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» Maps

Progress Report

May 4th, 2012

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I can explain.

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Yesterday, as the jubilant chirps and tweets of starlings heralded the springtime, in the silence of my room I was doing some tweeting of a different nature.

I’m working on a landscape painting, and tweeting updates as I go. I did this one time before. As much as I like to be private in my work, this kind of exposure can be invigorating. It’s great to receive suggestions and encouragement, especially when they come from talented artists.

I am trying out some new techniques. In the past, I’ve often started drawing with a thick, heavy line right off the bat. I make a big mess and do a lot of erasing as I go. Sort of like “sculpting” the image. Often, I’ve let the messy process show through in the finished work. I always liked this because … well, I guess it speaks to the truth of art making, and of life, as a messy struggle. The painting arrives to dinner with sweat on its brow and its sleeve ripped at the shoulder. “Wow,” you say, “what happened to you? Are you okay? Can I get you some water?” “I’m fine,” the painting replies. “Now let’s eat.”

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Travel by Eyeball

February 27th, 2012

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Zelda Landscape in Progress

February 25th, 2012

Ever since playing through the latest Zelda adventure back in November, I’ve been brimming with conflicted feelings. My frustrated devotion to the Zelda franchise has perhaps never been more acute, never more debilitating. Leave it to Tevis Thompson to describe what’s going on inside my exhausted brain, in his essay which you should read, Saving Zelda.

Reading that made me more determined than ever to convert my unhealthy fixation into some kind of creative output. So here is a painting, still in progress in the final image below, which attempts to capture what I love best about Zelda. The good part of Zelda. Zelda as it should be.

(Some relevant nouns: openness, exploration, autonomy, mystery, challenge, continuity.)

Here’s a slightly higher res version of the latest draft.

To make things interesting, I’ve been tweeting updates as the painting develops. I like the attention and it’s fun to hear from people who are also crazy about this stuff. It’s good motivation to keep going. Next, I’m adding color. If you want to follow along, follow me on Twitter.

(A while back I wrote a blog entry called Zelda Games Petty, Domineering, which details a disturbing incident.)

It’s been about a month since the last maps update. I’ve made incremental progress, but from here on it’s the sort of thing you’ll mostly need to zoom in to see. To be honest, this project has been mostly sidelined by a new work opportunity that arose unexpectedly. (More info on that in time…)

Here’s a zoomed-out view of the whole thing.

Might as well say now: my intention is to sell these maps as posters, along with Braid-related images and my old comics. Back when I was doing A Lesson Is Learned with Dale Beran, we sold prints of those comics. I printed, packaged and shipped each one myself. As much fun as it was to share the work with an audience in a physical way, it ate up a lot of time and we didn’t charge enough to make a worthwhile profit. So I’ve been looking for another way to do this.

At the moment, my favorite option is imagekind, literally the CafePress of art. You create an account, upload your art files, set your profit margin by percentage or flat amount (the base price is predetermined), and prints are made on demand. I’ve ordered their sample booklet and the prints are high quality. One of the paper options is the same as what I used to print myself from home (Epson Photo Luster). They even print on canvas.

On the plus side, I can offer a range of images and see what people like without incurring any up-front risk on a big order. Over time, I could even offer the entire back catalog of A Lesson Is Learned. (Each image requires some preparation, so this would not happen instantly.) So it allows a lot of choice for customers.

Also, because everything is handled by imagekind, I don’t have to do anything! I can keep my hands alien-smooth and customers can expect quick turn-around.

On the minus side, artists don’t have great control over what kinds of prints they offer and how they set their prices. Imagekind offers a dizzying range of paper options, and there’s no way to limit that. Maybe that’s a good thing for certain customers, but I’m a little concerned it could be confusing and deter some. (I’ll probably just indicate my recommendation and people can make up their own minds.)

Another issue is pricing. Each type of paper has its own base price, and I determine the markup (either as a percentage or a flat sum). The markup is controlled per image, not by paper/size. This makes it tricky to not charge too little or too much at one end of the paper spectrum. So the prices will probably seem a little high at the lowest end, and a little bit cheap at the highest end.

However, from a customer’s viewpoint, if you keep in mind that these are not cheapo things that you want to stick to your bedroom wall with rolls of Scotch tape, but really high quality archival art prints that you can frame, the prices will be reasonable.

Because I’m still mulling this over, I thought I’d share this with you in case you have any knowledge to share.

  • Anybody have experience with imagekind?
  • Know of any good alternatives to imagekind?
  • What images would you personally consider purchasing? (Braid, A Lesson Is Learned, maps, other)
  • What size print would you ideally want? (imagekind prints up to 60×60″!)
  • What is the most you are willing to pay for timeless beauty?


(By the way, some people have asked for wallpaper images for the puzzle paintings Tim assembles in Braid. I don’t plan to offer these as posters. The main reason, which may or may not amuse anyone, is that some things really belong in a certain context. Those images were made to exist in the game, and derive their meaning from that context. They are rewards for thinking through Braid’s challenges. I don’t think they are as good outside of the game. Also I don’t want to contribute to de-mystification of things that are better when you earn them. To the small extent of my influence, I don’t want those images out there to be seen by people who haven’t yet played the game. The secondary reason, also known as the convenient technical problem, is that they were painted at a resolution too low for printing. Sorry to those who’ve requested these!)

Complete Second Pass

June 3rd, 2009

Lots more changes (click to enlarge). I’ve done a second pass over most of the surface, now. Below you can see the changes isolated from the original draft:

As a reminder, here’s what it looked like before all this:

In some areas, adding detail happens naturally or invisibly, but just as often, the increased detail disrupts whatever was making the image good in its earlier state. For example, the mountainous region on the left side changed a lot between the two versions. I couldn’t just add detail to the rough, because it wasn’t a framework to build on; it was more like a rhythmic notation. I tried to sustain that rhythm while doing a new painting to replace the one disappearing beneath it. Sometimes, though, the rhythm doesn’t translate, and I just have to come up with something different.

Every so often I’ll mess around with the settings to prevent my understanding of an image to cement too much before it’s finished. In this version, I adjusted the Hue by +15 and the Saturation by +20. Even though I like slightly weird colors, somehow this just immediately looks so much more “right.” But sudden changes can dazzle the senses and confuse judgment. A change like this is a pretty significant disruption; color relationships are not equal around the color wheel, so an across-the-board hue shift does not produce a structurally analogous revision. The dynamics change. What do you think of this version? I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.

Here’s a close-up at 25% scale. I want this to be a lot more detailed, with smaller objects, houses and other things. In a thumbnail like the ones above, the image kind of looks done, but I want it to stand up to much closer scrutiny. You should be able to visit these places, discovering secrets as your eye roams.

The first thing I did after Friday’s draft was open up the good old Hue/Saturation panel and offset the hue about 40 points. That made the green fields yellow, the blue sea green, and the brownish mountains beet red. Kinda weird, but it made it all fresh to my eye again. Besides, it’s good to intercept one’s habits with a bit of chaos sometimes. (Click to enlarge.)

After just a little more painting, and lasso-assisted hue adjustments on specific areas, I was ready to pull the file into Corel Painter 11, where I planned to do the bulk of the work.

I’ve been meaning to learn Corel for a long time. It’s known for producing much more nuanced and convincing imitations of real-world media. I want these maps to look good printed out, potentially even at large sizes, so the fine-grain texture of the image will be important. (It mattered less in Braid, for example, because even the XBOX 360, with its awe-inspiring high definition power, has a forgiving level of pixellation. I drew all the Braid graphics at 2 times the size they would appear in the game, further ensuring through reduction that the unsightly fake-looking texture of Photoshop painting would not offend.)

Here is a detail of an area being worked over in Corel. (Click it for an actual 100% scale version). You can clearly see the difference between the big fuzzy Photoshop brush strokes on the left, and the Corel strokes on the right, which even simulate an impasto effect, with light appearing to reflect off the grooves laid by individual bristles. It’s a little bit odd looking, which might be inevitable, but keep in mind I’m just learning the ins-and-outs of the program.

Unfortunately, Corel is letting me down in some serious ways. First of all, it choked badly on this large file (12000 x 6000 pixels). Photoshop handles it just fine, but in Corel, every time I’d zoom in or out, I’d get the pinwheel thing (OS X’s way of saying “I’m doing everything I can at the moment”). I was even getting it while painting, every four minutes or so. Right in the middle of painting, suddenly my strokes would not be appearing, and then I’d notice the pinwheel spinning, and I’d just watch it spin for 20 seconds, until I was allowed to resume.

Other aspects of the interface are disappointing as well. It just seems like I have to wait a lot, for various things. I’ve recently been working with Adobe Premier and After Effects on some fairly intensive video stuff, but even when those programs were chewing on a lot, I didn’t have the responsiveness problems I’ve been having with Corel. The most baffling was the brush-selection menu, which when I clicked it, simply flickered open and closed again immediately. I tried just hovering over it, but that didn’t work. Then, sometimes I would click it and it would open and everything would be fine. It just seemed buggy.

But fundamentally, not being able to zoom in and out, or even draw continuously for five minutes with interruption, were deal-breakers. I want to learn how to use Corel effectively, but I realized that for this painting, at this stage of the process, it does not appear to be viable. Maybe later, when the map is more defined, I can break the image up into sections and work on them in Corel individually, before re-assembling them in Photoshop.

I am surprised, though, that a professional-grade tool like Corel Painter does not seem capable of handling large files. How are you supposed to create pieces to print?

Advice from Corel veterans would be very welcome!

Back in Photoshop, the work instantly went much faster. Just inventing these little spaces, deciding where the walls go, the shape of a plateau, etc., is so much fun. I realize looking at it now that it looks a little bit barren from one perspective, but I just like thinking about the spaces themselves. There’s already some kind of story happening here, in the relationships of various spaces to each other.

And here is the full image of the current draft. (Click to enlarge.)

It’s always fun for me to look back at drafts along the way to a finished product. I’ve written before about the sometimes winding processes of making Braid or A Lesson Is Learned, but I’ve never shared a work in progress like this. It’s mainly to keep me accountable, and keep me moving. Thank you for your comments and especially for the links to other maps in the same “genre.” They’ve been added to my collection. I need to know what else is out there — partly to be inspired, but more importantly, to ensure that this series eventually departs from anything that’s been done before.