Out and about

March 31st, 2015

I walk three or four miles a day. When you walk three or four miles a day, sometimes you see stuff.


Dog butts. I see a lot of those. Only one of the dogs in this photo is ours, the rust-colored weiner-basset. The other two are a neighbor’s, although the terrier in the upper right is doing a good imitation of moving in with us.



A cat taking its ease. Turns out that cats who are taking their ease really don’t like to have their photos taken. After shooting me a dirty look, it ran off.



Somebody played dress up with their flamingo. I admire their style. I have weeds in my yard, too. Maybe I should get a flamingo and dress it up?



Shockingly nude manikins at Weird Stuff Warehouse. I guess the featureless expanses of lumpy plastic offended someone’s sense of decorum.



A pumpkin vine hanging over the top of a six foot tall fence. That’s a pumpkin with aspirations!

Alright. Blah blah blah, I’m in this exhibit and another exhibit, have stuff in a book which just came out, and am working on some projects. Can’t write much about that stuff, though, because the video/display on my computer keeps going amok. It’s a known issue with this type of computer. Hopefully Apple will address the problem without my having to open my wallet. In the meantime, it’s about time for things to go haywire again, so sayonara.


March 11th, 2015


I took these shots a few weeks ago at Filoli, an estate about thirty miles south of San Francisco.



Festina Lente.  I think that means “make haste slowly”, or maybe it means “your navel lint is festering”. If I’d bothered to study Latin in college, or if I’d gone to a high school whose primary goal wasn’t preparing people to work at the local trash can or potato chip factories, perhaps I’d know. In any event, it sounds pithy and profound, like the sort of thing which should be cast into a garden plaque.



This poor fellow seems unhappy. I guess hanging out on the base of an urn for years on end will have that effect.



So, yeah. Filoli. Lovely estate. Tons of gardens and flowers, great place to stroll and take photos and maybe see some deer. I think some TV shows and movies have filmed there, although who keeps up with that stuff? If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

I’m actually in the mood to visit someplace else, someplace which isn’t in California or even the continental U.S. I’d like to hop on a plane and head to Paris or maybe Rome. They’re nice at this time of the year. But that isn’t in the cards right now, so over the winter break I grabbed a couple of cameras, handed one to my son, and drug him up the peninsula to walk among the posies.



Whee! Concrete gryphons! That’s how you know you’re at a classy joint, when they have gryphons rather than garden gnomes.



This entranceway is lovely when the wisteria is blooming. Right now it isn’t blooming.



Rather sweet door knocker. I think it’s brass. The lighting wasn’t wonderful, alas.



This is neat, some birdhouse gourds attached to willow or vine arches in the middle of a field of daffodils.



Yep. Horrible place to have to visit. Fresh air, flowers, misty hills.



For some reason this reminds me of The Village in the old TV series The Prisoner.






That reminds me: I need to see about getting more pore-cleaning strips.







There’s the boy, my partner in photography. Bless him for hanging out with me that day. (Although I’d still prefer for all of us to be jetting off to Paris.) I know he’d rather be hanging out with friends or playing video games, but now and then he takes pity on me and accompanies me on a minor adventure.

Forty Years of the Utah Teapot

March 5th, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, after dropping my kid off at a Laser Quest birthday party, I ventured across the street to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. It’s a marvelous place, the Computer History Museum, and if you’re ever in the Bay Area and have any interest in computers, I urge you to visit. Their exhibits span the range from slide rules to robots to modern day computers, with many pit stops in diverse topics such as punch cards for weaving Jacquard, guided missile systems, and video games. While other museums may have ‘a’ something-or-other, such as ‘a’ key punch machine or ‘a’ Babbage Difference Engine sandwiched in with other science exhibits, the Computer History Museum has a broad range of ‘a’s and ‘the’s. As in “Wow. That’s the original Pong Machine that Al Alcorn stuck in a bar in Sunnyvale, complete with crooked name plate.” Or: “Wow. That’s a chunk from the ENIAC.” Plus there’s a neat gift shop with nerdy stuff.

One of the museum’s ‘the’s is the Utah teapot, the one digitized by Martin Newell back in 1975. Holy cow! Has it really been forty years? Well now, that’s something worth celebrating, so I did. I came home and whipped up the graphic above, which is based on Martin Newell’s original pencil sketch of dimensions and a rendering of the resulting model. Oh, and I may have used some artistic license as far as aging the paper and so forth; I wanted to call to mind da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. In reality, Newell’s sketch is very tidy, executed on decidedly unstained quadrille paper.

Happy birthday, Utah teapot, and a big thank you to Martin Newell for sharing his work with the world.

The Utah teapot is something of an icon to those who work with 3D graphics. As the story goes, back in 1975 when Martin Newell was “a member of the pioneering graphics program at the University of Utah”, he needed a “moderately simple mathematical model of a familiar object for his work.” He was having tea with his wife at the time, and she suggested modeling their tea service. He did and, in addition to using the teapot for his own work, shared the data set with others. The rest, as they say, is history.


Since then, the teapot has become a beloved icon to many of us and something of an inside joke. It has appeared everywhere from test renders to papers submitted to SIGGRAPH to films such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Even Homer J. Simpson has had his teapot moment! Not bad for a humble white teapot purchased from a department store.


The teapot is of course not Newell’s only accomplishment, just the one most familiar to many of us. He’s had a long and productive career. However, it’s a bittersweet fact of life that we don’t get to choose the manner in which we’re remembered, if we’re remembered at all. Per Tom Sito’s Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation, “When Newell spoke at a SIGGRAPH conference in the late 1980s, he jokingly confessed that of all the things he has done for the world of 3D graphics, the only thing he will be remembered for is ‘that damned teapot’”.

I think I could make my peace with that.

Pinewood Derby II

March 1st, 2015


This happened yesterday. The boy’s witch’s shoe car, which I wrote about in the previous entry, picked up an award at the district Pinewood Derby. “Best Design That Is Not A Car”.

We were incredibly proud of him. Of course, I just had to sermonize on the way home. “See? If you work hard and you’re persistent, sometimes it pays off.” Then, about two minutes in, I thought better of it. Let the kid enjoy his trophy in peace. Not every darned thing has to have a moral.

The hardest thing, though, was keeping my blasted mouth clamped shut before the awards were handed out. You see, I saw a fellow take cars up to the announcer. One of them was the boy’s. Five cars – five awards. Hmmm. Perhaps I was mistaken? Perhaps the man was taking all the cars up so they could be handed out and admired one at a time, regardless of whether they’d won? Best to keep my observation to myself.

The boy’s prize was the last style award handed out. He was ricocheting around with tension by then, desperately hoping to win. Everyone wants to win. I reminded him of that fact, that all the boys there had worked hard and wanted to win, and we needed to applaud their efforts. Probably I sounded like a parrot in a bad pirate movie. “SQUAWK! CLAP AND SMILE FOR OTHERS! MOMMY WANT A CRACKER! SQUAWK!”

But then his car number and name were called, and he did win, and for just a few minutes he had the world by its tail. And I got to be there and see it.


Here’s a big thank you to Pack 492 of Cupertino, which hosted the event. It’s a big darned deal putting on a function like that, involving everything from finding a space to run it to setting up an immense aluminum track and having staff on hand to check car specifications as they’re brought in. It’s no simple matter of throwing up a few lengths of Hot Wheels track and sailing the cars down, either. Today’s tracks are, I don’t know, maybe 30-45 feet long and employ electronic timers and computers for data collection. The setup can be finicky and precise, measuring times down to a thousandth of a second.

Pack 492 did a great job, and as a result all the kids and onlookers had a wonderful afternoon.



“Why Knot” plus Pinewood Derby

January 26th, 2015


I’m happy to say that “Why Knot?” will be at AQS Lancaster this March. I wish I could be there as well, but I hope that at least visitors will enjoy the piece. This is my first fiber piece which veers into using computer-assisted imagery rather than purely painting on fabric, and I used the opportunity to plant a few jokes in the background.

We’ve just finished up the Pinewood Derby here, an annual Cub Scout event in which boys prepare and race cars cobbled together out of blocks of wood. I always enjoy it because, since I don’t yet feel comfortable turning my son loose with a band saw, it’s an excuse to collaborate with him and work in a medium other than fabric or CG. (Whether he enjoys my working with him is quite another question!)

The Pinewood Derby began in 1953, held by Don Murphy, a Manhattan Beach Cub Master who wanted an “activity he could do with his 10 year old son who was too young to race in the Soap Box Derby”.

It was a clever idea, one which has evolved and endured. Today when one buys an official B.S.A. Pinewood Derby kit, one gets a block of wood about 7” x 1.75” x 1.25”, four plastic wheels, and four nails to use as axles. One can do whatever one likes to the block of wood  provided that the finished car weighs five ounces or less, is three inches tall or less, and conforms to a few other specifications.

The Derby is a nice opportunity to do a design and construction project with one’s kid, a project which has set specifications but which is also a bit free form. Thus, a few weeks ago, I corralled the boy and said words to the effect of “The Derby is x weeks away. What do you want to make this year?” He hemmed and hawed, then allowed as how he’d enjoyed getting a style award last year and he wanted to try for one again this year. He was thinking of doing something which wasn’t traditional, maybe a shape like a shoe.

Okay, a shoe. What kind of shoe? Whose shoe was it? Maybe he could sketch his idea out on paper? I gave him a piece of paper with the dimensions of the wood block outlined, and had him sketch his idea.


The shoe started as a nondescript garden clog affair. Over the course of a few more discussions and drawing sessions, it evolved into a fantasy design, a witch’s shoe.




Heel added


More pronounced witchiness


Final pattern for sawing

This would prove to be an interesting design to execute since the provided block of Pinewood Derby wood was too shallow. We would have to laminate another chunk of wood on top, which meant digging through my wood pile and doing some cutting and gluing.

Since I’m paranoid about the boy having an accident – he’s a little too interested in things like axes and chain saws for my taste – I made the cuts with the table saw and band saw myself. Maybe next year he can make a car with the scroll saw. Although bandsaw accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, one has to work pretty hard to lose a finger with a scroll saw.

There was plenty of other work for him to do, though, sanding and puttying and painting. Provided that one’s Scout has patience and perhaps a parent to nag them into working a bit each day, some fairly decent results can be achieved. It also really helps if one has a spray booth, even if it’s just a cardboard box, which we do.


Here’s the shoe in its primed state, adding weights. The goal is to get one’s finished car as close to five ounces as possible without going over. Sometimes that means adding weights;  hiding them can get to be a challenge. Our plan was to cement the weights in place inside drilled holes, then putty and sand over them. As a side note, if one uses Revell’s round chassis weights, they can be cut in a matter of seconds using a bolt cutter. It’s far, far less taxing than trying to hacksaw the blasted things!


Here we’re testing and weighing potential accents before adding wheels. Note that the holes where the weights were inserted are all but invisible. I guess I should be ashamed to admit that I had all of this stuff, the ribbon and flies and pumpkins, on hand. However, my philosophy is that you never can tell when you’ll need a glow-in-the-dark plastic fly.


The finished shoe. We unfortunately didn’t tune the car up before the race, doing things like insuring the axles were in straight, so it placed in the middle of the pack. However, it did receive a style award for best workmanship, which is what the boy had really wanted. He even had a back story for the shoe, something about a bunch of flies using it to smuggle pumpkins for making pumpkin stew. There were also tons of other fun entries made by other boys, including a sailing ship, a pencil, and a box of french fries.

Here are our entries from last year, the boy’s Gravedigger and my ant car, Mandiblur, for the family competition. We seem to have a black theme going. I can hardly wait for next year’s Pinewood Derby!




Christmas in the Park

December 24th, 2014


Aren’t those awesome tree ornaments? We saw these at Christmas in the Park in San Jose. You take a couple of squashed aluminum cans, add some felt tip pen and a couple of googly eyes. Badda bing badda boom, you’ve got yourself a yelling/singing ornament.

Going to Christmas in the Park has become something of a tradition for us, a good excuse to get out of the house when we’ve been stuffed in together for a few days and are at the point of biting each others’ heads off. We admire the trees, get a wristband for the boy so he can enjoy rides liberated from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, maybe share some nachos or a funnel cake, and head over to the Fairmont to check out their gingerbread display.

There are usually tons of trees on display, trees decorated by organizations such as businesses, schools and Scouts. The ornaments are mostly made of materials which can stand up to weather and aren’t something miscreants would want to steal, thus the crushed can ornaments above. Some of the choices may also come down to what you can lay your hands on when dealing with a bunch of people: you need stuff, you need a lot of it, and it needs to be inexpensive. Thus, there are a lot of recycled goods in use, ornaments cobbled together from the likes of light bulbs, compact discs, and candy box liners.

There’s a lot of heart on those trees. There’s a lot of love which comes out when people get together to make ornaments or memorialize an idea or a deceased loved one with a tree. Many of the ornaments are frankly awful, and that’s part of their charm. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites. I hope that you’ll enjoy them just as much as I did.



Miniature hot air balloons made from light bulbs. It’ll be interesting to see how people deal with the squiggly fluorescent bulbs as the incandescents are phased out.



Jack Skellington’s head atop a tree. Fun.




More lightbulbs.


I think there’s a tree under there somewhere!


It’s fun to see all the different organizations which come out to decorate trees. This one featured photos of prominent humanists. Buckminster Fuller appeared several times.


A “can’t mess up” ornament suitable for young kids or drunk adults.


Snowman made from bottle caps. Neat idea.


Penguin rendered out of a water bottle. I could wax philosophical about this, about how we humans are wrecking the planet with our need for crap such as these water bottles, and it’s resulting in the eradication of species. But what the heck; since it’s Christmas Eve, I won’t. Have some eggnog and pass me some roasted penguin breast, would you?


Bwahahaha! This snowman-tree is flipping us the bird! I suspect that the tree may have had a little “help” after the fact; I doubt the hand position is part of Girl Scout Canon.


In addition to tons of decorated trees, Christmas in the Park features animatronic displays. Many are old and – if you’ll forgive the pun – a tad ratty, as with this rodent whose ear has long since disappeared. I like that. The displays have character. Not every darned thing should be or needs to be “perfect”.


A tree dedicated to Martin Luther King. I wonder why there’s a police car ornament on it?


This made me laugh out loud.


There’s a sight I don’t see every day. Sweet Christmas dreams, kiddos.


That’s just plain fun.


Alright. Whatever chocolate-sucking pig left this mess here, you should be ashamed. Yeah, maybe you knocked your drink over and you can’t clean up the liquid, but you can jolly well pick up the cup and the spoon. We don’t want to see your mess, okay?


This snowman inexplicably and somewhat creepily would inflate and deflate.


This is neat. Gather random crap, coat it with glue and glitter, and you’ve got yourself a color-coordinated theme going! Well done, Glitterati Craft Club. I hereby give you a 21 Epoxy Salute.




There was a tree full of these. Some resembled Jesuses, some skeletons, and then there was this Elizabethan (?) fellow drifting along in his ship. “It’s Shakespeare!” exclaimed my son.


Gingerbread display at the Fairmont. One year they had a gigantic walk-through house, which children greatly enjoyed strolling through and destroying/snacking on the gingerbread. I notice they haven’t done the walk-through thing since then. Can’t say I blame them.


A phrenology head! How cool is that? It was atop the tree of some psychology organization, I think. Could have a whole theme of old school quackery going.


Also from the psychology tree. Not sure what it is, but it’s neat. A neuron, maybe?


Another neuron. Dang, those are festive.




Also on the atheist tree, an imaginary creature, the winged unicorn. Someone has a sense of humor.


From one of the animatronic displays. I timed this so it would look like the craftsman was picking his nose. I’m mature that way.


The TiVo display. I do love TiVo’s product, and the sight of the sad pile of collapsed TiVo guys at the base made me laugh my guts out.


Hideous bearded foundling left outside a tree-orphanage? What it needs is a can of Coors.


A shower head tree topper, courtesy of one of the local utility companies. Clever.

Okay. That’s it for now. Come back a year from now and I’ll no doubt have more photos posted.

Gestures of kindness

December 21st, 2014



There’s the card I’m sending out this year; click if you wish to see a larger version. I confess that I used the design as a prototype for a quilt I may make. Of course, it was totally horrid and torturous having to buy (and later consume) candy for “research” purposes. And yes, that’s my weiner-basset up there driving the sleigh pulled by squirrels.

Jezebel has a “best/worst Christmas gift ever” article. It’s funny in a wincing “Oh lord; that could have been me cluelessly giving someone that shell-filled Mason jar atop a candlestick” way. Yes, it’s true. I see myself on the “inflicting” side of the gift-giving process. My husband very politely refuses to believe that I’ve ever been an awful gift-giver – or at least, he pretends to believe that, bless him. But it’s true. Here’s a partial list of the bad gifts I’ve given over the years, at least the ones I can remember. Heaven only knows what else I’ve done that’s lost to the winds of time. Prepare to wince.

To my brother:

  • The same book on motorcycles (or was it guitars?), two years in a row. Never mind how I managed that – it takes a special type of genius. To his credit, he was gracious about it and just sort of didn’t mention it to me. It’s probably good that I saw the twin books on his shelf, though, or he might have received the same book a third year.
  • A hand-painted T-shirt featuring him as one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which might not have been so bad if the tail I rendered hadn’t resembled a penis. I understand that this was a source of great merriment and humiliation when he wore it to school.

To my sister:

  • A cosmetics organizer she’d asked for, only I sent it in January or February.
  • The first quilt I ever made, which was admittedly of poor quality. On a later visit, I found it out in the mud and feces-caked front yard with the dogs. That’s how good it was.

To my stepmother:

  • Everything I ever gave her, as detailed in a manifesto of gifts she wished to not receive from me. In her defense, the list included cookware. Yes, I have been guilty of giving a mother-figure cookware, because that’s what all women naturally want, to be classified in terms of domestic tasks that they don’t even enjoy.


A lace snowflake. If you get on my Christmas list and you aren’t careful, you may receive one.

To various relatives:

  • A variety of awful T-shirts and sweatshirts which I made, including a black sweatshirt festooned with sparkly fall leaves. The latter might not have been so bad for someone in her forties, but was a bad call for my teenaged niece-by-marriage. Plus it was a couple of sizes too small. Bless the girl for restraining herself to a small glare. I hope that wherever she is now, she receives major karma points for graciousness in the face of disappointment.
  • Homemade fruitcake. “It made the entire package reek of alcohol,” my stepmother complained.
  • Christmas ornaments which I had painted. “You father hates Santa Claus,” my stepmother informed me after the fact. Also: “They were so heavy that they fell off the tree.” I’m sure they broke as well, perhaps even by accident.
  • Lace snowflake ornaments made on my embroidery machine. Only one person expressed enthusiasm over these snowflakes. I assume the rest were objects of puzzlement.


Hand-painted ornaments, of the type I used to make and give out. Some folks like receiving these – and by “some folks”, I mean no one that I know.

To my husband:

  • Silk boxer shorts and a T-shirt featuring a Krispy Kreme doughnut rendered as a delivery boy. My husband isn’t a lounging sort of fellow, nor does he have a particular fondness for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I’ve since liberated the T-shirt from his drawer and wear it for workouts. Probably I should do the same with the boxer shorts.

To my son:

  • Various books on topics he could care less about, such as whittling wood and making shadow puppets.

To my mother:

  • Books which I self-righteously thought she should read, knick-knacks she had no need or room for, and a down-filled throw. The latter might not have been so bad if she wasn’t allergic to feathers.

To my step-great-great aunt, who was failing with dementia:

  • A malachite worry stone. “She dropped it and it broke,” my stepmother sniffed when I asked if the gift had been enjoyed. (These days my default gift to people who are dying or who have dementia is an album of photos. I figure if nothing else, they can look at the colorful photos and wonder who the people are.)

For these sins, I apologize. There was a decade or so there where I was batting a thousand with the homemade and otherwise “thoughtful” gifts. Hopefully I’ve upped my game a bit since then, though. My gift-giving list is mostly pared down to my husband and son, plus the one person who made the mistake of enthusing over the lace snowflakes. (Unless she says otherwise, she will receive a relentless barrage of lace snowflakes in her Christmas card for the next twenty years.) These days I stick to lists which people have given me, maybe send a treat hamper off to my in-laws and a donation to the food bank, and that’s it. If one can’t be clever and thoughtful, being non-clever and thoughtful is the next best thing. Give people joy if you can, play with the family dog, and bake cookies.


Awesome Cthulu ornament from my brother-in-law

Have I also received odd gifts or had occasions used as emotional weapons? Sure. Mostly, though, I’ve been treated with great kindness. There’s the brother-in-law who sent me the molecular gastronomy kit and the Cthulu ornament, both of which I dearly love. There’s the father-in-law who painstakingly picked out quilting fabric to ship me, and the mother-in-law who would faithfully send me the latest Maeve Binchy novel, back when Binchy was alive. One sister-in-law bakes and ships Christmas cookies each year, and the other sister-in-law sends some munchie she knows we’ll enjoy. They’re all good people, which I guess isn’t surprising considering that they’re related to my husband.

There are also my stepmother’s relatives. For all that she and I have a poisoned relationship, her relatives were some of the warmest people I’ve ever known. Her sister, a lovely young woman, would take me horseback riding. Her brother, who wasn’t financially affluent, would nevertheless give me an exquisite bottle of perfume for Christmas. Her parents did whatever they could to make a ragged nine-year-old child feel welcome, including picking out a special Star Trek Spock doll or making one of those grotesque/wonderful birthday cakes which features a Barbie doll impaled in a half-sphere of frosted cake-skirt.


Crafting books, a gift from my step-grandmother many years ago

Even though she’s now deceased, I frequently have reason to offer thanks to my step-grandmother. Because of her, I was supplied with books and supplies for knitting, jewelry-making, and denim decorating, and worlds opened. It’s because of her that I’ve had the guts to pursue my own creative vision. I can’t count the number of times she provided me with a thoughtful kit of some type or other, replete with sewing supplies or nail polish or little girl jewelry. I still jab my needles in a tomato/strawberry pincushion which appeared under the tree one year and, although it perhaps isn’t as dignified, our dog eats from the remains of a gigantic Estee Lauder makeup palette/tray. I wish I had better expressed my gratitude to both her and my step-grandfather before they passed away.


A beloved pincushion, a reminder of kindness

Maybe that’s the way it goes sometimes, though. If we’re lucky, we get the consciousness and decency to properly thank people while they’re still around. Otherwise, maybe kindness is a pay-it-forward sort of thing, and many of us end up giving thanks for past kindnesses by taking a turn at giving ourselves. In my case, though, it appears that I should confine myself more to the toy and canned food drive end of things and take a pass on the handcrafted shirts and mason jar candlesticks!

Happy holidays – and I do mean that in an all-inclusive way, including holidays which aren’t part of my tradition but which matter to others – to all.

SuperSpray sort-of-review

December 1st, 2014

I have a problem.

I’m working on a new computer-assisted image, which I’ll apply to fabric and then texture with stitch. This image will have a background which will include thousands of little objects.

Coming up with the best way to create that background has perplexed me. Shall I create and render a 3D file in Blender with the thousands of little objects? No. Too tedious. I’m not Pixar. Say, how about using Photoshop to create some custom brushes which are just pictures of my objects? I’d just whoosh the brushes around, spray images of my objects all over the place, and be done.

Yes, that sure would be swell. It would be great if Photoshop CS6, which made a sizable dent in my wallet, would let me make full color brushes or had a tool like the image hose Corel Painter has offered for years and years. However, it doesn’t.

I can make greyscale brushes in Photoshop. Why don’t I try that and see if it’ll work well enough?

Here’s an original graphic of a blue ball. It’s a rendering of a 3D model I imported into Blender. (Sometimes that’s a handy way to generate graphics, so that one doesn’t have to worry about searching for a stock image or taking one’s own photo.)




Here’s a greyscale brush made from that graphic:




Here’s the pallid-looking graphic that results when my greyscale brush is used with blue “paint”:




Wow. Sad. I could probably mess around and improve the dynamic range some, but why should I when I’m simply looking to duplicate my original blue ball graphic? Plus, what if I wish to reproduce a ball that’s multicolored rather than just blue? Although I love Photoshop’s brush feature much of the time, it isn’t meeting my needs this time.

Now, I could duplicate the original blue ball image thousands of times within Photoshop and drive myself nuts. However, since I have plenty of other ways to drive myself nuts, I think I’ll pass. Gosh, it sure is a shame that Photoshop won’t let me take a full color image and use it like a paintbrush.

Well, I’m certainly not the first person to run into this problem. I did some poking around and found that the folks at Design Beagle made a plugin, SuperSpray, which sort of addresses this problem. I’m going to give my opinions on the plugin, in case anyone else is considering it.

How it works

SuperSpray isn’t a true image hose. Despite its name, one isn’t really precisely placing graphics as one would with a paint brush. Instead, one paints an area of one’s canvas black to designate an area where one would like .png graphics to applied, and the plugin randomly arranges the graphics in that area. There are some pretty examples on Design Beagle’s website.


  • Cheap. It’s only $20, and maybe even less if Design Beagle is running a sale.
  • Available. It may not do exactly what I want it to, but it does make my life a little easier. It’s also better than any Photoshop plugin I’ve ever written, which is to say none.
  • Includes nice basic options such as random rotation, scattering, random image size, and density (object count) control.
  • Allows one to select multiple object (.png) samples at one time. I.E. one can load in .pngs of a bunny rabbit, a pizza, and Alfred E. Neuman’s head, and have SuperSpray distribute them and render out a graphic in one pass.
  • Saves out resulting images as transparent pngs.


  • It isn’t a true image hose. One doesn’t have precise control over exactly where each image element goes.
  • One is constrained to a maximum object (.png) sample of 500 x 500.
  • It doesn’t directly modify one’s image, but instead uses the black areas as a guide for placing sample objects, then saves out a different file rather than, say, a new layer. (Again, this is better than the nonexistent filter I’ve written.)
  • Requires that one save custom images to a subfolder deep in the bowels of the Photoshop directory. Not a big deal, but kind of annoying.

Let’s take it for a spin, shall we? Let’s start with a crude black and white mountain shape:



We’ll pull up SuperSpray’s filter window:




Closeup of the SuperSpray window. Hopefully you can see the .png library along the top righthand side, followed by the options for size range, rotation, Darken Lower, and image count.




I’ve toggled off the included leaf image and have installed some of my own rather ugly transparent .pngs of yellow, blue, and red balls. Note that we can see variation in size and rotation, as well as darkening in some of the elements:




Rotation toggled off. Now the balls all have the same orientation:




Size variation and Darken Lower toggled off. We’ll try rendering out a sample graphic with these settings:




Here are the balls applied to the black mountain shape from my original image. One can see that with some experimentation – maybe create more attractive sample .pngs of balls, and render out several graphics to put in layers – one could get a satisfactory result. With the assistance of SuperSpray, I was able to apply 500 ugly balls to my mountain shape in a matter of seconds.




Do I have as much control as I’d like, as I’d have if Photoshop included a tool similar to the image hose? No. But this is a good workaround, and it was available when I needed it. For somebody else’s project, it might be exactly the right tool. Short of downloading and messing around with GIMP’s “image pipes” or shelling out more money for Painter, I’m set. Thank you, SuperSpray.


PIQF, briefly

November 9th, 2014

My artwork The Thief was at IQF Houston. Did you see it? Yeah, neither did I. Didn’t go to Houston. Too bad; looks like there were a ton of great exhibits. It’s just a big darned deal getting out of here and traveling, what with having a kid and all. (Not that I resent having a kid; we were happy to have him and they don’t stay kids for long.)

I did get to PIQF a couple of weeks back. It’s only 6.1 miles from my house, so I’d pretty much have to look for reasons NOT to go. The show seemed more enjoyable to me this year, perhaps because I was surveying each piece for lessons learned rather than whether I “liked” it. For example: persevere, work with the materials one has at hand, experiment with motifs, use an existing technique in a different medium.



I was particularly touched by Jackie Houston’s The Journey. Based on an illustration by Tom Feelings, it depicts a “black man with chains and the body of a ship that’s carrying his people (The Human Cargo) across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.” She’s also rendered masks in the water, which “represent the millions of lost souls that were discarded into the ocean”.

I’d love to see this work travel, so that others might learn about this hideous part of American history and reflect on its ramifications. For example, when I attended school in Armpit, TX way back when, the business of people being chained down the whole way and being tossed overboard if they were dead or ill wasn’t covered. Stuff was glossed over. It was all “They came across via ships and they were slaves, but now they’re free. Things are great now, right?” Mmmm. No. Maybe not so much.



There was Gloria Loughman’s work, Fern Pool. She and her work are a treat. I heard someone remark that some of the leaves resemble marijuana. Yes, it’s true: both marijuana leaves and the fronds in the quilt are green.



Marilyn Belford’s Perseus Saving Andromeda. Per her artist’s statement, she uses “commercial fabric, fusible web and thread sketching … No inks or paints applied”. I’ve long enjoyed this series, and it’s always a treat to see a new addition. One can see others in the series on her website; I do hope there’ll be a traveling exhibition of all of them at some point.



Marilyn Badger’s Exuberance. Traditional designs aren’t my thing, but the quality of Badger’s workmanship is remarkable. One can’t fail to be touched by the story behind the quilt, too; she did its hand stitching while taking care of her husband during his final illness. He must have found comfort in this ritual: “He critiqued every addition and fondly gave it a big thumbs up and declared it his favorite. Before he passed away, he named it.” After grieving for six months, she forced herself to resume work, and completed the quilt after an additional six months.

I could do an entire post on just the work I saw at PIQF. It would take hours of photo cropping and editing, though, so perhaps I won’t.

Work on Odalesque is progressing. I had the “yips” about getting started on the stitching, so I had to start a couple of warm up projects first. It’s similar to blank page syndrome, I guess, an anxiety which interferes with getting started. Noodling away at something less exalted seems to make it go away. I’ll have to post the warm up projects another day, or it’ll take me another week to get this blog entry out.


The screen has taken some thought. Now, I know some folks might say “just stipple over it” or “echo stitch” or some such, but that isn’t my way. Look at different people’s work and you’ll see different stitching philosophies. Maria Elkins, for example, may use a naturalistic contour approach on skin, but reference traditional decorative quilting motifs elsewhere in the same image. Others – Susan Shie comes to mind – seem to find the stitching of secondary interest, mostly a way to hold layers together and showcase a surface design, so they’ll stick to stippling or do a loose wave over the surface of the quilt. There’s a range of styles in between.

Mine is more of a naturalistic philosophy. I could care less about replicating a traditional motif such as a feather in my own work unless there’s a reason to do so in the context of the image. I’m primarily interested in using the stitching to make the image more convincing or compelling. I have yet to see a stippled texture on any real life object, unless maybe it’s the crenellations on brains, so stippling isn’t my go-to method. (Braaaainnnssss.)

In the case of this screen in Odalesque, I’m guessing that in real life, its frame would be made of laquered wood. It wouldn’t have much discernible texture at all. Therefore, I’ll see if I can stitch a subtle “noise”. First, though, I have to get through stitching the rice paper in the screen’s white background, which I’ve decided should be graced with roughly parallel but somewhat irregular lines. Yeah. That’s been fun. After one false start, ripping out a whole bunch of stitches, and starting over, I’m about four hours and thirty square inches in. Only mumblety mumble hours more to go on the rice paper. Then, you know, everything else. Do I have a plan for stitching things like the vase and the dog’s fur? Um. No. Not yet.


I finally opened up my wallet and bought a set of magnifying lenses for my machine. Oh my. I had no idea. I wish I’d bought them years ago. They’re seriously great. No more hunching over the machine. Less eye strain. They’ve helped my stitching become more accurate and confident, and I’ve become more relaxed as a result.

The down side? The price. $60 for a set of three from Bernina. Still totally worth it, but since I’m a skinflint who loathes debt, that means $60 of something else had to go. No new jeans to replace the ones which sprung crotch holes, and this morning I reached for a block of homemade soap rather than adding soap to the shopping list. (Have I written about making soap because I couldn’t bear to throw out the bacon grease I’d saved up? Ah, well. That’s an adventure for another time. Yes, as a matter of fact, my strange ways did used to make me a laughing stock with my family.)

Another caveat: when I’m trying to judge whether my stitching is parallel to something an inch or so out, side-to-side distortion makes that difficult. However, I’m trying something else to resolve that:



That’s right. Modeler’s tape. It’s designed to be used on plastic car and airplane models, to go on painted surfaces and peel right off. My husband had a roll of it in a drawer, which he kindly donated to the cause of not hearing me whine, not that he’d be rude enough to put it like that.

Oh my. This is another thing I wish I’d tried years ago. No more blasted chalk or “disappearing ink” marks which I maybe can’t get out later! I’m not going to say which of my portraits have this problem, but yeah, there are at least a couple where residual orange chalk marks can be discerned here and there, and that was AFTER being rinsed over and over again. Now, I’m sure there could be a down side if one got a bad batch of tape or left it on one’s fabric long enough for the adhesive to come off, but so far I’m ecstatic. If I can find tape which will let me lay down curved lines, I’ll be even happier.

Alas, there’s about to be another break in the action due to jury duty. Now, I don’t resent jury duty particularly; I regard it as part of the price one pays for living in a civilized society, just as one pays taxes. It’s certainly the case that if I was in a situation which required a jury, I’d want a group of people to come in with good attitudes and listen to evidence.

At the same time, I dread it. Potentially day after day of having to interact with other people, which is unbelievably draining. Being instructed to believe whatever evidence is presented, rather than puzzling away at information myself. Given my career in Physics and naturally high degree of skepticism, this is like telling a labrador to not jump in water. And oh, lord. Some of the matters are pretty darned serious. As in, a victim badly harmed or sending a person to prison. The time before last, I was briefly seated on a jury for a case in which someone had been killed.

Finally, I have this creature called a child. I guess the assumption in American society is that one doesn’t need to hang out and take care of a child, that there’s daycare or grandparents eager to leap in and babysit or something. Yeah, not so much. I actually do things like pick my kid up after school and harangue him about homework, and I don’t leave him locked up in the house by himself for hours on end. However, in the eyes of the judicial system, that isn’t an acceptable reason to miss jury duty. If anything, I guess I need to be grateful that I wasn’t summoned during the summer while he was on vacation, as happened once. That was a nightmare.

Alright. Crossing fingers. Hoping to get through this period gracefully and without neglecting my kid. Artwork? Yeah, unfortunately that’ll have to be tabled until after jury duty.

Development of Odalisque, Part II

October 12th, 2014

More on the creation of Odalisque. This may be a yawnfest for people who aren’t interested in 3D imagery or detailed how-tos. Um, here’s a  puppy video for those folks. (I haven’t watched the puppy video all the way through. Please let me know in the comments if there’s something awful in it.)



As previously noted, the backdrop in this photo simply wouldn’t do. It was far from the lush surroundings one would expect for a nude lounging figure. It was clear that I’d have to create a set or backdrop and composite the hound in. The only question was how. One could build a full-sized set, work with models and maquettes, or create an environment with the assistance of a computer.

There’s a long history of this sort of thing, although I believe most people work out the props and backdrop before posing the model! For example, in Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, Ron Schick shows us how Rockwell used a wide assortment of props to bring scenes to life. In Imaginative Realism, James Gurney talks about creating models and maquettes to help mentally visualize scenes. Thus, I’m not doing anything new; I’m just doing it with a computer.

The first order of business was the 3D model for the sofa upon which Ryan-hound reclines. I was torn about whether to create the model myself or use an pre-made one. Laziness won out: I wasn’t even sure the whole thing was going to work, so it made sense to not expend much time on an initial test.

These days there are models for everything under the sun, including some wonderful sofas and chaises. For example, the Turbosquid site offers this very elegant number for only $36, which is quite reasonable given the amount of work required to create such a detailed model.





However, I settled on this one, by artist Andresspa. Its clean lines appealed to me.


After downloading the model, I tried importing it into Photoshop CS6 Extended, just to try out that program’s features. The results were amusing:




Pieces of chaise got scattered hither and thither! Not exactly an auspicious start for the project.

This actually isn’t an uncommon problem when importing models. I could have tweaked the pieces into place, but I didn’t want to waste time messing around. Instead I turned to my current 3D tool, Blender, to see if it would be more cooperative.

Much better! Only, I really wanted the chaise to be flipped so its arm was on the other side. Fortunately, Blender can handle such issues without batting an eyelash.





The next order of business was tinting the chaise green, to contrast with Ryan’s fur, and trying to simulate a velvet texture. For the velvet I turned to Blender’s built-in particle simulation system, and in no time at all had created this:





Monstrous furry spikes sticking out of my chaise, ready to jab any hapless computer-simulated people who sat on it. Well. That went smoothly, didn’t it?

After some more tinkering, I managed to simulate a sort of rotten algae texture, then the appearance of cheap Astroturf. Not at all what I had in mind, but isn’t it wonderful what one can do these days? If I need to simulate a surface covered with rotten sludge, I’ll know just how to do it.

Finally it dawned on me that I was fretting over minutiae. A plain matte green surface was fine. The goal wasn’t to create photorealism so much as a credible digital painting. After all, stitching would add another level of detail, and I didn’t want the stitching to have to compete with the level of detail in the base image. Onward.




The next order of business was to adjust the geometry of the chaise’s cushion, so that it looked a little rumpled, then begin adding props. I acquired the props from the Archive3D site, where people share a good many models. The scene was beginning to take shape.

In case other Blender users are curious about the node setup for the checkerboard marble floor setup, here it is. Your mileage may vary, of course.



(Click on graphic to embiggen.)


A few things were still missing from the scene, such as a rug and a throw. The rug is simply a solidified plane with a Persian rug bitmap. I didn’t spend any time on displacement maps or other niceties, since the image was destined to be further altered with stitchery.

As for the throw, that thing chewed me up and spit me out for awhile. It seemed that a good place to start would be following a cloth simulation tutorial. There’s a nice clear one, the Cloth Napkin tutorial, at the Little Web Hut site.

Basically it boils down to creating a plane, subdividing it, giving it cloth properties, and running a simulation in which one drops the plane/cloth over whatever needs to be covered with fabric. I’ve left out some details here and there, but that’s the gist of it.

Suspend cloth:




Drop cloth:



Stop the simulation when the cloth looks decent:



Easy-peasy, right? Only instead of behaving nicely and draping itself on the chaise, my cloth was demon-possessed. I’d watch it fall and slither all the way off the chaise, then I’d change a few parameters and watch it slither off again … over and over and over again. No. No. I don’t want the lace throw on the floor! Then I changed a parameter and the darned thing started BOUNCING off the chaise. It would hit the chaise and recoil into the air as though made of rubber. Boing! Boing! I wish I’d saved some of those animations, because they were hysterical. Not so funny at the time, but amusing in retrospect.

I forget how I finally solved the problem. I was about at the point of wanting to crawl into the computer and drive nails through the throw to keep it on the chaise, though.

In case any Blender users are curious about how I created the lace texture, here is my node setup. This would be a good time to thank Volker Stark, whose tutorial on alpha maps and transparency put me on the right track and saved me from incipient madness. (Alas, I can no longer find the tutorial in order to link to it.)



(Click on graphic to embiggen.)


Here’s a section taken from the texture map file, which more or less looks like a photo of lace:




Here’s a section taken from the transparency map file. This was saved as a separate file, rather than including an alpha map in the lace texture file above. Although there may be a way to create transparency with an included alpha map, I never did get it to work.

Note that black occurs where one wants transparency to occur, and white occurs where one wants the object to be solid.



As a final note on the lace throw, it’s a tribute to my grandmother, who was a great tatter. I photographed a section of lace from one of her actual throws and tiled it in Photoshop, thereby letting her hard work live on in the virtual world.

After clearing up a couple of other issues, such as matching the lighting and camera angle in my Blender scene to the lighting and camera angle in my photo, I hit the render button and walked away for the night. When I came back, there was a huge hard drive-clogging version of this:



Perfect or photorealistic? No. But plenty good enough to make a backdrop for my dog, then to be printed out on fabric and sewn on.

After some tomfoolery in Photoshop, I had Ryan extracted from the squalid sheet-covered couch and placed in posher surroundings:



Now that the fabric has been printed from this image composite, it’s just a matter of ordering some more spools of thread, brewing up some coffee, and plunking myself down at the sewing machine. We shall see where this experiment leads. So far it’s been interesting.