Greg Vander Houwen:A Photoshop Pioneer Page 2

Eventually, he moved to Seattle and worked at several computer stores, where he focused on what computers could produce graphically. At one computer store in Seattle, Vander Houwen purchased equipment and gave customers information on how to use computers to create graphics. Around 1988, he discovered "a niche market," and developed a reputation--people who wanted to learn more about computer-generated graphic arts sought him out. Eventually he worked as a digital retoucher at a professional photo lab in Seattle.

Photoshop's Evolution
Software programs and computer equipment weren't as sophisticated as they are now, he says. "But in 1989, things changed," as he found that desktop computers, memory, video cards and computer programs had evolved to the point where high-quality image editing was possible. Vander Houwen discovered an Alpha version (.087) of Photoshop during this time. "It was impressive," he says, "and I started using it right away." This began Vander Houwen's long and happy relationship with this innovative image-editing program. "I think it's safe to say that very few people have used Photoshop as much or as long as I have."

"I-5 Southbound" is a brochure cover for a computer graphics training lab.

He has helped to develop changes in this program throughout the years. Yet, as recently as the early '90s, Vander Houwen says, "You couldn't get people to pay much attention to you for knowing this stuff." Instead, it was considered "an interesting toy."

After hours on his job, he created a digital work of art in this Alpha version of Photoshop, and submitted it to Verbum magazine in 1990. It became his first digital image to be published. Thus, Vander Houwen created one of Photoshop's earliest works of art (although--looking back--he says he's not sure that it was a great one).

"Rainy Day" represents protection from the storms of Wall Street.

He recalls that the digital-imaging community at this time was very small. Nonetheless, he pursued computer art via Photoshop and other programs. He submitted work to various publications and was invited to participate in the first Adobe Digital Masters show at the Ansel Adams Gallery in San Francisco, in 1993. "There was a group of 10 or 15 of us that showed work," Vander Houwen recalls.

Photoshop produced a "deluxe" edition on CD, a new technology in those days. It included the "Digital Masters" gallery, which featured Vander Houwen's work. In the program's next revision, Photoshop switched over to the CD version entirely. The Photoshop CD continued to include Vander Houwen's works for a number of years in its gallery.

"Migration" illustrates an article in Oracle magazine on database migration.

As one who got involved with Photoshop on the ground floor--so to speak--he's done alpha and beta testing for new revisions of this program. "It's nice to have some input with the tools I'm using," he comments. Without a formal education in digital imaging, he's done amazingly well. "I love [Photoshop] enough that I would use it even if I wasn't being paid," he says. Besides, he points out, back when he was learning this program on his own, there weren't any classes available.

Creating Environments
As for the equipment Vander Houwen uses, he points out that "I could do what I do on most people's home systems that are on the market today." He uses an Apple Macintosh G4 with 2GB of memory, and 100 GB of hard drive space. He also has a Microtek scanner and a Nikon Coolpix 950 camera. By his admission, "I use the camera quite a bit, but I'm not really a professional photographer. I'm an illustrator and artist that happens to use some captured images." He says that he "builds images illustratively." His artwork comprises composite images from photography, scanning and his own illustrations.

"Inspiration" was created for Thunder Lizard Productions, which produces Photoshop conferences.

He also uses 3D packages "on occasion." One example is Vander Houwen's "Woman With Flower" image, which was selected as part of Adobe's "Magnificent 7" exhibit and appears on his Website. "It was an honor to have been selected by Adobe as one of seven artists to show what Photoshop 7 could do." He describes this image as a fine-art piece: The woman was entirely illustrated in Photoshop, while the flower was originally created in Strata Studio Pro, then enhanced in Photoshop. "It's possibly the most complex Photoshop file I've created," notes Vander Houwen. He describes his process in doing this image, as well as others on his Website. "These 3D packages enable you to photograph in a virtual world," he says.

Vander Houwen says he's been building environments to photograph, which he incorporates in his artwork. "By doing this, I have access to scenes that wouldn't otherwise exist." According to him, this has been a major focus. "I feel that I can make anything that I can imagine," he says, adding that he's developed a particular style some time ago.

For another early work of art, he wanted to "photograph" a ring floating in an outdoor environment. He built a cube in 3D, painted a sky on its interior walls, and then placed the ring in the cube "so that it would look like it was reflecting the sky." Vander Houwen's resulting image was so successful, he sent it along with a letter to Strata, the makers of the 3D software he used. He mentioned that was using their software as a "Virtual Studio" where he could create environments, adjust lighting, and do photography. Soon afterward, they took on the name, "Strata, the virtual studio company." Currently, he is using Maya, a powerful 3D program used in the film and gaming industries. He comments, "Technically, I'd like to become as proficient in 3D as I am in 2D." Again, it appears that he's learning quickly on his own: "I'm back to school--and hope I never leave."

Another interest that he hopes to develop in the future is the creation of "personal avatars," or personal persona on the Web. Vander Houwen calls it "an interactive personal representation of yourself." He describes it as way to take form in a virtual community. (In a limited way we do this today via our e-mail representation, or handles.) "It's not in the public eye now, but will be in the next few years," he believes. "It's starting to show up in online games and virtual communities. We'll be selecting what our persona looks like with clothing, jewelry, etc. for meetings, dates and entertainment events. To a great degree, these things have yet to be made, and I think there will be a huge demand--after all, everyone likes to look good."

Vander Houwen illustrated the female in "Woman With Flower" in Photoshop. The background is a combination of Vander Houwen's photos and illustrations. The flower was orginally modeled and rendered in Strata Studio Pro, then enhanced in Photoshop.

Online Community
In addition to, Vander Houwen has a Website he built himself:, geared towards Photoshop users. He started it originally to communicate with his Photoshop-user friends, and says that it's become one of Photoshop's busiest sites. It regularly outlines tips for Photoshop users, with instruction via Quicktime movies. According to Vander Houwen, "I love teaching and speaking to people, and this site enables me to reach thousands."

Some time ago, his daughter was hit by a falling tree. During her recovery, Vander Houwen received about 30 "hand-made" Photoshop get-well cards for her from members. "It's the strength of community," he beams. "There is a lot more than just Photoshop going on there. We're a virtual family."