I was talking to someone about art recently after I showing them my newer digital work and they mentioned they felt digital painting was to paraphrase “cheating”. They felt it was too easy. To be fair, I have felt this way myself at times and think a lot about it with the projects I am working on. My main qualm I guess is with photo-manipulation and the use of skin textures over actual painting of the textures.
I have seen some very well done photo-manipulations but I still do not feel they are artwork. They are more of a craft. Yes, there are artistic skills and sensibilities required to make a good manipulation; however, they are not as in-depth as someone who creates the image from scratch not using other people’s work. The skill level is not as high. In my own work, I have used many of the skills of photo-manipulation to arrange and join various elements of my final images, but each of those elements was hand created by me from the initial drawing to the digital painting. The digital paintings I do also do not use any kind of pre-made texture like fur or rock to fill in parts of the image. Each element is handled like a physical painting.
Where I struggle a little with my own work is that there are some techniques I use that could not be done easily in the real world but are very simple in the digital domain. For instance, keeping a foreground element separate from the background so that you can paint the background freely is not so easy in the real world and has damaged the quality of some of my physical artwork. However, in the digital domain it is as simple as two separate layers. Then there is the issue of brushes. Some brushes are actually like stamps such as leaves or plants that can be used to fill in landscapes. For the most part I avoid these brushes but I do make use of another ability of brushes, which is that they can be animated. Yes, this is something you can’t do with a real brush, but I have found it necessary to achieve softer effects because the digital brushes are basically stamps and have no real world shape or characteristics. A digital brush is nothing more than the tip of a real brush as a stamp, even the more complex ones. There is no fulcrum between the fingers and the tip as with a real paint brush so they tend to be more rigid and need animation to add some randomness to their use at times. I liken digital painting to working with color pencils where there is more control as opposed to a paint brush, which takes more technique to manipulate. Not that pencil work does’t have its own challenges but the placement of pigment is much more direct and controlled with a pencil compared to a brush.
So, as you can see, I enjoy the work I have been able to produce using a digital format, but I do question some of my assumptions while creating them. My take; however, is to create and paint as much as I can as if I was painting in the real world. I use stamping style brushes as little as possible or not at all. For the most part I use the round or soft round brush to paint with but lately have been using a pencil-shaded animated sponge brush to achieve some of the effects of a real airbrush since the brush alone would be a stamp. Let me know your thoughts on the subject.
I will admit that I am jealous of artists who can depict sources of light credibly in their artwork. I am not talking about the sun, although this is challenging too, but mechanical forms of light. Light strips, dial illumination, or screens are examples of what I am talking about. Strong sources of light in situations where there are lots of reflections and/or atmospheric effects. I remember many Michael Whelan paintings where the light source had a well-defined shape and yet still depicted the softness associated with the glow most light sources have.
I still work hard to achieve such effects in my paintings. The easiest way of creating a bright light source is to take a light color and surround it with a very dark source. But what do you do when you have a strong enough artificial light source to still be seen in a daylight situation? I haven’t tried that yet, but I have been amazed by artists that can pull off such complex lighting.
I will share one trick that I have learned from using Gimp 2.8. In my painting “Juliette and Josephus” the diffuse halo of light around the sun was achieved by painting the light color of the sun on a transparent layer above all the layers and then using the smudge tool to thin the color. If you looked at the layer with a white background, you would hardly see anything. However, if you put it against a very dark background like I did, you see a soft wash of bright color or a halo around the more solid image of the sun. The contrast brings out the light color. I hope to further explore using light washes on layers over different backgrounds after seeing how well this worked.
There are certain processes I have come to follow when creating a digital painting. First and foremost for me is to draw the individual elements. At one time I would have tried to set them on the same piece of paper and worked with them where they were, not allowing myself the freedom to rethink the layout of the final image. Because I struggled so much to find time to draw or paint, I had a bad habit of giving up on ideas if they did not work out right away. I am now thankful for Gimp allowing me to correct parts of an image without affecting the larger painting, much as word-processor allows a two finger typist to complete a large number of short stories. Another thought on drawing the initial images is that mine are always drawn freehand. Even if I struggle to get the image right, I still use my drawing. It is an integrity issue for me.
Once I have the drawings done, I scan them into the computer as a jpegs. As I have gotten more comfortable using Gimp, I have learned to keep the elements separate until I am ready to place them into the final picture. I take each image and make the drawings sit on a transparent background. Then I create a transparent layer above or below the drawing layer, depending on where I think I will have trouble working on the image. This is where I will paint the actual artwork. In addition, I will add another layer below these, which will become a temporary background that can be changed as needed to better see the painting I am working on.
Next comes the under painting. This is where I just put the basic colors on the image such as skin tone, hair color, or fabric color. I don’t work on details at this point; I just want to completely fill in the areas I intend to work on with their basic colors. After the under painting is done, I will begin the true creation of the individual pieces. The detail work is the longest part of any painting for me.
When I have the parts done as much as I can or want, I will copy them into a larger final image as different layers. I like to keep them in layers until the very end in case I need to adjust their position without affecting anything I have done on the background piece I placed them on. However, there comes a point in most images where I have to combine the layers into one to help with connecting them into one coherent picture. My current habit is to hold off as long as I can. At this point it is all about making adjustments around the parts to make them fit the larger image. Then I tinker with the painting until I am done.
One of the things I am very thankful for in 2016 is Gimp 2.8. Not just the program but the people who created it and gave it away free, the people who improved it without asking for anything, and the people who maid YouTube videos on how to use it. Without them, I would not be sharing the great artwork I have been able to do with Gimp 2.8. I am also thankful for Patreon. Without such a convenient place to seek support and share results, I could not hope to take my creativity from a hobby to a life.
I did not build this myself. All the people making these tools possible made my artwork possible. Without the people who built what I use or the people that support me through being patrons, I would be someone who can really draw well. I hope in the New Year to come that you stop to appreciate all those that make possible all the things that make your survival possible.
P.S. I am thankful to Pandora for the rocking tunes I am listening to now and when I paint.
I just wanted to mention that I added another $5 patronage reward to my page. The post details the struggles and successes I had in creating the cover for the Mystics and Misfits. It also includes my first progression file of the process, starting with the scanned in image and ending with the finished product. I think this would be a helpful post for someone starting out in painting using Gimp 2.8.