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Kindergarten Art
for Grownups
October 2002

K. Joyce McDonald

Joyce is a senior technical writer for a local software company.

See her web page

I'm getting a lot of response from readers now, the content of which is quite good. If you write, be sure to let me know if I can use the content in an article and if you want me to use your name and/or e-mail address.

In the corner of my home office sits a low desk fashioned from an adjustable ironing board with a footstool that serves as a chair. I put it together yesterday when my 3-year-old granddaughter came to visit and the weather turned rainy. With a pink box filled with markers and crayons, a plastic place mat for a desk mat, and a yellow pad she spent many happy hours creating artwork for posterity.

Today it's still raining and the only "kids" in my office, with the exception of a couple of cats lounging on the desks, are my husband and I. Inspired by my granddaughter, we also are spending a rainy weekend afternoon creating artwork for posterity. The only difference is that we are using his computer instead of crayons and a yellow pad.

Neither my husband nor I have developed any more artistic talent or know-how than our granddaughter. Neither he nor I have any experience in working with computer graphics. But we did create some pieces that we were pleased to hang on our walls and even point out to our friends and family.

Our first project of the day was a picture that I took on the Oregon coast during my vacation. Not only am I a terrible photographer; I am so hard on cameras that I don't buy my own cameras. I use the "disposable" cameras that you turn in with the film. Along with the inevitable pictures of the sky, the ceiling, the floor and my thumb, I usually come out with at least a couple of keepers. This time, I not only got a keeper; I got what I considered an artistic photograph. It was a still life of a concrete mooring on a rocky bay with a lighthouse in the background and a magnificent blue sky and ocean. The color and arrangement of the photograph warranted an enlargement, so I set the print and the negative aside to order reprints from HEB's photo processing center.

My husband has been putting together some nice portrait enlargements by taking photos of our grandkids that our kids e-mail to us, enlarging the pictures and printing them on photo quality paper. Then he frames the pictures in black plastic certificate frames that we buy 3 for $5 at Office Depot. The portraits look amazingly good, and we always have a fresh supply to hang at home and in his office.

Before I went to the expense of ordering an enlargement of my photographic masterpiece, I asked him to try scanning it and printing and enlargement. If anything, the resulting scanned and printed enlargement looked better than the original.

We recently replaced my four-year-old IBM scanner (which we gave to my daughter) with a Microtek ScanMaker 4800, which we bought at Best Buy for about $100. It came with a rebate, although we can't remember how much. The scan software, Microtek's ScanWizard 5 and Adobe Photo Deluxe Home Edition 4.0 came with the scanner.

The printer, also a recent purchase, is an Epson Stylus C60 and cost about $100 before rebate. It is quiet and prints some remarkable color, especially on the Epson Glossy Photo Paper that we bought at Office Max. The paper, by the way, comes with better documentation than some computer programs.

Regarding the rebates: They have probably expired by now, and we're not sure about the amount, so don't count on them.

The next project came about because Clarke wanted a picture to include with my ArcSoft PhotoBase software review. I looked around for some screen capture software that would allow me to capture my Palm screen and transfer the capture to my desktop machine, but I wasn't able to locate such a tool.

An important principal I've learned in 12 years of technical writing is when you can't find the appropriate tools, cheat. We displayed a color picture of my grandson on the screen of my Palm M130 and placed the PDA face down on the scanner. The resulting scanned image was a beautiful picture of the PDA with a blank screen. When your cheat is not quite successful, cheat some more.

I have abused Microsoft many times in print, but one thing I always bless them for is making cheating easier with the universal Windows cut and paste. It is available in almost every program, and no self-respecting graphics program would ship without it. Using Adobe Photo Deluxe we pulled up a cute picture of my grandson, copied it into the clipboard and pasted it in the appropriate place on the scanned picture of my PDA. Then we sent it to Clarke.

Emboldened by our success with the Palm picture, we experimented with cutting, copying, resizing and pasting. I have a room I call my "ocean room" where I display pictures of ocean views, lighthouses and clipper ships. This is where I hung my Oregon coast masterpiece. In the same room I have a clock with a lovely round wood frame reminiscent of a porthole. Unfortunately, the clock had an ugly face with a cheesy pseudo-Navajo print for a background. The clock's size and shape worked well in the room, so I looked around for a picture I could substitute for the clock's existing background something with better colors, something that would look like a view from a porthole.

I picked a Dutch Masters pipe tobacco can for its vivid colors and colorful picture of a clipper ship. We put the can on the scanner and zapped the resulting faithful reproduction into Photo Deluxe. Now we had to figure out how to get the printed picture onto the round face of the clock. We tried cutting with scissors, but by the time we got the picture down to size, too much of the old ugly round face showed up and the clipper ship was too tiny to stand up to the huge numerals.
My husband recommended scanning the clock's face to capture the numbers and have better control of their size. (I had already removed the hands and movement from the clock.) He scanned the clock face, used Photo Deluxe to trim the picture of the tobacco can and pasted it on the face of the clock. It looked pretty good, but when we got the size of the can right, it covered up the 12 and the 6.

We are both such rank amateurs we could only guess what to do next. I suggested opening another copy of the clock face picture, cutting out the 12 and the 6 and pasting them in the appropriate places on our Dutch Masters piece.

Since I had never used Photo Deluxe before, I wasn't sure how to do this. I started hunting through the Photo Deluxe menus. I found Selection Tools under the Select menu and picked Rectangle. Using the mouse, I drew a rectangle around the 12. I'm a klutz with a mouse, so it took me a couple of tries to get the rectangle situated where I wanted it. Thank heaven for the prominent Undo button. I copied the rectangle using Copy from the Edit menu (I could have also used the Windows universal Ctrl+C keystrokes.)

Then I switched to our Dutch Masterpiece (which was still open) and used the mouse to draw a rectangle where I wanted to paste the 12. Using the Edit menu again, I selected Paste and watched the 12 appear on the clock face (I could have also used the Windows universal Ctrl+V keystrokes.) Of course, I did the same thing with the 6.

After I finished my cutting and pasting, I went back to the Selection Tools menu to select Object. This changed the mouse pointer back to its usual function of highlighting what you point to. Now we were ready to clean up our cut and paste work. Since my husband has a steadier hand with a mouse, I let him take over.

He clicked to select each of the numbers and used the "handles" to make the numbers fit into the clock face. Handles are little boxes that appear at each corner and in the middle of each side of a selected picture or portion of a picture.

I had to explain to him just how handles behaved, another feature that is universal in Windows programs. The handles at the corners allow you to increase or decrease the size of the object while keeping its length and width proportionate. If you use the handles that appear the center of any side, you increase or decrease only the length or width of the object, distorting the original proportions of length to width.

When we printed our clock face masterpiece, what most impressed us was the quality of the picture of the can. The shiny metal of the can looks just as it did on the original can, making our admittedly amateurish attempts at graphics creation a little more interesting, and perhaps proving that you don't need to be a professional to create some fun and useful graphics.

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