Post 1 Postface 2: The Utah Teapot Section

SaxoLaxo-Utah-Teapot-Old-MapFor those who’ve trudged through the last two posts rest assured that once the auxiliary Post 1 material is depleted we will not be carrying on with each successive post requiring meta tethering to each previous one. I.e. the fact that these opening lines are rudely unsalutational and may leave you feeling like your friend’s mother just assigned him chores upon your arrival for a play date is not the pervading vibe I’m trying to establish here. This convention is the black smoke as the engine cold starts. And, sure, note the irony that it’s my action of mentioning this that has created yet another meta tethering so really let’s just jump into the post proper and I’ll clear up what’s going on and if YOUR SCANNING EYES CAUGHT SIGHT OF THESE WORDS before starting at the top just spare yourself and pick up at the paragraph below.

Ech — as a spacing concern let’s not bother starting the content here; web formatting is so variable. Overleaf / after the jump / doot di do.

Previously on Saxo Laxo Waxing: a bunch of stuff didn’t make the cut for Post 1; I still want to share them like in Post 2; So here is Post 3 and there will be a Post 4 of backlog as well.

SaxoLaxo-Utah-Teapot-BackMy 3D modeling inefficacy, well-noted in Post 1, led me to attempt a misdirection-type dodge to satisfactorily illustrate my discussion of standard test item The Utah Teapot: I made a cheap visual gag painting the iconic kettle with the Utah map. Ta-da. *bows as my celluloid dickey flaps up striking my face*

SaxoLaxo-Utah-Teapot-PaintingDespite my going about it in a likely knotted fashion, it would not be considered a technically knotty thing to do and deserves little dwelling on — wait let’s keep the tab open just briefly longer to note that while creatively responsible for the images I did not, perhaps obviously, make the original maps, their incorporation, I’d claim, being fair use (and the kettle’s pre-existing math being previously disclosed). However, in pursuit of a satisfactory 3D image with unsatisfactory 3D skills I did haphazardly generate some very simple images I grew rather attached to. These are the Post 1 images I described as “Chris Van Allsburg’s venture into Magic Eye solutions.” It is this collection of images that we’ll focus on below.

Chris Van Allsburg is a celebrated author and illustrator known for his softly ominous picture books including Jumanji, The Polar Express, and Xanadu Zathura whose ratio to filmic adaptations might be gradually edging him to the status of the children’s Stephen King. Raised on his works, and a sucker for soft ominy and deft draftsmanship, I would aggressively recommend his full catalogue to readers of all ages, particularly The Wretched Stone, The Sweetest Fig, The Z Was Zapped, Two Bad Ants, and what will be the the reference point for this post’s content The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

It is for the perceived evocation of this latter book that I grew attached to my simple teapot renders. Though created with lay skills in a digital charcoal proxy, my images at least —grant me— suggest Van Allsburg’s atmospheric mastery. In his manner, by gently tapping the familiar into the odd I was left unstoppably drifting through the possibilities of stories behind these images — the exact premise of his The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. But instead of merely describing my sensation with a “you know what I mean” I wanted to try and elicit a similar response from you. What I’ll present below is a vehicle to reintroduce the same images I made for Post 1 in a way that directly illustrates the connection to Van Allsburg’s book instead of just hoping you follow. I.e. I’m not trying to make a sequel to his book. I.e. I’m using stylistic allusion as explanation. I.e. Chris Van Allsburg I ain’t. If this makes you curious to read the actual book, bully; if this makes you think the actual book must be bogus then clear your mind clear your mind clear your mind forget this forget this forget this close window quit browser go to a bookstore and see his actual stuff.

To really drag out this intro, a suggestion. These are very low contrast images so a sunny room won’t be the best way to look at them. Though for full skeuomorphic immersion you can pretend that the screen’s glare is on the glossy pages of a nicely printed book. Or, as I’d recommend, twist yourself into a nice dark crawl space and enjoy:



















And then what would a Saxo Laxo Waxing post be without a gratuitous exploration of process.

As mentioned above, I would consider this more an exercise than anything else. An exercise in outwardly communicating the Harris Burdick interpretation of my original images by internally reassembling the framework of Harris Burdick around my original images. So what are we working with?

The potency of Harris Burdick comes from what I’d consider to be mental animation: Van Allsburg gives us 3 coordinates, the image, the title, and the passage, and then the reader’s mind triangulates her own unique experience within that designated space. For example [you can Google the original]:

  • image — girl asleep with open book; leafy growths flow from the gutter of the book’s open pages.
  • title — Mr. Linden’s Library
  • passage — He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.

Let’s divide this up to see the significance of the full triad:

  • image — girl asleep with open book; leafy growths flow from the gutter of the book’s open pages.

The image alone could have garnered the much duller “She had been pressing flowers all day and took a nap after running out of wax paper.”

  • title — Mr. Linden’s Library

The title alone could be for an article about a small-town local reminiscing about her late grandfather’s generous donation.

  • passage — He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.

The passage alone could continue on to the thrilling tale of an unexpectedly steep late fee.

Combine any two coordinates and things start getting interesting.

  • image — girl asleep with open book; leafy growths flow from the gutter of the book’s open pages.
  • title — Mr. Linden’s Library

Gardeners must love Mr. Linden. Gardening supply stores hate him!

  • image — girl asleep with open book; leafy growths flow from the gutter of the book’s open pages.
  • passage — He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.

Was she right to defy her abusive stepfather?

  • title — Mr. Linden’s Library
  • passage — He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.

What book did she check out, Mein Kampf?

While perhaps increasingly piquing, clearly the tone of all these conclusions doesn’t match the Harris Burdick Van Allsburg created. By giving all 3 coordinates he not only prepares more nuanced conclusions, but he also guides the reader’s imagination into a very specific type of foreboding direction: something maybe playfully horrifying, not uncomfortably so. This, while maintaining the reader’s freedom to decide what exactly will transpire; for all the potentially ill-fated narratives of my above uninformed examples consider the opposite with not only the image, title, and passage, but all this,

“The plants grew from the book and eventually engulfed Lucibelle’s whole house. Mr. Linden —Mr. Jeffrey P. Linden— saw this from his WiFi providing Library across the street and pulled out a magical book that trimmed away the vines, a much more respectable look for their recently redistricted Maryland neighborhood — Samantha J. two houses down, for example, really appreciates diligent pruning. Magical books were a nice diversion from the gerrymandering scandal their small community recently found themselves at the center of. Lucibelle looked out her window and shouted, ‘I better get an A on my book report!’ Mr. Linden sighed, looked to his pet ball python and said, ‘Homeschoolers, amiright?'”

So much for intrigue.

For my task of applying this coordinate system to the teapot images I had the comparative disadvantage (inferior artwork notwithstanding) of only having teapot images — naturally. To maximize the exercise’s value I wanted to come up with 6 distinct angles to interpret this tenebrous kettle’s existence. The 6 images having already been created layered another challenge of pairing the textual interpretations with the image compositions most complementary (e.g. text B works well with both illustration plate 2 and plate 3, but text F only works with plate 3 so text B will get plate 2, etc.).

Looking to Harris Burdick, the title conventions are basically common nouns, proper nouns, and times; and out of the 14 stories 4 of their titles are granted that most mystifying of launching points, definite article “The” — the implied notability of any word that follows is both undeniably compelling and arguably too easy: “The Cupboard” is suddenly elevated over a cupboard. Keeping that ratio I rounded up and gave myself only 2 “The”s out of my 6 titles. And while Harris Burdick does also contain the portenous numerical implications in “The Seven Chairs,” with only 6 teapot opportunities it seemed too undigested a transfer to use it myself; I did however allude to the technique in the passage of “The Hobbyist”: “He had one installed in the basement.” Are there others? Where are they installed?

Due to the simplicity of the images, I was personally attracted to the unclear scale of the teapot. Though our mind may most readily conjure a proper teapot size, the undeclared interior of the the teapot’s enclosure seemed to me no less a room than a cabinet. I tried to convey an unexpectedly, disconcertingly, large size in “Midnight Snack” and “The Hobbyist.” But with the intentional ambiguity of the coordinates a scene like “Midnight Snack” might instead imply an encroaching hallucinogenic episode as the cupboard door was opened.

The real writing responsibility was maintaining an electrified distance between the coordinates, particularly because the images’ consistent teapot. If the coordinates are too close together (e.g. title “The Teapot” passage “He didn’t know what was in it.”) there’s not enough space for any deep creative interpretation on the reader’s part. If they’re too far apart (e.g. title “Five More Times” passage “‘There’s room for one more,’ the voice whispered.”) the reader is required to do too much work to make sense of it all; this was a gully I continually found myself in because of the deepening mystery the widening distance promises. The fact is if you’re going to have such a distance between the coordinates then you really owe it to everyone reading to just go ahead and write out what you think the connection between everything is.

While I had pages of alternate titles and associated passages, and promising passages in need of titles, the bit of text that went through the most revisions was “Mrs. Adenauer.” Names are sort of non-Newtonian creatively — they don’t behave like other text. On the one hand, they are a seemingly easy opportunity to assert significance without much justification, a person’s name must surely imply something. On the other hand, the non-descriptive almost musical nature of a name allows for a near uncontrollably infinite amount of associations to slide in unwanted to the experience of seeing it; maybe it looks cool but seems distractingly unpronounceable, maybe it’s pronounced too much like onomatopoeia rendering it debilitatingly silly, maybe it’s shared by an unfortunate celebrity. Furthermore, with no dearth of names you have virtually no restrictions on any linguistic requirement you may desire. This all adds up to both ultimate freedom and ultimate accountability for name selection. I went through genealogies of options, collected pages of names, slowly realizing I wanted 4 syllables, that I wanted it to start with A, that Germanic origin best fit the tone, all before being convinced by Adenauer. It rolls off the tongue with the right rhythm; it doesn’t impress any national stereotype; it has a slight hint of decorum all the more unsettling amidst her inability to deal with whatever’s going on with that glowering teapot. For all this background it may be worth pointing out that the structure of “Mrs. Adenauer” and its passage was, despite my long belaboring, the first idea I had for this.

SaxoLaxo-Teapot-RigAs a spellbreaker, here’s the whole rig for the teapot on the left: Ominous-Gonefromthis. In a rare impulse for hackneyed review, I really enjoyed this whole exercise and would recommend both the open-ended coordinate creation and/or the interpretive story creation from existing coordinates as a fun writing prompt. If The Burdick Benchmarks engendered any narrative explanations from you I’d love to hear them in the comments. While Van Allsburg is best known for his 2D illustrations, well worth your time, a visit to his website grants you a view of his unsurprisingly natural plunge into sculpture; I mention this not only for your audiential appetite but to trace the route back again from his talents to a 3D modeling effort, diverted though it may be.

Even if the contents of this post are my first direct allusion to Van Allsburg’s work, my rearing on his books manifests in a general proclivity towards incongruity and encouragement of the “mental animation” discussed above. Here is an old painting I did with a clear Van Allsburg influence — influence as incognizant DNA-rewriting. It’s titled The Shortcut and welcomes the same sort of analysis presented by Harris Burdick (again, inferior art acknowledged).


The Shortcut — acrylic on wood panel

I can’t let slip the painting’s story, you’re now its witness, but if this post’s impetus is any clue (which it obviously isn’t but I’m setting up a cute little rhetorical concluding device) maybe he’s going to Utah.

And if my endeavors are any indication (which now I’m pushing this device too far but it was never worth saving to begin with) Utah apparently looks like this:


Welcome to Utah.


  1. The one line passage to your painting titled “The Shortcut” should be: Getting lost in Utah wasn’t an option.

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