Procreate and the pandemic

Procreate and the pandemic

I have really improved my drawing and illustration skills during the COVID-19 pandemic. I credit patience, and creating something nearly every day, for much of the improvement. And I credit learning the Procreate app for the rest.

Patience, Procreate and creating something every day improved my drawing and illustration skills.

Last year, my “go-to” hardware was a MacBook Pro, a Wacom drawing tablet, a wireless keyboard and a 25-inch monitor. Late in 2019 I upgraded my iPad and purchased an Apple pencil. I could use the iPad anywhere, rather than be chained to the desk in my studio.

As a graphic designer, I  am experienced with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign–the creative’s toolset for graphic design, typography, photography and illustration. I tried several iPad drawing apps, but none had the feature set I needed. I started to follow creatives who produce iPad tutorials on, lettering, drawing and illustration tutorials. I learned about an app called Procreate–so named as it was developed for the iPad Pro, the first iPad to use an Apple Pencil. I paid my ten bucks and started to learn the app. I found that I could create artwork that looks as good as that created with my desktop software.

Back to the pandemic… I have worked at home for over 15 years, so staying home a bit more was not too taxing. I wanted to improve my drawing skills, but could not make myself pick up a sketchbook. I remember my drawing teacher told me, “just try drawing something–anything–each day.” So I started creating something on the iPad nearly every day. Birthday cards, abstract illustrations, watercolor drawings, comic-style illustrations, and more. I learned how to use dozens of different types of “brushes,” something I hadn’t explored much with earlier Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator projects. Since I was home almost all the time, I created lots of works from photos–free stock photos and my own photos. My skills grew, week to week and month to month. 

Do something good. Create something every day. 

I now use my sketchbook almost daily. Sometimes I use it at the start of a project. Most days I see where my mind takes me when I start Procreate, and use the sketchbook to take notes and to paste printed versions. My advice: Do something good. Create something every day. 

Procreate: a true gem for iPad drawing

Procreate is a Raster (pixel) drawing app, and has many features not found in other drawing apps available for the iPad. It is a true gem, and well worth the money. 

In 2019, my “go-to” tools for making quick–and detailed–graphics and illustrations were Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop on my Macbook Pro. My setup included a Wacom drawing tablet, a wireless keyboard, and a large monitor. My iPad was a secondary tool, hardly part of my graphic design workflow. I dabbled in the different Illustrator and Photoshop apps for the iPad, but they seemed awkward. 

Then I traded in my iPad for an iPad Air (3rd Generation) and bought an Apple Pencil. I kept hearing about an app called Procreate, designed for the original iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. One of the blogs I follow had lots of Procreate tutorials, so invested the small sum of TEN DOLLARS (!) and got started with Procreate.

Procreate is a true gem.

Pros: 

  • Choose from pre-installed templates, or create your own
  • Allows you to use pressure sensitivity with Apple Pencil to change drawing strokes
  • Layers! Depending upon the drawing size and resolution, you can have up to 40 or more layers
  • Robust text capabilities, and you can add typefaces
  • Preinstalled color palettes
  • Ability to create your own color palettes manually, create from an image or a photo in your library, or import palettes created by others
  • Ability to export color palettes
  • Shape and symmetry tools
  • Drawing assist allows you to create straight lines, smooth curves, and more
  • Create CMYK and RGB documents for print and Web, respectively
  • Export to several file formats, including PNG, JPEG, TIFF, layered PSD, PDF and more
  • Ability to create Procreate brushes and brush sets
  • Hundreds (thousands?) of free and paid Procreate brush sets are available

Cons:

  • As a Raster app, you need to set the drawing size and resolution up front, according to how you intend to use the illustration
  • In the current version, you can draw and edit arcs, with three or four points, but not “S-curves.”
  • If you are a Typophile and load dozens of typefaces, or often create illustrations with 20 or more layers, Procreate will crash periodically, even with decent iPad memory–but I have never lost a file!
  • There are so many Procreate brushes available, you may find it hard to limit the number you add; currently you cannot tag brushes as “favorites”
  • Cannot lock a color palette; I have accidentally changed color swatches many times

All told, I like this app and recommend it to graphic designers as part of your work flow.

Multilayered Procreate illustration

San Jacinto College selects Jill B Gilbert’s design for Quality Enhancement Plan

On April 20, San Jacinto College Vice Chancellor Laurel Williamson, QEP Director Ann Pearson and the QEP Committee announced that it selected Jill B Gilbert’s design to represent the program for the next five years (see the announcement here). The college’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Thinking and Beyond, promotes student success through critical thinking.

The winning design for San Jacinto College’s Quality Enhancement Plan, Thinking and Beyond

Gilbert’s design addresses the “right brain” creative and “left brain” logical aspects of critical thinking, as well as the San Jacinto Monument, topped by a star, and a USB connector to symbolize how students are always plugged in—the connection between critical thinking and technology.

Viewed another way, the symbol depicts a launched rocket, shooting for the stars into the great beyond, with puffs of exhaust parting as the rocket travels upward. This second interpretation is an homage to Houston, aka the Space City; Jill’s Dad, a rocket scientist, and her little brother who followed in his footsteps.

The hidden meanings behind logos

Last week, one of my French friends sent me a link to a PowerPoint presentation on the hidden meaning behind several corporate logos. I knew about the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo; the smiley face and lowercase letter “g” in the Goodwill logo; the smile and arrow from A to Z in the Amazon logo; and the hidden number 31 in the Baskin-Robbins logo. I read enough French to translate the captions on the slides.

Toyota brand mark
Toyota brand mark spells out the company name

Today, I came across an English version in a blog post by Onextrapixel. It is a pleasant and quick read. The biggest surprise is the meaning of Toyota’s oval icon—it combines strokes for each of the English letters in the company name!

Tour de France brand mark
Tour de France brand mark shows a bicycle rider and the sun

Another favorite is the Tour de France brand. The letter “R” depicts a bicycle rider and the letter “O” and the yellow circle represent two bicycle wheels and the sun; the ride takes place only during daylight hours.

Both of these brands have stood the test of time—they are crisp and memorable. Their hidden meanings make them more interesting.

Looking for design inspiration? Try these blogs…

Most designers do not just wake up in the morning, feeling inspired. Something they see or do gets their creative juices flowing. I often find my inspiration on the Internet, and I follow several design blogs. If you don’t know where to look, here is a compilation of 20 design and development blogs to follow. It includes several I have followed for years, plus some new ones I am eager to try… if only there were more hours in the day!

Branding lessons well worth learning

I just read a Fast Company Design article about how Steve Jobs worked with legendary designer Paul Rand to develop a logo for NeXT Computer.

NeXT_Computer Logo
NeXT_Computer Logo | Image: Wikimedia Commons

Whether you have millions of dollars or a more modest marketing budget, the takeaways ring true.

  • A logo must be distinctive, memorable and clear.
  • A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing [product or service] it represents; brands [by themselves] don’t make companies successful.
  • The designer’s role is to solve a problem, not to suggest options.
  • Logomarks—symbols like the Nike swoosh—could take $100 million, plus years to become well-known.
  • Once a brand is designed, you must communicate standards and guidelines for its usage throughout your company.

The stories behind Paul Rand’s logo designs

The Envato blog had a post about the stories behind Paul Rand’s logo designs.

Born in Brooklyn in 1914, Paul Rand is responsible for some of the most iconic brand identities, including IBM, ABC, Westinghouse, UPS and Next Computer. Though he studied art at Pratt Institute, he claimed that he was self-taught. He was inspired by European commercial arts journals and European modern artists and started his career creating magazine spreads. Soon he created magazine covers, notably for Esquire. At 27, he headed an ad agency, incorporating art into what, in the past, was mostly copy.

By the 1950s Rand moved on to logo work. And the rest is history, as they say.

Good design is good business”  —Thomas Watson Jr., IBM

You can see some of the famous work here.

 

Experience imparts value

As a consultant, it is interesting when talking with prospective clients to see if they want a “second set of hands” or if they want advice to help them address a business need. In my past life, as a management consultant in the software business, I sought the second type of assignments. The more problem-solving, the better.

Camera lens with eye
An eye for, and the skills for, digital graphic design

In my role as a freelance creative professional, I still seek, and truly enjoy, “value-added” assignments where I can solve problems. I am still a consultant. The difference is, now I have lots of business and marketing expertise plus I have an eye for, and possess, Web and graphic design skills.

 

 

As Web design guru Jeffrey Zeldman so aptly says,

a beginning consultant brings skills, an experienced consultant brings value.”

He goes on to say that to survive as an independent consultant at any age, and to remain meaningful in the digital design world, you must bring something different to the table. You must bring value.

Develop style guides for your design projects

Whether you are developing a 50-page Website, a small mobile phone app or an annual report for a corporate client, you should get in the habit of developing a style guide.

Branding and style guides are important for projects large and small. They help to provide consistent messages about an organization and provide a degree of professionalism. Creative Bloq has a good post on this topic, with examples of thirteen style guides for famous organizations.

Client project style guide

The client’s goal was to refresh their brand and their Web site to draw more customers to their wellness practice and retail establishment. I prepared a simple style guide, using Adobe Illustrator. The Style Guide displays the brand, color chips for main and accent colors, typography and usage examples:

Nature's Garden Style Guide
Style Guide for rebranding and web project

Here is how the styles look when applied to a “mobile first” Website design. Note how the colors and the leaf motif are repeated throughout the page. The design works well on a smartphone, on a tablet or on a large HD screen.

Responsive Home page on mobile device
Responsive Home page on mobile device

 

Nature's Garden home page on large HD monitor, colorful watercolor floral banner with logo and Welcome page on pale green bamboo patterned background
Responsive Home Page on large HD monitor

University style guide

On a whim, I researched my alma mater’s color and brand guidelines. The Miami University was established in 1809 by a charter signed by George Washington and has a long-standing with the Miami Indians in southwestern Ohio. 

It was interesting to find that Miami University uses different reds for print, online and merchandise. And there are lots of formal and informal logos in different styles and sizes for print, Web and merchandise use. Certain “vintage” logos require special permission from the University,

Here is the “M” spirit mark often used on sportswear and signs.

The Miami University Spirit Mark
The Miami University Spirit Mark

The branding guidelines also link to the school’s Web standards. These standards cover fonts, graphic elements, headers, footers, etc. It was interesting to see the fonts used; Adelle, Gotham, Promesh and Adobe Bembo. 

The Promesh font is new to me and it works well for athletic wear and athletic posters. You can download Promesh One and Promesh Two here.