Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Linux shell game update

I'm not getting any work done because I like to blog and play with my computers. The latest thing is a tussle on a Linked-in Ubuntu discussion group. Just short of slinging colorful metaphors, we politely answer the question of hating the Unity and Gnome Shell desktops. There is then Mint Linux jumping to the lead on Distrowatch. Let me state for the record I tried and I'm tired.

I didn't like Unity, still you can like it if you want. Gnome Shell for me is much better but on my PC it only works off the Live-CD. Fedora ventured out first with a full Gnome Shell and it was cool on the Live-CD. I tried to install Gnome Shell on my Ubuntu 11.10 and it didn't work. I just don't have the Ram and Videocard for good clean usage. Enter Mint Linux. I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon, but having tried Mint before we go for it. The Mint Live-CD was the bomb as Gnome Shell worked flawlessly closer to what I am looking for in a desktop. Then I installed it and it didn't work. But never fear, Gnome Classic was there and also Gnome Classic without effects. Also Mate was there which is pretty cool as a menu system. So I got Mint but no Gnome Shell. If Gnome Classic goes away I got Mate which I like and can live with.

Funny thing with Linux distros, there are sticking points and standout points. Otherwise they are the same as the rest of their families. The Debian based distros are one way and the RPM based ones in their family and the family similar to Slackware. Now mind you, I don't promote distro-hopping as a sport, but if you don't fancy virtual machines or bootable USB drives or flash drives, then here is safe distro hopping. Divide your hard drive into several partitions, 20 gig is fine for each distro you install. Since I am not a nut, I did one 20 gig partition for my choice of distro. I do one partition to match the size of my system RAM memory as a swap partition. Then the rest of the drive as space for /Home directories. My /Home directory never changes, the same directory for what ever distro I install. I reformat only the distro partition and install a new distro without effecting my personal files in my /Home directory. The cool thing about this is the hidden files stored in the /Home directory are still there if you install the same applications, you don't lose settings or bookmarks or email or some configurations.

So what do I think of Ubuntu in second place to Mint? Distrowatch is about the number of search hits sort of like the Jason Bourne movie when the gov phishes for the word "Blackbriar" on international wire taps. It does not indicate installed systems. I heard about Mint, I had to investigate, I liked what I saw, told others, they did the same. Mint is being checked out in droves being made from Ubuntu stuff but lacking Unity desktop. It features Gnome Shell instead and it's own Gnome Shell extensions. I like it but I can't use it on my present system. Linux as far as popular use systems goes, is not focused on low end and older hardware as in the past. The standard has been raised. For me the comfort level is higher with Mint.

Don't forget both Ubuntu and Mint will improve because of all this attention and or the shift of conversation. Welcome to the world of Linux.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the machine for art and the man of art

I have a scattering of pens on my desk, some papers. I stare at them intently wondering about my own art history. Every artist has a history, work that passed through their hands, ideas that they entertained, attempts, notes, urges, and finished works. Sometimes our training hinders us, sometimes it is what's needed, we make it work or we stretch it to extend our creative reach. Sometimes we explore new territory perchance a new technique will bring about new ideas or a new outcome. Darn it all, there is a core we can't escape, a sweet spot. The artist who draws all kinds of stuff but finds drawing/painting horses is a bliss/blast. OR the impressionist vs the photo-realist, the meticulous vs the slosher/splasher.

For me it is architectural forms, interior design, and decoration. I had a hard time accepting this as I compared myself to fine artist. Turns out my meager training has been about what I love all along, no need to think I'd like to be something else, or measuring up to something else. Turn envy into appreciation of others work. It's OK to appreciate and not have to do it yourself. When I scan the internet a great portion of fine art is about people, faces, figures. I feel more like a stage designer, setting the stage for people to perform on. I'm drawn to sculpture, lighting, and how a picture is framed, the shape of things. My stuff seems empty without people standing and acting in front of it. If I put people in the art then it would be locked. Though some viewers need figures in art to make a immersive connection, "What if I were in there."

The sweet spot sets the art motive into play, the art purpose, the art reason. You may venture to your limits but the sweet always calls to you. Could very well be a big part of your signature, that recognizable flaw that distinguishes each and every artist from other artist.

There is also the mirror effect. When you yourself survey over your own body of work and you see the character of your own hand, an annoying quality you want to change so bad, you will try different things to obliterate the flaw. News flash! That's not a flaw, it's a feature, it's who you are and HOW YOU ARE WIRED. It comes out in your work. Old stuff, you have to embrace yourself BEFORE you let yourself go. Else it will haunt you for ever. You put your hand to a work, did you somehow think what you created is separate from you? LOL!

Man has always made his mark from the first time he furrowed the dirt with a stick, a burnt stick on a rock. The implements today are so refined, the talents so well honed, yet the urge is the same, we make a mark and call it art.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

the wonder of two PCs

I sit here listening to my music in the background. I'm in a Pharaoh Sanders mood right now. Music is a great transport to clear away many of the thoughts that cloud the drawing process. It also inspires and adds it's own flavor into your work. Trust me head banging thumping and grinding is different than smooth and sweet. We are not immune to the environment we are immersed in. Nature calls, the wife calls, the cats want attention, the phone, the mail in the mail slot, the outside noise, the inside soothes the savage beast, so I can draw. I don't want to concentrate too hard but be on that edge of vivid sleep. That is where is doesn't matter if I can't do it, I will not stop myself from trying. If I can get it roughly, in time I will get it out smoothly.

Why two PCs? First I don't have a dual quad core with a graphic card so potent-n-powerful it can be the hub of a 4 screen cinema and do the marquee too. Second I do have an older spare dust bunny generator PC that still works. If I set it up as a media player/reference display, I won't have to divert any power on my main PC to doing those things while I am drawing. Plus the second display means I don't have to page back and forth between work spaces. It's all good. Like watching a tutorial on one PC and practicing it on the other at the same time. Not so mad am I? Having pictures of some idea on one screen and you working the sketch on the other.

In your studio accommodate yourself, that is what it is for. I would like a large wide screen or a video projector. Now that's thrilling. Maybe venture into 3D graphics. Although computers can produce wonderful output, they shine in the brain assist. I scanned my notebook pages into my PC, onto CD, then I review them in slide shows. You will be surprised at what you can learn from your own work, what you can teach yourself. That program by Google called Picassa is a gem, an absolute gem. It will play each picture in a folder or selected set at the interval you choose. There is a collage tool I just discovered. You take a batch of pics and twist and layer and resize and reposition interactively.

Perhaps one day I might get an extreme hardware upgrade. Seems you can get laptops that do everything you want. Desktops seem cheaper for the same result. I rather have a light dimming desktop in my studio and a laptop that can do a lot but not be too expensive. I wouldn't want to carry around something I would have to be extra careful about. Hey look at that guy with his case handcuffed to his wrist. Must be a federal courier! Nah, that's Rno the digital artist!

Monday, November 14, 2011

art life after desk overhaul

oooooh man, I know I'm jumping the gun but I've got to play around a bit.

OK, on deck is My Paint which is fast and furious for playing around. For serious painting, I'm not the one. You see I've been an Electrical CAD drafter for years and the only digital drawing I've done you see here. I've got stacks of paper and notebooks with scribbles but this is new. I do have a desire to adjust my pen and tablet to feel like I am drawing in my notebook. Actually there are many considerations to account for in doing real art, like what is the outcome, will it be printed?

You got to think ahead, especially with bit-mapped drawings because if your stuff isn't a good resolution and size it will be pixelated if you enlarge it. Of course drawing or painting things require a more trained eye and that persistant spirit.  Most of us use the trial and error exploration method. We stumble upon stuff that is cool with us until we learn otherwise. I came across some tablet exercises on Deviant Art, I'll have to find the link. You got to get the machine out of the way so that your work is flowing out. You could do this with a mouse, yeah, good luck with that. A cheap tablet is fine if it works well, you can always upgrade. Linux users should for sure to get a Wacom brand tablet as the drivers for Wacom are in the OS.

Freehand drawing requires practice to make the cursor do what you want. Doing vector work with Inkscape is kind of like CAD and requires more nudging lines that putting down and erasing dots. Feel the pen on the tablet surface, learn to trust it. Adjust the software sensitivity of pen pressure. find comfort. For me the mouse works better with vector drawings, the pen with bit-mapped work is more natural. You may have to get ink, paint and charcoal scented candles, never mind.

You'll need some help like a cheat sheet of keyboard short-cuts for each drawing program you use. You can't remember them unless you use them. Like in My Paint "d" makes the brush smaller. One hand poking the keyboard and the other holding the pen, I can change brush size on the fly. Oops, I don't know what makes the brush bigger, where's my cheat sheet? Aah, "f" makes the brush bigger. So, think about the final output of your work and compensate up front. Planning ahead is very important. Save your work often, I learned this in CAD work. The biggest thing in playing around is learning what you can do and knowing what to expect trying different stuff. It's getting fun.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

the non-digital part of digital art

Here in the humble adobe of your Linuxville guide, looking through the near naked trees and oh my, my garage roof needs fixin. The penthouse studio is shaping up. I work on one of those pressed wood computer desk. Today the workspace just wasn't big enough. The writing/keyboard area is not big enough, the right side under the cabinet is useless and I keep banging my knee on the right side drawer. Let alone putting the flash sticks and CDs under the desk, I watch the dust bunnies become jackalopes and chase the cats around.

So, I raised the CRT on it's shelf and pushed my old wooden drafting table over the writing/keyboard area, against the front of the desk. Then put the all-n-one printer/scanner/fax/copier on the shelf above the CRT cubby and the PC box on the same shelf on the right end. I can see everything well. The reaches are still a stretch but I don't inhale dust bunnies.

The drawing table is just under counter height and just above the desk chair armrest. The table is big enough to rest my whole arms on when I type and use the digital tablet. Well, the Wacom Graphire 2 is an 8"x 8" plastic square, try holding that in your lap or a narrow desk area. I was thinking about 3/8" chip board for a drawing table cover. I could cut out recesses for the keyboard and for the digital tablet. That would be too static for me, my work situation changes as you can tell. My big printer sits atop an old dresser next to the desk, print supplies are in it's drawers. On the other side of the desk on a printer stand is my spare PC which I can load with reference stuff or run tutorials on. Running two PCs can be a headache if they are not similar. You don't want to do too many different things when you are working. Every operation requires your attention at some point.

Just like some people can sleep anywhere, some can draw anywhere. I am not so inclined. I am trying to set a comfortable spot that is flexible but doesn't change that much. For years I've been a vagabond artist in my own house. We are not talking dream studio, for that I would renovate the garage. This is a spare room I can use that is not in the traffic flow.

The table is light enough to move it if I need to and provides a drawing posture better suited for taming the graphics tablet. You say I am beating around the bush, and not drawing! Yes! This is all part and partial of the whole Gennie gig! Art is not a thoughtless process, perhaps a haphazard one, but not thoughtless. Besides, there are drawing tutorials galore but studio setup ones are rare.  Getting your work space in order helps you to be comfortable when you work. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

incredible incremental improvments

If you are an unimpeachable penguinator like myself, who likes the well appointed display of desktop bling, gadgetry and and a flagrant flasher of the sweetened eye-candy only to find when you want to work, ya got to shuck the mess down to the penguin skivvies........Closer inspection of satellite photos of icebergs show the gray coloring due to thousands of top hats and tails strewn about in mass. Why dress then shuck is anybodies guess, but the notion of showing off is very strong among us. Who is their tailor? Do they recycle?

My last improvement was the Cairo-dock, I rolled with that until I noticed some response overload. Hesitation after a mouse click was quite apparent. I thought, I have 1 gig of main memory, it should be enough. I love the dock, it is so handy.  The culprit is called compositing. All the newer graphic cards can do it, but the older ones will find it a challenge. There are alpha layers, shadows and animated effects that look so cool and steal away your work capability. Ever wonder how or if a bling encrusted banger brushes his teeth? Now that's a sight, yeah man, I'm down wid the paste dude, forget the whiteners, I got my metal polished to the gleam. It's why cops wear shades, bling glint could be mistaken for a muzzle flash. Hey, assume the position and quit cheesing.

So, I had to remove the Cairo-dock. Then I installed Docky. Docky was part of something called Gnome-do, a intuitive device that let's you type in a few letters and it anticipates what you are looking for. Sort of like a spell checker coupled to a search bar. That's not how I roll so I was glad to see Docky as a stand-alone dock application for just the dock stuff. Down to the skivvies, that's what I want. Simple and quick response and boom, I'm working. And it has options, some small bling to make it look cool. It doesn't slow down my system. It's like turning a top hat into a bathing cap and a tux coat into a swim suit (when wet).

Man, you guys always want visuals:
 Of course Docky disappears when a window is overlapping and has the usual drag and drop the icon features. The point is to make the desktop wonderful yet responsive. Resources are precious to us of the lean means. Even if your PC is a Hummer (hums with power), this will help you optimize and become even more powerful. That is power that can be felt in your drawing mouse or pen tablet, smooth glitch free operation. Like a penguin gliding through water, I want you all to swim with the sharks yet not be lunch.

What's that thing in the pic? It's my rendition of an African thumb-piano or mbira done in Rhino-beta on a XP machine. Yeah, I came from there too. I'm as free as a bird today, water bird, er, extreme water bird. Penguins rule! Your Linuxville guide on the edge of the berg, bringing you the desktop play by play.