Matthew Diffee and Mother Sea Turtles

Are you a mother sea turtle?  If you’re a creative person, maybe you should be.  That’s the advice of Matthew Diffee, and I think he’s right.

Matthew Diffee Interview

Human Demo: New Yorker Cartoonist Matthew Diffee Shows How To Be Creative – Forbes

… Among Diffee’s pieces of advice for aspiring creative people is this aphorism: “Be like a mother sea turtle.” By that he means lay a hundred conceptual eggs in the sand, then swim off and don’t fret over what becomes of them. Most of them will never hatch; most of the hatchlings will get eaten by predators. That’s not your problem. Your task is just to keep laying eggs. …

In a way, when he says, “Your task is just to keep laying eggs,” I’m reminded of the Cult of Done Manifesto, where Bre Pettis says, “There is no editing stage,” and “Once you are done you can throw it away.”

As artists, I think we can be held back by fear of failure.  In our heads, we’ve already become critics, even before picking up the pen, pencil, or glue stick.

It’s important to just go for it, and allow serendipity to play a part in the dance we call creativity.

a lot of people have been summarizing Matthew Diffee’s SXSW 2012 talk.  (It must have been tremendous.  If anything could make me think about braving the crowds — and heat — of Austin for SXSW, the comments about Diffee’s talk might be it.)

And finally, here’s one summary that I like a lot. Click on the link and scroll down to the section that starts “Best sesh.”  I think the summary at the very end of the article is the important part.

SXSW Day 3: It’s all about Bob (Marley) and creativity – Vancouver Sun (blog) via

SXSW Day 3: It’s all about Bob (Marley) and creativity. Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist whose work appears in the New Yorker, defined his YEP! approach to idea generation at “How to be an idea factory” session at SXSW.

… Caffeine kicks starts the “Process”, so he sits down with an empty sheet of paper and doesn’t stop the free flow of ideas until the paper is full and the pot of coffee is empty.

How he does it: He simply starts with a word or phrases and then applies the following: Add things to one of the ideas…

And, speaking of Bre Pettis, if you’ve never made an art shrine in a book, here’s his video showing one way to start the project:

About 10 years ago, I taught a class like that at Artfest.  I have no idea how Pettis took only 20 minutes to cut the pages; some of my students spent the entire day cutting.  (Yes, that was the last time I tried to teach that as a one-day class.)  Usually, the cutting took me about an hour and a half, with breaks to keep my hand from cramping as I held the cutting blade.

During those breaks, I’d work on elements that would go inside the art shrine.  I’ve always liked tooled metal, similar to the journals Tracy Moore created, so I found ways to include some sheet metal (doesn’t have to be very thick) in some of my altered books and art shrines.  To stamp the words into the metal, I like a good, heavy tooling set like this one.  (Some of the lightweight sets sold at arts & crafts stores… they just aren’t sturdy enough to hold up for very long.)

And then, I’d go back to cutting more pages in the book.  It was tedious, but the finished altered books made it worthwhile.

Today, I’d probably do a lot of the cutting with a Dremel tool or something.  Yes, it could accidentally gouge some of the back cover, but if you use Pettis’ idea of putting a felt liner there, nobody will know if the Dremel got a little out of control.

I’d also consider using a wood burning tool here & there, along the inside edges of the opening.  That could look cool and antique-ish, and cover any raw or weird areas, as well.

Tea staining could work, but it won’t be as good at disguising “oops” areas where the blade may have been sloppy.  And, in a single-day workshop, the tea won’t dry quickly enough to move to the next step — sealing the edges — unless you use something like an embossing tool (heater) to dry the pages.

After whatever edge treatment I chose (if any), I’d cover the edges with clear, matte finish acrylic gel medium, so the pages would hold together, but it wouldn’t look too obviously glued. (For some projects, I might mix in some small, dried leaves or glitter, depending on the effect I wanted to create.)

This next video starts with some altered book ideas, but he’s using a board book and cutting out part of each page.  Then, he wanders into some interesting mixed media techniques that might work well with the first (shrine-style) altered book, above.

I hope those give you some creative ideas!

With thanks to David Locicero for telling me
about Matthew Diffee’s interview.

Single-sheet zine designs – basics

Single sheet zines - step oneThere are as many ways to create, modify & embellish a single-sheet zine as there are artists!

Here’s a very simple way to create one:

1. Take any white sheet of paper.  Pull one out of your desktop printer, or rip one out of a notebook.  (Think of the lines as pinstripes!)

2. Fold the paper in half.  Most people fold it so it becomes a four-page zine, with each page being 8.5″ tall and 5.5″ wide, but anything’s possible!

Single sheet zines - how to make them
3. Write and draw (and create other art) on each page, until it’s full.  (Alternative: Create your zine, digitally, and then print it.)

Single sheet zines - the layout and design4. Flatten the sheet so you can photocopy (or scan) it.

5. Print copies, two-sided (back to back), and fold them.  (Optional: Embellish by hand.)

6. Mail copies of your zines, sell them (at your site or Etsy, for example) or give them to others, sharing your ideas and artwork!

Single sheet zines - print and share
(If you live in a city, especially one with a student neighborhood, go hand some zines out and watch people blink in amazement.  They’re used to advertising flyers, etc., not actual gifts of art & inspiration.)

If you want to make and share zines, this is one of the simplest ways to make them!

Single-sheet zines – Expanded

Single-sheet zines can be easy or complex.  In my earlier article, Single-sheet Zine Design – Basics, I showed one of the simpler ways to create a zine.

Now, let’s talk about a more complex approach… that still uses a single sheet of paper.

But first, a little history:

In 1977, I published my first zine. It was one piece of paper, photocopied, folded, and sent out with someone’s name & address written on the outside, with a stamp.

In time, I graduated to two or three sheets of paper, and I started embellishing my zines with rubber stamps and glitter. Each one was hand-decorated.

Then, I began experimenting with artistamps (faux postage that I created for my imaginary country) and other forms of mailart.

Since then, I’ve tried nearly every possible zine format, from paper to fabric to zines-on-CDs to… well, lots of stuff.

So, if you have a question about zines, I can probably answer it or point you in the direction of someone else who can.

From what I’ve seen, the majority of people who swap or sell zines take a bunch of letter-sized printed pages (8 1/2″ x 11″) and fold them in half. Each sheet of paper is four pages of the zine.

Here’s how a single-sheet zine would look:

Single sheet zines - the layout and design

See? This can be really easy!

You can print a free zine — a variation of the single-page zine — at Free Zine #1.  (Warning: I wrote that around 2002, and included several topics that were popular/trendy at the time.  If the mention of Feng Shui offends you, skip that link.)

An average zine (major oxymoron!) is five to 15 sheets of paper, meaning 20 to 60 pages.

In swaps, most zines are at the small end of that figure.  Many of them are just a sheet or two of paper, printed (and sometimes cut) and folded/stapled to make a zine.

Once you’ve made a few classic, single-sheet zines, you may want to try something more complex.

If you’re a purist, you’ll love this. If you’re on a budget, you’ll also love this: It’s a 16-page zine created with one sheet of legal-sized paper, period.

I don’t count the cover as a “page” when I number my zine pages, so my own version of this is 12 pages plus an outside cover & inside covers. Here’s how it fits on the paper:

16-page zine

Cut on the solid lines and fold on the dotted lines.

Staple in the center. One staple is usually enough.

One stamp on the envelope is enough to mail one of these zines.  (You can tuck them in with your bill payments, with your notes to friends, with your swaps, with your orders to catalogues, and so on!)

You can also scan your zine, uncut, and put it online so others can print their own copy, cut & assemble it. Easy!

This zine won’t hold much info unless you write small enough for a magnifying glass, or you find clever ways to expand the available space, such as adding fold-out pages & stuff.

However, this 16-pages-from-one-sheet-of-legal-paper is generally regarded as the classic zine, if we’re talking all kinds of zines, including poetry, fanzines, perzines (personal zines), and so on.

There are many other ways to make zines. Look at books about making handmade books, for the best inspiration. The concept is the same, but zines are usually smaller & more informal, that’s all.

If you want to create a zine that’s a work of art, that’s fine. If you want to get wild & crazy with design, have fun with it!

Remember that a zine can be one piece of paper, b&w, printed on both sides, and folded in half. That’s a four-page zine.  I have several in my collection, and I think some of the simpler ones are better than a few larger ones I’ve seen.

So, put your art & soul into your zine, and don’t worry about the size or technical stuff.  I love almost every zine I see; size and expertise often have nothing to do with how enthusiastic I am about a zine!

If you’ve wanted to create a zine for fun, just do it!

Give them to friends.  Sell them (at your website or Etsy, for example).  Hand them out on the street or at school.

Or, you can join a zine swap or launch your own, on- or offline.  They can be tremendous!

In addition, if you swap, you’ll receive fabulous zines that you might never see if you hadn’t swapped.

Zine-related links (at other people’s websites – they open in a new window)

Zines101.pdf – Some basics and suggestions, not just about art zines.

Wikipedia: Zines – So much information, it’ll make your eyes glaze over or your pulse race… or both.

Zine Resources – from Underground Press.  Useful & worth bookmarking or sharing.

Torn-Paper Collages – How-to video

Torn-paper collages are among my favorite ways to illustrate an artist’s journal.

I’ve created a YouTube video to demonstrate one technique.  You can scroll down to see it at the foot of this page,  or you can see it at:

Here are the steps to create a torn-paper collage.

(Looking for a print version?  Choose either of these, and right-click to save the file to your hard drive:  No-frills b&w PDFExpanded color PDF.)

1. Gather supplies.

All you really need are some pictures, something to use as glue, and something to support your collage, like a piece of paper.

More details:

For pictures, words & phrases

– Magazines, newspapers,  printed materials, junk mail

I especially like fashion, travel and nature magazines for photos.  “W” magazine is great for huge, almost surreal images, as well as great words & phrases. “Town & Country” magazine offers a nice mix of fashion, travel, home & garden photos, as well as yummy ads.

If I’m going to sell the finished work, I’m careful about using magazines such as National Geographic. Though their pictures are gorgeous, they have a reputation for being difficult about copyright issues.

For words and phrases, I like health, fitness, religious and New Age magazines, as well as junk mail… including the envelopes, which are often better than whatever’s enclosed in it.

I find free magazines at public libraries and sometimes at laundromats (ask if they’re ready to get rid of some of them).

Adhesives and glues

For now, I’m using Golden Gel Medium (Soft Gel – gloss) with a sponge brush.  However, I want to try other kinds of glues and mediums.  Golden works fine, but I’m not thrilled with how they run the company, and I suspect that other, less expensive gel mediums work just as well.

When I use a sponge brush, I rinse it out completely as soon as I’m finished with it.  I can usually use the same sponge brush for a week before it starts to fall apart.

When I’m applying the gel medium, I use an old phone book underneath my work.

Support for the collage

Anything can support your collage.  I generally use a regular spiral-bound sketchbook for my daily collages.  However, for this one, I used a file folder.  I’m not sure why; it seemed like the right choice.

You could use poster board, canvas, wood, or almost any surface that will accept glue.

(Some dishes or tiles work well with collages, but others don’t.  Test different materials and adhesives to see what works for you.)


I like gold leaf and glitter, but that’s a personal preference.  Almost anything that you can glue to a surface can be used as an embellishment.

2. Select images and words or phrases.

Go quickly through your materials, and — without much thought — choose images, words & phrases that appeal to you.  Tear out the entire page and set it aside.

Tip: If you like more than one element on a page, separate them.  Otherwise, it’s easy to forget that you were going to use more than one item from a single page.

I often select a word or phrase early in this process.  In this case, I chose “Uncompromised” quickly.  The word “promise” is in red in it, and I realized (light bulb realization) that when I compromise, I’m breaking a promise to myself or to others.  Even if it’s just small and unspoken, it’s still a betrayal (big or little) of an ideal that I held or aspired to.

That’s a concept worth examining, as I work on daily priorities.

Remember that you can use a word or phrase from a sentence.  I chose “you deserve” from a laxative ad!

When you feel pleased with your collection of pages, or when you have a stack of about ten pages, pause and begin working with them.

3. Tear the images in the approximate size, and then to the exact size.

If a page is really large, it can be more difficult to tear out the precise element that I want.  So, I tear the page around the general area of the element, and then tear more exactly.

When I’m making the final tear, I try to tear it all in one go, not inching along, a little at a time.  A smooth tear usually looks nicer, unless you have a specific reason for a very jagged edge.

Also, when you tear the magazine page, there will be a white edge in one direction of the tear.  (The yellow arrow points to it.) I like to work with either all white-edged images, or keep all of my images without white edges.

4. Apply adhesive to the back of the image.

This is going to be a little messy… or even a lot messy.  Revel in it!

With something underneath the image — so you can smear or practically lather the gel medium (or whatever glue) — apply the adhesive to the back of the image.

If the adhesive is too thick, it can be lumpy underneath the image.  If the adhesive is applied in a really thin layer, it can dry too quickly.  However, as long as some of it sticks to the collage, that can be enough.

If you’re using gel medium, remember that it sort of melts with extreme heat.

You can use an iron (there are special irons made for this, too) — with some sort of release paper between the collage and the iron, so the iron doesn’t get all gooey from the melting medium — and the heat softens & reactivates the gel.

So, even dried gel medium can be reactivated and it’ll suddenly adhere the entire image to whatever’s underneath it.

I only do this when the collage is nearly completed — before I apply any glitter or gold leaf — if there’s clearly a problem where part of the collage didn’t adhere correctly.

Keep in mind that your lower layers (and at least some of their edges) will be covered by later additions to the collage.

5. Place the image where you want it to be, in your collage.

Try to place it exactly where you want it to be, or at least fairly close.  If you lift, stretch, or drag a piece of magazine paper, it can stretch and look a little odd in your final work.

If your collage element seems to bubble, it’s okay to pat it flat, but don’t try to smooth it.  (I learned that from collage artist Claudine Hellmuth.)

If you brush it or rub it with your fingers to smooth it, it’ll stretch the paper and the finished result might be disappointing.

Bubbled paper seems to shrink back to shape was the adhesive dries, or at least some papers will do that.  So, if you’re going to put something over the bubbled piece, let the bubbled part dry, first.  It might flatten out on its own.

6. Keep working.  Build up more layers.  Tear more images as you work, if you need more images.

I usually tear out the first three or four images that I’m going to work with, and then start building the collage.

When I’m happy with them, or if I decide to add another image that I haven’t torn out yet, I pause and tear out what I’ll need next.

If I have a massive pile of torn paper — good stuff and paper that I may (or may not) use — it can become confusing.

7. Continue to build your collage.

Remember that the first layers are the background.  As you add layers, they’ll be on top. (It’s amazingly easy to forget this, sometimes.)

The focal point (or points) of your collage should probably be on top. The leading areas tend to attract the attention of the viewer.

However, it’s okay to tuck little surprises in the lower layers, for the viewer to “discover” as he or she explores the collage.

Also, don’t despair if your collage looks messy.  Some will be more messy than others.  It’s okay.

Here’s a close-up of one area on this morning’s collage.

Here’s what you need to know if you make a “mistake.”

1. Milky areas will probably dry clear.

2. If the paper looks translucent in some areas (like right above the letter T in the photo above), they’ll probably turn opaque when the adhesive dries.

3. Anything that looks weird when the collage is nearly finished, can be covered with embellishments (glitter, gold leaf, threads, pieces of mica, paint, etc.) or you can cover it with another image or phrase.

It’s okay to change your mind.

For this collage, I’d selected a great image of a model looking in one direction.  However, I discovered an even better photo on the back of it: Mulawi children in colorful, traditional clothing.

So, allow for serendipity as you work.

8. Keep building your collage until you’re happy with it.

It’s okay to take your time.  It’s also okay to rush through this in a flurry of creativity.

You can start the collage, walk away from it, and finish it later in the day, or the next day, or the next week!

Tip: When you think to yourself, “I think this is nearly finished,” it’s probably finished.  Stop!  Take a break, and then take a fresh look at it.

It’s better to stop too early than take the work too far.

9. Consider adding embellishments.

I love embellishments, but you don’t have to add any at all.  Every artist has his or her own style.

Embellishments can include things like:

  • Glitter, tinsel, gold leaf (or copper leaf, etc.), feathers, or ribbon.
  • Tissue paper (it may remain translucent if you use gel medium over and underneath that layer).
  • Thread, glued on or stitched on.
  • Beads, mica, sand, pieces of glass.
  • Paint, oil pastels, stencils, rubber stamp art.

You can even embed something that plays a tune or says something (like in greeting cards) in your collage, for people to press.

The possibilities are unlimited.

10. (Optional) Finish with a coat of gel medium.

After the collage is fully dry, you can seal it with a thin coat of gel medium.  It’s not necessary, but it will give the collage a uniform level of gloss (or a uniformly matte finish, if you used a matte gel medium).

This will also protect the collage from dust and damage, if you want to leave it “as is” instead of displaying it under glass.

Tip: If you’re using this in an artist’s journal — such as a spiral-bound sketchpad — place a piece of wax paper between the collage and the facing page.  That will prevent the pages from sticking together if the journal is stored where the heat might soften the gel medium.

My finished collage

Though I could probably explain all of the elements, it’s true that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Basically, this is about re-evaluating compromises… things that I decided were okay, short-term, as a step to a more important goal.  for me, it’s easy for those to become long-term issues.

For me, the image of the happy children in colorful clothing is important.  It’s how joyous and self-expressive we all can be.

And yes, we all deserve to live deliciously, savoring every moment!

Here’s the YouTube video.  It’s only four minutes, so it’s a bit of a whirlwind.

Homage to Dr. John – a mixed media collage

This is a collage to honor the music of Dr. John (aka Mac Rebbenack). It is the art for the Homage to Music card deck exchange hosted by Red Dog Scott.

(Click on the Homage to Dr. John image — at right — to see the 767 x 1006 pixel version. It opens in a new window.)

Dr. John is probably my favorite musician, since I first heard his music around 1970. On an early album, Gumbo, he described his sound as “a combination of Dixieland, Rock & Roll, and Funk.” Add a little Mardi Gras and gris-gris, and you’ll get the idea.

Not everyone understands his music; I do, and it inspires much of my art.

This collage was over a month in preparation.

I started with a stretched canvas that I’d painted metallic gold (spray paint).

Then, I began layering Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine Blue, and finally a black that I mixed using French Ultramarine and Burnt Umber.

Because I use oil paints for their depth of color, each layer had to dry for at least ten days. (In workshops, I use acrylics because the layers dry in minutes, not weeks.)

After the layers were dry, I began sanding them down for texture. I place a wooden block the size of the stretcher-bar opening, under the canvas so it is evenly supported.

I sanded down different amounts in different areas.

Then, I began the collage.

My first layer was tissue paper, crumpled and “painted on” with Golden brand Soft Gel Medium.

Next, I “painted on” a piece of antique lace. Over that, I glued three strips of teal chenille yarn.

For small pieces, I use the Golden Medium as glue; for larger pieces, I use hot glue.

Then, I added feathers. Some were gatherered at the beach, others were purchased.

Next, I coated the entire canvas with Golden Medium, and waited for it to dry until tacky. At that point, I began applying Gildenglitz. For the larger areas, I increased the adhesion with a double-sided tape.

Almost finished, I glued on a dollhouse Parcheesi board, a plastic lizard, and a heart milagros that I had sprayed gold and highlighted with Dr. Martin’s calligraphy ink, in copper.

The final addition–when everything else had fully dried–was some highlights with Rub N Buf gold leaf, in antique gold.

This is the kind of piece you can expect to complete in my workshops that involve collages, and natural materials.

Generally, I like to work with rich & deep colors, gold leaf or glitter, and natural objects such as twigs, acorns, and feathers–natural materials, used flamboyantly.

This remains one of my favorite collages.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. John…

Fresh Designs – free design book


In the early 1980s, I assembled a book of quilting designs. That is, they’re guides for stitching on completed quilts.

However, you could use these same designs for many other kinds of art, especially fabric art. And, I included some suggestions on a couple of pages in this book.

For example: For a non-fabric art application, I might use some of these designs as templates to cut random pages from magazine photos, and create a collage.

In felt or fabric, they could be great applique designs.

In the early 1980s, this book was sold in quilting shops throughout the US, Canada, and Australia.

Now, I’ve scanned the pages of this book, and assembled them as a free book for you to download in PDF format.

How you can use this book and its patterns

You can use these patterns for your own original art, even art that you sell.

You can also copy these pages–or the entire book–and distribute it to friends, or even to students in a class that you teach.

You can use these patterns at your own website, or even offer the book as a freebie at your site.


freshdesigns-page2I retain the copyright to this book and its designs. Here are the copyright rules:

You can’t charge for the book or its designs, but it can be a free handout in a class that you teach.

You must be sure that my copyright notice is on any individual pages that you distribute.

Also, don’t pretend that you created this book or its designs.

If you distribute the book–printed or online for printing/download–the last page in the book must be part of it. That’s where the copyright details are.

Please do not link directly to the PDF file at this website. You can link to this page… just not directly to the PDF file itself.

Download as a PDF

freshdesigns-page11smYou can download this book and print it at your computer. It’s in PDF format, which can be read by several programs, including the free Adobe Reader program.

To download your free copy of “Fresh Designs” in PDF format (about 5MB), right-click on this link and choose “Save to Disk.”

(Be sure to remember where you saved it on your hard drive, so that you can print it, later.)

right-click here for Fresh Designs download

(Please do NOT post the PDF link at other websites, forums or lists.)

Carve Your Own Letterboxing Stamps

When I started carving rubber stamps, I was reminded of why I hated high school art classes: I’m frankly terrible at this kind of stuff.

However, using Speedball’s pink rubber stamp material (get the kit – it’s worth it) makes this easy, even if–like me–you’re all thumbs when it comes to this kind of stuff. In 2006, the kit was under $20 at Michael’s.

Low-tech method

  • Sketch your design on paper with a nice black pencil. I recommend a pencil with a 2B or 4B lead, or softer.
  • Flip the paper over so it’s face-down on the pink rubber pad.
  • Trace over the lines again (or rub the back of the paper really well, all over), on top of the pink rubber pad.

The lines should transfer well to the rubber.

High-tech method

  • Photocopy or use your laser printer to print the image/s you’d like on the rubber stamp. (Inkjet will not work for this.)
  • Place the image face-down on the pink rubber pad.
  • Dab the back of the paper with acetone (nailpolish remover), until the paper is saturated.

The image should appear nice and dark, showing where to cut and where to avoid.


Either way, the next step is easy. Cut away everything you don’t want to grab ink. It doesn’t have to be a deep cut, just enough so it doesn’t come in contact with the rubber stamp pad when you’re printing.

You can cut with block printing cutters, or with an X-Acto knife. Different people like different cutters. I took more block printing classes than I can recall, so I’m more comfortable with the block printing cutter.

What’s key is not to undercut the image. That is, the part that contacts the stamp pad should be well-supported on each side. I like the illustration–and instructions–at Der Mad Stamper’s website.

If you make a mistake, you can glue the errant piece back in, so be sure to save it. If you’re using the pink Speedball rubber, Super Glue works fine. I used it, and except for the glue squirting all over my fingers when I punctured the tip to open it, it worked fine.

(Another handy reason to have acetone nearby. It’ll separate your fingers, but alas it doesn’t fully remove the glue.)

I applied the glue with a sewing needle, which did not stick to the rubber… but then the needle was glued to my desk when I put it down for minute.

If you use Super Glue, you’ll need to sand the glue off the stamp before using it. The glue resists ink. Sanding can be done with sandpaper, of course, but an emery board or file works fine too.

When you think you’ve cut the stamp pretty well, use a very light color of stamp pad to test the image. That way, if you need to cut more, you can still see your original lines.

Remember to cut less than you think you need. And also, it’s supposed to look hand-cut, so leave bits of rubber lines here & there for that “artsy” look.

When the stamp is done, you can use it as it is, or you can glue it to a piece of wood (for a handle).

The Shakespeare stamp–of my all-time idol–was my first attempt at carving a rubber stamp. I still use it, years later.

I carved the Aisling stamp (also shown below) specifically for letterboxing; that was the third stamp I carved. The second one was regrettable and is sitting in landfill somewhere.

But, whether you have a hand-carved stamp that you love, a hand-carved stamp that’s ho-hum, or a store bought stamp… get out and go letterboxing! It’s important to go out and play, even with an imperfect stamp.

my first carved stamp
(the bard, of course)

computer graphic for stamp

final rubber stamp (2 1/2″ x 1 3/4″)

ATC Tutorial 4 – Memories – Finishing the ATC

Continued from ATC Tutorial 3 – Memories – Giving it meaning

The card was very nearly finished. I liked the colors and the general design of the image, but it needed just a little… something else. I didn’t know what, yet.

This is the part of the process that can take forever, since it’s trial and error. There’s a feeling that you’re almost there, and it’s only working with a set time limit that prevents the card from becoming a two-week continuing project.

everlasting ATC I remembered an ATC that I made earlier, with a photo of a little girl and her teddy bear.

Suddenly, the new card was about a frail and elderly woman, remembering her days as a “flapper”.  She was remembering her childhood near San Francisco when she and her father would go to the pond by the Palace of Fine Arts, to feed the birds.

I still had the layers from my earlier card, so it was easy to copy the layer with the little girl and position her on this new ATC.

I liked the effect immediately.

final image for ATC

Before flattening the layers, I selected that band of natural color where the water meets the land, and I increased the saturation.

Then, I chose the inverse selection and lightened it, reducing contrast as well.

Finally, I flattened the layers and reduced the image size to fit on a 3″ x 5″ ATC.

I added the border and text, using the P22-Monet font. I deliberately overlapped the text and the image a little, because I wanted it to look like the lady had written this on the card herself.

Here is the completed card:

right-click on the card to save it to your hard drive

You can print this card at 150 dpi to create you own copy of this 3″ x 5″ ATC. (It’s okay to adjust the size to fit the more popular 2.5″ x 3.5″ format.)

ATC Tutorial 3 – Memories – Giving it meaning

Continued from ATC Tutorial 2 – Memories – Adding More Layers

At this point, the card was pretty… but it had no real theme or meaning to it. And, while “pretty” art can stand on its own merits, I rarely choose to make art without another layer of meaning. So, I started examining the card for clues.

I increased the contrast and lightened the background layer. I knew that something needed to go in front of it, and by reducing the “obviousness” of the background, it helped me to focus.

I was still drawing a blank.

So, I went to my copy of Photoshop Secrets of the Pros: 20 Top Artists and Designers Face Off for ideas. (If it’s selling for under $10 at Amazon and you enjoy this kind of art, get a copy. Otherwise, see if your public library owns it. If they don’t, tell them to buy a copy.)

I was inspired by the work of John Henry Donovan, of

another step in the ATC process - inverting color I tried inverting color (Image–>Adjust) in strips with five-pixel feathering. However, once the stripes were dark, I needed to duplicate the layer with the Paris-Draped figure, to make it more opaque.

I wasn’t too sure that I liked the effect. In fact, it was pretty much ick. And, having set a three-hour deadline–trying to mimic my one-hour ATCs but allow for this documentation–I needed to finish the card quickly.

I deleted the extra layer of Paris-Draped so that the figures were transparent again. And, I desaturated the layer. But, as I was using the Hue/Saturation screen for this, I accidentally altered the background hues… and liked the effect. ATC starting to look good

I started selecting rectangular areas of the background, and changing the hue of each of them and then switched them back again.

Finally, I worked with the area nearest the middle and altered it back to its original, natural colors.

Then, I chose Select–>Inverse and tweaked the remaining background image and adjusted it until I was happy with it.

Finally, the Paris-Draped layer had to be adjusted as well, both contrast and hue.

Now, I was getting a theme. The Paris-Draped figure was clearly from the past, and the single band of natural/real coloring in the image was like a faded memory… only part of it was accurate and the rest was a little surreal.

Conclusion: ATC Tutorial 4 – Memories – Finishing the ATC

ATC Tutorial 2 – Memories – Adding more layers

To reflect the sky colors in the water, I made a duplicate layer of the sky, flipped it vertically in Edit–>Transform. I reduced its transparency to 36%, and slightly adjusted the color to make it greener (for the influence of the green of the water) and darker.

I remembered my painting lessons which taught me that the sky is almost always the lightest natural tone in any picture. So, the water had to be a little darker. (ref. Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting – an inexpensive must-own if you’re working with landscape-type art.)

Next, I knew that I wanted at least one figure in this ATC, so I found a slightly risque public domain photo. (They’re easy to find, online, even the U.S. gov’t site has some in their art resources, online. Or look for the British Museum’s free online images.) shameless hussies paris-draped
two paris-draped images over the palace ATC design I selected just the figure to use on my ATC, and blurred the edges slightly. (Remember, if you’re working with a layer that’s going to be transparent, you can get away with far less precision in your images.)

Then, I…

  • made a duplicate layer so would be two figures
  • flipped one of them
  • adjusted the transparency
  • set the figures where I wanted them.

Then I merged the two figure layers so that I could play with the hue, saturation, and contrast.

Next page: ATC Tutorial 3 – Memories – Giving it meaning.