A picture a day keeps…away

coverI manage a group of designers who make tutorials for Adobe’s products. My team is super-talented and I love working with them. You might think that since I work at Adobe, I get to draw and create all day long. Nope. I attend lots of meetings and create spreadsheets and emails but I don’t create much in the way of artwork anymore.

Not long ago, this fact started to really depress me. When I went to art school I took scores of photography, drawing, and painting classes. But in the last few years, I haven’t actually made any art at work – or at home. I’ve been too busy managing people and projects. Last summer, I decided that I would spend just a few minutes each day making a picture. Here are the guidelines I set for myself:

  1. use only an iPhone camera
  2. explore different iPhone photography and painting apps
  3. post an image to Instagram once a day for one year

I have been doing just that for one full year and it has been a great experience. I’ve stretched myself artistically and reconnected with things that I have always loved about photography and photo-illustration. When I started this project in August, 2014, I began by focusing on composition.

Challenge: working within a square
My self-imposed requirement to post on Instagram inadvertently created a secondary limitation – all the images need to be square. I know there are ways around this but I decided to embrace the challenge. I didn’t set my iPhone camera to square though. I wanted the whole image with the opportunity to crop later. Cropping became part of my process and it has helped me take better pictures.

HawaiiChallenge: Learn to use new tools
During the past year I have experimented with many different apps. I’ve used Lightroom Mobile, Photoshop Touch, PaintCan, Snapseed, SlowShutter, Camera+, and Stackables. Each app offers different tools and I have dabbled with most of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of photography apps. Seán Duggan has a great blog with a list of recommended photo apps for iphoneography. Its a nice place to start if you are interested in exploring these tools.

oversaturateI considered this project an exploration and a daily journal – not a daily masterpiece. Learning to use the macro feature with Camera+ enabled me to photograph insects and waterdrops close-up. I experimented with saturation and HDR. Sometimes I pushed the tools and the iPhone camera too far and discovered their limitations.

Challenge: Relax and just experiment
When I began this project, I put a lot of pressure on myself to create a beautiful work of art each day. The problem with this thinking was that it really stunted my ability to freely experiment and try new things. It takes time to finesse and craft an image and time was something I didn’t have enough of. I decided I would post an image before I went to bed each night even if I didn’t have a masterpiece. While visiting my aunt in Portland last fall, I took the same shot of the Tualatin River several days in a row. Each day it looked different and I never got bored of that view. Experimenting and playing can produce masterpieces you never knew you had inside you.

OregonExperiment: Turn a photograph into a digital painting
Sometimes I just want to capture the feeling of a visual scene without a lot of the fussy detail and distractions that can come with a photo. I started playing around with some of the filters and apps that add grain, textures, or a painterly effect. The apps I used for painting effects were Photoshop Touch, PaintCan (an experimental app from Adobe), Snapseed (mostly the Grunge filter), and Stackables. Here are some of the results of my painting and impressionistic experiments:

paintingsExperiment: Create a series
I take the train to our San Francisco office every Wednesday. This means I’m sitting on a train facing other passengers for 2 hours each week. If you are sitting in the right seat, the light coming in from the windows can be quite lovely. At first, I wanted to take pictures of the travelers’ faces but I was worried about being rude and invasive, so I started taking pictures of their hands while they rode the train. I realized that because almost everyone had a cell phone in their hands, nobody noticed me taking pictures of them. Most of these images I created in black & white because I found the colors distracting. I wanted all the focus to be on the hand gesture and expressiveness. What started as an experiment, turned into a series of photographs that I call “Fellow Traveler.” Here are a few from that ongoing series:

trainAnother theme developed from my photo walks qualifies loosely as a series. These are the images of plants and flowers I created from walking around my neighborhood and my garden in the early mornings. Here are a few of my flower images:

plantsOnline critiques
This project has brought me back to my art school days in a certain way. The art students would pin our work to the wall in the studio classroom and then stand back and listen while the teacher critiqued the work. Instagram isn’t exactly like art school. But there is something about the act of making my image available for public viewing that causes me to take a bit more care than I would with a private sketchbook.

This has been a project I’ve done for myself, not for a particular audience. Some of my posts have received no notice at all. I’ve had a very, very small group of people who have liked or commented on my images and that has been interesting to observe. For example, one of my most popular images literally took 1 minute to create – from snapping the photo to posting the cropped and unaltered version of it. And some of the images that I spent a lot more time on – images that I really, really loved looking at – garnered very little attention or comment.

My former colleague, John Nack, now a product manager for Google’s photo apps, once told me about how some people follow the Instagram Rule of 11. They will take down a post if it doesn’t get 11 likes fairly quickly. I hardly ever get 11 likes and frankly, I don’t care. My teenaged niece swears that you should never, ever post more than once a day – its not cool. I’m not doing this to be cool or to be liked. I’m doing it for myself. I’m having fun. I’m practicing my art. And I think I’m improving. What’s not to like about that?

Great image journals and art process posts on Instagram:


If you are interested, please check out all the images on my Instagram feed.

Cheater Chalkboard Calligraphy


A friend recently asked me to create a couple of chalkboard signs for her son’s beach wedding and I admit I felt a bit daunted by the project. I haven’t practiced calligraphy in many years and I had never done calligraphy with chalk. I started thinking about how to keep the words spaced properly and decided I needed to figure out a way to transfer the design to the chalkboard before I drew with the chalk. It was easy! You do not have to be a graphic designer or calligrapher to do this. Here are the steps:

What you’ll need:

  • Adobe Illustrator (this technique will work with Photoshop or InDesign too)
  • a laser or inkjet printer
  • tape, pencil, scissors, ruler, liquid chalk markers
  • chalkboard

Create the calligraphy pattern
These instructions show you how to create the design using Illustrator but you can do basically the same thing if you want to create the design using Photoshop or InDesign.

  1. Measure the chalkboard and note its dimensions.
  2. Launch Illustrator and create a document using the dimensions of the chalkboard.
  3. Use the type tool and various typefaces to create your design. Save the file. Here are a few great tutorials about using the type tool in Illustrator:
    Work with fonts from Typekit
    Point vs. Area Type
  4. I created my design in color to give me an idea of where I wanted to use different colored chalk. I also created a black rectangle behind the typography so that I could visualize what the final chalkboard would look like.
  5. Choose File > Save As to save a duplicate of the design. Select the type and choose Type > Create Outlines.
  6. Select View > Show Print Tiling. This will give you a preview of what the pages will look like when they print. Select the Print Tiling Tool. You will use it to indicate which part of the design you want to print.
  7. Use the Print Tiling Tool to print each area of your calligraphy design. Print the page or page tiles at 100% size. For my design, I printed 4 separate pages to include the whole design at full size. You definitely want some overlap. That will help you align the prints when you combine them.Notice in the illustration below that the inner dotted lines show what you’ll see in the print. The outer dotted lines indicate the edge of the paper. For further learning, here is more printing & tiling information: Printing onto multiple pages using tiling.

Combine the pages to create the full sized pattern.

  1. Take your scissors, some clear tape, and your printed pages and find a window or glass door you can work on. This works best during the day with lots of indirect light. (A glass of wine is optional but I recommend it.)
  2. Holding the pages up to the lighted window, line up the letterforms and once they overlap seamlessly, use the tape to secure the pages together. Continue aligning and taping until all the pages are taped together. You now have a pattern that is ready to trace.

Transfer the design to the chalkboard

  1. Flip the pattern so the back side is visible. Tape the pattern to a window or glass door to reveal the design. If the overlapping pages block you from seeing the letterforms, you may need to trim them a bit. That’s what I did below:
  2. Use a fine tip chalk marker or chalk pencil to trace the outlines of the letterforms onto the back of your pattern. Don’t fill in the designs, just outline them. The chalk that’s left on the back of the paper will transfer to the chalkboard in the next step.
    062215.17   062215.10
  3. Place the pattern sheet backside down on top of the chalkboard. Adjust its position and using a ruler, make sure the baseline of the letters is parallel to the chalkboard frame.
  4. Once the pattern is taped to the chalkboard, use a pencil to trace over the outlines of the letterforms on the right side of the pattern paper. I used a dull pencil so that it wouldn’t tear the paper and accidentally scratch or mark the chalkboard.
  5. Once you are finished tracing the whole design, you should have a light outline of your letterforms transferred to the blackboard. You will use the outlines as a guide for your calligraphy.

Create the chalkboard calligraphy

  1. Trace the outlines using the liquid chalk markers. I used two sizes. For very light, thin typefaces (Futura Light below), I used the small markers. Note: I placed a sheet of paper over the chalkboard as I drew so that my hand or sleeve didn’t smear or erase the light outlines.
  2. I started at the top and worked downward, moving the protective sheet as I went. For the straight line, I used a ruler and a thin marker. For larger letters and fill areas, I used the large chisel tip chalk markers. Theoretically you could use regular chalk for this but the liquid chalk markers give you much cleaner lines and more solid colors.
  3. Below is the finished board before I transported it to the wedding venue. To protect the chalk lettering, I wrapped the chalkboard with cardboard and taped it. I managed to smear some of the letters while I packed it up but I used some wet Q-Tips and the chalk markers to touch up and it looked as good as new.

Normally I wouldn’t mix so many different typefaces but the idea was to imitate the style of old fashioned ad designs. Here are the typefaces that I used:

  • Futura Light and Futura Book
  • Zapf Dingbats
  • Lust Script
  • HWT Catchwords
  • Rockwell Extra Bold

How I made a Renaissance portrait with Photoshop and a sari


The ADIM Conference
Russell Brown has been hosting the yearly ADIM Conference for many years. In previous years, I taught and assisted. But this year I went as an attendee to literally walk in the shoes of Adobe’s customers as they learn to use Creative Cloud apps. I manage a team of UX designers at Adobe who create many of the tutorials our customers use to learn our apps. As User Experience Designers, we need to regularly remind ourselves of what our customers face everyday when trying to use Adobe products.

Each year the conference has a different theme. This year’s theme was Shakespeare and the attendees worked on two projects: a Renaissance self-portrait and a book. For the portraits, Russell invited a fabulous photographer, Joel Grimes, to shoot using lighting similar to that in many Renaissance era paintings. Most everyone brought a costume to wear for their portrait. Russell brought three – Caveman Shakespeare, Renaissance Shakespeare, and Futureman Shakespeare.


The Costume
I started with some beautiful Indian sari silk that I had purchased in Bangalore, India while on a business trip. After doing some research on 16th century clothing, I made a sketch of my idea. I decided to create a man’s costume based on the cross-dressing character Viola in Twelfth Night. It took me many weekend hours to create because I was mostly designing as I constructed. As you can imagine, I had to rip out many stitches and start over several times.

050115.5  050115.12

The Painting
Let me just say right now that I hate having my photo taken. I much prefer to be the one behind the camera instead of in front of it. I posed for the portrait photo along with everyone else and I really disliked almost all of mine. The only ones I liked were the ones where Russell photobombed the shot (dressed as “Caveman Shakespeare”). I returned later that evening and had the portrait reshot—this time wearing a stunning dragon mask created by costume-maker Robert LaMarche.

050115.3  050115.4

Once I had the photo, I started to play with it in Photoshop. We were taught several techniques on how to make your photo look like a painting. I discovered the Impression filters for Photoshop from TopazLabs and really liked them. I ended up experimenting for hours to create really cool painterly effects. Once my file was ready, it was printed onto textured, stretched canvas. I picked a gold frame, attached it, and voilá!—a framed Renaissance self-portrait made with Photoshop.

050115.7  050115.8

The Book
The book project had two parts. The cover was to be designed using Illustrator and because it was made of wood, it was laser cut by a Universal Laser machine. I LOVE using these laser cutters! It is so fun to design something in Illustrator and then output a three-dimensional object with incredible precision. Once the cover was finished, I started on the contents of the book.

050115.10  050115.9

For the inside of my book, I created a set of digital paintings with Photoshop that I printed onto heavy watercolor paper. I had created these paintings by using many of the portrait photos that Joel Grimes shot of the attendees. I chose to focus on the hands – as if it were a close-up view of a larger painting. These reminded me very much of my art history classes where the professors would show magnified views of different paintings and sculpture to discuss creation techniques and details.


The Renaissance – yet again
In 1987 I designed the first Adobe Illustrator packaging using Botticelli’s Venus as the base of the imagery. I did that because I felt that Adobe was part of a 20th Century Renaissance with the advent of digital publishing and digital art. That was almost 30 years ago and it feels like another Renaissance is happening in the 21st century as well. Artists have so many digital and mobile tools and output options at their disposal that it’s a bit overwhelming. But at the same time, I find it a very, very exciting time to be an artist.

Cropping – step one for improving your iPhone pictures

Crop-8-7Want to improve the iPhone photos you post on Instagram, Facebook, or other social media sites? For beginner photographers and busy amateurs like me, there are a handful of things you can do very quickly to improve your images. The first one is to crop the shot for a better composition.

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer. Almost a year ago, I started doing a daily photo journal because I found that I was so busy with my job as a manager at Adobe that I no longer had time to create art. I figured that if I took just 5 minutes a day to create an image with my iPhone, that might satisfy my need to create without taking too much time. I have been posting my images on Instagram and Facebook and several of my family, friends, and colleagues have asked me for tutorials. This is the first one.

These are the steps I follow to enhance and improve my iPhone photos by cropping.

  1. Take a picture with your iPhone.
  2. Open the Photos app and select the photo that needs cropping.
  3. Optional: To visualize the cropped image before you crop: touch two fingers to the middle of the photo and slowly spread the fingers outward to zoom in on the image. (Pinch your two fingers in to zoom out again.) Use one or two fingers to move the image around on the screen. Zoom in and out on the photo to plan how you want to crop.
  4. Pick a photo editing app for cropping. There are lots of good ones (Photoshop Touch, Lightroom Mobile, Snapseed, Camera+). You can even crop right there or in your Camera Roll.
    Photo Mar 05, 4 06 10 PM     Photo Mar 05, 4 06 20 PM
    Note: in some apps the crop may permanently change your photo. The editing feature in your Camera Roll allows you to revert back to the original if you don’t like the way it cropped. (Or you could try an app that is “non-destructive” like Lightroom Mobile.)

Here are some of the things I try to create when I crop an image:
(All the images below were cropped to a square for posting in Instagram.)

Interesting shapes—especially along the borders:
Crop-3      Crop-2

Less clutter and more focus on the subject:
Crop-8-2   Crop-9-2

Drama or close up detail:
Double-cropSeqMovement of the lines and colors that draw your eye around the image:
Crop-9-5      Crop-8-5

Creating mystery or implied story:
Crop-9-6     Crop-8-6
Crop-8-8     Crop-9-7

One final cropping tip for Instagram posts: your iPhone camera has a setting to take square pictures so you can better frame the shot for Instagram. Check it out:
Photo Mar 05, 5 36 26 PM

Stay tuned to this blog for another tutorial on how to improve your iPhone photos. Next time, how to improve your color photos by making them black & white.

Resources and more info:
Sean Duggan iphoneography blog
10 Rules of Photo Composition blog post
How to crop and Level in Lightroom
Luanne Seymour’s Instagram feed to see lots of iPhone photos

The Photoshop Clouds filter

cloudsHave you ever tried the Clouds filter in Photoshop? You may not have noticed it since it is buried a little deep in the menus. I recommend that you give it a try. Cloud images come in handy when you are creating a collage or retouching an image in Photoshop. In celebration of Photoshop’s 25th birthday, I thought I’d share a little history.

The person who created this little bit of Photoshop magic is Mark Hamburg, currently a Fellow at Adobe, and I was lucky enough to witness it. Over 20 years ago I was writing a little book called Design Essentials, the first book published by Adobe Press. It was full of tutorials on design and illustration techniques for Illustrator and Photoshop. Mark Hamburg came into my office and my co-worker, Russell Brown joined us. He showed us how to create clouds in Photoshop in about 7-8 steps. We were awestruck and, of course, wanted to try it ourselves. I asked Mark to repeat it so I could write down the steps and put the technique into my book. I came to work the next day all ready to write up the new “clouds technique” for the book. When I walked into my office there was a small floppy disc wedged into my keyboard with a sticky note attached to it that said, “Clouds filter.” Mark had made his technique into a filter and it still lives in Photoshop today.

Here is how to use the Clouds filter in Photoshop.

  1. Open a new document or layer.
  2. Set your foreground and background colors. In part of the example above, I used a background color of white and a foreground color of a teal blue.
  3. Choose Filter > Render > Clouds.
  4. The clouds are created randomly so you can keep applying the filter over and over until you get the clouds that you like. The shortcut for reapplying a filter is Command (Ctrl) + F.
  5. To get more contrast between your clouds, try Option (Alt) + Command (Ctrl) + F.

For more information about using Photoshop Filters, here are some great tutorials:

Basic photography questions explained

01-26Ever wonder why your photos turn out too dark or too light? Or how to set up your camera to get crisp action shots? Or how to get that cool effect of having the background of your photo being soft and blurry with the foreground object being sharp and in focus? The Creative Cloud Learn team is experimenting with short videos about photography. They are part of a larger set of tutorials for Novice Photographers. These are totally worth checking out if you are just learning about digital photography:

Be sure to give us feedback on what you think of the tutorials and what other questions or topics you’d like us to cover.

Basic digital photography tutorials

photog-noviceAre you wanting to learn more about digital photography? This is a good place to start: Photography Tutorials. There are some very basic  2-minute tutorials here for novice photographers who are just getting started. If you are a total beginner and just want to learn a few really basic skills, check these out: