concept to publication

Category: art and illustration Page 1 of 13

Art and illustration at

This post will be sticky in the “art and illustration” category. This is the parent category that includes graphic design, photography, photoshop, and typography posts, so there will be some redunduncy with those child categories.

For a gallery of some of my own artwork, click this screenshot:

Point Pinole view

Nine Views of Point Pinole

All taken 14 April 2020 with a Samyang / Rokinon 12mm f2 (wide-angle) lens.

Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole

My Watercolor Palette

I have settled, for now at least, on a watercolor palette that I think gives me good flexibility. And delight! You could certainly make do with fewer colors, but I love the pigments just for themselves. It’s amazing how modern technology has brought such beautiful pigments and hues within the reach of so many people, when once a dab of lapis lazuli (ultramarine blue), for example, cost a fortune. I’ve arranged my colors in an approximate color wheel (complementaries more or less opposite each other).

My watercolor palette as a color wheel.

I’ve assigned a number to each color, and noted their pigment numbers. Because color names are so imprecise, and the same name can be made from different pigments and look quite different from different vendors, it is best to think in terms of pigments. Vendors use a consistent numbering system to reference the base pigments, and these numbers are shown on the tubes. The pigments are the usually mineral constituents of the colors, often immersed in a binder such as gum arabic. (The best online guides to pigments I’ve found are by Bruce MacEvoy and Jane Blundell.) Many people prefer single-pigment colors rather than mixes (which vendors call “hues”). I’m generally among them, but there are some hues that are also beautiful and behave well, so I have chosen some of these too. I’ve numbered my colors 1-12 according to their position on a 12-segment (tertiary) wheel. (Sometimes there is more than one pigment within one of the twelve slices, in which case they are numbered things like 7, 7.1 (falling between 7 and 8), etc. Earth tones appear in a fairly narrow segment of the wheel, and are lettered A-F. Payne’s Gray occupies the center.

Riso Circles

An Exhibit of Riso Printing and Community at San Francisco State University

I attended an exhibit of Riso printing presented at San Francisco State under the auspices of the faculty and students of the Design Gallery class of the department of Visual Communication. And now I want to do Riso printing!

Riso is a kind of marriage of photocopying and silkscreening.
Artistic effects reminiscent of silkscreen can be achieved through the low-cost photomechanical process, in which ink is mixed from separate colored drums.
Riso printers from around the world shared samples of their work, some of which are shown here on the center tables. On the left in this photo is an interactive portion of the exhibit in which visitors can apply colored fingerprints to see the effect of different color overlays. On the right are highlights of student interviews with Riso printers from around the world.
Contributed work can be seen not only on the tables and display stands but also on the far wall.

In the words (almost) of a famous possum (and I would vote for him now), I GO RISO!

How to back up raw camera files online for free without data loss

If you shoot raw rather than jpeg and have a decent camera your files are likely to be very large. Of the online storage options, Google Photos has the best search capabilities for finding particular shots. But Google’s free service only applies to “high resolution” files rather than the originals. To create these files, Google will take your raw files and compress them into jpegs that do not exceed 16 MB. If you google this process you will find comparisons that seem to show that the compression is not bad, and in many cases the compressed files are difficult to distinguish from the originals. Still, this somewhat defeats the purpose of shooting with a good-quality camera as opposed to a smart phone. Unfortunately, uploading the original files (as opposed to letting Google compress them) can get rather expensive if you shoot a lot (like me, as I bracket all my photos, resulting in three versions of every shot).

Amazon Prime offers free unlimited storage of raw camera files, which is great, though in practice, their uploader seems quite slow for some reason. Still, this will provide online backup of the unaltered original files. However, the Amazon service, unlike Google’s is not smart enough to capture the exif data, which in raw is stored in separate .xmp files. This means that all your raw photos will be thrown in a big basket called “undated.” I find this unsatisfactory because in a crisis if I had to depend on this it would be an enormous headache to sort through this big random basket of files.

My current solution is to upload the raw files to both services, letting Google compress the files. That way all of the dates and shooting information are available in Google Photos, but if I need the originals I could get them from Amazon by searching for the file name (in practice, everything lives in local storage, but it’s a good idea to have online backup as, well, a backup (I also use iDrive to backup my whole computer.)

I think this solution should work fine. Until the vendors change their terms, that is!

Garamond Premier Pro

garamond premier pro
Working with Garamond Premier Pro for my book on Persian ceramics, I have been impressed by the range of sizes and weights the typeface includes. There are regular, medium, semibold, and bold weights for each of the sizes. In addition, the display size offers an extra-light weight in both regular and italic.

UPDATE: Since writing the above in 2008 I have used Garamond Premier Pro in my books 1616: The World in Motion and River of Ink: Literature, History, Artas well as in books designed for others, such as Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance by Natasha Reichle.

Different fonts are provided for four type sizes: caption, regular, subhead, and display. The caption fonts, for example, have large x-heights and heavier strokes in order to hold up at small sizes. The display fonts have elegantly modest x-heights and light stroke weights suitable for presentation at large sizes. The header for the image above is the medium display weight (to balance some of the dark fonts,including the caption fonts, which would not ordinarily be used at this large a size. The fonts also include a full range of diacritics and foreign-language characters.

Garamond Premier Pro was designed by Robert Slimbach on the model of the roman types of Claude Garamond and the italic types of Robert Granjon; it represent a reworking and expansion of the earlier Garamond Pro. It is available in OpenType from Adobe.

I sought to maintain the fidelity of the metal type as revealed in the specimen material—rather than taking a more subjective approach, such as attempting to reproduce artifacts of letterpress printing, or at the other extreme, modernizing form through heavy-handed stylization or drastic structural modification. I feel that by overtly imitating the appearance of an outdated technology, a digital type can appear antique, or even quaint, while excessive stylization can diminish the organic properties inherent in a hand-cut type. With Garamond Premier, I followed the details of line and form displayed in the original metal type as much as possible in order to reveal the ideal that I felt Garamond and Granjon were trying to achieve in their work. By preserving subtleties of shape, a level of fidelity is maintained that would normally be clouded by the noise-generating effects of letterpress printing on handmade papers. Throughout the design process, I repeatedly returned to the original proofs to ensure I was preserving details I felt were essential to the design. At the same time, I often felt it necessary to carefully adjust shapes and parameters in order to harmonize the varied work of these two individual designers within this single type family.
— Robert Slimbach

Most posts on typography

The Blend If function in Photoshop

I am learning that the Blend If function is one of the most powerful in Photoshop. This video from Phlearn is a good overview of the function.

I think one of the best uses of the tool is to moderate the effects of Photoshop’s
“clarity” slider. While the various sharpening modes make universal pixel tone adjustments based on differences with their neighbors (sometimes creating the white halos of oversharpening), clarity focuses more on midtones while adjusting for large tonal areas (as I understand).

But while clarity can enhance apparent detail in mid to light areas, it can seem artificial in dark areas. The way to control this is to apply clarity and then use a gray Blend If to remove the effects from the dark areas. (I still typically do an overall sharpening.)

I learned this from Nick Higham (his page references an early version of Photoshop but the principle still applies)

San Marco

The Harrowing of Hell Mosaic, Basilica San Marco, Venice

The Harrowing of Hell, Basilica San Marco, Venice
Click through to Flickr and expand for a larger view.

This mosaic is one of four on the upper level of the basilica of San Marco (behind the loggia where the horses reside) flanking the main door to the plaza. From left to right facing the basilica, they depict the Deposition (entombment), the Harrowing, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Christ.

The harrowing of Hell, also called the Descent into Limbo and the Anastasis, among other variants, took place between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Then Christ is said to have descended into the realm of the dead to reclaim the righteous and carry them to heaven.

By the early seventeenth century the original mosaics from the thirteenth century had badly deteriorated—the only remaining original mosaic is the one above the left portal, depicting the arrival of St. Mark’s body—and replacements were commissioned and executed in 1617-1618. The mosaic work was done by Luigi Gaetano based on cartoons by Maffeo Verona. The mosaics are made up of tesserae—small pieces of colored glass, stone,and enamel set in plaster.

The inscription appears to read “Ovis Fractis Portis Spoliat Me Campio Fortis” but I think the first letter is probably a Q and the V represents a U, as was formerly common. Then the Latin could be translated as something like “He who breaks down doors and carries me off is the mighty one.”

Location of the Harrowing of Hell mosaic on the Basilica San Marco facade.
Catchlight photo detail.


Carol in Ghent, showing catchlight.

Carol in Ghent, showing catchlights (see below for detail). This photo was taken on a boat bar in the university district, where animation was provided not only by catchlights but also by Duvels.

I don’t do much portrait photography. Most of my people shots are casual and unposed. The majority are of family, and it seems we are often wearing sunglasses.

But if you want to photograph faces the best way, catchlight is an important element to be aware of. A catchlight is a highlight caused by reflected light on the surface of the eye (as opposed to red eye, which is light reflected from the retina). Eyes without catchlights can look flat and dull, while catchlights add sparks that can seem to animate faces.



They come in all sizes and shapes, and it’s possible to have more than one. Studio photographers often use light reflectors to make sure they get catchlights in their portraits. If they get more than one they are likely to edit one out in post processing.  Traditionally, the best positions were thought to be ten or eleven and one or two o’clock. Some photographers will even add these highlights in post if they failed to capture them in making the photo.

In outdoor settings the best way to get catchlights is to focus on a subject who is in the shade facing toward the sun. (Some photographers carry pocket reflectors, which they usually position below the subject’s chin—these would be most useful in posed situations, and I’ve never tried them.) If the subject is looking at you as you take the photo, try to have the sun at your back. Just be aware that you might end up with your own reflection in the subject’s eyes.

Detail of image

Removing Color Cast from Images

The original image has a strong green cast.

The original image has a strong green cast.

You’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Or maybe they’re some other color. Whatever the color, it’s casting its hue over your entire image. Here I will tell you a quick, nifty trick for getting rid of it.

Take the photo above, taken with a film camera in ancient times in Mixco, Guatemala. The little boy is Felipe, the gardener’s son, and behind him is the  duplex casita that we shared with his family. As you can see, the photo has a strong green cast.

Roman fountain.

Temple of Dendur, Metropolitan Museum, New York City.

Good typography in five minutes

A delightful guide from Pierrick Calvez. Click the screenshot (from a section representing “contrast”) for the five-minute guide.

Screen shot from Pierrick Calvez's Five-minute Guide to Better Typography

Screen shot from Pierrick Calvez’s Five-minute Guide to Better Typography.


Left: Vatican City, 3 Oct. 2009. Right: Antigua, Guatemala, 4 Jan., 2002.

Left: Vatican City, 3 Oct. 2009. Right: Antigua, Guatemala, 4 Jan., 2002.

Living Wall with Calder, SFMOMA

Living wall at SFMOMA, with detail of <em>Maquette for Trois disques</em>, 1967, by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), metal and paint, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

Living wall at SFMOMA, with detail of Maquette for Trois disques, 1967, by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), metal and paint, The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection.

Penobscot stones

detail of Venice scene

Scena di Venezia

Venice scene

Another image using the photo-to-line art technique I described in a previous post.

line art

Photo to Line Art Technique

Bucks Harbor, Maine. Artwork from photo.

Bucks Harbor, Maine. Artwork from photo.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a technique for converting photos to line art, which can then be colorized. (I don’t claim this technique is original to me, but I’ve been refining it for my own purposes.)

The essence of the technique is the conversion to lines, using the color dodge and multiply blend modes. In the artwork above, I started from this photo:

Original photo.

Original photo.

Vitruvian Man (detail), by Leonardo da Vinci.

On Aspect Ratios

La condition humaine, 1933, by René Magritte. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Collectors Committee1987.55.1.

La condition humaine, 1933, by René Magritte. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Gift of the Collectors Committee1987.55.1. The aspect ratio of the work on Magritte’s easel is about 1:1.2.

Most photographic and print publication work involves operating within rectangular frames. The relationship of width to height is the aspect ratio, expressed as, for example, 1:1 for a square, 1:1.5 for a 6 x 9 book, or 1:2  for a sheet that is twice as wide as it is tall. Conventionally, the width is stated first: that 6 x 9 book is in portrait format, whereas a 9 x 6 book would be landscape, bound on the short side, and most inconvenient to read.

A special case is the golden section or golden ratio, a rectangle with the proportion 1:1.618 (between 3/5ths and 5/8ths). In this rectangle the smaller dimension is to the larger as the larger is to the sum. In other words, 1 is to 1.618 as 1.618 is to 2.618. And as 2.618 is to 4.236, and so on. This relationship, which can be extended indefinitely, was known since classical times, and it underlies the Fibonacci Series and the modular architecture of Le Corbusier, among other expressions. Gustav Theodor Fechner, a German scientist, studied people’s responses to rectangular shapes in 1876 and concluded that the golden section is the most pleasing, though his methodology and results have been questioned. But other aspect ratios also have historic and aesthetic associations.

"Fritillaria" (detail), 1915, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

“Fritillaria,” 1915, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

"Fritillaria," 1915, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

“Fritillaria,” 1915, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928). Pencil and watercolour on paper, 25.3 x 20.2 cm. Hunterian Art Gallery Mackintosh collections, GLAHA 41015.

Art is the Flower. Life is the Green Leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing,something that will convince the world that there may be, there are, things more precious more beautiful — more lasting than life itself.
— Charles Rennie Mackintosh, from “Seemliness” (1902 lecture)

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