Category Archives: resources

digital drawing techniques

This lecture deals with the basics of 2D digital drawing. you may need to use it in conjunction with the image editing lecture.

Bitmap (raster) or vector?

When drawing digitally, your first choice is bitmap (raster) or vector? Vector drawing is clean, precise, and it can look somewhat inhuman (although clever artists can overcome this). Some simple examples. That’s because it is the result of algorithms working out how to join two points together. Bitmap drawing tools replicate the pressure of your mouse, stylus or finger by translating that pressure into a series of tiny dots (pixels). The result can be much more like a hand-drawing – but it can also seem very crude in the hands of an unskilled user. Digital photographs are, ultimately, bitmaps.

The aesthetics of your project should determine your choice (if your drawings are part of an animation, you are likely to be doing vector drawings). One thing to bear in mind is that vector images are more manipulable because they don’t lose quality at different resolution. However, vector drawing is a little less ‘natural’, and you might find the learning curve is steeper.

Some software allows you to do both bitmap and vector illustration. I will refer to Inkscape and Illustrator (vector illustration) and Gimp and Photoshop (bitmap). However, Gimp and Photoshop also have vector drawing capabilities.

Increasingly we will see the use of HTML 5 to create simple vector shapes on websites, however that is beyond the scope of this introduction.

From hand to tool: the cognitive challenge

Particularly for bitmap drawing, how you make the mark on your digital page is important. You could use a mouse or a trackpad, or a stylus or even your finger. Either way, how you make your mark is something you have to learn. Personally, I find drawing with a mouse or a trackpad rather difficult. I need the sensual contact of pressure and motor control. My preferred way is a stylus on my tablet, using drawing software (of which there is a wide, and very cheap, range).


In Gimp or Photoshop, choose the paintbrush or the pencil from the tools menu. Remember to use layers (see the image editing lecture). Note the options you have to change the style and weight of the brush. I usually find the paintbrush with the soft edge is what I want. I rarely use the pencil.

Another technique I really like is doing a fill (with paintbrush or the spraypaint tool) then selectively erasing. Consider setting up your image in this way:

  1. Do the rough in line art with a thin pencil.
  2. Create a new layer underneath the first layer.
  3. Do 1 colour of fill in the new layer, selectively erasing the fill to have it conform with the outline on your first layer.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 for the different colours.
  5. Hide the line art.


I will introduce a series of principles, with how-to instructions for Inkscape (free downloadable software) and Illustrator (the industry standard).

1. Open a file

In Inkscape, go file (top menu) – open and navigate to the file.

In Illustrator, go file (top menu) – open – then navigate to the file.

2. Create a file

Inkscape will open with a default A4 portrait file. Go file – new to choose other dimensions.

In Illustrator, go file (top menu) – new, then choose dimensions, etc.

3. Layers

It is very important to organise different aspects of your image into layers. Also, when you are experimenting with a part of an image, make a copy of that part so you can go back to the way it was.

In Inkscape, Layers (top menu) – add layer.

In Illustrator, go Window (top menu) – layers to display the layers window. Then click the top right corner of the Layers window to create a new layer.

4. Drawing a line

drawing in Illustrator
Drawing a line in Illustrator using the pencil tool

They may look like ordinary lines when you draw them, but they are vectors, as you’ll see when we come to edit them. Unlike a bitmap line, you can resize and distort them very easily (use the arrow tool).

In Inkscape, there are three tools in the lefthand toolbar; their icons are a pencil for freehand lines; a pen for Bezier curves and straightlines, and a fountain pen for calligraphy.

In Illustrator, use the fountain pen tool or the straight line tool in the lefthand side toolbox for straight lines, and the pencil or the paintbrush tool for curved lines.

5. Editing the line

In Inkscape, click on the second tool in the left-hard toolbar (the one with the blue line). It will reveal the nodes in your line. Click on a node and drag it.

Editing a vector image in Inkscape
Editing a vector image in Inkscape

In Illustrator, hold down the pen tool (the one that looks like a fountain pen) to see a variety of things you can do to edit the anchor points in your image. The anchor points control the line shape, and you need to experiment with them to see what they do.

6. Filling a shape

Filling a vector shape in Inkscape
Filling a vector shape in Inkscape

To fill a shape with a colour, you need to draw a shape which is entirely enclosed – the line must join up. After you have done this:

In Inkscape, highlight the shape using the arrow tool, then click on the colour at the bottom of the window.

In Illustrator, highlight the shape using the arrow tool. While highlighted, choose the colour in the colour chooser (which is near the bottom of the toolbox).

7. Saving / exporting the file

In Inkscape, file – save as – choose file type. If you want to keep the vector information, save the file as Inkscape SVG (it will open in illustrator and Inkscape with all its vectors; it will also open in Gimp, but not with the vector information). If you want to use it in Photoshop, choose eps.

In Illustrator, file – save as (for print, or to save the original) and file – save for Web & devices – then either gif or jpeg or png. If you want a transparent background, the gif is the easiest way to do that.

8. Zoom

In Inkscape, the magnifying glass in the lefthand toolbar.

In Illustrator, the magnifying glass in the lefthand toolbar.

9. Paths

Paths are an important concept in vector drawing. In the following vid, malgalin shows what the term means, and incidentally uses Gimp to create a vector image (some of the details will differ from software to software, for example, how to close the shape. I suggest you choose one software and stick with it).

Some resources

Tracing a photo to create a vector.

Character design

Great techniques and tutorials listed here.

There are many video tutorials for Photoshop and Illustrator on (and a couple for Gimp but none for Inkscape). To access as an RMIT student for free, go to the RMIT library website and chose the databases tab. Choose in the database titles menu, then ‘go’. You need to create a different Lynda password.

More Illustrator exercises

Top 5 alternatives to illustrator

Interesting digital imagery

deep maps

[post written for Contemporary Media Work Practices, a course at RMIT University]

Gift economy is alive and well

Over at Open Culture lie 475 class movies including indies, westerns and my personal favourite noir, among other genres, perfectly free. Plus heaps of other stuff. Now some of them have copyright lapsed, and that’s why. But others are copyleft. Gr8 resource. Amazing what you can get even when you stay legal.

If you can tell me which movie this still is from please drop me a line. Maybe an anagram of the title?

free music downloads

At NoiseTrade, you can apparently get ‘Thousands of Albums. Completely Free. Completely Legal’. It would appear that they think the audience will make a donation to the artist / site out of gratitude. They are conforming to dicta outlined in

The Four Commandments of Discoverability: Self-interest, Freeness, Service and Novelty by jellybean boom.

I downloaded an ‘EP’ (can’t believe that term is still used) by The Collection. Stuck it in iTunes. It’s lovely. So I went back and got Bhi Bhiman ‘BHIMAN’.

Still haven’t made my donation. But I really, really mean to.

How to make an iBook

Got this really funny card at xmas from a project I gave a little crowd sourced funding to. Hard copy! I couldn’t believe it. So that project is actually real? Um, they paid more for the postage and printing than my whole contribution. Guess they thought it would make me give ‘em some more. To be honest, their thinking has backfired so far.

Meanwhile, books are going the other way. Feeling like a good book? Well it won’t be a book. It’ll be everything, and if you don’t believe me look at this.

Anyway I upgraded my OS to Lion so I could start using iBook Author. [Got into a lot of trouble, too, with my IT helpdesk. I am a naughty girl.]

How to make an iAuthor Book

It’s easy if you already know Pages. It would be a big learning curve if you’ve never played round with layout software. Two problems I had: understanding how the contents page works. No, don’t set up your own. No, if you do it right the bookmarks happen automatically. Second, uploading the marketing screengrabs at the end. Make sure you make them the specified dimensions. It’s not self-explanatory.

So now I wait for the iBookstore to tell me my book is cooked.

Waiting …

Still waiting … ? Are they going to send me an email?

Really good advice from Jane Ross about how to get your iBook published. Conversely, read the fine print – particularly the one about screen grabs. Keep going if you think the first few tips are a little obscure for you.

I love being able to put video in a book. It changes the nature of books forever.

Teaching with tech: could iBooks Author spark an education revolution?.

There are, however, some nasties in Apple’s hugely proprietorial attitude, however, and in the long run maybe I’ll switch to a different platform. Two options may be Booktype, which is free and open-source. the other is Inkling Habitat, which is cloud based and professional. More info.

the tm zeitgeist

According to Fernando Carrion on Transmedia Network Group News:

Transmedia is a way of thought, a way of conceptualizing storytelling and experience

Go baby! I like this, because it sidelines all the marketing guff that so often passes for transmedia. Easy to think that marketing is actually the core of it. Nope. or if it is, it won’t work, it’ll be an empty boat.

Gunther Sonnenfeld re work-in-progress Algren, a complex transmedia is-it-real-or-not style mockumentray (well, that’s what I think it is) is interesting for revealling the thought processes. Their “fundamental mechanics” are:

It is non-linear.
We can build as we go. We can course correct. We can reshape and redefine.

It is participatory (in varying degrees).
People can get involved in the ways they want to or need to.

It is recursive.
Everything we do ties into, or back into, the core narrative(s) and builds intelligence.

It is scalable.
Everything we do can grow into other forms or properties to some extent.

It is indefinite.
At any point in time, a narrative can plateau, merge, reemerge or converge around new or old ideas.

a few interesting web narrative projects

Still from Take this Lollipop

Take This Lollipop

If you’ve ever had any concerns about online privacy, this is brilliant, short and will confirm all your worst fears (needs a Facebook account). 5 stars!

Bear 71

“It’s hard to know what people are capable of. They can start a revolution on a smart phone but forget to close the lid on a bear-proof garbage can.”

Blurring the line between the wired world and the wild world, the National Film Board of Canada’s Bear 71 is a multi-user interactive social narrative that observes and records the intersection of humans, nature and technology.

Launched with a live, interactive art installation at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival New Frontier Program, the storyworld of Bear 71 is a fully immersive, multi-platform experience. Participants explore and engage with the world of a female grizzly bear via animal role play, augmented reality, webcams, geolocation tracking, motion sensors, a microsite, social media channels and a real bear trap in Park City. This project is the most recent example of how the NFB is changing the face of cinema.

My verdict: A moving documentary with OK footage and fantastic interactive map. 4 stars.


Director Lance Weiler’s storytelling project Pandemic 1.0 is part film, part interactive game, part sociological experiment, and was one of the most talked-about experiences at Sundance 2011’s New Frontier program.

The experience imagines that a mysterious virus has begun to afflict adults in a rural town. The town’s young people soon find themselves cut off from civilization, fighting for their lives. People online work with people in the real world to unlock a variety of hidden clues.

This transmedia storytelling experience unites film, mobile and online technologies, props, social gaming and data visualization, enabling audiences to step into the shoes of the pandemic protagonists.

My verdict: is not a standalone website but rather was linked to an event, so too difficult to understand. An artefact rather than a complete project. 2 stars.

Welcome to Pine Point

Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge, formerly of Adbusters, recreated a town that doesn’t exist anymore. Part book, part film, part family photo album of a place that’s been lost in time, the National Film Board of Canada’s Welcome to Pine Point website explores the memories of residents from the former mining community of Pine Point, Northwest Territories. Overall, it’s an interactive media exploration of how we remember the past.

A multiple-award winner (including two Webby Awards), the online experience combines photographs, sound and video clips, interviews, music and narration by Simons to personally immerse the viewer in a multimedia world of memory and loss.

My verdict: moving and nostalgic excursion to a place that no longer exists, lots of grainy vids and imagery, structurally a little boring. 3 stars


Originally a concept album for a film that does not (yet) exist, Rome is a multiplatform interactive narrative experience inspired by the music of Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi (featuring Jack White, Norah Jones and renowned composer Ennio Morricone’s original 40-piece orchestra from Italy).

Director Chris Milk, an artist focused on technology-generated emotional resonance through interactive video, created this project. The result culminated into a feature film produced by Likely Story and Annapurna Pictures, which was adapted from the novel The Reapers are the Angels. The project integrated the use of webGL within the Chrome browser, creating a rich graphical interactive experience complete with elements of game play.

My verdict: spacey 3D animation not wholly rendered. You get to build your own lego-like 3D structure and save it to a gallery. I personally, needed a stronger point to all this to emerge. 2 stars.

Go Bzrk

They take the names of madmen because madness is their fate.
They descend into the tiny places, down where the mites leap and the lymphocytes ooze and the spark of human reason fires like lightning from sizzling neurons. Down in the meat. One by one they join the fight. In the macro, in the nano, in both at once, they fight for life, liberty and the inalienable right to be crazy.
BZRK is their method.
BZRK is their battle cry.
BZRK is their doom.

Verdict: A transmedia thriller which seems to revolve around a book and an app, both of which are for sale. Can’t comment on how good it is. Can’t be rated.

the Hyp replacement

The Hyp Replacement takes place over the course of 2010 and follows the daily lives of four Brooklynites – Yaya, Sandy, Eloise and Sol. They are in search of love, employment and happiness. They share the same Fort Greene brownstone. Eventually, they start an underground marijuana coffeeshop. That’s when things start to get interesting.

How does it all work?

Short chapters are published on an almost daily basis.
Told through a 3rd person narrative, but characters express 1st person narratives through Twitter, Tumblr, Blogspot and YouTube.

Verdict: A complex textual experience, set over various media. Although the writing seems strong, I’m feeling a little short-changed. I want my transmedia to revel sensually in audio and visuals as well. However if you’re happy with just text, this might do the job. 3.5 stars.

Read the interview with author E.A Marciano by Megan O’Neill.

Improving one’s Twitter skills

I just added a Twitter widget to the blackboard shell for one of my courses. Easy. But how to get students (and me), actually incorporating Twitter into their learning activities? This is partly, of course, about mastering the technology. Twitter is very complex, and I think that complexity stems from the fact that you don’t necessarily get instant feedback when you do something – use a hashtag, for example. So you have to take stuff on faith.

The other part is attitudinal, of course. How do we make these styles of communicating part of our daily life? We’ve got to feel there is some incentive – and in a course that’s got to go beyond marks, if you really want students to learn something.

Available now: a guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching, and impact activities | Impact of Social Sciences.

from the London School of Economics. This guide also includes the basics of tweeting. It’s a bit light on Twitter plugins to help you run, say, a private group. Of the best way to read your feed. That info would certainly help beginners. Nevertheless, a good start.

Of Don Power’s 3 ways to use Twitter for courses, I’m most interested in ‘sparking discussion’:

“It actually gets the students incorporated into the class” says Alex Teagle, a sophomore at the University of Texas and one of the students participating in the Twitter-enabled history class. Fellow classmate Dave Shallert says that in a class of 90 students, “trying to pipe up and be heard can be a little intimidating,” but in Dr. Rankin’s class “all you have to do is send a tweet from your phone and your opinion is up there for everyone to read,” he added.

Here’s some detailed tips that I’ll have to chew over in coming weeks from the Social Learning Centre.

Have Twitter, but not many followers?

Good tips by Danielle Leitch and a great infographic by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot, of which a taster follows:


I think I had seen these before. On the dusty back shelf in op shops. Squashed like road kill on the side of the road. My interest was never piqued.

My Mother has been spring cleaning. The other day she produced it and said it was for me. Xmas and all that. Around this point she beamed. I tried to reciprocate.

‘Well, what is it?’

‘It’s a moulin legumes.’ Uh-ha. I could translate the French (vegetable mill), but it didn’t really help me.

‘You skin tomatoes with it.’

‘Skin tomatoes! You mean I don’t have to peel my tomatoes by hand?…’ I bottle my own tomatoes for pasta dishes. Skinning the things takes hours. And all this time there was a gizmo?

So I used it last weekend. Did a batch of tomatoes in one quarter the time it usually takes. The moral of this story: the tool is only as good as the person who communicates its existence to you. The second moral: the usefulness of a tool evolves, not because it changes, but because you do.

The conclusion: Horde stuff, just in case.