Sunday, August 12, 2012



Every once in awhile, by no fault or intention of your own, you'll probably stumble into something great or profound. You were just in the right place or the right time, or simply got lucky, and something much better than you were planning just comes along. This is one of those stories :-)


The Perseids and Blacksmithing

I have only somewhat recently moved to Fort Wayne (I've been here since May, although some decent chunks of that time I haven't been in town, for one reason or another), and, as such, am on the prowl for fun activities to do. In my initial search of town, I found a group called the Maumee Valley Blacksmithing Association. They operate nearby, and have meetings on the second and fourth Saturdays of any given month, meeting up at 9 and leaving when the last smith goes home.

Today being the 11th, I set out to check out the blacksmithing group and their meeting, interested and eager to learn more about the group and blacksmithing in general. At 8:30pm I set out to go hunt down the group in New Haven. I wandered about the countryside for a bit, and, thanks to Google not understanding the difference between North Webster Road and South Webster Road, got lost for a little bit. Nonetheless; I found the blacksmithing place come 9:10.

...unfortunately, the blacksmithing group was nowhere to be found. When the blacksmithing website said "meet at 9", they had meant 9 AM, not 9pm, a possibility I had not considered. Defeated, I was ready to go home and call it quits. At this point, however, a van pulled up behind me. The driver-side window was rolled down and I could see a bearded man with glasses in the driver's seat.

"Are you here for the stargazing? Do you know where that's taking place?" He asked.

I was unaware of any stargazing that night, however, I had seen a small group of people about a quarter mile back down the road who had been setting up chairs when I was driving in to the blacksmithing meeting. I assumed that was the stargazing group, and directed the driver accordingly. I had been planning on observing the Perseid meteor shower that evening, so I decided to go investigate the stargazing group.


The Cosmos

I wasn't expecting much from the stargazing group, to be honest. I was expecting a group of people sitting in plastic stacking chairs staring up at the sky. What I found, by comparison, was beyond my wildest expectations. Set up that night, and hosting the event, was a group of people known as the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society. The group was comprised of seasoned astronomers, who were very knowledgeable on constellations and the night sky, as well as expert telescope operators. What's more, the society is in possession of a large, impressive, motorized telescope with a 16" mirror that was set up that night.

"Who wants to see Saturn?" An older astronomer in charge of setting up the large telescope asked? Me! I want to see Saturn! Viewed through the amazing and powerful telescope, the planet could be seen clearly. Details such as the rings, and even 4 of the planet's many moons, could all be observed in significant detail. From a single speck of light, I was able to see an image of Saturn that looked more or less like this:

The night went on in this way, with me getting the opportunity to observe fantastic and beautiful glimpses of the heavens. I observed star clusters, learned new interesting trivia about the constellations (for example, the "arc" in the handle of Ursa Major arcs to the star Arcturus -- the brightest star in the northern hemisphere). At one point I even had the opportunity to observe a star that was twinkling blue and red; I was told by the astronomer that this was a binary star system (I had never seen one of this sort by the naked eye!)

All in all, I had a wonderful night, filled with adventure. I enjoyed my first meeting with the Astronomical Society, and can't wait to return to stargaze again :-)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Facebook Photo Challenge: Lazy Catchup Edition!


The Facebook photo challenge has been lots of fun, and served as an excellent way to help me stave off boredom as I acclimate to the new city I moved to. When I last left off with the challenge, I had just completed photo 5. Was that the end of my photo tour-de force? No, but it did mark the last time I felt a compulsory need to blog each and every picture I sketched. Still, I acknowledge that people may want to see more of my sketching efforts (sketchforts?). So this post is simply an omnibus of the photos I've sketched since my last post. Here goes:

Omnibus Sketching Party!

Challenge 6: Jennifer and Todd 

Challenge 7: Kate and Ross 

Challenge 8: Stacey and Jacob
Challenge 9: Ryan and Nicole

Bonus Rounds

There were times when I felt compelled to sketch, however, I did not desire to work on the sketches requested of me via the facebook photo challenge. Sometimes I didn't want to, sometimes the sketching frustrated me (people have a tendency to want me to sketch their happily coupled friends; as a solitary single person, I will say, this can be rough on the psyche). During these times, I turned from the facebook challenge and sketched things I found interesting. Here's the first bonus sketch:

Bonus 1: Robo Character Sketch

After having done an initial character study, I nixed sketching from photos all together and made a second sketch of Robo that was purely imaginative:

Bonus Sketch 2: Ancient Protector

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Great Facebook Photo Challenge Round 5: Girlberus


Jenna was the lucky winner of round 4, so she got to pick our next subjects. Today's photo is a shot of 3 lovely ladies from the swing club, Justina, Stephanie, and Jenna. They're a close knit group, and, indeed, somewhat resemble a three-headed woman, or girlberus, in this photo (if it was men, it would, of course, be a guydra).

On to the sketch!

My Sketch:

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the photo and my attempted sketch:

Experiences and Notes:

In round 4, I started with wireframe models to try to get some more accurate body positioning, and indeed so I did as well here. In addition to that, I tried to use a few guidelines to further refine the wireframes (making a sort of "box" to contain the part of the picture in which the girls should reside). A bit of smudge shading was used for the wall as well as Jenna's skirt, to help differentiate them from other colors and textures within the photo. Although I drew guidelines within which the girls should fit, these perhaps should have been repositioned; the girls heads are a little small in this picture, my bad. Still, pretty good overall :-)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Great Facebook Photo Challenge Round 4: The Dip


It's Friday! And man oh man, is it hot here in Indiana (104 sayeth the trusty car thermometer). It's the perfect day to stay inside, watch some TV, read a book, play a video game, or, if you're me, sketch your next group of friends in the latest edition of the Great Facebook Photo Challenge!

Nick was the winner of round 3 of the challenge. When I asked him what photo I should do next, he asked me "is it narcissistic to pick a photo of yourself?". Well, yeah, a little bit (but at least it's not ONLY of himself). Nonetheless, I have not disallowed this possibility in the rules of the game thus far, so sketch him we shall.

The photo is a picture of my friends Nick and Jackie, doing a very dramatic dip to the end of a blues song at the Chicago Underground Blues Exchange (CUBE2012). Nick and Jackie are some of the newer members of the Purdue swing dance club (they're both freshmen that joined last August at the time of this writing), but for their years experience, they're some of the best.

Right then, on to the sketching!

My Sketch:

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the original photo and my attempted sketch:

Experiences and Notes:

This sketch was quite a bit of fun! Not quite as dense on the details as round 3, but certainly trickier than the relatively calm sketch proposed to me in round 2. Somewhat similar in composition and detail to the sketch of Alice and Ben in the original challenge.

That said, however, this sketch has a few important differences from sketches I've attempted previously. The most important difference is that this is the first sketch I've attempted in which I based the sketch off of some lightly drawn (and redrawn, as needed) wireframes to use for reference. In previous shots, there was some notable line of detail on the edge of the photo that I felt I could really "latch" onto and base the rest of the drawing off of. Not so in this photo. The dancers are interconnected in a somewhat complex way, and I just didn't have a good enough line to start the drawing off of. There's no shame in using wireframes, though; they really help you model the bodies as you're posing and composing them in your sketch, and can be quite useful in providing realistic approximations of limb lengths and placements.

Round 3 of the challenge was difficult in the demands it placed on drawing facial features, but what I learned from that round I got to apply to this round. Of particular value was learning not to draw teeth very darkly, and that resulted in Jackie having a much nicer smile in this photo. Her eyes were closed in this shot, which was very forgiving to me as far as sketching is concerned. Another challenging aspect of this sketch is hands, for which this sketch includes 3 fairly prominently. I was actually pretty happy with how they turned out, though, and managed to give them some subtle detail to avoid the dreaded "squid fingers" effect that can happen when you don't detail the digits of the fingers. Round 3 also brought about the introduction of smudge-shading (not sure what the artsy, more technical term is for this) to help reduce the grain in some shading and bring about more grayscale and better gradients in my art work. This was applied somewhat well to Jackie's pink dress, to help contrast it in this greyscale picture to the pure white tones I left for flesh. It also had a small hand on some of the floorboards and helped bring out the emissions of the light fixtures on the back wall.

It wasn't a perfect sketch, of course (will it ever be? I doubt it). There are a few issues of scale and the angles of Jackie's head and body could've been even more pronounced and dramatic. Also, I can't quite place it, but something a little weird is going on with Nick's right arm and that side of this body in general. I was very happy with the sketch overall, however.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Great Facebook Photo Challenge 3: Hard Mode


This past Tuesday, out of boredom, I developed the Great Facebook Photo Challenge. The rules are simple: I take one of my friend's facebook photos and attempt to sketch it. Upon completing said sketch, I upload the sketch to facebook. In the comments section, my friends then guess which friend or friends I sketched and what photo I based my sketch off of. Whoever "wins" this guessing war gets the honor of picking which photo I attempt to sketch next (has to be a mutual friend and it cannot be a photo that I've sketched before).

My friend Nipuna won round 2 of the contest, and so he got to pick the next picture that I would sketch. When trying anything new, it's only a matter of time before somebody suggests you try something far and away from your current level of ability. It's only so long when you first start dancing before somebody casually suggests you do 300bpm Charleston, and only so long after you start learning to play piano that somebody insists that you play "Fright of the Bumble Bee" (at double speed). With that in mind, Nipuna suggested that I sketch my friends Allyson and Dan:
Oh boy...

Sketch Attempt:

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the original photo and my attempted sketch:

Notes and Experiences:

I'd like to start off by saying that, compared to what I've sketched and been asked to sketch previously, this photo was HARD. The bouquet, the plaid pattern on Dan's shirt, and the floral pattern on Allyson's dress all feature a very dense amount of detail (as you can see, I skipped the plaid and floral patterns altogether, for purposes of time and to focus on other aspects of the drawing). Allyson's hair, while curly and complex, was probably the saving grace of this photo, as it's very distinct and made it easier to identify the subjects of the sketch.

This sketch was the first sketch that demanded I pay closer attention to facial features, and difficult to sketch they were. Eyes, teeth, dimples, this sketch really upped the ante from previous sketches. An important thing I learned when drawing teeth was to make the lines for the teeth extremely light; the lighter the better. I'm still not all that happy with how the eyes turned out, but I'm sure I will have plenty of attempts to practice. Also, this photo was the first photo in which I attempted smudge shading, to get better gradients than pencil and eraser could do by themselves.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Great Facebook Photo Challenge 2


Yesterday, I debuted this blog and a new game with The Great Facebook Photo Challenge, an intriguing freetime avocation in which I attempt to sketch my friends' photos on facebook. My friend Kristen won yesterday's challenge, and got to suggest what picture I draw next. This would be my first test of drawing a picture I hadn't explicitly chosen.

Photo and Subject:

Yesterday's winner Kristen is somebody I knew from swing dance. Therefore, it's of no major surprise that today's picture is likewise a friend from swing dance. This is a photo of my friend Andrew. Andrew is an extremely talented swing dancer (and dancer in general; he does a number of other styles, such as salsa), and a laid-back and all-around cool individual. Below is a photo of him which I was asked to sketch:

My Sketch:

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the original photo and my sketch inspired by this photo:

Experiences and Notes:

In sketching this picture, I started with Andrew's right shoulder, as it is anchored to the edge of the photo (and therefore I only need to estimate the appropriate starting location in one dimension instead of two). I was pretty pleased with how this sketch turned out, even if it does suffer some minor issues of scale (his head's a tad small, the fedora a tad big, and some of the side details didn't quite pan out the way I was hoping). I kept redoing the right side of the glasses, because the light from the window washes out his face and makes that part of the photo a bit tricky.

What I said in my previous post about hands and eyes definitely still applies to this one. I had the good fortune once again of being able to skirt around the eyes issue. The hand didn't turn out all that well, but it wasn't a complete disaster either.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Great Facebook Photo Challenge


Today was a sort of boring day, I've only recently moved to Fort Wayne and don't know very many people in town yet. Out of this boredom, I developed an intriguing new activity. Introducing the Great Facebook Photo Challenge!



The rules are simple: I look through my facebook friends, pick one of their photos and sketch it. When I am finished sketching, I post this photo to facebook. The first commenter to correctly identify the subjects of the photo and the photo I based my sketch off of wins. The winner then gets to pick the next photo which I will attempt to sketch. The photo has to be of a mutual friend and it cannot be a photo I've sketched previously.


The First Attempt:

For my first photo, I opted to sketch my friends Alice and Ben. They are some newlywed friends of mine, whose ceremony and reception this weekend. They're both good swing dancers, and that is the activity of the photo I chose.


My Sketch:

Below is a side-by-side comparison of the original and my sketch:

Experiences and Notes:

There are a few things worthy of mention in the process of me making this sketch. For starters, I have no formal artistic training, and was armed only with a sheet of printer paper and a mechanical pencil for this sketch. I enjoy the creation-based hobbies (I make my own electronic circuits, among other things), and am interested in practicing and maybe improving my drawing abilities through this exercise.

Of the subjects in this photo, Alice was considerably easier to draw in my opinion. She had well-defined lines that I could see in the picture, visualize in my head, and transfer to paper. As such, I drew her first. I had the good fortune of having Alice's eyes be more or less closed in the source photo, making my efforts considerably easier. Clearly I didn't have a means of coloring the photo with the tools at hand, so Alice's blonde hair didn't transfer over very well.

Ben, by contrast, was considerably harder to draw; for no small part due to the incredibly complex shirt he's wearing in the source photo. Other details were very difficult to get right (or close to right) as well; the fedora could probably be done better, his shoes are somewhat lacking in detail, and his hands have some issues of scale and accuracy that I hope to improve upon some day. Eyes, faces, hands, and to a lesser degree, hair, are all incredibly difficult to draw with an acceptable accuracy.  Having captured the main subjects of the photo, I decided to skimp on the background details of the picture. They were somewhat complicated and I was tired, so I let them slide.

In drawing this photo, I found myself thinking in new and interesting ways compared to how I usually approach problems. I am an electrical engineer by trade, and as such I generally approach problems from a data-driven and analytical point of view; if I need to know something, I go hunt for the appropriate book or article and look it up. If that fails I resort to the proper system of mathematical equations and educated estimations and assumptions to tackle a problem. In drawing this, however, I found myself being forced to try to put myself in the room with the subjects of the photo, to try to visualize how they would act and to try to almost feel out the picture in an attempt to perfect the expressions. I am familiar with swing dancing, the main action of this photo, and have been through many dance lessons, having people describe how joints move and interact to have the proper form. In drawing this picture, I really felt a connection to what I had learned. I had a lot of fun drawing this photo, and the process allowed me to tap new realms of creativity, emotional exploration, and self expression. I intend to try this exercise again very soon, and will keep the blog updated regarding the results.