The New Gear

Jedi
After doing Inktober using all vector tools this year, I realized I loved it enough to make it a career. I have to do a lot of illustration for my games anyway, but in the time it takes to make one game, I could make hundreds of illustrations. But to make the dream a reality, I needed upgraded gear. And now I have it! It’s a new iPad 7th Generation 10.2 tablet and an Apple Pencil, and it is *SWEET*!

Getting it was a bit of a fiasco. After months of research, I knew I wanted Affinity Designer as my main production app. It *seemed* that it was supported on the iPad Mini Gen 4. I ordered an Amazon Certified refurb. The first one they sent me was a Gen 1 Mini! So then I had to wait for it to ship back to them before they send out a new one. I had resigned myself to no touch sensitivity because it doesn’t work with the Apple Pencil and Affinity Designer doesn’t support any other pressure sensitive styluses. The Apple App Store even let me *install* AD. But when I ran it, I got a message explaining that AD actually *doesn’t* work on the 4th gen Mini, and to request a refund from Apple.

I was devastated that the entire plan, so carefully researched, fell through. I now had an iPad Mini I couldn’t use! However, after researching online prices around Black Friday, I discovered that the brand new iPad 7th gen was only slightly more expensive and *did* support both Affinity Designer *and* the Apple Pencil! The pencil was a minimum of $80 retail, but I bet I could get one locally cheaper. Sure enough, I managed to find one for $50, and my partner Danielle offered to get it for me for Christmas! So, for slightly over $300, I have the best illustration setup I’ve ever had.

Above is my contribution to ComeDrawATX, our weekly drawing group, evolving. The Pencil sketch was done with Tayasui Sketch with Apple Pencil. So far it’s my favorite raster app, though I also have Procreate and haven’t done much with it yet. I like how closely Sketch mimics real media, even make scratching and other noises when you use the tools! In addition to the many tools you’d expect, it’s got some competent watercolor emulation, and works *really* well with the Apple Pencil. If I’m using the pencil tool and I turn the Pencil on its side, it widens the area just like filling in space with the flat side of a pencil. There’s no doubt in my mind that skills learned with Sketch will translate in skill with real art tools almost directly.

I did the colored one with real pencil, ink, and markers at ComeDrawATX.

The vector outline I did in Affinity Designer after I got home. I’ll follow up with a color vector version soon! AD also supports the touch sensitivity of the Pencil for things like opacity and line width.

It’s rare that I’ve been so excited about a new setup. Being able to draw directly on the screen but have it feel and work like real media is astounding. And AD is by far the best vector tool I’ve used, with a clean layout and easy touch gestures. One feature I like the most is that every stoke and shape is its own layer, making it *very* easy to select any one you want, even when it’s buried under twenty other objects. It also has some raster support for including and touching up drawing and photos. I’m still at the tip of the iceberg, but learning fast!

I’ll post more here and on my FB and Instagram feeds as I improve.

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Experiments in Sensitivity

I’m upgrading my illustration gear! I ordered a new-to-me iPad Mini 4 and a Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus. After trying a slew of vector illustration apps, I ended up using the humble Inkpad 2 on my obsolete iPad Mini running iOS 9 for almost all of my Inktober drawings. I really like the iPad Mini as a platform for illustration. It’s small enough to carry in a jacket pocket, but big enough to do anything but the most enormous illustrations.

My goal is to be able to get some level of professional work done on any device I own. This is complicated by the fact that I have OS X and Windows 10 on my laptop, iOS on my iPad Mini, and Android on my phone! Ideally I’d like full inter-operation where I can move my work from one to another with no or minimal re-work, so a strong common feature set and good importing and exporting features are mandatory. So my new main setup will probably be Affinity Designer on the iPad Mini. I will try using a stylus for the first time to see if I like it better than my fingers. I kind of doubt I will with a vector app, because vector is a lot more like sculpting than drawing. I suspect a stylus, especially a pressure sensitive one, is more useful for raster/painterly work like one might do with Procreate, which I also own.

Martin Whitmore, the Evil Illustrator, generously let me borrow his Intuos 3 tablet so I could try out a pressure sensitive tool on Affinity Designer on my Mac (in Windows 10). This way I’ll be able to test the pressure sensitivity and see if that might be worth more money later. Right now the pressure sensitive game on the iPad Mini 4 is very chaotic. It’s too old to support the Apple Pencil, which alone is over $100 anyway. It’s possible to use bluetooth styluses like the Wacom Bamboo Sketch with it, but every single app has to have native support for your specific stylus because Apple only supports their Pencil. You can’t just get the stylus and expect all the features to work across the board. As far as I can tell, Affinity Designer and Inkpad (more on them below) don’t support pressure sensitivity, so I just went for a capacitive Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus for now.

Let’s review some of the apps I’ve evaluated so far:

On Windows 10/Apple OS X

Adobe Illustrator CS 5: This was what got me started in vector art and what I used for Zen Fire, my second iOS game.

wf_ZenFireLogo

It’s clearly an industry standard and near the top of the game for vector art. However, I’m spiritually more behind Open Source and indy developers (I am one!), so for now I’m not planning on using Adobe’s new offerings.

Inkscape is the Open Source answer to Illustrator. It’s free, very capable, and has some great vectorizing features for turning raster art into vectors. I used it for my Death of Pun Dog contribution for Inktober 2019. It has that slightly goony Open-Source feel, but will clearly do everything I want. If I took the time to optimize my workspace, I think it could replace most for-pay apps.

Inktober 2019 - Day 6 - Husky

Affinity Designer is a lower-cost professional illustration vector art program. It’s very streamlined and part of a larger suite that include Affinity Photo and Affinity Publisher. So far I’ve only used it for a few small sketches, but it the workflow is the best I’ve seen, and I really like the object tree feature. This shows every single individual item in the work on a tree, making it much easier to find and select things, especially when they’re all mobbed together. I’m looking forward to trying this one out on my new iPad to see how they set up the smaller workspace. At this point I think I like Affinity Designer the best.

On iOS:

Inkpad 2 is the app I used for most of Inktober. Despite the terrible review of this obsolete version, it’s cheap, very simple, has a great, intuitive interface, and supports most basic vector features like pens, pencils, path editing including some basic boolean operations, layers, opacity, blend modes, etc. The version I have is very old, so while I can export to Dropbox, I can’t import anything except raster images, so there’s no way for me to work on vector art I started with another app right now. It also doesn’t have any support for variable line width or gradient meshes, only linear and radial ones. However, it’s my goal to be able to drop professional level work with only this feature set no matter what tool I use. I suspect the newer version I can run on my Mini 4 will have more features. I think this is the current version, and it has spectacular reviews! I’ll report back when I can try the it!

Affinity Designer is available for iOS for $20, but I can’t try it until I get my new iPad.

Android:

Ivy Draw is the first good vector art app I found for Android. It’s interface is a little hard to learn, and the available documentation is very minimal, but once you figure it out, it’s amazing how much you can draw on your phone. It’s also very stable. However, its one major downfall is that gradients can’t be edited in the actual drawing. A separate dialog pops up with things like offsets, angle, etc., that have to be modified *without* being able to see the results on the original drawing. This makes complex gradients nearly impossible to use, and that sent me looking for an alternative, which was:

Infinite Design is another fully-featured vector app from the same developer who make the popular Infinite Paint. The Infinite in the title is support for (at least theoretically) infinite undos. This app has *much* better support for gradient editing in-picture than Ivy Draw. It also has substantially more features, brushes, support for variable line width, etc. Its interface also take some getting used to, and its documentation is also quite sparse for its complex feature set. Its biggest problem, though, is stability. The last time I did a drawing with it, it crashed at least 12 times. The Good News is that it didn’t lose any work, gracefully recovering my art exactly where I stopped next time I ran it. There is an active online forum, and the developer is also very responsive to feedback. I’ve already used my years of QA experience to help him remove a few of the more grievous bugs, something I plan to continue. At the moment this is the best option I’m aware of for vector on Android, and I’d love to see how it works on a bigger screen and with more general stability. At that point it would be a great option for artists who can’t afford the more expensive iOS devices but can score a used Android tablet.

I’m having fun trying out all these different options, and am becoming some of an expert on the competitive field for professional vector art apps. I’m actually picking up my new Mini today, so I’ll report back soon with the updated options on there.

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Inktober 2019 Wrap-up

Inktober 2019 - Day 22 - Ghost

I did it! I got started really late on Inktober this year. I had barely gotten anything out the door by the time October was half way done. The final sprint was epic! I finished five drawings on the 29th, six on the 30th, and another six on Halloween itself! Here’s the finished album!

Inktober 2019 Timeline_Wandering

This year I committed to doing all my artwork in vector format instead of ink. I have a strong belief that the skills of illustration can be learned *much* faster in vector than in raster or by hand, especially for work who’s destiny is a screen. When I started this month, I had barely done any real vector work. To be honest, I’ve been shocked at how well my artwork has turned out on such a tight deadline. The hardest part, as always, is to call a given piece “done enough” to start on the next one. I’d say the average time I spent on a piece was about two hours, with more earlier in the process. I got faster closer to the end. I had to!

Inktober 2019 - Day 9 - Swing

There was a lot more fun and less suffering than last year when I did my drawings by hand. I liked it enough that I’m looking to add professional illustrator to my resume. I’m already going to be doing artwork for my games and a planned web comic, and in the time it takes to make one game I could potentially do hundreds of illustrations. I know the business isn’t easy, so I’m going to research it thoroughly before I make any commitments.

Inktober 2019 - Day 7 - Enchanted

Though I am still researching a boatload of different vector drawing programs including Inkscape, Illustrator, Infinite Design, Ivy Draw, Affinity Designer, and a few others, I did almost all my work for Inktober using Inkpad 2 on my elderly iPad Mini original running an obsolete iOS 9. I definitely prefer working on a tablet to a computer, and really like having something portable I can use from anywhere. I’d really like to try Affinity Designer on a new iPad, and I’m saving up for one now. The only Inktober contribution this year I did with a different tool was The Death of the Pun Husky, which I did with Inkscape mainly because I started there and the version of Inkpad I have doesn’t support importing .SVG files anymore.

Inktober really helped focus me to get my vector design to the next level! It’s the most seriously I’ve taken illustration work in my life, and I’m super happy with the results. Next year I think I’m going to do half my work in ink and half of it in vector that *looks* like ink, and challenge people to guess the difference! I also really like the idea that Jack Parker did of making all of the pieces flow together. Instead of doing one huge scene, I think I might simply have some kind of through-line where something in drawing one flows through to drawing two, etc, all the way to the end.

Inktober 2019 - Day 31 - Ripe 1

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Inktober 2019 – Revenge of the Vectors

Inktober 2019 - Day 1 - Ring

I’m drawing for Inktober again this year, a shared drawing event where you draw a picture from a one-word prompt for every day of October. I’m working on mastering vector drawing, so I’m extending an existing art rule to Inktober. I must draw everything in vector format *first*, then must copy it to paper by hand at some point before the end of the month.

I just about jumped out a window getting this first picture finished. I started with Infinite Design on Android and got about half-way done before having to quit because of crashes. I’ve been working with the developer on fixing bugs, and he’s been very responsive, but the app still needs a lot of work. I then started over on Inkscape on OS X, got nearly finished, and it crashed too. Either I hadn’t saved my work, or the file got eaten in the crash. At that point I had to take a breather for a couple of hours for the sake of public safety. I finally finished it with Inkpad 2 on my obsolete iPad Mini, which is still consistently the best vector drawing experience I’ve had.

I’m already quite behind due to all the work involved in hosting my aunt and uncle right at the beginning of the month. The visit went really well despite my Mom having some minor health issues. My relatives have traveled to almost every National Park in the world, and always have amazing pictures of their journeys. We ate Slavic cabbage rolls, and beef roast with mashed potatoes, both family favorites going back generations. We lucked out with a dog festival in a little park nearby, and my uncle got to try out his new digital SLR.

Now that they’re gone, it’s time to try and catch up!

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The New Drawing Is Here

1) Find image
2) Create vector version
3) Create hand-drawn version using only the vector version

Here I did it on a deadline to contribute to the ComeDrawATX group draw. Other times I take longer to try to get more photo-realistic with gradients, etc. Using deadlines is better, though, because otherwise I tend to obsess and get stuck and frustrated. For now I want to emphasize getting through the entire process rather than the quality of the finished work. That will only come with lots more practice.

I’m using this pipeline in order to improve my hand and digital vector illustration chops. My goal is to have the ability to do this on Android, iOS, Windows, and OS X. I’m restricting myself to common feature of most or all apps. Those are basic curves and shapes, colors and gradients, and simple intersection geometry. I’m avoiding custom features that tie me to one app, at least until I get better at my basic skills.

Right now I’m using Ivy Draw and Infinite Design on Android, Inkpad on iOS, Clip Studio Paint and Affinity Designer on Windows, and Inkscape on OS X. Most of my work so far has been in Ivy Draw and Inkpad.

This time I used Inkpad on my elderly iPad Mini, which is stuck on iOS 9 and can no longer be upgraded. Once I get my resale pipeline moving again, I plan on getting a more modern tablet, probably a newer Mini, to replace it. I’m open to other suggestions, but it looks like the iPad still has the best balance of price and ability.

There’s a fundamental conflict here between the digital vector and hand-drawn steps that is deliberate. I’m trying to get *away*, at least at the moment, from anything digital involving sketching or painting. It’s 100% mechanical assembly, and I want every stroke, shape, and gradient to be fully vectorized and editable. Nothing pixelized or permanent anywhere. Then, obviously, when I do the physical rendering, I’m bringing all the sketchier hand-drawn skills in. This process trains photography, composition, vector design, and hand drawing all at once, and once I master it, will allow me to make high quality illustrations anywhere I go with minimal gear.

In the meantime, there is a *great* deal of swearing.

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Staying Cool in The Heatwave

It's hot as fuck in Austin.

It’s hotter in the yurt than I want right now. High 80s during the day. Fridge temp in the high 40s, and the freezer at 8 o F. Our daytime temps are over 100 o F, and the heat index is in the upper 100s. Worse yet, night time temps are only getting down into the upper 70s with close to 90% humidity overnight. This means that all forms of cooling are less efficient *and* that mold allergies are going crazy as it grows out each night and is then cooked into spore-generating panic during the heat of the day.

I recently removed most of the comforter insulation in the yurt to keep things cleaner. I made a foam gasket to help seal the join between the roof and the walls and improved the seal around the AC ducts. I also re-built the front door which was profoundly warped and allowing a lot of airflow. After I did that, I was able to keep the yurt at a maximum of about 82 o F on days it was getting into the upper 90s. However, since our latest heatwave hit, where it’s going into the 100s ever day and the heat index is in the upper 100s, the yurt temp has been slipping into the upper 80s, which is uncomfortable and unacceptable. I’ve also burned through a few extension cords in line with the AC unit because they were probably 16 or 14 gauge, which isn’t big enough to carry that much power. I rebuild that part of the electrical system using 12 gauge Romex used for house wiring, and now the wires only get mildly warm.

Right now I’ve got Reflectix radiant-barrier bubble-wrap under the billboard vinyl roof. The walls are just the vinyl. Previously all that was also covered with fabric insulation which both improved the air seal and helped keep the heat out. However, it was too hard to keep it clean, especially on the walls where it was really hard to remove. The AC unit I have is supposed to be good for up to 350 sq. ft. The yurt is only 113 sq. ft.

Those fridge temps are supposed to be about 38 o F and 0 o F respectively. I know it doesn’t get enough airflow over the coils, because moisture builds up in the drip tray and then starts to stink. I measured the temp on the surface of compressor, and it’s 118 of F. I’m gonna try putting a fan on the compressor to see if it will improve the internal temperatures. However, I bet that’s going to raise the average temperature in the yurt. One thing I’ve considered is making a vent tunnel just for the fridge where it pulls cooler air from under the yurt, circulates it across the compressor, and then pumps it back out again. If the outside air is at 100 o F in the shade, though, I’m not sure how much that would help. Adding the fan to the compressor is the first thing to try. If that lowers the internal temperature down to where it’s supposed to be, then maybe I can try the vent experiment.

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Drugs and Dirty Pussy

I’ve been reviving my drawing habits and tools recently. In my quest to find a set of vector tools that work across platforms, I’ve been auditioning Inkscape, a free Open Source vector drawing program similar to Adobe Illustrator.

 Screen Shot 2019-07-24 at 5.26.31 PM

I’m too much of a n00b to compare the tools yet, but Inkscape seems to provide a pretty comprehensive set of tools for doing all the normal vector stuff.

In other news, I had my second appointment for my ADHD eval. After dating someone with an adult ADHD diagnosis, I realized that I fit the diagnosis very well. In the past few years I’ve become more frustrated with the big gap between what I’m clearly capable of and what I’m actually getting done. The more I look at it, the more I realize the bottom line is focus. It’s very hard for me to stick with longer-term projects, and when I do, it’s because there’s some external force keeping me focused. I finished the yurt because I had an important relationship with someone I thought it would help with. I’ve made progress on the van because I’ve had a long-term vision of being able to live cheaply and independently on the road. But many other great projects remain unfinished due to my inability to focus. I started the process a few weeks ago, and today I did several written assessments. I get the results next Thursday, which hopefully will open the door for medication and treatment. I was able to do a short trial on Ritalin earlier this year, and the improvement in my productivity was shocking. I can only imagine what I’d get done if I had regular access.

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