Is it time to really learn Photoshop?

Children’s book illustrators increasingly are using Photoshop to bring their images into the “final art” stage.

Photoshop files are the raw materials for building interactive digital books for the iPad and smart phones.  In a previous post Ezra Weinstein,  publisher of InteractBooks discussed the need for Photoshop layers from illustrators.

Here in the above video abstract artist Steve Connor discusses uses of Photoshop and different ways to learn the program that is fairly oceanic in applications and features and, Steve suggests, becoming a part of everyday work and life.

Yes,  the cameramen should be fed more tranquilizers — or go out and get a tripod for his Kodak Zi8 camera. (We’re working on the problem.)

Meanwhile  Steve, who teaches art and multimedia at ITT Technical Institute and other campuses in Austin does great in the interview.  Trained in the fine arts at Syracuse University and Pratt Institute, he worked as a designer and an art director for advertising agencies,  corporate marketing departments and in his own creative services agency in the San Francisco Bay area.  He teaches a wide range of design, media-editing  and publishing programs including InDesignIllustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, 3ds Max and Premiere. He also provides online training and consulting. You can read about him and the  beautiful compositions (lyrical abstractions) that he creates on his website and blog.

Steve has put up a short and easy  survey,  Learning Digital Media to determine what you would most like to learn from an online Photoshop class series and he’d appreciate any of your responses on it.

For participating,  you can watch his  video lesson,  Bare Bones Intro to Photoshop.

Roughly 15 minutes long, it shows how to work with layers, the brush tool, shapes and effects. This will  help you get started — no matter what edition of Photoshop you have. 

Actually, Steve says that even if you don’t answer the easy questions on the survey, you’re still welcome to see  his  video. You’re asked to register with your name and e-mail address to see the lesson. But otherwise it’s free.  Watch the lesson.

Sign up to watch the replay of Steve’s 90 minute online tutorial:  An Intro to Photoshop Art-Making: Vector and Paint.  (It’s excellent!)

But your responses on the  survey will help Steve put together a course that might be exactly what you’ve been looking for in a Photoshop education.

Here are those links again:

Survey:  Learning Digital Media

Video Lesson Presentation: Bare Bones Intro to Photoshop

 An Intro to Photoshop Art-Making: Vector and Paint

Then there’s WordPress

Speaking of tech trainings,  Erik Kuntz of Austin gave a fantastic presentation to our Marks and Splashes students last week.

He showed us different ways to build picture galleries on our WordPress and WordPress.com blogs.  He covered lots  more in his offhand conversation and answers to our questions during the session.

A web comics creator, writer,  illustrator and website developer for small and large businesses, Erik has long championed WordPress as a most plausible web platform for artists and other creative people.

So there’s a survey up for him, too, because he’s considering putting together a series of trainings,  WordPress for Artists. Tell him what you’d like to see in informal trainings for WordPress and his other software specialties, Corel PainterAdobe Illustrator and Manga Studio for cartoonists, graphic novel artists and children’s book illustrators. Take Erik’s WordPress survey.

Austin SCBWI Conference Photos

Books, Boots and Buckskin, the 2011 regional conference of the Austin Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators was a happy success, thanks to the many chapter volunteers, extraordinary presenters and faculty and the wonderful  historical campus with its intimate theater auditorium and state of the art presentation rooms.

The conference was hosted by St. Edwards University, which provided the gorgeous setting and wonderful support staffand InteractBooks.com —  an Austin, Texas-based  publisher of interactive children’s picture book apps and a developer of software building tools for iPad and mobile phone book and rich media content apps.

David Diaz

Caldecott Medal winning illustrator David Diaz illustrates a scene from a manuscript by one of the conference attendees.  He’s illustrating on the back of a door bought from Home Depot.

He’s joined by Austin SCBWI assistant regional adviser Carmen Oliver and illustrator Clint Young.

David Diaz’s completed illustration on the back of a door.  See more photos from the conference.

A new milieu for an old art form: Erik Kuntz and a spellbinding (kid-friendly) “Hex Libris”

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Who is the creature lurking in the library in Erik’s Webcomic? I think I know, and I’ve entered Erik’s contest, but I can’t share my guess with anyone. But I will say this much — it’s a character from a book we know. After all, the strip is Hex Libris, in which Kirby, the main character is charged with taking care of a ginormous enchanted library. 

Ever read a novel that just comes to life before your eyes? Well, Hex Libris seizes that theme and runs down the field in an unexpected direction with it. The webcomic by designer- writer Erik Kuntz of Austin, Texas began as a New Year’s resolution. So did his illustration blog A Dog a Day Project  that features Erik’s unstop able canine imagery — with doggy bites of daily commentary.  But that’s a subject for a future post. 

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Erik was thinking of the classic Nancy Drew stories of the 1950’s, mulling  how they compared to and contrasted with the Nancy Drew graphic novels being created for today’s teens.

“I wondered, ‘What if there was a place where characters could wander out of their books?’ ” Erik says. “‘And what would happen if the real Nancy Drew ran into the punky Manga style Nancy Drew?'”

Our hero Kirby meets them both as a result of his new archival responsibilities. And so it is inevitable that the trio and who knows who else (stay tuned…) join forces to solve a mystery or two.

Kirby’s story unfolds in  semi-weekly panels that move us cleanly, easily — even sweetly —  through space and time.  We care about Kirby and Amy (a girl who likes him) and teen girl detective Connie Carter ( the “original” Nancy Drew) and even the little old lady (or is she a witch?) who leases Kirby the uptown apartment that, somehow, magically contains a Library of Congress-like basilica within its tiny walls.

Erik hatched the idea at last year’s Summer Arts Workshop at California State University. He studied comics and animation in the summer program.  He knows and adores comics.  He’s studied under Scott McCloudthe author of Understanding Comics, Re-inventing Comics and other titles all about the ‘language’ of an art form that goes back to well, let’s just say paintings on cave walls. 

One of the teachers at the summer workshop, comic book writer-illustrator Trina Robbins encouraged Kuntz to see it through  — his Hex Libris storyline.

“I’ve done so much study over the last few years as to what makes a comic a comic as opposed to an illustrated story,” Erik says. “It’s a constant struggle between what needs to be put in the picture and what needs to be said ‘out loud’ in words.”  For inspiration, he looks to the late “father of MangaOsamu Tezuka and the late  E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye and Thimble Theatre.

Kimba the White Lion  was my favorite show as a kid,” Kuntz says. “It was cartoony without being overly simple.”

“I like the older style of newspaper comics, where the adventure strips had a more realistic look.”
As much as he enjoys comic books,  Erik says, “it’s the comic pages in the Sunday paper that I most enjoy and try to emulate here — their sequential nature and the art style and sense of humor — especially from the 1940s to the 1950s, where they could work bigger and there was more possibility.” 

Alas, the gorgeous graphics of Prince Valiant (Gary Gianni carries on with the storybook imagery first created by Hal Foster in 1937) and For Better or for Worse  (Lynn Johnston) have been scrunched to near-insignificance as newspapers continue to shrink their content. 

Newspapers themselves seem to be folding (no pun intended) as a mainstream media and the ultimate cartoon delivery vehicle. But perhaps the World Wide Web can do for the old newspaper “funny pages” what Manga has done for comic book and graphic novel publishing.

“I think every artist who does children’s or cartoony stuff would do well to look at the web as an opportunity.” Kuntz says. “There is a huge number of people publishing strips. Often the content is poor. You won’t ‘get’ it if you weren’t out drinking with the cartoonist and his friends the night before. Other webstrips cater to extremely specific readers, such as Penny-Arcade.com.  “If you don’t know anything about video games, you’ll be mystified by the strip,” he says. 

“There is a stunning amount of good work out there. There are quite a few brilliant child-friendly comics.  More kids are reading comics on the Web. Half of them are newspaper strips in syndication — the traditional old newspaper strips like Calvin and Hobbes, which is being run again and again on the Web. That’s where kids go now to read Calvin and Hobbes.  My browser opens all the comics I want to read each day in tabs. I don’t read them in the newspaper any more.

“I decided some while back that the Web would be an ideal way for me to do an old fashioned serial strip.  It’s an inexpensive way to put work out there and a much easier way to get in front of somebody. With the Web and the 2.0 social networking, everyone’s sharing things, pointing their discoveries out to each other.  It’s a new milleu. It’s an old art form, but a different way of delivering it.

Some cartoonists endeavor to make an income from their sites. “The business model is web advertising, or accepting donations or sale of merchandize, such as T-shirts, mugs or print versions of their work. Others are willing to do it for free,  for the artistic expression or to have an online portfolio or as just another way of posting,” Erik says. “It’s an interesting way to get people to your site. ”

 February panel of \

 He begins by writing a synopsis of what’s going to happen in the chapter, without the dialogue.

“With a serial strip, just like in the Sunday funny papers, you kind of need to have a stop every day. You want each page of the comic to be a beat  Each one has to be a sort of mini cliff hanger. And each chapter must have its own arc. That’s the other thing I work with to get right.”

Then he sketches in the panel and the individual frames. Once upon a time it was pencil on paper. “But now I’m working directly on the computer, starting with rough sketches in Corel Painter using my Wacom Cintiq tablet monitor,” he says. “To be more precise,  I use Painter’s Mechanical Pencil brush set to a light blue color.”

“They look a lot like my traditional sketches look, since I use a col-erase blue to do my roughs on paper,” he says.  “I’m most of the way done with this roughing, I have some poses to adjust, some faces to finish and I’ve got to fix the perspective on the backgrounds, which are currently just scribbled in.  Oh, and I need a background in the final panel. Painter has a perspective grid,  which is useful for simple 2-point perspective, so I’ll be using that to get the kitchen sorted properly.”

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Erik’s ‘pencil rough’ for the March 13 panel of “Hex Libris”, except he’s done it digitally, using the “mechanical pencil” brush  (set to blue) in Corel Painter.  

“I stay with Painter through the inking process. Then I bring the whole thing into Illustrator to do the lettering. Once in a while when I’m out and about with my sketchbook, I capture a pose I want to use and scan that in and mix it in with my computer sketches.

“When I ink, I use a variety of Painter’s Ink Pen brushes — mostly the Smooth Round Pen one. For the next one, I’m going to experiment with the tools that more closely imitate traditional comics inking brushes. It’ll be looser and I am not certain whether I’ll like it. I’ll know in a day or two when I get to the inking.”

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Erik incorporates a slight shading  – a barely perceptible yellow layer — behind his “inked” panels.  The off-white tinge “warms up” the strip and maybe subconsciously evokes the nostalgia of newsprint, Erik believes. “That kind of pulls it together for me,” he says.

He imbeds his URL on the bottom left and his copyright information on the bottom right. 

Erik and his wife, writer-actress-comedian Maggie Gallant own 2 Bad Mice Design in Austin, Texas. He teaches classes (for children and adults) in animation, digital art and digital cartooning at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.  The “Hex Libris” webcomic can be found at http://hexlibriscomic.com/

Mark Mitchell writes for How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator and The Admiral’s Blog    An award-winning author illustrator, he also teaches classes (for adults) in children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.