In Absentia

So apologies for my recent absence here, real life has been somewhat busier than expected lately.  Last week I attended two conferences and had only one day off during a two week period!

One conference was on my day job – technology.  The other conference was much more interesting – in fact it was the Women Who Get Shit Done Unconference – and one of my fellow attendees has blogged much more eloquently about it than I could have

What an Unconference Isn’t

Three days of immersion with women, talking about wide ranging topics, and just generally hanging out and enjoying the company of some very cool women was an unexpected treat.

Hopefully I will have time and energy to return to my creative efforts soon, and I will be back posting again – right now as a result of the conference I am cooking up ideas about how I can take my images into more of a business setting, start selling prints and looking at making some money to fund travel and other related costs!

I am still alive 🙂

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Photography Props

props-6036Welcome to my new readers, some of whom may have found me via Instagram.  Please say Hi – would love to hear what attracted you to my images and what information you have found useful on the blog!

One discussion with Allen around my props used in my dark light food photography led to this post.

Above is an image of my dishes and plates with a soup spoon beside them for scale.  You can see the dishes are all quite small -thats because the smaller the dish, the less food you have to put into it – and a food image looks best when it is abundantly full – so yes small dishes and side plates.

Nearly all of my dishes are specially chosen for a matte (not shiny finish) – you can see the small black dish in the bottom left corner is very silvery and shiny and reflective, which I was concerned about but the size and shape was so appealing I bought it anyway 🙂

The big flat rectangular thing is my favourite prop – its a piece of slate, which is a natural stone.  I love the texture.  On top of that is some of my utensils – spoons and a bamboo scoop. Finally a couple of linen dish towels.

This is the stuff I use most of the time, I have some silverware, glass bottles, other fabric but this is the basis of my collection.  Carefully chosen for size, shape, colour, finish, adaptability – all in neutral colours and plain pattern so that the food becomes the hero in the shot.

I spent a *lot* of time on Pinterest, researching props and getting ideas and recommendations before I went and purchased these.  Some are new and some are well used and purchased in second hand shops.  The most expensive item was the linen towels which were $16 each.  The four metal rusted pie dishes cost me $18 in total and the slate which should be expensive cost me $13 from a commercial kitchen supply.

My distressed chair cost me $30 to buy and about $20 in paint and sandpaper supplies (both of which I already had on hand) and the same chair new was $169 but mine was broken.

props-6034Same picture but this time showing Taz who was supervising from a safe distance 🙂

So there you go, a look behind the scenes at the props, thanks Allen for the questions and discussion. Any tips on other prop ideas on a budget gratefully received 🙂

Questions and feedback are always welcome!

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Digital Watercolour using Rebelle

There is a particular style of art I really like, which is a combination of watercolour and sketch.  My Pinterest board has many of these images, all done by talented artists, of which I am not one, when it comes to using real paints.

Rebelle is software that digitally produces a realistic watercolour effect.  It is *so* real, that I have actually spent the last few weeks learning how to use actual watercolour paints, so that I could understand and use the software better.  Which has been a fun and interesting experiment in and of itself.

The above image was one supplied to Awake students by Gary Henderson, and is a lovely lighthouse, very unlike the shorter squat ones we have in NZ.

How I made this:

  1. Bring original photo into Rebelle, load up a colour tracing layer and then paint in the watercolour layer over the painting.  It automatically picks up the colours of the image which makes this a LOT easier. Painted everything except the sky.
  2. Open PS and bring a jpg file of the lighthouse file up,  add in three separate layers, and using special watercolour brushes paint in the sky, sampling colours from the original image
  3. Layer in the sketch made of original photo in Akvis Sketch over the top, and remove excess sketch elements and soften sketch effect to be less overpowering.

It is far from perfect but it has achieved the effect I was after.  My biggest challenge is painting large areas of sky with Rebelle, the maximum brush size was simply too small and I couldnt manage a soft wash without too many brush edges looking obvious.  This did not please me aesthetically.

However the specialty watercolour brushes I had bought recently worked very well in filling up the sky with softer blends of colours.  Three different brushes were used to give a bit of depth and softness.

Finally the sketch layer adds the structure to the image to bring it all together and make it whole.

This isn’t a technique I am going to use a lot, it really only suits certain images. Plus all that fiddly painting was giving me terrible hand cramps!

It might seem like a lot of work to turn a photo into a painting, there are easier options, but I personally like the authenticity of the watercolour style done this way. 

Do you like it? Perhaps too fussy for you?  Got some painting tips to share?

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How And Why I Use A Wacom Graphics Tablet

catI have a Wacom Intuos Pro 5 Graphics Tablet in Medium size, a Doki Art Glove and the ExpressKey Remote.  Above you can see my desk setup with two monitors, keyboard, mouse and the dark grey/black rectangle in front of the mouse is the tablet. This is how my desk is setup all the time –  Cognac is lying in his usual spot too!

Tablet link

Glove Link

Remote Link

Quite frequently I see people asking about getting a tablet, wanting to know what the best size is, how much its used, how its used and if people like them and would they recommend them.

My answer to this is always YES, I would totally recommend one, and here are my reasons why etc.

  1.   I have issues with damaged tendons in my wrist and thumb area, which means lots of mouse use really hurts, especially those small controlled repetitive brush stroke movements.  So using the pen is a different angle of grip for me, which helps control the overuse, and also promotes healing in the affected area, as its not being continually strained all the time.  This is also helped by the fact that the entire surface of the Intuous works like a touchpad on a laptop, so I can use it to mouse with just one finger.  Plus the scroll circle on the side allows for easier scrolling, which is kinder on the hand as well.
  2.  Freedom of movement gives better, more accurate control.  I can rest the side of my hand on the tablet for steadiness with very fine brush strokes if necessary.  Or I can swing my whole arm from the shoulder for loose easy strokes and movement, reducing repetitive strain on the wrist and forearm.  The movement is more natural and better for the body.
  3.   The Doki Art Glove is an interface between the skin of my hand and the surface of the tablet – you can get friction juddering, and also sweat build up with contact on the surfact.  The glove provides a friction free surface, which is washable, and makes for a much nicer user experience.  I only got my glove before Xmas but I use it all the time.

    Image from Doki site

  4.   MOAR BUTTONS!!!  One of the cool things about the tablet is it has programmable buttons to do certain things – I have mine set to things like Undo, Alt, Ctl, Shft  etc.  But there are lots of steps or functions that I do over and over again that I need more buttons for – so I got an ExpressKey Remote (admittedly it was damaged box stock at a fraction of the usual price!).So I now have buttons dedicated to New Layer, Stamp Visible Layers (Ctl Shft Alt E) and I have a whole heap of other ones I need to program but the two buttons I use the most with my tablet are Right Click and Adjust Brush Size – if I click one then the other and hold down with my left hand, if I move my pen to the top and bottom of the tablet, it changes the hardness, and from left to right changes the size of the brush.

    Being able to work with both hands simultaneously is so much faster and more efficient!  I was already doing this but it required holding one button on the tablet and a right click on the pen, and was very awkward and tiring.  Doing it on the two big buttons at the bottom of the Express Key is much better.

Image from Wacom Australia site


What size do you get?

– I was lucky enough to borrow a Bamboo tablet to try for a week to establish if it was a viable option for me, and it was a small sized tablet and I felt it was too small.  Ordered the Medium instead and when it arrived it seemed HUGE but quickly established that it was the right size – too big and you get tired moving your arm all over the place too much.

– I use two monitors which is one of the reasons I got the Med size, it easily allows me to mouse across both of them with accuracy

It takes some getting used to

– Its a very different approach and not easy to make the transition over.  All the training videos say you should go completely no mouse for at least a week to get used to it – depending on how much you use your computer and potentially the tablet, I would plan on around 2-4 week period of adjustment.

-There isn’t a lot of information around on how to set it up really specifically to your requirements – ie how you set up buttons to do a certain thing or function.  I watched a LOT of videos and harvested various tid bits from each until I got an idea of how it could do what I wanted it to do.  That evolved over time which ended up with the Remote solving a lot of those problems for me more efficiently.

-You can do lots of different things with it, like set it only to work in one mode in one program which it will do when that program is open, but will work in a different way when that program is closed.

So when I have Photoshop open, the full area of the tablet is focused on the monitor that has PS loaded up into it for the PEN functionality – but I can use my finger to mouse across both monitors.  When PS is closed, the pen works equally across both screens

tabletAbove relates the to the Pen Functionality when PS is open – it maps to only ONE monitor

Below relates to the Pen Functionality when PS is closes – it maps to BOTH monitors

capture-2So to get the best out of it, you really have to invest some time in educating yourself about what it can do, then muck around with the settings until you find a combination that works for you.

It makes Art Easier To Do

Pressure sensitive brush strokes!!! Angle sensitivity!!!  Feather light touches, quickly adjustable hardness/softness or size makes masking fiddly areas much much easier.

It makes fluffing around with the fiddly stuff fun, and with the pressure sensitivity, you have much more control and can use more sophisticated brushes to better effect.

Yes you still need a mouse

I find the one thing impossible to do on the tablet is click and drag, and I do a lot of that.  So I still have my mouse handy.

There are different nibs supplied with the Pen

Inside the pen base are a whole range of different nibs and they all feel different, I use the white springloaded one as it had the nicest feel for me, but no one obviously tells you they are hidden in there!  Unscrew the base to access them 🙂

Price is a factor

These tablets are not the cheapest option and the bigger you go the more the $$.  Also the Cintiq is even more $$ cos you work directly on the surface of the device.  All the accessories are also expensive – I would love to have the Art Brush but cannot justify it at all.  However I truly believe if you make a lot of art, this will have an easily justifiable return on investment, if you put the time into learning it and setting it up to benefit your work flow.

OK that should give people a good summary to figure out if a Tablet is what they want to go for – I absolutely LOVE mine – it has helped reduce quite crippling pain in my hand, made art fun and easy to do, and generally improved my capabilities and enhanced my ability to add subtlety and nuance into my art in a way that wasn’t manageable before.

Who else has a tablet?  Do you love it or never use it?



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Saturday Brunch Bagels

These absolutely delicious chocolate chip bagels are only made on Saturdays by a local bakery.  So popular that you have to order in advance to make sure you get some, it was absolute torture to spend time shooting these before finally getting to eat them – spread with premium Lewis Road Butter for all the *nom nom NOMS*

Featuring one of my new plates in soft speckled blue (click on the image to see the big version and check out how I made the text match) and my lovely new base which looks like a lovely old wooden table – but is actually strips of flooring vinyl!

Whats your favourite brunch treat?


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I am on Instagram

Finally decided it was time to join in the fun over in Instagram – Find Me Here

Please share your Instagram handle if you have one and also any other recommendations for people I might be interested in following would be greatly appreciated!

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Distressed Chair

One of the things I love about the work of Kim Klassen is the elegant way she works with what I guess is referred to as “shabby chic” – where furniture is worn and used and rough around the edges but still provides an understated background for her work.

Its an aesthetic that is new to me, and slowly I am collecting props in my personal style that fit into that concept.  The one thing I really wanted though, was a chair.

Except the native wood in NZ tends to have a distinct orange/yellow cast when finished, which I personally do not find attractive.  Plus they are quite expensive as they tend to be hardwood, and good wooden furniture, whatever the age, is sought after, and priced accordingly.

Still I kept my eyes open, and noticed a fancy place that embraces the  Nordic styling, but they had a broken chair on special.  I thought the price was too expensive, given it was broken, but went back a few weeks later to see if it was still there, and was prepared to haggle the price.

Lo and behold, a black chair in the same style, broken in a better place (high up on the back support) and was the price I was prepared to pay, so it came home with me.

Pinterest was my friend with finding techniques for distressing furniture.  What I ended up doing was sanding down to bare wood in the places I wanted it (edges and where natural wear would be) and then sanding back as much as the black as I could.

This was A LOT OF SANDING – and it was all done by hand.  I probably went through 6-8 sheets of sandpaper.  Its had roughly 3 coats of paint applied, and sanded back after each one..

I tried the vaseline technique and found it a waste of time, so just stuck with doing it the hard way with elbow grease and sandpaper 🙂  I wanted some black in there for interest and texture but overpainted with the white.

Because it ended up quite distressed, its a pretty rough job for my first go, but I’m not too bothered about it, the idea was that it looked used and worn around the edges.  Certainly a good learning experience.  Not sure that I will involve myself in another one, but I have my chair, which is supposed to be oak, but I think there is some pine in there – all told I spent around $50 plus many hours of sanding and mucking around to get it sorted.

This is the first photo featuring my special chair!  Have you upcycled some furniture?  Got some tips to share?

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