I have been painting digitally for well over a year now and I have to say that I don’t know how I did it before. Yes, I still have a long way to go but with each painting I gain in strength and skill. The aspect I enjoy most is the ability to change plans on the fly, which is a benefit in painting by layer. My current project consists of eight different layers that build the image from back to front.
Initially I started with just three layers, one for the drawing of the alien, one for the painting I planned to do, and one for the background. At this time I had no idea what I would do for the background but began painting the alien anyway, trying different background colors to better highlight the image. I turned the drawing on and off as I needed to check placement of features. When I got fairly far along with the creature design, I began playing with images for the background just painting over it when I did not like the progress. I was able to do this without worrying about damaging the alien image. Of course, this meant that the alien would look disconnected from the background. However, I figured that I could touch up the creature image to fit it with the background.
Experimenting with making a drawing for the background, I was able to scan in and piece together the background buildings I wanted and added two more layers (city drawing and city painting). The city was very basic and meant to be seen at a distance. Again, I used the drawing layer whenever I wanted to compare the painting to my original idea. Working with the city painting layer, I knew I wanted some haze in the background to help push the city back a bit. What I ended up doing was painting the background layer black (my initial thought was that the city was underground but I decided to just go with in darkness) and placed another layer between it and the city painting. By doing it this way, I could paint on thin washes of dark colors and experiment with how they changed the image without having to fix the other painted layers if I changed my mind. In addition, as I tried ideas on other layers, I could go back to any number of layers and work to make them fit together, so much flexibility.
After getting further with the buildings and haze layer, I decided I wanted to add light glow to the lighted buildings and lighted highways. I made a new layer over the city adding washes of light colors that matched the lighting of the buildings, letting the other layers to be seen through a filter of glowing color. Of course this effect is achieved best with dark layers behind. Remember, I still had not completely built the full image. Working on the city, I had filled the top half of the image but with large gaps that allowed the black background to show through.
Finally making a decision on the area immediately behind the alien, I created another layer above the glow layer but still behind the alien painting layer. On this layer I painted grass until I partially covered the city background. See how easy it is to build a digital painting without completely designing the image. Yes, you can make changes with physical methods; however, it is not as easy and sometimes you try things that cannot be undone. With the layers I can add or remove ideas without damaging other elements. In addition, I can even play with where layers sit with respect to the overall painting. Compare the above image to other updates and you will see that I have shifted the alien from the center to the left of the image. If this had been a physical painting, I would have been stuck with my first choice or have had to start over from scratch. That would have probably been the end of the painting for me because I usually cannot muster the enthusiasm to start over.
All in all, I am enjoying painting in Gimp for the same reasons that I like using a word processor. I can change and adjust ideas without having to start all over, which frees me up to experiment with composition and tone more than with physical media. I find that this suits my creative methods. I always started with one element and built outward from that, making decisions as I went. Unfortunately, with physical media, the results were nowhere as good as you see now.