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Author Talk: Sharon Steuer on the Best New Features of Adobe Illustrator CS6 (Podcast Transcript)

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Publisher Nancy Ruenzel chats with author Sharon Steuer about the most exciting features of the new Illustrator CS6 software. Sharon also discusses the process of revising the newly released Adobe Illustrator CS6 WOW! Book, now in its twelfth edition.

This interview is a transcription of the podcast, Sharon Steuer on the Best New Features of Adobe Illustrator CS6.

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Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel:  I’m here today with Sharon Steuer, author of the new edition of the Adobe Illustrator CS6 Wow! book.  Welcome, welcome Sharon. 

Sharon Steuer:  Thanks Nancy, I’m really delighted to be here.

Nancy:  Wow, congratulations on a beautiful book.  It’s just gorgeous.  But I say that every year, don’t I? 

Sharon:  Well thank you, but I do think this particular book, especially the cover, is pretty magnificent. 

Nancy:  It is.  For folks listening, you have to check it out on or wherever you buy your books.  Look at that cover.  The whole book is richly illustrated and, you know, I don’t know how you do it, but you have brought together such a lively community of Illustrator artists worldwide, so that you collaborate on bringing the best out of the community and techniques that go deep into Illustrator.  How have you done that?

Sharon:  Well, thanks Nancy.  I’m really, really excited and proud of it.  As Illustrator has evolved as a more complex and deep program, it used to have just a few tools, and anybody who wanted to use the program had to learn them all or else you couldn’t get anything done, and as Photoshop has evolved over the years, so has Illustrator.  It’s just an impossibility.  Nobody can be a specialist in every aspect of it, and so what we’ve done…we invite people from all over the world to contribute their expertise, whether it’s as technically trying things out as the top artists in the world who use particular features, and a whole team of people who test and write for the book on things that they know the best and that they’re most expert in.  That way, my belief is that no one person could do as good a job as bringing together the best of what they do.  That’s the way a movie is put together.  You know, a one person movie can be really interesting, but a very richly produced movie, like Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge could never have been done…by one person.  You need people who are the best contributing what they know most, and that’s what I’m most proud of in terms of this book.

Nancy:  Well you can be because it really is, first of all, kind of eye candy.  Lots of beautiful artwork, but every piece says to me, you know, gee, how did you do that?  And, of course, you give us such methodical detail that we can adapt those very same techniques to art that we do.  This is the twelfth edition, so the eleventh time you’ve revised this book.  Isn’t that something?

Sharon:  It is really an amazing feat.  And we would love it if Adobe would give us longer between editions so we’d have time to change absolutely everything in each edition, but what we try to do is take at least a third of the book, we update absolutely every page and at least a third of the book is absolutely brand new.  And we know nobody updates every version of software and nobody buys every version of the book, so we’re hoping that there’s always enough that’s new and exciting for the person who’s ready to get that edition of the book again.

Nancy:  Great.  Well, it really shows.  I mean, it’s a global best seller, has been for many, many years and it will be again this time, I’m confident of that.  You know, every time the software comes out, there are new features that artists get excited about.  Maybe you could tell us what features of the new software CS6 got you excited.

Sharon:  That’s a really great question.  Well, first of all that cover is highlighting the new pattern editor, and Sabine Reinhart, who is a German artist in Illustrator who’s always made beautiful patterns, really got to delve in and the pattern editor takes care of the repeat part.  So all people have to do is design the base of their pattern and figure out where they want their repeat to happen in terms of how it overlaps the pattern tile, and Illustrator handles all of the rest of it, which is really quite a time saver and is really quite incredible.  So we have a bunch of lessons, both beginning level and more advanced level in terms of how you use the pattern editor.  And the other most exciting feature for me is you can now put gradients on a path.  At first that seemed to me, like, okay fine you can distribute a gradient along a path, but what it means is you can create things you actually couldn’t do before without spending a lot of time to construct something with multiple masks and blends and all this.  You can just literally make things like a neon or a cabling or things that are wrapped and warped and a light source can follow it, or colors can distribute along it.  It’s really quite incredible and then using the appearance panel, Ryan Putnam figured out to take that idea of running sort of a neon light or airbrush light along the path and by stacking it on top of each other you can add strokes to one stroke and using the appearance panel you can make these complex graphics styles of neon that are just very, very realistic and exciting looking.  It’s just, it goes beyond something that you think of as what Illustrator can do.  So that’s really exciting.  And, of course, they’ve upgraded the tracing feature in the image trays.

Nancy:  So what does that mean?  Saving you time?

Sharon:  It saves you time.  It does much more detail.  There’s some people that are doing very painterly and photographic kind of work with the new tray feature.  That’s pretty cool, as well. 

NancySo these features are not only time saving, but they really do extend the creativity because now you can do things that you couldn’t do before and take the illustration to the next level. 

Sharon:  Well, absolutely, and one of the things that was added in CS--and so anybody who’s skipped the CS5 book wouldn’t have an inside view of this--is the bristle brush feature, and so we’ve expanded using that.  And that creates truly painterly images.  And actually I’m a painter by training, and I’ve started doing painting in Illustrator.  It does things that I can’t do in Photoshop or in real life.  That’s pretty exciting too.  We’re really pushing the boundaries of what we think of as what an Illustrator art looks like. 

Nancy:  Right, right.  Well you’ve been doing digital painting and illustration for many years, and I know you’ve personally won awards and this book has won the Benjamin Franklin award for best computer book, twice.  And I know you are also creating some new things out in the field right now.  You talked a little bit before we got on this podcast about your Digital Artists’ Spotlight.  Maybe you can tell us what you are doing there.

Sharon:  That’s really exciting.  I’m doing another series--two series of articles-- one for, and they’ve agreed to help us develop a series of expansions of lessons for the CreativePro audience for free, so we’re going to give people the taste of WOW! who haven’t yet purchased the book and also to go in deeper to something that they wanted beyond what we could cover in the book.  And then, Astute Graphics has offered me a blog and I’m going to be doing the Digital Artists’ Spotlight, and that’ll be looking at vector artists or artists that are incorporating Illustrator tools from around the world.  The first one we’re going to do is on Sabine Reinhart, the cover artist.

Nancy:  Oh, fabulous.  I want to plug into that one.  So folks listening definitely should check that out.  Tell us, when you’re writing, Sharon, who are you writing the book for?  Who’s that person that you have in the back of your mind, the profile of that person who’s reading your book?

Sharon:  Over the years we’ve decided that it’s really targeted now to mostly designers, illustrators, and art directors.  We definitely find that art directors who don’t use Illustrator themselves will use the book to find some of the best Illustrator users to see if there’s anyone they want to use for the next project.  And intermediate to professional level users of Illustrator to take it to the next level; so they know they can make some basic vector objects using Illustrator, but it’s time for them to step it up and really make full use of the program, be able to master those features that they have been avoiding.  And a lot of professional artists use it to get up to speed on new features because who has time to do that?  One of the things this book does is all of the lessons are broken down into bite-size chunks so if you just have a half-hour between clients, you can actually squeeze in learning something.  And teachers use it a lot in the classroom, and we have a free course outline to suggest how you can incorporate the book into either a workshop format or semester-long classes. 

Nancy:  Great.  So where can teachers find that?

Sharon:  I’ve got on my website, which is, you can get to the course outlines and some stuff like that.  We could probably set up some links for how people can reach me through Peachpit, through where this podcast is through, perhaps.

Nancy:  OK, we can do that.

Sharon:  They can find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m glad to answer questions and help people figure out what’s the right book for them.  Some people will say “I’m still on Illustrator 4, which book should I get?”

Nancy:  That’s a generous offer to readers.  That’s great.  And you’ve got your artwork online as well, right? 

Sharon: I absolutely do and people can; certainly I’m always posting previews of things on the Facebook page and on my Twitter feed and I’m about to, I think, move my website over to Wordpress, so we’ll see.  Hopefully that will become more daily interactive as well. 

Nancy:  Good, great.  Well, listen!  You’ve done it again, Sharon!  I want to congratulate you and thank you for all the great work and recommend to people to check out the new edition of the Illustrator Wow! book.

Sharon:  Thank you, Nancy.  And I have to tell you I learn so much every time I do a revision of the book because pulling together the best of the world, there’s no way you would learn this on your own, and I’m so excited to be able to share it with everybody and thank you and thanks to Mimi Heft for the cover design and everybody at Peachpit who makes this happen.

Nancy:  Super.  Thank you again.

Sharon:  Thank you, Nancy.

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