The Podcast Returneth [soon]!

You may have noticed that there have not been any new episodes of the Open Source Creative Podcast in the last handful of months. It’s true. I haven’t posted any new episodes since May (May? Yes, May. Wow.) Truth be told, my plate has been pretty full with conferences, the Creative TriMonthAlon thing (which was a bunch of fun, by the way), and other assorted things. However, that’s no excuse. I want this podcast to continue… and apparently so do a number of you fine folks as well.

So, I’m proud to announce that the Open Source Creative Podcast will be returning for a triumphant second season! Wheeeeee!

But after the holidays. No one listens to podcasts on the holidays, right?

Creative TriMonthAlon: Sculptember Week 1

I mentioned a couple posts ago that, starting in September, I was going to embark on a “Creative TriMonthAlon”, wherein I would complete three months of daily creative output. The first month would be (and is) Sculptember. We’re a week into it and as far as I can tell, we’re having a great time. I know I am. Here’s a look at what I did in the last 7 days:

(That last one might look at bit unimpressive, but it was a challenge I set for myself when I realized I was having troubles sculpting anything at a right angle.)

The coolest thing, though, is that it’s not just me. There’s a small group of us doing this (or at least one leg of the full trimonthalon) and it’s been incredible to be taking part in this with other people. It’s not too late for you to pile in, either! Just join in our Facebook group, Google+ community, or use the #sculptember and #trimonthalon hash tags on any other social media platform. It’s good times! I’m looking forward to what the rest of the month(s) brings.

JungleBook: Simple Kindle Ebook Cover Analysis

Top 50 Kindle Ebook Covers by Category

I got myself good and distracted from my regular project work and ended up writing the start of a little script that I’m calling JungleBook. It’s makes images that are pretty and interesting… and might just provide a little bit analytical benefit.

Story time

Anyone else familiar with Pat David? Well, you should be. He’s a super-cool guy that who runs PIXLS.US, a site dedicated to photography with free and open source tools. However, that’s not why I bring him up. A few years back, he was playing around with using ImageMagick to generate an average blending of images. He’d pull in magazine covers, all the frames in different films and music videos, and portraits of U.S. presidents. However, what really got my attention was a piece he did wherein he averaged the top 50 suggestions that Netflix made to him, by genre.

He did all of that a few years ago, but I only recently stumbled across that work… and it got me thinking (dangerous, I know).

See, as I’ve been involving myself more with writing and designing books, I’ve noticed a few common suggestions keep popping up. One of those pertains to book covers. There’s a [valid] recommendation that if you want your book to sell in a particular genre, go look at the bestselling covers in that genre and recreate their look for your book. The logic behind this suggestion is that people, as purchasers of media, aren’t particularly interested in things that are new and wildly different, regardless of what they say. This is especially true of genre readers. They may appreciate original perspectives after purchase, but before they buy, their goal is to re-experience what they’re already comfortable with. You want to design a cover to meet that expectation.

So when I saw Pat’s Netflix piece, it got me curious. What if I used that process of averaging images on ebook covers in categories within the Kindle store? What would it tell me about color choice and composition for various genres? I had to find out.

However, there’s a problem. I’m lazy.

Going through each genre on Amazon and manually downloading the top 50 book covers in each one would be a lot of work. Boring, tedious work. So I did what any lazy person does… I reached for technology and wrote a little Python code. Amazon, being a technology company, has developed a nice, convenient API (application programming interface) for their store… a way for code to talk to it. The idea is to make it easy for advertisers and sellers to use Amazon’s data on their websites for easy purchasing. So with a little light research on the API, I was able to cobble together a handful of lines of code that would suck down the top 50 ebook covers in whichever genres I wanted. Then I’d just need to use Pat’s basic technique and make those averages (also scriptable). Sweeeeet.

The results

The results (as shown in the top image of this post) might just appear to be an interesting mess (as a friend of mine said, “doesn’t it just mean that all book covers look alike?”). However, if you look closely, there’s a lot of cool things that can be learned. We can start with the obvious stuff. For instance, titles and author names are typically at the top or bottom of covers in most genres. You can tell that by the large horizontal blocks of vertical lines that are focused at the top and bottom of most of those images. Nonfiction and Humor covers tend to use brighter colors overall. Westerns use mostly brown and orange hues (sand and the dusty plains… go figure). Stephen King shows up in the Horror genre so much and his titles are placed with enough consistency that it very easy to see a giant KING at the top of that genre’s composite.

King is big in horror

But there are some unexpected and interesting things learned from this exercise, too. Take a look back at the combined image for Westerns. See that dark, strong horizontal bar across the bottom? How much do you want to bet that a lot of Western genre book covers feature a wide landscape or sunset/sunrise shot? And it’s easy to see that most comics and graphic novels put their titles at the top of the cover, but who would’ve guessed that yellow would be in so much use in that category? It’s even more striking when compared against the other categories.

Notes on horror and comic covers

Here’s a fun one: check out the mix from the books in the Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense category. There are a four very distinct horizontals almost evenly spaced along that image. Books in that genre don’t stick to keeping their titles at just the top and bottom. Oftentimes, those covers are very sparse on imagery and consist of just the typography over the whole cover. Nonfiction covers are similar, but the titles tend to be less bold, so you don’t end up with those four distinct regions.

Typography on Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense books

My favorite composition thing to note comes from the three fantasy-based categories: Science Fiction and Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy. These three have a very noticeable compositional triangle on their faces. Romance, Westerns, and Horror have similar focusing, but the shape is more oblong than triangular.

Shapes reveal in compositions

What’s next for the JungleBook script?

So this little chunk of code’s got me some pretty cool results… and pretty quickly (laziness FTW!). I’ve gotta say I’m pretty happy. Once I clean it up a bit, I’ll probably push Junglebook to my GitHub account and share it around. At the very least, that’ll make sure it doesn’t get lost on my hard drive. In the best case, perhaps a better programmer than me can find a cleaner, more elegant way to generate images like this… or even more interesting images that reveal more design hints and tips.

Of course, now my mind is spinning with all kinds of other cools things to look into. For instance, Amazon updates the bestsellers list on an hourly basis. What if I tracked the number one book in each of these genres for a month and averaged those together? What might that tell us? Or consider the fact that I’ve only looked at a pretty small representation of all the different categories in the Kindle store. What if I set up a website that would generate a top 50 averaged images for any category on the fly per user request? Or what if I did these averages every day for a month and then animated them to see how the average changes throughout the year? If I did it for multiple years, we could see if there are seasonal shifts and trends.

There are so many different possibilities here that I’m not entirely sure where would be the best place to start. So guess this is where I drop in the question(s): What would you like to see? What would be most useful? What do you think I should do next?

A Busy Little Ape

OK, OK… I know that I haven’t posted anything new here since May. However, it only looks like I’ve been on a summer vacation. In reality, this has been a surprisingly busy summer for me. And the approaching last quarter of this year doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Not one little bit. So what have I been up to? Let’s scurry through the the list.

Cover Art

Definitely True: Year OneI never explicitly mentioned the fact that I did the cover art for Definitely True: Year One, my first book of lies under the name M. J. Guns. Well… I did. I also wrote an in-depth guest post on RenderStreet’s blog that covers the whole design and production process I used. And of course, that was all done using free and open source software. I really like that cover and definitely had a lot fun making it. Just for fun, I submitted the cover to the monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards for June over at thebookdesigner.com. It didn’t win anything—I didn’t expect it to—but at least the one-liner of feedback he gave was positive (hey… I take what I can get). I’m already sketching out ideas for Definitely True: Year Two.

The SteadfastOn the subject of book cover art, I was approached to create the cover art for another book, and this time not by one of my other personalitiespen-names. This cover was for a book called The Steadfast, by Jack Faber. It’s a survival story that features a barrage of midwest tornadoes and a westward escape on a solar-powered commuter bus. Tons of fun. Both the book and the cover. Not only did it mean I was able to make a 3D model of a commuter bus (and texture it!), but I also got to play a bit with smoke and particle simulation to generate a tornado. Only downside… Blender doesn’t have a nice way to add motion blur to smoke simulations, so I had to add some blur in post. Still, though, I’m a big fan of the result and I had a blast making it.

And continuing the subject of cover art and design stuff, a new podcast was recently launched called the Open EdTech Podcast. It’s a show dedicated to the topic of using free and open source software in education and education technology. I know the host of the show, Thaj, through some other podcasty things I do (more on that in a bit). He asked if I would put together a cover art image for this show of his. So… I did. And it was a lot of fun. For this one, I decide to try to see what I could do without breaking out the 3D graphics. So this whole thing was produced just using Inkscape. I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Open EdTech Podcast

Podcasting

Speaking of podcasting, you may have noticed that there haven’t been any new episodes of the Open Source Creative Podcast for quite some time. Sorry about that. I do maintain, however, that it is not podfaded. It’s just been on a summer break. In fact, I have a new episode recorded already. I just need to edit and post it. With any luck, I’ll have that done within the next week or so. So stay tuned (which… incidentally, makes a lot less sense absent any real broadcast signal. But hey, colloquialisms. What can ya do?)

That said, I have actually been participating in another podcasty thing. The first and third Friday of each month, a group of folks gather together to record the LinuxLUGcast. It’s basically an online Linux Users Group (LUG) that records its meetings (held via Mumble) and posts them as podcast episodes. It’s a lot of fun and I always learn something each time I participate. And, being a LUG, it’s open to anyone to participate. The next show is on the 4th of September (2015). Come on by and join in!

LinuxLUGcast

Conferencing

I also attended the SouthEast LinuxFest (SELF) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Even gave a little talk there on open source creative tools. That was actually the first time I’ve ever attended a conference with a specific focus on Linux and free software. I had a great time, met a lot of cool people. Played Cards Against Humanity with a dozen people in the middle of the hotel bar… hopefully we didn’t scar the sensibilities of any innocent bystanders. Not too much at least.

Writing

And I’ve been writing, too! Not just that guest post on RenderStreet, either. Of course, I’ve been keeping up with M. J. Guns’ daily lies on definitelytrue.com, but there’s more than that. I’ve recently become a moderator over at Opensource.com, which includes a monthly Open Art column that I’ve been writing. The column focuses on topics that are [hopefully] important to people who use free and open source software to produce creative work.

And while that has been using up a substantial chunk of my writing time, I’m still making forward progress on a fiction serial, which I’ll be releasing under yet another pen name. So that’s a giant barrel of fun, too!

And more stuff!

There’s more to come. Be on the lookout for a little coding project I put together (currently codenamed “Junglebook”). I’m stupidly excited about it, so there’ll be a blog post on it in the next day or so. In addition to that, I’ve decided to challenge myself with what I’m calling a Creative TriMonthAlon, three months of daily creative output. It starts next month with Sculptember, then Inktober, and finally wraps up the whole thing with NaNoWriMo in November. I want to see how many people I can get to take on at least part of the full challenge, so if you’re interested in playing with us, come join in the fun. I’ve made a Facebook group (it’s the first link in this paragraph) as the primary home base for the thing, but I might add an additional group on Google+ for those allergic to the FB.

And there’s more conferencing stuff in my future. I’ll be at the All Things Open conference in Raleigh, North Carolina during mid-October and (with any luck), I’ll also be attending the Blender Conference in Amsterdam again. Both should be giant buckets of fun… so if you’re going to be at either of those confs, definitely track me down and say hi.

Whew… so yeah. That’s my update. How’d you spend your summer?

My lies! They have moved!

Definitely True

With the launch of my first foray into fiction, Definitely True: Year One (it’s a book), under my pen name, M. J. Guns, I’ve made a decision. It’s high time that my lies have a home of their own. They need a place to live and propagate (or fester and incubate, if you prefer). So… I’m going to continue my lying ways, under the name M. J. Guns. Any lies I’ve made on this site will remain here. But any new lies, starting with #2000, will be coming from their new site, definitelytrue.com. Go there, subscribe… and follow M. J. Guns on social media. I hear it freaks him out.

Wheeeeeee!

Open Source Creative Podcast #17 – On Selfishness

Yay! Another Open Source Creative Podcast episode. In this one, I have a long conversation with myself about the nature of art and open source software as it pertains to selfishness. Is art inherently selfish? Is it not? Is that a bad thing? And likewise for Free Software. Yeah… it’s an interesting thing and it was stuck in my head because of a handful of tweets with Chris Oatley, Stephen Brooks, and Amanda Carbine (and that’s the beauty of Twitter, by the way… I don’t know any of these people, but it was cool to have a conversation with them). Anyhow, have a listen and let me know your thoughts.

But first…. a few personal news linkage bits:

  • Blender For Dummies, 3rd edition was released. Woohoo!
  • As a result, I re-launched BlenderBasics.com as the official Blender For Dummies website with a bunch of written tutorials there
  • And, thanks to the generous backers of my Kickstarter campaign, I was able to purchase a block of 100 ISBNs and I’ve started the publishing process for my first indie book, Definitely True: Year One, under my M. J. Guns pen name. The ebook is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and Kobo… and both the print version and the ebook will be available on all the other book selling sites shortly. Wheeeee!

And… in open source creative software news:

Open source creative software releases:

And one last thing that I forgot to mention… I’m speaking SELF, the SouthEast LinuxFest, in Charlotte, North Carolina. SELF is in June, from the 12th to the 14th. I’ll be talking about producing cool creative things with open source software. I’ve never been to a Linux conference before so it should be a lot of fun. If you’re going to be there, come track me down.

And that’s about it. See you next episode.

Blender For Dummies, 3rd edition… Released!

Blender For Dummies

So in the midst of my indie writing shenanigans, the 3rd edition of Blender For Dummies is officially out and in the wild as of today! Wheee!

As a result, I’ve relaunched blenderbasics.com as the official website of Blender For Dummies. Content there is pretty sparse at the moment, but stay tuned! I’ll be posting a new article, tutorial, or neat thing there each day for the next handful of days.

Open Source Creative Podcast #16 – Let’s Talk Spec

At long last, another Open Source Creative Podcast episode is here! Sorry for the long gap between episodes, folks… it’s been a crazy month. In any cast, this episode was recorded back in March and in it I talk about doing spec work (that is, speculative work) as a creative producer of things. Episode 15 really helped me nail down where I think my position is on this, so in a way, it’s an extension of that. It’s a bit of a contrast to the folks at nospec.com.

Of course, when there’s a month gap between episodes, there’s a lot of news that transpires. First (because, well, it’s my podcast), the me-related news:

  • Be a responsible open source user – I wrote an article that was posted on opensource.com!
  • I had a Kickstarter project – If you’re on my mailing list or follow me here or on social media, you probably already know this. I learned a lot from this… definitely interested in sharing
  • Calendar flipbook animation – For my Kickstarter project, I designed a daily tear-off calendar. Not only could I not resist making it also a flipbook, I was compelled to make an animation of that flipbook in action. Eventually, I’ll write a little tutorial on how it’s done
  • Blender For Dummies 3rd edition is coming out! – You can pre-order it now, but the official release is 27 April 2015. Wheeeee

Yeah… but enough about me. There was also a bunch of real new in the open source creative world:

Calls for content:

And that should about do it. Wow.

Talkatcha next week!

Daily Tear-off Calendar, the Animation

One of the rewards for my Kickstarter campaign is a daily tear-off calendar, with a lie from Definitely True: Year One on each page of the calendar. It’s actually at the printer being made right now (woohoo!). One of the fun things about a tear-off calendar is that it’s built exactly like a simple flipbook. So I couldn’t resist adding a little animation to the bottom of each page. The problem, though, is that I’m a bit impatient. I kind of want to see what the calendar is going to look like now. I don’t want to wait for the printer to finish it and ship it to me.

So, like any rational person, I took the pages that I laid out and made a 3D model of the calendar. Then I rigged it and animated it. Have a look-see:

Of course, this means I also need to step up and get the definitelytrue.com website finished. (always something to get done!)

But, I’m only having 10 of these calendars printed for the Kickstarter campaign. Two of them have already been claimed. We’re still trying hard to reach the 100 ISBN stretch goal of $575, so if you know anyone who’d like one of these calendars (or you want one yourself), you know what to do!

And again, I definitely need to express my gratitude to everyone who’s supported this project so far. I can’t express how much it means to me. Thank you.

Kickstarter AHOY!

Kickstarter_logo

Well… It’s started. You can click the image above or you can click this little bit of text right here to go to my Kickstarter project. The campaign has 10 days. I’m trying to raise $125 to purchase an ISBN for my first independently published book in ebook format. Of course, if we can raise more than that, I can publish the book in print as well. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The pledge values are reasonable and the rewards are well worth it… or at least fun.

In any case, this is my first time trying any kind of crowdfunding, so I’m excited to see how it all works (and if it works… I’m a little terrified). If you can offer support, I’d appreciate it. If you could spread the word to folks you know, then I’ll be forever in your debt.

Let’s see how this goes.