B6F: Hatchling Call Pulp

Killoran and I were at the dollar store the other day, looking for a tea-infuser (in Canada, "dollar store" is apparently a pretty loose term as two-thirds of what I saw in there was $1.50, $2, $3, &c.) when I wandered into the office/school supply aisle and started looking over the paper. I spied this little 72-page booklet, saddle-stitched, with unlined pages and it struck my fancy. The paper is really thin and cheap, a sort-of newsprint-bond, but I liked it and said so to Killoran. She asked if I like cheap paper because I grew up poor. She's quite perspicacious, my girl.

To be clear, I didn't grow up in dire poverty or anything. In fact, for a couple years after my parents split-up my mother continued to spend money like she had it, which maintained some kind of illusion of middle-class standing -- but she didn't actually have any money, and eventually she filed for bankruptcy to escape debt collection. From the time I was about 10 to when I left home, the only household income came in the form of child support payments from dad and Supplemental Security Income which my mother collected after bouncing off the rear-end of a car. This is all extraneous information. The long and short of it is that while I always had clothes and food and a heated bedroom and a fairly steady supply of comic books (they were $.75 when I started reading 'em, and by the time I quit were still under $2), more extravagant purchases were sometimes a bit hard to come by. So, when I took-up the drawing habit, I'd just draw on what was around. I had a box of fan-fold paper that my dad had given me with my first printer (an Okidata μ92), and I remember drawing my first two comics on that stuff. When I'd visit my grandma Fern, she always had boxes of Hollerith cards around, and I'd draw on those. I got my first pad of Bristol when I was 17, and I remember never wanting to use it because it was expensive. I still get that way about paper; I'm always reluctant to do a drawing on illustration board when I think I can get away with doing it on bond. Paper's expensive!

As a result, it's kind-of a point of pride for me to be able to make/do things cheaply and with cheap supplies, to get good sound from a cheap guitar, to use old software, to use old/cheap computers, and so-on. One thing I've seen true in art school is that I can turn-in a much more professional-looking piece of work on crappy paper than some of my better-funded classmates can manage on much spendier stuff. Professionalism comes from how you use your materials, not the materials you use. I was quite pleased to have Kurt Hollomon reiterate this sentiment when I took his Word & Image course last spring.

Anyhoo, here's a tree study that graces the second page of my dollar-store exercise book. Less than two cents worth of paper, probably a couple cents worth of graphite from my pencil, and some time -- making something out of nearly nothing, it's like a conjuring trick. Killoran doesn't mince words, she says it's magic. In the absence of modesty I'm inclined to agree.

B4L: Of Dedication to Digital Doodling

     I tell you this, friends: I am a long-time lover of the monochrome bitmap (if we're being picky about the language, all bitmaps are monochrome -- anything with more than one bit per pixel is a pixmap, but that's neither here nor there). It feels sometimes like I have used just about every monochrome paint program of the last 30 years; on the 68000 Mac I've done MacPaint and Superpaint and this paint and that paint, on the Atari ST I've done Degas and PrismPaint and Pixart and Artis, on the PC I've done MS Paint and GEM Paint and a gaggle of others and through all this I've come to find that absolutely none of these work exactly like I want them to*.  So! Something I've wanted to do for a long time is write-up in whatever language was convenient a very simple monochrome paint program that did work exactly like I wanted it to. This past weekend, that's precisely what I started doing.
*     I'm happy to note, however, that in the area of indexed-colour paint programs I find great satisfaction in GraFX 2 which, after having been in development limbo for a time is now actively being maintained/updated again. Hoorah!

     When I've the luxury of more time (and inclination) I'll write all about how that's progressing, but for the moment, this exciting bulleted list will have to suffice:
  • It's being written in ActionScript
  • It's coming together quickly
  • It's already quite usable (for me, though the UI is spare and cryptic), and 
  • I've no regrets about spending all of last Saturday working on it instead of schoolwork. 
     As I was doodling with my Doodler (that's its name -- I'm trademarking it! Mine! *hiss*) I thought it might be interesting to print off one of the drawings and paint on it to create an under-painting that the bitmap would then be composited back on top of. Sort-of a bitmap-painting-bitmap sandwich. I hastily performed the experiment, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about the result. Below you can see the three stages. The astute observer will note that the last picture, with the bitmap overlaid, has been reduced to 16 colours. This was done because the, um, digitalness of the bitmap was, to my eyes, just too incongruous with the organic qualities of the paint. They looked terrible together. But flattening the colour space, introducing that banding effect of a limited palette, helped the two gel, I think.

B49: Computer Art

"Computer Art" is just not a phrase that you hear much anymore. I think it went out of vogue in about 1987, right about the time computers had become so commonplace in homes and offices that any mystique the word "computer" once had had was gone almost entirely. Either way! Computer art, generative art, whatever folks are calling it these days is something I've always had some interest in.

For an illustration project last week I was trying to come up with an abstract background for an image, something that had a similar visual character to models of Calabi-Yau manifolds. Upper-dimensional spaces and what-not. After some unsuccessful paint sketching, I remembered a program I'd written about a year-and-a-half ago in ActionScript that generated these ever-changing, overlapping, intersecting patterns with circles and lines. I fired-up FlashDevelop and started poking around in the source and watching the program go and decided, yep, that was exactly what I needed.

I had a great deal more fun tweaking the program and grabbing stills than I did doing the illustration. So here are some screen grabs to show the kind of stuff I was playing with. 

B41: Face The Face

I have a big project due on Monday, and I've got exactly 0% of it done. Ugh. But! I've at least accomplished this little warm-up painting! The mouth is terrible, the ear is barely an ear, but whatever! It's okay for a warm-up, I think.

I really wanted to write a caption, but I couldn't think of one. Balls.
My intention is to execute six little acrylic paintings like this, although a bit more developed, over the course of the next three nights. Without laughing at myself too hard for having said that, I shall now step away from the blog and see if I can try and actually make some kind of battle plan.

Good luck, me!

B3D: K

One of the great things, I've told her, about her bein' so pretty is that I'll never match it, y'know? No matter how good I draw or paint or smear coffee onto paper, whatever beauty I manage to capture and confine there, she'll always do me one better.

The unattainable goals are the best ones.

B37: Rocky Mountain I

The assignment: a "map" (not necessarily geographical) integrating a self-portrait and some form of personal information. The result:

From the get-go I wanted to do something with the Columbia river since it's the geographical feature that ties my two "homes" together, and then to integrate the Pacific coast and Vancouver island since it's taking on increasing importance for me as the oft-visited home of my bonny lass. I was stumped about what to do beyond that, though. The composition finally came after much doodling when I realized that the mighty Columbia follows the outline of my beard pretty well, and when I saw that Pend d'Oreille would be sitting, appropriately, in my ear, I took pencil in hand with intent and worked my meagre magics.

In critique, the question was raised of whether this is watercolour or gouache. The answer is water colour, gouache, coffee, and white acrylic. The colours look awful on the computer by comparison with the genuine article. I did a bit of tweaking in GIMP, but I'm just never happy with scanned colour artwork.

Lastly, "Ag Mneas" was the name of a planet in a science-fiction story I tried to write a few years ago. I have no idea why it popped into my head for a title. Peculiar, because I haven't even thought of that story since the last day I worked on it.

B32: The Sneaky Stack

A couple of months ago as I was trying to assemble a portfolio to challenge placement in a second semester of basic drawing class. Part of the required portfolio was supposed to be a sketchbook. Well, I've always hated sketching in a book, so, naturally, I don't keep one. Instead, I decided to cobble together a sampling of loose-paper sketches that I had laying around. This task was met with some difficulty though, as I kept rifling through papers thinking, this is all lousy stuff! Don't I have any good stuff?

Apparently, I'd consolidated my good stuff into a pile some months previous, and subsequently forgotten where I'd stowed it. I was quite pleased to rediscover that pile today. I came across this little drawing (about 8cm wide) that I'd forgotten all about, and I thought, that little doodle needs to go on the blog! Transistor talk. PNP parlay? Something like that.

Incidentally, my challenge was successful, even though my "sketchbook" was all B-grade stuff. Yay getting-by!

B2Q: Comics Colour Tutorial, Pt. 1

=== 2013.12.08: While there may still be some academic value to this tutorial, and while its principles remain sound, I am quite sure there will not be a concluding part written and so it may behove you to look elsewhere for a more complete tutorial for simulating the look of early comic book printing. --L.

    I suppose it's ironic that we'd even want to make our art look like it came out of an old comic book when, at the time they were stuck with it, artists lamented the incredibly poor reproduction quality that was the industry standard for decades. For a lot of us, though, that look instantly recalls to our minds our childhoods, and the excitement and engagement we had with our badly-printed heroes and villains and their off-register escapades through space and time. I guess for you younger folks who were born after digital colouring started in the early '90s, you're drawn to something else about it, but we're not here to investigate the feelings it evokes, we're here to capture that look and use it to evoke those feelings in others (and ourselves).
    This tutorial is necessarily GIMP-based, due the fact that I don't use Adobe Photoshop. But, a massive and expensive program like Photoshop should certainly be able to do all the same things that GIMP does, so the principles herein are applicable there, although you'll have to figure out what tools and terms your program of choice uses.
    Before diving into what to click, it's important to know why we're clicking it, so I shall now drive-away the less studious amongst you with a couple paragraphs of principle; those of you that persevere will arrive at the first bit of practice.
    I will assume the reader (that's you) is already familiar with the four-colour printing process, and how colours are represented with it by overlaying dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. Prior to printing an image, a process called colour separation must be done to produce the four individual printing plates for each colour. For full-colour artwork like paintings and photographs, colour separation is done either by the use of cameras and filters or by computer software, and produces four colour plates with smooth, almost imperceptible gradations in tone, and these plates when printed together give to the eye the impression of all the colours of the rainbow, plus all the colours in-between. Comic books, on the other hand, for the majority of their history, were prepared for printing via manual colour preseparation. This is a process in which the colour plates for each color are made by hand. 
    More specifically, flat-tone (or flat-tint) preseparation was the order of the day. In this process, a plate is created for every flat tone of every colour that's being used. For example, a plate would be created for all the areas where solid yellow would print, then a plate for areas where a 50% tone of cyan would print, then a plate for 20% red, then one for solid red, then one for 40% red, and so-on, then all the tone plates of a single colour were screened and combined by the printer to produce the final plate for that colour.  More combinations of tones produce more colours, but as you can imagine, at a certain point it becomes both expensive and laborious to have some poor colour separator doing a bajillion plates per page. So, in the interest of keeping things cheap and easy, comic book publishers limited the number of tones a colourist could use to combinations of 100%, 50%, and 25% each of cyan, magenta, and yellow.
    This limitation results in one of the immediately recognizable elements of the old comic aesthetic: the limited palette. With just three tones of three inks, we end up with only 64 possible colours. There's a bit of lingo to learn, here, with regards to the names of those colours, and I'll let Todd Klein tell you about that: "Colors were defined by a code system. Y stood for Yellow, B for Blue [cyan], and R for Magenta [red], matching the three colors of printing ink other than black. ... B represented solid or 100% blue ink, B3 was 50% blue ink, B2 was 25% blue ink" [good article to read]. With those codes, colours can be referred to by formulae: BR2 would be 100% blue plus 25% red, Y2R2B3 would be 25% yellow plus 25% red plus 50% blue, and so-on.
    The change in terminology, here, from cyan to blue and magenta to red, is, in a way, significant for what we're dealing with when we try to colour art on the computer and get it to look like print. Magenta, from an RGB colour-model point-of-view, is a blend of 100% red light and 100% blue light. The colour this produces on our screens is quite different from the colour produced on the printed page. If you were to dive into colouring a piece right now, armed with the incomplete knowledge that you have only to make sure that you use 100%, 50%, and 25% blends of cyan, magenta, and yellow, you'd end up with something like Figure 1. The colors are searing. Instead of getting the look of Action Comics circa 1964, you get the look of Microsoft Paintbrush on Windows 3.1. Printers' magenta is not RGB-magenta, and printers' cyan is not RGB-cyan. To complicate matters further, red/cyan for one comic book is not the same ink formula as red/cyan for another comic book.

Fig. 1  -  Just using the RGB equivalents of cyan, magenta, and yellow produces a frightfully intense palette.

    So, our first order of business in getting our comic-accurate colours is creating our own palette of 64 colours that actually look like the 64 colours we'd see on the page. Are you ready to get interactive? 'Cause this is where you start mixing your own inks.
    If you download and open BRY_chart.psd, you'll find a four-layer image of an 8x8 grid. The three layers, B, R, and Y, are going to contain colour swatches of your inks and their 25% and 50% tones. The layers are set to the "multiply" blend-mode, so once you've selected your ink colours, all the in-between colours will be made for you. To get going on this, turn off the Y and R layers, then make B the active layer. Next, go to Colors->Colorize (or Alt+c,z). The Colorize tool defaults to hue:180 sat:50 and light:0, and this leaves us with two bands of blue and one of black. The black areas are what we want to dial-in (be sure to switch-on 'preview') for our blue ink.

Fig. 2 - BRY_chart.psd open in GIMP. The (B)lue layer is active, and the Colorize tool has been launched.

    If you change the values to hue:180 sat:100 light:50, this sets our blue ink to RGB-cyan. But we don't want that, because it looks totally wrong. The blue in Figure 3, from a 1962 issue of Strange Adventures is much closer to 190,50,50. But for my tastes, I'm gonna dial-up the saturation to 75, and the lightness to 55. This gives me a blue with a bit more punch, while still being being roughly the same hue as in the comic. It's more like how the ink would appear on a cover, actually, where the paper stock was whiter than newsprint, and absorbed less ink, which is what causes the desaturation on the interior pages.

Fig. 3 - Getting away from RGB-cyan, use a comic as a reference to find your ink colour, then make whatever adjustments suit your taste.

    Once you've picked your blue of choice, hit Ok, and repeat the process on the Y and R layers. When you've got your ink colours picked, turn on all the layers and you'll have a beautiful 64-colour palette with which to colour your masterpiece. For now, you can flatten the image and use the eye-dropper tool to sample colours and then paint with them in another window, but in the second half of this tutorial, you'll be creating two palettes and working in indexed-colour mode (8-bits of power!) and from there get into half-tones (I know, I know, everybody just wants the dots right away, but you can't have the dots until you know what you're doing with your colours) and ways to make things look authentically old-and-crappy.

Fig. 4 - Even though this is still a pristine digital image, it's starting to look "right". Getting the colours is of chief import -- halftone dots and paper texture are just gravy.

B2L: A Lot of Frigging Gizmoids In The Back, There

With apologies to Mr. Lafferty, wherever his consciousness resides.

School project: to do an illustration of a literary figure. I chose the great R.A. Lafferty, penner of preposterous parables and other priceless prose, partly because I'm a huge fan, and partly because he's got this great look about him, with a small, square head and what look to be, in every photo I've seen, enormous ape-arms. I am a sucker for ape-arms. Everything I read about the fellow (alas, now passed-on) says he was a devout Catholic. It seemed fitting, then, that he be sainted, and so sainted he be, in monastic dress no less, to further exploit the humour of his monkey arms (monkey! Get it? Monk-y! Yes, yes, that's a pun and an etymological reference at the same time). Yet, I could swear I read some antitheistic sentiment in some of his stories, so compositionally I've used an inverted cross. The assignment, more specifically, was to do an illustration integrating type, so I just have snippets from Past Master thrown around in what might pass as a meaningful fashion.

I did this on a piece of printer paper with a Hunt (Speedball, whatever) 102, my Rotring ArtPen, and my trusty #2 inkin' brush. The paper was not ideal,

B2J: Low Priority

A classmate, through undisclosed means, laid her hands upon a number of USPS shipping labels and asked of some of her peers that they do a doodle or drawing or what-have-you on one and return it to her. So here's my little contribution. Without realizing I was doing it, I made my forms complementary to the USPS eagle.

B22: Pretty Common, Alright

Drawing the Swigert Commons at PNCA in-class. I'm ambivalent about this one. My rendering/execution I find utterly boring, but I'm happy enough with the composition. It's kind of an interesting place in there, if you can find a decent spot to sit. Fountain pen and brush-pen for the filled-in bits in the ceiling.

By the by, "that's so technical!" is not an awesome compliment. Think about it. Would you ever tell a chef that? "My goodness! You're so good at reading the lines on a measuring cup and slicing cheese evenly!"  The implication is that the food tastes like shit but you've got to find something nice to say so you compliment the guy on his fine motor skills and visual acuity.

B1V: A Do-dad.

I don't even know what this little thing is, but I drew it.  One of innumerable visual treasures from Kurt Hollomon's bottomless basket o' tchotchkes.

Brush-pens are funny. It's a brush, but it doesn't feel like a brush -- the water-soluble ink flows differently than india ink, and the barrel is all fat (I suppose this is normal on bamboo-handled brushes, but I ink with a skinny little #2 usually). In general, my brush-handling skills need improvement, but it's even harder to get a handle on the brush-pen.

B1U: Laborious!

One of the problems I run into working digitally is that because I'm forced to draw inside a windowed-off part of the piece all the time, I end up falling in love with details, then zooming back to see that they simply do not work in the larger context. This illustration that I've just finished tonight was a case of that happening over, and over, and over again. And, no surprise, it took five times as long as it likely would have had I done the whole thing on paper.

It's He-Man and Teela, for cereal:geek. I'm depicting the scene at the end of "The Problem With Power" where He-Man carries Teela off into the sunset, ostensibly because she may be injured after a positronic bomb blast, but we all know he's doing it just because he wants to.

Once the drawing was done and sent, I set about playing with colours, as I so often do. And, more specifically, I set about fine-tuning my make-it-look-just-like-an-old-comics-page technique. A detail follows. I think I'm gettin' pretty close. 

A full-view of the comic-coloured image can be seen over at my deviantART page.

B1S: My, My, The Time Do Fly

Time to get this blog crackin' again!  Rather than write at length about my love of old computers and my trials at MOS 6502 assembly coding, from this point on this is going to be an illustration/drawing/art blog.  I gave some consideration to starting an entirely new blog for this purpose, but I decided the old Bruised Terrestrial was really the place it wanted to go. So!

To start: a picture. I lovingly roughed this out in pencil on a nice, heavy piece of paper with the intention of rendering it in ink, but as I laid the first brushstrokes I realized this was absolutely the wrong paper for that purpose: luscious, toothy, beautiful... and horrifyingly bleedy paper -- a near-fatal mistake. But it had to get done, and so I went after it with 6B and 8B pencil, which gets pretty close to black, and here we have it.  A worthwhile exercise, albeit a tedious one.

There are two other pictures in this series which I may or may not post at a later date.

That's a start, right?  Yep, it is.  Good job, Adam.  Welcome back!  I now leave you, and busy myself with congratulatory pats on my own back.