Art Junkie

I have become a total junkie for iPad art. Flickr is my pusher. Here are some of my favourite drugs.

Hotel Midnight is a crazed daughter of the Surrealist project. Her dreams give me nightmares. Midnight works in themes; each theme bending your mind a little more than the last.

The Carnivorous Flower is her most recent assault on my imagination.

Defying Gravity is no less disturbing.

Uchi Uchi soothes back my sanity.

Storm’s Mom has a neat technique for portraits that I’d like to try.

And, lastly, flowers from KStro.

So much to try! So many years I missed thinking that I couldn’t draw!

It’s Not Finished Yet

Here’s a weird thing. When I am drawing on my iPad (which I have been doing a lot lately), I always start by blocking in the major shapes with a first guess at the colors. I do this as a kind of placeholder with the intention to go back and fix it later.

But then I never do!

I either get bored with the picture before it is done, or I decide I like the lo-fi version better than the original. Usually, if the picture is not done in one session, I call it done anyway. I have inadvertently invented my own style that I call “too lazy to finish”.

I am working on a copy of Vermeer’s The Cook at the moment.

The Cook by Vermeer

I am gonna force myself to finish it, but keep the intermediate version to compare.

It Changed my Life – Book One

I hate internet memes too, but I like this one. List 10(ish) books that had a big influence on your life. Here are Will Wilkinson’s and Conor Friedersdorf’s and Ross Douthat’s.

Sinclair Basic

At the end of the third year at Chis and Sid, I won a prize for the most improved student. After coming dead last in my class in the autumn and winter terms, I came first in class at the end of the year and won a book voucher (I did the same thing in each of the subsequent years too but, by then, they were on to me – no more prizes for me).

On my way home from school, I stopped in the bookshop and picked up a book called Programming in BASIC (Beginners All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code).

My mum’s company had recently bought a mini-computer and mum took me to work one day to show it off. It was the first computer that I ever saw and she left me on my own with it for a couple of hours. I found the games!

It had a really primitive version of 20 Questions that I played over and over, fascinated that this chunk of metal could figure out what I was thinking. The highlight was when it didn’t guess my animal and it asked me for a question that would distinguish apes from moneys.

The lowlight came soon after when I introduced my first bug into a computer program. All future players, after answering “no” to “Does it have a tail?” would be asked

Is it a chim?


The full page dot-matrix ASCII of Snoopy made an impression too.


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        XX      X ****  X                           X** X
       X        XX    XX     X                      X***X
      X         //XXXX       X                      XXXX
     X         //   X                             XX
    X         //    X          XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX/
    X     XXX//    X          X
    X    X   X     X         X
    X    X    X    X        X
     X   X    X    X        X                    XX
     X    X   X    X        X                 XXX  XX
      X    XXX      X        X               X  X X  X
      X             X         X              XX X  XXXX
       X             X         XXXXXXXX\     XX   XX  X
        XX            XX              X     X    X  XX
          XX            XXXX   XXXXXX/     X     XXXX
            XXX             XX***         X     X
               XXXXXXXXXXXXX *   *       X     X
                            *---* X     X     X
                           *-* *   XXX X     X
                           *- *       XXX   X
                          *- *X          XXX
                          *- *X  X          XXX
                         *- *X    X            XX
                         *- *XX    X             X
                        *  *X* X    X             X
                        *  *X * X    X             X
                       *  * X**  X   XXXX          X
                       *  * X**  XX     X          X
                      *  ** X** X     XX          X
                      *  **  X*  XXX   X         X
                     *  **    XX   XXXX       XXX
                    *  * *      XXXX      X     X
                   *   * *          X     X     X
     =======*******   * *           X     X      XXXXXXXX\
            *         * *      /XXXXX      XXXXXXXX\      )
       =====**********  *     X                     )  \  )
         ====*         *     X               \  \   )XXXXX
    =========**********       XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A couple of years later, when I won that prize, there was no question but that I would buy myself a book on programming. I didn’t have a computer though, so I wrote my programs on paper and imagined them running.

Sinclair ZX81Another year went by before Sir Clive Sinclair – who inherited the title Greatest Living Englishman when Winston Churchill died – released the first home computer for under a £100. I saved up and bought myself one.

As soon as that fuzzy little K cursor started blinking in the corner of my TV screen I was hooked and there was no holding me back.

I drew my own ascii art. I played chess in 1kB. I painstakingly copied the machine code for a draughts program byte by byte from a book. I wrote a Monopoly program. I wrote a program to do Fourier Analysis. I learned Z80 assembly language which I hand-assembled using look-up tables because I didn’t have an assembler.

Non-programmers often don’t understand what a creative activity programming is. They think it’s about following mundane instructions. I can’t think of a more creative activity.

It’s truly liberating to discover that you can make something out of nothing but the thoughts in your head. Maybe people who are gifted at painting or music get a hint of this but to suddenly find that you can imagine something and then go build it! It makes you feel superhuman.

Sinclair C5Sinclair also invented the first commercial electric car which turned out not to be so commercial after all and Uncle Clive lost both his fame and his fortune. A fickle nation turned its love to Alan Sugar and his wondrous Amstrads but I’ll always be grateful to Sir Clive for the gift he gave me.

Heroes take journeys, confront dragons…

[continued from There Be Dragons…]

Actually getting the tattoo was pretty cool.

Tattoo parlours always intimidated me from the outside but inside it was just like going to the dentist (if your dentist had a lot of tattoos) [is that supposed to be less intimidating?-ed]. My hostess – I wish I remembered her name. The google was no help. I’ll call her Tattooed Lady – sat me down and pulled out a Bic razor. Ooooh! Didn’t expect that. Never had my legs shaved before (or since).

Next, Tattooed Lady traced the outline of a dragon with a Bic ballpoint pen (didn’t expect that either) before going over it with the needle thingie. Holy crap! It hurts when the needle hits your tibia! I don’t know how people can tolerate it when they get the really bony bits – like the top of their feet – tattooed. When I mentioned this to Tattooed Lady, she showed me the half-finished tiger that she was having on her skull.

My New Tattoo
My Brand New Tattoo

Colouring the tattoo didn’t really hurt (though, oddly, when I had my other tattoo done it was the colouring that hurt most). As far as I could see Tattooed Lady was working blind because all I could see was a mess of red and yellow ink. Every now and again, she would wipe it away and I’d get a brief glimpse of a stunningly vivid dragon before the ink (or was it blood? *shrug*) would flood back and my dragon faded back into the mess.

When she was done, she covered it with a bandage which quickly got soaked with red ink (or was it blood? *shrug*). She gave me the after-care speech and sent me on my way.

I happened to be staying with my mother at the time and it was hard to hide the huge, red-soaked bandage. She assumed the worst but all sympathy vanished when she found out that I had not been in a horrible accident.

Everyone thought I was nuts. I got all the usual lectures.

“Only bad people get tattoos. People will think you are a bad person.”
“You’ll regret it when you are older.”
“They cost a fortune to have removed.”

But I can honestly say that I am still fiercely proud of my tattoos. I don’t notice them very often but when I do, I still get a flash of pride – as though I drew them myself. I know a ton of people that regret their tattoos and it’s usually because they are sick of seeing them or because they got some spur-of-the-moment image that they don’t like any more. Don’t even get me started on the people that tattoo the name of a former lover.

To summarize, my tips for getting a tattoo that will give you a lifetime of pleasure:

  • Get it on a part of your body (ideally not a bony part) that you don’t have to stare at all the time
  • Don’t settle on the first image that takes your fancy. Take your time over it. You will have to look at it for the next 60 years. Make a few trips to the parlour until you are sure.
  • Don’t be under the influence when you get it.

Bonus tip that may or may not apply to you:

  • I like to make big decisions alone. Getting advice is fine but in the end, it’s me that has to make the decision and I like to do it free from pressure. I make better decisions that way so I went to the parlour alone. YMMV.

I still love my tattoos. Will you still love yours in 60 years?

There Be Dragons

[I wrote this for a friend. I hope he won’t mind that I recycled it for my blog]
I got my first tattoo when they were quite unfashionable. I was in the Navy and even there no one was getting tattoos. OK. A couple of people had them and everyone laughed at them – especially the kid who got the enormous Homeward-Bound-ship-in-a-sunset tattoo. The captain of my sub had one – which seemed rather scandalous because officers never got them. But I had always been fascinated by the idea of a tattoo and, one day, I happened to drive past a tattoo parlour and felt an tremendous urge to pull over and go inside.

The walls were covered with the most delightful sketches I had ever seen.  Every now and again an attractive lady came out to ask if I was OK and if I saw anything I liked. From the magazine clippings on the wall, I knew that she was – according to the Guinness Book of Records the World’s Most Beautiful Tattooed Lady two years in a row. That’s “was” as in used to be. Her Most Beautiful days had passed but she was still quite striking. And very tattooed.

I stared and stared (at the sketches, not the lady) for maybe a couple of hours and resolved to get one. But not today. I wanted to sleep on it first.

I went back to the parlour (does “parlour” sound dirty to you? It does to me.) a couple more times.

“Oh hi! It’s you again! Made up your mind yet? Take your time it’s an important decision.”

On the third trip I picked out an enchanting-looking dragon for my calf and ask “How much for the dragon?”.

“I charge for the bigger ones by how long they take. £30 for each hour. That’ll take me about an hour.”

I wanted one more night to sleep on it before I was sure.

“I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I’ll be waiting. See you tomorrow.”

[to be continued… I have to go to work now]

My Drawing Table Squeaks

Took the kids to the Exploratorium today. It’s currently my favourite museum. Better even than OMSI (although they don’t serve beer at The Exploratorium. How come that hasn’t caught on outside Portland?)  I wish San Jose had a decent museum. The Tech sucks worse than possibly any museum in the world except Morwelham Quay.

I couldn’t find my favourite exhibit – Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. There are so many great exhibits that I have never actually seen them all.

Wan moaning, Rat Rotten Hut’s murder colder inset, “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter an shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tutor cordage offer groin-murder hoe lifts honor udder site offer florist. Shaker lake! Dun stopper laundry wrote! An yonder nor sorghum-stenches, dun stopper torque wet strainers!”

Jazz fell in love with the drawing board and watched it for about 90 minutes. It’s basically a table hung from four ropes like a pendulum and a pen that draws patterns on a piece of paper as the table swings and twists.  There is a weight that makes it swing eccentrically to make the patterns more interesting.

I promised to make her a real one but I wanted to see if I could do it in Alan Kay’s excellent Squeak first. It was pretty easy and quite effective.

Here’s the program. I messed around with the constants to get different effects.

squeak program

and here’s a picture I made with it:


Today: simulation. Tomorrow: the real thing.

Wish us luck!


I just downloaded the latest version of Squeak (now called etoys). It’s MUCH better than it used to be. All the bugs are gone and it doesn’t look like it was made in 1983 any more. Go get it from then you can play with my project – Squeak: Drawing Table


Maybe you could add damping for me.