WordPress.

Switching this site over to WordPress in order to (hopefully) secure it from any future structural changes in my hosting provider.

Note to others: The original spirit of the web is being slain by the likes of Tumblr, Facebook, et al. YOU should take ownership of your online content, not hand it over to the latest corporate fad or nameless overlord.

Some links are currently broken. I have a back-up over here.

Fun Weekend.

Got to hang out backstage at Red Rocks with the cool kids from Devotchka. Wow, chapter 1.

Sold out show for Devotchka and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Followed that up with a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens to check out the Chihuly glass work there. Amazeballs.

Who am I?

Sculptor?
Painter?
3d Computer Graphics guy?
CAD jockey?
Illustrator?
D-d-d-designer?

I’ve been bouncing around, swapping hats rapid-fire. I’ve posted here before regarding this exact issue, but feel like the time has come to settle down and focus. Firstly, I will always be a sculptor. 23 years of effort, frustration, success, and failure is not something I’m willing to turn my back on. I’ve refined my process and settled into a groove that allows me to put together designs for Public Art projects which are unique and interesting – plus, the CAD aspect minimizes material waste and maximizes my ability to leverage outsourced fabricators, freeing myself somewhat from the physical wear and tear of the craft. That said, my ability to keep the bills paid AND stay fully engaged on a creative level requires that I not place all my artistic eggs in one basket.

So, is painting the right direction? Looking back at my posts here, I can definitely see the light of real passion shining through when I talk about the process and struggle of oil painting. The physicality, the spontaneity, the sheer joy of color is brightly illuminated – both in those posts and in my minds eye. There is a downside, though. That very process is inherently wasteful, producing scads of studies that have no market value and influencing the market for the production of toxic chemicals and solvents that I’d rather not tacitly or directly participate in. Another aspect is a limitation of my own naivete of the medium: I don’t feel I’m capable of producing work that qualifies as “modern” or “contemporary”, which is something I value. It may be simply that I haven’t put in enough time at the easel to have developed the sophisticated “voice” that I feel I have as a sculptor. So it boils down to needing to invest the time AND waste the materials to become a REAL painter. Or I could choose another route.

I love the scope of possibility that modeling 3d objects entails, especially when the constraints of  manufacturability are removed. Plus, the skills learned there are very useful to others when it comes to prototyping products, visualizing design iterations, and crafting promotional materials. The huge downside to this that I’ve been experiencing is the FEEL of this process: it degrades into button pressing and slider fiddling, poking and prodding the software in a way that blurs the distinction of who (or what) is in charge. I feel like I become a technician rather than an artist, and I just don’t like that feeling at all.

It just dawned on me that this is the core issue – over the years, I’ve managed to split myself, analogous to the hemispheres of the brain, into two distinct entities: the Artist and the Engineer. One handles the creative side of things while the other doggedly attempts to shoehorn that creativity into a physical “product” that can be fabricated and sold. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this split, until the two forces begin to wrestle for control – at which point it’s time to decide who is in charge.

I’m choosing to be an artist. The ability to create things, hopefully beautiful things, is more important to me than mastering CAD programs and sussing out how to isolate an ambient occlusion layer. I may be splitting hairs here, but that medium which allows me the most direct route from idea to its manifestation is the one I want. I’m not willing to give up the power of Undo and all the other benefits the computer brings to the ideation process, so that aspect of the Engineer and his tools will remain, but minimized as much as possible. Stay tuned and lets see where this leads.

Ahhh… Thats more like it.


My Workspace, originally uploaded by mark leichliter.

I finally got fed up with the fan noise, the clutter, and the general lack of wonderful that was my old desktop Windows system. Opted to indulge my inner minimalist and went for a 17″ MacBook Pro. I really like this setup, plus I have a Bootcamped Windows XP partition that runs SolidWorks and Rhino beautifully. To top it off, I was able to sell the whole system to a friend in dire need of an upgrade – shiny, happy people and shiny, happy computers all around.

Birthday!

As near as we can decipher, today Lola is three years old. Congratulations on surviving your sketchy childhood, your trying adolescence, and the rules of your monkeys.

Lola_Is_Tree

I just realized that this photo contains my three favorite things – Ren, Lola, and Beer. Sweet.

Postbarf.

In an effort to make up for a dearth of posts, here’s a whole bunch of crap vomited into the tubes all at once.
BookMobile - bottom 2
Book mobile design for a school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here’s another angle:
BookMobile - top
Buffalo - Pattern and Model
Once again when I’m desperate for cash, my friend Bruce comes through. I spent quite a bit of time working with him to get a usable unfolded pattern made for his buffalo piece. Looking forward to seeing it finished one of these days.
Ristra Mobile
Have some good clients down in Santa Fe who are looking to find a way to bring some durability to the omnipresent ristra. (They are having problems with the wind, mice and ants destroying the traditional ones.) This was my first concept, which fails on the wind-resistance front. Presently working on iteration number two.

Net Operating Loss – A simple How-to

Finished up my taxes after much trepidation and procrastination. The final tally: a Net Operating Loss – which means I lost money in 2008 and don’t owe the IRS a cent. Yippee? For the curious, here’s a simple diagram that explains how to achieve such a feat:
Water and Power DimsAPPROXfigs
Water and Power 25ft. (!)
Translation: Just agree to enlarge your job by 50% without a commensurate increase in compensation – or, just be a frickin’ idiot.
That is all.

That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

Here’s a peek into what has me so excited about Solidworks:
TetSunCapture
This is what the model looks like as you’re working on it. Shadows, perspective, depth cues, surface textures – wow. And that’s just the display. This is what I was working with before:
TetSun-FormZCapture
That may not seem like a major deal, but in practice every little nuance that improves your interaction with the virtual model means less eye strain, better comprehension, and fewer errors.

The geometry you see in the first picture is an honest-to-reality depiction of the sheet metal, folded up and mated together with allowances for overlap and k-factor built right in. Previously, the 3d models I made were paper-thin approximations that required me to grind the metal down to compensate for the lack of thickness. That may again sound like no big deal – but the last one of these I fabbed ended up with a nearly 1 inch gap between the first and last tetrahedrons, all because of the thickness of the metal multiplied by the number of parts (.063 inches X 12 parts =.756 inches).

Pictures are indeed worth lots of inane rambling:
Tetrahedral Sun Fab 1
Tetrahedral Sun Fab 2
Tetrahedral Sun Fab 3
Tetrahedral Sun Fab 4
In the last image you can see that the one remaining tetra will not be enough to complete the loop.

Now, imagine if I were making this thing 16 feet tall – that little error becomes a very big problem. Pulling a little gap together in the small one becomes warping and ruining the piece on the big one.

Going back to Windows with an aching in my heart.

I’m typing this entry in Microsoft OneNote on my new Vista-based workstation.

WHAT?! The Apple fanboy has joined the enemy? Turncoat!

Yep.

The single biggest reason I have for doing so is software-related. If you remember back to this post, I was having enormous difficulties getting my modeling software to properly create the geometry I needed for the Water & Power project. Much of that difficulty was a result of what the software developers call “training issues” – a kind euphemism for operator error. Those errors were a direct result of me trying to shoehorn general-purpose modeling into a very specific, sheet metal and structural steel framework. After several additional weeks of cussing and learning, I THOUGHT I had resolved my issues and developed usable 2d patterns from my 3d models. A few weeks later, I came to find out (the hard way) that I was mistaken – some cut lines had been omitted from the pattern, which entailed reworking the patterns all the way from their 3d state for those particular shapes. I was able to do so and then generate some cutting templates with the help of the big printers at Kinko’s, but the whole error resulted in a pretty expensive change order at the fabricator. Not to mention the stress and the added work for me.

I realized at that point that if I wanted to continue to push myself and my designs via CAD, I was going to have to find a toolset and workflow that would minimize these kinds of errors. My trust in the current set of software tools I was utilizing had been undermined and the need for something new was self-evident.

Solidworks to the rescue.

I got an evaluation license and set up a Bootcamped Windows XP partition on my Macbook Pro. I did all the included tutorials, watched a few hours of demo videos on Youtube and elsewhere. WOW. Solidworks can do everything I was contorting myself to do in my previous packages (yes, plural) all in one unified workspace – and it can do it with an elegance and sheer power that blows me away. The most significant aspect is the History, which allows you to make changes to existing designs while automatically updating said design to compensate for the change. For example, say I decide to change the material for a sculpture from 16 gauge A36 steel sheet to 14 gauge 304 stainless steel. All that is needed is to tell the sheet metal feature in the feature tree that fact, and all the bend allowances, offsets, etc. are updated on the fly. In addition, any drawings that have been produced (again, right inside Solidworks) are immediately updated to reflect the change. That last bit is HUGE, since the downstream manufacturers rely on these drawings to fab the design. With my previous system, I would have to manually make any necessary changes to the 3d model, re-develop the patterns, export the patterns to my drawing program, and annotate the revisions there. Each of these steps introduces the possibility of mistakes – both mine and import/export related ones. Eliminating them means eliminating a big percentage of the errors that result in expensive change orders. Sweet. Now, mind you, all this power comes at a steep price – but one that can pretty quickly be compensated for in error-free projects.

 

OK, so, if I’m able to run it on my mac laptop, why a new computer? Unfortunately, the makers of Solidworks, Dassault Systemes, do not offer support for running it on macs. It makes zero sense to invest several thousand dollars on a software package only to run it on a cobbled-together system that precludes you from technical support in the advent of problems. Plus, Solidworks is a very hardware-intensive package, and a serious desktop workstation allows one to use it to fullest advantage.

Moving from OS X to Windows Vista is a pretty jarring experience – mostly in terms of attitude toward the user. Maybe it is just general familiarity, but Apple seems to have crafted a user environment that leaves less to bewilderment and officiousness. Not a day goes by on Vista where I’m not wondering what the hell that dialog box means or why that error occurred – something that, in all seriousness, almost never happened on the mac. I understand the why behind this – Apple does not have the legacy overhead for both software and hardware that Microsoft has to deal with, and of course the sheer number and variety of users forces Bill and Ballmer and Co’s hand. But I personally would pay extra to MS to have a simplified, less paranoid version of Windows to run Solidworks on. Here’s hoping Windows 7 is a step in that direction.

I’ll miss you, little Macbook.

Ch-ch-ch-changes.

Thing are under construction around here. I’ll post a more detailed explanation of what’s going on soon – but for now, suffice it to say that I’m moving back to Blogger and using it as my main web portal. I was able to consolidate all my old Emptyful posts into this new Exocubic Studio blog using Google’s Blogger in Draft mode, which allows importing and exporting whole blogs. So if you haven’t had a chance to look at the old stuff, there are actually some pretty interesting posts from way back. Here are a couple:

Making a Monument
Moldmaking

Talk about coming around full circle:
Evolution

Environmental responsibility and the artist.

Gormley_waste_man
This picture, of Antony Gormley’s “Waste Man” burning – filling the air with the noxious smoke of tons of discarded wood – set me thinking. Uh oh.

I understand that part of the point of this piece was to call attention to the massive amounts of waste we in the developed world produce, and to highlight the ephemeral essence of all the “stuff” we strive so hard to acquire. Gormley is one of my favorite sculptors – but this kind of condescending spectacle has definitely lowered his esteem in my eyes. Why exacerbate the very problems you are hoping to solve?

This brings up a point that bugs me no end regarding my own choice of method and material: how to reconcile the obvious environmental crisis-in-progress and my part in it with my (and our culture’s) need to create and express. Is Gormley’s monstrous cloud of smoke any worse in the end than the unseen multiple such clouds emanating from the iron mine, the steel mill, the tractor-trailer delivering the raw material for MY sculptures? Finding a point of equilibrium that allows one to be in the world without accelerating it’s destruction is probably the most profound and important question we all must ask ourselves as we venture into a new millennium.

What do you think?

Gary Gygax : 1938-2008

I am in a state of stunned disbelief. A bit of news has crept up on me from the vast buzzing of the interwebs. This news is arcane and oddball, like so much of the info soup out there, but it has seeped inside me and found some long-forgotten place of joy and excitement – and killed it. Gary Gygax, the mastermind behind Dungeons and Dragons, has died. Geekboy enough for ya? Well, it gets worse. I not only spent countless hours playing D&D – I did it by myself. I was both Dungeon Master and Players. I designed vast worlds and complicated labyrinths, drawing up countless maps on graph paper and populating them with creatures both good and evil. I then rolled up character after character to explore these lands and live these stories – those games are still some of the strongest and most engaging memories I have from my youth. But it wasn’t all just play. Profound lessons can be learned when you play god and mortal both. Characters I had nurtured for months could be slain by one bad roll, and I was the one with the power to change that outcome. But there in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax had written more than just the instructions for how to play the game – there was a tone to the underlying scheme that encouraged the rational analysis of ethics. I feel that D&D, like all great fiction – especially fantasy and science fiction – is a metaphor, a sign pointing the way to truths that are beyond the storyline. So much important learning and interaction is scoffed at by the mainstream because it is couched in the “uncool”. So simple a thing for a man to do as to invent a game – but that game can hold the key to a deeper understanding of life itself. A belated, unheard, and ultimately useless:
Thank You, Gary.

Current Mood: Wack.

I am slowly, inexorably being driven insane. How can something as simple as a truncated, oblong pyramid be so damn hard to model? Oh, sure, it could be the .001 tolerance I’m dealing with or the fact that everything is -just- a few degrees off the cartesian planes – or even the fact that I’m just too goddamn picky – but how many days are acceptably wasted in the interest of just offsetting one virtual 12 gauge sheet the thickness of another?
Finer Points

Who’s the dummy now?

“It was a fun experience, as I haven’t done any smaller works like this, where client interaction is taking place just like on the bigger projects.”

Is this the most poorly constructed sentence EVAR, or what? Sheesh. Sure, I could go back and just edit the post, but then all my fans would think I’m this perfect, god-like being who never fucks up – and we all know how boring that would be, don’t we?

Messing with a new theme.

I’ve been goofing around with some new themes in RapidWeaver. I really dig this one – it’s by Elixir Graphics and called “Origami”. Seems kinda apropos, with all the metal folding and stuff. Oh, yeah – to the three people on the planet who actually visit my site, I’m sorry for the lack of new posts. Hopefully I’ll have the time to work up something interesting. At some point. Maybe.

Technical Difficulties

Please excuse the ugly, barely-legible nav bar up there – the software I use to do this website, Rapidweaver, has been updated to version 3.6, which isn’t quite ready for prime time. Hopefully they’ll get things sorted shortly.

New Dining Table

Dining Table 02
Dining Table 01
Finally got around to building Ren and me a new table. It’s steel with a gray hammertone powder coat and cherry plywood top. The legs are removable. Turned out pretty nice. Toot. (That’s the sound of me tooting my own horn.)

Children Must Play


I can’t help it… sometimes I just gotta goof around. So I thought maybe it might be fun to share some of the silly stuff I make. Check out adoodadaday. (Edit: I took down that blog. Just wasn’t able to update it properly. Sorry about that.)