I am often asked how I use Photoshop and/or Gimp to make the patterns I use for my fabric collages. Although there is some information in my book, I thought I would share some tips and tricks here today.
Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements:
I actually use Elements, which is a stripped down version of full Photoshop; it does way more than I need it to do and is considerably less expensive than the full Photoshop program. I am by no means a Photoshop expert (and there are plenty out there who are if you want to take a course). But I use only a small fraction of what this program is capable of and therefore only need to understand that little bit.
In Photoshop (or Elements) I use the “cutout” filter. Let me explain how that works. The computer screen sees 256 colors. The cutout filter will reduce the number of visible colors to only eight or less–and refers to them as “levels”. That means colors that blend from one to another will be shown with a clear dividing line that is perfect for my purposes in identifying and using value to choose fabric. But there is a learning curve.
First of all, for some photos simply applying the cutout filter to the entire photo works just fine and that is that. But for most, reducing the number of colors so drastically means too many areas blend into each other and create a blob of color that doesn’t serve my purposes. So I use the lasso tool (yes, that little icon on the sidebar that looks like a cowboy’s lasso). I use the lasso to trace around a single area of like color (it takes practice) and then apply the cutout filter. Anything inside the lasso will be the only area to which the filter (or anything else) is applied. I can also lighten an area and/or bring up the contrast–just in that one spot. Often I will use this tool to highlight specific areas and apply the filter a section at a time until I get the desired effect overall. In addition, when doing the closeup of a face, I will often use the lasso to go around everything on the face EXCEPT the eyes, which will then not get the filter effect–leaving them clearer and easier to use as a pattern. Trial and error and practice will make this work for you. Remember to always save whatever you do in Photoshop with a new name so the original photo is never altered.
Advantages of Photoshop–
- the ability to fine tune the pattern by section by applying, say a level 4 (that is what the number of colors visible is called and levels go from 2 to 8) to one area but a 7 and then a 6 and then an 8 to other areas, customizing the pattern with exactly the level of detail you want exactly where you want it.
- a nice clean line of definition between colors/values that is easy to follow (although the result is sort of jiggy jaggy edges that I just smooth out when I trace onto the freezer paper).
Disadvantages of Photoshop–
- you need to purchase the program
- there is a learning curve before you will feel comfortable and get the results you want.
Enter Gimp. I first started playing with Gimp when I was writing my latest book as the publisher wanted readers to be able to make their own patterns without purchasing a program. Gimp operates by use of the same principles but the logistics and end result are a bit different. I actually try both programs when I start on a new pattern, finding that the results are sometimes better with one than the other. But if Gimp is all you have (the download is free) it works just fine.
In Gimp, I go to the upper menu bar to “color” and go down to choose “posterize”. The photo appears on the screen in a box with a slider at the bottom and showing at a low level (3). Using the slider I can move it one number at a time until the result looks like a pattern I can use (most often I am somewhere in the 7 to 11 range). Then I save it using a different name (depending on your operating system you may need to go to “export” in order to save it as a jpeg, If your operating system lets you save it as a jpeg from “save as”, you are good to go). Again, either way changing the name when you save it protects the original photo.
Advantages of Gimp–
- very little learning curve
- ability to see the changes as you make them
Disadvantages of Gimp–
- color shift during the process. For this reason I always print the original photo as a color reference–although even if the colors are wrong they are still in the right values.
- more difficult (although possible if you learn the ins and outs of the program) to isolate sections to work on one at a time as described in Photoshop
- less well defined edges (although certainly workable)
Once I have the pattern looking the way I want it, I use an online system to print them in the actual size of the finished art quilt. www.blockposters.com is also described in my book, and although recently the look of the site has changed (and now charges for enlargements more than [if I remember correctly] six sheets of paper wide, otherwise it is free) it still works the same way. Upload your image, which must be less than 1 MG and in jpeg format. Tell the program how many pieces of paper wide and whether that paper is US or European size and whether it is horizonal or vertical. The finished size comes up in cm, but it is easy enough to do a computer search in another window, for example “57 cm= ? inches” and you will get the inch measurements. Plus, the program will show the outlines of the pieces of paper, which means you will get the gist of the size anyway. This takes you to a PDF you can print and/or save. I do both the original photo and then the pattern in the same finished size for reference.
Having me make the pattern for you–
You may have noticed that I offer a pattern service on this website (click on art quilt patterns on the side menu) for $15. For those of you who don’t want to fuss with these programs it is obviously an easier way to go. You email me the photo and I will email you the pdfs of the original and the pattern for you to print from your computer. But I will make the pattern as it looks right to me, and learning to do it yourself means you can tweak every little detail exactly the way you want it. Still, if you prefer to just get to your stash and start making art, it is an option. Interested? Send me an email with the image and we can “talk”.
I hope this helps take some of the mystery out of the pattern making process. It isn’t hard, you just need to jump in and play with the programs until you feel comfortable with them.