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Oops… My Smart Phone Laid An Egg(s)

June 26, 2013

My last post featured an illustration for an essay about social media. Here’s a second illustration for the same essay.

Main point: social media sites like Twitter are good at sound bites and breaking news,
not good at communicating the complex truth behind events.Β cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs fostering rumor gossip opinion sound bites but not truth

A chicken smart phone– now there’s something to cluck about. Here’s a close-up detail image:
detail of illustration cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs fostering rumor gossip opinion sound bites but not truth

There were two effects I was especially pleased with: the light reflection off the glass surface of the phone (red arrows below), and the semi-transparent slash thru the word TRUTH.cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs red arrows indicating light glare reflection off phone applied with Color Dodge gradient in Photoshop

Let’s take a quick look at how these effects were achieved.

I’ve learned to use non-destructive techniques in Photoshop: I mask (hide) things rather than erase them, and I apply lighting effects on separate layers so I can experiment freely and undo anything that doesn’t work.

Here’s what the chicken phone looked like prior to the lighting effects. I applied the brown-red-yellow with a camel’s hair PS brush, so there’s a bit of grain, but it’s still basically flat color.

cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs flat color on separate layer before lighting effects applied

I created a separate layer for my lighting effects, and clipped it to my flat color layer. The indented arrow seen in the relevant portion of the Layers Window below indicates the two layers are clipped together.

This means that any brushstrokes I enter on the top (lighting effects) layer will only impact the flat color layer beneath it. No other layers will be affected.

I used the same camel’s hair brush (at various opacity and flow settings) to apply color to the top layer.

The key to getting the lighting effects: setting the brush mode to Screen, Color Dodge, and Linear Dodge to lighten the flat colors, and Multiply, Color Burn, and Linear Burn to darken them.

I ad-libbed at this point, jumping back and forth between colors and brush modes until I liked the combined effects.

cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs light and dark shading effects applied on separate clipped layer using brush set to Multiply, Screen, Burn, Dodge

To create the light reflection on glass effect, I created a new top layer, and used the Pen tool to carefully select the two areas I wanted to apply the effect to (red arrows below). I then chose a light brown color and used the Gradient tool set to mode = Color Dodge to apply the effect.

You’ll notice in the Layers Window below, that the “phone gleam” layer is not clipped to the other layers. Why is that?

Alas– time for me to confess that I have not yet mastered all the subtleties of what are called clipping masks. I do know that once you start “stacking” clipped layers, results become unpredictable. In this case, after experimenting, I found using an unclipped
layer gave me the glare effect I wanted. A clipped layer did not.

For more on clipping masks (and layer masks as well), I’d suggest this excellent post
by Matt Ward. Β cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs light reflection glare applied to selected areas on separate layer using Gradient tool set to Color Dodge mode

Which brings us to that slash across TRUTH– why was I so pleased about that??

Well, I began by using a black slash, but it obscured the word and made it hard to read– was it TRUTH or TROTH?

So I switched to a red slash. The bright contrast was a big improvement, but it still left
that element of doubt. An illustration will not be a success if it contains ambiguities or media eggs with black slash thru word truth compared to red slash thru truth to indicate that social media like Twitter cannot convey complex truth in short sound bites

Then it struck me that all I had to do was lower the opacity and make the slash semi-transparent:social media eggs with red slash at 100% opacity thru word truth compared to red slash at reduced 86% opacity which makes it easier to read the crossed out word

Here it is with the relevant portion of the Layers media eggs detail showing red slash thru word truth with Photoshop Layers window indicating opacity reduced to 86% so can read word being crossed out

Here’s the final again. Even at a distance, one knows that’s the word TRUTH.

Best of all, by grappling with the problem, I vastly improved the design: the color red immediately draws the reader’s eye to the most crucial element in the illustration.

cell phone as chicken laying Twitter and social media eggs fostering rumor gossip opinion sound bites but not truth

Are you ready to rush out and buy a chicken smart phone?

Would you believe there’s really a Chicken Sounds appΒ you can use for a ringtone?

Did you find the Photoshop tips helpful?

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2013 5:09 PM

    Great illustration. Very interesting to read how you do it. Even someone nutty from Brazil could understand it….
    >An illustration will not be a success if it contains ambiguities or distractions.< Never thought about this before!


    • June 28, 2013 9:14 PM

      My dear Tutti! How do you manage to be so nutty and so charming at the same time?? It’s incredible! : )

      I do enjoy crazy illustrations with lots of jokes and “distractions” crammed into them. In fact, I’m ready to say, the more the merrier, as long as you’re doing something strictly for laughs. However, if you’re illustrating an article and trying to communicate a certain point, you can make that point with humor, but you have to give the illustration a clear focus– otherwise the point may be lost.

      There– that’s what I was trying to say, and I probably said it better the first time!

      Of course, any drawing by Tutti is excellent, simply because she’s so talented… : )


  2. June 26, 2013 6:12 PM

    I simply cannot love chickens enough to have a chicken sound on my tele. Mine would literally sound like a hen house the livelong day. Fab drawing, Mark.


    • June 28, 2013 9:21 PM

      I know exactly what you mean, Red. Even if the phone were on vibrate, you’d still know that somewhere there was a chicken going “Bawk, bawk!!” and it would slowly drive you bonkers. And hey, some of us live too close to the edge as it is… : )

      Thanks so much for your support– bawk!! : )


  3. June 26, 2013 6:52 PM

    Thanks for a great tutorial, Mark — Ps clipping masks always give me trouble. LUV the chicken-phone πŸ˜‰


    • June 28, 2013 9:25 PM

      Glad you enjoyed it, Vanessa– also glad to know I’m not the only one still grappling with chicken masks!

      Er, I mean clipping masks… : )

      Always nice to see you, thanks so much for your support!


      • June 29, 2013 1:46 AM

        Wow, I’m surprised — you make it look so easy — chicken or clippin’ πŸ˜‰ And, congratulations for being featured by Cristian on ‘irevuo’ — LUV the slideshow. I don’t comment much but you make it so easy — thanks.


        • July 8, 2013 1:07 PM

          Ha! My understanding is frequently limited, but I know enough to be dangerous– or at least enough to figure out a work-around! : )

          Thank you for your kind words, Vanessa. Comments are always nice, but I am sustained by your visits, your kindness in Liking my posts, and your ongoing interest and support– all very sincerely appreciated. Thank you! : )


  4. June 26, 2013 10:09 PM

    No smartphone for me, Mark, chicken or otherwise. If I can save up enough pennies, however, a tablet would be nice.

    I use the GIMP myself for cost-saving measures, not to mention being a Linux user currently. GIMP does a number of things differently than Photoshop, so a lot of tips aimed at Photoshop don’t always translate over smoothly for GIMP.


    • June 28, 2013 10:04 PM

      Thanks, Jak. I’ve never used GIMP, but I’ve heard good things about it. Important for people to know that there are free and low-cost alternatives to Photoshop.

      Let’s see: if you saved up and got a chicken tablet, maybe you could program it to say “Bawk, bawk!” every time you got mail. Yes… yes, that’s a splendid idea… : P

      Always appreciate your support, sir! : )


  5. June 26, 2013 11:04 PM

    A chicken smart phone? That’s a lot of ‘hooey.’ But, your art work – that’s the real deal. Excellent, Mark.


    • June 28, 2013 10:11 PM

      What’s that?? You’re clucking your tongue over my chicken phone?? I’d say I’ve scored a goose egg, but you might cry fowl… : P

      Thank you, my dear Judy– always a pleasure to see you here at Ye Olde Armstrong Chicken Farm… : )


  6. June 27, 2013 6:48 AM

    Oh, Mark, I’m crazy about your chicken smart phone!!!


  7. spartacus2030 permalink
    June 28, 2013 6:32 PM

    Excellent work! I’m following you now… Cheers!


  8. June 29, 2013 4:49 AM

    Lovely post, great images. I use Photoshop all the time for my digital artworks, though in a largely intuitive (read: suck it and see) ,way. So it’s nice to see some clear do this, do that….


    • July 8, 2013 1:14 PM

      “Suck it and see”– ha! Now that made me bust out laughing! And I recognized the stratagem immediately– I’ve been using it for years. It’s a great teacher, and, if one makes a complete hash of things, it often provides that extra motivation to dig into a PS manual or google one’s way to a suitable tutorial.

      I shall look forward to visiting your blog, Simon– many thanks for your very kind comment!


  9. June 30, 2013 6:14 PM

    i love your work – first saw it on Earthstills blog – enjoyed your post and thanks for being so willing to share your tips – very helpful and generous of you.


    • July 8, 2013 1:48 PM

      What a very kind and gracious comment– thank you. I’m very glad you enjoyed the post, and that the tips were helpful. I sincerely appreciate your visit, and I shall look forward to visiting your blog– thanks again! : )


  10. SingingTuna permalink
    July 4, 2013 6:58 PM

    LOL!! Great phone! Apple must be kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.
    People can have their phones sound like chickens?

    I love how you made the “truth” work so well!!!
    I’m still not that familiar with clipping masks in PSE. I don’t know if it has mask-masks. Or are they the same thing?
    Love this post!


    • July 11, 2013 10:45 AM

      Bawk, bawk! Thank you for your call. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m on the nest doing my daily dozen– bawk! : P

      Yes– when in doubt, reduce Truth’s opacity. Especially if you’re testifying before a congressional committee… : )

      I’m honestly not familiar with a “mask-mask.” Sounds like something a little kid would say to the Lone Ranger… : P

      Thank you for your great comment, kemo sabe!! : )


  11. Margie permalink
    July 7, 2013 9:17 AM

    Great job of explaining this, Mark. I expect it took longer to figure out how to do these things than it took to explain how to do them!


    • July 11, 2013 10:55 AM

      Thanks, Margie. Yes, that’s the part that takes me the longest: figuring things out!! : )

      Funny, tho: sometimes it’s not easy to explain something even after you’ve worked it out. I think Sherlock Holmes once told Watson that it was easier to know something, than to explain how he knew it. Of course, he was Sherlock Holmes, which is always a big advantage… : )


  12. Lily permalink
    July 11, 2013 3:25 PM

    Yet another amusing and amazing illustration!

    Thanks for explaining how you did it. I didn’t know about non-destructive ‘masking’ techniques – but definitely makes sense to use them and very interesting to read about! I’ll be giving that a go! Thanks again, Mark! πŸ™‚


    • July 16, 2013 7:26 AM

      Always delightful to see you, Lily, thanks so much for stopping by. Yes, when you make as many mistakes and wrong guesses as I do, it pays to do them non-destructively so you can get back to square one, mutter to yourself for awhile, take a deep breath, and start over… : P

      Glad you found the post helpful, and thanks as always for your cheery support! : )


  13. July 18, 2013 4:02 PM

    Interesting aspect of social media and using it as a concept with the chicken and the egg. Truth always tends to be sidelined for speculation when any terrible event happens. In a way the internet is the worst thing to look up the news on as you don’t know what to believe until it is correctly stated. But even in printed and broadcasting media, neither still don’t always give you the right information. The truth will always be obscured until that ‘red tape’ wears off.

    As for your illustration I love it. And how you showed the before and after of the image process, the lighting and masks brings out so much detail to the whole illustration

    Wonderful work as always Mark!


    • July 25, 2013 12:28 PM

      Thanks for that kind and very discerning comment, Sabine. “Truth sidelined for speculation”– I think you’ve come up with a brilliant and very concise summation of what passes for the news media these days! : )

      There always seems to be an agenda. Some stories are ignored entirely, and in the case of those that are covered, the speculation always seems to nudge the story in a particular emotional direction. It’s a serious problem, because today’s issues are complex, and a lot of us (me, for sure) find them a challenge even with a full and balanced presentation of the facts.

      Glad you enjoyed the discussion about the lighting effects, and thanks for your kind words and always being so supportive! : )


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