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by Valerie

(continued from previous page)

I don't use photos all that often but this one struck me as a perfect opening image. "The Eye" is a photo of the head of a Common Green Darner, a kind of dragonfly. I found this individual near a stream, from which it had recently emerged. Still too weak to fly, I could hold it and photograph it up close. The strange tan color of the eyes is due to how recently it had molted. The central "eye" is simply a marking on the front of the face. The true colors of the photo matched those of the letters that I used in the heading. I did darken the background a bit in Photoshop, but otherwise the image is not altered.

By July, we are often in a lengthy time of drought, but this summer we have had ample rain. The mosquitoes are taking full advantage of all the temporary puddles and pools and they are numerous and voracious. The reference to the Gershwin song, "Summertime," came to me first while I was driving across town one morning a couple years ago, enjoying the light traffic due to school being out and the Legislature out of session, and thought about the tune with the words: "Summertime, and commuting is easy..." Okay, that's a long story for a short idea. I was introduced to the term "mossies" by a friend in Australia. She routinely uses that reference, and it IS easier to just drop a syllable in conversation. The insects are from a clip art disk. The words were manipulated using Ulead Photo Express.


Isn't this next one cute?! I had written an article about outdoor "yard art" or art made from junk, often displayed in peoples' yards. I found a font that fit the theme and then just used elements from that, manipulated in Ulead Photo Express, to create my own "Junkbug." And it doesn't even annoy the neighbors.

I thought the next idea was rather clever, but it seems that most people did not get it. When I asked a few friends and family what they thought of "Roach Test," responses varied from not noticing the word "Roach" to not knowing it was an inkblot test to not seeing that the "insect" was squished to never having heard of Rorschach. Sigh. It's not funny if it needs to be explained. I had even found the original images that Rorschach used online and started with one of them to create my own. Authenticity that was completely lost on most viewers.

With Halloween coming up, I went for something far less esoteric this time. Pretty self-explanatory, I hope. I started with a clipart pumpkin and drew the worm in MS Paint. The words were manipulated in Ulead Photo Express.

Playing around with fonts in Ulead Photo Express is so much fun that I made the next image completely from dingbat font characters. This one is called "Autumn Butterfly." Couldn't come up with an animation idea that month...

I don't like to waste our Dec. issue animation on anything other than a Christmas theme. I had been trying to figure out something with a decorated spider web, and finally worked out how "Web Lights" would look (in my head). It took a bit of time to do the tiny color changing lights, but it was pleasantly mindless. The webs were created in Serif DrawPlus with a function called "quickweb" which, as you might expect, creates instant spider webs. After the initial sweep to create the general shape of the web, it can then be adjusted with little sliders: how many spokes, how many spiral threads, and rotated. Very nifty. The additional threads were added later, with MS Paint using the curved line function. It's a whole lot easier than trying to hand draw a smooth curve!

I had another so far unused idea for a spider web, and, since January is such a cold month, decided it would be okay to do two spider themes in a row. This idea had come to me some time ago, but I hadn't figured out a quick way to create it. I do all this planning part when I have free mental time, so it doesn't seem like I am wasting my time sitting in front of the computer creating graphics. When I do start to actually create an illustration, it usually happens pretty fast unless I hit a snag. This one went smoothly. I took a clip art snowflake as one image, made a quickweb in Serif DrawPlus, and simply put it on top, gradually erasing part with each frame. I'm sure there is a simple way to do this with layers in Photoshop, but learning it is not simple and I find layers to be mystifying and terribly cumbersome to work with. Instead, just pasting in MS Paint works great and takes no practice at all. There is that neat little function where you can make the white parts of an image transparent - very handy for this sort of thing. After the whole thing was completed, I added a spider character from a dingbat font, moving it around without making it actually change shape or anything more complex. Long explanation for a simple idea, no? It's called "Winter Web" and only really makes sense here in the south, where we actually do have spiders in the middle of winter, at least on warm days.

I am surprised that I had not thought of "Doodlebug" earlier, since I love those little visual puns. The actual execution of the graphic was a cinch, as the entire thing was done using dingbat font characters (obtained from the king of doodle dingbat fonts, Manfred Klein). Some viewers believed the individual drawings that the bug produced had some deep meaning. They don't; I just chose them because they looked cool. My favorite part is the nonverbal "giggle" that the bug does at the very end.

After finding a dingbat font that featured mazes, I couldn't pass up the chance to use one. Having a graphics program that manipulates fonts in a simple way is definitely an asset. I use Ulead Photo Express. I can change the color and add 3D effect and such with ease. The ant in this graphic was one that I had drawn pixel by pixel some time ago for some other animations so I already had both the perpendicular and the diagonal versions ready for use. The little nuclear explosion at the end goes along with the title: "Antintelligence." Get it?

It was time for an Easter theme, so why not have an "Easter Butterfly" instead of an Easter Bunny? Although still highly improbable, a butterfly is more likely to lay Easter eggs than a rabbit is! All the elements in the animation are from dingbat fonts and were manipulated with Ulead Photo Express. I do like that little program.

Anyone who has kayaked or canoed on a lake that allows motorboats will get the gist of "Pond Skaters." Yes, I think that people who like to race their fast boats like that are the bullies of the waterways, and there are plenty of them. The entire animation was drawn in MS Paint.

Time for a graphic poem. You can sing "Twinkle Firefly" in your head. I meant for the final line to bring a smile, but maybe it's too true and therefore not all that funny. I like using fireflies, or lightning bugs, in animations because I don't really have to draw anything, just make a little blinking dot. It's trickier to time the text and the blinks than you might think, as they change at different speeds.

By the July issue in 2011, we were in the midst of the worst drought and heat wave that anyone under the age of 70 could remember. We'd had a string of 100°+F days that was getting downright depressing. Hence "Beetle Rain Dance." I used a clipart beetle, but it only came in a diagonal version so I had to draw a vertical one to get the range of motion that I wanted for their perky little dance. I thought the red color goes well with the idea of sunburn. The actual graphic file consists of a separate sun (another clipart find) and a single beetle. The file is repeated to make the whole line. Since they will all load at the same time, their movements are perfectly synchronized.


While brainstorming with my husband about my lack of ideas for the next month's animation, the idea that our drought and heat wave had continued, unabated, for yet another month, led to a sequel of last month's idea. It would be possible to string this out for a few more months, but I sincerely hoped that it would not be necessary. The character of "Beetle Rain Dance Continued" accurately reflects how most people were also feeling.

still at it...

And the drought, as well as the beetle story, continued for another month...

yeah, another month and still at it...

Although the drought continued, we had gotten to October, which is when I usually cannot resist using a Halloween theme. Well, put 2 + 2 together... er, beetles + spider.

By November, I was getting tired of the beetle rain dance and the drought (which continued). It wasn't even funny anymore, and I certainly did not want to extend this to Christmas. Thanksgiving offered a good way to clean up the mess, with "Turkey Treat."

gobble, gobble, gobble...

Although I had ended the "Beetle Rain Dance," I had not come up with a good replacement idea, so it was time to take a break from animations. I like playing around with collages; it reminds me of the fun I had with sticker books when I was a kid. Just put all the pieces on the screen and move them around until they look nice. All the bits of "Festive Butterfly" were created using dingbat fonts. The combination was made in Ulead Photo Express. Considering that I acquired that program with our first scanner, if I remember correctly, I have certainly gotten a lot of use out of it. I wonder how many readers stared at this graphic for a minute or more, waiting for it to do something...

With the January issue comes the chance to use a Valentine's Day theme, as that holiday will occur before our next issue on the 21st of the month. The idea of themed butterflies was still with me, so I executed another holiday-appropriate insect. This one was not so complex as the previous, and so could be made to move. The wing flick is accomplished by using major distortion on the dingbat font characters that form the butterfly. Each character is a separate file on the image while I am working on it, so each one had to be adjusted. I only created one side, then simply mirrored it. I think this one is particularly pretty.

The next month I was in the mood to do pixel art. For the uninitiated, pixel art is produced one tiny color square at a time. It is easiest to do in a program like MS Paint, but almost any graphics program can be used. For "Bug Rug" I used some pre-existing images I'd already made and added colors and outlines. It was tricky to make sure that everything lined up at the corners, as this is sort of like counted cross-stitch needlepoint. I used a shaded background for part of the rug, creating that in MS Word and simply overlaying the rest of the illustration on top. This is one of the few images I've produced in .png form. I did so to preserve the large number of colors in a lossless file form with relatively small weight (only 65.4 KB).

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