Archive for the ‘New Work’ Category

Don’t keep it in a safe place.

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

My husband gave me an Apple Pencil for Christmas, to go with the lovely iPad Pro I gave myself for non-Christmas. It’s been a delight. I use it with the Procreate app and sketch away during TV time.

One day I looked at my work surface and realized that I’d just haphazardly tossed the pencil on there. It was sitting in the midst of the clutter of soiled rubber bands, an industrial-grade dust mask, Athlete’s Foot cream, and random scraps of paper. It struck me as disrespectful. I was being unappreciative of my husband’s thoughtfulness and the fact that he’d had to work for the money to buy me the thing. Plus, what if something happened to the pencil? What if I put a hot iron down on it or spilled wood glue on it? (Because, frankly, that’s the kind of household I run. Everything happens everywhere.)

I decided to put it in a safe place.

I’ll bet you know where this is going, don’t you? Oh yes. I had another project crank up and I didn’t need the pencil for awhile. When I did, it was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t in one of the tech drawers in my work area, where I keep things like chargers and keyboards. It wasn’t in the little tech basket atop my work surface, where I keep things like wireless headphones and graphics tablets. It wasn’t in any of the thousand little receptacles for holding drawing pencils or pens or paintbrushes. Oh no. I’d kept it really safe. So safe I couldn’t find it.

I freaked out. Losing the nice hundred dollar stylus my husband had given me was even worse than leaving it out on my work surface. He isn’t the sort to get mad or hold grudges; one of his frequent statements is “It’s just stuff. Stuff can be replaced.” I felt awful about it, though. Plus I wanted to use the pencil. I began to systematically rip my work room apart.


Here’s where I found it. Yes. This was my idea of a “safe place”. In one of the thread drawers. Do you see it? It’s that white pencil-like object, cunningly placed on top of a row of white spools of thread so that it will be very difficult to find. Because that’s where everyone puts their Apple Pencil, in a drawer full of totally unrelated objects.

Don’t do this. Don’t put things in a safe place. That’s the surest way to lose them. I know all about this: this isn’t the first time I’ve pulled this stunt.

I’ve found this philosophy applies to other things as well: making safe art. Having safe experiences. When we focus on keeping parts of our lives in a safe place, we can lose them. We can also lose our sense of self or even our sense of ethics.

In terms of art, this might apply to making art which we think will appeal to others or avoid offending them. We avoid putting too much of ourselves in the work.


Here’s the work of someone who, I suspect, isn’t keeping his work in a safe place. The artist’s name is Bren Ahearn, and this is possibly the worst photograph ever taken of one of his samplers. I urge people to go over to his website and take a look at his other work.   He has nice photos there, photos that don’t make his work look blurry and rumpled.

I ran across this work at the SDA exhibit in San Jose a couple of months back. We both had work in the show; his was pretty special. This piece is huge, about five feet wide and seven feet high, worked in needlepoint style on a substrate that’s satisfyingly like a scaled up version of needlepoint canvas. It reads like a standard needlepoint sampler, something proper young ladies would have been stitching away at in the 18th century, right down to the alphabet, proverb, and creator’s name. However, he’s subverted and taken ownership of the medium in this and his other works, many of which contain touching autobiographical details both real and imaginary.

His work is real. Personal. Genuine. His own.

I brood now and then. I do. I’ve been brooding about a certain matter since last October. I’ve debated writing about it and changed my mind back and forth several times. Maybe I’ll just tap dance around it. Evidently not writing about it at all is throttling back my ability to blog.


Now and then, people will say that one of their works was “inspired by” someone else’s work. Here’s my eternal piece-in-progress Odalisque, for example. I didn’t invent the form of the odalisque in art; other painters did. Other people came up with the nude reclining on a couch and looking out at us coquettishly, and the throw and draperies and so forth. I claim that in this situation, my saying that my Odalisque was “inspired by” the ones which came before it is a fair use of the term. I’ve leveraged off all those other odalisque paintings by including similar elements. There’s a couch, a throw, drapes, and a reclining nude. True, the nude is a dog rather than a woman, but that’s the joke of the picture. The fact that we have a rich history of more standard nudes helps make it funny.

That’s the sort of thing I expect to see when someone says their work is “inspired by” someone else’s. A work which is their own. It may be similar thematically or in terms of the colors used or in terms of the composition. It may even contain visual elements which are very similar, although hopefully not to the point of being derivative.


Similarly, we can reference famous works such as the Mona Lisa and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. We’ve made a joke or a statement then, leveraging off the power or message of the original work.


Hokusai’s Great Wave


Ivan Bilibin, Illustration from Pushkin’s “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” 

Many have leveraged off of Hokusai’s Great Wave, for example, including the illustrator Ivan Bilibin. The Wall Street Journal even ran a nice article on such pieces. Well-known works become cultural touchstones.

However, when no one knows the source of your “inspiration” and you don’t openly acknowledge it, you run the risk of simply plagiarizing or copying. What I don’t expect to see when someone uses the phrase “inspired by” is something along the lines of a work I saw last year. A photo had been downloaded from a free stock photo site, cropped, tinted, then rendered on fabric so precisely that when I overlaid the original photo with the resulting “inspired by” piece in Photoshop, even the details matched up.

I probably need to stop at that. I need to not describe how offended I was when I learned about this and a similar incident, and how I suspect that the person has done similar things many times. I need to not dwell on the fact that my respect for her plummeted when I saw that she hadn’t acknowledged the original photographer at all, and only wrote “inspired by thus-and-such photo” on her website after being prompted repeatedly. I probably shouldn’t mention the fact that I feel the urge to vomit each time I see a picture of her standing beside the piece, a broad smile on her face, and think about the fact that someone probably paid thousands of dollars for what’s essentially a copy of a free stock photo.

But I guess I really should thank this person. You see, I am so offended by her behavior and by the impressively low standards I see throughout the art quilting industrial complex that it’s made me rethink things. It’s taken the pressure off. Because really, what’s the point? Mediocrity and poor ethics win the day. Quite literally.

One of my art friends occasionally says things like “I’m making the next piece for myself”, meaning that she’ll be making something which fulfills her desires rather than fitting into the requirements of some mythical show. No, I want to tell her, you should always make the work for yourself. That’s perhaps the best reason to make it. Because that fire is burning inside you and the only way it can be quenched is by getting the art out.

Make that original work because you need to make it, and be ethical. Don’t fall into the trap of the “artist” whose work was “inspired by” the stock photo, of trying to churn out piece after piece which lives up to the crazy-eyed marketing fairy tale you’ve told over the years. That’s one form of trying to keep things in a safe place. That path can lead to making a deal with the devil. You lose your soul that way.

Of course, other things can happen when we keep things in a safe place. For example, we may never quite get around to taking risks or trying new things.

I used to visit family. One my family members was extremely toxic, the sort one might suspect had narcissistic personality disorder, but she deserved compassion. I can’t be around her because she’s cruel and awful, but you know, I keep hoping things will work out for her. We don’t have to like people in order to want good things for them.

She’d had some hard knocks, some rough times. Not everybody can rise above that sort of thing. Not everybody is able to look themselves in the mirror and say “Wow. Why, exactly is it that I enjoy it when people are miserable and I’m unhappy when they succeed?” I’ve done that kind of thing. “Wow. What do all of my failed relationships have in common? Oh. Me.” It isn’t fun. It’s damned painful. Once you’ve done that, you have to figure out what you’re going to do about it. Sometimes the answers aren’t easy. Sometimes it isn’t clear what to do.

Anyhow, this particular person had aspirations. Peering in from the outside, it appeared that many of them would get wrecked by her husband. He’d hear about one of her aspirations, rush in with some notion of how it should be done, and take over. Poof. End of aspiration.

Some of them just fell apart for the usual reasons, I guess. I don’t know if it was her experience, but I’ve found that the more I talk about doing something, the less energy and motivation I have to actually do it.

It was sad to witness. When I hear about somebody having aspirations, I generally want to applaud, even if I don’t like the person or relate to what they’re trying to do. I don’t enjoy seeing people’s dreams get wrecked. Reaching for dreams or goals is life-affirming.

One of her goals was writing. I’d visit; she’d describe some story that was in her head. “I’m writing a book. It’s about a young Indian girl living in West Texas. She sells crackers in a general store.” Or whatever the plot was. The ideas always sounded insanely dull to me, but that’s the beauty of ideas and aspirations – the rest of us don’t have to approve of them. Maybe she had some spark which was going to bring that plot to life. Maybe we were going to find out that the Indian girl had a side business making sanitary napkins out of dried cactus pads. Maybe she was the long-lost descendent of space aliens. Maybe she got on a train, went to Paris, and became a can-can dancer.

We will probably never know. I always eagerly awaited the news that she’d finished her book. Maybe she’d even have a publisher. Then I could lie and say that it sounded wonderful rather than like a steaming pile of horse feces, and I could sincerely applaud the fact that she’d achieved one of her aspirations.

It never happened. I never got to applaud. It made me sad. Seriously. I can’t stand her, and she’s caused me unbelievable amounts of pain and harm, but I always wanted to see her fly.

People can find all sorts of ways to not do the things they say they want to do. Maybe they don’t actually want to do them. Maybe, in the words of my husband, “I would like to write a book” really means “I would like to have written a book.” What they really want is the identity, not the process of doing the work. They don’t like the identity of teacher or grocery store clerk or insurance salesman, so they fantasize about being someone else. An artist, maybe. Or a writer. Those sound nice. Those sound less mundane. They want that doing thing out of the way so they can claim the identity.

I’m at a point where I’m not so worried about identities. I’m more worried about doing. Not doing frightens me. Maybe this is part of the “I’m not old … yet” syndrome. The unspoken half of that sentence is “but I will be.” Do you really want to try riding a motorcycle, visiting Paris or writing that novel? Get on it. The Reaper is coming. Maybe not today or tomorrow or in twenty years, but sometime. Figure out what the obstacle is. Sweep it aside.

At the end of last year, I decided to finally move past the “I would like to write a book someday” stage myself. It’s something I wanted to do for quite a long time, but I kept making excuses. I was afraid. I was keeping things in a safe place, sticking to the things I know how to do. The prospect of trying something new and finding out that I was downright lousy at it was scary.

Now I have two books and two short stories drafted. Probably they’re awful. “Ninety percent of everything is crap,” my husband often tells me. That sounds about right. I decided that I can live with that. I didn’t want to go my whole life without writing about my personal equivalent of the Indian maiden selling crackers at the general store.

I’ll edit the stories some more and then publish them on Amazon under a pen name, so that their stench hopefully won’t reach back to me. I’m glad I did it. It’s been quite an adventure.

I’m glad I quit keeping things in a safe place.

An article, a story, and a quilt.

Monday, December 7th, 2015


This arrived in the mail today. Isn’t that portrait on the cover wonderful? It’s by an artist named Benjamin Shine; he created it from layers of tulle. The magazine has a nice profile of him; his website is worth a look as well.

Textile Fibre Forum, an Australian art magazine, has also run an article about one of my quilts, a piece inspired by the story of a heroic and homeless Guatamalan immigrant, Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. It seems on point at the moment. Perhaps it has something to do with winter approaching, here in the northern hemisphere, and having my thoughts turn to people shivering and starving in the cold. There’s also hideous news coming out of Syria, with streams of people fleeing a never-ending nightmare only to encounter hardship, hatred, and perhaps death as they become refugees and try to find new homes. Newly minted immigrants to new lands.

I highly recommend checking out Textile Fibre Forum. It’s just gorgeous, maybe 15-20 articles per issue with a fairly discrete amount of advertising. It costs a pittance, about the same as an over-sugared drink at Starbucks, if one downloads it via their iOS app.

More importantly, it’s an opportunity to get acquainted with Australian textile art outside the occasional exhibits which may visit the U.S. or other countries. This, I believe, is vitally important, an opportunity for cross-pollination.

Years ago, I attended a talk by Martha Sielman. She was discussing the creation of one of her book series – either the Art Quilt Portfolio series or the Masters: Art Quilts books. One of the publisher’s requirements, she stated, was that a certain number of the artists had to be from outside of the United States. Intrigued by this statement, I thumbed through her books and looked up all the non-U.S. artists. There was a freshness about their work. Perhaps they’d been influenced by different cultural and historical traditions, or perhaps they just weren’t part of the incestuous little copycat treadmill we have here in the United States. The publishers must have known that including them was important for the sake of diversity – or perhaps they were just trying to keep the books from being entirely U.S.-centric!



Remember this thing? Yes. I’m still working on it.

On the work front, I’m noodling away on the reclining nude of my dog, Odalisque. Here’s the current progress:


Tatted throw: not stitched.



Couch and pillow: stitched.



Ryan-dog: not stitched.



Marble floor: stitched.



Screen in background: partially stitched. This thing is kicking my rump. Note that there are two types of small, precise textures which are overlapped. I hope I have more sense and avoid this sort of situation the next time I design an image.



Curtains in background: partially stitched. This is also eating my lunch. I had a hideous time getting any texture at all stitched, given the darkness of the cloth. Having it visually behind the palms has made it even more challenging. Why didn’t I just put in a plain wall or something which could have been stippled? It wouldn’t have made a big difference as far as the composition, and it would have been much quicker to render.


Rug: not at all stitched and oh my lord, how am I even going to do it?

All this work, months of work, and I haven’t even gotten to the punchline of the picture, a dog reclining on a couch in place of the standard nekkid woman.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m feeling discouraged. I was hoping to enter a show at the end of this month, but this thing isn’t even halfway done. I’ve lost four days of work during the past week, what with chaperoning my kid’s field trip, hosting a STEM activity for Cub Scouts, and being knocked on my rump by Dramamine that I probably didn’t even need to take. Not to gripe – first world problems! Lots of people would love to be able to drop what they were doing and head out on the San Francisco Bay for hours with their kid’s class! But you know, I’m not a piñata. If someone smacks me with a baseball bat, I won’t puke out artwork.

I have considered brewing up a pot of coffee and pulling a couple of all-nighters to see if I could knock out a bunch of work. Alas, I suspect it would end with a bunch of lousy stitching which had to be ripped out and my shaking like an autumn leaf falling from a tree. The workmanship has to be good; otherwise there’s no point.

Meanwhile, my kid has been getting over a cold and we’ve been dunned with day after day of grey skies. The dreary weather and his cold made me remember a cold of my own.

Fifteen years ago, I was off on a photography trip to Rome and Paris. One of my clients was writing a book; the trip was a way to help her attain a dream. That was really important to me then, helping people figure out what they really wanted and helping them reach for it. I also craved a bit of adventure, which the trip would provide.

Boy, did I get my wish! I could write a book of my own. Absolutely nothing about that trip went as planned. We weren’t even on the airplane before my client poked around in her purse, panicked a bit, then announced that she’d forgotten her traveler’s checks. My memories past that point include her cheerily announcing “the last time I was here, I got deported for drugs”, multiple episodes of driving child pickpockets away from her, and a wild rush hour drive around the outskirts of Rome when we went to the wrong airport for the flight to Paris.

One of my more pressing personal issues, though, was a killer head cold. It set in during the interminable flight across the Atlantic from the U.S., rendering sleep impossible. By the time I needed to be perky and shooting photos of multi-breasted statues spurting water out of their nipples, I was thoroughly exhausted and spouting my own secretions out my nose.

I did my job. I focussed. I planned. I walked all over Rome, Tivoli and Paris laden down with gear. I took hundreds of photos.

My cold thoroughly annoyed my client, though, and she wasn’t shy about expressing herself. “I never get sick,” she told me accusingly, as though my hosting a virus was meant as a personal affront. “There are viruses and bacteria all around us, but I don’t come down with them. I’ve never even vomited, not in my whole life.” An endless array of home remedies were proffered, including raw garlic and a strange, unknown blend of dried herbs.

Somewhat alarmed by her drug deportation story, I politely declined and turned to standard, pharmacy-variety remedies. She continued to press ristras of elves’ bane and Hungarian witch peppers on me. She grew sharp when I stated that I could ingest her garlic and herbs and the cold would last about a week, or I could continue with the pharmaceuticals and it would be gone in seven days.

The last straw, though, was my skin. I am not one of those people who cries cutely or looks adorable when I’m sick. I tend to head straight into the territory of skin like a boiled lobster and massive, noisy expulsions of ectoplasm from whatever orifice is exposed.

My client was understandably revolted. Repeated forays with Kleenex had left the skin on my nose and cheeks dry and, in some cases, hanging in tatters. “Put some of this vitamin E oil on your skin!” she commanded one evening. I declined. “It will be fine by morning,” I stated, barely hanging on to my temper, “I’ll just rub a little of my moisturizer on it and it’ll be as good as new.”

My client sniffed in disbelief. I headed off to bed.

The next morning, knowing that there would be an inspection once she woke up, I took a razor to my face. Wonderful things, razors. They do an incredible job of removing pilled-up fibers from sweaters and sheets, hair from one’s legs, or, as it happens, dead skin from one’s face. After ruthlessly scraping away all signs of skin damage, I slathered my face with moisturizer, then braced myself for the inevitable.

“Good morning,” we both said, then she peered at me minutely. I could tell that the words “Vitamin E” were on the tip of her tongue, and she was just dying to cram an entire unpeeled head of garlic down my throat. However, there wasn’t a speck of dead skin in sight.

“Huh,” she muttered, “I guess you were right.”

“Yep. A little moisturizer takes care of it every time,” I lied.

She is gone now. The dear lady who never had colds, who had never vomited in her life, who faithfully downed garlic and mystery herbs and swished hydrogen peroxide through her teeth, was felled by a slow, extremely painful illness.

I still miss her.

Sometimes it takes awhile

Saturday, November 7th, 2015


Work. I’m gearing up for the next thing. Tentative titles: Big Fish or maybe Fish Story. I had a green screen session with the boy recently, getting him to model various poses, and took a bunch of shots. (Around eighty, to be precise.) Sometimes it takes awhile to loosen up and get in the mood, and sometimes something special and spontaneous happens during the modeling session and you want to stick with it. These days we don’t have to pay for film or developing, so why not? The boy has a rubber face, so he can generate about a thousand different expressions. I pay him, so he’s a good sport about it. Probably he’d be a good sport even if I didn’t pay him, though. He’s a good kid. (No, I totally don’t dote on him or anything like that.)

I was working from sketches when I posed him. Fortunately, I don’t have the sketches at hand, so nobody will have to see them.

One of the things I consider when having a modeling session is how to dress him and what sorts of props to employ. Stuff can be edited in Photoshop later, but it’s nice to get relatively close to the desired scene, and nice to have props for him to interact with. In this case I wanted the boy in a plain red shirt, but we don’t have one. I ended up turning one of his T-shirts inside out to hide the logo and giving him a bamboo pole with clothesline tied on to stand in for a fishing pole. Later I’ll replace the bamboo pole with a digital model of a real pole.

Awhile back, I posted about some of the equipment I use, including the green screen and background support system.  These are some of the best money I ever spent; they make removal of a person from a background about a thousand times faster, cleaner, and simpler.


There’s going to be a UFO plus some terrain, trees and water in the scene, so I’m starting to develop models of those. It’ll probably take months. It doesn’t necessarily have to take months, but I tend to work on several things at once. I’ve come to like the clarity I get from walking away from a project and coming back to it.


Here I’m starting to rough out the scene with polygons, before getting too deep into the modeling. It looks like a dog’s breakfast and that’s okay. Stuff evolves.

There are a couple of books I love which might be interesting to others who like to compose their own images. It turns out that years ago, Norman Rockwell was doing exactly the same sort of thing, posing models in costumes with props and taking reference photos for his paintings. He didn’t have the digital tools we have today, but he was very clever with the non-digital tools of the time.


The book about his methods is Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. It’s by Ron Schick and is available for around $25 on Amazon; less if one gets it used.


Another book is James Gurney’s Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. In it, he discusses his use of maquettes, models, props, and sketches to create art which looks “real and believable”.  His blog, Gurney Journey, also a great read.

I prefer to use digital tools, or a mix of real-life objects, human or animal models, and digital tools. There’s no reason one has to do that, though. One should use whatever tools one likes. Rockwell and Gurney are proof that one can achieve marvelous results with a pencil and a paintbrush. One can sketch a spaceship from one’s imagination or craft a rudimentary model out of Play-Doh rather than modeling it on a computer.



On the production end, I’m stitching on Odalisque. (Odalisque is another of my computer-assisted, composited images. See parts one and two from about a year ago.)

It feels like there’s several million miles of stitching. That’s why I have to put projects aside now and then. They can start to feel overwhelming when I’ve been working for weeks or months, or I can get terrified of an area and fear messing it up. What if I do the wrong thing on that tatted throw? An utter disaster!


See the screen behind the chaise? This is some of the stitching. I’m having to use magnifiers. It’s making me crazy.

There’s a quality I’m striving for where the stitching and the base image marry. I’m not there yet. It’s going to take some time and experimentation to master.


The shoe and leg in my work Flooded come close to what I have in mind.


So do this hand and couch done by Mardal and Hougs.

There’s a quietness about these examples. The stitching and the base imagery support each other, rather than the stitching being an afterthought stuck on top of something which was already complete. That is, alas, the look of many works where someone has printed out a photo and stitched on top of it.

I don’t mean to criticize those who have that aesthetic and enjoy that type of work, by the way. It just isn’t to my taste. One’s aesthetic is a personal preference, not a matter of right or wrong.

I’ll get there. In the meantime, I should finish Odalisque and see what I can learn from it.



There’s also this thing, a side project I stitch on when my brain is fried. Sometimes one needs to keep one’s hands busy but the light is bad or it’s just too much effort to do precise work.  I call it “Crap Cloth”. Yes, that’s vulgar. Probably I need a politer name. However, “Crap Cloth” does at least communicate that it’s made of odds and ends.

It began life with a section of fitted sheet that had blown a giant hole. Yes, I know one shouldn’t waste time on cloth whose integrity may be questionable. I do it anyway, though. I tie knots in the worst parts and let the dogs play tug-of-war with them, and I make shopping bags out of the best sections. After all the thread I put down, I could probably make bags out of paper towels and it wouldn’t matter. Nothing short of a bomb or maybe a rat on cocaine can dislodge my piles of stitching. Machine jams and makes a thread nest? Cool. Let’s stitch that sucker in. In fact, let’s start saving up floor sweepings and stale Cheerios and stitch those in, too.

This was going to be a shopping bag, then it turned into something else. I don’t know what it is. A loud wall hanging? A grotesque table runner? A dog house cover? Who knows. If you know what it is, leave me a comment.

Adventures in Fabric Printing

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

You know that excited feeling you have when you open a much-anticipated shipment and look at your goodies? The “Oh boy, oh boy, this is great and I can’t wait to tear into it” feeling?

Yeah. I’m not there. The custom fabric for my next quilts arrived. Things aren’t so great.

This piece with the bear is okay. I can work with it. Some areas of saturated color have washed out a bit, but that’s to be expected when taking an RGB image and printing it with a limited number of ink colors. Some RGB colors can’t be reproduced in CMYK. There’s also some loss of sharpness, particularly in areas of low contrast; see the sides of the ice cubes and the bear’s face. However, I can touch these areas up with Tsukineko ink. Things will also change considerably when I begin quilting.


Image file



Fabric printed from the image file


Alas, the other piece of fabric is a total loss.

Here’s the rendered file, the one submitted for printing onto fabric:


Here’s the resulting printed fabric:


Notice that much of the detail is lost, particularly in darker areas. If the fabric is not outside in bright sunlight, the conveyor belt and background blend together and the cups, balls, and even styrofoam containers aren’t particularly noticeable. The whole image disintegrates into a muddy mess. The photo above doesn’t capture how truly horrid the situation is.

Alright. I’m not pointing fingers of accusation at Spoonflower, by the way. I appreciate their service. Really, they just print whatever files one sends them. This situation is just stuff, the sort of stuff which occasionally occurs when one is taking RGB images and having them printed in CMYK. If one’s monitor isn’t well adjusted, if colors are too saturated, if one doesn’t take into account the quirks of printing onto fabric or the quirks of the printer itself, the end result can be less than desirable.

I’ve actually been very fortunate to encounter almost no problems of this nature during years of creating artwork for books and magazines. I’ve also had fabric printed a couple of other times with no difficulty.

Back to the drawing board. I’ll make some adjustments and get fabric printed for Gusher, the oil derrick piece, another time. Since I like to get two images at a time printed on a length of fabric, this unfortunately means waiting until I have another image ready to produce. Annoying, but not the end of the world. The ruined piece of fabric won’t go to waste, either; it’ll probably become base fabric for one of my shopping bags.


See? A shopping bag made from odds and ends.

Based on this experience, I have some takeaways. I hope my observations will be helpful to others, but of course, your mileage may vary.

  • The more forgiving the image file in terms of color saturation, contrast and detail, the more satisfactory the printed fabric is likely to be.
  • When dealing with any fabric printing service, thoroughly scour their help files. Also, find out what kind of printer they’re using, research its color space (CMYK, Hexachrome, etc.) and its quirks, and plan accordingly. Based on the images on this site I believe Spoonflower may use the HP DesignJet L26500 for some of its printing.
  • Get one of the company’s swatch printouts and compare to the colors in one’s file.
  • Don’t count on images or fine detail printing out as crisply on fabric as they would on paper.
  • Increase the contrast of one’s image. Visual elements with similar colors or similar intensity may simply muddy together. That’s particularly the case for darker colors.
  • Consider tweaking curves in Photoshop or some other program so as to lighten the mid and deep tones. These can always be deepened on the final piece of fabric with Tsukineko ink, but it is very difficult to lighten tones on a piece of muddy, dark fabric.



Tweaking curves in Photoshop to lighten midtones. Click image to enlarge

Farewell to summer

Thursday, August 20th, 2015


“Happy New Year … of SCHOOL!!!!” my husband bellowed at the boy this morning, thus jarring him out of a peaceful slumber.

Thus dawns the beginning of a new school year and my frantically trying to remember what I was doing back in early June when the boy’s school let out. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to make my brain work right now. I know this because I’ve drunk most of it and all I’ve accomplished is several trips to the bathroom.

Maybe I should start by shoveling out my work area, which is seriously trashed. That way it’ll be ready to go when the base fabric for my next two quilts arrives from Spoonflower. Spoonflower’s website assures me that the fabric is headed my way from Durham, NC via truck or plane or maybe muleback. The Donner Party sort of made it over the Sierras in their horse-drawn covered wagons, give or take a little starvation and cannibalism, so I’m sure the fabric will be here in no time.

I’m excited to start stitching on these new works. Their subject matter has been in the back of my mind for quite awhile, and I finally used 3D software (Blender) to help jell the imagery. As a side note, I’ve discovered that even though the quilts are barely started, they’re good for shutting down conversations.

A week or two ago, we headed out of town to a wedding. “Oh, what are you working on these days?” asked the lovely, glowing bride, hoping to start an innocuous discussion. I told her about one of the new quilts with its apocalyptic man/automaton figure wildly gobbling down oil and defecating out plastic goods. “Oh, um, that sounds dark,” she said diplomatically. Huh. I guess it is.

It was her wedding day and all, so I didn’t mention the second quilt. It features the red plastic polar bear figure from the children’s game “Don’t Break the Ice”. The ice has been broken and the hapless polar bear is clinging to a chunk in a large, featureless ocean, in danger of slipping away in exhaustion and drowning.


Here’s the latest incarnation of Mr. Bear now that he has eyes and skates and such.

I’m trying a new, smaller size with these quilts to see if I can get them done with good quality and out the door. It was pretty disheartening seeing submission dates blow by this summer. Good to spend time with the boy, though. In another couple of years I’ll have to handcuff him to me the moment he gets out of bed if I want to see him. Much as I hate blowing submission dates, there will be more.

In the meantime, farewell to the sights and sounds of summer.








Box modeling “Game Over”

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

I’m working on some 3D models for a quilt whose tentative title is Game Over. This is as good a time as any to post about it, I guess, because my Carpal Tunnel and Thoracic Outlet syndromes are acting up. (A “nice” reminder of my time as an engineering physicist at a particle accelerator, contorting my body and twisting knobs for 8-12 hours straight at a time.) It doesn’t happen too often, but when it starts to flare up, I “get” to take a break for a couple of days. Usually I notice the signs and can avoid it. This time the mouse I use for modeling broke and I foolishly decided to try a different style of mouse. Whoops! Ibuprofen and rest time.

Anyhow. Models. Gotta say, I love the tools that are commonly available these days. As noted elsewhere on this site, back when I started doing 3D work, modeling with primitives (spheres, cubes, cones) plus some lathing and extruding and maybe some spline curves were the rule of the day, at least with consumer-level software. No doubt one could get more advanced/flexible tools if one worked at one of the studios which were beginning to spring up, or one bought some of the higher end software packages which were starting to appear. I didn’t have access to those, though, and I was burdened by the small issues of having to work my way through school and earning a living. It was one of those “claw your way up” situations, and I had to put my dreams aside for awhile.

Here’s what I’m working on now, “box modeling” a character. One starts out with a cube …


which one subdivides …


starts moving around the vertices …


extrudes some faces here and there …


smooths things out …


adds some ears …


starts to build a body …


adds some arms and legs in a similar fashion, etc.


Box modeling! Neat stuff, eh? Maybe in a couple of days I can make the bear some eyes, skates, and a little hat.

Here’s another model from the same project. It may seem familiar to those who’ve played a certain child’s game which involves hacking apart a plastic iceberg, thereby sending a plastic polar bear to its doom.


Here’s a water model. Haven’t decided which direction I’ll go with the sky, whether it’ll be gloomy or sunny.


You can probably guess where this is going. I hope that when I pull all the pieces together, I’ll have a nice cautionary apocalyptic scene to get printed on fabric for my next quilt. I have a couple in the works. Global climate change and environmental matters are much on my mind these days. Maybe that’s one of those things that happens after one has a child, one starts thinking about how one is leaving the joint for future generations. (Not to imply that those without kids don’t.)

Years ago, after one of my failed relationships, it seemed wise to get out in the sunshine, do some volunteer work, and focus on something other than myself. I considered volunteering with an environmental group such as the Sierra Club. There are always organizations, both local and national, which need a hand with mundane tasks like removing kudzu and poison oak from trails, counting two-tailed polywogs, etc.

My mother darned near defecated on herself when I mentioned it in a letter. “The Sierra Club is a pack of devils!” she replied diplomatically, then there was a bunch of spittle-flecked stuff about how God had put man in dominion over nature and it was there for us to use, etc. Ah, my mom. Always good for a crackpot letter. The problem is, I think her attitudes reflect those of many Americans, right down to “n—— carry razor blades in their shoes” and waiting with great glee and anticipation for the Biblical End Times to arrive. (She may even have a special End Times Potato Salad recipe. I wouldn’t be surprised.)

There are a lot of humans on this planet. We have a tremendous impact on what happens here. The stories we tell ourselves and how we respond to them matter.

Are we, like my mother, enchanted with the notion of Biblical apocalypse and think it’s coming any day now, so heck, why not help it along? Yep. We can certainly do that. Drill baby, drill. Let’s burn, drill, frack, bomb, pollute, and kill slavishly, without regard for the consequences. What does it matter? The End Times are coming. We can make sure of that.

On the flip side, would we like to respect and nurture the diversity of the flora and fauna that remain? If we’re of a Biblical bent, do we think that “in dominion over nature” has more to do with being mindful caretakers than with being spoiled children who stomp all over their toys and then whine because they’re ruined?

Well, it’s probably clear which side of the fence I’m on. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my arm and shoulder are still too messed up to quilt, so I have some two-tailed polywogs to count.

The Halfway Point

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

About halfway through summer, halfway through various projects …


This arrived last month, the July/August edition of Machine Quilting Unlimited.


There are several neat articles in the magazine (Marianne Williamson! Awesome!), and they also included my piece Why Knot? They’re a nice magazine to work with and their graphic designers/layout people do a great job. It’s a pleasure to have my work in their publication.

While I’m on the topic of Why Knot?, I’ve learned that it has been juried into IQF Houston, so it’ll be making a road trip to Texas this fall. I don’t think I’ll be going, so I hope my quilt won’t be taking on bad habits in my absence … smoking, eating barbecue, harassing coyotes. Who knows?

What else do I have? Work I can’t post. Hot diggity. It was totally worth visiting this page for that, wasn’t it? Seriously, I find it a pain. Just when I’m juiced up from working on something and could cheerfully post progress photos and the like, I can’t. A couple of things have the “work must be hermetically sealed” exhibit requirement. By the time I can post progress photos, I’ll be on to the next thing and my attention and enthusiasm will be on that, not on whatever I’m working on now.

I will note that I’m working on some 3D-rendered surface designs, though, a couple of apocalyptic environmental pieces. Once the designs are fixed up, I’ll ship them off for printing, then stitch on the resulting fabric.


Sometimes I spend days trying to get something just right and it goes to pot. Here I was trying to do a fluid simulation to depict an oil well. Yep. Things weren’t going well that day. Fortunately, I save versions as I work. I was able to go back a version or two and rescue things.


I also had the great idea of creating a mountain of rendered garbage for the scene’s background. The result did look like garbage, but more in the metaphorical sense. The texture I have on the garbage bags makes them look more like laundry detergent pods or a nasty variety of candy, and the bag arrangement looks more like a stone wall than a mountain. Okay. Part of art, writing, and many other endeavors is fearlessly trying stuff and being willing to admit when it isn’t working out.

I’ve spent hours either making or casting about for 3D models for my scenes. Here’s a model I ended up making, one of those ubiquitous red plastic cups:


Hmm. Maybe should have added a few more vertices to smooth it out. Anyhow, good enough for the job at hand. I could have bought a model – here’s a nice one for $19 – but it wasn’t that hard to make and didn’t need to be too precise for the scene I was building.

There are many, many sources of 3D models these days, some free and some for coin. One such source is the Daz3D site. They particularly specialize in models of humans and accessories. Now and then they offer freebies. A couple of months ago, when they were offering something gruesome like a haunted asylum or zombies (maybe it was zombies haunting an asylum?) I asked my ten-year-old son whether we needed such models. He took a look at the gloom and gruesomeness in the ad and bellowed “Oh HECK YEAH!” He could think of jillions of occasions when he might personally need 3D models of zombies or an asylum, and that wasn’t even taking into account my own needs. Really, is there any occasion for which zombie or spooky asylum imagery aren’t appropriate?

I duly registered with Daz, obtained the freebies, and filed them away on my hard drive. Strangely enough, our need for zombies and asylums wasn’t as great as we thought, so they haven’t yet been used.

Since then, though, Daz and I have become great friends. I say this because they send me an email every day or so, which is what good pen pals do. Usually the letter is filled with colorful and, dare I say it, fetishistic imagery. The subject lines are things like “BOGO is a Go-Go” and “It’s a Zevtastic Weekend”

Here are some samples:


Hot damn. Everybody knows how much I care about fashion. Sea vehicles, too.



Not sure I want to know what the related fantasy items are.



Huh. I’ve never seen anything like that at the hardware store. Maybe I was too focussed on stuff like caulk and bolts.



You know, I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not in the core part of their target market. Members of their target market are probably more the sort who like to gaze at breasts.



Bleh. Nope nope nope. Don’t want to know. Seriously. I’m not joking. I don’t want to know what people are doing with this model, particularly the way it’s dressed and posed. I’m a mom. I even get skeeved out by boy bands. Justin Bieber naked? Bleh. Get thee hence, Satan. Don’t want to see the buttocks of anyone younger than me unless they need a diaper change.



Wait. The rest of the ads weren’t already freaky?



No idea. More breast imagery, though. The outfit looks uncomfortable – the strap across the chest, and what if you need to use the restroom? – but I guess 3D models don’t care.



She looks annoyed. Maybe the 3D models do care about wearing freaky costumes. Or maybe the ears are uncomfortable.

I’ve considered unsubscribing from Daz’s emails, but I never know when they’ll offer something I need. Also, I’ll reluctantly admit that I’ve begun to find them entertaining. I never know what they’re going to send next, and I can only speculate that the young men who form their target audience eagerly await each email and find it very, um, stimulating.

Meanwhile, summer. Outings. Camps. Play dates.

At the beginning of the summer, I drug the boy down to Legoland. I like going to Legoland. My kid doesn’t, or at least not as much as he used to, but he endures it for my sake. I have to have a child to visit Legoland; adults aren’t allowed to visit by themselves.

I took these photos with my hand-me-down iPhone, thinking that I should pare down the amount of stuff I carried on the trip. I wish I’d taken a decent SLR along. There was lint and dust under the iPhone’s lens. Cleaning it out will require taking the phone apart. I can remove artifacts with Photoshop, but it gets to be a pain. Kind of a waste of time to remove something that shouldn’t have been there to begin with.


Legoland. Is there a more perfect amusement park on earth? I don’t think so.



I love every bit of it. The giant models of buildings in Miniland …



… the Star Wars exhibit. Okay. I’m not into Lego Friends, but I guess I can’t blame the Lego company for their pink-burqaed, cynically capitalist attempt to lure in young females.



You know that windmill you drive by when you’re going through Carlsbad? That’s the hotel we stayed at. The interior of the windmill is sad. There’s a massive vaulted space which should feel airy, but somehow it contrives to feel depressing and outdated. Just off to the side there’s a TGI Fridays which is accessed through a door in the windmill, a door which slams uncontrollably and loudly enough to rupture one’s eardrums. The experience pretty much destroyed every fantasy I had about windmills.



Here’s the view from our hotel room. Gorgeous! Pipes. A wall. Wires draped here and there. That must be the deluxe courtyard view touted on the reservation website.

Well, I guess this is what happens when you don’t cough up the $400+/night to stay at the Legoland Hotel during the height of the season.



Another trip, just for the day, up to the Musée Mecanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The place is so cool. Tons of old coin-operated mechanical arcade machines. One can have a lot of fun on $5-10.



Plaque outside the building. It has a decidedly grotty, impromptu look about it, as though a passerby stuck it up with an entire tube of adhesive. I imagine Ann and Sam aren’t with us anymore – not too many people reach their 70th anniversaries – but their plaque lives on.



Laffing Sal. I believe one of her twin sisters lives in Santa Cruz.



Good. Guess that takes care of sex ed.



Poor fellow. He has a skin condition. Hope he’s not on meth.



Another case of substance abuse, perhaps strong drink?



I didn’t look at this Nickelodeon reel. I had a strong suspicion that it would depict something unpleasant. Dishwashing or toilet scrubbing, maybe. Putting up storm windows. Other things married women wish to avoid. To heck with all that stuff.



While up at the wharf, I made my family visit the Rainforest Cafe. I was curious. I’m glad we did it. Now we never have to go again.

Seriously, if you enjoy dim lights, fairly expensive food which aspires to be more than it is, and animatronic animals which make jackhammer-level racket every so often, this is a great place. Otherwise, perhaps not so much. The waitstaff were pleasant enough, though. Can’t blame them for the fact it’s a tourist trap.


They do hand out rather nice little paper hats. I need a bio photo for some website or other. Maybe I should send this.



Also hauled the boy and one of his friends up to the Adventure Playground in Berkeley this summer. Think “Home Depot meets Lord of the Flies”. I’m kidding. It’s a great place, actually, where kids can earn the right to use tools and woodworking materials to build their own creations. The staff there go to great pains to make sure the kids have enough freedom to learn and enjoy themselves while keeping the experience safe.



One of the kid-built play structures, formed from salvaged materials.



Inside one of the structures. Spooky-cheerful.



Another day, taking the dogs out for a walk beside a lake, because I’m an idiot.



I thought it would do the dog we recently adopted, the white furball in the photo above, some good to get out. Go someplace in the car other than the vet’s, get some fresh air, see some new things.

Alas, he whined pitifully all the way to the lake and most of the way back. Ryan the weiner-basset didn’t whine, but he did slobber all over the front window and pass gas in my face during the drive. Neither dog particularly wanted the (plain) hamburgers we bought them, saving them until they were home again. Too excited, I guess.

Both of them were brats at the park, pulling on their leashes like crazy and barking at other dogs. At least they had the sense to not try that with the geese. Ryan seemed to tell Jake “Be cool, man. Be quiet and don’t look ‘em in the eye.”

Ah, well. Maybe it’s like dealing with kids. You have to take some chances and work with them a little before things get better.



A disguise for every occasion? Yes, please! I particularly appreciate the lack of gender discrimination. I might want a mustache to supplement the one I’m already growing. One never knows.

Only 4 1/2 weeks of summer left. It’s palpably trickling away. Time to get the boy out for more experiences while he isn’t old enough to be ashamed of being seen with his mom, and get another quilt design or two ready to go.


Sunday, May 31st, 2015


 “Bust Banks” seen at ToysRUs; ready to leer salaciously at a child near you.

The “Bust Banks” above have nothing to do with the rest of this post. I just found the scene amusing.

May has been a good month. I had work at AQS Lancaster and AQS Paducah, back when those occurred. As a result, some opportunities have just come my way. More on that another time.

I’ve also been accepted into the Textile and Fiber Art List, a top notch organization of fiber artists and textile businesses. They showcase some really amazing artists and artwork, so I’m quite tickled to be included. (Seriously – go to their site and check out the artwork! Even if you aren’t in the market for artwork at the moment, browsing the site is very enjoyable.)


Meanwhile, I’ve been steadily chugging away on Odalisque, as shown above. It’s taking forever to stitch. Maybe if I wasn’t so intent on faithfully depicting textures, I’d be done by now, but noooooo. I have to obsess over the details instead of just stippling over the surface like a normal person might. At this rate it’s going to take a solid year to complete.



I’m also working on a new piece or pieces for an exhibit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon. These are supposed to be under wraps until the exhibit, so no photos of the surface design. Once I fulfill my commitment to the exhibit, I’ll be getting some more 3D/CGI-based fiberworks in the pipeline.



Yesterday I made this, a 3D/CGI image which will inflicted on one of my son’s friends in the form of a birthday card.

The other day, I had lunch with a nice lady and had trouble explaining what I do. “3D/CGI. Are you working in CAD?” she asked politely. Ehhhhh … not so much. It’s sort of a cousin of CAD, and increasingly I’m using my renderings as surface designs for fabric.



On a personal note, my kid won a blue ribbon at the school district’s science fair. His experiment involved prepping strawberries to see if the onset of room temperature molding could be delayed, then days and days of checking the berries for mold. It grew a bit foul at the last, when some of the samples began to liquify and ferment instead of molding. Then there was the whole process of analyzing the data, doing a writeup, and talking to judges. It was a good experience for him, and I really appreciate the fact that his school district held the event.



Another of the boy’s school projects, producing a board game to help report on one of the insipid Boxcar Children mysteries. You know – the ones which were written around the time of the Great Depression and had a group of four orphaned kids living in an abandoned boxcar. They often feature scenes like:

Henry: “Wow. The four of us sure did work hard solving that mystery! Now we’re all really hot and tired! Benny, let’s go swimming!”

Violet: “Super! Jessie and I will stay here in the hot boxcar, do dishes, and cook! Then we’ll sweep and dust instead of having fun, because we’re females living in an indeterminate year during the 1920s-1940s!”

The first time I read a scene like this with a group of kids, I had them flip to the front of the book and look at the copyright date. I then asked them to compare the scenes to current social norms to see which things have changed and which have stayed the same during the last 60-80 years. Personally, if I’ve been working really hard and other people are going swimming, I’m going too. We can all roast potatoes in the fire together later.

Anyhow – fun project. Good opportunity to show the boy some features in Adobe Illustrator and introduce him to bland clip art.


Another project. It has little or nothing to do with artwork – well, other than my needing to eat in order to create art – but it made me happy. These sliding racks aren’t as space efficient as simply jamming pans willy-nilly on shelves in the cabinet. However, I’m trying to transition to having less but appreciating and using it more. I still need to finish this job by screwing in some side shims, though. (Feel free to place bets on when and whether I will actually get that done.)


Another project. There had been wooden raised beds, but they gradually rotted away and become precarious. Demolition of the old beds was fun – occasionally I’d call my son over so he could watch me tear a 2×6 in half with my bare hands, and sort of not mention to him that the board was completely rotten. The new beds are composite. I hope they’ll hold up better than the wood beds, but we shall see.

In the back, one can see a large barrel. I’m using that to store clean waste water, such as the cold water one normally flushes down the drain while waiting for one’s bath or shower water to warm. I also salvage water from the kitchen whenever I rinse vegetables, drain a pot of pasta, etc., and pour that directly on the garden. California is in the grip of an epic drought, and there’s no telling when – or if – matters will improve. So far I’ve been able to water the garden using only water we’d normally waste.

PIQF, briefly

Sunday, 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

Sunday, 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.