Process

Occasional notes on thinking and practice.

Clip Studio Paint - on an iPad

A few months back I posted a few notes on using Astropad Studio to link an iPad to a Mac running Clip Studio Paint. I used this set up to create finished artwork for the MELC books.

The great benefit of Clip Studio Paint is that with the right tweaking¹ you can produce digital illustrations that ‘feel’ like natural media in a way that I don’t think Procreate can. At the time the added bonus of Astropad Studio meant tremendous advantages for the final artwork. 

Around November last year, Clip Studio Paint was released natively on the iPad and I have been using it ever since. 

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When it originally surfaced there were a couple of excited discussions bouncing around the social interwebs:

  • It is too expensive.
  • Can it handle ‘big’ files?

Both of these discussions are now redundant in my view. 

It isn’t too expensive.

If you are making professional quality art these tools are worth it.

Just a few years ago we were in the era of hundreds (and in some cases tens of hundreds) of pounds for software. Now the pendulum has swung wildly the other way with incredibly powerful apps costing under £10. Anything costing above that is easily written off, but let me just remind you that if you are living in a weird goldfish-memory mindset if you consider CSP as too expensive. It is worth every penny. 

 Sorry dudes. 

Sorry dudes. 

 As far as I understand, the Pro version doesn’t handle multi page creation.

As far as I understand, the Pro version doesn’t handle multi page creation.

And it can handle ‘big’ files.

The iPad version of CSP is bizarrely as good/better than the desktop Mac version. It easily handles multi-page creation². The Apple Pencil translates immediately into a better-than-Wacom experience and the ability to import/modify custom brushes means that this app just stole the lunch money of a lot of crying competitors. So far I have seen nothing to undermine this, and if you add in the point made by Frenden that an iPad Pro is a form of away-from-your-desk freedom, the cost savings become clear. 

My current set up. 

I took ages adjusting the CSP user interface to reflect how I actually work. It was worth taking the time³. The brushes are all carefully imported ones that are limited to what I find useful⁴ . 

The artwork then gets exported via airdrop or directly through iTunes to my 5k iMac which gets used as a final layout platform. Affinity photo and my desktop copy of CSP exist for the sole purpose of being a big glossy compositional screen. Although this makes me a little sad about great tech becoming redundant, the big screen is great for seeing the work put together. 

What could be better?

  • The myriad opaque UI choices are frankly bizarre (but don’t change anything yet because I have only just got things how I like them!).
  • The file management system is horrible - so many steps for exporting artwork. SO hard to navigate afterwards. In this regard Procreate is the Boss. Looking through completed artwork is way better - with CSP it is like pulling teeth and I tend to avoid it. 
  • If you want to make it cheaper I won’t complain. 

¹ Using a variety of imported brushes from people like Frenden and DAUB.

² Something I missed sorely while using Procreate for the 100+ images for the Dear Theo project - reordering and finding files in their folder system was quite tricky when I had to swap iPads mid-process. It also means that Astropad Studio is now going bye bye. The £60.99 annual subscription is now heading to the pockets of CSP. Sorry and thankyou guys - I made some of my best art using your terrific stuff. 

³ This is something that Procreate doesn’t try to do for good reason. CSP has an unintuitive opaque UI that would leave you airless in a mineshaft if you weren’t too careful. There are a few places on YouTube where a simple search will give you tips. Don’t be too put off by all this fiddling about - once you get this baby set up right it is amazing. 

⁴ I was pretty deliberate about limiting this - too many choices will overwhelm and drown those visual ideas. And we don’t want that to happen do we? We want that little dude to live and become a hairy beast all on his own. 

Dear Theo

Dear Theo is a book I illustrated last year for Biblica¹. A full print run and release is scheduled during 2018. It is a combined volume of the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The ‘Dear Theo’ title comes from the opening paragraph in each volume where Luke is explicit about wanting the ‘most excellent Theophilus’ to know that just how certain the foundations of the Christian faith are. 

 Dear Theo comes with the incredible ability to balance like this in public spaces. 

Dear Theo comes with the incredible ability to balance like this in public spaces. 

Here are some background/process notes:

The Jesus Comic

A few years back, I had the idea of creating a visual version of the story of Jesus to reinforce and supplement material I was delivering in the classroom. I didn’t intend it as a replacement for the Bible text, but as a kind of complement or alternative way of reflecting on the taught material (fancy-pants educational theorists call this ‘dual coding’). I worked through this project and eventually self-published it as ‘The Jesus Comic’. I was so proud to have Dave’s Comics in Brighton support me in selling copies of my first book!

 I can't tell you how excited I was about this. 

I can't tell you how excited I was about this. 

Then, working with a couple of kind friends², we also released an iOS app version. It was very exciting. We didn’t turn the world upside down but it did sell a few hundred copies. 

 Look at that: an iPad3 displaying our £2.39 app in an Apple Store no less.

Look at that: an iPad3 displaying our £2.39 app in an Apple Store no less.

Life Changer

After this I was approached by The Goodbook Company³ and the material was edited into a more streamlined version which was titled ‘Life Changer’. Lots changed⁴, but I was delighted to be published and contribute to a wider audience. 

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TAOTA

Just after I started selling ‘The Jesus Comic’ there, the manager of Dave’s Comics had made a throwaway comment to me about my ‘next’ project that wormed it’s way deeply into my mind. He suggested doing something about the book of Acts (for those who aren’t clued into the BIble, this is the account of the early adventures of Jesus’ followers after he had died, resurrected and ascended).

Eventually I succumbed to this prompt and spent a number of weeks working my way through the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles . Taking a blank sketchbook, I printed out the entire text and pasted each of the 28 chapters onto double pages with lots of space for scribbling as I went.

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I worked through each section intensively for a number of weeks. In the end I had a lot of unrefined imagery and ideas bouncing around. It was provisionally named ‘TAOTA’ (The Acts of the Apostles) and then stored away for a couple of years.

Biblica

After a few false starts and pauses I was eventually signed up with Biblica⁵ in 2016 to produce a 100+ images to accompany a volume of Luke/Acts combined. I was able to take a lot of my prior thinking and adapt it to something useful. 

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The process at this stage was typical of my work at the time - working with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, I used Notability to draft quick roughs on a multi-page PDF before completing the finals in Procreate.

Final thoughts

In the end I have been delighted with this project - Trevor Wilson and John Dunham were a pleasure to work with. The NIrV translation text works really well alongside the images. Here is a link if you are interested in purchasing a copy. 


¹ Formerly known as the Bible Society.

² Tony Waghorn and David Butler no less. 

³ Thankyou Tim Thornborough.

⁴ The American market associated ‘Comic’ with something less serious so they changed it. The cover had a different orange - more fluorescent. Production-wise I used a iPad3, a Maglus Stylus and Adobe Ideas to draw the vector images. One other huge change was the impact of being edited - the result is tightly focused and has a greater clarity to it. I learnt loads about working through the editorial process and letting go of those sacred little darlings (thanks, Carl Laferton).

⁵ Thankyou Trevor Wilson.

#draw365 retirement

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So, part way through my third year of the #draw365 project (791 posts!) I have decided to give it a rest in favour of diving into deeper¹ material. The last three years has seen a lot of stuff happening and I have enjoyed the discipline of drawing something every day. 

So was it worth doing?

Definitely. Here are some (personal) thoughts:

  • As a space for personal reflection I have found the discipline of #draw365 invaluable - I have developed a set of visual-reflective muscles that feel restless without the exercise of reaching for my sketchbook. While I don’t intend to stop reflecting - I won’t be posting them online every day. Every artist needs the space to reflect, and this has been a huge help to me.
  • As a means of interaction and discussion with my students it has been terrific. Beyond the online ‘likes’ I have often used these pictures in class to discuss something currently going on in the culture². 
  • Drawing things quickly and not fussing about the results. There is something wonderful about doing something from a deeper, instant conviction and not spending too long on it. I continue to find it frustrating and wonderful that my best stuff didn’t take that long to craft. 
 My electric dutch bike was always a source of hilarious banter with the year 9 '8.08 crew' boy-racers.

My electric dutch bike was always a source of hilarious banter with the year 9 '8.08 crew' boy-racers.

What are the down-sides?

  • Occasionally my observations are too frank for public consumption. I then find myself caught between the need to keep my #draw365 routine or relationships(!). Not having to post daily means I can still think/reflect while reserving a protective barrier. 
  • The pressure to keep it going - this is a tricky one that comes back to a whole bunch of factors - the quality of the imagery (is it good enough? Am I overdoing it?), how you feel it reflects on you (and whether narcissistic crowd-pleasing tendencies matter), maintaining a natural organic feel (vs refined/artificial production). 

I hope that these are useful thoughts for anyone who is thinking of doing something similar.  I will certainly continue to post material on there but the hashtag is going into retirement from today.


¹ Lots of artists and writers make the observation that their best work is cheapened by the daily energy being donated to social media. Instead of seven half decent images - why not one each week with six discarded drafts? 

² It’s worth mentioning here that in the age of despicable online grooming and horrific child protection scandals, teachers are rightly required to follow strict professional codes of conduct online. This is why I never post personal photos or follow student accounts. Any communication always stays out in the open. This stuff matters. 

#draw365

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I started a daily drawing routine about two years ago, and am pleased to say it is still going

The process

I usually scribble something quickly into my sketchbook¹  using a biro, photograph it with my iPad and compose/ink it in the excellent Procreate app. From here I post it to Instagram. You can find a dump of my most recent images on this page.  

The weirdness of audiences

When I had just finished my A levels² I took a trip to Paris to stay with my Uncle and do a bit of painting and drawing. It was a kind of lead-up to doing my Foundation Art Diploma and I was raring to be an artist! I took some acrylic painting materials, borrowed a portable easel from my girlfriend and prepared some canvases. I was all set. When I got to a monument (somewhere or other) I set up my stuff and began to make some Art™. 

And then it all crashed - I felt utterly paralysed by

a. tourists who kept taking their photo next to me

b. people looking at what I was doing and

c. the inner knowledge that I wasn’t actually that good. Other artists around me were way more impressive. I was a fraud.

It was such a weird experience. I came away not wanting to do it again. Bizarrely, this event illustrates what happens whenever we post material online - purely because there is an audience watching. 

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As I post these daily pictures I try to keep in mind that Discipline and Play are important to creativity³: 

  1. Discipline means doing it every day (or at east regularly enough for it to be a deliberate habit)
  2. Play means that I just make things which are literally that: not done with any audience or crowd in mind 

So why bother posting them online?

Good question. If you post stuff where there's an audience, aren't you just trying to market yourself? Isn't it somehow a bit cheap, broadcasting yourself in this way?  Maybe I shouldn’t⁴.  

But then maybe there is value in simply sharing things just because


¹I usually draw stuff related to what I have been thinking about in the last few days  

²in 1863, just before the Post-impressionists took hold

³you are probably different to me, I am just saying how I do things

⁴I know I'm probably over thinking this

 

#TeachingTalk & MOJO

This article is about how I took the principles of the emerging MOJO (mobile journalism) movement and successfully applied them to a new teaching job. I have tried to keep things short while providing enough detail to encourage like-minded people to do something similar. If I have missed anything please get in touch

In September 2016 I had the pleasure of returning to teach at Durrington High School in West Sussex. In the decade since i'd last worked there Sue Marooney and the team had accomplished some impressive educational feats - year on year incremental improvements across the board making it a place that both teachers and students seek out. I had the strong sense that I was participating in a teaching culture that punched well above it's weight. 

The MOJO movement

Glen Mulcahy and Marc Blank-Settle are two key figures encouraging traditional news and journalism institutions across the world to embrace the mobile phone revolution in their approach to producing broadcast materials. While there are tons of different approaches, the general idea is for news teams to embrace a lighter (more mobile) tech footprint while retaining excellent standards. 

My interest in this kicked off through the documentary work I had been doing exploring worldviews while teaching Religious Studies at another school. While I have a 'serious' film kit with a combination of fluffy obtrusive pro-microphones, these are cumbersome and require a certain amount of inflexibility. With this new approach to capturing material my equipment can be with me all of the time and deployed within ten minutes. I have provided some equipment/software details at the end to save boring some people senseless. I love you Fiona. 

#TeachingTalk enabled

After successfully trialling this new approach, Shaun Allison encouraged me to step out further and explore teaching practice across the school community. To date I have completed 23 'episodes' of #TeachingTalk that would have been virtually impossible without the flexibility provided by the MOJO set-up. 

What was the value of #TeachingTalk?

From a purely non-tech point of view there is tremendous value in making time to be open about your teaching and thinking. It breaks down the possibility of arrogant blind-spots and strengthens others who may have similar struggles. Andy Tharby explains here why choosing to talk is a healthy option for overworked conscientious teachers:

From a personal (more technically-minded) perspective, I think there are some terrific advantages to this project:

  • people (and their professionalism) are powerfully affirmed - I often felt that my interviewees were sharing important ideas and insights that are really worth hearing about
  • the interviewee develops their own convictions - in the clip above, Andy is right to say that the explaining/presenting of something always clarifies our own thinking
  • a clearer perception of what the wider teaching community is doing - this is where the power of technology is properly felt. It's reach counters that all-too-familiar sense of isolation and helps a wider audience to see how others are getting on
  • the sharing of good ideas and contextual thinking - yes you can't simply drop an approach on every context and expect roses to grow, but you can step into different contexts while reflecting on your own
  • if it is done well, it builds trust - my personal approach is to make it clear to teachers that nothing will be used without their permission. Being filmed (and then sharing this online) puts someone in a position of vulnerability, so it is important that those who are being captured are happy with how they come across. This is a potential minefield, but is definitely a path worth treading. Occasionally I have had to withdraw pieces (some which were amazing) because the people being filmed were unhappy. Occasionally I had to try and explain why the piece was really valuable and worth going along with. For this reason it is worth restating how appreciative I am of the colleagues who agreed to taking part in this project. 

With or without the equipment (and documentary-obsessed teaching staff) there should be no reason why schools aren't seeking to develop a culture of reflection and sharing. It's a healthy no-brainer. 

Now what about your MOJO set-up?

Currently I am using this equipment:

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  • iPhone 7 Plus and FilmicPro - I consider myself fortunate enough to be able to have this expensive phone and it does the job brilliantly. I use a 256 gigabyte storage just in case. Occasionally I get near to filling it with 4k footage. It has the added advantage of being weather-resistant. I once shot some footage underwater and it worked beautifully. For the budget conscious - there are lots of other possibilities - the iPhoneSE is both compact and captures superb 4k material if needed. Filmic Pro is pretty much the standard recording app. It has lots of superb features that are genuinely useful. 
  • a Manfroto monopod and Glif/Shoulderpod grip - this works better than a tripod because a. it can move and b. the weight of the hanging arm creates a really handy balancing effect. I tried some gymbal systems but none of them worked that well - especially with a microphone which is crucial. Also note that I rarely use the monopod against the floor. Hanging is always better even if your arm gets a bit tired. Also the ability to extend it and reach extreme heights is awesome - like a selfie-stick on steroids. The Glif is recently new (and works superbly - particularly the quick release function) but I originally used the shoulderpod for ages - either are great. 
  • a flexible ball mount - this provides an immediate way of changing the angle for those occasionally different shots. I leave mine permanently attached to the monopod. The extra weight is worth it. 
  • on board and mobile microphones - I use the Zoom iQ7 with a RODE Deadkitten (Shaun Allison keeps calling it names that I don't really understand) as my default sound-capturing method. For remote recording I use an older iPod Touch with a Sennheiser Digital ClipMic. I usually record the remote audio using Ferrite - with a fully charged iPod I just set the recording going and can get up to an hour and half. 
  • Anker battery pack - there are lots of these around and they are very good indeed for portable serious battery back up. Never leave home without it. 
  • Lights - currently I don't bother with LED lights because the situation doesn't need it at the moment. 
  • Editing - if I was editing on the go I would use LumaFusion which is a seriously great mobile multitrack video editing tool. My own personal situation means that it is actually easier for me to important my footage onto a Mac and chop material using FCPX, which is the daddy as far as I am concerned. 

For those still here - what are the pros and cons?

Advantages

  • having your equipment with you all the time means getting those opportunities which would otherwise not happen - capturing sensitive perspectives means having flexible mobile and unobtrusive kit. 
  • being able to make eye-contact and talk intimately takes a bit of practice but this set-up absolutely allows for it to happen relatively easily. If you have a look at the episodes produced, most of the people are making near-eye contact with the camera. This is an approach that Jonathan Demme popularised and Errol Morris swore by. 
  • shooting in 4k means that if you shoot stuff at an odd angle (which often happens because you have to really focus on the person not the shot) you can edit the sequence at 1080p and crop in/rotate the image with no discernible loss. 

Disadvantages

  • mobile phones do not have the delicious flexibility of a zoom lens. This often feels like a major deal-breaker. When I am shooting stuff with my 'serious' camera I love the freedom to smoothly zoom in and out. BUT there is a way forward - if you shoot in 4k you can crop-in on the subject and actually get even closer still with no problems. It isn't the same and feels really different but creativity is all about working intelligently within the limits. 

All 23 episodes of #TeachingTalk can be watched here. If I have missed anything or if you have feedback then please get in touch

My workflow on the MELC 2 job

I really wanted to post some notes on my workflow for this project before term time hits again, so here goes:

What is MELC?

Making Every Lesson Count is a book that Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby wrote a couple of years ago. In essence, it is about teaching for teachers. It strikes that rare balance between everyday practice and bigger principles derived from research. The immense success of the book among the teaching community speaks for itself - it has sold upwards of 7,000 with at least two reprints. 

I got the opportunity to illustrate the book because I had developed a great working relationship with Andy illustrating lots of his blog posts. For some lovely unknown reason our visual-verbal chemistry just seems to work and so the door swung open when the book was being discussed. 

 I loved this project because I was able to be the pretty pink icing on an already delicious cake. 

I loved this project because I was able to be the pretty pink icing on an already delicious cake. 

Now that the series has been developed into a range of subject-specific volumes I got another go at working with these guys. Over the last week I produced around 100 images for the next three books. What follows are some notes on my workflow - I hope that these are useful to you.

Manuscript Notes

For these I usually scrawl on a PDF of the manuscript using Notability. Doing this on an iPad in a pub allows the Author to talk freely as I highlight parts of the text and improvise ideas on the go. Notability is a workhorse for me - I have used it daily in my teaching for years now and it has rarely let me down. For multi-page annotation of PDF documents there is nothing better. 

Rough Pencils

I took the original notes and put this together - the linework is deliberately loose - produced in Clip Studio Paint and Astropad Studio (see below). 

Tidy Pencils

Getting a bit closer now - I create another layer and take a bit of time to tighten up the original strokes. Often I try and simplify things down to the essence.

Corrections and shading

This is the bit where my hand hurts and I need to go out for a walk before my body shuts down entirely.

Get on with the process chat, Ramjam

To create the final artwork, I used Astropad Studio via a large screen iPad Pro to draw these images in Clip Studio Paint. The experience was superb. 

Here is the set-up for this particular job:

 Please don't tell me how poorly presented this image is.

Please don't tell me how poorly presented this image is.

Some notes:

  • Clip Studio Paint - this is cheap, quirky, reliable and brilliant for multipage natural media creation. Seasoned pro artists swear by it, and I am in complete agreement. I use it in combination with a carefully selected bunch of Frenden's natural media brushes. It is a great piece of software.
  • Astropad Studio - some people will moan about the price, but if you produce artwork professionally, this is a serious alternative to the Intuos-style screens. The key benefits (on this job) were:
    • having a two-finger tap for undoing strokes (Procreate-style)
    • being able to easily set up a bespoke shortcut menu which freed me from my mac keyboard for most of the process
    • the virtual zoom is a major advantage - I tended to keep the main image at 100% on the mac screen and then used the iPad as a virtual zoom tool. I found that this was very fast and efficient feature
    • the Apple Pencil as an input method is a killer move baby. The sensitivity and handling is even better than using Procreate natively on the iPad pro. I loved drawing in this way.
    • the iPad screen itself

Gone are the days where I used to worry about the gap between something drawn 'on the computer' or drawn 'by hand'. With this set up the discussion isn't relevant any more. 

If I missed anything or if you have any comments, please get in touch via email (saamvisual at gmail dot com), instagram or twitter.