October 31, 2014

Annual Scary Collage: Paranoia

I couldn't think of one individual person right now who's notably scary. Instead, it's the pervasive atmosphere of paranoia right now - in large part thanks to the media, both social and mainstream - that's scaring me. This paranoia creeps into the minds of otherwise normal people, turning them  irrational, unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous.

As always, I did an advanced search on Flickr for Creative Commons-licensed photos using the word "paranoia." I got a lot of great results, but ended up using only three.

This photo of a (Swedish?) report from Anders Samberg:


This photo from a dance called "Paranoia" from Vivadança Festival Internacional:


And this photo of a peacock feather from Jordi Cucurull:


I tried to make the peacock feather into a set of creepy, inhuman eyes. I used the Sketch: Graphic Pen filter to make them look like they're on a screen or in a hologram. I used the wave filter on different parts of the image and layered them with layer masks of varying sizes to make it look like the electronic interference is spilling out of the "eyes" onto the people.

I had a lot of fun working with the text. I used the Distort: Spherize filter on one layer of text, then made another layer with larger text flipped around backwards to make the letters less recognizable.

At one point while working with this collage, I had to completely stop and start over. That's always a hard thing to do with any piece of art. If your original vision isn't working out, do you keep pushing or abandon it? I ended up backtracking almost to the beginning and heading in a completely different direction, letting the medium guide my vision instead of trying to forcibly create the image I had in my head. I'm glad I was willing to trash hours of work and start over. I think the resulting collage is exactly the sort of creepy, dystopian image I had in mind.

October 29, 2014


A Ridiculously Simple Nonpartisan Social Media GOTV Effort

photo by Tim Ebbs

 Here's how it works:

  1. On Tuesday, November 4, vote as early as possible
  2. After you've voted, take a picture of yourself outside the polling place 
  3. Share it on the social media of your choice, along with this message:


    #VoteTag I just voted! @tweep1 @tweep2 @tweep3 it's your turn! Vote then tag 3 ppl


    #VoteTag I just voted! Friend1, Friend2, Friend3 it's your turn! Vote, take a pic, & tag 3 more people.
Can we surprise and shock the jaded political class with a record turnout? Here's hoping!


Q: What if I voted early or absentee?
A: Then you're ahead of the game! You can tag 3 people as soon as you wake up on November 4.

Q: What do I take a picture of if I voted early or absentee?
A: An envelope, a "V" for victory or voting... Be creative!

Q: What if I don't know 3 people I'm willing to tag?
A: Then just tag one.

Q: Can I tag 20 people?
A: Please don't, that's kind of spammy. Keep it small and personal so people are more likely to respond.

Q: Can I use Instagram/Vine/ello/Google+/Yammer instead of Facebook or Twitter?
A: Sure!

Q: Why do you say to take a picture outside the polling place?
A: In some states, it's illegal to take pictures inside. Better safe than sorry!

Q: What if I can't vote until 6pm or later?
A: You can still tag your friends who live in a later time zone.

Q: What if I'm voting at 6:55pm in Hawaii?
A: Then you have to be "it" until November 2015. Sorry!

Have any questions not answered here? Ask them in the comments.

October 24, 2014

18 Shorter Synonyms for "Actually"

One word that I really use a lot is "actually." In fact, I probably over-use it. At 8 letters, "actually" is quite a long word relative to the amount of meaning it adds to a tweet or text. Inspired by the exercise I did with the word "interesting," I decided to see if there were indeed any good, shorter synonyms for "actually."

Here's what I found on Thesaurus.com. There are a lot of shades of meaning in this list, so every word isn't appropriate for every context. But keeping these synonyms in mind will surely help free up some crucial characters for other words that can't be shortened.

  1. in fact
  2. really
  3. truly
  4. surely
  5. easily
  6. by far
  7. clearly
  8. indeed
  9. plainly
  10. rightly
  11. simply
  12. quite
  13. fully
  14. totally
  15. utterly
  16. well
  17. wholly
  18. verily

October 18, 2014

Digital Collage: I Dream of Texas

I thought it might be illuminating to describe how I put together the photo illustration I created to go with my previous post.

I started with an idea based on an image of the dream itself: Mary standing behind her grandfather, who was dressed in a suit and laid out on a steel table, with a map of Texas behind them. I thought that might be a little too macabre, not to mention too time-consuming, so instead I skimmed through Morguefile for pictures of women who looked vaguely like Mary as she appeared in my dream.

This is the image I started with:

I chose this picture because the girl looks very neutral: blank wall, neutral expression.
I'll be able to alter her appearance however I need to.

In my dream, Mary was sickly-looking and had bad acne. So instead of using Photoshop to make someone look better, in this case, I was trying to make her look worse. I did that by
  • Scaling the photo horizontally, then using the Liquify filter on her face to make her thinner.
  • Using the techniques described in this photo retouching tutorial to add shadows on her cheeks and under her eyes.
  • Using the stamp tool to take acne from another photo and add it to her face. I set the acne layer to overlay so it blended naturally.
  • Changed her hair from red to blonde using Image > Replace Color.
And here's how she looked after that:

Mary's had a rough few months.

Then I used the patch tool, stamp, burn tool, and brush to remove the glare on her glasses. After a little more Liquifying to shorten her chin and enlarge her eyes, I saved the picture as a flat PSD file.

I found a great old map of Texas on Wikimedia Commons that I wanted to use as the background. This tutorial on selecting hair was exactly what I needed to create the composite. 

If you look carefully, you can see I didn't do a perfect job selecting her hair,
but I figured it was close enough for my purposes.
Now the really fun part: changing all the colors to make it look crazy and dreamlike! I used the layer effects palette to add a gradient fill over Texas. Then I created a layer above but below the photo, filled it with green, loaded the photo's layer mask as a selection,  and expanded and feathered it the selection to make a shadow mask. This helped the photo stand out from the background better.

The green shadow layer is set to Multiply.
Mary's face still didn't look nearly as red as it did in my dream, so I again loaded the layer mask as a selection, created a new layer above the photo, and filled the selection with hot pink. I tried several different blending modes for the layer, and liked the way Hard Mix looked (Vivid Light and Color Burn are two other modes I tend to favor).

Girl, that color really brings out the texture in your zits!
The color looked great, but there wasn't enough detail, so I copied the original photo and put it on top with the blending mode set to Screen to capture the higlights.

Almost there...

Then, just one more layer to add the shadows and some of the natural color back in: another copy of the photo set to Multiply. Voila!

Here are the layers palettes from the two files I created.

October 17, 2014

The Texas of my Dreams

I have a lot of dreams that I think are interesting, but every time I consider sharing one I remember what Sheri Lynch said about dreams. To paraphrase, "When someone tells me about a dream they had, all I hear is 'Blah, blah, blah, this didn't really happen.'" But I figure no one is making you read this blog, so if you don't want to hear about something that didn't really happen, stop now.

In this dream, a couple who are friends of mine - let's call them Tom and Mary - had moved from South Carolina to Texas. After being away for almost a year, they came back to South Carolina for a visit. Mary's aunt had a get-together for them at her house, and all their friends showed up to see them. 

Texas life had not been kind to Tom and Mary. Mary, thin to begin with, had lost a lot of weight and looked pinched. She was suffering a terrible acne breakout that had turned her beautiful face red and shiny. Meanwhile, Tom had gained weight. His skin looked awful, too, his face weathered as if he'd spent every day out in the sun. His cheeks were beginning to sag, giving him a sort of jowly, bulldog look.

We sat in Mary's aunt's cheerful but modest living room. The furniture was mostly white-painted wicker with colorful striped cushions. Sunlight poured in the windows which covered both long walls of the rectangular room, making it almost seem that we were sitting outside. The aunt had set her eclectic collection of chairs around the edges of the room, facing inward, so everyone could talk. It wasn't a huge party, there were about twenty of us there. Some people sat on cushions on the floor, and Tom sat on top of the drink cooler.

I asked Mary how she liked Texas, and she said their first few months there had been really hard. Her grandfather, who also lived in Texas, had died. But because of some sort of new regulation, there was a shortage of coroners across Texas, and he couldn't be buried without a coroner. So she'd had to get on a waiting list for a coroner to come see him.

I asked if she could have called a coroner from another state, but Mary said that coroners from nearby states were refusing to come to Texas, and she wasn't allowed to leave the state with his body, so they were stuck. She had to wait three weeks after her grandfather died before she was able to bury him.

During the rest of the party, Mary spent time on her aunt's computer. It was set up on a little cream-colored desk at one end of the living room. Mary searched for jobs, anything to allow them to leave Texas, and Skyped with her mother back home who was taking care of Tom and Mary's children. Tom sat on the cooler looking beaten down by life, drinking from a red Solo cup and not saying much.

October 15, 2014

Poem: The Path

Have you ever had one of those times in your life where you can sense that everything around you is changing? Your best friend moves away or your business downsizes or someone close to you dies. The changes snowball as your group of friends stops meeting up, coworkers leave for other jobs, or family traditions end.

How do you find that happy place again? Do you try and restore what's been broken or leave in search of new friends, new work, new traditions? The answer is different in each situation. When I see the changes coming, though, my instinct is usually to hold on to what used to be good, and try to make it into something good again.

Adapted from a photo by Houston Marsh

I have come up
From the green and fertile valley.
Ahead of me I see
A desert wasteland,
But for the path I walk,
Desolately winding
Through gray rock and dust.
If I stay upon this path
I'll walk a harder road; harder, yes,
Than any I have known before.
It's tempting - I'm tempted
To abandon this journey
Here and now:
Begin anew somewhere else,
Someplace green and welcoming.
I see the faded footprints
Of those who came before me
And turned aside.
I understand.
But if I do, if I do not
Traverse this desert,
I will forever wonder
Where this path I've chosen might have led.
What miracles may lie
Beyond this dreary road?
I have to know.
I will know.
I take a single step