Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Song-day 10/28

I thought it might be fun to share something non-medical illustration related on my blog.  Something I've always enjoyed doing is writing songs.  I'm not a particularly amazing singer, and I'm a self-taught guitar player with limited recording abilities as well.  I just like writing the songs, I'm not trying to be a pop star.  I started writing songs when I was about 13 and it has left me with a musical catalog of growing up.  Something I've personally enjoyed but have rarely shared.  Recently, I've been thinking it's silly to hold on to something that someone else may enjoy and connect to just because of the fear that they may also reject it and find it lacking.  So today is my first "Sunday Song-day."  An inspiration to record my songs each week and hopefully find a few listeners to enjoy them other than myself.

I wrote Error Undefined this past summer and finished it while being at UIC.  In this case, I was not writing about any specific experience but instead piecing together inspiration from many different places.  The song describes how someone you love can and makes you happy can still cause chaos in your life to the point where someone has to call off everything.  There is inevitably blame placed somewhere, even if it was the right thing to do.


Error Undefined
By Audrey Gifford

It's the thing you say that will never happen
That happens with frequency
Just like us separating so easily

Little threads still keep us tied together
But soon I'll rip the seams
Don't try to piece us together, there's no you and me

And I know you blame me
And I do see what you see
But somebody had to cut the cord between us
You should have seen us
Destroying each other from the inside out

I held my breath and tried to wait forever
You just needed time
To find yourself and then you'd be mine

So I sat there waiting
Until my face turned blue
You would have let me die, waiting for you

And I know you blame me
And I do see what you see
But somebody had to cut the cord between us
You should have seen us
Destroying each other from the inside out

Come rain, come wind, come sleet, come snow
There was no way for us to go together
Not ever, just a moment when you were mine
But now we're just an error undefined

And I know you blame me
And I do see what you see
But somebody had to cut the cord between us
You should have seen us
Destroying each other from the inside out

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Low Hanging Fruit - The Solution to Catching Up After Getting Behind

Everyone gets behind schedule at some point.  Be it procrastination or too much on your plate, you can accidentally or purposely dig yourself into a hole.  I'm in the midst of climbing my way out at the moment because of a quite unexciting series of events, one being that I simply did not to draw a human heart.  Sounds exciting - no, actually it's a pain and what I consider a no win situation.  Let me explain.

I like almost all of my class work, but sometimes you come across an assignment that just wants to put you in your place.  It wants to tell you your a talentless failure and you better just quit now.  It all starts out fine, you start ahead of schedule, trying to do the right thing, but no good deed goes unpunished.  During the course of the assignment I worked on my heart sketch while making no steps forward.  I would draw and redraw, yet stay in one place like a drawing treadmill.  Then other assignments come up and I put the annoyance of the heart away.

Uh oh, flash-forward to the weekend before it's due and all I have is a tracing paper sketch.  And the bonus "practice" assignment of shading shapes.  Here comes the solution known as "low hanging fruit."  I know I have a lot on my plate and it could easily overwhelm me into a standstill.  Saturday night I just want to go to bed and forget any of this exists.  Instead I grab the low hanging fruit.  You need instant gratification when you're three days behind schedule.  So I took a couple hours and with great anger and frustration shaded some shapes.  I took out my planner and put a great big line across that assignment.  One step forward.

If I had tried to make progress on the heart assignment I would wake up the next morning with the same amount of assignments on my to do list.  Low hanging fruit!

Now I was to the part where you just have to work through the pain.  I broke up the drawing into two parts and worked on the vessel outlines first.  Creating a working "finished piece" no matter how craptastic gives you peace-of-mind that if it all falls apart at least you'll have something to turn in.  While working on one part of the assignment DO NOT think about the other parts you have undone.  When I need to work at 100% there have to be no distractions and no fears of my future demise.

Then comes the heart.  First of all, there's no way I'm going to draw a heart "correctly," there are so many size variations on the real deal, so many details, so many people with more knowledge about heart than me.  I'm destined for failure.  So I threw all caring about making a "good" heart out the window.  It was time to make a "finished" heart.  Because after this assignment is over I'm still behind schedule, oh sweet, sweet anatomy test...

Anyway, I shaded the important part of the heart first, in this case it was the azygos vein, and then got some tone down on the rest of it, scanned it all and went to bed.  Hooray!  But wait... I need to cram like crazy for anatomy now.

This blog post is actually low hanging fruit at the moment, clearing up my weekend to study, study, study.  See how exciting this is???

If you're interested in actually know what the heck my drawing means: read this.

Enjoy my current study jam, and the last few weeks I get to be 22~

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Acupuncture and Pretending I Know Graphic Design

Photoshop and Illustrator can be your greatest allies and your worst enemy at the very same time.  There are endless options and endless opinions on the "right" way to use the programs.  In undergrad, my introductory class to photoshop and illustrator left me disheartened, the programs felt inflexible.  The screen of the computer was so limiting compared to being able to touch your hand to paper.  Now, I'm no expert, not even a semi-expert, but I'm willing to break the rules within these programs.  I'm willing to try all the options in both ways they should or shouldn't be used.  I'll use Illustrator like Photoshop and damn the consequences!

What I experienced while completing the narrative assignment as well as creating infographics is that computer programs do not have to be rigid if you are willing to take risks.  In undergrad, I took what my professors said as the way things had to be.  I trusted them (and they were grading me), so what they gave me was god.  I didn't question.  But what I was creating on the computer went against every instinct I had as a traditional artist.  I thought that's just how it has to be: two styles, two techniques, of two minds.  That is not only limiting, but slows me down.  Learning how to combine the best of traditional and the best of digital into one package is time-saving and creates a sleek end result.

For the narrative, I used paintbrush within illustrator.  I'm pretty sure a certain undergrad professor would have shot me for using that in his class.  But it turns out, I'm just more comfortable with illustrator as a base.  It is more intuitive to me.  I like how the layers work, I like how it highlights what's selected.  I'm pretty messy with my layers, but I can always find my way back in illustrator.  Sketching straight onto illustrator from photographic reference felt amazing.  I'm used to time-consuming between steps of highly rendering the design on paper, scanning it in, and then using the pen tool to outline.  I'm just not a pen tool kind of girl.  It's too geometric, too static.  There are so many options why would you do something that feels unnatural?

I finally felt a sense of creativeness while working digital instead of a cog in a machine.  All I needed was a rough (very rough) sketch, photographic reference, and a general feeling/idea in my head, and I could make it come to life on the computer.  Saving different options, changing canvas size as I go, control Z, these are all things I can't get in traditional drawing, but I hadn't been using to their fullest potential on the computer because I'd been prepping too much on the physical page.  On the computer I don't have to be afraid to leave behind an original sketch because I can stretch the page the necessary 3 extra inches.  I have rulers automatically show up.  Everything can align itself.  Why would I ever attempt this on paper when I have Adobe?

I'm proud of what I'm accomplishing in Instructional Design because it is where my weaknesses lie.  I don't know graphic design other than to grid everything.  I have little a clue on font choices and digital color picking is not my forte, but through my experiences in the narrative and infographic projects, I see how I can develop a bag of tricks for faking graphic design talent.  So far simplicity works for me and trying to add a little bit of "traditional" flair makes it feel more my style.

I think my next step is getting better at self-critique.  Knowing when something I created looks bad isn't the problem, I usually just don't know why or how to go about fixing it.  I suppose trial and error can work, but I'd like to be as efficient as possible.

In celebration of finishing this "how to," I think I should actually experience acupuncture.  I find it interesting to work with the body in such an indirect way.  The above video inspired my choice of illustrating the "headache point."  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Drawing is About Trying and Lying

"I can't draw."  Oh, but you can.

If you can take a photo and hold a pencil you can create this drawing.
I've heard too many people utter this sentence because the fact is you can draw.  And without too much effort you can draw very well if you just tried!  I'm sure the non-artists out there are thinking, "I just don't have the knack," or something is the lines of "I wasn't born with the art gene."  Drawing isn't a magical power or passed down through DNA, these excuses piss me off.  You only think that because you have been fooled by the likes of me and other artists.  Yes, we are all big, fat liars trying to convince you we are doing something so amazing only the chosen can even attempt.  And I'm about to let you into the secret club.

Before I go on, I have a side tangent I must go on.  I often hear, "I can only draw stick figures."  So does this mean you were attempting a realistic portrait of someone but somehow your brain told your hand a realistic portrait is a stick figure?  I think not.  Seriously, look at this photo, do I look like that stick figure?  You totally forgot my super cheap K-mart costume and I'm pretty sure my legs aren't that short.

What you're really saying is "I'm too afraid to attempt anything other than a stick figure because everyone will laugh and point at me when I attempt to stray from the path of least resistance."  Don't be afraid!  I would never laugh and point, only secretly judge you on the inside.  No worries.  Back to the main story.

First of all, if you don't sit down and put pencil (or other marking device) to paper (or some other surface) of course you can't draw.  It's because you're just not.  Put that pencil on paper and move it around.  Viola!  You can draw!  It may not look like what you think is good drawing, which more often than not is the roadblock that keeps you from the next step.  Lying.  You tell other people with confidence that those pencil lines scribbled randomly on the page mean something, you've just created fine art.  It's that easy!  You tried and lied and now you are an artist.  But after this success you're still skeptical in your abilities in creating a realistic drawing.  Never fear, modern technology plus tracing paper is the secret combination I use to pretend I have magical skills and so can you.

Things you'll need to pretend you're amazing at drawing:
1) Camera
2) Computer with printer
3) Tracing paper
4) Pencil
5) Paper

Ok, first, take that camera and take a picture of something you think would look cool in drawing form.  I have chosen hip bones.  Attempt to get a photo without intense blurriness and lighting that forms some shadows.  These are not requirements, no photography skills are necessary.  Point. Click. We'll deal with the consequences of poor lighting later!

Now, upload that snazzy photo on your computer and print it to the exact size you would like your drawing to be.  Don't waste your ink on high-quality printing here, fast-draft away.  As you can see, I printed on two pieces of paper and crudely taped them together.  That's what I call effort!

Now, lay a piece of tracing paper over that and go to town.  It's a miracle, you can draw!

From here you can stop and put that amazing masterpiece up on your fridge and tell all your friends you free-handed that.  They are dumber than you, so they will never know.  If you want to impress a larger audience you can transfer that onto non-tracing paper.  Just tape it pencil side down to your choice of paper and press the pencil onto the paper.  This can be done by your thumbnail, spoon, or popsicle stick.  Remove the tracing paper and use the pencil transfer to start making this drawing amazing, people will cry when they see it (in awe, not sadness).

So, you might have noticed that your drawing is now backwards on the page, which often isn't a big deal.  But if you want to make it the same as the original sketch you can double transfer or trace your drawing on the other side of the tracing paper and then transfer.  If you use words like "double transfer" you will really sound like an artist.  Use words people don't know in order to make them think you really know what you are doing.
Add in some shading if you dare or just leave a contour line.  Now post this up on Facebook and have all your friends tell you that you are a great artist and laugh at them because they don't know you traced most of it.  See?  Lying and trying is all you need to draw.  So no more excuses people!  Get out there and show the world you are special and better than other people through deceit! Muhahahaha...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Art of War for Test-Takers

Taking tests has always been a fairly basic experience for me.  I've been in school almost my entire life, pre-school to graduate school straight through, no years taken off.  So all in all, I've taken a lot of tests, one pretty much like the next.  The key to my success: memorize, memorize, memorize, take test, dump all information in order to ready myself for the next test.  It worked merrily my entire undergrad career. One step into graduate level Gross Anatomy, it became fairly obvious there were limits to my prior technique.

Limitation 1: I can only memorize so much.

Sadly, I do not have a photographic memory.  When the notes became available for the upper and lower limb, all in all it came to about 80 dense pages.  This did not include the anatomy atlas, the textbook, and the dissector.  Pretty much, my study method had met its match.

If you can memorize this...  you are a much smarter person than me.

Limitation 2: Don't understand information, just regurgitate it correctly.

I like taking a few short-cuts in the learning process.  Mainly, I limit the actual "learning" part.  It's not that I don't enjoy having knowledge, I just like to play to win more.  And when grades are involved, suddenly it is war!  To get the highest grade possible it's no longer about your mind, it's about understanding the enemy (teacher-the person grading you), seeing what stands between you and success (A), and knowing how to exploit these barriers.

Limitation 3: Test questions are basic.

My test taking strategies rely heavily upon bubble tests.  There are many tricks in correctly answering bubble tests, first of all, the answer is already on the page!  You just have to know how to narrow it down.  Lab practicals are my achilles heel.  You pull words out of thin air.  There's a limited time, there are no tricks, you see something you identify it.  You can't cross out a few answers, use other test questions as an information source.  No, it's just you and your brain.  Luckily, I found my way right around that little issue with the beauty of digital cameras.  I took photos of everything in undergrad labs.  Everything.  Not just dissections, models, book pages, everything that could be tested over.  There are many little ways to memorize the very specific models or slides or dissections by seeing the exact object over and over again.  The important part is that what you memorize from HAS to be the EXACT model or slide you are test over.  This way you don't have to know why, you can remember the exact shade of color or placement next to a little scuff mark.  Maybe not in the exact way a teacher was hoping I'd learn something, but boy, could I answer their questions correctly.

How Gross Anatomy could have potentially kicked my ass:

So for Gross Anatomy it was too much information to straight memorize, the questions asked were not straight forward and involved multiple steps of knowledge to get to an answer, and we could take no photos of the models.  What was I to do???  Actually learn?  Well, yes, I suppose I did, but I still have some tricks up my sleeves to ease the process.

Trick 1: Listen to the teacher.

I mean REALLY listen.  Not just to the lectures, listen to who the teacher is.  The key is to know how your teacher thinks by test time.  When I sit down to take a bubble test, I don't take it as myself, I take it as my teacher.  What are their quirks?  What terms do they love to use?  How do they try to "trick" students in questions?  What information do they give in one question that could be used to answer another?  Is every "E" option a throw away?  Is every questions that has a "A and B" option have that as the answer?

That certain tone of voice they use when talking about a concept a little more enthusiastically than others.  Repetition is very important to key into.  When a teacher flat out says, "I test this," highlight, star, write it down 5 times.  Seriously, never let free points go.  I've developed a 6th sense about these things, and you can too.  Every practice quiz a teacher gives, all the extra notes given straight from the teacher, those are the bible.  Yes, I'm sure there is book reading assigned but honestly, don't waste your time.  Use it to supplement the teacher's notes if necessary, but it's going to limit your understanding of what your teacher thinks is important.  It really doesn't matter what you think is truly important, if your teacher does, they are going to test it and in the end, that's the score that shows.

Trick 2: Follow your teachers instructions.  Go into lab.  All. The. Time.

If your teacher tells you how you should approach it that way.  Just do it.  So when Gross Anatomy professor says the students who get the best grades spend the most time in lab, GO INTO LAB.  Because I couldn't take photos, I had to get hands on more often than my usual technique.  Work in reviewing the teachers notes at the same time you're in lab.  Check out things the teacher specifically stated and pointed out the most, then review everything else.

Trick 3: Study at home with purpose.

Bone Box!  Like a mini lab at home.
It's extremely easy to get lost in a pile of reading, notes, and recorded lectures when studying outside of the lab.  Three hours of studying can turn into very little knowledge of the next dissection.  I'm all about studying the least I can with the most point-getting information learned.

One, review the notes for the next lecture beforehand.  That makes the required lecture turn into study time with the potential of the teacher to tell you what to specifically know for test questions.

This little beauty was for anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments.
 Second, use physical props and drawings of your own creation.  The bone box pictured above is the best connection I had to lab without actually going in and putting on scrubs.  I could actually learn my muscle attachments better at home and focus on other things during lab.  As for drawings, there is no need to make "good" drawings.  Make drawings that explain something to you easily.  Drawings to me are the honest way to cheat.  You can keep information stored in little lines and boxes easily recreated on your test.

Don't waste your time impressing anyone with your artistic skill.  Unless it's going to up your grade, it does not matter.

Final Trick (kind of): It helps if the teachers like you, but not too much.

This doesn't always matter.  I've done well in classes where I barely knew the teacher's name and they sure as heck didn't know mine.  But in a lab situation, being able to pull your favorite lab instructor over and have them pretty much hand you the answers is nice.  They will stay longer with engaged, interested familiar faces.  But please, do not become annoying.  Before you ask a question, please, please, please look at least 3 different places for the answer on your own.  Self-reliance is an important skill in the war of test-taking.  Don't show weakness!  If you do have a question you can't figure out yourself, you want to be prepared for the teachers answer and the faster you understand it in your conversation the more time they have to drop you hints.  I find it most helpful to be the "smart, quiet one," not the "obnoxious, clingy one."

This extends to classmates.  Classmates are your competition but not your enemy (that's the grade-giver) and they also hold many answers.  It's impossible to hear everything.  Alliances help everyone up their game.  Never withhold from your alliance!  As I said, not your enemy.  Use your alliance to help you stay focused, go to lab, and get bits of info the teacher dropped when you weren't around.

So overall, I'm a little crazy.  I think that has become very apparent, but I get results.  Find your own motivation, and you will do well.  For me, it's competition, for you, it could be gaining true knowledge or other more honorable things.  In the end, we are all on the same grade scale.  And that opens up an entirely different story of how much do grades matter?  Save that for next time...