Category Archives: drawing

The work of self-understanding

I’ve been taking advantage of the company’s free e-counseling service to pick a counselor’s brain about marriage. When I told the counselor (Sue) about how I thought my way through tough situations by mindmapping, writing, and drawing, she asked me how I learned how to do that.

I don’t know. I remember reading books about mindmapping and note-taking when I was a grade-schooler raiding my mom’s books on productivity and learning. I found it to be a useful way of getting ideas out without having to put them in order first. Writing became my way of thinking through things I wanted to understand more, like my options for university or how I felt about a crush. Although this occasionally led to some embarrassment (like when my mom stumbled across my notes for the latter), it was a useful practice, and I’m glad I got into it.

I looked for interesting techniques, and I experimented with them. One of the classes in my mechanical and industrial engineering master’s degree turned out to have great insights into the limitations of the human brain and some tools for making better decisions, like decision tables. In Built to Last, I learned about the genius of the “and” – that even when it seems to be a choice between A or B, you may be able to find an option that combines the best of both. Books like Problem Solving 101 reinforced the value of making decision trees, examining your assumptions, and exploring your alternatives.

Diagrams, journal entries, drawings, and blog posts helped me think whenever I needed to understand something. When W- hinted that he liked me, I was so nervous, I prattled. It was only when I stayed up late to mindmap my thoughts and figure out what I felt that I could write my response in a letter. When my parents raged and wept with disapproval, I filled pages with mindmaps and lists of possible outcomes and ways to move forward. I use these tools for good stuff, too, drawing what an even better life might be like and writing about how I can help make it happen.

It’s not about driving emotion out of the picture. In fact, the logical structures of decision-making diagrams and tools can help you understand and harness emotions. By themselves, emotions can be overwhelming – a jumble of inchoate thoughts and inarticulate sensations. When you slow down and focus on a single thread, it becomes easier to untangle your thoughts. Even the seemingly logic-oriented process of listing pros and cons reveals your preferences and emotions, if you listen carefully to yourself. It’s not about the numbers of advantages or disadvantages you can list, or the objective factors you consider – in fact, you get even more valuable information when your instinctive reaction goes against what you think you should feel.

This is the work of self-understanding – of identifying and examining your assumptions, developing and articulating your intuition, and broadening your alternatives. Diagrams, journal entries, blog posts, and drawings are tools that you can use to externalize your thoughts, getting them out of your head and into a form that you can review and understand. They’re also useful when you need help remembering your reasons and sticking to a decision, or re-evaluating a decision when the situation changes.

Investing time and energy into learning how to make better decisions pays off, because you will make so many decisions in your lifetime. Reflection helps you separate external influences from what you really think and feel. If you ignore your intuition or bury your emotions under the pressure of external influences, it will be harder and harder to use those tools to make decisions in the future, and then you’ll wake up one day and wonder where your life went. On the other hand, the more you trust yourself, the easier it becomes to know yourself. Although making your own decisions means making mistakes along the way, those mistakes are invaluable because they help you learn more about your path.

Here’s where I like taking that one step further: I sometimes post these in-between thoughts and reflections (and mistakes!) to get more insights and to share what I’ve learned. This is scary. We don’t want to be vulnerable, and we don’t want to bore people with the details of our lives. But as it turns out, thinking out loud helps inspire other people. Like the way I learned to recognize assumptions, situations, and alternatives by reading books and blog posts about other people’s lives, people peeking into my life can use whatever insights they pick up to make their own lives better. It also helps other people see the value of reflection and self-understanding, and who knows what I’ll be able to learn from them if they build on that?

Good stuff. Try it out.

Happy Holidays, Eh! First edition greeting card giveaway


Skip my VistaPrint review and go straight to the giveaway

Last week, I thought: hey, what would a Canadian Christmas card look like? After a few quick sketches, I ordered a set of thirty cards from Vistaprint. It was an inexpensive experiment that complemented our ongoing project to be more social. Even if they arrived late, I could always use them for holiday cards next year. Who knows, the experiment might even help me get into making geeky greeting cards and other things.

After a bit of coupon maximization, the 30-card set was CAD 24.47 (with the picture upload and linen upgrade),  shipping cost CAD 11.62, and HST was CAD 4.69, for a total of CAD 40.78. This worked out to CAD 1.36 per card (including shipping) and an incremental card cost of CAD 0.82.

The box arrived this Saturday, even though I chose the lowest-cost shipping method. Yay! Early Christmas indeed.

The print quality is great. The red scarf is vivid. The lines are crisp and clear. The image is centered, too. Next time, I’ll remember to remove the border line before uploading. The linen is a bit lighter-weight than most cardstock I use, but it isn’t floppy, and the pre-creased paper is easy to fold.

VistaPrint includes a small ad on the back of the card: Exclusively from Vistaprint, I think you can pay extra to replace the back with your own design, which presumably includes a blank page.

The free photo Christmas cards I ordered weren’t as awesome, but that could be a combination of low-resolution photo files and me being fascinated by the novelty of seeing my drawings printed in full-colour.

Would I order future designs of greeting cards from Vistaprint? We don’t have a colour printer, so I’m happy to order from them if I have a design that needs colour. Alternatively,  I might look into getting an inkjet printer, or trying local print shops. I want to experiment with printing black-and-white designs onto cardstock with our laser printer first, though, because black-and-write drawings can be quite expressive as well. (And I can always break out the crayons!)

I can’t wait to send these out. I’m resisting the temptation to redo some of the other cards in my outbox, and to send seconds to people I’ve already sent cards to. Although I’m going to send second cards to my family, so that they can show it off to others. ;) Whee!


In fact, let’s share the wealth. I’ll give away five cards so you can use them to send to your other friends. Leave a comment on this post suggesting other geeky greeting cards you’d love to see. I’ll pick a random commenter by next Friday (December 17), get the mailing address through e-mail, and send the cards by express mail. No guarantees on when you might get it, but I hope it’ll be in time to send this year! =)

Cats: 0, toilet paper monster: 1; also, ArtRage and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro


One time when I came home, W- showed me the picture he took of a toilet paper trail going to the laundry basket. The cats refused to testify, but this is what I think happened.

W- says the other drawing I made of Neko(cat)’s favourite positions for sleeping might be too personal, it being set in our room and all. I said Cat versus Human does it. He said my blog isn’t Cat versus Human. Which is true, because Cat versus Human is awesome and even has a book coming out, but not inarguable. I didn’t break out the persuasive techniques we learned about in “Thank You for Arguing,” though. Instead, I’ll tease you with the captions:

  • The Pillow Hog
  • The Balancing Sphinx
  • The Chaperone
  • The Heat-seeker

People who know Neko (our oldest cat) or who have cats of their own can probably figure out the rest.

I’m playing around with Artrage Studio Pro to see if I like it. I think I get more value from it than from a new laptop battery. Putting my computer into hibernation mode before moving between the kitchen and the living room adds maybe a minute; not a big cost. Being able to draw with 16 million colours and infinite erasures – now that’s something real. It makes drawing a whole lot more fun. I might give the Autodesk SketchBook Pro trial another spin, too. It might be better for pencils and clean illustrations.

Drawing is a great way to remember, particularly for things I’ve forgotten to take photographs of or for which I’ve lost the files. My stack of blank index cards is dwindling fast, and sketches pile up on my bedside table. This is fun. =)

Quick comparison with SketchBook Pro:


Smoothing is more controllable in Artrage, and I should check out the flood fills in that program too. I do like the pen gestures in Sketchbook Pro, though, and I’m sure they’ll be a lot more convenient with experience. I’m going to practise drawing in both some more. Who knows? I may even get both, if it turns out that they exercise my brain in different ways. =)

Developing a workflow with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

J- is digitally inking her writing assignment using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on the Cintiq 12WX drawing tablet downstairs. I’d become a big fan of Autodesk Sketchbook Pro while working on it on my laptop, so I thought she might prefer it over GIMP. The pen-based controls are intuitive, and the feel of digital drawing is better than the frustration of redoing and reinking on paper. Now she’s off zooming in and out, adjusting her brush sizes, and working with a large and zoomable canvas. =)


I’ve been using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to do more and more of my presentation planning, too. The workflow is slightly different from Microsoft OneNote. With OneNote, I can draw storyboards, then scale up the storyboards without any loss of information and without jaggy lines. (The joys of vector drawing!) Autodesk Sketchbook Pro lets me scale up rough sketches, but the interpolation isn’t always smooth. Instead, I storyboard everything. Then I hide any layers I’m not working with, lower the opacity of my storyboard layer, add new layers on top, and draw each slide as a full-size layer. I do any colouring on a second layer below the ink, so that the black lines stay crisp. The finished layers are easy to copy to a separate presentation program.

So how does my Autodesk Sketchbook Pro workflow compare to Inkscape? When I use Inkscape (a proper vector drawing program) for presentations, I usually set up an infinite canvas, and clone a series of rectangles for my storyboard. Inkscape makes it easy to sketch elements here and there, rearranging them on my storyboard, rotating and scaling them to fit. After I do a little masking and line adjusting, I import the finished slides into a presentation program. Simple shapes are easy to colour. If I need to shade things more, I can import the images into GIMP.

I can still do text presentations, but they’re a little less fun. ;) Drawing takes time, but I like the practice. How do you do your presentations or drawings?

2011-05-27 Fri 18:52