Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Digitizing one's art and designs for an online portfolio

Written for those Visual Arts and Design learners (and their educators) interested in digitizing artwork for upload to their online portfolios.

Making good digital copies of artwork is a core competence in creating an online portfolio that does justice to your originals. This post was written for novices wanting to achieve this through sufficiently understanding the process and key concepts of digitization. Links to other website articles and online videos have also been provided for more in-depth assistance.

The digitization process
There is a eight-step process you must follow in digitizing your art: 
  1. Collate your best artworks and designs;
  2. Organize access to digitization tools;
  3. Get your work ready for digitization; 
  4. Digitize your works with a scanner or camera;
  5. Save each work to your digital archive with an appropriate filename and format;
  6. Edit your files to get them upload-ready;
  7. Upload your files;
  8. Backup your archive.
1. Collate your best artworks and designs.
You online portfolio should showcase your best art to viewers. So, it is important to keep your digital up-to-date by digitizing your latest (and best) artwork and design projects. It is helpful to review your curricular tasks and sketchbooks to check what you have done, and should these creative works are at different sites (such as home, school studio, boarding house, art center, government exhibitions, etc.), you must plan a schedule for collating them. You should also consider diarising a digization session on a regular basis; this will prompt you to set the time aside for updating your personal digital archives and online portfolio.

2. Organize access to digitization tools.
Once you've collated the artworks you want to digitize, you must organize access and help with the appropriate tools. The type you need to digitize your artworks should depend on their size and dimensions:
  1. For very small (21.5cm x 35.5cm), two-dimensional (2D) works and small, relatively flat three-dimensional (3D) ones use an A4 flatbed image scanner;
  2. For small (297 × 420) 2D and flat 3D works, use an A3 flatbed scanner;
  3. For medium and large 2D works use a tripod-mounted camera (or mobile phone camera) in well-lit studio;
  4. For medium and large 3D works use a tripod-mounted camera, video-recorder or mobile phone video camera.
If you are at a well-resourced school with a computer lab and library, you should be able to organize scanner assistance with either your Visual Arts or Design educator, your computer lab's IT manager or a librarian. You may also be able to ask your Visual Arts or Design educator to setup a well-lit area for you and your classmates to take pictures or video-record your bigger works, too.

If you do not have access to a scanner, camera or video-recorder at school, you should investigate alternatives. These could include:
  • Getting help from family and or friends at home or at their work;
  • Receiving support at an Arts Center or your local library;
  • Or paying for assistance at your local photocopying shop or internet cafe.
3. Get your work ready for digitization.
Once you have defined where and when you can digitize your images, you should order your collated artworks and designs in descending order; from your best, downwards. This will ensure that should you run out of time, you at least have digitized your best works first.

Checkpoints
  • Any small drawings in smudge-able media (like charcoal or pastel) should be sprayed with fixative, so that they do not change whilst marking the scanner!
  • All glass-framed work should be removed from its framing, since photographing or scanning a glass surface without reflections is more complex.
  • Check that any fragile work is safely stored for transport to the digitization venue.
4. Digitize your artworks with a scanner or a camera.
Working with digitization tools means learning some new terminology: you will use these tools to create 'raster images' made up of 'pixels'. Designers and digital artists distinguish between 'vector' and 'raster' images; vector images are images based on mathematical primitives, whose expressions are used to create computer graphic images, and are generally used for typesetting and graphic design. Raster images, or 'bitmaps', are going to be used when you create your photographs and scans. These images are made up of tiny colour squares. These colour squares are pixels (there is a parallel between the pixels and the tiles in mosaics).

Raster graphics are resolution dependent and cannot scale up to an arbitrary resolution without loss of apparent quality (unlike vector graphics, which easily scale up to the quality of the device rendering them). Before digitizing work, it is important to decide what you may want to use your digitized artworks for in the future. For example, you may have two objectives: in addition to using reduced images for your online portfolio website, you may want to print your digitized works on A4 paper.
Defining your objectives are vitally important; they should determine the initial resolution in 'dots per inch' and image size settings you choose when scanning or photographing imagery.

'Dots per inch' (dpi) refers to the number of dots of colour a colour printer creates when printing work, while 'pixels per linear inch' (ppi) refers to the number of pixels per linear inch in a raster image. For example, you would choose a high resolution, like 20,000-ppi, and a large format if you wanted to reprint your artwork at the same size. Or you would convert imagery to a small size for speedy display on a webpage (and at a low resolution, though this need not be a low, 72 dpi!) N.B. Please note that if you are only able to gain access to a mobile phone camera, its sizing is generally much higher than that used in internet imagery, so you can readily create online portfolios imagery with it.

Given the wide variety of scanners and cameras (including video and mobile) available, this post cannot possibly address techniques for specific equipment. It's up to you to take the initiative and either find help at your school, at home, outside or 'Do-It-Yourself' by referring to the online resources below (and/or finding the relevant equipment's manual(s)!).

4.1 Useful online resources for scanning or photographing your works:
A4 or A3 scanning introduction 
Scantip's beginner guide at www.scantips.com/begin.html by Wayne Fulton is a great resource that will help you no matter what type of scanner you use.

Photographing your painting
Tyler Stalman's introduction at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vpj28da03JQ&feature=g-like is a useful guide.

Photographing your sculpture
Chris Warner shows at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jNbVdNKaBo how to use artificial and natural light to photograph sculptures.

Same size imagery from scanning or photography
If you want to create same size imagery from your scans or photographs, read Lar Matré's article at http://matre.com/731/print-prep/ to learn how complex this is.

Video screenshots
You can use a video camera to take still photos of your work or your can take lower-resolution screenshots of video with a screenshot (on PC see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGG-58qnsnk {with your volume low} or on Mac, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKNfjrFsO3E).

Search for other resources
If you are having problems digitizing works, use a search engine like Google or Bing to see if there is helpful content on the relevant terms: i.e. If glossy surfaces are posing a problem, search using 'How to photograph shiny surface',

N.B. To cut down on editing time, please ensure the layout of your artwork matches that you want to see in your online portfolio when your  (ie. with minimal or no background showing, nor upside down or at an unusual angle!)

5. Save each work to your digital archive with an appropriate filename and format.
Based on my design experience, I would recommend that you should first capture your imagery in a high resolution (at 300 dots per inch, or greater) TIF image file format and then export this as a small size JPG format.  The reasoning for this is that you can keep your TIF files in reserve (for larger image work, like poster creation, for example), than you would be required when using small JPG files for Carbonmade uploads.

Check that your scanner or scanner is set to scan TIF files at high resolution after the image preview is shown. You should save the source TIF scans in a folder, and create a sub-folder within it for the JPG exports. You should also give your exported files different names to ensure its easier to spot the difference between the large and small versions. For example, 'table mountain sketch 17 July 2012.bmp' is exported as 'table mountain sketch small 17 July 2012.jpg'.

6. Edit your files to get them upload-ready.
You set your scanner or camera's software to edit and export imagery in JPG format. Alternatively, you can use Microsoft Picture Manager on PC, Preview on Mac, or GIMP on Ubuntu. Simply click on the appropriate link for a tutorial. 

Open the jpg file(s), then focus on learning how to get the appropriate image dimension, cropping technique, colour-balance and size:

6.1 Try out different image dimensions
You will need to experiment with the dimensions that work best for you, but it should not be smaller than 448 by 336 pixels, as you will see on the 'appropriate image sizes for uploading to web/adding to documents/sending by e-mail' listed below:

A. 1024 x 768 ppi   Large document
B. 800 x 600 ppi     Small document
C. 640 x 480 ppi     Large webpage image
D. 448 x 336 ppi     Small webpage image (unsuitable– too small, low quality)
E. 314 x 235 ppi     Large email (unsuitable)
F. 160 x 160 ppi     Small email (unsuitable)(N.B. These may vary to some extent depending of original dimensions of image captured).

Please check that the sizing you use for digitised imagery is consistent for your portrait and landscape formats, respectively; if these sizes vary significantly it will create a jarring visual effect for the viewer scrolling through your works. That's fine if it's deliberate, but a poor show, if not!

6.2 Cropping 
An important aspect of presentation is to ensure that the digitised images of your artworks are cropped neatly to the edge and no extraneous background should be visible, unless this is consistently done. For example, including the wireframe of your sketchbook may be an interesting touch when done in all sketch scans, but odd if done just for one.

6.3 Colour balance 
You can also try out the different colour-scheme in the editor, as listed on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_scheme. Once you have defined a scheme, you can also explore how changing an image's colour balance settings enhances (or degrades) your image's appeal.

6.4 Image size
Once you are happy with how your image looks, you need to check its file size. If you have followed the dimensions guide (6.1) it should be less than 1 Megabyte. If not, you need to be aware that a
large file size may take a while to upload and the download-time for your viewers will also be slow if they are on slow connections.

7. Upload your files.
Log into your online portfolio service and upload your files. If you have a slow connection, it is safest to  upload your files one at a time since batch upoads may time out when your school's broadband is being heavily used by other learners.

8. Backup your archive.
Finally, there are two types of computer users on earth; those who have lost data through computer hard-drive failure, and those who are about to! Rather than regretting that you didn't backup your digital artwork archive, you should schedule regular backups and do them to at least three different sources (i.e. external hard-drive, CD and USB memory stick). To find out more about backing up, read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_backup and to take you backup practices to the level of best practice, check out www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1847364,00.asp.

I trust that this post provides learners and their educators with the background they need to digitize their art and designs for the online portfolio services they use. I would like to thank the independant Visual Arts Head of Department and IT curriculum integration specialist, whose curricula, 'Digitising, Presenting and Publishing', was sourced in preparing a few sections of this post.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions on improving it in the comments box, below?

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