In my previous post I showed you the finished Tukti graphic (shown on the left). In this post, I want to show you a few of the techniques I used to create the graphic.
I call this style of making graphics ‘digital collage’, but real digital collage involves taking whole photos, making them very small and then building an over-arching image out of them. Think tiled mosaic. If you zoom in far enough, you can still see each image in its entirety.
My version of digital collage is rather different. I cut snippets of shape and colour and texture out of photos and then build up a multi-layered image out of all those snippets.
To give you some idea of what I mean, these are some of the 40 snippets I used to create the Tukti:
And those bits don’t include the many transparencies I used to blend the colours and textures into an apparently seamless whole. But before I confuse you too much, let me show you what I mean by some of this terminology.
First up, you need to get an idea of the difference between bitmap images [derived from photographs] and vector images [derived from geometry]. The image below is part of the original concept drawing and shows the Tukti eye blown up so you can see the pixels:
Pixels are tiny squares of colour which is how digital devices represent an analogue image – i.e. a photo, drawing or painting. There are literally millions of pixels in an average photo, and the gradations of colour help to create both smooth colour transitions as well as ‘outlines’.
By contrast, vector graphics are all about outlines. You have lines, closed shapes and solid colours like the image below:
The beauty of vector graphics is that images have transparent backgrounds. That means they can be layered, one on top of the other. Bitmaps can’t.
In the example shown below, the two images on the left look as if they have a transparent background, but that’s only because the page is the same colour as the background. When you place the bitmap on top of a darker coloured background, like the image on the right, it becomes obvious that the red circle sits inside a white background.
Luckily, Corel has a couple of ways of creating a hybrid vector image out of a bitmap. The first method uses nodes to draw the outer perimeter of the bitmap into the area of interest, node by node:
If anyone’s interested, I gave a fairly detailed explanation of this technique in a post entitled How to vector a bitmap. This is the technique I’ve used for most my graphics, but for regular shapes there is another way of ‘hiding’ the background of a bitmap:
Using the example of the eye again, you draw a vector circle on top of the eye image [white circle on top of left image above]. Next, you select the circle, hold down the Shift key, and select the eye image so you end up with two objects selected.
The sequence in which you select the objects is important because it tells Corel which object is the ‘do-er’ and which is the ‘do-ee’. In this case, the circle is the ‘do-er’ and the eye image is the ‘do-ee’.
Next we click the Object function and select Intersect from the Shaping menu:
The Intersect function uses the circle to create a duplicate of the image, but only of the bits inside the circle. The new object is still a bitmap, but all the bits outside the circle are hidden.
Hidden but not deleted.
This is important because each ‘snippet’ you create still has the entire bitmap image in it. That means Corel is working with the whole image even though it looks as if it’s only working with a small part of it. That can, and does, chew up computer resources.
Despite the issue of resources, I love this technique for the images it allows me to create. I hope you enjoyed this small insight into my techniques and how vector graphics work. 🙂
I’ve been playing with digital ‘collage’ for days now, and the image below comes close to what I see in my head:
It’s not perfect but I did manage to create the ‘ramp’ which features in book 2. This ramp has been in my head for years :
‘A moment later, all thought of Vokh politics fled Kahti’s mind as the tunnel opened out into a cavern of mammoth proportions. Glowworms placed at regular intervals revealed a number of passages leading out of the cavern, but the young Trader could not take its eyes from the huge ramp that snaked around half of the cavern before disappearing through an arched opening near the roof.’
From the second book of Vokhtah, title still up in the air.
All of the scraps of texture and shape  that went into the final, composite image were manipulated in Corel Draw 8. No idea what I’ll do with the image, but it will be handy as a reference if nothing else. Just relieved it’s done.
Meeka’s Mind is a ‘word’ blog rather than a picture blog. Nevertheless, I do use quite a lot of graphics – 2,172 at last count – so when I tried to insert an old pic into a post and couldn’t scroll past 2017, I dashed off a help request to WordPress. The problem is now fixed, but in the process, I learned that the Media Library you see within a post is a dumbed down version of the Media Library you see from your Dashboard.
This is what you see from within the post:
It’s a basic grid layout with the ability to filter your pics by the month [Filter media], or via a search function [not shown]. If you have over 2000 pics like me, finding one particular thumbnail is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
But have a look at what you can do from the Dashboard!
See the small blue icon circled near the top left of the screenshot? That corresponds to the ‘Details’ option in Windows Explorer. It lists all your pics according to 5 different categories: file [filename], Author [some sites have more than one], Uploaded to [name of post], Comments and…ta dah…Date. Clicking on the name of the category – e.g. File – causes all the files to be sorted in alphabetical order. Or date order etc.
So instead of scrolling through hundreds of thumbnails, you can narrow your search down by year, or filename [if you happen to remember what it was called] and so on. And because the icons on the list are so small, everything loads so much faster.
Now, the reason I did not know you could sort your pics in a list view was because I never use the Media Library from my Dashboard [that’s the black panel on the left]. I upload new pics from within whichever post I’m writing or editing. Or, if I know I’ve already got the perfect pic in my Media Library, I also look for it from within the post. And I have to tell you, that can be excruciatingly painful.
Anyway, I thanked the nice tech person who answered by original call for help, and then I asked him why such a useful function was not available in the one place where it would be most needed – i.e. in the post. I haven’t received a reply yet, but I assume this is all part of the mobile phone devolution. Thumbnails in a grid can be rearranged to fit smaller screens fairly easily. Columns cannot, and who’s going to swipe sideways every time they want to see the Date column?
So you see, I do understand. I also understand that the bulk of WordPress users are probably quite young and very efficient with their thumbs. They probably don’t want to write, or read, long word posts. They probably write multiple, very short posts, with pics, whenever the mood strikes them. And that may be the direction in which all social media is heading…but…those of us who’ve been with WordPress the longest signed up for a blogging platform focused on…words.
Have we become the old demographic, in all senses of the word? A dying breed?
What say you, fellow dinosaurs?
p.s. As a form of protest, I decided against including a graphic. Instead, please picture me in fluffy slippers, taking on all comers as I wield my trusty rolling pin. 🙂
p.p.s. I notice that the preview function is back the way it used to be! Glory be. Must have been a lot of people complaining.
To begin, move to the back matter of your document and click the mouse at the point where you want the Table of Figures to appear.
Next, open the References tab and click Insert Table of Figures:
You should now be looking at the Table of Figures dialog box:
As you can see, the default settings are to:
Show page numbers
Right align page numbers
and ‘Caption label: Figure’
If you are happy with these default settings, click the OK button.
Note: if you have created different kinds of captions – for example, one for ‘Figures’ and a second one for ‘Tables’ – clicking the down arrow next to ‘Caption label’ will allow you to choose a different label. In this way you can generate a separate table for each label.
Unlike the Table of Contents, there is no specific command that allows you to delete the Table of Figures.
To delete the whole Table of Figures, you will have to manually select the entire table as if you were selecting a paragraph of text.
Note: simply clicking inside the Table of Figures will not work.
Once you have manually selected the whole table, press the Delete key on the keyboard. The Table of Figures will now be deleted, but the captions underneath the actual images still remain so you can reinstate a Table of Figures at any time.
This is the last of the graphics related how-tos, but the defunct ‘How to Print Non Fiction…’ also contains advanced help on Indexes etc. If anyone would like me to post this information, please let me know in comments.
I haven’t written any how-to’s on how to create an ebook because I assumed there were countless how-to’s out there already. I was both right and wrong; there are lots of people providing helpful information about text-based ebooks such as novels, but there are not that many devoted to graphics heavy ebooks.
This distinction was brought home to me when one of my blogging friends needed help with a picture book. He was trying to create an ebook with both pictures and carefully formatted text.
It can be done, but the digital technology we have at the moment is limited when it comes to integrating text and graphics.
Before I start on possible solutions, and/or workarounds, I want to explain what those limitations are, and why they cause problems with graphics heavy ebooks.
Things ordinary ebooks can do
Ordinary ebooks are great with text but just barely okay with pictures. That’s because they’re not really ‘books’ at all. They’re more like rolls of toilet paper with words projected onto them. The story literally unrolls in an ebook.
This has significant advantages. For starters, as ereaders don’t care about the size or number of words shown on their screens, the reader can make those words as big, or small, as they please…for the whole ‘book’. I use this feature all the time because my eyesight ain’t what it used to be.
Things ordinary ebooks can’t do
Unfortunately, the very flexibility of ebooks can create problems when it comes to adding pictures to the text. Pictures don’t ‘flow’ the way text does, so getting them to fit the screen requires that they be sized for the screen.
But which screen? There are dozens of different digital devices from smartphones to dedicated ereaders to tablets of various sizes. Making an image to fit one screen almost guarantees that it won’t quite fit another.
Another problem with pictures is that not all digital devices are in colour. Dedicated ereaders, such as ordinary Kindles and Paperwhites, only do grayscale.
To display a picture in colour, the digital device has to be some kind of tablet [like the Kindle Fire] or a mobile phone. So again, which device should you optimise for?
And finally, because of their ability to ‘flow’ the text, ebooks don’t do precise formatting. Unfortunately, graphics heavy books like memoirs, cookbooks, picture books etc, look best when the formatting is controlled and the pictures are in colour.
To work around this fundamental problem with ebook design, Amazon created a number of specialist programs:
Kindle Kid’s Book Creator
Kindle Comic Creator
I took a quick peek at Kindle Kids, and I couldn’t quite work out what it was doing [the manual approach]. I suspect it’s a lot easier if you use the PDF option and simply pour everything into the app in one go.
Of the three, Kindle Create is the one I find most useful. In its current iteration, it is actually two programs in one:
The first allows you to ‘format’ Word .doc and .docx files into text-based ebooks like novels. There is help for creating a Table of Contents as well as Front and Back matter pages, and you can add pictures although the image manipulation is basic to say the least.
The second is the old Textbook Creator app. which turns a PDF document into an ebook.
Kindle Create for text based ebooks
This version of Kindle Create allows you to include all the standard elements of a book as well as pictures, but all you can do with pictures is adjust the size, and sometimes the location. That’s it. You can make the image small, medium, large, or full, but you can only adjust the placement of small or medium images. Large and full images seem to be placed automatically and can’t be changed.
One nice thing is that Kindle Create automatically wraps the text around the image as shown below:
But again, only if the image is small or medium.
This does not constitute ‘total control’ over the way text and images display, but it’s not bad. More importantly, when I did a preview of the page, it seemed to display quite well on tablet, phone and Kindle devices.
Something I was not expecting was that the colour image was automatically changed to grayscale on a Kindle device:
Given that this option works with standard .doc or .docx documents, I was pleasantly surprised by how it put everything ‘together’.
The old Textbook Creator
For the sake of clarity, I’m going to call the second option of Kindle Create by its old name – Textbook Creator.
Textbook Creator doesn’t try to integrate text and pictures at all. It creates an ebook out of a sequence of pictures.
If you’re nodding your head and saying, “Ah, she’s talking about PDFs”, you’d be right.
To quote from one of my own how-to’s:
PDF stands for Portable Document Format. With PDF documents, each page is like a ‘snapshot’ of the original Word page. That’s why it’s called WSIWYG – what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
Basically, everything on the Word page becomes a composite ‘picture’ that cannot change. This is how you make sure that what appears on the screen of the digital device is exactly the same as what you originally created, including the positioning of both graphics and text.
It’s the difference between ‘some control’ and ‘total control’.
“But…PDFs can’t be edited.”
That would normally be true, if you were dealing with a PDF document as a whole. But Textbook Creator cuts the original PDF document into its component pages, and each one those pages can be swapped out, individually.
To make this a bit clearer, let’s say you have imported a 20 page PDF document into Textbook Creator. Then you discover that you made a small error on page 15.
Rather than redoing the whole, 20 page document, you can:
go back to the original,
make a change to page 15,
export page 15 as a new PDF document
swap the new page 15 for the old page 15 inside Textbook Creator, and voila!
Okay, I admit the process is convoluted, but it does make working with PDFs a little less frustrating.
So what is the downside of using Textbook Creator?
The text in the ebook created by Textbook Creator cannot be resized. You can pinch-and-zoom to see details at a larger size, but you cannot specify that the text in the entire ebook be at a certain size.
This means that the original document has to be designed in such a way that it will suit most readers and most ereaders.
In paperbacks, this is kind of standard, and expected, but not so in digital devices. Plus getting the document to fit can be rather tricky.
Getting the size right
As mentioned before, there are a lot of different ereaders out there, and screen sizes are not the same either. Designing a document to fit all of them is a case of picking something ‘average’ and basing the sizing on that.
But what do I mean by ‘sizing’?
The easiest way to explain is to show you. The following is a preview of this post, in Textbook creator:
Can you see how tiny the text below the image is?
All I did was export a standard Word file to PDF and then import that PDF into Textbook Creator. The font size of the Word document is 12.
Now have a look at this preview. Same document but with a font size of 28:
To get the document to display like that, I had to radically change how the Word document was setup. Basicallly, I simulated the Kindle Fire screen in Word so that I could place text and images to their best advantage.
The following screenshots show my page setup in Word 16.
1. Paper size
The dimensions circled in orange create a page size that exactly fits the screen of my Kindle Fire 6.
Again, those margins are designed to make reading the Kindle Fire 6 screen visually ‘comfortable’ without wasting too much space.
Note: there are no settings selected in Layout. You need clean, minimal formatting in the original Word document. This includes not using things we normally take for granted, such as manual ‘spacing’.
For best results, you should always create styles – for the effects you must have – and use only those styles in the formatting.
Because Word is an old program, and Microsoft never throws anything away, it simply buries it under new code. This means that there is a lot of…[expletive deleted]…junk in Word that lurks in the background and can seriously mess with other programs that attempt to read/use Word documents. So keeping the document ‘clean’ is important.
But wait…there’s more. Remember how I said I’d changed the font size to 28? The next screenshot is of the Normal Style I created just for Kindle Fire 6 documents:
I can’t tell you why translating text from Word to a small digital device shrinks the text. All I know is that it does, and we have to manually compensate for it.
The other thing you might want to notice is that the alignment is set to ‘Justified’. Not only does it make the text look more professional, it also saves space on the screen.
To change the Normal Style on your own version of Word, right click on the style [on the Ribbon] and select ‘Modify’ from the drop down list of options [see here for step-by-step details]. That will get you to the Modify Style dialog box shown above.
Once the Modify dialog box is open, change the font size and alignment and then click ‘Save’.
We should now have a document that is optimised for an ebook.
Once the Word document is as perfect as we can make it, save the document as a Word file, and then Export it as a PDF.
Your book is now ready to import into Textbook Creator.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the Textbook Creator software.
No! Not that kind of weekend…;) This kind of weekend:
The lighting effects are truly glorious in Elder Scrolls Online, and they inspired me to create classically inspired interiors for my in-game house. That involved finding recipes, gathering ingredients and finally crafting beautiful items like:
…the goblets and knick knacks you can see displayed on that shelving.
I also splurged and bought a very expensive recipe for a glass goblet and some ‘food’. In this last screenshot, you can see my wedge of cheese, the bread platter, and some kebabs. Dinner chez moi. 🙂
I loved the player housing in Final Fantasy XIV, but the housing and control in ESO are an order of magnitude better. Harder to master, but I think the effects speak for themselves. And yes, I did spend a lot of time playing this weekend. But I also spent a lot of time, and most of my energy mowing. I literally did not have enough oomph left over to write. Today, though, I will make up for lost time.
There used to be a number of individual Kindle applications you could download and install, now there’s just one: Kindle Create.
When you open Kindle Create on your computer, you’ll be presented with two options – text heavy novels or graphics heavy non-fiction:
The one I use is ‘Textbooks, Travel Guides, Cookbooks, Music books’. It requires a PDF file and allows me to control exactly where and how text and graphics appear on the page [of the ebook].
Termed ‘fixed format’, these ebooks behave almost exactly like print books in that the size of the e-reader screen is the size of the ‘page’, and the text and graphics have to be sized to suit that page.
The screenshot below was taken from within Kindle Create and shows how the fixed format ebook will appear on a Kindle Fire:
The three things you should notice are:
The page is in colour,
The page contains a graphic image that fits exactly within the margins,
The page contains a hyperlink.
All three elements, and their placement, were set in the original Word file, before it was converted into a PDF. Kindle Create then imported the PDF and converted it to a proprietary format called .kcb. [When the file is ready to be published to the Kindle, it will be converted to its final format which is called .kpf]. The important thing to note is that all three elements are retained in the .kcb file, including the hyperlink.
You won’t be able to do much in the way of editing, but you will be able to create a Table of Contents. The TOC is bog simple, manual and only allows for one TOC entry per page. It also allows for only one level of TOC. Effectively, this means that you will be able to create a table of chapter headings and not much else. And, of course, there is no option for creating an Index.
The lack of a deep TOC and no Index means that non-fiction ebooks are kind of hard to dip into and ‘browse’. Yet that is precisely what most non-fiction readers need. How was I going to make my e-textbook more user friendly?
The answer was kind of obvious, once I thought of it. -sigh-
As mentioned before, Kindle Create gives you the option of preserving any hyperlinks present in your PDF. This means you can tap a link inside the ebook and be taken directly to that location…both inside the ebook and out.
-cue light bulb moment-
What if I added a list of hyperlinks to my Word document before I converted it to the PDF?
If Kindle Create preserved all those hyperlinks, I’d end up with a list of links in alphabetical order! I’d end up with an Index of Links!
As with all great ideas, mine turned out to be a wee bit harder than expected.
I started by creating a simple two column table in Word.
Then I printed off the Index pages of the paperback and marked the most important Index entries. I then typed those into the left hand column of the table with one Index entry per cell.
Next, I trawled through the print Index a second time, marking the most important ‘Subentries’. They went into the right hand column with one subentry per line.
Finally, I selected a subentry, opened the Insert tab and clicked Link:
The screenshot above shows the ‘Insert Hyperlink’ dialog box in Word 2016. If you have text selected before you open the dialog box, Word will automatically make that text the ‘Text to display’ [see two linked orange circles]. In other words, you will see that text rather than the hyperlink itself.
The orange circle labelled as ‘A‘ shows that ‘Place in This Document’ has been selected as the general location of the hyperlink.
The orange circle labelled as ‘B‘ shows the TOC sub-heading selected to be the actual location of the hyperlink.
Wait…’TOC sub heading’?
Yes. When you create a link within a document, Word looks for the same heading styles that are used to generate a Table of Contents. As my document contains five levels of heading styles – i.e. from Heading 1 through to Heading 5 – those headings are the locations I can use for my hyperlinks. Effectively, I’m using all the TOC levels Kindle Create won’t let me put into its Table of Contents to create an Index of sorts. It’s not perfect, and this work around does entail a lot of work, but…a fudged index is better than no index at all.
In case you’re wondering, this is what the Index of Links looks like in Kindle Create:
Apologies for yet another how-to post, but I was kind of pleased with my little solution. 🙂
Life’s been rather hectic of late, so my posts have been more sporadic than usual, but today I want to show you something that I think is quite wonderful. And no, I’m not going to tell you, I’m going to show you.
Have a look at these three screenshots and tell me what you see:
Yes, all three screenshots are computer generated. And yes, they are all from a game, but the amazing thing is the mirror.
I’ve been playing games of one sort or another for close to 20 years, and in all that time I’ve never seen a mirror used in any game I’ve ever played. Now, it may be that I’ve played the wrong sort of games, or it may be that mirrors use up too many resources, or… Whatever the reason, mirrors haven’t been a part of the graphics, and I have always felt the lack.
Reflections are such a fundamental part of how we see the world, and ourselves. Think about it. We catch sight of our reflection a hundred times a day – in mirrors, shop windows, highly polished tables, glossy cupboards, ponds, even spoons. They are everywhere in the real world, but not in the virtual world, and to me it feels odd. Like not having a shadow.
Remember when gaming graphics were so primitive that no one even dreamed of adding shadows? Now they’re commonplace in most games with high end graphics. I predict that one day soon, reflections will become just as commonplace as shadows because they add an almost subliminal element to our ability to immerse ourselves in a virtual environment.
For now, though, my friend George is the trail blazer in this area. The mirror is his, as is the game, and I think both are going to be quite extraordinary.
In my last post about the new Innerscape cover, I vented about the trouble I was having getting the silver effect I wanted. Your suggestions were brilliant so I thought I’d do a quick update of my progress. The pic below is a test graphic to illustrate the difference between the two methods and how they might look in the finished product:
The silver ‘wire’ was created using Corel X8’s fountain fill. It is clearly silver, even when I reduce the size down, i.e. it scales well. Unfortunately it is absolutely uniform, something a real ‘wire’ would never be.
By contrast, the gold ‘wire’ is a photo taken of a thin needle shape covered in foil. The foil was silver, but the lighting created this decidedly golden effect [evening, overhead light and table lamp, both with bulbs of ‘warm white’]. I only know this with the wisdom of hindsight. 😦 If you look closely at the column on the right, you will see that when I increase the size of the gold wire, it becomes more and more pixelated, i.e. it doesn’t scale well. [Clicking on the image should display a larger version]
Finally, I created two, identical slices of the circuit board. Both were made by creating the individual components and ‘grouping’ them together. The silver, vectored one is shown below:
Although each of the tubular components comes from the one, basic shape, I fiddled with the fountain fill to a) make the image more realistic, and b) to reduce the uniformity. The golden slice is also made up of individual components, but essentially I just cut them out and stuck them together. I really like the way the image turned out, and I like the golden colour, but it’s not what I was after.
Which will I use?
This question is not as either/or as it looks. In designing the covers for the Innerscape print version, I wanted each one to:
have a unifying ‘theme’
tell a subtle visual ‘story’
Thus, as book 1 is about Miira leaving the real world and entering a virtual one, I want her facing towards the stark, artificial image of the circuit board. That’s why the image has to be instantly recognizable as part of a computer. Books 2 and 3, however, will show a gradual blurring of the lines between real and virtual, with the changing circuit board being the unifying ‘theme’ that binds each image of the series.
At least, that’s the idea. Whether I can actually pull off this ambitious idea is moot. To make it work I’ll have to create two, completely different images of the circuit board – one with the silver wires and one with the gold. As each small wire will be made up of at least 3 components, it’s going to be a huge job. Not impossible, but it will test my patience as the original circuit board image has very few wires that are exactly the same.
To be honest I think I’m crazy to even think about doing this, and yet…how often do you get to create your first print book? Sitting here, calmly typing about my options, I know I’d hate myself if I gave this project anything less than my best, and fudging the graphics would definitely be a cop out. So…I’m going to be a busy girl. 🙂