Whenever I've had really, really good hand control lately, I've spent my time drawing. If you're one of the select company who are among my Facebook friends, you may have seen a horribly lit and noisy webcam photo of a pencil drawing I did of the daughter of a friend of mine. Now, I'm a bit of a sentimental old poop—I always tended that way—but lately I've wanted nothing more than to capture and immortalize the things in life that make me go "awww".
One of the most awww-some things I've seen lately is a snap of our Jess's little Zoë looking like the perfect cross between a Norman Rockwell Post cover and an 80s vintage Oshkosh B'Gosh ad. It's an image that needs to be much more than a snap (you couldn't have posed it that perfectly) and I decided I would rectify the situation. The only problem was that the picture I was trying to work from was a mere 451 by 604 pixels, and cropping out the background left me a little less than 200 by 400 pixels. Keeping in mind that that covers Zoë head to stocking feet, you can imagine how little detail there would be to work with.
Well, I tried, but my initial pencil drawing (the finished work will be a pastel painting) looked like a very cute generic little girl, but not a whole lot like Zoë. I spent hours moving the shadows around, and it continued to be a really good picture if I didn't get too hung up on the identity of the subject. That, folks, is damned frustrating.
It was clear that the source material was too small to be of any real use. I tried enlarging the image in a variety of image editors (Photoshop CS3 & 7, Paint Shop Pro, and the GIMP, each of which has a slightly different bicubic smoothing filter) with no joy. Oh, the picture got bigger all right, but there was no more information to work with—in fact, as a drawing source the picture just plain got worse. Then I remembered having read something some years ago about some kind of image scaler based on fractals and wavelets and all of that mathy stuff I used to live in. I wasn't into computer graphics then, but the math was fascinating. It took a while to find the product name, and a while longer to find an installed copy I could use. I was at the point of giving up, so what the hell, eh?
I set the plugin to 400 percent and used the defaults otherwise and… HO-O-O-OLY CRAP!!! The phrase that actually came not only to mind but accidentally to tongue (did I say that out loud?) was a little less socially acceptable and likely to permanently corrupt small children within earshot. I've only had software leave me in giggly fits of delight once before, and that was the original Video Toaster on an Amiga 2000 way back when 286s roamed the planet running 1-2-3 and Wordperfect. It found detail that wasn't there (I swear), but it wasn't just made-up stuff either. It found stitching in the clothing! It found freakin' eyelashes!!!
Having found a good source for my drawing, I saved the enlargement and quickly forgot about it. I spent the rest of the afternoon blowing every picture on the USB key up to billboard size, giggling all the while. I put together a 300 pixel per inch raster business card (600 by 1050 pixels) with a geometric Aero-style graphic and a lot of rasterized type, then blew that up to print at 20 by 35 inches (that's a thousand percent of the original size) and I swear I couldn't tell that it hadn't been created at that size in the first place. It's even better at “hard” graphics than it is at photos, probably because there's less to guess at.
In any case, I'm now stuck with a deep and abiding love for a program that is neither free as in speech nor free as in beer. I'm not a stickler for open source, but this busines of being ethically compelled to pay for something because it's worth more than the price on the box has got to go. I want my moral ambivolence back!