After Eighteen

Erin Sullivan, a 2013 graduate of the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, has turned a lifelong love of video games into a career. Now he's headed to college in the fall. — Photo by Eli Dagostino

After 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year.This week’s dispatch is the fourth from Erin Sullivan, who is working on a video game and contemplating his next move.

The past few weeks have been fairly busy for me, mostly with a mixture of college preparation for next fall and some large changes to Driftwood. This fall I’ll be attending Becker College in Worcester for Game Design, and I’m really excited to get back to school and to start from scratch again, I’m a goal based person, and only having a few potential goals (that are somewhat dependent on other people) here at home have had its toll on my motivation. So, being able to get back to a school setting and challenging myself would be nice.

In terms of Driftwood, we’ve recently switched a few roles around, moving an artist who wasn’t able to keep up with the workload to different duties and hiring a new artist and, a background artist, which will overall make the entirety of the project more professional and polished looking. I’m really happy about everything that’s been happening with the project, and next dispatch I hope to have a lot of pictures to showcase what’s been going on with it all.

But again, I want to thank everyone who’s supported me and my team for the past two years, since this May, on the 16th will be the two-year anniversary of the start of the project. It means the world to me that my friends, family, and random people I don’t even know on the Internet have supported me throughout my journey, especially my parents. Being an artist and a content creator is a major risk in terms of a profession, but I have faith that I’ll be successful and I’ll really be able to leave something behind me that’s memorable.

Being a content creator and an artist is one of the hardest things imaginable, at least in my eyes. The goal of someone who creates is to leave the person experiencing it with a definite memory, something they’ll always remember, even if only vaguely. Memories are the most important aspect to the human mind in the long run and being able to leave an impact on an individual’s memory, let alone their emotions, or their outlook on life is the biggest achievement a creator can obtain.

Human beings are delicate and very complex creatures; clearly showcased with how we separate ourselves from animals, or from the nature around us, when at the end of the day we’re all made out of the same atoms. All of the same elements and compounds in any mammal have ties to our own, yet…something about us is drastically different…

We have a memory, feelings, thoughts and a soul capable of fully expressing itself to others of our species. We can connect with each other, or with stories that we create. We love, cherish, fantasize…we have ambitions and goals, hopes and fears, we appreciate and at times, we obsess over some of the smallest, most meaningless things in the greater scheme of the entire existence of everything…but at the end of the day, the small quirks and aspects of everything we as a human do, is what make us so unique…

Each and every person on the planet is different and no person is the same. To be a successful artist, you have to find that small essence of individualism – you have to find what truly makes you…you.

After you’ve found yourself, you have to open yourself to the world…You must be prepared for negative criticism, ready for people to belittle and misinterpret your attempt at self expression. You’ve got to be ready for disgust, hatred, and ignorance, because all of this ties in along with our uniqueness as human beings. As perfect of creatures as we make ourselves out to be, we seem to try our best to prove the exact opposite with our bigotry and hypocrisy…

That’s why, I as an artist, a content creator, a writer, a producer, a developer, want to change people’s outlooks on life; I want to open their minds with stories that could potentially melt even the coldest of hearts. My dream, my unique lust as a human being is to be able to inspire, and to be remembered by at least one other person as someone who made the world a better place through what I love doing.

And at the end of the day, truly achieving that deep human connection – the only thing that potentially makes us any different than any other animal on the planet is the most difficult. Especially for a living.

Hopefully what I’ve said here has at least made you think a little about your own life, and possibly inspired you to follow your own unique dreams and aspirations.

Because, well, that’s what truly makes you, you.

Running to save the planet, or at least big cats: Bella Bennett, center, with fellow Skidmore freshmen Melissa Flack (left) and Megan Macomber, before a run at the school's "Cheeta Chase," a 5K that raises money to help conserve tigers, panthers and cheetahs. — Courtesy Bella Bennett

After 18 is an ongoing series written by four graduates from the class of 2013. This week’s dispatch is the fourth from Bella Bennett, who attends Skidmore College. Bella studied in London during her first semester. She is now at Skidmore’s main campus, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

I’ve been taking environmental studies courses since I joined the Skidmore community in January, and I’ve finally begun to grasp the extent to which we as a race currently indulge in unsustainable practices.

It is not hard to see that we have evolved into a very consumerist society. How many options did you have when choosing what to wear today? When deciding what to eat for breakfast? Exactly. It is however, hard to oppose consumerism and endorse sustainable practices instead. This is predominantly because sustainable practices often cost more money than their unsustainable alternatives, or involve not taking part in an activity at all.

One sustainable practice is to simply buy and consume less than is considered normal. Think about it. Do you really need six grey tee-shirts? I know that I personally own way more things than I have purpose for. Unfortunately, I love my things. The problem is, what we consider to be a “normal amount” of things is actually obscenely disproportionate with what we need. It is way too easy to go into a store needing a new pair of pants and come out with two — and three pairs of socks and a sweater.

This is in part not our fault. Marketing, the key component of business (which I have learned a lot about in my intro to business class), relies on countless furtive strategies to convince us that we need just about every product out there. And when it’s done well, we tend believe it. How many unnecessary things do you own? When I look around my dorm room, which has limited space as it is, I see plenty of things that I have no real purpose for. I have five blankets for starters. Yes, this is Upstate New York, and yes this winter was nostril-freezingly cold, but I do not live in an igloo; I live in an overheated dorm room! In preparing for college, however, I bought a ton of things “just in case.” You never know what you might need. I love this statement. It is a complete enabler though, and I personally need to get as far away from it as possible in order to reduce the environmental impacts of my personal consumerism.

I’m going to push my embarrassment aside for a moment and be really honest about something that changed my view on my own lifestyle and lifestyle choices. One of the first assignments that I had in my environmental studies class was to use one of those online environmental footprint calculators and calculate my environmental impact. Going into it, I wasn’t all that worried. My house on the Vineyard is completely solar powered, and for the majority of the year we actually generate excess power, which goes back onto the grid, and gets used by — well — you, perhaps!

So knowing this, I figured I wasn’t doing too much damage.

I was obviously wrong. The results of my test were expressed in the number of Earths that it would take to support the entire human race if everyone gobbled up resources at the rate that I apparently do. I know that I am an extremely privileged human being (see my last article), but the image of four and three-quarters of a fifth world appearing on the computer screen really put me off of my bi-monthly trips to Walmart. That’s right: It would take 4.75 Earths to support the human race if everyone were as privileged (and as much of a consumer) as I am.

This is a titanic problem. Predominantly because we only have one Earth. And, the current level of resource degradation and depletion to meet the demands of our growing population is not sustainable in the least.

The worst thing about studying environmental studies is that I’m learning there is no singular, easy way to implement or solve anything.

Because of the complexity of the issue, my central plea is this: Please try to take into consideration the actual value of the things that you buy. The value in terms of the environmental costs, as well as how much the item actually means to you. I don’t care if it is that 99 cent trinket at Walmart, I still think that bothering to consider what it is that you want to support, and making conscious decisions about your own consumption is seriously important.

And hey, if you’re all about that 26-matching-tee-shirts-

lined-up-in-my-closet kind of life, then have at it, just be a love and consider what you do with them when you’re done. Red Cross, anyone? I apologize for sounding like a PSA and not even having any cool visuals, but this is what I am currently fixated on, and I think we all need to give it a whole lot more thought than we care to.

Sarah-Thompson-protraitAfter 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year.This week’s dispatch is from Sara Thompson, who writes from Portland, Oregon, where she is attending the Oregon College of Art and Craft.

In her last dispatch, Sara Thompson described how she made this atom out of nickel.

I want viewers to experience the moon in a different way. I want to take my work in a direction that warrants artistic appreciation and allows for scientific and educational inquiries through creating pieces that viewers can interact with. My atom was the start. Over the last few weeks, I have embarked to craft this new piece.

The moon is a celestial body that has been wandering the skies of our planet for as long as we can remember. We’ve been there. We traveled 239,000 miles; it’s the only place we’ve been aside from mother Earth. This lunar body, trapped in a gravitational dance and tug of war between the earth and the sun. It is slowly leaving our side at the rate of one and a half inches a year. The moon is something more than a gray crescent and sphere in the sky. We have seen the moon nearly every day for hundreds of thousands of years, but very few have been lucky to feel and experience it.

For this project in metals,  I needed to create an impression. I also wanted to continue my exploration of combining metalsmithing with science. I envisioned bringing this celestial body down to Earth.

The moon, like Earth, has craters and canyons thousands of meters deep. I wanted to create the impression of the lunar surface through recreating the moon’s landscape based on a topographic map. Viewers could have a multi-sensory experience — feeling the moon while looking at an etched photo — to create an experience of what one sees in the sky while running one’s fingers along the canyons and craters.

Close up perspective
Close up perspective

The way I created the topographic map of the moon was through a technique called chasing and repousse. Chasing and repousse is when an artist takes steel tools and hammers the tools into a flat sheet of metal to push it to a 3-D state which gives it volume. (Repousse: hammering from the backside to push the metal up; chasing: hammering the metal down from the front side to create finer detail.)

Doing a little bit of blacksmithing and forging, I shaped raw tool steel to meet the shapes and sizes I needed for the moon. After I formed them into the shape I needed, I heated and tempered them to make them extremely hard, so they could stand hundreds of hours of hammering. I also made a masonite dye form, which is a sandwich of one piece of wood, masonite (hardboard), the piece of metal (that will be the middle piece) and another piece of masonite. Then I drilled holes in all the layers to allow pins, which will keep it together.

Having all the tools I needed, I found a topographic map of the near side of the moon, the side we see. I was going to make the moon large enough to have a man’s hand fit around it comfortably. I didn’t want it too large because doing large scale metalsmithing is rather difficult, especially as a first year student. (My third year I get to make a teapot from a flat sheet of metal; that will something.) Anyway, I bought an 8 x 8 inch piece of 16-gauge (1.29mm) piece of copper. I calculated that the topography was going to be scaled to 1km = 4mm and 6 inches in diameter. You can think of it like sea level. Whatever is under sea level needs to be chased down while everything else above sea level needs to be pushed up from the back side. So at the highest elevation, I was pushing the metal up 16mm above sea level while not too far way, I was pushing and stretching the metal 16mm below sea level to create the craters we see on the moon.

Let’s put this in perspective. I was hammering a flat sheet of metal to have an overall distance of 32 mm. When you hammer metal, you make it thinner and harder. Well, I hammered my metal so much that I tore it open.

I tore my metal, twice.

Yes mother, I truly sit in front of a vise and hammer metal for hours. Then when I anneal this big piece of metal, I use two giant air compressor torches that weight about 15 pounds each. They’re kinda’ like mini flame throwers, to make the metal soft again so I can keep hammering it.

After a good 50 hours of hammering, I made a topographic map of the moon out of metal.

Sara Thompson's metal moon.
Sara Thompson’s metal moon.

This is going to get a little complicated. I’ll try to walk you through my creative process for this project, but I think a little differently. When I create pieces, I see them crystal clear in my mind. There is no sketchbook needed, no words need to be said… it’s a quiet process, all visual and only visual. It’s kind of like symbolism. Therefore, explaining my designs, how I make them, how I think, and simply why the hell I’m an artist who doesn’t use a sketchbook is difficult. I see them and then I bring them to life, sculptural, jewelry, and drawings included.

Figuring out and consulting this project with my professor, I had for the first time, someone respect my thinking process. It was an extraordinary moment. My professor said to me, “You have this unusual way of thinking, you just see it….and then you actually make it….. I trust you… just go, just go, and make it.”

So now, I had this….thing…the topographic map in a square piece of metal from the sandwich. I cut out the map and envisioned how I was going to create the rest of my piece. Remember, I needed to make an impression and a multi-sense experience. I was going to house the moon within a box. The box would have an opening. Viewers would be able to put their hand through red curtains in an opening of the box. Similar to how astronauts first went into the abyss of space. They have a subtle idea of that they’re getting into, but not really. Now back to the box. This box, it needed to be big enough to have the moon in it and also enough space to allow you to move your hand around in it while exploring the craters of the moon. I settled on having the box be 8 x 8 x 5 inches.

"I connected the sides of the box with nickel tabs and rivets."
“I connected the sides of the box with nickel tabs and rivets.”

I soon discovered that the box break did not make ninety degree angles and that my box was still too big, even after I cut it down to four inches in height. As a solution, I hand-folded the rest of the sides up. I had to gently hammer the sides up from a 30 to roughly 90 degree angle. This gave the box an imperfect character to it. I began to play with this characteristic of the box. I connected the sides of the box with nickel tabs and rivets, though the tabs weren’t 90 degree angles from the box break making them a little crooked. Then I ran into another problem, the only escutcheon pins (nails basically) I had were brassplated steel. The whole point of using these pins was to make my life a little bit easier. I was using the pins to rivet the nickel tabs to the box, 32 times. I riveted steel 32 times. It’s more difficult than it sounds, basically, using a steel hammer to spread steel…. it doesn’t work very well, but I did it somehow. (I will never have to rivet again as the other part of the agreement due to the nightmare of this.)

For the opening of the box, where you put your hand through, I made an addition of silky red curtains. I toyed with the idea of going to a theater or show and seeing those classic red, velvety curtains. One would put one’s hand through as one begins to the experience of the Moon. On top of the box, I riveted a hazy photo etching of the moon so that when viewers put their hands in the box, the craters on the photos match the metal surface inside.

My moon impression was almost done. With all of its charm and quirks, it reminded me of something old. Something that has been passed down from a grandparent, handmade and aged. I gave the box a black oxide and a 220 grit finish to mimic a worn, old box passed down paralleling the idea that the Moon and our relationship with the moon that has been dancing around us for billions of years and billions to come as we experience the moon in a new way.

Jacob Lawrence is a freshman at UMass, Amherst where he is finishing up finals, before heading to the Island to fish. — courtesy of Jacob Lawrence

After 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year. This week’s dispatch is from Jacob Lawrence, who is attending the University of Massachusetts, where he is a declared communication major with a minor in Spanish.

The honeymoon is over….College is starting to feel like College

“The best four years of your life.” I have heard many people describe college differently over the last couple years but that seems to be the overall consensus of the best way to describe college in so few words. And for the last six months, I definitely would agree with them. Sure I have pulled a few all-nighters, I’ve gotten my heart broken a time or two but for the most part college life has been very good to me. However, they call it “higher education” for a reason and there are definitely some high expectations that come with it.

Looking back to the first few weeks after we had come back from winter recess, things were pretty normal. I was attending class as I normally did, I took notes about 98% of the time (I’m not perfect, I did doze off or watch Netflix once or twice in class). I was doing a good job of balancing my extra-curricular activities, my social life, and of course my studies. But little did I know I was in for a rude awakening.

It all started the Friday before the Valentine’s Day three day weekend. Everything was right in my life: I had a thriving social life, I was showing up to class on-time and well rested, momma had just put some more money in my bank account, and, best of all, for the first time in my life I had a special someone to spend Valentine’s Day and the rest of the weekend with and she was arriving in a couple hours. I arrived to Spanish class that day floating on cloud nine, and my teacher brought me right back to earth with only a simple sentence: “We are going to have a test on Tuesday.” Now I like to think of myself as a fairly good in Spanish. I am nowhere near being fluent, but I can speak and write with confidence. However, memorizing 50 different words and grammar rules is no easy task in English, let alone another language. Eventually class ended and while I wasn’t thrilled about having a test coming off of a three-day weekend (I mean who would be?) I wasn’t too worried.

Next I went to Biology which was my last class of the day. In 55 short minutes I could go back to my room and get it nice and clean for my big weekend. My Spanish test was still in the back of my mind, but like I said, I wasn’t going to let it ruin the weekend I had planned. I knew I’d find time to study. I always do. So as I’m sitting in class my instructor is going on about something plant-related while I was trying to take notes that I could use. I love animal biology, but there is something about plants that goes in one ear and out the other. Just as she is about to dismiss us for the weekend she announces that we will be having our first big exam — on TUESDAY! So now I had two tests coming up on the same day for two subjects which I find challenging. And I had no idea when I would be able to study for them. I looked down at my phone and found that it was too late to call her and cancel; she was halfway to school. It looked like I had no choice but to cram, much to my dismay.

I knew that there was nothing that I could do about it now. So I went on with my weekend. And while I did have a really fun time, in the back of my head the whole time I was thinking about studying for those tests. The good news is that I did find time to study, the bad news is that it was at 7PM the night before the tests.  I had less than 24 hours to study for two tests in two subjects which were not related by any stretch of the imagination. Needless to say, it was a long exhausting night and I knew the minute that I finished both tests that I had not done as well as I should have.

On top of that, my self-pity and a much-needed nap would have to wait because I was reminded by a classmate about a two-page sociology essay due the next day.  I eventually got the paper in on time and received a fairly good grade on it. Unfortunately for me this was only the beginning of a very academically demanding and stressful few weeks which wouldn’t end until spring break!

Between February 18th and March 7th my schedule averaged at least two tests and two papers due every week, in addition to chapter after chapter of supplemental readings online and primary readings in textbooks as well as smaller write-ups and responses to readings. This doesn’t include the week I missed just before spring break because of the flu.

While the physical work load itself is very large and the demands and expectations are high, I feel that the intangibles are what truly make the work near impossible. There are a lot of expectations for us college kids and the pressure is on us to do well for multiple reasons: the biggest being that our grades have a direct effect on our future career prospects. My dream is to go to UCLA, USC or possibly Harvard for graduate school, but one bad exam could dash all my hopes. Even if you look at the immediate future or the present,  the pressure is still there: I need to keep at least a 3.0 GPA in order to keep all my scholarships. I cannot even imagine what would happen if I were to lose my grants and scholarships. But I have a feeling it ends with me being back on Martha’s Vineyard for a little while longer.

Since I have been at school I have adopted a motto. This motto sums up everything that I have been told growing up about college, from the academic to the social. That motto is simply “college.” Admittedly this motto is very basic and ambiguous, but that’s why it works so well. I go to this motto when I am unsure about which decision I should make in a given situation: if I get dealt a good hand, I just say “college” and go about smiling. In this case I was dealt a very, very bad hand, which consisted of countless all-nighters, a lot of reading, pounds and pounds of junk food and a lot of energy shots. But nevertheless, I just chalked it up to “college,” and I took care of business.

Since I have been writing these [MVTimes] articles a lot of people have come up to me and my parents and made comments about my articles like: “Boy, he must be getting straight A’s for him to be doing all this partying and socializing,” or “Does he ever study? Or does he just socialize and party?” And to those folks I say: Thank you for reading my articles; rest assured it’s not all fun and games. College is starting to feel like college.

By the way, things didn’t work out between me and —-.

— Photo courtesy of Bella Bennett

Bella Bennet 2013After 18 is an ongoing series written by four graduates from the class of 2013. This week’s dispatch is the third from Bella Bennett, who attends Skidmore College. Bella studied in London during her first semester. She is now at Skidmore’s main campus, in Saratoga Springs, NY.

You’d think that after midterms and break, there would be a sweet little lull in work to allow for reclamation, but that is not the case at Skidmore, where I go to college. Once your return from spring break, you better have your game face on, cause it’s go time. Four days ago it was spring break, yet today I was unyieldingly pelted with torrents of hail every time I ventured outdoors. It feels like the final stretch of the semester, but the end is nowhere in sight, nor is the end of winter. The work is piling up close to the two feet of snow still on the ground, and the pressure is mounting. And yet, we have six more weeks before finals. Can we take a deep breath for a moment? Of course not!

I continually consider the contrast between the obvious notion that college is an incredible opportunity, and the mindset that I so often succumb to, and just did, that there is too much, too hard, work. It’s not like constant manual labor or anything. Unless you play a sport, you’re only being asked to apply your mind, and for the most part you’re studying topics of your own choosing. So why do I complain?

College is so unlike any other arrangement; the environment is controlled, yet must also encourage growth through “independence,”  which in my opinion, you cannot truly find in a dorm full of double and triple rooms, nor in a dining hall with four star restaurant quality food always at your disposal, and especially not in a place where faculty will essentially do everything in their power to ensure your happiness and well-being. So why should we complain? This is better than living in a hotel with all of your friends (and more expensive!).  I see the paradox. I am aware that I live a privileged lifestyle, and yet I cannot figure out how to properly set aside time and do my work without a high level or stress. In London, this problem was slightly less obvious to me, because we had a lot more free time to explore the city. I miss free time!

I don’t know what it is about procrastination, but I think it’s almost safe to say that we are the procrastination generation. It is so ingrained in myself and to my knowledge, all of my peers. Obviously I know nothing of what it is like to live in another generation, but I do know that I thrive on that last minute I’m-done-for-if-I-don’t-finish-this feeling, and regardless of how my peers relate to it, we’ve all experienced that feeling way too many times more than we’d like to admit.

I think more than anything what I need to take away from college is time management skills. That furtive way that free time simply disappears and manages to eat up should-be-work-time in the process, completely baffles me. Regardless, I can already see many changes within myself from my first half-semester on campus (I spent my first semester of college in London). I’ve learned so much in such a short time; from gazillions of depressing facts about the environment that kind of make me want to go extinct like all of the species around us are, to how to project Google’s financial future, and even how to drive on roads with multiple lanes and stop lights! Bonus!

This is such a unique period of time for me. Even time itself has many new meanings! I stress about homework due tomorrow for example, but neglect a larger project due next week. Focusing day by day means that suddenly, next week has become tomorrow, and stress then becomes overdosing on coffee and possibly reverting to meditation  in order to complete the assignment before the sun rises and my Lion King Theme-song alarm goes off.

Retrospect has gained a whole new meaning for me as well, as I promise myself repeatedly to, “never get into such a compromised position again.” While finishing an essay and sprinting to class with it, I tell myself that editing is for yearbooks and trashy magazines. But as I walk into class, that notion always deflates and I’m left with the uncomfortable feeling that my strategy is very flawed.

As they say, the first step is admittance. (Or something vaguely like that…) I hope that by shedding light on my academic flaws I will be able to overcome them in the near future and then truly take advantage of the glorious freedom that college offers through unending opportunities. I can smell many nights of coffee guzzling in my future, but I can also smell that sweet victory of one night (hopefully soon) having a warm mug of Sleepytime tea and getting to bed early after a productive day’s work. You have to start somewhere with goals, and mine is most certainly to put more effort into my opportunities (which consist of school work but the word opportunity has a better, more enlightening connotation) sooner. In the meantime, it’s spring snowstorms, unnecessary stress, maybe a few sprints, and a whole lot of assignments for me!

Erin Sullivan, flanked by some of his characters. — Photo by Eli Dagostino

After 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year. This week’s dispatch is the third from Erin Sullivan, who stayed on the Vineyard this year to work on a video game he created.

The past month has been a pretty big disappointment overall, but at the same time, it’s a little exciting to divert from what was planned. Due to complications, my family has to move, and find a new source of income.

I’m fairly used to this, and it’s what I and my parents, and I’m sure a few other locals call ‘The Island shuffle’. We’ve been moving and having to relocate since early 2008 when we moved off-Island to the Cape and I took the boat every day to the charter school. In 2009, we moved back to the Island, and began switching houses every 8 to 18 months after our leases were done and all that technical jib-jab. Fortunately, we think we’ve found a place on the Island to accommodate us, so I’ll still be able to see all my friends and people I love here.

The other unfortunate news is that I was declined for both majors (BFA in Digital Art and Animation and BA in Game Design) at my first choice college, so, in a way it was a pretty big slap to my face…I’ve been game deving and designing for the past 2 years, so having a school tell me I wasn’t ready was a bit demeaning, but at the end of the day, I think things work out the way they’re supposed to. Everything happens for a reason, so I must have bigger and greater things ahead of me than being a student at that school. (Or maybe I’m meant to become a hobo — destiny works in mysterious ways…)

At the end of the day, it just makes me want to work harder toward completing my goals. I now have my eyes set on Becker College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and if possible, more motivation to improve at the games I play.

Driftwood is coming along nicely and we’ve continued to work at a consistent rate. The last few weeks have been fairly stressful for me and I’ve spent a lot less time writing than I should, but I think in due time once I settle down into a new house, find a job for the summer, and get situated with my schooling and college situation, I’ll be able to write much more freely and without other concerns lingering in my subconscious.

Recently, I was re-reading some of the stuff I wrote for Driftwood nearly a year ago, and I see the small errors I’ve made, but, I see how strong my writing has gotten and how much I’ve developed as an artist over the past few months. Sadly, I’m not willing to go back and polish the old stuff. Because I’m constantly growing, my work is getting better and better each year, so if I am constantly re-writing, I’ll never be able to finish. It’d be a never ending cycle of improving and revamping old content to match my skill now.

All I can do is hope that people enjoy what I’ve written.

As always, if you have any questions regarding Driftwood, or anything regarding the article or myself, you’re welcome to leave a question at my email.

Sarah-Thompson-protraitAfter 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year. This week’s dispatch is from Sara Thompson, who writes from Portland, Oregon, where she is attending the Oregon College of Art and Craft.

Hello again,

Art and science, this is what I like. At the end of last semester, I wanted to combine my love of science and metalwork. My final project for my metals class had to incorporate at least three techniques aside from soldering that we had learned, and involve the idea of connectivity. Usually I do jewelry work, so for this project I thought I’d branch out and try to make a sculptural piece.

Immediately, I knew what I wanted to create. I want my work to engage viewers while incorporating educational scientific realms; essentially having viewers learn about science by experiencing art through multiple senses. I envisioned creating an atom of an element of metal out of that metal. I want to show that even though atoms are tiny, they still exist and they’re all around us. We’re even made out of them! Yet, most of us don’t even realize that we’re all made out of atoms — nevertheless that they are the building blocks of everything around us. Anything in the universe, aside from energy, is made out of matter. Matter, elements in particular, can be broken down into smaller and smaller bits until you reach the atomic structure, since atoms are the basic building blocks of matter. The atom is a collection of protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up the smallest form of matter of a particular element. In the center of the atom is the atomic nucleus which is made out of protons and neutrons. The number of protons identify what element the atom is. The electrons whip around the nucleus, encasing it in a sphere of constant movement. I was determined to make an atomic structure that viewers could see and touch.

Silver is my go-to metal. However, given that this project was going to be a sculpture and the atom was going to be roughly seven inches in diameter, silver was going to be way over my budget. I pondered: what metals did I have access to and which atomic structure was I able to create. Gold, oh no; copper, I’m not too crazy about copper, especially since I was using silver solder; brass, I had access to but it isn’t an element. That left me with nickel. Nickel is darker than silver and I had easy access to it. I bought two sheets of nickel at 20 and 22 gauge and wire at 12 and 22 gauge. (The higher the gauge, the thinner the metal.)

I was going to take the 20 gauge nickel and cut two circles out of the same size. Each circle was going to be hammered into a hemisphere and then the hemispheres were going to be soldered together to create a sphere. I took the thinner piece of metal and used a disk cutter to punch out small circles 12 millimeters in diameter. I placed each circle in a steel “dapping” block that has different size hemispheres carved out. These are used to hammer the circle into, resulting in a hemisphere shape. These smaller hemispheres were going to be used to create the nucleus. Since the nucleus of nickel is a collective 59 spheres (28 protons and 31 neutrons), I was going to solder 59 hemispheres to the large sphere to create the illusion of this ball of spheres condensed together. It was terrifying to solder 59 things one after another, close together because sometimes soldering closed pieces without a way for the air to escape from the inside creates issues with air pressure — possible explosions — if the piece is big enough and it’s heated more than once. Luckily, my work was small enough, so in the end, I had little fear, although it was my first time soldering closed forms. After successfully soldering all hemispheres to the sphere, I had to clean up my excess solder.

"I decided to make 28 handmade beads to represent the electrons."
“I decided to make 28 handmade beads to represent the electrons.”

My next hurdle was to figure out how to make the electrons. The electrons fly around the nucleus like a cloud. However, there are electron orbitals that limit how many electrons can be in each orbital. Think of them like vehicles. Certain vehicles only have a certain amount of seats. The first orbital or automobile, has 2, then 8, 16, etc… So nickel has 28 electrons and 4 orbitals. I decided to make 28 handmade beads to represent the electrons. Using the same technique for hemispheres, I made even smaller hemispheres and soldered them together. I drilled holes to fit the 12 gauge wire. To make the orbitals, I beaded the beads onto the wire and soldered the wire closed and the beads proportionally apart for the four orbitals. The orbitals gradually increased in size so that one could fit inside another and orbit around the nucleus.

Now, how the hell to make this thing be mechanical and move, at 11 o’clock at night the night before it’s due? I sat at my bench, nickel dust all over my face, and stared at my contraption. Then, I just went for it, no sketching, no planning. I could see exactly what I needed to do in my mind. I started to make handmade chain with the 22 gauge wire. I soldered a half loop to the nucleus to create two firm attachments and then continued to individually solder each loop, alternating small and large ones. To attach the orbitals, I would create a loop and slip the orbitals into the large loop and solder the loop closed, but I made sure not to have the orbitals touching. Since the orbitals weren’t touching the loops, they could move freely and spin around the nucleus mimicking actual electrons. After attaching the orbitals, I made even large loops to hand make four feet of chain to suspend the atom from the ceiling.

"I was determined to make an atomic structure that viewers could see and touch."
“I was determined to make an atomic structure that viewers could see and touch.”

With the atom suspended, the atom hangs roughly lower than eye level. My sculpture behaves like a mobile: once it has a little bit of energy to rotate, it rotates in one direction, then back in another, and back again until it slows down eventually, looking like it’s still until more energy comes to set it in motion again. Viewers can see the electrons hovering around in their orbitals but never touching the nucleus. The orbitals can be adjusted at different angles to highlight how the position of an electron is ever changing. The nucleus ridges of the protons and neutrons can be touched and rubbed over.

It’s an atom of nickel made out of nickel.

Jacob Lawrence is a freshman at UMass, Amherst where he is finishing up finals, before heading to the Island to fish. — courtesy of Jacob Lawrence

After 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year.This week’s dispatch is from Jacob Lawrence, who is attending the University of Massachusetts, where he is a declared communications major with a minor in Spanish. Jacob, 19, grew up in West Tisbury and is 2013 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

It’s finally over. College kids all over the country are returning to school because the seemingly endless winter break is finally over; and the general consensus, at least for the freshman, is “thank goodness!”

My break started off really great with a trip to the mountains with my uncle and little cousins to break in the brand new snowboard I bought over the fall. Unfortunately, that was more or less the high point. Don’t get me wrong — it was great to see my parents and some of my friends and share some of my experiences from my first semester away from home with all of them. Not to mention the quality and amount of sleep I received was great. It’s amazing how well you can sleep when your mind isn’t racing thinking about the three papers that are due on the same day or when there aren’t a bunch of kids running up and down your hallway screaming at three in the morning — on a Tuesday!

Nevertheless, my break turned really boring really quickly when I realized that I did not have all of the resources at home that I have at school to occupy my time: no hockey or basketball games at the Mullins Center, no malls or fast food restaurants to go and hangout at with your newfound friends, no newfound friends in general, and in my opinion the worst part of all: no basketball courts to play at. Obviously I don’t share the same experience with other students home on break, but for me it felt like I did nothing but watch TV, play video games, and try to make plans with friends, which ended up falling through because either they were sleeping and being lazy or I was sleeping and being lazy. Also ask any college kid who has ever gone to a party: once you have experienced your first college party, there is no going back to high school parties. How I made it six weeks I will never know.

When I got back to school, it was great. I got to see all of the friends I had made last semester, we shared the traditional stories about our break and our holidays and we were as close as ever. When I asked them about how it felt to be home again, they all echoed my same thoughts: it was fun for a couple weeks and great to see family and friends, but it got old really quick. A couple days later I was in my dorm room napping on my bed when I came to realize why I felt so bored, and tired and a little “out of my element” while I was at home. While a lot of it was because I had a whopping six weeks off, I can’t stress that enough, it was also because college is much more than a physical move out of your childhood home, it’s an emotional one as well. At college I have started to think of things on a more global scale; not just how my actions and those of others will affect me, but how they affect everyone around me as well. I have the resources here to accomplish whatever action I feel needs to take place. At home, I didn’t have even half of the resources I have here. I was “trapped,” which is ironic seeing how my room at home is a whole lot bigger than the half of a room I have at college.

I am about four weeks into the second semester here at UMASS, but unlike my first semester, I hit the ground running. The fraternity I am pledging started right up the first week of school and shortly after everything else fell into place and my other clubs from last semester started up as did my classes and unfortunately, like last semester around this time, I am up to my neck in homework, reading, and research essays. I guess some things never change.

Bella Bennett with Argent Alija and other students on a hiking trip in Dorset, VT. — Photo courtesy of Megan Macomber

After 18 is an ongoing series about four graduates from the class of 2013. This week’s dispatch is the second from Bella Bennett, who attends Skidmore College and just completed her first semester in London. Bella has just started her second semester at the Skidmore’s main campus in Saratoga Springs, NY.

While Bella Bennet 2013spending your first semester of college abroad is in no way traditional, it is probably the best way to spend that awkward transition period. In fact, (don’t tell Skidmore) but half the reason I picked this school was for the opportunity to spend my first semester in London. And honestly, I grew more than I can probably comprehend. During my semester, I kept a travel journal, detailing all of my highs, lows, successes, stresses, self-deprecations and self-realizations, expressed through poetry, prose and doodles. It also contains leaves from all over Europe, pictures from various brochures of castles and other historic sites that I visited, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs from the Rugby World Cup Semifinals and the musicals “Once” and “The Lion King,” and a hoard of other precious scraps. While I’d love to continue on with this, there simply isn’t as much to do in a traditional college setting.

Thus, in my new journal I decided to instead write a few lines every day, beginning with “College is…” detailing what defines my college experience each day. Looking back over the past few weeks is already entertaining. While I won’t condemn you to all of my momentary and often dramatic thoughts on college life, a few of my favorites are:

Photo courtesy of Megan Macomber

“College is…”

“Still not knowing how to spell January,” (I only got it right this time because of spell check.)

“Growing mushrooms..” (During a field trip to Radix sustainability center in Albany, we were given bags of saturated straw, shown how to add mycelium, and instructed on how to grow Oyster Mushrooms inside of our dorms. If I don’t get in trouble with campus safety because this probably looks really bad, I promise to give an update on their success!)

“A halfway house to real life.”

“A place where stoplights exist!” (Probably the most jarring of all adjustments.)

“Incredible peers.”

“Roasting apples over the open fire.” (I borrowed a few apples from our gracious dining hall and joined the outing club on an incredible hike into the backwoods of Vermont, where a quarry exists within a cave. At this time of year the quarry is frozen, thus creating a private indoor skating area. For those of us who haven’t yet mastered the art of balancing on two blades and looking graceful, there was also a bonfire, upon which we roasted everything within our backpacks. I recommend roasted apples; they’re like apple pie without the pie!

“Falafel-less.” (If you’ve been to London, you may know that spoiled feeling of a) being in London, and b) being surrounded by falafel bars and Indian restaurants.)

“A heated indoor riding ring!” (Horseback riding in a t-shirt when you know that its actually negative five degrees outside is a beautiful privilege.)

“Choosing red or blue.” (No, this does not have any gang association; artsy kids simply tend to settle on the red side of our spaceship-shaped dining hall, while sportsters overwhelm the blue side. Apparently it’s always been this way, and being the indecisive person that I am, I enjoy switching back and forth between the two sides and checking out the general characteristics of both sides. On the red side, you’re far more likely to have a conversation with a stranger, while on the blue side you’ll get a head nod or a smile. Everyone is kind regardless of which side of D-hall (the affectionate and somewhat provocative nickname for the dining hall) they chose, yet the blue side is more team oriented and awash with Skidmore apparel while the red side is full of color, creative clashing and flannel. What really says something though, is that it is only my third week here and I already feel completely at home. The community is spectacular, no matter the divisions over dinner.

Basically, my college experience is redefined everyday by the people I encounter, experiences that I have, and the constant influx of knowledge imparted by truly wise professors. Together, these forces obliterate my perceptions of right, wrong, policy, power, etc. almost daily. The knowledge on campus is endless, so what you get out of college is really what you put in. This means that I cannot maintain an informed opinion for even a day without becoming aware that I am again uninformed, and because every day presents moments that can be approached as challenges or opportunities.

For me, college is perspective. I’m glad to report: the glass is spilling-over full with optimism.

Read Bella’s first post from London and Sicily.

Still image from Driftwood — Illustration by Izu and Alexis

After 18 is an ongoing series about what four graduates from the class of 2013 are doing this year. This week’s dispatch is the second from Erin Sullivan, who is working on a video game and contemplating his next move.

The past few months have been excessively hectic compared to my usual life, and it’s been pretty taxing. It’s not often I don’t work on my writing for extended periods of time, but with applying to college, trying to increase my art skills, managing the development of the team for “Driftwood” (the computer game I am developing), and taking a small break in November to check up on an old friend in Canada who was suicidal, it was difficult getting motivated to write.

Erin Sullivan in Canada with an unnamed friend
Erin Sullivan in Canada with an unnamed friend

Before I say anything more, I want to express myself a bit on the Canada part. If you have a friend, or a family member who is suicidal or has tried committing suicide, don’t wait for others to step into their lives and help them. DO IT YOURSELF. There are some restrictions, yes, but make an effort to reach out to them. Call them, text them, or be crazy like me, pay $700 and hop on a plane to go visit them and help them sort out a few of their problems. Memories of relationships are forever. Money comes and goes. Don’t take people for granted, or anything for that matter. But now let’s move on.

I’ve applied to Digipen Institute of Technology; a university in Washington State designed to push graduates towards the gaming industry. I’ve applied for a BA in Game Design and a BFA in Digital art and Animation. I’m awaiting the results, but depending on them, my life is going to change drastically. If I get accepted, I’ll be moving across the country and deciding which path I want to fully follow, but if I’m not accepted, I’ll be dropping everything, aside from Driftwood, and trying my best to get myself into a semi-pro league. Semi-pro leagues are like a college football team, you don’t get paid to play, and in some cases only win when you win certain tournaments, but if you do well enough, you can raise the attention of teams that play competitively in an online circuit for money, similar to how players are brought into the NFL.

In short, if I don’t get accepted, I’d be pursuing a career as someone who plays a video game so well that they get sponsors and are paid to perform, quite similar to regular sport athletes. (Yes, this is actually a thing.) But the bigger picture is what happens if I do get accepted. I’d be moving across the country and living on my own for the first time in my life, going to school and possibly having a part time job to help pay for tuition and food.

I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready for that kind of lifestyle, but I’m certainly excited to try it. I’ve lived away from home numerous times, the longest being an entire summer with family friends while I was interning at their software company, Gearbox. But moving away entirely, and not returning home for long periods of time, would be a huge change. Aside from my roommate, I’d be on my own.

On the Driftwood-side of things, we’ve been more productive as a team during the past few weeks than the entirety of 2013. Things are really starting to look up. I still can’t express my gratitude to those who pledged on the kickstarter page, which managed to accumulate 8,000 dollars towards the project. I’m content to say that within the next few months, a completed, playable version of Act 1 will be available online if we continue at the rate we’ve been progressing recently.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about the project, visit

You’re always welcome to send me questions or comments there, or at my personal email.