Contours / by Stefaan Conrad

As a very spacial-minded individual, I’m fascinated by the shapes of geography, the steepness of mountains, how one place relates to the next, and what that means for the landscape. Because of those curiosities, maps are one of my favorite things to explore when I can’t be out and about. That little personal trait has lead me to want to incorporate map type imagery in my thesis project.

I’ve worked on some contour line graphics that will be a subtle accent to my layout and design process. Here’s a little step by step for my process in generating this imagery.

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First, I start a document in photoshop and run a filter which generates clouds based on my foreground and background colors (black and white in this case).

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Next I put a slight blur on the clouds to make my future lines smoother and less rigid.

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A posterize adjustment allows me to tell the program how many layers I want it to separate the image into. In this example, is chose 16. Higher numbers mean more layers which mean ultimately more lines. (If I would do a number like 2, it would separate my gradated clouds into black and white, two layers.)

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This is the fun part where it starts to look how I want it! Another filter, find edges, automatically generates lines where the edges of every color change existed. This is the end of our journey with photoshop.

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I copied and pasted the pixel layer into Illustrator and ran an image trace on the content. This tells Illustrator to built a vector line wherever it finds an existing line. (Vector lines allow me to edit each and every line individually in the long run as well as to scale up or down the graphics with no loss of quality like when working with pixel art.)

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I constructed some custom brushes to apply as the stroke for some of the lines. This is to give the feeling of elevation markers to the contour graphic.

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I applied the custom brushes as well as a custom dashed line for some variety.

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Here is a zoomed in look at the texture.

Click to enlarge

I saved the graphic as an asset in my creative cloud libraries and linked it as the background to this page in my layouts in Indesign. Linking this way allows me to go back and forth and make edits to objects in my layouts and have them automatically update with new edits.

Of course, this geographic location is a place of mystery, but I like the sensation is alludes to with the subtle imagery.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, my struggle of recent has been trying to have written content unrelated to the images that are found around it. I’m currently experimenting with having all my articles on pages that don’t have images to try separate them a little bit. I’m also looking at using the contour texture behind the articles to give one more degree of separation from the images. Image series will also have the small captions, maps, and geographic coordinates to establish the series as a separate entity from the articles.

Let me know what you think of the texture and if you think it’s working or not!