Mandala (work-in-progress)

mandala flat colours
Over at Today’s Doodle, I and a bunch of others have been drawing for the last six months. We’ve been tackling a number of topics, and I’ve really improved my skills (it’s not much to brag about, but it’s a huge leap over where I was when I started).

Most of the work I’ve been doing has been in black and white, but once in a while I do try to colour things. I need to work a lot more on this image, Mandala, but I just wanted to put up this intermediate flat-colour version to show you that even a quick session with the paint bucket tool can result in something good. The black & white original is below.

mandala bw

Kapoor Khazana!

More Bollywood badge graphics! I went a little overboard with this — no pun intended — and so it’s actually twenty-days late (eep!), but luckily @kaymatthews’s Kapoor family celebration goes on for the whole month of June!

Not executed at the level I was hoping for, but about half the figures look like the people they’re supposed to be, and the boat doesn’t look too bad, I guess. Need to work on better line quality & composition in future.

Rock & Scaffold

I took pictures of rocks, and also some buildy things. Then I messed around with them in the GIMP. It was fun.

(UPDATE: I took out two of the crappy ones with the bad gradient skies and replaced them with two slightly less crappy ones)


Bender vs Data

ghost doll
One last twitter originated sketch for now. This was also drawn weeks ago, and in less than half an hour (which pleased me no end) for fellow Futurama & Star Trek fan @aalgar, who co-hosts the excellent Sarcastic Voyage and Post Atomic Horror podcasts (more on both in a future post).

See the full post for a couple of details, and click here for a large version of the image

ghost doll
ghost doll


Ashwin Pande’s Boobs

Another twitter sketch request! This is something I did a few weeks ago, for @ashwinpande (who always requests “BOOBS!” so…). Coloured it up in the Gimp. Since it does feature naughty naughty breasts, am keeping the full image behind a more link, so as not to, um, corrupt people? Hell, I don’t know — if you’re here you’re probably corrupt anyway.

More UAE Cross-Processed Photos

A cyclist makes his way along Mankhool road, Bur Dubai

Since I’ve been doing little else, I thought I might as well put up some photos.

The mountains in Dibba

A section of a Dubai road sign

A section of a Dubai road sign

Rental cranes and hooks, Sharjah Industrial Area

Rental Cranes and hooks

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

Neon sign, Sharjah

Neon sign, Sharjah

Power lines, Nad al Sheba

Power lines, Nad al Sheba


Cross-Processing Dubai

Two Camels - cross-processed in the GIMP

Of late I’ve been trying to take more photos of the country I live in. After 12 years of living here, and coming from a place like India that is infinitely more visually chaotic, it becomes a bit of an effort to keep boredom from setting in. I can’t say I’m taking better photos here now than perhaps I ever did, and I still yearn for a place that isn’t just desert and buildings and malls, but I’m trying.

Recently I finally looked into this whole cross-processing look I’ve always liked, and how to introduce them into my own photos. After appying the knowledge of a few tutorials and a couple of GIMP plugins and scripts (including my favourite GEGL C2G method) I’ve come up with these.

They’re all a bit over the top — nobody said Indians were subtle and I am, in that regard at least, 100% desi — but I do like the strangeness the techniques bring to otherwise bland, brown and grey photos of the UAE. Here’s six more examples.

Old Town in Downtown Dubai - cross-processed
Dubai Desert - cross-processed
Old Town Building textures - cross-processed
Dubai Outer Bypass Road - cross-processed
Sharjah Market Dome - cross-processed(Okay, I lied in the title — this one above is actually in Sharjah)
Burj Khalifa - cross-processed


Mr. Savant Tries to Smile a Bit, and Searches For a Missing Lunch Ingredient

Mr Savant Tries to Smile a Bit - Gimp colored

More catching up! I drew this on paper last September, on an A4 sheet using a light blue marker for the sketch, and then various black pens to lay down inks. The good thing about this method is that you can then scan the piece in grayscale mode and any amount of rough sketch lines magically disappear! (You can see this in the sketch version below)

Colored in the Gimp, of course, using a woefully-neglected graphics tablet. Actually there was a fourth figure in this, but it was so horribly drawn (a last minute add to fill up the page) that I decided to erase her from the colored version. This is what the original page looked like:

Mr Savant Tries to Smile a Bit - Sketch

Another image I’d done early in the year also features our lovable interdimensional tourist, and involved food, of a sort. I just realised I hadn’t posted it here on the site:

Savant Chicken Monster

I should really be drawing a whole lot more.


Cheer Up It’s Only Robot Flu

Design Doodle 0001 - Cheer Up It's Only Robot Flu

It’s been a while since I just did something for the heck of it. Designers usually like to make such work sound important by labeling it a ‘personal project’, but I like to think of it more like a sketch or drawing practice — a Design Doodle!

This piece resulted from a process that is the essence of doodling. There was no plan, no idea, no concept in my head. I simply looked through a random folder of photos I’d taken, picked one, cross-processed it in the GIMP until it looked nice, then imported it into inkscape and went from there. After about an hour of work on it there was a ‘click’ in my head that said it was done, and that was that.

It was stream-of-consciousness design!

I hope to do more of these, probably one a week, maybe more. It always helps to keep practicing, to keep the gears of your mind charged, and client work or large projects can sometimes be too serious for that. It also feels great to start and finish something in one sitting.

Go out and play, just spend and hour doing ‘nothing’ — and you may end up with something you like very much.


How to Make Stylish Black & White Digital Photos with the GIMP

Road Picture - beforeRoad Picture - after
How exactly do you turn the dull, boring image on the left into the one on the right? Easy, read on for the tutorial!

01. The Basics of GEGL

For this tutorial, you will need the GIMP. It’s a program much like Photoshop, only it’s open source and free. If you don’t have it, you can download the latest version here.

(Sorry, Adobe users, I haven’t used commercial software for more than 5 years now, so my Photoshop knowledge is woefully out-of-date. There may be a method and plugin in PSD that does similar things, but I have no idea if that’s true or what it is. If you do, then please leave a comment about it at the end of the page. Thanks.)

Once you’ve installed and started the GIMP, open your photo (please work from a copy so as not to mistakenly overwrite your original file!) and navigate to the Tools dropdown menu and select GEGL Operation… as shown below left.

Select GEGL Operation from ToolsClick on Operation and select C2G
Now the GEGL Operation window will show up. Click on the currently-empty Operation box and select C2G. If you don’t want it to start working on the image as soon as you click it, uncheck the Preview box. If you leave it on, then it will take a while depending on your computer and the size and complexity of the image to apply the effect on the picture.

The Default values of the C2G plugin
Above you see the default values of the C2G plugin. For now we’ll leave them as is. Depending on the picture, you may not need to tweak these at all, but for this tutorial I have chosen one that does need a bit more work. If the default values work for you, go ahead and click OK.

Picture of the road with the default C2G values
This is what the picture looks like with the default values. First of all, the sky looks hideous. The C2G plugin has a knack of picking out detail you may not even know existed in your pictures. I’ve found it to work especially well on overexposed or low-contrast images. But in this case, it’s done a bit too much. I also don’t like the lack of subtle greys and blacks in the picture; it looks a little too much like a computer effect.

But first thing’s first: fixing that sky.

02. Flattening the Sky

Use the magic wand tool to select the skyPick the light color in the sky
We’re going to have to make that sky a lot simpler so its hidden details don’t get picked up by C2G. Select the sky with the Magic Wand (Fuzzy Select) tool. Add to the selection by keeping shift pressed when you click until the majority of the sky is selected. It’s okay if a few bits near the mountains aren’t because we don’t want to chop any of them off.

Create a new transparent layerNow, using the Eye Dropper tool pick a light colour in the sky that you want to fill it with. It doesn’t matter if it’s almost white, as we will see later. Right now you just want an even tone. In the Layers pane, create a New Layer (and make sure you select ‘Transparent’) above the current layer (i.e. your original image). This is where we’ll paint in the flat sky’. The marching ants will still be visible around your selection of the sky, and using the Paint Bucket tool, fill in this selection on the transparent layer with the light colour we selected before (as seen below).

Fill in the selection with the light colour

Now that the sky is mostly flat and white, go to the Layer dropdown menu and select Merge Down. The flat light sky has now been pasted onto the old one, and we can get back to converting it to Black & White.

03. Tweaking GEGL

C2G conversion with flattened sky and default valuesC2G conversion with flattened sky and tweaked values
Reopen the GEGL operations window and select C2G as before. Now that it has been flattened the sky renders as a smooth grey. But the default values still aren’t producing the desired results (left) so I tweak the variables in the C2G window until I am satified, and get the image on the right.

My tweaked C2G values
Here are my tweaked values for this picture. I have increased the radius to 400 — I find that this gives me better grey tones in the foreground elements, and less harsh black/white sections. I also increase samples to 5, as this puts in more black into the image. And finally, the iterations go up to 15 resulting in a smoother, less-noisy image.

It’s hard to come up with an all-purpose setting for this, but I’ve found that for most of my photos, somewhere around these values produce the results I want. Fool around with them and see what suits you. Remember, however, that as the samples and iterations go up, processing time will too. It’s already a pretty slow process, and without a progress bar it’s a bit unnerving to sit there waiting. My advice is to put preview on, let it do its thing, and apply when it’s done. Go do something else in the meanwhile. Fix yourself some coffee, or check your email. The results are worth the wait!

We aren’t done, however, as that sky is now just a little too flat for my liking. Let’s see what we can do with it.

04. Un-Flattening the Sky

You’re probably wondering why I’m tweaking the sky after converting it to Black and white using C2G. The answer is because I’ve tried doing it after the next step, and you don’t want to see how ugly the results were, he he. So save any gradient tinkering — as we will do below — for after the conversion, or C2G will bring out revolting shapes in it just like it did the clouds in the original, untweaked image.

Select the sky again with the magic wand
Using the Magic Wand tool again, select the now-grey sky. The C2G process has probably added in a good deal of noise here, so it won’t select as much as it did before, and you can probably spend a half-hour shift-clicking like crazy to get all of it selected.

Adjust the thresholdInstead, adjust the threshold on the magic wand tool’s options (at the bottom of the left-hand pane). I found that 50 worked for me here (the default was 15). Don’t put too high a number here or half you image will be selected, not just the sky! As always, pushing the numbers up a little at a time will get you to the sweet spot easier. Now, go ahead and select the clouds as above. You don’t need to get all of it like before — a few gaps here and there are okay.

Use the eyedropper to select the grey colour the sky has now become before the next step.

Use FG to BG in the Gradient ToolNow we need to remake the sky, so to speak. Select the Gradient Tool. In the right pane, make sure FG to BG is selected. The Foreground Color (FG) is the grey we selected, and by the default the Background Colour (BG) is white. This will do nicely, as the C2G process usually adds a white glow around sharply defined shapes like the tops of the mountains here.

Create a gradient keeping in mind the horizon line
Now create a gradient for the sky keeping in mind the horizon. In this picture I have the handy telephone poles acting as a natural perpendicular to the horizon. Since its a skewed image, just make sure the gradient is drawn more or less parallel to this line as shown in the picture, ending a little bit above the edge of the selection where the white glow and the grey intermingle.

The finished gradientAnd here we have the finished gradient. If you are satisified that it all looks okay, clear any selections, because there’s one final step.

05. Adding a Bit of Colour

The odd thing about Black & White images is that they aren’t all truly black and white. In the film days the chemicals and elements used in each film stock produced subtle variations — subtle colours — in the final image. Sepia images have a brownish tinge, and cyanotype ones blue. How to recreate these in the computer, while keeping the black and white image as we’ve just done?

Thankfully the folks over at have come to our rescue! You can follow their detailed tutorial on sampling toned images here (but I’ve covered the basic method below). The real resource you’ll need, though, is their massive collection of Toning Samples. Download the ones you need, the ones you’d like your photos to look like. I find that I like Platinum Palladium the most, so I’ve used it in all of these examples, and in this tutorial below.

Use Sample Colorise to tone the image
Once you’ve downloaded a sample, while keeping your C2G tweaked image open too, open the toning sample. Select your black and white image’s window. Now you need to map the tones to this image, so go to Colors –> Map –> Sample Colorize…

The sample Colorize windowThe Sample Colorize window will come up, hopefully showing your image on the left (Destination) and the tone map on the right (Sample). If not, select each until as shown above from the drop down menus.

Then, click on Get Sample Colors to transfer the tones from the sample to your image. You can fiddle around with the setting to your liking, but I usually find that the defaults work okay. Finally, click Apply.

And that, in a nutsell is it! The image has been converted to Black & White, and given a spiffy tone. Here’s the result:
The final black and white image

06. And Finally…

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on my personal method of black & white conversion. All of this information can be found through a quick google search in other places, but I always find that there are always tiny variations and quirks to how each photographer interprets and employs a technique, and so another one doesn’t hurt.

I leave you with some more Before/After examples of pictures made with this method. Enjoy.

Cloudy Morning Sky over Turhalli, Bengaluru - BeforeCloudy Morning Sky over Turhalli, Bengaluru - After

Dome of a mosque in Sharjah - BeforeDome of a mosque in Sharjah - After

Exhaust stack of a power station in Ajman - BeforeExhaust stack of a power station in Ajman - After

Portrait of two men - BeforePortrait of two men - After

Close up of a cement mixer - beforeClose up of a cement mixer - after

Two men walking with power plant in the bakground, Jebel Ali - beforeTwo men walking with power plant in the bakground, Jebel Ali - after


Head in the Black & White Clouds

The top of a cloud in black & white

I mentioned in a previous Black & White photo post that while I love the aesthetic I’d never done much of it, i.e. I’d never bothered to process my (colour) digital pictures into adequate black & white photos. But now that I’ve hit upon a method whose results I like, expect a lot more black & white posts on this blog!

Today I’m presenting 5 shots taken mostly during my last India trip (except the first, which was taken in Khor Fakkan). I hope you like ’em, and if you’d like to find out how I did them, do check back here in a few days when I’ll put up a tutorial on how to convert images to B&W using the GIMP. (You can follow the site’s RSS feed, and me on twitter).

The central column of a cement factory against thick rain clouds, in black & white
Khor Fakkan

A bank of thick clouds over Bengaluru in black & white

A tangled electric pole against rain clouds in Navi Mumbai in black and white
Navi Mumbai

A tree stump in Borivali National Park, Mumbai, overlooked by the Kanheri caves, under a cloudy sky in black and white
Borivali National Park, near Kanheri Caves

Clouds reflected in the water at Lal Bagh, Bengaluru, in black and white
Lal Bagh, Bengaluru

Remember to come back to the journal in a few days to catch the tutorial!


Watchmen Doodles

A couple of Watchmen doodles I did the other day. My megaproject to redraw the entire Watchmen graphic novel has stalled. I could blame everything from the economic crisis to the crisis of not being able to draw well, but really it was the good old Crisis of Infinite Procrastination. I will get back to it but I need to think about a better, faster way to tackle it. As it was going I was obsessing about it too much and not enjoying myself. No sense doing something entirely non-commercial, that will never see public viewing, and not have any fun doing it, right?

So, a couple of fun doodles, quickly coloured (but since this is me, it took the better part of a day to color these in).

BTW, you can click on the Class of 1985 pic, or indeed right here for a 1600×1000 wallpaper version.