November 30, 2022

Art Nouveau practice drawing 01

I've always been attracted to Art Nouveau imagery, particularly that of the utterly brilliant Alphonse Mucha, who is largely accredited for starting that appealing movement, although he did not like the word movement. I wanted to wrap my mind around the specific aspects of the craft of which this practice drawing is the first attempt. I plan to do more Art Nouveau all vector drawings in the future, unlike this image that contains both vector and bitmap embedded files, because this image is a mere test. Technically this image is some sort of blend of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the latter being the successor of the first art movement, I guess.

Alphonse Mucha was a gifted graphic designer, an illustrator and (sadly) also under appreciated painter, who deserves much more acclaim for his oil paintings than he has been given so far. His work in each of these categories is characterized by amazing technical skill and a keen eye for well balanced, appealing compositions. Even in his incredibly detailed black and white line art he was able to create a stunning - almost Rembrandt like (....) - play between light and dark areas of his work. An oversight of his mind blowing art oeuvre you find here. A documentary about the interesting man Mucha was, you find here. And his son recounting aspects of Mucha's life you find here.

In his graphic (poster) art Mucha exclusively drew with colour pencils and painted with water colours) beautiful women, because they are much more pleasing to watch than men and this type of work served to earn him a living. In some of his work symbolism has a more or less dominant presence, with which Mucha was familiar since he had at some point in his life become a freemason. His outlandish skill allowed him to integrate symbols in a subtle yet unique and stunning way, which makes his art rise above and beyond the compartmentalization that linear time relentlessly imposes on life.

In the 60's of the previous century Art Nouveau experienced a revival, be it in different forms for different purposes, but this originally and essentially commercial type of art's appeal has never faded, because figurative beauty simply never starts to bore audiences that don't know of or don't care about the opinions of a certain variety of prejudiced art critics and 'experts'.

Later in life Mucha decided to return to his area of birth Moravia, that today is part of the Czech republic, to dedicate his art to the Slav history and culture. When the German troops invaded what was then Czechoslovakia in the second world war, the Gestapo almost immediately arrested (the patriot) Mucha, who was in his seventies at the time, but they released him a few days later. Mucha was already ill then and a few months after his arrest he passed away.

The composite drawing

Embedded flower motive

Mandala background

The images above are part of my first attempt to mimic the essence of Art Nouveau works. They are created in Affinity Designer version 2, that oddly crashed on me once in this relatively simple image. I am not sure if it is Designer or the Windows system that is to be blamed for the crash, but the directory I had just created, to store my Art Nouveau artwork, did not give me full access, which was likely the cause for the crash. After changing the access permission I experienced no more crashing. I experienced a similar type of problem when trying to install Affinity Designer version 2, which is kind of weird. i described it several blog entries ago - 'Serif released version 2 of the Affinity programs'. So, for Windows users of this program, this may be a thing they should perhaps check before they start to draw, particularly since I read threads on the forum about the Affinity version 2 programs crashing and having problems saving files.

November 15, 2022

Continuing jaguar illustration in Affinity Designer 2


Crashes, crashes, crashes!
After having too many crashes and freezes in the high potential VectorStyler with the jaguar illustration I continued it in the newly released Affinity Designer 2 to test out this new release with more intensity. I crashed three times in Designer 2, but the first time I was offered to open a backup file that did not appear to have lost too many data. The second time no such option was presented. Restarting after the third crash, offered to load a recovery file, but a lot of work was lost. Upon re-opening the document crashed in the same way and it was not possible to save whatever was newly drawn.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that already in this relatively early stage - stage 1 - there are a ton of objects, to all of which several effects were applied. As mentioned in the previous blog entries, my computer is from before the Jurassic era, which may also be part of the crash problem. But probably there is also something not right with the software.

Whatever may be the case, here is the continuation of the art I started in VectorStyler. I exported the file as an .svg and opened it in Affinity Designer to take it from there. In the imported .svg, all shape blurring was removed, but some of the ripple distortion had remained in tact. I was relieved, because this meant that I only had to make a few minor adjustments.

First experience in making a complex vector drawing in Designer 2
Drawing in Affinity Designer 2 doesn't feel much different from the previous versions - I installed all the previous Beta versions - apart from the coloured icons in the toolbar, the rearranged functions in the fx dialog box and the changed layout of the Layers panel, as I've noticed so far. From the tools added to version 2, I only used the 4 point distortion, which at times needs a refresh by zooming in and out again and  and the shape builder tool to adjust a spot. A vector ripple distortion tool like in VectorStyler would have been useful to apply to the spots in the fur in this drawing; in Affinity Designer I had to apply the distortions manually with the pen and node tools. 

As usual the newest stage will be placed on top and the oldest one at the bottom. On a PC or Mac, click on an image and scroll through the images using the mouse wheel and quickly shift through the images to see the difference between the various stages. Additional comments below the image captions.

Stage 10 - added the texture base. Somehow the old
machine did not crash after drawing the previous stage.

The jag's tail was reworked, its left eye was made slightly bigger and the base for the fur texture was added (experimenting with this, because it must be vector only). No 'vector' brushes, no symbols and no patterns were used, because they are not real vectors, which are among the sadly still missing functions in Affinity Designer version 2. My outdated machine is barely able to keep up, but surprisingly did not crash during this stage. Exporting the file to .png however took an eternity. The original size of the drawing is: 3735 x 2270 pixel, because I have vague plans to have this drawing hi-res giclée printed on aluminium covered with a high quality lacker layer. The image placed on this site is smaller and therefore contains less detail than the original.

Stage 9 - tedious face fur detail drawing.
Crashed only once (....)

Although weary of crashes, began drawing the fur texture in the face of the jag, for which I used a number of tricks that I may explain in a separate blog entry somewhere in the future. No vector brushes were used whatsoever, because these are bitmaps drawn along a vector stroke, so no real vectors. The new X-ray view in Affinity Designer is quite useful to select objects in a drawing that contains many objects. This drawing is 100% vector. The old machine is behaving above expectation and I crashed only one time....

Started to draw the face fur texture detail - stage 9

This is the vector outline view of the image right above this one.

Did some work on the reflections on the water surface
in this 8th stage. No crashes fortunately this round.

I could not leave the project alone, so I cautiously proceeded., hoping the crashing would not occur. After having received a tip from Stuart RC on the affinity forum to use the pencil tool for certain aspects of the image, I was able to speed up the drawing process considerably. Never used the tool before, so I guess I underestimated its usefulness. Also did detail the jag's hair in the ear areas.

7th stage - an other crash in Designer 2. I was given an option
to open a recovery file, but much data was lost. To make things
worse, the crashing continued after opening the recovery files.

Yet an other crash in Affinity Designer 2 when editing the water surface of the river and foliage in the background. I have become careful and save the file after drawing every new object; still more data than that was lost. In spite of all these annoyances, I got the base of the water and background done. A bug I detected was that when area objects that were given a Gaussian blur overlap a weird line displays in the contour of the overlapped object.

Detailing of spots and whiskers - sixth stage

So far so good; no crashes in Affinity Designer 2 anymore. Made several minor changes to the various shapes, like changing the contours and colour adjustment. I also added the whiskers with adjusted stroke properties and mild Gaussian blur. Pussycat is starting to come alive on its way to kill.

Coming along nicely without crashing in fifth stage.

The biggest pain  - drawing all the spots without having a ripple distortion available - is now behind me. What is left is drawing of shadows' lighter areas and accents and tweaking them. Plus the reflections and colouring of the water ripples of course. In reality - to be safe - I have so far saved 17 files of this image, including those drawn in VectorStyler before switching to Affinity Designer. The Aomei on the fly backup system will hopefully prevent data loss.

Continuing to spotify and balance the colours in fourth stage.

The quality of portraits is defined by their appeal, which is determined by the intensity and tone of its accents. Subtle changes can impact the impression that an observer gets in a way that is disproportional to the extent of the change. They have to be balanced in combination with the tweaks of their environment. Trying to do this properly, so that the cat comes alive, so that its murderous mindset becomes tangible.

Affinity Designer version 2 crashed for the second time in
this third stage. Complexity apparently is difficult
to process for my struggling old machine

The abundance of spots have a shedload of nodes. I sometimes think that today we are still in the stone age of computing, in spite of what manufacturers want us to believe. At least that would probably be what people from a far away future think of man's current achievements in this field. I was not presented with the option to re-open a backup file this time, so I guess I have to see what happens from here on with working in this 100% vector image. Keeping my fingers crossed is the only option I have until my new, more powerful rig arrives.

Many more spots to go - stage 2
I think I didn't miss a spot yet ....

Imagine, in the jag's DNA code is included each and every coordinate of every single hair, its colour, length and type. It makes drawing a vector image of the big cat a walk in the park by comparison, however tedious drawing may be. For the final stages I will have to use my Huion tablet to draw the (dark, medium and light) hairs to make the jag's fur look more realistic.

First stage after the transfer from VectorStyler.
Strewing spots all over the hunting feline.

The jag's image, drawn in VectorStyler, still looks weird in this stage, similar to the early stages of almost anything else, which hints at the fact that from weirdness often coherent appearance comes. With so few objects or shapes drawn, it is hard to properly balance anything. So, I progress as fast as possible to leave this initial stage behind me.

November 12, 2022

Serif released version 2 of the Affinity programs

Apart from raving reviews about Affinity's version 2 update by users that have not encountered difficulty installing the programs, there are installation problems for a number of users of the Windows platform that should not have occurred. After having waited for a long time to be able to download an upgrade that was not a Beta version, expectations of version 2 were quite high and running into problems installing the programs caught me and many other users by surprise. In this blog entry I will offer a constructive contribution to (temporarily) resolve this problem, expecting a company release soon that will enable successful installation, this being a situation that Serif must put behind them as soon as possible.

On the Affinity forum several work arounds have been suggested, most of which do not work for most users struck by the problem, which tempts people like me to search for other solutions that actually do work. Below you find one that resolved the problem I ran into, although I am aware that changes in the installation code have to be applied in order to avoid users having to apply work arounds or figure out themselves what to do, to install the version 2 programs of the Affinity suit successfully right out of the box. In this blog entry I will focus on Affinity Designer predominantly, since it is the suit's program that I used most often.

Programs will not install
The long awaited release of version 2 of Affinity Designer, Photo and Publisher has recently taken place. I purchased and downloaded them from the Affinity forum, but when I tried to install them I received a message that the installation was cancelled because an error occurred in parsing the apps (all three of them). The file format of the installation was msix. When browsing the forum I soon learned that this affected other users too. Several possible solutions were offered by the mods and advanced users, but none of them cured the problem for me. Later I downloaded the apps from the Microsoft Store, which was the beginning of a solution, since at least .exe-files were placed in WindowsApp directory in the Windows User directory, which isn't the location where Windows users, accustomed to the traditional installation process would expect the files to be placed.

The programs would only open by right clicking the .exe-file from the WindowsApp directory in the system disk and choosing the run as administrator option. They would not start from the Start menu or from the shortcut icons that I placed on the Taskbar. Also I was unable to open files I had drawn in the older Beta versions by dragging them from Windows Filemanager onto the desktop of the programs.

When diving into the problem at a certain point I discovered that the properties of the Affinity (sub)directories in the WindowsApps directory displayed a message that the Permission file was corrupted (in bold red type). I set the permissions to full control for myself and after that the programs opened without using the Run As Administrator command, from both the Start menu and the shortcuts I placed on the Taskbar.

Apparently the .msix files interfered with the user permissions of the Affinity (sub)directories in the WindowsApps directory, necessary to run the programs properly. This directory is located at C:\Users\UserName\Downloads on a Windows 10 system, in which the Affinity programs are in directories with the following name: affinity-designer-2.0.0.msix, in this case for Designer. After running the exe-files from this directory users are prompted to one time fill in their Affinity ID information and the programs appear in the Start menu from where they can be pinned to the Taskbar. Fortunately this problem does not affect all users, but to those that encounter this problem, it is a rather painful disappointment. 

Affinity Designer 2 start up screen

First impressions
I had become curious to the functionality increase of the version 2 programs after watching various Youtube videos that featured them and I must say I was happy to try them. There still are functions missing in Designer that are included in programs of the competition - such as the Mesh gradient tool (which I personally do not miss), the vector trace tool (that I never use), the shape blender tool (which would be nice), the vector eraser and liquify tools and the stroke width tool to name just a few, but overall the upgrades work well and I think they are somewhat worth the money, though Serif could have included more new tools. There is a temporary discount for buying all programs in the suit, a package deal, which is why I hesitantly decided to upgrade. It is a €120 one time payment - no subscription fee - for the entire suit, by the way.

Affinity Photo 2 start up screen

The shape builder tool is a long awaited function that the devs added, the knife / scissors tool as well and the versatile warp tool are absolutely great. In addition the UI has been improved, in particular the Layers panel. Check out the Affinity channel on Youtube, The Affinity Revolution channel, The Brown Bear channel, the Design made simple channel, Olivio Sarkas' channel, the Games From Scratch channel and Kru Mark's channel to get an idea of what the version 2 upgrade is all about. All these persons did an excellent job of exploring the version 2 programs from their own perspective, providing arguments for users to upgrade or not.

The problems for the developers
Kru Mark compares the upgrade to the functionality of Affinity's competition and there still are some tools missing that are included in Illustrator and Inkscape for instance, but for the type of work I create, they are not crucial. I am aware of the fact however, that there are users that would benefit from the missing functions as mentioned by Kru Mark. The improvements the devs actually did include in this version are a welcome addition and perhaps other improvements will be included in the upcoming Beta versions. But not including them in this version, is somewhat of a missed opportunity.

I think Serif was under a lot of pressure to release version 2, because it has been a rather long time since they released the previous upgrade, but I assume the stability of the programs in the suit is a major prerequisite, meaning more time and effort goes into programming and testing. But because Serif did not provide any information why the upgrade took so long, some users wondered if Affinity was dead...., a situation that could have been avoided by keeping users up to date concerning the development of version 2. Had Serif come up with buggy programs in its suit it might have resulted in a bad reputation that is extremely difficult to repair and therefore bad for business. Also the necessity of coding 3 programs to the next upgrade level simultaneously, may have accounted for the lengthy upgrade interval. 

Perhaps because of all these factors, the pressure on the devs in the Serif office was a bit too high, which may have resulted in the aforementioned installation problems, that could in fact be caused by Microsoft's installation policy, requiring companies to use the .msix files instead of traditional installation methods in which the running of .exe files places programs in the Program directory of the system disk or any other directory on any disk the user prefers to install it on. I think the changes necessary to integrate the version 2 suit with the Microsoft Store installation policy, may have given the devs a headache as well and resulting from that Serif's clients, that ran into bungled installations.

Affinity Publisher 2 start up screen

But since it is possible to correct them, I think the Serif team will be able to sort out the problems, but this should have taken place before the release.The installation engine may be separate from the rest of the program, but this is no concern of users - they just want thingsto work properly, which is what they paid for. Although at this point I am intensively experimenting with the absolutely brilliant VectorStyler program, I will still to use the Affinity suite for production purposes for the time being, because VectorStyler still in the development stage. But if Serif slows down the upgrade pace while VectorStyler steps it up, there will come a moment in future when I will make a different decision.

The reason of the update pace being quite low, perhaps has to do with the fact that the software is developed for Windows, Apple silicon - both the Mac OS and iPad version - and the fact that all three programs in the suit are integrated, which means when working in Publisher to make changes to vector art or pixel art Designer and Photo do not have to be opened separately, but all editing can be done from within Publisher. This Studio Link integration, that is the first of its kind in the graphics world and DTP business, will noticeably increase the artists' productivity.

Publisher by the way, can now be installed on the iPad as well, which adds a lot of value to Apple's tablet. because it makes the iPad the first tablet capable of running an (almost) full fledged DTP-program. A long awaited major tool that finally made it into the new Publisher for all platforms is the possibility to create footnotes, endnotes and side notes, which is a function any serious DTP-program must have. This integration of this tool makes Publisher's upgrade the most 'necessary' of the programs in the version 2 Affinity suit.

So, apart from some good aspects to this upgrade, there are too many bad ones, that are not mentioned in may other places on the web or elsewhere. Yet, a certain number of these things nevertheless are worth being put forward, because these programs have become (part of) the livelihood of many that continue to search for ways to survive crumbling economies and continuously soaring expenses. I have listed them below and added some related issues:

  1. The installation trouble for a number of Windows users should have been sorted out before the release of version 2. The mods on the forum should not be suggesting work arounds that require users to dive deep in their operating system (registry tweaks have been suggested), which could easily lead to breaking more than the average user is able to foresee, while most suggestions did not even resolve the problem. This situation should most definitely have been prevented
  2. As Kru Mark correctly reported, there still are several crucial functions missing in version 2 that, in view of the long time that has passed since the previous upgrade, could have been and should have been integrated
  3. Possible upgrades and / or additions of certain tools will most likely be presented in future Beta versions, that are by definition not stable. I one time received the advice in the forum not to use a certain Beta version, because it would not export .png-files properly (which apparently was a known issue, that did not occur in earlier versions....), which brings me to think: Why the heck issue that Beta version in the first place? Is it for users to test or to keep them happy by showing them development still is ongoing? And why would Serif release a Beta version that it advices users no to use? This is a weird type of advice to give to users that simply report that the program is not doing what it is supposed to do and (moreover) what it did correctly before, which makes the situation even more strange
  4. The reason I bought the various Serif products is because I loathe the overly expensive Adobe subscription policy, aside from the other type of disdain they display for their userbase, but I estimate Serif is now at a turning point on how to proceed in the market in which they are operating. The price of the Affinity programs has almost doubled compared to the period in which they were issued for the first time. They still charge a one time fee, but how long will Serif be able to determine its own policies in a time in which giant players simply buy companies that they deem to be interesting for their strategy - meaning: use their code or simply kill them off
  5. Innovation should be higher on the list of priorities of the Serif company, because its competition seems to extend their lead in this field. As a small player in the arena fighting the big boys, the lack of innovative progress is a danger riddled situation to be in, that leads to venues where no company wants to be
  6. The absence of a roadmap that indicates the planned progress of the future versions, is an ominous sign. Blender for instance, continuously updates their publicly issued road map and relatively swiftly integrates the announced improvements, while coding 3D software is necessarily more complex that coding 2D software. Serif not being transparent about where it is going with the suit's development, is rather odd, to say the least, because it leaves users in the dark about the direction in which the company aims to develop. It feels like hopping on an airplane and not knowing where one is going to end up
  7. The startup screens of all 3 programs in version 2 flash a message that the 'Microsoft Store registration is checked' each time the program is opened. It makes sense that Serif registers its users for obvious reasons, but I fail to see why it is necessary for Microsoft to register Affinity users, yet it demands every company that sells products through their store to amend their code. To what extent and in what way would be interesting to know. Particularly since Microsoft is not world famous for being overly concerned with the wellbeing of its users. This seemingly trivial detail could have far reaching consequences that only but very few users are capable of imagining in a society in which the increase of centralized control has gone beyond the type of measure that complies with democratic principles
  8. Almost immediately after buyers of version 2 ran into rather serious trouble - failed installation, not being able to open the programs and not being able to save files created (among a number of other bugs, most of which Serif has not yet resolved....) - this message appeared on the forum in bold white type on a red background at the top of each page: 'Our response time is longer than usual currently. We're working to answer users as quickly as possible and thank you for your continued patience.' Either Serif bit off more than it could chew with this release or other situations have occurred behind the scene that I prefer not to speculate on, but either way, this is bad news. Not being at least somewhat transparent about this towards its users / buyers does not help as well, because such conduct most certainly will provoke conjecture.

Minisforum HX90G

10 port USB 3 hub

Update December 21 2022

The new Minisforum Neptune HX90G mini PC arrived with Windows 11 and installation of the Affinity suit programs from the Microsoft store went without problems. More on running Windows 11 on this computer in this blog entry. So, upgrading to Windows 11 from my very old 2004 rig (first gen i7) cost me an arm and a leg. It includes the hardware - computer and USB hub - and Serif's Universal License. Corporate rule affects an increasing part of today's world.