Graphic Design and Illustration.

Archive for ‘June, 2013’

Anatomy of a Graphic Designer – Evernote

Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather.
Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

What every designer needs

The best piece of advise I ever got from design school was to start up something called a “swipe file”. Basically, it’s a file folder full of bits and pieces of things that either inspire you or might prove useful insight for future projects. Need a fresh new colour scheme for a project? Check the swipe file. Need a background pattern? Check the swipe file. Never designed a three panel brochure before? Check the swipe file before proceeding.

Now just a quick note. It’s called a swipe file, but please understand, it’s only supposed to be for inspiration, not outright copying (i.e. theft). Swipe file was the name my college Computer Graphics prof called it, and I have yet to come up with a better name for it.

My swipe file is getting a little long in the tooth, and is using somewhat outdated technology. Remember, I’m old school. The Internet was really only just starting up and digital technology was just coming into its own when I started as a designer 17 years ago. My swipe file is just a bunch of real papers stuffed in real file folders. Time for a change.

Enter Evernote

Today, designers have plenty of options for storing little snippets of things that might one day prove useful. And there are a lot of ways young designers can find inspiration and tutorials (blogs, Twitter, and other social media).

I’ve been trying out Evernote since last January. Evernote is primarily used for note taking, but I’ve been using it as a catchall storage system for any tutorials, images, and top-ten-best-of-lists I find on the Internet. Both mobile and desktop variants of Evernote seem to mesh well with my Internet habits. I’ve even managed to get most of my old Google Reader starred items into Evernote, and with some trickery, can get my StumbleUpon likes into Evernote as well. Now if only I can get my Twitter likes into Evernote and we’d be all set! (Turns out this was pretty easy. All I had to do was use the email feature of Evernote and just email the tweets I want to file away. I can even specify what notebook I want the tweets to be stored in. Sweet!)

Unfortunately, since I have used Evernote as a catchall, it isn’t well organized and there’s no tags associated with any of it. Methinks that has got to change.

I also want to try and get my analog swipe file into my digital one. Taking snapshots of everything and then uploading them to Evernote should be a breeze (thank God and Steve Jobs for iPhones!).

Organizing all the notes though, should prove quite the task! Especially tagging. Tagging everything with key words (especially the images) would be really handy, but I have to agree with my wife – tagging sucks. Over the years, I have learned to be pretty organized and anal-retentive, but the idea of tagging hundreds of different links, articles, and images does not sound like my idea of fun.

The good news is I like to keep a pretty simple, yet thorough, filing system for things, so hopefully I won’t have to rely on tagging so much as well curated and easy to make sense of notebook labels.

Wrapping up

I’ll post an update as to how the whole Evernote swipe file reorganization goes and any helpful hints I’ve learned about organizing large volumes of stuff. Anybody with any hints of their own can leave them in the comments section. [Evernote for iOS]

For further reading check out these links:

Wikipedia’s article on swipe files.

More on Evernote can be found here.

Image of the Month – June 2013

This month, I tried out the app, Ideas, from Adobe. It’s a vector drawing app for the iPhone/iPad. The app was free when I downloaded it about a month ago. I am not too sure it still is. I didn’t have much time to use it before, and I find the whole “finger painting” just doesn’t do it for me. But for Father’s Day I got a rather nice stylus so it was time to put this drawing app thru its paces.

First off, the iPhone make for a rather small canvas. You can zoom in quite a bit and hide most of the interface which was a big help. And drawing with a capacitive touch stylus isn’t quite the same as drawing with a Wacom stylus or even a real pen. Since capacitive touch screens are designed with a finger in mind, the surface area of the stylus is a bit large. Means trying to connect up different lines you’ve drawn is kinda hard to do. Either long, deliberate strokes or short sketchy lines seem to work best.

Oh, and a quick warning. There’s no revert feature. If you screw up a drawing, it might be difficult to get back to a place where you left off. I’d suggest you always work from a copy of you file rather than the actual file. That way if you screw up royally, you can always go back a copy. I understand 3D people and web people are used to working this way. You also have up to 10 different drawing layers. Doing different parts of a drawing on a different layer might also help with a lack of revert to save.

The drawing tools are pretty basic. There’s a pencil, brush, and marker tool. You can adjust colour, opacity, and brush size. I was wanting some larger brushes. There’s also a paint bucket tool to fill in large areas with colour.

Once done, you can share the image on Facebook, Twitter or email a PDF. I think it can also save your drawing to Creative Cloud if you have it (I don’t). The PDF it generates is huge. The art board was almost 60 inches square! The file was also RGB so print guys beware. Converting vector RGB to CMYK can be a messy affair. The complexity of the file wasn’t too bad. This drawing of my son I made generated quite a few shapes and a lot of anchor points, but was still somewhat acceptable.


Find out more about Adobe Ideas here:

Adobe Ideas on the iTunes Store

Adobe’s John Nack’s blog

Some really great artwork examples

Fracturing Geometry


Fractals: A Very (very) Brief Introduction

For those who don’t know, Fractals are a branch of mathematics that deal with complex systems. With the development of computer graphics in the 1980s, mathematicians could visually interpret these mathematical curiositities. Visually, fractals generally have the appearance of self-similarity. That is smaller parts generally resemble the larger whole.

Wikipedia has this to say on fractals:

Fractals are typically self-similar patterns, where self-similar means they are “the same from near as from far”. Fractals may be exactly the same at every scale … they may be nearly the same at different scales

The most famous of these is the Mandelbrot.


I would imagine most people reading this blog would have seen this type of fractal.

I first discovered fractals probably in the early Nineties. There was a program called Fractint that let you generate all kinds of different fractal patterns and colour them in different ways. That was my introduction to them. Fractint is long since defunct, but there are plenty of options these days. Many of them have much more sophisticated ways to colour and visualize fractals. Though I find none have quite the range of fractal possibilities as the original Fractint.

Anyways, I’ve mostly left fractals behind. Sure, the cloud generator in Photoshop is a fractal generator, but that’s just about it. Even with fast computers today, fractal exploration does require a lot of time and patience.

Stumbling In To Fractals Again

Recently, I’ve joined StumbleUpon, an online service for a website discovery service. It recommends pages based on your likes and (hopefully) gets better as the program gets to know your tastes better. There are also quite a few curated lists you can subscribe to as well.

Anyways, the first thing that came up was a program called Silk. It comes in both a desktop and iOS flavour. While technically not quite a fractal explorer program, it does use mathematical algorithms to play around with a user specified lines to create computer generated art. The site offers no explanation, but I assume it is probably something like Perlin Noise that is perturbing the lines you draw. Which definitely puts this in the fractal-esque category. The desktop webapp worked fine in Firefox, but the save feature didn’t seem to work for me in Safari. I imagaine your mileage will vary on the various versions of Internet Explorer there are out there.

A quick check on the App Store showed another app, called Perlin Draw, basically does the same thing as Silk, but as of this writing, the App is free to download and use.

It basically does much the same as Silk, but has a few more drawing styles to choose from. Perlin Draw is also better for free form drawing, Silk is more for funky, kaleidoscope style drawings.

Both apps are quite serviceable and produce images that are of good quality and quite high resolution. Though the Silk program had consistently better quality images than the Perlin Draw program.

A Few Examples

These were from the Silk program:




And these ones are from the Perlin Draw program:
IMG_0252 IMG_0253 IMG_0260 IMG_0264 IMG_0265 IMG_0268

These two programs have rekindled my interest in this type of artwork. As time marches on, I’ll probably post more of these explorations of algorithmically generated artwork.


Further Reading

The Wikipedia article on fractals (warning, gets quite technical):

Very cool images can be found here:

For those interested, there’s still a page for Fractint, and that can be found here:

All the other fractals for this post were drawn using this program (sorry Mac only):

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