January 6, 2022

How to avoid hard edges in vector portraits

In the images below cartoonish vector portraits of Rock & Roll legend Elvis Presley can be seen. This image was created in Affinity Designer. After having worked with Adobe Illustrator professionally, CorelDRAW privately and Inkscape occasionally for decades, I have come to the conclusion that the much cheaper one time fee, no subscription Affinity Designer is better suited to create vector portraits that do not have hard edges in the face, even if it does not include the Mesh Fill function, that is very time consuming and tedious to work with. The drawing and editing process - particularly when editing the drawing at a later point in time - in this program takes far less time and effort. Progress sequence of the portrait on the right can be seen in an other blog entry: https://communicats.blogspot.com/.../this-is-other-vector... 

Cartoonish vector portraits of Elvis Presley

The image below this paragraph is a screendump of the vector outline of the double portrait. Extensive use was made of Affinity Designers Gaussian blur function, which allows to avoid hard edges in the facial features, as are often seen in vector portraits created in Adobe Illustrator. Many of the curves with which areas on the face were drawn are made by applying multiple node gradient fills and gradient transparency. This method allows to quickly edit (also afterwards) of the drawing which is much faster than while using mesh gradient fill tool that isn't present in Affinity Designer. Personally, I don't miss it. A brilliant Russian artist who works with mesh fills in CorelDRAW once revealed that it took him months to draw a vector portrait, while it is possible in Affinity Designer to make the same effect in much less time. I used CorelDRAW for many years, but only after accidentally running across Affinity Designer I was able to create realistic vector portraits a lot quicker, while making editing afterwards easier and faster. More examples of realistic vector portraits and illustrations can be found in my website at: https://vectorwhiz.com/Vector.html

Vector outline view of the Elvis portraits

To create (gradient) tints and blurs in the facial area of a vector portrait, it often is necessary to draw curves that have a variable level of blur along their edges, meaning that some edge parts are just slightly unsharp, while other parts are blurred and yet other parts are very blurry. To achieve this effect, I apply the following technique that is below this paragraph:

In these vector portraits a Gaussian blur trick was applied in Affinity Designer, as can be seen in the third image. Ellipse 3 is clipped inside Circle 2 and circle 2 is clipped inside circle 1. In the image below you see, Circle 1 is transparent, the other two objects are opaque. Circle 1 has a minimal blur rate, Circle 2 has a higher blur rate and Ellipse 3 has the highest blur rate. The result of these settings are that circle one has an unsharp edge, circle 2 has a blurred edge to the left and an unsharp one to the right, while Ellipse 3 has a very blurry edge on the left and a less blurred towards the right. The blur values are indicated in the third image. The circle with the dotted line only serves to indicate the position and size of Circle 1 that is completely transparent, slightly blurred and used to clip the other objects.

Example drawing of Gaussian blur effects and object clipping

In the image below the Layer panel is shown containing the hierarchy of the objects in the image above this paragraph. Objects that are indented to the right are clipped inside the ones above them. The object names correspond with those in the Example drawing. The circles and ellipse are at the bottom of the panel. The objects marked with an 'A' thumbnail refer to the text in the Example drawing.

Object position in the Layer Panel

In addition all parts can be given a colour gradient and gradient transparency, all settings that are independently editable of the ones described above this paragraph. In doing so the annoying hard edges of shadows in the face of a vector portrait can be avoided that are almost always seen in vector portraits created in Adobe Illustrator. Affinity Designer allows to create more realistic vector portraits in a much easier way that vector portraits created with the mesh fill function. The added benefit of working in this way is that at a later point in time all the parameters can be edited and tweaked to the preference of the vector portrait artist. Working in vectors with this method allows to resize the portrait without any loss of quality. Of course this technique can be applied to any shape you can draw, not just to circles and ellipses, that I used in the example above, as can be seen in the completed vector double portrait at the top of this blog entry and the vector outline view screen dump below it.

December 27, 2021

Creating my personal crest in Affinity Designer and Photo


In this blog entry I briefly explain how I made my personal crest of which below you see the image. The main challenge was to find a way how to draw the snake's scale texture inside its winding body that also is narrower towards its tail section. After some trial and error I figured out a way to do it. 

The completed rendered drawing

First I did some testing in a separate drawing in order to be able to create the scales texture I had in my mind. To make the scales I drew and duplicated diamond shapes, with the result you see below. It is an early version, because the one I actually used, is too long for this blog, but this one gives a good idea of how I drew them. 

The first attempt to draw the base of a vector brush in Affinity Designer

After drawing these, I inverted the image and mesh warped it in Affinity Photo as is visible in the image below to kind of approach the texture width inside the winding and tapered body of the snake. It is possible to leave the diamonds unmeshed in a rectangular shape, but playing with the Stroke width only in Designer, to spread the scales properly over the body, leads to distortion of the texture. Hence this preliminary approximation. The inversion was done, because png's that are used for custom brushes must have a black background to make sure the brush has a transparent background once imported in Designer.

The brush visible above mesh warped and inverted in Affinity Photo

I created a png of the above and imported it in Affinity Designer as a New Texture Intensity Brush in Designer. In the Brush dialog I set the Size Variance to high in order to be able to tweak the brush's width to the desired value. If the Size Variance is left at default zero, it is impossible to tweak the width of the brush afterwards in the Stoke panel.

Then I did some testing in yet an other separate drawing that you see below. Tinkering with the stroke width in Affinity Designer and manipulating the node handles of the vector brush allows to get rid of unwanted interference of the scales. I then found out that I had to draw different brushes (particularly longer ones since the snake's body is of considerable length) in Designer that were edited in the same way as described above in Affinity Photo, to be able to make a more realistic scale texture. For such purposes trial and error to get things right is difficult to avoid. By the way, vector brushes can be given any (gradient) colour in Designer as demonstrated in the image below.

Testing of the (not clipped) vector brush in Affinity Designer

I drew the base for the texture with Designer's Pen tool, so that it could be edited accurately with the Node tool. Then I applied the Vector Brush to the stroke drawn with the Pen by double clicking on the Brush type, while the stroke is selected. Inside Designer I then clipped the vector brush inside the snake outline curve as is seen in the image below. I tweaked the brush widths in Designer's Stroke panel along the vector brush line to the proper values. Also, in the Effects panel I applied a colour overlay to tune the texture to the correct intensity.

The clipping of the custom made vector brush in Affinity Designer

Below is the deceptively simple screendump of the vector outline of this image. The essence of this drawing is within the effects applied (the feature rich Layer Adjustment & Layer Effect tools, Gradient fill tool for shapes and strokes, Gradient opacity tool) to the vector curves at which Affinity Designer excels. Attempting to match the vision in the mind's eye is a challenge, but the Affinity programs allow artists to come a long way.

Vector outline of the drawing

Finally in the Tone Mapping Persona of Affinity Photo, I enhanced the texture of the vector drawing, with the result that is visible in the image at the top of this blog entry. The Tone Mapping (to my surprise) resulted in a kind of patina effect to the shield, which I think is quite nice. It probably is the result of the multi node gradient colour function applied to the shield in combination with the Tone Mapping settings.

Note: The version of the brush I used in the end, is quite large (4208 x 164 pixels) in order to be able to properly render this image also in large sizes without getting a jagged and blurred appearance, because the drawing contains pixel elements in its complex non-linear textures.

My Chinese Zodiac sign is a Water Snake, which is the main feature of this personal crest. The meaning of the arched Latin text is 'Serpent Power' or 'Serpent Kingdom'. The X is a symbol of the Sun God who sustains life, secrecy or protection of (mystical) knowledge. The circle represents magical protection and sacred space. The mistletoes refer to protection against poisons and to mystical powers. 11 and 22 are master numbers pertaining to my birth date and name, according to the art of numerology. The infinity symbol at the bottom hints at my spiritual origin. Only after having reached the age of an elder was I considered to have grown sufficiently to understand that a symbol is worth a 1000 pictures. 

Hope this concise tutorial helps to create similar textures.

December 16, 2021

After two months of working with Nicepage


After just over two months of working with Nicepage, I remain enthusiastic about the program. I realize that maturing such a complex program requires time and effort. After all it has managed to allow website designers to break away from the restrictive blocks, object and element positioning of the bootstrap based programs, which is no small feat. In addition it has brought an interface that makes it ridiculously easy to learn how to use the program within a brief period of time, besides adding a ton of functions, like animation of images, icons and shapes that allows to create webpages of a different level. Also the integration with CMS systems like WordPress and its open source equivalent Joomla make it applicable to a much wider range of websites. Particularly since both systems support a ton of plugins, like ecommerce, that makes building web shops possible. In today's lockdowns and restrictive access to public provisions, creating online sales points have become a lifeline for many.

Click the image to visit the Nicepage website

The minor flaws that I have run into, will be corrected really fast, I'm sure, because I have noticed that the support department on their forum page responds quickly, which probably results in the high update pace of the program. Communication with the mods on the Nicepage forum is done from within the program as well, by the way, which is quite a useful feature. Since I started to use it approximately 2 months ago, there have been some 5 updates, all of which van be installed from within the program, while offering the possibility to back up the created sites before updating. I did not have to use this option, because the updates did not cause any problems, which hints at the fact that the developers do some sound testing before releasing the updates. All in all, these are positive experiences some of which I haven't encountered while using other programs that I used previously. So, for me, switching to Nicepage was a perfectly on the mark decision. 

The minor flaws I referred to in the previous paragraph concerned to sometimes fiddly positioning of elements (text and images), in automated fluid repositioning of them in laptop, tablet and mobile devices resolutions and screen orientation. With some trial and error these can all be corrected quite easily however. Other programs I used, preform much worse in this department. Note: making sites work for display on multiple screen resolutions and orientations in an environment that is more complex than the popular, but restrictive object positioning bootstrap method, is quite an achievement. An other weird flaw I encountered, is the colouring of the bullets in a bulleted list, that strangely enough works on Opera's android vertical webpages for mobile devices, but not in the desktop versions of Opera and other browsers. Bearing in mind the prowess of the Nicepage developers, however, this is an oddity that they should easily be able to correct.

In the near future I plan to test Nicepage in combination with Joomla to add ecommerce functionality to a website. This will have to be done in a sub-domain that I will need to create, since my own site does not require the use of Joomla. Stay tuned to learn of my experiences with this type of web site building.

What has also become perfectly possible with Nicepage is to build websites, without outsourcing the UI / UX-design, since the program has a functionality and flexibility that its competition lacks. These features could potentially speed up the creative process. In these times of budget cuts and decreased face to face communication, Nicepage may save businesses a welcome amount of spendings, while freelancing website builders can accept more different types of assignments.

October 26, 2021

Nicepage site builder made my jaw drop


In the early days of the web, text only pages were all that existed. Somewhat later images were added to some pages, which gradually evolved into the media rich bootstrap method of website building that allowed to place text boxes, images, tables and videos on fixed grid positions. Meanwhile at this point in time (October 26 2021) the 5th version of Bootstrap has been released which includes minor updates and possibilities compared to the previous version. The type of websites in the first days of the Internet was called Web 1.0. Bootstrap sites are Web 2.0 type sites and now it is possible to build Web 3.0 type sites that allows text boxes, images, videos, tables and shapes to be placed anywhere on the page and even on top of an other object, making overlapping of objects possible. No more restriction of having to place objects within the coercive matrix of the bootstrap grid; just place, resize and scale objects anywhere you want, without writing a single line of code.... In addition, you are free to determine the object's rank along the Z-axis. It is the web designer's dream, because it allows them to focus on exciting esthetics instead of dull coding. 

The program that makes all this possible is called  nicepage . Just draw elements anywhere on the page and move, resize, scale, reshape and reorder in the Z-axis, determining which object is above or below the other. Nicepage's UI is very intuitive and contains loads of functions that are absent in the programs of the competition. Discovering nicepage was kind of a gift from heaven to me since MobiRise suddenly made it impossible to add blocks, which is kind of a crucial function in web design. On the forum mods simply wrote: 'Yeah we know it affects some users', without offering any solution whatsoever (....). For website builders that work for clients this is disastrous - they are stuck and cannot make changes their customers require. It basically makes the program totally useless. After watching a few videos on Youtube that explained the features and use of nicepage I was won over and bought nicepage. Mind you it costs a one time fee, which includes free upgrades for the period of one year and you own the program for life. Below you see the first attempt of rebuilding my home page, which allowed to incorporate subtleties that are impossible or at least excruciatingly difficult to make with Bootstrap based editors (which makes a ton of CSS coding necessary). So, for non-coders such as me, nicepage most definitely is the way to go.

Rebuilding my home page in nicepage

Update November 1 2021 - Nicepage features
I uploaded my website that was created in nicepage. Still learning and checking for errors although I think most of the major ones have been corrected, but fine tuning will be done in the time to come - editing for mobile devices, the adding of links, SEO etc. A few features of the program that make it pleasure to work with:

  • Export to local directory, WordPress, Joomla and via FTP runs very fast. Integrated FTP function is quite useful
  • The structured nature of the program saves a lot of time - site wide changes (in Menu, Header and Footer) can be made in a flash
  • Numerous prefabricated types of grids can be inserted to any Block and then be resized (or not) to the designer's liking
  • Images can be made to fill a grid area in a block with one click or be scaled to the desired size manually with an accuracy to the pixel or be cropped to the designer's preference
  • The option to edit the site for all sorts of devices works flawlessly - objects can be edited for each device (including hiding objects for a particular device) without affecting the design for other device resolutions
  • The artistic freedom - without any coding - that the program offers is simply stunning. Web 3.0 is a dream for creative web designers. Unrestricted positioning of objects and possibility to change their order in the Z-stack among the most useful features
  • The positioning and sizing of objects can be carried out manually or with the properties panel with pixel precision
  • The interactive guides are a great asset that helps edit a lot faster, on the fly, manually
  • Text formatting is non-restrictive - colour, bold, italics, underlined, hyperlink insertion all are possible
  • Hyperlinks can be made to visit URL's, write e-mails, make telephone calls and be linked to files to be uploaded
  • Alignment can be applied to blocks with all objects in it or to individual elements that may have a different alignment compared to other elements in the same block
  • There also is an outline view which is useful when locating and editing objects in a complex lay-out in which many objects are stacked in the Z-axis. In this view the ranking of objects in the Z-stack can be changed by dragging objects up or down - images are named 'images', text blocks are represented by a capital 'T' and the first two words of the text, lines are named 'line', cells are named 'Cell' and grids are named "grid' - a consistently logical syntax
  • When copying text from other documents that contain links, the hyperlinks are automatically copied as well (not all web editors to this) - a time saver in many cases
  • The program has plugins for WordPress (12 widgets so far) and Joomla, which greatly enhance its usability for more advanced WordPress users and designers working with Joomla
  • Nicepage has thousands of prefabricated templates (9000+ and counting), blocks and elements which can contribute to speed up the building process significantly
  • Most images (those merged into the grid background) in a site created with nicepage aren't downloadable right off the bat; it requires some knowledge, which most visitors probably do not have.....
  • The program's User Interface is very intuitive, logically structured and offers extensive editing functionality
  • The User Interface text can be set to 10 different languages
  • Previews can be opened in an internal Quick Preview, Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer and Edge
  • Projects can easily be exported quickly
  • With many functions, that can effortlessly be applied, that nicepage's competitors do not have, the program is miles ahead of the rest

Nicepage UI on my monitor in an earlier stage

One thing is for sure, I will never return to using MobiRise and Pinegrow, since the former program all of a sudden was unable to perform a key function and the latter crashed my site beyond repair. These are flaws that can seriously harm the business of web designers and their clients, so consider these matters before purchasing a web editor that you want to use professionally or just to create your own beautiful site that you must update frequently.

In some articles I read negative reviews and comments, but I urge people that are interested to try the free version to arrive at an opinion of their own. Either writers of negative articles and comments haven't given the program a serious try, know zilch about web design or they have little or no experience with other web designing applications to compare nicepage with. For newbies to the program, there is a Youtube channel that has excellent tutorials on the program's functions.

Sure, a program capable of building complex web 3.0 websites, that its competition can only match with extensive coding, requires some effort to master its default functionality, but that does not mean its interface in unintuitive; it just requires getting familiar with, which is a whole lot easier than writing the code necessary to achieve complex web 3.0 lay-outs. Those who claim its UI is difficult to learn, just haven't bothered to dive into the new approach that nicepage offers to designers who hate to spend loads of their time coding because they prefer to focus on the creative aspect of creating websites.

Or perhaps they are just hired by the competition to submit negative reviews and comments - not a conspiracy theory, just concealed common corporate practice on today's web. Because the competition is well aware of the fact that their products are way behind of what nicepage is capable of. When potential clients find out about the superb features of nicepage, the back lagging companies may see their sales drop like a ton of bricks, so while trying to catch up with the more advanced functionality of nicepage they will do anything they can, to keep web designers away from nicepage or scare them away by publishing intentionally made up bad reviews. And by the way, I'm not paid by nicepage to write all this, I just wanted to give my honest opinion with regards to this program, so that designers will be able to build next level pages without any coding at all for a very affordable one time fee, which includes the option to make useful plugins and themes for WordPress and Joomla.

Bottom line: If you liked Bootstrap, but gradually became annoyed by its constrained object positioning, as a result of which you find yourself coding as a madman to work around those limitations in order to build Web 3.0-like websites, I am confident that you will absolutely love nicepage's Web 3.0 functionality. In the past I have worked with Dreamweaver, Bootstrap Studio, Pinegrow, Pingendo, Macaw, Mobirise and several online programs, so I think I'm capable of comparing the old school apps with the new breed of programs of which nicepage is the first, so far (November 2021) the only one and therefore the best. Considering its huge number of features, I guess it will be quite difficult to come up with something better.

September 28, 2021

Radius Elite hubless sport bicycle


Inspired by the UCI world championship bicycle road racing, I created this hubless concept sports bike. Transmission is a variable planetary gearing. Position of saddle and handlebars can be adjusted to suit rider preference. Just below the saddle a bidon or storage unit can be clicked into the frame. Lighting is placed on both sides of the rim covers - white LEDs at the front, red LEDs at the rear. On the left handlebar an adjustment wheel is placed to dim the lighting. The right grip of the handle bar can be rotated to switch gears without taking the hands off the handlebar. The image was drawn in Affinity Designer. Click the image to see a larger version of it in Google's Lightbox. Turn the mouse wheel to flick between the images (on a desktop computer).

Changed the head light & handlebar strut

Radius Elite hubless sports bike concept

Bike with mudguards

Vector wireframe view

September 13, 2021

Apache logo - vector art


Years ago I was mainly into creating airbrush art, with various types of airbrush guns and paint. I used the Paasche V1, Paasche Turbo and in rare occasions the Fischer Aerostar. The paints I used were Illu-Color and Holbein acrylics. My favorite subjects were Native American Chiefs and warriors. All freehand airbrushes, i.e. without using masks. I did many demos on art fairs for Revell, promoting the Vega 1000 airbrush and Revell paints. At one point one of the sales persons asked me: 'Do you ever airbrush something different than indians?' Of course I did, but not during demonstrations, because it was sure to draw a crowd. I was - and still am - fascinated by Native American culture, their way of life, wisdom and sadly horrific oppression by invading western armies and colonists.

Some 10 years ago I switched to digital art creation, because of the countless undo functions that way of art creation allows, along with the endless tinkering it makes possible. In addition digital printing has soared in the last decades, which allowed me to print art work on many different surfaces (canvas, paper, aluminium etc.), while applying all sorts of lacquer layers to create magnificent effects. But once and a while I think back at those analog days and my favorite subject: Native American art. Below you see one of my most recent, simple digital vector creations that was used for T-shirt print. It was drawn in Affinity Designer.

Apache logo