Dec 6, 2012

Ordering Your Custom Wax Seal

I’m opening the custom order process for the wax seals sold during the Kickstarter.  Putting in custom orders can get very involved, but fear not!  I’m doing all I can to make this go smooth.  I’ve created this special form to get your order in ASAP.

There are three main choices for your custom wax seal – initials, a short message, or your own design.

Initials

The easiest option! You’ll send in 1, 2, or 3 characters you want on your seal, and whether you prefer my vertical, overlapping design (left) or horizontal block letters (right.)

Why serif fonts?   Can I get another font?

I’ve found serif font to be the most readable in wax.  If you’d prefer another font, leave a note with your order.

Short Message

For this design, enter a 25-character message and I’ll wrap it around either a cool top hat design (left) or a lace cameo design (right).

If you’d like something different in the center, you can also send in art.  Art must have a white background.  Designs with less detail work better than other images.  Here are some other tips:

Your Own Design

Handy with graphics software?  You can also edit these handy templates that show the cutting edge and allowances on our standard size wax seals.

  • SVG – Vector file for Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, etc.
  • PSD – Adobe Photoshop file
  • JPG – All-purpose graphic template for GIMP and other graphics programs
If you choose to design your own, please take a moment to note it in the wax seal form.  It’s very important that we know who to expect files from, and it will give you the complete instructions for sending in your art.  The form also collects your mailing address so we know where to send your seal.

Something Else

Got a totally different idea for your seal?  Choose “Something else….” on the first page of the form to go to a more flexible version of the order form.

Deadlines

These orders are NOT guaranteed to arrive by Christmas, so get your order placed as soon as possible.

Go to the Form to Get Started 

Dec 4, 2012

Laser Cameo Field Guide

We’re now taking orders for the first round of laser cameos, so it’s time to introduce you all to

I. Family Londinium

Comprising the seven core cameos of the Laser Lace Letters series.

II. Family Coenautocinetum

Comprising those previously only seen in charity drives on Desert Bus for Hope. These cameos do not come with their own story, but you may choose to receive one as your Christmas reward.

Sir Pigglington Trufflesnout is depicted in two color schemes:

Candy – a pink pig, with multicolored lace

Chocolate – a chocolate brown pig, with butterscotch lace

III. Family Miscellania

Comprising curiosities beyond classification. These cameos do not come with their own story, but you may choose to receive one as your Christmas reward.

The Proper Teapot – in silver, as is customary.



Steampunk Octopus – mustachioed and ready.

Nov 27, 2012

Summon: Laser Patron

There’s one more reward to feature – and it’s a whale. We call it the Laser Patron.

What is Laser Patronage? It’s your name on my laser cutter, but it’s more than that. It’s a laser cutting service at laser owner prices – without having to install, maintain, store, and learn to operate a laser.

As Laser Patron, you’ll be able to send me design files, art, or concept specs, and the finished laser cut items will magically appear in your mailbox. Yes, there are services that will do this for you – but while the Laser Patron is a large reward at $6,400, it’s also a highly economical way to get these services.

For example, one popular online laser cutting service said it will charge $8-9 simply to laser the doily, the main part of a Laser Lace cameo – an extremely intricate part. By contrast, the Laser Patron can laser 25 of a comparable part with one hour of his or her 100 hour laser reserve, at a cost of $2-3 a part. Materials are provided.

The laser our Patron will be sponsoring can cut through fabrics, plastic, leather, wood, and many other materials (softer than metal, ceramic or glass.) It can etch any art on the surface of the material, and cut it into any shape, and can also etch anodized metal, stone, and blast the silver off the back of a glass mirror.

There’s more technical stuff on this page. If you’ve ever wanted to have a laser at your disposal and can afford the $5,000 price tag, I’d love to be working on “The (your name here) Laser Cutter for the Arts.”

The Personal Cameo Sitting – Prepare to be Transformed

The $500 reward in our Kickstarter campaign, the personal cameo sitting, is an amazing reward, and I’m really surprised that no one has yet taken me up on it.  The reason for this is that I haven’t really talked about it very much, and as we go into 25 hours left of funding, I want to correct that.

The first and most banal thing you will be getting in the personal cameo sitting is a custom cameo – fully custom. It will be as unique to you as the 7 cameos in Laser Lace Letters are to each of those characters. In these cameos, the patrons are transformed into creatures of myth and power, their existence distilled into a moment of deeper meaning.

The personal cameo sitting is more than just a custom cameo. It’s a chance to become the star of a Laser Lace Letters story. Your Laser Lace story will trace the origins of that meaning.  For, just as each of these stories answers the question, ”where did these disappeared people go?”, they also tell us just how they came to appear on their cameos as unicorns, rabbits, foxes, and robots.

You and I will be working together, to produce a brand new story, and to offer that new story to your fellow patrons if you so choose.  It’s also the rare chance to bring my entire unusual set of skills – and the new laser cutter I will have command of – at your disposal.  Unlike the other stories in Laser Lace, yours will run the gamut of my storytelling and propmaking capabilities.  Does your character collect ancient Egyptian artifacts? You can expect to find one in your story. Perhaps she carries a pocket watch that was given to her by a relative now long gone. That pocket watch will be coming to you in the mail.

Every one of these stories comes down to a moment of truth, where a secret is revealed – your character’s true self. What will it say? More importantly, what will it be?

Nov 25, 2012

The Laser Princess Ascendant

We are close.  Laser Lace Letters may well happen.  In the next 68 hours, we’ll know for sure.

I’ve talked so much about this project.  I’ve talked about the rewards, the philosophy, my inspirations and creative vision, but now I want to talk about the future – because that’s what Laser Lace is.  It isn’t just one (magnificent, daring, improbable, beautiful) project.  It’s a turning point in my creative journey.

Some of you have known me for a long time, long enough to see the beginnings of my journey as a CNC-enabled creator.  The past three years have been a love affair with laser cutting, as I learned almost everything there is to know about running the Dallas Makerspace’s machine and used it to make all sorts of arty and technically ambitious stuff.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say working with the laser is my favorite thing in the world.  Sometimes, when I’m stressed or worried, I’ll drive out to the Space and just design something on the laser.  I hear those stepper motors singing, and I feel like all is right with the world.

But about a year ago, something happened that made me think about what this love affair with the laser means – I got a BIG order for laser cut items for an ARG.  I was lucky – the order had to be fulfilled during this very time of year, just after Thanksgiving.  No one else was around at the hackerspace, so no one else needed the laser.  I worked with it for eight hours a day, for two whole days, without any interruptions.  But that experience made me realize that I was about to hit a wall.  As the space grew, laser time would become more scarce.  Today, the space is almost twice the size it was then, and gone are the days when I could prototype uninterrupted, let alone produce a large order of items.

Laser Lace Letters is going to open a door for me, one that can’t be closed.  I will end up with a robust writing credit, sure, and be ready to take Laser Lace to stores and events – and that will be very cool.  But more importantly, I will own a machine that, in the hands of a skilled designer, can do almost anything – and it will always be with me, no matter where I go from here.  This isn’t just one dream project –  it’s all of them.

I want to make more laser cut felt mosaics like the one I made for Desert Bus.  I want to start a line of jewelry that shows little girls that technology isn’t just for boys.  I want to make Research & Development(s), my tangible storytelling masterpiece, as good as it can possibly be.

You guys – my backers – are doing something incredible.  I’m not going to forget this soon, or ever.  And thanks to you, the world will soon witness the firepower of this FULLY ARMED and OPERATIONAL laser princess!  Anything – anything – will be possible, if we can just do this.

So, let’s.

 

Nov 18, 2012

UNLOCKED! Limited Edition Mechanical Companions

The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s companions were my first steampunk storytelling project , created in 2009.  I designed and sculpted a little clockwork robot, asleep in his holding fob, and called it the Ladies’ Mechanical Companion.

The original sculpt, made from clay and metal.

To go along with it, I wrote a short user’s manual, with copy like this:

2. Operation

Your unit will now take orders.  When giving orders, you should address your unit by its chosen name and follow immediately with a word of command.  For example, “Aloysius, fetch me a some ink” or “Jeeves, throttle that cacophonous feline.”

BE ADVISED! LaMech has a limited memory capacity, and can only hold up to twelve months of experiences in its standard memory tube.  After its memory tube has been filled, LaMech may begin to exhibit signs of automaton dementia.  This includes erratic and even dangerous behavior.  

Signs of automaton dementia include: spontaneous demounting, kleptomania, suicidal behavior, homicidal behavior, spontaneous hiding in luggage or undergarments, spontaneous lockpicking, spontaneous shearing of friends or strangers, industrial sabotage, and stuttering.

The manual set up an imagined relationship between the little robot and you as its owner, and gave you ideas of how to incorporate it into whatever persona you might want to step into when you step into a steampunk costume.  In every box, there is also a resin key that, according to the manual, is your last defense against the dangers of automaton dementia.

As Laser Lace Letters developed, two stories emerged that center around these little guys, and what happens to them when they go insane.

So, as our next unlockable in the Laser Lace Kickstarter, I’m going to make a small batch of very limited edition Mechanical Companions. Like the ones offered at HighLondonMechanical.com, they either come in the form of a necklace or on a fob watch chain.  Like the regular ones, they also come in a special box lined with Fox’s own art.
However, a few things are going to be different on these.
  • They will be made using “cold cast” brass resin, as opposed to the painted resin used on the originals.  This stuff is shiny, scuff-proof, and has a pleasant weight to it.
  • They will have red eyes instead of the classic bottle-glass green, because in our mythos, the robots’ eyes change color throughout their lifetimes, and the final stage, in which they go crazy and start stabbing people, is the red eye phase.  And both of the Laser Lace stories about them deal with this state in one way or another.
  • They will be accompanied with TWO different tangible Laser Lace stories about the tiny robots.  (No cameos, but you will get a mini cameo of your choice.)

Each of these will be numbered and the manual will be signed, and we’ll be offering them ONLY during the Kickstarter campaign.  We unlock them as soon as we hit $10,000.  Go up there and pledge today.

Nov 10, 2012

A skeptic’s approach to storytelling

A few years ago, I wrote a guest blog for Deus Ex Machinatio about how quacks are great storytellers.  They create a parallel world – a world of magic and boundless opportunity – and put you, the audience, at its center.  For a while, as you listen to a charlatan’s sales pitch, a world of wonders orbits around you.

All of the glory and hope of the quack’s storyworld is invested in the central totem –  the product.  Hope is stoppered up inside the product like a genie in a bottle (and the fact that we can neither see this genie, nor its effects, is just more proof that it exists!)  It doesn’t matter if the product is a literal bottle, a book, a bracelet, or a DVD.  The product soaks up the story; that’s what you’re really buying when you buy one of these things – a fantastic, if dubious, story where you are the hero.

The best artifacts of a charlatan’s storytelling also reflect the story back to you, and that was the jumping off point for my skeptical approach to storytelling.  On the surface of my stories, you can see my skepticism coming out as mimicry and mockery.  I’ve invented both fake magic and fake quackery, but a skeptical approach can run so much deeper in the way that you approach a story.  Laser Lace Letters isn’t a story about quackery per se (although, there’s some quackery in it), but it’s every bit as connected to the way I navigate the world as a skeptic.

I spend a lot of time thinking about evidence – examining things scientifically, interpreting evidence to come to an understanding of what it says about the world, or marveling at how sparse it is.  When you’ve listened to enough conspiracy theories and other dubious claims, you know how to write a story that leans heavily on a few key pieces of evidence, and how those key pieces should look if you want to tell a convincing story – by turns stark and beautiful, clinically official and viscerally immediate.

The challenge is in turning your reader into the investigator, letting them build their own pinboards full of facts and connections.

Ultimately, that’s what being an artifact creator is – giving someone the pieces with which to build a vision of your world.

And yet, being a writer, I know that the telling of a good story isn’t about hard facts – it’s about cadence and tone, synchronicity, happenstance, coincidental themes that seem to breathe life into the universe and give it a mind of its own.  The universes I build out of fake evidence are lucky enough to have an invisible, omniscient hand that crafts them into places full of meaning.

I’m also fudging the investigative process a little by bringing meaning and pathos to the surface for anyone to discover.  In the real world it takes other kinds of storytellers* – reporters, biographers, documentarians – to make the connections between disparate elements, process them, and turn them into a more straightforward type of story.  In this ginned up little microcosm I’m creating, the evidence speaks for itself – something difficult to achieve in the real world.

Explore some of my evidentiary fiction for yourself – back Laser Lace Letters on Kickstarter.

*Sometimes, we artifact creators go back and revise the evidence to fit the narratives we’ve built or found elsewhere.  For example, the snake oil bottle at the top of this page, which looks like a close crop of an old advertisement, seems to be a modern image made from an altered version of a historical ad.  There is a constant cycle between perception, imagination, and creation, the upshot of which is that this image is all over the web, in articles calling out everything from acupuncture to social security.

Oct 25, 2012

Laser Lace Launching


After six months of constant prototyping, intense planning and caffeine-fueled story development, my new project, Laser Lace Letters, is finally going up on Kickstarter today. It’s a unique project with elements of handcrafting, fragmented storytelling, and design. Also, it brings together two of my favorite things: steampunk, and lasers.

(If for some reason you LIKE reading press releases, you can also get that here.)

Laser Lace Letters is a line of laser-cut felt cameo pins that I designed and prototyped at Dallas Makerspace.  I’ll be making for everyone who pledges for them during the Kickstarter. They’re designed to be worn like a button or a badge: on a lapel, a backpack, a purse, or even on a hat.

If you’re familiar with laser cutting, you know that most things made on a laser are made from sheets of material, which means they’re usually quite flat; but that’s where Laser Lace will surprise you. The cameos sit in the center of a special doily, which is cut flat, but designed to be woven into itself to create a wreath of twisted color around the image in the center.

But inside the beautiful packaging for each cameo – a laser cut envelope tied with twine and sealed with wax – is a little story world for you to dig into. There are seven cameos in the line, and each represents a character living in an alternate version of Victorian London, where an all-woman airship corps keeps the peace, tiny robots ferry messages to secret lovers, and the rich build extravagant country homes in the sky.

Their stories are told through items like:

  • A charlatan’s pamphlet about the appearance of aethereal cities in bolts of lightning.
  • The letter a young socialite left for her family, the night she ran away.
  • A help wanted advertisement, calling for door-to-door sales girls to hawk pocket robots.
  • Plans for a machine designed to evaluate people’s souls – and act accordingly.
  • The report of a police officer who saw his partner vanish right in front of his eyes.

If funded, I’m going to release the stories two ways: as tangible stories that include their respective cameo pins, and as a digital book that you can read anywhere.  On the Kickstarter you can buy either one, so whether you like the crafting side of the series more, or the storytelling side, you can get what suits you.

I’ve also been working on some online supplements – or teasers, if you will – that will give you an idea of what to expect from each story before you decide which cameo to buy.  The characters have distinctive stories – from Sarah, the aviatrix who left her lover for a chance to fly one of Her Majesty’s airships; to Linnaeus, the mad scientist looking for a way to cross over into the other universe to find his missing son; to Lucy, an assassin who uses a fleet of tiny robots as her weapon of choice.

When Yomi Ayeni launched his project Clockwork Watch, I knew immediately that we shared a perspective on steampunk that would make for a good collaboration. So for the past several months, I’ve been working with Yomi to mesh our two stories. Our stories both take place in the world, and bits of Laser Lace are already scattered across the Clockwork Watch in-game blog, the London Gazette.  Most of the voices in the above video are also from members of the Clockwork Watch team who beamed their recording across the ocean to bring life to the characters.

Inspiration for Laser Lace was drawn from Jordan Weisman’s artifact-laden book projects – with Sean Stewart on “Cathy’s Book” and with J.C. Hutchins on “Personal Effects: Dark Art.”  Laser Lace stories are like miniature versions of those books.  As far as I know, no indie creator has attempted something like this before – and I can see why.  It’s calling on all the tools in my mental Swiss army knife, and I’ve even had to hack together some new ones.  It’s been a long, big, complicated road to get this project to the point where money is the most needed resource.

Here’s what that money is going to buy: a small hobby laser cutter, around $7,000 in printing services, and supplies ranging from felt to card stock to sealing wax. Once I have the laser cut parts, the cameos will be finished by hand here in Texas. I hope to be able to do all of the handwork myself, so everyone gets something I created from start to finish.  It will be a rare auteur project in a world of big teams.

I’m absolutely abuzz with excitement today!  Let’s come together and make this happen!  You bring the beer, and I’ll bring the party.

Sep 18, 2012

Unboxing: Byzantium Security

Last week, I took a personality test that may or may not have brainwashed me, and this weekend I got a black bubble mailer full of puzzles and secrets from the testing organization, Byzantium Security International.

Black packaging seems to be code, by the way, for “transmedia is happening here.”  I mean, take a look at my last three mailers.

In any case, here’s what’s inside this particular black package – a nice, out of game letter telling me that this is a promotion for the new Cinemax show Hunted, and a puzzle box.  I really like the fact that the letter was folded in such a way as to give me an in-game message above the fold, and a polite promotional letter below.

It’s shaped like the Byzantium Security logo (more or less), and rattles when you shake it, which means there must be something inside.

There’s something poetic about this puzzle box – and this might be me reading too much into it.  If you haven’t played through the test yet, go do it.  Everything in the experience is designed to make you feel smart, with nerve-wracking and sometimes disturbing tests that (mostly) turn out to be easier than you expected.

That’s pretty much the experience of opening this puzzle box.  Opening it involves a bit of guesswork adjusting your grip and pulling at pieces.  But once it begins to move, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of the box opening like an iris.

The puzzle is made of three pieces, one of which has a little hollow that hides a gunmetal-colored miniature USB stick, bearing the Byzantium Security logo.

Each piece also has a set of three letters etched into a face that’s hidden when the box is closed.  (Etched with LASERS, by my reckoning!)

Thank goodness we’ve got some clues here, because the files on that USB are all password protected.  I’ve unscrambled the letters to form a word, but that doesn’t seem to be the password.  Any ideas?  Tell me on Twitter.

I’m not able to give this a proper review because I’m a bit pressed for time this week, but I will say this is a classic piece of ARG swag.  It’s a puzzle box with a puzzle inside.  I love how every item is its own call to action – the box invites you to open it, the USB invites you to look at the files inside, the files themselves are encapsulated in a ZIP file called UNLOCK_ME.zip.

The campaign was created by Campfire, which is famous for its ability to build atmosphere and establish a mood.  This item is similar in tone to the rest of the campaign – on the outside, it’s a rather naturalistic and simple test of your abilities – and on the inside, it’s a polished and highly artificial experience.  It’s also a highly personal one – the puzzle it leads to exists on a physical piece of media in your possession, not on a website.

The only thing I can find to criticize about this object is that sometimes, you can open the box too quickly, sending one of the three pieces flying.  My dad and sister managed to send one skittering off the kitchen counter and break it – luckily, though, the wood glue was close at hand.

All in all, it’s a very slick, simple artifact that gets right to the heart of its subject matter.  Now if I could just figure out that password….

Aha!  Password cracked!  It had to be capitalized (not all caps or all lower case).  The files contain a bunch of high quality promotional stuff for Hunted, as well as a video and links that urge you to visit the two main landing sites for the experience.  I was expecting more puzzley goodness or some extra narrative bits, but if I’d experienced this in the proper order (mailer, then website) the site would have probably been enough of a payoff.  Still, looking at a multi-page announcement press release for the show is always going to break the flow of your immersive experience.

As always, if you’ve got something you’d like to see carefully photographed and then scrutinized here, send it my way.

Sep 11, 2012

Wax Seals From A Laser Cutter – With Instructions!


 

The other day, I was fiddling with the packaging for Laser Lace Letters, and nothing quite seemed right.  It’s a victorian steampunk project, with stories told through letters and other documents, so I started asking my friends what they thought of when they heard the words “Victorian mail.”

Wax seals!” they all said.
But didn’t wax seals go out of fashion with the rise of the postal service, around before the Victorian period?” I said.
Doesn’t your story involve tiny robot swarms, evil laser cutters and Aether travel?” they said.
Oh,” I said.

There are a few places online where you can order custom made brass matrices (the part that makes the impression in the wax is called a matrix), but ever the DIYer, I wanted to see if I could make a serviceable acrylic matrix on the laser cutter at the Dallas Makerspace.  It turns out that making a custom wax seal is rather simple.  If you have access to a laser cutter or can drop a few dollars at Ponoko, you can make a completely customized acrylic stamp for under $20.

Check out the whole process at Instructables, or just marvel at these photos.