Coming to terms with my love of digital bling

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If artistic taste has even a shred of DNA contribution than I know just who to blame for my love of a little extra embellishment. It’s not generally considered an upper-class attribute… I came to terms with this in my personal life a long time ago but found myself wrestling with it again in the studio this past week. Not from a point of acceptance but more one of communication.

The Alchemy of Digital Gold

You see digital gold foil effects are created by mimicking metallics with pixels. All is well and good if the pixels never leave the screen. When you print them, they don’t look bad; they’re just not actually metallic. Nothing is reflective nor does it catch the light. The real problem is that even a photograph of the “real” false gold ends up looking real because it’s back to being pixels again. So I initially decided not to use it on the new products I’m working on. So that nobody would be disappointed and I wouldn’t have to try to explain what to expect. I did okay for a bit. But then it was like trying to hide my true self. It didn’t feel authentic.

Embracing the Gold

So I gave in. And I LOVE these designs. I crafted a rubber stamp disclaimer (which nobody will probably read). Now I feel all happy when I hit that final click and the black placeholders turn to gold (or silver). The design comes to life. My ancestors are pleased. At least the ones that gave me the glitter gene. The sober ones from Vermont can’t get a word in…

The charms of imperfection

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I’ve noticed something interesting as I’ve been posting and uploading patterns online. Patterns that are mathematically perfect get little to no attention. As in computer-generated tessellations, even if the original element was hand-painted, there’s just something about the precise repetition that people don’t respond to. As an example:


It’s not that nobody likes it - just that the reaction is mostly meh. Just a few eyeballed tweaks and the likes jump significantly:


Obviously there’s some differences between the two but both were completely computer generated and both are basically abstract. It’s just that the colorful one was all placed by hand, it’s balanced but not perfect, there are differences in the amount of overlap - areas that could be improved. What it does is give the eyes and the brain something to think about. While the paperclips, where the grid was also determined by the computer, once you’re done saying ‘Oh, paperclips!’ has nothing more to offer - except maybe to be some really cool desk drawer liners.

Trends may have a little something to do with it but overall I suspect the psychology of how we see is the real driving force. If I were to redo the paperclips I would add a second step of hand manipulation to move one or two out of perfect alignment. It’s definitely something I’m paying more attention to as new designs are developed.

Thoughts? What do you like about your favorite patterns?

Following the distraction


I’m not exactly sure how - I think a combination of something on Pinterest plus ink pens being in with the watercolor supplies - and suddenly I’m fascinated with the combination of ink and watercolor. Not the usual black line containing color but rather line ends, color caps it off.

I think this will evolve into something far better (eventually) but in the meantime I’m pushing the perfectionist aside and just getting on with making art and putting it out there. A part of me likes the informality of a slight jig and jag in a line (and another part really doesn’t!) I do think there may be potential with current trends towards looking handmade… Digitizing it has it’s own tricks but I’m working it out.

Thoughts? Would you go in a different direction?


Tutorial: Nature-inspired Art Brushes

I have vague memories of a particular Christmas that involved endless silk screening of a cedar twig onto heavy red paper for Christmas cards - back when greeting card volume was socially necessary AND crafting was big. I was too young at the time to do more than beg to have a turn and the equipment got buried in a move not long after. 

If you remember this era at all you'll probably recall similar leaves and things screen printed onto bags and tea towels and endless other products that could be made flat enough to get the dang thing to work.

Fast forward a few years (ahem) and I was sitting in front of the computer playing around with some peony leaves I'd picked. For no good reason other to try it I decided to scan them using the cheap scanner I'd purchased a few years before. It gave up printing correctly almost immediately so it had been sitting around gathering dust except for endless scanning of documents during the house purchase last year. There it sat promising poor quality but speed. Worth a try.

Maybe this was what it was meant for - because for all the blurry text it had produced it's ability to capture nature was truly surprising.  None of this is technically new, but if you haven't experimented with this technique, and you have a scanner handy, give it a try. You might be surprised by what you can make.

1. First, find something lovely, flat and fairly open for the best effect, it will have to fit in the available scanner pane - here I went with a fern segment.


2. Scan it and open in Photoshop. Crop to just the desired element (I used the middle one for obvious reasons), select all and copy

3. Paste into Illustrator. Set the LiveTrace to Black and White and trace it.


4.Expand the image and hit Ungroup as many times as it takes to make that command grey out.


Select an outside (white) edge and delete, continue around the design until the background is gone. For a safety check, select the design and change the fill color to something wild like pink. If you still have solid areas where they shouldn't be continue selecting and deleting. Change the color back or leave it, it doesn't really matter.

5. Now you can make it into Art and Pattern brushes and go crazy!