Here at Astute Graphics we're always looking out for Artists to feature on our Blog – to show how they enjoy using our tools for their design work. When Matthew McClements sent us an enquiry and then we saw how interesting his work is we asked if he'd like to feature – and here is the end result!
I have been using Adobe Illustrator since about version 5 I think, in the mid 1990s and before that I learned my beziers in CoreDraw 3 on 386 PC (which will mean nothing to the majority of you), that all makes me sound way older than I feel! I was working for a London-based science publisher illustrating their journals and books. By the time we had finished the main project they had recruited me for, a textbook of Developmental Biology by a prestigious world-famous author, I had been there for 5 years and I was confident enough to go it alone.
So I have been self employed since 1998 and trading as limited company since 2000. I had a brief spell renting office space and being an employer before escaping back to the country and returning to working on my own.
You’d think in all that time of using Illustrator almost all day, every day, I would know every last thing about it’s capabilities. Whilst I’m certainly a very experienced pro user, familiar with the essential short-cuts and capable of producing rapid good quality results, when you’re busy working on client projects there often isn’t the opportunity to fully explore all tools software has to offer.
One tool I was not so well versed in was the gradient mesh. It’s a real love/hate kind of a process using the mesh tool, once you commit there’s no going back. That’s one of the reasons I hadn’t used it much. The main reason is that I had spent the five years working on a project desperately trying to create shaded effects that were realistically a little beyond the power of the early toolset. It may be partly this experience that made me react against that style of image and to go down the route of having a more simplified graphic design approach to my illustration work.
But recently a client requested that I produce a series of graphics that would be resolution-independent to replace some high-resolution bitmap images as they needed to reproduce them on banners for a medical conference. The largest of these images was to be printed in the order of 15 metres high or so. Their existing graphics were going to look very pixellated at that sort of size, probably about 10dpi.
The problem was that these images were 3-d modelled anatomical structures and thus had essentially photographic levels of shading. I got the client to agree to come simplification but there was no way I was going to be able to vector versions of these images without using the mesh tool. I spent some time creating source material for this project from an anatomy application I have. Once I had the necessary images I was able to trace them, create meshes and then pick shades of grey from the source bitmap using the mesh tormentor plug-in.
If the shading of the source bitmap lacked depth or contrast I would have to edit it in Photoshop, bring it back into Illustrator and pick up the colours again. Also, as I was dealing with detailed images and complex meshes there was a lot of time-consuming work tidying up the meshes’ structures and the colours assigned to their mesh points. So I didn’t want to have to redo a lot of that work if I had to change the shading of the source images for any reason.
I'm pretty familiar with Illustrator’s dynamic colour options so quickly realised that the kind of levels of control over the colours of my complex meshes was lacking and what I needed was a set of Photoshop-style controls. It didn’t take long searching on-line to find the Astute Graphics Phantasm plug-in and in no time I was able to take control over my graphics in the way I had envisaged ought to be possible.
I hadn’t yet experienced the moment where I realised the full impact at having the functionality that this tool provided. That came when the client said that it also required a reversed-out version of their main graphic. Now this was over 130MB of pure gradient-mesh and custom-brush vectors that was about as much as machine could handle and had taken 40 hours of work to produce. A few days before there simply wasn’t a way for me to readily manipulate this graphic to generate the required result and I would have been faced with some tricky client negotiation.
Phantasm to the rescue, a simple selection of Invert and the adjustment of Brightness/Contrast, just as you would do in Photoshop and I had the reversed out version the client requested. What a result.
I hope I’ll get the opportunity to explore this plug-in’s potential as well as some of the others available from Astute graphics and with luck some client will foot the bill whilst I get to experiment.
Check out Matthews Bēhance profile here to view some of his other awesome designs.
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