Tag Archives: DVD

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

DVD REVIEW: “For A Beautiful Web” DVD Series


The three-disk “For A Beautiful Web” DVD series is a very nice resource for web designers, with roughly two hours per disk on three important topics: CSS, microformats and web accessibility. Presenter Andy Clarke, a web designer based in the UK, knows his stuff and presents things clearly and also with a bit of his own opinion on how CSS and other design elements can improve one’s workflow, which for me was a welcome addition to what could otherwise have been a merely informational resource.

My favorite disk was Designing with CSS: I know CSS pretty well but Andy suggested a different approach to conceptual design and advocated building mock-ups with CSS-based layouts instead of the usual graphical design that others (including myself) produce in Photoshop or something similar. This was a new idea to me and one that I want to implement this year for my web design business. The DVD was not just monologue on workflow but also a survey of basic and advanced CSS techniques and applications. The working webpage he used to illustrate his points was well-designed, well-executed and illustrative.

Designing Web Accessibility was also very useful. Designing with Microformats was interesting but I got the impression that microformats are not yet widely used. This was the disk I was most interested in since I had heard very little about microformats previously, but after viewing the disk I’m not sure if I have a very good reason to look into microformats further.

I should also note Andy Clarke’s presentation. He is definitely a very skilled web designer with strong CSS chops, and his presentation skills are good—I was able to follow the DVDs easily. But I thought Andy was too methodical, slow and a little monotonous in his delivery. Sometimes there were long pauses in the monologue that broke up the flow. I think if Andy could bump up his energy level and fluidity of his speaking it would help make the series more engaging and fun to learn with.

“For A Beautiful Web” DVD Series:
Designing Web Accessibility
Designing with CSS
Designing with Microformats

Presented by Andy Clarke
Published by New Riders
US$39.99 (Designing with CSS US$34.99)
Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Two DVDs By New Riders

I rarely review DVDs, but two came to my attention: Marty Neumeier’s Innovation Workshop, that explores business transformations powered by innovative cultures, and Presentation Zen: The Video, that explores a holistic approach to presentation and communication. Both advocate high-level approaches to business elements too many people don’t think carefully about, and they both make for interesting viewing material.

Innovation Workshop: Beautifully produced


I really enjoyed watching Innovation Workshop. I have a fairly keen marketing savvy (as I think most graphic designers do) and it was enlightening to sit down for 45 minutes and learn about the finer points of branding, innovative culture and creating change with design. These are all topics that designers as well as marketing professionals can relate to. The DVD is designed to teach: several hands-on exercises help drive the points home and there’s an iPod version of the DVD on the disk for mobile viewing.

I was also struck by the production quality of Innovation Workshop: it’s slick yet understated like an art-house film, well-rehearsed and cleanly edited. Marty’s delivery is very good and his diagrams (marker on glass) are clear. I appreciate a marketing professional who knows how to use graphics well. The one thing that would make Innovation Workshop even better is to include one of Marty’s well-regarded books—and I hear that New Riders will be doing just that with the upcoming Marty Neumeier’s Innovation Toolkit. The DVD alone is still a good buy at just US$34.99.

Presentation Zen: Meditation needs focus


Presentation Zen is another good DVD that delivers a philosophy of zen applicable to business presentations and much more. His style, influenced by Japanese ideals, is one of simplicity, inquisitiveness, balance and immersing oneself in the moment. This can be a transformative discipline to those searching for change, and it will be familiar to those who know other Eastern philosophies such as tao or zen buddhism.

However, I think Garr Reynolds fails to focus enough of his energy specifically on the improvement of business communications. “Presenation Zen” is a philosophy applicable to many facets of life and business, but too little of the DVD focuses specifically on presentation. For a more focused resource on presentations, Nancy Duarte’s slide:logy is ideal (here’s my review of that book). Perhaps I would be more forgiving of Presentation Zen: The Video if I had read its sister book, Presentation Zen, but the DVD stands alone as a revealing of Garr’s philosophy of life—and presentation, among many other things. This DVD will improve the thought processes behind every great presentation, but it won’t necessarily teach you how to communicate best with PowerPoint or get through a speech without getting nervous. Garr himself says right at the beginning that he is not teaching a “method,” but an “approach.” I would have liked to have seen both, though the approach alone is worth watching.


Both DVDs are good buys and both focus on high-level thinking about business communications and innovation. I prefer Innovation Workshop but Presentation Zen offers a unique perspective on communication and life in general. Thanks to YouTube, you don’t have to take my word for it—watch the previews below!

Marty Neumeier’s Innovation Workshop
Click here for the preview on YouTube
Published by New Riders
Rating: 9/10

Presentation Zen: The Video
Click here for the preview on YouTube
Published by New Riders
Rating: 8/10