The OLPC XO

Way back just after the turn of the century, a laptop cost around three grand. The cheapest laptop was at least a grand, and no body said things like turn of the century to mean after the year 2000 rather than after the year 1900. Then there came along the OLPC, and the concept of one laptop per child. Really, it was an organizational philosophy regarding education, but practically it was all about a piece of hardware called the XO. The OLPC XO was essentially a netbook, the first netbook, and one arranged around the requirements of use by children in the developing world.

This meant cheap, rugged, long-lived, and simple. Simple here meaning both to use and repair. It delivered on all fronts, although it never got to the $100.00 price tag they were shooting for. Right of the bat it took a big hit by deciding to run Linux rather than something more industry standard like Windows. Today, such a project would almost certainly bow to convention and run Windows or at least Android. Geeks everywhere didn’t mind that it ran Linux though, and blindly counted that a point in it’s favor (it’s more of an asset now than it was then). Still it’s got some features that most people might wish to have on their laptops today.

First, the WiFi is to die for. It has two built-in external antennae and gets around three times the range of a conventional laptop. My work laptop picks up five hot-spots from my basement; the OLPC XO picks up thirteen. It’s also set up for mesh networking out of the box even when it’s off. Meaning it can behave as a pass-through node and share any WiFi access point it’s in range with with another mesh networking enabled machine that’s out of range of the hot-spot. That’s some fairly fancy networking and it does it with next to no effort. In practice this meant only the teacher’s XO had to have the WiFi password, and they could control student access to the network easily.

The biggest draw through, at least for me is the display. It’s dual mode, backlit like a standard monitor and high resolution grayscale that is fully readable (like e-ink in sunlight). Between that and the fact that it’s neigh unbreakable, and water resistant and it’s my go to. I mean, sure it’s heavier than a tablet and the battery only last half as long but I can practically pick up the libraries WiFi from home if you count the front yard as home. Oh, and it runs the audio processing software that I need (sox) so I don’t have to use clunky awful ad-riddled Android nonsenses just to concatenate wav files and convert them to ogg.

Acrylic Ink

Acrylic ink is generally a pigment or dye in an exceedingly low viscosity acrylic binder. You can paint with it, or use it with paint as part of a larger work, or you can use it as ink. That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve picked up some Daler Rowney acrylic ink and I’m using it in my Indigraph pen. It’s a pen that can use india or any pigment based ink without drying out and becoming unusable.

I picked up sepia. Daler Rowney’s sepia is a semi-opaque, pigment ink using PBk7, PR112, and PY1:1 for a nice rich brown sepia. It’s less red than I expected, really only having worked with sepia pencil before this. Anyway, I like it. Turns out acrylic ink dries fast, so fast I thought maybe it was because the pen. So I tried it in a boring old dip pen and it still dries “instantly” for all intents and purposes. Seriously, 3 seconds (didn’t I tell you 3’s are events after all), about the time it takes me to set down a pen and pick up a brush and the stuff’s dry.

Apply it really heavy, going back and forth over an area a bunch of times and that turns into half a minute, but that’s still fast as heck. Three days in and it still flows immediately when I pick up the Indigraph so I’d say I’ll be using acrylic ink for the time being.

Guerilla Painter Five by Seven Pocket Box

I own a pochade. I use it all the time. Inside and outside. Traveling and in the cellar, everywhere. It’s designed to be used out and about, and it does great at that. Don’t let this make you neglect using it at home though.

After all, a drawing board is useful at home, so is an easel. It follows then, that a pochade is too. What’s a pochade? It’s a box, and in French it means pocket, generally made of wood and combining storage, and support holder. That’s pretty much it. Some, like the Guerilla Painter Pocket Box do more than hold your support but also allow you to safely carry one or more painted supports. In this case two panels back to back slide into the lid.

It closes up real small and holds plenty inside. I keep a set of watercolors with a built in water bottle, a brush/pen wrap, my Rapesco Supaclip, and an eraser in there. Along with either six sheets of paper clipped to three supports or two gessoed canvas panels. If I’m working in acrylic then the watercolor pallet is swapped out for a lidded silicone pallet loaded up with primary colors.

There’s a standard quarter twenty tripod socket on the bottom which with all the tripods I own is something I’d have put on myself if it didn’t. There’s also four rubber feet so if you got a table you can go that way or use it laptop style.

I know what you’re thinking and yeah, it’s a big thing to carry around compared to a sketchbook and a pocket sized pallet. But I don’t like a sketchbook. I have a habit, if someone approaches me when something’s nearly finished, if they say anything nice, I give them the painting. That’s not really possible with sketchbook bound works.

The lid of the box is adjustable at any angle from closed to horizontal and locks down pretty securely. Not so securely that you’ll want to lean your hand on the canvas or paper, but not so lightly that you can’t a bit if you must. All the hardware is stainless steel or aluminum which looks nice and means no rusting. The adjustment knob is large and plastic but has inset metal threads so there’s no fear of stripping them.

I’ve only got two small gripes and even they are pretty minor. First, the hardware for the feet stick up into the box a bit. That makes them very sturdy but it also means anything knocking around loose in the box is going to get banged up. I overcome that by keeping my pens and brushes in a case that’s bulky enough to fill the space.

My other complaint, and again it’s a minor one, is that the tripod mount is raises from the surface of the wooden bottom. Again, I’m sure this is a concession to strength. Unfortunately, it means you either can’t leave a quick release plate installed if your want to use it on a table or you’ll need to search out a very low-profile plate like this one.

At the tiny five by seven size I went with you can only work on five by seven or seven by something supports, right? Not so! Guerilla Painter sells an easel that fits in the box and serves both as a standoff and adapter. That means you can work smaller, with portrait format, or with supports of almost any width and up to about nine inches tall.

Even more than that, in an advancement of design from an earlier version, you can work wider right off the bat, if perhaps a bit less securely. The bottom canvas holders are shaped like little “W’s”. One valley of the “W” is the main canvas holders and works in conjunction with the four “U” shaped holders in the lid to hold the canvas secure. The other valley of the “W” let’s you work on a support that will rest outside the lid using the outside of the “U’s” as rear holders. This is quite insecure, but means you can work nine by twelve or seven by fourteen in a pinch.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the Pocket Box by Guerilla Painter. It’s freed me up to work just about anywhere. In fact it’s made me seriously consider going to court and painting people. We’ll see if I ever try that!

Pause

There’s this weird thing about painting. I still notice it. Not so much anymore, but still. It’s waiting. Painting is like photography is for me that way. See when I draw and can just start drawing and stop when I’m done. If I’m painting I have to stop and wait. Paint this bit, now it needs to rest, dry at least a little. That can be weird. It helps to have something to do while I wait. Something with sound and a need for real focus.

My Gameboy Advance helps with that. Mindless but urgent games are the most useful, Tetris or Dr. Mario, or Doom, something like that. Where you turn yourself off and try not to die. It’s good for the voices. The way painting and drawing are too.

First Impressions on Acrylics

So I sold the last of a bunch of prints I had hanging. I forgot they were out there. They were in Texas? I guess I was in Texas at some point. Well, the check cleared and I’m out of that stupid mental health conserveteeship so I bought some stuff. I got a fancy pochade box I gotta write about some time, and a whole stack of canvas panels and a set of basic acrylics tubes from Winsor & Newton.

I like drawing faces (they quiet the voices which, yeah, is weird) so I figured a book on portraits with acrylics would be good. Nope, I’m not in that place yet. I think I need to just be simple and boring and see a face, sketch it rough, slap on the paint. So I’m going to do that for a while I think.

I like acrylics though I think, might really like them. They cover, they’re opaque, and they hide the tremors like I can hardly believe it. Mess it up? There is a thick physical thing I can wipe off of cover up. The exercises in the book so far aren’t for me, review that book if I get to that place but acrylics for now and no sleeping ’cause the only thing louder than lights is labyrinths.