Thank Jebus for Andrew Loomis

“You may question why we do not at once proceed to the finished, smooth, and round form. The answer is that in a drawing or painting, something of the individual procedure and structural quality should remain. When it is too much smoothed down and polished, it becomes entirely factual. The camera can do that.

“In a drawing, however, ‘finish’ is not necessarily art. It is the interpretation and process of individual conception that is art and has value. If you include all the literal facts and actualities, the result will be boring. It is your selection of relevant facts that will create interest.”

–Andrew Loomis, Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth, Chapter III

This book is a gold mine. If you have an interest in drawing, it’s a must have. That is all.

Electric Kali: Progress. Also, Tim Knight is a Great Guy.

Making progress, slowly but surely. I’ve spent less time with this painting lately because I’m working on a new webcomic project, and Portal 2 came out. Seriously, buy this game. It’s excellent. More on the webcomic later, once the project is a little farther along.

Here’s the final sketch for the painting. You can see that the background and some supporting details are missing or not fully realized. These will come as I paint. Mostly the sketch is to work out the basics. It was important to me that I choose the right guitar and amp combo for this image– it will matter little to most people, but I wanted to avoid just painting a generic “guitar.” I want to render something that a guitar fan will recognize and drool over.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally decided on a 50’s Gibson Les Paul Junior, and a 70’s red Marshall half-stack. The guitar is simple, pared-down to the essentials, but one with a very powerful voice. A true rock guitar. Marshall amps are of course the defacto symbol of rock; big, loud, screaming distortion. The red models they made in the 70’s are gorgeous, and I prefer to paint a big red amp than a boring black one. This guitar and amp combo represents power, aggression and fury quite well, I think.

It’s fairly easy to draw a generic guitar. But to draw a specific model recognizably is particularly difficult, at least for me. I was resigned to using a google image search for reference, but was discussing my choice of equipment with the inestimable Tim Knight, who had something much better in mind. Tim doesn’t have much of a web presence, which is a shame; he’s a cultural asset here in Salem, Oregon. Tim owns and operates Guitar Castle, a vintage guitar store downtown, and co-founded (but is no longer a partner of) Ranch Records, Salem’s best record store. Tim is a great musician; he played and recorded with John Fahey, is a member of the Hundred Dollar Jayhawks, the Nettles, and the Bohemian Enclave, which is his latest project. He helps organize local shows with local talent, and records and advises young up-and-comers. He’s friends with and sold guitars to many great musicians, and has countless great stories to tell.

I love Guitar Castle because there’s always a little bit of history on the racks there. While it is a vintage guitar store, Tim stocks guitars and amps for players, not collectors. For example, I bought a wonderful 1962 Fender Jaguar from him last year. It’s all original, but for one thing: a previous owner had stripped off the sunburst finish and sprayed it with clear nitro. This destroys its value as a collector’s item, but drops it neatly into my price range. A pre-CBS guitar that I can afford and sounds like a dream! (I’ll post more about this guitar some other time.) These kinds of deals make the store unique, and a great place to browse. Tim is also a painter, and his art is on the walls there. He paints scenes and portraits in a “naive” style, and his abstracts (my favorites) are colorful, thoughtful and emotive. (He also has a couple of my paintings hanging in the store. Thanks, Tim!)

When I told Tim the guitar and amp I had decided would be in Electric Kali, he laughed. “You mean like the ones in my basement?” he said. “Why don’t you shoot them for reference?” Tim Knight is a great guy. I came back a week later with my camera.

Tim poses the Les Paul Junior for me in front of Guitar Castle. Here’s Tim with the Les Paul Junior. It’s no longer in the basement, it’s behind the counter, for sale at a bargain price.

Tim's red Marshall.  The racing stripes make it go faster. Tim’s red Marshall. Alas, this one is not for sale.

With the reference shot at just the angles I wanted, the sketch came together much faster than cobbling together images from the web. With the drawing done (more or less), I transferred it to a panel, and painted in the basic values using burnt umber and ultramarine. Now I’m roughing color in over the values, using glazes of varying opaqueness. The drawing is still visible a bit under the color, which will allow me to tighten up the detail once I’ve got the overall composition and color where I like it.

rough color going in

I like to work this way rather than make a color rough, because when I change my mind about a color and paint over it, the previous layers all build up to make a richer finish with more depth than if I just started with the right color first. More images to come as I continue to paint!

Change on the wind

Just got a notification from that they will be shutting down ftp support for their blogs– which is how I have this site set up. I’ll get started on migrating to some other framework, but be aware that things may be a bit spotty for a while. The last thing I want to do is to actually have to code the site, so I’ll see what other prefab services are out there.

The Trouble with Video Games

Game Retail is screwed up in so many ways. Buying used games works out if you’re interested in titles that sell well initially; games that have enough of a marketing push behind them to motivate a large number of buyers, in other words, mainstream games.

If you want a copy of Madden or Halo used, you’ll have plenty to choose from. But say you’re looking for a game that’s a little more unusual, or merely produced by a studio whose distributor failed to market their game well, if at all? Good luck trying to find one of those games 3 weeks after launch, new OR used. Shelf space is extremely valuable in game stores, and the vast majority of buyers aren’t the type of folks who keep track of previews, reviews and release dates. So the gamer who shows up to buy Call of Duty 2 may never have heard of Godhand, and will certainly never see the one copy sitting in the corner on the bottom shelf. If there’s a copy there at all.

Oh well, their loss, right? Except the result is a system that helps sell games that don’t need help selling, and shuts out all the others. The result in the long run is an industry where creativity and innovation are punished. This is not in my interests as a gamer who prefers new experiences to old ones with updated graphics. Additionally, the Madden and Halo buyers are already gamers. How do we encourage more, different people to take up gaming? There needs to be games that they want to play. Perhaps the mainstream gaming demographic is already saturated; we need different games to attract different demographics. If gaming as an industry doesn’t continue to find new, different consumers, it will remain socially marginalized and stigmatized.

Granted, gaming isn’t nearly the fringe activity it once was, but it still hasn’t gained the ubiquity of film, music or television. I look forward to one day being able to fill my game collection with the equivalent of, say, art house films, and never have to play a “mainstream hollywood blockbuster” ever again.

Games these days are much more mainstream than they used to be, but still have a long way to go before they match the kind of ubiquity and variety that you find in film, music, or television. Personally, I look forward to the day when I have the kind of variety of experience available when I game that I do when I listen to music or watch a dvd.

To that end, I think used video games are a good thing. I also think that pirating games is a good thing, though of course not necessarily to the designer.

I once was a penniless but avid gamer. Used games, and yes pirated games as well kept me a gamer, when my alternative was not gaming at all, or only gaming around Christmas and my birthday. Lots of folks pirate or buy used when they have the means to buy new, but I’d rather not throw out the baby with the bathwater. I want to see more people game, and more people try games that they may not be sure about– sure enough to pay full price new for. I want to see unusual games sell well, and they won’t until people put down their Madden or Halo and give it a try. Most folks don’t want to gamble their $60 on a game they don’t know they’ll like. (We’ve all seen the GameFly commercials, right?)

However, I have friends in the game industry. So buying used games feels a lot like stealing from them. Fortunately, I have a job, so I can afford to buy new, and I can afford to “vote with my dollar” to encourage designers to design and publishers to publish the kind of games I want to play.

So yes, buy used, even from a company as nasty as Wal-Mart. Pirate games if you have to. At least occasionally by a new game, to support your favorite developer. As long as more people play more games, our favorite hobby can only get better.

Postscript: Worrying about ecological effects of shipping & handling from Amazon is a moot point. After all, wasn’t the game you bought at Wal-Mart shipped to that store? If you’re wanting to reduce your footprint, downloading the game probably has less impact on the environment. There’s also less waste in terms of packaging. But of course, if you’re using electricity, you’re contributing to ecological harm (where does your electricity come from?)

Where to Start? Fallout 1

The first 2 Fallouts are among my most favorite games of all time. I can talk about them for hours, because of their depth, creativity, freedom, irony and mostly, how they let me feel like I could be anything I wanted within the world they created.

I’ll spare you that, though. Maybe some other time. I’ve got a friend or two who are just picking up the almost 12-year-old game now (available for about US$6 at, and I have some advice for them. Fallout can seem a little unfriendly at first. I remember being devoured by rats (the lowliest creatures in the game) several times before I even made my way to the wasteland proper when I first played. It’s a side effect of having a game that allows you to make any sort of character you want, who can go anywhere they want in a vast world. It’s very easy to create a character that is ill-suited for wasteland survival, at least before the player has a handle on the gameplay. So below are a few pointers that might help first-time wastelanders get started, get their feet wet, and see the possibilities open to them for more advanced and complicated approaches to the game.

The general points I think beginners should keep in mind:

– Expect to play several characters, that will not make it all the way, if very far at all.

– Don’t try to complete every quest you encounter. Do the ones your character is capable of. In other words, roleplay.

– Create characters that are specialists. One or two strong skills to live by that get the majority of your skill points. Better to be one-sided than average at everything.

– Don’t be afraid to have a flawed character. Most perks have 2 edges. This can make the game great fun, if you’re not afraid to take a little risk.

– Don’t tackle the same sidequests with each character. You’ll just get bored.

– Cowardice is essential; running away is often better than fighting. (At least until you’ve got that Power Armor!)

In most games we’re used to being the Hero: the Archetypal badass who can defeat legions of marines with only a crowbar. And this you can become in Fallout. But you have to start somewhere, and everybody starts out a soft, wet behind the ears vault dweller, with only a crappy pistol and a jumpsuit. From humble beginnings, right?

Building your first characters
I’ve never used the pre-fab characters in Fallout, so I don’t know if they’re useful or not. I don’t see the point in them in a game like this that offers so many choices in rolling your own.

– Decide how you’re going to want to defend yourself. You’ve heard that you can talk your way out of almost anything in the game, if your attributes and skills are high enough? Yeah, well rats don’t talk. And you’re wet behind the ears, remember? Your skills ain’t gonna be too high at first. So pick a combat skill. Don’t pick Big Guns, Explosives or Energy weapons, you won’t find any of those for a while. So, Melee, Unarmed, Thrown or Small Weapons (my favorite). Each skill is modified by 2 Attributes (click on the skill in the menu, and the info panel will tell you which). Those are the 2 attributes you’re going to want to pump.

– Attributes: Pump the 2 attributes that affect your chosen combat skill to 7 or 8. You may have to reduce another attribute to get the points you’ll need. CHA is the most commonly reduced attribute. DO NOT REDUCE LUCK TO LESS THAN 4. Unless you enjoy critical misses. I do not. I recommend reducing INT and CHA, and even touching LK up a little. Most folks don’t think middling LK scores affect the game much, but a head start on luck now can be useful much later when you’re able to modify some of your attributes.

– Tag Skills: Obviously, one of your tag skills should be the combat skill I mentioned above. The other 2 should be skills you intend to use frequently– this means for a starting character, Outdoorsman and the other combat skills and Barter are on your short list.


I’ve been working with graphics software for a while now. In prepress, I get files created by all sorts of people, in all sorts of ways, from all sorts of packages. Lots of people choose software packages and defend their choices vigorously, much like folks defend their politics. They have all sorts of reasons for why theirs is the best, but in the end it’s simply the package that they are familiar with, and have shelled out for. But it really doesn’t matter. I’ve seen people create amazing things with the worst software, and absolute crap with the best. It’s a tool, not a lifestyle.

That’s why I became interested in the GIMP, and Inkscape. These are free, open source graphics software packages. GIMP handles raster graphics, Inkscape works with vector. I simply do not want to shell out for Creative Suite, or the machine I would need to run it. I run Ubuntu on an old single core P4. I dislike Microsoft’s products and practices, and dislike Apple’s prices and practices (I hate Wacom’s patent b.s. too, but have had trouble getting competing products to work under linux, and I hate having heavy batteries in my stylus).

Both GIMP and Inkscape have met my needs so far. I haven’t pushed them too hard yet, but I’m getting there. The biggest problem is unfamiliarity with the interface. But this is a problem with switching software regardless of the price you paid for it. It’s a bit like trying to find a spoon in an unfamiliar kitchen. Lots of drawers, which one do they keep them in? A little determination, time and a helpfile and you can get past that.

Death Bell Blues

Just read that R.L. Burnside ( died yesterday, after an extended stay in a hospital in Memphis. He recorded several blues albums for Fat Possum(one of the few record labels that I am conscious of, and partial to), and is to me one of the greatest bluesmen. His style of playing far removed from the strict 12-bar blues canon. Unlike many modern blues artists, his work was not a stale, immaculate preservation of the blues of a particular period of time, but rather, the blues incarnate, alive, raw, and kicking really, really hard.

R.L. Burnside was one of the first blues artists I paid close attention to, because Fat Possum was releasing hip hop and electronic remixes of Burnside’s music. Before Burnside, I knew nothing about the blues, thinking it an old and outdated form of music. But hearing how easily the blues blended with modern styles got me wondering.

Fat Possum’s gamble– to try to draw new listeners by mixing blues with popular styles– paid off, at least as far as I’m concerned. Soon I was submerged in the blues, and eschewing the remixed versions of Burnside’s songs for the originals because by being combined with modern music, as powerful as they were, they lost so much.

The remix albums are a good start, a smoother transition into a music that is so raw, powerful and personal. But by far his better work is that without drum machines and digital distortion. My current favorites are “Too Bad Jim” and the live album “Burnside on Burnside,” which is nothing short of phenomenal. It is worlds away from the “inside a glass case” museum-style blues which stems from the 60’s revival, and proof positive that the blues can be vibrant, current and relevant.

After all, like R.L. said himself, “the blues ain’t nothin’ but dance music.”

A little from column A, a little from column B

I just read Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. This is really an eye-opener for me, who so far have pieced Blues history together from various websites and cd inserts. The popular history of the Blues is quite different than what evidence suggests. The book has a lot of myth debunking, and at the same time, the author tries to be as upfront about his own ‘predispositions’– which are generally in line with popular history, and the romantic view of the bluesman as an outsider, or naive artist.

Throughout, the author reminds the reader of the danger of genres. The only purpose of genres is to make records easier to find in a record store. And yet we tend to apply them more universally, drawing arbitrary lines between artists and albums. Thus you end up with people arguing whether ‘Mississippi John Hurt’ is blues or country, rather than simply enjoying his music. We forget that we’ve arbitrarily and subjectively applied these labels, and treat them as if they were natural laws. We seem to do this more often than not, in most areas of our lives.

I’ve only been able to use 2 genres consistently and without confusion, and I wish to apply similar logic to other areas of my life as well.

My music collection is sorted thusly:
Genre 1: Music I like
Genre 2: Music I don’t like

Genre 1 I keep, Genre 2 I leave at the record store.

Works for me.

n Wrongs = Right

We’ve all been told at some point that two wrongs don’t make a right. Most of us have found proof of this in our lives as well. It makes sense. But the statement implies that at some point, some number of wrongs will, finally, equal a right. The question then becomes, “where is the threshold between rightness and wrongness?”

I don’t know where exactly the threshold lies. But I have seen proof that it is possible to cross over; to pile wrong atop wrong, one after the other, until the result– somehow– becomes right.

Last night I watched Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. It is not so much a movie as it is a careful experiment to discover the wrong-to-right transformation threshold. Everything about this movie is wrong. The acting, the dubbing, the sound & visual effects, the editing, the choice of film and soundtrack– everything. And the result? To put it mildly, I was thoroughly entertained. As bad films go, this one is really good– because they managed to cross over that threshold.

It takes an incredibly strong determination to fail in order to make a film like this succeed. I hope they make a sequel.

Santa’s Summer Job

I saw Santa Claus today. An old man, with a big belly covered by a red shirt, long white hair and beard. He had a baseball cap on his head, and a bag slung over his shoulder. The sack wasn’t full of toys though. It was a large clear garbage bag, filled with soda cans. I saw him picking through a trash can in front of the mall downtown, as I was driving to work. Looking for more cans, I’m sure.