Monday, 14 February 2011

Drawing on the boxes

So, returning to the analogy for which this blog is named, I want to talk about something which can affect how one presents oneself online: avatars.
No, not that sort of avatar. Nor the kind that involves blue aliens, nor even anthropomorphic personifications.

I refer, of course, to avatars on forums. On the unlikely possibility that someone reading this has never been on an internet forum, your avatar is a little picture which appears below your username to the left hand side of all your posts. Obviously this is one means by which you can project an image of yourself to these strange internet people who you've never met in real life. Or, alternatively, it might be an image of who/what you would like to be, rather than who/what you are - like what I said in my first post about letting out aspects of your personality which you're less comfortable with in real life.
It's interesting seeing the different sorts of avatar different people have. Some just have one avatar which they use all the time, maybe with occasional minor alterations. Some have many different avatars which they switch between as tehy feel like it. Some have many different avatars, but all with a common theme, so they're all recognisable as belonging to that person. And some people just don't bother with them at all.
And then there's the matter of what the avatars are of - fictional characters, characters they've invented for RP (Role-playing) of some sort, just a photo of themself, maybe just some sort of logo.
There's probably some sort of psychological analysis you could do based on this, though I've no idea what it'd show.

Now, on the Playground, as those on it will obviously know, we have avatar theme weeks periodically. Everyone taking part gets a new avatar which fits the theme and uses it for the week. Sort of like a themed costume party, on an internet forum (And I have been known, when trying to come up with party themes, to look at theme week ideas and then think which of them would work for a party). And since they're often rather pleased with their new avatars, they often start using them early, and continue using them long after the theme week is over. But that's not relevant to what I was saying.
The interesting thing is, some people use their themed avatars to facilitate RP. It's especially prevalent in the thread for the theme week itself. It's quite impressive how people can come up with whole characters to go with their avatars (OK, I suppose they probably don't come up with whole characters so much as maybe a couple of character traits that they can easily play around with, but still). It's not something I've ever bothered to do. Except for Clone Week, which was a different sort of thing.
For Clone Week, everyone taking part used the same avatar, which was a generic grey stick figure, replaced their signature (For non-forumites: set text and/or pictures which appear below every post you make) with "We are here. We are One. We are the Playground." and acted like we were a hive mind. So, I didn't really change the way acted, I just referred to myself and everyone else as 'we' for a week.
Of course, since there's no record of what avatar you had at the time you made a post, it's rather odd going back and looking at those posts now.

So, musings aside, I'm going to talk about my avatars themselves, and the drawing of them. Yeah, this is kind of just a way for me to go "Look at these things which I did! Aren't I great?"
I should note at this point that while I wanted to be one when I was younger, I am no artist. I can't draw things. I have friends who are good artists who sometimes say they can't draw things, but I really can't. Stick figures at best. I'm not that great even with image editing programs, but they're easier, I'm not doing anything particularly complicated, and what I am is persistent. So I will keep fiddling with something in inkscape until I'm happy with it. And of course with an image editing program I have the advantage that once I've drawn something, I never have to draw it again, just copy, paste and tweak.

So, let's go in chronological order, starting from when I got inkscape. I made myself a couple of avatars in paint before that, but they weren't that great.
It should be noted that all these avatars are done in the style of the Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic (Though with some differences, like I'm not overly fond of stick limbs. I prefer visible sleeves and trousers on my stick figures). I found Trazoi's guide to be very useful.
Now, there is a Playgrounder named Jibar, whose avatars are all catmuffins. What is a catmuffin, you ask? It's a muffin with cat ears and a tail. One time, Jibar declared a Catmuffin Week, so lots of people got their own catmuffins. Over a year later, I'd just got inkscape, and decided to draw some catmuffins for myself. Or, to be more precise, chessmuffins:

Of course, this is an instance of the only having to draw something once. I just drew the white one of these, then inverted the colours to make the black. The same applies for the rest.

Kings obviously get crowns.

 For some reason blogspot won't let me put too many
images on the same line. This is really quite annoying.

Queens get different crowns.

Again with the copy/pasting for all those
spikes with balls on the ends. 

Bishops get hats. Given that I'm not particularly religious in real life, I decided to make them worship a D&D deity, and looked in the PHB (Player's Handbook) for a symbol I could draw. Picked out Boccob, God of magic and stuff. He is probably the most intellectual D&D deity, so it kinda fits.

Now it starts getting a bit more complicated. Knights have to have horses. But I was able to basically just copy a horse from an OotS strip.

The rooks are probably my favourites. Replace muffin cases with castle towers. Which, it should be noted, are rather easy to draw, if time consuming, but it does come out looking rather good.

Care for a game?

So then, after a while I decided I wanted a Babylon 5 themed avatar, for no particular reason. So,

"I am grey. I stand between the candle, and the star.
We are grey. We stand between the darkness, and the light."
I'm still not entirely satisfied with the robe, but it works.

And now we come to around February last year. In which a very significant event happened, for me anyway. Because,
HMS Pinafore. I do so love that show. And I did so love being Ralph.
This is probably the biggest example of how I reuse the stuff I've drawn. When I need to draw a new avatar, I tend to copy most of the elements directly from this one. Shoes, trousers, torso, head, etc. Then just tweak a bit, change some colours, move the arms, maybe add some different clothes, and voila! I have an entirely different avatar. Though not the next one.

Then, I read Terry Pratchett's Nation. Wonderful book, I love it to pieces (But not literally, because books are sacred and should always stay in one piece). So, a little blue hermit crab and the Sunrise Wave.

Now, we move onto theme week avatars. Pokemon Week:
Nationality Week:
Everything stereotypically British I could think of, other than queuing. A teapot, dressed as The Doctor, with a top hat and monocle, performing Shakespeare in the rain, with cricket, a dead parrot, a bottle belonging to Mr. J.W. Wells, and a union flag, over which are superimposed the words "Don't Panic" in large, friendly letters.

Monty Python Week, and Halloween:
A man armed with a banana.

Me dressed up as CurlyKitGirl.
The book, though you can't read it at this size, purports to be by Neil Gaiman.

Another Gilbert & Sullivan one, because I was in another show:
"I am the spectre of the late Sir Roderic Murgatroyd..."
Well, actually I drew this one back when I was cast as Sir Roderic, but for the week of the performances (Which were at the start of October, I've gone slightly out of sequence) I edited it to add the beard and started using it again. Of course, technically Roderic shouldn't still be in the portrait if he's come out of it but meh artistic licence or something, contrast between opaque gloomy portrait and semi-transparent cheerful ghost blah blah blah.
I suppose in a week or so I'll have to draw myself as the herald.

Back to theme weeks. Comic Book Week:
First, the version of Daredevil from Marvel 1602. I really like this one, with the shadowy illumination and the window. Though drawing crouching stick figures is quite hard.

And second, Fiddler's Green/Gilbert from Sandman.

Well, I'd hardly pick characters from comics not by Neil Gaiman, now would I?

Death as the Hogfather,

And Tiny Tim from the Muppets' Christmas Carol.

Anime Week:
Midvalley the Hornfreak,
And Chapel the Evergreen,
Both from Trigun, of course.
I'm not entirely satisfied with how Chapel turned out. But I was quite pleased with Midvalley's saxophone.

And finally, I decided to make myself a more generic avatar, that could become a standard. You may recognise it:
Since I'm also using it as the picture for my Blogger profile.
In fact I originally drew this as part of an image in which me and Curly were pointing at each other in mutual ENVY! for the different awesome parties which we attend. But, it also works as just me, a bit dressed up. And conveniently gave me a standard avatar, just in time for the Playground's annual Gender Bender Week!
So there you have it. I feel that's enough self-congratulation. Hope I haven't bored you with it too much. I've skipped over some things I've drawn - one that was just really bad, a couple of things I drew for other people, previous versions of some of the above, etc. But you get the idea.
I sometimes feel bad about the amount of time I must've spent drawing these, when I could have been doing something more productive. But, on the other hand, it's quite fun, and it's certainly nice to be able to customise my forum appearance (I switch my signature as well - quote related to current avatar, forum quotes possibly vaguely connected to current avatar, curse on the Atlantic Ocean somehow tied into the theme of the avatar).

GAHH formatting ruins my life sometimes. I have fiddled with this enough! It should be readable, hopefully.
(Now watch as the actual post turns out to look different to the preview...)

Edit: And 90 minutes after making the post, I remembered the other thing I was going to muse on.
As I said, I don't attach any particular persona to my avatars. I don't intentionally act any differently no matter which avatar I'm using.
But what about unintentionally?
Earlier, I made a post in which one of the things I said was, in response to something which could be interpreted as an innuendo if your mind ran that way, "IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN." I do this sometimes. I blame Tolloller/Ernest for corrupting me.
Anyway, I felt slightly weird about it, because somehow it seemed to me that this was not something the female me would say. I didn't intentionally personify that gender-bent avatar any further than: me, if I were a woman. But somehow I ended up with this idea that she's maybe a bit too proper to make jokes about innuendos. And so I wonder: could this be a general thing? I've never noticed it before, but do I perhaps act slightly differently depending on which avatar I'm using, like a lesser version of the way sometimes you act differently depending on what sort of clothes you're wearing?
Just an odd thought.


  1. Yay Trigun... I must rewatch that at some point.
    Your pictures are pretty awesome really... I rarely do any fully digital art because it's a pain but well done on yours =)

  2. I am very impressed ^_^ but then after your Christmas card I knew you were one of those talented people who can actually do art that looks like things, even when it's just made of a few lines and some colours. It's very clever.

    I've always found this pretty interesting, because I haven't been involved enough in a forum to really do the avatar thing... on ramina I was only an occasional poster, so I'd change it to a new photo I'd taken every month or so, and on livejournal I just pick one and stick wih it... the onigiri stopes me from forgetting that I'm posting with my Japanblog self, and my other one is a photo of Billy boyd that has now become so linked with myself in my mind that I occasionaly think it is a a photo of me :/ So that's a bit weird.

    But the kind of thing people come up with when they are genuinely choosing something they want to represent themselves with is fascinating.

    Your Ralph is great. You really were excellent in that show.

    Oh, and the images on a line thing is one of the reasons I pretty much instantly gave up on blogspot for my Japanblog. It's so silly!