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Symbiartic

Symbiartic


The art of science and the science of art.
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Illustrate Your Science Blog Using An iPhone


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Okay so you’re blogging about science, putting your expertise out there, hoping to reel people in so they can see how cool everything you do really is. Show ‘em. Right. Typetypetypepublish.

But it doesn’t look right. You’re looking at your favourite science blogs and they all have these cool images. Copyright scares you a little. You’ve never heard of Creative Commons, or think it has something to do with makers at Burning Man; you’re not sure.

So: no images?

Nah. Make your own. Android people will have to figure this out another way, right now I’m talking to iPhone users. I have an iPhone 4, classic flavour, no sugary Siri added. Let’s make some interesting images to liven up that wall of text you have going there. We’re going to make 2 images using 3 apps. I did these two in under an hour.

The Subjects

Trilobite fossil on the left and nautilus shell on the right. I trip over this stuff in my studio.

A quick general tip about iPhone cameras that I find people are unaware of. For backlit scenes, or for objects waaay up close, you want to tap the screen before taking the pic. If faces are backlit, tap the face and the light from a window will be washed white, but the face will be clearer. Objects up-close can achieve stunning detail if you focus by tapping the subject before snapping the photo.

Let’s get started.

1st app: Manga Camera

Price: free

Manga Camera is a fun app that seems to work best indoors with plain backgrounds. You snap a picture (sorry, no importing) and then can change the manga effects filter before saving. I chose one with a plain background (no lightning or speed lines) with some plain text on the bottom that I can erase in another app later.  (Anyone know what that text says? The app has no translations.)

Trilobite from above, photographed using Manga Camera. Most definitely mislabeled in Japanese.

Here's the nautilus shell. Manga Camera can have some unpredictable effects, so control them with the usual: clean backdrops, no heavy shadows and you should be fine.

I’m using this app to create simplified, drawn-looking images. Not a great photographer? Doesn’t matter. It won’t look like a photo when we’re done anyhow.

2nd app: Sketch Club

Price: $2.99 – The makers of Sketch Club, Blackpawn really support this app and its community. Tons of new features have been added since I first tried it.
There’s a lot of painting apps out there, many of which are fantastic. I like Sketch Club a lot: the ability to import a pencil drawing of mine and paint it while I’m on the bus or in a cafe is really nice.

To colour our two examples, I go to Layers, then Import the images from the iPhone’s camera roll. Then I paint over the Japanese words in basic white.

Time to paint with colour! Set the Manga Camera image we just imported to Blend Mode: “Multiply” Layer. Multiplying a layer basically means the pencil drawing, ink or in this case black lines from Manga Camera behave as if they are on a transparency. So we can paint on a layer underneath them while the black-line image from Manga Camera ‘floats’ on top.

Trilobite quickly painted using Sketch Club. Yeah, it's kind of sloppy.

I used relatively naturalistic colours. But for the sake of identifying anatomy, I could have gone with some basic primary or pastel colours to differentiate glabella from cephalon.

You have a ton of control in Sketch Club. Opacity of paint (I usually use about 50%), tons of different brushes, and of course pinch and zoom to get at tiny areas.

Sketch Club also has a really useful Pixel Brush. You could import a photo of say, trees, then make a quick bar graph on top about deforestation. Setting the Pixel Brush to a low opacity would allow the tree to show through. Useful, and maybe visually more interesting than another damn bar graph.

3rd app: Halftone

Price: $0.99 – optional photo filters available for a bit more money each. I didn’t use them for this tutorial.

Halftone basically makes your photos look like panels from a comic book. The main reason I’m using it here is to show you how those little word balloons can be changed from “Friendly Neighbourhood Hipster Quip!” to useful diagram labels.

After importing your photo, you can choose a photo filter. I used one for the trilobite, not the nautilus. You also have a bunch of options like cropping, red-eye, fixing blemishes, backlighting, and more. After you pick them, the app creates a halftone: those little old-school dots that used to be the staple of newspaper and comic printing.

I kept the halftone dots for the trilobite, but turned their setting down for the nautilius shell to give it a cleaner look.

Fun and retro-y looking! Isn't that more visually interesting than a wall of text? No? You can add 'splosions in Halftone too.

Then, you can choose what kind of paper, from crumpled and stained to baseball-card cardboard. Again, I was going to keep the nautilus shell image clean, but I couldn’t resist a few wrinkles to the plain white paper. Oh, and a grad student-style coffee ring stain.

The Nautilus after Halftone is done with it. You can remove borders, insert more than one image from your camera roll and a lot more with this app.

You can move your versatile little thought-, word- and labeling-balloons around and label the images as you feel is necessary. Or add a 10 cents sticker.

Try it out

There! Helpful? Science blog images for only $4 in apps. If anyone tries these out to illustrate their blog, lemme know!

*Prices and availability of features in these apps likely to change as this blog post ages gracefully.

Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at www.glendonmellow.com. Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. yoda_dip 7:06 am 11/16/2012

    I like these fancy images!

    Words in manga camera says
    “(My | Our) life (is) double bogey.”
    Almost meanless.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Glendon Mellow 9:01 am 11/16/2012

    Thanks yoda_dip!

    Link to this

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