This is where I think out loud.
Among many other things, I was sketching and illustrating this weekend. I normally do that on my iPad Pro. I have been doing all of my drawing, and penmanship practice on the iPad. I figured that while I was in practice mode, the iPad would save me a ton of money on supplies. Things like pencils, pens, ink, erasers, sketch pad, paper, etc, all that costs money. My plan was that I could do my base learning on the iPad, then transfer over to real life sketch pads once my hand stopped drawing crooked lines.
I think it was a prussion war general that said—no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. I felt my first task on the iPad was to find the right App for the job. I have very specific needs after all. I want an App that contains a digital pencil that acts like a normal pencil. This is a need because when I take lessons on-line, and they instruct you to swap the 2H pencil for an HB I can do that. I also like to add black ink to those drawings with a fine tip pen of some sort.
I also needed an App specifically for drawing ideas. Ideation is a different mind space than realistic pencil drawing. It requires different types of tools, and some sort of presentation mode. This type of work consists of drawing concepts and ideas on my iPad. The iPad feeds an Apple TV connected to a big screen. I use my iPad to draw concepts while explaining the concept to the audience. It's a thing, and I do it on my iPad. As mentioned before I also wanted to practice my penmanship. Learn a couple more personal handwritten typefaces that I can use out in the wild.
I was a bit naive in thinking that I could just go the app store and type in "sketch" or "draw", and it would serve me up some nice selections. If you have ever done that, you know that this was not the case. When I searched I found all kinds of different sketch scenarios...for kids education, design, vector illustration, painting, coloring books. As you probably already know these were all mixed in with the sketch I was looking for. It took me days to narrow and browse the collection to cherry pick the exact one I needed. I say days because I help out a really long time to find that one unicorn app that fills all my needs.
I never found that drawing app. There was no unicorn that fit all of my needs outlined here. There was always some sort of short falling with each one that was a deal breaker. An interesting example is Autodesk Sketchbook. I love Sketchbook on other platforms. I have used it with a Wacom on both Windows, and Macintosh systems. I like how it's UI gets out of the way nicely. The quality is high on all their stuff. Not only the amount of different brushes, but also each brush is made really well. The watercolors run, the oils kind of move at the end of your stroke, the pencils are the appropriate hardness. All of that is cool. It's what I was expecting of the iPad app, but that was just not the case.
On the iPad version the brush selection is no where near as vast, and the processor just isn't where it needs to be to run this app full blown. So all those cool brushes I was talking about are missing from the iPad version. I am guessing that Autodesk pulled those advanced watercolor brushes because they don't act the same. The only really thing they really got right was the pencils, eraser, and smudge tool. That's honestly all I need for my drawing courses. So I've dedicated Sketchbook to pencil drawing. A bit expensive, but still cheaper than a ream of paper. A warning before you purchase...read the details regarding each version, and then go watch some videos to see if it has the features you need. Then make sure you check that those features are on the platform you are using.
This sounds like a big word, but really is just having the tools and the space to come up with new concepts and ideas. The tools I need are basic. A blue pencil, and a pen to solidify concepts. I also sometimes use a single gray or blue market I use for depth and shading cues. I app I chose...drum roll please, the Concepts App. I chose it for many reasons. It has all these great backgrounds to choose from so you can have ruled lines, gridded dots, a picture, or even a solid color to draw on top of. I chose a solid color, and since this is an idea space, my preference is to keep the background the blue that resembles old blueprint paper. My digital pencil is blue, and the digital pen ink is super white. This allows me to draw a rough sketch that blends into the background beforehand. Then set that off on it's own layer so I can work right on top of it as a reference. This works great when presenting live. The crowd doesn't really register the blue pencil marks in the background, they really only see the white pen on that big screen, and it really helps to have that not quite invisible guide to help you out. I still use this app for all my brainstorming, and many of my presentation.
Each day I practice my hand writing skills. Sometimes I replicate an existing typeface. Sometimes I work on calligraphy. Sometimes I write graph letters. Sometimes I practice my mundane everyday cursive writing. It really depends on the day, my mood, the weather... In the past I used a regular note taking app to practice because I didn't have to think about importing a background to set up lined paper and such. It is so much of a pain in the ass to do that every time. You might be thinking that it is not such a big deal, but having to do that every time gets disgustingly tedious. UGH. I needed to find the right app. I was looking for something with an OK pen, but more importantly a good layer tool. The idea is, when I finish a page of practice I can just delete or clear the layer sitting over my guide sheet, and then keep moving. I do at least two sheets on any given day. Every practice is destroyed.
I chose Morpholio's Trace app for this. Mostly because of it's advanced, yet simple to use, layer tools. The app has a built in analogy to connect it to real life. You draw on a desk that starts with one piece of tracing paper on it. It even has the color of tracing paper. It's a simple concept that works really well in this context. Need another layer, just pile on another piece of tracing paper. This work well for my practice sessions, and also for tracing things in general.
My most recent example is the drawing I am now finishing up of the Nissan GTR. I used this to do the basic line trace, then deleted the reference layer, and continued shading the car from the reference photo I took on my phone. It's a nice workflow that allows me to focus my learning like a laser to one aspect of drawing. In the case of the GTR I wanted to concentrate on shading the car only. I wanted the surfaces to look like they have the texture and shade that they do in real life. I wanted to achieve that using only cross hatching, and stippling. Morpholio gives me that power. I like that.
I find it funny that the path I must follow to advance my drawing skill is the one that leads me back into the analog world. Usually Usually, it goes the other way…I am turning analog things into digital things. In the case of my drawing journey this feels like the right time. I am getting more and more annoyed with the digital limitations that all these apps put me under, and I think my skill had advanced enough that I am not practicing straight lines, squares, circles, and shaded cubes on paper anymore. No more digital papers. I am ready.
Last week I went to the art store, and bought a multi-use sketchpad to carry around. As soon as I showed up with this pad at home, My son approached me with a new drawing set. It had the standard pencils, erasers, smudge sticks, charcoals...everything I would need. He said he got the kit as a gift and that he would never use it. He wanted me to have it. I love my son, and OH...this allowed me to get started right away.
I noticed something right away. The way the pencil feels on the paper. It's a huge difference. It sounds trivial I know, but the difference in feeling between a pencil and a stylus it' a huge gap. I would liken it looking across the grand canyon when I really get to thinking about the differences. A stylus with a hard tip, like Apple's, goes tap tap tap tap tap on the hard screen. It always has that hard feel to it...tap,tap,tap. It's just not the same. With a pen or pencil on a pad it feels like almost an exchange of information between the tip of the pencil and your hand. If you have ever heard someone talk about driving a car with a manual transmission you will hear them say how it makes them feel more connected to the road. Using a real pad and pencil feels like that. It makes you feel more of that fine tactile connection to the art. You can literally feel the bumps and texture in the paper as you glide a straight line or scratch out a tiny detail. That feeling...It connects you to the work in that perfect way.
It certainly is more to carry around, less convenient, and costs more money, but I recommend real life sketching over digital sketching. Digital sketching is a really cool thing to watch, and in the long run you can do it cheaper than traditional sketching, but ultimately I believe that analog is the way to go. It connects you to your art in ways that are unexpected, tactile, and immediate. That realization, that feeling, does takes some time to blossom. I feel you have to be drawing on the regular to feel it. Once you do though...I think you will agree with me that an iPad is no replacement for a proper sketchpad setup.
I do feel obligated to say that I still use my iPad for ideation drawing. Especially in a group setting. That is still a killer feature of my iPad. I just leave the day to day sketching to the sketchpad.
It just feels right.
I remember being a bare foot kid growing up in the wilds of Ormond Beach FL. I would walk right out my front door to bust out for the day walking straight across the gravel driveway—No problem for my young feet at the time—make a left down the hill, walk a block, make a left on McIntosh, one more block then a right on Hernandez, and two blocks down on the left it stood. The Magic Market. In those days before 7-eleven and Slurpees, that kind of slightly run down corner store WAS a magical place for me.
My regular list usually contained a pack of huge, super pink cubes of Bubblicious bubble gum, and a cold bottle of grape Nehi soda. Before walking back, it was mandatory to loiter in the shade to drink the Nehi before turning it in for that sweet nickel deposit. Once paid... time to walk in the heat again...two blocks down North Young back to a right on Kenilworth then up to McIntosh again to swing by and see if my best buddy was home.
Savoring this memory today to savor that feeling of freedom if only for a moment.
Recently, I was lucky enough to come across this nice example of a classic 1971 Nissan Skyline just hanging out in the parking lot. Realize...This is a car I never thought I would see in life. I was super surprised to see it in the wild like this. I would have been a fool not to snap a picture while I had the chance.
Lately I have been trying to find my way along a more artistic path, and even though I am late to the game, I am learning how to draw. As is my tendency, I usually learn by doing. I can sculpt in the 3d world, I can draw using a mouse, I have a seriously steady hand when it comes to creating the perfect Bezier curve, but I have never really honed my hand towards using a pencil on paper. So, I knew as soon as I took this picture that I wanted to draw it.
It's literally the perfect vehicle for me to learn cross hatch shading.
I remember pretty far back. I am kind of surprised how far really. Have you ever tried to remember far far back. If you think hard, in a quiet room you may be able to go farther back than you realize. I was born in 1970, and so it has been a while for me. I tried this morning and had a memory of myself in diapers playing in the back yard with my brother and sister riding this red plastic push motorcycle.
The memory itself is just a flash of a picture in my mind, but if I put my mind to it I can remember that it was a sunny day with a blue sky. What became our back patio was just a slab, and of all things, I remember the feeling of running around in nothing but a diaper. These days I can just imagine the freedom of a small child. Free to play, run, and shit anywhere they want. It sounds glorious. Anyway. That's my earliest memory, but not my only from those years.
I am not a young man, and ever since I was a boy I have enjoyed listening to and collecting music. My parents started me young by listening to an awesome collection of classical music, but I grew up in Daytona Beach during the 80's. That means that every spring break MTV would bring new bands in to play for free at the Daytona Bandshell. I was exposed to so much music, and it made me really excited to explore more and more music genres. It took me a long time to save up for my first stereo, but I did it at the age of 12. Had a full blown Realistic stack including tuner, cassette deck, and of course, a turntable at the top. ALl built into this nice faux wood cabinet that had wheels on it.
I have also been building my music collection since then. Some items, like my tape cassettes, fell to the ravages of time because of natural deterioration of the magnetic tape within it. My vinyl was all lost in an unfortunate basement apartment flood. In either case, I was able to replace most of the music held in that collection with their digital counterparts that I replaced them with as CD's because available.
Whenever I purchased a new CD, I ripped a high quality digital version, and put the CD on the shelf. I had learned the lesson of physical media. Never use it, record it once, then shelve it for protection. This has worked just fine throughout the years. I now have a huge digital collection that is backed up with a physical CD version. This comes in real handy if I ever must re-rip it to a higher quality or I lose a track.
I rip all the tracks at 192, and fill in all the ID3 meta tags with correct info, then add the artwork. So any music collection tool I use has at least the artist names, album names, track names, and album artwork by default. If any more info is needed, like a multiCD set or something, I fill that in too. GOtta keep that meta correct. It makes your music collection that much better, and lets you collection dance with those programs that allow you to organize, and play your own music from files.
All this music collecting, playing, and enjoying works just great when it is just ME listening, organizing, and adding music. Enter my children. When they grew old enough to listen to music cracks started to appear in my music process. It all started a couple of years ago. I was using iTunes on an Apple machine at the time. This allowed my kids to download tracks to their iPods, iPhones, and the other various sundry of devices that made their way through my household.
That all became obsolete when Spotify came on the scene. I started using it initially as only a music discovery tool, but that didn't last long. Very quickly it became my main source of listening. As you probably know, it could work anywhere I needed it to. Then we lost the Mac, and went a long time with our music collection just sitting on a dark hard drive trapped in a busted machine. It was too easy to not worry about that and just use Spotify for everything.
That was a few years ago, and I'm now really missing my own music. Sure I was able to find many of the normal things I listen too, and even discover some new more current music on Spotify, but I've already been through that with my own music collection.
So I revived the Mac enough to grab my music off the drive, but lacking a Mac, still had no way to really organize and listen to everything. At home these days I, and my family, are mostly on PC's. WHile this works out great for my home business, it does not bode well for my music collection. All the PC tools I tried SUCK at managing music, and none of them even come close to iTunes running on a Mac. Yes, even iTunes on PC really sucks compared to the Mac experience.
Sure, there are solutions to manage music on the PC, but each one has some sort of flaw which became a deal breaker for me. Nothing was working the way I wanted, and I was about to give up, when my good friend Eddie introduced me to the Plex service.
Plex allows you to set up a server on a home machine to stream your own music from. You can use it as a standalone free service or connect it to the Plex Premium to add an extra layer of meta data stroking to your collections. I say collections because I don't have to stop at music. You can also manage, and consume your home photos, and videos as well. That is awesome, but is icing on the cake for me as I was, and still am, focusing on the music.
I have a huge collection sitting at over 300GB of data on the drive. Thousands of tracks ripped from my CD collection. All I had to do is install the server software, create and load my library, then open up a port in my home firewall. BAM. My own Spotify running from my own music collection. I love it.
After that it is just a case of setting up the Plex client app on my android phone, then pointing the app at my server. The app is clean, and works in many similar ways to the Spotify app. I love it.
No problems with the streaming either. Plex let's you customize your listening and downloading experience by allowing you to tweak your download quality and speed thresholds. This lets you make your own decisions to tailor your streaming experience to your home network's needs.
Everything running just fine on my home network as you read this. I have opened it to remote as well so I can listen whenever, and from where ever I want. I am now a huge Plex fan, and will praise it's name to whomever will listen.