New tablet time.

This is a Xencelabs Small tablet sitting on top of the Wacom Intuos 4 that’s going to stop working once I get an M2 Air later this year. The tablet works fine but Wacom’s decided it’s time to drop support for it. And since they’ve also decided to stop making pens that work with my beloved Spring Nibs, I’ve decided to look elsewhere. Specifically, to a company started by ex-Wacom engineers.

This tablet turns out to be able to detect my Wacom styluses despite having a much smaller frame around the active area, and uses nibs exactly the same size as the Wacom Pro Pen 1. Which means my little collection of spring nibs continue to work. Except in a 3-button pen now. Same active area, much lighter and smaller what with the buttons and dial I never use anyway being a separate module.

Once I read an interview with Edward Gorey where he was asked what pen he used. “A discontinued Giliotte nib. I bought a bunch when they stopped making them; I think I have enough to last until I die”, and I feel like I really understand this now that Wacom has redesigned their styli to be thinner and no longer makes spring nibs for them. I had three precious extra spring nibs kicking around; now one of them is in one of the Xence pens. (The Xence tablets ship with two pens, a 2-button and a 3-button. Which is nice. I’m using the 3-button since it’s got the same flare I’m used to from Wacom’s Pro Pens.)

The driver also seems to coexist nicely with Wacom’s drivers. I’m gonna probably get a medium Xencelabs tablet for the desk when I get a new machine, but for now it’s different tablets at home and on the go. I’m still debating between the basic medium model and the bundle with the dial/button module, I never use the buttons but I do kinda need a dial for apps and web sites that hide the scroll bar, since I use the tablet and keyboard for pretty much all my interaction with my computer. And maybe I’ll actually use the buttons if I have the same ones on both the desk and in my bag; I have eight buttons on the desk Wacom and six on the laptop bag one and trying to think about configuring that feels super annoying. Plus buttons are for my left hand anyway, not the right. The right’s too busy drawing to push buttons.

In terms of price this one was mostly wash compared to a similar Wacom – $200 for either. But the medium Xencelabs is about $100 less than the equivalent in a new Wacom Intuos Pro, and I will be surprised if Wacom’s drivers keep supporting the Intuos 5 on my desk much longer.

chop wood, carry secret document

It was Sunday, and the sky above Rita opened onto a golden world of radiance and beauty. Nobody took any notice. Except for Rita. And she had places to be.

I was sitting around doodling and this picture of the titular lady from Decrypting Rita happened. Prints on Redbubble; source file on Patreon. Background halftones thanks to Astute’s Phantasm plugin.

Lunar Eclipse (NSFW)

dragon ass, click for full size

“C’mon, let’s finish this up out on the balcony. Nobody’s gonna care if they see anything.”

Illustrator, 3h. Because I felt like drawing some Majestic Dragon Ass.

morning exercise

Dang, I haven’t done this one in ages.

I see a lot of tips full of stretching exercises for artists flow across the Internet, but I feel like I never see the other important kind of exercise: ones to get good habits embedded in your reflexes, ones to train your form so that you’re less likely to injure yourself in the first place.

This is a thing I did to start every day at one of my first animation jobs: slap a piece of paper on the pegs, draw a quick circle in the upper left corner. Don’t worry if it’s shitty, don’t try to make it perfect. Just try to make the next one better. Because you are going to draw another one just to the right, barely touching it. And another, and another, until you’ve filled up the whole page. And you are going to do this by coordinating the muscles of your entire arm so that most of it comes from your shoulder and elbow, with finesse added by the fingers; the wrist should remain perfectly straight because bending it while drawing is how you summon the Carpal Tunnel Injury Fairy. Eventually you should aim to do all your drawing this way; this exercise is great for learning enough control to be able to do this.

If you start doing this, it is interesting to save your first few and compare them. Your first efforts will be frustratingly messy, but you’ll probably see some improvement over the course of a single page.


The Breakup Bees: A Relationship Technology

Some time ago, Nick and I went to Archie McPhee and got the usual sort of stuff one gets there: tiny plastic lizards, pens shaped and scented like strips of bacon, action figures based on famous philosophers, etc. Goofy novelty stuff. Cheap, silly trinkets.

I don’t remember everything we got on this particular trip, but one purchase ended up being unexpectedly life-changing. One handful’s worth of bee finger puppets, their injection-molded faces set in eternal, happy smiles.

As we wandered around Seattle on that sunny summer day, we made a decision: Any attempt at a breakup must be performed via these bee puppets. Why? Mostly because it sounded funny at the time. Condemning our future selves to the punishment of having to waggle finger puppets at each other when they were angry was an absurd image.

The bees ended up on my bookshelf after that. Sitting in a line in front of books. In sight, but out of conscious thought. When we left Seattle for New Orleans, they came along; not long after I had bookshelves, the breakup bees were hanging out on one shelf again. The magic books this time. Which seems appropriate because they kind of turned into a little bit of relationship magic; it turns out that they work pretty damn well at defusing a lot of the tension that’s been built up by whatever’s driving one of us to threaten the other with the Breakup Bees.

We now have this way to unambiguously say, this thing you are doing is going to ruin this relationship if nothing changes. And that’s valuable. And it’s also a really silly way. We’re waving a bright yellow smiling finger puppet at each other to do it; while things can remain surprisingly tense for a bit, the bee still brings a powerful note of comedy to the whole affair, even before we get to the point of expressing our displeasure in the high-pitched buzzy voice appropriate to speaking through the puppet.

And we have a way to measure our displeasure. There’s five of them; obviously all five only come out for a serious, full “we are breaking up right now” moment.  There’s a big jump from no bees to one bee, but there’s also a good way from one bee to five. So far we have never had to deploy more than one bee at a time. I really can’t imagine what it would take for us to have two or three out, let alone the whole five.

We have expressed the seriousness of our desires for each other to change some behavior as “one bee’s worth”. I have been lectured on doing an unpleasant financial matter I was avoiding through the medium of a plastic bee breakdancing and singing a song. If something’s stressing one of us out while the other’s gone, we can take a bee and leave it in each others’ work areas, with the option of putting it back on the shelf before it’s seen. This impulsive joke has turned out to be surprisingly effective.

They don’t have to be bees – find something that works for your sense of humor and your significant others’ – but I heartily recommend this as a way to keep your relationship healthy. 3-10 absurdly cheerful-looking tokens of we need to talk.

A Good Day

Today I learnt that the Kinsey Institute – yes, the one dedicated to surveying and defining human sexuality, of Kinsey Scale fame and whatnot – has a library. And more importantly, I learnt that it has a copy of Decrypting Rita in it. To be precise it has recently been acquired for the “Haslam Polyamory & Non-monogamy Collection“, according to a comment by the archivist.

This is a life goal I did not know I had until I achieved it.

Also this morning the old lady across the street told me that my new hat makes me look like Glinda the Good Witch from the Oz movie. It’s almost as large as my bicycle wheel, and has wire in the brim to stiffen it thanks to me spending an hour or so the day after I bought it. Definitely an hour well-spent.


A Lengthy Adventure Awaits

Recently I played a couple video games that do some interesting things with flat shapes as the background. Solar Ash is a lovely little thing from the same people behind Hyper Light Drifter, which has a very flat-color aesthetic overall; Elden Ring is basically the new Dark Souls game except with different lore and an open world. It’s got a much more detailed look but it does some nice stuff with flattening things out as they recede into the distance.

I wanted to play with this sort of thing so I drew this. I decided to keep the foreground simple because the focus here is much more on the sense of depth.

Usually I do this sort of thing by alternating layers with parts of the background and layers with a translucent rectangle of the sky color; this time I tried something different and used Astute’s “Shift To Color” effect on the layers. This was a little unwieldy in some ways but it made it a lot easier to have a few untinted layers that really pop out against the darker shapes; almost everything is actually drawn in the same bright cyan as the foreground, with varying amounts of purple applied via Shift To Color.

I also used their Halftone effect for the grass – custom symbol halftones are very powerful, especially with a native Tweak effect applied after to mess it up a little. If you’re curious as to how that actually works then you can grab the source from Patreon.

on edits

It suddenly strikes me that one big difference between what I read as a kid and the huge amounts of stuff I read on the internet now is how edited stuff used to be.

A magazine article, a book, a newspaper piece? Someone who was not the original author probably looked over them and asked questions. What is this trying to say? What does it actually say? How well does it convey whatever information, story, or mood it’s trying to carry, can it be improved? And their thoughts about this went to the author for another draft. Even letters to a newspaper or magazine would be edited before publication. There were things that went out as a first draft but the rule was that stuff went through a few versions.

But so much of what we read online now is a first draft. Or less, in the case of the reply someone tosses off in a corporate-owned social media commons. So much is short fragments with little nuance, and little time spent trying to find the right words for precisely conveying your message. So much is just… good enough, I guess, but never really good, or great. And comments on anything at all controversial are so often a seething pit of terrible stuff that would have been edited to hell and back before showing up in a letter column, if ever.

I miss this. I’m tired of constantly dealing with a firehose of unedited, uncurated information.

These thoughts were somehow spawned by reading Crowley’s Postcards to Probationers, which set Laurie Anderson’s “Language is a Virus” song looping in my head for a little while as I read. I haven’t decided if this means something I should chase down, but it feels worth mentioning.


well it’s not got MUCH rape

So a while back I stopped reading the Fantasy subreddit because most of what I was seeing were lengthy paens to The Wheel of Time (a series I never had much interest in when it was new, and was not at all moved to try out by the huge amount of badly-written women that its boosters went to great lengths to apologize for) and Malazan (seven thousand volumes that are All Things To All Requests somewhere in there, oh but you’ve gotta start from book 1 for any of it). A couple of days ago I decided to give it a chance again.

This morning I picked up the tablet and saw this lovely post asking for recommendations for “fantasy epics that avoid misogyny and rape as major parts of the story”. And, well, it was locked by the moderators due to a ton of replies recommending books that have a ton of rape in them, and people arguing over how much rape is too much rape, and… god what the fuck is wrong with the genre of “epic fantasy” that it has so much fucking rape in it?

I have once more stopped reading that subreddit.