False Matters Icons

So, come the middle of May, I’ll be performing in False Matters with folks from Gnap! Theater Projects. For the clicky-averse, it’s an improvised Philip K. Dick show. Ambitious and crazy, to be sure, but we’ve been rehearsing and building ensemble for the last few weeks, and had an amazing run-through this past Tuesday – I would have been totally happy had that been a show in our run, so I have high expectations for how this show turns out.

One of the challenges we’re looking at is how to take a suggestion for the show that will properly inspire a PKD-ish story. So, during our last rehearsal, we sat down in front of a whiteboard and the cast threw out common elements and themes from his stories. We’ve all been reading and watching and listening to his work, of course, to prepare for the show, so we’re all fairly familiar with it by now; I’ve been a long time fan of Dick (hurr hurr), so I’m all over it, as well.

Anyway, it appears that I’m going to be building a little application in Flash (probably running under AIR) that will do a spinny thing with a bunch of icons representing the concepts we brainstormed this week, alongside a hexagram from the I Ching, which Dick was fairly obsessed with for a while. We’ll have that on a laptop or projected somewhere, hit the randomizer button, get our thingies, and present it to the audience for interpretation. From there, it’s all made up, creating a world that’s already science-fiction-y, and throwing a PKD-style reality breaker in there at some point. It’s going to be insane and a total blast.

But, you’re not here to listen to me talk about improv, right? You want to know how I’m making those icons, yeah? Well, Photoshop. Durr. I’m going for a beat-up, hand-drawn kind of look, while retaining some of the regular lines that people expect from icons and whatnot.

So, I’ve got a mostly – but not quite – regular octagon cut out with white on a black background. On top of that, I’ve shopped and dropped a scratchy background that’s big enough that I can reposition it and flip it around so that each icon will have a fairly unique, but consistent distressed look to it. (I’m also flipping around the slightly irregular octagon, but that’s just barely noticeable.) Every now and then, when I add the text for the icon, I tilt that a degree or two one way or the other just to add to the off-kilterness, but I keep forgetting to do that, so we’ll see how often the tilted text happens. It’s probably good not to do that too often, just enough to keep things interesting here and there.

So, I’ve got my nice template for the icons, so all that’s left is the drawing. I’ve got thirty or forty icons to create – the list got pretty deep – and I was kind of dreading bouncing back and forth between Photoshop and Illustrator to create the vector art for the icons and bringing it back over to the template and rendering them out and so on. I could have gone the other way, adjusting the borders and backgrounds and bringing them into Illustrator, but that would have been just as bad.

But hey, there’s a pen tool in Photoshop, too! It’s been a good long while since I really worked out with that there, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Turns out, it’s a lot easier to handle than I’d expected – between the pen proper (and its sub-tools), and being smart with the path selection and filling/stroking tools and whatnot, I was able to quickly crank out a dozen or so of the icons.

Take a gander at what we’ve got so far:

Not bad, right? Those are all totally hand-drawn from scratch, except the animal one, which I traced from a photo of a dog with the pen tool, and worked up from there. But still, just using pens and brushes and shapes and straight-up photoshoppery, not too shabby for a non-artist like myself. I’m about a third of the way into the project, but it’s a lot of fun so far. I’ll have to sit down and write some code sooner or later – well, before the week is out, probably – but for now, I’m having a great time just coming up with the ideas for these icons and knocking them out.

I’ve gone ahead and posted these shots up on my dribbble page, here and here. Time willing, there’s plenty more where those came from. Enjoy!



Six Gun cards

I’ve spent the last couple of days off and on working up a play card for this game that I’d been fiddling with, Six Gun. It’s based on a strange little children’s clapping game called High Noon, which grabbed me for some reason, but felt a little flat, so I took it upon myself to spruce it up a little bit. After some tweaks to the rules and a bit of playtesting, I think I’ve got it the playing quick and fun! The game design discussion probably belongs over on Flywheel, so I’ll just talk about the graphic design of the card here.

When I started, I really had no idea what I was going to do. It’s a simple game, but a little tricky to describe simply, so naturally, the most important thing to do was to draw the chambers of a revolver, and drop it in the middle of the page. I decided to fit the design to a three by five card size, since that felt good to me, and it would be a fun challenge to get everything in there. I popped open Illustrator and drew my six-gun chambers pretty quickly. I considered dropping some icons or something into the holes, but as I played with the title text, I realized that “Six Gun” had six letters, and did the obvious thing, choosing a nice western-style font (which I later discovered was the same font that Showdown is using on their postcards…), and positioning the letters into the bullet chambers.

Okay, now what? Well, I’m still avoiding paring down the rules enough to fit on the card, so let’s find some kind of background or border image. After doing a few searches on “western borders” (which is less useful than you’d expect), I finally stumbled upon this nice grungy texture that looked like it would work just fine. It’s huge! Which is great for detail, so I initially just scaled it down to 3×5″ and added a clipping mask to fit it to the card borders, but the huge file size was a strain on the resources of my MacBook. So, I pulled it into Photoshop and scaled the image down to 900 by 1500 pixels – that’d work for anything up to 300dpi on the card, so I figured it’d be fine. (It wasn’t, it turns out – see below…) Oookay. Bring that image back into Illustrator, drop it into the background, and it’s back to work.

One of the things that I wanted to hit on was creating an icon for each one of the steps of the game: clapping, ducking, reloading, and shooting. Still not an artist! Especially not great at illustration right now, and good icon design is a special art that I’m still not really good at. However, I think that I pulled off a few things pretty well with these – not spectacular by any stretch, but not totally sucky. I’ll take that as a win!

All right, on to the actual rules, finally. You’d think that this would be the simplest part, but it’s really not! I didn’t leave myself a lot of space to wiggle around in, so I had to cut the rules down to the barest steps to get them to fit. I was originally considering using the icons that I’d created in some kind of cyclical diagram in the rules, but I wound up just using them as a decoration and quick reference around the image of the cylinder of the revolver. So, after breaking the rules into just a few simple steps and clearly laying out the winning and losing conditions, I actually had a bit of room to throw in a tag line up top and a signature exclamation at the bottom of the card. I styled all of that lightly, plopped it down, and we’re good to go. A touch of polish here and there, and the card is done!


Nope. Okay, so I like 3×5 kind of instinctively, I guess. Must be the index card thing. Anyway, it turns out that it’s kind of hard to find a printer that will do postcards at that size. I found one that will, but they charge a bit more than I was hoping to pay for a test run, so I figured it’d be worth the time to resize the cards to 4×6″ and go with overnightprints.com, which I had a coupon for!

So, first off, there’s a 1/8″ bleed area that I need to account for – which I would have needed to add in the 3×5″ version, anyway, durrr – so I took the original background image back into Photoshop, sized that back out to 4.25″x6.25″ at 300dpi, and cut it up the way I needed it. It’s a little stretched from the 3×5″ version, but not noticeably so. After bringing that back into Illustrator and setting the artboard up for the correct size, it wasn’t a big deal to scale and reposition all of the elements that I needed to make things fit. Scootch things around a bit to make them all pretty at the new size, and done!

I rendered out PNG and PDF files for both sizes, and decided to drop the twenty bucks or so that it would take to print up a hundred of these postcards at overnightprints. I quickly threw together a back for the card, and sent them off. I used the cheapest shipping, of course, so it’ll be a couple of weeks, but it’ll be a nice surprise for me when they do show up, right? If anybody wants one, find me, and we’ll draw for it!

First shot at texturing, part 3

Okay, so we’ve got a nice little papercut palace on a nice little hill in front of a nice blue sky. Well, maybe the little palace is a little bit too nice. Before we do anything else, I’m going to rough up the edges of some of the bits of the palace, to make it look a little less clean-cut and vector-y. I just do this by selecting one of the layer masks – let’s say the one for the wall – and applying a Brush Strokes -> Sprayed Strokes filter to it with very long vertical strokes (size of 20 or so) and a spray radius of two or three. You can play with other filters on other parts of the palace – the spatter stroke filter is pretty handy for this, too – but I think that’ll work for now.

I’m going to add a few more things before calling it done, here. We need a forest over on the left side, a road leading out of the palace gate, a cloud or three in the sky, and… we’ll see what else.

Here’s a nice rocky texture for the road. You should know the drill by now: bring the texture into photoshop as a new pattern, create a fill layer, and edit the mask to create a road shape with that texture. I’m actually going to roughly draw the road on a new layer, put it in an folder named “Extras”, and then select what I’ve drawn and create the pattern fill layer with that selection mask. (I can delete the layer that I was drawing on after the fill layer is down.) Then I just go into the mask on that pattern fill layer and touch it up a bit, drop a shadow with the global light on it, and there we go.

We do basically the same thing for the forest. Draw a rough forest shape over on the left (not an artist!), look for a good image for a fill pattern – this one looks okay – define a new texture with it, select the painted area, and create the texture fill layer with the mask. Touch it up, maybe use a color overlay to make it darker and greener, drop a shadow, and we’ve got some kind of forest. I’m not sure what kind exactly, but let’s call it that for now.

Okay, last element is the clouds. I’ll just draw some cloudy shapes up there and swirl and smudge them around some, and find a cotton ball texture to fill them with. I’m not sure how well that’ll work, but I’ll take it. I’m going to rough it up a bit with the sprayed strokes and put the standard drop shadow on it, and look at that:

Finally, let’s add some overall adjustments to make it just right. I’ll throw one more hue/saturation/brightness filter over the whole image and bump down the saturation to -20 to fade it out a little bit, then add a warming photo filter on top of that to warm it up some, and finally a vibrance adjustment layer on top of that at +50 to make the image pop a little bit more.

Finally, I’ll add a light vignette around the outside edge to bring the palace in the center into focus a little bit more. I just draw a quarter inch white border around the image in a new layer on top of everything, and apply a gaussian blur to it at, say, 45 pixels. Even that is just a touch too much for me, so I’ll bring the opacity of that layer down to about 85%, and I think that’ll do it.

So, here’s our final image. (Click through for the full size version.) Not bad for someone who’s not an artist, huh?

So… what next?


First shot at texturing, Part 2

Okay, from last time, I’ve got this image to start with:

So, first, I’d like to add some depth, so I’m just going to throw a little drop shadow on those hills. I can’t do that the way things are set up now, so I’m just going to be reorganizing the layers a little bit. I pull the mask off the folder, and on to the first hill layer itself. Now it looks like this:

That’s totally not what we want, so we fix that by selecting the hue/saturation adjustment layer above that, and choose Create Clipping Mask. That’s more like it. Now I can apply the drop shadow to the masked hill layer, and it looks just fine.

We can repeat the same process with the second hill behind it, moving the mask to the texture layer, creating the clipping mask on the adjustment layer, and copying and pasting the layer style to duplicate the drop shadow. We get it looking like this now, and lock the folders back down.

Okay, now it’s time to draw the palace, like I promised. I’ll use my sketch from before, as a rough reference, and poke around the internet for other photos that I can steal details from. Like this one!
So, I’ll open up Illustrator and do a sketch of the sketch, here:

Okay, so there’s a few things I can do here, but I’m just going to paste that as a bitmap (pixels) into a new layer, and lay with it in Photoshop there. I played around with just doing pattern fills into that, but I don’t want the outlines to be there – I’m just going for the straight cut-out look – so that clearly is not going to work. So, plan B: cut up the palace shape and use the bits as masks, right? I’m going to use one texture for the walls, one for all three building bases, and a different one for each minaret top and tower bits. First I make a duplicate of the layer for safety, and then get to cutting!

So here’s the way I’m going to work it. Isolate the part that I want with the marquee tool, and paste it into a new layer. Do whatever cleanup I need to do on the piece (like erasing little anti-aliased bits that got caught in there) and when I’m happy with the shape, use the wand tool to select the background. Now, I add a pattern fill layer underneath that, hide the cut-out shape, select the mask part of the fill layer, and with the background color set to white and the foreground to black, hit delete. If everything went right, it should mask out everything that’s not the shape that I want, so I get something that looks like this:

Sweet, right? Okay, I’m going to do that for the other shapes, bring in some other random paper textures, and repeat until I get something that I like. Oh, hey! I totally forgot, if you have a simple selection, like the squares for the buildings there or whatever, and you add a fill layer, the mask will default to that selection, saving a step or two there. Sweet, again. So, here’s the palace with all of the random textures dropped in:

Now we do the same thing with the drop shadows, playing with them until they look right, and the final palace looks like this:

And, since all the textures and stuff are done with adjustment and fill layers, I can swap those out at any time without having to reapply all of the masks and shapes and colors and whatnot. This gives me a lot of freedom to make it look pretty, but it’s good enough for me right now.

So, that’s it for tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll try to add the rest of the details and finish this all up for good.

First shot at texturing

Okay, so let’s keep in mind that I’m not anywhere near being a designer. But I’ve been doing things that border on the shadow of design for years, I know my way around Photoshop and Flash and Illustrator and whatnot pretty well, and I can usually put together things that don’t suck. So, in the spirit of learning new stuff, I’m going to be trying a bunch of things that may or may not work, but hopefully I’ll learn some stuff in the process.

So, where to begin? Well, I’m playing with some art to illustrate a story that my daughter Paidia likes (The Monkey Princess) and I’d like it to look kind of cut-out and storybooky, so let’s start there. I’ll do a quick sketch of a palace on a hill near a forest, and see where it goes from there. Here’s a shot of the sketch:

Again, not an artist! But that’ll do for now, and I can lean on the computer to make my crappy illustration look a little bit better, hopefully. So, let’s get to it. I’ll open a new document in Photoshop – nine by six inches at 150 dpi, just to give myself some room to fiddle with. Then I do a search for some paper textures and pick out a few that I like.

This one looks like something I can work with for a first background, so I paste it into Photoshop on a new layer, and set the size to 1350×900 pixels, the same size as my document. So, I guess this will be the sky, and I’m just going to be a traditionalist and make the sky blue, so I add an adjustment layer for hue/saturation and set it to hue=187, saturation=40, lightness=25, and turn on colorization to make it all pretty and blue. I throw those two layers into a folder named Sky and lock it so that I don’t stomp all over it later by accident.

Next up is the ground, which will just be a couple of hills, one big one in front, one little one in back. I’ll make both the hills to look more or less the same, so I grab a rougher paper texture and paste it twice into two separate layers, named “first hill” and “second hill”, appropriately enough. I flip the second hill texture horizontally, and resize them both to just the lower half of the canvas or so, just to mix it up a little bit. Each of those layers goes into their own similarly named folders so that I can apply the adjustment layers and masks to them individually – I bet there’s a way to do that without putting them in separate folders, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now.

So! I have two paper layers just sitting there that need sprucing up. I’ll hide the background hill for now, and add another adjustment layer – hue=107, saturation=30, brightness=-15, and colorize. Then I add a quick mask to the folder containing those layers, and carve out a rough hill shape. When I’m done, it looks like this:

Not too bad. (Not an artist!) Okay, that was pretty painless, right? So now I unhide the second hill, which is in the folder that sits below the first hill, layer-wise, and do kind of the same. Add an adjustment layer to make it light green – the default values actually work just fine, here – and add a quick mask to the folder and carve out a second hill. Lovely.

So, that’s that for now. Next up, I’ll draw the palace in and add some texture to that, and after that, some polish all around. Until next time!