3 Tips for Scanning Artwork (that have nothing to do with your scanner)

(Above Left: the artwork for my pattern Abstract Watercolor Dots straight out of the scanner. Above Right: The final edited and color corrected pattern)

“Which scanner should I use when I’m digitizing my watercolor artwork?”

If you’re involved in any online art communities, chances are you’ve seen this question come up more than once. It makes sense why scanning is on our minds so much as artists- whether we’re sharing pictures on social media, preparing prints to sell, or building repeating patterns, we want our artwork to look as great on a screen as it does on the page. When you’re just starting to scan artwork, however, investing in technology can be daunting, and it can be overwhelming  to make sense of the various features on each individual scanner.

Here’s my scanning secret: In the four years that I’ve been scanning artwork for printing and sale, I’ve been using the same scanner on my all-in-one HP home printer. It’s nothing fancy, just what I had available to me when I started sharing my art, and so far I’ve been perfectly happy with the great scans I can get with it.

For my money (quite literally), getting a good scan is less about which scanner you use and more about the methods you use for capturing and editing your scan. Here are three methods I use for getting a great scan that have nothing to do with my actual scanner:

 

(Above left: the artwork for my design Living Coral Swirl straight out of the scanner. Above right: The final edited and color corrected design as it appears on a Redbubble Tote Bag)

 

1. Keeping the Paper Flat

Watercolor paper can tend to warp and bend when you paint on it, so when you’re scanning it’s important to press the paper as flat as you can to eliminate shadows. Loose-leaf paintings can usually lie flat under the lid on your scanner. For stubborn paintings in sketchbooks, I’ve been known to press the sketchbook down by hand or stack books on top of my sketchbook to get it as flat as possible. Anything to get a bright, clean scan!

2. Resolution / DPI

DPI, which stands for dots (or pixels) by inch, refers to the resolution or quality of your scanned image. The higher your DPI, the clearer and more detailed your scan will be. Higher resolution will also result in a bigger file size for your final image. When you’re choosing your scanning settings, you have the option to set the DPI number of your scan. I usually scan my artwork at 600dpi, because it captures every detail of my drawings. High DPI also gives me plenty of scale options for products and patterns. You can always scale artwork down digitally, but scaling up will stretch your image and make it look pixelated. That’s why it’s always good to start big.

One last resolution-related thing to be aware of is scan time. Many scanners will take longer to make a high-res scan than they will a low-res one. That’s because the machine is taking its time to thoroughly capture your artwork. Believe me, your patience will be rewarded.

3. Color Correction and Editing

Perhaps the most important thing to know about scanning artwork is that no image is going to come straight out of the scanner looking exactly the way you want it to. Every piece of artwork that you scan is going to need some editing. As you can see from the above examples, I do a lot of editing on my artwork once it’s digitized. I take my time erasing pencil lines, removing schmutz, and brightening the colors.

Nowadays I use editing tools and adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop, but when I first started editing artwork I used a basic photo editor to crop my images and adjust the colors (good things to play around with are brightness/exposure, contrast, and saturation). Regardless of what program you use, it’s hugely helpful to keep your handmade artwork nearby as a reference while you’re editing your scan. That way you can get your colors as close to the original as possible.

(Above Left: the artwork for my design My Big Fat Greek Salad straight out of the scanner. Above Right: the design on Spoonflower’s Linen Cotton Canvas)

If you have a scanner in your home, you may be surprised by the images you can produce with what you already have on hand. A little prep work before and after scanning can yield beautiful results, no matter what the specs on your actual machine may be. Experiment and find a scanning method that works for you- before you spring for a technology upgrade.

LET’S DISCUSS:

What tricks do you use to get a good scan of your handmade artwork? Do you think the scanner you choose is important to getting a good scan? What’s your favorite method of editing your artwork once it’s digitized?

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Inspiration Journaling: The Art of Generating Ideas

“Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like- a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. […] See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file.”

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told you about Being Creative

If you’ve established any kind of creative habit, you know that waiting around for inspiration to strike just… doesn’t…work. It’s certainly nice when an exciting idea comes to you, but that fired-up emotional state that we call inspiration has a way of showing up exactly when it wants to- and never when we need it to. For long-term, consistent creativity, we have to use some kind of reliable system for storing, exploring, and generating great material for your artistic work.

For me, that’s where my inspiration journal (or inspo journal for short) comes in. My inspo journal is a messy, anything-goes space for brainstorming and stashing incomplete ideas for my art projects. No matter how I’m feeling on a given day, spending a few minutes looking at my journal puts me in a frame of mind to create. Today, I’m going to take you on a tour of my journal and give you some ideas for starting one of your own. Let’s jump in!

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The beauty of the inspo journal is that it’s incredibly easy to start. You probably already have all the supplies you’ll need in your home:

  • A blank, unlined notebook. I use an Amazon Basics 5×8” blank notebook (the same model as my “dry” sketchbook).
  • Scissors
  • Washi tape or a glue stick for pasting elements into your journal.
  • Pens and pencils for taking notes.

From here, anything is fair game. Magazine clippings, song lyrics, brainstorms, charts, quotes, fabric swatches, anything that sparks an idea that you can use later. Here are some ways that I like to use my journal:

 

The first half of my inspo journal is a scrapbook of sorts. It’s full of pictures, fabrics, and color combos that I can transform in some way for a future project.

Next to each element in the journal, I try to make a note of where it came from. This gives me a starting point for any future design research I’d like to do. For example, the page on the above right features a great photo from a Kate Spade ad campaign. If I ever want to look for similar designs and colors, I always know where this photo came from.  I also try to fill these pages with detailed notes on why I chose each element, and I jot down a few quick thoughts on how to use similar concepts later on.

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I’m particularly proud of this page in the journal, devoted to the color combo of navy, red, and light pink. I kept seeing these colors pop up everywhere, and continued adding to this page as time passed. Spoonflower’s magazine (top-left and bottom-left clippings) confirmed my trend-watching by highlighting these colors as a great combo for Spring!

The back half of my journal is dedicated to notes, lists, and charts. It’s so helpful to have notes from Skillshare classes, client meetings, and solo brainstorms all in one place. When I need to explore an idea thoroughly from multiple angles, that’s usually where a written brainstorm comes in handy.

 

These pages are early outline drafts of my two Skillshare classes, “From Page to Pattern” and “Learn to Draw Faces with 4 Simple Shapes.” These outlines went through several stages of development; I sketched out a few in the journal first, and then moved the more polished versions onto my laptop. Writing out my plan by hand first really helped me slow down to consider each step, and it prevented me from editing my outline right away (more on self-editing later).

(As you can see, my original title for “From Page to Pattern” was “From Sketchbook to Surface Design,” which was… significantly less snappy.)

My other favorite technique for written brainstorming is making a chart like the one below. This goes by many names; idea map, mind map, concept map, but my personal favorite is spider chart, because it’s all about circles and spindly legs.

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This chart was a brainstorm for some summer patterns inspired by the city of Charleston, South Carolina. On the bottom-left you can see a VERY rough sketch for what eventually became my Vintage Beach Toile.

A spider chart is super simple to put together: Just start with your central topic in a bubble on the center of the page (mine was CHARLESTON), then begin breaking that central theme down into sub-topics, and connect them to the center bubble with a line. You can continue dividing and connecting bubbles any way you like.

With this chart I asked myself, “what do I think of when I think of Charleston?” I thought of the beach, and connected that in a new bubble. I broke that down even further into bubbles for “sun,” “sand,” “shells,” and more. I went back to my main concept and added “FOOD,” and started thinking about foods I like to eat on vacation. At this point, I wasn’t trying to think of what would translate well into a pattern, I was just recording as many thoughts as I could. Try to picture a pattern based on Feta cheese. Can’t do it? Neither can I. It’s on the chart anyway.

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However you decide to keep track of your ideas, the biggest key to effective brainstorming  is eliminating self-censorship.

Eliminating self-censorship (or self-editing) is a principle that has helped me SO much: In the brainstorming stage, your job is not to evaluate whether an idea is good or bad. Your job is just to generate A LOT of ideas. Worry about deciding which ones to use later.  That’s what your inspo journal (swipe file, Pinterest board, notebook) is all about: generating raw material from which to sculpt your amazing work.

Inspiration journaling has been such a freeing practice for me as an artist. If I have an idea that I can’t devote time to at the moment, I’ll write it in the journal. If I’m feeling tapped out, I always have a wealth of prompts in the journal. That allows me to separate my creativity from my emotional or physical circumstances. Now matter how I feel, I still have material from which to create. However that system looks for you, I hope you can find a place to collect your awesome ideas for a rainy day.

LET’S DISCUSS:

Do you keep an inspiration journal, or do you go digital with Pinterest boards and bookmark folders? What’s your go-to place for great ideas? Share your favorite tips and techniques in the comments!

 

And We’re Back

Chalk lettering by the brilliant Shelley Parsons, @imustnottalkinclass on Instagram!

Welcome!

Four years ago, I started this blog as a place to share my artwork. It’s weird to think of now, but at the time I was so nervous to share my drawings with anyone besides my family and close friends. I’d been drawing my whole life, but I didn’t see my work as anything serious. Through sharing posts and talking to other artists, I found something surprising: people liked my art. More than that, I learned that there was a whole world of opportunities for artists. I got to know amazing people who were creating professionally, and I began to think, “maybe I can do this, too…” 

In short, this blog helped me plug into a creative support network and gave me the push I needed to begin building an artistic career that I love. Big stuff. 🙂

Several shops, some online classes, and hundreds of Instagram and Facebook posts later, we’re back here, on the blog where it all began. Things are still a work in progress (so pardon the dust), but I’m so excited to revive the community that inspired me, and to exchange ideas with you wherever you are in your artistic journey.

Things will look a little different over here now, so let’s talk about some new goals for this space:

What the blog is

  • A forum for in-depth discussion. This is a space for us to learn together and dig deep. Here we can have a dialogue that won’t fit on a social media post or comment. We’re going to be covering art-related topics from lots of fun angles, and I’ll do my best to share what I’ve learned as thoroughly as possible.
  • A place to share tips and resources. In addition to creating original tutorials and articles, I’ll also be sharing my favorite art supplies, educational resources, and fun links.
  • A one-stop shop for all my projects around the internet. If you want to explore more of my artwork and process, the links on this blog will take you to my shops, online classes, and social media profiles.

What the blog isn’t

  • A place to see casual updates. Behind-the-scenes photos, Q&As, and random jokes will live on my social media accounts.
  • A place to see new artwork. While I’ll post some artwork over here, most of my finished pieces will be over on my Instagram page.
  • A promotional platform with a ton of ads. It’s important to me that you’re never bombarded with ads when you come into this space. I’ll share occasional updates about my projects, and affiliate links to art supplies that I love, but you’ll never have to wade through irrelevant or distracting ads to see good content.

Stay tuned for more updates, discussions, and tutorials! In the meantime, enjoy this Friday roundup of great art content to explore:

The Art Institute of Chicago’s searchable database of works in their collection has helped me learn so much about art history in the past few months.

Did you know that legendary illustrator Quentin Blake has a Twitter account? He does, and it’s a delight.

The Skillshare blog posted a thorough roundup of Things to Draw When You’re Out of Ideas. This post shares all kinds of art-block busters, from prompts to new techniques. My favorite is the section on copying and its powerful proper use.

If you tune in to our weekly livestreams on Instagram, you’ll know that I love painting to instrumental music. Spotify’s Cute Beats playlist has been my go-to for playful, relaxing music to help me focus.

ICYMI, I wrote a post last week for the Spoonflower blog all about creating pattern-friendly artwork for surface design. It covers some of my favorite subjects: art, design, and food. 🙂

Wishing you a fantastic weekend,

Annie

 

 

Two Hundred + Tiles

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This is something a little different that I’ve been doing lately. Something about doodling tiles is so meditative and relaxing. I’ve done some in different colors, but for some reason the black and white ones are my favorites. More to come soon!

(P.S. Hot dog, this is my 200th post on WordPress! Thanks for staying tuned!)