Category Archives: esoteric knowledge

Warholized Graphic Rendering

Miley Cyrus Kraptwerk

Andy Warhol created iconic high-contrast re-renderings of Jackie Onassis, Elvis, Mao and others. I’ll show how to do this in Photoshop.

The Miley Cyrus VMA spectacle provided a golden opportunity for this rendering style; which can be as tight or loose as you want.  I located the assets, used the original Kraftwerk album cover as a guide. Then it was the high-contrast Warhol-serigraph technique to punch it out of contemporary event photography, same for the Donald Duck repeats which mimic the Jonas Bros, who are subbing in for the original band. The type treatment was a loose-fit on the original.

building the file

This technique uses:

  • Threshold
  • Masks
  • Solid Color layers that clip to whatever area you mask.

Masks can be added or subtracted to without destroying original pixel data. Previous tutorials on this focused on duping layers, and then hacking out each area before applying Threshold to render continuous tones into a high contrast-tonal statement.

Working with masks mimics Dave Lefner’s reduction linoleum print strategy. Or, if you’re ancient enough to remember cutting rubyliths, you’ll be right at home.

How to clip layers

  1. Open or create an image that has several layers.
  2. Hold down Option (Alt on the PC) and position your mouse cursor over the line dividing two layers in the Layers panel.
  3. Your cursor changes to two overlapping circles with a small arrow icon. You can also choose Layer→Create Clipping Mask or choose the same command from the Layers panel menu.

Working with Masks

  1. Start masks big and work toward small
  2. Keep the clipping tight, 1px edge
  3. Punch holes in masks by either filling with white or black depending if you want a color to reveal or conceal
  4. Dupe the master layer and bury it. You’ll make a mistake, and its good to have a backup
  5. Clipped layers are layers that are linked directly to the layer beneath it. Here its whatever solid color/gradient to the mask in question.
  6. Set color to multiply to get the color/black combo you need.
  7. Control saturation with layer opacity

I started with a PS6 doc 907 x 960px, a Facebook album size. My source was Kraftwerk’s “Robots” album. It had the graphic elements necessary to pull this lampoon off. Yes, its wildly low-rez, all it needs to be is a guide.

background and color layers

background and color layers


Miley and Thick masked, but still in their native full color.

Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences.

Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences.

Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences. Masks with colors not yet activated above, but waiting.Threshold applied, Adjust to preferences. Masks with colors not yet activated above, but waiting.

Close up of masks showing conceals/reveals and clipped color layers.

Close up of masks showing conceals/reveals and clipped color layers.


The starter mask in all its glory.

Miley Cyrus Kraptwerk

Miley Cyrus Kraptwerk, finished.

Add type layers and graphic elements as needed. The added Donald Ducks, are each on a separate layer. Same for the Jonas Brothers on the right. The original source album below:

Kraftwerk "Robots" album cover.

Kraftwerk “Robots” album cover.

“Kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”

The day after I graduated, the day before I left.

After graduating from college, I moved to Los Angeles in June 1977, after an eventful trip west on my mortally wounded ’75 Suzuki T-500.

The first place I lived on my own was a dumpster apartment complex in Van Nuys, Located on the corner of Victory and Fulton Blvd, it backed up to a dinky strip mall on Victory Blvd. California Donuts, a CPA, laundromat, maybe a dry-cleaners. It was right across the street from Jimmy Smith’s Supper Club, where Jimmy held forth on his Hammond B-3 Fridays thru Sunday nights.

Immediately across the street was an Alta-Dena Drive Thru Dairy, where you could buy milk, smokes, and the LA Times for a dime (but not all together). Down the street was Changing Times Hair Salon, owned by the irrepressible Juan Lizarraga; “Hair styled by Pierre of Pacoima, formerly Walter of Watts”. But that was in the future.

The traffic was constant, the air gritty with smog, and the neighborhood was relentlessly ugly. It seemed all the trees were several blocks away.

The apartment building itself was a faded 2-story courtyard complex with an alligator pond for a pool. I looked at the apartment the day after my grubstake arrived after being lost in the mail for three weeks. I’d been staying with a college friend whose young marriage was dissolving, the job she’d lined up for me had evaporated, and my wheels were a gigantic beast of a Dodge ’71 pickup truck to replace my dead motorcycle.

When I walked into the courtyard, the pool was half-empty, with several of the mullet-headed vato chicas with their KISS Army t-shirts and heavy eye makeup standing around looking at it. The rental agent was glad that the unit was occupied, and vanished seconds after I wrote the check.

Everything I owned in the world fit into the corner of the apartment, which was $200 a month. That night I went to a Lucky supermarket, wandered the aisles, wondering what I was going to feed myself. I remember buying fish, white rice, household stuff, and a mop. Then I went home and made dinner, and ate it in silence.

As the days passed, I slowly began to come to terms with my new home. The building manager was a rowdy Filipino with a large fish-tank. The Vietnamese extended family lived in one of the 2-bedroom units in the back; the patriarch, wife, daughters, grandchildren, and the Anglo son-in-law. There was a spectacularly ugly Chicana who lived upstairs, and had a face an iguana would’ve loved. She entertained callers at all hours.

The Filipino vanished after a late-night drunk-fight with one of his homies ended in a sickening crack of his fish-tank, followed by a dead-silence, then 50 gallons of aquarium and fish hitting the carpet. He was replaced by a married couple that used their 2 small boys as basketballs. Tom, the husband, was a comic-book palooka with a room-temperature IQ. The wife was a porcelain-faced, Cupid-bowed mouth, heavy-hipped foghorn whose profanities were loud and memorable. Nothing she said was ever less than 90db.

I looked for work. Navigating this very large, strange city was exhausting. My truck got 8mpg with a tail-wind, had one locking door, and a concrete-splattered bed, minus the tailgate. The FM radio had 3 options; KBCA for jazz, KROQ for low-wattage New Wave, and maybe KMET for what’s now classic rock. It was the Ultimate Chick Repellant, which might as well have said “Never Get Laid” on the sides. I’d park this beast next to Jags, Benzos, anything that looked better than me. Nobody jacked my portfolio.

Looking for work here was only somewhat better than looking in Cleveland two years earlier. Now I didn’t have a fallback. This was it.

“Aw kid, it sucks now. You shoulda been here two years ago!”

“Didja go to Art Center? You shoulda”

“Ohio what?”

“Art Center”

“Art Center”

“Art Center”

I kept at it because I’d crossed the Mississippi with the express intention to escape Ohio. I got a hand-typed rejection letter from ABC. After that, the mailbox was empty most of the time. My dad sent a large box with paperbacks he’d plowed through and tossed. There were days I didn’t leave the apartment.

One day I got a call from a tiny magazine I’d interviewed at. Was I still interested? Uh, yeah. I was down to my last $150. It’d taken me 3-1/2 weeks to find a job. Now I had  it.

Only later did I understand how lucky and fat that was.

Tech Triumphalism Never Sleeps

Extracting assumptions and trivia from this video…

1/ Assumes that the mere weight of data is somehow better or more valid than previous technologies or cultures
2/ That an issue of the NYT has more data/info than an 18th century person would encounter in a lifetime assumes that…

  • the info was only written, in a time when most working technologies and cultures were non-literate.
  • ignores the fact that an 18th C. individual was probably better equipped to feed/clothe him/herself than the 21st C urban techno-servant. For instance, when was the last time anyone in any office you worked in made a pair of pants, skinned a rabbit, tended a bean-patch?
  • that all info/data in that lucky issue of the NYT is of equal weight and value to all. In freight terms, what is the difference between a pound of lead and a pound of feathers? None. Mass is a different story.

3/ Broadband penetration: Geography & infrastructure is key. #1 Bernuda = tiny. #19 Japan = highly developed archipelago

4/ Number of text messages? How many actually say something? LOL/STFU. Highlights the metrics of availability and theoretical cost of use.

5/ Water, water, water. The invisible missing element.

6/ All these networks, infrastructures, systems are kept alive by electricity. When the lights go out, party’s over.

For starters.

You Will Fight The Way You Train


Game face courtesy of Glenn Mitchell, summer 2004.

There’s an anedote I keep coming back to.

I had a prof in design school named Larry Simpson. A real hard-ass. Larry, wherever you are, I hope you are as core as you were back in the day. He told me an important story, which I’ll get to eventually.

The sophomore undergrads typically hated Simpson. Too hard. Not nice. Translated: not indulgent of whatever solipsism was current.

First assignment was given out on a warm September Monday morning. A week later, there were a class of spanked poodles. Everyone’s first efforts had been x-rayed and found completely wanting. I was right in the first rank of the Newly Chastened.

We quickly found out that illustration is a serious business. You rendered it right the first time. White-out was cake-frosting, a scorn magnet. As the class worked through the assignments, it began to lose the flab. People’s work started getting more muscular.

He threw different techniques at us: pencil, markers, color, stipple, pen and ink, the works.

Assignment concepts were a mind-benders. His favorite was Erotica. He showed us some of his stuff—think Helmut Newton with a very sharp 2B pencil. Sultry, icy long-legged, high-heeled vixens in garter belts squatting precariously over sharp pyramids while SS guards restrained snarling Dobermans. The paper was immaculately white, shadows were black, and there were no smudges anywhere.

The class was stunned into a deeper silence than normal. He reminded us that the assignment was full color, and coolly suggested that Hallmark Card soft-focus was for losers. But if you had to…whatever. Class dismissed.

I staggered out thinking “Now what?” What did I directly knew about erotica?

“Isolde burst into the stable, her dark hair disheveled from her sprint. The sudden arrival startled Obelisk, the prize stallion cross-tied in the aisle. Rugbert had his back turned to the doors whilst brushing him down. Isolde’s perfumes wafted across the stallion’s nostrils, and he reared up on his massive hind legs, eyes flashing and trumpeting his surprise. His mane caught in a gust, rippling in the afternoon light, echoed the snorting and trumpeting ringing from the rafters”

Ask a hungry man who’s only read cookbooks to describe eating a roast goose. My experience inventory was slight. This called for flat-out comedy.

So I went home and started a woodblock print on a scrap of 1 x 12 x 13″ softwood board. I lived in a continual construction project as my dad and his wife built their dream house and horse barn. And since I lived at home, that was free, in a manner of speaking.

I sketched out a comic scene: a shaggy satyr, mincing on an Arcadian meadow. In the background was a Greek column, with cypress trees. The satyr had a loopy toothy grin, beefy muscular arms, two limp wrists, and a raging phallus. And directly in front of the raging phallus was a panicked chicken, flapping its wings for dear life, tail-feathers fluttering in the air.

Monday morning all of our work was up on the crit rail. Everybody was awkward and oblique. This was a sore and tender nerve being plucked.

Larry walked in, and began to survey the work. He examined all of the pieces, matted to varying degrees of competence. He stops in front of my piece, studies it and then turns and faces me.

“…This is…obscene!

I’m stunned. Obscene? Him? Me?

“Uh, Larry…you’re the one who’s got naked chicks squatting on pyramids!”

The class guffaws.

“You got the assignment, but you forgot this was to be in full color! I’m dinging a grade level for that!”

Damn. Guess I could’ve hand-tinted it. I got tunnel-vision on that one—not the first or last time. So I got a “B”. And I loved him for it.


Much later he told me the story I mentioned earlier.

He had a prof at the Art Institute of Chicago. Old-school man in his sixties, VanDyke beard, Mr Punctual. All work was to be on the crit rails by o755. He came in at 0800, locked the door behind him. Woe to you if you were late.

He’d light a cheroot, and silently begin at one end of the class. He’d examine each of the works until he reached the end. Then he’d turn around, and begin to flick the works he didn’t want to look at on the floor. Silently. Then at the end, he’d turn around and begin to critique the ones that were left. And flick cigar ash on the floor.

When Larry finished, I found myself wishing there were about ten more of him in the Department. But I didn’t know why for many years. This bygone prof was cueing his students that art school was also a vocational school. And they were going into a harsh business. He was doing them a favor.

Now What?

I think about that a lot when I go into various shops. Or have a squalling can of worms blow up in my face. There have been times when it all was going to hell and the only thing that saved me was the harsh experience I’d had earlier where I’d learned that I could get it done. It’s an inescapable part of the business. Most of it cannot be taught, only learned. And Larry’s prof was a lonely exception.

Some of What You Need To Know

lost parrot

A wise man once said “I’m going to teach you everything you know, but not everything I know”. Unfortunately, he was eight feet high in a movie theatre.

The following are observations about the print production, agency life, and work in general. Its organized into easily-ignored categories.

The Workday

  • Everyone’s day ends at six, except yours. This explains the 5:59 dump on your desk by someone on their way home.
  • When the word “Family” is uttered, be very careful. You already have a family (setting aside metaphysics for the moment)—everything else are associations.
  • You can and will be thrown overboard—it’s the Family Way.
  • People come to the Studio because its way more interesting than their veal-cube. They’ll want to play in traffic. Watch their little fingers near knives.

The Workflow

  • Similar to a marathon—last files to arrive are the ones that are most screwed up. No, make that a destruction derby.
  • Just because that art director or designer went to a name school doesn’t mean their files won’t be screwed up. Remember, they think they’re Frank Gehry—they get to dream, not to execute.
  • The Inverse Law has many applications. The amount of misery generated by a client/account mgr/customer is inversely proportional to their understanding of the process.
  • The file that has to be FedEx’d rush is the one that is missing something.

Human Relations

  • Agency life revolves around Three Constants: Who’s Cool or Not, This Season’s Fad Gadget, and Who’s Doing Who. This was found taped under David Ogilvy’s desk.
  • Stay on good terms with the support staff and Accounts Payable.
  • 98.6% of office romances end badly. Don’t ask about the other 1.4%. Wait until that special someone works somewhere else, then let it rip.
  • Your problems suck.
  • A good joke lasts forever.
  • Get an outside life.
  • Beware of utopian office schemes that get breathless write-ups in design magazines. Make note who’s got an office with a locking door. Also check to see if there’s adequate ventilation and work surfaces—you are going to be putting together those comps.

The Client/Customer

  • They’re paying the freight.
  • Explain complicated things concisely. Give them a reason to consult you.
  • They know things you don’t. Maybe you’ll learn something.

That’ll do for now.