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Hammer, Screwdriver, Illustrations, etc.

I use Illustrator a lot when I create guides at Brown Dog Gadgets, but most of my vector work in the past 10 years has been creating files for digital fabrication, so getting back into the “illustrate a thing to make it look nice” has been interesting. I’m about 6 months into almost daily use of Illustrator and I’m now working on making better illustrations.

Above is a hammer I recently illustrated, at home, on my own, for fun. I started with a photo of a hammer as a guide and got the basic outline and shapes by tracing on top of it, then I put it off to the side and used as a reference. There are things I really like about it, and some room for improvement, but overall I think it’s good progress.

Here’s another one, which is (obviously) a screwdriver. This one took about 90 minutes (the hammer was probably a little less) and I definitely could have done more, or come back to it, but part of this process is not to obsess over it, or go back to it again and again, but to sit down, do an illustration and call it done. (Probably 60 to 90 minutes and not more.)

Here’s a recent one I did for work. I needed a safety pin for a guide, so I very quickly made this one based on a photo I found. This is not perfect, but I think it’s good enough. Part of creating guides is just getting it done quickly, so being able to knock these out in a timely fashion is key.

Below is an example of a guide with a bunch of illustrations. This is one of the more complex guides. I usually do the three dimensional view part of it by taking a 2D version and using the shear tool. I don’t yet know if there’s a better way to do it. One of the guides I looked at basically said “Prepare for the shear tool to get away from you and screw everything up.” So, yeah… I’d love to find a better way to do it, especially since the proportions seem off.

I typically use Inkscape for my digital fabrication work, and I did get a license for Affinity Designer which I’ve used a bit, but overall I’d prefer to keep my skills separated and not tied to a specific application, which may mean I have two things to do: Get more familiar with Adobe Illustrator, and also start doing these sorts of illustrations in Inkscape and/or Affinity Designer.

Also, I am open to any critique or advice on my illustration work. (Thanks!)

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VIDEO FACE [AVM-312]

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One of the projects I built for Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2019 was VIDEO FACE [AVM-312] which is a companion piece to AUDIO FACE [APC-320].

This piece came about because my sister gave me a box of old security cameras. Specifically, analog video cameras. I brought them to Brinn Labs and hooked them up to one of my displays, and they worked fine. They just need a 12 volt power supply and they have composite video out. If you mix the two signals from two cameras together into one output you get a garbled and mixed signal, but if you add in a resistor and potentiometer, you have a way to control the amount of signal that the second camera leaks into the stream to mix with the first camera! (It’s an analog video mixer.)

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I considered adding resistors and potentiometers to both cameras but for a standalone exhibit that would have allowed people to dial it down too much and the projector that was connected would probably have gotten confused and lost a recognizable signal and just shown “NO SIGNAL”, so I went with one camera full strength and the other variable.

Construction of this was very slapdash, using scrap wood I found at Milwaukee Makerspace one night. As yes, it’s supposed to look like a face, I mean, it’s in the name, it’s got two eyes looking at you, a nose with controls and a mouth, sort of…

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During Maker Faire I had it hooked up to a projector that had analog video input. (Yeah, those are probably getting harder to find, but I have some interesting old equipment.) For other events I just used one of the small television sets I have on hand.


I loved doing these quick and dirty interactive projects, back in the old days, you know, before the pandemic.

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Acrylic Bender

I made an Acrylic Bender. If you are one of the people who appreciates that joke, I appreciate you. I mean, it’s an Acrylic Bender, not an Acrylic Bender, an Acrylic bender, or even an acrylic Bender

Sheesh! Look at that face… it’s a face only a mother could love. Seriously folks, this “Acrylic Bender” joke is like six years in the making. I really hope you appreciate it.

I etched the acrylic as I usually do, with LightBurn and the RasterLaser upgraded with a Cohesion3D board…

After etching I applied some black Speedball block printing ink and spread it over the surface, pushing it into the etched areas. I then wiped it off the top surface with toilet paper… Just kidding! I used paper towel. (That joked will not age well.)

Thank you for reading this post, meatbag… also, bite my shiny, metal plastic ass!

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Multicolored Laser Etching

If you want a true to life banana you can’t just laser etch something, you need to go that extra kilometer to make it multicolor. (Of course real bananas need not apply.)

I didn’t go large this time, I went small… How small? Here’s a quarter for scale. Oddly enough, I did not find a banana in the house to use for scale, as they’ve all bean eaten, or frozen, so a quarter will have to do.

I etched some dayglow green acrylic using LightBurn and the RasterLaser upgraded with a Cohesion3D board…

Here’s a plain old green banana that has been laser etched. Look how lifeless and colorless it appears! It’s almost downright unappealing. I dare say we should consider slipping some color into place. It’s probably what Warhol would do.

I took some good old Speedball block printing ink and with my finger (inside a nitrile glove) rubbed ink across the surface. I then took some paper towel and wiped it off. It stayed in the etched part pretty good. Good enough for this first test anyway…

Here’s our multicolored banana with some edge lighting. I should try proper acrylic edge-lighting to see what the results are…

Here’s a view of the edge without extra lighting. This is 3mm acrylic. I’m thinking next time I’ll try additional coats of ink with time in between to dry.

Here’s another photo of the banana with a quarter, but the quarter is out of focus and in the foreground because it feels forelorn because it knows it is not a banana and will never be a banana, and for that, it mourns silently.

Enjoy your banana!

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Hangers

Back in 2018 while at Brinn Labs I was tasked with doing a mobile activity (the kind of mobiles you hang, not the kind that are British cell phones) and I came up with an idea based on the work of Man Ray, specifically his Obstruction sculpture.

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I designed a hanger that could be fabricated at a small size (approximately 5″ x 1.5″) and could hang more hangers from the ends. Man Ray’s version used full size hangers that had wire hooks and holes on each end of the wooden part which made it easy to link them all together. Mine was a bit different with a simpler one-piece design. I assume the hangers Man Ray used could swivel completely around, which is an added bonus my version would not have. (But there’s always more than one way to do it.)

Here’s a hanger laser cut from 3mm Baltic Birch plywood. The nice thing about 3mm Baltic Birch plywood is that it’s easy (for me) to find scrap that is around 1.5″ tall and use it for this, which meant I had no real material cost as I could essentially create these from scrap.

I should note that I originally tried using corrugated cardboard, which is even more abundant than 3mm Baltic Birch plywood. While it sort of worked, it depended a lot on exactly where the corrugation was after cutting. I abandoned the cardboard version after a few tests. (If I had made larger hangers I think the cardboard version could have worked fine.)

Because the hanger was a simple 2.5D object I also created a 3D printed version of the hanger… like many of the things I create I tend to come up with ways others could make them depending on the equipment they have available. If you don’t have a laser cutter but do have a 3D printer you can still easily create a bunch of these.

In the photo above you see four versions. Version 1 is the plain Baltic Birch version; Version 2 is a sanded and stained Baltic Birch version; Version 3 is a 3D printed version using grey PLA plastic; and Version 4 is laser cut from clear 3mm Acrylic. Again, multiple methods and materials to choose from.

Since I was working towards making a lot of hangers for an event I just cut them all quickly on the laser cutter and didn’t pay much attention to quality, so the backs of the wood hangers got a bit charred from the honeycomb bed. This is the part where it shouldn’t matter, but sometimes things bug you… so later I ended up designing a small jig to hold the hangers so I could sand them and make them look nice. I don’t know why I torture myself… I hate sanding.

Designing the jig involved creating a slightly larger version of the hanger and then differencing it from a small rectangular shape, then 3D printing it. It worked well to hold the hangers in place while sanding them, but in the end staining them a darker color was much easier. (Again, I really hate sanding.)

When I made the hangers I sort of envisioned it as a game where one or more people would try to build the hanging structure without it falling. Sort of a reverse Jenga perhaps, or maybe more like Barrel of Monkeys though I’ll admit I was completely wrong about how you play Barrel of Monkeys, and this video shows the correct way.

Overall I’m fairly pleased with how this projected turned out. Oh, I should note that the hexagonal tops on the hangers were mean to mimic the hexagonal logo of Brinn Labs. they could certainly have been more rounded or another sort of shape. Who knows? I may redesign these hangers in the future after a bit more prototyping. As I mentioned, this was a quick project and once I got a working hanger I just kicked out a bunch.

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I hope I was able to create the “increasing confusion” that May Ray talked about in the instructions for Obstruction. It’s certainly a bit confusing when you are creating the structure, and at times I wished I had a helper to attach two hangers while I was attaching two hangers.

I’ll probably get around to releasing the files for this in case anyone else wants to do something with it.