Page from my Journal: "Ink Doodles"

Just some random doodling on my Moleskine with ink using a fountain pen and non-shellac india ink. Coloring with Tombow markers.

Page from my Journal: "Pizza in a Jiffy"

Experimenting with different sketching implements on my small Moleskine. On the left a quick sketch I took while I was waiting for Pizza at Red Pepper Pizzeria in Duvall, WA. Done with with a micron 0.05 pen and colored with Tombow markers. The sketchbook moleskine really doesn't like the Tombow markers. Any blending I try to do results in paper flaking off. On the right my first experiments sketching with fountains pens while I was waiting at Jiffy Lube in Duvall, WA. In blue I am using a Lamy Safari pen with an EF nib. Excellent pen, but the ink that came with it is blue (which I do not like) and is not waterproof. Soon to be changed to something waterproof. For the few black words I used a Noodler's Ahab Flex Pen with a non-shellac India ink. The india ink is waterproof but bleeds a bit through the sketchbook moleskine when I apply some pressure on the flex nib (the word FLEX bled through). I really like the Noodler's pen and its flex nib. It is a winner and it is now part of my everywhere sketchbook set. That said, I need to start carrying a watercolor moleskine. The sketchbook one paper is just too thin for heavy inks and marker usage or washes.

Page from my Journal: "Jumping Fish"

Sketch taken at Soul Foods downtown Redmond, WA where I went to draw with my son today. The fish is sketched from a large wood statue that was for sale in the shop. It was sitting on a table, and I decided to draw the form as I saw it, but give it a more realistic-fish finish and make it "jump out" the table with a splash. Mixing reality with a tad of fantasy is something that I love to do. Pencil, various ink pens, watercolor.

Musings on the Nature of Art

A piece of art is finished only when is forgotten. Its development, otherwise, continues in the minds of the observers. In other words, art is either in development or it doesn't exist. If it exists then it is constantly being developed in our mind and collective subconscious.

Art is the representation of an idea that is left to the viewers to explore. It is the suggestion of a thought. A muse of concepts. A seed. The forge of a stream of consciousness and involuntary artistic development that materializes in the lives of the viewers.

As you are creating art what you are doing is planting the seed and starting a process that will finish only when your work will be forgotten. And when you look at a painting or drawing or sculpture, you are continuing the development of the piece. You become the artist and you are carrying forward the torch of artistic expression of the piece.

This fundamental nature makes art a process without end goal which value is in its constant development.

Musings On Mastery

Mere repetition of the same actions over and over is not a way to reach mastery of a skill. Repetition with the intent of mastery requires focus on it.

Once you reach mastery and no teacher or resource available can readily help you get better, teaching others provides the best path to improvement.

Be aware, however, that teaching others if you are not ready to do so can lead to disaster for both you and your students.

Mastery is not a goal, but a starting point. There is no maximum possible mastery of a skill. There is however - and sadly - a practical peak. 

Once you reach the practical peak only research, thinking out of the box and learning from new found masters, often in other disciplines, is the way to improvement.

It is an arduous and slow process, but it is the only process that will bring you to be remembered for your skills.

2014 Duvall Visitor Guide Award

A few days ago I received the first place award from the Duvall Visitor Guide Selection Committee, the DFA and Duvall Chamber for the 2014 Duvall Visitor Guide Contest.

Here a picture of me at the award "ceremony" holding the $100 check:

While the monetary value of the award is small, I am honored that my picture will be featured in the cover of the first 2014 Duvall Visitor Guide, that is the first visitor guide the city ever had

And here is the photo that won the contest:

Glad to be part of this community and honored to bring a small and well received personal contribution to it its inhabitants.

More photographs of the Snoqualmie valley are available here.

Page from my Journal: "Quick People Sketches"

These are many 5 seconds sketches of lots of people that I saw walk by. The goal here wasn't to draw anything realistic or accurate, but just to attempt to capture the similarities of lots of passerbies in a very cold day of winter. Pencil and ink + marker on Moleskine.

Page from my Journal: "Fireplace"

The fireplace at Sorrento's coffee shop. Redmond, WA. 
Pencil, Ink & Watercolor on Moleskine.

Page from my Journal: "Street Lights"

Quick sketch I took of the streetlights at Cedar Crest High in Duvall. 
Pencil & Ink (black, sepia and white) on Moleskine.

Page from my Journal: "Skull"

Sketched this Skull that I saw at my Son's elementary school while I was waiting for him to come out a class. 
Pencil & ink on Moleskine.

Refusing labels

Labels are fast and easy to stick on somebody and sometimes you have to do what society expects you to do and accept a label to quickly describe activities you are involved with.

That said, I reject people’s attempts to put me in any bucket.

These are some of the questions I get all the time:
  • Are you a photographer?
  • Are you an engineer?
  • Are you an artist?
  • Are you a democrat?
  • Are you republican?
  • Are you a woodworker?
  • Are you a woodcarver?
  • Are you a cook?
  • Are you XYZ … where XYZ is whatever “thing” I happen to be doing with a relative sense of passion and skill.

The truth is that I am part of all of these things, and none of them alone. I am a combination of the stuff I do and each skill I learn helps me with my understanding of all others skills. That does not mean that I am universally married to any of these trades/skills.

Just because I love making art I refuse to be labeled as “artist” as a singularity and description of what I am.  I am not starving, I make a good living in software engineering, I do not wear funny clothes and I do not go around doing “crazy artist” things if that’s what you mean with “artist”.

Just because I spent 30 years writing software, you can’t identify me simply as “an engineer” since I do many other things. I do not spend 22 hours a day only thinking about engineering software, even though everything I do has that slant infused into it.

Just because I agree with some things that democrats say, I can’t be called “a democrat” because I also agree with some things that republicans say, and disagree with many things that both parties say too.  I can almost hear it: “you are an independent then”. I am that too now? Not really, because if you take other people that claim to be “independent” they’d probably disagree with me a lot.

Am I a “reader” because I read books? Or “writer” because I write on this blog? How do you answer that question? The only way to answer is “yes” and “no”, at the same time.  I am all of these things, and none of them. I am NOT any of the things I do, even if I do them with a passion. I am also all of these things at once, and I apply the knowledge acquired in all of these fields to anything I do.

Green is not blue OR yellow, is a combination of the two and neither of them. Also there is not just one green, there are many shades of it and mine changes all the time and morphs into non-green colors as well.

When I build software, it helps me think about how furniture is built. When I sketch a software diagram, I use the drawing experience I gained drawing on my sketchbooks. When I write on this blog, I use what I learned reading books.  When I take photographs, I learn about composition and then I use that in my drawings. When I put up xmas lights on my house, I optimize the lights based on thinking I learned while writing code. When I dissect a form into basic shapes for sketching, I use the problem solving skills I learned to solve engineering problems or to design woodworking projects.

It is all related, all necessary and I am none of these things in isolation.

Page from my Journal: "Fireplace"

My fireplace on a cold day of December. 
Pencil, black ink & white Ink on Moleskine.

Page from my Journal: "Balloon Nightmares"

Fantasy composition of subjects sketched from reality. 
Red & Gray Pencil on Moleskine.

Page from my Journal: "Abandoned Building in Bellevue"

An abandoned building in Bellevue, WA
Ink pen & watercolor on Moleskine

Page from my Journal: "Reading a Book"

Quick sketches of people reading books in a coffee shop in Bellevue, WA.
Pencil & ink on Moleskine. 

Page from my Journal: "Piano Man"

A quick sketch of a pianist playing xmas tunes.
Bellevue, WA.
Pencil & Ink on Moleskine. 

Page from my Journal: "Bellevue Park, Flag"

Flag and a monumental light in Bellevue, WA
Pencil, Ink & Watercolor.

Page from my Journal: "A study of ropes and knots"

A study of knots and ropes with some notes.
2B pencil,  Sakura Micron 005 black ink & Faber Castell Dark Sepia  on Moleskine.

A Portrait of Lily

Portrait of Lily
11"x14" - Pencil on Bristol.

Sketches from my Moleskine: "Bedroom"
Experimenting with watercolors.
HB mechanical pencil,  Sakura Pigma Micron Pen & Watercolor  on Moleskine.

Aging Objects with Electrolysis

In my previous post I described how I used electrolysis to clean the rust from an old hand plane. During that process I observed the violent corrosion of the anode. In 24 hours in the electrolytic bath it aged considerably to the point of looking really old.

After doing some research I realized that most - if not all - types of metal corrosion are due to some form of electrolysis or another. In fact many sources state that electrolysis and corrosion are one and the same in the sense that there wouldn't be any metal corrosion without an electrolytic process of some kind.

That gave me the idea of using electrolysis to attempt to recreate the charm and beauty of a corroded metallic object. In other words, could I take a brand new metallic object and corrode it with electrolysis to the point of acquiring, in just a few hours, a much older look? What would I learn in the process? There was only a way to find out.

The first step was to find a suitable metallic object that would seem to benefit from an aged look. On my way back to work I stopped at a thrift store and bought a couple of metallic candlesticks for about $2.00. Here is a picture of how they looked as purchased:

I decided to experiment only on one of them in order to maintain a "before" and "after" live comparison throughout the process. I prepared an electrolytic bath using an old tin can without top or bottom as the cathode - that is, connected to the negative pole a battery charger - and the candlestick as the anode - connected to the positive of the same battery charger.

As an electrolyte I decided to use water and a generous amount of table salt. While I usually use washing soda to electrolytically clean objects, I thought that using salt for this corrosion experiment would be better since salt is notoriously harsh on metal and might give better results when the goal is to destroy.

I prepared the electrolyte in a one gallon plastic bucket, placed the tin can in the electrolyte, and the candlestick inside the can resting on the bottom of the bucket. Since the can had the bottom removed, there was no contact between the two and the candlestick was completely surrounded by the anode, which aids to the process.

I then connected the tin can to the negative of a 10Amps battery charger, and the positive to the candlestick. Immediately after turning on the charger, hydrogen and oxygen bubbles started pouring out the metal confirming that the electrolytic process had started (hydrogen and oxygen are an explosive mixture in the right circumstances, so do not try this at home without proper research and precautions).

Here is a photo of how the setup looked after one hour:

You can see the electrolyte covered by corroded metal sludge.

After one hour I decided to take a peek. As you can see from the below photo of a side-to-side comparison between the corroded candlestick (left) and the untouched one (right), the surface coating - made of either zinc or silver I assume - had gone, revealing the real nature of the core metal: copper.

While this was a decent result, I wanted to bring the process much further so I reconnected the candlestick, submerged it in the electrolyte inside the tin can and started the electrolysis again. This time I let it go for 24 hours.

The next day I checked, and here is how it came out after a good rinse in water and some light scrubbing:


Looks interesting and certainly very old. Note toward the top a series of small holes that show how much corrosion the metal went through in only 24 hours. Some close ups:


This is an interesting look, and it certainly looks old. However it looks "dirty". This might or might not be a good thing depending on what the desired look is. I considered leaving this as-is, but I was curious to see how the piece would look cleaned up of the greenish product of the copper corrosion.

After a few minutes with a brush wheel, here is the clean result:


So, what do you think? Do you prefer the original? or the lightly corroderd? Or the heavily corroded "dirty"? Or the heavily corroded "clean"?


Restoring a Handplane With Electrolysis

I recently put my hands on a couple of vintage Stanley Planes. I purchased them used for very little money, and they were very rusty.

I used a process of electrolysis to remove the rust and bring them back to bare metal, and the results where pretty spectacular. If I believed in magic, I would certainly think that it was magical.

Here is the the Stanley #6 plane as I acquired it:

This particular plane was produced sometimes after 1933 and before WWII. The kidney bean shaped hole in the lever cap, the brass blade depth adjustment and the front tote color are this plane age giveaways, along of various other smaller details.

The plane was in good shape, but unfortunately it was covered in rust. The bottom (which I unfortunately I do not have a photo of) was completely red. The rust didn't ruine the integrity of the metal, but it made the plane pretty useless without a good restoration.

First step was to take the plane apart, separating all its parts so that they could be processed separately.

The second step was to remove the rust from all metal parts with electrolysis. Electrolysis is an electrochemical process that consists in connecting a metallic object - something rusty that you want to clean - to the negative pole of a battery changer and submerge it in an electrolyte such as water and washing soda. In the electrolytic process you call this object connected to the negative pole the cathode. The positive pole of the charger is connected to some sacrificial metal - rebars or an old coffee can or example - and also submerged in the electrolyte surrounding the object to clean. You call the sacrificial metal the anode, and it will get corroded heavily during the process. You don't want to screw up positive with negative here!! If you do instead of cleaning the object, you'll destroy it.

For this plane I used as an anode some rebars bolted to the sides of a plastic tub, and a steel plate sitting on the bottom. I suspended the plane with fishing line to ensure that it wouldn't touch the rebars or the plate, which is most important to avoid a short which would not only stop the process but also create an hazardous situation and most likely damage the battery charger.

It is important that the anode (sacrificial metal) and the cathode (object to clean) "see" each other. The process works only in a light of side. Whatever part of the cathode is not in line of sight with the anode, will not get cleaned.

For this plane I used a 12V 2A battery charger an I allowed the electrolysis to run for about 24 hours. The charger must be a cheap manual kind, and not a fancy automatic kind. Since you are not actually charging a battery, any smarts built in the charger will get in the way of the process.

Here is a photo of the plane body immersed in the electrolyte at the very beginning of the process.

You might noticed the bubble coming out on the sides of the plane, and here is a close up:

That's the hydrogen that is formed as product of the electrochemical reaction caused by the current. The rebars also release bubbles of oxygen. The result is a nice mix of oxygen and hydrogen that could become a nasty explosive if you let it accumulate. Ventilation is key to avoid dangerous situations and if you are ever going to do this, you should do it outside.

After the 24 hours bath, it took some brushing, re-painting and sharpening of the blade... and here is a good-as-new Stanley #6, tuned up, wicked sharp and able to take very fine wood shavings.

And the rust free corrugate sole:

The electrolytic process worked like magic and for a few dollars I ended up with a nice and functional tool that I'll use for many years in the workshop.

If you decide to do something similar to this, make sure to do your homework and read all you can about the process. There are many more details and safety considerations that you need to know before trying to do this.

Further reading: