Thursday 29 July 2021

Map of 2020

It's been years and years since I did the Map of Humanity, a madly ambitious attempt to map out the human experience along the lines of superego, ego and id.

That was followed up by the Map of Relationships, which ran in Walrus magazine way back in the day.

Now I've finally had motivation to do another map. 

This time, it's of the year 2020. 

Why a map of 2020? 

Because this was the year our interconnected, global reality contracted to the size of our domiciles, when we became exiles in our own homes, and going to the grocery store became a dangerous expedition for toilet paper. 

Passing within six feet of a stranger was a mortal danger, and 'Here be Dragons' was the end of the block.

Sure, some of that is hyperbole, but the underlying, emotionally discombobulating nature of the COVID-19 pandemic was very real. 

I have been lucky enough to remain employed throughout this bizarre experience, and while life has continued in endlessly bland and unremarkable ways, there's this noise at the edge of perception, of lockdowns and death rates that then percolates in the imagination. 

Anyway, this map is the product of the lockdown. It's intended with tongue planted firmly in cheek. 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did making it.

The map references numerous favourites, from Pilgrim's Progress to the famed Peutinger Map (look at the figure for home and you will see a resemblance to the icon for that legendary city at the hub of 100,000 KM of ancient roads).

(Note that the map's font is archaic, and uses the letter F where there are two s's.)

I made the map in ProCreate, then brought it into an older version of Adobe Photoshop to add the text. I played around with adding colour, as many maps of this period would have been hand painted (light washes of watercolour over the print), but it seemed like enough work as it was, and I rather like the unity the tint brings to it all. 

The very first Map of Humanity was in this style, as an intaglio print (with acid washes for tone). That one had severely curtailed scope, as my ability to write backward is quite limited. 

This piece is the spirtual successor, executed decades later as lines of light on an iPad. 

Thursday 22 July 2021

Belated Westworld Season II reflections

The most interesting thing to me about season two of Westworld was the way it contrasted the attitudes and goals of Maeve and Dolores. 

Dolores descended from innocence into outright psychopathy, while Maeve grew out of self-absorbed cynicism to pursue altruistic self-sacrifice. 

Their love stories also conclude: Maeve leaves her daughter in the care of Ghost Nation, while Dolores watches Teddy blow his brains out.

Maeve gave to her daughter, asking nothing, while Dolores just used and took from Teddy. Maeve valued love above all else, while Dolores championed revolution and revenge. 

As ye reap, so shall ye sow. 

Last season, William was surrounded by unaware androids who were sleep-walking through life. Now, William has lost his tether to reality and gotten caught up in fantasy and delusion. His competitive nature has driven him to conquer Ford's game, and in so doing he's willingly entered the very sort of dream / nightmare the androids have been so determined to escape.

The show sets up The Forge well. It drops enough clues that we strongly suspect they're already in The Valley Beyond before they get there. That at least some of what we've been watching is a simulation in The Forge. And the finale did not disappoint. 

Bernard has struggled with reality too, this season, being abused by Ford, who treats him like a puppet, forcing him to commit horrible crimes that are against Bernard's nature. He's the Norman Bates of androids, and has been reduced to a plot puppet and exposition delivery system this season, and doesn't really get to shine until the finale when he makes his first really significant choice.

Then he spends the entirety of season three shambling around in a daze, empty and purposeless.

Rather like the show. 

Season one was superb. 

Season two was not as good, but still intriguing. 

Season three? A good time to stop watching. 

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Warlord of Io - Nose Virus!

Found this old strip, which with COVID somehow seems even more relevant. Obviously, sentient viruses are the next step in gain of function research. 

You saw it hear first!

The two page strip was done for an anthology book put together by Fiona Smyth, many years ago, and was built in Adobe Illustrator

The look of the comic was based on both comics and the old serials from the 1930s and 40s, set in a sort of 'ultra cute' mini-reality. 

More can be found in Warlord of Io, the graphic novel.

Also, there's a joke strip collection, Max Zing, which was a really fun challenge for me. Comic strips (between one and four panels) are an art form all their own, akin to poetry. 

If you love pop culture and retro sci-fi, you might find these efforts amusing. 

Friday 16 July 2021

Making illustrations in ProCreate

I've done a few, all for on-screen, nothing for print. I've done a lot of print work, almost all of it using Adobe Illustrator. On-screen works best for ProCreate; you'll need another software package to complete your workflow and prep imagery for print (as ProCreate is exclusively RGB). 

First thing you need to know for a job are the specs: how big and what format. 

For on-screen, it's simple: they give you pixel dimensions (1920 x 1080 say, typical video size, or Zoom background at 1280 x 720) and you set up your file with those dimensions. Boom! Done. 

Or you would be, if ProCreate didn't resize your JPG and PNG output to a smaller dimension than the file you set up. I am not sure why, but might have something to do with screen density. Watch out for that.

Lesson learned!

I now send a flattened PSD file, or export to a desktop computer where you can produce a JPG or PNG without ProCreate undersizing your output. 

For print, you'll need to know what you're printing for. Magazines generally want 300 DPI (dots per inch), while most newspapers print (or printed, times change) 150 DPI. So the pixel dimension of a piece for a magazine that's 5"x7" will actually be double the needed pixel dimension than if it were being printed in a newspaper (1500 x 2100 vs. 750 x 1050). 

Format is usually JPG for online, but you might need to do animated GIFs from time to time (which you can produce in ProCreate). Paintings and photos generally work well as JPGs. Images that have sharp lines, text and lots of flat colour blocks... not so much. The more you compress a JPG, the more artifacting you'll get (unsightly smudging of the image, particularly around areas of high contrast).

PNGs are better for images that have lots of flat colour (as are GIFs), with the added benefit that you can leave areas transparent (unlike JPGs or GIFs). 

For print, you'll need to convert from RGB to CMYK or grayscale. As far as I can tell, ProCreate doesn't allow you to do this. 

Print uses CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) to mix colours, rather than RGB (red, green, blue) used on screens. The gamut is much greater, and more vibrant, for RGB (it's beaming light into your eyeballs, after all). 

If you're converting RGB images into CMYK, keep in mind that the image will be darker, duller, and less vibrant than it appears on screen. Once you convert to CMYK, it'll dim down; once you print it, it'll be a little darker still. How much can be a little hard to determine without actually testing. Some images transfer amazingly well between screen and print, while others are... more problematic. The colour purple I've found is particularly likely to change between screen and page. 

Different presses and printing methods can also affect the output, so whenever possible, request a test print. 

The larger your image, the fewer layers you'll have to play with in ProCreate, so keep that in mind. For screen size imagery (usually much smaller than what you need for print), that's never been a real problem for me. 

A 1500 x 2000 image will give you dozens of layers to putter around with.

Let's take a look at a Zoom background I did. This was a big experiment for me, as I'd not tried painting in this style before, nor had I really painted much on the iPad Pro. So risky, but fun. 

Trial by fire!

The piece had a Canadian theme, so I did a few roughs, playing around with pop Canadiana. I wanted to do something celebratory and fun. Something that would make people smile when they saw it. This is what I came up with:

The intial sketch: I walked up Spadina to find a store that sold Canadiana tchotchkes for reference and inspiration. It's got moose, inukshuk, and totem poles. These were removed to put more focus on Edmonton and Toronto.

I got feedback on the initial sketches, which were then modified to better suit the format (and leave more room for the head of the person sitting in front of the background, a key consideration for Zoom backgrounds). 

I then set about painting, and used a good number of default brushes to put it together:

Textures: Dove Lake, Rectango. Good for laying down areas of colour with personality.

Inking: Gesinki Ink, great for sharp details.

Elements: Cloud, this was such a quick fix, you can lay them down fast and they look good. 

Luminance: Light Pen. I used it for highlights around the edges of figures, to give them a backlit feel, and for sun dappling. It's almost, borderline cheesy, but it also adds atmosphere and helps tie elements together. But so tempting to go overboard! 

Luminance: Light Brush. Fabulous for shafts of light pouring through trees. 

Organic: Rainforest for background mass, Mountain Ash, Snowgum for leaves (and Paper Daisy); for clumps of vegetation: Swordgrass, Wildgrass, Reed, Twig for trees, etcetera. They can really convey a mass quickly, but need to be used judiciously or it starts to look... off. 

Lastly, I played with overlays and filters, which also helped pull the piece together. 

The focal elements were kept on separate layers from the background, so I could edit them without affecting anything else. That made it much easier when I had to do alternate riders, or different background cities.

RI try and keep elements on different layers, for easier editing (foreground elements like the moose, rider and flag were on separate layers from the trees, etc.). That makes it easier to shift and edit them without disrupting other elements.

This is midstream; the floating logo in the sky was removed, and I haven't added lighting filters on top yet. But it's more about refinements at this point.

A final twist was producing versions with different locations (Toronto or Edmonton), different riders, and different shirts on the riders.

I'm happy enough with the result, especially as a first go. It proved ProCreate can be used to produce illustrations on a short timeline, and that it has enough default tools to do a credible job. Thanks to the undo tool, it's pretty forgiving to work in. As I was trying to work this way for the first time, I got rather sloppy in my layer organization, but that'll get better as I become more familiar with the tool. 

As mentioned above, it was necessary to bring it into Photoshop to produce the final background images and avoid the output being shrunk. 

This version has one of the alternate figures and locations, as well as lighting filters applied over top of the rest of the image. That was done by creating an 'effects layer' by setting it to... hard light or something. Very similar to how it's done in Photoshop.

Thursday 15 July 2021

Map of Humanity can now be conquered in Lux!

My Map of Humanity, the most outlandishly ambitious (and completely bonkers) project I've ever undertaken, is a map now in Lux, thanks to Enokrad. 

Lux, for those not in the know, is a Risk style online game. 

I've always wanted my own Risk map. 

The only reason I know Irkutsk and Kamchatka well is thanks to that game. 

The original map

The Lux (and conquerable) version!

The mission statement for the Map of Humanity:

Maps organize information. They pinpoint geographic locations relative to each other. The Map of Humanity also organizes information, but instead of doing it geographically, the map organizes the locations on the basis of moral, emotional, and cultural significance.

From the mythical cradle of human thought in the Garden of Eden, to the farthest reaches of human imagination, the map plots out mankind's achievements, trials, and tribulations throughout history. We have constructed a world made up of our own actions and beliefs, as much as the one formed by the land we live on. The map of humanity is formed by our thought, our feelings, our dreams, and our nightmares.

The continents of this restructuring rest upon the sea of the unconscious, the stormy basis of our thought. The land that emerges from it is broken into three main continents, each related to an aspect of the human mind: superego, ego, and id.

The superego is dominated by our higher aspirations. It is our moral centre, where our sense of compassion, love, and virtue reside. Hope, family, kindness, and beauty dwell here amongst the peaceful fields and tranquil cities. The ego is dominated by reason, rational thought, and order. It is the land of science, where nature is harnessed by the human mind; and order and reason hold sway over emotion and passion. The id is the dark continent, dominated by our primitive, animalistic urges. Here hate, greed, avarice, lust, and bigotry run rampant, and war devolves into atrocity.

This is the world of our making, carved out of our actions, built upon the collective achievements of the human race.

It is an attempt to map the last six thousand years of human history and thought upon a theoretical geography to discover a sense of what kind of civilization humanity has attained. And like the geography of human nations, it is in constant flux, changing and growing as long as mankind walks the face of the earth.

It took 5 months to build and has thousands of locations from both history and fiction.

Of course something of this scale (grandiose) is going to have limitations. Ideally locations would be assembled and evaluated by a team of experts in history, philosophy, literature, and science and then the results plotted out using a computer. Every year it would change, and over time it would grow larger and more complex. Obviously this map is not going to achieve the perfect realization of the idea. In fact, this is the second iteration of the map, which is far more extensive than the first, which was an intaglio print. 

Perhaps one day there will be a third.

Monday 12 July 2021

Life drawing: traditional vs. digital

I thought it might be interesting to contrast life drawings I did on paper with those on the iPad Pro, using ProCreate. 

ProCreate definitely gives you more flexibility and options, but when you're working super fast, you have to know what you're going to do in advance. Even switching between brushes takes time. There is also no texture to the art board.

I use either 8.5" x 11" hard bound sketchbooks, or smaller 5" x 7" versions. The iPad Pro is maybe a little lighter than the larger sketchbook, and not as bulky. I only have to carry the Apple Pencil with the Pro; with the sketchbook, I usually have a slew of pens, markers, pencil crayons and a portable watercolour kit. 

A life drawing watercolour; lots of the paper showing through.

With this drawing, you can see I've used too much water, and the paper is buckling. Some aspects of the drawing I like, but I rather messed up the face. Watercolour is not very forgiving, unlike ProCreate.

Watercolour in the sketchbook can get problematic if you use a lot of water. It crinkles up the page, and if you have to switch to a new page, folding it over, it'll mush up against the earlier pages and make a mess. So you can't work too fast with watercolour. That or you get a watercolour block and slice off each page with an Xacto blade as you go. I only use watercolour blocks for longer poses (half hour or longer), and there's only one class I know of that has poses that long (I generally don't go to it).

The pose

The sketchbook

The drawing. I used a brush pen for this. It's soft tipped, and when it starts to run down, it makes really interesting textured patterns when you scumble with it. Happy accidents like that are not easy to replicate on the iPad. I also combined it with a fineliner for, natch, the line work.

I started embelishing the drawings with quick doodles of ships, seas and rocks.

Straight up line work, overlapping drawings to save paper. That's one thing you won't have to worry about with the iPad.

In addition to almost limitless undos (so long as you haven't closed the file), ProCreate lets you save a video of the drawing process. This can be interesting to review, to study how you go about drawing, and where you might improve. It also allows you to watch how others create their drawings, which is even more educational.

This is a video of a life drawing session. I used a virtual 6B pencil for it, if I recall. You can make the colour whatever you like, but every time you change it costs you precious seconds. The video is pixelated when brought into Blogger. You actually get very good detail, and can post them to Instagram. 

I usually focus on the outline, the shape of the figure, and rarely do any structural work underneath. There's rarely any time to. Poses are 5 or 10 minutes, with a series of 2 minute gesture drawings to warm up. My sweet spot is 15 to 30 minutes. Long enough to get detail, but not long enough to get bored.

For gesture drawings, you do a quick sweeping stroke for the main energy line of the pose, then build out the figure using spheres and cylinder shapes. I just use circles and oblong ovals. 

I use one file for life drawing sessions now, and create new layers for new poses. If it's a long pose, I'll perhaps create a new file. You can make palettes in ProCreate, but quite often I've just done so manually on a layer. 

If I remember, I'll write down the type of brushes I used on a layer in the file, so I know how to achieve that look again, in the future.

Thursday 8 July 2021

First scribbles and life drawing with ProCreate

The first drawing I did on the iPad Pro was at lunch on the workplace patio; a coworker had brought his iPad, and we both did a drawing based on a third party prompt (superheroes). 

A rather distorted looking superhero figure. First drawing on the iPad Pro.

After that, I did a number of doodles, trying various brushes. Messy stuff. I could never remember which brush I used for what. I've since gotten into the habit of creating an extra layer in my ProCreate files where I write down the names of all the brushes I used in the file. Otherwise, I'll forget, and replicating the look/feel has to be done by trial and error. 

Brush play doodles. There's so many approaches and brushes available it's a little daunting at first.

After that, I started hauling out the iPad to life drawing. 

The first time was at a life drawing session at an art show I curated: Monsters & Machines, which also served as a book launch for my Middle Grade novel, Theo Paxstone and the Dragon of Adyron. I actually illustrated that book with a number of pen and ink drawings, and I believe I could do better ones using the iPad (which allows for a lot more correction, a feature I sorely need). 

The drawing session was Steampunk themed, and the model did a fabulous job. 

The brush I picked, however, was a plain one, and if you zoom in close, the line work looks exactly like what it is: scribbles on a glass surface. No texture at all. 

I'm actually very happy with the drawings, and they hold together if you don't zoom in too much. I posted some more pictures from the set here.

The full drawing and a blown up section, showing the plainness of the brush tool I used.

This gets the scribbliness across even better

Monday 5 July 2021

What's the best drawing software for iPad (Pro)?

An Adobe Draw piece I exported as a PNG; all flat shapes, no soft edges. 

Once you've gotten your spiffy new iPad, you have to decide what software you're going to dabble with, and that largely depends upon what you want to create.

Want to create Manga? There's apps specifically tailored to making it. I looked at some, but they seemed more like starter software. If you're new to doing digital art, are specifically focused on Manga, need a little extra support as you're getting into it (templates, etc.), then these programs may be for you. I would imagine, however, that over time you'd want to move on to more versatile programs.

Want to animate? There's apps for that too, including the aptly named Animate. Note that some drawing apps do have limited animation capability (such as Photoshop and ProCreate). 

I wasn't entirely certain what I'd do with the iPad Pro when I got it; I wanted to play around, see what was possible and what I actually liked doing on the device. 

Top activities, off the top of my head:

1) Life draw. I usually do 5-10 minute poses, in pencil, ink, watercolour or pastel. They're very rough, usually line work with washes or ink blotches. Not super sophisticated.

A traditional media life drawing, done in pencil

I think these were both a little longer than usual poses (10-15 minutes?)

2) Paint portraits. For this I wanted a reasonable simulation of paint, particularly oil. I wasn't hoping for much in the way of watercolour. Wet into wet often produces happy accidents and I doubted digital could pull of a reasonable approximation of the process or result. 

3) Illustrate. This is a little different, in that it would have commercial application, and would have to be part of an end-to-end work flow, from creation to (possibly) print. Output would have to be compatible with layout programs. It'd have to support CMYK (for print) as well as RGB (for screen). There'd also need to be a decent number of brushes and support tools (basic shapes, etc) as well. 

4) Create comic books. This one gets even more complicated. It'd need to have type tools (my comics always have text for dialogue, sound effects, narration and commentary), basic shapes and (a nice to have) perspective grids. Anything to help ease the process and eliminate busy work.

I also wanted it to be easy to use, compatible with other software I'm familiar with, economical.

Animation wasn't a top priority for me (I use Adobe After Effects for that).

What'd I try?

WARNING: Subjective review. I don't think I explored several pieces of software enough to really give them a fair shake (Concepts and Graphic).

Adobe Photoshop

This one is a bit of a cheat. It doesn't run on an iPad, but you can hook up your iPad to your laptop/desktop and then use the iPad as a tablet. You get to use Photoshop! Alas, the lag was so bad as to be unworkable. 

If you want to do professional illustration / art, the CINTIQ may be the better option. Everyone I know who's professional level uses the CINTIQ (although the hard core also have an iPad Pro). Most need to be attached to a computer, but some can be used independently (such as the Mobile Studio Pro, which will set you back about a cool $4,300 CDN). 

The great thing about Photoshop is that it allows end to end production: print, web, you name it. It's industry standard for a reason.

You can turn off anti-aliasing of text, for example, which you need to do if you're going to go to print. Certain other programs are not capable of this (as we shall see) and as a result you need to rely on other programs to prepare your work for printing. 

Of course, Photoshop is subscription and a rather pricey proposition at $20.99 per month (plus tax). 

If you're using it for commercial jobs, that's reasonably economical (once you've swallowed the cost of the CINTIQ). If you're an artist, on the other hand, it may be a little pricey. 

Adobe Draw

Adobe rolled out Draw a few years ago as a tablet based alternative to Adobe Illustrator. I've complained before how I don't like the way bezier points are laid down in Illustrator with a stylus. 

Well, they licked that problem with Draw. What you draw with the stylus is what you get. 

The art work is vector based, which means it's all plotted out using points connected by lines that may be curved by pulling anchors on your bezier points. 

Raster images are composed of hundreds or thousands of tiny dots of colour; when you enlarge those, they become fuzzy. 

Vector print files tend to be significantly smaller than their raster equivalents, and they are resolution independent (you can infinitely scale up or down). The down side is that it did not have a wide variety of brushes to select from, or a lot of effects.

An Adobe Draw doodle. Crisp shapes. Handles your brush marks well, and with the ability to export vector format could be powerful. 

Still, it was supposed to export EPS files that could be opened in Illustrator. Since I've done a LOT of work in Illustrator in the past (all of my illustration work and graphic novels to date were done in the program), I thought this one would be a really good bet. 

Unfortunately, I did not realize you need an active Creative Cloud account to vector files out of Draw. You can export a PNG, but that's not what I wanted to do: I wanted to send clients finished vector artwork, or pull the material from Draw and use it as the basis for comic book elements on the desktop. 

I own earlier versions of Adobe Illustrator from before it became subscription based. They fulfill my needs, and I haven't had cause to update yet. I use the modern version of the program at work, but we don't have Creative Cloud, and it made no sense to me to pay a monthly subscription fee just for the right to export the file in vector format. 

I found that restriction off putting. 

After a couple months, Adobe then blocked me from opening the program, demanding that I input a Creative Cloud account. It was not subscription when I bought it, and since I have no such account and was unwilling to pay to export files, I stopped using the program. 

That's just as well: Adobe recently sent me a letter saying they are no longer supporting Draw and that Fresco is replacing it. 

Draw is dead, baby. 

I prefer, when I'm working on the iPad Pro, to just open my programs and work, not have to leap through hoops and demands for additional info or accounts or whatnot.

Draw was good, but not that good.

Fresco is, from what I have heard, very good and has many wonderful features. After my experience with Adobe Draw, however, I'm not really interested at this time. 

I imagine it's a professional level tool though, and worth looking into.


A friend recommended this one, and it's got a ton of features. Too many. I wasn't keen on the interface. I The initial hurdle was too great and I didn't bother to explore it as much as it probably deserved. 

Concepts offers you the basics for free, but if you want more functionality, you have to pay a subscription fee. 

That I wanted to avoid.

I would not recommend this as casual or beginner software.


This is a vector based program, touted as a stripped down version of Adobe Illustrator, so it seemed like a possible fit. Unfortunately, I didn't like the way it laid down the bezier points, and sometimes my lines would just vanish after I drew them. Obviously I was doing something wrong, but... I wasn't compelled to figure it out. 

I did a few sketches in this I didn't like and dropped it.

Others I can't remember

I deleted a few off my drive that I tried and really did not like. I can't even remember them now. 

So much for thorough research! 


This is what I ultimately settled on: it's compatible with both newer and older versions of Photoshop (meaning that layers in your ProCreate file transfer, along with live text, perfectly to Photoshop, without incident), has lots of brushes, is easy to use, inexpensive (no subscription fee), well supported and popular. 

It is not vector based, but raster art has its advantages (especially with textures), and that was appealing. I'd been doing vector based art for so long, I thought it was time for a change.  I didn't like any of the vector based alternatives. 

Of the programs I tried, it felt the closest to traditional media, and the interface is mostly invisible, it doesn't get in my way or (for the most part) frustrate me. I like interfaces that are like picture frames: they enhance the picture but don't distract.

I found myself gravitating to ProCreate when I went life drawing, over Draw, Concepts or Graphic. It was just so much easier to use, and even so it was challenging to move off traditional media and into this digital contraption.

I'm now very comfortable in ProCreate. It's a tool that allows me to do a lot of want I want to do, and doesn't get in my way. 

That doesn't mean I know how to use it well: I struggled with the brushes, especially at first, not being sure how to properly employ them. Then again, I struggle with a lot of traditional media as well.

There are videos and tutorials online, but not the process type stuff I was specifically looking for. 

I wound up mostly learning trial by error. 

I use ProCreate for my own limited, applied purposes: life drawing (with aplomb), painting (I think, I need to get better at painting, period), and even illustration (with major caveat regarding the RGB limitations). 

I admit I am still struggling to find my groove when it comes to illustrating using the iPad Pro and ProCreate.

Comics was the most complicated option. When I first looked into software for doing a graphic novel, ProCreate did not yet have a text tool. A few months later, it was added. By that point I was familiar with it thanks to the life drawing, so I just kept rolling forward with it. 

It does not, however, allow you to turn off anti-aliasing on your type (Anti-aliasing makes type smooth and easy to read on the screen, but if you print it, it'll look fuzzy). It does not have the ability to create CMYK files either (only RGB for screen). 

ProCreate is NOT an end-to-end production tool. 

I had to convert files to bitmap to remove the anti-aliasing on the faux ink line work, which meant I needed to port it over to my desktop and bring it into Photoshop

If I didn't have an old copy of Photoshop, I'd have had to rely on my publisher to do the final print prep work, or buy a subscription just to do print prep.

Next: I'll post some life drawings (and attempted paintings) using ProCreate, then some illustration explorations, and finally some comics pages.