Category Archives: Musings

Sun Worship and Sacrifices

Lately as I work on the sketches for BURIED I’m struck by the sheer volume of sun-worship and sacrifice across cultures. Growing up going to Sunday school gave me a disconcerting familiarity to Judeo-Christian sacrifice—of course lambs and first born sons should be slaughtered on altars to appease [the sun] god!—but somehow it’s never really sunk in that this tradition is true for every other religion. Building by building, city by city, the Maya, Inca, Aztec and Mississippi peoples all oriented their architecture towards celestial events as places of sacrifice. The sun rises behind this temple, venus rises in front of that one, and in the case of the Mayan Kukulcan Temple in Chichen Itza, a hand clap directed towards the stairs will echo back as the call of the quetzal bird, the embodiment of Kukulcan himself:

For as long as there has been religion priests have used these kinds of special effects and hocus pocus to validate their tribute demands from their people. This application of astronomy and architecture doesn’t prove or disprove anything about the existence of god, of course, but what amazes me is just how similar the ideas are across all cultures around the world. Wrong or right, religion of any kind does make us feel part of a bigger picture, and if we link ourselves to things beyond our control then we have relief from and less responsibility for our own destiny. I know nothing has really changed—the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. lines up with the sunrise, too (implying a great deal about the religion of capitalism, no?)—but it seems like maybe once upon a time someone out there would have had different ideas.

Or maybe they just had that guy killed?

Study for the Mayan game of Pok-ta-Pok which celebrated the celestial movements of the gods and ended with sacrificing either the winner or the loser.


Study for the Aztec New Fire Ceremony wherein priests kindle a fire in the chest of a sacrificial victim and passed torch by torch to every household in the city.


On a completely different note, a little update on SHARK: I’ve finally purchased plane tickets to fly out and do some first-hand research this fall! Thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of several scientists and Farallon experts in the Bay Area, I will be spending several days on the water in early October to witness great white shark tagging and get a water tour around the islands. My foul-weather gear is ready, and Dramamine is at the top of my packing list; fingers-crossed that the sharks put in an appearance while I’m there!

This Week’s Statistics

Statistics for the week of Sunday, April 29th to Saturday May 5th:

Average waking time: 6:25am

Average getting-up time: 7:45am

Number of cups of coffee consumed: 7

Number of alcoholic beverages consumed: 5

Number of times I left the apartment: 7

Number of hours spent drawing: 48.5

Amount of chocolate consumed: yes

Average number of daily emails sent: 12.5

Average bed time: 11:30pm

Most unprofessional phrase used in a professional email: “I am a stressed muffin.”


The Weaner Within

I’m up to more white shark research, and my new favorite thing is weaners. No, it’s not what you’re thinking—”weaners” is the highly scientific term that the marine biology community has assigned to freshly WEANED (get it?) northern elephant seals, and boy are they cute!

Named for the schnoz on the adult bulls, elephant seals are the second largest seals in the world (the honor going to the even more enormous Southern Elephant seal). Full-grown northern elephant seal males can reach up to 4,500 pounds and over 13′ in length, while the females are much smaller at (only) 1,500 pounds and about 10′ in length. Known to be the favored prey of the great white shark, the elephant seals of the Farallon Islands get special attention from scientists. Each season the seals are tagged, counted, and monitored to help keep track of their health and population.

The dark elephant seal pups are born in December/January and weigh in at about 75-80 pounds at birth. But they don’t stay small long; pups gain 8-10 pounds a day from over the course of 28 days, reaching up to a whooping 250+ pounds from nursing alone! For the next two months they’re “weaners,” left behind in the rookeries while their mothers mate with one or more of the dominant bulls and then return ocean to eat for the first time since giving birth.

Alone on shore, the weaners spend their time playing, sleeping, and practicing their swimming skills in puddles. By February/March their hunger drives them to the sea, where they will teach themselves to hunt and dive off shore for the next six months.

In the fall the pups will be referred to as “yearlings,” but sadly at least 50% don’t live to see their first birthday. The ocean is a dangerous place to be an infant, and even hauling out of the ocean is fraught with peril. White sharks patrol the shores of northern California from September to November, waiting for exactly the opportunity a returning yearling represents: a naive and tasty 300+ pound mammal with a body mass made up of almost 50% fat. Every living thing must to eat, and white sharks are no exception. But for now the pups are beside their mothers, fattening up in safety—just a few more weeks until their inner weaner is unveiled!

Huge thanks to a biologist named Jane who keeps a fabulous blog about Farallon Island elephant seal happenings; all of these photos were taken by her during the 2011 and 2012 breeding season. For more about elephant seals from the Marine Mammal Center, click here.

Shark Sex!

When I was a deck hand and educator on the schooner Adventuress, the quickest way to get grown-ups interested in a marine-wildlife talk was to talk about sex. Mussel sex, crab sex, anemone sex, it didn’t matter; the adults would drop all conversation and scurry over to the tank to listen. Barnacle sex was an especially big crowd-pleaser– not only do barnacles reproduce sexually, they are hermaphroditic and are thus all endowed with the largest penis-to-body-size ratio on the planet. As we used to say on the boat, “that’s an inch and a half to be proud of.”

So it makes sense to me to begin my first post about great white sharks (or simply ‘white sharks,’ as scientists call them) by talking about how they have sex. I’m into sharks these days as I chase a story idea, and over the last few weeks I’ve come across stunning facts and footage of these incredible, gorgeous, and terrifying predators. My top five white shark sex facts? Here we go!:

The Toothy Grin of a Great White Shark

1) White sharks reproduce sexually. Male sharks have two external organs called ‘claspers’ that are used to deliver sperm into the female shark during reproduction. During mating, the clasper unfurls and “opens like an umbrella” to secure delivery until the male is finished.

2) White sharks seem to be rather rough lovers. The females often have deep scars around their head and gills, probably from courtship and mating. The skin on a female’s back is much thicker than a male’s–probably to withstand this abuse–and the females grow to be larger than males (an adaptation known as sexual dimorphism).

3)  White sharks are ovoviviparous; they hatch from eggs inside of their mother’s uterus and continue to grow until birth. This means that they probably participate in intrauterine cannibalism, and EAT their weaker, would-be siblings before birth. Yikes.

4) We think white sharks have between 2 and 7 pups, and have an 11-14 month gestation period. Only one pregnant female white shark has ever been caught, and she and her pups were chopped up for chum by local fisherman before scientists or the press caught on.

5) No human has ever witnessed white shark sex. Our best guess is based on observing other shark mating behavior, but really, nobody knows for sure. French-maid outfits? Black leather dorsal-fin collars? Gary Larson can draw whatever he pleases.

That’s it for now on white sharks from me. Back to my research and my roughs– expect to see more drawings over the next few weeks and months as I dig in. Also, a big shout out to Chris at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for making my week! Chris was about to draw my blood for a test and then recognized my name from reading my blog and my Caterpillar stories. He still drew my blood, of course, but the conversation made my day. Thank you, Chris!



Schulz Library Blog Interview

Last week, cartoonist/librarian Jen Vaughn invited me to contribute to the Schulz Library blog with an alumni interview. Thanks so much Jen! Here’s a little excerpt on the undergraduate class I’m teaching, or read the entire interview here!
What have you been up to since you graduated from CCS and moved?
Katherine Roy: I am teaching a new class at the Art Institute of Boston (AIB) called “Form, Content & Context,” which is basically a cross between 2D Design and Visual Thinking for undergraduate freshman in the Foundation Studies department. Each week or so we’ve done a project exploring a new element of design, including shape, line, texture, and value, soon moving on to color. My 10 students have completely different levels of artistic and concept development experience, so it’s been a challenge for me to learn how to frame the parameters for each assignment in a way that gives them a focal point, while also encouraging play. I feel like my job is really to teach how to SEE, and in return I get to revisit the way I see and make and explore through art. It’s my first time teaching at this level, after lots of experience with kids and adults, but so far it’s been incredibly rewarding.

Which assignment turned out to be your favorite?

KR: So far the texture assignment has been, I think, most successful, which is funny because it was the one I felt most uncertain about. I started off by stealing an idea from one of my drawing teachers, Jeff Fisher, who sometimes has his students wrap a commercial-sized trash can with a long piece of paper, and then the students move AROUND the model, drawing AROUND the trash can, keeping it oriented to the model while circling the room. The result is a distorted but very dynamic drawing that forces you to think about connections in space, and editing while you draw.

Students working on barrel drawing.

To translate this into a design assignment, I started by setting up a large still life in the center of the room, and had the students do two drawings on the trash cans, using paint and charcoal, as they circled the still life. From there they had to choose the one that was working the best, and then collage textures back into it (rubbings, drawn textures, etc) and incorporate value to create a completed piece. I was very pleased with some of the final pieces— you never know how students will respond to something so unconventional, but the unfamiliarity forces students to try thinking in a new way, which is exactly what (I think) Foundation Studies should be about.

Student work by Sophie Lizano