Sunday, December 10, 2023

Tearing apart the history of art for parts: Vermeer


If you are following along at home, you are wondering if I made a lot of progress today on my project of photographs of library workers with their spirit animals.

Yes and no.

Just before launching into my next round of portraits that I downloaded onto my computer this morning, I continued a kind of side exploration into melding the portraits into classical oil paintings. This was spurred by the chance of one of my portraits looking like The Mona Lisa, and I have been messing around with not only the merging into paintings, but also with creating different oil painting techniques for my images. 

Here is an example from the portrait called Tristan's Turtle. She is residing in a Vermeer painting here:

But even this level of practice productivity had to take a break.

For reasons not entirely clear here, I decided I needed to take old master paintings and preliminarily eliminate the people from them. 

At this point I fully plan to employ these emptied pictures into my creations, but I don't have a clear path to that. Nevertheless, the paintings- I'll just show you the Vermeer ones now- are so interesting with the people removed that I couldn't help sharing those with you today.

Yesterday I defended how much and how complicated the work of the pictures I have been making can be. And it can be a ton of work and learning and inventing. The tools I use should not really be called Artificial Intelligence because it is so frustratingly obtuse and difficult to work with, so random, and so much like any automated pseudo intelligence, like a phone tree, or a customer assistance chatbot, that you've ever used and rarely gotten good results from. But, my god, when this kind of visual AI hits the sweet spot, like in removing figures from paintings like this, the results can be so quick and amazing it turns all these ideas on their head. 

And, dare I say it, it even makes it all interesting. 


Here are a few empty Vermeers. They are the full paintings, ones you would likely even recognize, but stripped of their figures:


Saturday, December 9, 2023

How I make them


Among the questions I receive regarding the pictures I make of library workers with their spirit animals, the most common, by far, is how do I do it.

And nothing kills the mood, nothing shatters the real wonder of it all, nothing destroys people's interest or fascination faster, or more completely, than simply... answering.

"Oh." People respond flatly to my answer with a quality that evokes, to use a seasonal analogy of a slightly cloying kind, someone having been informed there is no Santa Claus.

And if in that explanation I mention AI, which I do actually use plenty of in my work, the disappointment in the death of magic and the shattering of dreams is, if possible, even more profound.

But before I explain something really important to me about how I use AI, something that hopefully will be less devastating to your appreciation, let me show you a series of pictures I worked on today of a temporary Library Associate whose name is Sahra (I'm not sure how her name is spelled). Her chosen animal is the cheetah, which was a choice somewhat suggested by her very clothing. 

This trio at this point could maybe be considered finalists. As happens a little too often, my source pictures were insufficient here and so there are a lot of repetitions in them.

So anyway, here is the thing about AI:

I think people hear about it and think it is some kind of magical shortcut cheat. Because most news, marketing, and even critics either lie about AI, do not really understand the limits of its capability, or, most of all, don't understand that much about it as a creative tool.

 Yes, AI is a kind of magical shortcut cheat. But, and this is important, it is even more like when you have a complicated, shitty problem with some large company and you call and talk to their AI computer phone system.

If you can make that crap work for you, you will have earned for it.

Friday, December 8, 2023

The Moda Lisa


I have been holding out on showing my portraits of library workers with their spirit animals here for reasons already recounted in previous posts. But I knew that the time spent on this project would surely wear away at the dividing line between these pictures and the demands and interests of this creative space.

And so it is I find that while I would love to start a 47 part series here on the virtues of the movie Moonstruck, I am too busy adding turtles to pictures of student workers and Library Associates to avoid the compulsion to show from this series of photography instead.

However, I'm neither going to explain those positions at my library nor show those particular pictures, just yet.

Something else happened.

The precipitating event that broke down my walls was a secondhand report from my colleagues that a patron came to the front desk, where a picture of one of my co-workers holding a monkey was featured, and asked:

"Is that The Mona Lisa?"

The Mona Lisa?

Of all the unintentional things in art I have done, this is perhaps my favorite.

For me the resemblance starts with something about the eyes, but for others, and I can see this, it is in the enigmatic smile that I have never entirely been convinced is a smile.

Here is the original to set the stage:

And now, a portrait of a library worker, a co-worker of mine, with a monkey.

I'm actually not sure how much she likes her portrait, or of her choice of a monkey.

This is called "Mod's Monkey", but, of course, it is "The Moda Lisa".

Or... it will be.

I think you can see the resemblance, or I hope so. This is where we were in our process when a library patron called it The Mona Lisa.

Of course, writing about it all here I couldn't help but try to take it one last step further.

This then is the real Moda Lisa:

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Airplane seating and my usual marketing ploy


I am so old that I can remember when a person bought an airplane ticket and, included in the cost, they could pick their own seat!

A hundred twenty dollar value for nuthin'!

It was amazing.

But all things must pass away. The days of free luxury are over, mark my words.

For instance, if you haven't been to any kind of a theater lately, this is what the average ticket purchasing prices look like these days:

General Admission Ticket: $18.00

Well that's not too bad. But wait...

Choose your own seat: $32.00


Hard wood slat seating upgrade: $6.00

Wait, upgrade?

Upholstered seating upgrade (wood upgrade purchase required): $14.00

That actually sounds pretty comfy!

Armrest (each side): $5.00

Never a bad idea to get one and share it.

Cup Holder: $2.00

This is actually a really good deal. I would usually perch on the exposed metal seat post (saving that six bucks, but splurge for the cup holder).

Seating time during performance guarantee: $40.00

This is the steep one, but possibly necessary if you don't want to end up sitting in your seats during a period in which the performance is not taking place. Although, if you don't mind chilling in an empty theater, this can be a great place to save money!

Seat elevation jacking (per inch): $3

A good idea if you're short, or if you're concerned the person seated in front of you has invested heavily in this category.

Ticket investor fee: $52

Usually not a relevant fee, but great for hot shows that you don't want to see but wouldn't mind making a little money on.

So, as you can see, a nice night at a theater or a concert can now add up. And, of course, none of this above will include the standard fees, taxes, and add ons.

On the other hand, you can just stay home reading old clerkmanifestos!


Well, that's what I do.


Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Boxing Day!


No, it's not Boxing Day today. The holiday hasn't raced past you while you glanced in the other direction (though it will, that's how time works). It is merely the due date for books checked out today.

So when I check anything out to anyone today at the library I say "These will be due on Boxing Day."

Why do I do this? This is Minnesota. We don't celebrate Boxing Day around here!

Well, my (early) Boxing Day gift to you is a beautiful, curated list of reasons why I am telling everyone their due date is Boxing Day.

Strap in, it's an amazingly long list (as measured against the amount of meaningful content it possesses).

Why I tell people their items are due on Boxing Day:

1. It's memorably quirky, and so perhaps my utterance will spark a recollection or two down the line at a crucial holiday moment that someone's library books are now due.

2. Out of curiosity. I'm testing the local community on how many people know what Boxing Day is. (Judging from the reaction, anywhere for 30 to 80% have heard of it, but I'm working tirelessly to narrow down my information on this some more- so far people's expressions aren't always as telling as one might think).

3. I just really have a thing for Boxing Day (See:

4. You don't like the needy?

5. You don't like the British?

6. I just find something irresistibly humorous about how Boxing Day makes one picture two sweaty people sportingly punching each other, ala the sport of Boxing, even though it's really about simply giving people stuff (or, from the other point of view, getting stuff, occasionally sometimes in boxes).

7. I am pathetically desperate to extend the Christmas season in any way I can. (See:

8. It is an opening for discussing with library patrons the lore and history around Boxing Day, which, and this is probably for the best, isn't very long or complicated.

9. I love to hear people say "What?"

10. Because that is the date their books are due.

11. It's just another satisfying jab at those damn "War on Boxing Day" people! Am I even allowed to say "Happy Boxing Day" anymore?

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Angels want to wear my red shoes


The title of today's piece refers to the Elvis Costello song. And my context for it is so that you will think of the line:

"I used to be disgusted. Now I try to be amused."

I was going to leave the title as a subtle inference for you to find on your own, a little easter egg for those of you who pore over clerkmanifesto, but I had a crisis of faith. Who here is poking among the grasses at the edge of my daily column looking for eggs?

Here's what I want to talk about:

I think its funny when I look up the Amazon reviews for some book or movie or game, and among all the plot recaps and "this is my favorite book about Uruguayan squirrels ever written!" and "The actors seem like they aren't acting, like they really are the people they're playing, but in a bad way." I come to someone who instead of reviewing the "art", almost meaninglessly, reviews the product or "seller":

"The DVD came in its plastic shrinkwrap, but the shrinkwrap was looser than I like. The case had a good heft to it though."


"Arrived on time and in the condition as described. Not damaged except for a corner of the box it came in. Would buy from Amazon again."

These kinds of reviews used to bug me. They were so unhelpful. But while looking up reviews for the book "The Essential Harlan Ellison" not long ago, not long ago at all, I came across one of these reviews of the binding, or delivery time, or whatever it was, and instead of being, well, disgusted, I was... amused. 

The days where I want people to do the right thing on the Internet are over.

The Internet is broken. No one does the right thing on the Internet anymore. And this kind of, I don't know- what I would have called simpleton naivety regarding sharing on the Internet, just seems kind of cosy, like it speaks nostalgically to a more innocent time when we were all in it together for the selfless joy of the glorious World Wide Web craft project.

I say "nostalgically" because I'm pretty sure that innocent time never existed, but still, it almost might have. I mean, Wikipedia exists.

And, as an addendum, really, what do I want from all these reviews anyway? 

I had to think about it. 

But only for a few seconds. 

I came up with this:

I read reviews looking for an excuse not to read a book, or, and I hardly dare to admit to my foolish dreams, the inspiration to do so.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Dear favorite leftist podcaster


Here is a template for a letter I'd like to send to all my favorite leftist, anti-capitalist podcasters (teaser version):

To One of My All-Time Favorite, Anti-Capitalist, Anarchist Podcasters:

This is a teaser fan letter to give you a taste of how much I love your work. I hope you enjoy it!

I love your work. I listen to it all the time. I even listen to the five-minute teasers for the incredibly interesting-sounding subscriber-only episodes that I would have to pay six dollars a month to listen to.

 But I'm not faulting you for that restriction! 

I know that we live in a hard, late-capitalist world, and though you beautifully articulate a better world and urge us to work for it, and present brilliant ideas about the world we might create, and present expert guests discussing the inspiring way forward, we also exist in this world, as is, with bills to pay and groceries to buy. And so naturally if more and more people find your podcast valuable and entertaining, and you want to put more and more resources towards the quality, frequency, and production of it, why not have the community gather resources for you to support what you're doing?

Good on you. 

I still love your ideas of library socialism and anti-hierarchies and belief in the common good, ideas I support and hopefully strive towards in tiny ways in my own life. But really, most of all, what I wanted to do with this letter was write you and tell you something about yourself that you may be too humble to see. 

You offer something so extraordinary and unique that it has amazed and actually astonished me. It is that you are

And that concludes the teaser portion of my fan letter.

Subscribers to my Patreon fan letter page, for only six dollars, get access to the complete text of all my insightful and frankly gushing and ego-boosting fan letters. Subscriber fan letters are also ad-free, because you have better things to do with your time. You also get notifications of special fan letters that might be coming your way soon.

With the deepest respect and regard,


Sunday, December 3, 2023

Praying mantis


It does seem to be the current trend that I come to my bedtime urgently needing to write my daily column. 

Working on my series of spirit animals of library workers as tirelessly as I have been (well, sometimes I get a little tired) feels to me a lot like I am working all day on clerkmanifesto. So it is a curious surprise to come to the end of it and suddenly realize: There is still one more thing to take care of, this precious post I, as a last thing, place before your eyes.

Which is how we come to the praying mantis.

When I asked a librarian to take part in my daemon in the library photo project I was absolutely delighted when she asked if her chosen animal could be an insect.

An insect?


She wanted a praying mantis.

This seemed like a very interesting challenge!

I have been working all this night on the praying mantis pictures and I will confess that it might be a little too interesting a challenge. I have a couple of mildly successful iterations so far, but I am going to have to go to sleep not entirely satisfied, dreaming of praying mantises and how to bring it all together. As per my reticence here I can't quite show you where I am with finished pictures, but I do have some pieces I've created, concept art if you will, and I can show that. 

If I could get my final picture to have some of the feel of this stuff, while rooting in a real person, I will end up very happy indeed! But that is for another day.

Saturday, December 2, 2023



Historically I have been pretty good at trivia, or maybe even excellent. But I have found that as I have gotten older, less of what I know is generally relevant. So I am increasingly less good. Thirty years ago I could tell you who wrote the lovely song "Lalena", and it might have been a mildly impressive trivia moment for me. I can still answer it now, but I simply won't be asked it. 

It's not coming up.

For general trivia, notable chunks of what I know has moved on from mildly obscure to of no general interest whatsoever.

Sometimes when I go up to shelve I'll find myself scrolling through short youtube reels for a bit, you know, like tik toks, and there is a recurring one where some guy who does man on the street quizzes, where he doubles the money for each identification of increasingly more difficult songs. Curiously I watch these without sound, only subtitles of the conversation, and my only impossibly, unintentional clue will be an intensely, insensibly pixilated view of the album cover that is shown for the song playing. But the amazing part for me is some random musical genius will answer question after question of people I have barely heard of, and would rarely be able to answer correctly. The Thermals? The Used? Against Me? I have no idea. These people on the street are bloody savants! But then as the challenge money rises into the hundreds of dollars, an album cover will come up on the screen, represented by about eight squares of different colors and I'll just be confused. "That's Music From the Big Pink" I'll mutter, surprised I can recognize it from so little. And hearing any song from it would be the most comically easy song identification in the world to me!

But it's not for these people gunning for the big money. "I give up." They say after not even very long. This, this one is the one that is too ridiculously hard!

And they are only slightly disappointed when they are told how they failed.

They know every Tame Impala song by heart, but they didn't know The Band?

Perhaps as we age we slowly begin to enter into a kind of backwards world...

Friday, December 1, 2023



I'm on the verge of giving in.

The project I am working on, where I have photographed all variety of my co-workers, and then set to photoshop magic in their spirit animals, is all consuming. I find the part where I collect the pictures so difficult that I have had to take days off of it at work, or pace myself to two or three a day. But as soon as I get to a day off from work, to free time, I work on these pictures relentlessly.

Though I went for a walk and took some other pictures you might be interested in, and I also thought of a few ideas for a column today, when I sat down to my computer I instead worked irresistibly all day long, and into the night, working on the spirit animal thing instead.

I had Chou's Tortoise to work on, and Scott's Boxer, and Anna's Stork, and Sahra's Cheetah. It was a lot of work! But I didn't even get to those! Instead, for hours, I worked on improvements to older pictures. I experimented with new styles. I dived deeper into the complexities of Photoshop.

Did I make any progress?

Not really? Sort of? Lisa's Panda's are much better. My melding skills are improving. And I am integrating the Dall-e AI photo generator better to give me more options. I am tempted to show you what's going on and just managing to hold off.

I have to admit though, I think I'm having fun.

Anyway, I do have a place holder. 

Here are a few prototypes of my project, not using my co-workers.

Honestly, they don't even use real people. But some of these have been starting points for my finished pictures. I mean, in as much as I have finished pictures. I keep finding ways to improve them which makes it hard to finish them.

These are on the other end of that, some starting points I've been using...