In this review, we’ll take a look at the new book from Cher Threinen-Pendarvis (author of the popular Painter Wow series) and co-author Donal Jolley. It’s called “Beyond Digital Photography – Transforming Photos into Fine Art with Photoshop and Painter.” In the Introduction, the authors state, “This is not a quick trick book, but a book where the authors take the reader by the hand and demonstrate the creative process in a conversational manner.” This is a fair description, with the added caveat: this book is NOT for beginners. The intended audience seems to be artists who are intermediate to advanced Photoshop and Painter users.
This beyond-the-basics focus allows the book to cover ground not explored in other books on either Photoshop or Painter. These two programs really complement each other, so it’s wonderful to finally have an in-depth book showing how Painter and Photoshop can be used together. Here’s a detailed summary of the book, to help you decide whether or not this book is for you.
Chapter 1 – Getting Started
The chapter provides an introduction to the interfaces of Painter and Photoshop, as well as the Wacom Intuos 4. This seems odd, since this is not a beginner’s book. Beginning with this chapter and continuing throughout, however, there is some good information about Photoshop Camera Raw. As the book’s title implies, each exercise begins with a digital photograph. Most chapters show how to use Photoshop Camera Raw prior to painting. As you’ll see, it’s very powerful, and you’ll want to include it into your workflow, if you haven’t already.
Chapter 2 – Painterly Techniques for Non-Painters
This chapter, the longest in the book, is all about how to achieve good “uncomputerish” results with filters and automation. It’s also your first look at a workflow that moves back and forth between Photoshop and Painter. Each section begins with the artist’s thoughts on the subject and style at hand, along with details of the initial photography. You’ll learn sophisticated use of multiple filters, combining effects via layers, layer masks, and blend modes. Similarly, Painter’s Auto-Painting and Woodcut tools use multiple layers to add extra finesse to the process. Sections in this chapter include:
- Creating Pop Art (Photoshop and Painter)
- Using Filters for an Impressionist Watercolor Look (Photoshop)
- Flexible Auto-Painting for an Impressionist Treatment (Photoshop and Painter)
- Simplifying a Photograph to Achieve a Hand-Rendered Result (Photoshop and Painter)
- Using Filters for a Realist-Style Oil Treatment (Photoshop)
- Creating a Bold, Graphic Woodcut Look (Photoshop and Painter)
Chapter 3 – Emphasizing the Subject
One way to help your subject stand out is by blurring or softening the background. You’ll see how to do this in Photoshop using a mask to selectively blur parts of the image, and in Painter by using the Restoration palette to bring back details after blending. This is followed by sidebars:
- Nondestructive Dodging and Burning – how to use an Opacity layer darken and lighten portions of an image
- Enhancing the Subject Using Saturation – copy part of an image to a separate layer to selectively apply an adjustment layer
- Sepia-toning a Background – similar to the previous step, but this time using the colorize option of Hue/Saturation
Chapter 4 – Adding Texture to Photographs
Composition and design are discussed throughout the book. Here, though, it gets special attention as you follow the artist through her thought process for cropping and retouching a complex snapshot, making it simpler and compelling. Then you’ll dive into Photoshop’s powerful Art History brush. Different brushes are used in combination with layer masking to move beyond a mechanical, computerized look.
Next, in Painter you’ll learn about Dry Media and texture, as Cher paints one of her signature pastels (the image on the book cover, in fact). The final part gives you an approach to a black and white charcoal look.
Chapter 5 – Emulating the Look of Watercolor
This chapter (my personal favorite) shows two completely different ways to create the unmistakable look of traditional watercolor on paper. In part one, Cher shows how to edit for composition in Photoshop. Then, she moves into Painter to use the Smart Blur and Hue and Saturation tools built into the Underpainting palette. She lowers the detail and raises the image to a higher key, making it more suitable to the watercolor style she is about to use. Cher then gives a very good explanation of how Painter’s Digital Watercolors work. The end result is just stunning. The second part has Donal Jolley using Photoshop alone to create a convincing hard-edged watercolor portrait. His main tool here is the Pattern Stamp with, of all things, a modified Dry Media brush. He gets a neat salt-resist effect by clever use of a layer mask, and finishes up with applying an Overlay layer containing a scan of an actual watercolor.
Chapter 6 – Achieving Acrylic and Oil-Painted Looks
Cher begins the chapter with a great demonstration of Painter’s Real Bristle Brushes. She paints a beautful late afternoon seascape with fluffy cumulus clouds sailing overhead. She then takes on oil painting using the Old Master chiaroscuro technique, using Painter’s Artist’s Oils. The third part is another favorite, this time by Donal Jolley. In Photoshop, he uses a separate layer each for large, medium, and detail strokes. The usual approach would be to use different size brushes all on a single layer. But by this point in the book you’re beginning to see the special advantages–and the added control–to using multiple layers. What I especially liked was how the three layers start out as blank (transparent). Paint is “pulled up” from a base layer, much the way cloning works in Painter. This works by use of the “Sample All Layers” checkbox. Very cool stuff. Jolley also explains the importance of noise for this technique, and a sidebar shows various ways to (excuse the pun) make noise. In the fourth part, Cher paints a virtuoso oil painting using Artist Oils. The conversational tone makes it seem like you’re at a workshop, listening as the artist explains what she’s doing–and why.
Chapter 7 – Creating Abstract Art from Photographs
As the intro to this chapter says, this chapter is about painting “in a simple, yet powerful way.” It’s time to loosen up and stop worrying about staying within the lines. The first project is a close-up large scale floral in bright colors, done in Photoshop. You’ll use layers to create loose lines and bold shapes of color. This might be a fun project to do as a warming-up exercise. The second project is another sky painting, but with a difference. This time, Cher is more interested in capturing “movement and emotion,” using Real Bristle brushes and even a Watercolor brush to evoke sheets of rain.
Chapter 8 – Compositing and Collaging
In this chapter, you’ll watch as these two master artists assemble compositions from multiple photographs. Donal Jolley takes the first part, showing how he pieces together a complex of layers and masks to create a “simulation of reality.” Eight images are used for this project! In the second part, Cher’s project emphasizes strong, simple composition, beginning with a sketch to plan her piece. This project uses scans of paper texture combined with photographs. The collage is painted with chalks and pastels in Painter.
If you work with Painter and Photoshop, and you feel comfortable working with layers and layer masks, then you’re probably ready for this book. You’ll learn a lot about workflow and process when using these two programs together. The projects in this book are substantial, challenging, and exciting. Even if you’re very familiar with these programs, you’re still bound to learn a lot (I know I did!). Highly recommended.
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