Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creating A CityScape In Corel Painter - by Debbie

A while back, Beckett mentioned that I do Daily Doodles. I post some of these on, but some I just keep to myself.

I find that drawing something purely for the fun of it every day helps keep the joy in my art (including work-related art). Sometimes I do a quick sketch while other times I take longer and do some experimenting.

Today, I decided to experiment more with textures and layers. Most of my pieces are created entirely digitally, and I did this one in Corel Painter. Just in case some of you out there have Corel Painter, I'm going to mention some of the specific brushes that I used.

First I created a layer above the Canvas and colored it a pale blue. In the top half of the image, I used the Sponge brush (one of my faves!) and several color to create a textured sky. Next, using the Flat Color brush, I drew a silhouette of the cityscape.

I selected Preserve Transparency in the cityscape layer so I would only affect the silhouette, then used the Sponge brush again to add more color.

After adding some windows with the Chalk brush, I copied the cityscape layer, flipped it, then pasted on top of the previous cityscape layer, dragged it down lower and offset a bit horizontally to give the impression of more buildings.

Then I selected the cityscape layer in the back, copied it,  and flat-colored the copy entirely grey. I also decided to experiment a bit with a watercolor effect near the bottom with the "Just Add Water" variant of the Blend brush:

The background grey layer looks ugly, right? But remember that this grey layer is directly on TOP of the real cityscape layer. Watch what happens when I select Gel for how this layer interacts with its neighbors:

Pretty cool, eh?

At this point I realize that the whole watercolor thing doesn't really work, so I crop the image to cut off a lot of the bottom. I also use the Sponge brush to add some clouds in the sky:

But what to do about the weird-looking watercolor bit at the bottom? My solution: COVER IT UP!

I use the Flat Color brush and use a generic green. Well, maybe the green's a little bright for this picture but that's okay -- I can mute it down with more Sponge paint:


My overall advice: Don't let yourself get in a creative rut -- experiment on a regular basis. If you have your own creative experiments (in whatever medium) online, feel free to post the URL below!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making Handmade Books - by Beckett

I've started making handcrafted journals for my little Etsy shop and for charitable organizations. I keep meaning to write down how I go about it and the whole process involved, so here goes.

I start on these with a bunch of scanned in sketches taken from my many sketchbooks; I wanted to create a lined journal illustrated with a sketch on each page. I've always liked the idea of illustrated journals, but most of the commercially available ones seem to use only a few actual pictures, then they repeat them through the pages. Seems kind of chintzy, so I wanted to make one that had a different drawing for almost every page. There are no repeats of images.
Egret sketch from a long time ago.
So I start by scanning in a bunch of my sketches, which is a trip down memory lane all by itself. I decided with this particular limited-edition journal to use just black and white sketches to keep a consistent look to the whole journal. I format them onto 8 1/2 x11 size pages, since I want to take a standard size page, fold it in half and have that sheet create a folded 2 page spread. I want the finished book be about 8 1/2 inches tall by about 5 1/2 wide, big enough to be easy to write a satisfyingly sized page, but small enough to be easily portable too. I place each sketch on a half-size page template I made and add light gray writing lines in Photoshop.
Max on a right-hand page layout
I then take my collection of sketches and try to place each on its page in a pleasing layout, with the figures looking in towards the rest of the page, for example. And then I have to figure out what order to put them all in, to try to make the whole book a pleasing stroll through the sketches as well as following a somewhat logical progression that isn't too jarring. I need to make the book up into signatures, or groups of 4 sheets each, in order to fold them together and stitch them together into book form. When finished, the final book can easily open flat and all the pages are securely sewn into the binding.
Pages laid out together for printing
To do that, I have to figure out the page order for each signature and then place the correct pages together on one full size sheet for printing. It gets complex with over 80 pages, multiple signatures of 4 sheets each. Each page is printed front and back, so 4 actual journal pages end up on one sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper, and the pages must be carefully laid out so that when 4 sheets are placed one on top of another and then folded in half, the numbered pages will appear in the right order. I end up making charts and a mock up book dummy to keep it all straight. ;)
diagram of signature page layouts
Once I have that all figured out I start printing (carefully, since my printer only prints one-sided and the paper is a 100% cotton heavyweight paper, so I don't want to waste any on mistakes!). I end up with several reams worth of pages that need to be assembled carefully into their proper order and stacked ready to drill the holes for the stitching to come later. Once I have the paper all set up I clamp the paper down with cardboard marked for drilling the holes, pull out the drill and use the smallest drill bit to get the holes made. Once holes are drilled, I carefully fold and crease each sheet and assemble them into their signatures and then in proper order for their book.
Book assembled into signatures and cover ready for stitching
For these books I make the covers of simple archival acid-free board, since they're going to have fabric covers custom made for each. And then stitching begins, using an ancient bookbinding method called coptic stitching. This type of stitched binding requires the pages to be folded, and the stitching goes through each page at the spine. It makes a nice looking binding that has the big advantage of allowing the book to open and lay flat for writing in. I use a heavy cotton thread coated with beeswax so it will ease through the paper without tearing it; the type of thread can make a huge difference in the success of the binding.
Starting stitching in the second signature
Stitching is pretty easy once you have the hang of it, and it's a fairly meditative process, though a bit time-consuming. :)
Finishing up by sewing on the back cover
And at the end of the process you have a lovely hand-bound book:
Stitching finished!
At this point you could leave it as is and consider the book done, but I also want to add one of my custom made fabric journal covers, so I pick out fabric I like, cut according to the pattern I made from one of these finished books, sew it all together (which is a long convoluted process all on its own; a post for another time, I think) and hey presto, you have a journal cover that lets you carry around other papers, pens and stuff with your fancy hand made journal.
Finished book with its custom fabric cover made
There are pockets front, back and inside the cover flap

Being able to carry a pen with it seems pretty essential

Picking the perfect button to complete the whole thing
Finished book with cover
Using different fabric and button can give the book a totally different feel

Friday, April 15, 2011

Old and new school sketching - by Beckett

Pen and ink sketchbook drawing of mine
So I've been doing some research on new style online sketchbooks, and blogging has opened up whole new ways of keeping a sketchbook. I think it all depends on your definition of what a sketchbook is, really, but there are a lot of really interesting ideas out there, incorporating not only drawings, but of course writing and video and new media like some of the new things Debbie can do with her iPad.

Illustration done in Painter with Wacom tablet by Debbie
Debbie does most of her art on the computer, though she uses a variety of media within that, and she certainly explores traditional physical media as well. The illustration above was drawn on her Wacom pad and worked in Painter. It looks like a traditional painting to me, and she's always exploring various style techniques that simulate woodcut, watercolor, drippy pens and a whole lot of other looks, all done with her tablet and computer.

Woodcut style goldfish by Debbie, drawn with Wacom pad
There's no doubt in my mind that exploring all sorts of possible styles and methods with her set-up makes Debbie more versatile; her digital creation style also has the distinct advantage that the artwork is already in the computer, and is easily made ready to send anywhere in the world for any online use she may need. It increases her marketability and her online visibility.

I was trained more traditionally, before computers really came into their own as an art medium; later I worked for years as a computer artist doing art for games and such, but honestly the computer as a medium then was all about the limitations: colors, resolution, pixels the size of your head and so on.

Pixel by pixel... Old computer drawn art
Computer art for me became a work related skill, and I got pretty burned out doing characters and animations and backgrounds and such for games. Doing concept art was fun, and still is, though you do have to draw what the designers want, not just what you want. And you have to consider the game's style and theme, the target market for the game and all of that related stuff. It's drawing for commercial purposes, not just for your own pleasure. It can still be a lot of fun despite the limitations. In fact sometimes the limitations make it easier; it becomes a puzzle to solve.

Concept sketches for a game machine demo
My own preferences and comfort zones have made me tend towards thinking with a pen or pencil on paper; the tactile process of drawing that way helps me think, and I find it comforting. I'm betting that's because of the way I was trained and the way I've worked for lo these many years. I have experienced so many shifts in technology over the years such that I've effectively 'lost' much of the early work I did to obsolete technology and storage media. I am convinced that if you want to keep a permanent record of your art, you should have good print-outs as well as multiple back-up options. But I'd also be the first to admit I haven't bothered to print out all of my computer art either,and my own procrastination has come back to bite me. But then I wouldn't be showing that old obsolete computer art anyway, because that old stuff looks primitive and ridiculous now with the technology we have. Working within severe limitations to make something look the best it can despite limits is a whole special skill set in itself, but that limited stuff doesn't usually impress potential employers; they want to see cool, flashy art and see the big list of programs you can drive.

Moose walk anim frames from way back
So I have my own preferences, but there's nothing to say that creating directly on the computer isn't completely natural for other people, Debbie being one of my prime examples. I think part of Debbie's facility with her computer drawn art is partly due to her excitement and willingness to explore and train herself with new technology and its possibilities. I'm also guessing that she came to drawing with computers later in the development of the tools and thus has a very different history with the medium than I do. She associates it with fun; I associate it with work, trying to squeeze past limitations. Some of that is just that when you draw for others it can become just another job, part of it is that the tools were so limiting; it's much more free and fun now in many ways. Maybe it just depends on your viewpoint.

Debbie's rabid squirrel sketch, drawn with her Wacom pad and Painter
I still keep regular sketchbooks; though I admit time is short these days and so I don't draw in them as often as I did at one time. But I love them and they've become a real record of my life over the last 30 years. The tactile process of drawing with various physical media still gives me the most satisfaction. The hands don't forget how to draw, it seems.

Colored pencil drawing of Shannon on tinted Canson paper
And seeing or even holding an actual drawing on paper, drawn by the artist, is a special thing. I saw drawings of Michaelangelo and Da Vinci at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco a while back, and it was a special experience to see the actual paper and the silverpoint marks drawn on the paper by those actual men. Amazing to realize that their hands had made the magic on that very piece of paper, and there I was seeing it hundreds of years later. Digital media may preserve artworks in some unexpected ways and make it accessible to many more people than before, but the power of the actual physical drawing made by an artist will never be replaced.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Julie Duffy has written a great guest post over on Debbie's writer's blog that's worth reading and re-reading and printing out quotes from and posting them up above your work space. All of what she says applies not only to writing, but to any creative endeavor, whether it be artwork, craftwork, knitting, photography, or school or the day job.
One of Debbie's cartoon about writing: "No Magic Beans"
One of my favorite quotes from it:
Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. - Scott Adams

Friday, April 8, 2011

Start-itis - by Beckett

Neck scarf I started quite a while ago- it's waiting still...
Okay, it's true. I like knitting stuff. I admit that I am a process knitter; the actual process of knitting something is the interesting part for me, and the final product has to be well made, but I don't have a whole lot of need to keep it. So I make a lot of knitted stuff and give them away as gifts and such. Usually people don't complain too much about that.

Fingerless Mitts I've kept, and used a lot.

I have the craving lately, though. The craving to start a new project. I narrowly escaped getting myself new yarn for a project the other day. God knows I don't need more yarn, and I can't afford it anyway. I probably have more than enough yarn to keep me busy the rest of my life even if I knitted 24 hours a day for the rest of my time. Crazy, really. If anything, I need to toss my stash to get re-inspired by the wonderful yarns that I already have, not buy new yarn I don't have time to knit.

I have all that enthusiasm, though, that itch for a wonderful new project. It seems like all of that burning desire to create should be channeled into something great, doesn't it? That need to make something really cool tends to take over my brain and makes it hard to concentrate on other necessary things, I get distracted into thinking and planning designs and thinking up how to work out the technical details and so forth. I guess I need to carry a notebook around and actually write more of them down, and then actually make them.
Socks for Paul. Big socks for big feet take longer...
Actually making them is of course the sticking point. I don't have enough time to make that much, and I'm really good at starting projects and working out the designs and figuring out a lot of the technical challenges and then once I get it fairly far along, I lose interest in it and get all fired up to make something new, and the former favorite project languishes unfinished, so close yet so far from being finally done. It's maddening, really. I must have over 20 knitting projects alone that are waiting patiently to be finally done. And that's just the knitting projects. That doesn't even go into the art area, the drawing and painting projects, the sewing projects, the jewelry things, the book ideas...

I have silly, forlorn fantasies of finally making the time to clean out the garage and get it useable, but to be honest I have just about zero concrete desire to actually do the work involved, I wish it would just magically clean itself. I have similar fantasies about my unfinished projects that have lost my interest in finishing them, lost some of their charm in that last gasp of slogging through the actual construction process. I need some sort of magic solution to help these poor orphans keep my attention long enough for me to finally finish them. I've tried restricting myself to no new projects until I finish others, but then I end up hating the ones in the queue to be done with a resentful fury that really spoils the whole thing. They're not stupid, bad projects, they're still cool and wonderful, I just seem to have the attention span of a gnat on speed.

It's ridiculous, really. I need a magic finish-itis to balance all of my start-itis. So what do you do to get yourself to finish up a project that's lagging along? Or am I the only guilty one?

Monday, April 4, 2011


Just watch this, and see if it doesn't make you smile.
It's pretty boggling, if you think about it, how much work and precision went into constructing this whole thing. And yes, it's a cell phone ad, so the artists got funded by advertising dollars.

Does that make it less amazing? Does it mean the artists sold out? Does it make their accomplishment less meaningful?

Would they have been able to even construct it if they hadn't gotten funding from the advertisers? Is there any difference here between getting financial support to make this, as opposed to the original composer, Mr. J.S. Bach, getting financial support from his King to compose and perform amazing music? Would either one even exist without funding from other, richer sources?