Technology tends to breed super-specialists, whether they be database administrators, Flash animators, or Photoshop gurus. Surf around the various digital art forums, and you’ll find they focus on specific areas:
- Matte painting
- Character design
- 3D modeling
- 3D animation
- 2D illustration
- Game design
- Digital photography
An artist tends to hone in on one of these areas, and ignore the rest. The reason for this is obvious: there’s just too much to learn to master more than one or two of these areas. So my goal is to help experts in each area stay aware of what’s available in other disciplines. This blog serves to share with digital artists all the methods available for creating a digital image.
Creating images on the computer is still very new, and the words used to describe what we’re doing is still in flux. For instance, what do the words “digital painting” mean to you? To some, it means creating a work of art from scratch, using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. For others, it could mean creatively applying a series of filters to a photograph. When I started my business, A Work of Art Studio, in 2004, I wasn’t sure how to describe the work I do. Usually, I call it “photo painting.” I bring photographs into Photoshop and Painter, and turn them into works of art. Part of what I do is cloning, which is applying a filter selectively through a cursor, or brush. I also “hand-paint” quite a bit, without relying on filters or cloning at all. I consider myself a digital painter, though I know many people would disagree.
I understand their point of view. To most digital artists, “digital painting” means creating an image from scratch. But I’m way too old to be going back to school (I envy the kids lucky enough to be attending one of the new digital art schools, such as Full Sail). Instead, I’m trying to learn digital painting on my own, from tutorials online, and books. The problem is, there are hardly any books out there about digital painting.
One new entry in this nearly-empty field was released in February, and has the promising title “Digital Painting in Photoshop.” I’m sorry to report that, if you’re looking to learn how to paint (from scratch, that is) in Photoshop, this book won’t help you at all. The problem, I guess, is a lack of agreement about just what “digital painting” is. Here’s what the publisher has to say about the book:
“While the results are highly polished and realistic, this is not a book written specifically for artists. The techniques are aimed squarely at the Photoshop user looking to broaden their pallette, with emphasis on altering photographs to create artwork, rather than creating artwork from scratch.”
Got that? It’s called “Digital Painting,” but it’s not for artists. It’s really another in a long line of Photoshop “cookbook” books. Nothing wrong with that. I like cookbooks on Photoshop. I just wish the title were not so…inaccurate. But let’s just get over that and take a look at the book, shall we?
The main technique here, in a nutshell, is this: apply a filter to a copy of the image, and then selectively reveal the filtered image by painting on a layer mask. If you already know how to do this, don’t bother with this book. However, if this is a new concept to you, then it’s a fine introduction. This same technique, by the way, was written about (and better, I might add) in Tim Shelbourne’s 2005 book Photoshop Photo Effects Cookbook: 61 Easy-to-Follow Recipes for Digital Photographers, Designers, and Artists. Bloom’s book covers pastel, charcoal, pen and ink with aquatint, illustrative styles, watercolor, and oils. Bloom also makes use of some techniques not in Shelbourne’s book, such as the Pattern Stamp Tool and the Art History Brush.
If the book spent a little time explaining a few of the more advanced concepts, such as how layer masks work, I would recommend it unreservedly for those who answer “no” to the question on the back of the book, “Have you ever considered using Photoshop to create fine art?” Instead of 50 pages of large, unhelpful screen shots of every brush shipped with Photoshop, beginners would be better served with a well-written explanation of layer masks and blending modes. The text should reference the figures, to help readers follow along. It seems clear the publisher did not user-test this book, as there are several gaping holes (pages 129-130 and 156, for example).
For its intended audience, it’s a decent, if short, book. Bloom says her book is suited to photographers looking to help differentiate their work from their competition, and I agree. It’s only 250 pages, and basically covers some nice variations on a single technique. Make sure you don’t pay full price, since it’s available for quite a discount at Amazon.
- Book Review: Beyond Digital Photography
- Book Review: 100% Photoshop by Steve Caplin
- Book Review: Digital Art Revolution by Scott Ligon
- Book Review: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers
- Review: Digital Collage and Painting, by Susan Ruddick Bloom
- Beginning Digital Painting with Photoshop
- Book Review: 3D Game Textures by Luke Ahearn