Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

For over a decade I’ve avoided Photoshop’s pen tools. The struggles I’ve encountered using them have been, well, monumental. And embarrassingly frustrating. You can do wonderful things with pen tool such as take a muddy, mundane sketch and create a beautiful image with sharp, clean lines.

I had a breakthrough last week ago. I finally figured out why I struggled with them. My problem turns out to be basic. I have no sense of left/right, horizontal/vertical, clockwise/counterclockwise. If you ask me to turn counterclockwise, I stop and envision a clock face first. My brain tells me the left is -> that way. You get the picture. I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until last week that I realised this was the root of the problem.

Those mildly quirky bits of how my brain processes certain things turns into a hinderance when working onscreen. I can’t anticipate which direction a curved too will go. I struggle to flip things and end up going through all the options before hitting the correct one. It’s impossible to work on autopilot because I need to think through every move. So, I sat down and devised a solution.

Why was it such an issue? I’ve gotten along without figuring out how to use shapes and the pen tool until now. It boils down to this – I can’t stand not figuring out how something works. I did, in fact, fire up pen tools every now and then, over the years. Frustration was the result. When I began playing around with cleaning up old patents, so they were viewable, I realised now was the time to tackle pen tools. They offered the only way of getting the crisp lines I wanted.

The line tool is basic enough. I just get impatient and oft times don’t line things up correctly. It’s the old issue of horizontal vs vertical flip and nudge a little to the right or left.  So, I sat down with the Antoinette Flyer and used it to discipline myself into getting lines even and laid down properly. Old airplanes were wonders of straight lines and cables, so it was the perfect thing to work with. Wheels were easy – the shape tools took care of that.

The propeller was problematic. I initially thought I could fudge my way through using the freehand pencil tool. It was a disaster. I wandered over to YouTube and watched a couple videos on using pen tools and that’s when I had an epiphany. Pen tools are about understanding directions. I spent a frustrating hour trying to get the curves right for the propeller and thought this isn’t going to work without someone standing over my shoulder yelling “the other left”. Little post it notes turned into the next best thing. I often have left / right notes on my screen when I’m running through a tutorial with a customer. I stuck them back on, included notes on horizontal / vertical, etc. All the little directional indicators I needed.

The propeller looked ok.

Now I felt frisky and time for more lessons with pen tools

Original sketch from an 1886 patent for a Penny Farthing bike

Here’s the original patent.

I found it in the form of a velocipede – bicycle for we mere mortals. they were nicknamed Penny Farthings. Getting all the bends correct and using different line thicknesses to create a shadow effect was a challenge. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it took me around 8 hours to get them right. I drew them and erased over and over until I got the basics down on how the pen adjust lines.

Here’s the line drawing of the above Penny Farthing

Pen tools elevate a sketch - Line drawing of a Penny Farthing bike

Pen Tools and Shapes were ideal for this

Yes, it did take a lot of work to get the little curves correct but worth the effort. I looked at the sketch and thought it was time to elevate it to the next level.

Pen tools and a bit of colour

Final drawing of Penny Farthing with colours added

A bit of colour elevated the line drawing

I can already see ways of improving the image with a bit of free hand highlighting. That’ll take practice but will be fun.  This little patent sketch is now poster worthy. And yes, I turned this into merch. How could I not? I’m now trolling through old patents looking for other ideas to work with. This challenges my brain on so many levels. It’s exhausting but fulfilling.

The penny farthing on coasters

Cool!

Wander over by clicking this link -> Bittergrounds.Redbubble to see how it looks on different things. When you get there, click on the Cycles category. I’ve been busy over at the store. Lots of things coming and going as I fuss with designs. So have fun, let me know what you think. Remember, anything you buy goes to supporting this website.

Cheers!

Check out my first pen tools sketch of the Antoinette Flyer mentioned above:

Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic

 

 

 

More Photoshop art – buildings & a Beswick wren done with Wacom – first try

More Photoshop art – buildings & a Beswick wren done with Wacom – first try

I’m working on my Wacom/Photoshop brush techniques. Well, that’s a flattering way of saying I’m trying to teach myself how to use different brushes in Photoshop. It’s quite amazing how flexible they are. I’ve spent years working with Photoshop, strictly for photos, never seriously looking to use it for original art. I’m working towards a full freehand drawing, but my brush control has a long way to go first.

To date, I’ve been using photos and doing line tracings of them and then “painting” them in. It’s a great way of expanding a brush skills. I’m working on a photo of Osgood Hall and Toronto City Hall I took a few weeks ago. Here’s the first pass:

Toronto City Hall taken from grounds of Osgoode Hall in TorontoI’m trying for a water colour effect again. That’s something I was never any good at – real water colours. I’m too impatient, which is a weird confession considering I’ll spend hours tinkering with a picture in Photoshop or drawing on paper. Here’s the second draft, without the blue sky.  I turned the layer off on this draft until I fill in some of the building along the top. I’m actually quite pleased with the way the sky worked out though.

 

Toronto City Hall taken from grounds of Osgoode Hall in Toronto

And I’m using layers to add leaves as I go along. Not too sure about the sign, need to go erase that and try it again. That was my first attempt and yea, it looks wonky. So does the tree and bench for that matter. The tree needs more definition and the bench … it has to go. It looks like a drunken carpenter built it.  But the leaves worked spectacularily well. Building them up in layers and then using a light hand on blending seems to be the best method. I turned the undercoat off in this image as well. I’m playing with a couple colours behind the leaves to give it a fuller look. You’ll see that in the next edition.   I stopped for a bit because I realised I need to expand my brush selection. I kept relying on the same 4 brushes and that just won’t do.

Last night I was a bit bored and decided to experiment with some pencil style brushes I downloaded. I spent a rather happy evening adjusting them to a variety of softnesses with erodible points. I think some of the new mixer brushes I’ve set up might be just what’s needed in the above pictures. To experiment with the brushes, I pulled out a pencil drawing I did years ago and decided to give it a go. Yea, I cheated again, I did a rough trace of the outline of my original work and then went free hand the rest of the way. I haven’t gotten the feathers quite right, it will take a lot of practice. They are a lot easier with pencil and paper.

Photoshop drawing of Beswick wren based on an original pencil sketch

The eye worked out better than I’d hoped. It needs a bit more darkness to give it the liquid look. He does look a little rough around the feathers. I need to go back and use more layers for each series of feathers and shadings. I think I also need a harder pencil – maybe a 2H rather than the softer style, so the details pop. I’ll hammer at it this weekend. Very busy this week and might not have time to play around with it. Oh and it’s a Beswick wren, if you’re curious.

Digital art Motion Project #6 – waiting for the subway

Digital art Motion Project #6 – waiting for the subway

Trying some new techniques out. I’ve been mucking about with different styles, including different brush stokes. This worked out better than I had hoped:

Motion Project - Waiting for Subway in Toronto

Waiting for the subway at Union – Nov 2 2016

It’s a muck about of a photo I took a couple months ago but couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with it. The actual photo isn’t much to look at, but the motion caught my eye and I kept it, in hopes I could salvage something intriguing from it. I tried at least 7 variations until this morning when I got a bit frisky with the brush tool. It’s a hybrid – a brush outline, a bit of hand shadowing and a little cutout effect with some HDR thrown into the mix. I might mess about a bit more, but not sure.  I have a slightly different brush style I’m testing out, so if it works, I’ll post it. If it does’t .. you’ll never know.