Texturing: Part 1 – Finding Textures

“Where do you get your textures?” is something I’m asked from time to time. I have a huge stock of textures for modding and graphic design. I used to scour Google Image Search for hours, then have to check the copyright permissions on every image I found. It’s frustrating finding the perfect image only to find you have to shell out ten dollars for it or make do with something else. In the end I’ve found it better to make them myself whenever I can. There is a lot to it however, which is why this post will come in several parts.

Building a solid texture library will take some strain off finding them every time you start a project. I started my library with a free download of low resolution textures, which are no longer good enough to use even in my hobby work, but it gave me a solid foundation to learn from. It came with folders filled with tiling metal, stone, wood, leather, cloth, water, and so on. It taught me how to value a simple textures that don’t out-shout the content they’re meant to compliment, which I’ll talk about in Part 3: The Big Picture. It also taught me how to kludge a handful of lesser textures together in Photoshop into something serviceable, which I’ll cover more in Part 2: Making Textures. But mostly it taught me what to look for as I roam with my camera – a texturer’s best friend.

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The Power of Habit is Real

We’ve all heard this advice a million different ways: bum in seat, don’t wait for the muse, don’t worry about how bad it is – just get the words down. It’s been six weeks since I vowed to write for an hour every day, and I can tell you one thing: it works. It’s not as simple as writing gurus say it is though, which is of course why people find it so hard to follow (guilty). Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

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When Details Matter

Last week I talked about how excessive detail can bury the purpose or meaning of a work, and also waste your and your audience’s time. But there’s a time and a place for heavy detail work, and becoming a better artist is learning to recognize when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. If you do it right, you awe people when they realize how much care you put into the project. There are also times when people will only notice on a subliminal level, praising work for its realism even when they can’t put their finger on exactly how it achieves it.

About not showing your homework when it comes to world building – people don’t appreciate a massive info dump in the middle of a narrative, but that doesn’t mean don’t do your homework at all. You can end up with a hundred thousand words of notes, especially if you’re working on a large series, that never make it into the story directly, but influence its outcome behind the scenes. The key to managing the amount of work you put into your “story bible,” verses how much actual narrative you get on the page, is learning to recognize when your bible mechanics matter.

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Sense is More Important Than Accuracy

Accuracy is overrated when it comes to portraying something in a way that makes sense to most people. Outside a research paper or an architectural drawing, you’re more often looking for verisimilitude. Verisimilitude captures the essence, or appearance, of a thing. Today that means distilling it down to pertinent details rather than describing every boat in the harbor and their moorings (during the frickin climax, Dickens, wth). I’ve run across the distillation principle again and again in different contexts, so I have plenty of examples:

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So What Makes Great Design?

Last week I tackled the question, “What makes good design?” to spell out the rules of basic competency. But knowing all the rules and putting them into practice doesn’t necessarily make someone a great designer. Mastering the art requires a more – that “more” requires intuition and the ability to recognize what’s needed on a project by project basis. This is where things get tricky and require tons of practice. Here’s the more difficult rules I’ve discovered. Also, many of them work for every art, including writing.

 

Your imagery has to communicate as much as the type.

 

Sometimes the imagery is the type, if you’re doing funky things like making letters morph into horses, but when you do make sure people can see the horses. I know from experience how working on a design can give you tunnel vision, making you imagine you’re communicating a whole lot more than you actually are. You can spend hours arranging a bunch of swoopy lines into the shape of a cowboy, only to have the first person you show cock their head, decide they have the right-side-up image upside down, and turn it over saying, “Is it supposed to be an elephant?”

This also goes into what I was saying about symbolism a few weeks ago. People, designers and clients alike, can get way too caught up in the significance of their chosen imagery when it doesn’t communicate squat to anyone outside their circle. You can’t think like a Freemason when you’re trying to bring people in, not exclude them.

 

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What Makes Good Design?

The simple answer to this question is: whatever looks good and does the job. But that’s hard to quantify, so let’s break it down. Here are the basic rules to making yours designs not look like crap:

 

The information is readable.

 

Believe me, I’ve seen people screw up this basic requirement. Back in art college, I and a couple other students were tasked with making a poster for our art show, and I actually got into an argument with them over some stupid font they thought looked cool, but was totally illegible. They wanted to use it for where the show took place, when it was, and all the other important information people needed to know to go see the fucking thing.

To make extra-sure what you’ve done is readable, take a step back and look at it from a few feet away. Then look at it again sized down to a thumbnail. Is the most essential information still readable at a distance or tiny?

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How to Murder an Earworm

So I’ve managed to stick to my vow to write for an hour minimum every day, but all I’ve written is crap and I haven’t been able to edit it because I’ve been sick the whole damned week and my brain is fuzzy and no does grammar good. So without further ado, here’s a load of crap:

Don’t you hate being earwormed by a song you hate? My hatred for certain songs comes close to being full on misphonia. I mean, I get seriously enraged. It’s not healthy. I’m not going mention any songs in particular, because that would be like telling someone, “By the way, here’s my anti-Kryptonite, the thing that will turn me into the Incredible Hulk. Feel free to fuck with me for a laugh.” (By the way, the blog post will be extra sweary. This is unfiltered shit you’re getting here.) I’m exactly like this bear, and yes I even love Gary Numan so much that playing We Have a Technical is the secret sauce to chilling me out from an angry high.

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Sudden Comprehension of Writing Failure

I once again find myself struggling to get my weekly blog post up in time. The one I had planned is still a mess. I spent way too long trying to rewrite it from scratch, only to delete every single word. My head is also a mess, partly due to me having a sick day. I was going to take that as an excuse, but after putting off working on this post for the past two days, all I’ve done is set myself up to fail on the day the work is due.

I’ve engineered my own failure simply by falling out of the daily habit. My post/week schedule has often led to me only writing once a week, which is not enough if I’m going to write something weekly worth a damn. A weekly blog post has been a good tangible goal. It’s at least kept me honest, as I’ve not completely failed to deliver so far – even if I’ve got a few in a day late.

However, I’m past the point where just getting it done is good enough. I insist what I post be more than merely passable, which means putting in enough time to not just do a first and final draft, but get a second draft in as well. My first drafts are hot garbage, and cobbling them into something reasonable takes more than one edit – always – and too often I let myself forget this and post something sub-par.

Today’s post is an example of sub-par shit. All I’m doing is berating myself, and posting it in public to hammer it into my head with shame. So, in the interest of writing something useful, here is what I must do to avoid this dilemma in the future (apologies for having to break my one-fuck-per-article rule, but this needs to be said in exactly this way):

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Your Generic-Ass Cover Makes Me Think There’s a Generic-Ass Book Inside

“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Screw that. We all do, which is why you need to get your cover right. It’s the first thing people see. Before they figure out what your book is about, the cover has already made an impression. If that impression is boring, I don’t even let the title sink in. I’ve already gone on scanning, for a book that stands out and looks sexy.

So what makes a book cover uninteresting? How about rows and rows of samey shit. I don’t care if it’s as slick as a movie poster. If your cover is some Photoshopped stock model jobby with a dude on a horse, or a leather chick in the boob-butt pose, or some corseted lady swooning in Fabio’s arms, all your cover says to me is: “This is a McDonalds burger, just like every other McDonalds burger you’ve ever eaten.”

This is all some people want. I get that. I’m not here to denigrate that choice (much). I’m writing this for the authors who want to find success by standing out, not blending in. If you haven’t written the literary equivalent of a McDonalds burger, then holy crap do not package your book like a McDonalds burger. Avoid slick movie-poster covers, because everyone has one. Everyone but the trad pubs…

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