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Hallow's Way : UDK workflow for an Indie Game.

Making games for me, is like writing short stories as I’ve said before. I can be spinning several ideas at once. Recently I changed directions and focused on a short story game, working title, Hallow’s Way. I had been hoping to get it done by Halloween, but flood waters and rebuilding have slowed progress to a grinding halt at first, but I’ve been steadily getting more time to finish the game.

The main inspiration for the game began with a familiar urban legend, the “Green Light Cemetery” in New Jersey. It’s not the first time I have visited allegedly haunted places from my childhood and won’t be the last, but the real inspiration here is the fascination and fear associated with seeing the green light in the woods above the cemetery (which I do believe my younger brother Ron, and I tried to find with our intrepid childhood friend Michael Weimer). The question is, can I capture some of that fear and fascination in game play? Additionally when I’m testing a game, I try to make actions surprising enough that I too can be surprised. If I don’t have a surprise moment, or sudden fear as something unexpected happens, then I don’t feel i’m developing the game correctly. I want to be immersed in the game myself when “writing” it.

creepy doll, from my scary game... whose details I'm keeping purposefully vague.

creepy doll, from my Hallow’s Way… whose details I’m keeping purposefully vague – except to say the original concept was inspired by a Dave McKean illustration, and although the model has changed drastically from the original inspiration, I have considered putting Dave McKean in my game in some way as an incidental character – because he’s awesome.

One reason I want to work on a very short story game, which is the way I think of Hallow’s way, is that I’m still getting used to the UDK game engine. I can put together a game level fairly quickly, but completing a game from A to Z, is a different matter. Aside from testing a game, there are menus, writing artificial intelligence, and then of course creating all the assets for the game.

Since my time is limited in my studio and working on my games, one of the things I try to do is to be pretty quick and nimble. I try to accomplish things swiftly so I can move on. The creepy-doll as seen above is only a couple hours worth of work, and then another couple hours of testing the AI and getting him to work properly in game when needed. Thankfully tools like zremesher in Zbrush allow me to cut off additional time that I have previously spent making low res models for games. I’m showing this one creature of course, but he is a small part of the game. The reason I’m vague about this is not because I’m trying to hold back on what I share, but because I want to hold back if I intend to scare.

Aside from creating a list of creatures (there are fourteen others for my game) my unfamiliarity with UDK means I’m still building up a resource library of various types of AI and many other game elements. One of the things that people like to brag about UDK is how quickly you can basically create a game using resources from UDK, like their bots, or soldiers, and their environments. Additionally, people like to use the BSP brushes in UDK to create game levels quickly. A BSP brush is a brush where you can come in, create a rectangle quickly, and essentially “model” within the game package. It’s a pretty good way to test things out, however, the problem is that these are not real models. You are generating procedural models within the game engine, and to alter them you have to add or subtract. You can’t make a complex building like the Sistine chapel, and then decide to move it ten units to the left. Most people use BSP brushes to make fighting games, or Tournament games. These are fast paced (and rather pointless) games about kill or be killed. I’m not saying people don’t do amazing things with game environments and that there isn’t a lot to learn there, but it is a direction that I prefer not to go in. It’s also a type of game that I’m not interested in creating. There are no guns in my games.

My method of working is to work with modular pieces to create environments, and to do that I have had to build up my own modular library of buildings, including trees, creatures, and effects like smoke, rain and fog.

Test area for game.

Test area for game.

When I’m working in my game testing is often one of the more labor intensive parts. There is a large game level to test, and I explore it and poke at it, and try to engage the AI. The image above is a snapshot, not of my game actually but of a test area when I’m developing tricky things in my game. The reason I work in a test area is to do fast tests. I don’t want to spend twenty minutes waiting to engage my AI all the time, I want to write code, and then get into a small test area to see if it works as expected. The game area above shows a few things that might look odd to someone who isn’t familiar with engines, or UDK. There is an overlay for instance for the NavMesh. I was testing this level to with NavMesh to see how to fluidly get AI to go up stairs, and slopes to higher places than the ground plane. In the Unity game engine, I can generate a NavMesh (which stands for navigation mesh that the AI use) and it will take in the area I have in mind in three dimensions. In UDK it is limited in how high it goes in z to about the height of the player, which is odd to me. So I test this to figure out solutions in this small space quickly and to see how my AI navigates problems that I put in it’s way.

One of the things you can see are things that look like large alphabet blocks. These are models I’ve turned into rigidBody objects, or KActors in UDK. KActors obey physics. I can program my AI to interact with the rigidbodies, and I can also scatter rigidbodies in the air, and have them become live at game play to randomly scatter their location. It’s one of the things that I do to randomize a game, which I love to do. One thing I question in games, is the locked down world that you enter. Many games people present an environment where you solve a puzzle, and the puzzle is always the same. So you try and retry the puzzle until you solve it. People often replay games, and the puzzles presented are in the same exact pacing and location, nothing changes. One of the things I try to create in my games is the sense that this world is shifting when you start a new game. Another concept I’m trying to explore is the possibility of the game shifting during gameplay, which I’m going to stay vague about so again, I can maintain the element of surprise in the future.

One note about rigidbodies is that I put rigidbodies in a different game level, that is on when game play starts, but off when I generate my NavMesh because the idea is that they will be movable. If the NavMesh generates a wall around them, the assumption is that they will stay static. When I talk about different levels, I’m talking about chunks of the game that I can turn off, not “leveling up” as it were, although this could apply too. I can have a game level, where different chunks of the level go on and off, depending on your location. This can save in how much data the engine has to crunch while you’re playing, and it allows me to also separate some things out for other reasons, like for keeping my NavMesh clean as stated. I’ll give you a solid example. I created a navMesh and forgot to turn off my rigidBody level. When my AI moved through the game, they stopped on the stairs because the random objects were in the stairwell and generated a navigation mesh that saw them as permanent obstacles.

Yes, I jump back and forth between talking about generating art and story and the technical side of games. I try to understand the technical side, yet my goal is to get the technical things out of my way so that it becomes second nature, and quick to execute. I believe that more and more as I create “small” games, the library of pieces I have should allow me to write more short story games, without the huge delay involved with creating a whole new system. I’m not saying that each game doesn’t have new elements you want to add, different AI, more involved story as you get better, but you keep building a library and refine your approach rather than re-create the entire engine you made.

I think it was Stephen King, who talks about writing stories, and how there is a perfect storm that happens with an idea. You have an idea and put it aside, and then over time. You collect those ideas and don’t necessarily force it out, you can’t. At some point though the idea comes out by itself. It could be something small that happens and creates that perfect storm and makes your idea clear. The problem with trying to come up with short story game ideas is the delay in developing games. The solution for me is to continue to build a library, so that when lightning strikes and the game idea comes, I’m ready to create something more fluidly.

Actual shot from my vague creepy indie game.

Actual shot from my vague creepy indie game.

When the technical and artistic prep work is done, the short story comes in creating the gameplay. Elements like my fog and rain effects are important to me in my game stories for creating mood and movement. The same is true for sounds and music, which of course is where my games suffer the most since I am not a musician who composes music.

All of these things though can come together as part of a composition. There are million things you can do when creating any story, and the question always is, what do you need to do to tell your tale, and what can you leave out?

Other locations from my childhood appear.

Other locations from my childhood appear as incidental characters in game.

Frictional Games

I have been sitting on some technical/art books for awhile now, compilations of things I was teaching and running the Game Art department at RMCAD. However, in the last few weeks a favorite game company of mine, Frictional Games, has released a new title : Amnesia : A Machine for Pigs.

amnesia-1

So since my brain has been elsewhere lately, and because I feel it is timely to discuss Frictional Games right now, I thought I’d put my chapter about Frictional out into the world, because honestly I have no idea when i’m going to finish my books. The goal of the book of course was to be a companion to programs at art schools where students were studying making video games. The idea was to talk about budgets, stories, design, all based on the program I created at RMCAD. In the book I also planned interviews, the first one I did was with Jens Nilsson of Frictional Games.

It isn’t just for students of video games that I have this in mind, but for friends who are in transition in the wake of the collapse of VFX/Animation around the world. You see, one reason I’m a fan of Frictional is that their games are awesome and scary. Another is because I believe that the paradigm of big companies is not the only paradigm, and that indeed more interesting stuff is being done by small creative teams like Frictional. Additionally Frictional does something that I used to do, they telecommute. Something that places like R&H were one of the first to try, but later became hesitant about. However smaller teams can do this because it keeps overhead low.

I’m all about keeping overhead low, and creativity the priority.

Okay, here is the chapter thus far.

I wrote to Jens Nilsson at Frictional Games, the game company behind the Penumbra series and Amnesia to get some quotes for this book but Jens’ responses were so grounded and open I decided to print the interview completely here in a chapter by itself.

Frictional in my opinion are one of the most creative and insightful companies regarding games and well worth listening to for any indie developer, and probably worth paying attention to if you are one of the big companies burning piles of money.

Daev : Is it true that you all went to school together and developed a game engine in school ?

Jens : More or less, to not go into too much of the details: I studied at one university and a friend in my class came in contact with Thomas over the Internet. Thomas was then studying at another university.

A year later the three of us did a thesis and game together called Energetic, the first version of the engine was created by Thomas for this game (I think he used some parts from an earlier project of his). The next year Thomas and I were part of a group that studied over the Internet and part of those studies were to do a game modification, instead of doing a modification, a second version of the engine was developed by Thomas and was used to what would eventually become the penumbra tech demo.

Three people from that group continued working with a new game, Penumbra Overture and this is when the engine was updated once again and finally became the HPL engine that was used to create the three Penumbra games.

Daev : Assuming you went to school for programming what lead you to video games?

Jens : It is the other way around I would say. While I am not a programmer, rather one of the things I do is scripting (or perhaps gameplay programing some might call it?). My interest in video game development was there long before I did any studies related to it. The same is true for Thomas. Both of us have experienced the urge to create something of our own when playing various games growing up. In Thomas case it meant that he started programing and doing projects on his own with a tad help from others. In my case it was doing modifications to games and eventually sound and music for games in collaboration with others that eventually created the know-how and interest for all sides of game development.

Daev : The story goes that three of you worked remotely and met everyday online for meetings and to review progress.   Is this true?

Jens : Yes, we were three people that worked full-time on Penumbra Overture. We did this from our homes and communicated mainly through text on, I think it was, MSN. We used a SVN server (still do) for the development process, so we could easily work together on the project and constantly experience the progress.

We were not only three people, we had help from contributors that did for example music, story writing and audio programming on the promise that if we got the game completed and managed to earn any money on it they would get paid (as we had no money except our own saved money we lived on while working). We did manage to get the game completed and we did manage to make deals with the game, but unfortunately not all of those deals were with serious companies, so we had problems earning money on it. We did eventually pay everyone the promised amounts but it took almost a year after the game was released, while not an ideal situation we did manage to keep the company going.

Daev :  How big is Frictional now, does the same paradigm still hold?  Three guys working remotely?  Six?   25?

Jens : We are now 10 people that work full time at the company, but it is the same structure of remote work from our homes. We also have outsource people like in the past and work with larger outsourcing companies for certain bits (such as producing lots of filler objects for levels). We have often talked about getting an office, but the problem is that the 10 of us are spread out over Sweden, Spain and the UK. We are quite happy were we are and not too eager on having to move all to the same city…

Daev : How long did it take you to develop Penumbra, and was it just the three of you?

Jens : We began on Penumbra Overture at the end of the summer in 2006 and it was released in February 2007 (if memory is correct), we started planning Penumbra Black Plague during the development of Overture. Due to the publisher problems we had Black Plague development stalled, but eventually picked up again and I think it was released in March 2008. Then we quite directly had a plan for Penumbra Requiem and got started on that right away and that eventually got released in August 2008.

After that we were back to publisher problems, but we managed to keep going (thanks to not putting all eggs in the same basket, we controlled Linux and Mac versions and always had a secure income from them and we had the online rights to Penumbra Overture so had some security there as well). In 2009 it looked very bad, we even had told the employees this was the last month we could manage to pay salaries.

Then there was a Steam sale of the Penumbra Collection and thanks to us having the online rights to Overture we shortly there after got the biggest single payment we had ever received before, with more coming later through the publisher and the Black Plague/Requiem sales going through them. We saw an opportunity and took it, we asked everyone to work for as little as possible and to work as fast as possible and that lead to the release of Amnesia in September 2010, under total control by us to avoid any further publisher fiddlings.

We were 3 to 4 full-time people for all the Penumbra games + the outsources who’s combined work hours would equal to about one more person.

Daev : How long did it take you to program your engine and come up with the game mechanics?

Jens : I think I covered the engine aspect in the previous answers (First engine in end of 2004, beginning of 2005. Then reworked during 2005-2006 and engine used for first proper game pretty much developed during the whole development up to the release in Feb 2007. Then from there the engine has been in an constant continued development) . The game mechanics has been a constant development and tweaking process that is continuing even today. If we look at the physics interaction it is still something we discuss, test and try to improve for each game. If we look at what we think we should occupy the player with in the games that difference heavily from game to game as we examine and rethink previous attempts and try new things. We are quite set on trying to change how story driven games are experienced, yet as everyone else, we struggle with the past of growing up with games being games.

Daev : How successful have you been?  I don’t need to know how much money your games have made but can you estimate how many games you’ve sold since you began making games?

Jens : We spent four years being very unsuccessful. Or rather we did pretty good games, at least unique games and we managed to get quite good coverage and reputation with those games. The publishers did a good job making the game available for purchase in stores as well as through digital download. But even so it was very difficult to earn enough to support even a small company like ours with very modest demands for what a monthly salary had to be.

I think these years are those that are the most important to consider if you are an aspiring developer, to keep costs low, to avoid time and resource hungry events (don’t visit shows to “make connections”, it is not worth the cost) and to think about how you can reach the potential customers with as few middle hands as possible. There are lots of unknowns and if you keep it all as simple, small and effective as possible you increase the chance of being able to follow through.

It is also important to not forget about marketing your game while you are making it, lots of lots of games are released by developers and publishers that do surprisingly little to get the word out. If you do get a publisher, don’t rely on them doing all the marketing, do your own marketing as well. By marketing I am not thinking of anything that costs anything other than time, so all ideas you can think of to spread the word.

Since the release of Amnesia we have been very successful. With the history we have had we know the fortunate situation we are in now and so have concentrated on making sure we have a financial stable company. This has meant that we can assure the employees they have solid jobs, as well as being able to do projects like the new Amnesia game, where we fund the development made in collaboration with another company.

If we add in all bundles and such were Amnesia was bought as part of a package, I think Amnesia has sold about 1.5 million copies.

Penumbra series have over time sold quite well, but we have sales we have never seen properly reported or paid for so the actual number is hard to know. But probably around 200 000 copies, not counting the humble indie bundle sales of Penumbra Overture.

Daev : A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations :  I often quote Clint Eastwood from Dirty Harry to my students and say they have to know their limitations.  They can’t come up with ideas to create MMO games or games with co-operative AI if they can’t themselves actually do that programming.  So I have them consider what they are capable of and what do they really want to show off as art students (they are not programming students).

The question is, If Clint Eastwood asked you what your Limitations are, could you answer us and you don’t have to imagine he’s holding a gun or calling you “punk”.

Jens : The art department has always been our number one limitation. It is the most resource demanding part of game development and it is not possible to compete in that field with the large companies. This limitation has led us to always try and come up with alternative ways of describing an event, which could be through sound or text instead, in an effort to build up a base for the player’s mind to kick in and do a nice job imagining how it would look like visually. It is also the cause for the physics interaction that has been more or less unique to our games through the years. We could not afford creating animations and specific models for all objects to be found in desk drawers etc, so the idea to use physics as a replacement was born from this limitation.

Daev : What made you think that you could start up a small Indie game company and compete with the likes of games that have millions to tens of million dollar budgets as well as deep marketing budgets?

Jens : This was never a driving factor for us. We simply wanted to create our own games and make a living out of it. I think it might be important to realize the effort behind it. We did not study and then got into making games and running a company. We spent a life time of interest in doing game development and running small companies and freelancing. Then as we were in our twenties we studied at the university, while at the same time continuing doing game development projects in our spare time and finally when we were around 24-26 years old we started Frictional Games. So we came in with a lot of experience and know-how, with work experience doing projects for some larger companies and even then we had four years of struggle before having anything that remotely had a base to support us as an actual company with OK, but modest, salaries.

So in short, what made us start a small game company was our long interest in doing game development, not working in the game industry. I don’t think we would have worked with games today if we had not started our own company.

Daev :  Do you have a budget for marketing or do you rely on Word of Mouth, the internet, and sheer luck?

Jens : We have not really had any budget for marketing. We have spent time doing the marketing the old fashion way, sending our PR, videos, demos and so on. Then contacting all sort of media asking for interest in previews/reviews, then keeping track of their replies (or no replies) and repeated the inquiry if needed and finally been able to secure most of them doing articles on the games. With Amnesia we also burnt simple DVDs, printed out a cover letter and sent the snail mail way to publications we could not find any online contacts to. For example  Game Informer was one of these we managed to get a review from by doing this and their very positive review I believe helped spark the interest in the beginning.

We hoped to get some sort of viral thing going, but any attempt to artificially create that does not really work, but as time passed after release more and more reddit posts and youtube clips appeared. We have tried to keep track and do fun things with them and be very open to sending review copies to anyone that asked for it.

I don’t believe in sheer luck, but I do believe in being able to create as many opportunities as possible for being in the right spot at the right time.

Daev :  Where do you see the Indie game market evolving to over the next decade?

Jens : Probably that there will not be an indie game market, rather it is simply how you do digital game distribution. If you look at smartphones, I’m not sure you think much in terms of this is an indie game and this is a publisher game, the difference in quality or type of game does not seem to be linked to a specific type of company where you as a user have to define it as indie or not. So the majority of all games will just be plain “games” and then there will be a specific label for the big budget games instead, rather than the other way around as we have today.

The backwash

I usually write about various things associated with being an indie artist, working outside of Hollywood and trying to find a new path.

The last couple days have seen some major setbacks, not just in terms of losing work, but in fighting to keep our home against raging forces of nature. I know that sounds like a cliche, but to illustrate what I mean I’ll describe a little of my last hours at my house.

I slept last night with my cell phone close by, and at 2am, I saw a text from emergency services warning again of flash flooding. I arrived in the morning to my neighborhood to see sure signs that the entire area was covered in a swath of high water. Fences were down, water marks of debris littered the street and yards on “high ground”.

There at my house the water was still surging, far more violently than the night before. Fast racing waters circled the house, like a fist. Areas of sandy silt peeked out, letting me know the water had been higher. All debris was gone, thankfully because I had removed so much fencing that had sealed in my yard like a pool built by beavers.

I got to work in the backyard, filling whatever bags I could find with silt, and packing them against the back glass doors looking into the yard, once filled with greenery now a frothy sea that was unrecognizable. The pool now gone, the garden with the bench I built for my wife, gone.

There beyond the stable, that I’ve been struggling to turn into workshops, was the monstrous creek. Working on the deck filling bags, was unnerving. I felt as if I were swimming with a monstrous great white shark, or a dragon that undulated up and down.

This is a story without an ending yet. I have no idea how the house will fare again tonight. Trying to save the house from the surge was my priority. My artwork was in hard to reach places in the garage, ground level. I pulled what I could, and the rest I left while hurriedly trying to build walls, take down fences, etc. I have no idea how they fared. My computer is with me but disassembled and parts are missing. All of it was clipped together carefully and not meant for a hasty evac.

So we are in limbo tonight. My sons want to know when we can go home. My youngest son, who knows what I do on computers wanted to know if the movies I was showing him were fake, did I animate them he wanted to know? No, this isn’t CG I told him, that’s really our yard, that’s why we can’t go home yet.

Beneath some of what happened is my frustration with Boulder county. without getting too deeply into that story I will say that I proposed a three foot high stone perimeter wall to my barn/workshop which was rejected out of hand in favor of flood vents. Having seen first hand what major floods do, twice now (remember the nor-easter in NJ?) I know that anyone who has been through such knows it isn’t just water, it is silt and debris. In this current flood, the debris in my yard was a hundred feet long and three feet deep, then there is the silt, soft piles two feet thick cover the property.

Flood vents would be easily stuffed up, and needlessly expose my structure to moisture year round. They are in short: a joke in the face of nature and yet I have bent over backwards to accommodate Boulder county, and had to put my plans to finish a wall and flood gates on hold while waiting for them to approve my drawings. This is something btw, I spend almost all my spare time working on. I create designs and documents for presentation to two separate Boulder county offices, and not just once, no, there is a pre-permit process too which I cannot fathom. Essentially I hand mountains of paperwork three times and always I am asked for more. It is a process that seems designed to stop home owners from doing any home improvements, including simply changing a window or door, this is not a joke. It’s law and means employing inspectors to approve the door or window, and other inspectors, and flood inspectors etc. I guess it is a joke.

I’m frustrated with this, because in the slow approval process for my workshop, I have had to stop construction and wait. I could have built my wall, and better protected my workshop and home, if not for the laws of Boulder which are in fact meant to protect my home, or are they?

So I am in the backwash. All the hours of construction I did are likely destroyed. All the work I put on paper was just that, work on paper, as if to interminably slow down my progress. The many hours I have put into countless drawings for the county (for work I’ve already done mind you) have stopped me from doing artwork of my own. It has consumed my studio time. So yes I feel more than a little frustrated with this and Boulder County, whose logic defies reason. Their answer when I ask them questions, is “that is the way it is, it’s the law.”: Like a robot reciting something on voicemail instead of a person talking to a home-owner.

On top of this all my personal work is not accountable for anymore. I have no idea what will become of it after this, or the home I have tried to save this week.

Manly misadventures in Sewing.

I could write a long post about my misadventures learning to sew, in an attempt to do something special for my wife Sheryl’s birthday. I won’t make this long though, a sampling of my misadventures. It was fraught with misdirections, that included starting projects that I couldn’t finish, buying too little fabric and having eyes rolled at me in fabric stores because of my ignorance of all things to do with fabric and clothes, and that sort of thing. It dawned on me that I have a lot of tools, but none of the tools or know-how associated with this kind of hand made giftery. Yes, I just made that word up. Just to sometimes not feel so dejected I would hurry over to Home Depot to run an errand where I would feel comforted in knowing my way around tools that are not associated with sewing. Still, I’d eventually return home to the “secret” box that held the sewing machine I hastily bought not two weeks ago, turn it on and make something each night, good or bad that was the goal. After all, I asked myself, how hard could it be?

Exactly how do you attach sleeves?  Why can't i just glue this right about here...

Exactly how do you attach sleeves? Why can’t i just glue this right about here…

I know that is not a very insightful thought process. Perhaps I was not thinking clearly after many weeks trying to rebuild our home in one way or another following the Colorado floods. Still, I couldn’t get out of my head this idea of making something for my wife. I had planned it months ago, but one thing or another delayed my start, and then the Colorado floods happened and I thought it wasn’t meant to happen. I had to rebuild my studio before I could even consider trying.

It wasn't enough to make pajama pants, i had to learn on smaller things first.  That's why i made the little shirt for our smallest son, and the test pajama pants for our other son. At least that way I could mess up on a small scale first.

It wasn’t enough to make pajama pants, i had to learn on smaller things first. That’s why i made the little shirt for our smallest son, and the test pajama pants for our other son. At least that way I could mess up on a small scale first.

The idea wouldn’t go away though, so I started pondering it while mucking mud, pulling down walls, and as my new studio took shape I thought again about it more seriously. The thought process here wasn’t just to make something, but rather to continue stepping into the role of a husband and father that didn’t just take interest in what his family wore, but was willing to step into the role of making things, that so often women do for their families.

I thought of what Louis CK said about Father’s Day, and stepping into fatherhood; “don’t be mom’s assistant, be a man.”, he chided me. Yes, I always take things that Louis CK says personally.

I also think of what he said about making mistakes as a father. I make lots of mistakes as a husband and father. This project, which I tried to execute in less than two weeks mostly in the middle of the night, was somewhat misguided and the end results? Well, the results are riddled with loving mistakes and a total misunderstanding of how to actually sew.

Here's a mistake. I made this drapey sort of blouse, and I couldn't figure out how to finish it.  Arms and front band holding me up.  But I'm real good picking out fabric.

Here’s a mistake. I made this drapey sort of blouse, and I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. Arms and front band holding me up. But I’m real good picking out fabric.


Often I would roll my eyes after trying to understand the non-existent directions that come with patterns I had chosen. I soon realized they were meant for people who already had a working knowledge of this subject, which I clearly don’t have.

I wished I had just made something out of oak, oak and I have an understanding.

I continued though. It wasn’t that failure was not an option, it was that even in the face of everything we have gone through lately with the floods, giving up was not an option. I didn’t give up on our house during the floods, and I wouldn’t give up trying to do something special for her birthday.

oh why did i pick a pattern with sleeves?  And this slippery material? What made me think that was a good idea for a beginner?

oh why did i pick a pattern with sleeves? And this slippery material? What made me think that was a good idea for a beginner?

In the end I had to rely on good ol’ duct tape to help me finish up this blouse. I just couldn’t see how to finish attaching it. I had to make sure sleeves and edges aligned when it wasn’t laying flat on floor. So I did what any artist with loads of duct tape and extra R16 rated insulation would do; I quickly sculpted a duct-tape sewing dummy at the approximate size of my wife (who I went to repeatedly for hugs so that I could surreptitiously size her).

When I pull out the pins this blouse slips to the floor quickly, so I'm pretty sure I have some work to do, but more likely it will hang to low on one side, and slide off her shoulders, beautiful fabric, ineptly handled.

When I pull out the pins this blouse slips to the floor quickly, so I’m pretty sure I have some work to do, but more likely it will hang too low on one side, and slide off her shoulders, beautiful fabric, ineptly handled. Luckily I have several more yards to work out the kinks.

It’s an imperfect present for sure. It’s more of a promise though, to keep showing up and celebrating my wife’s birthday, our marriage, our family and the life we are creating together, flood or not. I’m hoping she can see past the mistakes the dropped stitches, the dangling threads and unprofessional back-stitching to see that it was made with love. It was made to celebrate her forty second trip around the sun, and to show her how crazy-grateful I am to have her in my life that I was willing to put down my tool belt, put aside the digital medium, and the oil paints… and go someplace new for her.