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Memories of a Friend: Reflecting on the life of Hillman Curtis

Published by | Friday, May 11th, 2012

Silence is the sound of finality. And that was all I heard when I received the news that Hillman Curtis was gone. Hillman was a huge inspiration to me and many of you know him from his films, books, or conference talks. He had a stunning visual sensibility, thoughtful eyes, and a kind and creative heart. I like how one of my good friends put it, “Hillman had a gentle and quiet side to him in which he allowed his work to pass through to become much bigger.”

Hillman Curtis portrait.

By any yardstick, Hillman was a big success. Yet, to be successful it typically requires talking loudly or at least talking a lot. Hillman proved that wrong in his own quiet way. He forged a path that many of us in the creative arts community follow today. And this wasn’t a passive act—Hillman was a fighter. In one of his books he wrote about the experience of feeling a bit old and tired and then going to a boxing gym for a lesson. After attempting to box, a trainer came up and said, “I can tell that you’ve boxed before, but you have a couple of fundamentals wrong.”

The trainer continued, “First, you’re crouched over, all covered up. You have to use your God-given gifts. You’re tall. Stand up straight. You’re also facing the bag sideways. Square off on your opponent; otherwise you can’t throw the right.”

Hillman reflected, “That was a pretty standard boxing lesson. But that morning I took more from it. First, I should stop covering up and stop hiding from the world. Second, I should acknowledge my blessings, stand up straight, and face my opponents. This could be anything—a client situation, a creative challenge, or a career shift. And finally, and most important, I should ‘throw the right.’ The right is the knockout punch, but by throwing it you leave yourself vulnerable to getting hit, perhaps even knocked out yourself. But you have to throw it to win—even to compete.”

Throughout his career and life, Hillman wasn’t afraid to “throw the right” and to reinvent himself. And he did so, not with ego-filled abandon, but with inspiring calm. In this way, he charted a unique and inspiring course for others to follow.

With Hillman gone, who now will lead the way?

Hillman Curtis speaking at the Flash on the Beach conference.

In the silence of trying to make sense of this loss, I started to dig through my archives. I came across photos from different conferences like Flash on the Beach (above) and Flashforward (below) from a few years back. The photo below was actually a mistake at the time – I’m surprised I didn’t delete it. I only focused on Hillman and not the rest of the crew—Lynda Weinman, Bruce Heavin, and Brendan Dawes. Now in retrospect the mistake seems to be fitting. Hillman brought such clarity and simplicity to his work. He stood apart and in sharp focus. And by his example, he provided inspiration to others with details of how he created his work in books or presentations. Hillman seemed to never have anything to hide.

Hillman Curtis with Bruce and Lynda Weinman.

That was of course until he started to show his acclaimed work. He always preferred to let it speak on its own. That’s why I love this photo of him ducking down and out of the way while his film played above. The work was his voice.

Hillman Curtis presenting at the Flash on the Beach conference.

Hillman’s voice wasn’t something that just appeared—he intentionally developed it over time. He enjoyed being with other artists and friends like in the photo below.

Hillman Curtis with friends.

Recently, while interviewing Hillman, I asked, “What character qualities should an artist nurture and develop?” He responded, “Curiosity. I think this is key… at least for me. I go into every shoot open eyed, expecting to be challenged, and expecting to be surprised. I fully expect that whatever preconceptions I might have about the shoot will get blown out of the water and something far cooler will replace it.”

Hillman was curious and kind. I think the two went hand in hand. When he travelled, he would often bring his son or family on the trip. Below are a few pictures of Hillman and his son Jasper. You get the idea. He wasn’t just a great musician/designer/filmmaker. He was a great husband, and friend, and Dad.

Hillman Curtis with his son, Jasper.

Later in my interview, I asked, “What’s your advice to the aspiring artist?” He responded, “Well, first maybe lose the ‘aspiring’ part. Be an artist. Period. I also think that this year could hold some real opportunities for the person who has neglected their desire to do art. Some will be confronted with less work and more free time. Embrace it. Embrace your ideas.”

Stand up straight. Throw the right. Be an artist today.

I keep thinking about how I want to do something to keep Hillman’s spirit alive. Perhaps it’s our turn to make that project we’ve been burying inside? If you have any of your own plans, ideas or memories, we would all be grateful to hear your thoughts. And thank you for taking the time to read and to collectively share in this loss.

Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to Lynda and Bruce, as I knew Hillman because of them.


Humbly Yours,
Chris Orwig


InDesign Secrets: Linking a table to an Excel spreadsheet for easy updating

Published by | Thursday, May 10th, 2012

In this week’s free InDesign Secrets episode, Anne-Marie Concepcion shows you how to place Excel spreadsheets into your InDesign documents as tables, and walks you through the process of linking your table and your original Excel spreadsheet to avoid having to manually update and reformat every time a colleague updates the spreadsheet in Excel.

I have to admit I find this tip vitally compelling, particularly because tables in InDesign are still a bit of a mystery to me. (I have Diane Burns’ InDesign Tables in Depth course in my queue for this very reason.) Once I establish how I want the formatting to work in a given table, the last thing I want is to have to re-establish said formatting on an entirely new table. Of course, the second to last thing I want is to painstakingly make manual data changes to an existing InDesign table (no matter how pretty I made it.)

InDesign table example.

Example of a table with formatting created in InDesign.

In this video, Anne-Marie explains the process for creating linked tables that save you from the hassle of manual updating or reformatting. Your first step is to set the Preferences so that InDesign knows you want spreadsheets to come in as linked files. In the File Handling portion of the Preferences dialogue box, you’ll select the Create Links When Placing Text and Spreadsheet Files option in the Links section.

InDesign Preferences dialogue box example.

With this option selected, when data in your native Excel sheet is updated,  you will see a notification in the Links panel letting you know that your spreadsheet has been modified. Just double-click on that notification, and the data elements of your table that have been modified will update automatically, with no need for you to reformat your table. (OK, sometimes you may need to reestablish the header row or adjust cell size.)

If you are looking for more consistent table results, Anne Marie recommends creating a table style before placing your Excel file, and then applying that table style when you are placing your Excel table into InDesign. If you are new to table styles, I recommend checking out Michael Murphy’s InDesign Styles in Depth, in this case, specifically chapter six which covers table and cell styles.

Note that you may not always want every single spreadsheet table you place to update automatically, so remember to uncheck the Create Links option as soon as you are done working with the table you want linked, or find yourself facing updates where you don’t expect them.

Meanwhile, exclusively for members of, Anne-Marie’s partner in InDesign secrecy, David Blatner, has a movie that shows you how to create electronic sticky notes in InDesign.

Stay tuned, Anne-Marie and David will be back in two weeks with more InDesign Secrets.

Interested in more?
• Start your 7-day free trial to today
• The entire InDesign Secrets bi-weekly series
• Courses by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepcion on
• All InDesign courses

Deke’s Techniques: Placing type on a circular path in Illustrator

Published by | Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

This week’s free Deke’s Techniques is the first recorded in Illustrator CS6, but aside from the new dark interface atmosphere, there’s nothing in this technique that can’t be done in earlier versions of Illustrator. Which is to say, placing type on the top and bottom of what appears to be the same circle still requires some finesse, even in this era of Illustrator CS6. In today’s tutorial, Deke will show you exactly how it works.

This technique is ultimately a matter of understanding how to stack two different circles, using the alignment setting and Smart Guides to your advantage, and then adjusting the scale and tracking of the text to finish the effect. The result is type placed on a circular path, with the center of each letter aligned, like you see in this fiercely aligned logo:

Photoshop logo with text places evenly around the entire circle.

For members of, Deke’s got an exclusive follow-up movie called Making flared type on a circle that demonstrates how to convert your text to an art brush for those times when you need your letters to bend and flare with the curve of your circle, rather than aligning at the center of each letter. This technique is especially handy when you need to change a long word like tortellini to a word like milk that is much shorter and contains a very wide first letter.

See you back next week when Deke shares another free technique!


Learn more:

• The entire  Deke’s Techniques series on
• All Illustrator courses on
• All Design courses on
• All courses by Deke McClelland on

InDesign FX: Shearing to create 3D effects, part one

Published by | Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Of all the transformations you can apply to objects in InDesign, shearing is probably the most difficult to understand and use. Trying to use the Shearing tool without a little training beforehand can be an exercise in confusion and frustration. But don’t despair—you can use shearing effectively in InDesign. In this week’s free video, I will show you how.

You may be wondering, if shearing is so fiddly and so fickle, why one would even want to bother with it. One great reason is the Shearing tool’s ability to take a simple photo and make it into a 3D book.

Basic book cover. Example of shearing tool before.

Book cover created using InDesign shearing.

While, Inner shadow and beveling both contribute to the overall effect in the example above, shearing is the key ingredient, and if you can master it, you can do all kinds of interesting things that you can’t do with any other tool in InDesign.

The book cover in this week’s free InDesign FX video is made up of two main elements, both sheared around the vertical axis. The front cover is sheared 10° and the spine is sheared –60°.

InDesign Shear tool window example.

The back cover and the pages are made from copies of the front cover.

Creating a book cover out of a basic image using InDesign shearing.

In the video, I show how to apply shearing by selecting an item and then double clicking on the Shear tool. That is the only way to have precise, numerical control over both the angle and the axis around which you’re shearing, and the best way to add shearing to an item, in my opinion.

Example of book cover with InDesign shearing applied.

Once you try shearing this way, you may never go back to dragging with the Shear tool or using the Control panel. For members, I also have another new video this week in the online training library devoted to shearing effects. Not surprisingly, it’s called Shearing to Create 3D Effects, Part 2. If your particularly partial to dragging with the Shear tool, or looking for a reason why you may choose one shearing technique over another, in the video, I show how you it is indeed possible to successfully drag with the Shear tool to make different variations on a magazine effect.

Magazine effect created with InDesign shearing.

Open magazine effect created with InDesign shearing.

See you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect!

Interested in more?
• The complete InDesign FX course
• All InDesign courses on
• All courses by Mike Rankin on

 Suggested courses to watch next:
• InDesign CS5 Essential Training
• Creating Long Documents with InDesign
InDesign Secrets

Deke’s Techniques: Reflecting type in water with Photoshop

Published by | Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

In this week’s free Deke’s Techniques movie, Deke shows you how to make a text reflection appear in rippled water. You’ll start with this miraculously floating text set on top of a photo of gently moving water:

Text reflection step one: text on image of water.

Next, Deke shows you how to create a base reflection by turning the text layer into a Smart Object, copying it, then using the Free Transform command to stretch the copy out and invert it. Then the real magic of this technique happens when Deke shows you how to create a displacement map from the water’s ripples, and how that map can be applied to the reflected letters. In order to ensure that the effect edges are smooth and believable, and that the letters get aligned correctly with the feet of the original text, you’ll need to pay close attention to the fairly sophisticated way Deke goes about building the displacement map in the free video. The end result is this study in serenity:

Photoshop text reflected in water.

For a real study in relaxed reflection, this week’s member-exclusive Deke’s Techniques movie, Reflecting water back into type, shows you how to represent the waves of the reflected letters inside their original source letters. Yes, it’s a reflection of a reflection:

Photoshop type with wave relfection expressed in letters.

See you back next week with another free technique from Deke!


Interested in more?
• The entire Deke’s Techniques weekly series on
• Courses by Deke McClelland on
• All Photoshop courses on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery
• Photoshop Masking & Compositing: Fundamentals
 Photoshop CS6 Beta Preview

InDesign Secrets: Page numbering with numbered lists for greater flexibility

Published by | Thursday, April 26th, 2012

In this week’s free InDesign Secrets movie, David Blatner demonstrates how using InDesign’s ability to automatically number paragraphs can help you get around some of the limitations of the automatic page numbering feature. In David’s example, he shows you how to get right and left pages in each spread to have different page numbering schemes, with the addition of auto-updating sequential numbers, and an added A on the left page and a B on the right page, like this:

Spreads that show auto-updating sequential numbers in InDesign.

Unfortunately, InDesign’s page numbering feature doesn’t allow you to do this, but auto-numbered paragraphs can.

David starts by creating a page-number element on the master page, then he uses the Numbered List dialog box to set up the letter feature and indicate his preferences for the left (A) and right (B) page numbers. The video is scattered with mini-secrets along the way, including document navigation tips, a trick for stealthily opening the Numbered List dialog box, and a discussion on the intricacies of creating a numbered list that spans across unthreaded text frames.

Meanwhile, in the library, David’s partner in InDesign secrecy, Anne-Marie Concepcion has an exclusive movie for members on how to use the InDesign CS5.5 Articles panel to set your story order, and why you would want to do it. Just look for movie number 036, Setting story order with the Articles panel, on the InDesign Secrets table of contents page.

Bonus secret of the week: Monday Adobe announced the release of Creative Suite 6, and members can check out Anne-Marie’s new course on InDesign CS6 New Features to get early insight into the latest program updates.


Interested in more?
• The entire InDesign Secrets bi-weekly series
• Courses by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepcion on
• All InDesign courses

Suggested courses to watch next:
• InDesign CS5 Essential Training
InDesign CS6 New Features
• InDesign Styles in Depth

Deke’s Techniques: Rendering type in brushed metal with Photoshop

Published by | Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

This week’s free Deke’s Techniques falls into my favorite category of effects—those that create something from nothing. In this case, the ‘something’ is elegant, weighty letters that appear to be made of brushed stainless steel. The ‘nothing’ it takes to create this brushed metal effect starts with a window full of black pixels, and adds a couple of basic Photoshop filters, a few text and shape layers, some layer effects, and a couple of very important blend mode settings.

After transforming his window full of black pixels into a Smart Object, Deke starts by showing you how to create a pattern with noise and blur filters, and how to define your application of those filters as a pattern to be used later in the working document. Next, it’s a matter of applying a series of layer effects including variations on Drop Shadow, Gradient Overlay, Bevel & Emboss, and Pattern Overlay to your text and shapes that you would like to appear as brushed metal. Once you get these effects applied to one layer, you can Alt-drag (or Option-drag on a Mac) your effects to other layers to duplicate them, then tweak to taste.

Inspired by Sunday’s Adobe CS6 release, I decided to try this technique on my own:

Brushed metal text effect made in Photoshop.

Using the Photoshop CS6 public beta for my experiment, during the process I subconsciously stumbled upon one of the quietly awesome new features in CS6—the ability to apply styles to an entire layer group. Because it is the sixth Adobe Creative Suite, I decided to make six hexagonal shapes to serve as bolts in my composition. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted them to go, so I left them each on separate layers and grouped the layers together. When it came time to apply the brushed metal effect, without thinking I just Option-dragged the layer effects onto the entire group, expecting it to apply to each layer. As you can see here in this view of the Layers panel, it was a success!

Applying styles to an entire layer group in the Photoshop CS6 Layers panel.

As I was doing this, it suddenly dawned on me that this kind of process used to be way more tedious. Adobe refers to updates like this improvement as Just Do Its, or, JDIs—I refer to them as ‘so convenient it always should have worked this way’ updates.

Meanwhile, if a brushed stainless steel effect isn’t to your taste, Deke also has an exclusive movie for members of that discusses how to add a a brushed copper effect to your objects or shapes.


See you back next week with another free technique!


Interested in more?
• The entire Deke’s Techniques weekly series on
• Courses by Deke McClelland on
• All Photoshop courses on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery
• Photoshop for Designers: Layer Effects
 Photoshop CS6 Beta Preview

This week’s Featured Five (plus one): New features in Adobe’s Creative Suite 6

Published by | Monday, April 23rd, 2012

In honor of yesterday’s announcement of Adobe’s Creative Suite 6, and the six newly released CS6 New Features courses on, I thought this week’s Featured Five collection should expand to showcase six free movies from the library. All of our new CS6 New Features courses (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Flash, and Fireworks, plus Premiere Pro and After Effects CS6 which were released on April 12, 2012) are designed to help you discover the latest software updates, and how the new features may fit well with your workflow needs. With the introduction of the new Adobe Creative Cloud subscription model, which allows you to pay a flat fee to access all of the Suite applications, finding out what’s new across the Suite may now be more important than ever as you’ll be faced with new decisions during the upgrading process. To give you an idea of what our CS6 New Features courses have to offer, here are six free-to-everyone movies that discuss some of the interesting new abilities of the CS6 flagship applications. After you’ve checked out the featured six, make sure to let us know in the comments section which CS6 features have you the most intrigued.

1. Photoshop CS6 for Photographers New Features
You may have explored the Photoshop version of CS6 already, given that a public beta has been available for a few weeks. In Photoshop CS6 for Photographers New Features, Chris Orwig reviews the key features that are going to make a difference specifically for photographers. Some of the new features in Photoshop are pretty significant (not to mention extremely cool), but the one that might actually affect the most Photoshop users is the revamped Crop tool. In this free movie Chris demonstrates how the new Crop tool works in a much less destructive way than Crop tools of the past:


2. Illustrator CS6 New Features
Having just celebrated its 25th anniversary, Illustrator is a fairly mature product in the software world. Despite it’s industry years, there is no lack of interesting upgrades to the vector graphic program this year. For one thing, you’ll notice that like Photoshop, Illustrator has gone to a dark interface, which gives it quite a modern look despite its advanced age. There are also a few cool new ways to tackle old tricks, including a vastly updated pattern creator. Here’s a free movie from Justin Seeley‘s Illustrator CS6 New Features course that shows how the new Pattern Options panel works:


3. InDesign CS6 New Features
When I asked the author of this course, Anne-Marie Concepcion, what her favorite feature from InDesign CS6 was, she said, “I think my favorite feature would be the Auto-Size text frames option. It’s not exciting like the neat-o Liquid Layout, but Auto-Size is something I can use right now and something I will be using every day.” It’s always those features that you use every day and can’t remember living without that make a software upgrade significant, even if they’re not the sexiest new technology options. In this video from the InDesign CS6 New Features course, Anne-Marie talks about the new Auto-Size text frames option and why it makes her life easier:


4. Dreamweaver CS6 New Features
Dreamweaver CS6 has a bunch of new features, including interface, optimization, and FTP support enhancements, but it’s the CSS capabilities that have author James Williamson intrigued. By employing the CSS Transitions feature housed in a convenient new Dreamweaver panel, you can easily add and manage your transitions. You don’t need to take my word for it, though, you can hear the enthusiasm for Dreamweaver CS6′s support of CSS transitions in James’ voice in this free movie from the Dreamweaver CS6 New Features course:


5. Fireworks CS6 New Features
Fireworks is the Creative Suite app that helps you produce optimized web graphics for any device. In this excerpt from Fireworks CS6 New Features, Ray Villalobos shows off his favorite new Fireworks feature, which is support for creating and exporting CSS Sprites. In the video, Ray demonstrates how you can now use Fireworks to simultaneously help with graphics and the hover state of graphics:


6. Flash Professional CS6 New Features
The CS6 version of Flash Professional has new support for 3D, and a new framework for exporting HTML. In this free movie from Flash CS6 New Features, Anastasia McCune focuses on the new Captive AIR runtime option for creating Android, OSX, or Windows apps. You can now decide if you want your Flash apps to run with Captive AIR embedded or if you want to require that users download the AIR runtime. In this video, Anastasia considers why you might want to choose one option or the other:

If you’d like to see more free CS6 tutorials, we’ll have a lot more coming to in the next few weeks. While you’re checking out the new CS6 Suite, also keep in mind that 10 percent of all content is free to try. Just click on any of the blue links on any course table of contents page in our library to watch unlocked videos.

Free Movies

I’ll be back next week with five more free selections—but in the meantime, I’ll be checking out what CS6 has to offer. Which CS6 features do you have your eye on?


Suggested courses to watch next:
Photoshop CS6 for Photographers New Features
Illustrator CS6 New Features
InDesign CS6 New Features
Dreamweaver CS6 New Features
Fireworks CS6 New Features
Flash CS6 New Features