Using digital proficiency to support fine art…the computer is a very useful tool.

Work on the mandala project has been proceeding slower than expected.  In large part this is due to having had the greyscale painting due, last week.  Because I’m still a little skittish after having posted my initial one or two mandalas and actually inspiring people (it was kind of scary, I’m not kidding), especially with the copyleft thing, I’m going to keep what I’m working on offline, at least for now.  After I submit it, I may post it; that should be in two weeks.

What I can talk about, though…there are a couple of things that came to me last night, which I probably should split into different posts.  As things stand, I won’t be able to speak about them all tonight.

The mandala I’m working on is…interesting to me, kind of content-wise and process-wise.  Last night, I finished the inking on it and erased the marks of the Saral (in my case, graphite transfer) paper away.  I nearly started to fill it in with graphite shading, then remembered the incident with the acrylic painting I posted a day or so ago:  that is, not having a record of the most basic stages of composing an image.  So I erased the little bit of shading that I’d started (I used a relatively new Prismacolor kneadable eraser, though I really like the General’s brand better — they’re just harder to find), and got my camera.

This image is on 14″x17″ paper, so it was too large to fit on my scanner.  What I did that night was photograph it, upload the photos, then copy the easiest photo to edit.  I found the “Skew” tool in Photoshop and was successfully able to use it to even out the slightly odd camera angle at which I took the picture.  This was actually really great, because it’s still hard for me to get a flat-on, nondistorted shot.  What I was able to do was use Skew to un-skew my image.

I then cropped the image, and probably straightened it out (the crop area can be rotated by hovering near one of the corner crop marks).  Today I had to do some work to avoid “Snap to Grid” happening at the crop marks (which is what it’s called in MS Excel; I don’t know what it’s called on Photoshop), by expanding the canvas size to a slightly larger number of pixels and then cropping.  After this was done, I saved the image as a separate file to avoid damaging anything else.  (Today, when I retried this with better light, I used the smallest grid size to center the image as perfectly as I could — something I was concerned about because when I copied this image over by hand, I wasn’t thinking of using the whole page.  Then, later, I wanted to — when it started to grow beyond its bounds.)

Then I started playing around with Levels — I had not ever worked with the individual color channels the way I did last night.  The black point and white point are best set at the very ends of the graph curves illustrated, and I did this separately for all three channels (R, G, and B), and then tweaked the default grey points to achieve the most neutral tone I could.

After that was done, I could tweak the main channel (RGB) and make sure the image looked OK.  I ended up screwing around with this for a while, trying to eliminate excess color on the white background.  After a while, I just stopped and moved on to Brightness + Contrast, which enabled me to darken my ink marks and try and lighten the remains of background color as best I could.

Save again.  Different file name.

Then it was time to resize the image.  I set this to 600 dpi (dots per inch; a print variable, or a resolution variable where it comes to ppi [points per inch] — they’re the same thing, but print and web resolutions are vastly different), and resized the image (under Image Size) to just under 8″x10″ (though I forget the exact dimensions).  “Image Size” resizes the entire working area.  “Canvas Size” resizes the viewing area.

After that, I saved again.  Different file name.

I believe that at this point, I modified the Printer properties to “Best” quality and to print in Black and White using black ink only, and printed.  AMAZING.


I had used a (heavily used) Micron 005 pen to ink the finest lines in the center of this image, with my heaviest lines being a (non-broken-in; it matters, I found) Micron 5 at the edges of the page.  I didn’t think they would turn out to be as freakin’ delicate as they did when I ended up resizing the image to fit on an 8.5″x11″ piece of paper.  Remember, this is something like 14″x17″ sized down to nearly 8″x10″, so it’s really appreciably shrunken.  Everything looks more delicate.  My inking looks more precise.  You can’t even tell that the Micron 005’s tip is widening with use.

Though I should note, that I also realized that inking just to one side or another of a line does influence how the finished line aligns with the rest of the drawing, without showing (at least at this point) how much any misplaced lines were edited at all.  I’ve been concerned about incised lines (from tracing on top of my original, through the Saral paper, with a 2H pencil) showing up in a final colored pencil drawing, so this was something I was watching for.  But even the slight misalignments (from my paper shifting during the transfer process) were really not visible once I’d downsized the image.

As I said above, I tried this again today with natural (filtered, evening) lighting, and it turned out better, for some reason…the focus of the camera was different.  The image was sharper.  I’m using my camera on “Auto”, and did not think to check which mode was being used when the picture was taken.  In any case, the image was much clearer, especially around the edges.  After altering the Levels and Contrast + Brightness and then printing, it was also apparent that even with the remains of color that I saw in the background (I couldn’t eliminate them all…I might be able to, though, if I mess with the Levels enough — I wonder about Curves, but can’t remember what they do), the daylit image is much sharper and a little brighter than the artificially-lit one.

At this point, looking at what I can do this way with linework, and having seen the outcome of my most recent attempts at using transparent black watercolor to create a monochrome, shaded image (which may be called “grisaille”, but I’m not sure), I’m really thinking that I could work at this if I wanted to make a ‘zine or comic, draw it large-scale, then photograph it and tweak it in Photoshop, then print and bind it at 8.5″x11″.  It’s this that has got me thinking about taking InDesign next semester, which would replace Modern Art History for that one open slot.  I have experience with both Photoshop and Illustrator, but not InDesign, and I’ll need all three of them if I want to make a ‘zine and not make it hard on myself.

Wow.  Okay.  Can’t believe I got all that out.  If you made it this far, congratulations.  I wish I’d done this before as regards the process I went through to make the original image, in the first place…  Right now, what needs to be done?  I’m in the process of shading in one of my printouts with graphite in order to create value placement (I needed something to do that was portable, today), and I need to decide what colors go where — and then put them there.

I still have my original master copy of the mandala that I traced onto the Wet Media paper (this is the large, 14″x17″ paper).  I’m thinking of working this one in ink pencil (permanent once dry) and watercolor pencil (not permanent once dry), turning that into wash, then going over the top of the washed areas with colored pencil.  The thing with the Wet Media paper, though, is that it really obviously buckles with too much water.  I can try to control for this by taping it down to a piece of hardboard…but I don’t know if it will work.

I’m thinking of taking my original and re-tracing it out onto the 12″x12″ watercolor block for hardcore work with watercolors.  But I really only have about 1.5 weeks to work on this, prior to critique.  As things stand, I may only have two finished pieces to critique, because so much of my work has been working out how to do the process, and how to get to the point I want to be at.  There is also the insane amount I was sleeping because of the sedation issue, about two to three weeks ago, as well…but I’m very certain my teacher understands.

As things stand with the medical stuff — I am really wanting to get off of the medication that’s making me gain weight (it’s the same one which is supposed to help me stay awake), and see if I can control the oversleeping via just taking my medication at, say, 7 PM instead of 10 PM.  Now that I know that there’s a world of difference between the two, it’s possible that I’ll be able to handle it by just not giving in to the urge to stay up late…


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Haru ("Codey") is a third-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

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