Old Book Illustrations, New Ideas

Old Book Illustration Blog

The images at Old Book Illustrations Scrapbook Blog are a treat to explore. Poring over this collection of vintage illustrations (mostly wood engravings/woodcuts, etchings or metal engravings) taken from books published between the 1700s through the early 1900s, is an exciting endeavor. One of my favorite pastimes is grabbing an illustration, dropping it into an image-editing program and overlaying colors.

Dapper Digital Images

A tip of the hat to a captivating catalog of eye-catching characters! Ever on the lookout for old pix to play with, I took a few minutes to drop by the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery. I wasn’t disappointed. This treasure trove of ephemera provides visitors free and open access to over 800,000 digitized images. I grabbed the original image of the dapper fellow below, dropped it into an image-editing program, and tinkered with various overlay settings.

Image of a dapper looking fellow in a derby pointing rightward. I added a green tint to the original image.

New Year’s Resolution: For a Few Pixels More…

Excited by all of the megapixel goodness she has discovered over the last few days, my pal Molly continues to look for pictures she can use with her students. After learning how to use Search Tools in a Google Image search to zero in on large pixel pictures, Molly wanted to know if there’s a way to get high resolution images in Flickr.

I was delighted to tell my friend the answer to her question is, “Yes!” To demonstrate, I suggested Molly take a look at the USDA’s Photography Services Division site.

“I thought you were going to help me find megapixel images from Flickr,” she sighed.

I laughed. “All in good time,” I replied asking her to look at the USDA’s Photography Services Division site.

Molly scanned the page. “Oh, I see the link to the PSD’s Flickr account,” she said getting ready to click it and move on.

“Just a second,” I said, “The great thing about the USDA’s Photography Services Division is that all its considerable (700+) photographic images are in the public domain. You and your students can use and reproduce them without permission or fee. Free is good!”

Molly smiled and I continued talking. “In fact, there are many photographs and images maintained by the U.S. government that fall within the public domain.”

Molly was delighted to hear the news. Even so, she clicked the link and made her way to the PSD’s Flickr account and began looking through the images there. After she selected an image she liked, I directed her attention to the View All Sizes link in the upper right hand corner.

View All Sizes Blueberries

“When you click on that,” I explained, “you’ll have be taken to a page with different sized versions of the image that you may download. The larger versions of the images have better image resolution. I doubt that you’ll even need to resize them to be larger. This means that your students won’t be subjected to awful grainy pictures.”

Flickr image, large size


New Year’s Resolution: Find Clear Images

My friend Molly is always looking for powerful images as a prompt for rich discussions in her online class. She usually completes a quick Google search and finds pictures that look promising; however, when she stretches those images they become grainy. Her students are less than impressed. What a waste of time! Ugh! What if there was a trick that would help Molly find images that look great regardless of their size? There is a solution! Anyone who targets a search for high resolution images can find and use great graphics. Want to feel proud of the pictures you find, too? Here’s how to find great pictures every time: look for lots of pixels!

The images we see on a computer screen are digital pictures. These digital images are made of small squares, just like a mosaic tiles called pixels (a portmanteau word made from picture element). Generally, the more of those little digital mosaic tiles, pixels (abbreviated px), we have in an image, the clearer the picture will appear to us. We generally refer to this as image resolution. If we keep that in mind when searching for images we can find  crisp looking images and avoid grainy graphics.

Suppose Molly needs a very sharp image of Charles Dickens (she teaches lessons about literature, after all). The first place I’d suggest she look is the Creative Commons Search site (CC Search). Why? In addition to leading her to high resolution images, CC Search will also help Molly identify a greater number of images she can modify, adapt, build upon, and use for commercial purposes. Though she could search through all kinds of places at CC Search, I’d guide her to select Wikimedia Commons as it’s a safe bet that the content there isn’t going to lead to copyright hassles.

Creative Commons Search

After Molly’s search returns a few images, I’d draw her attention to the pixel count on each picture. An image that is 1,300 pixels wide and 1,852 pixels wide means that the picture has a total of 2,407,600 pixels! Wow! That picture will have a higher resolution which means more image detail.

Pixel count comparison

The more pixels in an image, the better that image is going to look if Molly has to increase the image in size; however, given the size of the image, that’s pretty unlikely. An added benefit of choosing a higher resolution image is that the image will look good if she has to decrease its size.

In the past, even though she’s ferreted out a great image with great resolution, Molly’s made a mistake. She’s copied the thumbnail picture of the image she’s settled upon using. If all she copies is the thumbnail image of that great Dickens image, she’ll be disappointed. The thumbnail is only 84px x 120px, totaling a paltry 10,080 pixels–ugh! If she stretches that small resolution image out, she might get something like this:

Blurry enlargement

Thankfully, Molly clicks on the thumbnail which is a link that takes her to the read-deal image with the higher pixel count (and better resolution). In fact the image she finally gets to is enormous. The  high resolution image is so big that she has to decrease it in size. Here’s what her final image looks like compared the thumbnail. Much better, Molly!

Image with higher resolution

Now that Molly knows the secret to finding excellent looking images she’s on her way to quite a few rich discussions with her students. She can also teach her pupils how to track down better pictures for the multimedia presentations she wants them to create.

Forget Adobe CS2, Get GIMP Instead

When I awoke yesterday morning there was a rumor bouncing around the internet that Adobe was giving away Creative Suite 2. Well, according to Adrian Kingsley-Hughes from Forbes, all that speculation was unfounded. I hope there aren’t a lot of people upset about this turn of events. If folks are heartbroken, they shouldn’t be. Although Adobe makes killer graphics software, there’s a great alternative to Adobe’s product that works on all computer platforms.

GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software.


GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) does amazing work. This versatile application is powerful, has a consistently helpful community of users, and is FREE. In fact, GIMP has been free from the beginning. Rather than moping about Adobe CS2. Download and install GIMP and get started making and editing graphics with the satisfaction of knowing you can do it without spending a cent.

Let Me Explain: Why I’m Enjoying Lee LeFever’s Excellent Book

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFeverAt some point or another, we’ve all been expected to create an explanation to help family, friends, or co-workers understand our ideas. We share facts and our expert knowledge only to be left with clueless or apathetic expressions. What a frustrating experience–ugh! What if we could easily learn to plan, create, package, and deliver explanations that convince others that our ideas are worth caring about? There is a handy solution! People who are picking up Lee LeFever‘s book The Art of Explanation can explain while they have a reason to smile. Want to feel good about delivering powerful explanations? Get this book!

I’ve been poring over The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever and I thoroughly enjoy what I have read so far. The book is excellent! The content is a magnet for the reader’s attention. Mr. LeFever, Chief Explainer at Common Craft, consummately practices what he preaches. Beginning with the preface and continuing through the following pages, the author makes a compelling case for examining and honing our ability to craft powerful explanations. What makes LeFever’s work so engrossing is that he does a masterful job explaining what he suggests we do. In brief, the writer :

  • gets us to acknowledge that better explanations are vitally necessary and serve to improve the world and subsequently our quality of life
  • lets us know why crafting better explanations should matter to everyone
  • creates a number of believable (contextual) narratives that help us see explanations from a new perspective
  • links new ideas about and skills for explanations to situations/concepts we are familiar with
  • helps us discern where (in our explanations) we should focus on explaining why or how
  • summarizes what we have learned and moving us forward to the next steps we need to take

Moving through text, we learn how to differentiate words that are often–and erroneously–used interchangeably with the term explanation (e.g. description, definition, instruction, elaboration, report, and illustration). The author convincingly explains the importance of empathy in crafting and “packaging” effective explanations. LeFever makes the point that meaningful explanations help an intended audience clearly understand why they should care to know more about a given topic. He also helps us understand why we fail to properly explain our ideas and goes on to clarify how we can effectively plan our explanations.

I can’t wait to dive back into this book!

Related resources:

Want to know more about the fellow who is widely credited for inspiring the video explanation industry? Read Lee’s biography.

Intrigued? Buy the book!