And is set to splash its way all across your e-reader? Tedrick!
That’s right, everyone’s favourite octopus detective is due for release tomorrow, 1st of June!
OMG! I’ll be holding my own little celebration, but I can’t celebrate for too long, no sir. There are too many things to do. I’m still getting AMS to play ball, and then there’s the hardcopy to finalise, and distributions. Man, it almost makes me wish I had multiple limbs! Sorry, Ted, I know you’re still smarting about your missing arm.
You can find Tedrick Gritswell of Borobo Reef at the Amazon store here, for the price of a cup of coffee. And once I’ve passed the required number of days, I’ll publish to Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo and Google Play. Or you can download the mobi or pdf and import that into your reader – I’ve heard that works.
Thanks for sticking with me on this ride. I’ll continue with the hardcopy KDP journey in a day or two, once I’ve shaken off the darkwater hangover.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating myself until my lungs don’t work any more: indie artists are nut-bags. Day after day they’ll smash their fingers against the keyboards, drag their paint brush over the canvas, feverishly making order out of chaos without any promise of a return on their investment.
And what has been invested? Time, yes, that most precious of resources, that goes without saying. And money, too – materials, supplies, websites, promotions, hardcopies. And sanity, now there’s a big one. What else? What else?
Ah, health – The quiet victim. While time and money are quantifiable. One can budget. One can prioritise. Lack of either is evident. One’s health is less tangible. It’s not like one can purchase a big bag of health on eBay, is it? Is it?
I just went and checked. No, there are no super vitality packs on there.
Ah, if only life were like video games where there are power packs that boost your vitality and repair your damaged limbs in an instant. Where you can go running and leaping and bounding endlessly. That ain’t reality.
The hours worked in a day job get the best part of the brain’s awake time. Creative juices are consumed, necessarily, to get stuff done. Come home and there’s still more work waiting for you. What time is left over needs to be divided up.
The division is fairly straightforward: One can either recuperate, or one can get creative. Recuperation, by which I mean sleeping, or watching TV, or playing a game, or reading a book, or listening to music, is very, very necessary to overall health in the same way that exercising requires recovery.
The problem is that recuperation lets the brain have a bit of a chill, whereas creativity requires the brain to be on the ball. Here we can the contention: The artist wants to get stuff done but they are exhausted. The deadline is rolling around and the galley has to be proofed, no ifs, no buts – sleep has to be discarded in favour of getting stuff done.
Creativity becomes a chore, the artist becomes resentful and, here’s the really nasty bit, any chance of sleep, recreation or recuperation is tainted with a big, double helping of guilt.
“I really should be getting onto that last chapter instead of watching Nadal win the tennis” or “No, I can’t play with you Joey, I’ve got to proof at least sixteen pages tonight”. Can’t sit still at the pub. Can’t watch a movie. Can’t just chill.
Not only that, lack of rest has a terrible effect on the body. From a personal standpoint, I get noticeable more colds and stomach bugs when I’m overworked. Concentration goes out the window. I get utterly irritable, have no patience and find I make more and more mistakes both at work, on the road, and at home.
Food and Exercise
When you’re in a hurry you make sacrifices in order to complete the prioritised task. If this means ordering in a pizza instead of cutting up some veggies and cooking up a decent bolognese, so be it. After all, that front cover won’t design itself! The justifications are plentiful. It’s not a matter of being lazy, and often it’s a factor of the aforementioned exhaustion, “I’m just too damn tired to cook!”
And there’s lunch, too. Spend five minutes making it, or hit the ‘bugger it’ button and buy it when you get to work? Or perhaps grab a can of baked beans and hope its’s enough to keep you going without snacking on junk? By the way, that main picture is a shot of an ESP – Elvis Snack Pack. Peanut Butter, chips, banana, bacon, beef, cheese, sauces every which way. Healthy? Not in the least.
What about breakfast? Breakfast, you know, that most important meal of the day? Pew! Off it goes: I’d rather get twenty minutes more shut-eye and go hungry.
Exercise is the opposite side of the coin. Food (not all of it good) went in, what’s come out? Since the artist is so exhausted, getting into the gym or going for a run is akin to asking a rock for a glass of water – there ain’t nothing left in the tank.
Here the problem is a little more subtle. The mind is exhausted but the body is not. The mind just wants to be turned off for a minute or sixty, please. Stop bugging me. No, I don’t care if you are jittery, legs, I know I’ve been snacking on Jaffas all afternoon but, really, can you just leave me the hell alone?
The body is out of balance with the mind. The mind is in contention with itself. The soul has given up on the whole mess and is quivering in the corner. And that silly artist stands there, puffy eyed, overweight and unhappy, and keeps doing it, day after day after day.
Is there a solution? Yes, but it’s not pretty and it’s not easy. It comes down to three words: Responsibility, Discipline and Acceptance.
Stop with the groaning and listen. Only you, the artist, can fix the situation. It’s a product of your own desires, no one else, and therefore you are responsible. Are you responsible for your works? Yes. Do you believe that you have created them with the gifts that God gave you? Yes. Do you prioritise getting your stuff done above everything else? Yes.
Then, at the very least, understand that the problem (and it is a very real problem) comes from the decisions that you make.
Once you recognise the issue, that your own desires are causing you grief, you can work on a plan and sticking to it. Discipline is your best weapon.
Allocate three days a week to exercise.
Make a point of being with your family when you come home.
Have a food-token jar: Put, say, four tokens in the jar for the week. Each time you buy food rather than making it, take a token from the jar. Whenever you cook, replace that token. When you have no tokens left, you must make your own meal.
Put a TV in the garage so your brain can tune out while your body gets a chance to move.
These are just ideas. The point is to figure out where you’re going wrong and provide a way to encourage yourself, when you’re at your most vulnerable point of “couldn’t give a toss”, to stick to your plan.
Finally there’s the Acceptance. Accept that you simply cannot spend every hour working on your masterpiece. Nod quietly and think, “Yup, I’ve really got to put an effort into my body. This can wait another day.”
No more downing cups of coffee. No more burning that candle at both ends. No more neglecting yourself. You suffer, your work suffers, your family suffers.
Come on Jez, you nut-bag, put this keyboard down, stop writing this post and have a bloody rest already. Nadal is playing tonight.
You’ve written a book. Super! You’ve edited it, you’ve put it through the wringer a few times, ironed out the bumps, made a front cover, and it’s looking shmick. You head over to your favourite publisher – Smashwords, KDP, Lulu, or perhaps you’re going the route of Calibre and doing it all yourself – and your fingers are trembling, your heart is racing.
Here it is, the big moment. The point where you give the world your work. You triple check everything, chew the last of your nail from your punished fingers and push the submit button.
It’s all published. Some publishers take a few hours or a day to get it online, others are instant. Great. But it’s up, it’s up. You can’t sleep that night and feverishly check back throughout the next day. One download.
One. Measly. Download.
The subsequent days aren’t much better. From the reports you get, there’s little or no interest at all. Why? Is your book not good enough? Did you need to do even more editing? Was the front cover lame?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Arguably the latter. Why?
How many books are out there, right now, in a library? Now, how many more are out there online? Now, how many books are being created every day?
The answers are, respectively, lots, even more and heaps. Your amazing book is a flash in a very bubbly pan. It’s almost luck that anyone got to download it. Sure, there are ‘New’ lists that people watch but, if they are asleep at the time you push your book out, there’s that opportunity gone. Even if you happen to hit the timing perfectly, that’s only a tiny portion of the people
If you have an agent, or get published through a large house, advertising and marketing is part of the (substantial) fee. They have people paid to reach customers and entice them to take a look-see at your book, and they’re good at what they do.
If you’re an independent then you are on your own. OK, so you can tell your family and friends, that’s good, it’s a start, but it cannot end there. Why? Because unless you’ve written for your family (or painted, or sung, come on now) then they aren’t the people who you want to see your work. Uncle Bob might be into your garage music, but sure as heck Aunty Mavis ain’t.
What you want is to thrust your goods into the ears and under the eyes of those who might actually dig what you’re dishing. OK, easy job, just go stick some fliers in some letterboxes or staple them to the telephone poles.
The fundamental problem is this: There’s you. There’s guy who would actually like to see what you’ve got. And between you are a thousands of other you’s in exactly the same boat, seeking to reach a hundred thousands of the other guys in the other boat. It is now your job, and it is a job, to get what you’ve done out there.
Over the course of a month or two, there will be people who trawl through the lists, bots that pick up on new releases in genres and tweet them to subscribers, reviewers who are looking for the next big thing. Relying on these things to get your book under people’s noses is folly. What you need to do is blow that horn, beat that drum and make some noise already!
The internet is your friend in this instance. It serves as a platform on which to serve your music and books and film, excellent, and it also serves as an enormous soapbox reaching, well, the entire world. Let me say that again: The internet soapbox has the potential to reach every country in the world. That’s a lot of people.
“But,” you say, “You said that there are a thousand people just like me doing the same thing, and many of those people have professionals to help them out!”
True, true, but let me put it this way: If you bury your head in the sand, you severely (dramatically, extremely, vastly, pick your own adverb) reduce your chances of been seen. If you stand up on the soap box, even though you might be rubbing shoulders with a bunch of your peers, at least you’re in the game.
Get active, go join a forum or three, give advice and chats, start a blog, post updates about what’s cracking in your world.
99% of people won’t give a coin about your antics. That leaves (Pauses to do the math) 1% who do. And its that 1% you want to reach. 99% of people don’t dig war novels. 1% do. 99% of people don’t like vampire romance. 1% do (Actually, that figure, unfortunately, may be higher). The point is, don’t give up because you can’t fathom the sheer numbers. Even if there’s one shmuck out there who gets you, awesome, you need to let him / her find you.
You have to be able to reach who you’re after in a manner that will encourage them to stop and take a look at you.
Word of mouth is good if your audience is of the type that likes to recommend things. Forums and social media work if you can pick the right niche, and get a rapport with the people who frequent them. Don’t stop with the internet, though. You know those fliers? Not a bad idea if your target demographic is at a uni campus. Not a great idea if they are farm hands.
The reality for any artist is that, in order to be seen, they need to raise their voice. It doesn’t have to be an earth shattering crescendo, or a big explosion, or a stunt. Rather, a consistent, well articulated, “I’m here” is a great place to start.
Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some of the marketing techniques and pitfalls I’ve come across.
My sincerest thanks to everyone out there who hit up Amazon and made a play to make Grosvenor Lane Ghost Free for Kindle because – drumroll (as if the title of this post wasn’t a give away) – continue the drumroll to add tension and Boom!
Grosvenor Lane Ghost is FREE at last!
You did it for Atlas, Broken (and that was awesome) and now you did it again!
You don’t know what this means. Oh, I’m gushing. I haven’t written a speech. It’s all so overwhelming… um, I’d like to thank the Academy…
No, really, thank you guys for all your efforts and, hey, if you haven’t picked up your copy, why not head over there now? While you’re there, I don’t suppose you could make Jolimont Street Ghost free as well?
In previous posts, I was banging on about how the audience can give feedback to the artist. In short, it’s a personal reflection from the reviewer and says more about their tastes and attitudes than the work itself.
This is a key concept to keep in mind for you, my fellow artist, when dealing with accepting criticism and feedback.
The problem with art is that there is a misconception that anything goes. If I call it art, then it must be art, and if I say, “That’s exactly how I wanted it” doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.
Whoa, whoa. Really? Yup, really. I cannot draw a circle and call it a square. I might say, “I’m challenging your concept of a square…”, that’s fine, I can call it whatever I like. I can call it Bob. I can call it, “The Impression of Time”.
What it actually is, is beyond debate. It’s still not a square by any definition. It’s a circle. And if my intention was to draw a square and I ended up with a circle, then what I did is not what I intended – it was a mistake.
If I write “Grandma waked to a shops,” and you pick me up on my spelling and grammar, it’s pretty evident that, by any rule book, the sentence is wrong. Of course, this sentence could be part of a character’s speech, and they are apt to mispronounce words or whatever, but that’s beside the point. The intent of the sentence is not what manifested – it was a mistake.
As a rule: Objective criticism is not personal so don’t take it that way.
As an artist, be thankful that the mistakes have been pointed out to you. If you’re drawing a realistic scene and someone complains about the perspective, listen to them rather than waving your hand and claiming artistic license. If it was your intention to display proper perspective, then another set of eyes to criticise your work is invaluable.
Perspective, like grammar and punctuation, or timing and chords (if we’re talking music) can be measured and determined as being correct or incorrect, true or false. Because of this, you can take the criticism and check it for yourself.
Remember: Objective criticism can be verified externally.
And I’ll take the time to reiterate my stance on ‘correctness’ because it bears repeating: Just because a painting doesn’t have perfect symmetry, or a singer dropped a note, or a writer put his comma in the wrong spot, doesn’t mean the artwork is instantly less enjoyable.
The other problem with art is that there is a misconception that good art is good for everyone. After all, everyone subscribes to the works of Bosch, right? Everyone enjoys reading Dean Koontz, right? Everyone digs Daft Punk, right? Right?
The reason is simple. Different people like / dislike different things. The old adage says that “You can’t please everyone” and this is the truest statement of them all. I know people who don’t like Star Wars, or Harry Potter, or Celine Dion (it’s true!).
Big rule here: No work of art will appeal to everyone.
As such, you cannot expect that your efforts will be labelled as five stars by everyone or even anyone.
The other way of saying this is that you must expect that you will receive negative reviews. Full stop. You’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise. In fact, I’d argue that you should be worried if everything you’re not getting negative reviews.
Of course, if you’ve poured your heart and soul into a work, only to find that everyone who has bothered to tell you what they think says that it stinks, then it’s time to step back and appraise it from their point of view.
It may, genuinely, 100%, honest-to-goodness, hand-on-heart stink and you’re so committed to it, and have worked on it so hard, that you can’t, or won’t, see that it isn’t really fit for public consumption. If this is the case, and I truly don’t think it will be, but if it is then it still doesn’t mean that you stink, only that what you made stinks.
OK. Fine. Learn from this and move on. Take the criticism, push your chest out and start your next piece – or perhaps tidy up what you’ve got, fix the flaws and try again.
Don’t forget: Any genuine feedback is good feedback.
From what I’ve seen, though, reading through indie books and listening to indie music (Head to The Blitz, now! You can listen while you’re reading) and such, is that there is a natural filter, Fear, that acts to prevent the artist from dishing up tosh. While it can be debilitating, it means that anything the artist does finally squeeze out is going to be refined and sculpted to their liking.
I’m not talking random snaps and duck-faced pouts on Snapscat, I’m talking actual honed and published material. Hence my reasoning to claim that, more likely than not, what you’ve got isn’t tosh. More likely than not, the right person hasn’t seen it.
If a thousand people hate your song, and one person absolutely loves it, is he wrong? Not at all! He’s the only one out there who gets it. He’s the one who has something the others don’t have – a connection with the artist.
Importantly: If someone has taken the time to give feedback, take the time to accept it.
Wankers and Arseholes
There are arseholes in this world. There are people who will bag you, pay you out, drop one-star bombs, write incoherent gibberish on a feedback form, troll you in forums… you know, arseholes.
Then there are the wankers. The ones who talk to hear their own voice, take an opposing point of view simply to have an argument, use their almighty Google-fu to assert their point, correct every minor flaw with their mighty keyboards… you know, wankers.
Thankfully, there are fewer of them out there than there are genuine people. They’re easy to spot. They know how to get a reaction. Writing back, getting aggressive or defensive, stewing over it or cyber-stalking them isn’t going to do a lick of good. Hunting the White Whale what flipped your boat will only end in tears.
Always: Leave the arseholes and the wankers alone.
By listening to what people like and don’t like about what you do, you acknowledge your audience, close the loop and, at the same time, gain a valuable insight into how your work is being received.
If everyone is saying that it needs more salt, perhaps you can afford to sprinkle some more on before you push out your next dish?
It must be great to be a chef, cooking up fresh ingredients, using all the skill and knowledge garnered over the years to produce a plate that, after a few minutes, is devoured by a hungry patron. What an amazing feedback loop! One would only need to look out over the pass and see the mass of satisfied faces to see that if was all worth it.
Feedback is the lifeblood of the artist. They can live on beans and franks for weeks to save for their supplies, or work long into the wee hours of the morning after a bloody hard day, if only they know that, at the end of it all, someone, somewhere appreciated what they did.
After all, who does the artist work for? For whom do they paint? For whom do they write? For whom do they compose? You, silly! That’s who!
We don’t get to see you enjoying our work, unless we’re there behind you, looking over your shoulder, grinning creepily… No. No. We don’t do that. And if we did, surely you would not have the inclination to be as up-front and honest as you (and we) would like you to be.
Why honest? Why not just give 5 stars to the struggling artist and move on? Because it doesn’t help the artist to grow. It gives a false impression that the tripe they dished up was decent. It gives no indication of your true feelings so the next thing you’ll get will be more of the same.
On the flip side, if you drop a 1 star bomb and run off giggling, the artist is left wondering whether they have under-performed, if they even have talent, if they should bother pursuing their dreams.
No feedback is better than dishonest feedback. Honest feedback is best for everyone concerned.
I know that there will be people who argue against this, citing that the more feedback a work gets, good or bad, the better it is for marketing. Well, I’m not talking about marketing or sales or exposure, I’m talking about the artist, their work and their future.
Avoid 5 and 1 stars unless you’re willing to explain your reasoning. If you give something 5 stars, then you’d be in the mood to gush on about it, telling the world just why it’s so great. For one star (and I’ve never actually given a one star) you would have to be intellectually insulted by just how bad the artwork is, and would be more than happy to explain just why it was tosh.
Like it, Hate it, Indifferent about it?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to appreciate it. In fact, many times, you will not have an opinion. Art is a personal thing, both for the artist and for the audience, but not the audience as a whole, oh no, each audience member as an individual.
I’m going to take a punt and say that you, reading this, at not a Reviewer. Do you get paid for your review? Do you need to write for the masses? Do you need to use your years of expert knowledge in the industry to spot the difference between a deus ex machina and a plot voucher? Do people criticise your criticisms?
I didn’t think so.
And this is where I think a crucial rule of feedback is founded: Since feedback is an opinion and an opinion is personal, then it is a reflection on you, the audience member, not the artist.
It’s about what you like and don’t like, how you see the world. It’s about your response to the work in question.
Here, let me explain:
“Adam Sandler is not funny” is stated as a fact. Since funniness is subjective, it cannot be a fact. He is funny to some people hence this statement is false and not useful.
“Adam Sandler does not make me laugh” can be a fact. Moreso, it’s not saying that Adam Sandler cannot make anyone laugh, only that he does not make the reviewer laugh. Note that it does not explain why he does not make the reviewer laugh.
“I don’t appreciate Adam Sandler’s puerile antics, bum, fart and gonad jokes” is getting down to the pointy end. See how it’s not a matter of Adam Sandler being funny or not, it’s whether the reviewer finds him funny.
If you are a fan of puerile humour, then you would be very happy to ignore this review and overlook the negativity. Or perhaps you might find “I love fart jokes, but Adam Sandler takes it too far in his latest…” to be useful.
Not everything is negative, of course. Compare the following:
“Adam Sandler rocks!” is impersonal and a waste of feedback.
“Adam Sandler’s slapstick style gets me every time” is personal, but not altogether helpful.
“Adam Sandler reaches deep into his bag of gags and pulls out some fresh side-splitting slapstick shiners. Oh, and watch out for the three minute farting compilation!” is personal, factual and helpful.
In general: Write feedback from a personal point of view.
He slipped a note halfway through the song. Did your head stop bopping?
She used the word ‘belittle’ too many times on a page. Did you stop flipping pages?
Sometimes we can get hung up on correctness. The artist needs to know about these mistakes and hiccoughs because they do distract and detract from the enjoyment of the work. They can pop you out of the little world that the artist has drawn you into.
The reviewer has a responsibility to get over these things and move on. It’s a fine line. Too many mistakes, too much sloppiness and viewer simply can’t get back into that little bubble and continue to enjoy the work. Fair enough, criticise away, but keep it factual:
“I like the intricate, multi-faceted plot, but Ronson might do well to get an editor to help out with proof-reading.”
Feelings help. If you can describe how it made you feel, and why, all the better. We’re human beings. We look to art to give us sensations, emotions, thought provoking situations.
“This painting makes me uncomfortable, fearful even. Even so, I can’t stop looking at the pained expression of Man in White.”
As a guideline: State what you enjoyed, as well as what you did not and why.
A big note about Enjoyment: One does not need to be made happy to enjoy an artwork. I read the book “Slave” and it made me thoroughly angry, blood running cold. Was it a bad book because of this? Not in the slightest!
Horror books do the same. We don’t read them to be comforted, we read them to be confronted. Think about murder / mysteries. We don’t read them because we enjoy killing, we read them because it speaks to our intellectual mind. One does not listen to the blues for giggles, nor pop for meditation. We’re human, we are bursting with emotions and we’re more than happy for a piece of creativity to release them.
In short: If an artwork evokes a response in you, then it has to be doing something right.
We’re human, after all
Artists are a crazy, mixed up bunch, at the same time arrogant and humble, coming from all walks of life. Some are seasoned. Some have thick skin. Some profess that they couldn’t give two hoots what the world thinks. Phooey!
You know what? Each and every one dreams of being able to look out over the restaurant pass and see a hoard of hungry people happily eating their work. Each one would love to be able to fling their tea-towel over their shoulder and sit down with you while you munch away and ask what you think, good or bad.
If you’ve read a book, listened to a song, seen a video or perused a painting, then you’ve had an other worldly experience where the artist has reached out across space and time, broken geographic and temporal boundaries to share with you their mind.
The least you can do is pass on your compliments to the chef.
It is perfectly natural for a human to pre-judge a situation. Good intentions aside, we do, indeed, judge a book by its cover. We do read the blurb and think, “What? No earth-destroying ninja robots? No deal!” We look at what’s trending and ignore what’s not.
It is an essential skill: With too much choice, too much information overloading us, how can we possibly sift through the flotsam? Search Engines and forums will bubble up the ‘most popular’. Marketers and publicists will thrust their clients to the top of the list. Money talks.
We need to quickly filter out the bad if we are to pick the good. Like choosing fruit, would you prefer a lovely, shining apple from the supermarket or a dull, hail-damaged one straight from the tree?
Enter the Indie
I’ll be blunt. Indies don’t have a lot of resources: Time, money, friends, advertising, celebrity, influence, you name it, it’s in short supply.
Want to know something interesting? Indies do have other qualities, special qualities, and they have it in bucketloads: Passion. Patience. Pride. Desire. Drive. Determination.
And, despite prejudices to the contrary, Talent.
That’s not to say that every independent work is a masterpiece. Nor does it imply that there isn’t a yard full of tosh to wade through. What it does mean is that just because it hasn’t gone through the sanitation process, been stripped of anything too extreme or risque or provoking, been puffed up with whatever’s trending, been watered down to suit the most popular palate, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a crack.
That’s right. Pick up that windfall apple and look at it closely. Wrapped inside that dull, hail damaged, ill-shaped fruit is some of the tastiest flesh you’ll ever eat. It wants to be eaten. If there are bruises or knocks, cut around it and eat the rest!
Therein lies the issue: The artist lives to create, not to sell. Their focus is not on the perception of the work, rather on the work itself.
This is where we see the drive and determination coming into play. If Indies were all about turning a buck or becoming raging successes, we’d drop this gig and be out the door before the keyboard hit the ground. Yet here we are, plodding on, pushing through.
No press releases, no appearances on talk-shows, no endorsements by big name celebrities, no team of marketing experts. Yet the independent artists march on, confident that somewhere in the big, wide world are people who will discover and appreciate their efforts.
Indies persist despite the lack of recognition.
The problem with Perception is that it is largely out of the hands of the artist. It doesn’t matter how great the product is if the audience never gets a chance to sample it. The audience won’t wish to sample it if it does not look appealing.
Sure, there are reviews, publications, marketing and advertising, tools to grab someone’s attention, break through the barrier and say, “Hey, you might like this.” Of course, the bigger the budget, the better the campaign, and the small, pathetic plea of the indie is drowned out by the cacophony of the big boys.
It’s all part of the struggle.
Through resistance a muscle grows. So, too, through adversity the artist will thrive, savouring the small wins, learning from the defeats. Unpleasant as it is, it makes us stronger and, in many ways, both tangible and intangible, makes the artwork that much better.
It has to, simply because the artist cannot compete with the slick artworks and celebrity endorsements, and so must work on either quality or quantity. Give that time is such a scarce commodity, you can bet your bottom dollar that a your fellow artist is feverishly fine tuning their skills to give you the best work they can.
How can you help? Feedback. Feedback lets the artist know you’ve seen, or felt, or listened to their work. This, by itself, is one of the greatest motivators. Whether your criticism is good, or bad, or constructive, or jovial, or even if you have no criticism – and let’s face it, sometimes there’s just nothing to say – letting them know that their work made its way in front of you is enough to keep the creative passion burning.
You can also help by changing your perception and the perception of those around you. Independent artists will always have the stigma of being ‘unprofessional’ or ‘lesser-quality’ or, heaven forbid, ‘less-enjoyable’ than mainstream. The extent of this stigma, though, is up to you, the audience.
Be brave. Be adventurous. Move off the beaten track and try something different. Then you can tell others about that squishy, juicy, strange-yet-oddly-satisfying fruit you just found lying under a tree.
I thoroughly gave a Synfig, Audacity, Anvil Studio, Gimp, Corel and good ol’ Microsoft Movie Maker a workout.
I haven’t got a lot to say except that the promotional animation for Grosvenor Lane Ghost is now up on You Tube and Daily Motion (hehehe… Daily Motion. You know, like, one’s daily constitutional?) and any other place that I can find.
Please share, enjoy and criticise. Don’t worry, I won’t be listening, I’ll be sleeping. Right now it’s a warm Milo and off to bed.
With the backdrops pretty much ready to go, with the exception of the fireplace, which needs some serious shadows, I’ve been looking at the animation side of things.
Nothing gets stuff done like getting stuff started, eh?
Opening up Synfig, I set the dimensions to 1280 x 720, which gives a 16 : 9 ratio, ready to go.
Now, the scenes are to be slow and progressive so, unlike Adaptation which was more a collection of conceptual shots, I’ll be looking for a lengthy time span of about ten seconds. At a frame rate of 30 fps, that’s, uh, wait, let me get my calculator out… carry the 1… 300 frames.
Hit the OK button and get ready to rumble.
I start by adding a flat colour for the background. Black is good, considering the number of shadows. Why do I need a background if I’ve got a backdrop? If any part of the backdrop image happens to be transparent, or if I use a layer over the top which modifies the alpha of the backdrop, I don’t want to make sure it doesn’t use white or something to compensate.
Anyway, with that in place, I add the backdrop of the door frame (taken from the actual cover. Yes, it’s grainy. Yes, it’s dark. That’s ok. The scene is at night, and it’s going to be a bit further away than our Professor, anyway. The door, however, is sharp. This is where the Professor will be spending some time opening up the lock.
So I insert the door and, presto, I’ve got a front porch!
Now I want to be able to move things about. I want the Professor to walk from the right, over to the door while chatting to the protagonist, unlock the door and open it. And for extra focus and ‘night time’ness, I want there to be some evidence of a lantern.
I’ve broken up the Professor into two main parts: his arm, which will move about to give an impression that he’s not just a cardboard cutout, and his torso. Both the arm and torso will belong to a group so that, as the Professor ‘walks’, the arms and torso bob at the same rate.
I’ve added the ‘lantern’ to the Professor group, so that it, too, moves along with the body. It’s really just a shroud, a radial gradient of zero-alpha to full, with a heavy offset, such that everything outside of the lantern’s influence is dark.
You’ll note, on the time line there, the bunch of green dots. This is the motion of the Professor, stepping and bobbing along. The green is Synfig’s TCB waypoint inference. It gives a looser waypoint than clamped or ease. If I set them all to linear or clamped, the Professor would be marching like a soldier. As it is, his gait is more natural.
All that’s left to do now it animate the door opening, add in a warm ‘lantern’ glow to the radial gradient and shade the door more as it opens to give an impression of darkness and depth.
There are three key sounds in this scene:
The Professor nattering to the Protagonist about it being dry on the porch.
The key turning and the door opening.
The ambient rain, a crucial element of the story.
Getting the key and lock sound was fairly simple. I went out the back to the gate and practiced with the slide bolt. A few trial runs and I recorded it on my phone, picked the best sounding one and cleaned it up in Audacity. More on the cleaning-up bit later.
The voice was more difficult. Where, oh, where does one find a Victorian Professor in the middle of outer Melbourne suburbia? I tried a few online services, but I couldn’t get the voice actor I was after. The ‘British’ was either too uppety, too young, too old or, in most cases, too damned expensive. I’m working on a shoe-string, here.
Fiverr looked promising. There are a lot of voice over artists who are willing to lend their talents. Checking through the various videos and samples, though, it seems it’s mostly geared toward reading scripts for advertisements. Not what I’m after.
In the end, I put on my best ‘old-but-not-too-old’ British accent, practiced again and again and again. And again. Then recorded myself. Yeah. That’s what I did. I hope it sounds right. You know when you hear your voice on tape and you think, “Heck, is that me?”
Lastly, the rain. I haven’t got that sound clip yet. I’m expecting it to rain here in Fawkner tomorrow, and I’ve got a nice corrugated iron cantilever out the side that should sound awesome.
Anyway, back to Synfig: I tried adding these sounds as ‘sound layers’. That is, one adds a layer of type ‘sound’, points the sound file to the .wav or .mp3 and then set the offset.
This seemed the perfect way to add sound to the clip apart from two things.
Firstly, it didn’t always play. Every so often, when re-running the clip, I’d have to select the layer to give it a poke, and the sound would then play. OK, no biggy. So long as it exports…
It didn’t export. No matter what format I exported it as, the sound didn’t come through in the final file. I vaguely remember having this issue with The Bullet. My solution there was to add the sound when assembling the final video. I guess I’ll have to do the same thing here.
Making scenes to represent the various parts of Grosvenor Lane Ghost proved harder than I expected. I had, in my mind, a grand set of a horse and carriage, of a row of dilapidated houses, of looking up to see the young boy in the window. Yeah, right.
The problem is that I was reverting to the ‘tell’ rather than the ‘show’, that is, I was telling the story as a movie, scene by scene, rather than showing what the book was about. What I really needed to do was scrap the chapter by chapter approach, getting more into what the message of the book is about.
And what is it about? Science. The introduction of the Protagonist to the world of Paranormology. His first steps into a strange world. The Professor learning to take his own advice and judge a case only after gathering evidence.
With that in mind, I got cracking on making up a few key elements: The equipment, the larder and the laboratory.
Finding an image of an ‘old-school’ thermometer was tricky, since many were large, ungainly contraptions, nothing portable as the Professor would use. I had to be a bit creative, change the gradient to a positive / negative rather than absolute, and add in brass screws for calibration.
I found many image for an electroscope. Diagrams. Blueprints. None were suitable. So, I had to construct one from a bell jar, a copper rod, a disc and copper sheeting. The vibrometer? Well, that’s actually a high temperature thermometer, but let’s just keep that between you and me, shall we?
I really wanted to get the equipment into the animation since, as the books go on about, any real paranormal investigation require documented, calibrated evidence, not just ‘feelings’ and the like. Plus, a big part of the Professor’s obsession is repeatability, such that his investigations might stand up to peer-review, so his equipment is all important.
The Protagonist spends a fair bit of time in the larder, listening to the house, observing his equipment, getting thoroughly bored.
I don’t have a larder in my house. And I don’t have floorboard. And the garage is concrete. So getting a picture of a larder was kind of hard. No problem. Gimp to the rescue! Taking shots of various textures around the house, including an inverted one from underneath the house, cropping, trimming and poking, I was able to assemble a larder.
On the left is the larder in the Gimp stage, where I was having issues getting the shadows to play nice. You can see some of the icky-thicky lines around the centre. Meh. On the right is after I got to it using the Wacom Intuit drawing tablet. Applying heavy shadows was made a bazillion times easier. The results is a lot more like what I had in mind.
Aw, geez. You wouldn’t think it would be too hard to find an old school lantern, light box, prism and holder, easel, and a sheet of paper and tuck them into a laboratory, would you? Well, it was a pain, let me say.
I blurred the background for a sense of depth, constructed the bench out of pieces of wood and scaffolding, found a decent signal lantern (and roughed it up a bit) and put it on top of a box. The result was uninspired. Why? Because everything was ‘different’, that’s why. The box was too clean, the lantern was too old, the paper was too shiny… you get the idea.What I needed to do was make everything a little bit ‘banged up’. Except the prism, since that needed to be an obvious ‘glassy’ element. Not only that, the whole thing was too damned bright. More shadows, more shine. Wacom to the rescue, once more.
Seriously, I’m loving this thing. Still getting the hang of it, of course, early days and all of that. But enough blabbering. I haven’t got the ‘old’ laboratory for comparison for you, my apologies. Let that be a lesson: Hard-drive space is cheap. Don’t delete stuff, move them into separate folders so you can see progressions.
I’m going to get going on some of the other images. Come back soon!