NOTE:: This site’s design is only visible in a graphical browser that supports web standards, but its content should be accessible to most browsers or Internet devices.



or me it was mid-1993. I had just graduated from a second-hand Apple IIgs to a used Macintosh IIci with 8 megs of RAM, an 80 Mb hard drive, 8 bit color and a hand-me-down 1,200 baud modem. The world, as they say, was my oyster.

The field which has since come to be called digital imaging was in its infancy. The state of the art was version 2.5 of this thing from Adobe called Photoshop. I was a commercial photographer, and our vendors were still giving demos involving rubber stamping an additional eye on someone's forehead. There had to be something more!

As it turned out, there was more. Lots more. This was before the Web as we know it exploded in popularity. On-line "communities" were awakening, stirring, stretching out. There were a multitude of private bulletin boards, and on the growing giant aol you could still get the screen name of your choice! One day I innocently entered "Photoshop" as a keyword and found the mother lode. There might well have been a subsonic rumbling, the sound a paradigm makes as it shifts. The sound a great wall makes as it slides away to reveal that your house has a whole wing you had never seen before.

I was paying by the minute for aol, at 1,200 baud, but here was this guy, a German named Kai, writing in a style I had never encountered, interspersing huge quantities of useful information with jaw dropping images, quotes from Douglas Adams and jokes (the dyslexic insomniac still cracks me up). Some guy named Kai, a smiling bubble of excitement, holding the Keys to the New Kingdom in the form of stuffit archives, each a Word document, each an adventure. I scarcely have the vocabulary to describe the shock, the emotion a photographer felt at seeing what magic could be done with a simple typographic character, an infinity symbol, a plain black graphic shape. I suddenly understood the power and potential of this tool - it had nothing to do with simplistic cloning stunts - it had to do with making visible something people had never seen before, using technology to create stunning and fluid and expressive personal art, looking nothing like something a cold, soulless computer would produce. Kai's phrase was "Algorithmic Painting". On computers which ordinary people could own.

Of course the tips were posted in chronological order at aol, newest at the top, and I hadn't figured out how to use the "more" button yet, so I dove into the Snowy Mask and haven't looked back since.

You have to understand that the community of Kai was more than tutorials and technology. The world was suddenly there in my little study. Here was the future, going on right now! Although it had been closed before I got to it, the archived "Blue Sky Folder" probably did more than any single thing to help me realize what a sea change the internet was creating in the world. Time, distance, age, gender, ethnicity - these all ceased to matter. The only requirements now were a modem and the ability to communicate in English. And what a communication it was, covering art, technology and philosophy. My provincial universe went bump again. It was like being back in a university coffee shop with the brightest, most eloquent people imaginable - and they were all interested in the same thing I was!

If all this sounds like a quaint history you may be asking why we have gone to the effort of posting these seemingly outdated Tips, written for a long outdated version of Photoshop. If you currently sit in front of version 5 or 6 or 7, why should you invest the time reading these?

It has nothing to do with nostalgia. They're not as outdated as you might guess. There's still a great deal you can learn from them today. True, Photoshop hadn't even introduced layers yet. Compositing and blending was a huge, irreversible chore. But a lot of the core technology is still well represented in these tips. Displace and Polar Coordinates haven't changed. Domain shifting is still profoundly useful, and while "chops" might be more easily done with layer blending today, the concepts still apply. Did you ever wonder what that pencil icon was for in the Curves dialog? We might not talk about arbitrary maps much today, but once you see the possibilities I'm guessing you'll be inspired. And yes, people continually need to be reminded that you can shift click with a painting tool to draw straight lines. It goes on and on.

There's another reason I think the Power Tips deserve to live on in honor. When these were written there was probably no one but the engineers who knew more about how Photoshop worked than Kai. There were few people with as fresh an outlook on how to create what had never been seen before. And there was certainly no one with a writing style and contagious enthusiasm to match Kai's. These tips are the prototypes for countless other teaching documents since, but you have to look long and hard to find a collection as broad ranging and deep as these. They match well what we strive for at the GurusNetwork - they teach deep, general knowledge. And they are a glimpse into the spirit of a man profoundly excited! Years later, to read these is to remember again the thrill of winding along that learning curve. Read these Tips first to learn more about Photoshop; read them later to learn how to teach and inspire others. Have you benefited from reading tutorials written by talented people who stand to gain nothing but the satisfaction of having shared and helped? This is where it began.

Kai himself of course moved on to a number of revolutionary pieces of software - the Power Tools named after him, Live Picture, Bryce ... powerful tools each of them, but more than that, they were seminal explorations of the user interface, putting that great power in a playful environment.

As part of Kai's legacy to digital artists, these collected Tips seem to have an enduring life of their own. I only met the man face to face once, but I can say without a trace of sentimentality that his Tips altered the course of my life. I am thrilled to join my colleagues at the GurusNetwork in presenting the collected works to you. Take a tip from me - read them!

Steve Nelson

divider ornament

-- top --