Sunday, February 19, 2012

Poem- Why I Became a Gardener

Why I Became a Gardener

In the beginning
it was really just an escape.
I didn’t want to be in an office.
I didn’t know what I wanted, except beauty.
So I learned the names of plants,
and how they grew, and how they fed themselves.

It was while working in the gardens of others
that I recognized I had a vision
that I wanted to see made. That I wanted to be
in a certain kind of place. Something
that made my blood sing.
And this was not it.

First, I looked for clients
that had the kinds of gardens I wanted to work in,
where the desires of a plant
could surge against the needs of a human with its own joy,
and one might need to exert
some kind of force
to create a sense of balance. I wanted to be
invited, as an animal, into the space which I was in.
But that was hard to find. It wasn’t
a common way.

I began
to build gardens, some time later, for a person
likes to express himself
and make money. I learned how to find
the veins of stone, the passage of weight,
how to help a plant
take care of itself. I learned to receive a simple pleasure
in the usage of glue,
and the mechanics of water
because those were the demands of success.

Until one day I found myself
kneeling in the dirt, working away like a grub or a bird
beneath the nodding tassles of a grass I had planted
some years before.
I had dug a hole
to fix a broken pipe.
I smelled Sweet Elysium blanketing my face, as I pulled weeds
that rattled in hands. My fingers were cold. It was winter.
Overcome with a simple joy, I stopped and listened
to the sounds of birds
skittering above me
in a tree I had planted. What a pleasant place to be.
It was then I understood
we have to make
those things
we want to tend to.


Poem- Why Flowers Matter

Why Flowers Matter

A flower
is desire.
From the flower
comes fruit.
And from fruit
comes seed, and from the seed
comes the tree.
And so it is
that all life
from beauty.


Picture Book Marathon- Day 19

Well, I've got 10 days to go, and I've got 10 partial or completed drafts done. I doubt I'm going to hit 26, which seems sort of insane to me, frankly ;) , but I'll easily hit 13, even if I take the time to go back and wrap up the first drafts for stuff I couldn't really round out in one go.

That's probably the most difficult part- if you've only got 2 hours to knock something out, I'm finding one tends to default to cliches in terms of plot, OR I find myself writing fun, playful, concept books that don't rely on plot or character motivation, but are really more tone poems. Not that I don't like tone poems. It's just not the only kind of experience I'm interested in creating. I also have noticed I'm defaulting to prose more often too, although I did get a wonderfully fun rhyming first draft of "My Tennis Shoes Have Got the Blues" written out, so there's some production in that field.

But, yes, if I'm writing something with plot, it's very hard to get that done in 2 hours. I find what's happening is I can lay out the setting, introduce the main characters, build the basic tension, and ... that's where the hard part comes. Because, IMO, for plot to be interesting, something really needs to _happen_, the character really needs to _change_, he needs to be _active_, so that, when you get to the end, you feel like character development and plot development are inter-related. Well, that's easier said than done. Or atleast it's so for me. I've always been best at moments, at poems, and always rather frustrated by plots, and impressed with those who can write them. It is not my forte.

Given that, I've just allowed reality to sit in, which means that it's just not always possible to get a draft done each day. I am, however, making writing more of a priority, so I think that really shows what can be done if one puts ones mind to it. There's been more than one time when I thought I'd like to veg out, or read a book, etc. but I said, "No, I'm supposed to be writing. It's important to me, right?" And by God, I actually sat down and wrote! LOL.

I think it helps that I've enrolled Kat into it as well. I've asked for her help in carving out some real blocks on the weekends, and occasionally on the weeknights. Thus, when I have time, she's often asking me if I'm going to be sitting down and writing. Once, she set aside some time and took care of Tasha. I sat upstairs and putzed. When she came up, she had presumed I'd be writing, and I honestly felt a little guilty. I've set up a bit of an expectation that this was important to me, and here she was, helping, and I wasn't taking advantage of it. So, it's good to have someone on your side, prodding you a bit. :)

Whatever the case, I'm definitely writing more recently than I have in a while. I've even found I'm writing more in general-- not just PB's. Over the last month or two I've started dictating poems to myself using my bluetooth headset and my Iphone, while driving to or from a job. Today, I played hookey from PB's, and used my time to finally pound out some drafts of those poems as well, which felt really good. The count? I didn't count exactly, but it must be about 10 since mid-December, and half since the beginning of this month-- a very good number for me.

What this has really got me thinking about is drawing and painting, and really working on my portfolio. It would be nice if I could somehow apply this discipline between the two activities (writing and painting), and still get something done. Probably one of the issues is that I'm not just wanting to illustrate and write picture books. I've got poems in my head, and I want to do more abstract watercolors as well. That was terribly fun to step back in to during the XMas season, and I don't want to lose that.

I know some people think you should winnow it down and pick those things you want to focus on, but I've not agreed with that approach for a long time. This is it, right? Either you're going to do, or you're not.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Concepts of Failure-- Half way through the Picture Book Marathon

So far, it's been very difficult to get this writing in daily. I really need 2 hours minimum, but that's just not feasible unless I sleep less. Screw that. I can't do that on a regular basis and still function.

So, I've been trying out some alternative methods. The other day I used my bluetooth earpiece to recite voice memos to myself for a story. Then I came home and typed them up piece meal. That worked ok. Was the text very good? No. But sometimes puking it out helps you figure out how to make it better. More about beginnings than anything else.

Comparatively, today I got rained out of work, but I just didn't feel right sitting down and really using the afternoon to write. Instead, I did something more "productive". And it was productive, truthfully, but putting up shelves in my office and cleaning out the laundry room is almost as bad as saying I cleaned out the oven or some such thing. Perhaps I should have taken advantage of the time, but one wants to feel like one's doing one's part for the house and family. First work, then play....

Still, just sitting down and failing to write has sometimes ended up being really productive. I sat down to write today, and just couldn't really generate a plot, tension, a problem to solve. Have been chewing on that kernel all day though, since, and may have some ideas now. So, perhaps that's why you try and force yourself to sit down and just do it. All good writing is almost always revision. Barely anything comes out well the first time round, in my experience.

Anyways, even if I don't get the 26, I've pounded out more drafts so far this month than I've done in 6 months previously. So that's good. And, as usual, having my time totally accounted for to the nth degree, has made me want to do other creative things- I went out to the Crocket reading series this last Sunday and shared a poem. Got the bug again. I've also been wanting to paint.

Clearly my creative brain is sort of like a wet rag. You have over-schedule me and really wring it out before I produce anything. ;)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I'm doing the Picture Book Marathon this month!!

Just an update on my picture book life. In conjunction with having done the Picture Book Idea Month back in November, I'm now doing the Picture Book Marathon this month. The goal? To hammer out 26 semi-crappy first drafts of picture books over the course of a month.

Now, that sort of sounded insane to me, personally. ;) But, having done the Picture Book Idea month, and having had those ideas stew around for a few months, I now have a sort of store of ideas from which to draw that have been slightly developed. This is good.

Well, I started on Wednesday, and the results so far? 1 and a 1/2 stories. Pretty sad. The problem? I've been very very busy.

I tried setting up a sort of schedule. I even wrote it into my work schedule, so I'd see how it was going to work, but these last few days have just been insane. Even more so than normal.

On Wednesday I helped Sarah Studdard move all day. All day. On Thursday, I had some free time while the girls were at Preschool, but I spent my time getting stuff done in anticipation of the Tasha's birthday party at my house today. Friday I worked and then went to Fred and Deb's (Tasha's grandparents) for her birthday party there. Today, I'm hosting Tasha's birthday (which is actually tomorrw, for those not in the know), which means clean up and then (admittedly very fun) hosting duties.

And truth be told, when I have had a bit of time, I've been so busy that I have truthfully spent it vegging out or doing things like this post. Am I just dodging doing it and making excuses? I hope not. I'd really like to hammer out these drafts and make them real.

Here's hoping!!

Modlock, Stroke It, and ATNSOFT Key Manager- 3 programs you'll need to smoothly run Paint Tool Sai on a Tablet PC

Over the last year I've gone through a lot of art programs- Artrage, Sketchbook Pro, Painter 11 and 12, and now Paint Tool Sai. Sai has it's issues (it's seemingly abandoned by its developer, it has a few bugs), but it does something that I've had a terribly difficult time doing in other programs without going through backflips-- it easily creates varied and interesting textural elements in a painting without bogging everything down. As such, it's what I now most often defer to.

Of course, nothing comes easy, and since I'm using this on two tablet pc's (currently a convertible x200t and an le1600 slate) that means, of course, there had to be some bumps in the road. This post is all about how I've set things up on both machines. Later, I might try and make a post about how I actually use the program itself to get the results I'm looking for. In essence, I've gotten both machines to do a lot of what I want through three cheap or free programs- ATNSOFT Key Manager for the le1600, and Modlock and Stroke It for the x200t- that allow me to use the limited screen space of a tablet pc to its fullest potential. Basically, I can work 70-80% of the time in Full Screen mode with the help of these programs, because I don't need to be seeing all the menus and tables, etc.

ATNSOFT Key Manager-
First, the le1600, because it's the easiest one to summarize. As I went over in this post, the le1600 is old and underpowered, but Paint Tool Sai runs very light, and so the two combined together work very good as a digital sketchbook. You flip the slate around (upside down) and get the buttons on the left. Now, go to Control Panel> Tablet Pc Settings, and set the keys to shortcuts that a keyboard can recognize (letters, numbers, arrows, etc). Next, install ATNSOFT Key Manager for 40$ (or try the free trial for a month), and using it you can set each each button to do different things depending on the program in usage. Wonderfully useful and ergonomic. It's amazing how nice it is to press a button and open menus without having to move your pen everywhere. One hand focuses on key input (zoom in/zoom out, undo, tab, f11, resizing the brush or eraser, as well changing tools), and one hand just focuses on using the pen.

However, the le1600 is underpowered, and more importantly it has no keyboard, and so it's ended up not being my main computer. For that, I've decided to stick with the x200t Superbright Outdoor, as it fits more of my typical usage patters- typing, surfing, outdoor work and, yes, art too. On this computer, where I don't really have buttons to use, I've cobbled together a reasonably smooth workflow using two basic programs- Modlock and Stroke It.

Modlock is a very simple Auto Hotkey setup that gives you a selection of up to 6 small buttons that you can place on the screen that are activated with your pen. You determine what three of the buttons are, which is nice. I use F11 a few times every time I use Sai, so that's one of them, for example. What makes it really great though is that you also have the ability to hit one or more key modifiers (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, and Space) and then you can set how many seconds you want each one to stay pressed for (usually something short like 1-3 seconds). This allows you to do things like go *tap tap* on the Ctrl and Alt keys respectively, then immediately drag your pen to resize your brush, as both of the keys are still "pressed." This has some clear usages and benefits.

Stroke It-
Stroke It is a free gesture based program that works just like the gestures in Windows 7. What makes it nice is that you set up what the gestures do in each program, so its specific to the needs you have in each one. I use it in Artrage, for example, but also in Paint Tool Sai.

However, I discoverd that getting the correct setup between Stroke It, the Wacom ISD Tablet settings, and Sai's button settings was very difficult. But by pure luck actually, an accident, I now have it working. The path of buttons to choose is kinda absurd though, and makes no sense to me, but here it is, for others who might like to try it and are having problems.

First, in Stroke It itself, you have 3 options under Edit> Preferences for what button you'll need to push to start a gesture-- Left, Middle, or Right. I chose "Right". Now, normally this means I would use the primary (lower, pen-tip end) button on my pen to start input in an art program, like Artrage, which is exactly what it does in other programs. In Sai though, this starts the eye-dropper tool, no matter what I do. Still, you set Stroke It to Right Button.

Second, you go to your ISD Tablet Properties, which is in your Control Panel. This is where you set what your upper and lower pen buttons do, the firmness of the pen tip, etc. Here, you set the lower button to Right click, like normal, and the upper button to Middle click, even though you don't actually have 3 buttons. Anyways, set it to middle click.

Thirdly, you go into Sai. Under Others> Options, you can set both the upper and lower buttons to Right Click. And magically, if you do this, it works. Do the gesture you have set up using the upper button (set to Right Button in Stroke It, Middle Click in the ISD Tablet Properties, and Right Click in Sai), and you'll get what you want.

I can now work in Full Screen mode 75-80% of the time on both tablet pcs. I set up what my different brushes are doing, and with a quick flick of the pen I can switch to any of the tools (pen, eraser, grabber, brush, blend, etc), as well as zoom in an out, as well hit the "Tab" key with a flick to bring the menus back instantly. With Modlock used in conjunction, I can do things like have f11 set as a button to enter and exit true Full Screen mode easily, as well as hit Ctrol + Alt to resize my brush on the fly. I bring back the "normal" screen with a gesture set to click Tab if I need to do more detailed, less common things like change color, make a new layer, shift the texture of a brush, reduce the opacity of a brush, etc. Then flick Tab again, and I'm back in Full Screen mode. A very nice work flow.

Just thought I'd share how I'm doing this.