Archive for the ‘Tutorial/Idea’ Category

Storytelling Thumbnails and creative process flexibility

June 14, 2017

As in other occupations, creative arts professionals or hobbyists benefit from developing systems in order to formalize the creative process, generate ideas, and simplify production. However, it’s a mistake to think that steps in a process are one- size- fits- all; that a creative process is a static rather than the dynamic list of action steps. 

In general, there are phases of design that will be taken; research, brainstorm, sketch, edit, refine yes are the basics I learned in school. I would say that these work fantastically overall. But we can get stuck when we overly formalize what research means, or what thumbnails are, for example.

I remember the revelation that was part irritation when I considered that at certain times, I would need to change my preferences in Adobe Illustrator, sometimes from stroke for stroke. The temptation to overly mechanize our process  can make creative types become lazy. Perhaps one step two add at the very beginning of the process of is to evaluate whether the process you intend to use is a good fit for the project you are beginning.

 In the thumbnails below, I chose to thumbnail one page of the comic in the middle of a half sheet of paper. This left room around the sketch to write notes and make comments. Having one set of panels on the page surrounded by a lot of white space helps me focus on that page and think very freely. I know sometimes having multiple smaller thumbnails on a single page is helpful to see the flow of pages and panels, but doing them this way shifted my thinking. I don’t know if it’s better or not, but I felt very free in thinking about the story; designing the shots, dialogue, and storytelling simultaneously.

Tutorial-Recreating Doily Design in Photoshop CS4

March 23, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 8.29.11 PM

Browsing the internet, I found this digital doily design by Hansje van Halem that incorporated a digital typeface with hand-drawn doily circles in Photoshop. After watching the short process video included in the post, I thought through how I might try something similar but without having to draw each circle by hand. Solution? Create a repeating pattern in Photoshop and apply some filters.

One caveat: were I to use this technique for an actual illustration piece, I would probably create several pattern swatches using different sized brushes. In this way I could scale the patterns to create the illusion of varied sizes around the edges.

Step 1: Create the pattern swatch. Create a new Photoshop file (800 pixels x 800 pixels)and fill it with black ‘crochet’ circles of different sizes. Under the FILTER menu, select OTHER –> OFFSET. Make sure the Undefined Areas are set to WRAP AROUND, then offset both vertical and horizontal settings by 400 pixels. Clean up the pattern and fill in any gaps before setting the OFFSET filter to -4000 pixels to return the swatch to its previous setup. Inspect the swatch then create the swatch using  EDIT–> DEFINE PATTERN. Repeat this step if you want a variety of swatches to choose from in order to mask the non-random nature of this method.

Step 2: Apply Pattern. Create a new Photoshop document. On a new layer, select EDIT–>FILL and select the pattern you just created. It may be useful to fill a large canvas, larger than your intended size. In the SELECT menu, choose COLOR RANGE and use the Eyedropper tool to select the white pixels then hit the DELETE key. This layer can then be copied into a third file with your final canvas size. In this way you can resize and rotate the artwork to further reduce the tiled pattern artifacting.

Step 3: Apply layer FX.  In the layer effects menu, give your artwork a COLOR OVERLAY (this is why we deleted the white pixels) and apply the BEVEL/EMBOSS effect to make the artwork appear to be embroidery thread. Play around with the settings. I chose the “emboss” setting and kept the depth fairly shallow, lowering the shading transparency. Duplicate this layer, changing the COLOR OVERLAY to a complementary color.

STEP 4: Create Embroidered Letter. On the duplicated embroidery layer, create a mask by either hand drawing a letter or making a selection from a type object. Clean up the edges where the two colors meet by adding and subtracting from the mask with the Pen tool.

These basic steps can be manipulated to create a whole range of styles and illustrations. Play around and adapt them to your ideas and creative projects.


Fantastic Botany

February 2, 2017

Personal Typography project

September 3, 2016

One of the things I enjoy most about designing is the ability to create something out of nothing by first creating or assembling the component parts and arranging them in a visually interesting way.

Recently I’ve been hand-drawing typefaces and I thought it would be fun to create a font and use it as the base for creating posters from phrases, song lyrics and story titles. The key concept is to utilize or modify a single, self-created typeface to create a wide range of stylistic applications.

From an initial idea I created the letterforms below. Conscious of the fact that there are many flaws (especially in the odd stroke weights in several of the letters), I nevertheless decided to push ahead, modifying and improving the letterforms as I went. The 3 designs that I’ve finished so far were a lot of fun to work on and help me “learn” the strengths and weaknesses of the letter forms and relationships.

Adobe Illustrator CS4 Tutorial : Creating Repeating Braid Brushes

July 28, 2016

Thanks to this video tutorial from CG Cookie Concept on YouTube I thought it would be helpful to recreate the braid design as a repeating PATTERN BRUSH in Illustrator CS4. Once created, the basic design can be modified and applied to individual strokes via the APPEARANCES PALETTE.

  1. To make the basic shape draw and clone a square. Draw a circle 4times the size of the squares. Align the circle so that one quarter segment passes through two opposing corners of the square. Select the circle and square and use the INTERSECT TOOL in the PATHFINDER PALETTE.
  2. Align the remaining square and quarter segment. I usually do this in OUTLINE VIEW (command/control + Y) so I am sure they are perfectly aligned.
  3. Join the two shapes using the UNITE TOOL in the PATHFINDER PALETTE.
  4. Rotate the basic shape 45º clockwise. Make a duplicate and use the REFLECT TOOL (O) to flip and rotate the duplicate 45º in the opposite direction, aligning the two as in the example.
  5. Duplicate the two shapes and align them exactly next to the original two shapes. The light blue rectangle indicates the position of the rectangle mask necessary for creating a seamless repeating pattern. The actual rectangle mask should have no fill and no stroke and be positioned behind the four shapes.
  6. Select and drag the four objects and rectangle mask into the BRUSH PALETTE (or with them selected, click the “New Brush” icon at the bottom of the palette. Chose the “Pattern Brush” option from the initial dialogue box. In the PATTERN BRUSH OPTIONS dialogue box, give the brush a name and enter “70%” in the Scale field, “0% ” in the Spacing field. Check the “Approximate path” radio button and “Tints and Shades”  in the COLORIZATION dropdown menu. These options can be changed once the brush is made by double clicking on the brush thumbnail.
  7. Duplicate and alter the original shapes and tweak the colors, strokes, and shapes to create a variety of brushes and repeat step #6 for each one.
  8. Test the brushes by applying them to straight/curved lines. If your brushes look odd, it’s probably because the rectangle mask in step #3 is not aligned properly or the shapes themselves are misaligned.
  9. Using the APPEARANCES PALETTE, a variety of brushes have been applied to a single circle path. The various diameters are achieved by selecting individual instances of the Stroke, applying a different brush to each Stroke instance and playing with the “Path–>Offset Path” option in the EFFECTS MENU at the top of the screen.

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All digital Illustration process: Jack-O

July 16, 2016

I appreciate the precision and clean line work that can be achieved using Illustrator’s pen tool and pathfinder palette. I also enjoy the more freeform options available with the pencil tool.

This illustration used a bit of both approaches and has a clean but organic feel which I like. I also like the color holds (changing the line work to something other than black, depending on the object’s fill color) as a way of softening the edges.

In my view the main drawback of the “all digital” method here is that I am removed from direct contact with the image. There is some nuance lost in translation from hand to tablet to screen. Additionally, The line overlap method which enables  clean line work and “joints” generates some extra work, especially if the places where the lines cross create multiple tiny shapes once the strokes are outlined and divided using the Pathfinder palette.

The upsides, however, are significant: no scanning, no erasing, flexibility, command-Z, speedy color flat stage with CS4’s Live Paint, resizing, perspective shifts, repurposing (I brought in the logo and “mode” symbols from a previous session), etc.

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More Niji Waterbrush Mods

July 3, 2016

I have a small arsenal of Niji water brush pens. They’re my favorites because I can disassemble the tip easily for cleaning. This is necessary because I use ink instead of just water. Depending on the type of ink I use, the brush can get clogged pretty quickly.

In a previous post, I demonstrated how to disassemble and clean the water brush tip. 

The only thing about the Niji brush that I haven’t liked was that the handle is difficult to fill. It has a “flow gate” which traps The liquid stored in the handle when you unscrew the tip. This is handy if you want to have pre-mixed colors, inks, or extra pre-filled water for watercolors, but is not conducive to filling quickly if you are using A water or ink container with a narrow neck. 

The answer to this problem turns out to be quite simple.

By inserting a X-Acto or snap-off blade at the scene between the black “flow gate” and the handle, you can gently pry off this leaving a large circular hole. Why didn’t I tried this before? It’s probably a holdover from when I had only one water brush and I was afraid to damage the handle.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. A second mod proves this is true. I had lost the cap for one of my pens. That’s not good for many reasons, but especially if there is waterproof ink in the pen.

Here’s a way to make a pen cap from a Uni ball pen (no, I am not a monster. I used a cap from a defunct pen).

I determined the height of the replacement cape based on the height of an actual Niji cap, and marked the cut line using a Elmers paint pen. Then it’s just a matter of cutting very carefully and straw, keeping as straight as possible with a snap-off knife blade pulled out a bit farther than normal. The new Is actually a tighter fit in the original and the pocket “clip” is better by far.

Typographic Reconstruction

January 2, 2016

I like the typeface on this piece of ephemera from the turn of the century. The sample of letterforms was not complete so I used the power of digital media to do some rapid reconstruction for the upper and lower case.

My approach was to look for existing letterforms in the set that had characteristics that were likely shared by the missing letters. By recombining, flipping, and adapting this components I have arrived at a complete set that I can further improve and tweak in a vector-based program like Illustrator or Designer. In other words, the point of this stage is not to come up with completely realized letterforms (especially since the image I am working from is not ideal) but to get in the ball park for further refinement. For example, the “X” has three versions that I want to narrow down to 1 or 2, and I am not happy with how the criss-cross strokes are not continuos since I arrived at the letter by inverting two “V” shapes and shortening the arms.

Since some of the capitals had extended arms I created two versions for missing letterforms that I thought would have also had that feature. I am least satisfied with the lowercase “g”. The uppercase “L” also needs some work. From this point I will probably go into Illustrator and come up with a clean, unified version of the letterforms.

Sample Letter forms

Original Letterform samples from ephemera


Reconstructed Type samples with variations

Reconstructed Type samples with variations

Down and Dirty Perfect Binding

October 7, 2015

Recently, I discovered a manila envelope full of old song fragments and scraps that I want to go through to get into a digital format for my records. However, they’re not easily accessible in their loose-pile form and they are cluttering up my work area.
Solution? Make a perfect-bound book out of them.

Shoestring Seriography

September 25, 2015

I really enjoy screenprints and the process of making. However, the emulsion method used by professional screen printers is technical, time-consuming and toxic not to mention expensive.

There are several methods that are available which are cheaper, easier and, while having their own limitations, offer more immediate results. For the two colors I printed in this post, the red design was printed using a paper stencil while the blue design was made by painting Mod Podge directly onto the screen.

A large embroidery hoop that I acquired served as a impromptu screen frame. for a few dollars I purchased some organdy material which can be pulled reasonably tight in the embroidery hoop. The quality of the screen may not be as fine as professional grade, but it does the trick for down and dirty home printing. I topped off my rough-and-tumble painting kit with a “squeegee” made from a plastic vertical blind but I had cut up into short spatula shapes.

Some tips:

  • you can alter the viscosity of your acrylic paint with ModPodge.
  • pull your screen material as tight as you can
  • wider squeegees are best for consistent paint/ink layering.
  • thinner stencil material is preferable since the thickness of the paper determines the thickness of the paint layer. I think I will try newsprint next time. I may lose some durability but it may be worth it.
  • using the stencil method along with the PVA glue paint on method in tandem my produce great results. The painted method allows you to have floating shapes inside other shapes. The stencil I can’t do that very well. However you can get much crisper edges with the stencil.


I made some rectangular screens with some cheap picture frames. I used some old stockings as the screen material for one of them. The result is a mesh that is more rough, but workable for the paper stencil method or large designs with PVA glue. I suspected that the plastic “squeegee” that I had been using was causing air bubbles. I tried using a Styrofoam tray as an alternative since it is rounded and softer. Over time I think the screen will wear the styrofoam down, but it seemed to help.
I also tried Mylar from a deflated ballon for stencil material. It is at least as thin as newsprint and it is more durable. It tends to curl so is probably not suitable for fine detail, but adhered well to the screen once the initial “ink” was applied.