Tutorial Tuesday (A Little Departure)

The EYEs Have It

This week, I’m going to go a little off-script, but in the end I think you’ll agree it’ll make for better layouts. So let’s talk about taking better photos. There are some really simple tips coming up that will make your photos so much more interesting and by default, your layouts will benefit too. I’m not going to baffle you with a lot of technical jargon, just some hints on things like composition, vision and mindfulness. The main component of great photos is light. If you train your eye to look at light as an extension of the image you’re planning to capture, you’ll be halfway there!

Oh, and taming that photo-destroying camera shake is an absolute must! If you’re going to be moving around and don’t want the encumbrance of a tripod to keep that camera stock still, you’ll need to brace your arms to minimize movement. If you WANT blurry, out-of-focus photos, hold your camera at arms’-length and snap away. If you don’t, hold your camera in both hands, tuck your elbows in against your trunk, take a deep breath, let it out slowly while you compose your shot and hit the shutter button as you get to the end of your exhale. This stays the same whether you’re shooting with a wildly expensive DSLR with a 300mm lens on it (although if you’re doing that, I’m going to bet there’s a tripod in there too) or if you’re snapping away with a cell phone camera.

This past weekend I went to a local festival I try to attend every year. Photo ops are everywhere at events like this, as long as you can be patient. If you can wait even a couple of minutes until the people clear out, you’ll get better shots. I have an abundance of patience and if I’m by myself, I take all the time I need to get what I want; I left the menfolk at home this year! So anyway, this festival is a classic-cars-and-classic-rock event that actually runs over 4 days. The weather is usually stellar for the Saturday show-and-shine and this year was no exception. Taking photos of cars in bright sunshine presents some particular difficulties and you’ll see how I addressed them when I show you my examples. All the photos I’m going to show you are SOOC… straight out of the camera and shot using the same lens. I haven’t made any adjustments.

Let’s start with exposure. Using the light that’s available to your advantage is going to make your photos look a lot better. In this first photo I was shooting toward the light, so the fender and door area are a lot darker than I’d like. There’s also a LOT of glare from the windshield. Sure, I could fix it with PSE, but why not try to minimize how much tweakage will be needed right from the start? (A little WSNH tip. 😉 )

By going around the car and shooting from the other side, the exposure is much more even and the glare is gone.

Think about what’s actually in your viewfinder – or on your LCD screen – and try not to have objects growing out of people’s heads or otherwise messing up your shot. Pay attention to what’s in the background. If you have to move a little, it’s not a bad idea. In this first image, that snow fence is just NASTY! I could crop it out, but…

by just moving a couple of feet and changing the angle of approach, I caught a couple of sweet little sunflares and the hood ornament’s details are much more visible. At this angle the chrome reflects less of the paint colour and the crowds are still reflected but undefined.

Another example of how simply changing your point of view improves your shot… if I wait a minute the guy will move. But the lawn chair and the sun canopy? Doubtful.

So I moved. Lawn chair? Gone. Sun canopy? Gone! Dude in the rust coloured shirt? Also gone!

Reflections and shadows can make or break a photo. I often think details are more interesting than whole objects so I wanted to get a shot of the tail end of this Hudson. Oh dear… who is that old woman reflected in the paint? Oh yeah. Me.

I took a step to my left, reframed and took this one. Much better!

I think this photo can be redeemed a little (dodging and burning perhaps); I do like the way the woman’s face is framed by the parrot’s beak and breast, but the shadows are so overwhelming. Some judicious editing – and cropping – in PSE might make it useable.

Fortunately, I was able to move a couple of steps to my left and got this one! Get a load of that depth of field. What a handsome bird. Fancy name too… hyacinthine macaw.

Another example of both attending to reflections and cropping in the viewfinder follows. The hood ornament is the subject here, but it’s a bit distracted from by the car behind it.

A slightly different angle and moving a bit closer captures nice reflections in the chrome, and plays up the detail a bit.

I’ve seen a lot of photos of ridiculously cute kids and pets that could be made really special just by getting down to their level. See the difference between these two photos? I think we’ll all agree that the second one is the more interesting one… even with the people in the background.

This shot is also taken from a crouch.

The next two examples show how the point of view makes or breaks your shot. This Caddy has been part of the show-and-shine for as long as I can remember. It’s one of my favourite cutesy touches so I usually take at least one snap of it. This is the first one I took. Kinda ho-hum. The exposure isn’t particularly great – the tray is underexposed and the Root Bear is overexposed. If I was telling a story with this photo, it would have put people to sleep in a heartbeat.

So I moved around, Now the Bear is the story. I could have done a better crop in my viewfinder, but that’s a really easy fix.

When I’m shooting points of interest like this view of one of our parks, I try and get the most effective shot I can. Sometimes that means ditching the good old landscape orientation.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to my eyes, this portrait-oriented shot is better.

Before I forget… when you’re shooting photos of water – rivers, lakes, oceans – remember that water will ALWAYS be level! There are few things more visually jarring than a tilted horizon with water in it, unless there’s something or someone in the foreground that provides the subject and the angle of the horizon is an artistic statement.

I think this pair of photos brings everything I’ve just suggested together in one. Cropping in the viewfinder, shooting up rather than down, taking advantage of the light and paying attention to the background are all aspects of the better shot. And I can’t wait to play with it!

Ooh, I caught a little bit of bokeh in these. Sweet!!

I hope you’ve found something useful in there and that I haven’t come across as bossy. I wanted to keep it simple and achievable for everybody. Let me know what you think!



Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)


Once again, Glee has outed me! She saw my finished layout in the Gallery and just knew today’s tutorial would relate to how I created my title. I used a pretty but fairly simple script font called Black Olives. It’s an upright font so I chose the Italic Text tool option. The colour was pulled from the sky in my photo.

After I had my text the size I wanted it and in the spot I wanted it, I simplified then duplicated the text layer. CTRL/CMD>J, remember. Then I “grabbed” the handle at the top centre of my bounding box – make sure yours is on! – and pulled it straight down. The Move tool options include a spot to Constrain Proportions; if you select that, it will automatically size your image. If you look at the numbers in the boxes, one will say 100% (for example) and the other will say -100%. But for this technique you don’t have to constrain proportions if you don’t want to. You can make it whatever height you want. When you’re happy, hit the check-mark.

The next step I took was to Skew the image. Image>Transform>Skew takes you there. Then I pulled the lower corner handles a bit to the right. You can eye-ball for this step, or you can turn on the grid (CTRL/CMD>’) to help you do it evenly. But only if you’re really… umm… particular.

And I am. I turned on the grid so I could move those handles about the same distance. I also nudged the skewed layer down a little, as you’ll see in the next screenshot.

If you’re a faithful reader you’ll know that I’m rarely satisfied with basic. I went on to jazz things up a little by applying some special effects. I made a copy of the skewed layer then added some panache. The fx button at the bottom of your layers panel includes some basic styles, such as Drop Shadows, Glows and Bevels. By selecting any one of those you’ll have access to all of the default settings as shown below. I used a commercially available style set, but the settings below will give you the same effects. Check the Glow and Inner boxes, with black (000000) for the Colour. Set the Size to about 18 and the Opacity to about 13. Then go down and check the Bevel box, Direction up and Size at 24. You can see that the topmost skewed layer looks a little shiny with some dimension to it.

Then I went down to the original skewed layer and decreased its Opacity down to 28%. I wanted some of the blue to remain, but the shiny dimensional stuff to be most visible.

Then I merged the two skewed layers.

I chose another font, this time a simple sans serif one called Caviar Dreams. I pulled a pink from one of the papers I used then added some special effects to it too. The Glow and Inner boxes are checked again, Size is at 70 and Opacity at 50. The Bevel is set at 24 and Up again.

I decided a little drop shadow on the two fancy layers was needed because of their dimension and the end result looks like this.

You know what’s the best part? You can do this to almost anything! You can create a mirror image of a photo, an element, a brush (on its own layer, of course!), make an object look like it’s casting a really long shadow… so many ways you can make this work for you! Give it a whirl. I know you’ll find some really creative ways to use it and to combine it with other cool techniques. See you in a week.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Dodge and Burn… NOT an Action Movie

Awhile back, Ellen (gmae) asked me to think about a tutorial on dodging and burning. I couldn’t think of how to introduce it at the time, but I’ve come up with a way!

Dodging and burning are old-school photography techniques for selectively adjusting exposure of photos to bring out details that weren’t all that evident. In the darkroom, it was done with a piece of cardboard (at least that’s how I did it back in the day).  [I cut a round hole in a solid piece of mat board (for burning) and taped the cut-out circular piece to a thin piece of very stiff wire (for dodging).] First the photographer would print the desired negative on photo paper and examine the exposure. Then another print would be made with some fancy footwork to correct areas of over-or-underexposure. Dodging involved holding the end of the thin stiff wire with the cardboard over the area of the photo that was overexposed and then exposing the paper while keeping the wire-and-cardboard dodger moving. This decreased the amount of light that hit that section of the paper, so those blown details could be seen. Burning was done similarly but was concentrated on the under-exposed areas by moving the hole in the cardboard over the dark spots, allowing MORE light to hit that area of the paper. The cardboard in both methods had to be kept moving at a reasonably constant rate so as to prevent the obvious demarcation lines the enlarger would leave on the image. It was time-consuming, wasted a lot of expensive photo paper and was definitely a skill not everyone excelled at. To be honest, I totally failed at it! So it’s a WONDERFUL thing that dodging and burning can be done digitally and done well without a lot of fuss.

My first demonstration will show you how to make things like tags look like they’re stickers and washi tape look realistic, complete with that appearance of something thicker underneath it. I’m using CathyK‘s July Daily Download Back to Nature here. (If you missed it you can still get it, it’s in the store!)

I want this tag to look like it’s a sticker and it needs a little ridge where it overlaps the photo.

To make this technique easier on yourself the first couple of times you try it (until you get the hang of it) I suggest you position your item so that you can see the edge of the object underneath at both ends, as I’ve shown. But don’t worry about having it horizontally arranged because this will work no matter what the angle.

Now select the Sponge tool. It’s actually 3 tools in one… the Sponge, Dodge and Burn are all accessed through there. The keyboard shortcut is simply hitting the letter “O“. You can use that to toggle between the three tools. Neat, eh?

The Dodge tool is the one we’re going to start with. The icon looks like that little paddle the optician uses to check your vision.

One of the important controls for this tool is hidden behind the Brush menu. It’s the one that lets you choose between Highlights, Midtones and Shadows. It defaults to Midtones, and that’s where you want it. Select a soft round brush of about 45 pixels in diameter and set the exposure (there’s that word again!) to no more than 30%. You’re going for a REALLY subtle effect, so start off light and build if you need to.

I learned something new while I was preparing this tutorial. Set your brush at the edge of the item UNDER your tag/sticker/tape and click once. You want it to overlap onto the layer underneath it a little so fix a reference point in your mind to help you later. Then move your brush cursor over to the other side of your tag/sticker/tape, hold down the Shift key and click again. Bingo! You’ve got a straight line of brush on your image!!

It’s really hard to see the change, but trust me, it’s there. Now decrease the size of your brush by about a third. Repeat the click-shift-click manoeuver again.

Once more with feeling… again decrease the size of your brush by a third (that’s why I chose 45 pixels… makes the math easy). Then click-shift-click one last time.

If you look really closely at my example, you can see the faint but definite lightening along the edge of my photo.

It’s actually easier to see from farther out.

Now we’re going to Burn the part that overlies the photo. The Burn tool looks like someone making an “OK” sign with their hand. I left the size of the brush at 15 pixels with the exposure at 30% and used the very same click-shift-click to lay down a darker line.

Then I followed that up with a HUGE brush that covered the whole part of the tag that sat on top of the photo. The first pass set the edge, the second pass created a bit of a shadow that makes it look so much more real.

Here’s a zoomed-in view…

and a zoomed-out view. What do you think?

On my finished layout, I dropped another tag on top of this one and did the same technique with it. You can see the effect below.

Okay… let’s pretend we’re in the darkroom and we have this photo on our workspace. How can we use the Dodge and Burn tools to make it look better?

I darkened his eyes, his nasolabial folds (those grooves from his nose to the corners of his mouth), his dimple and the folds in his ear using the Burn tool with a small brush size and a light touch. The photo looks a little sharper, at least to my eyes.

Then I used the Dodge tool to bring the highlights back. Wherever more light would hit his face was dodged a smidge – the tip and bridge of his nose, the top of his ear, the apples of his cheekbones and a small section of his forehead. I also hit the catchlights in his eyes and brightened the whites a bit too. You could use these tips to make the eyes in your portraits sparkle: Burn the irises a bit, then Dodge the white and catchlights for some real drama. Just remember, if you’re not happy with how your images look, you can always Undo! CTRL/CMD>Z is the most useful tool in your arsenal! (Wanna know another way to use the Dodge tool? To soften crowsfeet!)

Now let’s look at what we can do with colour photos.

I went over the throat of this daylily with the Burn tool to deepen the fuchsia areas a bit.

Then I went over the areas where the light hits and Dodged up the highlights. I worked on a copy of my photo so I could move from the original to the edited one and see how the changes looked.

And boom! The throat’s fuchsia is darker, so there’s more contrast, and the stamens and ruffled edges are lighter and stand out more. I LOVE being able to selectively enhance my images!

I’m not sure if this is what Ellen was looking for when she asked about dodging and burning. If it isn’t, I’m sure she’ll let me know. Have fun y’all, see you next week!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

More Fun with FONTS

I’ve confessed it before – I’m a fontaholic. I LOVE fonts and the options they provide. But have you ever downloaded a font because the example the email or website shows makes it look like it’s been hand-painted – cool, right? – only to find out it’s just… a font? And it looks sort of like the screenshot below. That makes me so cranky! So I’m going to show you how those cheaters do it.

Pick a colour. It doesn’t matter what you choose because it’s going to disappear later, but you want to be able to see it clearly.

Then pick a font, one with some weight to it. I like this one called Cedar. It’s one of the ones I was enticed to buy because of its lovely watercolour paint look in the samples. Umm. Yeah.

This step is optional, but I’m going to use this as a title so I filled in those gaps and made the letters all solid shapes. Tip: When using the paint bucket Fill tool, if you only click inside the space once, there will be a faint outline of the gap left when you’re done. Solution: click TWICE.

And in case you haven’t been paying attention, Simplify your font layer.

Now you’re going to choose a watercolour brush. Or one with some kind of texture. You want to make the font look fabulous, but you also want it to be grounded to the paper below it. Letting a little of that background colour show through does that nicely. Because this text will mimic a painted-on title, it won’t be shadowed later, so ground it now. Choose your paint colour at this step as well.

Create a new layer for your brush. Always. ALWAYS! If you hover your brush over your text, you can see where the edges should be, but this isn’t always so with this type of brush. It does, however, give you some idea of whether your brush will cover your text and whether it needs any adjustments. I tipped my brush a little to get a more uniform coverage by using the Brush tool Settings menu as shown below.

Then just click your brush over your text. If you want more oomph, click more than once, but be careful not to lose the tonal variations you’re trying to create.

Stay on your brush layer and Select your text by clicking on your text layer’s thumbnail. Behold, marching ants!

To Invert your Selection, you can Select>Inverse as shown, or you can CTRL/CMD>Shift>I, which shifts the active area to everything OUTSIDE the text.

This next step Deletes the paint outside the edges of the text. There are 3 ways this can be done: Edit>Delete or CTRL/CMD>X or simply hit the Delete key.

So now the paint only covers the area over the text! CTRL/CMD>D makes the marching ants disappear.

Once I eliminated the marching ants, I wasn’t totally happy with the look so I just added a Stroke to the edges… still on the brush layer.

I used the same colour for my stroke. But I could have pulled one of the other shades of teal from the background paper. I think that would have ruined the effect though. Centering the stroke on the edge eliminates those raggedy jaggedy pixels some fonts have when they’re enlarged.

The change made by the stroke isn’t obvious but I think it just defines the text a little better.

You could leave the original text layer and colour show through your brush layer, or you can turn the visibility off to see how you like the look. I found that some of the tonal variation was lost when I did that. But if you’re happy with the visibility turned off you can go ahead and delete the text layer.

Okay, so let’s try something a little different, but using the same basic steps. We’re going to reverse the look.

Back up all the way to where we Selected the text. We’ll use the same brush and colour.

But this time, don’t Invert your selection, just Delete it. Edit>Delete, or Ctrl/CMD>X or just hit Delete.

Now the Text layer is fully visible and the brush is smooshed all around it.

Turning the visibility of the Text layer off looks like this. Decision time. Happy? Not happy? What should be changed, if anything?

Let’s make some small changes.

Would a Stroke make it look better?

Same settings, same everything else.

It’s better, but not really what I want.

So I just Undid – CTRL/CMD>Z – my way back to the Select text step and changed my brush to a dirty spray.

I know I reminded you to put your brush(es) on its own layer – here’s why. You can adjust it to your heart’s content without affecting anything else. You can make the brush bigger or smaller, change the angle of it, decrease the opacity of it, change the Blend Mode, duplicate just the brush… a schwack of things can be done to it that can’t be done if it’s on the same layer as something else.

This time I clicked my brush several times, moving it around to cover the text more but still letting some of the background colour show through.

Et voilà! Turn off the text layer and it looks like a reverse stencil.

If you’ve seen the layout I used this technique for, you’ll know I went with a different colour and the very first method. Despite the appearance of a great deal of time consumed, this actually only takes a matter of minutes to do. Give it a whirl!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

A Little Bit Sketchy

Today I’m going to show you how to go from THIS…

to THIS!

And it’s only going to take you about 10 minutes to create your own sketchy image. Really! (Glee, did you figure it out? Of COURSE I planned a tutorial when I created my Designer Spotlight challenge layout!)

First things first. Open up a new blank 12×12 canvas on your workspace. You can always resize it later, but having a big canvas to work on makes it a lot easier to get it right.

Drag and drop a soft white paper onto your canvas. You have lots of choices in your GingerScraps stash so pick one you like that will work with your photo.

Now drag and drop your photo onto the paper. Enlarge it to fill the workspace with the section you want to work on… or leave it… it doesn’t matter which you do. I wanted a square image when I was done, so I resized. Then Duplicate that photo layer. (WSNH: CTRL/CMD>J)

Then turn the TOP LAYER‘s visibility off.

We’re going to play with the Filters that come with the software. Remember to select the bottom photo layer to work on for this step, then Filter>Stylize>Find Edges.

Now you’ve got a neat pencil sketch right there. You could be happy with that, but with a couple of other tweaks you can have something much more unique.

To make the white areas disappear decrease the saturation of the layer down to -100. There are two ways to get there: Enhance>Adjust Color>Hue/Saturation is one and the WSNH way – CTRL/CMD>U is the other. The menu should look like this when you’re done.

Now we have to make the sketch vanish. Hold down the ALT key and click on the Layer Mask symbol at the top of the Layers panel. In case this is your first attempt at one of my tuts, it’s the one that looks like a piece of paper with a blue circle on it, the middle of five symbols grouped together.

Now for the magic! Go to your Brush tool (hit the B key) and find a nice watercolour brush. There are some in the default brush set Natural Brushes 2 that came with your software, or you can download some free ones via a quick Google search. I used some that I found at Brusheezy. Either way, you want to decrease the Opacity of the brush to give you more control over how your sketch comes together.

Make sure you’re working on the layer mask and NOT on your image. Start painting back your sketch with your watercolour brush, either by clicking on the mask with a full-sized brush several times or by clicking and dragging the mouse over the area you want to make visible. You want to keep the edges of your sketch soft and indistinct so it all seems to blend into the background.

You can change brushes and adjust the size and angle of the brush to vary their effects.

If you’ve never changed the angle of a brush, this will show you how. Click on the Brush Settings… bar and either move the tip of the arrow around or type a number into that box highlighted blue in the screenshot.

Keep moving your brush(es) around until your sketch looks well-defined in the area you want to highlight in your finished image and softer towards the edges.

To bring some colour into your sketch, just follow the same process with your top-most photo layer. Turn the visibility back on so you can actually do stuff to the photo layer. Hold down the ALT key, click on the Layer Mask symbol and make your photo disappear.

Using the same watercolour brush or a different one, your choice, decrease the opacity a bit more and start painting the colour in.

Work carefully from your focal point out. You can have areas where the photo is 100% visible and other areas where the sketchy aspect is more visible. All up to you!

If you feel like you’ve made the photo TOO clear, you can change the foreground colour of your brush from white to black and soften it up again.

That could have been where I stopped. You could stop there and have a simply stunning photo effect that will make people so impressed with your skills. I wanted to see what I would have if I duplicated just the sketch layer. To do that, I used my WSNH keyboard shortcut (CTRL/CMD>J) then right-clicked on the new sketch layer to disable the layer mask. A second right-click let me delete the layer mask and left me with just the sketch. With it sandwiched in between the original sketch and the photo, it looked like the screenshot below. I played with the Opacity of that layer, which is what I used for my layout.

Rather than make you look for it, here it is.

I can’t wait to see what you do with this one!! This technique is perfect for those scenic shots we all have in our collection. Have fun!!

Tutorial Tuesday (General)

How’d You DO That?!! Fontography Demystified

Have you ever looked at a magazine layout or a scrapbook layout and immediately been captivated by the combination of fonts used? Or, alternatively, looked at one and thought, “Wow… that looks… umm… really weird”? And what about all those Pinterest pins that show font combinations… how were they arrived at? After I put together the tutorial on chalkboard art, I had several people comment on how the fonts I chose looked really good together. But I’d never really broken down the process of choosing font combos. So I’m going to share some basic thoughts about how to pair fonts to make your layouts look pulled together, appealing and well-designed.

The fonts I’ve combined in my examples will be named in the screenshot following for each of these tips. Here’s the first combo.

When you’re thinking about pairing fonts, the first consideration is choosing fonts that compliment each other AND your topic. Think about the layout you’re designing and the mood it creates. Does it have a strong personality? Look for fonts that match the mood and personality of your photos, elements and arrangement. The sample below has two Art Deco era fonts in it. See how they work together? They’re from the same general era, so they should look like they belong together.

These are the two fonts I combined for my sample. They make me think of the Roaring 20s, flappers and bathtub gin.

Now see how the wrong pairing can just look odd? They’re of similar weights (more about weight in a minute) and are both bold fonts, but they have nothing else in common.

Even the names the designer gave them aren’t complimentary!

Next you want to consider something called “visual hierarchy“, which is a $10 phrase meaning “Who’s the boss”. In my sample below I chose a heavy slab-style creepy font for the title and a somewhat less weighty, condensed font for the subtitle. You can easily see that had I done it the other way around, the title wouldn’t command much attention.

I love Hallowe’en so I have a selection of these gnarly fonts for my related layouts. (Sometimes the names the designers give them are a little risqué.)

Here’s another combo, one that isn’t quite right. The two fonts, although they’re both similar in mood, don’t work as well together. It’s not horrible, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. This is where your judgment and your “design eye” come in.

Great names!

Let’s talk a little about context. In this case, the definition we’re going to use is this one: “the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.“. I touched on it briefly when I talked about complimentary fonts. But there are some other aspects that need attention too. For example, subject matter; the first font in the screenshot below would work beautifully for a layout about building a new home, or racing motocross, or even one about guys doing guy stuff. But it wouldn’t do for a wedding layout, or one about a tea party with your grand-daughter. 

Another aspect is what you’re communicating with the font. The swirly, curly, girly font on the second line isn’t readable when all caps are used. It would be perfect for a title or subtitle on a tea party or wedding layout when used appropriately. So always think about how you’re going to use the font, and about readability. If you use a tiny, condensed font like the third line it may be difficult to read. For journaling you’re going to want it to be a clean, easily read style in a size that doesn’t require a magnifying glass, particularly if you’re going to print your 12×12 layouts in a smaller size, like 8×8.

These are the fonts I used in my sample above.

This concept is pretty simple. Serif fonts are the ones with those little extra bits that extend from letters as shown in the top sample, and are absent in fonts described as sans serif. (“Sans” means without in French.) You can think of them as a little bit more formal for serif fonts and a little more casual for sans serif fonts.

These are the fonts I paired above.

Alternatively you could pair a sans serif font with a serif font as I’ve shown below.

Next, let’s talk about contrast. The four fonts I’ve chosen for this sample all actually work together. Size and weight are important when you’re thinking about both context and contrast. I’ve used a 72 point font for all these samples so you can get a feel for these concepts.

The first example is a middle-of-the-road font with a medium size, a medium weight and a solid texture.

The second example is an attractive, light-weight, thin decorative font.

The third example is a formal, serif-style, weighty and highly textured font.

And the last example is a scripty, balanced medium-weight font.

What makes them work? They’re different, but complimentary styles. Their relative sizes vary, even though they’re all 72 point. They have different weights – you can almost feel the pressure they exert on the paper. Their forms are different too; look at the relative length of the parts of some letters that descend below the baseline. Although they’re all quite distinct, they have a similar curviness to them that tie them together. And they have variable directions of movement.

See one you liked? These are the fonts I used.

Now, having said all the preceding things, you still have to avoid conflict. See what I mean?

Individually, they’re all great fonts. Together, they’re a mess!

While you’re avoiding conflict, remember to avoid using fonts that are too similar. See how this example breaks all of the rules we’ve looked at so far?

Again, beautiful fonts, but just a little too close for comfort.

One way to be very sure of your font choices is to use fonts from the same family. The designer has created them to work together by varying their weight, their size and their texture, but sticking to a single form. Many of the fonts your computer came with are bound in families like the ones below.

Again, these examples are all the same point size, but they’re just different enough from each other to keep things interesting.

Don’t go crazy with a dozen different fonts on one layout. There needs to be some unifying quality to them and they need to suit their purpose. A good rule of thumb is to keep them to about 3. No more than 5… except when you’re creating subway art. When you’re journaling, this might help you choose. Serif fonts are better for reading quickly because the characters sort of flow one into the next with those little extra bits they have. But when the primary place your creation will be viewed is on a screen, you might want to choose a sans serif font, for their simpler, cleaner look. And remember that your journaling must be legible!

These three look pretty good together. See if you can figure out which rules they follow.

And lastly, PRACTICE! This is the only way to develop that “design eye” that lets you move from novice methodicality to intuitive, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants creativity. Consciously look at font combinations everywhere. Magazine layouts, product labels, memes on Facebook, Pinterest boards… the possibilities are endless. See what combinations you find pleasing and which you find jarring. Over time, you’ll find you’re not quite so indecisive about which fonts go together like milk and cookies and which are more like chalk and cheese. I actually play a little game in my head sometimes, trying to guess which fonts the designer has used, and I love it when I recognize a font, or a designer.

These are quite different from each other, but I think they look good!

Before we wrap this up, let’s talk a bit about the fonts you should forget about… This isn’t my list; it came from Douglas Bonneville at Smashing magazine. I’d add a couple, such as Bleeding Cowboys and Myriad Pro. For the article I found this list within, and the author’s reasons why, click here.

Here’s a handy little diagram with these rules all in condensed form. It came from Creative Market, a great source of wonderful fonts at discount prices.

To see a larger image, click here.

Credits: Janie Kliever  ; Creative Market

Have fun with your fonts! There really is no limit to how creative you can be.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Templates with a Twist

I’ve been planning this tutorial for a while but the right moment hadn’t arrived yet. Then the June Daily Download broke and there it was! Tinci Designs and JB Studios (sadly Dani is retiring from designing) were together in the limelight with their Hey Man template bundle. It was the first time two template designers were in the Designer Spotlight together and it posed some interesting challenges to the store and to our devoted GingerScrappers. But it played right into my hand…

Did you know that you can combine two (or more) templates into a single layout? Are you shocked? Remember, templates are amazingly versatile tools. You don’t have to slavishly follow the design for them to help you create fabulous layouts. They’re intended as inspirational guides, with symbols as placeholders. With templates, your creativity is only limited by your imagination. I’m going to show you how to do a template mashup right here, right now. Let me begin by saying I probably wouldn’t have chosen this bundle for this technique, but the opportunity presented itself and I ran with it. To have the best results with your template mashup, you should choose two templates with clusters, photo spots, masks or combinations of those that you really like, with a good amount of white space, so you’ll have lots of options.

I decided to use the JB Studios template shown below as my base template. I like the row of circles with the small cluster, and I really like the little wordstrip cluster in the corner. I made a mental note of what the file was named so I could find it later…

Then I chose this Tinci Designs template for my second one. I had 2 photos I wanted to use. Now, I could have resized the centre cluster, which would have actually worked beautifully, but I wanted my photos to be really visible.

I had to make room for the section of Tinci’s template that I was going to move onto the JBS template so I selected all the layers but the background and the little wordstrip cluster then moved them up almost to the top of the canvas.

See how that gave me a lot of room?

The next step is to go to my second template and select all the layers I want to add to the first one. If you don’t have the Bounding Box turned on, you might want to do that. It will help you move only the layers you want by including the shapes you’ve selected inside it. You can see my Bounding Box in the screenshot below.

Once you’ve selected only the layers you want to copy onto your other template, right click on the Layers panel to open the Layers menu. Then click on Duplicate Layers…

A new menu opens with everything you have in your Photo Bin included. Look down the list until you find your first template. If you can’t remember the file name, look for the .psd suffix. When you’ve found it, click on it.

Your dialog box will look like this. You can rename the group of layers if you want, but you don’t have to. When you’ve got the correct file selected, click OK.

PSE automatically centres everything on the canvas, so this is what the new mashed-up template looked like right after I added the Tinci pieces to the JBS base template. Time to fine-tune!

I moved all the Tinci pieces down so the JBS pieces peeked out above them.  Then I had to figure out what to do with that little wordstrip cluster that HAD to be in there.

Once I was happy with how it all looked, I could get my layout rolling. There were some layers from the original template that were completely concealed, so when I came to them in the Layers panel, I just deleted them. (I always work with copies of everything, never the original. That way I don’t have to worry about losing something I might want again later!)

If you decide to try this out, remember that you don’t HAVE to copy everything from one template onto the other. Choose the parts you LOVE. Forget about the rest. I could have copied just one of the photo clusters. I could have only copied the wordstrip cluster. It’s all about what you like most! Have fun!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Over-the-Top TITLES

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve had a ridiculously busy week. Actually, all of June has been ridiculously busy! So this week’s tutorial is a quick-and-dirty little how-to that was inspired by some of the layouts popping up on my Facebook feed. I thought I’d show you how to have your title looking like it’s coming right out of a fantastic panoramic photo. So I went through some of my favourite scenic shots and chose this one of the Crescent City Connection bridge over the Mississippi River in New Orleans. In the screenshot below, the transparent canvas underneath it is 12×12, because I thought I’d use that size canvas… but…

I changed my mind and cropped it down to the same size as the photo.

Then I took a look through my fonts (using MainType 7.0, of course!) and found a meaty, slab-type font that would be perfect for my purpose. It’s called Konga Pro and it’s got that lazy, Deco summer-day kind of look to it. I typed out my title and enlarged it to stretch from one side of my canvas to the other. The photo’s visibility is turned off so I don’t get confused.

Then I copied my photo (CRTL/CMD>J) and moved the copy on top of my title as I’ve shown below.

Visibility of the first photo is still off for this step. Clip the photo to the title; CTRL/CMD>G is your WSNH shortcut.

If you’re happy with the placement and appearance, go ahead and merge your clipping mask and photo layers.  Select both the layers in the Layers panel then WSNH = CTRL/CMD>E

Now to set the title apart from the photo. Choose a colour from the photo to use for a narrow stroke around the outside. I chose one of the dark blue shades. You want a visible separation but nothing really obvious; since my photo is a night shot, dark was my choice, but if you’re using a winter scene or a beach scene, it might be better to choose a lighter colour. You’ll know it’s right when you see it.

I went with 10 pixels for this outline, just to tighten it up and give a bit of definition. I centered it on the edge to smooth out the jagged pixels.

As you can see below, it looks just fine.

Another stroke outside the first one will add a little more distinction. I tried white and 20 pixels.

Not loving it! The white is too much, and too wide. So for my next version, I dropped the width down to 10 pixels again.

I made the stroke a greenish-grey pulled from the horizon. Not really working either.

But this bronze from the lights reflecting on the water is subtle, and it looks much nicer to my eye. I’m going to go with this one.

Pop in a bit of a drop shadow and it’s just the look I was after!

With the shadow, it’s got some dimension. Give it a shot with one of your favourite scenic photos and a hefty font and see how you like it!

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Becoming an ALPHA Female

Mary left a comment on the tutorial Chalking it Up to Inspiration where she asked for some tips on using those alphas that come with many designers’ kits. She said she found them difficult to use and needed some tips for using them effectively. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

When I first started digi-scrapping, I didn’t use kit alphas much because, like Mary, I found them cumbersome to work with. So many things about my workflow have changed over the years and I’ve found some methods that really work for me, so I’m going to share some of them with you today. One of Mary’s comments was about finding them. Each scrapper is going to do things differently according to how they organize information in their heads, so the following is meant as a suggestion, not a directive.

I’ve read a lot of posts in various places about organizing supplies and I’ve tried lots of methods. The one that works for me best is to use folders. I make folders for everything! When I unzip my downloads, I try very hard to organize them right away; I rename them with the designer’s name and kit name then move them into the folder I’ve created for the store where I bought them. My GingerScraps  folder is HUGE!! I also take everything out of the folders the designer has put them in so I can see the whole kit when I open the folder. I used to do that with the alphas too, but found that didn’t work for me. Now they go in a subfolder of the kit folder. (Are you confused yet?) I can tell at a glance which of my kits have matching alphas. They appear in the file with a little arrow in front of the kit name as shown below. That little arrow indicates there is a subfolder. Is this making sense?

Here’s where things get interesting. You can let Windows do the work for you. Other scrappers have talked about tagging every. Single. Element. And. Paper… but you don’t have to! Designers usually call their various bits and bobs simple names like “button”, “paper” or “flower” so if you pop that keyword into the Windows search box in the upper right corner and tell it what area of your hard drive to search, it’ll go get everything with that keyword attached to it.

Because I’ve put my alphas into subfolders, my search will turn up both folders and individually named alphas as shown below. Depending on how many folders you have, this search can take awhile, so I usually open another window and start pulling my papers and elements for the layout I’m working on. Some of you may know that I like to mix up items from several kits into a single layout so I might want to use a different alpha than the one the kit provides.

Once I’ve decided on the alpha I want to use and the title I’m going to create, I’ll open a new canvas on my workspace. The size of this canvas isn’t critically important because you’ll be able to resize everything once you’ve put it together to your satisfaction. Just give yourself lots of room.

I use Elements 12, which has an unfortunate glitch in it. Everything that is dragged and dropped onto a canvas is transformed into a “smart object” and it takes on the size of the canvas it’s pulled onto. (A workaround for this is to open the element on the workspace and drag it DOWN onto the layout in the Photo Bin, which sizes it according to the original file.) Adobe has taken care of this glitch in later versions – 13 and above – so if your software is more recent, you won’t have to pay attention to this business. The screenshot below shows what V.12 does, which isn’t a big problem if your alpha is ALL-CAPS, like this one from the Seatrout Scraps collection Maybelle. It’s the kit I plan to create my layout with, so of course I had to try it out.

As you can see from the screenshot above, this DOES present a problem in terms of getting all the letters to fit the canvas. I select all the letter layers in the Layers panel so I can resize everything at the same time. WSNH, right?

You can use the Distribute tool to space your letters but it’s not always the best way to do it. I prefer to just eye-ball the spacing. If it looks right, you’ll know. Sometimes I have to resize a couple of times to get everything to fit on the canvas. It’s easy to move blocks of letters together if you’re only worried about a single space being too big or too small; just select the layers those letters are on in the Layers panel and move ’em.

Take a good look at your title to see if you like it. I think all the letters in lockstep looks blah. So I’m going to make some tweaks.

How does this look? Nah….

So I moved the last 3 letters over so they overlap where the “s”s are, and that looks better.

How about staggering them with a little overlap? Do I like that better? I think I do!

I wanted to try out several alphas for this title, so next I looked at this one from Ooh La La ScrapsShabby Chic collection. It has both upper- and lowercase letters so there’ll be a couple of extra steps.

To overcome the “smart object” issue, I select all the lower case letters in the Layers panel EXCEPT the letters “b”, “d”, “f”, “g”, “h”, “i”, “j”, “k”, “l”, “p”, “q” “t” and “y”. If the “z” has a tail on it, I don’t select it either. The reason for NOT selecting those is that they either supposed to be the same height as the CAPs, or they extend below the baseline. Instead, I use these letters to guide my resizing efforts. This example doesn’t show you what to do with those letters that dangle, the ones that you DON’T resize. I’ll talk about that below.

The screenshot below shows you what I mean. You can use the bounding box to help you get the size just right – the top of the bounding box is just touching the top of the “i”.

Once again, there’s a size/space problem. Or is there?

I think I like the overlap, so let’s leave it there.

Or, creatively, I might tilt one of the letters slightly. I like to do that especially with the letter “o”, but “s” looks cool tipped too.

But let’s try a staggered arrangement… remember to shadow the letters that overlap others. Otherwise it will look odd. Maybe not to your eyes, but somebody will notice – and you want them to be overcome by the beauty of your work, not the wonky missing shadows, right?!

I wanted to try just one more alpha, one that’s sort of a glossy script from WimpychomersPurple is Her Passion. It’s a little hard to see in the screenshots because it’s white, so you might have to move your head/screen around a bit to see what I’m showing you. If you’re not using guides – lines that make it easier to position things, this might encourage you to do it. This tip will help you to align those dangling “g”s, “p”s, “q”s and “y”s. To create a guide place your cursor on the upper (or far left for a vertical guide) edge and click/drag down (or over) to one of your lowercase letters. You can then resize other letters one at a time, and you can align the danglers by nudging them downward until the top of the letter is even with the top of the resized lowercase ones. When you don’t need the guide any more you can click on View>Guides (or CTRL/CMD>;) and it’ll go away.

This alpha looks a lot like cursive writing, especially after I overlapped the swashes a bit.

I think, for this layout, the title needs a little more oomph. So I’m going to make my canvas a little bit bigger. It’s fine side-to-side, but needs to be a bit bigger top-to-bottom. Image>Resize>Canvas Size (CTRL/CMD>Alt>C) brings up the menu shown below. I just added 1/2 an inch to the height. You would need to take this step if you’re using danglers too, because your baseline isn’t going to rest at the bottom of the canvas.

Then I dropped a paper behind my alpha. I dragged it from the workspace DOWN onto the canvas, and then shrunk it to fit, rather than dragging it UP from the Photo Bin onto the canvas and then resizing up but it isn’t important. Then I clicked on the title thumbnail to select the edges of the alpha.

By going to Select>Modify>Expand then keying in 30 pixels, the marching ants will move 30 pixels out from the edges of the alpha.

Go back to Select>Inverse (CTRL/CMD>Shift>I) to invert the area selected to the excess paper. Then Delete or CTRL/CMD>X and all that extra paper is cut away.

It looks good, but still needs something. You might also notice that the paper layer thumbnail looks strange. That’s because the paper layer is larger than the canvas so I cropped the canvas to eliminate that. CTRL/CMD>C activates the Crop tool.

See how different the layer thumbnail looks now?

I’m going to put a glittery edge around the paper, so I added a new layer ABOVE the paper cutout, then clicked on the layer thumbnail to get my marching ants. Then I added a stroke – colour doesn’t matter – to the paper. Edit>Stroke (Outline Selection) and a number in the box – 10 pixels here ON THE NEW LAYER gives me something to attach my glitter style to.

Now we’re cookin’! It has so much more presence now.

The second-to-last step is to put a slight shadow on the alpha layer so it looks like it’s been written with gel. Then as a very last step I merge or link the layers so when I go to drag the title onto my layout, it all goes together.

So I’ve shown you three different kit alphas and three different options for their use. I hope this has you thinking a little more kindly toward those alphas and I hope to be seeing them in use on your creations! Which option do you think I chose for my layout?

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of each month I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of that month.

Tutorial Tuesday (Photoshop Elements)

Chalking it Up to Inspiration

Greetings faithful readers! Today’s tutorial builds on several previous lessons so if you’ve been paying attention, this one will be a breeze. I’m going to show you how to create your own chalkboard journal card. Choose a motivational, inspirational or humorous phrase to match your layout and let’s get at it.

Do you remember how to make a rounded rectangle? (The link will take you to the tutorial if you don’t.) Journal cards use typically a 2:3 ratio so I’ve made my canvas 4×6 and then filled it with my rounded rectangle. It really doesn’t matter what colour you use to make your shape because you’re going to clip a gray or black paper to it.

Remember the tutorial on tools? I showed you two ways to Simplify those shapes.

Chalkboards are typically black or charcoal gray, but may also be green. You can use whatever colour you want, though. Just make sure you choose a solid paper. I used a gray one from the May Daily Download kit Grateful from Blue Heart Scraps and Luv Ewe Designs. If you missed it, you can grab it in the shop.

CTRL/CMD>G clips the paper to the rounded rectangle. Or you can do it the long way by right-clicking on the paper layer in the Layers panel and then selecting Create Clipping Mask from the drop-down menu.

Once you’ve positioned your paper just so and clipped it to the rectangle, you want to Merge the two layers. CTRL/CMD>E does the job. Or…

Then you need to open the Color Picker and choose a light gray colour for your chalk. Or you can go with any pastel colour you want, because chalk comes in LOTS of colours. To change the hue of the sampler, click on the rainbow strip just to the right of the sample box then make tiny adjustments until you get the colour you want. I used a light gray.

Then it’s time to choose your first font. If you’ve organized your fonts in MainType and tagged them for easy sorting, this part will be pretty easy. I have a category called Chalk/Crayon and started by looking at those fonts. I typed what I was going to put on my journal card into the preview (Pangram) box so I could see what it would look like. I also used the tag Handwritten/Printed in my search. Quick and easy!

Oh wait!! What would a chalkboard journal card be without a flourish, curlicue or some other fancy bit to jazz it up? I have a collection of dingbat fonts I bought for a buck a piece years ago that have come in very handy at times. To have both a header and a footer I duplicated the flourish shown and rotated it 180° to create a mirror image. This step just adds a finish to the project.

If you’ve used a separator/flourish/curlicue make sure you Simplify the layer right away, and Simplify EVERY layer AS YOU GO because if you don’t do that, when you select another font for the next line, Elements will change the lines you’ve already typed out to that new font too.

Once you’ve chosen your font for the first line, go ahead and type it out. As you can see in the screenshot below, I haven’t yet Simplified the first line of text. If you’re not sure how to align things and centre them on your journal card, the screenshot shows you how. Select all the layers in your project. (WSNH: Click on the top layer to select it then Shift>Click on the last layer and all layers will be selected as shown below. To select random layers, use the CTRL/CMD key instead of the Shift key and click on each layer you want selected.) Then in the Tool Options panel, where it says Align, click on Middle and everything will line right up and be perfectly centred.

I didn’t screenshot the font I used for “Relax”… it’s called The Goldsmith Vintage. The second line’s font is from Lettering Delights and it’s called Soccer Mom.

The third line of my message was one I thought should be arched, so once I typed it out (using a font called Alphabet Pony Regular) then went to the Text Tool options and clicked on the Warp Text tool as shown below.

The Warp Text menu looks like this. The Style button offers several choices for the shape your text will assume, and you aren’t committed to anything until you click on OK so you can try them all if you need to in order to find the one that looks right. [Move the menu box (click and hold on the gray bar at the top of the box to move it around) so you can see your text as you adjust it.] Then you can adjust the Bend, Horizontal and Vertical Distortion to suit your purposes.

It wasn’t quite how I wanted it, so I went to the Image tab>Transform>Distort  to modify it even more.

I turned on my grid (which I’ve set to have a darker line every inch with 8 subdivisions per square inch) so I’d have a guide for the degree of skewing I was doing. CTRL/CMD>’ turns the grid on and off. Or you can do it the long way by clicking on View>Grid. To get the effect I was looking for, I stretched the line of text vertically a little then pulled the upper corners toward the centre just a bit.

I used Belepotan for the 5th line and Malina for the 6th.

Watermelon Smile Fancy seemed to be the right style for the 7th line. I’d really love to know how they come up with these names! The very last line is Font in a Red Suit. Yeah, it’s a Christmas font, but it works here.

When all the lines of text had been typed and sized appropriately, I aligned them all to the centre of the card then merged them. I didn’t merge the text to the paper yet though. You’ll see why in a minute.

The text was just too crisp and sharp to look realistically like chalk. So I distressed it a little by using a free snow brush I got from Brusheezy and the Eraser tool. I lowered the Opacity of the brush to 45% so it wouldn’t completely erase the areas I touched with it and then I just stamped my brush randomly over the text until it looked… well… more like chalk.

After I had all of that done, I looked at the finished card for a minute or two and decided it needed a thin stroke around the outside as a finishing touch. Do you remember how to do that? It was way back in the photo recolouring tutorial. To refresh your memory: Click on the layer thumbnail for the shape to get those ants marching around the edge. Then go to Select>Modify>Contract and set a number in the box. I used 20. That moved my marching ants 20 pixels toward the inside of the card. Then I used the foreground colour – light gray – to apply the stroke. Edit>Stroke (Outline) Selection>Width 4 (pixels)>Inside>OK. Remember?

When that was done and I liked what I was seeing, I merged all the layers and saved my journal card in the folder for the layout I created it for. The layout turned out just as I saw it in my mind’s eye. Have a look and see if you can pick out all the techniques I’ve used to create it.

Remember, if you’ve used a technique from these tutorials, post your finished layout in the GingerScraps Facebook Tutorial Tuesday Challenge Gallery for an opportunity to have YOUR chance to challenge me. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can post a link to the layout you’ve created with the tutorial you used in the comments section here on the Blog. I’ll get a notification and will then enter you into the draw. The first week of each month I’ll have a random draw of all entries and the winner will be announced at the end of the first tutorial of that month.