Category Archives: Art

Halloween Project Archive

Array of Halloween Projects

Looking for inspiration for your Halloween projects? Need ideas for snacks, costumes or decor? Not sure what to do with your pumpkins this year? Head over to the Halloween Project Archives for a list of our projects over the years.

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays, and … we’ve organized dozens of our Halloween projects into categories: costumespumpkinsdecor and food.

From the mailbag: Geometry with AxiDraw

Mark from MN wrote in to say:

I persuaded my school district’s community foundation to buy an AxiDraw for me to use with my high school geometry students. It’s SO GREAT! These kiddos are seeing their 2D creations come to life because of AxiDraw, which is a great motivator for their future studies (either computers or mathematics or art or all/some of the above).

We’ve written about how AxiDraw gets used in the classroom before, and we love hearing from teachers who are using it. Thanks for the note, Mark!

Spicy Plum Chutney

Jars of chutney

I’ve been using my Plum Chutney recipe for years and enjoying every batch. Our own plum tree is now mature and producing lots of wonderful fruit each year, so I have had many opportunities to reproduce and refine my recipe. Here’s my new spicier recipe, with notes below on ingredient changes and other tips I’ve learned over the years.

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups cut up pieces of plums, pits removed, skins left on, fresh or frozen
  • 3 lemons, (optionally peeled) cut into small pieces, seeds removed
  • juice from 3 more lemons
  • 1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated (a microplane works great) or cut into matchsticks
  • 2 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 cups sugar (granulated or brown)

Throw everything except the sugar in a sauce pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit starts to soften. Add sugar and cook, stirring regularly, until it thickens to a consistency you like. You can test the consistency by putting a spoonful in a cold dish in the fridge for a few minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks after cooking. You can also follow your favorite canning procedure for longer term storage. Makes about 3-4 pints.

Fruit and spices in pot

We’ve tended toward more flavor intensity in our cooking over time, and I’ve settled on a version with twice as much spice as before. Sometimes I’ll cut the some or all of the ginger into matchsticks instead of grating it, which results in little bursts of ginger flavor when you’re eating the chutney. If you like that, by all means, use matchsticks! For a more even flavor or consistency, stick to using the microplane. I added a small amount of salt, which makes all of the flavors shine just a little bit more.

I’ve stopped adding water to my preserves. It cooks a little faster without as much liquid, and there’s enough liquid in the lemon juice to get it started cooking even if the fruit isn’t covered. I’ve also started removing the lemon peel for most of the preserves I make other than marmalade. The peel gives it a stronger lemon flavor, and keeps the pectin in the pith from gelling from as well. If you want a thicker consistency, you can leave the peel out. If you want zingier lemon flavor, leave it on.

Using potato masher to crush fruit pieces

One other consistency related tip: if I want a less chunky consistency, I use a potato masher to crush the fruit pieces early in the cooking. During fruit season, I try to preserve as much as I can by making jams and chutneys, but I usually run out of time and end up cutting up the last of the crop and freezing it. Using frozen fruit for jams seems to work just as well as fresh. The other thing I usually run out of is sugar, because I often forget how much it takes to make preserves, so I started using brown and granulated interchangeably in the chutney. I even used palm sugar once! Which sugar you use doesn’t seem to affect the flavor significantly, so use whichever you have on hand.

From plottertwitter: a first painting

Corey Haber just posted a clip of his AxiDraw finishing its first painting:

Astronomy Cookies

Galaxy, globular cluster and nebula cookies

We love any excuse to create science themed food, and we had a blast brainstorming our contribution to “Astro-Gastro” contest at the annual member meeting at the Fremont Peak Observatory. We settled on some of the things we love to show visitors to the observatory: Galaxies, globular clusters, and nebulas.

Cinnamon Pinwheel Galaxy

Cinnamon Pinwheel Galaxies are inspired by palmiers. They are made with puff pastry that is coated in cinnamon sugar and rolled up, sliced and baked. The recipe is identical to palmiers except that you first fold the pastry over itself a little further than halfway, and then roll up from the folded edge to create the spiral pattern that shows when you slice them.

Globular Cluster Cookie

Chocolate Globular Clusters start with the same chocolate graham crackers we used for our Edible Asteroids project.

We iced them with a chocolate icing derived from a recipe for Black And White cookies from Baking Illustrated. Melt 2 oz unsweetened chocolate in double boiler. Bring 2 Tbsp light caro syrup and 3.5 Tbsp water to a boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in 2.5 cups powdered sugar and 1/4 tsp vanilla. Stir icing into chocolate in the double boiler. You may need to reheat the chocolate icing in the double boiler to keep it at a good consistency for spreading.

Immediately after spreading the icing on a cookie, very slightly moisten the top of the icing with water. You can either dip a finger in a dish of water and smooth a bit over the surface of the icing or use a water mister to give it a very light spritz. The water on the surface will make it sticky enough for the sprinkles to adhere to. Drop small white non pareil sprinkles over the center of the cookie. We used a small funnel held over center of the cookie, to create a dense cluster in the middle, and fewer and fewer as you reach the edges.

Meringue nebulas

For the Meringue Nebulae, we divided a batch of meringue into two, and colored half of it with black food coloring. The other half we split again and colored with red and blue respectively, stopping before it was fully mixed in to allow for some color variation. We spread the blue meringue along one side of a piping bag, and red along the other. Then we filled the middle with the grey. We piped the mixture out with a #12 icing tip in a wavy, uneven fashion. Using two different sizes of non pareil sprinkles made it look like there were stars of different brightness in our nebulae.

Meringue Nebula closeup

Other astronomers brought moon rock smores, almond asteroid cookies, and an Orion constellation cake. We’re tickled that the Cinnamon Pinwheel Galaxy won the contest against such fun competition.

Featured artist: Michael Fogleman

Drawing of lots of small coils titled Spiral Galaxies

Michael Fogleman is an active member of the plotter art community. His twitter feed often contains either new art, or links to new tools that he has made.

He has created and shared some incredible resources, including a wide variety of vector art tools and even an alternate Python library for AxiDraw.

Drawing of a protein diagram displayed at the Plotter People Meetup

I am a fan of science as an art subject, and Michael’s protein ribbon diagram drawings are a great example. A ribbon diagram depicts the 3D structure of the protein as well as the common secondary structures of helixes, strands, and coils.

In addition to making the drawings, he has a twitter bot that publishes ribbon diagrams and has published the code for the project. This ribbon diagram was one that we got to see at the Plotter People meetup in San Francisco.

Drawing of Galaga

Michael hits another of my weaknesses, vintage gaming with his NES Sparklines drawings.

For these drawings, I use an NES emulator (of my own creation) to record a snapshot of the Nintendo’s RAM at each frame (60 fps). The NES only had 2048 bytes of RAM. For each address in memory, I plot its values over time as an individual sparkline. I only show addresses that changed at least once, so there are usually fewer than 2048 sparklines. Because each game developer used the memory in different ways, each game produces its own unique look when plotted.

MOS 6502 processor drawing

He also plotted something dear to our hearts (and close to the heart of the NES), the MOS 6502 processor.


Topographic map of Mount St. Helens

One subject that I’ve often thought appropriate for plotting are maps, and Michael’s topographic maps are elegant. Again, in addition to making drawings, he has provided his code for working with AWS terrain data as well.


Drawings of the Stanford bunny

Michael sells drawings, and accepts commissions for favorite NES games, proteins, map regions, and even cellular automata. He has projects on wide ranging subjects, not limited to pen plotters, so go check them out!

Featured Artist: Vincent Pidone

An array of drawings featuring Moire patterns

Vincent Pidone is an artist particularly interested in Moire patterns, making the AxiDraw a tool well suited to him. You can find him on instagram, and he has a show opening this week.

I have a show of my recent artwork opening August 17th in Hudson, New York. The show will be up through October. All of the work consists of Moire drawings, some hand drawn, but most of them were done with my Axidraw. (Everything in the photo above was done with Axidraw.)

I am always intrigued to see artists building on each other’s work. In the piece above, Vincent took artwork from Justin Lincoln and added colors and layers with the AxiDraw to make it into something new. Here’s Justin’s original:

Vincent has also experimented with using his AxiDraw for dispensing paint.

He has shared the software and hardware details of the project on hackaday.io.


Vincent’s show, focusing on his recent Moire pieces, is opening this Saturday, August 17th at Walnut Hill Fine Art in Hudson, New York, and will be up through October. Even if you aren’t able to make it to his show, you can follow him on instagram.

Featured artist: Sash Zats

Sash Zats is a designer and generative artist working with AxiDraw. You can find him on instagram and twitter. One of the things about Sash’s work that I enjoy is his choices of materials. He often uses bold papers and subtle pen colors to bring his designs to life.

The sun and the moon

The Sun and the Moon are a compelling pair of drawings with gold and silver ink on black. The rich texture of the overlapping lines almost looks like textile work rather than ink.

maps on white

In describing these map drawings, Sash says:

For my dad’s 65th birthday I plotted places that are significant for our family.

maps on black

Continuing in the tradition of tool sharing that we have seen in generative artists, Sash included information about how he created the drawings, starting with calculating tile indices from coordinate bounds, parsing vector tiles protocol buffers, and converting to vectors before plotting with the AxiDraw.

Manhattan drawing

In a similar vein, this drawing of Manhattan buildings, blocks and neighborhood used data from NYC OpenData. Sash outlined his process for this one:

• data from NYC OpenData using httpie to filter unrelated data with
• process using #swift Xcode Playgrounds
• generate 3D geometry using #SceneKit
• export to .stl (.dae crashes #blender)
• export to SVG using Freestyle SVG to maintain occlusion
Svg Spatial Sort to optimise SVG for faster plotting
• plot using #axidraw v3 plotter

He published his Manhattan model as well.

Penrose tiling

Sash posted this Interrupted Penrose tiling with a link to Penrose’s lecture on tiling.

Anatomical heart of triangles

Delaunay triangulation is a familiar tool for generative artists, and is used in a series of drawings, including this anatomical heart drawn in white on bold red paper.

Drawing of a protein

The last picture I want to share is of the protein 5B0R, which Sash says, “when plotted looks like a badass graffiti.” I enjoy seeing science as an inspiration for art, and while I’ve seen a couple of artists plot proteins, the combination of the teal paper and light ink on this one give it a completely different perspective.

Thank you, Sash, for sharing your photos and processes! You can find more of his work, including videos of the drawing process on instagram and twitter.

Coffee tools

Not long ago, I posted about roasting coffee. As a follow up, I’d like to share about the various coffee tools we use. I talked about some of these tools when I was a guest on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools podcast. We’ve learned about some of them from other Cool Tools posts and a variety of other sources, including Sweet Maria’s. I’ve included links for items I have sources for, but some items are relatively generic or from brick and mortar shops. I’ve sorted them into Roasting, Espresso, Home, and Travel sections below.

Note that these are not necessarily recommendations for everyone: they are what work for us. We have a pretty committed relationship with our coffee, and we understand that each coffee lover will have their own preferences and methods. Just because we do it one way doesn’t mean that we think the way you are doing it is wrong. Feel free to share your favorite tools in the comments!

—Roasting—

The Behmor 1600 roaster: this model is no longer in production, but continues to work well for us. You can get the newer version from Sweet Maria’s.

Wooden handled natural bristle pastry/basting brush: this is basically just a broom. After blowing the chaff out of the roaster, I sweep the interior walls and the surfaces of the chaff tray to remove remaining dust. You can get these from any cooking store or restaurant supply.

Quart sized plastic canisters: these are from Smart & Final, but could be obtained at any restaurant supply store. I use them for weighing green beans and storing roasted beans. They seal well and you can see what’s inside. I have two to make it easy to roast a new batch when I still have some in the previous canister.

Five gallon food service bucket: again from a restaurant supply shop. It holds about 25 pounds of green coffee beans, which is much more manageable than the 50 pound bag our coffee arrives in. The rest of the 50 pound bag gets sealed up and stored until the bucket is ready to be refilled. It seals well and has a nice handle for ease of moving it around.

Stool: lifts the roaster far enough off of the ground to make cleanup easy after roasting finishes, and I don’t have to bend over as far to pick up the roaster to carry it back inside when I’m done roasting.

—Espresso—

Quick Mill Silvano Espresso Machine: PID control, separate steam and coffee boiler, beautiful stainless exterior, generously deep drip tray. It has a lot of excellent features for the price. Fits four full-sized mugs on top for warming. Switching from a low end home espresso machine to this was like switching from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR.

Rancilio Rocky Doserless Burr Grinder: one of the most important tools for espresso is the grinder. If you don’t get an even grind, it will be nearly impossible to make good espresso. Available from Sweet Maria’s and Chris’ Coffee.

Small cup and measuring spoon: the Rocky grinder is known for dispensing clumpy grounds. To combat this we grind into a cup and then scoop it out into the portafilter basket, which lets us break up the clumps.

Stainless portafilter: most portafilters are made of chrome plated brass and the plating can wear down over time. Stainless portafilters are easy to clean and you never run the risk of exposing your espresso to the lead in the brass. The handle of ours is tilted downward slightly, which means the basket is conveniently nearly level when the portafilter is resting on the spouts and handle.

Coffee distributor/leveler: we saw an OCD branded one of these in use at our favorite coffee shop and wanted one immediately. It evenly spreads the grounds across the top of your basket when you spin it. Such a beautiful design. The OCD price tag was a bit steep, so we went off-brand and got one that was much less expensive and is still very effective.

Tamper: ours has a nice handle and good heft.

Tamping mat: we have a very small counter for our setup, so this one works really well. It props up the portafilter while you fill it, gives you a solid surface for tapping to settle the grounds as well as for tamping.

Bottomless portafilter: a bottomless portafilter is useful for learning better espresso technique, but can make a ridiculous mess if your grounds aren’t perfectly distributed or tamped. I got one and used it consistently for a while, but now use the stainless portafilter all the time. I keep my backflushing basket in my bottomless portafilter so that it is easy to do my routine cleaning and backflushing of the espresso machine. The bottomless has a lower profile than ones with spouts and fits neatly in the utensils drawer below the espresso machine.

Steaming pitcher: we have a medium sized steaming pitcher. It works well for us since we don’t have much counter space and because we are usually only making coffee for one or two people.

Dishrags: I keep a stack of dishrags handy for wiping down the steam wand.

Cafelat knockbox: this one is easy to clean, sturdy and doesn’t slide around. It’s also easy to empty.

—Home—

Bodum French press: we drink cappuccinos during the week, but on the weekend, we use a French press for coffee at home. It’s reliable, low cost, and makes really good coffee.

Glass stirring rod: rather than use a metal spoon which might scratch the glass of the French press, or a wooden spoon, which can be unpleasant to clean, we use a glass stirrer. We have some candy striped ones from the post-holiday sale section of Williams-Sonoma, and we have some intended for chemistry lab use that aren’t as decorative but are just as useful. In addition to an initial stir, it’s helpful to fluidize the grounds before you press the coffee.

Capresso grinder: French press coffee isn’t as demanding on the grinder as espresso is. The Capresso is a much lower cost (and lighter weight) burr grinder, and it works fine for this job. Coffee grounds sometimes get caught behind the drawer, which gradually works its way out from the vibration of the grinder. So long as you clean it out regularly, it doesn’t cause a problem.

Electric kettle: you can get very fancy ones with different heat settings for that precise just below boiling temperature that is perfect for French press. Or you can get a simple one like ours.

—Travel—

Aeropress: we don’t often travel where there isn’t coffee, but for things like camping, we still need coffee. The aeropress can be tedious for making more than one cup, but the cleanup is easy, and other than a way to heat water, you don’t need anything else. If we know we’ll have electricity, we’ll bring along our electric kettle.

Plastic bags: A zipper bag is convenient for storing the filter rounds so they don’t get wet. I also bring along an extra zipper bag for ejecting the Aeropress puck into after brewing, especially if we’re camping and there aren’t nearby trash facilities.

Vacuum sealer: I pre-grind, measure and vacuum seal our coffee grounds when we travel. This keeps the grounds fresh, tidy, and compact for packing, as well as convenient for brewing.

Travel mugs: We have some Aladdin brand stainless steel vacuum insulated mugs that we’ve had for approximately forever. The plastic lid screws into the metal mug firmly and prevents spills. They keep warm for a very long time. They have a wide enough top to hold the Aeropress. They are also narrow enough to fit into almost any cup holder, including the ones in our Prius that are inline rather than side by side. A bonus is that one has a pattern of raised bumps and the other has gently recessed striped swirl pattern so even if you are driving and don’t want to look down, you can tell that you’re picking up the correct mug.