Category Archives: Inspiration

Week Links

In this week’s links I dive down a few rabbit holes.

Gelatin printing is the predecessor of the gelli printing plates. Linda Germain has a great blog and website dedicated to make plates out of gelatin. If you sign up for her newsletter you can get a very easy recipe for a partially plasticized version of the plate. That just means that the gelatin has been stabilized with glycerin and won’t grow mold the way just gelatin will.

I’ve been using Insight Timer to relax a bit here and there. It has free and paid options, and best of all the app has a nice little timer that uses different chimes instead of my phone’s horrible blaring alarm. There are loads of different folx doing the mindfulness and meditations so you can find a voice you like, versus getting stuck with voices you hate.

I love to look at drawings as much as I like making drawings. I discovered this guy via Austin Kleon’s blog.

 

State of the Art: Making it Work

A thing that happens a lot among artists is that we find a tool we like, use the hell out of it and realize that it doesn’t just work the way it is so we start to need to adapt our tools. This can be done simply with a knife or scissors. Or with the addition of layers of masking, electrical or duct tape. I often will use jelly silicone pencil grips to bulk up the grip of a pen.

A case in point is this little number I did to this Bic Gelocity. You know the one I reviewed over here. Well it is not a great pen, but it does make nice fine deep black lines, but wow is it uncomfortable. I slid a gel grip on hoping it would slide around easily but instead it’s a snug fit. I wedged it just above where the cap clips and used a pair of scissors to snip the cap off so it fits without needing to go over the now phat grip. The clip started to catch on the grip so snip snip, that went goodbye as well. I filed the sharp pieces of plastic down and now the Gelocity is more comfortable and not bad for sketching in a pocket notebook.

I’ve also removed clips that poke into the meat of my hand, bulked up pens with masking tape and made adaptive devices for other people with Crayola model magic.

I also have added a roll of fabric to the side of my mouse to adapt my grip to reduce stress. This is a temporary fix and I’ll eventually go back to a ball but for now, it works.

While I would hesitate to make a more expensive pen 100% mine, I wonder why? Why not take my Sarasa Grand and bulk up the grip with Sugru or Sculpey? Why not stretch and slide a silicone squishy grip on there?

I might raid my pen cup and play some more.

Maker: Writer Processes- Using Docs

A slightly different port today. If you’ve been reading for awhile you know that I write novels (4 years winning NaNoWriMo) and I’ve been using Google Docs for this since, well, what seems like forever. I adopted it early on as a way to work on the go and on my breaks at the DayJob, as well as for my thesis in graduate school. My work style has evolved as docs has evolved. Let me go over my current method then we’ll compare how other writers’ tools work in future posts.

Docs is primarily a place to churn out words, and it’s great for drafting large volumes of words especially if you are collaborating with others. Several self published authors I know use docs as their primary writing tool. In part because it’s free and available on all their devices. It also makes it easy to share with beta readers and editors.

Docs has offered an outlining tool that allows you to create an outline and add headings. The headings appear on an outline bar to the left of your work area. You can toggle this on and off as you are working. My current method is to outline in a doc as so: (I apologize for this not looking like the outline style in docs, it did not translate well to WordPress.)

  • Title of Piece
  • Chapter 1(This gets a description)
  • Scene 1 (one sentence description)
  • Scene 2
  • Chapter 2
  • Scene 1
  • Scene 2
  • And so on.
Outline

This is what it looks like in the writing area.

Outline on left bar.

This is what the outline looks like on the left bar of the page. It looks very much like a table of contents.

All of this appears in the sidebar as soon as I designate them with a heading style. This is easily accomplished with a quick highlight and select.

The side bar lets me navigate through my document quickly and easily. Say I want to work on scene 5 in chapter 10, well I can easily find that one the side bar and navigate to it. Or if I decide to change a character’s last name in chapter 3, and she’s not mentioned again until chapter 10 I can toggle to chapter 10 and leave myself a note, “Don’t forget Jane’s last name is now Dough not Doe.” I can highlight this or use a comment on the chapter title.

How has this worked in practice? Really well. It’s simple and brainless. While I didn’t plot my 2020 NaNoWriMo novel once I started and got an idea of the characters and setting, I plugged in chapter ideas and went back into the story and added in scenes and chapters as I needed them. It was very flexible. I wrote some of the scenes out of order and then cut and pasted them into the spaces where they needed to be. This was easily accomplished by toggling through the chapter and scene headings on the outline bar.

I use a similar method for the blog. I write a long list of the items I have for review, and turn each one into a heading:

  • AmazonBasics Mechanical Pencil
  • Wing Sung 601
  • Jinhao 51A

Super easy and this lets me quickly and easily toggle through my list of items and find them when it comes time to post them to the blog, then it’s a quick copy and paste.

I mentioned in a recent post that docs worked better than ever before for my NaNo win. In past wins I broke my novel up into 10 to 15K docs. After that loading took forever and it wouldn’t register as I typed, then an entire paragraph would slooooowwwwly load. It was enraging. I’d stop typing waiting for the doc to catch up with me. Loading the doc when I opened it would also take forever, the larger the doc the longer it would take. I remember waiting for one doc to load and it took a full five minutes! Not this year, even at 40k words the doc loaded quickly and kept up with my typing. It wasn’t until I hit 45k that I noted longer load times and any lag in what I had typed loading.

Some positives:

  • It’s free
  • Available anywhere I take my phone or have access to a computer with wifi.
  • Works well on all my devices, now that I have docs sideloaded onto my Kindle.
  • Outlining is fast and easy.
  • Load times and lag are better than ever before.
  • Many add ons to make it work better.
  • Super easy to just open up a doc and write.

Some Negatives:

  • Moving scenes and chapters is hard if you work out of order, cut and paste can leave you with missing work, create a copy before you cut and paste stuff!
  • Significant lag times at 50K or more words, even on high speed internet.
  • Add ons can slow the app way down.
  • No concentration/typewriter mode. (One of my favorite tools in JotterPad and Dabble.)
  • No dark mode.
  • Uses Google Drive storage and does not back up elsewhere, so if google deletes your account, well, you’re SOL.

Obviously this has worked for me thus far. When I mentioned the idea of “if it ain’t broke why try to fix it?” to a friend, she suggested that I might LIKE the ease of use of a few other apps and sites. That the ability to easily drag and drop a chapter like a file is worth learning a new process. I’ve requested review access to a few pieces of writing software and apps. Thus far the learning curve isn’t that high and they are easy to use. More on that in future reviews.

State of the Art: Writing Posts and Other Stuff

I’m surprised that I’ve never written about my digital writing tools on this blog. I’ll link to the tools and apps you’ll need to recreate my set up.

First I have a low end Lenovo laptop that I use as my main machine when I’m at home and at my desk. I had for a very long time a mid-level Asus that served me well for 7 or so years. The Lenovo is not even half the machine as the Asus. Given that most of my work is writing with some minimal image processing, which I largely do on my phone, the Lenovo has enough processing power for most of my needs. I’d enjoy being able to do a multicam video set up, but that can wait until later.

When I’m out of the house or even sitting in my reading nook, I use an Amazon Kindle Fire 7 inch (formerly an 8 inch.) The 8 inch has more processing speed and power over the 7 inch and if I had it to do over again I’d buy a second 8 inch instead of the 7inch. The 7 inch is the better machine for reading, so win some and lose some. 

I pair this with a bluetooth keyboard, mine is the no longer available AmazonBasic BT Keyboard for android devices. If I ever need to replace it I’ll go for this one. I have a nice thick heavy duty case for this keyboard. I used to just throw a previous version into the laptop pocket of my backpack. I killed it.

The results of this, even with the cases, is a nice portable set up that is very lightweight and can travel anywhere.

I have spoken about my philosophy of NEVER writing on my work computer and only ever on my breaks. This helps me stick to that philosophy. Even if I don’t have my tablet with me, I can pair that keyboard with my phone and work in an ultra lightweight manner. Using your work computer leaves you open to all sorts of legal issues. A friend of mine had many issues when he worked on his novel on his work computer. His job had many down periods and it was a common occurrence, and accepted practice, for employees to work on school work and other nonwork related things when on the clock. But his bosses didn’t seem to think that working on a novel in those down times was okay. When he left the company it was very unpleasant and they made noise about coming after his novel and money made from it.

Anyway. To make the Kindle fire a good tool for writing you need to sideload the Google Play store, Drive and Docs. I also use the app JotterPad on my Kindle Fire. Sadly, JotterPad isn’t available for my laptop or I’d use it there as well. They do have an online version which does not seem like it is able to link to my account. JotterPad syncs across the cloud and saves to DropBox or Docs. They’ve integrated a lot of new features which you can learn about in app and on their website. I don’t use them YET, but might double down and more out of the minimal paid version of the app I’ve been using for years at ths point. Docs also syncs everywhere faster than anything else I’ve used.

In the years I’ve been using Docs as my main location for drafting, it has gotten leaps and bounds better. In the past my novels needed to be broken up into 10k word lumps, compiled into one final dreaft at the end for speed of loading and processing. In the past, loading took forever on any speed of the internet. Currently I’ve drafted my entire 50k nano novel into one single doc and while it takes a moment to load, it no longer takes 3 or 4 minutes, simply 30 seconds at most. Even on my older Android phone it is faster than ever before.

Anyway, once you have sideloaded the Play store you can load other drafting apps to the Fire, and use it to read. For me it has become an all in one machine I take with me everywhere. Battery life with BT is an issue, but a small portable battery pack solves that issue much of time. I have 2 that will fully charge the Kindle twice before needing to be recharged. No links to either since I have no idea of their brand or where my partner sourced them. I inherited them after she broke them and I repaired them.*

I will note that I do not have ANY social media on the Fire. I’ve disabled Alexa and eliminated pretty much everything but the reading apps, a couple of music apps, a Pomodoro timer, and the writing apps. I’m pretty weak willed when it comes to distractions and eliminating the ability to easily scroll over to FB or Insta keeps me on track. Continue reading

Maker: Pencil Sharpeners in Jars

A friend of the blog (Lisa S.) sent me a cute little Zebra pencil sharpener in a glass jar. It wasn’t working well and she wondered if I could fix it. Well, yes and no. The lid was cracked and the sharpener was a short point.

I tossed the lid and pulled the screws from the sharpener. I then rooted around my recycle bin and found a lid that fit the cute glass jar. I then drilled out a hole with a step bit. I then attached a fresh new Apsara Long Point sharpener that I had hacked. I added 2 screws to hold it in place. Perfect.

This got me thinking, could I attach a sharpener in other small glass jars in my recycling bin? Or other jars?

The answer is yes. I pulled a bunch of tiny jars and drilled out holes in the lids. Then I glued in the sharpeners and added screws for additional durability. The little sharpener jars make me so happy. I’ve also attached the sharpeners to the lids of an espresso take out cup.

I ordered another box of apsara long point sharpeners and a box of tiny screws to make these. I’m having a lot of fun. Now I need to find an assortment of small glass jars.

Week Links

Johnny has again, encapsulated my feelings about the tool being tools. 

This podcast is recordings of things, they call it field recordings. Loosely people stand in a field and record the noise, except it’s not all fields. One of the most recent is a recording of a train going by the recorder. Neat. Field Recordings.

I haven’t mentioned it recently, but MyNoise is a KILLER website where the owner of said site records and makes background noise. Maybe you really want to go to a café and work, but you know Covid. Big sigh. MyNoise can make it sound like you’re in a café, or sitting next to a river, on the beach, in a dungeon (no judgement) or even taking a walk through the woods. It’s a donation based site and everyone who likes it should use it and pass the guy who makes it a few coins. I mention the café noises because I brewed myself a coffee put the café noise on in the background along with some Tangerine Dream and worked on my NaNo novel and it was ALMOST like being in the café.

 

 

State of the Art: Making the Zine

Making a zine is usually a pretty easy endeavor. You write up the contents, do your layout and print and bind. And most of the time it goes smoothly.

Not this time. I’m not sure what happened to my head when I was collating the covers and sheaf of paper that makes the single signature of the pages, but in half of the zines I bound (60!) I reversed the sheaf, so the first page was 9 and page 1 and 16 were in the middle of the book. UGH. I didn’t notice until I had stapled all of them and folded half the zines that I’d already stapled.

I pulled 120 staples with a pair of needle nose pliers. I use a jig to staple so I was easily able to get most of the staples in the original holes.

Mostly this was annoying because it added about 45 minutes of work and a fair amount of aggravation that I hadn’t checked to be sure the sheaf were aligned properly. Lesson learned, the next zine will get double and tripled checked before stapling.

Also, you can get the latest copy of Useful Journaling on my Ko-Fi page here.

Review: Pencil Revolution The Zine

I love zines. I’ve loved them for years and years. I’ve made many of my own and collected a lot of them. Sadly I’ve lost the couple of hundred that I had collected. So when Johnny of Pencil revolution, the blog told me he was starting a zine, I got excited. I had no idea what he had planned, but I knew it would be good. You see, Johnny can write, and it is always a joy to read a zine written by someone with a grasp of language and a true joy of their subject matter.

Johnny did not disappoint. His physical manifestation of Pencil Revolution is both precious and informative. He’s made a tiny little zine so packed with pencil history I’m not sure how it can be held in such a tiny package. He uses a single sheet book format that folds up into a sweet little pocket sized book. It would even fit into the pocket of a pocket sized moleskine!

The first 4 issues are all about the history of pencils. With any other writer you might find this dry or boring, but Johnny’s writing style pulls you in and holds your attention. Which I might say, can be really difficult when writing about the history of pencils. (Ahem, looking at other histories of pencils.) He’s clear, conversational, and a bit funny. If you enjoy Pencil Revolution the blog you’ll love Pencil Revolution the Zine, plus it’s inexpensive!

Week o’ Links

One of the many things I left behind when I stopped blogging as much was my link love posts. Since I’ve been doing more reading of blogs (yay for more time?) I have stuff I want to share again. Don’t expect this to be regular, nah week links will be totally irregular.
I was on Erasable having a conversation about NaNoWriMo with Johnny of Pencil Revolution and Harry of Home Work and other goodies. It was a great conversation.

Brad of a little podcast called The Pen Addict mentioned Useful Journaling, Pencil Revolution, and The Word Distro on his podcast. Awesome, everyone should read zines, especially mine, and Johnny’s and Ed’s.

I’ve been reading about bookbinding again. When did I ever stop? Alisa Golden <3 posted this single sheet binding technique that makes me think about zine possibilities… Just sayin’. Also, a snake book, a pretty common structure that I’ve seen again and again in many books. Here’s a nice art journal format.

The Comp book reviews keep pulling folx over to using the finest cheapest of stationery goods- the composition book. The Write Experience has the right experience with a classic- the Pen+Gear composition notebook all the way up in Canada.

 

On Making Things: Return to Roots

If you’ve been reading CSS for more than the last few years, you realize this blog didn’t start out as a review site. I started out blogging about a break up and my attempts to find my footing in my new single life. It quickly morphed into an exploration of art, journaling, and bookbinding. Soon the old title of the blog no longer fit and I chose Comfortable Shoes Studio as an homage to a gag project I’d made in college. I moved my blogging to CSS and the transition was easy.

Here I started to write about my art and other projects. I was open about sales, ranted about eBay and PayPal fees increasing and all the other issues that occurred with being an artist and craftsperson online. Through all of it I was open and transparent about the business side of things and about the process of making art and art journaling.

Reviews were (are) a side effect of making art and writing. I did product reviews because I was making art and using the materials and readers had questions.

Then life got complicated. Work got complicated. I went back to school. I changed jobs, a couple of times. I made less art, but I had a lifetime of using art materials and could write reviews with much less effort than writing about making art, which I was making less and less of. As for bookbinding? I do less of that than ever because my wrists and hands ache after a binding session, the act  of pulling a needle through paper and board causes pain like no other. So I just don’t do as much of it as I used to, it hurts too much, and if I’m honest, it hurts a lot to think about not being able to bind like I once did.

I’ve gone back and looked at some of my old posts, posts where I’ve “shown my work” when it comes to art, zines, and the business of art. Now that I’m in a more stable place in my life I hope to reclaim some of my writing about more than just reviews.

I wanted to write a bit about the creation of Useful Journaling. While it is a culmination of a lifetime of journaling, it is also about teaching myself how to paginate and do layout for printing and binding. In the past I have always done my layout with a physical original. I’d cut and trim things to a paper copy and make a first really good copy of that which I’d print from. I really like the physical aspect of making a paper original copy. There is something really nice about sitting down with a glue stick and craft knife and making that first original. 

I like learning things, I saw learning how to do layout on the computer as a challenge. And wow is it. I hate and love it. I love how clean it can make the flow of words from page to page. I write all the zine in one doc and cut and paste it into Publisher* and it just flows through the document. Easy. I then add in the various elements I’d use glue and scissors for a physical copy but instead I photograph them and crop in the computer. It’s similar skills but all in the computer. It was a challenge to learn how to bring it into the computer but I know I can also make a physical original which I can scan and turn into a PDF and print from that.

Another challenge is printing. I really like the idea of a color laser printer for the cover and inserts. But WOW are they a total pain in the ass. Of course the one I was gifted is old and I needed to order new parts and do a thorough deep clean, but it hates printing on smooth cardstock. HATES it. So future issues will use coverstock, which means I can possibly add 4 more pages.

Which brings me to another thought out aspect of UJ, the size. I wanted the zine to fit into the pocket of an A5 notebook, so it had to be pocket notebook size or a quarter sheet of US letter sized paper. I also wanted it to ship for the cost of one US stamp in the US, even if I added extras (and I did) so I went with pocket notebook size. The number of pages was determined by weight, I knew if I went with 16 pages I’d stay below an ounce for that single stamp. The hard part is that I WANT to make it longer. I want to pack in the content. I also wanted to keep the font large enough that it could be easily read. I get frustrated with zine with font sizes that are too small to easily read.

Anyway, I’ll be chronicling more of my art adventures here, but still be writing product reviews, just less of them.
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