art

Character Design: What I Learned and Even Discovered Recently

You haven’t seen an art post in a while. That’s because I haven’t been doing a lot of it these days. However, there is something about it that I discovered quite recently. Obviously, it’s about character design. You want to know what it is?

It’s how I was better at it at age 13 than at age 23 in 2017. Okay, you may be looking at me like I have 4 heads. And at the time 3 years ago, when I was 23 and finishing college, I didn’t realize or think of it. But I could portray characters more accurately, based on their personalities, when I was just 13 years old.

Well, they weren’t my own characters. They came from the “Harry Potter” series. At that age, I enjoyed the franchise very much to the point that I did fan art of it. But most of it was silly and the characters did things they would never do. However, that’s a different story.

Aside from the wackiness, I also drew the characters alone, with facial expressions based on their personalities. Below is an example.

I must applaud myself for drawing (movie) Snape pretty well when I was 13. I also liked to use arrows to direct at the characters, which I don’t think is conventional in character design. But I could be wrong for some companies or designers.

Ten years later, in my final semester of college, I took an illustration course. One of the things we had to learn was character design. However, I just drew characters in stock poses. The example below is a replica I did of when we had to design characters for a comedic live-action TV show since I don’t have the original anymore.

It wasn’t this sloppy. I just did it from memory. Plus, I haven’t been doing a lot of art these days. I’m hoping my skills aren’t deteriorating.

Anyway, that above is supposed to be Megan from “Drake and Josh.” I used a simplistic style since I felt it was appropriate for a slapstick comedy. But when we did a class critique, somebody pointed out that I could have given her a more sinister look based on her personality and traits.

If you’ve seen “Drake and Josh,” you know that Megan pulls pranks on her older brothers, but her parents find her innocent. So, a wicked smile would have been more suitable.

Another assignment we had to do was illustrate a story that Disney did not adapt. I picked “Perseus and Medusa.” Just like with the other assignment, I drew the characters in stock poses again. Even though I don’t have it anymore, I illustrated Perseus with a default smile on his face. That was when I learned not to do that anymore.

So, from that point on, I portrayed the characters more accurately based on their traits. Below is an example of another character from the same Greek myth.

For those who don’t know, Polydectes was an evil King in “Perseus and Medusa.” This is why I drew him the way I did.

If you are interested in learning character design, it is important to know as much about them as possible for you to illustrate them for whatever project you work on. Even if it’s only for personal use, these tips could come in handy.

cooking

Lemon Meringue Pie: Delicious!

I’ve first discovered this pie when reading “Amelia Bedelia” as a young child. However, the pie never appealed to me…until recently. I saw a post about it on my Facebook page. That triggered me to want to make it.

It’s kind of involved and not too easy. You have to temper egg yolks into a preserve-like mixture and not end up making scrambled eggs by mistake. That made me kind of nervous, but I succeeded with the tempering.

You also have to blind-bake the crust. What that means is you make the pie dough, put parchment paper on it, and pie weights on it. That will bake some of the crust, but not the whole thing, especially the bottom. It makes the pie crust just right, not too soggy or hard. This is essential with lemon meringue pie.

The process took a while, and to the point where I didn’t experience hunger while cooking it. In spite of never making or eating it before, it came out delicious! In fact, it became addictive. I would eat a few slices a day. I also got excited to tell others about it, including my friends.

One thing you should take seriously, though, is letting it chill several hours. I mean that. Otherwise, the lemon part will be liquid-like, and a bit messy, as in the picture above. I sliced it too soon. If you keep it refrigerated overnight, it’s even better. The pie will look like a pie.

I believe I got the recipe from “Sally’s Baking Addiction”. You can Google something such as, “Lemon meringue pie Sally’s Baking Addiction” and try it. Patience and care are important, though. Take your time with the steps, and hopefully, you’ll enjoy it.

Writing

My Reaction to an Article About Setting Stories Now and What I Think You Can Do About it

Ugh! This pandemic is killing me and us all. I want to get back to full straightforward life ASAP! Okay, I don’t blog about things like this.

However, I did come across an article on BookBaby about “the elephant in the room.” The article talked about setting your story now in 2020, despite the pandemic.

It gave an example from an old story, but twisted on it where a character had to practice social distancing and stay 6 feet apart from others. The post said that there are a lot of complications with setting your story this year. Your characters would have to follow pandemic guidelines, but that could interfere with your plot. The author also said that you shouldn’t have the characters live completely typical lives, such as dining out or partying.

The person advised against setting the stories in the future since no one knows what will happen. I agree with that one. But he or she also said that you shouldn’t set it in the past since it would be unsatisfactory. However, I don’t agree with that one, especially if you only backdate by one or two years. If contemporary settings matter so much, I would still consider 2019 and even 2018 to be pretty contemporary. I think setting your stories then should be totally fine. After all, if your characters need to live normal, typical lives, then setting it one or two years before now should be understandable and even important. That is when setting a story in a certain year plays a crucial part. But I think writers should get to set their stories whenever they want. I wrote another post about that, though.

So, unless your story is centered around Covid-19, or is set in a made-up world (i.e. a make-believe planet in science-fiction or a different magical land or world in fantasy), I think it is best to set it in 2019 or 2018. Or, you could wait until the pandemic is fully over, which should be by next year, or even sooner. This could work if you need to do a lot of research or plan more.

I read the comments on that article, and a lot of people said that books should take you into another world and shouldn’t necessarily be centered around current issues. That probably would work if your story is set in the US and is between January and March.

If your story is set in a made-up world, go ahead and set it now or in the future and keep Covid-19 out of it. Otherwise, set it one or two (or more) years earlier or wait till the sense of pre-pandemic normalcy starts to return.

cooking

Rainbow Cupcakes, Rainbow Cupcakes, I Loved You

Ooh, pretty colors. Lots of people admire bright prismatic hues, especially in desserts. I am no different. That above is a multi-colored cupcake I baked from scratch.

How did I do it? I used a vanilla chiffon cake recipe, divided the batters into different bowls, dyed them various colors, piled them up in the muffin cups, and then placed them in the oven. I added green frosting to some (not pictured) and consumed those. They were delicious!

That was…just for a few days. Unfortunately, they warmed in the container and went bad. So, I had to throw them away. Bummer! And that recipe had succeeded with me before.

Excellent vanilla cake recipes from scratch are hard to find. Not kidding. In the past, I’ve often preferred boxed cake mixes when it came to the vanilla flavor. However, I have a friend with a peanut allergy and she’s been to many of my parties. Since there aren’t a lot of nut-free bakeries in my area (there are only a few, and several minutes away from my house), when the friend with the nut allergy comes, I have to make the cakes from scratch. They’ve come out good before at every party I’ve had.

Anyway, regardless of the previous success with that recipe, if I choose to make vanilla cake or cupcakes again, I will likely find another formula to follow.

cooking

When I Made White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

During quarantine, I missed a lot of my favorite commercial foods. One of those included white chocolate raspberry cheesecake from the Barnes & Noble café. It was super-delicious—both that and the one I made.

There is a lot involved, though. You have to make raspberry preserves, crush Oreos and bake them as a crust, and melt white chocolate as well as prepare the actual cheesecake.

While this particular “error” worked out in the end, I melted white chocolate chips instead of using the special kind the recipe recommended since I did not have it. However, that substitute was technically incorrect, and would have messed up the final creation. Luckily, though, my mom taught me a trick to avoid a bad cheesecake. That was to add milk to the white chocolate, but a little at a time. And guess what? It resulted in a great dessert. I would eat the cheesecake pretty much every day.

Aside from the white chocolate thing, the raspberry preserves, Oreos, and cheesecake were no problems preparing. Like many, I stress-baked when pretty much nothing was open. I’ve baked a lot less these days. However, I did make rainbow cupcakes from scratch recently. But I might save that for another post.

cooking

Cake-Decorating Techniques I’m Glad I Learned

Image from Pixabay

I’ve been baking and cooking since I was 12. I’ve also learned to decorate cakes and other baked goods around that age. Of course, I struggled several times, especially in the early days.

However, I’ve been making a lot of my own occasion cakes in recent years, because one of my friends is allergic to peanuts. Unfortunately, many bakeries aren’t nut-free, including near where I live. In fact, although I reside outside New York City, allergy-friendly bakeries are rare.

Nevertheless, I still enjoy my homemade cakes and cupcakes. The interest worked out very, very well. So, without further ado, here are the techniques I am thankful for learning.

1: Crumb-coating

This is when you put a plain layer of buttercream all over the cake and put it in the refrigerator to cool. That way, you don’t end up with crumbs in your icing. That is when you put the next layer over it and you can be free to do what you want. This might not work for whipped cream frosting, though.

2: Whipped buttercream technique

You do the usual for making buttercream icing, but add extra milk (a little at a time), and whip with an electric mixer for as many as seven minutes or so. That way, your buttercream can turn out similarly to whipped cream icing. There are a few reasons it might work. One, colors tend to come out bolder in butter cream than whipped cream. Two, writing on a cake is easier with better with buttercream than whipped cream. Three, there is a special trick to whipped cream icing that keeps it from sinking into the cake. That is adding unflavored gelatin to hot water, letting it cool, and then incorporating it into the whipped cream. It’s fine, but a little more work, depending on your needs or desires.

3: Less can be more

Good cake designs don’t always have to have lots of decorations. In fact, a minimal amount can be just as beautiful, if not, more. That’s what happened when I prepared for my 26th birthday party in November 2019. I had a lot of cooking to do, so I just made simple flower-like borders around the cake’s exterior (not attached), wrote “Happy Birthday, Sunayna” with buttercream on a piece of white chocolate, and that was it. It still looked great.

So, there you have it. I hope this helps.

cooking

I Had a Blast with These Blueberry Muffins!

When lockdown began, I stress-baked like crazy. I normally love the blueberry muffins from Dunkin’ Donuts (or now just Dunkin), and I still could have gotten them to go. Where I live, many restaurants still offer take-out, delivery, or curbside pickup.

Anyway, I tried making these muffins using a kopykat recipe from the Internet. It called for a special Dunkin creamer. But I didn’t have that.

So, I used either half and half, heavy cream, or both. Whatever I did, it made the muffins super-moist and delicious. I had learned that the more fat content a dairy product contains, the softer it makes the baked good.

I also used a mix of frozen wild blueberries as well as fresh blueberries. I even included some fresh raspberries and blackberries. Mixed berry muffins rule!

That was technically what they were. But there were more blueberries than raspberries and blackberries. So, I guess they could have still been called blueberry muffins.

I ate them like crazy. That’s right, they tasted that delicious. I probably will remake these muffins again, regardless of when restaurants in my area reopen their dining sections.

Since making these muffins, I’ve sometimes been swapping out water or whole milk with half and half and heavy cream with other recipes. You could try that, too.

art

Lost Fonts? How to Fix That

Adobe Suite changes over time, including Photoshop. That means they gain new features as well as alter existing ones. Unfortunately, a handful of elements go away, too, such as fonts.

When my computer needed to be rebooted due to some virus, I had to reinstall and download everything. So, when I downloaded Photoshop, it was a newer version. Therefore, changes have been made and I had to adjust to them.

But when I opened a file of an image I had with text, the fonts were missing. So, I could not use them. I had to delete them and replace them with available fonts.

However, this was a cover of a published book that needed to be updated. I was giving the story a new title. So, without the designated font, I had to figure out what to do.

I considered downloading the font from the Internet, which you can do. I might have found that removed font. However, it didn’t seem to make it into the software.

That was when I came up with another solution. I opened Microsoft word, and luckily, I could still get that font there. So, I wrote some letters in big sizes, took a screenshot, opened that file in Photoshop, and altered them to match the font I’d originally used. I also created a library designated for symbols of that font.

But they are images and not symbols you can use your keypads with. For instance, you can’t delete them with the backspace, move them with a space or return key, and so forth. If you want to make a word, you have to drag them with your mouse or touchpad. You can use keyboard shortcuts to put them near or far from each other with the transport tool, though.

I think it would be good for anyone to create a library of different symbols in various fonts, just in case they go. If they’re common or standard fonts, such as “Times New Roman”, then it’s unlikely that they’ll disappear from a program. Still—better prepared than to have to scramble for the same or similar styles.

Writing

Focusing on Foreshadowing

If you’re a writer, or even a student, you should know what foreshadowing is. It is when clues are given in a story, visual or written, that something might happen later. While twists and surprises are important, too, foreshadowing is essential. After all, everything that happens in a story must be crucial to the plot—eventually.

That being said, I have witnessed some stories using too much foreshadowing, such as the Disney-animated movie, “Aladdin”. Don’t worry. “Aladdin” is a great movie and I enjoyed it very much. However, I still think it overdid it on the foreshadowing, and therefore, it was a bit too predictable for me.

That is another thing to watch out for—too much foreshadowing can displease the reader or audience. Notice how in most forms of storytelling, there is a balance of foreshadowing and unexpected plot twists? That is what people want. It makes a story more enjoyable. A little bit of both is what makes a book, movie, TV show, play, or anything else more pleasurable.

I, myself, have used some foreshadowing in my own books. For example, in one of them, the antagonist hears my main character’s dog bark, and then leaves. I won’t spoil anything beyond that. However, I will assure you that the specific moment foreshadows something that is bound to occur later and remains important.

In another novel of mine, there are characters that are introduced through the phone, but don’t appear in person until later. Once again, I won’t spoil anything. In fact, spoiling is another risk you run when you foreshadow too much.

Of course, it is not easy to use foreshadowing properly. But as you learn over time, it can be doable for you.

cooking

A Trick to Crispy French Fries

Image from Pixabay

Most of us love French fries, even though too much of them aren’t healthy. Technically, that applies to everything, including food that is good for us. But that’s a different topic.

Anyway, many recipes will tell you to soak your fries for some time before you put them in the hot oil. I supposed that’s a good trick. However, here is the technique I use. It is far quicker and maybe even better. That is…to microwave your potato strips until they are soft enough to poke something all the way through them.

You could boil them, too. But then you have to wait for the water to heat up. Anyway, what I do is cut the potatoes into strips, microwave them till they’re soft (I can’t remember the number of minutes at the top of my head now), heat the oil in a pot or deep pan, put the potatoes in them, and cook them till I like them.

Did you notice that I omitted the peeling stage? You can still peel the skin off, as that’s conventional for making fries. However, I’m too lazy to do that. So, I keep the skin on. Believe it or not, the skin is actually kind of good for you. Or it’s, at least, tolerable.

Another thing to know is that if you use steel pans or pots, you need to heat the object first before you put in the fat, like oil. Then the base has to get hotter, too. Otherwise, your food will stick and cleaning up will be a pain in the butt.

So, there you have it. Does this sound like a good way to make French fries?