Cowboys?? Seriously?

Since am so darned busy that I can’t be bothered to update my blog, I will at least point you to a place that I AM updating regularly.

Accidental Humour Co, the multimedia theatre collective of which I am a part, is hard at work building it’s newest action-comedy-spectacle:

Cowboy: A Cowboy Story

(It’s a western.)

I will be pulling double duty as writer/co-director this year, which will make this show extra… um, I dunno. Crispy? I’m also doing as much design and marketing as possible, so I guess that’s triple duty.

Oh, I’m going to be filming and editing, too. So, quadruple duty, I guess.

Crap. I am never going to have spare time ever again.

On the plus, this show is going to kick serious butt. If your in the Alberta, Canada region this August, check it out at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival. I guarantee it will be impressive, if not very, very funny.

We will also be remounting it briefly in September in Southern, Alberta. So now you have NO excuse.

BrentFelzien.ca for more.

weakLY ARTWORK UPDATE

Goodday, friends. Things are keeping me busy as a professional crea- *snort*

Sorry. I have a hard time whenever I refer to myself as a professional. But that’s what I am. I’m actually getting more and more consistent work, which is pretty much awesome.

The flip-side is that I am ridiculously busy. But… for some reason I am not making any more money. Hm.

Oh well. Someday I will be paid what I am worth… or maybe just be worth being paid. In the mean time I cannot complain about the lack of opportunity to learn and expand as a designer. I think the next place I need to focus intently on is web-design. Since I have a feeling this whole “internet” thing is going to really take off.

Anyway, in this brave new world I hope there will still be room for the charm of traditional illustration. I am trying to do my part by injecting such pieces into my design whenever I can. To this effect, I offer you my latest illustration for another theatre client. It is a watercolour painting of a man with birds living in his hat. Adorable!! This one is for Empress Theatre and their upcoming TYA production of Bird Brain by Vern Thiessen. There is no information up quite yet on their website, but it will come eventually. If your down in the area, go check it out this summer. Tell them Brent sent you.

They won’t know what your talking about.

weakLY Artwork Update

As per usual, I have been hard at work on so many things that I neglect that which is closest to me. I am, of course, not referring to my blog, but it it has also been neglected as of late. I make no apologies and am sorry for that.

Here we have an illustration that was commissioned for Verb Theatre in Calgary. Once again I was responsible for the poster design of their 2010-11 season of shows. This one, starring the famous Canadian theatre master, Sharon Pollock, will be the final show of their season. It has been exciting and educational working creating this season’s posters and I look forward (hopefully) to being called upon again by Verb to do more poster design in the future.

Part of what has been educational about this experience is discovering how my illustration style is terrible for making posters with. Mostly because I paint without thought or interest of consequences. It was annoying enough to learn that I could not paint a five-foot painting every time I wanted to illustrate and expect to be able to scan it. Or that I couldn’t just glue a bunch of crap to a piece of board I found and expect the tactile quality of the piece to translate into print. I had to modify my style to make it more practical for producing designs with a short turn over.

That being said, I have not given up on the idea of larger, multimedia works. I just need a better way to capture them digitally. I think the key is a very, very expensive camera. Unfortunately, that is not an option at the moment… so until I can procure one and really cut loose, I will be working smaller and tile-scanning illustrations.

On the plus, I have been actually USING my illustration skills. Granted, I should be using them much, much more if only to keep myself exercised, but unfortunately the design-side of things is much more likely to be lucrative… and honestly I need MORE practice at it at this point then at illustration.

Also, I will be doing a Cowboy play this summer.

~Brent

Something I Learned Today

I would like to introduce you to a new feature here are Beautiful Tubers that I hope will help me remember useful things that I have discovered on my road to becoming a better designer. And maybe… just maybe, someone else will find use for it, too. I call this feature: Something I Learned Today.

Extracting Subsetted Fonts from a PDF

First of all, lets start with some jargon.

When you design a document in Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, at some point you will more then likely export that document as a PDF (Portable Document Format) to send to a client, printer or other avenues of distribution. This is generally a good thing, as PDFs are industry standard documents that can be read by anyone with a machine built after 1993 and they do a bang-up job of compressing an otherwise overweight working document into something a little more manageable for sending without compromising quality.

The way this works, simply speaking, is that the PDF is composed of only the parts of a document that it NEEDS to display properly and all unnecessary information is not included. This is not always the case, of course, and a PDF can be saved as a full-quality, massive, editable document if you say so in the export dialogue box, but for the sake of this discussion, we are going to assume default PDF settings.

Part of what a PDF does to save space while retaining your design is the embedding of fonts, meaning; the PDF has the font file wrapped inside it. This solves the issue of all computers needing to have the exact same font files in order to properly display the document. The PDF reader simply uses the embedded font file without the need for your system to install Moon Star just to view your cousin’s wedding invitation.

But, Adobe doesn’t just end there. No, it goes a step further to save space. It does this by subsetting fonts.

Embed vs Subset

Oh, good. A customer sent me a vector-format for once. Now I'll just open this in Illustrator and...

Embedding fonts will put the entire typeface into the pdf document. This is done specifically to make the PDF more editable after it is made. Subsetting fonts, however, makes it so that the PDF only has the few characters it NEEDS from the typeface to display properly. This means if you wrote “Sweet Cup Cakes” in Razzle Dazzle as your layout’s header, only the specific characters “S”, “w”, “e”, “t”, “C”, “u”, “p”, “a”, “k” & “s” in that particular typeface will be placed into the PDF. That also includes picking capital vs the lowercase depending on which is used.

By default, when you export a PDF from Adobe InDesign or Illustrator, it will Subset your fonts into that document. Doing this results in a smaller file size and also helps combat the wanton distribution of copy-written fonts that you legally bought and paid for (right?…) So it is generally also a good thing. But I have quickly discovered that it also leads to major frustration in my current job…

How I Learned to Quit Whining and Love the Subset

Oh, good. The type wasn't outlined. Awesome.

At the sign shop I work at, people send me all kinds of stupid things. My favorite is when they send me a 10 x 10 px gif and want me to put it on their 20 x 40 foot pylon sign.

The problem is, even when I get it through their heads that I need a vector-based file (such as PDF) of their logo, 5 times out of 10 they will send me something with their font subset into it.

Usually I can get around this because a) I don’t need to open the file for editing and can just raster the file in Photoshop or b) it is a font I already have or can get for free. But more often then I like, I NEED to open the PDF in Illustrator in order to turn the file into cut-lines for our plotter. Unfortunately, as soon as you open a PDF in Illustrator, it tries to find a system-installed version of the subset for you to use for editing. When it can’t find it… it uses a standard sans substitute like Arial or Helvetica.

Wow. That doesn't look the same at all. SURPRISE!

Wow. That doesn't look the same at all. Surprise!

The way to combat this issue is to OUTLINE YOUR DAMN FONTS. Turn them into vector drawings instead of keeping them editable text. But of course, people don’t understand the difference. “I don’t understand… you asked for a vector format… I don’t know… my cousin made this for me…”

So… I got to thinking… there has got to be a way to extract those subset characters OUT of the PDF so I can make outlines out of them without having to get the original “designer” to re-export the PDF with outlines, which for some reason is like pulling teeth. The answer I found is by using Font Forge, a open-source program that you can use to convert, edit and create fonts. Installing it is a bitch in itself if you are not into that kind of stuff, but once you do… it is a powerful piece of software for dealing with font files.

Ok. Lets see what Font Forge can do.

Instead of going through the steps I will direct you to this website that details it here. It sort of tells you how to do it, but it misses a few steps that I had to figure out myself, which basically involves going through and manually selecting each character and under “Glyph Info” having to type in it’s Unicode character (B for B, a for a, ect.) Otherwise the exported font file you get from the process will not know which glyph goes with which character.

The part they don't mention is the tedious process of matching up the glyphs to their proper character ids before exporting. Wee.

Once you finish “Generating Font File” to TrueType or OpenType, or whatever format you prefer, you can activate it in your system like any other font. Only this one will only have the handful of characters that were used in the PDF. This basically means you can use it to open and create text outlines in illustrator. Since you only have the subset characters, you can’t exactly write a dissertation or anything with this chopped-up version of the font, but if your lucky, you’ll have what you need.

Well, it looks... better. But I will have to do some more tweaking.

Suffice to say, it is an annoying process that is only to be used because you have no choice. I thought it was a neat technical cheat for what has become a real annoyance in my own job. You will still have to do some tweaking even after it is all said and done. In this particular example I forgot to assign a character to “space” so that is why it has no character in the screenshot. My fix was to assign the spaces another generic typeface (like Arial) and then Kern the space until it looks like the original is supposed to. Also, the process needs to be repeated for all typefaces in the PDF that you need. Also in this case, I had another “Roman Extended” version under the green keyline that I hadn’t extracted and converted yet. What fun!

Of course, I am open to other suggestions on how to achieve a similar outcome. The simpler, the better.

Hopefully next time, I will have a much smaller tip to give you guys.

That’s what she said.

weakLY ARTWORK UPDATE

This illustration will be featured in the upcoming poster for Verb Theatre’s The Opposite of Dismal, a Show and Tell which will be mounting at the end of November in Calgary, Alberta. Check it out, it sounds like it will be a very exciting piece of theatre.

This piece was made from photo reference I procured from the internet. So… apologies to the original photographer. I am reminded of OBEY’s iconic Obama image and the controversy when the original photographer (or more specifically, the Associated Press) started raising hell over his appropriation of their image.

It’s a gray area, to be sure. One one hand, an artist is benefiting and profiting from the work of someone else, which is not really cool. But on the other hand, the artist is bringing their own aesthetic experience and craft to create something unique and, in most cases, with a fundamentally different meaning behind it. Of course, that is not always the case and many so-called “artists” make a living leeching off the creative droppings of others by not being clever, creative or even interesting with their appropriation; just using the creative or commercial success of others to further their own interests.

Which one am I? Well. I leave that to you to decide.

Love,

Brent

weakLY ARTWORK UPDATE

Sometimes it is difficult being an artist and a designer.

I’m not referring, of course, to the cliché of the starving artist. We all know about that you can make money in the arts, as long as your willing to work hard and long hours for no money… which is contradictory, I know. But that is sort of how it works; the more you work for no money, the more money you seem to make in the arts. I primarily attribute this phenomena to word of mouth, who you know, and the strange snowball-on-a-series of-switchbacks effect of fame. Though I suppose there is something to be said about karma.

No, what is hard for me is being an artist and a designer.

This is an old complaint (or so it feels, anyway) so forgive me if you’ve already heard it twenty eight times, but there is a fundamental conflict-of-interest I have had to come to terms with in my journey as a creative professional; making work for myself and making work for a client.

I know I’m not alone in the struggle. That is the fundamental difference between an artist and designer. An artist doesn’t have to appease anyone but himself. A designer appeases a client.

I was trained as an artist. I took almost nine years of schooling encouraging me to be creative and seek to hone my self-expression. Then I decided to try to become a graphic designer and I had to pull a 180. Sort of.

As a designer, you are prized for your personal creativity and ability to express ideas in exciting ways. At least, that is the theory. As any designer who has gone through the ringer can attest, your expression is usually dampened by the “C” word. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the client just wants something ugly and imitative and unfortunatly, its your job to give it to them.

Of course, the what is ugly? Ugliness is pretty subjective. As an artist, what is “ugly” is pretty black and white in what I like or don’t like. As a designer, I sometimes have to adopt some pretty ugly concepts to fit a client’s aesthetic. But they are the one’s I’m designing for. Well… them and their customers. And sometimes they know what they want. And it is ugly.

So it comes down to being humble. Humble because as a designer, you have to accept that you don’t always know better (even if you do). Because though you are an artist who is trained in visual communication, Gestalt, Typography, layout and visual identity… you are still working for someone who is not you. A good client understands that you are a professional and just like they hire a plumber or an electrician to do a job, they are hiring you to do something for them that they cannot do properly themselves. A bad client thinks you are a tool to act out their own creative illusions. But they are both clients. And you have to work for both of them.

Oh. And this is an illustration I did for Verb Theatre’s production of John and Beatrice. It is closing tonight, actually. If you are in Calgary, I suggest you go see it.