January 4, 2011

Cockiness and vectors

I forgot to post this last year. Oops!
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That wedding invitation assignment from my violinist friend in San Francisco sure sold me on vector illustration! She asked for maple and oak leaves, and in typical fashion I started outside by collecting samples from my oak tree and the neighbour's maple.

I stared at the brown backyard leaves for a while until I got a sense of maple and oak basic leaf structure. It looks like the maple leaf's points fall in a pentagram shape and the oak leaf is an upside-down teardrop with holes cut out along the sides. Next, I cruised the Net and some ancient plant books from my bookshelf to explore oak and maple varieties. I chose the Sugar Maple and White Oak. They're classic shapes, very recognizable -- the sugar is pointy and curvy, each lobe swirling out from the main vein. Think Canadian flag, but bendier. White Oak is the oak leaf with the smooth, round lobes. It's really gentle and voluptuous.

Beyond looks, with a Canadian bride, the Sugar Maple was the natural choice given Canada's maple syrup fame. For him, since I couldn't find a native Californian oak, I chose the White Oak as it's the most loved among oaks.

So I did a few drawings in black ink (she'd told me she wanted a Japanese look, being Japanese herself) and scanned them into Photoshop.

And as soon as those leaves landed next to the wedding text, they looked like garbage! Eww.

I'm no graphic designer, right. When I took this project on, all I thought about was the illustrations. Wrong! I completely neglected to remember that the images needed to flow with the graphic design. These images looked very odd, very weak and not wedding-y at all next to the Japanese-style typeface I was using.

So I figured I could do some fully worked-up paintings -- either on paper or on 'Shop -- no doubt they'd look nice as opposed to those little ink sketches. But I couldn't take the risk -- taking that kind of time wouldn't leave me any margin for error if I had more screw-ups. I needed attractive, simple images that would be easy to layout and resize and colour on multiple projects: the invitations, menus, and whatever else. I didn't want to do some paintings and then have them print poorly or something.

Soooo I figured I'd try doing vector images because they've got that versatile thing going for them, apparently. But, yeah. My lord, that was tough to learn. In hindsight, I could've managed a couple of watercolours in the time I spent sifting through tutorials and making an ass out of myself with the Pen Tool on Photoshop. I've tried it before with no success, but it's amazing what necessity will do for me.

(The Pen Tool is totally unintuitive, at least at first. You click on the screen a starting point and end point for a curve, and pull little handles to affect its direction and (slope?). I finally had a break-through when Photoshopcafe released a new tutorial this week. That and some help files on "vector masks" got me through.)

The result is some spectacularly unimpressive leaves, but hey, it's my first time :)

She seems happy, and that's what matters.

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