It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to Illustration Friday so thought I’d offer my take on this week’s theme.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to Illustration Friday so thought I’d offer my take on this week’s theme.
I wrote this line but it’s probably not original—don’t care, didn’t check. It felt authentic in the moment. I’d created the little flying dude a while ago after looking at a book of primitive African motifs. He represents some kind of hybrid bat/man in African mythology.
So… bat + man = Batman = hero = hero myth = Joseph Campbell = follow your passion = be the hero in your own narrative. And that’s the way that particular rabbit hole happened.
In past chalkboard-related posts I’ve put it out there that I’d love to see what chalkboard background buyers/downloaders are making with these files. On occasion I hear back…
So thanks, Marilyn Curtright. Great job, and I’m glad the backgrounds came in handy. With the popularity of chalkboards still on the rise there are more and more free fonts and resources for chalkboard artists who want to create a chalkboard effect without inhaling dust or even adding hand-lettered and scanned text.
Marilyn describes in meticulous detail how she created the poster below In Photoshop, even down to the fonts and hex colors.
Thought I’d let Marilyn describes the process in her own words:
I belong to the Art Journal Caravan for 2014, a year-long “workshop” held by Tangie Baxter over at ScrapbookGraphics.com. For week 10, back in March, one of the prompts suggested to make a layout using a chalkboard effect. So with your chalkboard background as a base, some nice chalk fonts and dingbats, and a great quote, I put together my piece.
Chalkboard background from foolishfire.com, fonts include Bergamot Ornaments – dingbats, Kraft Nine, Handy George, Return to Sender, Chalk-hand-lettering, Clementine Sketch, Square Chalk, DeLouisvilleSmallCaps
Font color: #d1d5d3 (lightish gray). I didn’t want it to be stark white.
For each text layer, I added a pattern overlay to my text, just something that looked a bit like crumpled paper. This was set to NORMAL at about 50% opacity to give the wording some texture.
When I was done with my design, I created a composite of all my layers. At the top of the layer stack, Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E.
On the composite, I created a layer mask, with low opacity, used the same font color as above and with random brushes, I lightly brushed over all creating the smudged chalky effect.
I did use as a resource a tutorial by Courtney Odell, found on the web.
Hope this helps.
I’ve been making collages in one form or another since I was old enough to wield scissors and paste, which turned into long hours during the summer and after school stuffed into a poorly ventilated darkroom combining cut-up Kodalith sheet negatives and printing large-scale BW contact prints, which turned into Photoshop 3.0 and a Mac FX, which turned into..well faster and better “scissors and paste” and a permanent “buh bye” to smelly rooms full of chemicals.
There is something magical about the process of starting with a collection of unrelated images and seeing hidden relationships appear— a hundred tiny acts of discovery..
The medium of collage is a huge part of the message and for me serious serious fun. So in keeping with the purpose of this site; if I do it, I’m happy to share it.
Here’s the finished piece I’ll be using as a case study. It’s called “Autodidact”, which means self-taught (news to me). The collage began as a much smaller piece, inspired by “Brazil”, the Terry Gilliam opus and grew in complexity as I thought about how many influencers and levels of inspiration actually contribute to our “self-teaching” as we grow and mature. Anyway…
Photoshop allows the artist to assemble a collage in pretty much real time with a few basic skills, a scanner and/or some image files that already exist on your hard drive. While this tutorial is really aimed at the intermediate Photoshop user, anyone familiar with PS basics can make interesting and satisfying work while keeping the learning curve frustration to a minimum. We hope.
My collage subjects have always tended to be a bit on the dark side. Heavily influenced by Bosch, Magritte, Dali, Uelsmann and dare I say it, Monty Python in my formative years it’s no wonder, but with collage, the sky is literally the limit. If you’re drawn to unicorns and daisies, go for it!
So in lieu of an Xacto knife or scissors, digital collage requires only a mouse and a lasso tool. The Photoshop layers palette contains all the bits and pieces you would have carefully cut out and readied to glue on to some sort of background—so we’ll start there. But first, here’s what you’ll need:
First, decide what the output medium and final size (dimensionally) will be; print or web or both? if you ever want to be able to print your work, set up your base file at 150-300 dpi. It means your .psd may be pretty beefy by the time you’re finished, but worth it to ensure decent print quality. If you only want to display your work on a website or blog, create the base file at 72 dpi, it’ll make the whole process faster by not hogging as much bandwidth.
Rule of Thumb: when working with bitmapped (pixel-based) files, you can always “Save As” lo-res files from hi-res files, but not the other way around without severe quality loss. Hedge your bets by starting off at 300 dpi if you even remotely think you might print out your work at some point.
This is probably the step with the most wiggle room. There are so many ways collages come together; sometimes an interesting relationship happens between two or three objects, or you may have an entire narrative in mind which then becomes about locating the right imagery.
I often start with a concept or theme in mind, then scour my ephemera and photography folders for likely collage candidates. I’ve been collecting “scrap” from old magazines, found art, discarded photos, parts of old manuals and postcards for years, so I have a lot to choose from on my hard drive. Antique stores, flea markets and second hand stores are great sources for old print material, magazines, manuals, postcards and discarded scrap books full of photos. Sites like Retronaut or Time Tales are great places to start to downloading copyright free material.
Rule of Thumb: An image you pulled off a web site will be 72-96 dpi by default. If you’re making a collage for print at 300 dpi, that image may be tiny when you paste into your base .psd file. Enlarging it to fit will generally NOT produce the result you want, although if you don’t mind the “crunchiness”, sometimes you can Unsharp Mask the *@#+ out of it and may get acceptable results.
I browse my scrap folders with Adobe Bridge so I can see lots of thumbnail previews at once, but there are other options for folder browsing including Preview and iPhoto or other freeware options. Just Google “image browsers mac/windows”.
As source images start to speak to you, open them in individual windows in Photoshop. You’ll be working with .jpgs for the most part—which is fine, .gifs or .pngs work as well but be conscious of the resolution of your source files.
Rule of thumb: Beware of copyright restrictions for anything you might use off the web. Even vintage materials are subject to copyright if they’re part of a collection. Check your sources for permissions. You’re generally safe using older/vintage material in the public domain as long it’s not for a profit-making enterprise but copyright law is not an exact science. Archive sites like www.retronaut.com, www.timetales.com, bitlounge.com and westfordcomp.com are wonderful one-stop sources of collage material but often hold copyright on their material and may limit use to non-commercial purposes only.
Always scan hard copy scrap at the same resolution (or higher but not lower) as your base .psd.
This step is about setting up your file so you can start playing with your layers.
In Photoshop (and Illustrator and InDesign for that matter) there is a thing called “good layer hygiene”. It means that whenever you work with a layered document, proper naming of those layers is a best practice from the beginning because as you’ll learn, layers tend to multiply like bunny rabbits. Collage is such an organic, make-it-up-as-you-go art form, to save yourself a ton of grief, label those layers!
That said, don’t get too hung up on the fussy workflow advice. Spontaneity is key, so as a compromise, I usually stop after I’ve created five or six new layers and do some housecleaning i.e. delete any inactive layers I’m sure I won’t be using, name any unnamed layers, put logical layers into folders. If you tidy as you go, you’ll also reduce bandwidth drag by getting rid of unnecessary layers.
In a collage, you’ll be building something of a pyramid structure, with the base layer and background files occupying the entire real estate of the piece and a much of edited and/or masked images or fragments of images stacked on top.
I usually add a background texture at this point but most often end up changing it once my artwork is in place. The layer right above your background layer should be the Background Texture.
There are multiple sources online for obtaining digital background textures including my personal fave Creative Market. They have plenty of freebies as well as affordable collections. I also keep an eye out in the real world for interesting walls, pavement patches, sides of buildings, graffiti and random and interesting paint textures.
This is where a bit of expertise in using PS selection tools can be useful. Pick one of your open source files and either select the area you want to use with the lasso tool or Select All and copy the entire file. If I’m using the lasso tool I generally don’t try to be too precious with the selection at this point—instead I’ll draw my selection 10 pixels or so wider than what I really want. I’d generally rather do the final edge cleanup on the placed layer.
Go to your base file and paste the selection. You’ll note a new layer has just been created. Name that layer and proceed repeat the process of copying and pasting source material into your base file, creating more layers as you go. Give each layer a name.
Layer masks are almost mandatory with this kind of iterative process. Snapshots and Adjustment Layers also come in handy but in the interest of simplicity and my short attention span, I use masks on almost every layer. If you’re not familiar with masks in PS, they allow you to edit the content of a layer without committing to the edit. Simply select what you want to keep with the lasso tool or magic wand and click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel. When the layer icon is elected, you can subtract pixels with any brush tool given a black foreground color, or with a white brush to add back the original image. This is an intermediate level tutorial so I won’t go into much more detail about masks—trust me though, they’ll make your life a lot easier when creating a collage.
Blending modes can make or break the look and feel of a piece. They are not an exact science and for me is a matter of feel rather than trying to predict what a layers will look like with a particular mode applied. I do a lot of reversing (Command-I) and using Screen mode on BW line art to eliminate backgrounds and pop out of dark backgrounds, and Color Burn with photographs is a favorite as well, but overall I recommend trial and error. You’ll know when it looks right.
In order to get layers to play nicely, adjust them individually for levels, opacity, contrast, hue and saturation, etc. I usually do this toward the end when composition has been more or less decided. This is all part of the fine tuning process along with zooming in to be able to clean up unmasked pieces of layers with the brush tools.
Design schools teach that every work of art succeeds or fails based on composition. Even fine execution takes a back seat to the creative placement of elements. Some rules apply here but as your collage takes form, reduce the window size so you can evaluate the piece from a distance. Or better yet use an old photographer’s trick and look at it upside down (or just ask an old photographer). Your collage should make compositional “sense’. Think “rule of thirds”, eye tracking, point of entry, hotspots, border integrity, it all matters and separates the clip art projects from the fine art.
I often move elements around in groups (which is why creating layer groups is important) in order to solve compositional problems. It’s one of the benefits of working in Photoshop as opposed to scissors and paste.
A lot of my pieces contain some form of text, either drawn or placed as images. I rarely use fonts but that’s a subjective choice. Text can help illuminate or enhance the theme of a piece, which may not always be obvious to the viewer. I personally don’t mind if a viewer has to work a bit at deciphering the symbology of a piece, just as I don’t mind it when viewing other artists’ work. Collage is by nature symbolic and multiple interpretations are inevitable. In fact it’s one reason why I love the medium so much. Bits of text can be signposts, however, providing literal or poetic clues for the viewer. That said, I often find deciding how to use text to be the biggest challenge.
Sometimes the process of collage making can be so engaging it’s hard to stop. Like editing my own writing, I have a tendency to start out overly complicated and simplify, simplify.
The best collages may be comprised of hundreds of individual images but still look cohesive and “legible”. Restraint can be applied not just to the judicious use of imagery but to your color palette as well. You’ll note in the “Autodidact” piece, there are really only two colors. Economy in one aspect of the work can balance excess in another.
These are pieces created using the processes above. Many were created around Illustration Friday weekly themes. Starting with a one-word topic is a great way to keep the creative muscles toned.
One really nice perk of doing this blog is meeting really nice people like Dawn-Marie Dugan of Maison Rouge Creative, if only virtually.
Her 1-year old Leo had his first birthday party back in March and she used one of Foolish Fire’s hi-res backgrounds as a base for the invitation design you see below. The typography is a combination of hand lettering and “chalkboard font” and the artwork is all hers.
She hired online print vendor Smartpress to have them printed and used a chalk marker on black envelopes along with some groovy vintage, space-themed stamps to complete the invite package.
So this is what’s possible with a little inspiration, some online resources, a copy of Photoshop and the superior organizational skills to manage an art project with a 1-year old trying to destroy your studio. As a fellow parent/artist, my hat’s way off.
And if you like these, and want to hire Dawn-Marie to design yours, I understand she may be taking taking custom orders. Contact her through her web site. She’ll get back to you while Leo naps.
This quote hit me where I live, pun intended. A “guest house” is a perfect and profound metaphor for the daily experience of being human and standing at that threshold where we either invite in the “unexpected visitor” or send him packing along with his freaking “crowd of sorrows”. Rumi crushes it again.
Challenge: Lately I’ve had several requests for backgrounds that have particular features, like more “chalk” blur, or fewer scratches and specks, etc.
I’ve also been asked to provide backgrounds at larger sizes for posters and signs, especially for weddings, menus, etc. So…
Solution: Rather than reinventing the wheel and creating multiple versions of the chalkboard background files, you get to do all the work! Brilliant! Thank you.
So have at it, you uber-picky chalkboarders. Here are my original .PSD files for your edification.
Sometimes life dishes out serendipitous moments like it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. One moment you’re sitting at a stop light, idling both mechanically and mentally, and you notice out of the corner of your eye something slightly askew—a thing out of place, context, space and/or time. Or in this case just a weird-ass traffic sign.
So it was on my way back from Costco, when this caught my eye…
I love this and I don’t know why. It’s utilitarian yet transcendental. A perfect example of anomalous environmental design. A public “work” of art that asks as many questions as it pretends to answer. It warns, yet reassures. Honestly, I’m not even sure what the hell it means—is it warning me that traffic ahead is in fact calmer than the traffic behind? Or is it a veiled invitation to keep driving because traffic-related stress reduction awaits? I don’t really care. I just have to applaud not only the enlightened civil servant who wrote the copy for this sign, but his or her boss who had to approve it.
So I circled back and made this photograph and on the way home mused about what would happen if the City ran with this whole new “touchy feely” traffic sign idea. Here are some outcomes…
Late breaking news: Traffic calming is a real thing! If I’d done my research before writing this post I would have uncovered about a million Google search results, and a whole Wikipedia entry devoted to “traffic calming”. Who knew? Not me apparently. Moral of the story…I should get out more. But I still love it. Thanks to the psych major with the minor in traffic engineering who came up with the idea.
So some years ago (easily dateable by the “dad” jeans) I bought a really big paper mache “J”. My intention was to do something clever with it and give it to my niece Jessica for Christmas. On the way home I abruptly asked my wife to stop the car so she could photograph me walking across the street, not in the crosswalk, carrying the “J”. I avoided getting a citation and the rest is typographic history.
James Taylor’s Zen-like lyrics to “Secret O’ Life” wound up in my head one evening while my sketch pad was at arm’s length. The result is what’s above…which was easier said than drawn, which is sort of the point of the song.
“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it.
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill.
But since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.
The secret of love is in opening up your heart.
It’s okay to feel afraid, but don’t let that stand in your way.
Cause anyone knows that love is the only road.
And since we’re only here for a while, might as well show some style. Give us a smile.
Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.
Now the thing about time is that time isn’t really real.
It’s just your point of view, how does it feel for you?
Einstein said he could never understand it all.
Planets spinning through space, the smile upon your face, welcome to the human race.
Some kind of lovely ride. I’ll be sliding down, I’ll be gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.
Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down, gliding down,
try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
Love that. So inspiring. So simple. So utterly impossible to live out sometimes.
I’m such an admirer of artists who keep lavishly and spontaneously executed journals, or anyone for that matter, who can just sit down with a sketch book and let it all flow onto the page without regard for how perfect “it” is. For me that requires not only industrial grade duct tape over the pie-hole of my inner critic but an occasional “f*** the hell off”…cuz damn…
So while the page of scribble above doesn’t seem like much more than a bunch of doodles-while-talking-on-the-phone type stuff, for me, it’s a major accomplishment. It’s enjoing the ride, it’s trying not to try too hard, all that zen stuff and much more. That’s why I bother to show it off. Because there aren’t many pages in my sketchbooks like it and I’d like there to be more where it came from.
It’s why some songs, poems, and quotes about creativity and finding the “zone” and “trying not to try too hard”, etc., get right to the core/essence and often end up “transinterprelated” into some of the work on this web site. How to free up the that 9 year-old attitude of play required to fill up a page of doodles at the drop of a hat is a never ending, two-three-four-way (or more) discussion going on in my head 24/7.
I wish my process was a seamless, flowy kind of all-inclusive vacation cruise but it almost never is. Rather, words like “win”, “lose”, “courage”, “battle”, “warrior” come to mind. It’s gets bloody. There is collateral damage but the worst of all, nothing happens. Silence. The “peace at any price” doctrine prevails. Analysis gives way to paralysis. Resistance wins. Everyone stays comfortably numb. No doodles, just a pile of gum eraser debris at my feet and very little of consequence on the page. Not even mistakes. And I know…I know…the mistakes are critical.
My drafting table, sketchbooks and computer screen are therefore my battlefields. I try to show up every morning in full battle armor, ready to engage the enemy who is usually waiting for me..kicked back in my office chair…feet up on my keyboard. The enemy is a shape-shifting son-of-a-bitch. Sometimes a “Dragon”, a “Critic”, a “Coward”, it has many avatars.
Two books by Steven Pressfield “The War of Art” and “Do the Work” have helped when swift kicks to the hind-quarters are required. And sometimes more kid-glove nudges are enough, like JT’s song lyrics, but it’s always a matter of getting out of my own way to one degree or another…whether I’m just being a whiny diva, or a having a full-fledged meltdown and need to be knocked down a peg or two. Both are symptoms of self-interference.
To quote Pressfield in “Do the Work”
“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you.”
I’m pretty sure it really is all about not trying too hard…that the ride is indeed lovely…and the secret o’ life really is enjoying the passage of time. But sometimes it all comes down to the courage it takes to fill up a page with scribbles and then lift it up and say…”look what I did.” So not to gloat, but if you wouldn’t mind scrolling back up the page…”look what I did.”