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An Artist's Journey

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Chapter 21: 

Doing What You Love
Is What Makes You Rich!



My minimalist kitchen is ignited by late January sunlight

Kitchen scene

I plod on with animation projects that will probably never pay off money-wise, but they enrich me on personal levels. The work brings into play all the skills I've developed in design, illustration and writing, but extends them into video production which involves audio and the dimension of time. It puts me on a steady, often intense, learning curve that I enjoy immensely even though it's sometimes frustrating. Thankfully, there are abundant free tutorials on YouTube for just about anything one wishes to learn—another benefit of the digital age.

For The Egg 2, I experimented with animation functions in Adobe Flash and Photoshop. Issues with Flash made PhotoShop the better choice for what I wanted to do and I completed the production, but PhotoShop has limitations when used for animation. Before starting the next project I tried out a free trial of Toon Boom Harmony, an industry standard. It's a great program but the essential version is not quite versitile enough, and the next level up, the version I really need, is a budget buster.

More research turned up a review of the animation capabilities of Adobe After Effects. I wasn't familiar with the program and hadn't installed it even though it was available as part of my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Prompted by the review, I dove in and discovered that its animation functions are comparable to Toon Boom. So much so that my next production, The Egg 3, is well underway with After Effects. For everything else I need to do, I can get by for now with the CS6 versions of PhotoShop and Illustrator along with video and audio editing programs from Magix that I already own. So I changed the full Creative Cloud subscription to a single app option for After Effects for $20/month—a welcome relief from the $50 full subscription.


Officially un-retired?

I've removed mention of retiring my illustration service from my website to not completely discourage inquiries for paying work. Extra income could enable an upgrade to a mid to upper-level video work station PC along with a full Creative Cloud subscription to not be limited by inadequate processing power or software as I move on. Still, I don't really miss business and it would take a very interesting, well-paying assignment to drag me away from my personal projects.

I took a break from the next Egg episode to create this


Visit my YouTube channel here to see all my videos


Pen tablet upgrade

My Wacom pen tablet, a large Intuos 3, is 11 years old and showing it's age. An upgrade had been on my wish list for a while, but with the iffy economic climate and the old unit still functional, I was reluctant to dip into savings. Holiday discounts were tempting, but when B&H Photo continued the discounted price after the holidays, I reconsidered and decided to order the Inuos Pro Medium. The wear pattern on the surface of my old large tablet exactly fit the active area of the medium, so the large size was unnecessary for me.

The tablet arrived on February 1 and was immediately put into service. It has twice the sensitivity of the old model for more precise control. The pen feels good in the hand and on the velvety surface. It's also wireless with no lag time. With its smaller footprint and accompanied by a wireless keyboard and mouse, my desktop is uncluttered. All that makes it a keeper.

Other features, include touch capability and an array of controls on the side. Unfortunately, the two-finger zoom doesn't work with my CS6 programs unless the contol key is also pressed, so two hands are needed and that critical touch feature is defeated.


The side controls are OK, and I'm sure many folks will like them. The various buttons can be assigned to different functions, but not to all the controls I routinely need. All in all, I prefer using the keyboard. For me, this is a worthwhile upgrade as a professional-grade pen tablet, but I don't need the bells and whistles and disabled them. The touch functions all work fine with the Chrome web browser, so it is sometimes turned on.



I came across a photo that inspired this portrait. It was just a 30-minute session. Usually, I'd keep working with it for another hour or two to develop the details, but there was a spirit I liked at this stage so declared it done. Making this kind of art is relaxing and invigorating at the same time. It primes me with renewed enthusiasm for the on-going animation project. I love animation, but it can be tedious.

Portrait 001


The Rust Queen

This is, the latest incarnation of an old water heater tank. Her necklace is made from old nails and chain. She stands guard outside the back door of my studio.



The opening scene to The Egg 3

Work on the next episode of The Egg is progressing nicely as I get more comfortable with Adobe After Effects. It is a powerful program that allows composing complex scenes containing dozens of graphic and sound elements. However, I must first write a script and create those elements, hence the lengthy time frame to complete a single scene, not to mention a complete episode with several scenes including audio tracks with music, sound effects and voices for each character. I have a renewed appreciation for the folks who produce animated programs, and envy the small army of graphic artists, musicians, writers and technitions they employ to create them.


My first video editorial cartoon

I've done several animated GIF cartoons over the past few years, but that file format doesn't allow audio. These characters were limited to a side view and the background was kept simple so the 45 sec. production could be completed in a few days.


SNAP surprise!

The Great Recession has not receded for some of us, so I've been renewing food stamp benefits every six months. Although the maximum allowed for a single person is now $194/month, the most I've ever recieved was $111 in 2010. However, that was lowered to $94 when I applied in 2014, then $81 the time after that when the Medicare payment was no longer deducted from my already meager Social Security check.

When I reapplied in February for another six months, I discovered that my out-of-pocket dental expenses were not being deducted unless they happened to occur in the month I renewed my application, and then only if it was before I applied. The interviewer informed me that I could report a change of income after the dental appointment I had scheduled for the next week and they could recalculate my benefit with that expense factored in. She gave me a different number to call for another interview after I reported the change on-line.

The day after the appointment, I reported the expense on my account then called the number provided for another interview. My best expectation was for perhaps a $10-20/month increase for the six-month period.

It might take several calls before the automated system recognizes my case number, or, once that hurdle is cleared, it might not recognize my PIN. When I do get through, the interview process can take a while. First one must wait until an agent is available—a few minutes to half an hour or more—then, after explaining why I called, another wait of about 30 minutes while the interviewer goes through all the data and recalculates the benefit. I've learned to take this in stride. It's just the way the system works. Occasionally the agent will ask a question or two, then it's back to elevator music as she (I've never had a male interviewer) continues "working my case". After a while, she returned to the phone and said,

"Ok, Mr. Berry, you will recieve the full amount allowed for a single person, $194, starting in March."

"Oh, my...that's good news!," I replied.


An interesting job pops up

My friend Debra Webster Irons has invested in a spec home now under construction. She asked If I would be willing to create an illustration showing how it will look when it's completed by painting over a photo of the construction site. She supplied other photos of accessories and local vegetation to incorporate into the finished illustration. Here's how it turned out:

This is the photo of the construction site that I began with

Hacienda photo ref

and this is the final illustration

Hacienda final art

I added clouds to activate the sky, and some of the local cacti to add interest to the foreground. Debra and her associates were very pleased with the result and the illustration will be the centerpiece of their marketing efforts. By law, my fee must now be reported to the state so they can recalculate my food stamp benefits.


Creating an inexpensive piano workstation

Since acquiring a Kawai digital piano in 2014 I have been unable to use the eMedia Intermediate Piano Course that I purchased a year earlier. Up to then, I used a small, portable 49-key, then later a 61-key unit placed on the desk in front of the main computer monitor when I wanted to practice. However, the new piano is 88 keys with it's own stand and it's own place in my studio. I could still practice with printouts of lessons and sheet music, but not the interactive audio and video components of the eMedia software.

The first solution was to enhance the piano with an old, 24" monitor that had been sitting around collecting dust. My Samsung tablet connects to it with an HDMI cable adapter so sheet music stored on the tablet can display on the monitor large enough to be easily seen without glasses.

Piano workstation

However, the lesson software would not run on the tablet and even if it could, the monitor has no speakers.

So, I found a refurbished, small form factor, Core 2 Duo computer on Overstock.com that fit my budget.

Although inexpensive, the computer is more than up to the task. It upgraded from Windows 7 Pro to Windows 10 Pro and runs the piano course easily. I added a pair of speakers and have happily resumed my lessons.


Healthcare, American-style!

Today, April 19, I received a call from the eye clinic that repaired the cataract in my right eye last summer. It seems that the insurance provider that handles my Medicare account has refused to pay them —something to do with corporate shuffling. That means the bill has come back to me and I now owe the clinic. They had mercy and offered a discounted price based on the amount Medicare would have approved* and I agreed to pay something every month to, hopefully, pay it off in a year. That was fine with them.

I'm convinced that this was no fault of theirs—it's a set of circumstances generated by the arcane, convoluted, bureaucratic workings of health insurance in America. I'm not allowed to change providers until the fall, but will see if I can find one that will cover the next eye surgery at the same clinic.

*The difference can be dramatic. In this case, I will pay a total of about $900 for a $2,500 procedure.



Shortly after being paid for the house illustration, I dutifully reported the income on my on-line Healthearizona account where one applies for nutrition assistance. After that, another interview is required to recalculate the amount one receives. I called, and after several tries to get the automated system to acknowledge my case number and PIN, an agent , Jenny, answered. After gathering all the necessary information, she said, "Ok, Mr. Berry, I need to transfer you to another agent who can determine how to adjust your benefit."

She transfered my call to another line where I got a recorded announcement that they were experiencing a heavy call load. "Please hang up and try again later. Good bye."

Over the next two days, I tried several times to resume the interview, but again the automated system could not recognize my case number. It finally did, but then failed to recognize my PIN and I was prompted to reset it. I reset it to the same number. That was verified and I was directed to call in again.

I called a few more times with no success. On my last attempt, I got a recorded report on the status of my application. The robo-voice recited my case number correctly, said that my application was approved as of February 11 (that was two months before I reported new income), then stated the amounts I received in March and April ($194 each, as actually happened) but then said something odd.

"You are approved until March, 2018, and must renew your application by February, 2018."

That would mean two more years of nutrition assistance, but I thought it could only be approved for six-month periods! This was all so odd that I decided to stop calling and just wait to see if I receive another $194 in May, or some other amount or complete cancellation because the interview wasn't finished. At this point I have no idea what's happening.

Update: 1May—The full amount was in my EBT (electronic benefit transfer) account this morning.

Update: 9May—A letter came from DES stating that my January application for SNAP benefits was denied. I assume this means there will be no money available on 1 June.

Update: 1June—There was no deposit in my EBT account.


Box garden

The recently re-fenced back yard area (chapter 19) continued to develop with this box garden made in April.

An old, heavy-duty plastic storage container serves as the liner, and lumber from my stockpile forms an outer shell that can be lifted away if needed.

Holes were drilled in the bottom of the container for drainage, then garden soil added on top of a few inches of small rocks and rubble lining the bottom.

Box Garden


Geometry in bamboo

Gazing at this recently completed piece of yard art can be mesmerizing—like looking into a 3-dimensional mandala.

Bamboo Geometry

The bamboo framework is a representation of the same polyhedron that inspired the loft structure built atop the casita (Chapter 8). It's composed of the six square sides of a cube and the eight equilateral triangle sides of an octahedron—a cubeoctahedron. The primary edge length is 36". Cross braces were added to each corner of the square sides to form a another square, and the triangle sides were subdivided into four subtriangles. Lastly, a crystal is suspended in the center with very thin fishing line so it can, from some viewing angles, appear to float there.

This particular bamboo grows in my yard and can be found throughout Tucson. The structure was completely made from materials on hand and cost nothing. It should hold up to the elements for a few years or to a rambunctious dog or curious child for a few seconds.


No stone unturned

Creative stacking is a fun way to deal with the rocks and rubble that accumulate around the yard.

Rubblestack Rock stack


A lily of the field

In mid-May, I was surprised to receive a substantial check, a gift from cosmic friend Stan. With the probable end of food stamps in June and the cataract surgery that I'm now expected to pay for, it came at a good time. I am awed by my economic survival.



Also in May, I set to work repairing an adobe archway that had deteriorated greatly since it was first built in 1983 by Dan Castelan (see chapter 8). It was a major chore that took about a month of working a few hours each morning before the sun got too hot.

This is the beginning stages of repairs. There was severe erosion around the bases of each column and bricks were about to fall from underneath the arch.

Archway before repair

Dirt from around the archway was passed through an old window screen to remove stones and organic debris, then mixed with water into a workable consistancy. The mud was pressed into the surface a handful at a time with fingertips, especially the thumbs (I wore rubberized work gloves). The surface was first dampened with splashes of water and frequently sprayed as I worked so that the mud would stick. With a little practice, the right mud consistancy and surface wetness reveals itself.

This is the archway after repairs were done and it was completely covered with mud. When rain threatens, tarps protect the structure from melting away.

Archway after repairs

Camera upgrade

After window-shopping for a camera for months, a refurbished Samsung NX 3300 became available. It would replace my 10-year-old Canon Powershot, a 6MP point and shoot, that had served me well but was limited by it's tiny sensor and relatively low pixel count. The NX has a large, 20MP APS-C sensor, wi-fi capability, a series of interchangeable lenses (if one can afford them) and at $249 was less than I paid for the Canon in 2006. The price included a general purpose 20mm-50mm lens. That's not a lot of zoom capability, but the images are so pixel-dense that much detail is preserved.

This was an inexpensive way to dive into the world of major megapixels. The quality of the images in even this low-end cameral compare well with those shot with my old Pentax Spotmatic SLR 35mm film camera. However, there is no comparison to the convenience and flexiblility of working with digital files over working with film. Just the absence of dust and scratches is a game changer.

This full-frame shot of a lizard in my yard is as close as the lens and circumstances allowed, but small sections of the image retain clarity when enlarged.


Lizard detail


A summer of outdoor projects

Next up was a re-do of a section of the path in the backyard. The first step was to remove the old elements and gather enough stray bricks from around the yard to complete a new path.

Path_01 Path_02

Fortunately, I found just enough extra pieces to get the job done. All the parts were put in place, then each fit into it's new, designated space. This took some time because thickness varied from brick to brick, so each needed a customized base.

Path_03 Path_04

The design of the path was determined by the materials. I don't think there's another path-worthy brick or piece of a brick left in my yard after this project.



Shadow painting

A shadow cast by bamboo onto this old concrete slab inspired me to attempt to capture it in paint. On sunny days it mingles with the actual shadow and is not so noticeable. On overcast days, when this photo was taken, the painting seems like a normal shadow at first glance, but can be momentarily disorienting on second glance as one realizes that there should be no shadow at all.

Sumi shadow

This photo of a section of it resembles a sumi ink painting. Black latex paint was watered down to the consistency of ink and the concrete absorbed it somewhat like ink wash on paper. I signed the photo with red to continue the resemblance.

Sumi Shadow art


Storage, north wall

Evolution of a storage porch

Last year, I built a new support wall for the porch on the east side of my studio (see chapter 20). It was a necessary first step, but more remained to be done.

This fall, the process continued with the goal of creating a more protected storage area. The north and south ends were still open to the weather. Stuff could easily blow around or get wet.

A second goal was to further organize what had accumulated, including eliminating whatever seemed completely useless. One rule of thumb is to toss anything I haven't used for 20 years or more. That rule is often broken, however.

And a third goal was to construct as much as I could with existing stockpiles of old lumber.

The plan on the left for the north wall yielded the result on the right

Storage plan Storage result north

The same plan was applied to the south wall with this result.

Storage south result

The new walls integrate nicely with the existing support wall and the interior space is much more efficiently used. I was even able to get all my file boxes of records and old projects out of the studio since they would now have a different protected place to stay.

All remaining longer boards from my stash were used up. The doors are the size they are because they were made from the longest boards left after building the walls.

The only expenses for this phase of the porch project were the purchase of a small gate latch for one of the doors (I had one on hand for the other door) and the steel shelf unit. It was on sale for $54 with no tax and free shipping from Rakuten.

Storage new interior

Back to animation

After finishing the porch revision, I was able to return to animation with renewed enthusiasm. This piece was based on wood scraps that suggested characters and landscape elements. The action arose naturally after placing them in the setting.


The 2D (flat) artwork is arranged in virtual 3D space so that a camera can pan and zoom just as can be done on an actual stage set in movie making. This little production just scratches the surface of what can be done in this mode with Adobe AfterEffects, but future work will experiment with it more.

To better support this move into 3D, my graphics processer was upgraded to a Radeon Pro WX 5100—a holiday gift to myself and a substantial step up in processing power from the Quadro K620 I'd been using for two years.


What better way to wind down the year than with a portrait of our soon-to-be President


The new year promises more surprising, shocking developments as this unlikely President-elect assumes the most powerful political position in the world. It will be fascinating to watch, that's for sure.

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