Thumbtack adventure

Scanning old family photos has been a little tougher lately since so few services offer color transparency scanning. Any old flatbed can handle most of the standard prints and the larger prints can be photographed with a good digital SLR.

But my sister once visited Oklahoma’s premiere theme park – Frontier City – nearly twenty years ago and to commemorate the occasion, the family bought one of those family portraits.

But this one was a unique little keychain viewer which used an old odd sized color transparency format I wasn’t familiar with. Fortunately, some people still have flatbed transparency scanners – mostly the photographers trying to deal with a changing market.

I remember using dedicated slide scanners decades ago – they were the preferred method for the photographers back in the 90s when I worked at a magazine. Everything was just better fidelity than the flatbeds. But things advanced enough to the point where the flatbeds were winning out. Another case of digital creep – that point where old tech starts to give way to new toys.

SO here comes the gig economy – I needed a one time scan of a one of a kind image from a format that hasn’t been actively used in at least 20 years. In steps Thumbtack, whose SEO criteria carefully matched one of my searches.

I hate sites like Fivr – bad branding and bad attitudes and publicity made me think those were not the way to go. But Thumbtack seemed just left of center enough – same basic model but definitely a more approachable methodology.

Overall, I keep looking for ways to monetize art and my work, but sites like these just seem like they could be eliminated entirely with even better SEO by Google at some point. Since it really is all search based, only based on tasks matching to availability instead of web crawling and search phrases or images.

But it was good experience. I have my scan, spent 30 dollars and less than a full 24 hours later I can send the image to my family. I don’t know what kind of camera, photographer or other equipment was employed to make the original but even the most common iPhone model today can take a better picture than this film format with little assistance.

But it still took someone with a good eye and rare gear to make it happen. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere but it’s not as apparent as digital creep and technological obsolescence. I think it’s more about needing to preserve certain things at the right time.

The real lesson is that the color transparency lasted over 20 years and sustained very little damage for being a physical thing. A digital photo that isn’t backed up disappears instantly with a careless swipe or a spilled bottle of kombucha (not kidding, that happened to thousands of my photos).

A color slide can survive a lot. I’ve spilled all kinds of other drinks on color slides, sat on them, flung them across the room in anger, and even set a few on fire. Ok, the last one did actually burn beyond recognition, but a corner or too survived. This one in particular survived a few decades in a jewelry box, stored in a non temperature controlled room in a state with temperature swings from freezing to 100 plus summers.

That’s a lesson – how robust are our digital photos when we constantly lose them to carelessness, but just as quickly fill up another device until it, too, is drowning in Kombucha? Haha!

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Going for a CAD upgrade

If you’re an experienced 3d modeler in any profession, you rely on certain tools. Being such an open source nerd, as well as just cheap, I depend on plenty of free tools.

Professional 3d modelers spend their careers keeping up with the tools that are in demand at movie or television studios which makes most of them scoff at free tools because of their simplicity or feature set.

But a key component lacking in entertainment work is dimensional and engineering accuracy. You can animate the universe in Maya and make it pretty, but good luck getting an accurate engineering visualization out of it.

And that’s something I looked for in other 3D CAD tools lately – sure the Hollywood boys an girls get all the glory on screen. But I’ve said this before since getting into 3d printing – NONE of the models usually made for the screen translate seamlessly to the printer. The demands on either are are very different.

There’s is some shared space between them in the concepts of creating profiles, polygons, extrusions and the like. But the meat an potatoes of creating something that actually works when manufactured? New ball of wax.

Dimensional accuracy, tolerances, the Shore scale of material usage, material density to weight ratios, etc. There’s so much more to worry about when turning a 3d design meant for actual use in the real world than there ever was in merely making something pretty onscreen. I take it back, but only a little – we’ve all worked for THAT director at some point. The one that things the weight of the world depends on THAT ONE PIXEL.

If only they knew.

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Form Fuse and Fabulous

The latest release from Formlabs is pretty impressive – maybe too expensive for me right now but definitely a serious thing to consider for the rest of the world.

Think about this for a second. Formlabs started on Kickstarter, made a successful if legally challenged launch, released a follow up to that product commercially as a fledgling company and has now released an SLS solution.

That stands for Selective Laser Sintering – a fancy way to get rid of the support structures and make incredibly clean prints. If you have any experience in 3d printing, you have dealt with supports, the structures that make 3d printing possible with other technologies to compensate for the annoyance of gravity.

SLS is not new, but for many serious prototyping facilities it is the only serious method to get around the laborious and sometimes destructive practice of cleaning off support structures. I typically don’t mind the process but I have become to accept it as a part of getting clean parts.

I have always hated the idea of altering my design to fit the limitations of the technology – this has always been a designer’s problem with regard to FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling, the more familiar melting plastic printing process to most of you.

But SLS technologies are the best current solution to getting clean parts with minimal cleaning out of a printer. The powders used get dusted off the parts as you pull them from SLS printers, kind of like the movie version of the archaeologist’s field work. Indiana Jones never had it so easy. And sure they have their share of issues, the relative ease of personally modifying an FDM printer (the first 2 Ultimakers are open source and famous for this ease) are likely gone.

SO think about it – a company that was crowdfunded has released a consumer model of the best possible way of getting clean 3d printed parts without tedious sanding and tweezer gymnastics other printing tech forces us to accept.

It’s a big move, and I can’t wait until I can justify the expense.

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Promises and forgiveness

Practicing forgiveness is not an easy thing for me and I imagine the same for many of you out there. Just a few weeks ago, my mother passed away suddenly. Just three years after my father died, my mother was examined at her nursing home, sent to the hospital and before I could board my flight she was gone.

I didn’t find out until I was headed to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes.

It was the second time I was in an airport finding out a parent had died. The last time, I was on one of those lumbering belted walkways, rushing other travelers to their gates at Denver’s airport. I almost wanted to start a foundation whose sole purpose was to find people grieving in airports and offer some counseling. They would offer emotional triage in mid trip, especially during the summer, surrounded by cheery Disney draped families, children chirping along to their coastal vacations.

It was a weird thought to have on my own trip – thinking for a second that no technological intervention other than a full time, on demand personal Concorde flight would have helped. Again, my thinking went right to a solution that was mechanical in some way. Instead of spending time in the exact moment – exactly where I needed to be. With the rest of my family.

All of my siblings are older, the ones who could travel and made it to the funeral destination within mere hours of one another. Other than one of my sisters who could not travel, the only thing missing from this picture was an object – the only object that mattered in many ways. My mother’s wedding ring, with a 1 Karat, platinum mounted diamond, was missing. No one, not the nursing home, ambulance crew, emergency room staff or hospital administrators could account for it.

That ring was worn with faith, love and incredible dignity by a woman who was a teacher, a role model, wife and mother to six children. And while a ring as an object is an easy thing to lose, what it meant to her daughters and sons was more than its appraised value. It was something we all knew she wanted to be buried with in the faith that she would meet her husband again, he would see it and they would live out an eternal promise made on their wedding day.

My parents were great teachers of one virtue incredibly missing from our world, our discourse and our teachings. They were experts in forgiveness. But being the more rebellious of my siblings I found it the hardest virtue to practice, favoring others more – like justice.

It’s easier for someone who sees the world darkly to favor the story that says someone stole that ring, pawned it for some lowly sum – unequal to the symbolic worth of the years it was worn. That’s easier than thinking of it more objectively – that it was an old rock, held in a band of metal, worn on one finger for as long as it would fit.

What was more important? The object, or the promise?

Just after the funeral, thinking about the sharp sense of simple humor my father often showed, I thought for a second what my father might say. Seeing my mother’s finger naked for the first time since their vows, he might say jokingly with the bemused lovable smirk “Hey, (pause for effect) … where’s your ring?”

When people say, “you can’t take it with you,” this is the literal truth of all things except the vows, promises and work done in our lives to make our worlds better. Wherever that ring lies, whether it was through greed, stolen, or through negligence merely lost, nothing has undone the promise and the lesson.

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Pages of Eight Number 3

I admittedly worked harder, faster and better on this one comic than most things in my life. And oddly I did it on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 which I didn’t even think I would even own were it not for the fact I needed a larger tax deductible tech expense for 2016.

I find myself touting more brand names these days because it honestly seems like more of them have been meeting my needs unexpectedly than ever before. I didn’t really NEED the Surface, I had a Wacom Cintiq – the smaller 12ux – and it still worked, still performed well aside from oft driver hangup weirdness.

I committed to doing two things in my process for making comics which were both based on being more mobile. I wanted to work more in different environments – to join that coffee brew house regular crowd of screenwriter wannabes wasn’t as a attractive as the ambient noise and air conditioning. But I wanted to be more mobile as well as more social when it came to my comics this year.

Like most projects, I solicited input from a trusted circle of friends. But from a list of a dozen or so chosen I managed to get one full list of notes. That 80-20 rule – 80 percent of your results comes from 20 percent of your efforts – now looked more 92-8. Still, not bad odds considering the list I sent to were all professional. chronically busy people.

I had the opportunity to sit in and sketch for Brave New World in Newhall, CA for Free Comic Book Day and managed to give a few people my latest book. To most of the people I handed it to, I prefaced it with a qualifying statement – “This is my best book to date.”

Saying that really doesn’t mean much if you consider that if you are an artist who constantly seeks to improve, EVERY book you do should upon release should be the best book you’ve ever done. Hard to manage. But I internalized the cliche, stoic ethos that everything should become an opportunity to practice some key virtue. I used the word ethos, even for me, that’s pretty snooty.

So turning the somewhat lukewarm copout of “well at least it’s a tax write off”, into “I made the best book of my life” was a nice byproduct of that ethos.

The last, and for many comics creators these days, most difficult aspect of authoring something you feel is the best you can do is the acceptance of that creation’s ultimate faults and failures. It’s going into the world with a huge handicap, bustling against the noisy summer releases from the media giants, and being buried by its own platform’s wasteland of underappreciated books.

The stoics call that last step “willing acceptance” – specifically, it’s what too many winners call the Loser’s prayer – the strength to accept the things one cannot change, the courage to change what can be changed and wisdom to know the difference. That bit never gets old. Those mocking winners end up in the loser’s circle on a long enough timeline, and under their breath, they all start praying. Haha!

Pages of Eight 3 goes live on Comixology tomorrow. I hope you can take a look.

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RIP, rant in peace

I actually went back in for about an hour to try and see if it was worth going back in just for some kind of promotional value. But since leaving, it feels like the technical changes amount to very little.
I admit it, I am highly allergic to popular opinions, fashion and what people think resembles clever thought. We read too much crap and do too little real work. Rant, rant and rant.

I know there are apps that track your facebook usage, and people make claims about their habits “I only use it blah blah blah.”

I have zero doubts about how many hours get wasted blathering on it incessantly. That’s why I still blog. To rant in peace.

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Ego arch enemies

Ryan Holiday has quickly become one of my favorite authors with only two books. “Trust Me, I’m Lying” and “Ego is the Enemy” are two truly indispensible books for authors in the age of easy self publishing.

They are both quick and easily digestible reads, each with deep warnings about how dangerous the simple act of telling yourself an inaccurate story can be. I love writers, some of my best friends are writers, and that moral license inevitability compels me to tell them my favorite writer joke.

“What’s the difference between a writer and a large pizza? A large pizza can feed a family of four.”

For me, this joke is a test of character. If they think it’s funny, it’s because they understand the struggle but if they don’t it means they understand only the fear and treat it as an insult.

How could it not be? There are plenty of successful writers, and they dominate mediums like literature, television and comics. I think that reading Ryan’s books will help cure you of the inability to get the joke.

If you are a writer, I recommend these books – there are too many important ideas in them to ignore. But the most critical theme between the two of them is the simple and stoic idea of knowing, and being honest with yourself.

If you don’t laugh at my jokes, I promise I won’t take it personally. But maybe you should.

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WonderCon post mortem

Literally the worst best convention ever. Hyperbole aplenty at this year’s con, the one show where I feel like there’s enough action and an audience for what I do. And that, honestly can confuse people because I do a lot.

When you walk by my table, you usually get a glimpse of my sculpture. For three or so years, I have been using 3d printed sculptures to draw people to my table. This year printed out a digital model of a concept I painted digitally a year or so prior. It was a nice progresson, 2d, to 3d, to 3d print. Cool right?

The morning of the second day, as the rush of people grew, one of my fellow exhibitors knocked over the statue. Most of the tentacles snapped right off. I was mentally prepared for this to happen before the show, but I really thought I was going to knock it over and not someone else.

It was a proud moment for me – I was actually trying to finish a commission when it happened and that turned out pretty darn cool.

I actually felt the palpable panic of the people next to me, who were very apologetic and far more embarassed than I was. It felt strange, usually I’m the one who freaks out, throws a fit, leaves, or just throws in the towel. I guess the added pressure of having to finish a commission for an old friend took the pressure off more than added to it. The pressure to create after destruction, it’s rocket fuel.

But I knew I printed that object so fast and light that it was particularly fragile. I took the risk. But even with the shattered tentacles, the piece still drew quite a few people curious about the look – to some people it looked like a demonic Venus De Milo, broken but still beautiful and almost unimaginable any other way.

It sits shattered at the very highest point on my desk hutch. Like a trophy.

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Deadlines and pricing

I have a few options with my latest book, all of which are driven by the WonderCon Deadline this year.

I made it into the show, that’s not the problem. I wrapped up my last days on the show I was working on – they day job – and took on a freelance job which put me a full two weeks behind the much more comfortable schedule for delivering Pages of Eight 3 at WonderCon this year.

Since getting my Ultimaker 2, I’ve been trying to have a cool new printed project every year – something to have at the table that starts conversations. This year is no different, but with barely enough time to finish Pages of Eight, I might just print out some older projects instead.

I did think I would print out something else from another show I worked on. I got to build and animate a fun horror comedy creature sequence in the Sundance premiere of Snathcers from some fun UCLA alumni.

Hopefully, they can sell the series and I might get to work on it again, but I like having something at the table which represents a broader swath of what I do. Printing out the Snatcher creature itself would be a fun way to show that.

I might even be able to print it out life size – the actual creature was barely a foot long. Crouching over a skull – that might be pretty cool looking. Though I’d need almost as many weeks to print and paint it as I have for Pages of Eight. And I can’t sell the Snatcher, really. I have no rights to its design. A lot of work for a showpiece.

SO when I make up my mind, the show will have ended already, HAHA.

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Chunky Man Bun and other fads

I get that people have dramatically cooled on open source software – just like they have cooled to 3d printing, Furby’s and Cabbage Patch Kids. BTW, the title of this post was just me picking on someone who walked into the coffee shop. I can be so superficial. But deep down I’m REALLY shallow. Smirk.

But people still have enormous appetites for certain things – stuff that’s past it’s heyday and prime. Some of us don’t let go. There are things I know I’ve grown out of so to speak – I don’t avidly do anything popular culture oriented (ok, I was a Twitter fiend for a year, tops). I haven’t had cable television for at least seven years. Stopped collecting comics twenty years ago, and don’t have Netflix.

But I am usually always aware somehow of trends – you can’t avoid them with Twitter, Instagram and other apps these days. I still get email detailing trends, whether that’s spam or not is up to the filters.

I had a discussion with a friend the other day where we were talking about the shrinking market of independent comics. A market that was already small, driven by its own creators and given very little credence in the other popular arts. It’s such an easy predictor of some people’s behavior – if it gets popular they jump on board.

So maybe the glow of The Walking Dead has worn off to the point where no one is mining independent titles for another prognostication of creative and financial success. Saga, anyone? No?

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