M.C. Escher

I first remember seeing Escher’s work while at primary school. We were given a piece of his to copy, so I dutifully started drawing some of the plants from the corner of his lithograph “Waterfall”. I ran out of time, and never finished anything else, but I did gain a love of his work.

Over the years I’ve seen bits and pieces of his art in books and on posters, but yesterday was the first time I got to see a real piece of his work. Currently the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is holding an exhibition called “The Amazing World of M.C. Escher” which has drawn work from throughout his life. I’d highly recommend it. Below I’ve shared some of my favourites from the collection. Click for larger images!Phosphorescent Sea

Phosphorescent Sea, lithograph, 1933

Despite being black and white, it gives the impression of somehow having more colour. Escher made thousands of tiny scratch marks to make it appear to glow. I love its apparent simplicity.

Inside St Peters

Inside St Peter’s, wood engraving, 1935

This picture was not in the exhibition, but was in the catalogue. I had to include it because it’s such a good representation of what it’s actually like to be inside San Pietro in Rome. It also shows his early fascination with the perspective on a scene or place.

Still Life and Street

Still Life and Street, woodcut, 1937

I like how cleverly this picture moves from desk to street: the illusion of reality.

Metamorphosis II

Metamorphosis II, woodcut,1939/1940

I think that Escher must have sparked my interest in illusions. Seeing this piece in person was incredible. I went along trying to figure out where the breaks in the pattern are (it was printed from twenty separate blocks on three sheets of paper) and could not see anything. There is such a sense of movement. I have a flipbook of the middle part of the design which shows how the design is essentially an animation. Indeed, Escher thought so himself:

“I see it {Metamorphosis}, other than a childlike association-impulse, also as a surrogate for a film. Most of all, I’d like to express my metamorphosis and association-mania in an animated film, and strongly believe that the animated film will become an artistic expression of great value for the future, in which thoughts of greater importance will be shown than Snow White or Micky (however, I have absolutely no disdain for those products, on the contrary: admiration for Disney’s talent!). Still, I often dream of the film I would like to make. What an astonishing metamorphosis you would then behold … ” M.C. Escher, 1940

Other World

Other World, wood engraving and woodcut, 1947

This at first struck me as an image made with a computer! This is one of the first prints Escher made that explored how to show several perspectives on a scene at once. What’s so fascinating is his ability to make it look ordinary.


Dewdrop, mezzotint, 1948

Rippled Surface

Rippled Surface, linoleum cut, 1950


Puddle, woodcut, 1952

I’ve grouped these three together because I think they share many similarities. Though they show familiar things they are otherworldly.

Double Planetoid

Double Planetoid, wood engraving, 1949

Escher said of this piece: “The entire image is contained in a dark-blue circle, giving the impression of looking at the planet through a telescope.” I like the story at play here: the city-part with its buildings and people entwined with the forest-part with its vegetation and creatures.

Print Gallery

Print Gallery, lithograph, 1956

There is another story in this picture, with its never-ending loop. I love how it flows so well from place to place.


WaterfallWaterfall, lithograph, 1961

I think it’s appropriate to end where I began, with the first piece of Escher’s work I saw. Even now I still think “Well, perhaps it could work … “

You can find many of Escher’s prints, including much of his earlier work, online. I’d recommend doing so if you can’t make it to this exhibition: his early exploration of Art Nouveau and Cubism gradually gave way to something that has the appearance of Surrealism (though he never had contact with any surrealists) but has links to illusion, architecture, mathematics, and animation. I enjoyed seeing the development of his work, and appreciate the end results all the more.

Escher’s work still appeals to me now not just because it’s clever and highly skilled but because the illusions still trick me. As I’ve learnt more about filmmaking and animation I’ve found that I can see the “gaps” when watching films and television – particularly if the story or the characters don’t grab me. Perhaps that’s why partly Escher’s prints work so well; he creates a world, a story we can believe in.

How do I delete the white background from line art?

Over the last year I’ve been Googling the sentence above – how do I delete the white background from line art? I know that I know how to do this, but I keep forgetting. So I’ve decided to write it down so that I can reference it in future, and hopefully help others as well.

I’m using Photoshop CS5.1 on a Mac.

Technique No. 1
Black line with white background, on Multiply to show colour.

This is the way I was taught, but kept forgetting because it’s a string of keystrokes that if done in the wrong order doesn’t work at all.

Black line with white background, colour and background layers turned off.

First, turn everything off except the layer you want to cut out. In the example above you can see the white areas behind the black lines that I want to get rid of.

Duplicate Line layer.

Duplicate your line layer, so you have a spare, and turn the original off. I like to duplicate by Alt+drag while clicking on the layer. (It took me a long time before I realised I could do that, hence why I’m writing it here!)

Next, select the entire layer (Cmd+A) and cut it (Cmd+X). Fill the now-empty layer with black (Alt+backspace).

Quick Mask button off / on. (Use Q.)

Turn Quick Mask on by pressing Q, or selecting the button under the colour picker (as above).Paste line art.

Paste (Cmd+V) your line art into the layer. It should look like the above.

Turn Quick Mask off (Q).

Press Q again to turn Quick Mask off.

Invert line art (Cmd+I).

Inverse the image by pressing Cmd+I.
Cut background (Cmd+X), leaving line art.

Cut (Cmd+X) to leave the line art, like so!

Colouring line art.

The reason this is my preferred method is because it’s the best way to recolour my line art. For the purple example above I Cmd+clicked on the preview window in Layers (which selects the entire painted area on a layer) and then filled it (using Alt+backspace again) with purple.

If, however, you aren’t interested in painting the line, then you may prefer one of the other methods.

Technique No. 2

This begins in the same way as No. 1: Duplicate your line layer, copy it and cut it, fill the layer with black.

Create a mask.

Then you select the layer, and add a mask to it using the button highlighted above (“Add vector mask”).
Alt+click to select mask.

Alt+click on the white mask to select it.

Paste line art into mask.

Paste (Cmd+V) into the mask.

Cmd+I to invert line art.

Invert (Cmd+I).Click on ordinary layer to view.

Click out of the mask onto the ordinary layer. As you can see above, though the line art is now free from white the background that was transparent is now black. This is easily solvable by filling in the transparent areas before beginning, but it’s one of the reasons I don’t tend to use this method. Also, there is no way (that I have yet discovered) of colouring the lines.

Technique No. 3

This is the simplest and perhaps best method if all you want to do is get rid of the white. It’s quick and requires no cutting, pasting, or inverting.

Double-click preview window.

Double-click on the line art layer preview window.

Layer Style window opens.

The Layer Style window will pop up.

Select top white slider and drag a couple of degrees.

In the Blend If: Gray area at the bottom, select the top white slider and adjust it by a couple of degrees. I moved it from 255 to 253. The white background will disappear.

Exit window.

Exit the window and, as you can see, only the line art remains.

Example of painting using this technique.However, as the background still exists on the layer and is only hidden from view, it means that painting the line art is not possible.

In the past I have had problems with this method – jagged white remains in corners and so on – but recently it’s been working beautifully.

I hope this is helpful to someone out there! Please let me know if you know of other / better ways of doing this, I’m always looking to learn!

Heads and Tails

I did these sketches last month but only got the chance to colour them today. Most of them are very quick gesture drawings, around 30 seconds. The portrait was drawn in about 5 minutes. I think the fish came out particularly well!
Koala Woman Turtle Faces Fishy


Up ↑