Monday, February 9, 2015

Creating a Gmail Signature

Ever tried creating a GMail signature and wondered why you couldn’t attach a graphic as a Jpeg or Gif directly from your hard drive like you might expect? The secret is to link to your graphics from a location on the web. The quickest and easiest way I could think of to upload my icons to the web was to create a blog post with them embedded in it, so here they are here...

Now all I have to do is go into my Gmail settings and when creating a signature I add the icons as needed by cutting and pasting the image location into the appropriate text box. 
Go to: Insert image/web address (URL)

The good thing about doing it this way is that you can add a link to each separate icon making your email more interactive. This means when an icon is clicked recipients can then be directed to further information. In my case I added a link to content I have on the web that is relevant to each of the brands I manage, e.g. websites, facebook pages, Google Plus content, online shops, etc.

After that simply add whatever text you need. 
This is what my email signature looks like when finished...

I started off using jpeg format but then found the icons had an annoying gray background, even though the background is set to white. So I decided to try .png format instead which strips the background away... I made them slightly bigger while I was about it...

You could get more adventurous and try a full width graphic footer like this...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Art of Caricature

Following on from my last post about Rodney Pike, I was so inspired by what he’s doing that I thought I’d have a go at creating a caricature of my own. I’m always keen to try something new and I was especially interested to see if I could actually do it.

But, I personally think caricatures only have wide appeal when they depict someone famous and who most people would recognise, otherwise the effect is lost. So perhaps I should try one of our NZ politicians — after all, there is an election coming up.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun creating this. Who knows, perhaps I’ll do more...


Here’s one I did of Tame Iti a well known and recognisable face in New Zealand.
Read the news story that helps to explain this here

Drawing Inspiration from Rodney Pike

Most artists you speak to would all agree that earning a living in the real world from doing what you love as an artist is easier said than done. That’s why the story of Rodney Pike is so inspiring.

Like most people with a creative bent, I like to keep working at my craft, trying new things and just seeing where it leads. I was interested to learn that Rodney Pike takes a similar approach and he’s really creating a name for himself — and quite a following too with 2.5 million followers on Google+ and still climbing.

My recent interest in Rodney Pike started when I posted a piece of digital art in a Google+ Community which apparently caught Rodney’s eye and he reshared it on his Google+ page. Wow! what an honour! (If you ever get to read this Rodney, please know that I really appreciate your vote of confidence. Coming from you that means a lot.)

Interestingly, and as one might expect it’s had more likes and shares on his site than it’ll ever get on mine. Shame the numbers aren’t reflected back on my page, but anyway I’m sure it still provided a huge boost to my visibility on G+. This was the picture he shared, (posted on Google+ Aug 11th)...

The following video is an interview with Rodney Pike where he discusses some of his work, how he got started and also how to get the best out of Google+. It’s definitely worth watching. It’s quite an inspiring story that has helped me to continue believing in myself — something we all need from time to time.

Thanks again Rodney.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Future for Graphics Arts and Artists?

I’m generally not one for making predictions about where the future’s heading, but I’ve been around long enough in the Graphic Arts industry to know that change is inevitable. And with all the changes I’ve seen in the industry since the early ‘80's, and with recent grumblings I've been hearing in the Graphics world I have a pretty good idea where it’s headed.

Let me just summarise some of the changes I’ve seen in the graphic arts industry with prticular reference to the printing side of it.

Paste-up Art
When I first started as a graphic artist back in 1984 a lot of the artwork I created involved the use of a few pieces of very specialised equipment, including typesetting machines and industrial cameras as well as a steady hand and a great deal of craftsmanship. Type specking and sizing of images was a carefully planned activity that often required an approach involving as much mathematical know-how as it did of design.

All of the design elements needed were output onto photographic paper and were 'developed' using expensive photographic chemicals that needed changing weekly. Then you had to 'cut and paste' them using a pair of scissors, wax or glue and a drawing board to create the final artwork. By today’s standard, designing and creating artwork like this was an extremely time consuming and expensive process but it kept a number of people in work.

This in itself was a much quicker process than what preceded it. I served my printing apprenticeship at a time of great change in the printing industry (1980-84) when many printers in my area were 'modernising' from letterpress to offset printing. Prior to this 'paste-up' method of artwork creation, they used lead type and engraved zinc blocks and everything was created in reverse. That method of 'artwork creation' had been used for decades prior to this, and probably hadn't changed much since the days of Gutenburg who invented the art of movable type.

Personal computers back then were no more than a distant fantasy – even when I first started in the industry. It was 1990 before computer technology had progressed far enough to be considered usable in a commercial setting as far as graphic arts were concerned. Up until that time I was spending thousands of dollars a year on typesetting and camera work, the cost of which I would have to pass on to my clients. However, when I bought my first computer (a Mac Plus in 1990) I immediately became more self sufficient and ceased buying in those services. My business became more profitable. Not only was I saving on the cost, the whole process was much quicker too, so it gave me a much needed competitive edge.

It wasn’t long before typesetting businesses started disappearing, followed quickly by film strippers, scanners and industrial camera operators, whose services were notoriously expensive. Now that it could be done on computer with a few key pieces of software like Photoshop and Quark or Pagemaker there was no longer any need for such specialist services, and graphic designers who started computerising their workflow early were the real winners. However that only lasted for a few short years.

The key driving influence of course was profitability. Sadly it always boils down to MONEY. So you can be sure the insatiable quest for it doesn’t end there.

Inevitably, personal computers developed to the point where ANYONE with a computer and a few key pieces of software could do it themselves without a graphic designer. Many graphic designers started going out of business as a result. At around this time the polytech’s and Universities started churning out design graduates, as many hopeful design students were lining up to shell out big bucks to become "Graphic Designers", each of them oblivious to what was happening in the industry.

Interestingly, the Graphic Designer section of the 2008 Auckland Yellow Pages featured some 26 graphic design businesses who could afford a display advertisement costing between $1500–$3000+ a year. By 2012 this number had dropped to zero. The internet has only sped up that process. In the mean time whole sections of the printing industry have become extinct. The frightening thing about all this is how quickly it’s all happened.

Software Giants
Since the whole industry started revolving around computerisation the developers of the software tools we’d been using began flexing their muscles. During the 1990’s Aldus Freehand and Pagemaker were bought out by Adobe and then trashed, making it clear they were intent on eliminating their competition so as to attain market dominance by maximising the use of their own core products. They even gave away Acrobat Reader for free which cleverly created a dependency on their wares.

Before long Adobe rose up to become the leading provider of professional graphic arts software, with it’s flagship product: Photoshop. In the mean time Adobe started marketing its software as a ‘suite of products’ in an attempt to cast its net wider to find new users and as a result flooded the market with its products. All the while it’s traditional customer base — Graphic Designers were struggling to find work and had started disappearing. Many could only afford to upgrade their software every few years. However, Adobe’s arrogance and its quest for profitablity seems to know no bounds.

Adobe has sought to use it’s market dominance to change the rules concerning the use of its products. They are no longer content to SELL their products, and then wait 2 or 3 years for them to be upgraded. Now that they’ve conditioned everyone in the industry to depend on their products to earn a living they’ve sought to force users of their products to RENT them on a monthly or yearly basis on subscription. This could force even more players out of the industry and at the very least will increase costs for all those desperate to stay involved. Many fear that signing up to this new arrangement will expose them to Adobe’s insatiable greed, reasoning that in the future it could steadily increase the subscription fee whenever it felt like it, and the average user of their products be powerless to do anything about it.

What of the Future?
Without doubt we will continue to see a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots in this world. And while I don’t consider myself to be in either of these groups, I sense that this move by Adobe will force me and many others like me to make a critical decision, whether to COMMIT to the industry or to ABANDON it. It seems it will not be possible to remain only half-in as in the case of many hobbyists who use their products. There’ll be no room for any hangers-on in the long term.

For those already committed to the industry, this could be seen as a good thing. Those looking for a silver lining in this dark cloud might reason that Adobe is actually doing them a service by thinning out the industry, forcing any pretenders to leave, or any cheaters with pirated software to cough up like everybody else and make it a level playing field.

It could take several years for all this to work itself out. But I’m not ready to put my pencils away just yet. What else could I do?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Zazzle Design Competition

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me talk about Zazzle. It’s a useful outlet for some of my work where I can sell various souvenir and gift items with my designs on them.

I was recently stirred to action when Zazzle announced a competition to showcase a new range of products they were adding to their site — a range of die-cut invitations.

They were inviting designers to create their best invitation designs which could win them a prize of US$500 plus their designs would be used to promote their invitation products on the Zazzle site. They’re calling it the Show Off Your Skills Design Challenge, and it runs until the end of June.

The range of die cut shapes they’re doing are the Ticket, Bracket, Scallop, tag and rounded cards at a 5x7 inch size.

So, I decided to try putting my new 'painterly effect' to use and see what I could come up with. To begin with I thought about doing a 'Wedding' invitation and a 'Baby Shower Party' invitation, mainly because I know of a few expectant mothers and also engaged couples who are planning their big day. I thought if I had some real people in mind that might enable me to get my mind on the right wavelength for the job.

There wasn’t a lot of time and the weather in NZ lately has been pretty bad so doing a photo shoot from scratch with what I had in mind was going to be out the question, so I opted to use a few stock images – a rose, a teddy bear and an outdoor wedding scene...

This is how I used the images...

Hopefully, I’m in with a chance to win, you never know. “Nothing ventured – nothing gained” right? I would have liked to do more designs as there’s no limit to the number of entries you can submit. I may be able to squeeze more in before the competition ends in about a weeks time.

Anyway, you can see any new designs I add by visiting my Zazzle invitation page here

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Having Fun with Post Processing

I’ve learned a lot about photography in recent months and while I’ve enjoyed the challenge of capturing  images in camera, it’s the post processing of the images that I’ve been having real fun with. That’s the part of the process that for me is where the real creativity begins.

Let’s face it I’m a graphic designer/commercial artist at heart. And with all the software tools available these days the whole process of creating illustrative artwork digitally has become that much easier — and quicker too! A couple of months ago when I exhibited some of my photographic work I was flattered to hear 1 or 2 commenting on how they weren’t sure if what they were looking at was a photo or a painting. They seemed to like the fact that it looked like a painting.

Well, I like that sort of thing too, which is why I did it that way. However it’s not until you look closely at the work I've done so far, that the question even arises. Here’s a blown up section of a recent piece I’ve been working on.

It started off as a photo which was taken in the Auckland Wintergardens. The circle in the picture below shows the section that is shown in the enlargement above. To all intents and purposes, the picture shown at the current size below just appears to be an ordinary photograph. It’s only when you look closely that it appears like the picture above.

I’m really excited about the potential for this style of work. I realise of course that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. There are the purists who think that photography should remain just that and that it shouldn’t pretend to be something else.

But these days it seems anything goes. We’re now only limited by our imagination.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The question of POST PROCESSING photos

With all the technology and software available today there are a myriad of choices to make regarding how to process your images. Some of the questions that arise are: 
What am I trying to accomplish? 
What should influence the choice of styling? 
How much is too much? And where do you start?

For me it all starts with the image itself. I try to ask myself...
What is the overall mood of the photograph? 
What are the most compelling features of the image? 
What is the best way to draw attention to those features? and 
What kind of response am I trying to elicit from the viewer? 

Some of the above questions can be hard to answer due to the subjective nature of visual arts. So, at the end of the day I have to trust my own instincts and produce what I think works best. (This of course, is assuming you're not shooting on commission for somebody, who's personal taste will often dictate the final style).

There are times when I can be a little indecisive about this, or I can go back to an image a day or 2 later and decide that I don't really like the style I've applied to an image or the way I've processed it. Take this image for example:

My initial instinct was to process this image as I did in pic.2. I must admit I was rushing the decision a bit, in an effort to share it with friends as soon as possible following a recent event. I knew it was a great shot but on reflection I decided I hadn't carefully thought through the best way of processing it. 

It turns out that I'm not the only one who likes the image. Most of the feedback I got was very positive and revolved around the central figure in the picture where all eyes are focussed. She's a beautiful woman and my initial attempt at processing the image didn't address this aspect of the shot. I was more focussed on the fun that was taking place (it was a game of musical chairs).

As I mentioned above, this can be very subjective, everybody sees something different. So I'm interested to know what you think. Please feel free to make a comment.