Everything Old is New Again

I've been going through some of my older photography. I shot this photo of a Buddhist monk in Tokyo during the mid-90's on film and had the roll converted to Kodak's PhotoCD format. Because I was unhappy with the overall quality, these images have languished for years. Now flash forward to the present. Photoshop CC has so many excellent dynamic range recovery capabilities now that I am able to extract much more contrast and detail out of these images than in the past.

I used Jixipix's excellent Aquarelle app to transform the photo into a watercolor appearance. I used some John's Watercolors brushes to distress the edges, as well as lighten some of the image itself.

Elias Mina: John's Impasto & Smart Brushes User

Toronto-based photographer and artist Elias Mina works in both Painter and Photoshop. Eli writes, "I used your Smart Oil brush in Painter (John's Smart Brushes) and then moved to Photoshop to use mostly your brushes to paint inside and around the window. I can't make up my mind which is my favourite! I hope you don't mind me sharing with you my excitement. I am applying textures to selective part like sky, etc. and sometimes to a whole image. What a difference they make when I get it right."

You can see more of Eli's work at his web site.

John's Artists' Brushes User: Roland Saldivar

Phillipines-based artist & colorist Roland Saldivar has been using my Artists' Brushes tool presets for Photoshop CS5 & 6.

Roland writes:

I want to thank you so much for making your Artists' Brushes available. These brushes are awesome! I have never been this close to the look of Painter in Photoshop before you made these brushes available. Now, I am having so much joy in playing around with your brushes and making really satisfying digital art.

John's Artists' Brushes and Dry Media for Photoshop CS5 & CS6 are each available for $19.95. If you have Photoshop CS5 or CS6 and are into painting, this will be the best investment you can make!

If you have an image created with my brushes, send me a JPEG and I'll feature it here on the PixlBlog!

Mark Zimmer: The Relativistic Observer

Click image to visit the Relativistic Observer blog

My brother-in-pixels and good friend, Painter creator Mark Zimmer, has recently launched a blog, the Relativistic Observer. With his terrific insight, Mark covers a wide variety of subjects:
The future, technology, gadgets, MEMS, Painter, creativity, energy, world events, security, cryptography, image processing, mathematics, and my past. Oh, and maybe a few songs.
Mark is an inveterate note taker (a page of Mark's notes is shown above) and shares many of his insights, including the creation of Painter, which I was fortunate to be a part of. He also writes about his musical composition chops and shares some of his songs.

A good read and highly recommended.

Dealing with Pixel Density and Brush Performance

I regularly receive emails asking about brush performance in applications like Photoshop and Painter. Lately, I've been asked about the resolution of imagery used in my lynda.com training titles. I thought it would be useful to provide some explanation here so that it is available to a larger audience.

The lynda.com recordings done in the booth were generally done at screen resolution, but a real-world situation will often require higher resolutions. For example, offset printing generally dictates files at 300ppi (pixels per inch). Inkjet printing is often discussed in terms of 240ppi. For web-based viewing, imagery at 72ppi is considered acceptable. You can easily determine the pixel resolution of an image by multiplying the size in inches by the above ppi (pixels per inch) factors.

Let's use a typical real-world size as an example: 20" X 24". This is a common photographic print and frame size.

20" X 24" @ 72ppi = 1440p X 1728p = 2,488,320 pixels

20" X 24" @ 150ppi = 3000p X 3600p = 10,800,000 pixels

20" X 24" @ 300ppi = 6000p X 7200p = 43,200,000 pixels

Note that each of these resolution factors quadruples the total pixel count—as resolution increases, so does pixel density. It is the density of pixels being manipulated that dictates both application and brush performance. With this in mind, we can state that performance will decrease as image pixel density increases. A one inch square of a 300ppi image is far more pixel-dense than a one inch square of a 72ppi image. There are three primary factors that affect an application's ability to handle large pixel-based manipulation.

Processor Speed

The faster the processor, the better the performance. Additionally, today's processors generally contain multiple cores. This is akin to having multiple copies of the processor available to simultaneously handle various tasks. Photoshop is multi-core aware and can take advantage of multiple cores when present. Photoshop generally performs better on newer machines because of this.

RAM Memory

Manipulating pixels is a memory-intensive application. In order to process pixels efficiently, Photoshop uses temporary memory containers—a scratch disk or cache—to hold pixels while processing calculations on them. When Photoshop runs out of RAM memory—which is fast because it is just electrons—it resorts to virtual memory, an allocation of physical disk space. This virtual memory is slower because it is a physical medium. It is for this reason that more RAM will improve Photoshop performance. It is often stated that the cheapest way to speed up a computer is to add RAM and this certainly holds true for Photoshop.

Graphics Card

Graphics cards have an onboard GPU (graphics processor unit) that is designed to specifically handle sophisticated pixel-based calculations. GPUs initially gained popularity to improve 3D game performance, but have evolved to become an important secondary processor for applications like Photoshop. CS5 specifically targets the GPU for a variety of tasks and this trend will continue in the future. As a result, higher performance graphics cards improve Photoshop's pixel handling.

Now let's look at a comparison of two systems. I'm currently using a 2.4Ghz MacBook Pro and I often find my brush performance wanting—as brush sizes get larger (a.k.a. pixel density), there is a decided lag in the drawing of the stroke. When I recorded the Mixer Brush title at lynda.com, I used their machine, which was a 2 x 3Ghz Quad-Core Intel Xeon Mac Pro—this machine easily handled anything I could throw at it (I probably could have taxed it with very large brush sizes).

Having been in the software development business, I can tell you that applications are generally developed on the then-current fastest processors. This ensures that the resulting app will run well on future, faster processors. The down side, of course, is that many users have older machines and will experience less-than-ideal performance. There are two short-term fixes for this scenario. One is to use brush size as a performance throttle. The idea behind this is to adjust brush size down until you get acceptable painting performance. The caveat here is that you may find that the largest acceptable brush size—performance-wise—is not acceptable for your style.

The other performance enhancer is to add more RAM memory to your system. Photoshop is a memory-intensive app. When it runs out of RAM, it resorts to virtual memory, which is an allocation of your disk space as a "scratch disk". Because this is disk-based memory, it is obviously slower than physical RAM. So, an increase in RAM will enable Photoshop to do more work before resorting to the scratch disk. I've maxed my Mac Pro out to 6GB RAM for this reason and it definitely helps—but don't expect it to be a miracle cure for a dated processor. I recommend Other World Computing as a source of RAM upgrades—their prices are good and they supply quality RAM.

The ultimate solution is a current high-performance machine. Be aware that the merry-go-round never stops spinning and today's flame thrower will eventually become tomorrow's boat anchor. Riding the crest of technology requires periodic hardware upgrades.

William Low: Traditional Illustrator Goes Digital

William Low is an award winning painter & illustrator with a reputation for exploiting light, color, visual perspective and emotion to create images that viewers find an immediate emotional connection with. Even with decades of painting under his belt, William Low continues to grow artistically.

His latest computer paintings reveal a seamless transition from traditional to digital media. He was not surprised that his digital work met with resistance at first, given the computer's reputation for producing cold, sterile images. Utilizing his skills as a painter, William has helped to change this perception. His digital images are remarkable for their emotional depth, color, texture and even their painterly brush strokes. In fact, many people are surprised to learn, when they see his work on the printed page, that the images were not the product of traditional media.

William has created a trio of highly informational and inspiring videos in which he details his digital illustration process: