The Temple of Flame Game Book Kickstarter part 1

The Temple of Flame Game Book Kickstarter part 1

Last September Megara Entertainment approached me to colour the special edition release of The Temple of Flame, in the Golden Dragon Game Book series, written by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, that I had illustrated in the early 80s. It was the first project I had done that required me to do some research and find visual reference about the Mayan civilisation. I remember Dave sent to a book with a handful of drawings in it of Mayan art and temples, and I remember going to my local library in Seaford to dig out more. At just 19 I knew nothing of Mayans and it is one of the wonderful aspects of illustration that for various jobs I had reason to learn about new subjects. Of course I would get distracted and end up straying into other books on the very limited shelves of the local library.

That distraction is now a major issue that requires an iron will to resist in the age of the internet. Although I now have the mind blowing resource of virtually all human knowledge, and every possible visual reference on any subject at my fingertips, I have to struggle all the time to avoid endless distraction.

I coloured them all using Clip Studio Paint.

Here for your delectation are the first 6 illustrations to Temple of Flame. I’ll roll out the others over the following weeks.

What Have I got Myself Into? Learning Game Programming

Character for a game idea I'm working on.

Character for a game idea I’m working on.

In the last 3-4 months I have been learning Unity, a 2D and 3D game creation engine. “Why would you want to do that?!!”, is the thought and sometimes words of many of the people I’ve confessed this to. I do very much wonder myself as the journey I’ve embarked on seems hideously difficult at times.

I guess it goes back to a childhood love of moving, brightly coloured things that tell a story or interact. I remember when I must have been about 4-5 being taken by my grandparents to a Santa’s grotto in a large city department store. We queued to see Santa in through various scenes in his workshops, showing his elves making toys and packing them onto the sleigh. It was probably all pretty rough by todays standards but back then I was mesmerised by the simplistic, brightly coloured and gaudily lit clockwork manikin’s repeatedly going about their chores. Later, as a 13 year old a friend of mine had an early console with a few rudimentary games on it. These games were all little more than a dot moving around the screen with the contextual ‘art’ being printed on a transparent plastic sheet you taped to the screen. Other memories include the arcade on Brighton Pier and smuggling my first computer, an Amiga 500, past my Mum, who didn’t approve of computer games at all, (she said they made you thick). Although I played the games I was actually more interested in the idea of making them and bought game programming engines such as Blitz and Gamemaker. However, my enthusiasms often fluctuate, and I just couldn’t get my head around the programming component so would often give up and move onto some hobby that I knew I could understand like cycling!

This time, some 30 years later, I am determined to crack it. One of the reasons is that it annoys me that something I always wanted to do has been beyond my reach. My earlier attempts to learn it have always been thwarted by the layers of complexity, and to some extent the poor tutoring of various books and manuals, written by people who when they learnt had quickly understood the most basic concepts and assume anyone else will do too. The beginners section, usually a thin chapter, would cover these concepts in just a sentence or two instead of really laying them out in diagrams that make sense to a visual person such as myself. Hey, there’s an idea, a graphic novel type programming manual?

So there is just learning it for the sake of learning it, but the most important reason is that I have ideas for games. Although illustrating books is full of ideas, they are static on the page and I am keen to see my art move and interact. Back to the bright colourful things moving around. I’m also thinking that if I can crack the programming perhaps I can make an entire game (we’re only talking about a little ‘indie’ title) and share it or even sell it. I realise that is a long way off, but you never know, with the long winter nights I’ll have some time to get something more than print “Hello” to screen working. I am now getting my head around the concepts and realise that at it’s core it’s pretty simple, or at least with a game engine like Unity you can get some quite fun stuff working almost straight away. I can accept that my games will most likely be very short on clever mechanics, but I reckon I can compensate with some quite nice art. I just have to get past the notion that my mother embedded in my head that computer games make you thick.

Computer Illustration Software on the Cheap

Computer Artist by Leo Hartas

I’ve been using computers for my illustration work for many years starting out with Delux Paint on Amiga. On the whole the paint program I have relied on for most of that time was Adobe Photoshop for one reason only, that it was the only program that would guarantee speed and stability while working on large print resolution files. All other software would either not have the features I needed or would grind down to a snail’s pace at anything larger than A5 at 300 dpi with more than a handful of layers. In the last year I’ve dropped Adobe totally, because I’ve found a small collection of programs that give me all the flexibility and reliability I need for everyday illustration, and save me quite a lot of money.

Cheap does not mean rubbish. All the following programs are 100% legal, and work for me every day producing art and design for books and publications that are professionally printed and end up on the shelves of shops, or sometimes video games, websites and advertising. Of course you can go entirely free, with plenty of open source offerings such as Gimp, or the quite good Krita, but I find they all suffer either with having weird interfaces, or stability and speed issues that make them awkward to use professionally.

Why be a cheapass? You may think that you need the market “standard” of Adobe to be a professional artist. This just isn’t the case. The end users of your work, the publishers or the children that eventually read your books can’t tell, and don’t care what program you illustrate in. With all the software I mention below there are no compatibility issues and export and import all the major file formats. The money I saved can go into Marketing, or to buy time to work on developing my own projects.

2016 - Electric Pencil - Leo Hartas

Windows 10

A persistent myth has arisen that serious illustrators can or should only use Apple Macs, probably arising from their release of the first graphical interface. I’ve always bought and used PCs, (well, after having Amigas first) only because at the time I also wanted games that the Mac was somewhat lacking in. I’m amazed I had any time to play them! I also had a slightly nerdy interest in computers, and to this day still build my own desktops. Beyond that going the PC route over the years has saved me a ton of cash over the equivalent Macs, but perhaps with a few more technical problems than the average Apple user suffers. I have no beef about either system, as you can produce great work whatever you use, and although I’m not crazy about Windows 10 it does what I need.

Manga Studio

Also known confusingly as Clip Studio Paint Pro, and available on Mac. I came across this about a year ago and have never looked back. For illustration, both drawing and painting, it is way ahead of Photoshop. It has dedicated features that illustrators will love like layer referencing, where working on a layer above you can refer to a layer below to make selections. The brush engine is hugely flexible and the rulers are worth the asking price alone. What makes it stand out is that the features you need are so logically laid out, and far more to hand than Adobe’s offering. It is also 100% stable with large many layered high resolution files, even several in memory at once. It’s also fast. I know that the learning curve associated with switching software is what puts most off, but it’s not that different to Photoshop, and I found the change pretty easy. What is crazy is how cheap it is, just $47, and they often run deals if you sign up to their newsletter; at the time of writing this it’s on offer for $20! This is a one off, you own it, price, unlike Adobe’s annual subscription cost. It also loads and exports multi-layered PSDs. HINT: Visit Flyland and Frenden to build your collection of excellent natural media and special effects brushes. They also have a lots of excellent Manga Studio tutorials.

Serif Page Plus

Why a DTP program? There are always little jobs in illustration that I find easier to do in DTP, perhaps arranging some text or planning a page design, to then export out to work with Manga Studio. It is also brilliant for actual DTP when I’m laying out promotional flyers or just printing out my Christmas card. Serif Page Plus’s easy to use simple interface belies it’s power to output professional quality documents for commercial print. PC Only. Price: £89 HINT: I’ve got Serif products for quite substantial discounts by phoning their sales department and haggling! They also have a free, “starter”, edition, that actually has enough functionality to get by on.

Serif Draw Plus, Serif Affinity Designer

I occasionally do vector graphics, but never could get my head round Adobe Illustrator. I found Serif Draw Plus ok, and like it’s DTP cousin, easy to use, but I’m excited to see the fantastic Serif Affinity Designer make it’s way over from Mac to PC in the near future. Affinity has been gathering numerous awards and looks to be giving Adobe a run for it’s money because it’s faster with better features, and a lot cheaper. No subscription. £39.99

And that’s it! All my illustration produced with a collection of programs costing less than £200!

Cat Paint by Leo Hartas

To round off my cheapassness here is a list of ancillary stuff I use for the business.

Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Documents (word processor and spreadsheets), Google Keep (Notes)
I’m probably becoming a Google drone, but who cares, it’s all free and works on my phone too.

Kaspersky Antivirus
There are good free antivirus’s but they tend to nag you to buy their premium products. I like Kaspersky because I can forget about it, It doesn’t slow my system down, or hassle me all the time like Norton or McAfee. You only need to go for their antivirus. £29.99 per year.

Wisecare 365
Ok, I have this because Windows isn’t quite as hygienic as Mac OS. Wisecare 365 goes through my system daily brushing up unwanted files, polishing the registry, etc. and generally keeping Windows running smoothly. I picked Wise Care at random, but it seems to work well. £27.34 per year. I was on their mailing list and took advantage of a special offer of about £40 for a lifetime upgrade.

WordPress
I designed my website using WordPress for free. It was quite a painful learning curve despite loads of people online saying it’s easy. However, there are plenty of excellent YouTube tutorials that walk you step-by-step through building a smooth and clean portfolio site. I teamed up with a pal to split the cost of unlimited hosting on Hostgator, and there’s no reason why you couldn’t band together with a few more people to reduce it further. Hostgator Baby package 3 years: About £100 (they throw lots of deals around, and you can hunt for vouchers online that can bring the price down further)

Elegant Themes
This is a luxury. Elegant Themes are high quality WordPress themes that make your site look really slick. Bizarrely, I won a years free subscription from them in a sweepstakes they were running on their newsletter, which I then upgraded to a lifetime membership at about £175. (but I got it cheaper on a deal they sent out in their email newsletter)

2016 - Paint Tubes - Leo Hartas

Windows 8 Wacom tablet press and hold FIX

Worth a try possible easy fix for the Windows 8 Wacom tablet Windows Ink ring around stylus point and drag problem.

Tedious story follows, if you want the fix quick skip the next couple of paragraphs.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself. I just spent a frustrating day hard up against a deadline, struggling with a sudden loss of pen pressure sensitivity on my Wacom tablet. It brought home to me how much I rely on computer technology to do my work. I’d love to return totally to brushes and paint but these days it’s just isn’t practical. Normally my Wacom cintiqu WX13 performs perfectly but for reasons I won’t go into now I had to uninstall and reinstall it. There has been a longstanding problem revolving around a conflict between Windows 7 and 8 ink pen feature and using the Wacom stylus to paint and draw. The problem is that Windows by default installs this annoying feature that causes a ring to appear round the stylus or a dipping effect as though you are breaking the surface of water, and a dragging or delay when you attempt to draw a stroke. It is fantastically irritating and at it’s worst can seriously impact on the speed of drawing, productivity and ultimately income.

Anyway, I’d forgotten about this hassle which I’d solved a while ago until today when it reared it’s foul suppurating pustule infested bonce again after I’d reinstalled the Wacom. No worries, I thought, as Wacom, had finally released a driver fix with a neat little check box that turned off the dreaded effect. However, for some reason this time it also turned off the pressure sensitiveness of my pen. Argg! After several restarts and re-installs attempting to solve it I was on the verge of admitting failure to complete my deadline, with all the resulting loss of work and income. A hunt around the web revealed various solutions most which I didn’t like the sound of such as rootling around in the registry or installing some suspect homebrew .exe file made 5 years ago. After a while it dawned on me that you had to be able to turn it off in Windows and I found it all where one would expect in the Pen and Touch settings. With these features unchecked my tablet worked again as it should though I cannot say that it will work for you, but it’s certainly worth a try. If I were to have a little rant, which I won’t, but if I did I would say, “Wacom and Microsoft can you get your heads together to *&^$£*^! sort this thing out once and for all! Particularly Microsoft for adding completely *&^$£*^! useless features instead of concentrating wholly on reliability!” (Having said that Windows 7 onwards has been remarkably reliable and I virtually never have the grey hair inducing days lost to frustrating technical problems I remember with previous Windows.) On to the fix… (Usual disclaimers that it may not be a fix for your set up.. but it’s worth a try and easy to put back if it doesn’t work.)

Windows 8 Wacom tablet pen press and hold, ring around stylus, Windows Ink, problem FIX.

Wacom Tablet properties Use Windows Ink

Wacom Tablet Properties Use Windows Ink

If you haven’t already try unchecking the Use Windows Ink box in the Wacom Tablet Properties window. This should work. If it does but causes other effects such as loss of pressure sensitiveness, which is what happened to me, leave it ON and try the following.

Windows 8 settings control panel.

Windows 8 settings control panel.

Open your Windows Settings Control Panel and click on Hardware and Sound.

Windows 8 Control Panel Hardware and Sound.

Windows 8 Control Panel Hardware and Sound.

Open Pen and Touch (Obvious really!)

Windows 8 Control Panel pen and Touch options.

Windows 8 Control Panel pen and Touch options.

Uncheck the “Use the pen as a right-click equivalent2. I unchecked the “Use the top of the pen to erase ink” too because I never use the eraser on the Wacom pen anyway.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch options. Press and hold settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch options. Press and hold settings.

Click Press and Hold in the pen actions list and then settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Press and hold settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Press and hold settings.

Uncheck Enable press and hold for right-clicking. That should stop those annoying rings and drag.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Flicks settings.

Windows 8 Pen and Touch. Flicks settings.

Go to the Flicks tab in the Pen and Touch dialogue and uncheck Use flicks to perform common actions quickly and easily. Unless you have a big quiff which you want to flick now and again for effect.

I hope it works. 🙂

At last a printing solution!

Photograph copyright Fotorite Continuous printing System.

Photograph copyright Fotorite Continuous printing System.

I use my little inkjet printer quite a bit, and for years I’ve tried various ways to replenish the ink. Original printer manufacturer cartridges are the easiest in that they are guaranteed to work but their cost is eye-watering. I’ve tried re-manufactured and copy-cat cartridges, while cheaper, they sometimes don’t work properly and splurg out bizarre colours. More recently I’ve had quite a bit of success with refill kits by Refresh Cartridges. It’s fiddly though wielding needles and however hard I try to be neat I seem to get the ink all over myself. Also, why is it the cartridges always need changing just as you need to print out some important document 10 minutes before the post goes?

As I stumbled around the internet I found City Ink Express and their continuous ink system. It looks like a dream come true, a large reservoir sits beside the printer with pipes going into the printer heads. Although the starting price is relatively high (about £70 ex VAT) over time the ink is much cheaper. The starter set, which comes fully loaded, equates to 40 odd cartridges worth of ink, and then subsequent refills work out about 45p per cartridge cost. And to boot no more faffing around with replacing the cartridge every few prints. (You know the ones, where your kids ask you print 10 pages of cartridge draining photos for some homework project). Also not struggling with those impossible to open plastic bubble pack things that every computer related object seems to come in.

They also do bundles of printers and their continuous printing system if you are in the market for a new printer.

I haven’t tried this system just yet, but when I’ve had it running for a while I’ll post an update.

Time Flies When You’re Not Having Fun

7HartasLI just thought I’d put up this render to celebrate my website finally getting nearer to, “finished”. I can’t say it’s been a great pleasure putting it together, particularly learning the vagaries of WordPress. What was annoying was that I decided to go with WordPress for it’s much lauded, ‘ease’ of use, and I was seduced by the flashy themes everyone seemed to be using.

I’d been concerned that my old site, made in my much loved WYSIWYG Web Builder, popped up looking a bit different on other computers. On a friend’s Samsung phone it failed to load at all. I thought I’d better go for something that I knew would work on every device. (btw, I can thoroughly recommend WYSIWYG Web Builder, and suspect that it was looking different on various machines would have been down to my ineptitude.)

I guess the problem with WordPress is that it’s a writer’s tool, not a visual artists. This means that I almost wept as after much effort it dawned on me how little control one has over the look of the thing (and no, I’m not delving into css or php or whatever isn’t, ‘easy’.) I went with a theme called, Artist, really only because it was called, “Artist”, and that was the only way for me to differentiate amongst the gazillions of Themes I could choose from. I have to say that now I’ve got it up and running I’m pleased with the results, and the developer has been very amenable with my cries for help. Check out, Artist.

Anyway, back to the picture and the vague point of this missive. I did this render back in 1998 on some cranky old machine in what was the precursor of 3D Studio Max.. plain old 3D Studio running in DOS. When it came to re-jigging my website I was looking for ease. I just haven’t got the energy any more to roll up my sleeves as I did in those days. I just want to get on with good old fashioned art. I thought WordPress would mean throwing together a site in a couple of hours. The whole sorry experience made me realise that for all the amazing power computers now have, using the damn thing hasn’t got any easier at all.

Actually what’s really worrying me now is that I can’t remember the name of the fox character.