Saturday, 26 December 2015

First cartoon idea with alien

I drew a whole frame featuring an alien and I went for a new idea - tentacled squid. The helmet (and the flying saucer) indicate that it's an alien rather than a squid.

This is how I scribble them in the book before tracing them in pen

Thursday, 24 December 2015


I had a short wait in a waiting room yesterday, so inspired by a Craftsy course I'm taking, pulled out a little sketchbook and drew what was around me.

It's not great but probably better than anything I'd have been able to do (or have been prepared to show anyone) previously.

Unlike the boots, there's an entire scene (and also unlike the boots, there's no real subject!) I tried to think about shadows, but there's still no real dark areas in the picture, as there would have been in the scene in front of me.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Turn your iPad into a drawing pad for your Mac using Astropad

Funny how you stumble onto something

I've been watching youtube videos tonight that compare Cintiq Companions, with iPad Pros and Surface 3's. I'm kinda leaning towards the iPad + Apple Pencil, but I wanted to see some opinions from some of the pro artists.

I stumbled across a comparison of an iPad Pro and the Cintiq 13HD, which while it isnt' a like for like comparison, he had it set up so the iPad was working as a drawing tablet for his mac. He was able to do this with an App called Astropad.

That got me thinking, I have an ipad and jot script stylus, for the sake of £15 it was worth a try. And if it doesn't work very well then I can still use it for a new iPad Pro, should I decide to go for that.

Astropad Purchase Screen in the App Store

Installing Astropad

After purchasing the App (and I think it's the most expensive one I've bought so far), you next download the Mac software which enables the link to be made. It does make you wonder why Apple don't do something like this, but perhaps it's a little niche.

Next step is to decide whether to use WIFI or USB to connect. I chose USB because the battery was running low on my iPad. It then just worked straight away. I've used screen sharing software before but this is a two way link. It gives you control of the Mac.

Next thing was to boot up SketchBook Pro and have a play. Astropad has a tool side bar which has a number of useful actions. It almost worked correctly for SketchBook, but can be configured how you like (as long as you know the key presses for the desired actions).

Next think to do was set up my Jot Script, which was simple enough, but I couldn't get it to use the pressure sensitivity. (That's a shame - a little frustrating)

Doodling in SketchBook Pro

I had a good play, that ring at the bottom right show/hides the tool sidebar. It can be moved about, and does a good job to preserve as much screen as possible. I'm not sure if the set of tools can be altered, but that's something to explore another day.

In summary, all I've done so far is mess about and play, not tried anything too serious. It's not quite the same experience as my Bamboo. It's a little too slippery because of the metal tip on glass screen, but hopefully it'll prove useful and tide me over until I buy some better hardware.

My aliens

Being away from home I'm unable to scan too, so resorting to the camera. That bit was easy, but getting the pictures from the phone onto this blog wasn't easy. Gave up in the end and sent them from my phone to laptop (don't get me started on how messy that is!)

The first one was my original idea, just eyes on stalks and not much else. I also like 'admiral akbar' with a helmet full of water. I like the big head, little body idea too.

Now I've started, I've more ideas. But I think it's true, it has to be a stereotypical alien in order to be recognisable as an alien.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Drawing a cartoon alien

Today Shiela and I had an idea for an alien based comic to point out the absurdities of modern life, hopefully in a humorous way.

First step is to try and draw some aliens,.. I even roped the kids in to help. It's more difficult than you think.

First set of ideas

Here's a few more
I haven't focused too much on the body yet, but I would like a simple cartoon style, with perhaps 2 or 3 different types of look.

In addition to that I need some UFO ideas because I have some ideas about parodies based on car driving.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Using a handwriting font - important tool or cheat?

This morning I've very reluctantly tried something that was suggested to me a little while ago, and while I've had to compromise on something I felt was an important matter of principle, the improvement is vast.

I've aimed from the start for a 'homespun' look in my cartoons, and part of this is writing the captions by hand. Although they did look untidy and made the whole cartoon look amateurish, in a way this is what I was after. I felt that with time and practice, those captions would become neater.

Typing them feels a little like cheating, as well as giving up on some of the authenticity. But after trying it, I'm in no doubt at all that it's the right thing to do. Here's a comparison:

One major 'pro' is productivity; writing each caption by hand and scanning it is a little tedious, but I'd be prepared to do that if the result was right. Now adding the captions is fast and fun rather than laborious, and making tweaks to the actual text is simple too.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

iPad Pro

I had a trip into Derby today to pick up some DIY bits and the odd christmas present.

While I was in PCWorld I wandered over to the Apple section and had a play with the new iPad Pro.

First impressions are, it's huge, and swiping between Apps was fast and smooth. It had a few drawing Apps installed, but with no "pencil" I couldn't get an idea what it would be like for drawing. Yes, I know I can watch Apple's videos but that's not the point, if I'm thinking of spending that much I want to try it.

Seems odd that lots of places have the new iPad in stock, but nobody has the apple pencil right now. Even the Apple online store says dispatch 4-5 weeks, and that seems like a serious blunder to me.

It's a similar story for the Smart Keyboard, with a 3-4 weeks waiting time. So for a device that's supposed to start to bridge the gap between mobile and laptops it seems like they've dropped the ball. Mind you,.. £140 for a keyboard?!!!!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Drawing on an iPad

From Desk to Sofa

When we first got our iPad we really didnt know what to use it for. It had been a christmas gift to ourselves because we couldn't think of anything better to buy that year.

A few months later I discovered an App that would change that completely, something that would steal my evenings for the next 10 months until the untimely demise of one of the best creative communities that I've ever experienced before or since.

The App was called DrawQuest and it involved a simple daily challenge to complete a drawing that was part created by the "Drawbot". There was no fancy tools or layers, just a couple of pens, a brush, eraser and a flood tool. Colours were initially limited to half a dozen primary colours, but you could buy more with points. These were either earned by submitting drawings, or via in-app purchases, if you were in a hurry. There was even additional drawing tools available for purchase later. But the shear range of ideas and talent from the other users was nothing short of amazing. They ranged from little kids scribbling doodles, to fantastically detailed masterpieces from (I suspect) pro artists.

DrawQuests simple Interface

Initially I started using my finger to draw, but it wasn't a good experience, so I dug out my bullet stylus (that came free with a card reader) and starting using that.

Bullet Styli

Although better, the shaft was way to small, making my hand ache after half an hour, so I was soon researching an alternative. But it opened my eyes to the creative capability of Apple's tablet, and enabled me to have fun drawing and sketching from my sofa rather than a desk.

Wacom Bamboo Stylus

The first proper stylus I bought was the Bamboo from Wacom, and it was a huge leap forward. It had a soft 6mm rubber nib, worked well and was really nice to use.

Wacom Bamboo Stylus

If I was being picky, the only problem I had was that I was going through a lot of rubber nibs. After only a couple of weeks use they'd split halfway up (perhaps I was pressing too hard?!) Oh, and like all other rubber tipped styli, it was a little like drawing with a crayon because the nib was so wide.

Soon a new range of electronic styli started to hit the market.

Adonit JOT Script

I was hankering for a little more accuracy and followed a link to Adonit's website to review the JOT Pro. It had been around for a while and had a small clear disk on the end of a gimbal that enabled you to see through the nib. Lot's of people on DrawQuest were using them, so I'd intended to get one and retire the bamboo.

But then I saw the Jot Script with its 1.9mm nib giving what they describe as "ballpoint precision". It uses an electronic circuit to interact with the iPads capacitive display, and even promised to provide some degree of pressure sensitivity if the App was enabled. Back then I found that I couldn't buy it in the UK so I ordered it directly from their website.

It only took a week or so to arrive, but then I got hit by VAT + the post office handling charges, which took the effective price to just short of a hundred quid. But as I was going to get a lot of use out of it so I didn't mind too much.

Straight away I found it much easier to draw accurately, but I found I was struggling with a parallax problem caused by the thickness of the glass in the screen. Putting it simply, if you weren't looking perpendicular to the screen the stylus wasn't drawing where it touched. (Easily fixed by altering the iPad's angle)

Secondly it eats AAA batteries. The lithium long life battery which came supplied with it lasted me just 5 evenings (of 2-3 hour sessions). I switched to using NiMH rechargeables, but still found I could get through two an evening.

(The newer ones have a built-in lithium battery and are recharged via USB)

But just look at the difference with the nibs..

Bamboo left, JOT Script on the right

This was great, right up until DrawQuest shut down just a few months later. I still haven't found anything to replace it.

So I installed the iPad version of Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro, it's not a bad App and I've been using this for the artwork in my other blog Building the Perfect Beast. I tend to spend 15-30 minutes maximum on the picture, producing a simple cartoony style image to illustrate each blog entry.

Update: here's some of the pictures I drew on Drawquest...

Add caption

Friday, 11 December 2015

Shady Beginnings?

That's a nice drawing Shiela, I can see why you framed it...

You know I've seen a lot of work from my oldest son (who's also pretty good with a pencil) but he does the same thing. What shading there is just doesn't provide the degree of contrast that's required. I suspect part of that is because you used a propelling pencil. They're great for simple sketches and engineering plans, but your walking boots picture is probably about as far as you can take it.

Many years back (not long after I left university) I took a night school art course and I learnt two really important things.
  1. Using the right tools for the job.
  2. The absolute importance of shading.

Using the right tools just means having an array of pencils HB to 6B (and a pencil sharpener always at hand for those really soft ones). You start off with the hard to get pale planning lines, and then build the shade as you add detail. Too often I think we get wrapped in re-creating the detail (that our brains tell us is there) and not consider it might be partially obscured or too dark to see clearly anyway.

Now let's consider shading. At first look we assume it just gives us contrast, turning an outline into an illusion of 3D shapes. But it does more than that,.. let's look at these two (almost identical) spanners.

Two (almost) identical spanners
OK the difference is quite obvious, one has a shadow, the other doesn't. Yes, OK,.. but you're wrong, or rather you've missing the point,.. one is in the air, the other is sat on the ground. Shading is an important tool to create context for an object.

So while I like your drawing of your boots, and I understand your desire to keep it uncluttered, I have no idea whether you're feet are in the air or dangling off a cliff. The grass doesn't give enough context for the brain to decide. The shading under the heel needs extending back up the legs before we're comfortable.

The second common mistake is just not being bold with the shading. I always feel like I'm over-compensate when I'm adding shading, really getting that darkness onto the page. But consider what it takes to compose a good black and white photo,.. it certainly isn't just turning the saturation down. There are various video tutorials that show how the experts do this, and I think it's highly worth watching one if you want to really understand how to make black and white work.

Finally once you make the leap into deeper contrast you'll find you have one final problem,.. it smudges too easily. You can get proper fixer from an art supplier, or you could just do what my night school teacher suggested and spray it with hair spray..... worked for me, and smells nice too :-)

50 Shades - or none?

After doing the Craftsy sketchbooking course earlier in the year, and starting to take a sketchbook and pencil when I go walking, this is the first of my own sketches ever that I've felt moved to frame and put on the wall.
It was shortly after learning about hatching - you can see that I'm not 100% comfortable with it. (related to this is the fact that I have found that I enjoy using a single pencil - and a mechanical one at that - so all lines are the same weight, rather than working with different thicknesses of line (point / side) and different hardnesses)

There's a very spare style here. The two blades of grass were an afterthought, I like it but wouldn't want to add anything else around the edge. And I can see a connection now that I've started (and love!) to draw cartoons with heavy lines, very few elements in the picture and no shading.

So the question is, is it right to practice hatching and try to get more confident with that, or to run with a style that works for me? (ie take my sketching in a more 'comical' direction, and develop a personal style along those lines?)