Friday, July 10, 2015

Seveneves Book Review

So I finished reading Neal Stephenson's Seveneves.

It was weird.

This was a book so radically weird that it contained all the following things: randomly exploding moons, white Neil deGrasse Tyson, stupid politics and politicians, boring "recreational" sex, yoga pants made of nano-bots, butch lesbian ex-Soviet cosmonaut/spies, hockey-stick graphs, dry physics lectures, Bhutanese kidnappings, nuking a third world country for not believing scientific consensus, trans-humanist self-cannibals, regular cannibals who blame their cannibalism on being bipolar, Tumblr In Spaaaaaaace, punitive tongue piercing, in-vitro ethnic cleansing, asexual human reproduction, and a plotline "twist" that conveniently skips 5000 years.


And in case that's not confusing enough, the gist is this: the moon explodes for no reason. The moon rocks threaten rain down on earth, eventually. Humanity tries to escape to near earth orbit aboard a hastily expanded ISS held together with duct tape and bailing wire. Literally. Shenanigans and suicidal cosmonauts ensue, Venezuela gets preemptively nuked for no good reason just days ahead of the whole world getting bathed in rocks the size of Virginia. A guy who sounds suspiciously like Elon Musk steals a comet, straps a nuke to it, and rides it around the solar system to deliver water to near earth orbit. Meanwhile the president of the United States tries to take control of the remaining human population in space before being defeated by a psychotic lesbian cannibal who is one of only 8 survivors at the end, all of whom are female and none of whom are pregnant at that point. Obviously, nobody thought of the fact that a human race doomed to extinction should probably ditch the condoms and start making babies pronto. The 8 ladies pilot their space station to relative safety and then start fighting about eugenics until one of their number threatens to end the entire human race with a convenient hunk of C4 if they don't all shut up already. Then it cuts to 5000 years in the future and there's magically 3 billion people living in orbit who finally discover that some of the humans on the planet actually survived 5000 years of falling rocks, lava, and the burning of the planet's entire atmosphere. Then they fight about it. Surprise!

My opinion is that this book has way too much going on. I imagine Neal couldn't get a publisher to agree to a 7 book series, which is what this should have been. He goes heavy on the science, as this is supposed to be a hard science fiction book, but by the third act it's become completely unsustainable and he jettisons the existing characters, plotline, and situation to skip forward thousands of years. I won't spoil too much more, but the foreshadowing leading up the end was remarkably heavy handed.

This book could have been far more interesting if it had the space to spread out, get comfortable, and take its time. I felt like the pacing was great for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book, but then the characters seem to get abandoned as the author takes us on a long slog though some physics which are supposed to build the tension. To be fair, the physics lectures are much simpler than they could have been, conveying in as concise a way as possible just exactly how precarious the human race's situation is.

The biggest disappointment in all of this is that he starts to build likable and realistic characters and then abandons them to fantasize about how cool orbital physics, genetic engineering, and 3d printing are and showing how technology will save the human race after literally everything else gets screwed up.Which admittedly is kinda neat to watch... the first couple times.

Sure, it was a page turner. I didn't want to put it down. But mostly because it was like watching Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus. The stakes were so high and the characters so flat that it beggared belief, but I still needed to see what 21st century "disruptive technology" would be next on the list to save humanity's skin.

I wouldn't probably read the book a second time. It might make a fun summer blockbuster, in which critics would complain that the after-credits scene just skips 5000 years ahead and ruins any chance of making a sequel that's any good.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A new arrival!

I've taken a long hiatus from the blog to work on some slightly more pressing matters. Things like my wife having a life-threatening turn to her pregnancy, more battles with unemployment, followed by the challenges of a new job. Now we've finally been joined by our long-expected little one, Abigail Mary. Tonight I finally had a chance to sit down and draw again, so I drew them.

So, how does it feel to draw again? Amazing. However, I have been checking my blog stats and have found, unsurprisingly, that the #1 post in terms of hits has been one in which I mocked up some doll house concepts in Minecraft. It's been stolen far and wide by many a Minecraft idea site, sometimes with a back-link, and sometimes without any attribution at all. I don't care though, it's a video game, and other people can profit from something I did in an afternoon because I was bored. ;)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sinai Pantocrator Process #2

Here is another sketch update on the Sinai Pantcrator. I've got most of my principle guide lines put into place here. Unfortunately, the original icon is so incredibly worn that most areas besides the face are completely obscured. In particular, Christ's dark mantle seems to be just one big brush stroke, with no particular details of any kind. The brush strokes at least seem to approximate the direction or "grain" of the cloth, which gives me some help. Unfortunately for me, I cannot be content to just throw down some rough brush strokes and call the cloth finished. Same with the hair and beard. These lines here do not represent the final product, but just my current best-guess as to possible grain direction and very general shadows. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sinai Pantocrator Process #1

Today I am starting work on an image of the Sinai Pantocrator, a very famous icon which is the oldest known representation of Christ in this style. An icon of Christ Pantocrator is usually characterized by the features of the face as well as the posture. Pantocrator is a Greek word which was used to translate the Hebrew for YHWH Sabaoth, which can also be translated "Lord of Hosts." Such images usually depict Christ as almighty and powerful, as a ruler, and as a judge. His right hand is normally raised in blessing, although in this very early icon it happens to be a different gesture usually symbolizing teaching. The book represents the Gospels.

When working with iconographic imagery, it is often critical to keep a very close eye on the proportions of the image, as they are what often makes the icon instantly recognizable. Since I am not intending to produce an icon in the most traditional manner but desire to keep the proportions as close to identical as possible, I am turning to a old trick used by many great masters before me: optical tracery.

Of course, there is much controversy over exactly how the great masters did this, with some asserting that they used camera obscura, while others posit somewhat more technically advanced optics like the camera lucida. I've tried using those now-outdated forms of optical reproduction. even going so far as to make some live portraits using the camera lucida, and have found that using modern digital optics is far less fiddly and far more accessible. So here I am offering a small peek into the work that goes into re-interpreting an icon.

First, some color work is needed on the original photograph. The original icon is extremely dark and finding highly detailed photographs of it can be difficult without simply taking your own shot. I worked with what I had, desaturating it slightly, increasing contrast and widening the white balance. This helps bring out the individual brush strokes, although it also blows out the color. Since establishing starting line art is the intent, I do not mind the loss of color here.I will be able to refer to other references for coloration and shading later on in the process.

I then put the image into my painting program, where a hot magenta color can be layered on top with rough pencil strokes to begin laying out some of the proportions. I could of course have copied with a grid or other more primitive measuring systems, but this method obviously works much better and more accurately. The ability to onion-skin the preceding layer allows for rapid revision of the line weight and position, and allowing for easier experimentation.

Finally, I would like to add that this method is not always the best way to start work. It is very rigid and often does not allow the sorts of fluidity and originality that many artists seek. However, with icons this is not something that needs to be stressed so much, and so this kind of starting method is perfectly appropriate here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sunrise on Maple Street

This is the view I had the other morning, but painted properly. I attempted to take a picture of the dramatic sky and foothills down our little sleepy street, but my phone couldn't do it justice at all. This is a little closer to what my eyes saw that morning.

Also, I want to tell the story of the last few months. It's been very crazy, and my friends who follow on the other social media networks will know all about that. I got married to my favorite person, (Katie!) moved to Idaho, and then moved a second time shortly after the wedding. Katie's pregnant too, so there is a new person on the way to stay with us. We are so excited!

During the second move my beautiful bride became severely ill and had her closest brush with eternity she's had yet. She spent almost a month with no food intake, and things got very scary. Thanks be to God, she is recovering now and our little baby is 14 weeks along and healthy. Things are finally settling in, and I hope to be able to resume regular artwork updates fairly soon.

I have some cool projects coming up, including some Eastern Orthodox style religious artwork which I am very excited to get going on. It's good to feel home again.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sketch: Japanese Garden

I've been doing a lot of projects for clients lately and needed a break from them, so I did this drawing specially today for Katie. Nothing fancy in terms of technique or equipment, just my Wacom Bamboo and MyPaint.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Make Rubber Stamps with a Laser Engraver

It's been over a month since the last post, but that's for good reason. Besides getting sick, I have been working on new things, and this is one of them. I've invested a lot of time into figuring out a very good way to make high quality rubber stamps with a laser engraver.

Before you dig in, you're going to need to know something about engraving in rubber. It smells. It's truly one of the most awful smelling things I've done with a laser engraver. If you try this, get the fans going, open the windows, and maybe even wear a filter mask if you have one. If you don't have a filter mask you should probably at least wear a paper one, for safety, since the engraving process makes a lot of very fine white ash that is noxious and irritating, and you wouldn't want that in your lungs, throat, or nose. Having said that, you are responsible for your own health. Proceed at your own risk.

To start with, I am using special laser engraving rubber. It's supposedly low odor, but that's obviously some kind of cruel joke. That said, natural rubber and other synthetics like neoprene are far, far worse. I am also using a simple general-purpose spray-on adhesive and 3mm thick craft foam I found at the local crafting supply store.

Don't forget to horizontally mirror, or you'll be sorry. Like I was, the first couple times.
Begin by setting up your design on the computer. You will want to be doing your engraving in a raster mode, and you need to invert the design and horizontally mirror it. Make sure you have a border around your design so that there is enough room to trim the stamp later.

To get a good cut it is critical to do the following things:
1- Use as much power as you can. This engraving needs to be really deep, the deeper the better. With my 40watt laser I cranked it all the way up to 100%.

2- Use your air assist. This is absolutely critical. Without air assist you will get large amounts of that aforementioned resinous ash on your lenses and mirrors and it is extremely difficult to clean off.

Ash. Ash everywhere. Don't breathe this. You'll probably die.

3- Set the feed rate very slow. This is to ensure your ventilation and air assist can keep up with the production of fumes and ash. If you go too fast you risk it building up faster than it can be dealt with. Also, a slower feed results in cleaner lines and less melting.

4- Use higher DPI/PPI and do multiple passes. I had to do this because at only 40 watts of power, I needed every bit of extra heat I could get to have a nice deep engraving. Also, unlike wood or plastics, the rubber doesn't lose much detail so the higher resolution is nice to have.

Once you have engraved the pattern to your liking, cut it free and immediately clean it. You need to use soap and water and a toothbrush. This is because the ash can become embedded in the cooling rubber and become impossible to remove if you wait too long. Once it's clean, spray the rubber portion liberally with adhesive, wait a moment for it to tack, and stick it to the foam. Then put it under some heavy books to dry, foam side up.

Latin and Electronics. Heck. Yes.
After 30 minutes to an hour you should be ready to cut it out. Trim as close to the edges of your design as you can, to reduce over-stamping, and mount your new stamp to an acrylic or wood block with double stick tape. Since the stamp is brand new, you may need to use it a few times before it softens and holds ink well, but this is normal with all rubber stamps. Once that's all done, start stamping and enjoy!

A nice clean print.
This is over-stamp from a first try. Trim carefully to avoid this problem.