Dealing with design work

Well, it…at least feels as though, it has been a long day.  Although I’ve been monitoring what’s been going on with my class, I haven’t really been participating, today.

What I can say is that I feel like I’m relatively prepared to work with Graphic Design.  Relatively speaking — which means, as compared to people who have no experience in either Art or Design (which seems to include most of the class).

I don’t have a degree in Design, and I only have an AA in Art; but that training allowed me the experience of critiquing the work of others (over and over again), so I have some grounding on which to base my opinions.  I also have experience working with computer graphics tools…and with how to note down design ideas in the middle of the night.  (The latter came from being kept up with story ideas in undergraduate work; the former came from taking Digital Imaging courses, plus one Graphic Arts course.)

This meant that the exercise we recently undertook in my UX class — redesigning a couple of signs — was fairly easy for me.  I had thought of working things out by hand, like I did in my Intro to Graphic Design class, but I actually had the tools I needed so that I could manipulate elements digitally.  It vastly speeds up the process, and makes it easy to place color fills and gradients, and work with type.  And quickly change the font, size, spacing, placement, and color of that type.  I was actually kind of amazed at how easy Photoshop makes these things — and I’m not even working with Illustrator, or InDesign.

I’m hoping that the MLIS program will give me the background knowledge to make functional Design, as versus Design which looks nice but is nonfunctional (due to a lack of consideration of the end-user’s experience).

We were introduced to the idea of “personas” as used in marketing, this semester — which seems as though it draws off of creative imaging skills.  I have an abundance of these, but I was never told that I could work in Business in a Marketing department, utilizing the same skills I had used in Creative Writing.

Aesthetics seem to be placed below functionality, so far as Design is concerned in the classes I’ve been in, in the MLIS program.  I can’t help but think that this is the case, however, because people have been taught how to make things look nice, but not how to make them usable.  And I’m not sure I would fault the Graphic Designers for a lack of overall consideration of the user (although the Graphic Designers seem to take the blame — is this why they don’t get paid as much as others?).  It seems as though someone isn’t doing their job…and I’m not sure if it is the Graphic Designers, that is.

I’m almost wondering if the MLIS program will help me progress more in my chosen career path, more than a degree in Design would help me.  I’ve heard Design dismissed offhand in the Art world (most notably, as “selling out”), but in reality I think that even though both Art and Design utilize skill in working with images, visual communication, and fine motor movement, Design is a totally different category of activity, than Art.  They’re not anywhere near being the same things, and it becomes extremely apparent when you’re dealing with things like user research (which seems to utilize Social Science techniques) and usability, among other concepts which are hard for me to name right now.

I’m not sure if people in the Art world realize this (or if Clement Greenberg — the person I am thinking is most responsible for the current idea that money corrupts art — knew enough to realize this), and nor am I sure I’m totally up to picking them apart, at the moment.  It is a question that has continually been in the back of my mind, though.

I haven’t been writing so much recently because I’ve been trying to see what it is like just to live, without recording my life for several hours a week (each of these sessions is more than an hour long).  It’s apparent that logging my experiences is useful, but I don’t think I should do it out of a sense of obligation.  At this point in my life, my thinking is cohesive enough that I don’t really need to work at drawing it all together the way I had to, say, four years ago.

What I really do need to do, though, is keep some kind of practice where I put thoughts into words and into text.  It’s a great strength which declines when I don’t write.  That doesn’t mean I have to write about what I have been writing about…or in such volume…but I need to write.

I’m getting pretty tired right now, so I should log off:  though I had wanted to write about moving back into my toned paper journal.  But I had wanted to look at this from the perspective of considering Design to be a creative activity in which the message I’m communicating is somewhat predetermined.  I’ve been dealing with a lot of trouble starting because of not knowing what to communicate, or what to draw, etc.  Maybe Design can provide that for me, but really it does feel like …a puzzle.  Like creating a solution to a problem which just happens to be functional, useful, and beautiful.

I think I’ll leave you on that note, right now, run and brush my teeth, and try not to collapse before I get to bed.  🙂

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Experimenting with camera settings and Photoshop: suminagashi prints

I’ve been taking photos of the last suminagashi batch so that if and when I cut them apart, I won’t miss them.  😉  (Part of the nature of suminagashi is that it never turns out the same way more than once.)  This set turned out much more photogenic than the last — although that may also be partially due to my experimenting with the light settings on my camera.

Today was overcast, so I used the “Cloudy” setting on my camera, even though I was indoors with only window light.  This gave me a batch of photos which appeared dim (all values were shifted towards the black point in the Levels histogram), though I was able to adjust how the computer read the files by using a Levels adjustment layer in Photoshop and hand-tweaking each color layer, which worked out more aesthetically pleasing than letting the computer take care of it through Auto Levels.  I’m actually really amazed that it worked (for most of them, anyway):

Heh!  Nice!  Ah, right:  I’m hoping you can click on the images to see a larger version!

Like I said in the last relevant entry, I changed my working pattern for this set.  I can see where it would be useful to rinse off some of my papers after printing them — two or more got a weird haze of ink over the top (though I tossed one of them because it was so messed up); another got blotched by my not drying excess water, which caused a pooling effect.  Overall, though…it worked!

I’m trying to fight an urge to go back and try this again…mostly because I don’t want to have to clean off the craft table again, but….

Pale imagery

O hi.  So…even though I did not succeed in using the Stonehenge paper last night, I did pull around 10 suminagashi prints which were decent.  Unfortunately, they are so subtle that I question whether it’s worth it to show them.  The one print which breaks this pattern is shown below:  first having adjusted the Levels (color balance) on Photoshop, and then with no color adjustments.

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suminagashi print utilizing Boku-Undo inks and Sumifactant.  This was the brightest of the set, though I have enhanced the color using Photoshop’s Levels option.

I’m including this one first because — at least you can see the patterning, here.  The rest of my prints are fairly pale.  And even this one is not quite as deep as the Levels adjustment makes it seem.  Here is the same image without the Levels adjustment, everything else the same:

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Without the Levels adjustment.

I think it’s more subtle and tends to hold together better.  The actual color balance is somewhere in between these two images.  Seriously, though…?  This is the deepest colored swatch I got out of the batch.  The rest of them are very subtle, for example:

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Beautiful in its pattern, but very very pale.

This one actually looks like I was making stationery for a really nice hand-inked letter or drawing!  Something where what was on top was supposed to take center stage.

I feel like trying this again — I don’t see how I can do much worse than last time — it’s just that I have something of a hesitance to work with the materials (as regards exposure to chemicals).  I did look up my initial query and the main ingredient in the Sumifactant which I was unfamiliar with:  I don’t think I have much of anything to worry about.  On the other hand, this is messy!

Or not messy, so much, but wet.

I’m thinking of trying the yellow and orange also this time, too.  It might contrast well with a violet print.

Of course, though, then I also have to cut papers down…again…*sigh*…but then I get to use a sharp thing!  😉  (I dunno why I like this, except that it demands high concentration of the type I’m used to from martial arts.  The same applies to using torches for hot metalwork.  But it does not apply to using toxic paints.  I don’t know why…)

Yes, in Art, books do (actually!) help.

I’ve heard it said that one can’t learn Art through reading books, but sometimes those books actually help urge someone into action.

I’ve been reading in a book on Chinese ink painting techniques…and may just have gotten the inspiration to work on a painting (I’m not giving away the title until after I’ve decided whether to buy it or not).  This is on the canvas I intended to start on last semester when I got my easel (the canvas is 30″x30″, just under the 34″ maximum height my easel can take), but a different image than originally intended/settled for.  If I can pull it off, it may turn out to be a beautiful, wonderful painting.

I think a large part of the reason I haven’t started on this yet (besides time pressures) is the fact that the canvas is square, and so it isn’t entirely straightforward to think of a way to make the composition dynamic.  Though, it is possible.

I had wanted to work with an image of this plant before, but I thought that maybe I should work on something less…daunting? perfect? instead.  What I’ve done is taken one of my second-favorite images (not the most-favorite one, which this one may be a prelude to) and cropped it down in Photoshop, then printed it.  Next step is to gesso the canvas with a base color, then work loosely with vine charcoal over the surface to draw in the shapes.  After that comes glazing over the correct lines, wiping everything else away, and starting in with color (which is where I may want to bring in the colored pastels — given that I have no time limit).

I might want to do one or more practice versions of the drawing first, though, just so that I know where everything is…though that will mean working on not-so-great paper (full size is…pretty big, and the only thing I’ve got in that size is cheap butcher paper that’s kind of irritating to work with; moreso than newsprint).  Or — a better idea.  I could do a smaller version of this on one of my square watercolor blocks, though…the methods differ.  I would need to mask some areas, if I used watercolor.

Hmm.  I think that what I’ll do is work at about 2/3 scale on a newsprint pad, first, including value renditions if I can (including white as well…I am not sure if I want to go into colored pastel on newsprint); then go into drawing on canvas (given that I haven’t worked in charcoal for months).  Watercolor is just going to be tough…unless I do it loosely, and very small.  Also, that method seems to work best when one hasn’t decided on a layout yet; I have my layout already.  What I need to do is figure out where everything is placed, and get my arm used to the directionality of the lines and forms.

At least I’m getting back into the art…

Even more drawings:

As much as I want to, my better judgment warns me against putting out the two self-portraits I did (head and shoulders, basically), on this blog.

Today was a productive day.  I completed six drawings, not including the blind-contour of my hand (which is a scrawl — I’m not posting it because it’s really not worth it), and the piece after Jean-Francoise Millet, which I’d started before.  I took photos — mostly trial photos, at this point, because they all had to be done in non-optimal lighting.

It’s also hard to tell which drawings will come out well once photographed, until that work has been done and I can see things in Photoshop.  I was using my graphite sticks up to 9B today, but I can’t remember in which drawings (except the one after Millet) — so I need the photographs to show me where things look faint.

Good thing, though!  I’m starting to actually wear down my graphite sticks!  It might also be good, though, when I’m using those, to keep some sharpened B pencils handy to work in sharp details.  It wastes a lot of graphite to sharpen down a Cretacolor Monolith.

I also did find out that tinkering with Levels will remove colors projected onto my photos by my camera…and apparently, Levels can also tell how many different grades of pencil I used.  😀  (It’s in the histogram.)

Okay, well, on to the photos:

I actually had more fun with this than it would seem.  I’m actually kind of amazed that the two foot images came out so well…yes, it does kind of make me want to do graphic novels again!  yes!  it does!  but:  in time.  I might actually want to concentrate on drawing them out more than writing them, though…strange turn of events.

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.

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…