Here is where I park some of my short writing. Not really my best or worst work, not really anything particularly deep, just internet floatsam.
Micro writing and sketches can be found here in the Microblog
A friend once described herself as a "Sad Millennial", to which I replied that it's redundant since I've never met a happy Millennial. Looking back, so many people have confided in me that they were suffering from some sort of depression or anxiety or a whole grab bag of mental disorders. It makes me wonder if most humans have a mental disorder of some sort, yet are able to perform very well in society and keep up appearances. If that was the case, then mental disorders may just be how a normal brain works. What if sanity is a collective fiction that we've all started to believe as truth? That would explain why people behave so wildly irrationally (and why some economists still believe in a consistantly rational man, despite evidence of the contrary). Maybe if we just accepted universal insanity, we wouldn't be so hard on ourselves and kinder to others.
These thoughts sometimes come into my wandering mind. I don't know whether I should believe it or not. But the scary part is that whenever I share this theory with my friends, they all quietly nod in agreement. Perhaps they are just humoring me, or perhaps they too realise how mentally screwed up we are as a species.
I'm trying to reorganise this website, so lately I've been thinking about web design. Even with rather basic css, there's a lot of designs that can be achieved. Two articles caught my attention recently: Human scale design and How blogs broke the web. A lot of this website is organised into a chronological ordered format. Makes it easy for me to just add another entry on top, but after a while it gets harder for readers to explore it. At its inception 4 or so pages served most of my needs, but as it grows it might be better to move away from a blog design paradigm to one where this website is a thing that should be explored. One where people can take their time to move through rather than "Newest post at the top".
I feel like we are a generation that is lacking in mentors, or at least an understanding of what a mentor should do. Media has programed us to be the hero of our own story, so we don't actually know what to do when it turns out that we are not. When you live your life being told that you are Luke Skywalker, the sudden realisation that you're at best a Yoda or at worst a bystander like Uncle Owen (I had to look his name up on a Wiki), can be devastating. I guess that's what drives people to activism or conspiracy theories in a desperate attempt at heroics.
But it's inevitable that we will soon be past our prime, saddled with so many personal mistakes that we too could be a valuable reference (or cautionary tale) to the younger generation. But what then? What frame of references do we have to do this? Maybe be the cool teacher figure like in Dead Poets Society? Or the mysterious and wise Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid? Are we supposed to die or go missing by the 2nd act like almost every mentor figure in any coming of age story? Or are we the powerful mentors that are always rendered useless when it counts in Shounen manga? While there were so many young heroes to model myself after, I struggle to think of any positive examples of how to be a mentor.
Once your youthful adventures are over, how do you get on with life? And where does the next generation fit into all of this?
I think this is why we are where we are right now. Probably some Gen-Xers and late Boomers are feeling just as lost as me. Giving in to the temptation of playing hero on the internet instead of admitting to their failures and sharing their experience for what it's worth. Makes me thankful for those that actually took the time to help me in the past.
Stealth uploded the new Microblog section yesterday. Also I realised that this website wasn't displaying the fonts properly on Linux computers, so I've started implementing @font-face for "websafe fonts", it slows down loading a bit, but it's a good backup.
I noticed that a lot of Neocities websites (including this one) are refered to by their webmasters as "my little corner of the internet". It's a bit ironic that in the limitless expanse of the internet, humans are still searching for corners. Like cavemen searching for small caves that they can press their backs against for security. Corners are comforting defensive positions, little private spaces where you don't have to worry about attacks from all sides. It makes sense that we try to invoke this cosy aesthetic when building our personal websites.
Or are we here because we feel cornered?
After reading too many books about typography I'm reworking the typefaces of the entire site. Trying to keep it to at most 2 typefaces on a page. But I'm experimenting with web safe fonts, so each page will have its own unique combinations.
Drawing takes a lot of absorbing. The best artists are the ones that have seen a lot of stuff. Even when they draw something derivative, it mixes together with all the other influences in their heads and comes out looking like an original spin. That's why I think that one of the best ways to grow as an artist and a designer is to do something outside of art. Doing master studies are great for learning more about anatomy, light and form and all the other things that make technically skilled art, but there are so many other things that don't involve drawing naked Europeans. Take up street photography and learn more about light and the details of everyday objects, read forensic science journals and see the gruesome details of real dead bodies instead of the sanitised depictions of zombies, collect leaves and feathers and marvel at their form, catch cicadas and insects and watch their alien behaviour, do some gardening and get to know plants and how they grow, expand your visual library through close observation when building model kits, talk to people and learn about interactions and social cues, read a bunch of comics and absorb the art.
You can tell when an artist has only a very limited amount of influences. It looks derivative, a poor copy of the original but also lacking in it's own voice. I think it's ok to be derivative, but derive from as many sources as possible. Nobody has a the same mix of influences in their art, and that makes your art both derivative and unique.
This post was somewhat inspired by reading Tsutomu Nihei's Abara. The influence of H.R. Giger's Xenomorphs on the creature designs are so obvious, but he brings a lot of his own style, from the crazy brushwork to the forboding architectural details to create a unique experience. I could also see the obvious influences it had on the later parts of Tatsuki Fujimoto's Chainsawman (for which there are very obvious nods). The chain of being influenced and amalgamating it with experience to create something unique is something that's really nice to explore in art. That's one of the reasons I sometimes write about what art has influenced me and my sense of style, it makes me think about what I liked about those things in the first place and what I'd like to incorporate into my own style.
There's a charm to the dinosaurs of yesteryear. Yes, they are scientifically inaccurate and they very much reflect the predjudices and preconceptions of the era, but they look cool. Aesthetically they are closer to dragons and fantasy than the birds of modern reconstructions, but the kitsch, outlandish speculation and flights of fancy just make them look really interesting. They were like characters, they weren't just carnivores, they were villianous slow pondering Harryhausen or speedy Speilbergian slasher movie monsters. They were the tragically noble herbivores that were gleefully depicted being attacked and eaten. They were Victorian woodcuts of slothy dragons that were too stupid to survive. They were paintings from the 80's with shrink wrapped skin and bulging muscles with occasionally lasers strapped to them. They were Sunday strips in the 90's that sometimes flew F-14s. They were early webcomics that repeated the same panels over and over again.
My point is they looked cool. Modern reconstructions are getting more accurate and we're changing how we view dinosaurs, but as they get closer to the realm of science than fantasy they start to become a bit duller in comparison. This was kind of my thought process when I tried drawing a scientifically inaccurate T. rex . It's sometimes fun to celebrate the kitschy misconceptions of the past than to draw actual animals.
At it's current size this entire website is about 10MB. That's less than 3 pictures in my digital camera's sd card. I'm pretty amazed at what you can get for 10MB if you actually restrain yourself. Recently I've been experimenting with optimising my images and trying to get them as small as possible (1-bit indexed colors are a wonderful trick for black and white art). It makes me think about how wasteful we are with data, my phone can burn through 40MB a day and I hardly do anything on it except message people and occasionally open Twitter.
I'm beginning to wonder how much I can fit into a small space, like a 3.5" floppy disk's 1.44MB. When I was younger I remember being able to save low quality scans of comics on floppies. I'd get an entire chapter in if I was lucky. I wonder what I could do if I actually optimised art and text within those limits?
Like poetry it might be a good exercise to learn how to limit how much space you take up. Take the time to be brief and to the point. Cut out anything unnecessary. New forms of expression might come out of it. There are some examples on Neocities that serve as inspiration, like 10kB Gallery or some of the art by Automatic Llama.
As a society we focus so much on growth, that we take it as a measure of quality. If you're not growing you're not doing it right, more money, more posts, more numbers, more data. Like gigabytes of badly taken HD selfies. Like a cancer growing and filling up so much space. Instead of writing haikus we're like college students trying to fill out a 10 page assignment with whatever rubbish our energy drink addled minds can think of. Doing more with less seems to be out of fashion. Growth without elegance or restraint.
Not many people know about Robert Beverly Hale, he wasn't a praticularly reknown artist, even his obituary listed him as a "former curator". But he was a prolific instructor of anatomy, having studied with the Art Students League in New York. For me it was a chance encounter where I found out about his work while hunting for art books in second hand shops. I came across one of his books on Anatomy, "Anatomy Lessons from the Great Masters". This formed the basis for my understanding of anatomy, although looking at my earlier work it took me a while to get it.
Hale's techniques were a bit different from the methods taught by other instructors like Loomis or Proko (although Proko does mention him). For example he used craniums as his unit of measurement for the body instead of the entire head. It's quite an elegant technique since a cranium is almost spherical, so it fits nicely into a even sided box (Which is why you learn to draw boxes before people). I still use the Hale cranial units unconsciously, although I count heads for convinience and speed sometimes.
Another technique he wrote about was the concept of planes and plane breaks. You can decompose a form into bunch planes, and where the different planes meet, there is usually a change in value. Quite an elegant way to explain changes in value due to lighting.
Overall, I find his books worth the study. Even if only to see some different ways of approaching drawing the human body.
I fiddled with the html and css to make the writing section more readable and better designed. It doesn't really work on a phone or a small vertical screen anymore, but that's low on my priorities of things to fix. Also switched from Courier New to Garamond. Hopefully that improves legibility a bit.
I don't use mobile internet. I don't like to be accessible at all times or bothered when I'm taking a walk or driving. Recently I had to use it for some work related thing, and it feels so weird to have so much information at your fingertips while you are moving about. The constant connection to other human beings, being able to see a persons face on demand, always knowing where you are going, being able to look things up instantaineously. I don't like it. I don't feel human, but like a psychic alien from 70's pulp science fiction magazine. When I'm on the move I like being able to be alone, get lost, let my idle mind wander.
At one point I was teaching English as a second language. Where I'm from, most people pick up English as a second or third language. And one of the hard parts is explaining English pronouns, specifically "he" and "she". You see a lot of East and Southeast Asian languages don't have gendered pronouns. Everybody just makes do with one gender neutral pronoun (In Chinese there is a difference in written pronouns but they all has the same sound). So you get students constantly mixing up he and she, his and her. And sometimes you get questions like "Why do they even bother with gendered pronouns?" To which I actually have no answer.
I sometimes watch with amusement when I see Americans arguing about pronouns and adding more to the list. I had enough trouble teaching two pronouns. It seems to me like they are complicating a system that a lot of people can live without. Why would you constantly add new pronouns when it would be easier to just subtract one and use a single pronoun for everything? Internet savvy Malay language speakers sometimes joke that their pronouns are dia/dia, which is means both he and she and whatever gender in between and beyond. Personally, it seems like a lot less work and a more elegant and inclusive system.
You would think that fixing pronouns and using a single one would lead to a more egalitarion culture. But honestly Asians tend to be sexist even without gendered pronouns. Makes me wonder if fighting over pronouns will lead anywhere. Some people say that words have power, usually the people that say that make a living by peddling their writing. Inflating the importance of words might be in their own interest. While I agree that words shape and constrict the way we think, maybe changing words alone isn't the solution that one might hope for.
This might be a controversial musing, but that's kind of how weird it is to watch foreign culture wars happen. It's strange and alien, and trying to make sense of it from your own personal context can be quite challenging and amusing at the same time.
Before I start inking in the pencils in a composition, there is a very important step that makes all the difference. I leave it alone.
It's really important to take a step back and clear your mind. When you're too into something you don't see the flaws in it. I can look back on art I did last month and see where I went wrong, but not on a sketch that I just completed. Once the sketch is done, let it set. Let it stew. Let it ferment. Give it a few hours, or a day or even a week. Pick it up later and the flaws will be clear.
I originally named this website "Occassionally, Content" as an excuse for a potentially spotty update schedule as well as a reference to my occasional feelings of satiation (I only have 3 settings: Content, exhausted and angry). But recently I've been wondering if I should be making content at all. The word content feels a bit artificial these days, like it is describing some sweetened combination of permitted coloring, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated palm oil injected into a bun of cold soggy white bread. That's what pops into my mind when I hear someone describe themselves as a "Content creator" instead of something more concrete like a writer or artist. Content wants something from you, it's optimised, manipulative and commoditised. I don't want to make content. I hope this website lacks content, instead more fluff, filling or stuffing. The homely, soft and warm stuff that makes you feel content.
On another note I was rather suprised that people actually read what I write on this website. Usually my mindset when writing anything here is "Old man yells at clouds", so I guess thanks for watching me rant into the void.
I miss reading newspapers. They still exist, but the media landscape is so gutted that whatever is left is just a emancipated shadow of what it used to be. There was a ritual to reading newspapers, start at the lifestyle section, TV page first to see what's going to be on, then read the comics, then the columns. I liked the more frivolous ones where the columnists would just share small snippets of their life. Then the reviews of movies or games, then the ads for the movies that were showing in local cinemas, followed by feature articles if they were interesting. Then opinion columns, letters to the editor and world news. Local news was read only if I was bored.
In a newspaper there were all sorts of things that may or may not interest you. It was never tailor made for your target demographic or designed to bombard you with algorithmically guided ads. There was always that serendipitous chance of discovering things that you'd never expected to like. Old media never gave us what we wanted when we wanted it, but it did allow us to explore beyond the stereotypes of market demographics.
I run a dual boot Windows 10/Linux Mint on my laptop, mainly because Windows is an easier interface to use when dealing with media files (at the expense of it constantly tracking my every move) hence a bit more user friendly for work. Linux is for my leisure activities, which mostly revolve around watching video, surfing the net and a bit of light image editing. But having that software separation of mental spaces has really helped during the pandemic and work-from-home. During the worst parts of last years lockdown, everything melted together into a mess of constant work stress with unfinished work constantly reminding me that things needed to be done. Keeping my desktops apart in clear work and leisure spaces helps me to put everything away and shift into a different mental state, it also helps that I need to restart my computer to change states, that tiny hassle created a barrier that sometimes stopped me from crossing back into work mentality when I'm supposed to be resting. I think my productivity has suffered a bit though, I'm booting up Windows less and less these days.
I've finally invested in a better lens for my camera. As someone that has only used kit or cheap lenses before, it does feel like a world of difference to actually use a quality lens. The pain I feel in my wallet is a world of difference as well, but I've been telling myself all sorts of justifications to rationalise the purchase. If there's one problem with the Fujifilm X-system, it's the price of the lenses. Not sure if I'll ever post any photos that I take with it here though. I reserve the photography section for my terrible attempts at street photography.
I avoided reading Kentaro Miura's "Berserk" for the longest time since I knew that the story moved at a glacial pace and I didn't want to get attached to something that might not have a proper ending. It never will, since Kentaro Miura just died of a heart attack. I finally broke down around 2019 and read "Berserk" all in one go and enjoyed it for what it was, but because it was such a recent thing that I read in a rather long single sitting it never left much of an impression on me. It's good art with some amazing arcs for sure, but it was personally to me a small event rather than a lasting influence. Miura will be missed though.
I have better memories of reading his short series "Gigantomachia", stuck in some rural village by myself without internet and only an FM radio as my other form of entertainment, I had a downloaded copy on my laptop that kept me entertained for as long as it lasted. I don't recall much of the story, but the circumstances made it a memorable experience.
As with most artists I have trouble accepting praise for my artwork. Not that I have much practice with it either. But it's always awkward when it comes, I'm often at a loss for words since my vocabulary is made up almost solely of self-criticism. Missed lines, perspective being off, poor tonal composition, anatomy mistakes, bad proportions. It's better to have a short awkward pause and some pleasantries than to say what's on my mind. On social media it's sometimes a counter-like and that's it. In person it's a mumbled thanks before moving the conversation in a different direction.
It's something that I should try to process, but I'd rather not. Seems like a better use of time to think about the other mysteries of art (like how human hips work) than to be better at socialising. Then again I don't think I've ever met a good artist that actually accepts praise without a certain look in their eye.
Ink is my favourite medium. I love putting down lines on paper. It's really meditative. All the hard thinking and decision making happens in the pencils, when I get to inks it's just pure absence of thought. But there are cases where things go wrong. A missed line, a splotch, a smudge, a fingerprint, accidentally hatching in something that you weren't supposed to. It's not like you can ctrl-z and try again. You only had one chance and you blew it. And this is where my golden rule comes in:
The idea of irreversible mistakes is one of the things that scares people away from drawing in ink. But mistakes are inevitable in inks. Nobody makes a perfect run, that's why correction fluid exists. You just need to accept that mistakes will happen, and you can find your way around them. Having that mindset give you the confidence to make a go for it with inks. Mess something up? Draw over it or incorporate the mistake into your illustration or draw a correction and paste it in digitally later. Part of the art of inking is learning how to deal with inking mistakes. They are part of the process, so don't fear them.
A lesson is learned but the damage is irreversible by Dale Berran and David Hellman is one of the great early 00's webcomics. Combining out of this world panelling with surreal dream logic, it really pushes the limits of the comics medium. The first few comics take a while to get into stride, but once they get into gear they created some of the most memorable webcomics that I've ever read. There's a strange sense of humor to it too which I enjoy and very unique color palletes and a loose digital painting style. It had some influence on other webcomics of its time, such a Dresdan Codak, but I think nothing really came close to matching it. The whole thing is still available on the internet (the navigation is a bit broken though) and it only takes a sitting to read through all of it.
I'm starting to feel like our right to private lives is slowly being eroded. Everything that we say or do is recorded, reported, stored in one way or another. The stress of living in a panopticon really gets to me. People used to be able to have a professional self and other private aspects of their lives, but lately it feels like it's all mushing up together. Your reputation is now attached to your social media, you have to constantly be on your best behaviour and keep your guard up even when communicating with friends. The eye of society is constantly on you. You have to watch yourself and try not to make any bad takes since these things live forever on the internet and everybody keeps receipts.
I guess that's why I want to keep parts of myself hidden from everybody else. Being able to get away and get to know other aspects of your being that you don't want to be associated with your place in society or your livelihood. Ironically I'm writing about this in a public space that everybody can see, but there is a level disassociation from my main identity that allows me to do so. Would I have been so honest if my name and face was attached to these opinions? Probably not. What is it about this world that robs us of our other lives?
I have to remind myself to once in a while draw art that is not meant to be seen. It's a bit of an oxymoron to make visual art that is not meant to be seen by anyone. But it is good practice to just make art for the sake of the process. Drawing without any pressure to have a completed piece lets you experiment with new techniques and take risks. I have some friends that start to stagnate when they start to do commissions because they have to be consistent with their results, that leads them to not try anything new and rely on the same grab bag of tricks. For me, my most consistent gains in technique are when I'm just drawing for the sake of drawing, and the skills and visual library start to build up from there. Stuff that you produce to show people and get your name out there is important, but the stuff that they don't see helps you grow as an artist.
One peculiarity that I've come across is that I write better when I'm on my feet and walking. The lack of distractions and being able to let my mind wander lets me think about things clearly and organise my thoughts. Once I'm done walking, I can sit down and type everything out smoothly. At one point I was doing 200words/km. For me writing really is 80% thinking and 20% actually the physical act of writing. This is opposed to sitting in front of my computer where the process of writing feels like trying to wring blood from a stone. I haven't been very productive during the pandemic since my movement has been limited by all the lockdowns. It'll be really nice to be able to go for long care free walks again.
I've known a girl since she was 5 years old, she's 9 now and one of the top students in her grade. Undoubtedly she will keep excelling in the rest of her life. But since she was a dumb kindergartener when I met her, I can only see her as that. Perhaps when she goes to college or establishes a career for herself, I might still not be able to overcome my first impression of her. I honestly do wonder how our parents ever take us seriously. In their minds we must all be drooling babies.
I've been binding my own journal/sketchbooks for 6 years now, I can never find a store bought one that has the right paper quality, size and price point, so I do it myself. They're not the prettiest books, but they do their job. The act of private journaling itself has been very helpful in my own personal development. Just writing down my thoughts helps to put everything into focus, I can make sense of what's bothering me. I can write down the little interactions that I've experienced. I can practice my prose regularly. I can draw whatever my heart desires and take risks without caring about the outcome.
Perhaps one of the advantages of journaling is that it is not a performative act. I can write down what I honestly think because nobody is going to see this but me. I can be introspective and know myself and explore my own inner world. Writing blogs like this is a bit more public, so I tend to censor myself a bit more. Social media even more so, so things have to be more curated. But privacy grants you a different sort of freedom.
What amazes me about journaling is the discrepency between my memories and what I write down. I can hardly remember some of the horrible axieties that I had to endure 5 years ago. Some of the dreams from then look so distant now too, or perhaps they have been reached but twisted by the mundanity everyday life. If I didn't write it down, it would all be lost forever. Forgetting is coping with how bad the world is, but it's nice to have a record of things that you may have lost along the way.
I wanted to be a bit more ambitious with the web design of the photography section, but in the end I opted for something that I could get done with instead. But anyway I'm happy that it's up in a virtual gallery exhibition style.
I've been reading a couple of autobiographical manga set in the Showa era (1926-1989) recently (Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "A drifting life" and Shigeru Mizuki's "Showa"), and one of the things that struck me was how massive events (Earthquakes, economic recessions, natural disasters, political upheaval) can just be compressed into a single offhand sentence. Undoubtedly these are life-changing moments for those involved, it may have even looked like the end of the world, but 50-60 years on it is a meaningless footnote to the younger generation. As time marches mercilessly on, all these crises that we live through lose all their context and meaning, only remembered in history books or academia but even then terribly abridged and missing the rawness that the people living through the hardship had felt.
I'm tempted to imagine how the current Coronavirus is going to be described 100 years in the future. It's probably going to be some obscure trivia like the Spanish Flu or the Manchurian Plague (Which I had barely heard of until the pandemic started). But in a way it's a relief to think about how all our pain and anguish can be forgotten and summarised into a dispassionate one liner, just another disaster in a long line of disasters.
Here's my attempt: In 2020 the Covid 19 worldwide pandemic strikes and incapacitates the global economy, triggering recessions all over the globe.
These days I think that "inteligence" is measured by the ability to find the optimal solution, or in other words the "best" solution based on the parameters given. Judging by the amount of resources that you save by being smart, choosing the non-optimal solution is kind of stupid. But I'd argue that it's good to occasionally be stupid and take the longer route, even when the shorter faster path is available. It's probably the even more human thing to do, any AI can find optimal solutions, but humans are always inclined to pick sub-optimal ones for reasons that can't even be explained by randomness.
The problem with optimisation is that it can lead to uniformity, there are only a few optimal solutions to a problem, while non-optimal solutions are almost infinite. What you generate through going through non-optimal "stupid" paths is novelty. Building up dumbness can eventually lead to new solutions (or problems) which you might never have found if you were always trying to follow the "best" options. In a world where everyone is racing to get to the top of a leaderboard, its nice to be able to be stupid and take your own time and go your own way.
Of course this doesn't mean that intelligence is always bad or stupidity is always good. Find a balance and use each when it is appropriate. Just drowning yourself in stupidity is perhaps worse than painting yourself into a corner by being intelligent. Sometimes you need to wander around and be dumb, other times you need to be smart and find your way out of your (perhaps self induced) problems. Do it enough times and you will live an interesting life.
I once came across a book on George du Maurier while browsing the visual arts section of my university library. His expressive anatomy, controlled penmenship, excellent character design and ability to tell story with just a single picture really stood out to me. George du Maurier was a staple in "Punch", a 19th century comedy magazine which was responsible for the word "cartoon" and possibly "punchline". Coming from a tradition of inking for woodcut engravers, he had very clear form and values amid the details, often the figures were much less detailed than their surroundings and that made them stand out. His works sometimes show how visual language has changed over time, He drew a lot of single panel "cartoons" that satirised Victorian society, multiple panel comics were still in their infancy at the time. His figures also tended to have a very theatrical pose to them, the whole figure always in full view as opposed to the more cinematic close ups and tight shots that we are more used to today. I always aspired to be able to draw like him, and his influence on my artstyle are pretty obvious once I point it out. A sampling of his art can be found here.
Most of my recent gallery entries are really complex hatched compositions. It takes quite a lot of planning and referencing to get them done. And then I have to sit down and carefully put in line after line, with traditional mediums, to create the tones that I need. Why do I do it? It's because I have to draw really simple for my commercial stuff. Like it's the completely opposite side of the spectrum, flat simple forms. That has more appeal unfortunately. Basically this gallery is my release valve for my creativity and my need to do something more complex. Of course if I had to draw something complex for work I'm pretty sure that I'd start to draw simple stuff to relax.
I remember talking to an accountant about my plans for the future, he was surprised that I didn't have a 5 year plan. I explained to him that I don't plan because I think plans don't work, at least in the world where we currently live in. To plan something there has to be some predictability, you have to know the rules of the game to be able to consider your next few steps. The more unpredictable the changes to the game, the more planning gets thrown out the window and you just have to react without knowing what's going to happen next. Which is why I never bothered with a long term plan. If you live in a very predictable system, then great for you. You can anticipate and make plans for the future. But I haven't been able to find that kind of stability, and I'm not sure if I'm suited for it. I've just been doing things that people haven't done before, so nobody knows how it works exactly (or if it will even work out at all).
That talk with the accountant was 5 years ago and I pretty much just went with the flow, surviving multiple crises. It hasn't been easy, I'm reminded of Deng Xiaoping's metaphore of 摸着石头过河, to “cross the river by feeling the stones”. Like trying to cross a rushing river but only being able to feel the loose stones directly in front of you. To survive in a world where you can't anticipate what is going to happen next, I adopted a system of stashing instead of planning. You never know what will be useful in the future, so it helps to just do a wide variety things that might or might not be useful in the future. You don't know what will work, so having a wide net helps. Life is unpredictable. Playing tabletop RPGs and card games in my teens helped me gain the skills to run a business. Learning to draw comics somehow made me good at writing pitches and proposals. Being able to code has helped me on multiple occasions. Trying to learn how to paint led me to gain a large network of activists. Just making friends and talking to people led to opportunities and dead ends that I never saw coming.
Not sure why I'm writing this, just looking back at my choices in life and how I got to where I am.
If I had to make a list of reoccuring themes in my art, it would look like this:
I can understand why I tend to draw girls, they are aesthetically pleasing. I honestly don't know why I draw the other stuff though (Aside from the fact that robots look cool). Perhaps there is some room for psychoanalysis here.
I have been trained to write well. To carefully plan out thoughts, organise them, choose the right words to express them, edit, edit, edit, then get rejected and go through another round of editing. If you noticed the quality of this page, none of this stuff has any of that. I'm basically just writing stream of thought, with minimal editing. It feels liberating. It's probably why I can do this for fun after a day job that involves a lot of writing. Good writing is a delight to read. But honest writing is refreshing in its own way.
To an English speaking audience Tetsuya Toyoda is an enigma. Not much biographical information is published, and the most that I've found out about him was from a machine translated Japanese wikipedia page. For his very long career he very rarely publishes anything, and at most they are short series (his longest story is only 11 chapters) or collections of one shots. He has received some critical acclaim for "Goggles" and "Undercurrent", but there is very little news about him and his output is incredibly sporadic and often linked to the monthly seinin manga magazine "Afternoon".
I first encountered his works as scanlations on the internet. I was mesmerised by his visual storytelling, all his characters had a kind of exhaustion and liveliness to them as they went about the story. And while most stories were short, they brought out really realistic and subtly expressive characters. They were very literary stories, but in the form of a manga. His short story collection "Coffee time" is one of my favourites. It's very little plot, mostly dialogue and nothing much happens. The characters don't learn or earn anything or grow as characters. Sometimes it's just a humourous situation. But I feel satisifed after reading it. I can't explain it, but it just works.
In terms of art style, he draws relatively realistically although he know when to drop the realism to emphasise expressions. Simple, direct and unassuming. That's how I would describe his style. You can probably find his work by googling his name, "Undercurrent", "Goggles" and "Coffee Time" have been scanlated and probably still exist somewhere on the internet. "Undercurrent" does have a French version, but otherwise most of his work lacks an official translation.
I don't use a scanner for my art, I just photograph the pieces in monochrome and edit the levels. I kind of like how the camera picks up inked lines, some scanners that I've tried aren't as good at rendering them. In order to get good even lighting on the piece I use a small lightbox with two strips of LED lights to illuminate the piece. But the problem that I'm having now is the lack of copy stand to keep my camera steady and at the right angle. If you're too young to know what a copy stand is, it's a stand that you can attach a camera to so you can take photos directly paralel to a flat surface. In the past people used to use these things to reproduce images and diagrams, it's a relic of a past before scanners were widespread (although I think they are making a comeback for streaming art). I first started using one from my university that seemed to have been around since the 70's, it was primitive but it had really good quality. I've lost access to it since the pandemic, so I make do with my tripod instead and that is a fix for now. Since I lent a friend my 16-50mm zoom lens (which would solve so many problems), I've been shooting with a 25mm manual lens and that also takes a bit more time since I have manually focus. I should DIY a copy stand soon.
I seem to be drawing more since I started this website. Filling up a semi-public album of art has been a good way to relax, especially since I can take my time on each piece and I'm not rushed to do something every day. I think the one way interaction of it all, not having to look at likes or concern myself with comments helps a lot in motivating me to draw whatever I want. I'm taking more risks and experimenting more too. I didn't anticipate that I would draw so much when I was first designing the gallery, maybe I will have to overhaul it when it gets too big.
I first encountered the art of Duane Loose in the backs of Battletech novels, where there would sometimes be illustrations of the mechs that appeared in the story. Later I found more images on the internet in Battletech fansites and scanned pdfs of Technical Readout:3025 that I downloaded off Limewire (our local game shops would never stock Battletech products). Early Battletech art was a unique chimera, many of the mech designs were licensed from 80's Japanese anime like Macross, Dougram and Crusher Joe. Some mechs were completely original designs, while some others were partially original but traced over from the anime designs. The art was not particularly good in a technical sense, linework was a bit messy with not much variety, every original design had awkward proportions, the perspective of many things never lined up properly and many mechs lacked proper joints. In short it looked a lot like something you would find sketched in the back of a notebook of a bored highschooler (Battletech was a relatively small game made by a bunch of guys straight out of college, so it was not much of a stretch).
The limitations at the time were understandable, mecha design was almost non-existant in the west and the sci-fi vehicles that he drew were much better in comparison. The weird perspectives were also somewhat understandable since he was sometimes tracing Kunio Okawara lineart which already has a loose grasp on perspective and how joints work. But despite it all, the design sense of the anime mechs could still shine through and many of the original designs were really interesting. Many of my secondary school notebooks were filled with mechs in the margins.
He got better at drawing over time and you can see that in his later work, but I still love the retro charm of that early Battletech art. Technically poor art is not necessarily bad art. As much as I love looking at technical masterpieces, less impressive art is sometimes better motivation because in many ways it is more attainable. I always think back about this when I work on my own projects. There are times when you need to slow down and not go all out when drawing. I might not be perfect but it might still be fuel for other artists imagination. You may even inspire a few kids to pick up the craft.
A gallery of his Battletech art can be found here
On the 22nd of November 2016 I watched "Death of a Salesman", I wasn't particularly impressed by it. I know this because I wrote it down in a sketchbook/journal. But otherwise I have absolutely no recollection of this event. On the other hand I know that it is a true event that happened because I'm not in the habit of lying to myself. It's a bit strange how we augment our memories with tools; photographs, writing, sketches, websites, social media, all these little things build up into a different self that exists outside us and keeps track of things that we would rather forget. Lately I have been having trouble with memory, but I always get like this when I am overwhelmed with too much to do. Perhaps these tools, while useful to an extent, become a means for pushing ourselves too much. I'm able to talk to people that are not in the room, but that means that they can also bother me about work in the middle of the night. That leads me to depend on more tools and I get swept away in a self reinforcing loop.
What was the point of this little tirade? Honestly I can't remember
Had a couple of hours free before a meeting, so I went for a short walk around the city to do some street photography. The photos weren't all that good. But it was fun to just do photography and not think too hard about the results. Just snapping and moving on, not even checking the LCD until I got back. Street photography is a very self indulgent middle class hobby. But it is a hobby because it is enjoyable to do.
It'll take a while to build the photography gallery. I want to try something new with the CSS so I have to properly gather the code instead of keeping with my current minimalist approach.
A lot of people that are interested in art aim to become pros that can make a living off art. After doing some work on it, I can say I really hate drawing for money. It feels like a chore, and you have to deal with the guilt of having to meet an obligation. Having to draw hundreds of pages, even if you do have some creative freedom, takes a lot of discipline that saps away whatever you enjoyed in the first place. I'd rather do something else and work at my own pace on my own projects. Or at least I would if I didn't need the money. I think that's some good advice, always have backup to fall back to if the art thing doesn't work out. There's no shame in doing art for leisure instead of as a job. We live in a capitalist society that tells us everything has to be a hussle, it doesn't.
Blade of the Immortal or Mugen no Jūnin by Hiroaki Samura has fantastic art and it's a masterwork of illustration. The linework and energy in the fights is amazing, and the spreads have really great composition. The story is a bit on the weak side, although with strong (albiet over the top) characters. There is of course lots of graphic violence and perhaps too much weird sexual violence, so be warned. When I first encountered it I read it in a local manga magazine that put shrank the pages so it could fit 4 of them onto a single magazine page. That mislead me into thinking that the linework was incredibly finely drawn as I tried to immitate it. But the detailed linework and well defined forms stuck with me and greatly influenced how I planned my illustrations, although I probably will never be as good as Samura. Of course that also led me down the wrong path of trying to add a ton of hatching to everything, even when it wasn't necessary. Which took me years to fix.
Incidentally I did recently watch the Blade of the Immortal Live action movie on netflix. It wasn't a good movie, very much trying to cover too much in a limited run time and ending up poorly handling everything. I liked the action and the acting, but the plot was a rushed compression of the first 10 or so volumes of the manga and a movie original ending. Also they changed Manji's iconic swastika icon to a different kanji, which I found to be a poor choice to appease an international audience. It wasn't even THAT swastika. If you ever want to experience Blade of the Immortal, skip both the movie and anime and just read the manga.
After watching too many photography youtube videos (Which are almost always about gear), I finally upgraded my camera. I wanted a used Fujifilm X-T20, but someone had beat me to it so I got a brand new X-T100 instead. In terms of taking pictures they're pretty much the same thing. I kind of know that Fujifilms are objectively outperformed by many other companies, but the main reason I'm still sticking with the system is the dials. Even on a lower-mid range camera like the X-T100, I have more dials than I need. It's so nice to turn them instead of the touchscreen interfaces of some other cameras that I've tried. The lenses cost double other brands, but dials.
I haven't had any time to do any proper photography with it though. It's been constantly raining around here and my daily schedule is packed. Not sure if I should add a photography section to this website, I'm a pretty lousy (and self indulgent) photographer.
I really shouldn't be writing too much about nostalgia, but there's something about the html interface that makes me think about the past. But let's talk about an obscure webcomic whose artist seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth: minus. Debuting in 2006, minus was a bunch of sureal sunday page style strips about a little girl with supernatural powers named minus. There's very little continuity to it and it ran on a kind of dream logic similar to Winsor McCay's Little Nemo. It had really simple but beautiful water color artwork. At the time such a large format strip was something only possible as a webcomic, since newspaper comics at the time were shrinking even their Sunday spreads to fit smaller pages. minus was a love letter to comics art and represented a mix of the past and the future. That was the kind of freedom that webcomics were opening up at the time, there was a feeling of the great potential of the medium. It's a bit lost now that most webcomics are hosted in vertically scrolling sites or smaller squares to fit into social media. It's really a great strip that I still think about to this day and it has amassed quite a cult following. The original site is gone, but thankfully you can still find it on the Internet Archive here
Looking back at my history of drawing. I first started in 2006, and it was probably 2016 until I got decent enough to be an average artist. It took me about a decade of effort to get to a decent level, that’s the journey I had to take starting from absolutely zero talent and no proper instruction. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten further faster with better guidance, but those were the circumstances at the time. I’m still learning and I realise that I’ve got tons of limitations, it’s a long journey.
Talent is a starting point, but long enough down the journey the starting point hardly matters. That’s a property of Markov Chains and it applies to art as well (I wasn’t only learning art during that decade, I had to do statistics and other shit). If you work long enough at something nobody can tell where you started at, but I guess the current youth obsessed culture can’t wait that long.
For younger artists, art is not a 100m sprint. There is the temptation to catch up with those 100k follower savants, and if you are one more power to you. But for the rest of us, it’s a walk. A slow journey where you have to keep moving forward, putting one tired leg in front of the other. You might get tired once in a while, it’s ok to take a break and rest. Just keep walking and you’ll eventually reach something. It might just be a small corner the web where you post stuff, but at least it’s still something.
Bad webcomics. That’s what inspired me to start drawing. I remember spending a lot of time discovering a lot of webcomics from 2004 to 2006 and that planted the seed in my head that “Hey, I can draw comics too!” It was a wild time since comics were for the first time unshackled from the limits of publishing gatekeepers. That of course resulted in a lot of terrible comics and a few gems.
It was around then that I started trying to draw. It sure was a different time, almost no drawing resources were online aside from a few tutorials and whatever you could torrent or download off a file sharing site. Visiting physical libraries and buying second hand books were my only way of collecting these rare resources. Eventually I went to university and pretty much read almost every book in the illustration and visual art section (which wasn’t very large).
But back to bad webcomics. By the time I was good enough to draw with a quality that I wasn’t terribly embarrassed about, I hardly had any time to draw left. My career had taken off in a wildly diverging path from art, and while I still use the artistic skills that I’ve picked up, it will probably never be my main output. But still, I’ve always wanted to make my own bad webcomics...
I recently visited a friend's art exhibition and he recommended this essay to me by Ursula le Guin. In it le Guin makes a comparison between the narrative of the hunter versus the narrative of a forager. I can't help but make paralels with carrier bags and websites. How we collect things shiny things like buttons, gifs and links and use it to decorate our spaces. The website is a container, much like the the bag or sling of a forager. Like planting gardens, it's a leisurely activity of searching, finding and collecting. Not something as thrilling as the conflict of hunters, who take risks and become the dominant narratives in many cultures.
I wonder if the internet started in a forager phase, where people explored and collected, and transitioned into a hunter phase, where conflict is the main driver of interaction. Will the future of internet culture be one of self appointed heroes in epic struggles against each other (egged on by social media) or will there be spaces for foragers to build their own spaces on the sidelines of the battlefields?
Added the projects panel to the gallery. Time to slowly populate it with old stuff. On another note I'm surprised by the number of teenagers on Neocities, I was expecting most users to be as old as me.
Finally photographed and cleaned up a bunch of art to put in the gallery. The small lightbox I have was really helpful in getting even lighting over the whole image. Even with artwork this website is still starkly black and white.
I should be working more on the site and getting more art uploaded, but I've been distracted by surfing Neocities. It's a different experience, actively clicking links and moving around instead of everything being served on a feed. I find myself reading more long form content, appreciating the web design and just clicking around a site to see what happens. Part of me wonders if this is just novelty of finding something new (or the fleeting nostalgia of finding something old), but I guess I'll enjoy it while I can and see how things turn out.
Managed to finish the basic html and make some illustrations to fill the site. Overall I'm pretty happy with the black and white theme that I have going, which is more a testament to my woefully lacking website building skills than any design aesthetic. I'll bring the gallery online once I scan in some of my older material.
It's very much a waste of time, but I guess that's why I should do it
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