This website is a log of my many hobbies and passions with art, illustration and computer graphics. It will hopefully over time
fill up with helpful advice to encourage, inspire and guide others with similar interests.

October to December 2013

These last three months have been an extremely busy time with both work and family commitments eating into any available time to share knowledge on Blender and the projects I long to have the time to work on.

With Blender 2.7 on the horizon and promising to include volumetric shading within the Cycles render engine, I have put the Palm House / Conservatory project on hold. The volumetric option will add another degree of reality to the render with light rays coming from many window panes showing a scattering of dust and moisture in the air.

I have played around with the the final layout of the image a little but it will need a lot more refinement before it is finished.

Botanical Garden - Palm House

September 2013:

I reported last month that I had inadvertently broken the code behind my Guest Book and wasn't happy about the prospect of loosing 6 years of supportive comments.

Guest Book

I had got all the comments saved in a text file, but the entry date of the comments was stored in a separate array on the hosts server. Fortunately I managed to extract the comments to a CSV file and marry them up to a spreadsheet I had created from the dates still stored on the online Guest Book and only showing in the admin area.

This last month my spare time has been spent spent learning how to insert, edit and delete data from a Mysql database using php and marrying up the database to a web page. It has resulted in my Guest Book being fully functional again and me knowing a lot more than I did about php programming and Mysqli commands.

Hopefully I will soon be able to find the time to use my new PC on some more graphics Blender projects and learn a little more about the capabilities of Blender.

August 2013

It's been quita a busy month, though I must admit not too much has been don on the graphics and Blender front. My computer finally became too troubelesome with motherboard issues preventing me from even getting to a boot screen if the computer was even slightly warm, just a black screen with a green bar at the top. If the room temperature was above 22 degrees it wouldn't boot, you couldn't restart the computer without cooling it down first and even a large desk fan blowing into the open side of the case wasn't enough to cool it down on some days. So I decided this was a good time to build a new machine.

I have re-used the existing hard drives and case to help trim a few pounds off the cost of the build.

The build went well and with a few adjustments to the bios settings all the hardware was recognised by Linux Mint. I have loaded the latest Nvidia drivers but experienced a few kernel panics on boot up with the computer taking 8 seconds to boot with the Linux Nouveau drivers and over 45 seconds with the nvidea drivers. Not having the time to research a fix for this I reloaded Linux Mint and am currently just using the Nouveau drivers. Once I get time I will partition the SSD and try and get a stable machine with the most current Nvidea drivers so I can use the graphics card with Blender Cycles rendering.

One casualty on my website has been the Guest Book, unfortunately in an attempt to stop spam bots I moved the Guest Book to a new location on the server, only to find it would no longer read the text file containing all the comments I have received over the last six years. Fortunately I have all the entries as a text file and will be looking to program a database driven Guest Book and try to find a way to include all the historic comments. If you have posted comments in the past please accept miy apologies, I will be trying to get them back on the site soon.

We have a new member to the family this month, an eight week old Blue Merl Border Collie pup. She is really cute but a real handful as she goes through the teething stages.

Saffy our new puppy

Its constant work keeping her occupied and if you take your eyes off her for a minute she has chewed through something she shouldn't have. The microphone lead on my computer was the first casualty.

Training is going well and she will already sit, lie down and stay on command, well when a treat is available she will.

I have also found a little time to venture into Snowdonia National Park and do a little more climbing. This time it was a day climbing on the Glyders, doing a walk over Tryfan and on to Glyder Fach with my son. I am a lot fitter than I was this time last year and really enjoyed the day taking in some of snowden's peaks and spectacular scenery.

Climbing on the Glyders

August 2013

Hot Wire foam cutter

If anyone has looked into some of the varied hobby pages on my website you will notice that some years ago I made an aluminium furnace specifically to make some castings for my CNC projects.

All of those projects got put on hold whilst I built an extension to my home. As I would like to get some of these old projects started again, over the past few weekends I have been making a hot wire foam cutter, mainly from scraps and odds and ends I have had lying around my workshop. The foam cutter is intended to make some patterns for use with the lost foam casting method.

The only things I have needed to buy for this project is a reel of Nichrome heating element wire at £4.61 including postage from ebay and a dimmer switch which was on offer from Wicks at £1.45. As I will only be using the Hot Wire occasionally I have designed it to fold away into a handy storage box which holds all the components and can be packed away neatly on one of my workshop shelves. I am quite pleased that it has turned out so well for an investment of just over £6.00.

Hot Wire Packed into table

May 2013

Along with the new release of Ubunti 13.4 last month also came the discontinuation of support for Ubuntu 11.10, the version I have been relying on because newer versions have continuously had problems supporting my older hardware. This has meant another failed attempt to upgrade Ubuntu and several waisted evenings trying to get the upgrade to work. Eventually I gave up and had a look at Linux Mint.

The installation of Linux mint went flawlessly the the interface worked with my GTX 9600 graphics card (the main thing Ubuntu and Unity struggled with). Blender now fits the full screen window and everything just works again. The pleasing thing about Linux Mint 13 is it is a long term service edition with support up to 2017. It looks like I have got long term stability back again.

One issue I had was the lack of ability in the standard settings to adjust the Alt key binding when using Alt with the mouse buttons, which was set to control the Windows. Blender needs control of the Alt - mouse buttons to select edge lops etc and this made Blender difficult to use efficiently. I read a lot of posts giving command line and configuration changes that were complicated and never managed to cure the problem. I then remembered that in Ubuntu 11.10 you needed to install Compiz Config Settings Manager and change the key bindings and fortunately this also works in Linux Mint 13.

To cure this problem on my system I load compizconfig settings manager from the Software Manager (menu >> Administration >> Settings Manager). When loaded open compizconfig settings manager and under General >> General Options, click on the Key Bindings tab and change the short cut keyboard key Binding the Window Menu from "Space" to "Space" and the mouse options from "Button 3" to "Button 3". I now have a very stable and responsive system with Blender working flawlessly.

Linux Mint 13

April 2013

April saw the release of a new version of the Ubuntu operating system. Keen to see if some of the graphics issues I had experienced with my five year old system had been resolved, I took the plunge and updated to Ubuntu 13.04

Unfortunately for me I still have issues with my old GeForce 9600 GT graphics card, that I failed to resolve. Maybe a more experienced Linux user would have been able to get the system stable, but I wasnt able to sort out the numerous crashes and system slowdowns.

I have now reverted back to Ubuntu 11.10 which is still rock solid on my hardware, though took two days to get all my software set-up as I like it. Its a shame that I cant get the updates to work out of the box, as I was looking forward to trying some of the improved software that ships with the newer Ubuntu versions. As my PC is over 5 years old I might bite the bullet and build an new machine with up to date hardware. I just need to be sure it will be compatible with the latest Ubuntu.

I have found a little time to continue with the Palm House / Conservatory project and am becoming much more comfortable with Blenders new interface. Some of the spare time over the last month has been used to learn a few techniques for use with the Cycles render engine. It took a while to work out how to apply image textures and set-up the material nodes, but it is all very logical once you start to use the system

Progressing on from last month has seen stone textures applied to the walls and floor.

Botanical Garden Render

Marchl 2013

March 2013 has been the coldest March since I was born in the early 1960,s here in the UK. The cold weather doesn't inspire me to get outside and and work on any of the projects I have planned, instead it is a time to be indoors.

Fortunately this has meant some of the very limited spare time I have can be spen't learning some of the new tools in Blender. An image I have been thinking of creating for some time is of a Georgian Palm House styled conservatory and given the weather is so poor and cold it is nice to be able to create a model and image of something warm.

Botanical Garden Render

The basic model was quite quick to construct, though it needs a lot more work detailing the stonework and adding image textures to add a degree of realism.

I have found a little time to continue with the Palm House / Conservatory project and am becoming much more comfortable with Blenders new interface. Some of the spare time over the last month has been used to learn a few techniques for use with the Cycles render engine. It took a while to work out how to apply image textures and set-up the material nodes, but it is all very logical once you start to use the system

The project will also be a good way to explore the capabilities of the Cycles render engine and push me to learn how to use the Cycles render nodes system. At first glance it looks very complex and I imagine requires a lot of knowledge of the rendering process before you can start to tame it's capabilities.

Botanical Garden Render

The early render above shows the potential of Blender and Cycles and this is only using a few basic colour materials. Adding image maps to texture the building and plants will greatly add to the realism of the image.

This has meant the Modelling Guide Book has taken a back seat for this month, but some of the models from the Palm House can be used to demonstrate the modelling techniques used to create them. Modelling the Terracotta Urn below and creating the spiral stairecase, all lend themselves to having their modelling process described in detail within the Modelling Guide.

Botanical Garden Render

January & February 2013

It's been all change on the jobs front for 2013, starting the year in a new job. I say a new job, but really it is going back to a previous employer, so not such a steep learning curve. I was pleased to accept the position of Technical Director with HETAS and return to the standards and influencing work for the UK's solid fuel and biomass sector. All the same it has meant a great deal of my time has been spent catching up with events concerning European Directives, UK Regulations and standards, that have happened over the past two years.

On the Blender front, I have managed to add a few more pages to my new Blender Modelling Guide and reckon I am well over a third of the way through. As of the end of February the book stands at 123 pages, most of the content so far is a reference to the operation of Blenders tools and modifiers. I am quickly approaching the fun part where I can demonstrate the use of different modelling techniques. Explaining techniques through the use of projects is much more rewarding than simply documenting the operation of the various tools.

The blender foundation have been extremely busy over the past two months and have again brought out a new release of their 3D modelling and animation software. Version 2.66 is now available for download from the Blender website.

Blender 2.66 Splash Screen

This version brings a number of new features the highlights of which include:

I have been waiting for the Blender Knife tool to support cutting edges that don't belong to a specific face and snapping to orphaned vertices. Both these operations are important for laying out an accurate mesh structure, but still sadly lacking from Blenders tool-set. It looks like it will be a long time before these features become available again so I have had to bite the bullet and modify the 608 Bearing Tutorial to suit Blenders current tools. Hopefully you will find the modified tutorial useful

608 Bearing Tutorial Updated to Blender 2.6x series.

608 Bearing Tutorial for Blender 2.66