Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Using what you don't know you know

A while ago this video was all over the Internet: 3D Printed House.

OK, it's a very small house. And it's the Russians, so it could be a Potemkin house, or they could be cheating in some other ways: maybe the printer only ran for 24 hours but they're not mentioning that it stopped every fifteen minutes for teams of plumbers and electricians. But it's also... the future.

And I wasn't ready for it. Here I've got one book in a series finished (AWAKENING) and I'm a quarter into the book that happens before that one (INSURGENTS) and I was only giving my 24th-century colonists the ability to print slabs of wall-like stuff that had to be hinged together. That's what you get for not keeping up with technology! Ok, not a vital part of either story, quick revision, now they've got building printers.

Now reading a tad more diligently, I came across a story about a 3D printed RPG. My son-in-law commented that that required them to print steel...

Mental headslap. Of course they can print steel. Even I, with nothing but a jewelry kiln and some basic modeling tools, can make steel shapes! The technology's been there for years. All you need is a base of tiny steel particles in a moldable binder and some way to heat the shape at the right time/temperatures to (a) burn off the binder and (b) sinter the steel. OK, there are a few other issues, but that's the basic idea.

It started with precious metal clay, you see, which gave jewelers fine silver or gold in just such a binder. That's been around for what, 20 years? And after that came copper clay and bronze clay and steel clay. Any of those "clay" bases can be thinned to make "ink" just by diluting them.

So... my guerillas in INSURGENTS have just stolen a printer that makes solar-chargeable blasters. And the steel "ink" to put in it. They may have melted their first couple of attempts (Hey: I know a LOT about failures with this material) but they are now figuring it out with the help of an antique jewelry-making book. I feel it's a happy combination of using what I know combined with what I just found out about.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Speed bumps

Nothing gets writers arguing faster than discussing optimal writing speed. (Well, ok... also contracts, advances, royalties, publicity, the future of indie, POV... what can I say? We like to bicker; it's so much easier than actually writing.)

When I'm avoiding work by browsing the Internet, I can find dogmatic statements concerning just about any writing speed you want to name. They range from "You're not a REAL writer unless you produce umpteen thousand words a day like ME," to, "Anyone who produces more than one book a year is shallow, careless, and just cranking out words mechanically."

I'd like to propose a new standard.

(1) Anyone who averages fewer words a day than I do is just a hobbyist who will never amount to anything.

(2) Anyone who averages more words a day than I do is just a hack writer who will never amount to anything.

There! Something we can all agree on.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Being Wen Redmond

That's just wish-fulfillment, of course. What I'm actually doing is imitating Wen Redmond. I recently bought her Digital Fiber Art. I've admired her work for years but hadn't realized how much she uses Photoshop to get her wonderful, colorful, complicated, layered images. Immediately I wanted to fool around with some of my own pictures in Photoshop to see if I could get similar effects.

After fooling around with Photoshop-generated backgrounds, I decided it took less time to make a colorful collage and scan it than it did to mess around in Photoshop trying to make one part of the background look like painted lace, another like torn paper, etc. I made a couple of quick and dirty collages using spray adhesive and my copious collection of paper and fabric scraps.

This is a snapshot I took in New England, of a deserted house under bare trees.

Next I applied the Stamp filter to get a strong black and white image.

I cropped the picture so that the large tree on the right was the dominant image, overlaid it on the pink collage using Multiply blending mode, and cropped again.

This weathered door was another snapshot taken in New England.

Because I wanted to keep the peeling-paint texture of the door, this time I didn't run it through any filters; I just overlaid it on the yellow collage. What? In overlay mode, what else?

I like the subtle, mystical effect of the overlay blending mode here - the door seems to be floating in space. Cutting away the image on either side of the door and inserting a contrasting layer made the floating effect even stronger. This cut's not perfect, but good enough for experimental purposes; if I decide to print this one onto fabric, I'll select the sides very carefully before doing anything else, and try out filling them with different colors and textures. I'm thinking a dark, cloudy sky might look good here.

And finally, here's a snapshot of a jali in Udaipur, layered in Multiply mode over two layers of the yellow collage (one rotated 180 degreea) and the top collage blended in Difference mode.

Nothing so great here, but with a bit more fooling around I think I might come up with something that would be interesting to print on fabric and then to embroider/bead/quilt.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reaching a tipping point

I have to write a certain number of words before a book really 'comes alive,' for me. Part of it is getting to know my main characters better; part of it may simply be that it takes a while to persuade my brain that it really does have to turn itself on and generate a certain number of words every day.

It seems that I reached that point on INSURGENTS yesterday, at 9000 words. Today's 1,000 words were effortless; I could see and hear what was going on in the chapter, and all I had to do was type at top speed trying to get it all down. I love it when this starts to happen, not only because writing is no longer hard work, but also because writing in this mode seems to smooth out something in my brain. I become a nicer person, kind to children and small animals and actually willing to cook for the First Reader. I shouldn't be surprised if this actually alters something in my brain chemistry, generating endorphins like exercise or playing chamber music.

This shift is also why I had to have a sitter when the children were small. I'm really not safe to watch over small children in this mode, because I stop hearing and seeing what's going on in the outside world.

There's a temptation to go on and shoot for 2,000 or 3,000 or more words. I've done that in the past, when faced with deadlines, and it really doesn't work out very well for me. I can push it for maybe a week, but then I pay the price with several days of staring at the air and feeling like a total idiot whose brains have just been scooped out with a spoon. It seems my personal story-generating mechanism works at a rate of 1,000 words/day and that's that; if I speed up one week, I stop altogether the next week, so I'm not really that far ahead. And before anybody says, "But look at John Ringo," I would like to point out that I don't have the use of John Ringo's brain and his inexhaustible, high-speed story generator.

In any case - Hallelujah! Good Friday has been very good to me.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mass-produced protests

The morning after Trump's missile strike on Syria, there were already anti-war protestors in the streets. I'm not necessarily in disagreement with their point - I certainly don't believe any good can come out of our entanglement with that particular mess - but I do think they're rushing to conclusions. (The First Reader and I disagree here. He thinks 59 Tomahawks amount to a declaration of war; I think the message is more, "If you use chemical weapons, we will make you sorry." We'll all have to wait and see, I guess.)

But I am impressed by the speed and professionalism of these protests. Look at the picture. How did they get professionally printed signs less than twenty-four hours after the event they're protesting? That requires some serious organization to get the posters printed and distributed. (It's not just this one picture; there are plenty more, revealing a wide variety and distribution of posters.)

The fact of protests doesn't trouble me. The evidence of an unidentified organization behind the protests, just waiting for an event that can be protested, with the money and power to create very professional signs on a moment's notice and then distribute them across the country? That does trouble me. I'd really, really like to know where those signs came from.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Washing garbage

I hate it when I have to throw written words away. Hate, hate, hate it. I try to get it generally right the first time, and if that doesn't happen, I'd rather delete a passage when revising the complete first draft, by which time I have forgotten just how much work it was to write that scene the first time.

Sometimes, though, there's no reasonable alternative. I've been struggling with the first three chapters of INSURGENTS (working title). At first I thought it was just the pain of starting to write again after several weeks off; when I start a new book I always mope around the house for the first few days complaining that I've forgotten how hard it is to write. So I didn't immediately recognize the Second Law of Writing, which is that if you are agonizing and struggling to write a scene there is probably something wrong with it. After all, these opening chapters did everything I wanted them to: show a rebel raid on an outpost, bring my two main characters together, set up that they're going to have to stay together for some time whether they like it or not, and create a new problem for the rebels arising from the raid.

The only problem was that it wasn't believable. The outpost was seriously undermanned for no reason, my secondary character had no good reason for being there, the ruse that made the raid possible wouldn't work, even if it did the raid would only succeed if the invaders did a whole slew of stupid things... Well, I fixed this and explained that; asked my First Reader to take a look at it; he pointed out some new problems; while he was reading I noticed some other problems.

Then I realized that I was putting patches on top of patches to save a structure that was unsound in the beginning.

That's when you're "washing garbage." When, no matter how much you change words and dialog and insert explanatory background, you're still working with a fundamentally flawed idea. And it's still going to smell like dead fish and coffee grounds no matter how often you wash it.

So, this weekend, eleven thousand words went into the recycling bin and I spent most of my time reading books on guerrilla warfare and IED's in the hope of shaking a new idea loose. (If anyone's interested, the book I found most useful was The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War and the least useful was Mao's Guerrilla Warfare.

Now, I hope, I've got an entirely new surface plot with the same deep plot (those things I wanted to accomplish in the opening chapters) underlying it.

Let's see how hard it is to write this version.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Appearances are improving

So ok, it was something about the snazzy new theme I was trying to use. Reverted to a simpler model and now my posts are showing up.

The blog may look different from day to day as I fiddle with the settings, trying to persuade the thing to show exactly what I want it to show and make it legible. This seems like a good time to do that since I expect both of my loyal readers have given up on me in the past couple of years, so nobody's going to be discombobulated if the labels list suddenly bursts into flames or a dragon pokes his head through the middle of the latest post.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Two years later

It has been almost exactly two years since part of my spine collapsed and with it, much of my life. There's nothing so boring as other people's back problems, so here's the executive overview: months flat on my back because I could neither stand not sit without excruciating pain; trying every remedy suggested until my last hope was surgery; months looking for a surgeon who would tackle the problem; more months in bed recovering from surgery; physical therapy; pneumonia setting me back months in the recovery process.

No, not a fun time. But I am extremely grateful for the miracle that is modern American surgery, without which I would have been a permanent invalid. Now, thanks to the insertion of a new spine segment composed of titanium and cadaver bones, I'm just a grouchy old lady who ought to get back to doing the PT exercises regularly. (Yes, the corpse bones thing is kind of creepy. But just imagine how much creepier it must feel to get a heart transplant!)

A funny thing happened on the way to recovery. For some years I had felt burned out as a writer and was doing nothing but fiber arts and other craftsy stuff. Now the stories are starting to bubble up in my head again.

And the world of publishing has changed since I drifted away. The Kindle was just a gleam in Jeff Bezos' eye back then; now e-books are everywhere and my bookmarks list overfloweth with advice for writers who want to try indie publishing. I've always been a little bit curious about how my books would sell if they weren't printed and distributed by somebody who had decided in advance something like "midlist, not worth pushing." Not that I have any gripes with any of my former publishers; I'd just like to try this indie thing and see how it works out. This seems like an auspicious time to start.

This is, of course, assuming that I can not only write the books but also deal with cover art, blurb, formatting and all the other details that a publisher handles for you. I think I can. But that may be a degree of optimism bordering on hubris, given that I've been fiddling with Blogger for over an hour and have not yet persuaded it to show a blogroll in the sidebar.

Whoops... Preview shows text and blogroll; when I hit publish, neither appears. Time to save this draft and try again tomorrow, I guess. t

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Embroidery from Game of Thrones

Okay, I have not been doing much for the last month except torturing myself trying to take sharp pictures of resin pendants with the only camera I own, a slim little digital point-and-shoot. This setting, that setting, outside, inside, downstairs, upstairs, in my lady's chamber...

Sorry, got a little carried away there. I've got a couple of friends who understand photography and I've begged them for help, but it's difficult because they speak Photography. I'd understand them better if they spoke Swahili and that's not a figure of speech, it's the literal truth. Anyway, looks as if a slightly more sophisticated camera may be in my future.

The last few days I've been thinking that I don't want to make any more resin pendants if I can't find some way to photograph and sell them, and isn't it about time to get back to playing with fiber, maybe a small embroidery....Then a friend sent me a link to Michele Carragher's website. and there went the afternoon, drooling over her incredibly rich work - and yes, she does the embroidery for Game of Thrones. Now I want to encourage everyone I know to waste their own time looking at all the pictures on this incredible website. By the way, the home page has a link to a page called "How I Create an Embroidery." Don't miss it. And be sure to scroll down until you get to the jeweled bugs.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The rest of the dichrophane saga

OK, so it's not "tomorrow" in terms of the last post. Things take more time now. And we're at the other end of the resin-setting spectrum, when it's so chilly in my workshop that I have a really long working time with the mixed resin...and a really long period of waiting for it to set up. A nice incandescent lamp over the stuff would speed the process; maybe I'll set one up before the cold weather ends. Anyway, I've been fooling with that polymer-clay-and-dichrophane piece. First thing needed, obviously, was to tone down that brilliant background. The bezel had a watery feel to it, so I poured a thin layer of lightly tinted blue-green resin.

A lot better than the initial look, but it still wasn't as dark as I wanted it. So when that had set up, I added a tiny silver fish and covered it with seriously dark blue resin.I wanted the value to shade from light at the top to very dark at the back, so while this was curing I deliberately didn't lay it quite flat. Two little pieces of paper towel lifted the top just enough to encourage a glacial drain towards the bottom. I think the cold weather and long setting time helped here; in summer I might use just one piece of paper towel. Or one piece of copy paper. A little unevenness goes a long way!

I'm happy with the colors now, so in a few days...when that pour was finally set up....I added the swan charm and covered everything with clear resin. The clay bezel is resin-coated too, to protect the layers of paint and patina and dye that I used to get the color I wanted.

Does this last photo look just slightly better than the first two? I finally broke down and bought a tiny little light box. I've spent several days fooling with lights and angles and have finally decided that there's no way I can get the Great Big Photo Flood Lights that I bought for photographing quilts to play nicely with the light box, not when it wants to sit on the work table and the floodlights want to stand on the floor. It's just too darn hard to get the lights at the angle I need. This is the last photo I snapped before dismantling the whole apparatus,and it's not as bad as the others; all my test pictures were of more difficult pieces that came out either all shiny and glaring, or sunk in deep shadow, or half of one and half of the other. So I've ordered a couple of tabletop photo lights, and we will try again after they arrive...which should be just after Three Kings Day.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dichrophane and resin and polymer clay, oh my!

So....this summer I finally overcame my fear of two-part epoxy resin,thanks to Carmi Cimicata's wonderful blog Resin Crafts and all the juicy, sparkling things she makes.

For a while I went through the stage of putting anything stable and shallow enough into a bezel,containing it in resin,and usually dropping in some glitter or pearls or AB crystals,and that was very satisfying. Then it got to be mid-July. In Texas.

Two-part resin likes two things. It likes to be stirred for 5 minutes to get the resin and the hardener well and truly mixed. And it likes a nice warm room to help it set up faster. Well, by midsummer the my studio was so warm that my resin was trying to set solid while I was still mixing it. O kay. I can take a hint. God doesn't like people trying to mix resin in the height of the summer. So I put the equipment and supplies away and decided this would be a good time to organize the studio,throw out dried-up glue and paint and moldy sponges and alien life forms trying to crawl out of the bucket of soda solution I was saving in case I suddenly needed to dye anything.

It was a slow process,even with my Organizer daughter's help; we spent a lot of time languidly reclining with our Diet Cokes and discussing the utter discomfort of being in the last month of pregnancy during the hottest month of the year.But we got it done. And two days after that,she produced the First Grandkid. And two days after that,I got out of bed and screamed in surprise at the lightning bolt of pain running down from my left hip.

Everybody's body starts falling apart eventually,and the details are not really interesting to others,so I'll try to keep it short.After rounds of appointments with orthopedists,spine doctors, X rays,an acupuncturist,and pain management specialists,the consensus of opinion is that my lower vertebrae are crumbling like a Roman ruin, whenever I move they pinch a nerve,there's no obvious surgical fix,and how about some nice hydrocodone to help with the pain?

I loathe taking opiates;they make me slow and stupid. I'll take one at night,because I'm not planning to use my brain anyway,and Steve was finding it disconcerting to have me move in my sleep and wake up screaming.And I'll take half of one in the morning to help get through the morning stiffness.

The rest of the day I chew rusty nails and grind the enamel off my teeth.

So what does this have to do with ART? Well...just that my life has grown smaller all of a sudden.Working through pain,whether it's Art or merely laundry,is surprisingly tiring.I've shaved my housework to the minimum,and I find myself attracted to small,quick projects that don't require much stretching and bending.Alors,back to the resin pendants.Except now I want more space for my mini-compositions,and more depth so I can create,well,a sense of depth.A study of supplies online convinced me that I'd either have to do some serious metalsmithing or pay through the nose for pendant trays that were not even what I really wanted.

Enter polymer clay.I'm not sure how this will work out in the long run,but I've produced several pendant trays that aren't half bad.The example at the top is textured black clay brushed with Pearl-Ex,with a square of dichrophane pressed into the back layer.It's too much; it's too glitzy; I need to tone it down some so that the mesage of the piece won't be,"Hey,Ma! I got me a big new sparkly thing to wear with my pole-dancing outfit!"

Solutions, possibilities. I'll try something today (if I wake up in time)and report on the results.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A brief return to quilting

For those who may think that I simply skip from project to experiment to project, I present this as evidence that I do so finish (some) things! Granted, the First Grandkid is already three months old, but I know of some grandchildren who were in kindergarten before their crib quilts are finished. It's not a very demanding design, but it's to the Organizer's specs: she said his room theme was going to be elephants, and elephants he got; red and gold ones galumphing all over the quilt. (You can't tell from the picture, but the red pieces actually have gold elephants printed on them.)

Fortunately she didn't add the information that his room theme was going to be grey and ecru elephants. At least this doesn't clash with them, and I explained to her that most of the elephants I'd seen up close and personal were in Tsavo National Park, which has red soil and little rain, so they actually were red - well, covered in red dust. They blended quite well with the landscaps. A little too well. The road from Mombasa to Nairobi was, after you got into the uplands, well over two hundred miles of dead-straight two-lane and it was dangerously easy to get into a sort of driving trance in which you assumed a red elephant in the road ahead was a piece of the distant horizon until you were much too close to him. At which point one would turn off the engine and sit very quietly and politely in the car until the elephant decided to move.(As a matter of principle, I never honk at anything that outweighs me by more than two tons.)

Ah well, that was 40 years ago. I wonder if they've kept that road low-profile and easy to cross in the interests of the wildlife, or if it's been turned into a freeway with fences and occasional bridges over Designated Animal Crossings?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dichrophane dragon in detail

Let's start by taking a look at the whole dragon. All the dichrophane was fused with the painted side down, so you look through the iridescence at the color. The two sample pieces I photographed yesterday didn't look all that different, but as you see, the colors really pop once you press the dichrophane flat onto a neutral surface. I used Pinata inks for all the colors; diluted for the wings, full strength for the body and flame.
There are plenty of subtle color variations within each piece, too.
Look how clean and sharp the pointy bits are! I embroidered over the edge of the whole piece to define the outline (and,to be honest, because I never totally trust fused things not to start curling up at the edges) and none of the dichrophane split, even when I got to the teensy little ends of these points.
I got out my embellisher and felted down lots and lots of coordinating fibers to reduce the glare of the dichrophane to a hint of glitz peeking through. Okay, a lot of glitz. It's still not as blinding as the initial version, trust me. The needlefelting worked because I was using mohair fibers and the base fabric was felt. It would also have worked if I had used a piece of cotton fabric bonded to felt as the base, which probably would have been a better design decision.
I didn't do much needlefelting on the flames coming out of his mouth because I wanted them to glow. I did add a little orange embroidery along the mouth to dispel the disconcerting impression (in the initial fused piece) that the flames were just coming out of nowhere.

So - that's it! You've got glitz, color, flexibility, fusability, no fraying, and you can stitch through it by hand or machine. I am so in love with this stuff!