Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Graphic Design from Low Tech to High Tech with Gimp

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I’m working on my Year of the Snake submission.  This years will be dominated by a linocut (at first glance, at least, as I intend to layer it over some abstract textured gelatin prints), and I began my design the old fashioned way using a graphite pencil, a ruler, and paper.  After a few rough versions, I switched to tracing paper and cleaned up the design, but when I was done the third version, I thought, jeepers, it just needs a wee bit of tightening up. So I used a very low tech trick and chopped up my design and re-arranged on the page, but it still wasn’t happening for me (often scissors and tape does work just fine), so I decided this time use the technology that I have on hand.  In my case, this is GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program), which is a powerful graphic design program available absolutely free.  It also uses less computing resources than commercial programs. In a non-tech way, I love it’s clean no-nonsense design and moveable panels.
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So I plopped all the pieces on the scanner and did  a 300dpi scan in black and white. The pencils are satisfyingly crisp. Yay! Step 1. I also made a box by adding a black frame to a white template.
Next up, I make a plain white background in 8x10 300dpi  size. This will be my drawing board. I go back to my scan of drawings, and isolate elements by selecting and cropping the pieces one at time.  Then use the select option—> select by colour—> click on the white space (which selects white)—> click on the invert selection option, so that now my black drawing is selected (of course I could just select black, but if the lines are thin, that’s not easy to do).
After an element is selected, I use the copy function, and then switch to my blank white drawing board. I paste using the as a new layer option. I immediately go into “Edit Layer Attributes” and name my layer, which saves me much squinting later. So my layers are named things like ‘mr snake’, mrs snake’ ‘year of the-text’, ‘snake-text’ etc. so I can easily choose the layer I intend to move.
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In this picture you can see all the pencil elements dropped off into the upper left corner, waiting for me to tell them what to do. You can also see a snippet of David Tennant as Dr Who below the GIMP boxes. He keeps me company while I do my work and makes for a seriously compelling (for me) desktop decor.
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Now we’re cooking, getting closer.
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It’s ready to print now; this is what I wanted. It’s also ironically close to my original un-snipped drawing, but with some gentle nudges on the hand-drawn text, and small placement adjustments.
Like Goldilocks, I ended it printing it three times. First, at it’s original size—too big. Then, I reduced it to 5'” wide—to small, and then to 6” inches wide—WHOOT! just exactly right, and it will leave plenty of room for visual exploration on an 8x10 gelatin print.
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Here it is printed up. To transfer to linoleum, I just go over all the black lines with a soft pencil (6B), the softer the pencil, the more graphite will transfer. When I’m done, I just need to lie this onto the linoleum, rub it from the back, and my design will be transferred in graphite, and reversed in one step.
I have until late January to get all this done. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands messy with ink and jelly. And right now I’m reflecting on the irony of using such a high tech solution to create a hand-pressed relief print, which is about as low-tech a printing technique you can get.
IMG_5463And here’s the view from my drawing board.

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