Sunday, March 7, 2010

Graphics Toolbox: Discover the Creative Graphic Possibilities!

“Brilliant”, “creative”, “limitless” and (dare I say?) “genius” are words that come to mind when thinking about the possibilities that Graphics-Toolbox has to offer. Unfortunately, there are a couple of other words that tag along behind the first group, words like: “big learning curve”, “frustrating” and “huh?”.
Let me back up a bit. Awhile ago the amazing minds at Graphics-Toolbox contacted all of us on the TOS Crew to review their program that enables its users to design professional looking ________(fill in the blank with anything containing a photo and/or text in it) right from their home computer. Not only were they offering us a chance to try their software, but they were enthusiastically giving online sessions to show all of the wonderful things Graphics-Toolbox is capable of.
After viewing the first session, I was quite impressed and really pumped! In fact, this is probably my favorite product of the many fine things I have received thus far in my tenure as part of the Crew. And, I might add, even though I’ve yet to figure it out well enough to complete a single project (hence the “frustration”), I still say it’s my favorite.
Ok, let me back up a bit more...Lynda Holler, the founder of Graphics-Toolbox, spent 25 years working in the NYC fashion industry using powerful graphics software for textile and design. Having been spoiled by such software, she felt the void of no longer having such magic at her fingertips once she left the industry. She also knew she could still utilize such magic for a plethora of other things in this digital age, if only she could have such a program for home use.

Apparently a doer, rather than a dreamer, Lynda contacted William Tsao, the man who designed the "Colour Matters" software she enjoyed using so much (that also costs thousands of dollars, I might add!). Knowing that others would also love to have such potential to create amazing graphics from the comfort of their home, she and William set out to bring the affordable  Graphics-Toolbox to any home PC (just $149).

Fast forward to present day PC now has some of the coolest software ever, taunting me to let the creative juices flow. Thus far, I have tried and failed, but I will try again. I really hoped to have a cool example of what I made for show and tell with this blog, but as the deadline for this review looms close, my projects haven’t made it off the cutting room floor. I hope that I will have an example for you soon, but in the meantime there’s much you can look at on their website (link below).
The customer service offered is another component of the Graphics-Toolbox product that makes the investment worthwhile. They want you to learn how to use their software and get the most from it. Besides being able to watch videos on their website to train you to use their product (I have watched two thus far), they have been quick to answer questions I have emailed and even offered to walk with me through my snares and obstacles to get a finished product. As you might guess (due to lack of finished product), I have not been able to coordinate my free time with theirs in order to do that.

To this point, I feel I have not given you, the reader, a very good idea of what you can do with Graphics-Toolbox. That is a tough one because there’s a tremendous amount of tools to help you tackle any sort of graphic job you could possibly dream up! Scrapbook pages, school projects, and cards for all occasions may be some obvious ideas that spring to mind. But the possibilities are only limited by your imagaination. Report due for school or work? Resume? Business cards? Newsletter? What about a fun before and after picture in which you take subtle elements from the original picture of your son’s baseball team (let’s say a ball, a tennis shoe, and...oh...hmmm...people’s heads, maybe?) and swap them seamlessly around in a second photo, then pass them out as souvenirs to the team and see how many changes they can spot! Sound crazy? Well, that is actually one of the video demonstrations I watched. It is crazy! You really can clip out one person’s face and swap it with another’s. You can change the logo on someone’s shirt or just subtly change hair color. Add cool borders and text and it looks incredible!
One plan I have for this software is to take a picture of the side of my house and try different awnings (striped, solid, multicolor) and shutters from pictures I find on the internet, to see what will look the best before I purchase it. I can find a photo of an awning and very precisely cut it out and place it (enlarging and shrinking as necessary)on the photo of my home for a realistic idea of the finished product!  If we ever decide to paint our home, we could try any color we want and get an excellent idea of what it will look like in real life. Cool, eh?

I know, it doesn’t make much sense that I cannot quite work the software, and yet here I am bragging about how great it is! Let’s just say, it isn’t the software, it’s me. Well, maybe a bit of both. There is just a tremendous amount of variety in the tools. So many colors to choose from (or you can mix your own), so many ways to cut out an area, erase something, center an image and fill in the background...or is there? So many of the tools do something similar to their counterpart but they aren’t precisely what I want, and even after looking at the manual (which is large and seemingly thorough, yet still being misinterpreted by me when I refer to it), I cannot quite get the effect that I am after. However, I am certain that it is a worthwhile endeavor-- sort of like learning to drive a stick-shift car-- complicated at first, but in the end, it flows easily and you're glad you made the effort!
That said, the ability to create just about any amazing project is sitting there on my computer, I just haven’t mastered it yet (hence the “learning curve”). But I am still stoked about the possiblities and so are my children. I had them watch one of the videos with me and they were truly excited to try Graphics-Toolbox as well. Unfortunately, they hit the same road blocks that I did. (Which makes me feel better about my skills...apparently it isn’t just me). But I am confident that with time and effort we can all utilize this tool for so many projects and we will be glad to have it at our disposal.
I honestly believe you will be too! Once purchased, the software is installed on your computer for good and should pay for itself repeatedly in professional looking reports, fabulous scrapbooks, impressive projects and personalized cards that others will treasure for years. Click here to go to the Graphics-Toolbox site and see for yourself what wonders you can create!

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.