Thursday, August 5, 2021

My favorite Photoshop tips and shortcuts

Hi everyone! Robin here. I love working digitally. It’s like having a super power. Duplicate! Transform! Undo! I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop for a while, and I am totally delighted when I learn a new tip or shortcut that changes the way I work, saves me time and frustration, and makes me a better illustrator.

Here are some of my all-time favorite Photoshop tips and shortcuts, and some great tips from my fellow illustrators. (Feel free to add your favorites in the comments.)

A spread from A GIRL LIKE ME, by Angela Johnson, illustrations by Nina Crews, 2020, Millbrook Press, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. Nina originally had about 35 layers in this file. You can learn more about her process here.


When you need to organize and find your layers....

Author-illustrator Nina Crews says, “Working in layers is one of my favorite features of Photoshop. With layers, I can add, move, adjust or take away elements quickly and easily. This allows me to take chances and push things around more than I might otherwise.” I wholeheartedly agree! Layers are magical, but things can get messy and confusing very quickly. Here are some tips to get a handle on those millions of layers in your file.

1. Name your layers: “A Photoshop file with a lot of layers can become pretty unwieldy, so it is important to label and organize as you go along,” says Nina. “If you double click on the layer name you can edit it.”

2. Group your layers: Nina also suggests grouping your layers to better organize the elements in your image. For example, you might want to put each of your characters in a separate group. Select the layers you want to group — hold down the command key to select multiple layers — then click on the folder icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

3. “Collapse all groups”: You can find this in the flyout menu of the Layers panel. (It’s the menu you see when you click on the hamburger icon in the top right corner.) This is a quick way to close all of your groups of layers at once. 

4. Right-click on the image to find your layer: This is my FAVORITE SHORTCUT OF ALL TIME. Make sure the Move tool is selected then right-click on your image. You will get a drop-down menu with all the layers that are under your cursor and you can select the layer you need. Game changer.

Here’s a video of the right-click layers trick. The image is from TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, by Gabi Snyder, illustrated by me.


This file has about 160 layers! Here I am right-clicking on the image while the Move tool is selected in order to access the various layers under my cursor. (Image from TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, by Gabi Snyder, Illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, Abrams.)

When you want to organize your colors....

Creative Cloud Color Libraries: This was another game changer for me. HUGE. I learned about Color Libraries from illustrator Teresa Bonaddio a few years ago when I asked Kidlit Twitter for help with organizing my color swatches in Photoshop. Thanks, Teresa! (Note: I think you need Creative Cloud to use this feature.)

Color Libraries provide a very clear way to organize your colors. You can create swatches, name them, and group them in folders by project, character, or however you like. You can also change the order they appear in your list, move them from one group to another, duplicate them, and edit them.

This tutorial on the Adobe site can help you get started:

https://helpx.adobe.com/indesign/using/creative-cloud-libraries-sync-share-assets.html


For the BIG IDEAS FOR LITTLE PHILOSOPHERS series, I created a color library for the series, and then a group for the swatches in each book. You can display your library as swatches (left) or in a list (right) and name, edit, and move them.


When you want to change colors quickly and easily….

Color Overlay: I color almost all of my artwork using the Color Overlay. Color Overlay allows you to change the color of any layer instantly. I love this feature because I can fiddle around with colors up until the end of the project, iterate quickly, and easily change one item without affecting others. I prefer to right-click on a swatch in my Color Library and select Color Overlay to change my layer to that color, but you can also select your layer then select Color Overlay from the fx flyout menu at the bottom of your Layers panel.

(This works if you have elements of your illustration on separate layers, and I suspect maybe there are quite a few of us who do this. Also I think some illustrators maybe do this with masks somehow? Let me know in the comments.)

Here's a video that shows Color Overlay in action. (This is a little lizard I drew for Parents magazine.)




When you want a more flexible way to erase…

Mask instead of erase: Author-illustrators Jen Betton Rogers and Debbie Ohi both agree: use masks, don’t erase. When you use masks, you are not permanently erasing something, just hiding it. Debbie says, “I use masks instead of erasing. The non-destructive edit makes it possible for me to change my mind later.” Okay this is really cool and it never occurred to me. You can read more about how to do this here:

https://design.tutsplus.com/tutorials/quick-tip-layer-mask-vs-the-eraser-tool-in-adobe-photoshop--cms-24392

When you want to iterate quickly….

Symmetry mode: I love to use this feature when I am developing characters and making lots of small changes to get a character just right. You can find the Symmetry mode by clicking on the butterfly icon in the Options bar along the top of the screen, and you can use it with the Paint Brush, Pencil, and Eraser tools. It's really fun to play with!

A still of the Symmetry mode in action. Here I am using it to iterate character designs for Plato.

Here’s a video of me developing Plato for LOVE WITH PLATO using the Symmetry tool.


When you need some straight lines…

Use a ruler on top of your tablet! A clear one works best. I came across this great tip while watching a video Gina Perry made about her illustration process. Thank you, Gina! Here's the video: https://youtu.be/sgMbpnTWDHQ

When your artwork is big and your scanner is little...

Photomerge: Writer-illustrator Shawna Galey Avanessian says, “I have a pretty good scanner but it’s not a very big scanner. With Photomerge I can paint large illustrations and still get a full scan.” 

Here's how to use it: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/create-panoramic-images-photomerge.html

When your scanned or resized art feels a little soft…

Unsharp Mask: I first learned about Unsharp Mask from this Cargo post about thumbnails (scroll down to the bottom), but I’ve found this filter really useful for scanned art and resized art to just give it a little more crispness. You can find it in the Filter Menu > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask.

I usually do: Amount: 25%-50%, Radius: 1-2 pixels, Threshold: 0 levels. The Cargo post recommends some different values now so I’m gonna try those, too (Amount: 65%, Radius: 0.5 pixels, Threshold: 0 levels). They have some other good info about Unsharp Mask in that post as well. 

The following post is about editing photos but it explains Unsharp Mask in depth:

https://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-editing/how-to-sharpen-images-in-photoshop-with-unsharp-mask/

When you want to see all your Photoshop files easily (with bigger thumbnails)…

Adobe Bridge: This is a separate application, but it is free to download and I love using it to find and organize my files for a picture book project. I use Bridge instead of going to a folder on my hard drive to browse and open my files when I need them. You can control the size of the thumbnails so it’s easy to tell what is what. Here are some posts about Bridge:

https://prodesigntools.com/free-adobe-bridge-cc.html

https://helpx.adobe.com/bridge/using/adobe-bridge.html


Here’s my Adobe Bridge window. I can see all the files for IMAGINATION WITH RENÉ DESCARTES very easily and open them directly from Bridge by double-clicking. There’s a slider on the bottom right if I want to change the size of my thumbnails.


And finally, some favorite keyboard shortcuts:

1. Command-J = Duplicate layer. (Via Nina Crews. Thanks, Nina! You can also right-click on a layer in the Layers panel and you will get a flyout menu with lots of options, including Duplicate Layer and Delete Layer.)

2. Command-T = Transform tool

3. Command-Z = Undo 

4. Command-; = Show/Hide Guides

5. Command-S = Save

And you can find some more shortcuts here:

https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/using/default-keyboard-shortcuts.html

If you want to explore more shortcuts I suggest right-clicking on your file when you have different tools selected and see what comes up. Also check out the flyout menus across all the different panels. You may discover some cool stuff there that will save you time. 

Good luck! Let me know your favorite tips and tricks too!

_______________________

Robin Rosenthal is an illustrator and art director. She has illustrated TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE and the BIG IDEAS FOR LITTLE PHILOSOPHERS series of board books. She grew up in Connecticut and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. You can see more of her work at robinrosenthal.com.

Instagram: @robinrosenthal

Twitter: @robinarosenthal

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Just Arting Around

In a creative rut? Me too! Turns out it’s hard to keep the creative energy flowing while living in a social vacuum for a year or so. (Living with an unvaccinated, high risk, immunocompromised family member means this is far from over for us here in our little Ohio home)  Because I couldn’t/can’t  journey out into the world much, I brought the journey into the studio in the form of new media and techniques. Since this has been helping me, I thought I’d bring you along for some art experiments, and a little at home printmaking tutorial. Rut or no rut, I hope you find something fun along the way.

Let’s dip our toes into the unfamiliar. Let's try drawing in a new way, get out materials that don’t “fit” our style and just see where they lead us. There’s no goal except to have fun and maybe catch the creative spark that makes us think, “Oh, yeah! This is why I chose to do this thing!”


Now, I know we don’t all have a ton of time to spend experimenting, but even 15 mins or so could feel like a lot and feed that desire for the new and unexplored.


Here’s a glimpse of things I’ve tried recently:


Using media on surfaces they’re not intended for. Like watercolor pencils and pastels on unprimed canvas. See strange drawing below.



Stuck? Use a stick! Had fun drawing with a big stick dipped in ink. Have to thank the fabulous ladies at https://www.thegoodshipillustration.com/  for that one. I think I actually drew those seed pods and twigs using those same seed pods and twigs :-)




Fabric collage, plus some charcoal, plus a dried flower stem from the vase of dead flowers that I never emptied, turned into this little adventurer. (Used Mod Podge to hold it all down.)



Not really a crazy experiment, just different for me: Using gouache in a bold, flat manner. (ok, so there might also be some watercolor pencil, fabric and pastel in there.)



My most recent, “oh, goody!” moment was learning a way to do intaglio printmaking at home, without a press or metal plates. Thanks to a tutorial from  https://handprinted.co.uk/  I found my way back to printmaking after over a decade away. So, the experience was both new and old, and fabulous. And I have yet to even accomplish a great quality print. What matters is that I was having fun, my brain was waking up and making new connections. And since I loved it so much, here’s a little tutorial so you can try your hand at it too!

What you’ll need at the ready:


  • Tetra Pak - washed and cut open (You know, those boxy cartons you get plant milk or broth in from the dry goods isle.)

  • Scissors and/or exacto blade

  • Etching tool (Anything with a sharp point that isn’t flimsy should work, I used my needle tools that are for carving clay.)

  • Akua Intaglio Ink (I also tried acrylic paint with a medium extender added to keep it wet, it worked okay-ish, but not as well as the ink.)

  • backing board or chipboard cut into small rectangles 

  • Tarleton (or similar e.g. vegetable net. I used cheesecloth, which worked ok, but was maybe a bit too absorbent.)

  • Tissue paper or pages from the phone book

  • Paper to print on (Thick paper is best. I used a hot press watercolor paper, but actual printmaking paper would have a better result.)

  • Tray/baking dish with water to soak paper in

  • Blotting Paper (or tea towel) for blotting your soaked paper

  • Tea towel/rag to use as your printing surface

  • Baking parchment or tracing paper

  • Spoon


One thing I love about using the tetra pak instead of a metal plate, is you can cut them into whatever shape you like or stick with a traditional rectangle. The possibilities are endless!





Once you have your (clean) tetra pak cut into whatever shape you like, use an etching tool (a nail or whatever you’ve got)  to draw your image into the silver surface. Don't forget! It’s going to print in reverse, so plan accordingly.





Wherever you etch a line, that’s where the ink will settle. When you print, your paper will press into the lines slightly, grabbing the ink from the groove.


It’s best to print onto damp paper, so before you start inking your plate is a good time to put it to soak in your tray of water.


Once you have your image, use the edge of a small bit of chipboard or other firm board to wipe some ink across the surface, As you scrape it across, ink gets pressed down into your line work.






Next up! We wipe it, wipe it real good. Well, not too good. Using some kind of mesh material, (traditionally tarleton) you want to gently wipe the surface in a circular motion, not too hard or you may remove ink from the grooves. Wipe until the silver surface starts to show again. 



Finish wiping with tissue paper or phone book pages (You can experiment with how much ink you remove to get different qualities of print. If you leave more ink, it will create an atmospheric but less controlled print.)




Place your inked plate on a non slippery surface like a tea towel that you don’t mind getting inky. (I forgot this part and mine was definitely trying to get away from me.) 


Wipe off the ink that you definitely got all over your hands.




(Ready to print! Now where's a clean surface I can print on?)

Remove your paper from the water and blot it gently so it's no longer dripping.


Lay the damp paper on top of your inked plate, then a sheet of parchment or tracing paper on top of that. (It will help with the rubby spoony bit coming up.)


Now we press like the dickens with the back of a spoon. Make sure you get every part of your print. I found I had to press/rub pretty firmly and for some time. (But, perhaps that’s because of my little bird arms, and the wooden spoon I was using. Metal would probably be best.)


And tada! It is print!



Because I was in experiment mode, both my prints are printed on top of another medium. One is watercolor and graphite, and the other some fabric scraps I had lying about.



And there are even more possibilities with this. You can try your hand at monotype prints on the tetra pak surface or use cutouts more like block prints by just rolling ink on and printing the shape!  Looking back at Handprinted UK's tutorial, I'm reminded that you can even use an exacto blade to cut the surface of the tetra pak and carefully peal back the top layer to reveal a fuzzy layer that holds ink. This will create large, dark areas, similar to aquatint. Definitely check out their original post for more detailed photos and instructions.


Here’s to having fun, letting go, and finding our way back to our creative energy! Hope you all have fun with your experiments.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Tenaya Lena Gunter Brown is an illustrator/author. Born and raised in Oakland, CA, she makes stories and art that speak to our wonder, our connection to each other and the earth under our feet.

 
Find more of her work at https://www.tenayalena.com/


Instagram @tenayalena


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Expressing the Depths of your Heart and Sustaining yourself Economically

 


Cory brought me peonies mixed with chamomile flowers. We stood on my porch and the clouds were grey and heavy with rain, making our city in the desert feel quiet and still. Cory is a professional musician with the San Juan Symphony and works with an independent group of flamenco dancers called Spanish Broom, dancing in a bistro in the Corrales Village adjacent to Albuquerque.


With flowers and an open heart, Cory thought critically out loud about why he's doing what he does.

He ruminated about hearing professional musicians from national orchestras sighing with relief that their work was at a still when the pandemic put a pause to the world. He felt certain that music to him meant more than a job, that there was meaning in creativity. That there was reason to make music outside of professional accolades, and that there had to be a balance between expressing the depths of your heart and sustaining yourself economically.

I wonder a lot, too.  My first book in progress Where Butterflies Fill the Sky (Bloomsbury 2022) is from my deepest heartbreak and anguish. It's about the love I have of people and home and the luck of coming to a city where people treat me as an equal. It's a short expression of a bureaucracy that robbed me of a normal life among my family. Full of symbolism like bulls from ancient Dilmun art as background characters and walking fish to accompany the main character. It's deeply personal, and something which affects my life every single day, still.

Though I wonder if I have anything else to offer as a writer and artist. Another personal story that I can craft into something dream-like? Or something strictly imaginative, creative? Am I able as a person to make a book about toast? Dinosaurs and pancakes? Or is all I have to offer is stories from the margins? How have I come to hold these matters as parallel to each other? I often feel very lighthearted and happy, and wonder how to explore those feelings in my art, while otherwise no matter where I am in the world I have to explain how my fringe belonging fits in society.

I make small, single illustrative watercolor vignettes almost daily to express things like Cory's flowers and honest heart. Or things like “Summers like Boars Far from the Sea” expressing a change of time, change of place, the joy of having a close friend and even witnessing the end this friendship. Playing with reality and imbuing it with imagination.





 
 
Snapping at ideas like a lobster at a butterfly.



Exploring brave figures from cultures I currently reside with, like Cesar Chavez, and thinking of my illiterate grandparents.



Or a friendship like an octopus rolled up in sea shells.




A look at my cousin Abbass when he came across two stray macaws.


 

Exploring the pain of losing a parent and their appearance in a dream.


Trying to figure out how to build these ideas into larger works, like a piano in water, wishing I had been brave enough to go home sooner.




I wonder what club soda really is. What it's like to be a part of a low-rider procession. To be a garlic farmer and what those flowers could look like. If I continually have to betray myself for the comfort of others.


 

Learning that pink dolphins exist in rivers, or translating poetry into art.



Under the weight of locusts and grief, people saw him burn his old coat among the jasmine flowers.” Or reducing the importance of men visually in my Grandma's portrait.






And continually building strength. Rejection after rejection after rejection.



Saturday, May 22, 2021

Picture book master studies

Master Studies. 

As artists, I think most of us have heard the term “master studies” used to train and develop budding artists in different mediums. For those who don’t know, the concept is going to a museum (or studying a high resolution reproduction/digital image) and trying to recreate a painting of a historical artist who was well into their established technique--a master of their painting style. We can learn different things from doing this: composition, color palette, how to use color and dark/light to focus the eye, how they apply the paint, etc. In some museums, there would be days where you could set up your canvas IN the museum and paint/recreate the artwork en plein air.


But how does one do a master study of picture books? I decided to try and find out. 


First, I had to establish parameters. How do I find books to read? How do I find artists? What types of books am I reviewing? I knew that I was specifically interested in studying INTERNATIONAL picture books as opposed to just books in the American market. I started with two books that I purchased when I traveled internationally: one purchased in Italy, one purchased in Japan. Researching these illustrators led me to looking at blogs, international picture book conferences, international picture book journals, and, more specifically, awards and lifetime achievement lists created by these organizations. While awards can be both very politicized and very subjective, most tend to include a jury of peers or industry professionals. I figured this was a good baseline for trying to determine and define a MASTER picture book creator. 

Here’s a selection of sources that I have or will source names of authors/illustrators from:



Second, build a list. You will probably grow your list faster than you are able to research/read books created by these authors or artists. I have a Google Keep list I started to specifically track award-winning international illustrators.


Google keep list of picture book creators

Third, research. This takes a lot of time, but can also be a lot of fun when you go down the rabbit hole. The type of research also comes in multiple forms. When I find an artist I want to study, I first go and see which of their titles are available to be checked out through my local library. Alternatively, if you want to own the books you study, you can see what is available for purchase in your country by that creator. I also try to research the artist online, reading wikipedia entries, interviews, and occasionally stumbling upon a video about the artist and their creations, such as this interview with Satoe Tone.


Fourth, acquire your source material to study. I usually try to check out 2-3 books from an artist if they are available to get a sense of the type of books the author/illustrator creates and just in case the book(s) they are known for are illustrated books that do not fall within my self-determined parameters of “picture book.” I decided that I would focus on books that fell within the parameters of a traditional/classic picture book: larger format with minimal words; approximately 32-48 pages, occasionally slightly longer; not a graphic novel/comic book format; not a board book aimed towards the youngest age range (0-2 years); not a chapter book with illustrations. 


Cover image for La Carota Gigante by Satoe Tone
Cover of La Carota Gigante by Satoe Tone

one interior spread of La Carota Gigante showing rabbits carrying a giant carrot, with handwritten notes below book.
interior spread for La Carota Gigante with my notes in progress



Fifth, study your source material. Read. Read it again. And again. Study it. Thoroughly. This stage loops back to how you define your original parameters: WHAT are you studying within this book? HOW are you tracking what you are studying? 


Cover for Ojos by Iwona Chmielewska
Cover for Ojos by Iwona Chmielewska

Studying the role of die cuts and page turns in the picture book Ojos. The book is open to a spread with one line of text on the lower left hand page and two eyes staring at you from the right hand page.
Studying the role of die cuts and page turns in the picture book, Ojos

The same spread as the previous image, this time with a hand lifting the page and poking a finger through the hole to show the eye shapes cut out of the page on the right hand side.
As you turn the physical page, the die cuts become apparent

The following spread in the book Ojos that reveals a present on the left hand side and two flowers on the right hand side. The center of the two flowers made up the pupils of the original eye image.
Layers unfold in the story when the eyes are revealed to be more than what is expected at first glance.

I originally defined my research project as studying “international picture books” and then my coworker sent me a digital picture book from India. I read it, it was a beautiful book, but in doing so, I realized there was something missing in this book: what I REALLY wanted to study was “international picture books in their tangible, printed format.” I was curious about the decisions on trim size, paper stock, binding types, typefaces and sizes, color palettes, special finishes, and the physical page turn effect of the book. You know, all the geeky, design-oriented decisions that were made in producing the physical product that is a picture book. Just the thing that this geeky graphic designer and illustrator loves. 


I began to document my research in what will probably be my one-and-only meticulously organized sketchbook. I wanted each book study to fill a single page and I broke down my categories to fill in on each page as follows:


  • Sketch of cover art

  • Color palette: what 6(ish) colors were the most dominant in this book?

  • Title: In both original language and English, if possible

  • Author: Who wrote the book?

  • Illustrator: who illustrated the book? Is this the same as the author?

  • Publisher(s): more than one if it’s a translation; you can often find the original publisher name on the copyright page

  • Country/Countries: Where did this book originate and/or where was this creator from and/or where was this translation from? Sometimes they are not the same.

  • Theme: VERY brief summary of what the book is about

  • Pages: length of book

  • Cover: is there a dust jacket? Is there a printed illustration on the case bound books that differs from the dust jacket? Special finishes? 

  • Endsheets: Are these just plain pages of a contrasting color/stock? Are there illustrations on the endsheets that expand on the story?

  • Text: font choice(s)? Font size? Font color? specific/repeating placement on the pages? Are the lines of text broken into poetic stanzas? Are there varying sizes/colors/fonts to emphasize or represent different things?

  • Illustrations: what materials do they use? Is there a recurring pattern to how the illustrations are presented? How many are double-page spreads, single pages, vignettes? 

  • Other: a little information about the artist or awards this book won

  • Translation format: If not printed in English, I typically used Google Translate to comprehend the text well enough to get a sense of the book as a whole. While there is definitely an elegance of words and cadence lost in translation, my primary focus is from the visual/artistic standpoint of the book including how the text VISUALLY appears on a page. 

  • Origin of book: usually checked out from LAPL, but occasionally a purchased title


Image of sketchbook with handwritten notes analyzing the book Little Bird by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine. On top of the notebook rests an issue of Bookbird journal. Listed on the cover is "2020 Hans Christian Anderson Award Winners
Using the journal Bookbird to discover creators, specifically their annual issue highlighting Hans Christian Andersen Award Winners and Finalists. Underneath sits my handwritten notes documenting my research of a book illustrated by Albertine, one of the creators interviewed in this issue

Close up of the title of an article within Bookbird 2020 vol. 58 no. 3, entitled "I am an author who draws: an interview with Albertine, Winner of the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration" side by side with my handwritten analysis of Albertine's artwork in Little Bird by Germano Zullo. The notes include a thumbnail sketch of the cover, 6 circles of color showing the main color palette and detailed notes about the book.
An article on Albertine lead to my reading Little Bird by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine. These articles can give you more insight into the breadth of a creator's work and some of their thought process that goes into each creation.