agenda :: 2/8

Today’s mini-lesson :: Vector Portraits in Adobe Illustrator

  • A little about vectors: Today, we’re going to try out some basic tools in Adobe Illustrator. This program is a little different than Photoshop, and works by using “vectors” (lines, points, shapes, polygons) to create a drawing or image. It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it, so let’s me show you a fairly simple project you can try out on your own to learn the program a bit more.
  1. First, find a picture that you would like to use as your reference. As always, you can use your own photographs for this process, but I just picked Bieber’s mugshot for demo purposes:
  2. Open this file in Photoshop. Convert the image from “background” to layer like we covered last week so we can use it (right click on the layer in the Layers Panel). Go to the Image menu, and under mode, change to Grayscale.  Feel free to change the Brightness and Contrast under Adjustments to create stronger areas of light and dark.
  3. Next, use the Pen tool to trace around the head. When you come back around to the point you started at, close the path by clicking onto it again. Right click and choose “Make Selection”.
  4. While the selection is glimmering, click the Layer Mask button in the Layers panel. It’s at the bottom and looks like a circle inside a rectangle. This should clip out the background and leave only the head.
  5. Click the adjustment layer icon (circle next to the Layer Mask) and choose Threshold. Drag the slider until the images darkest features just start to appear. Save this image to your desktop as a .jpg file. Drag the slider further right so that the image has more dark areas and save this image as well. Now we’re done with Photoshop, so feel free to close out.
    biebs1 biebs2
  6. Open both of these files with Illustrator. Take the darkest layer and copy it, then past it into the other document. Press command+B to make sure it is pasted directly behind the other image and will line up. Add a rectangular shape in a color of your choice and move it to the back (drag in the Layers panel, or press command+]. You may have to adjust the image settings to make it color, which you can do under by going to Edit >> Edit Colors and selecting RGB or CMYK
  7. Make the back image invisible and select the top image, and find the Image Trace button at the top. Click the Image Trace button and open the tracing options by clicking the Image Trace Panel icon between the Preset and View menus. Check the Preview box, and adjust the Threshold, Paths, Corners, and Noise until you get a result you like. When you’re happy, click Expand from the Live Trace panel on the top. Select the white arrow tool (Direct Selection) and click any white area to select it. We want to only keep the black shapes, so press delete.
  8. Make this layer invisible and repeat step 7 with the other layer. Make both layers visible again, and with the bottom layer selected, change the color to a lighter gray shade.
  9. Use the pen tool to trace a shape around the face. Make this shape white and move it all the way to the back of the layers until it moves behind.
  10. Use the pen tool to delete points that might be too jagged or rough looking, or to add lines for definition. Experiment with the Line Width tool to add line variation. Adjust paths by using the Direct Selection arrow and pulling on handles or moving points. Refine the illustration however you like!
  11. Save a copy by going to File and selecting Save for Web and Devices. You’re done!

AGENDA :: 2/1

MINI-LESSON: Making Mini Planets in Photoshop


Today, I’m going to show you a Photoshop trick that is pretty easy but really fun. I found myself hooked making these this week in Photoshop and think you’ll have a good time with your own today. In short, we’re going to learn how to turn any landscape image into a surreal looking, exaggerated planet by using the “Polar Coordinates” filter in Photoshop. From there you can alter just about any way you want. Just follow these steps and see what you can come up with!

  1. First, locate an image of a landscape that you like. Maybe its a picture from your own backyard, the skyline of your favorite city, a place you want to go someday. Whatever you can find! Panoramas are the best for this project, but just about any photo will work as long is it is wider than it is tall. The best kinds seem to have an even horizon line and a few items that stick out over the top of the horizon. Here’s the one I picked for this demo:
  2. Open this photo in Photoshop, and convert the layer from a “Background” layer to a standard one by right-clicking on the layer in the Layers Panel, and selecting “Layer from Background”.
  3. Now, we want to make sure the photo’s edges match up, so that if you wrapped it around on itself it would create a fairly seamless edge. To do this, select a vertical slice from the right side of the image and copy it to the clipboard (command+c). Paste this onto a new layer (command+v).
  4. With the Rectangular Marquee Tool selected, right-click and select “Free Transform”. Right click again, and select “Flip Horizontal”. Drag this layer over to the opposite side of the photo.
  5. Use the eraser tool (set to a soft brush and light opacity/pressure) to blend out the edge that is visible as seamlessly as possible. Make sure when you’re done the left edge matches the right edge of the photo. Merge your two layers into one (command+e).
  6. Use “Free Transform” again to flip the whole image vertically. It should look upside down when you’re done to get the right result.
  7. Next, go to the Filters menu and find the Distort tab. Select “Polar Coordinates” from the list and approve the pop-up menu.
  8. Almost done. We still have to squeeze this back into proportion and crop it. Right-click to use Free Transform again, and drag the image inward horizontally until it looks right to you. Feel free to rotate and reposition key elements.
  9. Finally, let’s cut out the unused space. Use the Rectagular Marquee tool again to select what area you want to keep, go into the Image menu and select “Crop”.
  10. You’re done! Save your file or keep playing with other tools to alter it!

Here’s some more that I did throughout the week. Like I said, I’m hooked.

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Introduction to GIMP :: An open source (and free) alternative to Photoshop. This software is available for Mac or PC and is free to download – it does pretty much anything you can  do in Photoshop. Check out more here if you’d like:

AGENDA :: 1/25

WELCOME to the DIGITAL ARTS WORKSHOP! Feel free to sit anywhere and warm up a bit while we wait for everyone to show up!




  • Crash course in how animation and film came to be:: Muybridge’s Horse :: Early looping animation achieved by a rapid series of still photographs flashed quickly one after another. The eye is deceived into thinking it is actually seeing motion.
  • It’s funny to think that the novelty of a looping animation like this is still popular today – In fact, we’re looking at a .GIF file of Muybridge’s horse. A .GIF file is a special type of image file that allows a frame by frame animation to be played back for the viewer. You’ve probably already familiar with seeing GIFs online, but let’s take a look at some really creative uses of this format.
  • Ashlyn Anstee :: does some awesome stuff
  • Sam Ballardini :: also awesome, lots of illustration based stuff
  • Hoppip :: if you think cats are adorable, Hoppip is for you
  • Tech Noir :: takes scenes from existing movies and manipulates them
  • Skip Hursh :: really colorful illustrative work with GIFS
  • Romain Laurent’s looping portrait series :: really great example of what you can do with some attention to manipulation and a lot of hard work.
  • Jon Cates :: uses Photobooth to make highly altered selfie GIFs. Also, he graduated from Illinois State in Bloomington!
  • 60 awesome cinemagraph gifs :: cinemagraphs are GIF images that are somewhere in between video and photo – only minor elements move, and provides a subtle sense of action.

HOW-TO :: There are a few different ways you can go about making a gif, so I’ll be showing you the basics and a couple options for getting started and let you explore from there on your own.

  1. THE BASICS :: bouncing ball demo
  2. THE EASY WAY :: finding things that rotate or change in a regular pattern, import one cycle of this action and you’re done! for example, my favorite beatles album
  3. record2

  4. THE SLIGHTLY LESS EASY WAY :: using just a couple of frames, adjusting time to animate a still photo –  my “blinking” demo
  5. blink

  6. THE SOMEWHAT HARDER WAY :: duplicate frames and reverse them to help create a continuous loop
  7. candleloop

  8. THE EVEN HARDER (BUT STILL POSSIBLE) WAY :: you can start with some basic footage and use virtually any Photoshop tool to alter any frame. You can use masks or other layers as a background or foreground image, I started this one and used masking techniques to make my hand steadier – I’m still having trouble figuring out how to get the water levels in the glass to stay more even, but I’m sure with some persistence I’ll figure it out.
  9. YOUR WAY :: however you want! experiment, play around, try a bunch of different things and see what you like!

Details for Tomorrow!

Greetings everyone,

I am excited to have our first session of the Digital Arts Workshop tomorrow and to meet everyone! I sent along an email with this info, but thought I’d post it here as well to cover all bases:
  • We will be meeting at 1-3pm in our lab (Room 289) at the Media Commons, located in the Undergraduate Library. If you’ve never been to the Undergrad, it can be a little tough to find since it was built underground (an interesting story!). Check the schedule and location page on our website for a map and more detailed info about how to get there and where to park or drop off students.
  • Remember to print off and sign the consent letters to participate in the Workshop. Both parents and students will need to read and sign one.
  • For tomorrow’s session, we’re going to be making looping .GIF images. I’ll explain more tomorrow, but this will require students to take a short video clip and import it to Photoshop for editing. If you have a smartphone or other camera that is capable of taking video, I encourage you to bring it (and a connector cable if needed) to our session tomorrow. I should have a few backup devices available, and we will have access to software and computers in the lab, but the Media Commons has encouraged me to try out a “back pocket” model of photo/video taking whenever possible. This means exploring ways of making really cool stuff with tools most of us already have, which I think is a great idea.
I think that’s about it, but please let me know if you have any questions. See everyone tomorrow!

Please answer my student survey!

Hi everyone,

I’ve put together a really simple survey to help gather some preliminary information about what workshop participants are interested in learning. For each day we meet, I would love to present a mini-lesson or project on specific subjects or technology you want to learn or use, so this is a good way to make sure we touch on material that interests you. Please follow link provided or the tab on the menu above to answer this quick survey before we meet to help give me an idea of what you’re interested in! See you all soon!



Looks like you’ve found the online home for the upcoming Digital Arts Workshop! I am excited to meet you all at our first session, January 25th, but in the meantime feel free to look around and find out more about the program. Hopefully this site will also let me get a little preliminary feedback from participants about what exactly they’d like to learn about and what their interests are.

I’ve received a few questions from parents and participants, most of which are about where and when exactly this will be taking place. Here’s some basic info to help fill in some of these details:

When: The Digital Arts Workshop will meet for a 9-week period on Saturday afternoons from 1-3 pm. The program will begin with our first session on January 25th, 2014. The program will continue for 9 weeks every Saturday until our last session on March 22nd.

Where: My initial plans have changed a bit, but I’m happy to say it will be for the better! Instead of holding the workshop in a classroom at the Art and Design building on campus, we have graciously been granted use of a computer lab by the UIUC Media Commons, located in the Undergrad Library on campus. This will hopefully allow students all the access they need to computer equipment, software, and other loanable items available through the Media Commons. I do not currently have a lab number in place (gears are turning!) but the Media Commons space is located at 250 Undergrad Library. I’ll hopefully have an update soon about a more specific location.

Also, I just want to remind everyone that this program is free for participants and open to any high school student. We have a few spots still left open, so if you know a friend who is looking for a fun experience learning about art, pass this information along!

I’ll be adding more here in the days to come, but thanks for stopping by and please don’t hesitate to contact me by email at if you have any questions. See you in a couple weeks!

Brad Olson :: Director, Digital Arts Workshop