Step by step – Gunslinger

Here’s the progress on last week’s pic: a gunslinger from Destiny 2.

It took a lot of sketching to get the pose right. Then it was really fun doing the black and white, figuring out how it was going to come together. I wanted to do a lot more art, but this wound up taking all week to do.

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Step by step – Flirty (and tutorial)

Only one pic this week, but I worked on it all week. As you can see here, each step took a day. In the case of the shapes stage, two days.

These are me and my husband’s Destiny characters.

I was practicing figure sketches, and I liked this one because it kind of tells a story. So I turned it into a full pic. I also tried doing all the shadows with the pen tool, mostly because of this tutorial:

Practice pic by WinXu Xu on Artstation

See how the black shapes and the gray shapes in the first stage are on separate layers? And he colors on them separately? I wanted to try doing that. I’m afraid my first try was pretty tame, but I want to continue experimenting with this technique.

I’ve also been scribbling out a new fanfic. I noticed that it was getting kind of long, so I checked and realized I’ve written 30k. Pretty much just for fun. I love it when a story has that much pull. So I’m tossing it online, slowly, until I get it finished. Fortunately, the last third is in sight, so it’ll be done in a few more weeks.

A couple of comics and how to kill your art

A friend of mine has been dealing with her son’s suicide last year. She wrote a blog post today about how art is fun, and good for your brain–until you start trying to do it for money. Then you’ve killed your joy. She partially credits this for one of the many reasons her son killed himself. It’s worth a read, if you’re feeling society’s guilt that you’re making art and not selling it.

It’s given me a lot to think about, especially since I’m drifting that direction, myself. Where is the balance between art and business? I’m not sure, so I’ll continue to write fanfics, draw fanart, make zero money, and have all the fun.

Here’s the finished version of that comic from last week:

And then this one, which was based on a true story.

One of our friends went to send out Ghost to do a thing, but he punched a dude instead, which looked like he hit the dude with Ghost. Then Ghost didn’t do the thing. So I made the comic for him. 😀

This past week was a marathon of building IKEA furniture, finding we had the wrong parts, exchanging them for the right parts, and in general having a sea of cardboard boxes and Allen wrenches everywhere. I didn’t draw as much as I wanted to, because I slept through my early morning art time every day. But hopefully, next week will be better!

Art I did this week (or didn’t)

I didn’t do as much art this week, alas. I wound up sleeping through my usual drawing time because sleep.

But here’s one, with a self-explanatory joke:

Once you see it, you can never un-see it.

I’m working on another Destiny comic strip, but I only have one panel done.

It’s kind of super detailed, so it’s taking a while to do. It’ll probably be done by my next update.

In other news, we got a new dresser from IKEA, so I will probably spend the next portion of my life assembling drawers. Yay me!

Dawnblade – step by step

Artwork I did this week–some Destiny fanart, which means two people in armor and fiery wings and swords battling it out.

Pretty!
This is my initial sketch, just working out poses and stuff. Erased and redrew a lot at this stage.
Next, more details. The sketch is more refined, and I drew their armor.

Next comes inking. I’m not super good at this stage, and my tablet is uncooperative. The pros do this stage with the pen tool and vector lines, but I’m usually trying to get this done while the baby is asleep and lack time.
Next, I blocked in their colors and added the shading.
Time for background and special effects, my favorite! The inked lines stand out a bit. I color over those last.
The wings needed more contrast, so I added black to really make them pop. The inked lines got some painting treatment, too.
Last of all, a red gradient set to Liner Dodge to give the figures a nice red glow.

I haven’t done a pic like this in a while, and it was nice. Here’s a comic, too, about what happens when our main tank jumps games from Destiny to Fortnite.

Return of the art blog

When I first started this blog a few years ago, it was just a place to post my art and talk about how I made it. I branched out from there, but I still like the idea of just blogging my various sketches and things.

I’ve been trying to post art on Tumblr, but … let’s face it, Tumblr is just about the worst platform I’ve ever used, even worse than Facebook. Facebook will at least put all your pictures into an album. Good luck finding ANYTHING on Tumblr.

I do post to my deviantart and Pinterest, but I’d like to have a central spot of my own to post extra bits. So expect more art from me and less pithy stuff. I don’t have much brainpower for pith, anyway, which is why I haven’t updated.

Art-wise, I’ve been furiously studying and practicing, trying to improve. Mostly I’ve been focused on comics and things centered around Destiny, because it gives me an excuse to draw both humans and armor, two things I’m sadly bad at. So you may have to endure a lot of game-related jokes and fan characters.

So, really, the same stuff I draw for the Sonic fandom. 😀

So here’s a few of the things I’ve done recently, just to kick things off.

The Tao, the Force, and good vs. evil

If you’re familiar with Star Wars, you’ll also know about the Force. It’s the energy that holds the universe together. There’s a Light side and a Dark side, and both sides have to be in balance. That’s what the Jedi Knights are all about.

This system of morality is also completely, utterly futile. Here’s what Taoism actually teaches.

While many Western religions emphasize a duality between good and evil, urging devotees to embrace the good and spurn the evil, Taoism saw these moral qualities as two extremes of a single spectrum. Virtue did not lie at one end or the other of this spectrum, but through carefully maintaining a balance between the two. This idea is often expressed through the terms Yin (rhymes with English mean) and Yang (rhymes with English long). The two words together mean the fundamental and opposite forces or principles in nature. Yin originally meant “sunless” or “northern.” It was associated with darkness, femininity, emptiness, coolness, and passivity. The opposite state was Yang, which originally meant “sunny” or “southern.” Yang was associated with light, fullness, masculinity, heat, and action.

These traits appear oppositional on first inspection. However, that opposition is only a surface illusion in Taoist belief. In fact, the two states of nature require each other. Just as an art student knows that negative space around an object is what creates the outline of positive space in a drawing, the enlightened Taoist knows that suffering, pain and misery are necessary for traits like contentment, pleasure, and happiness to exist. Sickness and health are the same phenomenon; they are just at far ends of that same phenomenological spectrum. Masculinity and femininity are also the same thing; they are both the phenomenon of gender expressed in opposite ways. Love and hatred are also the same phenomenon, and so on.

When the Taoist realizes the falsity of these divisions, the Taoist realizes that extremes of either sort are temporary and unnatural. It is the cycle of nature for the pendulum to swing back and forth from one to the other. By resisting or refusing to experience these swings, the human throws himself out of balance with nature, and intensifies the lack of balance and alignment.

The great aim of all Taoists was to conform to the way of nature. They believed that all attempts to behave in accordance with strict codes of discipline, either personal or governmental, were artificial and temporary; they tended “to deform human nature and waste life” as Schafer puts it. Rather than trying to embrace one of the two opposite and reject the other, the enlightened individual sought balance between the two. S

Source

Well well, look at that. It’s all the rules of the Force right there. Good and evil are just a spectrum, and it’s better to just let them do their thing than to interfere, because interfering just makes it worse. No wonder Jedi tend to be annoying pacifists. I’m looking at you, Old Republic. It also explains why Luke became a hermit in The Last Jedi, rather than the founder of the Jedi Academy, as he was in the old continuity.

The Tao doesn’t offer any reason for the existence of good and evil. They’re just part of the duality of all things, like hot and cold. The Tao isn’t real into good and evil, anyway. It’s better to just go with the flow, dude.

When one realizes the need for balance between yin and yang, and stops struggling against that which is natural, one can gain contentment through wu wei, enlightened non-action. This involves discarding elaborate or needlessly complex plans to improve oneself and the world. Instead, one must accept the world (and oneself) as it is. It involves giving up materialistic desires and living life unplanned, from one fluid moment to another. This route leads one to Te, a word that in various forms can mean “moral virtue,” “bounty,” and “power or force,” or “gratefulness.” One learned to live life spontaneously rather than become trapped in the process of preparing for the unpreparable, avoiding the inevitable, or seeking the unobtainable. Such a route always leads to a lack of balance.

Source

In other words, the way to be happy is to be utterly passive. Don’t react to the good or the bad. Just … sit there.

I know quite a lot of governments that would dig a passive populace. A passive populace would never try to conduct business, enforce reforms, fight for their rights, or any of those messy things.

Meanwhile, the Bible is over here in the other corner, talking about how Good was First and evil is an aberration to be fought against.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:18-24 (NIV)

Doesn’t look like sitting passively by would help much in this paradigm, would it?

A lot of books and movies take a Taoist view of good and evil. You can’t really ever defeat evil. You just kind of tolerate it until the balance changes and things go the other way. There’s no point in struggling to make things better. Nope, that just makes the other end of the balance stronger. Better just to sit and do nothing.

In the end, there’s no point in the whole good vs evil struggle. Fighting for Good makes Evil stronger. You might as well go full Sith and make Evil as strong as you can, so Good will win out.

Can you imagine what that would look like in reality? Whole countries just go out and destroy other countries and people groups, “just to bring about Good … for somebody”. Definitely not the people being destroyed. Where’s the good for them? There’s no justice, no righteousness, not even kindness. There’s only this imaginary balance we think we’re maintaining.

But what if the other paradigm is true, instead? And God, the ultimate Good, in whom there is no Evil, is going to judge Evil and destroy it forever, until only Good remains?

Yikes, those Tao balance people now have egg on their faces. Looks like the Jedi should have grown some backbone and fought for Good in the first place. Sucks to be you, Luke. You should have gone out and started the Jedi Academy after all.

Mystery boxes in stories (and why readers love them)

I’ve written 19 fanfics since last May, and it gave me a lot of leeway to experiment. Mostly, I’ve been able to step back and look at which stories consistently get the most hits.

I like to write in a lot of different subgenres. For Destiny, I wrote sci fi > drama, sci fi > romance, sci fi > mystery/thriller, and sci fi > humor.

While all of them found a decent number of readers, the ones that always do the best are the mystery/thriller types. Or, as I like to call them, the mystery box stories.

Now, you’d think that romance would be the most popular. And stories with a dash of romance have performed well for me. But the mystery box stories have them beat, hands down.

What is a mystery box? This is a concept JJ Abrams talks about in his TED talk here. A mystery box is simply a box with something in it. But you don’t know what it is. So you open the box and solve the mystery.

But what if there’s another mystery box inside that box? Ah, the puzzle isn’t solved, then. You have another box to open. And so on and so forth, mystery after mystery. The human brain is wired to be curious. We can’t stand mysteries. We have to find out the answers or it bugs us.

My first mystery box story was about a girl who gets revived by a ghost who can’t talk. (Ghosts are these little robots.)

Why can’t he talk? First mystery box. Turns out he’s broken. But why is he broken? Second mystery box. This is hard to find out because he won’t let anybody touch him. Why not? Third mystery box. Turns out, he’s been rebuilt with alien tech. But how, and why? Fourth box. And on it goes, each mystery getting the heroine into hotter and hotter water. The final mystery isn’t solved until the very last chapter, when the heroine is on trial and only the ghost coming clean will save her neck.

That story went crazy for a while. It got a ton of hits and interaction. People had to see the mystery solved. It still gets hits, even though it’s a bit older, now. It doesn’t have any romance–only the somewhat stressed friendship between the girl and her ghost.

Right now, I’m posting another one that also deals with mystery boxes. In this case, it’s a very Bourne Identity setup–a guy with amnesia just might be a covert operative with the key to a super weapon in his memory. And it’s getting a ton of hits and interactions. People want to see what’s inside that mystery box.

I’m considering doing a romance/thriller to see how it does. All the romance stuff AND mystery boxes? Of course, I’ve been partial to romantic thrillers since I first read Mary Stewart’s books. She does the mystery boxes hardcore. I still think about this one twist in the Moon Spinners that took me completely by surprise.

Anyway, I think all genres can benefit from a few mystery boxes. Not only do they keep the reader curious, but they keep the suspense engine running. I think all authors do this more or less by instinct. But it’s fun to actually build your boxes and scatter them throughout your story. Because, in a story, mystery boxes are also Pandora’s box–opening them should unlock a whole bunch of new problems for your protagonist.

Story noodlings

I’ve been writing along on my superhero story and just got royally stuck.

Actually, I was royally stuck on it months ago, when I jumped ship and went back to fanfiction. So I’ve come back to it, full of determination … and I’m still stuck.

So I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m stuck. And I think it has to do with how I’ve written these characters over and over and …. O V E R. These are the Spacetime characters, which I’ve been trying to get right for years.

I’m afraid I’m stuck on that treadmill of perfecting that first book by rewriting it over and over. I should just throw it out and write something else, but every so often I go back to these characters and try something new. First they were … something like urban fantasy. Then they were actually urban fantasy. Now they’re more superhero. I think superhero fits their personalities the best, but the story is giving me fits.

At one point, one of the characters becomes a werewolf. I’ve done this in different ways in each incarnation of the story. The first version was a really cool science fiction werewolf that had the guy actually having two bodies, and one of them was always swapped into hyperspace. I still think that was my favorite version. But the story also had this whole Fortnite plot of OMG teh giant storm! And it was … uh … lame.

See, this is cool. And stoppable. I never could come up with a good way to stop the storm in my old stories.

So then I had him be a more traditional werewolf, and that worked all right for urban fantasy. But for the superhero world, it doesn’t work as well. I actually don’t want him to be a werewolf this time, because his other powers are so cool. And really, once he turns, he steals the spotlight from the other hero. Maybe I should just give him his own book for that.

Anyway, as soon as I started messing with that plot angle, my story came grinding to a halt. I think my brain was trying to tell me that it wasn’t right for this particular story. This story, aside from being about superheroes, is also about Youtube politics. And I was getting away from the Youtube politics thing.

So I think I’m going to have to delete about 2k words of this story, go back to before this particular plot point, and let the story go a different direction.

My writer friends, at this point, are screaming at me to re-outline the story. I’m writing this story without an outline, just following the logic of the characters and their choices. I used to write with outlines. The stories they produced were shallow and too quick. I’ve gone back to writing by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go. But as long as the hero and villain have strong enough motivations, their clashes drive the story quite nicely. And if I have no clue what will happen next, neither will my readers. 😀