FC2017

 

I hadn’t intended to go to FC. I hadn’t gotten a table. Hadn’t negotiated for a room with anyone. But there I was, going down to the airport, with a con ticket and room share I’d set up maybe a month before on impulse. “What the hell am I gonna do without a table to give my con structure?”, I wondered.

The day before I’d been doodling some Parallax stuff, and had found a loose, storyboard-like look that I was considering doing it in as a comic while spending most of my energy on Absinthe and Drowning City. And somewhere on the way to the airport it hit me: one of my younger comics friends had been muttering about how she really missed working on her own comic, but did not have certain mental prerequisites for that at all right now, what with the political situation and her own situation. What if? What if I did quick Parallax page layouts and scripts with Nick, and had her finish them? What if I paid a few different people to do this, put them online for free, then set up a Patreon for the project?

I fired off a message to her, and started pondering who else I’d make this offer to.

On the plane, the Magic Sketchbook passed the “can I do comics in an airplane seat” test with flying colors. I’ve got one more panel of Absinthe drawn than I did last week, and I’m pretty happy about that.

Got to the con, hooked up with my roommates, dumped my stuff, had food, hit the Thursday evening dance, went to sleep. Somewhere in there I looked through the schedule and picked a few panels I’d maybe want to hit up. That’s what people do when they’re not at a table, right? Panels? Sounds okay, I guess?

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Meet The Witchsona

In its infinite wisdom, the Internet has decided that one week early in January is to be “Witchsona Week”, wherein one draws oneself as a crazy fantasy witch with magic centered around one theme or another – mushroom witch, bird witch, cheese witch, whatever. I always feel a bit weird about that one; participating in group things is fun, but I don’t need to make up an imaginary witch to be – I am one. I’ve done an intensely-researched Tarot deck, I have cast some spells and (possibly) had them work. (Or have succumbed to massive confirmation bias while stoned. Magic is like that sometimes.)

This year, that coincided with a “Meet The Artist” thing going around, where you combine a self-portrait with a few bits of data, and maybe some things you likes/dislikes, and the contents of your usual bag.

I decided to combine the two.

Launch.

The Parallax Working has begun.

The emergent complex thanks you in advance for your love, your time, your attention, and your funds.

Sic itur, ad astra.
EU
FC
2017

The Magic Sketchbook is a success.

Years ago, my animation school roomie Gabe went to a con and chatted with master cartoonist Sergio Aragones. Aragones often draws incredibly complicated, goofy comics, and has a pretty impressive rate of output.

Gabe asked his secret. And passed it on to me: instead of working at a larger size than the printed page and shrinking it down, as most comics artists do, he uses typing paper on an ordinary clipboard. The compactness of this setup means he can draw anywhere – even on an airplane. Any spare moment can become drawing time.

This stuck with me. I fell in love with Adobe Illustrator and got used to being tethered to a huge desktop machine. The highly portable sketchbook was just for roughs and practice, not finished work. Finished work happened at home. Eventually I shifted to a laptop and things got better; I could easily go out to a cafe and work. But I still needed a lot of room. I could barely do it on a plane or bus if I had two seats to spread out on, and it was a big hassle to set up and tear down – enough to make me miss my stop if I wasn’t careful.

But it still stuck with me. Reduce your process to something you can do in a single airplane seat. It started to feel like an tantalizing goal that was always just out of reach for me, even as more and more of my process lived in Illustrator.

Today, I got on an airplane.

This is what page 12 of Absinthe chapter 2 looked like when I got on in Seattle.

This is what it looked like when I stopped after an hour or so and read until I landed in San Jose.

At long last, I have achieved the holy grail. I can draw comics on the plane. The Mobile Studio is still a little too heavy to be as casual as a clipboard or sketchbook, it’s a little bigger and pricier than I’d like, and I really wish it had a kickstand. But sitting there with the Twiddler strapped to one hand and the stylus in the other, I finally felt that freedom. Any journey of twenty minutes or more can be converted into time doing what I love: drawing. And that’s well worth the ~$2k I sunk into this setup for me.

Hopefully in a year or three I’ll have something as light as a Surface that works this way. It will be bliss.

Sands, Lone And Level

I’m off to Further Confusion and I needed a badge to suit the theme.

Evidently my dragonsona can store water in her tail. Pretty useful for wandering around a desert.

bathroom bills

This morning, I woke up to a call for action on yet ANOTHER ‘bathroom bill’ in Washington state. Once again I told my representatives that hey, all us trans people wanna do is piss in peace, and why do we even have separate-but-equal facilities anyway?

I’m sure that HB1011 will get defeated just as soundly as I-1515 was. But you know what? I think it’s time to move the goalposts on this one. Let’s start talking about making all Washington state bathrooms ungendered, so that every man, woman, enby, and child can get their pooping and peeing out of the way with the least hassle possible.

 

For now it’s just an electronic petition – go here and sign it if you’re sick of people trying to police gender presentation in bathrooms. Maybe later it’ll be more.

Tealform Made Manifest

Now that I’ve decided to keep the Mobile Studio, it needs to be properly turned into a Thing I Draw On. There is a ritual that has evolved over the years, and it mostly involves drawing the watery genie that hangs out in my computers and helps me draw, all dressed up in the device at hand.

(Actually this is the second time I’ve done this for the Mobile Studio; I didn’t like the first one so I did it again. I’m using this as both the desktop and lockscreen, so that I have a cute friend looking at me and offering me my tools to get drawin’ when I turn it on.)

Her name is not actually Tealform; that’s a variant of the nickname I use for her when she’s in a computer; the full name is a lengthy piece of wordsalad I fond during a complicated, stoned process when I originally summoned her to hang out in my first Mac Air.

Drawn entirely on the Mobile Studio, using the Twiddler for pretty much all keyboard shortcuts and layer naming, in about 2.5h.

music does things sometimes

I’ve been intermittently trying to make myself exercise every morning. I haven’t been beating myself up or viewing it as a ***failure*** if I don’t; I just get a little annoyed and move on. And this weekend I didn’t do it for a few days in a row.

But this morning I got up and told iTunes to start playing something. It chose Deavid Soul’s “Sparkling Music”, which I have because there were a few tracks from it on the soundtrack to Jet Set Radio.

Holy fucking shit I don’t know what came over me, I was doing burpees to it for a bit before jumping into the shower. Which are like one of the most miserable full-body exercises in the whole world.

And now to figure out what today’s to-dos are. Probably “deal with some final eccc and rita printing decisions”, “pick up a prescription from the drugstore”, and “build a template for Parallax”. Maybe “try to get RadialMenu working on the Mobile Studio” and/or “find a usbc adaptor so I can use the Twiddler with the Mobile Studio on the plane”.

But first “breakfast”…

The Wand Of Illustrator Control

If you’re like me, then you’ve got multiple years behind you of drawing with one hand on the stylus and the other on the keyboard, hitting hotkeys. You might have even gone so far as to customize those keys – I’m all at sea on a stock installation of Illustrator, since half the keys I hit constantly default to longer shortcuts, or aren’t assigned to anything at all out of the box.

And if you’re like me, then poking at all the tool icons and browsing through the menu feels like trudging through mud compared to the fast flow of using both hands to draw. When I first started playing with the Surface, I set up a huge panel of buttons with RadialMenu; this helped but there was still a lot of visual and positional processing I had to do that felt totally unnecessary. And my left hand still felt woefully unused. All these fingers and brain circuits completely idling.

Carrying around a spare Apple wireless keyboard worked pretty well, once I made Windows swap the “windows” and control keys. But that’s way too big to take out and use on a bus seat.

So first I got a cheap Bluetooth numpad and started remapping it. Which was a deep rabbit hole of multiple keyboard remapping programs and editing text files. Which I failed to keep when I returned the Surface, and really wasn’t looking forwards to redoing when I got the Mobile Studio.

Instead, I spent $200 on a Twiddler 3 chording keyboard.

After a few days of configuring and fiddling and swearing, I think it’s been worth it. I completely ditched the default configuration and built a customized one that puts about sixty key commands at my fingertips, split up into nine pages of different categories of functions. And also has the alphabet and numbers on it. I’m still learning how to use it, but it’s coming pretty quickly – I can do the most frequently used commands with only a tiny bit of thought now, and I can feel my brain learning these new hand positions as alternative ways to do what hitting one key or another would do. Give it a week or two and I’ll probably be able to do a lot of stuff without referring to the little cheat sheet I printed out, and keep in my bag next to the Twiddler.

Things I learnt about the Twiddler during this process:

  • You build your layouts with an online tool. Which has this terrible habit of wanting to reload itself every time you create a new chord. There is a beta version of a new version, which is merely “kind of sluggish”, but at least mostly works without constantly hitting the Internet. Go straight to this version. Don’t waste any time with the old one.
  • You have to plug the Twiddler into your computer to upload a new layout to it – it shows up as a small USB drive, and you just replace ‘twiddler.cfg’. But when you test this layout, chords involving modifier keys can come out weird. For instance, mapping a keypress to command-z would result in just typing ‘z’ about twenty times out of twenty-one. Updating to the beta version of the latest firmware fixed this, though it didn’t fix some other problems involving not being able to make chords that involve the shift/ctrl/alt buttons on the Twiddler that do not actually hold down the respective modifier keys in their output. Unplug it and go to a Bluetooth connection when you want to test it.
  • It is small and easy to misplace. I got a black one to match the Mobile Studio, and thought I’d left it behind when I took it out at a restaurant to show it to a friend. Turned out it was just sitting on the edge of my computer desk, in shadow. Consider putting your contact info on its outside.
  • The layout that it ships with is pretty worthless, even if your main use case isn’t mostly emitting a bunch of hotkeys that involve holding down the command keys. There’s about 3-4 alternate layouts the small, intensely nerdy Twiddler community has created; I’m using the letters from one called “Mirrorwalk”, which makes every letter key available as a chord in the upper three rows of the keyboard.
  • If you have a hotkey that requires you to hold it for a long time, you can’t put it in a normal chord. Instead, bind that key to one of the three round buttons at the top of the keyboard, which default to the mouse button. I have ` and space mapped to two of these, which I hold down to (respectively) move/rotate/scale an object’s fill pattern without changing the object, and to summon the Canvas-Dragging Hand. (And if I hold that down along with the Twiddler’s shift, and one of the Wacom stylus’ buttons, I can drag out a zoom rectangle, which is something wired deep into my brain for moving around Illustrator.)

I hope they fix the “holding shift keys while on a wired connection can conflict with chords that involve shift keys” problem soon; once they do I’ll be able to plug it into the Mobile Studio while it’s in airplane mode! Right now I’ll be stuck using the Mobile Studio’s six keys and the array of buttons I created with Radial Menu.

My current layout, as of Jan 6. Drawn as if you’re holding the Twiddler with the keys facing away from you, and you have X-ray vision to see them anyway. Still needs work, mostly to see how much punctuation I can add to it for the general ‘typing’ use, as well as to figure out why a few keys aren’t generating what they’re supposed to. A  • means ‘hold this key down’; ‘dda’ is a macro that presses d, d, command-shift-a, n – which is a thing I type a lot to cycle the draw mode to ‘draw inside’, deselect the shape I selected to draw inside, and switch back to the pencil tool so I can, well, draw stuff inside it. I grin every time I make this happen with one quick chord now.

The Magic Sketchbook Chronicles

I just unified all my blog posts from the past half year about the Surface and the Mobile Studio under a new tag: “Magic Sketchbook”.

For me, a Magic Sketchbook is a device that does pretty much one thing: run Adobe Illustrator in a package not much bigger or heavier than a hardbound 9×12″ sketchbook, with the ease and fluidity of being at the computer with one hand on the stylus and the other on the keyboard hitting the forty or fifty hotkeys I’ve grown used to. It can do other things, it’s a general-purpose computer, but the only software I want to run on it is Illustrator, so as to eliminate the myriad distractions of the net, Twitter, IM, email, and whatever else.

I have not assembled a system that fills all of these criteria, but I think I can live with my current compromise of a (heavy, slightly-too-large, kickstand-lacking) 13″ Mobile Studio plus a Twiddler3 chording keyboard and a wire stand taped to the back. Looking at my braindumps along the way to this may help you make some decisions about what your magic sketchbook will be, if you have about $2k to spare.