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Interview with Sharon Steuer

wowcoverMore than ten years ago, I was attending the Macworld trade show in New York. It was my last day at the show and was looking for a good book to buy before returning home. Peachpit Press had a booth and I decide to go and see the various books available. One particularly retained my attention. It was the Illustrator WOW book. At that time, I was already using illustrator for a few years, and I found this book to be inspiring so I decided to buy it. I was lucky because the day I bought It, Sharon was also at the Peachpit booth answering questions and signing her book so I handed mine so she could sign it. We exchanged some thoughts on Illustrator features and how we used them. That was my first encounter with her, and the beginning of a great relationship. I still have that copy of the Illustrator 8 Wow book. Each time I see it on my bookshelf I have a warm feeling and fond memories.

Today to celebrate the release of the 10th edition of the Illustrator WOW book (the CS4 version) I decided to ask some questions to my dear friend and author Sharon Steuer.

It’s also a chance for you to win a copy of the book courtesy of Peachpit Press. Just leave a comment on this blog about the interview or how you intend to use the book in your daily work. I will be picking a winner on Sunday, 7th July 2009 at 8pm.

Interview with Sharon Steuer, author of the Illustrator WOW CS4 book

Proficiografik: Sharon, I just recently read that the new Illustrator CS4 WOW book is available. Before we talk about this new version of the book can you give us some background history about the Illustrator WOW book series? When was release the first edition and what was the main idea behind the “Wow” concept?

Sharon Steuer: The short answer is that I started the book in 1994, and it was published 9 months later in early 1995 as a sequel to the Photoshop WOW! Book, and the Painter WOW! Book.

And…here’s a slightly longer answer….

I’ve worked as a digital artist since 1983, using the Mac since 1984, and Adobe Illustrator since 1987. In 1988 I began teaching, writing, and lecturing, about digital art–first it was Adobe Illustrator, then FreeHand, ColorStudio, Photoshop, and Painter. In 1994 Linnea Dayton told me that Peachpit Press was accepting proposals for sequels to her best-selling Photoshop WOW! Book (the Painter WOW! Book by Cher Threinen-Pendarvis was already underway), so i submitted a proposal to Peachpit Press for the Illustrator WOW! Book, and Peachpit said YES!. After months and months of interviewing artists and writing, in 1995 the book was finally published. I was really proud that the first edition covered virtually all of the features in Adobe Illustrator in 224 pages. Over the years, as new features were added to Illustrator, the book has grown in size. Then a couple of editions ago we realized that Adobe Illustrator had become so much more complex that, even doubled in size to 496 pages as it is now, we have to pick and choose which features are most useful to artists and designers.

PG: Can you tell us why the WOW book is different from any others book on Adobe Illustrator?

SS: In many ways actually. First of all, The Adobe Illustrator WOW! Books are the only full-color book on Illustrator to have covered every version of Adobe Illustrator since 1994 - The Adobe Illustrator CS4 WOW! Book is the tenth edition. Over the past 15 years, we’ve been able to entice many many top professional Illustrator artists from around the world share their best tips, tricks, and techniques. It’s been translated into many languages, and it’s been used as a course book in schools and universities around the world. Art directors use it to find artists, and some people actually get the book just to sit on their coffee table, to look at the fabulous art! But Illustrator WOW is much more than just great art; I think perhaps what makes this book the most unique, is that we are the only book with such an astoundingly impressive team of writers and technical consultants, each of whom have robust careers of their own, but continue to contribute their expertise to the WOW! book. The Illustrator WOW! Book is also unique in that we have an incredible team of volunteer testers who, along with myself and our fabulous technical editor Jean-Claude Tremblay (Oh that’s you JC!), make sure that every lesson works as promised. Finally, Illustrator WOW! is the only full-color book designed to take intermediate through professional Illustrator artists step-by-step through learning techniques that will expand their technical and creative repertoire. And all lessons are intentionally focused and short, so professionals can squeeze in learning a new technique or two, in-between client projects.

PG: So, It’s more a collaborative work than a one person achievement. Can you tell us more about your collaborators for this edition?

SS: Well I used to say that the original book was mostly a solo venture– and from the standpoint that I was the only person who sat at the computer for 16 hours a day for nine months, that’s true, but it’s always been a collaborative project. In that first edition, Barbara Sudick designed the template and helped tweak every page design-wise, Many many artists generously shared their art and expertise for the book, so the artists have always been full collaborators. And of course there was my first copy-editor Gary Pfitzer, and at the end, I found Peg Maskell Korn who helped implement the edits. Oh and my husband did all the cooking and cleaning for 9 months, and my mom helped proofread!

But for a number of editions now, Illustrator WOW! has become a completely collaborative project. My amazing technical editor and I decide what needs to happen to a new edition, and I assign out pieces of the project to an incredible professional team of digital experts. On the team we have a wide range of artists and designers (Cartographer Steven Gordon is my longest collaborator, Lisa Jackmore has been with the book a long time as well, and then more recently joining us are Illustrator blogger and artist Ryan Putnam, and teacher/artists Andrew Dashwood, Randy Livingston, Aaron McGarry). We even have a number of contributors who have been writing for the WOW! Book for so long that they’re now famous writers of their own books (Mordy Golding for Real World Adobe Illustrator, Conrad Chavez for Real World Adobe Photoshop, and Dave Awl for Facebook Me!). And we’ve been lucky enough to have Photoshop WOW! co-author Cristen Gillespie join us for two editions as a major contributor to the book. There’s also the WOW! testers, our editor Elizabeth Rogalin, all the folks at Peachpit, Peg Maskell Korn (who is STILL helping with the book!), artist/teacher Laurie Grace who helps with updating lessons, proofers, the printer, indexer, and the list goes on….

I am involved with every page of the book, and although I am still often working alone in a room with my computer, we are all networked to each other through the net.

PG: Who it this book is aimed for? Who can benefits from it?

SS: It really is a book for intermediate through professional Illustrator users. Although there certainly is some good information for beginners in the book (such as the Zen of Illustrator), I would never recommend this book as the only training for a beginner. in fact, I really am a believer that, if possible, hands-on training is best to get you started– once you’ve got places in your brain for the new information to go, then self-learning with a book can be great. As a long-time teacher of digital art technologies, I’ve found that you really need to do it yourself in order to assimilate new information. So, Illustrator WOW! gives you detailed instructions for how to integrate actual techniques developed by top Illustrator professional, using your own art. Much of the art in the book is also on the CD is for you to pick apart and understand, but you have to make the art yourself, and by doing that, you really integrate the techniques into your artistic arsenal.

PG: What did you learn on a personal and professional level by working with so many talented peoples over the years in making the various Illustrator WOW books?

SS: Oh so much. As an artist, I have my own way of working, but there are always a zillion ways to do almost anything, and just because you figured out one way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way, or even the best way! When I started the first edition, for instance, I didn’t know that it was possible to create photorealistic art in Illustrator, and I didn’t understand how masks can be used to contour complex colors. And with each new version, when Adobe Illustrator introduces new features, all of the team learns from each other: the artists and writers and testers all build off information we share with each other during the process of the book, often discovering new techniques along the way.

PG: How much new content readers can expect from previous version of the Book? Is it worth buying if they own the CS3 or previous version?

SS: The easy answer is that there is tons of new information, including new lessons using multiple artboards, the new Gradient Annotator, the updated Appearance panel, and working with the improved interface, etc., and every page of the book has been replaced or reworked based on CS4. But the longer answer is that because the life-cycle of any version of the software is short , we simply do not have enough time to create an all-new book from scratch– and be able to deliver it to the reader while that version of the program is still the one on the shelves. As a result, although every page contains fully updated information and screenshots, there are a number of lessons and galleries that might be familiar to owners of the CS2 or CS3 edition of the book (with one art piece from CS). If you’re not sure if this edition contains enough new material for your needs, try to look through a copy in a bookstore.

PG: Along with the book come a companion CD. What can the readers can expect to find on that CD?

SS: Well our technical editor, with the help of Design Tools Monthly editor Jay Nelson, compiled a fabulous collection of demo plug-ins and Illustrator-related applications for you to try out. We also include much of the art featured in the book on the CD so you can pick it apart and see how the files are constucted. There are also a batch of tutorials on the CD, including Zen of the Pen lessons, and other Zen lessons about stacking order, layers, and Transformation tools.

PG: Is it possible for teachers and trainers to use the book as a teaching aid?

SS: Of course! We’ll have a companion course outline updated by Lisa Jackmore and myself available soon from: http://www.ssteuer.com/edu and teachers can order the book, as well as any other Peachpit Press book, from http://www.pearsoned.com

PG: Is their a way for illustrator artists to contact you for proposals of their artworks to be review and maybe included in any new release of the wow book in the future? What are looking for?

SS: Yes! We are always looking for professional art and design, especially art that demonstrates the newer features of the program, or shows a really cool technique.

You can send me links to a website containing your work at: wowartist@ssteuer.com If you don’t have a website, but have samples that you want to send, please email me first, and we’ll arrange for you to send low-res jpgs first.

PG: What is you prefered feature of Illustrator CS4 and why?

SS: Well, actually I think the interface improvements to the Appearance panel, and the way the panels work is enough to justify the upgrade. it’s just so much easier and quicker to get stuff done– there aren’t as many “NEW FEATURES” in this upgrade, but it’s more that it runs better– like “under the hood” improvements so you’re not stuck at lights any more. We produced the book in InDesign CS3, so I was moving back and forth between CS3 and CS4 interface design– there’s no comparison– CS4 is much cleaner and simpler and easier to use!

PG: When not coordinating the writing the Wow book, what do you do for living?

SS: Well, I would actually say is that the WOW! Book is what I do mainly for a living, and when I’m not working on the WOW! Book, I’m a full-time artist. I’m also looking into getting more involved in interactive and online training for digital artists.

PG: Sharon, thanks a lot for your time and this wow interview!

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Categories : Adobe, CS4, Illustrator, Book | Monday, June 29, 2009

11 comments on «Interview with Sharon Steuer»

  • Sigurdur Armannsson has commented on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 11h06

    I am an old-timer too. Started using Illustrator in 1987. I have bought most of the Illustrator WOW books for our studio, usually when I have been visiting the MW shows in the US. I think the designers take the WOW books hove and never return them, because the only one I find now is the one for Illustrator 5.0/5.5, 1995 version! Ouch! But it’s still a nice book. I badly miss the one with the tiger on the cover.
    It’s always great to read interview with authors of books one likes very much.

  • Matt Ambler has commented on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12h23

    Very interesting read! It’s nice to read the thoughts from someone who has been working with Adobe products since their inception.

  • Ryan has commented on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 15h49

    Great interview!

  • Tessa has commented on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 12h43

    I agree that the appearance panel upgrades are great. Also, excited to read this book!

  • It’s fascinating to read about how these awesome books come together! I was just devouring the AI7 WOW Book again recently (the only WOW book I have so far) and would love to get a copy of this most current version.

  • I’ve heard alot about the WOW books. I’d love to win the Illustrator one!

  • JP Vasquez has commented on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 23h49

    great interview!
    Oh! I Love this book, it´s maybe the most important book of illustrator, and I would love to watch it soon, especialy the adv techniques section!

  • Lutz has commented on Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 3h07

    Seems to be the book I have been looking for. Transitioning from Freehand I spend half an hour per day weeping in my attic, and it takes too much time to filter out the relevant info from the “for dummies”-sytls books. Seeing how experienced artists work with the tool may be the best way for me to come to terms with AI’s way of doing things.

  • Murmur has commented on Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 5h36

    I´d like to finish with freehand once and for all! And I think this book is the best way to do it.
    [Mumur is our winner of the free copy of the book! Congrats!]

  • Kevin Spear has commented on Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 10h10

    The “Illustrator WOW” books have been the only software books I’ve had where I can’t get rid of the older versions. I get just as much inspiration out of the older versions as the newer ones.

    I think that’s the key right there. It’s one of the few software book series that inspires in addition to provide the technical answers. It’s a must for anyone wanting to make their way around Adobe Illustrator

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