December 24, 2018

Dueling Mergansers

 On a recent walk through Stanley Park, the winter gloom was lifted quite handily by a small flock of hooded mergansers. A group of six or so males had gathered the attention of a pair of females and were in competition with one another to try and win their attention. Hooded mergansers are some of our favorite ducks so we were very pleased to have this little window into their social lives.
 Hooded mergansers already have a lovely crest (as you can clearly see) which they can raise or lower depending on their needs. In this particular event it was all raised crests all the time as they stretched their necks, growled (more ducks growl than you expect apparently) and chased one another around.
 We don't have a good idea of how elaborate or drawn out their courtship rituals are or whether any of the group were paired up before we left, but who could resist this face?

December 23, 2018

Octopus Medallion

 Earlier this year I had designed an octopus-themed medallion for 3d printing and fabrication, but the toll the CPA took on my personal life pushed the actual completion back about 6 months. The original design came together in zBrush, which is an ideal program for creating lumpy creatures covered in tentacles and suckers. The only problem I find working in 3d, which is entirely my fault, is that its easy to put in details that will never print out or to forget just how heavy metal will be in the end.
 As evidence of this error, I printed the original design out at 2-inches across which sounds small when you're just looking at a ruler but comes out pretty beefy in real life. For a piece I had envisaged being printed flat, the 3d printer ultimately came up with a pretty crazy angle to print at. All the support scaffold on the bottom looks pretty neat but is really just cut away in the end.
 The final piece accidentally broke in the casting process since it had a greater volume than originally estimated so two batches of metal had to be poured into the mold in order to complete it. As a result it split down the middle but Andy was able to solder it back into one piece after I cleaned and filed the fragments. I actually quite like the look of it is this way and feel that the break adds character to the look of the piece.
The other blessing with 3d design is that its really easy to scale things down and try again, so this size will be a one-off attempt but we're going to try again with a smaller pendant as well as cufflinks and maybe even earring studs if the detail will hold up at such a small size.

October 27, 2018


Whenever I have been able to get a spare minute away from studying for the CPA this year, one of my ongoing projects has been doing some whale-themed jewelry design and fabrication with a small group of clever and experienced friends and artisans.

Way back in 2010 I bought a copy of zbrush but forgot all about it when I fell out of love of effects and ran away to be an accountant. All that changed when a friend of mine showcased some of the results you can get by casting 3d prints.

Fortunately, the makers of zbrush have one of the best customer service policies ever, and I was able to get the latest version as ongoing support for my original purchase. Mercifully I had not entirely forgotten how to work the software and after a few evenings of tinkering around I had come up with a pretty pleasing design. After many years of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades and model, texture, rig, animate, render, and composite my projects, it was pretty liberating to only concern myself with form and ignore everything else.
Now, I have made all sorts of 3d objects and animations, but none of them have ever crossed over from the screen into the real world before. So I was totally delighted and blown away when the talented guys at 3dsmith right here in Vancouver were able to realize my design to within 0.3mm as a print in resin.

The machines and process are pretty amazing (and worth a post in their own right some day) but the photo below clearly shows how they start out with a base and build up an armature to support the final result. The layers are printed so finely that you really can't see any banding in the surface of the object as its slowly built from the bottom-up.
3d prints are amazing from a technical standpoint, but resin can't shake the look and weight of cheap plastic. And that's where Andy at Uscochi Manufactory came in to save the day with a combination of patience and very old but proven techniques. The "lost wax method" has been updated for the 21st century by allowing the print to serve in the place of wax which is then burned out after being cased in plaster to create a mold. Once the casting process was complete, I got to step in and learn how to saw, file, sand and buff the piece until it was shiny and complete as you see below.
Huge thanks to everyone involved in the process and I really look forward to having the time to do some more work in this vein. After a few years away I really enjoyed reconnecting with my creative skills and collaborating with friends to make some new and totally unique artwork that would survive a hard drive failure.

April 29, 2018

Sea Plane to Nanaimo

 We have watched sea planes depart from Burrard Inlet for years and finally found the opportunity to take one of these flights to shave off some travel time on a trip to Vancouver Island. The terminal is walking distance from our home and they have a pretty slick operation to get everyone ready and off to where they need to be.
 I remember seeing the cockpits of airliners when I was little and taking children to see the flight deck was a thing airlines would do, but its been awhile. However, these planes are so small that Kathryn and I were literally seated directly behind the captain, making for a more personal flight than you are typically used to.
 The weather was quite rainy and cloudy so it was not ideal for interesting pictures of the crossing, but seeing your own city from a different angle is always interesting. I have crossed Lionsgate bridge dozens of times but never seen it from this perspective. Kathryn and my dad briefly saw a humpback whale during the flight as well which was pretty cool albeit fleeting.

February 18, 2018

Plucky Spring Arrivals

 Winter has been rainy but not overly cold this year with hardly any snow at all, but nothing lasts forever. While hardly impressive by prairie standards, we did get a dusting of snow along the beach which made summer feel even further away, but did make for some pretty landscapes of tankers and birds.
 While I was mildly affronted by the snow, I'm sure it came as a bit of a shock to the clusters of daffodils that were trying to establish themselves along the seawall and bring a little bit of colour and cheer to the neighborhood.
 Fortunately I had the day off and could spend a little bit of time balanced on the slippery hillside with my macro lens taking some closeups of icy blossoms before the sun rose and melted away the majority of the ice.

January 29, 2018

Thoughts Upon Turning 40

 Recently I was fortunate enough to do something which millions of people throughout history have been unable to achieve. If you haven't done it yet already yourself, I hope that you put in the time to make it happen eventually because it is absolutely worth it. I turned 40. I was also fortunate to have very kind and enthusiastic coworkers that refused to ignore my notion of not drawing attention to it and making a very special day.
 Key to the process was my dear "Work Aunt" Michelle, who made a truly monstrous cake for me. Take a minute to process it and I'll walk you through it. It was triple-layered with jam and custard inside and the whole thing was wrapped in fondant icing. And there was a bottle of Jack Daniels embedded in it as well. I brought through everyone in the company that I could think of for a slice and still had leftovers for a week.
 When I was younger, 40 seemed like such a faraway time and big number, but the closer I got the more I realized that most of "being a grownup" is paying your own bills and presenting the facade of having everything in check and under control. I also realized that I had shared about a third of my days on Earth with this beautiful girl and they had been the very best days of my life.
I can see how it would be easy to be nostalgic for childhood or the foolish indiscretions of a young adult, but honestly the very best years have been the recent ones with Kathryn, and all I want is to continue forward with my wonderful best friend for many more to come.

December 29, 2017

Retracing the Christmas Count

 We have participated in the Vancouver Christmas Bird Count in the past, and since we didn't manage anything exotic over the holidays we decided to be involved again this year. Unfortunately it rained the entire day so we got thoroughly soaked, didn't take many photos, and (worst of all) had pretty mediocre sightings. Luckily, the weather cleared a few days later so we took another long walk through Stanley Park in search of birds. The varied thrush is pretty stunning in good light and I always forget that we have them in decent numbers during Vancouver winters.
 Deeper in the forest, Kathryn turned up a pileated woodpecker tearing away at the side of a tree. It was a reasonably agreeable bird in that it let us get fairly close and photograph it for awhile, but was also a quickly moving dark bird in deep shade, so of 100+ photos there were only 2 worth keeping. An impressive sight and a good find all the same.
 Finally, we wound up on the sea wall and came across a group of 6 or so Black Oystercatchers. We have photographed and shared pictures of these birds in the past, but this set had particularly brilliant bills that almost seem to be lit from within. We've had several encounters with a group (we assume to be the same batch) of oystercatchers over the last week and learned their distinctive and high-pitched call is a surefire way to locate dark birds on wet rocks.