Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rhinos/Rattlers Advert

I recently completed designing a new advertising look for two local
sports teams.

Click all images for a larger view

Both ads required a significant amount of Photoshop work, including illustrating the background elements for both ads.

Stock photography comes in handy when a photo shoot is not in the budget. But you have to be able to see the potential in a photo (how it can be combined with other photos to create a realistic composite).  It also helps to have the skills to make it happen. Below, you can see the separate photos I combined (with the illustrated backgrounds). 
In order to get the rhino to work with this soccer ball, I needed to add shadows to the rhino’s head. And to get the rattle snake to work in my layout, I needed to adjust the angle of the snake from about the center of the second curve on the right. I also added some orange ambient light to the snake so it would appear he and the background are being illuminated by the same light source.

Here is the detail of the illustrated area 
where the horn punctures the soccer ball. 

This design also works as a “Billboard” online ad.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Halloween Menagerie (More Phun with Photoshop)

Click any image below for a larger view.

I have to admit to sweating a little when I heard of the client's original photo request for this Halloween-themed ad. The client was very specific about what he wanted in the photo. He requested, “...a photo with Dracula, a werewolf and a witch holding a pumpkin.”

I did not have a budget for setting up a photo shoot, hiring models and renting costumes so I was limited to using stock photography. Anyone who has used stock photography knows that finding a stock photo with such a specific variety of subjects is next to impossible. So what does the resourceful graphic designer do when faced with such a seemingly impossible task?

If you can not find one photo with all the elements you need, find separate photos of each element and combine them to look like one photo.

Here are the separate images I combined in this composite. 

Obviously there was a lot more involved than merely cutting and then pasting each subject into the image. The subjects have to actually look like they were photographed together. Visit any of my previous Phun with Photoshop articles to see the techniques I usually use to blend images together.

This is the completed photo composite.

And this is the completed ad.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Interview with Drew Geraci, Comic Book Inker

 (click all images for a larger view)

While I was at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, sitting in a class about the principles of design, another student sat next to me who would soon become my good friend. We quickly learned that we shared a similar sense of humor and a fondness for comic books. Our similar, non-linear style of thinking took us down many fun rabbit trails of good laughs and could turn something as simple as the company name on a box of staples into a cowboy caricature called “Bo Stitch.” That other student was Drew Geraci.

At the time, Drew was developing his own cast of super hero characters. His ambition was to be an artist for a comic book company. After graduation, we eventually lost touch as we went down different career paths, but I recently reconnected with Drew and was happy to learn that he is living his dream. I asked Drew for an interview for my blog and he agreed. He shared with me some of his background, his insider’s view of the comic book industry, some of his techniques working with ink and advice for those who are starting out where he did a little over 20 years ago. This is what he had to say:

MJ: From the first time I met you at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh (back in 1984 or 1985) you wanted to be a comic book artist. Just how far back does that dream go?
DG: Since I was 7 or 8 years old. I just fell in love with the medium immediately. This was the 1970s and both Marvel and DC had these tabloid-size collections that were 10" x 13" which looked extra big to me as a kid. Also, back then, comics were everywhere: The drug stores, grocery stores, book stores, record stores, convenience stores. I was lucky to be living in a location where they were all a short bike ride away.  Once or twice a week, I’d make my rounds. If one store didn’t have something I wanted, another would. One day my enthusiasm made me try to write and draw my own comics and that’s when I discovered I could draw. And I kept making my own comics (with letters pages, even!), and stapling them together.

MJ: Is comic book artist the correct term for me to use? How do you describe what you do to others?
DG: Inker. I take a comic book page already drawn in pencil, and add depth and texture to it with a variety of techniques. If I'm inking debris, I ink rough and craggy, but if I'm inking hair, I'll use thin-to-thick orderly brush lines.

MJ: Which artists, story lines, characters are your favorites?
DG: Jack Kirby. When I first started reading comics, I was more attracted to Marvel. Their cover trade dress was more garish than DC, who had hyper-realistic covers by Neal Adams and Nick Cardy-which scared me. Kirby was then working at DC, but the work he was producing there was also scary to me-lots of ugly monsters and haunting faces (I’ve since come to appreciate that period of his art). But at that same time, Marvel was reprinting a lot Kirby’s work from the ’60s, such as Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Double Feature, Marvel Spectacular, etc. His work was so magical. This cover hooked me in as a fan forever. The Thing from The Fantastic Four has to be one of the top five greatest comic creations, visually. And comics is a visual medium. I was much more attracted to the reprint comics from the ’60s; they had a “pop art” feel that appealed to my childish sensibilties. You can look back and see styles that came and went, but Kirby’s work is timeless.

MJ: What steered you toward the Art Institute of Pittsburgh?
DG: I had taken art vo-tech classes in high school, and felt I needed to learn more. AIP had commercials on TV, so it made sense to check it out. It was the only art school I knew of in the area.

MJ: How did AIP prepare you for what you are doing now?
DG: It shook me out of my “art is only a hobby” mentality to making it a career. I learned perspective, lettering and lots of other things I hadn’t been exposed to before. Some of it, like doing key art boards/paste-up turned out to be a waste of time, because in a few short years, with the advent of desktop publishing, it became antiquated.

Henry Koerner Time Magazine Cover

MJ: Looking back at you art school experience, would you like to tip your hat to any specific teacher?
DG: Henry Koerner. As you remember, he would have us do figure drawing without the safety net of pencils and instead draw in ink with rapidographs. At first I was terrified, but when I got over it, it helped my artistic confidence level. Henry really liked my work, and actually called me a “master of line-art"” (I know this sounds self-serving, but it’s true). This also gave me tremendous confidence, thinking: “I can do this!”

MJ: Do you find that the larger percentage of artists in your field have some formal training? Is there a specific academic background that best prepares one for working as a comic book artist?
DG: A lot of comic artists are self-taught, for better or worse. As far as schooling prep, the Joe Kubert School in New Jersey has many graduates who’ve become top names in the industry. When I went to AIP, I still had lots of doubt. I never believed I’d be a comic artist – it was too lofty a goal. So I thought I’d use my interest in art for advertising, which seemed more realistic, even though I was never that enthused about advertising. What I should have done was gone to the Kubert school. It would have saved me a lot of years trying to break into comics. But it was in another state, and I was afraid of moving so far after high school, plus the lack-of-confidence thing. So I never even brought it up to my parents.  I probably would’ve gone there instead of AIP. But AIP did help me get acquainted with art-as-business.

Hell Boy: Pencils by Gene Colan, Inks by Drew Geraci

MJ: What advice do you have for aspiring comic book artists.
DG: Be honest with your abilities. Hone the abilty to spot your weaknesses and attack them. Don’t get defensive during portfolio reviews.

On a personal level, know this: Especially when you start out, make all other things secondary. Deadlines mean everything. Comics are not a 9-to-5 job. You can’t plan every Tuesday as bowling night. Also, particularly if you’re on the tail-end of the assembly line as inkers, colorists and letterers are, don’t make any weekend plans.

Thor: Pencils by Scot Eaton, Inks by Drew Geraci.

MJ: I’ve always pictured comic book artists working in a large, New York City studio filled with other talented artists all enveloped in an enviably fun and collaborative atmosphere, with Stan Lee looking over their shoulders. But I understand that you live with your lovely wife in Atlanta, Georgia and work out of your home. Explain to me an average work day for Drew Geraci.
DG: My day’s pretty dull. I’m basically a shut-in when I’m working. One of the dogs wakes me up to go outside, then I grab coffee or a soda, turn on the computer and surf for an hour or so until I wake up. Then I’ll start working on a page for a few hours, break for lunch, maybe run some errands, then resume inking. Karen comes home at 5 pm and we hang out until supper. Some days I’ll go back to work for a few more hours, some days I’ll just chill. I think I’ve finally gotten some balance after so many years doing this. I usually work weekends, but I’m not working the 14 hour days like I did the first five years of my career. Back then, I took every job offered to me, just to see how many comics I could be in before they realised I was a fraud and shut the door on me (LOL). Currently, I don’t have a monthly book, but I pitch-hit on a variety of books and special projects, a few pages here, a few there. So it’s a slower pace, but I’m glad to still be working.

Stan Lee and Drew Geraci.

MJ: Do you ever long for a studio environment working alongside other artists?
DG: Well, I did have that experience, twice. In 1998 I was invited to join Eisner-winning artist Tony Harris’ Jolly Roger Studio in Macon, GA with 3 other artists and jumped at the chance. It was an hour away, but I really liked a) getting out of the house and b)sharing techniques and gossip with fellow comic pros. I spent 2 years there until we had a rift. There was a lot of drama. Bills weren't getting paid, and maybe I complained about it too much, but I was asked to leave.

Donna Troy: Sketch by Adam Hughes, Inks by Drew Geraci.

Less than six months later, I was invited to join an upstart comics company in Tampa Florida called Crossgeneration Comics. Several pros I knew personally had moved there. The pay was better, they paid our moving expenses, the art supplies were free, and I could again experience the studio environment without paying for studio bills. Also, I would be a salaried employee. I have never been fully comfortable with the freelance lifestyle, where you have to hunt down editors for work. At Crossgen you were assigned a title, and if it wasn’t a comfortable fit, you could ask the art director for a latteral move to another title. I started the first month of 2001. Some people may sneer at cubicles, but ours had lots of great artwork pinned up on them. I got to make friends with other pros I had only admired from afar. For me, every day was like a comic convention, because we had a lot of top writers and artists you could chat with and show the day’s art with. It was our own little mutual admiration society. It was a friendly competition that elevated everybody’s game. On Wednesdays, we’d all run out at noon to hit the comic shop and eat lunch. Also, the boss would arrange barbeques once a month and bowling nights, kareoke nights, little motivational extras. Unfortunately, there was a large sweep of layoffs in September 2003, including me. I was later asked back at a reduced salary, but turned it down. Instead, I called up a Batman editor at DC and got a Batgirl issue right away. I could see the writing on the wall for Crossgen, but I’m forever grateful for the amazingly talented people I got to rub elbows with there.

From, The Path: Pencils by Jim Fern, Inks by Drew Geraci.

MJ: Why do comic book companies divide the workflow as they do, with one artist working up the pencils and another doing the inking and finally a third working in the color? Why not have one person do it all?
DG: Monthly Deadlines is why. Most freelancers can only do a page a day and have a normal life. Few pencillers ink themselves, but not on a montly basis. There’s 20 pages in a comic, 28-31 days a month, so the math wouldn’t work. Usually each issue there’s a few ultra-detailed pages that require extra time, so you might spend two days on a page. Comics are extremely competitive for the entertainment dollar, with movies, video games and costs of everything going up. So we artists are very aware, and strive to part you from your money over the next guy’s comic book.

Some artists can pencil, ink and color their work, but only on special, limited-series projects or graphic novels. And those don’t get put on a publishing schedule until most of the work is in.

MJ: What are the tools of your trade? 
DG: Depending on the style of the penciller, I either use a quill or a brush. Since a lot of modern artists do such small details, I find myself using a Hunt #104 quill with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay black india ink. I’ll also use Raphael 8404 series #1 and 2 brushes with Dr. Ph. Martin’s Black Star Matte india ink. Different inks have different viscosity, so that’s why I don’t use the same inks for quills and brushes. Koh-i-Noor rapidographs for tech and buildings. Pro-white for mistakes.

Batman: Pencils by Tom Derenick, Inks by Drew Geraci.

MJ: When Marvel or DC send you a page for inking, what is the process. How does it arrive? How do you pass the work to the next artist?
DG: It used to be FedEx, but shipping has gotten too expensive for most books. It’s still used, but it’s reserved mostly for the ‘hot’ artists. Now a lot of pencils are sent as scans via YOUSENDIT or Dropbox or a folder on an ftp site. Then I take the pencilled image, print it out as a nonphoto blueline, ink that, then scan it and post it in (example: DC comics) ftp site, which has a folder with my name on it.

MJ: So, now you have a new page with some masterful pencil work and you are about to touch your pen to the page. It seems like an enormous responsibility, taking the pencil artist’s drawings to the next level. Is your hand shaking a little?  How do you approach this pressure? 
DG: Well, I've been doing this since ’94, and I’ve had the honor of inking some pretty big names in the industry, so I’m fairly desensitized. However, if it’s a penciller I’ve never worked with, there’s always a slight adjustment period. With comic book deadlines, there’s no real time to adjust, so I’ll warm up directly on the page by just inking strait-edge stuff, like buildings and machinery. This is with a bevelled triangle and rapidographs.

Green Lantern Corps #26: Pencils by Pat Gleason, Inks by Drew Geraci.

MJ: Have you ever made a huge mistake inking an assignment and had to start over?
DG: Never had a huge mistake that made me start over. I’ve had pages where I find I’m going in the wrong direction, so I'll put it aside, start a different page, then come back to the other later.

MJ: Have any mistakes made it into print (which issue)?
DG: A few minor mistakes got printed, but extremely minor. I still remember a panel that had a small black area between two people walking that I didn’t fill with black. It was Birds of Prey #8 (1998). Usually, I ink the contours of the figures and other elements on the page, then when I’m warmed up, I do the feathering and other details. After everything is detailed, then I fill in the blacks. I happen to miss this one panel and it still drives me crazy, as it was an otherwise high-point in my inking abilities.

MJ: How much freedom do you have to add you own “touch” or your own details to the pencils?
DG: It depends on the penciller. Most modern pencillers draw very tight on every detail, whether it’s clothing, backgrounds and even debris! I suppose it’s done this way so that even a bad inker can’t ruin the art. I was born too late. I’d love to have been an inker in the ’60s or ’70s when the inker was purposefully assigned a book to add their own flair. Now that’s mostly the burden of the computer colorists, who can add special effects like blurs or flares.

MJ: I recently read an interview of Julien Hugonnard-Bert* where he names you as one of his influences. I can only imagine how flattering, and humbling, such a compliment must be for you. Who are your influences? 
DG: A lot of the late ’70s Marvel inkers: Klaus Janson, Terry Austin, Bob Layton, Bob McLeod. Also, when Moon Knight artist Bill Sienkiewicz started inking his own work, it was eye-opening. They all had distinctive styles

Flash: Pencils by Carlo Barberi, Inks by Drew Geraci.

MJ: I understand you have done your share of touring the conventions and signing autographs. I have a nephew who goes to the ComiCon conventions to meet the artists. He tells me he has your autograph. What do you enjoy most about meeting your fans? And how do the fans enter into your thought process as you work on a piece? 
DG: First, it’s always a kick to have someone ask for your autograph. Fans are very polite, like saying: “Would you mind signing this?” I don’t know who would mind, but I always smile and thank them for taking an interest in my work. Maybe it’s a needyness on my part, but when I’m getting praise from somebody, I feel pretty confident while working on a commission. But if the show’s turnout is low as well as the energy level in the room, I’ll apologize about not doing commissions and just sign stuff.

MJ: Would you like to say anything to your fans now?
Thanks, both of you!

Wolverine: Pencils by Marco Djurdjevic, Pencils by Drew Geraci.

MJ: I understand you are now accepting commissions. Tell me how that works? How does one commission you for your art?
DG: Contact me through  or on Facebook

For more details about commissions, please visit

MJ: Thank you so much, Drew, for taking the time to share your insights from the world of comic book art.


*iFanboy. #tweetfolio Reviews 1.6: Julien Hugonnard-bert & Inking by Bon Alimagno.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

1973 Doge Charger, Rallye Edition

I have just finished working on a side project, restoring my 1973 Dodge Charger. Well, not an actual, physical Doge Charger. All of the restoration work has been done in Adobe Photoshop. This is actually a much cheaper hobby than restoring an actual car. Let me explain by taking you through the process I used in restoring this excellent specimen of American automotive artistry.

First, since the only Doge Charger I own is in my dreams, I had to find a good photo. I found this one on the internet. I would never use a photo off the internet for an actual design job. In this case, I'm only using this image for personal use, to create a new desktop picture for my computer and to demonstrate some Photoshop techniques in this blog article.

(Click all images for a larger view.)
“She may not look like much but she's got it where it counts!” –Han Solo

I wanted to change the color of “my” Charger to black. In order to get a nice even black I had to adjust the color of this two-toned hood to bring the two tones closer together.

Next, I added my black layer with the blending mode set to multiply. This allows details like seams and shadows to show through while also effectively changing the color of the car. The black is, of course, the default Photoshop black (c75, m68, y67, k90).

Because the finish on this old beauty is so worn the reflections and shadows are very soft. I painted over the dark reflections, giving them a sharper edge.

Next, I painted-in the reflection on the hood, making it sharper and brighter. Now, notice the windshield. It is not a very attractive sight at present and I don't much like the color of the interior. I want to give the windshield a much richer look overall.

I began by adding a layer of black, again with the blending mode set to multiply and I also adjusted the opacity.

Next, I added my own idea of what the reflection should look like. I had to play with this a little but through trial and error I settled on one that I liked.

Finally, I added some blue to suggest the reflection of a clear blue sky. Again, I adjusted the opacity until I felt that it looked correct.

I also added a reflective highlight along the outside edge of the car. This will become important later, given what I have in mind for a new background.

The grill looked a little beat. No doubt this is due to many years of joyful rides along the open highway with the wind blowing through it’s...grill. I used the smudge tool on the chrome to change the clear reflection of a pebbled driveway into a smooth blend of reflected light against a shiny chrome surface. I also used the same tool on the black grill then added a layer of black (set to multiply) and adjusted the opacity so the underlying details could show through just enough. Oh, I also turned on the headlights and added some strategically placed specular highlights. 

I do not want to keep the current background so I have now removed it. I will replace it with something else later.

I added my own custom license plate.

For the background, I used a custom pattern that looks like the material of a car seat. I found this pattern at a site called Premium Pixels. This is a great site to find some nice freebies. I thank my friend Scott Cole for  telling me about this site.

I found a version of the Charger logo that was created in Adobe Illustrator (top). Then I brought the logo into Photoshop to extrude it and to give it a more chrome-like appearance before setting it against my new background (bottom).

Allow me to introduce you to my dream car! 

As I said, I don't actually own this car so please don't call me asking for a ride in it. “Sigh,” maybe someday I'll have one of my own.

Before and After

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Too Groovy Logo Design

Too Groovy Final Logo Design 
(click each image for a larger view)

I've recently completed designing a logo for the Too Groovy Pop Culture Toy Store. This new toy store opening in Munhall, PA specializes in pop culture toys from days-gone-by with a greater emphasis on toys from the 1980s.

The client was fond of the logo from the ’80s arcade game Astroids™ and wanted me to use that as a starting point for design and for color selection. I ended up presenting them with 3 logo designs. Above is the design the client chose. Usually, I just give each layout a name like Layout 1 and Layout 2 but that gets boring so this time around I gave them each a fun name. The layout above is called DigiPop, because the pixelated bursts remind us of the early days of digital gaming.


This was one of the runners-up. For AstroidPop I used the font called Univers as this is close to the font (perhaps the exact font) as that which was used in the original arcade game materials. To connect the logo to retro pop culture fare, I used an exaggerated line screen blend in the background rings (rather than the smooth blends of more modern logos).


’80sPop (the other runner-up) was designed to appeal to the more innocent aspects of 1980s pop culture and is also more gender neutral than the other two designs.  To achieve an ’80s feel, I used the fonts Frankfurter and Neo Tech. Behind the logotype is a bloom of cyan, magenta and yellow halftone screens. Again, the halftone screens are a device commonly seen in pop culture art while the color scheme has a 1980s appeal. The smooth blends in the type bring the logo to the present day. 


DigiPop hearkens back to the days when the term “hi-res” didn’t exist. And we may not have known exactly what a pixel was, but we sure knew what one looked like. Keeping the color scheme of the original Astroids™ game graphics, I again used the fonts Neo Tech and Frankfurter. These fonts combined with smooth blends of the “game screen” background contrast with the more pixelated bursts and help blend the past with the present.

Each logo design can also be printed in one color ink 
(a must for a good logo design).

The logotype in all three designs can stand alone while the bursts 
can be used in other print materials like store signage and advertisements.

In the past, I've always liked to show three strong designs to the client. The idea is to give them three excellent choices of logos which will best communicate what their company or service is all about. However, I'm beginning to recognize problems with this way of thinking.

First, if the idea is to come up with the best logo design for a business, then why not just present the design which I, the designer, consider to be the best design for that job. If one of three designs is best suited for that purpose, then why show the other two lesser designs. To make matters more difficult, I usually find 1 of the 3 designs to be my least favorite. I will then wrestle with removing the weakest of the three (the “pigeon design” as one of my mentors used to call it) because most of the time the design I like the least will be the one the client likes best. For the client it is often simply a matter of personal preference. For me, however, there are usually specific reasons I consider the layout to be weak. Perhaps I believe it does not meet all of the 5 elements of effective logo design (a good logo is simple, memorable, timeless, versatile and appropriate for it’s intended purpose), or there may be design issues involved with the “pigeon” which I expect will prove to be problematic when using the logo in other collaterals. Whatever the reason, it becomes an ethical problem for me, almost a kind of design malpractice, to present a design in which I have less confidence.

Secondly, I very often find that clients, when presented with three design ideas, will like some aspect of each design and will direct me to create a Frakenstein logo, a chimera combining parts of all three designs. This approach rarely ends well (just ask Dr. Frankensteen).

Fortunately, in the case of Too Groovy, none of the above difficulties manifested. The client liked all three ideas and chose one of the three with no revisions. I was confident to present all three designs. I like each of them and don’t consider any of them to be a “pigeon.” In fact, as far as my preferences were concerned, it was very, very close to a three way tie. Still, a designer always has his favorite. Did the client pick my favorite in this case? 

A good designer never tells.

Too Groovy Pop Culture Toys
3905 Main Steet, Munhall, PA.
(412) 339-4812

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Logo Redesign

Click each image for a larger view.

I've just finished re-desgning my logo. I get the urge to do this every so often.  After considering three different designs, I settled on this one. While I like this red and blue color scheme, I don't plan on limiting my color usage with the logo (I don't feel so constrained as corporate entities usually are, to stick to a standard corporate color scheme). Rather, I will likely let the design circumstances determine which colors I use. Here are some variations:

I do, however, constrain myself to the rules of effective logo design. Those rules dictate that a logo must be:
  • Simple
  • Memorable
  • Timeless
  • Versatile
  • Appropriate (for it's intended purpose)
In this case, I've chosen a sans-serif typeface called Trade Gothic (bold, extended) and made some slight modifications. Trade Gothic was designed by Jackson Burke in 1948. Burke continued further development of the typeface up to 1960. I wanted to design a logo that has the classic feel of that period yet maintains a view toward the future.

Blog Headers

I enjoy placing my logo into unusual environments for the headers of this blog. Here are some I've come up with so far:

I call this one Turbine.

This header only shows a portion of my overall photo-illustration. Here is the whole image:

I call this next one The Shadowy Figure.

I call this one Miami.

This is Miami 2.

In Lagoon, the logo is a little difficult to read (especially the smaller type):

I call this one Vinyl.

This one is called, The Lads.

This one is my favorite so far. I call it Classic Car.

All of these photo illustrations required a lot of advanced PhotoShop work but I have a lot of fun making them. Each presents different challenges which are fun to work through. I hope to make more of them.

It’s not easy do design a logo for one’s self. It’s very personal and there are so many directions I would like to take it. Still, I enjoy the exercise. It reminds me how my clients feel when they ask for their own logo design.