Saturday, August 30, 2008

AWESOMENESS!!! Well, not really...

Pen: "WOW!!! Look, there are butterflies playing volleyball in my Cheerios. AWESOME!! C'mon guys, let's hop on my coolio cosmic magnetocycle and head on over to Jake's pad-eroonie!"

Pen: (Moments later) "Hey Jake, my main dog, what's hanging?"

Jake: "Well, I was contemplating the state of wormholes in the seventh dimension, but I guess I'm free to accompany you on your journey to the planet of perpetual platitudes as soon as I can locate my cybermuzzle. Oh look - bunnies!"

Pen: "BAROMETRIC!!!......Let's go, Jake - It's ADVENTURE TIME!!"


So, what do you all think of what I've just written there? Quite the brilliant piece of dialogue, don't you think? What's that you say? You think it's stupid and makes no sense? Hmmmm....

Well, that makes two of us then, as I agree that it IS stupid and it DOESN'T make sense. But I have to tell you, if what I'd just written was a portion of an actual script from "Adventure Time", then I'd apparently be hailed as a genius by many of the current readers of Cartoon Brew. Take a look here to see what I mean. And here is "Adventure Time" itself, courtesy of YouTube:



It seems that the so-called Cartoon Network has picked up this insipid little time waster to produce as a regular series. Yes, I know I'm being blunt in my negative assessment of this show, but I think it's time that some of us take a stand against mediocrity or it will continue to take over all areas of the entertainment world, squeezing out anything of any real artistic merit in it's wake. Here are just some of the things that are wrong with "Adventure Time":

- The script, such as it is, sacrifices linear storytelling in favour of stringing together non sequiturs, hoping like hell that the audience doesn't notice the absence of a coherent plot. As I just proved with my example at the top of this post, there is nothing difficult or clever about this sort of writing - it's just stream of conscious randomness masquerading as dialogue, not being driven either by plot or development of character. Some may call it "quirky". I call it the work of a hack.

- The character designs are not really "characters" at all - not in the truest sense anyway. Like so much of the mediocrity in contemporary animation, there seems to be a trend toward child-like minimalism in the drawing: Amorphous head shapes with nothing more than dots and dashes representing the eyes and mouth, formless outlines in lieu of real structure or appealing distinct shapes, and no regard for trying to communicate feeling through body language and facial expression. As such, all of the characters' thoughts and emotions are carried completely by the dialogue, which itself is meaningless to begin with. As a test, try watching the clip with the sound turned off, as you'll see that the visuals completely fail to communicate anything on their own. This is a cardinal sin in animation, as the communicating of an idea should be possible through the visuals alone, with the dialogue remaining secondary.

- Even the layouts are really bad. There is poor composition as evidenced by the tree that seems to grow out of the boy's head in the opening scene. Also in that same scene, the dog's head keeps hitting the horizon line as he bobs up and down. Students of animation are told to avoid drawing tangents like this, and are instead instructed to break past such a border so that it is clear that one thing exists in front of another. Much of the layout composition is sloppy and uninspired throughout the entire clip.

- Then you have the garish colours so typical in today's computer coloured animated shows. No skilled background painter would ever choose to paint the grass in that "Lite Brite" neon green, yet so many show creators today seem to believe that the brighter and gaudier the better. I applaud John Kricfalusi for continuing to decry this trend as he has often pointed out deplorable uses of colour in modern cartoons, while showing examples of inspired and harmonious colour schemes in the TV cartoons of the past. Here is a compilation of his writings regarding background painting that provides numerous examples of both good and bad colour for comparison.

In short, this sample from "Adventure Time" flies in the face of every time honoured artistic principle that exists, both in terms of the visual artwork and the writing. But, judging from the "awesome" accolades found in the Brew post's comments section, many of the Brew readers just refuse to see its severe shortcomings and have hailed it as a masterpiece. Not all readers are so gullible, however, and I applaud freethinkers like Jason, Brooke, and Eric for not drinking the Kool-Aid. We need more discerning viewers like them.

By the way, "Adventure Time" also strikes me as being an inferior derivative of TerryToons' "Tom Terrific". Watch this clip and you'll see how this cartoon, while also very simple in its visual design, is just so much better in terms of real cartooning, with sprightly posed characters and expressions that communicate:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maher-velous Bill!

Since I was recently ranting about the inanities of political correctness, I think my caricature of this guy would seem to fit in with my feelings on this topic:


I did this sketch last Sunday night while watching a repeat of "Larry King - Live" that had run earlier in the week. I personally find Larry a little tiresome most of the time, but I'll always tune in if the always interesting Bill Maher is the guest, as it also seems to bring out the best in Larry too. I just love Bill's candid, blunt responses on every issue. Besides that, I think it's great that he doesn't toe any party line and, while mostly liberal, he will also occasionally stand up for conservative types when he's impressed with their integrity. He's a big fan of Republican hopeful, Ron Paul, for example. I think Bill Maher is one of the most refreshingly honest guys I've ever heard, and it's because he really doesn't give a damn what people think of him or his opinions.

I used to watch Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" show pretty much every night back when it was on, and just loved the way he could gather such diverse guests from various fields and different points on the political spectrum. Sometimes you'd get surprising results from throwing all these seemingly unrelated personalities together. I particularly recall Florence Henderson bonding with Marilyn Manson, no less! Oftentimes a little known starlet might show that she was just as politically astute as the most seasoned veteran politician. And Bill Maher kept the whole thing lively with his provocative questions putting his guests on the spot. Unfortunately, we don't get HBO here in Canada unless one has a satellite dish, so I haven't seen his current show, "Real Time". But from watching clips on YouTube, it looks like it's as good as his former show used to be, though a little more formal in presentation. Here's a clip from this week's "Larry King - Live", the same show that I drew this caricature from:

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gouache Meets Photoshop

In my previous post I showed some sample illustrations from a couple of Disney books that were painted completely in the traditional method of paint on illustration board. However, just so you don't get the idea that I am totally against using Photoshop, here are some samples that employ a hybrid method that I like to use.


This illustration is from a book published a few years ago by Random House, entitled "Beauties in Bloom", which featured two spring themed stories, one featuring "Snow White" and the other, "Cinderella". This was the first in a series of seasonal books put out as part of the "Disney Princesses" program. Though I'm admittedly not keen on the packaging of the characters under the "Disney Princesses" banner, I do enjoy illustrating the classic characters in original new tales, rather than just retelling the film stories.


After my final pencil layouts of the pages have been approved by Disney, I then separate the elements of characters and backgrounds. I transfer the background drawing onto a sheet of illustration board using graphite paper and a photocopy of my drawing that I can trace over with a sharp hard pencil. Once the background image is on the board, I start out painting in the large areas such as sky and grass using dilute washes of gouache on the surface which has already been pre-moistened with water brushed on evenly with a large flat brush. Once the larger expanses are in, I can start building up the details of bushes, trees, and surface texture on the ground.

In the case of "Snow White", since the film's backgrounds were rendered in watercolour, I am using the gouache more dilute in order to approximate the look of real transparent watercolour. It's a bit of a cheat, but then I'm pretty sure that even the Disney artists used some opaque gouache in areas that needed lighter highlights over dark areas. Frankly, I've never been good at handling real watercolour, so I prefer to use gouache because I'm more comfortable with it. Once all of the backgrounds have been painted, then comes the rather tedious task of scanning them into Photoshop, usually in two or three sections because of the limited area on the scanner plate. I then have to reassemble them into single Photoshop files, which is often tricky due to some areas having scanned a bit darker or lighter than others, and therefore needing some adjustment.



With the backgrounds out of the way, I can then get to the characters. Working from my clean pencil layouts, I place a sheet of matte finish mylar film on top of each one and, using a very fine #00 watercolour brush, carefully ink each set of characters as delicately as I can in order to approximate the way they used to hand ink the old animation cels using a crowquill pen and ink. When these are all completed, I then scan in each sheet of character art, again sometimes having to reassemble any large character groupings that were too big to scan in one piece. (Fortunately, that doesn't happen often.)

At this point, each page of character line art has to be converted into a transparent layer in Photoshop. This is so that I can then colour the characters by "painting" on a second transparent layer below, thus resulting in an image that really does approximate an animation cel with solid flat colours beneath the clean ink lines. What's nice about this method too, is that I can very easily go over separate areas on the line layer to change the colours of the line to something that relates better to the area of colour they contain. This is also the way they used to ink the cels in the early Disney feature films. Usually I keep this part pretty basic; just brown lines to surround warm colours and dark blue lines for blues and greens. I do a bit of tonal modeling on the areas of colour, but I keep that real basic too, otherwise the characters start looking too much like plastic.

Once both backgrounds and character layers are in the computer, it is then a very easy and fun process of assembling them together for the final picture files. The benefit of working this way as well, is that if either Disney or the publisher require any changes to be made, it is not much problem to slightly shift or adjust the size or colour value of a character, without having to worry about the background. Finally, the real benefit for me is just sending the client a couple of CDs containing all of the page setups, instead of sending a bulky stack of original illustration boards by Fedex, which can be quite costly, as well as nerve racking, hoping they arrive safely.

Because I really enjoy trying to match the background painting style of the original film, here are a couple more examples of my Disney book work which show some variety in approach:


This is a scene from "Happy new Year, Pooh!", that I did as one of a series of "Winnie-The-Pooh" books for Reader's Digest. It was a book of the month type of thing, where each title related to something in each month of the year. I did three books in the series. I quite like working with the Pooh characters, as well as doing the looser pen, ink and watercolour backgrounds that the film employed to adhere more to the original Shepard book illustrations. These backgrounds are more like coloured drawings than true paintings, and therefore are easier for me.


Still, that doesn't mean I shy away from more painterly approaches, as I had fun trying to mimic the style of background artist, Eyvind Earle, in "Sleeping Beauty". Eyvind would paint in large, opaque, flat areas of colour, then build up the surface detail in multiple layers with his gouache. My paintings are a lot more basic than his, though, as he would create incredible textures and ornate design work in his film backgrounds. In June of 2007, I got to see the exhibit of original Disney animation art that was on show in Montreal (having first debuted in Paris). It was a real pleasure to be able to get up so close to some original Eyvind Earle backgrounds and analyze his approach in the brush work and order in which he would paint all of the elements. His gnarled, old tree trunks were incredible to behold. My simplistic "forgeries" pale in comparison, I'm afraid, but it sure is fun trying to paint in his style!

Monday, August 18, 2008

In Praise of Real Paint!

Since I've been extolling the virtues of using real paint on illustration board, I thought this might be a good opportunity to show some samples of the art I've done for various Disney books over the years. These are all painted with gouache, an opaque form of watercolours.



As I've often mentioned in previous posts, "The Jungle Book" remains my alltime favourite of the Disney animated features. Therefore, it was a real treat to illustrate this book for Random House, which was just a simple retelling of the story targeted to beginning readers. It was one of a series of books under the umbrella title of "My First Disney Story". I drew and painted four of these books and did the pencilling for a fifth that was painted by another illustrator. I am quite comfortable using gouache, and endeavor to paint the backgrounds fairly close to what they look like in the original films.

Painting the characters in these illustrations is a bit tricky, and I always start by masking them out with frisket so as to keep the characters untouched as I paint the background behind them. That way, the characters are still just my pencil lines on clean white areas of board when I go to paint them in. As you can see, I keep the tonal rendering on the characters to a minimum, so they don't start looking all shiny like plastic. (I don't like the Disney video box art for that very reason.) I find that just a bit of dry brush shading on one side gives them the clean, crisp look that I prefer.



These samples from the "Bambi" book I illustrated for that same series unfortunately never saw the light of day. This particular book was sadly never published, as Random House execs were keeping a close watch on sales of the other books and weren't sure how well "Bambi" would do. Though I was still paid well for my work, it was a real disappointment not to see this one in print, as I had really enjoyed doing these paintings. In addition to these two titles, I also illustrated two others in the series on "The Lion King" and "Snow White", as well as having pencilled the illustrations for a "Dumbo" book.

This was at a time when Disney Consumer Products was still greenlighting lots of fun projects, utilizing characters from many of their classic films. Sadly, the mindset there is far different now, with book product limited pretty much to just the "Disney Princesses" franchise and "Winnie-the-Pooh". The only other films that still get some book tie-in seem to be the Pixar titles. Frankly, I miss the days when Disney was still celebrating their classics of the past, as these were the characters that I was happiest to work with. I wish that the folks at Consumer Products would realize just how big an audience still exists for those classic animated films. Additionally, it would be nice if Mickey and the gang would start to be used again properly, instead of relegated to just that preschool "Mickey's Clubhouse" with its unfortunate computer generated animation...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

That's a Good Question!

I was going to answer this question from the clever cartoonist known as Bitter Animator in the comments section where he asked it, but then I thought it might be lost there. I consider it a very fair question that deserves a proper (if longwinded) response:

"Mr.E, do you have to switch? I mean, it's not like you're not getting great results with your brush and ink. I guess it depends on working situations but, hey, if it ain't broke..."

Bitter - You know, it's funny you should ask that because I just had a similar conversation the other day with my buddy and fellow instructor, Johnny. I was telling him of my computer woes and frustration with accomplishing anything decent with Photoshop brushes, when he asked me the following: "Even if you were able to get satisfying results with the tools all operating to your liking, would you give up traditional media in favour of now working digitally?"

After thinking it over for a moment, I replied, "No, actually I wouldn't." Here are my reasons why not. First of all, even if I was able to create the "perfect brush", suitable for digital inking and painting, it would still require constantly resizing and tweaking the settings of opacity, flow, etc. As it is, I can so easily get the line I want through the simple adjusting of pressure and angle on my sable brush. Also, wielding a real brush on a real sheet of illustration board, I can swivel the board to any comfortable angle in order to more easily pull a nice controlled ink line. I can't do that with the Wacom tablet, and would therefore require an expensive Cintiq to have that ease of mobility. As it is right now, I feel very constrained using the stylus and tablet.

Also, the fact is I just love the intuitive feel of working with real media. There is something very satisfying about choosing the preferred surface on which to work, and feeling the tooth of that surface as I apply the brush with ink or paint. Likewise, there is the intuitive feel of knowing just how much to dilute the paint or not, depending on the desired effect, and then knowing instinctively just how much I can rework the paint on the board before it dries. Even aside from the tactile nature of real media, there is that appeal to the sense of smell, too. Fact is, I just love the smell of ink as I work. I've known that smell since starting to ink back when I was about 12 years old, and I'd miss it if I only inked digitally.

Finally, there's the very basic reason that, when creating art digitally, there will never be such a thing as an original piece of art. Anything tangible to hold in your hands or frame on the wall will always have to be a printout. Frankly I love to look at my original artwork, where I can study it and remember how I achieved a certain effect by observing and analyzing the brush work.

So why do I want to be able to learn how to ink and paint digitally? Perhaps somewhat as a matter of satisfying my artistic ego, knowing that I can keep pace with the computer age. Mostly, though, I think it's out of a fear that if I can't produce work digitally, that I become less marketable, as I'm finding that some clients now insist on having digital art. I once talked to an art rep who told me that he won't even look at anything inked traditionally anymore, as he wants everything in a vector line for reproduction at any size. So there I can't even win with Photoshop, as I'd need to learn that wretched Illustrator program with the insidious bezier curves/ pen tool.

Personally, I find the digital trend highly disturbing and would rather continue to coast along with my traditional skills honed over a lifetime of working this way. At most, I would rather utilize the computer only in a hybrid fashion, combining my hand inked drawings with the ease of adding flat areas of colour with Photoshop. A little bit of rendering is okay, though I prefer not to overdo the adding of shadows and highlights, lest the image start to look more like plastic than flesh and cloth. This image of the bear is pretty much the way I've used Photoshop in the past, and I will probably continue to use it simply as a colouring tool in most of my artwork, although I would still like to see what I could accomplish if I can ever get a handle on this digital painting stuff.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Political Correctness Gone Amuck!

I thought this article in today's Globe and Mail was really interesting, so I'm reprinting it here. As I've long held a reputation myself for being like that kid who knows a naked emperor when he sees one, I know firsthand what it's like to be roundly condemned for speaking truthful but unpopular views. I think Ms. Cohen is right on the money with her assessment of these times we live in:

LAURA ROSEN COHEN
From Monday's Globe and Mail
August 11, 2008 at 3:38 AM EDT
So, did you hear the one about the guy who pushed the envelope while thinking out of the box, and kept a whole lot of agenda items on his radar until he got rid of the low-lying fruit?

You did? Were we at the same meeting? Probably not. But you could have easily heard the same generic tunes at any number of meetings throughout the country. An actual, productive exchange of ideas in many business forums has been gradually usurped by a steady diet of mind-numbing jargon. Who among us has not been at a meeting where legions of employees around the table try to stifle their giggles as increasingly trite and outrageous gibberish reaches our ears and insults our brains. But is this just a work annoyance or does the use of jargon have any implications outside the workplace?

The trend away from honest conversation in the workplace has its roots in a more generalized climate of politically correct discourse. At first glance, it appears to be a relatively benign practice. However, this phenomenon should be viewed in the larger context of words and expressions being continually evaluated and re-evaluated for their potential to offend groups and individuals.

People are so terrified of potentially offending others that language becomes a mockery of itself. While we might joke that someone is follicularly challenged instead of "bald," or vertically challenged instead of "short," these types of expressions move us further away from the facts and into conversations and relationships that are based on a discourse reminiscent of walking on eggshells for fear of offending others. That is not to suggest that one must be honest to the point of being hurtful, but surely there is some need to develop a workplace and political discourse that is both respectful and truthful.

A culture of fear has permeated political conversation in Canada as well. Though freedom of expression is enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, on an individual level, one is increasingly aware that political or religious positions that deviate from the unofficially sanctioned politically correct party line makes for ideologically dangerous living.

How did this happen? Can the average Canadian take back freedom of expression without fear of career or social retribution and shunning? Is it possible to nurture a more genuine political and social discourse or will we be forever doomed to repeat regurgitated pleasantries and clich├ęs and obfuscate facts in order not to offend?

In order to reclaim honest conversation, baby steps must be taken.

Truly enlightened employers, managers and employees alike can make efforts to move away from jargon and back to a lexicon of clarity. A general caveat is that by the time "street" slang is used by middle-aged parents ("gee son, that's phat"), much to the chagrin of their teenaged children, it's clearly no longer cool. Similarly, by the time business jargon moves from the web to the boardroom, you can be sure it's just as dead and useless.

In the broader scheme of things, individuals can encourage their elected officials to repeal Section 13.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, that labels it a "discriminatory practice" to communicate messages that are "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt." In real life this amounts to speech that is "likely" to offend someone at some point. We need to collectively buck up, stop whining and allow the appropriate bodies to intervene only when speech becomes a threat of physical violence or incitement (call the cops) or libellous (call your lawyer).

In the meantime, the next time someone tells you to get your ducks in a row, going forward, how to inform the discussion, or what struck them most about what-ever, take a deep breath, take a bold step forward and politely demand clarity. You could be pleasantly surprised at the result.

Laura Rosen Cohen is a Toronto-based writer

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Problematic Brush

As I mentioned previously, Adobe has not really understood the needs of those of us used to working with real paints and brushes. In all of the brushes that Photoshop CS3 comes with, there is not one that will give you the effect of real paint being brushed onto a board. Sadly, all that's available in the default selections are hard brushes to give solid flat colour, soft brushes that have diffused edges like an airbrush, and an assortment of textures that work like moving rubber stamps, not serving artists so much as providing a novelty for the crafts enthusiasts. (Sorry for my blunt opinion, but that's the way I see it.)

And so, I was rather delighted to find a custom brush that caricaturist Court Jones uses extensively in his art (like the sample pictured below of The Beatles) that he describes how to make in a tutorial he posted on the NCN forums some time ago. I've recreated it here to show what a neat effect it can give you:



Step 1): Using the circle selection tool, fill a circle with a bunch of random, unevenly drawn horizontal lines drawn with a small hard round brush. Then, under "Edit", choose "Define Brush Preset". This will then add your new brush to the collection of existing Photoshop brushes. But it still needs some more work...

Step 2): In your brush settings, select "Brush Tip Shape". Then set the "Spacing" slider to between 15 and 20%.
Next, select "Shape Dynamics". Make sure that under "Size Jitter", the control is set to "Pen Pressure". Then, under "Angle Jitter", set the control to "Direction".
Finally, select "Other Dynamics" and make sure both controls are set to "Pen Pressure".

Don't forget to save it as a "New Brush Preset". Then, just for safety's sake, quit Photoshop and relaunch it. This will make sure that the brush is saved in the event of a crash.

Assuming you have made all these setting adjustments, the brushstroke thumbnail in the bottom of your brush settings should resemble the hairs of a round watercolour brush - soft horizontal lines that converge into tapered ends. Once you start making some marks with it, they should look like the samples here when at full 100% opacity and flow.

Step 3): When used at full strength, the brush strokes look a little harsh. But if you reduce the opacity to about 30% or less, you can start getting some nice creamy blends just like real paint. You also want to get in the habit of using the eyedropper tool to choose surrounding colours to further blend with, ending up with what looks like the sample I've sketched here.

Now, ideally, everything should be working well for you at this point and, with much experimenting and practise, you may be able to paint nearly as well Court Jones. Not an easy feat, I'll grant you :)

However, if you're using an iMac like me, you may run into a snag. I've found that this particular custom brush will sooner or later cause Photoshop to crash, leaving the message, "Photoshop has unexpectedly quit". Although, after it happens several times, it isn't so unexpected any more. The culprit, as I mentioned in the earlier post, is the "Direction" setting. I'm convinced that is what is problematic for the iMac, anyway. I've mentioned the problem to several Adobe tech support people but they all seem to play dumb, claiming that they've never heard of this happening before. Yeah, I'll bet.

And so, I continue to dislike virtual art media when compared to the real thing. Forever the traditionalist, that's me...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

More Photoshop Frustration!

In addition to the problems I'd been having with the computer itself, I was also encountering a snag with Photoshop. As I mentioned in a recent post on how I'm hoping to learn some digital painting skills, I can't see it being very successful using only the default set of brushes. Unfortunately, I don't think that Adobe has ever really come to terms with the fact that much of their clientelle includes illustrators, not just photographers, and have really not created brushes that behave like natural sable or bristle brushes in order to satisfy our requirements. However, they have now opened things up a bit by allowing for artists to create "custom brushes", either by adjusting the settings of existing brushes, or creating something from scratch.

Not long ago, I had read on the forums of the National Caricaturist Network, a tutorial by the brilliant Court Jones (sample art shown at left), showing how to construct custom brushes in Photoshop that would behave similar to real brushes. I followed his directions to create one and, not long after starting to use it, Photoshop just crashed, disappearing and leaving the message, "Photoshop has unexpectedly quit". Several attempts later and it was causing Photoshop to crash every time. Many phone calls to Adobe did not help to resolve the problem, and they were convinced it couldn't be their program, that it must be my computer. I might have believed that, were it not for the fact that the same thing has happened on the iMac that was having the power problem (as detailed in last post), the new iMac Apple gave me in exchange, and also the 24" model that I insisted on upgrading to. Therefore, the glitch is in Photoshop itself, or at least something that is incompatible with the iMac.

My Google search into the matter turned up some interesting discussions on various creative forums, though. Seems that many graphic artists who have experienced the same problem have come to the conclusion that the trouble lies with the setting of "Direction" under the "Shape Dynamics" function. This setting is essential for enabling the virtual "hairs" of the brush to follow in the direction that you move the stylus. Seems that this is problematic on a lot of computers, causing some conflict between software and hardware, resulting in a crash at some point. I find it very frustrating, and it also reinforces my personal belief that virtual media is still no match for real brushes and paint! Fact is, I haven't yet been able to totally control making even a simple, smooth line using Photoshop. Yet it is a simple matter for me to create a line with real brush and ink that is a thing of great beauty. Why should I have to fight with percentages of opacity, flow, brush size and pen pressure settings in order to do what I can so easily accomplish through intuitive pressure and angling of a well crafted Winsor & Newton sable brush?

However, one good thing that has come out of all of my exploration was finding a tutorial on how to make a custom brush that feels pretty much like a nice soft pencil for sketching with. I found this great little tip on the blog of concept artist/designer, Paul Lasaine. All it involves is taking one of the default brushes and tweaking the settings a bit to make something more practical for the artist. I've tried using Sketchbook Pro on a friend's computer, and this custom brush created on Photoshop feels much the same as the Sketchbook ones, as I recall.

These are a couple of Photoshop doodles I just did to play with this virtual pencil. There is a nice freedom to using this modified brush and I can see myself getting some good use out it. These two samples started out as sketches directly using the new brush, then adding a layer on top, selecting the "Multiply" feature, then adding colour just using the soft round brushes full strength and going back to blend some areas with some gentle airbrushing. They look similar to the results I would achieve if using coloured markers on a photocopied pencil sketch. Great for visual concepts, if nothing else, although I don't want to rule out this approach even for a fresh looking piece of final art.

Computer Problems

I've been going through computer hell recently. The 20" iMac that I'd had for only two years was having a power problem, causing it to shut itself down completely after I'd only put it into Sleep mode. It would be okay if I went to use it within a half hour or so of putting it to sleep, but an hour or more and it would shut down. I must have called Apple tech support at least a half dozen times, each time with someone walking me through some test to try and pinpoint the problem and hopefully resolve it. No luck, I'm afraid, so then it was time to take it in for service.

At the Apple Store they figured it was the power unit and replaced it, assuring me the next day that they had tested it out and it seemed fine. But once I'd hooked it back up at home, it started doing the same damn thing again. When I took it back and they reassessed it, they determined it had a faulty motherboard and would be very difficult or impossible to repair. As it was still covered by the warranty, they told me the only option they had was to give me a brand new computer. In fact, they'd already begun transferring my data over, assuming I'd be receptive to the offer.

Now getting a new iMac in exchange sounds great, right? I thought so too, until I got it hooked up and running at home. I noticed that the screen looked a little unusual, sort of more contrast in the desktop wallpaper image I had on there. Also, I noticed that text at the top of a webpage seemed bolder than it did when it scrolled toward the bottom of the screen. However, it was only when I opened up one of my art files to work on that I realized just how much of a problem there was. As I was working, I noticed that when I altered my head position up or down by only a couple inches, that the tonal value of the image would vary lighter to darker. Standing up and looking down at the screen from a sharp angle made the display image appear washed out, whereas looking up from below made everything very dark, in fact causing almost a negative effect at the extreme angle with black areas turning light against midtones. Very strange indeed!

I thought a search on Google might provide some insight into the problem. Boy, did it ever! I soon discovered that Mac fans were in an uproar about what apparently were inferior quality displays that had been outfitted on all of the latest 20" models. In fact, a class action lawsuit has been launched against Apple for making claims on their website that would seem to differ from what the reality is with these new models. Anyway, I took back the computer the next day and complained that, had I known the screen was vastly inferior to what I'd given up, I would never have agreed to the exchange in the first place. To be fair, the Apple employees were quite understanding and accommodating, and the manager agreed to upgrade me to the 24" model which still had the superior technology in the display. Yes, I did have to pay a little extra to upgrade, but the manager met me halfway, knocking off half the price difference. So, currently I have a 24" iMac that has a beautiful screen and everything seems to be operating as it should.

Knock wood...