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  Advantage, Selenis?Feb 28, 2015 2:46 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I sent off a little while back to a reader as their reward for supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign in the month of December:
Tennis, anyone?
  Remember Monday? : PFeb 26, 2015 10:55 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:You'll never guess what day of the week it was that I drew this sketch for a reader as their reward for supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign in the month of hm December I think it was:
That's her index finger, by the way! : P
  A whole jar of watercolor painting blather!Feb 26, 2015 12:01 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Ooh it's late again so I'm just going to blather about today's art stuff. While looking up the locations of Selenis' moon base here for the bits I'd drawn before, to get ready for drawing yesterday's page (this was yesterday I was doing this : p), I noticed that back then when I was working with digital black and white and ~three greys I was doing a lot more silhouetting, and very simple modeling with like one inner line to give a figure some lighting and volume—like oh page 11:114, kinda. I was liking that look and I've done it here and there in watercolor, but maybe not for a while, so I think that's where the pencil-defined flat shaded watercolor approach on today's page (which I *have* done before, but eventually I shied away from it because I was having so much fun just free-handing the shapes of the shadows directly in watercolor) came from (I don't really do these stylistic things entirely consciously, I just go with whatever seems to want to work well-ish for an image), and I think it worked pretty effectively—definitely better than the over-modelling I did on our two conversationalists in yesterday's page : P...which I suppose was a result of the washy happy-accident modeling I'd done on the previous page working out surprisingly well. Hm so if we follow that trend, tomorrow I'll overdo whatever I thought worked well today!
Although after I thought I was done with this page, I realized the top of the forehead was *too* flat, so I drew a little line of light blue watercolor across the top edge, then let it wash down by applying a plain-water brush to the bottom of it, and gosh if it didn't form a really nice little gradient to just curve the forehead a little as it gets up to the hairline. And then I tried a similar thing along the vertical shadow line on the neck, and it just went all muddley, although fortunately not so dark that you'd really notice. So I've already overdone that one! ^_^ But I probably am not taking as much advantage as I could of washing a color to white (or transparent, anyway) like that, I gotta keep that technique in mind. Not that I want to force gradients everywhere (see soon I will overdo this!).
One nice thing about doing flat areas in watercolor is that they can naturally shade themselves, like the shadowed side of Selenis' head/face did, since I started at the top with a pigment-saturated brush, and the strokes got lighter as I went down and the pigment was getting used up; usually that ends in disaster 'cause the pigment will run out before I reach the end, but this time it didn't! Yay. So that was pretty much all accidental but it worked out. : ) And I intentionally transitioned to a lighter blue at the bottom of the fellow's legs, which actually worked—although before that I'd tried a darker blue transition at the bottom of the background behind him, which I thought hadn't worked because it was all going way darker than I'd intended, only it did form this weirdish dark blue glow type thing down there which, you know, could have been worse.
Speaking of that dark background, I hadn't really *intended* the figures to be so light by comparison, but there's something about having that tonal discontinuity between foreground and background that at once abstracts it but also somehow makes it read semi-photorealistically—like you just had the light/exposure levels a bit off in a photograph or something? Whereas you could spend a lot of time trying to fully model something and have rich darks shading into balanced light tones and all that and it would still look artificial or forced somehow, or maybe just too busy. I keep telling myself to simplify and then I always end up forgetting not too long after that—or maybe it's just that really simplifying is hard; but when you can erase a line that is technically correct and proper, and cutting that definition actually improves the drawing, well that is just so satisfying! (On the other hand, when you erase a line and find the drawing doesn't work without it and now you'll have to try to redraw it just so, that is horrifying. >_- You can try to cover it up with your hand first to check, but that doesn't always work. ;_; But one thing I've been trying to get better at as I've been working to stick to a steady sleeping schedule these past few weeks is just going ahead and erasing when something isn't working, rather than being scared to erase and instead trying to salvage an uninspired drawing by picking away at it for hours, which never really works out great anyway.)
(But back to the very dark background, I *have* been using a little "start painting by filling in the darkest area with the darkest purple" method that I convinced myself was the way to go way back at page 21:55, and it's kind of become an awful crutch that I'm sure is limiting me. Hum. Not quite sure how else to go about things though, I suppose this'll lead to a lot of awful flailing around for a while if/when I manage to break the habit.)
Hey that turned into a lot of blather!
  Chinese shooting starsFeb 24, 2015 10:57 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:If you're wondering the same thing as the confused gentleman in today's comic, you may find a very similar sequence of strange hallways and shafts (albeit in digital black and white rather than watercolor!) at, say, the beginning of episode 12. This fellow himself has also appeared previously in the comic, and not nearly so far back as that; I'll get his name in toward the end of this little conversation just in case anyone still hasn't figured it out by that point. ^_^
A used Chinese rocket booster, apparently, just created a pretty light show over much of North America as it reentered the atmosphere; the AP reports that it was a booster used to launch a satellite on December 27th.
  More hot air about supermassive black holesFeb 23, 2015 11:17 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:The BBC reported on that NASA/ESA announcement last week of how a new study was able to measure the relativistic winds generated an active supermassive black hole (aka "quasar") at the center of galaxy PDS 456. The BBC article points out a couple interesting measurements of the winds: "about ten times the mass of the Sun is blown out every year, along with a trillion times more energy than our star emits."
Right after that, the article mentions A* by name, and goes into the relationship between a supermassive black hole and the galaxy it inhabits:

Those quantities, and the shape of the wind, suggest that PDS 456 has quite some impact on the surrounding galaxy - and this is likely to be the case for other supermassive black holes, including "Sagittarius A*" at the heart of our very own Milky Way.
"Now we know that quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation," said Dr Emanuele Nardini from Keel University in the UK, the study's lead author.
"This study provides a unique view of the possible mechanism that links the evolution of the central black holes to that of their host galaxies, over cosmic time."

Now that I re-read parts of it, I see that the end of the NASA article points out that the galaxy, 2 billion light years away, gives us a window into the further past of our galaxy's history, to an early, formative period in its history they call the "Age of Quasars": "This black hole gives astronomers a unique look into a distant era of our universe, around 10 billion years ago, when supermassive black holes and their raging winds were more common and possibly shaped galaxies as we see them today." (In a National Geographic article from last week, PDS 456 is called a "late bloomer"; it is useful for study because it is much closer to us than most quasars, which *are* more like 10 billion light years away from us: "Plenty of nearby galaxies, in other words, went through a quasar phase in their youth but, thanks to the process described in the new observations, have settled down into a much quieter middle age.")
  Suuuper sketch time! : oFeb 21, 2015 12:28 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's another sketch a reader received as their reward for supporting the comic through the A* Patreon campaign for the month of December:
I so gotta get caught up on sketches this weekend : oo
  Measuring a supermassive black hole's windFeb 19, 2015 10:51 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:NASA just posted a new article describing how researchers using NASA and ESA X-ray telescopes have managed to confirm that particles of matter ejected from an black holes are thrown out in every direction; they were also able to measure the energy carried by these "winds" of hot particles, moving away from a black hole at relativistic speeds:
Supermassive black holes blast matter into their host galaxies, with X-ray-emitting winds traveling at up to one-third the speed of light. In the new study, astronomers determined PDS 456, an extremely bright black hole known as a quasar more than 2 billion light-years away, sustains winds that carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns.

These winds push other material approaching the black hole away, which is thought to cause such black holes to go through sometimes lengthy periods of inactivity once the winds die down, until material is able to drift back into the destructive, gravitationally warped zone just outside the event horizon. Our own galaxy's supermassive black hole Sgr A* is currently in such a funk, for instance—and thank goodness!
  Fireballs yesterday and 70,000 years agoFeb 18, 2015 11:49 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Things flying at us from space! Or through space, anyway! Just the other night, an estimated 250 kg meteor from the asteroid belt put on a pretty good show as it exploded right over one of NASA's observing All Sky Fireball Network cameras near Pittsburgh, and you can see the brief bedazzlement the camera captured in video right here.
And just 70,000 years before that, a red dwarf star and its binary partner, a brown dwarf, passed through the outer Solar System—out around the outer part of the Oort Cloud, about 0.8 light years from the Sun. This is based on the calculated current trajectory of the red dwarf in question: Scholz's star, which is now about 20 light years away from us. Scholz and its companion, about 86 and 65 Jupiter masses, respectively (totaling about 0.15 solar masses between the two of them), are thought to be too small and too fast to have had much of an effect on the "trillions" of potential comets floating around out in the Oort Cloud (and anyway any such comets would take 2 million years to reach the inner solar system : o), and Scholz would have been too dim (apparent magnitude 10.3) to have been visible to the naked eyes of any of our ancestors who happened to be looking up at the time, but still this calculation is a vivid reminder of the kind of stuff flying around not-always-so-far-out in space! In fact, scientists estimate that a star probably passes through the vast reaches of the Oort Cloud about once every 100,000 years, but one coming as close as Scholz's did might happen only once every 9 or 10 million years (although I'm a little confused by this statement made both by the BBC article and Wikipedia, since the outer Oort cloud only goes out to 0.8 ly, ie about the same distance as Scholz is said to have reached : P). Wikipedia adds that there are about 100 star systems within 21 ly of the Sun.
  A real time-waster : PFeb 18, 2015 12:38 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Oops! Wasted too much time online tonight. The Internet! The Internet! I can see through time! 0_O
  Start of ep 25; ep 24 e-book available!Feb 16, 2015 10:58 PM PST | url
Added 2 new A* pages:Here we go on episode 25! And if you want a copy of episode 24 that you can keep all to yourself, you can pick up the brand new episode 24 e-book from the episodes & e-books page; supporters of my Patreon campaign at the e-book reward levels will get their complimentary copy via emails I'll be sending out at the beginning of next month. : )
  "The Burning of the Brain" art commissionFeb 14, 2015 6:41 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:And that's the end of episode 24! Episode 25 starts Monday!
This week I shipped off my first ever real paid art commission to a reader! : o I had kind of avoided them because the thought of having to drawing stuff to people's specifications was scary, and also just doing the art for the comic seemed to take up all my time (as it still was for most of the time period over which I worked on this commission—seven months (!), into which I finally squeezed in the mostly non-exhausted 7.5 hours of work it took to do this commission from start to finish (which included 2 hours of reading assigned source material!)), but the reader who proposed the project to me was very patient and polite about it and the subject was kind of intriguing, so I figured this was as good a time as any to give it a shot. (My commission rate is $25/hour, and probably I will ask for some amount up front if you've never purchased anything from me before.)
For this first commission, I was told to illustrate a scene from a collection of short stories by an author of classic science fiction whose nom de plume I had never heard before: Cordwainer Smith, the collection in question being The Rediscovery of Man—the reader who commissioned me was kind enough to send me a copy. :") It is pretty trippy stuff! These stories were written in the '50s and '60s, so computers as we know them aren't really involved; instead there's a lot of hm strange mechanisms and telepathic powers and feeling terrified of space. Some of it is genuinely disturbing (like the story in which human convicts are subjected to an extraterrestrial mutagen that causes horrific pain as extra organs grow from their bodies : ooooo), and most of it is really interesting. The stories occur at different times in a chronology Smith dubbed "The Instrumentality of Mankind," his fictional account of mankind's colonization of the galaxy, spanning from about 2000 to 16000 AD. He doesn't really take time out to explain all the vast backstory of things to you; he sketches you some broad strokes, some immediate pertinent details, and lets you sort of fill in the rest yourself if you want.
The scene I decided to illustrate occurs at the climax of the story "The Burning of the Brain" (written by Smith in 1958; taking place ~9000 AD in his timeline), in which (***I guess you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph and the following quotation if you don't want to read SPOILERS about this short story***) Earth's top space navigator makes a supreme sacrifice to save his ship and its passengers after an unprecedented accident has left it lost in space:

A quiet pinlighter thrust a beam-electrode so that it reached square into the paleocortex of Captain Magno Taliano.
The planoforming room came to life. Strange heavens swirled about them like milk being churned in a bowl.
Dita realized that her partial capacity of telepathy was functioning even without the aid of a machine. With her mind she could feel the dead wall of the locksheets. She was aware of the rocking of the Wu-Feinstein as it leapt from space to space, as uncertain as a man crossing a river by leaping from one ice-covered rock to the other.
In strange way she even knew that the paleocortical part of her uncle's brain was burning out at last and forever, that the star patterns which had been frozen in the locksheets lived on in the infinitely complex pattern of his own memories, and that with the help of his own telepathic pinlighters he was burning out his brain cell by cell in order for them to find a way to the ship's destination. This was indeed his last trip.
Dolores Oh watched her husband with a hungry greed surpassing all expression.

The final version of the watercolor I made based on that, and which the reader kindly gave me permission to show you, looks something like this:
Over the months it took me to get it all done in little bursts here and there, I would email them updates to make sure we were on the same page. Here are a couple pencil updates, from near the beginning and the end of the pencil work:
So eventually it got done, whew! : ) Fortunately, over the past several weeks I've managed to make some optimizations to my processes that so far seem to have made my A* work schedule much more sane, which means that in theory if someone should be crazy enough to come to me for more commissioned work, they wouldn't have to wait nearly as long as my first exceedingly patient client had to. : o This one was quite the education in many ways! And the colors turned out nicer than I had dared to hope they might, so that was a relief. ^_^ This painting measures 11.5" x 10"; I can work up to oh say 18" x 24" in watercolor, but the client wanted me to be able to scan it in before I entrusted it to the postal system, and my scanner can only handle about 10" x uh 16 or 17".
  My what a big space suit you haveFeb 12, 2015 10:36 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch that went out recently to a reader as their reward for supporting the comic through my Patreon campaign in the month of November:
Bit of a bulkier space suit than usual! ^_^
Just one more page left in episode 24!
  ESA successfully orbits, lands mini-shuttleFeb 11, 2015 11:38 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Europe's mini-space shuttle returns (BBC) covers yesterday's launch, orbit, and landing of the European Space Agency's IXV ("Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle"), an unmanned, "robotically controlled" space ship that looks something like NASA's old Space Shuttle, except that it doesn't need a cockpit and measures just 5 meters in length! A Vega rocket sent it into orbit, and it flew/parachuted down for a safe splashdown in the ocean. This was mainly a test of the re-entry and landing, with which Europe's space agencies have relatively little experience. The ESA's follow-up ship to the now-successful, "Italian-led" IXV will be called Pride, and it sounds like it will be another, more advanced robotic test shuttle, perhaps meant to explore complex maneuvers such as in-orbit satellite repairs.
  Black hole hats latest in electrician fashionFeb 10, 2015 11:04 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I sent off to a reader some weeks back for their support of the comic through my Patreon campaign in the month of November:
Was a bit of exploration of Selenis's electrician outfit in this episode; I screwed up the hat but hey, ink! it could just blend into the ceiling behind her. >_> Anyhow though this came out with some sense of light, which I didn't always used to manage in ink (and didn't really for *last* month's reward sketch >_>); I wonder if working in watercolor has helped with that? Hm I suppose it probably mostly has to do with having a grasp of the lighting in a given scene; I think the watercolor page I did of this one (page 20) was one of my more successful watercolor efforts so far, too (and still up for sale! it came out during the holiday sales hangover ; )).
  Blame it on Wally Wood! : PFeb 09, 2015 10:58 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Would have had this page posted earlier but got heartily side-tracked by Jim Halperin's huge online gallery of original Wally Wood art, which is just chock-full of tons of gorgeous, classic sci-fi ink comic art by one of the all-time masters of the form—plus a lot of it is complete, sequential pages from the original stories, so you can read it like comics too. ^_^ Wood was top notch at just about every aspect of illustrated art, had a great way with zip-a-tone shading and sleek space ships, and he was particularly renowned for his ability to render striking young women in his dramatic stories, like oh say here for instance.
  Sketching gets weird sometimesFeb 07, 2015 12:38 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here comes another sketch I sent off to a reader a little while back as their reward for supporting the comic through my Patreon campaign in the month of November:
(Sort of a Poison Ivy thing going on there? : o)
E-books go out to those supporters at the e-book reward level this weekend!
  I regret nothing!Feb 06, 2015 12:06 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:No blog post today! I wasted too much time on YouTube >_> ... It was fun though : P
  Taller than your head it grew!Feb 04, 2015 10:52 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:Here's a sketch I mailed off to a reader some time back as the reward for their support : ) of my Patreon campaign in I think it was November:
Vines? Space corn? Who knows!
  Oh gosh bed time alreadyFeb 03, 2015 11:43 PM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:I'm still working through Patreon reward sketches for December; probably won't have quite all of 'em finished by the end of this week but over the weekend I *will* be sending out the next round of e-book rewards to those folks at the monthly e-book reward level in A*'s Patreon campaign!
  Huzzah for /r/scifi! ^_^Feb 03, 2015 1:05 AM PST | url
Added 1 new A* page:I'd like to thank the folks at /r/scifi on reddit for visiting A* rather en masse (1100 of 'em! : oo) after I posted a link to the comic there over the weekend. I've never had anything close to that kind of response for my own stuff on reddit before, so that was quite the kick in the pants! ^_^ And a bunch of folks even took the time to write up some feedback on the site and the comic, which is super helpful. So thanks, /r/scifi! Yay! (And you might want to check it out yourself if you'd like to have a constant stream of interesting science fiction links and discussion at your fingertips.)
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