As I rarely discard a book, it should thus come as no surprise that I have overflowing shelves of novels I’ve once read, enjoyed, savoured and then swore up-and-down-back-and-forth that I was going to re-read someday. Alas, it is someday. I’m spending whole of 2016 revisiting my book collection, digging back into books I read once, but that I haven’t read (or listened to) in at least four years. So, we’re about to find out what was worth reading… twice.
I was living in Vancouver still, and my boss-at-the-time, a lovely lady who was trained as a lawyer and who was in a kind of career transition when she took the job managing our office, she set a thick trade paperback novel on my desk and told me that I should read it. “You don’t have to.” She corrected herself. “I just think you’d like it.”
And so I took home her copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and skeptically picked my way through it, never quite sure how it fit into the perception of that my boss had of me, and (still early in my career) why a story about two wannabe cartoonists made my boss-at-the-time think I needed to urgently read it among my standard literary diet of hard science fiction, etc.
It seemed only fitting then that I would spend some of the holiday Amazon gift card from my boss-at-this-current-time on a digital copy of the same book as I prepare to re-read this particular novel.
And perhaps it was that tie-in to bosses, the “you should read this” of the moment when your boss has the audacity to presume to categorize you and your tastes, peg you down well enough that they think they can suggest a novel for you to read, that you’d “like” to read, even if that is just the inversed and tilted perception of a too-young-to-know better guy living far from home and working his first career-job. All that left me with a distinct impression and memory that (a) I liked this book (b) I wanted to re-read it, but (c) I don’t remember much more than a few damn scattered things about it.
So, now that I own a copy (thank you boss-at-this-current-time) here we go.
“But mine is so bad.” She says, a pouting glare focused on me as she slump back into her chair and folds her arms across her chest. “I don’t know how to make it look nice.”
While many parents will be quick to point out the brilliant qualities of their children, the buzzword of the week touting a rash of so-called “over-sharenting” wherein doting parents brag up the glowing wonder of their infallible tots, not many will be so forthcoming with their flaws. As it turns out, my daughter is flawed: she is a perfectionist who is far too quick to throw in the metaphorical towel when the going gets tough. Also, I’m way past the undeserved praise stage. “We’ve been through this a hundred times.” I insist, frustrated at the cycle of the same-old whimpering complaint. “You’re not going to just be good at something the first time you try it.”
Of all the things to try perfecting, this time she’s taken a shining to digital art. She’s watched her father dabbling in simple doodles, puttering through the efforts of electronic sketches on the computer, mostly for use in brightening up various websites. It did not help that earlier that same day I’d proudly shown her the digital book I’d self-published, blossomed from a made-up story she herself had helped refine, and whose pages had been stuffed full of her father’s amateur artwork. So, of course, she wants to replicate that effort on her own.
Monkey see, monkey do. At least, monkey see even if monkey can’t quite do it perfectly.
“You know,” I say in my best dad voice. “I’ve been drawing on the computer for nearly thirty years. I’ve had a lot of practice.”
“I don’t want to wait that long.” She huffs, and I am forced to practice my skills at holding back a burst of knowing laughter at her unrealistic and impatient expectations.
This isn’t the first appearance of the Girl’s impatient perfectionism, either. She pouted at the piano, slumped in the snow when we took her skiing, slouched at soccer practice, knocked needles with her mother over learning to knit, and even balked at baking anymore when her first attempt at cookies weren’t up to her her high standards. Not that we’ve let her quit: but the refrain is all too familiar: “I don’t know how to…”
“Look.” I say. “Everything takes practice.” And I probably paused for dramatic emphasis here. “Everything! If you really want to learn how to do anything at all, you need to practice it. And you need to practice remembering that, too.”
nurturing imagination, rule 020
only practice makes perfect: demand imperfection
I’m pretty sure that not every kid leans towards the fusspot end of the spectrum, but from my sample size of one I’m also pretty sure that I’m dealing with a perfectionist population of roughly one hundred percent. Lofty goals and high standards are great, but when anyone, especially a kid, has neither the patience to build towards them, nor the chops to get there without trying those expectations turn into a real road-block. So, where the apparent problem resides is on that road not-yet-travelled between now and some point in the future when she’s actually able to suit her own criteria for high quality. I simply need to figure out how to make her walk that path, even if the destination won’t be clear to her for a few more years.
Actual perfection is ultimately and likely unattainable for we mere mortals, however, but convincing a kid of that can be a herculean effort. Not quite so epic of a task may simply be to demand something lesser, insisting on the incremental improvements that come with patience and practice and more realistic intermediate expectations. Imperfection isn’t a compromise, it’s a milestone.
See that previous entry on my adaptation of “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” and think about one of the key words in that title.
January 10… and it went a little like this:
Three in the morning came waaaaay earlier than expected. Just a reminder for those who haven’t been following along. That’s 3 am Florida time… so technically I crawled out of bed around 1 am Alberta time.
I was on the bus 30 minutes later, at the race thirty minutes after that, and… then hurry up and wait. They want people there so early, but then we stand around our corals for an hour and some until things start moving along. Don’t get it.
Our wave of the race was about 20 minutes late in starting, and then… we were off, running through the dark of the Disney dawn.
It was a blur. I took my camera along, and lucky thing. I grabbed some video and some selfies along the route. I also did some character stops. All of that added onto my time, but I’ve long since decided I’m not going for a time: just a finish.
I was back at the hotel by quarter to eight in the morning, showered by quarter after, and itching to do something besides sit around the hotel all day. So I hopped the bus with the M-I-L and we were off to join the others who had already gone to Hollywood Studios.
Rides and other amusements followed: A couple rounds of Star Tours, the Beauty & the Beast show, a meet-and-greet with Ralph and Vanellope a’la Wreck it Ralph, and a couple spins in the Artist Academy where they lead you through a character sketch. Later in the day we also hit up Toy Story Mania and the Aerosmith Rockin Rollercoaster.
Highlights of the day include:
1) My song playing as I rounded past the French pavillion in Epcot and got an extra burst of energy as I tromped through. Kinda just how I had imaginged that.
2) Running into my relatives –not the ones I’m traveling with–at the security gate of Hollywood Studios. Knew they were here the same time as us, all 19 of them, but didn’t expect to randomly run into them on their first day.
We were supposed to have Fast Passes for the Fantasmic show at 7. So we ate a quick, well-timed meal and went to go watch. Technical difficulties had the thing cancelled. We never have any luck with that show. In Disneyland a couple years ago that’s the one where Claire was crushed by the flu, and we just kinda hunkered down and tolerated it.
Probably for the best though: it meant Grandma and I took the three kids back to the hotel while the others turned it into a late night at the park. Early to bed for the young and the Dopey.
You’d think I’d sit down and write or draw something serious, but no. Just sketching. Just kicking back and putting ideas into the ether. Nothing else.
Meet Bork. That’s probably a rude name, but it made me think of this little guy as sort of a bit of a trouble-maker, getting into mischief. Y’know: up to no good. (Well, despite having no arms.)
Whatever. It’s Friday.
Perhaps it’s a little bit crazy, but I’ve been drawing maps.
At the root of it is the same sort of thing that generally happens when I get involved with something: it turns techie. Not always in a bad way. This time I stuck my own foot in it, so to speak.
Mostly, I think she just meant that I should go over to the running maps website, the one that pulls Google Map data and allows you to plot a distance-measured route layer atop it and share it around. Which is fine. And for most people, it would have been good enough to just do that, save some routes and share the links around.
But then I got it into my head that I wanted a better way to organize it, and to be far less dependent on one single application platform that might suddenly stop working or put up a pay-wall or something.
Oh, and it wouldn’t it be fun to make a little document management project out of it? I do that sort of thing, you know… mostly just to keep my skills sharp.
And, oh look… now I’ve already plotted out a dozen or so of our regular routes and saved them as screenshots in a blog-like, mobile-template-ready format that we can use from our mobile phones while we’re running.
Drawing maps is not actually that tough, it turns out. I’ve got fairly proficient at using vector tools like Inkscape (that being my favourite, the Swiss-army-knife of open source vector programs.) Maps are really just lots of curvy lines and a bit of text mashed together to look nice. It’s putting the lines in the right place that’s the tricky part: Pulling a few bits of reference material from the existing screenshots and adjusting, supplementing, and amending it (from a runner’s perspective) for my own purposes, I managed to create a fairly elaborate master map of about a hundred square kilometres (which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t all that big) of the neighbourhood and trails surrounding where we run out of. It highlights major roads (those with run-able side-walks), the asphalt trail systems accessible from our start point, and some of the un-groomed trail systems we’ve been known to take in on our more adventurous runs. It also leaves out those minor roads that we don’t run on because they either (a) lead no where or (b) are not run-able.
…the crazy is beginning to pay off…
I’ve been using this master-map, growing it, adjusting it, and improving it from my own knowledge of the area where we run, then using that to highlight routes, tag them with navigable details, and then cataloguing them by distance and features in a little WordPress-based website I’ve been building. (No link for you yet, but soon…) There is still lots of work, but the crazy is beginning to pay off as the website I’ve been picking away at for about a month now is nearly ready for launch. Nearly.
(More on that… in Part 2)
It was something Claire said; She has been decidedly artistic lately. I don’t know if it’s a phase or a personality quirk or a blossoming skill, but she’s been churning out this inspired quantity of increasingly complex art lately. And not just any old art: sequential art, which for those of you who are following, is impressive for anyone, let alone a four-year-old little girl.
Claire said: “Dad, we need to make a book for Mom.” By which, of course, I think she meant we needed to sit down, craft a collection of her art, pen out a simple story for it, and crudely smash the pages together with either heaps of tape or wads of staples.
But then I’ve been running. And running, along with all the wonderful health benefits, gives me these long stretches of being disconnected from everything-but-the-pavement and my own random, meandering thoughts. Some would consider that scary in itself, but over the years I’ve come to terms with this solitude-in-chaos of running, and it has started to become some of my most creatively-mashable time… so long as I immediately run home and make a note of it all.
Over the last couple years I’ve been learning new skills in vector art, dabbling in web cartooning, and poking around with sequential art story telling. But, I’ve never really considered the idea of penning a children’s book. And this is a very odd shortcoming, really if you think about it, considering how much time I’ve spent in the four and half years since Claire has been born READING children’s books and consequently evaluating those books.
Couple this with the fact that the advent of digital distribution has — based on my pitiful quantity of research — left a fairly interesting hole, or at least (relatively) sparsely populated gap, in a market for independent books: kid’s story books. Picture books. Read-before-bedtime stories illustrated with cute pictures. A market where one book costs fifteen to twenty bucks and can be read in — literally — minutes, albeit repeatedly. Properly marketed, a good independent children’s book, sold for a pitance of, say, a buck or two… hey… what’s a buck or two for a new story for my iPad or Kindle, right? That could go somewhere.
So, that’s my plan right now: I’ve already written the text and have some rough ideas on art. And as it all solidifies I’ll be sure to write more here. But for now… wait and wonder. It’s coming. Really.
While I haven’t been writing a novel this month for the infamous NaNoWrimo, I have been working on a different and still very interesting (at least, to me) creative project.
Astute readers may recall that I dabbled in the creating of a web comic about a year and a half ago. It was an exercise in many ideas, not the least of which was — simply — my interest in creating a web comic. But the effort itself was also very useful in allowing me the chance to burn some serious practice hours on a real project inside of a great little piece of vector graphic software, Inkscape.
For those less techie folks who read this blog, I should explain: there are pretty much two categories of image editing. In category one, Photoshop is the industry standard in basic and advanced photo-slash-image-slash-raster editing. This is essentially taking a defined set of pixels and changing each pixel’s colors in a controlled way. There are lots of nifty tools and filters inside the software to change anything from individual pixels to large sets of pixels, either independently or relatively (to each other or the tool itself) all of it giving the effects of drawing, painting, smudging, blurring, twirling, posterizing, or whatever… but it all comes down to changing a pixel of one colour to a pixel of another colour, and it all resulting in a rectangular image with lots of pixels that look like something as defined by the artist.
In the second category there are vector editors like Inkscape. Vector editors don’t concern themselves too much with individual pixels (at least not until you export the final image) and instead act like really complex mathematical drawing tools — but without showing you much of the math (unless you so choose.) The vector artist will define shapes, lines, curves, fills, and spend his time twisting the tiny arc handles and shaping the curves between a very finite number of plotted points to generate a desired shape. In essence, you use tell software to (in the simplest form) draw a circle of radius X, paint it colour C with a transparency of T and outline with a line of S thickness — but with a much nicer interface — then you nudge parts of that circle until it isn’t a circle, but instead it’s the shape of a nose or a finger or a light bulb. And then you export it as crisp image of a nose or a finger or a light bulb in either full 1080p HD resolution or as an icon just big enough to sit in your task bar — or whatever size and shape you want, really.
Both types of editors have their strengths, weaknesses — and roles — in design, and I could write a book on the advantages versus the disadvantage of each. But instead I’ll just say that cartooning in vector graphics (if you learn how) is definitely the way to go… with one caveat…
Unfortunately there is one little gap — at least from my personal workload perspective — Inkscape exports just fine, drops a clean image of whatever size neatly into a PNG or JPG file, or whatever I happen to be working with. But putting the pieces together — that post-production part — is way easier in pixel image editor like Photoshop. And this puts me in a bind. Why? Because, buying a seven hundred dollar copy of Photoshop (not gonna pirate one, so don’t offer that as a solution) for a bit of cartoon post-production is not sensible. And doing ten times as much work in Inkscape to do the same post production fudging of the work is boring and a bit of a fun-killer.
So, last night I spent a couple hours revisiting the world of open source image editors. And I also decided on a bit of a professional-slash-creative goal: I’m going to be publishing another web comic in the coming months. This isn’t a vague goal: A bunch of the art is already done, about ten pages worth of story are in the bag, and I just need to piece it all together… somehow. But, seeing as all the work I’ve done so far has leaned upon the free software world, I’m going to see if I can maintain that status for the whole project. I know perfectly well it’s possible, but here’s the thing: I want to deliver a completed web comic in the clear and open. I want to write a full comic designed and complete with free and/or open source software.
I’ll explain more in future posts… stay tuned.
I was out shopping on my afternoon off. On the occasional Friday I get as an “earned day off” my afternoon duties now include killing time — out-and-about — whilst the daughter is off at preschool. So, I went shopping. And among other things (some kitchen supplies and some garden supplies) I stopped at the local electronics super-mega store and (browsing) found a nifty selection of stylus (styluses? styli?) designed for capacitive touch tablets.
But, Brad, you argue; That defeats the whole point of touch screens, doesn’t it? Who wants to carry an extra pen around in their already cluttered pockets? Who wants to be that guy dabbing at their delicate and stylish phone with a metal stick? We just finally escaped from the tyranny of buttons and those stylus-dependent personal digital assistants, PDAs like Palm Pilots and Handspring Visors. Stylus-interfaced devices are for Nintendos and are soooo 2004…
Fair enough, I respond. But, then I haven’t told you the single, solitary, lone reason I bought it, have I?
You see, I had this misinterpreted image of the iPad for the first year that they existed (and I didn’t actually own one.) I would argue that the iPad was awesome as a media consumption device, but that there was a whole market of people out there who needed to create that content — media, text, and other things folks create on computers with much more nuanced interface devices — and that the iPad was a cumbersome interface for detailed work or large quantities of text. After all, type more than a text message on that touch screen keyboard and you’ll go nuts. And while it’s fun to dabble in the numerous little art and sketching apps, mostly it amounts to some really fancy digital finger painting.
But then iPad added a camera. People quickly figured out that you could hook a real keyboard to the device. That iCloud thing just came out and syncing all sorts of media across platforms has never been easier. And someone out there had the clever idea of reinventing some technology from 2004 to replace my stubby, pudgy fingers with a little pen-shaped device that looks like someone glued a half of a rubber ball onto the end.
Voila: interface equals awesome. I bought the stylus for one reason… to draw.
And draw I have.
Thinking of pairing your tablet with a stylus? The increase in nuanced detail permitted by such a match (albeit one I’ve only explored over a single weekend) seems particularly amazing for art and sketching apps. So far I’ve linked up “Sketch Club” and also “Art Set” both with a new level of detail and media-creation appreciation blossoming from the refined interface. My days of finger painting are over.
I’ve been reading the graphic novel “Bone” for the last few days, after having picked up the complete epic one-volume edition and letting it idle on my shelf for a while. It requires me to be sitting, because at thirteen hundred pages the book is a brick of paper. In other words, it doesn’t get taken on the train, and instead I resort to propping it up on a pillow in bed and driving through another chapter-slash-book in a fit of marathon reading.
It’s pretty good.
The story revolves around the cryptically-epic adventures of a trio of stylistically simple cousins, the Bones, who somewhat In medias res find themselves lost in the Valley after being run out of their hometown. In the Valley they are drawn into a sweeping kind-of medieval adventure and battle for the same, the back-story slowly unfolding around them as their time there passes through the pages of the comic.
As far as graphic novels go, it seems unique. It’s not a super-hero epic, or a dark tale of humanity like one might find in an Alan Moore story. It’s not a fantastic story of the paranormal drawn from the likes of Neil Gaiman. Nor is it anything like the dark historical truths not-so-hidden in Art Spiegelman’s works. Instead, it’s a kind of fusion between cartoon and wind-swept epic, frequently cited as a cross between Schultz’s Peanuts strips and the Lord of the Rings. Weird, huh?
I’m about half way done, so a review at this point is not really fair. But I’m enjoying it. I want to finish it. That’s a good thing, right? And it makes me want to spend some time drawing. Itching to create. Brain burning with silly, sketchily ideas. That’s good too, I suppose.
I’ve been looking for a good sketching program for the iPhone and/or iPad for a little while now and as such I’ve been experimenting with a number of the freely downloadable apps. The problem, I find, is that the touchscreen as a sketching medium leaves much to be desired in the way of sensitivity. They are sensitive to touch on a medium-fidelity scale, but when it comes to pixel-per-pixel fidelity there is much to be desired.
I downloaded a $2 app yesterday called Sketch Club that solves a couple of my issues. First, it seems to go out the door with fidelity and assumes that you are going to be using it for rough sketching and spatter-paint type drawing. And second, it uses a lot of the nifty tools that make sketching a little more forgiving, such as undo and layers.
I was sitting and having a coffee this morning and did a five minute sketch of a blue bike that was sitting out front of the Second Cup using just my iPhone. It’s a very rough sketch, of course — and not exactly art — but it just me playing around with the tool and it does definitely illustrate the blurry-dreamy, quick-and-dirty quality I was looking to achieve from a mobile drawing app. Mostly, I just like the fact that every pen is not just a pixel-perfect solid line or a semi-blurry line. There is a fuzzier quality there that I like.
I can’t wait to give it a go on a larger screen. Now, if only I could actually draw.