Computer Loopy

My macbook pro (which I love) has started to feel a little slow, so I decided it was time for an upgrade.

It works fine for digital drawing (though it can get noisy when the fan kicks in for painting at hi res) but it positively crawls when you try and do anything in 3d (as I have been doing lately – with sketchup, and using 3d models for tanks)

Looked around, but, sadly, like many of my peers in comics there’s a real struggle to find a new mac that fits – my ideal would be a mac mini with more oopmh, but it just doesn’t exist. So it was time to go back to PC. Having bought a surface pro 3, I’ve actually liked windows 10 – there’s things I HATE about it, but nothing I can’t work around in some way. Plus I’m keeping the mac for my day to day job stuff.

It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at buying PCs and I’ve sought advice from friends on this front, so ended up building a system from overclockers.com (it is a bewildering experience after going from apple’s clean limited options to an explosion in a tinsel factory layout of PCs, and god how can PCs be both boring looking AND gaudy? amazing). Anyway, it’ll be black box I’ll hide.

So here’s the system I ended up with and why, first I asked a good friend of mine Sean Doran for some suggestions and so, unless otherwise stated, he’s suggested the bulk of this device and I was happy enough to with him.

(I present this in full because either this is boring to you in which case you’d’ve stopped reading earlier or you’re thinking of doing the same..)

CASE: Phanteks Enthoo Pro M Window Edition – Black Full Acrylic Side Window

This is the dull but gaudy bit of windows. Give me a nice invisible case, who the hell wants to look inside your computer and have lights? Ugh, never mind, this is fine. It’s all fine. Has a single drive bay for DVD/Bluray.

MEMORY:Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 PC4-19200C14 2400MHz Dual Channel Kit – Black (CMK16GX4M2A24

Many of these numbers mean little to me, it’s fast and it’s 16Gb – I’m currently happily working within 8 on my mac, so 16 seemed a reasonable upgrade. Clip Studio Paint works very nicely on 4, photoshop and other apps want more.
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 64-Bit DVD – OEM (MS-KW9-00139) 
Gotta have an O/S. Windows 10 – NOT awful. It’s actually alright and if it’s my main machine I can probably tweak it for exactly how I want to use it. Part of me is tempted to not even connect it to the internet – leave it as a machine that just draws and works, but there’s too much useful stuff on line (like ..er.. twitter)
BLURAY: OcUK Value Blu-ray / DVDRW combi SATA – OEM
I rarely use the cd drive I have, but I’d like something I can throw a bluray on to. If I remember right there’s some question over decent software to watch blurays on on windows (which seems insane it’s not a standard thing, but what do I know…?)
MAIN DRIVE: Intel 600P 512GB M.2-2280 PCI-e 3.0 x 4 NVMe 3D NAND Solid State Drive (SSDPEKKW512G7X1)
Ok, here’s the stuff. M.2 drives are new technology to me, in fact when I left the IT industry SSD drives (a kind of hard drive built on memory) didn’t exist at a consumer level. M.2 are similair to SSD in that they use memory (so silent and very, very fast) but plug in more directly to the computer so they transfer data at ridiculous speeds. 512Gb is actually storage for me to do all my work from-my current storage needs for all of the art I’ve drawn over the last 15 years is about 100Gb (and even that could be halved if I ever tidied it up)
SECONDARY DRIVE: Seagate BarraCuda 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache HDD – OEM (ST2000DM006)
Secondary storage, mostly for storing backups of things and any over spill. TBH most overspill will probably be me accidentally creating multiple copies of the same documents.
Graphics Card: Zotac GeForce GTX 1060 Mini 6144MB GDDR5 PCI-Express Graphics Card
This is where I start flailing about looking for advice. Here I went for the best I thought I could afford on my budget. I’m interested in VR/AR stuff. I want to play with that. I’m convinced that’s our next big thing for entertainment (but I was also convinced by that in the 80s and the 90s, so I’m clearly on the optimistic end). Having played with Google Tilt (a 3d painter program for the HTC Vive) I really really want more access to that level of reality.
Processor: Intel Core i5-7600K 3.8GHz (Kaby Lake) Socket LGA1151 Processor – OEM
Ugh, this was a toughie, it felt wrong to go for an i5 processor when my current macbook pro has an i7 – but the i5 is quad core at 3.8Ghz and my current is dual core at 2.8Ghz so the spec was definately up. I’m still not entirely sure what the i5/i7 difference is, especially when measured over the years (is it just branding? suspect it maybe… 7 is definitely more than 5, but is 7 from 2013 more than 5 from 2017? stupid computers).
I have no keyboard (will, at least temporarily, use an older macbook keyboard). I’d like a small – no numerical key – keyboard with a backlight and the whole thing will be plugged into the 27″ cintiq (a second screen may be useful, but I’d like one with retina resolution so may hold off on that for a bit…)
Again, thanks to those online who were probably bored of my asking, and my pal Sean Doran. I’ll let you know when the computer arrives and what I actually make of it…!

Septembers child is full of grace (and pages)

So, here endith September, and the total tally for this month is… 45 pages. Averaging exactly 1.5 pages per day – though the reality was there were days where I spent the entire time pencilling and then mostly I was inking between 1 to 3 pages per day. But I’ll take 1.5 per day.

That means combined with last month, I’ve drawn 94 pages in two months, a somewhat astonishing record for me (and in fact most people).

I’m pretty sure that’s sustainable. I mean, there was definitely a dip in morale around the 30th page this month, but that picked up shortly afterwords. And for the most part the pages are pretty good too, high up in the quality of my own work(which is the only measurement that makes sense)

That said, there are two difficult aspects of being a comic artist: getting work and doing work. Now I’ve discharged all my current obligations (basically have cracked the ‘doing work’ bit) the next thing is get more work. Happily I have a month or so of grace as I’m able to live off the money earned from the work done (we draw we eat, that’s the basics of it as life as a comic artist).

Not sure what’s next. More Dept of Monsterology is certainly on the cards, but Gordon needs to write it first. I’d like to go back to American Gothic and do something monsterous there (I had fun drawing the four part Gunsuits written by Paul Tobin, though it coincided with a down period in the speed of production, most of that was drawn at a rather bankrupting 16 pages per month, and then the final episode was clawed out at 13 pages in one month – that feels like forever ago, and fingers crossed I’ll never hit a speed bump like that again).

I may just take the next month and try and do some big two samples. I’ve never taken a proper swing at their door, largely because I’ve been lucky enough to have work…

In other news:

Got myself a 27″ cintiq. Here’s a short review: yes it’s amazing.

I’m running it on a MacBook pro with 8Gb RAM. Manga Studio (or Clip Studio Paint), I think, doesn’t get enough credit for how well it works on any device, it really doesn’t push hardware at all – which suggests it’s fantastically well written bit of software. If I load up photoshop, or any other image editor within seconds the fans are whirring on the MacBook, but on Manga Studio it’s never -that I’ve seen-caused the processors to get warm.

Off for a few days to that their London, hoping to have a good time.

I think I deserve a short break!

The 49er

Ok, month’s over. Here’s the final count: 49 pages pencilled and inked, and a further 14 penciled. Averaging about 1 and a half full pages per day (ignoring just the pencils).

The month didn’t start of with any promise, as I’ve posted already, I’d just finished last month with 13 pages in the bag and a general grim feeling about my long term career prospects. BUT! A tight deadline job from 2000AD (drawing a zombie story in 12 days, which, ultimately I pulled off in 6) kickstarted the month for me and kickstarted the weirdest most productive month of drawing in my life.

I’m generally feeling pretty good about the art. It remains to be seen whether I can keep it up next month – though, no reason why I can’t just power through and keep going (with the added bonus that I already have 13 pages pencilled).

I think I need to draw around 40 pages next month to get some stuff in on deadline, but that feels more than doable now.

There’s a week in this month where all I did was pencil, and the final week saw a little tapering off – all I was doing was inking and some days the best I managed was one pencilled page. So, potentially, I can get up to 2 or more pages per day.

That’s a weird figure to conjure with.

It would be a mistake though to think this is the new normal. It’s not. I’ve got to make sure not to over commit to work – as I have done in the past, ending up blowing a couple of gigs that, if I was working at this pace would have been no problem.

November I’ll actually be commitment free for the first time in a long time, though I know a new Monsterology book will be on the horizon I have nothing else firmed up yet.

Anyway, good month for me. I hope yours was good. And tomorrow? kids back at school proper. YAY!

 

Summing up summer

Summer is nearly over. I can tell because the weather has changed from unexpectedly awful to totally as dreadful as anticipated.  My kids go back to school in a couple of days (thank god, we have 9 – NINE! – weeks of school summer holidays, and while some parents love having their kids off during the summer holidays, those parents are probably liars.

Page count, thus far, is 38. Which is a bit amazing really. I’m afraid I’m only ever one bad way to spiralling down to next to no pages per month (today has easily been the closest, having only gotten one page inked, yesterday was nearly the same except I ended up completing three pages) which is sort of daft, as I could take the rest of the month off and still claim this month as a major victory.

One thing it’s done is opened my eyes to the possibility of doing more things for myself – 25 pages per month for a publisher, 25 pages per month for me … think of the possibilities. I’m still sucking hard on writing, I’ve got some fun ideas ( I think) but not the time nor experience nor confidence to carry them through. That said, there’s a few things I’ve scripted with Scott Ferguson (my erstwhile co-podcast host on the Sunnyside Comics podcast, if you can remember that) that I may go and draw.

 

But that assumes I can find 25 pages of paid comic per month. And that’s usually been a struggle.

Anyways, comics good. Go and pre-order Dept of Monsterology Book 2: Sabbaticals from your local comic shop, I think it’s in this months “previews” magazine (no details to hand I’m afraid)

Go buy Gunsuits ep3, written by Paul Tobin, drawn by me.

And stand by for more comics.

Now, in twitter news, I offered to answer questions (and LO! but only one question did present itself)

Zoe Robinson asked:

“Do you agree you need to know the rules before breaking them”.

Yes. Though it’s probably a little harder to define what the rules are: a search for the rules then…

There are some obvious rules: paper is a fixed size. Artwork must fit the paper. Laws of physics dictate certain tools work in certain ways. Hard to break those rules even if you want to, though you can do some groovy effects if you know exactly how to bend the physical properties of pen and ink to your whim (greywash springs to mind).

In terms of artwork, it’s a good idea to know, for example, how many heads a person has before drawing a person. Which is flippant, but then the question becomes, what is the basic proportion of a human, can you break that rule? Well … probably? But then that’s not a rule so much as a strong suggested guideline. In fact most drawing rules are strong tried and tested guidelines – even the “people read left to right” is a long standing guide that, if your smart, you can circumvent it. Look at what Frank Quietly can do with storytelling on that front to be amazed and how easily that rule what be flipped on its head… But he can only do that because he understands the underlying rule which is that you control the narrative flow – you direct the readers eyes.

So, I think a good rule for whether you can break the rules is whether you realise you’re breaking them.

Breaking them without knowing your doing so is an accident while we can all talk about the happy accidents in art, in storytelling you really want the accidents to happen in a very controlled way.

-pj

 

 

Photoref

I quickly blogged yesterday about my current speed and casually threw out the phrase “Instant Photoreference” – quite rightly, I was pulled up on it, David said (in the comments yesterday)

12 pages a week, wow! Very impressive. Would you please elaborate on you use of “instant photoreference”? What is it? How does it work? Do you consider it “cheating”? Thanks in advance!

Let’s deal with those questions in reverse order: “Do you consider it cheating”- no, whatever gets the work done, as far as I’m concerned. You can be snobbish about it – and some use it well and some use it badly, but as long you’re not stealing someone else’s photos wholesale, then nothing is cheating.

“What is it?/How does it work?”. Ok, firstly I may have overstated it, by “Instant photoreference” what I really mean is that I pencil the page as I think it needs to be pencilled, largely without recourse to photoreference, then as I draw I hit hands or poses that I think are weak (or, more accureatly, are so well trodden by me that even I’m bored with how they look ) so I’ll take a quick photo using my iPhone and then just ink that directly over the pencilled thing. I don’t (usually) repencil, I just wrap it in and try and make it look like it belongs with the page that I’m currently working on. If it’s a car I might try and find online reference of a random vehicle and draw that in the inks (often what I’m looking for are the details rather than the specific image, so a car at 3/4 view in a photo may be used by me to draw a car that’s entirely front on, or from a totally unrelated angle).

I try not to let the photos dictate the drawing, and I often piecemeal bits of poses together so that it still feels like my pencils. The big no-no on photos, I think, is to literally trace or copy them leaving you with an obviously acted moment in a drawn image. Sometimes it’s ok – when you’re dealing with a vehicles. I did a war story using photos of a model plane that I’d built, literally tracing the photos – for the first dozen or so pages, by the end I was so familiar with the vehicle I could freehand it, and the image had more life.

Anyhue, that’s all. Hope that’s of some limited use. If you follow me on twitter (www.twitter.com/pauljholden), I might be tempted to post some of these stupid photos…

 

Page Counts

 

IMG_461323789

January: 28
February: 19
March: 11
April: 16
May: 16
June:16
July: 13
August (so far): 28

January was me determine to make up for the last few years – I Knew I was capable of a page a day (and had often done more) and I wanted to do that, so I figured out ways to keep track (you can read these methods in the blog under the process tag) I was pretty pleased to hit 28 pages, and there was even 5 days where I did nothing at all, so theoretically I could do more.

Feb I was about 14 pages in to the month when my wife broke her dominant arm at the elbow. A pretty serious break that, 7 months later is still a problem (and, in fact, she’s having an operation to see if it can be improved). I managed to claw some more pages back, to hit 19 – not great but not too bad anyway, given the circumstances.

March was awful. AWFUL. Between looking after wife, kids, and my returning stomach pains (which appear to be diet related and I’m mostly on top of now) 11 pages was pathetic, but I was prepared to wipe out the month.

April was rejigging things in my work and a determination to hit 28 pages again but somehow I plateaued at 16, and for the next few months it felt like 16 was all I was capable of, and that was depressing. It meant, even if the work where their I wouldn’t be capable of meeting a monthly deadline on a book and I certainly wasn’t prepared to go looking for more comic work when I felt so low about how much I was producing (and while quantity does not equal quality it always feels to me like the more I produce the better it gets)

May and June same as April, except the spiral downwards felt like it got worse, a real “should I stop this and think about a real job?”

July, god knows what happened here. Start of school summer holidays, I think. At this point ready to throw in the towel in comics – I earned so little last year and drawing 16 pages a month (assuming the work was there) wasn’t going to pay much more. It felt like my earning potential was severly limited, and I missed having a day job (secure money+could draw what I like when I like? WHY DID I GIVE THAT UP? IDIOT)

August.

August.

August.

I.. I’m not sure what combination of things happened. Maybe I’d hit rock bottom? (God, I hoped so – things couldn’t get much worse).

I took some extra work I was offered (they way I felt I’d never be offered work again) and burned through it. I switched from inking with a brush to inking with pigma pens (and I’m an inking snob so this has always been something I’d refused to do) moved to using the lightbox (see yesterday’s post) and found, somehow, I got faster and faster and happier and happier and, I think, better and better – my ego has always been intrinsically linked to my art – when I feel great about the art I feel great about me, and when I suck so does the art.

I’m off for a week, where I’ll just be pencilling, hopefully I can come back and ink like a demon and get three pages per day done (ending the month on an unheard of high number of pages for me). Kids start school next month, and there’s a possibility, one I daren’t hope for until now, that I may actually do all right in comics.

 

How I work Now…

I have altered work methods and I’ve jumped from averaging of sixteen pages per month to 12 pages per week. PER WEEK.

I’m moving through a slightly perfect storm of technique and confidence in my own work that I haven’t gone through in a number of years (which means I’ll end up forgetting it). But here’s how it works (and I should note, I’ve lifted much of this from watching how John McCrea works – a consummate professional and one of the hardest working people I know).

Layouts: I draw layouts on a pdf version of the script using the surface pro (yay! My surface pro has finally found a use!)

Pencils: I pencil at roughly A4 size in Canson 180 pads, using a HB pencil.

Scan these in to Manga Studio where I enlarge then print them out.

Inks: I ink using Zebra brush pen (for larger things) and Kuratake Pigment markers, numbers 01, 02, 08 and 005.

I don’t second guess my self on pencils, and I seem to be using a lot more instant photoreference, which I’ll usually directly ink.

Two pages per day is a pretty comfortable speed to hit (though it’s hard to judge cus usually I plough through three-five pencilled pages per day then spend the next few days just inking). Three pages is more than possible.

In print you can still pick up Gunsuits, ep 3 is due out soon (and here’s a page I like). Coming up: something fun with nazi zombies, and I’m in the middle of drawing Dept of Monsterology book 2…

gunsuits3_015

 

GUNSUITS #1

OUT NOW! In all good comic shops. Issue 1 features a cover by me and an alternative cover by Darrick Robinson. It’s a fun book to draw and I hope to get to do more of it, but that largely depends on you going and buying it!

If you’re in Ireland, I’ll be signing copies at The Big Bang in Dundrum on the 10th and in The Comic Book Guys in Belfast store, on the 11th – more exciting, I’ll be signing along with John McCrea for his new image book Mythic. So come and see us both!

 

McCrea and Holden on tour!

 

(And for those asking, will soon be returning to finish art on Dept of Monsterology book 2 – a book more bonkers than the first!)

 

 

 

Surface Redux

Let’s get this out of the way: if I had the money I’d buy the Cintiq Companion 2.

Ok, now on to the business at hand.

Those of you who’ve read the blog before will have seen my somewhat instant romance and subsequent falling out with the surface pro. The biggest problem with it? the pen nib (made out of something like .001pence worth of plastic) literally wore down in days. Microsoft sent me some replacement nibs, but buy then (three days or so) of owning it, I’d lost my -already somewhat wobbly-faith in the device as a whole. And given I’d spent £1,099 on the top end Surface Pro 3 (i7, 256Gb, 8Gb RAM) to replace my extant Macbook Pro and Cintiq 12″ device – a system that worked perfectly for years – I knew I’d end up using the mac & cintiq and could no longer justify the money on the surface pro.

So I returned it.

But I still missed it. I missed having a portable device I could do finished comic book work on. I went on holiday lamenting the lack of surface pro (or any decent device). I bought with me the macbook pro and an old graphics tablet that would do the job in a pinch.

But, on holiday and feeling low, I pottered in to PC World and did some calculation and in a moment of weakness I bought another one. This time rather than top of the range, I went mid range – the i5 with 4Gb RAM and 128Gb hard drive, and given the UK/EU exchange rate, I managed to pick it up for £690 (the UK price in PCWorld has it at £739)

I reset my goals, rather than replace my existing system this would work in conjunction with it. Rather than replace my still very good macbook pro, it would replace my old and ropey ipad (which I use at my drawing table for looking up reference, checking email, reading scripts, and so on) – that meant I wouldn’t be doing high end stuff on it (though, to be honest, I don’t do “high end” stuff, but I always feel uncomfortable unless I’m buying as good as my budget allows).

On testing though, what I found, was that there’s NOT a significant different between the £1099 and the £690 surface pros, at least not as far as Manga Studio is concerned. Certainly, if I were to use some of the more complicated natural media brushes that mix colours as they draw I might notice a slow down, but I’m running 600dpi A3 sized images – which are actually way way larger than they need, if I was serious about colour and needed speed, I’d probably reduce those down to 300dpi without any great loss of fidelity when they finally print.

The surface pro has a fan but I’ve never found it to kick in or even get hot when I’m running Manga Studio – in fact, if it does kick in, I’ll usually find it’s because a background app is running (and I’ll boot that app and things will cool down).

I’ve set up drop box on the surface pro, and I store multi story manga studio files on their, which means any edits I make on the surface pro are uploaded to dropbox and available on my macbook pro pretty quickly. (Where the macbook pro then takes care of backups).

Not sure what happens if I try and edit the same file on both, or indeed what happens when they get out of sync – hopefully dropbox will take care of it, but because I’ve set up the files to only open one page at a time (and it saves between changing pages) the worse that’ll happen is I’ll lose one page (but since I work traditionally, that might only mean I’ll have to rescan something and I may have lost an hour or two of edits).

It’s lovely to be able to sit in the living room and do some of the more mundane manga studio tasks (I scanned 11 pages yesterday, dropping each into the correct page on manga studio – granted I had to keep walking in to the studio to replace the page being scanned, but I WAS unchained from the computer desk!).

Oh, and on the pen nib front: I’ve readjusted the sensitivity of the pen so it uses a lighter touch so hopefully I’ll wear the pen down a lot less, though, I wish it was as sensitive as my cintiq which can give a line with just the lightest feather touch, the surface requires some amount of pressure to get any sort of line.

 

Digging below the surface

So, I’ve had the surface pro 3 a couple of days now and have had something of a change of heart. The machine IS wonderful. There’s no doubt about it. I do love it.

BUT.

The pen.

The surface pen well, specifically the pen nibs. I’ve owned this machine for four days and in that time I’ve finished colouring a piece (it was almost entirely coloured already) and I’ve scanned some pencils which I’ve then edited and then printed, inked traditionally and then re-scanned. Pretty light work I think. In that time the pen nib has become a frazzled piece of plastic. It looked like this:

surfacepentip

that tip should be pointed. It doesn’t seem to effect the drawing, but really if this is three days of wear what’s gonna happen after a month?

I’ve been told by one person this fraying eventually stops and the tip becomes solid, but I’ve googled and this seems to be common among demo machines in shops (explaining the reticence of pcworld in having a demo pen out)

Microsoft were also helpful and have offered to send out a pack of 3 replacement nibs. But at this rate of going those nibs might not last a week, plus when I buy computer equipment I expect it to last 3-5 years, will they be so keen to send out nib #460 in year 4?

So the upshot is, I’ve mulled it over and my wife and I have agreed. I’m taking it back for a refund. A £1k device that’s otherwise great ruined by what is probably a fraction of a pennies worth of plastic material.

It’s a shame.

Instead, i’ll be keeping my pennies and pounds for the next cintiq. It’ll be expensive (and I hear it’s as elegant to handle as a brick, and it gets hot etc) but cintiq know how to make nibs, that’s for sure.

Will let you know how I get on returning it, I’m assuming the nib makes this unfit for purposes, but pcworld my have other ideas.