Sunday, February 23, 2020

School Bag

This is, fundamentally, an old leather school bag, such as was commonly used by school children in New Zealand back in days of yore before Hello Kitty backpacks and the like became de rigueur. I've been using it as a utility bag (i.e. a handbag, only I can't call it a handbag owing to being a Manly Male Man) for quite a few years, but recently I've been tinkering with it to make it more convenient in use.

I had to re-stitch it completely, the old stitching being completely rotten. I added new, much longer straps, so that I can get a jacket or something in there. I added the handle, probably the single most useful addition. I added a little strap on each side to hang things off, and I also added a central strap that latches very quickly and easily on to a little push-knob thingy (I don't know the name of it) so that I don't always have to have the main straps buckled when I'm carrying it by the handle rather than the shoulder-strap. And, of course, I put my monogram on the flap, though that was done pretty much as soon as I got it, many years ago.

I don't know how old the bag is, but they had pretty much disappeared by the time I was out of primary school, in the early '70s. There's no reason why it shouldn't last another hundred years or longer, as long as it isn't left in a ditch out in the weather.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Pencil Case

I have been virtuously intending to organise my workshop for a little while now. Instead, one of the things I have done to distract me from that is to put together this pencil case, which I definitely needed.

The leather cover is something I did many years ago, in 2003. Now I've just added a couple of zips to turn it from a folder into a container.

At the moment it's just a disorganised mess inside. Maybe some day I'll get around to putting in some elastic loops and what-not to order things a bit more rationally, but at least I now have something large enough to cope with all the bits and pieces I habitually carry about with me.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

New (Old) Plane

I got distracted from tidying my workshop by rejuvenating this old beech rebate plane that Nick Turner gave me.

It wasn't in tip-top condition, but it wasn't too bad: a few borer holes here and there, and the handle is slightly loose, but nothing to prevent it being a usable plane. I trued up the sole, squared the registration side, and stripped off all its ancient oil, wax and dirt, and gave it a fresh coat of linseed oil.

The blade is a nice heavy one, with a chipbreaker. It had obviously made the acquaintance of a nail or two; I had to grind it quite far back, but now it's nice and sharp and polished again.

I would guess that it was used by a window/door maker, as the blade is quite wide for a rebate plane. Also, there was quite a bit of old paint ground into the sole.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Intaglio Press Enhancements

I made a good sturdy plywood base for the press, to which it is attached by cleats at each corner of the frame.

The advantage to this is that the frame is securely and evenly fastened, rather than being clamped directly to the benchtop on just one side, so there's less chance of racking the frame when it's under pressure. Also, the plywood base is easier to clamp (or screw) to the bench.

Also, my friend Nick Turner ( helped me to swap out the crappy little hand-crank for this greatly superior wheel, a cast iron pulley wheel from an old pump.

And by "helped me" I mean Nick did all the work from start to finish, while I stood around and watched.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Long-Awaited Handbag

Quite some time ago, I said that I would make Annette a good sturdy leather bag to replace all her store-bought bags that had a distressing tendency to fall to bits after a year or two of use.

After literally years of procrastination, this is that bag.

It may have taken a while to get here, but it should last longer than either of us, and it's of a size that will make a useful work bag as well as a lollygagging-about bag.

It has a simple two-part buckled shoulder strap, not shown in this photo because it just gets in the way of the viewer's appropriately awed appreciation of its majesty. At the moment it's just a single gaping cavity, but I'll probably do something about making some modular removable pockets for its innards, for phones and what-not. However, as of this moment it's a usable bag, for the carrying of Needful Things.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Stitching Pony

After many, many years of swearing and complaining about saddle-stitching, I finally got my arse into gear and made myself a stitching pony.

It is clamped by means of a simple bolt, with the head anchored inside a big wooden knob at one end, and the nut in a socket in the opposing arm. The jaws are faced with leather (flesh side out), both for added grip, and to make sure that the piece I'm stitching isn't marked. The pony itself is made out of a kwila fence slat, and the base is just a bit of plywood I had lying around.

Monday, December 30, 2019



My teeth have arrived!

When I discovered that I could buy sets of acrylic teeth from China for very little money, how could I possibly resist?

I have certain plans for these.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Garden Seating

A long time ago, I sawed the bench seats off one of our picnic tables, because they were more of a nuisance than anything else.

Then, quite a bit later on, I dragged them out of storage and turned them into seats again by making some trestles for them to sit on. I thought that using trestles would be a good idea.

I was wrong.

It turns out that trestles are actually kind of a pain in the arse if you want to move the bench around, because each trestle and the bench-seat have to be moved individually, and then be set up again.

So now I've dismantled a couple of the trestles and turned them into permanent legs for the benches, which makes the benches themselves easier to move about, and also got me back four strap-hinges I can use on some other project.

I might have to add stretchers between the legs, but maybe not. I'll see how they go.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Red Sky

I was talking to somebody today about oil pastels, and I was reminded of this thing that I did back in 2007. As far as I can recall, it was about 800 by 600 mm, on hardboard.

The background was painted by roller in a rather liquid vermillion gouache acrylic, and it dried to a quite mottled surface that I liked, and which warmed the whole composition quite substantially. The oil pastel I applied in rather a pointillist fashion over that red background, and the mauves and blues of the shadows make the background glow.

I rather like how it turned out. My mum has it now, if I remember correctly.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hillside (1st state)

Mezzotint, 38 x 98 mm
This is a little mezzotint I just started. It's very little, only 38 x 98 mm, on a little scrap of zinc I found when I was fossicking about in the bottom of my intaglio equipment box.

I have no plan for this image. It's based more or less in memory, looking out through the bush on the steep hills around Lake Rotoma, where our family used to camp over the summer months.

I suspect I'll be doing some more on this plate, so I'm calling this a first-state.

I'm fond of mezzotint as an intaglio process.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


I've been devoting my energies and the irreplaceable moments of my life to making a new Doorway-Dangling Visitor Instruction Module.

Because, why not? This is the sort of trivial pointless bullshit 3d printers excel at.

The old one came from the $2 Shop, back when it was still the $2 Shop and things there were likely to cost $2. I just painted the lettering on the back of the hand.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Ancient Photographic History

I found a picture of an example of the very first SLR camera I ever owned, a Canon 7, which I bought second-hand about 1984.

It had a very slow and insensitive lithium light meter, which did have the advantage of requiring no external power source — so, no batteries.

It was a pre-hotshoe era camera, but that didn't matter to me since I couldn't afford a flash back then in any case. The flash would have been mounted on a side-handle, with a cable running to a socket in the side of the lens so that it was tripped along with the shutter.

As I recall, the camera had a slight light leak in one corner of the case. That would probably have been taken care of with a camera cover, but I never had one for this camera.

I did eventually get a cheap (and rather unreliable) flash for it, but I didn't have a lot of success with it.

The camera that replaced the Canon was a Pentax MX, and a little later, also a Pentax ME.

They were both great cameras, the MX being fully manual in operation, and the ME being an aperture-priority semi-automatic camera.

Each had its advantages, the ME being handier for spontaneous shooting, but the MX being more fully controllable.

My next camera was a Nikon F3, which I could afford (still second-hand) because I'd got a job working in the Display Department of the Canterbury Museum.

I ended up with quite a substantial camera kit based around this fantastic camera:
a couple of bodies, a bunch of lenses, some flashes, filter sets, a high-speed motor-winder....

but all of that was stolen by burglars. That didn't make me happy, I can tell you.

The last of my 35mm SLR film cameras (bought with the insurance payout for my F3 cameras of lamented memory) was this one, the Nikon F-801, my first experience of auto-focus and TTL (Through The Lens) flash metering and things like that. The autofocus was quite slow and clunky by modern standards, but it seemed quite miraculous to me then.

I still own this camera, and a Nikon SB-26 Speedlight flash to go with it, but both of them are quite obsolete now and I haven't used them for decades. The SB-26, it turns out, is exactly the model of Speedlight that works with almost no modern cameras at all, unlike the SB-25 or SB-27. That sucks.

In fact, I saw this exact model of camera on a website about vintage cameras, which made me feel very old and tired.

As well as 35mm film, I also did some photography in medium format (60x70mm) film using very large and heavy Mamiya cameras. I do still have a Mamiya TLR bellows camera, but like the 35mm camera I haven't used it in many, many years.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mezzotint Roulettes

I spent some more of my Art Money today on some mezzotint roulettes.

Mezzotint is a dry-point technique, in which the ink is held in thousands and thousands of tiny burrs and divots which are scraped and burnished back to create tonal variations. Where the plate is burnished smooth, it holds no ink at all; where it is completely covered, it renders a deep, velvety black.

Roulettes like these are one of the ways in which the metal plate is covered with those tiny burrs. They're basically just a steel drum, knurled with a pattern of some kind, which is pressed and rolled across the surface of the plate, leaving a pattern of divots behind. These divots can be layered and layered until the whole surface of the plate is just a fractal mess, or they can be laid down gently and carefully to create specific half-tone patterns.

(The black-handled one is actually a checkering graver, not a roulette, but never mind that).

Anyway, these little roulettes are usually pretty expensive, and a set like this would cost several hundred dollars. Fortunately for me, these ones have been hanging around in the stock of The Drawing Room pretty much forever, and I grabbed them for twenty bucks each.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Mezzotint — Headman

I've finished organising all my old plates, and now I'm getting started on making some new ones.

This is a little mezzotint on copper, about 90 x 65 mm. I like mezzotint a lot for its deep, velvety blacks and smooth tonal transitions. It was, at one time, used for very detailed images — I'm nowhere near there.

I prefer copper to zinc for this process; it scrapes and burnishes much more easily, and doesn't have zinc's tendency to stick to the steel burnishing tools. However, it is a bit more difficult to see exactly how far your burnishing and what-not has gone because of the metal's colour.

I can see that after such a long plate-making break, I'm going to need quite a bit of practice to get back to where I was. Still, I'm not wholly dissatisfied with this one.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Reference Prints

I've been organising my old intaglio plates, and part of that process is taking reference prints from each of them so that I can see what's what when the plates are wrapped up in acid-free tissue against corrosion.

I'm not agonising over them at all, since all they have to do is show me what the plate does. Some of them would do with some much more careful wiping out if I was doing prints that I actually cared about.

Something I need to arrange is somewhere where I can work safely and smoothly with acid, taking into account fume extraction as well as splashes and spills. I have some smallish photographic developing trays which will do to do the etching in, and I can create an acid-proof work area easily enough with plastic sheeting, but fumes are something a bit trickier to deal with.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Monoprint out of the Mists of Time

I found this when I was searching through some old work-books from back in 2006.

It's a monoprint, done with watercolours on a sheet of perspex, and then heightened with pastel and indian ink.

It's not terribly successful, but I do like some of the textural effects.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

First etchings off my own press

Having come into a modest amount of money recently, I decided to spend some of it on something I've wanted for years and years but have never had the discretionary cash to spend. It's a small intaglio press, for printing etchings, dry-points, mezzotints and the like.

It's made by an Italian company called RGM, and I got it via Amazon. It's very small compared with the presses I used at polytech, but it works well enough for my purposes. The bed is 270mm wide by about 450mm long, so realistically I couldn't print anything much bigger than A4, but that's no great problem as all my intaglio work to date has been quite small. The bed is just a piece of 3mm steel, so getting a longer one if need be wouldn't be any problem, though I'd need a new felt to fit, and that would probably cost a lot more than the steel.

What I am going to have to do in pretty short order is organise a dedicated workspace for it. It really needs to be clamped down to the workbench, as there's not enough weight in the press itself to keep it from moving around under the back-pressure of the crank.

Here's my first trials, using a couple of old plates, and printed on some offcuts of 360gsm Fabriano I nabbed out of the waste-paper bin at school.

I'm pretty happy with them, and with the press.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Uncanny Attractiveness

Winter Weekend doodle. Ball-point pen and coloured pencils.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Colouring In With the Aid of a Computer

This Edge Detection example has been done in Krita, whose filter is a bit more sophisticated
than Photoshop's which is basically just on or off.
If you would like to try drawing a landscape (or anything else, really) from a photograph, but your drawing accuracy leaves something to be desired, you can use your computer to quickly create a black & white outline image that you can draw directly over with coloured pencils, chalks, pastels, or paints.

This will let you transfer the outlines of the scene to paper, and then you can go berserk with colours as and how you see fit.

The key to the process is a filter, present in pretty much all image editing programs, such as Photoshop (expensive) or Krita (free) and probably others too that I don't know about.

The filter is called Edge Detect or similar, and it does what it says. It will find the edges of areas within the image and accentuate them extremely, generally reducing everything to a very limited range of tones.

This is the process in Krita (other programs may require some adjustment)

 Find the image that you want to draw. It does not have to be a high-resolution image, as the printed end-product will just be used as a colouring-in guide, but a higher-resolution image will, of course, give you a more detailed end result..

In Krita, you'll find the Edge Detect filter under Filters > Edge Detection.

I've used the Sobel algorithm, with a vertical and horizontal spacing of 2.30

The resulting image is then colour-inverted, which gives you dark outlines and lighter masses for colouring into.

I've then converted the image to greyscale. This is optional, but I think it's a good idea as it means you won't get any inadvertent colour contamination when you add your own colours.

Lastly, I adjusted the Levels to brighten the light areas (Input Levels) and grey out the blacks (Output Levels).

Now you can print this on to an appropriate grade of paper, and set to work filling in the shapes with whatever colours you like. You can use the original image as a colour reference.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Depression is really quite depressing

Depression is really quite depressing.

That may seem tautologous, but let me expand a bit on my thesis with jolly tales of Stupid Brain Chemicals, and how they've made life less enjoyable (in parts) than necessary, and how I've tried to live with the importunate pricks.

Episodes of depression have been a recurring part of my life ever since adolescence. The first notable example was in my first year at university, in Palmerston North, in 1981, and it was notable for its intensity — in retrospect, I now recognise much of my earlier adolescent feelings as depressive, but they were more inchoate, and generally subsumed in the usual melange of hormonal chaos common to that age group — and also because it was the first time that I recognised what was actually happening to me.

I had a bunch of emotional complications going on at the time, which seemed terribly important then, so when the world became gloomy and pointless and everything seemed utterly futile, I assumed that these were objective, not subjective feelings, that this bleak sadness was in the world itself, and not just in my brain's interpretation of it. I didn't have any intellectual separation between my mental state, and the state of my life at the time (which was, admittedly, pretty parlous).

As well as making me feel generally sad, hopeless, and helpless, it frankly terrified me. I could see no light at the end of this tunnel, no worthwhile future of any kind, and I couldn't understand why or how the world had suddenly changed so much for the worse. I could see no way out. I drank a lot, and I took a lot of drugs.

I don't remember how or why, but one day I had an epiphany. "Aha!" I said to myself, "I am depressed! This is depression!"

That realisation didn't, of course, immediately make me feel all right, but it did profoundly change my mental process around my state. It meant that the world itself had not suddenly become so bleak and threatening as I had thought, and most importantly it meant that I could see my depression as a perceptual filter that would not be permanent, I just had to wait the fucker out.

I did not, of course, become a Secret Master of Depression at that time. Or at any time soon. But ever since that epiphany, when the grey fog closed in, I could at least — eventually — recognise what was going on, and grit my teeth until it went away again. I still made some stupid life choices when depressed, but maybe not as many as I might have if I hadn't known what was going on.

Over the years, those episodes became less frequent, and less intense, and less long-lasting, and I've come to recognise likely triggers — illness or injury will often spark a bout. Part of that reduction in severity is, I think, to do with the hormonal changes that aging brings. Another part is to do with my attitude to depression — I treat it like that old acquaintance, who I never really liked that much anyway, who turns up to stay, unannounced. I start consciously doing things that I know my Depressive Houseguest will hate, so that he will just FUCK. RIGHT. OFF. I try to do things that I will (or should) enjoy, and I consciously try to enjoy them. I treat myself. I get more exercise, and try to enjoy that. The enjoyment may be strained, and to begin with at least, fake. But over time, I basically fool myself into thinking that I'm happy, and one day I find that I'm not having to pretend any more, until next time at least.

It's not as simple as just "trying not to be depressed", which is, by the way, the most amazingly fatuous advice it's possible to receive. Maybe second most fatuous, after crystals.

I guess, if I were to boil down my technique for dealing with depression now, it is that will no longer pander to it. If you submit to depression, encourage its advances, it will just settle in and make itself comfortable. If that happens, there's the danger that you just get used to it being around, and when you do that, life just gets generally worse.

Depression is real, but it's not true.

Fuck depression.