Christmas deadlines and snowflakes

One year I was doing an Open University course (in PHP I think) that had an assignment deadline of 23 December. It was such bad timing and added an extra layer of stress on what is already an extremely pressured time. I hated it and did a second rate attempt just to get it done with all of the other stuff I had on my plate at that time.

I have to ask myself is Christmas being a pressured time a given? I realise that some people look forward to it and so it fills them with extra energy and motivation, but I think it involves a lot of stress for most women, who more often carry the social burdens of buying presents, sending cards, organising who is seeing who where and when, planning what food will be bought and cooked, and lastly getting the home in a presentable state (clean and decorated) for the holiday period and any guests. I don’t think these things are, or should be, only the domain of women, but it is my experience that the stress from them is generally experienced more by women than men.  It’s not just the time involved in doing these tasks, but the head space for all the creative thinking that is required.

Being under stress with lots of things on your mind is not a good situation for learning new complicated things. For this reason, this year I have decided to park the EdX Nature, in Code: Biology in JavaScript course that I have done 3 weeks of and come back to it in January hopefully.

I have picked up some new things from that course already and also embedded a few others that I already knew. It is interesting to me to learn about the genetic modelling as I did a year of biochemistry and genetics at university but that was (ahem) 32 years ago so things have moved on somewhat!

I thought I would post some of the designs that I have done for Christmas cards this year. I had been thinking a while back about coding snowflakes and contemplating the geometry and symmetry involved in that. But I haven’t had chance to really focus on it, and the few initial experiments I did were unsatisfactory.

One thing I do get irritated by is when I see snowflakes that are drawn with 8 axes of symmetry, since a snowflake in real life is a crystal of water and it always has 6 axes of symmetry. This is because it’s grown from water molecules. That is H2O, an oxygen atom with two hydrogen atoms attached at roughly 120 degrees, I believe. I have that knowledge, but now I am thinking how does that really work? How do they grow symmetrically and why flat? Nevertheless I am pretty sure they are always a hexagonal structure, because they have been photographed.

By Wilson Bentley - Plate XIX of "Studies among the Snow Crystals ... " by Wilson Bentley, "The Snowflake Man." From Annual Summary of the "Monthly Weather Review" for 1902., Public Domain, Link

By Wilson Bentley – Plate XIX of “Studies among the Snow Crystals … ” by Wilson Bentley, “The Snowflake Man.” From Annual Summary of the “Monthly Weather Review” for 1902., Public Domain, Link

For over forty years, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley (1865–1931) photographed more than 5000 individual snowflakes, having perfected his innovative photomicrographic techniques. Bentley was born in Jericho, Vermont, in the “Snowbelt”, where the annual snow fall was about 120 inches. A collection of Bentley’s images is archived at the Smithsonian Institute.

My technique for producing my pseudo snowflake images was to use a couple of apps on my Android tablet. First I used Mirrograph 2 to produce the structure of the image (black and sometimes white on top of over blacked areas, no randomisation of colour, rake, 6 degrees of symmetry). Then I opened the saved image in Prisma and applied the mosaic filter, as I found this gave a slight tinge of colour that has to me the look of ice.

Snowflake images by Karen Cropper

The above image was made into a collage using another app – PhotoCollage.

Although I find this collage pleasing when viewed on my laptop and Android tablet, it doesn’t work on the scale of a card, the individual snowflakes are too small. I feel it is important to get the right scale to be fit for purpose. As I am printing on to white labels that I cut to 12 x 12cm and stick on to the square cards that I have, a single snowflake works better for the viewing distance usual for displayed cards. So I have a selection of different versions. Finally although I am displaying the images here in the same orientation as the image from Bentley, I found it is actually more pleasing on the card to rotate 30 degrees (or in practice 90 degrees) so that there is a vertical centre line, as in the last image in this post. Maybe a minor taste matter?

Snowflake by Karen Cropper

Snowflake by Karen Cropper

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