Jul 11

When Life Gives You Lemons…


“When life gives you lemons? Don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad!

I don’t want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?

Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s going to burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”

– Cave Johnson’s lemon rant after realizing that it turns out ground up moon rocks are pure poison.

Inspired by the speech and the hot temperatures outside we made combustible lemon props. I even hung one on our lemon tree. For science.

Jun 11

Empire State of Mind

amp I don’t really remember why, but for some reason I decided to create some vector artwork of a stormtrooper last weekend. I grabbed an image of a helmet and then did some tracing and editing to get a pretty good silhouette of a stormtrooper helmet. When it was done I was very happy with the results and needed to figure out what to do with it. It turns out that once you’ve got some simple vector art you can do a lot with it.

Paper Soldier

I started out by cutting a piece of cardstock with the Craft Robo paper cutter to make sure that all the contours were closed, etc. I took the resulting piece of paper and stuck it on a little 15-watt keyboard amp just to butch it up a bit. Since the paper I chose was white it looks best against a black background and the amp fit the bill.

Next I used the vector art to cut a screen-printing mask from adhesive-backed vinyl. That plus some yellow screen printing ink applied with a gentle uneven pressure on the screen gave me a T-Shirt with a distressed looking stormtrooper on the front.


Big Finish

The final project I did was something I’ve been thinking of for a while. It’s actually just the first prototype of a more ambitious project that involves motion and some electronics, but first I wanted to verify if the visual effect was what I had imagined. What I did was take the vector image and cut it into strips using geometrics operations in Corel Draw. These strips were then cut from 3mm thick acrylic on the laser cutter. Finally, I cut a base and frame from birch plywood and clear acrylic. The birch got 6 layers of finish and some final polishing so it took a week to complete the project. You can see a few views of it below.

topright-1 closeup

corner-34 off-axis-1

The individual white acrylic slices can be rearranged in the holes at different depths, but I found that it’s best to have adjacent strips no more than one row distant from each other. Otherwise, perspective effects from the difference in distance distort things too much unless you’re very far away. I finished up with a Galactic Empire logo cut from black vinyl on the base. The display looks fairly abstract from most angles and then snaps into a stormtrooper when you square-off right in front of it.


Aug 10

Corporate Art


The company-for-which-I-used-to-work has quite a nice art collection. There is a wide variety of art in all the buildings ranging from paintings, prints, sculpture, mixed media, etc. I just ran across some photos I took about a year ago when I travelled to a remote office. This was a building that had just been finished and they commissioned some very cool artwork for it.

The first is an interactive multi-story LED wall that hangs from the atrium ceiling. At varying times of the day you will find different animations and other abstract graphics being displayed on the wall. It turns out that it’s interactive and uses microphones and video cameras to pick up input from the seating area in the atrium that sometimes affects what’s displayed.

I took some close-up pictures of the LED elements themselves from the second-floor walkway that goes closest to the wall. Unfortunately you can’t see much detail from the fuzzy mobile phone picture, but it consists of a series of discrete LED modules in long plastic tubes.

IMG_0071There was a particle effect animation running the day I was there. I’ve since seen a number of other animations and abstract images displayed there, some of which react to the sound and movement. The video below gives a decent idea of the size and bad-assedness of this installation.

But my favorite by far is not the wall of LEDs, but rather a piece of artwork made from beads. No, my blog password was not stolen by a 70 year old cat lady. I was truly awestruck when I saw the bead art in the lobby, as it presses a couple of my joy buttons simultaneously. First, it’s got the “things as pixels” vibe going on. The pictures are essentially 2D raster graphics rendered with 5mm acrylic beads strung on fishing wire. Second, it’s subject matter is Star Trek. And finally it uses the constraints of the medium to its advantage – the semi-transparent beads used to capture an image of Kirk, Spock and McCoy materializing in the Transporter.


The photo doesn’t do it justice. From afar the shimmering images are stunning and very realistic looking, while close up they turn abstract and all you can see is the process and materials. I’m not sure why the artist decided to use the metal spacers between the beads – perhaps to make it more transparent? Or maybe to make the pixels have a square aspect ratio? The spacers make the vertical distance between “pixels” approximately the same as the horizontal distance.


I’m not above stealing a fantastic idea like this, and bought a bunch of acrylic faceted beads which I sorted by color with the help of my family. I haven’t gotten around to doing one yet, but hope to soon.