Archived entries for art and design

Basic Drawing Skills

I usually try to find a picture to accompany the poems that I write, partly to make my blog look less dry and partly because it’s a helpful visual shorthand for understanding the message or mood that I’m trying to convey. For my most recent poem, The City, I was unable to find anything that I was happy with. In my mind I had wanted to find either a picture of a city in the distance with a skyline that vaguely resembled a woman’s curves, or else a picture of a woman in the far distance.

Crosses At Golgotha

As hard as it might be to believe, the figures in this image are comprised only of 2 colours of pixels

Failing miserably, I decided to make an attempt at drawing my own. Now this thought didn’t exactly appear out of nowhere – I’ve been doing a “Basic Drawing Skills” class through Macquarie Uni for several weeks. I did a few sketches and decided that “woman in the distance” was going to be a lot more viable, and started to draw little tiny women silhouettes. I’ve always been impacted by the figures in this image – titled “Crosses at Golgotha” and by an unknown artist, which appeared in an article on computer drawing in an old computer magazine – and attempted to achieve a similar effect with a very, very sharp pencil:

Various attempts at drawing "the perfect woman"

Various attempts at drawing "the perfect woman"

The buildings in the background was a serendipitous discovery rather than a skill that I learned. While trying to quickly mock up a city I discovered that a pencil turned on its side actually does a passable job of rendering rectangular shapes.

Unfortunately, the sky didn’t turn out too well as my ham-fisted shading skills ruined my attempt at a cloudy haze around a full moon.

If you haven’t already, you can see the final result here.

But wait, there’s more! Sorry I got sidetracked – my original intention for this post was to write about the course, so getting to the point, finally…

Gaining perspective
The first session of the 8-week course dealt with perspective. The guy teaching the course gave instructions on what to draw, and we the students drew. There was no explanation or theory about what we were drawing, and it didn’t take very long to discover that maybe this course was a little too basic. Oh well, money’s been paid. Might as well get in some practice and see what I can milk out of it.

(Apologies for the darkness of the pictures. They’re all A3 size so I couldn’t scan them, and the course wasn’t Basic Photography Skills…)

1-point perspective - bird's eye view

1-point perspective - worm's eye view

2-point perspective

Drawing an actual object in 2-point perpsective. Flames due to boredom.

3-point perspective

One of the classroom stool in 2-point perspective

Most of the time I was just making things up rather than drawing what I was seeing

Cylinders in perspective

Cylindrical objects

Combining rectangles and cylinders

Trying not to be negative
The following sessions basically amounted to being shown increasingly difficult objects and being told to draw them with only the merest wisp of instruction. The second session was about negative space, where we were told to observe the gaps between objects.

Meanwhile, perspective's gone right out the window

Tree trees are dirty tree
One reassuring thing at least, was that the teacher was actually competent. Every scribble that proceeded from his pencil actually looked pretty good.

He drew the one on the left, and the ones on the right were my first attempts

Slowly getting better, a bit more tree-like

What you don't see here is my original attempt at a palm tree. The difference between what I thought palm trees look like in my mind, and what they actually look like in real life, varied greatly

First attempt at a landscape. My terrible shading skills makes it look more like beach nightmare than tropical paradise

Animal instinct
Things got a bit easier once we got to animals. Learning to break animals down into their constituent shapes was truly helpful. It’s a shame that I don’t have the original pictures to show you, so that you can see what we were drawing from.

Some kind of cat

A tapir busting to go to the loo

A sloth (or something) holding onto an invisible tree branch

Various other creatures at the mercy of my 2B pencil

A shade too sketchy
As I mentioned before I found shading to be the hardest. Converting a full colour picture into black and white inside your head, and then trying to render the comparative colours using shades of pencil is an really tough!

It's supposedly trivial to get 10 distinct shades out of a 2B pencil. Oh, and I suck at drawing bananas

The subject suddenly changed from shading to sketching without any warning

I'm really proud of that ship, the rest not so much

Maybe the teacher got bored, 'coz we started drawing random stuff like shoes - the top one was drawn from memory, and the bottom one was the shoe I was wearing

... and back to shading again. I found the pineapples are surprisingly easy to draw

The same again from the reverse angle because the teacher thought my first attempt wasn't ambitious enough because it was so small. But AHA! I have finally conquered the banana

Drawing cloth is essentially an epic difficulty of shading, which is why the teacher just plonked a cloth on the table and said "here, now draw this". He probably tortures kittens in his spare time

As if the last one wasn't difficult enough, the next task was to draw *translucent* cloth. Sadly, this was also as close as we were going to get to drawing a naked woman :-(

Character building
The next sessions concerned people – how to draw faces and bodies. This was the most interesting because for the first time the teacher actually spent a decent amount of time talking about the things that we should be looking out for, such as proportions, anatomy, etc.

Guess who the guy on the right's supposed to be. Clue: he's an actor...

The freaky looking face on the left is supposed to be a gorgeous woman from a beauty ad. Makeup confuses me. The other scary looking lady is from a '60s record cover

Faces in profile. The proportions weren't going according to plan

Another famous face. Uh huh.

… and then we were back to drawing random stuff again. No idea what lesson we were supposed to be learning from these. Maybe it was just practice for the sake of practice.

First drawn with the left hand (left) and then properly with the right hand (right). Point? No idea

The scissors again, this time drawn with my eyes closed. And coloured pencils with completely random shading to indicate colour, and not at all true to life

Random tools. I just couldn't get the shape of that spade, and the perspective is still just as wonky as that earlier attempt with the cup, book, bottle, etc.

The plane by itself, and "drawing" with the eraser

Random light on dark vs dark on light

My final body of work
The class started off with myself and about 6 others. The rest were probably in their early 40’s onwards. We never really hit it off because there was no introductions or ice breaker – we just sat down and started drawing the minute we walked into the classroom.

The last lesson was attended by only one other lady and myself. Tragic, ‘coz that was the most interesting lesson – drawing bodies:

We drew people from womens' magazines. Like animals, it's all just shapes

On the left is Hugh Jackman and son; on the right a scene from Transformers

Drawing hands in detail. Doesn't really beat the old "trace around" method though :-)

My piece-de-resistance. Hawt. Didn't get to finish 'coz we ran out of time, but she would've been a masterpiece to rival the Mona Lisa, I tells ya!

You decide: was that was worth $160?

A modern look and feel

Following on from yesterday’s post about the new logo, today, a bit of background about the template, and some behind-the-scenes stuff. If you have a blog, or are thinking of starting one, read on… I’ll share some important lessons that I learned, to help you to avoid making the same mistakes I did.

Lesson 1: get the right tool for the job

The WordPress dashboardWhatever tool you feel comfortable with is probably the right one for you, so I wouldn’t say that this is a very important lesson, but it’s the first one because it enabled everything that follows. I used Blogger for yonks, ‘coz I thought I only needed something that would take my posts and turn them into a blog, and that’s what it did. Using my own design was possible but cumbersome, which made me put off the redesign for a long time.

When I started building GeekReads using WordPress though, it was like trying new food in a new country – I didn’t know what I was missing out on until I’d experienced it. The self-hosted version of WordPress, which is available as a 1-click install process from most hosting providers, allows you much greater levels of customisation in an interface that is extremely well polished and easy to use. It also has a feature to import posts and comments from Blogger, which made the decision to migrate a complete no-brainer.

For the record, I also had a play around with Drupal while I was trying to build a new site for my father-in-law’s guitar business. I admit, it’s a very powerful Web platform but you almost need a degree to be able to use it.

Lesson 2: pick a template that suits you

cyberseraphic - Crosses at Golgotha splash bannerThe “version 2” design, featuring the Crosses at Golgotha image, was launched not long after I moved from Adelaide to Sydney, having finally left home to make my own way in the world. The choice of image and the relatively dark palette of the theme may be a clue as to my state of mind at the time.

I like to think of myself as a much more mature person now, with a greater understanding of how the spiritual and intellectual parts of me are integrated, and I wanted that to show through in the visual aspect of the thoughts that I shared with you in this blog.

When I first thought of updating cyberseraphic, I envisaged mucking around with Photoshop and HTML like I’d done since way back when I first coded a Web site, but the technology moved on and I hadn’t; ever since CSS became standard many years ago, people stopped using HTML tables for layouts. Why didn’t I just use a stock template? Because I couldn’t find one that was “me” enough, and what is a blog of not an expression of one’s individuality.

In the end, I sorta got lucky. Smashing Magazine ran a competition on creating typography-based templates, and the results were offered free. The 3rd runner up, Experimental by Rodrigo Galindez, stuck out for me because of its clean design and simple structure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fully developed WordPress template yet, so I settled for its younger brother, Modern Clix.

The template still has a few niggles, namely in that it doesn’t support the default way in which WordPress handles images and captions, and has limited support for sidebar widgets, but overall I’m happy with it and very much look forward to the finished version of Experimental.

Lesson 3: free hosting sucks

Until recently, cyberseraphic was always hosted on various free servers: f2o, 000webhost, byethost, etc. of which the only one I’d have recommended would be f2o except they’re no longer around.

000webhost did a massive dodgy where they broke peoples’ sites under the guise of “migrating” from old servers to a new ones, a project which they claim to have told everybody about in an e-mail a year ago, but nobody can find any evidence of this. Some people lost a lot of work as a result, but luckily for me I was still using Blogger at the time, so I was able to simply republish my posts from there. Any attempt to fix the problem (including trying to delete my account) resulted in a recommendation to upgrade to their paid hosting services. It’s a really underhanded way of converting customers from free to paid accounts, and I wanted nothing more to do with them.

I moved to Byethost, who have a very slick operation, but the problem with them is that your Web site would sometimes get randomly redirected to another (spam) Web site. No thanks.

So why did I persist with free hosts when everybody knows there’s no free lunch? Because it enabled me to host my own domain (this is important in ways that I don’t really have the time or energy to explain in this post, but if interested leave a comment), which the free Web space from my ISP doesn’t let me do; and the amounts of storage and bandwidth provided by most hosting plans was overkill.

It was through the Whirlpool forums that I discovered the Cove value hosting plans – you can’t really argue with a couple of bucks a month! So now I have the reassurance of knowing that my data is routinely backed up (even more important now that I’m self-hosting with WordPress), and that the service is not likely to disappear unexpectedly tomorrow.

Wow. That was a long post. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking with me. Don’t worry, I’m not planning on doing too many more posts like this, ‘coz I don’t particularly want to turn cyberseraphic into one of those “meta” blogs that blog about blogging. But if you’ve got any questions about my redesign process, drop me a note in the comments.

Luckily for me I was using Blogger, so I was able to recover my posts; others lost years of work.

¿quién coño es cyberseraphic?

Welcome to the new design! If you’re reading this through a syndicated feed such RSS, Facebook or whatever, then head on over to and let me know what you think!

I’ve been maintaining cyberseraphic for nearly 6 years now – an eternity in Internet years, which are kind of like dog years but at a much higher ratio; long enough that some of my pages attract a slow but steady stream of traffic through search results.

As you do, I once put cyberseraphic into a Google search, and was interested to see a result where somebody on a Spanish blog was asking “¿quién coño es cyberseraphic?” which translates as “who the hell is cyberseraphic?” From what I can gather, the free hosting service I used to use had a DNS problem, and one of the blog’s followers noticed that my site was showing up instead of his. The blogger made some pithy remark about how unfortunate it was that he had to play the part of a Christian fundamentalist for the 2 days that it takes for a DNS change to propagate! This just goes to show that the old “Crosses at Golgotha” image was doing me no favours, and that cyberseraphic was sorely in need of a redesign, one which better reflects who I am.

The first thing I wanted to do was to create a logo, so I sat down and wrote out a bunch of things that I thought describe me (sorry they’re upside down and partially chopped off in the scan), and a few other thoughts on the “concept” of cyberseraphic, then started brainstorming various designs:

Concept phase for the cyberseraphic redesign


You can see that I was leaning pretty strongly towards the “mouse with halo tail” concept. I was also adamant about having wings in there – I really like wings – so the next set of sketches set out to refine that idea:

cyberseraphic logo concepts


The one in the top-right corner was pretty much the end result. The concept was that the wings would double as motion trails, giving the logo some movement. I then asked a good (and talented) friend of mine to help with the final execution, and gave him the unenviable task of trying to make it not look like a penis. He was also the smart cookie who let me know that the mouse tail doesn’t actually come out of the back of the mouse, but the front :-) He was also kind enough to suggest some typography for the name as well. Maybe it’s the symmetry of the design, but this vertical lock-up works better than the horizontal one:

A lock-up of the cyberseraphic name and logo

So that’s the logo. I’ll do a post about the other stuff tomorrow.

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