offset \ˈȯf-ˌset\ noun

a force or influence that makes an opposing force ineffective or less effective

Nope, No Break

Murphy holds true to his word. Just when you think that things can't be worse, they just get worse. I was really convinced that this time the troubles would be over, that finally we were on track to normalcy, but no such luck. Before all, we're fine. Nothing bad happened to us. It's just that the plethora of bad stuff happening to the people around us is making us really unfocused. To be honest, I don't know even where to start, but I'll try.

My family first. In one of the recent posts, I mentioned open heart surgery of one of my family members. It was my Dad. The pandemic happened so it was very difficult to schedule the surgery. Most of the hospitals turned into COVID-19 hospitals and the whole medical system got severely understaffed so things were on hold. Once it was finally scheduled, the actual procedure went well. Dad got a valve replacement and a triple bypass without major issues, but it left a nasty scar.

Some weeks passed and the recovery was steady, but slow. However, this year had more in store for us. The big scar I mentioned - Dad got a MRSA infection. All in all we considered ourselves lucky as it didn't happen immediately after the surgery so there was less chance of complications and he was a bit stronger as well. Targeted antibiotics did their work, but the delivery mechanism was IV, so he had to be in the hospital for a month and receive a drip. Some 200 bottles later, he got home. Blood vessels all messed up, arms swollen, but alive. Everyone was happy and relieved.

Except he seemed to have picked up COVID-19 in the hospital. A few days later, the family members who were involved with caring for my Dad started showing symptoms. Some tested positive, everyone else went into self-isolation. I kept in touch as they all developed fever, general fatigue, lack of breath, loss of senses of smell and taste, but all I could really do was wait. Dad had it the worst. No matter the antipyretic treatment, the high fever was not going down. They kept battling to get it down, but it was not happening and it became clear he would need to go back to the hospital.

Which is when it also became clear that the system was collapsing. His GP said he needed to be hospitalized, but the ambulance wouldn't pick him up as they made an internal arbitrary call that he was "not in a life threatening situation". How they judged that based on a phone call and against a GP's recommendation, will remain a mystery, but they did complain about not having the right protective equipment. At this point, the entire household was in self-isolation so nobody could drive him. The national public health emergency service, who are supposed to have the answers to these questions, said they didn't know what to do, but to try the police. The police very helpfully determined that this wasn't in their jurisdiction, but that leaving the household would be, as it would be considered an offense. It took three days to negotiate my Dad's transport to the hospital.

He got diagnosed with COVID-19 related pneumonia and placed into the ward with fifty patients, one practitioner and two nurses. Then he took a turn for the worse and got hooked up to oxygen and fed a cocktail of other medications to combat the condition. Days passed, we didn't know if he would make it. But he did, he got better and got released, still with pneumonia, but there was a constant influx of new patients in need of beds. He lost around 20 kg, in the first days he could not speak and could barely eat.

In the meantime, on the other end of the country, while nobody was looking, grandma contracted coronavirus, developed an abdominal aneurysm, ended up in a hospital, got transported back to the nursing home because there was nothing to be done and died. The funeral was held with only a few family members attending.

Then there are the earthquakes. Nobody got hurt, but everybody is still shook up and the afterquakes keep a lot of people perpetually anxious. Other family members and friends have also contracted the virus and recovered in the meantime. The country is doing a poor job of controlling the spread, but life waits for no-one and now there are various other complications arising from it.

Sigh. We're still here, some 2000 km away, with our third lockdown in effect. As I write this, my laptop managed to die so I hooked the drive up to a different PC to complete this article. We're healthy, both mentally and physically, we're not leaving the apartment. It is just incredibly difficult to force ourselves to do something constructive. 2020 cannot come to an end soon enough. Looking forward to 2021 and some more happy articles. Stay safe.

Growing Pains

It's the start of October. This year's Autumn started, FWIW. Once again life interfered with my writing schedule. Aside from the pandemic, and the health situation back home, I also quit my job. It's like a torrent of events that never ends. I am happy, though. I joined the remote workers' club by starting a job for a company in New York that does genomics. I am a part of the engineering team that handles their software needs. The codebase of the projects we have is very functional. Everything passes through proper channels and is working efficiently. Switching to a Mac was frustrating at first because I've been a Linux person for a long time, certified to work with software in most major distributions, but I am getting a hang of it. The field the company works in, genomics, is a very interesting field providing insight into building blocks of organisms. I am still battling the administrative part of starting a home office, like invoicing and reclaiming costs. I don't have a proper working desk yet because IKEA is slow to replenish their stock. Yup, growing pains.

We also had to go to the embassy to prolong our absence from the country because the notification expired. I started collecting the papers for the citizenship application. There are some hoops to jump through, but my application should be straightforward enough. One other thing to look forward to.

In other news, Vesna and I didn't travel anywhere, despite her low-key campaign to just "go for it", and the upcoming second wave of pandemic is making things even scarier. Instead of spending money on travel expenses, we've invested in some additional household items to automate things further. The ever growing family of devices was joined by one smart kettle and a robotic vacuum cleaner. They both work great and are following a schedule that we're accustomed to already. The amount of menial tasks is reduced and now we can focus more on things that matter. Things that make us happy.

Right now I think that the amount of crazy is diminishing and I can start properly writing, painting, programming, cooking.

I know that Hacktoberfest and Inktober started, both with their share of drama. Hacktoberfest started with spam on the GitHub repos, and Inktober had the controversy between the author of it, Jake Parker, and Alphonso Dunn, who claims that Jake Parker stole content from Alphonso Dunn's book. I actually bought the Pen and Ink drawing book some time ago. I like how Dunn is presenting his material. His channel on YouTube is really good to learn from.

The following month is NaGa DeMon and NaNoWriMo, but I am already playing catch-up with all of the things I failed to do in the past few months. Not that you need a special event to do things, but it's good to have all of them so you can get inspired to do things on your own.

Vesna got me one of those fancy gloves that has only two fingers for gliding across the graphics tablet so I don't leave sweat stains all over. I am painting, but it's nothing to show because it's a learning process. Recently, for most of the time I've just been doing it for the sake of doing it, building a routine. I also bought a new version of Corel Painter, 2021 to be exact. So I will get my bearings and figure out the right workflow so I can start doing digital artwork more seriously. I sure could use that desk I keep trying to order from IKEA.

Also, if you are interested in cooking, Wil Yeung has a great channel with recipes so be sure to check it out if you want to try some new things. Ramen with peanuts is very nice.

Summer Staycation

I wish I had something else to write about. The pandemic is preventing us from traveling far, although I don't mind it too much. We explored all the nearby parks within 5 km from our place, and even went on a small adventure just outside the city borders to see a bit of open fields. There's still a lot of daylight and that dull gray that's characteristic to Ireland most of the year is still not in full effect. Sure, they say the green is dominant, and the grass is very soft, but being placed north does funny things to the diurnal cycle.

We went around the city to see Wicklow Head Lighthouse, Kilmacurragh Botanic Gardens, the town of Athy and spent a night in a countryside accommodation. Then the next day we saw the rock of Dunamase, Emo Court, the town of Monasterevin, Kildare National Stud and Japanese Gardens, St. Brigid's Well and went back home.


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It seems a lot, but in reality, it's a small circle around the capital and getting outside was to run away from the city concrete, glass and steel. Two days in total.

Aside from that, there was a medical emergency in my family involving an open heart surgery, which had me worried. The pandemic is not helping, I am 2k km away, no visitations. Croatia is not on the Irish green list. Still, it turned out OK in the end so that's one thing less to worry over.

I also handed in my notice and will be joining the ever-growing family of remote workers. It was a tough decision to make, but it should be the right one. Hindsight is always 20/20. I'll write more about it once it starts.

On other fronts, I ordered some more hardware for my hydroponics project. I cut through some plastic bottles and as a proof of concept, it seems to work. It's still a long way to go before I can give out details about it. I use Shamrock in the software part of it and I had to publish a new version of the library I already wrote about. Trefle released a new version of the API so I had to keep up. It went well.

Right now I am on my holidays so I am getting all of the things I missed doing in order. I am actually glad I got on track the first day which is always good, even though it's sometimes as dull as figuring out the finances. We have a year of orderly payments for the apartment loan behind us.

I am still drawing/painting digitally, but lately it's just been to get it done each day. I have to focus to do something proper while this period was as turbulent as it can be. Hopefully, aside from the status update, I can write about something substantial in a few days. Staying put.

Thread the Needle

I cannot get my mind to turn off. There is always something, like a plethora of problems that I need to solve. Not the world ones. I get to think about my own. Be it from what to eat the next day, over trivial things regarding programming issues at work, to the more difficult, existential ones. What I am trying to say is that there is always something. Always.

My hiatus of not drawing and painting has been too long and it has to stop. There is always something to throw the proverbial spanner in the machine and right now I need to find the time to address it. Expressing myself visually can provide that much needed meditative state where I can just do things with a small amount of problem solving. Music can help there. Align my thoughts and fill the void of silence.

Then a week goes by and it goes untouched

Then two, then three, then a month

So let's do something about it. First stop, get some coffee. Second one, play some music. Third one, get my sketchbook and label it "...bad drawings". Check. That should be a psychological trick to let go of the perfection that is the enemy of productivity, or so they say. Feels weird to hold a pencil and write letters again instead of typing. So to continue writing this.

I don't plan to focus that much on the traditional aspect so the sketchbook will most likely be a doodling aid. I plan to focus more on digital. After all, I have the conditions, aside from proper desk space, but I can make do.

My hardware and software stack consists of Wacom Cintiq, Corel Painter and Krita for now.

One of the other bits of software I'd like to mention is Lazy Nezumi Pro. It can help a lot with its ruler and smoothing systems.

I listened to Vilppu interview ages ago. He mentioned that he rarely measures and does things by eyeballing. The crux of the matter, as I see it, is that you analyze when you're doing something. It's usually inseparable. We're our own worst critic. We'll recognize what's wrong and all we need to do is fix it. So iterate on the process.

Don't just copy things, but think them through. Analyze why something is the way it is and if you need to understand something, then get a reference. References are not a cop-out. They are the key to good research. We cannot know everything, but our visual library will improve in our heads, and if you keep things on your drive, then there, too. One of the applications that is good for displaying references is PureRef. I am using it to arrange references when doing art and I store some images on the external drive.

But before getting to the whole photography reference, try to draw from life. Especially when you can go around and see the subject. It is actually easier to study it.

Another advice would be to treat every artwork as a study. It ties in with that "bad drawings" thing above. It doesn't have to be made really carefully with expensive materials. Especially digitally today. So just do things, a 15 minute session at least. Then continue doing it every day.

Art is never finished. Only abandoned. We draw and paint until we feel it's good enough. We shouldn't stop until that moment. The internet is filled with "it took me three hours". Yeah, right. Don't lock yourself in that mode of thinking. Art takes time.

Artists differentiate between something that is done and the process to get there. I frequently need to remind myself that doing artwork is solving problems. The resulting solution is a done artwork.

So to summarize and expand (and read the list all the way because it's not in some specific order):

  1. You don't have to show your sketchbook to anyone. The sketches will look bad, but they will get better. Canvas is not supposed to be blank. It's supposed to be filled out. Better start now. It's a lifetime process that never ends. Try to have fun with it.
  2. Research the subject you're about to work on. Gather references. Put them in one location and use PureRef software to present them on one screen. The other one you can use to do art. Remember that a lot of the problem solving is seeing and understanding things.
  3. Warm up with some simple exercises. It will help with being afraid to start.
  4. Do thumbnails all the time. You can even scale them up digitally to work over them if needed. Remember you can layer things and save and undo digitally.
  5. Treat your art as a study instead of aiming for a finished product. You will be more daring and push more. Art cannot be grokked. It has to be acquired through repetition.
  6. Don't fall victim to getting a "great" work in a small amount of time. Sure, you can try speedpainting, but don't beat yourself up if things don't end up the way you intended. Speed will come eventually. Work on one thing as long as you like. When you start feeling bad, go to the next one. Don't associate bad feelings with doing art.
  7. When starting a new image, double the target resolution. For instance, I start with a 3840x2400 resolution that I can scale down to 1920x1200 at the end. Scaling things down makes them look better. The magic happens when you move away from a painting in a gallery and see it from a distance. You can and should also zoom out when doing art to see if the composition holds. Also flip and return.
  8. Depending on the process, you can start with either a white background to get the lines, or, if painting, start with a 50% gray background (or in some hue as well) to see where the middle of the contrast spectrum is located. Remember that you can always adjust brightness and contrast in the end.
  9. I start with a worn-out marker to not think about the details.
  10. The gesture based sketch is there to draw forces. That should come first. Don't be afraid to be messy.
  11. After the gesture is laid down, then comes the form. Form follows force, or force influences (conditions) form. Do it on another layer if needed.
  12. At this point, I switch to the real 2H drafting pencil and start on another layer. Try to make as little lines as possible to convey a concept. Less is more. Beholder will fill in the details. Your job is to make it look believable.
  13. Think before you make a line. Try drawing above the paper or graphics tablet to see where to put the line first, then place it afterwards. Be confident about placing it. You can always adjust, undo, or help yourself with smoothing in your application or with Lazy Nezumi Pro.
  14. Don't use the eraser until the last possible time when you're ready to clean up things. That is, don't use it until very late in the art process.
  15. If you want to do inking, you can do it digitally. I tend to use the thick and thin pen to draw lines to establish which bit is important. There are some techniques like stippling and crosshatching for this, if you want, of course. Corel Painter has some great inking tools, too. Ink behaves really nice if you want to experiment with that category. Do pens and inks above the pencil layer.
  16. This is a good point to start thinking about the light source. Thick lines are away from light, thin lines are close to it. Establishing gravity can also help in doing line weight. Cel shading uses edge detection. That algorithm comes from the real world thinking. In essence, where you can see two facets join, you put a thin line on that edge. Where you can see only one facet, do a thick one on that edge. All black areas are where the hardest shadows are located.
  17. Once you clean up the lineart the way you want, you can lock that layer and put it above all with the multiply blending mode on it. If you want to do comic-book art style.
  18. A side note: this is where the process diverges. If painting, you probably want to get rid of the lineart as soon as possible. Masking of the portions of the lineart layer is a good way to go about it because it's not destructive. Pinching lines also works. By removing the lineart, you remove the lower part of the value spectrum from an image so it tends to look bad, so do it as soon as possible when painting. Lines are just where areas meet. There is no line in reality. You work as you go. Paint in an area and hide the lines where needed.
  19. If continuing with the pencil, after initial contours, you can try to do white pencil to try to establish where light is located. For this, you'll need to see what background your image has. A white background won't work here, but doing values might be better with that 50% gray.
  20. Don't think about the color just yet. I will explain that in more detail in another post. Do values in grayscale instead, but limit your palette so it's not too dark or too light. Three values is usually enough. You get everything in between by blending. Corel Painter has some nice blenders for that. You can always correct the value range in the post processing.
  21. Eraser is usually used with a technique of soft brush/hard eraser to block in values. You can also do the soft brush/hard eraser to establish some textures. Remember, hard and soft are focal points. Hard and dark is close, soft and light is far away.
  22. Alphonso Dunn mentioned in one of his videos that you can do texture over your values if that helps you think. Of course, you will start skipping steps in time to get a more unified feel in your art. That holds true for color as well.
  23. If doing texture, remember it follows form, as in, it wraps around the subject. Draw it like that, not flat. Shadows and lights do this, too.
  24. Always go from rough to refined. From big blocks to small details.
  25. If the value and texture are done with grayscale, you can glaze the color on top of it in a new layer with the colorize blending mode and a soft brush. The process can be a bit disjointed from the texture and brush strokes, but it can work.
  26. If you don't want to do textures and values just yet, after the initial sketch is done (with Corel Painter, but you can help yourself with Krita), you can do the flats or key colors. Flats are most often local color fills of various areas. Local color being the base color of the object. For example, an orange is orange. Krita plug-in G'Mic can help here a lot. I usually use the interactive mode.
  27. A multiply layer with the same color area can create simple shadows. Pick a local color area, a new multiply layer. Fill it with the same color. Screen and overlay blending modes are used for light.
  28. Paint with light. Copy an area on top, specify a blending mode, erase the excess. Remember to vary soft and hard brushes and erasers. Scratchboard tool also looks ok here because it can create texture on lower opacities.
  29. When doing color, remember that more illuminated objects also have a hue shift. So things become warmer, not just increase in saturation and value, but also a hue shift happens. HSV is a good model. Local bounced light also happens on objects.
  30. Think in 3D. Arrange things like that, in this order: shape, shadows and lights, textures, local color, specular lights. Of course, adjust where needed, but these are the rough strokes.

I will leave some more specific techniques for future posts as well as explaining the coloring process, once I feel confident about it.

This is where I will stop for the moment. I am finishing with an article about giving up from an illustrator Chris Oatley. I hope to have some results in a month or two and see where to go from there. Wish me luck.

Using French Press for Coffee Cold Brewing

Using a French press to cold brew coffee is pretty easy. We got ours in IKEA but I'm pretty sure any French press will do.

The ratio of water to coffee per mass we use is 7:1. One has to increase the amount of coffee to account for the lower caffeine content extracted by the cold brew process. Considering that the approximate mass of water is somewhat around 1KG per 1L, 7:1 ratio means around 140 g of coffee per 1 L of water.

The plunger in our model can only go a certain way down, and it's a small press so there was some adjustment required. Since we have a kitchen scale it wasn't too hard to measure. The results are in the recipe below. Enjoy.

Cold brew coffee in a french press

Cold Brew

Ingredients

  • 70 gram ground coffee.
  • 0.5 liter (chilled) water.

Instructions

Put the coffee in the French press and pour water over it. Stir with a spoon to make sure that the coffee is equally distributed in the water. Cover the French press and put it in the fridge for a minimum of 12 hours. After that period, remove from fridge and filter out the coffee with the plunger. The resulting liquid is cold-brewed coffee that you can dilute afterwards and optionally heat it. We have ours with soy or oat milk. The recipe is enough for a few cups to get you through the day, but you will probably adjust accordingly.