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For the past few years I've been studying tai-chi.  If you're unfamiliar with tai-chi, it's basically kung-fu in slow-motion.   The general idea is that by slowing down your motion, you have the time to explore every moment of a movement.  Feel the balance of your weight, the roundness of your motion, the connection through your entire body.    

For me, it was also about the exercise of just plain learning to slow down.   I have a lot of interests.  Software and electrical engineering, art, animation, guitar, flute, and martial arts, just to name a few.   Learning to take that time to slow down and really be in the moment of what I am doing instead of rushing to the next shiny thing seemed like a very valuable lesson.   In doing so, I learned more than I expected.

I've always liked to take ideas from one thing I'm studying and try to apply them to another thing I am studying.  If nothing else, it helps give me a fresh perspective on both things and I imagine at least that this helps me learn more things faster.

Practicing music, it turns out, is very much like practicing tai-chi.   It can be broken down the same way.  Play through the piece at half or a quarter the tempo it should be played at for performance.  Find the phrases in it and break it down into what you can easily memorize.   In the opposite direction, using a metronome is sometimes an interesting exercise.  I can use it to see just how smoothly I can move through a set; use it to try the set at various speeds and figure out where I start to lose the level of awareness I want.

There was more hiding in there though.   After I'd been doing tai-chi for a while, I began applying the form to my method of playing itself.  Taking a bow stance when playing guitar, I'm now using my hip or abdomen more to hold the guitar, relieving weight from the shoulder strap.  This change lets me hold the instrument stable without using my hands as much so they are freed to just _play_ instead of play and hold the instrument.    I've also started to think about form as I play.  In a sense, I now play with my feet rather than my fingers.  By keeping a strong connection through my body from the ground up through and out to my fingertips, I can the muscles of my legs, abdomen, sides, and upper arms to move around the fretboard far more quickly than I could before and for much longer periods of time.  By keeping good form through my whole body I am no longer cramping and stressing joints needlessly.  The same is true for flute.  A good stance gives my better diaphragm control.   A strong rounded form supporting the flute lets me move more freely and clasp it more lightly, freeing the body to resonate more fully.   And as with tai-chi itself, by focusing on these things as I play slowly, then when I speed them up to perform them, they happen automatically.  The improvements are really striking.

The same of course is true for drawing.  I mentioned music first because it's a little easier to see the overlap. If, like me, you've read 'how to art' books, you'll recognize the statement "Draw with your arm not your wrist" echoed in some form or another in nearly every single book.    They're right and what they are talking about is this same kind of use-your-whole-body motion.  It takes some getting used to but it results in much greater fluidity and control.  

If you've worked with 3D animation, here's an easy way to think of it:  By default we tend to think in IK (Inverse kinematics)  'Move hand to table'.   Tai-chi is basically learning to think in FK (forward kinematics).   Shift weight on legs, rotate at waist, let reaching shoulder drop and opposing rise slightly.  Extend through the arm, hand arrives at table.    It _SOUNDS_ a lot more complex but the truth is, your brain is doing all of that internally anyhow because you have joint constraints and you don't want to topple over so your brain is computing a path based on feedback from sensory input and then making some quick calculations to keep everything going the way you want it.   By retraining your body to move from the root to the end you are building greater trust with your body to get you where you want to go and that allows you more space to make the fine adjustments at the end of the chain to get the precise details you want.  

For the past week I've been experimenting with drawing standing instead of sitting so that, like guitar and flute, I can use more of my body in my work.    Regrettably my animation desk isn't quite tall enough for this to work.  Work on a easel has been more successful.  Going to have to see if I can make my desk taller.

I could go on about this quite a bit longer but I'll draw to a close with one last note about cross application.   Taking breaks is good!   In the past when I tried to learn or refine knowledge of something, the method I took was basically like cramming 'MUST LEARN ALL THING NOW!'.   It isn't very effective.   Taking the time to slow down and break things down and think about them in many different ways forms a much stronger set of neural paths.   You are in effect, strengthening your root and that gives you much more power to draw from when you are applying what you are studying.    Becoming more in tune with your body and using it more fully also seems to be a good way to reduce the odds of repetitive stress problems.
  • Listening to: windchimes
I decided I was past due for an upgrade from the antique Cintiq 15X I had to something a bit more modern.   I probably could have lived with the 1024x768 resolution but the color calibration and lack of levels of pen sensitivity and tilt was killing me.

I'd been worried that 13" diagonal would be a bit small for the way I like to draw but Wacom only offers 13, 22, and 24.  The later two are too large for my space and much heavier and clunkier than the 13 and I like the idea of being able to put it on my lap and draw like a sketchbook so the 13 seemed like the best of the options available though something more like 17 would really have been ideal.

At any rate, I've been using the 13HD for a few days now and  I'm not disappointed exactly but it has made me sad in a few ways.   First and foremost, the driver for the 13HD replaces the driver for the 15X _AND_ my Intous 2.   While the 15X isn't a great loss, the Intuos is.   I used it as both mouse and tablet for those times I didn't want to draw on the Cintiq.   I can't even rush out and replace the Intuos as it appears Wacom no longer supports a mouse on the newer Intuos so I'm just kind of F***ed there.

I'm also not too happy with the proprietary cable.   The way it juts off the side means that you are actually quite limited in the orientations you can hold the tablet in when drawing on your lap and you're likely to damage the expensive connector.

It also lacks any kind of alternative mount points on the back, meaning in my case that mounting it on my animation desk is a hassle and similarly if you wanted to make an interactive stationary piece of some sort with it, you might have difficulty keeping it from walking off.

And then there's the plastic screen which I feel that even the wacom pen nibs are likely to scratch eventually.

Finally...  Let's not mention the price...

TL;DR:

Pros:
------
Much better color than 15X
Vastly better contrast than 15X
Better resolution than 15X
Pen is responsive and smooth and vastly better than 15X.
Lightweight and a good working area.
User Definable buttons are nice.

Cons:
--------
Disables older Wacom products on system and provides no clean upgrade path to replace them.
Plastic screen feels likely to be damaged.
Cable connector awkward, poorly thought out.
HDMI.   Why?   Adapter is an added cost.
No anchor points on back.
Heinously overpriced.
Thought this was interesting for a drawing reference exercise.  fstoppers.com/the-average-face…
I was recently given an old Cintiq 15x sans pen and cables.    I'll make a separate post on cables shortly. But since it took me a few hours of searching, I thought I'd condense this and post it and hopefully save someone else some time.  The 15x and the 18SX can use the same pens per all info I found.  I'll be referring to the 15x as it is the only one I tested.

The Bad News:
*The Cintiq 15X pen and all compatible pens are discontinued.
*The Grapphire and Intuos pens do NOT work with the 15x.

The Good News:
*After a lot of searching.  Wacom-asia has a compatibility chart here:  www.wacom-asia.com/aptky/607/p…
** In case that goes away, the pertinent info is that all PenPartner and UltraPen wacom pens should work.    These are pens that begin with the model number UP-###E
** For search purposes, you want:  PenPartner, UltraPen, UD Series, PL-300, PL-400, Cintiq 15x, Cintiq 18x  

On ebay I wasn't able to find a 'Cintiq' pen for less than $130 + shipping.   However, I found a UP-719EA-00A-1 for $25.    You can also be clever and note that the completely obsolete Wacom Digitizer and Digitizer II tables use the early UP series pens and those can be had on ebay with pen for less than $20.    I saw some listed as little as $1 but didn't feel like waiting for an auction to get a pen.

** NON-WACOM pens:    I have not tried these but I found many people claiming that pens for Tablet PCs would work.   The favorite among the people who'd tried them was the Axiotron Modbook pen.   However, like the wacom pens, this too is discontinued and while they were in the $10-$25 range 2 years ago, the only ones I saw for sale were closer to $100.

So if you've lost your pen, exhale!  You're not completely SOL yet. :)

I am mirroring this post on Wordpress to up the signal.

Coming soon:   Cintiq 15x USB to Mini-din wiring schematic and replacement power supplies and a DIY instructable for mounting a Cintiq 15X in an animation desk. ;)
Friday before last I was given an old Cintiq 15x (PL-550) The catch of course being that it had none of the cables, power supply, or stylus. I am however good at scrounging.

The Easter Egg Hunt

Power supply was easy. Match up voltages and pins. Done.
Funky USB-to-minidin cable. A little more tricky but eventually I found a webpage of the pin-outs and we have lots of old S-Video and USB cables.
Pen. This was the real challenge. Wacom discontinued production of all compatible pens years ago. Ebay sellers know this and are selling the pens they have for $100+ (Note: You can buy the tablet WITH pen for around $350 off ebay)

I eventually found a compatibility page at www.wacom-asia.com/aptky/607/p… plus some web pages that said any UP model wacom pen (the pen that came with the early Wacom Digitizer and Digitizer II) would work. Also Axiotron Modbook pens and other pens aimed at that class of tablet PC. That brought the pen cost down to a much more manageable $25. The pen arrived yesterday and I did my first sketches.

First Impressions

The hardware: Everything about this device really feels dated. Calibrating the LCD was nearly pointless. The color is muddy and completely washes out if you adjust the brightness/contrast very far. The pen is only 512 levels of pressure (vs modern wacoms which are 2048) Resolution is 1024x768 which is alright. The 15" diagonal work area is actually pretty nice for the way I draw but the 2" in every direction border makes it a bit unwieldy. As does the weight (over 10lbs) ... and the cables (DVI, USB, and power) make a thick coil of snakes. There's apparently a 13" HD version coming out next week that solves most of these issues for a mere $1K. My birthday is like 3 weeks off if there happen to be any wealthy benefactors nearby... ;)

Anyhow: On to using it! OMG I really enjoy it! Despite the unwieldy weight and being jabbed with the stand and it being about 95F on the surface and the low brightness and muddy color. None of that can take away from being able to turn the thing at an off angle and draw a smooth curve. I only had time for some quick work last night but it was approximately 3-4x faster than drawing with a tablet for me and my line work felt much more smooth and natural.

Next Steps

I'm going to remove it from its stand and make some framing pieces so that I can mount it in my animation desk in place of a standard disk. That should solve the awkwardness and weight issues and let me maximize my drawing.
Honestly, I know there are colors other than green and purple.

One of these days I may try using them.
Side note:  I find it frustrating that things that interest me don't maintain themselves without conscious effort on my part.  Like dreams for instance.  If I put effort into it, I remember pieces of dreams but the moment I stop mentally prepping myself to dream before bed each night, it just disappears and I get nothing at night.   This seems to be the pattern for a lot of things in my life.  If I'm not actively studying and pushing on them, they rapidly decay and vanish.

Side note 2:  I REALLY need to learn how to remember people's names and associate them with faces.   This is a serious handicap for me that I have to learn to overcome.

Last night, I intended to dream.  I did.   I was looking for something.  Some piece of something for some art project.  Perhaps I was just seeking inspiration.  That was my goal when I went to bed.

Someone in the Other told me they knew a person that might have it.  I rode a bus through a city of winding cobblestone streets and twisted decrepit buildings until we stopped in sort of a cul du sac with ruined buildings on the left and a view over a bay straight ahead and a sort of run-down old hotel or mall on the right.   

There were a couple of rough-looking people out front.  A man and a woman.  Old, weathered, looked like they lived on the streets and drank a lot.  The woman was wearing a badly worn wedding dress, the man a tattered tux.  It triggered all my ingrained little fears about 'those people' but they welcomed me like an old friends and invited me inside.   I felt ashamed of my fears.  I think they owned the place or at least ran it.  They told me their names but I promptly forgot.

Inside, we were on an elevated walk looking down into a large open room that had various people doing stuff.   Drawing, chatting, sewing, juggling, practicing fire dance.  The interior was kind of like a victorian era building, somewhat decrepit with carved features.  Mostly cream and off yellow colors.  I think some of the columns were white at one time, there was some wallpaper on at least one wall in a sort of diamond print.

It was a bit like a burning man event but not 'an event'.  The air of it being a special occasion wasn't there.  This was where these people lived every day.    I felt awkward.  I felt like I didn't belong.  Where it hit me was that I had a 'regular job' and these people were virtually homeless but they were somehow more 'real' than me.  I felt like a fake.

A kind of handsome vaguely hispanic guy, no shirt, dark brown knee-length pants got up from a couch where he was working and came around the left side and up some stairs I didn't see.   He'd been making a brown knotted wide-brimmed hat.  He put it on my head and said, "Welcome!" to me, gave me a hug and then disappeared down a hallway.   I was very thankful.  I'm past due for a haircut and my hair is faded and ratty.

Some of the other people below waved to me and told me their names (which I again forgot :( ) and invited me down.

A first, I didn't see the way the guy had come up so I kind of wandered around and then found a gradual slope that went down to the main room on the right.

A couple of guys sitting on a couch invited me over to sit with them.  I sat down between them.   They introduced themselves.  One of them had said his name just a few minutes before when I was above.  I tried to remember his name.  I almost had it but it slipped.   He was thin, wiry-muscled with a neatly trimmed goatee.  Dark brown or black hair.  He sat on my left and smelled a bit of olives and turpentine.  

On my right, the other guy was large with rolls of fat but not obese.  It oddly suited him.   Kind of baby faced but with sallow cheeks and a strange sort of smile.  Now that I think about it, he only passingly resembled human at all.  He smelt stale but not oppressive.  Like old tea and a bit of mustiness.

I was about to tell them what I was looking for but I had some shallow ego need to try to prove that I belonged there and my sketchbook was in my hand so I told them I drew.  They were both excited by this and wanted to see.  They also both had sketchbooks of their own and presented them to me.  I handed mine to the thin man on the right, now suddenly feeling awkward because I instantly knew their work would be leagues better than mine.

In the fat man's sketchbook, every page had a fully rendered image in it.  They were a strange style.  People with rounded rectangular body forms.   Sort of a stylized grotesque. A little cartoony with a strong graphic element.  It was really visually compelling stuff.  Some of it was sublimely funny or uncomfortably odd.   It wasn't a style I would have said I 'liked' but it was definitely quite interesting and in the back of my head, there were some ideas that I wanted to steal.  Particularly one about a unicorn man.

The thin man's sketchbook was sketchier with lightly drawn lines showing transparent layers of things that resembled violins.  Almost like technical drawings.   They weren't as visually captivating as the fat man's but they appealed more to the technical side of my brain that was trying to understand the forms in 3D space and visualize how they were constructed and all of the work that went into them.

I just began to talk with them about their respective works when the alarm went off.  *sigh*   This is the way with most of the dreams I've manufactured. They always terminate just at the story is beginning.    I suspect I must dream only in the seconds before I become fully conscious. :/

I wanted to record the experience but also, I'm left with an odd question.   Is it right to plagiarize art from artists that you only dreamed of?   I mean if I found their work interesting, certainly I should pull some ideas from them but wholesale copying the works of another artist seems wrong even if they were people that only existed in my head.  I also feel somewhat ashamed that I couldn't remember any of their names.    

I guess I could perhaps try to render the world they live in.  It was  a strange and interesting place but it also seemed like something that would take a lot of time to render and not be interesting to people other than me.  I could cling to some hope that by rendering it, I might make them more real, establish a stronger link with them, bring my flop-house of strange muses more present in my mind.

I know however, that's not really how my brain works.  Every dream that I've ever had that I've tried to revisit, I've never gotten back to.    I can only recreate or sustain them through active process and somehow that always feels a lot less 'real' to me.   All of the characters become Mary Sues that I move in contrived ways.

I think it also says something to me about how shallow all of my emotions and motives were throughout the dream.   There were all these amazing things I should have been paying attention to yet I kept being blinded by my own vanity and ego.    Even now, there's a rich Other land in my mind and I debate the value of drawing it because it probably wouldn't inspire anyone else.  Is that really all I see art as?  A tool with which to manipulate others?   Shallow indeed.  

Yet...  True.   My head is always full of rich landscapes and beautiful pictures.  I could spend an eternity dwelling inside it.  For my personal sake, I have no reason to render these things.   I'm crazy enough that they are as real as I allow them to be.  Often I feel like I'm fighting to maintain my footing in this reality.  It would be easy to let Otherland carry me away.   At times I wonder if it already has.  Maybe the 'real' me is eating out of dumpsters somewhere and the life I have is one that self created to hide from her own reality.

I am instead seeking some sort of communication with others through art.  I have vague generalized goals of wanting people to think and dream and smile and sometimes be a little creeped out.   I desire to give others an experience that is outside of Default World.   I want to infect them with a little bit of the strange.    I appreciate that part of myself.  I think it's right and on a noble mission.    

Then there's the other part of me that has no safety net to speak of and few friends.  The self that wants to be loved and adored.  The part of me that is the void and could consume all of the love in the world and want more.  The part that is afraid of losing this reality and sinking entirely into the Other.    That part cripples my art.  It's in such a hurry to be loved that it wants to rush everything. It's so sad and pathetic, even I have nothing but contempt or it.   I wish it would die.  Poor unloved child.  Boo hoo.  Life sucks, get over it.   How does one kill their own ego anyhow?