Friday, August 31, 2007


So, here we are, at the end of August. I got about thirty-five hundred words done in the last two weeks. If I can get six or seven thousand done in September, the first draft will be done. That is, assuming I can fit the rest of the happening that is supposed to happen into six or seven thousand words. I'm feeling it might take a bit more than that. (You never know, though. It could take less.)

Am I rushing along to try and get to the end? I think I might be. I think maybe I should, because once I have a framework in place, I can begin the serious carpentry. I think I like that part. Then again, maybe that's just me forgetting what that part is like.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Several of those images are going to be replaced, definitely. I just put up whatever state of thumbnail I had for each planned image (or finished pictures in a few cases). As you can see, I have plenty to keep me busy.


Again, Tim gives me a topic for a post.

Today's topic is art appreciation. More specifically, one of the things I wonder about as I keep working on this art thing, is whether it is making it harder for me to appreciate art. It used to be that I was mainly critical of myself. Well, I had high standards for others as well, but nowadays I find myself looking for mistakes or looking for things that could be done better in almost all the art I see. It's a rare artist who is so good that I can't find anything that, maybe, could be done better.

Note, of course, that "could be done better" is absolutely not the same as "I could do that better."

Probably I'm not even right about whether these things could be done better or not. I might think that Drew Struzan's Blade Runner painting makes Harrison Ford's nose look bent, but maybe Harrison Ford's nose is that bent. Or maybe it looks best that way. I might sometimes think that Cory Walker's sketch hands are kinda off, maybe because of the squared off fingers. But maybe that's really a good way to draw them in that context. (Cory's sketches, by the way, are awesome beyond compare. Visit his blog and go back through his old pics. Bold design, confident lines and firm anatomy, with just the right touch of stylization, all in a two inch high "sketch." Argh!)

Then there are the guys who have an approach that is so essentially messy, or have their personal stylistic "mistakes" that actually end up making the picture better. Paul Pope, Eric Canete and Ben Templesmith come to mind. Each masterful, in completely different ways, because of the way they inject energy or personality into their work.

Sometimes I think maybe this critical eye helps me appreciate more. I'm not so easily impressed by lazy work, or even by earnestly assiduous work that (unfortunately) turns out mediocre, but when I see something great, something that really works, I am moved. A few years ago I would have said, "That's a good picture. I like that." Now, I can't find the words to express the feeling I get.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Revisionist History

So, I went back and changed it, actually changed the images in the old post. I do think it's marginally better. Now, I need to stop -ing with it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I'm a Liar

I lie. Sometimes, I wish I could lie for a living.

I probably will be revisiting that last comic-book color piece. It just bugs the hell out of me. The problem is when and whether anything I will do to it will make it better.

Otherwise, I've been working on my lying. That is, I've been trying to write. Last night seemed productive to me. Things are beginning to line up in the direction of some sort of climax, which hopefully won't be too anti-climactic.

Today I was going to post about the Chinese Room, and why I believe the argument is bunk, but it turns out that Daniel Dennett had beaten me to it. Probably just as well.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Post 200

So, sketch for a new picture.

Trust in Dark

This is a bit better, I think. It's also probably as good as I can do at this time. I'm going to let this go, and move on to a different picture. In a few years I'll probably be able to do better. (I certainly hope so!)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Nowhere to Go

But up...

Spent some time today browsing old posts on The Art Department, reaffirming my sense of proportion. It made me strangely optimistic, because, basically, there's nowhere to go from here but up.

I fooled around with the shadowed edge of the face tonight, looking for the correct placement. Some bits are better, I think, although the area around the eye is still off. I've also got to find some way to soften that expression.

Based on comments on the last post and some of my own ideas, I tried to put some separation between the two parts of the picture. I used some semi-abstract overlying shapes, as well as letting the two parts overlap where it seemed necessary. As Hasa suggested, reducing the area lit in the neck area did seem to help the composition.

I may have to call it a day on this one soon.


Shadows define form. That much should be obvious, really. The silhouette of an object has a certain sense, right? It has the shape, but it's a flat container. On the other hand, a picture with just two colors, one for light and one for shadow, can give a good sense of the form, the full shape of the object in three dimensions. If you want to define the shape of an object in a painting, cast a shadow across it. The boundary between light and dark gives a picture depth.

And this is why you, or rather I, can get in a lot of trouble doing shadows from imagination. I suppose it's the next step after being able to do outlines from imagination, and it takes the process to a new level of difficulty. Mistakes in judging where shadows will fall will make the picture look wrong. For example, see above.

Some of the shadows are OK, but some of them feel wrong. I might be able to bluff my way through, but a good reference would have saved me all sorts of trouble. The problem is that I come up with these pictures from my head, and then have to try and find reference that works. Unless I can take a picture with the right pose and lighting myself, it's unlikely I'll find one that matches closely enough to use.

So anyway, that's my big problem right now.

Another problem is the way the two parts (the two characters) clash. Somehow they're not coming together in that proper giant floating head way. Maybe this is the design. Maybe it's the way the colors have turned out so far. Maybe it's even the shadows (which are part of, or related to, the design). I've got to figure it out. I hope I can figure it out.

Onward ho.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

OK, Now

Finally made some progress on the color. Hopefully I'll continue in this vein, and get something good out of the end.

Right now, this is mostly blocking out the colors, making a few choices, and a bit of detail here and there. It's all still up for grabs.

This side of the picture is a lot easier than the other side. The lighting is simpler to get right. The form of the guy's face is really defined by the shadows, and if I get them wrong it really shows. It's also very difficult (for me) to choose colors that work together on his face.

Tiny Changes and Frustration

Too lazy to upload a small version. Click through to see it at the proper size.

I spent last night bogged down, trying to color this image. I did a lot of fooling around and experimenting, but didn't find any way to get what I really wanted. This may be because what I really want is a magical way to create great colors in twenty minutes.

I think one option is to start working on another picture in parallel, so I don't end up just sitting there and getting depressed at how badly things are going. God knows I have enough other pictures to draw.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fear of Color

The line art for my latest illustration is coming along OK, if a little slowly. Wait, that sounds pretty pompous, I guess, since I'm not getting paid for this and doing it to illustrate one of my own stories. How about, "The line art for this picture I'm drawing, here, is coming along."

Now comes the trouble again, with color. I have an image in mind, what it should look like, but when I try to translate that into color, it doesn't seem to work. I can't figure out how to get the colors in my mind onto the screen. Shapes, I've managed this time, but color... damn.

I'm finding it easier to copy color these days (see the image done with Painter below), but when I'm stuck trying to come up with something out of my head, it's still very difficult. It almost seems impossible sometimes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Atomic Flying Car

Jumping off from Tim's comment on my We are The Sims? post, let's talk about singularity. I mean Singularity. This is the idea (according to my understanding) that, in the next fifty or a hundred years (or maybe longer, I guess), computers will become smarter than humans, humans will be integrated/uploaded to computers, and immortality and other weirdness will result.

I'm a bit skeptical about Singularity, at least on the relatively short scale of a hundred years. The argument has to do with the point made in my previous post about increasing computing power not leading to increasingly sophisticated software.

Mind you, our software today is more sophisticated than it used to be. There has been some progress made, and there are also market forces pushing us to try and make software more sophisticated. Still, I think if you look at what software could do ten or even twenty years ago, and compare to what it does now, the changes have mostly been the kind of thing that is enabled by hardware. 3D graphics is more sophisticated now, in terms of techniques, but the basic idea could have been (and was) implemented many years ago, and most of the improvement has come from simply being able to do more number crunching, faster. That's what most of it comes down to in software: more number crunching, faster. The principles behind the number crunching haven't really changed.

Even the internet, which supposedly changed everything, didn't really change the software that much. What the internet changed was how people used the software, and what sort of software they wanted.

So, to me, the idea that computers are really getting smarter is a bit suspect. They're doing more number crunching, faster. Being able to think is a different thing entirely.

"So?" you say, "We'll build thinking machines once we understand how thinking works and we have the computational power to do it." Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe understanding how thinking works is more difficult than we think. AI researchers have been banging their head against this problem for decades, and, frankly, progress is slow.

Maybe it's too difficult for humans to design a machine that thinks like a human. "But," you say, "We'll augment our intelligence with computers, until we're smart enough to design a thinking machine." Ah, but that assumes that the kind of augmentation computers can provide will help. I think it will help a little, but I'm not sure that it will solve the problem of designing complex systems. Until we have a machine that can actually think, all the thinking that goes into design has to pass through the bottleneck of a few square centimeters of wet, gray meat in the front of some human's head. Expanded external memories, instant recall and perfect arithmetic skills might not be enough when it comes to actually thinking and designing.

Maybe we will manage to design thinking machines, but they won't be all that better than us at thinking. Faster, possibly, and with the same perfect, instant memories and math skills, but perhaps not so much better at thinking. It's a possibility.

So, for Singularity, I'm skeptical. Maybe it will happen, but I think it might turn out to be the atomic flying car of the 21st century. In 2100, people might make jokes like the "Where's my jetpack?" jokes of today: "Where's my uploaded immortality?"

Saturday, August 18, 2007

And Something Else

A bit of practice, again based on a photo by Munetaka Tokuyama, this time dwelling on the color. I like the looseness. About two and a half hours work.

Making Trogdor Unhappy

If the title makes no sense, don't worry.

This is work on composing a picture to post on the Dead Channel on one of my stories. I'm happy with where it's going right now. This is a nice change of pace, since I haven't been able to get anything like this going for a few months now.

Friday, August 17, 2007

We are The Sims?

There was an article in the New York Times recently about the idea that we are living in a simulation, with the catchy assertion that it is actually likely we are living in a simulation. This is based on the idea that, soon-ish, we will have sufficient computing power available to simulate the brains of all the humans on Earth. From there, it follows that some of these simulations will be run, perhaps for entertainment, and, since there are more of them than there are "real" Earths, we are more likely to be a simulation than the real thing.

I can see a couple of arguments against this. First, if my life is a simulation being run for someone's entertainment, why isn't it more interesting? Either the "real" world is an astoundingly boring place, or somebody has a very unhealthy obsession with the minutae of everyday lives. Is he really watching when I pee?

Second objection: A useful simulation doesn't need to simulate every person on Earth to some arbitrary degree of realism. Especially for the purposes of entertainment, there doesn't seem to me to be any reason to throw huge amounts of computing power at simulating the day-to-day thoughts of billions of people who don't do anything all that interesting. Much simpler models will do.

Third objection: Having the raw computing power does not translate to being able to code the simulation. The task of capturing the behavior of a brain, and also simulating the reality around that brain to a level of fidelity necessary to properly stimulate the brain, is what I would call "non-trivial." As a computer programmer, my experience suggests that exponential increases in computer power do not, actually, lead to exponential increases in software sophistication. Whole brain/reality simulations on the scale that the article talks about are so difficult, I don't see it happening except for some very good reason, and I can't think of any such reason.

Those are my arguments. I don't think we're being simulated.

More Evidence

Evidence of a couple of things: 1) What you think of as pretty good in the heat of the moment often turns out less satisfying afterwards, compared to stuff you thought wasn't going well, and 2) The design of the image is more than half the problem.

This is a picture based on some fashion photography by Munetaka Tokuyama. The original is striking because of the color and texture as well as the basic design elements. A pencil sketch loses the color, and isn't capable (in my hands) of achieving the same texture. The design, however, remains relatively intact, and this is what is good about the picture. Everything bad about it (except the clothes-- what's with the chain?), I added in.

It's not as good as I would like, but it was drawn in a little sketchbook and relatively quickly (for me). Let's just say it was a good exercise and move on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Burbling Noises

Now that I don't have photoshop available, I'm sketching more with pencil and paper. This is good, in that I have discovered I'm pretty much as good at pencil and paper as I am at sketching with the tablet. I don't even try to do ctrl+z much anymore (reaching for the eraser instead).

On the other hand, I suck just as badly in traditional media.

Also, the pencil drawings get smeared as the pages in the sketch book rub together, and, without photoshop to clean things up, the scans look pretty bad, too. Sorry.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Woohoo, past the 30k mark. That makes about 2000 words in two days.


OK, so actually that should be par for the course, but, for me, it's about two or three times regular speed, so I'm happy. 30k is also a nice round number. It means, hopefully, I am almost three-quarters there.

I note that in my ancient Twenty Thousand post, I estimated I might have the first draft done three months later, at the end of August, assuming about 8500 words a month. Here we are in mid-August, and I'm at 30k, so even that estimate (which I thought was a horribly long time then) was too optimistic. I may be able to finish the first draft by the end of October, and show it to people in time for Christmas. Damn slow work, this.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Things Fall Apart

Scanner software now crashing. I think the desktop system may have more or different problems than I first thought. Digital camera busted. I'm reduced to taking pictures with my video camera's still camera feature.

This is a sketch drawn from a picture by Zhaoming Wu. His picture is good. Mine is... practice. (It looks a bit better than it actually is because of the low resolution and blurriness, I think.)

Friday, August 10, 2007


Just about to begin on chapter twelve. Except, I don't really know what's going to happen in chapter twelve. I have a better idea of what might happen in chapter thirteen, but I feel like I need a little side story, some kind of intermission before the music starts again.

Hmm... we leave our heroes, variously sleeping in caves or tied up on motel room floors, and turn our attention to... something else.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Over the past two weeks I have been on vacation. Also, just before I went on vacation, my desktop computer (which is attached to the scanner and is my photoshop machine) suffered a video card meltdown. I have brought it back to struggling status, but it's not really usable at this time. Photoshop won't run, and the resolution is stuck at 640x480 with 4-bit(!) color. Ahh, takes me back. Also makes it impossible to crop or resize my scans.

That explains why this scan is so badly done.

Anyway, on the left, a scallop shell I picked up on the beach, which actually had these really nice purple marks on it. The sketch is a poor imitation indeed.

On the right, row-houses, which is a fairly typical thing to draw, given where I was.

Both were useful exercises, or so I thought at the time.