Category Archives: ENGL 3844

The art of breaking things.

I was sorry to miss last week’s discussions on word processing programs — as an avid fan of Wordpad, I would have loved to chime in. Wordpad’s got a couple of really neat qualities that I take advantage of whenever I’m struggling to draft a piece of original writing. I often have a hard time getting started on a story, and there’s something about the bare-bones simplicity of it that takes the pressure off and lets me jot down ideas without fixating on the red and green lines of Spellcheck or a toolbar filled with clutter I don’t actually need. I’ll freewrite huge chunks of the work I need to do and then just copy it into Word for editing, but the change in scenery, if you will, does a lot to clear my head.

There’s another reason I am incredibly fond of Wordpad, though, and it has nothing to do with writing. Wordpad is my program of choice for making glitch art — deliberately corrupting the raw data in an image to get interesting visual results.

My first introduction to glitch art was through Rob Sheridan, creative director for the band Nine Inch Nails. I’ve always been interested in using tools in unexpected contexts, and when I figured out I could experiment with this myself in some simple ways, I dove right in.

By opening a bitmap image in Wordpad (something that was never intended to happen) and adding or deleting just a few symbols here and there, the information contained within the image gets scrambled and the end result is a unique jumbling of colors and lines. It’s very easy to break an image so badly it won’t even display anymore, but with some careful tinkering, it’s possible to generate some eerie and occasionally very beautiful outputs.

You can go from this:


To this:


Pretty neat, huh? And all that by simply opening an image in the “wrong” program.

For a primer on databending and simple glitch art, check out this neat article, and then try it out for yourself if you like! Be sure to save your original image somewhere else though — it’s extremely difficult to undo the intentional damage you’re about to cause.

Have fun.


(Thanks to Emily Goodrich and Ben W.R. for their contributions to the gif above — last night turned into a databending party and I went ahead and made something from our collected results.)

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Weaving in Tapestry.

My tap essay was recently featured on the front page of Tapestry, which was a pretty neat experience for someone who’d been entirely unaware of the app’s existence until a couple of weeks ago. I absolutely love this style of storytelling. The minimalistic format inspired me to take my piece in a somewhat unusual direction and really consider the impacts of the graphics I used in particular. I’ll definitely be making more of these in the future — there’s something powerful about the streamlined aesthetic, and the rigid boundaries are less of a cage and more of a challenge to push the format in whatever new directions I can. 

You can check out my essay here: . (Wish I could embed it, but WordPress apparently can’t handle technology this cutting-edge. Some day, some day.)


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The Creative Process: an illustrated guide

A few weeks ago in class we were asked to doodle our workspace and the creative process we used to make our video projects. It’s an intriguing subject to reflect on, and I thought I might share my sketches here — particularly since they’re done with Paper, an iPad app I’ll be reviewing shortly.


This is a garishly-colored version of my desk. I’ve always admired folks who can work in public, but when I actually want to get things done I have to quarantine myself in my room until I’m finished. I do my best work late at night, keep a collage of cool pictures pinned to my wall for inspiration, and have my guitar within arm’s reach in case I get stuck and want to play some music to clear my head.


The second sketch here is a far more streamlined version of my work process while making the video project: it’s chronologically correct, but a more genuine model would include far more dithering, swearing, and acquisition of tea. Illustrating a work process was an interesting exercise in turning complex ideas into little symbols, and it was neat to break down a somewhat more jumbled topic into discrete categories like this.

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Our very own Sundance!

This is less of a real post and more of a link-dump for convenience’s sake — we’re showing our video narratives in ENGL 3844 and needed a convenient way to DJ.

The Youtube playlist:

The Vimeo playlist:

And remember to vote for your favorites, which you can do here:

Hope you brought popcorn. Let’s do this thing!

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Video Narrative Roundup

Well, that video narrative was…something, let me tell you. This was my very first video project, and I definitely got in over my head with the whole “let’s hand-draw and also write the music for this assignment!” thing. I could have made this a heck of a lot easier if I’d used stock images and Creative Commons music, but I wanted to experiment a little, and while this was way more time-consuming than it needed, I am pretty proud of the end result. I learned to use three new online programs for this assignment, and a couple of new life skills — namely, how to storyboard effectively, how to write a soundtrack that matches the action in a story appropriately, and how to get comfortable with the sound of my own recorded voice.

I think the most interesting part of this assignment was the part that wasn’t actually required — I got so frustrated trying to find music that fit my story that I gave up and just wrote some myself. I knew there were online programs that would let you build pre-recorded loops and turn them into songs, and I found one called MusicShake that worked out fairly well. The track for my video is nothing particularly great on its own, but I think I did a fairly good job of matching the music to the scene transitions and getting the tone right. It was certainly a neat experiment!

Anyway, the final video is here:

MusicShake is here. Play around on there if you like, but if you want to download tracks, including your own, you’ll need a subscription. I impulse-bought a month-long one for five bucks and will be writing and downloading a bunch more music to make good use of it, but I do wish it was free!

And Pixlr is here for all your off-brand Photoshop needs. Most folks use it like Instagram, but it is pretty decent for heavier photo editing, and for actual sketches and coloring if you’ve got a tablet on hand but no spare cash for the Adobe suite.

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Feedback (literal and metaphorical)

For a rough, rough cut, my video project went over surprisingly well. The secret, I think, was decent audio: I used the recording booth at the Innovation Space and was pleasantly surprised at how my voice sounded when I played my narrative back. Most folks seem weirded out by how their voice sounds in recordings, but I suggest that the phenomenon may have to do with microphone quality. The audio I got actually sounded like me this time around — at a lower pitch and less resonant than it usually sounds bouncing around in my own skull, but definitely me. This was the first time I’d used a sound booth, and was glad I’d practiced my script several times before recording — I had no idea how to set up the equipment at first, but luckily it was pretty easy to adjust and the end result was definitely worthwhile.

Getting solid feedback from my classmates was a pleasant surprise as well. Workshop sessions are always a bit awkward, but the forms really helped everyone focus their critiques, and I came away reassured that I was headed in the right direction. I was also excited to see previews of everyone else’s narratives. I’ve always loved behind-the-scenes specials, and it was particularly interesting to see the different approaches that folks had taken when assembling their stories. The finished pieces are sure to be lovely, but there’s something about seeing all these projects in their awkward, half-assembled glory that makes me strangely happy. There’s something particularly honest about the mess, and as much as I’m looking forward to our Sundance-style film festival next Wednesday, I’m glad we got to see one another’s works in progress first.

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Multimodal Roundup

Thought I’d start a new post series in which I link to Neat Stuff Tangentially Relevant To Class Discussions. This week’s series deals with multimodality, or in terribly oversimplified terms, mixed media, so here are some links that might pique your interest if you’re into that kind of thing.

+ Our discussion of the essay written on ballet shoes reminded me of this pretty remarkable piece of performance art, in which a ballet dancer with knives attached to the tips of her pointe shoes dances atop a grand piano. Challenging, uncomfortable, and awe-inspiring.

+ Seaquence, a very cool blend of music, art, and a little bit of science. Make your own song in an unconventional way by building instrumentation modeled off sea creatures, which then swim around and play back your tune. It’s oddly calming and definitely a pleasant way to waste some time.

+ Finally, a video that talks about the desire for communication between members of an audience and how it impacts online fan communities. If you’re involved with fandom or curious about multimedia, interactive elements of storytelling, you’ll really want to watch The Audience Has An Audience.


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Video Narrative Progress, or “holy jeez, what have I gotten myself into”

The story I picked for my video narrative posed a unique challenge for this assignment: I don’t actually have any pictures to accompany it, so I’m drawing them myself with a tablet and a somewhat dubious but free Photoshop-like program online. This is my very first video assignment, and I figured it would be fun to animate my story with sketches rather than rely on stock images to illustrate it. Fun, right?

Turns out this may have been an, er, ambitious undertaking. I might need to tinker with my storyboarding a little to prevent my hand from falling off my wrist after all these sketches. Things are starting to shape up, but man, I don’t know how actual animators do this!

I’m also puzzling over how I’ll be able to work on this project during class on Monday, as my laptop’s abysmal battery life means it’s really more of a desktop computer. I’ve got a neat drawing app called Paper on my iPad that could be handy for roughing in the illustrations, and I may wind up using that as an intermediate device, but we’ll see. If I can use class time to commandeer a recording booth, that would be fabulous — I’m pretty happy with my script, and I’ll be able to work out the number of drawings I need a little better if I have a recording to construct them around.

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Mixed media

“That we live in a fragmented world is not news. That textuality has pluralized is, likewise, not news. What we make of these observations pedagogically is news — and still, as they say, under construction.” — Jody Shipka, Towards a Composition Made Whole

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at the contents of their sketchbook. Some folks carry neat hardcover journals around with them and fill them with precise drawings in graphite and ink, working front to back and making sure nothing bleeds through onto the next page. That’s never been me, I’m afraid — the cork-bound book I’m currently overloading is filled not only with detailed, carefully-referenced pieces, but with frantic scrawls in highlighter and sharpie, post-it note doodles taped onto the pages, class notes, weather diagrams, a stray fortune cookie slip or two, and an occasional stained ring from a misplaced coffee mug. The art is colored indiscriminately with everything from expensive Prismacolor pencils to Crayola crayon to cattle markers — the thick neon oil paint used to draw stock numbers on the sides of, yes, cows. It’s impossible for me to choose a favorite medium, so more often or not I go for as many as possible at the same time. It’s more than a little chaotic, but it keeps things interesting, I think.

I’ve always been intrigued by remixes, mashups, crossovers that refuse to slot neatly into one genre and instead bleed in several directions at once — my default setting, it seems, is actively multimodal. While the aesthetic certainly works for me, this kind of thing often makes folks uncomfortable, as evidenced in Shipka’s anecdote about a research essay transcribed onto ballet shoes and the peculiar reaction the slippers elicited. The shoes were an innovative project, but the students weren’t entirely sure how to approach them, or even if they were a valid response to an assignment. Interesting reaction — the same, amusingly enough, as the one I’ve gotten from a couple of folks when describing the setup of this Writing and Digital Media course.

Instead of traditional essays, Dr. Warnick’s told us, we’ll spend this semester creating multimedia narratives, learning to build stories in various web apps, and blogging for a grade. This is unfamiliar territory for many of us in this class, and I for one don’t know how I’ll approach many of these assignments quite yet. But I am excited to try these new forms of pluralized text — the chance to tinker with and deconstruct academic responses sounds pretty neat to me. In a world growing increasingly fragmented, the pursuit of multimodal storytelling might just be the best way to jump between those shards and start putting it back together again.

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Aaaand we’re back!

After a semester abroad and a summer of science adventures on the coast of Virginia, it’s time for this blog to get its systems back online. Between the HRCS blog posts and Dr. Warnick’s assignments from ENGL 3844, there’s gonna be a fair amount going on here in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

For now I’ll use this post to jot down a couple of ideas for my digital narrative, a video project in which we get to tell a story about ourselves. I’m currently fluctuating between:

1. The snake in the Christmas tree
2. Zooropa in Berlin
3. The Great Poison Ivy Debacle of Summer 2013

I love telling all these stories, but for now I am leaning towards the first: it’s funny, fairly concise, and I could do some fun things with the visuals. The Berlin thing is way more esoteric and I think it might work better in another medium, perhaps something without narration read aloud, like Twine or some multimedia web thing with the narrative in text rather than audio. The Poison Ivy Debacle is hilarious and actually a really important experience I had this summer (it helped me get over a lifelong fear, which was pretty awesome), but it involves some low-grade but slightly gory medical stuff, talk of anxiety, and questionable decisions regarding urban exploration, and so is perhaps not the best choice for public consumption for a class project. But we’ll see!

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