Wednesday, December 31, 2014

First Teachers Pay Teachers Product - Geometric Shapes

I completed my first clipart product - Yay!  

In going through the process for the first time, I think everything took longer as I was spending a lot of time figuring things out and testing what the best way to do something was.  And since I take pride in my work, I definitely wanted to be sure that what I put out as a product reflects the quality of all of the work I am going to produce.

So, I thought it would be great to start with basic geometric shapes.  Not only would these images give me an opportunity to get used to the tablet, but I think the shapes are also a good set of images that teachers (and others) could use as a resource, both in the classroom as well as making products of their own to sell.

I already knew I was going to make high resolution PNG images, as I have used them before in my architecture work.  And with my familiarity with Photoshop, I knew the basics of how I would be making the clipart - only using Gimp at home as my budget doesn't yet afford the luxury of buying expensive software yet.  My first shape was the circle:

I think it's a good freehand drawing with a solid fill on the inside on a transparent background.  And at 300 dpi, it can easily be scaled up or down and still look clean and crisp.  I completed 15 more images to complete a set to compile together as a product.  Here is the cover image I created:

I've already received some positive feedback on the set and am now working on my next set of clipart - a set of special shapes that will complement this product.  I can't wait to finish that one as I now have a long list of products to work on.  

I can already see that this is going to get addicting ...



Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Wacom Intuos Tablet

I'm now using my new Christmas gift from Julie - a medium Wacom Intuos Creative Pen & Touch Tablet!

As an architect, I love to draw.  And after so many years, I'm used to having a pen or pencil in my hand, even in this more modern, technological age where most things are done on the computer.  But up to now, when it came to working on digital art, I've only had a mouse ... so that's what I've used.  Actually, I think I've become pretty good at drawing with a mouse, even in raster programs like Photoshop and Gimp.  

A few weeks ago when Julie and I were talking about clipart, I mentioned that drawing on a tablet would probably be much easier than using a mouse. We looked them up on Google and the Wacom tablets seemed to be the most popular.  So Julie, who doesn't have a lot of patience, :-) took me to Best Buy to get me a tablet as a Christmas gift.

Once in Best Buy, it took a little while to find the tablets - they obviously are not big sellers like the iPads, iPhones and TVs!  But there was a nice little display along the side wall in the computer accessories section with a few different types of tablets.  I thought I would only need a small tablet to get started but Julie insisted on buying the medium size - she thought I would be more comfortable with the larger size and from what she could tell it would most likely be easier to use for drawing.

So, we got the tablet!

Here is the box, unopened:

I think the packaging looks pretty good - very clear to see what you're getting with a colorful, creative display of art (and the goofy-looking Wacom logo!).  I slid off the white outer packaging to find clean, black inner box with a friendly "Welcome" greeting:

The center flap opened up to reveal the tablet and pen:

The tablet was protected with a thin white padding and the pen was secured on the side with two round, black spongy holders. I took out the tablet and below it was a small, black cardboard box and a USB plug.  So I unpacked everything and here's what I had:

I opened the black box and inside was a thin quick start guide and a CD with drivers.  There were also a few promotional sheets: an Intuos welcome page inviting me to visit their website (with some legal terms and conditions), an advertisement, and a Shutterfly advertisement offering me a free 8x8 20-page photo book.  However, when I read through the details for the Shutterfly offer, I saw that the expiration date was November 27, 2014.  Hmmm, that's not good, since it's already December and the expiration date has passed.  Oh well.

I proceeded to get the tablet plugged into my computer to complete the setup.  Once plugged in, the computer automatically downloaded drivers, so I didn't need to copy them from the CD.  I was even prompted to install the software bundle pack that was included with the purchase.  It was called the Creative Starter Pack and included a 90-day membership for Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and a 30-day membership to  I don't know about you but I never like getting trial memberships or software that I then have to purchase after a period of time.  The bundle also had Autodesk Sketchbook Express and ArtRage Studio software (not just a trial!), so I installed those thinking I would at least experiment with them to see if I liked them.

Once I got through that, the online setup went to the Setting Up Your Tablet section ... and saw 5 videos, the first to show you how to configure and personalize your tablet.  I clicked on the video and it loaded what looked like an embedded YouTube player, but all I saw was static on the screen with a message saying "This video does not exist."  The other videos worked okay, but the one I wanted to watch wasn't working.  

I then moved on to complete the tablet setup only to find that the pen didn't seem to be working on the tablet.  The mouse I had still was able to move the cursor, but not the pen.  The online User Manual has a Troubleshooting section, but the only response to a non-working pen seemed to say there was a problem loading device drivers, but they had downloaded just fine.  I wasn't sure whether I could use both the mouse and the tablet at the same time, so I unplugged the mouse ... still no luck.  So with the mouse unplugged, I decided to just re-boot the computer to see what would happen.  After the computer re-started, I had couldn't move the cursor at all - no response from the pen on the tablet.  So I plugged the mouse back in and was able to move the cursor with no problem.

Hmmmm, what to do next.  Well, I then went to the Start menu (Windows 7 Professional) and into Devices, and saw the tablet was listed.  So I clicked on the Intuos icon and the status said "This device is working properly."  Well, not what I was expecting since the pen still wouldn't move the cursor.  Both of the lights on the tablet were functioning as they should, so I knew the tablet was working.

So, I did what any frustrated person would do - went back to the Wacom website and clicked on Support.  There were a few choices (like referring to the User Manual or watching technical support videos or reading the technical FAQ's.  You could also e-mail them your question, but it says they will get back to you within 48 hours.  Then, over to the right side of the Support web page I saw their Contact Support phone number.  Well, that would certainly do it ... however, today is Sunday and the Support Team is only there between 6 and 6 Monday through Friday.

Waaaaah!  I want to use my new tablet now!

What to do, what to do.  After re-starting the computer yet again, I went into Google and typed in my problem.  Lo and behold, the Intuos "Setting Up Your Tablet" video was listed - direct on YouTube.  So I went there and watched the video that I couldn't see directly from the Wacom Intuos website.  Well, the video wasn't much help, but the guy did give me the idea to try and download the device driver again.

So, I re-loaded the driver (which appeared to be the same exact thing I previously did), this time once the driver was loaded a Tablet Properties window opened up.  And after adjusting the properties, the tablet worked!
I'm still not sure why the pen didn't work immediately upon setup, or why the Tablet Properties window did not come up when I first loaded the driver, but now it was working.  Yay!

Here's the now-functioning tablet:

After playing with it for only a few minutes, I could tell I was really going to like it.  The pen glides very smoothly on the tablet, and through the Tablet Properties, it is easy to adjust the pen settings so you can modify how the line on the screen can vary based on the pressure you put on the pen.  And you can have both the mouse and tablet plugged in at the same time - when you have the pen close to the tablet, the pen just takes control over the cursor.

I've now done a bit of drawing on the tablet and I really like it.  Time to get drawing again!


Saturday, December 27, 2014

2015 New Year's Writing Craftivity

While my wife Julie and I were brainstorming ideas for the clipart store, she told me about this idea she had for a sort of New Year's resolution activity for her students ... and that it could also make a great product to sell on Teachers Pay Teachers.  She told me how she thought it would work and then I started drawing.

After a couple of trial "faces" and "hair" I printed out what I had and Julie and I figured out what the final size of everything should be.  While Julie put together the goals and resolution pages, I had to re-draw or edit a few of the items and then drew the best part, the 2015 glasses!

Finally, I had all the parts and pieces drawn that we would need for the final product.  Here's what the glasses, head, hands and feet looked like:

And here are the different hair styles for boys and girls:

Then Julie had me print out the pieces on different colored construction paper ... And when we were finally able to put it altogether I think it looked great!

Julie now has the product uploaded to her Teachers Pay Teachers store, which can be found here. (Link will open in a new window.)

It was a fun product to do and am proud I was able to help Julie with the custom clipart needed to put this together.  And who knows, maybe I'll be able to use these parts and pieces for another product or maybe even as part of a future clipart set!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Time To Get Started

OK - I finally have time to start being a clip-artist!  With Christmas now behind us and another 5 days with no kids bugging me, I'm able to take the time to get everything organized to start the business.  I had already put the logo together a couple of weekends ago and had set up the new website, along with "stores" on both Teachers Pay Teachers and Etsy, so there's no excuse.

I'm starting with Shapes - basic ones at first, in order to get a feel for the process.  I never knew the more technical side of clipart until making my first images.  The biggest question is which software to use.  I've worked quite a lot with Photoshop over the years, but don't own my own copy and am not about to plunk down hundreds of dollars before I even get started.  I also have had a little experience with Illustrator, but I don't think I'll need Illustrator's capabilities, at least not right away.  I had already decided my clipart would be more of a freehand-sketch kind of look, so a raster-type program is what I want to use.  I had heard about Gimp as being a poor man's Photoshop (particularly since it's free!) so I downloaded it and started playing with it.  After about a half hour or so I had figured for what I want to do Gimp was going to work just fine.  It has layers which are easy to manipulate, can easily transform artwork already on your screen, and can export images into many different file types, particularly PNG.

However, there are a lot of decisions to be made, particularly with the software setup.  But instead of trying to figure it all out before drawing, I just started with test images.  I knew transparency would be important and I wanted to be sure all of my images are in high-resolution.  The first few basic shapes and body outlines I drew looked very jagged and pixelated.  So I switched from pencil to brush and sampled a number of different brush sizes until I found a pixel width and hardness that I think will give me the right kind of freehand look.

So now I'm drawing shapes for my first product ... can't wait to finish and see how my first completed  project looks!