Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Right Tools

I probably spend too much time in the app store looking for tools that will do the job I want.
For the most part I find something that will do half the job and then buy another app that will finish the process. One thing I've been looking for is a really good vector drawing app. One that works like the tools in Photoshop but looks like the results one gets with Illustrator. I've never quite got on with Illustrator, probably because I haven't used it much but I like using the pen tools in Photoshop for outlining and stuff.
Today I found that app, it's called iDraw and it's very very good. It's really simple to use and I can get the results I want. I does a lot of vector stuff like intersections etc so is perfect for what I need it for.
This morning I'm a happy chap and I can get on with some drawing knowing that I won't be spending the next three days reading a manual that I struggle to understand.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My New Read

This is the book that I'm going to start tonight.
I had been reading Luke Rhinehart's "The Dice Man" but I found it incredibly dull. I can't for a moment think how it ever became a cult classic. Maybe you're supposed to read it while you're stoned or something. Personally I'd have better things to do if I was stoned. The idea is good and it starts out by trying to shock but from there on in I just felt that the ideas were running out.

So here I am. Back with Robert Harris. In my opinion every book of his that I've read has been fantastic. I read a couple of reviews of this book on Amazon which said that this wasn't up to scratch and a few more that said it was. Even if it's only half as good as the others it'll still be better than The Dice Man.

I'm sure ill let you know in due course.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Tea Tray

I suppose it had to happen at some point.
While I like my iPhone a lot it starts becoming less useful for apps such as music apps. Over the years music apps have become more powerful and have much greater depth. Within the confines of the iPhone screen this can become a problem and off putting when all you want to do is get a quick tune started.
I decided to bite the bullet and get myself an iPad. I got myself the latest model with the retina screen and faster processor. I also got the 64GB model just so that it's as future proof as I can make it considering how much I've just spent on it.
My first impressions are very good. It's fast and the retina screen makes everything very clear. It's a lot different from the ageing 3GS.
Just about every music app that I'd just about abandoned has a renewed life thanks to the size of the screen. There's also the added bonus of a whole load of new apps to discover thanks to them being iPad only.
One question remains. Should I have invested before now? I think the answer is no. This iPad is fast enough and good enough to do everything I need where as previous models might have run out of steam a bit sooner.
Late adoption has its benefits.

Friday, October 19, 2012


While I'm in the mood for writing I have to write this long overdue post.
For a start I'm a bit crap at making friends, I'm way too odd to just strike up a conversation because I have nothing in the line of small talk. Furthermore I shy away from approaching people I admire because I get tongue tied and end up looking even more odd. Probably like some over enthusiastic, sycophantic stalker. So I don't bother, it's easier.
The internet changes the game though. I can ease myself in with people I like and if I get no response ease myself out just as easily. No harm done.
So it has been with a couple of people I have great respect for. Both because of their knowledge on subjects close to my heart and their accessibility simply because they are wonderful human beings behind the online profile.
Firstly may I introduce Mr Ashley Elsdon. Before I knew he was Ashley Elsdon I knew him as PalmSounds. I was reading his blog for a long time before I knew he was on Twitter. Twitter gave me the opportunity to say a few words and the response I got was overwhelming. Wow! An online hero has responded to me! OK, it's not much these days to the connected generation but to me it was a revelation. This sounds like fan worship but, no! I come from a generation that contacted each other in public phone boxes and if one didn't have 2p or 10p it was all too much radio silence.
After a while I found out that PalmSounds was Ashley Elsdon and another dimension opened up. The simplest things please me, information being simple, I found I liked the man behind the profile. Still no fanboy stuff, most people irritate the hell out of me. I like the public image then find out they're a total shit. Not in Ashley's case. Breath out. Relax.
One regular contributor to the PalmSounds timeline was and is Concrete Dog. Again I tempted fate (even though fate is nonsense in my opinion) and said a few words. Again the feedback was amazing. Another intelligent, talented person with time to put up with a random like me asking dumb questions but finding the time not only to respond but explore the questions until a suitable answer had been found. Wow! Again!
I'm writing this for two reasons.
One. I'm in the mood for writing and this all needs to be said.
Two. If I find a pot of gold I'm into sharing. I can't spend the whole thing myself and I'm not selfish.
So there you go. Hopefully you'll read this and follow the links that follow.
I won't say you'd be stupid not to because by now you know that yourself.

Concrete Dog
I Am Ashley Elsdon

The Web:
Concrete Dog
Ashley Elsdon

The Art Of The Essay

Quite by accident I bought a book that in some small way will change my life.
As you can tell from this blog I'm not much of a writer. I used to contribute a lot more to this blog but the app I was using on my iPhone became unstable and then unsupported. Nothing of any worth has replaced it.
I also checked the last time I added anything to my novel. One and a half years ago was the last time I did anything, not good.
It sounds like an awful excuse but I like to write at the oddest times and by the time I've booted a netbook I've lost the urge. My recent purchase of a portable word processor has done a lot to overcome this but as yet it isn't as portable as I'd like but that will be sorted within a week or so.
I have decided to buy a Nexus 7 when the 32gb version hits the high street next month. I'll wait a week after launch for reports then just buy one anyway.
So what has that 107 year old book got to do with anything and how did it change my life, a bit?
Well, it's by a man called William Hazlitt and what he did was to publish essays. An essay of his amounts to a decent chapter in any other book but it's on a single topic and therefore condensed. Genius.
I've looked into essays before and pamphlets as a way of publishing them. The book I now own is a collection of essays. While I may never be published by Penguin or someone like that I can use the open ePub method and get my random, condensed thoughts out there. Don't expect anything soon apart from satisfaction within myself, that and a paper I am in the process of writing. The ePub format seems perfect for getting my message across to whoever has the time to read. While I'm at it I haven't forgotten .pdf files too. They're just as good and relevant.
So thank you you Mr Hazlitt. You've given me direction and a forward thank you to Freitag and the Nexus 7 for giving me the means.

Sunday, September 02, 2012


Here's the new track "D'Accordion" by AmpUT.
(AmpUT is me in case you didn't know.)

It's a Schlager track.
For those of you that don't know Schlager music just think about every track that's entered for the Eurovision Song Contest, apart from the UK that is, and you'll have a good idea what Schlager music is.
It's a big thing in Europe and there are lots of radio stations dedicated to it. I've been listening to a few of them of late and thought I'd have a go at writing a track myself. While a lot of people wouldn't give the music much time I think it's worth consideration for the following reason. That it's basically good fun and that's a good reason to listen to or in this case write that style of music.
I've grown a little tired recently trying to compose 'serious' music. The final result does make it worth the effort but the blood, sweat and tears involved in getting to said result can be tiresome. This track is four chords minus the intro and ending and the whole track was conceived while jamming with my Yamaha QY100. All the hard work, if you can call it that, was done before I opened FL Studio and because the building blocks for the track were exported via MIDI from the QY100 all I had to do was re-voice and arrange, and most of the arranging was done with ChordPulse. I absolutely love the versatility of MIDI files. One can move them around between hardware and software with no effort at all. It's a joy.
This was a quick process and it meant that I could spend longer on the mixing and production which is where I'm happiest when creating a track. The track didn't take long either, probably about 20 hours from conception to completion.

So there you have it. A happy, bouncy little ditty that was a joy to make. It won't be everyone's cup of tea but it might just raise a smile from the listener.
That's the intention.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


So what's this then?
This being the keyboard in the picture above is an Alphasmart 3000. It's basically a word processor that isn't attached to a PC. I know, I've got a word processor and I do love my Canon Star Writer but it has two faults, which aren't really faults. Firstly it's too nice to lug around, I really don't want it getting damaged. Secondly it's a bit of a faff getting the text files off the floppy discs because the formatting gets changed along the way. Having said that I still love and trust floppies so it may get used as an extra backup.
The reason I wanted the AlphaSmart was because it's rugged, lightweight and runs for ever on three 'AA' batteries. It's made to be rugged because these keyboards are intended to be used by among other people, special needs students, which isn't to say that all specials needs students are going to manhandle the item but some will and the manufacturers are aware of that. They are also incredibly simple to operate. Turn on, type, turn off. That's it. No boot sequence, no saving. It just works.
The beauty of the system lies in the fact that it will transfer your work to a Mac or PC by simply sending what you have written to any software that will accept text input. That's what I love about it. Work offline, send and save. Easy.

So Mr Strange. Why not just type on the netbook you intend to save the work on?
Well for one thing privacy. I can dump the output of the AlphaSmart straight into an encryption program without ever having to touch a key on the netbook keyboard so it cuts down the chance of any keylogging. Secondly if I ever had to ditch the unencrypted work on the AlphaSmart I'd be down £30 instead of £300.
Thirdly my netbook acts as a vault these days so I don't really want to be trailing it around with me. Fourthly the AlphaSmart is simple and rugged. Did I mention rugged?

So what's with all the secrecy?
Well I've been planning on writing something for a long time and the planning is done so it's time for the writing. I'm afraid the result will be dull and nerdy but someone someday will make use of it. It'll be published here in due course which is some time away yet. All I can say is that it'll be published under a CC license and it'll be my gift to the geeks.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Mr Barry

My first release for over a year.
Musically I'd been stuck with a blank canvas for a while until I discovered a piece of software called ChordPulse. I normally work out my chord structure before attempting to write a track around it and ChordPulse let me do that. I've also got back into MIDI which means I can experiment with sounds and compositions before committing to getting the idea into FL Studio.

The track is called Mr Barry because to me it sounds like it could drop into a James Bond film soundtrack without raising too many eyebrows. That may sound a bit big headed but it's how I feel about this particular piece. So having said that this is my tribute to the late, great John Barry. I didn't start with that intention but it's the way things have ended up and I'm happy with that.

You can download the track for free from here.

Sunday, June 03, 2012


This has been a productive weekend.
So far I've been drawing, learning, making music and today I finished the digital painting above called "Sunset".
I made the original image in Bryce 3D and over-painted the brush strokes in Artrage. It's not exactly a skilled piece of artwork but it is all my own and I like it. I added the frame in PhotoShop to finish it off.
Tomorrow it's back to music making. I have some automation, panning and mixing to do before mastering the track on Tuesday. This Jubilee weekend is just what I needed to catch up on a few bits and pieces that needed finishing.
There's new stuff to start but that can wait until tomorrow.
I have biscuits to eat.

Friday, June 01, 2012


SubStraight is finished.
Here's a quick rundown of the how and why.
I blogged the original picture some time ago. It was taken in an underground tunnel in Birmingham, UK while I was doing a delivery to the building site above. I only had time to take a couple of snaps. While the photos came out OK I wanted a much darker version. I ran the photo through Photoshop, made it monochrome and turned down the brightness significantly while upping the contrast. When I was happy I printed off the original and my adjusted version as reference pictures.
I used the original to work out where all my perspective lines should be and get some of the smaller details that I needed for the picture. I used Derwent water soluble sketching pencils and worked quite lightly adding some light toning as the picture progressed.

When all the light work was done I swapped between Derwent sketching pencils and Graphitone sticks, both water soluble until I had all the dark areas filled. This required two to three layers of toning and made an impact on the pencils.

When the drawing was finished it was quite tidy and precise. I liked it but this was as much a drawing exercise as it was an affront to my tidy and precise demons.
I spent an hour with my Derwent water brushes and a jar of water and paintbrush attacking the picture. It was fairly manic and a little exhausting. When the paper was just about dry I used a very wet paintbrush with a Derwent Inktense block and scattered blobs of wet ink across the picture until I was done.
There we have it. One finished picture.
So what did I learn?

The main thing was that my tidy and precise demons are not demons at all. They're with me for a reason. It's the way I work to get the results I like to look at. After all I'm not doing this for anyone else.
Despite the image looking exactly how I wanted I now know that that little experiment is out of my system. It's time to revert to type.

So why the red ink?
It's fairly simple really. The picture is called SubStraight, a pun on the picture's contents. The correct spelling of substrate has the definition:

A substance or layer that underlies something, or on which some process occurs.

My take on that was that the underground tunnel was part of the life blood of the city, an essential vein of activity. That's the reason the ink is there. I've opened the vein to show you the life inside and some blood has been spilled in the process.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Happy As The Proverbial Pig

I have a confession to make.
I like arranger keyboards, no make that love arranger keyboards, always have.

It's one of those things you admit to when you're about 60 odd years old. It's OK to admit it then because you're way past being cool and you probably couldn't care less what anyone thinks of your musical tastes when you're that age anyway.
For those of you that aren't familiar with arranger keyboards they're piano keyboards with 'Styles' built in. The styles can be almost any type from 'Easy Jazz' to 'Bossanova' to 'Pops' or 'Dance', anything really. The way they work is that you can pick a style and the keyboards plays it while you add the chords and a melody on top. You really don't have to be able to play all that well, the keyboard does most of the work.
The thing is, that the sound is, well, fake. Even with the most modern keyboards there's no getting away from the fact that is just not right. The timing is too good and everything is just a little too polished. You can instinctively tell that it's not a band playing, it's just a little too automated and that is one of the many reasons that I like that sound. I like polished and organised and plastic imitations of the real thing. There is a charm to it all.
It's probably in my very nature. It's the reason I prefer oven chips and beans to some fancy foodie concoction.

Having said all that these machines are complicated beasts and it is an art form all in itself to be able to get good results from them. The best players, usually the people that end up doing the demonstrations for companies like Yamaha and Korg are particularly impressive. Talking of the demonstrators, well, they're all a bit plastic too. It's like they fell out of a poor B Movie and onto a keyboard showroom floor. But I like that as well. It makes me cringe and smile all at the same time.

Anyway, as much as I love arranger keyboards I can't afford one because they're bloody expensive. So what I did was buy the One Man Band software and between that, my PC, my old Yamaha PSR-240, my Rm1x and the QY100 I now have my own arranger keyboard albeit the size of a sofa. The great thing about One Man Band is that I can grab any of the thousands of free Yamaha or Korg 'Styles' from the web, load them into the software and off I go grinning like a chimp.

It's a complete juxtaposition to my DJing and I laugh when people ask me what type of music I like. I say electronic and add "but I wouldn't play it in a set."

Have a look at this video to see what you're missing or not as the case may be.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Numark NS6 and Serato Itch First Thoughts

I've just played my first set on my new Numark NS6.
It was in my studio and it was a practise run for the weekend but it went well all things considered.
Early on there were a couple of audio drop-outs but I think that was because I was pushing my laptop a bit to hard. I've had to learn to moderate my use of effects but in all honesty I don't really need them. One high pass filter and one low are all I really need for cross-overs. The looping is great considering I haven't added Beat Grids to very many of my tracks. The Serato Itch software is pretty darn good when it comes to beat detection. I have two other bits of software, Deckadance and Mixxx and I'll give those a try in the future but because the NS6 and Serato Itch work so well together it seemed pointless starting anywhere else but there.

I'm going to have another run through tomorrow to try and iron out a few of my newbie mistakes but it has to be said, this software and hardware combination really makes you sound good if you're a seasoned DJ like myself. That and a bucket load of new music to play and the weekend is looking like a whole heap of fun.
I won't be the DJ I want to be just yet as I think a laptop upgrade is called for but I can get very close with the hardware I have. It'll see me through for a good while yet and with that upgrade it'll just be the icing on the cake.

For now it's slow and steady.
It's evolution rather than revolution.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Real Art?

This is my latest digital artwork.
My question in the title refers to this picture and others I have digitally manipulated. I think I first need to explain briefly how the picture was made and then offer arguments for and against it as art.
I first took a picture on and iPad then imported it into and app called ArtRage. ArtRage allows me to use the colours in the photo as wet paint, I then use a virtual palette knife to spread the paint around. As long as I don't move the paint too far I can keep the integrity of the image. I then made a few adjustments to sharpness, contrast and finally applied a couple of filters in an app called Snapseed.

The case for:
It is art because it is an original work. In order to get the look I had to spend time achieving the final image. Although the tools for creating the work are available to everyone I used them in a way personal to me, other people may use the same tools in a totally different way. Although not a painting it is intended to look like one because I like that look even though I am not proficient in that medium. I am an artist and I use different tools for different pieces of work, some real world, some virtual.

The case against:
Without the digital tools this artwork could not be produced to this standard by the artist. The artwork could easily be produced by someone else with the same tools and a copy of the original photograph. Drawing with a stylus on a glass screen is not real art nor is any kind of tracing of a photo. Photography and art are two different disciplines and should not be mixed.

I'll leave you to decide whether the picture has merit or not. As for me, I think it's art and art from a new medium, that of the new generations of portable devices. I could quite happily view digital art alongside traditional forms such as pencil and paper or paintings with oils or watercolours.

There most definitely is a place for both.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dark And Moody Happy Me

I took this picture today.
It has everything I'm looking for for my next drawing. It is industrial and architectural. It has a strong perspective and lends itself to be portrayed in a dark manner. It's far and away removed from the practise work I have been doing which has included a watercolour of a tree on a field's edge.
What I want to be doing is drawing and painting. The two can sit side by side but I can't make that work. It doesn't work in my head so it'll never work on paper. The drawing part I'm happy with. Hours and hours of working my pencil has paid off. I've been re-united with my graphite stick and I couldn't be happier, we work well together.
I've come to the conclusion that painting will be something I do for fun, maybe I'll get better, maybe not. So how do I quell the need to bring brush to hand? The answer is water soluble graphite sticks and ink. I can use the graphite in the same way I always have but with the option of getting a wet brush and further blending and experimenting. The ink was a happy coincidence. I read a blog called 'Drawn To Life'. Sian who writes the blog was working with ink and I thought I'd give it a go. I liked it. It's like watercolour but less forgiving but I seem to have got used to that quite quickly.
So I have settled at last. Graphite, water soluble graphite and ink. Now that I'm comfortable I've raised my own standards and in doing so my work will be larger and take more time which I like the sound of.
There will be results and I'll post them here just not in quite the volume of the last six months.

By the way Sian's 'Drawn To Life' blog is worth taking a look at whether you're thinking of getting artistic or you already are.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Slow Burn

So who fancies a game of chess?
This is me sending out an open invitation to a game of correspondence chess. I'll explain then you decide if it's for you.
For a start it's really quite old fashioned. It's all done via snail mail on postcards. I've designed special postcards because the official correspondence chess ones require way too much information. This is a game, not a test! The rules are quite simple. You and I play chess at our own pace, no clocks, no pressure. There's also no space for technology. No using a chess computer of any sort. My brain against yours. The games take as long as they take. You make your move in the time it takes for you to do so, same for me.
So there you go. If you like the idea then comment on this post or if you have my email address then contact me directly and we'll start a game.
I'll go first and be white for our first game but after that we'll come to a decision somehow.
This is life in the slow lane.
It'll be fun.

Monday, February 13, 2012

No More Blank Canvas

I'm a stickler for detail.
Planning and preparation play a big part in my personal projects. I need to know that something can be done and if so how it's done before I make it part of my work. As you know since last year I've been drawing a lot, playing with real and virtual mediums including 3D. I now know what can and can't be done by myself and my software. This gets me to planning and in this case it's my rough storyboard sketches. This is worthwhile because as I have found out the positioning I did in my head for each frame was a bit off. It's much better to see it all on paper and make the necessary corrections.
With that done it's time to go into production of my first comic strip which will be on Wednesday.
It's a day I'm looking forward to.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My First Character Sheet

My eyes are square.
I've just spent the last seven and a half hours making stencils for ArtRage.
The idea is that I can produce precomposed layouts for my Skint comics. I'll still need to draw a lot by hand and then turn that drawing into vector art for print and the web but the scaling and positioning can all be done on the PC prior to getting my pencils out. The character sheet above is an example of what my stencils look like and as time goes by I'll add different shots and poses to my arsenal.
At the beginning of this cartooning mission I'm on I wanted to do everything by hand with only the final inking done digitally but as time has gone by I've realised that the look I want is way too precise for pencil and paper alone, besides, I'm good with software so I should use everything at my disposal.
I'm at the stage now where I'm ready to start on my first strip as my method is pretty much nailed down. The final result will take time and as usual it'll look effortless but that's what all the hard work so far has been for.
I'll let you know when the first comic strip goes online.
It won't be just yet but it's definitely on the horizon.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Elusiveness Found

Once in a while one gets something really good.
I found ArtRage as an iPhone app. I found the interface clean and easy to use and the range of tools was good. I decided to take a look at the PC version and liked the look of it and the feature list was good so I purchased the ArtRage Studio Pro version.
After using it for a couple of days I can say that it is by far the easiest, most pleasurable piece of software and that it lives up to and beyond my expectations. What it is is a tool for artists. What it is not is a tool to turn you into one. There are plenty of helpers to make your digital art easier and a couple of cheats but beyond that it's a fully stocked set of materials and a blank canvas.
It's going to be one of the pieces of software that gets used all the time for all kinds of different things.
It's my new right hand man.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Rule

It's totally my own fault that I'm not getting enough sleep.
I'm not bad at getting into bed at a decent time it's just that technology distracts me and I end up staying awake until all hours. I've decided today that the only things allowed after 10pm are things that get me to sleep rather than keep me awake. This includes my radio, sketchbook or reading books. No netbook and definitely no iPhone.
This rule only applies on work nights. For the rest of the time I'll distract myself as much as I like after ten. I really am tired of being exhausted during the day.
This rule fixes that.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

X, Y & Z

Not very impressive I'll admit.
What is impressive is that I've now got all my vector 3D software back onto my PC and I'm ready to make objects and scenery for my cartoons. The idea is to build what I need then basically trace it into a paint program and use it in my cartoons. Considering all the drawing I've been doing it looks like everything will be done in the digital domain. Don't get me wrong here, this stuff is just as time consuming as doing it all by hand on paper but at least at the compositing stage it'll be easier and quicker to put together.
I'll still carry on drawing and sketching, I'll need to to get ideas onto paper fast and to put together rough but accurate landscapes for my strips so I haven't wasted any time with my practise.
What I do want is clean lines and this is the way to get them.

More From The Past

Fair play to ElectricRain.
I bought Swift 3D 4 from them years ago and pretty expensive it was too but worth every penny. This was the software I've been searching for all afternoon to no avail. I thought I'd try their site and with my memory functioning I remembered my password and there in my account was the software ready to download with a serial number to get it running. This quite obviously has made me very happy.
We'll see if I'm still smiling once I try and install it on my Vista PC.

While I'm At It

And on another disc...
I did a remix for a friends band called The Shift. My friend didn't like it but that's OK because he played in a rock band and I don't really do rock tracks. Having said that I like the finished result and even after all this time it makes me smile.
You can hear it via the Audioboo player on the left.

The One That Got Away

Just a quick post.
I was looking for some stuff on old discs today and I came across a track I wrote nearly ten years ago. I hadn't heard it for that long either. It's not great but it does show my musical influences at the time.
A lot has changed.
You can hear the track via the Audioboo player on the left.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Software Cheat?

I've been drawing for a while now.
While I've had a lot of fun and my drawing and perception have improved I'm still not drawing cartoons which is what I want to be doing. I've considered on and off using software to get right into the action. Sure there are some bits of software I'd have to use but what about the ones that make all this drawing easier?
I spent the night reading about perspective and while I now understand it am I prepared to spend hours drawing out all of those lines? Well, in all honesty, not really. And what about posing my figure? Should I study my mannequin for hours or just trace a basic 3D model? The latter wins again. There is lots of stuff that I still need to draw by hand and I'm at the level whereby I can do that. My cartoons and comics will still look like my creations.
When considering the above I thought about my use of FL Studio. I can't play drums or guitar well enough to record live for my compositions so I program them and use software to adjust the sounds and timing as needs be. Should I not be allowed to write music because I can't play certain instruments? No, of course not.
So what about drawing and 3D software? I've used most of the software I want to use before when I made animations for my VJing. So why not use my software skills now for another purpose? No reason not to.
I still need to buy and learn to use a couple of new bits of software on top of brushing up on software I've used before but it's all part of getting where I want to a bit faster and that'll get my ideas out of my head too and make space for new ones.
Isn't spontaneity what this is all about?
I think so.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

This Is The Blogger App Test

I think that the Blogpress app is still formatting all wrong. Why don't devs check more than one template?
Let's see if this app fares any better.

A Blogpress Test

I haven't used Blogpress for a long time. The reason is that I didn't like the formatting so I'm giving it another try here to see if it's any better since the last time I used it which was a long time ago. I'll let you know.