Digital Art Revolution is a Photoshop book written for traditional media artists who want to begin using Photoshop. Unlike most of the three bazillion Photoshop books out there, it’s not written for photographers. Actually, it’s kind of hard to describe just how different this book is. It’s not industry specific (gaming, commercial illustration, film, etc.); rather, it’s audience is pretty much anyone who wants to create images. Starting with basic design principles, the book delivers a thorough introduction to Photoshop. Absolute beginners may find the book moves a bit too fast, but I’m not sure. It’s hard for me to evaluate that, since I know Photoshop quite well. On the other hand, the writing is clear and concise, the illustrations and screen shots are helpful and large enough to see, and it just may be the best introduction to Photoshop ever written. It’s a big book (250 pages, 11×8.5″), but it’s still amazing how much information it manages to cover.
First-time author Scott Ligon is a frequent lecturer, digital artist, and director. He is the coordinator for the digital foundation curriculum at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he teaches art. The author’s fine art background and orientation lend a fresh and exciting flavor to the book. The work of 44 artists is showcased throughout, but the examples here are not the usual commercial digital fare flooding the internet. This isn’t another Photoshop eye candy book filled with speed paintings, vampires, and gun-toting, barely-clothed buxom babes. And that’s a good thing. If you spend much time (as I do) browsing the work on Deviant Art and such sites, you start to see how much artists are mimicking each other. Ligon encourages us to bring forth our own unique vision, rather than trying to copy what’s popular or trendy. According to Ligon, this is the beginning of the Golden Age of Digital Art, and everything is possible. “Take advantage of this time when anything can happen,” he says. “There are vast areas of possibility that have never been explored. It might as well be you who explores some of them.”
I hope that introduction gives you a feel for where this book is coming from, and how different it is. Here’s a breakdown, chapter by chapter, of what’s in the book.
The book begins with “Welcome to the Revolution,” an extremely eloquent and intelligent introduction to just what digital art is, and how it is a huge leap forward in the ongoing history of art. Ligon: “Digital technology offers the single, greatest advancement in the possibilities inherent in art-making since, well, art-making began.” It isn’t that the tools are new and cool: it’s that they enable us to do things that weren’t possible before. (I wrote a similar, less-elegant piece here, mostly in defense of 3D art.)
Chapter One – Understanding the Visual Language is, as Ligon admits, a “crash course” on the principles of visual communication. These are the elements of design and composition (line, shape, value, balance, repetition, etc.).
Chapter Two – Meet Photoshop gets you grounded in the basics, from opening a file to learning what a pixel is, to file types, color modes, and the Photoshop GUI (graphical user interface).
Chapter Three – Photo Basics introduces you to photo editing in Photoshop: selecting, cropping, color and contrast adjustment, blurring, brushes, the spot healing brush, the clone stamp, the Liquify filter, and the patch tool. That’s a lot! Katrin Eismann has written two whole books on these topics, so obviously you’ll only learn so much from a single chapter. Still, the amount of material covered here – and covered well – is impressive. It’s a great introduction. There’s nothing more intimidating sometimes than a 1200-page doorstop with a title like “The Big Humongous Uber-Bible of Photoshop CS5.” For beginners, this is the way to begin.
Chapter Four – Compositing: The Illusion of Reality dives right into creating an image composed of a large group of photographs, combined to give the illusion of a real scene. (A scene full of zombies, by the way, which may make up for the lack of vampires mentioned earlier.) The next section shows how to use the Vanishing Point filter to place a mural on a wall, and how to use the transform tools to modify perspective.
Now that the basic Photoshop material is out of the way, it’s time to make some art! (There are exercises included in the chapters preceding this, but so far the emphasis has been on mechanics. The remainder of the book is much more hands-on.) Chapter Five – Expressive Nonrealistic Photo Art is about creating images that evoke feelings without concern for being photographically realistic. Ligon creates a composite image, and explains his thinking every step of the way. This makes a good transition from the “tool” chapters into the “art” chapters, showing the tools put to use. The chapter ends with a project Ligon assigns his students.
Chapter Six – Painting with Pixels is about digital painting with Photoshop’s brushes. First, you’ll learn how brushes work and how to modify them. Next comes controlling the color panels. Last is a demonstration showing how to adapt digital tools to Renaissance methods, with a sepia tone underpainting.
Chapter Seven-Painting with Shapes shows how to use selections as shapes, how to fill them with the gradient tool, and combine shapes into a composition. Again, it’s very helpful to follow along with Ligon, to understand the decisions and problem-solving that goes on. Next, learn about the Pattern Stamp tool, vector modes, tools, paths and layers, and the infamous Pen tool.
Chapter Eight-Mixing Paint, Photos, and Everything Else is about bringing objects from the real world into your images, via scanner and camera. Ligon has left discussion of the Filters till now, when you’re ready to use them as a tool, not an image-making device.
Chapter Nine-Finding Your Own Voice is like having coffee with a wise mentor, talking about how to develop your work, find a style, and what you want to say. It’s a chapter to spend quiet time with, reflecting, and coming back to now and again.
Chapter Ten-Into the Real World is about the various ways of sharing your work with the world, via print, monitors, galleries, and others.
Also, there’s a demonstration showing how to start with a real-world pencil sketch, and end bring into the digital realm for painting. The chapter concludes with a look at how some artists combine their digital work with real world materials, such as encaustic medium and varnish, or found objects and containers.
This book surprised me. I honestly did not think that the academic world had “gotten” digital yet, and that maybe they never would. I’m glad to see I was wrong. This is an excellent book, especially for those just beginning their Photoshop journey. For all artists, there’s plenty of food for thought here, about process, method, and technique, especially when working digitally. If you want to stop copying the ideas of others, but don’t know how to start creating your own work, this book is a wonderful guide.
You can read excerpts from the book on Scott Ligon’s website. Additionally, the publisher has provided this little viewer, to page through the book:
And lastly, here’s Scott Ligon’s YouTube promotional video.
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