“Marla of the Plains” Collaboration

I was part of a collaboration recently! My comics buddy Walter Hudsick does a theme for each month, and January was “adaptuary.” He was casting about for a story to adapt, and we were talking about how a short-seeming story can blow up into a lot of comics pages, as well as how some stories lend themselves easier to adaptation than others.

While we were talking, I thought about “Tiger’s Eye”, my very first professionally published story. I got my start writing 350-500 word short stories for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress series, back in the 1990s.

I pulled out a dusty paperback, re-typed the story, and emailed it to Walter. He liked it! And so, our collaboration began. Or rather, his adaptation, I threw the story over to him and let him run with it. Eight pages later it was done!

His adaptation is great! You can take a look at it on Walter’s Portfolio page. You can also learn more about Walter on his blog.

First panel of "Marla of the Plains" minicomic. The panel shows a woman with her foot up on a rock, lasso in hand, with mountains off in the background. It reads: "Marla was a very ordinary woman, lean and strong; her clothes were plain and unadorned and her life simple, until..."

P.S. Marvel at the work that went into drawing the beaded curtains! I got a bit of good-natured grumbling from Walter about that particular plot point. XD

Happy Valentine’s Day – With Monsters! 

Today I’m launching my webcomic, My Ex, Vlad. It’s a romantic comedy… with monsters. And whether you’re having a great or not-so-great Valentine’s Day, I assure you: Gladiola’s is worse.

If you could use a chuckle today, check it out: https://myexvlad.com

P.S. If you read it and think of a friend who’d find it funny, let them know about it; spread the love!

Four days until you get to see the webcomic!

Only four more days until you get to read my new webcomic! I’m so excited, this is something I’ve been working towards for two years. 

While you’re waiting, I thought it’d be fun for you to see what goes into creating a comic panel. It’s an interesting process. 

I’ll walk you through the first panel of My Ex, Vlad.


I start by doing a high-level outline of the story. For this panel, the words were:

“Gladdy comes home…”

Page Roughs

My next step is to rough out the panel and figure out the “cinematography” and framing of the shot.

First Pencils

I draw a more refined version.

Second Pencils

Then I try to draw it better.


If I am struggling mightily with a panel, I (sometimes) ask a comics mentor for advice.

Reference Photos

Sometimes I act out the things happening in the story and take a picture to figure out how things would look.

Third Pencils

I draw something I don’t hate.


This step is more than just tracing the pencils. I vary the line width to create subtle shading and “carve” the lines out of the pencil sketchiness. 

Spot Blacks

Sometimes a panel benefits from having large areas of black, this can create drama or lead the reader’s eye to the important part of the panel.


The next step is laying in solid color patches under the inks.

If you remove the inks layer it should not have any gaps between the areas of color. That’s so it prints correctly if you make a print version of the comic.


This is where you go through and add highlights and shadows based on where the light sources are in your scene. I use a technique called “cell shading”


Then I add dialog. Although this comes last, I have to have the size and placement of the dialog bubbles in mind starting way back with the roughs stage.

And that’s how I make a comic panel!

Look forward to seeing you on the site on Valentine’s Day!


P.S. If you have any questions or comments about this process, type a comment below and I’ll get back to you! 😀

Laura Fry Tea Towels

I was having Zoom-based tea with my friend Laura Fry recently. (One of my current goals is to reach out and reconnect with friends.) While we were talking we got to sharing what each of us is working on at the moment.

She hit me with these:

And I started throwing cash at the screen, which doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Seriously though. I fell in love. My kitchen has an orange theme, and I have orange and red artwork up in my house; I was draw to these towels.

I don’t see Laura working in this colorway too often, so I immediately called dibs on buying two of them. 

When Laura’s come to stay with me in the past (pre-Covid), she’s brought me tea towels as a hostess gift, so I’m familiar with her work. I have towels from her that are 15 years old at this point, and as good as new (aside from the odd coffee stain). I use my tea towels as dish towels and I use them HARD (hence the coffee stain). When they’re dirty, I throw them in the washer and dryer with the bath towels on the hot/high agitation setting, same for the dryer. And Laura’s towels, more than a decade later, are as sturdy as the day she handed them to me.

In an email a couple of days after our teatime visit, I pinged her and asked to add a second pair to my preorder, if she was making that many. She told me that there will be fourteen in total, so if you like these as much as I do, there’s ten up for grabs.

Laura posts her weaving for sale on her Kofi shop, which is where you can see other things she’s done, if your tastes run to a more muted palate.

But four of these are MINE. 

The Wall

Ever hit a point in your artistic endeavor where something that used to be effortless… you can’t do it anymore? A comics colleague recently expressed this frustration to me. Here was my reply, I thought it might be of interest to other creators. Do you have any thoughts / advice on this subject?

I am a new-ish artist, so don’t have much advice on that front. I am a long-time creator of things, though. And when I hit a rough patch on something I was good at before I’ve found that the following works:

1) Allow myself to do bad work for a while. Sometimes you have to create bad work to get your flow back. I think of it as turning on a tap and getting rusty water out, sometimes if you let that tap run for a while, the water will turn clear.

2) Work until you hit a complete wall. You’re done. It’s not getting better. This should be when you’re completely done, not just a little frustrated.

3) Take a week or two off. This is the part where your brain incorporates all the hard work you did creating bad art.

4) Start again. I’ve surprised myself by jumping up in skill level after that break.

Rinse / Repeat as needed.

Final Project for SAW Certificate

Today I submitted a seven-page mini comic to the Sequential Artist Workshop Year-long Program. It’s my final project for the course, and will help determine whether I get the certification.

This is the first page. It’s a Vampire Ex-Boyfriend bonus story that tells the origin story of Mr. Whiskers. The rest of the comic is on Patreon, where folks get early access to content before the public launch of Vampire Ex-Boyfriend on February 14th, 2023.

I don’t think any artist is ever 100% happy with their work. That said, I can see the progress I’ve made over the past year in terms of panel layout, cinematography, and creating a setting.

Projector on the Ceiling

Today’s adventure was installing a ViviMAGE Explore 2 projector on my ceiling. Why you say? In order to project sewing patterns onto my cutting board.

I got clued into this by a Facebook friend, who pointed me at a Facebook group called Projectors for Sewing.

The goal is to save time and paper when using PDF patterns. Instead of printing them out, taping them together, and then cutting them out, you simply open Adobe Acrobat and project the file onto your cutting table. (Ok, there’s a bit more than that involved.)

The hardest part was drilling the holes in the ceiling. I’ve got sprinklers and lights up there and didn’t want to accidentally hit the cords or pipes for either of those. I’m pretty sure that sprinkler and where I installed the projector share a stud.

The next step is calibration. There’s a dance to do between having the image in focus, the distance from the projector, and the size of the projected image.

I seem to have gotten lucky and had the focal point hit at my table top at a good size for cutting. The table is set at an ergonomic height for me, so I didn’t want to change it.

The resolution I’m using on my laptop is 1080p, and the display size in Adobe Acrobat is 30%. This gets me this for calibration.

The squares and diagonals are aligning on the cutting mat well, it’s not 100%; however, the instructions said to stop when you were at 99% good, and this looks like that.

The last thing I did was some cord management to help prevent any mammals from nudging the power or HDMI cord and throwing the projector off target. Also, I’m crossing my fingers against earthquakes.

I’m excited! This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I can’t wait to try it out with a pattern!

— Syne

P.S. I also have the thought that with the drawing tablet I use for my comics, I’ll be able to make and save digital alterations to my patterns. A note to any comic artists out there that also sew!

Waking up in a strange place

This is an excerpt from my latest work on Vampire Ex-Boyfriend. I think I’m making progress in drawing faces — at last! Though I still have a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be.

This is part of Vlad’s backstory, the full mini-comic is published on Patreon for story- and print-level subscribers.

If you like romantic comedies with a bit of sarcastic bite, please consider subscribing.

A Christmas (Tree) Miracle

About 20 years ago, I walked into Ace Hardware and impulse-purchased a fiber-optic Christmas tree. It was skinny, about 6 feet tall, and designed to be put out in the yard.

I loved it. The way the colors swirled around it, changing in sections, was mesmerizing. If you’ve ever been to Spencer’s Gifts, back in the day, you’ll know what I mean. Eric refers to it as the “dope light” Christmas tree.

For the past twenty years, this little tree has been our tree. Bringing it out of the cardboard box is the beginning of Christmas and every Christmas Eve we leave it on all night long, waiting for the new day.

All of Kai’s childhood, this tree has defined Christmas. It’s an essential part of our holiday tradition.

This year, however, the lights stopped moving. When Eric and I investigated, we found that the motor turning the plastic disk to change the color had burned out, and worse—had melted the plastic stand. The transformer powering the tree was crazy hot—we probably just avoided a house fire.

The tree had gone dark. (Cat included for scale.)

Getting rid of the tree was NOT an option. I had to fix it.

I’m going to tell you what I did, as an adventure story, not a tutorial. There’s a lot I did over the past two nights that was guesswork, and… probably not the best way to do it. (If you don’t want the gory details of the project, feel free to scroll down to the end.)

I started by hopping on Adafruit.com and perusing their Neopixel options. 

Neopixels are individually addressable programable LEDs. Which means that if you have a Neopixel strip with 30 LEDs, you can write a program to set of the color and brightness of each LED separately. You have complete control!

I read a lot of product pages, and took some measurements of the fiber-optic base of the tree (where all the fibers came together.)

Adafruit has a whole Neopixel guide, and there are lots of sample projects. However, none of those were “fix your twenty-year-old Christmas tree” and, a lot of the project write ups had assumed knowledge that I, um, didn’t have.

(Knitters, it was the equivalent of the single-line instruction “turn the heel” in old sock patterns.)

So I took my best guess and bought some stuff:

  • Arduino Uno (the microcontroller)
  • Neopixel Shield for the Uno (RGBW), 5×8 LED grid (comes with headers)
  • 5V, 10A power supply (possibly overkill, but I wanted full brightness)
  • 2-pin JST SM plug (a power cord that you can connect & disconnect)
  • Female DC Power adapter (for the 5V power supply to plug into)
  • 1000 micro-farad capacitor (to protect the neopixels from all this power)
  • 470 ohm resistor (that I did not use)

On hand I already had:

  • Soldering iron (and supplies)
  • Wire stripper
  • USB 2.0 cable Type A/B (for connecting the Arduino)
  • Arduino IDE installed on my computer

Here’s my workbench

The white box on the left held the supplies for this project. The box on the right is for a different project.

My first challenge was figuring out how to connect the Neopixel shield to the Arduino Uno. The shield came with two types of headers, stacking and plain. 

I wasn’t sure which to use, and was even more confused about what connecting the headers would do. Neopixels really only care about three connections: 5V power, ground, and pin 6 on the controller. The shield headers would connect the Neopixel shield to 32 pins on the Arduino. What the heck would that even do?

I toyed around with putting all the headers on, none of the headers, some of the headers. There was no place I found that said “dear reader, here’s all about headers when attaching a shield to an Arduino”. Finally, after looking at pictures of other people’s projects and zooming in, it looked like everyone was using all the headers, making a solid connection.

So I did, too. I chose the plain headers because they stuck up less than the stacking headers and it was important for this project for the LEDs to be as close as possible to the end of the tree where the fiber optic fibers came out.

I was very happy to have my “helping hands” doo-dad when soldering on the headers. I had one hand hold the header and the other the shield.

NEVER solder on headers this way. I learned the hard way that this is a recipe for soldering on your headers crooked, and then they won’t fit into the Arduino Uno (unless you get… creative with some needle-nose pliers.)

Next time, I’ll try setting the headers on or into a cardboard box and lay the shield on top, letting gravity hold it in place while I solder. I think that might help the headers come out straight. (If you have any killer header-soldering tips, please tell me them.)

Helping hands not so helpful, actually. 🙁

In addition to the plain headers, Adafruit included a terminal block for the Neopixel shield, so you can power the Neopixels with a bigger power supply than is provided by the Arduino. Because I wanted bright lights for my tree. I installed it. It’s the bit with the two tiny screws on the bottom of the board.

There was a bad moment where I couldn’t find a screwdriver that would fit those screws. Fortunately a glasses repair kit had the right size.

The cord coming off of the terminal block is half of the 2-pin JST SM plug. This isn’t essential to the project, but does make it easy to connect and disconnect the shield from the power cord. I was very happy I had added it later, as it gave me more slack when I went to install things in the tree.

This is an aside. These are the best wire strippers ever. I highly recommend them. I bought them for working on el-wire and have never regretted it. They’re so easy and accurate!

The other thing I dithered over was the instruction “cut the center of the solder jumper to the right of the terminal block”. This was something Adafruit said to do in order to power the Neopixel shield separately from the Arduino.

Um, what the heck does the solder jumper look like?  

This was another place where everyone seemed to already know this so well, that they didn’t feel the need to explain. Looking closely at the shield I had two candidates of what to cut:

I mean, I was guessing they meant cut the line between the two gold pads—maybe? Of course there was the black thing directly beside the terminal. Maybe they meant that instead?

It was tense. I didn’t buy duplicates of anything. Cutting the wrong one would mean no lights on Christmas Eve. 🙁

I Googled, I search on YouTube. I squinted at tiny project pictures that I’d zoomed up to maximum. And it seemed like the gold pads were the thing.

So I took an Exacto knife out and cut the link.

And then, how do I connect pin 6 to the Arduino? I just guessed that maybe connecting the shield headers to the Arduino would do that automatically? Because that’s how I’d design it.

(There was a lot of guessing going on at that point.)

This is what the shield looked like after I’d soldered on the headers, cut the jumper, and attached the power adapter to the terminal.

And then, the moment of truth. I finagled the wonky headers and put the shield onto the Arduino, connected the shield’s terminal to the 5V power supply, attached the USB cable to the computer, opened the Arduino IDE, and uploaded some code. 

Many hours in, many guesses… the moment of truth…

This was a very happy moment for me. All the LEDs lit! Nothing blew up!

The next bit was to write the software that would animate the tree lights. I was trying to replicate this: a light that shines through an spinning plastic disk that has been painted different translucent colors.

What I soon realized was that animating analog spinning on a 5×8 grid was a non-trivial coding problem. This was around 3:30am.

So I started plinking at it.

I mapped out the grid into blocks to simplify things, and recreate the size of blocks the original tree had. (I crossed off the pixels on the sides because they didn’t fit the round base of the tree.)

I could change the color of the blocks, but that would have created a strobe effect on the tree, and I wanted the smooth color transitions of the original.

After some pondering, I realized that what I needed was a fade transition from one color to another. I couldn’t find a fade library for Neopixels, so I wrote some fade functions on the fly. (Not bad for someone who hasn’t coded C in at least five years.) 

Here’s the full-tree fade code.

That got me the whole tree fading from one color to another. Which was still not the effect I wanted. I wanted my color blocks, darn it!

Then I realized that by combining the code I’d designed while playing with the blocks, with the fade code, I’d get exactly what I wanted!

Here’s the block-fade code. 

[It’s not the most elegant code ever. It was 4:30am on Christmas Eve and I had a deadline! :)]

Here’s a wee video of the color fading in and out. I’ve put several pieces of paper over the Neopixel shield because it was so bright!

At this point I discovered that NOT cutting the jumper gold pads would have enabled the Arduino to run off the same huge power block as the Neopixel shield. In other words, I could have one power cord running to my tree instead of two. Oy! I wanted one cord. So I squeezed my soldering iron into the very tiny space and (with shaking hands) managed to reconnect the pads without soldering them to anything else. Whew!

Note: Actually, I’m not sure this was a mistake to do it this way. I read somewhere in my research that connecting the Arduino to USB power while it was also connected to the 5V power supply could blow things up. So maybe I did it right, waiting until the final code was uploaded to reconnect it?

I removed the old electronics from the Christmas tree stand.

3D printed a holder for the Arduino Uno (Thingaverse thing by sceadu_design is here). I didn’t have the size screws I needed to attach it, though it did give me something to stick the duct tape to. (You knew duct tape would come into this at some point… didn’t you?)

I used tape* to stick the LED assembly into the tree base. *(actually gaffer tape from my friend Ruth, so I could remove it later if I wanted to update the code.)

And put the thing all together…

A glowing tree with animation! In time for Christmas Eve night. I made so many guesses on this that it was, indeed, a miracle that it all worked.

And even better, the LEDs draw much less power and are quieter than the old motor-driven electronics. The tree has been upgraded! Here’s hoping it lasts another twenty years. 🙂

Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain, or Bountiful Pumpkin Spice!

However you celebrate the autumnal season I hope you have a great one! 

This was one of my Inktober(*) sketches this year, for the prompt “Raven”. As with last year I decided to make each sketch a cartoon. This one is of a grim reaper taking a break in the middle of a busy day.

(*) It’s not inked yet, ’cause I’m waiting until after the inking class in my year-long program. Thought collecting them would make good practice. 🙂

Weaving in a Parallel Universe: Linda Hartshorn’s workshop

I recently took an online workshop from Linda Hartshorn called “Weaving in a Parallel Universe”. It was part of the offerings of the Natural Fiber Fair.

How to design and weave parallel threadings (like echo and jin) has been something I’ve tried to learn a couple of times, both through lectures and books, without ever fully wrapping my head around it. 

An interactive workshop was just what I needed. Between getting to ask questions in real-time and having hands-on practice between lectures, I was able to understand the concepts and put them to use.

Linda’s explanations and demonstrations were wonderfully clear and easy to understand and her knowledge of weave structures was comprehensive. For example I asked how shadow weave related to parallel threadings and after thinking about it a second, she had a solid answer.

Being an online class, it was broken out over three days with weaving time scheduled between 1-hour Zoom lectures, which provided time to put the things you’d just learned into practice.

The downside of an online class is that you don’t get to hang out with other weavers in person, touch their cloth, marvel over their looms. 

The upside is that folks who wouldn’t have been able to travel to the class can attend. Which included a fellow from Singapore, where it was 1am when the class started. That’s dedication!

This gentleman was able to read Chinese and found and translated an online article about Jin that mentioned both a weft-faced and warp-faced version. Since Jin was previously called “polychrome turned taqueté” among weavers in the U.S. and Europe, and taqueté has both a warp and weft version, it was interesting to hear that jin (which predates taqueté by centuries) also was woven in the warp and weft variations. A gift of knowledge from our far-flung fellow student.

Needless to say, I was delighted with the class.

We had our choice of three different threadings. I chose the one that produced circles. This is the Linda’s design in echo weave. 

I created an echo version of straight draw for the treadling and produced waves.

In this picture you can also see the difference in the cloth between a black weft (top) and a burgundy weft (bottom).

Here’s that same color difference in the circles pattern.

After echo, we wove jin, which produced a smoother color mixing. It reminded me of the difference between aliased and anti-aliased graphics.

The bottom of this image is the instructor’s design, using an advancing point design line to design the treadling. 

The top is me playing around with the treading to make my own design. It changed the circles to elongated hexes. Not the most compelling design. One of the things I learned in the class is that it takes a lot of tinkering in weaving software to create drop-dead gorgeous patterns. Isn’t that always the way with art, though? There’s a lot of hidden effort.

I was also playing around with different weft colors here. Jin uses a finer weft than the warp, I was using 20/2 cotton here.

One of the characteristics of jin is that the top and bottom of the tie-up have to mirror each other. So I tried putting a checkerboard in the tie up. As you can see, I’m trying a white weft here.

I’m trying to design organic patterns that remind me of oil slicks, and this was a bit too rectilinear for my tastes; it was a fun way to test out the theory, though.

It’s interesting to see how many different fabrics you can weave on one warp, simply by changing the treadling and/or tie up.

The following was a little something I tried and then posed as a riddle to the class: “What do you think I did differently when weaving the top inch of the cloth, verses the bottom inch?”

I’m glad that I put a ten-yard warp on in order to experiment with parallel threading. There’s a whole lot more I want to play with in terms of designing threading, tie-ups, and treadlings!