Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Drawing Pigs and Videographing Elephants

This past week has been dominated by Elephant and Piggie at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center as we prepare for our musical, Elephant and Piggie's "We Are In A Play!"

My projects include an interview video (shown here is a mini segment exported for social media marketing), photography of the dress rehearsal and the poster design, so check back for some fun updates to my internship adventures.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Illustrator - A Web Designer's Best Buddy

Convert shape to guides, where have you been all my life!  This week my midterm project entails Illustrator wireframes for a website.  I chose to mock up a fictional modern art museum. Here's a peek.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Internship Adventures, Part 1 - The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

It's my last semester to chronicle the internship adventures. In December I will graduate and this blog will feature all new adventures in graphic design and visual communications as I emerge into the professional field. For now, I have two internships, one with the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the other with the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP) (an extension of my summer internship).

The Pueblo Riverwalk is divided into two parts, the Authority and the Foundation. I worked with the Authority this summer, the part responsible for hosting the events and the summer bands. The Foundation is the non-profit, fundraising counterpart and I am working for them this fall leading the charge on the graphic design and helping to forge an online communications plan as part of their fundraising efforts for a multimillion dollar enhancement project. I just completed mailers and postcards and on deck is a strategic communications plan and establishing a visual branding palette for the Foundation that mimics the Authority's visual brand. Lots to do!

At the Fine Arts Center, I am a new media and marketing intern supplying photography, videography, graphic design and copywriting. Newly completed projects include interview videos, a flier for the docent program, Wordpress webpage design and photos from behind-the-scenes of our premiere theatre event, Putting It Together (a collection of Sondheim songs). I'm also writing copy and capturing photos for the Center's newest version of their interactive app, to go live in the Apple store soon. Lots to do at this internship too, so stay tuned!

Perhaps my favorite thing so far is the inspiration from both my internships. At the HARP I have the beauty of the Riverwalk itself and at the Center I walk past inspiring artwork every time I go to work. Here are a few of my favorite pieces.


We have three Chihuly chandeliers and several other samples of his glass work. #Blessed.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Make a Surreal Landscape with Photomanipulation

Photo-manipulation skills are in high demand: if you can paint, airbrush and composite with ease, then your employment options greatly expand. 

Matte paintings are a excellent way to build your photo-manipulation skills (and expand into digital painting too). Today, I will walk you through the crucial Photoshop tools, steps and hints to get you started.  And for those of you who saw my space illustrations in last week's Throwback Thursday, here's the basic process behind my astronomy illustrations.

This is an intermediate tutorial; you'll need to know the basics of starting new layers, painting, the selection tools and creating basic masks.

Let's Begin!
All matte paintings start with a "plate" and in today's digital world that means a high-res image that you will base the rest of your design on. The term "plate" is a reference from the analog days of Hollywood matte painters where illustrators would hand-paint a piece of glass, which would then be composited with the live-capture film. The plate in this tutorial is a photo I took of the Colorado sand dunes.

I'm also going to use another photo of mine (below) to extend the sky and further establish the mood.


Step 2
I placed my dunes onto a larger, vertical canvas and then masked away the original sky with a combination of the quick selection tool and a tiny paint brush. 


Right now is a good time to mention that you should organize all your layers into folders, because matte painting uses a LOT of layers. It is so much easier to make corrections later when your layers are organized by background, sky, middle ground, etc.

Next, drop in your sky layer behind the dunes layer. Using the Levels and Hue and Saturation adjustment filters, make global changes to balance the lighting and color of both layers so that they begin to match. Don't worry about a perfect match, we'll work on that later. For now, just capture the overall atmospheric feel.


Here's what you'll have after masks and global color and lighting adjustments.

Step 3: Refining the Atmosphere

Now let's roll up our sleeves and break out the paintbrush for some real atmospheric adjustments. Set your brush for a very low opacity, enlarge it and make sure it is fuzzy (0 hardness).  Make a new layer, select the white color, and begin painting distance atmosphere over the farthest dunes and the lower part of the sky.

Next, paint in some specific colors to help blend both images.  In my image, I needed soft, dusty blues and grey-ish purples.  I also needed a global color adjustment, so I made a new layer and filled it with solid blue, then set that layer for a very low opacity.  The blue layer helped create the early twilight atmosphere I was seeking.

At this point we have a nice composited landscape as a background for our surreal work.

Step 4: Adding Surrealism

Now we can have some fun and start adding unusual floating objects. The best images will be those of objects on a white background. Drop your image above all your other layers and mask away the background with layers mask and your favorite masking tool (I used a combination of the magic selection and the paintbrush).


Right now, your image is looking pretty cool, but you can take it a step further and use the same atmosphere blending skills you just used to blend your two background images.  For my rock, I used Levels to help match the lighting and then further tweaked the lighting with a handy painting trick known as non-destructive dodge and burn.

To use the dodge and burn trick, create a new layer and set the blending mode to Overlay (as shown below). Then paint with white to lighten the image or with black to darken it (make sure your brush is set to a low opacity and slowly build up the effect).  Experiment with a combination of light and dark colors too, not just black and white.


Repeat this process as you add other elements.  Remember, the further away objects are in space, the more atmospheric perspective, so be sure to reduce the contrast of distant objects and paint over them with low-opacity layers of white and blue.

That's It!
You now have the basics of photo-manipulation for matte painting and are ready to experiment with your own awesome surreal scenes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Matte Painted Space Scenes

I've spent the past five years training to become a professional graphic designer and photographer, but for a while I was almost converted to the alluring vocation of digital matte painter!  Dreams of freelancing for Hollywood or scientific journals never came to fruition as my love for graphic design and photography was too great to give up, but I did have an adventure building an astronomy illustration portfolio.

I began astronomy matte painting my first year of college. I hadn't yet obtained college drawing and painting courses, so my attempts at digital painting and drawing were rudimentary.  I also didn't have much of an image library to incorporate (matte painting isn't all painting--there's a good deal of photo manipulation as well). 

I struggled with just the rendering of a single star or planet so much that my compositions were simple.  But never the less, I hit the books, practiced like nuts and I observed the real world with a sketchbook (building up my drawing skills and compositional skills). I also brought my camera and began building my own stock library of clouds, rocks, textures, skies and landscapes.

The following year my images improved by leaps and bounds.  After all that sketching practice, my compositions were improving and after college drawing and painting classes, my rendering and detail skills sky rockted. I had also built up a sizable image library which let me texture my paintings as well as depict detailed landscapes in half the time of painting the entire scene.


My third year I was in full swing.  I now could draw whatever I wanted and my painting skills weren't far behind (at the very least, I could block in shapes and colors and then overlay my photos for details and textures). I might not have been up to Hollywood snuff, but I was finally a matte painter.

My process had changed drastically. This work-in-progress gives you a glimpse of how all my newer images started as little graphite sketches that I scanned in and then colored with digital painting. This image is the "in-between" stage where I have blocked in all major details with painting, painted the main planet and rings, and begun overlaying my photos for added depth, detail and realism.


My image library now included thousands of landscapes, skies and rocks.  This image above uses two photos I took of the Royal Gorge in Colorado. The star field was textured with very transparent layers of rock and cloud photos.  The moons were textured with close-ups of various rock and lichen surfaces.

Every star in this image was painted and the galaxy arm was digitally "airbrushed."  The asteroids are actually volcanic rocks that can fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. 

2012 was my last productive year for astronomy matte painting. For three years space scenes were my domante personal project and I devoted every day to at least a few minutes of painting time. But in 2013 my courses intensified and I had to dedicate myself to graphic design, photography and mass communications. 

However, in my advanced graphic design class one of my assignments included cover designs for a student literary magazine using artwork of our choice.  I jumped on the opportunity to revisit astro illustration and developed these three artworks.

This image used five different Colorado images blended together with digital painting.  The planets, cirrus clouds and birds were painted from scratch.

I only had a week to create three illustrations while balancing other homework such as photo assignments, history papers and feature story interviews, so I didn't get to incorporate the same level of detail as the 2012 images.  But by this time I was a fast sketcher and conceptual thinker so the compositions did not suffer, at least.

This illustration incorporated multiple cloud photos that needed a lot of painting and levels adjustment to blend correctly.  The planets and aliens were scratch-painted.

A mock-up of the final covers that were proposed to the client.

It's been nearly two full years since my last astronomy illustrations and while I am still married to a career in visual communications using graphic design and photography, I do miss the challenge and the relaxation of matte painting. Maybe it's time to dive back in for a little personal astro work.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Retouching for Promotional Photos



Images are a powerful component of promotion and marketing communications and today I'll share a few tips from my process for bringing out the best in your photos. But keep in mind that promotional photos for your client's website and promotional photos for a newspaper or a news magazine are two different animals. A heavy-handed use of the following techniques are better for branding photos and a softer touch is much better for newsworthy images.

Let's Begin

I always start my process with a global adjustment, starting with a crop,  cloning out offenders (in this case a bit of lamp poking from the top of the frame) and a lighting adjustment with Curves or Levels.  

When adjusting the Curves or Levels, I'm not only looking to make a well-lit image, but to create nice contrast. I want my whites to be pure snowy and my blacks to be true black.  

In Levels, I adjust the overall brightness with the middle grey arrow slider, then deepen my blacks with the black arrow slider and pop my whites with the white arrow slider.  I do prefer Levels over Curves for this sort of adjustment as Levels affects the tones of your image--Curves affects both the tones and the color, which may make it a better or worse choice depending on the effect you want.

Guide the Eye With Light

Ansel Adams was a master of the dodge and burn techniques and he used it as a post-production method for guiding his viewer's eye around the image. Our eyes are drawn to the bright areas in an image, so you too can use light areas to highlight your subjects and dark areas to frame the subjects.


Photoshop has dodge and burn tools, but they are highly destructive (they'll make your images grainy and discolored) so I'll show you a safer, non-destructive method.  Start by adding a new layer and setting this layer to Overlay blending mode.

Now grab your paint brush, set it to a big, fuzzy brush with a low opacity (try the 10-25 percent range) and lightly brush white and black. When the layer is set to Overlay blending mode like this, you won't see the actual white and black of your paint, but you will notice that your image gets brighter where you paint white and darker where you paint black.  Above I have set my layer to normal blending mode just to show you where I applied my blacks and whites.


You next step is draw attention away from distracting areas by painting them darker. This is a handy technique for when you are working on promotional photos that will be sent to a newspaper since news publications don't like to publish photos that have been cloned. This way the items are there, but they aren't distracting.

Draw attention away by painting on a new layer with a low opacity brush and experiment with changing the layer's blending mode from Normal to Overlay or another mode of your choice.

A Special Touch
This next technique and the final step in this tutorial is a special process of mine. You don't need it to create successful promo photos, but I find it is a nice way to add a little pop, boost the clarity and create richer black and white images too. I'll introduce you to my friend, the High Pass filter.

Make a copy of your background layer and drag the copy all the way to the top of your layers. Apply the High Pass filter and experiment with the settings. I find that less is more with the High Pass filter and for this image I only used 8.8 as the pixel setting. Click OK and set your High Pass layer's blending mode to Overlay.

Ta-da! Below shows a before and after demonstrating the change in tones, clarity, contrast and greater illusion of sharpness. I also find this technique to be a great touch for black and white images as it mimics silver gelatine or tintype prints.

Great for Black and White
This process is the basic foundation of what I use to create black and white images for promotion (it's also great for fine art images if you really play with the intensity).  The High Pass filter and a greater amount of Overlay dodge and burn are more crucial in black and white in order to create truly glowing images.  Of course, there's a lot more to black and white processing than that, but now you have enough technique to create much better images than if you set your camera to BW mode.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Personal Illustration Sneak Peek - OMAN Lyrics

As a personal project, I've been dabbling in illustration for the Of Monsters and Men lyrics.  This weekend's illustration was for the song "Six Weeks."

The Process of Graphic Design

My graphic design process involves brainstorming, note-taking, sketching and then digital design exploration.  Here is a glimpse into the latter part of my process.  Experiments for a new flier at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.


The two panels on the left and middle are the originals by another designer.