They say you learn something new every day.

Archive for December, 2011

Absense makes the lossless grow sharper (31/12/2011)

I’ve been reading Scott Hanselman‘s blog recently. I found it through Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror Blog. It was one of those things I found ages ago and then forgot about. My bookmarks list is a bit of a jungle these days, and probably needs some work done on it.

I was reading a post today about png files and I remembered that png files are lossless and jpgs are lossy. D’oh!

PNGs are lossless, dummy

It’s one of those things that makes you feel silly when you remember and realise you’ve been doing it wrong. That’s why a while back I switched from jpgs to pngs on my website. Double d’oh. This is the worst; I used to do it right and now I’ve started doing it wrong. I’m getting stupider.

But, hey, this is what my whole “learn something new every day thing” is about. As long as I’m less stupid than I was yesterday, it’s okay.

So, today, I scanned a couple of images straight to png. I also noticed that Scott points out there’s a way of optimizing png files using a piece of software called PNGOut (actually, tracing the article back, it looks like he got it from Jeff).

Interestingly, when I first clicked on the page they linked to, I ended up thinking I needed to pay for it. They also linked to this GUI version, which you don’t have to pay for. So I picked the GUI version.

The GUI version requires the latest version of .Net. In my quest to keep my computer lean and uncluttered, I often end up going around the houses like this when I install new software.

Interestingly, there’s a link to a page (again, by Scott) that shows you how to get the smallest version of .net possible. None of these bloated, 100MB plus downloads. Horray!

Having done all this, I installed PNGGauntlet and had a play. I ran it on a 14MB png file to see the difference. It took ages to run, but it did lose about a meg with no noticeable loss in quality.

Png Gauntlet Doing it's thing

Feeling all smug, I sat down to write this article. However, as I was researching the links, I discovered there is a command line version of it. Which is what I was looking for in the first place.

I’ve started to like using command line applications now:

  1. You can batch script it to do lots at once
  2. It’s good practice in scripting
  3. They’re ultra-simple and you don’t need to install them or anything like that

So, I grabbed that, and the syntax is really easy:

pngout inputfile.png outputfile.png

The other thing I’ve learnt here is that writing out instructions or teaching something to someone else, really does help you learn it yourself.

Still at the drawing board (30/12/2011)

A lot of people say that you can either draw or you can’t. I have to admit part of me believed this a bit as well until recently.

However, as can be seen from the last few posts, I’ve been messing around drawing odds and ends, and then fiddling with them in Photoshop.

The interesting thing is, flicking through a number of drawing books, and looking at other illustrators, there are certain “tips” and “techniques” that once you know them just make drawing easier. Yesterday I wrote about leaving a gap between the edges of the glasses, and about a way of drawing ears. It’s similar to the way of drawing noses straight on – once you know, you can just draw them.

Flicking through drawing books, a lot of things are like this. Obviously, a key thing to learn is technique, and how to look at things so that you can figure them out yourself; but there really are things you can learn. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say that drawing is one of the few things that you don’t have natural talent for but have to learn.

An interesting thought really – not just for drawing, but for everything in life, really: whatever it is, practice and thinking about it will make you better at it.

Anyway, I had a go at drawing something a bit more complex yesterday.

It’s a little comic strip of me drawing it (it’s got one of those nifty self referential pictures of itself in it that we post-modern types love so much).

One of the things I’ve noticed about this, again, as before, is that it looks so much better in it’s penciled stage than it does finished on the computer. It looks so precise in pencil, but some bits of it look almost sloppy on the computer.

I suspect part of this is to do with straight lines. I tried drawing the straight lines freehand, because I thought they’d look strange if I drew them with a ruler, but actually, I think I should have probably thought back to my technical drawing lessons at school (all 8 of them), and got out the ruler and set square. I suspect another lesson here is: never underestimate the importance of precision.

I mean, take a look at this Tintin frame:

Look at the sharpness and detail in those trains, in the tracks and in the roof. (Somewhat annoyingly, the speech bubble obscures some of the incredible detail in the ceiling struts).

What I did, as a test, was redraw the frame edges with a straight line:

At this size, you may not be able to see much improvement, but I think it’s better. I may, if I get chance, have a go at drawing the desk with straight lines as well.

Now, as they say in The Week, it wasn’t all bad. I’m really happy with the chair – especially the way it pops out of the frame. And the same with my arm, hand and the top of my head.

The hands were really tough, and they’re still not quite right. Hand two isn’t too bad, but hand one is a bit wrong. I really struggled with that, and I think the lesson here is to make sure your drawing from the right photo. I tend to hold my pencil in a slightly funny way anyway, and hence it’s difficult to make it look realistic. Looking back at the photo now, even the photo looks a bit weird.

I also suspect that drawing at a large size and scaling down is the way to do this sort of thing as well. I went to Lowestoft and bought a 1.0mm pen today, so that I can improve the scaling. I think I like the lines to be about 0.5mm on the screen, so using a 1.0mm pen and scaling by half should create the correct effect.

One interesting thing I noticed about Tintin today is that nearly all the pictures are wide full-body shots. And when they are only part of a body, the body itself is the same size as a full body would have been: there are no close ups. I wonder if that what makes the comics seem so innocent – that there are rarely any close-ups that create emotional engagement. Dunno, just a thought really.

Keeping within the lignes (29/12/2011)

I spent yesterday in front of the drawing board again, as I did the other day.

Now, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes, which I’d love to put as a day’s lesson, but really is the whole point of this blog. I’m not aiming not to make mistakes, I’m aiming to make each mistake only once, and document it, so that next time I’ll make a different mistake.

I started a new picture today. Two in fact. The problem with the first one, really was with the scanning. I drew it in blue, because I had a nice blue pen, but the blue didn’t scan very well.

Later, I found a surprisingly nice black pen, which really made a big difference. We all know a bad workman blames his tools, but I suspect the corollary to this is that a good workman compliments his tools. (And yes, there is a pun there).


This is the picture, penciled. I’ve done some rough penciling her, and then gone over with a stronger line. Somewhat ironically, I think this is my favourite of all them. One of the interesting things is that I made a few mistakes while inking, which I have correct on the pencil one. In particular, the right side of my cheek, my collar and my hood.

Picture inked

Crucially, what I’ve improved here is the nose and eye. At this sort of 45º angle, the nose is a line that continues into the eyebrow. I’ve improved the far side eye as well, I think a little. The ear is better as well; it looks like it has thickness at the top, which it didn’t before. And it’s much simpler as well, which is nice.

My Dad gave me an idea about the glasses as well – leaving a gap between the side of my face and glasses, to show that the glasses were in front of  the face.


I’ve noticed that the scanner is very harsh. I think it’s partly the pen I’m using, and also scanning rather than photographing. On the one hand, scanning is much easier, and I don’t have to do anywhere near as much “cleaning” of the picture in Photoshop, but, it seems to leave holes in the lines.

picture scanned

I actually learnt two important Photoshop colouring tips today. Two for the price of one, eh! Firstly, the secret is to colour with the brush, not with the fill and fade tools, as I thought.

Photoshop Multiply

The thing to do is duplicate the later, and then, on the second layer, select “Multiply”. Can’t say I fully understand this, but it makes the white sections transparent. With this switched on, you are able to paint over the picture, and the black line remains It’s a bit like a layer mask.

Over lines

I still use the magic wand tool, but this time to select all the white outside the main picture to clean up where I’ve painted outside the lines. I was surprised by how well it worked actually.

Picture coloured

The second, and perhaps more important tip, connected to this, is that once you “multiply” the layers, it’s easy to add shadows on. I like the ones on my ear and under my hair line. I think it really brings the picture to life, and I haven’t even taken that much care with the shadows. I suspect someone who knows more about shadows will happily point out I haven’t done them right, but it’s a big step from where I was yesterday.


I think I’m quite happy with this picture. I like the colouring, and the thickness of the line is correct. Compared to the two previous ones, it’s definitely an improvement, anyway.

The interesting thing is, this isn’t because I’m a good artist in anyway, but it’s because I stopped and thought about what I was doing (wrote this blog) and then, when I came back, I attempted to not make the same mistakes again.

Give me a platform to stand (28/12/2011)

I’ve realised that one problem I have is “stickability”.  If you look at my attempt at a webcomic, it lasted for 24 comics (all of which I did in one month – so it’s not even as if it lasted half a year).

My website, is probably the thing I’ve stuck at the most, run with a friend, between us we’ve managed 109 posts over a year and a half. However, for the last six months, my postings have been intermittent at best, and non-existent at worst. And of course, this is just one of many websites I’ve run.

When I was a child, I created comic after comic, and book after book. Some of these ran for hundreds of editions, but they were frequently unfinished or incomplete.

The problem is, I think, that I tend to get other ideas that are incompatible with my current platform. For example, if you’re writing a webcomic, and you suddenly get an idea for a blog about the media, you can’t really fit it in. And similarly, if you have a blog and you want to draw a funny picture, it doesn’t really work.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, because, partly, I don’t think this is a problem that’s going to go away, and my conclusion is to be more committed to the platform, and to see ideas as possibilities for that platform.

If you think of some of my favourite things on the Internet, XKCD, Zero Punctuation, Coding Horror, they are all platforms, and the creator is true to the platform each week. When they get ideas, rather than thinking of the perfect platform for them, they see how that idea could work on their platform.

I think I need to do that more.

At the moment, I have a few platforms. There’s this diary/daily blog/mini-blog thing. There’s my website, and there’s also my writing projects. I think, really, if I want to succeed with any of these, I need to stick to them, and reform other ideas to match those platforms.

The thin black ligne (27/12/2011)

I’ve always admired comic artwork. For many years when I was younger I wanted to be a cartoonist, comic book artist and illustrator. Although I couldn’t have told you, probably my favourite artist was Herge – him of TinTin fame.

His style of artwork is known as ligne claire. And, in fact, he is the creator of it.

It uses clear strong lines of uniform importance. Artists working in it do not use hatching, while contrast is downplayed as well. Cast shadows are often illuminated while a uniformity of line is used throughout, paying equal attention to every element depicted. Additionally, the style often features strong colours and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background.

The key thing is that the lines are the flat colours and unified line thickness. I’ve realised that I actually draw in this style (when I do draw). And, I like to think, I don’t look as much like a copied version of Tintin as someone like Edgar Jacobs:

Blake and Mortimer

Perhaps it’s the titles that make this look like a TinTin copy. It’s a shame really because the pictures are actually really nice.

So, the realization today is sort of two fold – one that I’ve sort of already started developing a style. But also, how important it is that there is a style that is educated and informed by other styles, but not influenced too closely or copied.

What’s interesting is that the closeness is too close when it’s not meant to be a copy, but not close enough when it is meant to be a copy.

Tintin and Alph Art

This picture, which is meant to be an accurate homage to Herge, just isn’t quite right. Tintin’s legs are wrong – the artist has “cartoonised” the wrong bits – Herge never bent Tintin’s legs in such an unrealistically cartoon way as that. Other than that, it’s very good. But the legs are wrong enough that it makes the whole picture look slightly wrong. And while taking Tintin’s style and “cartoonising” it more, would be good to develop your own style, it’s no good when drawing a homage to Tintin.

I’ve been looking back at the pictures I’ve drawn of myself.

Simon Pitt Cartoon for Erratically Charged

The first one I drew was this one for my radio Sit Com Erratically Charged. In it, I’m “playing a character”, so while it hopefully looks like me, I’m pulling a face that I don’t usually pull.

Simon Pitt Tim Button Erratically Charged coloured

I think I’ve coloured this one quite well – there’s a nice bit of shading on my face that’s left my chin slightly grey to indicate the stubble. I ¬†also like the index finger a lot and the nose and mouth. There’s a problem with the ear – it’s slightly flat somehow, and also with the thumb, which looks like it has no thickness at it’s tip.

Me headphones black and white

The next picture I drew was this one, which became the de facto “logo” for me. I like this one, although I haven’t done such a good job of the nose. The mouth is interesting in it’s simplicity.

Me coloured

I think what I like about this one the most is because it’s slightly smaller the lines are correspondingly thicker. I think I’ve got this one about the right size. Again, I like what I’ve done with the hair, fading from light brown to darker brown.

Yesterday I drew another “me”:

Latest me

I’m not incredibly happy with this one, but it’s okay. I like the nose and mouth, but I’ve made a mistake with the right (my left) eye. The angle is slightly wrong. I’m also not quite happy with the hair. I think I’ve got the “spikes” the wrong way. And finally, with my list of complaints, I’ve messed up the hatching at the right. But that’s meant to be slightly scruffy. Not that scruffy though.

Me final coloured

One of the problems really was that my pen ran out half way through – that it was too thin, and then I had to switch to using a biro (a biro!).

I scanned this one rather than photographing it, so the line reproduction is different. I’m happier with the edges of the colour on this one (the first one had sharp edges, the second one were too messy.

Before moving on to pictures like this, I used to draw pictures much more in this style:

Combination Stacks

It’s much more cartoony, with the eyes overlapping. That was always a big deal. As a child I was very influenced by Peter Maddox:

Peter Maddox

The reason for this was probably because he wrote so many books on how to be a cartoonist, and I had so many of them.

Combination Stacks in colour

I think the colours work well on this one too, but really, as much as I like it, I’m not sure this is the style I want anymore.

And this has proved yesterday’s lesson; the more you do something the better at it you get. I’m much better at drawing myself than anyone else, because I’ve done it more. And similarly, looking back at my childhood pictures, I was much better then, because I was drawing them so much.

Repetition, repetition, repetition (26/12/2011)

I got this book for Christmas, the Liquid Thinking Survival Guide to Change. I actually got it because of the artist and illustrations. Ironically, I’m not a big fan of the style he’s used here, but the content is really interesting.

There are a few times where it borders on becoming a self-help book. I suppose there’s always that danger with books like this, but some of the things it says are really interesting, and there’s definitely things to learn. The one I came across today, and which hit me most, was the importance of repetition.

When you do the same thing repeatedly, the brain connection thickens, meaning it’s easier for information to flow through. So, in fact, it makes you cleverer – or at least, it makes it easier to think or act that way. I suppose this is how school works, but it has really interesting implications. I’ve seen this in action myself. The first time I saw an array created in vbscript by using split() I was really impressed. Now, it’s the standard way I think of creating arrays. Repetition has made me cleverer. Or, at least, better at solving that particular problem. And now that I can solve that problem, I can move onto the next one.

Have a KitKat (25/11/2011)

We all need a rest sometimes. That’s today’s lesson

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