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!

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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