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Archive for March, 2009

New Wacom Tablet: Intuos4

Saturday, March 28th, 2009
Wacom Intuos4
Wacom Intuos4 Medium

Wacom has just released its new line of pen tablets – the Intuos4.  From the product write ups it looks like it might be time for me to upgrade. I currently use an Intuos2 tablet with my desktop for all my “real” graphics work. My Intuos2 was an upgrade from an older, smaller Graphire tablet which I still use on occasion with my laptop at home and when traveling.

I must say that once I started using a pen and tablet combination for my graphics work, any time I went back to use my mouse it seemed like a giant leap backward. For the Intuos4 it looks like the biggest advances have been made in the areas of pen sensitivity and responsiveness – the very features that attracted me to the Wacom tablet in the first place. If you have never used a pen and tablet in your graphics work, take this test. First, with a pencil and paper write in cursive your signature. Then, with the paint program of your choice, write your signature using your mouse. You will see that your mouse-created signature is no where near as smooth or as natural looking as your pencil and paper signature. Writing using a tablet and pen is very much like writing using traditional media. While not as versatile as a traditional paint brush, the Wacom pen is as close as you can come digitally.

I am not going to go into a detailed list of the Intuos4 features – there is a good summary of the features at the Amazon Wacom Intuos4 Medium Pen Tablet product page.

Once you’ve bought your Intuos4, you will be able to download several pieces of software that come bundled with the product. The software consists of the following two plugins for Photoshop:

  • Nik® Color Efex Pro™ WE6
  • Wacom Brushes 3.0 for Photoshop

and your choice of two of the three following software packages:

  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 Windows or Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Macintosh
  • Autodesk SketchBook Express® 2010
  • Corel Painter Sketch Pad

Given that I already have the full blown versions of Photoshop and Painter, I would download SketchBook. While I wasn’t able to find any information about Autodesk SketchBook Express 2010, I did find the following about SketchBook Express 2009.

Back to the Intuos4, it is available in four sizes (dimensions given are for the active area):

The size of my Intuos2 puts it somewhere between the size of the Medium and Large Intuos4. Based on that I will probably upgrade to the Wacom Intuos4 Large Pen Tablet as it is somewhat larger than my Intuos2 and is just over $300 cheaper than the Wacom Intuos4 Extra Large Pen Tablet. Also, the footprint of the Large is a manageable 18.7 x 12.6 inches whereas the Extra Large consumes a hefty 24.5 x 18.2 inches of desktop space.

Only one question remains: when I upgrade to an Intuos4, what will happen to my old but trusty Graphire since my Intuos2 will be reassigned to laptop service.

Ad Astra, Jim

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New Abstract Art – Fizzy Goodness

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
Fizzy Goodness digital art
Fizzy Goodness, 27.5 by 17 inches,  by Jim Plaxco

I just added a newly created artwork to my Abstract Gallery. Titled Fizzy Goodness, this art is my tribute to carbonated, sugar-enriched, artificially colored water. That’s right – soda pop. Or cola, depending on what part of the U.S. or the world you are from.

I can’t claim to be a cola connoisseur. Coca-cola, Dr Pepper, Root Bear, Orange Crush, and Squirt are my beverages of choice – delivering the high doses of sugar – and in some cases caffeine – that my body craves. I must confess that I don’t imbibe very often – perhaps only a few times a month as I really don’t need all that sugar and I try to set a good example for my two kids. To satisfy my desires for cold fizzy drinks I generally resort to simple carbonated water.

Fizzy Goodness is available as both a limited edition and open edition print. For information about the hand signed limited edition gallery wrap canvas in its original size, see Fizzy Goodness Limited Edition Print.

Cheers, Jim.

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The Cost of Art Appreciation

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Beach Sky Study Digital Painting
Beach Sky Study 1

There is bad news in store for folks visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. As of May 23 admission to this world class art museum will jump 50 to 70 percent. General admission will be $18 for adults, up from $12, and $12 for seniors and students, up from $7 – a 70 percent increase. There is no charge for children under 12. The museum has said that the extra fees charged for admission to special exhibits, like the current Edward Munch art exhibit Becoming Edward Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth, will not rise – at least not this year. According to an Art Institute spokesman, the admission increase is needed to keep pace with rising costs. Note that general admission fees typically make up a small fraction of an art museum’s overall income. In 2006 general admission fees represented 9 percent of the Art Institute’s museum-based expenses. Evidentially endowments, government grants, and donations from private donors and foundations are down for museums in general – increasing the pressure on museums to raise their admission fees.

It was only in 2006 that the Art Institute began charging admission. Before that there was an optional admission donation. This new increase is being justified on the grounds that there are other art museums charging higher admission fees; that it has been five years since an increase; and that the addition of the Modern Wing (264,000 square feet costing $283 million) adds to the visitor’s experience.

For comparison purposes, here are the admission costs of some other major art museums based on information from the article Filling out the picture on Art Institute Admission that appeared in the March 15, 2009 Chicago Tribune:

  • $20 – Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • $20 (optional) – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • $18 – Guggenheim Museum, New York
  • $18 – Art Institute of Chicago new admission fee
  • $17 – Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston
  • $12 (optional) – Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
  • $12 – Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee
  • $12 – Art Institute of Chicago current admission fee
  • Free – Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
  • Free – Getty Center, Los Angeles
  • Free – National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
  • Free – Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

For those on a budget, the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the other major Chicago museums, still offers free admission days throughout the year. Art Institute admission is also free from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday and on Friday nights from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There will also be free admission during a celebration of the Modern Wing planned for May 16-22. Note that Chicago residents can get free admission through the Chicago Public Library – fair since the museum is on land owned by the Chicago Park District.

While I sympathize with the Art Institute’s plight, raising admission fees could not come at a worse time. When one considers the costs of transportation, parking, and lunch, a family outing to the Art Institute is no bargain. This admission fee increase could actually result in a decrease in income for the museum since it will probably reduce the number of visitors per year – visitors who often purchase tickets for special exhibits, dine at the museum’s restaurant, and spend money in the gift shop.

And if President Obama has his way, things may get worse for our nation’s museums given that Obama wants to limit the ability of those making more than $250,000 a year to claim a tax deduction for their charitable donations. Interestingly Obama’s plan only penalizes those who give something back to their community and not those who don’t. The net result of this plan may well be to bring about even more admission fee increases as museums attempt to make up shortfalls in other fundraising areas.

My advice: visit an art museum today – before it becomes too expensive to.

Post Illustration: Beach Sky Study 1

I’ve illustrated this post with Beach Sky Study 1 which is an experimental digital landscape painting.


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Martian Sand Ripples

Monday, March 9th, 2009
Martian Sand Ripples
Martian Sand Ripples

I’ve just added a rendition of a Mars Exploration Rover image of sand ripples to my Space Art Gallery. This is an artistically modified version of an image I created a couple years back for use in a presentation I was giving about the Mars Exploration Rover mission. This particular image was captured by Opportunity while exploring Endurance Crater.

My interest in this image was recently renewed when I was contacted by the editor of The Mars Quarterly and asked if I would be willing to donate the image for publication in their next issue. As a former officer of and financial donor to the Mars Society I had absolutely no problem with this request. The Mars Society is unique in its devotion to the goal of human missions to Mars. For more information, visit the Mars Society web site.

Off topic, one of my favorite quotes uniquely combines my interest in Mars with my interest in programming – sort of. The source of the quote is Rick Cook who was the Mission Manager for the NASA Mars Pathfinder program and who wisely stated that “Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.” Of course common sense says never bet against the universe.

For information about the signed, limited edition version of Martian Sand Ripples, visit the
Martian Sand Ripples web page..

Ad Astra, Jim

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