Quote of the Moment

"It's never wrong to hope, Byx," said my mother. "Unless the truth says otherwise."
- from Endling #1: The Last, by Katherine Applegate

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Year Down the Drain

We're in the final hour of 2010 (in my time zone, at least), and though technically the decade itself lasts for another year longer, tonight the calendar rolls over into the double digits in the second millenium.

It's been a year of ups and downs, with the ups mostly outweighing the downs.  I didn't manage to get a second job, nor did I sell anything more, but I kept the job I had.  One of our pets isn't doing so hot, but none of them have died this year.  Grandpa's increasingly not there, but when he is there at least he's still Grandpa.  The car I drove into 2009 is no longer the car I'm driving out of it.

This year, I saw salmon return in decent numbers to a stream where I, personally, had never seen a single salmon swimming.  I stood close enough to feel the water spray off their fins as they struggled upstream, and understood a bit of the wonder that the overcrowded, undereducational local salmon festival failed to instill in me after over three decades of attendance.

I stood outside on a clear night under an evergreen tree, and as I looked up through the branches a thousand raindrops transformed moonlight into glimmering stars.

I saw the bright magenta flash of an Anna's hummingbird outside our window, for the first time ever.  This fall, I stood less than a foot from a young Anna's as he scolded us for letting the hummingbird feeder freeze up.

I saw goldfinches return to our feeders.  I saw a hawk in the front yard.  I saw a bobcat.

I rediscovered a local trailhead, much improved since my last visit, even if at least one of its visitors disturbed me as few other humans have disturbed me.  While up there, I saw a flock of tanagers.

I stood in the midst of a dragonfly dance.

Not so bad, as years go.

On the Resolution front, without going through the trouble of reposting, I hit about 3 out of my 7 major goals, in spirit if not precise lettering.  I resolved to create more this year, and create more I did: I filled more paper sketchbooks than I have in any previous year, I made more ambitious projects, and I even maintained an online sketch thread on an art board.  I also participated in - and "won" - a NaNoWriMo.  I even relearned basic web skills and overhauled a good chunk of my web site.  So, three out of seven... that's roughly a 43% success rate.  Again, not so bad.

Once the new year rolls over, I'll be posting my 2010 resolutions.

In fifty minutes... or less...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas Ornament Blitz Photos (Plus Bonus)

Inspired by an episode of Animal Planet's The Most Extreme: evidently, our local banana slugs will drop out of tall trees by slime trails in order to avoid baking in the sun.  When I saw that, I knew I had to make a banana slug holiday ornament.

So, I've extracted promises from my victims - er, relatives - that they won't hit my websites until after the festivities tomorrow morning.  Or this morning, actually, as it just rolled over to midnight.  In any event, it's time once again to post my usually cruddy pictures of this year's usual cruddy ornaments.

The Process Begins
This year, most of my family took a trip to the ocean with Grandpa.  It was likely his last vacation.  In honor of the event, I decided to do ocean-themed ornaments. And what's more oceanic than a seashell?  I used a real shell, and formed Activ-Wire mesh around it. (If I'd known how well the stuff worked, I would've used it in another project... but that's in the Bonus section.)

The Process Continues
Once the wire was formed into a shell-like shape, I pressed Paperclay onto it and formed the shell I'd be working with.  Inside first, then outside.  It went surprisingly well, considering my usual luck.

The "Other" Projects
About midway through the process, my aunt had some dental issues involving a front tooth.  All she wanted for Xmas, she declared, was her front tooth... with much repetition of the very similar song.  Well, her wish was my command... provided her husband loans her his ornament.  And provided she doesn't mind shark teeth.  I drew a template of paper, cut  Activ-Wire for the shape, built it up with aluminum foil, and wrapped it with florist's tape (so the Paperclay would adhere better.)

The Teeth Continued
How they built up.  I hadn't done the tops yet; I was going for a Megalodon/fossil tooth look, and wound up using a hairbrush for the rough texturing... more visible in the next images.

The Final Products Front and Back (immediate family: front and back)
Okay, so I skipped a step or two.  I started doing scrimshaw on the shells: I traced pictures onto the insides and scratched the outlines with dental tools, then did an antiquing rubdown to mark the lines.  Unfortunately, the results looked... well, "horrific" springs to mind.  It was my first attempt at scrimshaw on Paperclay, so I suppose it was bound to come out looking terrible.  To salvage them, I wound up doing a wash/shade look.  Then I painted the backs, hit them with glitter glaze and a coat of spray-on pearl coat, and glued pearls in the tops.  The shark's teeth got a similar treatment, except I kept the tops fairly neutral (save a hint of dark glitter for sparkle.) A final topcoat of satin finish to seal them, on with the hangers, and done in time for Xmas Eve.  Well, the evening part of Xmas Eve, at least...

The Banana Slug: Side Shots
More views of this year's personal project.  Well, he amused me, at least...

The Bonus: Operation Double Quintuple Dragon
Since I have confirmation of receipt by the vict- er, person who requested them, I thought I'd post the start-to-finish chronicle of the making of this year's most ambitious project.  What started as a request to add to an existing ensemble resulted in a complete remake.

In the Beginning, there was Wire...
I started, as usual, with no clue what I was going to do, but with a nice wire frame with which to do it.  Having lurked on an art board for some time, I figured I'd try some of their techniques, namely wrapping the wire (for a better grip) and using epoxy to hold together the armatures.  And, as the second image proves, these armatures were completely freestanding! (A personal victory, if of little to no import to anyone else.) Yes, those counting may note only four armatures: the littlest one was fighting me, and currently is little more than a wrapped wire spine.

We are experiencing structural difficulties - please stand by...
No, I'm not dumb enough to gratuitously torture dragons, even incomplete dragons.  The Mighty Putty I used to secure the various parts of the armatures had a few issues.  The only way to fix it was to let them dry without resting any weight on the stressed joints... so I strung them up from the ceiling with old earphone cords, because I didn't trust string not to be cut through by the wrapped wire.

A little closer, but something's missing...
I got the wings fleshed out a bit, and started posing them.  But something's not right...

Yeah, dragons do better with heads, you idiot.  Gluing on the styrofoam heads wasn't fun, and couldn't be done while I was working too heavily on posing the beasts.

Fleshing Out
One of the more tedious parts of sculpting (at least, the way I do it)... Aluminum foil gives some structure, and florist's tape gives the Paperclay something to stick to. In retrospect, I should've used Activ-Wire for the wings; wrapping them is a serious pain...  I've also added the digits at this point, and made more pose refinements.

Eye to Eye
I've started adding Paperclay, and I also stuck the eyeballs in their appropriate sockets.  The eyes are just more Paperclay, pre-dried, and are there to give me something to work around as I build up brows and lids and such.  The observant may note that I've added some peculiar jaw projections to the two adults.  While I was remaking the dragon family, I decided to give Master Dragon a beard (and, though it's not visible, elbow tufts) and Lady Dragon a jaw frill.

One Miracle Later...
Roughly a month of off-camera work got me here: sculpted and sanded, the dragons are ready for priming and painting.  The reason for the long jump between progress photos is that, in the interim, they spent much of their time on their backs and sides and other unphotogenic positions.

The Final Product
I started with a base of white acrylic gesso, followed by Christmas Green.  Or at least, it should've been Christmas Green.  Unfortunately, Delta's downgraded their products terribly, so the green I bought refused to cover.  My only other paints - Liquitex - didn't come in a green I wanted, and I didn't trust myself to reliably remix a shade I'd be using so much of.  So, off to the Home Depot and a sample jar of Behr premium paint + primer (flat interior, Par Four Green.)  Worked great*, though I have a ton of Par Four Green left over. It's hard to see, but I've done some spongework and antiquing over the base, in darker greens and metallic gold.  I also glued in the crystal beads (and the teeth, in the case of one chatty little dragonling.)  After this group photo, the dragons were packed and mailed across country... in the middle of some of the worst winter weather to sock the nation.  Fortunately, they arrived at their intended destination.

* - I only recommend this if you watch the person mixing the paint like a hawk; my sister tried using their sample paints for her projects, but she wound up with three bickering twits who not only miscommunicated between themselves, but screwed up her batch so bad it's more like stain than paint.

Anyway, it's been a fairly productive year at the Brightdreamer Workbench.  Hopefully, I can carry this uncharactaristic trend through into 2010.  Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Early Xmas Treat

Because the last post was depressing, and in honor of the winter solstice, I thought I'd post an early holiday treat, mined from the depths of YouTube:

Darcy the Dragon

My next post will likely be ornament photos, after Xmas.  In the meantime, Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quick Dog Update

First off, no, the infection wasn't back.  Secondly, there was evidently some miscommunication between the first vet and the second vet, a.k.a the biopsy vet who might be able to tell us more about what's wrong; the first vet told us (at least twice) that the second vet had already received the dog's info and would call us when they had reviewed it, while the second vet had never heard a thing about it. (Apparently, when the first vet said she'd faxed over the labwork to the second vet, she was thinking of faxing her order over to the pizza delivery joint or something.) But we finally got the papers exchanged and the appointment made.

The results are not encouraging, on more than one level.

The second vet sounds reasonably certain that the liver "mass" (which the first vet referred to merely as "nodules") was cancerous, and it had increased significantly in size since the first vet's exam.  The bloodwork - which the first vet told us wasn't worrisome - was evidently worrisome after all.  He still wanted to perform a highly invasive procedure to confirm the diagnosis, a procedure that sounded like it was remarkably risky and likely to cause problems without actually helping the dog much.  We kept getting the runaround on whether or not treatment options would be worthwhile in his condition, or if the liver issues were responsible for his lack of strength in his back leg.(They don't seem to know why he sometimes can't seem to stand on it, nor do they seem too interested in finding out.)

So, for now, we're going to try some liver supplements; if it's not cancerous, this might resolve the issue.  We think.  Maybe.  If it's really his liver causing his problems and not an infected appendix or ingrown nostril hairs or something else they haven't bothered to tell us about but will happily charge us through the nose to consider.

Why, yes, I'm just a wee bit cynical that the vets seem to be deliberately obscuring the facts in order to play referral tag and siphon off as much money as possible without actually helping the dog.  Why do you ask?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Holiday Hands

The past few days, our region's been in a deep freeze.  As in, when it crept above the freezing level this afternoon, it actually felt warm to me.  Unlike most of the country, we've been spared the devastating blizzards and mudslides and storms and winds, but it's still been very cold.  And very dry.

All day at work, I handle books.  Paper, as anyone who has worked with it can attest, sucks the moisture out of one's hands like nobody's business.

And my holiday projects are all in Paperclay.  An air-drying clay that shares paper's ability to dry out one's hands.

So, basically, despite my heavy-duty cream, my hands are shredded, split, bleeding messes right about now.  But, hey, anything worth doing is worth a little blood now and again...

Thus far, my holiday projects are going decently. (Though I've yet to hear if Phase I reached its intended destination in one piece - it should've gotten there by today at the latest, but I don't suppose the post office takes horrific weather into account when giving shipping estimates.) My holiday shopping's more than half done, save one impossible-to-predict relative.  Tomorrow, I plan to make out holiday cards.  I haven't read a book in over a month (as my sadly neglected book review blog can attest), and my sketching's slacked off since I started holiday project work in October, but, hey, can't complain.  If I'm not precisely on the ball, thus far I've successfully kept the ball from rolling on top of me.  And sometimes that's all one can ask.

Oh... if anyone remembers about the dog who was having issues, he went back into the vet this evening.  To summarize, he'd developed a terrible limp in his hind end that screamed "dysplasia," but was in fact a bad leg infection.  At this time, his liver was found to be disturbingly enlarged.  For the leg, he was prescribed painkillers and antibiotics, but, being the only dog in the planet who carefully chews every bite of food before swallowing, our attempts to pill him failed miserably after a week or so, when he realized his kibbles were tainted.  Nevertheless, he was doing better until a week or so ago, when he started limping again. And pills, as we've discovered, aren't going to help.  The vet said she cold do injections, but she needed to see him first.  So now they're trying to determine if the infection's back (so he would need one kind of injection), or if it's pain (which would require a different injection.) One can be done at home, the other needs to be done at the office.  And the liver will require a biopsy which is a pain in the rear to schedule this time of year; this seems to be an independent issue, near as we can tell.  Hopefully, we'll have an update on the leg/limp end of things tomorrow.