Karen Sperling has released a new book, “Painting for Photographers,” designed to help photographers release their inner artist. She sums it up this way in the book’s introduction: “If you think you can create paintings from your photos, you probably can!” And who would know better than Sperling? She’s been part of Painter since it was first introduced in 1991, and wrote the first few manuals for Painter, back when it was called Fractal Painter. In this, her fourth Painter book, Sperling broadens her reach to encompass painting with Photoshop, as well. For digital photographers–or anyone looking to create art digitally from photographs–this book is a great place to start.
The book is packed with information, but never forgets who its intended audience is: beginners. It’s what I call a workshop book, and it’s very much learn by doing. Each exercise is explained in detail, showing you exactly which brushes to use, what settings to use, so that you are led by the hand as in a well-run workshop. There isn’t a lot of fluff here, as in many computer books. It’s all meat and potatoes. Though I’ve been using Corel Painter almost daily in my business for almost five years, I still learned a lot from this book. Sperling really knows Painter.
After explaining how to choose a good candidate photograph to paint, Sperling moves on to some basic art concepts for those who have never been to art school. This is an introduction to color theory and composition as it relates to painting from a photograph. Next you’ll learn how to create a center of focus in your painting, by controlling value and level of detail. As Sperling points out, photographers have a hard time letting go of details, but it is just those details that scream “Photograph!” The quick intro to art theory winds up with some good tips about painting facial features, and a two-page introduction to some of history’s greatest painters.
The second section, called Painting Tools, gives the reader a good solid understanding of Painter, Photoshop, and the Wacom Tablet. I agree with Sperling, that a tablet is a necessity for painting, and I applaud her for making no bones about it here. If you’ve found the Painter interface overwhelming, I think you’ll find Sperling’s introduction very helpful. She explains what brushes are, how to use and adjust them, how to create your custom variants, how to create a custom palette, and auto-painting, all in brief two-page spread. It’s really amazing how much information is presented here, and yet it never seems too much. Next, the mysteries of cloning are revealed, followed by a topic Photoshop painters will find particularly interesting: how to create your own custom brush shapes. Photoshop painters have long known the advantages of creating custom brushes to speed painting. Sperling shows how you can do the same thing in Painter. Gradients and the Image Hose are two other tools that seem, at first, confusing. Sperling explains these, and other mysteries, quickly and concisely. Other topics in this section include color, layers, layer masks, creating custom paper texture, and working with texture.
Next comes the Photoshop section, where Sperling goes over “the main Photoshop features you need to know for painting photos.” These include the Magnetic Lasso for selection (I prefer the Quick Mask myself, but to each her own), Smart Blur, and Layer Masks. Section Two ends up with an introduction to Wacom Tablets, with some useful tips.
Sections 3 through 5 are the workshops: Portraits, Landscapes, and Pets. Each chapter covers a different way of using Painter, to achieve certain affects, from Impressionistic to Photorealistic, watercolor to oils. Sperling paints mostly “by hand,” meaning she doesn’t simply clone in the original photo and call it a painting. She’ll show you how to create a color scheme using layers, and how to create color harmonies (topics introduced in the beginning). For beginners, this is daring stuff, because it is really and truly painting, though with a tracing underneath for guidance. Obviously, Sperling believes in diving in and giving it your all, and damn the torpedoes. I expected this book to have some nice, safe cookie-cutter recipes for modifying photos. Instead, it pulls out the stops. Hopefully beginners won’t be easily frustrated by their early efforts. After all, as Sperling explains up front, learning to paint takes practice: the more you paint, the better you get.
“Painting for Photographers” has a final chapter devoted to embellishing the printed painting. I know a lot of my readers will find this chapter helpful. Methods for applying both acrylics and oils are explained here.
The book is available right now for download here, and will be available in printed form sometime in September. If you’re ready to dive into Painter (and Photoshop), this is the place to start! Happy painting!
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