Muxxy Draws: Glorious Glory the Raccoon



Some may know that @rhondak has been adopted by a raccoon she has called Glory. She rescued her as a kit and despite letting her go her merry way to live life as a wild animal, Glory insists on breaking into her house and making herself at home. It’s gotten so bad that Rhonda now leaves a window open, just to save on the destruction of her property.

I have begun flexing my drawing muscles lately and decided to try to capture Glory’s attitude and general demeanor in a cartoon format. During my recent visit to Tennessee, I had a chance to meet Glory at @rhondak’s animal rescue called @tarc. I soon discovered that this raccoon does not much appreciate strangers in HER home, and she was akin to a furry chainsaw, looking for any chance to rip my face off.


I created this in Clip Studio Paint Pro, which I reviewed yesterday. I first changed the background layer to a more neutral color before laying down a rough sketch with a pencil. I didn’t want her to look mean and angry so much as annoyed.


I lowered the opacity of the rough sketch then added a layer on top to clean up the sketch, fixing the eyes, ears and chin/lip.


Rather than keep refining the sketch, I jumped straight to inking after adding a vector layer on top. As I mentioned in yesterday’s review, you can edit the vector lines after laying them down. This helps to get just the right thick to thin to add a little expression and to smooth out the strokes. Once completed I converted the vector layer to a raster/pixel layer.


Using the inking as a reference layer, I was able to quickly fill in the different areas with color. I painted in the lighter grey at the bottom of the face and added a highlight to the right and shadow to the right. Finally, I painted in a quick background behind all my layers.


Thanks for looking.

 


 

 

Clip Studio Paint Pro Review

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These past few weeks I have been exercising my drawing muscles and trying out several sketching, drawing, and painting apps. Today I’m going to discuss Clip Studio Paint Pro, formerly known as Manga Studio. It was originally made for comic book and manga artists, but the toolset has been expanded very much. I had seen some impressive illustrations completed with the software on Youtube, so I downloaded the free trial and had a play around.

At first glance, the interface looks a lot busier than something like Autodesk’s Sketchbook. Luckily all of the elements can be moved around, docked, or closed according to your needs. The theme can also be changed from my preferred dark grey, seen above, to something lighter.

By default, on the left-hand side, you have all of your brushes – called tools in Clip Studio Paint – and the various properties to tweak at will. Below that a quick brush size picker.

One great feature that I make use of is the stabilization feature. When making a pen stroke slowly, the software smooths out the stroke. This comes in handy for me as my hands sometimes shake, a by-product of my MS. It allows me to create nice smooth lines, particularly when inking.

The color selectors are quite comprehensive. At the top, I have the usual color wheel, below that a color slider to mix hues, next there is a color set which I can add to – creating my own sets. Below that an intermediate color selector and then an approximate color selector, for when you want a slightly different tone. Very handy.

One cool trick under Clip Studio’s sleeve is being able to paint transparency by clicking this little icon under the color wheel. In essence, this means that any brush can be used as an eraser.


By default, Clip Studio comes with many tools. Here is a quick test with the various pencils. As you can see, they all respond to pressure sensitivity very well. I much prefer sketching with this software – I cannot explain quite why, but the pencils feel just right.

There is a huge community of Manga Studio / Clip Paint Studio users, many of whom create and offer their own custom brushes for download.

Some of the painting brushes naturally blend colors together as you make strokes. It very much depends on the pen pressure too but makes blending sections much easier. Even so, there are several dedicated blending tools available.

No drawing or painting app is complete without a handy-dandy layer system. Clip Studio Paint also has the usual selection of layer blending modes such as multiply, lighten, color dodge etc.
Another fantastic feature is that Clip Studio Paint allows you to create a vector layer, onto which to lay vector strokes, as opposed to raster strokes. How do these differ? Normal brush strokes lay down pixels. Vectors – which can use the same brushes in Clip Studio – lay down points and draws the stroke between them. Clip Studio also still respects pen pressure for line thickness. Here is an example of vector strokes drawn with the ‘real pencil’.

Here are the individual points that make up one of the strokes.

If you want to adjust any of the control points, you are free to do so quite easily.

Because this is a vector and not normal pixels, it does not matter how much you enlarge it, the stroke will not become pixelated.

Should I try that with a normal raster/pixel stroke, it pixelates a lot

The eraser works a little differently with vectors. You can split the vector stroke, erase the entire line, or only erase up to where strokes cross over each other, as in this example.

It is also possible to edit the control points and vector strokes in many different ways.

For example, if you want your stroke to have fewer control points, you select simplify and draw with a green cursor over the section you want to be simplified. This will, in essence, give you a smoother line. One feature I use a lot is to adjust the line width, either thickening it up or thinning it. Again you paint over the stroke where you want to affect it. This is a great way to end up with expressive lines.

As these are vectors and not raster graphics, there are some limitations. You cannot vary the opacity of a line, nor can you use the bucket tool to fill an area. To be able to do this you need to convert the vector layer into a raster layer first.

Here I quickly added some expressive thick to thin vector linework to this rough head.

Having played around with the free trial I was so impressed that I visited http://www.clipstudio.net/ to see how much it is to buy. I was shocked: Clip Studio Paint Pro, which contains all of the drawing and painting tools I have mentioned, costs just $49.99 / £38.00. There is Clip Studio Paint EX also at $219 / £168, but that is aimed more at professional comic book artists with page management and animation tools. There is also an iPad Pro version available – usable with the Apple Pencil – which gives users 6 months free usage. After that, there is a monthly subscription.

I decided to bite the bullet and bought a license for Clip Studio Paint Pro. It allows me to install it on up to three devices, and I have done so on my main PC and on my Surface Pro 3.

The software works very well on my Surface and I feel like I get far more control over the pressure sensitivity. I very much enjoy the touch features too, which allow me to zoom in and out with two fingers and to rotate the canvas. One finger drag pans the canvas.

I spent last night taking the basic outline head sketch from above to sketch this with a few different Clip Studio pencils.

I may revisit this when I want to try my hand at painting.

Overall I am very happy with my purchase. Clip Studio Paint does not have a very steep learning curve and the tools are fairly easy to wrap your head around. It does offer other features I have not mentioned so far in this review, such as being able to import basic 3D figures, pose them and use that as a reference for drawing in another layer. Very useful for getting proportions right.

I thoroughly recommend this software for any arty types.

 

Apple Pencil Review – From an Apple Hater

I hate doing this review. I don’t have any love for Apple or their products despite once owning several iPhones and iPads. Their ‘walled garden’ approach has never sat right with me and their lack of innovation in recent years has – in my opinion – put them somewhat on the back foot.

That said, Ms Muxx – my other half – expressed an interest in creating digital art. She often watches me with a stylus in hand, scribbling away on either a screen or on my latest tablet. She is a big Apple fan and has both an iPhone X and an iPad Pro 12.9″. She had a little go on my Surface Pro 3 last week and lamented about the lack of a pen for her iPad. Muxxy to the rescue, I ordered her an Apple Pencil Saturday evening. It was due to arrive tomorrow but turned up this morning.

Incidentally, Steve Jobs once famously said:

Who wants a stylus? You have to get ’em, put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.”

My, how times change.

The Apple Pencil is, like all Apple products, rather expensive at £89.99 direct from Apple. It arrived in a sleek white box with a photo of the device on top. Sliding the cover off revealed a little pocket full of instructions, warranties, a spare nib for the pencil and a power adaptor. More on that later.

Lifting the sleeve out revealed the pencil in all its Apple white glory.

The pencil was protected by a thin film of plastic. Once removed it was time to pair the pencil with the iPad. This is done by removing the magnetic cap on the end of the pencil and inserting it into the iPad charging port. Yes, really.

No Apple, this doesn’t look stupid AT ALL

This was also the way to charge your pencil before enough people complained about Apple’s silliness and they decided to include the charging cable adaptor in the box. Thankfully you can now charge it like this.

Specifications for the Pencil are typically Apple vague. Despite spending some time investigating, I could not find how many pressure levels the device detects. Unlike other styluses, the Apple device does not have any buttons on it. It does, however, recognize pen tilt.

It is very comfortable in the hand, is very balanced, and weighs little more than a regular pen. In size, it is about the length of a regular pencil but a bit thicker.

Once the nib wears down it is quite easy to replace. You simply unscrew it from the pencil.

Eager to give it a try, I downloaded Autodesk’s Sketchbook from the app store. It looks and operates much the same as the desktop version I reviewed last week, albeit with increased touch optimizations. The first thing I noticed was how accurate the tracking is with the Pencil: each and every time you put Pencil to iPad, you draw exactly where the nib is. This might sound silly to those that don’t use a tablet monitor, but with my Ugee hk1560 I am forever having to calibrate it. Not so with the iPad and Pencil.

The next thing that struck me was how smoothly it tracked pressure, more so than any other stylus I have used so far. If I wanted a thin line I drew softly, a thick line I pushed down more. The pressure curve just worked as expected without much trial and error. I started to get a bad feeling: I was going to have to give Apple a favorable review…

Remembering that the Pencil recognizes tilt, I held it on the side as one would a normal pencil to shade in with the side of the lead. Oh my god, it was perfect!

As my other half was eager to have a go herself with her new toy, I tried out a few brushes and made some quick doodles.

This part was done with the Pencil on its side and then the same tool with the pencil held normally.

This was a pressure test.

And another.

Finally, a quick sketch.

The iPad had no trouble recognizing my palm on the screen while drawing – no stray brushstrokes appeared on the canvas. Despite my drawing hand resting on the screen, it tracked the Pencil perfectly and allowed me to use my spare hand to adjust on-screen controls at the same time. This isn’t an easy feat and my Surface Pro 3 has trouble with it sometimes, putting down a brushstroke where my hand rests and not letting me use my spare hand until I pull the pen away from the screen. Apple has nailed it.

As much as it pains me to say, Apple has a great product on their hands with the Apple Pencil. Like everything Apple, it just works, and brilliantly so. However, as the only iPad Pro with Apple Pencil in the house, I foresee many a disagreement over who is using it at any given time.

Well done Apple.

Huion h950p Graphics Tablet Review – First Look

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As you may know, I am a hobbyist artist – until recently concentrating on 3D modeling. I have however started to explore sketching and painting digitally – a few days ago I posted about the beginnings of my journey and discussed Autodesk’s Sketchbook. I have a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet PC with pen and a Ugee HK5060 tablet monitor for my desktop PC. Over the years I have tried ‘normal’ graphics tablets – a slab with a pen – but I have always struggled with coordinating what my hand is doing on the tablet with what is happening on screen. Nevertheless, I decided to persevere, practice, and get over this mental hurdle.

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Wacom is, of course, the big daddy when it comes to graphics tablet technology, and this is reflected in their pricing. The above model is the Intuos Pro M and the tablet has 5080 lpi – lines per inch or resolution. It has an active drawing area of 8.7″ x 5.8″ and the batteryless pen supports an incredible 8192 pressure levels and recognizes 60 degrees of tilt. The tablet has 8 express keys and a touch ring for keyboard shortcuts. The price is on average £300 / $350. Nice specs, pity about the price.

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This tablet is a Huion Inspiroy h950p. Its active draw area is 8.7″ x 5.4″ – as wide but not quite as tall as the Wacom. It too offers a 5080 lpi resolution and also has 8 express keys, though no touch ring. The pen is also batteryless, offers the same 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity and the 60 degrees of pen tilt. Amazingly, although its specifications closely match the Intuos Pro M, this device sells for an incredible £70 / $90! As I had some spare Amazon gift tokens in my account, I took the plunge and bought one.

It arrived a few days ago and first impressions were good. As you can see from the top photo, it comes in a nice minimalistic white box. Removing the lid revealed a carry bag for the tablet.

Taking that out I was presented with a warranty card, a thank you note from Huion and instructions on where to download the device drivers from.

Upon flinging those aside I finally reached the tablet sheathed in a protective plastic. I removed that to see the tablet itself.

Running my fingers over the express keys, they gave a satisfying and tactile click. Underneath the tablet I found the USB cord to attach the device to my PC, a quick start guide, the pen and pen holder.

With a quick twist, the pen holder opened up to reveal 8 spare pen nibs.

Replace the lid and the pen sits fine both vertically inside the holder and horizontally on top.

Both the pen for my Surface Pro and my tablet monitor require batteries. By comparison, this pen felt very light in the hand and I can imagine much more comfortable for long periods of drawing or painting – it weighs little more than a regular pen. Like the Wacom pen, it too has 2 side buttons. However, unlike the Wacom, it does not have an eraser on the end. I had a cheap Wacom many years ago with an eraser and never used it – so I cannot imagine missing it with the Huion.

By comparison, my Surface 3 Pro pen has just 256 pressure levels. My Ugee HK1560 has 2048 levels. The 8192 levels of the Huion pen are mind-boggling.

After installing the device driver I opened up the panel to see what options I had.

The first page allows you to set your express keys to whatever keyboard shortcuts you might need. Easy and straightforward.

This next page lets you tweak your pen pressure according to how you use your pen. Some are more light or heavy-handed, so this lets you dial in something that you are comfortable with. Here you can also set what functions the two barrel buttons do.

Finally, you can set the pen use according to your preference. For example, if you have more than one monitor you can dedicate it to whichever one your drawing or painting software is on. It’s also possible to span monitors, but I can’t really see a use case for that.

So, how is it in use? The increased pressure sensitivity is very noticeable. The pen is comfortable to use and the tablet surface is not too slippy – unlike drawing on a glass screen there is a little bit of drag like when drawing on paper.

Sure, it’s going to take me a while to perfect my hand-eye coordination, but with practice and perseverance, I hope to get better at drawing and painting with the Huion. I cannot tell you how it performs compared to the Wacom Intuos Pro M, but for the price, this tablet is a bargain – especially when considering its specifications.

All three strokes use the same pencil tool in Corel Painter with none of the settings changed between strokes. With the top line, the pen was held at a nearly vertical angle with little pressure applied. The second line was held the same, just with increased pressure. The bottom line I held the pen as one would when doing shading with a normal pencil, tilting the pen sideways. I have never used a digital pen with tilt functionality but I like it the different stroke variations I can make with the pen.

Overall I think the Huion h950p was an excellent buy and thoroughly recommend it if you are in the market for a device with similar specs to the Wacom Intuos Pro M but costing a fraction of the price.

Now, back to practicing….

 

Note: this post contains Amazon affiliate links to the products featured.

 

Autodesk Sketchbook and My ‘Traditional’ Art Journey


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Yesterday I wrote about my recent absence and mentioned that I have taken a new focus on working traditionally with art, as opposed to my usual 3D modeling and rendering. I remember during my youth spending hours with a pencil in hand sketching everything I could see. Of course, I couldn’t totally forego the digital realm and wanted to marry it with traditional skills.

Looking around for a decent sketching app I remembered playing with Autodesk’s Sketchbook a while ago. This always felt very natural to me so I popped onto their website HERE with a view to subscribing for the pro version. Imagine my shock when presented with this image!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying for software when I make use of it, but if it’s free? Hell yes! This apparently happened a few months ago. I clicked on the handy-dandy download button and was taken to a page with the options of acquiring it for Windows or OSX. On my platform, Windows, the download it a tad over 87Mb, on Mac just short of 80Mb. Very lightweight. I installed it on both my desktop PC and my Surface Pro 3. Incidentally, the full version is also free on both Android and iOS. I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – which has a stylus – so I downloaded it for that too. On an iPad, you might want to consider getting the Apple Pencil first.

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On my desktop, I have a Ugee HK1560 pen tablet monitor – naturally with pen pressure sensitivity. My Surface Pro 3 has a pressure sensitive stylus too. You at least will require a drawing tablet allowing for pressure sensitivity, something like the Wacom Intuos or, if you are on a budget something like the XP-Pen Star03. Technically you could use just a mouse, but that would be very cumbersome, unnatural, and you won’t benefit from any stroke or opacity expression like you would get with a pressure sensitive stylus.

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So, back to Sketchbook and my desktop and Surface Pro 3. Once installed and run for the first time, you will be prompted to enter your Autodesk account details.

Don’t worry, this is free if you don’t already have one. In that case, click on CREATE ACCOUNT to be presented with the following window.

If you want to jump straight into Sketchbook, you can use it for 7 days without signing in. Once decided or signed in, you are presented with a very clean interface.

Bear in mind that this was built from the ground up to be used with tablets, so it may take a little while to get used to it while navigating with a mouse. For example, on my Surface Pro 3, I can use my fingers to zoom, pan and rotate the canvas. On my desktop, my tablet monitor only recognizes the pen, so I have to use SPACE to bring up this navigation widget or click on the magnifying glass in the top toolbar.

As you can see, the interface is very uncluttered, allowing you to focus on your drawing. Now, let’s look at the toolbar. Click on the image to see it full size.

Like all other elements of the UI, this can be moved by clicking and dragging on the two small darker rectangles on either end. Some icons in the toolbar will open up other elements, such as the brush palette you see on the left. Again, look for the slightly darker rectangle – this time at the top, with which to click and drag this palette into a new position.

The brush puck allows you to click and drag left and right to change the size of the tool. Dragging up and down allows you to adjust the opacity or strength of the tool. The color puck allows saturation adjustment by clicking and dragging left and right, or luminance by sliding up and down. If you just click inside the color puck you will get a quick color selector. My preferred method for selecting color is by clicking the color editor in the top toolbar, which opens up this palette.

Like all palettes, this has a small circle at its top right. Click this to hide the palette.

The brush palette allows you to select different tools, pencils, and brushes. The icon on the left, circled in red, opens up the selected brush properties, in this case, the pencil. The icon circled in blue opens up the brush library, which contains other sets of tools.

It is possible to create your own sets which you would populate with your favorite tools and custom brushes, but I will cover that in a future post.

Only the previous Pro version had layers, but now that the software has gone free, we have them in Sketchbook. As you might expect, you can add, delete and merge layers here, lock them, duplicate them, move them up and down the order and add different blending modes such as multiply, hard light or color for different effects.

As I said earlier, the interface was built with tablets in mind and the lagoon allows for fast selection of various functions found throughout the toolbar and menus. For example, click and hold on the color wheel in the middle and drag to any of the colors presented to quickly change color.

I don’t use it, but you may find it useful. In my case, I go to the top menu, click on Window and deselect Lagoon. You can turn other elements on and off here.

A useful keyboard shortcut is T which will quickly hide and then show the UI, meaning all of these windows will disappear to concentrate on your sketch. After a little playing around, testing pencils, changing tool properties and just generally messing about, I came up with this. Excuse the poor quality. I think you’ll agree it looks very much like a traditional sketch.

Playing with other tools I got this quite painterly look.

All in all, I am very happy with Sketchbook. It really does feel like sketching on paper. I was quite surprised by some of the paint tools and took a look at Youtube, where I found Trent Kaniuga’s channel. For those that don’t know, he is a concept and comic book artist and illustrator who has worked on World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, League of Legends and lots more. He makes extensive use of Sketchbook and gets some great results, as you can see in one of his videos below.

It certainly gives me something to aim for.

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: this post contains affiliate links to Amazon.