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A Look at Cartoonification

One of the techniques I have been spending a lot of time with is what I have been calling "cartoonification," the process of turning a photograph into something that approximates a cartoon. Of course, there are many filters, actions and add-ons for programs like Photoshop that will perform this task very easily and quickly, often with stylish results. I will eventually look into using some of those, but for now I am loving doing it by hand (if performing a series of steps on a computer can be called "by hand"). It's giving me a much deeper understanding of how colour works in an image, which is all very valuable.

In a sense, this is an extension of the black and white, stencil/screen-print style graphics I've been making for a long time - it's just a matter of using more layers. My coworker Amira, who has a lot of experience with painting murals, informs me that this is called "colour blocking" or "blocking in" which makes sense, and also which reveals my complete lack of education in fine art and the process of illustrative painting. I've painted many backdrops in my time, and so I have done this with paint, but I've never really given the process much thought on it's own. Needless to say, this would be a great technique to use in painting a large mural, being almost idiot-proof as long as the outlines have been projected and traced out. Another way to look at it is that it's a way to make a paint-by-numbers image, in that the result is composed of blocks of solid colour with more-or-less sharp boundaries.

It's also a technique that lends itself to printing very well, which is one of the main reasons I'm working on it. I see this as a way to generate content for designs, allowing me to take great and appealing photographs and turn them into useful elements for graphic design. It's important to me, too, that I have personally transformed these photos into something else; it would feel kind of tacky to just recycle someone's Public Domain photo without adding artistic value to it in some way.

Another aspect that is always in the back of my mind is that this is a necessary technique for the creation of a screen print, and screen printing is something I actually know how to do. I worked for quite a while at a t-shirt shop called "The T-Shirt Gallery" when I was an undergrad at UBC. That job required manning the storefront, but also printing the shirts out back in a small studio, and I have printed well over a thousand shirts back there, from one colour to four (CMYK, or Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). Given that my goal here, the thing I'm explicitly working towards is making money by selling shirts (among other things, but my heart is with the shirts), this is probably the most useful skill I could be working on right now. Also typography, but that's a whole different kettle of fish.

The photo that heads this article comes from a festival in València, Spain called "Las Fallas." I knew nothing about this festival when I found the photo on Pixabay (my new go-to for high res photos and vectors in the Public Domain), but I quickly discovered that Las Fallas is utterly fascinating and deserving of its own article. Visit the city of València's website for info and a video. In short, it's a festival in early-to-mid March involving the construction of temporary public art called "ninots," which are caricatures, often bawdy and satirical, of varying sizes. These figures are put to the torch and burned to the ground on the last night of the festival, "the cremà." There are also a lot of fireworks and large-scale fire crackers (i.e., controlled explosions, often very loud) that occur in the days leading up to the cremà. The whole thing is amazing and is definitely on my bucket list. Funnily enough, València is one of the cities I visited during my Great Big Europe Trip of 2005 but during the wrong time of year. I had a strange couple of days there, mostly due to the hostel I was staying at - a multistoried building crammed with young travelers who liked to party. Not a lot of sleep.

One of the benefits of writing for this blog has been nuggets like this one; you never know what will turn up.


I have a lot more to write here, but as usual the demands of the day pull me away. I'll be back. In the meantime, feel free to peruse and puzzle over the unexplained images below.

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