Retrace your steps.

I’ve been spinning in place a bit. On a whim, I tried dipping into Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies for a little inpiration, and the message was “Retrace your steps.” I wandered back through the timeline of my experiences as an artist, and arrived at the time when I had first fallen in love with the computer as a creative tool. I was using my Apple Macintosh LC, and had installed a program called “Canvas” that had an unbelievable set of both vector and pixel tools. I remember the clean, infinitely-tweakable lines (command-Z, how I love thee!) that I could use to make drawings. I wish I’d managed to save some of that stuff so we could have a good laugh.

Anyway, like any proper geek, I have a dual-boot system with Vista and Ubuntu. Part of my inertia has been related to frustration with the constant pull of new and newly-upgraded software, especially the heaps of cash involved. Thus the appeal of Ubuntu – and of Inkscape thereon. Inkscape is, IMO, the best Open Source software available. I own a license of Adobe Illustrator, and DREAD opening that bloated behemoth – Inkscape doesn’t have the depth of tools, but that’s the point. It is a streamlined Illustrator driven by the needs of the user rather than the need of a corporation to sell licenses and upgrades. Another contrast comes from my involvement in 3d modeling – it just starts to feel like the means are so involved that the ends often seem off in the foggy distance. Vector drawing brings the immediacy of making marks on paper to the computer, while still allowing amazing control over the process.

Here’s what I did in Inkscape:

Meme is finished.

Meme - Finished - 03
Jafe Parsons got some preliminary shots to me this weekend of the finished “Meme” sculpture. Really, really pleased with this one. I think it is my best work to date – if that statement actually means anything. I oftentimes feel that my latest effort is my best; it takes a bit of time and perspective to get a true sense of how a single work fits into an oeuvre. Yet this does feel like a less tentative, bolder statement of form that is derived intrinsically and exclusively from my current process – the computer as primary tool for sculptural expression.


I’ve been working on some ideas for more utilitarian designs – if you can call a candleholder useful. The first image is the sheet metal shapes as modeled in FormZ.
Candle Holder Model
And here is the first prototype in 14 gauge stainless.
Candle holder
This is (kinda) what it looks like with a tea light candle inside. I made a little platform that sits inside that will hopefully make the thing a little safer – the top of the enclosure does get pretty hot, but one of the unique properties of stainless steel is it’s low thermal conductivity compared to other metals. The top gets hot but the sides stay cool.
Candle holder Lit
The whole point of this piece is the pattern generated by the flickering light traveling through the holes, but my low-light camera skills is be real goodz – I could show you the pretty black rectangle I made, but… yeah.


Meme 1
This idea – or at least the seed of it – has been floating around inside my mind’s eye for quite a while. I finally have the tools to make it a reality, which I find pretty damn exciting. It is meant as a symbolic treatment of Richard Dawkins’ “meme” concept:

“A meme (pronounced /miːm/) consists of any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods and terms such as race, culture, and ethnicity. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a “culture” in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a gene.” (From the Wikipedia article.)

It’s that “propagate” bit that this piece plays on in the form of a concentric ripple – an idea moving from mind to mind like a wave, spreading out from it’s origin and altering the energy state of other ideas within the culture. It also employs the imagery of a matrix or lattice to illustrate the memeplex being made up of individual, discrete consciousnesses experiencing a collective and individual transformation through the propagation. I think of this process when I analyze the slow but steady progress our species is making from one cultural paradigm to the next, as ideas like liberty, responsibility, and reason spread virally and replace those of dominance, exploitation, and superstition. As more minds begin to cohere, constructive interference amplifies these waves – and everything gets just a little bit better.

Control Freak, Let Go!

Making art is a very personal process that oftentimes borders on mental masturbation. Maybe that’s why I like it so much >grin<.

Creativity can be seen as a dialog you are having with yourself, with the dialectic centering around finding balance between your own skills and the qualia of the medium your dealing with. For me, there is a fine line between craftsmanship and fussiness – perfection is an idea, not a reality. If your work is exclusively about dotting i.’s and crossing t.’s, expressing nothing more than “look how good I am”, then it’s appeal to an audience that is not you becomes pretty limited. Striding the razor’s edge between craft and expression can be seen as the fundamental struggle of artistic endeavor. I have learned to trust my eyes and my hands to produce that which I see in my mind’s eye – but I’ve also payed a price physically while developing that trust. Both wrists and my right shoulder are permanently damaged from pushing just a little harder to get that piece done. Growing older and becoming more involved in large Public art projects have forced me to outsource the fabrication of the bigger sculptures, with a commensurate loss of control. I’m still learning how to make this new process work.
Big "Together" 1
The above pictured piece, “Together”, was fabricated by Master Metal Works here in Fort Collins. They’ve done a good job – but not as good as I would have done. That’s the crux of the issue: surrendering just enough control to get the work done without sacrificing the overall quality of the sculpture.

Digital Sculpture

Sometimes I feel really limited by the constraints of reality on my creativity. Trying to always figure out how to make something out of real-world materials can be a serious buzzkill. Inside my computer, though, I’m free to experiment and do things that would be impossible eldewhere. I use the amazing ZBrush to sculpt digitally what I can’t make with my welder. Very fun.