Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Forgotten Songs - Chapter Seven

click to see at large size

Chapter Seven

The night’s misadventures seemed to haunt Martin every mile of the way back to the city. His face was shuttered, his eyes often downcast and filled with shadows. He murmured once that the journey seemed much longer than he remembered, and Leon could appreciate that. Remorse was a harsh taskmaster.
A little before noon — when the sky was lowering with incoming weather and the old folk would have been starting to talk about the chance of a shower by evening — they were on the Esketh road, which wound around the long, gentle slopes that climbed up out of the badlands. Ahead of them was green, fertile country following the banks of the River Esku; and there, in a place where the forest had been cut back centuries before to clear space for farming and building, was the city itself.
They called it the ‘Rose of Rasanu,’ since it lay at the heart of the old kingdom, and the name was fitting. It was easy to see why this land was guarded so jealously, and from the look on Martin’s face, Leon knew full well, he was keenly aware of the necessity for the militia, the requirement for young people’s service in it. Martin had no argument to make against the system; only with the part he rightly ought to play in it.
As a flight of waterfowl shot low overhead, on their way to the river, Leon pulled up the horse and slid down to walk for a few miles, stretch his legs and rest the vanner at the same time. On the shoulder of a hill he stopped to look out at the view of Esketh, and gave a low chuckle.
“Damn, where does time go to? It has to be ten years since I saw the city from this exact spot. I’d forgotten how beautiful it is. It’s so … so green.” He glanced sidelong at Martin. “You haven’t traveled far, have you?”
“No. I’ve never had the chance,” Martin admitted. “I thought, one day…” He shrugged, let the idea go by.
“The more you travel,” Leon told him, “the more you’ll realize how precious is your own home. Not many places are so green, so welcoming, as this. Esketh is so different.”
“Different from what?” Martin looked up at him out of wide, blue eyes, eager for anything he could learn of the world beyond.
“So different from the lands where I’ve been soldiering for far too long,” Leon said with a humor so dry, it was arid as the eastern steppes. “Places where the trees burn brown in the sun and you often draw your pay in water, which is the most precious commodity they know. Places were common water can be sold and bartered for gold and jewels, and is smuggled like diamonds.”
“Where?” Martin wondered.
“North and east of here.” Leon gestured over his shoulder. “Far beyond the Anghari roads. My people only roam as far back as Setzele. A dozen miles beyond that, and they’d be in territory belonging to the Venhira, and it would be drawn swords and spilled blood.” He gave Martin a look of dark amusement. “The roads and ranges were decided at least a thousand years ago. So long as the Gypsy clans stay where they belong, there’s peace.”
“At least you know where you belong,” Martin said with a bitterness that was unusual in one so young.
Leon dropped a hand on his shoulder. “You’ll find your place in the world — or make it. You’ll be home in an hour.” He tilted his head at Martin. “Have you worked out what you’ll say to Roald — and how you’ll say it?”
A wind stirred restlessly across the hills. Leon thought he smelt the sea on it, and memories of fishing boats, and cockleshells bobbing in the estuary, rustling fields of reeds and flights of gray swans, flooded his mind as Martin raked the blue-black hair out of his face and said,
“Roald’s been very good to me for a long time. But I told you how he’s been watching me lately, waiting for me to pick up a sword — go soldiering like him.” His brow creased. “Like you.” The dark head shook slowly. “He knows by now, I can’t … won’t. I’m just not a soldier, Leon. Is that so wrong? Is it so bad?”
But Leon only shrugged. “It’s not wrong or bad at all. But for more than a century that anyone recalls — and a lot longer, that they can’t! — the tradition has been militia service to safeguard the city. Esketh depends on not having to hire mercenaries. This is why the city is rich, prosperous. If the city fathers had to pay an army of bastards like me to keep them safe, they could only do it with taxes and tithes. There’d soon be poverty.” He shrugged eloquently. “The occasional lad going against the tradition isn’t a bad thing, but it’s going to make your life … different. Difficult.” He lifted a brow at Martin. “You have to know this.”
“I do know it.” Martin sighed. “I’ve always known it. But … surely I have a choice! There has to be something else, instead of the militia.”
“There’s always a choice,” Leon said thoughtfully. “You just might not like what it is.” He looked Martin up and down with a deep frown. “Do you want me to talk to Roald for you?”
“You’d do that?” Martin seemed to pull his shoulders square. “Damnit, I should talk to Roald myself. I’m trying to take charge of my own life, not pass responsibility to someone else! I made a mess this time, but I can do better.” He raked the wind-tossed hair back out of his eyes and looked northwest, and down, toward Esketh. “I’ll talk to Roald,” he said softly. “You … you talk to the sheriff. All right?”
“All right.” Leon stirred. “Come on, now. You can be home in an hour.”

Monday, November 26, 2012

Silver Sands memories ... and house moving update

click to see all images at 1600 wide...

Silver Sands, on the Gulf St. Vincent coastline, South Australia ... "just" photos today, because we're going flat out with house moving activities. We get the keys on Friday, but that's the start of the fun ... not that "fun" is the right word for it! So I thought I'd keep in touch with you all with some photos -- though I know you're hoping for art: I promise, hand on heart, I have some ideas racing around my head, all of which will become art and appear here, just as soon as I have a couple of hours to call my own!

So this is Silver Sands on an absolutely perfect winter's day. Yes, I know, we're spoiled rotten as far as our climate goes. The weather was changing, there was a wind swinging around into the south, and by the next day skies were overcast, there was a little bit of drizzle around the southern hills. In winter, you have to pick your day, but if you can pick it just right, there are some days that are just magical. This was one of them.

We were parked on the beach, fossicking for shells, watching the sky, and I'll always have some fond memories of that afternoon!

House moving is coming along: packing. Boxes. Starting to clean house. You know how it goes. The toughest thing is that this is a huge house (think big, then almost double whatever you're thinking of), which is cool under normal, circumstances. But not when you have to pack it and clean it. We've been here for a little under six years, which means everything you're inclined to collect kind of stacks up, and suddenly you're weeding ... chucking out old vhs videos, because who watches tapes in this age of dvd and blue ray?! 

So it's busy, busy, busy, with a loooong way to go, to get us moved, unpacked, Christmas tree set up in time for the holidays.

But yes, I'm working on the next part of Abraxas, and it'll be online before the computers get shut down pending relocation. I promise. 

Here, have some more photos, since we're here:

Abraxas soon!

Jade, November 26

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Black Friday special I couldn't go by...

Hello, folks ... and where in the heck have I been for over two weeks? And well you might ask! We're moving house. And those of you who know us know that it's an enormous house that take 4-6 weeks to pack and clean. During those weeks, you're either dust right up to the eyeballs, or exhausted, or both! There's not a lot of time left for mucking about with artwork, much less blogging about it, but...

Today is "Black Friday," when incredible deals ripple across the Internet, and there was one I just couldn't pass up. Manga Studio is usually $300, but if you were already a subscriber at Smith Micro -- which I am, since I bought/registered Poser Pro -- you watched your mailbox for special links to buy it for 90% off! It was a whisker under $30 for today only, and, well, I couldn't not get it, could I?!

So it's installed on "the "Mighty Thor" right now, and it started up cleanly. The interface is almost intuitive. I can figure out maybe 70% of what's going on, but there's also a 400pp PDF user's manual, and I'll be reading a lot of it.

One thing I discovered that's great is that Manga Studio will actually import an .OBJ and rotate it, scale it and then "drop" it to a 2D image ... this is terrific. Almost like cheating. I think the program is going to be a lot of fun -- I just need to get it figured out!

above: borrowed from the Manga Studio webpage

What I'm hoping is that you can do a bunch of the work in 3D, and then import a half-crafted image into Manga Studio, and work it up into top-notch digital comic art -- here's my thinking: NARC. Can you imagine a graphic novel adaptation ... or new adventures done graphic novel style, written by Mel Keegan and illustrated by self. If Manga Studio will streamline the process, it ought to be doable ... hmm. Jarrat and Stone, in top-notch graphic novel art... oof.

Anyway, if you're interested in Manga Studio, see the page at Smith Micro. And I'll keep you posted about the process of learning this, as I get into it, just as I did when I got into Photoshop, Bryce, and so forth.

I'm probably going to vanish on you for a while ... posts might be somewhat erratic and patchy, and you know why! We're an ocean of boxes, tape, scissors, bubble wrap and all. There's a big truck scheduled for December 17th, but that's the tip of the iceberg.

Thanks to all for bearing with me. I'm going to try (hard!) to get the next segment of Abraxas written up before the end of November. I might have to recycle some artwork to accompany it! Let's see if I can wrangle some time to do it right...

Jade, November 24 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Male nude: figure in a garden

Click to see all at large size. Above: the 1600 wide wallpaper!

Something beautiful today, because I'm in a mood for sheer beauty. Life is being something of a bitch, and one just wants to escape to one's "happy place." So here's Male Nude: Figure in a Garden. It's a long time since I did a nude for its own sake -- in fact, this blog used to get a lot more traffic when I was doing a lot of nudes! Sure, it's neat to "legitimize," but the drop in traffic shows you what people really want, and what they're thinking. Anyway, I was looking for a texture file I'd lost, and wound up searching through the old, old image files, from well over two years ago. I came upon a set of images I'd rendered three computers ago! Back in those days, I couldn't raytrace, and it took the old PC so long to handle textures and mapping, I was usually happy to go with the defaults supplied by the designer, and just get a render! 

However, I saw the world of potential in the old images, so I copied the project file over to my current working folder, and took a good, long look at it...

In fact, the image you see today isn't one render: it's an amalgam of three renders, and a whale of a lot of Photoshop painting too. It took about an hour to get everything set up for the new version of this old picture; and then it was a four hour raytrace, because I added trees and extra plants. Every time you add a tree, you can potentially add an  hour to your raytrace. I added three! Or was it four? But one of the things that makes the picture go is this:

I "overdrove" all the texturing. The original set is The Garden of Galahad, and it's very nice, but no displacement maps are provided and only a tiny bit of bump mapping is set by default. All this makes for a curiously "flat" image. The last time I rendered this set, I didn't have the computer power to do anything much with it, and then ... well, the fact is, I forgot I had it. 

This time around, I used the bump maps provided as displacement maps, and drove them hard, to produce very, very nice texturing. You really have to see some of these detail shots at full size. They were cut out of the full-size image, which was rendered, uh, big. I have about six lights on this (skylights and "bounce" lights, representing reflected sunlight). The sky was custom painted at 3000 pixels wide, specifically for this project. Then -- as I said, a loooong render, on account of the plants and trees, but the results are worth it. 

As well as the raytrace I also did two deep shadow map renders -- all three were done at 3000 pixels wide; and the three renders were shipped into Photoshop and blended together to produce a fourth image that is much, much better than any one of the individual renders. Then...

...painting, and painting, and more painting! Literally all the highlights and shadows you see in this piece were hand painted. The detail shot, above, reminds me strongly of the scene in the director's cut of Fellowship of the Ring, where Aragorn goes to visit his mother's tomb at Rivendel. To get this effect, I laid down a pink/red "cast" in the sky, in Photoshop, in three layers each with different merge (blend) characteristics. The final touch is the "god rays" overlaying everything else.

The same pink/red tone was stripped into the bottom of the shot to make the colors balance, as you can see in this detail shot, above; and this also had the effect of making the detail in the image "pop" ... if you're doing this kind of work either in DAZ Studio or Poser (or Photoshop, come to that), you might be interested in how the grass was done. I massively overdrove the displacement mapping on the ground -- using the model maker's bump map as the displacement map. The effect gives you a nice rugosity, but it doesn't bear too close examination, because if you see it up close and rudely personal, the ground just jags into millions of tiny pyramids. So the next thing you do is get your Photoshop brushes going, and paint some grass to break up all those little triangles! For the lawns, I didn't use .abr brushes; just configured a hard round brush at 2 pixels, and several shades of green and brown, and painted stalks of grass. I did use some .abr brushes to quickly do the weeds growing along the borders of the path...

But of course it's the male nude figure that draws the eye ... and this is pretty much hand painted, right across the whole figure. The hair is also hand painted. For some reason the raytrace was great on the garden and baaaad on the figure ... and this, after several hours of work for the computer! One of the deep shadow map renders wasn't too bad (the other was configured for the background and disastrous for the figure), so I blended the deep shadow map and the raytrace renders into one, and then ... painted right over the top of the blend. The shadows were brushed in with a round soft brush, in gorgeous reds and ochres, and blended in ... but the whole figure came alive when I added the highlights. The highlights are painted with a medium brush, picking out the ridges and high points of the muscles, which catch the light; then that layer was set to "overlay" in Photoshop's merge mode options; then the layer was given a few percent Gaussian blur, and an opacity of something like about 30%. Little else was needed to bring the figure alive -- and when the "god rays" were added over the top (they're the top layer of the whole painting), the effect is just beautiful, if I do say so myself. And I do!

So there you have it ... a weird hybrid technique with a very lovely final result derived from three renders and about 30 layers of painting! To do this, you'd need Michael 4 and the Gardens of Galahad set, and I added several iterations of the silver birch tree, from Merlin -- all of these items are available from the DAZ Marketplace. For the painting, it's all the Photoshop default brushes, with the exception of Ron's Birds, and Designfera's Ivy, and a set of grass/weed brushes ... and if I could remember who designed them, or where to get them, I'd tell you! They might be freebies from Deviantart or Brusheezy, come to think of it. 

More soon. Have been trying to get a project to work out ... but something isn't gelling. They do say that you learn a lot more when things go wrong than when they go right! I have this one project that won't come together (well, not to my satisfaction...) which is annoying, because there's a really neat story that goes along with it. If it had worked for me, you'd have read the story a few days ago. As it is, I'm still scratching my head and muttering those famous words, "What went wrong?" All the lights and textures, reflections and shadows are just fine. So why does the picture look "off" --?! Back to the drawing board!

Jade, November 9

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Free ebooks! Because I'm having a birthday...

Yes, it's my birthday weekend. Don't ask how old I am: 'tis a delicate question. Keith Hamilton Cobb (tall dark and beautiful, dreadlocks and all) had the right answer, when someone asked him how old he was -- in fact, he was about forty, not that he looked anywhere near it. But he said, "Old enough to know better, young enough to do it anyway." Well said.

So, since I'm having a birthday, I thought -- let's party. Let's have freebies, and ebooks make the best e-gifts. I thought about wallpapers, but in fact the blog is full of them -- I've been uploading art at 1200 and 1600 wide for over a year now, and all you have to do is go back through the "of interest" posts, save the art and you're done. So then I thought about ebooks.

Here are three, and I've formatted them to work well with the 10" screens. In fact, we just got a netbook with a 10" screen, so I was able to test them for size and appearance. If you want to see the whole page at once, in the proper orientation, use Acrobat's "rotate page" feature, and stand the netbook on end, as if you're holding a large book. Also, I set the type for the stories in 14 point, so even if you're reading at 75% page size, it's still easy reading.

(The only thing I haven't done is to test these books on the 7" tablet ... because the battery appears to be flat, and it takes forever to recharge. But I think it ought to work just fine, because of the 14 point text.)

So, here are three ebooks, all made in Serif Page Plus, for those who're interested in the "how" aspect. I've done them as PDFs specifically because I wanted to achieve a blend of art and text with an overall "storybook" layout, like this...

...and so forth! As much as I love the epub file format, you can't do this kind of thing in epub ... they're strictly for reading, with "header art" style illustrations -- not what I wanted here. So, good old PDF it is this time.

I've done three books, and by now you'll pretty much know what they are! I've made up The Legend of Chino Vollias as a very lovely book; I've done the same for Tails from the Tomb, which you read a few days ago, for Halloween ... and I went ahead and did a neat little Photoshop primer -- a Photoshop painting project, in which I took the Moonrise image apart and put it back together from the bottom up, assuming no knowledge, which means you can follow this tutorial even if you only just installed Photoshop and don't know one end of it from the other. In fact, this is a pretty nice "beginner tutorial, which might might help you make sense of Photoshop if you have just installed it!

Speaking of Photoshop: Elements 10 is included FREE on the installation disk for the Wacom Bamboo. The program is worth several hundred bucks, and if you're buying the mouse pen/tablet drawing set, there it is, registration number and all. I got the Wacom Bamboo for my birthday ... actually, I got it weeks ago, have been using it and loving it:

The only difference between what you see here, and my setup is that mine is organize to run left handed. I'm, uh, ambidextrous. I know it's really weird ... some things I like to do right handed, some things I do left handed. So my Wacom is set up exactly opposite to what you see here. And I love it!!

So where's the goodies, right?

Here you go:

Tails from the Tomb -- almost identical to the version published on the blog a short while ago; richly illustrated, formatted to suit the 10" screens or a laptop, whatever. The only downside is that the art has pushed the file size out to just under 3.5MB. That's not too bad, when you think about it. There's no DRM on the file ... the only thing I would ask is, if you're going to share it with friends, please ask them to visit the blog and download their own. Why? Because when they get on the blog, they might spend half an hour looking at my stuff, and that would be nice. Any warnings? None. There's a "subtext" relationship, if you choose to see it ... Amadeus and Rick are almost certainly intimate. But the story is written in such a way that if you prefer to overlook this and see two good friends, that's all you'll see. Click here to download. 

The Legend of Chino Vollias -- in every way identical to the story which was published for the "Happy Post 700" blog entry ... also richly illustrated and formatted the same way, to suit the 10" screens. The download size of this one is also a tad high because of the art -- you're looking at a whisker over 5MB. Sorry guys, but high-rez art does this to the file size. Again, there's no DRM, and the only thing I ask is that if you want to share, send your friends here to pick up their own copy ... same reason. Any warnings? No. There some nudity, but nothing you won't see on any beach downunder. There's a passing allusion to the fact Chino swings both ways, but the main romance is actually straight. Click here to download.  

And here is the Moonrise Photoshop Painting Tutorial I was asked to do. It would have made yet another huge blog post, so I thought, what the hey? Do it as a full-on PDF and really pull out the stops. Reiterating, this tutorial assumes no knowledge, none at all. You could have unpacked Photoshop Elements 9 or later yesterday, and you won't get lost in these pages. It's heavily illustrated with images, obviously, both of the work itself and screencaps from the progam, so the download size is high. You're looking at just a bit under 3MB, which is not too bad for a 15pp book stuffed with images. Warnings? Um ... it's a tutorial! DRM? Nope. Same as above -- rather than give it away, please send your friends here to get their copy. It would be so nice if they were on the blog and cruising around, looking at my stuff. Click here to download. 

You might notice that the download links refer back to my Galley site. As the saying goes, "start as you mean to go on." I'm intending to build up a library of writings and tutorials on the site, so ... might as well start here.

Enjoy ... um, "Happy Birthday to Me." 

Jade, 3 November (celebrating over the whoooole weekend!) 
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