Thursday, May 16, 2019

Creating a Vintage Style Paint by Number Pattern in Painter 12

My finished pattern
One of Spoonflower's upcoming design challenges is to create a repeating pattern that looks like a vintage paint-by-number kit, the type that were popular in the 1950s and 60s. The design brief on the Spoonflower site states, "While your repeating design may take a bit longer to design than a traditional paint-by-numbers kit, it should capture the iconic styles found in the beginner-friendly technique: full opacity, crisp solid line work, clearly defined areas of color and a simplified take on your subject matter." The brief goes on to state, "Please remember to color your design in fully and leave the black and white only designs for our coloring book challenges!"

Animals and landscapes were popular themes in paint-by-number kits. I remember having a couple of paint-by-number kits when I was a kid and as I recall, one of them was a portrait of a horse's head.

Before designing my pattern, I decided to get some inspiration by googling "paint-by-number." I saved a few that I liked, including one of a group of flamingoes. For some reason flamingoes were popular subjects of these kits, possibly because they tied in with the 1950s love for exotica that had its aural equivalent in the records put out by composers like Martin Denny and Les Baxter.

vintage paint-by-number image found using Google
After deciding that flamingoes would be the perfect choice for my paint-by-number pattern, I next googled images of flamingoes. After saving a few photos, it was time to get started. For this type of pattern, I knew I wanted my pattern to have a painterly look so I decided to use Corel Painter (I have an older version which is Painter 12). You could probably achieve a similar look in Photoshop, but I've been using Painter for a long time and I'm more comfortable with its brushes. I also like it's wrap around pattern feature.

In this tutorial, I will explain how I created my pattern in Painter 12, but if you don't use Painter (and I don't think too many people do, at least compared to those who use Photoshop), you can skip to the end of this tutorial to see how I built up my pattern. Click on any image to see it larger.

To create a repeating pattern in Painter, one first needs to set up a canvas. You do this pretty much the same as you would in any program by going to File in the menu and selecting New. That will open up a dialogue window that allows you to input your size and resolution. Since Painter is a memory hog, and I knew I wanted this to be the size of a fabric fat quarter (18 x 21 inches) I made the resolution at 150 dpi, which is also the resolution that Spoonflower suggests for uploading to their site.

Once you have a canvas open, you can either begin to sketch or you can immediately set up the pattern feature. If you start to sketch before setting up the pattern feature, you won't get the wrap around effect when you reach an edge. It doesn't matter though, because you can "Capture" a pattern even if you have a blank canvas. The important thing is, when you use the "Capture" pattern command, you have to make sure you only have one layer. The base layer in Painter will show up as "Canvas" in the Layers window. If you have any other layers in addition to the "Canvas" layer, than the "Capture" pattern feature won't work. But don't worry, once you've "Captured" your image (or blank canvas) and reopened it to start work on your pattern, you can add more layers.

So, to set up the pattern feature, you need to make sure the Patterns panel/window is open. To do this, you go to "Window" in the menu and then scroll down to "Media Control Panels" and then select "Patterns." That will open up a panel that looks like what you see below.

Patterns panel in Corel Painter 12

You're next step is to capture your canvas. You do this by going to "Select" in the Menu and choosing "All," or you can use a keyboard shortcut (on a Mac it's Command A). Once your canvas is selected, go to the drop down menu in the upper right corner of the Patterns panel (see red circle in the below screen shot).

Go to drop down menu in Patterns Panel
Choose Capture Pattern

In the menu that opens up, there are a number of choices. The one you need to set up the pattern wrap around is "Capture Pattern..." I actually don't know what "Define Pattern" is for. I never use it. I've never used "Make Fractal Pattern" either. For this tutorial, all you need to worry about is the "Capture Pattern" feature.

Once you have chosen "Capture Pattern," you will see this dialogue box.

This is where you can name your pattern and decide how you want it to repeat. For my Flamingo Paint-by-Number pattern, I wanted it to be a "half-drop" pattern so I selected Vertical Shift and moved the slider to 50%. If you want a basic repeat, then you would select "Rectangular Tile" and leave the slider at 0. If you have already sketched on your canvas, then you will see your sketch in the Preview window. In this example, I captured a blank canvas so the preview window is blank.

Once you have made your selections, you can click OK. Once you click okay, Painter will process your new pattern and send it to the Pattern library. While it's doing this, you will get the spinning beach ball for a couple of minutes. Once the spinning beach ball goes away, you can begin to work on your pattern, but there is one last step you need to do. After the spinning beach ball disappears, CLOSE your open canvas (the one you selected earlier to capture) and then go back to the drop down menu in the Patterns panel. This time select the "Check out pattern" selection.

This will open up your canvas again, but this time it will have the working pattern wrap around feature that allows you to draw off of one edge and have your line continue on the opposite edge. When you select "Check Out Pattern," Painter will always open the most recent pattern that you captured, but once you have built up a library of patterns you can select another pattern to open by selecting the small arrow in the little thumbnail image to the upper right of the Pattern panels preview window, but that's getting ahead of myself and something you don't need to worry about for this tutorial.

Now that I have a canvas that has the working pattern wrap around, I can begin to sketch. For my flamingo pattern, I added in some of the photo reference that I found so that I could easily draw my flamingoes. I put the photos on a separate layer and lowered their opacity so that I could easily see my pencil lines.

Sketch with photo reference visible on a separate layer

After I had my sketch completed, I checked out how the repeat worked. I did this by saving the file as a photoshop file and then, after opening it in photoshop, I created a large photoshop file (30 x 40 inches) and cut and pasted my 18 x 21 inch Painter file into that new canvas. I then duplicated it several times and lined it up so the edges matched. I could have also checked the repeat in Painter, but it would have meant flattening my image and Capturing the canvas again, waiting for the spinning beach ball to disappear, etc. I have found it's faster to just save my work periodically as a photoshop file and go to Photoshop to check the repeat. By the way, that brings me to a very IMPORTANT bit of information - when working in Painter, for the pattern feature to remain functional, before you ever close your work, you need to save the file as a native Painter file which is called a 'rif' file. If you were to save your work as a photoshop file, then close the file in painter and then try to reopen the photoshop file in Painter, the pattern function would no longer work. So make sure you save your file as a "rif" file before closing your canvas.

Here's how the sketch looked repeated in Photoshop

Once I liked how the repeat worked, it was time to start adding color. Back in Painter, I opened up the Flamingo paint-by-number image I found on Google and used the eye dropper tool to sample some of the colors. The number of colors used in most paint-by-number kits were limited and except for the darker colors seemed to be somewhat low in saturation. I don't think I've ever seen a vintage paint-by-number kit that used neon colors. The colors always seemed to have a sort of milky look to them. By sampling the colors from a vintage image, I was able to get some of that vintage color look into my pattern.

I began by blocking in my colors very roughly, not caring whether or not I was going over the lines. After I had most of the canvas covered in colors, I checked again how the repeat was looking.

At this point I decided to move two of the baby flamingoes over closer to the nest and to add another adult flamingo that would be looking down at them.

I moved two of the babies and added another adult
I continued to add color. In the early stages, I had several layers. A separate pencil sketch layer for the flamingoes, another sketch layer for the trees and plants and then three different layers for the colors - one for the flamingoes, one for the water and another for the plants.

screen shot showing the various layers
Almost finished with the coloring
Paint-by-number images were known for their flat areas of color. There was no blending of colors, any shading was done by adding a darker color next to a lighter color. Since these kits came with a pre-drawn image, created as an outline with each color done as a separate outlined area containing a number corresponding to a color, there was little in the way of fine details in these paintings. Keeping that in mind, I tried to make my color areas somewhat broad. I tried not to use fine lines, although I do have a few that might have stretched the limit of what you would have found in an actual paint-by-number kit. Also, these paintings tended to look somewhat "blobby." It was hard to place one color up next to another without painting over the adjacent color so often the edges were squiggly and somewhat rough. Knowing this, helped free me up to not be too precise in my coloring. The shapes were often simple, which was another important factor to remember as I colored in my image.

As I got closer to finishing, I eventually combined the layers that had my tree and plant colors with the layer containing the water and sky. Doing this helped force me to keep my shapes and coloring somewhat simple.

In conclusion, to create a faux paint-by-number, do some research of actual vintage paintings, decide on your subject, sample colors from a vintage image, keep your color areas broad and flat and don't worry about your edges being precise. All of these things will help give your image a vintage feel.

My finished pattern which works as a half-drop repeat
The finished pattern shown as a repeat

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Evolution of a Surface Pattern - Calculating the Moon

The finished pattern, "Calculating the Moon"
Back in December I created a pattern, as I do almost weekly, for one of Spoonflower’s design challenges. In this posting, I’m not going to go into the technical how-to aspects of how I created the repeat for this surface pattern but instead I will explore how I came up with the idea for my design and how it evolved.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, Spoonflower is a company that prints designs on fabric, wallpaper and gift wrap. Their online website allows designers to upload their own designs for printing on these surfaces and then to sell the designs in their own shops. Each time a purchase is made, the designer receives a 10% royalty of the total purchase. Spoonflower handles the printing and shipping of all the products ordered. To encourage designers to upload to the site, they host a weekly challenge where they provide a theme to inspire creativity for designers.

For the design I’m writing about in this posting, the challenge was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1st Moon landing. Normally Spoonflower gives the winner of the weekly challenge a $200 credit in Spoondollars which can be used to make purchases on the site. Once in a while though they have a corporate sponsor who offers up additional prizes or licensing deals. For this challenge the sponsor was the company Princess Awesome who makes a clothing line for young girls. According to the Princess Awesome website, they believe “it is crucial that girls have access to clothes that tell them that they can be and do anything…Princess Awesome is a company founded by women - mothers - who want girls to be able to express themselves through their clothing. We are committed to making clothes that girls want to wear, and that parents want to see on their daughters.” Their emphasis is on the sciences and topics (dinosaurs, rockets, robots) that in the past have been thought of as more geared for boys. For this challenge, Princess Awesome was offering a licensing deal worth $500 to the first place winner.

1961 Life magazine image that inspired my design
I’ll tell you right off the bat, I didn’t win this contest, but I did come in second place. It was a close race, if I had received just 7 or 8 more votes I would have won the prize, but with so many wonderful entries, I was honored to be in second place.

Before I began designing, I did a Google search of the 1st moon landing. My search results came up with loads of imagery of astronauts on the moon, the moon lander, the rockets that carried the lunar module, etc. None of what I was finding really sparked my imagination, until I came upon an unusual image from Life magazine that showed a group of male NASA mathematicians standing on ladders writing calculations on a gigantic blackboard. I knew from all of the publicity around the film, “Hidden Figures,” that there were a number of unsung women who worked on the moon landing, including some who helped calculate the trajectory the lunar module would need to make the landing. Using the Life magazine photo as inspiration, I decided to replace the men with the women who were until recently, hidden from view.

My original sketch
This is before I decided to have the blackboard fill the background

In this step I added another woman and filled the background with the green of the blackboard
Since this challenge was supposed to celebrate the Moon landing, I knew I wanted to have the Moon somewhere in my design. My first idea was to have the blackboard floating against a dark blue sky, but after roughing out a sketch and trying it as a repeat, the rectangle of the blackboard seemed to interrupt the flow of the pattern so instead I decided to eliminate the sky and make the entire background be a giant blackboard (or in the case of my design, a greenboard). I decided I would make the Moon look like a chalk drawing on the board.

I created my drawing using Corel Painter 12. Painter has wonderful brushes that emulate all sorts of natural media, including chalks which were perfect for creating the elements drawn on the board. For the drawings of the women, I used some of Painter’s pen brushes, mainly the flat color pen and the scratchboard pen. Before I began drawing on the computer, I made a quick pencil sketch of my design.

Using illustrations of the rocket that carried the lunar module for reference, I drew a simplified version of the rocket that I superimposed over the blackboard. Originally, I had the rocket placed at an angle, but I didn't like how it looked in the repeat so I ended up placing it upright, giving it a ready for launch look. I used a photo of the lunar module I found on Wikipedia as a reference for my chalk drawing of the module on the blackboard. For the formulas on the blackboard, I used some of the actual formulas shown in the Life magazine photo, re-drawing them using one of Painter’s chalk pens.

Finally, I added some curved dashed lines to represent the orbit and trajectory of the lunar module and added some scuffed out marks on the blackboard to make it appear as if certain parts of the board had been erased.

I named my pattern "Calculating the Moon," and I've been very happy with the wonderful response it has received. If you click on the link above, it will take you to my Spoonflower shop where you can purchase the design on fabric, wallpaper or gift wrap.

Pinterest images of the Apollo landing sites on the Moon

Google search results for Saturn V rocket

Friday, July 31, 2015

Evolution of an illustration

The final image, showing Henry
Bergh jumping through the skylight.
For the past three months I've been working on a non-fiction children's book that will be released next Spring. I am very excited about this project, not only because of the fascinating subject matter (more on that in a second) but because it is my first assignment with a major publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The book is titled "Mercy, The Incredible True Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA," by Nancy Furstinger.

April of 2016 will mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ASPCA and being an animal lover, I'm very excited that the book I am illustrating will be released in conjunction with the ASPCA's anniversary celebrations.

For this posting I am going to let my readers in on the process of how I went about creating one of the illustrations for "Mercy." In the book's introduction, author Nancy Furstinger relates a suspenseful incident involving ASPCA founder Henry Bergh and his attempt to put a stop to a dog fight. The scene describes him waiting on the rooftop of a building where a fight was about to take place. He and another officer are watching the activities of the dog owners through a skylight. Just before the men release their dogs, Henry leaps through the skylight. I won't tell you how the scene ends, you'll have to read the book to find out, but in this post, I'll show you how I came up with the illustration that will accompany this scene in the book.

Reference books from the library
The action for this scene takes place in 1866. So, before beginning any sketching, I researched the time period. Henry Bergh was born in 1813 and died in 1888, his life spanning much of the nineteenth century. To begin my research, I checked out a number of books from the library, including books on fashions of the period and references for both human and animal anatomy. Much of my research though was done online. For this particular illustration I needed an image of a man jumping down through an open skylight. One of my favorite online sources for visual reference material is Getty images, which is actually a stock photography site for purchasing the rights to hi-res images for use in publications. But it's also a great source for reference images to aid in your drawings. The previews that come up when you do a search will be at screen resolution and have a watermark across them, but since they are to be used only for drawing reference, they are extremely useful for finding people in various poses, styles of dress, etc.

The leaping man in this image became my reference
for Henry Bergh jumping through the skylight
To start on this illustration I entered a number of search terms, things like 'man jumping,' 'man jumping down,' 'man leaping,' etc.  I not only used Getty images, but I did "Google" searches as well, using the same search terms. Once I started finding some possibly useful images, I downloaded them in to a folder on my computer. Using Adobe Bridge, I was then able to organize and look at thumbnails of all of my downloaded images. While using Getty images, I discovered some wonderful late nineteenth century illustrations from a periodical titled 'Le Petit Journal.' These illustrations were loaded with action and great period details and provided useful reference in several of my illustrations including this one.

An early attempt at a layout using
cut and pasted reference material

Once I had enough images, I did a rough layout by cutting and pasting some of my reference figures into a sort of collage. These collages were my early attempts at getting the illustration to match how, in my imagination, I felt the scene should look.  I played with several poses from various images and if things didn't look like how I imagined them, I would start over from scratch.  This scene on the left is my first attempt at a layout.

If I were an expert at drawing anatomy and perspective from scratch, I might have opted to just sketch out my idea. But since I had already downloaded the reference images, I found it was quicker to do a rough cut-and-paste job of my reference materials. That way I could move the elements around, scale them, flip them, etc. until I achieved a layout I was happy with.

Below are some examples of how my collage layout changed to reflect my evolving idea of how I wanted the scene to look.  Once I had the main figures positioned where I wanted them, I began to draw. I drew the dogs freehand, without much in the way of reference. I also made up whatever figures and elements were missing from my collage. The sketch shown at the bottom below displays the final layout, although I did make some changes to the dogs before I began to ink and color the illustration. I did all of my coloring and painting in Corel Painter 12, primarily using the digital watercolor brushes.

a second attempt where I've changed
some of the reference elements
The scene is starting to come together
 although the foreground is too
crowded, with no room to show the dogs.

Here I have begun to sketch out the scene based
on my cut and pasted collage. Some elements,
like the dogs, and some of the faces in the crowd,
I made up without much in the way
of any reference.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Hey wait, I thought I hated clowns!

The Farmer and the ClownThe Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Published by Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2014)

Okay, I have to get this out front - I really dislike clowns. I’ve always found them creepy and not a bit funny. But with this sweet and touching picture book, author/illustrator Marla Frazee has just but a small dent in my opinion of clowns. The little clown in her wordless picture book, who gets separated from his family when he falls off of their circus train, is probably the cutest clown ever. His simple makeup consists of a plain white face, a relatively small red nose and a painted-on smile. When he’s found and taken home by a stern-looking farmer and washes off his make-up, we see underneath a worried and sad expression - the look of a lost child.

This book is all about finding a home, learning to feel at home, and the very essence of what home is. It could just as easily be the story of a refugee taken in by strangers, or about the adoption of a child. However you want to look at it, it’s a sweet and charming book. Considering that this is a wordless book, the author does a wonderful job of developing her characters. The farmer starts off seeming very stern and no-nonsense. Just from the expressions the author/illustrator has given him, we can see he is completely perplexed by this strange little person in a clown suit. But after the little clown washes off his make-up, we see from the farmer's facial expression that he is concerned about this lost child who he has brought into his home. Over the course of just a few pages, we see the farmer, while trying to make the sad child smile, loosen up and develop an affectionate bond with this little person. Along the way, each of the characters learns something new from the other. The farmer teaches the little clown how to milk a cow, while the little clown teaches the farmer how to juggle eggs. The farmer appears to be learning that all work and no play can make for a very dull existence. Marla Frazee conveys so much feeling and understanding in her illustrations with just changes in the body language of her characters and their facial expressions. This book is a great example of how to tell a complex story with no accompanying text.

I love how Frazee has used a limited color palette for her delightful illustrations. The farmer seems to exist in a world of soft sepia browns and charcoal grays. The little clown, dressed in reds and yellows brings color into the farmer’s drab existence. The clown’s suit really pops against the monochromatic backgrounds. More color is brought into the story when the circus train returns, bringing greens, blues, soft purples and oranges into the palette. At the end of this story, I had the feeling that the farmer had been changed forever by the little stranger who briefly became part of his life. And of course, without giving away the ending, the last illustration shows that the farmer’s adventures may not be quite over.

This book brought a smile to my face (the first time any clown has ever done that!) and I found it sweet and touching. I highly recommend this one!

Illustration by Marla Frazee. The farmer approaches the little clown who has fallen from the circus train.

Illustration by Marla Frazee. Underneath his make-up, the clown is a sad, lost child.

Illustration by Marla Frazee. The Farmer tries his hand at juggling and the clown helps the farmer in the fields.

Illustration by Marla Frazee. A happy reunion, but the story is not quite over yet.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dory Will Leave You With a Smile

Dory FantasmagoryDory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The narrator of this funny and fast-paced story is six-year-old Dory (appropriately nicknamed Rascal) who has an active imagination and fills her days attempting to get her older siblings to play with her, conspiring with her imaginary monster friends, and trying to figure out ways to vanquish the child-snatching Mrs Gobble Gracker (an imaginary being her older siblings invent to try and scare Dory into being good). This is a cute book and author/illustrator Abby Hanlon successfully gives the reader a glimpse into the mind of a 6-year-old, reminding us of what it was like when fantasy and reality were intertwined and play was an integral part of our lives. With its profuse black and white illustrations, the book at times reads like a graphic novel and in fact many of the charming drawings have integrated dialogue bubbles. The illustrations, by the way, are delightful, filled with expression, action and funny details. This is a fast read and one that I think will delight young children and anyone who wants to relive those special years of childhood when playtime was ruled by imagination.

Illustration by Abby Hanlon. Dory is the cute little character on the far right

Illustration by Abby Hanlon. 

An example of how illustrator Abby Hanlon integrates comic book style word balloons into her illustrations
Illustration by Abby Hanlon. Dory gets a shot while on visit to the doctor.

Don't worry, the intended target of the dart is the imaginary Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Illustration by Abby Hanlon.

While on a time-out, Dory imagines her family is enjoying popcorn with her nemesis, Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Illustration by Abby Hanlon

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