The Pen Being Mightier Than Us

One of Gina’s Christmas presents for me this year was this do-it-yourself pen from a company called Fraser Ross. I had never heard of ol’ FR before this, but apparently they don’t make a lot of forays into the DIY world. From what I could gather from their website, they’re based in Scotland. They do a lot of nature art and some various kinds of interesting public installation art pieces, and so on. They are, and I quote, “Inspired by nature” and “Exploring human interactions.” They’re also an “artelier,” which I must admit I had to look up to find that it’s a fancy name for “artist’s studio.”

At any rate, this is the only DIY project that you can readily buy from them, and Gina got it for me as part of a “DIY Christmas” theme. That’s it for back story.

The pen came in a black plastic bag, with most of its pieces connected by balsa wood to a frame, like the pieces of a model airplane or something similar. In fact, that’s really all there was to it: a bunch of concentric rings of wood, the pre-assembled pen-type ink tube and tip, what I like to call the “springy thing,” and a length of rubber to create the pen’s cover.

After detaching all of the rings from their resting place, I promptly set to work by following the instructions, Gina by my side for assistance and moral support. It all went smoothly enough in the beginning stages. All that was really involved was placing the rings along two spine-like pieces of wood, carefully ensuring that they stayed in place while I slid the springy thing and ink tube inside. Simple!

Then came the finishing touch. The final flair, if you will. According to the instructions, all that was needed was to slide the plastic rubber tube over the pen skeleton, set it on a handy cradle fashioned from two sections of balsa wood cleverly carved for that purpose from the original template of pieces, and apply heat for a few minutes via hair dryer. The only problem was that I mistook the cradle for extra pieces and snapped half of it in two, thereby rendering it completely useless. No problem, we said, we’ll just hold the pen in place with our hands while we use this hair dryer here. It’ll only be a few minutes, how hot could it get?

Either Gina’s hair dryer is particularly weak, or hairdressers use blowtorches in Scotland, because after 15 minutes of constant hair dryer contact, where we essentially touched the pen’s rubber grip to the hair dryer itself, as if that would help, nothing was happening. The instructional video, which was unhelpfully sped up to double speed, seemed to imply that after a minute or two the rubber would give up the ghost and begin to shrink-wrap itself around the pen skeleton. We had no shrinking nor any wrapping. We were a little frustrated.

We’d already broken out some oven mitts to hold the pen, since surprisingly our fingers didn’t enjoy holding molten hot tire rubber and pen metal for minutes on end. Unfortunately, our mitts also succumbed to the heat after just a few minutes of constant hair dryer attention, so we were forced to take frequent breaks and trade off hair dryer / glove duties throughout the evening. However, just when we were about to give up completely, something happened. Like a timid hatchling emerging from its egg for the first time, the rubber began to contort around the edges of the pen. The unshapely mass before us began to vaguely take the form of the pen’s picture on the Internet. Hope was ours at last.

I would say that after about 25-30 minutes of total hair drying time, we had a pen that looked 95% complete. There were still a few areas that didn’t completely shrink, and I’m pretty sure that the spring mechanism got misaligned sometime during the heating process, but the pen was structurally sound.

Careful, it might burn you.
Careful, it might burn you.

Exhausted but victorious, I was able to scrawl a quick message onto the instructions after the pen cooled off. And in the end, isn’t that all you want out of a pen?

It did not defeat us!
In the end, we were stronger.

And out of life?

New T-Shirt In The Running

I recently added to my sporadic portfolio of amateur graphic design projects. Along with the Arlington County Police, Fire, and Sheriff’s Departments, Gina’s hotel is co-sponsoring (and fielding a team in) the Arlington 9/11 Memorial 5K coming up in a couple of weeks. She volunteered me to come up with a t-shirt design for the employees at the race, which ultimately led to the creation of a few designs based on different fonts and variations of the hotel description on the back. The selected design uses Dream Orphans, which blends well with the stylized trees in the logo and is a classy choice. Below are the back and front, respectively:

This was by necessity a quick job, since the order had to be placed by the end of the week, so I didn’t have time to re-create the Doubletree logo from scratch or anything crazy like that.  Regardless, it turned out well. I won’t actually be running in the 5K due to prior commitments (but I will get a shirt).  Come check out the race. It’s a great way to donate to various 9-11 related charities while getting a little exercise.  And most importantly, it commemorates those who gave their lives on 9-11, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Need A Change Of Scenery?

Well, I’ve found something else to do during exam study breaks: create a wallpaper out of the cover art I cooked up for this year’s Tour CD. I’ve got it in four delicious sizes, suitable for all your desktopping needs. Check it out, then get ready for the debut of the CD in a couple days (in a very limited release — say, 50 copies in the greater Blacksburg area). And hurry, ’cause I won’t leave these up forever.
EDIT: I took the wallpapers off the server to make way for some other things, but if you want to see them, drop me an e-mail or leave a comment. Thanks for stopping by!

Don’t Forget To Rasterize When You Go

I spent most of yesterday working on the CD design for the Wesley Singers’ 30th Anniversary record that’s set to be unleashed on Blacksburg in mid-April. I was actually working under a severe time crunch, since to have the discs at our doorstep by Wesley Weekend, we needed to send out our graphics and master disc … yesterday. I actually had already designed the layout, but I did it in Photoshop, which wasn’t acceptable to our manufacturer for commercial printing.
So, I did what any fledgling graphic artist would do and gave myself a crash course in Adobe Illustrator at the New Media Center in Torgersen. I must thank the fine folks at Adobe for making such a brilliant program, because after the 30 minutes I spent panicking because I couldn’t get any templates to open correctly, everything went smoothly. Thankfully, I recreated my design, improved on it a bit, and got it to Glenn in time to overnight it to our disc pressing company, Discmakers (who are very professional, by the way). Boo-yah.
I think the design came out pretty well given the circumstances. I probably would have toyed with some of the advanced features in Illustrator if I’d had the time, but here’s a low-res version of it, coming to a Wesley Weekend near you this spring: