April 9, 2021

Software update craze & subscription model rip off

I watched several Facebook threads of disgruntled users in the QuarkXpress user group and it really is sad to notice the disdain of software companies like Apple, Google Adobe and Quark (not to mention Microsoft) towards their users, many of whom have been loyal for decades. Users who find that the software for which they paid, no longer works, commonly tend to become displeased, but companies that provide software seem to be less bothered by the fact that their products fail to deliver. Such an implausible attitude of course contributes to the user discontent.

I used Quark up to the 2016 version until it crashed beyond repair. In the past the program has shown great potential, that was so good in fact that I never needed the assistance of their support department. Plus, I like to dive into matters and figure out how to get things to work. But the industry's upgrade frenzy finally got me, which is to be blamed on the fact that an increasing chunk of the upgrading and support requires an on line connection to the companies' servers. When support for a version has been terminated or the software on the server does not work, it simply means there will be no support. Period. 

Force to subscibe and therefore auto-update

The companies' urge to increasingly rapidly upgrade, goes hand in hand with a decreasing inclination to provide proper service and support, because those things add little to their intention to make immediate profits, since they have to continually please their shareholders, whose sole interest is the dividend corporations listed in the stock exchange will pay (or not). To put it differently: They don't give a toss about client satisfaction. It may sound rather crude, but that actually is what it comes down to.

Dealing with this situation is increasingly difficult for the software companies' customers, whose profit / survival money goes out the window when the coercive corporate upgrade craze causes them to be unable to continue their business. Mainly because companies ceased to support usually older versions or properly maintain the upgrade and support software on their servers. 

Adobe's subscription model's main purpose - besides gaining disproportionately huge profits - is to force their entire user base into accepting and paying for their upgrade policy without the need to spend time and money on promoting and selling upgrades for a fee and offering support to customers that run into trouble after upgrading. Do not give clients the option to choose whether or not they want to upgrade, just force them to use whatever upgrade the company feels is necessary and make them pay for it. If they decline this 'offer' simply refuse to let them use the software, which makes them unable to access files they have created earlier with  the software.

Being the market leader in the main stream of the graphic art, publishing and printing industry, allowed Adobe to get away with this user unfriendly strategy. Clients that disagreed with their new approach and turned their back on the behemoth often found themselves in a place void of solutions to their professional problems and an abundance of workarounds necessary to get the job at hand done if they are available at all.

Not long after Adobe forced their users into a mortgage like payment system, its competition began to pick up on the advantages of the more or less concealed aspects of that rip off model, that makes their business a lot easier, while ensuring a more steady and predictable profit, which prevented them from ending up in a nasty dispute with their all powerful shareholders. The fact that it also caused them to land in disagreement with their users does not bother them to the extent that made them willing to change their policy. 

An other detrimental effect of the upscaling of the upgrade pace is the fact that developers have their panties twisted. Doing more work in less time with fewer people is an unfailing recipe for causing stress and discomfort, which commonly results in an increased number of errors or bugs in the software. This in turn makes it hard for clients who use the buggy software to produce decent files within the deadline limits. But as long as shareholders see their bank accounts grow fat, there is little to worry about for the management of software corporations. At least, that is what they think they can afford to assume in the short term.

Assumption is the mother of all evil

In the long run however, the world is an entirely different place. While developers end up gulping Prozac or relocate to an asylum and clients of the software companies go bankrupt, managers simply continue their career in a next project, where they repeat their mistakes for a generous fee. Reproducing blunders is what is generally meant by experience in resumes - the more often a person repeats his or her mistakes, the more experienced (s)he is considered to be. This is how modern market reason works. It is meritocracy interpreted in the most harmful way possible. But since everybody does it, only few notice it is a disastrous perception. 

Because in the end earning money and making profits only is possible when there is production of things that markets need. In order to be able to continue this type of symbiosis the produce has to work properly. If this isn't the case, that market segment will at some point collapse. This implosion will affect those involved in the perpetuation of that particular portion of the trade. Some may be able to venture into different directions, but many will just suffer the consequence of mankind's aversion to admit that caring for all is possible only in a logical setting. Limitless greed does not comply with this universal principle.

Regardless of how affluent one is, how influential, how well educated, well dressed and respected because of ones pretended sincerity and empathy, a carefully concealed greed ridden mindset will ultimately destroy any collaboration that was established, in which the producing portion of the factions involved was kept in the dark about the unbalanced reward method of that system. The sad part of such events is that the system's break down harms those who were held unaware of the deceitful nature of the setup.

March 12, 2021

VectorStyler - vector drawing program


By accident I came across a new vector drawing program called VectorStyler. Someone mentioned it in a Facebook group and I decided to take a peek. What I saw was close to mind boggling; the functionality of this program takes the cake out of the competition. It still is a beta, so it contains bugs, but if its developer succeeds in repairing them, there is nothing in the market that compares to it, not even the well established market leaders and promising runner up programs. Not by far, I may add - it is chockful of tools and functions, some of which are unique (but most likely quite useful) to the community of vector drawing artists. Vector-Styler has all the functions its competition combined has and then some.....

It is available for Intel Macs, M1 Macs and Windows. VectorStyler is developed by a one man team (!!!), a guy named Csaba Raduly-Baka who resides in Finland. The overwhelming measure of functionality that the program offers obviously results in an extensive user interface, so figuring out how things work, requires time for users who come from other programs. But like I wrote: If the developer gets things right, it will most definitely be worth to grapple your way through the learning stages. Currently - March 2021 - he is asking for feedback (not money) from his users to fix bugs in the program code. Visit the VectorStyler Forum to post bugs or make comments. The developer is very responsive, which also shows in the large number of bug fixes in the various beta versions that succeed each other rapidly. This is a project well worth your support.

I'm new to this program myself, so I still have to explore what it can or can not do (the latter part of the sentence I added for linguistic completeness rather than because of educated guess work). To get an idea of what it is capable of, check out their homepage (scroll down the page somewhat) and the detailed feature list in the second link above. It still is free while in beta-stage, so go download it and give it a try. I am sure you will be thoroughly amazed and that the competition may turn pale from anxiety and possibly start crapping their panties resulting from that. The program is said to cost a one time fee of just 99 USD when it comes out of the beta stage, which is a reasonable price in view of its stunning functionality.

I currently use Affinity Designer to create vector art, that has an easy to grasp user interface, but not as many functions as VectorStyler. Like all other vector drawing programs I have worked with. I have worked with Illustrator professionally for decades, while working with CorelDRAW privately and with Inkscape occasionally, but I must say that none of these match VectorStyler in the functionality department. That is a huge accomplishment for the single person development of VectorStyler. I will therefore keep a close watch on how the program evolves and keep you updated as I familiarize myself with it. You may even find some artwork resulting from this process in this blog. Stay tuned.

January 21, 2021

View to a kill - Jaguar vs caiman vector drawing


Recently I discovered a stunning photograph shot by Justin Black, showing a view to a kill; a jaguar catching a caiman in the tropical rainforest of the Amazon. This predator hunt predator moment has a vigorous impact on those looking at the image (this would be a normal person's reaction anyway). Being a witness of a kill, has the tendency to cause neurons to fire a barrage of impulses, generating gamma brainwave patterns in response to perceiving the brutal event, especially when watching the motions in a video that accompanies the photo on the National Geographic website. Such things did occur within my upstairs department, after which I felt compelled to make a vector drawing of it. At the time of the most recent update - January 24 2021, it is still a work in progress, but at this stage it is already visible where it is going. As usual, I created this vector art in Affinity Designer, Serif's magnificent vector drawing program, that can be purchased for just 50 Euro, a one time fee without the rip off recurring subscription payments.

Like I usually do, I changed some features of the image, to enhance its optical affect. I altered some of the jag's facial traits (made its eyes look more leopard like) to make that part of the drawing easier on the eye and will arrange the background in such a way that it does not interfere with the battle of the beasts. Also I placed the jag's tail on the opposite side of its body relative to how it was in the photo to make the composition more balanced. I am still undecided about the cut out format; the photograph is taller, showing more of the scene, but I assume this matter will sort itself out in time or I could simply make more than one version of this work. For the moment I chose a panoramic lay-out, because I may use it as a header image in my website. There you find my portfolio that is distinguished from most vector art collections, by the way, in that I use vector drawing programs to create mainly organic shapes, for which these types of applications are unfit as most 'experts' would say. I am also considering to make both a graphic version and a more realistic version, if I ever get around to draw the latter, which remains uncertain even in times of lockdowns that cause people to become bored senseless.

Upto now, I've exclusively used the mouse to draw (it is a slow tool, but very accurate), but at a later stage I may use my Huion 610 Pro tablet to add the jag's fur texture and perhaps some of the caiman's scales to elevate the image quality and give it a near photo realistic appearance. Before reaching that phase, I focus on establishing the base, which already has some level of detail intricacy. A thing to take into account is that at stage 12 already over 500 layers (curves or objects) have been created, a number that will rapidly increase when using a tablet. It is necessary to give key layers a name and colour code them to keep control over where I am working in Affinity Designer's Layers Panel, and it requires alertness and a logical approach to properly navigate and draw in the complex object hierarchy. When the drawing will be completed, I will add the vector outline image, from which those familiar with vector drawing will be able to get an idea of the power of the Affinity Designer program.

Click the image to see all of them in Google's lightbox, a manually operable slide show. It allows you to swiftly flick through the various stages by turning the scroll wheel of the mouse. This lightbox allows to compare the stages visually like nothing else does and quickly see the changes applied. Unfortunately this function can only be accessed on PC's, Macs or laptops and not on tablets and smart phones (as far as I am aware). Newest stage is on top, oldest at the bottom. Please check in regularly as I continue to post new stages in this article, until the image is done. Text updates will be placed below Stage 1 at the end of this blog entry. Enjoy your visit to this page and feel free to do some more browsing in my blog and if you like it, spread the word and perhaps even blog about this blog. I will of course return the favour. Have a nice day. 

Update February 18 2021

Below you see the next version, edited in RawTherapee, an absolutely brilliant open source image editor, that gives Adobe Lightroom a run for its money. In fact, in many respects it is better than the industry standard, while offered for free. Besides offering outlandishly good and easy to operate editing and batch editing functionality, it allows to catalog images, which are the same functions Lightroom has. Artists chased away by Adobe's wretched subscription model, should definitely give this excellent program a try, most of whom certainly won't be sorry for giving it a test run.

I removed the foreground drawings (the snake and the monkey), because I felt it took the focus of the main part of the image, to which I did some more vector detail editing.

I saved the drawing with history, which should make turning it in to a tutorial in the future somewhat easier. But I still have to familiarise myself with video editing. Plus, as usual, the future remains at least as unpredictable as winning lottery numbers. Which particularly applies to the future in these sinister times. 

Stage 27 - edited with RawTherapee

Stage 25 - graphic version

Stage 24 - graphic version

Stage 21 - graphic version

Stage 15

Stage 14

Stage 13

Stage 12

Stage 11

Stage 10

Stage 9

Stage 8

Stage 7

Stage 6

Stage 5

Stage 4

Stage 3

Stage 2

Stage 1

Stage 16 vector outline

Update January 31 2021

After stage 21, I think I went a little bit overboard, which probably is something many designers recognize. To stop drawing at the right moment, remains a difficult decision (for me at least). Fortunately, Affinity Designer is a non-destructive program that allows to revert to previous stages without problem; layers can be switched on and off at will and the history function allows to remove any step necessary, apart from the 1000 standard undo's. I will therefore leave the design for the time being and later focus on enhancing the textures somewhere in the future. Meanwhile I will start drawing other things.

November 9, 2020

Vin Diesel vector portrait drawn in Affinity Designer


This is a work in progress as of November 10 2020 that I began to create in November 9. I'm in the process of drawing a vector portrait of Vin Diesel, the ultimate cool guy in movies, probably because he's cool in real life as well. It is in the process of being created in Affinity Designer (because it's not finished yet as of November 27 2020), aiming to use as little as possible objects (curves and shapes) as possible in this complex work. Purpose for the time being is to create a graphical image that will be used in a T-shirt design. Like the previous portraits I posted in this blog, I may at some point continue to work on the drawing in the future to make it more realistic by adding textures and more detail (by adding custom made vector brushes). For T-shirt design adding too much detail basically is a waste of time. Check out my vector portraits in my webstite and in this blog. The T-shirt designs I submitted to Redbubble. Stay tuned to see updates leading towards the final product. Oldest stage at the bottom, most recent on top.

A few hints

Many shapes are made of curves - (open ended) lines drawn with the pen tool - to which I added various thicknesses, Gaussian blurs, more or less complex gradients, also for strokes, and gradient transparencies. I also applied multi-level clipping (i.e. object in object in object etc.) of objects which allows to go beyond the the complexity of standard gradient fills. Also HSL hue shifts and Brightness & Contrast effects were applied to them. For more complex shapes I drew the closed line objects and applied the same effects to them as mentioned before. In using these techniques the number of objects can be reduced and all that can be done in pixels that can be done in vectors too. In addition, contrary to bitmap images, vector images can be re-scaled to any size without loss of quality. 

Stage 13 

Stage 11 

Stage 10 

Stage 09 

Stage 08 

Stage 07 

Stage 06 

Stage 05 

Stage 04 

Stage 03 

Stage 02 

Stage 01 

November 3, 2020

Vector portrait of Robin Williams used in T-shirt design


I like Robin Williams for his smart quotes. This is a 100% vector portrait of the man not containing a single pixel. Created in Affinity Designer of course. Below is the progres sequence of this drawing; the oldest stage at the bottom, the newest one on top. No extreem detail such as pores, wrinkles and hair texture were included, because it is used in a T-shirt design. I may however add those some time in the future to make the portrait photo realistic. At the very bottom I placed the T-shirt design, based on one of his quotes. Click one of the images to go to Google's lightbox where you cn flick through the stages by turning the scroll wheel of you mouse if you are on a PC.

Stage 9

Stage 8

Stage 7

Stage 6

Stage 5

Stage 4

Stage 3

Stage 2

Stage 1

Vector portrait used in T-shirt design

November 1, 2020

Clint Eastwood in vector T-shirt design


This is a vector portrait of Clint Eastwood created in Affinity Designer. 100% vector, zero pixels. It is a graphical portrait, i.e. it shows his face basic features, without too much details, such as pores, wrinkles and hair texture etc. I may add them some time in future, but for now this is good enough for its current purpose - a T-shirt design, that is available in Redbubble. Below you see the 6 stage (newest on top, oldest at the bottom). Below that you see the vector wireframe view and at the very bottom the T-shirt design image. Actual size of the portrait is 6000 pixels square. Click one of the images to scroll through the stages with your mouse wheel in Google's lightbox (at least you can do this when watching them on a PC).

Update June 8 2021
Tinkering is shown in Stage x and x+1 before which I did several stages to balance the colours and add details all in vector. Stages x and x+1 contain Affinity Photo pixel effects (lighting + bump maps). The vector part of the portrait was created in Affinity Designer and it was later given a lighting filter (with bitmap) in Affinity Photo to make it less smooth. This Stage x and x+1 images will not be used for the T-shirt design because they contain too much detail for T-shirt print machines to handle. The image can still be output at any desired size after which the lighting filter can be applied to the vector drawing. It still needs some work, but I thought I'd place this stage to see the progress.

The texturing is made as follows: Copy objects from Designer into Photo or export them as a png and open them in Photo. There apply Filter-Lighting. Choose Directional and add Bump Map and tinker with the sliders until desired effect is achieved. Then copy back into Designer and move the object(s) to proper Layer level and check that their size matches the drawing. Make sure the canvasses in Designer and Photo are the same size, then you don't have to resize when pasting them back in Designer (which is fiddly). Working in this way you can decide which parts to texturize and which to keep smooth. It also is possible to texture different parts with different bump maps.

Update June 9 2021
In Stage x+2 the skin texture is applied to the face area only. This is an experiment that is not yet finished. The bump map of the applied lighting filter in Affinity Photo can still be improved, but I will do that somewhere in the time ahead. The nature, size and tiling of the bump map need to be improved, but so far the approach itself seems to be promising. By the way, I was given this method of texturing idea by Rory Townsend who has a channel in Youtube, where he posts excellent Affinity Designer and Photo tutorials. The way I did the Stage x+2 was by copying the basic skin layer from Designer in to Photo, where I applied the (Directional) lighting + bump map lighting filter and then copying the result back into Designer in the proper layer rank. The bump map was an image of skin pores.

Stage x+2

Stage x + 1

Stage x

Stage 6 

Stage 5 

Stage 4 

Stage 3 

Stage 2 

Stage 1 

Vector wireframe view (of stage 6)

Used in T-shirt design