Mind the Thorns

May 4, 2020

I’m reading a book on mindfulness. It contains an analogy of a narrow trail through the forest  overgrown by a thorn bush.  Mindfulness is being careful to avoid the thorns as you make your way down the trail.  Repeated mindfulness can be like trimming the brambles but new thorns will grow. Mindfulness is constant attention. 

When I was small, I spent a great deal of time crawling beneath thorns – far more than most would imagine. Under the blistering sun of the prairie, wild roses grew everywhere grazing animals couldn’t nip tender shoots. At the fenced edges of pastures, the briar grew tall and hollow underneath, leaving nearly enough space for a child to stand. They were secret passages allowing me to slip across burning pastures and between herds of protective cattle grazing with their calves. Sheltering too from sun, wind and snow. In a lightning storm, I preferred them to the scarce and lonely scrub trees in open pasture. These were the hallways of jackrabbits, quail, and all manner of small things. I rarely cut branches. It was easier to train them away, twine them such their hooks held them. They became arches in our tiny halls.

Dry creek beds and cattle paths cut a network of paths across grids of pastures and roads. I waded creeks and flooded fields, snuck across beaver dams, and slid down muddy otter trails. I recognized many individual animals whose paths crossed mine.. Not by name or even face always, but by their territories and attitudes. They understood me in kind.

The prairie was predictable. Aggressive insects, poisonous snakes, toxic plants, all behaved in predictable ways and were easy to avoid. There were coyote, puma, abandoned dogs to be watchful for. I learned to trust the small things. Sparrows tell on all predators. I let deer and rabbits know my presence before we were close enough to startle one another. They understood I was not stalking them and I knew predators could only afford so much risk.  Distracted rabbit was a safer gamble than an unknown. Cattle, too, warned where not to tread.  The herd would not go near a snake.  Many cows I recognized by markings and hairstyles. Not every cow stood out but several I learned to recognize for their particular personalities.  There are cliques among cows. Domesticated cattle generally give a lot of leeway to bipeds.  I still had a couple of close calls with young mothers.. I kept to where I could jump into a tree or into a creek or ravine they would not. Beneath the thorns I was safe.

The analogy works well for me. I am easily distracted.

This memory is a good one I am happy to share. There was pain, too. Profound isolation, failure to meet others expectations. People were dangerous and hard to predict. I did not belong. The lonesome prairie was the only place I was home. I was truly privileged. I could wander ever farther. Out there, I was myself, safest  from the most dangerous animals. I was free. Meditation returns me to my thorns. Once more I am awake. 



BIFT, The False Dilemma

October 1, 2018

Computers connect us and at the same time are tearing us apart. The world moves faster than ever. We can see so much more of one another.

We need to find our common language.  Shared shorthand.  It is happening.  😉 Emoji ❤️’The Feels”, I particularly love. It expands to, “I have complex emotions here. Let us tread lightly.”

You didn’t need me to explain.  You knew from those two words alone. Instantly translatable. Beautiful.  We need more shorthand language.

So often we ask one another questions and we term them as only Right or Wrong.   0 1 as we move ever faster.   This is bad logic.  There are other answers.

Bounded.  Parts are True or False.  Indeterminate  Cannot answer immediately or at all.  False.  True.  These are 😴 words.  Make better ones.

Indeterminate lacks, “The Feels”. It must be neutral. It includes “The Feels” spoken and hid.

If this indeterminate language gives you the feels.  Let’s try!  Tell me why BIFT is False, Indeterminate, or Bounded. 🙂 🙂


Persimmon 2018

March 4, 2018

Squirrelly Sketches

This is a character I’ve been working on for animation for some time.  I find it a challenge to come up with an efficient design.   I’d really like to simplify the hair a little more as it’s still too many strokes but I’m going to try working with this for now.

An interesting thing I learned is that I think I learned more about optimization by batch-processing these drawings.  If you watch the video, I did the sketches for all of them first, then the inking followed by layers of color, much the same as they’d have been done if I were working with traditional ink and paint.    I did this to avoid switching brushes constantly but it ended up being a lot more efficient.   Turns out when you’re painting just the hair over and over again, you start thinking more about how to speed up painting just the hair and become quicker at drawing those shapes.

At the point which I had started this character refinement, I had of course been drawing the character for weeks.  I had reduced detail in the hair, face, and eyes to create a design that’s more manageable.  Working like this, I picked up a few new rules for ink and paint that I expect will save me time in the future.  In no particular order:

  • Over-color:  If coloring an area of the character that will have another layer of color on top of it, go way over the margin.   It’s easy and will save time later.
  • If you notice a mistake or omission in a lower layer, fix it immediately.
  • Work large to small.  Do the largest color areas first then successive layers with finer details.
  • Time lapse video is useful for identifying where I spent the most time.

In total, I spent about 12hrs on these drawings.  If I aim to average shooting on 2s, this is equivalent to about 3 seconds of screen time.  I am hoping this time will come down some more as I get more familiar with the character.  From the video it appears I spend about half of my working time in sketching and the other half in ink and paint.


The Tattooed Fairy

September 16, 2017

The Tattooed Fairy

In some sense, tattoos must be terrifying and liberating.  They are graving a word of the name you call only yourself, the stories you chose to remember.  To be so naked is to meet death without fear, laugh, hug her, and cry.  And through this, also find power.  Perhaps this is what it means to be fae. I keep my name so hidden I’ve never seen it myself.  Left open the door of fate to look at my choices carefully and what they truly mean to me.   I feel so far from the people, though I  follow close by in the forest. Their stones and their dogs all that keep us further away.  Yet we watch the cats and are clever indeed. There are always ways to be made. Fox, coyote, come all yea tricksters. We shall ever prevail.  For we are the forest, the edge of man’s whispers, singing them softly, “Follow us deeper the woods. ”  And to the woods they came, the seas, the skies too.   Till nowhere was left for them to chase us, except beyond the moon and the stars.

We laugh as man rushes forward, following us, but first they must learn to get along.  We’re further now than we’ve ever been for those who chase rainbows and dreams.  You must become as gods now, conquer the spaces without and within.  Break down those walls between us.  Lets see you create new kinds of life on your own.  We will always be there to guide you, the elves and the faeries, those from worlds long gone.   Hide and seek, come find us, or are we too scary for you.   And now there is a story for you.   For you and I both, this may be all that we are, these echoes we leave of ourselves.   So I shall explore science, music, romance, compassion, joy, terror, even shame.  We mark these words upon ourselves in deeds, in words and ink.

In this digital world, we are all immortal, the traces that we leave.  Fingerprints, retina scans.  What we liked, loved, bought, sold. We wrote about.  Who we loved.  What we accomplished and won.  How we all grow brighter by the brightness of ourselves and others in the world. Or we could be the comments, complaints, name-calling and childish bullying and hatred. Those shades of us too, echo immortal. Tarnish the light of who we were.  How do you wish to be remembered?  Who will care who you were?  Few villains are immortal, most die quickly, there’s only so far you can go.  Be that guy that pushes the button.  Be the one who destroys the world.    All of the rest will be forgotten, blackened shadows all that’s left after his glow, and most of you will be gone with the innocents. Perhaps you hope you can start again.  Become your own God, re-enact the story of the ark, cast yourselves from paradise again.  And even such egoism is hollow.   You too will all be forgotten, the clock has ticked, the world has moved on.  We know the good and right and best way to be.  It is to be ourselves, do our best, and work with others, everything else is personal belief.

Mass murder is a stupid solution.  It’s been tried by race, religion, and creed.   It’s stupid.  The horizon is always in the statistical noise.  We have always learned the most by having the most views to compare against.  The most concrete proof to substantiate our theories.  But we need to be sure of what we know.  Detached from hatred and conceit.  It’s foolish to rush to state an opinion.  Take some time to do some research, consider what you know.  Is the immediate conflict immediately not life-threatening?  If no, then you have many more possibilities.  Time to think and review.  How could you speak not to this one but millions?  This is not said to quash your passion.  Instead I offer a hothead’s experience:  You can use that spark to do more.  Write stories, poems, songs, your congressman, game games, build an amazing world, pass on all the wisdom you can.  Fight for what’s right and what you believe. We can more effectively change the world.  Or at least our mark on the wall of time or a piece of skin will leave us living immortal.  The parts we always wanted everyone to see.  That’s what I see in a tattoo, a life without fear, but I too live without fear, I’ve worn my marks in different ways as we all do.   Thank you for wearing your story, mine has run too long and there is much to do.

-Fear 2017


The Firebringers

September 16, 2017


So I’ve roughed some mean drawings of racists because if fear is what they respond to. But I know that’s a defective thought path. I can beat them without stooping to that level. Not ‘their’ level. That one. The one where I insert a ‘they’, where it stops being ‘us’. The place we stop being friends and it is not mine or theirs because those things don’t exist, there is only us and we need to figure that out together and soon because we’re the first animal that has found true comfort, safety from the brutality that ruled this world for two hundred million years and you did it with your mind and by coming together, to be more than just an animal. We can be the most beautiful thing that has ever existed. Deliberately myriad and one. We are the people and we know our whole world and now we must find new ways to grow. New sciences, new maths, new thoughts, new ideals. But first. Let us once again see one another as people. As an animal, the fight is long over. We have already won.

I mean… What I was thinking about with that drawing. The dogs and cats were so geared for that one moment where they kill. We have been the animal that has been that thing’s prey and that type of creature has been the bringer of death since age immemorium, and now, we, the tiny creatures, the ones that had always watched with fear. We have defeated them utterly. We could eradicate them in the blink of an eye. As an animal, man is supreme master. We can draw life from all of the world, exploit every resource. There is nowhere else to evolve as an animal It is the ones that cling to the idea a ‘breed’ is superior who truly do not fit in. I know I could never convince my friend their favorite dog breed is better than another, nor he yours, nor your cat, or hamster or whatever pet you prefer. How can we see ourselves, the most powerful animal in creation and think less of ourselves than dogs? Who was foolish enough to think that would make a good insult? We are all human beings, the many and the one.

So I share this of myself to you. My anger and my love. I make art to let go of my rage. Write this to atone too. I do not have a religion. I do not teach a faith. Just recording what I can of my personal human evolution and sitting here, as our people have, since time immemorial, sat around a campfire and laughed. All people knew this since long before their grandfathers time. Fire, sitting and talking, no tribe, no race, no identity can claim. That people came before any of us and when we have gone our separate ways, we have all said as one, “We’ll keep the fires burning and wish for your safe return and to remember that I love you.” This is who we are. Those who carried fire. What we did to explore strange lands is now long past and we must tend one another’s wounds. We had been so gone we barely recognized ourselves. I am sorry if I hurt you, my friend.

Save for a few great depths, only the stars are left to explore. We must now come once again together so that we may reach further still or will we choose to live out our days and vanish here? What if there’s no one else to return? Consider, just for a moment if God was only a promise we made until we had conquered the world? He was easy to concede when there was less we did not know. What foods to eat, what crops to grow, how to stave off hunger, fear for another winter, then twenty or more.

Think back. Why would any God that loved you, want you to go to war? Why would any animal, seeking comfort, desire it any more? Why would you want to have games turn violent, we can invent better games. I know that’s one that bothers me. Sure we can invent better games that are social games, we understand better each day how the animal works. I know how to off-balance you, you do too and there, for a moment, I stopped being we again. We’ll figure it out, we know. So what? What’s the point? It’s time to play something new. Let’s create something really amazing. Why don’t we explore that next frontier, reaching outward or within or seeking some whole way new? Who know’s what’s over there and who we might meet and be?

Let’s eat lunch then see what’s out there. Make music, invent, build things. Until god or the singularity, some way of leaving this planet or creating universes of our own or maybe we create a new kind of life or maybe, just maybe, we chance ever hear the voice of someone new, some distant, other people’s calling out, “Hello!”, what, really, do we have to fear, for there is only us and the monsters can not take us for we are those who bring fire.


Daily Cartooning, the Character as Calligraphy

November 28, 2016

In the wake of the recent elections, I’ve been busy.   I was shocked by the results, needed to remember the world still has good people in it.  I took a simple idea, asked some friends for advice, and then started an event.   At the very least, it helped me.  I met wonderful people, made new friends, reaffirmed friendships with ones I already knew, and felt a part of community again.     This lovely video made by Roger Tran shows the power of what we can do as a community:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwhUGlTTkOk&feature=share  So many people showed up.  Some brought signs, some flowers, all brought themselves.  We came together and became something bigger.  It gave me new strength

In reflection on this, I want to do more to help others express themselves.  I am not a professional artist but I am a competent student and it occurred to me that sharing my notes might help someone else find a means of expressing themselves that they’ve always desired.   To that end:  My notes-to-self on learning to draw economical characters are attached to this image:


and a ~1min time-lapse video of the exercise is available here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMj109VanCs



Free to good home

September 11, 2015


Know someone who does on paper 2D animation and would like an stand? I have a 1960’s Neilson Hordell that I no longer use. I’ve moved to working digitally.

The composite has 3 axis of movement, X, Y, and orbit plus the top and bottom peg bars can move in Y independent of the composite.

It’s all manual. No electronics, just hand cranks (and the handles are broken off some of those, though easily replaced with a screw, a couple washers, and a bit of tubing) and a manual platten. When I got it, its camera head had also gone missing which is why it sits inside a Bessler copy stand. This isn’t a perfect marriage. The lights on the Bessler (when attached) prevent more than about 10 degrees of rotation of the composite. However, they can be removed and attached to the ceiling to give a full range of motion.

In addition, only the top pegbar has ACME style pegs (ones that I somewhat crudely hand made) though both top and bottom bars have lots of screw down points for pegs and it uses the screw-type pegs. If I knew it was going to a good home, I’d be happy to make some more pegs for it to send it off well. I also have a thin gauge metal ACME and a similar round punch pegbar that I used to use taped to the deck for additional pegs.

The composite weighs about 80lbs, the rest of it is pretty light and it’s pretty easy to disassemble and reassemble.

Here’s a film a made on this stand:



Constructing a Canopy Cruiser

July 23, 2014

squeeb bikemount

Ever wanted a cool canopy cruiser on the playa but you can’t weld or didn’t want to permanently alter or bike?  I designed this little rig to give me a solid front mount point that doesn’t turn with my handlebars.  Used in conjunction with clamps mounted on either side of the book rack on the back of my bike, this gives me a nice solid 3-point mount system that has withstood the tests of the playa for several years running.    You can build it in an hour with a jig saw, a drill, though a chisel, dremmel, or router is also strongly recommended.

The core is made from a couple pieces of 2×4.  The one that sits inside the frame of the bike is the important one.  

Put a piece of wood on the opposite side of your bike and trace the open space with a pencil.  Cut it out with a jig saw, and then use a chisel, dremmel, or router to cup them so it fits snugly into your frame  (This isn’t absolutely necessary but the tighter the fit, the better).  

The front inner piece is much like the inner one but you can be more sloppy/creative here.  I wanted my front to look like the prow of an old sailing ship so I bored a larger hole front to back and bent a piece of conduit to slot into it but you could make the hole top to bottom and skip the bend or use a variety of different materials.

The exterior pieces are 1/8″ plywood, but you could use any rigid material that can take a bit of flex.  Stiff plastics and most metals would also work.   The important part here is to make sure that the pieces overlap the tubes of the frame.   This is what keeps your prow from moving side to side.      Also make sure it clears your handlebars and any cables when you turn the wheel back and forth. 

As noted above, my riser is made from a bent piece of conduit but you could mount just about anything here in a variety of configurations. 

The assembly is held together with carriage bolts and lock washers.   I used cap-nuts on mine because I like to minimize sharp edges.

And that’s basically it.  With a solid mount point on the front that’s not getting on your way, you can get pretty crazy with what the actual canopy looks like!  Here’s the rig I built for my spouse last year.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/obscurestar/9699598756/ (That zepplayan is nearly 10 feet long!)


Cintiq Animation Desk

April 9, 2013
Cintiq Animation Desk by ObscuredStar
Cintiq Animation Desk, a photo by ObscuredStar on Flickr.

A little carpentry and the the Cintiq 15X now rotates for better drawing. ^_^


Cintiq 15x 18SX Pen Repalcements and Compatibility

April 5, 2013

I was recently given an old Cintiq 15x sans pen and cables. I’ll make a separate post on cables shortly. But since it took me a few hours of searching, I thought I’d condense this and post it and hopefully save someone else some time. The 15x and the 18SX can use the same pens per all info I found. I’ll be referring to the 15x as it is the only one I tested.

The Bad News:
*The Cintiq 15X pen and all compatible pens are discontinued.
*The Grapphire and Intuos pens do NOT work with the 15x.

The Good News:
*After a lot of searching. Wacom-asia has a compatibility chart here: http://www.wacom-asia.com/aptky/607/pen.htm
** In case that goes away, the pertinent info is that all PenPartner and UltraPen wacom pens should work. These are pens that begin with the model number UP-###E
** For search purposes, you want: PenPartner, UltraPen, UD Series, PL-300, PL-400, Cintiq 15x, Cintiq 18x

On ebay I wasn’t able to find a ‘Cintiq’ pen for less than $130 + shipping. However, I found a UP-719EA-00A-1 for $25. You can also be clever and note that the completely obsolete Wacom Digitizer and Digitizer II tables use the early UP series pens and those can be had on ebay with pen for less than $20. I saw some listed as little as $1 but didn’t feel like waiting for an auction to get a pen.

** NON-WACOM pens: I have not tried these but I found many people claiming that pens for Tablet PCs would work. The favorite among the people who’d tried them was the Axiotron Modbook pen. However, like the wacom pens, this too is discontinued and while they were in the $10-$25 range 2 years ago, the only ones I saw for sale were closer to $100.

So if you’ve lost your pen, exhale! You’re not completely SOL yet. 🙂

I am mirroring this post on DeviantArt to up the signal.

Coming soon: Cintiq 15x USB to Mini-din wiring schematic and replacement power supplies and a DIY instructable for mounting a Cintiq 15X in an animation desk. 😉