It Went Viral

It Went Viral

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

It should be no surprise to Ready for Rain subscribers that I share much of my life online. This tendency goes back to at least 2003, when I started blogging, and has continued since then.

Over the last decade, sharing photos and videos was fun, but not exciting. A few followers here, a few likes there. Instagram and other services helped me keep up with friends and share tidbits of my life.

That all changed in December of 2023 when I started sharing videos of the ​Solstice Wall project​ in 1-minute videos, mostly as ​Instagram Reels​. To my surprise (and delight) the project went viral and changed my online experience, albeit temporarily.

Between December and March, over 15,000 people followed ​my account​. One day saw over 2,000 new follows.

Who are they? Where did they come from? I have no idea. 🤷🏻‍♂️ The algorithm works in strange ways. My account is now full of strangers with high expectations.

The Most Viewed Post

In the middle of the project, I summarized the progress in a brief video titled “​Let’s Review​“. This post has been the most popular by far. Some interesting stats

1.5 million plays? Nearly 19k likes? This is not normal for me. A stat for ​the video​ still boggles my mind:

9,500 Hours? Of a 1-minute video? ​Watch the video​.

The Comments

This influx of people led to sometimes hilarious discussions in the comments of a few posts. It gave me a front-row seat to how people use Instagram.

Many people were focused on the solstice idea and the sundial aspect of the project.

I appreciate snark and unvarnished opinions from internet randos.

Apparently, people don’t like using the “follow” button. Instead, they talk to the algorithm or request someone else to act on their behalf. So weird.

Why did it work?

A few theories… First, I wasn’t selling or promoting anything. I think people are distrustful when money is involved. Second, it was a story to follow. Once people saw the big idea, they were motivated to see it through and share it with friends. Third, it appealed to the Instagram Reels algorithm which showed the videos to a LOT of people I could not reach otherwise. Lastly, it was visually compelling.

This experience taught me that people love following a project from start to finish and it’s important to show them the expected outcome early in the process.

What now?

For all the effort, fun, and excitement, the online attention from this project had virtually zero impact on my offline life. As expected, I’m not earning income from it and no one has contacted me. It was a blip that came and went.

I feel a little awkward about the future of my account. The vast majority of my current followers arrived during the Solstice Wall project, and from here, they are bound to be disappointed. As I’ve said many times lately: I hope they like gardening!

A recent post about ​digging holes​ prompted over 100 people to unfollow me in one day. Over 1,800 have unfollowed my account in the last 90 days. I don’t blame them. Going from the Solstice Wall to hole-digging content is quite the leap.

What Matters

Social media is ephemeral. Ideas, projects, and memes come and go. Most of it is disposable and offers only a few seconds of entertainment. However, amidst the noise, there are real people and real connections. I hope the Solstice Wall project served as an introduction to me, a real person who does a lot more than art installations. I dig holes and catch crabs and obsess over plants. If a few new people feel a connection and stick around for all of me, that will feel like a win.

I continue to share videos of ​things I’m building​. If you feel a connection, I’d love to share with you.

Solstice Wall – Now Complete

Solstice Wall – Now Complete

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

The Solstice Wall project is now complete. It all started nearly three years ago, when we marked a shadow’s position on our wall in 15-minute increments, as the sun set.

Since then, we’ve gathered tools and materials, brainstormed, debated, and experimented. There was no instruction manual. We had to figure it out and that problem-solving was part of the fun.

People see it as a kind of sundial. And the design is based on the sun’s movement and position. But because it’s based on a single day, the summer solstice, it’s more like a clock that’s only correct once per year.

I don’t consider it a clock or sundial. To me, it’s an installation that uses a single day of the sun’s movement as a template. It documents a natural rhythm.

I want the Solstice Wall to stand on its own, with no explanation required. I hope everyone who sees it feels a connection to the rhythm, even if they don’t know the idea behind it.

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!

Solstice Wall – The Installation

Solstice Wall – The Installation

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

Since the beginning, I looked forward to having all the pieces of the Solstice Wall ready and installing it all at once. It was not, of course, as smooth as I expected. The panels on the wall needed to be painted multiple times. A few of the rays needed dowels.

It finally happened on February 11th, 2024. It took less than an hour to place the rays and tap them into the wall. To my surprise, the rays looked just as expected and didn’t need changes. I couldn’t believe it was finally done.

Watch a one minute video of the entire process

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!

Solstice Wall – Almost Done

Solstice Wall – Almost Done

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

Sometimes I think about the amount of time and energy I’ve put into the Solstice Wall project. That goes for Sachi, too. I’ve taken the lead, but she’s been a part of every decision, and the endless brainstorming and problem-solving. Now that the project is days from completion, I’m both excited and a little sad.

As I’ve written many times in this newsletter, I believe happiness lives in anticipation. Since June of 2021, I’ve been anticipating the completion of this project and it will soon be behind me. Then what? I have plenty of things to look forward to, like warm weather and the garden coming back to life. But those require little creative effort.

This project has taught me that I get real satisfaction from taking on big creative projects that require learning and experimentation. I want ideas to brainstorm and problems to solve. I want to try and fail and try again. I want to learn about tools and materials and how to be more detailed and diligent.

Since early December, the work on the Solstice Wall happened in our garage. At the end of the work day, I looked forward to heading in there, putting on a podcast, and pushing the project forward. Whatever is next, that’s where the work will get done.

Current Status

Right now, the plywood panels that will hold the rays are mounted on the wall of our great room. Getting to this point was a relief because everything was built on the floor of our garage. I worried that I’d missed a detail or flubbed a measurement. I imagined the panels, which contain 79 holes for holding the rays, would not match up as expected. Then what?

The moment of truth was installing one of the longest rays, which stretches across three panels. Thankfully, the holes in the plywood matched the dowels in the ray and everything came together as expected. Phew!

I severely underestimated what would be required to complete this project. This, as Sachi will tell you, is not a surprise. My optimism gets the best of me. Here’s an example…

The rays will be held onto the plywood panels with 79 metal dowels. The dowels hold the rays off the surface and will be visible. Each one will also cast a shadow. It occurred to me that the placement of the dowels shouldn’t be willy-nilly. To be elegant, they needed to be carefully organized and aligned into neat rows. It sounds pretty simple, but it wasn’t.

The challenge had multiple variables. The rays relate to one another, their locations on the plywood panels, and now the dowels. To get the dowels to line up, I placed the rays on the plywood panels in the final form. Then I had to ensure the rays didn’t move while I measured and made 79 marks indicating dowel locations.

It was one of the most taxing parts of the project because, well, I’m clumsy. The chances were high that I’d knock something out of whack and not notice. For that reason, I put weights on the rays as I worked from one side to the other.

When it was all said and done, it was close. A few dowels were way off. A few were imperfect. Most were close enough. And is always the case, I needed to learn something new. This time, it was how to use wood filler and make it strong.

Next Steps

The plywood panels were attached to the wall with countersunk screws. All those holes have now been filled with spackle and need to be sanded down and hopefully disappear.

After a bit more cleanup, the panels will be painted our wall color. Once that is complete, the rays will be installed and we’ll be done! More on that soon.

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!

Solstice Wall – The Perfect Stain

Solstice Wall – The Perfect Stain

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

We chose to use Baltic birch plywood for the rays because the built-in cabinets and benches at Flattop are Baltic birch. We both love seeing the plies and plywood is exceptionally stable.

For the Solstice wall, we wanted to make the plies even more obvious, so I started experimenting with stains. I found that the stain we used for our western red cedar ceilings and soffits worked well.

After more experimenting, I developed a simple process that created consistency in every ray. I applied the stain and then immediately wiped it off.

The results were startling to me and exactly what I hoped to see. The stain soaked into and darkened the wood pleid, while keeping the laminated strips nice and light.

As a friend said online, the plies look like a cookie.

Here’s a short video on the process of staining the rays:

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!

Solstice Wall – Tools of the Trade

Solstice Wall – Tools of the Trade

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

In planning the Solstice Wall, I experimented with the tools I’d need to make it work. I don’t own table saws or drill presses, so I set out to find what would work. This introduced me to a variety of woodworking gadgets that I now consider essential.

One of the design ideas is using metal dowels to hold the rays off the wall so that they would cast more interesting shadows.

To make this work, I’d need a way to drill consistent holes in each dowel. The holes needed to be centered on the rays and at a specific depth. Freehanding it was possible, but I needed real consistency.

One of the early discoveries was a self-centering jig. This is a metal contraption that pinches a strip of wood and provides centered holes for drilling. It seemed like the perfect solution.

The next issue was hole depth, which also needed to be consistent. There are 79 dowels that all need to be the same length once placed in the rays. For this, I used a collar for a drill bit. With a simple set screw, you can place the collar on the bit at the exact location where the hole should stop.

It was the combination of these tools that got the project rolling. I used them to drill all the holes for the dowels, and holes in the plywood panels.

We set out to make the outcome as perfect as possible and an invaluable tool was a laser level. We didn’t need it to make things level as much as straight. We pointed it at the wall and the plywood panels on the floor to mark the shadow lines. It was exactly what we needed.

Another tool that impressed me was a track saw setup (Thanks, Jim!) A track saw makes it possible to cut perfect lines on long lengths with a circular saw. You attach a “sled” to the circular saw and the sled fits into a track that is placed on the plywood. The track guides the saw across the panels in perfect lines. We used it to cut the angled lines that make the plywood panels match our sloped ceiling.

Here’s a short video of the self-centering jig and bit collar in action:

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!