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An Artist's Journey

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Chapter 18: Multimedia & Multiple Devices

A tablet computer purchase

2012 ended with the "Positively Jessica" book waiting for final details from the author before we could eventually finish it and upload the files to CreateSpace for printing in mid-February.That left the holiday season free to explore the possiblities of my latest acquisition, a tablet computer. This gift to myself was the fullfillment of a long-time dream to have a portable, digital tablet that would allow me to write, draw and paint away from the desktop.

Because one of my primary uses for the tablet is keeping a daily, handwritten journal—a decades-long activity—I chose the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 for its superior pen capability. The Galaxy Note uses the technology of Wacom, the maker of the pen tablet I use at my desktop workstation. The S pen has a fine tip that provides precise, pressure sensitive control. Those qualities are critical to me for accurate, expressive drawing and writing at length. a few months later, Wacom offered it's own pen, the Bamboo Feel, for Samsung and Windows tablets. It's a more responsive, full-size pen that improved the experience. Unfortunately, the pen barrel cracked after a few month's use. (UPDATE: I notified Wacom about the broken pen and they sent a new one along with instructions for returning the broken pen. So far no problems. It's a nice pen.)

I've been able to successfully transfer my journal writing from paper to digital pages with the Samsung tablet. The process is enhanced by the ablility to add photos and artwork to a page as well as write naturally and add typewritten passages if I wish. This is an incredible and very useful device that is increasing creative possibilities and production.

I have found the Papyrus app better for my journal writing than the S-note app that comes with the tablet. Papyrus allows setting the page size to 8.5x11. With the tablet in landscape orientation, the 8.5" width of the screen means I can write in the same scale as on standard paper with a traditional pen. The app also provides a greater range of pen line widths, has better pressure sensitivity, and it's a vector program that exports a much sharper page to PDF than the S-note's jpeg-based export. Print-outs look very much like my old hand-written pages. Also, Papyrus PDF pages can be opened in Adobe Illustrator for more advanced editiing of the vector-based lines if desired.

Artwork done with the Sketchbook Pro app on my Galaxy Note


Overcoming audio production roadblocks

Next on the agenda was resumption of animation work I'd set aside for a year to deal with my mother's death and the book projects that came up after that. I began by getting very affordable Magix Music Maker software in an attempt to resolve the frustrating issues I'd had with audio production.

Free versions of audio software (Sonar LE and Cubase LE) that came with my Casio keyboard and a Tascam audio interface were a frustrating enigma to work with. Sometimes Sonar would recognize the keyboard and I could produce a recording, but other times nothing would record and much time was lost trying to figure out why. I tried Cubase, but it was even less cooperative. The Tascam audio interface I bought to connect keyboard and microphone with these programs made the computer freeze up and was unuseable. It was a maddening process, a constant distraction and a minor miracle that I was able to produce audio tracks for those first animations.

Magix Music Maker changed everything. It worked from the start with my PC's onboard sound system. However, I installed a sound card—nothing fancy, just a $40 ASUS Xonar 7.1—that noticeably improved audio quality and made the microphone and keyboard work much better with the Magix program. Within a few days I was able to create improved, CD quality sound tracks for "Why Snow" and "Must be a Cat" (view them on the Berrytoons site). What a delight to simply get to work without continuously battling with the software!

Video production

With no other book projects on the horizon, it was time to put some effort into generating new business. I unpaused my google ad and decided to create a simple promotional video for my illustration service to place on the entry page. Once again, PhotoShop's timeline mode provided a simple way to create the graphic components, place them in proper sequence with fade transitions, then add title and other text frames—even adding motion effects to some of them. The audio was produced with Magix Music Maker using selections from their extensive sound pool. The final video was assembled in Corel VideoStudio, which allows saving the production in any video format.

This is my first promotional video

Compatibility is a concern with placing videos on a website. Some formats and players will not run on all browsers, tablets and phones. After much trail and errror, I discovered that YouTube provides an embed code for videos uploaded to them (right click on the video to get it). They prepare videos so they will run on any computer or mobile device, and it's an easy task to copy and paste their embed code into the code of a web page. Not only that, their videos run much more smoothly than those I place directly from my own files. That discovery led to using my existing YouTube account for managing all my animations and other video productions. And they can also be available to the public there (if a person stumbles onto them) rather than just running on my web pages.

Each video production teaches me something new. Below is the most recent example. It was created with video clips recorded with the Galaxy tablet that I assembled and added titles to with PhotoShop. The background music was part of Corel VideoStudio's extras that come with the software—it automatically fits the music selection to the length of the video.

Snow Day video
Back to animation

With the promo video in place and the ad running, attention turned to the next animation project, "Stable Relationships", that I'd started a year before. The idea and first draft of the rhymes came during a spell of inspiration in January, 2012, when I was working on "Why Snow Avoids the Desert" and "Must Be a Cat!". Those two were completed, and I'd begun creating the graphics and motions for this when Mom duty pulled me away.

"Stable Relationships" advanced the scope of the productions to include songwriting. My knowledge in this area is limited, but the Music Maker software includes a visual process for composing—a MIDI editor that allows placing notes on a grid representing bars of music. The notes can be moved and manipulated endlessly, and assigned to play as different instruments. After riding another learning curve I was able to create the melody that ran through my mind when the lyrics were written. Over the next several weeks the artwork for the intro, three stanzas, three chorus scenes, and outro was completed with simple movements and put together with the music. By now I had switched to using Magix Movie Edit Pro for video production. It's similar in price and features to the Corel software, but the Magix editor allows any track to be video or audio, while Corel is limited to three audio tracks.

Stable Relationships
Goodbye, bike!
Dahon bike

On March 3, 2013, my Dahon folding bike was gone when I came out of Whole Foods. I bought it in the fall of 2007 as an upgrade from a Cruiser Classic I'd been using since 1992. The "Vitesse" is a sleek, light, seven speed folding bike with 20" wheels. The thief must have cut the cable lock and rode away during the 15 minutes I was in the store.

As I walked home, I waved to a police car that drove by. The officer said to report it, but chances are I'd never get it back, especially with no serial number, pretty much what I thought. I used their online system to file the report.

This was a first for me. I've had bikes all my life and never had one stolen. The new Vitesse model costs about double what I originally paid.

That afternoon I retrieved the cruiser from storage. After an hour or two of cleaning, it was ready to ride. I also gave it a new set of handlebar grips and a longer seat post—the old one was always a bit low for my long legs—and the trusty old cruiser is back in service.

Cruiser bike
Studio stoop downsized

The roof over the back french doors of Sala Grande had suffered water damage and needed to be restructured to eliminate a rotten roof corner and the post holding it up.

Luckily, the sheathing was arranged to allow easily removing the front half of the roof—as if I'd anticipated this possibility when I first built it.

I resupported the roof with diagonal struts, cut away the front section and added a facia board. A bright red-orange paint was the finishing touch to a cheerful and functional new design.

old stoop

new stoop

Unexpected good fortune

Two small but welcome bits of luck came my way as Thanksgiving approached. First was the cancellation of a jury summons scheduled for November 21. I'd been notified a month before and really didn't want to go again—it would be the fifth time in the last ten years. I've never actually served on a jury, and never would because of my support for jury nullification (judges don't agree), so it was an unwelcome adventure. When I checked the afternoon before for my report time, I discovered that all jurors were excused, hundreds of us. Apparently, the courts were taking a holiday break. I imagined that I heard a collective cheer over Tucson. Few people actually want to do this and resent being forced to under threat of legal penalty. That's freedom for you.

The second bit of luck came on a routine trip to Trader Joe's a few days later. As the cashier began to load the canvas bag I bring—one of theirs I'd bought a few years before—I explained that the small towel I'd placed on the bottom should stay because the fabric was wearing out on the bottom and the towel was there to extend the life of the bag. They tend to remove it and I have to explain each time.

"Oh, you're the guy. I remember you," he said. Then he retrieved a new bag from a nearby rack and began packing the groceries.

New Bag

A jobless year winds down

As 2013 came to a close with no new book projects, I decided to try Facebook's display advertising for my illustration service. Unlike Google and Bing, they allow use of an image (I chose my logo banner) along with the same amount of limited text, and the rates are in the same range. I could also set an age limit for the targeted market to eliminate kids from using up the small number of clicks I could afford. It would be interesting to see if people who clicked on this ad were more likely to be potential clients. Google and Bing ad clicks rarely, if ever, generated a viable inquiry.


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