UGH! I AM GETTING FRUSTRATED, trying to remain objective regarding so many gorgeous new books covering the computer as an artistic tool. It is not easy to do justice to them using words, so please visit your local book emporium to see for yourself.
Caveat: many of the outstanding graphic design books reviewed below are rather expensive, especially outside the United States. For the working artist or designer, the cost of a superior book or software application is not a major concern. Beginners should examine the recommended books in person, or deal with a bookstore that has a reasonable return policy.
Step-By-Step Electronic Design Techniques:
The Hottest How-To’s from Top Designers
Edited by Talitha Harper and Sara Booth
ISBN 0-201-69672-X, 224 pages
$39.95 U.S., $55.95 Canada
“Step-By-Step Electronic Design” is a monthly 20-page newsletter, featuring cutting-edge techniques for digital projects, based on the leading graphic arts applications. This inspiring book is a “best of” collection.
The term “designer” is becoming overworked, in my opinion, so I want readers to know that the contributors to Step-By-Step Electronic Design Techniques are artists. The book is loaded with attractive examples of their artwork, accompanied by detailed explanations how to achieve the specific effects being illustrated.
All of the featured artists are listed in the back of the book. Their snail addresses and phone numbers are provided, but not their email addresses, websites, or fax numbers (hint-hint).
This large-size book is stunning. You must see it to appreciate the quality of the pictures. The diagrams are linked to the columnar text lessons with bulleted numbers, which are easy to follow. The tutorials are thoughtfully organized by application, starting with Photoshop, and including Painter, Illustrator, Freehand, Ray Dream Designer, and a few more.
Among the 80+ topics are:
• The Human Touch: Maggie Macnab transforms grayscale imagery to glorious color with Indexed Color tables (Photoshop).
• Where Stylus Meets Mouse: Marina Thompson relies on the mouse for precise detail work and a pressure-sensitive tablet for a spontaneous cut-paper look (Illustrator).
• Fast, Friendly Lettering: Dan Hubig uses gradients, clipping paths, and overlays to turn every letter in a headline into a comical illustration (Freehand).
Readers immediately benefit from the expertise of the contributors, with the bonus of being able to take advantage of the promised “step-by-step” presentation.
I am running out of superlatives, so interested artists should run out now and examine Step-By-Step Electronic Design Techniques in person. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for serious artists and genuine designers.
Click Here: Web Communication Design
by Raymond Pirouz
and Lynda Weinman
New Riders Publishing
ISBN 1-56205-792-8, 255 pages
$45.00 U.S., $63.95 Canada, £41.49 U.K.
Raymond Pirouz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior partner of R35 digital design studio (http://www.r35.com). He is an experienced commercial artist and designer in both traditional media and Internet advertising. Lynda Weinman (email@example.com) is a renowned educator, author, and designer/artist. What a pair!
Click Here is a large size,deluxe, nuts-and-bolts intense course on how to get it right the first time and every time, with such definitive advice as:
• Own both Mac and PC and design for both, and
• Design your site with each major browser in mind.
Pirouz initially delves into technical aspect of the Web, including “GammaRamma” and “Obtaining The Browser-Safe Palette.” Each heavy-stock, high-quality page offers plentiful screen shots and diagrams, numbered sequentially per chapter (2.17, 2.18, 2.19 …). Please explain, though, why a small, delicate sans-serif font is used throughout. Older readers (me) would have appreciated type that is easier to read.
One important point: this book is well-designed. I mean that because it is by and for designers, the publishers have produced a book that looks great, in a refreshing way, from page to page.
Chapter Three is one of my favorites, covering basics such as color, white space, contrast, scale, and typography. The authors demonstrate their points effectively by examining how popular sites, such as Lycos, WebCrawler, and Excite measure up.
For Yahoo!, Pirouz comments:
“The Yahoo! interface is very text driven, and so is the site. This is fine for those who want information—and fast—yet not so good when the mountain of text creates a mountain of information to navigate through. There needs to be a balance. Let’s see if Infoseek does a better job.”
I learned a lot in this chapter!
Chapter Four begins with “The Killer Website (Is Dead)” followed by “Content is King (Not).” In Chapter Five readers learn a bunch of click-through secrets, and Chapter Six deals with the essential tools, starting with your brain, and moving quickly to Illustrator, FreeHand, and Photoshop. Animated GIFs are explained in concise detail. The remaining four chapters complete the procedure. The book concludes with the authors’ personal list of Helpful Online Resources.
I could go on quite a bit longer, but I’ll get to the point. If you want sensible, exciting, lucid professional advice and examples on creating top-notch Web pages, graft this book to your mouse pad. Definitely RECOMMENDED.
The Photoshop 4 Wow! Book
by Linnea Dayton and Jack Davis
ISBN 0-201-68856-5, 329 pages plus CD
$44.95 U.S., $62.95 Canada
Continuing the successful Wow! series of books on Adobe Photoshop, this latest version offers five kinds of cross-platform information: basic material on tools and functions, short tips, project techniques, galleries of completed examples, and illustrated lists of resources. The latter are enhanced by the included Wow! Actions CD.
The layout of this book is curious, and extremely effective. Each page is divided 1/3 and 2/3, horizontally, with the narrow columns containing workbook-style images and screenshots, and the wide columns containing text describing the corresponding tools and techniques.
Photoshop workers are visually adept, and The Photoshop 4 Wow! Book is probably the most visually loaded book I have ever experienced. The term “overwhelming” would not overstate the quantity and quality of examples offered to readers.
Nine chapters cover an encyclopedic range of subject matter, including Graphics Special Effects, Using Filters, Enhancing Photos, Montage and Color, and much more. The illustrations are absolutely splendid, and the accompanying text is consistently well-written.
Did you ever want to learn about:
• Rotoscoping a QuickTime Movie, or
• Making an Electronic “Woodcut”?
No sweat. Crank up your computer, dive into this Wow! book, spend a few hours being creative and productive, and you are there.
More superlatives: this book/CD is magnificent, a work of art unto itself. Please find it for yourself at the bookstore to experience the skill and care the authors and publisher have put into it. Page after page, lesson after lesson, regular and new users of Photoshop will be kept busy for countless hours absorbing the wisdom and visual gifts in the book and on the CD.
The Image Collections presented at the rear of the book refer to the pictures included on the disk, plus a corresponding list of artists, with email addresses (but no fax numbers or Web URLs). With more Wow! books coming next, I had better take a breather, but not before stating that The Photoshop 4 Wow! Book is (you guessed it) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Look what I found, at the author’s suggestion, in the Amazon.com listing for this book:
The Illustrator 7 Wow! Book, Step-By-Step
by Sharon Steuer
ISBN 0-201-68897-2, 240 pages plus CD
$39.95 U.S., $55.95 Canada
Here it comes: a second Wow! cross-platform book from Peachpit Press, this time on Adobe Illustrator 7. All the praise I heaped on the previous book applies to this one also. My respect for Peachpit continues to grow as each book crosses my threshold.
If my ongoing admiration is getting on your nerves, trot down to the bookstore to see for yourself, because The Illustrator 7 Wow! Book is worth the effort. The ten chapters are color-coded to match the corners of the book’s pages, facilitating quick access to chapters on:
• Web, Multimedia, and Animation
• Lines, Fills, and Color
and my favorite chapter,
• The Zen of Illustrator, which advises:
“Treat this chapter like meditation. Take it in small doses if necessary. Be mindful that the purpose of these exercises is to open up your mind to possibilities, not to force memorization.” Examples in this chapter are specifically linked to the included disk, and to a “finger dance” tear out card, in which the keyboard and mouse waltz together for maximum efficiency.
The book is broken into clearly-marked advanced and basic techniques, each of which is described in detail, complete with gallery examples. Pages richly incorporate generous helpings of pictures and text. The total package is a visual delight and easy to put to use on an instructional basis.
Do you wake up agonizing over “Rasterizing artwork for screen” or “When is CMYK not CMYK”? Get a good night’s sleep, and turn to The Illustrator 7 Wow! Book with your morning constitutional. I should build “pauses” into these reviews to represent the fun I’m having with the illustrations and lessons. If Illustrator is your constant companion, this book is certainly RECOMMENDED.
The Painter 5 Wow! Book
by Cher Threinen-Pendarvis
ISBN 0-201-69651-7, 280 pages plus CD
$44.95 U.S., $62.95 Canada
Oh, no? Oh, yes, a third Wow! book, this time on MetaCreations Painter 5 for both Mac and Win. One reassuring thing I have learned while reviewing these three books is that Macintosh is firmly embedded in the working lives of today’s artists and designers. Please, you creative people, keep using Macs, tell your friends, and let the software developers know we are still here, millions of us.
Dozens of contributing artists offer their stunning work in The Painter 5 Wow! Book, with explicit tips and techniques for the reader at home or in the studio. I enjoy thumbing through the book from back to front, letting the marvelous pictures tease my eyeballs. When I halt on any given page, the descriptive text is consistently worth reading in detail, as on page 164:
“Caty Bartholomew retouched the legs and bulb with the Thin Stroke Airbrush variant, then stretched the figure disproportionally using Effects, Orientation, Scale. To give texture and dimension to the piece, she used Effects, Surface Control, Apply Surface Texture twice: first with Original Luminance; then with Paper Grain and a medium-rough paper texture.”
All the artists are listed in the Appendix, along with relevant reference contact information and a summary of the hundreds of photos and video clips on the included CD. Just try to stop me from screaming, “This Wow! series is terrific.”
The Painter 5 Wow! Book features eleven chapters, hundreds of illustrations and tutorials, and techniques for every level of user. A few chapter headings are:
• Using Painter with Photoshop
• The Power of Color
• Multimedia and Film with Painter
• Printing and Archival Concerns.
The pictures sizzle and the writing sparkles. Do yourself a favor. If you use Painter 5, consider this book HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
So far, we are five-for-five with recommended art and design books. Reading and reviewing them all together feels like eating too much pie followed by too much cake and ice cream. How about something to clear our palette?
Investing Online for Dummies
by Kathleen Sindell, Ph.D.
ISBN 0-7645-0336-7, 326 pages plus CD
$24.99 U.S., $35.99 Canada, £23.99 U.K.
It’s time for true confessions: I get a thrill out of enjoying books for artists and designers, but I am personally on much more solid ground with a Dummies book on a familiar subject such as investing. I had to learn about finances from scratch over ten years ago, when setting up an investment plan for my daughter’s college education, and I continue to keep my eye on the financial horizon as I approach my golden years. (Is there life after 50? I’ll let you know in a couple of months.)
My eye immediately went to the 24 yellow pages between chapters 14 and 15, entitled “Investing Online for Dummies Internet Directory.” Over 100 personally-picked Web sites are categorized, starting with “Analyst Evaluations” and “Basics of Investing,” and ending with “Tax Preparation and Online Assistance.” Thanks for this excellent bonus. Dozens of other sites are mentioned throughout the book.
The author applauds “the folks who put investing information online for the public. They have changed the financial community forever.” I say amen, but I have found that investment resources on the World Wide Web often are accompanied by extensive registration queries and/or request for paid subscription services. My personal advice is to utilize the free sites, which will be sufficient for most mortals.
This book contains five major parts and 20 chapters, encompassing the fundamentals and specifics of online investing, plus “The Part of Tens”:
• Almost ten prerequisites for online investing
• Ten ways to plan a comfortable retirement online
• Ten cybertax tips.
Don’t be fooled by the Dummies moniker, because investing is serious business, and Investing Online for Dummies handles its subject with finesse. Readers can learn how to understand the real cost of mutual fund sales fees, where to obtain free downloadable retirement planners, and how to get investor information from mailing lists. The author has done her homework, and the book is enhanced with screen shots, tips, and charts.
Here’s some hard-learned advice. Smart investing requires both knowledge and time on the part of the investor, regardless of the financial stakes involved. If you are participating in any way with online investing, consider purchasing Investing Online for Dummies sooner rather than later. RECOMMENDED.
The following two books are from Peachpit Press’ Visual Quickstart Guide series. Every month we review one or more of these VQSG books, and they consistently receive our Book Bytes recommendation. So as not to bore regular readers with repeated descriptions of these unusual books, I will make passing reference to their attributes in the context of the books themselves. New readers may want to take a peek at previous VQSG reviews, or examine one of the books in person. Fair enough? Hope so!
QuarkXPress 4 for Macintosh,
Visual QuickStart Guide
by Elaine Weinmann
ISBN 0-201-69623-1, 352 pages
$18.95 U.S., $26.95 Canada
QuarkXPress is a heavy-duty workhorse application, and this new Visual
QuickStart Guide is massive by the standards of the previous VQSG series
books. Let’s begin by identifying a few specific elements in the book:
• New Quark features are itemized and explained, including “Text: Character style sheets (hallelujah!)”
• Quark 4.0 Keyboard Shortcuts tear out card inside rear cover and extensive Appendix B
• An entire Chapter One dealing with “The Basics,” including the QuarkXPress palettes, menus, and screen features, plus sources for third party Xtensions
• Special attention to the many new features in Quark 4.0, such as beziers
for drawing PostScript shapes right inside QuarkXPress; customizable dashes and stripes to use as frames, lines, or paragraph rules; editable clipping paths; Find/Change style sheets; and 15 new tools. (There is a list of new features on the inside cover of the book that users can refer to for more ideas.)
I appreciate a book that begins with: “What is QuarkXPress? QuarkXPress is a page layout application. A page layout application is a central gathering place for text, pictures, lines, and other graphic elements, all of which together compose a page or series of pages.” And so on, for the beginner and intermediate user.
At first glance QuarkXPress 4 for Macintosh appears to be rather austere, but I soon realize that my eyes have been “color-blinded” by the five expensive art/design books reviewed above. For the money, Peachpit’s Visual QuickStart Guides pack plenty of useful material between the covers.
The author’s approach utilizes sets of instructions presented in a step-by-step format, and the book’s thumb tabs, detailed table of contents, and index make it easy to locate specific topics.Tips and keyboard shortcuts are offered on almost every page, with Speed Tip icons scattered throughout the book.
Quark is a “love it or hate it” application. One well-known author feels that: “Quark (the company) doesn’t seem interested in satisfying its customers. It updates software when it wishes. It has poor technical support (and online help in its products). Its upgrades are very expensive. And there’s poor quality control. Adobe is the opposite in almost every respect. PageMaker, once the underdog, is now a superior product.”
I am not able to adjudicate this wrestling match, but I do know that Quark
has more than a few loyal followers, and certainly deserves a first-rate book such as this one.
This book is comprised of twenty substantial chapters, my favorites being:
4/Text Input, 7/Typography, 10/Pictures and Text, 13/Style Sheets,
19/Preferences, and 20/Output. As in all the VQS Guides, the columnar text relates to adjacent screen shots, graphics, and real-world examples.
I’m using restraint so far, but not any more: this book is brilliant. If you
spend more than five minutes per week with Quark and are not yet an expert, buy QuarkXPress 4 for Macintosh and send me a thank-you note. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
and now, to conclude, something very different …
Ray Dream Studio 5 For Windows and
Visual Quickstart Guide
by Richard Kahn and Andre Persidsky
ISBN 0-201-69671-1, 304 pages
$18.95 U.S., $26.95 Canada
What the heck is Ray Dream Studio, friends? Perhaps this latest Visual Quickstart Guide will help us find out, and then guide us step-by-step into using RDS effectively and creatively.
The Preface informs us that “Ray Dream Studio 5 is the most powerful, affordable and comprehensive 3D graphics modeling, rendering, and animation package available today.” Sounds impressive, don’t you think?
The book contains four main parts, with a total of fifteen chapters, such as:
• Part One, Getting Started: Chapter One, Jump-Starting Ray Dream Studio 5
• Part Two, Modeling 3D Objects: Chapter Nine, Mastering the Mesh Form Modeler
• Part Three, Finishing 3D Objects: Chapter Ten, Using Shaders and 3D Paint
• Part Four, Producing Scenes: Chapter Fifteen, Rendering Stills and Movies
Powerful is right, authors. This application is extraordinary. Can the book help us learn it? All the different Menu Bars, Palettes, and Toolbars are presented, in glorious black and white. The VQSG series rarely suffers from lack of color, and somehow the authors were able to render 3D examples effectively as line drawings.
Here at Book Bytes we attempt to have familiarity with the applications under review (or books covering them). I admit to no familiarity with Ray Dream Studio 5, but from spending an afternoon with this new book, I get it! With a few (hundred) spare hours, I could crank out some truly bizarre 3D artwork, but I promise I won’t.
Suffice it to say that Ray Dream Studio 5 For Windows and Macintosh Visual Quickstart Guide succeeds with lucid text and illustrations, and is RECOMMENDED for beginning and intermediate users of the software.
Thanks again for reading. Next month we will have a series of books on creating Web pages using HTML 4, plus several other titles. Have fun at the bookstore!