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Book Review: Robin Williams: Handmade Design Workshop by Carmen Sheldon and Robin Williams

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Are you looking for something that will jumpstart your creativity? Are you stuck in a digital rut? Do you just sometimes feel that you just want to get your hands dirty? While it might sound cliché, sometimes you just need to get back to basics and in the digital age, this may truly mean getting your hands dirty.

In this day and age it is easy to rely on the sameness of a Visa card, some internet links and the talent of some Photoshop skills to acquire your needed resources. But sometimes getting back to basics can mean turning off the computer, dusting off the art supplies, and looking at where all of the techniques we take for granted had their origins.

Robin Williams: Handmade Design Workshop is about discovering new sources of inspiration for your design, the exploration of illustration techniques, and using items like carving blocks, clay, and scratchboard to enhance your digital creations. It is about looking at new ways to work and making your digital designs stand out. This book is 240 pages long and is divided into six chapters.

Part 1, "Materials," are an essential part of creating handmade elements and working with the wrong materials can make or break your experience. This chapter will look at not only the surfaces on which to create, but the stuff to put on those surfaces, how to transfer an image to a surface, how to heat, cut, score and perforate your surface, but how to glue it down as well.

This chapter goes through all sorts of materials and equipment by naming names and giving advice on what works for what kind of application, as well as what kinds of problems you might have with a given product and tips for making it work for you.

Part 2, shows you how to "Texture Your Surface," so it will give you a two-dimensional feel that draws the audience into the piece. It is one of the quickest ways to add a human touch to your digital design. The goal here is to work with handmade textures and then scan them into your computer for use in your own graphic designs.

Here you will work with cracking the surface, using modeling paste, creating a patina — that look that things acquire with age — peeling paint, making textures with monoprints, making textures with bubbles, as well as combining techniques for unusual surfaces

Part 3, "Paint Textures," are one of the many ways to do things to enhance your design repertoire. There are so many techniques that you can try from watercolors to acrylics that you just need to decide what process works for you.

In this chapter you will work with a wide variety of painting techniques including putting salt in your paint, blowing paint, spraying paint, sponging paint, bleaching paint, working with plastic wrap, and more.

Part 4, "Paper & Metal Projects," translate to a combination of working with the base of the design industry and the addition of "bling." This goes back to the days when illuminated manuscripts had written words decorated as fine jewels.

When incorporating metal into your work, you want to keep it under control and in this section you will see techniques for marbling the paper, collage building with metal, making your own paper, cast paper 3D images, gold-paper stamp, and more as well as keeping it in good taste.

Part 5, "Illustrative Techniques," are possible even if you do not think you can draw. The idea here is not to let your preconceived ideas limit you. The purpose of this part is to show you some techniques that just might surprise you on how much you can do.

You will work with scratchboard to create images with distinctive human touch, found object art to create an illustrative project, using polymer clay to let your inner child take over, illustrating with collage, and even seeing how to draw when you cannot draw.

"Printing & Transfers," will show you several methods of transferring images to several substrates. There are a variety of simple printing techniques to create images with distinctive textures and character. For those who have never made a print before, you may find hand-pulling a print from a block that you carved yourself very satisfying.

In this chapter you will begin with roller printing to create quick and easy patterns and then move on to stamp printing to add a personal touch to your designs. Then you will carve into a substrate with a knife to create rich organic forms that can be used in a variety of ways and finally transferring images to various substrates for adding to your pool of ideas.

Robin Williams: Handmade Design Workshop proves to be a very inspirational book that takes a turn down a seldom traveled road in this day of digital design to provide a refreshing look at creating materials by hand. It describes and demonstrates that you do not need to rely on your computer alone to be creative.

Robin Williams: Handmade Design Workshop is very easy to read and provides visual references and guides to materials that are clearly laid out. There are comparisons to similar digital effects and many refreshing new and old ideas that will get your creative juices going.

If you are looking for a source of inspiration that will take the ordinary to extra-ordinary, if you want to revisit techniques of the old school style, or if you just want to get your hands dirty then I can highly recommend Robin Williams: Handmade Design Workshop

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.