“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!

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.

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!

Presenting Over Zoom; New Techniques

Yesterday I gave a talk to the Northwest Regional Spinner’s Association and tried some new techniques for presenting over Zoom.

First of all, I listened to the advice of Laverne Waddington and Laura Fry to lean into the fact that Zoom means less audience feedback. That just because you’re feeling awkward, doesn’t mean the audience is. And that they may be laughing and responding to your work as they would in person, you just can’t perceive it.

Which is actually a pretty interesting thing to contemplate, as someone who often delivers content asynchronously: books, comics, blog posts. I have never thought to myself, “I bet there’s someone out there laughing at my jokes, or having an ‘aha’ moment right now.” If I did, I’d probably be a happier writer and artist. 🙂

This talk was to a smaller group, so I experimented with inviting people to leave their microphones on and ask questions verbally as we went. I used a tip from John Whitley and asked folks to say their name when they started talking.

Enthusiastically inviting questions at the beginning of a talk is something I used to do, and stopped doing a while ago, for reasons I don’t remember. Perhaps I was worried about being derailed from my talk, or losing too much time to questions to get through the content. I’ll have to mull that over.

In any event, in this small cozy group, free-form questions worked well! The questions brought out further explanations of concepts and helped me tie the material I was teaching to folks’ personal work. Being able to hear people’s reactions helped me keep energy up and ensure I delivered an entertaining talk. 

I finally understood what late-night talk show hosts like Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah meant when they mentioned missing their audience as they moved to at-home production because of the pandemic. I thought to myself, “Ah, what are you talking about? Your jokes are good, you don’t need an audience.”

I forgot that the audience is what you lean into to bring out the best part of yourself.

It’s humbling to realize that how a talk goes is not just about me. And comforting to know that even late-night hosts with millions of viewers and teams of writers to craft their material, have the same need for feedback that I do. I get it now. 🙂

Also, I did try the shimmy dance when I paused for questions, in order to make things awkward enough that people would ask questions if only to get me to stop. Unfortunately (?) my video feed was unstable enough that I’d turned off video by that time and no one saw me. Which was a relief! It’s embarrassing to shimmy dance on camera! Much respect to K.T.B. for making that maneuver look easy. 

One technical note on that. I have “rural-quality” DSL. So I’ve found it prudent to send my slides to someone else and have them run the deck. It saved my presentation yesterday. My voice was breaking up and having someone else managing slides meant I could turn off my video (which gave all my bandwidth to my voice) and keep going.

Also: I want to mention that my awkwardness I talked about in the last blog post was entirely my inexperience presenting over Zoom; not a reflection on the audience. When I present, I am often nervous or feel awkward. Presenting is exciting and fun, and I also find it nerve-wracking, because I want to give everyone a good time and public speaking is hard! It’s why I do so much prep work and talk to my fellow teachers and presenters about how to improve. 🙂

Many thanks to those who weighed after the last blog post with ideas and feedback.

Yesterday was my last presentation for the year, so I’m going to reward myself today with some well-earned, just-for-fun, crafting time!

My wish is that you are safe and well, and finding moments of happiness and joy today, too.

The awkward thing about Zoom talks

I gave a one-hour talk to the Whidbey Weaver’s Guild on etextiles. I was excited, I was prepared, it was a good group of folks… so how’d it go?

Screenshot of Syne presenting on Zoom, with her weaving studio in the background. The faces of other participants have been blurred out for privacy.

I don’t know.

And that’s a problem.

It’d been a month since my last long-form Zoom presentation, and I forgot the most awkward part of moving from in-person to online for seminars. The near-total lack of feedback from the audience while talking.

Normally, when I give a talk, I have two threads running simultaneously in my head. One is giving the presentation. This one needs to be fairly automatic, which is why I do so much preparation and practice before hand. The other is tweaking the script and presentation performance based on cues from the audience.

That second thread is the real work, and the audience usually doesn’t even realize it’s happening, and yet it’s the most important part of being a good speaker. It’s being in the moment with a room full of people and giving them what they need from you, in real time. 

For me, it starts before I get behind the podium. If possible, I try to get there early, while the audience is settling in and just chat with folks, get to know them, why they’re at the talk, etc. Often they don’t even realize that I’m the speaker until I walk up to the front of the room. It’s a great way to warm up a room, make allies in the audience, and do some last-minute fine-tuning of your talk.

And then, as I’m talking, I have half my attention looking out at the audience, listening to their laughs, sighs, bored shuffling in their seats. Are they smiling, frowning, are they looking perplexed? This gives me the opportunity to speed up my talk, or slow it down, turn up my energy if folks are getting bored, slow down and repeat a difficult concept in different terms if people look confused, do a verbal call-back to a comment someone made before the meeting or in a question they asked to increase engagement.

If I feel I’m losing folks, sometimes I stop and ask for questions to reconnect with the audience. 

I spent a year as a high-school physics teacher, I’m not above picking a person from the audience and asking them the question directly. I do this rarely, as it can be intimidating. Mostly only if an audience swears they have no questions and yet several people look confused. It’s useful because it breaks down a barrier between audience and speaker, and once that barrier is down, folks who were holding back questions out of politeness or shyness are often encouraged to speak.

Public speaking is as much performance art as it is delivering information. And the audience is the reason that you never give the same talk the same way.

Except for Zoom…

My usual technique is to have some slides with minimal bullet points and interesting images. Then I stand in front of the slides and speak animatedly with hand gestures, riffing on what’s in the slides, interacting with the audience, etc. If you most of the time in my talk staring at the slides, I’m doing something wrong.

And yet, when I screen-share to present in Zoom, the slides take over the screen. If you can see me at all, I’m a tiny icon on the side of the screen.

Worse, I can’t look out at the audience and gauge how the talk is landing. With the currently accepted practice of having everyone on “mute” during a talk, I don’t even get laughs (or the absence of laughs) when I tell a joke. Both are useful information…

Questions, audience participation, can really enhance a talk. Over Zoom it’s more challenging. 

There three ways the audience can ask questions: typing in chat, using the raise-hand tool, or unmuting and just start talking. 

  • Chat’s a non-invasive way to ask a question. It’s a bit like being able to mind-read an audience as it can elicit questions that folks might be hesitant to ask aloud, it entices out introverts, and can even turn into a blow-by-blow commentary on your talk. It requires finesse on the speaker’s part to bounce back and forth between reading chat and talking without being too obvious about it. And depending on the chat volume, questions can scroll out of view before you see them.
  • The raise-hand tool attempts to replicate real-world hand raising, and can be effective. Especially if you build “any questions?” pauses into your talk. It helps if you have a moderator that can keep checking for the tiny blue hand icons though, cause they can be hard to spot while you’re talking.
  • Unmuting and talking is tricky because, unlike when you’re in a room, the audience member can’t see who else is giving non-verbal or gesticular signals that they’re about to talk: leaning forward in their chair, opening their mouth, etc. So you can have folks talking over each other, which is rude in many communication cultures (though not others, an interesting thing Eric and I have to negotiate because our families view cross-talk in different ways).

Which is a long way to say that during yesterday’s talk there were long segments where I could not tell at all how what I was saying was landing. It gave me an eerie feeling, like driving at night on a dark highway with the lights off. I did the thing you do in that circumstance, keep smiling, keep the energy up, and hope for the best. 🙂

Questions were the one salvation. And the in-person questions instead of chat were especially so. Which has me rethinking my whole Zoom strategy. 

I’m giving another talk on Sunday, to the Northwest Regional Spinners Association (chapter 2060) about using the scientific method in fiber arts. Instead of asking folks to hold questions until a given stopping point, I may more actively encourage questions. Including the blurting out method, and see how that goes. It’s a smaller group, I believe, so that just may work.

Or perhaps I’ll steal a presentation idea from the Writing the Other seminar I recently attended. They sparked some excellent questions and discussions by periodically stopping the talk and taking down the slides so everyone could see faces again. And then letting the awkward silence build until an audience member broke and asked a questions — which would then open the flood gates to a whole bunch more questions and some great discussions. One of the charming ways to diffuse the awkwardness of the awkward silence was that K.T.B, one of the presenters, would do a slightly (intentionally) awkward shimmy dance while waiting for questions.

You know, I’m going to try that. I really am. 

I’ll report back on how it goes.

Preparing Presentations

Today and for the next few days I’m updating slide decks and practicing public speaking for two presentations I’m giving over Zoom next week. Normally, when I teach or give a talk, I take great care to hide all the paddling that goes on under the surface. This time I thought it might be interesting to share my process, either because you’re planning to give a talk and want ideas on how to prepare, or you’re just curious. 🙂

The first talk is eTextiles, which I’m presenting to the Whidbey Island Weaver’s Guild on Thursday morning. This is one of my favorite presentations; it’s a secret indulgence when a weaver’s guild lets me teach a workshop or present a seminar on the subject, since it’s only tangentially related to weaving, and yet the content is SO COOL!

Screenshot of Keynote Mac OS program showing the editing pane, where Syne is editing the eTextile slides.

This is a remix of a two-hour talk that I gave at ANWG up in British Columbia in 2019, in the good old days, when live seminars were still a thing. 🙂

The Whidbey Guild wants a one-hour presentation, which is fine. It’s always easier to cut material than to add. The shorter time frame works out well in this case because typically I play a series of video clips (of the etextiles moving and blinking, etc.) and then talk about them during the presentation. Over Zoom, I’ve found playing videos from YouTube or Vimeo problematic. My rural DSL just can’t handle downloading video and uploading it at the same time. Because this talk is shorter, I’m solving both problems by creating a PDF with all the links in the talk so the audience can watch the videos later as homework, and have a pretty nifty reference of articles and materials sources as well.

Note: If you were at my eTextile talk at ANWG in 2019 and want a copy of the PDF, reach out to me through the Contacts page on this site. I just remembered that I’d promised to send a PDF out to ya’ll and don’t think I ever did… I hope I’m wrong on that. Yikes!

The other thing I’m doing is going through each link to make sure it still works, and then re-reading the article or watching the video, pulling out tidbits to talk about and refreshing my memory. I’m also updating the deck with some new content from 2020, as the world of etextiles is always moving. 🙂

When the slide deck is updated, the PDF created, and my research and memory refreshing done, I’ll start practicing the talk. My goal is to go through the whole one-hour presentation at least twice before show time. This gives me the opportunity to check my speaking time, get the patter down, and work out any technical glitches with the slides.

When I converted over from live classes to Zoom, I did a lot of practicing with the new tools and format, which is how I know that YouTube videos over Zoom are risky, bandwidth-wise. A big thanks to my friends and to R.V. at the Seattle Weaver’s Guild for helping me test things. R.V. and I worked out a process with fail-back after fail-back, so essentially I could lose internet altogether and still give a high-quality talk on time. If you present over Zoom and would like my notes on that, reach out to me through the Contact page.

Writing this post has given me a new appreciation for how much work I put in to prepare for a seminar, even one where I’ve already done “all the work” of creating an original seminar: researching the topic (which can include years of hands-on experimentation), writing the content, and building the slide deck and other materials. I’m proud of me!

Well, that’s enough time for a break. Time to get another cup of barley tea and get back to it!