Wednesday, November 6, 2013

This Editor's Picks

I thought that I'd use this week's post to chime in with my own favorite collections, here are three: first is Steampunk Sourcebook edited by MC Waldrep, it's product number on the DoverPictura website is 0486481115.

One of the things makes this collection so great is that it exemplifies the vintage clip art phenomena—images from a past era brought forward in time to the present, where they are put to contemporary uses; in this context these classic images are imbued with a new life. What makes this extra cool is that there''s a kind of 'double-return' on that temporal twist—because the organizing conceit for this collection is 'steampunk' a description of their use could read something like:

'19th century images used in the 21st century to create fanciful representations of an alternative future to their original era'. 

Hmmm, I wonder what Prof. Waldrep would have to say about that?

The other thing that makes it so good is that MC's editorial eye is just flawless. She combed through thousands of images, unerringly choosing the best, both thematically and technically— she doesn't go off key once in the 539 images. Below is an example of some of these Steampunk images in play:

Next I'd like to champion Snakes and Reptiles (048699192X).

I'll admit it—I'm a Natural History junkie. Nothing satisfies my dual hunger for aggressive imagery and superb execution the way that exotic animal and botanical illustrations from the 18th & 19th century do. I was going to tout the collection Mammals (0486996387), but the illustrations are B&W, and while that presents some great opportunities for those inclined to coloring, for fait accompli, full-color images my vote goes to Snake and Reptiles. The majority of images come from Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Curiosites, with a fair helping of images from an early 19th-century, illustrated French encyclopedia. Many of the illustrations have been hand silhouetted, which makes them ready-to-go for graphics projects. Just look at these useful little devils:

And finally there's Chinese Stencil Designs (048647516).

This collection is as close as I think I'll get in life to having a difficult child. What I love about it is that—given all of it's inherent difficulties—we didn't just back away from the content. The difficulties stemmed from the original artwork–a tattered, hand-stitched collection of barely-visible Chinese stencils—they were beautiful in a very subtle way, but flawed nearly to the point of being unusable.

I thought that the images would be great for creating patterned backgrounds in more complex compositions. There was so much 'visual noise' (gunk) in the originals that the images seemed to beg for remediation. First we tried to 're-draw' them by tracing what we could see of the original marks; this didn't work—all the subtlety of the originals was lost. Standard cleaning techniques removed the gunk, but took away too much of the original art in the process.      
       After several days of experimenting we hit on the idea of making Photoshop brushes from the images. We innovated by creating two brushes for each image: one, clean and high contrast, the other, kind of dirty and textural. They worked wonderfully with each other. We developed myriad techniques for effecting the brushes—the results are the images that you see in the pages of this collection. Below is one such sample.

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