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DESIGN TUTORIALS EXPERIMENTS IN DESIGN

How to Create Abstract Colour Blobs

INTRODUCTION: When I started my career in graphic design there were a lot of Photoshop tools that I thought I’d never touch. If it didn’t clone, buff, stitch, fill, recolour, enhance, warp, stretch, squish, enlarge, shrink, mask, sharpen, blur, merge, or patch I didn’t really see the purpose. However, I had always been an admirer of beautifully crafted abstractions. The digital art that designers were creating for a new aesthetic. 3D blobs of colour, paint marbling, glitch effects, bizarre patterns, wild lighting effects, and simplified geometric designs are all examples of abstractions that add to the designer’s repertoire. In this post, I explore the easiest way to create abstract colour blobs and take a look at a brush tool that is often overlooked–the Mixer Brush tool.

Getting to know the Mixer Brush tool

For anyone that thought the standard Brush tool was a powerful way of painting digitally…meet the Mixer Brush tool. Capable of sampling more than one colour at a time while simulating real paint mixing and brush wetness this tool is the answer to “What would a professional painter simulation program look like?”. There are a multitude of settings to explore here and I would encourage anyone that wants to create digital paintings to do a deep dive into the various settings to create their next masterpiece. However, for this tutorial we are just concerned about using the Mixer Brush tool with the Hard Round Brush Tip Shape with a Dry, Heavy Load set at Wet 0% , Load 100%, Flow 100%, Smoothing 100%, and Spacing at 1%.

brush settings

This setting will simulate a steady flow of thick paint. When a gradient or mixture of colours is sampled for use with this brush setting it will create a variety of colour combinations based on the direction and orientation of your stroke. Try going from right to left, left to right, bottom to top, top to bottom and any variety of orientations for different colour combinations using the same colour sample.

Example of mixer brush being used in lines going in different directions following a complex path
Straight lines created using the shift key and clicking around the canvas.

TUTORIAL

STEP ONE Find or create a nice gradient or mix of colours and sample it using the Mixer Brush tool (using the settings above).

sampling colours with the mixer brush tool
Alt + click to sample using the brush tool.

STEP TWO Using the Mixer Brush “paint” a few curvy lines.

creating curvy lines with the mixer brush tool
Curvy lines using the sampled gradient.

STEP THREE Add depth with dropshadows in one of two different ways. Either use the dropshadow function in the Blending Options window or create drop shadows using the shapes of the gradient lines. Below shows the latter.

creating dropshadow blocks

To create dropshadow blocks, Command + click on the image in the layer you wish to make a dropshadow for. This makes a pixel selection. Create a new layer and fill in the selection with a dark colour. Deselect the layer and offset that layer from the original multi-coloured line layer. Apply a Gaussian Blur to the dropshadow block of dark colour and change the Opacity of the layer to 50% or lower and the transparency to Multiply.

blurred dropshadows with multiplied transparency
Dropshadow blocks with a blur and multiply setting.

BONUS STEPS Use the Liquify filter to make the brush strokes more blob-like before adding dropshadows. Make the brush tip large when working in the filter panel and click and drag very slowly and slightly in order to get subtle deviations and smooth blobs.

liquified lines creating blobs

Layering your dropshadows to make the depth more realistic. When objects are layered on top of each other in 3D space their shadows cast differently according to their distance from each other. In order to create this illusion easily and quickly, we need to apply layers of shadows and remove the objects from each dropshadow layer according to their position in space. The closer the top object is to the object below the smaller the offset from the object casting the shadow.

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DESIGN EXPERIMENTS IN DESIGN

Damask for the Masses: Part III

Flipping the bird, the single-digit salute, giving the finger or flipping someone off—no matter how you phrase it, the gesture is the same. Middle finger extended to the sky with the other digits in flexion or converted into some sort of gnarled claw. Often regarded as a symbolic act of defiance, disdain and rebellion, it has been ingrained into the psyche of punk rock and pop culture for a long time. Ignoring the fact that the ancient meaning of the gesture was slightly more nefarious and offensive, we now see celebrities jumping on the middle finger bandwagon. It seems as though no one is interested in subtlety or hiding their disdain anymore. Either that or there is some sort of street cred and perceived edginess behind the act. But, I digress. It is a way of defining yourself as someone that “doesn’t give a F✱CK!” and that’s not always a bad thing. While we often look up to the people that break from the pack and march the beat of their own drum. There is a certain degree of bravery in going against the norms to forge your own path. This is where the “pretty bird” damask patterning makes the most sense—at its core, it is a way of saying I forge my own path haters be damned!

pretty bird punk damask pattern

Damask has deep connections with decadence and the exotic. Before the industrial revolution people sought after the most unique damask patterns to help define their own aesthetic. A modern equivalent to finding these unique fabric patterns would be in discovering underground music, seeking out burgeoning fashion designers and creating your own individual aesthetic that refuses to conform to popularity. After all, “variety is the spice of life”. Flipping the bird, even a pretty one, on conformity and banality is living life with a punk rock edge. Be a flipping pretty bird and let that damask pattern fly.

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EXPERIMENTS IN DESIGN

Damask for the Masses: Part II

As the second piece in the punk damask series I wanted to pay homage to the mixtape. While audio cassettes have recently had a modest revival with hipsters and record companies for their low-cost in production and their difficulty in conversion to digital format, long gone are the days when people would share mixtapes.

I can remember how much it meant to me to get a mixtape from a friend. You could almost measure the depth of a meaningful friendship by the number of mixtapes that were carefully prepared and shared. The amount of time it would take to fill a 60 or 90 minute tape with carefully curated songs was always appreciated. How close the new music would match your personal preference or challenge your perceptions of music would also indicate how well your friend knew you. Sometimes songs were strategically recorded from the radio when they aired for the first time. Other times it was a collection of new favourites.

Single cassette punk damask unit

Explicit content was all the rage in middle school. It seemed like the parental advisory sticker was less a deterrent than it was a call to action.

Sometimes it was a way of sneaking music into the house that otherwise would have been banned from consumption by juvenile ears. Often purposely mislabeled “Tiffany” or “Wilson Phillips” these tapes would contain the likes of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Ministry, the Ramones, Public Enemy and Pearl Jam. Explicit content was all the rage in middle school. It seemed like the parental advisory sticker was less a deterrent than it was a call to action. When a favourite band didn’t have the sticker they were said to have “gotten rid of their edge” to placate the PMRC. Looking back it seems as though it was just another form of rebellion that no one paid much attention to.

Full cassette punk damask wallpaper pattern

The mixtapes had a life of their own too. Played in a rogue player they could be warped, chewed and mangled, forever changing the playback and quality. My mixtapes were no strangers to the Canadian winter neither, often suffering from hypothermia and never fully recovering. Seeing as those mixtapes were unique (often the only ones of their kind in existence) they would still be played through the stretched and garbled sections and parts held together with Scotch tape. It meant I had a special version of a song that no one else had.

However, my mixtape collection is no more. I no longer own a cassette player. My love for all kinds of music has remained. But lost are the mixtapes of my youth.

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EXPERIMENTS IN DESIGN

Damask for the Masses: Part I

I have always been intrigued with the ornate patterning of damask. The medieval botanical and whimsical flourishes intricately woven into beautiful infinite patterns are striking even by today’s standards. Damask’s versatility as a reversible fabric with an inverse colour pattern on the other side makes it even more interesting. While damask has a reputation for being ostentatious and overly dramatic, I felt it would be an interesting side project to attempt to blend damask patterning with a “punk/rock” sense of rebellion. A sort of damask for the masses. This first experiment discusses the origins of damask and attempts to blend traditional with the contemporary.

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Damask pattern has traditionally been associated with the wealthy and elite. Originally created in China and traded in the prosperous medieval craft centre of Damascus, the pattern’s namesake, damask became synonymous with the exotic and luxurious. Medieval kings and queens sought to acquire damask tapestries and textiles of their own because of their versatility and attractive design. In fact medieval royals went so far as to get monks to steal artisan secrets and smuggle silkworms to have ways of producing their own unique patterns. Damask textiles have seen a number of resurgences in popularity over the centuries. During the Baroque period, a period which was highlighted by artworks of grandeur and exuberance, damask was used in many different ways–including upholstery, wallpaper, and curtains. However, it was arguably at its peak in popularity during the Industrial Revolution. It was at this time, mass production made what was once considered a rich person’s textile into an affordable textile for the working middle class.

The modern technologies of today have led further towards the democratization of damask by making the pattern even easier to draw and produce. Traditional motifs have been cast aside for whatever patterns catch the eye of the consumer. Furthermore, damask has stepped away from the classic reversible fabric to one-sided prints in some instances. My experiment seeks to further the dialogue on what can be classified as damask through edgier and more “punk/rock” subject material. Not having access to a loom or a weaving mechanism myself (at this point in time) I am hoping to showcase the possible use of modern damask patterns through images and digital mock-ups.

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My first damask pattern in a series of patterns is a damask skull. This is what damask looks like when someone decides to meld traditional flourishes with edgier modern imagery. Skulls have become a bit of cliché in punk and rock so it was important to make sure the skull wasn’t too obvious and that it still contained traditional flourishes seen in older damask patterning. What has been created is something that was once held in such high regard as a luxurious, now given a new life in a different subculture.