Archive for 2018

The Advent calendar

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

 

My kid is growing up. We aren’t going to break his plate and turn his chair away from the table when he hits 18 (one of my father-in-law’s sayings), but things are gradually becoming different. It’s just a fact of life. Every year, every month, little pieces of your kid’s childhood fall away. One day you realize that you’ve read your last bedtime story. Another day you realize that you can’t remember the last time you griped at him about doing homework. Then, all at once, your kid is hulking over you and you see beard hairs. That’s the stage I’m at now.

Given that and the ephemeral nature of life, it feels important to cherish family traditions. One of ours is the advent calendar, which gives the boy (and the rest of us) a little something to look forward to each day.

My son has long since outgrown things like Lego’s advent calendars, cutesy calendars filled with the likes of bubbles and Silly Putty, and even Trader Joe’s 99¢ chocolate calendars. This year I decided to try something a little different, filling a calendar with sweets ourselves, but I didn’t want to get too elaborate with buying or making one. Instead, I decided to concoct something out of magnetic spice tins.

This is hardly an original idea. The web is full of tutorials for jamming decorative paper cutouts into the likes of Ikea’s magnetic spice tins or Wilton’s 2” favor tins. Heaven knows we couldn’t figure out how to cut out a paper circle otherwise.

I opted to buy a set of 24 tins off Amazon. For decorative inserts, I Googled terms such as “horrifying vintage Christmas cards” and picked out the strangest images I could find. That led to an hour’s worth of shrieking and cackling, with my calling the boy to the computer with screams of “You will NOT believe what I just found!!!” There’s some seriously weird stuff out there such as the ones in these articles, “Have a Creepy Little Christmas …” and “10 sinister Santa Christmas cards”.

One doesn’t have to go for creepy and weird, of course. One could decorate tins with religious iconography, traditional Christmas themes, or the remains of last year’s cards. Creepy and weird just fits our household, right down to the cigarette-smoking Santa from the 1936 Lucky Strike ad.

The boy has declared that he’s pleased with the result and can’t wait to start prying the tins open. So far the tins are clinging to the refrigerator door just fine and haven’t exploded all over the kitchen floor. We’ll see how long our luck holds out. We don’t have toddlers or a Labrador retriever, so that improves our odds.

Give me a sphere with hair

Monday, November 26th, 2018

My quest began with a case of hives. Thanksgiving night, I awoke with raised, itchy red areas splashed across my body and ferocious itchiness on the soles of my feet. Okay, whatever. Something I ate nailed me – yes, I know the likely culprit. I got up, popped an antihistamine, and got out an ice pack. No biggie, except for the fact that I knew I’d be wasted the next morning and I’d probably have to beg off walking the dogs, which isn’t fair to my husband.

Sure enough, the next day I was doing a good imitation of a character from Walking Dead. I lurched over to my computer, gagged down some coffee, and poked at links on YouTube. Maybe a music video would bring me back to life.

One link was labeled “Anthony Kiedis farts and everyone runs away (funny!)” I clicked on it. It had a promising beginning, with John Frusciante clutching a carton of milk while indulging in a vigorous round of pocket pool. Soon Anthony Kiedis grinned, said “look out, look out,” and began windmilling his arms, presumably so his intestinal joy could be shared with everyone. Frusciante and another guy evacuated. Flea, focused on generating horrible noises with a keyboard, ignored the whole thing.

Meh. It wasn’t really side-splitting but it was alright, I guess. I’ve witnessed similar savagery when boys get together at my house, with guys pointing their posteriors at each other and making sounds reminiscent of a howitzer or a duck being stepped on. On one notable occasion, the action resulted in a door being ripped off its hinges. I ended up showing a couple of boys how to reinforce screw holes with wood glue and toothpicks.

I was vaguely ashamed of myself for watching the video, though. The fact is, if you follow most people around long enough, they’re bound to do something odd or embarrassing. Most of us are just lucky that onlookers don’t have a camera so such moments aren’t recorded. Shouldn’t I be using my time a little better? For example, maybe I could tackle the problem of making fur in a 3D program, which hasn’t gone so well the last few times I’ve tried it?

That’s the thing with some of the tools I use. Many are developed by people who have a neat idea they’re pursuing, out of the goodness of their hearts or in the hope of piecing together an income. Maybe they have a background in software development and testing; maybe they don’t. Even if the application isn’t crawling with bugs like the underside of a rock, documentation can be uneven, the likes of a fellow mumbling through a video on YouTube or popping up to address users’ anguished pleas on some obscure forum. Did he just poke a button or not? What does the button with three tiny squares on it do compared to the button with four tiny squares?

Even tools sold by companies that have a reputable facade can be uneven: Say, that upgrade looks great! What the — what happened to all my custom presets? They just disappeared! What? To fix it, I have to move around some invisible files in an obscure directory? Am I going to need to dip into Unix? Fine. Fine. I’ll just have a cup of coffee and browse through commercially available 3D models while I think this through. Say, that’s an awesome model of a tarantula. And it’s on sale for forty cents and it comes with presets to grow hair! Where do I sign up? Take my forty cents, suckers! Oh yeah. Just let me download this baby and I’ll do some wicked things with it. What the … how do I make the hair grow? Did I just pay forty cents for a model of a bald spider? Argh!

What most of us want is smooth workflow, so when we set out to do something we can. When I’m in the midst of a project, I don’t want a big troubleshooting orgy. I want to know how to grow fur on my 3D tarantula and I want to know how to simulate fluids so it can ooze drool or spider juice or whatever the heck it is spiders do. 

That means that every once in awhile, I have to sit down, fiddle around, and take some notes.

The last time I messed with growing fur or fibers was in Blender. The results were comically awful.

I’d like to think it went a little better this time. I started out by growing hair from a sphere. (Hey, you never can tell when you’ll need a hairy sphere.) I only crashed the program six or ten times before reaching this point, which is about par.

Another experiment, this time growing fur from a model of a squirrel. It turned out that when I changed the squirrel’s pose after creating the fur, the fur didn’t follow the pose. That’s one of those things whose cause isn’t necessarily obvious the first time you run across it, then becomes clear.

I thought the image was amusing, though. It looks like the squirrel is having an out-of-body experience, or maybe doing something vulgar with its fur. Sometimes mistakes are fun.

This one shows fur grown on commercially available model of a wolf. I had to try this because I saw a bunch of pitiful forum posts on the topic. It worked out okay. (Except for the fact that if I look at the upper lefthand corner of the picture, the cloud texture is mirrored, which makes it clear that the whole picture is synthetic.)

No, I don’t know why the wolf has a rubber squeak bone. I just make the pictures; I don’t always understand them. Maybe the wolf got bored. Maybe it wanted to take something home to its pups. 

Regardless, many thanks to Anthony Kiedis’ intestinal rumblings for inspiring me to learn something new.

Another experiment, albeit unrelated to growing fur: making tattoos.

What’s that? The picture is too small to tell what the card looks like? I’ll complain to the management for you. Oh – that’s me.

It’s Christmas card time again. I make my own cards every year, even though it would be more sensible to go to the dollar store, fork over a couple of bucks, and send out a set of bland images of puppies wearing Santa hats.

This year’s card has a Santa on it. It’s one of those design-by-committee, bang-it-together in a weekend things. I grab everyone in the house, plop them down at the dining table, and glare at them until ideas come out. This year, all of my own concepts were influenced by current events and were pretty dark. My husband finally rolled his eyes and said “Santa is on a beach. His sleigh is up on blocks and he’s put a for sale sign on it.”

Fine. I could work with that. I decided that Santa was kind of a Viking surfer/biker dude under that suit, and one of the things he really needed was a full sleeve tattoo. That meant I had to do research by looking at numerous photos of shirtless, tattooed men, which was a great hardship.

I fell in love with a norse dragon tattoo from Sacred Knot. Wouldn’t something like that – exactly like that! – look great on Santa? Yeah. Unfortunately, that design belongs to them, not me, which meant I had to go draw my own.

I’d never drawn a tattoo before. Most of my drawings were awful. I comforted myself with the knowledge that on the printed card, the tattoo would only be an inch across. Also, many real-life tattoos are awful, a hodgepodge of miscellanea acquired over time rather than a cohesive design created by a tattoo artist. If the tattoo I made was ugly, I’d simply tell people that Santa got it as a bet when he was drunk. Long nights at the north pole, boredom, some elf tossing, an excess of mead … it could happen.

After some unsuccessful fiddling around with pencils and a light box, I sat down with my iPad, an Apple Pencil, and a copy of Procreate. My husband put something on the television, maybe Forever, and began waxing philosophical about the program being a metaphor for marriage. I filled a glass with spiked eggnog, grunted at his comments at the appropriate times, and opened a picture of my Santa’s chest and arm on a layer in Procreate. I began to draw, a process complicated by the fact that several glasses of eggnog had made my eyes cross and my body grow floppy. I drew a reindeer, a Vegvisir in case Santa got lost, and for good measure I threw in some random knotwork and Nordic patterns. Soon I had a design, although I couldn’t tell whether it was any good – nor did I care.

“Whaddaya think?” I grunted at my husband, holding out my iPad for inspection.

“It’s fine,” he said, not bothering to look at it.

I exported the tattoo layer as a PNG, sent it to my desktop machine, and once I was sober enough to lurch to my computer, I layered it on my Santa scene in Photoshop. “Procreate and an Apple pencil,” I crowed, “easiest drawing process ever!” Or maybe I belched and moaned about how I’d drunk too damned much eggnog. I can’t remember.

The texture on Santa’s trunks was inspired by men’s garish floral board shorts, particularly the ones plastered with hibiscus. I reasoned that Santa would wear something similar, only in a pointsettia pattern. After running a fabric simulation on the trunks to make them fall just so, I plunked a mystery drink in Santa’s hand. I also ran a fabric simulation on the clothes chucked in the sand behind his chair, so they’d sink down messily.

Details like that are important. I like to think people are subconsciously impressed by the care I put into my work in the split second before they mutter “Eh, there’s no Jesus on this card” and chuck it in the trash.

Ho ho ho.

The Trouble in Paradise

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

IQF Houston took place a couple of weeks ago. That’s normally cause for celebration, but my attention has been on the fires in Malibu and here in northern California. Still, my understanding is that it was a great show; I’m sorry I missed it.

The OURstory exhibit, spearheaded by Susanne Miller Jones, debuted there. I have a couple of pieces in that exhibit but alas, we aren’t allowed to release photos just yet. One can get a little sense of the exhibit from this story in the Houston Chronicle, which features interviews with a few of my fellow artists.

I confess that I got my back up a bit when I read a comment that exhibits such as this one are “political” and that IQF Houston should leave them out of its shows. Why are celebrating human rights, religious freedom, or fair labor practices regarded as political? Why are those things controversial? What’s the counter position – that the medium of fiber should only be used to depict warm, fluffy topics such as kitty-cats hiding in pumpkins or children playing on the beach? Should we be celebrating the views of Strom Thurmond circa 1948?

The exhibit will be traveling. I do wish people would go have a look at it before judging it. The work in it is heartfelt. I was told that one of my pieces “moved people to tears,” and I imagine that was the case with much of the other work as well. I worked hard on my pieces and I know that my fellow artists did as well.

Another of my works, Cranky Claus, was out in the main section of the show. It’s one of my personal favorites since the Santa in it is such a thuggish type, not at all the sort of person you’d want to have come down your chimney or roam around your house while you were asleep. I hope visitors enjoyed it or at least were mildly horrified.

 

Leaving Home: Launch of the Apollo 8 and several other works from the Fly Me to the Moon exhibit are on display at the Johnson Space Center as part of the Apollo 7 & 8 50th Anniversary Exhibit. They’ll be there through December 13.

 

From the San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 15

Meanwhile, Malibu and a chunk of Northern California have been on fire. I live down at the south end of San Francisco Bay, about 200 miles away from the fire that took out forest land and the town of Paradise. The morning after the fire started, I went outside to walk the dogs and the air was thick with smoke. “Wow. Is that from the fire north of Sacramento?” I asked my husband. Yes. It was. 

Air in Sacramento November 15

We’ve been battling bad air ever since, air that leaves me coughing and with a sore throat if I stay out in it for long. We’ve essentially been housebound for the past two weeks, and that’s with the fire 200 miles away. However, our inconvenience is nothing compared to what the people closer to the fire have faced, or the tragedy of losing homes, loved ones, pets, and wildlife. “Remember, that smoke you’re complaining about breathing is someone’s house – or worse,” pointed out a newspaper commenter.

The stories of horror are abundant, and the survivors’ paths to recovery are just beginning. This story in the L.A. Times tells about people sheltering in vehicles or tents in parking lots in Chico, huddled together for warmth. Winter is coming. Soon the weather will turn harsher, cold and wet, and many of the people don’t have the financial resources to move, much less rebuild.

One would think this would be an occasion for an outpouring of sympathy and relief efforts, with FEMA swooping in and the POTUS making statements of compassion. Instead, we have people camping out in parking lots, with no idea where they’re going to go or how they’re going to put their lives back together. Instead, the current POTUS initially threatened to withold federal aid. He conveniently “forgot” or ignored the facts that California supplies more federal funds than it uses, much of forest that burned was under federal management, with funding for maintenance cut by him and the Republicans, and the town that burned leaned Republican. When he visited the burned remains of the town, he couldn’t remember its name, even when reminded. Instead he mumbled deranged nonsense about maintaining the forest by raking it, like the people of Finland do theirs. The citizens of Finland weren’t aware they’d been doing this, and were understandably surprised.

This behavior is not a surprise to me – like all good con men, the POTUS has contempt for his marks – but it is still a disappointment. I’m sad to see people defecated on by the man they voted for. One would hope he’d care about them, if not the rest of us. But he doesn’t. He cares only for himself and perhaps his oldest daughter.

Remember the people of Pleasure – I mean, Paradise – in your thoughts and donations, and shore up your resources and your neighborhoods. Get to know your neighbors, keep a reasonable amount of emergency supplies on hand, and have a plan for sheltering in place or evacuating yourself, your pets, and your family if necessary. Support the people and organizations who provide emergency services.

There will more disasters, particularly as global climate change accelerates. The reality TV personality currently occupying the Oval Office and his administration will be no more capable of responding to them with compassion or practical assistance than he was this one. The only things he can reliably deliver are self-interest and harsh, threatening remarks when people are grappling with grief and fear.

We have each other, at least. Right now, that’s about all we can count on.

Father of the Year

Monday, October 29th, 2018

Pizza, baby cage, grenade … the stuff of childhood. When my son saw this he shrugged and said “This is normal”. I think he was kidding.

There’s also a cup of coffee and a doglike creature, two elements which keep finding their way into my work over and over again. One might begin to suspect that I like coffee and dogs of all types.

I’m amused at the notion that a palpably evil creature, a Prince of Darkness type, can’t keep his kids in line. However, I’m a little disturbed that the violence of the outside world is creeping into my work. There are some horrifying things going on in the United States.

I live in a comparatively pleasant section of Silicon Valley. In the main, people in my neighborhood are more focussed on changing the world and making things than attacking each other over cultural or philosophical differences. But once the violence and hatred escalate, nowhere is safe. Fear and suspicion inexorably creep into everyone’s lives.

Journalists, sometimes risking their own safety to share truth with the rest of us, are reviled by the current regime. “The Fake News Media, the True Enemy of the People,” caws the regime’s leader, a man who is apparently unclear on when and how to use capitalization. Assassination attempts have made against public figures. People have been slaughtered at their places of worship, murdered or abused for being the “wrong” color, and school children have had orange-sized holes blown through their bodies with assault weapons.

Meanwhile, the person at the head of the regime preaches the religion of violence. And boy, do some people love that doctrine. I’ve seen people I used to love and respect become instruments of hatred. I’ve watched them turn their heads and pretend not to see. Some of the worst I know are the old white men who served in the armed forces during the Cold War. They really should know better when confronted with the reality of Russian collusion and propaganda concocted in Macedonian boiler rooms. But they don’t. They refuse to see it. Gosh, no; they could never be taken in by disinformation. And by the way, keep your hands off their Social Security and keep those filthy, murdering “illegals” out of their country, the one given to Christian white people by God.

Are others waking up? I don’t know. I used to believe the best about people, in the main. I thought most differences were a matter of people having diverging notions about how to improve the country. Even if I disagreed with them, I could at least respect them for having principles of some type.

Now I believe there’s a core group that lives in denial, or is so filled with hatred that setting the world on fire is just fine as long as brown people and liberals go down with it. They’ll lose their businesses due to trade wars, have crops rot in fields due to lack of immigrant labor, die due to lack of health insurance, and maybe have their children or grandchildren cut down in school by an evil, deranged gunman. But it will have been totally worth it.

The father in this image is inept and overwhelmed. But evil as he is, at least he has the decency to find the mayhem around him disturbing and not incite more of it.

It’s tragic when a man-eating demon is more humane and ethical than a prominent world leader.

Excursions 2

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

This is one of my 3D renders which I edited extensively, trying to give it a painterly quality.

I spent last night trying to do that with Procreate on my iPad. It didn’t go well. Today I beat on it a different way. I’m happier with this result. Mind you, I may change my mind in a couple of days when I look at it again – that often happens – but for now I’m happy.

Why is the lady hanging out stark naked around flower bushes? Uh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a classical image in the style of ______? Her washing machine broke and she ran out of clothes?

When I was posing the figure, I just liked the the play of light against her bare skin. If my extended family can spend their hours shooting up derelict cars with machine guns and crashing airplanes into power lines, I can jolly well pose naked women next to flowers.

 

Closeup showing the brush strokes on the flowers. I did considerably less brush work on the woman, since I want her to “pop” against the background.

Feet. Again, the feet themselves aren’t as heavily modified as the plants around them.

 

For the sake of contrast, here’s what the same area looked like before editing it.

Stuff I’ve been listening to while working:

Enjoyed the song and the visual homage to Raymond Pettibon. Also appreciate the way Anthony Kiedis has that mildly stern look that comes with parenting, the “I was up at six a.m. throwing damned eggs in a frying pan, trying to find clean underwear for my kid, and extracting chewed-up homework from the mouth of a dog” look.

 

Thank you, Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The subject matter of those songs has nothing to do with my digital painting, but I’ve been enjoying catching up on their music. I particularly admire the creativity of their videos.

Excursions

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Placing this here for posterity. Not sure whether I’ll take it any further.

“Oh, how sweet,” some might say. No. That dachshund may look as though he has a friendly grin on his face, but this is a scene of unparalleled viciousness and peril. The dog is part of the neighborhood doggie mafia. At night he shakes down the locals for protection bones. Anyone who fails to hand them over risks having their pumpkin rolled – or worse.

A couple of weeks back, I went to a quilt show with a mutual friend of Kathy Nida’s. She isn’t fond of social media (or, as I prefer to describe it, antisocial media, since using it means I don’t have to interact with people face-to-face) so I’ll just call her “V” to preserve her anonymity. That works. James Bond had an M and a Q, so I can jolly well have a V.

“Your work is too nice,” she said, or words to that effect. Maybe she described it as sweet. She was referring to the distinct lack of angst or strong themes of any type in the work I had on display, as opposed to Kathy’s work, which tackles all manner of social, environmental, and other ills.

I tried to explain to her that Kathy is a machine and I’m not. I don’t mean that as an insult to Kathy, but it’s true. She can knock out a drawing, enlarge it, trace it onto Wonder Under, cut out five jillion pieces of fabric, and make a piece of fiber art in the amount of time it takes me to stroll to the bathroom and inspect the blackheads in the creases of my nose. If I create an art quilt, I’m usually with it for at least a couple of months, depending on its size and complexity.

I do create more serious work, but it usually isn’t related to me, personally. I function better when there’s some distance between me and serious topics, particularly if I’m going to spend much time with them. A couple of such pieces will be public in a couple of weeks.

 

An experiment. Sometimes I muck around with facial simulation. I’ve found that I can make someone who’s interesting-looking fairly easily, but I find simulating a specific person much more challenging.

I haven’t posted any of the experiments with my son’s face. That’s probably for the best. Imagine coming home from a rough day at school and there’s this thing on your mother’s computer screen, something that looks as though your skin and your features were removed from your skull and laid out flat.

“Hi sweetie! How was your day?” I sing out. “Say, I’m about to wrap this skin texture around a model I made of your head. Do you want to see?”

No. The answer is no. No one wants to see that.

 

My friend V mixes liqueurs, which she donates to various fundraising efforts. Sometimes she lets me sample her efforts. I may have been doing some, um, sampling when I worked on this.

No, I don’t know why a guy in leather underwear is hanging out on an alien planet. He should just be happy that I didn’t decapitate him, plunk him in front of a star field, or pair him with a woman who’s in mid-swoon/experiencing severe gas pains. Such is the state of certain genre book covers, which I’ve created a few too many of.

 

No, I don’t know why his monster is so unhappy. Hungry, maybe? Doesn’t like the color of his human’s wig? Or perhaps his self-respect is suffering because he’s been plunked in this scene.

It’s fantasy. Anything is possible.

Pacific International Quilt Festival, 2018

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

 

 

Last week I went to the PIQF, which is a grueling 6.5 mile drive from my house. My piece Do Dragons Like Cookies? received this award, which I very much appreciate.

I’ve had pieces with 3D/CGI surface designs sell, be published, and tour. However, this is the first time one of them has received an award. That’s a welcome milestone.

 

Unless I mount an exhibit of 3D/CGI surface design or enter an exhibit for quilts featuring hungry dragons, I imagine PIQF will have been its last public viewing. I don’t much enjoy shipping things out to different shows – I prefer having work in exhibits that travel and stay gone for a year or so. I hope that those who saw it enjoyed it.

I always enjoy PIQF; since it’s so close, it’s a relaxed, fun show. Getting everyone’s work together so it can be studied at a size larger than that of a computer screen is a lovely, communal activity. It always drives home the vast range of aesthetics and skill levels out there.

One exhibit I greatly admired was provided by the Social Justice Sewing Academy. Quoting from their website,

“Through a series of hands-on workshops in schools, prisons and community centers across the country, SJSA empowers youth to use textile art as a vehicle for personal transformation and community cohesion and become agents of social change. Many of our young artists make art that explores issues such as gender discrimination, mass incarceration, gun violence and gentrification.”

The pieces are powerful, with quite a lot of heart. It’s incredibly sad that not only are adults having to face the issues depicted, but youth are too. They literally can’t escape them and, unlike adults, are powerless to vote or politic for different policies. However, they can engage in peaceful protest and statements of their concerns by creating artwork. They’re following a noble tradition utilized by, among others, women who wanted to vote, citizens concerned about the Vietnam war, auto and mine workers, Quakers who found the slave trade abhorrent, and the original colonists who didn’t appreciate taxation without representation.

Twitter Tantrum, Carina Cabriales

The words on the quilt weren’t invented by this artist. They’re quotes or messages from a sitting elected official. Given the hate-filled, foul-mouthed, bigoted, misogynistic messages this person spouts on a daily basis, this quilt is extremely restrained.

Learn more about the quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

One block from Activist ABCs, Bianca Mercado

See the entire quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

Exit Wound, Audrey Bernier

A portion of the artist’s statement:

“Did you know that the exit wounds from an AR-15 are the size of an orange? That means regardless of the shooter’s aim, if he hits anything he’s going to do severe damage – more often than not, fatal damage. I titled my quilt “Exit Wound” as a reminder that gun control in all communities is a social justice issue that deserves action and conversation.”

The Atlantic published an excellent article on the topic of AR-15 wounds. It’s written by a radiologist who dealt with victims of a school shooting.

 

One block from Agency.

Learn more about the quilt and read the artist’s statement on the SJSA site.

 

Protect & Serve: EVERYONE, Chloe Gorski

This piece concerns the disproportionate killing of African Americans and invites viewers to add the name of someone who was a victim of police lethal force.

“As of the summer of 2018, 38% of unarmed citizens killed were African Americans.” This is about three times the percentage of blacks in the U.S. population. No, not all cops are trigger-happy bigots. Just enough that if the outer 1 mm of your body is a different color from that of a white person, you live in fear.

To see more quilts, view an exhibition schedule, or find out how to help, visit the Social Justice Sewing Academy website.

Dani California

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Lately I’ve been taking some trips down memory lane. My kid turned fourteen this summer. Fourteen. That’s only 2 1/2 years younger than I was when I dated his dad the first time and 4 1/2 years younger than I was when I left home for good. The cake is all but baked. He’s on the verge of driving, dating, voting, and making decisions about schools and professions. All he really wants from us at this point is the occasional hug, a steady supply of pizza and Red Bull, fresh laundry, and no embarrassing questions about which websites he’s visiting.

It’s thought-provoking and mildly terrifying. Have his father and I done a decent enough job of preparing him? Is he going to have a good foundation for an ethical, productive, satisfying life? I hope so. He’s living in a much different world than the one his grandparents or his father and I came up in. It’s a better world in some ways and a much harsher, more challenging place in others.

When I was not too much older than my son, I moved from east Texas to the Bay Area. It was a move regarded with much suspicion and, in some cases, thinly veiled hostility on the part of family and friends. My father in particular had nothing good to say about California or the Bay Area. “I’ve been to Oakland,” he told me. “I’ve seen all I need to of the Bay Area.” I saw him one last time before I left Texas, a chance encounter in a Walmart. I smiled and said hello. He looked through me as though I didn’t exist. I wish I had realized then what that meant. Sometimes life presents lessons before we’re ready to absorb them, though.

 

The exquisite environs of east Texas, near the ancestral homestead.

Happily, the Bay Area was nothing but good to me. Unlike east Texas, the weather was congenial, without wintertime icicles worthy of murder weapon status or summers so hot that cracks formed in the ground. Yes, housing was on the dense side – “wall to wall people,” as my father groused. Bizarre as it seems now, at first I was confused by the lack of visible boundaries between cities. I was used to seeing open land with grazing cattle.

However, the roads were paved, not mud masquerading as limestone gravel. Power and water outages were almost nonexistent. The places I lived, while not luxurious, all had toilets that worked consistently, painted walls, and floors of tile or wood or linoleum rather than plywood floors, unpainted sheetrock walls, and rain blowing in around the edges of homemade windows.

There was public transportation. The locals complained about it in endless screeds to the newspaper, but I was grateful. If you had the price of a day pass for the bus and were healthy enough to make up the difference between the bus route and your destination with your legs, you could get around a good many places. You could get by without a car, for at least awhile.

People seemed happier out here. Education was valued and people were congenial, busily pursuing matters they found interesting or important. If you hadn’t formed dreams of your own or didn’t yet have the means to pursue them, you could help out with someone else’s for awhile. For years I did just that.

There were libraries. Not just one library, with a building erected by Andrew Carnegie and a paltry two books allowed out for a period of a couple of weeks. No, there were libraries everywhere, at universities and in the cities. People used them, piling bags high with books. There were also museums, art, music, gorgeous places to hike, and people out smiling and waving as they walked their dogs. It was a paradise.

Alas, my personal life was a wreck. On weekends I’d try to escape it by walking from Escondido Village at Stanford, where I lived, down to California Avenue in Palo Alto. I’d walk and walk and walk and stay gone as long as I could. California Avenue had a thrift store, a bookstore, a photography store, and tons of windows to peer in. There was also a club; I think it was called the Keystone. I dimly remember seeing concert posters, low budget things run off on colored paper on a copier. Those were fun to look at. One of them mentioned a band called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

Huh. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was an interesting name. I wondered who and what they were.

Happily, the Stanford Daily ran some lovely stories about them, such as this article about a concert in 1985:

“The Red Hot Chili Peppers appeared last, and it was soon apparent they Were out to prove that punk’s not dead but has merely absorbed other musical styles and undergone a slight transformation in the process. The band was visually pleasing — lead singer Anthony Kiedis tied an American flag around his waist, and drummer Cliff Martinez wore some sort of bizarre headdress. Unfortunately their performance was not so pleasing. Flea’s funky bass and Jack Sherman’s hardcore/heavy metal guitar riffs completely overwhelmed Kiedis’ voice, so I couldn’t hear what he was singing. Kiedis spat a lot, and he and Flea wasted time with their stupid shouting between songs. His posturing and posing during songs lacked Fishbone’s humor; he looked like an attention-hungry brat. Most of their songs sounded essentially alike. An exception was “Mommy, Where’s Daddy,” primarily because it wasn’t as fast as their other songs and allowed a clearer sound to come through. They are all proficient musicians, but they are entirely predictable; combined with Kiedis’ obnoxious behavior, The Peppers’ show was less than what I had hoped to see. However, they did possess a raw energy that is truly what rock is all about and seeing Fishbone’s crazed stage spectacle made the evening memorable. The Chili Peppers were not “red hot” at the Keystone last Saturday.”

Bizarre headdress! Spitting! Stupid shouting! Now that’s journalism. It also sounds like quite a spectacle. I’m sorry I missed it.

Later I read about their wearing the infamous socks. They will never be allowed to forget about that; it’s a cruel reality of being a celebrity. They’ll be 105 years old, kept alive only by a drip of opiodes and pulverized kale, and somebody will ask them if they’re going to do another performance while wearing only socks. That or they’ll be asked, once again, why they began performing that way.

“Why did you perform with only socks over your privates?”

“Uhhh … take your pick:”

  1. “It was an existential protest against the brevity of human life.” 
  2. “It was a clever bit of stagecraft.”
  3. “We hadn’t done laundry lately.” 
  4. “We didn’t want to be arrested for performing naked.” 
  5. “We were young, we were doing a lot of drugs, and we wanted to play loud music and attract a bunch of girls.”

For me, it was wonderful. Rock musicians wearing socks! Only socks! That confirmed every stereotype my stepmother had tried to pound into me about rock musicians – debauchery, womanizing, poor dental hygiene, rampant sock-wearing. I was mildly scandalized (just socks!) and secretly delighted (just socks! in public!). What can I say? I was clinically depressed but I wasn’t dead.

I never did get to a Chili Peppers concert, although I did go to other concerts at Stanford – Joan Baez, Shadowfax, Ravi Shankar. They were all chosen by my ex, who supervised my music consumption and many other aspects of my life. I was braced for debauchery each time but there was none, unless one includes wearing socks with Birkenstocks.

I spent the following years doing the things one does: going to endless counseling sessions, getting out of one messed up relationship and sprawling into another, shoving electrons and positrons around and around a giant ring, shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, doing that and going to school, griping at people while shoving electrons and positrons down a two mile long pipe, studying graphic design, running a business, working at a startup, divorcing, marrying, having a baby, adopting a couple of dogs, and whining about putting on weight while simultaneously baking batches of cookies.

I didn’t get back to the Chili Peppers until a few weeks ago. Sorry, guys. Not that you missed me.

I may be late to the party, but I’ve found that their videos – and there are quite a few – are a delight. I missed the golden age when MTV was in vogue, so it’s lovely catching up now. I’m guessing that we’re in a second golden age and that making videos is once again necessary if you want your songs to be commercially viable. People my son’s age aren’t watching broadcast TV or browsing record stores for LPs or CDs. They’re watching YouTube or listening to stuff on Pandora or Apple Music.

Here’s one of my current favorites, Dani California, which was released back in 2006.

The video does a lovely, entertaining job of chronicling the eras of rock history via a series of set pieces, complete with changes in costume, dance style, and persona.

 

Screencap from Dani California

We get to see Flea’s hilarious, adorable mugging (5 seconds, 26 seconds, and elsewhere) and the antics of the other people in the band.

 

Screencap from Dani California

Oh yes. We’ve all been there.

 

Screencap from Otherside

As usual, Anthony Kiedis is charismatic and has beautiful abs and bone structure. I suspect that he has painting that resembles a morph between himself and Keith Richards tucked away in an attic, or perhaps he just has new bodies cloned every couple of years.

 

I kind of want to make a 3D mesh of his face, much like the one I’m making here. Yeah. Having total strangers make digital 3D models of your face isn’t creepy at all.

There’s a nice writeup about the song on Wikipedia. I’m not going to repeat all of it, except for this part: “Kiedis has commented that the character of Dani is a composite of all the women with whom he has had relationships.”

Anthony, sweetie, that statement worries me. Do all of your relationships end with the girl getting shot to death in North Dakota? That just doesn’t sound healthy. You have enough going for you that you could date women who are a little smarter and less prone to getting shot. Next time, maybe look for somebody with a Ph.D. in anthropology or a nice school teacher type. Somebody you could actually talk to, who won’t go fleeing to another state.

I kid. Who knows why anybody gives the answers they do during interviews? If it was me on the spot and I’d been asked the same thing for the 5,000th time, I’d probably make stuff up for my own entertainment.

The video is great but it becomes even better after viewing the three-part documentary. (The entire thing takes about half an hour to watch.)

It shows some of the moving parts necessary to make the video: costumes, makeup, sets, cameras, camera angles, instrument techs. It soon becomes clear that what looks like a film of a bunch of guys messing around, singing, and having fun is actually intense, repetitive work.

I have no idea how many days of prep were involved or how much work was required in post. The fact that they did the filming in only two days, with ten costume and set changes, amazes me. It’s a testament to the preparation and maturity of everyone involved. They went in, they got to work, and they made it look fun.

Part 1:

Some personal favorites:

3:23 Flea goes on a screed about the British Invasion. My kid found this delightful. I’ll refrain from getting concerned until he decides to buy a pair of pointy-toed shoes.

5:14 Anthony kicks it fifties style. That footwork! I’m not sure how he wiggles back and forth so efficiently. My son and I have tried to reproduce his movements, with much clumsiness and laughter. So far we haven’t injured ourselves, but it’s been a close thing. What can I say? We live in Silicon Valley. We do nerd stuff. Even our dancing is kind of nerdy.

 

Part 2:

1:54 Flea is downed by an errant microphone. Here we get a little sense of the affection between him and Anthony. I suspect that’s what has kept the band glued together over the years: friendships, forgiveness, and fundamental respect for the different members’ abilities. People grow, change, and conflicts happen. It’s inevitable. It’s how people cope with such changes that makes the difference between enduring and parting ways.

2:24 Anthony hospital war story. Amusing.

4:58 Flea’s pompoudor wig. It’s big enough to cause an eclipse!

6:12 Chad Smith doing some hair metal mugging. Once you have lipstick and a tiger print body suit on, how can you resist?

8:26 Photo-sonics tech John Wagner describing a Cold War military-grade camera used capture Flea’s jumps. Military grade!

9:15 Flea’s kicks. The man has ups! He’s darned near making it out of Earth orbit. I’m sure the camera is positioned so as to make his jumps look more dramatic, but they’re still very impressive.

 

Part 3:

3:22 Flea’s screed about his less-than-functional bass. There’s just something about seeing a man who’s wearing a net shirt, black lipstick, and a spiked collar grin and say “Maybe I should come over there and beat the **** out of you” that makes me sick with laughter. Another household favorite.

4:14 Chad being deliciously sour. That isn’t meant as criticism. He does it very nicely. Anyone would feel sour and weary by then, really.

7:20 Anthony’s facial gyrations during the punk segment, with a camera darned near shoved up his nostrils. Great stuff. Those are the kinds of faces I secretly make in the bathroom mirror. Yes, I stick out my tongue, too.

Good for these guys. 

These days I view all sorts of things as celebrations of life – badly made art quilts that make somebody’s grandkid look like he has leprosy, the tree behind the ice cream parlor that’s covered with thousands of blobs of used chewing gum, and going to the dog park to throw balls. A music video falls in that category, albeit a more sophisticated one. It’s a carefully crafted celebration of life. The guys in that band have gotten up to heaven knows what over the years, but they’ve also put a lot of joy in people’s lives including mine. Their music has kept me from going nuts at times, when I’m shambling along on a treadmill or folding yet another brain-numbing, idiotic stack of towels. I’m glad to get to celebrate that creativity.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was near the beginning of my arc as an adult. I was a scrawny young woman with bad hair, a couple of thousand miles away from friends and family, taking long walks and trying to figure out how to straighten out my life. The Chili Peppers were similarly starting out, doing whatever was necessary to launch their careers – couch surfing, grabbing concert dates, and indulging in antics that scandalized and delighted onlookers.

We’re all now further along in parallel, non-intersecting arcs. They’re creative and productive. I like to think I am too. Much of the turbulence of early adulthood has settled out for everyone. Hopefully we’re all putting more good into the world than bad.

It’s none too soon. In my household, the next generation is on its way to getting launched. I hope my son’s launch will go quite a bit better than mine did. We’re going to try to help that happen.

Eos and the Anemoi

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

My latest, Eos and the Anemoi, is named for characters from Greek mythology. Eos is the goddess of the dawn and the Anemoi are wind gods.

I have my friend Susan in Central Victoria, AU to think for that title. When I’m creating an image, it usually has a descriptive working title such as Fairy Puffing Cigar or Demon With Coffee. Once the picture is done, I try to devise a title that’s more thoughtful. I didn’t know what to call this one until Susan came to the rescue, mentioning Eos and the Anemoi. I owe her. It came dangerously close to being titled Dame Hanging Out With Weird Dog While Knocking Back Coffee.

I created the bulk of this picture in a 3D program. Texture creation, compositing, and edits were done in Photoshop. I don’t know if that’s it for this image or whether I’ll have it printed on fabric and turn it into a stitched piece. Either way, I’m glad for the adventure.

Here are some production notes.

 

Composition

Eos and the Anemoi had its genesis in an exhibit I saw over the summer, Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters.

That exhibit made me remember the works of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a 19th century painter. I don’t know how historically accurate his paintings are – I’m guessing not very – but I find his use of detail and texture very satisfying. His pictures often have a romantic flair, depicting the likes of sheet-clad women lounging around on marble lawn furniture while nursing headaches or counting pomegranate seeds.

Rounding up the Sushi  Silver Favorites, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Naturally, when I came home from the exhibit I had to rip off Alma-Tadema’s sheet-clad dames, marble columns, and blue Mediterranean sea and sky. To those I added some touches of my own, thus creating my own warped take on Greek mythology. No doubt he’s spinning in his grave.

 

Cerberus

One of the first additions to my scene was a cerberus, a three-headed dog. These creatures are a staple of Greek mythology. They’re supposed to be the gatekeepers of Hades and are usually depicted as fierce, snarling creatures. I thought it would be a nice change of pace to have one which is a peaceful yet alert-looking puppy, complete with an octopus chew toy.

Each time I work with a 3D program, I have to choose between making the models myself or finding some readymade. Making them from scratch is more satisfying in many ways. It may also be necessary if my vision is so peculiar or unique that a model doesn’t exist. However, it can be very time consuming.

I didn’t see a commercially available cerberus model I liked, so I overlapped three dogs, posed them, and selectively hid any components I didn’t want. I did end up with some ugly seam lines and bumps in the render, but removed them with Photoshop.

The image above shows the three dogs with all of their limbs visible, the view we would’ve had if I hadn’t hidden most of them.

 

Coffee

Coffee didn’t appear in Greece until the Ottoman empire, so it isn’t a feature of Greek mythology. Nevertheless, I felt that my goddess deserved steaming hot cup of the stuff.

The cup is based on the Anthora to-go cups used in New York City. It’s just a simple lathe object made in Blender with a custom texture applied. Alas, the render of the cup is distorted, a result of my camera setting. If I was a good person I’d go back and fix that.

The steam is the same steam texture I put in every one of my 3D pictures, available from textures.com.

 

Airship

Fun fact: the airship is staffed by a crew of tiny naked men. I could have clothed them, but I didn’t bother. They’re the size of gnats in the picture and every piece of geometry I put in chews up memory and increases render times. Those with delicate sensibilities needn’t fret, though; the tiny men are every bit as anatomically correct as Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken.

I created the ship with some kit-bashing, much the way one would take pieces of plastic from two different car or airplane models and glue them together.

Here’s the way the airship originally appeared. It’s a commercially available steampunk dirigible, the Spirit of Punk Airship. I deleted or hid the cabin and some other details. I also created textures more in keeping with my theme.

The new “cabin” is the hull from a model of an ancient Greek boat. At first I didn’t know which end of the hull was the prow; I had the hull turned the wrong way with respect to the airship.

Of course, when your ship is powered by a group of naked men rowing through air, perhaps accuracy isn’t that essential.

 

Wind simulation

Eos’s gown is pretty but too static. It’s time to put a little physics to work and do a wind simulation.

 

Here’s a simulation with settings of one Earth gravity and a breeze of one mile per hour. I thought those sounded quite moderate and … um, yeah. That’s exactly the look I was going for. Just like that, with her breasts and one of her hips popping out.

This is typical when I run simulations, whether they’re cloth or fluid or particles. I read the documentation, if there is any, set things up in what seems a reasonable fashion, and whee! There goes her dress! That’s when I laugh, take some notes, and try some different settings.

Some of the simulations were hilariously awful. I ended up with the dress on the opposite side of her body at one point, and at other times it drooped off and tried to slither down her body.

 

Here’s the setting I ended up with, zero gravity and 1 mph wind. I also duplicated her body, increased its size, and made it invisible so the wind could interact with that instead of her “real” body. That helped eliminate an issue with her breasts and hip poking through.

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of one adjustment fixing things. Often I have to tweak several things.

 

Lighting

I used a couple of different light sources in this image. One was an artificial “sun” whose intensity and position I adjusted. I also used an HDRI projected inside a gigantic dome, surrounding the scene. The images above show the “sun” turned off and the dome rotated in a couple of different ways. This lets us see how the dome environment affects the lighting.

 

Geometry issues

There’s always something wrong in one of these renders. No matter how much I inspect the scene in the 3D program, when I look at the resulting render on a pixel by pixel basis, I find problems. The question then is whether to address it in the 3D program and do another render or fix it with Photoshop.

Here’s a typical surprise. This commercially available model of a flower had its blossoms floating above its stems. That might not matter for a picture the size of a postcard, but for something several feet across it’s unacceptable. Should I go back, edit the 3D model, and do another render? That could take several hours. Or should I simply splice in some more stem in Photoshop, a matter of about five minutes? I opted for the latter.

 

Another unwelcome surprise, the woman’s hair going right through her arm. Her arm was supposed to act as a collision object and have the hair wrap around it, but that obviously didn’t work out. Once again, Photoshop to the rescue.

 

Lovely. Her chain is going right through her dress. Yet another Photoshop edit.

 

The final version, with edits listed above. On to the next adventure.

My newest preciousssss.

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

During the past few months, this blog has read like a chronicle of broken machinery. Fortunately, most of it was easy to repair, a matter of getting in the appropriate devil-may-care mood and shoving in new parts or cackling madly while waving around a soldering iron.

Then came the most recent issue, the death of my beloved 17” Macbook Pro. After seven years, a chronically busted 4 key, a logic board replacement, and several RAM and hard drive upgrades, it embarked on an ugly series of hardware problems. One night the end came in a technicolor crescendo of crashes and screens of death.

“Oooh! Can I look at it?” my husband squealed happily. “Sure,” I said, having backed up all of the data on the machine a couple of other places. (Not that the drive was likely to be impacted.) He caressed the sickly machine, cooed to it, and began pressing keys. It faded into eternal blackness while in his arms.

“Hey, you finally killed it!” he crowed, ignoring the fact that technically it had died while he was touching it, not me. “Well, you’ll just have to march down to the Apple Store and get a new one. You can even have some coffee while you wait.” (Our closest Apple Store is at the spaceship campus’s visitor’s center. They have coffee there as well as high dollar nutrition bars with frightening names. I still haven’t had the guts to find out what a Manuka is.)

 

Happy happy consumers fingering I-devices.

The barrista drew a panda head on my coffee. Despite that, I was bitter. It isn’t often a machine bests me. I’d known that the computer was near the end of its life but I’d hoped that could be delayed a bit and handled on a non-emergency basis.

As I thought about the price of the new machine, I could hear my father’s voice ringing in my ears. He eternally had contempt for my using Macs, which he always seemed to regard as a personal failing. “Just think of all the Amiga 500s you could have bought instead!” I could hear him rant.

 

 

However, once I hooked the new computer up, I liked it a lot. The 5k display was large and gorgeous, and it was able to tackle 3D and graphics tasks a jillion times faster than before.

Alas, in short order I’d made the workspace a mess again.  I hate to draw comparisons that would make a pig feel bad but yes, when I’m working I tend to toss things around and wallow in them.

I briefly considered hauling everything non-electronic out to driveway and throwing a can of gasoline and a lit match on it. However, that seemed like a waste of good fossil fuel. Perhaps what I needed was a computer stand.

I stumbled across a review for Understands, a series of wood computer stands. They were elegantly designed and showed a great affection for wood. Some were one-of-a-kind designs, highlighting the unique characteristics of a particular piece of wood. Others featured dovetail joints, drawers, and access slots for cables. They were beautiful and quite a bit nicer than anything I could make myself. I also liked the company’s story, using urban reclaimed wood to create things of beauty and practicality.

I ordered one, the Planet 6 Walnut. Yes, I could have stacked my computer up on some of the thousands of books I have in the house or even employed the concrete brick I removed from the bottom of my washing machine last month. However, I believe there’s value in investing in the things I use and touch each day.

 

The new stand arrived a week later and promptly was inspected by the house wolf/Siberian Tube Dog. He tried to tell me what the UPS driver had eaten for breakfast and report on conditions in the shop in Rockford, Illinois, where the stand was created. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to understand.

 

 

Nice packaging.

 

Oh, beautiful. Look at that grain. Look at those dovetails.

 

Cork-lined drawers. Sweet.

 

The back of the stand has a slot for the base of one’s iMac or iMac Pro, so that the base will disappear into the top of the stand. It also has slots for cables, so that peripherals can be tucked away yet remain plugged in.

 

What’s this? A little surprise in one of the drawers? That’s a thoughtful touch.

 

The “surprise” proved to be a sliding dovetail box embellished with a laser cut heart. The tolerances of the dovetail are so tight, so snug, that one almost can’t find the slide unless one inspects the box with a magnifying glass.

 

The story behind the box. I like that and I’m glad they included it. Everything around us has a story, whether it’s about the people who designed and created it or where its source materials grew and were harvested.

In the case of the box and the computer stand, part of the story is about gorgeous wood, which otherwise might have gone to waste, being reclaimed and used to create items of practicality and beauty.

 

The new computer mounted on the computer stand.

Today’s celebrity monitor appearance is Anthony Kiedis. Hi, Mr. Kiedis. Thank you for visiting my studio, not that you had any choice in the matter.

 

And yep, I’m glad I ordered the stand with six drawers. In the top drawers there’s room for my external drive, backup drive, a track pad, and a remote control I’m hiding from my family. Thanks to the cable slots in the back of drawers and the fact that I’m running drives which don’t generate much heat, I can leave them plugged in while they’re tucked away in the drawers. (I wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that with a “spinning rust” drive.)

 

The bottom drawers are large enough to hold a numeric keypad, Wacom tablet, and a three button mouse. These are items I like close at hand but don’t use every day. The numeric keypad and the mouse are primarily used with Blender, where I flail away with both hands while working.

 

The top right and left drawers have secret compartments for things one would like to keep hidden away. Not that I have any anything like that, heh heh heh. At least, not anything I’ll admit to.

 

A peek behind the computer. There’s room for cable and headphone storage. The wood artist’s manikin is holding earplugs. Yeah. About those. I have earplugs in my purse, in my nightstand, and all over the rest of the house. You see, a few years ago we adopted a terrier from one of the neighbors. The neighbor was going through some changes in her life and our other dog – the package inspector at the top of this blog entry – adored the terrier.

The terrier is a sweet dog and is usually fairly calm. Unfortunately, he can spin up wilder than an F-5 tornado, with yapping so sharp I want to jam an ice pick through my ears. He makes sounds that no living creature should be able to generate, noises which make me think that whoever engineered terriers was deranged. If they weren’t crazy before breeding the dogs, they would have been in short order after hearing the yapping. It drives me nuts. I also don’t think the dog can help it. Efforts to train him out of it have been unsuccessful. So yeah, when he starts to get excited before a walk or whatever, out come the earplugs.

 

Cables and flotsam behind the other side of the computer. There’s a little story behind those earrings. I keep remembrances of people around my work space, things that probably look like pieces of junk to other people but have meaning to me.

Years ago, I had a T-shirt that matched those earrings, with a large version of those creatures screen printed on the front. Burt Richter – yes, the same Burt Richter who won the Nobel Prize for  co-discovery of the J/ψ meson – referred to the creature as my “radioactive kitty cat”. I never thought to ask him whether that description was inspired by the feral cats at SLAC who had, alas, found their ways into places that weren’t healthy for them.

Richter passed away recently but his vision and his work persist. The earrings are a reminder of that, even though they’re a tad silly.

 

Much better. The computer stand has done wonders as far as cleaning up that part of the room. I really admire the design and workmanship of the Understands computer stands. Mine is worth every penny I paid for it.