Be still my geeky heart – digital spirograph!

Be still my geeky heart – digital spirograph!

Someone created a digital Spirograph. Oh, be still my heart! Yes, someone took the effort to convert the old toy from the 60s, into an online version. Nathan Friend created the digital Spirograph in 2014, and it’s still running. Check it out here Inspirograph (

Opening screen for the digital Spirograph

Inspirogram is spirograph for adults

Digital Spirograph vs Traditional Spirograph

The digital spirograph is more fun than the original. My sister had Spirograph, back in the 60s and she adored it. She spent endless hours cursing the little gears for not staying in place and hunting for pens to use.  She created impressive designs. I was envious of her peculiar patience in working with the toy’s limitations.

Spirograph was insanely frustrating because I could never keep the gears from slipping, or the pens poking holes into the paper. Trying to figure out which gears made which pattern was irritating. I’d be humming along with a great design and then use the wrong gear and the pattern was destroyed. I preferred freehand drawing.

I have to admit, I was fascinated with the gears moving around and the possibilities. I still have a thing for gears and have a little box with old gears I’ve stripped from dead watches. I don’t do anything with them, just like them. But as for Spirograph itself, I would q with quickly get bored with it and wander off to draw birds and cats. Far more fun and I could use my pencils. I also have a weird thing for collecting pencils. Assorted brands, different leads. And pencil sharpeners. I love pencil sharpeners.  But I digress.

Folks on Facebook were chatting about old toys they had in the 60s and Spirograph came up. Someone pointed out a digital version of Spirograph existed. You have to love the internet, it’s filled with millions of ways to waste time. The digital Spirograph is called Inspirograph and it blows the manual version out of the water. No pen slipping, don’t like the pattern tap ctr z and remove it, change backgrounds, more colours than a jumbo box of Crayolas and you can save your masterpieces to download.

Digital Spirograph – more fun than a barrel of monkeys

Inspirograph is insanely addictive and memorising. You don’t need a mouse, just the arrow keys to move the gears around. I haven’t tried it on a touch screen, so I’m not sure if it works.

My first try at digital Spirograph - geometric patterns

Stars ‘n circles, oh my

White backgrounds are ok, but black is easier on the eyes.

Just tap the colour you want to use and start spiraling.

Inspirograph geometric design on black background

A person could waste an entire afternoon playing with this

The site is simple to master. No tricks, no bad code to trip up your design. Just a clean, functional site that offers a lot of distracting fun. When you stop to consider this was created in 2014, it’s a testament to Nathan’s skills that the toy works better than many newer online time wasters. 6 years and counting is old for the internet.

Digital spirograph - a flower burst on black background

I think of this as a flower bursting open

Go, have a ball, ignore Covid for an afternoon, download your art and put it on the fridge.

Here are a few articles I’ve posted about drawing, mechanical pencils and more. Enjoy

Search | Bitter Grounds Magazine Articles on drawing


Spectacular fall colours in the Toronto ravine

Spectacular fall colours in the Toronto ravine

Finally, a few new photos, including fall colours.

As promised, I’ve been working my way through the legions of photos I’ve taken over the years, looking for ones to play with. Most really aren’t worth keeping and I’ve been purging scads of mediocre and downright bad photos. I’m paring down to any that have potential and dumping the rest. That’s when I rediscovered about 20 I’d taken a few years ago and filed away for “future use”. These are shots from a walk in the ravine that runs along behind the David Balfour Park.  It was one of those postcard perfect fall days that produced some spectacular opportunities. Funny I forgot about them for so long because I’ve been looking for certain types of photos to use with the artistic filters in Photoshop. The filters are great, but you have to have the right shot or the effect looks contrived.

Fall colours on a sunny day

Fall colours in the Toronto Ravine

It’s hard to go wrong photographing the ravine

I used just a little dry brush, in Photoshop, to bump up the light effect on the trees. I didn’t want too much applied because I wanted the photo to look like a photo, not a painting, but give a hint of something more going on. The effect brought the leaves in the foreground out, giving them greater definition. That bright green spot up in the left was a leaf that flittered about and caught the light just as I snapped the shot. Because of the yellows and the way, the light hit the leaf, the green looks over saturated. I played around with removing it but decided to against it.

Slightly different photoshop affect

For the second one, I used smudge stick to bring out the intense light on the tree trunks. I tried the dry brush first, but the smudge filter did a better job in this case.  Second photo of yellow leaves in the ravine in Toronto

Analysing the photo attempt

Both effects are interesting and bring a different intensity to the photos. It was fun to play with for a change. I usually move straight on to HDR because there’s something about the high dynamic range that tweaks all the sweet spots in my brain. I gravitate to it like a moth to light.  But for something like the ravine, no. I fussed about with some HDR settings I like using but it destroyed the mood by creating a stark, cold mood. I even plunked a warming filter on them and then thought, nah, don’t bother. The warmth of the sun and long shadows were stripped out, so I went back to the original photos and did a bit of contrasting then applied the filters instead. Far better effect.

I have a few more I’m looking at, if you want to see them posted, drop me a line on FB, Twitter or down below in the comments field.  As always drop by Instagram to see photos that don’t always make the site. It’s turning into a weird glimpse into how my brain hopscotches around subjects.

Waiting for the TTC @ Union Station – digital art

Waiting for the TTC @ Union Station – digital art

I’m glad I found my Wacom. I really missed it. I’ve been fussing around with it quite a bit lately, trying to create a decent brush archive. I think I’ve created a series that seem to work well for my style – between 28-38% opacity, 25-37% flow with build up and wet edges. This gives me the colour and feel I’m looking for.

I’m still cheating on the startup – I’m still doing a hand line trace of the photo, but excluding elements I don’t want in the final product. I’m also trying to do a looser outline, with more a hint of the movement in the background. And that’s were the real fun begins. It’s interesting using different brushes and colour buildups to give the illusion of a train flashing past. I didn’t do any blending this time around, I wanted a rougher feel to the movement. It’s still Photoshop paint by numbers, but eventually I’ll get to the place I want to be. I’ve begun sketching with pencil, similar scenes. So far, yeeks. My sense of perspective still screws me around. Might help if I didn’t keep getting left and right mixed up.

All in all, I’m rather pleased with this:  Digital art of people standing on the TTC platform at Union Station


Original photo was taken  at the Union Station TTC platform on a warm afternoon. Northbound to Finch, Line 1.

Toronto skyline & a bit of Photoshop fudging

Toronto skyline & a bit of Photoshop fudging

Not a clue how I managed to create this:
Photo showing north skyline @ Yonge and St. Clair looking west Toronto

It’s a view from my balcony – north skyline of Toronto, last summer. I fussed with it a bit off and on during the winter, trying this and that. Problem is, I wasn’t keeping any notes on what I’d done. I simply created it, saved a copy and moved on. I found it while culling photos and thought “cool”. I like it but for the life of me can’t figure out everything I did. I vaguely remember using it to experiment with saturation and highlights. I enjoy tweaking saturation for a specific effect to draw the viewer’s eyes to a feature I’m interested in.  I also remember thinking St. Mike’s cemetery should standout. It’s one of the oldest cemeteries in Toronto, surrounded by highrises and condos. Not a lot of people realise it’s nestled where it is.

I think I was trying to make some of the architectural features pop out as well. I’m endlessly fascinated with how highrise buildings change neigbourhoods and how simple design elements can radically change the view. To the left of the photo, the blue building (not that bue in real life), has a cool pattern that shows up if you adjust the highlights a bit. I’ve noticed that in a couple photos. I suspect that was the intent behind this work – trying to make the balconies and windows reveal their patterns.

Kind of cool. It’s now my desktop background. I do have notes on what Photoshop elements I was experimenting with around Christmas so maybe that will clue me into what I did.

Photoshop digital art – more work on the arch

Photoshop digital art – more work on the arch

Still working on the doorway arch. Hard to believe I haven’t flitted off to another project already, but this one has turned into an excellent challenge with all the shadows and highlights. After doing a line trace of the original photo, I’ve been using a simple round, black brush tip with varying flow to get the deep, dark shadows and sense of depth. Here’s the next stage:

Digital art - Munk Centre doorway

I’ve turned the water colour wash off for awhile so I can concentrate on just the ink effect.  I’m saving each stage, so far 15 shots, so I can pull them together on an animated gif to show the work as it progresses. When I finish the art, I’ll post it for you.