How to Make an Orinz-Style Icon

Everyone needs an icon these days. I’m sure that you probably have a digital camera, that you could probably take a picture of yourself and crop it into a square and upload it. Sure. But it probably won’t look good small, it may not be very recognizable, and it could even be boring. Pictures of things you like can be a better idea, but no one should need to hide behind pretty flowers because they’re afraid of how the light will cast their face (unless that’s the mystique, I suppose). I’ve always favored showing my face — there’s something open and honest to it, and it always seemed simpler anyways. So I figured out a way to show my face in an identifiable, personal, stylish, not-boring way. This is my method using Photoshop CS4, but the principles are the same in any image-editing program.

    1. Here’s an original black and white image of the top of someone’s head. I happen to be quite attached to this one, so we’ll use this.The ideal image has an interesting outside shape with lots of fluffy bits. The background needs to be a solid color, one that contrasts with the subject’s hair (or whatever the fluffy bits are).
    2. Usually, when working with Photoshop or similar image-manipulation tools, the easiest and best selections have sharp, distinct edges. If your subject is completely bald the regular-ol’ wand tool is the way to go. But I think such lines wouldn’t produce as interesting an icon and, well, most people do have some hair. The solution: the background can be quickly and smoothly removed using a tool like Vertus Fluid Mask. While it’s not free, older versions can readily be found at a large discount. Paint the areas you want to keep, and those you want to delete, and liberally splatter BLEND over everything else. Blend really is great for hair. Preview sections as you go using the T key. It’s easy once you learn the few keyboard shortcuts. Voilà!
    3. When you’re done, you will have an image with alpha transparency. This is what allows any program (that understands it) to make your image look good against any background. You need to select the pixels according to how transparent/opaque they are. But, since there’s no alpha channel (or alpha layer), and since there’s no direct way to select based on transparency/opacity in Photoshop, we have to be clever. Make two duplicates of the new background-removed layer. Invert the colors of the one on top.
    4. Change the top layer’s transparency to exactly 50%. The two layers will cancel each other out and make middle-grey. Merge your two duplicate layers into one. This layer has no color contrast at all, no details. It is, in fact, a nearly precise reversal of the elusive alpha transparency.
    5. Using the levels tool (ctrl+L or cmd+L), make the color completely black. Slide the input level all the way to the right. Although 246 is shown, you can and should go all the way up to 253.
    6. A black image makes a much better selection. So here is where you can finally select the alpha transparency. From the layers tab, switch to the channels tab. Ctrl+click (or cmd+click) on the RGB channel to select based on transparency.
    7. Once you have this selection, you have the key. To make an outline (left), simply fill the selection with a solid color. I use color stripes over my icon, and I like seeing the unique shape against all backgrounds, so I cut out a simple image of solid stripes (center) from my selection and get a translucent image in the shape of my head. When you combine with the original photo (right), these give a smooth-edged, recognizable, quite personal icon that resolves well even at small sizes.

It’s easy and fun to play with the outline and experiment with all the different things you can do. You’re likely to discover all sorts of cool things one can put on a face. To conclude, here’s a collection of what you can create with this technique:


All Over the Internet

I haven’t been paying attention. The place changes so fast.

I find it is a healthy and normal internet activity to Google oneself™. While some might characterize this activity as self-indulgent and call it “ego-surfing,” those 21st-century web-savvy digitally-enabled electronically-mobile young semi-professionals amongst us… we know better. We’ve got enough stuff up on The Internet that the FBI doesn’t even have to ask us where we were four nights ago—we’ll tell them. I’d suppose, what with all this stuff lying around right here on this website, that I am counted among the no-privacy generation.

So I should really know (since I’m in charge of it) what about me is going up on the web. That’s half the idea of this glot-thing: to manage digital identity—all my junk in one pile. I was amused yesterday when a friend stumbled on an article about how to dump your travel partner that featured one of my Flickr photos. They’re all Creative Commons licensed, which means anyone can use ’em so long as they say who took ’em. Then today, for whatever reason, I decided instead of googling my name I would google my flickr name.

An article about a check-cashing place moving into a neighborhood. A post about natural selection and environment. A thought piece about “The Creator Economy” and Web 2.0. A German guy writing about American fireman and beer (I think). Many, many other things. Occasionally I’ll get an email asking for my consent to use a photo, or (since that’s not actually necessary) just a notice that someone has decided to use it. People make things out of my photos. Bloggers find them daily. I am all over the internet.

I’m not unthankful for such attention, however inattentive. This is a definite ego-boost for my ego-surfing as you could’ve guessed. It’s just that I had no idea how much I contributed. I’m not a photographer; I take photos. A long time ago, I used to touch up every photo I’d upload. Made sure each one had the right framing and adjusted the light levels. Used to work carefully on ’em. Thing is, I learned to trust my camera-hand. Framing is easy enough with a program like Flock. I still take out red-eye and sometimes play around a bit more. But by and large, I choose laissez-faire snapshot photography over the careful and deliberate shot.

What I’m saying is that I like that The Internet likes me. I just always thought, way in the back of my head, that there’d be time for perfecting things. Digital identity means what you contribute, you contribute instantaneously, no filter. Living freely on the internet where all your friends and family and old girlfriends and possible stalkers can see you has it’s disadvantages. But it can be fun from time to time (when you damn well catch up).


Robot Monkey Ninja Pirate

There are worse things to be addicted to than the internet. But then again, maybe nitrous isn’t so bad.

You ever think about who you are on the internet? I do. I basically paid about $100 out of pocket for… this. All of this. This webspace, this domain. And more than that, I’ve spent hours which are — in a word, uncountable — actually putting the damned thing together. All so that you can read this and enjoy the little colored squares change. Yes I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet. I’m nice to the internet; it’s nice to me.

I’ve been thinkin’ lately, in my very American way, about all the stuff I’ve got. Specifically, the stuff I’ve got online. Stuff like:


And beleive it or not, now people have coined a new highfalutin term for all this: digital identity. To be distinguished, mind you, from one’s real identity. That is to say exactly what should be obvious: the virtual world still isn’t real.

Think about that for a moment. Many of us spend a lot of our lives—let’s say in my case roughly half—in front of a computer. And how many dreams have you had where you were on the internet? Or even at a computer? Not any at all, for 99.998% of you (one can never be absolutely sure…). So why bother if it can’t be integrated into a wholistic, experience-seeking, fully-lived life? Look at that list up there. Now go make your own. Shouldn’t our time on this earth be spent improving our lives, instead of (very arguably) improving the internet?


Well, think I’ll read a book now. Like that’s any better.