And So It Ends

As we finish the semester, I only wish that we had all saved our web pages from that first day. Who knew, looking at those early efforts, that we would end up here? That our poorly spaced and misaligned pages would become functioning CARP-abiding sites? That it would be possible to transfer to the page those designs and ideas that filled our heads? Who knew?

 

Comments this week on Janelle’s blog and

Link to Final Project…a Draft of Final Project

I am linking here to my final project. As you will see from the lack of footnotes, the note-to-self reminders throughout the site, and the absence of any coding validation stamp, this is still a work in progress.
But, after this week, I am left with some general thoughts on website building:
1.) Design is hard. I think this might actually be the most difficult part of building a website. It is a lot of pressure to pick a theme and color palette that will carry not a page, but an entire site.
2.) Building a website takes time. There’s the code, and there’s the design, and there is making them work together and figuring out why they don’t. There is the making the links work within the page and there is linking externally. There is the obsessive pixel playing (what if I increase the margin by 1 pixel and decrease padding by 2?)
3.) Youtube is a developing coder’s best friend.
4.) Building a site can be maddeningly frustrating, but there are those rare times when it can be equally rewarding. It just so happens that my husband began to build a website at the same time that this class began. And when I would rant about how I couldn’t get the nav bar to sit where it should or about the margins suffocating my text, he would tell me how he got his to work with such ease: “I typed it into godaddy.” This used to provoke a string of curses, but now, with some knowledge of coding, I am happy that I don’t have to rely on someone else’s template. I can control every site feature, down to the pixel- for better or for worse.

Comment this week on April’s blog – her site is pretty great.

A WebPage and a Website are NOT the Same Thing

As it turns out, designing and coding a “modest, reasonably sophisticated history web site” is no simple task. And thus, my original plan to conduct an entirely new research project before beginning to build its internet home is foiled. I do like to eat and sleep after all. Like other, smarter classmates, I ultimately decided to use last semester’s Clio I project as the starting point for my final project, relying heavily on research already conducted but undertaking a bit more in order to shift the focus of that original assignment (from emphasis on white reactions to an increasingly black population to the urban black experience in turn-of-the-century New York.)
Although I am still conducting some research, I have a general outline of the content structure of the site- i.e. a home page and the main navigation links. However, as I start to actually build the site, I am realizing the importance of two things in particular that I may have overlooked in our previous assignments as they required attention only to individual webpages. The first is navigation. A site of multiple pages and links is simply that without clear navigation to guide visitors through them. My primary navigation tabs broadly organize the site, but I think the site might benefit from sub-menus or drop-down navigation links. I have been trying to follow the “simple” tutorials online, but success has thus far evaded me. Sadly, I imagine my Sunday evening will be spent trying to figure out drop-down code, refusing to be bested by the “for dummies” guide.
Consistency is the second piece of site-building that requires more attention with more pages. Pages should be parts of a coherent whole, but how much consistency is too much? When does consistency become just plain boring? My primary navigation links will remain the same across pages and I will likely use the same font for body content, but selections of colors and design templates across pages within the same site are choices to be made more carefully, more thoughtfully- choices that make me glad I decided to scrap that whole new research idea.

Comments on Dan’s blog and Sara’s post.

Editing Will Make It… Right? …Better? …Prettier?…??

100 freshman midterm essays on Aristotle and his Politics later, I post this week’s blog…a little later than intended.
As I began this week to crop and color my images for our upcoming assignment, I realized why I am struggling with Photoshop, which surprisingly has a lot less to do with the technical aspects of the program and more to do my application of photo-editing techniques. As a historian, I encounter a lot of facts- whether simply laid bare or interpreted by another historian- there they are…everywhere…facts. So when I turn on my curves layer and start to adjust the tonal values in my historical image, I struggle because there seems to be no “fact” guiding my work- no definitive, this-is-it, cannot be disputed result that my edits can ever achieve. Rather, I find myself taking the “hmm, right there looks good approach” to my image restorations, an approach that, as a historian in a grand quest for objectivity, always leaves me less than satisfied. Subjective as design may be, our readings and experiences this semester showed that there are certain precepts that seem to ground the art of design in something more solid. Basic design principles might lead us to agree on margin size and alignment, but, when it comes to editing historical images, how much contrast is too much before we can all agree that the restoration was a failure? How do we determine if a color application on a black and white photo is “right”? I guess, this week, we post an image assignment and wait for the answers.

This week, I commented on Kirk’s blog.

Editing Historical Images: How Far Is Too Far?

It seems pretty evident from reading other’s blogs and from talking with other Clio students, that editing historical images may not be a task that falls within the historian’s comfort zone. After all, a photo is evidence too just as the pages of a nineteenth-century diary and we wouldn’t go inserting passages or deleting pages in poor sharecropper Joe’s journal, would we? But we might reprint its contents in a more legible font or digitize and tag its pages. So what then is an appropriate edit when working with historical images? Or is there such a thing?
I feel pretty comfortable using Photoshop’s spot-healing brush to “clean-up” images and I’m ok with tonal adjustments and contrast modifications to enhance older and deteriorating photos. But I am a little less at ease applying some of Photoshop’s other tools to historical images. Colorizing older photos, for example, gives me greater pause, not even because it can demand an arbitrary application of color (where colors can often carry meaning), but because color can change the feeling of a photo. Martin included in his blog last week a link to a site of various historical photos that had been “realistically colorized” to make the past “seem incredibly real” (a great compilation of images- thank you, Martin.) I don’t know if the application of color to a historical image can make it seem more “real”, but I might concede that, in some instances, the color did not necessarily change the feeling or the tone of the photo- maybe because these images were closer in time, maybe because the color was more subtle, or maybe because the image’s content was less austere. However, it might be possible that colorizing a historical photo can actually make that image seem less “real” or otherwise alter the tone of the original. The colorized version of the unemployed lumber worker and his wife, for example, seems to mask some of the somberness of the original image (particularly of the wife’s expression) and the photo seems more like a 21st century reenactment than an actual moment in time (even if staged). This isn’t to say that we should never apply image editing techniques to historical images, but only that we need to be aware of how our edits might alter the larger reality that is being portrayed in an image. Errol Morris writes that a photograph “brings time forward, but also compresses it, collapses it into one moment. It is the idea that the photograph captures that endures.” Photoshop enables us to manipulate historical images but we must be careful not to manipulate the idea behind the image.

Comments this week on Janelle’s blog and Becca’s blog

So That’s How It Works…Photoshop and Layers

Weird, it was like Tim Grey from Lynda.com read my blog last week and made a video to answer all of my questions…well, maybe not all of my questions, but his tutorial definitely helped to alleviate some of the confusion swelling around Photoshop’s layers. Unlike some of the other readings and tutorials that have relied on a basic follow-along/do-as-I-do teaching strategy, Grey’s tutorial included explanation of what each of the layer tools was actually doing to his example images (darkening pixels, copying pixels) and why we might choose certain tools over others (i.e. the dust filter versus the spot-healing tool or a hard-brush versus a soft brush.) I feel much more comfortable using an application when I understand what it is doing rather than just what it can do, and so for my new appreciation for Photoshop and layers, I thank Tim Grey.
The readings and tutorials this week emphasized something else about layers- a point so obvious yet so easy to disregard- namely, the importance of naming and distinguishing layers. This seems especially significant to the historian (or art historian) who is likely to be managing older and more damaged photos and images. As we saw from the example photos on Lynda.com, certain images will undoubtedly require more “fixing” than others. While some may need an adjustment of hue/ saturation, some a removal of dust and blemishes, and others a cropping out or duplication of pixels, some may require the application of all of these corrections. In such instances, renaming layers so that they make sense and so that they are easily identifiable when future edits are necessary becomes even more important. Somehow, I feel like the Layer 1, Layer 2 defaults may not be incredibly useful when I find myself at the end of my project and in need of an edit to a single image element. Wait, where was that again?

I forgot that we read “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock” this week, which I loved. Luckily, April remembered, and included it in her post to which I commented.

Photoshop: Try, Try Again

So I’m not a fan of restaurants with 10 page menus- maybe it is because I have a short attention span, maybe it is because I don’t like to read at the dinner table or maybe it is because I am too hungry to either pay attention or scan 10 pages. So this is a little bit like what Photoshop feels like: though I will learn to love them in time, I am sure, right now, Photoshop’s options simply overwhelm.

In addition to an endless array of editing options, we learn this week that there are multiple ways to do just about anything in Photoshop. Just in Chapter 4 of the Non-Designer’s Photoshop Book, we learn that the Perspective Crop allows for lens correction but so too does the Transform tool; that we can scale and rotate in Transform or achieve the exact same results through the same functions in Free Transform. As I become more efficient in Photoshop, perhaps this knowing that I can choose from various tools to achieve the same results will be more comforting, but until I gain a better grasp of Photoshop essentials, too many options just confuse.

And speaking of Photoshop essentials…though Robin Williams postpones his discussion of Layers until Chapter 5 and a few hours lapse in the Lynda.com tutorial before Layers are explained, I am finding that an understanding of Layers is critical when working in Photoshop (perhaps second in importance only behind the History function- a feature that should be highlighted in the introduction of every tutorial.) And so far, I understand the reasons for working with layers- i.e. that layers help preserve original images, that various layers can interact to achieve certain effects, that they enable greater user control over images. However, I understand less about how to actually work with layers- i.e. when to create a new one, when to create a copy, when and how to link layers. I was hoping that tonight’s practicum would help to answer some of these questions, but, being that there will be no practicum, another week of reading, playing, and experimenting it is.

On another note, I spent a few hours this weekend editing my type assignment per the critiques I received in class. I cropped my header image, floated my image left so that the figure was looking into the text and not drawing eyes away from it (which meant I had to transfer my pull quote to the right so as to keep the page balanced.) I tried to separate the lyrics with a backslash so as to avoid the widowed and orphaned lines, but ultimately decided to keep the line breaks as the backslash insert did not resolve the issue of dangling words. I suppose I was then beginning to understand what Becca has been saying about coding being fun, because I spent time trying to improve my Home page as well as my About page. Of course, I can still recognize problems with each, but, my, what an improvement from that first day.

Comment on Sara’s blog.

“Poke Around…See What Happens”

So a Photoshop lesson was definitely needed. When Dr. Petrick told me last week that I needed to crop my header image, I could only shrug and say sadly to myself, “I did.” Having never experimented with Photoshop, I jumped right in last week, thinking that cropping and color editing would be the most basic and most self-explanatory of tasks, but the resulting folder of warped images of unpleasant hues proved that this was not to be the case.

I think my difficulties stemmed from the fact that I had underestimated Photoshop. Casual usage of the term (“that pic is totally Photoshopped” or “just Photoshop it out”) had somehow led me to believe that Photoshop was a simple and easy-to-use photo-editing application. (And, for those more experienced, perhaps it is.) But, after this introductory lesson, I don’t know if I would still use either of these adjectives to describe Photoshop- do I think it is pretty amazing in its potential? Definitely (what can’t you do with Photoshop?) but simple to use? Well, that will take some practice.

And I think that practice will entail a lot of distorted imagery and editing defects. Certainly, the readings this week helped to clarify just what it is that we can do with Photoshop and, certainly, the tutorials will be referenced again once we begin to engage Photoshop with more specific design objectives in mind.  But this week was another lesson in the art of trial and error. Though I was able to follow with relative success the step-by-step instructions in the Nondesigner’s handbook and the tutorials on Lynda.com, I didn’t really grasp what all of the dialog box percentages and sliding scales were actually doing.  So rather than following Justin Seely in applying Photoshop techniques the exact right way, I found it more useful to experiment with the wrong way, or to take the “what happens if I do this?” approach.  What happens if I get a little spot-healing brush happy? Well, a historic photograph loses some of its character. What happens if I extend the background on this theater audience photo? Well, the crowd becomes stretched and distorted. I was grateful for the texts and tutorials this week (for without them, I wouldn’t even know where to begin), but I think Photoshop may be another design skill that is best learned when we “poke around, click and prod, experiment…see what happens” (Williams, x).

Comment on Ben’s blog

To Learn is to Do

To learn is to do. So what did I learn this week?

As Becca mentioned before, and as Lynda.com’s James Williamson demonstrated with his posterboard sketch with a giant misspelled “outline”, I learned that “step away from the computer” is sound advice, and a necessary first step in web design. I started my assignment this week by slapping my text into an html doc and playing with colors. It didn’t take long to realize that this strategy of design-as-you-go was flawed. Without an overarching theme guiding my design, it could easily become a site highlighting Beth’s favorite colors and fonts, rather than a site showcasing the actual content. Lesson #1 learned: think before you build.

From lesson number one, follows a second lesson: many pieces make up the whole and each design element should work with the other to create a cohesive whole. The text that I used this week is an excerpt from a larger work on New York’s hardening racism at the turn of the century (in response to an increasing urban black population), focusing specifically on the development of the “coon song” in the 1890’s. I selected a slab serif font (museo-slab) to help convey time period and a display font that I thought played on the “theater” reference as coon songs were performance and part of a popular culture that reinforced racism. The header image is intended to reiterate this theme and, again, to convey time period. The color palette plays on this image. I learned then that successful web design relies on cooperation between various pieces, such as font, imagery, and color.

A final lesson: though website-building can be maddeningly frustrating (especially at this beginner stage), thoughtful and cohesive design can/should make our work speak louder in a world of perpetually competing sites. The text that I am using for my type assignment this week is almost identical to that which I posted last semester as part of my final Clio I project, where I used a WordPress template to create a pseudo-website. I was happy with this project then, but, relying on a template and no interjected code, this site rests solely on its content (presented in small and poorly-spaced font.) Certainly, solid content should be the foundation of any site; but in a sea of digital pages and short attention spans, a site needs more. Though it is virtually the same content, the page I created this week has a distinctive look and feel (I hope) created by use of font, color, and imagery. This page just says more, without actually having to say more.

Comment on Kirk’s blog and Ben’s blog