Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I have been trying out a large number of software packages relating to 3D.  I enjoy looking at the various methods they use to allow you to build an object...and then modify it.  I hope to apply that to the work I'm doing in new and creative ways.
Today I tried out a beta application from Autodesk called Autodesk123D.  It's based on the concept of taking a number of photographs and importing them into software that will then stitch it all together and self-build objects for you.  There are many solutions out there and I've tried several.  I haven't found any that were easy and surefire..but this one is the best I've tried.
I thought I'd start with photos of my robot that sits outside.  Today was overcast, which may actually help, as it meant no "blown-out" reflections from the sun.  I quickly circled the robot and snapped about 35 images. Those were loaded into the application and sent to a "cloud server" to be prepared.  Once it was done, I could turn the object all around! Check it out:

Once I "deleted" the other portions of the scan (ground, car, house, etc). I could then download the robot as a 3D object which I can now clean up and play with!  Here is the object inside an application
called "Hexagon".

And here it is as a wireframe...pretty cool!  You can see from the image above that I have to clean up the top of the body of the robot (and bottom) and do some other fixes to the feet/sign.  Considering the amount of work I put into it (almost none other than taking pics and uploading it)'s pretty amazing. A friend of mine would say "magic".
Now it's time to sculpt something and try that out!
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Have You Been Doing?

I've tried very hard to keep this site updated more regularly. I try to have a couple things prepared if "life" steps in and I know I won't have a chance to get the latest work up.  The last week was difficult as my daughter had "strep throat".  Any parent can tell you that seeing your child sick in any way is difficult.  Fortunately, the fever roller coaster seems to have stopped and tomorrow she returns to school.

I also had the great opportunity to do a small presentation for the local Boy Scouts about what I do.  I have to admit that when I was approached about it they explained they wanted a local "artist".  I was honored, but somewhat apprehensive. I'm afraid I don't quite have an opinion formed on whether or not you can call any of what I do "art".  I was happy to speak to them and discuss that very topic. I doubt you'll be shocked to hear that young boys still like hot rods, rockets, robots and Star Wars....middle aged men and women, too!  They were a very receptive group and I enjoyed it a great deal.

So other than taking my daughter's temperature what have I been up to?  Ah, that's the fun part.  We'll begin with a video and a picture and I'll fill you in over the next few days.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lets carve some brick.

By sheer luck, I've managed to run into the folks from Azek/Parksite a couple of times recently.  This time, while we were talking about the pvc material they have and how much I've come to like it...they decided to show me a new product. It's a composite paving system made of 95% recycled material.  It installs really fast and is designed to last a very long time. 

I looked it over and quickly asked "Will it carve?".  They weren't sure, but quickly gave me a sample and said "Give it a shot!"  I did.

I'm already thinking about some fun ways to use it and can easily imagine some neat things that could be done with a sidewalk, driveway, etc. at a business. 

As if that wasn't enough...they also indicated that Azek was now introducing a rail lighting system for their decking.  It's a low-voltage exterior LED system that looks really great.They showed me the proprietary system and I began to salivate.  Pretty soon I'll show you why!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bend, if you will, a picture....

I'm going to share a secret with you. I like to experiment.  There is a joy in improving something once I figure out how to do it, but the first time is always the best.  It's where "what if" becomes "is".  I don't even mind the failures. They are often spectacular in their own right and teach me more, sometimes, than the success.

Today I thought "Carving pictures in Corian is fun, but what if I heated up the Corian after I carve it...will it bend like the pvc material I've been carving?". I'd seen a sample of someone elses, but didn't know their process. I did some research online and discovered that it will bend with heat. Even better, it turns out Corian holds up quite well outdoors. That suggests a number of ideas to me...

I began by cutting out a series of half-circle shapes out of MDF and gluing them together. This would be the form that I would use to bend the Corian over:

Next, I found a picture. This particular image is the daughter of a good friend.

I convert the image to Grayscale, and then import it into designer.  The settings are critical.  The entire image is carved into the machine less than 1/8" deep.  The software basically takes the 256 levels of gray and treats them as depth indicators. So it carves the deepest for white or lighter colors and carves less for dark. For black, it essentially carves nothing.

Now I let the CarveWright do the work.  Because the depth is so small, the machine completes this in very little time.  With a little backlighting, the material looks like the image!

Now it was time to have fun...I used a heat source (I won't divulge what, as my wife would be unhappy if it were to get back to her) to heat up the Corian, and then I bent it over the form.  It worked great!  I then decided to make a wooden base to attach to it. This base will provide stability and can be used to either back light the image with a candle, or to mount a light source. 

Right now I have to go, because there are other materials in the shop I haven't tried to heat up and bend yet and the day is young!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Doug, you have a meeting downstairs...

Two years ago, I was drinking a cup of coffee and discussing Valentine's day with a co-worker.  I was the Senior Vice President of IT for a marketing services company in Illinois.  I'd started at the company in 1997 as manager of Creative Services and had held several different positions in the company over the years.  I had a great time.  We were doing exciting work on advertising for major clients and building interactive cd's and eventually full blown business websites.  I had the good fortune to be working alongside some very talented and hard working people.  There was a certain electricity from working on the large projects and we knew that our solutions were unique.
Eventually the employee owned company was sold to a private equity firm.  Those of you with experience are probably already thinking "Oh no." It's a story that frequently ends poorly.  The company was saddled with the debt of the purchase and we were suddenly facing a sinking economy.  It was a bad mix.  Within six months we were cutting budgets, letting good people go and recognizing that promises from private equity firms are like promises from politicians (How's the 401k matching increase looking these days boys?).
Solutions were offered, but they required some innovation and risk and there would also be some cost. Say "innovation, risk, and some cost" to an accountant or an investment firm and you'll quickly figure out what happened: nothing.
I didn't like my job those last two years.  In fact, I dreaded the thought of going there.  I knew we had it in us to do great things, but we were putting our efforts toward things that wouldn't make a difference.  There was no vision or passion for where to go next. You see, a plan is not a Vision.  We had a plan.  The plan was pretty much like handing out Dixie cups on a sinking cruise ship and saying "bail".
So there I was drinking that coffee, when our Human Resources manager came in to let me know I had a meeting downstairs.  It took me a second to digest what she meant.  I didn't have a meeting planned. Ah, it was "THAT" kind of meeting. 
20 minutes later I was packing boxes, saying goodbye to decade old friends and wondering why I felt so relieved. Why did I feel so good?
I felt good because I was suddenly free.  There was nobody else to "downsize" and I didn't have to attend any more of the endless, pointless, agenda-free,  no time limit meetings that had become the norm.

What would I do?  I didn't know at first.  The drive home started with me thinking "Ok, time to pull out the resume and figure out where to apply".  Then it hit me. "Wait. Why replicate what you just left?"  I knew that I had a passion for creating things. I enjoyed solving problems and being creative.  I didn't have a Vision at this point, but I knew that the most important decision had already happened. I wanted something different. I wanted to use everything I'd learned about being creative and managing a business and make my own decisions.  Something told me I needed to update and clean up my workshop..the resume could wait, because I'd just hired myself.

2 years later and I'm in my workshop, drinking another cup of coffee and looking over some quotes for wild and fun projects.  I've built rockets and robots and ray guns.  I've sculpted, painted, carved and dreamed this business into reality and it's just getting started! I can't wait to get going in the morning, and I learn more each day.  I  see much more of my wife and I've spent 2 summers with my daughter that I would never have otherwise.  The business is only a part of the plan. My Vision is clear.  It's an easy one: Live life well.

 Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Planning for the workshop

I know that some of the people who will attend my first workshop will have little to no experience with a cnc machine.  I also know that I have come to focus on about 70% of the capabilities of the CarveWright.  I decided that to make the class something special for those taking at as well as myself, I need to be prepared to show them 100% of the advertised capabilities and then a dizzying assortment of things I've figured out how to do on my own.  It's an opportunity to really dig a little more under the hood of the CarveWright and to see just how far I can push certain capabilities.
I'm very aware that the folks at CarveWright have a massive amount of work in place for future software revisions that will do even more than some would imagine.  I look forward to it! But in the meantime, how can certain tasks be accomplished?
3D lettering is something that I think deserves a great deal of there a way to get cool 3D letters using only Designer? What about secondary applications? Can I make something and import it to be used in the CarveWright? The short answer? Yes.

I am exploring ways to make all kinds of 3D letters and this is just one of the things I'll cover in the class.  It's not hard and it brings a whole new look to your CarveWright pieces....
I know because I've done it already!  The secondary edge on most of these letters is very easy to set up in Designer and adds even more dimension to your pieces!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's Time For A Carvetastic Creations Workshop!

I made a presentation at the CarveWright conference last year. CarveWright is the awesome little cnc machine from LHR technologies that was really the launch of this whole adventure for me.  I spent some time talking about how I use the machine, some ways I get it to do what I want, and some of the materials and finishing methods I use.
I was asked by fairly large number of attendees if I ever planned on doing my own workshop.  Well, the time has come!  I believe I can easily fill 3 days with a large amount of information about how I'm using the machine to make the fantastic creations I offer.
I plan to discuss how I use the Designer application provided by CarveWright, jigs for holding and not wasting material, types of material I carve and prefer, creating vectored images for CarveWright's Centerline application, Importing and slicing STL files in Designer, Planning and creating carves larger than the standard 14" limit, lithopanes, a bit about finishing and much much more.

I'll be limiting this first class to 8 people so that I can provide lots of personal attention, and I want to be certain we have enough room for everyone!  I think it's going to be a great deal of fun and I look forward to showing that this little cnc machine is capable of so much more than most believed possible!

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's Just Good Cents.

At one time, I was using expensive paint containers to mix paints...but in many instances, I don't need a large amount.  I bought some small mixing trays, and quickly discovered I was spending a huge amount of time cleaning them. One option was to purchase some kind of disposable containers (dixie cups for instance).
Instead, I looked at the recycle bin and quickly discovered a variety of great containers.  All free!  Why not recycle them myself and save money and keep these containers in use a little longer?  Now I go through our recycle bin and pull anything that might be of use. 
I am certainly not the most "green" person (ask any of my friends), but I'm happy to have found a way to contribute in my shop.
I also avoid chemicals and primarily use water based products that are designed to last equally as well as those with heavy chemicals.  The cleanup is easier, the odor is not there, and again, I get to do a little more to keep toxic chemicals out of the environment.
I think it just makes good cents.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lithopane box with LED lighting!

I've been working on a "memory box" for a friend's sister.  The box is a place for her to store pictures and other items from her father.  My friend brought some wood (cherry) that he asked me to use.  As we talked about ideas for the box, I asked him if he'd seen any of the lithopanes that can be carved from photographs.  We decided that it would be great to incorporate a photo of his sister with their father on the lid.  I thought, at first, about using an LED puck light, but then had another idea....

First, a square was carved into the back of the lid to hold the lithopane. The a circle was carved from the other direction to fit the photo he selected.

He asked that a portion of a favorite poem be included on the lid, and some minor changes to the wording for the inside.  The text was then carved into the front.
The lithopane was carved next.  This involves converting the photo into a greyscale, and setting up a carve that goes only about 1/8" into the material. This material is Corian (the material they sometimes use to make counter tops.  Without lighting, it is just a textured piece of material...
The lithopane is set into the square recess carved into the back, and an additional 1/4" piece of material with a hole prepared in the middle is added. This acts as a locater for the sides of the box, and as a place to attach the LED lights.
Now the LED light strip is attached inside the perimeter of the circle. I've cut a notch into the wood so that the cord can be directed out the back of the lid. I'll add a hole to the sides of the box lid to accomodate the cord.
A quick test of the light to make sure it's working...
This is the top of the lid.  It's difficult to light this so that the lithopane and the box lid can both be seen, but this conveys the idea.
Now on to the sides and assembly!  I'll stain the box before I finally attach the LED and lithopane.  I'll also give access through the rear of the lid should the light ever need to be replaced!

I then made an inner tray to hold pictures and other important items...and carved the remainder of the modified lyrics for the inside lid.  Here it is all finished...delivered today.  I was very honored to have been asked to make something like this, and hope it will remain a special item for the family.
I think we pass a little of ourselves on when we make things, and I thought about the relationship I have with my own daughter as I worked on this.  I love my family and I love what I'm doing.  I have a feeling I have that in common with Mr. Howard.
It's clear to me that with or without this box, the memories will last a lifetime.  My very best wishes go out to the entire family.

A local bar is making a move to a new location.  The owner has asked me to work on a long sign for the building...40' feet long.  I've had a great time talking to him about what he plans to do, and what kind of sign will work for him at this location.  I began with some early sketches:

Over the course of several days, the owner and I started making some changes to fit with his theme.  We got closer with this:

We both felt the lettering style needed to be different and other changes were in order as well.  There are designers and sign people who dislike this process. I actually enjoy it.  The customer and I are negotiating a combination of my vision, and their own.  I look forward to the collaboration and know that the end result will be something the client loves.  I spent some time this afternoon and have put together a new version for him to review.  It's a combination of several changes he's asked for, and some changes I wanted to incorporate as well.  We're close enough that I'm adding color.

At 40 feet long, the top version for the building will be much more like a mural than a sign.  I'm looking forward to it!