How trees work

Looking out my window at the leaves
that finally came in the last few weeks,
and having played this video game Fortnight
where you build shieldish fortresses,
I can see that my tree building a shield
so it can incubate things along its thick brown branches
behind the green ruse we use, we and our crafty cousins,
to ward off the sun who loves the green
and forgets about us, and forgives the trees

LIRR

It started as I raced toward the escalator, trying to make it up to the train. They were getting on, only one of them casting a glance backward. Her eyes were deep and wet and blue and soft, the warm sun glinting from their epicenters.

Then the mechanism of things pulled me away; I noted the controverse escalator that went down, and the mocking faces riding it. Too late; the train departed, the a.m. deepened, the distant trees beckoned greenly.

Art as Anthropology part 1

I often think of Picasso’s famous quote, “Art is the sum of my destructions”. I’ve always gotten that. Whenever I make art, I feel like the second I’m close to that perfect line, shade, shape or texture, there’s all this pressure that I’m gonna fuck up.

When that happens, I imagine a little Picasso sitting on my shoulder, going “So why not fuck up royally?” And I give in. It’s easy, freeing, and I embrace the fuckup. I slash the pen, gouge the surface, rip it all up.

It never quite works, though. More often than not, I end up with a pile of mess. I chastise myself for wasting my time, paint, paper, canvas. I feel like a failure in little Picasso’s eyes. “You didn’t fuck up hard enough” I can hear him saying.

The little voice is easy to dismiss. Of course I can make something nice. Not destroy it. Nurture it, coax it along in its lousy, spineless, eager-to-please formulaic predictability. Eventually I’ll end up with something having at least a few people gazing, stoking my ego-fires.

But the best stuff I’ve always made happens when I give in. The only way to find that thing, the thing I want to leave behind, is to fuck up. Intentionally. Destroy that clean line, that perfect texture, that awesome font. Force myself to do it again, but better this time. And being aware of my doing it.

The Darkness

I recently read an article about someone who experienced trauma when they were very young, and how it manifested itself for the rest of his life as “the darkness”, a kind of demonic presence that was always looming.

It was a very sad read. Though a very busy person, he found no joy in work, relationships, exercise or hobbies. Eventually, he took his life.

I learned about Bills’ wide receiver Zay Jones’ incident last night, and began to think about it in that the context of “the darkness”. I wonder if he, too, has some kind of burden he carries, tied to experiences he cannot forget or wishes never happened.

I’m also torn up about all the stories coming forth regarding victims of abuse at the hands of those who should be their nurturers. The darkness that follows them must be excruciating. It’s encouraging to see them bringing their stories to the light.

If I had to define depression, it would be this darkness thing that follows you around and can’t be shaken off. I think we all experience it from time to time—something just beyond the horizon, or inching closer behind us in the rearview mirror. Most of us have learned to block it out, or ignore it. At our best, we learn to confront and defeat it. Life is tough, but we persevere.

We label people who are forced to cope with horrifying experiences, and who lack the facility to overcome the darkness, as depressed, mentally ill, unstable. First and foremost, however, they’re survivors, fighters, soldiers, heroes. They are us. We must replace words that marginalize and pigeon-hole with ones that humanize and empower. The darkness doesn’t stand a chance against community.

Operating System developers should stick to developing operating systems.

Apple and Microsoft make some of the most popular OS’s in the world: iOS, macOS, and Windows.

As software goes, that’s about it. Everything else they force down the users’ throats is pure garbage. I’m talking about iTunes, Mail, MS Office, Photo software, and the list goes on.

I honestly don’t know why this is. Google Docs is so superior to Office in every possible way. Gmail absolutely blows Apple’s Mail off the planet. iTunes is so confused about what it’s purpose is, so filled with layers of disconnected functionality, but it’s stuck on us users because that’s just how it is. I don’t know.

I do know that on my Macbook, Mail and iTunes and Photos are always opening unexpectedly, for a variety of reasons, none of which make much sense. It’s a shame that I can’t just make them go away completely.

Variable Width Fonts

I know very little, way less than I should, about the new variable typography stuff that’s been gaining traction and was discussed in css-tricks’ most recent shop talk episode. 

However, I’m having serious skepticism about how they can replace entire font families. There’s a lot of the discerning human eye in creating various weights (and especially italic versions) of fonts. I just can’t picture how some math algorithm can make that go away.

On Teaching

This spring, I’ll be teaching my age-old 2D Graphics course. Every time I teach it, I spend waaaaay too much time wondering what I should include in the course content. I change it every year.

Adobe is the go-to graphics software company, and that hasn’t changed since they bought Macromedia long ago.

I started off in 2001 with one of the best books ever written on this stuff, Luann Seymour’s Design Essentials. 

Not sure what Luann is up to these days, but it isn’t, and hasn’t been for a long time, making awesome books. Unfortunately, the text stopped updating after a few years of said awesomeness, and as much as I’d like to keep assigning it, Adobe has moved on. Last spring, I assigned the closest thing I could find to Luann’s Masterpiece, and it fell waaayyy short. My course ratings dipped lower than ever.

So I’m back to my age-old question: What are 2D Graphics? How do I teach students about 2D Graphics? What book should I assign; or do I have to write my own book?

On light

We see because of light reacting with our crazy eyes and ocular nerves and brains.

But there’s a lot to learn about where that light’s coming from. It’s either being emitted or reflected.

The primary point of emitted light, for most of our existence on this planet, has been very hard, even dangerous, to look at. I’m talking about the sun. Other points are intriguing and inspiring: fire, candles, fireflies, stars, lightning, but they’ve been fleeting. We’ve never stared at them for more than a few moments, dreaming of things.

Our eyes were always concerned with reflected light. Light that revealed the skin of those we loved and feared, the places we lived and travel to, the words that formed our literature. The light that reflected off gardens that enveloped us and blades that killed us.

Our eyes now focus on emissive sources. We’ve harnessed the power of the sun and stars and flames and can represent those things with a single binary point of light. We call those points pixels, and they can be as big or small, bright or dim, red or blue as we want. They can be wherever we want them to be, and change according to our magnificent instructions. They constitute our stories.

 

 

Multiple master icons

Just like fonts, icons can be designed in different weights. Here’s how it works in my current design, chubbicons:

 

These are all rendered at 32×32. The bold weight was designed with 1 pixel wide stroke on a 9×9 grid, while the light weight was 1 pixel on an 18×18 grid. The solid is just solid with some white 1 or 2 pixel details.

Everyone’s so big on the outlined icons, but I have a feeling solids will come back in style.

A standard for user interface icon design

Editing this article to discuss general icon design standards, which I believe are needed. Icons should down-rez gracefully to small sizes, with vertical and horizontal edges aligning to the pixel grid at sizes as small as 9 pixels. A 3×3 sub grid should be adhered to when designing icons.

See the Pen base-8 grid icons by Ben Dunkle (@empireoflight) on CodePen.1

As you can see in the last icon, the 3×3 subgrid isn’t honored and some edges get blurry:

Big Guys ‘n ‘Lil Guys : The Tale of Reggie and Mike

First draft of a children’s book I’ll maybe Illustrate someday

Reggie was a Big Guy. He could lift anything, even big buildings and cars. He was strong.

Mike was a ‘Lil Guy. He was really fast and could fit into small places when he needed to hide.

Reggie and Mike were really good at building cars that went really fast.

One day, Reggie and Mike went on a vacation, driving their cars in the desert sun. They were having lots of fun.

That same day some bad guys came to town. They wanted everyone to give them their money. But people in the town needed their money. They worked hard and had to save.

The bad guys were mean, and people were scared, so they gave them their stuff.

Mike’s nephew, ‘Lil Pipsqueak, had enough. He texted his uncle: “mike you need to come back now because the bad” … and that was all. ‘Lil Pipsqueak’s phone died, because the bad guys had taken his charger.

Mike looked at Reggie. Reggie looked at Mike. They knew what needed to be done.

Since their cars were so fast, they got back to town lickety-split. But nothing was right. Everything was wrong. Things were missing. But where were those bad guys?

Well, they knew you shouldn’t mess with Reggie and Mike, so the bad guys hid and thought they were safe.

But Mike knew all the hiding spots and found them quick-as-lightning. The bad guys came out with their hands up.

When they did that, all the money, toys, jewelry, food, and chargers they stole from the poor people spilt out of their pockets all over the ground.

Everyone ran up and got their stuff back, cheering for Reggie and Mike.

Reggie lifted up the bad guys and put them on the tallest mountain, where they had to stay for a whole week.

Mike ran up with bread and water every day so they didn’t die.

Reggie and Mike taught the bad guys how to make cars that went fast, so they didn’t have to steal to get money. The bad guys turnt into good guys, making fast cars for everybody in the town.

The End

Cooper Union

As soon as I was considering life after high school, I had my heart set on Cooper Union. I wanted to make “cool looking shit”, I was good at it and CU was where the best in the world did it. Plus it was in Manhattan, my favorite place in the world and a 45 minute train ride. Plus it was free, and that to me was everything.

I could have afforded to pay for Pratt, or SVA, or RISD; I applied and got into all of them. My parents told me I could go anywhere; and considering my sister was at Amherst College, one of the most expensive schools in the world, and my brother ended up at Harvard, they weren’t kidding. But for me, it was the street-cred that getting into CU, where only 5% of the kids who think they’re good at making cool shit get in, that was so alluring.

I remember attending the info/interested students day thing, sitting in an auditorium, being handed a packet of instructions on cool shit I had to make to prove my worthiness, and hearing the MC, and oldish white dude who was probably pretty good at making cool shit, send us off with a “now go work your little butts off!”

Something about that rubbed me the wrong way. I got it; me the the hundred-odd other art nerds were a bunch of wannabees  and CU owed us nothing. I looked over the packet when I got home, and saw 5 or 6 assignments: draw the plans for a new invention that tells time, paint an interior space with only solid black shapes, render an object as it morphs from one thing to another, and a couple others.

And I let it sit there. I had no inspiration to do it; it felt forced, and I kept thinking of that asshole treating us like sheep, as I had come to think of him. Days flew by as they do, and the deadline was in a week. I panicked.

It must have also been a very hard time in my life, and other things were causing me stress—my brother Matt was a constant source of disruption, I was trying to make state qualifying times for the 50yard freestyle, I’m sure my romantic heart was being torn up by a variety of love interests, and none of my friends from the previous class were around at school; they were around though, distracting me with all the things we loved to do and no island of school time in common to do it. I missed classes and my grades suffered.

So, staring at the pile of assignment sheets, and in a fit of white hot frustration, I punched my bed. I thought I was punching the mattress, but that was just the sheet hanging over the wooden railing. I shattered two metacarpals in my right hand—my art hand. The cast that ended up there shortly afterward prohibited any of the deftness and agility I relied on in my making of cool shit. I did the best I could with my left, but the results were hurried, shaky, and incoherent.

I took the train in and dropped it off a few minutes before CU closed on deadline day, although I knew I was wasting my time. And I was; the rejection letter, probably written by the asshole MC, came a few weeks later. It’s been a source of regret my whole life.

I ended up at a variety of SUNY schools, sometimes making cool shit and sometimes blowing it off, but never really feeling like I was in the right place. Eventually things worked out, once I connected with the right people and found faculty who didn’t put up with my bullshit, and inspired me to actually work. Still, any time I see CU on a resume, or meet people who’ve gone there, I’m confronted with feelings of immense respect, burning jealousy, and nagging curiosity: why were they able work their little butts off when I couldn’t?