Yesterday Valerie talked to Colin about his Robotux logo for LinuxChix, today she asks him about the value of artwork for open technology/culture projects, steampunk, and the portrait he’s designed for the Ada Initiative.
Tell us about yourself. (Location, education, interests, work, favorite project)
I work out of Oakland, California, where I have done freelance illustration full time for the past eleven years. I was prepared well for this in college, at the Academy of Art University. They are a commercial school, which some artists turn their nose at, but I could never have been so adaptable and open to last-minute client revisions. Nothing can substitute actually illustrating for years, the sheer diversity of clients and jobs makes you ready for everything, and never bored. It’s the weird requests that make my day. An anthropomorphised NASCAR wearing a suit jacket, chimps smashing electric guitars, or even solving straightforward requests with bizarre images like a girl programmer controlling a large, robotic penguin.
What do you think the value of artwork is to an open technology/culture project? What does a professional artist bring to the table?
Having artwork for a project can really set it apart. No matter how much people strive otherwise, people judge a book by it’s cover, and a book with no cover at all is hard to sell. When people see a clean image, and one they know is custom (not a piece of clipart they’ve seen on every bulletin board in the laundromat), they feel it’s worth their time to check out, even if it’s an unconscious thought. We are visual, aesthetic creatures, even if most programmers don’t think they are. Taking pride in something you are building and showing it is something that draws other people to your project.
You’re interested in steampunk, which is based on the era in which Ada Lovelace lived. What is the attraction of steampunk for you? Do you have a favorite Ada Lovelace story?
The draw for me of Steampunk, a word which I didn’t know about when I built my first few devices, is both the aesthetic of H. G. Wells time machine with wood and brass and glass, the idea that the insides of a machine can be as beautiful as the exterior. The reason I think it appeals to programmers and makers is that in the Victorian era, a maker with a modest shop and basic tools could build the highest technology in the world, the steam engine. After that, technology outgrew the tinkerer. I could never hope to build a laptop in my garage, and there is much more advanced technology in the world. Ada Lovelace was in that era, where there was this possibility, and most things you could imagine could be built. The fact that she wrote an algorithm for a theoretical engine that wasn’t built until a hundred years later is amazing.
Tell us about creating the Ada Lovelace portrait for the Ada Initiative. What makes it new and different from the existing portraits of Ada Lovelace?
The portrait I did is based on one of the few paintings of her. One could be tempted to modernize the style too much, but I went with the woodcut look because I think the amazing things she did were even more amazing because of the era she was in. The black and white clean lines will reproduce well in many types of media, which is always good for an illustration that will grow on it’s own. It would make an awesome tattoo, though the tattoo artist will curse me for how many lines it has.