2010 GNSI Educational Series Workshop: review

CLASSROOM OF STUDENTS AT WORK. PHOTO BY D. K.B. CHEUNGThe Smithsonian Natural History Museum was once again the setting for the 2010 GNSI Educational Series workshop, which took place March 18-21, 2010. Here, at an institution “dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning,” a wide diversity of participants from traditional media illustrators to scientists to comic book illustrators, gathered to engage themselves in new techniques that will help them succeed in an increasingly digital world. Many previous students returned this year to further refine their skills and take advantage of the diverse learning community.

Lessons were organized and led by Marie Metz, GNSI educational director and former Smithsonian Illustrator, Jennifer Fairman, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and David Clarke, president of the Washington D.C. chapter of GNSI. The workshop began with a talk about the synergistic relationship between science/technology and illustration, by guest lecturer Dr. James Giordano, University of Oxford. Beginning with a discussion of prehistoric cave drawings and our innate human ability to communicate visually, Dr. Giordano explained the role illustration plays in the communication of scientific knowledge. He also gave examples of how illustration furthers science and vice versa. Participants left the lecture inspired and ready to begin learning.

Each day, students were introduced to a fresh set of illustration skills to master using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator software. The first module, instructed by David Clarke, was an overview of the fundamentals: using layers, swatches, keyboard shortcuts, etc. These are the basics everyone needs to understand to get the job done quickly, and efficiently. The second module was about using the pen tool of Adobe Illustrator effectively. New students often find this to be a frustrating and unintuitive aspect of digital illustration, but after overcoming initial hurdles, they realized how flexible and accurate it is. Instructors stressed the importance of mastering the pen tool as it is the foundation of digital illustration.

A second guest speaker, Adam Weitzner of Wacom, came to demonstrate specialized techniques using Wacom products, including tablets and Cintiq, to help students achieve a finer and more organic interface between artist and computer. Adam also highlighted the new functionality of the Intuos tablet such as tilt and pressure effects in a wide array of software, designed specifically to take advantage of these features. Adam also graciously loaned eight Cintiqs to the class, which were used by students throughout the entire workshop. This was a rare opportunity that most students took advantage of.

JENNIFER FAIRMAN AND VICHAI MALIKUL EXPERIMENTING WITH FEATURES OF THE WACOM CINTIQ. PHOTO BY MARIE METZIn the third module, Jennifer Fairman focused on the myriad of brush settings found in Illustrator and Photoshop. She began by showing the students how to create art and pattern brushes in Adobe Illustrator, a tip that will save valuable time. Later Jennifer shared her digital watercolor wash technique, in which brush control is essential. Jennifer guided the students through the process of adjusting opacity, flow, and hardness of brushes to achieve great tonal control when rendering their subject.

The last module was taught by Marie Metz and incorporated everything learned during the week. Most of the module was spent importing paths from Illustrator to Photoshop where they can be used as stencils. Students quickly learned the importance of organizing their projects into different layers and experimenting with the numerous layer blending modes in Photoshop. This was an exciting time for students when they realized they had captured the basics and were ready to begin creating their own digital work.

At the end of each module, students were given time for self-paced exploration, augmented with one-on-one problem solving with instructors and the TAs (George Venable and Dave Cheung). This latter portion was where most of the learning actually took place, as students were eager to experiment with newly learned techniques and push their digital illustrations further. Participants were eager to help one another as they tackled new challenges, and the teachers made sure that everyone left with a positive outlook on their future digital illustrations.

The 2010 GNSI educational series was a great success. Thank-you to all instructors for their time, energy, passion and willingness to share their expertise. A special thank you goes to Marie Metz, Karolyn Darrow and Taina Litwak for all the behind-the-scenes work, including organizing the workshop, finances and preparing meals. The open sharing of techniques, tips, and tricks between leaders, TAs, and participants, coupled with the positive atmosphere created by all in attendance, made this workshop a glowing success. Hope to see you at next year’s workshop!

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