Orange County Book Fair — Featured Illustrator!

Oh my goodness! I’m going to be a Featured Illustrator at the Orange County Book Festival on September 29th. This means I take the stage for 20 minutes and do a live demo teaching kids and parents how to draw Pumpkinheads characters!

I got the call today from Kite Readers, our eBook publisher for Carmin Cares and Ella’s Toys. This looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Last year’s illustrator lineup was pretty stellar, so I have some big shoes to fill!

Fragments of Creativity

Life moves faster than the scrapbook.

I am in the slow process of consolidating offline photos and posts from different eras of my life. In the meantime, here’s a link to my old website, which is no longer being updated but still contains some good content. In particular, the Roadtrip USA travelogue has helped other friends plan their cross-country drives, and the Art and Fear section has generated surprisingly heartfelt responses from strangers.

Little Jimmy Springs and Mt. Islip

Jeremy and I did our first real backpacking trip during the supermoon weekend, hiking out to the Little Jimmy Springs Campground in the Angeles Crest Forest at night, setting up camp at about 11pm, and then climbing Mt. Islip the following day.

Art and Whining

I leave Karl Gnass’s figure drawing class with mixed feelings. On the one hand, my skills have improved a lot.

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On the other hand, there’s a vibe in the room that I’m really coming to dislike.

There isn’t any one person I dislike at all (quite to the contrary, I’ve learned a lot from everyone), but the overall chemistry of the room is at times stifling. Too much negative energy and bitterness. Last week, the model’s offhand comment about Americans being more interested than the Brits in William and Kate’s wedding turned into a landslide of rants about everything that’s wrong with American culture, how professional sports are the bread and circuses of the masses, how athletes are overpaid, and how we’re all being manipulated by those in political power. Karl was part of this rant session too.

I really hate it when artists get on a whiny high horse like this. I’m not against political rants per se, but I worked in DC for seven years and I have a lot of respect for people who take action when they’re unhappy about a local, specific issue than people who sit on their butts and complain about the political landscape in general. I hate to say this, but put up or shut up.

Second, what is with that snobbery towards pop culture? Why the hatred of professional sports? Or rather, if you’re not into sports, fine, but why such pride in hating sports? America is a land of contradictions. We elected both Obama and Bush. We turned both Harry Potter and Twilight into bestsellers. I don’t pretend to like everything about mainstream America. But I have an even lower tolerance for artists who sit around and complain about everything.

If you hate your audience so much, and think they’re such unenlightened meatheads, why bother producing creative work at all? I have nothing but respect for people who go to work each day, raise their kids, take them to Little League games, take them to the library, teach them to think, and raise them to be contributing citizens. These are the people who keep the economy going. These are the people I’d like to entertain as an artist. These are my friends, many of whom are still fans of their hometown teams and snuck at least a casual glance at Kate’s wedding dress.

Ms. Fixit

This is a bit wordy for a comic, but it’s pretty much a verbatim recap of a conversation I had with a friend who really could fix everything from a broken piece of software to a broken purse strap.

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If you ask me, one of the reasons there aren’t as many women in engineering as there should be is fear of breaking stuff.

GUI Design

This is my “not rocket science” manifesto of GUI design. A programmer with no formal design training can go pretty far just by making a good-faith effort to adhere to these principles:

1) Reliability – There should be nothing on the GUI that will be fixed later or is a stubby placeholder for tomorrow. It all just has to work.

2) Simplicity – The beauty of the machine is that it can take complex data and hand it back to a human in a form the human can understand. Information visualization is powerful stuff. Harness that power.

3) Responsiveness – Tell the user what is going on. Tell the user why there’s a long pause. And for heaven’s sake, assume there will be errors when running external scripts and calling external processes. Plan for that and report the errors with as much transparency as possible.

4) Willingness to do the tedious stuff – The computer should make the decisions on the boring stuff (naming conventions, file locations) and the human should make the decisions on the interesting stuff (simulation parameters, creative choices). It’s amazing how many programmers get this 100% backwards.

5) Labels. Don’t assume that a user is going to magically know what that slider does. A tooltip is nice, but a label is often nicer.

6) Clean source code – Without a clean, modular design that makes maintenance programming easy, GUIs become quickly become unreliable, complex, unresponsive, unhelpful, and unclear.

I do think there’s a moral imperative to good design. We make an implicit contract with the user, and we need to do everything we can to avoid breaking it.