Monday, 30 November 2009

Pac Man Pixel Art Finished (for now)

Well... it was a marathon week of pixel pushing. The show is tomorrow night and the art work is off to the printers just in the nick of time! This was a ton of work, but I'm going to call this "version 1" because there are still more details I want to add. So I'll do another print later when It's done. It's impossible to see all the details clearly here, but here is a close up of the storage room at the top left-hand corner:

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Pac Man Pixels 2

OK, so maybe I went a bit over-board with my Pac Man pixel art piece. It's grown into a bit of a monster and it's taking much longer to make than I predicted. The date for the show is only a week away, and I have a lot left to do! I guess I'd better get back at it.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

PacMan Pixels

I had to put my Quebec pixel art image on hold for awhile while I work on some new pieces for an upcoming show organized by Jono Doiron. The theme is art inspired by video games. I am working with images based around the original PacMan game. The little image above is a tiny part of a much larger piece I am obsessively working on now.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Québec à la Pixels part 5

Today I decided I should start working on the hotel. It's got a tricky curved face and lots of little details that are making it an interesting challenge, but I think I have a pretty good start on it. Most of the photos I have seen on line of this area focus on the gate, but here is a link to a photo that includes the hotel and the theater as well.

There are flower baskets on the hotel windows that I have not attempted yet, and I am going to have to sort out those little oval windows.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Québec à la Pixels part 4

The skating rink is proving harder to get right than I anticipated. I am happy with the proportions, but the position is causing some trouble. I will have to shift it up and to the right. I've been adding some little details, like street lamps, a fire hydrant, a newspaper box, even a little tree in a planter. All this is to avoid the obvious big job: the hotel that is still just a rough outline.

The red lines on the image are various guides I have created to aid in construction. The triangular guide in the lower right corner helps with determining shadow lengths. At the top are two isometric diamond shapes that help with the angles in the buildings. The street, old walls, and gate are set at a different angle, and you can just see some red guide lines in the middle of the image that I use to help get those angles right.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Québec à la Pixels part 3

I had a chance to get more done today. Moslty I fixed details on the fort wall and tower. I also went to work on the skating rink, even though I'm still not sure it will be included in the final piece. While I was in Quebec city I saw they even had a little Zamboni going over the ice... it might be fun to add one. I added a little street lamp and a person walking by as well. It might be fun to populate the street with lots of people (you can click on the images for larger views).

Monday, 19 October 2009

Québec à la Pixels part 2

Today I made progress on the city wall and gate. I am trying to decide if I will include a piece of the Palais Montcalm in the lower right hand corner. There is an outdoor skating rink as well, which I have partially outlined in white. Still tons to do!

All sorts of details that need fixing!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Québec à la Pixels

I'm working on a few new pixel art projects. One of them is a view of a little section of Quebec City at St. Jean Gate. Most of this was created while sitting in the lounge at the top of the Hilton Hotel. From there the view was pretty similar to an isometric pixel art drawing, so I just went to work using the actual view as my reference, only working on the shadows in the morning. This was rather unusual for me, as usually my pixel art is based on photos I have taken while out exploring. When I realized I would have to leave before I was finished, I ran out and took a dozen or so photos of the area for reference when I got home.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

My New Office

It's been about a year since I came back to Halifax. In that time I never really set up a dedicated work space for myself. But now I have one! I spent most of last week converting what used to be the walk-in closet to an office space. It's a nice little room with great light and a view of the street.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

"Mechanical Figures" or "What I Was Doing in Croatia"

of you who have been wondering just what the heck I was doing in Croatia last year can now view some of the bits and pieces of the animation project we were working on. This link should take you to the director's (Helena Bulaja), Vimeo page where you will find several clips from the project, "Mechanical Figures".

It's sort of stream of consciousness musings inspired by the life and work of Nikola Tesla. It's a combination of live video, motion graphics, stop motion animation, still photography, and hand drawn animation. Most of the music was composed and performed by Christian Biegai (Germany). I was mostly involved with the stop motion material involving ceramic beetles. The Beetles were made by Sabina Haan, an artist in New York city. I worked closely with Al Keddie (Scotland) and Helena.

We animated them in nature, on the floor in our studio, and against large print outs of photos taken in New York.

Here's the link:

Clip #9, called "Bug Assembly" was the result of some of the bugs arriving in Zagreb broken. So we animated them being reassembled. We decided to animate the bugs at 12 frames per second, but the broken pieces at 24 fps. In other words, we shot 24 photos for each second of video, moving the broken pieces a tiny bit for each shot. We moved the whole bugs for every other shot.

The streaks of light and glowing effects were not added digitally, they were made by "painting" with little coloured flashlights as the frames were shot with a still camera. We were working with very slow shutter speeds. Some times 10 or 15 second exposures per frame. It made for slow going by times, but it was creatively very satisfying. It's been amazing to watch the material we shot transformed with the edition of music, sound and Helena's artistic design and editing.

This clip features some rather famous people Helena interviewed for the project. There are also some bits of the material Al shot of paper cutouts inside an antique Tesla radio (he had his head in that old radio for weeks!). Near the end of the clip there is a couple of scenes I shot one rainy evening in "Electric Town" in Tokyo.

Clip 4, "Time and Space" is a surprising scrolling video collage, and it includes material I shot during my days inside the radio.

But do check out all the clips.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Rock Throwing Chimp.

So there was this story in the news a couple weeks back about a chimp in Sweden who appears to be demonstrating his ability to plan ahead by stockpiling rocks that he later uses to throw at human visitors to the zoo.

Nell and I were both quite taken by this story, and we joked that this might be a good strategy for anyone who works in an office to ward off unwanted interactions with colleagues. This is what inspired me to buy a toy chimpanzee, gather a few pebbles, and glue this together for Nell's desk.


Cassette Tape Lamp Take 2

While the hot glue gun allowed me to assemble the first cassette lamp very quickly (see previous post), in the end it was quite fragile and it fell apart. But since it turned out pretty cool, I think it's worth taking another run at it.

I've been testing a couple of different glues. They dry much slower, and so I have to use clamps and let them set over night, so it's slow going. I've make a simple jig to hold three cassettes together using scrap wood and a couple clamps. I had enough clamps to make 4 jigs. So it will take a few days just to get enough cassettes glued together to make the sides of the lamp. Then I will have to think of another set up to glue the sides together. I have some 90 degree corner clamps that will likely come in very handy.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Cassette Tapes Meet Glue Gun

A few months back I was considering throwing out a bunch of old cassette tapes when I had a vision of making them into a lamp. It seemed like a cool idea.

The idea rolled around in my head for awhile and finally one day I looked on line to see what else people might be making with cassette tapes. Well, of course, someone beat me to it and had already made pretty much exactly what I had in mind. (LINK) Seeing some had already been made put me off the idea for awhile. But yesterday I decided to give it ago anyway.

I dug out the box of old cassettes in the basement, as well as an electrical socket, cord, and switch from an old table lamp. Unlike the examples I found on the web, my tapes were not uniform. They were a mix of black, white, and clear plastic. Most of them had labels and writing on them. I thought that old labels and text might add a layer of interest to the design, so I grabbed sixty cassettes and went to work with the glue gun.

When I turned on the light inside it looked pretty good, but when it was switched off sitting there in a lighted room, I just didn't like the look of it. All the different labels and colours made it look too cluttered. I thought maybe giving it a light coat of spray paint might unify the outside, but still let the light thorough when switched on. I had white and black spray paint on hand and decided to go with black (although later wondered if I should have gone with white - oh well). I wasn't sure it would work, but I knew I didn't like it the way it was, so I took a chance. Luckily it worked! I added a base and a removable top made of some plastic cassette boxes.

So now this thing is made (that's it in the photos), but it's too big to use anywhere at our house (about 12" x 12" x 14"). I think it needs to be in a larger, more modern, or eclectic room.

It might be cool to make one in a tall cylinder shape too, but I don't think I have enough old tapes left to make another one.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Google Earth Street View comes to Halifax

IT was mentioned on the local news about a week ago that the Google car would be driving around town soon collecting images of Halifax for the "street view" feature on Google Earth. If you don't know about street view yet, it's a feature on Google Earth, the popular virtual globe and mapping software, that lets users see 360 degree, street level views of cities.

I was just chatting with a friend on the telephone around 3:00pm this afternoon when I saw the Google car attempt to make a wrong turn onto our one way street. Fortunately the driver realized his mistake right away, and turned around. He parked out front for a few minutes before continuing on his way. My camera was near by so I grabbed a couple of photos of the car while it was parked and as it drove by. Perhaps I will be seen standing in the window when the images are added to Google Earth.

The street view feature has caused some controversy over privacy issues. Google has developed software that tries to recognize faces and license plates on cars and blur them out. But of course, context is everything; a person can be recognized by their clothing, location, and any number of other factors. The software is not perfect either, it's not as good at recognizing and blurring profiles of faces, while often it blurs faces on statues and billboards. Blurred or not, some people see Street View as an unwelcome invasion of their privacy. I can understand that if you are one of those few people caught getting a speeding ticket, taking out the trash in your bathrobe, or strolling around wearing Crocs or something, but mostly I'm all for it. I quite enjoy seeing the street view perspectives on Google Earth. I recently checked out my friend's home in South Lanarkshire in Scotland. I've never been there, but taking a virtual tour around the area was great fun. If people insist that recognizable images of themselves not be removed, then I suppose Google should remove them. As for houses and yards and other things that can be seen from public streets it seems to me that's fair game.

I heard someone say they wouldn't want people all over the world to see how easy it is to break into their garage. Come on, if you are worried about your garage get a better lock. I very much doubt thieves are planing their break-ins by scouting locations on Google Earth. No one is going to travel across the globe to steal your Sears circular saw.

So if you see the Google Earth street view car driving by, give 'em a wave, or a moon, whatever you are into.

"Coastweekly" posted this short video clip on YouTube of the same car (still in Halifax) a couple of days later. I like the sound of the child's squeal of delight at the beginning.

The street views of Halifax are now available in Google Earth. And there I am with my camera in the window. Too bad they did not take the photos in the summer with all the green leaves... and our freshly painted house!

View Larger Map

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Finished or Finished Enough?

You just created a new piece of art. It's finished! Ok, so it's not perfect; you can see ways to improve on what you have done. You take those lessons learned and apply them to the next piece of art. You are comfortable with your earlier works, flaws and all, because they are steps in a larger process.

Really? Does that really happen? It does in my mind. I sometimes imagine that is how it goes for everyone else. That's what I might say to another artist who said they were having a hard time letting a piece go because it was "not quite right". I would say, "It's a process, let it go! You learned from this experience, now move on to the next one." That's what I would say. I would be very sincere too. I would also hope that they would not then ask, "Is that what you do?"

No. No that is not what I do. I work on a piece, obsessing over it for awhile, then eventually I either decide it's done enough and try to ignore all it's flaws, or I just say it's not quite finished. Pieces can remain "not quite finished" for months, years... maybe forever.

Upon noticing that I seemed to have an awful lot of work that I was not showing to anyone, a designer friend of mine asked the obvious question: "Why are you hiding all this work away?" I told him it was either unfinished or not good enough. Then he asked me a question I've never really been able to answer to my own satisfaction: "Why do you get to decide if it's any good or not?"

At first I thought it was a ridiculous question. Of course I get to decide if something I made is any good or not! But, over the course of the discussion I saw what he was getting at. In my opinion (and in many others as well), this guy was a brilliant graphic designer. I was blown away by his talent, and naturally respected his opinions. And there he was, pointing out things I had created and he was telling me "this is good, this is excellent, ok, sure, this one needs more work". What he wasn't saying was "this is crap, hide this away!"

He helped me learn to accept praise for things I had made. When someone told me they liked a piece of my work, I would often immediately tell them all things that I thought were wrong with it. As my friend pointed out, this is a bit insulting. They just told me they liked it, now I'm telling them it's not very good (or worse), in effect saying, "you don't know jack, Jack."

Today, if someone says they like a piece, I try to simply say "thank you" and then maybe ask them what they like about it. Sometimes they can tell me, sometimes they can't. I almost always hear my friend's voice in my head asking "Why do you get to decide if it's any good or not?"

That one question has helped make me much more at ease with my own art. More at ease. I'm still a long way from brimming with confidence.

About a year ago I started taking digital photos of textures. They could be anything: glass, wood, ruty metal, cracks in rocks, anything that grabs my eye. I'm not trying to capture perfect photos. I call it "collecting pixels". I use these photos of found textures, by layering, warping and distorting them, to create images that look sort of like insects. They have tons of detail and because I am using lots of sources from nature, they have a strong organic quality. I want these images to look like they might have been created in a lab, maybe with microscopic imaging, as if these were taken during the scientific study of some new species.

I work on them, decide they are "finished enough" or "not quite finished", and then make another. And another and another. I've shown them to a few people. The response is usually positive. There is always interest in how the images are created. But I am still holding them back. I have no idea what to do with them. Prints? Does anyone buy prints of weird, alien looking insects? Maybe I should just make a calendar? Should I just accept that they will never be sold to hang on walls, but try to put together some sort of show or exhibit? I can think of all sorts of reasons not to do any of these things. Good digital prints are expensive... so is mounting or framing. Can I afford to invest in things I might not sell?

Ok, I don't expect anyone else to answer these questions for me. But I am curious how other creative people approach these issues. Do they even have these issues? How confident or comfortable are you that an individual piece is "finished"? Are you embarrassed by your early work? Do you find it easy to just "put it out there" and see what the reaction is? Do you even care what the reaction is?

Monday, 6 April 2009

Inspiration, Imitation or Rip Off?

There is a talented painter I met a couple months before I took off to Europe. His name is Jeff Lyons and his paintings are fun, colourful, and full of life. He is dedicated and has worked hard at developing his his style which has become quite distinctive. You can check out his work here: LyonsART (

Today on Facebook I saw a link to "Kimmi's Attic" (
(Note: several of the images I found particularly interesting were removed shortly after I posted this entry. Imges no longer available include:"Dejanae", "ginny", "Rebecca", "Ling", "Shaye", "Blair", "Mona", "Eve", "Annie", and others.)

For the sake of comparison, here is one of Jeff's paintings "April" and one of Kimmi's "Raeanne", and here is Jeff's "Luna" and Kimmi's "Just Thinking".

It really bugged me, so I looked a little further. I found Kimmi's web site, where she says "Please pay special attention to gallery 3, this is my "Girl Friend Series" ( Even the NAME is a taken from Jeff's work, and she is drawing special attention to this series of images over her other works. Maybe they are selling well? Kimmi says that she feels that "art speaks to a person's inner being in a way that words cannot convey." Funny, there are a few words that spring immediately to mind when I see Kimmi's "Girl Friend" paintings.

On her blog, Kimmi thanks everyone that left messages after her paintings were selected by "Minor'e Gallery" where she had a great time showing her paintings and meeting other artists and inspiring people. She goes on to mention that the Girl Friends paintings have been selected by "Prairie House Gallery" to be sold as prints.

Surely, this sort of thing happens all the time, right? Should Jeff Lyons just be flattered (and maybe he is, I've not spoken to him about this)? In my opinion Kimmi has crossed a line here. She is showing these paintings in galleries and is now selling prints, and to my eye, they are more than just similar to Jeff's work. I can't be sure when any individual painting was made, but it appears to me that she was painting in a colourful, folksy style, showing scenes of domestic life, when she suddenly went off on a tangent making rather thinly disguised versions of Jeff's paintings. Again, I'm not entirely sure of the order of events, but my guess is there was suddenly some buzz around her new paintings and it snowballed from there. It's hard to hide stuff out in the open on the world wide web though.

I wouldn't be making a fuss about any of this if Kimmi had simply stated that these works were her own versions of paintings by Jeff Lyons, or even that this series was inspired by Jeff Lyons (although I think that would be a stretching the concept of "inspired by"), some sort of acknowledgment. Instead there was the repeated assertion that her paintings were "100% original". I think that is a rather extravagant claim for any artist to make!

When I was a kid I used to trace art work from books and magazines. It helped me get a feel for how they were drawn. I even drew a comic strip in which all the characters were copied from other well known comic strips. It was fun. But I never tried to sell them or pretend that they were "100% original" (a claim Kimmi makes for her paintings on various blogs). I wanted to make my own characters and did. Even when they were just stick men it was more satisfying than copying work by other people.

As artists, we draw inspiration from all around us. Anything we see can get taken in and influence what we do later. Some times it can be unconscious and one unintentionally makes something that comes very close to another artist's work. There are famous examples of this (like George Harrison's song "My Sweet Lord") and much less famous examples. I'm thinking of a piece of animation I made several years ago called "SeXXXy Doll". When I wrote it (with help from my friend Jeff Kenney) and animated it, it all seemed like an original creation. It wasn't until two years after it was finished that I watched a collection of animated shorts from the NFB and realized that I had come way too close for comfort to a short called "George and Rosemary" by Alison Snowden and David Fine. Of course I had seen their animation many years before I made mine, but never consciously thought of it while making "SeXXXy Doll". It would be a pretty stupid thing to try to do on purpose as "George and Rosemary" is widely known. I'll never forget how I felt while watching it and realizing how heavily I had drawn from it. The influences were so strong and obvious. I felt sick about it! I find it hard to watch either mine or theirs now.

Surely there is a line beyond which influence and inspiration becomes out right rip off. Has Kimmi crossed that line? It can happen once, sure, but repeatedly, with works by the same artist? I know what I think and I'd be interested in knowing what others think.

She still has a gallery at (,
and an Ebay page (,
and a boundlessgallery page (

Just a few minutes after posting this, Kimmi's blog was changed so it can only be viewed by invitation. Several paintings were also removed from her Flickr page.
Of course, you can still view some of it with the handy cached version

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Let's Celebrate Zombie Valentine's Day!

I was one of a group of artists commissioned to create custom Valentines. The crazy folks at Argyle Fine Art in Halifax took orders from custom made Valetines from the public. The orders came with notes about the people for whom they were being created. One person's interests included "exploring abandoned houses" and "zombie movies." I had great fun making this zombie Valentine. Once again I used my chunky, blocky, no-curves style of 3D construction.

This morning over coffee Nell and I decided that "Zombie Valentines Day" would make a great holiday! It would fall on Valentine's Day (February 14), but we can promote the zombification of Valentines's Day as a bit of an antidote to all that cutesy, sugary, sweetie-pie kitsch that dominates the day. A quick look on the international-wide-info-web turned up a few Zombie walks and Zombie Pub Crawls happening on Valentine's Day. But I say we take it all the way and let's call it Zombie Valentine's Day! Are you with me?

Join the Zombie Valentine's Day group on Facebook... invite your friends too!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Smoking Fez Monkey part 5

This is a close up of the table on the left side of the image. The top image is how it appeared after the final render in Bryce, the bottom image shows the details I added later in Photoshop.

I was not really happy with the wood grain that was rendered in Bryce, so I used a photograph of some pine to make a new texture for the table. I painted in a little dent in the edge of the table. I also decided I needed to add some ice cubes in the glass of gin. The gin bottle is based on Bombay Saphire London Dry Gin. The gorilla is from an old engraving. You can also see there is some texture on the wall as well.

Oh, and of course there is a Planet of the Apes comic book ;)

Smoking Fez Monkey part 4

As the slow process of building the scene progresses, I make many little test renders. Here's one of the monkey with his new chair. The smoke from the cigarette is the only element with curves.

Smoking Fez Monkey part 3

Above is the Blocky Fez Monkey scene with the textures mapped onto the images. This is just a a preview, not an actual render of the scene, but it is starting to come to life a bit. At first I had a bunch of Elvis Presley singles on the floor, but I later replaced them with different bands. There is a repeating banana pattern on the easy chair and a gorilla on the the gin bottle label. That's when I decided to really go for the monkey and ape references. Pretty much everything in the room has something to do with apes and monkeys. I'll post a series of close ups along with the final render so you can see the details.

Smoking Fez Monkey part 2

I took my blocky, curve-free, fez monkey model and built a blocky, curve free living room for him. Then I started building blocky props and other details. I decided to have the monkey playing along with a record. I really enjoyed constructing the 1950's style record player. The Monkey seemed a bit lonely, so I made a little penguin friend him. Then I took the penguin out, deciding that I like it better without it. Then I put it back in... and then out agasin. This went on for a couple of days. Finally I decided the penguin stays. As I was was waffleing over the penguin I continued constructing objects to filll the room. In the end, I think the curve-free lava lamp is the coolest, especially when the lighting is added in the final stage.

Above is a wire frame view of the scene, and below that is a flat shaded view showing how the lighting will fall.The next stage is adding textures.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Smoking Fez Monkey (test preview)

I am working on a new 3D image using my "blocky", curve-free style of 3D modeling. I have taken the Fez Monkey I used in my "Blocky Monkey Blowing Bubbles" image and made some changes. I'm also in the process of building his living room and props for the scene. It's slow going as I keep changing things around. This is a test render (without colours or trxtures) of the monkey playing his ukulele.