Friday, January 30, 2009

Lines and Values, Notan and the Cut-Out Tool

Shoveler - pen and ink study
black and sepia ink on Daler Rowney Antique White mountboard
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately - especially as I drew my very handsome male shoveler duck in pen and ink - about needing to practice line drawing in a two value Notan sense if I'm going to have a go at lino-cutting.

I've decided to practice by reviewing how to convert photos into just two tones using the PS Elements Cut Out Tool so that I can see if I can develop a better "eye" for doing two tone work

First a quick reminder about what Notan is - plus some links to previous posts on this blog for readers not familiar with the concept.
Notan is a Japanese concept involving the placement of lights and darks next to the other to read as flat shapes on the two-dimensional surface. This use of lights and darks differs dramatically from the means by which artists had traditionally manipulated these elements to create seemingly three-dimensional forms on the picture plane.

Line melts into tone through the cluster of many lines. Direct study of tone-intervals begins with composition in two values - the simplest form of Notan.
Arthur Wesley Dow
Some readers will recall I've written about this previously
I noticed that in one of my posts last year as part of the composition and design project, I promised to explain how the cutout function worked - but didn't really do a step by step explanation.

So this post remedies that omission!

How to reduce a photo to a two value image

I'm also going to drop in one or two of the Arthur Wesley Dow's recommendations for how to make Notan work
focus first on ensuring that the line design works before beginning to darken certain shapes within the overall design with black
  1. Locate the cut out tool in PS Elements. This is one of the artistic filters. So the menu selection in PS Elements goes Filter/Artistic/Cutout.
  2. Note how many ways you can vary the cutout. There are three controls Number of Levels, Edge Simplicity and Edge Fidelity. I'll describe each in terms of what happens at the extremes.
    1. Numbers of Levels: There are eight levels. 1= one value/colour. 8 = 8 values and values/shades of grey between black and white
    2. Edge Simplicity: There are ten levels 1= picks up all the tiny marks; 10= extreme simplicity/very abstract/subject is unrecognisable
    3. Edge Fidelity: There are three options. 1 = simplest; 3 = most accurate. 2 looks like it might be a good level for lino-cuts
  3. Select a photo to adapt and create a two value image (for a linocut). (Squint!) Check whether it has interesting lines and whether the big value shapes are distinctive. Basically any mental screening you do is trying to identify pattern and balance and to imagine what it would look like with no colour.
  4. Save the photo with a new file name
  5. Select Image/Mode/Greyscale and convert to greyscale
  6. Start to play around with the three controls. While keeping the other two at mid points, check what happens when you take any of the to the two extremes. Make a note of what you find out and note what each does to value, shape and line.
  7. Repeat for each of the three controls
  8. Now select two levels to produce a two value image. Do a basic check on whether it looks like it still has the potential to be interesting.
  9. Then vary the simplicity of the edge. Find a level which looks like it could be feasible to draw and cut on lino!
  10. Then vary the difference of the fidelity and see what happens.
  11. Try varying fidelity first. Hold simplicity at 5 and then vary fidelity.
The realistic standard always tends to the decay of art
Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition
I've got an example from a photo of my Shoveler. I liked the patterns in the water and thought the duck shape was also quite distinctive - but I wasn't sure how it would work when reduced down to two values and some fiddling with edges!

Here are the results.

Shoveler - Version 1

In version 1, what I did was:
  • Numbers of Levels: 2
  • Edge Simplicity: 5
  • Edge Fidelity: 5

Shoveler - Version 2

In version 2 I increased the simplicity (i.e. made it more faithful to reality) and then reduced the fidelity! It produces more slight lines which are areas of no line on the other two.
  • Numbers of Levels: 2
  • Edge Simplicity: 6
  • Edge Fidelity: 1
This produced a drawing .....with finer lines and clear outlines

Shoveler - Version 3

In version 3 I reduced the simplicity and increased the fidelity
  • Numbers of Levels: 2
  • Edge Simplicity: 4
  • Edge Fidelity: 3
and produced an image which looks like it might be easier for those starting out at lino cutting! It keeps the shape but loses quantity and complexity of line

Now can I do this by eye alone - or do linocutters also look to PS for help?

If you want to take a look at somebody who regularly does linocuts - take a look at Sherrie York's linocut gallery on her website and her blog Brush and Baren. I also recommend taking a look at her Great Crested Grebe Linocut and reading an excellent interview with her on Printsy - which I think one or two other lino cutting students have already spotted - hi Robyn!! ;)

Lino Cutting Note: My information site to store all my bookmarks for lino cutting is already in draft. Inevitable really - as soon as I started to look at equipment and materials! Any recommendations for links to useful sites will be much appreciated. I'll let you know when I start to cut!

and finally......

Please leave a comment below (and a link to your example) if you have a go at using this technique.



Anita said...

Interesting technique! I should curse you for suggesting something else I now want to try!

adebanji said...

Now, I really like that pen drawing above!! Great lines and cross-hatching technique!

Robyn Sinclair said...

Katherine - I was about to email you to share this link, but since you are now blogging about linocutting I'll share it with all. Intaglio Printmaker is the best source of printmaking supplies I've found on the internet and it just happens to be in London. Lucky you! Their tools, inks and papers all sound wonderful. And it was started by Australians ;) I don't know them. I have no vested interest.

Thanks for the detailed demonstration of using PS cutout. I have used it to develop images for cutting but certainly haven't got involved with all the options. I will have another look now.

Billie Crain said...

what a coincidence! i've been looking for tips/help on using Elements and here you have helped me with yet another feature. thanks!

MaryAnn Cleary said...

Thanks for the post on this Katerine! I have been baffled on how to use Photoshop Elements to get just a black and white drawing. I had no idea that the cutout filter did this.

After reading your post, I just had to try it. Here is my initial attempt using my latest painting ""

What fun and thank you!

vivien said...

excellent post!

photoshop and elements can be so useful

Jeanette Jobson said...

This is a wonderful drawing to work up into a print. I've used photoshop to play around with drawings as well and see how they would look as linoprints, but not with the detail that you have.

My patience level is that of a 3 year old I think. :) I just want to get at the cutting part!

Robyn Sinclair said...

I know I've already commented but it's hard to shut me up about relief printing at the moment :)

Looking back at the few plates I've cut, I think the best ones are those I've sketched from previous paintings or drawings rather than from PS cutout. I certainly find PS cutout great for testing the potential of a photograph. I'll try to do a post showing different examples with the original inspiration if you're interested.

Can't wait to see you start cutting, Katherine!

Unknown said...

Looking forward to your linocut work, Katherine! Definitely like your sketch, he's very handsome.

Yes, we (printmakers) do use software to help with colour layers or simplifying images to B&W (or reducing values to very few). We also do it by eye, and the more you work in lino, the more you see things broken down by value and colour shapes.

FYI - I've collected a bunch of online resources for printmakers on my Squidoo lens "Printmaking Resources". If anyone has more to add, feel free to let me know! :)

Sherrie York said...

Hi, Katherine! Gosh... thanks for the nod to my work. (The knowledge that people might be watching keeps me from getting too complacent!)

I think I've found a kindred spirit in Jeanette-patience-of-a-3-year-old-can-we-PLEASE-start-cutting-now? :-)

Making A Mark said...

Robyn - I knew about that place but had never found their wevsite - thank you!

I've now got three places which seem to stock good quality lino - I'm going shopping very soon!

Making A Mark said...

Amie - I've already discovered all your lenses (which are wonderful) and they are already all featured lenses in their very own section of my new lens - as you'll see when it's published!

Nancy Moskovitz, artist said...

Thank you for this one; works great with photoshop too. Adjusting the options makes all the difference. I had been using "posterize" and adjusting those levels. Cut out is hugely better for my purposes.

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