The Blackwing One Step Durable Point Sharpener does an okay job, but if you want to carry it as pocket bling, well, you have to understand that it is a lot like carting around a salt shaker full of graphite dust in your pocket.
It turned everything in that pocket a lovely shade of silver gray, and my fingers came away with a dusting, and the graphite leaked through and onto my thigh. UGH. C’mon!
I decided I needed to cork it up. I’ve cut two little plugs. One from a wine cork that feels fiddly and works well enough and one from a pink pearl. you cannot pull an eraser from any average sized pencil, a semi-jumbo or jumbo could be whittled to fit.
I sat with a craft knife and whittled the edge of eraser down and plugged the hole. Now I can carry around the BWOSDPS in my pocket and not get dusted with graphite. Sweet.
Getting better sound doesn’t have to cost a lot, but it can be incredibly expensive. I did a posting the RSVP Stationery Podcast group awhile back about tests I did with a bunch of stuff that I had on hand- headphone, mics, lav mics, and my phone. The results were interesting.
The biggest and most important thing for getting better sound is reduction of background noise. That means turning off fans, heaters, the washing machine, and dishwasher. If that can’t be done then there are a number of ways to reduce noise.
My favorite is building a tent out of cushions or pillows. You can also build a tent out of a blanket draped over a chair set up on a desk as my podcast co-host Lenore does. When I traveled to Maine and stayed in an apartment I had no idea how to reduce some of the noises, so I built a tiny tent out of the available pillows. When I record in my work office after hours, I use an assortment of pillows from around the offices. I’ve also read of folx making a tent out of couch cushions. After you build your tent you stick your mic in there and talk into it. Make sure your mouth is about 6 to 12 inches from the mic, and start talking.
If that’s not working for you, think about going into a closet. You know I’d never tell anyone to go into a closet but sometimes it’s a great way to reduce background noise, once you shove all the clothing into the back it’s going to absorb a LOT of noise.
When I decided I wanted to start recording Manuscripting Pod from my phone I recorded snippets of audio all over the house, office, and in the car. I tested it with a variety of mics too. I wanted to see where I had the least background noise, without alterations, so that I could start recording with as little work as possible. I walked around, recorded 10 seconds of audio and a bit of silence, listened, tweaked things and repeated.
To start I tested out a lot of the headphone mics I had on hand. I found that I got good clear audio with my Monster replacement cables for my over ear headphones. I also got great audio from my HTC ear buds that came with an old phone. My Samsung ear buds also sounded decent. Though I should point out that I tested a pair that was virtually unused and a beater pair I used a lot. The pair that had been coiled up again and again in my bag and had been abused sounded awful. The Monster mic was very sensitive and depending on where my head was turned picked up my breathing. If you want to get into recording super cheap, a pair of new earbud or a new cable will be the cheapest way into recording.
I found that minimizing contact noise- the sound that occurs when you move your head around and the cables rub against clothing- helped to improve sound quality. I used tiny binder clips to secure the cable and mic to my shirt. This worked wonderfully.
The next step up in audio is a decent lav or lapel mic. They range in price from a dirt cheap $12 up to hundreds of dollars. A $30 mic can perform really well. Make sure you get a dead cat muff or foam muff for it. I prefer the fuzzy dead cat muffs myself and use one on all my mics. I find that a foam muff seems to muffle my voice a bit and can still pick up wind.
The next step up is a dedicated podcasting mic. I can only speak to the mics that I own or have used and they range in price. I started out with a Zoom H1. This is a great mic if you want to record all the sound in a room, it’s omni directional, uses regular batteries but can be powered via USB and will record out and about on it’s own. It’s great for music and general audio but getting it set up to record a podcast is a PITA, in that it gets all the background noise, which means you pay for ease and portability with a lot of processing when you are done. Linked is the H1n, the new version of the old H1. If you search youtube there are a number of videos on splitting audio by using a lapel mic and headphone splitter. I’ve used a splitter with my H1 and it works great as a tiny recording studio.
The next step from this is something like the Samson Meteor, which is what my other podcast co-host used. (He now uses something much more expensive) Or something in the same range is the Blue Snowball or the Amazon ball mic.
So after you decide how and with what you are going to record, how do you edit? We use Audacity for RSVP. It’s free and works great. I use this instructional Google Doc for editing and lean toward minimal processing for the podcasts. On my phone I record and edit with the paid version of AudioLab. It lets me record, edit and splice in my intro audio for Manuscripting Pod. I wouldn’t use AudioLab for hour long podcasts, but it does well enough for stuff up to 20 minutes long.
No matter what you decide to record with, if you plan to travel with the mic, get a case. Mics are sensitive and expensive. If you toss it into your bag along with your pens, pencils, and drop it or toss it around it’s going to break. My H1 has a hard case I adapted from a tool. My AmazonBasics Yeti knock off doesn’t have a case because it doesn’t travel. My mini mic has a soft sided neoprene case that I added more foam to make it even more cushioned. The lav mics are in another soft sided case- one that was originally for a small camera. take care of the equipment and it’ll last a along time.
As part 2 of this post series, I figured I’d link to a few of the things I use to record audio and video. Your mileage may vary and you can adapt a great deal of the things you have around you for better audio and video.
My favorite lighting tool is daylight bulbs, at least 60w equivalent LEDs, preferably 100w. They light a good amount of space with a nice clean and cool light that looks good with my skin tone and gives my art true to life coloring. You might want to look at soft white bulbs as well, because you could look different under daylight bulbs. I pick up a 4-pack every time I am at the hardware store. My local wally world does not carry day light bulbs. Weird.
I use cheap clamp on aluminum reflectors also called shop lights. They are under $7 at my local wally world, but you can get a better and larger reflector at the hardware store for about $12. The $7 version at wally world are designed for a 60w incandescent bulb, they can usually handle the heat output of 60 watt LED. Think of your budget. You will need 2 of these plus the bulbs listed above. to soften the light you can use a couple of binder clips to attach a piece of vellum paper or other frosted plastic to the reflectors. This should only be done with LED- incandescent or other styles of bulbs get too hot for this.
I also have a pair of smaller desk style clip on lamps. These have a small reflector and I use them to light up my desk with a more focused light. These are great for when I’m shooting art making.
If you don’t have the cash to buy lamps, pull lamps from around your house and remove shades to see what happens.
Set up the lights and shoot selfies with lights on and off. Move lights around, tip them and lift them. Take more selfies. Seriously, selfies are going to help you figure out if you look good, washed out, greasy, or red in the face on camera.
A tripod. This might be the most essential piece of kit. You can get a cheap tripod or an expensive one. I favor cheap tripods because I can get more than one for the price of half an expensive one. If you can’t afford one, look into borrowing one or getting a broken one and duct taping legs or whatever in place. You can clamp lights onto the tripod, you want the lights slightly ahead of the camera so the camera doesn’t cash shadows. Checkout some of the videos I posted here to figure out more about lighting.
Once you have the tripod set your camera up on it and take more selfies as you move the lights, yourself and the tripod around. Test every set up.
A cell phone mount for said tripod. There are hundreds if not thousands of options here. I’ve got a stick on mount that works well enough. You can pick up a number of mounts for cheap.
Extension cords and a surge protector. You will always want more electrical outlets and you want to protect your camera, phone and other equipment from surges. I like the squid surge protector and this cone style. Also, you are going to want a few USB charging plugs and more USB cords (or lightning) than you think you need.
A set of spring clamps will be incredibly useful for containing cords, cables, and making sure that those clamp lights don’t move around. I pick up a hand full of them everytime I go to Harbor Freight.
Consider your background when you shoot video. If there are lights and they make your face go dark, shut them off. Or swap out a lower wattage bulb, sometimes a slight light in the background can help define you from your background. Also some light keeps you from looking like you are in a cave. If there is a window, pull the shade or turn so that the window does not back light you. If your background is super busy consider taking up or hanging up a blanket, sheet or curtain to minimize background distractions. If your background is busy consider getting a garment rack and using it to hold up a blanket or sheet. I find these for free all the time. The linked version is the cheapest, but for a bit more money you can get one on locking wheels.
Clearly a lot of this stuff are things you need to purchase if you don’t already have them, but you’d be surprised at how much of this stuff you can pull together from various and assorted items you already have around the house. Especially the lamps, cords, and cables. A sheet or blanket makes a great backdrop.
So all of that addresses lighting yourself for video. Next up audio.
One of the very difficult aspects of working from home is getting accustomed to using video conferencing tools or suddenly being thrust into making instructional videos for your students. It’s scary to do at first but with a little bit of help you can do it and do these things well. Lighting, audio, and video are all easy to do once you get past the initial learning curve. If you’ve been here awhile you know that for many years I made art instructional videos before i went back to school, and if you’re new you just learned something about me. So I’ve collected a few resources to help you shoot better video with better audio.
If you work for a larger organization- like a college, university or school, you may have access to cameras and mics. Ask your school’s technology office, IT Desk, or librarian where these are located.
Otherwise use some stuff you may have around- old cell phones make great web cams, and you can adapt cameras to work with your laptop with a few apps downloaded. This video from Tested has some great apps and programs linked. A big shocker is that the comments are unusually helpful with additional apps and resources. For the first time in my life I can say, “read the comments!”
While this next video suggests some pricey lighting options, it has a great section on lower end lav mics- those little lapel mics the folx on the news wear. As for lighting, you can pick up a few cheap reflectors from either of the evil massive companies (links to follow) with a few 60 watt LED daylight bulbs. Placing them around strategically will give you decent light for most of your needs.
You can also use an old cell phone combined with a lav mic to create a wireless solution for audio capturing. Plug the mic into the old phone and hit record. Syncing it with the video can be a pain, but it can be totally worth it for the improved audio.
If you follow me on twitter, you know I’m not a fan of Zoom, but many companies and schools use it. Do yourself a favor and look at how to lock down some of it’s more invasive qualities, then use this guide to get better sound. Yes, part of that is going to be getting a better mic. If you are creating any sort of content that you hope to use in the future, please invest in the $30 lav mic suggested above or the $12 below, or when available again, a podcasting mic. At the very least look at getting a new pair of earbuds or headphones that you aren’t going to bundle up and take everywhere. Don’t use your daily commuter beater headphones to record your audio content. I guarantee they will sound terrible.
Another dead simple and useful thing to create while you are doing online classes, is a teleprompter. There are many tutorials out there, but this one is kinda funny. You can use a piece of class or even plexi (yes it will work) and an app plus a smart phone or tablet. For android, you can look up the app Elegant Teleprompter.
This video looks at some of the settings on a camera that you can address to improve the quality of your video. It also suggests $12 lav mic that sounds great in his videos. The $100 price tag doesn’t account for the camera or lens. Combine some of his lighting and mic suggestions with the camera phone and your video and audio quality will jump.
I recently watched a Zoom training put out by an Ivy League school, the content was wonderful, but it was destroyed by poor production qualities. The presenter used old headphones and mic that didn’t pic up his voice well, his camera was terrible and the other presenters sat with their cameras pointed at windows or lamps. Not only could I barely hear the content, but the video was painful to look at. Additionally, the presenters had a great deal of difficulty using Zoom. I was glad that I had not paid for the presentation, because the production quality was that bad.
I suggest before starting video conferencing, walk around your space and take selfies, adjust lighting until you look good. Sit in the chair or in the location where you’ll be presenting and adjust the camera so that it is at least at eye level, or better yet slightly higher. I like 6 inches higher than my eye level. Remember, no one wants to look up your nose.
Look at your background, is it busy will it detract from your content? Consider moving things around, taking down art or photos. turn of the light behind you, draw the shade closed. Turn on a light in front of you to offset any background light. You do not want things so bright in your video that it hurts to look at your darkened face against a super bright background.
In terms of audio, test record. walk around with your phone, record audio and listen. How does it sound? Is there stuff in the background? echos? You can soften a lot of echoes and weird noises with the addition of curtains and hanging some soft things up. You can also place pillows behind and around the mic (if your using a larger podcasting mic that ins’t directional) to soften some echos. Turn off fans and AC units. Liberal use of mute will help qality when you aren’t talking.
There is no legal reason to not use any color of ink, but it’s a well worn bit of professional etiquette that blue and black inks are considered professional. A former boss at my DayJob insisted on us using black ink for everything. She attempted to tell us that it was for legal reasons, then it was because it’s professional. Finally, she insisted on black ink because blue does not photocopy well. Some blue inks do not photocopy well and if I’m going to use blue ink then I need to know which inks copy well.
I’m going to start this little experiment with the following caveat- I know some of the blue inks I’ve been using at work do not copy well on the small Canon copier we use for fast small batches of copies. We’ve nicknamed this copier “Big Bertha.” Why? I’m less likely to kick uit if it has a name. Well that’s not WHY but it’s a good reason. I’ve included these blues in this experiment for many reasons. Thus far I’ve written with 16 different inks and with one refill style twice, when it is new and once when it starts to skip. Most of these inks are gel, ballpoint, or rollerball. I have one fountain pen inked with blue, and that is included. I do not use a lot of blue inks in my fountain pens, but find myself adding more as I need to have a rotation of “professional” inks.
Experiment- test these pages in my pocket notebook on Bertha as well as the high volume machine on the other side of the building. Bertha tends to make worse prints while the high volume machine does much better. I’d also like to test it on the fax, but then I’d have to write everything out again on a flat sheet of paper. Oh well, next time. Each pen and ink will have the following phrase, “Blue inks for photocopies” followed by the name of the pen, color and size if known.
The copier used makes a huge difference in the quality of how blue inks photocopy. Big Bertha (Small canon copier) doesn’t do a good job at picking up the blue inks, many of the lighter shades barely show up. With the larger Xerox WorkStation most of the blue inks copied perfectly well. Only the lightest of the blue shades were pale in the copies made on the large Xerox machine.
The pens I would use for guaranteed copy success no matter the copier would be:
A fresh Monteverde blue refill with a medium tip
Zebra Sarasa medium in indigo
Uniball Signo 207 BLX in blue black
Papermate Inkjoy in Slate Blue or Blue
Medium tips seem to copy better than fine or extra fine even with the better copier. The line form the EF and F tips were fair with the better copier but not exceptional. Sadly for photocopy clarity, a medium point is needed.
There are a lot, and I do mean a lot of projects that people sign up to do online, from 30 Days of something to NaNoWriMo to 100 Days Projects. I have trouble completing any month-long projects that I sign up for let alone 100 Days projects. Yet here I am at 33 days into a 100 days project. I’ll surely have more pointers at the end of the project but let me share what I’ve learned so far.
Break the rules– The rules of 100 Day project state that you work on something every day for 100 days. I can’t do that and know I can’t. It’s not possible for me to work my DayJob and then come home and do something every night. I work late on Wednesdays and I know that I cannot work on my project on that day. So I double up on a day when I work late.
Don’t beat myself up. Because I know that I’m not going to be able to work on the 100 Days stuff on Wednesday night, I also allow myself to not work on 100 Days stuff when I’m stressed out or very tired. Because I’ve built in some flexibility I don’t beat myself up for taking off a needed night.
Accountability– Despite building flexibility in, I need to hold myself accountable for catching up on days when I can. This means that often times I’m doing double duty on Saturday and Sunday. I do 2 items on those days. Or try to. Go back to not beating myself up.
Thus far I’m very much enjoying the 100 Days Project. I’m learning a lot about watercolors- how the various colors respond in use and with one another on a variety of papers. I’m learning which of the colors granulates, how they merge with one another on the page as well as when mixed in a pan. Anyway, the 100 Days projects are a great way to learn about a material in depth, and it’s worth the effort. Just remember to be flexible and not to beat yourself up when you need to skip days, then catch up when you have time.
Zig Zag is a lovely podcast. I don’t get half of what they talk about but listening to the hosts explore what it is like to create a fresh business as women is amazing. David writes in and says some typical grousing about women laughing and being themselves and Manoush shuts that BS down. Sick burn, get David some ice for that buuuuuuuuuuuurn.