The Candy Rock Collection
…a story about the two times candy saved my life.
Let me lead off by saying a big thank you to the Neon Mob team and community for believing in a concept I submitted 5 months ago. I am grateful for this chance to contribute to Neon Mob’s community.
I had also recently swallowed a radioactive iodine pill as the last treatment dealing with a thyroid cancer my doctor found in February 2015. I’ve been told to wipe down everything I touch — I learned to use gloves wisely and minimize the work — and that I need to stay 4 feet away from anyone and avoid children or crowded places. You’ll see references to this recovery throughout the post.
The Neon Mob (Neon) truly aims to do the impossible: create scarcity in a digital world where it is easy to copy and share.
Neon invites artists to submit concepts that will be built into a variety of digital prints available for purchase or to be slowly gobbled up for free if you return daily.
My concept for a 3D low resolution polygon rock candy was selected and while I made it on what seemed like a whim, being chosen to make a large series made me revisit why I love candy.
The First Time Candy Saved My Life
I grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts in a predominantly Dominican community. While I was exposed to larger than life graffiti murals of Inspector Gadget and mind bending calligraphy, my second home was a bodega minutes from my house.
They had several imports from the Dominican Republic like platanos (plantains), Coco Rico, yuca, sugar cane, and other goods to help the locals feel a little at home in America. I was far more interested in their penny candy.
It was the Swedish Fish that had me hooked and each one only cost 1 cent. One dollar would get me an entire bag of a hundred Swedish Fish that would always delight me for a couple days.
In retrospect, this was also crime ridden neighborhood I was happy to leave when I was in 5th grade. Our Lawrence house was broken into two or three times. And I was later told there was a crack house a couple blocks from me that was raided multiple times by the police.
There was also corruption at several levels of the government that allowed certain officials to receive federal aid if the town remained as impoverished as it was.
Having this candy trip planned with whatever money I could scrape up was a way to bring happiness in one of the worst towns I’ve lived in.
Recent Candy Inspirations
There is one massive candy store called Coloniel Candies that I do my best to ignore since sugar upsets my stomach now.
The idea of rock candy came from seeing that store over and over again and the abundance of sugar just waiting to be consumed. I figured the desire for sweetness is only bad when you physically consume it. If I could get some joy by just seeing sweets then these visuals may be a happy medium.
I recently took photographs of a Cape Cod candy store that served as great follow up inspiration.
There is something about the 1900–1920s design that has always inspired me. The Deco movement in the USA and Europe always whisks me away to a very different place and time that makes me curious.
The western Deco has bold geometry that defines a strength and sometimes harkens to the patterns seen in ancient Egypt.
My initial thought was to see how baseball cards were designed in the early 1900s and work from there.
From here, I was starting to get the story behind the Candy Rock Collection. I have been gardening for 8 years and the reason I started was to see produce grow from the ground to it’s harvested state.
The story for these cards should be similar. The Candy Rock Collection would be a PR effort to make sure everyone knows how these candies were grown. It would be very much like the elements used in Big Rock Candy Mountain in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? by Burl Ives.
There’s a lake of stew
And ginger ale too
And you can paddle
All around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
I’m heading for a land that’s far away
Beside the crystal fountain
I’ll see you all this coming fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
After rereading the full lyrics, the song was more of a poor man’s paradise than a candy mountain, but I see the hints of the man made coming from the natural and I will stick with that story.
Neon Card Classes
The Neon has different classes that signify if they are hard or easy to obtain when picking one card at a time. If a user chose to purchase decks they will have a better shot at having the full collection.
This series was made by one of my favorite Neon artists called Chaotic Atmospheres. They have made two very attractive sets called Biotop from Polygonia (digital origami on crack) and Radiolaria Index (3d snowflakes from a different galaxy).
My goals would be to build off my inspiration for cards like Chaotic and create a strong set of 200 cards and use drafts and alternate designs as well.
I was pretty sick when I heard Neon Mob’s interest in my rock candy series. I had been two weeks off my thyroid medication and had started an iodine free diet. There were times I needed to just take a breather due to headaches and a last minute cold I got after my second of three visits to the hospital.
Again, candy would save the day. In my lucid moments, I could funnel my energy to help me focus on something outside of my recovery.
I wanted the grown candy to be replicas of naturally grown foods, but also remixes of the hand processed candies I’d grown up with.
Trying to think of 200 names in a reasonable amount of time wasn’t happening for me. I switched to just picking 10 family names and creating variations of the family names. That turned out to be extremely efficient.
Here’s an example list if you can’t see the image well.
Family: Gaspeite Gummy Cats
Names: Siamese, Persian, Toyger, Lion, British Shorty, Maine Coon, Sphinx Cat, Exotic Shorty, Burmese, Birman, Norwegian Forest, Turkish Angora, Turkish Van, Ocicat, Somali, Selkirk.
The family names were based off a gem list I found online. My assumption was, if hard candies came from the ground, they would have to look similar to gems. The individual names under the family all depended on my mood. Sometimes I would choose names based on cat breeds. Other times I would pick names of galaxies with some snark thrown in — Milky Path, Little Mega Cluster, Cigarillo Galaxy, Cuban Cigar Galaxy, Taco Galaxy— just for kicks. Keeping the naming concepts loose helped me have fun and quickly get to the part I enjoyed the most. I figured I’d make it as far down the list as I could and stop when I felt resistance.
Candy Rock Collection: Farm to Table Confections
This is an image of my original submission. I liked the candy concept, but I wanted to use Photoshop to make sure these designs popped. Various angles of gem reflections or seething light when that was necessary, but nothing too over-the-top.
I started out in Photoshop with the Cat’s Eye Corn design and immediately was lost as to how I could simply execute a version of the hand drawn sketch. I tried a few filters, but this is the best I could do.
I went back to my vector program and worked on some simple cut gem shapes and ended up with this.
I wasn’t happy with this either and realized I was getting stuck on the details too early into the process.
The next day, I realized needed to keep things more simple (the overly used KISS method of design). Getting each of the candy families in some form digitally was more important than obsessing on details. This would also help me make sure the design across each family was uniform.
This meant I would need to…
— Remove all text originally used in my sketches.
— Focus on a simple foreground and return to the background later.
A simple foreground image on one card would help me skim across each family faster. There is nothing more encouraging than seeing incremental progress, and this is what I needed to keep my momentum going. I would need to take this approach even if it meant I left the background incomplete and returned to it after completing all other cards.
To get started, I recalled the sketches I had done for each family.
When I think back to how I created the original rock candy submission, I had just grabbed an image of the candy and made a simplified version with polygons reflecting light or shade.
Instead of using the Cat’s Eye Gem, I examined images of actual cat eyes and corn.
I wanted to make sure I captured varying pupil widths, and the husk and silk of the corn.
The polygons are all made one click at a time. With the vector program I use, I can zoom in really close.
I use around 1500%-3200% zoom to lay out each polygon. This makes the entire process take longer, but it also allows me to get a better color approximation. Areas where light is reflected are marked off so I can capture those colors as well.
I recently started listening to Aphex Twin’s new tracks he anonymously submitted on SoundCloud. It is amazing how I can still tell it is his music by the level of detail he puts into his songs.
This section is about 75% done. Eventually the entire cat eye will be covered in polygons and triangles. I guess to fill in any areas I can’t see e.g. behind the top eyelid.
Here it is. I rearranged some polygons to capture the vein going through the bottom right of the eye. From here, I use an eye dropper to pull colors from the main image.
I had a couple unrelated ideas I needed to chase as they were dominating my thoughts. One was an idea for a story called ind3x. It would be a story game that was equal amounts of technology and humanity. And would be a story the Medium community could play with, where they would write their own chapters or ask questions that would lead to more chapters. I feared the post would get ignored, so I just wrote the first section and left it alone for now.
The other concept was more of a joke. It would be a mashup of the As Seen On TV brand with social media brands like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.
Here are the Cat’s Eye Corn polygons.
I messed with Photoshop again and their glass effects weren’t doing it for me. The best I could come up with was to visually break up the polygons I made.
There are several ways to add depth to a flat shape.
You can create 3 internal shapes to make a mountain (just like with Origami). If you pretend a light source is coming from the right, you can also make a valley with the same technique, but make the right most shapes dark and the left most shape light.
There are also tons of opportunities for extruding and sinking in shapes.
The leaves have less detail, and the silk has even less, which is okay since the eye is the focus of this shindig. I’ll also make sure to sneak in that Deco pattern in the background of the final version.
I feel like I have enough momentum now to continue with the series. I took the Cat’s Eye Corn and played with the original enough to move on to the next candy family.
I plan on using a similar process throughout the entire project and I’ll include a link to the set when it is complete.
The main thing I’ve learned is the simplest tools get the most mileage. From my experience, leaning too heavily on pre-installed filters takes away the magic of human ingenuity.
Here are links to the released series from the Candy Rock Collection. I cancelled some I referenced in this post, but the rest should be live or scheduled.
Cat's Eye Corn by Ruben Alexander on NeonMob
Mother Nature thwarted Candy Rock Collection (again) on this one. We expected kernels similar to corn, but instead we…
Fluorite Pops by Ruben Alexander on NeonMob
Inspired by our humble in house telescope and days of procrastination gazing at space pictures on the web, the Candy…
Gaspeite Gummi Cats by Ruben Alexander on NeonMob
We've grown these Gaspeite Gummi Cats after figuring out the Internet's fascination with cats. This obsession can be…
— Gaspeite Gummi Cats is sold out.
Hambergite Sushi by Ruben Alexander on NeonMob
The Candy Rock Collective has added a new item to the catalog: Hambergite Sushi. In this collection, we present our…
Turquoise Ring Pops by Ruben Alexander on NeonMob
We took the concept of ring pop to the nth degree. This sucker is so classy you will want to match it with your outfit…
— Turquoise Ring Pops (video)
Aunt Ruby's Mustache Kiss by Ruben Alexander on NeonMob
Due to an unfortunate run in with my Aunt Ruby, KC, our exploratory grow lead, has created a new line of candies…
— Aunt Ruby’s Mustache Kiss (video)
Here are a few playlists I had on infinite loop as I worked.
Can’t Tell Me Nothing — Kanye West
Chocolate — Snow Patrol
Fire + Hey Joe — Jimi Hendrix
Start Choppin’ — Dinosaur Jr.
New Wave — Sleater Kinney
My Sister — Juliana Hatfield
The Tower — Wye Oak
Recharge & Revolt — Raveonettes
I Am Daylights — Songs of Green Pheasant
Working Titles — Damien Jurado
Dolby C — Aphex Twin
Avril Alt Delay — Aphex Twin
T4A + N — Aphex Twin
CAT034 007 — Aphex Twin
CAT034 002 — Aphex Twin