This + That = This-n-That

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I’m working on a long tail of typography for Shtacks. I just added a plus (+), an equals (=), and a hyphen (-). The parts of minus, en dash, and em dash will be played by hyphen in accordance with the traditions of our typewriting ancestors.

I also take notes in ProCreate.

I also take notes in ProCreate.

I don’t think I want to complete the entire ASCII character set with lowercase and whitespace characters. But I do at least want brackets, braces, colons, and semi-colons so I can type a painting of programmer humor. I think also I need an ellipsis for pregnant…typographical pauses.

Once I get these last characters complete, I’d like to look into creating a mobile app. I want to inject type-written paintings into text messages and share them directly to Twitter and the like.

I also experimented with Emojipacks and created some custom emoji for Slack. The site above sells packs of emoji commercially (I love this) and also created this clever little widget which automates the uploading process for you. While this is fun, I think the real fun will be to create a small Slack slash-command so images can be dropped right into Slack. (Yes, Slack is the new exhibition space, why do you ask?).

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Everything, Always, Everywhere

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I just finished Rafaël Rozendaal’s new monograph “Everything, Always, Everywhere” and I am baffled that this book exists as a traditional paper art book from an small publisher. On paper. Like a cave painting.

The book includes a number of critical essays, an interview, photographs of gallery installations and other physical works, and also screen prints of many of his websites.

How is this not an app? Why is this not an ebook? Such a wasted opportunity! I can imagine an ebook where one page is a scrolling essay accompanied by audio of the author reading aloud. I can imagine turning the page to reveal a video of a net-art-website in motion. But no, it’s paper.

My favorite essay is by Kodama Kanazawa entitled “A hint of Japan in the works of Rafaël Rozendaal”. The essay is written first in English, followed by a translation in Japanese. It’s interesting to flip through the Japanese text to find a URL in English or one of Rozendaal’s off-kilter haiku. It’s the visual equivalent to hearing your name uttered from across the room.

The worst essay is by Christine Paul, “Remotely Distant Never Nowhere: The art of Rafaël Rozendaal”. It’s tedious museum-speak. It lost me particularly because of this passage:

“The simultaneously cartoonish and painterly language of Rozendaal’s net art projects is created through his use of vector animation, which allows for a cleaner, smoother, motion than moving pixels since images rendered and resized using mathematical rather than stored pixel values.”

This is both false and wrong. How are pixels “moved” if not mathematically? By nudging them with a pencil? Vector graphics are geometric shapes defined by points and mathematical curves and lines, yes. This much is true. But vector graphics (and video and 3D graphics) they are converted to 2D pixels to appear on a screen. Remember - “pixels” is short for “picture element”.

That is why it was wrong. It is false because while Rozendaal’s early website projects used Flash, which was a vector animation tool for the web, his current work utilizes the HTML5 canvas element which is a programmatic drawing surface for pixels.

I may have unrealistic demands on an art critic, but I think if you’re going to discuss the technical underpinnings of an artist’s work and how it relates to their influences, you should probably get the facts straight. It’s like saying Andy Warhol was a lithographer.

The book itself is a joyful object, full of different weights and textures of paper. The cover is a reproduction of his popular site http://www.muchbetterthanthis.com/. It has a subtle relief that is pleasing to hold and run your fingers over…which is probably why the monograph is paper and not electronic. It’s a work of art like Rozendaal’s textiles and lenticular prints. But still. I’m disappointed I can’t carry around a portfolio of Rozendaal’s sites on my iPad.

Butter fingered tragedy

The naked core of an Apple Pencil

The naked core of an Apple Pencil

On Thursday I was working late and scrambled through traffic to get to studio to join my figure drawing session. I was there late enough that it was hard to find a place to work. I stood in between two easels. As the lights went out, the person to my right turned on their clip-lamp to illuminate their easel. I was blind. I stepped forward and back and finally turned 45º to keep the light out of my face. If only everyone carried self-illuminating drawing tablets this wouldn’t be a problem.

A ghost of a painting that might have been.

A ghost of a painting that might have been.

I got moving on a drawing. Still a little rushed. I made some drawing errors. But I liked the direction my colors were headed.

Then I fumbled and dropped my Apple Pencil. Its tip struck the concrete floor and broke in such away that the mounting sleeve is jammed well into the barrel, with no way to extract it.

Ruined.

I’ve already ordered another, it should be here Monday. I don’t put a case on my phone. I don’t shield my laptop in a special sleeve. I just try to be careful and not be foolish. But a pen is so easy to drop. Maybe I need one of those foamy pen-grips you can slip over the end of your pen so it stays in your clumsy hand. Maybe I need a pen-lanyard. Maybe I need to learn to paint with my fingers.

Turntable tempted

I mean it even has USB

I mean it even has USB

I am a mighty oak. I have $49.99 but I did not spend $49.99 on a turntable. I resisted and bought the cheapest 3’ HDMI cable I could find.

Before we moved to Tacoma, we lived in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, OR. St. Johns was a small town that was merged into Portland back in the ‘30s. St. Johns has it’s own little downtown and feels slightly different from the rest of Portland. It’s one of the more diverse neighborhoods in Portland, though new housing development and rising costs will probably ruin that soon.

On the West Coast, pizza is generally pretty poor. Recall that “barbecue chicken pizza” was invented in California. But here and there you can find a pizza place that understands that pizza is bread and you must make good bread first and then worry about the rest.

In St. Johns there is an old gas station that has been converted into a pizza place. They make a flavorful dough that bakes up with a chewy center and crispy exterior. It’s not the best I’ve had, but it’s very good for Portland. They sell whole pies or slices. On many Saturdays I would walk over and get a slice or two and a beer. The kids who worked there had a tiny little turntable and a milk crate of punk rock records. They played those records at full blast, distorting the sound and rattling the windows.

I paid for college making pizza, though it wasn’t in nearly as romantic a place. Not a small part of me wants to run away and join the circus get a job at that pizza place. If I buy the record player now then maybe I could borrow some of their records…

Work / art / life balance

Portrait of Gary Procreate for iPad Pro

Portrait of Gary
Procreate for iPad Pro

I returned to life drawing on Thursday after a very long break. Gary was our model. He’s one of my favorites. He’s a pleasant older man who sits rock-still without fidgeting. He’s one of the few figure models who can hold a pose without slowly slumping and melting into the earth as the night wears on. He’s also visually interesting - a Peter Graves type.

Rough drawing under the painting

Rough drawing under the painting

I failed to make it to figure drawing for a long while thanks to a terrible, tedious, but necessary project at work. Our predecessors, founders of the company and terrible engineers, made poor choices for just about everything except for the basic concept for the web site. One particular technology choice has been a plague of failure for about 5 years. Our task was to rip this out down to the roots. This required lots of error prone rework and migration of data and many late nights of incremental releases which threatened to bring all things down around us.

But now the dragon is slain and I have my Thursdays back again. I missed the regular practice. I miss forcing myself to make the best of bad lighting, weird angles, or a fidgety model. Drawing from life is such good practice.

While I was busy my painting app had a major upgrade. Procreate 4 has an updated painting “engine” which handles blending of digital paint in this eerily lifelike way. I’ve talked before about how working with layering color in a digital medium takes a bit of brain twisting to get used to. The team at Procreate has removed a lot of that problem. The digital paint just sort of works the way you expect it to. It’s incredible. I would buy it twice if I could.

Procreate 4

Tomatoes Procreate 4 for iPad

Tomatoes
Procreate 4 for iPad

The mad geniuses at Savage Interactive have released Procreate 4 for iPad and iOS 11. Version 4 is a free update. A fresh new license costs only $9.99 from the App Store. This is a complete purchase. There are no subscriptions or in-app purchases to unlock additional features.

The updated UX for Procreate puts more actions closer to your fingertips and mirrors the design language of iOS 11

The updated UX for Procreate puts more actions closer to your fingertips and mirrors the design language of iOS 11

This software is criminally underpriced. Low prices are the hallmark of the new app-store software economy, and generally I think this is a good thing. But when I think back to the many hundreds of dollars I spent licensing Adobe software way back when, I feel tremendous pangs of guilt. I would like to buy it twice. I want them to sell t-shirts or something. This software is just too good for the price.

Procreate 4 has been updated to be consistent with the design language of iOS 11 and it feels right at home on my iPad. It takes full advantage of drag and drop features of iOS 11 - so importing brushes or images is a simple and intuitive operation, instead of many taps and swipes. The heart of this update, though, is the new rendering engine they’re calling Silica M built on Apple’s low-level GPU library Metal.

This new painting engine is the closest I’ve ever felt to “real” painting. Everything is faster and more responsive, which is great. But there’s something about how color lays down and blends with the new smudging tools and wet brush dynamics. Digital painting has, for me, always required bending my mind into thinking about digital color. Most digital painting tools - including industry standard Photoshop - pile color up in this weird additive way that works mathematically but doesn’t mirror the mental model of painting. Procreate 4 subverts all of that. The paint now feels like paint - it’s the hardest thing to articulate but there’s simply less mental friction in putting color down and it doing what I expect it to do. Perhaps the “M” in Silica M stands for “Mind-reading”.

Twitter cleaning

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Last Sunday I took a little time to consolidate my Twitters. I have two accounts, one mostly received updates from this site - @abouthalf and the other a “personal” account (@device55 - now defunct and private) which got most of my Instagram posts and my blog posts and whatnot.

This was silly. Why have two when I could have one? I don’t have an evil twin (that I know of) nor do I manage multiple brands. I don’t need two accounts.

I chose to sun-down my “primary” @device55 account. The username is terrible. I picked “device55” as an email handle a million years ago. That became a user name on Twitter and other places. But it’s terrible. If you have a username with a number in it you are either not very creative or you are late to the platform and your name was sniped.

Going forward, all of my Twittering will occur on my now-primary @abouthalf account. It’s a better username, it matches my website, and I can start fresh.

I took the opportunity to clean out all the junk accounts I didn’t need to follow. I stripped down everything to real people I really know, a couple of artists, and actually useful things like my local news.

I copied my following list over to my @abouthalf account, cleaned up my profile a bit, and it’s my new Twitter home. To discourage use of my old handle, I’ve made that account private, and left a tweet pinned with instructions to find me.

I have mixed feelings about Twitter. In contrast, I love Instagram. I hate that it’s owned by Facebook, and I hate their auto-playing video ads. But I love the simplicity of the concept. Hey you. Look at this.

But Twitter is weird. Neither fish nor fowl. When someone needs to share something longer than 140 characters they resort to screen capturing a note and sharing the image. Or they do a horrible tweet thread - stringing together tens of tweets in a row trying to make a single complex point. The format can be terrible. It is good for posting links and pictures and quips. Since RSS is a dying form, it’s one of the major ways people subscribe to content they want to read on the internet. I think if you want to be read, it’s wise to have a Twitter account.

Twitter is a company with no spine or moral center. Twitter refuses to police its users and refuses to take any sort of moral stand against horrifying content. It’s an unquestionably useful and valuable platform, but it’s hard to reconcile its value with how terrible it can be. I am torn - do I enable something awful by using it, or do I perhaps by actively trying not to be terrible and contribute to terribleness? I hope it’s the former.

Lurking danger

I have just returned from celebrating my 10th anniversary on the achingly beautiful island of Kauai where danger lurks behind every turn.

These signs are at every trailhead and most beaches. They all seem to be saying the same thing: "This isn't Disney World, this is real life".