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That DAWless Thing

Recently I posted about my history of music making and my love of the Pocket Operators. Now if you don’t know what a DAW is, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and basically it’s a computer with music making software. GarageBand, Ableton, Logic, even Audacity. There are tons of pieces of software to turn your computer (or tablet or mobile device) into a music making machine… and I don’t really want to use any of them right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love computers, and I love creating things. I mean, I often spend 8 to 10 hours a day using a computer, staring at the screen, moving a mouse and typing on a keyboard. And for my own sanity, I want some time away from that. I want to be able to get away from my desk and be creative and have fun and not have to be disrupted by alerts and notifications and the lure of my browser and email. Doing DAWless means you can walk away from the computer, disconnect, and still be creative.

One of the reviews I read for the Pocket Operators was from a dad who said it was the perfect gift for his son, “No boot up, no login, no screen time, no advertisements… just him pushing buttons, turning knobs, and making beats.” There’s something kind of beautiful about that.

Another friend of mine who used to play in a few bands said that with a you child at home it became difficult to meet up with other to jam and make songs, but he could do it all at home on his own with synths and other gear. (Jamming at home alone with headphones is also pretty pandemic friendly!)

Honestly I think my goals with this all are to have fun, explore sound, and maybe even make music that I actually like listening to. So far I’m doing well with those goals, so I’m pleased with where things are going. Oh, if you want to check anything out, here’s a YouTube playlist!

Here’s a few interesting articles about the DAWless thing well beyond what I’ve discussed here:

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Recent Illustrations

Here’s a dump of a bunch illustrations I’ve created recently. These were all created for the Brown Dog Gadgets Project Database. I’m still learning new Illustrator techniques, so that’s good. Enjoy the drawings!

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LMLL & LLS Illustration

I recently completed another fun project for a client. (Okay, it was really for my wife because I enjoy taking on projects like this.) She’s been meeting with colleagues outdoors (distanced, with a campfire) for the past few months and asked if I could do some sort of logo for the group.

The brief from the client said “Draw a hoe!” So I drew a garden hoe. Now, typically for these things I’ll find a few reference photos, load one into Illustrator (or Inkscape) and create a layer on top of it then do a lot of tracing and drawing to get the general outlines, then fill in some colors, then try to add some highlights and shadows.

Here’s the first hoe, which I was pretty happy with. The client saw it and said “Well, it needs to be a delicate hoe…” and described it a bit more, so we did some image searches until we found one she liked, and I modified things to match.

Here’s the first draft. Originally there was a plan to make these into patches or badges or something, so I kept things pretty simplified and blocky, but as we discussed things more we decided that laser-etched coasters might be better. That also meant the design could be more detailed.

Oh! The client said maybe it needed something else, a wine bottle perhaps? Back to the art board! I found an image with five different styles of wine bottles and asked her to choose a style, then I illustrated it and added it in, along with a nice scalloped ring that was more that just a plain circle.

I’ve made tons of laser-etched wooden coasters, but since we had a full-color illustration I first had to convert it to a one-color design, which I did.

Fun Fact: The text on the wine label is “Lake Mills Winery” translated from English to French, and the client (who does speak French) pointed out it would probably be “Vignoble Mills Lac” or something. I am not a French speaker. We left it as it was.

The request was for four coasters, but I ended up making eight of them, with the assumption that at least four would come out good, and I could ignore the lower-quality ones. In the end they were pretty equal. Sorry, no photos of the laser etching! I was in a rush to get this done. One thing I am not sure about is that I used water-based polycrylic instead of oil-based polyurethane, which… I don’t know. I’m a fan of the cleanup, but I’m not convinced polycrylic is as nice as polyurethane (especially when heat it applied.) Well, we’ll see how it goes.

This was a fun project, and I am mostly pleased with the outcome. (If I’m honest, I am never completely satisfied with how my projects come out, which is probably good because it means I keep striving to do better. Yes, let’s go with that.)

Oh, I did have fun doing this project and I managed to learn a few new things in the process, so that’s a win in my book!

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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.