A Scattershot Approach to Creativity

I haven’t been very active here since this summer, but I have been keeping busy. Fatherhood and a full time job will do that for you, regardless of your creative efforts.

Thankfully, I haven’t been idle on the creative front, either.

LadySea.net Updates

My wife is a potter, photographer, and knitter. She is selling her work over at LadySea Creations. Since I’m already conversant in HTML and CSS, and have a decent idea of design, I’m the webmaster and site author over there. It’s a pretty good creative outlet. I have always enjoyed programming for that reason. (I’m writing server side scripting in PHP.) Creative problem solving, followed up by translating those ideas into a structured language. It’s a fun challenge, and not entirely dissimilar to writing structured poetry.


I have worked a bit more on The Apprentice, and also a couple of short stories. It’s not as much progress as I’d like to make, but fatherhood and work continue to be very intense. My hope to write on the laptop or paper while being Parent on Deck hasn’t really worked out. The littlest munchkin is just too active, too curious, and too smart. She requires more attention now, not less. I’ll likely be hosting a story or two here in the near future.


I’m still really enjoying soap making. The last soap I made didn’t work for the house because I had forgotten that my wife’s tree allergies involved cedar.

The next thing I made (that worked) was a soft shave soap with shea butter. It really came out great. The lather is very effective, and the shea butter leaves the skin feeling marvelous afterward. I was trying for a lemon-lime scent with a touch of peppermint, but the peppermint oil was much stronger than I realized. I ended up with basically a pure peppermint scent.

Currently I am curing a stiffer version of this soap. I also plan to try a hard version. Whichever I like best will become the basis for my shave soap line. That’s right, I’ve decided to try selling soaps. I will call the brand Dapper Dragon soap, and sell it alongside Sonya’s pottery at Ladysea Creations.

I intend to make bath and facial bars as well. Hopefully I can include some in the products on display when Sonya does local craft sales.

Visual Arts

This is one realm where I haven’t kept my hand in this year at all. I’m not really happy about it, either. But there are just too many things to do, and not enough time. However, I have checked out the newest Krita for Windows. I really like the way it works. It is similar in many ways to MyPaint, but since it uses the KDE libraries, it’s not affected by the Gnome/GTK issues that killed tablet functionality in MyPaint for Windows and GIMP. And it’s open source!


That’s the state of my creative life these days. Look for more, and more frequent updates as I get these projects rolling.

50,000 Words in the Rearview

Click to view daily statisticsLast night, I crossed the 50,000 word line. It feels like my story is on track for a decent length, somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 words. I’ve identified some things earlier in the story that require fleshing out, as well.

It’s been interesting, going through the writing process. Things have been changing here and there, primarily to add more subplots and ideas. When I started, I really only had the main thrust of the story in my mind. It’s grown, and I like it.

The main arc that takes my character from a victim to an active agent in her own life has been joined by a romantic subplot, some intrigue and a lot more detail for the antagonists, and an internal struggle with an alien being. A group of characters that had been intended as a footnote, almost a part of the scenery, is now an engaged group of supporting characters.

Writing is really agreeing with me, and I’m getting better at taking the reins and getting my writing done when it’s possible, rather than when I’m feeling like it. As a father, IT nerd and husband, getting “feeling like it” and “possible” to line up is why it has taken me three months to hit 50k words.

I’ve been feeling the itch to do a bit of visual art, but time constraints are really a pain there. I’ve thought about splitting my creative time between writing and painting/drawing, but the fact of the matter is that drawing is a much slower process. I can’t get nearly the same amount of stuff done. (I also think I’m better at writing, but that’s not saying that much.)

Time to blow off the cobwebs and get serious

Well. Looks like I have allowed this place to languish, haven’t I?

There are reasons, of course. There always are. Some of them are good reasons, and others are not. I’m not going to belabor them.

The comic went along fairly well for a while. Then there were lots of Real Life Things, culminating with the death of my desktop computer, with which I make my art. While that was down, life got a lot more hectic at my house, so now that it’s back up I can’t really get sufficient time each week to draw the comic. I was spending 8-10 hours a week making the comics, and right now I’m grabbing about 3 hours completely on my own. I’m able to snatch 30 minute increments here and there to do a little writing.

So, because of this I have turned more to writing as a creative outlet. I can do it in small doses, and on my lunch break at work. I’ve started writing an urban fantasy novel, tentatively called The Apprentice. However, the story has changed from my original conception enough that the main character’s apprenticeship isn’t the defining factor I originally thought it would be. So who knows what it will be called in the end.

I’ve also decided to write out my former graphic-novel concept, Celerity. It will go up as a serial on another WordPress blog.

The reason I am resurrecting this blog is that I have been doing a lot of thinking about writing and creativity, and I want to write those things out. Interactions on blogs and Twitter with other writers and artists have got the juices flowing.

Hard Hairpin Left (Maybe)

It looks like I am starting up a web comic. A friend of mine and I have been discussing it on and off for a while, and we both have just enough time and technique to do it. :)

It’s called Hard Hairpin Left (Maybe). Andrew is writing the comic, which is a pseudo-autobiographical surrealist farce thing. I’m sure these terms have exacting definitions from formal criticism that I’m not quite right about, but you get the general drift.

There’s a gallery for it over here. We’ll also have our own hosting for it eventually, but for now I’m just posting materials here in dA.

I even finished our first strip (or least its first iteration?)

From a general artistic perspective, I was surprised. Most of my attention has been going to painting, either digital or traditional. When I decided to start dorking around with line drawings and illustration again, I found that my ability to render what I saw or imagined was much improved. The same was true of my pen control.

I’ve been using MyPaint to draw and ink the cartoons, and GIMP to lay out the frames and straighten up the final image before uploading.

Easy Paint Tool SAI

One of the benefits of Ubuntu flaking out on me is that I have been able to play with some Windows only software that I generally wouldn’t. I just didn’t want to reboot every time I took it into my head to do some art.

I DL’d the demo of Easy Paint Tool SAI yesterday and started fiddling with it. It’s got some very nice blend options on brushes as well as a really good blur tool. I could see very good uses for this software. It’s also got the simplest interface for rotating your work that I’ve ever seen. Just like you can swivel around a piece of paper to give yourself a better angle for drawing, you can swivel your image in SAI.

Hopefully I’ll have a bit of something to share that was made using SAI in the next few days.

Review: Masterson Sta-Wet Super Pro Palette

Sta-Wet Super Pro PaletteFor Father’s day, two of my girls got me a Masterson Sta-Wet Super Pro Palette.  I have had a few chances to use it, at home and at class, and so far I like it a lot.

Description: The Sta-Wet palettes are all pretty similar.  “Super Pro” refers to the size.  12″x16x”1.75″.  It’s easily large enough to hold your favorite pad of palette paper or a rectangular palette for oil painting.

The Sta-Wet palettes come with a sponge-and-film system for keeping acrylic paints wet.  The idea is that the thin sponge stays wet, and the paints can leech that water out of the sponge through a specially prepared palette film.  I have tried this in a smaller model, and can confirm that it greatly improves the wet time of acrylics – even low-viscosity and craft paint.

The palette comes with “feet” on both sides so you can turn it upside down for watercolor.  The lid (from an oil-painter’s perspective) is formed with wells and divided mixing areas for watercolor.

Performance: The Sta-Wet palette has performed like a champ for me.  I go to class once a week, so my oil paints are always dry in between.  When I came back to class this week, the source piles of paint on my palette were completely wet.  There wasn’t even a skin on them.  My mixed paint did not fair as well, but there was still a fair amount of usable paint left over.

The two halves of the palette come together with a seal you can hear and feel.  Taking the pieces apart requires a small amount of effort to overcome the vacuum, but shouldn’t be a problem for anyone healthy enough to stand up and paint for any length of time.  Painters with particularly weak hands might want to look into the more Tupperware-like “Palette Seal“.

The unit comes with a sticky-backed sheet of eight transparent rubber feet, four for each half.  They do an excellent job of holding the smooth-bottomed palette still on slippery tables.  I have only used half of them, since I never paint in watercolor.  I was considering using the extras on my 11″x14” glass palette to hold it still in the center of the Sta-Wet palette.

Value: The Sta-Wet palette has an MSRP of $25, and costs only $20 at DickBlick.com.  I have paints that cost up to $50 for a 37mL tube.  Anything that reduces the amount of paint that I have to scrape off my palette because it’s dried up is a great value and will pay for itself fairly quickly.  When you add in the additional features of portability, multi-functionality, and stability, it’s a great buy.

Measurable Improvement

61b436fa47273fe1e06a3ec413be2536.cacheYou know what they say, practice makes perfect better.

I started my next painting yesterday at Brushworks. This one is a plaster cast (taken, one assumes, from a statue of some kind) of one quarter of a face. It contains the eye, cheek, and eyebrow.

It’s really quite similar to doing a still life.  The difference here is one of focus.  In still life, you’re interested mostly in composition.  There are also questions of color, shape harmony, negative space, etc.

Casts, on the other hand, are all about value.  (insert Barenaked Ladies reference here)  My own value scale is pretty tight, particularly in the mid tones.  This means that I have a tendency not to make the steps in value in my paintings large enough, resulting in a flat-looking, boring image.  Since the cast is white, all you have to worry about are the values as shadows proceed across the surface.  This ability to focus will be very useful, I think.

0572293a70fe5b392d2f1cc2c4b0c6c3.cache Yesterday I did the initial charcoal drawing.  Once again, I learned fun new things.  My charcoal is way too soft and dark for initial underdrawing; vine charcoal is on my shopping list for the future.  I have definitely gotten faster at the initial drawing.  I’ve also gotten far more accurate.  When I did my first sight-size drawing for the still life with vases, I had to redo almost every measurement by the time it was over.  This time, I really only had one set of measurements that were off, and the most complicated part (the eye) was fine after the first try.  I’m pretty proud of myself.

Next week, I should start putting paint on the canvas.

It was a good week to paint

Another week, another layer of paint.
This week the focus was on the background. My original thought was to use a looser style with more visible brush calligraphy in the back. It would evoke the complex texture of the background (a sort of shiny, embossed fabric) and add visual interest.
Unfortunately, in practice it ended up passing “interesting” and moving into “busy and overwhelming” so I had to smooth out the transitions.
However, it wasn’t a total waste. I think I managed to turn a lot of the sharp crease-like value changes into a more gentle roll feel. I also fixed my darks so they were more in line with the rest of the background.

I also got some very nice glow in at the edges of the picture (not that visible in this photo) using Daniel Green “golden ochre” painted thinly wet-into-wet into the green.

Obligatory school pride/socialization plug – if you are interested in art, you should come take classes along with me at Brushworks. 🙂

Patty also hates me and wants me to be poor – she told me about a sale on that same Daniel Green paint for up to 85% off. That’s $10 for a tube of Cadmium Red, instead of close to $50. I should probably scoot out there this weekend and see if they have any Ultramarine left – I’m getting really low. Not to mention that the more I use my M. Graham and Winsor-Newton paints, the less patience I have for the stiffness and lack of staying power from my Winton tubes. 🙂

This is my first WIP photo taken using my new phone. It works well. It’s nice to have a camera that’s worth a darn in my pocket. I might be able to start taking more snaps. 🙂

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Hues are weird. The lure of private lessons. Optical illusions

As usual, Thursday night this week was my art class at Brushworks.  This is week #3 of the new painting, and I got to put some paint on the canvas.  The smaller of the two ceramic pieces was really difficult to get quite right in my drawing.  I think it is just that a small error is a much larger % of the total size of the piece, and last week when I got around to that, my arms were tired and kind of shaky.  but on top of that, it’s very shiny.  The lights reflect off it.  The other elements of the composition reflect off of it.  It really takes an effort to look at it, and not the false contours that the reflections can create.  I am thinking this will be a fun challenge.

This was my first time using straight paint as the first layer.  For my first painting, I used extremely thin paint mixed with turpenoid for an imprimatur.  This time we forewent imprimatur and just went straight to paint.  That, friends and neighbors, kind of sucks.  There was no hyperbole involved when Patty told me to “scrub the paint into the canvas.”  It took me most of an hour to get one thin coat of paint on an 11×14 canvas (including color mixing time.)

Color mixing was interesting tonight.  The large vase is a horsehair raku piece, so most of it is gray.  Patty told me confidently, “Start with burnt sienna.”  The mind boggles.  However, burnt sienna + a ridiculous amount of white + a smidgen of blue later, and voila!  Pretty much dead on for the lightest colors on the thing.  It also happens that Patty’s own still life has a background with similar colors to mine, and in the midst of mixing her still life, she had my proper color.  She was using M. Graham viridian green and titanium white.  I have those colors!  Only, not really.  I have W&N Winton “viridian green hue.”  It looks pretty nice alone.  It’s even interesting with yellow.  However, it becomes a bizarre and unnaturally bright/saturated color when mixed with white.  Adding some crimson to key it down didn’t really work.  I ended up with a gray that was still too bright.  Patty, always a gracious teacher, shared some of her viridian with me.  Grumbacher in this case, but still an actual viridian rather than a hue.

Luckily, my darling wife and several of our darling children were already in St Paul so I asked them to head to Wet Paint and pick up a tube of M. Graham viridian for me.  I really like that paint.  I started off just impressed that there was a line of professional grade paint that was similarly priced to the student lines.  Then I used it a bit and became pleased, and now I am creeping up on downright excited.

Last night was unusual for one other reason:  Everyone else from class was either out sick or out of town.  It was just me and Patty.  In other words, a private lesson.  That was really cool.  I had her attention whenever I needed to ask a question, or found myself at a loss as to where to proceed next.  I definitely understand why people pay a lot of money for 1-on-1 art instruction.  If I had more spare cash, I would consider it myself.  I also got to watch a bit as Patty painted.  Just standing there and watching her, and asking the occasional question, is almost a lesson in itself.

I think I am really going to enjoy this painting.  It has the makings of a serious challenge, and also a platform from which to learn a variety of techniques.  The combination of materials I’m painting is going to tax my ability to draw transparency, reflection, fine detail, texture, and light.  I absolutely expect it to suck when I am done, but I bet I’ll be a much better painter.