Archive for the 'tools & tech' Category

Feb 03 2017

Folger Shakespeare Theatre’s “As You Like It”

Earlier this week, I want to see Folger Shakespeare’s production of As You Like It, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch. I really enjoyed the performance; the first half was slow in a couple of places (mostly because Shakespeare didn’t do a very good job of giving the characters motivations) but once things start to come together in the second half it’s a delightful romp, with excellent dramatic, comedic, and musical performances by the entire cast.

Here are my sketches (done digitally with iPad Pro & Procreate app) –

Cast: Lindsay Alexandra Carter, Kimberly Chatterjee, Michael Glenn, Will Hayes, Jeff Keogh, Aaron Krohn, Allen McCullough, Brian Reisman, Daven Ralston, Lorenzo Roberts, Antoinette Robinson, Dani Stoller, Tom Story, Cody Wilson.

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Sep 16 2016

Islesford Painting Workshops 2016

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I just got back from a fantastic week on Little Cranberry Island, Maine, helping to teach the Islesford Painting Workshops. As always, it was a complete blast. Look how much fun we are having!

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I’m up to my ears in catch-up tasks, so I won’t write too much about it, but once again it was great. I’m sad that this is (almost certainly) the last year it will be held, because the Dock Restaurant & Gallery which hosts it is being sold.

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Anyway, here are my paintings/sketches/studies. Some are digital this time — I continue to play with the iPad, and I’ve also been messing about with Kyle’s brushes for Photoshop. On one level it’s silly trying to get painterly effects on a digital device, because a real painting “in the flesh” is SO much more awesome than any print or purely 2-dimensional representation of it can capture. On the other hand, using tools that make different kinds of marks can help one understand more about the problems of painting, and in that respect it’s cool to have a really large toolbox in a small device to experiment with.

My favorite take-aways this year: First, the idea of “carving into” a painting, usually to simplify or define the space better. Second, the realization that I am usually willing to get quite experimental with color but not so much with forms/drawing. I want to play with that a bit more.

Previous year’s workshops: 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 (2012 has the most theoretical/philosophical musing in it, if you like that sort of thing.)

So long, Islesford. The workshops may be over, but I’ll be back.

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May 16 2016

STC’s Taming of the Shrew

Last night I saw Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production, The Taming of the Shrew. It features an all-male cast, a craft market in the lobby, a lot of music, and a bunch of other cool immersive touches. As with every Shrew production I’ve seen, it struggles to rise above the misogynist speech in the final scene, but in other respects I thought it was quite marvelous. The actors were all superb, and extremely consistent. The musicality was impressive. You could almost say they turned the play into a musical — which is a kind of an odd choice, and it didn’t work 100% of the time, but there were points later in the story where it really elevated what was going on. It did, however, make for a long show. It ran almost 3 and a half hours. During the intermission they had drinks and snacks in the theater, and allowed the audience onto the stage while the actors continued to do… well, a lot of things that aren’t in the actual play. That might sound odd or gimmicky, but actually I found the result was unique and powerful. In fact I’d say the treatment of the intermission, and some of the threads that emerged from that, might have been the coolest part of the show.

Of course I drew. Some of these I drew on paper, and others on a new iPad Pro I’m testing out. I turned the brightness all the way down and worked on a grey background so I wouldn’t distract my neighbors. You can probably tell which drawings are digital and which are traditional (especially since there are some glaring clues besides the line quality) but I’m pretty impressed with some of the tools, especially ProCreate’s pencil simulation, which uses the Apple Pencil’s tilt sensor quite effectively.

 

The show runs through June. Definitely recommended.

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Feb 21 2016

Samurai Rising – process post

When I was contacted by Charlesbridge about possibly illustrating a nonfiction book about the legendary samurai Yoshitsune Minamoto, I jumped at the chance. The timing was great, as I was in transition between Macbeth and Poe, I’d been wanting to work with the Charlesbridge crew, and the subject matter is an intense interest of mine. I had done some karate and aikido as a kid, studied Japanese culture and language during high school and college, and spent a summer in Japan in 1990. On that trip I met lots of great people, tried kendo, got to visit a famous Japanese swordmaker, watched hours and hours of anime and sumo wrestling on TV, and learned what real jet-lag feels like. Later I took up aikido in a more serious way, and I’ve been practicing that art for over 15 years now. I also did an illustration project in college about Yoshitsune, so I knew the basics of his story — though at the time I was focused more on the legends about his early life than the real details of his military exploits. Anyway, I was quite excited to illustrate this book, especially once I had read the manuscript, which I found vivid, compelling, and action-packed. The author, Pamela Turner, has written lots of excellent nonfiction, lived in Japan, and practices kendo, and she brings all of that background plus a clever modern sensibility to the story.

The scope of the assignment was a cover plus an illustration for each of the 15 chapters, plus a title page spread and 4 maps, all to be painted in a loose brush-and-ink style.

I started filling up a sketchbook with rough pencil sketches for each chapter. I tried to keep these loose and focus on interesting silhouettes and compositions. I wasn’t sure yet whether these would be half-page or full-page illustrations, or exactly what the page size would be. I did 4-8 sketches for each chapter, and maybe 15 or 20 for the cover.

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I discussed the sketches with my editor Alyssa Pusey and art director Susan Sherman. Once we narrowed down which ones we all liked the most, I did larger sketches digitally. We decided to go full-page, so many of the compositions had to be adjusted to fit the page size, and then tested opposite a chapter opening. Author Pam then checked the illustrations for historical accuracy. She researched this book so thoroughly, we all wanted to make sure I didn’t mess anything up.

Ch0 intro sketches v2 Layout 1 Layout 1

In order to do a loose brush painting, I actually needed to work out a fairly precise drawing, often with more information in it than the finished illustration would have. Then I put the drawing on a light table and painted over it, laying down the solid blacks first, then the grey tones. I used some carefully distressed, bristly brushes I’ve cultivated over the years (a good inking brush, as it ages, tends to lose its ability to keep a sharp point, but sometimes gains other magical qualities!).

Ch01 finish v1 Ch02 finish v1

Layout 1

brushes

We decided to do a wraparound cover, and Susan mocked up the type with our favorite sketch. I worked out the composition for the wraparound, then drew in more precise details. I tend to find horses a bit challenging to get right, so in addition to a lot of photo reference I also used a plastic horse that I bought on eBay and hung over my drawing table.

Layout 1Toy horse

Layout 1Samurai Cover finish grey

I did use digital techniques in a few places. Most notably, I replaced the ink wash sky in the original art with a color gradient and white clouds made by reversing black ink strokes I did separately. Then I added a layer of digital red and gold as accent colors.

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Samurai Rising Cover finish

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I also got to help pick out the colors of the endpapers, the red ink of the cover type, the stamp and the paper for the casewrap, and even the striped pattern for the headband and footband.

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Here’s one of the maps. It’s a brush painting with a grey wash digitally inserted behind it for the ocean. Labels added by the publisher.

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Charlesbridge has been wonderful to work with, and the book has been getting a great critical response. It’s on sale now, and I hope you’ll check it out. Thanks for reading!

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Dec 30 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Macbeth is coming in just a month. The official release date is Feb 10th.  You can pre-order it with your local/favorite indy bookstore or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, etc. I will sign all pre-orders placed with Politics & Prose, and you can order signed copies directly from me starting a few days after the release. The eBook should also launch on Feb. 10th on most platforms.

To whet your appetite, I have set up an official product page (with interior preview) here. And now, I’m going to give you a look at the process I used to create this book…

 

This looping animation shows the different stages of drawing and coloring a page of Macbeth

 

As usual, I sketched the rough layouts using Adobe InDesign. This has the advantage of being super-easy to edit as I go along (as well as later, after I get feedback), being able to quickly move things from one page to another, use type and object styles to control document-wide formatting, and have a single master file. The main disadvantage is that the master file sometimes gets too big. I’ve learned various tricks to deal with that but it can still be a little tricky to manage.

After sketching and editing the rough layout, I printed each page in a light yellow and drew over it with pencil.

I scanned the drawings back in, used a b&w adjustment layer to get rid of the yellow lines, then did a greyscale value painting on a multiply layer over the pencil art.

I added textures I had created with ink washes on watercolor paper, then I added local colors and effects.

Sound effects go on their own layer so they can be removed or changed if the book gets translated into another language.

Finally, I dropped the art back into InDesign and drew clean borders and speech balloons.

– Artwork copyright 2014 by Gareth Hinds, shown by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville MA –

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Oct 19 2014

Two digital landscapes

Published by under landscape,tools & tech

I painted these in Artrage. The first is from memory of one of the beaches on Little Cranberry Island, Maine. The second is a sunset view from my porch (have I mentioned I love my porch?).

Maine_landscape1 porch sunset 1

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Sep 14 2012

Literary Lights Video

Published by under appearances,tools & tech,video

This video is edited way down, so a lot of great stuff is on the cutting room floor, but what remains still gives a glimpse of a very fun event.

Pam Munoz Ryan, MT Anderson and Kate DiCamillo all gave wonderful speeches which are barely hinted at, and Annabell’s intro was also particularly good. Oh well. At least you get to see me draw.

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Nov 23 2011

Credit card apps follow-up: the stress-test!

Published by under reviews,tools & tech

This is an addendum to my lengthy review of the Square and Intuit GoPayment credit card processing apps. I have now used both apps and card readers under a heavy-use and, as it turns out, a poor-signal scenario. I processed over a hundred credit card sales on my phone at the NCTE annual convention last weekend, and here are the results.

In short: Intuit won, because Square choked on a weak signal.

I started out with Square, and the first two transactions worked fine, although they were a little slow because the exhibit hall was IN A BASEMENT (what were they thinking???). I had 1-2 bars of cell, and most of the time no 3G. So anyway, on the third transaction, the Square app froze at the receipt screen (wouldn’t allow any text input), and I had to cancel out the sale and do it on Intuit’s app. This happened again on the next transaction, and that was it for Square. In better signal conditions I expect Square works fine, but not in a basement. Intuit kept working like a champ, so Intuit got all my business last weekend.

Plus, as I mentioned, Intuit lets you set up item prices, so it does the math for you and generates an itemized receipt.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Nov 09 2011

Gifts From the Gods – process

Here’s the process post I promised for Gifts From the Gods. This process is an evolution of the techniques I used for The Odyssey.

First I read through the text a few times, then started doing some rough sketches on paper. At the same time, I was discussing the page dimensions, typography, and other design factors with my designer at Houghton — in this case, the extremely talented Scott Magoon. Once we nailed down some of that stuff, I scanned my sketches and started experimenting with the page layouts.

I also made sketches directly in InDesign, using the vector pencil tool, as you can see in the right-most panel.

When the rough layouts were edited and approved, I printed each page in very light blue on cheap drawing paper and did a pencil drawing over it. I scanned that back in and removed the blue lines (using the “black and white” filter in Photoshop), darkened the lines to a truer black, and made any necessary edits to the drawing.

In some cases, I “test-colored” the drawings in Photoshop, so that I could play around with the colors a bit before using watercolor.

I enlarged and printed out the darkened-and-corrected pencil drawings on a piece of 140lb. cold-press watercolor paper, using my Epson Stylus 2200 printer, which prints up to 13×19″ and uses ink that is waterproof under most conditions. Actually, it kind of repels water, so I often have to go over each stroke twice to get the paint to cover the linework. I painted the art with watercolors, scanned it back in, and made any additional corrections — for example, I decided later to remove Achilles’ helmet, since he was bare-headed in the previous battle scenes.

Lastly, I had lots of fun creating the decorative borders at the beginning of each story. The linework for these was drawn directly in InDesign and cloned for symmetry. Again I printed them out on watercolor paper, and I painted them with acrylic. I composited the faux-stone painted texture behind the borders using Photoshop, because I didn’t want to accidentally splatter paint over the border art.

That’s it! Sorry, I didn’t take any videos this time — but I AM taking videos of Romeo & Juliet as I go along, and I will start posting a few tidbits from that soon.

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Oct 21 2011

Credit cards via iPhone – two great apps that work great together

Published by under reviews,tools & tech

I have a bunch of trade shows going on this fall and winter, particularly NCTE‘s annual convention, and customers frequently ask if they can pay by credit card. I now have an iPhone, and one of the main reasons I got it was because I knew I could use it to take credit cards (via any of several apps.)

I only go to a few shows a year, so I ruled out most of the services which require an actual merchant account, as those involve a monthly fee*. The leading services with no monthly fee are Square and Intuit GoPayment. I decided to sign up for both of them, try them out for myself and compare the results.

Both services require personal info such as your birthdate, SSN/EIN, and bank account, so they can pay  you, and presumably also so they can run a credit check. GoPayment also called me to verify some information before they would complete processing on my first batch of transactions. Both services also have a weekly maximum, and this is a sore point in many of the negative reviews. Square will only release $1000 per week, and anything over that they hold for 30 days. Intuit does the same thing, but the limit is $1250. If you do a lot of large sales, you may want to go with a merchant account for this reason. If you’re like me and you have small sales that occasionally exceed those limits in aggregate, you can split them up between the two services, which is what I’m planning to do next month at NCTE.

The software:
I went to a small trade show last weekend where I used both services without the card-swiper hardware. I found that both apps performed very well. My customers were amused that we live in the future, and not at all squeamish about entering card info on my phone. I definitely captured at least a few sales that would have otherwise escaped.

Square starts up quickly and allows you to immediately punch in any amount for a charge, but it does not allow you to keep a list of individual products and prices, so if you sell multiple products like I do, you’ll have to do the math elsewhere — in your head, on a piece of paper or a calculator — and then enter the total. You can also enter any description you want for the transaction. The signature box is nice and big, which is important because it turns out to be a challenge signing with your finger.

GoPayments requires you to log in every time you start the app (even if you switch back and forth using the tray; though not when going in and out of standby mode while still in the app). This is annoying when you’re in a hurry. However, they DO allow you to create a product list, so tallying up a multi-item sale is much easier, AND the receipt it generates is itemized. This is a huge advantage for my purposes. If you want to charge an arbitrary amount, however, you need to add a new item, which is a bit of a pain.

Both services allow you to send a receipt by email or text message, and both keep a transaction history which you can refer back to.

This week I received the card-swiper hardware for both apps. Square’s hardware is a tiny white square. Intuit’s is a sort of half-circle. They both plug into the headphone jack. They both feel a little flimsy, partly because they’re small and light, partly because the jack allows them to rotate. Intuit’s has a little bar that catches on the phone and keeps it from rotating in one direction, but it still freely rotates in the other, so this doesn’t make much difference. Intuit also includes a potentially handy plastic case and a lanyard, so it might be harder to lose. Both readers worked well in initial tests. I did about half a dozen swipes using 3 different cards, and square only made me re-swipe once, while Intuit made me re-swipe twice on one card and once on another.  I will let you know how they hold up after I stress-test them at NCTE next month.

Bottom line, I think these are both great little services. If your primary use is selling a bunch of products with fixed prices, GoPayment is easier and gives an itemized receipt. If you are selling a service and want to easily charge arbitrary amounts and enter custom descriptions, Square is easier. I should also mention that Square’s support is basically email-only, while Intuit has phone support.

Since there’s no sign-up or monthly charge, there’s also no reason you can’t get them both and try them for yourself.

On a side note, I find that this technology fills me with glee. Perhaps it simply appeals to the greed and techno-lust which lurk in the twilight parts of my psyche, but I find myself excited to “play” with them more than any game on my phone. It’s a game where you make money! I just need to get more people to play 😉

 

(*Merchant account services have a lower percentage fee for processing each transaction; you can see which route makes more sense based on your monthly sales using this handy calculator.
GoPayment offers two pricing plans, one like Square and one like a merchant account.)

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