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A* Episode 19 
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Discussion thread for A* episode 19, which begins today-ish!


Wed Apr 17, 2013 4:56 pm
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Well ehm yes this page is in pencil, not ink. I'd planned to ink it, and tried to, in fact

Image

but I kind of knew beforehand that I didn't have any way of duplicating that kind of freedom and subtlety of linework and gradation in ink, which is why, if you look back, you'll see that I (after perhaps a few failed experiments) strove to avoid large areas of gradated ink crosshatching in previous pages--small areas are okay, but it falls apart in larger areas, like close-ups of faces. In part this is due to the ink not flowing as freely as graphite from the tip of a pencil, and I suppose I could help that a little by watering the ink down a bit, but that results in grayish blacks which to me defeats a lot of the purpose of having a nice, really black ink original. Anyway brushed ink hatching over faces tends to result in disaster for me, and I think my most successful inking has thus come from pages that took a simplified approach, breaking shading down into either full black or full white, as on episode 18, page 16. I've been able to get some decent drawing done that way, I think, but I guess it becomes a bit more limiting than I would like.

Anyway I suspected I'd screw today's page up in ink, and I'd also been wondering again about scanning pencils--which you may recall I concluded failed to capture the graphite in adequate quality in that little outburst of computer coloring over pencil and ink wash I had just a little later in episode 18--I suppose that was my reaction against the constraints of my inking--so I scanned it in, and thus had a high-resolution version of the pencil stage as a backup, albeit one that wasn't as eraser-tidied as it might have been if I'd been sure it would be the final version. But one nice surprise was that messing with the contrast in Photoshop resulted in a nice dark fill around the eye, which I hadn't really thought my scanned pencils would be able to produce.

Coupled with the inking failure on this page (I tried pushing the facial shading more and have ended up with basically a black hole where the face was : P), this has got me thinking that maybe I'll try pushing plain pencil as far as I can for a while and see what comes of it. I think this will be interesting, and I hope you'll be patient with me while I continue to experiment (I keep thinking I'm done and have settled on something, too... : P). The next pages should be tidier because I'll spend a little time cleaning them up with the eraser before popping them in the scanner; I'm also going to run over to an art supply store tomorrow and get some of these Monolith woodless pencils from Cretacolor that I've sort of been lusting after for over a year now, but had no real use for up to now--but now I'm thinking they should come in quite handy for filling in large black areas. So if I was going to do today's page over on purpose in pencil, for instance, I'd have done some heavy black pencil fill on Selenis' suit.

So uh sorry for the mess, I'll try to get better at this! Ugh and I'm not sure what this means for my plans of working up some side art to sell on places like Etsy and eBay, huh... Apparently I'm allergic to earning money. : | On the other hand maybe I...well...I really shouldn't think it but I already have so whatever, maybe going pencil-only could get me up to two pages a day, although...hm well knowing myself it just means I'll spend a lot of time fussing over the pencils for one page. I really do think the pencils tend to have a beauty that I routinely fail to convert into ink, though, and the vague unpleasantness about the inking had been bothering me more and more of late.

Meanwhile, if you can look past the wild art, I think you'll enjoy this episode, in which we'll meet a lot of new characters, and Selenis will have a murder mystery to solve, the results of which will surprise even her!

Oh and it will be left a little mysterious, but it should still be clearer (and will even tie into stuff directly talked about but left dangling in a few previous episodes!) than the end of episode 18, which I think confused pretty much everyone, not just Selenis. WHY the robot thingy blew up instead of shooting Selenis was supposed to be puzzling, for now; why she went back outside and into the beast's path confused not just a few people too though, I think, and that was entirely the fault of my drawing, which meant to show her being forced back to the entrance by all those little laser beams that sprouted up in the interior. That part was *not* supposed to be totally mysterious, so my apologies for the confusion there. Eh hm well in fact I know a lot of that whole final sequence was hard to follow, and I'll try not to do that too often, and I really appreciate those of you who've stuck with A* through all these shenanigans!


Thu Apr 18, 2013 1:56 am
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Ah.. she's sooo lovely! If only she weren't so murderous... the bad girls are always the sexiest! lol!

But on your choice of pencil over ink... I like the pencil effect as it seems setting-wise to infer she's waking from a dream-filled sleep and the world around her is still somewhat fuzzy to her perceptions not clear and sharp.


Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:02 am
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Yeah, it did seem to work particularly well for the situation. I suppose it remains to be seen if it will prove as suitable for the stark wakeful world!


Thu Apr 18, 2013 10:17 am
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The "wrapping" subtitle threw people for a loop more than I'd expected--like, I didn't mean for people to think their browser was acting up! Oops! Hm although now the mischievous side of me is thinking how many wigs I'd blow off if I moved the subtitle bar one of these days...

I ran out to the art supply store and got a batch of Cretacolor Monolith woodless pencils today, 'cause I need something big and graphitey to fill in large dark areas since I'm not using ink at the moment. I wasn't sure what grade to get, so I just got one or two of each (I got two of the lightest and two of the darkest, since I figured I always take things to extremes and would most likely end up choosing one of those). You may remember about a year ago when I talked some about the grades of pencil "lead," ie how it's kind of a monochrome spectrum ranging from super light/hard to super dark/soft. The lead I've been using in my 0.5 mm drafting pencil all this time has been H (the softest of nine grades on the "hard" end of the spectrum), which for me is the perfect balance between non-scratchiness and non-smudginess. Well, the Monolith pencils only cover the soft side of the spectrum, going from HB, which is kind of the hardest of the soft side, to 9B, which is kinda more like a crayon than a pencil, it's so soft. Here's a little text patch I did with the various pencils:

Image

Obviously HB is closest to my 0.5 mm H, so that's kind of naturally the one I'd go with, but I was wondering if maybe the softer ones would just be easier to fill in large areas with--but they really aren't, and in fact the super-soft ones are so soft that they start to flake a bit as you work them into the paper. They do get pretty awesomely dark, but since I'm adjusting contrast in Photoshop, what I'm more concerned about in the hard copy is being able to get a reasonable tone match between the 0.5 mm lines and the fill. So HB wins, and it's actually probably just as well that it's a little darker than the 0.5 mm's H, because I tend to press harder in certain areas of emphasis with the 0.5 mm, which makes them darker than normal--about as dark as a medium-pressure HB line, really. The eyes in the sketch there are pressed-in H, for instance, while the fill around the head is lighter-stroked HB, and they look about the same to me--and, more importantly, to Photoshop. So I think this pairing may work out pretty well.

I'm less sure about the filling method I used here, which I think was maybe a bit too slow and methodical, not brisk enough. So I'll have to see if I can loosen up with that a bit, but on this first try I was probably overly worried about getting it dark and even enough. And I was anxious about the regular 0.5 mm pencils, too, and ended up drawing *way* too light with them, which meant I had to apply more contrast in Photoshop, resulting in a grungy appearance to this page, even after some cleanup. I knew I'd start worrying more over the pencils if I knew they were to be the final version. Poo. Gotta work on that.

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention is that I found that the softer the lead gets, the more difficult it is--at least for my white block Staedtler Mars eraser--to erase cleanly without leaving a smudge (on the other side of the spectrum, I know that I had a harder time erasing 2H lines than H lines, because the 2H lead was so tough I tended to dig channels into the paper with it, and the eraser had a hard time getting to the bottom of them to get all the graphite out); once the 9B is on there, it doesn't really want to leave and just smudges when the eraser hits it. Maybe those kneadable gray erasers are better for getting that super-soft stuff out? That would explain why they're still around, I guess. The large patch in the lower left of the test paper is a soft of gradient from 9B on top to HB at the bottom, and then I took the white block eraser up the left side of it.

Even the HB does smudge up on my hands and stuff a good deal, and I had to keep taking additional time to go back and clean up subsequent finger smudges on the paper. Hm. Maybe I'll try a page where I just do fills with the 0.5 mm H lead--will take longer to make a fill but might work out about the same, time-wise, if there's less cleanup necessary.


Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:33 am
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Hm, although I wish I'd drawn at my normal pressure/darkness with the pencil on today's page, this has at least shown me the value (hah! art nerd joke, ugh :P) of coming to grips with drawing pressure in pencil--if I can get the hang of controlling it, it's going to be at least as useful as pressure with a brush, where increased pressure doesn't make the line darker, but, rather, larger. So with pencil I can get some nice gradation going even along an individual line, and in fact I think that happened without my thinking about it on the previous page, and that's where that page got some of the subtle qualities that attracted me to trying pencil as a solo medium. Hm hm hmmmm~~


Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:59 am
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Before I get into the hardcore art supply nerdery, here's an interesting video of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield wringing out a washcloth in microgravity on the International Space Station; since the water has no gravity to tell it where to go once it's squished out of the cloth, well...maybe you can guess what happens! Anyway it looks cool.

~~~~~~

I had quite an exciting day--by my standards--experimenting with various art tools and techniques. These experiments won't look like much to you but, as probably they say in science somewhere...ahem uh we can learn more from failure than success! And I learned an awful lot. =o

A couple readers on Facebook pointed out intriguing art supplies I hadn't considered before: water soluble pencils, and those kneaded rubber erasers--generally you see them come in gray, like the Prismacolor ones I got, but I discovered they also come in all sorts of bright colors, too. The water soluble pencils I was able to find were a 4B Cretacolor Monolith woodless pencil, and 6B and 8B Derwent pencils--you can tell water-soluble pencils these days because they'll have some sort of wet brush head icon printed on them. I experimented with these things and scanned and processed the results like I'd want to to get them good and black in Photoshop, with this ghastly looking page of results:

Image

Which I won't attempt to sort out in full, but here are the main bullet points:

- The Derwent 6B and 8B pencils are rated at darker grades, but don't look darker than the Cretacolor 4B when used like normal pencils
- The Derwent pencils, which are rated darker and should thereby be softer, feel much rougher and scratchier and even oddly more uneven than the Cretacolor, which by contrast is a joy to push against the paper
- When water is brushed over them, the resulting wash from the Derwent pencil marks is much darker than that from the Cretacolor
- Even though I can get a sufficiently dark tone for my purposes from the Derwent pencil wash, it kind of looks awful in person--the pencil marks are still visible under the wash--and there's still plenty of elbow grease needed for laying down the pencil marks in the first place
- The kneaded rubber eraser doesn't erase as much as my white plastic eraser
- On soft pencils (4B and softer), the white plastic eraser tends to smear before it erases, while the kneaded rubber eraser doesn't smear at all
- Dried pencil wash doesn't erase all that well
- Oh also there are some unrelated upside-down thumbnail pen sketches in there : p

That was sort of mixed results, so I then tried something I tried briefly early on in that color phase of episode 18, which was using a light ink wash together with pencils. I had made this chart back then to figure out how many drops of ink to put in one of my little water jars to make the right tone of wash:

Image

With the Photoshop contrast settings I want to use, 22 drops, once Photoshopped, makes a good black: that comes out to 1 drop of ink for every 100 of water. The reason to use a wash rather than pure black ink is that it is easier to manipulate than pure ink, which is thicker and doesn't spread as well, and it more closely matches the darkness of the pencil lead, so you can get a better idea of the relative overall darkness of the pencil and wash composition when you eyeball it while working--and besides those important considerations, there's also much less chance of a rug-ruining disaster with a highly dilute wash than pure ink, plus it's much less likely to ruin your brushes, which is nice.

So I used that 1:100 ink wash for the black space background in today's A* page--my arm was already starting to ache from various tests I'd been running, blacking in large areas with only dry pencil--and that seemed to work so well that I was even inspired to try, at the end, a bit of a gray tone with a 1:400 wash; that, unfortunately, turned out to be too dark with the Photoshop settings I'm using now--I think I'd have to use a 1:800 or so. Incidentally, here's episode 18, page 23, with the setting I'm shooting for now (levels 208,1,255; back then I was using 253,1,255, ie max black, which I now realize was really the cause, together with too-light pencil strokes--of the dark, rough lines that I couldn't stand):

Image

Kind of a neat effect, actually, if not exactly the black I would have wanted.

But the real problem with this wash idea, I realized a while after having scanned today's page for a third time, was that washes cause the paper to warp quite a bit--far more than just plain ink does--and that can make it very difficult to scan without getting shadows in the scanned image from where the scanner's light hits the cockled paper at an angle, even though I've got it pressed down on the glass under a weighted board. That old page 18:23 scanned pretty cleanly this time, but it's been straightening out under a board and a pile of other pages for months now. Anyway, I recall now that this shadow problem does tend to happen with the ink wash pages--it manifests on today's page in slightly off-white areas at the edges of the larger ship's fuselage, for instance--and that is a bit of a pickle.

Another thing to consider is that with these fills, the original art looks a little bizarre:

Image

Image

In theory I could just use pure ink and have less warping and shadows, but there would probably still be some here and there (and the originals would still look rather bizarre, you'd just see the big black fills and the lighter pencil lines would be pretty much invisible). But I think the real real problem here is that I'm trying to put gradated pencil lines up together with large pure black areas, and when you do that, the pencil lines are just going to have a tough time looking like they belong; in fact, there's a bit of a disconnect between the pencil and the ink areas that's a little jarring if you think about it too much. I tried to mitigate that a bit on the previous page, where the black fill was with a dark pencil, by allowing a little white to creep in between hatched fill lines in a couple corner spots, but the large black areas drowned that attempt at mediation out quite easily.

So now I'm thinking maybe the thing I have to learn is that black doesn't have to be black, you just have to be able to understand that it's black relative to the rest of the drawing. That's part of what I liked, I think, in page 2 of this episode: there's a bit of pure black around Selenis' eye there, but we also read that zig-zagged hatched area on her nose as near black, because it's the next closest thing to black on the page, and, moving farther away, even those very loose zig-zag fills on her arms read as possibly black, because there's nothing else near that line density around them, and together these different "black" areas, by changing density with distance from left to right, also convey a sense of an atmospheric glow, all with just a few strokes.

So I'm going to try to work more from that angle here next and see if I can make my not blacks seem black in other drawings. And I *am* concerned that this is sort of taking the black out of supermassive black hole A*, that's why I tried full-on black areas in the past few pages instead--but well heck black holes aren't even black, you know: you can't actually see the singularity that pulls everything including light in, and the event horizon around it won't really look black, I don't think, even if it somehow isn't active and nothing much is being pulled into it or orbiting at radiant speeds around it, because gravitational lensing will be warping images of its surroundings from every angle--or at any rate very unusual angles--at you like a very odd funhouse mirror. I think. Anyway, it ain't black. Well maybe that's wrong, I dunno. I'm gonna try this technique anyway. : P


Sat Apr 20, 2013 1:43 am
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I got the episode 18 e-book finished up over the weekend, so if you'd like to read that episode in e-book (pdf) form, it can be had for a contribution of any amount you choose over at the episodes & e-books page!

~~~~~~~~~~~

While I was picking up various pencil-related art supplies at the end of last week, I also picked up a new sketchbook, and broke it in over the weekend with a couple quick little sketches:

Image

(I think that fellow in top hat and monocle came along because I'd been posting a lot of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painting on tumblr. :P)

I haven't kept a sketchbook for fifteen years or so, I think, so it's kind of exciting! No more having to doodle on odd scraps of paper, nope! :) This one is um let's see here...a "Super Deluxe" from the Bee Paper Company, 9"x6" (I would call that 6"x9" but whatever :p).

I used that Cretacolor Monolith pencil for those sketches, and I was thinking I'd use the Monoliths for some fill-in or shading for today's page, but I tried a bit and it reminded me that these wider, softer leads tend to leave a speckled line, which I didn't really want. So I erased that and just stuck with the 0.5 mm drafting pencil for the whole thing, that's what I'm used to anyway. I think it'll be a while before I figure out just how I want to do shading and so forth with it, but there are certainly a lot of ways to use it and I think I'll have fun experimenting. : )


Mon Apr 22, 2013 8:53 pm
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Hopeful Moron - "Your suit is interfering with the security scan. Please remove it."
Selenis - "That's not going to happen..."
...
Lascivious Reader {me} - "Awe..please... pretty please?!?" :)


Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:23 am
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Sorry, this is a family strip! : D >_>


Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:50 pm
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