Category Archives: Computing & Internet

Digital Painting On A Budget, Part 2

Okay, so now you have your painting and photo manipulation software, if you read my previous post, that is; you can begin to paint straight away using your mouse. For more controlled use, however, you really would be wise to invest some money in a dedicated graphics drawing tablet and pen. Good grief, i hear you say. More money to splash out? Well, yes, but the cost needn’t be prohibitive, as you will soon see.

If you’re someone with money to burn, then by all means splash out on one of the latest all-singing, all-dancing top-of-the-range tablet and pens from Wacom or Aiptek or one of the other “big boys”. If, however, you’re simply after a tablet and pen that doesn’t cost the earth and can give you a comparable experience to the more expensive tablets, then i suggest that you read on, because i have some more good news for you!

It came to my attention recently that a company called Monoprice make a range of drawing tablets that are fast becoming a favourite among many digital artists and are getting very favourable reviews from their users. I bought one recently too, opting to buy the MP1060-HA60 which has a drawing area of 10 x 6 inches.

Monoprice MP60-HA60 tablet and pen

Monoprice MP60-HA60 tablet and pen

Compared to the nearest equivalent from its more expensive competitors, it cost approximately ONE THIRD of the price!

Out of the box, It is supported by Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista and 7) and Mac OS X. Check the Monoprice website for exact system requirements.

The beauty of these cheaper brands is that they are clones of the UC-Logic range and so the drivers for them are easily available. People have reported problems when using them, but that is because you need to install the drivers in a specific way, removing ALL other graphics tablet drivers on your system before installing the drivers for the Monoprice unit. You must not plug the tablet in before you have installed the drivers, and neither should you plug it in until your system is fully booted and everything is loaded in. Another thing to be aware of is that you should always use the tablet to start your painting software. There are tutorials on the web telling you how to do all that i have mentioned, so get Googling, peeps!

These tablets have decent specs and perform admirably. To get the best from them, as with all other tablets, one must fine tune the tablet’s performance once you are up and running with it in your painting software of choice. Getting used to pen pressure sensitivity which affects the brush strokes is probably the main thing you need worry about to begin with.

The pen itself is battery powered, using one AAA battery (AAA is a British standard, so you’ll have to find out what the equivalent is in your country, though i an guessing that it will be called an LR03 AM-4 1.5v), and you should get around 5000 hours of use from a single battery.

Other accessories included with the tablet and pen are: 3 extra tips for the pen, a pen holder and a disc containing the drivers and bonus software. As far as i know, the bonus software is not compatible with Windows 7, so please be aware of this. You don’t need the bonus software anyway!

I nearly forgot to mention that the tablet itself has 8 programmable buttons on the left side, which is extremely useful! Okay, you got me! I did in fact forget to mention it and have had to come back to this blog and edit it *blush*

Another piece of software I’d like to steer you towards because it’s FREE and it’s EXCELLENT is Inkscape, a marvellous program used to make scalable vector graphics. Vector graphics can be re-sized without image quality loss, so it’s a great piece of software to have around. It is comparable to Adobe Illustrator and Xara X, and so there’s a steep learning curve, but it is well worth learning to use.

Source tarballs for GNU/Linux are available from the Inkscape website, but check your Linux distributor for ready made binary packages designed for your distro. Inkscape is successfully used on FreeBSD and other Unix-like operating systems. The packages for Windows XP/Vista/7 are available as a fully self-contained installer, but older Windows versions (98/ME and 2000) are no longer supported. Inkscape is also available for Mac OS X.

Check it out, get playing, and have lots of fun. Go on, get creating some masterpieces!

Inkscape, the fantastic open source, FREE scalable vector graphics program

Inkscape, the fantastic open source, FREE scalable vector graphics program

 

Digital Painting On A Budget

Isn’t Adobe Photoshop just great? You bet it is! It’s the industry standard for most of the images you see all around you everywhere you go. Wouldn’t you just love to own it, or software very much like it, without having to fork over so much money for it, or having to resort to illegally downloading and installing a pirated version? Well, i’m here to tell you that you can have your photo manipulation cake and eat it!

Though it’s no big secret, I’d like to shout out to all who either have not used it or even heard of it before that there is a piece of software out there that is not only cross-platform, it’s FREE to use, and can be every bit as good as Photoshop! All it takes on your part is the time to learn to use it. There’s no money to hand over whatsoever. I’m talking about the GIMP.

 

Surely one can't edit photos with this kind of gimp!

Surely one can’t edit photos in this kind of gear!

No, not THAT kind of gimp! THIS kind of GIMP!

GIMP

GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program, and at time of writing is in its v2.8.4 incarnation. You can use it for so many things: photographic manipulation and retouching, image authoring and even digital painting.

There’s a version for most of the popular operating systems too:

  • GNU/Linux
  • Microsoft Windows (XP/Vista)
  • Mac OS X
  • Sun OpenSolaris
  • FreeBSD

It is skin-able, so that you can make it look like Photoshop if you so wish, and you can use Photoshop plugins too with a little work, using the PSPI plugin or the Shellout python module which launches an external program so that you may use the Photoshop plugins you wish to use, making it a very versatile piece of kit to have!

“But it doesn’t have CMYK support!” I hear the die-hard Photoshop fans out there cry. Not a problem! You can perform a workaround to give you some CMYK support, giving you those deep blacks that you so desire.

The greatest thing about GIMP apart from it being freely distributable software is the community of users and developers who support the program and offer solutions to other GIMP users. There’s no shortage of GIMP forums and websites to peruse should you wish to find out how to perform a specific task.

It is far beyond thew scope of this blog to go into detail about all of the things GIMP is capable of. After all, i’m just a story writer and a hobby artist, not a software reviewer, but i can at least save you all a lot of money simply by pointing you in the direction of GIMP, which you can find at http://www.gimp.org/

And if you’re in the mood to be trying out 3D creations, and you’re still in the mood to be saving yourself a small fortune, then your choice just has to be Blender, another fantastic piece of software that is 100% FREE, works on 32-bit and also 64-bit systems and is supported on multiple platforms:

  • Microsoft Windows (XP, Vista, 7)
  • Mac OS X (PPC and Intel)
  • GNU/Linux
  • FreeBSD

Blender is available for download from http://www.blender.org

Violet, created and rendered in Blender by Lucas Falcao

Violet, created and rendered in Blender by Lucas Falcao

Go on – treat yourself to some great free software, get creative and have some fun!

Everything You Do Is Research!

Do your research

It’s been a crazy week of writing and then not writing; a real mixed bag of things have been happening here, but even if you’re not sitting diligently at your desk or wherever it is that you write, it doesn’t mean that you’re not working–if you’re doing something that relates directly to your writing, that is.

If you’re surfing the web, don’t just sit there playing games; use the time to do some background research, whether it be on a current work in progress or a future project. If, however your work in progress happens to involve online gameplaying, you’ve got it made!

If you’re reading a book, then it’s bound to be about something that interests you and is therefore a valuable source of information to help you in your writing. The more you read, the better your writing will become.

Movies and TV are another essential tool to the writer; they impart information that you did not have before you started viewing. For instance, just think about how much you have learned about forensic science simply by watching shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Not much use if your work in progress is a high fantasy epic, i know, but i think you get the point.

Whatever we do when we are not writing, we are still learning and remembering pieces of information that sooner or later will be of use to us. We just don’t know it at the time! I’ve spent lots of time pushing a shopping cart around the supermarket while thinking of possible names for characters and plotlines. My mind is always on the go, but to onlookers, i’m probably just “vegging out” as i perform what lots of people consider to be a boring task.

Admittedly, there are times when i do genuinely “veg out” and i can’t think of a single thing to say or to write, but those times are getting fewer the more that i read and write, and i’m going to make the effort to do more, because the ideas just keep on coming, and i don’t like to disappoint my readers! Or myself!

 

What does your writing “Batcave” look like, if you have one?

My creative "Batcave"

My creative “Batcave”

I often wonder just what a fellow writer’s place of work looks like, so i’ve taken the time to show you just what my little “Batcave” is like.

I have 3 machines, each doing different things at any one time: a laptop, an all-in-one and a netbook, and i use multiple external hard drives for those all-important backups that you should all be making to prevent a potential disaster!

As well as making complete backups, i suggest that you configure your word processor of choice to make incremental backups.

Note the essential caffeine supplies in the form of diet cola and coffee!

The rest of my bedroom need not concern you, unless you are a potential burglar! If you are, please make note of the fact that there is always a strung and ready Hoyt recurve bow with Easton arrows close to hand, and an array of other sharp implements. I do like my “tools”!

Have a nice day, you beautiful people!

These Things Are Sent To Try Us.

Glowing WordPress Logo

Glowing WordPress Logo

I moved away from WordPress.com yesterday. I took the brave step of buying my own domain name and having my website hosted elsewhere, though i am running the WordPress engine server-side, because it is a wonderful tool for creating and maintaiining your own website.

There is so much to play about with on WordPress.com, and when you leave and move to a self-hosted WordPress installation, you are suddenly hit by the fact that a lot of those great tools, themes and widgets are not there for you to use any more.

Plus you’re under an obligation to learn a lot about WordPress itself in a very short space of time, just to get your new website up and running!

I didn’t even know that you in fact installed WordPress on your webspace, not on your computer! I was baffled because i couldn’t see a setup.exe file anywhere! Time to get one’s hands dirty and fire up the web browser, do a LOT of searching, and a hell of a lot of reading!

The website of the company who hosts my site and who i bought my domain name from have an extremely difficult website to navigate, and i did nothing for an hour after i had handed my money over but fret and scour the site for information on how to get started. Needless to say, within a couple of hours i was getting quite conversant with WordPress and the Control Panel software of my site host.

Once i had exported my old site from WordPress.com as an .xml file and then imported it into WordPress on my new domain, i was back up and running, though with very much reduced functionality. It has taken me a full 24 hours to get it to more or less how i want it, with all of the tools and widgets i need, and a few more besides! It’s not 100%, but it isn’t far off!

And i have my own mail server and redirect now, too! It’s so easy setting it up, and knowing that anyone who mails me at david{AT} davidecclesauthor{DOT}co{DOT}uk will ultimately reach me at my Gmail address is just brilliant! The Control Panel software supplied by my hosting company is just a dream to work with! It’s been a ball-ache, but well worth it, because all of the work i’ve had to do has given me a much deeper understanding of how WordPress works.

As for php, MySQL, and all the rest of the magical stuff one can get to grips with – i’ll cross that bridge when i come to it!