Shady Art Business

 Art, Education  Comments Off on Shady Art Business
Mar 022015

I’m getting ready to start the latest Pencil Kings challenge. This month, it’s the Shading Drawing Challenge, where I hope to get better at shading my drawings, so they look less like lineart and more like … real drawings of real things.

I love how Pencil Kings runs these challenges. It’s easy to pick up a lot of useful info just watching YouTube videos, but just watching videos is a one-way kind of learning, where it’s hard to ask questions or have some kind of ongoing dialogue. The time differential really messes that up, and by the time I get a response, sometime I forget why I asked a question in the first place.

But the PK challenges are a fun kind of group activity that gets everyone doing the same thing, and we have meetings online twice a week, where we can chat with one of the instructors while she goes over some of the topics we’re covering that week. I love that kind of instant feedback. I’ll gather up my questions during the week, and then fire away! The Figure Drawing Challenge in January helped me a great deal, so I expect to get a lot out of this one, too!

Figure Drawing Challenge

 Art, Education, Technology  Comments Off on Figure Drawing Challenge
Jan 302015

I use art and photography to feed off of each other. So that one helps the other. Art helps me be creative with photography, and photography helps with art. Pencil Kings rebooted their Figure Drawing Challenge this January, and I had a blast. It was just enough work to learn some useful stuff and make good progress. My drawings are still too awful to share with the outside world, but I’m pleased enough with my progress for now.

I recommend checking out their site. I like their tutorials, and the challenges are great as social and artistic events.

The Best $50 Lens Ever.

 Art, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on The Best $50 Lens Ever.
Dec 272014

Okay, when I got the adapter, it was $150. But the lens itself was an amazing find.

I’ve had my A7 for a few weeks, and now my plan is to get rid of my Canon 60D and all of my Canon gear, except my IXY. I don’t need the extra gear.

I started looking around for a good telephoto replacement that I can adapt to my A7. I did a lot of frowning at the computer screen as I looked at some of the major online retailers, but it’s really hard to commit to buying a used lens I haven’t laid hands on.

We have a good local camera store that has a lot of used lenses, so I went by to take a look. They had a “mystery box” full of lenses they just got in, and I spent about 20 minutes looking through, until I found a great little Canon 70-210 f/4 Macro in an FD mount. The glass was perfect! $50, and it was mine.

I put it on my A7, and, uh-oh. It wouldn’t focus out to infinity. Was it the lens, the camera, or the cheap $30 adapter I got on Amazon a few years back for my Nex? Turns out it was the adapter. I picked up a Metabones adapter, which is in the middle of the price range for adapters at $100, and now it focuses out perfectly.

Since the 70, 100, 135 and 210mm lengths are all marked on the barrel, it means I can use the lens with the A7’s image stabilization, too! It’s a dual action focus/zoom barrel. Pull to zoom, twist to focus.

The macro part of the lens was a nice discovery. At 70mm, you can turn the focus into the macro zone and get up close. It makes this a great all-purpose travel lens. Honestly, this and my Leica 35, and I don’t really feel like I need anything else. The 35 for wide shots, and this for anything else.

I put both lenses and camera through their paces in the NC mountains, and got some great shots. I’m really enjoying this combo.

Sony A7 Mark II

 Art, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on Sony A7 Mark II
Dec 172014

After the JLPT in DC, I ordered the new Sony A7 Mark II body, and it showed up a few days later.

If you’re expecting stats, then move on. This is more of an impressions report than anything else. What I liked, what I didn’t.

My initial thoughts? Tinged with confusion because the manual wasn’t so hot. I wound up calling Sony because I wasn’t sure why some functions wouldn’t work with my manual focus lenses. Part of it was on me, but part of it was a slightly confusing message that kept popping up.

Once I got that sorted out, I fell in love with it.

The menu UI isn’t perfect, but the shooting experience with it is great.

The viewfinder fooled me a few times into thinking I was looking directly through glass. It’s really sharp. Better than the rear LCD panel.

The customizable C1-C4 buttons on the body make it a manual focus shooter’s dream. I assigned the focus magnifier to C2, so I just have to press it once or twice, and I can get nice sharp focus. Then I assigned the image stabilizer to C1, so I can set the focal length of my MF lenses with a button press, a dial turn, and another button press. That’s about as fast as you can make it. I put ISO on C3, so I can tear through my ISO settings, depending on what I want to shoot.

There’s a ton of customization in the menus. It’ll take a little while for me to tweak it just the way I want it, but there’s a lot I can either tweak or ignore.

The camera feels great in my hands, and shoots great. Is it loud? Who cares? Honestly, I don’t get the obsession over shutter noise on the A7 cameras. I guess it goes make a certain amount of noise, but not enough for me to care. I’m more into getting good shots. It does that!

The image stabilization is great. It feels like I get 2-3 more stops of hand-holding out of the camera. There’s a noticeable difference when it’s turned off.

It also has a well-thought out auto-bracketing mode, that I set on 3 shots 1 stop apart, and just left it there.

The NFC is useful if your phone does NFC, I guess. You need to download an app and you can control the camera with your phone. It’s kind of hit-and-miss. There’s a whole Sony app store for the camera. It’s kind of cool, but it’s also sigh-inducing, too. (Another user ID and password, and something else to manage? Ugh.)

What’s most important to me is that I can take the pictures I want without thinking about the camera. I think about the photo, and that’s about it. In that regard, this camera is great.

My only gripe is a lack of native full-frame E mount lenses that are affordable. There aren’t many full-frame lenses on offer, and the ones that are AF are all pretty expensive. I already have some Leica M glass from 10+ years ago, so I’m covered, but it would be nice to have one native full-frame AF lens. Gotta start saving on the side for that, I guess.

Mac Pro Video

 Art, Education, Music  Comments Off on Mac Pro Video
Sep 152014

I own a couple of Macs, but the newest one is a Mac Mini from 2006 or so. So why did I sign up for Mac Pro Video? Well, it wasn’t for Mac-anything. I found a good deal on their site– $15/month for as long as I want. And since I also finally bit the bullet and signed up for Creative Cloud, MPV looked like the best compromise for me.

I’m really into music production, but I’m also really into visual arts, web design, and programming, even. MPV has some absolutely awesome video series on music production, covering not only theory, but also DAWs, and some of the harder-to-get-used to plugins. And while there are a lot of great dudes on YouTube with great info, MPV has some great tutorials. I especially loved their series on Ableton’s Push.

And now that I’m getting in to Creative Cloud, the tutorials should come in handy,  rather than spending a couple of hours trying to find good YouTube videos. It should be a nice complement to Pencil Kings. (The Photoshop tuts there were great, as are a few of the drawing tuts I’ve been working on.)

Pencil Kings

 Art, Education  Comments Off on Pencil Kings
Aug 042014

To improve my photography, I work on my visual sense. So I draw. To work on drawings and photography, I use Photoshop (and other programs). But my drawing has always kind of… what’s the word?


Yeah, that’s it.

Well, I kept hearing good things about Pencil Kings, so I’m in the middle of giving it a shot. In particular, I’m working on Sycra Yasin’s very thorough tutorial on painting in Photoshop. It’s a really good way to sharpen up those Photoshop skills. For photography, I use Lightroom more often, simply because I think it’s a better tool than Photoshop for dealing with a giant pile of photos without that… Photoshop look.

So far, I’m digging the info in the tutorial, even if I’m sick of drawing the pears and apple. Oh well. That’s how practice is. You draw the dull stuff to make the cool stuff.

It’s worth giving a look. The pricing isn’t too bad– $99/year or $250/lifetime. I’m giving it a year, and if it works out, I’ll do the lifetime thing.

Mid-Summer Scribbling (Pencil Pondering?)

 Art, DIY  Comments Off on Mid-Summer Scribbling (Pencil Pondering?)
Aug 022014

One of the things I enjoy doing is drawing. I totally suck at it, but it helps me think about composition and other “visual stuff” that helps me with photography and videography.

I was looking for some good pencils to draw with, and I sort of stumbled into the world of 2mm lead holders. They didn’t change my ability to draw or anything, but they sure lightened up my pencil case. (And my wallet.)

Here’s some stuff I found that I like, and some stuff I don’t like as much. It may be of referential use to someone, so I figured I’d put it up here.

Also, thanks a ton to the Lung Sketching Scrolls for a lot of useful background info on pencils, lead holders, etc. He plays with a bunch of different art supplies, so we don’t have to.

Part of what I wound up doing was based on his advice, and part of it was based on my own experience. In the end, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own, but here’s some data that might be useful as a reference.

2mm Lead Holders:

I love 2mm leads because unlike .5 or even .3 mm mechanical pencils, you can sharpen them. (Think about it– that 0.3 mm pencil? Yeah, it’s flat on top, unless you’re using a Kuru Toga.) Also, unlike those mechanical pencils, they don’t snap as easily. They still break, and when they do, it’s a pain, but it takes a lot of force to break them. And I draw with a lot of force.

Generally, you can get good 2mm leads in the range from 7H to 4B. Yes, 6B 2mm leads exist (Prismacolor Turquoise), but they’re so soft that they break at the slightest pressure. It’s a frustrating experience.

A good 2mm lead holder will get you a pretty decent range to set light to mid-dark grays. Which is a lot, really. I wind up carrying 4 of them with me, with a 7H, 2H, HB, and 2B. I really wanted the 6B to work, but it just crumbles when I put any kind of force into it.

I found a Staedtler 4B that I like for mid-darks, but like anything softer than 2B or 3B, it’s more likely to break if you put force into it. Physics.

When it comes to the lead holder, it’s really a question of personal preference. I’ve tried a few, and I love the Faber-Castell TK9400. It’s smooth, has a lot of flat sides, has no knurling on the barrel, and no annoying clip. I can twirl it around in my hand as I draw, keeping the tip sharp longer. It’s just a lovely lead holder. And it’s pretty cheap, too.

Then there’s the Staedtler Mars Technico, which is pretty easy to find at just about any large Arts and Crafts store. It’s pretty good, but I don’t like the aggressive knurled metal grip on the end. It comes with some nice HB leads, though. Staedtler makes excellent 2mm leads. It’s a good backup to have, just in case.

I used to really like the Art Alternatives 2mm lead holder, which had a removable clip (took a little force), and with the clip removed, became very twirlable in my hand, just like the TK9400. In fact, maybe a little too much like the TK9400, because that version can’t be found anymore. It’s just as well, because it’s also not very sturdy. I pressed too hard on the lead ejector button, and the metal collar on the bottom of the holder went flying across the room. I never found it. No idea where it wound up.

Art Alternatives’ current 2mm holder is pretty similar to the Technico, but after having two of the previous version send parts flying, I can’t recommend them.

Grip Trick:

For keeping a good grip on these lead holders and for telling them apart, I spent a dollar on 4 different colored pencil grips. They make it easier to twirl the lead holders around, and the colors help me tell which is which.

Also, for knowing what hardness is in which lead holder, I put a piece of artist’s tape on the top, near the plunger, and write the hardness I’m using on it. If I change leads, I erase and re-write. That’s in case I forget which color is which.

2mm leads:

Most of the leads I have are Turquoise by Prismacolor leads. A local store sold a bunch to me cheaply, so I bought a range of leads from them. Turquoise leads generally come 12 to a box, and they’ll fit any 2mm lead holder.

I have them in 7H, 3H, 2B, 3B, and 6B. They’re all pretty good except the 6B, which breaks too easily for me. If you have a light touch, maybe it’d work, but with any force the lead snaps. I use the 7H a lot for preliminary sketches. It holds a point really well. (Well yeah, it’s a 7H.)

As I mentioned above, Staedtler makes an excellent HB lead that they sell with their Technico holders. It’s robust, holds a point pretty well, and doesn’t disappoint me either. I picked up a box of 12 of those, and 12 of their 4B leads. The quality is solid. But the box is kind of annoying to get leads in/out of.

Faber-Castell also makes a set of 2mm leads for their holders. I’m trying their 2B leads right now, and I’m pleased. They’re a little longer than the Turquoise leads, and have an easier box to get in and out of. They’re longer than the Art Alternatives holders will allow, but if you sharpen the end in a rotary sharpener, it works out fine.

Get whatever’s easiest to find/cheapest. I prefer the Staedtler and Faber-Castell to the Turquoise, but it’s not a huge difference.


I accidentally bought a Lamy Scribble, thinking it was 2mm. This happened when I was first trying to figure out lead holders. I misheard the guy at the store. It’s a great lead holder, and it feels great in my hand. It feels even better when I removed the pocket clip, which just unscrewed from the top.

Finding 3.2 or 3.15 mm leads takes some effort. Lamy only makes 4B leads, which is fine for mid-darks, but that’s it. They’re also short and the refills are overpriced, from my point of view. Worther makes a good 7B for nice black blacks, and you can find them on eBay. Stabilo makes a good HB, too. I generally leave the 7B in the Scibble, to do the really dark stuff. But be careful– 7B is soft, so it will break.

There isn’t an easily obtainable rotary sharpener for the Lamy. I found a sharpener by KUM, but it’s slow. I wish Lamy had put a sharpener in the head, or made some provision for sharpening the thing, considering the price. The Scribble has been relegated to dark tone duty, which is kind of sad, given how expensive it is, but it’s a pain to keep it sharp.


Yes, these exist. Out of curiosity I picked up a couple to see if I like the experience. I got a “Creative Mark” holder for $5 at Jerry’s Art-o-Rama (because I go by there every now and then.) It came with some 4B leads, which I wound up giving a miss, because they were the famous “no-name” brand. I also ordered an Alvin Hercules off of eBay to see if there’s any difference based on the holder. I found the Creative Mark to feel just a touch more comfortable. The Hercules also feels pretty good. It’s smoother than the Creative Mark, which feels a little grippy with its rubberized surface. It also has a handy spinnable indicator on the back to let you know what darkness of leads are in there.

Alvin has you covered for mid-dark to dark leads in 5.6: I found them in HB, 2B, and 6B. And they don’t break easily. (Probably because they’re so big.) So I have one in 2B and one in 6B. If I could find a good 8B or 9B lead, I’d be happy.

Sharpening is kind of a pain. The Alvin Hercules has a sharpener in the cap, but it’s not very good. I prefer to use a cheap KUM drop-down pencil sharpener, but really any pencil sharpener will do, if you hold the lead centered in the hole, or center and stick a 5.6mm washer over the opening. (I should do that sometime.) Sandpaper always works, too.

Kuru Toga:

For writing, I’ve gotten into the Kuru Toga mechanical pencils by Uniball. The concept is interesting. There’s a gear that twirls the lead by a small increment every time you lift the lead from the page, so it’s supposed to keep your lead really sharp. In practice, it works pretty well, especially for math formulas and printed handwriting, and stick with HB or darker lead. If you write a lot in cursive, it doesn’t help much, because the lead doesn’t lift from the page enough. It helps keep the point sharp when I write in Japanese, or when I print in English.

Drawing is okay, but the line is too uneven for my taste. I don’t like how the sharp tips “bite” into the paper, and I don’t like how the pencil feels in my hand for drawing. Use it for writing. That’s what it’s intended for.

Some reviewers say that it’s vital to get the Japanese over the US version, but I don’t share their experiences. I find the US version to work just fine, and it feels more comfortable in my hand, especially the 0.5mm version. I’ve used them in 0.3, 0.5, and 0.7mm, and I like the 0.5mm the best for writing. 0.3 seems like it would be more precise, and it is, but it breaks too often for my taste, and it tears paper quite a bit, too. It likes to “bite” the paper a lot. 0.7 squirms too much, and feels like I’m fighting it. 0.5 is just right. It doesn’t squirm as noticeably, doesn’t break as easily, and doesn’t bite as much.

If you can find them, the new Uniball diamond leads are sturdy and do a good job, but they’re a little on the pricey side. I tried using 2H with the Kuru Togas, but the lines were waaay too light for handwriting. I switched over to HB and 2B, and things got a lot better. The leads still snap off every now and then, but it’s my favorite mechanical pencil now.


Finally, a word on erasers I love and find to be indispensible. I love the Tombow erasers, especially the Mono Zero round 2.3mm eraser. It’s great for getting into small details and cleaning out pencil roughs. (As soon as I can find one in stock, I want to get the rectangular one, too!)

Slightly bigger, but still handy, is the Paper Mate Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick, which is wider than the Mono Zero, but feels slightly beefier, for fiddly erasing that requires more “oomph.” Also, it’s easily available in the US. (Like at Jerry’s Art-o-Rama.)

Finally, I always have a couple of Pentel elastomer block erasers with me, and a random kneadable eraser or two.

What’s great about this setup is that it’s amazingly portable. I can fit all of it in a small plastic pencil case. Four lead holders, one or two of the bigger ones, a few spare leads, a sharpener, and a couple of erasers, and I’m set.

Getting to that point was a bit of  a lot of  hassle, and I wound up with some surplus stuff I’m never going to use, but it’s worth it if I can get to this kind of happy portable setup.

The Cintiq 13HD

 Art, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on The Cintiq 13HD
Apr 212014

A few months back, my Intuos graphics tablet died, so I replaced it with an Intuos Pro.

Well, I’m 3+ months into using it, and it’s not really working for me. It may be the change from a smooth surface to the rough surface of the Pro, or the general feel of the stylus, but whenever I use it for longer than 30 minutes, my fingers hurt.

I’m holding the stylus as light as possible without dropping it, and my fingers still hurt.

So I have spent the last week or two looking for an alternative.

I like my Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and I like drawing directly on the screen, so I decided to look along those lines.

I spent a LOT of time looking at the Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2. The Surface is a nice ultra-portable laptop, but I had a few reservations about it, chief being a display that is just too small for me. I think Microsoft did a great job with the Surface, and it’s pretty to look at, but I don’t like the Windows 8 interface, and the extra money to get 8GB of RAM and another $140 for a keyboard are, in the end, deal-breakers for me. I will probably revisit the platform when they come out with a new version, or my VAIO dies.

I also spent a lot of time looking at Yiyinova displays. The 22HD was the only one I was seriously considering, but the VGA connection bugged me. I would have had to put in a second graphics card to run it, and I didn’t want to mess with that. I already run two DVI displays, so there wasn’t any room to hook up a Yiyinova without adding another card. (And it doesn’t do HDMI.)

While I was flailing around, I found that MacMall was having a big sale on Cintiqs. They use an HDMI connector, and I still have one of those left on my graphics card.

To be honest, I wasn’t even considering one, because of the pricing. But the current Cintiq line has some nice specs, and it’s something I’ve always wanted. Even on sale, the new Cintiqs are a bit out of my price range. So I checked MacMall’s refurbished Cintiqs. Bingo! That’s the pricing I’m willing to go with. The refurbs are significantly cheaper, and come with a one-year warranty.

I decided on a 13″ Cintiq because I don’t have room for anything bigger. (Not much, anyway.) Also, the 22HD was $1599. Ouch. The refurbed 13HD was only $799, plus tax and shipping. I could live with that.

When it showed up, the tablet itself was pristine. No scratches, dust, or fingerprints. Nice. The stand and pen case, well, those were dirty, but not damaged. I have a tub of yellow goo called Compu-Clean that works wonders on this kind of stuff. It removed all of the dirt, dust, and other random stuff from the rubbery parts.

I’ve been using the 13HD over the weekend, and I really like it a lot. Setting it up with my dual-monitor system was kind of a pain. My main monitor is 1920 x 1200, and the 13HD is 1920 x 1080, so if I used the Cintiq as a mirrored display with my main monitor, my main monitor would get all messed up. (It changes the resolution to something that looks unpleasant.) I wound up mirroring my second display, a 1920 x 1080 Asus display. The Asus display isn’t terrible, but it’s kind of janky and over-saturated, and I’ve never been able to get the colors to not look weird. As a box that shows video, it’s fine. As something color-accurate… that ship never sailed, and probably never will.

One other minor beef with the 13HD is the stand. It’s cheap, and prone to collapsing if you aren’t really careful with it. So be careful with it. You only get three angles to choose from.

I like the controls on the side, but the controls on the Intuos Pro are better, and it’s a $500-$600 cheaper tablet. Instead of the great circular control of the Intuos, there’s a circular button with four buttons on it, and one in the middle. Meh. It’s okay, but not nearly as flexible. Instead of 8 more buttons (4 above, 4 below), there are only 2 above and 2 below. For the money, I want more buttons.

But these are minor complaints. Using it is a joy. While my Galaxy Note 8.0 has a capable pen and digitizer (also by Wacom), the S-Pen is too small and becomes uncomfortable over time. Also, there’s a distinct lack of really good drawing programs in Android. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is the only program I can be remotely productive with, and it’s lacking far too many tools. (Gradients, anyone?) In spite of its limitations, I love drawing on my Galaxy Note 8.0. It bring a kind of immediacy I just can’t get from a graphics tablet.

The Cintiq improves on that experience quite a bit.

Using the 13HD with Clip Studio Paint (also known in the US as Manga Studio Pro) is a breeze. I love CSP for designing quick and dirty graphics and forms. It also runs Photoshop CS6 just fine, too. I tweaked the settings for Photoshop to change the controls to suit my workflow better. The only downside– I had to shove both programs in my Asus monitor window. Oh well.

I haven’t had a chance to put Lightroom through its paces yet, but I will soon. I hope this will speed up my photo editing workflow– using a pen on sliders should be faster than mousing over a bunch of sliders. We’ll see.

Snowmageddon Round Two? (Random Stuff Post)

 Art, DIY, Education, Music, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on Snowmageddon Round Two? (Random Stuff Post)
Jan 282014

Well, we’re all waiting for the snow to start. We’re supposed to get anything from 2 to 6 inches of snow today through tonight, and as I’ve said many times, we don’t do snow well here. I’m staying off the roads today and tonight, so that means no piano class.


If I Can’t Go to the Music School, Bring the Music School to Me!

I’m going to catch up on my Coursera classes: the Write Like Mozart class, and Pat Pattison’s Songwriting class, which I signed up for again last night.

I signed up for his Songwriting class last year, but I didn’t have time to finish it. What I saw, I really liked. He gives a really good insight into how pro songwriters write songs, and how to improve my own songwriting. (Hint: it involves lots of practice, just like anything else.)

I might also watch some Max 4 Live tutorials. That also looks really interesting.

Bitwig Studio

Bitwig Studio is coming out in late March for $399. The part that’s really interesting to me is the ability to run it in Linux. I think that’s a brilliant idea. But from what I’ve heard, there’s no ReWire compatibility yet, so that’s a big minus for me. This is a good preview of Bitwig, and you can find more videos on their channel.

I wouldn’t mind demoing it to see what it’s like, but $400 is a bit steep for me after G.A.S. ate a lot of my money over the holidays.

I probably shouldn’t buy another new instrument until I’ve gotten good at using the ones I already have.

Rewire and Vocaloid Editor

Speaking of ReWire, I finally found a VST that will let me ReWire the Yamaha Vocaloid 3.0 Editor into Live or Cubase. Cool! You can find it here (the site is all in Japanese). Look for this text “V3Sync ReWire Synchronizer Version 1.3.0 をダウンロード” in the middle of the page, click the link, and install like any other VST. Point the Vocaloid 3 editor to the VST, and it should work.

I know you used to be able to ReWire directly from most Vocaloid 2.0 editors. What happened with 3.0? I have no idea.

Piapro Studio is a good alternative now that it’s at version 1.2. Now you can use sound banks from other companies, too, if you register your non-Crypton sound banks at Crypton’s website. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will soon.

Monitor Stand Update

The monitor stand is working really well. I installed it about a week ago, after letting it off-gas for a few days. It adds about 4.25 inches to the height of my monitors, so it took a few days to get used to, but I’m used to it now.

Naturally, just as I say that, I noticed a crack in the wood filler on the right side, near my heater vent. That’s what touch-up paints are for.

Slide Duplicating Project

This is a project I’ve been wanting to get back to for a while. I’m waiting on a Leica Screw Mount to Sony E Mount adapter, and then I may be able to make some good progress on it. I’m going to try what someone did here and remove the FD mount from my Canon FL Bellows, then attach it to my NEX with a LSM to E Mount adapter. That should give me enough focal length to get the duplicate slides in full view.

I hope.

Or I can just throw the whole mess on the copy stand. But I’d rather use a slide copier, because I can aim that at Mr. Sun, and get natural daylight for copying the slides. Artificial light always has weird spectra, even light bulbs that say they are “daylight balanced,” only do so in a way that fools your eye. It does not fool the sensor or the software.

All-in Ableton, Reaktor, New Graphics Tablet

 Art, Music, Technology  Comments Off on All-in Ableton, Reaktor, New Graphics Tablet
Jan 152014

After spending some time getting used to Live, I had a tough decision to make: Standard or Suite? The 20% off sale was going to end soon, and as much as I like the Intro version of Live, it’s not enough for what I want to do. The difference between upgrades wasn’t much. Max 4 Live is part of what pushed me over into getting the Suite. There are other reasons, too.

Downloading everything took 5 hours or so. My Internet connection isn’t the greatest in the world.


A lot of what I was doing while I was downloading/installing Live was learning how to program in Reaktor. There are a lot of really good tutorials out there on building synthesizers in Reaktor. It’s pretty fascinating stuff. I found a really good five part tutorial here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.

Once I’m done getting comfortable in Live, I’ll start learning Max, too. That also looks really interesting.

My Poor Dead Graphics Tablet

After 12 years of faithful service, my ancient Wacom Intuos 2 graphics tablet has bit the dust. I replaced it with an Intuos Pro, the medium sized one. I was tempted to get the large, but the medium is about the same size as my old one.

I love the wireless connectivity. That’s really cool. But I read a lot of horror stories about the wonky USB solder connection, so I took out $3 of insurance on eBay, and bought a short USB connector cable that will connect to the troublesome port. I can just tape the cable down to the side of the tablet, and connect the charging cable to the short cable. That way, I won’t put too much stress on that port by plugging/unplugging the USB cable to recharge it.

You can get the small connecting cable here.

I also like the buttons, especially the way you can lock the tablet down to one monitor or another, which is handy for keeping perspectives right. (The tablet to monitor ratio thing. It can get too weird otherwise if you’re using two monitors.) My favorite button is the one that lets me use the control wheel to change brush sizes on the fly. That’s invaluable.

I’m not so fond of the feel of the surface of the Intuos. It feels… weird. I prefer the feel of my old Intuos 2 better. I’ll get used to it.

Progress Report

 Art, Japanese Language, Music, News, Photography, Technology  Comments Off on Progress Report
Jul 252013

So I start a lot of projects on this blog, and some get finished, some don’t. I use David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to constantly examine what I want to do vs. what I can do. GTD is a lifesaver in that regard. It helps keep me focused when sometimes it feels like I’m being torn apart by ducks.

So here are some short updates on projects I’ve been wanting to work on/finish.

The Grammar Songs

I discovered that in order to make it work, I need to improve both my Japanese and my music production skills. I studied music from 4th grade all the way through college, so I know a lot about performing music, but I don’t know as much as I should about composing and producing it, which are two entirely different skill sets.

I’ve been using Coursera to work on the production side, and now I need to work more on the composition side. And when it comes to writing lyrics, that’s the result of daily writing exercises.

My Japanese is pretty good, but it’s not quite at that level yet, so I’m working on it. Same goes for melodies. I’m looking for a way to get more music theory under my belt.

Japanese Studies

Those are going pretty well. JOI makes it easy to load up on classes for grammar, conversation, and vocabulary when I need to, and they meet my level, which is a godsend. Being an advanced student in a room full of beginners can be helpful sometimes, but it’s hard to make progress that way. So I’m glad JOI has classes that meet my needs. That’s going well so far.

Also, because of work, I work with Japanese people on a pretty regular basis. The only downside is that since we’re in the US, we mostly speak English and follow US business customs. Not all the time, but a lot of it. Those times when I need to slip into Japanese Mode it comes in really handy.

3D and 2D Art

Well… that had to get put on the “I’ll do it after the JLPT” pile. There’s just too much going on right now, and too many projects require my attention, so I find it’s best to whittle it down to what I can handle. I still want to get into it, but I need to find the right time/place to do it.

I sketch whenever I can. I’m not very good at it, but it’s relaxing, and it’s fun. It also helps me with my photography, and my eye for how I want to compose photos.

Where ARE the Photos?

That’s another thing that’s being put on the shelf for now. I have a giant pile of photos to edit, and just no time to do it. Editing requires big chunks of time for me, and unless I’m getting paid to do it, I just do it when I can. I’m going through the older stuff and gradually adding it, though. I don’t know of a good way to bump old posts up to the top of the site just because they have new material. Maybe I’ll create a new tag?


Well, ever since my class in Raleigh ended, I’ve been going to my usual calligraphy classes. Before the classes in Raleigh ended, though, I spent some time studying Edo-moji, and that was a lot of fun. Now I’m trying to decide what to do next in calligraphy/shodo.

Other Site Stuff

I recently moved the site over to Suffusion, and I like it as far as CMS/frameworks go. I can’t really call it a template, because it’s more like a framework you have to set up and tweak yourself to get it to really sing. My current design is a little Spartan, but I’m from the Jakob Nielsen school of web design. It needs to be easy to read, and accessible first above everything.

3D and 2D Resources for Blender, Metasequoia, Inkscape, and Sketchbook

 Art, Japanese Language, Technology  Comments Off on 3D and 2D Resources for Blender, Metasequoia, Inkscape, and Sketchbook
Mar 122013

As I’ve been messing around with Metasequoia more and more, I realize that DeviantArt tutorials, while useful, will only get me so far. There are some really great tutorials out there, but it takes time to find the ones that apply to what I need to know, or the things I don’t know I need to know.

Things like how important it is to have a good set of references before I even start 3D modeling. It’s the sort of thing I knew, but didn’t really grab it until I had a few consecutive failures.

So I decided to double-skill-up (or maybe even triple/quadruple), by getting some books on 3D character creation in Metasequoia and Blender in Japanese.

I wound up buying all three books in the 3DCG日和 (3DCG biyori) series, as well as a book called 3D Character Animation Manual (it’s also in Japanese.)


Volume 1 of 3DCG日和 covers the basics. And I mean it. It goes through everything you need to know to get up and running with Metasequoia, and explains why you need to drop the $45 on licensing it. (Plugins like Keynote don’t work without it, and you can’t save in other formats!) The tutorials are pretty easy to follow if you speak N2 level Japanese, or can handle N3 if you don’t mind looking up some stuff.

If you stick it out, you’ll make 5 or so models of varying types, from the dead-simple-easy dice-head guy to a big bad demon-type character. The exercises ramp up in levels of difficulty. It also covers UVs as well. The book covers low-polygon to mid-level polygon count figures.

There’s also some info on designing characters in Paint Tool SAI, a program I don’t have much experience with.

All of the illustrations are in color, so it’s easy to follow. One downside, it’s a 2009 book, so it covers an older version of Metasequoia, but I haven’t really run into any problems with it.

Volume 2 … I haven’t worked with yet. All color illustrations, though, and it takes you through building a model, adding clothes and bones, and animating it. It came out in 2010, so it should have some updated info on the first book. Also, make sure to check the publisher’s website for errata in volume 2.

Volume 3: To be honest I haven’t worked with it yet either, but after spending an hour reading it, it looks promising. It’s devoted to building 3D characters in Blender, which is a powerful (and at times frustrating for me) program. I’m looking forward to improving my Blender skills.

You learn by creating two characters: one low-poly, and one high-poly. It covers skinning and boning and animating as well. It came out in 2012, and covers Blender 2.6. (The current version of Blender is 2.66, so it’s pretty close.)

None of the 3DCG日和 books comes with a CD/DVD, for which I am grateful, to be honest. I’m tired of keeping track of all the coasters I get with books these days. You can download everything you need from the websites in the books. All three books are in full color, and for computer books, aren’t all that expensive: around 2500 yen a piece. That’s about $27-28 per book, plus there’s shipping, but you’d probably pay $50-$60 for similar books in English.

The 3D Character Animation Manual

The 3D Character Animation Manual is a good all-around book for learning the process. It starts from the design phase, where the author introduced me to Inkscape, which is an awesome freeware vector graphics program. (Think open-source Illustrator, but just as powerful.)

One thing he pointed out was the importance of having a good design and locking it down before you start modeling. That’s actually really good advice. ISAO gives similar advice in volume 1 of 3DCG日和. I’ve been polishing my drafting skills, because I’m out of practice. Ugh.

The 3D Character Animation Manual also covers the process of building a model, designing clothes, creating the graphic skins for it, and adding bones. It also goes into how to use Keynote, which is a plugin a lot of Metasequoia users are interested in using, but sometimes folks have some frustrating results.

Like volume 1 of 3DCG日和, it’s a 2009 book, so some info may be a bit dated, but I haven’t seen anything better than these two books on Metasequoia that’s any more current. If you’ve seen anything newer, let me know.

The 3D Character Animation Manual goes for 2800 yen new. About $30-31 these days.

The tutorials are pretty straightforward, and are in N2 level Japanese. N3 if you have a dictionary handy. It comes with color illustrations and a CD-Rom with the model data on it, an old version of Metasequoia, a plugin for handling UVs, and some extras. It’s about 100 MB of data. Most importantly, it has the X and Z guide image files for creating the face/hair/accessories for the tutorial character. You might have to dig a little to find them, but they’re all there.

Sketchbook Pro 6

So as part of learning how to make my own 3D stuff, I have been working on my 2D graphic arts, and wow, are they rusty. Fortunately, with some work, they have come back pretty quickly. Having a good sketchbook, a good eraser stick, and some good, sharp pencils helps, but so does having a good graphics and illustration program and a tablet that doesn’t suck.

I’ve been using Photoshop since version 4.0 in the mid-90s. Yes, I’ve been using it that long. And there are parts of it I still don’t entirely get. In fact, Photoshop is probably one of my least favorite programs for about 85-90% of what I do. But for that last 10-15% it’s vital.

I was getting frustrated with Photoshop and was looking for a good sketching program, and started looking.

A lot of people recommended Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, version 6. It’s not a bad program. It has some useful features, like an ability to mirror across the center line. That’s handy for drawing things like eyes, eyebrows, ears, and other things that need to be symmetrical, but it only works if you draw head-on all the time.

It also has some useful tools, like a circle that you can plop down, and no matter how you draw, it comes out as a circle, or as a segment of one. It also has a set of French Curves, which were fine until I wanted to flip them over and use the reverse side… that irritated the hell out of me, because there was no way to do that without using mirroring, which I couldn’t use.

The brushes also irritated me. I’m a fan of Photoshop’s pencil. It’s a mighty layer of hard pixels. I want a black pixel there, I get it. No anti-aliasing, just pixels. I love that. But in Sketchbook, it requires setting up a custom brush, then futzing with it ad nauseam, and I still didn’t like the results. I suppose if you want that watercolor or marker look, it’s great. Heck, it even comes with a set of virtual Copic markers, so that can’t be too bad.

But it’s probably not going to see much use from me.

It’s about $35 for the CD version on Amazon, and $60 if you buy the download version from Autodesk. Yes, that’s correct. The disk is cheaper than the download. I don’t recommend dropping your money on it, unless you have to have a raster graphics drawing program. There are better programs out there.

Like Inkscape.

Inkscape is Inkredible

I discovered Inkscape when reading The 3D Character Animation Manual. The author was discussing how important it is to create a front and side view of the character you want to create that is in perfect proportion. And he was showing how he did it in Inkscape, and it looked really good.

The best part about Inkscape is that it is open-source. Free. As in beer and in speech. I had some bad experiences with the GIMP a while back, so I was a little hesitant, but Inkscape is a better Illustrator than Illustrator. It’s dead simple to use, has easy-to-understand context menus, and it’s easy to wrangle the panels. (It is always a chore in Adobe products to get those things out of my sight. I hate little context menus covering my artwork all the time.)

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. You do need to read some tutorials on Inkscape before you start using it. It’s not 100% intuitive. But it only took me 3-4 DeviantArt tutorials before I was up and running. Look for microUgly’s guide and White_Heron’s tutorials. Both are very useful.

I never really liked using vector graphics, probably because I didn’t like Illustrator. I like them now. Inkscape has given me all kinds of ideas for things I want to try.

Support Your Local Hackerspace (Blender and Metasequoia)

 Art, Technology  Comments Off on Support Your Local Hackerspace (Blender and Metasequoia)
Feb 242013

I stopped by our local hackerspace, Splat Space, for a Blender workshop yesterday. Blender is used for 3D modeling, and it’s something I’ve always been kind of curious about. It was a good introduction to what the software could do. Blender can do a lot of interesting stuff. Also, the people at Splat Space are pretty cool. Sometime I’d like to drop in and learn more about maker-y stuff. (Like 3D Printing, learning to solder, and building my own synth. That would be fun.)

When I got back home, I decided to look up some tutorials on the internet, and got a better idea of how to use Blender. It’s pretty powerful, considering that it’s free. But the one thing I can’t get over is the reversed mouse buttons. That drives me nuts. You can change them, but I’m not a fan of Blender’s interface. Maybe after I use it more, I’ll feel more comfortable with it.

I also started messing around with another 3D modeling program called Metasequoia, which has been around since 1999, according to Wikipedia. (So it must be true.)

The LE version is free, but it has some limitations on the use of plugins and file types, which can be a bit of a problem later on. The full version is only $45. Considering that some of the higher-end programs can easily run into the thousands, this is a bargain.

The original program was written in Japanese, and so was the help file. The English translation is serviceable, but in order to find out how to use the program, I went to the Internet for help. DeviantArt and YouTube saved me in that department.

I’ve been messing around with Metasequoia all day. It’s a lot of fun to play with. I can see how one could easily lose track of several days like this. And Metasequoia itself is pretty straightforward to figure out.

Not Rembrandt, But in America.

 Art  Comments Off on Not Rembrandt, But in America.
Jan 202012

I went out with my girlfriend to see the “Rembrandt in America” exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Art today. We were both excited, because we both like Rembrandt’s work.

We plunked down $36 to get in, and as we started checking out the pieces on display, we noticed something that was somewhat irritating. It seemed like every third piece was a fake, or “not attributable to Rembrandt.”

Look, I get that it can be educational to see some fakes, but when they make up a such a large portion of the exhibit, it stops being fun. Especially at $18 a pop.

A more accurate title for the exhibit should have been “Rembrandt and a Bunch of Fakes.” We probably would have felt a lot less ripped-off.

The few Rembrandts I saw were nice, but my irritation colored a lot of my feelings about the exhibit. Rather than mixing them in with the real works, it might have made more sense to stick them in a “fake” room.

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