Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Guns of August

I'm reading The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, which is without doubt the best and most readable account of the lead up to, and first month of World War 1 that I have seen.

I have to say, nobody comes out of it with much credit with the possible exception of the Belgians, but the Germans really do seem to have been a bunch of absolute rotters, with an official policy of 'frightfulness' towards their conquered territories. General Joffre appears to have been an arrogant, inflexible fool, and Field Marshal French a vacillating idiot. OK, maybe idiot is too strong a term, but certainly not the best man for the job.

Highly recommended, and you can pick it up from The Book Depository for a measley ten bucks in paperback.
The Guns of August by Barbara W Tuchman, 9780345476098, available at Book Depository with free delivery worldwide.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Spirally Knotty Goodness

I was playing around in CorelDraw and Photoshop and got a bit carried away. Still, you can never have too many knotwork patterns about the place, that's what I always say.

Note: I do not always say that.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Leadlight Installation

I've got my leadlight window installed now. It's just held in place in front of the existing glass with some rimu beading, which simplifies matters enormously — I don't have to worry about it being weathertight (I suspect it's not), if I want to, I can dismount it pretty easily, and it's quite well protected from damage from outside.

Now I have to make one for the other side. I don't want a straight mirror-image of the first, but I do want it to look like they go as a pair. I'll be using the same colours and textures of glass, with a similar sort of design.

I'd really like a much nicer door as well, but that may never happen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Exercising the fingers

I realised recently that I hadn't been drawing anything much lately, so I thought I'd better take myself in hand and get back into the habit of drawing something every day. Drawing is like pretty much any other skill; if you don't use it, you lose it.

I need to get back to drawing from life, but first I need to get used to actually manipulating pens and pencils and what-not again.

Sure enough, I'm terribly out of practice. My fingers feel like sausages, and it doesn't help that my eyesight is deteriorating as well. Hey-ho.

I bought a multi-colour ball-point pen to play with a while ago, and was given another by a friend. I wanted it originally for writing up game-related stuff, so that I could colour-code bits and pieces without having to keep track of half a dozen pens. Instead, I used them for doodling, and one of the doodles is this guy to the right.

This one is coloured pencil, specifically Faber-Castell Prismacolor pencils, with a ball-point outline.

I tried to seal it with hair spray so that I could over-draw in more colours, but all it did was activate the ball-point ink so that it bled all over the place and straight through the paper.

I could maybe get the textural depth I want in the background with oil pastel, though I'm not sure it warrants going to very much more trouble over.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

First Leadlight

I've been doing a short 10-hour course (over 5 weeks) on stained glass and leadlighting. This is the first result.

It's 665 x 330 mm, and loosely based on the sorts of designs I've seen in buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright.

It will be one of two, to go beside our front door. The windows there are presently filled with some fairly crappy textured uncoloured glass; I'll leave those panes in place, and seat the leadlights inside them, held in place with wood beading. That way I won't have to mess about removing the existing glass, or worry about whether or not they're weatherproof (though the windows are pretty completely sheltered from the weather in any case).

I have to say, I am smugly pleased with this first attempt.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Sun-Sittin' Beer-Drinkin' Book-Readin' Garden Nook of DOOOOOM!

I finally finished (maybe finished) the little sun-bench I built out of some treated pine decking I had lying around.

I'm moderately pleased with it, although it could do with some tidying up here and there — my workshop is so crowded with crap that I didn't have room to lay it all out in there, and had to just trust that all my measurements were right... which they mostly were. Certainly, if I were to build another one in this exact same position, I'd do a much better and smoother job.

It's long enough for me to lounge with my legs outstretched, but not long enough to lie down on. That's probably a good thing. The top plate and arm rest on the right are both wide enough to serve as impromptu tables if need be, so I can put my drinks and snacks within easy reach.

I was originally going to paint it charcoal grey to match the wall behind, but I've changed my mind about that. This little nook is so sheltered and catches the sun so successfully, that a dark-painted bench would rapidly become scorching hot. And I have no particular desire to scorch my arse when I sit down.

I could paint it white, but then it would be dazzlingly bright, which would impede my reading enjoyment. Therefore, I think I'll just leave the wood to weather as it will; in a few months it should have gone to a vaguely silver-grey.

I may have to invest in a sun umbrella though. It gets HOT in there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Fairy Tale

A princess, wandering in the woods, came upon a beautiful pool. And in that pool she found a frog.

"I am a prince", said the frog, "and I am under an evil spell. If you kiss me, I shall become a prince once more."

And the princess said, "I would rather have a talking frog."

Monday, October 6, 2014

Type Tray Display

I recently got a rimu printer's type tray from a friend. I suspect, judging by the construction of the thing, that it was actually built as a mock-type-tray, and intended for display purposes as I've used it here. Actual genuine type trays tend not to be so deep, and they don't overhang around the edges like this one.

Anyway, I cleaned it up and repaired some busted pieces, painted the back-plate a deep ultramarine blue. and varnished the wood. Now it's on our games room wall, and getting filled up with knick-knacks of sizes suitable for the little cubbies.

Here it is, in context. We collect a lot of stuff. This is just a tiny bit of it.
I've always been fond of this "cabinet of curiosities" sort of thing. Some of the pieces of furniture dedicated to the task are really quite stunning; that sort of cabinetry is a bit beyond my reach at the moment, either to buy or to build. This sort of thing is an acceptable substitute though; I think I may have to do more of it.

Just as an aside, I had the opportunity some years ago to get a complete set of type drawers for a couple of hundred bucks. Alas, I didn't have much money to spare at the time, and we didn't really have anywhere to keep it, so I passed it by. I've kicked myself for that often and often since.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Election Results Reaction

Although I would have liked to have seen a much better result for the Greens, and I have no faith whatsoever in the integrity of the Nats, I'm actually kind of relieved that Labour aren't going to be responsible for governing our country in the immediate future. Those guys are mostly just incompetent, self-sabotaging buffoons. They really need to rebuild the party from the ground up, get rid of the factional Old Guard, and start enacting some actual Labour policies instead of trying to be National-Lite.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

More Etching

I imported some Lascaux acrylic etching resists to replace the rather more toxic and troublesome resists I've used up to this point. The first ones I tried out were the stop-out and plate-backing resists, which I used to make this little 50mm plaque.

It's hardly a masterpiece, but it did demonstrate some of what I needed to know about these new materials:

  • They go on to the metal very well, and they seem to be highly acid-resistant.
  • They don't like a very highly-polished plate, but they adhered fine to this one which I polished with 0000 steel wool. I guess that will mean that if I don't want any plate tone in my prints, the plate might need a bit of localized polishing after etching is complete.
  • They cure pretty quickly, as acrylics tend to do.
  • It's not a good idea to try to accelerate drying with heat, as the differential in thermal expansion/contraction between the resist and the copper can dislodge small areas.
  • You'll need to be washing out your brush very regularly or the resist will cake in it.
  • It washes off the plate very easily with methylated spirits — Lascaux do offer a "remover", but meths is cheap and easily accessible. I haven't tried washing it off after being left on the plate for any extended length of time though.
The resists aren't all that cheap, but they're not desperately expensive either, and they do go quite a long way.

Next I shall have to try drawing into the hard ground with an etching needle for an intaglio line. That will be the real test.

Monday, August 11, 2014


This lead is going to turn into alter its morphology. I don't know yet into what.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Etching Test

I tried out etching some copper using the hydrochloric acid I could get from Bunnings. It was kind of successful, but only kind of.

The acid I can buy over the counter is pretty puny stuff; it's only about 28%. I can boost its activity somewhat by adding hydrogen peroxide, but again the stuff I can buy easily is only 6%, so the added oxidizer is offset quite considerably by the fact that I'm diluting the acid with mostly water — I'd prefer using at least a 30% peroxide solution.

What that means is that etching takes a long, long time, and the shellac I was using as a resist just isn't up to the task; it started to break down after an hour or so. If you zoom in on the image, you'll be able to see where the acid crept in under the seams where two layers of shellac met.

I'll see if I can lay my hands on some proper resist lacquer, which should do a better job. I'd like to get some stronger acid too, but that's likely to be problematic.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Elephant Caryatid

I don't know where this is. I assume it's India.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Star Trek-watching doodle

White chalk pencil on black paper. Roughly 280mm tall.

As the title suggests, I doodled away at this while watching a bunch of Star Trek. It has little or no relevance to what I was seeing at the time.

Number 5

A5 (148x210mm), coloured pencils on cartridge paper.

This image is redolent with meaning and teeming with symbolism*. If you can work it out, you might win a major prize†.

* No it isn't.
† No you won't.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Long In The Tooth

Chalk pencil on black paper, A4.

Taken from a photograph of some guy that I found somewhere on the internet — I don't know the name of the photographer, unfortunately.

Edit: thanks to the magic of People More Knowledgeable Than I On The Internet, I now know that this is a Chilean actor called Daniel Emilfork. He died in 2006.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When in doubt, build shelves

I inherited some 20mm rimu boards, thanks to earthquakes and consequent demolition, and have started turning them into things. It's not A-Grade wood, being a bit curly and twisty in the grain and prone to tear-out, but it's not the worst I've seen, and it's fine for shelving, which is what I've done with it here.

It would be a completely straightforward job, except that the batten-and-board panelling necessitates a bit of edge-profiling to get everything neat. The house is getting on a bit, being about a hundred years old, and if it was ever completely square, it's not now. So each board has to be profiled and checked out individually.

Anyway, it's done now, and we can start filling them up with CDs and some of the multitude of knick-knacks we've spent the last thirty years collecting.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Never mind the quality, feel the width!

I just started (and stopped) reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I was a bit taken aback when Part 1 was given to me as two large books, but I thought, OK, what the hell. Then I was told that it's supposed to be a ten-part series, and that's when I thought "fuck this" and stopped reading.

It's not that it's badly written; in fact I've found what I've read so far moderately entertaining. However, I want to be able to get some resolution to a story within my lifetime.

Once upon a time, I could pick up a novel and finish it in an afternoon; I could take a chance on an unknown author because I didn't have to invest years of my life to find out if they could write a decent story or not. Many years ago I got a summer student job at a public library, where my duties were basically non-existent and I spent my time reading my way through their entire fantasy and science fiction collection. I could do that, and be exposed to a whole lot of authors I'd never heard of before, because they weren't all writing multi-volume epic sagas padded out to tell a basic tale in as many over-bloated marketable pieces as possible.

Things have come to a pretty pass when an author can't construct a publishable tale within the space of 150 or 200 pages, and when what used to be novel-length is now a short story. If you're taking a novel out beyond a thousand pages, you'd better have a fucking good excuse for it, and be telling a story that will have as great an impact on me as The Lord of the Rings did. Otherwise you're just wasting my time, and wasting perfectly good paper and ink.

Now, I have no objection whatever to an author milking an interesting milieu or re-using interesting characters. A series of stories set in the same world is just fine and dandy, and I've enjoyed several authors who do (or did) just that. What I object to is the currently very fashionable idea in fantasy and science fiction publishing that page quantity is more important than story quality.

In fact, I've come to object to it so strongly that I'm just not even going to look at books published in such a fashion any more. Fuck it.

I strongly suspect it's all another facet of the "re-make, reboot" model that infests the film industry, where the only way to get something made is for it to have already been made (and successful). The studios and publishing houses aren't really interested in originality; in fact, they appear to be actively discouraging it. They don't want something new, they want something safe.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mystery Toy

Annette bought a couple of weird little bits of bric-a-brac the other day, one of which is this die-cast pencil sharpener.

It looks to me like something out of a Japanese cartoon, and the helmeted head at the front seems strangely familiar, but I just can't put my finger on where it's from.

Is it a Transformer of some kind? (Note: pencil sharpener does not transform into anything.)

Here's a close-up shot of the thing's head.

Anybody got any clue where this comes from, or who or what it's meant to be? It's got me stumped.


Thanks to the magic of letting-others-do-the-work-for-me-on-the-internet, I now know that this is
"Duke Freed’s flying-saucer based super robot platform, the Spazer, from the old-timey Gay 90s magic lantern drama UFO Robo Grendizer. Or “Grandizer” if you prefer",
according to Let's Anime.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Something's Not Right

I just finished re-watching Sagan's "Cosmos" after many years, and it's left me feeling rather depressed.

Not because of the series itself, but because of the betrayal of the hope that underlay Sagan's exposition. His concern was nuclear obliteration, but he did not seem to foresee the appalling, and to me incomprehensible, rise in popular mysticism and fanatical religion since then, and the equally incomprehensible resurgence in parochial nationalism and bigotry; we seem to be as far as ever from any kind of global unity in spite of being in possession of technology that should be enabling it. Sexist misogyny seems to be a lot more acceptable than it was not so long ago. Politicians are fostering a deep suspicion of science and education — the so-called "intellectual elite".

It all feels like a terrible slip backwards, a negation of so much hope and progress.

Some things have surely improved, but back in 1984 I surely would not have thought the religious ignorant and the mindless, amorally patriotic could have gained so much traction over the next few decades. I can only hope that their wretched flailings are just another death-spasm — for their own vicious delusions, hopefully, and not for all of us together.

I cannot help but feel a profound contempt for those who wilfully choose ignorance and dogma over learning and discovery. They are a poison in the body of humanity, and cannot — MUST not — be allowed to prevail.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Creepy Baldy Head

And so begins a new sketchbook, this time a Jasart A5 book with decent heavy pages and a nice leatherette binding. It's about a third the price of a similar Moleskine.

What do you think — dark background or light background? I can't really make up my mind.

As usual, you can enclickenate the images to bloatify them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Oops... but OK, I guess

Not being entirely happy with the proportions of the oak spatula I made yesterday, I decided to trim down the blade to make it a little bit narrower.

It snagged in the mitre-saw as I was cutting it and went flying, chipping part of the end of the blade and fracturing the shaft. Oops.

That meant I had to make changes a bit more radical than I had intended. I re-cut the blade asymmetrically around the busted bits, and gave the back a more smoothly rounded profile. I cut away the split and fractured section of the shaft and socketed it back into the blade.

So, now it's quite a different shape than it started out, but actually I like it a lot better. I do prefer a bit of asymmetry in design, after all is said and done.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Spatula of Oak

My productivity for today is this spatula-stirrer-scraper thing, lovingly hand-crafted from the finest American white oak.

The shaft is only eight or nine millimetres or so in diameter. Hopefully it won't prove to be too fragile, but oak is pretty tough.

Spoons and stirrers and what-not are a good way to use up odd scraps of timber. I believe I shall make some more.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Go home Nature, you are drunk

If you ever needed proof that evolution is totally fucked up, just look at this thing. It is bocydium globulare, a leafhopper. All that stuff is part of its head; what it's for I have no idea.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


I've spent the last couple of days replacing the flooring in our back porch.

Ever since we've been in this house (that's about 25 years now) the back porch floor has been a shitty crappy piece of particle board. It lasted surprisingly well, but it was ugly, and finally it started crumbling away where it got repeatedly rained on and created a hazard to life and limb.

I'd have liked to use matai for the floorboards, to match the rest of the house, but alas that would have cost about a bajillion dollars. I considered kwila as sort of an equivalent, but that's also a little bit pricey, and a pain in the arse to lay as all your nail holes have to be pre-drilled to prevent cracking. So instead I just used H3 treated pine decking, which is cheap as chips.

I foolishly thought this would be a simple job, the work of a few hours. Then, once I'd managed to lift the remains of the chipboard to get at the framing below, the true horror of the situation was revealed.

There is nothing about this floor that is straight, square, or level, and the framing was... let's just call it minimal, which does kind of explain the slightly trampolinish nature of the old floor. However, I beefed it up substantially and now it's good and firm underfoot. It's still not straight, square or level though.

I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to stain and varnish the floor, or just paint it. Probably just paint I think, as frankly, the timber isn't really all that attractive.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Adventures With Brush Pens

Since the last time I used Faber-Castel "Pitt" brush pens, they've increased their colour range markedly, including a range of greys. I bought a Warm Grey III to try it out, along with a black and a sepia pen. I quite like them, though they don't have the response or size-range of proper sable brushes.

Black and Warm Grey III

Dark Sepia and Warm Grey III

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Today, Annette and I went to a little antique/junk market out in Woolston. It was pretty solidly packed with people browsing, which did nothing good for my crowding anxiety, but I managed to restrain myself from fleeing or descending into a red-eyed berserk frenzy, so that was good. There were a few things there that I would have bought, but I only had twenty bucks in cash money, so that restricted my options a little bit.

I did buy this home-made knife that somebody made for themselves once upon a time. It appealed to me because it's so clearly not the work of an expert cutler: the two halves of the antler handle are slightly different lengths, for a start.

I suspect it might have been cut down from an old meat works knife, though I can't be sure. The steel is decent, and it takes a very good edge. The blade is only 120mm long and quite thin and springy, so it will make a good vege knife; it's a bit broad for easy boning and the like though. I'll have to be a bit careful about the handle; natural antler doesn't much care for being left wet.