Yearning to Learn

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Ever since I can remember I’ve always had a strong desire to learn new things.  In the past few years I have been diving deep into learning how to write a novel—structuring plot, building tension, crafting scenes and developing great characters.  Writing, whether a novel, short story or this blog, has been my creative outlet for a while now.

Lately writing alone has not been enough to fill my learning needs.  You’d think with all there is to learn about structure and style, brainstorming ideas, and sitting down to actually write would fulfill my learning needs.

Yet, I still needed something more, something different.  Setting aside any requisite skills and abilities to venture into other creative avenues, I thought about adding one of several options to my creative repertoire.

Music, Guitar?

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I’m no musician but I do love music.  I played the piano when I was young, but was never very good.

When I ventured back into piano lesson in high school, I learned to improvise the rhythm of the left hand by reading chord notation and playing the right hand as written.  This method provided me with the opportunity few of my piano playing fiends every had—to play popular music and make it somewhat recognizable to the listener.

Learning to play guitar seems somewhat similar, but it will need a dedicated regular schedule of lessons and a bit of an investment.  Guitar probably isn’t in my near future.

Drawing, Illustrations, Art?

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My dad’s mother was an artist.  She painted beautiful Michigan forest-scapes generally with a smattering of birch trees.

One day after dinner, I was probably in middle school, she taught me to draw my subject upside-down.  We pulled a Donald Duck rubber magnet off the fridge, turned Donald on his head and she had me replicate it on paper.  The result ended up to be far more accurate than had I drawn it from the correct perspective.

I have since learned that drawing a subject upside-down uses your visual right brain leaving the rational, thinking left brain that keeps telling you “that doesn’t look right” mostly out of the activity.

I need to learn more technical skills to improve my drawing abilities rather than simple practice.  I enjoy doodling, but I think I’ll leave illustrating to trained professionals.

Finding the Right Fit

These are just a couple of choices I considered, choosing two where I would likely have the best chance for success based on my interest level and limited history.  Whatever choice I made would need to fit my style and not be a burden on my other responsibilities and interests.

Although I yearn for another creative activity I feel I already have a lot going on.  If I could learn guitar using headphones, I think I’d pick up the guitar, although I’d prefer to learn acoustic.  I wouldn’t want my family suffer the sounds of my “learning”.

App Development, Coding

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I’m certainly dating myself when I tell you that I learned BASIC programming on my own using a TRS-80.  Then in sixth grade we were taught using Apple II+ and Apple IIe computers.  I still regret not taking more advanced programming courses (do you remember PASCAL and FORTRAN?) when I was in high school.

I’ve always been a math and logic based thinker which is probably why learning to code is so appealing to me.  As with other creative pursuits, I love the idea of creating something tangible from my own idea.  With coding there are loads of resources on-line, and I pretty much already have the software and equipment needed.

With the influx of apps created in basements or dorm rooms, on lunch breaks from work, by friends in bedrooms or a continent away, the flexibility checks another box on my next project evaluation list.

All that remains is coming up with that wonderful, exciting, stupendous idea.  But, isn’t that half the fun?

Choosing Your Next Undertaking

Selecting new skills and abilities to learn can be a tricky task.  In addition to showing an interest, you will need to evaluate whether you can put the time into learning that the new skills deserve.  Weighing your commitments to family, friends and work as well as those you have made to yourself for other pursuits must be done prior to embarking on such a journey.

Sometimes it can be appealing to dive right in, but your success with any new undertaking hinges on whether you can put forth the effort necessary.

I’m all for learning new things to make my own world a more interesting place.  I just want to make sure I’m not cluttering up the place with a bunch of half-baked attempts.

What new skills are you eager to learn?  Do you have any skills you started to learn then pushed them aside?  I’m interested to know what took precedence and whether you think you’ll pick them up again.

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Avoiding the Inevitable End

If you are an avid ready, you know the feeling when you find a really good book and can’t put it down?  I’m always excited when I come across one of these gems.

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For some reason I have a very strange habit when I get 80% of the way through one of these—I can’t seem to keep going at the same pace.  I start to take in small chunks at a time.  Three pages now, several more pages a few hours later.  The last 20% drags on for another couple of days when I should have been able to plow through in a matter of hours.

I’ve even started the same habit when streaming series on Netflix.  As I reach the final three or four episodes I take in just enough of an episode to get a fix before switching to another activity.

I’ve finally figured out why.  Simply put, I don’t want the story to end.  I fear the feeling it will all be over soon.  I’ve fallen in love with the characters and the story so much, I begin to mourn this loss before it’s reached it’s conclusion.

On a good note, I am almost always satisfied when I finally reach the end and eagerly await more.  What else could any author want but another reader hooked on their characters, story and style.

I resign myself to the fact that I can only wait patiently for the next novel, seek out the author’s other work or hang on for the next season to start.

Do you put off the inevitable when nearing the end of a great book or television series or do you push through at the same “can’t put it down” pace?  Do you have any odd quirks or habits when it comes to finishing books and other series you enjoy?  Let me know in the comments.

Warning: This is Blocking You from Thinking Creatively

One of the most impactful lessons I learned this week can be found on The Art of Blogging. This blog offers a trove of resources that anyone can utilize to improve their blog.

This particular post, Warning: This is Blocking You from Thinking Creatively, has a number of awesome ideas to expand your own creative realm.

The two suggestions to free up my creativity that stuck out to me were thinking metaphorically (2. Logic…) and learning to break a few rules (3. Rules, rules, rules). As a logical thinker and a fairly strict rule follower, making these changes to my own creative process will take some work.

There is a lot to take in here, so I highly recommend giving it at least a couple of reads!

The Art of Blogging

Whether you’re trying to fix a certain issue, start a business, market that business, or write an interesting article, creative thinking is crucial. The process boils down to changing your perspective and seeing things differently than you currently do.

People like to call this “thinking outside of the box,” which is the wrong way to look at it.

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More Misses than Hits: My Weekly Update

To keep myself accountable, I have chosen to post about my creative progress each week.  Although you may not be invested in the details of my progress (or lack thereof), I hope you can take from some ideas on developing your own personal accountability method.

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Writing

Blogging

I fell short of my target and only had four posts this week.  This first week of summer activities from outdoor chores to fun after work weekly activities ate in to my writing time.  I’ve taken a look at how these activities impact my writing time and have adjusted my writing schedule to accommodate them.  I know with these adjustments I can hit my goal of six posts this coming week.  I certainly don’t want to miss out on the summer fun!

Next week’s target: Post 6 of 7 days

Fiction

I had little time for my novel but was a able to complete a Flash Fiction piece which I posted on Wednesday.  I’m not sure I’ll be spending much time outside in the 90 degree heat and high humidity this weekend, so my novel will be at the forefront of projects I will work on this weekend.

Next week’s target:  3 hours brainstorming and outlining

Photography

I spent a couple hours rewatching some of the Affinity Photo Video Tutorials.  I want to keep learning and have found that I get more out of each tutorial on a second and third view.  Much of this comes from a better understanding of the overall process and being able to take what I learn from one  tutorial to help me better understand others.

Next week’s target:  1 to 2 hours of tutorials and practice

Coding

I worked through most of the UICollectionView tutorial I wanted to complete this week.  My next step is incorporating what I learned in my own project.

Next week’s target:  3 hours, minimum with the goal of understanding Collection Views

Videography

I’m still working on the script for my Motion project.  I am targeting completion again this week because I am at a stage where I don’t want to put too much work into the Motion project until I have a clear understanding of the storyline.  I’m sure as I dig in to the actual animation I’ll have some story tweaks here and there but what I want to avoid is major structure changes.

Next week’s target:  Complete the script

I hope you are finding success with your own projects.  I’d be interested in knowing how you stay on target to complete your projects.

Superpowers

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Bubbles floated up and settled around the side of the thick edged coffee mug. John watched the steam float up and dissipate.

“Thanks,” he said.

“And I was beginning to think I wouldn’t see you today,” the waitress replied before making rounds to fill coffee at her other tables.

John slipped his superhero comic from beneath the menu where he had shoved it before Maggie took his order.

As he flipped to his place in the comic he mentally made his 1,819th mark on his attendance list and his 763rd mark on Maggie’s witty retort list. He was getting close to his five year anniversary. Sitting in the same booth, drinking the same coffee and enjoying his brief and repetitive conversations with the only waitress he ever had. Only the comic was different each day.

He promised himself he’d splurge and get eggs and a muffin on his quinquennial. John dreamed of Maggie bringing it to him with a candle, but she probably had no clue of the approaching day’s significance.

He gazed back at the few remaining bubbles and watched them pop leaving a perfect black mirror in an off-white frame.

The mirror rippled first before the thin metal silverware and his empty muffin plate bounced around the speckled Formica table. John grabbed the shiny metal edge expecting to stop the shaking but it had no affect. His eyes darted about the diner. The trays of mugs behind the counter rattled toward a destructive fall. The pendant lights swayed above the other surprised patrons. Even the glass in the front picture windows shimmered with the increasing vibrations.

With a boom the front door disintegrated and the shaking stopped. A whoosh pulled all sound from the room which was replaced by slow and deliberate boot steps, each one ending with a distinct “ting” of a metal toe tapping the tile floor.

Black cargo pants stretched tight against the intruder’s powerful legs. His white t-shirt revealed every upper body muscle including some John didn’t know existed.

He tossed a duffle on the counter.

“Valuables and cash!”

No one moved.

“Now!”

Maggie reached the cash register first, but couldn’t seem to get it to open. John could see other patrons fumbling for their wallets and removing jewelry.

John wrapped his hand around his mug and drained it in one swig.

He breathed in expanding his chest to twice its size. The muscles on his arms bulged with veins throbbing.

The intruder tore one of the counter stools from its bolts in the floor and tossed it into the kitchen. He stepped forward and slammed his fist through the counter breaking it in two. He snatched the duffle before the counter collapsed and flung it to a nearby table of four.

“You don’t want me to ask again!”

John slid from his booth and rose.

The intruder pointed at John and said, “Now, there’s a smart guy.”

John rose to full height and still breathing in grew another foot. He strode toward the intruder.

The intruder flipped an empty four-top over his shoulder like a piece of trash where it smashed against the men’s room door.

John stopped within arm’s reach of the monstrous figure who still towered over him. He sucked in one more breath growing enough to look him eye to eye.

“I think I’ve been more than patient,” the intruder bellowed.

Behind him, the few patrons still capable to moving began tossing their cash, jewelry and electronics toward the duffle bag. The intruder ignored the noise of most items bouncing off the table and skidding across the floor. Straightening his posture, the intruder rose an inch above John’s eye line.

John sucked in air through his nose and grew to meet the intruder’s change in height.
The intruder dropped his open hand on John’s shoulder and squeezed the skin and muscles into his fist. He stared deep into John’s eyes. “We don’t want any trouble, now, do we?”

With a sweep of his arm, John lobbed the enormous man across the room where he landed where the counter once had been. In the blink of an eye, John sped to where the intruder lay, grabbed him by the collar and dumped him outside on the sidewalk against a “No Parking” sign. He twisted the pole around the intruder like the stripe on a barber pole.

“Here ya go.” Maggie slipped the check onto the table.

John jerked his head up, snapping him away from his hard stare into the coffee.
“See you tomorrow? Enjoy your superhero comic.” She winked and moved on to her next table.

John flipped over the paper and considered the $7.50 check. He pulled out three twenties, tucked them and the check beneath his mug.

Maggie wiped off the pristine counter as John strolled past. He half raised his hand to wave but Maggie didn’t see him.
Outside, John could see Maggie clearing the booth he had just left. He watched her pick up the two twenties and a huge smile crossed her face. She looked up in time to see John looking in and mouthed “thank you”.

John smiled back. Everyone has a superpower, maybe this was his.

Motion: Testing Ideas

As I mentioned in my Friday post, I am working on a Motion project for the senior pet rescue where my wife works and where I volunteer.  I am still drafting the final script, but in the meantime, I am doing some test work in Motion.

A frequent part of the action will be characters moving on and off screen.  I am anticipating simple characters with few animated parts but I want their movement to be more realistic and less “riding on a skateboard” as they move around screen.

To accomplish this I added a wave motion path to my character with a very low amplitude and frequency.  I snapped the alignment of my character to the path keeping the character’s vertical axis perpendicular to the wave path.  This resulted in a subtle rock forward and backward as of the character moved.  The more I rewatch, the more I realize the action needs some tweaking, but overall I’m happy how it turned out so far.  Plus, it should be easy to replicate with slight variations for each new character.

For the idea clouds, I used a particle generator.  Again, I need to do some more tweaking to make the initial flow from the character’s head smoother.  I also want to add a second generator flipping the idea cloud so the trail of small bubbles points left or right depending on which side of the head the cloud emerges.  I’m not sure if I can figure it out, but I’d love to have the clouds pop rather than drift off the top of the screen.

Finally, the final idea cloud follows a motion path before coming to rest in the upper left portion of the screen.  Right now, the path is too long and complex as compared to the particle flow which makes the final cloud immediately stand out form the generated ones.  If I can simplify the flow and path to naturally follow the generated idea clouds, I hope it appear to drift off the expected path as the cloud generator stops.

I have loads more work to create my full vision, so I’ll keep posting more of my tests and any completed sequences as I push forward on this project.

Are you an expert with Motion?  I’d love to hear any tips or ideas you may have that will make this project better.

Photo Creativity: Affinity Photo

There is something to be said about an authentic, unretouched, undoctored photo. But, as we look back at many of our photos, do they truly represent the color,s brightness, contrast, clarity and details that we saw, or at least what we remembered seeing?

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Matching Memories

Whether we rely on the camera’s automatic settings or expertly fine tune them before snapping away, often the end result does not live up to our recollection of the scene. Maybe it’s washed out or so dark we cannot see many of the details. Do spots of overexposure that draw your eye away from other areas? Are the colors slightly off, especially in the skin tones, creating a slight alien aura to the shot?

Whether fixing a photo because it’s just off or because it doesn’t live up to our recalled expectations, digital photographers have so many tools available. Almost all free photo software—designed mostly for storing, tagging and logging photos—has some type of editing feature. These are generally limited to the basics of exposure, brightness, hues, contrast and maybe some red-eye corrections.

Once you make the leap to professional software, the number of tools increases exponentially. With infinite ways the tools can be applied, layered, and masked, any photo can be corrected to a more realistic representation of your subject or converted to a less realistic work of art.

So Much To Learn

I am a novice in this arena. I could never get the adjustments right in most of the basic software I have used, although Apple’s current version of their Photos app has far more editing features as well as the ability to add extensions (free or purchased) to further expand these capabilities.

Having so many tools is all well and good, but without some guidance as to what the features do and how to use them, most of us are stuck in a trial and error loop until miraculously the photo comes out as expected, or more likely we repetitively reset and fidget with the adjustments until we get something we think looks better but hasn’t necessarily reached perfection.

A Reasonably Priced Professional Option

When I first saw Affinity Photo demoed I assumed it would be out of my hobbyist budget since its features and technical abilities appeared to be on par with Adobe Photoshop. Then the demo revealed the price—$49.99 in the Mac App store and on their website and it doesn’t require a subscription.

In addition to the reasonable price, Affinity Photo offers a huge library of video tutorials covering everything from basics of using the software and simply adjustments to more complex layering and complete workflows. Most videos are less than ten minutes long but pack a ton of great instructions. What is harder to pull from these and so many tutorials is the reasoning behind applying each tool and the order in which they should be layered. The good news is this limitation does not detract from the usefulness of the tutorials because I was able to apply what I learned to my own photos, usually by following along step by step.

According to the documentation, Affinity Photo can read and export to Photoshop files, so in theory, you could use Affinity Photo and collaborate with Photoshop users or companies that require submissions in Photoshop file formats. I have not done this, so I cannot confirm how well the import or exports work, but many online forum responses indicate this feature works quite well.

The Choice Is Yours

I’ve never used Photoshop so I am not suggesting Affinity Photo is better or worse. I can propose an equitable alternative to the subscription based, top rated graphic and image editing software.

I’ve already learned so much, but have a long way to go until I feel comfortable in my editing. The image above is one of my recent attempts at improving one of my photos. Here is a side by side comparison of the before and after.

And, here is my attempt at a stylized version of the same photo.

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If you are interested in image editing, I encourage you to give Affinity Photo a try. They even offer a free trial of the software on their website.

Are you into image editing? Do you have a software preference? Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

 

I have no relationship with and have not been compensated in any way from Affinity Photo or Serif for this review.

Staying on Target: My Weekly Update

To keep myself accountable, I have chosen to post about my creative progress each week. Although you may not be invested in the details of my progress (or lack thereof), I hope you can take from some ideas on developing your own personal accountability method.

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Writing

Blogging

I’m proud of the fact that I have posted five times over the first seven days in June. With renewed commitment to my blog, I planned to post six of seven days. I nearly reached my goal for this first week. To stay on target, I am starting out the next seven days with this post on schedule, two more drafted and another sketched out.

Next week’s target: Post 6 of 7 days

Fiction

Getting back into my fiction project has been a struggle. I decided to go back to my first successful NaNoWriMo project from several years ago. That November I wrote 50,000 words without an outline, so it’s incomplete and quite a mess. I love the idea of this book and am now returning to outline the story. My biggest hurdle is the middle. It’s always been the middle. I have a clear picture in my mind of the beginning and the end, but the middle is causing me fits. Each time I sit down to work on the outline I am easily distracted.

Next week’s target: 3 hours uninterrupted brainstorming and outlining

Photography

I spent a few hours viewing Affinity Photo Video Tutorials and applying what I learned to my own images. I’m improving on a technical level and in my understanding of how to select and apply adjustments. There is still so much to learn, particularly on the “whys” and “whens”—for example, why should I use a curve adjustment over an exposure or brightness adjustment, or when should I apply a high pass filter first? More about this in tomorrow’s post.

Next week’s target: 1 to 2 hours of tutorials and practice

Videography

My current project is a Motion piece for the senior pet rescue where my wife works. I am currently doing some testing of the action sequences and drafting the script. As I move along in the script, I am realizing this is more of an undertaking than I originally pictured. I have figured out some motion paths and a cool particle effect but these still need loads of fine detail work. As a draft, I am liking how it is coming together. The rescue just began construction on their new shelter buildings this week, and I would love them to use this as a promo video about their new permanent home so time is of the essence to complete this project well before they move in.

Next week’s target: Complete the script

Coding

I dedicated most of my free time to blogging this week to ensure I met that goal. Not much time was left for other pursuits so coding fell by the wayside. Unfortunately, at my learning stage of coding, not keeping up with learning and practice results in significant steps backwards.

Next week’s target: 3 hours, minimum with the goal of understanding Collection Views

 

Good luck with your personal goals for the week. I will post an update on my target progress next Friday.  I’m interested to hear more about the projects you are working on, so feel free to share in the comments.

A Don’t Miss Serialized Book Preview

Wondering if you have the gumption to be an artist or if you will remain an amateur  hobbyist?  You may want to check out the books by Steven Pressfield, the author of notable non-fiction bestsellers about writing including The War of Art, Turning Pro, Do The Work and Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t as well as bestselling novels such as The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire.

Hero’s Journey or Artist’s Journey?

If you are a writer, you already know about the hero’s journey, but did you realize the artist makes a similar path of discovery?

Currently, subscribers to Steven Pressfield’s blog, are being treated to an advanced, serialized version of his upcoming and currently titled book “The Artist’s Journey”.  As a person exploring your creative side for personal enjoyment or something to share with the world, you may want to signup and see how Steven’s take on becoming an artist applies to your life’s creative pursuits.

You can find the current post, episode #17, here which provides links to all the previous posts in the series.

Journaling – What Your Creativity Needs

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I always thought journaling would be a waste of time. I never understood when I should, could or would want to go back and read prior entries. I resigned myself that journaling longhand would be useless since you would have to have an incredible memory or some intricate method of indexing entries if you ever wanted to find and reread something specific. When I decided to journal it would be on a computer using searchable software.

I am not one who journals daily, going days or even weeks without making an entry, but I have found a love for journaling and this love stems from the complete opposite reasons I listed at the start of this post.

After a while, I realized journaling isn’t about researching past entries. It’s not about finding something specific. Revisiting old entries should be an unplanned journey, albeit one into previously visited territories. These trips back in time can have so many unexpected affects. I’ve reread pieces that have forced me to figure out what the hell I was thinking or feeling at the time. I recalled things that had since slipped my mind. Rereading allowed me to vividly remember the emotions I replicated in words. At times I sparked new ideas for projects where I was stuck or needed a push in the right direction.

When I do write in my journal, the entry kickstarts my creative process. Whether I hit my full 500 word a day goal in an entry or only scribble out a hundred or so words, the act of journaling revs me up enough to continue using my creative juices.

It doesn’t happen for me everyday, but I don’t feel like I need to journal everyday either. Journaling cannot be defined, scheduled, structured. What it can be is useful as an enticement, and a tool for creativity.

Do you journal? What is your journaling goal or process? I’d love to hear more about you in the comments below.