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  Upcoming A* art shows at Chocolat VitaleMar 31, 2012 7:34 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:It looks like I'm going to have back-to-back art shows at a neat little chocolate/coffee/tea shop in my neighborhood, Chocolat Vitale (I hope they don't mind my borrowing their logo for promotional/linking purposes) Image: first with one A* and one Princess and the Giant print in a group show opening on May 11th, and then with a bunch of stuff, mostly A* art, in a solo show that opens on June 8th--both opening shindigs falling on the second Friday of their respective months, and running from 6-9 pm. Each show will run about a month.
 
Ooh! Thanks as ever to my dad for chatting up nice people at the local coffee houses. :) If you're in the region with nothing better to do at those times, consider dropping by and saying hi! Also this place has some really amazing European drinking chocolates. =o
 
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As with yesterday's page, I did this one straight in ink--starting with big markers--with no preliminary penciling, and somehow it mostly worked out. And then like the one two pages ago I did some spatter stars with white ink, cutting out a paper "mask" to guard the non-space black parts I didn't want getting spattered. Here are some preliminary stages:
 
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And the (sorta) final version, with stars:
 
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I say "sorta" 'cause you'll notice in the actual A* page version, a couple of the larger stars are squooshed a bit--I guess they were still a little wet inside when I flattened the thing onto my scanner glass. Oops. :o Curious how they came out that sorta gray color in the scan.
 
Of course I hadn't even meant to make stars that big, but I was working without the #22B nib I used (and broke) on page 28--the replacements not having arrived in the mail yet. I tested the spatter ability of my remaining nibs, and the standard #102 "Crow Quill" was the best, so most of the stars you see here were done with that; but you can see they're a little smaller and not as widely distributed as I was able to get with the #22B.
 
Eventually, the #102 broke, one tine tip zinging off to goodness knows where--I was wearing safety goggles this time, though (although they smelled like chemical heck, blah). So I moved to the next best backup I had within arm's reach, a #103 flexible "Mapping" nib, which kind of did similar spatters, only weaker, and this one bent almost immediately. So I reached for the third backup type in easy reach, a #B6 round nib, and that did even worse than it had in my tests, mostly only popping up that huge star that landed on the left--although it was kind of neat and perfectly round until I squished it on the scanner.
 
For some reason it never occurred to me to go get, say, one of my remaining #102s from my pantry shelf in the other room, so at that point I kind of gave up. I think it was probably just as well, though, as more weak stars wouldn't necessarily have been improving things in a big way. By the time we get to the next space scene I should have plenty of #22B nibs for making more robust star stuff.
 
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The #B6 is the smallest of the round-tipped nibs Speedball makes--and curiously, this one has a "Speedball" log on it--but no "HUNT." Anyway here is a test I did with it (upper left) back when I first got it, maybe a month or two ago now:
 
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The ink I was using with it was Higgins Black Magic, and as far as I've been able to tell, as an ink it's pretty much just like the Yasutomo waterproof black "Sumi" ink I've been using for A*; that rectangular section on the eh black rooty bit next to the nib (that was a drop of ink that came off the nib and landed on the paper; I held the paper and kinda let the drop of ink roll around a bit) is a test patch of the Sumi for comparison; the Black Magic may be just a fraction of a shade darker, but actually other tests I've done have been pretty much inconclusive in that regard.
 
I was testing the #B6 round nib because it's the smallest round nib Speedball makes, and I had some hope of being able to use it for lines in A*, without threatening to gouge up the surface of the paper like the other, pointier dip pen nibs do. But I found that it's still way too big for making fine lines, and it still roughed up the paper when going over wet areas.
 
The other stuff on that test sheet is mostly from Copic Multiliner markers, back when I first got them: you can see the increasing line width test I did down the middle, throwing out some lines with each of the successively larger Multiliners in the set I'd bought; although there's one, labeled doodle head in the lower middle done with the 0.25 mm Rotring Rapidograph, for the sake of comparison.
 
 
 
 
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  Told ya the art was gonna get weird =pMar 30, 2012 10:12 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:This page probably looks shockingly crude but it's actually a style--or the beginning of a style, anyway--well, not so much the rounded, simplified features, but more the overall loosey-gooseyness and emphasis on following light and texture rather than form--that I've been meaning to start cultivating at least since I posted that very loose "big brush" marker sketch a little over a week ago. That one had started out as a quick pencil sketch, and since then I'd been wanting to be able to get back to working with that kind of freedom for the daily comics, but always ended up making a very detailed pencil drawing, and I think that didn't leave much room for the inks to be free and interpretive, as it were. I've been telling myself to go easier on the pencil detail or something and let it come out in the inks, but that hasn't really been kicking in (it mostly did yesterday, but I think that was probably only because there were no people to draw).
 
Today started out with what was sort of another detailed pencil drawing, although... Well I was up most of last night fighting a rather nutty computer virus (which seemed to hop onto my computer straight from opening a Google art supplies search result--no other user input needed! =o), and I'm using that as my excuse for what were clearly some ragged pencils, even though they sort of thought they were detailed. At the inking stage a fight ensued, and things ended up going rather down hill (I'm showing you these at only quarter size to try to minimize the horror a bit :/):
 
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So by about 7 AM it was clear that had devolved into a muddled mess beyond my bleary salvaging ability. But there also wasn't really time to do another detailed pencil drawing, so I just went straight to ink. Throwin' stuff down. And...it kinda worked. Some of the earlier stages:
 
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That's a lot of big ol' fuzzy used marker and finger-painted white ink. And it ended up of course like this:
 
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I sort of doubt that I'll be able to get away with not doing any pencil work on too many pages--it definitely helped that this was a fairly static close-up. But I hope I can get back to this style again, and eh not too infrequently because obviously I need a fair amount of practice with it. Still I think it's promising!
 
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Speaking of crazy inking styles:
 
video on Youtube
 
(^ From Leigh Reyes' blog.) Man! I came across those Pilot Parallel Pens while looking through an art supply site two or three weeks ago, but it hadn't occurred to me that you could edge-draw with their funky two-parallel-blade nibs. Or that they'd work with anything other than the type of runny, water-soluble ink they come with, but rumor has it they'll work with just about anything, including the black waterproof Sumi and white Ph. Martins ink I'm already using--and as eyedroppers, ie where you can fill the entire pen body with ink. HUH. The metal tines will probably cut into the paper a bit if it's already saturated, but...well, we'll see. Maybe it'll be worth it. :o
 

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After a month or so of discomfort, I finally figured out why a muscle or two at the base of my forearm near the elbow was getting sore after drawing for a while: my drawing table was too high. :P (I'd thought it was too low, if anything!) And then I figured out what happens if it's too low: my shoulder gets sore. So now I have the clear set of signals down and will know which way to move it in the future, if necessary. Phew. Thanks, nervous system!
 
 
 
 
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  Paper planes and spaceshipsMar 29, 2012 6:24 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Have you ever wondered how well a 45'-long paper airplane would fly? Well recently one made of "falcon board" ("described as a type of corrugated cardboard, similar to a pizza box") was towed up to about 2700 feet over Arizona by helicopter (wind conditions prevented them from taking it to the intended release height, which was nearly double that):
 
video on Youtube
 
And yeah it kind of bit it. The producers, I guess from Arizona's Pima Air and Space Museum, are trying to make it look like an epic journey, but the thing went into something close to a nose dive after about ten seconds, when "stress on the tail caused it to hurdle to the ground."
 
Oh well. It was part of a campaign to get kids interested in aviation and engineering, so who knows, maybe that part worked!
 
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As it happens, I constructed a paper spaceship to make today's A* page! Yep, see as I mentioned last week I wanted to try out the "credit card spatter method" demonstrated by Batman inker Jonathan Glapion in this video for doing stars, but when you're doing ink spatter and don't want it going all over parts of the image it shouldn't be in, you have to block them off somehow.
 
I had been inking in a spaceship and planet; the PITT "big brush" marker I've been using for about a week and a half now is finally getting a little fuzzy, but that was actually just about perfect for getting a sort of brushy metal look--although I think generally I'll have to replace my markers about every week or so (I've got 20 of each of the two types I'm using on their way in the mail :D); the older ones can still be used for effects, or for covering over white ink, which tends to clog up marker tips:
 
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I thickened up the marker lines a bit since I didn't want to have to worry about going over any lines when I would fill in the big space/planet bits with a brush:
 
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So anyway once space was filled in, I wanted to spatter some stars in with the nifty method from that video--but I couldn't have them getting on the black parts of the ship or planet. Which meant I'd have to make masks to protect them from the spatter. So I took a piece of the lighter (70 lb) paper I had left over from when I tried it out for A* (it was used in the taxi scene at the end of episode 13), put it over the ship, and made a rough trace of the ship's outline:
 
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Then I cut along the trace lines and voila, a paper rocket ship!
 
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I taped it over the marker version of the ship with masking tape (half fearing this would end up pulling off some ink, but it didn't really), fastened a similar mask over the planet, broke out a new jar of white ink (the one I've been using still has a bit left in the bottom, but it's thickened up and probably wouldn't spatter well), found one of the larger, stiffer dip pen nibs I experimented with a month ago (a Hunt/Speedball #22B, although (Flash or something warning) in their catalogue (go to page 55) you can clearly see that they only have "22" engraved on them, and there's no other 22 of any kind, so I dunno why they bother with the "B" part when they talk about it), and dug up a $5 Starbucks gift card someone gave me in 2003. Thanks, whoever that was!
 
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This card is actually quite handy--aside from the ability to go get coffee with it if I get tired mid-spatter, I suppose--because one end is transparent, giving a clear view of where the spatters are going. So I gleefully flicked the dip pen nib down across the edge of the card, spattering away with white ink, making stars, and it actually worked great! Up until I got a little too gleeful and broke the nib, at least:
 
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The tine tinged off and flew about five feet away. :o I guess I'll have to wear safety goggles the next time I do this! I tested out a #56 nib, which is even bigger and stiffer than the 22, but it kind of just vaporized the ink, and blew a fine mist of it back on my hand and shirt--fortunately I wear a particular shirt for ink work for just such occurrences. :) So I guess the 22 was actually pretty much the perfect nib to use for the kind of spatter I wanted to make stars--the one I broke was the only one I had, so I've ordered a few dozen more, which should last me for a while (I hope :o). I also broke a dinner plate today, hum.
 
Anyhoo fortunately I'd already got just about enough stars; and I'd used my finger to sort of blend/haze them along the edge of the starry cloud in the lower right corner:
 
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Although that didn't really do what I had been going for. But I'd placed my trusty sea sponge on stand-by for just such an occassion, and with that was able to make a nice fuzzy transition border on the cloud, with my crusty old ink:
 
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And that was about it! Masks off, few small touch-ups with marker and brush here and there, and voila, page done:
 
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I think the spatter stars worked out pretty darn well! Definitely the best stars I've managed so far, yay. :)
 
 
 
 
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  Supermassive White Hole A*Mar 28, 2012 5:19 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:In the midst of an email conversation, A* reader Latrans mentioned that he likes to play around with some of the A* pages by switching the colors. Since it's black and white, all you have to do is "invert" the colors to swap black for white and vice versa--even MS Paint that comes with Windows can do that. I tried one and it turned out horribly; I think you have to kind of develop an eye for it, as, when I asked Latrans if he would send me some of the ones he's done, he sent me four pretty darn nifty ones:
 
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I may be a little biased, but I think those are downright spiffy. Thanks, Latrans!
 
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Those remind me of something I saw recently that pointed out a practical use for inverting black and white images in the art world. Looking through some Bill Sienkiewicz art (you may recall that I recently posted a video of him drawing; that and my further research into his art online helped inspired this expressive marker jag I'm on currently), I came across this drawing he did of Warlock from Marvel's "New Mutants" comic, in which he draw the character, a strange techno-organic alien having a black body with white circuitry, in the negative: white body and black circuitry. And then whoever handled the art getting into digital form for the final print would invert the colors to get it to the character's regular color scheme. It's actually a very practical approach, since black ink is far easier to work with than white ink (more fluid, waterproof, etc)--this way he could draw the details in black ink instead of white. Pretty smart!
 
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Well as you can probably guess, the inking for today's A* page went much more smoothly than yesterday's. TOO SMOOTHLY? I dunno but it was a nice change of pace, at least. ;) Here's what the first pass of marker lines over the pencils (pencils having just been erased) looked like:
 
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EDIT: Oh look, I forgot to draw her eyebrow piercing. Dang. And I'd remembered to draw it for the first two penciled versions... Hrmrmrm **stealth edit**
 
I mean-- What? Nothing! Everything's fine! Totally smooth inking today, yep. Yehehehep. >_>
 
 
 
 
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  Offensive ink, RobojellyMar 27, 2012 10:09 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:^ My subconscious and I, apparently, have not yet agreed on how we want to ink our pages. We had these perfectly decent--by our standards--pencils to work with
 
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and I was all for just outlining the main bits with a thin marker line, filling in some bits here and there in black, maybe a bit of brush on the hair, a gray wash over the face, a few white highlights, and boom, done.
 
My subconscious, apparently, had other ideas, and, somehow getting the upper hand, soon had me applying the brush all over the hair, jacket, eyes, and background, throwing thick marker lines hither and yon with wild abandon, and switching the right background area from white to black, all of which forced numerous cover-ups and repaintings, until the page you see before you eventually resulted after many hours of unexpected struggle.
 
And then I look back at the pencils and think why, why didn't I just do it the easy way? But I think my subconscious gets bored with the easy way, I dunno. Ugh. (EDIT: Actually, come to think of it, it probably objected to a) the gleeful expression and b) another up-shot of nostrils, which is pretty hard to make flattering even if you can draw it right--and my attempts on recent pages have by no means been so fortunate. >_<) I was so unhappy with the comparison that I finally thought okay well it's like four hours past my bedtime but whatever, I'll just do a new one from scratch in marker, just like I penciled the first one. No problem. Of course the rush job wasn't really coming out any better, I don't think
 
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and if anything it actually made me appreciate the previous attempt a little. Soo anyway that's what we've ended up with. I hope my subconscious and I are in better agreement tomorrow! =P In the meantime, have a robojelly:
 
video on Youtube
 
The "Robojelly" mimic the movement of jellyfish, using a combination of oxygen and hydrogen gases to contract its "muscles," or "nano-platinum catalyst-coated multi-wall carbon nanotube sheets, wrapped on the surface of nickel—titanium shape memory alloy."
 
(source)
 
 
 
 
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  Vesta craters, marker foiblesMar 24, 2012 10:26 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:NASA recently released some nifty photos of large craters on the surface of the giant asteroid Vesta, taken by the Dawn probe, which has been orbiting it since last summer--Dawn snapped the photos in December and October of last year. Here is NASA's article with crater analysis. The crater in this first photo is about 9 km across, and the sharp edge around it means it's fairly young:
 
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image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA (source)
 
And another large crater:
 
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image by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/UMD (source)
 
Dawn is due to leave Vesta this coming summer and proceed on to another giant asteroid, Ceres, which it should reach in early 2015.
 
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In case you wanted to see the gruesome details of the tortured genesis of an A* page, here's a breakdown of some key stages from today's hackery:
 
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It was looking pretty hairy for a while there. :P Notice that I'd forgotten her earring up to the end! I used the medium brush Multiliner for final touch-ups over the white ink (instead of keeping it in the cupboard, where all the other Multiliners have been relegated by the PITT pens for now) because its big soft tip is pretty darn good at brushing over the non-waterproof white ink without disturbing it, and without getting clogged up; tougher, more durable markers like the PITTs tend to dig into the white ink, AND get clogged up by it, and even an actual brush will carve into it a bit.
 
I did try some waterproof white Sharpie "water-based" "poster paint" pens today in the hopes that they'd provide a superior solution than the white ink, but their Sharpie applicators are pretty aggravating, with big hard tips that gush the paint out and then dig into the paper beneath it; also the paint, while supposedly archival and non-toxic, is bound to have more noxious chemicals in it than the white ink. Oh and it doesn't dry as fast as the ink. So I guess I'll stick with the ink for now--I *do* have fun smudging it around with my fingers.
 
 
 
 
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  The hazards of marker hubrisMar 23, 2012 12:33 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Today we have a handy inking tip, learned and demonstrated the hard way! And that is: take a photo of your early pencil/ink stage(s); that way, if you really botch things up later on, like say the main character's face just goes all to heck when you try adding too much shading to it, then, once you obliterate the botched area, you at least have the photo record to give you an idea of what you were going for there. Thank goodness for digital cameras!
 
Sooo yeah I had a reasonably decent face outlined in marker to begin with
 
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but I had the silly idea that with this page I'd do everything with marker--no brush at all--and so I tried filling in the hair with marker. Which did not work, and sort of carried collateral damage into the face when I tried to salvage the hairline there by adjusting the shadow, and... Doom. So I had to blot it out in white ink; then I tried doing another face over that with the marker while I could still almost see traces of the original, but that wasn't going well and then ground to a halt when I found that the white ink, which is not waterproof and reacts with whatever you try to paint over it, was choking the life out of my precious chisel-tip Pitt marker; resuscitation was only partially successful, and that marker is now relegated to rough touch-up duties (fortunately I bought a good number of spares!). Although actually, having a beat-up marker for touching up difficult areas, such as over white ink, is rather handy.
 
Anyhoo so in the end I had to blot that out AGAIN with white ink, and do a new head entirely from scratch with the brush, which may account for its slightly unusual appearance. Heigh-ho, spice of life, live and learn, etc etc, argh.
 
 
 
 
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  #1 Sketch, Morning Serial show, magic markerMar 22, 2012 11:08 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:The first brave A* reader to pony up $30 for an original sketch of A*'s femme très fatale now has the drawing in their hands (yay Priority Mail!), so I can show you a small photo of it, taken just before I signed it and mailed it off on Monday:
 
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It actually came out pretty well! :o I was almost tempted to keep it for myself, but then I would have had to draw another one to mail out, and...that was too much work. ;) So bon voyage, it has found a happy home with its new owner. Thank you very much, #1 sketch-owning reader! :D
 
Hey you could get one yourself! It wouldn't be quite the same as that one, since each one will be an original piece of art, but it will be something along those lines--by which I mean, it will have Selenis in it. :D Anyway you can get more info and even put in an order if you want over on the Sketches page, which is also always available from the "store" page linked from the site's top menu.
 
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On the last day of last year, I told you guys about a poll for which webcomics should appear in an upcoming exhibition at the University of Washington's Henry Art Gallery here in Seattle. Well the votes were tallied and the exhibit has been up since the beginning of the month; I'd kind of forgotten about it (I am quite scatterbrained that way), but actually the exhibit's curator emailed me out of the blue on the opening day and invited me to come check it out. =o She was very nice about it AND mentioned that my readers put in a good many votes for A* (:o Thanks everyone! :D), so I figured I should be a good sport and go check out the exhibit, even if my little comic was outvoted by the likes of the xkcd and Penny Arcade juggernauts of the world.
 
So on the next available Thursday, when they're open late ('til 9 pm), I found my way up a spiral staircase and into the fancy Henry lobby, where the exhibit has its own room off to the side--and if you're a cheapskate you don't even have to sweat about whether or not to pay the Henry's *suggested* entry fee, since the exhibit is before the ticket desk--but of course if you have time and maybe a little spare change available, you might as well check out the museum's other stuff while you're there.
 
Anyway, Morning Serial--for that is the name of the exhibit--beckons. Actually it hits you as soon as you enter the Henry, with a looping video of Penny Arcade being drawn in Photoshop showing on a big TV screen right inside the museum's main entrance. Sort of weird but hey, it gets your attention.
 
But the meat of the exhibit is in that spacious room across the lobby from the entrance, for there you'll find webcomics displayed on big fancy monitors: most of them are highlighted in videos and slideshows running on very large, vertically oriented widescreen televisions mounted on the walls, accompanied by well-informed and surprisingly interesting commentary painted in bold lettering on the wall itself; comics receiving this deluxe museum-grade treatment include selections and custom animations from the likes Rice Boy, Dreden Codak, and Templar, AZ, to name a few. And there are even a few interactive terminals set up where you can play around with several Flashy webcomics with highly engaging, unusual interfaces.
 
And off to the side there's a reading area where you can peruse the printed collections of some of these webcomics.
 
It *does* sound silly to leave your house to go look at limited versions of comics you can read in their entirety on the web from the comfort of your own computer, but I was really surprised by how well done and thought-provoking the exhibit is when you see it in person. And, you know, I think getting webcomics in museums should definitely be encouraged. :D
 
You can find a full list of included artists and comics at the exhibit's web site, morningserial.org. If you poke around the funky layout there you'll also find info on related activities taking place around the city throughout the spring and summer--the exhibit itself runs through June 30th--including a panel discussion with the artists behind the aforementioned comics coming right up here on the 29th of March, the eve of Seattle's Emerald City Comic Con. Clever!
 
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Well I'm not in any of that fancy stuff--thanks for the votes, though! :D--but I have plenty of fun curating my own shows right here on this site! Here's another view of the ever-changing inking process--marker work:
 
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I noticed in re-examining yesterday's page that the areas I went over several times with the PITT "big brush" marker came out this almost magical really, really dark velvety black. So I did some more of that on this page--lots of layered "big brush" work. Good thing it's a nice big wet marker! :D I think it might be doing something funny to my watercolor brush, though--after doing some washes over marker areas, the brush bristles were sort of...sticking together more than usual. Maybe they picked up some kind of sealant from the waterproof marker ink? It wasn't too bad--actually helping hold the brush point together, but also making the brush resist springing back upright after being bent to one side from use. Hm. Well... I'm sure it'll be fine. >_>
 
Oh yeah also I picked up a pair of tweezers to use for plucking loose fibers off the tip of the PITT calligraphy marker, 'cause I noticed a few poking out from it yesterday after the first day's energetic use, and they were fuzzing the edges of its lines slightly. It took a little practice, but the tweezers ended up working great for cleaning up the marker tip, and it was back to being nice and clean and sharp again. And it seems to be shedding less now, so maybe it's mostly just a first-use thing, when you're drawing with the brand new tip for the first time and the very sharp corners are getting their first taste of friction. It's actually nice that it *does* loosen up in this stray fiber way, because the other "brush" markers I've used recently, with softer tips, just sort of turn all spongy, and there isn't much way to restore them.
 
 
 
 
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  I am going to steal inking tricks from BatmanMar 21, 2012 10:43 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Ah, so that other marker I'm using for inking, aside from the big Pitt "artist pen - big brush," is the Pitt calligraphy pen ($1.88 each in bulk! I can eat these up like candy :d) that I'd been looking for over the weekend--I went back to both stores I'd missed it at, and there it was in each of them: the UW bookstore had them squirreled away in their calligraphy section, separate from the main Pitt marker display, and the other store had restocked them into one of the empty racks that had mystified me on the previous trip. So I finally got one and man it was love at first draw; their fiber nib is *really* tough, can do multiple line widths, and puts out plenty of nice dark waterproof India ink; I haven't had this much fun with a marker in, like...ever?
 
The second stage in this step-by-step for today's page is all the PCP (:p):
 
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There's more I can say about it but I'll have that in the big pen battle royale I've been working on putting together, featuring some pretty wacky pens I've been messing with. Hm mmaybe I'll get that posted in two days; there's another post I've been putting off too long that I need to do first.
 
And I was going to do it today but it's late so just check out this cool ink spatter method with a used credit card that the inker of Batman demonstrates quite ably here:
 
video on Youtube
 
May have to try using that for stars the next time we have a space scene in A*. And check out the cute anti-smear inking glove he's wearing while inking Batman. Could it be the SmudgeGuard 2? (And I think in an earlier video he was wearing the SmudgeGuard (1).) Pretty nifty, although the main trouble I have is oil from the thumb, index finger, and middle finger of my right (non-drawing) hand leaving invisible but ink-resistant fingerprints where I hold the paper, and those are the fingers the SG2 doesn't cover; I suppose I should do something clever like what Miwa Shirow was doing in that video I posted a week or so ago where he had his hand coasting on a separate piece of paper while inking; I've been using a beat up old paper towel--sometimes--which probably needs an upgrade. :PP Then again my style--if you can call it that--isn't anywhere as neat and tidy as theirs, so... Say maybe I should get into using those invisible/visible fingerprints on purpose, I could do some cool effect with that! A fingerprint frisket! :D Like the inky fingerprints Sean Murphy uses for texture (Batman's abs, there), only in the negative!
 
 
 
 
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  Two Markers to Rule Them (but need T-square)Mar 20, 2012 9:28 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:I did the first A* Sketch for a paying customer over the weekend! It came out surprisingly well. :o I'll post a photo once I'm sure they've received the real deal in the mail.
 
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But despite that success, and apparently because this comic's art style isn't inconsistent enough :P, I've gone and changed my art-making tools yet again--in fact I've managed to greatly simplify my marker situation, which is somewhat satisfying. Here's a very quick test sketch I did over the weekend:
 
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^ That was all done (hastily :P) with a Faber-Castell black Pitt "artist pen - big brush" marker; it's on a piece of Strathmore 300 series "smooth" Bristol (kind of old leftovers :P), about 8"x11". I am getting to like these big Pitts! I used one in today's A* page, although you can't really see much of it since it's all in the heavily shadowed side areas. The lines in the inner portion were all done with a single, new marker! Can you guess which, or what kind? (Hint: it wasn't the "big brush.") (Hint #2: I talked about it quite recently!) (Hint #3: here it is with just markers, no brush:
 
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)
 
So anyway this two-marker setup, plus brush and wash for shading and effects, is my new scheme; simpler, bolder, and more expressive, I think. Anyway I'll get better at it, probably. ;) (Today's page made me realize why I should have picked up a T-square while I was at the art supply store today, for instance :P. Oh well, I'm hitting two tomorrow. :PP) But as you may be thinking, there's every chance that something new will come along soon and make me flip flop to some new scheme yet again--in fact, this week is quite dangerous in that respect, since the fruits of last week's internet research and ransacking of online art supply stores are now starting to arrive at my door:
 
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And I still have three more packages on the way...and a new art store I spotted today to hit. Yes, I'm a little obsessive, BUT I do think progress is being made, as hopefully is already hinted at with the new marker setup of today's page. I *think* this marker arrangement may stick around for a while, as I've more or less exhausted the markers I wanted to try; I do have some "paint" markers coming, but I don't hold out much hope for them, as that Elmers "Painters" white paint marker you can see in the photo above (snapped up on one of these silly whims in the University of Washington bookstore's art supply area today) illustrated that "paint markers" are maybe not that great for what I want; this Painters thing, anyway, makes you have to press down pretty hard on the very tough, almost spiky fiber tip to get it to push back up into the pen body, which allows space for this thickish paint stuff to ooze out; it's pretty thick, and it smells nasty; one really nice thing about all these India ink markers I've been trying is that they're completely odorless (EDIT: actually that isn't quite true; Yasutomo's India ink I use for A* smells vaguely of old roots), and pretty much not toxic-*seeming* in any particular way--whereas these paint markers, which all claim non-toxicity and being acid-free...well, if they're anything like the "Painters," you would sure be pretty uncomfortable if you got them them on, in or around you in any significant way. Bluh. I belatedly looked it up, and poster paint is a "water-based" pigment solution, like India ink, only put together with a glue or gum of some kind--and that's the gross part--and I do think it makes their claims of "water-based paint" a rather large stretch. (Apparently they're sometimes also called "tempera" paint markers, but that isn't accurate, since tempera is actually egg-based (it was the main type of art paint in Europe before oil paints came along in the 1500s or something, if I'm remembering what I read off Wikipedia today correctly).)
 
Ohh well live and learn. I probably won't end up using most of these other things I'm getting in the next week or so either (that "waterbrush" was another not-too-well-thought-out impulse grab =p), but it will be good to test them myself so I'm sure of what they can do. The main thing left, I think, is going to be a big black ink battle, to see if anything can supplant the pretty decent and incredibly inexpensive Yasutomo black "sumi" waterproof India ink I've been using thus far.
 
 
 
 
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  Y&C Calligraphy and other MARKER MADNESSMar 18, 2012 4:07 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:As you know, I've been messing with waterproof black pigment ink markers a lot lately, and although I'd mostly settled on Copic Multiliners, the soft-ish tips of the larger felt "brush" Multiliners don't always cut the mustard: they lay down a nice, dark, even line, but they can can run a bit dry on fast strokes, and their tips wear down pretty easily--and heck, they can't really make a sharp line from their first stroke. I like them for a lot of things but they can't do it all--oh yeah, and they only come in rather middling sizes. So if I want something that can lay down a long, hard line, or a lot of such lines for that matter, the Multiliners can't cut that mustard.
 
I got to wondering if a chisel tip marker might be a solution. Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of really black, waterproof, acid-free, pigment ink chisel-tipped markers out there; in fact, the only one I know of currently is a single 2 mm "PITT artist pen" chisel tip or "calligraphy" marker made by Faber-Castell.
 
But that didn't stop me from running off to the neighborhood everything-store to see what they had in their grab bag of an art supplies aisle (or half an aisle, including the school supplies part) that could momentarily slake my curiosity. They didn't have the Faber-Castell, and two other mysterious "calligraphy" products were sold out, but rather to my surprise they did have these:
 
Image
 
Those (the long ones in the three-pack in the middle, I mean) are Yasutomo "Y&C Calligraphy Chisel Tip Markers" markers, at 2.0, 3.5, and 5.0 mm sizes. Acid-free, but no mention of waterproof, and the ol' spit-finger test (upper right) showed that they rub off rather blueishly when wet--and they're really more of a dark purple than a black to begin with: they made the wide purpley lines just to the right of the marker pack. I like their long, Japanese-style bodies (these always manage to make me think I'm getting more ink than a shorter marker :P), and the nibs were indeed chiselly, and quite tough--although a friend noticed one had a nick or indentation in one edge, which would leave a streak in brush stokes made at a certain angle. They also give out a decent amount of ink. Shame it isn't all that dark, though; and the blueish color makes me wonder if it's got dyes in it, which supposedly aren't the thing for artwork you want to last--don't ask me why; I'm no chemist, darn it!
 
Aaand anyway they didn't seem much like being waterproof, so that was it for those. The shorter, fatter marker you see to their left there is a Faber-Castell "PITT artist pen big brush" marker; those *are* waterproof, pigment-based, and actually black. Their big conical felt tips are pretty hard, which initially put me off of using them; I've had one or two sitting around in the cupboard since I first started thinking about switching from digital to traditional art for A*--if you recall, I used a couple (a big and a smaller one), along with some alcohol-based gray Copic "Sketch" markers (blah), to do the first real on-paper A* drawing back in September.
 
(((Hold the phone. Holy Cow. And they come in white, too! Has Sharpie actually come through? Kind of interesting actually since the "what I think is an American company" or something I mentioned once as being the ones who now own the German company Rotring, makers of the revered Rapidograph technical pens, is actually Sanford, who makes Sharpie products--AND Prismacolor, which is another large art marker line, although on my hasty research not quite as well thought of as Faber-Castell's PITT line, maybe--and are themselves owned by Newell Rubbermaid. Whew! Anyway yeah I wonder if these water-based paint markers of theirs are really the amazing things they sound like they might be. And why didn't I see any of these when scrutinizing the Sharpie section of the local everything store today?? Dar. Anyway this is way exciting, I am totally ordering black and white sets of these to try out.)))
 
((((Man, I have like five or something packages of European, American, and Japanese inks and pens coming to me from various places currently. ... I spent way too much time looking around at art supplies this week. Some of them are pretty crazy, too--just you wait and see! And will any actually be helpful for A*?? :o))))
 
Whew, sorry, lost it again for a moment there. Where was I? Ah, yeah, so anyway those PITT markers. The big and bigger black lines elsewhere on that paper above are Copic Multiliner and PITT felt brush tip markers, respectively: about the same opacity, although the PITTs sometimes gush a bit at the start, giving a somewhat patchy distribution--but it usually evens itself out, and they can make longer lines without streaking dry.
 
So especially after watching Bill Sienkiewicz knocking out an awesome sketch with a big black marker and brush in the second half of that video I posted the other day, I'm kind of wanting to get into finding ways to use big markers in A*; microscopic little markers are fine and all for obsessive detail, but what if you want a line that just up and punches your head off? BAM! Yeah, so I'm gonna work on that. And today's page was the first, hesitating beginning, as I snuck in a big PITT to ink that BUY/SELL/TRADE sign in the window:
 
Image
 
The next couple weeks may be a little crazy from the art supply point of view as packages begin bombarding my apartment. >_> Hopefully I'll somehow get myself some time to start practicing with some loose and energetic big fat marker sketches, too--'cause that sounds fun.
 
Oh! And I think the name (of the spaceship dealership) I came up with for today's page is about the best name for anything I've ever come up with--but I have a bit of a soft spot for the name "Stella," so maybe I'm biased. ... Nahhh! I'm thinking this woman has *star* power; could she ever starrrr in her own A* episode based on her thrilling spaceship-dealing enterprises?? I was actually kind of surprised the name wasn't taken; the closest I could find in Google was the character "Stella" from "Starcrash," an apparently ludicrously awful Italian-made Star Wars wannabe (with a young David Hasselhoff!) that I talked about back in November and still haven't seen.
 
And if this Stella's nose looks a wee bit different than it did when you looked at this page earlier in the day, it's because I've tweaked it like twice now. :P
 
 
 
 
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  Titanic Moon videos of gradual degradationMar 16, 2012 10:19 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:NASA just posted two new videos about the Moon, featuring sharp CGI tours of our satellite in space and time, based on high definition Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery. One is about the (theoretical) history of the Moon, and the other show some of the Moon's major surface features; it may sound a little dry but they're pretty well done (and there's a fair deal of water ice in Moon dust, so nyah :P):
 
video on Youtube
 
video on Youtube
 
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A pretty sweet link was shared with me on Google+: dig retronaut.co's collection of Soviet Space Propaganda Posters 1958-1963, complete with text translations. Some great visual design there--those space Soviets had style, I tell ya.
 
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And after I posted that bit about how the Moon sank the Titanic last week, a reader provided me with this interesting link via Twitter: a Smithsonian Magazine online article titled Did the Titanic Sink Because of an Optical Illusion? Hot and cold air meeting, thermal inversion, an illusory horizon line--hm!
 
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And the Titanic never dies! Or so hope, apparently, the people behind the new Titanic-themed attraction in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the ship had its birth in the city's industrial boom years--that would be around 1909, I guess, when the ship's hull was laid down; the slipways built for the construction of the Titanic and her slightly older and smaller sister ship, the Olympic, were, at the time, the largest ever built. Here's the Titanic in her slipway in 1911, ready for launch:
 
Image
photo by "Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff," [shipbuilders] (source)
 
Anyway back to the present, the new exhibit in Belfast about the ol' ship tells its story in "nine interactive galleries" that seek to recreate the sites and sounds of significant scenes in the ship's history. They also have an "exploration centre" showing footage of the wreckage on the sea floor, tracking "ongoing research on the wreck's gradual degradation."
 
Nothing beats video footage of gradual degradation for thrills! Check it out if you're in Ireland maybe!
 
 
 
 
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  Fishy inking :PMar 15, 2012 1:38 PM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Man, I thought I had this one
 
Image
 
and I was just gonna add a bit of gray wash for depth here and there, and I went to try using it to shade the cheek, and...could not seem to manage it. After going back and forth several times I just had to obliterate it, and even that I couldn't quite settle on; I scanned three (UPDATE: okay, four :|||) consecutive supposed "final" versions >_<; here is a photo of eh I think this was the first of 'em:
 
Image
 
This page *is* the first time I've done major solid black shading on Selenis' face since going traditional, as far as I recall, which I think is long overdue, but dang, I gotta learn not to rely on big gray fills, especially when I have some perfectly good black and white around it; 'cause hours and hours later this final version isn't all that much better than the pre-wash one. Should'a stuck with it! (Well, aside from fixing the high hairline a bit.) GAR.
 
Speaking of overworking inks, it seems to me that Marvel (and other) comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz does just that in the second half of this video:
 
video on Youtube
 
He's good up through adding that amazing shock of hair, but I dunno, everything after that just seems like busy work that doesn't really help the portrait. Still it's an awful nice one and I wish I could do something that keen (what nice facial features! the wide narrow eyes, the long pert nose, the rumpled lips) and just off the cuff without pencils, at that! ... I could probably come closer if I didn't keep making myself try silly perspectives, like oh I could draw Selenis talking head-on, but no, that isn't dramatic and specific enough, let's have the view under her chin instead. >:| Say if you want to put a comic artist to the test next time you're having one do a sketch for you at a convention, ask them to draw the character's head angled up a bit--I bet they give you a dirty look! It's so much harder...at least for me. I bet Bill could do it in a snap. Still it was really plain ol' inability to do something interesting with big gray areas but still trying to use them that got me into trouble on this one.
 
I ordered yet another type of ink to experiment with! It is fairly cheap stuff and rather sketchy: PRO ART India Ink; waterproof, or so it says, but I like how one of the bullet points, instead of "acid free"--which is probably redundant but would have been reassuring--is "Conforms to ASTM D-4236"; ASTM D-4236 is just the regulation that says you have to announce toxic stuff on your label, so basically they're saying "our label is legal!" I wonder if a big list of toxic stuff is hiding away on the back of the bottle. >_> Anyway according to this ink review by Veronica Fish, PRO ART India Ink is very very black, and very waterproof, but so thick it KILLS BRUSHES. :o So I will be testing this stuff with one of my non-favorite brushes once it arrives. :P
 
Oh yeah, also in that video, in the first half you can see John Buscema inking with a Raphael brush (the orange end is the giveaway--at least, I think) , which *is* my current fave. :)
 
 
 
 
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  There's good inking & there's web browsingMar 14, 2012 7:58 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:I found this series of YouTube videos showing Japanese comic artist Miwa Shirow at work rather interesting; in this one, for instance, he's inking with the same disposable Copic Multiliner markers I've been using of late:
 
video on Youtube
 
And he follows a very elaborate method, which you can see if you watch the rest of them: rough pencil sketch, blown-up photocopy, final pencils light-tabled over those, dip pen inks over the lines, and markers to fill in black areas. I like seeing all this and how slowly he goes, since the final result looks so effortless that the tendency is to think the artist somehow just zaps those graceful lines out like lightning.
 
Also I found it interesting to see that he sits somewhat sideways, with the paper held slightly diagonally; I've been sitting straight at my drawing table, but I've been starting to have some muscle fatigue in my drawing elbow, which I think comes from not having it firmly planted on the table for support (because otherwise you're unconsciously using the elbow muscles to hold the whole arm rigid to support your upper body weight); sitting slightly sideways with the drawing arm forward so the elbow can rest on the table top like Shirow does would probably solve that (plus raising the table, which was slightly too low).
 
And I was surprised he was using the disposable Multiliners rather than the cartridge-refillable "SP" versions, since some web site told me refillable pens are seen as the way to go over there. I'm currently transitioning to them myself, in fact, since I've had a few of the disposables die on me, and if that keeps happening, the SPs will be the cost-effective way to go in the long run.
 
I actually found that video by accident; I was looking for information on Koh-i-Noor Rapidograph Ultradraw Waterproof Ink--this stuff is (made in U.S.A.? :o) meant to fill up the reservoirs of the Rapidograph pens Koh-i-Noor sells in the States, but I've heard good things about its use for ink wash, so I figured I'd get a bottle and give it a shot, as I really haven't experimented with too many inks; the Yasutomo Waterproof Black Sumi Ink I've been using is nice, but one likes to imagine there could be something better--something darker yet more fluid, for instance. In fact, I've recently acquired at least two pens from local stores that have darker, more fluid (and waterproof) ink than the Yasutomo Sumi stuff (which is about as black as Higgins Black Magic, if you need a more common reference point), so one would *think* it wouldn't be tough to find something similar in bottles. Of course, if I was going to go nuts, I could get into imported Japanese inks, or exotic fountain pen inks...but something not incredibly expensive would be nice. ;)
 
I might not have ordered the Ultradraw if I'd seen this brush inks for Comic Artists ink review first, but oh well, I can't cancel the order, and it'll satisfy some curiosity I've had about it anyway.
 
While I'm on the topic of ridiculous inking fetishes, I managed to waste quite a bit of time so far this week lusting after the Kuretake No. 50 Sable Hair Brush Pen, for no particularly good reason. :P And wondering if I would/should/could replace the non-waterproof ink it comes with with something like Platinum Carbon Ink, or maybe just use a syringe to fill up empty cartridges with something like Noodler's "Heart of Darkness"...or maybe Ultradraw! (And could I refill Multiliner SP cartridges with Ultradraw? :oo) Oh the possibilities I can't really afford. ;) I suppose that's a good deal of the attraction of wondering about it. :PP I should stop wasting time looking at this stuff on the internet (it is darn hard to track down info on whether some of these are acid-free, for instance--although apparently pretty much all "pigment ink"--which these mostly are--is kind of acid-free by default (?) anyway) and just get better inking with what I've got, but man, that internet.
 
 
 
 
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  Get your very own A* Sketch!Mar 13, 2012 9:07 AM PDT | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:I will do a custom sketch of Selenis for you that you can hold in your hand and keep for your very own! Yes, these Sketches are a new thing in the A* store (always available from the menu at the top of the page) where I will draw you an actual original piece of A* art starring our cloned galactic assassin in dark black ink on some very nice paper for a cool 30 beans (aka US dollars) and ship it to wherever you're at. I whipped up a couple examples of what these could look like:
 
Image Image
 
But each one will be different, and you won't know just what your Selenis has come out looking like until she arrives at your doorstep. Exciting, eh? And it will be your very own unique A* artwork--nobody else will have one like yours!--that you can keep forever and ever. So if that sounds nifty, maybe think about ordering one from me. :) More details and the very easy ordering form can be found on, yes, that new Sketches page!
 
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A*'s been nominated for this webcomic tournament on comicmix.com where, uh...well I have no idea what happens. Apparently it involves voting or something, and it seems to be quite popular, so I guess it's nice to have been included. :D Thanks to whoever nominated me!
 
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I came up with another method for making particularly neat rounded stars. Basically I stick the wrong end of my paintbrush into the white ink, and then stamp that onto the page. Maybe they're a little too round, I dunno, but it's kind of fun to be painting backwards. :D Also it's easier to do than with the brushy end now that my little jar of white ink is kind of eh congealing. :P
 
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Also over the weekend I did finish up reprocessing all the hand-drawn pages, so the text is sharper and the big "subscription preview" versions are no longer oversharpened, phew.
 
 
 
 
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  Any missing comics will return shortlyMar 10, 2012 9:04 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Some inkin':
 
Image
 
Still working out the general process I want to follow. Sort of annoyed with myself on this one because I didn't think to switch from the brush to a tiny marker for Selenis' face, which would have captured the exact facial expression in the pencils a bit better. Probably. :P
 
Probably in the next 24 hours or so I'm going to be replacing the hand-drawn comics from previous episodes (episode 13 page 136 through the end of episode 15) with versions reprocessed using my latest settings, so the text will be a bit sharper, and the large subscription preview versions won't be oversharpened as they are now. And then (next weekend?) I'll finally be able to get started on the actual subscription mode itself, woo.
 
Oh yeah but so anyway if you're reading through this weekend and suddenly some pages are missing, just wait a few minutes and they'll be back--it's just me replacing them with the updated versions.
 
 
 
 
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  A gray day to die; also, Sterrett & BeardsleyMar 09, 2012 5:41 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:You know, I've been getting myself into lighting situations lately where it's seemed like a good idea to use a lot of gray rather than black or white. ... I don't think that's a good idea. :P But I keep doing it! Hum. Well I went with three coats of black ink on this one; kind of overkill (and it came out oddly glossy in real life :o) but it sure as heck won't be mistaken for gray!
 
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Well I went to an art gallery and a university book store all in the name of webcomic exploration today, and now...I don't have time to tell you about it. :P
 
Maybe tomorrow? I dunno, Fridays are always kind of rough, time-wise. Hm well anyway for now you can go check out this Virginia Frances Sterrett gallery that I was shown recently; the unearthly grace and long linework of her figures, and the overall two-dimensionality, reminds me a lot of the work of Aubrey Beardsley--and they both died young of tuberculosis! :/--only more colorful and not so R-rated; and Virginia, born in 1900, was a generation after Beardsley.
 
But Beardsley was an interesting looking fellow--seen here about 1895, when he would have been 23:
 
Image
photo by Frederick H. Evans (source)
 
 
 
 
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  How the Moon Sank the Titanic & more non-newsMar 08, 2012 3:52 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:I used the ol' 0.5 mm mechanical pencil instead of the 2 mm lead holder for laying out today's page, and it was definitely helpful in terms of speed and precision of execution, so that's a plus.
 
And I think I learned something else, which is that if I'm going to cross my hatches--that is, if I'm going to create areas of thicker black and white "shading" by drawing a set of thin parallel lines on top of and perpendicular to a previous set of similar lines--I should probably turn the paper sideways first, so that I can draw the lines simply by moving my wrist and forearm in their natural arc across the paper; instead of doing that, I've been moving my wrist/forearm perpendicular to their own natural arc in order to draw the crossing lines, and that seems to tire out some rather unimaginative and whiny muscles in my forearm surprisingly quickly.
 
... I bet Crumb doesn't have this problem. :P
 
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Some space tidbits I accidentally read today!
 
- Biggest Solar Storm in Five Years to Hit Earth Thursday
Fortunately, these things generally don't produce effects you and I would notice; they've been getting reported a lot lately (this latest one had an event with two nearly simultaneous "X" flares--the largest category--among other things) since there are now some spiffy observatories trained on the Sun and picking up the activity there in great detail, and they get into the mainstream news (ie, the news I accidentally see) quite frequently, but they don't really *do* a whole lot, usually, which...is good.
 
In other uneventful space events, there was some article somewhere that I didn't even bother to bookmark today about some eggheads determining that yet another medium-sized near-Earth asteroid is not going to hit us, even though it will come closer than some satellites (within 22,000 miles or kilometers or something? I forget exactly). Which is also good. Still, this type of stuff is happening so often that I'm just going to have to start ignoring it, like I've already done for "discoveries" of new exoplanets, which have become a dime a dozen lately. (Heck, ten years ago everyone would've ignored this solar flare thing anyway, since "a decade ago, this type of solar storm happened a couple of times a year.")
 
- How the Moon Sank the Titanic
Now this one was actually rather novel. Basically, some sciency types noticed that several months before the Titanic's fateful rendezvous with the iceberg that sank it (Jan 3rd and 4th, 1912; the ship struck the iceberg and sank on April 15th), an unusual gravitational conjunction occurred in outer space: not only was the Earth at its annual closest point to the Sun, but the Moon was the closest it had been to Earth in 1,400 years (which is doubly interesting given that the Moon is very slowly getting farther and farther away from the Earth, in the bigger picture anyway); as a result, tides on Earth were the highest they had been "in many hundreds of years"--just in time, the theory goes, to shake free an unusually high number of icebergs to plague the shipping lane the Titanic would enter.
 
 
 
 
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  2B? No, not 2B; SP; No JDMar 07, 2012 2:12 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:It occurred to me that I now have inking tools--including a nice sharp brush and miniscule markers--that are more precise than my penciling tool, which since page 3 of episode 14 has been a 2 mm lead holder; at first it was nice to be able to make big black lines and test out shading and stuff, but lately I've found that I don't do much in the way of pencil shading anymore, since I just have to erase it for ink anyway, AND it's sometimes hard to get interesting details in small-scale pencil work, such as the figures in today's page--instead of being able to do sort of expressive stokes as I'd like, the best I can manage at that detail level with the 2 mm lead holder is just sort of rounded forms, which I then ink over in similar style, and the final effect is, perhaps, a little bland. So I think I'll try going back to my 0.5 mm mechanical pencil, at least for everything but the big brushy stuff.
 
That pencil being a different size of course takes different leads, and the lead I had been using in it was H, which is harder than the HB leads I've been using in my lead holder; and having thought about it, I realize now that the smearing problems I've been having with my lead holder pencil work lately could perhaps have largely been dealt with by switching from HB to a harder 2 mm lead. I do have some 2 mm 2H leads, but I gave those a try yesterday and they are just too darn scratchy.
 
So maybe H is the sweet spot for me after all. I scouted out a couple local office supply stores to see if I can restock my H 0.5 mm leads around here, and nope, that is not one they carry: it's almost all HB (which according to Wikipedia (see following link) is roughly equivalent to the #2 pencil I was raised on decades ago in grade school), with a smattering perhaps of 2B and 2H.
 
In case you're wondering what these silly abbreviations mean, they're the old and rather odd pencil lead grading scale, which goes from the hardest, 9H, to the softest (and blackest), 9B; lower "H" numbers are softer than higher "H" numbers, and lower "B" numbers, while softer than "H" numbers, are harder than higher "B" numbers; Wikipedia has a pretty good linear chart of how that works here; this one that I can actually include in the post is a little harder to read all broken up into two columns, but maybe you'll get the picture-- Oh heck, it's public domain, so I'll rearrange it:
 
Image
modified from the original image by Untitledmind72 (source)
 
Notice how it gets a little wacky in the middle. :P
 
Koh-i-Noor, the Czech art supply company whose crazy name I discussed recently, actually makes a super-hard "10H" pencil, according to Wikipedia; I haven't seen one of those, but I was pleasantly surprised to find some super-black 9B pencils at my local art supply superstore; they are Cretacolor "Monolith" pencils, and here's an online listing with a good photo of one; I love how they're just a solid, pencil-shaped shaft of graphite ("made with the purest graphite from Austria, formed into a 7 mm solid stick with a protective lacquer coating")--really rather impressive to hold! I was tempted to get one just to add to my burgeoning art supply museum I guess, but I had to confess I didn't really have a use for it.
 
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Speaking of my drawing tools, I had another of the disposable Copic Multiliner markers I've been using along with the brush for inking dry up on me all of a sudden--and it was the 0.1 mm size, which was rapidly becoming my favorite. Fortunately my backup set had just arrived, so no interruption there, but that made me realize that the disposable ones may be a bit of a gamble; you can't see how much ink is in them, so they could dry up on you at any time--and those drying quickly for whatever reason could start to add up to $$$. So I ordered a condensed set of the "SP" Multiliners, which are their non-disposable versions: aluminum pen bodies with replaceable nibs and ink cartridges; I'd avoided these at first because the price for a nib ink cartridge exceeds the cost of a single disposable marker, which has both, BUT it seems like the ink is likely to expire way before the nib, and the cost of an ink cartridge is way less than a full disposable marker. So we'll see how those do (although after ordering them I realized the little metal tool to help pop out the nibs and cartridges for replacement is not included with either of those items, and in fact isn't even carried by the place I ordered them from; oh well, supposedly you can use something else, like a coin (?)).
 
By "condensed set" I meant that instead of getting SP versions of all the disposable ones that came in the sets I've been getting (mm tip sizes 0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.8, 1.0, and "brush" tip sizes S and M), I just got the ones that really seem usefully distinct: 0.03, 0.1, 0.5, 0.7 (that's the biggest the SPs go), and the S "brush" (no "M" brush, which is actually useful on its own, so maybe I'll just keep getting disposable ones of that; I've been using the two "brush" tip markers for things like the ground stippling on these last two pages; they're also very handy for spot touch-ups of big black areas, and especially for touching up over a spot I've already covered in white ink, since they disturb the white ink (which is not waterproof, ugh) much less than the regular marker tips or even a regular paint brush.
 
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I'm done with jury duty! Whew. At the very end of two days of waiting I was called in to sit on a jury panel for a trial, but it was due to go at least a week and a half, and I cried and said I lose income if I can't work daily, which is perfectly true (thank you for your daily visits to the comic :D <3), and the judge took pity on me and let me scuttle away. So we do indeed continue on uninterrupted with a new page tomorrow (once I get it drawn, of course), huzzah!
 
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And because it has been made clear to me that some of you young'uns aren't aware of this, consider this a public service warning of a certain dreaded interstellar plague: beware! (Warning: crude '80's humor and effects. :P)
 
 
 
 
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  A Preposterous Post of Preliminary PaintingMar 05, 2012 11:11 PM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Huzzah! If you follow A* on Twitter (*hint hint* :D), you may have seen me post a partial pencil preview of this present page...over the weekend, since I had to work ahead. Here's a mid-inking version of it (I think that was an accidental inky palm print on the leg there :p):
 
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  NASA loses ISS control codes; I get jury dutyMar 03, 2012 10:06 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a relatively black and white stage in the inking of today's page. It's even got the pencils still in there:
 
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NASA acknowledged that they lost a laptop--now considered stolen--containing control codes for the International Space Station last March. :o But NASA says the station was never in jeopardy. And "the theft was alerted to Congress on Wednesday along with 5,408 computer security 'incidents' that resulted in unauthorized access to NASA systems or installation of malicious software in the past two years."
 
That does seem like a lot of "incidents." One of the other bad ones was this past November, when computers from somewhere in China gained access to most of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory networks. The agency says it is "in the process of implementing" better IT security procedures, such as encrypting mobile and laptop devices, "of which just one percent are currently encrypted."
 
Sounds like a good idea!
 
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I'm going to be working ahead on A* pages over the weekend, to cover me for when I'm out for jury duty on Monday and Tuesday of next week. So hopefully I'll have the pages for those days done in advance and they'll go up when they're supposed to go up and it'll be back to business as usual on Wednesday and you won't even have noticed I was lounging around the city courthouse for two days. :P
 
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Ooh and speaking of the future--as we do often around here, I suppose--I've also been working on tweaking the macros I use to process scanned A* pages for output on your computer screen, and the upshot is that you are right now enjoying the very subtle differences in these episode 16 pages (I went back and reprocessed the previous pages in the episode). What are the differences, you ask? Well...you probably can't really tell. But the "BIG" subscription preview HD versions of the pages are now a little smoother--I was over-sharpening them :/--yet with slightly better contrast, and the text in both regular and HD pages is a bit sharper. Exciting! Maybe next weekend I'll be able to go back and reprocess all the hand-drawn pages from previous episodes, too, so we'll be all nice and consistent at least as far as those go.
 
 
 
 
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  The tiny, quadrotored face of our doomMar 02, 2012 8:44 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Here's an intermediate stage in the inking process for this page:
 
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A friend of mine linked me to this:
 
video on Youtube
 
Well... I always knew the end would come at the hands of robots, but now it's pretty clear those hands are actually going to be a Hitchcockian (except in a chillingly precise formation) swarm of merciless "quadrotors." (Heck if I'm going to stick the "nano" in there--"nano" is a prefix for "one-billionth," and while these thingies are tiny, they're nowhere close to being one-billionth the size of a regular helicopter (or even four regular helicopters) :p.)
 
 
 
 
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  More qubits than you know what to do withMar 01, 2012 7:54 AM PST | url
 
Added 1 new A* page:Finally knuckled down and used the Copic Multiliner markers for laying lines directly over pencils--that's what I got them for, after all--and I'll be darned if it didn't actually work out pretty well. Huzzah!
 
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IBM just announced that its researchers have developed "superconducting qubits which retain their quantum states up to 100 microseconds -- an improvement of two to four times prior records."
 
Now, if you're like me, you're saying "what the heck is a qubit?" Turns out it's the quantum mechanical version of a regular computing bit; where bits can be either 0 or 1, a qubit can be 0, 1, or...both simultaneously. Yay, quantum mechanics!
 
Now, what a qubit actually is, physically, is sort of left to the imagination, but I guess it's any sort of particle whose quantum states you can manipulate for your own ends; and then in addition to having...sort of...the capability of three states instead of the regular old two, you can actually get more functionality out of it in operations by taking advantage of quantum entanglement and teleportation; I've talked about those before, but basically it's a wacky quantum quirk of particles spawned from the same event (in which case they are "entangled"), where in order for conservation of energy to be preserved, they essentially have to share states--so if you alter the state of one of them, the other one, even far away, changes to match! So by playing with the possibilities of that, using tricks falling under the heading of superdense coding (sounds like the kind I do... :p), you can in effect get the computational power of *two* regular bits out of a single qubit.
 
Anyway, to make a real, functioning quantum computer, you need to have lots of these qubits obeying commands and persisting long enough to execute them and pass along a result. I'm guessing we're still a good long ways off having one of those that's actually better (and not 10 billionty times more expensive) than the computer you're using now, but hey, progress is being made--I just hope they don't call them "quputers" or something similarly awful :p. IBM doesn't talk about how close something that's actually useful is, of course; aside from news of the increased duration of state retention, their news release appears to have been mostly hype, throwing around silly statements like "For example, a single 250-qubit state contains more bits of information than there are atoms in the universe."
 
That caught my attention as something I could actually fasten on, rather than all that nutty quantum-think. So let's think about what it might mean. The observable universe--which is to say, the part of the universe we can hope to see, based on particles from it being able to reach us at the speed of light
 
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image by Azcolvin429 (source)
 
--is said to contain maybe 10^80 atoms (that's 10 to the 80th power, ie 1 followed by 80 zeros). Of course we can't see the rest of the universe, so who knows how many atoms or green munchkins it might have, but if it's more or less like the part we can see, and Guth's theory of cosmic inflation is correct, then the universe is "at least" 10^23 times bigger than the observable part, ie containing at least 10^103 atoms. Whew!
 
Now, I'm not entirely sure what "a single 250-qubit state" is supposed to mean, but maybe it means 250 qubits of data. How much is that? Well, if it was regular bits, it would be 2 (two states) to the 250th power, or about 1.8 * 10^75.
 
Dang, that isn't even the number of atoms in the observable universe, much less the universe! Ah, but if this was qubits, which have at least three states, then it would be 3 rather than 2 to the 250th power, or about 1.9 * 10^119 -- which is waaaaay more than the theoretical number of atoms in the universe.
 
So there you go, I guess.
 
Incidentally, that Wikipedia "observable universe" article I linked also has this interesting comment about the possible size of the universe:
If the universe is finite but unbounded, it is also possible that the universe is smaller than the observable universe. In this case, what we take to be very distant galaxies may actually be duplicate images of nearby galaxies, formed by light that has circumnavigated the universe.

In which case, who need qubits? :P
 
 
 
 
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