Yeah I had to stop at one page today to stop sunlight from completely lapping me. :P Darn Sun!
I've been bugging people about A*'s brand new subscription and e-book features all week, and I'm not about to quit here on the home stretch! :D
It was just announced that scientists at the Chandra, South Pole, and other observatories have discovered one of the largest galactic clusters known: the Phoenix Cluster weighs in at maybe somewhere around 2 quadrillion (that's the one above "trillion"--10^15) solar masses.
The announcement article is pretty interesting for its discussion of the structure and theorized processes powering galactic clusters. The Phoenix Cluster has thrown a wrench in the works of an existing theory of how galactic clusters work, because while the huge cloud of hot gas inside it--which like in most galactic clusters contains more mass than the galaxies themselves--is cooling, the center of the cluster is also undergoing a very heavy starburst event, with loads of new stars being created.
It *had* been thought that for major star growth, a galactic cluster was powered by energy from jets shooting out of its central supermassive black hole; this is the case in the Perseus Cluster. But the Phoenix doesn't show signs of active jets--and yet it birthed an estimated 740 solar masses worth of new stars in the past year, which is 20 times the current estimated growth rate of Perseus. So Phoenix, whose central supermassive black hole isn't shooting out jets or huge bubbles of relativistic plasma like Perseus is, and is actually undergoing cooling of its gas at a record rate, is still putting out more X-rays than any of what would normally be considered more "active" clusters, and is growing more stars.
AND its central supermassive black hole, which is already a record 20 billion solar masses (that's about 5,000 times as massive as our own galaxy's supermassive black hole Sgr A*, and 2 billion more than the previous estimated record holder, OJ 287), is growing at the rate of about 60 solar masses per year.
Pretty exciting stuff on the supermassive black hole scene! Scientists will have to come up with some new theories to explain what exactly is going on there.
There doesn't seem to be a great photo of the Phoenix Cluster (just a tiny and quite nondescript one in the announcement article--not too impressive for a cluster that's supposed to be 7.3 million light years across, but then again it is about 5.7 billion light years away), but there are some pretty good ones from the merely 237 million light-years distant Perseus Cluster, whose X-ray emission, the strongest we receive from any galactic cluster, was first detected back in 1970. You can see its central "bubbles" of plasma blown outwards by jets from its supermassive black hole because the superheated molecules in them shine brightly in X-rays picked up by Chandra:
The galaxy at Perseus' center is NGC 1275, also known as Perseus A, which is being spun out into incredibly long filaments of gas by the supermassive black hole's jets: "The amount of gas contained in a typical thread is approximately one million times the mass of our own Sun. They are only 200 light-years wide, are often very straight, and extend for up to 20,000 light-years." The threads are "much cooler" than the hot gas cloud around them, which is something of a puzzle: why haven't they heated up, or collapsed to form stars?
image by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration (source)
Hey if you wanted to make a graphic that's as big as the radius of the solar system, at say 72 dpi, your image would only have to be about 60,207,906,528,000,000 pixels high!
And you can't escape without seeing today's hideous bunch of warmup sketches!
Last update in which I'll spam you with these--thanks to everyone who's tried one or both of A*'s new subscription and e-book features out so far this week! :)
NASA's experimental Morpheus lander may have crashed and burned spectacularly a week ago, but NASA has just released footage showing a successful rather than catastrophic first untethered test of another experimental lander, the Mighty Eagle, which actually took place a few days before. It's a short and quite unspectacular test flight--or test hover, perhaps I should say--but that's probably exactly what they were hoping for:
Warmup sketch--mouth got away from me a bit:
And I probably should'a tried experimenting with the upcoming page layout a bit in the warmup, because my first tries at the actual page showed I had no idea of how to execute the thought I'd had in my head. I flailed around with it multiple times until for some reason one of the sketches twisted around like this
and I finally felt like I was onto something. Although after finishing the page and having some trouble with the final touch ups, I'm now finally convinced the tip of this latest Haboku brush is already toast--that'd be about thirteen pages it go through; it was going great, actually, but then there were two days in which it lost a bristle each day, and I guess those two bristles must have been fairly crucial tip bristles, because since then it just hasn't held a point at all. Sooo yeah these things are fun but not so well put together!
There was an excellent point made on the forum about long loose hair and sealed space helmets not mixing. So yes, please do not let your hair roam wild when donning a space suit! Also you probably don't want to wear a transparent helmet in deep space, either--unless, like Selenis, multiple lifetimes of cloning have made you somewhat careless of long-term (or even medium-term) health concerns.
I'm glad to have people point these things out because they're interesting (for me, anyway!) to discuss, and because at some point I'm sure I'm going to make boo-boos that I don't realize that I will really want to know about--after a healthy amount of self-flagellation and hair-pulling, of course. :D
Some things though I will confess are semi-conscious "aesthetic" decisions, which is to say that it's just more fun to draw things that way. Like crazy space hair. Actually I'd forgotten, but one of the more successful A* drawings I've done, I think, was a space hair one from early in episode 14:
A non-A* reader actually bought the framed original of that page at my art show this summer! So you see, it must be in my economic self-interest to draw more crazy space hair. Yes. >_>
Oh yeah, and do you remember where we saw "Earth Boy" before? Maybe (semi-answer-spoiler-->) at the beginning of this episode? And now we've got a whole train-load of 'em, dear me.
Made myself banish some evil spirits with warm up drawing today:
I came across an adventure comic with interesting black and white scribbley computer art that kinda reminds me of what I was doing when I did A* in Photoshop with the Lasso Tool; the webcomic is Athra, self-described as "The Thinking Man's Conan." I'm not sure if it--or the other links I'm about to post--are entirely "work safe" all the way through, so proceed with that in mind.
Athra's author also posts quite a bit of art from other artists in each of his blog updates, and through one of those I spotted another scribbley computer artist whose stuff I rather like: Richard Anderson, whose site is flaptraps art. Actually the stuff I like most there is the distinctly not-safe-for-work black and white series in the "personal" gallery. I wish I wish I could keep that kind of liquidity and looseness in these A* pages but I only seem to get a bit of it here and there. Still trying to work out how to do that in ink I guess.
And also through Athra (eyyy) I came across the perhaps discontinued "blaxploitation" webcomic World of Hurt, which has an inky black and white style that is very reminiscent of the great adventure strips of the past. Lots of nice brushiness there.
So that's basically high-volume laser imaging, with the results being correlated together by fancy computer stuff to create a simulated video of light moving over/through objects at about 1 trillion frames per second, which is slow (fast) enough to show light pulses "moving" from one end of a soda bottle to another, for instance. Pretty neat idea. And because the computer keeps track of the time each bit of light takes to come back to the camera, it knows how far it traveled, which lets it do 3D reconstructions, even (blurrily) using light reflecting around a corner, as shown in the video.
The author of the webcomic Athra, a black and white Conan-ish adventure drawn in a neat digital scribbly style that I linked yesterday, saw that people were visiting the comic from my comic, and wrote up a nice link back. Gosh! Isn't it nice how the internet works sometimes. :) Thanks to them and of course to you lovely readers for actually following the silly links I put in this here news blog thingy.
Various sketches from today--the big top one is from the back of page 63, because I screwed up the first attempt I made at it, and had some blank space left over on the page before I flipped it over to try the page again :p:
I was frustrated with the drawing of the monorail approaching the base yesterday (page 63), and after thinking about it for a while I realized that a good part of its dullness came from my not having a clear handle on the lighting for the scene; like, I had a hazy idea about this gleaming rocket lit up in the otherwise mostly dark spaceport, but I didn't really work out where the light would be coming from, how illuminated the surroundings should be, and so forth. And when I don't have a sharp idea of lighting for a drawing, that's pretty much proven to be a guarantee of generating an immensely mediocre image.
So once I remembered/realized that, I swore a bitter oath to myself that never again would I let myself go into a drawing without *some* solid idea of what the light should be doing. And I had a brainwave this morning that maybe it would help, at the start of a drawing, to block out the light and dark portions with a very rough, very light wash--in theory, this could help me go in with a better handle on the overall layout and proportion, and on the lighting.
I tried it in the warmup drawing of the face on the left, and quick and blocky as it was (you can see it very faintly in a light gray on the right side of the nose and cheek, and I think under the eyebrow), it definitely seemed to help solidify the proportions:
You'll notice I was also trying to work on ideas for lighting the rocket. How to lay out the page was preying even more on my mind, though: how to show the train being unloaded, and the cargo loaded into a huge rocketship, all in one panel so it's all easy to decipher at a glance. So the thumbnail in the upper right is actually the rough of the layout I ended up going with. Also, Loki seems to have slipped in there somehow. >_>
But I had the idea for the layout, so I tried blocking it in with a light wash:
I realized midway through doing that that I was making it too detailed at that stage--I should have left the crane, for instance, as simpler, stronger shapes. And I got so obsessed with the layout or something that once again I didn't really get a grip on the lighting throughout--I knew I wanted the monorail and crane-thing lit from the rocket on the far side, so they'd be mostly in shadow on our side--but once again I didn't work out how the lighting on the rocket actually worked. So it just kind of...glows? Argh. The result being another profoundly dull drawing. UGH.
Thankfully, for the next page there was a rocket launch to draw--can't really miss with a nice single-point lighting scene like that. The blocking-in was probably a little too organic and curvy, but at least I mostly remembered to keep it simple:
I would like to be able to get to the point where I can have areas of the pages that are angular, sharp, and semi-abstract, yet still communicating a clear sense of depth and lighting--rather than being sort of a bendy muddle. I think this blocking-in approach could help get me there--just gotta concentrate on keeping it clean and crisp, and definite on the lighting.
Well the "blocking out" of the pages in a light ink wash before going in with black ink, which I started and talked about yesterday, is leading to some interesting benefits I hadn't anticipated.
I used the usual warmup sketch to try to work out the lighting for today's page; I did block in the big shapes in a light wash beforehand, but then I did a lot of feathering and washing to try to get some kind of lighting going, which ended up like this:
Pretty icky, in other words. Like, in a way that heavy shading could be dramatic, but even cleaned up and done carefully I think it would be hard to "read." So I thought I'd better try something different; I flipped the warmup page over and tried again:
(I had also checked out a few tricky facial features in the mirror in between to get the anatomy a little straightened out. :P And yes, I drew the faces mostly rotated upside-down from what you see here.) This simpler approach seemed to communicate the idea a lot more easily, while still giving a sense of relative lighting. Looked like a winner!
Part of what had inspired me to try that, I think, was looking up some Rip Kirby strips by Alex Raymond earlier in the evening. For instance, in this page of strips, although there's a lot of different, fairly complex locations, and a lot of characters, it's all pretty easy to take in quickly, even without any gray tones. He uses bold black masses very effectively to make sense of what might otherwise be a confusion of graceful lines. It also helps, of course, that his anatomy--minus, perhaps, the last face in the last panel--is exquisite; just look how effortlessly he appears to have done the above and behind perspectives on the men in the middle strip, for instance.
But it's also interesting to see how his Rip style progressed over the years. That strip is dated 1948; taking a look at a strip from 1954, six years later, we can see that he's gotten into even larger, bolder black masses, and reduced the backgrounds to very thin, almost sketchy lines, with a light brush of gray tone here and there. The camera seems pulled back a little more, allowing for more body language from the characters, who in their big black shapes, with intricate modeling on the side where the light is striking, really seem to pop forward.
The clarity of that '54 strip struck me, and I think some of that was behind today's second warmup drawing. But it wouldn't have been possible, really, without the "blocking out" approach I started trying yesterday--you can see where the light gray fills the face there, and that was all down on the page before I went in and delineated the edges and details of the face with black lines; just having that mass there to start with almost made the lines feel like they were drawing themselves for me. It isn't penciling, which I used to do (up through page 28 of the last episode) but dropped because, besides being messy and tedious, it was really killing the energy of my inking; I never seem to have much inspiration when I'm just going over lines I've already drawn. So with the light wash I'm just very loosely separating the page into light and dark areas, and, besides giving my inking a general frame of reference, this seems to be helping me to boil my thinking of the page down to the essentials, and to avoid, perhaps, overworking the page with too much feathering or washing, or, worse, whiteouts and revisions of badly misguided lines and shapes.
Or something. Maybe I've just been lucky on the last couple pages. ;)
When I was unplugging my digital camera to photograph today's page, I noticed I was at a vantage to just about fit my tiny working space into a single frame, so I took a photo:
Yes, ink washes of different shades *do* come from curry. >_> The little stand on the far side of my drawing table, which is supporting my brushes and little ink palette thingy, is a wooden CD stand that I've repurposed in these days of not needing physical CDs anymore. :P The gray thingy to the left (there actually *are* a few colorful things elsewhere in my room, I swear!) is a little folding table I was fortunate to find at a good discount recently (they appear to have been discontinuing it for the same table in slightly fancier packaging, which cost twice as much :PP), and which has proven handy for all sorts of things you'd need a table for, like putting your original art on for photographing.
I've been slavishly photographing every traditionally created page I've done, in fact, because I want to include the photo of the full, actual, uncropped page for when I get a mechanism for selling my original artwork, which it's looking like I may be able to get started on this weekend. Currently there's about a half inch of space around the edges that gets cropped off for the final online page--this gives me a little leeway in deciding how to frame the image for the final version, while leaving plenty of space to avoid getting in those ragged border areas where you don't want to paint right to the edge because then you'll get ink all over your drawing table. And I've been photographing them against the backdrop of my wooden drawing board, because I think it looks kind of nice. :) Here's the one of the latest page, for instance:
So that gives an idea of the page as an actual physical object that you can't quite get from the digitally scanned, cropped, and tidied-up version--and you can see that, without the edges digitally cropped off, there's a fair deal more to each drawing than you see in the online strip. You can pull up the photo of any page by substituting "/o/" for "/d/" in the page's regular-size image URL; once I get the original-selling thing going, of course, clicking a "buy original art" link or whatever will bring the photo right up for you along with assorted information about it.
The Pink Pearl eraser is always there to illustrate scale (I would certainly never use the scratchy thing for erasing!), although it often comes in handy for holding down a rebellious page corner, too. Oh, and everything in my studio (apartment :p) is at a slightly funny angle to go with the flow of the floor, which is sloping down slightly toward one end as this old house slowly sinks into the ground. ;)
Neil Armstrong passed away over the weekend at age 82. I had difficulty getting through the article about it because I found my eyes unexpectedly welling up with tears; I hadn't realized the man and his achievement meant that much to me.
A lot of very dedicated, very talented people helped make possible the"one small step" that Armstrong took onto the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. But it was Armstrong--the quiet, self-described "nerdy engineer"--to whom the chance fell--whose dedication, skill, and unshakable nerve had got him there--and it was Armstrong who knew how to crystallize that unbelievably awesome moment, how to make it at once human and immortal. In the history of the human race, how many individuals have stood on the edge of eternity, knowing that their next action would forever define a point in the life of the species?
Few, I think. Very, very few. Neil Armstrong had the chance and he hit it out of the park, and that's why we remember him--why people will go on remembering him long after most other things we remember today have long since been forgotten. And even when, perhaps, his nerve finally shook a bit under the pressure of the eyes of a fifth of the human race riveted on him across the largest gulf of space our eyes had ever crossed, and he didn't quite get out all the words he meant to get out--he meant to say "one small step for A man"--it still worked out for the best.
"Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink." - The Armstrong family