I’ve been getting some artwork done on the computer lately. I find working on paper and canvas to be a far more satisfying experience but some ambitions can only be fulfilled with the help of a computer. Specifically I’ve been working on a book where I tie together lots of my artwork with some stories. I’ve been working on it for a couple of years now and I still don’t have anything finished. As a matter of fact I have three separate books started but none finished. That’s because I’m still struggling with exactly what I want to say and what form it will take. That and this stuff takes time. So this week I decided to take some of that time.
The book that I decided to work on was named “Textures and Art”. I started this one some time back in March or April and I think the concept was to integrate some of my past drawings and paintings with photos of textures that I took while out on some of my walks. And some unknown story would tie it all together. Or at least that was as much of the plan as I could remember. I had completed about fifteen pages back then and then abandoned it. Pretty much because I prefer to draw or paint. But I want to make a book. I really do. So I steeled myself to do some work on it this week.
I wanted to make it to forty pages but since I was nowhere near that number I just started with the next one in line. Last Spring I had worked out a basic design for the background and the idea was to pick through the scans of my drawings and paintings to find things I could visually tie together and eventually make a story out of. I also would use the photos of textures as design elements to help things out.
One thing else I would add was some of my street photography. I didn’t want them to be straight up photos so I decided to use some of my Photoshop filter recipes on them that take a photo and make them look different than your ordinary photograph. The few filter recipes I have make them look a little more like illustrations and a little more like pop art. Of course that means even more work.
My basic process for the whole thing went like this. First I choose a background design. There are four of them and they’re all basically the same neutral grey background only oriented four different ways: top, bottom, left, and right. I also started with a blank white background on occasion and then covered the whole background with a photo.
The next step was to choose a main image and decide where to place it on the page. The main image could be a drawing, a painting, or a photo. Sometimes the main image became a secondary image through the process but I had to pick one to start. All the work on the paintings and drawings has already been done since I routinely scan my work in so I have lots and lots of them to choose from. But it’s still always more work than I think it will be to design a page.
If the main image is going to be a photo then I have more work to do. None of the photos are finished. It doesn’t take a lot of work to make one since I have all the filter recipes saved as actions but it still takes a good ten to twenty minutes to get a photo done. And that’s me working fast. If I’m slow that day it all takes more time.
After the main image I pick a secondary image. I usually like to pair a photo with artwork but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes I’d pair a drawing with a painting. Then I had to find a place to put the text. I chose a yellow/brown box with a black outline back when I originally made the design so I stuck with that. I had no hard-and-fast rules for the size and shape of the text box so I worked one or two of them in as they design saw fit. There is not a lot of text on the pages but I need some place to eventually fit the words.
After that I put in the tertiary pieces of art. This is where the most creative stuff happened. I usually went small with them and there could be any number of pieces but there were no other rules for this part. I’d interlock pieces and cover them up as I saw fit. No single tertiary piece was that important so I tried to get them to work as a whole. I even made some main pieces into tertiary pieces on later pages to tie things together.
I ended up getting about five pages a day done this way. I’d say it would take me about three hours to get five pages done and that’s all I could get done in a day. Or at least that was all I could take. I could and have spent a lot more than three hours a day on a painting or drawing project but those are a lot more satisfying to do. With this book design I would get frustrated after two to three hours. I’ve learned over the years that I have to stop then. I actually want to get this project done and too much frustration can make me stop so it’s important that I pace myself.
I ended up reaching my goal today and got that fortieth page done. That made me happy until I realized I hadn’t though about how to end this thing. I need some sort of visual ending but instead I had an ending they just stopped. It was a weird feeling. I almost always have an ending in mind for whatever I do but for this I had none. And as I ended the fortieth page was when I realized that. I don’t know how that escaped me.
Oh, well, at least I know the next thing I have to work on when I get back to that project. That pesky ending.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got sis new comics.
Check them all out here:
Here we go again with hard drive troubles. That happens every so often when dealing with computers. With external hard drives it seems to happen more often than with internal ones. I bought the one that failed on me this week back in 2010. Four years is about how long all of my external hard drives last. And this one didn’t give me any warning. Usually they start acting twitchy and don’t mount properly every time I boot up before they go bad. That’s when I buy a new one and get the info off the old one. This time the drive started clicking and beeping and only mounted one more time before dying for good. I didn’t have time to get anything off it but it was a backup drive so it didn’t have anything important on it. Unless my main hard drive died of course. And my other back up.
I didn’t immediately order a replacement for this drive as I usually do. I wanted to try and test it first. I’ve read that often when external hard drives go bad it’s not always the drive that breaks but the stuff in the case that holds it. Circuit board, power supply, or whatever. When I test a drive I do it in one of my tower’s four hard drive bays. That is a bit of a pain. I have to power down, pull a drive out of a bay, put the drive to be tested into the bay, and restart the computer to see if the drive shows up. So this time I decided to buy a hot swappable hard drive case ($25). I plug it into the computer via USB and then just pop a hard drive into the case. No screws or plastic tabs to worry about as in a regular hard drive case. And no powering down and removing one of my regular drives.
Since the new hard drive case is USB 3.0 I decided to buy a USB 3.0 PCI card to put in my computer (another $25). My tower is old (from 2008) and only has USB 2.0 in it so I figured I may as well. After I put the USB 3.0 card in the computer I powered back up and tested the broken hard drive in the new hot swappable case after I cracked the drive out of its old case. The drive was broken for sure. I then pulled a couple of old hard drives out of the garage to crack them out of their cases and test them too. At 320 and 500 gigs they are smaller than the drives I use nowadays but I wanted to test and see if they worked. Turns out they did. I put the 500 gig drive in the case of my newer broken hard drive and it boots up fine now.
My computer had been running slower than usual all this summer. I think it was because my main hard drive was getting full. It’s a 2TB drive which seems like it should be enough but I have a lot of my image files on that one. I had up to 1.6TB worth of stuff on it. It must have taken five minutes to start up each morning. And often I’d see the spinning beach ball of the computer accessing the hard drive as I was doing my usual work. So I decided it would be that 2TB hard drive, my main one, that I’d replace. I wouldn’t buy another external drive but an internal one. So I ordered and got a 3TB internal drive.
Replacing my main hard drive is always a bit of a chore. But it’s made easier by cloning software. Some people like to make a fresh install of their computer’s OS when they get a new drive but I don’t. That would mean installing a lot of programs as well and finding all their activation codes or whatnot. No thanks. I prefer to clone. I find that easier and have never found an advantage to starting all my software over again. With the cloning software you tell it what drive you want a copy of and what drive you want to copy onto. Simple.
By the way, remember that USB 3.0 PCI card I installed? A friend has since told me that I won’t get USB 3.0 speeds with it since my computer is too old for the bus on the motherboard to handle those speeds. Before I knew that I tested the speed of the 3.0 drive by copying a large file onto it and it seemed to copy a lot faster than with USB 2.0. Maybe it was my imagination or maybe it really did copy faster but when I cloned the 2TB drive onto the 3TB drive it sure didn’t go very fast.
When I did this years ago (with the 320GB drive) I put the new drive in one of the internal bays rather than use USB 2.0 but I got the hot swappable drive and USB 3.0 to avoid that inconvenience. Sure 1.6TB is a lot bigger than 300GB but the whole cloning process took a lot longer than I anticipated. I started it about noon and it went on for twenty four hours. I don’t think I was getting USB 3.0 speed. It also slowed down my whole machine as it copied in the background. I opened up Activity Monitor to see if the cloning program was using a lot of my computer’s power but it wasn’t. It was obviously using up a lot of something Activity Monitor doesn’t measure though.
I may have taken a while but eventually it was finished and so I powered down and swapped out the old drive for the new one. It booted up remarkably fast. It now takes about a minute to start up. Much better. I had to tweak a couple of setting of things that didn’t like to be copied but overall it went remarkably smoothly. I like when that happens. I’m waiting a week or two before erasing and reformatting my old main hard drive though in case something goes wrong. I can’t see anything too bad with a new hard drive happening but when do you ever see it coming?.
Along with the new main hard drive and the maybe not quite as advertised USB 3.0 card I put a new video card in my machine a few weeks ago. I want to get a new machine some time next year or so but until then there is still a lot of life left in this old machine. Now if only my monitor would stop acting up.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got eleven eight comics.
Check them all out here:
A few people over the years have asked my for my chili recipe but I’ve always been too lazy to write it down. Or maybe it’s that it’s not so much a recipe as a process. At least I never think about it as a recipe. I basically make two different kinds of chili: beef and chicken. Take the meat out of the beef recipe and you’ve got a vegetarian chili but I don’t count that as a different kind. It tastes exactly the same as the beef one except without any meat in it. Meat is mostly texture in chili rather than flavor.
I make my chili in a crock pot. You can make it on the stove top but believe me it’s a lot easier in a crock pot. You don’t have to stir it every twenty minutes to keep it from burning. That means you can ignore it. Works out much better for me. I also have a hand chopper that I use for chopping up the vegetables. It makes the task much easier and give me easy control over the size of the chopped veggies. I like to keep them a little chunky and have a little variety in their size. It’s one of those “As Seen on TV – Miracle Choppers” that I bought in the early 1990s and I’ve been using it ever since. The same one. A quick search shows me it’s still available. And pretty cheap. http://www.amazon.com/As-Seen-On-TV-Chopper/dp/B000E226EM
Let’s start with the basic vegetable ingredients. Veggies – Green Peppers, tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and broccoli. And then the spices – Cumin, oregano, garlic, basil, and thyme. That’s it. Pretty simple. Plus red kidney beans if you want beans instead of meat or if you want beans along with your beef. With chicken I’ve been using, and liking, chick peas instead of kidney beans. I used to use white kidney beans with my chicken chili but I like the chick peas better.
I use a five and a half quart crock pot for making my chili. That’s pretty big. I make a lot of it at once. You can cut the recipe down if you want to but chili also freezes well so you can make a big bitch and freeze half for later. I often chop up my veggies the night before I’m cooking, put them in the crock pot, and then stick the crock pot in the refrigerator. This is because I don’t want to have to do all the chopping in the morning. It doesn’t matter if you do this or not but you have the option.
So here is what I’d chop up and add to the crock pot.
Three green peppers.
Three medium sized onions (slightly bigger than a baseball).
Four to six hot peppers.
Three cans of diced tomatoes. (Equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes is always better but not always available).
One head of broccoli.
Five tablespoons of cumin.
Five tablespoons of oregano.
Five tablespoons of basil.
Five tablespoons of thyme.
Five tablespoons of chopped garlic. Usually I buy the chopped garlic in water in a jar and use that. Or you can chop your own.
These tablespoon amounts are just estimates too. I pour the spices onto the palm of my hand and guess it’s about a tablespoon. They are also intentionally low as I’ll taste the chili later and add more of what I think I need. I’ve also had a hard time finding thyme in the supermarket as of late. I have no idea why. But “Italian Seasoning” is easily found and reading the label reveals that it’s nothing more than a blend of oregano and thyme. So I use that when I don’t have any thyme. I think it has more oregano in it than time though but I often end up using more oregano anyway.
And a word about broccoli. If you’re not a fan of broccoli just add it and don’t worry. Those little tiny broccoli buds help thicken and sweeten the chili and won’t taste anything like broccoli. Chop them up fine and all will be good.
And a word about hot peppers. They’re the wild card. You never know exactly how hot they’ll be. The long hot peppers (rated medium to hot) that I’ve been using lately are fairly consistent but I notice they are growing them longer and longer. When I say one of these peppers I mean one that’s about six to eight inches long. I’ve seen them a foot long and I count that as two peppers. For milder chili stick with four peppers and for hotter go with six. You can also underestimate and add some of your favorite hot sauce latter on. You can always add a little heat but not take it away.
So I’ve got all that in my crock pot and I pull it out of the fridge in the morning. Then I add the meat. I usually use beef cubes for stewing. They didn’t have that at my local store this week so I used beef strips for stir fry. I think I had about a pound and a half of beef in there. Use whatever you want. The meat isn’t about flavor as much as it’s about texture. Keep the meat a bit chunky too. It’ll get smaller as it cooks and shred apart so think about a size that’s a little bigger than a forkful.
Speaking of texture I also add some ground turkey to the chili. Your standard supermarket package. I brown it off in a frying pan and then put it in. It doesn’t have to go in right away so usually I wait until lunch time to add it. I don’t often feel like frying things in the morning. You can use what ever ground meat you prefer but I find turkey the easiest. And once again it’s there for texture rather than flavor. It’ll end up tasting like chili no matter what.
One other reason I usually add the ground meat later is that sometimes there is too much liquid in the pot as the veggies cook and it threatens to overflow if more stuff is put in. I drain some of the liquid off with a ladle until there is enough room. This used to happen more in my five quart crock pot but less in my five and a half quart one.
I turn my crock pot on at about 8 AM. The first two hours on high and then the rest of the time on low. You could cook it on low the whole time or high the whole time and the cooking times would be different but that’s how I do it. And then don’t touch it. There is no point. It’ll take until about 1 PM until all the flavors cook and mix together and then you can taste it. I almost always add about two to three more tablespoons of everything at this point. More cumin gives it a more Mexican food flavor, more oregano gives it a more pizza-like flavor, more thyme gives it a more pine needle type flavor, more basil gives it a more sweet and woodsy flavor. Pick what you want or add them all. I might add some more garlic here too. Even garlic powered if I want a little more subtle bitterness. If it’s not hot enough for you than add some hot sauce. Try it again at 2 PM for one last adjustment if it needs it. It’s done when the beef falls apart under your fork (Usually by 3 or 4PM). If you’re using chicken it’s probably already done.
For my chicken and chick peas chili I take away two cans of tomatoes and add in a large jar of chicken gravy (16 ounces I think) and a large can of chick peas (32 ounces I think). I used to use chicken breast but have switched over to the dark meat. That’s because when eating chicken I prefer the light meat but it turns out I like the dark meat in chili a lot better. It absorbed the chili flavor much better and has a better texture.
I’m also a firm believer that chili tastes even better the second day. After sitting in the fridge overnight the flavors blend together even more and taste even better. So if you’re making chili for some occasion or to bring somewhere it’s okay to make it a day or two ahead of time. Chili keeps for a good long time in the fridge.
And if for some reason you have no time and want to make a quicker version of chili then cook everything in a frying pan first. Sauté all the vegetables, cook all the meat in a pan, throw the meat, veggies and all the spices into a pot, and cook that on the stove for an hour or two. It’s not quite as good as the slow cooking method but it’s still okay. And maybe cut the amount of ingredients in half if you’re doing it this way. Otherwise that’s a lot of stuff to cook in a pan.
One final thing is that when I want beef and red kidney beans in my chili I usually take out an onion and a can of tomatoes. Or maybe not add as much broccoli. For the vegetarian version I just don’t add meat and add beans instead.
The shopping list version.
3 green peppers.
3 medium sized onions
4 to 6 hot peppers.
3 cans of diced tomatoes.
1 head of broccoli.
Jar of cumin.
Jar of oregano.
Jar of basil.
Jar of thyme.
Jar of chopped garlic.
1.5-2 lbs Beef cubes for stewing
1 Package ground turkey
1.5-2 lbs chicken thighs (off bone)
1 can of diced tomatoes (instead of three)
1 large jar of chicken gravy
1 large can (32 ounces) of Chick peas
1 Package ground turkey
4 sixteen ounce cans of red kidney beans. Or whatever other beans you like.