Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy 2015!


Another year goes past without any content being added to this blog, for which I can only offer my now-traditional apologies.

If anything, this poor, neglected blog has been a victim of my success, with somewhere north of 6,500 pages lettered in 2014, an average of 19 per day, every single day of the year. In all honesty, it was too much, so I've pulled back a little and will try to do slightly fewer books in 2015, but perhaps do them better.

And maybe do a little drawing, and some writing. Some of it may even be in the form of posts to this blog!

In the meantime, get yourself over to Comicraft's website for the traditional New Year's Day Sale — all fonts a bargain $20.15…!

I'd also like to offer my thanks to everyone who's hired me to letter their book or design their logo in 2014. Over-commitment, blood pressure scares and adventures in emergency dentistry have meant this hasn't, perhaps, been my finest year but I hope that hasn't been too apparent in my work. Still, 2015 shuffles into view with moves afoot to address all those things, so it's onwards and upwards.

See you in the funny books, folks!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year! Get The Fonts In!

Just a quick drive-by posting to wish all and sundry in the blogosphere a happy and prosperous 2014. May the coming year be kinder to you all than the previous one.

Also, a quick reminder that today only is the Comicraft New Year's Sale — all fonts just $20.14, so now's the time to head over to the site and grab a bargain (or three). Click here to visit the site.

Exciting things are coming creatively for me in 2014, not all of them lettering-related and I hope to be able share some news about them as I spread my wings a little…

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Head In The Clouds…? Saying 'No' to Adobe

Soapbox time, I'm afraid…

I can't help but contribute to the general furore over Adobe's Creative Cloud strategy. I know a lot has been said about this already, but I feel incredibly strongly about this.

For context, I have been a Photoshop user since v1.0 and have used every major version since then, excepting CS4, which I skipped. I've been an InDesign user since v2.0 (not CS2, but 2.0) and was a strong advocate in pushing two companies from a Quark/Postscript workflow to an InDesign/PDF one when Quark were fumbling the ball around XPress v4/5 and Adobe was picking it up with the original CS1 bundle.

Adobe has had an integral place in my workflow since about 1994. Their software, along with Apple's Macintosh platform, has played a major role in shaping my working life and the (primarily print-based) industries in which I've worked.

I have no axe to grind with Adobe; in fact, they have amassed an enormous amount of my goodwill over almost two decades.

But no more. With Creative Cloud, Adobe has demonstrated such unbridled contempt for its customers, that I have no option other than to vote with my wallet.

In case you've been living in a cave for the last few months, here is a very quick summary of what Adobe has done:

Previously, as an Adobe customer you would buy one of a range of software bundles that most closely suited your working practises. If you only used Photoshop, you'd only buy Photoshop. If you specialised in Web design, you might buy a bundle that had Photoshop, Flash and Dreamweaver, or one with Premier, After Effects and Audition if you were working with video and audio. The first time you bought one of these bundles (all branded under the Creative Suite —CS— label) it would typically cost you anywhere between a few hundred pounds and a couple of thousand. Thereafter, you could take advantage of upgrade pricing whenever Adobe put out a new CS version or choose not to if the upgraded feature set didn't offer anything compelling.

Adobe has recently announced that, as of CS6, there will be no more CS versions, replaced instead by their new strategy, Creative Cloud.

Here is how Creative Cloud works:

One can either pay for a single programme of your choice, and pay £17.58 per month, or £46.88 per month and get access to all of Adobe's programmes. You download the software direct from Adobe's servers and it runs from your own hard drive, just like all the previous versions. The only difference is that, once a month, it dials home via your internet connection and checks with Adobe that you are paying the monthly fee. If you've stopped paying, the software stops working.

Let's run through my objections:

1) This has nothing to do with delivering benefit to customers. Adobe have been utterly bare-faced about this; monthly subs even out the peaks and troughs of their cash flow.

2) This has nothing to do with piracy. Creative Cloud has already been hacked by pirates so it can be run without paying the monthly fee. Every single person that was running Adobe software illegally will continue do so without paying a penny. The only people affected by this are Adobe's legitimate customers.

3) The pricing is outrageous. US subscribers pay $50/month. UK customers pay £50/month — that's almost $75. Adobe has been challenged on their discrepancy of their European pricing before and have hidden behind vague excuses about shipping and regionalizaton costs. Now that the software is downloaded from central servers, these excuses are exposed as a lie.

4) The pricing is outrageous. If you used to purchase Adobe's most expensive bundle (Master Collection) and you upgraded it every time Adobe released a new version then you will save money on Creative Cloud. Every other customer gets screwed.

The thing is, very few customers use Master Collection, because very few people who design for print also edit video; very few people in Web design need a fully-featured DTP package. Almost no one, in fact. The vast majority of Adobe's customers used one of the cheaper bundles.

My last upgrade to my Design Standard bundle cost me less than £300. Under Creative Cloud, I will pay nearly £600 every year. Unless Adobe decides to increase the price, of course.

5) Adobe are holding us all to ransom. It's not unheard of for freelancers to encounter the occasional cashflow crisis — it's a line of work where the periods of most work very rarely coincide with the periods of abundant cash. Except, with Creative Cloud, if we don't make the monthly payments then software on which rely for our livelihood will simply stop working.

I understand that for many people, the upfront costs of the Creative Suite were prohibitive and that the subscription model works better for them, regardless of the fact that the overall cost is far higher. Fine. Let them have their sub — I have no issue with that.

However, it doesn't work for me: it costs me more money and takes control of my finances away. I want to be able to buy my software in perpetuity at a time of my choosing. I'm perfectly happy for both options to exist but, at present, Adobe are only offering the subscription model. I will, therefore, run my copy of CS6 until such time as it will no longer work and, at that time, I will find alternative ways of delivering my work.

Creative Cloud is one long, almighty 'Screw you' from Adobe to their customer base. I have no hesitation in returning the sentiment.

Someone called Sam Charrington posted the following on Adobe's Creative Cloud Facebook page, in response to a call from them for people's favourite jokes:

A man goes into a pub and asks the landlord for a pint of bitter.

"Sorry," says the landlord, "we don't sell beer anymore, we rent it instead."

"But that's madness," says the man.

"It's called innovation," says the landlord.

"Oh well," says the man, "I'll rent a pint of bitter please."

"You can't just rent the bitter," says the landlord, "you have to rent the whisky, the rum, the lager, the gin, the vodka, the crisps and the pork scratchings - the whole lot."

"But I don't need all that, and I can't afford it," says the man.

"I don't care," says the landlord.

"But I've been coming here for years," says the man.

"Talk to the hand..." says the landlord.

Which, sadly, is a pretty accurate summary of the situation.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Dashing SFX: An Old School Look

Recently, I decided to resurrect a sound effect lettering style you don't see very much these days — the dashed outline.
Google, sadly, fails me on an image search for the sort of thing I'm talking about, so here's a quick example I doodled freehand while waiting for an FTP download to complete!

If you've read my Illustrator guide, you'll already know all about creating normal SFX, so we'll get through the basic process as quickly as possible…
Create your text as normal:
Convert to outlines, arrange to your satisfaction and merge:
Now, copy your SFX and use the Paste In Back function:
You now have an identical copy behind your original. It should still be selected but, if it's not, use the Selection tool to draw a marquee round the FX (which will select both versions) and then de-select the top one with SHIFT-Click.
With the back copy selected, you can increase the stroke weight so that the back copy's stroke becomes visible:
You can now break up the heavier stroke at the back using the 'Dashed Line' option:
Admittedly, this doesn't look terribly attractive to start with, so the next thing to do is get rid of those nasty hard corners on the dashes, by changing the Cap and Corner settings of the stroke:
Obviously, this is better, but still not great. You can use the Dash and Gap settings to get a much more pleasing result:
This is much closer to the effect we're looking for but — to my eye at least — still looks a little too regular and mechanical. Fortunately, we can very the settings for Dash and Gap by more than just a single set of parameters:
Which gives us a much better result. If you want an inline, as per the hand-drawn sample we started with, simply use the Offset Path function with a negative value:
…And you should have a splendidly old-school sound effect!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tempus Fugit…

Another new year, and once again I find myself asking where all the time went…!

I haven't bothered with New Year's resolutions for a long time, but if I'm going to make one this year, it's going to be that I'll reverse the shameful neglect of this blog.

I mean, yes, busy, yes, lots of work, yes, yes… there are lots of creative people far busier than I who maintain blogs more regular and productive than this one.

So… 2013 will see some more proper content on this blog. If you're not seeing it, nag me in the comments and shame me into making time for some regular bloggery.



Sunday, 8 July 2012

Soapbox: Proposed UK Copyright Reform of 'Orphaned Works'

This isn't the promised update to my lettering guide -- which will be along in a few days -- but, instead, I'd like to talk about a proposed change to UK copyright law.

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm certainly not an expert on copyright, so I would urge you to read the government's consultation document (406Kb PDF file here) and form your own opinion. The document, in so far as I understand it, raises a number of areas of concern:

Foremost, it proposes to turn the legal entitlement to copyright protection from an automatic right to one that will require you to opt in; the default assumption under this proposal is that you are happy to have your work, if declared an 'orphan' work, exploited and licensed by a third party body -- a collecting society. Note that the proposal does not require you to be a member of a collecting society (which could very well be a private company) in order for that society to deal with your work.

There is clearly a massive logical flaw in this at its most fundamental level: if you make yourself (and, thus, your work) known to the collecting society, how can it be an orphaned work? By definition, the creator will have to be either unknown or uncontactable for the work to be declared an 'orphaned' one, but since when did the obscurity of work deny it legal protection?

The proposed reform claims to have safeguards built in, but these proceed from similarly flawed assumptions. It will, for example, be illegal to strip the metadata from a file, but once an image, or a design, or any other piece of creative work, goes 'viral' it will pass through so many hands that establishing at what point, or by whom, the metadata was removed would be virtually impossible.

Here's a hypothetical example: I put a piece of artwork up on my deviantArt site, which gets about 10 hits a day. It's a caricature of a celebrity I did for my own amusement, say. Someone working for a blog or site about celebrities right clicks that image, saves it down to their hard drive, and then re-uploads it to their blog, cropping it so that my signature is removed and failing to attribute it. I'm none the wiser -- there's no spike in traffic to my dA page, and I wouldn't see it on the blog, since it's not the sort of thing I read. The person who uploaded the image to the new location does a couple of dozen of these a day and doesn't keep a record of the sources.*

That image is now receiving thousands of times more views as an unattributed, 'orphaned' image than it will ever receive in its original location, with its proper attribution.

Enter the collecting society for cartoonists (remember that this could be a private company, and the proposal suggests that there could be more than one in each field; we're not talking about some cosy little creators' guild set-up, here) who declare it an orphaned work, license it to a clothing company for a fee and keep the money. My artwork is now on tens of thousands of t-shirts and, unless I actually see one, then I will be none the wiser.

And, let's say I do see one. There may be multiple collecting societies -- how do I find out which one has licensed my work? What if I am unhappy with the fee they have negotiated? Are they going to force the licensee to add my signature to all future printings of the t-shirt? What if I'm unhappy with the context in which my artwork is being used? Will the collecting society revoke the license? Compensate me for the inappropriate use of my work?

Remember also that this collecting society will be authorised to act on my behalf without my consent. It will be for me to expressly tell the society (keeping in mind that there may be multiple societies acting within the same field) that I do not wish them to do so.

But, and here's where we hit that problem with logic again, how will the collecting society know that the orphaned work is by me, and therefore not to be used in this manner? If they knew it was by me, it wouldn't be orphaned in the first place.

The proposal says that, amongst the safeguards, there will be a register of orphaned works.

Again, this demonstrates a complete lack of logical thought or understanding of the nature of what they're proposing: as a creator, are you supposed to make regular checks of this register to see if your work has been mistakenly entered onto it? I imagine that the register would quickly become quite lengthy. Plus, of course, the work won't be attributed to you and you'll have no way of knowing how it's been described.

What this proposal appears to do is turn the entire internet into one massive stock library for larger companies, giving them an easy point of contact (the collecting societies) to negotiate licenses to use content they don't own. Better yet, the collecting societies get to do this without your knowledge and then keep the money.

Why should there be an automatic assumption that any and all works are available for commercial exploitation unless explicitly stated otherwise? UK copyright law has, quite correctly, assigned all intellectual rights to a piece of work to its creator and they remain there unless the party wishing to exploit those rights can produce a document explicitly signing them over. 

Just because I create something and put it on display does not mean that I want to sell it, and if a third party can't elicit my express permission to do so, for whatever reason, then that third party should consider the work not for sale.

This government is prepared to aggressively defend the intellectual property rights of 'big content', of the record labels and movie companies, enacting legislation forcing ISPs to keep detailed records of the data usage of their customers, introducing punishment by association**, but is happy to allow the rights of smaller creators to be drastically curtailed.

This government has proven itself remarkably sensitive to public opinion on some issue (although not the NHS, sadly) so I would ask you to consider signing the online petition I've set up, and to share the link (and the reasons for signing) with as many people as possible.

You can sign the petition here…

Thank you for reading. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

(For a more in-depth look at this proposal, please read this blog entry, brought to my attention by John Freeman.)

*This part is not hypothetical, it's happened to me and, once, I did it to someone else in error. Fortunately, they contacted me directly and I was able to correct the mistake and attribute the work properly.

**By threatening disconnection of an entire household's internet access based solely on the actions of one member of that household.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Radio Silence: An Apology

Whew. Time certainly does fly when you're having fun, doesn't it?

Well, perhaps not fun, but I've been crazy busy and my focus hasn't been here, on this blog, for far too long. 

The first thing I've realized is that the old PDF version of my lettering guide was being hosted on Apple's iDisk service, which has just been discontinued! My apologies if you've been looking for this file without success -- I've reinstated it via a different online service, and added a link for it to the Illustrator Tutorial section to your right.

By small way of making amends for my shocking neglect of the blog, I will endeavour to update the final part of the series of articles by the end of next week and get it online, after which I'll also update the PDF. I have half-formed plans to make the PDF available as a POD book as well, if anyone's interested?

So, once again, please accept my apologies if you've been checking in here over the last couple of months looking for new content… I'll make a concerted effort to do better for the second half of the year!