Thank you… You’re Wacom.

One of my biggest bugbears when it comes to digitizing pencil scratchings is that I have to do my sketching on paper, get my phone out, take a photo – with a black piece of paper underneath to hide the stuff on the other side – then transfer that via bluetooth to my machine, process it through Gimp to get rid of the noise and stuff, despeckle, desaturate and use the threshold command to get the ‘black and white’ levels, mask one over the over to retain the gradient of the pencil or pen, and, finally, use my clumsy mouse for shading and colouring.

Ouch.

I’ve been drawing with a mouse since the old 286, and it’s fine and fair enough for this and that but, really, what I’ve been after is a way to draw / sketch / paint directly into the machine.

Intuous Art by Wacom

There I was, at Officeworks, looking for a present, when I saw this little puppy looking at me with sad eyes:

cth490k_galleryimage_1_600x600_emea.jpgI thought, “Nah. Nahhhhh.”

I did a skip around the store, found the present and was about to leave. I looked back. It was still there. “Take me home,” it said, not forcefully, not appealingly, just sagely.

“Take me home. Use me. I’m what you’ve been looking for.”

I have an old (ooooold) Wacom pen and tablet thing. As a pointing device, it was great. As a drawing tool, no good. Naturally I was skeptical about this one. But times change, technology improves, things get better, kinks get ironed out.

I thought, “OK.”

The rest is history. And, I have to say, it’s awesome. It came with a Corel painting software with which it integrates perfectly. It responds to finger pinching, so I can move the virtual ‘paper’ around, or zoom in and out, without having to leave the pad.

But the really cool thing is that it’s pressure sensitive, so if I want to make light strokes, the corresponding lines are light. Push down and make darker, stronger strokes. The result is a very natural looking stroke for pens and pencils, even watercolours, oils and acrylics.

Blending and shading, as you can imagine, comes out tops. In Gimp, it’s not so great because it doesn’t respect the pressure sensitivity, but pop the picture into Corel and it’s like liquid. I can shade gently, I can shade hard, I can smear this bit, scratch that bit, and even layer it all.

Needless to say, I’m going to be spending some time with this little pooch to make the artwork for Grosvenor Lane Ghost. My pictures will have a lot of chiaroscuro, contrasting light and dark, so I’ll be working on shadows and shines a lot, lanterns, old fireplaces, that sort of thing.

What do you know? I haven’t been excited by technology for a while.

On a side note, I’ve found that this is pretty cool for my little Boy as well: I showed him how to paint with it, how to change the colours and make shapes and things. He’s still getting the hang of it, of course, he hasn’t actually mastered holding a pen properly, but he loves how Daddy can draw him a dragon or a car or a train or a tree or a face or a cat, and he can ‘colour them in’.

Bugger. Can’t stick it on the fridge.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Easter Eggs -Triumphs and Failures

Running with the purple and gold theme, I made up a few more eggs and painted them blue, graduating to white at the bottom. Then came the white vine squiggles, with round balls on the ends of white flicks.

Finally, the balls were filled with white, gold and rose gold, just to mix things up again. Gloss up with several coats of polyurethane and we’re ready for Easter.

Easter Eggs 2016 the rest.jpg

Almost.

There are two big rules that go with making Easter Eggs.

  1. Always make more eggs than you will need and
  2. Never let little boys with curious fingers anywhere near your eggs otherwise:

BrokenEgg.jpg

This guy was only three coats of gloss away from finished! Oh, the humanity!Mini Jeztyr Logo

Easter Eggs – 2016

Easter caught me by surprise this year. Had grand plans to have everything prepped and ready, then I looked down for a second. Boom! It’s the 21st of March. How did that happen without anyone noticing?

The theme this year: Colours. Purple and gold, white and black. I also made some blue eggs, just to mix it up a little. There are a few ‘experimental’ designs, good to keep in the back of my mind for another time. I settled on the white, organic lines with gold bubble-fruit.

PurpleAndGoldEggs.jpg

And, because it’s Easter, I’ve also made a couple of Golgotha eggs. It’s a sunset scene, with the hillock and the three crosses set against the outskirts of the City. There’s a bit of gold mixed in the sky there, doesn’t come up in the photo too well.

GolgothaDetail.jpg

For more, check out my egg-blowing page.

Happy Easter everyone!Mini Jeztyr Logo

Blowing Eggs – The Easy Way

It’s Easter, Sunday 27th of Match, so for all you egg painting freaks, you’re probably thinking, “How am I going to blow all of my eggs in time?”, right? Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?

Fret not! A while back I put up a post about how to blow eggs, the ins and outs, pitfalls, and at the end I mentioned that one can use a breast pump to speed up the process. The ‘Egg Express‘ (pun intended), if you will.

I’ve had a couple of sideways glances and disbelieving looks so, to show you how fast and easy it all is, I made a video.

The benefits are many: You can make a little production line – clean the eggs, make the holes, blow the shells, wash them and dry them – to go even faster or, if you’re into comfort over speed, simply chill in front of the television while pumping away. No mess, no fuss.

The only hard part is cleaning up afterwards. If you’ve got a pull-apart pump (like the one pictured), cleaning is a breeze.

Sorry for the interruption to the Digital Versus Hardback series, but time is pressing for Easter, so I had to knock this one out.

Also, more Easter Eggs this year. I wonder what the theme will be?Mini Jeztyr Logo

The Prince and the Pauper

As you saw from the Deviled eggs and eggs Benedict, having ‘pairs’ or ‘themes’ of eggs is a fun way to mix things up at Easter. And there’s a good chance that if someone doesn’t like variant A, they can have B.

Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper was favourite story when I was a tacker, I’ve heard many variants, and the theme is common in movies and books. I chose to take an Indian variant with this pair.

The Prince

Note that the eggs are ‘inverted’ in that the smaller or pointier bit is at the bottom. This makes wrapping the turban a lot easier. It also means the primary hole will be covered by the turban.

Start with a coating of skin-coloured paint. While that’s drying, cut three 1″ pieces of ribbon and use craft glue to stick these lengthways on the top of the head. This will cover the gap formed once the herringbone pattern is made.

Prince

Once these are dry, dab some craft glue on the ribbon, and tightly wrap it around and around the head, dabbing with glue on each turn to hold it in place. Keep it tight, making sure the distance between wraps is consistent.

Pro tip: Fast acting glue is a life-saver here.

Once you have enough turns, glue the tail of the ribbon in place and trim.

If you need diagrams for this, just let me know.

Now comes the decorating: Get a chicken feather and glue it into a fold. Add some craft diamantes to enhance the asymmetry and, finally, glue on some eyeballs!

BlackAndRedPrince

Try varying the ribbon, jewel and feather colour. Black and red, for example, is striking. Blue and gold. Green and white. The choice is yours!

The Pauper

The egg is inverted, as with the Prince, but now we need to make him disheveled. Get a bit of foam and ‘blot’ the skin to make it rough and textured. Give him some stubble (he’s a teenager pauper) and small, sad eyes.

Now, for the turban: Go to your favourite material shop and buy some lightly patterned cotton. I’ve gone with red and white stripes here, which I also used for the cowboy egg’s neckerchief. Cut it into long strips, fraying the ends and roughing it up here and there.

Pauper

He’s a pauper, remember?

As with the Prince, cut three 1″ bits and glue onto the top of his head to cover the ‘gap’ made in the middle of the turban. Start the length off with a dot of glue, wrap around herringbone style, gluing on each pass. You can afford to be a bit sloppy with the turns, don’t try to hold it as tight.

With the last turn, glue it into place but don’t trim it. Let it fall freely.

Find a suitable egg cup. The white one used in the picture for presentation isn’t really appropriate. Go for something down-market.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Flower Power

You don’t need to decorate all of an egg. In many instances, the egg will live its life sitting on an egg cup, behind glass. They won’t be manhandled, felt, held, thrown, roughed up, knocked about: they are purely ornamental.

This means that the back of the egg will not get looked at, and you can put all your effort into the front.

Pressed Flowers

You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find pressed flowers. I remember walking into any craft store and they’d be throwing them at me. Now, it was a matter of, “Do you have pressed flowers?”

Blank stare.

Try another shop, “Hi, I’m after some pressed flowers. You know, for scrap-booking and whatnot.”

Haven’t had ’em for years.

I would have done it myself, only A) I don’t have any phone books in the house and B) Easter was only a couple of days away. Finally I found a manky packet of coloured daisy flowers without a price tag tucked on an obscure shelf in a dinky shop in the middle of nowhere.

“It’ll do.”

Moulded Flowers

These were easier to find. On my travels to Lincraft, they had these in packets on the shelf. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all flat backed which makes it a little awkward to stick on a rounded surface, but the little ones were just fine.

FlowerEggs2

Their weight makes the egg top and forward heavy, so the end product needs to be balance back onto the egg cup to stop it from tipping. Not a problem, they still look good.

General Pattern

  1. Coloured the eggs, as you can see, in a solid purple, peach or blue. Any strong colour will do. Three coats, allowing drying time between coats.
  2. Get some craft glue (make sure it dries clear). Sop it on the back of the flower, stick it on. Make sure they’re good and dry before you proceed. Wait overnight if you need to. Don’t rush this bit.
  3. Getting a piece of foam, I cut out a circle shape, dipped that in white paint and made the cluster of eight around the central flower. Allow to dry (don’t you love acrylics?).
  4. Using a fine brush, place either a dot or radiating strokes from the centre of each ‘cluster flower’. They’ll be dry by the time you finish up.
  5. Get a one inch brush, some polyurethane gloss and brush it on lightly, getting into all of the crevices of the flower.
  6. Give it another gloss coat.
  7. Find some decent egg cups, voila!

FlowerEggs

If you like, get some ribbon and ‘tie’ the egg to the cup before gifting. A bow around the midriff or from top to bottom looks shmicko. Use craft glue to hold it in place rather than tying a knot: Eggs are slippery little suckers, and, as above, if it’s an ornament, you can afford to ‘cheat’ a little.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Prepping Your Eggs

You’ve blown a batch of eggs. That’s a great start. They’re washed and dried and ready for use. Now, the question comes: What to do with them?

Eggs are a really wonderful canvas. They are porous, so they will happily absorb all manner of pigments. They are rigid, so pencils and paint and ink works just fine. They are hard, so you can drill them to insert crystals or ornaments. They respond to acid etching. You can glue things to them, or cut holes out of them, or wrap them in material.

Let’s start with painting…

To turn your brown egg shell into a nice, white canvas, you’ll need to get some undercoat. This will seal the egg, adding a little strength to it at the same time, and provide an excellent substrate onto which you can paint.

I use a matte white water based undercoat for my eggs – Dulux 1-Step. I bought half a liter of the stuff yonks back and break it open before each Easter, and I’ve barely made a dent in it.

I use water based instead of oil based because:

  1. It dries real quick, so I can do a few coats in one night.
  2. It doesn’t pong as bad.
  3. It cleans up real easy. Wash out with water, and you’re done.
  4. A lot of the mediums and overcoats I use are also acrylic.

I did try oil based paints a while back, and they give a good, strong finish, but I can achieve similar results with acrylics with a lot less fuss.

Line your eggs up on your work area, dedicating one tripod to each egg. You’ll want somewhere to put them down after each coat. Don’t forget to put some newspaper down if you’re working on the kitchen table.

Choose a 1″ or 3cm paint brush, hold your egg as shown below and get painting!

paintingSequence

Tips and Tricks

  • A better finish is achieved if you apply multiple thin coats rather than one thick coat. It’s smoother, it looks more even and you don’t end up with runs and drips.
  • Unless you’re insanely skilled, you won’t be able to paint the egg at the point where you’re holding it. Don’t worry, alternate you grip on the next coat as in the diagram above.
  • If you want an uber-smooth egg to paint on, consider sandpapering some of the little lumps on the egg before you undercoat (grinding with the Dremel also helps with this).
  • Between coats, if you can be fluffed, give a bit of a light buff with steel wool to smooth out the painting.
  • Aim for a minimum of two coats, preferably three.
  • Don’t be too concerned if you can still see the colour of the egg through the paint, since this is just the undercoat. Your pattern will take care of that.
  • If you want some of the real egg to show through, or only want to paint a certain area (like when you’re making a silhouette), use masking tape, sticky dots or any other sticking shape to mask the non-painted regions.
  • Aim to fill the secondary (top) hole with paint. If it’s small enough, it will close over nicely. You might not be able to totally close the primary hole, but that’s ok, we can work on that later.
  • Once you’ve finished one part of the paint, put the egg back onto the pizza tripod to dry.
  • Don’t let animals or kiddies come near your precious eggs. Not yet, anyway.

I’ve seen some techniques that advocate inserting a wire through the egg to allow you to paint it. I personally don’t, since it tends to weaken the egg and enlarge the hole. One part of preparation is strengthening the egg and reducing the hole!

By the end of all of this, you’ll have a carton of egg shells just waiting to be decorated! Now comes the fun part, actually making a design!

Sorry to Leave you Hanging

In the previous post I went over the basics of choosing, cleaning and making a hole in your egg.

Now what?

You’ve made the hole in the bottom. Good. Now turn the egg over. Don’t worry, it won’t come gushing out (unless you’ve got a rotten egg. Ew.) The viscous albumin and yolk have a tendency not to come out unless prompted.

You’re about to prompt it.

What you're dealing with
What you’re dealing with

Using your stylus, insert a wee hole in the top. Wee being little. Tiny. Just enough to let air from this side of the shell onto the other side of the shell. You’ll need to go far enough to puncture the membrane layer on the inside of the shell. Don’t worry, that’s pretty thin.

I generally use the top as the ‘display’ side of my egg, so a small hole is disireable. If you intend to pass a ribbon through it, make it large (5mm), otherwise keep it tiny.

Now there’s one last thing you’ll need to do: Puncture the air-sack. Insert your stylus into the bottom of the egg, all the way in, and twirl it, shredding the thin membrane. This will now allow the contents to pass through the primary aperture.

Holding the egg firmly (but gently) in your hand, fingers and thumb either side of the primary hole. Hold the bottom end over the clean bowl and press your lips to the (wee) secondary hole.

Blow.

This is why it’s called blowing an egg. Make a good seal with your lips around the hole. It might help to wet it a bit with water. Ease the pressure on and apply it constantly. It’s hard to see what’s happening, but here’s a clue:

The thick, viscous albumin will be working its way out the hole. There will be bits of tough membrane getting in the way, but by and large you’ll notice a clear drip form on the bottom of your egg. That’s good. Keep ‘blowing’.

Little by little that drip will grow larger, and form a smooth drop that will land into your bowl. Good. Keep blowing.

If you’ve mushed it with your stylus right, there’ll be a constant thick stream running out the bottom as you blow. You’ll notice the contents will go from albumin, to yolk, to albumin once more as each phase is pushed through the hole. Good. Keep blowing.

Keep blowing until the egg is light, the air from your mouth is whistling out the other end. Good job!

Egg Structure

Troubleshooting

It seldom goes as smoothly as this, unless you’ve made a whopper of a primary hole. Things that can go wrong:

  1. The hole is small, and the annoying little tubey things are wedged in there – use your stylus, tweezers or fingers to pull them through.
  2. The hole is too large, and the egg is cracking under the internal pressure – Blow more gently. Apply only enough pressure to keep the fluid moving.
  3. Nothing it coming out, no matter how hard your blow – You may not have punctured the air sack at the bottom, or your secondary hole hasn’t gone deep enough.
  4. You’ve got a bowl of albumin, no yolk and nothing’s coming out – The yolk has a thin, but surprisingly strong, membrane around it. Jab your stylus through the primary hole and keep blowing.

I find the little tube thing that gets in the way is my most common problem. It’s generally “Blow, blow, blow, stop, get a grasp on the chalaza, draw it out, crud it broke, blow, found it again, draw it out gently this time, good, blow, blow, blow, done.”

Clean up

You’ve got a bowl of egg insides, an empty shell and a smile on your face. Wash off the residual goop around the primary hole, and then wash the insides of the egg. How? Well, you know how the egg shell is effectively a straw?

Pool some water in a dish or in your hand and, rather than blow the secondary hole, suck the water up into the egg. When the egg is half full of water, slosh it around good, then blow the water back out again. Repeat a couple of times and then stand up to let the water drain and dry.

Don’t like that idea? OK. Get some running water on a needle thin stream, hold the egg upside down and let the stream trickle into the primary hole. Not as fast or as effective, but I’ve tried it and it still works.

Up next, some advanced tips and tricks.

Blowing the Egg

You can paint or colour or dye or gloss any old egg – but it helps to get the stuff out of the inside first. Yes, you can hard-boil it, but that’ll only last for so long. If it’s longevity you’re after, you need to blow the eggs.

The General Principle

Imagine a common drinking straw. Now imagine it with fragile, rigid sides. Enlarge the middle, shrink the ends and fill it with eggy goodness, and you’ve got yourself an egg that’s ready to blow.

Apply pressure at the top end, letting the goo get pushed through to the bottom end and out the hole. Collect the albumin and yolk, have a few omelettes.

Clean out the inside of the ‘straw’, let it dry and you’re done.

What you're dealing with
What you’re dealing with

You’re familiar with the white and yolk and shell. What you may not realise it that the membranes, air sack and annoying tubey things called chalaza also play a part when you are blowing.

There’s more to it than that

But, that’s not an egg. An egg doesn’t have holes at the ends! Of course not. You need to make them.

Here’s what you will need:

  • An egg – start with a chicken egg
  • A strong stylus, needle or sharp-pointy-hole-making-device
  • A clean bowl
  • A sink and towel to washup
Strong, sharp pointed stylus
Strong, sharp pointed stylus

Pick your Eggs

Check your egg for freshness. Really. Nothing worse than a rotten egg spilling its sulphurous contents all over the place. How can you test for freshness? My two main methods are the rattle test and the dunk test. Gently shake the egg from left to right. If it feels like there’s a marble rattling inside, you’ve got a dud.

The other way is to fill a glass with water and pop the egg in. If it sinks, it’s all good. If it floats like a cork, throw it out. If it sinks or rises only slowly, it’s probably still good, so don’t go wasting eggs.

Identify the top and bottom of your egg. The top is the smaller part. The bottom is more rounded. On some eggs, it’s well obvious. Others are so ovoid that it’s actually difficult to tell.

This is important, because of the way eggs are designed – there’s a little air-sac at the bottom of an egg that will obstruct your blowing. Also, the size of the holes you are going to make will be different top and bottom.

Clean your eggs

Blowing eggs requires you to blow with your mouth against the shell. Think about where the egg was made, where it has been. Now get a brush and clean off the shell. Give it a good scrub under water. I’ve never been sick from this, then again, I’ve never not washed my eggs before I began.

This isn’t just for hygiene, you will want to get rid of any poop, feathers, mud, crud or other foreign matter off the shell, so that when you paint, there’s nothing to interfere with your end result.

Ready to get cracking?

Start with the bottom. Turn your egg upside down, hold your egg gently with your non-dominant hand and apply firm pressure with your stylus to the bottom-most portion of the egg. If you have a sharp point on your stylus, this should make a very small hole. We’ll call this the ‘primary’ hole, because you make it first, it’s the most important to get right and it’s the biggest.

Pull the stylus back out and inspect it. If there are cracks leading away from the hole, you’ve worked it too hard and the structural integrity of the shell has been compromised. That doesn’t mean ‘throw it away’, it means ‘proceed with extreme caution’ – you’ll need to be extra gentle and go slowly to salvage the egg.

No cracks? Good. Now keep the stylus in your hand and slowly, gently, grind down the sides of the hole, enlarging it from a teeny-tiny hole to something about the size of a about 3mm or 1/8″. Go slowly, rub and grind little nibbles rather than push and crack big chunks.

Primary Hole
Work the ‘primary’ hole on the bottom to about 3mm

The size of the hole is going to affect three things: The ease with which you can empty the egg, the structural integrity of the egg and the aesthetics afterwards.

Too large and your egg can crack easier as you handle it or apply pressure when blowing. Also, a gaping hole looks ugly if you don’t ‘fill it’ with something.

Too small and you’ll be blowing like Sachmo trying to push the stuff out of the innards.

In my experience, 5mm is the maximum size you’ll want to go, aiming for about 3mm. Next post, I’ll get onto the secondary hole. Sorry to leave you hanging, I won’t be long.

Painting Eggs for Easter

Some time back, don’t ask when because I can’t give you a date, and it’s not important anyway since you could read this without knowing the exact… you know what? I’ll start again.

Start Again

Some time back I began to paint eggs for Easter to hand around to the family. It’s more personal that buying a bag of chocolate, a lot healthier, too.

I remember, as a child, my mother talking about how to ‘blow eggs’, and that manifested into a desire to give it a shot.Egg collection2

So I did. My first few attempts were pretty lame. The colour was messy, the lines weren’t straight, the images were uninspired. There are some cultures that paint Icons on their eggs, and pass a ribbon through, and make a real effort. I looked at those, and I looked at my efforts, and I looked toward getting a new hobby.

“No! Start again, see what you did wrong and fix it,” I said, “It’ll be better the next time around, you’ll see!”

So I did. And it was better. That’s all well and good, but what can I share with you folk who want to blow and paint your own eggs?Egg collection1

Rather than eat the elephant all at once, I’ll fill you in on the bits and pieces that I’ve learnt in successive posts. There’ll be a bunch of photos and diagrams, which I apologise for in advance, but it’s a necessary evil.

Once you’ve got the hard bits sorted, you can get onto making all sorts of designs, like ‘Princess Egg Layer’, ‘Eggs Benedict’, ‘Deviled Eggs’, ‘Harlequin Egg’, ‘Ladybirds’, ‘Night Sky’, ‘Cowboy’, ‘Cthulu’, etc. It doesn’t even need to be painted, either. Onion skin eggs look super. You can use crayons and pencils to colour, or dyes or even leave it ‘natural’ if you’ve got a nice enough shell.

If you’ve got any specific requests, such as ‘Hey, Jez, how did you make the eyeball?’ just let me know. Until then, I’ll get cracking on making up some diagrams to help out with the basics.Mini Jeztyr Logo