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The unexpected rewards of learning to use Photoshop

By Pathways

By Mina Ikemoto Ghosh

In March 2020, the whole world of work shifted to digital platforms and scrambled to look vaguely competent at using Zoom, Loom and other cyber bunkers of COVID-doom. Around this time, we, the Pathways mentees, dove into the DrawColorClick Photoshop course led by Bill Wright, on the back of a weird feeling of solidarity. I wasn’t the only Luddite pinching their nose and jumping into a digital world that, given a choice, I’d probably have little to no incentive to be involved with. Yay. Suffering is easier when it’s done together. I’m pretty sure that’s how the song in High School Musical went.

I’m kidding, of course. An online course is hardly suffering (although being haunted by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens arguably might be). I simply had a lot of misgivings about computers and digital art. Technology and I don’t get along. I called smartphones ‘devices’ until about three years ago. I had some experience with digital painting and found it lacking. I missed the sensory experience of putting pen on paper, and the physical production of a picture I could hold in my hand and rip up or do as I liked with. With this online course, I accepted that Photoshop was a useful tool to have in the armoury, but was ready for a frustrating experience that I was convinced would have no personal relevance to me. 

Illustration made by Mina Ikemoto Ghosh as part of an editorial illustration brief set during Bill Wright’s DrawColorClick Photoshop course

In the end, I was half-right – Photoshop wasn’t something I would get any personal pleasure from using. But, I was also half-wrong (which is never a bad thing) –  Photoshop, as it turned out, would still have relevance to me. The new Photoshop techniques I was learning helped me separate my personal and professional drawings and work out a ‘process’. 

A ‘process’. I didn’t think I could hate such a banal word so much. During the initial months of Pathways, this word had become a fat maggot crawling around at the back of my mind. 

What the flying fish stick is a ‘process’ and why are people so concerned with it? 

From what I understand, a process is a way to break down a creative idea into small steps that can allow more room to develop and fine-tune the idea. It also seems to be the obvious difference between drawing for myself and drawing professionally. 

It had become clear that if I didn’t have a process or couldn’t figure one out, I didn’t think I was going to have much success at Pathways.

At the time, I had been finding Pathways difficult. The Masterclasses were enjoyable but I struggled at breaking up narrative image ideas. Separating mood from narrative or image composition from character didn’t make natural sense to me, so breaking them up in this way was more hindrance than help.  The Photoshop course, however, gave me the tools I needed to overcome this problem. Armed with this new knowledge, I learned how to approach image making  by breaking the process down into smaller steps that made sense to me. I could understand line and colour in a whole new way. 

Learning to think in layers 

I don’t necessarily mean Photoshop layers. “Thinking in layers” is just a way of looking at an image idea and seeing it as a collection of artefacts and objects, each existing in its own separate plane. This new approach changed how I prepared for my third Literature Brief. I found it easier to manage the entire project by building it out of artefacts rather than panicking about the whole picture. 

“I found it easier to manage the entire project by building it out of artefacts rather than panicking about the whole picture.” Work in progress by Mina Ikemoto Ghosh

This is essentially the difference between methodically building a car from parts and trying to bang one into shape from a single sheet of metal. A small mistake would be less costly to correct, new ideas could be incorporated at any time, and I could experiment with different parts without compromising on the rest of the picture. I could feel safer and more confident making more complex images. 

This isn’t the thought process or method I use for my personal artwork. That, in my opinion, is a good thing. 

I can finally differentiate between what I draw for myself, and what I create for others. Before joining Pathways, I used drawing as a tool for my own mental relief. There was a small – probably irrational – part of me that was nervous that the Pathways would cause me to lose that sense of refuge and eventually consume my love for drawing altogether. Learning Photoshop has helped me draw a clear line between what I create as a professional illustrator and what I make for myself. I feel more reassured knowing that drawing professionally will not stop art from continuing to be a space of solace for me.  

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Bill Wright’s Photoshop course. I’d expected to be browbeaten into carrying out repetitive exercises aimed at creating images solely using digital techniques. Instead, I was rewarded with a useful tool that complemented what I do by hand. The course forced me to take a good hard look at what I wanted from Pathways, and how I was going to progress through it. Additionally, the COVID19 lockdown, which made it difficult to keep in touch with my fellow mentees and left me feeling isolated amidst Literature Brief worries, did not feel so overwhelming anymore. This course gave me something to put my mind to that not only helped me figure out an ‘almost’ process but at the very least made the Pathways projects I was working on feel more manageable. 

Yes, it’s still an ‘almost’ process, or ‘process in progress’. I guess I’ll still be working on this over the next couple of Pathways Literature Briefs. But as they say in High School Musical, it’s the beginning of something interesting. Or something along those lines.

Pathways mentee Mina Ikemoto Ghosh is a British-Japanese writer and illustrator. Her style incorporates brushpen and bold, dark, dynamic linework, drawing on the influences of the manga she grew up with, Japanese calligraphy and the fine pen lines she saw in illustrated English books.

Bill Wright’s DrawColorClick course is a one-of-a-kind Photoshop course especially designed for designers and illustrators , entirely delivered online. Book your spot to master essential digital illustration skills, while expanding your skills as a creator. 

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