A Piece of Photoshop “Magic”: the Pen Tool

One of my main goals for taking web design was learning to use more features in Photoshop, so it made sense to learn to use the pen tool as one of my badges. Admittedly, this was frustrating at first, and I may have made it harder on myself by using a Photoshop trial on my personal laptop, which uses a trackpad rather than a mouse. Once I got the hang of it, however, I absolutely loved my new skill!

After reading the first article of the badge assignment, “Your Pen Tool”, I decided I wanted to get to work straight away. I was armed with the author’s car analogy, where he compares clicking to driving straight and holding down the button to driving around curves. I tried tracing over the shapes he provides, but I failed miserably. Aside from the star and large shape with 90 degree corners, both of which consisted of only straight lines, I could not trace the other figures to save my life. I thought that once I clicked to form what I would later learn is an anchor point, I would be able to see the straight line i was dragging out. I also thought that I had to hold down the button to form a curve once i clicked to form the second anchor point. Even when I figured out how to form curves, they would sometimes go in crazy directions that I had no idea how to fix. Overall, I was pretty confused, but I decided to go on to the next tutorial.

The video tutorial by Felice Regina made things a lot easier. She explained a few ways to make curves, and began to explain how to adjust the anchor points. I also liked how she explained all the applications of the pen tool, including how to add strokes to make drawings. I was fascinated with the idea of turning static images into vector equations so that they can be resized and retain their quality. However I was still a little confused because the tutorial applied more to Illustrator than Photoshop. The use of the pen tool finally clicked (pun intended) when I read Simon Hubbert’s web-based pen tool tutorial. I thought it was really helpful when he explained how to make the computer differentiate between the small and large curves by moving the direction bars attached to the curved anchor points.  Finally, the tracing made sense. I was able to create a pretty good reproduction of the penguin. You can see part of that penguin in the screenshot of my photoshop session below.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 4.45.07 PM

The beginnings of the penguin image I created while completing Simon Hubbert’s web-based pen tool tutorial.

Now that I had the hang of the pen tool, I went on to use my newfound skills to make a silhouette of a ballet dancer and to edit myself into an iconic photograph of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. As cliche as it may be, I do love the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and Audrey Hepburn movies in general. I thought it would be fun to Photoshop a picture of myself into one of her most iconic roles. The only problem I ran into when making the silhouette was when I had to painstakingly trace around the ballerina’s fingers. The original image was quite large, though, so I was able to zoom in and trace the outline more carefully. I decided to fill in the silhouette of the ballerina with the New York City skyline. The original image and the final silhouette are shown below.

before-and-after-dancer

A stock image of a ballerina and the photoshopped silhouette incorporating the New York City skyline.

After this, it was time to photoshop myself into the iconic Breakfast At Tiffany’s photo. I wanted it to look somewhat realistic, so I used the pen tool to remove Audrey Hepburn’s face and create a mask over the picture of me. The mask I made with the pen tool is shown in the image below.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 4.52.23 PM

Photoshop mask of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.

After inserting the picture of me underneath the mask, I changed the saturation of my image so that the color photo would become black and white. I tried to adjust the brightness and exposure of my image to get it to match as closely as possible, but the lighting is coming from two different angles in the two photos, so it was difficult to make them match exactly. My image was also much better quality than the Audrey Hepburn picture, and this discrepancy is evident. However, considering my basic Photoshop knowledge, I think I did pretty well. Check out the original images and the final results below!

before-and-after-tiffany

Original images of me at a sorority event and Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, along with the final combined image.

Overall, I really enjoyed this exercise. I’m confident in my ability to use the pen tool, even just with my laptop’s trackpad. I found that the written tutorial was easier to follow because I had to keep pausing the video tutorial in order to work along with it. The written tutorial may also have been more helpful because it was the third pen tool tutorial I tried and because it gave me exactly the information I needed so that I could fully operate the pen tool. The only tip I would give to anyone else who is learning to operate the pen tool is to be patient and persevere. It is easy to get frustrated at first, but with these tutorials, learning to properly use the pen tool is definitely possible. Use the undo and step backward features as much as you need, especially if you’re a perfectionist. I also found myself adjusting the direction lines after each new anchor point, and it was especially helpful when tracing intricate details like the dancer’s fingers. I’m proud of my work and happy that I was able to learn a new skill!

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