I’ve been reading a couple of books on art and drawing technique, and spending some time each day sketching on my lap board. Most of these sketches are really just doodles, and I’ve been concentrating on particular patterns and technique, rather than making any real effort at design. But I’ve been finding that interesting designs are emerging nevertheless, with no particular effort or conscious thought on my part. The background of the sketch below started with my copying the design of a piece of molding from a photo I had taken in the chapel at Les Invalides in Paris (site of Napoleon’s tomb). Then I began adding random other elements, with no intention of creating a unified piece. But when I looked at the page, I felt it suggested a sense of the past, and I thought of the lyrics to “Yesterday” as a set of text. The lettering style is just something I had been playing with recently, and wasn’t chosen for any special reason.
This actually violates one of my usual practices, in that I try to avoid using copyrighted text – but since I have no plans to sell this piece, perhaps the Beatles lawyers won’t come after me. The original sketch was just done on white inkjet paper. I scanned a piece of banana fiber paper and then overlaid the sketch in Photoshop to give it a little more texture, and more of a finished appearance.
The books I’ve been reading, by the way, are Bert Dodson’s Keys to Drawing with Imagination, and Trudy Friend’s Artist’s Complete Problem Solver. Both are full of examples and suggested exercises – good resources for a person like myself with relatively little formal art training.
I’ll wrap up my discussion of the Sickel lettering design for Asbury Park with a couple of additional examples that show how the broad strokes of this lettering style give us an advantage for photographic effects.
Here I’ve taken one of my photos of the roofline of the old Casino complex and turned it into a line drawing using the Photoshop “Find Edges” filter. I then used the same lettering as in the first postcard (see Postcards from Asbury Park – part 1) as a mask to let some of the color from the original color photo come through.
This one, obviously, is two separate photos. The background shell image is from my personal stock library, and the second was a beach scene made during the July 24 Photo Walk. I used a wavy version of the Asbury Park lettering to mask that second photo and layered it over a faded version of the shells.
I could as easily have used a font, rather than designing my own letters for these cards, of course. A font like Arial Black would also give me nice heavy strokes, but it wouldn’t be as distinctive – someone else could easily produce the same look. The combination of my own lettering with my photos gives the cards a unique look that hopefully would distinguish them from others on the rack.
I’ll have to decide now whether to actually do a commercial print run of any of these – it’s probably too late in the summer vacation season to do it for this year – if you have a favorite, please use the comment button or the contact form to let me know.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to take a three-day intensive workshop on working with vellum (calfskin), taught by noted Irish calligrapher Denis Brown. I haven’t gotten around yet to doing much with what I learned, but I did come home from the workshop with a little 5×8 miniature that I did during the class. It’s been sitting on the corner of my drawing board for three months, waiting for me to get around to doing something about framing it. Today I decided that, if I couldn’t get a physical frame done, I could at least use Photoshop to do a little faux-framing to help me decide what final treatment I want to use. Here’s the piece, as it would look float-framed in a shadowbox treatment:
To give a few more details about the piece itself, the material is “slunk” calfskin vellum, which is a skin taken from a stillborn calf. The quality of this particular skin and its preparation is extremely high, and the skin is quite translucent. To take advantage of the translucence, I mounted a piece of watercolor paper to the piece of plywood that the skin would be stretched on, and on that I painted a background of extra leaves for the “bush.” The skin was then stretched and glued on top of the background, so that the final piece has a little of a three-dimensional feel. The calligraphy and decoration were done in gouache.
Continuing with the previous post on lettering (More on Lettering and Calligraphy), I promised to give some examples of how the draft versions of the Sickel lettering might be used with some of my photos from the Asbury Park photo walk. I decided I would develop a series of postcards, and see which I liked best. Here’s the first example:
The reflection effect was mostly based on an article by Corey Barker in the March 2010 issue of Photoshop User magazine. It involves adding a gradient to the lettering, then duplicating and flippling the duplicate layer to get the reflection, and masking and blending the “reflection” to allow it to blend into the water and disappear as the reflection gets further from the main title. I added the trick of distorting the reflection so that the reflection widens as it gets closer to the viewer.
Doing a self-critique here, I think the Sickel design doesn’t work as well as I’d like for this effect, as the descenders in the “y” and “p” cause the main part of the reflection to be too far from the main title. I might want to change the lettering to an all-caps style, or modify my Sickel design to eliminate these descenders if I were really going to use this design.
After some private feedback from a fellow member of cyberscribes (see my blogroll for a link), I was prompted to play around with the idea of having some text in the water of the “Zen stones” piece. This required a little re-thinking about the layering and filtering of the image and text in Photoshop, but here’s the result of the first experiment:
There would be multiple challenges with this idea. First, there’s the danger of losing the character of the calligraphy if I distort it too much with the Photoshop “Ripple” filter. Then there’s a technical detail issue: the Ripple filter is 8-bits, whereas I try to do all my image processing in 16-bit mode until I’m ready to publish or post. For reduced-size web images like I’m doing here, it will probably never matter, but in a 12×18 or larger print, there may be some small impact on quality. And most importantly, there’s the design issue of dominance. My feeling in combining text with photos is usually that “less is more;” in other words, I probably don’t want text too many places in the photo, so if I decide to incorporate, say, a quotation in the water, I’d probably want to limit myself to only a few words among the stones. Photos and text always compete with each other for dominance of the viewer’s attention, so I need to decide what amount of text (and what placement) is right for the overall feel of the piece. More food for thought.
Hopefully, I’ll eventually post a completed product for the Zen Stones piece. For now, I’ll probably just respond to comments, if any, and go on to another topic in the next post.
Sometimes I capture a photographic image that just seems to cry out for some words, but I don’t always know what words the image is seeking. Here’s an image I made at the reflecting pool in the courtyard of the North Carolina Museum of Art during a visit last April:
I loved the “Zen” feel of this photo, and have been thinking for several months now about how I could best use it with some text. One thought is to use some Photoshop trickery to paint or incise some words on the individual stones. With a little work with the Bevel and Emboss tools, it’s possible to make a pretty convincing fake. Here’s an example, just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:
Maybe some of you might have ideas about a nice short quote or a set of words that would go well with this image. Please give me your comments!
By the way, if you’d like to make a quick virtual visit to the NCMoA, a set of my photos from my April visit is on my flickr stream here: