Thursday, November 19, 2015

To worry or not to worry, that is the question

There are many things to worry about as an author. A few of them are actually important, while many are probably irrelevant. For example, my two Bernie & Tish novels (almost ready for queries) are aimed at the 7-11 age bracket, generally termed "middle grade" although definitions of that vary. 

For those ages, there are a few guidelines I've gleaned about what to avoid:
  1. No sex (overt romanticism and crushes are okay, but keep off the bases)
  2. No profanity (even if 11 year olds you know swear, teachers might read this aloud)
  3. Violence should generally be off screen (opinions vary)
Then there are guidelines about what to include:
  1. Make it exciting
  2. Friendship is very key to this age
  3. Themes of growing up and independence (different than YA independence, which is more about leaving home and going out on your own)
  4. Learning your power and how to use/not abuse it (not superpowers just regular powers)
But then there are more random worries, and I have no idea of their actual importance:
  1. Novel length - I am aiming for 30,00 words for my novels, which may be the right length and may not be. Is that really important to kids? Is it important to agents/publishers? Not sure.
  2. Chapter length - I aim for 1000-1300 words in a chapter. That feels right to me, and it seems like whether a teacher were reading aloud or a kid were allowed one chapter to read before bed, consistency and predictability would help. Is that really important? Is it even the right length? I am not sure.
  3. Innocence - My stories are relatively innocent and straightforward. Some modern middle grade books seem to fall into either far more complex or far more violent/scary/disturbing than I like. Is that what kids want today? Is it what publishers want? Am I underestimating my audience? I am clueless, but write stories the way I enjoyed them as a kid.
  4. Language - I write by instinct and experience. Do I use too many big words? Too few? Out of date terms? I don't really know. I have read a lot of books for this age, so I think I am okay. The MS Word review says the Flesch-Kincaid reading level is 4.4, and while I don't put a lot of stock in that as it mostly has to do with words per sentence, etc, it is right about where it should be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Where your characters live

It helps to know where your characters live so that you (and your readers) can visualize their lives. Here's a snippet from Reach for the Sky, which I am revising for a second time.

Not always a straight path

I am busy revising Reach for the Sky, and I made this to remind myself that it is not always a straight path to the end result you want.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Paper bag and Owie

I got my flu shot today. My arm hurts. A lot. Think man cold, but without the cold and in my arm. Ow.

Fortunately, I didn't get my flu shot until after drawing class. Today, we worked with Conté Crayons, which have a different sort of feel to them. We also worked on dark paper and used white more heavily than I've ever used it before. (Frankly, it felt like I was using it too much but when I saw the work others had done, I realized I'd used it too little. Lots to learn, folks, lots to learn.)
Still, I feet good about it. I might even work on it more, as I realize what needs to be done to the inside of the bag, but I didn't realize it until I saw it hanging on the wall (only for a few minutes to critique it - not hanging any of my drawings yet).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Some leaves and an acorn on a branch

This isn't quite done, but is as far as I got during art class on Tuesday. In each class, I seem to learn something but probably forget something else. I am not sure that I am actually "getting better", but I am learning more techniques and how to look more closely, so someday all of those things might come together. Though by then, I will be a better judge and probably be just as dissatisfied. Oh well.

I am more and more aware of the difference between the parts that feel really right (the curves of the leaf on the upper left and the leaf on the lower right/middle) and the parts where it doesn't feel as good (anything in the middle). When I started, I was mostly impressed if it looked like a leaf at all, but now I can see how I did better some places, and can't understand why that doesn't translate to other places.  

The huge challenge for me is the permanence of drawing. I have spent more than three decades creating software and, more recently, writing books. Even the art I have created has been digital art. With code or writing, if I don't like one section, I can rewrite it without hurting anything. I can undo, and I can go back to a save point. Even digital art is like that, but aside from limited erasing (which tends to smudge), drawing goes in only one direction, and that is forward. If I draw something "wrong", I have to find a way to work with it or start over. If I make one part too dark, I can't just adjust the brightness. 

I realize that I have spent much of my life creating digital content, and I have to learn a different sort of patience and foresight than I have needed before. With digital content, it is often best to get something completed quickly, then go back and rewrite and flesh out to make it better. While there is some of that with drawing, everything is additive. You can't rip out a section and start again. So, you start light and frame things with both negative and positive space, then slowly make decisions and darken parts. Shading multiple levels with different "values" (levels of darkness) and "contours" (indications of direction of flow) can be difficult, and I seem to mess up as often as I get it right. There is a constant tension between what to emphasize and what to ignore or minimize.

This stuff is hard, but rewarding when I am not actually beating myself up.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Thank you sketches

This past week, I attended a tech conference called MWLUG in Atlanta. (It stands for MidWest Lotus Users Group, but has spread beyond the Midwest and the products are no longer known as Lotus, but oh well.) While I was there, a couple I know described their visit to Japan, and how the Japanese don't really have a tipping culture, but believe in giving small meaningful gifts to show appreciation and respect.

With that in mind, I wanted to thank Richard Moy who put together the conference and Lisa Duke who was local liaison and made the Atlanta arrangements. They both did a fabulous job, and while my sketches are still amateur, I mean them as tokens of respect. These were both purely digital, done with a mouse and Gimp. (I really need to get myself a drawing tablet or something.)

Lisa Duke

Richard Moy

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Desperately seeking similarity

Our last week of this art class, and I spent part of it drawing the woman who was sitting across from me, and the other half on a self portrait. I'm getting better at this, though I still have a long way to go. I feel pretty good about the drawings as drawings, but still wish they were more... recognizable.

While our instructor encouraged us to draw the person across from us, the woman I drew was having none of that. Fortunately, I'd brought my phone so I convinced her to look up long enough that I could take a picture and work from that, adjusting it some based on how she really looked (which the photo doesn't quite capture due to angle and lighting).

She claims that she wasn't scowling at me, but I think she really wished I would go away so she could work on her self portrait. Ah well. That old Langhinrichs charm, I suppose.

Anyway, on to the self portrait. I took a selfie and worked some from that and some from the mirror. As it happens, I took a couple of intermediate shots, so I'll share them in the order I did them.

And my final product, which I quite like even if it doesn't really look like me to me. I'm still seeking that something that makes me look like me.

For the truly curious, here are the two photo references I used:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Safety is not outrunning your brother

An old but beloved joke goes something like this. When you are walking in the woods with your brother and an angry bear approaches, you don't have to outrun the bear; you only have to outrun your brother.

Like many jokes, we don't tend to look past the punchline, but remember that after your brother is killed, you are simply next in line. Increasingly, our society seems convinced that it is good enough to outrun our brothers when the bear is societal or institutional violence or oppression. But those sorts of bears don't grow tired, and we should understand that we are somewhere in the same line simply waiting our turn.

Some conservative white good old boys in the South saw this recently. They might have laughed if a man in a pink shirt in a Gay Pride parade was roughed up, but when the violent eye of society cast its way at them in their Confederate flag shirts, they should have realized that the line is fickle. A well-to-do white male dentist in Minnesota might not have thought much about the threats of violence or death thrown at women on the Internet regularly, but after killing a lion as part of his "passion for hunting" and having to shutdown his Facebook page and website, he should recognize that the violent threats can turn toward you at any time.

We are all in line, and the only way to save ourselves is to tackle the bear together. If we accept uncontrolled violence from our police, we should not be surprised when it eventually hits us or our families. If we accept discrimination from our government, we should not be surprised when it eventually turns on us. If we accept violence and harassment and abuse leveled at the poor, the black, the women, the GLBT, etc., we should not be surprised if we suddenly find ourselves in some less-favored group because we are too liberal, too conservative, too rich, too poor, too intellectual, too uneducated, too fat, too thin. The insatiable bear will be out there as long as we think our safety depends on pushing others in front of us in line rather than dealing with the bear together.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Face it - I have a long way to go

This week, we started on faces. Our first task was to sit across from someone else and each draw the other's face. We had a cheat sheet showing us some ideas about where the eyes appeared and so forth. (You can see my guide lines on this first drawing.) The goal of this lesson was to understand better the ratios of the face. For example, the forehead and everything above the eyes is about half the entire head, which seems counterintuitive. The face tends to be about five eyes-width across, and the bottom of the nose is about one eye width down from the middle of the eyes. And so forth.

I was pretty happy with this, but our next job was harder. After the teacher showed us another technique for measuring out the face, we were supposed to do self portraits using a hand held mirror. I worked hard on this, and the face is reasonably good, but it doesn't look anything like me (as far as I can see). Le sigh.

I worked on some other partial faces, but really need to try this one again. For one thing, my face is definitely larger on top and smaller on the bottom, and the mouth is too prominent here. Also, I need to work on hair, though I tried this again and again.

Incidentally, my counterpart, whose name is Larry, I think, gave me the portrait he did of me, which is a lot closer to what I look like. Perhaps looking at yourself in a small mirror isn't too effective, as his own self portrait wasn't that great either.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

If he were bright red

If he were bright red, he'd be more recognizable.

For drawing class today, we did stuffed animals. I chose this part of Elmo and a very cute elephant who was difficult to capture straight on. While I was drawing Elmo, I kept thinking about the advice that I should draw what I saw, not what I thought I should see. It is hard to draw a well known character without unconsciously trying to correct those features which don't look like the image in your head. If I were a more experienced artist, I might even be able to get away with that, but at my level of expertise, I just manage to make it look less realistic.

One thing I felt good about was that I was more willing to erase and re-do than I have been. At first, I made the eyes on the elephant too small and high, so I erased and changed them. Similarly, I first made Elmo's head too round, then made the furry edge too dark, and in each case, I let myself erase and try again.

The negative space thing worked here pretty well. I was also forced to think about how to communicate shape with shading, which is something I definitely need to work on.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Negative space (but not Reddit)

This week in drawing class was all about negative space, or at least starting there.

I made a few different drawings because I was trying to get the concept. The goal was to focus on the negative space (anything other than the containers) and shade that in, and only afterwards fill in details of the containers. The reason I did a few is that this is a hard concept for me. I get the idea (I think), but the execution is going to take some practice. Also, it makes erasing parts difficult if you don't get the proportions of the handle right, for example. But it is an interesting way to look at things, and I understand how it helps with composition. All I need is practice, practice, practice.

While I usually don't, I've also included a photo at the bottom of at least one of the perspectives I used (the one for the top), though I moved somewhat between drawings.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Crumpled paper bags

For week 4 of my drawing class, we had to draw two paper bags, both somewhat crumpled. Ugh. Very difficult, though it led to good discussions of shading, blending and planes, as well as how to show whether it is crumpled in or out. Not super excited about my drawing, but I guess it can't all be easy or everyone would do it.

I drew my eraser as well to give a sense of scale. Big mistake, as then I didn't have my eraser. Sigh. Also, you may notice some circles showing up. My bad, as I had sketched faces on the preceding page in my notebook. I need to learn to take the pages out first so I don't leave dents which show up in my drawings. So much to learn. 

Also, a fellow student had a blending tool, which I don't. His planes and shading were way better than mine, so I improvised blending with a crumpled paper towel (and promised myself a blending tool before the next class). Our teacher emphasized that blending can be quite different when using different materials, such as cloth vs. paper. I plan to try experiments with that, so expect random shading and blending attempts, at least if they turn out well enough to post.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

First sketch of a girl

Trying to sketch a girl's face. Hmm. I need to figure out what makes a girl look like a girl without going into stereotypical exaggerated big eyes and small round face.

A friend on Facebook suggested that I need to spend time drawing faces of actual girls to get a sense of what I actually see as opposed to what I think I see, so that later when I sketch, I have a sense of contours and such. Sounds like a plan to me.

As a quick note, I have no idea whether my use of the words sketch and draw are correct. I think of a sketch as more representational and without a model, while a drawing is (intended to be) more accurate, less representational and uses a model of some sort.

Also, drawing class today!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Because cats

One of my author friends suggested that I try sketching cats, as they can be quite challenging. From what I can tell, the faces aren't too difficulty (as sketches, not as drawings), but the bodies are harder for me. I will work on them more, but here are two I sketched last night (while sitting in the car at 3am at the Amtrak station waiting for my son to arrive).

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A bit of sketching

While my drawing class is mostly about drawing actual stuff in front of us, I have been playing with sketching on my own. One of the fascinating things is that it is easier in some ways to add fewer details and let the viewer interpret. Such as this face, which doesn't even have an outline, but still works (I think).

I tried a couple of others before this which didn't work quite as well, but were still interesting to try (though I messed up the lighting when taking the picture).

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Just boxes all the way down

Straight line drawing plus shading

This week's drawing class was exhausting. The teacher had set up a stack of boxes and pointed some lights at them. Then we talked about "straight line drawings" (which are somewhat easier, supposedly, when your objects have straight lines), points of intersection, how to get perspective right and how to get relative sizes right. Later, he showed us some ways to do shading for the shadows and the relative light and dark sides of the boxes. I felt like I got the shading okay, but the shadows were fairly vague and I made them too dark. Still and all, I can tell they are boxes and I learned a lot.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Toy dinosaurs and relativity

I had my second drawing class today (as you might have gathered from the photo). We discussed contour drawing, gesture drawing and started on shading. As our models for the day, our teacher brought in many of his son's toy dinosaurs. After a while, we were encouraged to wander around and see each other's efforts.

It turns out that I am relatively good at this (at least from what I could see). Of course, that is based solely on the relative scale of adults taking a summer introductory drawing class. Still, I feared I'd be surrounded by people woefully unaware of their amazing talents. Phew!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Self Portrait of the "Artist"

My introductory drawing class starts tomorrow. I alternate between being excited and what was I thinking? I'm thinking I will record my progress here, as I doubt anybody actually reads it.

Here is a self portrait free handed in Gimp (though my drawing class is for the old fashioned sort with a pencil and paper).