Chimera Art – Creating a Blog Background

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This week I made good use of a few of of the photos I took last week at the zoo.  I managed to steal a few snippets of free time from my swamped schedule to do some digital art for my writing blog, Chimera Muses:

Banner from my writing blog, Chimera Muses: Muses of a writer, artist, and biologist, Teegan Purrington.

You might recognize the chimera from my picture on my About page. While that beast is the result of a project I did years ago, the rest of the site–the background–is new. I used some of the photos from my zoo visit, as well as a few others ones from my files. You can see the background here. (I’ll post the background here later in screen shots, but it looks best with the blog.)

I currently use Adobe Photoshop Elements, currently version 6.0 (soon to be updated), for my digital art. For this project I used a bunch of photos, a cool paint brush style, and box shapes. And layers. Lots and lots of layers. Like a collage of pictures with various transparencies.

I started by choosing the blog Theme template. I finally chose the Koi Theme. Then I determined a good width for the background image. Some other blog background images were around 1400 pixels, so I started with that. I knew I wanted to do some cool stuff with the menu and text column, so it couldn’t be an image I could have tiled (repeated) or fixed in the background. This meant I needed a solid standard color as the base–and my background image would have to fade into it.

Bottom of the background image fading to light pink.

The bottom of the background image fades to light mauve, the base background color for a seamless image edge.

I chose a light ruddy red. Light mauve, or pink–take your pick. This served as the template color for everything else in the piece. Once the piece was finished, I used a thick, fuzzy paint brush of the chosen color and dragged it across the bottom. This fades the image out at the bottom, leaving a seamless edge that leads right into the base color. This way the blog can continue down as long as it needs to without any jarring image transitions.

I also knew I wanted to work around the header, the menu, and the text columns. I sketched out my ideas on an index card. Then I took screen shots of my blog and pasted them onto my image to use as a template. That way I knew exactly where to place the lighter boxes–and also got a sneak peak of how the final blog would look, which helped with layout and theme cohesion.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop Elements showing the blog text used as reference for background template

I added a photo of paper over the entire thing to give it a papery texture, and darkened the background to brown. I used a faded black paint brush to darken the edges. Then I added light boxes to square out the text and menu areas so they could still be read.

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop Elements showing the development of the template.

Then I began to really play with the background. I used a cool paint brush to scribble on a shape near the top right. Then I fished around in my photography files for pictures with good texture. Once I found them, I re-sized them, erased the edges so I had just the part of the photo I wanted, then dragged the image over to my background image. The transferred photo becomes its own layer, like a magazine cut-out you might use for a collage.

Then I changed the opacity, which helps it blend into the background better, play well with the other images, and shows the textures beneath it. I used a total of 7 photos for a total of 12 different pieces (I used some photos more than once to create balance). Layer styles I used: Vivid Light, Multiply, Linear Burn, Color Dodge, Soft Light, and Overlay.

Here’s the full final piece, with a header placeholder and the text screenshot for reference. On the left you can see part of the jaguar I photographed last week, and on the right near the bottom you can see part of the python. There’s a golden eagle’s wing just under the header, and some frozen grasses on either side. There’s also some algae from my fish tank in there…

Screenshot of Adobe Photoshop Elements showing the development of the background textures

It’s not perfect, but I had a lot of fun with it.

Here’s the final piece. 

Full background image

(Note: Please do not use this without asking me. If you would like to use this image as your blog background, you can ask me here or here. Along with giving you permission (which makes your use of the image legal), I can provide you with the background code that corresponds with the image fade-out.  Also, please link back to one of my blogs if you do so.)

So there’s a bit of my digital art. I’m still working on rock paintings, but it’s been hard lately because it’s something I need a good block of time to do and life has been a little hectic lately. Thus the digital art, which I can do in tiny little chunks. Things are slowing down now, though, so I hope to be able to work on them this week.

God Bless,

Teegan

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Camera Adventures – To the Zoo!

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Giraffe feeding!

You know how I’ve been working on painting giraffe rocks? Well I got an awesome opportunity this weekend to see giraffes up close and personal. One of my best friends and I drove up to Seattle on Saturday and visited the Woodland Park Zoo. It was a gloriously warm, sunny day–or at least as sunny as Seattle gets, with that sort of light gauzy cloud layer–and everyone was hitting the streets to enjoy it. The zoo was, well, a zoo. And the most dangerous animals there were the small, two-legged sort that careened down the paths like loosed fireworks. Children are great. They’re so full of life, excitement, and curiosity. Boundless energy and noise. But take several hundred of them exhibiting such enthusiasm, and they become scary, dangerous little trajectories.

Anyhow, we discovered on the little brochure that everyone gets at the ticket booth that there was giraffe feeding between 2:30 and 3:30. We figured watching giraffes eat would be interesting, so we headed in that direction. We got lost down the windy paths a few times and I consulted the ambiguous zoo map over and over–as if opening it the thousandth time would somehow grant me more insight than it did 30 seconds ago–but we finally found the giraffes. Not only were the giraffes being fed–but anyone could feed them! So we got in line to feed them. It’s $5 per person, and you get two little twigs of leaves to feed the giraffes up on this cliff so that you’re at eye-level with them. There was one male and two females, though only one of the girls was really interested in us.

Photo of me feeding a giraffe

Me feeding the giraffe–see that twisty blue-gray tongue?

Our group got a few minutes with them while we took turns feeding her our twigs, then left for the next group. My camera isn’t the greatest for candid shots (it’s better for still things), but it works.

Besides getting to see some pretty amazing creatures that I wouldn’t normally get to see, one of the things I love about the zoo is the opportunity to gain reference material for art. It helps to have a good camera, though, and it’s a little tough without flash and through glass. I try not to use flash so I don’t wear the animals out with all the flickering lights. But even with out the flash, the camera still captures poses, such as this ocelot pose, which I think is adorable.

Fuzzy Ocelot photo

Though fuzzy, with enough imagination and cross-reference material, I can totally use this pose for a painting.

Sometimes, the pictures come out pretty good on their own, such as this wolf dozing in the shade.

White wolf dozing in the shade

The picture is cropped, since my camera doesn’t zoom far enough for some of the zoo enclosures. Also, I liked the wider frame.

Some shots can also be used for my digital art, such as this python’s scales and pattern. That snake was huge. At least 12″ wide in some places. Photos never do size justice.

Python photo

The scales and pattern of this python can be used for creatures in my digital art–much like the patterns of the creature in my blog banner were taken from photos of real animals.

Most of the animals were sleeping or just resting out of sight. It was a nice, warm afternoon, and with all the people I can imagine the animals needing a break. I’m glad they have places to find refuge, but it means we didn’t get to see a lot of the animals. Also, a lot of my favorites are more active during the morning and evening hours anyways, which unfortunately is during closed hours. However, one of my favorite viewings was the jaguars, who were chilling in a cave near the windows on heated rock.

Jaguars

The big one in the front was the boy, with the girl in the back. So beautiful. Also, getting to the front to take good pictures took a little while. Thus the lovely elbow and the fuzzy blue thing on the left.

As we were checking out in the gift shop getting our obligatory souvenirs, the lady at the cash register told us that three snow leopard cubs were born a couple weeks ago. Squee! Snow leopards are my favorite animals, and I was very disappointed last year when I learned that I had missed the previous litter. I will definitely be back later this summer to visit the cubs.

I’m so excited!

God Bless,

Teegan

Cheerful Welcome

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Unfortunately I don’t have much for you today. I spent the weekend with my Mom for Mother’s Day, and my sister for her birthday–and the week preparing for both. However, I did paint this for my Mom: a Welcome sign for the front porch. She loves corgi dogs. (So do I.)

Welcome Sign with corgi dogs

Corgi Welcome Sign. There’s a rope that it hangs by, that you can’t see in this picture.

Happy Mother’s Day to those of you who are mothers!

God bless,

Teegan

Lanky Giraffe Blobs

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girafe, giraffes, giraffe, niamey, koure, kour...

The more I stare at giraffes, the more I realize just how strange they are. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I learned a lot about giraffes this week while I worked on my current project, painted giraffe rocks. I’d painted a giraffe rock several years ago, but it was such a small little thing, and I hadn’t needed much reference material to paint it. So while I searched for good photos to use as general references, I also ran across a lot of cool facts. Such as:

– There are 9 different subspecies of giraffe, differentiated by coat patterns and where in Africa they can be found

– They are already 6 feet tall at birth

– Their feet are the size of dinner plates

– Giraffes have four compartments in their stomach and chew their cud – just like cows!

(San Diego Zoo’s Animal Bytes: Giraffe)

I always like learning new things about animals. Anyhow, I found a good collection of photos and set to work drawing the giraffes out onto the rock with a white charcoal pencil. It took quite a bit of drawing and redrawing to get the head and neck positions into the least awkward positions, though they’ll still look a little strange until I get some good color and pattern into it. (Well, maybe they’ll always look a little strange; I guess that’s always a possibility when you try to squish such a lanky creature into a round blob.) Once I was satisfied with the charcoal drawing, I penned over it with a permanent pen, and erased all of the charcoal.

Photo of giraffe rock outlined in pen

The larger giraffe rock, outlined in pen after initially sketching with white charcoal.

Then I mixed two colors of orange, one darker and less vibrant than the other, and painted on their base coats. I worked the two colors together so I could blend them together. I left the bottom of the rocks natural. The bigger giraffe is a rock of a hefty 4 lbs and not the easiest thing to pick up in one hand, so it’s probably not going to be commonly picked up to view the bottom anyways. The smaller one has a rougher bottom, so not as easily painted, and it has a cool natural pattern all on its own anyways.

Photo of giraffe rocks with base coats

The base coats of the two giraffes. The necks look a little awkward for now, but hopefully that should be remedied with some more color and detail.

Next I’ll work on the spot patterns. I will likely draw them in first, then paint over them. In the meantime, a photo of my last giraffe (plus a few friends) painted in 2007:

Photo of small painted rocks: Giraffe, rabbit, raccoon, ferret, deer.

A few of the critters I painted in 2007, including the giraffe on the far left. Quarter for size reference.

God bless,

Teegan

Rock Painting Surfaces

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I got some more requests for painted rocks, so I’m beginning the process of rock painting: searching for the right rocks. I posted about this a few months ago, but I have a few things I can add today, including some better photos and a peek at my base rock stash.

Photo of my rock stash

My outdoor rock stash, where I put good rocks to be painted in the future. At least, that's the idea.

I visited my family for the weekend, and while I was there, I visited my primary rock stash to look for possible giraffe and wolf rocks. The rock pile was moved across the yard last summer to make way for something else, which transformed it from a loosely organized mess into a piled mountain of absolute chaos. And spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. And maybe snakes. But oddly, spiders bother me more than snakes, which is somewhat counter-intuitive. But it was rather difficult to find particular rocks amidst all that, so as I set out to search for rocks for my next projects, I realized I needed to do something about that.

With some garden gloves and a hand rake, I began to pick through the pile. I quickly realized that not all of these rocks were ideal for painting–in fact, some were quite unusable. I set the good rocks on my right, and piled the bad rocks on my left. Spiders were driven ahead of me into the shrinking rock pile. (And thankfully, no snakes.) I got a few more photos that show some rock surfaces that don’t work well for painting.

There was lots of granite–that white and black-speckled type rock–which is too bumpy to paint well. Some granites are better than others, and I have painted small roundish ones to look like mystery hatchlings. And while I can sometimes get away with painting subjects on them that have less detail, generally, the details get broken and lost in the rock’s rough texture.

Photo of granite rocks

I pulled out all of the granite rocks - too bumpy to paint details.

Rocks full of holes are out of the question. I was surprised how many I had, but this is a collection that has been growing since 2005, before I really learned what was good and what wasn’t, back when I was collecting for shape and not texture. There is also the possibility that my rock collection got mixed with some other random rocks found around the yard when cleaning up. But either way, they had to go. Holes don’t fill well with paint, make details impossible, and just don’t look very nice. Unless I want to paint cheese, holey rocks just aren’t going to work out.

Photo of holey rocks

I also tossed the rocks full of holes, which also don't work very well--unless I'm trying to paint cheese.

Other rocks might not be obviously holey or granite, but they are still too rough to paint well. These rocks haven’t been smoothed out by a river or sand or whatnot, and in order to tell whether they’re good or not you just have to run your fingers over them. Sometimes I also use the shadow test (see photo below). If the shadow along the side of the rock is really bumpy and not smooth, then I know it’s not a great rock.

Photo of a rock's shadowed edge

The shadowed edge of the big rock on the right shows the rough texture of the rock. Also one to toss.

I ended up tossing over half of the rock pile to the fate of general landscaping. The pile you see on the right in the photo is what I kept.

Photo of rock stash after organizing

After picking out all the rocks that aren't great for painting, I was left with the collection on the right--a little less than half of what I started with. Minus a few spiders.

I picked out a few rocks to take inside with me, including two rocks that would work for giraffes, another for a wolf, and another random one with an interesting shape. I washed the grit off them and let them dry. You can also kind of tell in the photos how much smoother these rocks are than the rocks above. Next step: sealing.

Photo of the rocks I brought inside with me

I chose a few rocks to bring inside with me to paint. The top two will be giraffes, the bottom right, a wolf.

My other projects are still in the making. I dabble here and there, returning to them while starting others while their paint dries. I’m currently working on a snow leopard rock, some smaller rocks for Etsy, and my larger canvas painting. Now that the weather is getting warmer, I also hope to resume a DIY terrarium set-up which needs to be done outside…

God Bless,

Teegan