Did you know there was another leader in the annals of history who thought along the same lines as Mr. Donald? Genghis Khan. A benevolent guy just like Trump. Look him up and see all the nice things he did to people he didn’t like.
I still don’t know how he was voted in, but what I truly don’t get is how you let Trump stay in power. It’s spelled i-m-p-e-a-c-h.
This image is obviously a play on the old wartime Uncle Sam poster. I did it using only Procreate, and I’m really getting comfortable with the app now for doing things that I used to think you could only do in Photoshop. There’s no text feature, but the original poster had hand-drawn lettering, so I followed suit.
I’m still not completely sold on the hashtag line I came up with, but I’m keeping it for now- cause it makes me laugh!
So the kind folks at Elevation Lab contacted me out of the Internet blue and asked me to review one of their products, their DraftTable stand. At first I was very excited because I’ve used a couple stands for the iPad Pro and none of them worked well. At all. They all seemed to be gimmicky things that fold away neatly, but sucked as a stand- all just afterthoughts to a great machine. But then I thought a little more and didn’t feel comfortable reviewing something I was going to receive for free. So I emailed them back and said I’d do it after using it for a few months, and then only on the understanding that I’d be brutally honest. They said “yup, give-‘er!” (I might be paraphrasing there…). Plus, I ended up having to pay 20 bucks in customs fees since it flew in from TrumpLand, so technically I did end up buying it and that means I’m won’t be pulling any punches. So here are my thoughts, and my son’s friend Mater volunteered to help out with the photos:
This thing is solid. S-O-L-I-D-E. I capitalized that word to emphasize its weight, and added an extra letter just to really drive home the reality that this thing is heavy. Now my wife’s kitchen scale had no batteries in it so I can’t give you a real value to its weight, but it’s definitely at least as much as the iPad itself, and I’m pretty sure it weighs more. This thing is a doorstop- for a castle. But when you start drawing on it, you quickly appreciate that weight and rigidity because no matter where you draw on screen, it doesn’t budge. And that is beautiful. All of the other stands I’ve used are those folding ones, and somehow end up falling over when you’re drawing or never hold the screen at the right angle. Plus they can never hold it in portrait mode, which you need to do a good portion of the time when you’re drawing a portrait- duh! This stand holds the iPad Pro so you can concentrate on drawing, and not worry about whether or not your thousand dollar piece of kit is going to fall over if you press too hard while you draw. It seems like such an obvious trait for a drawing tablet stand, doesn’t it? But none of the other makers, include Apple itself by the way, have realized that. The iPad Pro is such new tech, as are all tablets, that no one has figured out the ergonomics just yet. On that note, I don’t get why people use the iPad Pro with the Apple keyboard (or any other keyboard)- it defeats the purpose of touch technology. I’ve gotten used to typing on this thing, and don’t want anything in my way as I interface with it. (Yeah, I know I sound like a robot. Interface is the only word I can think of right now.)
The stand has three separate legs that fold independently to let you choose which angle works best for what you’re doing. I personally like to draw when the paper/screen is low because I rest my hand on the screen, so I only use the stand laying down (which props it up ever so slightly), or its lowest setting. The highest angle is really only good for 1) watching movies or 2) when you’re cooking and want to rip off someone’s recipe to impress your wife. The legs themselves are a little stiff and sort of ‘snap’ loudly back into place when you’re folding them back flat, but they work super well and solidly when you’re drawing. I wish there was only one leg to be honest instead of having to choose which leg you want to fold out, but nothing’s perfect. (Actually, I give Wacom a big nod here for designing a great stand for their original Cintiqs. Those paddle height adjusters are just sexy.) I did have an issue after a couple of weeks of use, when one of the legs wouldn’t fold properly, and started making a horrible noise. Luckily for the guys at Elevation Lab, I’m very comfortable taking apart anything from a computer to a refrigerator, so I started disassembling it and re-bent the misshapen metal piece that acts as the spring for the folding leg. I’ve never seen a hinge mechanism like it before, but it was fixable, so that is actually a benefit in my book. Nothing lasts forever, but if you can fix things, it’ll last a lot longer. With those other folding crap stands, once something gives, it goes in the garbage. So once you consider you’ll go through 2 or 3 of those crap-tastic stands in no time like I did, this stand starts looking really, really good. Here are the four positions you get, the first one is laying flat when all the legs are folded in:
The stand comes with 2 accessories that I think are honestly pointless. The first is a floppy wrist support thingy that you’re supposed to place right in front of the screen when you draw. It cocks your wrist at an angle that’s all wrong ergonomically, and take it from me: when you start screwing with wrist angles for long, you’re dancing with the tendinitis devil. When I draw, I like resting my hand on the screen, and since Procreate on the iPad Pro has wicked palm rejection, I don’t get why they think you’re supposed to hover with your hand while you draw. Seems all wrong to me. Get rid of that floppy, phallic black thing, Elevation Lab. See how cocked my wrist is in the first photo? Throwing that damned thing way and drawing onscreen feels way, way more natural.
The second accessory is a pencil holder, similar to the Wacom line. It’s nice, but just like the Wacom holder, I don’t use it. The iPad Pro is a different animal than Cintiqs and I find myself walking around with it, taking it to bed, drawing on the couch, just generally being mobile with it. The last thing I want to do is drag around another thing I’m only going to lose. I think my 5 dollar solution to the pencil holder dilemma is far more elegant (well, not really mine; I stole the idea from someone smarter than me on the Internets). It’s a Microsoft surface pro stick-on pen holder. Probably the best thing about the Surface Pro. I just glued it on, and now the Pencil is with me wherever I go, and stows away neatly when I want it to. Elegant and going strong after a year. The only hack I did was wrap some Scotch tape around the Pencil to make its circumference a bit bigger so that it doesn’t slip out. Voila.
All in all, this thing is a great stand. It takes the iPad Pro from being just a mobile drawing tablet (albeit a pretty darned perfect one) into a mobile drawing workstation. I do wish though that the folks at Elevation Lab would ditch the two accessories that come with the stand and put that cash towards making the stand lighter, and a little more robust to being moved around so much (the little rubber feet are already peeling off). I actually carry it around with me wherever I go now, in spite of its weight, just because it does its job so well. And since the top of the pivoting legs is a natural hand hold, it’s easy to just grab and go. When I put it in my bag, I just flip the iPad Pro around so that the screen is nestled against the felty surface and it’s protected. Nice. I’m not getting rid of this stand anytime soon, and I’m glad my days of propping my iPad Pro on questionable supports (books, anyone?) are over. Nice job, guys at Elevation Lab. I’m actually surprised at how attached I am to this heavy thing. It just begs the question of why the hell Apple hasn’t thought of making something like this as a part of the iPad Pro itself. Now that would be uber shexy! Isn’t everyone who’s buying the iPad Pro using it to draw on? Then why the hell is a stand an add-on afterthought? Anyway, until that happens, both Mater and I are very happy with the slimmed-down Draft Table, and my Surface Pro Pencil holder hack. See how happy he looks?
While I have you here, I thought I would just mention a great little solution I came up with for finding a spot to put the Pencil cap while you’re recharging it: just put it on top of the iPad Pro’s built-in speakers! They’re magnets after all, so they’ll hold your Pencil top sturdily until you put it back and you never have to worry about losing it again. You’re welcome.
Oh, and here’s the image I was drawing when I wasn’t doing some contract work at the office. Just a happy cat with his doggy bag. I might finish it someday when I’m done building my house. Just don’t ask me when that is, okay?
I thought I should mention that my wife’s documentary film, Angry Inuk, been garnering enormous international acclaim. First it won the prestigious Audience Award at Hot Docs, then continued on to win awards at every festival it’s been to around the world. It’s a documentary about how Inuit have been affected by anti-sealing propaganda, and I got to play a small role in the film, having done the artwork and animation that went alongside the liveaction. (To be honest, I would’ve given her the cold shoulder if she had hired someone else. Love you, honey!) If you can, make sure to head out and see it. Hopefully there’ll be a theatrical release in the States to compliment its release in Canada- a feat I might add that not many documentaries every attain. Unfortunately, most documentaries never make it to the box office since people are more interested in seeing crap on the big screen.
On more of a me-me-me note, check out some of these spreads I did for the commercial book Wild Eggs before taking time off to build our house. (I’ll do a post sometime soon showing y’all what the house is looking like, and some of the design details and features I’m proud of. I’m an uber nerdy Construction Science guy. Heck, I even did a stint at university in architecture. But I sort of dropped out after a year…after having dropped out of civil engineering. Turns out I wasn’t meant for University, I guess. But they had no problems whatsoever taking my money as I spent three years figuring that I like to make things with my hands instead of having my face buried in a textbook…But I digress. Which I’m allowed to do since this is my website. So there.)
I wish I’d had the iPad Pro while illustrating Wild Eggs…my wrists were killing me using the large Intuos and the keyboard with all of its Siren-like shortcuts. I can really see how sloppy some of the work is since I couldn’t do any of the accurate work I’d’ve like to have done which is now second nature using Procreate on the iPad Pro. Don’t get me wrong, it can be liberating (and fast) to work messily when you’re painting in photoshop, but when you want to do fine work, like tracing your lines, then the Intuos sucks. Go check out my previous post on how much I’ve come to love the large iPad Pro.
All images courtesy Inhabit Media. Hope you like ’em!
If you’re wondering why I’m even considering looking at an iPad Pro for drawing and painting after espousing the unlimited benefits of the Wacom Intuos, look at my previous post about being the 180 Man. Joking mostly aside, the main reason I was looking to get either a new Cintiq (I sold my 24″ HD a year ago) or an iPad Pro was because I’d developed tendinitis from drawing on the Intuos full time for several years. It turns out my setup was great for my back but horrible for my wrists. In fact, I’ve developed tendinitis in both wrists, funnily with my left, non-drawing hand being the worst hit (those damned keyboard shortcuts I love so much turned out to be not such a shortcut after all!). I’m slow to admit when something I like isn’t working, but my wrists, and forearms were becoming more and more painful with every passing month. When it was almost unbearable for me to lift my son, I knew I had to rethink how I was working. First, I took some time away from work, but the minute I went back to the office the pain came running back. I needed a solution, but I really don’t like the experience of drawing on the Cintiq lines of Wacom…my previous posts pretty much sum up how I feel about them.
Then all of a sudden, this wacky new thing by Apple emerged; the iPad Pro with its own Pencil. After my not so great experience with the iPad Air 2 and the drawing app Procreate, I was very skeptical about it being a “professional” device. So I lurked in the shadows for 2 months after its release, as various reviews came in, many in favour with just as many against. Also, we don’t have an Apple store in Iqaluit, or within 3000 Kms of Iqaluit for that matter, so I couldn’t just walk into the nearest store and try it out. It wasn’t until I got down to Montreal to work on my wife’s soon to be released documentary, Angry Inuk, that I picked it up, along with the Pencil. I had to do about 5 minutes of animation for the film, so I needed to create a lot drawings and my wrists had given up on me. It was either go traditional, pick up a Cintiq, or try out the iPad Pro. Whatever I decided, I didn’t have a lot of time, since the film had to be wrapped up within a month. So, I swung by the Apple Store and gave it a whirl.
The device blew me away as I drew in an app that comes with the iPad Pro, called Notes. How the Pencil works in that app is so sexy, it’s indescribable. Take my word when I say that it works as close as you can get to pencil on paper without it being the real thing. So I took it home, downloaded the third party app called Procreate, and put it through its paces. But I have to say that I almost returned the device after playing with it for a bit. The drawing experience in Procreate doesn’t come anywhere near close to what you get when you combine the Apple Pencil and Notes. And that was my main reason for getting the damned thing…to draw and paint assets that I would later animate in After Effects. But, I stuck it out for a day, and it turns out that you can really customize the brushes in the Procreate, and I came fairly close to recreating the Notes pencil, as have others on the net. Close enough I should say, that I kept using the iPad Pro.
Skip ahead a month, and what do I think? Well, I finished 5 minutes of animation using the iPad Pro for all the drawing and painting of assets. I learned fairly quickly that the device has some pretty big drawbacks, but that if you use it solely for drawing and painting, and don’t expect anything else from it, it’s pretty close to perfect. Coupled with the app Procreate, you have a drawing station better than any 6 or 7 thousand dollar setup with honking computers and huge Cintiqs. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I way prefer this iPad Pro than my Intuos! And my wrists are almost back to normal, even after resuming my left hand claw stance whenever I had to use AFX.
For drawing apps, I bought Procreate, and Sketchbook, and looked in depth at a few more, But honestly, the Pencil in concert with Procreate was the main reason I got the iPad Pro. Don’t waste your money on Sketchbook- I wish I could have my 5 bucks back. Procreate, though, is like a streamlined Photoshop with all the key features you want from that desktop application, but with such a better interface that you end up working faster and more intuitively. Procreate is the tool that ends up letting you use the iPad Pro in place of a Cintiq, plain and simple.
I can’t believe how much I’d missed drawing. Plain old drawing. I had intentionally focused on my painting skills the past few years, and the Intuos is a fantastic tool for painting digitally, but it just plain sucks when you want to have sinewy line drawings. Don’t even think about refining or tracing over your line work- you just can’t do it on an Intuos. I can fake it like the best of them, and you develop techniques to make it look like you’re doing nice linework, erasing is fantastic at accomplishing that for instance as well as the path tool in PS, but nothing will ever replace confident lines, and I was missing showing off my lines. Look at most of the recent work in this site, and there are almost no lines. Anywhere. Lines, lines, lines, lines, lines, lines. I even missed writing that word it seems.
And why not a Cintiq, you ask? Well, I guess it’s not the Cintiq itself that doesn’t do it for me, but the desktop apps that don’t work anywhere near as well with it as Procreate does with the iPad Pro. Photoshop (PS) is great on an Intuos, but not a Cintiq. On a Cintiq, your arms travel miles from where you’re drawing to your palettes or layers, but with Procreate everything is where you expect it. And you get used to the gestures so quickly, it’s impressive. I now double tap to undo even when I’m back drawing in photoshop! Man, o man, the selection tool in Procreate far outperforms the lasso tool in PS, not to mention the smudge tool, which brings even my 32 gig Ram machine at work to a grinding halt. Procreate and the iPad Pro with the Pencil is frankly the best digital drawing tool out there. Once procreate brushes catch up to the sexy Notes pencil, even diehard traditionalists will jump on the digital bandwagon. Get it and you won’t look back.
Where the iPad Pro falls short is not in its performance as a drawing tool, but in how it works in the digital art workflow, especially animation. I think it is pretty damned close to perfect if all you’re doing is illustration, but if you’re doing animation, you’re going to find there are some major hiccups. And that’s why I don’t see major studios incorporating it into their workflow. For my work, I use After Effects as my animation software, and it’s meant to be used in concert with Photoshop. After I finished a drawing on the iPad, it wasn’t fun getting it saved and opened in after effects on my iMac. You can export a layered psd file from procreate, but you can’t import a psd for some reason. So that means any change that you need to do to an image will have many steps involved to get from the iPad to the computer. And that was much, much slower than when I was doing all the drawing painting on the same machine as I was animating on. But my wrist stopped hurting (mostly), so I have no real complaints. And I feel the drawings themselves are much stronger now that I can do confident linework once again. I also can draw so much faster than I was on the Intuos, I’ll never use an Intuos again for the drawing/sketching stage of an illustration. (See my post about being the 180 Man) I can see still using it in the painting/colouring stages, but the more I use Procreate, the less desire I have to go back to Wacom products.
Oh, and I bought the app Astropad hoping I could use it as a Cintiq, so that I could still use the iPad Pro for Photoshop work when needed, but it sucks. I think people who are giving it good reviews are those who have never used a Cintiq and don’t know how well it’s supposed to work. The lag is unbearable, and the screen resolution reminds me of 1989. It only mirrors the screen resolution of whichever machine you’re connecting the iPad Pro with, so when you hook it up to an 11″ MacBook Air for instance, you’re iPad has a screen that looks like my old blackberry. Crap. I want my money back from them too. I also got the an app called Duet, which is supposed to make the iPad into a secondary display. Neat, but really doesn’t work for serious work, mainly because it doesn’t make use of the native resolution of the iPad- pixels are fuzzy. Not gonna work in a pro setting.
So, for now, I’m hanging up my Intuos. Wacom, you have a hard road ahead of you, I’m sorry to say. The responsiveness and accuracy of the Pencil on that gorgeous screen leaves even the large 27″ Cintiq way, way behind. Oh, and as an additional comparison with the Cintiq, especially the model which I think is still their best (the 21″), there is no feeling of a disconnect from the tip of the Pencil with the drawing. On the Cintiqs, there is a noticeable distance between the stylus and the screen itself because there’s a honking piece of glass separating the two. Wacom tried its best by letting you “calibrate” the two together so that the feeling of drawing a few millimeters away from where the tip of the stylus is, but it doesn’t quite work. Especially near the edges of the monitor, and that reality of disconnect is much more pronounced when you tilt and swivel the display. Somehow, the iPad Pro has none of that. I swear.
All the drawings in this post I did on the iPad Pro in Procreate for the film. What you’re seeing aren’t final compositions, just screen grabs of some of the layered characters before I brought them into After Effects to animate, so the characters are haphazardly placed beside or on top of each other. I used some photographed textures in place of clothing to give an additional depth. I even used the camera on the machine itself in one instance!
I hope you enjoy ’em, because I had fun drawing them. Especially since now I can draw digitally as quickly as I’ve learned to paint in Photoshop. Shexy.
All images courtesy Unikkaat Studios. And go check out the doc Angry Inuk if you’re in Toronto this April/May for HotDocs- it’s a great film in my completely married, unbiased opinion.
It’s been a long while since I’ve done a single thing to this website, and that’s because between working full time as an illustrator and coming home to a tiny bundle of baby, I barely have enough time to step foot in my shop, let alone keep up with blogs or posts. I have come to realize one thing, and I only noticed it after working full time: that if a person has tonnes and tonnes of blog posts and keeps on them daily, then where’s the time for real work? Some of my favourite artists have almost zero presence on the web, and I’m guessing that’s because they just don’t have the time to sit down and type out a blog post or upload their most recent work, as they’re busy working! Try doing a search for Steve Purcell, the art director on Brave, whom I consider one of the best living artists, and you’ll find nothing. That is one busy dude, and rightly so. (I guess I’m taking a stab at myself right now, since I’m writing this and not working, but in my defence, I’ve taken time off to build my house. So there!)
Okay, now on to what this post is about: my experience using what I thought was going to get me off the Intuos bandwagon. I read and read all about the pretty cool drawing software called Procreate for the iPad that’s gotten a tonne of fantastic reviews, and so I rushed out and bought myself an iPad Air2 to see if it was for me. The interface is super streamlined, and it really is some fantastic software. Heck, there are even guys and gals who use this combo as their professional setup now, and are producing just as fantastic pieces. I honestly thought that this was it- the last divide between digital and hand drawn. But after playing with it for a few weeks, I missed the keyboard and all the shortcuts I’ve gotten used to with PS. I won’t get into the hand-in-the-way-of-half-of-what-the-hell-I’m-doing rhetoric, since by now I’m sure you know how I feel about that, but the one thing that really struck me was that I was zooming in and out endlessly. I’ve worked exclusively on a 27″ iMac for over a year now, and going down to a 9.7″ screen just doesn’t cut it. I felt like I was trying to be one of those crazy guys who paints a scene on the a grain of rice- ridiculous. So, and it’s no surprise, I sold it. I guess I could see using it as a portable work station, but I love leaving work behind the minute I step out the door at 5. And if I’m travelling, my brain and hand need some much needed distance from creating art all day long, so I happily won’t carry something that connects me back to the office.
I think I should also mention that my work bought a new 27″ Cintiq since we just hired a new animator on top of another illustrator (who will take over some of my duties while I’m away building an Arctic Taj Mahal). I was the first one to use it since I’m the senior artist, and I screamed bloody murder if I wasn’t the one to unbox it- I’ve learned a few tricks from my 7 month old in terms of getting what you want! Anyway, after an hour jumping through all the normal hoops which accompany the Cintiqs, like calibration, putting nine million cables under and around tables, and figuring out where the hell you put to damned thing so there’s room left to breathe, I set to work. One thing I noticed right away: the screen quality is way, way better than the 24 HD. No competition. This is actually a nice monitor. But side by side with the iMac, or stacked on top of each other like I did at work, there’s still no comparison. The depth of blacks on the iMac screen is so much richer and the colours aren’t as artificially saturated as they are the Cintiq. Close, but no cigar, Cintiq.
I also played with the new, floating express key thingy, which looks cool, and works pretty well too. It’s magnetic, but one thing no one mentions is that it only sticks to the metal border around the screen. If you tilt the monitor more vertically, then the “thingy” will only stick to the outside edges of the monitor and if you place it on the working area, it’ll just slide off. So your non-drawing hand still has to be by the edge of the monitor, like the old express key placement. Unless you’re working almost horizontally, then it can be anywhere. Close again, Cintiq, but I think you should have stuck with the old express key placement along the sides.
Like the 24HD, the 27″ Cintiq doesn’t rotate like their sexy little cousin, the 22HD. I really liked working on the 21″ and 22HD before I really got used to the Intuos, almost entirely because I could rotate the monitor as you would a piece of paper as you’re sketching. It makes a little swishing sound as you do this, and since I did it so frequently, I was driving my fellow students at the Imaginism course a couple years ago mad! Sorry, guys.
This is no small thing, and probably my number one complaint with Cintiqs which I should have known couldn’t (can’t) be resolved if you draw onscreen: back problems. I have chronic back pain from a long ago accident, and after two hours use of the Cintiq, my lower back was screaming. You just can’t have good posture being bent over as you draw on a monitor. I have tailored my workstation with the Intuos and iMac so that I’m looking at my monitor with my head level to the ground and my back straight. Since I’m 6’2″, I’ve even raised my 27″ iMac about 4″ up off the table top. I rarely get pain in my back from drawing now. To be honest, since this is what I do 9-5, I honestly can’t afford to have back pain. It’s as simple as that.
So, for now, I’m still unchanged in my love for the Intuos. That ridiculously simple device, essentially unchanged in 20 years, still wins me over. Did I mention the incredible artists like Dice Tsutsumi and the digital drawing god Craig Mullins still prefer the Inutos? Look at the top professionals in the art field, and you’d be surprised at how many stick with their Intuos.
On another note, I can’t wait to show the world some of the really great work we’ve been doing in-house over this past year, but for now, here are some blasts from the past all done for UpHere magazine. Enjoy!
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been selected by Wacom to do some preliminary testing on one of their soon to be released products: the Intuos Pro Companion. This is my first true product review, so bare with me…
After all the hype surrounding the Cintiq Companion line, Wacom decided that the Intuos line needed a bit of boost as well, and designed the Intuos Pro Companion (IC). Now you all know my stance on the Cintiq line, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when Wacom had chosen me as one of their testers for the IC. And let me tell you, after two weeks of constant use of this thing, and I mean 24 hour a day, I have to say I love it!
At first it was a little loud, and kinda leaky, so I kept trying to see if there were any missing parts. I don’t really know how to take it apart, especially since I’m not that confident in my skills in being able to put it back together, so I’ve decided to just live with the noise. And actually the noise appears only after about 3 or 4 hours of use, so I just take a bit of break, and it quiets down…strange, but it works. It must have some sort of built-in sensor that lets me know if it’s being overworked. I haven’t really figured out why it leaks so much yet…
But perhaps the biggest advance with the IC is the wireless capability. I’ve only ever used the corded versions of Intuoses (what’s the plural: Intui?) and I’ve heard the battery life sucks on the larger tablets when you use the cordless attachment, so I was blown away by this thing. It’s truly wireless. I can actually leave the house once in a while with it and it still works! Crazy.
I head back to regular work tomorrow (where I only have my large Intuos5), and I definitely am going to miss the IC, with which I somehow managed to meet deadlines and do some freelance. I don’t think I’ll be able to ever give it back- sorry, Wacom.
So all in all, I love the hell out of my new companion.
Oh, by the way: it’s the thing beside my old Intuos. :)
Nah, nah, naaaah, nah, naaaah…That’s sort of how the song goes, no?
I’ve been humming that tune lately since, yes, I am now a nine to fiver. Well, I’m not a true office robot yet, but for at least 3 days of the week, I work as the in-house illustrator and animator up here in Iqaluit for Inhabit Media, and their sister animation company, Taqqut Productions. Landing a job like that is not exactly common-place for an illustrator, and the odds of it happening here in Iqaluit are ridiculously low. So when one of the owners decided to take the plunge working full-time running the two companies, he asked if I’d like to jump on board as well. I said yes, and I haven’t looked back yet.
I’ve been self-employed either as a carpenter or as an illustrator for close to 10 years, and believe me when I say that time has a crazy habit of just slipping by when you’re in control of your hours. One second you’re looking up reference to figure out how to draw a flying pink polar bear, and then you notice that two hours have gone by…watching how to hand-cut dovetails. I don’t even know how it happens, but I think my computer has a few keyboard shortcuts that take me to places lurking in my subconscious, and my keyboard here in my studiop (half studio/half woodwhop) seems to be missing that “get to work” button that the one at work has. Funny that. So not only has working at a different location than my studiop boosted my productivity through the roof, but another very strange thing has started to happen that I had forgotten existed: a regular paycheque. Every two weeks, this magical little pay stub appears, and I’m a few bucks richer. Every two weeks. Crazy nuts. Now if you’ve ever been in the freelance world, you understand when I say that months can go by before you get paid for a job. There’s something very strange in the illustration world especially that demands the artist work their ass off to a tight deadline, while the client can take an eternity to pay. If only I ruled the art world with the same iron fist as North Korea…I’d take as long to give a final as the client takes to pay me. So now, if I’m not going to be paid for a while, I’m definitely only going to take jobs that are fun and interesting. Illustration should tickle the artist’s brain as much as it does for the viewer.
But perhaps the biggest change I’ve noticed after beginning this new job is how much more time I have to myself, unhindered by the nagging feeling that I should be drawing or painting. I work my ass off during the day, and all of a sudden nights and weekends are mine. For me, illustration can easily be a huge, hungry monster that gladly eats up my brain, so trying to contain it to 8 hours a day leaves me some much needed down time. The work I’m doing now during those hours is as every much mentally demanding, but now that monster is kept at bay. At least mostly, anyway. I’m still juggling a lot of freelance work, so that can bleed over into nights and weekends, but I’m trying to contain that work and only draw in my studiop during regular hours.
So for now, I’m loving this new nine to five thing, and the reason I haven’t posted a word in over two months is that all artwork I’ve done is under non-disclosure agreements. Any extra time I have has been making shavings…oh, and since I have a lot of requests to show what my studiop looks like, here are a couple pics of what a City boy who moves to the Arctic can make of a shipping container. The first one shows where I draw using my iMac and large Intuos5 (have I mentioned how much I love my Intuos? I sold my large 24HD Cintiq since I hadn’t used it for a couple months, and I’m rarely looking back.) The other one is the studiop from the opposing angle. It’s a little cramped to do woodworking and painting all within a 7’x18′ space, but you’d be surprised how a little organization can make any small space work.
I did this sketch in about 20 minutes. It’s a great exercise to limit yourself once in a while, and I chose to give myself no more than half an hour to do a study, and in this case I found a photo of a mouse I just couldn’t pass up.
Working loose is something I really enjoy, as it forces me to see the overall values and colours, and not get too wrapped up in detail. My arsenal of brushes is slowly growing, but I’m very discerning, so if I don’t use a brush for a week, then out it goes. I made a brush that replicates traditional oil, and it allows me to very quickly add depth to a painting, while at the same time its relatively rough edges doesn’t allow me to get all fussy with detail. I did however revert back to the old standby brush, the stock photoshop hard-round one (which is still the only one brush you truly need to do over 95% of all your work), for the whiskers and highlights.
I admit it: I draw characters and nuthin‘ but characters.
So I’ve been giving myself a bit of challenge lately, to step outside my comfort zone and paint more landscapes and atmospheric images. I’ve always shied away from landscapes, knowing just how hard it is to get the perspective down and do give a true sense of depth. Colour theory and mixing is what I consider to be my main weakness, followed closely by the Design Monster, and landscapes are all about colour. Getting those far away mountains to look like they’re in the distance requires some cunning trickery, and I’m learning that photoshop has some wonderful tools to enable me to really push and pull areas of my paintings by employing a couple great tricks.
First of all, the magic of adjustment layers cannot be overstated. So I’ll say it again: the magic of adjustment layers cannot by overstated! If you don’t know what that is, look it up on the net, and familiarize yourself with them. I personally use the Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer the most, and work its mask to make whatever I want recede into the cool, desaturated background, or jump out in foreground with warm, saturated colours. Using a large, very feathery brush to work the mask is key. Reserve your small detail brushes til the very end. And to push your shadows or highlights to emphasize your focal point, again create another adjustment layer, employing all of the same tactics.
Finally, don’t forget to flatten your image when you’re happy with how everything’s looking, and paint over it all with a crisp, small brush to really make things ‘pop’. There’s nothing better than seeing brush strokes in a final piece, at least to me, and adjustment layers can unfortunately really mute all your work, so spend the last few minutes breathing life back into your painting with that crisp brush.
The drawing I did started out as nothing more than completely haphazard brush strokes, which slowly grew into a scene. A few more brushstokes, and hey!, there was a ship. Now what’s a ship doing in the middle of brushstroke nowhere, unless it’s out hunting dragons? (Can you say cliche? Because I can, and just did.) So I dropped in a dragon, then thought it’d be funny to have him holding up a dartboard as his shield. I can just hear him in a growly, yet girly, Dragon voice saying: ‘Bullseye!’ to those poor little sailors. Cannonballs would sort of be like darts to a dragon, no?
My wife didn’t think the drawing was funny. Bah, humbug.
But I’m glad I’m starting to challenge myself by doing these landscapey paintings- it’s just one more skill in the arsenal. This one took me about 3 hours. I’ve also put up two versions that I played around with before settling on a colour scheme I liked, as well as two close ups to show you how messy and painterly I enjoy working. As long as the overall values are there, then I’m realizing it truly doesn’t matter how ‘messy’ you are!
I couldn’t think of a better title for this post, so that’s what you’ve got. And it actually might be the truth, since my little brother whose reality is more rooted in video games than anything tangible, has never turned on the radio. Ever. Unless of course it’s part of some video game he’s playing.
I’m writing this post because I got some unusual leeway to post some of the concept art I’m working on for a very cool video game from the folks at Pinnguaq. They’re creating a game based on a few traditional Inuit stories relating to the mythical sea beast, Qalupalik. What gives it an even neater dimension is that they’re programming it for the Occulus Rift, so that the haunting game play will be all that more immersive. (If you don’t know about the Occulus Rift, its a brand-spanking new type of gaming, where you wear a goggle headset and you’re immersed in the game completely. You owe it to yourself to at least google what its all about.)
Now usually for concept art for those of you who don’t know, the artist (in this case me) is contracted to do work under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which means that all the work you do cannot be shown by the artist to anyone under any circumstances until the company who hired you allows- which normally means well after the release of the final product (in this case the game). This is the first time I’ve worked like this, and I like it because now I’m able to show what I’ve been doing. Sometimes while working on other projects where I have signed a NDA, I really, really want to show people the fun stuff I’m creating but can’t. And it’s totally understandable that the person commissioning my work would want to keep it under wraps until the final product is released because there really are eyes and ears everywhere, some of whom will gladly take your ideas and call them your own. To more fully understand the pressures and accountability involved in film and video games, I attended a fantastic workshop last week about just that: producing. I was blown away that much of a producer’s job is making sure no there’s no copyright infringement is making its way into the project, and that you’re also protected from others taking your intellectual property. I really don’t know if keeping all the concept work away from the public eye until the unveiling of the product is best, so it’ll be neat to see how Pinnguaq’s approach will work.
And be sure to read this great article by a reporter who attended GDC (the massive game developers conference in San Diego) last week where Pinnguaq unveiled the budding Qalupalik game. It’s a great article, and congrats to the boys and gals at Pinnguaq for your success! I look forward to doing more work on the project.
Here’s some of what I’ve done on the project to date, and I hope you like ’em. All images courtesy Pinnguaq:
Since I’ve been down South for over a month (once you live in the Arctic, the criteria for calling somewhere South is anyplace that has trees), I’ve met up with two powerhouses in the art world. Although their two artistic worlds may seem completely separate and even opposed, I can’t say how refreshing it was to meet and talk shop with first, Larry MacDougall and second, Terry Mosher, otherwise known as Aislin. Larry is a renowned fantasy artist who I think needs no introduction (but if you do, go look up his stuff at here or here) and Terry Mosher is arguably Canada’s premier political cartoonist (his website’s here.)
I had the opportunity to meet up with Larry in Toronto since a mutual friend, Neil Christopher of Inhabit Media, is brewing up some really neat animations and is trying to get both Larry and I to work together doing character designs. Now since I live in Iqaluit I’m quite removed from the animation and visual art world, at least physically. The internet is great for connecting and exposing me to other artists and projects, but there really is something about being face to face with someone that the digital world will have a really hard time replacing. I met with Aislin after I emailed him out of the blue to see if I could pick his brain about the ups and downs of being a political cartoonist in Canada. I went into our meeting, more of a breakfast really, knowing full well that his perspective will be a little skewed since he’s attained such renown (every sliver of it well deserved though), something all of us little people can only foggily dream of.
I relished every second of my meetings with both giants. And you know why? Because despite of their success, they are both down to earth, wonderful people whose enthusiasm for their craft is shining bright after all this time. And did I say nice? Both guys were so genuinely kind- Aislin insisted on paying for breakfast even though I was the one who invited him out for a chat.
The above sketch I started in the midst of my hectic work this week is an homage to Paul Sellers, whose work is every bit as inspirational to me as is Larry and Aislin’s. What I think I love most about Mr. Sellers (I don’t think I can call him Paul just yet since I’ve never met him!) is that his gift is in sharing his knowledge so effortlessly and without any sense of ownership. All that he’s learned is just sort of temporarily resting in his body, and as he gets older, all that knowledge is being disseminated to others. And that’s the basis of this piece which is just starting to take shape after a couple hours so far: that he’s creating woodworkers, not just pieces of furniture. I like to think I’m one of those little guys he’s helped mould, and when I get time to finish this piece I plan on giving it to him as thank you gift.
Anyway, hope you like it. It’s just at the itty bitty beginning stages, and I’m not sure if I need to have so many little guys around. I can’t wait to have a bit more time to sit down and finish it. In a couple weeks I should be finished the animation and character design work I have now, so I’ll attack it then.
It’s funny that my last post was about not letting the fear of failure cripple me so much, since that’s exactly what ended up happening with the piece I’m doing right now. In the end, it wound up getting a big fat “F”. (It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a real report card, but let me tell you that I’ve had my fair share of those f guys. I actually should have failed grade 3, but my parents’ quick thinking kept me afloat. Thanks mom and pop.)
I want to explore political cartooning more and that’s what I was thinking, or sort of thinking, when I started drawing this one a couple days ago. Well to be honest, I wasn’t thinking at all and just started drawing our Supreme Leader Stephen Harper, hoping an idea would emerge. I thought I was getting a little smart when I morphed him into the suckling baby of some ginormous breast- but I had no idea what that boob was going to be attached to. I took the cheap way out, and made a dig at the tar sands and Big Oil- an easy mark, I know. Too easy. And I knew as I was drawing it that it really didn’t make sense, all the while hoping it would solidify.
When my inner critic (what I loving call my wife Alethea) looked over this morning at what I was doing and brought down the hammer, I knew she was right. Crap; one more for the scrap bin. Oh well, can’t win ’em all, and luckily I hadn’t spent too much time on this sketch, which is something I have to as a whole spend more time doing. Sketch, sketch, sketch ideas until they are rock solid before I start taking them anywhere near completion, otherwise I get too attached to them and have a hard time restarting. The legendary animator Cordell Barker came up north to Iqaluit a couple years ago as part of an NFB initiative and gave fantastic talk, and what stuck most with me this whole time was a simple line he repeated over and over again: “Don’t be afraid to kill your babies”. Now he’s got his own children, and isn’t advocating infanticide here. He’s just reminding all of us the danger of getting attached to an idea before it’s fully realized. I guess like me sometimes he rushes ahead on a drawing or idea, and then realizes only too late that it’s not working- which means a lot of lost time and effort.
The more I use Photoshop, the more I end up drawing and painting for some reason. I think it’s because you can just play, instead of that paralyzing feeling I get working with traditional media as I try to make a masterpiece and every little mistake stays on the page. The first couple years after I graduated from Sheridan College, I actually barely drew. I think that’s because I had a ridiculous mental block that everything coming out of my pen or pencil had to be ground breaking, something the world’s never seen before. So I just plain stopped drawing and painting, while carpentry became my creative outlet. I think I’m only realizing now that making things out of wood didn’t have that same endless possibility that drawing did, and so I felt more comfortable making a table for instance. Four legs: check. A top: yep. And that’s pretty much all it took for success, those few requirements, while everything else on top was just gravy.
But then I realized that really it all comes down to playing with whatever you do and enjoying the process. So I tried to take myself less seriously, and finally allowed myself to just have fun creating. That meant that drawing became less of a pressure and things just started flowing. Are the things I’m creating materpieces? Nope, and I’m fine with that. I’ve even picked up a sketchbook again after more than 10 years of not having one. All those years ago, I thought that the pages in my sketchbook had to be on par with DaVinci’s stuff, and so you can guess that that’s why I never used one. Now a sketchbook is just that to me: a place to jot down ideas and play in the paper sandbox. The whole idea of a finished piece is slowly dissolving too. I’m trying to force myself to see each piece as a stepping stone to my artistic Nirvana, so that when I’m old I can look back and see my whole career as a final piece I can be proud of. This realization came to me through woodworking actually as I learned how to sharpen chisels and hand planes to shaving sharp. That one skill (which I learned from the master Paul Sellers by the way, after several tortuous years trying to figure things out on my own) made me see that woodworking is just a library of knowledge, and that every piece of furniture hones the skills you’ve acquired and opens your eyes to new ones. It’s a process just like drawing, and I’m always mystified when people don’t see the correlation between woodworking and art. In my mind they’re so similar I sometimes have difficulty understanding why sometimes carpenters poo-poo artists and vice verca. Both are just a collection of skills, plain and simple.
Anyway, enough ranting, so I’ll get on with what I did this morning, which was trying to incorporate textures and designs into a painting. For years I eschewed the two thinking my drawing had to stand on its own without the “trickery” of textures and designs, but I think my work is getting stronger since I’m now embracing those elements. Android Jones is a fantastic artist who really has melded painting and design, so I’m trying to lighten up and do the same.
I did this one in PS5, and I’m really liking the shortcuts for zooming in and out (press and hold the “z” button while you drag your pen left and right, which very sexily doesn’t change the tool you’re using) and the option+control combo for adjusting the size of your brush. Hope you like it.
Sometimes, much to my dismay, sketches turn out better than the final piece. Maybe it’s because the raw idea comes shining through, or the fact that suspension of disbelief is so present in sketches that they trump a polished painting, I don’t know. It’s something I struggle with daily, trying to capture the vitality of a sketch in the final. So, I thought I’d show some of the sketches I’ve done these past couple years for the book Ava and the Little Folk and just ideas I had lumbering around in my head. Hope you like them.
If you’ve known me for more than 5 minutes, you know how fickle my position can be on almost any subject. One minute I’m for, the next I’m vehemently against. I think this trait is an evolutionary advantage, a sort of way for me to see the other side of an argument. At least that’s how I justify my wishwashiness. My wife and I have even come up with a term for me and my behaviour: 180 Man.
Why am I writing this, you ask? Well, after all my earlier rants about how great the Intuos is for drawing and workflow, I’ve been drooling lakes over Wacom’s new Cintiq Companion line of drawing tablets. Those things looked sexy, actually so much so that I was thinking of selling my Intuos just so that I could get my cold slender hands on one of those Sirens. So I heeded that Siren call today and took a walk at lunchtime to a store in Montreal while I’m down here to try it out. And my review? I was so dissapointed with it, that I felt horribly ashamed I ever questioned my love for the Intuos.
I don’t really know why I was expecting so much, but I did and came away a little sad but also relieved that I didn’t need to spend any more money on another piece of kit. I’m so sorry I ever doubted you, Intuos. I’ll try not to be so fickle next time.
One thing that’s great about being an illustrator is that you can work from anywhere. One thing that sucks about being an illustrator, is that you can work from anywhere. Deadlines and clients could care less where your hands are creating their wares, so long as the product is delivered on time and to their satisfaction.
Since I’ve begun working almost entirely digitally, I’m faced with a couple challenges in terms of doing my illustration or animation work as best and as quickly as I can whenever I’m traveling. Right now, I’m three thousand kilometers away from my studio in Iqaluit, and my Cintiq 24HD, which I’ve not so lovingly taken to calling my “Mother of a Behemoth”, or my MoB. (Sometimes I think it would be easier to move the world around my MoB, then to attempt to move it. That thing is heavy.) In the past, I would use my little 13″ MacBook Pro with a small Intuos, and that blew blue goats. When I switched to using the sexy, large Intuos a few months ago, it’s never out of arm’s reach, and so I had to think of a combination that would compliment such a fine piece of drawing equipment. Lo and behold: the 21″ iMac! It’s my main machine now, and has plenty of power to handle whatever ridiculousness I throw at it- with ease. And its screen leaves my Cintiq in the dust, which in a previous post I mentioned is not the finest in terms of colour and brightness. So, how do I travel with the darned thing? Quite easily, actually, now that I got a cool and fairly cheap bag made just for this purpose- an iLugger. I’m able to slip the iMac in and out in very little time, and the bag also just has enough room for the large Intuos. I think it’s pretty elegant- even though my wife scoffs at me whenever we’re going through security at the airport. I do admit that it’s not as light, nor as easy to carry around as a laptop, but when I pull that iMac badboy out, I think I look pretty slick. Especially since it’s carry-on. Ooooh.
Plus, if you’re working away from your studio for more than a week or two like I am right now, a big screen is something that goes a long, long way. So, if you’re on the fence about what machine to buy and it needs to be fairly portable, don’t overlook the new 21″ iMacs. In combination with an iLugger, I have a portable studio that doesn’t leave me wanting for more screen real estate or machine power, even crunching stuff in AFX. (Nope, I don’t get paid by iLugger or Apple. Wouldn’t hurt if I did, though.)
About two months ago, I purchased the latest, greatest Wacom monitor: the Cintiq 24HD. I was drooling all over my computer monitor whenever I’d pull up a youtube video of someone testing it out. When I finally pulled the trigger to buy it, I was only a little reluctant despite it costing equal to a small country since I’ve used its smaller cousin, the little 13″ guy, for about three years and know that it can boost productivity. So after I drove it from Toronto to Ottawa, put it on a plane up here to Iqaluit and got it into my small shop, I noticed something. This thing is big. Not just a little big, but ridiculous MassivE. It’s sitting right now on the corner of my desk, actually unused, because for me to use it I need so much space that there’s hardly any room left for me to fart.
But it’s pretty, and it does its job of being the next best thing for sketching besides paper in unrivaled fashion. And yet, there it sits, right beside my large Intuos- the one I use every day. There’s something so elegantly simple about the Intuos, it’s hard to describe until you get into the groove. For me, the keyboard is indispensable while drawing or doing any After Effects work, and the Intuos and keyboard go together like coffee and breaktime. Whenever I use the Cintiq, I find myself muttering when I have to move my hand four miles away from the monitor to do a keyboard shortcut, and don’t even get me started every time I need to change monitors to my primary screen on the iMac. I know, I know, all you guys and gals out there- but you can programme the buttons on the Cintiq to any shortcut you want!I’ve done it, and honestly, I hate them. I’m so used to the keyboard shortcuts after having used photoshop for almost 10 years, that for me you can’t beat the keyboard interface. I don’t even use the buttons on the Intuos either, for the same reason. No matter how used to the buttons you get on either the Intuos or Cintiq, you will always need the keyboard, and the Cintiq attempts to do away with it completely. For me, that’s a huge mistake. Also, it is absolutely true that having your hand in the way as you paint really slows things down, and whenever you need to make a path or do anything in PS that isn’t drawing, you can’t even see half of what you’re doing. The screen too on the Cintiq is crap. I believed everyone who wrote saying that IPS panel of the Cintiq 24HD is wonderful, but after my first two drawings that I had to touch up on using the iMac screen since I couldn’t even see some of the colour I thought I’d erased, I stopped believing in how nice the screen is.
If you don’t believe me, I’d love for anyone to point out which drawings/paintings were done with the Cintiq or Intuos. If you want further proof of how symbiotic the keyboard/Intuos relationship is, look up the digital magician Feng Zhu of FZD Studios. He uses the Intuos for all his work, even though like me he owns the behemoth Cintiq 24HD. I guess I’m writing all this to say that if you’re on the fence about buying a Cintiq, think very hard if you want an elephant in the room that doesn’t do all the tricks of the lowly Intuos Mouse (which I guess it sort of is, no? Hehe. Mr. Pun A Lot). Will I sell my Cintiq? Hell no, since whenever I need to do an intricate sketch or do repetitive drawing, as in frame by frame animation, it can’t be beat.
Oh, and here’s a picture I did inspired by the genius minds of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, a super talented group out of Alberta. If there’s anything better than good animation, it’s good puppetry. Definitely check out their stuff at www.theoldtrouts.org
I’m always amazed at the work others produce, and more especially when they take the time to make a video of them working. Then edit it. Then dub over it. Then upload it to youtube. For free. I started a video screen capture of me working on the House of Cards image, and holy crap was there far more work involved in making a polished video. Now, I’ve done a fair amount of animation and I’ve been involved in live action productions, so I do know what’s involved, but it’s a very different beast when you’re doing it on your own time, on your own dime. I gave up making the video after I brought it into After Effects to shorten and do some dubbing over- cause Man! is it a lot of work! To all of you who have taken the time to make videos of yourself working: I take my hat off to you. (Not outside in today’s weather though. It’s -30 Celsius before windchill.) I have shamelessly ripped off so many tricks and techniques off of the people who upload to youtube, I blush to think what my drawings and paintings would look like without them.
I will do some tutorials, because I feel I can contribute a teensy bit to the monstrous pool of talent shown on youtube or vimeo. But in the meantime, here’s an image I did today trying to incorporate some techniques I stumbled over yesterday. Using all brushes at 100% opacity, and working on only 1 or 2 layers. And for this one, I only used the standard pastel brush. I think it gives it some very nice texture uber quickly. So for now, I have two brushes in my arsenal, down from the dozens I thought you needed.