20 February 2008

Impromtu lite fair

by Frank Turk

Yeah, so we get a lot of e-mail, and the one thing that comes up all the time is the comment (in words to this effect), "You know: your graphics blow me away."

Now, I don't know about the rest of the guys, but while I am pleased with our graphics, that's the condiment for the blog, not the main course. That's like saying, "I really love that A-1 sauce you served with that porterhouse steak." Yeah: good sauce. What about the steak?

So to sorta have a one-day sesssion of the TeamPyro GodBlogCon, let me help you and your blog with graphics tips, including the tool set you'll need to be even marginally proficient.

[1] STOP USING ANY ITERATION OR FORM OF "MS PAINT". This tool is like using a hammer to make an omlette -- it can break the eggs, but that's it. There is no reason on this earth to have to use paint to manipulate graphics, no matter what your budget is. Which leads me to ...

[2] DOWNLOAD "GiMP" RIGHT NOW. It doesn't matter if you are a Mac user or a PC user: GiMP comes in both flavors, as well as in generic UNIX and a coupla other geek flavors so the whole world can manipulate graphics with some level of panache. GiMP is about as powerful as Photoshop version 5.0 for the Mac, and it is utterly and perfectly FREE -- not "I tricked the shareware guy into giving me free software" free, but "I never have to pay for it". Its web site says "It is a freely distributed piece of software".

Once you install it, spend some time learning how to use it. Particularly, learn how to use it to cut and paste, to select one color, using the magic wand, and so forth.

[2a] IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY, I STRONGLY SUGGEST PHOTOSHOP AND ILLUSTRATOR by ADOBE. Personally, I own PS 6.0 and Illustrator 9.0, and there is frankly nothing short of 3D rendering and Flash animation I cannot do with these tools. However, they are expensive, so once you buy them you are making a long-term commitment to being a better web designer and artist. I use Illustrator to design logos and custom objects that need to be scalable; I use Photoshop for all the heavy lifting, such as causing a flat object to look like it's on the floor rather than standing straight up on your screen, dropping shadows, making objects poke through other objects, etc.

[3] CREATE A BASE IMAGE. You recognize our base image (to the left over there, with the screws in it). It's sort of a unifying theme. For my blog, I have chosen to unify by using one narrow band of comic book art in a particular style. But you can do it in a variety of ways. Choosing your logo as a unifying theme is sort of a short cut. The trick there is that it has to be a good looking logo in the first place.

[4] BECOME OBSESSED WITH CREATING VARIATIONS ON THE THEME. Between me and Phil, we have created thousands of images for use on TeamPyro; on my blog, I have a meager 700-800 images that make the rounds. In either case, get past boring. Get past having 5 or 6 pictures in the same way you want to have a personal vocabulary of 20-30 thousand words.

[5] BECOME PROFICIENT WITH HTML and CSS and JAVASCRIPT and DOM. The first reason to do that is so you know what I'm talking about. The second reason is that, unless you want to pay Challies to make your template and then modify it every time you have a great idea, you need some basic understanding of the tools at your disposal to make your blog look like something more than the generic blogger templates.

Rest assured that your earliest attempts at creating a web site will horrify you when you look back on them. There is no other greater tutor than trial and error. However, if you become a layout junkie, you can do whatever you want -- even start from scratch and not let the man tell you how to lay out your blog.

All I'm really saying is that, like anything else, really cool graphics just takes time. Stop watching golf on TV or something and you could use that time to be more than a fanboy of cool blog design.


Lars said...

As an undergraduate student who went from majoring in Digital Arts to Philosophy and Religion I thought I was leaving my old ways behind.

This is definately not so. I use these skills (Photoshop, web-design, etc) constantly. This is definately a toolset with a great deal of usefulness.

Now if I can only put it to use to help pay for seminary in the near future!

Anonymous said...

So as in postmodern evan-jello-calism, so it is in the corresponding blogosphere, eh - "Image is Everything!"

And remember, real meat lovers (like those of us from cattle country - like me) don't use sauce. A good piece of aged beef needs nothing more than some salt and pepper, a hot fire and a few minutes. Oh, and a sharp knife, a solid fork and a glass of merlot...

M. Stevenson said...

That's what I love about this blog. Even the "lite fair" requires, in the least, pen and paper and would earn someone 200-level credit somewhere for their application. Certainly out of my league at this season of my life, but perhaps some day when the kids are all in school...

Doulos: What time shall I bring the family for dinner? (I'm eating for two...)

Stefan said...

Your graphics may only be A-1 or HP (or as I prefer, peppercorn) sauce to the juicy steak underneath, but it's the synergistic (as a monergist, I use that word advisedly) combination of substance and style that makes this such a standout blog. Unfortunately, image does affect us fallen, sinful creatures.; but on the plus side, God has blessed all three of you with a keen graphical eye. I've had a lifelong interest in graphic art; I can vicariously enjoy your creative efforts while at the same time being edified in my daily attempt to stumble in the ancient way of God.

Kenny Clark said...

Thank you for the tips. I think the delight I find in fonts, graphic images and photoshop can border on obsession at times. I have often read these posts and wondered how much time goes into creating all the custom graphics.

I particularly appreciate your opening comments. I know I have been guilty at times of preparing "meals" that look great but are mostly empty calories.

By the way... I believe the word is "fare" not "fair".


Keep posting mouth-watering AND eye-catching articles!

DJP said...

fwiw, I know a little html, and that's it. I use Paint.net, which is a freeware improvement on Paint. I DLed Gimp a year or so ago and could make no sense of it. I bought Photoshop Elements, and can make little sense of it. I grab images and mess with them in paint.

For everything else, I totally lean on Frank and Phil. Well, I do the words-part; but all Pyro-graphics are them, mostly Phil.

Pastor John said...

If it makes you feel better, while I've always been impressed with the graphics & have wondered how you do them myself, its the content that keeps me coming back.

Libbie said...

Well, I'd be quite happy to be complimented on my sauce. The steak you can thank the cow for.

I'm not sure the metaphor stretches this far...

Sharon said...

"Cowpunching mavericks on the evangelical fringe"?

(Some of us BOTH notice the graphics and appreciate the substance!)

A Musician by Grace

dac said...

Photoshop and premiere Elements is pretty nice. I bought it for my 14y d last Christmas for about 50 bucks - a worthwhile investment.

bassicallymike said...

Ok.....did I miss the spiritual connection on this post? LOL

Gustavo said...

Love your posts and graphics. Do you use spell-check? (impromPtu)

centuri0n said...

I never spell check, and it shows.


Michelle said...

And that should be impromptu with a 'p' ...

Thank you for all the tips and thank you to all you wise gentlemen for a wonderful blog that is humorous, intelligent and thought-provoking. Keep up the excellent work.

North Vancouver, British Columbia

Craig Bennett said...

Now while we are talking about cows and such I'm a dairy man by trade It is a Biblical fact that our pets and animals will be in heaven.

They have to be, because Gods word says there is going to be a huge banquet there, and we have to eat something!

beachbirdie said...

I love your graphics, but it IS the content that keeps me coming back. I am so amazed that Christians can be CREATIVE and have FUN. Wow! (j/k as my kids say)

Thanks for the tips. I have been debating whether to upgrade my Paint Shop Pro or move to Adobe. You've helped greatly.

Stefan said...


You're not the only TP reader up here...I'm in Vancouver.

SolaMeanie said...

I'd rather hire Frank to do my graphics for me. I only use a computer because I must. If I could get by using an old Royal manual typewriter, I would. As for graphics, I am waiting for Frank to put some Jack Chick drawings on display.

Now, on to another matter. Doulos, my friend. I am a real meat lover, and don't mind trying steak without A-1 sauce. I've had some excellent steaks without it. However, I happen to like A-1 sauce. I should hardly be banished into the outer darkness and denominated "not a real meat lover" just because I happen to like A-1 sauce.

And why merlot? I expected you to at least mention the possibility of a hearty burgundy or Cabernet, but you chose Merlot. That speaks of possible liberal influences in your life. I recommend a deliverance session at once before you regress any further.

Of course, there's always the safe route and Welch's Grape Juice. I'd hate to see you mentioned on a Jack Hyles-type website as a winebibber and a glutton.

iamchief said...

Now alls we needs is another post on how to get the hang of GiMP!

Watcha say?

Michelle said...


So there is at least one other solid reformed believer up here in the liberal pacific northwest ;)

Stefan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan said...

What's staggering is how many solid reformed believers there actually are in our neck of the woods. We may be the most secular city in all of North America, but paradoxically, the proportion of born again Christians here who are biblically reformed could be one of the highest.

Michelle said...


Where do all these reformed folk go to church in Vancouver? We are in North Van and there are no churches that hold to the doctrines of grace, and only two that teach male headship in the home and church (a Fundamental Baptist church and a Calvary Chapel church - both planted in the last three years).

Stefan said...


Considering Centuri0n's long series of posts over the last year or so, I can't counsel you to leave whichever church your family currently attends, but for example:

There's Willingdon Church in Burnaby (the big one near BCIT). We don't want to label ourselves as this or that, but it's an elder-led, complementarian, believers'-baptist church that is strong on expository preaching, the doctrines of grace, evangelism, and discipleship. We also hold an annual pastoral conference each spring for biblical preaching.

Then there's a certain large Anglican church in Vancouver—the largest one in Canada—that left the Diocese of New Westminster last week: the church that's been in the news so much lately. They uphold the Westminster Confession of Faith.

And Regent College was historically a centre for reformed teaching—I don't know how much it is these days—but it was of course J.I. Packer's home until he retired. (Well, Eugene Peterson of the The Message also taught there....)

There's one reformed SBC church in Surrey, even; and I'm sure there are more. Maybe I overstated the case, but still, considering the liberalism and secularism of our fair city, it's a wonder how many believers there are, let alone reformed believers. I guess being reticent Canadians, we just don't advertise ourselves very much.

Michelle said...


Thanks for your input. I visited Willingdon Church once a few years ago when John MacArthur spoke there. Very large church indeed.

We also visited the SB Church in Surrey once and the pastor is a good guy in the Al Mohler tradition.

You're right, the Lord has His genuine followers, even in a modern day Sodom. Testimony again to His sovereignty.

I do know believers here who, like me, delight in the sovereignty of God in salvation. And then there are many good reformed blogs which are very encouraging. We're in a small church and the pastor is complementarian and has a very high view of scripture. He doesn't commit either way when it comes to Calvinism/Arminianism, but he's walking with the Lord and stressing truth. Another bonus that is uncommon in this city: he recognises that Roman Catholicism is not Biblical Christianity!

Lastly, I thought I'd mention to you that there is a small family-run bookstore in Langley called Valley Gospel Mission. It's on 240th Street. They sell all the good reformed stuff (shelves and shelves of pure Spurgeon!) you won't find in the regular Christian bookstores (which can be scary places indeed!). I have no interest vested there and have only been there twice myself, just thought I'd pass on the info as not many people know about them (they're not on the web).

Stefan said...


Thank you very much for the tip about the bookstore: I'll be sure to check it out as soon as I can.

I'm glad to learn that you're attending a biblical church with a God-fearing pastor. (I guess "God-fearing" is an out-of-fashion word these days, but you know what I mean.)

It's amazing how God calls out his believers to assemble in little pockets here and there, to be salt and light to the world. May there be a revival here, and may those who like me were once lost souls find eternal life in Christ.

By the way, you can click through on my ID to find my blog, but I haven't been keeping it up to date.

Michelle said...


Not sure if the bookstore is even in the phone book, so their number is 604 5307880 and they're at 3923 240th Street Langley in a home office. They're on the corner of Fraser Hwy and 240th St.

They're open Mon - Fri from 1 - 5:30pm and again from 6:00 to 9:00, Saturdays from 8 - 12, I think. They have hard covered copies of Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotions for $ 7.00!!! Wonderful gifts for our free-will friends!

Enjoy and thanks for the chat.

Stefan said...


Thanks again, and God's blessings be upon you.

As I said, if you want to keep in touch in the future, you can contact me directly via my blog. To keep things simple, here's the direct link:


centuri0n said...

I am going to open a blog, btw, on how to manage the GiMP for your benefit, chief, and for the benefit of all software-impaired hooligans reading this.

centuri0n said...

Yeah, in fact, I have already started that blog right here.

reglerjoe said...

If one already owns Photoshop and is somewhat proficient with it, do you still recommend Gimp?

Dave Sherrill said...

Admittedly this is a struggle for me. I am left with increasingly little energy or mental capacity as the years run on. I am left wondering... would John the Baptist use a standard template rather than taking a community college course on artsy fartsy multi-media skills?

I'm no J the B, but I do like honey.

jc said...

Michelle and Stefan,
Effective June 1, 2008, Valley Gospel Mission is closed on Wednesdays and Fridays.

So their current schedule is:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday:1pm-5pm, 6:30pm-9pm.

Saturday: 9am-12noon

Hope this helps.

jc said...

Michelle and Stefan,
I'm also in Metro Vancouver. If you're looking for a good biblical church, please let me know.

Bart said...

Valley Gospel Mission is a treasure trove of Reformed classics. Be aware they are KJV-only and lean towards hyper-Calvinism.

Willingdon's pastor, John Neufeld, and St John's rector, David Short, are both members of the Gospel Coalition. There's a small Reformed Baptist church in Chilliwack (Free Grace Baptist) and their preacher, Jim Butler, is well worth the drive.

Regent College is not the place it was since Packer and Houston retired. Their bookstore is terrific, though.

I'm a member of Crossway Community Church (crossway.ca) in Surrey, one of two Sovereign Grace Churches in Canada. Visit us if you want to experience the doctrines of grace and the gifts of the Spirit in a wonderful combination.