Shtacks: Type something

I live in beautiful, downtown, Tacoma but I work in overrated, overpriced, Seattle. I spend a lot of time on the train. I try to make the most of my time commuting by reading, listening to music and podcasts, and doodling on my iPad. I have been doodling desktop images for a while - big high-resolution square format images that can serve as a phone, iPad, or desktop wallpaper.

Letters and numbers and more in Sketch

Letters and numbers and more in Sketch

In April of this year I hit upon the idea of drawing the alphabet. I used Sketch to lay out a square and position a big Bodoni A, B, C, and D and got started. I exported those images from Sketch to my iCloud drive, placed them into Procreate on my iPad, and painted.

Painting the 'M' in ProCreate Each image uses the same color palette. 

Painting the 'M' in ProCreate
Each image uses the same color palette. 

I didn’t layout all of the letters at once. I probably should have. I learned in July that “Q” doesn’t fit the square as the little descending tail falls off the page. I also discovered that W is too large for the page. Whoops. I guess it’s a painting of a typographical error.

I started thinking that it would be fun to text these images to people. Once I had the alphabet complete, I stole a weekend to write Shtacks.com

Type something

In the text field at the top you can type letters and some punctuation. You can also get a heart icon with <3, data-preserve-html-node="true" :heart:, or _heart_. The letters are laid out based upon the size of the screen. So resize your browser window or rotate your device for a different layout.

On desktop browsers you can download the image with the download button at the bottom. Currently I don’t have image downloads working on mobile devices. But I hope to fix that soon.

As you type the text becomes part of the URL. So you can share what you’ve typed with friends by sharing the URL using your browser’s share function, or just by copying and pasting the web address. When the shared page loads, it will capture the text in the URL and regenerate your image.

Or at least mostly. It may be a different layout because the viewer my have a differently sized screen or device. Also the (typographic) spaces are multi colored and selected at random.

And how

After researching HTMLCanvas, I spent about two days building the web site. I wanted to write something very slim and functional. My day job relies on big, object oriented web frameworks. Building something fast and light with a singular focus was refreshing.

You can see that the main program is quite simple.

After collecting references to the page elements, the piece…

  1. Collects any text any the query string and sets it as the current text
  2. Writes the image out using the URL text, or the default
  3. Creates two methods to rewrite the image, and to set the URL text
  4. On resize of the browser window, rewrites the image
  5. On input of text, rewrites the image
  6. On input of text, sets the URL state
  7. On a history event (clicking the back button), extract the previous text from the previous URL and rewrite the image

Writing the image is also a straight-forward algorithm. With a reference to the text input and the drawing canvas…

  1. Set the square dimension for each letter
  2. Prepare for drawing by getting the canvas drawing context
  3. Get the current text
  4. Get the width of the window, minus scrollbars
  5. Calculate the dimensions of the drawing surface based upon the window and text
  6. Clear the drawing surface and resize
  7. Break the text up into a table, rows and columns of letters
  8. Calculate the position of each letter, in each row
  9. Load and place the letter at its position in the canvas

Iterative

Working on Shtacks was the first time I realized that both art and software are iterative practices. Shtacks is the first artwork I have done with release notes.

Painting each letter, I refined my process and got faster at getting the effect I wanted. Writing the site, I worked writing small building blocks to add up to the complete piece. I started by simply loading the images by letter. From there I worked on getting and setting the text. Then handling the heart icon. And so on. Small iterations leading to releases leading to the work.

Majid likes alpacas who like coffee

Alpacas and coffee

Alpacas and coffee

I have the good fortune to work with an old friend. He works remotely from Portland - but we still chat quite a bit over Slack and see each other when he visits Seattle to work out of our office. He has a deserved reputation for knowing the answer to most questions. We were joking in Slack about how he is a human search engine. His name is Majid so I started suggesting ridiculous web addresses for his human powered search engine - like http://majid.majid - or perhaps more Catch-22-y http://majid.majid.majid - I started posting screen captures of silly domain names available on Hover.com - and found majid.coffee - so naturally I registered it. I have a job; domains are cheap.

Later I popped into my team’s private channel and asked what we should put there. Majid does love coffee. One of my teammates remembered that he was fond of alpacas after seeing some kind of alpaca show in Portland,of course.

So I settled on Alpacas drinking coffee in a coffee shop. I looked at some photos of Matisse’s paintings. I missed that mark by a mile. I ended up somewhere south of David Hockney I think. But it works. I wanted something whimsical and loose. I think I got it. I also wanted to crank this out on a Saturday.

I knew I wanted this to be more than just a JPG on a web page. I found this great parallax effect library and knew just what to do.

I painted my coffee alpacas in ProCreate on my iPad - quickly and loosely - on a few layers. I exported that out as a Photoshop document to my iCloud drive and then grabbed that file on my Mac where I opened it in Pixelmator. I used Pixelmator to export each layer as either a PNG or JPG depending upon where in the stack it was. Some layers didn’t need full 8-bit alpha transparency, so I could save a few bytes by saving those as low-color 1-bit transparency PNG files.

Then I pulled down a copy of the parallax library, created a new Git repository, fired up Visual Studio Code and built a tiny web site. For my small static projects I’ve been using Pug templates - because it’s just a quicker way to write HTML and I can easily include and compile markdown files for blocks of text. I still tend to use Gulp to compile my templates and things - and also to run a little server. I could have probably used https://webpack.github.io for this too, but Gulp was fine.

Once I got everything put together I stacked up all the layers, got the parallax library working, and made some little adjustments. For example, I needed to tweak the scaling and the parallax effect so the edges of the layers didn’t show.

I’m hosting the page using GitHub Pages - which is a fantastic feature. It’s intended to host project documentations, or static blogs. Whatever. It’s an art gallery now.

Ever since I came across Rafaël Rozendaal’s work I’ve been thinking about how to meld my web stuff and my art stuff. This is a good trial run.

Hearty breakfast

Breakfast Painted with ProCreate for iPadPro

Breakfast
Painted with ProCreate for iPadPro

I think I am liking this faux modernist desktop wallpaper thing. I drew the above on my morning commute to Seattle. For all of my desktops I use the same color palette and the same canvas size. It’s an opportunity to play with shapes and styles and colors. Since I’m on a train, I can’t get too complicated. I only have an hour - and the train is not a smooth ride.

One of my co-workers saw this on Instagram, then demanded I print it. I did. She hung it up in the office kitchen.

Post-internet

I have given up on reading Gene McHugh’s “Post Internet: Notes on the Internet and Art”.

This book was once a blog. This blog was once at http://www.122909a.com. I don’t suggest you follow that link. It is a dizzying array of advertising and copyright infringement. It’s probably not safe for work or your computer.

The book is the blog, collected and published. I love this idea. Write small short essays on a theme, publish for free as a blog, sell as a book later once there is established demand. Creative. Smart.

“Post Internet” is McHugh’s term for our period in history after the internet has become mainstream. He writes:

“On some general level, the shift of the Internet to a mainstream world in which A LOT of people read the newspaper, play games, meet sexual partners, go to the bathroom, etc. necessitated a shift in what we mean when we say “art on the Internet” from a specialized world for nerds and the technologically-minded, to a mainstream world for nerds, the technologically-minded and painters and sculptors and conceptual artists and agitprop artists and everyone else. No matter what your deal was/is as an artist, you had/have to deal with the Internet – not necessarily as a medium in the sense of formal aesthetics (glitch art, .gifs, etc), but as a distribution platform, a machine for altering and re-channeling work. What Seth Price called “Dispersion.” What Oliver Laric called “Versions.”

Summary: The internet is a thing now and you can’t avoid it. Embrace it or deny it, you are reacting to it and informed by it.

Since I’ve made a living making things on the internet, this is an obvious statement. But everything is new for someone, and it’s an idea worth exploring. McHugh is an art critic and is therefore talking mainly about art, but this idea is true of everything from newspapers to banks.

After establishing this premise the author spends several chapter-posts talking about works of art from internet aware or engaged artists. He shares bits of interviews with others. He writes about works of internet art with genuine love and interest. He is not disaffected or ironic. He really likes this stuff. This is why I stuck with the book-blog as long as I did.

Performance

Bewersdorf is an important post Internet artist because he realized very clearly that the quality of art on the Internet is not measured in individual posts but in the artist's performance through time, through their brand management. On Facebook, a user is judged, not by one status update, but rather by their style and pace of updating. The same is true for post Internet artists

This is the other big idea in Post Internet. (There may be more, I’ll never finish it.) Artists use the internet to share their work as it is made, shown, evolves. They share their inspirations and their failures. This amounts to an ongoing performance, as in Performance Art.

This is an interesting idea - and I think it’s an accurate idea as well. But similarly - this is also true of all bloggers, Instagram stars, weird Twitter accounts, and everyone who lies about how much they love their life on Facebook.

And so?

With these two points made - the rest of the book-blog just rolls around these ideas and discusses other works of art and artists. None of these works can be seen because the author includes no links. Attempting to find them or even the artists other works is useless, as all of this work has been expunged from the internet.

“Cortright makes work that is often indistinguishable from vernacular forms of culture. There are lots of videos of young people using a default effect and then acting silly. She does it with a style, humor, and somehow very human sincerity that makes each of her works a very good example of whatever cultural form she is working in. This piece is a good example. For someone who doesn’t look at it as art, it would be a pretty good example of an amateur video. By putting it in the context of art and the context of her larger body of work, though, the video takes on a different meaning. It works as a readymade almost, demonstrating for the viewer part of the visual language of the moment so that the viewer can see it. What is more powerful, though, is that it doesn’t do it in an academic way. While being a work of art, it is also a work that is not “of art.”

Here, McHugh, is describing a bit of video art that is indistinguishable from any amateur video on the internet. Here is the important bit again:

For someone who doesn’t look at it as art, it would be a pretty good example of an amateur video. By putting it in the context of art and the context of her larger body of work, though, the video takes on a different meaning.

Why must I put it “in the context of art” in order to derive a “different” meaning? Why can’t I put any old weird Tumblr in the context of art and derive a different meaning? Why is this video special and worthy of the context of art? He doesn’t say.

This is where I am let down. “Post Internet” is not a celebration of the weird, wonderful, awful, and strange creative stuff that happens all day, everyday on the internet - but just more cultural gate-keeping of via the “context of art”.

Doodling ingenue torch singers on the teevee

Portrait study painted with ProCreate for iPad Pro

Portrait study painted with ProCreate for iPad Pro

I am working lots lately which prevents me from getting in any good practice drawing or making it to my life drawing studio. The other day I found some time to draw so I parked with my iPad in front of my television and used some album art as a reference.

Drawing from a television takes the “you shouldn’t draw from photos“ cliche to exciting new places. I can save a photo on my phone, and view it on my AppleTV. Now the photo is bright and big and across the room. It’s fun and slightly weird.

I am getting a little better with color selection and stronger with my drawing, despite not getting as much practice as I’d like. I’m starting to see the pinks and grays in skin and I’m doing a better job blocking in big forms and not getting lost in the details.

New wallpaper: Work Coffee Work

Work, coffee, work Digital painting created with Procreate for iPad Pro

Work, coffee, work
Digital painting created with Procreate for iPad Pro

A new wallpaper.

I keep coming back to this “wonky” pseudo-modern doodle style on the train. There’s something fun about it. It also takes some of my natural “bad” drawing habits (elongated forms, exaggerated details) and just makes them prominent features of the drawing. Here I imagine myself working and fueling myself with coffee. Nearly lifelike.

I realized that I’ve been doodling on the train for nearly a year now. Not daily, but lots. I hate my commute, it steals precious time from my life. But in retrospect I have a lot of work to show for it.

Museum Industrial Complex

A while ago I was catching up with an old friend. We graduated from undergraduate school together. We had shiny new art degrees and headed off to find graduate programs.

We both had slight detours before grad school. I was missing an art history requirement and one philosophy requirement. I completed those during the first summer session after the spring semester. Since I wouldn’t make it in time for the fall semester I lucked into a job painting murals and faux finishing fancy homes around Charlotte, NC. On the weekends I worked as a gallery attendant. I rented a share of a garage from a rock band who never practiced and two artists who never worked and had a giant studio to myself. I put together a show and got my name in the paper.

My friend moved off to Austin with his new wife - at 21 that seemed so advanced to me - and she attended a graduate program for music while he worked and made artist friends and made art. Austin is much cooler than Charlotte.

In another year I was attending University of North Carolina at Greensboro for their Master of Fine Arts and in two years my friend and his wife had relocated to Houston to attend the University of Houston’s MFA program. By the second year of my friend’s program we had both read enough Arthur C. Danto and Dave Hickey to be done with all of it. He had the bravery to quit outright. I muddled through my second year, working in the computer lab and part time in an ad agency. I left art school with a job that paid money. Take that establishment.

He and I had rage-quit art-with-a-capital-A by this time and it was liberating. Outside of the just-grimy-enough art school and the white cube of the museum you knew your work was good if you got paid for it.

Now, years later, both of us are coming back around to making art (with a small ‘a’) because it’s nice and human to have a creative outlet. It’s also fun. But it’s hard to shake all that indoctrination. It keeps showing up in the back of my mind and saying dumb things. “But what should I do with this work. What am I getting at?” and other boring thoughts. The only thing you need to say with a painting is “hey, look at this”.

When we caught up the other day, we were grousing about our education and how it led us from things we loved and how rotten and false all of it was. I blurted out the phrase “Museum Industrial Complex” to describe it. My friend texted “omg copyright that”. I registered a domain nameinstead.

A silly fake web site

This was a good opportunity for me to build http://museumindustrialcomplex.com. (There should really be a good name for silly fake websites.) I host the site using the GitHub Pages feature of my GitHub account, and I’ve made the repository public.

It’s a straightforward static website. Large blocks of content are written in Markdown which is included into a Pug (formerly Jade) template. This is all put together with a simple suite of Gulp tasks which build styles and compile HTML into a single page website. I had played with flex box layout and writing super minimal JavaScript without a framework. I played a little bit with the window.requestAnimationFrame api. It felt good to stretch my web design legs for fun. All the imagery are SVGs which are my very-favorite form of internet media.

Error 601: Wrong part of town

Error 601: Wrong part of town

I wrote the site imagining a cabal of art historians and curators meeting at a large conference table. They would sit under the conference table instead of at it because, you know, artists. This shadowy group would conspire on how best to spend donations from the rich and tax dollars from the government while persuading the potentially art loving public that they should never buy or love anything. Because that would be wrong. I imagined this group selling their services to the ultra rich, guaranteeing their social and cultural status for a price. These folks would need a website.

I included a snarky contact form which only rejects you. I needed some other effect. I thought about having the text become unreadable on mouseover, or the “arty” graphics obscure your view. Finally, I had the text fade away slowly leaving nothing but a tombstone.

Underlit

Shawna ProCreate for iPad Pro

Shawna
ProCreate for iPad Pro

Last Thursday our figure model was just excellent. She came to the studio with a clear vision in mind of the pose she wanted to, and held it, rock steady, for 20 minutes at a time, over the entire three hours.

She laid across one arm - the studio lights on her right caught the underside of her jaw and neck, illuminating the orbits of her eyes.

I started out intending to do an hour of warm up drawing. I chose the soft pastel brush and a palette of grey. After an hour went by I kept drawing the entire three hours. I guess I wanted a break from color.

I nailed down the placement of her features fairly well early on, but it wasn’t until the last 20 minutes or so that I really got the tone of the mouth correct - where the upper lip is lit from beneath, casting a shadow upwards to the nose.