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Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Class: Digital Distressing

I'm planning on introducing a new workshop at Hannah Grey Studios in San Jose, tentatively set for the weekend of November 7th. It's a one-day class called Digital Distressing. In this class you'll learn how to take an ordinary digital photo and use the full version of Photoshop CS2 or later to put it through the wringer in evocative ways. You'll learn how to use grunge layers, adjustment layers, downloaded Photoshop brushes, layer masks, and vignetting to give a photo as much of a story as its subject.

It's not a beginner class; you'll need to bring a computer and a mouse (Mac or Windows is fine), and you'll need some basic familiarity with Photoshop and the computer itself. You'll need Photoshop CS2, CS3 or CS4 (You can download a free trial version from Adobe that will run for 30 days). The workshop runs from 10am to 5pm and the cost is $90; included in this fee is a USB flash drive containing course materials and a digital distressing toolkit with some of the resources I have made and pointers for where to find more.

Comment here or send email to mike [at] Let me know which day that weekend you'd prefer.

The above photo began life like so:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fun in Phoenix!

I forgot to tell you guys how it went in Phoenix! Here's a shot from the classroom taken by Joanne Thieme Huffman:

I guess I can just start with some of the student art. You'll see a few of the same elements from image to image, and that has to do with the elements I supply and the way I teach the workshop.

This one's from Kimberly Alger:

These two are from Bridget Benton:

The next is from Martha Brown:
Martha Brown

And these are from Pilisa Connor
Pilisa Connor

Pilisa Connor

It was a blast, and I can't wait to teach at Art Unraveled 2010!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Photoshop Elements 6 & 7 vs. Photoshop CS4

I'm often asked to detail the differences between the full Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements 6 or 7, often by people who don't know either very well (for example, questions about which version to purchase). I explain it a little differently from most people, so I thought I'd post it here.

Most experts will go into a long and often meaningless list of features that they love in CS4 that are missing from its cheaper cousin -- Layer Masks, zillions of layer styles options, finer control over text or whatever. But that doesn't really help in my experience, so here's how I characterize the differences.

Elements is more straightforward to use, making the obvious and common tasks more usable and sensible. Photoshop CS4 has its own logic that makes everything equally difficult until you "get it", but has one major advantage: It has many tools that let you change your mind in ways Elements cannot. You can go back and refine changes you made really early on without having to Undo and then Redo everything you did in the meantime. By contrast, Elements makes you commit many types of edits; if you want to change it later there is often nothing for it but to Undo-Undo-Undo all the way back, make your change, then reconstruct everything you did subsequently.

The other obvious difference is price, of course. Photoshop Elements for Mac or Windows is much cheaper than even the student edition of Photoshop CS4.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Teaching Schedule Update

I'm teaching in Oakland Saturday the 21st.  I wanted to keep the workshop small but email me (mike at hannahgrey dot com) if you really want in.

The Tangerine workshop on the 22nd has been postponed until March 15th.  Watch this space for details.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Of Epitaphs and Freebies

I included my newest blog in the One World One Heart giveaway, offering a copy of Photoshop Elements for the platform of their choice to the commenter who tells me what they want on their headstone. Goodness! That was quite a few entries to go through. Must be because I was the last entry or something…

I disqualified anyone who looked like they just pasted something in ("beautiful giveaway, please enter my name!") Rather than make 300 numbered pieces of paper I had my son pull from ten of them three times, one for each digit. It took quite a few tries before I found someone who followed the directions <ahem>…

The winner is one Trudy, whose chosen marker appears here. I don't have much in the way of contact info for her so I'll let her come over here to find out she won. (How long should I give her?)

Sorry I'm late but it took about 20 minutes to fake Trudy's grave and like SIX HOURS to tabulate the comments. But -- that was the fun part. So let me begin!

(And I'm often going to refer to respondents with the feminine pronouns because, let's face it guys, you're outside the standard deviation here. Both of you.)

Many women seemed to feel this was morbid or depressing. For some reason this came as a complete surprise; it's not depressing at all to me. I guess I should have asked "What could be written on a bumper sticker that summarizes your whole life?" but the gravestone epitaph seemed more expedient.

Aside from old favorites like "Beloved Wife and Mother" the most popular entry (with a few respondents) was the classic Key West tombstone "I told you I was sick".

The answers ranged from the silly ("Here lies Monica, happy only when liquid is flying out of her nose" "At least she got her rubber chicken!") to the breezy ("Whoo, She had a heck of a time!") to the sassy ("I'm not wearing any underwear").

Denial was big ("I can't be dead, I haven't finished all my projects", "I can't be dead, there's a sale going on!"), as was defiance (a couple of "I did it my way"s,). Occasionally it started looking like we were in various stages of grief, complete with anger ("She kicked ass and took names."), bargaining ("ok...Wait! I haven't been running yet today!"), acceptance ("it is now my time to fly", "I finally get a chance to slow down and smell the flowers", "It's Not a Matter of IF, It's a Matter of WHEN") and of course depression ('Think of me and try not to laugh"). But the comment thread was dotted with exuberance, too ("She danced like no one was watching", "She lived her life out loud").

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the epitaphs referred to the Internet ("They Better Have Wi-Fi in Heaven", "AFK") and art ("She Crafted her Ass Off", "We couldn't pry the paintbrush from her hand", "So much fabric, so little time!" ).

Several women predicted the manner of their death ("She Shouldn't Have Blinked", "I TOLD you I thought the fish tasted funny", "Counting stitches and not looking where she was going") or alluded to their own familiar failings ("…creator of piles", "The Only Deadline She Didn't Miss" "She was even late to her own funeral" and so on).

There were some hilariously blunt ones:
"The End. Thank God."
"Come and gone. Your turn next."
"She's still watching you"
"here she is we found her"
"I have sellers remorse from my deal with the devil."
"We thought she'd never be gone"
"die, adjust or migrate"
"Too Late Old, Too Late Smart"
"Here's Imelda. She died here, and we buried her here."
"It was fun up to this point."
"hated chocolate-she died"

The comments section was besiged by delusions of adequacy ("a kid said he draws well", "She was a good one!", "She tried.")

Quite a few women want to include evocative or meaningful quotes from other people, such as Michaelangelo ("I saw the angel in the marble, and I carved until I set him free") to Maya Angelou ("I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel"), Lewis Carroll ("Curiouser and Curiouser"), Mark Twain ("She didn't know it was impossible so she did it") and John Lennon ("All You Need Is Love"). Sylvia Plath made an appearance in a poignant new context ("I listened to my heart saying its chant: I am, I am, I am...")

There were simple, lyrical entries like "She lived a life of love. And loved the life she lived" and "She will not rest beneath the earth, but fly free in the breeze." And entire verses showed up:

"Here she lies,
She made good pies.

"She lived out her long days
Content in her ways
And gathered flowers and roots
with mud on her boots.

"Her house was always a mess
But she always did her best
to make people smile
and find time once in awhile
to write.

"She had enough happiness to make her sweet,
enough trials to make her strong, enough sorrow to keep her human, enough hope to keep her soul awake.
" (Hi, Melissa!)

Always delightful and exciting are the blog entries from around the world, especially with their unique wording ("What a excitement if I get the lucky to win!") and their colorful entries like "El que quiere puede..." ("Anyone who wants to, can")

Many respondents could not think of anything to put on their markers. For these, Jingle had some sage advice: "Keep it simple. Keep it honest. Keep it confusing for future generations."

Side note: Mac fans are still mighty enthusiastic. Windows users (with one exception), not so much. (Jenny Heid? A PC? Really?) For the record: I maintain at this point that I still think BOTH operating systems suck, but I've switched my family back to the Mac and a lot of my headaches went away. Much less frustration and maintenance. (L'Helene, il n'y a jamais eu de meilleur moment pour l'├ęchange…)

Another side note: Even after like thirty occurrences, it still always startled me to read "Please enter me." I'm flattered, ladies, but I'm happily married. ;D

Several of my respondents are in the Bay Area, or even in San Jose. This is great news, especially since I'm teaching Photoshop here! Watch this space over the weekend as I fill out details for my classes, starting with a Dynamic Digital Collage class at Tangerine in Dublin next week, on the 22nd.

If you've come this far, you might want to hop over to my wife's blog and wish her happy birthday, since I spent an embarrassing amount of time on this giveaway when I should have been celebrating with her.

And if you've done that, and you're still paying attention, then you definitely deserve ANOTHER GIVEAWAY! No no, not by me, something even better. This very night my friend Jane, a Baltimore jeweler, painter and sculptress, launched her own blog giveaway for one of her unique and exquisitely-crafted necklaces, pictured here.

Drop my name in your comment and I'll cross my fingers for you!

Thanks for playing!

--Mike Jennings

Saturday, February 7, 2009

When to Scan Art and When to Shoot It

It's not always obvious how best to get your art into a computer so that you can post it, email it, add to it or submit it. I think I can help.

Flat Art

It always seems like a scanner is good for flat art. And usually that's true. The exception is if your art has anything metallic, iridescent or shimmering. Scanners render these poorly, flat and uninteresting. A camera can never capture twinkle (and for pity's sake don't add any little flare stars to fake it!) but you can get a much better sense of metallic or (to a degree) iridescence.

Another thing: After you ladies get through with it, art is rarely really flat, I've found. My wife's journal won't even close. A lot of the charm of a journal is in its bookishness, and mashing the thing flat on the scanner can rob it of that charm. Any art that has been rippled or warped in the process of creation should really be photographed if you can in order to preserve the handmade appeal.

3-D Objects

3D objects are better photographed, usually. This includes flat art with lots of embellishments. Scanners using CMOS sensors like the super-skinny Canon scanners typically scan deep things horribly. Scanners with CCD sensors (a little more expensive, usually bigger) can get better results, occasionally almost photographic. At worst, you'll get that eerie front-to-back illumination that Maggie Taylor uses so effectively.


Most scanners do a fairly equivalent job of scanning. But they're built to be disposable, sad to say. If you're struggling with an old scanner that can't even scan a white piece of paper to a flat white scan, even after running the calibration function in its software, it's time for a new one. The good news is that you can get a pretty nice little CMOS scanner like a Canon LiDE
for like $60, and a nice CCD scanner for $150. I just bought a new one that uses LED's for the lights so it has like a 1-second warmup time, which will be nice. and a technology called Digital ICE which removes dust.

Most cameras have manual functions built-in that can allow you to get good results. But I'll save the details on that for another post. But I will mention the lighting, because that's usually more of the problem than the camera itself. If you don't have passable lighting, there's a good chance that the scanner will still do a better job.

The ideal lighting is this: Two diffuse light sources out at 45˚ from your art, on either side. By diffuse, I mean soft, like a frosted bulb instead of a clear bulb, only more diffuse than that. I've found some lovely gooseneck 50W halogen lamps at Target for like $8 each that I still use, but the bulbs and glass are clear, so I've had to diffuse them with tissue paper or "ripstop nylon" like kites and camping gear are made from.

As tempting as it is to just throw it on the scanner, I've started shooting more and more art. My 10 megapixel camera with a 60mm macro lens gave me a much sharper image of an old book than the scanner did at its highest optical resolution.

Equipment Settings

When you capture your image, whether scanning or shooting, always capture at the highest quality and resolution that you can tolerate. Never scann anything at less than 300dpi (dots per inch). If you think you might zoom in on something, say reusing a nice texture from some little bit of your piece, then up the resolution. Much above 600dpi and you're just slowing down Photoshop and filling your hard drive unnecessarily. The camera, too, has quality settings. They often list the frame size in the quality settings menu on the camera, like, 2048x1786 or something like that. Shoot at the highest resolution. If you need to send it as an email, save a low-resolution copy later -- don't try to scan at low resolution because you only plan to email it. Believe me, you'll be sorry. Photoshop has a "Save for Web & Devices" menu item that will save off your web/email-sized copy for you very nicely.

On the camera, it is often useful to select the Macro mode if you're shooting the art very close up. This is represented on most cameras with a tulip icon.

The camera has a self-timer too, which can be useful for this task. You see, when you push the button to take the picture it can jiggle the camera, making it blurry. If you've set the camera on a tripod or even one of those bean-filled neck pillows for stability, letting the self-timer mode delay the exposure gives the camera time to settle down, getting you a very sharp photo.

For flat art you want the sharpest picture possible. To do this, set the camera into "aperture-priority mode" if it has one (may be abbreviated Av, or just A -- as long as A doesn't mean Auto), and set the f-number as high as you can go with, like f22. This will keep the whole thing sharp, but the shutter will have to stay open for a long time to get enough light through. This means you cannot handhold the camera. You need a tripod, or some other support system.

Here's an exotic tip: Many point and shoot cameras come with a cable that allows you to hook the camera up to your TV. Customarily this is used for quickie slideshows, but what's less well-known is that the camera is likely to be sending out whatever the viewfinder sees as you set up the shot. This can allow you to adjust the lights while looking at a big TV instead of running back and forth between the stage and the camera.
Hope that helps.

You pick the topic!

I have to write a new article for Portals Zine, and I'm looking for topics. If it's a small topic I will post here. I have some ideas:

Shooting pictures of your art
When to scan, when to shoot
Crop, resize and set resolution in one step
How to turn a photo into a stencil/rubber stamp design with wizardly control
How to blur text that is still editable
How to find install and use Photoshop brushes
How to use downloaded textures from Flickr

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

One Heart One World Giveaway!


My name is Mike Jennings. I teach Photoshop to mixed-media and collage artists in the Bay Area, CA. My One Heart One World giveaway is:

A sealed copy of the latest version of Photoshop Elements!

To participate in my One Heart One World giveaway, all I need is a comment with what you think should be written on your tombstone, your contact info, and whether you use Mac or Windows. Winner will be chosen randomly by my 6-year-old son -- I'll let you know if you've won on the 12th!

Have fun!

One Heart One World is a world-wide blogging event hosted by Lisa Swifka, intended to bring the blogging community together through thoughtfulness and sharing. click on the link to see the list of all the wonderful participating bloggers!