Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Games I Play

OK, I admit it. I play video games.

Actually, not so much any more, but since the early 80’s I’ve been playing computer games.


Classics such as Space Invaders, Centipede and Mr Do in the arcades, and 3D Monster Maze, Snake and stuff arduously typed in from magazines on my Sinclair ZX81. Later my friend acquired a ZX Spectrum, and home gaming was taken to a new level!

I think I was just at the right age, having experienced games arcades at the seaside, and then witnessed it make the technological and economic breakthrough into the living room at home.


As time progressed, and games and the hardware to run them became increasingly more sophisticated, I was treated to the delights of Elite, Atic Atac, and Knight Lore. While the Platform Game became more detailed and intricate, it was the ever-expanding scope of games such as Elite and PIrates! that really caught my attention. Whole worlds, even galaxies were being built inside computers, and I was being given a chance to explore them! And with Sid Meier’s next releases, to rule them!
By the early 1990’s I had seen what happens when a place is ruled badly, and Sid Meier gave me a chance to do it right!

Elite, Civilisation, The Settlers, Railroad Tycoon … a whole series of Empire-Building games filled my spare time for several years, as expansions, and sequels and new versions were released, taking advantage of the Onward March Of Progress in computer hardware and programming techniques.

But like all good things, it appears to have come to an end.

The Settlers V turned away from its cutesy, cartoon-like graphics. 220-16-civilization-agaCivilisation V moved to hex-based rather than square-grid and emphasised the military side too much. They, and the other games that I had loved for so long, sit untouched on the shelf, vying for space with lesser titles.

I did have a phase of on-line multi-player games, mainly Neverwinter Nights, and while it had many similar elements, and the added attraction of adventuring with other real people, it didn’t last.

And so now, with so many pulls on my time and resources, I am struggling to find a game that I enjoy so much. Maybe it is just nostalgia; none of these new-fangled offerings will live up to The Golden Age. Maybe it is not being able to play for 18 hours straight any more. An hour’s snatched play here and there doesn’t do them justice.

Maybe I am growing up.

It’s Got To Be Perfect!

So, I have another article posted on The Crystal Wizard site. But I’m not that happy with it.
“So why did you publish it?” I hear you cry. I’m glad you asked. Allow me to explain:

For a combination of reasons, I have tasked myself to produce a steady stream of content, be it articles, blog posts, new sections for the site or other things, as I think of them. Obviously, I would like it all to be of the highest quality possible. Unfortunately, some of the material I produce will not be of as high standard as others, and this forces me to make a difficult decision. Do I publish it anyway? Several factors have to be taken into consideration when answering this.

  • Is it “good enough”?
  • Is it so bad that it will harm my reputation to publish it?
  • Is it possible to rewrite it, better?
  • Would the delay to publishing be a problem?
  • Can I publish something else instead?

And, of course, the age-old question a Creator must ask themselves: Who am I to judge this? Am I too emotionally invested in the work to give an unbiased opinion?

Not having the funds to employ a team of expert proof-readers, I rely on my Social Support Network (Facebook!) to alert me to any problems in the work, be they grammatical, spelling errors or factual inaccuracies. But how good is that feedback? Are people happy to criticise my work, and therefore myself, or would they rather stay quiet? Is it easier for them just to click “Like” than to point out my poorly structured arguments and inconsistent conclusion? And are they qualified to judge the work?

I have a plethora of example works to compare mine against, from high school essays to amateur blogs to professional journalists and critics. Should I be trying to emulate the best of these? What is it that makes them good? Am I just copying them?

I could approach it with an arrogant disdain. I wrote it, it must be good. If you don’t like it, don’t read it! But I do want people to read it. My ideas and opinions are worth reading! Should I alter (improve?) my writing to keep (gain) an audience?
Or should paranoid neurosis’ keep me re-editing, re-reading, never publishing until I am convinced that the work cannot be improved? What if it still attracts criticism? Remove the work and re-edit?
I am reminded of John Lydgate’s words “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
The most difficult person to please at the moment seems to be myself. Is ‘some of the time’ enough?

On this occasion, I have decided that the article is good enough. It may not be the best I have ever written, but I do want to keep up with my schedule. It keeps my audience interested. It highlights my better work. It adds to my SEO score. It gives people something to talk about, even if only to criticise (“The only thing worse than being talked about, is NOT being talked about!” – Oscar Wilde).

The Art of Envy

don’t envy people their stuff. Usually, I don’t even like their stuff. I like different stuff. I don’t envy them having more stuff than me.

What I do envy is their talent, their drive, their personality traits that seem to make them more “successful”. Not that I envy their success, just their ability to succeed.

Envy is born of seeing something that another has, and wanting it for ourselves. Thinking that we should have it for ourselves. That we deserve it at least as much as the person who has it, and possibly more. It is an emotion that justifies itself with fairness. It is unfair that they have that, while we do not. It would be right for us to have it. It is also an emotion of exclusivity; we should have it, instead of them. It is not enough to possess the focus of ones envy, but it must also be denied, taken from, the ‘undeserving’ owner.

When applied to Talent, (“How come they can do that, and we can’t? That’s not fair! It’s not right!”), we are usually only seeing the product of a lot of hard work and practice. Very few Talents are purely Natural Ability. Even if one is born with a predisposition to a certain skill, it takes time and effort to hone it into something useful. We want they have, but we want it now, without having to have gone through the long, arduous process that we don’t always see.

I have analysed this a little, and realise that what I actually envy is their ability to put in those hours, that effort, that concentration. I could do what they can do, if I put my mind to it. They obviously have. What I lack is their drive, their commitment.

When envying others, we do tend to lose sight of what one already has. We don’t think that they might envy us. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, as they say. If only we had that energy, that ambition, we could be where they are. Or even where we wanted to be. But envy blinds us to what we do have, and how we can use that to get where we want to be. We see what they have, and want it for ourselves, instead of seeing where we can get with what we have.

In this way, envy is born of dissatisfaction. If we were happy with what we already had, or what we thought we could gain, why would we envy others? We would be happy for them, and think “We’ll have that, too, soon!”.

So, like all the good self-help manuals, we need some bullet-points:

  • Appreciate what you have.
  • Appreciate that it took others a lot of hard work to get what they have.
  • Identify what it is that you actually want.
  • Find a route from where you are, using what you have, to where you want to be.
  • Turn your Envy into Drive. When you start to feel envy, say to yourself “I do want what they have. And By Klono’s Brazen Whiskers, I shall have it! By my own hard work!”

Pippa Middleton Crumpet Mosaic!

Ray Mears Extreme Housewifery: The Pippa Middleton Crumpet Mosaic!.



Do you like crumpet? Do you like Pippa Middleton? Then you’ll love The Pippa Middleton Crumpet Mosaic!

Extreme Housewifery takes an artistic turn, as 15,000 crumpets are laid out across Warrington’s Parr Hall to immortalise Ms Middleton’s image in breakfast-based art!

Produced as a publicity stunt for Beefeater Grill’s new breakfast menu in 2011, it took a full day to spread jam, marmite and butter onto the crumpets and place them out across the hall.

For more details, pictures and a video of the making of Pippa Middleton, follow Ray Mears Extreme Housewifery

The Art of Art (A Peek Behind The Scenes)

Paint Pots

Paint Pots

While not working on The Crystal Wizard website, or out finding new Art, I sometimes create my own. My usual medium is miniature figurines, and the scenery to go with them. But it is not these that I am writing about today, but instead the side-art that I find in them.

In this first picture, we see pots of paint, each marked with its colour, and variously faded by use. Although the pots themselves are hexagonal, the rounded lids prevent them from fitting together closely, and the opening-tags point in random directions, as the pots are pushed back once not being used. There are other sets of colours, including inks and washes, that are kept separate, and larger scenery paints and sprays that stay in drawers until needed.

More Paint Pots

More Paint pots

This untidy mix of of pots shows the chaos that can ensue after a long, diverse painting session, if some regimen is not kept to!

In frequent bouts of organisation, the pots are split by type, keeping the washes and inks away from the base-coats, and then ordered by colour and shade, with metallics to one side (I have not yet mastered the arduous “non-metallic metallics” technique!).


Tools of The Trade

Beside the main painting area lies the tool tray. A plethora of utensils, built up over years, for removing the models from their frames (or ‘sprues’), filing down rough edges and applying moulding-putty as needed. Pens and pencils not only serve to jot notes, but can be used for extra shading, with graphite giving a shiny edge to black surfaces. A pin-vice is also useful when trying to connect parts together, drilling small holes for paper-clips to fit into.


Tissue paper for cleaning brushes

And to the other side we have our tissue paper, for wiping excess paint and drying brushes. Regularly replaced, each one holds a unique record of the work it was used with. Some paints bleed into the absorbent paper, forming strange, almost organic, patterns, while others (such as dry-brush techniques) leave straight trails across the surface.

Missing from this collection are the brushes, which I can’t seem to get a satisfactory picture of, and the water pot, for cleaning said brushes. The water pot does build up paint around its edge, but is refreshed so frequently that it would take too many shots to do it justice.


Artist’s Palette

Last, but by no means least, we have the palette. Used for thinning paints before use, and mixing colours, layers build up on the surface, dry out, and the area used again. Care must be taken that the underlying layer is fully dry! I use an old CD, with sections removed to use on the models themselves (it is an excellent material to work with!), and here it shows the more recent colours to be used.
Hopefully, these pictures are not only a record of the tools needed for making this form of Art, but are actually Art themselves. Meta-Art, if you will:

The Art of Making Art.


Badass prosthetics…

Badass prosthetics!
From DarkChildOneFalseLeg

From the sublime, to the ridiculous, these replacement limbs take Functional Art to a new level.

With metals, ceramics, crystal and realistic skin, a lot of real work has gone into making these essential items into stunning works of art!

I’m not sure what there is to say, apart from WOW!

EDIT: Managed to track down the origin of these fantastic pieces.
Designed by Sophie de Oliveira Barata from the Alternative Limb Project, whose works include the Crystallized Leg made for Viktoria Modesta playing the Ice Queen at the London 2012 Paralympic Closing ceremony.

The Price of Art


Tips for Artists

John Baldessari’s Tips for Artists, 1967-68. Photo: The Broad Art Foundation

Why some pictures go for more than others – The Art Newspaper.

There seems to be a hierarchy of subjects in paintings, according to this article. Pictures of roses sell for more than lupins. A grouse is worth more than a duck. Putting a uniform on a man increases the value of his portrait.

While we should not be surprised at some of the findings (pretty women are more popular than old men, pictures of game-birds follow the shooting-value of the bird), what is it that puts us off chrysanthemums? Why are alsatians valued less than terriers?

Subjects that we find less appealing in real life (death, bodily fluids, mongrel dogs, shipwrecks) tend to keep a lower value in art than their opposite numbers (bright sunny landscapes, calm blue oceans, well-bred spaniels). Vibrant or pastel colours sell better than dull, grey or cold scenes. John Baldessari came up with his list of ‘Tips …’ in 1967, noting some of the themes and subjects that would help sell your work, and they seem to hold still.

Is it just fashion? Do we have an inbuilt preference for certain types of art? Is it a result of what we think Art is for? Do we want to be reminded of the good times, rather than the bad?


Today’s Art Finds!

Well, I found a few bits, but it’s hardly my fault if there is no art out there, is it? I went and looked, and its the thought that counts, they say.

What I did find is that the Liberty Statue has a cheeky grin. But the art was already there. All I did was see it with fresh eyes. And that doesn’t make it art. Does it?

The Grinning Liberty Statue

Cheeky Little Grin

There were duck-trails through the algae in the canal, almost looking like the branches of a  tree. Very pretty, but the random patterns created by Things Of Nature, with no sense of the Aesthetic effect they were having can’t qualify as art. Can it?

There’s a nice carving on one of the canal bridges: The Leicester Fleur-de-Leys, crowned with a Dragon (EDIT: The Crest of The Borough of Leicester takes the form of “A wyvern sans legs argent strewed with wounds gules, wings expanded ermine.“). Crafters Skill: Check. Pretty: Check. Functional: Check (It serves as an identifier). Historical Value: Check. now THAT is art!

Fleur-de-leys, crowned by Wyvern

Found on a Bridge

New Artists!

The Crystal Cave now has more Artists!

Firstly, I would like to welcome Dark Flights Art aboard! She has brought a range of Pewter jewellery, including Lion and Unicorn pendants, and a Griffin lapel badge!

Dark Flights Art

Also joining us is Drawn To Paint Nature, with paintings inspired by the natural world around us. WIth both prints and originals available, I’m sure you’ll find something you like!

Drawn To Paint Nature

Coming soon, we will also have Cloud Lines range of Clear Conscience clothing, made from upcycled materials.

So, remember to drop in at The Crystal Cave, and see what’s new!