spellcheck programs?  Of programers who didn't pay quite enough attention to their English teachers way back when?

I decided to try to find an answer and did a search "why are irregular verb past tenses disappearing?" I found several blog references to a Harvard study trying to mathematically model the regularization of irregular verbs based upon their frequency of usage.  Basically, the more often a particular verb is used, especially in its past tense, the less likely it is to be regularized.

That said, the study apparently gave 'be/was' and 'have/had' half-lives of 38,000 years!  Meanwhile they gave less commonly used irregular verbs, such as 'dive/dove' a half-life of 700 years.  What the blog post doesn't say is when the count started, because I hate to say it, but I've seen 'dived' in at least one of the books I've read recently (and Blogger's spell check accepted it, even if Mrs. Gates wouldn't have).  I wonder if the study looked at the potential for incompletely designed spell checks to regularize irregular verbs more quickly?  Also, I wasn't able to find a link to the original study, so I can't say that I've actually read it myself. 

So I wonder, am I the only one who 'corrects' the past tense of irregular verbs as she reads?  I find I enjoy my reading far more if I substitute my favorite irregular tenses for the regularized versions appearing on the page. 

While 'researching' this topic over the weekend, I did find a wonderful list of English Irregular Verbs.   Don't worry if you don't see your favorite irregular verb on the list.   While this is the most comprehensive list I've found, it seems that none of the lists are truly complete.  If you look at multiple lists of irregular verbs, you'll likely find yours among them. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lessons Learned: Thinking about Book Design

In earlier posts in my Lessons Learned series, I've talked about how I organize my book projects, from developing my outline to using Scrivener software to collect all of my text and research into one place.  As you collect the materials you'll need to produce your book, it's a good time to consider your publishing options. 

Choose Your Publishing Path
You could decide to contact the major publishers to see if they are interested in your project.  If your project is accepted, there are definite benefits to going this route.  Working with a major publisher, you have a sounding board for your ideas and the support of an entire editorial team working to make your book the best book possible.  Most of the major craft publishers, like Lark Books and Interweave, have submission guidelines available on their website.  I tried this route back in 2008-2009, sending out several submission proposals for my first book on freeform peyote beading.  When I never heard back, I started down the path of self-publishing. 

All of the books I have written so far are self-published.  Back in 2011 I wrote a post about my reasons for taking this route to publication; rereading the post, everything still applies.  I've found that self-publishing gives me the greatest editorial control over the content, allowing me to produce the books I want to produce.  But self-publishing also means a lot more heavy lifting on the author's part to create the most polished, professional book that you can.  Each book I've produced has been a learning process, and each book has benefited from my earlier works. 

Gathering and Sorting the Pieces of the Puzzle
For me, producing the book is like putting together the pieces of a several, thousand piece puzzle, made trickier because when I begin, I'm not sure if I:

A) have all of the pieces - often specific projects are incomplete, or still simply ideas, when I begin work on the page layout.
B) have pieces to more than one puzzle - invariably some of my ideas from brainstorming must be left on the cutting room floor (or saved for another project) to produce a cohesive book, but that's not always apparent in the beginning. 

While I continue sorting and gathering, I start working on my next step - deciding upon the specifics of the 'look and feel' of the book I want to produce. 

Developing your personal Page-Layout Reference Library

Look at Your Favorite Craft Books
My goal is always to produce as professional a finished product as I can.  This means my book needed to have a cohesive layout that is visually appealing and makes it easier to access the book's information.  One of the most effective methods I've found to develop my own 'look and feel' guidelines is to study some of my favorite craft books from other media.

Go to the library (or your bookshelves) and choose 3-5 books that you think are both beautiful and extremely useful.  It's safest to use a non-related media so that it's easier to focus on the overall 'look and feel' without getting lost in the information. 

Looking through your selections, use these criteria as a study guide:

1) Overall Book Dimensions:  What are the outside dimensions of the book?  8 1/2" x 11" tends to be the most common size for craft books in the US these days.  If your book is a different size, how does that difference affect its visibility on the bookshelf?  How does the size affect its readability/usability at the craft table?  

2) Typography:  What fonts do they use, and how do they use them?  Most books use different fonts for the chapter headings than the main text blocks.  What fonts do they use and where?  Most books use two or more fonts; a serif or sans-serif font for the main text blocks, and possibly a bolder or more decorative font for chapter headings.  Are the fonts serif, sans-serif or decorative?  Do you like the fonts?  Why or why not?  What are the font's physical sizes relative to the page, and to each other? Make notes on what you see.

3) Margins and Whitespace:  What are the books margins? Do the margins differ for the first page of each chapter from interior pages within each chapter?  Look at both exterior margins - the white spaces around each page, and the interior margins - the spacing between headers, sub-headings, and body text.  Also look at the white space separating text from photographs.  Do the pages feel crowded, sparse, or just right?

4) Columns:  How is the information on each page divided?  Do they use multiple columns?  How many columns?  Do all pages have the same number of columns?  If no, what are the different column layouts?  How did the author/layout editor use the columns to help present the information?  What is the white space between columns? 

5) Images:  Where do the images appear on each page?  Do the images fit within the exterior margins, or do they extend all the way off of the edge of the page?  When images stretch to the edge of the page without margins, this is referred to as "full-bleed" or "bleed".  Note that not all print-on-demand-publishers offer full-bleed printing capabilities, and it may cost extra to produce a book with full-bleed photography. Older craft books made more use of black and white photography due to printing costs; it still costs more to print with color, but it's not as prohibitively expensive.

Most craft books will include both process photos and more polished photos of finished pieces. What background do they use for the process photos?  How do the backgrounds in the finished pieces differ?

6) Illustrations:  How does each book balance the use of photographs versus illustrations in describing their process?  Are their illustrations clear and easy to understand?  What would make them easier to understand?  What do you like best about the illustrations, what do you like least?

Make photocopies or take pictures of some of the pages that you can print and scribble on about what you like and dislike.  Your goal here is to better understand how other authors and editors have used these basic elements of book design to convey their message.  Unless you are already comfortable with a page layout program, don't worry about developing your own templates at this point. Just make clear notes about the elements that you might like to use in your book. I often draw little sketches blocking out sections and pages. 

Some of my favorite books for recent study include Complex Cloth by Jane Dunnewold; Paper, Metal and Stitch by Maggie Grey; and Color on Paper and Cloth by Ruth Isset.  They are all amazing technique books by authors whose work I truly admire. 

Short Bibliography of Books about Typography, Layout and Design
I combined these studies with a couple of books specifically on page layout, developing my own 'course' in book design and page layout.  Here's a quick list of some books you might find useful (I was able to check most out of my public library):

I've found that the time spent developing the design framework for each book project helps me to stay on track later.  It's another way of thinking about and organizing the information; a way of looking at the forest rather than the individual trees.  I don't always manage to follow my rules, but at least they are there as a guide! 

This is my eighth post in my Lessons Learned series, about my experiences with self-publishing my latest book.  Right now, I plan to talk about how I set up my book project using InDesign in my next post.  But I'd love to hear from you: what would you like to see?  Have you found this series useful?  Are there specific topics you're hoping I'll cover? Inquiring minds definitely want to know. 


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Time to Stitch: Bead Embroidery and Happy Fish

Bead embroidered Oak Leaf by Karen Williams
I've always admired bead embroidery, but never really taken the time to play with the medium.  Christine and Therese's announcement back in February that their next Time to Stitch Blog Hop would focus on Bead Embroidery seemed like the perfect excuse to give it a whirl.

I even had the start of a little project that had been hanging around for a while - a little bead embroidered oak leaf I'd started some time in the past.  I thought I'd finish it, then move on to something larger.  My goal with the leaf was simply to try out lots of different ideas, stitch combinations, and types of beads.  Some worked better than others, but I think it's quite cheerful, and was a lot of fun to work on in the dead of winter.

Then came a long lull, with not a spurt of creativity in sight.  I was definitely caught in the creative doldrums.  As the days and months sped by, I started to wonder if the leaf would be all I had to show for this blog post.  Then my dear friend Georgia McMillan came to my rescue!

Georgia brought several of her wonderful "Happy People" bead embroideries to the May Seedbeaders' meeting. Better yet, she graciously allowed me to take photos to share with you (I'm including two in this post).   Thank you Georgia!  I spent a couple of days studying the photos and thinking about her work.

Untitled Happy Person by Georgia McMillan, bead embroidery
Georgia McMillan's Happy Person seems to be dancing
Untitled Happy Person by Georgia McMillan, bead embroidery
This more abstract design uses size 18 beads in the flowers!

Her Happy People are small - the largest easily fits into the palm of my hand, so I'm guessing maybe 3 1/2" tall, tops.  But the details are incredible.  I loved their size, I love Georgia's sense of whimsy, I love her attention to detail.  I contemplated making my own Happy Person.  But I feared that I'd simply be copying Georgia if I did, and wanted to do something more 'me'.  So I decided to sleep on it.  Can you guess where I decided to go with?

Fish!  Big surprise, huh?  I figured I could surely I do something with fish.  I've made right angle weave fish, and freeform peyote fish, but I'd never made a bead embroidered fish.  So it was about time!  Time to pull out the sketchbook.

Design Sketches for Happy Fish by Karen Williams
playing with design ideas on paper and interfacing
I pulled several ideas from my sketchbook, including these two above.  I love the curves and lines of the top fish, but feared she was too complex.  I wanted something simpler to use as a 'blank canvas' for more exploration.  The bottom fish is about perfect, complete with a lovely, cartoony smile. Transfering the design to interfacing, it was time to start stitching. 

Starting to stitch the first Happy Fish by Karen Williams
First up? Sequins!
I totally blame the sequins on Sarah of Saturday Sequins. I'd never even considered using sequins in my beading before seeing her work. These days, sequins keep showing up in my designs (they are really sneaky that way!)  In this case I thought they'd make great fish scales.  I ended up using five different colors of sequins - three transparent and two opaque. 

Finished Happy Fish by Karen Williams
My first Happy Fish - poor thing doesn't even have a name yet!
Like the leaf, I didn't have any specific plans for where I was going, other than the two large blocks of color and wanting to use sequins for fish scales.  I added in some of Georgia's 'flowers' along the bottom of the fish, using 15s.  Because I had just purchased them, I added a line of dragon-scale beads towards the top of the body.  Originally they laid down in a nice, flat, spiky row, but I decided I wanted more dimensionality and added a line of beading under their tips to make them sit up from the background.  Not sure it was the right choice, but hey, it was fun to experiment. 

I finished the little guy on Thursday, and the poor thing doesn't even have a name yet.  Not that it looks like he cares.  :)

So that's where I went with my bead embroidery.  Nothing fancy, but it sure was fun.  Now it's time to check out what everyone else created!  Here's the full roster: 

detail, Happy Fish by Karen Williams
detail shot of the overlapping sequins-scales
Time To Stitch Blog Hop
1.       Therese (Host) 
2.       Christine  (Host)
3.       Amy
4.       Lola
5.       Lori F
6.       Kim
7.       Becky Pancake
8.       Karin G.
9.       Debbie (Kepi)
10.   LizE
11.   Maryanne
12.   Paula
13.   Wendy
14.   Janet
Starting new Happy Fish by Karen Williams
 Here's the start of my second fish - this one's going to have spikes!
15.   Jasvanti
16.   Ginger
17.   Alicia
18.   Bobbie
19.   Shirley
20.   Sarah
21.   Cynthia
22.   Lizzie
23.   Samantha
24.   Sally
25.   Niki

Oh, and if you have a name suggestion for my little friend, let me know.  If I like it, you just might claim naming rights! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Lessons Learned: Scrivener Writing Software

Every craftsperson knows that the right tools make the job simpler and easier.   This week, I thought I’d share a review of one of my hands-down favorite pieces of software.   It’s called Scrivener, and it’s designed to make it easier for authors to put their manuscripts together.  In truth, it’s great for any large writing project with lots of ‘moving’ parts.

Why do I love Scrivener?

1) It makes it so much easier to organize your writing.  

To organize your document using Word (or other traditional word-processors), you might create separate folders for each chapter, and then separate documents for each section in the chapters.  To edit your project, you would need to find and open each individual file.  This can mean lots of open files.  And what if you want to see how one section flows into the next. Do you copy and paste both files into a separate document?  Then what happens when you need to do more editing; which do you edit, the combined document or the individual files?  Nightmare!

Scrivener organizes all of these 'files' within one Binder document.  Here's a screenshot from an early version of my Scrivener file for Explorations in Freeform Peyote Beading

Scrivener file for Explorations, with my original outline in the right window
The Binder window on the left gives a quick overview all my documents 'files' and 'folders'.  I can click on any folder to see all of its files.  Click on a file and it shows up in the larger window to the right.   And if I want to see how one file flows into another?

Screenshot from early in the project

I simply select multiple files from the binder at left to view them in the right window.  A horizontal line shows the transition from one section to the next. You can see this in the screenshot above.  (I added the red annotations in Photoshop). 

Need to rearrange sections?  It's as easy as simply dragging and dropping the file or folder names in the binder view at left.

2.  Scrivener allows you to view two sections side by side. 

Scrivener allows you to view (and edit) two documents side-by-side
 This is so useful for editing! 

3.  Fantastic Tools for Printing and Compilation

When you are ready to 'print' you can compile and export the entire draft into a single Word document.  Scrivener provides a number of tools to help you easily format that document.  Checkboxes allow you to quickly select which files you wish to include when you compile your document. 

This is particularly useful for for fiction or novel-style books.  Since all of my page layout was in InDesign, I couldn't take advantage of the compile feature for the print copy of my book.  But I did use this to create separate files for the ebook versions.  

4.  You can store research inside your Scrivener document

Scrivener allows you to store and organize your background research, documents and even whole web pages into a separate section.  Amongst other things, I used the research section to store all of the text I'd received from my contributing artists, and copies of older blog posts that related to the book.  Having this information easily accessible and organized made life so much easier!

The research doesn't compile with the rest of the draft, but remains with the Scrivener file.

5.  At $45, it's Not Terribly Expensive

Literature and Latte (the company that produces Scrivener) offers a free 30 day trial for both Windows and Mac.  If you fall in love with the software during the trial, its only $45.  Compared to the other software I use, this is such a good price!  (I don't have any affiliation with Scrivener, or Litterature and Latte except as a very happy customer). 

In this review I've just barely touched on the power and capabilities of Scrivener.  My goal was to simply highlight some of their most basic and powerful features.  One of the other things I love about Scrivener is their in-depth (and FREE) instructional videos and tutorials that will quickly introduce you to so many more possibilities. 

While it's designed for writers, I've used Scrivener for all sorts of things, including storing research for upcoming trips because it's so easy to organize and access information.