Filter > Render > Flame

An Adobe Photoshop often forgotten filter

Fire is a very popular digital substance these days. There are photo art actions that will set any subject on fire. There are photos of fire carefully extracted and served as PNG files to graphic artists. And there are well-known paint programs and 3rd party filters, such as Alien Skin’s Eye Candy, that offer their renditions of fire and flame. However, Photoshop itself has been offering a way to render flames since at least CC 2014. It is no longer available as a scripted pattern fill (Edit> Fill), but now solely resides in the Render menu, along with Trees, Frames, Clouds, Lighting, and more. Many of us tend to forget that the Flame filter even exists. The other day  I remembered it when I wanted a few flames for an art journal page, and decided to reacquaint myself, so I created a simple image to walk through the process and share with you—just in case, like me, you tend to forget how something works when you go a long time without using it.

To use the Flame filter in Photoshop, you first need to create a path. The Pen tool is the obvious method for drawing a path, but for those of you who find the Pen tool intimidating, you can also use a Shape drawn with the Path setting in the Options bar. The main limitation to using a Shape is that it’s always a closed path that encloses empty space, even if a very narrow empty space. It will still generate flames, but it won’t look the same as a flame drawn with the Pen tool. However, that’s not only not always bad, but using a shape is also a quick way to produce an image if you want a burning heart (or house or. . . ).

Flames created with Shape and Pen tool paths
Although the Flame filter requires a path to operate on, you can create a path using a custom Shape layer in Path mode, (left), a basic shape such as Line (middle, or create a path with the Pen tool (right). The Direct Selection tool is used to modify both Shapes and Pen tool paths.
Adding the first layer of flames
Several open paths on the same path layer were used to generate these flames using One Flame Along Path as the Flame Type. Only one slider is in play in this mode on the Basic tab, but you can choose a custom color. Paths shown were stroked with a magenta Pencil on a separate layer for visibility in the screen shot only and were not visible in the final image.

Once you’ve drawn your path (multiple paths can reside on the same layer), it’s a good idea to save your path layer by double-clicking on it and naming it. You’ll probably want to be able to return to it to adjust or use for another flame. Next, create a new, empty layer—the filter always returns pixels and won’t run as a Smart Filter, so protect your image from a destructive operation. With the path active in the Paths panel (you can see the path in the document window), and the empty layer targeted, choose Filter> Render> Flame. . . . In the dialog, experiment with the different settings in the Flame Type list and their sliders to see what looks best. You can also select a custom color for your flames.

New Flame type rendered to image file
After adding in the background (a paper from Holliewood of Mischief Circus), and modifying the logs with a style and overlay, two horizontal, wavy paths on a single path layer created the small ember flames using Multiple Flames One Direction for the Type.
Initial image with 2 separate renders
After rendering both types of flames, this image using the default color provides a start to further exploration of the filter’s capabilities.

Once you have constructed a flame type that you think is very close to what you want, you can choose the Advanced tab to modify the results even more. Most of the settings here are subtle, although some can make a significant difference in the result. For this demonstration, I only used the Basic tab, which in many cases is all you’ll need. Click OK to render the flame(s). Now you can deselect the path in the Paths panel and create another path, or several more paths, on separate layers, to complete the image of your object on fire. For my example, I rendered different flame layers using different paths, and used custom colors, blend modes, and opacity. Where necessary, I modified the paths while looking at the rendered flames on a layer, then turned off the layer, created a new one, and re-ran the filter. I also used Free Transform on rendered flame layers to help them fit the image better.

Two renders of one flame type with different settings
The Flame type Multiple Flames One Direction makes use of several sliders to determine the length of the flames, their width, and their spacing. Shown above is the result of rendering the same flame type two separate times, but using slightly different settings, custom color, blend modes and layer opacity.
Last version shown with and without the paths that created them
Multiple paths (shown top), along with rendering flames with custom color and settings, as well as adding in blend modes and layer opacity produced the image at bottom.

With its decent preview and straightforward sliders, Flame does a pretty good job for anyone who doesn’t need to add lots of flames to everything. If you want greater realism or an organic feel to your flames, building up your fire from multiple flame layers can get you closer than you might expect. But if you want a stylized graphic, this filter has got that covered, too. For occasional use, if you’re willing to toy with the sliders and adjust the paths, I think you’ll find it adequate for most purposes, without forcing you to think you have to spend a lot of money on 3rd party solutions.

"Daily Planner" series for Democrace with Flame render
Several designers—Rucolla, Lynne Anzelc, ViVa, and more—were used to create this “Daily Planner” art journal piece as part of a series for Democracy. The fire engulfing “Free and Fair Elections” was created very quickly in Adobe Photoshop CC with the Flame filter.

Too Much Stuff To Find Anything

Managing digital art supplies creatively

Last week I wrote about the Digital Scrapbook Day and Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, and some advice I’d read on a few blogs about how to get ready for them—essentially, how not to blow the budget. Of course I did just that right off the bat with those wonderful budget-busting sales they like to call doorbuster sales, or Flash sales because they’re gone in an eye-blink. The stuff you buy, of course, stays with you no matter how many times you blink your eyes in disbelief at all you just bought. And now what the heck are you going to do to organize it and keep it from getting lost amidst all the megabytes, even terabytes, of other digital assets? Good advice I read was to take some time to clear out the older kits and assets so you wouldn’t be completely overwhelmed and driven out of hard drive space.

That’s good advice that I don’t often take, however. It’s good advice if you always work with individual kits, using just the papers and elements that the designer has included. It’s also good advice if you can’t afford the extra storage space it takes to keep all your scrapbook and art journaling supplies available to you without searching the archives for them. But if, like me, you often mix elements and papers from different kits, and if you can afford the additional drives to store them on, it’s nice to be able to quickly locate that brush or frame or cute kitten you remember having that you think would be perfect. You won’t mind trying different elements, either, to see what works best, if you can do that quickly. So I tend to mix “retirement” (archiving) with keeping some older kits still on my drives.

Just keeping more kits on hard drives doesn’t do enough for me, though. I can’t remember what’s in all the kits. I did try keywords, but that was way too tedious and cumbersome. I use them for photos, but not for digital assets anymore. I finally hit on a couple ways to organize that easily reflect my changing interests, and don’t demand too much of my time. The time I do spend is offset by saving time during the creation process, as well as helping me remember what I have.

Scrap page made with elements from many different kits
I use a lot of elements from different kits to create many of my scrap pages. If I had to remember what kits they were in, I’d never find them all. If I had to add keywords to everything so I could perform a search, that would take all the time I have. So I work with custom folders of elements I’ve duplicated, such as a folder of my favorite cats, toys, frames, or furniture. The elements in The Salt Shaker were found in many different custom folders.

The first method of organization was to take up more hard drive space duplicating some of the files and placing them into organized folders of their own. Not everything gets put into those folders. I call them “favorite shells” or “favorite scene papers,“ etc, but my “favorites” include papers and elements I think will be useful outside the kit they come with. At first I thought I might be sorry to give up drive space to a lot of folders containing duplicate files, but I’ve found that I constantly use these folders to add something to my pages. They’re a big part of what makes retiring some kits possible.

I do “retire” kits more often now that I have the best of them still in my folders of favorites, but I also keep their previews in folders so I don’t forget that I have them. The preview is just the small JPEG file that comes with each kit. I copy these into a folder of previews, then put them in stacks (which you can do with either Adobe Bridge or Photoshop Elements Organizer). For example, kits that are primarily red and green go in one stack, while the orange and yellow kits are in another, all in a folder for color sorting. I’ve also sorted copies of the previews into different folders using different criteria, such as a Theme folder giving me Vintage or Winter kits in their own stacks, or a folder of Presets, such as glitter styles and edge brushes.

Stacks of themed previews
Just a few of the “theme” stacks I’ve created to hold previews of the kits I’ve bought over the years. I created a cover sheet to help me find the right theme quickly.

The stacks of previews often give new life to kits. I spot kits, old and new, that go together when I’m sorting them. I then sort them into a folder that previews kits that pair well, the same way designers often partner with each other to create a kit, and now I can use them together to create a whole new look. Previews have also become a quick look inside my creative world. I’ve discovered that I have a strong affinity for certain color schemes and themes, even if I don’t have need more going by what I have to journal or scrap. I now consciously try to expand my creative horizons by looking for new styles and palettes, and when I see another Autumn or Seaside kit (huge favorites of mine), I try to resist them if they look too much like what I already have. That way I do mind my budget a bit better, although I still can’t resist a good Flash sale.

Courage To Continue art journal page
Even when I’m focusing on a single kit for a layout, I usually find that I want something additional, as I did here with this art journal page based on a kit by Jen Maddocks. Sometimes using a template also calls for an element a kit doesn’t include, and if I decide I want additional elements, I can quickly locate them in my”favorites” folders of duplicate files.

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When We Overindulge

Digital Scrapbook Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday

Right before the new Digital Scrapbook (and Art Journal) Day, I read a few blog posts about how to handle a week of frenzied indulgence in new kits, tools, and commercial use grab bags. And of course, this applies to the very next month when we not only were overindulging in scrap art supplies, but in anything and everything else as well. How would we manage it all? One bit of advice was to make a budget and stick to it. That is very safe, good advice—from someone who obviously has never attended a Flash sale. These scrapbooking supplies going at 75-90% off are often called doorbusters—the loss leader that gets you through the door to buy something else while you’re there. If there were truth in advertising, however, these would properly be called “budget busters.” That’s what they really are; the unexpected sale that is so good, it simply can’t be passed up.

These budget busters make it impossible for you to stick to your budget and still get the items you want that are on sale, but not quite as eyepopping a sale. Often, we’ve chosen these more expensive items to purchase on sale because they work for a project we have in mind or already have in progress. They aren’t absolutely necessary to the project, but the project would go better for having them.  We don’t really want to sacrifice getting something extra special for a project just to stick to a budget, or exercise so much self-control, we don’t enjoy the unexpected journeys a flash sale leads us on. Not if we have the option to purchase a bit more. We all have budgets, and one of the reasons we shop the sales is there are many items we would love to have, but can’t quite justify having at full price. But that’s not the only reason to shop the sales.

I would argue that the Flash sales are something different and worth the ruin of our budget if we engage in them with more purpose than winning by dying with the most scrap supplies. (Yeah, I’m too often playing that game, too.) Most of the scrap art designers I have discovered, I’ve found because some kit or action or brush set of theirs was so cheap, I could try their work and not mind if their product just didn’t live up to my expectations for it, or if my ability to make good use of it was currently too limited. Flash sales might help you pick up more from a favorite designer than you would, because you know you don’t need more from them, but what they’re really good at is finding a designer whose style is different from what you’re used to, or who is offering a creative tool through an action or brush or layer style—some product that will get you to stretch your imagination and will help you grow as a a creative person. Sometimes there’s a very good reason to loosen up a bit, about budgets as well as your artistic endeavors. Finding potentially more expressive tools is one of those reasons.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about what you might do with this stuff to organize it in ways that will help you later use it more creatively.

Image depicting you can't kill a good idea like democracy, but you can bury it for a long time
Scrap art for democracy. “Homage to Carrie.” Credits belong mainly to itKuPiLLi and Finecrafted.

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Thankful This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving art journal page
I am thankful for every single one of the 57 days before Inauguration Day 2017

Although I’ve been pulled in different directions this past year, I’m still making some time for scrap and journal art. Hopefully I’ll find even more time soon. Hey, I have to. I shopped the NSD sales this Fall, so I need to make good on my promises to myself to use everything I bought. I hope all who celebrate this holiday have a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving.

— Credits: Jen Maddocks, Rebecca McMeen, Raspberry Road

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Finding Discipline as an Artist

Letting your computer nag you and finding allies

I last talked about the benefits of copying the work of others, trying out different styles and methods, when developing a style of your own. With summer and more activities away from home, I noticed how easily I can be sidetracked by anything and everything when it comes to challenging myself to become a better artist. I always have an excuse ready. Part of being human, its very definition, includes the drive to make art, but we don’t always like doing it, especially when we’re comparing ourselves to the genius of others and feeling vulnerable.

So I can become terribly inventive in the excuses I make for not working at the very thing I want to accomplish. I easily dismiss the importance of what I’m trying to do, saying artists are born, not made (ignoring that famous artists studied and practiced);  I’m really only playing at this; what I do has little value, so something more productive is a better use of my time. Yet artistic endeavor makes us pay so much attention to our world that it doesn’t really matter if what we produce has little value on its own; it’s what it does for us that makes being alive feel better—like getting moderate exercise, eating nutritious food, or taking short breaks from work.

Image of a minimalist painterly style
Working on mastering the painterly minimalism for scrap pages popular with designers such as Anna Aspnes and Jen Maddox. I’m used to the idea that you can never have too much bling, and now I’m trying to learn when to stop.

Even when I’m not negating the value of my efforts, I’m negotiating with myself:  “After I finish this project, I’ll take some time to try this style, that technique.”  What I’m really saying is “I can’t fail with this project. It’s well within my comfort zone.”  I’m substituting being more productive for an endeavor to become more creative, and it all feels so right—we’ve been trained to value productivity since we were children. We like to measure things, and it’s a whole lot easier to measure how many vacation pictures we’ve scrapped than it is to measure how far we’ve come in developing our own style.

Altered Art on an Art Journal Page
One of my first Altered Art images using kits from Deviant Scrap (now Mischief Circus). Beginning with nothing is always difficult. Choosing a scene paper provides a guide that helps start a composition.

Of course there are plenty of times when something else does have to take priority, even if I don’t want to mow the lawn or pay the bills. But once I realized that I was making excuses to avoid getting out of my comfort zone, I came up with a couple of ideas to help shove me past my stopping points. Number one is letting my computer nag me. It loves nothing more than to set repeat calendar events and spread the nag along to all my connected devices—phone, tablet, other computer. . .  So I decided to let it. I picked the time I’m often free to choose what I do, and I scheduled different hurdles on different days—one day for creating altered art, another to try art journaling or digital painting, and so on. I don’t make these activities chores, but the nags remind me that these are the things I want to work on. If I choose instead to scrap a Christmas photo with all the bling I can pile on—a favorite technique—that’s okay. The nag just tells me to keep striving for what I’m not (yet) any good at.  I don’t like to fail—and I always believe no one else ever fails—but nagging reminds me that I can’t succeed if I never try, and settling for not failing by not doing isn’t quite good enough.

Art Journal paper made with brushes and blend modes
Starting with a completely blank canvas to create a background paper is a challenge­, but I learn a lot from working with brushes, blending modes, adjustment layers, and even filters. I only attempt papers once a month or so because it takes me forever to get one done, but it’s always special when I later use it in a project.

The other choice I made to help me get past some of the hurdles was to find challenges created by artists. I took the Photoshop Artistry course not because I needed to learn how to use Photoshop, but because it came with a lot of guided challenges for trying new styles. I then looked around on the scrap art forums and found many of them also create challenges. I keep a folder of challenges I can turn to when my nagging calendar says I need to work on something, but I don’t have a clue where to start. Between the calendar and the challenges, I’m not as plagued by a blank canvas, or by avoiding doing the hard thing just because it’s too difficult to get started. I’m so far from where I want to be, I need fifty more years to get close, but I’m also closer than I was last week.

A Photoshop Artistry course challenge.
I tried a look new to me using a Photoshop Artistry course challenge. There are a remarkable number of ways to turn a photo into photo art, and manipulated photos are perfect to use in an “artsy” scrap page.

To be honest, I don’t always respond to being nagged. On average, two or three times a week I give in, pull out an art journal kit, make an “artsy” element or paper, or try a bit of photo art. I may not be prolific in any of this, or develop creative skills very rapidly, but I have a start on it. After all, I began with nothing, so I can only get better.

This week's art journal challenge.
My response to a nag this week using a kit from Rebecca McMeen & Tangie Baxter. When I’m far out of my comfort zone, I rely upon a kit coordinated by designers to help me compose an image. A little “can’t fail” assistance helps me get over some of the hurdles to mastering a new style, and the close attention I pay to each element helps me understand how the style works to express a feeling or concept.