Wednesday
Jul162014

THE MOUSE

My five-year old computer mouse recently began to act up. I’ll admit it, I’m a little obsessed with input devices for my computer. Adjusting bezier curves on a detailed infographic with a mouse that momentarily ignores you, only to suddenly skip an inch or two can get old really fast. After blowing, tapping, shaking, and banging (last resort) on the thing I decided it was time to head to the local Best Buy to see the latest
mouse offerings.

I’ve never been a fan of the Apple Mouse (Mighty Mouse? Magic Mouse?). I’ve always thought it was an example of Apple’s occasional tendency to favor form over function. I understand that Apple's mouse has to appeal to a broader market, unlike a company like Logitech, that can feature a whole line of peripherals to suit various user needs. But at it’s simplest, Apple’s input devices have just never felt that comfortable to me. Anyway, a computer mouse is not something you should buy online. You’ve got to hold it in your hand to appreciate the subtle differences between components. So I took a few for a spin, so to speak. After shaking my head in disgust at the general build quality of these things, the weird placement (or lack of) buttons, I finally decided to pay a bit more and go for a gaming mouse, the Logitech G602.

The packaging for this device really appealed to the technical artist in me. The top of the box features a split view of the mouse, the right half of which is a glowing, blue-filtered x-ray image that reveals the inner components of the device. This may be the first packaging that I’ve ever considered keeping just for aesthetic purposes (okay, I didn’t do that, but I admittedly winced a bit when it went in the recycling bin).

Using a variety of illustration and 3D graphics software requires that I have buttons to access application shortcuts, and this mouse has plenty of them. Using a utility called SteerMouse (the Logitech driver is admittedly a bit dodgy on the Mac side) I was able to configure various mouse clicks, scroll functions, and input key combinations, even customizing them for different applications. 

Looking like it would be at home on Batman’s utility belt, this thing was obviously designed with the young gamer-set in mind. But the elegant good looks are substantiated with a high-level of comfort and functionality. Who knows, at the rate technology is improving touch gestures, voice input, and pressure-sensitive styli for your computer, maybe this will be my last mouse. But for now, I can highly recommend it.

Friday
May092014

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE

green infrastructure

I created this illustration awhile back for h magazine (agency: Landesberg Design). It appeared in an article about the impact of storm water runoff in urban communities like Philadelphia. The drawing highlights various green initiatives, including permeable parking lots, bioswales, rainwater gardens, stream buffer restoration, rain barrels, and green roofs. Thanks to Kipp Madison at Landesberg Design for the fascinating project!

Tuesday
Jan282014

THE DIGITAL SKETCH

Illustrators are always looking for ways to improve their workflows. Whether it's the latest update to their favorite application, a more comfortable chair, or hiding a secret stash of art tools that the kids won't find (done that), anything that streamlines the creative process will make for a more efficient and profitable business. One of the aspects of producing technical illustration that I always felt needed improvement was the sketching phase. Say a client needs to see your ideas for a complicated flow diagram. Nothing is faster than a pencil sketch, right? But when you're developing a complicated idea, it can become tedious to produce iterations of a drawing. Usually (for me) it involves tracing aspects of a sketch that I like and refining that draft, tracing, editing, tweaking some more, and finally scanning the final draft for presentation. The client inevitably wants certain elements moved around and changed and the whole process repeats itself. As fast and simple as the venerable pencil can be, sometimes the sketching phase of a project can feel inefficient to me. I'd owned a pressure-sensitive tablet for some years but never really felt comfortable drawing with it.

Recently I purchased a JaJa pressure-sensitive stylus from HEX3. This is a pen that lets you create natural looking brush strokes that vary in thickness and opacity on an iPad. There are quite a few sketching and painting apps available; I went with Procreate for it's positive reviews and simple, elegant interface.

Now the idea is to adopt a purely digital workflow, from draft to finished artwork. So far the pen has worked well, and the software has afforded me all of the advantages of digital drawing (layers, copy & paste, etc.) that makes it so powerful. Multi-touch gestures let me zoom and rotate the art instantly, and I can export finished pieces to Dropbox or send them directly to the client for review. I can even sit on the couch to work if that new comfortable chair isn't feeling quite so comfortable. And the art tools? Give 'em to the kids.

Monday
Sep162013

STEALTH

One of the nice aspects of being a technical illustrator is the constant variety of projects that I get to work on. Even if I'm rendering something relatively mundane like a radiator valve, I'm always learning new things about topics I might not have even considered. But it's especially fun when I get to create art for an industry that really excites me, like aviation. Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine recently had me create some illustrations to accompany some fascinating articles. This one was for a story explaining the secretive processes involved in stealth technologies; specifically the application of radar absorbent/deflective paint by robots onto the skin of modern fighter planes.

Tuesday
Apr162013

THE GATESTRAINER

This is a recent illustration created for StreetWise Utlities of their "GateStrainer" product. This is a simple device that is inserted by hand into a gate box on a street, and protects against debris build-up on top of water, sewer, or gas gate valves. The challenge with this illustration was to provide a context for the device while communicating the technical aspects of the product with a simple and clean image.

GateStrainer technical illustration

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