Monday, 26 May 2014

Work | The perils of ocean travel: two letters (1762 and 1853)

I have had a busy weekend. Saturday: ten-year secondary school anniversary (great time, good food, spoke more with some than we ever did at school); Sunday: watched This is the End with friends (great time, good foo candy, and general ROFLing). These are all excuses for not really having had time to write something, so today I will share two letters with you, letting their authors speak for themselves. 

The material I use for my research is often written by Irish emigrants, and so sometimes I come across the very first letter written home to an anxious family awaiting word of a safe arrival. But even though the arrival may have been safe in the end, the journey might have been arduous indeed. Here are two such stories, as written down by those who experienced them. I have made no corrections (there are some from transcribers), and punctuation and capitalisation are left unchanged. Some line-breaks and headings have been added to break up the text (and make it more suitable for our modern, short-attention-span brains).

The first letter is from 11 November, 1762 by John Smilie from Susquehanna, Philadelphia to his father Robert Smilie in Greyabbey, County Down, Northern Ireland. The document begins and ends with a note, added later:

The above date contains a letter from Mr. Robert Smilie of Greyabbey warning intending emigrants and enclosing a letter from his son which describes the latters experience. The vessel referred to is probably the Sally which arrived at Philadelphia on September 9th 1762. The son's letter is as follows: 
Honoured Father, I account it my honour and duty to give you an account of myself and my proceedings since I left you, which have [been?] I confess a little extraordinary. On the next Tuesday after I left you I came on board the S---y, [sic] on the Monday morning following being the 24th May last we sailed for America. On the 31st we lost sight of Ireland, having been delayed to then by calms and contrary winds, which seemed to be doleful presages of our after unhappy voyage.  
We had our full allowance of bread & water only for the first fortnight, then we were reduced to three pints per day and three pounds and a half of bread per week to each person, which it never afterwards exceeded the whole voyage. We had a S.W. wind which drove us so far north that our weather became excessively cold with much rain and hard gales of wind. On the 5th of July we had a hard squall of wind which lasted nine hours and caused us to lie under bare poles. On the 12th we espied a mountain of ice of prodigious size. On the 13th our weather became more moderate.
'A half noggin of barley each'
On the 16th we spied a sail which was alongside us before either saw the other, she having the wind right aft, crowded sail and bore away. We gave her chase and fired six guns at her but the fog soon hid her from us.  In this manner did our captain behave, giving chase to all ships we saw whether they bore off us East or West, it was all alike, the motives of which caused various conjectures. 
Against the first our weather became extremely warm and the crew very weak. The 10th day our allowance of bread came to two pounds and a half per week to each passenger, next week we had one pound and a half per week and the next twelve days we lived on two biscuits and a half for that time and a half noggin of barley each which we ate raw for want of water to boil it in. We had beef but could make no use of it for thirst for we were a week that we had but half a pint of water per day for each person. Hunger and thirst had now reduced our crew to the last extremity.
'Our ship was now a real spectacle of horror'
Nothing was now to be heard aboard  our ship but the cries of distressed children and of their distressed mothers unable to relieve them. Our ship was now a real spectacle of horror, never a day passed without one or two of the crew being put overboard. Many killed themselves by drinking salt water and their own urine was a common drink, yet in the midst of all our miseries our captain showed not the least remorse or pity. We were now out of hopes of ever seeing land. August 29th we had only one pint of water for each person which was all that we passengers would have got and our bread was done but on that day the Lord was pleased to send the greatest shower of rain that I ever saw which was the means of preserving our lives. After this we had fair winds and for most part rains every day and though we had no bread thought that we lived well. 
On the 1st of September we sounded and found ourselves in forty fathoms of water and the next morning about eight o'clock we saw land to the inexpressible joy of all ships crew and on Sunday morning the 4th of September we came to an anchor off Newcastle so that we had a passage of fourteen weeks and six days. 
You may judge of Captain J----'s [sic] temper and character by this, that, notwithstanding all the straits we were in for bread and water neither he nor his mistress nor five others that were his favourites ever came to an allowance. We had now since the time of our setting sail lost forty four of our crew by death. 
Monday the 5th I came on shore and by the blessing of God in three weeks time I got perfectly well but indeed few of our ships crew were so strong as I for notwithstanding all I suffered I enjoyed a good state of health the whole passage. Your dutiful son. John Smilie. 
The letter was written at Fishing Creek on Susquehanna
November 11th 1762.

The next letter was written 8 December 1853 by William McMaster to his parents. He was at this point in Australia, but the note at the beginning tells us he was never heard of again. The contents of the letter tell us about an escape from a ship, so this is not so much about a difficult journey, but more about its culmination. Australia contained penal colonies at the time, but it is more likely that William travelled to Australia because of the gold rushes of the 1850s (he mentions 'diggins'). He had perhaps mustered as a sailor on a vessel bound for Sidney, but must have felt the need to escape from the ship at some point.

This letter was from uncle William McMaster in Australia he was never heard tell of again he was mothers Brother his home was In Ireland
Thos H Galbraith
Sydney December 8 1853 
Dear Father and Mother i take the first opertunity since i arrived in Sydney to write Those few line to you to let you know That i am in good health as this leaves me At present thank God for his Kind mercies To me hoping to find you all in the same 
'We mead our escape in the Bush'
Dear perents i had a great deal of Deficulty geting away From the ship but thank God i Got clear of her the captain proffered ten pounds reward for us But we mead our escape in the Bush the were Eight constables after us and came on us / and the were Three of us to Gether and the constables told us the Would tak us to Sydney and put us aboard of the Ship but we sead that the wer not fit to take us through the were twice the [compliment?] so the [comensed?] to Take hold of us so we [conceeded?] after a Struggle We managed to Get away from the so we loged in the Bush that night 
[S]o the next day we traveled Twelve miles and got work chopping wood that was a Job that we were not used to But in this country a man must turn his hand To anything that offers first Dear father and Mother i am working ashore in Sydney now But i don’t intend to stop in Sydney long after Christmas i am going to melbourne and then going up to the Diging. 
'The wages is Better in melbourne' 
Dear parents this is a find [country?] and i leck very well the are from ten to twelve pounds per month for seamen and if you Don’t leck to go to sea you can get plenty work ashore the are from Ten to Twelve shillings per day For working ashore in Sydney but the Board is very high the Board is on pound a week But the wages is Better in melbourne the Diggins is very Good as yet so i [intend?] to try my luck at them But a person wants a little money to cary him him up for it is a good distance to them the [nearest?] is ninety miles and from that to two hundred 
Dear parents I have not seen William [Arnett?] yet But the is arrived in melbourne William [Knott?] is in a Costing scooner and him and me is going up to the Digins together Dear parents i shall be Able to send you some money the next Letter 
Dear parents Dont fret about me Tho i ame far from you i ame still the same and i Dont forget you But it Dont be in my power to send anything yet – But Dear parents i shall soon be able to send you something for i can [Dow?] very well in this country any man that Keeps from Drinking can Do very well in this country 
I wish James was out here he could do very well for this is the Best Country i ever was in i wish i had been out two years agow for the Times was Better a little Back Dear Father and mother let [Ritchard?] Rodgers Know that his son [Richard?] is well and him and me is working Together So no more at present  
But your Truly William McMaster
When you [Writ?] D to John Sparks
Hent Street Sydney

What really happened to William will, as in so many of these stories, remain a mystery. 

These letters were written about 100 years apart, but the perils of packing up and travelling across the oceans to settle in a faraway continent crop up every now and again in the corpus of Irish English Correspondence (CORIECOR). Some were lucky and had an admirable crew, plenty of rations, and fair weather, but thirst, illness – especially fever and the tell-tale symptoms of scurvy ('the skin busted of my teeth') – and callous crew-members are recurring themes. 

I'm glad I can simply jump on a plane for that conference in Newcastle next month.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Play | Cover art for 'Jeg vil vekk' (JKD & the Bastards)

Photo: Lasse Tomren, make-up: Jessica Ådland, model: Anna L. B. Malo.

Last year, I made a cover for JKD & the Bastards' new single 'Jeg vil vekk.' The song revolves around a young girl who, after leaving her homeland for Norway, ends up as a prostitute. To reflect this, they wanted a cracked, porcelain-like face of a girl on the cover. Here is how I created it.

The image was shot in RAW, which allowed me to make the skin look as pale as possible right from the start using Photoshop's Camera RAW plug in.

Original image.
After adjustments in Camera RAW.

Make-up had provided a good foundation by among other things adding fake (higher) eyebrows and lashes set further away from the eyes. This give a wide-eyed, doll-like look.

Close-up of make-up.

I first smoothed out the skin by copying the image and giving it a High Pass filter set to Overlay. A High Pass filter identifies details in an image and, depending on your setting, can either sharpen or unsharpen details. In this case we needed a porcelain-like skin, so the filter was used to smooth out the texture of the skin. To blend this with the underlying image, the layer blending mode was set to Overlay, which darkens dark areas, brightens bright areas, and fades out mid tones. The eyes and teeth were brightened to make them stand out more and give them a more artificial appearance.

High Pass filter.
Keeping only areas that need smoothing out.
High Pass layer set to Overlay. Eyes and teeth brightened with Levels adjustment layer.
Next, the area around the eyebrows needed a little extra smoothing because this is where here actual eyebrows are and were still showing slightly. I gave them an extra round with the High Pass procedure to smooth out the texture, and also painted in more colour to thicken the eyebrows.

Smoother skin over the eyes and darker eyebrows.
 As you can see, the fake eyelashes are set lower than the actual lashes. This makes the eyes bigger, but there is bit of unclear skin in between. I painted in a thin band of skin (with a Bevel and Emboss layer style to add the slight highlight to the lower eyelid) and of black to mimic the area where the eyelid meets the lashes.

Touch-up of eyelid and lashes (left) and original (right).

Part of the desired look was a cracked appearance of the porcelain. I found a few images of rips and cracks in dried paint and an eggshell. These were put in place over the face and worked into the image by masking out the undesired parts of the images and setting the layer blending modes to Multiply, which makes pure white areas disappear and darkens other areas. Perfect for showing only the cracks in these white images. The cracked eggshell needed a bit more work because there is a lot of grey in it and the cracks are so faint. By adding two copies of it, one set to blending mode Linear Burn -- the other to Luminosity, the cracks became visible.

Cracking the porcelain.

Blending mode: Multiply.
Masking out the unwanted bits.
You have to break a few eggs to make a bad pun.
Multiply and masking to add the cracked eggshell to the skin.
A final piece of white added to the crack to simulate the painted surface flaking off before cropping to 1400x1400 px cover size.

To add a little more of a distressed look to the skin, a marble texture was added. This made it look as if the porcelain was covered by a faint web of fine cracks. It was important to make these follow the contours of the face, so a Displacement Map was added. For this, a copy of one of the colour channels (Red, Green or Blue) with the most contrast is saved as a new document. Under Filter > Distort > Displace, this new document is added to whichever layer needs the distortion, in this case the marble tile. When this is set to Overlay blending mode, it makes the texture of the tile seem to follow the shape of the face.

The marble tile for texture.

Ready-made displacement map.

The tile after adding the displacement map.
Masking out the bits of tile that fall outside of the face.
Displacement map after blending in with Overlay.

 After that it was a matter of adding the band name and song title with a bit of shadow behind the words to make them stand out from the (mostly) white background. End result:

Monday, 12 May 2014

Work | What is being written about Norwegians and Dutch people in old Irish emigrant letters?

I was born in the Netherlands but moved to Norway at the age of ten, so it's always fun to come across a mention of either country in my research. I decided to run some corpus searches to get the scoop on what Irish emigrants really thought about Norwegians and Dutch people, and found some interesting results!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Play | Poster design: Multa Paucis

Earlier this week I made a promotional poster for Multa Paucis a Bergen-based all-female (except for the conductor) choir. Some of the key-words I received for the design were elegance, femininity, and classical and traditional Norwegian music. Below is the final version. Read on to see a short step-by-step of the design process.

Final poster

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Work | Why 'Ye olde shoppe' is wrong. Sort of.

So, you just opened a shop selling the usual combination of distressed pottery, unbalanced fantasy swords, and badly painted plastic knights. What better name than 'Ye olde shoppe'? After all, in pre-1066 times in Britain, people surely said, 'Darling, I'm just off the ye shop.' Wrong! Well, first of all, they would have said deorling instead of 'darling,' but this post isn't about Old English, but about the y in 'ye olde somethinge.'

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Play | Creating a 19th century daguerreotype photograph

In this post I will give a short introduction to daguerreotype photography and show how I recreated that characteristic look to produce this totally smashing 'daguerreotype' of me:

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Work | Selected quotes from historical emigrant letters

When you search through approximately 5,000 historical letters from Irish emigrants for linguistic features you are bound to stumble upon some interesting quotes. In fact, I keep a separate document where I save anything worthwhile. This is actually one of the reasons I started this blog. I am really looking for spelling variation which reveals phonological features of Irish English, but these are the experiences and thoughts of real people and, even though some historical works have been written based on some of these letters, I wanted to share some of their jokes, observations, and heart aches with you.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Play | Iron Throne

Today, winter is coming once again! (That means a new season of Game of Thrones for those of you who live under rocks.) Which is perfect timing to show a making-of of something I created featuring yours truly on the Iron Throne. As I made it last winter, I couldn't quite remember all the steps, so this is less detailed than other design posts I've done but shows the main bits of work.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Work | Boosting creativity and productivity with background noise

This is a small deviation from the usual theme for my work posts, although it is in the same vein. You see, I've discovered the benefits of ambient background noise for increasing productivity and/or creativity. In this blog post, I introduce two websites (Coffitivity and MyNoise) that I regularly use to 'get in the zone' (in fact, I'm listening to one now).

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Play | Poster design: Becketts Ringar

Model: Marie Brottemsmo, all photography: Veslemøy Furuseth

I've done a number of poster for the student theatre company Immaturus in Bergen, Norway. I joined them when I was a student and was cast in the role of a mentally challenged boy. That's right. Perhaps not surprisingly, I let that be my one contribution as an actor, was on Immaturus's board and artistic board for a while, and, when the call came for someone to design a poster for a play, tried my hand at that. And that's how I got into print design. This is a making-of of a poster I did for them last autumn.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Work | The provost sergeant and his pig

'The Pig is well, but strongly objects to the cold.' My eyes stumbled across this gem a few months ago as I was searching letters for phonetic spellings. This was written by an Ernest Cochrane in 1897 to, I believe, his niece Kate Finly. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Play | Icon design: Wheelie bin

I have occasionally done some work designing or adjusting icons for a leading Norwegian software developing company. They make geographical information systems which are used by many municipalities (so if you work for a 'kommune' in Norway, there is a good chance you have clicked on some of my work!).

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Work | An eyewitness account of the first battle of the American Civil War

“Bombardment of Fort Sumter by the batteries of the Confederate states,” 1861. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-90258. <>

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I look for words with phonetic representation in historical letters from Irish emigrants. Usually, I don't pay much attention to what the letters are actually about, because that would slow me down too much. But sometimes I get carried away by the simple fact that I am reading a personal account of someone who lived many, many years ago. An account, even, that was never meant for anyone else than the addressee on the envelope.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Play | Long, flat shadow-ish logo design

Just a quick making-of for the title banner of this blog, or logo if you like. It is of course heavily inspired by the long, flat shadow trend (which incidentally seems to be petering out). Not everyone is a fan but if the shadow isn't too overpowering I find it can be quite tasteful. Long, flat shadows (there has to be a better, shorter name) is an off-shoot of the flat design trend, visible in for example iPhone's iOS 7 and Windows 8. I believe the general consensus is that the UIs of smart phones and tablets have been instrumental in the increasing popularity of flat design.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Work | An example of what I am looking for in my project

I have just finished working through some 5-6,000 historical letters to/from Irish emigrants. It took me a good few months and it feels great being done. Now remains analysing the results. And writing. I need to continue writing. I know. And I am. In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you some examples of what a letter might look like and what kind of features I'm after.

Letter example

The letters in the Corpus of Irish English Correspondence (CORIECOR) have all been digitised and appear for instance like this:

Monday, 10 February 2014

Play | Poster design: De selektive

On Thursday, Teaterterminalen, a Norwegian theatre group fronted by artistic director Mari Sofie Andreassen and producer Charlotte Prydz Ottesen,  won the prestigious Natt & Dag's yearly Bergen Award for best theatrical performance with 'De selektive.' The play discusses the theme of selective abortion, i.e. whether to undergo an abortion if the foetus turns out to have a serious (or less serious) disability and the implications this has for society. It does so with guts, humour, and intelligence and has received very positive reviews.

Having worked with both Mari and Charlotte before, I was asked to create promotional material for 'De selektive,' including posters (it has been staged in a number of locations) and flyers. I decided to take this opportunity to show a few steps in the creation of the poster.

Sunday, 2 February 2014


Well then! Welcome to this here blog. The intention here is twofold: to write about the PhD thesis I'm working on (or rather, on the topic of my thesis), and to write about the graphic design I occasionally do. These are two very different things, of course, but they are the two things that (actively) occupy most of my time. So the thesis is the 'work' part, and the graphic design is the 'play' bit. Sometimes one feels like the other and vice versa, but there you go.