Graphic botanicals

One of the plants we brought home to New Jersey from my mother’s collection was an heirloom Angelwing Begonia. Mom got her plant as a cutting from one of her mother’s plants, and there seems to be some family lore that suggests Grandma got it from her mother. I think the Angelwing Begonia was first hybridized around 1926, so that could be about right to support the oral tradition. Mom had propagated numerous cuttings of her original plant, and after she died, my brother was trying to make sure everyone knew where they came from, and to send a plant home with each member of the family. Recently I was using this plant as a model for my continuing study of botanical art, sketching with colored pencils. After I sketched the plant, I was playing around with the word “Angelwing” with my brush, and decided I’d like to combine the sketch with the lettering. Here’s the current layout:

If you have thoughts about other ways to combine these two elements, I’d welcome your comments!

Creating a sketch effect in Photoshop

Note: This post assumes familiarity with Photoshop.

In my previous post, I showed a sketch portrait of my granddaughter Anna, created in Photoshop. There are lots of applications for this kind of effect – for example, in this case, I might want to use the sketch to make a printed birth announcement. Sometimes, too, an artistic rendering of a photograph can allow you to save a photo that would otherwise be too technically imperfect to use. In the case of my photo of Anna, for example, I loved the shot, but I was shooting in very dim hospital room lighting without a flash, resulting in a 1/10 second exposure time. I didn’t have a tripod there, so the shot was handheld, resulting in a photo with motion blur. Here’s the overall shot:

And here’s a close-up that allows you to see the blur I’m talking about:

That double line along her nose is due to my shaking hands as I shot the photo at 1/10 second. To non-photographers, it may seem insignificant, but this amount of motion blur would be at least slightly visible in even a small print, and would certainly prevent the shot being used for 8×10′s or larger.

There are lots of ways to produce a sketch effect in Photoshop, but I’ll just describe what I did. First, I converted the image to black and white, using the Image menu:

This brings up a set of sliders which allows control of the conversion. Since my image had a lot of red, yellow, and blue (from the skin and clothing), I adjusted those sliders to give me a B&W image with the desired contrast and tone. Here are the slider settings, along with a portion of the resulting conversion:

Next, I wanted to add the art effect. I started out by using the Watercolor filter:

with these settings:

I experimented with other settings, of course, but what I found was that this filter deepens the shadows too much for any higher Shadow Intensity setting, and higher values for Texture gave me too much of a “spatter” effect. I kept the Brush Detail at 1 simply because that’s what it took in order to give a little of a non-photograph look. Here’s what I got from this filter:

You can see that not many of the details are yet being affected. I wasn’t happy with the sketch effect yet, so I moved on to the Dry Brush filter:

which gave me this:

Better, but still not enough. Next, duplicated the image into a second layer (Command-J on the Mac), and applied the Find Edges filter (Filter>Stylize>Find Edges), which gave me this:

Too much! So now I simply adjusted the Opacity of this layer in Photoshop, so that the previous Dry Brush-filtered image could show through:

and that gave me the effect I was looking for:

I should note a couple of points for those who may be trying to do something similar on their own: First, the details of the appropriate filter settings will depend in part on the size and resolution of the image file you’re working with. In my case, I was using a 12 megapixel image from my Nikon D300. You’ll have to adjust the various filter sliders to your own case. And second, note that I probably didn’t have to use all three of the filters. Since the Watercolor filter had such a small effect at the settings I chose, I probably could have skipped it. And finally, don’t take the settings I describe above literally – my original result show here was done just for this blog, and I didn’t write down my settings. When I decided this morning to write this tutorial, I went back and tried to re-create my work, but I probably was off a little. Experiment on your own, and have fun!

Great things

From the sketch pad last week:

I’m not sure about that attribution of the quote. I gave it to Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) because we have some wallpaper that includes the quote, and the title of the pattern is something like Johnny Appleseed Prayer.

The great thing that has happened to me this past week is that I became a grandfather to little Anna. She seems so tiny, even though she’s probably slightly above average in size for a three-day old infant – how quickly we forget. Anita and I are enjoying our chance to get to know her, and she’s being quickly taught that her grandfather will have a camera in her face a lot of the time. Here’s her Photoshop sketch portrait:

The sketch was done by a black and white conversion (Image>Adjust>Black and White), followed by a couple of filters (Watercolor and Drybrush). I then duplicated the image in a second layer and used the Find Edges filter, and reduced the opacity of that layer until I was happy with the overall result.

Welcome to the family, Anna!


Following up on the photo in the previous post, I was playing around today with sketching hosta blooms in my sketchbook. Here’s my sketch, in pencil, ink, and colored pencil (title lettering done with the Pentel brush pen):

I have a ways to go before considering myself a botanical artist. This kind of sketching is a challenge for me, because it requires that you see things in such detail. You start to draw a leaf, thinking of it only as a green oval shape, and then you see that, no, the tip is turned up, and you’re seeing two surfaces at once on the same leaf. You start sketching the petals of the bloom, and you realize that they overlap each other in a very particular order. And when you’re sketching from a photo, as I was doing here, you have to mentally translate from a two-dimensional view of the plant to a three-dimensional model in your mind, and then pick which lines and contours you will draw in order to turn in back into a two-dimensional sketch.

A Cyberscribes (see link at right) acquaintance, Bonnie Noehr, recently posted that she was taking summer courses on botanical drawing. I thought this was intriguing, so I asked her for further information. She’s taking her class in Woodside, California (a little far for someone living in New Jersey), but she sent me this link listing classes in a variety of locations. With our first grandchild due any day now, I’m not sure I’ll get around to the classes this year, but it’s one more idea for the “someday” list.

Bonnie, by the way, is a past winner in the Graceful Envelope contest. You can see her winning envelope here.

Deer refugees

Hostas are like deer candy. My mother had dozens of hostas of different varieties in her garden, and the plants around the perimeter of the garden always seemed to get eaten down to nubs by the deer each spring and summer. We’ve had a similar problem here most years; a couple of years ago, though, we got a recommendation for a particular fertilizer that deer supposedly hate, and that seems to be helping. Since the plants are in full bloom now, this morning I felt motivated to capture some pictures of our deer refugees before our luck runs out. Here’s one:

Of course, it may just be that this year, the weather has been so wet that the deer have found plenty to eat in the woods without venturing into our yard – but I’ll continue to hope that we’ve found the answer.

Independence Day

We usually go to the local fireworks display over the 4th of July weekend, but this year it was on July 3rd, and we were having local thunderstorms until very close to the time for the show, so we decided to skip it. But it seems they went ahead anyway, despite our absence, if I can believe the barrage of explosions I heard around 9:00 that night. Today I regretted not having gone, and decided to set myself a task of creating an Independence Day piece as a substitute for the first-hand celebration.

Having gone, camera in hand, to the fireworks display so many times in the past meant that I had lots of fireworks pictures on hand, so I composited several of them together in Photoshop to make up my background. I then dug into my quotes files and searched the Internet for quotes on independence, freedom, and liberty, and created a page of quotes, along with some headlines. I colored my quotes with colors sampled from the fireworks display, and then faded it into the background, before adding some headline title text to the foreground.

Here’s the finished product:

For those who’d like to be able to read the quotes a little easier, here’s the original quotes page:

I can see a lot of little imperfections to criticize, and will probably make some improvements to the piece if I decide to actually use it for anything other than this blog, but it was a fun project for the day. Hope you all had a great 4th.

ADDENDUM: We decided to run out for a celebratory hot dog in the evening, and discovered that we were wrong – they cancelled the fireworks on the 3rd and postponed them until the 4th. So we found ourselves stuck in the middle of a huge traffic jam, both on the local streets, and in the parking lot of the Jerzee Freeze. We could have stayed and watched the fireworks then, I guess, but there were no parking spots left, so we just came home. We were rewarded, though, by a spectacular crimson sunset just as we turned onto our road. Nice end to the holiday.