Creating a Digital Art Gallery

Geek Culture

A typical morning's creative sessionA typical morning's creative session

A typical morning's creative session

Kids seem to have an endless supply of creativity. Drawing, painting, writing, building, coloring, storytelling – anything can spark it off and it can lead to hours of fun. And stacks and stacks of art of all forms decorating your house.

We currently have an entire sofa dedicated to displaying a permanent exhibition of crazy Lego buildings and vehicles – which we can “never take apart again, because I want to keep them forever.” Several walls, both in her bedroom and ours, plastered with paintings and drawings, and sketch pads full of many more. There are cardboard box models on top of wardrobes and shelves and boxes full of homemade birthday, Christmas and Easter cards – complete with enough “I love you” messages to melt to stoniest of hearts.

"Blu-tac" holders production line"Blu-tac" holders production line

"Blu-tac" holders production line

There was a time when I dreaded the sound of scissors snipping away at yet more paper, followed by the noise of Sellotape being unrolled to stick the paper back together into some new configuration. However, since Caine’s Arcade left me in tears of joy at the unbridled passion, I promised myself I’d never again try to stifle my daughter’s own creative urges for the sake of having to do a bit of tidying up. Just the other night, we witnessed the birth of a whole new product range that we never knew we needed. Those scissors had been at work again and the tiny strips of paper they produced were used to wrap bits of Blu-tac up into handy, ready-to-use “Blu-tac Holders.” They came in many different sizes – fat, thin, long, wide – to suit all purposes, one of which turned out to be an innovative new fencing system or possibly a Spinal Tap scaled Stonehenge!

In an effort to try to curb the art overload and also make it much easier to actually admire them, I’ve embarked upon a grand digitization of everything I can. If it’s letter/A4 sized, then on the scanner it goes – with a resolution of at least 300dpi. If it’s bigger than the scanner, then a photo will do nicely. I always use the DSLR, at it highest quality settings as you can’t get those pixels back later. Sculptures of all kinds are filmed from all angles in HD. I’ve been looking for an app similar to 360 Panoramaiconicon or Photosynthiconicon that can create spinnable models, similar to the way QuickTime VR ones used to work for this, but with no luck so far. If you know of one, please share it in the comments.

Once all the paper has been turned into pixels of some kind, it’s time for a bit of tweaking and tidying up. When scanning pencil or felt pen drawings, sometime the lines can get a bit bleached out and stuff on the other side of the paper can show through. A painting can sometimes crinkle up the paper – hopefully the scanner will have flattened it out, but it can still leave shadows and off-white areas. Photoshop (or your pixel-editor of choice) is your friend here. If the masterpiece is predominantly white, you can use the Levels command to remove the worst of the shadows and bleed through. Simply move the pointer at the right hand end the left until you’re happy with the way it looks – there will usually be a big spike in the histogram there to help you judge the best place. While you’re there, you can also boost the mid range colors if you need to by moving the middle slider or if the lines are getting a bit washed out, bring the left along to boost the blacks. If the lines are looking a bit thin, you can fatten them up a bit by duplicating the layer and then applying a small Gaussian Blur to the new layer, then changing its Blending Mode to either Multiply or Darken. This will also boost the colors, so you may need to vary the opacity of the layer until it looks right. After all the tweakings are done, I saved them out as jpegs, again at the highest quality setting, before importing them all into iPhoto.

"The Self Portrait of Dulcie" before and after tweaking"The Self Portrait of Dulcie" before and after tweaking

"The Self Portrait of Dulcie" before and after tweaking

Speaking of iPhoto, that’s also where all the photos of the larger artworks end up when they come off the SD card. The basic tools within iPhoto’s Edit pane are perfectly fine to adjust the photos to get them just right – the Rotate and Crop tools fix any wonky photography and the Retouch tool can be used to remove any creases, hairs or other blemishes that might spoil later viewings. The Adjust tab is full of sliders to tweak the colors to your heart’s content. I usually find boosting the whites and mid-range in the Levels panel very helpful as with the scans. Saturating the colors can also give the image a brighter, more intense feel, as can increasing the Definition (which adjusts the contrast between adjoining areas). Another useful one here is the Shadows slider – moving this one up works on the darker areas, bringing some more color and detail back into the photo.

The videos don’t usually need much tweaking – just trimming the beginning and end, then maybe adding a title. I’ve just got the iMovieiconicon app for iPad and it makes this process a breeze – although getting the videos on to the iPad in the first place was a bit tricky. Turns out there’s a little checkbox in iTunes’ photo sync panel that just says ‘Include videos’! Once your videos are there, all you have to do is grab a clip and drop it into the timeline, then simply tap it to bring up the handles and drag them to the required point. Adding a title is just another tap away and there are several themes to choose from, each with their own fonts, styles and transitions – and you can switch between them easily. You could even go to town on this one and put together a showreel containing videos of all of the large format art. When you’re finished, a tap on the Share button can send the video up to the cloud or back to your computer. If you find that the file size of the videos generated by iMovie to be quite large, run them through QuickTime or Handbrake to shrink them down a bit.

Once everything is back in iPhoto, there’s one final step to do before the grand opening of the exhibition. All artwork deserves to be titled, and coming up with those titles is another great creative outlet for the little artists. Encourage them to say what they see or maybe what they were thinking about when it was made. Group similar pictures together and create a series. Talk about how famous artists titled their works and see what they come up with – sure, they might copy at first, but they’ll soon get the hang of it. And remember, there is no wrong answer!

Last thing to do is to grab some popcorn and start the slideshow…

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