The Progress of an Oil Painting

I finished this painting in January of 2011 while watching some great art documentaries including Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child and Exit Through the Gift Shop, The mountains can make you feel like all of your problems are simple and the world can surround you with it’s purpose for you: “Glow in the Hole” is the name of the final piece. Actual size is about 4 feet x 3 feet.

“From start to finish” series of images:


A Bundle of Old Oil Paintings to Share

Painting is one of my great loves because I can get my hands dirty and physically move around – contrary to sitting at my computer. It also allows a direct connection of color, texture, form, and very tangible creation to flow onto the canvas.

Here are some paintings I did a long while ago – I haven’t established a style really, as I don’t paint enough as of now to change and adapt and focus on a specific look and technique… but I do enjoy the paintings I’ve done with the more loose, chunky, impressionistic style of motion…

A Bundle of Old Paintings to Share with You:


Nature Reflections, the Power of Biomimicry, and Change

Everything I see is infinitely more than meets the eye. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Beauty is not just skin deep. This ideologies run through my mind as I observe the world around me on this wet, spring day. Rather than focusing on the colors, sounds and obvious functions of nature, I find myself asking, “but WHY is it that way?”. Why do the leaves on some trees point up and some droop down? Why do some tree trunks grow straight and tall and others are all bumpy and twisty? Where on earth do all of the animals go and hide during snowy and rainy weather?

I am finding my eyes to wander a bit more slowly around my environment rather than jut around quickly looking for fast observations and visuals. I always felt the inter-connectivity of nature when I was out in it, but feel like I understand it a bit more this time around. I am seeing each individual organism as it’s own “life”. Every thing has it’s own story and it’s own reason for being the way it is. I see the diversity of similar species – no two plant leaves are the same, just as no two thumbprints are alike.

I have been forced to look at nature from a scientific view and from a system-thinking designer’s view at the same time which was a bit out of my comfort zone. I am comfortable in my right-brain zone of seeing, sensing, and feeling, rather than thinking of systems, processes and functions. The beauty of nature in all of it’s peaceful chaos is still evident as it was at the beginning of this course, but being able to understand the cycles and function of organisms gives this world a whole new depth and what it can teach us.

As I was hiking in my special spot, I began to think of Pittsburgh area as a whole and it’s place in the world of environmentalism. Being in Western PA, I have the utter [and very ironic] pleasure of living in the town that spawned Rachel Carson (so proud of that! she’s got two non-profits, a coffee blend, a bridge, a festival, and a 36-mile hiking trail named after her) as well as the town that represents the pinnacle of the industrial era (steel and coal – the likes of industry magnates Carnegie and Frick among others who pretty much ignited the black haze that covered the city for decades).

Rachel Carson has been one of my heroes for her rebellious, earth-loving spirit and obviously THE pioneer of environmental awareness and vocalization against mainstream toxic chemicals (Ahem. Read “Silent Spring“!) In this little corner of the world, she is a symbol of hope amid a history of unparalleled pollution and greedy industry. Pittsburgh has been completely overhauled to where it is today – a bright, clear city comprised of a population with a huge affinity for the outdoors and nature. (2010 World Environment Day was here!) My point in mentioning this is that despite the plethora of horrific facts about how much we are ruining the earth, it is possible to turn things back around. Just look at Pittsburgh’s transformation and look at all of those designers who are stepping out of their comfort zone to mimic nature’s designs and take a closer look at the functions and strategies of things are a daily part of our lives.

Just as a delicate, shiny, green strand can sprout out of lifeless pavement, biomimicry can be a guiding light for sustainable design in our world of unbelievable over-consumption.

(Yeah. Yeah. I did end up getting a bit philosophical, but I was full of greeeeeeen inspiration!)


Sustainable Design Barometer: PodPaks

Cardboard is used to ship 90 percent of all products in the U.S. Recycling 1 ton of cardboard saves 9 cubic yards of landfill space and 46 gallons of oil. (

By creating an alternative to cardboard packaging for smaller items, PodPaks shipping system reduces cardboard waste, allows for lighter shipments resulting in less fuel consumption, and provides reusable materials for businesses and individuals.

Sea Heart’s journey of thousands of miles

Now, how are PodPaks really going to survive and thrive when it comes down to it? Just as the Sea Heart makes a journey of thousands of miles in it’s native pod shell from the branch of a tree to countries across oceans, the PodPak’s life is impressive (if I do say so myself – or at least I imagine it to be impressive when fully developed). By using hte Life’s Principles checklist, we can take a look at all of the aspects of functionality and successful possibilities for this product. The checklist (outlined below) can help to highlight improvements that can be made as well as what is already working.

1. Adapting and Evolving
a. Locally Attuned and Responsive
b. Integrates Cyclic Processes
c. Resilient
2. Creating Conditions Conducive to Life
a. Optimizing rather than Maximizing
b. Benign Manufacturing
c. Leveraging Interdependence

Biodegradable Pot made from Natural Fibers.  (

PodPaks are resourceful in that they use natural fibers – like that of a biodegradable garden pot, sturdy, but also soft. It also uses a natural resin to provide a coating for the package. Several shapes are offered and all of the shapes are conducive to being hung on the clips inside the delivery truck. They are all basically envelopes, so they can clip easily into the pre-arranged clips. The design is simple – just fiber, resin, and closure, and uses natural materials that are readily available and renewable within a reasonable amount of time.

Specifically designed for reuse, the PodPaks allow ease of label removal (no scraping sticky paper off and using sharpies to cover up old labels!) and also are biodegradable which means there is no disassembly neecessary. It encourages reuse as anyone can reuse it up to ten times and it can be passed around from shipper to recipient without destruction beyond regular wear and tear.

The hanging system in the back of the shipping trucks – based off of the hanging Sea Heart pod chains in the trees, allow the PodPaks to be transported without touching one another – preventing the wear and tear that usually occurs when boxes are stacked and piled in delivery trucks. the key is for the delivery person to take care in placing the package at the recipient’s location. (i.e. they can’t just toss it from the truck onto a front porch!)

PodPak Envelope System showing Resin-coated
and Un-coated envelope shapes available.
Sea Heart Hanging Pod Chain

The PodPaks will need to be manufactured by creation of the fiber material, coating of the resin on the outside, trimming to the various sizes as well as application of the closure. Well-managed, FSC certified forests will need to be developed and maintained to provide the fibrous material content from a local area. The manufacturing process will need to set up so that possible the outer material can grow itself – this would be ideal, but may not be realistic for the supply and demand.

Less resistance is used in the delivery of the packages to the consumer as more packages can fit on trucks and the packaging itself is much lighter than standard cardboard packaging. This saves on fuel as well as costs in shipping as all of the packages basically “carpool” together in a truck.

Most of the Life’s Principles are on track for this with the exception the manufacturing process that is still really loosely planned out. It can also be improved for growth – such as what if people need larger PodPaks – will the outer material be strong enough for larger items? Right now, though, starting one step at a time with the small package shipping market can still make a big difference!


Viewing Nature: Life’s Principles Lens

First of all, this was the most exciting nature blog, yet, because it was FINALLY sunny and warm, so I was thrilled to be outside without an umbrella and a hat. Just to top it off, I found an amazing place outdoors within walking distance to my job in Oakland (near the city). The atmosphere was more full of life than it has been in the past month due to the amazing weather. Green was sprouting out of everything it seemed and water was flowing from streams into a large pond.

All of the harmonious designs within my sight seemed to be orchestrated together so perfectly in preparation for growth and production over the summer months. The principles of life were surrounding me and definitely in action – but I’m going to focus on the mallard that was hanging out around the pond.

Design Principle: Optimizing Rather than Maximizing
Example of: Fitting Form to Function

Natural Model: Mallard’s beak

Description: The beak seems smooth and slippery and sleek. It is also narrow and long in order to slip right down into the water to feed on vegetation. They slip their heads into the water and their tails go up on the other side. The beak’s form follows the function of obtaining food in the water. It also fits the way they must chew the food for digestion.

Design Idea in real life: A water faucet that feeds water through a tube and arches over in order to distribute water downwards into your hands. The material is either metal or ceramic and it is round so it can carry water and last a long time without succumbing to rust or other elements of destruction.

Design Principle: Leveraging Interdependence
Example of: Fostering Cooperative Relationships
Natural Model: Female caring for chicks
Description: Little chicks are led to the water by the female mallard. They follow her and learn how to feed and swim and walk like she does. The chicks depend on the mother, but then they will learn and pass along those lessons someday to their own little ones.

Design Idea in real life: Today, there are reciprocate actions to benefit both parties involved. A simple example is buying my organic, local milk at the farm market. I have to buy the milk jug the first time, but then whenever I go back to fill it up, I get a discount on the milk itself, so the seller benefits from repeat customer and I benefit with saving money.

Design Principle: Benign Manufacturing
Example of: Using life-friendly materials
Natural Model: Mallard’s nesting
Description: Nests are made close to the water and are hidden in vegetation (like the bird’s nest in photo below). They are made from available materials that are friendly to living in that circumstance – such as grasses, feathers, leaves, and twigs. These help to blend in to the surroundings for protection (life-friendly) as well as completely recyclable and bio-degradable once the nest is abandoned after the eggs hatch.

Design Idea in real life: In the mountains, many people use logs to build houses and logs to create warmth. Cabins are so common in wooded areas where people want to live “away from it all” and they really do create a more life-friendly environment. The log cabins not only blend in with the surroundings, but they are made from a natural material that is created to withstand the elements of nature and be sturdy for years to come. In addition to that, the same log material harvested from around the house (always careful to plant new trees :-) is also used for warmth and energy. Instead of using electricity and gas, logs are burned for warmth in a fire place or camp fire as well as for cooking.

Design Principle: Locally Attuned and Responsive
Example of: Antenna, Signal, and Response
Natural Model: Mallard’s quack, quack 
Description: Mallards signal each other with the characteristic “quack quack” which is only from the females! The males are softer, actually. They use their sounds to get the attention of their ducklings or one another in breeding times.

Design Idea in real life: Traffic lights! Cars cooperate with the light signals on roads/intersections in order to create order on the busy system of transportation. We follow the signs – lights and colors – that communicate directions to us to stop, go, or slow down. This helps everyone to communicate and have cohesive responses that prevent simple accidents and painful collisions.

Design Principle: Integrates Cyclic Processes
Example of: Loops
Natural Model: Mallard’s migration
Description: Mallards migrate from north to the south in the winter. Every year they do this migration and they know exactly where they are going without a GPS! They feed in the south all winter and then when it’s time to breed again, they go back up north.

Design Idea in real life:  Everyday at 9:00pm, my computer backs up my whole hard drive onto the internet storage space that I have designated. This allows a cyclic process of having all of the new data on my computer get copied onto another space creating a peace of mind and a routine that enhances my everyday living. This cycle of computer back-ups is necessary to carry on my work and business life and it saves me time and frustration as it is consistent and reliable.

Design Principle: Resilient
Example of: Redundant
Natural Model: Attack of females
Description: When there are lots of mallards – females in particular – all in one environment, the male mallards will attack the females in order to mate and sometimes kill them. They have to be agressive because there is a redundancy of females – there are “extras” (just like we have two kidneys) and some may be discards (even though that is sad :-( in order to continue breeding.

Design Idea in real life: Large semi trucks have double the tires that they need and all of them are running on the road! This is so that when one tire gets worn out and torn and flies off the truck, there is another one there to carry on the load of the truck without any falter (hopefully). It looks redundant at first with all of those tires, but it is in preparation for times ahead.

(Various Mallard information from: and

Here are some more photos from my day that you might get your own ideas of life’s principles!