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Art and illustration at rightreading.com

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:

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.

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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.

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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.

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"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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Albrecht Altdorfer, Countryside of Woods with Saint George Fighting the Dragon (detail), 1510.

Albrecht Altdorfer, Forest Scene with Saint George Fighting the Dragon, 1510

Countryside of Woods with Saint George Fighting the Dragon, 1510, by Albrecht Altdorfer (German, 1480-1538). Oil and parchment on linden wood, 8.9 × 11.1 in. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Forest Scene with Saint George Fighting the Dragon, 1510, by Albrecht Altdorfer (German, 1480–1538). Oil and parchment on linden wood, 8.9 × 11.1 in. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Albrecht Altdorfer, a contemporary of Copernicus who worked in Regensburg (today a German city of 138,0000 near the Austria and Czechia borders), was a leader of the Danube school of painting. These painters spearheaded a move toward landscape painting in its own right, as opposed to using landscape mainly as a background for setting classical and biblical scenes.

Nowhere is this more evident than in this small oil painting. St. George and the dragon are dwarfed by trees in a woodsy setting. In fact, some of the leaves appear nearly as big as the dragon, whose appearance is more that of a hapless toad of the traditional ferocious fire breather. Many critics, such as Linda Murray in The High Renaissance and Mannerism (London: Thames & Hudson, 1967), call Altdorfer the first modern landscape painter. A number of his painters contain no figures at all — Altdorfer also worked as an architect, and some depict lonely ruins at twilight.

Altdorfer cleverly uses lighting effects to bring out the figures from the background and give the scene a sense of mystery. The effect is a strange stillness that is at odds with the traditional dynamism and violence of depictions of this subject.

charging bull - detail

Fearless against the blowback

From Greg Fallis's website.

From Greg Fallis’s website.

Greg Fallis, on the website gregfallis.com, does a service in reminding us of the history of the statues of the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl. I live on the West Coast, and the last time I saw the Bull in the Bowling Green of the Financial District in Manhattan, New York City, the Fearless Girl had not yet been installed.

But I cannot agree with the conclusion Fallis draws from that history. He reminds us that Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant who produced the bull at his own expense, created it to represent “the strength and power of the American people.”

Charging Bull, 1989, by Arturo Di Modica. Bronze. Bowling Green, Manhattan. Photo from bryan…’s photostream.

The Girl, on the other hand, was commissioned by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. It was intended as corporate marketing. So that seems to be a mark against the Girl.

Additionally, Fallis notes that the Girl draws her strength from the Bull, so she in effect is parasitic on it. “A global investment firm has used a global advertising firm to create a faux work of guerrilla art,” Fallis says, “to subvert and change the meaning of his actual work of guerrilla art” (Di Modica installed the Bull without permission from the city).

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The Great Piece of Turf (detail), 1503, by Albrecht Dürer.Nuremberg, watercolor on paper. Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Albrecht Dürer, The Great Piece of Turf

The Great Piece of Turf, 1503, by Albrecht Dürer. Nuremberg. watercolor on paper. Albertina Museum, Vienna.

The Great Piece of Turf, 1503, by Albrecht Dürer. Nuremberg. watercolor and white gouache on paper. Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.

This small (15.75 x 12.25 in.) watercolor is called Das große Rasenstück in German, which is most often translated as The Great Piece of Turf. Some of its greatness lies in that fact that in one sense it is not great at all — it’s just a seemingly ordinary couple of square feet of weeds and grasses. According to Tom Lubbock in The Independent, the plants can be identified as “cock’s-foot, creeping bent, smooth meadow grass, daisy, dandelion, germander speedwell, greater plantain, hound’s-tongue and yarrow.” Not focal plants for most gardeners.

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