Blue Iguana in Affinity Designer

Iguana graphic drawn in Affinity Designer

No, the iguana isn’t actually blue, but I thought it could do with a touch of something to break up the yellow-greens. (And frankly, titling drawings isn’t my strong suit). I started drawing this iguana in Affinity Designer a year or two ago, decided to work on it yesterday (because COVID-19, and because the dog wanted me to sit on the sofa with her), couldn’t remember what settings I was using for the black line work, and ended up just adding the color bits today.

I was pretty happy with the end result, given that it will always, always be unfinished, but holy hell did it get wrecked every time I tried to export an SVG from Affinity Designer! It got wrecked when I exported from my iPad (where it was drawn), and it got wrecked when I saved it to iCloud then exported from my iMac.

So, PNG, it is. Finite dimensions are go.

My wallet’s unwilling to open up for Illustrator.

My attention span’s unwilling to spend time figuring out if I exported incorrectly.

And imaginary iguanas are unwilling to conform to anyone else’s sense of color.

My Pilot Kaküno Demonstrator Collection

Pilot Kaküno demonstrator fountain pens customized with Kaweco Sport N Pen clips
Pilot Kaküno demonstrator fountain pens in extra fine (times two!), fine, and medium; filled with Namiki black, Iroshizuku Yama-budo, Iroshizuku Juro-jin, and Namiki black (again), respectively. The clips attached to them are Kaweco Sport N Pen clips color-coordinated to indicate the pen’s nib size (chrome = EF, bronze = F, black = M).

My wife and I each have a small collection of fountain pens. Neither of us owns anything that would be considered expensive, as far as fountain pens go, but we’re both happy with (most of ) the pens that we have. We also recently signed up to an email list for the Orange County Pen Club, and we had every intention of attending the March meeting, until the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 in Southern California smashed first our intentions and then the meeting, itself.

I’ll be honest, though: I felt a little insecure about showing up to a gathering of fountain pen enthusiasts with our collections in tow. The most expensive pen we own is my wife’s Pilot Prera (which she doesn’t actually like very much; it needs an adjustment to improve its flow). We would be frauds if we passed ourselves off as actual collectors, rather than enthusiastic users. We would be liars if we said that we knew how to adjust that tight Prera without ruining the nib. We would be dishonest if we implied that we had any intention of buying pens that we don’t intend to write with.

And I’m a picky writer. I always have been. I was picky about my writing tools before I started using fountain pens, and I’m picky about them now. I like Japanese extra fine nibs made of steel. I like lightweight pens. I like pens which allow me to easily see how much ink they have inside them. I don’t like gold-toned trim. I like pens with metal clips (even if I have to install the clip myself), and I like for my pens to be ready to write as soon as I’ve filled them.

Pilot Kaküno nibs in EF, F, and M, with various degrees of nib creep.
Pilot Kaküno nibs in EF, EF, F, and M. Some are creepier than others (The M sees very little use.)

(For the uninitiated: When you fill a fountain pen with an ink cartridge, you have to wait for the ink inside the cartridge to start making its way down into the pen’s feed. This can take more time than I’m willing to wait. When you fill a pen via converter, ink is pulled up from the bottle, through the feed, into the converter, and it’s ready to write, no waiting required.)

I have six Kakünos in my collection, two of which are not demonstrators. I also have one Pilot Plumix, used for writing letters to friends and family, one Monami Olika, and one Platinum Preppy. I only see my fountain pen collection growing through two pathways: I keep adding EF Kaküno demonstrators to hold different inks, or Pilot makes and markets a lightweight demonstrator Vanishing Point with a “special alloy” nib.

And as for the wife? Let me quote her:

I’m happy with my Metropolitan.

(She prefers smoothness to feedback and actually likes heavy pens. If you could see me, you’d see that I’m shrugging.)

We still want to check out that pen club once the COVID-19 crisis is over. We may be playing above our level by doing so, but I think we both hope that meeting other people who love fountain pens will expand our horizons, even as our collections remain constrained.

At Home With the Wife, Thank Tao

I’m almost always at home. Linda has been at home since Wednesday, and it’s a good change. I feel a little guilty for enjoying her presence (given the reason that I have her here to enjoy: the COVID-19 outbreak in Southern California), but I’m enjoying it nonetheless. My heart rate variability—as measured by my Apple watch—has gone up. I’m less anxious. I’m losing weight. (This may be due to panic-induced food rationing.) I make a much better breakfast at 8AM than I do at 5:45.

I want to believe that when/if this novel corona virus has been controlled/contained, Linda will continue to be able to telework, but I know that won’t happen.

Linda is a data analyst in a healthcare setting. She’s been working from home for years now, on weekends, on her days off, and in the evening when she gets home from the office. She worked pretty much anytime she was awake while the organization was implementing Epic. She’s been working way too much since then to implement Tableau for her group.

But she still had to spend 8-hour days in the office, after non-essential businesses in Orange County had been shut down, up until March 25th. The organization she works for is unquestionably essential, and she’s essential to that organization. But I don’t think I’ll ever accept that her physical presence in the office for that week or two, increasing her risk of exposure to the virus, was essential.

My personal joy and annoyance over Linda’s work aside, I want this to end. I want it to end soon. I want the restrictions on business and social activities to last as long as they need to in order to flatten that COVID-19 curve; but I want it to end as quickly—with as few deaths and illnesses as possible—as it can.

If the powers that be see fit to continue to let Linda work from home afterward, that’ll be a nice bonus dollop on the huge serving of relief that I’m more than ready to stick a fork in.

If not?

I’ll still compliment the chef on that main dish.

For My Friend, Jenny, Who Doesn’t Know What a Kabocha Is

Kabocha melon, Kabocha squash, or Japanese pumpkin
Kabocha melon, Kabocha squash, or Japanese pumpkin; whatever you call it, this gourd makes a great alternative to pie pumpkin, butternut squash, and yes, even potatoes!

Don’t feel bad! I had never heard of kabocha, either, before I moved to California! Pumpkins, yes. Spaghetti squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, summer squash, crookneck squash, and zucchini? You betcha! But kabocha? No. And if I had heard of either “kabocha” or “kabocha melon”, I certainly wouldn’t have assumed that either name for this Cucurbita referred to a type of squash.

But then I got a little adventurous on a night out at Izakaya Honda-Ya in Fullerton—before it became Poke Express by Honda Ya—and had my first taste of Japanese pumpkin. I still have a preference for smallish, orange, pie pumpkins—with their Halloween looks and “real” pumpkin flavor—but when the stores around Anaheim and Fullerton stop stocking those little balls of autumnal cuteness, and kabocha squash is still available, I flip that preferred pumpkin switch from Jack O’ Lantern to Japanese.

Wikipedia says that kabocha melon is “is similar in texture and flavor to a pumpkin and sweet potato combined.” I can’t verify that for myself (and I do not like sweet potatoes, so consider that lack of verification a positive), but I will say that texturally, the kabocha I’ve cooked at home have had a mouthfeel that reminded me a bit of baked, white potatoes, and—confusingly—also a bit of beans. There’s a thick, flaky, carby texture to it that always makes me wonder if the nutritional information I’ve found online for kabocha squash might be inaccurate. My eyes take in the 6 net grams of carbohydrate (total carbs minus fiber), but mouthfeel says “Yeah, no. Double that. At least.”

The info I have is the info I have, though, and since I’m not about to start guessing carb content based on the texture of various fruits and vegetables, kabocha melon is still on the menu at my house. And until I notice a significant blood sugar rise (or crash) in response to eating it (or my poor, carb-deprived wife stops loving when I serve kabocha), it’ll stay right there, in all it’s orange-fleshed, weird-textured, buttered-up glory.

The October 2017 Smart Art Box: We Finally Played with These Awesome Acrylics!

What came in the October 2017 Smart Art box.
What came in the October 2017 Smart Art box: brushes, one canvas, three pouches of Sennelier Abstract acrylic paint, a set of eight nozzles for those pouches, and an instruction/information pamphlet. We replaced the included canvas with two 8″x8″, pre-primed canvases from our local Blick (née Utrecht).

2017 was one hell of a year. You all know most of the awful that went down last year, the stuff that has had an impact on a global scale. But it was a difficult year for my wife and I to get a lot done on a personal level, too, because of changes at her job. She had to make three trips to Wisconsin, learn SQL, learn some other stuff, study a lot, take several tests, earn several certifications, and work as part of a team to smoothly transition a hospital and medical school from one medical records system to another.

Our materials are all laid out.
All laid out. In addition to the Blick canvases, I brought my tube o’ brushes to the table. (And that table, by the way, is gloriously covered in a disposable paper tablecloth with plastic-like backing, mostly so I don’t frustrate my wife.)

It wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds.

My big brush.
This brush looked more my size for initially covering the canvas. I suspected that a bit of yellow ink stain on the bristles wouldn’t matter much when working with heavy-bodied acrylics.

But 2018 has arrived. That transition has been made, smoothly or otherwise, and over the four-day weekend my wife had for Christmas, we finally got a chance to dig into the pile of Smart Art boxes that have taken up residency in our dining room.

Sennelier Abstract in purple.
This is Sennelier Abstract paint in purple. It spreads on canvas wonderfully.

Because it struck us as a less-worry/more-fun sort of scenario, we opted to do the October 2017 Smart Art box, which featured Sennelier Abstract acrylic paint pouches.

A squirt of Sennelier Abstract in vermillion.
This is a squirt of Sennelier Abstract in vermilion, directly from the pouch without any nozzles attached, against a canvas swirled with purple and titanium white. I just really liked the shape of this squirt, and how visually obvious it is that Abstract is a yielding, pliable acrylic.

This was my first time playing with heavy-bodied acrylics since probably sometime in the 1980s. I didn’t know how to properly use those acrylics back then. I don’t know much more now. But I do know that pouched Sennelier paints are smoother, creamier, and way more fun to work with than those other, tubed acrylics were back in the day.

Wet, mostly finished, canvases painted with Sennelier Abstract acrylics.
These are our (mostly) finished canvases. Mine is the redder of the two, while Linda’s incorporates more purple. Linda liked using the various nozzles that came with the paint pouches. I liked using the simplest nozzle for making distinct lines, but my favorite tool on this project was an angled brush. We would both decide, later, that the edges of both paintings needed to be finished, and I would decide to add more white to my canvas.

Linda also enjoyed the Sennelier paints. Her point of comparison was to cheap, bottled acrylics, rather than stiff, tubed paint. But we both noticed the differences in working with Sennelier Abstracts, and we both agreed that we love this paint!

Linda and I with our paintings.
Linda—she’s the one in the apron with the “L” on it—and me with our paintings, before the final touches would be made. Even when working from the same source material, as was the case for this project, our end products end up nothing alike. If you want to see more of how our perceptions and expressions differ, see here, here, here, or here.

We both also agree that we’d like to add black, blue, and yellow to the trio of colors from the Smart Art box, and that we want to paint more canvases. We painted these first pieces on Christmas day, and we viewed doing the project as a Christmas present to ourselves and each other—but especially to ourselves as a couple.

Linda measuring where our new paintings will be hung.
Much like painting 8″x8″ canvases with small brushes, I lack the patience for measuring and hanging small works together in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. Fortunately for me, my wife has more patience than pretty much anyone else I know. (She also has a spirit level, and she knows how to use it.)

Our new paintings finally took their place in our living room mini-gallery on New Year’s Day, and now we’re itching to make that gallery grow!

Our new paintings are hung.
Finally, our new Sennelier Abstarct acrylic paintings are hung next to one of the bookshelves in the living room, just above an acrylic piece that Linda painted as part of a team-building exercise at her work. We’re completely cool with hanging our own work, and are in fact currently having our ink drawings from the July 2015 Smart Art box custom framed!

Kudos to Smart Art for introducing us to a lovely paint that we might never have otherwise tried, and to Sennelier for making that paint in the first place!

Bald Woman with Cape

Bald Woman with Cape Autodesk SketchBook iPad Pro Apple Pencil Sketch
Bald Woman with Cape. (Because I’ve temporarily given up on fanciful titles.) Autodesk SketchBook on iPad Pro with Apple Pencil.

I’m still very, very down with Apple’s Smart Keyboard as my favorite iPad Pro accessory, but I’m definitely warming to the Apple Pencil! (And it was nice, last night, to just draw without thinking of making things that can be converted to print-on-demand products.)

A Little Love for Apple’s Smart Keyboard

My iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and a stack of books sitting on my bed.
My iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and a stack of books sitting on my bed.

As much as everyone seems to be crazy for the Apple Pencil, my favorite thing on my new iPad Pro is the Smart Keyboard. Comfortably writing and doing research from my bed, while using keyboard shortcuts and being mobile AF? (That’s “as the f-word” for old fuddy-duddies like me.) It’s like productivity CPR.

(So much so that blogging has fallen by the wayside. True fact.)

If you like to write, and find yourself in the fortunate position of being able to obtain either a 10.5 or 12.9” iPad Pro, do yourself a favor and spring for the Smart Keyboard.

I have gnawing twinges of guilt over buying the iPad. (This despite the facts that 1. paying for the iPad involved and obscene amount of Best Buy gift cards stockpiled by my wife throughout the year—Pro-tip: You can only use 15 methods of payment per purchase at Best Buy, and each gift card counts as one method—and 2. we waited until Best Buy had discounted the price by $125. So, yeah. It came relatively cheap.) But none at all over buying the Smart Keyboard to go with it.

It should be noted that this post was composed entirely in my bed, written in Ulysses, edited and published in the WordPress iOS app, and typed up entirely on my Smart Keyboard.

It should also be noted that my Smart Keyboard stopped working, briefly, while writing this post. It’s the first time I’ve had that happen, and I suspect some sort of user error was involved.

Still. Life’s funny like that.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’ve got lazy typing to do.