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Some musings for tonight...

Music is something that a lot of people including myself enjoy listening to while they work. And for some, it's fun to play and compose new works--no doubt it's an artform! Nevertheless, being a former trombonist and now a drummer, I can attest that jazz is one of the toughest music genres to master. Appreciating it isn't too difficult unless you ventures into realms a là free jazz and the avant-garde movements of the 1950s, but playing it well is something else entirely. Whether it's slow vocal waltzes or Mach-3-velocity bop, a dose of funk or on-the-feet swing, the phrasing and structure of jazz is often extremely technical. For starters, the 4/4 time signature is sometimes discarded in favor of 3/4, 2/4, 7/8, 12/8, or some other combination of fraction that composers and conductors love to mix between songs and even individual measures. Mastery of key signature changes and phrasing, playing within standard chords and out, and providing an unpredictable--yet often structured appeal underneath--separates jazz (and orchestral :p) players from a lot of what we hear on the radio nowadays.

To me, one aspect that stands out the most in jazz is the improvisation. Instrumental and vocal solos are commonplace for other types of music like progressive rock, metal, pop, and country, but not many place emphasis on off-the-cuff playing. And this is what draws my connection and love between jazz and mechanical design. Because what makes good mecha what it is, is just like what makes good jazz what it is. Though the following list is nowhere near complete, here are a few connections I've felt:

1. They require a solid technical and foundational understanding within that genre. "Chops" are not only defined by the parts of your body that plays the instrument, but also the knowledge of the theories and techniques that go into using the tools and media available. Playing in tune and in rhythm, listening to one another, reading and memorizing sheet music (if required), and proper posture, just to name a few. And in mechanical design, knowing the styles, the components required, perspective, line/color/lighting theory, layout and composition methods, and anatomy all help form a solid base to build...

2. ...a desire to improvise, and to improvise well. When I played in a jazz combo, understanding core scales, dynamics, phrasing, and the sheet music were just a few of the elements key to a successful solo. Yet creativity ultimately drove the solo at performance time, with the band's background playing as support and inspiration. Designing mecha feels much the same, with the "performance" in showing your best effort, being inspired from what exists, drawing from the imagination, and simultaneously pursuing improvement for future works.

3. When required, the ability to form a cohesive voice within your band. In the chorus sections, unintentionally sticking out like a sore thumb is hardly desirable (hearing myself playing far too loud in a post-concert recording is not pleasing!), but playing too quietly can draw attention to the lack of an assigned role too. Though most mecha designers I've met prefer to work solo, this is akin to having parts merge into the design and ultimately the entire composition (background, foreground, focal points, etc.), without having one element unbalance the entirety.

4. A drive to learn from one another. This affects all three of the above aspects, and quite a lot more! A closed-up mind is one of the least-desirable traits you and I could hang onto if we wish to better ourselves. And an open mind that is willing to accept help and constructive criticism not only helps the student, but often benefits the instructor, too. Doing research and brushing up on current techniques with regular practice wouldn't hurt either!

Whoever says that playing jazz isn't ever fun is probably doing it wrong, and whoever says that mecha design isn't ever fun is probably doing it wrong too. Because one of the greatest rewards is knowing that once you've attempted and honed a new ability within your genre, it suddenly opens up new branches to explore and develop a personalized "voice" within. And though the practice sessions and client requests might drag on far too long, testing your patience and your mettle's limits, there is an underlying knowledge that it's ultimately worth it.
  • Listening to: "Black Paws" by Alain Caron.
  • Reading: Wikipedia.
  • Drinking: Hot cocoa.
Still going! Won't be working in the Artist Alley this year, though, due to a massive table price increase plus summer obligations taking away almost all available time--including for writing this.

For those of you I met last year, with the exception of the Aborted Creativity members and a couple others, I will look forward to seeing you again.

And now, to Baltimore!
  • Listening to: "Nardis" by Atmos Trio.
  • Reading: Ars Technica.
  • Watching: The clock.
  • Playing: Drums, in my mind.
  • Eating: Fried rice.
  • Drinking: Cranberry juice. The diluted kind, not 100%. :(
I probably will never do this again because the people I tagged at the end might hate me for perpetuating dA's undercurrents :p. But since a friend of mine’s, Catherine, asked me earlier today, it could be worth a shot.

So, awe at her fantastic openCanvas and Corel Painter works before I grind this meme:

:iconkheleksul:

And......let's go!

1. Post these rules.
2. Each tagged person must post 10 things about themselves on their journal.
3. At the end, you have to choose and tag 10 people and post their icons on the same journal.
4. Go to their pages and send a message saying you tagged them.
5. No tag-backs.

The ten:

1. I give thanks to the Lord for all things He’s provided every day, including a loving family, the ability to use my mind, hands, and feet, a desire for originality and to learn from others, the amazing artist communities I've been introduced to, and the people I know face-to-face at school and at home. He is the reason why I do what I do.

2. Electrical engineering continues to dominate time, but there’s always a balance between my major and artwork. Over the past four years, I’ve realized that excessive amounts of either can be detrimental to everything else. Both require creativity in many facets and a large serving of fantasy, all on top of intense down-to-earth thinking. I chose EE because this is a childhood “I want to be an inventor!” passion that is finally coming to maturity—often with a lot of tedious work, but satisfying results nevertheless. Art has served to augment reality and branch itself off towards new interests.

3. I frequently have obsessive-compulsive tendencies outside of academics, including desires to coil any wires and cables within sight, and straighten up disorganized things that don’t belong to me. Most of my friends can testify to this!

4. There is nothing like a good, long night’s worth of sleep. I cannot work on less than 6 hours a night, and anything 10 hours or above is bliss—especially for doing homework…and thinking about new machine designs.

5. I used to play classical piano until 7th grade, and the trombone until 12th. Both were dropped due to lack of time. I play drums now, and regret that I didn’t pick it up sooner. I sorta wish that I learned jazz piano or the Hammond organ, because…

6. …my favorite music genre is jazz, particularly uptempo swing, fusion, avant-garde, and jazz rock. I often associate mechanical design with classical swing/bop tracks: there are beginning choruses to outline the background and overall structure, a series of solos for core development, more varied choruses for asymmetric details, brief closing riffs to add embellishment, and a well-formed lead-out to complete the work. During the entirety of the song, no one forgets his or her role, and every note is played with deliberate intent and full expression. The signature may come last, but who knows…the ending is rarely when I assume it is!

7. Right now, my preferred traditional drawing instrument is a clean, filled Rapidograph 0-size (0.35mm) pen with black Ultradraw ink. It strikes a compromise between the extreme precision—but scratchy and temperamental performance—of smaller points, and the smooth—yet too-wide diameter—of larger tips.

8. One of my favorite childhood TV gameshows, other than Nickelodeon's Legends of the Hidden Temple, is Masters of the Maze on the Family Channel. If you watched either or both back then, you deserve Internet cookies!

9. If you couldn't tell up 'till now, I often think of owning a flight-capable bipedal mecha, or a high-powered exoskeleton—but never for the purposes of warfare :D. It’s akin to getting a car or pilot's license...with much more "awesome." If only I could go around the world in radical style, without having to worry about traffic, parking, fuel, the TSA, or the limited amount of luggage space! Too bad this is the reality we live in.

10. One of the most amusing things that a friend and I recently did with the new Intuos4 tablet is to bind undo (CTRL-Z) and redo (CTRL-Y) to the touch wheel, and set the repetition rate to maximum. We now have “Warp Undo” and “Hyper Redo”!

And now, time to tag the following ten people—all very respectful members whom I enjoy watching and/or hanging out with. If you weren’t chosen, feel free to join in anyway!

Adam – :icondasadam:
Claire – :iconmeiseki:
Charles – :icontabnir:
David – :iconmecha-zone:
Joe – :iconarzosoth:
Leo – :iconrhymes-with-orange:
Mike – :iconvulnepro:
Newton – :iconnewtman001:
Ridwan – :iconmeganerid:
Ryan – :icontgping:
  • Listening to: "Pairs" by The Fareed Haque Group.
  • Reading: "The Physics of Solar Cells."
  • Watching: Friends across the table doing their homework.
  • Playing: OpenITG.
  • Eating: Herr's Potato Stix.
  • Drinking: Berkey Creamery's iced tea.
And the word is..."work."

Just a brief heads-up that this school year is already taking a toll on me, since it's all higher-level focus courses from here on 'till whenever I graduate. So for anyone who's hoping for more original machinery: I hate to disappoint you, but submissions will occur less frequently, at least until winter break; expect to see them as Mecha Sketchbook entries than serious pieces, if anything, as the latter often take hours of continuous work--hours that I rarely grasp currently--and more time spent thinking than actually drawing. I miss the summer and Otakon 2009 greatly, but I also need to re-prioritize and adhere to a better workload schedule...

But hey, here's your chance to show me what you've got, fellow gearheads! The time I don't have might be the time you're open to creating something fresh. I marvel that over the past couple of years since "Square 1 of Robot Design," I still find extremely impressive creations ranging from crazy bipedal machines to fully-composed 3D renders  to some of the coolest military hardware I wish would (or wouldn't?) exist in real life--and these are from amateur artists! So if I'm doodling away fictional cyborgs while my lecturers discuss electromagnetic waves and Fourier transforms, I can give some credit to those who have inspired me. Who are these people? Well, if I'm watching you and you've got original mechanical designs in your gallery, you're very likely one of them! Be glad you're a part of those who think of new ideas.

Besides, that's what engineers sometimes do--we find better and unheard-of ways to solve the same problems! Perhaps I could say it in calculus terms for you artistic mathletes:

"Make your own function, but don't be the derivative of another person's curves."

Tricky, huh? It's what makes original art difficult...and incredibly awesome at the same time. So 'till next time, I want to see those mechs!
  • Reading: MATLAB code and EE textbooks.
Waking up at 2PM today, I realized two things: long nights of sleep are still good, and Otakon 2009 is over.

3 and 1/2 days of madness ended all too quickly, and honestly, it didn't matter about how much I sold, or the totals I earned. Because I had an awesome time! It felt strange jumping right into the big leagues of Artist Alleys around the convention scene, but mingling with amazing artists and passionate fans alike made my weekend worthwhile.

Some things I've learned:
- Item and equipment checklists as well as sales records forms are more important than ever.
- I hate Maryland's all-encompassing tax system. :(
- On-demand printing for smaller prints works well (especially given the unpredictability of certain works selling better than others), but it requires me to man the table at all times for sales. I think sharing two tables with someone else also knowledgeable in printing is necessary next time.
- Original art sells. Fan art sells A LOT. But it didn't matter at all, because the people who appreciate original art, particularly mecha design (you know who you are!), made each day so much more relaxed. Thanks to everyone who came by and browsed through!
- Color helps broaden the audiences. I enjoy specializing in pencil and lineart, but I'll take out the colored pencils and GIMP palettes soon...
- There aren't many original mecha artists out there, probably because the assumedly-rigid nature of technical illustration scares off a lot of newcomers. I really want to find more people and help change that mentality, as mechanical drawing can be very loose, stylized, and a lot of fun too.

Some table stats:
- Most popular prints: Pointy Things and Stationary Anti-Aircraft Railgun.
- Least popular prints: Assistant Slave Drones and the Stand Tall digital lineart (not posted here).
- Stickers sold: I 'unno. About a couple dozen?
- Business cards taken by congoers: all
- Commissions requested by congoers: none
- Number of times my dry-erase board sign nearly fell off its stand: 3
- Number of times my dry-erase board sign actually fell off its stand: 0
- New serious mech designs started: 0
- New non-serious mech designs started: many
- New friends made: many, including some below...

Alley shoutouts:
- Hannah (Ryaven.com, or :iconryaven:) and Maggie, you've been wonderful neighbors and friends in keeping me sane over the weekend!
- Catherine :iconkheleksul:, it's no problem letting you use the scanner and my other tools, and you're faster than ever at making great original commissions. We're all in it together, right?
- Bill :iconi3i11thewi11:, thank you for stopping by often to check up on me; I hope it didn't take away from your time too much. I will try to get that "Pointy Things" print trade going again (gotta find time to head to the shop!). Looking forward to seeing you again in the fall, and definitely bring Mike along when you can.
- Mike :iconmtran264:, I should've done a print trade with you! Your inked original works are fantastic, and this is just another reason why I find traditional pieces to be a direct proof of hard work and imagination paying off.
- Thank you, Phil :iconv2buster:, for introducing me to the members of Aborted Creativity :iconabortedcreativity: and making "Mecha Avenue" happen for real. Glad I could meet with you on the Otakon forums beforehand, too. You did an awesome job on the mech sketch battle Saturday night, and don't forget the crabs!
- Matt :iconguyverc:, no matter how much of a Guyver fan you are, I finally could put a face to a name and have a great time working with you as an Alley neighbor.
- Eli :iconmintyrobo:, your chibi mechs were amazing! I really appreciate you and Matt running out and getting food for me while I ran my Saturday evening shift. I'm also glad you got the Alley situation sorted out after Friday; people loved your works, and I'd hate for a few legal bits to hinder you from sharing your passions.
- Thanks, Rick :icontanqexe:, for not only showing me your proficiency at mecha design, but also for letting me stay at your place the last night of Otakon. And thanks for accepting my Friend the Business Card Holder ;); hopefully it'll be all right with your giant robot collection.
- Lee :iconfevereon:, I had a great time learning about your awesome cosplay props and artwork, and I definitely hope you're feeling better after that photoshoot mishap. Keep in touch if you can!
- James :iconbeefy-kunoichi:, thanks for the (Accurate! Fast! Makes-me-look-older-than-I-really-am!) caricature on Saturday night's sketch-off, and keep up with the freelance work!
- And to Paul :iconkaji01:, for accepting my own rendition of yourself; I sure hope IMMA FIRIN' MY LAZERS and INTERNET MEMES LOL just once more won't hurt...much. :p
- Nathan :icondreamcraft-studios:, you put up with my constant talking, in-and-out moving, and tight space next door all weekend long without a complaint, and you did an awesome job with your SSB Kirbies (I still can't get over the toaster oven full of them, LOL). Hope your commission list gets smaller over the next few days, and I also hope to see you again next year!
- Grace :iconfongmingyun: and Bing :iconkorilin:, it's been wonderful seeing you two again! Grace, thanks for the sketch compilation book, and I hope to meet up with you again and do a sketch jam like Saturday night's!
- Kevin :iconyanimator: and Jinny :iconnayuki-chan:, not seeing you guys since Tekkoshocon 2009 felt a little too long! Well, we'll meet again, and I'll definitely have to learn some coloring advice from you two! Kevin, keep cycling and art-ing; you're quite the versatile person.
- Jamaal :iconjmc13:, I found your colored original works to be impressive and eye-catching. Thanks for stopping by my table so often and for the great print trade. I'll look forward to seeing you again soon, if not at latest next year, and do show me your updates on Dark Blood.
- Josh :icongreymaulkin:, I really think you solidified our "Mecha Avenue" quite nicely. You made some tight traditional fan mech drawings! Thanks for the print trade, because it describes exactly how I'd feel if I got myself a giant machine. Keep the art up, and I'd definitely want to see more of your original works like this one.
- Jay :iconjay13x:, you are the man! Thanks for coming over and accepting my print trades in lieu of your "I <3 Giant Robots" shirt. I'm gonna have to frame it or at least mount it on my wall...somehow. But I shall find a way!
- Studio Aborted Creativity :iconabortedcreativity: and Annie (SingedCatStudios, or :icontsubasa-no-kami:), I have no problem on sharing the electricity all weekend long; whoever knew it came down to just the power cord gauge?! I think we know how to save ourselves some money for next year...
- The guy carrying the two 2' x 2' drop ceiling tiles around the Alley on Saturday afternoon: many, many thanks for getting me out of a brief drawing hiatus that day! I still can't get over realizing that I drew a mech bust on, of all things, a ceiling tile with Sharpies! Please, if you get the chance to do this again, DO IT! Catherine and Phil seemed to have a blast with this too (Mudkip and Panda Power Rangers?!), and I'm sure everyone else you met loved the idea. And if you can, tell me your name so I can tag you in the photos of us doing our thing!

And more shoutouts:
- Dom (Firaxis.com), you've put on an awesome comeback for Club Otaku, one of the best programming sectors at the convention ever IMHO. Those Yamaha acoustic drums and Meinl cymbals were awesome to play on, sounded great (when was the last time I ever played on a set without having to tune it first?), and were much better than last year's Roland V-Drums. And jamming to an improv'd Underground Theme from Super Mario Bros. was gold! Tell the convention head for next year that Club Otaku should be a permanent staple at Otakon.
- Dan :icondcicconi:, Jason :iconkiederen:, Adam, Anita, Chelsie, Chris, Christine, Evan, Mark, Matt, Mike, Phil, Ryan, and anyone I missed from PSAO/Penn State/etc., I'm glad to talk with all of you again after a couple of months of no-sees. Definitely gotta hang out again in the fall!
- Jason ("lightningxce") and Eric ("darkchao56"), I hope you got your Pump it Up machines back to base safely! Keep refining the PiU Protocol themes, Jason; and Eric, I don't recall the last time I dropped a hold on those great pads!
- Eric ("Mr. Gundam Wang"), please stop staying up so late while making your mecha cosplay next year. Yes, you did a great job, but keep your sanity straight! And on the free mech print, you're very welcome. We should definitely meet more often.
- Matt Balaban, you've done a fantastic job this year at organizing the Alley. There were a few kinks that I'm sure the other veterans have already addressed in the Otakon forums, but that's always experience for next year!

Finally:
- Above all, thank God for this weekend of wonderful times, because I know I can put my talents to use for You! I pray that through You I may focus on what I need to do in light of the coming months and years, while using the gifts and talents You've given to me, including art and engineering.

Well, that's about enough for now. Otakon 2010 is officially July 30 to August 1, so mark your calendars and let the countdown begin again!
  • Listening to: Unknown Artist - Track 2
Artist Alley Table #N05 is where I'm at! I'll be neighboring with Aborted Creativity and DreamCrafters, and located directly across from Ryaven.com (Hannah's table) and fongmingyun (Grace's spot). Drop by and pick up an original mech print or a sketch sticker, trade some free advice and grab a business card, or just hang out with all of us!

More specific information about what I'm selling can be found in the previous Otakon 2009 update. Please note that as of now, I've decided against taking post-convention commissions; this is because right after Otakon ends, I'll have to jump right back into my summer internship. Besides, I'm better off with less stress in lieu of the coming semester (it's crunch time for engineers this year).

See you in two days at the biggest Japanese culture convention on the East Coast!
Tools don't make the artist; the artist makes the artist. Redundant, cheesy, but true, and it's something that I remind myself whenever I am tempted to buy another addition to my already-excessive drawing set. And although my Devious Info does note the Tools of the Trade beginning with "imagination" (and a dependence on Christ, for anything really), I still have a constantly-changing array of media and instruments that I can't do much without. As of now, they are...

1. Canson 9x12 wirebound field sketchbook with hot-pressed paper
2. 0.7mm mechanical drafting pencil with HB lead
3. Pentel Clic Erasers, if not Mars Plastic (I use both like crazy)

Below those three are items I only use on occasion; as in, I'll get them if I really want to do a serious piece, as opposed to on-the-spot ideas:

4. Strathmore 300/400-series hot-pressed Bristol board
5. Mars Lumograph pencils (B through 4H are my most-used lead hardness)
6. Wacom tablet, plus computer with GIMP 2.6 and Inkscape 0.46
7. Rapidograph technical pens (these are incredibly precise, but also very annoying to maintain)
8. 0.3mm, 0.5mm, and 0.9mm mechanical drafting pencils with HB and H lead (the smallest is great for detailing)
9. Kneaded erasers
10. 6" straightedge (anything longer is asking for transportation problems)

Of course, there are some additional tag-along requirements, like a well-lit work surface, extra lead, eraser refills, pencil sharpeners, technical pen ink, a carrying case, good music, less distractions, etc...but you knew that, right?

Any of you wish to share your top ten? I'm sure all of you have a basic toolset for sketching and a group meant for hardcore creations.
  • Listening to: Alain Caron.
  • Reading: the Otakon forums.
Well, we've been counting down for the past year, and now there's just over a month left. It's almost time for Otakon 2009! For a lot of my artist friends I've met in past conventions, this will be another level-up in their veterans rank. But for me, this will be my first time (*gasp!*) working a table in any Artist Alley! O_O

Honestly, though, I'm rather excited. And thank God I could do this to begin with, because I currently work a full-time internship and letting off for this event was a blessing. Anyway, there have always been astounding people in every AA of every con I've been to, and Otakon seems to have the epitome of the best anime artists on this side of the US. This will be a great chance for a lot of us to learn skills, share ideas, and have a great time doing what we love best. And of course, a chance to diversify, since I really would like to improve in more than just mechanical design. Here's my ideal rundown...

What might I be doing?
- Hanging out with artists and con-goers.
- Giving and receiving tips from others, perhaps doing art jams.
- Selling prints, on-the-spot sketches, and post-convention commissions.
- Touring the rest of the convention and Baltimore during off-hours. Make it worth the $55!
- Trying not to destroy my sleeping/eating schedule, in light of this. Last year without AA was already awry!

What might I be selling?
- On-demand printing of regular prints (8.5" x 11" or smaller), using an archival photo printer and pro-grade papers.
- A limited number, possibly less than 10 each, of oversize prints (11" x 14" or larger)
- At-con sketches on traditional media, perhaps cutout-style mechs similar to those in "Hangar A-1". If people want (and preparation time allows), I can build compilation booklets from the Mecha Sketchbook series.
- After-convention commissions for original mech and weapon designs, in either traditional or digital media. I will take time with them, and it'll be worth the additional work! Payment methods will be worked out soon.

What range of works?
- Recent original pieces posted here or not yet seen, such as "Victory Stance" and the colored "Underslinger."
- A few older original pieces, like the "Stationary Anti-Aircraft Railgun".
- Referenced and reference-less original sketches in pencil and ink, like this. Feel free to hang around and watch, ask for tips, or give advice!

Why not any fanart? It tends to sell better, right?
First, time (there's not a whole lot of it, haha). Second, although I don't doubt that fanart sells like hotcakes at any anime convention :p, making a profit is not my goal; breaking even helps with paying for materials, but I doubt that'll happen either. Just gotta mow more lawns this summer!

Presenting something unique, even if it's not popular with the average con-goer, does a lot more in the long run. And I'll stick to that.

Whom to see in particular?
- Bill :iconi3i11thewi11:
- Catherine :iconkheleksul: and her studio members
- Grace :iconfongmingyun:
- Hannah :iconryaven: and her table partner
- Jinny :iconnayuki-chan:
- Kevin :iconyanimator:
- Matt :iconguyverc: and the rest of the guys from Aborted Creativity :iconabortedcreativity:
- Omar Dogan :iconomar-dogan: and other members of the Udon Crew :iconudoncrew:

...and a whole lot more I don't know the names to!

That's all for now! Updates and table locations of various friends will be over the next few weeks. For now, stay on board for the biggest Japanese culture convention on the East coast, coming July 17-19!
  • Listening to: Pandora Radio.
  • Reading: the Otakon forums.
Earlier tonight, a friend of mine's pointed out a rather old, long weblog entry at TechRepublic.com. Being a multivaried robot anime watcher, Battletech and Super Robot Taisen player, and an amateur technical designer, this was an interesting read. I'm not going to make enemies out of any mech artists here--it's a decently-organized rant on why creating real giant bipedal robots is, well, impractical and just plain stupid to pursue. There are several good points made, but do make a judgment for yourself too.

Article here: blogs.techrepublic.com.com/gee…
  • Listening to: Pandora Radio.
  • Reading: E-mails and the above article.
  • Watching: Basquash!
  • Playing: In the Groove PC.