Family Fun Day

clown faceI’ve worked with a.a.s. group for nearly two years on various projects, most notably Insectoid. This Saturday I’ll be part of The Family for the Family Fun Day, curated by Charlie Levine

TROVE & a.a.s presents:


Sunday 13th September 2009 1-4pm, The Rea Gardens, Floodgate Street, Birmingham, B5 5SL (map)

Have you ever felt that there’s something missing in your life?

The Universal Family of Cosmic Xenogenesis invite you to Family Fun Day, where you can enjoy an exciting array of stalls and activities to learn more about their revolutionary way of life. You’ll be able to clean out your mind and fish for new thoughts; decorate cakes, T-shirts, balloons and your face with positive symbols; get in touch with your power animal in the Robot Petting Zoo; and of course sample the copious free Kool-Aid.

There will also be games like Psychology Mr. Wolf and The Fear Train where you can open up your consciousness, compete for special access to the behind-the-scenes activities of the group, and join them for a shining future in The Other Place.

This event is presented in association with a.a.s. art group and reflects their ongoing interest in transformation and influence. Because the language and techniques of persuasion are all around us it can be difficult to notice them, but if you keep both eyes open and your wits about you, you’ll be able to choose whether you want to go along with The Family’s ideas or find your own path to freedom.

Open to all ages, but some elements are PG rated.

Starting off Simple

I’ve been doing quite a bit of messing around with Alchemy. Whilst in search of solution for a problem in Blender I came across a rather awesome time-lapse digital painting from an upcoming Blender Foundation project, Durian. Not only was I blown away by the skill of the artist but also by the software that he uses. I’m an open source nut so was really glad to see him use GIMP and other open source software to produce his piece. One particular piece of software that stood out to me was Alchemy.

If you’ve watched the video already you’ll have seen how he used that program to create chaos from which to build something else from. I was a bit skeptical at first, thinking that GIMP and Inkscape can do this already and with many more options. However, upon using it I could soon see the benefits of using this program. As the website so clearly states, it’s not meant for finished pieces (although some have used it to create finished pieces). It’s meant to help generate ideas, to sketch, to just go crazy on!

After just a week of using it this was some of the work that I had created in it

Lunchtime Butterfly (by hellocatfood) Stop Hitting Yourself (by hellocatfood)

I soon began to think more about what I perceived to be the point of the program. Typically, when I sketch my marks start off very light and whispy. Then, I draw over these whispy lines with more confidence until the original marks either become thicker and darker or are simply overshadowed by the newer marks. With practice you would then expect one to be more confident with their mark making, to the point where there are no more whispy lines, just sharp, clear marks.

Also, after many hours of studying you would expect one to make marks that represent any form in as few marks as possible. One important lesson I learnt at university is that you should only add detail where it’s needed. Spending 100 hours on an art piece may be personally satisfying but when people wont notice or have the time to appreciate that amount of detail why bother. In another situation, when you have a deadline looming, do you really have the time to add insane amounts of detail?

In time I feel I should be using this program to help develop this skill and my confidence as an artist. Drawing intricate layered pieces may look impressive but personally I know part of the reason I use that style is lack of confidence. I have put a suggestion to the developers to add a feature to Alchemy (and I’m slowing learning Java) that can help facilitate this by restricting the amount of shapes you can have on screen, but until then I’ve been doing a few tests of my own. Partly born out of frustration I’ve been trying to do portraits of myself using as few shapes as possible, in this case four shapes. As there are soooo many different recognisable features about our own individual faces it would be quite a challenge to pick just four features or shapes.

Working from memory I drew these portraits last night.

Portrait 1 Portrait 2 Portrait 3 Portrait 4 Portrait 5

On a side note the good thing about Alchemy is that it can record a snapshot of your drawing to a pdf at timed intervals. You can download a zip of all of the pdfs if you really wanna see how I did it.

Admittedly the first portrait probably has six shapes (open the pdf up in Inkscape to find out) but that was because I accidentally used a white shape on a white background. Alchemy has no undo function so I just painted over it in black.

I slept on it and came back with a few new ideas. Do you really need to draw someone’s head or hair? That depends on what their most recognisable features are. I am quite well known for my hair, but I proved last year that even without it people still knew who I was *shock*. So, maybe it’s not that important. As a test for yourself, try taking a portrait picture of yourself. Open that picture up in your favourite picture editor (I use GIMP (duh)) and apply the photocopy (or equivalent) filter. If needed erase the background until you have just your facial features.

With Hair and clothes

With Hair and clothes

Without Hair and clothes

Without Hair and clothes

Is it still recognisable?

So, I tried again to draw myself using only four shapes, but this time only my facial features. Here are my results (same four-shape rule applies).

New Portrait 1 New Portrait 1
(download zip of pdfs)

A little more recognisable? Four shapes might be a little bit too restrictive but you only really learn from challenging yourself. Why not try making the cursor invisble when you draw (press H) or draw “blind” (Affect > Draw Blind). Going back to the aims of the program once you feel more comfortable using very few shapes let yourself go a little bit and maybe use 10 or twenty shapes. Here is my final piece, starting with simple shapes, then going over with more detail

Final Portrait
(download pdf)

Bending a penguin

Awhile back I did a quick vector illustration of a penguin. It was nothing much really but as far as penguins go I quite liked this one. Recently (as in, the last four months) I’ve been interested in databending. Have you ever had an image you’ve taken come out like it’s been through a shredder? That’s the effect that most databenders are after. In a way it’s like trying to reproduce an error. Once you’ve done it a few times you get to learn what effects different methods can produce but even then it’s very unpredictable. For a short tutorial on databending an image, take a look at the one I wrote for fizzPOP.


My curiosity lead me to see what can be done to databend an SVG file. In a similar way to a jpg or gif they’re just data but the difference is it’s human-readable. That is, someone could look at how an SVG is created and understand it. For example this code:

<!--?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="no"?-->
<!-- Created with Inkscape ( -->

..Produces this circle:

Vector Circle

With a bit of time you could easily read and write that code yourself.

So, with that in mind, using similar methods to this databending tutorial, can we apply a similar effect to the penguin? Like jpg’s etc the SVG has a header that, if modified, completely destroys the file. Using the above example the header is from lines 01 to 10. Open up your SVG in a text editor (for Windows I recommend Notepadd++, for Ubuntu/Linux Scite), cut those lines (a simple Ctrl+X will do) and then begin to edit your document!

You’ll notice that you have little flexibility with how you can modify it. With a jpg you can replace or delete any character and replace it with (almost) any other one. In an SVG if you change any of the letters then you render it useless. For example, fill is a function that defines the colour of a shape. If you changed each instance of fill to say fail it would just simply break the file. Epic Fail. What you want to do is replace numbers with other numbers. There is a danger that replacing #090909 with #0909999909 could break the colour values but so far I have encountered no problems.

Once you have replaced a few numbers paste back in the header and then save it again. Open it back up and take a look at the results! Below are a few modifications I made. The process is described in the link.

Penguin - Delete 8 Penguin - Replace 8 with 15 Penguin - Replace 8 with 1

You may find that each shape has become very warped or that the dimensions of your document have increased tenfold! That’s the beauty of the randomness that is databending.