A Finish Forestalled

Corona Warn. It works.

After months of wondering whether or not Corona-Warn actually worked, I finally received proof positive confirmation that it does. The moment the strange new notification squeezed its way into the queue of never-to-be-opened Reddit suggested posts was a moment of strange emotions. First came the novelty—wow, this actually does something! And then came the concern. Of course, I would’ve rather went through this whole pandemic wondering whether or not Corona-Warn did something than ever have exposure to COVID.

Since I got my full vaccination, I’ve decided to start trying to carve normality back into my daily routine. I am still taking advantage of the work-from-home offer in our office but I started daring to do small things that were previously out of the question. That meant getting on a train to have coffee in Berlin. And popping up in various restaurants even without a reservation just so I can move them off my Trello list. And stepping inside a movie theater finally so that The Rise of Skywalker is not the last film I have ever watched inside a proper theater; and oh boy is Dune a big gun to break this duck.

Dune!

(Note: While I still think one of my gods, Christopher Nolan, is rather snobbish, if not outright mistaken, for insisting that his latest film Tenet is an experience that can only be realized inside a proper movie theater, I gotta give it to Denis Villeneuve. Dune is an experience for the big screen. Or, actually, it’s not so much the screen but the expensive acoustics of a movie theater. That film engulfs the audience and the sound—shout out to Hans Zimmer’s ever-impeccable work—is a huge part of its magic. In my pantheon of contemporary film makers, Christopher Nolan just had a companion.

But still, great films should have enough to stand on even if the sound is streamed through a ~30EUR Bluetooth speaker.)

I also decided to see buy tickets to Alanis Morissette’s concert in Hamburg. I’m not exactly a huge fan and I even came late to the party. I discovered her music just a few years ago alongside entrenching my fascination for dark and clear skies. My Spotify streamed Jagged Little Pill as I wrote TypeScript for Kalibrr. Nonetheless, I thought it would be such a strong “pandemic over” statement, being able to join a crowd in a live performance. Heck it was even booked in a football stadium not five minutes away from my apartment by bike. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, for the time being, I would have to keep striking out my usage of the verb see when talking about this concert. It was canceled, due to the very thing I thought it made a statement against. Apparently, it’s still too cumbersome to bring a whole production on the road given the situation. Score one for the pandemic there.

Zanshin Dojo Outdoor Lessons

Another thing I have taken to is that, finally, I’ve set foot inside Zanshin Dojo’s premises for the first time since March 2020. In between the first and the second waves, Zanshin Dojo started to offer outdoor classes. Attending these sessions was actually the primary reason I bought my bike. Of course, as soon as they could, indoor classes were also offered at a limited capacity. But despite the withdrawal of outdoor offerings due to the unsuitable conditions of autumn, I opted not to take any indoor classes; I thought the risk was just not worth it. This decision will be vindicated as Germany went into a second lockdown just a few weeks after the outdoor sessions stopped.

And then, it happened.

Coming to my senses after an initial dismissiveness—I received the notification almost a week from the purported exposure date; never mind that the long incubation period is among what made this pandemic a smashing global phenomenon—I noticed that the exposure date fell on a Thursday. I could’ve only contracted it in my first ever indoor class since the pandemic began, not in the restaurant I visited that week, as I initially thought.

This suspicion would later be confirmed as I received a call from Zanshin Dojo itself, informing me that someone among the participants of the class I took on 14 Oct tested positive for COVID. The Global Pandemic 2, Chad 0.

(By the way, no worries at all. My quick test after the fact returned negative results. Unsurprising as I am fully vaccinated anyway. I even went in for my second indoor session that week.)

But still, I am rather put down by how the activities I am taking up precisely in a personal attempt to declare the pandemic over do nothing but keep reminding me that it is in fact not yet over. I don’t remember asking for a Damocles’ sword ever hanging above my plans.

I even thought my next blog post would be the first in a while to not bear the tag “coronatimes” and yet, here we are. Frustratingly, the pandemic finish seems forestalled until further notice.


I have already talked about the things I’ve been doing to keep myself occupied outside of work in this pandemic. A curious observation for me is how my focus shifted towards active pursuits, rather than passive. Creative rather than merely consumptive. I’ve planned to spend my days reading books and while I’ve had quite a success on that front during last year’s spring, my free time efforts have shifted drastically after I got my Wacom tablet.

I’ve been teasing a comparison of what a game changer Wacom is for me, as opposed to my previous workflow of drawing on paper and then scanning it (with my phone). After my injury, my spring has been spent recovering while my summer has been busy utilizing my rehabilitated left arm. But today, you are in luck. I have some season-appropriate drawing comparisons to make.

The manual workflow needs a lot of post-processing—time I could just spend making another piece and even then I haven’t really found a reliable post recipe. Not to mention, a very controlled lighting set-up that I simply didn’t have. Take for example, this portrait I drew of Death of The Endless from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, circa 2018.

Death from Sandman (colored pencils and sketch on Canson paper)

I want to say from the get-go that the actual sketch looks better. This is digitized from Google PhotoScan with a Google Pixel phone, the best of several attempts. Of course, I can’t really exhibit how the actual piece comes across to me but what I noticed here is how the colors are far less vibrant and how there’s a lot of detail lost in the shading and the line work.

I am actually really pleased with PhotoScan. It’s not its fault that it isn’t a scanner for artwork. It had to make algorithmic choices with the data presented to it. And this is where the choices lead to.

That said, how about straight from the camera app? Will it do any better?

Death from Sandman (colored pencils on Canson paper)

The midtones and shadows are immediately better at the expense of the highlights (i.e., Death’s pale skin). Better, and yet still leaves much to be desired.

Before we go any further, I think I should explain what I’m going for in this piece. I wanted it to be a rendition of that scene in The Kindly Ones where Morpheus talks to his sister for a final time. I have referred to this scene (and to this piece) as “It Always Rains on the Unloved”. There is also some intentional imagery behind the framing. Do you have any idea what that might be?

Back then, I didn’t really have a visual motif to go for. I just wanted to do a good drawing of Death.

Which leads us to today! I have decided to recreate this drawing using Wacom. The past year I have been really learning a lot about illustration and draftsmanship. You have seen me go for a visual style before, with varying levels of success. This time, let’s see. I wanted to go for a very early 90s comic book look, reminiscent of when Sandman first came out, as well as, to some extent, the jarring flat visual style of The Kindly Ones arc, where this scene heralds from.

death-portrait

I have to say, this went better than I expected. I am actually personally satisfied!

Back when I first mentioned my new digital painting hobby, I mused at the outcome of re-drawing Embrr, The World’s Most Dognified Dog, The Biggest Puppy I Know, etc. I noted how the illustration I made of him back when we still shared residence had a very soft boyish character to it whereas my newer attempt painted his features in a more compact bulk. I see a similar shift in this exercise with Death.

My 2018 attempt at Death had softer features; the digital version, in contrast, has an angular face and an almost diminutive framing, further emphasized by the additional space at the right side of the piece. In fact, the digital version reminds me of someone I have drawn previously though, unfortunately, it’s been a while since I last saw this reference in person.

death-comic

I really intended this to be a straight-up portrait, but the visual style I achieved just compelled me to make this comic-captioned version, like it’s straight from the stories. Though the portrait’s inspiration came from The Kindly Ones, this text is adapted from the haunting closing pages of the World’s End arc. How postmodern isn’t it?

The digital paintings I have posted in this blog is just the tip of the iceberg that is my oeuvre. What’s more is that, save for the pets, the portraits I’ve posted here have been exercises in implementing a specific visual style; they don’t really reflect the techniques that I’ve come to develop and rely on, in my free time learning digital art. So, I decided to do another piece that is in my own style.

Death: The Sound of Her Wings

Coming to comic book stores near you!

A few closing notes

  • While I am satisfied with my draftsmanship, I gotta admit I wanted this last one to look a bit more like the previous one. I mean, it is still recognizably Death of The Endless and The Endless take on different forms depending on the viewer but it seems the viewer has changed slightly in between portraits. My point is, I’m not yet good enough for consistent character designs.
  • In making these pieces, I actually broke a rule I’ve been practicing and that’s to never use the extremes of #FFFFFF (white) and #000000 (black). That is, once you go black you never go back you paint yourself into a corner, committing that this will be the darkest shadow (or lightest highlight, in case of white) of your picture. No one is ever ready to make that commitment, unless your are drawing Death of The Endless, I guess.
  • Maybe using the extremes of black and white is inevitable when you’re going for a 90s comics aesthetic but I couldn’t justify an extreme shadow in my personal style. Hence, I used a brush with opacity features in order to bring some variation and character into the darkest areas of the image, though it was loaded with #000000 black.
  • All that said, I am really pleased with how my color choices came together for the last one! It seems it really helps to know a thing or two about color theory.

P.S. This is a Part I. If I ever get around to it, and the subject matter coalesces into something coherent, we will have a Part II. Thank you for subscribing to my RSS feed.

Schnee und Schade

February 6. Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf.

UKE

For the first time in about a week, my left elbow felt stable and secure. True, the arm was bandaged firmly to a cast but for the first time since the anaesthesia from Thursday wore off, I can truly say I feel no pain.

I was even optimistic I could be discharged soon. Maybe even tomorrow. And I was eager about it too; due to a gross miscalculation of my independence and recovery capabilities, I haven’t taken a proper bath since I got here. Thank goodness face masks are in fashion.

Of course, I knew that I still have to be extremely careful. Getting myself in this situation was already inconvenient enough. Overexerting during the long recovery process would be an even bigger setback.

In my phone I scrolled through a Trello list of things I wanted to do in Europe, plans for travels that have, of course, been put on hold by a global pandemic. A handful of activities in Hamburg—Asian restaurants, mostly—has been tagged as “POST COVID19”. I estimated that Germany would’ve reopened by the time I’m fully recovered. By then I could ride my bike once more.

And so I looked forward to that. It was motivation to hit my recovery milestones.

January 30. Beautifallage, pun intended.

Snow in Hamburg

Carefully, I start pedaling, making sure to regulate my speed. It’s the cycling equivalent of watching your step over shaky ground, except, should your footing give on shaky ground, a clever shift of body weight could yet help you. On a bike I pretty much have no idea how to adapt should I slip other than to fall gracefully; while most of my martial arts training is focused on striking, I’m no stranger to the concept of break-fall.

Note: Even with the wisdom of hindsight, I’m not sure how advisable a break-fall over ice is. All I can say is, do not expect it to be as effective as performed in training over padded ground.

After a few meters covered, a few crossings without issue, I gained confidence in my ride. Though still riding slow, I considered the snow crushed by my bike wheels as my contribution to de-icing the sidewalks of Hamburg. I didn’t plan to cover such a long distance; I planned only to spend some outdoors winter time in that beautiful autumn park near my apartment.

Beautifallage

Of course, writing about it in retrospect, with a surgical scar for a souvenir across my left elbow, it just seems careless. But at the time I was really curious how it would feel to bike through snow. And it’s not as if it was a completely ignorant move from me either; I made sure to slightly deflate my tires for better grip, the one common advice in all the “biking on snow” articles I’ve read.

To anyone who somehow got here looking for advice on how to bike on snow, here’s mine:

Don’t.

Anyway, returning to my story, after spending a few hours enjoying snow like the first timer I am and slightly fearing frostbite, I decide one final glory lap around the beautiful park, a lap I’ve done numerous times already that day. Except this time, with the small bit of urgency on my mind, I forgot my embargo on speed.

I suddenly found myself flying from my bike. It wasn’t your usual fall; it all happened so fast. I rolled on the snow and somehow felt my left arm go wrong, for lack of a better term.

The only comparison I could come up with was an F1 driver misjudging the wet track on slick tires by a just an inch or two, sending them literally flying out of race contention. Or maybe I’m just making myself sound more heroic after the fact.

The first thing I realized, with a touch of irony, was the surge of adrenaline throughout my body, therefore taking care of my slight fear of frostbite.

So there I was, ass on the snow, perhaps three meters away from my bike. Though I wore a heavy winter coat, I could tell my left arm has rotated in a way left arms are not supposed to rotate. My brain went into a half-confused state. I remember being so sure that I must be bleeding, but the snow wasn’t red, ergo I wasn’t bleeding. Still I wanted to raise my left arm higher than my heart, except that I can’t move it. I must’ve broken a bone and maybe it even tore through my skin, and therefore I should be bleeding.

Thankfully, I wasn’t. It was merely a dislocation though I had to wait in the hospital to get properly patched-up and tested. Thankful as I am for a more-than-decent emergency response system as well as medical insurance, that day I realized why hospitals are such frustrating experiences.

If your case is not serious, they will not prioritize you and you will wait. And if they are prioritizing you…let’s just say it is not the best day of your life.

I have never been more thankful for being made to wait.


Which brings us back to present day. My arm is well but I still hugely over-estimated my recovery capabilities. I managed to keep my proudly-valued independence throughout but I still can’t completely extend my left arm. I can play the guitar though. And draw; I am right-handed.

With Germany currently battling a third wave of this global pandemic, it feels like playing a waiting game in multiple fronts. Waiting for my arm’s complete recovery as I perform my therapy exercises regularly. Waiting for my turn to get a vaccine. Waiting for everyone else to get a vaccine so life can return to normal.

In truth I have very contradicting feelings about the whole situation. On one hand the prospect is just bleak but on the other hand it gives me ample time to recover properly—I’m not missing out on anything. I’m not impatient in that respect.

It’s been quite a boon for my art too. Part of the circumstances why I bought a Wacom tablet is this “lockdown art project” I came up with where I’m basically illustrating stories I wrote. But having a concrete goal meant that I kept to a small collection of tools and techniques that achieves my goal, helps me produce the images I want, in more or less the style I envisioned. It didn’t leave much room for experimentation.

But thanks to having almost nothing else to do, I had time and enough ennui to actually learn the vast arsenal I had at my disposal, thanks to software. For example, with Krita I can add a dimension to my sketches I didn’t have previously. Not just that I am no longer constrained to grays of pencil lead, I can even emulate the texture of other media such as charcoals without making a huge mess.

Eyes and Smile

A couple of notes:

  • Yes, I have previously tried charcoal in real life. I didn’t like it. Too broad, couldn’t get details in. Not to mention too fragile and expensive—traits that are never complementary in a product. I’m pretty sure I was using it wrong but I have neither the time nor the teacher to teach me properly
  • I know I could’ve escaped the monotony of gray in real-life sketches by using—wait for it—colored pencils (genius!) but colored pencils are simply a different experience from your typical Steadtler 3B. They are harder to erase, and that’s just the start of it.

Another thing you have to consider in real life is the paper. When you draw you are basically applying a layer of medium on the paper; add too much and it’s heavy, the medium could seep, even tear the paper. And when you erase, you are basically scraping the medium off the paper, and sometimes you scrape off fibers of the paper too; you can only erase so much.

Not to mention that art materials—high-quality paper among them—are quite expensive. It’s not really threatening my savings but I consider it quite wasteful to just pour money into this hobby when I’m not getting any financial value back from it. I might as well buy a Hasselblad camera.

But with software, the only real cost is my time and my patience. I can study different styles and try to execute it in a piece.

I can try a Sumi-e-inspired gothic watercolor and get it wrong as many times as I need to get a satisfactory result.

Gothic

This wouldn’t have been possible with the small arsenal of brushes I’ve come to depend on. Simple as it looks, there was a lot of time spent on experimentation.

I can even feel daring and try out new palettes. Perhaps due to my extensive work with gray pencil, I noticed that my color choices tend to be dark. So, how about a vibrant portrait in false-chrome worthy of an ad campaign?

Not Gothic

I think avant-garde is French for “I have no idea what I’m doing”.

Which, just to bring this post to a close, kind of sums up my current situation. I really don’t have plans or an idea what to do next other than wait. One day at a time until my path crosses normal again.

Avant-garde. Au revoir. Bis dann.

Hopefully Not the Same Procedure as 2020

I’m not usually one to make grand new year’s resolutions. The past few years, my resolutions took the form of “read a difficult book this year”. Difficult being defined as (a) lengthy and (b) not my usual fare. With this “system” I’ve managed to read:

  • (2016) Gödel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. I’ve wanted to read this since I heard about it in college. It’s an extremely unusual book with lots of eureka moments for me. Maybe Hofstadter’s enthusiasm is really just infectious. This is a book whose pronouncements on artificial intelligence was just way off but I would nonetheless still recommend for introductory insight and intuitive explainers for some pretty abstract math. And more! As Hofstadter will tell you, this isn’t a Math or a Computer Science book. He has a very specific topic in mind—which I think is a fair assessment of his own work—but this book is really just unusual in that it touches on a lot of things.
  • (2017) A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking. Fun fact: my copy is a volume combining the two books inside a single cover, in glossy color print. I got this from the Manila International Book Fair back in 2012 (yep the same book fair that triggered this post). Sat on my shelf for five years before I worked through it. Shows you the extent of my tsundoku.
  • (2018-2019) A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton. I’ve always been fascinated with maps and always been fascinated with looking at history through unusual, maybe even mundane, objects. This book just called out to me. As you see around this time, I’ve failed to keep up with my goal of finishing a difficult book within the calendar year. Not sure what happened, but I could guess. I even brought this book with me to Germany.
  • (2019-2020) The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. My introduction to The Campbellian Hero’s Journey was from internet discussions about Po the Kung Fu Panda. This book is a dense treatise, and though frequently cited in literary analysis, I’ve found it to be more anthropological than literary. To be honest, I’m not too convinced with Campbell’s thesis here—as a matter of style he’s not as scientific as I’d want him to be; for example, he doesn’t try to address how his theory can be falsified. But I still recommend this not just because it will give you context in a lot of contemporary discussions about literature (including films, TV shows, etc., not just written stories), but also because I think Campbell is actually on to something, despite the lack of rigor on his methodology, and he offers an interesting insight into the human psyche. I finished this book this year while in social distancing mode.

So, I don’t really have a book this year that would qualify, unless maybe I start tackling German texts. And actually, I have! I’ve been reading Das Labyrinth des Fauns, Cornelia Funke’s adaptation of the acclaimed Guillermo del Toro movie. This story is just great, I don’t even notice it’s not in English, in either medium (recall: the del Toro movie was a Spanish production).

Oh, I’ve also made a few more traditional resolutions.

  • 2019, definitely influenced by my plans to leave for Germany, I started journaling. I even wished for a fancy journal notebook from our office exchange gift.
  • 2020, I resolved to be more focused. To be very honest, I didn’t do that well on this resolution. If it’s any consolation, the Wacom tablet kinda helped me make up for it, scored goals in the dying minutes, if you will. The past few days (if not the last few weeks of 2020, when I already had my Wacom) I’ve absolutely nerd sniped myself into digital painting. I’ve figured out that my learning style relies heavily on experimentation. That’s why I’ve so far had a hard time, experimenting with the art lessons I’ve been learning from Youtube (like, color theory, anatomy-grounded figures). Erasing is easy, yes, but not always clean, which sucks if you’re trying to get a lot of things right. Digital painting is still a lot of effort but it’s more convenient. I feel like I’m back in school. I’ve been doing a lot of things that apply the things I learn but I’m not really producing anything remotely portfolio-worthy—exactly how I felt during my Computer Science undergrad.

So what’s it for this year? I should definitely continue to be more focused but that also means I should really stick to a strict sleep cycle regimen, something I find hard to do during the gloriously long days of summer (there’s a lot more to this statement but it’s probably a blog post of its own).

Maybe be more creative, be more fearless in my creative endeavors. If you need to churn out a thousand crappy things to create one good thing, then let’s churn through one thousand crappy things with an indomitable spirit. In fact, I have an art project I’ve been working on lately, also what prompted me that I might need a Wacom tablet for this one. Maybe you can argue this project is a coping strategy for all the 2020 distancing, but also, it’s not surprising if you know me as well as I do. So whatever. I don’t care what people say, let’s just do it!

And oh, it’s new year. This Neil Gaiman quote definitely fits. Calligraphed by yours truly, circa 12/29/2018, Speedball with Higgins ink on Canson watercolor paper.

Neil Gaiman's New Year Wish