This is an addendum to the last weekly update (3.22).
As part of Singapore Art Week 2022, we visited The Culture Story on Sunday afternoon to see ZXEROKOOL’s first local exhibition entitled Memes, Myths and Machines. He’s done a new series of NFTs that were presented as large format prints, and we spoke briefly about how a new class of art buyers are excited by the flexibility of printing these pieces at whatever size suits their needs or residences, while retaining ownership certification through the NFTs in their wallets.
These were of course familiar arguments for the technology, but his anecdote about a previous exhibition in China and the concern of buyers there about the veracity of a limited run brought home the need for this control, held by the artist, limiting run size as intended. Personally I love that artists can continue to get a cut each time a work changes hands, which is an innovation I don’t think was feasible before smart contracts.
I had two favorites at the show: Meme-vangelion and The Garden of Internet Delights. The former is a mashup of Shiba Inu and Evangelion imagery, complete with the Spear of Longinus piercing the puppy’s heart. I left wanting to buy one of them, but by the time I got around to it the next day, some other fan had bought the last edition of The Garden of Internet Delights. No matter, Meme-vangelion isn’t a consolation prize. Though the whole collection plays with the visual vocabulary of the internet as many of us have experienced it over the last decade, I think this work stands alone in its astute selection of two icons that will surely stand the test of time?
Ladies and gentlemen, you are now hearing from an actual commercial artist, technically speaking. My Misery Men NFT project reached a new milestone: the sale of two works (#45 and #51) on OpenSea this week! 🍾🍾
I’ve been on a break from drawing them since Christmas, but have now resumed “production duties” and will be releasing more leading up to a pair of Lunar New Year ones in early February. One of the new releases is #79, which was fun/therapeutic to make by plonking down hundreds of dots with the Apple Pencil until all the space was filled up.
A little more on my amateur art endeavors. I’ve been trying to get a feel for digital watercolors in Procreate, but the results are anemic and frankly embarrassing. I’m happy to own that, so here’s an example. Safe to say this will not be my main medium, will stick to my day job (oh wait), maybe more of a words person, et cetera.
Yesterday we took our littlest niece out for her animal-themed Christmas present: a visit to an art studio that has cats running around for inspiration and/or distraction. She whipped up a colorful, abstracted cat with acrylics in about 15 minutes and then spent the next two hours playing with real ones. I slapped paint around and ended up with this below. It’s… jarring to move from digital to physical. Not only do you not have Undo and Fill tools, but you have to plan your layers differently. Ugh!
A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to lose weight by eating better, and discovered that salads are not really horrible and can be quite satisfying as a lunch item. I think I ate salads nearly every day for about a year and lost 10% of my body weight.
It was helped along by an abundance of salad shops in my office area, both reasonably and luxuriously priced. Where we live now, there haven’t been any options, and making my own every day is kind of a last resort I’m saving for the late Elvis or Marlon Brando stage.
BUT! Last week I encountered a new salad vending machine in the neighborhood that isn’t bad/expensive at all. You choose a base and dressing, with the option to buy add-ones like chicken, smoked duck, eggs, and baked salmon. It’s from a company called Shake Salad, and stock is somehow replenished daily. It is ALRIGHT and I ate a salad for lunch four days in a row this week. I think the machine is here as a trial, so I want to be as hospitable as I can and prove the viability of keeping it around full time.
Finished Psycho-Pass 3 on Amazon Prime Video. Was not left as excited as I was with the first season a decade ago. Perhaps sign of maturity. Will eventually watch the three-part “movie” sequel to this series.
Marvel’s Eternals was an awful waste of time.
Still reading Plum Rains.
Finished NEO: The World Ends With You. Was not left as excited as I was with the original DS game 15~ years ago. Maybe down to its design, but it doesn’t feel like a full-priced console game. More like a portable/handheld game. Thanks to the Switch, those lines are now blurred. But it really has about a couple hours of content stretched to 30 hours thanks to repetitive battles and pin grinding. If there’s ever a sequel to this sequel, I’d like to see a real evolution of mechanics and storytelling.
Played more Disco Elysium on the Mac. This is hands down the most impressed I’ve been with a game in years. Now that it’s out for consoles, I hope everybody (except minors) gets a chance to play this. The atmosphere, world building, writing, and voiceover performances are best in class. It’s also very funny, despite the bleak subject matter, thanks to your detective’s absurdly broken moral compass. Once, I paused to tell my wife about a joke and couldn’t get it out for laughing every time I tried to start. I ended up in tears.
So I had to read up on the team behind it; the writing surpasses most novels I read last year, but I never saw the author’s name mentioned anywhere. His name is Robert Kurvitz, an Estonian writer, and the story of how it got made sounds amazing and documentary worthy. Kurvitz and his band mates came up with the world in 2005, and then wrote a novel set in it, which was published in 2013. When that failed to sell, he spent three years in alcoholic depression (much like the main character), and eventually emerged to found a video game company (with no game dev experience) to bring it to life again. They somehow managed to secure funding, hired a team, and created this insane, beautiful, sprawling adventure and won multiple awards in 2019. Instead of stopping there, they went back and polished it, recording every line of dialogue, and released the enhanced Final Cut version in 2021 for no extra cost. Recording sessions for the narrator’s voice took eight months (the performance by Lenval Brown is excellent).
It’s another year, and the start of a new series of weekly notes to myself and anyone who might be eavesdropping. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but maybe I should change up how I do these. They could stand to drop some words or look a little sharper.
I sometimes end the year with a post about the music I enjoyed and a playlist of my favorite songs released over the year, as an indirect means of reflecting on what happened. I didn’t do that in 2021, because… well, despite having had a few months of rest, I just didn’t have the energy to do a good job of it.
Scrolling back in my Apple Music history, however, I made a mental selection of albums I remember enjoying enough to say I enjoyed them, and here they are in no particular order apart from the top spot. Any playlist I made would have involved one song from each of these anyway.
It was the week after Christmas… woof. A lot more eating amidst the tiredness that tends to follow so much social interaction. I spent my downtime trying to draw a little bit, which I wrote about in this post a couple of days ago.
I also slayed the dragon called the Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge, with a paltry-by-some-standards-but-still-alright-if-you-ask-me 24 books read. Like most challenges, it’s unfortunately turned into a stupid online performance metric that doesn’t reflect any actual value, with some people I see setting goals that go into the triple digits. Outside of a literature degree program, it seems a little much. I’ve set my 2022 goal to 24 books again, because I plan to get on some novels that are about as thick as three regular ones, so a simple count doesn’t really serve to quantify the effort or resultant thoughtfulness, if any.
Nintendo sent out their version of Spotify’s Unwrapped awhile back, and I was shocked to see my total gaming hours on the Switch quite low at only 71 hours. It was over 200 hours in 2020, mostly due to Animal Crossing New Horizons. To try and remedy that, I’ve bought a bunch of new games on sale but haven’t gotten around to any of them yet. Instead, I’ve been grinding NEO: The World Ends With You, which has been mentioned before as the sequel to a Nintendo DS game I loved.
Disco Elysium came by way of a tweet that recommended it. Pretty sure I glanced at it before but decided it wasn’t my thing. Couldn’t have been more wrong, going by the very strong first four hours I’ve experienced. I suppose it’s an RPG game like classic Fallout was, but your vault survivor is an alcoholic noir detective and there’s no combat at all. I picked it up for my Mac in the Steam sale; reviews of the Switch version warn of very long loading times.
Some friends brought their kids over and I helped take photographs. Pixelmator recently released a free update that adds iPhone support to their previously iPad-only Pixelmator Photo editor, in addition to some new tools. I wanted to see how it would do with the DNGs out of my CL.
After some experimenting, I am sad to report that their ML-powered Auto Enhance corrections tend toward overexposure, and when paired with the built-in presets, the results are almost always garishly colored with too much contrast. You always have to adjust the intensity of the recommended changes and disable auto white balance altogether, and after all that it just didn’t work for me with the portraits. I finally crawled back into the arms of Lightroom whose Auto mode is at least designed to recover details and provide a neutral starting point for edits.
I have to say though, for iPhone photos (HEIF/JPEG), Pixelmator Photo is not half bad, provided you tone things down as mentioned. Here’s an example I took on a walk earlier today. I’ll keep trying to use it because I like some of the UI changes they’ve made, but tbh if Darkroom ever adds a good Auto mode, it’d be my go-to editor for life.
While taking a break from my Misery Men series of profile pics, I’ve been trying to draw other things. Bear in mind that I’m in the process of learning to draw at all, through trial and error. Yes I could/should probably look up proper resources or watch a YouTube video on some basic techniques, but it’s kinda fun to just bumble my way through this?
It started with this living room scene with our Christmas tree that I included in the last weekly update.
In doing it, I learnt how the “oil paint” brush works in Procreate for iPad (used it for the fire on the TV). I also attempted two things that seemed like professional ideas to me: starting with a rough pencil tracing to block out the space before inking/coloring, and trying to render light emanating from the TV onto the tree, the Nintendo Switch beside it, and some of the floor. I guess all drawing is deciding how much realism you can/want to trade off?
The next day I started doodling a camera and decided to do this imaginary scene of a leather pad on a desk, with some objects that represent my hobbies and how I spend most of my free time. I wouldn’t say any single area took more effort than the other, but I figured out early on that everything would just be black and gray, and it seemed to work well.
The next day’s challenge was to draw a top-down view inspired by our bathroom sink, which I have plenty of time to stare at every day while brushing my teeth. I wanted to work from memory only, so again I started with a pencil outline to compose the space. Trying to do the marble texture on the counter was the hardest bit by far, and I still wasn’t happy with it after the first pass. You should see a widget above with a slider that lets you compare the sketch with the first draft.
From there I tried to make something presentable out of it. In addition to adding dried toothpaste everywhere, I moved some objects around, added shadows, put a mirrored medicine cabinet above, and added an ambient glow and the reflection of its underside fluorescent tube to the marble countertop, which was smoothed out.
Here’s the final state of it:
I know there are super impressive time-lapses out there of artists slapping incredible lighting effects onto proper scenes like their brains just know how to see light, but I’m just a little bit happy that I managed to figure this out myself as an amateur! Let me have it!
I may do some more, I don’t know when. But since I’ve enjoyed titling them with stage-whispered apologies and side comments, I’ll be calling this series Caveats In Paint (Digital) and that will be the name of my eventual exhibition to which you are all invited.
Merry Christmas to any readers! I had a good one with lots of eating, lots to be thankful for, and everyone fortunately safe and healthy. The Instax mini Evo camera I got as a present to myself proved useful on Christmas Day at dinner with my family. Although the quality is poor in low light, I got to leave behind little prints for the fridge door, and gave souvenirs to my aunt and uncle too. There was a sleepover, day drinking, and a kid stood on my shoes because she wanted to be walked on top of them. In all, I count about five events over the weekend. Pooped.
For other photo-worthy moments, I got a lot out of FiLMiC Firstlight, a camera app that I hadn’t touched in a couple of years and recently rediscovered. It has a lovely, warm, film-inspired filter called Leopold (based on Kodachrome, I think), and behaves unlike the HDR-happy iPhone camera of today. Images come out with heaps of contrast and deep blacks, and generally don’t need any correcting in post. On reflection, I should just set my iPhone Camera.app to use a “Rich/Warm” photographic style.
The Misery Men NFT collection is now up to #78, which was a Sad Santa. I held a giveaway and got 12 takers, so it was minted as a — I don’t know the right word for this — series of 12 editions? 12 prints? Anyway they were sent out on Christmas Day, and hopefully everyone who isn’t a bot is happy with them. I’m taking a break from the daily drops and will resume in the new year. There are already a few finished ones in the can, and some of them are pretty good by my standards.
It was also the week of The Matrix Resurrections, which we saw in a regular Golden Village cinema after a gut-busting visit to Five Guys (my first one in this country). Dim screen, muffled audio, noisy patrons… it reminded me of why I no longer like going to theaters (Gold Class screenings are the exception, fixing all the above). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film despite having many of my expectations subverted. I’ll need to see it again properly, but I expect to still agree with my initial assignment of 4.5 stars. Side note: Cien and Peishan saw it the same evening in the same cineplex and hated it.
Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was also much enjoyed. It’s an insane directorial flex; every shot and sequence is beautiful and meticulously composed, existing just to indulge a particular sense of humor and beauty. Both films shine with the joy and energy of creators who have nothing left to prove, but where one is happy to keep iterating on a style even at the risk of self parody, the other reclaims its own fandom and fabric for self satisfaction. And I’m here for it, as the young ones say.
Once again, nearly no video games were played, but I picked up Steamworld Heist and Saints Row IV on sale for my Switch. The latter is probably a decade old now, but was irresistible at $2.79 USD, down 93% from its standard price.
Instead, I got more reading done and am closer to my Goodreads Reading Challenge target. Finished Iron Widow (3.5 stars at best) and The Power (a solid 4), both mentioned last week. It looks like I might make it, if I can finish The End of Men next week. Quick recap: all three books deal with the decline, displacement, and/or death (literally) of men due to overwhelming Qi force, mutant powers, and a gender-specific virus respectively. I’m also here for this as men probably have it coming.
One last thing. A year ago, I got a Backbone One controller for my iPhone and loved it. It made for a more console-like experience with many games, and it was more comfortable to use and more capable than a Nintendo Switch. So why did I buy another Switch this year? Let’s not answer that directly, but it may be no coincidence that I’ve been unable to use my Backbone since moving to the new iPhone: the larger camera bump isn’t compatible. The company then designed a simple adapter and provided the plans for 3D printing one on your own. Never having gotten around to convincing myself of a 3D printer’s utility in the home, I had to place an order for one of their officially manufactured ones, and have been waiting on it since September. It finally arrived this week and I’m happy. But if supply chain problems are gonna continue next year, perhaps getting a 3D printer isn’t such a bad idea!
The Christmas dinners have begun, with a large potlucky one yesterday at ours that was vegetarian but not at all lacking. Impossible!, you cry. Yes, we did have their meatballs. And already this afternoon we’ve eaten too much and had a gift of some sugary pastries arrive unexpectedly. This all follows swiftly after a five-course dinner on Friday night, the last in a trilogy of pandemic-struck celebrations for my sister-in-law’s no-longer-news wedding. I expect I still weigh the same regardless, having lost a significant amount of moisture to wearing a suit for photos in the middle of the day. I wonder if that’s what the stillsuits in Dune feel like: being rolled up in one of those hot towels they give you on Singapore Airlines flights.
After dinner, we played a new party game I discovered on the Apple TV (also available on Xbox and PlayStation). Jeopardy! PlayShow is a premium title, not to be confused with the various ad-ridden free mobile games released over the years, with insultingly easy multiple-choice questions. No, this is the real thing for everyone who’s ever watched a game show and answered aloud alongside the contestants. It’s that exact experience: streaming video of real Jeopardy! episodes, except you can buzz in and answer (using your voice!), and see how you stack up against the champs. S$14.98 gets you the base game with 10 episodes, and each additional pack is another S$14.98. Oof! Buyer beware… the game’s servers stalled halfway through our play test, so we had to move on to SongPop Party (Apple Arcade). Epilogue: I gave Jeopardy! another go the next morning and it worked fine.
I finished The Space Between Worlds which I was reading last week (five stars), and have moved on to Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, a bonkers story about giant mechs fighting alien invaders, piloted by couples in a mind meld that usually kills the woman (twist: not this time!), set in a world/society inspired by Chinese history. It starts a little rough, but once you get into her style and some jarring cultural references, it goes hard.
The Goodreads Reading Challenge hangs around my neck like a large bird. Even after Iron Widow, I’ll be two books short of my modest 24-book target in a year where I really have little excuse. It seems unlikely I’ll be able to do it with just 11 days to go. Nevertheless, I plan to follow this up with Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men and Naomi Alderman’s The Power, to construct a sort of male-murdering fantasy trilogy.
Last week’s viewing of Babylon was anime disappointment, but I’m now watching a series on Netflix called Vivi: Fluorite Eye’s Song that more than makes up for it. It’s an unsung (sorry) masterpiece about a robot singer who receives a message from the future, and follows her on a 100-year quest to change the course of history and prevent a war between humans and AIs. It works because the art is beautiful with few compromises, the writing is sharp, and it isn’t afraid to skip large chunks of time abruptly to keep things moving.
Speaking of time, you don’t believe you could watch a 1-hour and 20-minute-long video on how Garfield has been transformed by internet fans, but give yourself some credit. Michael, my main inspiration for these weekly updates, often posts about the video essays he discovers, which is something I never thought would be for me, but welps the YouTube algorithm has a new thing for me now. We’ve all seen that Garfield minus Garfield project on Tumblr, but trust me, this goes way beyond that. You won’t believe the depth and quality of fan art and lore that’s out there.
I’ll leave you with an update on the Misery Men project. There are now 73 “artworks” published on OpenSea, and every so often I look at one of them and think the quotation marks could soon be dropped. Like, it’s not impossible to imagine a couple of them blown up and framed in a home somewhere. Maybe not a very nice home, it might be a caravan, but I think there’s something here.
If you chat with friends on Telegram and want to send them a sticker expressing a specific sort of sadness or disappointment, you may now add my Misery Men sticker pack for absolutely free. I’ll be updating it with the latest ones periodically.