Bob Ross, Pigmented Lullabies, And WordPress Sucks

There are three parts to this story.  One is about Bob Ross and insomnia.  The other is about traveling and painting.  The third is about how WordPress sucks, or really how WordPress.com does.

Bob Ross and Insomnia

I actually purchased the entire collection of Bob Ross DVDs off eBay a while back.  I think that’s like 30 DVDs or 30 seasons.  I got them because I like watching him paint and following along with a palette knife for fun.  Just a fun Saturday night in the Show household watching Bob and painting.

I (and many other people) have noticed that Bob Ross has a soothing effect on you which makes you fall asleep.  That soothing voice.  That soft scraping and brushing sound.  His laugh every time he bangs the solvent off his brush then gives himself lymphoma by wiping it on his pants.  Just something about watching him puts you to sleep.

But, then I realized this phenomena happens with *every* painting video I watch.  I swear I cannot watch a painting video without passing out.  I have quite a few, as I like to follow along and see if I can replicate their paintings as a way of studying.  They’re just relaxing and enjoyable, but if I’m not trying to follow along then BAM pass out.  Drooling, out, coma, worse than eating a bag of Doritos and 2 tukeys gone.

This gave me an idea….

Plein Air Painting

I travel quite a lot for work or personal activities and one thing I like to do is drag along some kind of painting equipment and do a painting outside.  The fancy French phrase for painting outside is “En Plein Air” and since I’m an American I butcher that into “plain air y’all.”

I love painting outside.  It’s simultaneously relaxing and frustrating to go outside to paint.  It’s relaxing because you’re outside, you get a bit of exercise walking a long distance with your gear and back, you have the sunshine, people come talk to you, and honestly who cares if your painting sucks.

Oh, that’s why it’s frustrating.  It’s damn hard to make anything decent outside as just about everything is stacked against you.  That sunshine?  Better bring sunscreen.  That plain air? Better hope it doesn’t rain.  Those people you talk to? They will talk your ear off for hours.  Eventually I just gave up trying to make something decent and now I just use it to practice and maybe get some ideas for a real painting at home.

But, this added to my idea….

PeerTube Is Awesome

Youtube is the way most people host a video show, but youtube is dangerous if you want to give away free content or to do something in the edge of acceptable.  It’s too easy for an army of idiots to demonitize your content which gives all the money to Youtube and you’re screwed.  In my case, I was reluctant to use youtube because of the constant harassment, their demonitization and censorship policies, and a host of other things they just do plain wrong.  Sure, it’s the cheapest way and you could make some money, but it’s too risky all my hard work would get erased.

Not to mention that if you put 2 in chords of music (which can’t be copyrighted) giant corporations will snag your content and make money off it.  I actually think it is entirely unethical for Youtube to allow companies that are being critiqued by a critic to earn money on the critic’s work.  People who review movies and video games should be allowed to review them as a right of free speech and not have the money go to the company being critiqued.  I’m sure Roger Ebert would be livid if he was told that Sony would get his paycheck for the month because he talked about 2 Sony movies. But that’s Youtube.

Then along came PeerTube which allows you to host your videos but share the load using Webtorrent.  PeerTube gives you a very minimalist Youtube experience and is moderately easy to install.  As usual their instructions aren’t super good but I’m able to setup a PeerTube instance now with Docker in about 10 minutes.

My only complaint about PeerTube is that it is definitely aimed at a Youtube crowd, so doing it as a vlog or similar journal wouldn’t work too well.  I have however had success at embedding videos right into a WordPress like I did with this post for my refactoring course I teach online. Really simple to embed videos and also get the webtorrent functionality, so I’m happy with it.  I can use PeerTube for videos and embed them into a blog….except….

WordPress Sucks

This blog you’re reading now is hosted on WordPress.com and you cannot embed a damn thing here.  They want to push you toward their shitty and expensive video service so they block any attempts to embed custom HTML.  I’m sure they have some dipshit lame reason with something like security, but it’s really all about making me pay for their video service.

But, I’m also kind of tired of WordPress in general.  I started using it to just test out what it’s like to try to use it and, while it works, it isn’t nearly as polished and capable as people claim.  It’s also expensive to run either from them or from yourself  where it requires a decent amount of hardware just to basically serve static files.  The inability to embed PeerTube on wordpress.com while being able to do it on a wordpress I host is the last straw.

Going forward, I plan on doing videos instead of writing, and I’m hosting them myself with PeerTube and possibly VuePress.  I have to say that usually people who make blog generators totally screw it up.  I tried Hugo and it was a total nightmare brainfuck of figuring out where things went in some bizarro world where the template controlled how my documents were laid out and deviating from your typical blog format was nearly impossible.

But so far VuePress ends up being pretty easy to use, works mostly as expected, is easy to extend and alter, and produces a cheap easy to run featureful static website that’s modern.  I also feel that VuePress is a gateway drug to using Vue.  I think if the Vue project showed how to take a VuePress site and then use that to make a working product they’d have some great docs and a great way to get people to use Vue itself.

Oh yeah, that idea….

Pigmented Lullabies

I realized that I travel to a lot of really great places.  Hawaii, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Washington DC, and even more before I started painting.  In that time I had this idea to chronicle or record what I was doing.  I wasn’t making great paintings outside, but it was a lot of fun and I figured other people might enjoy it.

I also remembered that watching someone else paint is very soothing and relaxing, causing even the worst insomniacs to fall asleep quickly.  I should know since I am very happily an insomniac.  I love waking up at 3am and just getting up to go work.  But sometimes I want to sleep so I put on a painting video and I’m out in no time.

It took me a very long time to figure out all the particulars of recording video and editing it in Davinci Resolve (which could be an entire course on its own), but I’ve now been able to produce 5 videos (a total of about 7 hours of content) and host them myself at ZedShaw.art.  You can see me getting better at editing the videos and if you watch my most recent one in San Francisco at Ocean Beach you’ll see the majority of the features I want in the video.

This is so much fun and so easy that I’m going to be converting this blog into mostly video content.  I’ll have an announcement about that in the near future, but honestly I’d rather spend my time writing for books than blogging, and making videos is now easier for me than writing a blog post.

Better Than A Rubber Ducky

My final idea about my painting videos is that it might help you figure out bugs.  Let’s say you can’t solve a bug in your code.  One trick is to talk to a rubber ducky and explain the problem.  Another is to find a way to relax.  I like to paint.  Or go for a walk.  Then I usually get the answer.

If you’re stuck on a bug, then I’m curious if watching me paint will help you out.  The videos are fairly quiet, usually with random street noise or a soothing ocean wave sound, and maybe a little talking.  I imagine you could just turn it on and leave it running while you code, and when you get stuck or need a break just watch it to chill out.

Let me know if that works.

Painting From Memory Experiment

When most people learn to draw it follows one of a few different styles:

  1. Sight-sized where you place the paper (picture plane) next to the subject, then stand far away such that you can view the subject and paper as if they’re next to each other.  You then basically plot out copying points from the subject to the paper, and since they’re at the same orientation and layout, you can see your mistakes easily.  This method does a good job of making an accurate drawing, but is tedious and requires a lot of space.  It does work very well for landscape painting though, since the scene is always so far away in a landscape you don’t really have to walk back to do sight-sized.
  2. Relative measurement or “measuring” where you pick a part of your subject to be the “unit of measure”, then use that unit to measure the location and size of other objects in the scene.  If you were doing a room, you might pick the width of a door as your “one” (aka unit of measure).  Then you’d use that “one” to find out how wide or tall other objects in the room were, and where they were located.  This method works well and also lets you hold your paper or painting next to you or in your hands.  You can also just use a pencil and some paper and that’s it.  With sight-sized you need an easel and some other things since you have to walk away from it over and over again.  The down side is this method isn’t as accurate as the others.
  3. Relative angle or “block-in”  This is where you use the relationship of angles to other angles in big chunky blocks to locate and size objects in the scene.  Rather than picking the width of a door to find the width of a wall, you’d make a big loose line, then use that line to locate another angle, then that angle to find the edge of a wall, and eventually you’ve got the general location of the big shapes because you’ve lined up their angles to each other.  This creates an integrated drawing, but it has problems when you want to paint because you have to do a lot of erasing and refining.  You can’t just draw the 4 things in the scene.  You draw 4 big shapes, then “carve” into those shapes, and then erase, and then carve more, then find inside shapes, and carve those, etc.
  4. Shapes or “painterly” This is where, rather than find the outlines of objects in a scene, you just paint their shapes.  It works more with paint than with pencil, but you start with painting about 3-6 big shapes, then you refine those shapes down with more shapes inside.  It’s called “painterly” because it produces an image that doesn’t look obviously drawn, and more direct.  Down side is it’s pretty difficult to get right in the beginning, and definitely hard to get super realistic with this style.

I actually use all three of these depending on what I’m trying to paint or draw.  I find sight-sized is awesome for landscape painting when you need to be accurate.  I find I mix measuring and block-in styles when I paint.  I’ll use angles and measurement to locate edges and objects, then shapes.  Many times I also just like to use a painterly approach, but I’ll still lay down some guide lines to figure out where things are in a scene.  One trick to make a painting look “painterly” but still do drawing is to draw the scene, but then use giant shapes that wipe out the lines, then paint into those shapes.  When I use a palette knife I’m almost exclusively using the painterly style, and actually I enjoy that style the most.

Memory Drawing

While investigating these different methods I stumbled on a French guy named Père Lecoq from the 1848 who taught people to paint and draw from memory.  He did this as an experiment with children going to the French Academic painting system to see if having them memorize the elements of drawing and painting would make them as accurate as other methods of teaching.  At the end of the experiment, several students were evaluated and determined that they did in fact draw as well as other students.

Lecoq eventually got fired or quit from the Academy and went on to simply teach on his own, but he did write a small book on how he taught.  I read it, and it was a little confusing, so I found this other book by Darren R. Rousar called Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall. In Darren’s book, he goes through the history of memory drawing, and then has a bunch of exercises that attempt to teach it.  I read  his book, and did about 20% of the exercises and loved how it felt.  It was so weird and different from other ways of drawing.

It seems impossible, but you can actually stare at a scene or a photo, and after about 2-3 minutes of staring at it, do a fairly close approximation of it.  There’s really no way to describe what is happening, but, when I do it I’m not really ticking off a list of points and measurements.  I’m staring at what I want to memorize, and periodically closing my eyes, or drawing in the air over it with my pinky, and then staring with “loose” eyes over the whole scene, and then…I can remember what is where and draw it.  I really can’t explain it.

And, you’d think I’d be way off on my first try, but not really.  I’m fairly close on most of the basic shapes I’ll show you here.  More complex things obviously will be less accurate, but in general I’d say I’m not any more or less accurate in my first to fourth basic blockins than with any of the other methods I listed above.  Eventually I’ll obviously be more accurate with those methods over the long run, but I’m actually not so sure about that.

You see, the process of drawing is actually one of refinement from a gross mistake.  You start off with a guess that’s unrefined and messy or bulky.  Then you correct that and refine it, and repeat this refinement until you have the level of accuracy you want. After years of studying what I found is that accuracy is more a product of time spent refining than any sort of immediate magical accuracy.  99.9% of all artists who paint or draw very accurately either copy photos, start of with fairly messy guesses that become accurate, or don’t actually draw as accurately as you think they do.

Gross Refinement

This got me thinking:  What if I could adjust the Lecoq/Rouser memory drawing style to instead use this gradual refinement process.  In Rouser’s and Lecoq’s book the flaw I saw is that they expected me to be able to memory an entire human head with fine gradations of tone and draw it in a few attempts.  However, that’s completely unrealistic and not how most artists work.

This week I decided to try an experiment where I used my memory to draw some simple geometric foam shapes in different orientations.  I was going to try each of the above processes to see what worked, and also try a few different mediums (charcoal, pastel, oil paint).  My goal was to see, could I use my memory only to get a basic drawing, but use the block-in and refinement process that seems to work best.

When you see these though, keep in mind that I’ve been practicing and training in drawing and painting for a while.  Don’t think that I’m saying someone with zero art experience could plunk down these shapes and bang out these paintings from memory.  There is something strange going on that I can’t quite explain, but rather than explain it I’m just going to try to figure out how to do it by doing it a whole lot.

The process I used is basically this:

  1. Stare at the scene or the photo for 2 minutes.
  2. Cover the scene or photo and then, looking only at the painting, put down the big shapes I remember.
  3. Remove the cover and then check how accurate I am.  Anything that I get wrong, either I’ll erase/wipe it for the next round, or if it’s tiny and a small fix will help, just do that small correction.
  4. Now cover the drawing or painting and repeat #1, but memorizing a smaller part for refinement, or some area I got very wrong.

The idea is I’m attempting to utilize “memory chunking” where, rather than magically memorize an entire photo, I’m memorizing big chunks of the scene.  Then, once I have those drawn I dive into the shapes to memorize smaller aspects of it.

The Results

My first experiment was with an actual object in a dark box I use for cast studies (it’s actually just a black bookshelf).  I did this one in charcoal and white chalk, and used more of a relative measure style of drawing it.  I memorized some of the basic measurements of the big shapes using the width of the right side of the block, and also memorized the general shape of the whole scene.  This took me about 6 rounds to get to here.  One problem though is using a actual object rather than a photo makes it difficult to check my accuracy.  I mean, sure, that looks like a rectangle block, but it’s difficult to really see if I was dead accurate with it.

My next attempt I switched to using a monochrome photo printed out, and using pastels. The photo makes it much easier to tell if I’m being accurate or not, and the pastels makes it much quicker to lay down the shapes I’m attempting to hold in my head.  Pastels also have the advantage that I have to grab actual values of black vs. white.  With charcoal I’m using the paper is a white, and then different amounts of charcoal to get different values.  Pastel I grab a white, or a gray, or an almost black, and when I put it down, that’s the actual thing I see.  This makes it much easier to paint what’s in my memory since it’s more direct.

I did this in about another 7 rounds, and I used the block-in style of drawing then painting it.  First I remembered relatively what the angles of the scene were, drew them from memory, then I memorized what values (white vs. black) when where.  This worked pretty well and the pastels definitely are better than charcoal.

Next I used oil paint, and still from photos, plus stayed with he block-in style of drawing. The oil paint was definitely quicker, and I think I did this in maybe 4 rounds?  Next time I’ll track how many rounds and how many corrections I made.  With the oil paint it was very important to pre-mix the colors so I could work with them like I did the pastels.  I think having to mix would take up too much time and wash out any memory of the scene I had.  The oil paint definitely went faster, but I could see that for the purpose of checking accuracy it might not be as good as pastels.  I will say that I did this very fast before going out to eat, so I’m surprised it was as close as it is.

My final test was again with oil paint, but using the painterly method.  This shape is challenging because of the ellipses involved, but the painterly approach worked in general.  I first memorized the big shape of the dark background and the ellipse.  That basically leaves the front of the cylinder so no need to memorize that.  I then painted that in really sloppy to get a general idea of where it all goes and the shape.  Surprisingly I was pretty close, and on the next round had the cylinder close enough to refine it and render it better on each round.  I’d say it’s not quite as accurate as the oil painting above, so I’m leaning toward using the block-in method to get a general idea of the drawing, then painterly to block it in and refine it.

Surprises

I’d say the most surprising thing is that it works at all and that I was fairly accurate on the first and second round.  In the case of the pastel painting my drawing was pretty close on the first round.  These are simple geometric shapes, but keep in mind I’m copying them from a strange angle with perspective and comparing it to a photo.  If most things are based on these basic geometric shapes then I’m thinking I could keep practicing this and eventually get to combining them in more complex ways.

The other thing that is surprising is how easy it was compared to constantly looking and measuring.  There was some measuring and comparing when I made little adjustments, but overall I just stared at the photo, covered it, and got pretty close.  With regular drawing it’s a constant battle of bouncing back and forth to get the drawing right and I might get a more accurate results eventually, but I’m also doing hundreds of “rounds” in that case.

The ellipse in the last painting is a good example of this difference.  Normally doing an ellipse is difficult, but in this I kind of just whipped that out with a couple brush strokes, then on the next round altered its value some or refined it a bit.  It’s obviously not perfect, but pretty good for just a couple of attempts at it.  I think with normal drawing I’d work on that for quite a while.

The final surprise so far is how it felt.  Doing it this way felt…meditative.  I had to stop and slow down and stare at this photo or object until it melted away and turned into a group of shapes.  I had to focus my attention, but also not really focus at all and just let it come into my mind’s eye.  It was nearly the same sensation as meditation, and then when I went to paint it was like releasing a breath.  As if what I memorized had to come out now.  When I paint or draw other ways it’s more like I’m pulling and working a large rope to pull the drawing onto the canvas.

I’ll continue this experiment with more complex topics and see how this goes.  I’m going to narrow down on the block-in/painterly method, but I’ll still bounce between pastels and oil until I’m more confident which one is easier to work with doing this.

Today’s Portrait Painting Class

Portraits are definitely my most difficult subject so I attend as many painting classes as I can. Here’s today’s class progress shots:


Just a simple drawing and then basic painting of the head, did this in the first two settings. Next shot:


Color and exposure isn’t very good on that but shows the progress.


The final painting at the end of class. Actually I was done last session but then decided to goof off with the tattoos and background for no real reason.

Lady Agnew Mastercopy Day 1

I’m doing a master copy of John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew painting
in class and have the first drawing and thin grissaille done:
I left a few spots open for now since I wanted just enough to see the drawing. The next layer will be full color but very simple rather than a monochrome underpainting. 

I wanted to do this in pastel but after studying it I thought it would be too difficult. The original painting is huge so when shrunk to 11×14 it becomes mostly photographic. Replicating that in pastel will be difficuly in three weeks.

John Singer Sargent Mastercopy #1

I finished this JSS mastercopy today and will start another one of his for the rest of class. I may try the next one in pastel to practice that and also because I only have 3 weeks left in this class.


Here’s the side-by-side of the print and my copy. JSS would be proud of this since there is obviously something wrong with my version’s mouth.


The purpose of a mastercopy is to learn how another artist would approach the subject.  Painting, especially alla prima, has the history and technique of the artist embedded in the painting. You can figure out quite a bit of their style from the brush strokes and attempting to mix the same colors.

It’s better to do this from an actual painting rather than a print, but I’ll make that a goal for next year.

Second Cast Drawing Nearly Complete

I have been working on a cast drawing of this old man, who I think is a Saint so I call him Saint Anger because I listened to mostly Metalica while I worked on it. This drawing is done in pencil on Ampersand clay board.  Here’s the progress of it that I’ve saved to my phone so far, from earliest to now.