Friday, June 5, 2015

Going high tech when using old world techniques

One of the key steps in the piece by piece method of marquetry (or element par element, or the Classic method) is to have several exact copies of the drawing.  The drawing is a line drawing, and the "lines" are made up of tiny dots with small spaces between them.  The purpose of using dots to make up the "lines" rather than, say, a line is that the dots make it easier to tell if you are straying away from the cut line.  When I was taking the Classic method class from Patrick and Patrice at American School of French Marquetry, Patrice would pick up the pieces I cut, look at the paper glued to the front, and immediately tell how well I was cutting based on how much white he could see around the dots.

In the old days, the way this was done was a drawing was made and then pricked with a needle all along the lines.  The drawing, now with tiny holes along the lines, would be placed over blank paper and carbon would be spread over the drawing using a pounce bag, I believe.  The carbon would fall through the holes onto the paper beneath.  The first photocopier.  I'm certain Patrick Edwards has blogged about this already.

Thank goodness for computers.  Today, we can use scanners and vector drawings to make this much easier.  Although I'm being a little unfair...I haven't even tried the old prick method (sounds rather derogatory, doesn't it? You old prick...)  Regardless, I'm going to demonstrate the method I use to get a drawing ready for use in the Classic method.  This computer based method has several advantages over doing this strictly in paper, namely the drawing in the computer is infinitely scalable (since it is vector art, in the end), the file is easily stored AND BACKED UP (seriously, you're backing up your system using something like CrashPlan, right?), and the file is easy to share.  It's also short order to grab pieces of different drawings and put them together.  So this is also useful for tarsia a incastro, or Boulle technique.

I'd like to start by saying that I am in no way an expert at using Adobe Illustrator (or any of its alternatives).  I am near certain that there are people out there who know better, faster, easier ways to execute some or all of this.  If you are one of them, PLEASE leave comments and enlighten all of us on how to improve.

The method I'm going to discuss involves using Adobe Illustrator (CS4, specifically, since that's what I have).  The retail price on Adobe software is pretty ridiculous, so if you want it, I suggest looking into some discounts.  Students used to be able to get discounted Adobe software, and some employers offer discounts on it (which is how I obtained it).  There are also alternatives.  See this Lifehacker post:

The first place to start is with a drawing.  If you're doing something original, well, pick up a pencil (or pen) and start drawing.  You're going to want clean lines in the end, nothing sketchy.  If you're copying something, I find it easier to trace it if it isn't already a clean line drawing.  If it's out of a book, sometimes I'll photocopy it, then trace it on a light table.  The important thing here is to end up with clean lines so that Illustrator can easily tell what's a line and what isn't.

Next, you've got to get your drawing into the computer.  I scan it into a pdf file.  From there, I will open the pdf in Photoshop to clean it up, if necessary, and convert it to a jpg.  (See the Lifehacker link above for alternatives to Photoshop.)  By "cleaning it up", I mean trying to eliminate stray pixels.  I find it really helps to have the cleanest lines possible at this point.  Try messing with the Levels in Photoshop.  Once you're satisfied (or just plain done with it), save it as a jpg.  You may be able to just save it as a psd file, and go right to the next step.

Now that you have a jpg of your clean line drawing, open up Illustrator.  Place the image in Illustrator by using File/Place.

Once it's placed, select the image and go to Object/Live Trace/Tracing Options.

This will open a Tracing Options dialog box.

I like to check the Preview box so I can see the changes as I monkey around with the settings in the Tracing Options dialog box.  Having Preview enabled slows things down a lot, so be prepared to take your time.  Now monkey around with the settings in the Tracing Options box.  For our marquetry purposes, we are only going to want paths in the end, so I check Strokes and uncheck Fills.  Then I play around with the settings until I minimize the artifacts and get the best lines.  This will pay dividends later as you clean it up in Illustrator.

Once you're satisfied with the settings in the Trace Options box, select Trace.  Now select Object/Live Trace/Expand.  This removes the original image and replaces it with vectorized line art.  At this point, you've probably got a lot of cleanup to do in Illustrator.  I'll show you an example of cleaning up, then move to making the picture into dots.

In the image below, you can see a bunch of artifacts (or junk) that Illustrator interpreted as paths based on the settings we used in Live Trace.  Note that I am viewing the Outline (View/Outline), rather than Preview.

I first use the Selection Tool (V) to select and delete this trash.  Then, armed with the original drawing, I start moving anchors and handles to connect and smooth out the lines.  I may even join lines, add anchors, and delete anchors as necessary.

Once the drawing is all cleaned up (which this example is not), it's time to turn the lines into a series of tiny dots.  At the top of the screen is a Stroke selection (see picture below).  Click on the blue Stroke.  A small panel will pop up.  For the tiniest of dots, I use the settings shown below.  I'm not entirely sure if the Miter Limit does anything, I've tried it with different values and didn't see any difference.

Now go to View/Preview, and your picture should be shown as a series of tiny dots.

When you cut out the parts for the Classic method, glue them to your veneer packs and start cutting, I recommend a pair of diopters.  These dots are tiny.  I have really good eyesight, but I find the diopters invaluable.  I think I picked mine up on Amazon (hell, I buy nearly everything off Amazon).  As a bonus, the diopters are awesome when trying to remove splinters.