Checking Out Illustrator CS5

June 28, 2010 at 11:51 am (computer art, Digital Art, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been so busy creating lesson content and teaching Photoshop and Illustrator that I’ve barely had a moment to myself to just romp around in Photoshop and Illustrator, just for the sheer fun of it. Much of my time is spent working on tutorial videos for the students. I’m about to begin a new children’s book about a small child’s dragon adventure. I will use Illustrator to create the dragon but will do the rest of the art in Photoshop. I’m looking forward to being able to work in CS5 to delve into all the new features. I was using the stroke width tool today and it is beyond fantastic. I also played around with the perspective grid. I haven’t tried it long enough to see whether it will be utterly amazing or whether it will have glitches similar to Photoshop’s Vanishing Point. So far it looks quite promising, but did have a few issues, when I dragged an object that was drawn on one perspective, offset path added and then grouped with other objects, when I dragged this object into a new perspective surface the perspective was not correct, it was adding the new perspective on top of the prior perspective instead of making the calculation as though the object was facing forward. So maybe I should have first created these objects outside the perspective grid, then placed them onto the grid surfaces. I’ll experiment a bit more to find out if this is the way it works.

Below is a gif animation I created from scratch in Photoshop, part of a class lesson on filters and effects.

See No Evil – created and animated in Photoshop

After creating all the parts from scratch in Photoshop, the eyeball is made with Photoshop’s 3D, and afterwards I opened Photoshop’s animation workspace and created the animation frames for the gif.  Here is a screenshot of the settings I used.  Each frame is 0.2 seconds, except for the middle frame which I set to 5 seconds.

I created this piece below in Illustrator CS5, then added some finishing touches using Photoshop CS5.  I wanted to let my imagination wander while acquainting myself with the new tools and features. The art below is the consequence of my meanderings. Enjoying CS5, there seems to be no major issues. I got a bit confused in Photoshop’s new mask edge panel, it looks quite different from the panel in CS4 which was very easy to use.  This new panel seems less straight forward but I will forgive it if the new detect edges feature ends up working as all the promo videos promise (I am always a bit of a skeptic at first because I still clearly remember all the hype around the Extract filter when it was first being launched.  Now Adobe seems to have abandoned it entirely and treats it like the unwanted step child, not including it with the installation DVDs).  What I’ve noticed is that with Adobe’s initial demo videos, they are careful to choose only those images which are ideally suited, and they avoid ‘regular’ images that most people use, where the results are far less than satisfactory.   I’m curious to see whether this new detect edge feature works on regular, ordinary, every day images, not the 50 MB high res tifs set on a perfectly smooth, one-color background images that are used in the demo videos ….. 🙂

Created With Illustrator and Photoshop CS5

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Illustrator Gradient Mesh Guitar

April 8, 2010 at 8:23 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Created With Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh

This guitar is 100% Vector

Here is another example of gradient Mesh, used to add a soft contoured gradient on the body of the guitar. Illustrator’s regular gradient tool would not be able to add this kind of contour and this is where gradient mesh comes to the rescue. First a mesh is carefully drawn using the gradient mesh tool (the tool in the toolbox that looks like a Spiderman web). If care is taken in the beginning to place the mesh lines, then afterwards, coloring the mesh is quite simple, using the lasso tool, white arrow tool and eyedropper.

Other Parts Created With Gradients And Pattern Textures

All the other parts of the guitar were created by tracing them with the pen tool, then adding numerous fills set to various Blending Modes via the Appearance Panel. Some of the fills were set to Pattern textures to give the appearance of wood texture, and texture on the abalone inlay bits and tuning pegs.

Art Brushes Used To Create Wood Grain

I drew brush strokes and added the Artistic / Charcoal / Rough brush to create the wood grain pattern on the body of the guitar. I experimented until I found the one that best mimicked the wood grain I wanted.

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Illustrator CS4 Gradient Mesh

March 23, 2010 at 2:34 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , )

Created With Gradient Mesh

Gradient Mesh adds depth to Illustrator Art

I’ve been putting together some tutorials about gradient mesh and created this fish to demonstrate the basics of this feature. Once I finish recording the tutorial I’ll add the link here. Stay tuned.

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Masking With Smart Objects

February 24, 2010 at 7:17 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , )

Painted in Illustrator then imported into Photoshop

Experimenting with Smart Objects

I created the woven mesh with Illustrator CS4’s blob brush tool, then applied multiple gradients. I overlapped the layers of this weave repeatedly, moving their position so that it created more of a tangled appearance. I recolored some of the layers using Live Color, altering the color order and saturation of colors to add depth. Then I simply selected these layers and copied them via the clipboard into Photoshop as Smart Objects and continued to manipulate them. I used a Mask created from duplicating the blue Channel of an image of a man. I then clicked on this new Channel in the Channels Panel and increased its contrast using Brightness/Contrast and Levels in order to Mask away portions of the woven texture to make it appear as though the man was constructed of this substance. I also painted directly onto this Channel Mask layer with Dodge and Burn and a paintbrush set to Overlay Blending Mode. This helps to add more contrast to the edges of the mask.

Afterwards I continued adding gradients to these layers in Photoshop, and dodged and burned onto the layers themselves. I also used the Liquify filter to tweak the effect.

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Smart Objects In Photoshop

February 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , )

Advantages of Duplicating Smart Objects

I am putting lessons together for an upcoming advanced Photoshop / Illustrator class and was trying to come up with a way of delving into the pros and cons of Smart Objects, passing objects from Illustrator to Photoshop. The shapes began in Illustrator, then were brought into Photoshop as Smart Objects, allowing me to duplicate and rotate them, then make changes to the one object, ie: use Liquify Filter, dodge and burn, etc. which then updates all of the duplicated objects simultaneously. This can be very useful when using an object that needs to be repeated many times. Especially if it needs to be resized and rotated numerous times, which ensures that the crisp resolution is maintained.

This exercise will become a class lesson, which will demonstrate to students how to easily go back and forth between Illustrator and Photoshop, taking advantage of the strengths of each software to save time. For example, I never pick up the pen tool in Photoshop. I always jump over to Illustrator to draw the object because Illustrator allows me to add multiple fills and strokes, to offset stroke paths, to add numerous borders and brush strokes to paths, patterns, etc. It only takes seconds to cut and paste them into Photoshop where I can either place them as Smart Objects, shapes or pixels. I’ve now gotten in the habit of always opening both software and I hop back and forth as easily as if they were just two panels of the same program. It is effortless!

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Illustrator Pathfinder and Gradients

February 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , , )

Use of Gradients and Shadow Effects

Pathfinder Creates Complex Shapes

The wasps are created using a circular shape that I alter with the pen tool. I then create an arc for the stripes using the Arc Tool. After rotating it into position I Alt drag it to create a duplicate. Then I select both of them and create a Blend with Specified Steps for the stripes on the back. I then use a Clipping Mask to mask the edges and add an inner glow to the yellow body shape. The upper body and eyes are colored with gradients. I make the legs using a Brush with texture and use the Reflect Tool to create the legs on the opposite side of the body.

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Realistic Art Using Gradients In Illustrator

February 10, 2010 at 9:57 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , )

Illustrator’s Pen Tool With Gradients and Textures

How I Created This Box

I made this box based on a little ornate wooden box that sits on the shelf above my computer.  It began as one of those spontaneous things. I was at my computer planning a lesson for teaching Illustrator and I wanted to draw an object.  I looked around me and chose this box because of all the little brass bits.  I wanted to see if I could make  an image that would make them look like brass.  I drew  the basic shapes using the pen tool.

The wood texture is made with one of the “wood” gradients that ship with Illustrator, but I then played around with the colors and gradient stops, then altered the angle to  mimic old wood grain.

Afterwards I added 2 separate textures on top via the Appearance Panel’s multiple fill function, setting  them to Blending Modes, Multiply and Luminosity.  I reduced their opacities until the texture begins to look woody.

I did the whole thing with the box at an odd angle above me, occasionally taking it down to examine the brass bits.     I drew it with my morning cup of coffee balancing in one hand and the pen tool in the other. I only put down the coffee whenever I had to press Alt (Opt on the Mac) to get the convert anchor point tool. 

Yes, I’m back on coffee after a long time away from it … turns out it spikes my creative ideas. After my last “artist’s block” where I couldn’t come up with any ideas and project deadlines were looming, I went back to coffee and within a few hours I was happily creating art again. But I digress …. only later in the day did I think to take the photo of the original box (below) to show you what I was using as my model.

Photo of Original Box

First I Drew These Shapes

The box was at an angle above me so I first created the basic shapes without worrying about the exact size ratios. The feet were created using a combination of shapes drawn with the pen tool and Pathfinder to combine them.

Created the Basic Shapes

All the brass bits except the circle rivets are drawn with the pen tool. The reason the shapes appear symetrical is that I draw only one half of the object, then use the Reflect Tool  to reflect the object horizontally while pressing Alt (Opt on Mac) to duplicate it. I then join both halves together using Pathfinder’s Add function and zoom in and remove any redundant anchor points.

The Brass Bits

Below is what the shapes look like when viewing in Illustrator’s Outline Mode, Ctrl Y (Cmd Y on the Mac). It turned out to be one of those days where I got lost in the moment, totally losing track of time. There was a get together later in the day for the new Illustrators Meet Up Group. But I got lost in the ‘zone’, and by the time I glanced up at the clock it was already 9 pm, 2 hours late … sigh, I had been looking forward to it, the first get together of Vancouver’s Illustrators, in an Irish pub with beer … alas, and me with my empty coffee cup, a few cold drips left at the bottom, missed meeting the Illustrators because I was too busy illustrating … 🙂

Illustration in Outline Mode

And here’s a slice of it with anchor points displayed:

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Dragon Art Completed

February 3, 2010 at 8:53 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , )

Dragons of Asgard book cover design

Finished the book cover

There’s a great satisfaction finishing and delivering a piece of art. After labouring a long time then finally reaching the finish line, it’s like a marathon completed. I’m usually exhausted afterwards, needing time to replenish my creative energy. This book is currently being published and should be available to the public within 2 months. The author is Scott Waring, a writer and teacher currently living in Taiwan.

Combined with teaching and putting together the course lessons for an advanced combined Photoshop / Illustrator class that I’ll be teaching in April, and now overseeing student practicum placements and teaching Illustrator, I’ve had my hands full. But with computers come technical disruptions, which can waste huge chunks of valuable time and add a lot of stress worrying about lost data.

Computer Wouldn’t Boot

Today was one of those dreadful days. I’m not a techy person. This afternoon my computer suddenly wouldn’t boot. It gave me an error message “Reboot or Select Boot Device”, and even after numerous tries it wouldn’t reboot. For those of you who are tech savy you might be smiling, but for me this presented a major time-wasting hurdle. I searched pages of Google forums but could only find a few cryptic nuggets that addressed the issue.

I exhausted the few tricks in my limited arsenal, pressing F8 didn’t help, pressing Ctrl 4 no luck, then I finally saw some small “Del” in the bottom right hand corner of my screen, so tried pressing Delete. This took me to a Menu deep inside the bowels of my computer where I could only use the up and down arrows to scroll through unfriendly-looking tabs until I came to one that said “Boot”. I managed to reset the main Boot drive to my main hard drive. But that in itself was no easy feat because the main hard drive is referred to as PM-WDC WD1200 JB-00 in this menu. Now tell me people, who would have guessed that this number refers to a main hard drive?!! This set me back to Google, where I entered this string of numbers and finally saw something referring to it as a main hard drive.

I decided to live dangerously and try altering the settings to choose this as the main boot drive.

Thought I’d Lost My Data

During those 2 stressful hours I was making a mental note of all the data I’d lose if I couldn’t get the computer to reboot. Although I’d done a recent back up, I hadn’t backed up my Outlook emails where I have all my client and student correspondence including email addresses, correspondence with clients outlining job specs and criteria, plus a lot of other little gems that I’d stored, such as bookmarks to other artists’ websites, etc..

It was a huge relief when my computer finally booted properly. I’m telling this woeful story so that if another unfortunate soul googles those fateful keywords, they might stumble across my blog entry and find the solution. During my google search I saw many others pleading for help with the same issue.

Note to self … first thing tomorrow … must back up email and other miscellaneous gems 🙂

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Making Manga Art With Illustrator

December 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , )

I made this manga art using Illustrator CS4

I’ve been preparing lessons for the upcoming Illustrator classes that I’ll be teaching beginning in January. In my usual style, I began playing with the pen tool in Illustrator and somehow meandered away from my original task and ended up creating this piece. This is very typical of the way things often go for me when I create art. I start dabbling around and experimenting (my intention at first was just to draw a simple manga figure that I’d give to students to trace, in order to teach them the function of the pen tool). But after about 9 hours of playing, I came up with a piece of art that I conceived on the spur of the moment.

The Techniques I Used

First I drew this illustration using the Pencil tool, which is great for sketching out simple ideas, but it doesn’t have any of the subtle nuances of brushes. It is merely a quick and dirty tool to jot down an initial idea. I used a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet with pen (I wouldn’t have been able to draw this with a mouse, it would have been way too awkward and clumsy).

Pen Tool

Then I used the proper pen tool to trace all the outlines. Afterwards I used the white arrow tool to refine and manipulate individual anchor points, which allows me to easily alter and sculpt the character’s shape.

Warp Tool

To further change the shape I used the Warp Tools which work much like Photoshop’s Liquify Filter. I absolutely love these tools. I most often stick with the first Warp tool, the one that simply moves anchor points. With this I added extra curl to the hair, flair to the boots and belt, tweaked the biceps, etc.

Simplify Paths

Tip: after using the Warp tool or Blob Brush Tool, be sure to simplify the paths to get rid of unwanted anchor points and to smooth out the drawing. Even with a setting of 97%, the number of points can be reduced by half without any noticable difference to the drawing. This step is necessary if you afterwards decide to add a Gradient Mesh because meshes won’t work on objects with too many anchor points. It also speeds up processing time once effects and added fills and strokes are added to the object.

Label and Organize Layers

I then added new layers below the path outline layer and used the blob brush to color the various parts, and as I’ve become accustomed to doing in Photoshop, I label each layer: Body paths, Pants, Shirt, Skin, Eyes, Hair, Boots, Background, etc. This makes it much easier when adding additional effects and Fill Layers via the Appearance Panel.

For example, The shirt is divided into 2 pieces, the top portion and the bottom portion below his arms. Because the shirt is on its own layer, it was easy to add the Inner Glow effect to the entire layer, rather than doing double the work by applying it to the individual shirt portions. Much more efficient.

Inner Glow Effect

I’ve discovered that this Inner Glow effect is a godsend because there doesn’t seem to be a proper way to add bevels or to burn and dodge shadows and highlights as can easily be done in Photoshop. In Illustrator the Inner Glow, if set carefully using blending modes can mimic a similar result as Photoshop’s dodge and burn tools. I set them to either Multiply or Screen using either dark or light edges and they can be positioned on the edges or at the center of an object, which allows me to use this effect for both burning edges and dodging center portions of an object.

Appearance Panel

I spent the majority of my time (having a great deal of fun) experimenting with added fills, textures and effects from the Appearance Panel. Illustrator’s default textures are limited so when I get a change I’ll go scavenging the web for free textures. I like to have a variety of simple textures that can be used for fabric, wood, and a dappled appearance of fur, tree bark, nature, basically anything with some natural texture that will soften the vector feel. It gives the scene a more painterly and natural appearance.

For Coloring Artwork Illustrator Rocks!

I also played for hours with multiple gradients, making them, changing them, rotating them, using blending modes with them. For me this step is intensely enjoyable! I love the ease with which you can drag and drop color swatches onto individual gradient stops.

And with Illustrator’s ability to recolor artwork with a few clicks of the mouse, it’s an obsessive-compulsive’s dream. I must have changed the colors for the shirt, pants, hair and skin so many times, way too many to count. And each time I change them, I then go and tweak the position of all the gradients again and again. This ate up a good chunk of the day, but it was entirely enjoyable. It’s the part I love best.

Each color change gives an entirely different mood and feel to the art. I liked so many of them that it was difficult to finally decide which colors I preferred. In Photoshop there is the Hue Saturation or Channel Mixer Adjustment, but they don’t allow you to choose specific color groupings and harmonies. So in this regard, Illustrator majorly Rocks !!

Creating The Background

The layers of hills in the background are created with one layer that I drew out with the pen tool in a matter of seconds, then warped a bit with the Warp Tool. I then duplicate and resize the copied layers, add different opacities, gradients and textures using Blending Modes to make them each appear different from one another.

I Love Photoshop

Once I finished the art in Illustrator, I couldn’t resist taking the image into Photoshop and adding a few final touches, just to soften up the vectors. Once a Photoshopper, always a Photoshopper.

Illustrator does many amazing things with ease and lightning speed, a wonderful stand alone software. But I suppose once I’ve fallen in love with pixels, vectors seem somehow a bit cold and stark by comparison. So I will always feel inclined to soften them up in Photoshop afterwards, ie, some of the texture on the clothes, the ground, leaves and some clouds.

Illustrator Can Be Glitchy

Illustrator’s interface looks deceptively like Photoshop but it behaves entirely different, especially layers. Each time you add a compound path, group, blend, live paint group, etc., layers order gets reassigned and nested. If you’re not careful it can strip away order and naming systems you’ve carefully set up. I’ve learned to keep an eye on this at all times by placing my Layer Panel on my second monitor and opening it up so all layers are visible. Each time I apply a significant function I examine what has taken place in the Layers Panel. I strongly suggest doing this. It’s the best way to begin to fully understand the inner workings and logic within Illustrator.

When I was learning Illustrator the Instructor didn’t fully introduce the behaviour of the Layers Panel until well into the course. Early introduction would have been far more beneficial because it is the best way to observe Illustrator’s logic and gain a full understanding of how it functions. It also saves a great deal of time to be able to simply drag and drop objects into clipping paths, groups, blends, etc.

Illustrator seems to be a lot more glitchy than Photoshop, ie: when adding effects or gradients to a path from the Appearance Panel, Illustrator sometimes deselects the object at random and I can spend 5 minutes piling on gradients and strokes, with no warning from Illustrator that this is being applied to nothing, to air, to void, to empty ether, because Illustrator decides to play tricks and deselects the object. It doesn’t beep to warn me, whereas Photoshop, like a kind and loyal friend always emits a polite beep and never deselects layers or objects. But I’m now savy to Illustrator’s tricks, I take care to avoid them.

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Super Someone Book is Launched

December 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , )

Detail of some art from the book

The Latest Childrens Book

My Super Someone and Sir Perfect Book images are finished and flattenme has launched it on their website The images are fun and whimsical, it was a lot of fun creating the scenes. There are 2 different versions, one for both children and adults (where customers insert their own faces and names into the books and enter a dedication at the front of the book so that the story becomes completely personalized). Here is a link to one of the versions: Sir Perfect

Teaching Photoshop

I’ve been so busy teaching Photoshop, this term I teach two classess back to back and am preparing for January when I’ll be teaching Illustrator. I’ve come to love it almost as much as Photoshop. It does some very amazing things with mathematical precision.

Next Project

Now I will begin working on a book cover with 3 little dragons. I’m looking forward to this project because it allows me to explore my own natural style of art. I have to do some experimentation, might even use some elements from Illustrator to create the scales and repeated patterns on the dragons skin and tail.

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