Learning to Get over Myself Learning to Draw

Thirty years ago I went to Interior Architecture school. It hurts thinking of that. Thirty fucking years ago. I was a great hard-line draftsman but never took the time to learn freehand. Even now, I bet I could sit down at a drafting table, grab a t-square and triangle, and bang out a respectable floor plan.

I miss drawing. I miss designing. I love writing and making music, but I miss creating visual art. Part of the reason I got the iPad Pro and the Pencil was to eliminate excuses. The iPad is always with me, therefore I always have the tools to draw. I’ve drawn some, but not enough. I’ve been having a problem getting motivated to do more than quick warm up sketches.

I was listening to a podcast with Stan Prokopenko as the guest. Stan runs a great website, proko.com where he shows off some amazing beginner lessons. On the podcast, he mentions that to get good at art, you need to spend 40-50 hours a week working on your art. Drawing the same thing over and over. Sketch a gesture. Rip it up. Sketch another one. Learning the fundamentals of guitar was easy. Learn the basic open chords and you can pretty much play most of the three-chord rock songs out there. Hours of entertainment. AC/DC made an entire career out of this. Learning to draw, however is harder. Every time I grab the Pencil and open up Procreate, I think: this thing I am about to create is going to suck. That’s not false modesty. Look at any Master’s output the first time he or she picked up a pencil and it will be laughably bad. It’s hard not to wonder if this is all just a waste of time. Will I ever get good at it? What’s my definition of good enough? Finding motivation is hard when you see an established artist do a quick sketch that is better than anything I could think of drawing.

My experience with architecture school tells me its probably not a waste of time. Even though freehand wasn’t a strength, I could still get the idea of what I wanted do in a sketch. A year ago when I made an effort to learn to draw I was pleased with my progress over a short time.

There is a hard and lengthy fought battle over tracing in art. A lot of people think it’s horrible, and a cheat. Before I continue, let me say that laying down tracing paper over someone else’s drawing, tracing it, and passing it off as your own is theft. However, let me tell you a story about how I created perspectives in school.

In the early 90s, CAD programs were in their infancy. There was a great one for my Mac called MacPerspective or something like that. I started using it when I was having a hard time getting the perspective for an atrium correct. I put in a rough version of the floor plan, walkways, and skylight into the program. I then picked a camera angle I liked, printed it out, stuck it on the drafting table and put my vellum over it. I then did all the little detail work and finished the drawing. I didn’t think I cheated. I just needed to get the damn drawing done. I could screw around for a day or two getting the perspective and vanishing lines done, or I use a tool to get the grunt part done. Norman Rockwell would project photographs onto his canvas and trace over to get the rough sketch done.

Where I’m going with this getting my mind around parts of the process. Some drawings I do I might sketch out from nothing. Others I might put a photograph on a background layers and sketch out from there. Jack Skellington is a basic enough character that it would be fun to use his head as an exercise in circles and shading. A picture of a friend with a sword, though, might end up in a background layer where rough out the anatomy to become an orc warrior.

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iPad Life: Ease of Recovering from a Total Failure

There is no good time for a tech failure, but this one had a taste of self-infected. When I started working on my homework for my graduate class recently I noticed two things: my 256g iCloud Drive was almost full; and so was my 128g iPad. The iCloud Drive I knew about. I had dumped up 40g of videos to it and thought I would have more space free than I did. The iPad was worrisome. I’ve looked like even though I had Optimize Photos turned on, my iPad was still storing full images locally. When I signed out of iCloud and signed back in it told me I needed another 50g of iCloud storage. It wanted to re-upload all the images I guess.

So, I ended up just reformatting the iPad via the settings menu. I chose to restore from a recent iCloud backup and about an hour and half later the restore was complete. All my passwords were there. My apps were in the right locations. If it wasn’t for having to re-download my books in iBooks and the Kindle app as well as a few missing text messages, you wouldn’t have known it was a fresh install.

I’ve been thinking of reinstalling macOS on my MacBook Pro. The reasons are a topic for another day, but the time it takes to get everything back up and running is the main reason I haven’t. There are a lot of large apps on there plus the data from my cloud storage. It is the type of thing that will take a weekend to recover from.

iOS, though, is about two hours total.

My First Computer

My parents always did a great job at Christmas. There are two Christmas gifts that have stood the test of memories 30-40 years later.

The first was an aircraft carrier about 3 feet long that had a wire-guided plane you could land on it. It worked similar to this. My dad decided that the short wire that came with it was inadequate, so he grabbed his fishing line and rigged up a 30-foot guide line that ran the entire length of the house. That upped the fun and difficulty. I was probably 9 or 10 at the best, but even now I can picture the whole thing: the plane mounted on the table in the front room; 30 feet of fishing line going through the family room and landing in the doorway to kitchen. I’d hit the button that would launch the plane, pilot it with something that looked like a control mechanism from a Cessna, and attempt to grab the guide wire on the carrier. We probably pissed my Mom and the dog off equally. Too bad we didn’t have a cat or that would have really upped the challenge. Update: this is it.

The second was a Commodore 64. I have no idea about the thought process behind why they got me this. The computer revolution was just starting. I was in high school and had taken a couple of computer classes. I think my parents may have realized that computers were going to be a thing, heard about the Commodore 64 and bought it. There was a lot of angst on their end. The gift did not show up until Christmas Eve. I had just left the house to go to my friend Dave’s house and never saw the UPS truck show up.

Back then, it didn’t even have a floppy drive. It had cassette player you would load the program with. The day after Christmas we went to some small computer shop and I got a few games to play. One of them was called Gato which was a great submarine simulator. It was a lot of ASCI code showing the ships I was shooting at, but looking back that was some serious programming chops in the early days of computing. He also realized that I liked D&D-style games and bought me Zork. Zork was one of the first interactive fiction games by a great company called Infocom. While EverQuest and World of WarCraft probably hold the top places for hours played in a game, Zork comes close. This was before the internet where you could just Google your way out of a problem. A lot of my analytical skills and thought processes came from playing that game. I remember having an entire notebook with maps I had made and notes on what I tried to do to solve various puzzles. I still have the games loaded on Frotz on the iPad.

I also learned some basic programming. You could get Byte magazine which would have programs printed in it that you would then type by hand into the computer. Two years of typing classes in school didn’t do shit for my typing. Typing in thousands of lines of computer code, however, did wonders for learning that skill.

The Commodore gave way to an Apple IIe, which later ceded the way to a Macintosh in 1985. That Christmas, though, changed my life.

Playing “Paper and Pencil” Dungeons and Dragons on an iPad.

This is probably one of the more geeky posts I will write. I’m going to go over how I play pencil and paper D&D on my iPad Pro. This post will focus on playing as a regular person; not a Game Master. That may become a separate post.

Twice a year I go to a local gaming convention, TotalCon. For a while I played D&D exclusively. Then for a few years I did board games only. Last year I did a mix of the two. I like running and playing the board games my regular gaming group doesn’t like to play, but I’ve missed playing D&D. Last year I played D&D twice and had a good time. This past weekend they held a one-day gaming event and I got a day of D&D in.

I’ve used my iPad to manage my characters as best I can for a while. D&D 4E was an almost impossible to manage system. The paperwork required for skills, magical effects, and the other minutiae pretty much required access to Wizard’s online character portal. Fortunately, it was pretty easy to get characters in and out of the website. There was an app I had on my iPad that let me handle the day-to-playing of the character. I could track damage, what skills I used, and had a one-button reset of the skills. It worked great.

D&D 5E went back to a more basic play style that did not require as much care and feeding. Wizards also put their online portal into abeyance1. That was fine, since there is a lot less shit to manage these days.

There is also a log sheet we are required to keep. It tracks the module we have played, how many points and gold we were awarded, and any items we received. It is rare any one looks at the sheets, but every now and then someone shows up with an over-geared character and some review will need to happen. What is nice is, only officially-published modules are legal for you to move your character around from place to place. So, it is easy to verify if a module gave out a certain item. For this, I just used a Numbers spreadsheet. Each character had a tab andI would update it.

Most people at the cons use some sort of paper-based character sheet. I don’t like this because I am pretty much anti-paper, and I’m always afraid I will forget (or lose) something I need to bring to play. By storing all the information in the cloud, it is fairly safe and I always have access to it.

The last two times I played, I just used a form-fillable PDF to track the character. This worked out pretty well, It looked good, and it was easy to find stuff. What I noticed both times I used this was my battery life took a big hit. I can’t tell if the app I stored them in wasn’t good at memory management, the app is constantly trying to sync to the server and therefore draining battery, or that’s the nature of pegging the iPad hard. In February and this weekend, each 4-hour session of DND would leave me with around 40% battery. I couldn’t make it through an-all day event. Fortunately, I have a decent battery pack and I can fast-charge my iPad. If it just happened this weekend, I could write it off as some sort of iOS beta weirdness, but in February I was running a release version of the OS.

So, when I got home from the con this week, I decided to roll everything into a Numbers sheet. I found a decent Excel sheet online that I made a few modifications to, and reworked some of the cell functions that may not work properly on the iPad. I also copied the log sheet into its own tab on the document now. So, everything I need for that character is in one place. I am hoping the low graphic footprint of the Numbers sheet also helps battery life.

What is also nice is it is pretty easy to find PDFs of the sourcebook on the internet2. The guy running one of my games was very impressed with how fast I could look up something. He had a suitcase full of stuff. I just had my iPad.

  1. A new version is in beta, but I’m not thrilled with the pricing. That said, it is a great way to quickly handle some of the math behind your character and speed up the leveling process.
  2. Yes, these are PDFs that have “fallen off a truck.”

Did Apple Hint Tuesday At Using iPad Pros as Wacom-style Tablets?

In Matt Panzerinos take on the Apple PR Event about how, no, they aren’t abandoning the Mac Pro, I spotted this gem when asked about touch screen Macs:

So Apple’s path will not lead them down the direction of touch Mac screens, as they’ve stated. Instead, Federighi suggests that making the iPad Pro, which they feel has a better drawing experience, work better with the Mac is the answer.

“We recognize customers often use both— we all certainly use both — so we’re really focused on making them work well together,” he says.

My prediction: Apple in iOS 11 and macOS 10.whateverthehelltheycallit will allow you to use the iPad Pro as a touch device for your Mac. The obvious use case is artists in Photoshop. You can do this now with Astropad, but It’s not a stretch to see it baked into the base OS.

A Year of Using the iPad Pro as a Laptop Replacement

It was the Pencil that got me.

When the 12.9″ iPad Pro1 was announced, I was interested, yet skeptical. I wasn’t sure of the weight and the size. I had just purchased an iPad Air 2 and really liked it. I was outside of the return window so I figured my next iPad would be the Pro, and that was the end of that.

In February, after reading about what Federico Viticci was able to do with the iPad Pro, I spent some of my tax return money on the iPad Pro. I was still a little skeptical. It was large, heavy, and I felt the 9.7″ iPad was still the optimal size. But, I could tell that iOS had really grown and was now something I could consider using as my main portable OS. This was not the case when I purchased my MacBook Air a few years ago. Still, I was willing to concede that perhaps I just had a case of wanting the new shiny. What pushed me over the line was a strong desire to get back into drawing, and rather than spend the cash on a really good drawing tablet, I could get the iPad Pro and a Pencil. There are plenty of apps that let you draw on the iPad. I wanted the freedom of movement the iPad offered.

About a month later I got the Apple Smart Keyboard and that’s about the time I stopped bringing my MacBook Air with me every day. I still get some shit about the size of the iPad. The people at work at first were like, Holy crap, look at the size of that thing!2 A friend’s daughter always asks me, “What do you need to do with something that large?”3 In the year I’ve had the iPad Pro, I’ve seen only two4 in the wild. It’s not that I don’t get out. I’ve walked through a university cafeteria (a medical school, so that may skew things). I’ve seen more new MacBook Pros (4) than I have iPad Pros (2). I can’t tell how many of the smaller iPads I’ve seen are the Baby Pros.

Interacting with the iPad

I believe the best accessory you can get for your iPad Pro is the Apple Smart Keyboard (ASK). Other keyboards, like the Logitech Create, may be better keyboards. but they add too much bulk to the Pro. If you are using the Baby Pro, the Logitech Create may be a better option than the ASK. Matt Gemmell seems to think so.

Tapping the screen on the Pro, I can understand why Apple is hesitant to bring a full touch interface to macOS. It gets tiring tapping the screen on the Pro when I have a keyboard attached. The best recommendation I have is if you do use an external keyboard with the Pro, is to start memorizing and using the keyboard shortcuts.I can’t tell you how much time and physical energy they save me. What I would love is the ability to use keyboard shortcuts with the virtual keyboard. Maybe in iOS 11 Apple will add Control, Option, and Command keys to the on-screen keyboard.

One area I think the MacBook is superior to the iPad is the trackpad and keyboard placement makes it more comfortable to interact with the device for a long period of time. Even using keyboard shortcuts there is still a lot of tapping on the screen. If the on-screen keyboard was just a little bit better I’d probably just use that.

Creating

My two main creative endeavors are drawing and writing. A key app for my creating on the iPad is Ulysses. Ulysses has become my single-source of writing on the iPad. I use it almost every day. Every blog post is written on it. My long-form writing also resides there. I’ve never once lost a document or had a syncing error. It just works. I do have Scrivener, but what I don’t like about it is it’s intended to be just a companion app to the desktop version. Your export options are limited. The developer wants you to finish your compiles and exports via the desktop app. On the one hand, I like how all of my writing is one Ulysses document; on the other I like Scrivener’s “an individual file for each piece of work” is appealing. Scrivener’s sync is a little too manual for me to like it, or trust it. Ulysses has never had a sync error and I like that it uses CloudKit. It does indeed, Just Work.

I am starting to think about using Pages more as well. The new release allows for RTF export and bookmarking. When I start school I’m going to explore using Pages as my primary authoring tool.

Unfortunately, I’m not drawing as much as I’d like a year later. I still draw more with the iPad than I would traditionally, but it’s something I need to increase. My main app is Procreate, but I doodle5 with Adobe Draw as well.

With the iPad Pro, I feel like the excuses and reasons I don’t create are just that: excuses and reasons. I can write and draw anywhere I have my iPad. I always have the iPad with me, so there’s no excuse. Just creative laziness on my part.

Cloud Services

There are things about iOS that drive me bananas. iOS is my favorite platform to download a PDF and upload it to a cloud service. Unless, oddly enough, that cloud service is iCloud. iCloud expands every single folder when you invoke the share extension. It is functionally impossible to locate the specific folder you want to upload the file to. So, all my uploads go to my OneDrive account instead. The lack of selective file sync on iCloud Drive on macOS is a hindrance from going iCloud-only. So, I’m screwed both ways with iCloud Drive. I can’t save the file easily from iOS, but I can’t do selective sync on macOS. It would be nice on macOS if they did something similar to Dropbox infinite, where I can tell a folder to only store data in the cloud, but make the folder and contents available via WiFi.

I’ve got 100g of scans on OneDrive I’m not sure where else to put them. That said, as a minimalist they are starting to feel like the digital version of a storage locker. I’m thinking of downloading them all to a removable drive and throwing them in a drawer someplace. The primary reason I think about paying for a cloud storage plan is storing them. I do download them every so often, but it feels like a “just in case” thing. I can’t replace them in 20 minutes, which is the point the minimalists make, but they aren’t critical files by any measure.

Office 365, OneNote, and OneDrive

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about Office 365 scattered through the sections, so it might just be easier to collate them all here.

Outside of the digital junk drawer, the main reason I keep my Office 365 subscription is Office for the iPad. The 12.9″ iPad falls outside of Microsoft’s free version for Office. I use Office just enough for it all to be worthwhile. $80 a year for 1TB of storage and the Office Apps isn’t bad. Now, I could use my school’s Office 356 account and save the money and get full access on my iPad. OneDrive lets me connect multiple accounts to it on iOS, so I can activate the Office apps on one account, but access my files on my personal OneDrive account. Wins all around. A technical manual I’m writing sits on OneDrive so I can edit it on the iPad when I want some distraction-free writing time. If we ever implement OneDrive at work, this will make working on the iPad very interesting. I couldn’t use it as my main machine, but I could do more with the iPad.

I start my Master’s certificate in a few weeks. Microsoft Office will likely become something I use more often in my personal use.

I have Outlook connected to our Exchange server. I use Mail and the Gmail app for my personal needs, but I like my work accounts to be separate. It helps work/life balance. I also have OneNote and Office installed to read documents sent to me via email for review in meetings. I use Documents to mark up PDFs sent to me for review.

Recently, I broke down and got the Lightning to VGA adapter to tie into the projector systems at work. VGA is the port that will never die. Our TVs at work don’t have an available HDMI port and I don’t feel like dragging an HDMI cable with me. So, got the fucking adapter. I’ve been thrilled with how it works. I used it recently for a document review and was very happy to see it used the full, widescreen size of the monitor at work with no black bars on the sided. I was reviewing some workflow documents with a group and I used the projector, GoodNotes, and the Apple Pencil to mark up the workflows. It worked great.

Note Taking Apps

I use two note taking apps: OneNote and Apple Notes. All of my work notes are in OneNote. I have a notebook for just work and separate pages in it for each project. When a project is closed I put CLOSED in front of the page name and shove it to the bottom of the screen.

I’ve found taking notes on a tablet at work removes the perceived barrier of a screen between you and the other participants. Even if you’re using the iPad with the ASK. Unless I’m taking a ton of notes, I’ll often keep OneNote open and lay the iPad flat on the table. When a person says something interesting, I pick up the iPad, make the note, and put it down. It feels more natural and that I’m more of a participant in that session.

My Apple Notes are a mess. It’s the version of little scraps of paper you write something down on and shove it in your wallet. Just looking at my Notes file I have individual notes for: an email address someone gave me; comic book artists someone suggested I check out; the address of a seminar I went to; and the cell phone number to a contractor I need to contact. I really need to combine those. I’ve gone through and deleted a lot of them but it’s still an unpleasant sight.

This situation works out very well for me. Work notes in one app, personal in another. I have OneNote installed on my work PC so I can access them there.

When I start school in a few weeks I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m thinking of using OneNote for that also. Not sure, though. I might use Notes for it. Decisive, I am.

Consuming

There are a handful of tasks I still use the Mac for — outside of iOS programming. One of my goals for the year is to examine each one and see if the task itself adds value to my life. The most-common task is converting my ebooks. I’m usually de-DRMing my Kindle books so I can read them in iBooks. Neither iBooks or the Kindle app fill me with joy. I much prefer the Bookerly font on the Kindle for reading books, but iBooks is a better PDF reader than the Kindle app6. GoodReader is also a good PDF reader and can sync PDFs on my OneDrive. The Kindle app also doesn’t support split screen, which is important if I’m referencing an art or programming book.

It’s bothering me that I can’t really do everything I want in one app. I don’t want to buy my ebooks on the iBookstore. I’m just going to have to get over myself on this one. non-PDF reading in my Kindle. PDF reading in iBooks.

I use Instapaper as my read it later service and Tweetbot as my Twitter client.

Apple’s Vision for the iPad

There is one thing about the iPad Pro that concerns me… and it’s Apple. I’m just not sure that Apple has a long term plan. When the Pro launched, Apple was all, “Hey look, it can be a laptop replacement!” To a certain degree it’s true. The new iPad Pro commercials are cute, but some big limitations to going iOS-only exist.

iOS 9 brought out Split View. Split View made a lot more sense when the 12.9″ iPad came out. Instead of one of the two apps in Split View being an iPhone view, both apps were iPad views. The whole Split View picker needs some serious love. It seems like the type of feature that showed off well in a demo, but once people used it, it didn’t work out right. The problem is, iOS 9.3 didn’t address it, iOS 10 didn’t address it, iOS 10.3 doesn’t address it. In iOS 10, uploading files to iCloud Drive became problematic because the Document Picker expands every folder and sub folder.

I can’t currently go iOS-only. I still use a Mac. Almost all of these limitations are software. Adobe’s Lightroom app isn’t as good as the desktop version. Office for iOS lacks citation management. Maybe by the time my Retina MacBook dies in 2023 I might be able to go iOS-only. Certainly, my use of iOS will only grow over the years. Right now, when I hit a wall in iOS I don’t graze it; I slam right into it. I can’t use my Topaz presets on the iPad. I can’t use the full version of Photoshop. I can’t use Word’s citation management. I can’t run some of the 3D rendering programs I want to learn.

This is not an indictment of the iPad. It’s just an acknowledgment that I have some needs the iPad can’t meet. It’s great at the things I want to do on it: write, draw, read, email and triage my photos. For the things it can’t do, I have my Mac.

It’s all about the right tool for the job.

  1. For the sake of clarity, in this article when I refer to “the IPad Pro, I’m referring to the 12.9”. The 9.7 will be referred to as “The Baby Pro.” This is because, for me, the canonical iPad Pro is the larger screen.
  2. That’s what she said.
  3. I did not say, “That’s what she said.”
  4. One of them was a person really taking advantage of the device. He was taking handwritten notes with the Pencil.
  5. That bad pun was not intended, but fuck it, I’m keeping it.
  6. This is mainly because iBooks displays the full height of the PDF when reading in landscape. I keep my Pro in landscape mode almost all of the time, so this is pretty important to me. There is also the not-so trivial issue that the Kindle uploader caps out a 50mb.

Creative Checklists

The last time I posted a meaningful article to this site was January 25, 2017 (I don’t count the quick post about the iPad’s problem being software). I was chiding myself for not posting more until I looked at my Ulysses library and saw about 10 items in the Blog subgroup. All but one are fairly fully-formed. Clearly, I’ve been writing. I just haven’t been posting.

I’m not sure what the final state for writing is. Steve Jobs famously said, “Real artists ship.” I imagine shipping would be posting to the site.

Or is it?

Patrick Rhone (a writer I greatly admire) is on sabbatical. He’s stopping all of his online writing to collect the writings into some sort of book. I think subconsciously I’ve been doing the same thing.

I have an unannounced project I’m working on. I’m still not going to announce it today. When I finish typing an article in Ulysses I ask myself two questions: does this even need to go out in the world, and if it does, should it be in The Project? Lately, the answer has been that it might belong in The Project. There are also a few blog posts that felt better to write than publish. Sometimes, the best post is the one you write and hit the delete key on.

There are a few reasons I’m not announcing The Project. While it’s safe to say it’s a collection of essays, I’m not sure what the theme is. I have several themes in mind. The best thing right now is to just write them up and see what themes emerge. I do have two themes in mind; it’s just a case of which one sticks more.

The other reason is even after I collect the essays, I may still not feel they add anything that hasn’t been said already.

For now, I’m not going to measure my creative progress on what I’ve shipped, but just on what I’ve created. Creative people are famously finicky and overly critical of their own work. This can lead to artists not sharing their work. It’s a danger to be sure, but one of my themes for the year is trying to earn some income from my creative projects again. Getting this collection out in the world is a good motivator for me.