I have spent most of my adult life in a love-hate relationship with technology. Trained as a graphic designer and illustrator long before anyone had heard the word Photoshop, I was appalled when I learned that people were manipulating and even creating images using a computer. My first reaction was that they were cheating. Using a machine to draw was NOT art. My second was that there is no way anyone was going to get me to cheat using those programs.
I was saved from the inevitable wake-up call by an offer to teach English in Japan. I boarded a plane and ended up in a remote, conservative town where children would gawk and follow me around whenever I set foot outside my door. For two years I taught English to adults at companies where pencils and paper were as high tech as it got. Then SONY Corporation offered me a job writing technical papers and Akio Morita’s speeches. I wasn’t wild about the idea of technical papers, but couldn’t resist the chance to meet and hob nob with Mr. Morita and his SONY co-founder Mr. Ibuka. My days of technophobia were about to come to an abrupt end.
On my second day at SONY, a researcher arrived carrying a very large JumboTron. He placed the set on my desk and said he was there for help with a paper he was writing about the JumboTron’s CRT technology . He spoke almost no English and my Japanese lessons had not included technical jargon. For one long moment we looked at each other with dismay. Then he shrugged, opened the back of the set started pointing at the various parts and looking up words in his dictionary. It was a long and arduous process but I learned by doing – taking things apart, pushing buttons and turning dials until I understood exactly what the TV did and why. Seeing the resulting paper in print was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never been intimated by technology since.
Intimidated or not, the idea of creating art with a computer program did not appeal to me. I was in Japan almost 10 years and still hadn’t looked at Photoshop by the time I returned. I might never have learned how the program worked if it wasn’t for a Photoshop teacher who hired me to edit her book on the program. She liked my work so much that she recommended me to Osborne McGraw-Hill where I edited a series of manuals on everything from Pagemaker to Dreamweaver.
Of course writing about a program is very different from actually using it, and I might still be in denial if I hadn’t discovered what they could do for me. I now use Photoshop, Corel Draw, Autodesk Pro and a whole host of online photo and video manipulation tools like Pic Monkey, Camtasia and Animoto to get the results I want. However, it might interest you to know that each and every one of my illustrations begins with a pencil and paper. They are my favorite technical tools, hands down.
And that’s really what I have to say to anyone who is leery of technology. You must approach the programs the way you approached more traditional tools like scissors, crayons and glue sticks when you were first learning to use them. Once upon a time you had no idea how to use those tools either, but you learned. And that’s exactly how you must view technology. Be willing, curious and selective. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there is an endless array of gadgets out there. Find and use the ones that speak to you.
Oh, and one more thing? Never, ever drag yourself kicking and screaming to a computer screen because someone said you “should” learn something. Learn what makes you smile at the pace that fits your schedule. The rest will take care of itself.
Jena is a writer, illustrator and educator with more than 35 years penning everything from technical papers and marketing collateral to personal essays and online classes for writers. Her latest endeavor is the CritterKin series of books designed to help kids learn that animals (critters) are family (kin). She is aided and abetted in her efforts by a very large orange cat named Oscar. To learn more about Jena visit www.JenaBall.com