June 26, 2006

70: Water Off A Duck's Back

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Rain may fall easily off a duck's back – but that doesn't mean it has to like it. Take this duck (a mallard, 'natch): even though his feathers are impermeable, he's grouchy as heck on account of all the rain (Illustration Friday's theme of the week). I was originally planning to draw two ducks, one with a raincoat and one without, to illustrate the same adage. And I began with this upset hombre, but when I was finished with him I figured the point was made. Plus, I just enjoy his expression – and didn't want to jeopardize the thing by attempting a second duck.

I was trying out a number of pens to practice working with different thicknesses, but my penmanship isn't confident enough yet that I can pull off effortless and natural-looking thicks and thins – and quite a bit of eraser-work in Photoshop was needed to clean up errant spots and lines. I may also keep the original duck sketch handy for vectorizing in the future.

The background was originally a straight blue-grey watercolour wash, and then scanned and with a slight vertical motion blur applied in Photoshop. The blurred fill was then given a harsh treatment using the unsharp mask feature to give it texture. Added overtop was a second scan of a bunch of ruled pen lines and splatters I did on a sheet of paper. Individual rain splatters were then relocated digitally to surround the duck's "aura", made by highlighting a circle of the background and giving it a hue shift to make it appear somewhat drier inside the circle. Click here to get a slightly more detailed look.

June 25, 2006

69: Happy Anniversaries

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Sean and Joe over at PhotoFortnight headquarters are celebrating the photography site's one-year anniversary with a special, let-loose theme of, well ... no theme. Which means anything goes, so long as it was shot within the past half-month. This is the picture I'm submitting (above), a fuzzy and experimental image of new-bride Melissa and buddy Amy dancing at the Vegas wedding I attended a week and a half ago. This was a result of a series of shots I attempted of catching the room's vibe using any scrap of available light in the dim room. A small bit of dodge and burn work was done to the image to help frame it a bit better.

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Meanwhile over at Photo Friday, a weekly theme of health has been trotted out. And for them I submit this photograph (above) of gnarled tree roots taken at Elora Gorge in southern Ontario in the spring of 2004 – also used on the card I gave to Melissa and husband Rob with their wedding present.

June 20, 2006

What Happened In Vegas...

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Above (clockwise from top left): my home last week, the Mandalay Bay Hotel; fake-Paris at night; the Brooklyn Bridge replica at New York, New York.

I work on an island, metaphorically speaking – you catch a glimpse of my immediate surroundings two posts back when I rode the highway home on my bike. And though the environment has its obvious charms and assets, a detraction is always the sense of isolation that can occasionally creep in – both in a literal sense (come wintertime) and in relation to my line of work and its industry in general. A solid cure to both ills was last week's visit to the 2006 HOW Design Conference in Las Vegas. And traveling from Winnipeg to Nevada, a more obvious case of extremes there could not be.

Preparation for the trip began in earnest only a few days before the event, and alongside the conference itself was the added bonus of a real Vegas wedding, that of Philadelphia designer and close Howie* compadre Melissa and her newfangled ideal husband Rob. Perhaps more daunting was the prospect of heading to Las Vegas late Sunday night without officially having a place to stay; I was at the mercy (and above-and-beyond kindness) of Dave, a Baltimore Howie and the one most responsible for helping craft my request to go. Things have a way of working out though, and by the end of the night I was situated right in the guts of the conference hotel, the gargantuan Mandalay Bay Hotel & Convention Center with a swell chap with a rental car who snored only while drunk (Calvin, another attendee who crashed in our pad on the Wednesday night, is a whole other story – this man buzzsaws California redwoods in his sleep). Dave and I managed to squeeze in an up-and-down cruise of the Strip before we realized what hour it was in our own respective time zones, but to get a true appreciation of why the town is what it is, the nighttime cruise is essential. Las Vegas is absolute excess.

* Howie: (n) graphic designer/sympathizer who inhabits HOW magazine's online forums.

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Above (clockwise from top left): Me and the princess meet at the Venitian; with Melissa and Keith; with the talented Nathan Santistevan; roommate Dave shows he's taken.

The conference itself (for me) started Monday evening – so the day itself was my sole opportunity to play tourist. And my initiation to the spectacle, along with bride-to-be Melissa, started with a Vegas staple: the breakfast buffet (meals during the week were varied, rarely regular, and the main reason I returned home at the end of the week with a mad crave-on for healthy food). Within a matter of hours we had thoroughly wet our feet in Las Vegas culture, including being badgered for a California time-share, being accused by security of abandoning our 'son' at the monorail turnstile (really a wandering toddler who set off the didn't-pay alarm) and learning that the only way to escape the clutches of a casino is to head for the one scrap of natural light one can find. I also partook in a green tea frappuccino from a distinctly-Vegas joint called Starbucks, my first experience in such a place (have you been?). By late afternoon we had scoped out a few of the massive hotel complexes that line the Strip, and then it was time to get to a pre-arranged gathering of Howies before the opening keynote. It was there I began to meet face-to-face, one after the other, a small army of folks I had only conversed with online over the past year and a half. It's a strange and curious dynamic, to meet people this way; previous online conversations act like training wheels, so that when it comes time to finally get together the barriers, awkward small-talk and pretenses are left behind.
All post-conference festivities for a healthy group of us were held at Nine Fine Irishmen, the mock-Irish pub next to the mock-Brooklyn Bridge at the mock-New York-themed hotel. And it was here that the bonds began to forge for evenings to come.

The conference's opening keynote address by speaker/juggler (for lack of a better word, and a sometimes clumsy combo) Michael Moschen may not have been the best choice to kick off an event of this magnitude - and that’s all I'll say about that. Tuesday's opening keynote by Andy Stefanovich was energetic, leaning toward a strong inspirational/motivational bent. But by this point, many were eager to hop into their respective individually-selected sessions, and over the course of the next few days, these make the conference actually go – many quite admirably, like Minneapolis designer Chank Diesel's seminar on typography, a quality refresher on the principles of design by Will Lidwell and a session headed up by the incomparable Ze Frank. The Thursday closing keynote by Sally Hogshead also provided a healthy jolt and a bombastic means to a proper sendoff. A personal highlight was making it to the Type Directors Club exhibition room, which was stuffed – stuffed! – with award-winning work featuring prominent use of typography. A Wednesday night closing gala gave attendees a chance to let loose and attire themselves in their favourite vintage Vegas gear. Howies were well represented, styling as pimps, mobsters, cigarette girls, brides (guess who?) and a va-va-voom showgirl tossed in for good measure.

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Above (clockwise from top left): packin' 'em in at Will Lidwell's session; Howies gather between Tuesday sessions; Keith and Brandon kick it at the pub; Maria applies Dave's makeup for the Wednesday gala.

My new Philadelphia amigo Keith Bowman went so far as to say that Nine Fine Irishmen is where the real HOW Conference took place. It was here where Howies converged for three (or in his case, four) consecutive nights to gather our senses, get acquainted, deprive ourselves of sleep and nutrition and empty the joint of all the cider they had on tap (true story). This is where the what-happens-in-Vegas credo might very well apply.

Thursday brought with it the conference wrap-up and the wedding, which was – ironically enough – webcast. Melissa ditched her gala bride outfit for the real thing, and the event went hitchless, even if I did nearly miss the thing getting lost on the MGM casino floor, running to find the chapel in time like Benjamin in The Graduate. Lousy casinos; you're lucky enough to find a map inside one of these behemoths, but good luck getting one with a You Are Here sticker on it. But I digress.

The wedding was followed by a swanky meal and an evening high above the city lights in one of MGM's upscale (and I mean upscale) SkyLofts – essentially the definition of opulence. And I'm told, when among opulence, one must party like a rock star – and the invited few did not disappoint. But again, what happens in Vegas ... happened to such an hour that it was not worth sleeping, which I did not do until the following evening back in Winnipeg, two rough flights later, for many peaceful hours.

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Above (clockwise from top left): Arizona Brandon relaxes in the SkyLoft; Steve and Keith discuss music; the newlyweds and the iconic Las Vegas sign; Melissa and Amy successfully locate their groove.

A result of many months (bordering on years) of lobbying and concessions, my trip to the conference could not have been made possible without the combined generous nature of my roommate Dave (and by extension, his workplace), my department and company. I returned tired, but more importantly, more inspired, prepared and recharged than I can recall in some time. Also to the Howies I met and can now recognize in a line-up: Amy, Brandon, Jen, Maria, Jamel, RJ, Calvin, Prax, Loren, Nick, Nathan, Erics 1 and 2 (both big and bald, they could not have made it more difficult), Steve, Steph, Michelle, Jason, Cheryl, Junia, Cherrill, Mary, Keith and Melissa – special thanks go out to you all.

June 07, 2006

68: Portrait Of A Penguin

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Recently I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the fifty-or-so volunteers to create a piece of artwork for a design book to be published next year. The book – untitled so far – will be printed by HOW Books (F+W Publishing out of Cincinnati), with page spreads displaying a raw texture image on the left hand side and a design or illustration on the right that utilizes it – all based off of real-world surface and organic textures collected by Oregon designer/illustrator (and soon-to-be author) Von Glitschka over the past three years. The book will serve as a resource for designers and illustrators who wish to integrate textures into their work, and will come with a DVD featuring the texture files and brief biographies and contact info of the artists involved.

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Also being submitted for Illustration Friday's theme of portrait, my contribution is a 100 per cent digital illustration of the plush penguin that occupies a space on my bed (and if he looks familiar, some of you may remember him from this old Valentine's Day post). While the option was there to create something handmade and apply the texture digitally, I started directly from a photograph (above) taken at my desk. To capture a noble pose, I had to prop up the otherwise surly-looking penguin with my lens cap.

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The photo was then cropped to portrait dimensions, and the background was removed and replaced with more complementary tones. From there, a lengthy session with Photoshop's smudge tool simplified the penguin and helped begin the process to make the portrait less photographic (above left). A second session with the smudge tool, as well as various subtle hue, saturation and contrast shifts and sharpenings brought the image closer to completion (above right).

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Once at this stage, it was time to bring in the texture. The texture file assigned to me featured a multitude of possibilities, in some parts resembling wood grains, while in others appearing like rust blotches and rock patterns. I used different portions of the file to age the portrait, add highlights and help mimic a painterly style (above left). From the woodgrain-esque areas of the texture file I was able to create the portrait's rough and worn wooden frame from scratch with various overlays of colours and gradients. The title plate was created in a similar fashion (above right), though blurred slightly to appear metallic. Even the brown stains on the frame (above, top right) were created using the texture file, by clipping a ragged swatch of it and creating a custom Photoshop brush. Only the nails – copied over from another photograph of my own – were not altered using the assigned texture.

You can click here for a closer look at the finished image.

June 04, 2006

67: Long Way Home

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Last Tuesday I took advantage of a strong western wind and rode my bike home from work – a 62-kilometre commute from my desk to my door on the edge of downtown Winnipeg (I carpool to work in a large passenger van that boasts a cargo bay large enough to accommodate my bike on most days). I've made this trek once before, in 2004, and have been meaning to do it more often but it depends on a number of variables, chief among them the wind. Other factors include temperature, sunshine and a lack of plans for the evening I make the trip – which, including vital dawdling time, adds up to about three and a half hours.

I take the scenic route, leaving the building south on Highway 220 (above) and making a left at Highway 67. This is where the wind helps, because it's a tedious 17-kilometre stretch of road, and the only portion where I'm left to deal directly with traffic and the full 100-KPH speed limit. Nearly everyone cuts me slack, but the occasional unwieldy dingus will make it less fun than the ride should be – and idiot me, I made the decision to ride home so late in the day I forgot my helmet on the van (my bad). But this is rural Manitoba, so even at what would be perceived as a peak hour, I'm often left alone with wide stretches of empty road, birdsong and scared cows who've likely never seen a man on a bicycle before.

At the end of Highway 67, I turn right towards Winnipeg and head off the highways and into the town of Lockport, following a small road along the Red River. At Lockport, the river is bustling with giant white pelicans feeding on fish churned up by the locks and dam, and I stop at the Subway to pick up a sammich. From here it's 20 kilometres to the city limits, and with the tailwind becoming a nuisance side-wind, this portion becomes tiring. It's almost seven o'clock and the sun is dipping, bringing out bugs that begin to pock my face and glasses (I swallowed two on the ride; one aphid, one mystery bug). An hour later I reach the city and take a rest at a riverside park where I munch on my sub and rest my butt.

Once in the city, I take my time heading through downtown. Spring flooding on the rivers has receded so I check out The Forks and the beautiful new bridge to the French district in Saint Boniface. A game is in progress at the ballpark (Kansas City T-Bones 4, Winnipeg Goldeyes 2). It's a nice evening and people are out, but I realize it's well past the time I said I would be home so I duck out along Assiniboine Avenue, behind the provincial legislature and into my neighbourhood. The ride took me four hours and nine minutes, including dinner and pelican-watching.

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Top row (left to right) – a creek that feeds the marsh where I work; the junction of Highways 8 and 67; road sign (tough call). Middle row (left to right) – the Red River north of Lockport; flag on the dam (see, it's windy); into the suburbs. Bottom row (left to right) – entering downtown; the new Esplanade Riel to Saint Boniface; the Manitoba legislature.

Bonus photo! Click here to see at least a hundred pelicans (horizontal scrolling required).