iPad Art to Digital Prints

iPad Painting Print

I’m not sure what took me so long, but I finally bit the bullet and got some of my iPad art professionally printed with archival inks and artist-grade paper.

I used Picture Salon, and I am so thrilled with the results. The colors are so vibrant, so true to the originals. I used bright white paper and printed them as big as Picture Salon recommended (9 x 12 with a border). For more about the process of making these digital paintings, click here. For posts about my artwork in general, click here.

In other news, had a couple of recent critiques on a work in progress (novel) that really gave me a shot in the arm. So great to get some helpful feedback. This writing thing can be too solitary at times.

Currently reading Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck. What about you?

Digital Drawing on Photographs

Allium artwork

I have a little more to share about our trip to France, but for now, here’s a little artwork.

On a recent flight from Boston to Charlotte, I took a break from reading and started fiddling around with an app (Adobe Ideas), drawing on some of my photographs. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some of these before, both pre and post-drawing.

Floral Arrangement

Fun, eh? Have a favorite?

Floral Artwork

Just finished watching the BBC adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House. Really enjoyed it. Currently reading Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth (it’s the memoir upon which the show is based). Now watching Bletchley Circle. I seem to be in a BBC/ British kind of mood.

For more posts about  my artwork and others’, click here.

Painting by App, Part 1

Ever since seeing David Hockney’s iPad art at the Louisiana Museum outside Copenhagen, I’d been wanting to try it myself.

Now that I have an iPad, I read this article about painting/ drawing apps and jumped right in. The good thing is many of the apps are free or have a free trial version, so it’s a low-risk leap.

Here’s my first stab at it:

Brushes app image

Yes, my feet are gorgeous! I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me. I drew this with my fingers using Brushes (the same app David Hockney uses). Brushes is wonderfully simple and great for quick impressions.The picture is nothing special, but on the iPad itself, my kids love being able to watch the video of how it came together. I couldn’t get that feature to transfer here, but if you know how to do it, give me a shout.

Here’s a funny article about trying to become David Hockney via Brushes. You can guess how that turned out.

Below are a couple of sketches made using the free trial version of Sketchbook Pro. These are also done with my fingers, both in Florida where the hubs and I had a nice relaxing week to ourselves in early December.

Cloud Painting

Florida Canal Painting

Sketchbook Pro lets you to easily change brush size and tool choice (i.e. brush, airbrush, pencil). And with both programs, it’s easy to get just the color you want with the stroke of a finger. Sketchbook Pro lets you make colors more or less transparent, which makes for some cool effects. It takes a bit of getting used to, though, that the paint is so consistent. In other words, your “paint” doesn’t really blend with other colors, and it never runs out.

The “paint” is most like watercolor, though unlike watercolor, you can undo your strokes as often as you like. You could easily get carried away with self-correction. I tried not to but used “undo” as an excuse to take risks I wouldn’t have taken with real watercolors. I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of all of the art apps I’ve tried—the ability to try new things with no risk, and to make a picture quickly without getting out and putting away all of your materials.

Using your finger to draw is a little clunky. These three were all done before I got my Sensu Brush/ Stylus, and now that I have it, I’ll probably skip finger drawing.

I enjoyed both of these apps, but I found myself wanting more features and more detail. I decided it was time to try the apps with pricetags. More about app art to come.

If you make art on your mobile device, what do you do with the images? David Hockney prefers to let his iPad work live only in the digital world, but I think it could be reproduced a number of ways. What do you think? Have you tried producing a “real” version of your digital images? I’d love to hear how it’s gone.

An Interview with App Author Sarah Towle

I had the honor of meeting Sarah Towle when I went to Amsterdam in November for the SCBWI Netherlands conference.

Besides being a mother and inveterate traveler, Sarah is also an historian, linguist, language teacher, and writer of creative non-fiction. With Time Traveler Tours mobile StoryApp iTineraries, she has found a way to combine all these passions. The goal of these interactive story-based tours is to put the past in the palm of your hand and allow you to discovery history with those who made it!

The bilingual version of Sarah’s Beware Madame la Guillotine hit the App Store last week and is on sale for the rest of January.

I was really intrigued by Sarah’s work and asked her to share a bit about her process with us.  In between I’ve included screen shots of Beware Madame la Guillotine so you can get a feel for what it looks like and how it works.

What inspired your app project?

 

 Two things happened to plant the seed. Then a chance meeting at the Bologna Book Fair caused the idea to sprout and grow.

 The first incident took place in April 2009 when 48 eager and very honest teens informed me that my project did not work as a book. (More on this below.)

A few months later, I was traveling through in the wilds of northern Canada with dear friends, bird and Apple enthusiasts both. I knew nothing about ornithology and marveled at their ability to identify birds in flight from long distances. One of them pulled out an iPhone and launched a birder app. The app included detailed illustrations of each bird species alongside descriptions of physical characteristics and habitat, just as a bird book would. But it also offered two things its cousin the book could not: the sound of each bird song, and all in a pocket-sized, mobile package. As I held that iPhone in my hand, looking at high-resolution images of birds and listening to their calls, I knew I had found the right format for my interactive story tours.

It turns out my pilot group had been right: Not only had they told me that the project would never work as a book, they had also suggested it would make a pretty good app. There was only one problem. I knew nothing about apps. In fact, at that time I was still using a pretty dumb phone.

So I went to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March 2010 to seek out a publisher to produce my Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTineraries. Unfortunately, children’s book publishers were not producing book apps at that time. I approached Stephen Roxburgh, the only editor at the Fair then talking “digital.” He read the MS for my French Revolution story, Beware Madame la Guillotine, and said it was the most exciting thing at the Fair. He offered me the editorial services of his company, namelos, but he was not in a position to produce the app. I had to make a decision: I could wait for the publishing industry to catch up or ride the momentum and publish a first app, at least, myself.

 

Why an app instead of a book?

Each Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTinerary is a journey back in time to a particular historical era narrated by a colorful character who lived at that time. As the storytellers/tour guides spin their personal yarns, they reveal the history of the ages and give meaning to sites of relevance visited along the way. Peppered throughout each tour are hunts for historical artifacts, trivia and map challenges, and other game-like activities. It is precisely these interactive elements that were cumbersome to play with, and to produce, in print form. But in digital app format, educational activities can be easily added to enhance the story and deepen historical understanding. Furthermore, because of the sound capability of mobile devices, the stories can be told aloud. Therefore, as an app you can chose to simply listen to the story or read along with the storyteller, or you can turn the narration off and read the story to yourself.

With the latest French-English bilingual update, released 21 January 2012, you can now read the story in one language while listening in the other. Likewise, you can do the app in English, say, and then return to it later to study the story in French. So while the story remains linear, the reader/user can consume it in numerous ways. This would not have been possible as a book.

How did you go about creating it? Did you work with a developer?

To produce a book you need the partnership of a writer, an editor, an art designer and, in some cases, an illustrator. Producing an app requires a similar collaboration. You need someone to create the content, someone to create the graphical user interface, and someone to create the program.

Once I’d determined to take the do-it-yourself (DIY) route, I had to create a production team.

First, I needed to be certain that my story content was as good as it could possibly be. There is still a negative stigma attached to self-publishing and with reason. Much of it isn’t that good. That’s precisely why we have agents and editors. But I would be bypassing these traditional gatekeepers by creating StoryApps myself. Yet, my primary goal was to provide great content for mobile device. So I was delighted to obtain the aid, and the blessing, of the namelos editorial team, specifically Karen Klockner, to help me craft the story content.

Next was realizing that good programmers do not make good designers. Design and coding are two discreet skills. I had to secure the commitment of a talented graphic artist if I wanted any hope of achieving a clean, uniform and attractive “look” – or user interface – that would be the visible manifestation of the user experience programmed underneath. After looking at lots of on-line portfolios, I decided to work with Beth Lower, who was then seeking a way to step from print into the digital herself.

That left the biggest challenge of all, finding the right coding partner, because I didn’t know anyone in the world of IT. Through the search and selection process I learned, the hard way, that there are many programmers out there, but not a lot of good ones. It took three attempts, and as many contracts, before I found the talented folks at SmartyShortz LLC.

But you can’t build an app from a manuscript alone. Before we could proceed, I had to provide both the design and programming partners a wireframe and specifications document, detailing how the content and interactive elements would flow in and out of one another. Together these documents comprise the architectural blueprints for the app’s construction.

The process of building the team and creating the spec doc took about a year; this was on top of the time I’d already spent writing the story and defining the itinerary, curating the archival images and obtaining rights to use them. Altogether, our first app, Beware Madame la Guillotine, was several years in the making. But once the team was in place, the content edited and approved, the images and graphic look decided upon, it only took about six weeks to write the first, English-only version of the app.

 

What have you learned about marketing yourself?

 

Mainly that I have to do it, that I still have a lot to learn about how it’s done, and that my apps will never be discovered without it. This is my greatest challenge at present.

The App Store is a noisy place. It isn’t terribly well organized and there’s a lot being added every day, much of which isn’t worth buying. This makes “discoverability” a big issue for publishers of all sizes, but particularly for a low-budget start-up like me. If you want people to find your product, you have to direct them to it by making yourself visible on multiple platforms, through blogging and other means of digital as well as face-to-face networking.

So, I’ve created a website and blog, a facebook page and twitter feed and I keep chipping away at it. Slowly but surely I’m getting the hang of it. I found it daunting at first, but eventually I had no choice but to dive in. I started where I felt most comfortable, with a blog, and I have been growing my platform ever since.

Unfortunately, marketing can take an inordinate amount of time – time that could be spent writing my next story. And it must be done regularly: I have found a direct correlation between frequency of new content vs. numbers of hits; i.e., the more I post the more readers I attract. So it’s important to be disciplined and use your time wisely. Limit your marketing efforts to so much time per day and week, and try not to get sucked in when your mind is fresh for more creative endeavors.

What do you have planned next? –Other countries, locales?

My plan for 2012 is to produce two more apps: another of my Paris stories, Day of the Dead, and at least one London story. In fact, I’m currently running a contest for London story tours. The winner will be published by Time Traveler Tours. Check out my website for more information. I’ll be accepting submissions through 1 April 2012: http://www.timetravelertours.com/announcement/

 

What’s been the most exciting thing that’s happened since you published/ created your app?

The most exciting thing is how well the first app, Beware Madame la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, has been received by teachers and librarians. I originally conceived the Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTineraries for the travel market. In fact, I refer to them as a new generation of travel guides for a new generation of traveler. But teachers and librarians in the US and UK are buying Beware Madame la Guillotine to complement secondary school history curricula. As a former classroom teacher, I am of course delighted.

Since its initial launch in July 2011, Beware Madame la Guillotine has received honors as a School Library Journal Top 10 2011 App and as a Top Ten Tried and True Classroom App from Teachers With Apps. I’m thrilled to have received these accolades!

and lastly, John, Paul, George, or Ringo?  

I gotta say George. I love his music and his excellent vibes. And I always admired that he was able to bring together in a creative way his many diverse interests and passions. He’s one of my heroes.

 Thank you, Sarah, for sharing about your process. I’m excited to see watch your work grow!

To find out more about Sarah and her StoryApps, check out her website and blog.

Amsterdam, the Espresso Book Machine, and Thoughtful Children’s Apps

Last weekend I had the chance to attend a conference in Amsterdam hosted by the Netherlands chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

The event was packed with interesting speakers and attendees from England, France, and Germany as well as the Netherlands. Highlights: writing workshops by Erzsi Deak and by fellow Vermont College alum Sarah Blake Johnson, a demo of the Espresso Book Machine, and news from the Wild West of app development for children and young adults. Here’s a write up of the conference by Mina Witteman, Dutch author and brave conference organizer. Thank you, Mina, for all your hard work!

The Espresso Book Machine is a new concept available in just a few locations, where you can print out high-quality paperback books on demand. The American Book Center in Amsterdam offered a demonstration to us.

As you see above, the machine itself looks like a computer attached to a very fancy printer with clear glass sides. It smells strongly of ink and glue. A video demo of it is viewable on the ABC website here (look down the right column for “ABC’s EBM in action”). In addition to printing the double-sided pages, the machine also trims and binds them and adds a cover. The result is very like what we call a trade paperback (high-quality-not-newsprint pages, with varying trim sizes).

The inside pages are all in black and white, but covers are printed in full color. If I recall correctly, there’s a 15 euro charge to use the machine and the books themselves cost around 15 euros a piece.

I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to hear much about the various applications of the machine. It’s a vehicle for self-published authors as well as traditional publishers and those seeking out-of-print books. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the current market, with all the changes going on in publishing.

What do you think? How would you use the EBM? Can it compete with e-books, or is it trying to? Is its target market the same or different from e-books?

I was also really intrigued by the work of the app developers who attended the conference. Apps for children weren’t something I had given much thought before. I thought apps in general were video games and personal organization tools, with maybe some room for animated children’s books.

Taking a look at the work of Omar Curriere and Sarah Towle gave me a whole new insight into the medium.

Omar’s company, OCG Studios, approached American illustrator Roxie Monroe with the idea of creating an ipad (and later iphone) app based on her intricate maze books. Ms. Monroe spent months creating original, hand-done artwork, and a team of six programmers spent three months developing the app. The result is frankly stunning. It’s part maze, part treasure hunt, part ABC game with a little car you can move with your finger—so cool! Check it out at the address linked above. There you’ll also find one of Roxie Monroe’s books turned into an app, which is a lot more intense a project than it might sound. It will be exciting to see what else OCG comes up with.

The other app developer I met was Sarah Towle, whose company, Time Traveler Tours, specializes in travel apps for students and their families or teachers. Her first offering, Beware Madame La Guillotine really blows my mind. It’s part book, part interactive travel guide, part scavenger hunt. I didn’t know an app could do all that. It definitely offers something that I have to admit the printed book can’t. I can’t wait to see what comes up with next.