Embracing Imperfection

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We've all seen countless digital images sporting that telltale computer-generated look: too many smooth lines, flat colors, and uniform textures. An image that's too perfect can appear bland, soulless, devoid of character.

That's exactly what artist and illustrator Jeff Neumann aims to avoid. Com-ing from a collage-making background, Neumann brings an experimental, less-controlled approach to illustration. He views each project as a learning experience, what he calls "a process of making mistakes." And he treasures those mistakes, because they give his pieces a hand-done, natural appearance.

Going back and forth between Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and MetaCreations' Painter, Neumann builds up layered images and then destroys selected elements within those layers to simulate a rough, weathered look. He prefers to use Illustrator 6.0, because its paintbrush tool creates objects, which he can fill with gradations, whereas the same tool in later versions creates only lines.

To illustrate an investigative article, for the Anchorage Daily News , about the illegal practice of physicians' selling their patients' confidential records to insurance companies, Neumann began with a hand-drawn pencil sketch. He refined the sketch and added flat color in Illustrator, created natural-media textures in Painter, and used Photoshop to composite the various layers.

For this illustration, Neumann relied on his usual arsenal of Illustrator 6.0, Painter 3.0, and Photoshop 5.0. His hardware includes a Power Computing PowerCenter Pro 210 and a Umax Astra 1200S scanner.

Constructive Destruction   An artist with a background in collage, Jeff Neumann introduces imperfections into his images to avoid that computer-generated look.

January 2000 page: 114

1) After drawing a pencil sketch of the male and female figures, Neumann scanned it as a PICT bitmap for use as a template in Illustrator.

2) In Illustrator, Neumann redrew his sketch lines with the pen tool and then used the paintbrush tool to create stitchlike marks that add texture to the lines. Using the pencil tool, he created large shapes where he planned to add color for the background and the figures; then he filled them with flat color, creating an underpainting. After saving the image as an EPS file so he could open it in Photoshop, he saved it as a TIFF file for importing into Painter.

3) After bringing the TIFF file into Painter, Neumann used variants of the oil-brush tool to add texture and depth to the flat colors. For the woman's hair, he used a wet oil brush to pick up color from the underpainting and bleed it into the color he was brushing on top. A coarse-hair brush used on the dark-teal areas of the male figure gave it a hand-painted, textured quality.

4) Next, Neumann brought the TIFF Painter file into Photoshop as a layer and brought the EPS file in on top of that. In the Hue/Saturation dialog box, he slightly shifted all the values, making them less saturated, darker, and greener. He cut away parts of the EPS layer, revealing the Painter layer below it, to create more texture and depth. Then he brought in his original pencil sketch as another layer to give the image a more hand-drawn look.

Using the magic-wand tool at a low setting (about 5) allowed him to change some of the colors in the Painter layer, to create the illusion of chipped-off paint for a weathered look. For example, he picked up about half the blue tones in the female figure and filled them with yellow.

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