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Affinity Spotlight

Creative inspiration, learning resources and Affinity news for photographers, illustrators and designers. Created by the award-winning makers of Affinity apps, Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo.


Jarek Majewski: creating art for Unity’s latest 2D sample game using Affinity

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-29 15:00

In this interview, Jarek talks us through the creation of the game, how he used Affinity Designer and Photo to make the 2D art, and the advantages of using the Affinity app’s alongside Unity for developing games.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Dragon Crashers demo How did you come up with the concept for Dragon Crashers?

The Dragon in the Crystal Mine wasn’t my first idea. I had many conceptions before: Journey to the Center of Earth, Castle Siege, or a Pirate Ship. My last-minute proposition was a Crystal Mine with the dragon sleeping on a pile of gold. This concept was chosen by the team at Unity as a theme for the demo. I think it was a very good choice to show what Unity is capable of. I was inspired by Jordan Peterson’s talk about a dragon guarding a treasure (you can watch it on YouTube). Its meaning is, everything worth pursuing in life requires us to overcome some obstacle, fight our demons, or go out of our comfort zone. This stuck with me, and I thought it would be a good idea to use it.

“I was inspired by Jordan Peterson’s talk about a dragon guarding a treasure. Its meaning is, everything worth pursuing in life requires us to overcome some obstacle, fight our demons, or go out of our comfort zone.”

What tools do you use to create game art, and what does your usual workflow look like?

We live in a digital age, but I think the simpler, the better, so I start with a pencil and paper. I find there’s a simplicity about using a pencil that allows me to visualise my thoughts with minimal effort. It’s a perfect mind-art connection.

After a very rough sketch, I move to graphic software, which is either Affinity Photo or Designer. I scan my paper sketch with a smartphone and open it in the software. Right now, I feel most comfortable with vectors, so I use the Pen Tool to trace my sketch or I use some basic vector shapes like Rectangle or Ellipse. When the art is complete, I export it using the Export Persona and open it in Unity to begin development.

How did you go about creating the different characters for the demo?

It all started with good planning. In the beginning, I needed to choose good proportions for the first characters to use them as a base. I needed three bipedal (two-legged) player characters and one enemy. All of the characters (apart from the dragon) had to use the same Sprite Skinning skeleton to take advantage of the Skin Swap feature in Unity, but they also had to have their own distinct visuals. To design the characters before opening Unity, I had to make sure that all of them could use the same skeleton, so I made a simple skeleton overlay in Affinity. That way, I was able to check the character’s limbs would match the underlying bone structure. It turned out pretty well—I was able to make them look unique with different body types—one has broad shoulders, one has larger feet, and one even has a wolf’s head :)

A lot of planning went into choosing how many layers the characters needed and which bones would affect each layer. I decided this in advance. Changing it later would have led to many headaches, so good pre-planning when designing the visuals was crucial. Of course, there was some trial and error involved, but once I’d made the first base character, the others were easier.

To import the characters into Unity, I used PSB importer as it allowed me to have the same layer structure and positions as in Affinity. I designed my characters using vectors, so each layer consisted of a bunch of paths.

First, I needed to rasterize each layer, (otherwise they would have exported separately) and then export the file as a PSD (and change file extension to PSB). So I had two files for each character sprite: one source vector and one rasterized version. This allowed me to keep an editable file in case I wanted to make tweaks to the characters later.

After importing the PSB into Unity, I completed the rigging process, then made a library asset by assigning a Category and a Label for each sprite. Then I could make other characters by swapping a particular sprite library asset for another.

Before going further, I added 2D IKs to the character’s limbs. This allowed me to have better control over the character when animating him. I made this character a base prefab for all others, so the changes made to it propagated to the other characters automatically.

For the rest, I imported the PSB as before, but this time I didn’t need to make the skeleton—I copied it from the base character. I just needed to tweak the sprite meshes topology and weights to fit the new character shape.

The import of normal maps and mask maps was even easier—I copied the character in Unity, opened it in Affinity, and replaced all the layers with their normal map (or mask map) counterparts. As the normal map isn’t a colour texture, I had to uncheck the sRGB option under Advanced in Sprite Import Settings. Now I could assign the normal maps and mask maps as Secondary Textures in Sprite Editor.

The characters were now animation-ready. I used the same animation clips for most of the actions and gave each character a bit of personality by crafting each of them a unique animation for idle and attack.

The dragon was a bit more straightforward in terms of workflow. It didn’t need custom skins so there was no extensive planning involved, which meant I could focus on the design and rigging. A lot of time went into making sure the wings, tail, and neck were rigged correctly and there would be no visual artifacts when animating. The process of setting the Sprite swap, IKs, and additional maps was roughly the same as for the other characters.

To summarise, making characters mainly boils down to proper planning and thinking ahead. You need to know what you want to achieve and what constraints you need to keep in mind. The rest is just plain execution.

“To summarise, making characters mainly boils down to proper planning and thinking ahead. You need to know what you want to achieve and what constraints you need to keep in mind. The rest is just plain execution.”

Can you talk us through how you make a sprite from start to finish?

As I mentioned before, I always start with a pencil and a piece of paper. But there’s one crucial step before—the research. Even though we’re making stylized art, we want to achieve a certain level of believability. So it’s good practice to start with researching some images and colour palettes for our topic.

Gathering reference images

Another vital thing to remember is that the sprite doesn’t live in a vacuum—it needs to fit our game, so we need to have some point of reference when designing it. If it’s the first sprite for a new game, we could just take an empty canvas and start making a bunch of variants to find the right art style. But if we’re making a sprite for an already established game art style, we need to make sure that it fits and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. For this, we need to have some environments where we can place our sprite. Doing that will help us maintain good proportions, colour palette and viewing angle (this is very important when making a game with a camera slightly upward and pointed at an angle: top-down, isometric).

Also, if our art has outlines, we can see if their width will match the existing objects. This also applies to pixel art—if we make a sprite that doesn’t match the game palette we can change it, but if the size is off, that would require redoing it almost from scratch.

So now we have our idea, we’ve gathered references, we have a sketch and an environment to place it, we can now start making our sprite.

I like to start with simple shapes or silhouettes and then go into the details. Right now, I use mostly vector format because it’s very flexible and easily editable. I can easily edit the colours, shapes or scale of my sprite without losing quality. It is very important to work smart when making a game, thinking of the long term. No matter if it’s raster or vector, I like to have every sprite in the most editable format, so I use as many layers as possible without sacrificing performance. That way I can always go back to my original file, change some parts or colours, and have a different sprite. I only flatten my sprite layers when exporting to PNG format.

“It is very important to work smart when making a game, thinking of the long term. No matter if it’s raster or vector, I like to have every sprite in the most editable format, so I use as many layers as possible without sacrificing performance.”

Speaking of export, I mostly use the Export Persona. It’s a great tool for game development. It allows me to have one file for every sprite and export all of them with a single click. Or I just set export to Continuous, so the sprite is automatically exported when I change anything on it, which is a huge time saver.

The Export Persona in Affinity Designer Do you have any tips for game developers who might be thinking of giving Affinity Designer a try?

First thing, take full advantage of Designer’s Pen Tool. It has many useful shortcuts that will help you make any shape you want without switching to another tool.

Make your art as editable as possible. One of the things that will help you with this is the editable Compound path. When clicking on one of the geometry buttons on the toolbar, if you hold down Alt (or Option for Mac users), the Compound path will form a group, but every layer has an option on how it interacts with the other layers—you can choose between Add, Intersect, Subtract and Xor modes, which is very handy!

Another useful feature in Affinity Designer is Global Colours. Global Colours are colours that are set globally across your document—any object that uses the given colour will update when we change the colour in the palette. It’s handy for creating variations of objects and characters. Here’s an example:

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Jarek using Global Colours in Affinity Photo.

In game design, we can have objects that are duplicated many times: level tiles, bricks, wheels, dragon scales, metal bolts. We can just duplicate them and place them around our canvas, but what if we want to change them? Here we can just make one object and turn it into a Symbol. Then when we duplicate it, whenever we change something in one of the symbols, the others will change too!

The last feature I want to talk about is the Assets Panel. If you’re making a game and want to have all the objects used (characters, weapons, sprites, or tiles) in one place, this will help you achieve that. You just put all of your objects in this panel, and then you have an overview of all the things from the game in one place. You can group them by any criteria you want: the level that the object is used on, type, colour, etc. Then you can drag and drop these objects to any document you have open. You can check objects’ visual consistency, scale, how they will look on another level. You can make mock-up screens or “screenshots” of your game. Furthermore, you can also store UI elements there (button designs, switches, icons) and use them when designing your game’s interface.

Jarek’s game assets in Affinity Designer’s Asset Panel

There are many handy tools in Designer, but these are my favourites that will help you level up your game art skills.

Any tips for using Affinity Photo?

The most important thing in any raster app is the brush feature. Affinity Photo has an amazing brush engine—very fluid with all the essential functions like tablet support. You can also export and import your own brushes. I love the stroke stabilization option—when you turn it on your brush lines become very clean, which is good for making outlines.

If I need to point out one major feature that I like to use (besides the great raster graphics and brushes), it’s the Live Filters. They allow you to dramatically change the look of your art without losing editability. I love the perspective filter in particular—it allows you to distort the layer to match the perspective, which is good for placing windows on buildings, posters on walls or textures on surfaces. With Live Filters also come Live Adjustments Layers and Blend Modes. It amazes me how quick and responsive they are—you can see the results instantly, without any lag.

I also like Layer Effects. With them you can add gradients, drop and inner shadows, outlines, 3D effects, and more. With a bit of creativity, you can achieve almost anything with them. Did I mention they are also non-destructive?

I think the non-destructive workflow of the Affinity apps is their strength—that you can make smart use of layers, groups and masks to make editable art. You can also take advantage of Live Filters, Adjustments layers, Effects, and Blend modes to change the look of your image without losing its editability. This is very important when making game assets. Making games is a fluid process based on iteration, so there’s a high probability that you will need to go back to your old drawings and make some adjustments.

“I think the non-destructive workflow of the Affinity apps is their strength—that you can make smart use of layers, groups and masks to make editable art. You can also take advantage of Live Filters, Adjustments layers, Effects, and Blend modes to change the look of your image without losing its editability. This is very important when making game assets.”

Affinity encourages you to work smart with features like Symbols and Global Colours. With planning, you can make your characters modular, easily add more colour permutations or add some variety with small adjustments. You can blend vectors with raster workflows, easily switch between apps and export all your sprites with one click. I think this is the knowledge that you need to learn first, even before diving deep into particular tool details, keyboard shortcuts, or tricks.

The Affinity suite for me is one whole experience. The apps are made in a way that you can use them interchangeably: you can open your document in either Designer or Photo, no matter which app you’ve saved it in first. Also, you can switch between them by using the menu command File > Edit in Designer (or File > Open in Photo).

“The Affinity suite for me is one whole experience. The apps are made in a way that you can use them interchangeably: you can open your document in either Designer or Photo, no matter which app you’ve saved it in first.”

Also, both apps share fundamental features, so things like the Asset Panel and some vector features are available in Affinity Photo. Both apps have similar, very coherent interfaces, so it’s very easy to switch between them.

What are the advantages of using Affinity apps alongside Unity? How do they integrate/synergise?

Firstly, we can just export PNGs sprites from Affinity apps and import them into Unity—straight and simple. But it can be tedious to export all of our sprites when we have 50+ layers in our graphic file. So we can use Affinity’s Export Persona to mark layers for export. When we check Continuous Export, the sprites update automatically in Unity anytime we make changes in Affinity. That’s the feature I always use.

Both Affinity and Unity support industry-standard PSD file format, so if we need to have a sprite and also keep the layers for future editability we can export our file as PSD and import it into Unity—it will be imported as a standard sprite.

But what if we want to keep our Affinity file layers and use them as separate sprites? We can do that too with the 2D PSD Importer package in Unity. We save the Affinity file as PSD like before, but to use the 2D PSD importer we need to change our file extension from PSD to PSB. PSB is an almost identical format but has support for larger file dimensions.

Upon import, we will have our file as before, but each of the layers will be a separate sprite in Unity. So there’s no need to export each layer individually and then try to place the sprite manually to match our Affinity file look.

We also can use 2D rigging and animation on our PSB file to animate it and bring it to life.

If we’re working with vector tools in Affinity, we can use the SVG format. In Unity, there is an SVG importer package in development which I tested out, and when it’s available, it will be possible to import vector images. These will then convert to mesh and the SVG sprite will be resolution-independent, so we can scale it without losing quality. This can be useful for UI parts like buttons and panels. Also, we can use it for static in-game elements like backgrounds. SVG imported sprites are best used for large elements which would have to be a very high resolution if they were raster sprites.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Timelapse of Jarek creating a game level in Unity. Finally, do you have any tips for budding game creators?

The first step is the same as for any field—have a strong motivation. Developing games is the hardest form of creation. It requires expertise in many fields: design, coding, art, sound, writing, even psychology. So having a strong vision and “Why” will help you persevere through this long journey. Start small. Just finish your first game as quickly as possible, then you’ll have an idea of the whole process. Work with constraints. It’s good to have boundaries for your game, to pick a theme and limit the mechanics and scope. A good place to learn this is game jams.

Learn to code if you don’t already know how to. Learn the basics of coding to have an understanding of how games work under the hood. You can start with visual scripting, but I would advise learning C# as soon as possible. Even with basic C# knowledge, you can make small changes to scripts made by the Unity community and adapt them to your needs.

Be persistent. As for any field, it takes time to become proficient in it. And like I’ve said, creating games requires you to master many topics, so you need time and patience to become a great developer.

More about Unity

Unity is the world’s leading platform for creating and operating interactive, real-time 3D content. The Unity Platform offers a comprehensive suite of tools for creating 2D, 3D, or VR content for over 20 platforms. Native features for bringing 2D art to life include 2D animation, world-building tools with Tilemap and spline-based object support, physics, particles, and advanced lighting possibilities. Learn more about Unity for 2D here.

More about Jarek

Jarek Majewski is a multi-disciplined artist who has worked in a variety of creative fields, including web design, 2D animation, logo design, print design and Visual FX. Between all those artistic endeavours, he was always drawn to creating games. After developing several small-scale games with a friend, his own game development path was realised a few years back when he discovered Unity and began learning C# to create games. Now he splits his time between making art and coding.

To see more of Jarek’s work, visit his website mindjardesign.com and follow him on Twitter. You can also read our previous interview with him here.

This article is based on an interview with 2D artist and animator Jarek Majewski. The interview was conducted by Eduardo Oriz, 2D Product Marketing at Unity Technologies. Jarek created the art and animation for Dragon Crashers, a 2D demo by Unity.

Unity has also published a blog post based on Jarek’s and Eduardo’s talk, which you can read here.

Tune in to a new series of 2021 Affinity Creative Sessions

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-29 15:00

Following on from the huge success of our last series, throughout August and September, we will be airing a brand-new programme of Affinity Creative Sessions each Friday at 4pm BST on our official YouTube channel.

To ensure that you don’t miss the premieres or any future tutorials and update sneak peeks, head over to our channel and hit subscribe.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

This latest instalment of free video tutorials kicks off Friday, 6 August, with an incredible session lead by our favourite sports illustrator Chris Rathbone, who will be using Affinity Designer for iPad to create a striking vector portrait. You can also look forward to fascinating behind the scenes insights from creative director and photographer Xavier Portela, illustrator Eric Ly, digital artist Rhys Thomas, illustrator and concept artist Bryn G Jones, and travel photography gurus This Expansive Adventure.

Learn some of the techniques used by Bryn Jones to create his incredible 3D illustrations.

Each contributor will be available on YouTube’s Live Chat for their session premiere to answer questions, and free content will even be provided for some of the sessions so you can follow along and replicate their techniques.

We will announce the premiere each week on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so follow our social channels to stay informed.

Check out our Creative Session playlist

If you’ve missed our previous creative sessions, you can view the whole playlist, which contains more than 50 inspirational videos here on our YouTube channel.

Good enough to eat: the tantalising food photography of Stacie Ma

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-28 09:00

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Stacie, a food photographer. I live with my husband and my little girl in London. I started my photography journey about 16 months ago, and over the last six months, I have been taking photos professionally for restaurants based in London.

You made quite the career change from hotel sales manager to food photographer. How did this come about?

I’ve always had a creative bone in me, but I never did anything serious with it. I stopped working in hotel sales when my daughter was born, and I thought about my career long and hard during that break, but I couldn’t figure out what I really wanted to do. It was almost like a lifetime of built-up energy trapped in me without a way out, until one day, I randomly watch a tutorial video. It was then, everything became clear. I could see my path. I was very grateful that I figured out where my passion was. It’s never too late!

Has photography always been a passion for you?

I own a Canon camera. It was a present from my husband that I barely touched (oops, the truth just came out) until March last year during the lockdown. I watched a video on TV which was teaching how to frame food. Out of curiosity and boredom mostly :D, I picked my camera up and followed the instructions given by the video. It ended up being one of the best things I have done. I was fascinated and instantly enchanted. Soon I found myself practising photography in the middle of the night. I started living and breathing photography and have been totally in my zone since. That passion is still firing and sparkling in me today.

“I prefer using natural light, which I believe gives food sparkles. However, a studio light can perform much better when the light needs a great deal of manipulation and adjustment.”

What are your top tips for photographing food? How do you get it all to look so tantalising?

Colour and lighting are two of the most important elements to work on when photographing food. Once I decide on a subject to shoot, I choose my backdrops and props according to the colour of the subject. They help provide complementary or harmonic colours depending on the mood I am going for. Next, lighting becomes the most crucial thing to decide how the camera “sees” the food. I prefer using natural light, which I believe gives food sparkles. However, a studio light can perform much better when the light needs a great deal of manipulation and adjustment. I use reflectors and black cards to add or reduce light in different areas of the setting, which creates highlights and shadows. There are lots of other tips when it comes to photographing food, but to me, these are the two most important things to get right.

Where would you like to see your career in the next five or ten years?

I am still new in this industry. I hope to work with some major brands such as M&S food and Waitrose in the near future.

“After much practice, the sense of composition just comes naturally.”

How do you plan the composition of a photo when photographing food or drink?

Once I get the colours and lighting right, I just need to follow a few simple composition rules—high or low, rule of thirds, golden triangle etc. I play with my props, move them around, move them closer or further, try different cutlery and ornaments, add more items or remove some from the setting…after much practice, the sense of composition just comes naturally.

What is your current equipment setup?

I use a Canon 5D Mark IV camera. The two lenses I use alternatively are Canon 50mm f/1.4 and 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. I have a Manfrotto 190XPRO tripod with a ball head and a Godox VL150 LED light. I use an iPad Pro for editing.

Do you have an ultimate ambition for your work? What would it be?

To shoot the Christmas commercial for John Lewis one day if I’m not overly ambitious :D

How did you come across the Affinity apps, and how are you finding them so far?

I use an iPad Pro exclusively for post-production, as I mentioned earlier. Therefore I needed a professional app that was comparable to desktop photo editing software. Affinity Photo came to me as the exact thing I was looking for. It is powerful, very easy to get to grips with, and it delivers amazing results. The best thing is that it is compatible with the Apple Pencil. That gives me precision when editing the finest details, and it improves my work efficiency massively. It is amazing software. I cannot recommend it more.

“I’m still exploring other functions in the app—there is so much to learn and so much more it has to offer.”

Tell us a bit about the post-production routine for your work.

I use the Develop Persona when a photo (RAW file) needs minimal adjustment. I can change the contrast, saturation, brightness, etc., by just moving a few bars—it’s super easy! When I need to do more comprehensive editing, such as compositing, I move to the Photo Persona—the main workspace in Affinity Photo. Here I use the main functions—focus merge, selection tools, brushes, adjustment tools such as brightness/contrast, curves, shadows/highlights, vibrance and white balance. I’m still exploring other functions in the app—there is so much to learn and so much more it has to offer.

Who inspires you and your work?

Joanie Simon, she is a wonderful American food photographer and an online tutor who taught me and inspired me to become a photographer. It was her video I was watching before I picked up my camera.

We hear you’re also a keen cook. What’s greater—your passion for cooking or photography?

At the moment, photography takes more of my time and attention, but I only shoot food, so I guess my passion for photography comes from my love of food.

Finally, what would your advice be to anyone wanting to take the leap and devote their career to photography?

If you are new to photography, I strongly suggest you do some systematic learning. When I say this, I don’t mean you have to do a long-term course or go to college. I mean really spend time reading, watching tutorials and listening to what professionals say. There are so many resources on the internet that allow us to learn for free. Altogether, I only spent $25 to buy a course ran by Ezra Anderson to learn how to use Affinity Photo. And that was one of my very best purchases. I also watched hundreds of free tutorials online. YouTube is a wonderful tool to use.

Then practice! I needn’t say more about this.

Last but not least, study other people’s work. I have gone through thousands of great food photos created by other fellow photographers. Some of them are so clever and inspiring. I study their lighting, the angle of their camera, composition and everything I can grasp from a photo (some photographers are so generous, and they give away their behind the scenes to show how they produce their pictures). Then I try to use those things I learnt when I shoot my own. Sometimes I even try to recreate the photos I really like. I learn so much by doing this.

“Don’t buy anything you think you need until you are absolutely sure you can’t work without it.”

If you are taking a leap into food photography, I wish you the best of luck. One last thing, don’t buy anything you think you need until you are absolutely sure you can’t work without it. And trust me, you don’t need that many props and equipment to start with.

You can find more of Stacie’s work on her website, Instagram and Facebook.

Illustrator Ariadne: ‘my job as a graphic designer has had a great influence on my style’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-28 09:00

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into illustration.

I’ve always loved to draw since I was young. In middle school, I already wanted to become an illustrator, but at that time, everybody talked me out of it, and I ended up becoming a graphic designer (which I like a lot). But the idea of becoming an illustrator still wouldn’t let me go, so I decided a few years ago to get back to illustrating more seriously, telling myself that after all, it might be possible. I started to get in touch with other illustrators, and together we supported and motivated ourselves. It isn’t the easiest path, but the important thing when you embark on a journey is not to isolate yourself.

Have you always had a passion for drawing?

Totally! As far as I remember, I’ve always loved it. Although I did put it aside for a few years, it never completely left me. Like every child, I loved to draw. But what really pushed me to get better was my older sister. She used to draw a lot. She made wonderful paintings and charcoal drawings. I was so jealous that I wanted to surpass her at all cost, to become better than her! In the end, I wasn’t looking at what she was doing anymore; all I wanted to do was continue because I liked it so too much.

What inspires your work?

It’s hard to say what inspires me, I’d like to say that anything can inspire me! For example, after seeing a superb chocolate, milk and strawberry dessert in a bakery, it made me want to draw a character in the same colours, with the same sweetness. Generally speaking, it is the aesthetics of an object—its arrangement, its colours, that will inspire me. That is why I am very interested in fashion, in decoration, in video games…and of course in graphic design! What I do in my job as a graphic designer inspires me a lot. When I see creations with a sober design, or ones that are colourful, textured, or offbeat with a dynamic composition…all that inspires me. I have folders filled with a lot of pictures that inspire me with their aesthetics.

“Generally speaking, it is the aesthetics of an object—its arrangement, its colours, that will inspire me.”

You have a very distinctive style. How did you develop it?

My job as a graphic designer has had a great influence on my style, I think. Over time my style has evolved as I gain confidence in my line work and my use of colour. I’d say that my style developed naturally the moment I stopped trying to get one. I then simply started to draw what I like the most. Traditional drawing and graphic design.

“I’d say that my style developed naturally the moment I stopped trying to get one. I then simply started to draw what I like the most.”

How do you come up with new ideas?

I have too many ideas; I get lost in them. They are sometimes good, sometimes mediocre. I keep a sketchbook where I write down everything: ideas for compositions, themes and colours. It’s easy not to run out of ideas. The hardest part is to sort them out and, above all, not to drown in them. To take them one by one to see if they are viable. I am naturally curious. I am interested in many things, which keeps me inspired easily. Also, I just have to see some colour palettes to make me want to use them, and give me ideas.

Talk us through your creative process; how do you turn your ideas into finished illustrations?

The goal is to make the process fun for me. I am like a child when I draw! I generally do numerous little sketches, I begin to choose colours that speak to me, and then I turn them into a coherent palette, so I don’t scatter myself. After having achieved the sketches, I start with the vector. Most of the time, I draw each element separately and then I have fun with the composition. Each element can therefore be moved, stored, duplicated etc. That is also what I like a lot about vector graphics. Each element can be easily be modified, such as the shape and colour. It’s a bit like a construction set. And if I want to pick just a few elements and make a different composition, I can! For me, vector graphics is like a big toy box.

“Most of the time, I draw each element separately and then I have fun with the composition. Each element can therefore be moved, stored, duplicated etc. That is also what I like a lot about vector graphics. Each element can be easily be modified, such as the shape and colour. It’s a bit like a construction set.”

How did you come across Affinity Designer?

Basically in my job, I work with vector graphics in Adobe Illustrator. I got an iPad pro to be able to draw everywhere, and I was looking for a way to create with vectors on the go. That’s when I came across the Affinity Designer app. It was the most advanced vector design app on the iPad. I tested it, and I was not disappointed! It is smooth, fast, ergonomic, and has all the functions I need to create illustrations wherever I am. I am now much faster at working on the iPad with Affinity than on the computer.

“It is smooth, fast, ergonomic, and has all the functions I need to create illustrations wherever I am. I am now much faster at working on the iPad with Affinity than on the computer.”

Ariadne talking about Affinity Designer for iPad Pantone of 2021 Do you have any favourite features/tools?

What I find great are the clipping masks which are very easy to use. I work almost exclusively with these. You just move a shape into another one, and you’re done! It’s very intuitive. Also, I like the gradient to transparency. I use it constantly, and I can’t do without it! The only thing missing is an editing tool for perspective in vectors!

What does a typical working day look like for you?

Since I have a job as a graphic designer, my day looks like any other worker’s day. Until I get home and the “second” day begins. That consists of sketching, vectorizing designs, managing social media, and also prospecting etc.

I start by looking at where I am in my projects, if I have a design to finish, or whether I am starting a new project. In the latter case, I research reference images, create moodboards, colour palettes, and start sketching. I also take care of my social networks, emails and prospecting!

What do you think is the biggest challenge you’ve face as an artist?

The biggest challenge has been to accept the flaws, and to finally manage to finish an artwork. In the beginning, I did a lot of sketches, but I never got to the “clean” part. I wasn’t sure of myself. I put too much pressure on myself. The most difficult thing, I think, is to let go and to finally start having fun, without being too hard on yourself, while keeping a critical mind. It’s a balance that is not easy to have.

Are there any dream projects you would like to work on in the future?

I would really like to be able to finish and publish my graphic novel. That would be a real achievement for me. But my biggest dream would be to work for a video game, creating the characters.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

What I love most is the process. I appreciate the time when I’m working more than the final result! The moments when I search for the colours, when I have fun composing with my curves and my shapes. What I like the most is the soberness and the simplicity of it. I have the feeling that I really want to get to the point. I’m not the type to add 1001 details and frills.

I like that my personality shines through my illustrations. I’m not the sort of person to dwell on things; I like to get straight to the point.

To see more illustrations by Ariadne, check out her Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Make flexible page furniture using constraints in Affinity Publisher

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-23 14:00

In this article, you’ll learn how to use constraints by creating flexible versions of two common design elements: captioned pictures and pull-quotes that integrate decorative objects.

Let’s start with captioned pictures. A publication might have a rule of thumb about how they are presented—not just a caption’s text formatting but its typical position and size relative to its picture frame, too. Constraints enable you to codify these rules to ensure consistency.

To begin, download and extract the practice files.

Download Practice Files

A problem of proportion

From the practice files, open Example 1.afpub. On its first page is a group that contains a picture frame and a text frame, which span four column guides.

Duplicate the group in the same position on the second page. With the new group selected, resize it—maintaining its proportions—to span all nine column guides.

Compare the two groups side by side. The width and height of everything in the second group has resized proportionally. As the group gets larger, an undesirable amount of space is introduced above and below the framed text.

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At this size, any caption will likely fit on a single line. So, it would be better if the text frame didn’t grow taller.

Undo the size transformation, and keep this document open.

A problem of position

Open Example 2.afpub. It contains a similar layer structure to the first document, but the caption is presented differently.

Like before, make a duplicate of the group at the same position on the second page, and then size the new group—maintaining its proportions—to span all nine column guides.

The problem with this design is a little subtler. Notice that the caption’s distance from the picture frame’s left and bottom edges increases in proportion to the group’s dimensions. The effect is more pronounced—and more clearly ‘wrong’—if you change the group’s aspect ratio.

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Again, undo the size transformation.

The problems you’ve seen can be fixed with constraints, so let’s take a look at the Constraints Panel.

Understanding the Constraints Panel

Select View > Studio > Constraints to show the Constraints Panel.

Switch back to Example 1.afpub, and then select the text frame on the second page. The Constraints Panel displays this read-out:

The inner square represents the selected object, and the outer square represents the group that contains the selected object.

The lines within the inner square determine how the selected object’s width and height change in proportion to the respective dimension of the containing group (the default), or if the object’s width/height is fixed.

The lines between the two squares determine whether the object maintains a proportional distance from the respective edge of its containing group as the group’s dimensions change (the default behaviour), or if the distance from each edge is fixed.

Subtly different read-outs, same effect

Note that if you set an object’s width, say, to be fixed and then anchor it to its containing group’s left and right edges, the anchor constraints take precedence. The line for the object’s width remains dashed but becomes white.

Clearing either of the anchor constraints will set the object’s width back to your previous, explicitly chosen behaviour.

Let’s fix the problems

The problem in Example 2.afpub is simpler to fix, so let’s start there.

We want the text frame to remain the same distance from the group’s left and bottom edges regardless of the group’s dimensions.

Select the text frame on the second page. On the Constraints Panel, click the left and bottom anchor lines so they become solid and white. Select the group on the right page, hold Shift to resize proportionally, and use the group’s handles to resize it to span all nine column guides.

Notice that at all times during resizing, the text frame remains a fixed distance from the left and bottom of the group.

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A more challenging scenario

In Example 1.afpub, we want the text frame to have a fixed height.

Select the text frame on the second page. On the Constraints Panel, set the vertical line in the inner square so it is dimmed and dashed. Select the group on the right page, hold Shift, and resize the group to span all nine column guides.

The text frame maintains its height but there’s a new problem: as the group grows larger, gaps appear above and below the text frame.

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Some additional constraints are needed so the bottom edges of the text frame and group remain aligned.

Undo the size change. Select the text frame. On the Constraints Panel, click the line below the inner square so it becomes solid and white. Resize the group proportionally to span all nine column guides.

The text frame’s position is correct. All the unwanted space is now above it, and we’ll fill that space by allowing the picture frame’s height to change.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Undo the size change. Select the picture frame. On the Constraints Panel, click the top and bottom anchor lines so they become solid and white. Resize the group proportionally to span all nine column guides once more.

Now the bottom edge of the picture frame and the top edge of the text frame stay together.

Note that when the group is resized proportionally, the picture frame’s aspect ratio changes slightly. You have a choice of adjusting the group’s height to compensate, or simply adjusting the frame’s contents to hide any unwanted details that might have crept into view.

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Let’s constrain a pull-quote

Pull-quotes are often presented simply as multi-line text at a large point size. Sometimes, though, they may include secondary objects as decoration and to introduce white space.

Open Example 3.afpub. The pull-quote on its first page is three ungrouped objects. Extending its text to five lines would require that you move the secondary objects manually afterwards.

Select all three objects and group them. Increase the group’s height so it contains five lines of filler text.

The secondary objects become vertically stretched, and the distances between them and the text frame are increased.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Undo the resize operation, and then select the upper secondary object. Anchor the object to the top of its group, and set its height to be fixed. Select the lower secondary object. Anchor the object to the bottom of its group, and set its height to be fixed. Increase the group’s height again.

You’ve fixed the size and position of the secondary objects, but the distance between them and the text frame still increases as the group is made taller. The problem lies with the text frame’s constraints.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Undo the resize operation, and then select the text frame. Anchor the frame to the top and bottom edges of its group. One last time, increase the group’s height. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video

That’s it. Job done!

Think about other elements in your documents that would benefit from this kind of flexibility.

You’ve learned the fundamentals of constraints, though there is more to them. We’ve kept things simple by mostly scaling design elements proportionally or along one axis.

We haven’t discussed the icons near the bottom right of the outer square on the Constraints Panel. They determine how an object changes when the aspect ratio of its containing group is altered. Learn about them in Affinity Publisher’s Help system, in-app and online.

Illustrator Erica Bortoloso: ‘my characters are always linked to an emotion or a feeling’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-21 08:00

Erica, please tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.

I’m a children’s illustrator based in Italy. I studied painting in Venice and illustration for publishing in Bologna. I love children, magic, fairies and nature in general.

Have you always been interested in children’s illustrations?

Not really. I’ve always loved children’s books, and I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but the turning point came while I was following an illustration course in Venice. I felt like I had arrived home; if you know what I mean :)

Character design is a big part of your work. How do you plan each character and communicate their personality?

They simply arrive. Pareidolia (seeing faces and patterns) is a big part of my creative process, and when I “find” a character and start structuring it, it’s always linked to an emotion or a feeling. Each of my characters has a story that evolves as they take shape. So, when I have to illustrate more complex stories, it is easy to carry them out because the character already exists.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

From nature, emotions and memories.

As an illustrator, how important is it to have a recognisable style?

I think it’s important. Style is something that, like it or not, comes out and is structured over time. It’s your signature, the proof of your work.

How did you first hear about Affinity, and what inspired you to give Affinity Photo and Designer a try?

I was looking for a leaner and faster alternative to Adobe. For a few months, I used Designer and found my way around the program very well. Then I decided to purchase Photo and switch between the two programs. I would never go back, I’m too happy.

“I was looking for a leaner and faster alternative to Adobe. For a few months, I used Designer and found my way around the program very well. Then I decided to purchase Photo and switch between the two programs. I would never go back, I’m too happy.”

What features do you use most/couldn’t be without?

There are so many. Firstly I would say the way layers are structured—they are so comfortable and intuitive to use, and then the customisation of styles and brushes, especially raster, which I find phenomenal.

Talk us through your workflow; how do your illustrations tend to develop?

Through sketches, sketches, sketches, ideas, further sketches, filling shapes and then going all the way with my brush strokes.

You regularly share the processes behind your illustrations on YouTube. What inspired you to do this?

I have always been a bit ashamed to show off my work, thanks to bullying by “real” painters and various experiences that went wrong. But then I said to myself: “Anyhow, you will draw for your whole life. You might as well film yourself, and you might as well publish it online. Maybe someone will find it useful and beautiful.” So that’s what I did, and between YouTube and Patreon, I feel great satisfaction when I see that my content is appreciated and studied by people.

What do you love most about being an illustrator?

The freedom I feel in expressing myself in a playful, dreamlike way without rules. It’s a bit like going back to being a child every time, and it’s a feeling that I love.

“The freedom I feel in expressing myself in a playful, dreamlike way without rules. It’s a bit like going back to being a child every time, and it’s a feeling that I love.”

If you were given the chance to illustrate for any book or story, what would it be and why?

I would love to illustrate Pennac and Hesse. I would also say Walter Moers because I love his worlds, but he already creates the best illustrations for his work.

Also, the thing I would like most would be to illustrate some magical unpublished stories.

What are your creative aspirations for the future? What would you like to achieve?

At the moment I’m looking for an agent. My goal is to grow in the publishing field and make a name for myself, to be able to illustrate more and more magical adventures.

You can find out more about Erica and her work at ericabortoloso.com, on Instagram and by subscribing to her YouTube channel.

Pierre Belenfant: ‘working with darkness and light allows me to explore the mystery of a place’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-21 08:00

Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography?

My name is Pierre, I am 29 years old, and I live in Tours, France. I am a photographer specialising in black and white architecture and iPhone photography. My main themes are Gothic architecture and the estate of the Palace of Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors by night, Palace of Versailles

Some people fall into photography during their childhood, but that wasn’t the case for me. For five years, up until 2016, I accompanied a large number of summer camps for teenagers, and one year a camp director gave me the task of making the photo report. I instantly enjoyed it, and at the end of the stay, the children’s parents were delighted with the photographs, and I saw their enthusiasm when discovering some portraits of their children as a bonus. I had no technical knowledge, but it made me want to continue.

What drew you to photograph architecture?

In 2016, I decided to go back to university. I went to Paris for three years to study philosophy and theology. I was discovering “Parisian life” for the first time, and during my free time, I was a tourist photographing monuments. I took photographs of Notre-Dame de Paris, Opéra Garnier, the Eiffel Tower, Musée du Louvre…, and one day, in the summer of 2018, for the first time I went to the Palace of Versailles, and I found it to be a great source of inspiration.

It was in those Parisian years that my practice became regular and my work more refined.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris You specialise in black and white photography; what appeals to you most about working in black and white?

I do not wish to transcribe the reality of architecture in its colours. Looking at black and white photographs requires special effort because one piece of information is missing: the colour. Our eye must then internalise the image and dare to see more. You have to look for colour in another reality, an imaginary one. Also, working with darkness and light allows me to explore a very interesting, dramatic and mystical side to a place. And for that, Gothic architecture inspires me a lot.

“…working with darkness and light allows me to explore a very interesting, dramatic and mystical side to place. And for that, Gothic architecture inspires me a lot.”

Reims Cathedral The Grand Trianon, Estate of Versailles What equipment do you use?

I mainly use the iPhone and sometimes an Olympus with a 40-150mm telephoto lens.

Are there any visual elements you always try to incorporate into your work?

If there is a nice perspective or a nice symmetry, then I’m happy!

Do you have any particular rituals when it comes to photographing architecture?

I try to feel the essence of a place just by being present and observing. I often look for symmetry or a good perspective, but good photos are often the ones you don’t look out for.

“I try to feel the essence of a place just by being present and observing. I often look for symmetry or a good perspective, but good photos are often the ones you don’t look out for.”

Chartres Cathedral What are your usual post-production steps for retouching your images in Affinity Photo?

After importing my RAW file into the Develop Persona, I start working on the shades of grey. This is the very first step and not the easiest. Especially if the original photograph is very colourful or there is gilding as in Versailles. I then adjust the dark/light tones, the clarity, the luminosity, and then come to the levels and the curves. I finish by adding one or two lights. The Tone Mapping persona is also useful for recovering detail and texture. Sometimes I get into more advanced editing, but overall it’s usually pretty basic.

Gallery of Great Battles, Palace of Versailles Do you have any shooting/post-production tips for producing captivating black and white images?

I don’t have much post-production advice because I still have a lot to learn myself. But it is important to keep in mind that a black and white photo, is above all else, made up of colours, hence the importance of working on nuances to avoid an effect that is too bland or neutral. For the shot, I would recommend taking your time and observing, even before taking out your camera. And please pay attention to the horizon line!

“…it is important to keep in mind that a black and white photo, is above all else, made up of colours, hence the importance of working on nuances to avoid an effect that is too bland or neutral.”

Royal Gate, Palace of Versailles Le Colérique, Versailles gardens Do you have a dream building you would like to photograph when travel becomes less restricted?

Versailles, Versailles, and Versailles!… No, seriously, I have a lot of monuments in France to photograph, but when I can, I would like to visit Grundtvig Church in Copenhagen and Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.

What achievement are you most proud of in your photography career and why?

This is difficult to answer because photography is still new for me, but there is a photo I am particularly proud of. It is called Vertigo, and it was taken on the stairs of the Catholic University of Paris: a building inspired by the great English colleges. It has a Hitchcockian effect that I really like.

‘Vertigo’ What is your ultimate ambition for your work?

Again, I feel it pretentious to answer. Exhibiting my work is my first goal. But I always keep an open mind, and in the years to come, I would like to explore portrait photography—black and white or colour, in a cinematic or conceptual style, I don’t know yet. I love the work of Nirav Patel, Benoit Courti, and Anya Anti, but I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn to achieve this. Everything happens in its own time.

Tours Cathedral

To see more of Pierre’s work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

How to find a photography mentor

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-16 13:00

In 2003, the British photographer Caroline Irby spent two weeks travelling through the UK with children from the choir at the Milton Margai School for the Blind in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tim Hetherington, who was working on a book project about the children, accompanied them on the journey. “Tim didn’t take many pictures during those weeks,” Caroline remembers. “He spent most of his time interacting with the children, organising their laundry and meals, and thinking.

“The first lesson I learned from Tim came from seeing him at work on that trip: prioritising relationships over ‘getting the picture.’ We became friends during that time, and the conversations that began on the tour bus driving up and down the country continued in emails and letters, and in-person whenever he passed through London.”

Juning in the chapel that she built on the family farm, where she hoped to hold mass every Sunday once she retired to the island. From ‘Someone Else’s Mother’ by Caroline Irby (@carolineirby on Instagram), published by Schilt.

Tim Hetherington was killed eight years later, in 2011, while documenting the conflict in Misrata, Libya. He was forty years old. “It’s nearly eleven years since he died now, but it’s still Tim’s words, more than anyone else’s, that feed my practice,” Caroline tells us.

“I saw him as my photographic big brother. Only in retrospect would I use the word ‘mentor.’ I ran almost every project or idea for a project past him at its inception, and when I’m wondering how to approach a story now, I often wonder what Tim would have had to say.”

Le Vide 2019 by Georges Senga (@Georges_senga on Instagram)

For many emerging photographers, mentorships with established pros can mean far more than learning how to make great pictures. The lessons learned and the foundation built during conversations with a mentor can help shape an artist’s vision, goals, and values.

We asked eight photographers to tell us about the mentors, role models, peers, and colleagues who helped them build their careers or find their voices. Read on for their best tips for finding and approaching a potential mentor, while fostering a meaningful long-term relationship.

1. Apply for a workshop

“I met my mentor, the Belgian photographer Marie-Françoise Plissart, after applying for a workshop she was leading in 2008,” the photographer Georges Senga remembers. “Ten of us young photographers from Lubumbashi were accepted to be part of the masterclass degree program. The two of us connected very quickly because she’s done a lot of architectural work, and my project was about the architecture of my city.

“Early in my career, Marie-Françoise helped me understand how to read the landscape and use shape and form in my images. She continues to inspire my work today, most recently with my project Le Vide / The Void, a series of photographs that investigates the exploitation of natural resources in the D.R. Congo. Throughout history, the main extraction method was (and still is) manual labour, so I’ve used hands as a recurring motif.”

Botanical no.0538 by Kari Herer (@Kariherer on Instagram)

2. Assist an established pro

Internships and assistant jobs are some of the most valuable ways to form relationships and learn about the business. “For six years, I have been a principal collaborator with National Geographic photographer Sam Abell on major campaigns as well as workshops dedicated to editorial storytelling,” the Maine-based photographer Kari Herer tells us. “I first connected with him by finding out where he was teaching and signing up for one of his workshops.

“After the workshop was over, I sent an email asking to assist him at the next year’s workshop, and he accepted. I think that the best advice I could give would be not to push. Prove that you would be a benefit instead of constantly asking for mentoring. The mentoring will come through the work you do together. Wait, listen, and learn.”

3. Learn about mentorship programs

“I was lucky enough to win a mentorship with the fashion photographer Elisabeth Hoff through a program at Another Production for female and non-binary post-graduates,” the London-based photographer Eva Watkins says. “I went through two interviews with Elisabeth before being chosen for it. I believe the reason I got it is that I was myself, and we found common ground. Working with her has been a huge and amazing learning curve for me.

“For those looking for a mentor, my first suggestion would be to look online to see what mentorships are being offered, as this is what I did. Building a relationship with a photographer you admire can also turn into a mentor/mentee relationship. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your favourite photographers and compliment their work. Be authentic; for mentorship to work, you need to be yourself.”

Synchronised Swimming by Eva Watkins (@evawatkinsphoto on Instagram)

4. Seek out communities for mentors and mentees

“Workshops and internships are often the best ways to find mentors, but there are also some great resources available that didn’t exist even just a few years ago,” the San Francisco-based photographer Michelle Yee explains. “For one, Mentorly is a site that you can use to connect with mentors across a wide range of disciplines. And for BIPOC photographers, there’s also the BIPOC Photo Mentorship that has an array of free mentorship opportunities available. Full disclosure: I’m a mentor with both!

“Mentorship has been crucial for my career because there is a lot to consider when you are developing as a photographer. The journey can be especially overwhelming when you’re working alone and in the early stages of your career. Having a mentor who not only has the experience you seek, but who is also willing to guide you, is priceless and can help you create tremendous momentum if used wisely.”

The Wilderness Inside by Michelle Yee (@_michelleyee on Instagram)

5. Reach out through social media

“I don’t know if I have a mentor as such, but last year, I came across a photographer on Pinterest named Louise Hagger,” the London-based photographer Hayley Benoit tells us. “I began to dig into her work and instantly fell in love with all her images, so I added her on Instagram and regularly read through her updates.

“During the Black Lives Matter movement in June/July last year, Louise created a UK Based Food and Still Life list for BAME inclusive commissioning. I added my name to the list and responded to some of Louise’s Stories, which she then responded to. After a few messages here and there, Louise and I naturally kept in contact with each other throughout the months.

“Louise has also nominated me to photography groups, something that I have found beneficial for my career development. Simply connecting with photographers you admire and providing genuine interest over social media can leverage your career in a variety of ways, and it only takes a short message in someone’s inbox to make this happen.”

Yellows on Yellow by Hayley Benoit (@hayleybenoit on Instagram)

6. Set up a meeting

“I have several people that I consider mentors, including Annemie Tonken, one of the cofounders of The Family Narrative, a community for family photographers,” the Durham-based photographer Cornell Watson says. “I initially reached out to her via email, and then we met up for coffee. She invited me to help assist on one of her shoots, and I later attended her Family Narrative conference.

“Through that conference, I then met Yan Palmer, whom I also consider a mentor. We communicated via Instagram a few times before the conference, but meeting in person is so different. Conferences really are a great place to meet people and build long-lasting relationships. I have a whole community of photographers who are practically my family that I’ve met from conferences, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

“2020 Election Burnout” Bikers celebrated the historic win of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris downtown Durham, NC with tire burnouts. Photo taken on November 7th by Cornell Watson (@cornwhizzle on Instagram).

7. Join a collective

“More so than a mentor, I feel that I have a larger photo community that I can rely on for support,” the Austin and New York City-based photographer Mary Inhea Kang says. “Through collectives such as Authority Collective, Women Photograph, and DiversifyPhoto, I have had very uplifting experiences in which I shared mutual aid with others. Each collective has a Facebook group where one can ask questions and/or respond to others’ questions. I have had great learning experiences reading through these discussions.

“Other collectives and organisations I’d recommend are the African Photojournalism Database, American Photography Association, American Society of Media Photographers, Black Women Photographers, British Press Photographers Association, Color Positive, Foto Feminas, International Association of Press Photography, MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, National Press Photographers Association, Indigenous Photograph, News Photographers Association of Canada, Professional Photographers of America, The Everyday Projects, UK Black Female Photographers, and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International.

“The Facebook group NYC Image Makers has also been a great resource. The members have diverse experiences in photography, so whoever responds offers a unique and helpful perspective. I have also made great friends through these collectives who I feel comfortable reaching out to for subjects involving photography or even for emotional support. Additionally, these collectives sometimes offer mentorship programs and workshops to which one can apply.”

Devin Person, a self-proclaimed professional wizard, posing with Amber Leon at the Washington Square Park in New York, photographed for the New York Times by Mary Inhea Kang (@mary.kang on Instagram).

8. Lastly, take notes

Once you find a mentor, keep in touch, ask questions, and take notes on what you learn. “I have kept all those emails from Tim (Hetherington), and I still refer to them,” Caroline Irby tells us. “Just a few months after we met, I was on a shoot in Senegal for the non-profit organisation Sight Savers, and I was really struggling to make good pictures, so I sent Tim an email asking for help.

“He wrote back, ‘Caroline, Don’t worry about trying to force pictures. If you become frustrated about it, you’ll start making graphically interesting but emotionally bland images. You’re waiting for something you have no control over to come into play. Just be aware and enjoy meeting people.’ He was always lucid. I miss our conversations, but I’m glad I still have those messages.”

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.

Masking explained

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-14 09:00

What is masking?

Masking allows us to determine which part of a layer is shown or hidden in our document by restricting its visibility. In practical terms, this means:

We can apply adjustment and filter layers selectively to certain areas of an image—anything from tonal adjustments to blurs, sharpening filters and distortions.

We can composite parts of separate images into one main composition, giving us creative freedom to create entirely new images.

Because of masking, we can do the above non-destructively by adding what are called Mask Layers to our document. Consider this compositing example:


Composite elements before masking.

Here we can see we’ve pasted two entirely separate images on top of our base image. Let’s say we wanted to cut out the stones from these two pictures in order to place them into the foreground of the base image.

Typically, we would use selection tools to isolate the stones and delete the rest of the images—physically removing those pixels. Rather than deleting or erasing, however, we could instead mask the unwanted areas out, meaning they would simply be hidden from view.

Composite elements after masking.

Masking the unwanted areas would be a non-destructive approach—the benefit being that we could go back and change, revise or tidy up the mask at any point during editing, including using selection refinement if the mask’s edges are rough or inaccurate. Had we erased the unwanted pixels, we couldn’t do this.

Selective adjustments

Before applying selective adjustments.

Masking is also a popular way to restrict filters and adjustments to specific areas. In this image, for example, we might want to desaturate the background colours whilst keeping the vibrant reds. Additionally, we may also choose to add some diffuse glow, but only to the text.

After applying selective adjustments.

Using masking for both these cases allows us to achieve the look we’re after, rather than desaturating the entire image or having a distracting glow over the background areas as well.

Painting and Gradients

Masking can be defined not just from selections, but also from colour and gradient fills. Here, for example, we might wish to restrict tonal adjustments to the sky of the image by adding a gradient fill as a mask, which provides a smooth transition for the adjustments.

Masking and Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo has comprehensive masking support, and masks can be created through selections, colours, fills and channels.

Masking in Photo.

A unique feature of Photo is that Adjustments and Live Filter layers inherently have their own layer mask, and can instantly be masked without having to add a nested Layer Mask to them, saving time and making for a more efficient workflow.

Masking and Affinity Designer

Although masking is used less frequently in Affinity Designer when compared with Affinity Photo, its vector masking features do come in handy.

Masking in Designer.

In Designer, you can use the Pixel Persona’s Erase Brush Tool on a vector shape to remove unwanted areas. A Mask Layer will be created automatically when you erase on the vector layer, allowing you to edit non-destructively.

Alternatively, you can use Pixel Persona’s Paint Brush Tool to paint with a black brush to erase, and even restore removed areas by swapping to, and painting with, a white brush.

Tip: By default, the above non-destructive mask-and-erase behaviour will occur but you can rasterise the vector shape (without creating a masking) using View > Assistant Manager instead.

Masking and Affinity Publisher

From Affinity Publisher, you can use StudioLink to quickly switch between each of the Affinity apps’ features, using the Photo Persona’s masking capabilities to mask areas of an image placed on a page from within the same app.

Masking in Publisher’s Photo Persona.

Publisher’s own masking capabilities allow you to create some unique and interesting effects, for example, creating a mask to display an image within a headline.

Masking in Publisher.

Illustrator David Wildish: ‘I get lost in the process’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-01 09:00

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started your career?

I’m older than I’d like but still young in mind and packed with enthusiasm to make and create. I’ve been into art for as long as I can remember—since being able to hold a pencil.

I was actually a latecomer to the professional creative field. I struggled with concentration at school, wanting to spend all my days doing art over anything else. I then got a little sidetracked during and after my college days with the then early 90s rave culture.

My creative story started a little later at 25 when I fell seriously ill with meningitis. After very nearly losing my life, a month in hospital, and three months recovery, things really got put into perspective. I wanted to do something worthwhile, so during recovery, I spent a lot of time building up my portfolio, and I started applying for jobs.

My break came when a design agency in Bath gave me my first job setting recruitment ads, which seems boring now, but it was a dream come true at the time. The job didn’t last too long as the company lost a huge client and went bust, but it got my foot in the door and gave me valuable experience, which is something I’ve always been very grateful for.

What followed afterwards?

After that first lucky job in Bath, I had a varied mix of experience working for The Early Learning Centre fiddling with packaging art. I then fell into the publishing sector, where I worked for a range of publishing houses for about ten years, which gave me a very solid foundation in layout and colour, and advanced skills in industry-standard design software from Quark through to InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.

After my younger brother went solo at Wildish & Co, he gave me a six-month work opportunity to help me launch a freelance career and escape the 9-5.

During my freelance period, I was offered a desk at Pixel Pixel Ltd in Swindon, initially renting a desk to freelance from, however, I was soon picking up client work for the studio and bringing in my much-needed knowledge of print design.

I also jumped at the opportunity to learn web design and app design, and before long, I soon found myself as a full-time designer at Pixel Pixel. We’ve since grown and moved studio twice, and although we had a tough year during covid, we’ve grown and expanded. You won’t be surprised to discover I’ve shifted the studio’s software to Affinity Designer and Photo.

You’ve been using Affinity apps for a long time now. What made you start using them?

Having been an adobe user for many years, I’ve always felt as though I needed to battle and beat the software into submission, so I longed for an alternative. I found Affinity Designer during beta days and was hooked from the very first use—everything about it was just right.

“I found Affinity Designer during beta days and was hooked from the very first use—everything about it was just right.”

What’s your favourite feature in Affinity Photo/Designer, and how do you use it in your work?

The Pen Tool is simply perfect in Affinity, but one of the first things that really got me hooked was the very simple way of masking objects within each other, making shading etc., a breeze to achieve whilst still being able to add an outline to the mask object. Illustrator cannot do this without a very complex workaround. Trust me, I’ve challenged an engineer at another well-known plug-in company to do the same, and after a long time locked into concentration, he found a very long-winded workaround, but in no way comparative in simplicity.

It is one feature that really resonated with my style and gave me the ability to work so much faster without wasting time cutting or creating complex masked objects.

We love your isometric work. What drew you to working isometrically?

Isometric work has always fascinated me. I’ve bought many books and magazines featuring pixel art and isometric works and loved the worlds that people create. Once I found the isometric grid feature in Affinity Designer, that was it. I was lost down the rabbit hole—once you have the power to create worlds, it’s hard to stop.

“Once I found the isometric grid feature in Affinity Designer, that was it. I was lost down the rabbit hole—once you have the power to create worlds, it’s hard to stop.”

How would you describe your approach to design?

Probably quite self-indulgent and obsessively neat. This is possibly a hangover from my publishing background when my then creative director had an obsession for accuracy and pinpoint measurements in layouts.

This has carried through to my isometric artworks—when I get stuck into an artwork, I get lost in the process and will quite often check each and every line and path to make sure it is as neat as possible. There is a good reason behind this, however, as I know without fail that if any of my artworks are scaled, they will look just as neat at 100% as they will at 1000%.

How do you come up with new ideas?

There’s no magic to this, I’m afraid. My head is usually swimming with ideas influenced by every part of my day. I’ve always got a list of sorts, of things to make bubbling in my head. However, finding the time to get them all out onto an artboard is the real tricky part.

“My head is usually swimming with ideas influenced by every part of my day. I’ve always got a list of sorts, of things to make bubbling in my head.”

Do you ever have time for personal projects?

Not as much as I would like. Luckily at Pixel Pixel, I have quite a free rein to create a lot of illustrative work for marketing purposes, so I still get my daily fixes. I always have ideas bubbling in the back of my head. Sometimes they take quite a while to become a reality, and often I get carried away with making them, but it’s something I feel the need to do from time to time.

One of our favourite works of yours is Pixel Falls. How long does something like this usually take to complete?

It’s hard to put an exact time on a piece like that. Personal work is different in that I have no sign off date or publication date, so I tend to keep tweaking and freezing over details until I’m happy. Pixel Falls, I guess, could have taken two weeks, whereas smaller pieces like my ice cream van took less than a day.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Actually, changing direction from published design to web design was the biggest leap I’ve made in recent times. Web design never stands still, so it’s a contents evolution of rules and design standards. I do find that my background in print design gives me an upper hand in a lot of cases, as the discipline I had to have really keeps my artwork pin sharp.

How would you describe your typical day?

My typical day isn’t too glamorous—I’m up early with children, then into the studio at Pixel Pixel, where I have a different bag of work each day—from illustrative work through to web design. We’re currently working on a brand refresh, so I’m pretty stoked to get it out to the world when it’s cooked to perfection.

Do you have ways to organise your day to maximise your work?

I’m a believer in lists, listing targets and checking off at the end of the day. It really helps to organise and to keep my mind on track (I tend to go off on tangents otherwise). Music is also my other great organiser and mind focusing tool. I find nothing better than hammering my ears with some good quality, old-school Jungle/D&B to do the trick.

Lastly, what is your proudest moment so far?

Working a four-month onsite freelance contract for Dyson in Malmesbury has to be a huge highlight. I was commissioned to illustrate a selection of British design icons, all handpicked by James Dyson. These were to be illustrated and produced in large format printed and fitted to entrance walls, labs, conference rooms and meeting rooms as part of a large-scale Dyson HQ re-development and investment program. It did feel amazing to be sat drawing cars and iconic British airplanes all day whilst full-timers sat plugging away with real work.

Seeing a piece of my work on the Affinity site was also a very proud moment, having used Affinity for so long and been so passionate about it.

You can find more of David’s work on Behance and Twitter.

10 post-processing mistakes everybody makes (and how to avoid them)

Permalink - Posted on 2021-07-01 09:00

1. Not getting it right in-camera

“One of the most common mistakes that I see in beginner photographers’ work is a lack of planning,” the Chilean-based photographer Ronny Garcia says. “Take the time in pre-production to think about what you want to do, how you want to do it, and what you need to realise your idea. These days, we have access to digital programs, like Affinity Photo, that can do incredible things, but it’s a mistake to assume that everything can be corrected in post-production.

“Image processing programs help us get the best out of our photos, but only if the image is already well-exposed and has a good composition. The most important thing is ensuring you create the best photo possible in-camera, before editing it.” In other words, post-processing won’t “save” a mediocre photo, only elevate a great one. If you can, take multiple exposures to ensure you get it just right on location.

Melanie by Ronny Garcia (@_ronnygarcia on Instagram)

2. Overdoing it

“One extreme I sometimes see with photographers beginning their creative journey is over-editing,” the English photographer Dan Baker tells us. “The brightness, colour tones, saturation, sharpness, or exposure is often pushed too far, and that ultimately detracts from the photo. The viewer becomes blinded by heavy-handed editing and unfortunately loses sight of the image itself.

“I believe that every edit should give flavour and gently enhance the scene to the point where the image and edit work in harmony. To do this, exercise restraint when editing and enhancing images. By applying small changes, you can create balanced photos.” Glancing at your histogram can also be a great way to quickly check your work as you go while avoiding clipping in the shadows or highlights.

3. Only making global adjustments

To get the most out of your images, once you’re happy with making adjustments globally, you need to start working with Masks to restrict filters and adjustments to only the specific areas where they are needed. For example, applying a Shadow/highlights adjustment to bring out the highlights in one part of an image may clip the highlights in another. Masking the adjustment layer to a selected area of your image will avoid this.

From the project ‘Summer of Distance’ by Dan Baker (@danbaker88 on Instagram)

4. Not checking your work

“A simple tip that I often employ is to step away from editing and come back later with fresh eyes,” Dan continues. “It’s amazing how many times I think something looks good in the moment, but once I have wandered off to get a drink and returned to the monitor, I can see how far I have overdone it. There’s no rush. Taking your time and using restraint can be powerful tools in your creative journey.”

5. Blurring the skin

In portraits, skin can easily become over-edited unless you keep a careful eye. “My ultimate ‘post-processing pet peeve’ is over-smoothing of skin,” the fine art photographer and portrait artist Laura Ferreira explains. “I have destroyed many a pore in older photos, and I cringe at myself. It’s something that makes my eyes uncomfortable and ruins an otherwise great portrait.

“It comes down to knowing the correct technique. Before I knew about frequency separation or dodge and burn, I was slapping a blur on a selected area and then fading it to get a hint of pore texture. I got away with it sometimes, but other times, it was horrendous.

“If a model has great skin, you’re good to go with simple cloning of a few things here and there, but if you’ve got to balance out tones or marks, your easiest technique is using the Frequency Separation filter in Affinity Photo. Please avoid using anything under ‘Blur’ when editing skin; it is not a good look.”

Technicolour Soowan by Laura Ferreira (@lauraferreirastudios on Instagram)

6. Forgetting to straighten the horizon

Images often come out of the camera with a slightly crooked horizon, but this mistake is easily fixed by straightening your photo. You can also use the Crop Tool to finesse your composition according to the rule of thirds or golden ratio.

7. Copying someone else’s style

“When we first start as photographers, we tend to copy editing techniques and styles we see other photographers use,” the Malaysian-based photographer Rafiq Farhan tells us. “Don’t get me wrong: it is good to learn from other photographers when you are a beginner. But if you stay in the same place for too long, you’ll start to stagnate.

“Over time, you need to develop your own post-processing style and tastes. It took me quite a long time to create my style of editing, and I made countless mistakes along the way, but I can say that I’m quite happy seeing my work today. In my opinion, post-processing is the most important and fun part of photography.” Downloadable presets are great, but don’t forget to experiment with your technique as well.

Luna Valley by Rafiq Farhan (@rafiqsfarhan on Instagram)

8. Editing only for web, not for print

“When I started as a photographer, I didn’t think about selling prints,” the Paris-based photographer Emilie Mori says. “My images were very small, and I processed them mostly for web use and smaller prints. As time went by, I started getting requests for larger formats, and I had to adapt my editing process.

“I now work on all my images in a very large format right from the start. I also print my photos after retouching to avoid any surprises. The effect is sometimes very different on paper than it is on a screen. Some photographs look better printed than on a screen, and others are the opposite, so you have to tailor your editing based on the end result.”

Global warming by Emilie Mori (@emiliemori on Instagram)

9. Not adding metadata

Once you’re dealing with larger quantities of photos, you’ll want to keep them organised using searchable keywords. You can also add details like copyright information and captions to your metadata for easy access.

10. Forgetting to have fun

In the end, editing is about expressing your creative vision, so don’t be afraid to break the rules. “I’m not a technical photographer or editor, and I like to let go and play as much as possible,” the Romanian fine art and portrait photographer Cristina Venedict tells us.

“I’ve always been inspired by painters as much as photographers: Degas, Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, to name just a few. Later, I discovered the work of Maggie Taylor, who uses editing to create her own dreamworlds.” Not every edit has to be entirely realistic, so experiment occasionally and push the limits to see what you can create. Just make sure your edits are non-destructive so you can revisit them later.

The Age of Innocence by Cristina Venedict (@cristinavenedict on Instagram)

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.

Creating a bold numerical design with Mario De Meyer

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-23 13:00

Step 1—Creating the outline of the number

Draw a circle with a black stroke of 40pt with no fill and hit Convert to Curves. Add an extra anchor point with the Node Tool.

Select the left and bottom anchor point of the circle and click Break Curve, then delete that part of the circle.

Go to the Layer menu and select Expand Stroke. Hold alt and press Add on the context toolbar to convert this to a compound path, you should now see a “compound path” in the Layers Panel as shown below.

Select the Contour Tool from the Tools Panel to the left of your workspace (or press shortcut O) and make sure the overall compound path is selected in the Layers Panel. With the Contour Tool still selected, drag left to apply a negative contour until the path becomes a thin line.

Select the curve layer in the compound path and make a copy by alt+dragging the curve layer, or dragging the curve layer to the Add Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Scale the copied layer down and place it in the centre of the other curve. Because of the scaling, the outline will disappear. Select the Contour Tool (or press shortcut O) and apply a positive offset by dragging right until it has a thin line similar to the bigger curve.

Select the Rectangle Tool in the Tools Panel (or hit shortcut M) and draw a rectangle until you have a thin line with a similar thickness to the other curves.

Place the rectangle between the two rounded curves and adjust its length by dragging the middle anchor points of the selection either left or right.

Make two copies of the rectangle by alt+dragging or dragging the rectangle layer to the Add Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel, then rotate them by 45° (hold shift then rotate for 15° increments).

Adjust the length of the rectangles and position them like the below example.

Copy the horizontal rectangle twice and rotate it 90°. Then place it at the bottom as shown in the example below.

Copy the horizontal rectangle two more times, adjust the length and position as in the image below to finish the outline of the “2”.

Step 2—Making the inner shapes

Copy the big curve layer you made earlier and position it like in the below example.

Select the Pen Tool from the Tools Panel (or press shortcut P) and draw a shape that covers the part that’s outside of the “2”. Select both the curve and this new shape and click Subtract on the Toolbar.

Repeat the above step several more times.

Your “2” should now look similar to the example below.

Step 3—Colouring the individual parts

Select everything and go to Layer > Convert to Curves. Make a copy of this new layer and turn the visibility off (on the Layers Panel, untick the tick box to hide the layer).

Draw a rectangle that covers the whole “2”, select this rectangle and the “2” shape and click Divide on the Toolbar.

Delete all the excessive parts and turn visibility back on for your copy of the “2” until the design looks like the example below.

Colour the individual parts to your own preference. For this I used:

white = R228/230/216 yellow = 255/150/59 red = 242/82/68 teal = 95/186/176 blue = 64/94/130

Select all layers and group them by selecting Group from the Layer menu, then make a copy of that group.

Lower the opacity of the top group to around 50% and set the blend mode to Overlay. Move that group to the lower right so it’s creates the illusion of a shadow.

Select the Pen Tool and draw a line with a black stroke at a 45° angle. Repeat and place these lines at the edges of your “2” design like in the below example.

Drag the diagonal line in the top group (the group with the Overlay blend mode) and position as in the below example.

The other lines should be placed outside this group with a 100% Opacity and blend mode set to Normal. Your design should now look like this.

Step 4—Adding the background colour

Make a copy of the top group, drag it to the bottom of the layer hierarchy and hide it for now. Add a rectangle background layer and place this at the bottom of the layer hierarchy with an RGB value of 210/210/210.

On the Colour Panel click the dot on the left of the opacity slider to reveal the noise options and set noise to around 27% to give this rectangle some texture.

Select the Pen Tool and draw a shape underneath the top group with no fill or stroke that covers the whole inside area of the “2”, this will serve as a clipping mask. Drag the top group into this new shape layer to make a clipping path.

Turn on the visibility of the bottom group and adjust the layer opacity to 100%.

Your finished design should now look like this!

The final design

To see Mario’s 36 Day’s of Type challenge in full, check out @mariodemeyer on Instagram.

If you would like to learn more about Mario and his work, visit his website and Behance profile, and read our interview with him here.

Tracey Capone: ‘I want to help others see Affinity Designer for the powerhouse that it is’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-23 10:00

Tracey, tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.

I am a full-time illustrator and photographer based just outside of Chicago, where I live and share studio space with my painter husband Joe. I left the corporate world back in 2011 to pursue my photography career full time, and illustration came along a few years later, though I’ve been creative my entire life. My Mom, who is also very creative in her own right, always made sure we had art supplies on hand and encouraged our creativity, even if it was messy.

I have been selling my work for the last ten years, online, as well as in person, and last year began a new adventure of teaching my skills online on Skillshare and YouTube.

What led you into the world of illustration?

I sort of fell into it. My focus as a photographer is urban and nature photography and, here in the Chicago area, the middle of January isn’t exactly prime to roam the city in search of subjects. So, wanting to keep the creativity going in the “off-season,” I started playing around with some of the illustration apps I had on my computer and found I really enjoyed it, especially vector art.

A few years ago, I purchased an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, and the rest was history. I dove headfirst into learning everything I could about the various apps, especially Affinity Designer.

When did you first start using Affinity apps, and what are your thoughts on them?

I started using the Affinity apps a few years ago, and I now use the entire suite for the majority of my work.

Beyond the obvious of not having to pay for a subscription, they’re just extremely well thought out apps that pack a lot of punch into a small space. I’ve only recently started using the desktop apps, but I love that I can work seamlessly between the iPad and desktop and especially enjoy the fact that I can jump between all three apps in the desktop versions.

Designer was the first one I used in the suite and, like others, admittedly, I found it a bit daunting at first. It has a ton of amazing tools, but sometimes, that can be overwhelming, especially if you’re coming from a more simplistic app. Once you understand the layout, though, and how the tools and studios work with one another, it’s very intuitive and powerful. That’s actually the reason I focus most of my classes and tutorials on Designer. I think it is, hands down, the best vector app out there, and I want to help others who may be struggling to see it for the powerhouse that it is.

Do you have any favourite tools/features?

If I have to narrow it down, I would say the Assets, Symbols, and Stock Studios are three of my favourite things.

With Assets, I love that I can create something once and have it at my fingertips for future illustrations. I’ve also enjoyed the fact that I could easily create and share assets with my students as downloads for my classes; it’s been fun to see how they use them.

The Symbols studio has helped me create some of my favourite illustrations: my Folk Art Florals and Insects. When I figured out how to mirror the symbols and create symmetrical illustrations on the vector side, it was like a whole world opened up.

“The Symbols studio has helped me create some of my favourite illustrations: my Folk Art Florals and Insects. When I figured out how to mirror the symbols and create symmetrical illustrations on the vector side, it was like a whole world opened up.”

And, finally, the Stock Studio… I mean, where do I begin? I don’t have to leave the app to find free-use images? Yes, please. Seriously, when that was added, I admit I did a little chair dance at my desk, so thank you Serif!

Your passion for teaching really shows. What made you decide to create tutorials and share your knowledge and skills with others?

Thank you! One of my favourite quotes is, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it,” by Margaret Fuller; it’s been a guidepost through the last year of teaching online. I love when students share their projects, and you can feel the pride and excitement when they create something that may have previously been a challenge; it’s been a great motivator through this journey.

I formerly got into teaching because, like many others, COVID upended my typical artistic year, which relied heavily on art festivals, all of which were cancelled. I had already been a student on Skillshare, so teaching on it seemed a logical step, especially as I would get asked for tutorials when I shared my own work online. For the last year, I have continued to build both my Skillshare and YouTube Channels, which, while it has been a big learning experience, it’s also been so rewarding.

How do you balance your myriad of creative projects and teaching?

I’m a planner and a list maker, a habit I developed in my years as a project manager in my former corporate life. I used Affinity Publisher to create my own digital planner, which I use in Goodnotes. I created the basic daily modules you would see in every common planner, but I also created some specific to my various creative ventures, for example, my Skillshare and YouTube channels. I have an insert for each class and tutorial where I can plan the topic, the steps I need to take to complete it, the supplies, and I can also track milestones. Seeing things written out helps keep everything from becoming an overwhelming, swirling mass of tasks.

All that said, I think it’s important to show ourselves grace when it comes to managing our busy lives, otherwise, we run the risk of burning out and accomplishing very little. It’s something I try to do on both the front and back end, especially with everything that’s happened in the last year. There are days you just won’t be able to successfully manage everything, and that’s okay; the only thing you can ask of yourself is to do the best you can and start fresh the next day.

What can Affinity users expect/learn from your Skillshare courses and YouTube channel?

When students take my classes or tutorials, they’re trusting me with their time and creativity, and I don’t take that lightly; I want to make the time spent worth every minute. When a student takes one of my classes, I want them to feel like they have the wings they need to create whatever they want.

“My goal as a teacher is to help my students understand not just how I do something but why; I think it’s the best way to help students fly on their own when the class is finished.”

As humans, we tend to learn by mimicking what we see, but I don’t think that helps us retain the knowledge or to be able to apply it effectively. My goal as a teacher is to help my students understand not just how I do something but why; I think it’s the best way to help students fly on their own when the class is finished.

How do you decide which topics to cover?

Sometimes it’s as simple as something I found really cool and want to share but, usually, topics come from listening to my students. Between my Facebook group, Instagram and sending out calls for suggestions to my followers on Skillshare, I’m given the opportunity to create classes tailor-made to suit their needs. Beyond that, I try to create classes that will build on each other without repeating lessons, so students can learn in easily retainable bits rather than trying to learn everything in one big master class.

We can see that you love to add texture to your work. Do you have any top tips for adding texture in Affinity Designer?

Yes, I do! I think texture has a superpower; it has the ability to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary in the blink of an eye, and it can add amazing depth and dimension to work; both illustrations and photographs.

“I think texture has a superpower; it has the ability to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary in the blink of an eye, and it can add amazing depth and dimension to work; both illustrations and photographs.”

My first tip is to think ahead to your final output. If you plan to print your work, set your original document to the largest size you plan to print, and at least 300 DPI, to avoid muddy textures and pixelation.

Also, be sure to use high quality, high-resolution textures, whether they’re in image or brush form. If you don’t, regardless of how you size your document, you’re likely going to end up with pixelation.

My final tip? Have fun with it! Make your own textures. You don’t need fancy art supplies, you can create them with things you find around your house (I had one student who added texture using a photograph she took of a cauliflower pizza crust!). The more fun you have and the more creative you get with it, the more “uniquely you” your work will be, and so the superpower becomes yours!

Do you have a favourite illustration that you’ve created in Affinity Designer? What makes you so fond of it?

Of all the questions, this was the hardest! If I have to pick, I would say it’s an illustration I created of a Junco bird standing on a little red mushroom; we have it hanging over our fireplace, so I get to see it every day. Birds and flowers (or anything nature related) are two of my favourite subjects to illustrate, and this little guy makes me smile every time I see him. There’s something about the look on his face—like he’s ready to do stand up or something on top of his little mushroom stage.

Do you have any goals for the future or a dream project you would love to work on?

My immediate goal is to continue building my teaching platforms. I recently made the decision to retire from art festivals and focus on creating course content full time, as I have found the experience so rewarding. I would like to continue down that path and see where it leads.

I have recently started putting my own brushes and handmade textures out into the “wild” and received great reviews on them, so I plan to expand that as well. In addition to the free downloads I provide with my classes, I would like to start selling other brush and texture creations.

As far as a dream project, my husband and I have talked about, one day, down the road, opening up a space in our area that brings the analog and digital worlds together. We want to create a space where we could host workshops on everything from learning digital illustration apps to throwing clay and create some sort of maker space where students can sell their work and get it out to the public. We were both given that opportunity as artists and want to be able to do that for future budding artists as well.

You can check out Tracey’s tutorials on her Skillshare and YouTube channels.

To see more of her work, visit traceycapone.com, @tracey.capone on Instagram and her Facebook group dedicated to all things texture for digital artists.

Marielle Groot Obbink: shooting in the fast-paced world of music photography

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-21 11:00

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Marielle, 38 years old and living in the beautiful city of Leiden, Netherlands. I am addicted to chocolate, cuddles and music. I have a normal 9 to 5 desk job, but alongside that, I am a freelance photographer for concerts, festivals, and portraits. I love travelling from festival to festival just to photograph happy people and amazing bands.

When did you start taking photos, and at what point did you know that you wanted to make a career of it?

I started photography in early 2016. I went to festivals as a cosplayer, but I preferred to be the one taking the pictures. During my first festival with a semi-pro camera, I shot only concert pictures, and according to my friends and musicians, I had a talent for that. I was picked up pretty quickly by a band manager and by the publication platform CeltCast.

After about one and a half years, my best friend convinced me to make the step from hobbyist to freelancer. However, it was only at the start of the Covid lockdown that I really started thinking about making it a full-time career.

How did you get into the field of music photography?

I was just drawn to it. I have always loved the music industry. I loved going to concerts and being amazed at the show, the performance and everything that comes with organising something like that. So, when I bought my first Nikon D5200, I went to a local festival where you don’t need accreditation for taking pictures and never looked back. It’s just a love that I cannot describe. I simply forget everything and just see the show.

“I went to a local festival where you don’t need accreditation for taking pictures and never looked back. It’s just a love that I cannot describe. I simply forget everything and just see the show.”

How do you go about getting permission to shoot at a concert? What’s the usual process?

There are a lot of local festivals and venues that allow people in without accreditation. Use these to build a portfolio and skill set. But if you need to have accreditation, there are multiple ways:

One is becoming a photographer for a publication platform. In general, these platforms arrange accreditation for the concerts. I either ask if I can photograph them, or they come to me with a request to shoot a specific band.

Another way is to be hired by a band, a venue or a festival to work as their photographer. It is important to do your networking and your self-promotion so these bands, venues or festivals know of your existence.

What gear do you typically take with you? Does it differ much from the equipment you use for portrait and nature photography?

It differs per shoot. I shoot with a Nikon D750 at the moment. For concerts in general, I bring a 24-70mm 2.8f and a 70-200mm 2.8f. Lately, I have been using my 105mm 2.8f a lot for almost everything, concerts, portraits and nature. I have the Sigma version, and I love it.

Depending on the band and stage I am shooting, I also bring my 15-30mm 2.8f by Tamron. That lens takes amazing wide-angle shots. For portraits in a smaller space, I like to use the 24-70mm a lot.

What are the main challenges when photographing at music events?

The fast light changes and fast-moving objects. With stage lights, you are constantly having to adapt to this. Also, the musicians move around a lot. You just have to accept that you can’t catch it all and that you might need to change your settings regularly. Often you have very low lights or issues with having no contrasting lights.

Another thing is, with the bigger concerts, you only have maybe three songs to catch the shots, so you need to be able to work fast and accurately.

“… with the bigger concerts, you only have maybe three songs to catch the shots, so you need to be able to work fast and accurately.”

What are your usual post-processing steps on such images?

I upload the pictures into Apple Photo. The program will show an automatic edited version of the RAW, but it helps me make a selection of what is good and what is not. I make my selection from there, export them as RAW to my drives and then edit them one by one.

I start with the RAW editing, where I fix lighting issues and white balance. In the photo editing process, I fix the spots and contrast where necessary.

You’ve been working with Affinity Photo for the last four years. What first impressed you about the app, and why do you continue to use it?

The fact that you can do absolutely everything in one program. I don’t need additional programs. Yes, some would make my workflow for portraits faster, but I can do it all in Affinity. It’s intuitive, easy to understand and most importantly not expensive.

How have you managed to stay creatively inspired during the pandemic?

I have developed new skills. I started in April 2020, diving into taking portraits and how to edit portraits. I spend hours on YouTube watching tutorials. I started to re-edit old concert pictures with these new ideas and techniques to see if they apply to all types of pictures. And lately, I am trying my hand at Nature photography.

Is there a concert/project you’ve been wanting to shoot but not had the chance to yet?

Many! My dream would be shooting at Graspop Metal Meeting. Another is going on tour with a band like Heilung, Heidevolk or Eluveitie and shoot a full tour as a crew member.

Do you have an all-time favourite photograph that you’ve taken? What makes you so fond of it?

I have a few favourites. Three really stand out.

The one picture I took of Dubliner-legend Eamonn Campbell. I took that picture while he was on stage showing so much energy while sitting in a chair due to old age. Sadly, a year later he died, but at that moment, I thought, I want to be like that when I am old.

Eamonn Campbell

Another favourite is my picture of Fabienne Eerni during the Eluveitie show, just because shooting them was a dream come true.

Fabienne Eerni

The last one is my picture of Kayleigh Marchant with The Dolmen. She is my muse, I cannot take a bad picture of her, and this picture showed me that I can do concert photography

Kayleigh Marchant Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring photographers? Is there any advice you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out? Accept that you will not be shooting the big boys for a while, but if you start small, you can build up a solid portfolio and make sure you use the opportunities to create a network. Study how light (especially stage lights) and your settings affect the picture. I was always afraid to go into the higher ISO numbers, but honestly, as long as your picture is properly exposed, you will not encounter a lot of grain. Get to know your camera first. Learn the buttons by touch, then challenge the camera to see what it can and cannot do with the lenses you have. Really go from one extreme to another and then do the same with your editing program. Don’t invest in expensive gear in the beginning. Start with a semi-pro body and invest a bit more in your lenses. However, the best starter lens is the 50mm 1,8f which is no more than 200 euros. For concert photography, having a network is the key. Be friendly to everybody (don’t be a doormat though), accept and work with the unwritten rules in the photo-pit and when having the chance talk to musicians, organisers and your colleagues. Remember! Important! Whatever you see happening backstage or with musicians in ‘the wild’, the rule is “what happens at the show, stays at the show!” Keep your professionalism and integrity!

“Whatever you see happening backstage or with musicians in ‘the wild’, the rule is “what happens at the show, stays at the show!” Keep your professionalism and integrity!”

To see more of Marielle’s work, check out her website and Instagram accounts: @marielles_music_photography (for concerts) and @by_marielle_photography (for portraits).

Adrià Tormo: ‘stay true to your style, evolve, and don’t give up’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-18 14:00

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started as a visual artist.

My name is Adrià Tormo, I’m 24 years old, and I was born and raised in Xàtiva, a city near València, Spain. From an early age, I started to draw. I especially remember drawing my favourite Pokémon characters every day. I always had that restlessness for drawing, but I wasn’t very constant either. I left it for long periods, but it was always present in some way. Another that thing I remember was designing an album cover for a class subject. I had such a good time doing it, and that was the moment I knew I wanted to do something related to it, so I decided to study graphic design. At the start, I learned several areas of graphic design and began experimenting with all of them, but something inside me was pushing me towards illustration. After a while, without knowing where to go, I decided to bet on what I had inside me, and here I am today.

‘The fearful beginning’ What inspires your work?

During the time I was deciding what to do, I enriched myself by looking at the work of many great artists. I stored all this visual information in my mind, knowing that one day it would explode. The works of Wassily Kandinsky, M.C Escher, Moebius, Theo van Doesburg and Pietr Mondrian were among the first to reach me in a different way to how I saw art. Their work impacted me and left a deep mark on my visual perception. When I went deeper into finding illustrators to learn from, I fell in love with the work of others such as Pavlov Visuals, Yoaz27, Enisaurus, Marlon Mayugba or Ori Toor. Something crazy is that nowadays, I have contact with all of them to a greater or lesser extent. It’s incredible and something that my past self wouldn’t have believed. Apart from these visual references, I am very inspired by fantasy, technology and imaginary beings. I love sci-fi themes, mythology and architecture.

How did you develop your geometric style?

I guess it came naturally. Prior to that, as I said, I tried several things to see what I liked more. I tried to learn concept art and to draw and paint in a more “traditional” way, but then I discovered the pen in its entirety; and the capabilities that vector drawing had. I like to control what happens on my canvas in the best possible way, and I’m a bit obsessed with perfection. I’m talking about lines that fit with each other, exact measurements, proportions, symmetry etc., and it’s something that vector drawing and geometry gave me, so little by little, I developed it further. I like to do an ornate style with a lot of geometry and complexity, but I also like something more simple or minimalist. I try to satisfy those two parts in me with different works.

“I like to control what happens on my canvas in the best possible way, and I’m a bit obsessed with perfection. I’m talking about lines that fit with each other, exact measurements, proportions, symmetry etc., and it’s something that vector drawing and geometry gave me, so little by little, I developed it further. ”

‘Utopic places’ ‘Coyote’ Talk us through your creative process; how do you turn your ideas into finished artworks?

Almost all my work starts from a sketch, either because I have an idea I want to do, or because I draw lines randomly until I find a sense, and then the idea starts to form in my mind. I try to make the vector work easier by creating a good sketch, but most of the time, the sketch is just a few lines to put the composition together because the rest I have in my mind, and I can only do it with the pen. In some works, when I transfer the whole idea I have in the sketch to vector, I see that it’s not enough for me, and I start working in vector without any guidelines, just letting myself go until a point comes when I have to tell myself enough is enough, because otherwise, I could continue creating new geometry! Haha.

How do you choose colour palettes for your illustrations?

I use the Coolors app on my iPad to create palettes. I usually put it in a floating window with the illustration in Affinity Designer in the background, and what I have previously vectorised in greyscale shapes indicates which colours will be lighter and which will be darker. Then I look at the illustration, and I put together a palette that fits me.

‘Gundam force’ You’ve been using Affinity Designer since the early days. What first impressed you about the app, and why do you continue to use it?

Honestly, I was tired of other vector applications. They often made things complicated with an overloaded or hard to understand UI, and I didn’t like the workflow. Affinity is much simpler as well as powerful, for example, on my iMac I can navigate through the document by zooming and panning with just the mouse. The final leap was when I bought an iPad Pro and got Affinity Designer for iPad—that’s when it all started for me. Apart from the price, I want my work tools to be legal and previously, as a student, there were certain apps I could not afford to pay a subscription for. I also see that there is a great team behind Affinity who cares about the community and its users, as well as continuing to improve, launching new applications and making them accessible on iPad. I think they will be my apps for illustrating and designing forever.

“…there is a great team behind Affinity who cares about the community and its users, as well as continuing to improve, launching new applications and making them accessible on iPad. I think they will be my apps for illustrating and designing forever.”

‘Stairs and Buildings - I’ Do you have any favourite features/tools?

Global colours! I like to play with colours, and even once I have decided which ones I want, I often like to try other options. Previously I had to do each one individually, but with global colours, I can change them all at once. I also get a lot of use out of the Assets tab. There I can access some of the ones I use frequently without having to leave the document. The Gradient Tool, Noise, and Symbols are pretty easy to use too, and I use them often, as well as the geometric shapes and the many options they give.

Is there a piece of artwork that you’ve created that you’re particularly proud of? Could you tell us about it?

Yes, I think my Spirit Guide piece. I was still trying to get to know myself stylistically, and that artwork marked a before and after. I’m proud of it because apart from being well received in general and being my first illustration to sell, it was the one you chose to post on your Instagram! For me, it has already become a special piece, and as its name suggests, it’s like my guiding spirit that will accompany me throughout this long road ahead.

‘Spirit guide’ We love the illustrations you did for 36 Days of Type. Can you tell us more about them and what inspired you to take part in the challenge?

I knew about this challenge last year. I actually participated, but I had a completely different style, and I decided to hide it from my Instagram and start from zero. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I did the 36 characters. Then, when I was consolidating my current style, I wanted to do it again. I used to take a while to complete an illustration, but with this challenge I self-imposed a rule upon myself to do an illustration a day with the aim of growing and getting faster with my illustrations. I really let myself go with this challenge to see what came out without thinking too much about a sketch, as I did them all directly in Affinity Designer.

36 days of type - G 36 days of type - L 36 days of type - P What do you feel is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a digital artist?

I haven’t been exposed as an artist for very long. I consider my journey to be just beginning, so I’m sure there are some really challenging things to come. At the moment, I guess what made me get out of my comfort zone the most was the 36 Days of Type challenge. Creating an illustration for 36 days non-stop was exhausting but rewarding. Apart from the illustrative challenges, I suppose the act of showing myself to the world was a challenge in itself.

What advice would you give to an artist who is just starting out?

The advice I usually give myself is, stay true to your style to evolve it, don’t give up and fight for what you want. I believe that everything ends up arriving, you just have to be patient and work hard. Ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to send an email or a message through social networks. I did this with many artists I admire, and they all responded kindly, giving me some advice. Connections in this world are important, so try to be nice to everyone as you would like them to be nice to you and support other artists who have the same dream as you. Never stop learning and exploring new paths, and don’t accept criticism from someone you wouldn’t take advice from. If anyone is reading this and has any questions or needs any extra advice, I would be happy to help!

“Ask a lot of questions, and don’t be afraid to send an email or a message through social networks. I did this with many artists I admire, and they all responded kindly, giving me some advice.”

‘Future order’ Lastly, where would you like to see yourself in five years time? What would you like to have achieved?

Five years is a long time. The possibilities are endless! I would really like to establish myself as an artist—being able to make a living from my illustrations is something I dream of, and I work every day to make it happen. Five years gives me time and hope to see that dream come true. In general, I hope to be a better person in all areas. I also expect to master the technique of making the perfect homemade pizza! Haha.

To view more of Adrià’s work, check out his website. You can also find him on Instagram, Twitter and Showtime.

Online Help for Affinity iPad apps now available

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-16 11:00

The iPad online help systems offer a new pathway for Affinity iPad learning and can be accessed via the following links:

Affinity Designer for iPad help

Affinity Photo for iPad help

Affinity iPad Help displayed on secondary desktop monitor (left) and/or mobile phone (right)

Users can view the Help without leaving their current Affinity session, and as it is dynamically responsive, the content automatically scales to fit different screen sizes for optimal viewing.

Get answers fast

As for all our online help systems, a three-click search will reveal your topic in a matter of seconds. Just enter your search term(s) in the Search tab and tap a search result to view the topic you are interested in.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Searching for “cropping” in affinity.help

Searching is also app-specific, so there is no need to wade through pages of browser search results to find the answers you need.

Other features of online help

iPad online help follows in the footsteps of the already published online help for Affinity desktop apps:

Affinity Designer desktop help Affinity Photo desktop help Affinity Publisher desktop help

If you haven’t used our online help systems before, here are some of the key benefits.

Comprehensive—they cover all the features available in our apps, with topics typically having a What, Why and How To structure. The topic count ranges from 240 to 446 per language (10 languages supported), and we host between 700 and 1000 graphics in each language. View anytime—users can view the online help without their app being open—any place, anywhere—providing they have internet access. Always in sync—topic content is kept in sync with the latest app features; in-app Help is a mirror of online Help. Easily swap language—users can manually change Help language independently of app/OS language. Share links—you can copy the currently viewed topic’s URL to share Help information. Video support—supporting videos are provided, e.g. in Affinity Photo iPad’s Touch gestures topic. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Before/after image comparisons—before/after image comparisons are provided for topics like adjustments, filters and layer effects. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Multi-tabbed image comparisons—multi-tabbed image comparisons let you jump between options to demonstrate different results. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video

Access via iPad’s Slide Over window

One other cool feature is the ability to display online Help alongside your Affinity iPad app by using iPadOS’ in-built Slide Over window feature. You won’t need to leave your working document to read help again.

Please turn on JavaScript to view this video

Why not take some time out to see how useful the online Help can really be, including using the exciting Slide Over Window.

Here are the Help URLs once again if you would like to bookmark them for future reference.

Affinity Designer desktop help Affinity Photo desktop help Affinity Publisher desktop help Affinity Designer for iPad help Affinity Photo for iPad help

How to get your work noticed as a photographer

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-14 08:00

After all, Vivian Maier rose to legendary status after John Maloof shared her photos on Flickr. Small-town photographer Mike Disfarmer became a nationally recognised name decades earlier, after his pictures were published in Modern Photography. Eugène Atget received recognition in large part because Berenice Abbott worked tirelessly to promote his collection.

Of course, behind every one of these once-in-a-lifetime discoveries and “big breaks” lie countless hours of hard work and dedication. In some cases, there were rejections and disappointments; Atget’s photos, for instance, didn’t sell in the beginning. More often than not, building a career in photography takes time and patience, but if you stick with it, it can pay off.

We asked eight talented photographers to tell us about how they’ve gotten their work noticed, online and in person. Some have shot cover stories, while others have won international photo awards. They’ve worked with influential brands or been featured in the pages of leading magazines. Read on for their best tips for getting your work in front of the right people.

Dear Long Hair by Irina Werning (@irinawerning on Instagram)

1. Never stop shooting

“The only way to get your work noticed is to have good work in the first place, so my advice is simple: shoot, shoot, shoot,” the Buenos Aires-based photographer Irina Werning advises. “This is especially important in the beginning of your career, when you learn by trial and error. Try to stay aware of the amount of time you spend on your computer with the back office stuff versus the time you spend shooting. You should spend more time shooting than on your computer!”

2. Get involved

“Involve yourself with other artists and publications that you feel passionate about,” the California-based photographer Maya Umemoto Gorman suggests. “If there is a publication you want to publish your work, reach out! If you have a photo series you want to pitch, pitch it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I believe we should take the reins in our own journeys and make things happen.

“Don’t be afraid to be loud when carving your path. Take photographs that resonate with you, and cover topics that hold a place in your heart. In an age where gaining followers and exposure feels increasingly daunting to up-and-coming artists, the best way to create is to create authentically. By staying true to the photography that speaks to you, you will be noticed by those who see and understand your vision.”

Photo by Maya Umemoto Gorman (@mayamoto_ on Instagram)

3. Tap into communities and resources

“Getting your work noticed can be difficult at times, but the avenues that helped me the most have been word of mouth and online directories,” the Miami-based photographer Melody Timothee explains. “Word of mouth is by far the best tool because it is a personal referral someone can give to someone else. My friends share my work on social media, and it then reaches more people and their communities, and so on. A high percentage of clients I receive is because someone else shared my work.

“The second thing I recently discovered is an online database for photographers. There are plenty of databases, directories, and communities that will share your work on their platforms. They have inclusive ones for POC, LGBT, Women, Latin American, Indigenous Photographers, and more. Often, they’ll also team up with other communities to spread the word and do Instagram ‘takeovers’, where they feature work from each other’s databases, on a weekly or monthly basis. That’s the best way to be a part of a community with talented creatives just like you, who want to be seen. Some also have group chats where they share tips, job opportunities, grants, and advice.

“Escape” by Melody Timothee (@fiendblvck on Instagram). Model: Jovanny Clarke Jr.

“Plenty of industries are finally realising that they’re lacking in diversity for their freelance work so will purposely search these databases, looking for talent for their projects. I wish I knew about them earlier, but I joined back in June 2020. I’ve had major companies reach out to me for freelance work, and I credit these communities for helping me get those opportunities. There aren’t as many as I’d hope, but there are resources out there for us, and new ones are being created all the time.”

4. Have a portfolio ready to go

“Make sure you have a solid, complete portfolio ready to show any potential clients,” the Dutch photographer Ramona Deckers advises. “For instance, if you want to shoot for more fashion clients, make sure there is enough fashion work to find on your website. Instagram is hip and relevant, but don’t underestimate a professional-looking website and bio.

“I always make a small PDF file to send to potential clients, along with a link to my larger portfolio. I include recent work and a short introduction, contact info, and details about who I am. I add this as an attachment so that people can have a quick look without having to search for my website.

Beauty editorial for Dutch beauty magazine Mirror-Mirror, photographed by Ramona Deckers (@ramona.deckers on Instagram). Model Amy @The Fashion Composers agency. Make-up by Marije Koelewijn.

“I’d also suggest being selective about what you show online and where you publish it. Always aim for the best magazines or websites and share only with publications that suit your vision. When I first started, I randomly shared my images with any magazine that was interested. These old photos still ‘haunt’ me today. Google keeps them forever.”

5. Take risks

“I cannot stress how important this tip is,” the NYC-based photographer Sophia Wilson says. “I truly believe that if your art is significantly unique and you are producing images that are different than those that you have seen before, you will inevitably gain a following and get recognition for it.

“I also think a lot of people are scared to post a lot of their images on the internet because they don’t know how people will respond to it. But in my case, if I hadn’t posted one particular photo of mine back in 2015, I might not have popped up on the Explore page of an editor at Vogue Italia, which in turn set off a whole chain of events and opportunities that I might have missed otherwise.”

Photo by Sophia Wilson (@phiawilson on Instagram)

6. Network online

“I can’t understate the importance of building a community for yourself and your work, and this is easier than ever because of social media,” the Los Angeles-based photographer and digital artist Ellie Pritts tells us. “Instagram is a massively powerful tool that you can use to elevate yourself and your work, and it’s completely free.

“Social media has also led to nearly all of the biggest gigs I’ve gotten as a photographer. I was resistant to using Instagram for my professional work back in the day, and I only wish I had taken it seriously sooner. Fostering genuine connections with people always goes further than winning a contest or cold emailing an editor.”

Photo by Ellie Pritts (@elliepritts on Instagram)

7. Share your journey

While it’s important to curate what you post online, people always want to see the artist behind the photos. “What helped me when I first graduated was making a lot of work,” the Amsterdam-based photographer Melissa Schriek explains. “I was photographing non-stop, often not even with a plan, but I just felt that I needed to find a way of showing my reality.

“I find social media a great tool to connect with people, and it is also a great tool to show your work and process. If you are making a lot of work, as I did, there will probably be images or projects you are unsure of. I think it’s important to not overthink what you share on your Instagram.

“You can show your failures and your process. You can show images that are not yet what you want but are leading to something better. Especially when you are just starting out, it is so important that people can see your journey. They want to follow what you are working on instead of merely seeing three excellent images. Be honest, and connect with people in a meaningful way.”

‘The act of carrying’ by Melissa Schriek (@melissaschriek on Instagram)

8. Be confident and consistent

“I think it’s incredibly important to have a certain level of confidence in the fact that you will always have people who are interested in your work, and you will also always have people who aren’t interested in your work, and that is okay,” the Baltimore-based photographer Akea Brionne Brown tells us.

“Make the work, and the audience will follow. I think it’s great to share your work and to apply for things, but it’s also just as great to create value around your own creations. Be clear about what you want to get out of your practice and also be clear with yourself about what you are willing to do to get to that point.

“Are you willing to shift the work you create in order to satisfy others? Or are you dedicated to your unique perspective and willing to create a lane that is entirely your own? I believe what has helped me has been making what I want to make, even when it means making it alone. Value yourself, value your voice, and know that everything else will follow as long as you are consistent.”

Photo by Akea Brionne Brown (@akeabrionne on Instagram)

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.

Populate pages in an instant with Affinity Publisher’s powerful Data Merge Manager

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-11 11:00

Data merge enables you to create versions of an Affinity Publisher document in which portions of content are replaced by data from a data merge source (herein referred to as a data source for brevity).

Common uses of data merge include print runs of business cards and personalised mailouts, and its power also quickly progresses more ambitious projects like catalogues and brochures.

This article will give you practical experience of using data merge. All the necessary files are provided for you.

How data merge works

A few steps need to be taken so that Affinity Publisher knows where you want it to insert data, which can be text and pictures.

To prepare an Affinity Publisher document for data merge:

Ideally, design the document with data merge in mind from the start. Throughout this article, you’ll learn considerations to make. Connect a data source to the document. It can be in one of several specially formatted (yet common) file formats. Insert fields from the data source into the document. You’ll be familiar with fields already if you have ever told Affinity Publisher to automatically add page numbers to a document, for example.

You can then generate a new data-merged document, which repeats the original document’s pages as many times as necessary to display the data source’s records.

Let’s look at the process in more detail. Start by downloading and extracting the practice files. You’ll also need the Roboto and Roboto Condensed font families from Google Fonts.

Download Practice Files

Learn the fundamentals with business cards

Among the unpacked practice files, open the Business card folder.

The business-card.afpub file contains a single page for a one-sided card design. It needs to be prepared for data merge as described a moment ago.

The practice document contains a finished business card design but it requires a few extra steps to be ready for data merge.

Open employees.csv in a text editor, such as TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (Win). Data sources tend to be machine-generated rather than hand-typed, but it’s helpful to understand the CSV (comma-separated values) format used here.

The CSV-formatted data merge source for the business cards, as it appears in a text editor. The first line lists the names of fields. These will be displayed in Affinity Publisher’s Fields Panel. A delimiter indicates the end of one field and the start of another. We’ve used a comma because it isn’t needed in any record values—see tip below. Subsequent lines contain records. In this project, there is a record for each person who needs a business card. Records are made up of values, which are separated by the same delimiter used in the first line. It is these values that will be merged with your document design. Field names and values may optionally be surrounded by quotation marks. However, there should not be spaces between them. An individual record does not have to contain a value for every field. In this data source, not everyone has a telephone number, which is indicated by two quotes with nothing between them. A carriage return at the end of a line marks the end of a record. The last line can contain a record or a blank line. Affinity Publisher will simply ignore the latter.

Close the data source.

Tip: When commas might be used in values—e.g. to include qualifications after names like ‘Mike Smith, PhD’—you might use a TSV (tab-separated values) file or XSLX spreadsheet instead.

Connect the data source

Return to the business card document in Affinity Publisher.

Select Document > Data Merge Manager. At the bottom left of the manager, select Add Data Merge Source. Browse to and open the employees.csv file. In the Data Merge Manager, confirm the CSV-formatted data merge source’s delimiter and quote characters are correct to ensure the source is properly interpreted.

In the manager’s Source section, the default Delimiter and Quote settings are correct for our data source. You’ll use the manager further in a moment but, for now, click Close.

Insert fields into the document

The document contains pre-styled text as placeholders for where an employee’s name, role and contact details will be displayed.

Replace the placeholders with fields from the data source.

Select View > Studio > Fields to open the Fields Panel. On the panel, expand the section labelled Data Merge - employees.csv. For each placeholder in turn: Select all of its text. On the Fields Panel, double-click the corresponding field to replace the selection with it. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Inserting fields from a data source into an Affinity Publisher document. Tip: Text fields in a document are signified by surrounding chevrons, and by the ability to select only their whole name. Picture frames containing a field display a photo icon, which you’ll see a little later.

Preview the data merge

Use the Data Merge Manager’s Preview section to check, one record at a time, that the real data fits well in your design.

This means you needn’t generate a data-merged document and scroll through its pages, which might take a while for a large data source—especially one that places images into picture frames.

Does any record’s text—a long name, say—overflow its frame or cause surrounding text to reflow in an unanticipated way?

The Data Merge Manager enables you to preview how different records, such as with empty or long values, will look in your document design.

If many records do not fit the design, amend the document before proceeding with data merge. You might do so even if there are just a few issues.

Generated documents are editable, though, so you can make changes in isolation when absolutely necessary. For example, you might not want to reduce a font size universally if only a few records need it.

Generate a data-merged document

The Data Merge Manager’s Filter section enables a subset of a data source’s records to be processed. This is a useful option but we’ll stick with the All Records setting in this article.

Click Generate to proceed with the data merge. Soon, you’ll see a new document in which each page is a different person’s business card, ready to export a PDF file for client approval and send to a printing service.

Tip: Before generating a document, if Affinity Publisher detects that the data source has been modified since it was added, the app will offer options to merge with the original data or the updated data, or to cancel so you can investigate.

Using data merge layouts

With the technique you’ve learned so far, each generated variation of your original document’s pages contains data from a single record.

In publications like catalogues and brochures, a single page might need to display data from multiple records. To achieve this, you’ll use Affinity Publisher’s Data Merge Layout Tool.

A data merge layout is a table-like structure in which objects added to the top-left cell are repeated in all other cells.

For hands-on experience of this, do the following:

Create a new document that contains two facing pages. Select the Data Merge Layout Tool. On the left page, draw a data merge layout that fills the page to its margins. Keep the layout selected. Use the Ellipse Tool to draw a circle within the layout’s top-left cell. The shape is automatically repeated in all other cells. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Drawing a data merge layout and drawing new objects directly into it.

Note that the top-left cell can contain multiple objects, including text objects that contain fields.

The power of data merge layouts

Think back to the business card example. For each record in the data source, a copy of the original document’s page was generated in the data-merged document.

Let’s say you inserted a second instance of a field, either on the existing page or a second one (for a double-sided card design). Each generated page, or group of two pages, would display the corresponding value from a single record in both places.

What’s special about data merge layouts is that each cell is populated with data from a different record.

Also, you’ll soon see that each data merge layout in a document needn’t use the same visual design or display the same number of columns and rows.

Let’s get more ambitious

From the practice files, look in the Catalogue folder and open catalogue.afpub. The picture frame and text frame on its left page need to repeat in columns and rows across both pages.

To ensure the document is connected to the data source, open the Data Merge Manager, click Select, browse to the Catalogue folder and open products.tsv.

Tip: As with the earlier employees.csv file, you can open products.tsv in TextEdit (Mac) or Notepad (Win) and inspect its structure. The practical difference is that it uses the tab character as the delimiter between fields/values.

Previously, you selected a data merge layout and drew objects directly into it. Objects can be included in a layout even if they were drawn outside of it, so let’s see how this is done:

On the left page, draw a data merge layout that fills the page to its margins. On the context toolbar, set Columns to 2, Rows to 3, and Gutter to 1.5mm. Deselect the data merge layout. (This is just to emphasise the point.) On the Layers Panel, select the picture and text frames’ layers. Drag the layers to the bottom of the data merge layout’s layer and then slightly to the right, and drop them when an insertion point appears. Please turn on JavaScript to view this video Adding existing objects to a data merge layout.

You have established a parent-child relationship between the data merge layout and both frames, respectively.

Positioning objects within the top-left cell’s visual boundary is important, but it’s this relationship that tells Affinity Publisher to repeat them in all of a data merge layout’s cells.

How data flows into data merge layouts

Duplicate the data merge layout in the equivalent position on the right page. Your document should now look like this:

Each of these two pages contains one data merge layout. In fact, a page can contain several. You’ll see an example of how that is useful later.

The Data Merge Manager is automatically aware of all the data merge layouts in a document. So, unlike linking text frames to specify how text flows through them, you don’t need to do the same for data merge layouts.

The manager uses the number of cells in all of the layouts to calculate how many times it needs to repeat the original document’s pages.

When there are insufficient records to populate all of the cells in the repeated pages, the objects repeated in those cells are simply deleted, leaving white space on the last page or spread. Remember that generated documents are fully editable, enabling you to adapt the design in this situation.

Two things to take care of in a generated document: the design ramifications of insufficient records, and pictures that need resizing within their frames.

Automatically placing images

Data merge works for images as well as text. In the generated document shown above, the data source included references to externally stored images.

Inserting a field into a picture frame is simple. Select a picture frame and then double-click the relevant field on the Fields Panel. A photo-like icon indicates a picture frame contains a field.

A photo-like icon is displayed in a picture frame that contains a field.

Your workflow might address image composition with data merge and picture frame dimensions in mind. If not, check generated documents and resize pictures within their frames as necessary.

Get creative with data merge layouts

From the practice files, open catalogue-2.afpub and, like earlier, use the Data Merge Manager to ensure it is connected to the products.tsv data source.

Earlier, we mentioned that each data merge layout in a document can have different settings. Compare the presentation of the data merge layouts on pages 1 and 2 of this document.

Tip: The stock images shown in the screenshots of this document are not included with the practice files. Instead, we’ve included several pictures that contain different solid colours, which you might want to replace with your own pictures. Presentation of records can differ between a document’s data merge layouts. Here, the left page contains a single picture frame that isn’t part of a data merge layout at all.

On Page 1, the large picture frame is intended to display a single image of multiple catalogue items. It is independent of the data merge layout, which doesn’t display any picture frames—unlike the data merge layout on Page 2.

The Data Merge Manager will ignore Page 1’s picture frame, so a picture has to be manually placed in it.

Explore the other pages of the document to see how differently they incorporate data merge layouts.

Check generated documents for overflowing text and edit as necessary. When images are placed manually, as here, you might add annotation badges or lines to establish connections to generated text.

When you first drew a data merge layout, its table-like look might have seemed uninspiringly rigid. By now, though, you can see that data merge layouts can be used in practical and creative ways.

Paco Barruguer: ‘It is the post-production that gives the image the life and magic it needs’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-11 11:00

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a 3D artist.

My name is Paco Barruguer and I am from Burriana, Spain. I’m happily married, and we have a lovely 7-month old baby.

I started with 3D in 2017, when I discovered Blender. I worked as a graphic designer in a ceramic tile company, and we commissioned 3D videos of product installations, but a lot of the time these products were modified, then we needed to change the videos. For this reason, I decided to learn some 3D software—if I learned 3D, we could change the videos ourselves. Fortunately, I tried Blender, and I loved it. From that moment, I began to study 3D and Blender.

For the last two years, I combined my work in the company with that of freelance, but now I dedicate 100% of my time to working for myself.

What do you love most about creating 3D visualisations?

I love that people like and appreciate my work, and that they say, “it looks like a photo!” My client’s satisfaction is the best feeling I can have about my work.

Where do you look for inspiration for your work?

I look for inspiration all day on Instagram, Pinterest, decoration magazines, etc. I always try to get ideas from real photos.

Can you give us an overview of how you create a 3D visualisation from start to finish?

Yes, normally I follow these steps:

Model the base building/room structure Add the camera position Configure the world/scene illumination Add the structure materials (floor, walls, roof, doors, etc.) Add the decoration assets (if needed, I model them) Render Post-production Does your process differ between architectural, interior, and product renders?

Yes, the product render needs a better mesh for 3D objects. Normally I render detail frames, and I need the mesh to be free of artefacts. I need higher resolution textures too, and the lighting must be more precise. On the other hand, for interior scenes, I can use models with a slightly poorer mesh, and textures with less resolution. I can also play more with the post-production, adding effects like smoke, dust, dirt, etc.

How well does Affinity Photo fit into your workflow?

Perfectly. The last step is always to work on the render in Affinity Photo.

What are your typical post-processing steps for creating renderings?

I work with the renders with the alpha channel and without background. The first step I make in Affinity Photo is to add a background and adjust it to fit in the scene. After comes the levels, curves, saturation, colour correction, etc., and finally, I add some effect overlays like smoke, dust and flashes.

Do you feel post-production is an important stage in creating 3D art?

I think it is essential. There is a belief that a good render does not need post-production. I think this is false. It is the post-production that gives the image the life and magic it needs.

“There is a belief that a good render does not need post-production. I think this is false. It is the post-production that gives the image the life and magic it needs.”

Do you have any post-production tips for achieving realistic results?

Yes, here are some tips:

If the interior looks fine, the outside should have a high exposure Always desaturate the image a bit To use a background with the sun in the same direction as in the render Perfect images do not exist. If your image is too perfect, it will not look realistic What would you say is the most challenging aspect of 3D visualisation?

The image composition and choosing the right colours and materials—these must be in harmony.

Out of all the visualisations you’ve created, which are you most proud of and why?

Of my published images, maybe these two:

This one because I think it is very realistic and it is a scene that makes you want to be there. That’s is a good sign.

And this other one, because it has a very cosy atmosphere and gives me peace of mind.

Finally, do you have any goals for the future or a dream project you would love to work on?

I would love to be able to choose projects that I have more time to work on and thus be able to enjoy them. Normally all clients are in a hurry and you don’t have time to focus on details that do not convince you. That’s it, to be able to select my projects.

To view more of Paco’s work, check out his website pb3drender.com. You can also find him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch and Artstation.

Claire Lines: ‘drawing is such an escape for me’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-09 13:00

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Claire, and I’m from New Zealand. I wouldn’t call myself an illustrator, but I love to draw. I actually work in health.

Have you always had a passion for drawing?

Yes definitely. I’ve always been able to spend hours drawing—even when I was really little.

Have you always been interested in children’s illustrations?

Yes—I have always loved creating bright, fun scenes, so I think my style just lends itself to children’s illustrations.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Drawing is such an escape for me. I find it really relaxing. Even when I’m struggling with a particular pose, scene or expression, I don’t find it frustrating—just a really good challenge.

How did you come across Affinity Designer?

I have been using Affinity Designer for a few years now. I think originally I just found it on Google as I was looking for a new programme to try and decided it looked good. So I had a go, and I loved it.

What was your first impression of Affinity Designer?

I loved it right away as I could do digital painting in the Pixel Persona, vector-based work, and also combine the two, which was exactly what I had been looking for.

Do you always create your illustrations digitally, or do you tend to sketch them by hand first?

A bit of both. I do love sketching on paper, but now a lot of the time I do everything in Affinity, from sketch to the finished product.

What percentage of your time is devoted to illustrating?

I probably spend around 8-10 hours a week drawing, which isn’t nearly as much as I would like.

How did you find your style?

Probably just trial and error. I have done a few online courses and tutorials, but mostly I just play around until I get an effect I like.

You have some amazing illustrations on your Instagram page. Were you professionally trained, or are you self-taught?

Thanks so much! I’m self-taught.

Do you plan on taking your illustrations further to turn this into a full-time career one day, or are you happy just doing this as a hobby?

That’s a hard question. To draw all day would be a dream, so yes, if I got the opportunity to draw for a job, I’d definitely take it. But luckily, I also enjoy my actual job, so for now, I will keep developing my skills and see where I end up.

If you had to choose a favourite illustration of yours, what would it be and why?

I think probably my moose and rabbit in the snow. I often look back at my works and focus on the elements I don’t like, but I’m really happy with how these animals turned out and their expressions.

What is one thing about you that would surprise our readers?

I’m not sure that I’m very surprising, but I’ve always really loved animals and science, and I used to want to be a zookeeper. I guess that’s why I enjoy drawing animals so much.

Lastly, if you could have your work published anywhere, where would it be?

Definitely in a children’s book. It would be such an amazing feeling to see my illustrations in an actual published book!

You can find more of Claire’s work on Instagram.

6 ways to speed up your logo design process in Affinity Designer

Permalink - Posted on 2021-06-07 12:00

When you’re working to tight deadlines, it’s more important than ever to save time without sacrificing on quality. In this article, we’ll focus on how keyboard shortcuts, workspace customisation, Boolean operations and global colours can be used to redefine your workflow when designing logos in Affinity Designer.

Using keyboard shortcuts

Knowing basic keyboard shortcuts can make all the difference when it comes to helping you accomplish more in less time.

Using keyboard shortcuts helps speed up routine processes.

Here are some basic shortcuts that may be helpful to commit to memory:

Undo (Win: ctrl + Z, Mac: cmd + Z)—the ability to undo a step without taking your eyes off the canvas can be a real help when focusing on your design.

Cut (Win: ctrl + X, Mac: cmd + X), copy (Win: ctrl + C, Mac: cmd + C) and paste (Win: ctrl + V, Mac: cmd + V)—it’s useful to have these handy when you’re looking to remove, copy or place objects from the clipboard.

Select multiple objects (shift-click)—this is great for managing several layers (or layer objects) all at once.

Toggle snapping (;)—it’s handy to be able to position objects relative to other objects on the canvas, but sometimes a little more flexibility is required, so the ability to switch this on and off with a single key is extremely useful.

When it comes to tools, here are a few staples that can really help you out:

Move Tool (V)—for repositioning objects on the canvas at a moment’s notice.

Zoom Tool (Z)—home in on the fine details or go back to the bigger picture without losing focus on other aspects of your design.

Pen Tool (P)—create new lines, curves and shapes on the fly.

Colour Picker Tool (I)—grab and apply colours as you go.

Customising your workspace

When you’re designing a logo, it’s good to be able to clearly visualise your workspace. Everyone has their own way of working—customising Designer’s workspace gives you the freedom to really play to your strengths.

Designer’s Personas can each be uniquely customised, allowing you to rearrange and store a preferred setup of Studio Panels, Tools, or icons on the Toolbar for use at a later point.

The ability to choose which panels to show and hide makes it easier to navigate the workspace in a way you prefer. Panels can be displayed or hidden by going to View > Studio and selecting your panel of choice.

You can also move panels around to fit your way of working by dragging them. You can dock, group and resize panels, or hide the left and right Studios completely by going to View > Hide Studio if you prefer to go for a more minimalist approach.

There are as many different ways of customising the workspace as there are of working.

To save studio presets for later, go to the View menu and select Studio Presets > Add Preset.

Saved studio presets can be loaded and edited at any time from the View menu by selecting Studio Presets > Manage Studio Presets.

From this dialog, you can load, rename or delete any of the presets you have saved.

If you’d prefer to go back to the default workspace setup, you can reset the studios within your active Persona by going to the View menu and selecting Studio > Reset Studio.

Using stock images

With Designer’s Stock Panel, you can access a range of stock images—perfect if you’re looking to quickly and easily gather research material and design inspiration for moodboards and referencing. You can also use this panel to grab scenes, objects, merchandise, and mockups that can help with seeing your logo designs in situ.

Using stock images can help you to visualise your logo in a real world setting.

The Stock Panel acts as an in-app image browser that connects to one of several photo providers. From the panel, you can search each provider’s images, browse image thumbnails and drag stock images directly to the page.

Setting up a grid

Grids are perfect for getting things positioned just right, saving you the trouble of guessing where elements of your logo should sit.

You can set up automatic or fixed grids via the View menu—select Show Grid to display the grid, and adjust settings via the Grid and Axis Manager. When using automatic grids, the frequency of grid subdivisions changes as you zoom in and out, while fixed grids always keep the grid frequency constant no matter how far you zoom.

Setting up a grid makes it easy to visualise and position logo elements.

Grids work well when combined with snapping. It may be especially helpful to enable the Snap to grid option (this can be done via View > Snapping Manager).

Grids can be based on any document unit and also align perfectly with rulers, if these have been switched on.

Using Boolean operations

If you’re not sure what you want your logo to look like, or find you have a lot of different ideas on the go, Boolean operations are a great way to start experimenting.

More often than not, memorable digital logo designs tend to use a combination of basic shapes that are easy to recognise at a glance.

With Designer’s Boolean operations, you can build advanced shapes non-destructively, letting you play around with endless combinations until you find the one that works for you.

To combine shapes, with multiple shapes selected, you can select from a variety of Boolean operations on the toolbar.

The Add, Subtract, Intersect, Xor, and Divide operations all make the newly created compound into something different, so it’s easy to create a range of effects with the same set of shapes.

A range of effects can be produced by selecting different Boolean operations.

If you hold down ALT while selecting a Boolean operation, you can create a Compound layer containing the shapes you originally selected. Doing this lets you edit the shapes non-destructively, meaning you can rearrange and transform shapes directly from within the compound layer.

You can also change the Boolean operation applied to shapes within a Compound layer by clicking on its icon in the Layers panel and selecting one of the available options.

Working with global colours

Colour plays a huge role when it comes to branding. When designing logos, it helps to keep a copy of your brand’s colour palette handy at all times. That way, you can jump straight to your palette and grab your chosen colour in an instant.

Using global colours.

One easy way to do this is to create global colours, which can be instantly applied to any object in your design. If you haven’t decided on a colour palette for your logo yet, this also gives you the perfect opportunity to play around with different colour combinations.

Global colours can be created from an existing object by selecting the object, choosing a document palette in the Swatches panel, setting the Stroke/Fill colour selector, then clicking Add current colour to palette as a global colour.

They can also be created from scratch via the Swatches Panel. Select a document palette from the palette pop-up menu (or, if no palette exists, you can create one from the panel’s Panel Preferences menu). With your palette chosen, from the Panel Preferences menu, select Add Global Colour. Adjust the settings in the dialog, then click Add.

If you want to change the colour across your design at a later time, you can simply edit the global colour in the Swatches Panel—all objects using the selected colour will update with the new colour automatically and simultaneously. This is extremely useful if you ever need to rebrand.

Some extra tips

By making a few tweaks to Designer’s customisable features, it’s easy to save time when preparing, designing, and arranging different parts of your logo.

If you’re still on the lookout for more time-saving tips, keyboard modifiers can easily turn tedious tasks into something much quicker and more intuitive. This article covers some of the more commonly used keyboard modifiers and how they can help you work faster.

For another great time saving method when producing branding materials, you might want to look at customising symbols—check out this article for more details.

Colour theory 1: Basic concepts

Permalink - Posted on 2021-05-26 09:00

In this series, we’ll look at colour theory with respect to basic concepts, colour use in art and design, and finish with how colour is applied in Affinity apps.

In this first part, we’ll look at colour basics, a subject that often feels both abstract and complex. On the way, we’ll cover history, colour models, colour spaces and profiles.

Introduction to colour


The subject of colour has been theorised over millennia from both artistic and scientific perspectives. In particular, the work of Isaac Newton1 and Schiffermüller2 explored colour prisms and circles of spectral colour, while Goethe3, having just written Faust, challenged acknowledged ideas and postulated a fledgeling Colour wheel concept which we see in art and design today. This was, in turn, re-evaluated by Munsell4, who proposed the Munsell Color System, defining colour as a sphere and concepts of hue, saturation and lightness.

Chronology of colour theories.

Enough of the history lesson, let’s move on to colour itself.

Colour models

There are three colour models—RGB, CMYK and Lab. The term ‘model’ is used because the models are often visualised in 3D.

RGB colour 3D model example.

Understanding RGB

Red, Green and Blue (RGB) are primary colours—meaning you can’t create them by mixing any other colours together. However, you can mix them together to create secondary colours. Early school days taught us that you mix red and green to get yellow, green and blue to get cyan, blue and red for magenta.

RGB colours showing additive characteristics on a black screen.

This red—green—blue colour mixing is fundamental to how colour is presented in electronic technology—right from the very first colour television screens, up to modern computer desktop/mobile device screens (above). Because with RGB, colours are additive—as each colour increases, the lighter the results—and hence an otherwise black screen (above) becomes illuminated with colour. At the most extreme, you start from black and end up with white.

Note: Adding equal amounts of red, green and blue will always give you shades of grey.

Understanding CMYK

For CMYK, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow colours are primary pigment colours. These are used in printing as each colour directly represents a physical ink (K means Key, which is black).

CMYK colours showing subtractive characteristics on white paper.

CMYK is a subtractive colour model because as each colour increases the darker the results—colour is taken away (i.e. blocked or subtracted), so ultimately, a white (page) will turn to black.

Tip: Next time you replace your printer cartridges you’ll see that they will be labelled with one of these colour inks.

Understanding HSL

Munsell’s 3D HSL system.

Munsell created a colour system where Hue, Saturation and Lightness (HSL) were considered properties of colour. His three-dimensional system attempted to offer a perceptually uniform system that wasn’t adversely affected by conforming to a “containing” geometric model.

The HSL system remaps (or transforms) a colour space as hue, saturation and lightness values—these settings let you interpret colour more easily and intuitively compared to visualising combinations or RGB, CMYK or Lab colour mixes. Imagine what RGB colours you would mix for a turquoise colour?

Hue: This is the most prominent wavelength on a colour spectrum. Think of Hue as being the colour of a rainbow, i.e., the red, orange, yellow, violet, etc.

Saturation: (Sometimes called Chroma) sets the purity of the chosen hue, ranging from fully saturated to desaturated. Full saturation would lack any black; desaturation tends towards grey.

Lightness: The amount of light reflected from the hue.

A few words about HSB and HSV. You may have seen these mentioned in relation to colour, so how do they compare to HSL?

HSL: Here 100% lightness (L) makes white; 0% lightness makes black; they are absolute opposites.

HSB/HSV: Here B means Brightness, and V means Value—both are the same except for naming. When compared to HSL, for both HSB/HSV, at 0% and 100%, the hue/saturation colour will still show but at their very darkest or lightest (compared to HSL’s respective black and white).

Understanding Lab

The Lab (CIELAB) colour mode is an alternative to Munsell’s Color system. Lab is named after its channel characteristics—a Lightness channel plus two colour channels opposing values of ‘red—green’ (a) and ‘yellow—blue’ (b). This three-dimensional colour space is based on the theoretical range of human visual perception, and was intended to be more perceptually uniform compared to the RGB CIEXYZ colour space.

Lab colour model.

Colour space

A colour space is a specific implementation of a colour model (RGB, CMYK, etc). For example, Adobe RGB (1998), sRGB, etc., are all unique colour spaces for the RGB colour model. Different colour spaces are also available for CMYK and Lab colour models too.

A colour space’s colour gamut is the range of available colours in that colour space in relation to a full-gamut reference CIEXYZ colour space. This colour space and gamut is often conceptually visualised in a chromaticity diagram, as residing to different degrees within a CIEXYZ colour spectrum—the triangle’s corners depict the RGB primary colours.

You can directly compare one colour space’s gamut against another. The difference in size and shape of the colour gamut reflects the extent of colours supported in relation to a full gamut of colours. The smaller the colour gamut, the smaller the supported colour range.

Adobe RGB (1998) vs sRGB colour spaces and gamut within CIEXYZ colour space.

Note: The sRGB colour space, due to its small gamut, has become the default colour space for computer screens.

As not all devices can display the same colour gamut, it can lead to colours looking different on each device—some colours can’t be displayed as they are outside the colour space with the smaller gamut. The difference between triangular areas is the potential colour ‘loss’ between devices.

To avoid disparity in colour, let’s now look at colour profiling, which normalises these colour disparities, i.e. the different gamuts, so that colours are reproducible and consistent across devices and workflows—the basis of colour management.

Colour profile

When we share documents between devices, the device has to work out how to display the colour. As not all devices can display the same extent of colour (i.e., the colour gamut), we use colour profiles to display or render the colour information, so it looks the same across devices.

We’ll cover colour profiles in more detail in Part 3 of the series.

Looking forward to welcoming you back!

How to get better photos, no matter what camera you’re using

Permalink - Posted on 2021-05-21 11:00

You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that the London-based street photographer Shane Taylor can often be found out and about with an old and well-worn Canon EOS 30, which he got for just £35. When emerging film photographers ask him for advice, he always recommends they start with an affordable 1990s SLR and cheap film before upgrading in the future.

Photo by Shane Taylor (@heroesforsale on Instagram)

He’s not alone in his preference for simple, inexpensive gear. After fifteen years of working with all kinds of gear, the Toronto photographer Andrew Emond now prefers to shoot with his Samsung phone. “I think a lot of photographers, especially beginners, worry about not having the right camera or lens,” he says.

“It’s important to remember that expensive gear is no substitute for style, composition, and an interesting point of view. These things take time to develop. A basic camera, without all sorts of bells and whistles, is often the best tool for this because it lets you focus on learning those key elements of good photography.”

“It’s important to remember that expensive gear is no substitute for style, composition, and an interesting point of view. These things take time to develop. A basic camera, without all sorts of bells and whistles, is often the best tool for this because it lets you focus on learning those key elements of good photography.”

Photographer, Andrew Emond 2×4 Arrangement by Andrew Emond (@andrew_emond on Instagram)

We recently asked nine professional photographers to tell us about their gear, and many of them said they often use non-professional cameras for their work. Luckily, they were kind enough to share some of their top tips for improving your photos, no matter what type of camera you’re using.

1. Perfect your lighting

“When I was a professor, most of my students didn’t have DSLRs, but that was okay because I taught them to use the light as their base,” the New York City-based fashion and advertising photographer Celeste Martearena tells us. “Early in my career, I saved for years before I bought my first full-frame camera, and that taught me that lighting is everything.

Photo by Celeste Martearena (@celestemartearena on Instagram)

“You can shoot with a phone or a DSLR, but if the light is bad, everything is going to fall apart. If the lighting is good, however, it will work. Analyse the light in the scene, and watch how it reflects and interacts with surfaces. If needed, modify it according to the mood or message you want to convey.”

Golden hour is the perfect time to get started with natural light since the light at sunrise and sunset tends to be warm and diffused. For more control over your lighting and exposure, shoot in manual mode or use exposure compensation.

Check out 10 lighting tips to improve your photography here on Spotlight, for more ways to enhance your lighting.

2. Learn to simplify

It’s easier to master a skill when you’re starting with basic, easy-to-use gear. “Use a simple camera with only one or two lenses at the start of your career, and learn how to use them well,” the London-based photographer Jillian Edelstein suggests. “Practice and perfect before moving on to anything expensive. You don’t need to over-complicate anything, especially in the beginning. When I went to visit Robert Frank at his studio, he said to me, ‘I like your work; it’s simple.’ Then he added, ‘Simple is genius.’ I never forgot that.”

Instantáneos de Portugal by Jillian Edelstein (@jillianedelstein on Instagram)

3. Bring your camera everywhere

The benefit of a simple setup is that it’s portable and can go everywhere you go. “I shoot a lot with my iPhone 11 when I don’t have my DSLR,” the Belgium-based photographer Whitley Isa says. “I think it’s important to shoot as much as you can and pay attention to the lighting of each situation and location you’re in. Try to learn to read and work around different environments to hone your skills.”

Rabia by Whitley Isa (@whitleyisa on Instagram)

4. Study the greats

When Shane Taylor embarked on his journey as a street photographer, he studied pictures by Robert Frank and Sergio Larrain, taking notes on how they used composition, expressions, gestures, and light to bring everyday moments to life. Consider investing the money you would otherwise spend on gear in acquiring photobooks and visiting galleries.

You don’t need formal training in photography (Shane is self-taught!), but the more time you spend with great images, the stronger your pictures will be. You can even start by trying to recreate photos you love or emulating the lighting style or colour palette of a photographer you admire; from there, you’ll develop your own voice and style.

Pinhole photo from Lisbon by Frank Machalowski (@frankmachalowski on Instagram)

5. Experiment with composition

“When it comes to taking good photos, an eye for beautiful scenes and compositions is more important than an expensive camera,” the German photographic artist Frank Machalowski tells us. While he uses a DSLR for commercial jobs, one of his favourite tools is a pinhole camera he converted himself.

“I bought a used medium format camera (Agfa-Klick) on eBay for less than €10 and replaced the existing lens with a thin brass plate with a hole,” he remembers. In many ways, the simplified camera allowed him to slow down and focus on the basics. You’ll see in the photo above that he’s made clever use of several compositional techniques, including leading lines, the rule of thirds, and a “frame within a frame.”

“I was very excited by the results,” he says. “In one of the pictures, I was able to capture the ‘Torre de Belem’ in Lisbon as very few have seen it. To make your own pinhole camera, you don’t need an expensive lens—just a tiny hole will do.”

Muwosi on New Year’s Eve by Annie Noelker (@annienoelker on Instagram)

6. Practice every day

The more you shoot, the more you’ll get out of your camera, regardless of whether it cost $10 or $10,000, so spend some quality time with your gear before upgrading. “I started out shooting on an early iPhone in high school, and I used it as my main camera for years,” the Nashville-based photographer Annie Noelker recalls.

“I think when you become comfortable with whatever gear you have available to you, you can start to manipulate it and push it to its limits. Understanding how to harness light and using interesting compositions will always outshine even the highest quality camera.”

Photographer, Annie Noelker

“I think when you become comfortable with whatever gear you have available to you, you can start to manipulate it and push it to its limits. Understanding how to harness light and using interesting compositions will always outshine even the highest quality camera.”

Shoot as many photos as you can throughout your daily life, even if it’s just on the way to work. It can help to set a concrete goal, such as shooting 500 photos in a day or creating a photo each day for a month. Allow yourself to make mistakes; that’s how you learn and improve.

Seraphina by Zeinab Batchelor (@zei.bae on Instagram)

7. Expand and explore

Gradually, you’ll begin to evolve and expand from a simple setup to a more complex one, with different lenses and accessories to suit your needs. “As your career progresses, you’ll start to realise that you often have to tailor your choice of camera, depending on the needs of the image that you are trying to create,” the London-based photographer Zeinab Batchelor tells us.

Once you master one or two lenses and lighting setups, step out of your comfort zone and try new things. “There are many options available through inexpensive rental companies like Fat Llama, where you can rent kit for a day or so,” Zeinab adds. “Especially as technology advances, we are starting to see so much more content shot on an array of formats. There isn’t a rulebook, and I think it’s important for young photographers to remember that.”

Brecon Beacons 2017 by Ken Marten (@kenmarten on Instagram)

8. Learn how to edit

Almost every photo needs a little editing to jump off the screen. “I would always recommend shooting in RAW or the equivalent for maximum flexibility when it comes to post-processing, no matter what your setup,” the Vienna-based photographer Ken Marten says.

“Having said that, if you are limited to using a smartphone that does not support RAW capabilities, you can still have a degree of flexibility by processing your images through a powerful editing suite. Smartphone-only apps for image editing can only get you so far. For more professional results (and if you intend to buy into a DSLR/mirrorless or film setup at some point), it’s worth the initial investment in some proper photography processing software.”

Affinity Photo offers professional image editing on Mac, Windows and iPad. Not already a user? Why not download a free trial and check out our handy beginner’s guide Jump into Affinity Photo to see if it meets your needs.

About the contributor

Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.

Viktorija Grachkova: ‘my goal is to integrate my art into the world’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-05-19 15:00

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Viktorija, and I’m an illustrator, graphic designer and occasional 2D animator based in Latvia, Riga. I first started to draw during childhood, and at the time, my favourite subject was animals. I finished art school and art college in Riga, then graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in graphic design and visual communications in Moscow.

For a while, I worked mainly as a graphic designer whilst dabbling as a 2D animator too. I worked on various projects; storyboards, 2D animations for commercial videos, digital illustrations, poster design, web design and social media design, to name just a few. But more recently, I’ve decided not to design everything in the world; but instead focus on one particular creative sphere: illustration.

How would you define or describe your artwork?

I’d describe it as geometric, vector illustration with textured shadows to create volume on flat shapes—something like that, but the topics of my illustrations are really simple and comforting. They’re about things that everybody comes across in their day-to-day lives, and that’s because I really love the household genre, but maybe in the future, my topics might be different.

Are there any particular artists that have inspired you over the years?

Yes, of course, and some of them are not illustrators at all. Different musicians, film directors and dancers—their art in particular—really influences me. But in this case, I’ll highlight the three illustrators that continue to inspire me today: the wonderful Victoria Semykina, Sergey Orekhov and the artist Lucjan. All of them are very different, but I am really influenced by their art, specifically.

How would you say your style/technique has evolved over the past few years?

I have tried a lot of different techniques and styles—just because I want to try everything. In some commercial projects, the style is dependent on the client’s preferences, but I still try to do something unusual in any case. I’ve tried different styles and techniques in my personal projects too—I’ve drawn super realistic things, abstract dynamic compositions and black and white graphic illustrations, etc., but I felt so uncomfortable because those styles just didn’t suit me, and I didn’t feel that I could draw them right. Anyhow, now, I think I’ve finally found my own style. When drawing in it, I really feel I know how to work with it better than anybody else.

Your use of shape and angles adds great energy and perspective to your work. How do you plan the composition of a piece?

At first, I draw sketches on paper with a pen or pencil. I find this really useful because it doesn’t let me draw straight lines, and at the same time, helps me to create cool dynamic shapes/silhouettes. When I’m happy with my shape, I re-draw the sketch on my iPad and add some more concentric details and characteristics (if I draw a character). The third step is to re-draw the sketch in vector, which to me, is the most interesting part. Working with vector shapes, I try to repeat my hand-drawn sketch in geometry. Surprisingly, the correct straight shapes with parallel lines and sharp angles give a really strong dynamic. Textural shadows highlight this even more and give my work more volume.

“Shadows are a really useful tool in my illustrations. They help me make my work look more dynamic, give volume to flat vector shapes and add necessary accents.”

Talk us through your creative process.

My creative process starts from an idea, situation or some kind of problem that I’ve personally had in real life. It could be absolutely anything, and an idea can come to me really fast, or it can force me to think for a few days, and in the end, make a conclusion. Before I start to draw a sketch, I think about it and imagine the full story in my head. Only after that, can I start working on the sketches. The most technical part of the process is vectorising the illustration, and after that, when I’m happy with the shapes and colours I’ve chosen, the final step is adding shadows. This is where the magic happens. Shadows are a really useful tool in my illustrations. They help me make my work look more dynamic, give volume to flat vector shapes and add necessary accents. At this stage, it is important to stop at the right point.

Do you have a favourite piece out of all your creations to date? What makes you so fond of this particular piece?

Yes, I have. It’s the illustration “Brave Sailor.” I really like it, not because of the theme or how it was made, but because of how I felt whilst drawing it. This illustration was drawn so easily and fast, and I was so confident that it looked exactly how it should. I also had a feeling that a lot of people would love it. At that moment, I had just started to get used to my style. I made sure that I was doing everything right and it was whilst creating this piece that I really fell in love with my style.

Do you find your personal projects differ much in style or character to your paid commissions?

At this moment, I really try to work on projects where a client wants my exact style. Sometimes I take projects where I need to draw storyboards or illustrations in a style that a client has already chosen, especially if the illustrations are needed for 2D animations. It helps me not get tired of my style, but I hope in the future that I’ll grow my style and I’ll work in it all the time.

What’s your main ambition or goal for your work? Is there a particular place you dream of seeing your art?

Of course, I would like to be a highly recommended illustrator, but I know that I’m just at the start of my path. I know I would like to participate in different illustration competitions—it’s really exciting to take part in different events. But for me, the most important thing is to see my drawings on other people’s walls or web pages, for example, because they can make somebody happy or be a part of the interior of someone’s business. Maybe more specifically, my goal is to integrate my art into the world. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a museum or gallery or even in someone’s living room. I think if your art is integrated into human life, then that’s really cool.

“…my goal is to integrate my art into the world. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a museum or gallery or even in someone’s living room. I think if your art is integrated into human life, then that’s really cool.”

Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside of designing?

I really love to travel. Travelling is my hobby. I usually get inspiration for my illustrations from other countries, cultures, architecture, nature, colours and people. Unfortunately, with the current pandemic travelling is not such a good idea, so I think my hobby will have to wait a bit. Anyway, I have the kind of regular hobbies that a lot of people have right now, like cooking tasty things, a bit of gardening, home improvement, walking and things like that.

Finally, do you have any particular mottos or affirmations that you live by?

Yes. Be honest with yourself and be brave. Oh, and never let anybody demotivate you.

You can see more of Viktorija’s creations on her social media accounts: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and on Dribbble.

Ege Ilicak: ‘every photo in the history of humanity holds its own unique story’

Permalink - Posted on 2021-05-14 13:00

Here he provides us with some insight into the mind of a street photographer and when his passion for the genre first began.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I am a photographer focusing mainly on street photography and long-term travel projects to document the daily lives of different cultures using street and portrait photography styles.

I grew up and studied in Ankara, Turkey before I moved to Heidelberg, Germany, in 2010. Even as a kid, I was always interested in photography. The work of Magnum photographer Ara Güler inspired me deeply. Ara documented his city, Istanbul, starting from the 1950s up until his death in 2018. It was his work that sparked my photographic journey in 2009.

Since then, I try to visit a new country each year to document the local people in their native environment. I have recently completed my project “Dreams from a Northern Country”.

Can you tell us more about “Dreams from a Northern Country”? Why did you decide to focus on this subject in particular?

When I travelled for the first time to Russia back in 2015, I noticed there was something special with this particular nation. There was a harmony of religion, melancholy and dreams of a better future in people. It was this harmony that attracted me and inspired me to start my project Dreams from a Northern Country. I documented the daily lives of Russian people in the context of their social environment.

Between 2015 and 2020, I made a total of seven visits to Russia and spent over two months there in total. I travelled from St. Petersburg to Moscow and from there to different towns of the Bashkortostan Republic, the first ethnic autonomy of Russia located between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains. Dreams from a Northern Country showcases the human landscapes of the largest country in the world, with their dreams and wishes, their religion, hard-to-reach goals and their neverending hope.

“Dreams from a Northern Country showcases the human landscapes of the largest country in the world, with their dreams and wishes, their religion, hard-to-reach goals and their neverending hope.”

What fascinates you so much about lives on the street in particular?

The richly complicated streets of the world are a kind of poetic meditation for me. The complicated and fascinating motion that drives life also drives my passion for documenting it and sparks my inspiration. On top of that, there are moments that captivate me and drive my desire to press the shutter. Sometimes it is a story that unfolds among strangers. Sometimes it is a lonely person entering my frame, and sometimes it is the light that creates a cinematic scene on the streets.

“The richly complicated streets of the world are a kind of poetic meditation for me. The complicated and fascinating motion that drives life also drives my passion for documenting it and sparks my inspiration.”

A single candid frame can be so powerful and thought-provoking. How do you go about capturing the story or the magic of a situation?

For my travel projects, I read and study the culture and traditions of the place that I will be photographing before my departure. At the same time, I try to view as few photos of that place as possible to avoid taking similar photos. Having an unbiased view with a unique composition style is important.

If I am going to do street photography, I don’t have any particular plans for my frames. I improvise, like a jazz musician, while walking on the streets. I keep an open mind and stop only when I recognise a good composition. I walk, observe and wait, remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the little surprises of life awaits just around the corner for me. And most of the time, the magic of the situation is waiting there for me too.

“I walk, observe and wait, remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the little surprises of life awaits just around the corner for me. And most of the time, the magic of the situation is waiting there for me too.”

For street portraits, the story is a bit different. When I see someone on the street that I think is special, I don’t hesitate and immediately ask if I can take a photograph. Usually, I have just a few minutes, but those few minutes can become a special visual conversation between me and the people that I am photographing. When this chemistry is there, a magical shot happens.

Do you ever envision a particular shot beforehand, or is it always opportunistic?

I envision a lot of particular shots when I find the perfect place for a photograph. However, it may take hours to complete even a single composition. Once when I was visiting Montpellier, France, I found an amazing place to shoot, and I remember waiting for a long time for something magical to happen. After an hour, all of a sudden, an old couple entered the frame, kissed each other, and left. It all happened within few seconds, and I was patient and lucky enough to be there to capture the moment.

On the other hand, there are some days when I just want to be opportunistic. Then, I walk 7-8 hours without a break and capture everything that the street offers me.

What’s the motivation behind your photography? Is it simple curiosity, seeking beauty or a drive to express a story or meaning?

I think the primary motivation behind my photography is my love of the visual arts. I simply love the aesthetics of photography, and being part of this creative process makes me happy. Secondarily, it is the love of documenting the human condition. Showcasing other parts of the world through my eyes to viewers is quite an experience.

Tell us about your first ever camera?

Sure! Back in 2008, I flew to Singapore with my family. My younger brother has always been interested in photography and dreamed of having a Nikon D90 camera, and my father promised to buy one when we got there. Once we were in the camera shop, my father wanted to buy me one too. Since I was not interested in photography at the time, I tried to stop him, but I had no chance. After a long resistance, he convinced me to buy a cheaper camera, the Nikon D60. That was my very first camera, and I still keep it today.

What’s your go-to equipment now?

Presently, I work with two cameras. For my digital work, I use Fujifilm x100F; for my analogue work, I use Nikon F100.

Why did you decide to focus on candid or street photography in particular?

There are no stories without humans being involved. And I think there is not a single photograph in the memory of humanity without a story. From that philosophy, I decided to focus on candid and street photography to capture the stories of people.

Do you have a favourite photograph to date? What’s the story behind it?

I think my favourite photograph to date is a portrait of a barber in Havana, Cuba. In 2012, I was lucky enough to visit and travel across Cuba. As I walked the streets of Havana, a man in the shade caught my eye. He was a barber sitting alone in the barber chair, waiting for customers. What was shocking to me was that the barber salon consisted of nothing but a single old chair. And the man had only one pair of scissors. Without a conversation, he posed for me, and I took a portrait of him. This particular photograph was selected as National Geographic YourShot Editor’s Pick in 2013.

Is there a particular place you would love to visit to photograph?

Morocco tops my list of places I want to photograph. I recently watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky film, and it has triggered my urge to visit Morocco even more.

Who were your creative icons when growing up?

I have a lot of creative icons. Most important ones are Ara Güler, Steve McCurry, Alex Webb, Elliot Erwitt, Roger Deakins, Vittorio Storaro, Emmanuel Lubezki, Edward Hopper, Sebastião Salgado, Josef Koudelka, Joel Meyerowitz, Daido Moriyama, Shōmei Tōmatsu and Eikoh Hosoe.

Finally, what do you think makes a great photo, and what do you hope people take away from viewing your work in particular?

I think if a photograph can excite the viewer or make them think or smile, that’s the sign of a great photo. I hope people can make a special visual connection with my pictures and feel the emotions I wanted to express.

You can view more of Ege’s work on his website www.egeilicak.com or his Instagram @local.frames.