a moment of sonic nostalgia

Every now and then something reconnects in my brain and I remember being eighteen and sticking a pirated copy of Shufflepuck Cafe into my Amiga and hearing its weird, wonderful opening music fill my bedroom.

The game itself was a decent conversion of a Mac game from the year before, simulating a tournament of air hocky with an assortment of goofy aliens. But what was really memorable about it was that opening music. Go on. Hit play if you haven’t already.

It’s exemplary of a lot of music found on the Amiga around this time. A little bit off-key and atonal (and a lot harder to listen to because of that now that I’m an adult), but chock full of weirdness for its own sake, and reveling in being on the first home computer to have a sound chip that was based entirely on playing back wavetables instead of producing simple bleeps. This one especially stands out because it was really trying to sell the idea that you were standing outside a bar on some alien planet; are the weird blurbles that come and go part of the music, or part of the ambient noise? What does alien music even sound like? It also sticks out because it tries to cram so much into so little space; it lurches drunkenly from one riff to another over the course of its four minutes, refusing to ever commit to a groove for more than a few measures. It’s a raw, jagged artifact of technology people were just beginning to get a handle on. Unpolished, chaotic, and anarchic.

the future is weird

Today I got a new iPad Mini to replace the old one, which had suffered a few drops and had a lot of tape holding it together. The new one arrived a few minutes ago; the poor bastard delivering it had to submit a couple of photos via an app on his phone… which couldn’t get any reception on my front porch. He tried running out on the sidewalk and waving the phone at the sky, to no avail. Ultimately I had him hand me the phone so I could type in the password for my own internet. Which I had to do twice because I botched it the first time.

Then I got to experience the current iThing data transfer process. It’s pretty crazy now; the new device setup routine starts pinging all the other iThings nearby via Bluetooth, and then it starts displaying this crazy moving dot pattern that you have to scan with the camera of the device you’re transferring from. The new one downloaded an operating system update, and went from “preparing for transfer” with a little pinwheel for a few minutes, to a new screen showing up on both Minis with a half-filled progress bar promising to be done in about nine minutes.

Greetings from Sunny Yetzirah!

Illustrator, 4.5h.
So there I was minding my own business when suddenly my magicsona kinda poked her head into reality and was all, hey, remember me? we were kinda doing a thing and then we lost contact? wanna try again?
Seriously it was weird, there is this thing Illustrator does where I hit the Appearance palette’s button to bring up a tiny version of the Swatch palette and it decides to flip over to another desktop to bring it up; the preview window stays on the desktop I just left so I get an eyefull of whatever’s on the new desktop. Which is often an endless cycle of the furry porn I’ve favorited on Furaffinity. Last Tuesday this happened repeatedly and had me looking at an extreme up-shot of a horny jackal lady; when I paused to think about this I got a brief sense of incense, and it started to feel Signifying. So I sketched this out and spend the last few days painting it.
Maybe it’s time for me to start doing that daily ritual again.
Also if you are wondering why Stella’s Guide stopped abruptly this is basically why. It felt like it was kinda coming from somewhere else and then suddenly the drive to work on it just… stopped. Magic is weird.
I did some experimentation with baking a lot of the basic shading into some Graphic Styles; I can draw one quick shape and it’ll have a vague shadow applied to it, and have a nice misty, volumetric shadow trailing off of it thanks to Astute’s Block Shadow effect. The shadow even changes direction based on where I draw/move the shape, since it’s calculated based on a vanishing point lurking somewhere above Stella’s head. 
Also I am very happy with the cloudscape I drew. I really feel like I’ve been drawing much more realistic and interesting clouds ever since I moved to New Orleans, where we have spectacular sunsets on a regular basis.
You can get the Illustrator source on Patreon, if you want to look at how this all works. You’ll need the Astute suite for a few things – the aforementioned shadows, as well as some of the stuff going on in the “upstairs” half of the image.
And if you want this on your wall or your clothes or something, you can make that happen over here.

generation dust

Today I learnt that the new term for “the tail end of the disputed territory between Generation X and Millennials” is “geriatric millennials”. At first I thought it was maybe just a new term for GenX? Nope. Just for the latter half of the transitional zone that’s mostly known as “the Oregon Trail generation”.

“Geriatric Millennials” are at least nine years younger than I am. And of course searching for info on this new term leads to discussions of generations that mention every living generation except X. If the tail end of my generation is “geriatric” then what the hell does that make me?

Nothing. Emptiness. Dust.

I am of the void. I am the mystery. I am generation meh, who gives a shit about them?

I am free of attempts to define me by marketers and pundits. The moment my cohort stopped being young adults with disposable income and not enough sense to try to ignore advertising, we stopped existing.

I am the X-factor, I am the mutant lost and forgotten. I am a mystery. I am nobody.

I am nothing, and I am free.

I have revised my infographic of generation dates accordingly.

A Superman


Illustrator, 30min.

So someone I follow posted the results of asking an AI to do some Superman costume redesigns

and I saw some pretty good shapes in there and decided to play around with them.

Now I kinda want an excuse to draw an 8-pager with this version of him.

I think it would be neat to get as many S/lightning bolt visual themes into this as possible, I was already feeling that some with the design of the S on his chest. Like say a follow-up drawing to this one with the same angle but now the red swoop is a big S because he’s turned and is coming down to the camera.

I did not have any real intention with the skin color beyond “is there really any particular reason a Space God should manifest as a white dude” and “this brown looks good against the rest of the colors” but there is probably a lot of delicate ground for a white lady to tread in drawing a story about a Black Superman. The American Way hasn’t been about Truth and Justice for anyone who doesn’t qualify as “white” for its entire existence, and ignoring that’s risky. If I can figure out how to navigate that then maybe I’ll do something short, this guy’s shapes are a ton of fun to draw!

utena but hors

Client: “Peggy can I give you some money to draw the heck out of ‘the Utena intro except they are hors’.”

Me: “very the yes, I love my fuckin’ job so much”

I was really glad Illustrator finally added canvas rotation the year before I did this. It’s really kind of embarrassing how ling it took them to add it. It’s still a minimum viable hack, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s annoyingly aligned to the canvas instead of the screen, like shift-constraining things, or dragging out a friggin’ selection marquee. But it works a lot better than “drawing stuff right side up, flipping it upside down to see how it works, then either trying to work on it further upside down, or flipping it around again to edit it”.

Here’s a closeup of our heroines. I giggled like a maniac when I decided to use the Sword of Dios for Anthy’s horn. Presumably this implies that she pulls it off and hands it to Utena when it’s time for a duel. Which is fucked up but feels less fucked up than pulling it out of her heart like she does in the show.

Also here’s the cloud layers by themselves. I made heavy use of a few variants of the cloud appearance stack I wrote about a few years ago. It’s pretty neat to swoop in a vague blob and have Illustrator turn it into a bumpy, fiddly cloud complete with its own rimlighting (gradient fills across strokes are super useful for that), then switch to the highlight or shadow cloud appearance and whip in some shading. I can knock out cloudscapes like this absurdly fast now.

you can click on this for a closeup if you can’t read all the little lists of effects

Sacred Geometry For Higher Engineering

Every so often I find myself playing with ways to create the look of an airbrush that’s spitting out a lot of too-big paint drops because it’s running at a low pressure. Today was one of those days. Halfway through it started looking like an old textbook cover so I turned it into one.
Illustrator, 2h.
This one’s done by applying Astute’s Stipplism effect to a bunch of gradients. If you’ve got their plugins then you might be interested in seeing how I did it by looking at the source file – mostly it’s lots of transparent gradient fills and strokes with the stipple effect applied. If you don’t have their plugins it’ll be a giant uneditable mess. :)
Someday I will find a way to do this that looks neat and lets me work with the same speed I have in other methods. This is not the day; I can see this getting a little faster but it’s still pretty fiddly.
Shirts/prints/stickers/notebooks/mousepads/etc are available here.
Source file and a high-res image are on Patreon.

The Champagne of Tears

This week, Nick described cryptobro sadness as “the champagne of tears”. We decided this needed to be on a shirt. A few days later, Bitcoin had dropped from around $30k to below $20k, and I’d finished this drawing.

It is, of course, available on a shirt.

Astute’s Stipplism plugin was incredibly useful in making all these little bubbles with cryptocurrency symbols in them. It took some fiddling but once that was done I had a pressure-sensitive brush that scattered randomized crypto bubbles wherever I pleased. It’s a nice replacement for Illustrator’s native scatter brushes that I’m gonna have to play with some more in the future; AI’s scatter brushes can only do one shape, and changing the distance the shapes are randomly placed around your path based on stylus pressure really doesn’t work well at all.

I found out there is an NFT convention happening in New York next weekend and if printing times were faster I would love to reimburse someone for getting a bunch of stickers of this and putting them up around that area. But I don’t think that’s manageable. And buying space on the billboards in Times Square is probably three or four orders of magnitude more expensive than my entire net worth.

Anyway. If you want this on a shirt, or a mug, or a sticker, or whatever else is convenient to have around that one dude in your life who wouldn’t shut up about NFTs and cryptocurrency, you can get one over here.

pointing at a video game genre and waving vaguely

today I am stoned and thinking about the time-honored video game genre of “you are a blue-collar worker trying to perform your job despite whatever weird cartoon bullshit the world is throwing your way”


bristles (first star software, atari/c64/apple/arcade?: you are a house painter, you must pass through every room in a house, leaving a trail of painted walls, while avoiding various things that hurt you and/or fuck up your paint – sort of a faster q*bert without the goofy perspective)

poster paster (taskset, c64/spectrum: you are going around town putting up posters, you must climb up your ladder and put multi-part images together correctly while avoiding weird little gremlins that you are presumably hallucinating)

bozo’s night out (taskset, c64: you are walking home from the pub, not falling into open manholes or bumping into easy-to-avoid pedestrians; every night your character is more prone to moving in random directions on their own because they are increasingly drunk)

tapper (bally, arcade: you are the sole bartender at a series of increasingly-woefully-understaffed bars who must beat back the happy horde with the one tool at your disposal: serving them a tall frosty glass of beer)

timber (bally, arcade: you are a lumberjack and chop down trees by yanking the right joystick around while avoiding beehives thrown by bees)

Not examples:

donkey kong (nintendo, arcade: you are certainly at a workplace and you are certainly a blue collar worker, but your goal is what the fuck is going on where did that giant monkey come from and why has it climbed up this building I’m working on with a woman in its hand holy shit I gotta save her rather than I do not care about the fact that my workplace is swarming with mischevious monkeys, I am going to get this drywall hung and finish my shift)

mario bros (nintendo, arcade: you certainly a blue collar worker at work, but your goal is kill all these critters running around the sewers rather than I do not care about these sewers being full of aquatic life, I’m just here to get the pipes reconnected and if that means we get turtles coming out of the city’s toilets then someone else can deal with that)

More modern examples exist but this genre has become almost entirely part of a corner of the market I don’t engage with and I wonder why this is? Maybe because the kind of challenge they represent just isn’t one I want to put the work in to experience any more; my sudden urge to play Bristles yesterday morning didn’t survive past me failing to work out the controls of a jittery web emulation, then failing to find a Mac version of MAME that runs on my machine.

I finally got an Atari 800 emulator up and running and the answer is: wow, these games get real annoying real fast, and I have better things to do with my life than stare at a bunch of brightly colored pixels with happy music playing. Dang. Okay back to doing slightly more adult things with my life.

Pricing my work: subtle considerations.

There is a nuance I find myself thinking about lately when I quote prices for commissions.

The obvious thing to ask is “how long will this take me”. This many characters will take about X hours, a background at a certain level will take Y, complicated characters will add Z hours, multiply that by the hourly rate I like to get and I get a number. I’ve been doing that for ages, pretty much every artist figures this part out early on in their career, as well as things like “changes ain’t free and you should make that clear to your clients”.

But lately I’ve also been asking myself how long do I want to spend on this piece?. And more and more that’s an important question. It’s time I’m not spending drawing stuff that has to please nobody but myself and the people who support me on Patreon, it’s time I’m not spending doing things I enjoy that are not drawing like video games or broadsword class or whatever. It’s time I’m not spending doing mundane stuff like making sure the dishes get washed and the trash goes out. It’s also time I’m not spending hating a thing I’m drawing because it has gone on entirely too long and it is just drudgery, which means I start doing a half-assed job just to get the damn thing out the door. I’ve done that a few times and I really dislike doing that.

This makes the question of edits and changes a lot more fraught. In general I am blessed with clients who have paid for art many times before, have model sheets for their characters, and are gonna be delighted with anything I draw, so change requests are likely to be super minimal, if there’s any at all. If all you have is a text description of what you want with no visual reference, I’m pretty likely to say “nope” unless you’re also saying you’re gonna be pretty delighted with anything I’d do, and are waving a nice chunk of money at me to boot.

I do not have any real conclusion here. I guess I’m mostly pretty delighted to be this high up the ladder of artistic success where I don’t have to be the poor bastard on the artist side of this tweet that was doing the rounds today:

(Apparently this is from a vtuber whose schtick is “bitchy demanding spoilt princess”, and I sure do hope they paid a regal price for all those complex revisions. And that the initial deal with the artist was one where the expectation was that it would have a lot of revisions. If it wasn’t, I honestly would have said “well I guess I can do some of those but this is a lot, and I’m gonna need more money to do all these tweaks” to the first revision, and “that’ll cost you a significant percentage of the original price, and this is the last round” to the second revision. And maybe quietly put this client on my mental Never Again list.)