Coursework Part 1 – Learning to learn

“Take stock of the tools you have available to you, especially your digital software. Reflect on how well you know how to use these tools and tick the level that most closely describes you.”

Learning to Learn

I would describe myself as somewhere between “Advanced Beginner” and “Competent” with my practical skills.
Tasks I’m absolutely confidant with:
I have a basic knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite, on both PC and now Mac. I’m most familiar with Fireworks and Illustrator; able to perform simple tasks such as creating or duplicating new layers, pasting in place, aligning to an object or artboard, transforming (scaling, reflecting etc), using the eye dropper or applying a hexadecimal value. Also applying filters, the difference between vector and raster, RGB and CMYK, using the pen tool competently (quite proud of that it takes a while!!), grouping objects etc… I’m familiar with converting text to outlines in relation to preparing to out to PDF for printing and to allow for a bleed.
In Photoshop, I can produce contact sheets, and perform basic post production of images e.g. using curves, levels and exposure, as I’m familiar with a histogram. I use a number of tools such as magnetic lasso, quick selection, stamp, patch, spot healing without thinking…I do use some shortcuts habitually, but I know there are many more.
Tasks I’ve done before, but I need to refresh my memory:
I often forget to invert my selection where necessary when using layer masks in photoshop (grrr). I have used the graph tool, custom colour palettes in Illustrator and created some custom brushes but I’m a bit rusty. I used Indesign for the previous course, and found I got into the swing of it, but its been a while so would need to remind myself for most tasks but I think it would come back quickly!
Areas to work on:
I haven’t mastered many of the more powerful and complex tools – such as the perspective tool – the programmes are vast and I often feel I have only just scratched the surface. I sometimes know there is a tool for something e.g. making a spiral, but I’d have to dig around to find it. Some years ago I made some basic animation in Flash but none in Photoshop. I confess I don’t really understand smart objects! I also find working with vector in Photoshop less intuitive – I often feel its more ‘clunky’ and doesn’t seem to automatically select and effect as smoothly as Illustrator.  Often its very useful to understand the differences in the adobe suite, I’m often hampered by forgetting how they respond differently! For example, I haven’t use type on a path often enough for it to be second nature in any programme.
Next to clarify more specifically, I’ve opened up my software to actually hover over the tools to see which ones I’ve rarely or never used:
Photoshop – Marquee tools (prefer other methods), Perspective Crop Tool, Slice Tools, 3D eyedropper, colour sampler, and note or count tool (who knew what was hiding with the eyedropper!) colour replacement, mixer brush, pattern stamp tool, history/art history brush tool, background/magic eraser, 3D material drop tool, type mask tools, rotate hand view.
Illustrator – Magic wand or lasso (I think of these as Photoshop tools!) polar grid tool, pencil/path eraser tool, blob brush tool, shear and re-shape tools,warp, twirl pucker etc, shape builder & live paint, perspective & mesh tools, blend tool & symbol sprayer, slice tool.
Crikey as boring as these lists are, its actually very useful to specifically review what I don’t make use of. Often its those extra tools you have to access below the commonly displayed ones.
Obviously I’ve only mentioned the tools panel, and there are many more functions than this.
Finding out more:
Being more specific about what I don’t know, has given me a starting point about what to try next. I plan to gradually work through the tools I’ve neglected and see how they work, then I will go on to look at the panels I ignore and so on. Its easy to stay in your comfort zone and forget to test your knowledge. I feel this has been an excellent nudge to work on expanding it the blank spots (or craters!?) in my skills.
Where to go:
I’m happy to refer back to resources I’ve previously used and find new ones. Creative Suite for Dummies and other books in this series are always helpful, I also have interactive learning discs for Photoshop and Indesign. From memory, I think they each have about 30 hours of video on them, and you can work through a lot of information at your own pace. Its amazing how much you then realise is NOT on there. For example, the photoshop tutorials tell you a lot about how to select and refine your selection using every single available tool, how use layer masks etc but there’s a lot of time saving tips they don’t give you, such as batch processing, or crop & straighten and so on…I think thats the point, you are unlikely to find everything you need from just one source.
Aside from my own books and videos, I use online resources a lot. You Tube is obviously fantastic for learning this kind of thing, and you generally get to know who’s a good tutor. I don’t often use the actual adobe help section, as I think its less easy to follow. I much prefer video tutorials to written text online as you can listen while you learn. I need to see and then physically have a go myself to learn something new. Reading online is slow going; I’d prefer to print the information out and refer to it with my software open in front of me.
I’m always happy to find new resources, such as books from the library, or hints and tips from professional graphic designers, either online or in the real world. I’ve so far had the chance to talk to two professional graphic designers and I’d always jump on the chance to speak to someone who works in the field again.

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