Saturday, 5 January 2013

A Timid Toe into the Pool of Pixels

Although I've been painting since I could reach the top of the table:  I'm new to digital art.  Approximately a year ago I bought a $50 stylus from the local Future Shop to see what all the fuss was about.  Now, I take pride in my palette knives, brushes, and the sound my canvas makes after I stretch it; but, I must admit I really like painting on the computer.  There is a fresh newness to exhibitionists zeal--you can make mistakes all day and not have to throw anything out.  Dear lord, you don't have to scrape off $20 of 'artist tested' oil paint just to realign a slight miscalculation because you were cocking your head slightly to the right last Friday.  Er, well, I mean, it is a practical modern medium.

Some of the drawbacks tend to come in the form of appreciation.  The audience expects a little more, has a little less respect for, and seems to not understand the inherent sameness involved with the more traditional mediums.  There is the implicit understanding that digital art is easier and that just about anyone can make a realistic composition because it is on the computer.  If you are one of these people let me be the first to emphatically state:  it is not.  Don't get me wrong there are some benefits...but with the added tools comes the added complications:  there is a lot more to learn and a lot more technical savvy than traditional painting.

So, what I would like to do is go over the first small composition I did with my new $50 stylus using the freeware program GIMP.  GIMP I've come to really like and I am considering it in loo of Photoshop because of my familiarity with it.  My first piece is a concept piece of a knight in a game I've been playing for the last couple of years.  It is loosely based on the Knights Templar...but in a fantasy setting.

At first I went searching for references.  I was looking for armor, swords, tabards and spears; but, since it was just for my own amusement...not to be sold or redistributed...I found a great painting by Zvonimir Grbasic that fit the feel for exactly what I wanted.

I loved the battle weary feel of the knight; but, was more interested in the pose and the need to make it a knight from the game we play.  So, I opened up my program and a picture of the painting and stared at them side-by-side.  I started to sketch the general outline in a light sepia not knowing how or what I would do next.  I was just getting a feel for the pen and the different pressures and speeds I could muster out of it.  I then discovered that you could layer different drawings and colors over-top of the original.  So I could work on different parts, try new things, and not worry about wrecking the whole thing.  Jumping on that cool feature I started playing with light and tones:  fleshing out the plastic form, negative space and a little of the light source.

Now right off the bat we notice I really didn't get the contrapposto of the figure, I elongated the neck thereby shrinking the head and I have his eyes open.  One of those I did on purpose:  I'll let you be the judge.  But I really liked the process, and how it was feeling so I hurried on eager to see just how far I could go.  I knew it was only going to be a sketch or a quick painting but the whole newness of the situation spurred me on.  Gathering my darker umber I muddled on.

I caught the proportion problem and widened the jawline of the figure and continued the tonal study right down to the calves of the figure.  Still unsure, I knew I wanted to introduce light and color but didn't know which was wiser to do first.  I settled on color but have come to the conclusion that is not the best method.  You are effectively painting without direction...its like driving without a can do just don't get anywhere.  Next I started playing with tentative washes of color.  I wanted to keep the colors in a consistent tone so as to not draw attention to any one spot and I could then work the details with more authority.  This is where I started to realize my folly from the onset.

I worked the color into the tones and deciding on a direct (right) yellow light with a strong ambient white light.  I wasn't too concerned because of the nature of the large white negative space...but things look strange if there is no discernible light.  What I started to realize as I wanted to include more detail was that I was at the outer limits of the zooming capability.  The size of the digital brush was literally larger that the lines I wanted to make.  At the beginning I had randomly picked a size for the composition (which turns out to be measured by pixels) and then the program defaults at a DPI (dots per inch: related to how detailed and exacting you can make the prints).  I had made the picture too small!!  It was like I accidentally stretched a 6" x 6" canvas instead of a 6' x 6' canvas.  I couldn't believe it.  Digital art:  the media that you can always go back and correct your mistakes with--I had managed to figure out how to make a mistake I couldn't go back and fix.  Similarly, I couldn't increase the size of the picture without it getting very blurry:  these images are pretty much the extent of the compositions clarity. 

Oh well.  It is really only a sketch, and it taught me a whole lot about what I shouldn't be doing.  I did figure out that I could double up the image by copying it to enhance some of the colors and bold some of the tones--and I really kinda like the painterly quality that the piece ended up with.  So, onward and upward.  Next time I dip my toe in the pixels I'll have bigger water wings.

David Paul Simcox

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