Some of you say "I wish I were more creative." Penguicon 2011 Guest of Honor Howard Tayler's podcast is often useful not just for writers, but for anyone who would like to be creative in any way. This is particularly true of season 5 episode 8. One of the things Howard says in this episode is "you have a thousand jigsaw pieces in front of you. Pick them up and start putting them together." I would like to expand on that concept.

1. Mix and match everything. Make it a habit. Do it in your head as often as possible.
2. Ask questions about the ridiculous crap that results.

The questions are the important part. Here's Neil Gaiman's blog entry on "where do you get your ideas?" It was only when Neil talked to a kindergarten class and they asked it, that he realized all of a sudden that there is an answer to this question after all. He told them they just have to keep asking questions about the weird combinations that come into their heads. Most creative professionals don't even recognize when they themselves are doing it, because they have no concept that there is anyone on the planet who does not do this every minute of every day like they do.

Recently J was watching "Legend of the Seeker". I asked myself "wait a minute. If everybody's going to end up dead and go to the netherworld anyway, what's the point of the netherworld raising an army of the dead to destroy all life?" I pretended that I lived in this fictional world and had experienced this, and then I wondered about it for a while. Eventually a few jigsaw pieces clicked together in a perfect match. I know exactly why the netherworld would raise an army of the dead to destroy all life.

Look right there. That process is where imagination comes from.

While learning how to be more creative, I'm also learning how to not be so wrong about things all the time. What I've found is that these processes walk through the steps in a different order. In real life you have to gather data and perform tests. Avoid making any premature hypothesis, or you will be less likely to notice evidence which contradicts it. The real universe is inconsistent with delivering a satisfying narrative momentum. However, in a fictional story you as the author are pretty much a god, and what passes a test is not "what's real" but "whatever holds your interest", a dramatic tension that needs to be resolved. Truth-seeking and fiction-seeking have processes which are the inverse of each other.

Now to paraphrase advice from Ira Glass of This American Life. As an aspiring creative person, you must start your creative life by churning out loads of bilious crap that you hate. Start now. There has to be some grist in your mental mill. In order to develop this ability, you have to practice this mental process on something, and at first your search engine will be slow and you're going to be terrible. But anyone can develop their own internal Google with enough practice.

Everything you think about is a jigsaw puzzle piece. Just like a puzzle, pick them all up and put them next to each other. That process is why creative work is called work. But if it's too dreary, you're thinking about the wrong things. What do you enjoy thinking about? That's where to start. If it helps, make index cards of everything you like to think about. Put that stuff together in juxtapositions that are either funny, or inspire questions. You guys know I like ice cream. I also think squids are cool. Ice cream + squid. Underwater ice cream truck, delivering aquatic treats to fish. If you keep doing this over and over, you are shuffling your mental deck. Put enough cards that you like in the deck, and shuffle it often enough, and eventually you can't help but draw a combination that catches your interest.

Once you've drawn a hand of cards that inspires cool questions, you have to play those cards right by asking the right questions. Every idea is a puzzle to be solved. There are two main kinds of questions. They are not an acid trip, trance, or dream. They are nothing but logical problem-solving, pure and simple.

1. How can you force the nonsensical to make sense? Why is there an underwater ice cream truck? Who does it deliver to? Is it in the ocean, or in an aquarium, or a world of anthropomorphized animals like Spongebob? Is it really a metal truck, or is it a squid who likes to gather treats and deliver them to its fish friends? Why does it do this? Watch for that "wait a minute, something doesn't make sense" moment. Grab onto that moment. "That story is wrong. That's not how it happened." Then what did happen? List a bunch of dumb or smartass answers and rank them in order of wrongness. That list is a signpost, showing you how to turn right. One end is "you're getting warmer" and the other end is "you're getting colder". Start mixing and matching closer to the warm end.

2. What is enjoyable and why? Study the factors in the mentality of the audience which makes it work for them. Every time you enjoy or don't enjoy a game, or TV, or novel, or any experience, take some time to break down the experience into its parts, look at what it was doing to your mentality, and wonder why.

The skill you are trying to acquire, through study and practice, is quickly honing down your search so you can be more productive. The creative instinct is the instinct for which questions will be most fruitful to ask yourself. Until you get that instinct, you substitute a brute-force search technique, which you will not enjoy so much, but that's why it's called creative work.
I daydreamed about this system for years, and now I get to watch it.

World Builder from BranitVFX on Vimeo.

This week I illustrated another slide show, "Evolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Psychology".

I finished the project I mentioned before. I illustrated a slide presentation "Fundamentals of rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I have added most of them to my portfolio for your viewing pleasure, starting here.

From Portfolio

I have now begun work on his next presentation, with pictures that are frankly even cooler! But I only have a week to do this one.
I can no longer find the reference, but I recently read of a study that showed that the brain-chemical rewards of satisfaction from talking about our intention to do a project are the same as the feelings of satisfaction that we receive from completing a project. The lesson was to finish first and then unveil it afterward, so as not to sabotage your drive.

This was consistent with my life experience. When I was a boy, I would get the neighborhood kids involved in projects of vast ambition, such as an RC car racing track, or a circus, or a backyard theme park made of cardboard. A week later I would forget the plan ever existed because I was busy drawing up detailed schematics of my latest life's work, and assigning a role in it to everyone who would listen. I don't think very many of them ever stopped going along with it, because on balance dreaming and planning is fun. However, I eventually remembered some of my abandoned plans with embarrassment, and could no longer muster the sincere belief that is a crucial component of my glowing enthusiasms. I didn't get back in the saddle until my late twenties, when I figured out how to subdue my attention span. I now cajole, distract, and bribe my brain into avoiding shiny distractions. Well, mostly.

The study on announcements is the latest trick I've learned. That is why I have not already blogged about the paying assignment I have been working on for a week. In another week it's scheduled to be done, and I hope I'll be allowed to show it to you. Until then please regard it with skepticism for the sake of my clever mind-trick. In fact, I might be violating the new lesson just by saying this much.

I would just like to say it's satisfying, and I wish I knew how to get more work with projects of this nature. It feels refreshing to get paid to do a project that I like and approve of; to get paid to do something that is easier to start than to stop. I think the last time this happened was six or seven years ago, and I don't remember it ever happening before that.
The Great Cosby Experiment is now complete, and the results have been tallied. Now that it is over, I can reveal the Bill Cosby that I drew:

From Untitled Album
The first five people to respond to this post will get something made by me! My choice. For you.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:
- I make no guarantees that you will like what I make!
- What I create will be just for you.
- It'll be done this year.
- You have no clue what it's going to be. It may be a story. It may be poetry. I may draw or paint something. I may bake you something and mail it to you. Who knows? Not you, that's for sure!
- I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.

The catch? Oh, the catch is that you have to repost. We can all make stuff!!
nemorathwald: (I'm losin' it)

There is an item in this Etsy Store which cannot pass without comment. It seems to me that if I don't know anyone who wants a knitted eyestalk hat, it would have to be due to some kind of disturbance in the force. You might wish to act while you still can.
You guys didn't want to go with me to "The Gallery Project", so you missed out! It's still running until 4PM Sunday afternoon, so you still have a chance.


Jul. 2nd, 2007 02:33 pm
Moving is a good time to organize and prune the junk one has collected over the years. While doing so I found several old notebooks. I've scanned the contents of one of them. I wrote and drew in this one eight to ten years ago, while working as a security guard previous to my jobs in graphic design and print production. Among the contents were experimental systems of numeric notation, a keyboard arrangement for the phonetic alphabet, and a short and light narrative of the fantastic, complete with an encyclopedic excerpt and background introduction. I now present a sample of my younger self, unedited.

Mobius is a large blue planet covered completely with water. It is inhabited by a race of humanoid fungus. the Mobians breath water exclusively and drown without it. They are usually three meters in height. Their colors range from green or blue to black or white. They are resistant to the extreme pressure of their watery environment because of their spongy flesh and collapsing skeleton, which cause them to actually shrink as the pressure increases. Young Mobians are called "kelpies" because they begin life by budding off a species of floating seaweed, or kelp. Mobians make their homes in coral reefs.
Read more... )

I'm gaining skill in Second Life. This Aztec/Egyptian/Greek/Chinese hybrid is based loosely on a prehistoric Japanese idol called a "Ueno." He's a creation of mine for the Intensive Course In Spoken Lojban. It will be a web comic created by taking snapshots of scenes we set up in Second Life, and the dialogue will be in MP3 files in Lojban. In each exercise, the student character will be in a different situation in which he must figure out the language of the natives (Lojban, naturally), and select the correct reply in Lojban from multiple choice to proceed. Do you remember the TV show Quantum Leap? You can think of this character as the student's "Al". He knows the native language; he refuses to translate but is happy to coach.
Creative work is still work. When writing, design, or another use of the imagination is a task one has committed to do, one cannot wait for inspiration to strike. The creative professional has to learn how to corral inspiration.

Recoiling at the passionless utility, I used to consider this an excellent reason to keep my creative output mostly partitioned from my income except for the occasional freelance job. Anything that I do because I have to, I can no longer even tell whether I sincerely still want to. There may or may not be a market for things I like, so it would probably involve making things I don't like, too much of which would kill my desire to work in that medium at all. I'm careful to stay in love with the rewarding part of my life and have fun with it. If I can find the sweet spot in which people will pay me to do it, so much the better; if not, too bad.

I must be careful that the luxury of being an amateur does not result in slacking off on creative output. My most successful times have come when I treat creative challenges as puzzles to be solved, and then apply myself to finding the answers to those questions as if I were a detective. I have to have something in my hands and say "no no, this is all wrong," and roll up my sleeves to open its guts. I either tinker with trial and error, or I apply the insights I've gleaned from experience about what makes me like something. Either way I fix the machine until it works for me.

The main reason that I didn't do more creative work used to be that I didn't know what to draw, what to animate, what to write a webcomic about, etc. One of the reasons fanfic is so successful might be that many of us don't know how to determine the goal state, so we have to get it from someone else and improve on how they did it. Having a nifty idea is said to be easier than sitting down and doing the work, but it's an equally insurmountable step for those who don't know the trick of it. Yes, there is a trick to "where do you get your ideas?" and yes-- difficult as it may be for authors to believe-- some of us needed to be taught it. Neil Gaiman, who never needed to be taught it, wrote an excellent article about this process after he had been asked "where do you get your ideas" umpteen million times. He identified several idea-seed questions. "What if..." "If only..." "I wonder..." "If this goes on..." "Wouldn't it be interesting if..." That's the trick to which one devotes quiet time and gets to work on making the imagination do something. After and between the reveries in which the goal state is realized and revised, one locks one's self in the workshop carrying out the mechanics to put it in a consumable form outside one's head.

My current creative challenge is to write a humorous skit of a game show between the Klingon Language Institute and The Logical Language Group for the annual Lojban Festival at Philcon. It's difficult to create drama not based on conflict. I have been instructed to make sure that Klingon and Lojban come out looking like apples and oranges for whom the idea of inferiority is inapplicable, while illustrating their non-overlapping goals and features, and have the contestants collaborate to destroy the competition itself. "Warrior Language And Logical Language Join Forces For The First Time!" How's that for a story hook? Philcon is November 17 through 19, so it must be finished within a month.

My poster image. )
I've finished the artworks for the first five people to respond to the LJ Art Meme.

If anyone else wants one, you can ask, but I make no guarantees. And it helps if you make a request for something, even if it's vague. I'll do it if I like it.

How many of you actually fulfilled your promise to make art for this meme?

nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I have a new, continuing source of supplementary income, cleaning up pieces of Illustrator vector art which my new client, a professional designer, originally created in Flash and merely exported and/or auto-traced. He doesn't know Adobe Illustrator.Read more... )

Now, to discuss how the "crowdsourcing" phenomena is discouraging to creative workers.

Read more... )
This project sat idle for more than half a year while I was busy with other projects that were more time-sensitive. Click the "sculpture" tag at the bottom of this entry to read the past blog entries on this topic. The silicone rubber mold is now finished on my maquette of Linux-Tan.

Here is a photo set of the process of removing the clay original.
This photo has mouse-over notes describing what you are seeing.

While I was at it, I also photographed a game board R. and I made ten years ago in college. It's a Mah-Jongg variant intended to teach the Japanese alphabets, hiragana and katakana. I'm not sure where I put the tiles.

Here's a follow-up to the "War On April Fools' Day" story I posted about last week: Authorities have decided not to bring charges against the teenage girls who put up Super Mario Bros. question mark blocks which a bomb squad responded to. Click here to read the story in the Akron Beacon Journal.
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
Last year conservatives made a big deal about a supposed "War On Christmas" because some private business choose of their own free will not to participate in publicly decorating for the Christian holiday. There is a certain kind of Christian who feels persecuted if cities don't pay out my tax dollars to display Christmas creches on public streets and squares that are paid for by my tax dollars.

But now witness the terrornoia reaction when some girls did a cool and fun art project for April Fools' Day. Click here for a link to the article in the Akron Beacon-Journal and the article in the online Record-Courier. I have put in a call with the Beacon-Journal's Metro Editor in charge of local news to confirm that this is not just an April Fool's Day joke on the part of the paper and that the events really happened as described.

The teenage girls followed the instructions on a cool website to make life-size Super Mario Bros. power-up blocks and spread them all over the town. The bomb squad was called out to disarm these pinatas. According to the instructions on the website, the foil-covered cardboard boxes should contain a prize as a gift to whoever is lucky enough to find them. As anyone knows who has not lived under a rock for the last twenty years, question mark blocks traditionally dispense help and not harm. These decorations were intended to delight, not threaten.

Criminal charges are being brought against the five girls ages 15 to 17. Are we now criminalizing random acts of kindness toward strangers? Some artists put up beautiful decorations for April Fool's Day, and are actually being persecuted for it. See, this is what it would actually look like in December if there were a war on Christmas. The internet is banding together to make an outcry, and pay their legal fees if this laughingstock of a case actually makes it to court.

One of my favorite comments to the article was from a user named "disgusted by cowardice": "Hello Police? Yes, there have been several unidentified packages left under our Christmas tree. We saw a bearded man leaving the scene. Can you send in the bomb squad?"

To which I would add, "Hello, police? Someone has made a rainbow and sprinkled it with dew. I feel that the security of my homeland is all tingly."

The nice thing about decorating a public place with privately-funded question blocks is that the first person to find them is supposed to destroy them. If people put out their own privately-funded manger scenes which yield coins, flowers and mushroom-shaped chocolates when smashed with baseball bats, I'd be all in favor of it. Sounds like a fun holiday season.
For those who may not know, EPCOT (formerly known as Epcot Center) is part of the Walt Disney World resort complex in Florida. The "giant golf ball", as it is sometimes known from its flagship globe, is the only permanent World's Fair of human knowledge, technology, art and travel. This was where I first saw computers, videophones, cell phones, hydroponics and Segways. Under the username "epkat" I've been posting a lot to EPCOT Central, a blog for fans of the Disney park to post their dissatisfaction with the management direction in the past ten years, and who have high hopes that John Lasseter of Pixar will fix it now that he's in charge of the parks.

EPCOT is still great, despite the efforts of the current management to strip it of all that it was ever meant to accomplish. The blog keeps reminding me of little details, like the way they artificially pumped a musty museum smell into the leg of the globe as the ride cars ascend the steep slope in darkness, traveling into the past. I recall the laser display projecting the map of the earth spinning on the exterior of the globe when the park closes.

It is a park for geeks. In the way that it's perceived in the culture, there is a sense there just aren't enough people interested in the wonders of science, technology, history and geography to sustain it. Supposedly the money is all to be found in thrill rides and cartoon characters, which is why Disney started replacing everything with that ever since the mid 90's. Read more... )
nemorathwald: (Matt 4)
I did something wrong, and would like to apologize for it publicly, in addition to my private apology. But I'm not sure if the party involved wants me to name him. What I did was probably legal, but ethically questionable. When I translated an artist's song into Lojban and put it into the Lojban podcast, I didn't wait for him to return my e-mail in which I asked for his permission. I had mis-typed his e-mail address.

Seeing that it was credit-attributed, noncommercial, educational, fair use, and does not displace the consumer's need for the original-- it was, in fact, represented as a karaoke track and therefore intended to be used and sung to-- I went ahead and played the voice-over translation for my listeners with the karaoke track in the background.

I have long maintained that just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean it's the best choice. Which is more important? Demanding my rights? Or maintaining the relationships that make everything move forward? Rights are vitally important, but enforcing them just on principle for their own sake is a good way to be miserable and not a co-operative member of a society. Does it matter that my action was legal? Should I do it just because of that? Not really. It's not worth the cost to personal networking. It's not worth the possibility that artists will say "I'm just not going to provide my hard work for free download anymore."

The artist says he really would have preferred I asked him first. That is what matters, because people matter. This was the first artist from whom I did not get consent. Permission is nice, but agreement is better. The principle of Fair Use is a poor and weak excuse to lose a friendly collaborative relationship with a creative person. I ordinarily know better than to risk such relationships.
BoingBoing blogged about How to make latex puppets for animated videos and I immediately went to the website and plunked down my money for the instructional DVD. Foam latex is a casting substance which I have a deficit of information on. This is extremely timely as the fiberglass outer shell on Linux-tan's silicone mold is almost complete. Nobody brought a camera to Sunday's party (which was very successful by the way) or I'd have photos.

I've said before that I intend to make at least two finished Linux-tans, one in flexible foam and one in a hard substrate. I'm still debating what hard substrate to use. I'd rather not make a solid casting, especially of a heavy material such as plaster or expensive material such as Alumilite, because Linux-tan is so large. Fiberglass is a possibility, especially since I'll probably have some left over from creating the outer shell.

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