Monday, December 12, 2005


I've enjoyed making my own Christmas cards for a long time (I don't actually remember ever buying any). Since my twin girls were born, each year's card has featured a cartoon of them and whatever pets we happened to have at the time. The girls are 17 years old now. Strung on a ribbon across the wall, 17 cards provide a sentimental timeline of our family's history. Here's this year's:

The cards also offer a nice overview of the past two decades of affordable reprographics technology. My earliest cards were done by commercial printers, sometimes in one color and sometimes in two (e.g., black and red), with color separations done by hand. Results were entirely out of my control and could be uneven; I might wait two or three weeks to get my job back from the printer only to find that he'd cut them all crooked or mixed up the colors--too late to correct and reprint.

Later, they invented color photocopying. Quality was pretty shaky at first. Color fidelity was a big gamble and I could only use thin glossy paper. A year or two later the color reproduction was better and I could photocopy onto cardstock. But I still had to be very careful to draw and color with an eye toward an unpredictable outcome.

Enter the 21st century. Desktop publishing. Photoshop. Inkjet printers. Wow. At last I'm in control of all the variables, start to finish. If the colors on the screen don't match those that come out of the printer (and they seldom do), a little trial and error gets them close enough. I can play with image size and placement, and even customize greetings if I want to. I can print exactly as many as I need, and if I run out I can print more.

Twenty years ago, I could not have imagined having this capability sitting on my desk. Remembering the time, effort, and expense I used to dedicate to achieving a tremendously inferior result, I never take it for granted.


ronnie said...

This is great, Brian! Your family is so lucky to have such a personalized and unique collection of memories. Thanks for sharing.

Keith said...

Very nice! I can just imagine how inadequate your friends feel when they get your card each year, knowing that they spent 5 minutes at Hallmark shopping for cards.

At least that's what I do.

Merry Christmas, Brian!


D.D.Degg said...

I've always been envious of you guys
with artistic abilities, but I get
downright jealous when I see this
kind of great stuff.
I have always encouraged the kids
(and now the grandkids) to handmake
birthday and other cards for me;
those are ones that mean the most.


ps: speaking of cards...
A belated, but enthusiastic, thank
you for the postcards you sent.

Lynne said...

Brian, you should teach an illustration class...

perhaps and online course? In which everyone who takes it gets a free Wacom tabet for working strictly digitally?

It's a thought....


Brian Fies said...

Ronnie, Keith and D.D., thanks. I do like making the cards, though it gets harder to think of new ideas every year. For a while we incorporated my girls' artwork into the design, too--for example, they might draw the cookies on a cookie sheet or toys sitting over a fireplace--but that got impossible to keep up. There are only so many kids, animals, and children's drawings you can work into one picture.

Lynne, I'm flattered by your suggestion. Just to be clear (and continue our earlier discussion about technique), while I know people who love their Wacom tablets, I've never used one. All my cartooning is drawn with ink on paper and then scanned. Sometimes I watercolor by hand, but for the past few Christmas cards and all of "Mom's Cancer" I colored with Photoshop. So if anyone is taking home a free Wacom, it should be me.

Lynne said...

ok, we BOTH get one!

Lynne said...

technique question, just to satisfy my curiosity...

when coloring in Photoshop, do you overlay the colored areas, or are you working from beneath?

I'm thinking of a few ways this could be done, just wondered what you do, not trying to steal your technique or anything, I'm just naturally curious.

Once you scan your ink drawing, and it becomes a black and white image, do you delete all the white space and underlay the colors?

BrianFies said...

Lynne, I've learned a lot about Photoshop by making a lot of mistakes. If you're really interested, I know there are some good online tutorials. In my experience, how you use Photoshop depends a lot on what you're using it for.

If you just want to color drawings to print them out or put them online, that's easy. You can scan your line art (I recommend doing it as a black-and-white bitmap at pretty high resolution, like 600 dpi-plus if your computer can handle it) then use the "paint bucket" tool to fill white areas with color. You don't have to delete the white space; just think of it as coloring in a coloring book. If the lines in your original drawing aren't all closed (that is, if you leave gaps) then the color can flow through the gap into places you don't want it; that's easy to fix by using the "lasso" tool to define the area you want to color.

If you're working to some professional purpose, especially print, it gets more complicated. Then you probably need to figure out what "Layers" are and how to use them. There are also issues like "trapping," which I wrote about on August 31.

The main thing I've learned about Photoshop during my book project is that I know very little about it. But I do enjoy using it, consider it a very powerful tool (if only that power could be harnessed for GOOD!), and encourage you to explore it. It's becoming pretty mandatory for anyone serious about commercial art.