Hi folks!

In the grand tradition of creative blogs, here's the phrase "it's been a while since I updated".

Truth is, I got a new job in a cool animation studio called Dog Ears, working on rigs for an incredible looking streaming show. Of course, as with all work of this type, it's under wraps so I can't divulge any information (yet), hence the quiet times around here. It also means a change of location to Northern Ireland when this whole pandemic and circumstances allow.

BUT! I have been busy in other ways. My radio show Virtua Love Affair is back on air at Reform Radio, now pre-recorded from home and mixed in advance. The April show went out last Sunday (11th) and I think it's the best two hours of music I've ever programmed! A good mix of ethereal dream pop, balearic sounds, classic vaporwave and even a few tracks from retro game consoles.

Highlights for me include:

  1. The 3yo girl/dad combo Ququ with My Way.

  2. Makeup and Vanity Set's A Glowing Light A Promise (apparently featured in the recent Kong v Godzilla movie, but really who cares about that).

  3. I Break Horses' The Prophet, a track I somehow missed entirely in 2020.

Hope you enjoy the show, share it with your friends and let me know your thoughts. It's easy to feel like we're all in our own bubbles at the moment and some feedback on the things we create can make our world a little larger.

I'm also working hard on a new comic to premiere at this year's Thought Bubble comics festival (fingers crossed that it can go ahead) and a practice rig for animation that is very niche but I think maybe three animators in the world will love to play with. Also, a secret project I might not even release under my name. All in all, I've never been busier but with very little to show for it!

A Clip Studio Paint tweet today reminded me I had intended to post here about my workaround for a problem that almost scuppered the planning of my 24hr comic.

See, I draw a lot of my sketches and comics in Clip Studio Paint on a Surface Pro (2017 model) which is handy when sitting at a desk feels a bit too restrictive. I take it to coffee shops (remember coffee shops?) and pubs (remember pubs?) and the park (remember... okay, we can still go to the park... I think) and it's not as portable as an iPad because it's a mini PC but it's good for PC stuff too. Balances out nicely, I think. Except for one thing.

Shortcuts. Lack of access to shortcuts, specifically. With a Surface Pro, you have a type cover, rather than a keyboard. It attaches magnetically to the bottom of the screen and looks all swish, but if you're drawing with the tablet in your lap, or oriented portrait style, that type cover becomes untenable as an accessory. I guess you could fold it around the back and train your fingers to find the keys without looking, but that's not my cup of tea.

So I needed a solution. For over a year, I tried to find a mini-keyboard. Something lightweight, compact and uncomplicated. Everything I found was either unintuitive, unwieldy or (ugh) for gamers. You know, lights up and says 'ninja' on it or something.

Ironic, then, that the solution came in the form of a video game controller. A Twitter pal recommended the 8BitDo Zero 2, which connected via Bluetooth (so no need to take up the Surface Pro's one (1) USB port), weighs less than a baby bird and also connects to the Nintendo Switch. Bonus, if it didn't solve my problem. For under £20, I was up for finding out either way.

Now, I won't claim that it's perfect, but there was a way to make it work for my purposes. When drawing a comic, I only need a certain amount of tools (other creators may need more, but hey) so I only needed a number of shortcuts. Unfortunately, the Zero 2 doesn't allow you to reprogram the buttons. Luckily, Clip Studio Paint does allow you to reassign shortcuts.

I'd created a custom pen tool and was only going to use that one pen, in 4 different line weights. So I assigned them all the key F. This allowed me to cycle through them using just one button.

I also prefer to erase artwork using the same pen or brush, set to transparency, as the eraser tool isn't great in CSP. So I reassigned the colour selector tool to the C key and applied it to allow me to cycle through main, secondary and transparency colours.

Then it was simply a matter of choosing the rest of the shortcuts and assigning them to the remaining buttons. This is the layout I opted for:

The only missing function I needed was text input, but at that stage a keyboard is unavoidable. I got around 10 hours of use out of this method before I had to swap to the iMac to finish the comic, a consequence of the Surface Pro overheating rather than the shortcomings of the controller.

So I'd recommend the 8BitDo Zero 2 for those in my position, which admittedly isn't that many - most artists use Procreate on the iPad but I had to be different, didn't I? It might even work on the iPad, who knows? Not me. Seriously, I don't know. Hopefully, this has been useful to somebody. It's not an advert, I'm not sponsored. If anything, I just wanted to show off that I managed to understand some tech after the age of forty.