Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “Photoshop”

Words Matter: The Importance of Choosing One’s Words Carefully

This week, I was asked by a friend if I could come up with a cartoon that she could use in a presentation that she would be delivering at an international conference on communication later this month. She wanted a humorous illustration that would help make the point that the words we use matter in ensuring that our ideas are understood as we intended. By contrast, when we choose the wrong words, misunderstanding can often occur, sometimes with comic effect.

This cartoon was drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen on glossy (finger paint) paper, which I then scanned and colorized in Photoshop. It shows a Catholic school student having to explain her unfortunate choice of words in class to the priest.

This cartoon was drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen on glossy (finger paint) paper, which was then scanned and colorized in Photoshop. It shows a Catholic school student having to explain her unfortunate choice of words in class to the priest.

What if we made taking the stairs the more desirable choice versus the elevator?

My (boring) workplace stairwell…


If I got my hands on some paint (and permission from the building owners), oh what the possibilities could be…

I could paint a huge tree of brightly-colored autumn leaves with a bluebird perched on a branch…


Or a thrilling ride down a ski hill…

Before_staircase3_Ski Lift

Seven flights of staring at boring, bare walls while walking up drab concrete steps is otherwise not a very inspiring way to start one’s work day. I wish developers and architects (and companies) would do more with stairwell and stair design. Stairs are sculptural and are functional public art just waiting to happen. Maybe if we had more visually interesting stairwells, more people would actually want to take the stairs at work – instead of always opting for the elevator.

Illustration: ‘Afternoon at the beach’

Inspired by a photo I took earlier this week of a multi-colored parasol at Parlee Beach at dusk and the artistic style of Maud Lewis. Drawing and colorization done entirely in Photoshop using my laptop’s touchpad.

Beach art

Misty Copeland – first black principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre: illustration

Misty Copeland_ballerina_lines

This sketch was originally drawn by hand using a black Pitt pen then scanned into Photoshop for colorization. The patterns in the tutu are individual pieces of fabric that were scanned and incorporated into the image.

‘Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain’: digital cartoon


After taking an introductory illustration course at the Ottawa School of Art and learning a few new tricks in Photoshop, I have been re-inspired to draw and colorize digitally. This sketch was inspired by a trip to Montmartre in Paris that I took in the fall of 2012 and the endless charm of the 2001 ‘Amélie’ film. The drawing was originally done by black pitt pen, scanned, and then colorized digitally. I think I might look into getting a Wacom stylus soon, though; I’ve heard it makes colorizing – and eventually drawing – much easier than using a mouse (or in my case, the laptop’s touch pad).

Photography class field trip: Byward Market, Ottawa

A few weeks ago, our intro SLR photography class at the School of the Photographic Arts in Ottawa went on a field trip to the Byward Market to practise shooting street photography from a parking garage rooftop. Here is a sample of some of the shots I got:

Fabulous blue Mini Cooper

Blue Mini Cooper close-up: love this car…

Lamp post, early evening

Street reflection through the butcher’s window

Yellow bike

Rooftop view of Market buildings

Bike & bricks

Bike pop art

Cupcake Lounge

Street pattern

Downtown Ottawa near the Market

Fire escape detail, downtown Ottawa

Hot summer evening in the Market

Window shopping at night in the Market I

Window shopping at night in the Market II

Little red dress

Along Sussex Drive

Experimenting with still life and portrait DSLR photography

Well, my intro class in digital SLR photography at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa will soon be finishing (sigh). I have really enjoyed this class and am grateful for the DSLR Nikon D40 camera that a friend of mine loaned me so that I could take this class and see if photography was an art form I would enjoy prior to going out and purchasing my own DSLR camera (which can be quite an investment).

It’s clear to me that I still need a lot more time to work on the mechanics or technical aspects of shooting, but at least I think I have pretty good natural instincts for composition and story-telling. It’s figuring out those exact settings (the specs) I will need for a given shot that still seems to trip me up. You can always tell a seasoned photographer from a newbie by the former’s facility with rattling off the expected shutter speed, F-stop and ISO that will be needed for a shot. I guess I just need to be patient and practise, practise, practise. And, perhaps invest in a Dummies book for some remedial training.

As you may have noted from my previous posts, landscape photography is a passion. So is black & white photography. I also find people fascinating and would really like to learn to shoot portraits both in a studio (posed) and non-studio/street (unposed) setting. I find studio photography trickier though, since you require a fair amount of equipment, and importantly, you need to understand how to adjust/manipulate light and shadow. Studio is a lot less forgiving than outdoor photography, with the former requiring more technical skill, in my opinion.

We did two classes in studio: one with still life (objects) and one with human subjects (portraits). I preferred the portrait session probably because I’m generally more interested in human subject matter than inanimate objects. (Not surprisingly, any past career testing I had done revealed I was not someone who would be terribly well suited to engineering or related fields.)

This wine glass was deceptively tricky to shoot and get the rim lighting just right. I tried to do some correction in Photoshop, but still couldn’t bring the stem outline out. The background is also too dark. (Argghh!)

As I listened to my enthusiastic photography teacher’s tips during our two studio sessions, I couldn’t help but think how much more interesting and less intimidating high school Physics classes would’ve been had the teachers used real-life ‘case studies’ (like is routinely done in problem-based learning curricula in the health sciences). An illustration of how the principles of Physics are applied to real-life problems would’ve made learning Physics easier for people like me, who are stimulated by story-telling and who don’t visualize well in 3-D and are also mechanically-challenged.

For example, studio photography could easily double as a lesson in Physics (with the manipulation of light and shadow) or Mathematics (especially Geometry with the calculation of angles) — and Shop class, if you have a MacGyver-like inventor/photography teacher like I do! 🙂 There are also potential teachable moments for Biology, if you do macro-photography (e.g., use of a magnifying lens to make bugs look big and allow one to study nature up close) and Chemistry, if you do food photography (e.g., adding drops of glycerin to an aqueous liquid to simulate water drops or adding effervescent tablets to make beer look frothy).

This still life set-up was kind of random, but it was a team effort. I threw my watch into the scene and declared it a re-interpretation of Salvador Dali‘s “Persistence of Memory” painting.

So, all in all, I found the evening of shooting still life kind of frustrating. Fortunately, when we did portraits the following week, everyone shot the same models, so we had some real-time group-think on what shutter speed and F-stop to try. (ISO remained constant.) I was generally more pleased with the portraits I had taken, but still had some trouble toning down the shiny slot box in the background of photo # 2 (below) in Photoshop. Again, I guess it’s just a matter of practice and getting more familiar with Photoshop…

Lifedrawing class: Les demoiselles d’Avignon reinterpreted

Below are a selection of sketches from my first lifedrawing class, which I took last fall. Really interesting course. Great teacher. Learned a lot of new techniques. Highly recommend this kind of course for learning how to draw and observe. We began with charcoal, followed by conté (+/- washes), and ended the course with pen & (India) ink (+/- washes). For the last class, it was just a creative free-for-all, where you could use whatever media you wanted in whatever combinations you wanted. I felt like a little kid let loose in a finger-painting class!.. 🙂

Of the techniques we learned, I especially liked the concept of negative space to keep the artist objective and the drawing honest. Now, I just have to master cylinder shading, which can totally screw up the three-dimensional effect you’re trying to achieve if you get the shading direction of the imaginary cylinder wrong. Believe me, I know.

Anyway, here are the sketches. I added just a touch of color via Photoshop to create a bit more drama. I tried to imagine a story around each pose or group of poses. The last one is a bit macabre, because I remember how scary-skinny this model was with very prominent ribs and clavicles (or collar bones) showing.

Oh yeah, these sketches were all timed drawings, so we didn’t have the luxury of lingering forever on details. We were instructed to focus on the essential elements in order to achieve a basic rendering of the figure before us.

Farewell to Winter and the Magic of Skating on the Canal at Night…

Farewell to ice, snow, and cold for another season and the pleasures of nighttime skating on the canal…

[Below: Hand-drawn sketch using thin Sharpie marker + charcoal. Figure in foreground then colorized using watercolor pencils and light wash. Drawing then scanned into Photoshop for background colorization and addition of whimsical moon & stars.]

Dreaming of a May long weekend on the lake…

After a rough week of nearly exclusive left brain use of sifting through and synthesizing a ton of scientific data and summarizing it all into a cohesive, pithy report, it was time for a creative catharsis. I decided to take out my Style Book and choose another photo from its endless supply of vintage fashion photos…

I chose a black & white photo of a woman wearing a one-piece beach outfit — a striped jumpsuit accessorized with a belt — napping (or at least pretending to nap) contentedly in a motorboat on an unnamed waterway, dated 1955. The picture was interesting to me for a couple of reasons: 1) the angle of the body movement (esp that the figure was angled away from the foreground) could be a challenge to interpret correctly compared to previous drawings from this book that I had selected (I still haven’t mastered perspective and foreshortening), and 2) the black & white nature of the photograph would require me to imagine a color scheme, should I choose to add color (which I almost always do).

So, I decided to experiment a bit more with mixed media…

I chose to initially hand-draw the illustration (below) in pen & ink, followed by a wash. I then took out my black conté crayon and added some more shading. (I have to be careful since I have a penchant for shading and can sometimes overdo it.) This was followed by another wash to some of the conté-shaded areas. I thought I was done: I had achieved a nice sepia-like vintage fashion illustration.

Apparently, I wasn’t, because I next had the idea of playing around with some subtle color through the use of PhotoShop. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am not a minimalist by nature.) It was just going to be the water, but then I thought, I can’t not add color to the model’s outfit if this is to be a fashion photo. Plus, I thought without a little color added to her skin, one might mistakenly interpret the tableau as a potential crime scene: was the woman napping peacefully or was she a murder victim set adrift on an abandoned boat? Or, maybe the illustration was to represent a more modern version of The Lady of Shalott?..

I therefore colorized to my heart’s content and even drew in some stars and rope (via a Photoshop paintbrush) to add a touch of whimsy and reinforce the nautical theme. Admittedly, the lake is a bit more on the green side than I had initially intended, but if you know the Muskoka region at all, it’s heavily forested, so the waterway could quite reasonably be a reflection of the various species of trees along the shoreline with a few rays of sunlight peaking through the stratocumulus clouds onto our blissfully unaware sunbather (who probably needs to re-apply her sunscreen!)

Post Navigation