Category Archives: Drawing

Pixel Art and Animation

Lately I’ve been working on learning pixel art & animation, hoping to get my meager skills serviceable enough to make the art for some old school video games. This one’s my first attempt at a person, from a picture of me after biking up Mt. Rokko many years ago:

I’ve received a lot of great advice from a coworker who used to draw 2D video game sprites and was able to put it to work. The first piece of advice was to pick a base color for each part (skin, hair, clothing, etc.), paint the part with the base color, and then go through with a highlight color and a shadow color to give it depth, while keeping it simple. The second piece of advice was to shrink a photograph of a real world object/person way down and zoom in to grasp the basic shape in terms of pixels. And of course I have the internet to thank for a lot of things, one of which was the method for resizing a sprite in Photoshop without it going blurry (Edit -> Preferences -> General : Change Bilinear to Nearest Neighbor)

With enough practice, I hope I can make creating 2D assets a little less painful when the time comes.

Writing Tools


Although the main tool I was planning to discuss was something for ferreting out cliches and overused expressions, the timing was right for kicking off with this article on the preferred writing tools of some famous authors. I’m sure that not many modern publishers would appreciate an envelope stuffed with hundreds of pages of loose-leaf paper smothered in barely legible fountain pen ink, so anymore analog tools are the luxury of someone who wants to retype all of their work or someone already so famous that they could scribble a novel on a roll of toilet paper and receive offers for it, but the idea of buckling down with a fountain pen or a pencil and a notepad does carry a romance that’s difficult to obtain with a computer – the same tool that does everything from calculate taxes to display videos of cats falling off of sofas.

Though analog tools have fallen out of favor, the specialization that something that cannot be reprogrammed, such as a fountain pen and an empty sheet of paper, provides is not only romantic, it makes the tool legitimately well-suited for the job it was designed for: writing. The empty piece of paper doesn’t offer the allure of escape. It gets filled with thoughts or it stays blank, whereas a computer display can easily flip from Word to the news that Ben Affleck is going to be the next Batman (I think he’ll do a good job btw). Whether the writer does actually flip to the news of Batman = Daredevil or not doesn’t matter, the fact that the option is available is what makes writing on a computer a dangerous activity because we are trained through hours of flipping back and forth to treat anything perceived through the computer in short bursts, which is why reading on one is so difficult. Even on my writing computer, which is not attached to the internet, it’s likely that some attention is lost to the flipping habit, so the ye old fountain pen approach is quite attractive. Alas, it is impractical.

Though it’s not all bad. Aside from not having to smear white out all over mistakes, the other advantage computers provide is providing tools that cover repetitive tasks or data analysis. I’ve mentioned a few before, but one that I found recently that’s interesting is Cliche Cleaner. It’s rare I buy tools, but this one might be worth it. It not only checks text for overused expressions from the public domain = cliches, it also checks text for overused expressions from the author = repetition. On a few tests, it tore through a few bits of writing like an editor worth his or her weight in gold (cliche attack). The fountain pen might have its uses, but the computer’s no slouch (argh, another one).

The other option that has been popping up more and more among writers is dictation. Not dictation software, but dictation into recording devices while on the go and using those audio files to transcribe what was said. In my case, that’s not an attractive option because my stream of thought doesn’t flow in one direction and any attempt to record me speaking to myself would leave me trying to decipher the ramblings of a crazy man at the end of my walk through the woods, but it might be worth a try for more organized folks. The powerful advantage that the approach offers is the ability to hear how words sound strung together long before the editing process begins – potentially saving hours of work later at the cost of an initial transcription investment. A boon, especially in a dialog rich work.

In a perfect world, I could dictate to a robot that writes with a fountain pen while double checking my work. Eh, who am I kidding? If I was shooting for perfect, I might as well throw in a brain-wave reading robot which would dictate to the other robot for me. Until then, I’ll have to make do with Cliche Cleaner and macros.

Last Work

Starting work on a novel (or any large project) combines an act of creation with an act of destruction. With limited time, the pursuit of an idea goes hand in hand with all of the ideas that aren’t pursued. Every idea is brought to life on the battlefield of a thousand dead ones. Considering a novel tends to take someone not pursuing it full time at least a year to complete, the rest becomes simple math. Life expectancy – current age = the number of novels left. At best, one can throw away other pursuits in an attempt to increase the pace, but then one is left cut off from source of material: life and living. As the next novel writing period creeps up on me, I have to wonder: If this were the last year of my life, which one would I create (and which ones would I destroy)?

Frequently Rowling

Frequency (a quick sketch and Photoshop treatment to avoid using the same old same old frequency wave)

This is a bit of an extension on the previous post about “just” showing up too much. While it’s probably old news to everyone but me, the method used by Peter Millican of Oxford University and Patrick Juola of Duquesne University to discover J.K. Rowling was in fact the author of the Cuckoo’s Calling demonstrates how identifiable an author is by the word choices, and the frequency of those choices that they make. I’ve always been big on macros, and found this one to be helpful in ferreting out overused “weak” words and phrases. For those writers who haven’t used macros, you should be aware of them because, even if you don’t care about word frequency, you never know when a macro could save days of valuable time you could use to write. Essentially anything in Word (or Excel) you find yourself doing over, and over, and over again is a prime candidate. There are plenty of good introductions on the Net, but to help anyone curious on how to use the frequency macro by Allen Wyatt that I linked to, here’s a quick tutorial.

Old Word

0) Make sure to save and back up the document you want to analyze

1) Open the document you want to analyze in Word

2) In the menu bar, select Tools

3) Select the “Macro” list item (it might be hidden away if you haven’t used it before)

4) Select the “Visual Basic Editor”

5) Double click on your document in the left hand window

6) Paste the macro above into the editor window

7) If your version of Word is really old, it might complain about the two lines with the “_” at the end (they’ll be marked in red), so delete those “_”s and bring the next line together with the first one.
ex) j = MsgBox(“The maximum array size has been exceeded. Increase maxwords.”, vbOKOnly)
ex) j = MsgBox(“There were ” & Trim(Str(WordNum)) & ” different words “, vbOKOnly, “Finished”)

8) Look for the icon with the VCR/DVD player style “Play” button at the top and click it

9) Sort by FREQ frequency

10) Word will stop responding for a bit, but in a minute or so, you’ll have a list of the words you used in the document

New Word

0 and 1) Same as above

2) Go to the Developer Tab, if it’s not there, turn it on.

3) Select the Developer Tab (see the link in 2 for help if needed)

4) Select the Visual Basic icon on the left

5-10) Same as above