Laurie McCanna's Photoshop Tip #4
Getting Started in Computer Graphics, a Guide for the Compulsive Computer User
Technically, this isn't a Photoshop Tip, but more of an opinion piece.This little essay is also, surprisingly enough, one of the pages that draws the most feedback. I hear about how much people identify with this profile of a passionate computer user. You might, too.
Ever since I've actually started to make money doing artwork on the computer people have been asking me what my suggestions are for getting started in computer graphics.
Go to art school for four years if you possibly can. Draw, draw, draw. Get a sketchbook
and draw some more. Look at other people's work and start forming your own opinions. Start your own scrap file - rip out stuff from magazines that you love. This is the beginning of developing your own style. There is no right way or wrong way to do this. If you really love creating images, you're doing some of this already. Keep at it, this is not wasted time but instead time that you're investing in yourself and your craft.
Somewhere along the way you'll need to figure out if working on a computer and creating artwork is your thing. I'm not talking about a mild interest here, but a consuming passion. How do you tell if computer graphics is for
you? A short test follows.
- Do you lose track of time when you're on the computer? Do you forget to eat? Walk the dog? Pick up the kids?
- Do you spend more time reading about computer stuff than watching tv?
- Extra geek points:
- Is your computer monitor as big as your tv screen?
- Does it bother you when other people get near your computer?
- Do you feel the need to take the mouse out of someone else's hand when you see them trying to do something you know how to do?
- Do other people complain about the amount of time you spend with the computer? Have you considered getting the complainer their own computer as a means
of getting them to shut up and leave you alone (with your computer, of course!)
If you have answered yes to one or more of the above questions, then you are a Computer Person.
Okay, so computers and art are officially your thing. What about equipment?
What drives me crazy is that people don't think much about spending tens of thousands on a college education, or a new car, but really have a problem spending money on getting the right tools for computer work. This stuff is difficult enough to learn without the added frustration of having to work with inadequate equipment. Makes me crazy. Would you, for example, suggest to a medical student that they use old instruments? Computer graphics is one of the most demanding (power and memory-wise) computer applications there is, so don't stint yourself! Yes, I started on a 286 with CorelDraw 2, but you don't have to!
Okay, enough ranting. Warm up that charge card. First off, you'll need:
- Look at the highest end PC you can find. Now step down two steps. This is usually where the price starts to break down to a more affordable level. Generally, the top group of PCs are cutting edge and you pay a premium for that. Try for something a little above the mid-range computer.
- 1 gig of RAM. Now that RAM no longer costs $1/MB, more is better. 1 gig is really the bare minimum for running any graphic application.
- 17 inch is better - again, bigger is better
- Wacom input device (pen and tablet) - you can get the 4x5 tablet for under $100. I like the 6inch by 8 inch tablet, but there is a significant price jump between the two. These take up quite a bit of desktop space - the border around the active area is 2 inches on all sides.
- DVD/CD-R drive. Being able to back up files to a CD and/or DVD is key.
Okay, here's the negotiable stuff:
- Hard disc space of at least 500 gigs. Photoshop not only uses RAM for memory, but also uses hard drive space for memory while you're working. It's estimated that you need five times the amount of swap space for the size of your image. You could buy a smaller hard drive, but in any case be sure the case your computer comes in has a couple of empty drive bays so you can add
more hard drive space later.
- Who you buy your hardware from is a big question. The issue is support. I used to have a wonderful local computer shop who would custom build my computers with whatever I was willing to pay for. If something went kablooey, I just put the CPU in the back seat and took it there. Well, hardware is pretty competitive, and my computer guy is out of business. I want to buy from a vendor who has a decent track record of support and replacement. I'll buy replacement parts and peripherals (monitors, printers, Wacom tablet, additional hard drives) where I can get the best price, but I buy my CPUs from Dell.
There, that wasn't so bad, was it? But I'm afraid that was just the hardware. Couple of points about software: if you can get student prices on the following, do it. You can save 25 to 75% off what us non-students pay. I'd recommend googling "educational software". You're generally asked to send in a copy of a student ID before you purchase. Educational software is available not just for college students and teachers, but also for high school students.
You gotta have:
Honestly, for beginners, that's where I'd start is with Photoshop. Do the tutorials here for starters, then give yourself some small projects to start with. Tutorials are nice but working on your own projects will force you to solve problems. Design a business card or an invitation. Mock up a web site.
Okay, so you know Photoshop. What next?
- Corel Painter IX.5 (Win/Mac), or Painter, version 9, Academic version or Artweaver, which is free (more info on my blog)
- Auto FX filters
- Alien Skin Filters
Photoshop Plugins are like dessert. You have to have Photoshop and understand how to
use them, but they add incredible effects to your images, and they're just plain fun. There are numerous freeware plugins in addition to the commercially available options listed above.
Using Painter will be pretty simple if you know Photoshop (with the exception of learning to use its bizarre set of selection tools).
Your family and friends used to complain about how much time you spent on the computer? Well, say goodbye to them now, because after you start to use Painter and KPT and Photoshop, you may never come up for air.
If you decide that creating artwork for print (as opposed to creating art
for computer screens or web graphics) you will probably also want to learn CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator.
If you decide that you want to create artwork for multimedia, you will also want to learn Macromedia Director.
4. Now that you've lost your friends and family because you are spending
so much time with your computer, you'll have to find some new friends who
will understand you better. Where do your new friends hang out?
On the internet, check out these newsgroups:
On the web, check out the Adobe forums for help. They do require registration, but the Adobe engineers also watch the group. If you have a bizarre (maybe it's just me) problem, this is the best place to address it.
For those into print, check out Desktoppublishing.com,
For shareware and utilities, check out Shareware.com,
Don't miss the other links here on McCannas.com, to Shareware, Type, Graphics, and HTML resources.