Jul 24 2012

Tech Tuesday: Changing Your Brush Size


Sometimes I really hate drop-down menus. Take the example of changing brush sizes in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.  I have to move my mouse, stylus or finger all the way to the Options bar, then click, then decide what a good size would be, then move my mouse, stylus or finger back to the image to see if the size is really what I wanted.  If it isn’t, I have to start all over again: mouse to Options bar, click to see the slider, drag the slider, move back to the image to see if it’s the “right” size.  That’s a lot of repetitive motion!

Bush Sizes

Green Arrow Shows Brush Size Slider

There is an easier way!  One of my favorite keyboard shortcuts is to use the square bracket keys to increase or decrease the size of my brush.

Keyboard Image

Square Bracket Keys

So, while you’re using the brush tool, just tap the “]“ key (right square bracket—the pink key in the image above) to increase the size of the brush.  Each time you tap, the brush will get larger.  To decrease the size of the brush, tap the “[” key (left square bracket—the blue key in the image above).  If you keep the cursor over your image, you should see the size of the brush cursor change with each tap. Pretty easy, huh?

And now for the fine print.

1) If you still only see crosshairs when you go to paint, make sure your Caps Lock key is off. (See Quirky Photoshop.)

2) If you still can’t see the size of the brush, it may either be too large or too small to see on your image! Try tapping either  the “[” or “]” key a few times (or a whole bunch of times) to make the cursor visible on your image.

3) If you still see only crosshairs, make sure your cursor preferences are set to  “Normal Brush Tip.”  If you tend to draw or paint with the cursor set to crosshairs (the Precise setting), you would not see a change in the cursor size. Here’s how to change your cursor settings:  From the Menu bar click on Edit, then Preferences, then  Display and Cursors.  In the Painting Cursors box, choose Normal Brush Tip.  Click OK, and you’re good to go.

Display and Cursors Dialog Box

Display and Cursors Dialog Box

Want to know the even better news?  This technique works with most of your brush tools—like the eraser.  So when you’re erasing something and need to make the eraser smaller to get at those tiny little parts, just remember the square bracket keys!



Jul 19 2012

Beatrice Lanter, Masters II, and Titling Artworks


We received our copy of Masters: Art Quilts, Volume II a while ago but have yet to review it on our blog. Of course, lots of people have beaten us to the punch because it’s such a rewarding find: good quality photography, well chosen photo details, and helpful essays on 40 accomplished artists. Martha Sielman did a great job putting this volume together. Instead of trying to outdo what others have already done, we thought it might be interesting to delve into a few of the artists in the context of questions that arise in our own work. Today the topic is Beatric Lanter. When I first opened the book, it just happened to open to page  201 and Lanter’s “Wiese” (2007).

"Wiese" by Beatrice Lanter

I marveled a while at this piece, intrigued by the way Lanter worked the traditional log cabin block into a harmony of color that indeed gave me the sense of looking at a meadow. Then I realized that I had just read the title and absorbed its meaning without consciously noting the title was in German. (Both Deb and I speak German – that’s how we met – in German Club!) Well, then I got all nostalgic for the amazing central European meadows I had seen many times (live and in photos), with variations of green and eye-popping flowers dotting the undulating meadows. You see, when you grow up in California, the Golden State, you get excited about green meadows. The point of the story is that I came to see the piece completely differently because the title was in German, and that got me to wondering if the title was left in the original for a reason (Lanter has previously exhibited in the US using English titles, and one piece in Masters II is titled in English).

Just how important are titles anyway? When you run across a work called “Untitled,” do you wonder whether the artist expressly wanted to be vague? (I’m not talking here about really old works or recently found works by masters but works by modern artists who know full well that titles help in identification.) I got to thinking of how often I look at an artwork and then see what the title tells me about the piece. Here’s Lanter’s “Geschenk” (2002).

"Geschenk" by Beatrice Lanter

If you don’t know what the title means, what do you see? Before I read the title, I saw confetti and a party, but after reading the title, which translates into “Present/Gift,” I started focusing on the sheer fabric, the gift of the layers, and the joy of giving. (I won’t go into the whole “gift”-in-German-means-poison dilemma!!) When you check out the book, look for “Hinten II” (2007) and “Hinten III” (2008). Once you realize “Hinten” means ‘behind,” you see that Lanter has deliberately used the reverse side of her piece as the front (and I defy any painter to do the same!). By naming these two pieces “Behind,” it seems as if Lanter is asking the viewer to think about the other side of everything; there are two sides to every story.

Looking at Lanter’s work got me to thinking about another Swiss artist, Paul Klee (1879-1940). I think it was Lanter’s colors that reminded me of Klee, but I also know he painted a lot of abstracts. Here’s Klee’s “Südliche Gärten” (1919).

"Südliche Gärten" by Paul Klee

The words “Südliche Gärten” (“Southern Gardens”) are actually written on the bottom left-hand side of the watercolor, so there shouldn’t be any confusion, right? Well, if you google this painting, you’ll more often than not find it under “Tunisian Gardens.” I don’t know how or when the words changed, but now they clearly ask the viewer to think of Tunisia. Yes, Klee traveled to Tunisia and completed this painting while there, but why didn’t he name the painting “Tunesische Gärten”? If I were in academic mode, I would scour his letters to see if he referred to this painting as such, but let’s leave Klee at his words on the painting. The gardens are Southern and non-specific – does that not allow for more associations on the part of the viewer?

This brings us to to the Pixeladies and the issue of titling your artwork. There are two of us, so you can imagine the back and forth that goes on when we title our work. Here is one piece we did, “Finally: A Quilt for Tizia” (2008).

"Finally: A Quilt for Tizia"

We were making this quilt for the daughter of Deb’s friend. She had already made quilts for the two older sisters but was dragging her feet on this last one. Well, when we finally finished the darn thing, we thought, “Endlich: Ein Quilt für Tizia!” Yes, we actually titled it in German since Deb’s friend is German. We had the quilt critiqued, and one comment we received was that the title didn’t help them understand the quilt, and that if we were going to title the work, that was one way to help convey meaning. So, our inside joke remained just that. It took the members of the critique panel a while to notice the two other girls in the photo. We had wanted Tizia’s sisters to function as guardian angels (well, it was our way of using a photo of all three girls since Deb didn’t have a photo of Tizia alone), but no one got that until we mentioned it. Maybe it might have helped if our title had been different. So, what do you think? Should we rename this quilt? If so, what do you suggest?

Jul 17 2012

Tech Tuesday: Disappearing Toolbars in Photoshop Elements


We work with a lot of beginning Photoshop students, but we have to admit we didn’t learn this little tidbit for the longest time because we never happened to tap the “wrong” key at just the right moment. Photoshop Elements has lots of nifty shortcut keys, but none is so dangerous as the “Tab” key. Let’s say you’re working on a file. Your workspace may look like this:

Photoshop Elements Workspace

So here you are, working away, creating a cool image, when all of a sudden all your toolbars and the rest of the workspace disappear.

Missing Toolbars

What the . . . .? Well, Photoshop Elements has this nifty shortcut key. Clicking on the TAB key once hides the toolbar and any other palette you may have open, including the Project Bin. All you have to do is tap on the TAB key one more time and everything will reappear. This tends to happen to the expert typists, who are used to using that TAB key a lot. We hope this little trick will calm the nerves of our beginning students and inspire them to keep learning Photoshop Elements.

BTW, this also works in Photoshop.

Jul 10 2012

Tech Tuesday: Keeping Transparent Images Transparent



Many bloggers have Wordless Wednesday, when they just post a photo. If you know us, (and when I say us I mean me, Kris), you’ll know we’re never at a loss for words. With that in mind, Deb suggested we start Tech Tuesday to address some of those random Photoshop questions students often ask us. One item that often pops up is this: You create a nifty image in Photoshop and try to plop it into another program like PowerPoint (or a greeting card maker program). You get your image, all right, but it’s surrounded by a white square. What the heck?!


"Transparent" Image

Image in PowerPoint

Our students tell us that they deleted the background in Photoshop and have a transparent background (as shown with the gray and white checkerboard – Photoshop speak for clear). They saved it “for web” (some versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements use the terminology “save for web and other devices”). They chose a .gif format.  So why does that darn image show up in another program with a white background?!?! We can hear those students now, screaming “#$@%!#.”

Okay, here’s the secret . . .

Save for Web Dialog Box


Our students have done almost everything right: deleted the background in Photoshop (allowing them to see the gray and white checkerboard) and used “save for web.” What you need to remember is to choose the .gif file format (first green arrow), but the most important thing is to make sure you check “Transparency” (second green arrow). Notice the background changes from white to the gray and white checkerboard. Now when you click the Save button at the bottom of this dialog box, you will actually be saving a transparent gif.


Transparent .gif

.gif File in PowerPoint

You’re probably saying that both transparent images look the same in photoshop, so how do you know the difference? Well, you have to remember to save the image as a .gif and check that transparency box. That’s how you’ll know. And most non-Adobe programs don’t allow you to insert a Photoshop .psd file, so the .psd file won’t be listed as one of your images to insert.

By the way, if you’re really curious, we had to make a fake checkerboard so that you would know what we were talking about, because when we used the “real” transparent .gif, it just looked like it was on the white background of the blog’s photo paper!

Jul 4 2012

Amber Waves of Grain: Tetsunori Kawana’s Bamboo Sculptures


For this post, we’re heading back to Denver again.  I just love it when you go to a favorite spot and there’s something new to capture your attention.  The Denver Botanic Gardens has once again come through for me.  For the past few years, they’ve commissioned site-specific art for the garden.  This year, in the show Kizuna: West meets East, Tetsunori Kawana, creates massive bamboo installations.


Passage: Culture Current, 2012

Passage: Culture Current, 2012

Of the pieces, my initial favorite was this rolling field of split bamboo entitled Passage: Culture Current, 2012.  In an instant “amber waves of grain” was etched into my brain.  How appropriate, I thought, as Katharine Bates penned her poem America the Beautifulnot far away in Colorado Springs.  If you look closely, you’ll also see “purple mountain’s majesty” in the background. Did Kawana know of the song when he envisioned this piece?

The motion of the upper part of the sculpture as the breeze came and went was hypnotizing.  I tried to capture the movement without a tripod, so the results might be more seasickness than hypnotizing.  I’ll let you be the judge.


Kawana Passages Video

Passage in Motion


The second part of the Passage piece–the jumbled mass of bamboo, which one could walk through, was not as compelling to me.  But while I was lying on the ground trying to photograph a grass’s wonderful curly flowering structures, I noticed the jumbled mass of grass from which they sprang.  Hmm.  Amazing how much they looked like the jumbled mass of bamboo on the hill above.  Was I seeing what inspired Kawana?

Curly Grass

Jumble of Grass


Kawana Passage

Passage--Part 2

So why would an artist who works primarily in fiber be so attracted to these sculptures?  Are they sculptures or really huge pieces of cloth? Merriam Webster defines cloth as “a pliable material made usually by weaving, felting, or knitting natural or synthetic fibers and filaments.”  If you watch Scott Dressel-Martin’s video of the work in progress, you’ll see how cloth-like the piece is. Whichever label you choose to describe Kawana’s work, it’s certainly worth a visit, if not to the Denver Botanic Gardens then to Tetsunori Kawana’s website.