Progress – 05/15/17

May 15, 2017

Fiction words written last week: 5,645 words

Blogs/Newsletter articles written:  981 words

Writing month to date total: 15,034 words

Writing year to date total: 119,188 words.

Drawing/painting last week: 0 square inches painted. I did sketch (doodle actually) in my sketchbook this week.

Illustration year to date total: 131.25 square inches.

Audio: I spent 9 hours on recording and editing  audio. I have finished all the tracks for The Doorway Prince. I just need to transfer the files to my iphone so I can do a final listen though and make sure I haven’t missed any areas where the sound is bad. However, my iphone and my itunes account are not playing well together. Apple needs to go back to the drawing table with itunes. It use to be so easy to use. The last few versions have been garbage! Now, I get an error with my phone all updated and a new install of itunes. So, an error with fully updated stuff = Steve Jobs rolling over in his grave. There has got to be a better way!!!! Apple, are you listening? There has got to be a better way! Itunes needs fixed from the ground up. There has got to be a better way.

Week’s happenings:  Okay, sorry for my frustration there. I’ve spent 12 hours now trying to get my phone updated, itunes downloaded to my other computer, and no matter what I do (or my children — isn’t that supposed to make it work? If you can’t get something to work, just hand it over to your children? Yeah, that’s not working either) it will not sync. So, needless to say, my Sunday went out the window with me fighting with computer problems. My other computer spent all day trying to upload my audio files that I’d spent Sunday morning creating to the cloud. Two computers down in one day equals me not getting any work done. I am so frustrated that I’m about to burn them onto a CD – yikes!

I did, however, get my newsletter out to subscribers earlier this week. I also got The Three Books all reformatted and the new cover completed for the print version. It should be coming up on Amazon soon. I am running an experiment to see how this all is going to work, so I’m interested to see what the results will be. Curious, I am. (When I’m not being frustrated that is.)

Loki is coming along well. I figure I’m nearing the halfway point for completing the novella. I thought I was coming up on the ending of Mystery of the Stardust Monk, but then I got surprised along with my characters. That’s the best thing about writing in the dark; I have no clue what’s going to happen. And see, with Loki, I couldn’t have planned what happened there, even though Loki was sending me the vibes from the very beginning; he got to be amazed right along with me. (grin)

Along with those two stories, I started working on another idea which actually blossomed from two real tragedies I heard about in the week. While I have no desire to say more than that, let me just remind you to always tell you loved ones what they mean to you. You never know when you might never see them again, at least in this lifetime. I can tell that this is going to be a fun story though. I thought at first that it would be hard, considering the reality behind the idea, but when I started digging into it, I realized I was exactly the person to write this. I have no idea where it’s going — again, writing into the dark now that I have the initial inspiration. Where ever it goes, it will be a journey.

Onward. Wish me luck in getting my files onto my iphone before I have to burn a CD.


Doctor visit for the computer

March 29, 2010

Unless you’re a digital artist or a graphic designer, a computer might not be thought of as a primary tool for an artist. But if you’re submitting digital images to shows or selling online, it’s as important as a good brush, a chisel, or a pottery wheel.

My laptop is the workhorse of my operation as an artist. It stores my manuscripts, photography, and images of my paintings. I draw one of my comics completely in the digital realm. Any time I need an image, I get it from my hard drive. Software for digital imaging, records of my artwork and collectors, e-mail, Internet, website maintenance, etc. is all done on my laptop.

That said, if you’re an artist like me who has everything on your computer, you’ve got to make sure the heart of your operation is taken care of. That means thinking about your software and hardware needs at all times.

Fortunately for me, I spend part of my life as a computer techie. I enjoy computers and I know what they’re capable of. I laugh at their personalities. Yes, computers have personalities. Spend enough time with several different computers, really working with them, and you’ll realize this is true. Just like individuals, computers need to be taken care of.

That said, first and foremost, backup your data! And make sure the data is truly backed up. The worst thing you can do is think that it’s backed up only to realize that it’s not. I’ve seen people cry over this.

Back up your data!

But I didn’t really start this blog to convince you to backup your data. No. I wanted to tell you about a piece of software from SmithMicro, the developers of Manga Studio and several other great programs. It’s a doctor visit for your computer.

Why would you care about checking the health of your computer’s hardware. It’s either working or it’s not, right?

Wrong!

There are usually signs ahead of time that something is malfunctioning, but they can be easy to miss, or rather to dismiss as outdated drivers, bad updates, or just needing to reboot. Fortunately, you can find problems before they take out your system with SmithMicro’s CheckIt Diagnostics.

Downloading and installing the program is simple and quick. Startup checks the components of your system. Once you’re in the software, it does help if you have basic knowledge of computers because the program just jumps right in. There are 5 tabs across the top and several “component” buttons below. You can see these on the screenshot below.

CheckIt Diagnostics screenshot - opening screen

Each of these “component” buttons has a series of test that can be run. To begin, start with the first tab, first “component” and start running tests. Once you’ve gone through all the components, then go to the next tab. Each test will either come back with “Success” or “Fail” as a result. Some test require that you plug in a flash drive or insert a CD/DVD — again, the program reads the hardware of your computer and adapts the tests to your system. Of course, the point is to always have it say “Success” on all your tests. The reality of it is that something, sometime will fail.

CheckIt Diagnostics screenshot of fail link information

CheckIt Diagnostics screenshot of Troubleshoot button information

If you suspect a problem with one part of your computer system, you can narrow down the tests to select just that component on your system and run those component’s tests or just one test instead of having to run through all the tests. You don’t have to have a complete check every time.

So now you’ve checked your system and you know there’s a problem. What then? Knowing you have an issue is just the beginning. Clicking on the “Fail” link will allow you to see more information. From here, CheckIt Diagnostics has the ability to send the error reports via email (like to your tech support person) or to export it to a text file. If you click the “Troubleshoot” button, you’ll get extra information which might help figure out why you received the test failure.

CheckIt Diagnostics screenshot of fail link information

CheckIt Diagnostics screenshot of Troubleshoot button information

Overall, I wish the failure reports did have some more detail. From the ones that I went through on my laptop, I didn’t feel that from a tech support position I had a whole lot of information to work with. However, giving the diversity between computers and systems, this might be an overwhelming task for any piece of software. So again, knowing that you have an issue with a particular piece of the hardware is merely a starting point. When you’re looking for that needle in the haystack (which often is the case when diagnosing computer problems) CheckIt Diagnostics will at least give you a starting point.

From both a tech support person and a user point of view, I find the main value of the program to be in wealth of information about your system that it gives you in one easy spot and the fact that it will narrow down issues with a computer. It’s easy and quick enough to use that I can incorporate it into my usual computer maintainance routine as a checkup for my hardware. So many programs have been dedicated to checking for malware, viruses, rootkits, registry cleaners, etc. that’s it’s nice to find a program that cares about the hardware side of the computer equation too.


More about Manga Studio

February 10, 2010

If you’ve looked at my blog post about Manga Studio, you might want to check out their blog as well. They’ve got lots of fun stuff out there featuring Smith Micro’s software. In addition to Manga Studio, I’ve used Poser and Anime Studio and I have to say they’re all great programs. Go check it out for yourself.


Manga Studio 4

February 7, 2010

We interrupt the normally scheduled eBay auction blog, to bring you this special software review!

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Stepping back about six years or so, I came to a decision. Though I’ve always loved telling stories, I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be writing stories as novels at that time. Drawing had entered my life and turned my storytelling world upside-down. It was then I decided to start telling my tales as graphic novels. At first, I started sketching by hand while I took a moment to learn what all went into making a comic. It didn’t take me long to discover the illustrating a comic was a lot of work.

Since I’ve always been one to work smarter, not harder, I hoped someone had some sort of comic book drawing software on the market. Why try to figure out how to do a comic on the computer if someone had already done the work for me? It didn’t take me long to find Manga Studios 3.

I bought the EX version (over the Debut which is significantly cheaper, but has fewer tools) even though I knew that for me it was probably overkill. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing that you should be able to do something in a more simple fashion and you could do it if you had that one version higher.

I produced four graphic novel chapters with MS3. My only lament was that I wished it had color.

Now enters Manga Studios 4 and guess what? Yep, you can color pages with it. Back on January 2, 2010, I had a note in my blog post about MS4. Originally, I’d added an ending line of something to the effect that if I was supposed to have MS4, I’d be granted a way for it to happen. I deleted the line, but it was very much in my heart as I posted the blog. To my complete astonishment, the “way” knocked on my door and I now have MS4. To the Universe and all those involved in my opportunity, please let me once again say, “Thank you!”

So, what do I think of Manga Studio 4? How does it compare to MS3?

Does “WOW!!!” cover it?

Okay, I’ll be more specific. When I first started up MS4, I had an option to start up the Beginner’s Assistant. The Beginner’s Assistant is a sidebar tool that allows you to see tools and layers in a way that actually illustrates the difference between the tools. It also includes pop-up hints to guide you around. I’ve had to go back to the standard mode because I’m so use to finding my way around in MS3, but if I’d started out with this feature as a complete newbie to both comics and the software, this would’ve simplified my life and saved me lots of time with my learning curve. I have switched back to the Beginner’s Assistant if I’ve wanted to find out how to use a tool more in-depth or to play with a tool because of the visual nature of the Beginner’s Assistant.

The feel of the pencils has changed. When I sketch offline, I like to use a mechanical pencil. In MS3, the mechanical pencil tool never felt right. I can’t say it’s perfect in MS4, but it does have marked improvement. The Most Recently Used Files option on the File menu has also been moved up the list and I appreciate this change.

I love the new Story/Page tabs. I can move back and forth between pages in my story in a fraction of the time. There’s also a pullout menu on the left side of the screen that allows you to click on the Story tab when you’re in a page and you can view a page while not leaving the one you’re working in. This is great in keeping continuity in panels without interrupting workflow.

The new Story Editor allows dialogue to be written for several pages and it automatically places the dialogue on the page at the top left so you can distribute the text over the page as needed, but you can also see the text written as you’re sketching the page. Since I do everything for my webcomic, Weblinks, in Manga Studio, I’m always thinking several pages ahead and this feature will help me out greatly.

The way dialogue is added has been changed greatly. If you look at Weblinks, you’ll see that I have one font that I use for thoughts and another for when people are speaking. These are two different styles. In MS3 I had to always change the font style and settings for each line of the dialogue. Having both Weblinks and Sacred Knight comics, I had different styles I was always have to remembers which was which. Now, I can save the settings for each style so I can spend more time concentrating on the story and less time focusing on keeping the look uniform. There are also several more dialogue balloons to choose from. In fact, there are many more tones to chose from too. Tones are now listed under the materials palette — a change I’m having problems adjusting to, but it does make sense.

Let’s talk about the rulers for a moment. MS3 had very nice perspective rulers in it. I saw the potential, but I have to admit that perspective is still a weak area for me. I’ve been trying to improve. To do Sacred Knight efficiently, I’ll need to be good at perspective. Perspective rulers are a feature that make MS powerful. In MS4, a perspective grid has been added for making 3D objects. I can’t wait to sit down with my perspective books and these tools to figure out how to use them effectively. Symmetry rulers have been added too. These are way too cool. They start off as two point symmetry rulers, which are good for drawing eyes and making sure they are even and level, all the way up to 12 point symmetry. Need a round stained glass window? Just decide how many parts you want for your window and start drawing. Whatever you draw in one part is copied in the others. Below, I’ve put in a page from my Manga Studios digital sketchbook showing a quick doodle that I made with a 12 point symmetry ruler.

Manga Studios sketchbook page
© 2010 Dawn Blair


I used a 6 point symmetry ruler to quickly sketch a flower that I put into a character’s hair. There are so many possibilities for the symmetry rulers!

Another added tool that I find exciting is the Select Layer tool. This is one of those tools that is only available in the EX version. I’ve often needed to find what layer a line is on, usually because I’ve accidentally drawn something on the wrong layer and now I need to make a correction. Before, I’ve had to go back and click the eye icon on each layer to turn off the view until the lines I’m seeking vanish. Then I know I’ve found the layer. Now, I click the Select Layer tool, then click on the line I want to find. The layer I’m searching for is selected and all other layers are lightened into the background. I learned this trick on mangastudio.net. In playing with this, I found that a tone layer can mess up selection of a line, so if the Select Layer tool always selects a tone layer instead of the line, use the Eraser tool to erase the tone above the line. You can then select the line, make your changes, then fill the tone back in.

The preferences menu has changed and several new options have been added. In exploring around here, I discovered a place to change the look of the cursor for tools. This was available in MS3, but I wasn’t aware of it there. I like this because I’ve always been frustrated by the eraser tool and knowing what size it is and where exactly I’m erasing this. Now I’ve been able to change the cursor so now I can see the eraser’s boundary. I haven’t changed any other tool, but I’m glad I know I can.

Have I found anything I wish I could change? Yes. I wish I could set up tools a little more specifically than I can and rename them. Much like the styles in the dialogue, I have several different settings I use with different tools in both Weblinks and Sacred Knight. The one that really comes to mind is when I’m doing Caitlyn’s hair in Weblinks. I start by coloring in the section black. Then I come back with the G brush set at .3 and white “ink.” I scratch in a bunch of white lines, then I change it to black and scratch in more lines until I get her “salt and pepper” look. I’d really like to be able to set up a G brush specifically for Caitlyn’s hair and label it that way so it doesn’t take me so long. Right now, if I have one G brush set in my custom tools, I can’t have another with slightly different settings. Or at least I haven’t found the way yet. Overall, it keeps me from using the custom tools exclusively and sticking with old patterns instead of exploring new ways of doing things which in the end is probably a really good thing.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned the coloring yet — the feature I was most excited about. Coloring is tricky and I haven’t figured it out completely, not with so many other great tools to explore as well. But don’t fear. After watching several tutorials and reading about the coloring process, I’ve seen what it’s capable of and I’m looking forward to using it to draw and color my children’s book later this year.

Is Manga Studio 4 worth the upgrade? Oh, yes! And stay tuned. In the next few months I’m planning tutorial videos showing my workflow process. You’ve heard me state before that I enjoy learning how other artists work and now it’s my turn to reciprocate. By then, I hope to have the coloring process down and I’ll do a tutorial on it as well. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get more tips and tricks posted on my blog. Okay, you know I will!

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Tomorrow, the normal eBay auction blog will be posted. Go now to see what’s still available!