The Setup


What do people use to get stuff done?

Viviane Schwarz

Viviane Schwarz

Writer, illustrator, creator

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am Viviane Schwarz. I write, illustrate and design interactive books, and I do related other work involving game design and improvisation.

What hardware do you use?

Mostly paper, from the A5 sketchbooks I carry over cartridge sheets for dummy making to the massive rolls of corrugated cardboard I use to build interactive mazes and other installations.

I collect tools. I like to have the right tool for every job, and no one else is allowed near them.

I make my own drawing tools: pens and brushes assembled from parts, hand cut nibs and animal hair.

My main digital workstation is a table I built myself with an old cintiq tablet built into the surface run by an iMac. I always have some low spec laptop to take to work away from my desk, usually some netbook running Xubuntu - at the moment it's a pi-top which works surprisingly well. I'm running Ubuntu MATE on it, but I'm keeping a few other OS' on SD cards in a paper envelope sellotaped into the casing, just in case.

I work away from home a lot, in libraries and cafes. Then I just use whatever device is in my bag that day and log into Google Drive, and if the project needs any specific tools I am likely to have them coded or use whatever is available - my work is so varied that there is little overlap of software between projects. I often need tools for just one specific task, so I buy them from the developer as needed and then might not use them again for years, if ever.

One of my most important work tools is a bingo wheel which I throw wooden balls in labelled with the projects I need to work on - I've found it absolutely impossible to run a schedule based on priority, they all need work all the time and thinking about which one is the most pressing is just wasting time. I spin out a project, set a timer and work on it for half an hour or an hour to take it forward, then I spin again until it's time to stop working. It sounds quite ridiculous but it beats every other system I've ever tried for productivity; you just have to make sure the right balls are in the cage, throw in more if a deadline is approaching or take some out if something gets less urgent. Statistically, as long as it all gets done on time, who cares what order it happened in?

And what software?

I use Scrivener to write novels, it's frustrating that it doesn't work on mobile devices but it's still worth the fuss of carrying a laptop for writing.

For the illustration work I use Adobe CS5, to be fully compatible with my main publisher. I'm expecting to change back to GIMP eventually, there's no way I'll start renting Adobe, although I don't know how to replace InDesign.

I do most of my development work on paper, then I photograph or scan it if needed. Gmail is so searchable now that it has replaced Evernote for me. Most of the devices I use run Linux, but the specifics vary depending on what the device is used for in the project and what it can run. For example, last time I needed a teleprompter, I built it from an old eeepc, some open source teleprompting software (I forgot which) and a picture frame, a black petticoat and some gaffer tape. I added a USB controller from a Makey Makey and a breadboard because that was still to hand from a workshop teaching kids to make video games that week. By the end of the day it's all back in its respective drawers. If I'd been in a hurry I'd just have taped my mobile to the camera tripod and scrolled through the text with a spare Bluetooth keyboard. The best solution is usually the one that's to hand when you need it.

What would be your dream setup?

A studio with brick walls and concrete floor, printing equipment, some work benches, big shelves. Enough space to be as analogue as I like.

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