Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Art - What I'm Working On

One of the sad things about ebooks is that it has to look reasonably good as a thumbnail.

And this goes against everything you get trained in if you learned to do art for print. Art for print is all about looking good in high-rez. For one thing, if you draw something too small, and then scale it up, it looks awful -- all pixelated.

And this is something you learn very strictly not to do -- not even to think about it. Except....

With ebooks, the most important images are the small, low-rez ones. That's what everybody's going to see all the time. It's either going to be the 100 x 150 thumbnail, or the somewhat larger image on the product page, usually around 200 x 300.

And here's the thing that makes it sad -- textures are in. And textures really don't scale. If they look good at a high resolution, they disappear completely in thumbnail. Or they become muddy and strange.

Now, when I say "texture" I don't mean it quite the way we do in out in the real world. Among ordinary humans, the word "texture" means a tactile surface -- bumpy or smooth or something you can feel. But in digital art, texture has come to an image where the surface has a pattern or color variations. It may appear to be stained or faded or discolored, or marbled like stone, or with woodgrain. It's basically just a surface.

(That's the reason we started calling it a "texture." In the early days of 3-D animation, the objects were smooth, and so to get the appearance of a texture, you would draw a picture that looked textured, and you'd apply it to the surface.)

Textures are really in vogue right now. You'll see scrapes and smudges even on "conservative" things like ads for banks and insurance companies. You'll see some really spiffy ones on modern print books. They add a lot of quick visual interest to plain, abstract designs. But like I said, they don't scale.

So I've decided to play around with creating textures which would scale. And I've decided the way to start is by going against the rules and starting out by creating the texture small -- at 200 pixels by 300 pixels, then upscaling them to 600 x 900 to do the details that matter most at a higher resolution. Because I started small, the main gist of the texture stays visible when it is then reduced back down to 100 x 150.

The two blue images here show one example. On the left is a close up of the higher rez version of the image, and on the right is the thumbnail of the whole image.

It's dark because I was experimenting with text, and it looks good with white or very light text on it. However, because I did it in layers -- with the texture itself in grayscale, and a blending layer to add the color, I can make it lighter or darker or a different color (or a number of different colors) to suit the mood. With some settings it looks icy, others it looks like stone. With the right red it can look bloody. I could also invert it so that the streaks in the foreground are dark, and the smudgy background is light.

The other cool thing about a texture is that it can be applied to something else. You may have seen it on some modern thriller covers. A scraped up grunge texture might be applied to a silhouette of a gun, for instance. Here you see a mock cover made using that design above. I dulled the texture so the text and the silhouette would stand out.

This, I think, could be a very nice technique for making memorable but quick short story covers. Once the texture is done, it's very quick to play with it, and knock out a whole bunch of covers like the one on the right. (I'm tempted, actually, to offer to do such covers in return for proofing.)

I'm thinking I may replace my cover for Harsh Climate with something like it. While that's one of my spiffier covers, it doesn't necessarily suit the book that well, and I don't want to use photos or stock on anything I use any more.

The textures I did here, I knocked out in Photoshop with some grunge brushes. Next week I think I'll play with Painter for some less "canned" effects.

See you in the funny papers.

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