Artist Projects 2016: Dale Chihuly

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What if glass artist Dale Chihuly was commissioned for famous sites like Starfleet Academy? Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly is likely one of the best-known, and best loved, living glass artists today, with his bright-colored, architectural installations found world wide. He has been exhibiting his work continuously since 1967, and has been featured in museums around the globe.

He was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, and first learned about working with glass when he was studying interior design at the University of Washington.

 He really began exploring the world of environmental works with materials like neon and blown glass when he first enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in 1967, and also received a Fulbright Fellowship to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice, Italy.

His smaller works include glass cylinders inspired by Native American textiles, “Seaforms” glass pieces, a Venetian series of Art Deco inspired vases, and one of latest series, Rotolo, creating complex forms from a simple coil of clear glass.

Chihuly’s work has inspired others for several years. In 1971, he co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School artist-in-residence program in a Washington tree farm, using primitive conditions and the minimal materials. The site still serves as an international center of art education. Other early projects include the Artpark in New York state, near Niagara Falls, which utilized colored sheets of glass in simple arrangements.

Chihuly is especially recognizable for his installations and commissioned work in hotels, theatres, parks, cruise ships and other high-profile venues world wide, including creating the set of an opera, Bluebeard’s Castle. His outdoor installations, are particularly popular, as they seem to give the surrounding area surreal or fantasy-like feeling with flowing ribbons and coils, floating orbs, spikes, glass blossom-like shapes and other brightly hued, blown-glass forms.

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Dale Chiluly is best known for his vibrant and bright blown glass installations found all over the world, like “The Sun” found in Kew Gardens, and his chandelier at Victoria and Albert Museum, both in London. Images by Adrian Pingstone and Patche99z (Public Domain). Artist image: Erik Charlton, Flickr Creative Commons.

In addition to his glass works, he has worked on paper with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and more. His permanent installations can be found everywhere, including the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, the Glass Art Garden in Tayoma City. One of his exhibitions, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem, drew more than 1 million visitors to the Tower of David museum to see his works.

Chihuly is still releasing prints, hosting workshops and creating installations. He is often asked what his favorite project is, and answered that on his official website, saying he has worked in “many great projects” over the years including Chihuly Over Venice and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000, and his work in Seattle at Chihluly Garden and Glass.

 However, Chihuly has decided to keep his options open for now.

“Perhaps,” he said, “the next project will be my favorite.”

The Project: Flying Colors

Chihuly, although very different in style from fellow well-known present day artist Maya Lin, also takes advantage of the environment for which a piece is intended.

His use of color, form, shape and even lighting effect work with the surrounding atmosphere to both enhance and celebrate it, whether in a natural setting or building.

With this simple project, we’ll creative small-scale replica of what a Chihuly installation might light look if commissioned by a fictional school, headquarters, military base or other famous location.

This method is similar to those many elementary art teachers use as Chihuly projects, but the secret is in the color. The color scheme and design for an installation on the stark, floating environment of Empire Strikes Back’s Cloud City might be very different that the glowing natural world of Avatar’s Pandora. Would an exhibition at Hogwarts highlight the various House Colors? Would a one at Starfleet headquarters symbolize uniform colors? What if he did a piece for the TARDIS? Would it be the famous blue, or look more like the wardrobe of the Doctors?

Since blown glass isn’t a method that can be learned for a summer afternoon family crafts, here are two ways to create Chihuly-inspired looks using upcycled water bottles and plastic party ware:

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Hanging Gardens of Pandora.

The “Coils”

Color the outside of clear (clean and dry) water bottles in the desired hues, and gently cut off the bottom. Adults might want to get it started for younger crafters. Next, cut around the bottle, in a coil fashion so it resembles a spring or curly hair.

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Plastic water bottles colored with felt tip markers or suncatcher paint, can be cut in coils and arranged for Chihuly-style chandelier.

You can leave the top of the bottle in place and lace a string or pipe cleaner through it for hanging, or cut off the top, and lace the coil through a hanging thin chain. These also can be mounted on wooden posts, long wrapping paper tubes, hanging wire baskets, or just from fishing line or floral wire.

Remember, think about where this is going to go, and think of a color scheme or design to best suit it.

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The Monster University Quad art

The “Plates”

Using permanent markers, paint clear plastic plates or clear plastic cups the desired hues. Thinner plastic items are easier. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil, and bake at about 350° for a few minutes, until the plastic warp it like blown glass. This can take from 1 to 2 to about five minutes, depending to on the plastic. Keep and eye on it, and don’t bake it too long.

This is also good way to utilize the bottom of the water bottles used for the coil method, instead of plates.

Once painted and melted, arrange these in the pattern you want, glue them on a flat piece of balsa wood or corrugated cardboard. If you use a glue gun, place the glue on the board, as it may continue to warp the plastic a little.

This work might not be as detailed as Chihuly’s blown glass pieces. His own advice for young artists is to remain inspired by others, yet follow one’s own visions:

“Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible,” he says. “Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.”

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Clear plastic like plates, cups and water bottle bottoms can be melted to resemble shapes inspired by Chihuly’s baskets and Seaforms

‘The Grand Tour’ Watching Party

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All images by Lisa Kay Tate

There’s no turning back now. The Grand Tour is on its way this week, and is in full promotion mode.

Not to mention the show’s opening scene is being called the “most expensive TV opening scene ever” with 150 cars, 2,000 acrobats, jets, and no telling what else coming in at £2.5 million (around $3 million).

 With the debut just a month away, the only thing left for viewers needing their latest fix of the antics of Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond isto wait.

Well, that and start the preparations for a weekly watching party. One of the reasons the enthusiasm for this show has been so high, in addition to people missing the hilarious magnetism between these three unlikely friends, is the anticipation of being an armchair passenger on this wild journey.

For those planning on tuning in with this well-traveled threesome, here are some tips in putting together the ultimate watch party for The Grand Tour:gtmapsGet Out The Map. These boys have a pretty extreme international journey ahead of them, so chart a course along with them. From what has been revealed so far, some of the countries covered include South Africa, the United States, Holland, Finland, Yorkshire, Barbados, Germany, France, and more. That’s a good amount of ground to cover.

Find a nice poster-size wall map of the world from a travel, craft, or teacher supply store. The vintage one shown above came from a craft store for around $12. Use stickers, tacks, or markers to keep track of their journey.

This is also a good opportunity to learn some facts about each place, like capitals, flags, food, and culture, or what (if any) makes of vehicles are made in the region. Even though not everyone will get a chance to travel the world, they can still learn about it, even in unlikely ways.gtretro-pmGo Retro. The “tent tour” set the show has planned is no mere camping trip. Their traveling studio is more posh (and larger) than many stationary homes. In addition to its vast picture window and studio space for a sizeable live audience, the sneak peeks at this massive mobile village have revealed vintage suitcases, bits and piece of safari-like travel fodder, and, most appropriate, retro racing posters.

Similar posters can be found and printed out online to adorn one’s own party “tent” or table, and small travel cases can be used to hold food and drink. Decorate these with some vintage labels from some of the countries featured on the series. Vintage and nostalgia sites like Retro Planet also have a large selection of vintage posters, metal signs, and vinyl stickers for travel buffs and racing fans.

Add some binoculars, old cameras, model cars, planes, motorcycles, and other travel trinkets to round out the look.

gtdrinksPack Some Road Snacks. What’s a road trip without some grub?

There are two directions to go here. One option is to hit the travel centers and pick up some of the snacks, like individual bags of trail mix, jerky, Cracker Jacks, fruit, or other forms of “eat and drive” items. Shops like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and World Market also have some more natural snack items, as well as snack items from around the world. Half the fun here is seeing what there is to find.

For the second option, try something a little more substantial. Allrecipes.com always has some cool “road trip” food. Serious Eats has some make-ahead ideas as well such as homemade energy bars, Pork and Guinness Hand Pies, and fruit leather.

Some gourmet shops and marketplaces may sell different soft drinks or beers from around the world, depending on age groups and preferences of the viewing parties, of course.

Some energy drinks also have some great motoring names like “Full Throttle” or “Kick Start,” but go easy on those, okay?

gtmusicMake A Playlist. One of the standouts of the most recent trailer was the inclusion of the band Kongos’ motivating hit, “Come With Me Now,” which helps make the series look like a feature movie in the works.

All road trips need a personalized, energizing mixtape, a sort of soundtrack to the trek, as it were. It would be impossible to speculate what is going to be featured on The Grand Tour, which might even sport original music. Names like Roger Daltrey, Wilko Johnson, and Hothouse Flowers have been tossed around online as possible theme song contenders.

Instead, find some favorite traveling or road trip or party songs, and put together a custom pre-show mix. Here are some suggestions:

  • “The Boys Are Back” (Dropkick Murphys)
  • “Party Hard” (Andrew W.K.)
  • “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC)
  • “Move” (Saint Motel)
  • “Life in the Fast Lane” (Eagles)
  • “The Distance” (Cake)
  • “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (The Clash)
  • “Roam” (B-52s)
  • “Route 66” (Depeche Mode)
  • “I Can’t Drive 55” (Sammy Hagar)
  • “Life is a Highway” (Tom Cochrane)
  • “New Four Seasons” (Nigel Kennedy)

Once all these travel essentials are in order, it will soon be time to sit back with friends and family and enjoy the scenic ride.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Grand Tour stops in California for their series premiere this Friday, Nov. 18 on Amazon Prime.

Originally published in GeekMom on Oct. 14, 2016. All images by Lisa Kay Tate

DIY: Great Gatsby Era Dalek Dress

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Image: Lisa Tate

Here’s a little Dalek dress costume that might fit in just as well as at an art deco Great Gatsby-esque Roarin’ Twenties party as it would at any Doctor Who fan event or comic con.

The Headpiece:

1. Find a dark brown or black knit cap at any accessory, clothes or craft store.

2. Sew on one large blue jewel button in front for the Dalek’s eye and tear-shaped clear baubles for the lights.

The Dress:

3. Find a simple, plain cotton tank dress in tan or light brown. Can’t find the right color, “tea dye” a white dress by letting is soak one or two nights in a container of tea (use a black tea, not green).

4. Sew 32 bronze, gold or copper-colored buttons evenly over the lower half of the dress for the Dalek’s globes. Space them evenly, four across and four high (16 each on front and back).

5. For the top half, (or Dalek’s “main chamber”), securely sew three ¾ inch black satin ribbons, parallel from each other, around the dress.  To get the look of a Dalek, gently cut two sets of slits the width of the ribbon on both the front and the back of the dress. Lace the ribbon through and make sure to sew these slits securely to prevent the ribbon from catching or the dress to tear more.

6. Add a ruffle around the skirt’s hem with a large satin or mesh ribbon (about four inches in width) for the Dalek’s bumper or “motive power system.”

The “Arm” Wands:

7. For a basic “sucker arm” make a cone out of black felt with a small hole in the center and place it at the end of a chopstick or dowel. Cover the chopstick with black ribbon or electric tape. Make it fancy or “wand-like” by adding ribbon, mesh or glitter.

8. For a basic “gun arm,” cover a dowel or chopstick with silver ribbon, and cut eight to 10 pieces of sturdy silver craft or floral wire about ¾ the length of the arm. Carefully use a glue gun to secure the ends around the chopstick, and carefully bend the wire out so it resembles a whisk or mixer beater (for a lazy method, either of these kitchen items can be used in lieu of making a gun). Secure the bottom ends of the wire around the dowel with glue gun, and cover both the top and bottom ends of the wires with more ribbon. Like the sucker arm, these can be embellished with ribbon, silver pipe cleaners, cheap rhinestone costume buttons or other items.

Now, wear it with pride. Extermination never looked so stylish and cute.

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Artist Projects 2016: Grandma Moses

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Grandma Moses in Westeros? Image: “On The Night Watch” by Lisa Kay Tate

Originally ran in my summer Be The Artist series for GeekMom.com on June 10, 2016.

The Artist: Grandma Moses

Most people might not know painter Anna Mary Robertson, but they know Grandma Moses (Robertson’s nome d’arte) as one of the most influential folk artists of the Twentieth Century.

Moses was born in 1860 in Greenwich, New York, and spent most of her life working on farms. She was one of 10 children, educated in a one-room schoolhouse (where she discovered she loved painting), and left home at 12 to work for a wealthy families doing chores on their farm. One family, who noticed her interest in some Currier & Ives prints in their home, even purchased her some crayons and chalk.

She met her husband, Thomas Moses, at age 27 when they were both working on the same farm. They spent their first 20 years of marriage working on four different farms, while Moses made potato chips and butter for extra income. They were eventually able to purchase their own farm. This wasn’t an easy life. The couple had 10 children, but five of them died in infancy.

In 1927, after 40 years of marriage, Thomas passed away. By the mid 1930s Moses was devoting much of her time to the peaceful pastime of painting, as arthritis was preventing her from doing embroidery. She concentrated on images of rural life, from everyday events and chores to seasonal holidays, and her works were filled with activity and motion. In 1938 an art collector ran across her work, and in her late 70s Grandma Moses began her new life as a soon-to-be world famous artist.

She was often known as “Mother Moses,” “Mrs. Moses,” and what eventually became her most famous moniker, “Grandma Moses.”

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Grandma Moses’ “Sugaring Off” (right), sold years after her death for $1.2 million, and a postage stamp was created in her honor in 1969. Images are Public Domain.

She didn’t start painting until late in life, but this doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy a good run as an artist. During her career she created more than 1,500 works of art, wrote an autobiography, won several awards, and received two honorary doctorates.

On her 100th birthday, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller declared Sept. 7, 1960 “Grandma Moses Day,” and played piano for this influential artist. Her health was already declining, however, and she for lived a little more than a year, passing away in December of 1961 at age 101. In 2006, one of her most famous paintings, Sugaring Off, sold for $1.2 million. Not bad considering she sold her first paintings for around five bucks.

Her long life and successful art career reflected her charming, happy, and lively nature. This life philosophy was summed up in her autobiography, My Life’s History.

“I look back on my life like a good day’s work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered,” she said. “And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”

The Project: Grandma Moses visits….

Grandma Moses was what is known in the art world as a “primitive” or “naïve” artist which, in the simplest terms, is an artist with no formal art background. In other words, she was completely self-taught.

When she was a girl, she painted her earliest landscapes using lemon or grape juice and other natural materials from ground grass to sawdust.

Later, she would call her own work “old-timey” as she avoided depicting modern day features like tractors, cars, telephone poles, and other signs of present day life in her paintings.

Now, here’s the challenge: what if Grandma Moses visited a favorite fictional location, making sure to avoid any “modern touches?” Some places may be easier. She might visit a harvest dance in Hobbiton and be right at home. However, a garden party at Wayne Manor near Gotham City might need some dialing back of the time line. How about Gallifrey? Or Narnia?

As far as the painting technique, follow Grandma Moses’s own discipline of painting “from the top down.” She would start with the “sky, then the mountains, then the hills, then the houses, then the cattle, and then the people.”

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Grandma Moses painted “from the top down.” Start with sky, add the landscape.

This is an easy way to create a scene one simple step at a time. Use any medium you like, from watercolor to acrylic, or use more translucent colors for the background and brighter, more opaque colors for the figures and fore ground.

Paint straight to the canvas or paper, don’t draw it first.

Paint the sky and ground, as if there were just a big empty space. Add some natural features, as Grandma Moses did, like mountains, hills, trees, rivers, or streams.

Next, add the “man-made” features, like buildings, carts, barrels, tables, bridges, and anything else you feel captures the scene.

Finally, bring in some people and animals, (or orcs, white walkers, dinosaurs, dragons, or whatever your world needs), just as if you are adding figures to a playset. Don’t worry about overlapping what you already painted. That’s part of the action.

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Even with the buildings added, there’s something missing without a few folk and critters.

These steps will make it easier create an entire world without being overwhelmed and wondering where to start.

No matter where you think Grandma Moses visits, make sure there is some sort of activity, be it a battle, a wedding, or just the every day to-dos of an era.

Every place, every moment, every story, from comics to classics, can be filled with activity, be it peaceful and laid-back or frantic and frenzied. Just take a moment to relax, concentrate, and imagine that moment.

This is what Grandma Moses did, as she told Time Magazine in 1948:

“I look out the window sometimes to seek the color of the shadows and the different greens in the trees, but when I get ready to paint I just close my eyes and imagine a scene.”

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“Smallville, 1942” by Lisa Kay Tate

A Family ‘Breaking Bad’ Adventure

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Breaking Bad may not be a family-friendly show by any means, but it made for some goofy family adventures around Albuquerque. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

It all started quite innocently enough.

We had no intentions of taking it any further than just the one picture, you know, for recreational purposes.

 But, somewhere along the way, we begin following the icy blue trail of the do-it-yourself Breaking Bad tour of Albuquerque, N.M.

We visit Albuquerque often for short getaways when we haven’t planned a big trip for the summer. This year’s main venture in town was to be a day at the BioPark. Simple enough.

Then, when we checked into our restored Route 66 motor hotel and saw the little lobby brochure:

Breaking Bad RV Tours! Now Touring Better Call Saul Locations!”

Tours depart Thursday through Sunday mornings from Old Town.

“Can you believe this,” I said, holding up the brochure. “People actually pay to drive around in a kitschy RV and look at everyday houses and business, just because they were in a television show.”

“And for 75 bucks a pop, no less,” my husband scoffed, examining the information.

We’re not huge Breaking Bad fans. We’ve seen up to the third season, but had to take a break. Frankly, it makes me sad. Still, the writing, camera angles, and acting are excellent.

We tossed the brochure aside on the table and forgot about it until the following evening. We spent a fun, and hot, day at the BioPark, had an evening swim, ate dinner, and were traveling up and down Central, waiting to see some neon lights flicker on.

On the way, we passed The Dog House Drive In.

“That was in the show,” my husband said. “Remember?”

“It is a cool-looking place,” I said. Without even thinking, I grabbed the camera and did a drive-by picture.

Then we passed the hideously authentic old Crossroads Motel, where we actually thought we saw “something going down.” Turned out to be college kids getting pictures of a Breaking Bad site.

We passed Burt’s Tiki Lounge, seen in the show. We usually get Tiki bar photos, anyways, because we like tiki stuff. Nothing to do with Breaking Bad, we assured ourselves.

It was then we crossed that dreaded line.

“You know,” my husband said, “we at least need to see Walter White’s house. It’s a real home”

This made me a little nervous, since words like “private residence” and so forth, tend to mean, “keep away,” with good reason. What if the owners don’t want people passing by?

As it turns out, we later read the owners of the home are apparently perfectly nice people, but thanks to the idiocy of some fans, they are a bit apprehensive of people on their own property. I read stories of countless morons wanting to relive notable moments from the show by hurling pizzas on their garage roof, among other acts of sheer disrespect for a person’s domain. So, stay off their lawn and driveway, please.

Tour busses—and RVs, as the case may be—pass through all the time, so taking photos from the street is a common occurrence. The house is part of the tours. Still, I was getting increasingly apprehensive, because that’s what I do. This didn’t stop my husband, who got out his smart phone, and logged the street into the GPS. When we approached the neighborhood street, my husband thrust the camera my way and said, “Here, get it!”

I hastily held the camera out the window at elbow level and snapped a pic as we passed, not even looking through the viewer. The next moment played out like a scene from the show–if it were written by drunk cats.

“Okay, go!”

“Did you get it?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it!”

“No really, let me see.”

I handed him the camera. This was the result of my efforts:

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Nothing to see here, carry on.

My husband cocked an eyebrow as my kids peeked over his shoulder and rolled their eyes.

“Really?” he asked.

“I panicked.”

Since the house is at the end of a cross street, my husband took the camera from me, drove around the block, and shot a couple of pictures heading towards the house up the street. All done. Yet, as we turned right to leave the neighborhood, the garage began opening.

Both my daughters screamed.

“Dad! Dad! They’re after us! Drive! Drive,” my oldest demanded.

“Are we going to get shot?” my youngest asked.

I had visions of a bald, intimidating Bryan Cranston walking out of his home to come after the intruders. Nobody followed us because nobody cared we took a generic Google Map style picture of the front of a house.

The questions from the back seat, however, didn’t cease until we were out among the businesses, which included a stop by Saul Goodman’s office.

The sports bar, now called Sinners N’ Saints, still had Saul Goodman’s Office info on the door and window including the bogus phone number and the welcoming “Se Habla Español.” That was pretty cool, so we got some shots of it as well. I got out of the car for this one.

That was it, though. We didn’t care about Jessie Pinkman’s house, and we didn’t know who “this Jimmy guy” was, anyway. We assumed he was one of Jesse’s hooligan pals, so we ignored those sites.

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The domiciles of Breaking Bad (clockwise from top left) Walter White’s home, Jesse Pinkman’s home, Jesse and Jane’s duplex and the official Breaking Bad tour RV. Images: Rick and Lisa Tate.

That night, we wandered around the peaceful Old Town Plaza. Most businesses were closed, but we enjoy sites more than souvenirs. We passed the little shop of The Candy Lady of Old Town, the sweet shop that produced the official prop blue meth seen in the television show.

It was probably upwards on $10 a bag, my husband estimated. I argued they probably had smaller bags for a couple of bucks, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t buying.

So we thought.

The next morning, my husband began looking over his phone at breakfast.

“Jesse’s house is actually pretty close,” he said, “and it’s really pretty.” We found the plush little neighborhood where Jesse’s house was, as well as the corner where he shared a duplex with his ill-fated landlord-cum-girlfriend, Jane.

We stopped by Old Town one last time to get a photo of the girls at the beautiful blue mosaic at the entrances. There, behind the girls, at the entrance, was the tour RV, getting ready to take a group past several of the sites we had toured and more, including lunch at a restaurant called Twisters (the stand-in for Los Pollo Hermanos).

The crowd was diverse, from a couple of college-aged boys to several “Grandma Big-purse,” tourist types. We were able to peek in the RV and noticed it was modified with some nice motor coach style seats. I had to admit, these RV guys had a good thing going.

Right around the corner from the departing tour was the now-open Candy Lady. Next door was the Routes Bicycle Tours of ABQ, who offer a Biking Bad Tour. For those interested, by the way, the Albuquerque Tourism & Sightseeing Factory also gives tours (and has a great online site map), Red Door Brewing Company hosts weekly Better Call Saul watching parties on Mondays, and the iconic purveyors of geeky donuts, Rebel Donuts, makes some nifty “Blue Sky” Breaking Bad inspired donuts. There is also craft beer, cocktails, t-shirts, fine art, and more offered at various local businesses.

“We might as well take a look at what the candy people have,” I said.

The Candy Lady’s Shop was filled with everything from trays of fudge to licorice from all over the world, but the aura of its part in the Breaking Bad legacy was prevalent. The back room held a large tray of the blue rock candy and some prop “Heisenberg” (Walter White’s street name) hats and glasses, I assume were for those wishing to do a little cosplay. We didn’t ask.

The friendly couple behind the counter was happy to show us the goods. It turned out we were both right on the cost. The big bag, identical to the prop meth used in the show, was $10, but it, of course, included a few little dime bags for distribution to friends. There were also a few little $1 cotton candy-flavored bags available, as well. Yes, all these things are available from them online.

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A trip down Central had several Breaking Bad sites including Burt’s Tiki Lounge, The Dog House and the oh, so luxurious Crossroads Motel. Images: Rick Tate and Lisa Tate

Thus, we finished our Breaking Bad adventure purchasing blue meth. The blue meth, to be exact. We got one $10 bag and a Los Pollos Hermanos shot glass filled with little bags, along with some little sugar skulls, a bag of German licorice for our teen, and a little VW bug filled with candy for our six-year-old.

I was happy just getting the little packs, but my husband noted, as the candy shop people explained, the $10 bag actually had, and I quote, “the Heisenberg clarity.”

As we headed back home via I-25, I got to thinking about why the heck we decided to spiral into this world of deviancy?

I’ve had relatives who have struggled horribly with drug addiction, and I know the pain it causes a family. I don’t even support recreational marijuana; that’s how extreme I’ve gotten from the experience.

So, why the heck did we spend a good evening and the following morning with our kids collecting photos and trinkets from a show about pair of meth dealers and their unscrupulous lawyer?

That’s just bad parenting. Right?

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The law office of Saul Goodman is actually a pretty nice sports bar. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

First of all, despite the meth-intensive show, neither the tours or the show itself advocate drug use. As a matter of fact, a good binge watch of Breaking Bad should do more than scare a person away from this lifestyle. Ironically, I would never let my kids, even my teenager, actually watch this show from which we traveled around seeing sites. One of the RV tour brochures even lists numbers for regional Narcotics Anonymous or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services hotlines for those who might struggle with or know someone with a drug problem.

Still, we dropped some green on a baggie of candy meth. Why?

I realized the reason when we got home and picked up where we left off on the show. We also started Better Call Saul, which I’m already enjoying way more than it’s predecessor.

“Oooh, so that’s Jimmy,” I overheard myself saying at the beginning. “We need to get his nail salon next time we’re up there. Bob Odenkirk’s the man.”

The main reason we temporarily fell in with this unsavory crowd for a day or two could be summed up in one word: Albuquerque.

Those who live in well-represented filming locations like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and even Albuquerque’s movie star neighbor, Santa Fe, are used to seeing their hometown as part of a television series or movies.

Those “badlands” from Albuquerque to El Paso are often relegated to a few westerns, a romp through Old Town, and a look at the borderlands from a wide-angle lens. There have been other movies and shows filmed in the area, but none that really show off the retro, quirkiness of making the Southwest your home.

It’s the murals on Central, the pottery light fixtures in the Route 66 diners, and the low camera angles that give you a sense of baking in the cloudless, yet amazingly, blue New Mexico and West Texas skies. It’s the neighborhoods, which vary from modern upscale to mid-century quaintness.

It’s the dilapidated strip malls mixed with the recently restored historic sites. It’s Blake’s Lotaburger. It’s the neon and Native American-inspired overpass art.

It was the references to the show’s “rival” DEA department, and my hometown, El Paso, and the gorgeous Sandia Mountains. More than anything, it’s getting beyond the tourist draws, and seeing the community off the main drag, good or bad, classy or trashy.

If we hadn’t ventured off the beaten path to see a few, non-descript homes or businesses, we never would have seen some beautiful gardens, creative public parks, front yard sculptures, and other hidden odds and ends that give any town its character.

It was also getting to see how a map and an RV can become a lucrative little business. It’s giving people, in search of a show about a very ugly side of reality, another reason to visit a very beautiful region of the country.

The main star of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul isn’t some actor. It’s Albuquerque, and she’s giving an Emmy-worthy performance.

In that sense, “breaking bad” can be a very good thing.

Originally ran July 14, 2016 in GeekMom.com.