Had lunch with my friend, Angela, from the MOSS team last week, and she remembered the Halo-ween costume we designed and built for Max. I explained that we're always embarking on some new crafty project with the boys, whether its costumes or custom code (as our eldest son, Max, is in to making his own video games courtesy of Mark Overmars' Game Maker software... soon to delve into Microsoft XNA Game Studio).
Another friend asked via mail serendipitously enough later that day, "what's the next craft project you're doing with your boys?"
That would be RetroDog.
Let me explain.
Each year, our local grade school PTA holds an auction to raise money for all sorts of things that the regular budget simply doesn't cover, such as classroom aids, project materials, video production and special projects. To help persuade parents to donate, a number of items will come up during the annual auction... such as custom art pieces that follow a particular theme, all produced by the kids (with a healthy dose of parental involvement). One year, it was hearts (so we did a series of single hearts, one painted by each child, and then mounted on a large board and framed). Another year it was self portraits, again in the same collage presentation.
This year, it's big, ceramic dogs.
Yes, dogs. Not even the school mascot (which is a tiger), but life-sized, white, cast Labrador dogs (a yellow lab, as best as I can divine).
That's where we come in, having ben one of the lucky parents drafted/ volunteered to help prepare the dogs for their artistic transformation. Many other parents pursued mosaic dogs, some covered them with furry pom poms, and others are still determining what will look best.
We went with acrylic paints and a design that seemed to work, which is a collage of Peter Max inspired designs and colours.
What on earth does this have to do with customer satisfaction, Microsoft, software products or computer hardware?
Actually, quite a bit.
Without the computer, various software and peripherals, I would have a devil of a time getting this dog suited and ready for an evening dinner auction.
After recalling a number of colourful posters by the pop artist Peter Max, I started by launching a query on Live search for Peter Max posters which opened a Pandora's Box of options. (Safe Search was set to Moderate, so initial searches done after the kids toddled off to bed.) This presented a number of works, including posters for American Airlines and various designs featuring a field of stars, sunsets and clouds, all with more 60's psychedelic colours than you could imagine (well, perhaps you can).
Then, using my now discontinued of Microsoft Digital Image Suite Pro (note: as a customer, I disagree with that decision -- to discontinue the product -- as it works just fine on Windows Vista and offers a good set of tools), I created a template of the dog sculpture, used the magic wand to create a cut-out mask, and pasted sections of the Max image behind doggy mask.
And after a few minutes consulting with our nine-year-old (lest you think I was going to do this by myself) on the colour choices, placement and orientations of the patchwork of Max-isms... voila: instant painted dog designs.
Next, using Vista, Paint, Digital Image Suite and Word, I drafted up a quick flyer on our progress to share with the other parents. We included various links found with Live Search as well, in case anyone was curious as to the current whereabouts of Peter Max or his latest designs unleashed on the art world, if you'll pardon the pun.
Transferring the design to the dog relied on the skills I still maintained from the college art classes I took oh-so-long-ago, but that's also where the customer service angle steps in: the good folks who work at the local craft stores had lots of tips and suggestions (having heard the questions countless times before: "Excuse me, I need to paint a dog this weekend for a class project... how do I go about that?"). It's wonderful to find people who have a passion for arts and crafts in one place, and as part of their day job they distribute advice and suggestions to the parents of fourth graders everywhere who have been unceremoniously come face to face with another home craft project.
And my hat's off to the folks at our local Michael's and Jo-Ann's for their help, as to the good people at Liquitex for posting the "Liquitex: The Acrylic Book" resource on-line for free, which has a whole section on such painting quandaries. Albeit there is not a specific section on how to paint a dog (which the statement by itself is one that would put you in the bad graces of the local SPCA), there is a great section on how to use their acrylic paints on just about any surface, with details on how to prep and seal the final work for posterity.
So now we've prepped the dog, waiting to take it to school later this week, where we will work with the kids to paint the bright colours in a sort of patch work, three dimensional paint-by-numbers project. Later in the week as we get a little closer to declaring the work completed, I'll post a photo or two.
Years ago, I remember how the prep on a piece of artwork would take days and days of searching through reference works, drawing out various design, photocopies and hand colouring of comps and sketches. Getting a Mac in the late 80's (and then a colour Mac) made the process somewhat easier, but the research part and then the experimentation with colour on all those Apple Laserwriter print outs was time consuming.
Now -- as people have been saying for the last several years -- armed with a digital camera, scanner, art package, and the ability to search the Internet for just about any image you can imagine (and some I'd just as soon forget, thank you), the creative process is more rapid than I could have imagined when I purchased my first computer. And the process is almost fast enough to meet the demands of even the most impatient nine-year-old (and their parents, too).