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.

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.

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.

Jackson Pollock and The Tallest Toilet in Nagoya

 Food, Japan, Photography, Photos, Travel  Comments Off on Jackson Pollock and The Tallest Toilet in Nagoya
Dec 112011

Today I went to Nagoya again. (Again?) Yes, again. There was a Jackson Pollock 100th birthday commemorative exhibition going on at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, so you’re darn right I was going. It was a collection of a lot of his major pieces, even pieces from Iran, which I would never be able to see in the US. So of course I was going.

Jackson Pollock is one of my favorite artists. There’s no way I wasn’t going.

I stopped at the post office on the way out of town, only to have my ATM card declined. Twice. Apparently I hit the limit when I was in Toyohashi, and it’s not US midnight yet. Doh.

I still had plenty of money, but I’m always paranoid about not having enough cash on me here. In a pinch, I can usually use a credit card, but there’s always a chance that my card will be randomly declined. Either it’s security or just incompatible networks, it’s embarrassing and annoying. I wish there was a way to tell them, “Hey, it’s me! Let it go through!” Sadly, not yet.

Also, a lot of stores here will only take cash, so that’s also something to keep in mind.

It’s Not All Paint Splatters!

I got to JR Nagoya around 1, then made my way to Sakae, where the exhibition was.

On the way, a gratuitous shot of Oasis21 with my IXY, which I keep in my pocket now pretty much all the time.

Oasis 21 Nagoya, Japan

The museum was close by. They had an amazing number of Pollock’s paintings. As I said before, some came from places the US doesn’t have good relations with (like Iran), so I got to see things up close and personal that I probably would never be able to see in the US.

I also got to see a lot of Pollock’s early period work, and his really late work, both of which were surprisingly different from what I’m most familiar with, but were both impressive in different ways.

They even had a mock-up of his studio that you could walk around in, and a photo of his paint-splattered floor you could walk on. It was pretty cool.
Jackson Pollock Exhbit, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art -1

They also had paint cans and brushes and other tools he used to create his paintings with.
Jackson Pollock Exhbit, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art -3

After a couple of hours of geeking out, I headed to the gift shop and bought some post cards and a clear file. The clear file is awesome. It’s clear, but has a band from one of his paintings on it. Way cool.

Walkin’ In The Sky

I headed back to JR Nagoya, and decided that it was time to check out the Midland Square building, which is pretty darn cool. I had been meaning to go there for a while, but with all of the rain, it was impossible. Why? Because the observation deck is all outside! It’s 47 stories up, and the observation deck is 5 stories high, and all outdoors. According to their website, it’s the tallest outdoor observation deck in Japan.

It’s cool.

Well, it’s also cold, because it’s mid-December.

But I was willing to tough it out. I got some really nice shots, and even shot a little video of the walk around the periphery.

So here are some of the nicer shots of the Nagoya Skyline from my little Canon IXY:
Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

JR Nagoya:
JR Nagoya

The spiky sculpture in front of JR Nagoya, from 47 stories up. Scarier than it looks!
JR Nagoya

You can see people boarding a Shinkansen!
JR Nagoya

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Castle in the lower left corner:
Nagoya Skyline and Nagoya Castle from the Midland Tower

Nagoya Skyline and Nagoya Castle from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline and Nagoya Castle from the Midland Square Building.

Looking down from the top:
Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

I really like this angle and this shot in general:
Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

The light in general was strong as the sun was setting, so there was a lot of dramatic lighting:
Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

I felt the call of nature, and headed to the restroom there. That is one fancy and technologically advanced restroom. It’s almost as cool as the one at Oasis in Akihabara. Almost. But pretty close. There’s a hand dryer built into the sink, so as soon as you’re done washing, you can dry your hands without getting other peoples’ restroom cooties on your hands. And unlike a lot of air dryers in the US, it only stops when your hands are dry.

Of course I took a picture. It was cool!
The Coolest Sink in Nagoya.

I went back out and took some more photos. I only had my IXY with me, and just as I was getting into it, the battery started to die.


I got a few more shots of Nagoya Castle, with more dramatic light as the sun was getting on with setting at a much quicker pace than I expected:
Nagoya Skyline and Nagoya Castle from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline and Nagoya Castle from the Midland Square Building.

I managed to squeeze out a couple more photos, and then it quit completely.

This shot is one of my favorites:
Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Nagoya Skyline from the Midland Square Building.

Last look at the Nagoya Skyline.

And after the Christmas tree photo here, the camera called it quits for a while:
Christmas on the 47th floor, Nagoya, Japan.

Well, I did manage to get this shot of JR Nagoya:
JR Nagoya

Not bad for a “cheap” little point-and-shoot camera, huh? It’s really not about the gear, it’s where you point it!


Satisfied with my trip to Midland Square, I decided to go look for some office supplies to take back home. I found Shimojima (シモジマ) using Google Maps, and hopped on the Sakura-dori subway line to Marunouchi. I got off there, and started walking. It’s a few blocks away.

Shimojima is 4-5 stories full of office supplies. They had stuff I didn’t even know I needed. So I stocked up!

I bought stuff like A3-sized clear folders, which are 20-page binders with 20 clear plastic pages. I can stick my good calligraphy pieces in there and keep them protected. I learned this from S-buchou.

I also stocked up on Frixion refills. Yeah, they erase in high heat, but for just jotting stuff down, they’re pretty neat pens. And the US version doesn’t take refills.

I also got some erasers, and a couple of cardboard tubes for putting paper, posters, and calendars in for safe transport. (Going back to Tokyo is going to be difficult!)

Then I headed to Sakae and Maruzen, and picked up some calendars. They make great gifts for the folks back home. They’re one-page calendars with traditional Japanese-style prints on them, printed on good quality paper. (And they’re only 1000 yen a piece. Not bad!) It’s a suitably Japanese-enough present, but not tacky. And after a year, they can toss them or whatever.

It’s almost as good as food.

I stopped off at a drug store in the Sakae Underground shopping mall to get some pain relief patches for my increasingly sore muscles. All of this moving around and carrying stuff is making me sore.

Then I headed to Hisayaodori to get some more books.

Then a trip to JR Nagoya, to go to the Tokyo Hands there, to get some Nanoblock puzzles for my neighbor’s kids.

After that, I needed dinner. Badly.

I’ve been at Mokumoku a lot, because it’s a good restaurant, but I needed to try something else. So I went Breizh Cafe Creperie. Crepes are BIG in Japan, but they’re not necessarily cheap. I got a salad, a bacon and tomato crepe, a chocolate crepe (as big as my head), and a ginger ale for 4,000 yen.


But they were some really fine crepes.

I finished up around 9:30 or so, then grabbed a train to Okazaki. I got home around 10:30 or so.

It was a very successful day!

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