How I made a winning GIF for #GIFITUP2021

Making a GIF from concept to completion

1. Come up with a concept

For GIF IT UP 2021 I wanted one of my submissions to reflect on the past year, using cultural heritage material to make a new image that relates to our current world.

2021 felt like the year that the facemask was being lifted, with many countries removing the requirement to wear a mask (which may change again soon!) Now I needed an image that could play with that idea. I imagined someone taking off their mask after having it on for a very long time, and suddenly saw a big unexpected beard unfurl from behind the mask – there was my concept!

2. Find the right picture

I logged in to my account on the Europeana website and searched for ‘beard’. I set the filters for:

  • type of media: image
  • can I use this: yes

I also had to edit the list of institutions in the search results to unselect those that showed images that didn’t serve my purpose, like archival pictures of plants.

Now I had a good list of pictures to trawl through, and soon enough I stumbled on the perfect image from the Wellcome Collection. I saved it to my collection, ‘Pictures that make great funny GIFs‘ to work on later.

A gynaecologist strokes his long red beard. Colour process print by C. Josef, c. 1930. by Carl Josef – Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom – CC BY.

3. Make a GIF

To get the GIF I wanted I needed 3 basic poses to tell my story:

  1. Man wearing a facemask.
  2. Man removing facemask.
  3. Beard unfurling from behind facemask.
Using A gynaecologist strokes his long red beard. Colour process print by C. Josef, c. 1930. by Carl Josef – Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom – CC BY.

To achieve this I used Photoshop to:

  1. Cut the hand out of the original picture (with the polygonal lasso tool) onto its own layer so it could move to remove the mask.
  2. Remodel the background where the hand left a blank. I did this by selecting the visible side of the collar with the polygonal lasso tool, copying and pasting it, and mirroring it to fill in the space under the hand.
  3. Draw a blue facemask and a billowing beard with the brush tool.

Then I opened the Timeline window in Photoshop to start setting up frames for the animation.

4. Bring life to the animation

With the basic building blocks in place, I now needed to add reactions caused by the main movements, which bring some life into the GIF.

For example, he pulls on the mask, so his ears need to react to the tug.

Then it was a matter of playing around with the timing of each frame until it looked cohesive.

Nisha Alberti (Edinburgh, Scotland) Source material: A gynaecologist strokes his long red beard. C. Josef, c. 1930 |
Wellcome Collection via Europeana

What’s your concept for a GIF?

There you have it, a GIF from concept to completion! I hope you are inspired to think of a concept for a GIF you’d like to make… you have plenty of time to work on it before October 2022 comes around! In the meantime I recommend setting up an account on the Europeana website so you have somewhere to save the images you find until you get time to work on them.

For example I have collections on:

Thanks GIF IT UP 2021!

Make sure to take a look at some of the other GIFs created in response to GIF IT UP 2021. I love the winning entry for the sports category, makes me dizzy just looking at it!

Three stages of a GIF: man with blue facemask; man removing mask; big beard exploding from beneath mask.
Mareks Ziemelis (Liepāja, Latvia) Source material: Turnerinnen am Reck | Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg via Europeana.

How I made a winning GIF for GIF IT UP 2020

Last year I was delighted my GIF was selected to be the Grand Prize Winner for GIF IT UP 2020. I never quite got round to celebrating properly as a month later I gave birth to my first baby. Now, nine months down the line I’ve finally found some time to show what I made and how I made it.

2020: the year of social distancing

Très Parisien, 1927, No. 11 : -1: Créations Doucet (…) – 1927 – Rijksmuseum, Netherlands – Public Domain.

2020 was the year of COVID and lockdowns and measuring whether you were far enough away from the people around you and I wanted to capture this strange year in a GIF. I came up with the concept of ‘social distancing fashion’ – when someone got too close, you could just pull a strap and your clothes would make sure the other person was nudged a safe distance away.

How I found a picture to start with

I needed some sort of fashion image to get started – and I remembered some lovely illustrations in French fashion magazines from a collage I’d made before. So I searched ‘Très Parisien’ on Europeana and found the perfect picture.

Setting up my canvas

I usually work in Photoshop because that’s what I use for my collages, but you don’t need Photoshop to make a GIF! If you’re not sure how to make a GIF just look at ‘How to Make a GIF‘ on the GIF IT UP website for tutorials.

First I clear the background to make it easier to have characters move in the foreground. That way, if something in the foreground moves, you don’t have to spend any time patching up the gap it leaves in the background.

Then I extracted each character so they would be able to move independently.

Très Parisien, 1927, No. 11 : -1: Créations Doucet (…) – 1927 – Rijksmuseum, Netherlands – Public Domain.

Adding movement

I use the Timeline window in Photoshop to create a frame animation that becomes the GIF. I try to keep it as simple as possible, as GIFs are usually seen in a small size – if you spend lots of time on getting all the details right, it will probably be too small for anyone to notice your efforts! For example, the character just slides into the frame, rather than having to animate any steps: it’s not how people really move, but it doesn’t matter so much.

I use Photoshop to draw/cut/paste any elements I need to get the animation to work. For example extending the bottom of the coat so it bumps out, or moving the arm slighly to create the trigger for the coat’s expansion.

To get the timing right I just play around with the settings and watch it over and over again so that in the end the movements look fairly smooth.

The GIF is made up of 17 frames.

My winning GIF IT UP 2020 submission: the original image, and the GIF frame by frame. Très Parisien, 1927, No. 11 : -1: Créations Doucet (…) – 1927 – Rijksmuseum, Netherlands – Public Domain.

Make a GIF for GIF IT UP 2021

GIF IT UP is an annual competition and from 1 October you can start submitting your GIFs for 2021! You have until 31 October to submit your work so:

  1. Check the GIF IT UP website for the rules.
  2. Go find some source material that inspires you on Europeana. You can save anything you find in your own galleries if you make an account – it will make life a lot easier! Check out my gallery, Pictures that make great funny GIFs for an easy start.
  3. Make your GIF and check out what others are doing!

Good luck!

How to combine new motherhood with the pursuit of a creative practice

Pursuing a creative practice with a newborn is not so straightforward. The first weeks I did not find the time, nor did I want to, for many creative pursuits.

After 2 months I knew more about my son’s needs and patterns and found the time to sketch all sorts of things to do with my new situation, searching for the seed of a new project.

In the end I also wanted to learn a new skill so I found out how to use a DSLR camera. Using long exposures I photographed the time I spent on my own in the small hours learning to care for a baby. My online exhibition ‘Duo in Solitude’ lets you in on these private moments between a new mother and baby.

Photograph from ‘A duo in solitude’

A new idea: he naps, I draw, he wakes, I stop

But babies grow quickly and the old predictable moments evolved into new patterns and a catnapping baby with a preference for 30-minute naps. That’s just enough time for an idea to surface, but not enough time for it to take hold. How could I pursue a creative practice spread over 3 30-minute naps a day?

The only thing for it was to use the time I did have – not for mulling but for doing. The idea: draw the same still life for a few consecutive days. The catch? I could only draw for as long as my son napped. The moment he woke up was the moment the drawing was finished.

Each time my son started a nap, I grabbed the baby monitor and raced to my corner. Flowers, paper, pens and paints left exactly as I’d abandoned them last.

The bouquet on day 1 and day 6

The technique

Once I was at my seat I:

  1. Picked up a tool (what shall I start with this time? Pencil again? Or should I be daring and dive straight in with paint?)
  2. Found the correct time slot on the page for the starting time (each sheet had 24 slots along the top, dividing the page into hours of the day).
  3. Dropped right in and started drawing, with no idea of how much time I’d have.
  4. Found the correct time slot at the bottom of the page and slid right out of the drawing again when I heard the murmurs on the baby monitor getting louder and louder.
One drawing during nap

Almost giving up before even starting

Starting that first sketch was difficult: I hadn’t done any drawing in a very long time and the flowers and leaves overlapped in impossible ways. I almost gave up there and then, exclaiming that this was too far out of my skill level. But I drew some tentative pencil lines anyways and finished the first of 18 unfinished still lives. From there I went on to draw the bouquet in various ways:

  • in a single line, without taking pen off paper
  • in one stroke outlining its shape
  • terribly
  • wonderfully

There’s nothing particularly charming about any individual sketch. Yet together they are a very tangible reminder that you can find creative fulfilment in the doing, rather than in the finishing. And for me, they contain all of ‘my’ time during my son’s twentieth week on the planet.

All the pieces of the artwork meet

Go see for yourself

Contemporary Art Practice end of year exhibition at Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh

You can see the sketches, along with some excellent pieces from my fellow students on the Leith School of Art Contemporary Art Practice course, at Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh until 4 July 2021.

The series of unfinished sketches will show you:

  • the napping schedule of a 20-week-old
  • what happened to my confidence and drawing style the more I drew
  • the bloom and decay of a bouquet

Facemasks as inspiration: 3 ways

We’re all suddenly seeing a lot more facemasks in daily life than we’ve been used to. Before, on my walks I might expect to see laughing gas canisters, crisp packets and take-away boxes rumbling along the sidewalk gutters. Today, a new character joins the cast of castaways: the facemask, often disposable and light blue, but not always.

I’ve used the facemask as a project prompt, to see how this new character can inspire my art and thinking. Here are the results…

Hang in there (Digital collage)

Where facemasks are still uncomfortable and unfamiliar, could it be that one day we become so used to them that they’ll become a marker of comfort and ease?

Made with a print by James Tissot, 1880, from the Rijksmuseum

Got the blues? (Digital collage)

Blue plastic gloves and blue paper masks are a modern-day suit of armour maybe?

Made with a photograph by Anonymous, 1850-1900, from the Rijksmuseum

Surfacing (GIF)

Using the facemask as canvas makes the object, which can be seen to cover or hide expression, suddenly take on the opposite function, as something which communicates and is a vehicle for expression.

Recycling one artwork into different media

Using a collage as a starting point, and reconjuring the image as a drawing, painting and sculpture.

I found myself in the middle of an analogue collage revival – suddenly inspired by the piles of old magazines I had lying around I was creating lots of new collages. But traditional collage has its limitations. Once it’s stuck down the images become immovable and your work is done.

But instead of these collages being the final product, I wanted to use them as a springboard developing my artistic practice. What happens when you use a collage as the starting point, and remix it in different materials?

The starting point

A quick sketch

Acrylic paints


The results

Using a collage as a starting point for exploring new materials is a great idea. I especially enjoy taking the 2D image composite from magazine cuttings and shaping it into a 3D clay figurine.

Collage is great because it lets you create something new, often something you never could have imagined without being inspired by the source material. By reframing collage as the start of a new project, rather than the goal of the project itself, I found great inspiration to try new materials and develop the vision created at the start.