Turntable tempted

I mean it even has USB

I mean it even has USB

I am a mighty oak. I have $49.99 but I did not spend $49.99 on a turntable. I resisted and bought the cheapest 3’ HDMI cable I could find.

Before we moved to Tacoma, we lived in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, OR. St. Johns was a small town that was merged into Portland back in the ‘30s. St. Johns has it’s own little downtown and feels slightly different from the rest of Portland. It’s one of the more diverse neighborhoods in Portland, though new housing development and rising costs will probably ruin that soon.

On the West Coast, pizza is generally pretty poor. Recall that “barbecue chicken pizza” was invented in California. But here and there you can find a pizza place that understands that pizza is bread and you must make good bread first and then worry about the rest.

In St. Johns there is an old gas station that has been converted into a pizza place. They make a flavorful dough that bakes up with a chewy center and crispy exterior. It’s not the best I’ve had, but it’s very good for Portland. They sell whole pies or slices. On many Saturdays I would walk over and get a slice or two and a beer. The kids who worked there had a tiny little turntable and a milk crate of punk rock records. They played those records at full blast, distorting the sound and rattling the windows.

I paid for college making pizza, though it wasn’t in nearly as romantic a place. Not a small part of me wants to run away and join the circus get a job at that pizza place. If I buy the record player now then maybe I could borrow some of their records…

Work / art / life balance

Portrait of Gary Procreate for iPad Pro

Portrait of Gary
Procreate for iPad Pro

I returned to life drawing on Thursday after a very long break. Gary was our model. He’s one of my favorites. He’s a pleasant older man who sits rock-still without fidgeting. He’s one of the few figure models who can hold a pose without slowly slumping and melting into the earth as the night wears on. He’s also visually interesting - a Peter Graves type.

Rough drawing under the painting

Rough drawing under the painting

I failed to make it to figure drawing for a long while thanks to a terrible, tedious, but necessary project at work. Our predecessors, founders of the company and terrible engineers, made poor choices for just about everything except for the basic concept for the web site. One particular technology choice has been a plague of failure for about 5 years. Our task was to rip this out down to the roots. This required lots of error prone rework and migration of data and many late nights of incremental releases which threatened to bring all things down around us.

But now the dragon is slain and I have my Thursdays back again. I missed the regular practice. I miss forcing myself to make the best of bad lighting, weird angles, or a fidgety model. Drawing from life is such good practice.

While I was busy my painting app had a major upgrade. Procreate 4 has an updated painting “engine” which handles blending of digital paint in this eerily lifelike way. I’ve talked before about how working with layering color in a digital medium takes a bit of brain twisting to get used to. The team at Procreate has removed a lot of that problem. The digital paint just sort of works the way you expect it to. It’s incredible. I would buy it twice if I could.

Procreate 4

Tomatoes Procreate 4 for iPad

Procreate 4 for iPad

The mad geniuses at Savage Interactive have released Procreate 4 for iPad and iOS 11. Version 4 is a free update. A fresh new license costs only $9.99 from the App Store. This is a complete purchase. There are no subscriptions or in-app purchases to unlock additional features.

The updated UX for Procreate puts more actions closer to your fingertips and mirrors the design language of iOS 11

The updated UX for Procreate puts more actions closer to your fingertips and mirrors the design language of iOS 11

This software is criminally underpriced. Low prices are the hallmark of the new app-store software economy, and generally I think this is a good thing. But when I think back to the many hundreds of dollars I spent licensing Adobe software way back when, I feel tremendous pangs of guilt. I would like to buy it twice. I want them to sell t-shirts or something. This software is just too good for the price.

Procreate 4 has been updated to be consistent with the design language of iOS 11 and it feels right at home on my iPad. It takes full advantage of drag and drop features of iOS 11 - so importing brushes or images is a simple and intuitive operation, instead of many taps and swipes. The heart of this update, though, is the new rendering engine they’re calling Silica M built on Apple’s low-level GPU library Metal.

This new painting engine is the closest I’ve ever felt to “real” painting. Everything is faster and more responsive, which is great. But there’s something about how color lays down and blends with the new smudging tools and wet brush dynamics. Digital painting has, for me, always required bending my mind into thinking about digital color. Most digital painting tools - including industry standard Photoshop - pile color up in this weird additive way that works mathematically but doesn’t mirror the mental model of painting. Procreate 4 subverts all of that. The paint now feels like paint - it’s the hardest thing to articulate but there’s simply less mental friction in putting color down and it doing what I expect it to do. Perhaps the “M” in Silica M stands for “Mind-reading”.

Twitter cleaning


Last Sunday I took a little time to consolidate my Twitters. I have two accounts, one mostly received updates from this site - @abouthalf and the other a “personal” account (@device55 - now defunct and private) which got most of my Instagram posts and my blog posts and whatnot.

This was silly. Why have two when I could have one? I don’t have an evil twin (that I know of) nor do I manage multiple brands. I don’t need two accounts.

I chose to sun-down my “primary” @device55 account. The username is terrible. I picked “device55” as an email handle a million years ago. That became a user name on Twitter and other places. But it’s terrible. If you have a username with a number in it you are either not very creative or you are late to the platform and your name was sniped.

Going forward, all of my Twittering will occur on my now-primary @abouthalf account. It’s a better username, it matches my website, and I can start fresh.

I took the opportunity to clean out all the junk accounts I didn’t need to follow. I stripped down everything to real people I really know, a couple of artists, and actually useful things like my local news.

I copied my following list over to my @abouthalf account, cleaned up my profile a bit, and it’s my new Twitter home. To discourage use of my old handle, I’ve made that account private, and left a tweet pinned with instructions to find me.

I have mixed feelings about Twitter. In contrast, I love Instagram. I hate that it’s owned by Facebook, and I hate their auto-playing video ads. But I love the simplicity of the concept. Hey you. Look at this.

But Twitter is weird. Neither fish nor fowl. When someone needs to share something longer than 140 characters they resort to screen capturing a note and sharing the image. Or they do a horrible tweet thread - stringing together tens of tweets in a row trying to make a single complex point. The format can be terrible. It is good for posting links and pictures and quips. Since RSS is a dying form, it’s one of the major ways people subscribe to content they want to read on the internet. I think if you want to be read, it’s wise to have a Twitter account.

Twitter is a company with no spine or moral center. Twitter refuses to police its users and refuses to take any sort of moral stand against horrifying content. It’s an unquestionably useful and valuable platform, but it’s hard to reconcile its value with how terrible it can be. I am torn - do I enable something awful by using it, or do I perhaps by actively trying not to be terrible and contribute to terribleness? I hope it’s the former.

Lurking danger

I have just returned from celebrating my 10th anniversary on the achingly beautiful island of Kauai where danger lurks behind every turn.

These signs are at every trailhead and most beaches. They all seem to be saying the same thing: "This isn't Disney World, this is real life".

Why do you like painting?

Limes Painted with ProCreate for iPad

Painted with ProCreate for iPad

On Labor Day I took a break from painting to go have lunch with my wife. Labor Day requires at least one cheeseburger. She asked me an obvious, straightforward question that I, honestly, have never been asked: “What do you like about painting?”

I had never really considered it, not in those blunt terms. What a good question! I tried to come up with a good answer. I can tell you what I like about a painting. But why do I like to do the thing? I thought about it for a bit and came up with the following.

Shameless pride: It’s really gratifying to do something that most people can’t or can’t do well. This is shallow, but it’s honest.

Magic: Somehow the careful arrangement of colored mud or pixels becomes something else. This is the appeal of painterly illusion: tricking your brain (and other’s brains) into seeing something that isn’t there. If a painting goes particularly well, though, the colored mud or pixels can also create feelings and trigger thoughts or ideas. This is true of any art form, of course, but I personally find pictures particularly powerful in this way.

Meditation: Painting is slow and quiet and methodical. If things are going well I can find myself in a state of flow and lose myself.

Happy accidents: Yes I’m quoting Bob Ross. Come at me. Paintings are constructed. Even when you’re working spontaneously from life, you still have to plan, compose, and strategize. No plan is complete though, and accidents happen. Sometimes they turn out pretty good.

That doesn’t feel complete, but it feels like a good start.

Tacoma Dome Station Construction

Tacoma Dome Station Construction 8" × 8" Acrylic on birch panel

Tacoma Dome Station Construction
8" × 8" Acrylic on birch panel

Spring and summer have gone but the new Amtrak terminal is still under construction. Each day before my morning commute I have watched workers build a retaining wall, pour a concrete passenger platform, rip up the old platform and put it back together, and lately weld the superstructure for a passenger shelter.

It took a couple of weeks to build that retaining wall. Underneath the concrete there are large steel I-beams driven into the earth. Between the beams, fitted into the slots made by the “I” shape, are large slabs of wood. This lumber was stacked in great cubes along the wall. The workmen trimmed this lumber to length by hand, with a chainsaw. Each piece slid down in between the I-beams. Sometimes they would level the pieces out with a small shim. I never saw them make a mistake, even though they completely eye-balled each cut.

At the time this work was going on my work was not going particularly well. I was jealous of the clear and obvious progress these guys made every day. I am sure some days were better than others, but at the end of each day there was more retaining wall than there was the day before. Today the wall is here. Yesterday it was back there. Tomorrow it will be over there. Working on software can often feel abstract and phony by comparison.

This new Amtrak station will be next door to the commuter rail station. Both of these have been grafted into the semi-historic Freighthouse Square which a century ago was a warehouse at the end of a freight railway. Today it’s full of funky shops and fast food. There is a very promising looking Mexican restaurant there. It’s a weird ramshackle place. It’s very Tacoma. Looking forward while holding on to the past.

Back in June I arrived to wait for the train into Seattle and watched workers tying rebar into place so that the new passenger platform could be poured on top. They crouched before the new retaining wall, and above them is the freshly scraped hillside that leads up to a Best Western and the famous Tacoma Dome. I snapped several photos on the sly. For this painting I used elements from a couple of my photos. I used Pixelmator to rearrange the perspective a bit. I like how the under-construction landscape came together as repeating layers of blue and orange. You might have to squint a bit - but the sky is blue - of course, the earth is orangey brown, the concrete is blue-grey, the lumber concrete forms are burnt orange, the asphalt and gravel are blue grey, and the railroad tracks are rusted orange. I liked the contrast between the depth of the landscape layers against their graphical horizontal stacking. Less formally (romantically) I liked the one worker alone focused on his job. He was in a state of flow - I’ve had that. I was slightly jealous of his work, alone, in the morning sun. I was not jealous of his future back-ache.

This painting is acrylic on an 8″ square birch panel. I love the way acrylic paint behaves on these panels. You can apply thin paint and achieve watercolor like effects, or go thick, and build up a heavy impasto. You can lay down a wash of color, which stays damp while soaked into the grain of the wood, then build heavier color on top which blends into the color beneath, but just a little. The birch has a nice warm, but neutral, color so there’s no need to under-paint. The panel is light enough that pencil sketches are clear, but dark enough that you have contrast with lighter colors and whites. I also like the “object-ness” of these little panels. Even though it’s very small and light, it feels like a ‘thing’ in a way that’s different from a store bought canvas.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Overall this painting took about 8 hours to complete from set-up to varnish. It was nice to have a day off.