13 November 2015

Technology In The Studio

Green Fields - Digital Painting

I have mentioned many times that I have always practiced both photography and painting since I was a child. I had a long period of time where I wasn't practicing either much, but then came back to photography and earned my reputation creating pictorialist styled digital photographs. Achieving the results I did often involved incorporating painted elements into my work, usually just as backgrounds or textures. But this digital work put the paint brush back into my hands and it wasn't long before I wanted to create more than just abstract paintings for use in my photography. I wanted to try to create my photographs in paint. 

While not all my paintings are based on my photographs, many of them are. Technologies use starts in the studio where I have a laptop and large tv that can I display the images on. Well, really the technology starts with using a digital camera to capture reference material. Camera and laptop are pretty common in many artists studios today. But the use of computer technology certainly doesn't stop there. 

My iPhone is also usually with me in the studio or in my pocket if I'm out plein air painting. Most photo apps have the ability to convert an image to black and white which is valuable for studying values. One of my favourite apps, especially for plein air work, is Value Viewer by Mark Putnam. This app allows you to display a black and white version of the image, but you can also convert it to a two value (notan) or three value (levels) version. Included is a crop tool where you can input your canvas size, and compositional guides. 

Redpolls In Winter - 11x14" - Oil on birch - From photo of the same name.
The use of technology goes well beyond that. Earlier in my photography days, I had bought Corel's Painter program - a sophisticated digital painting program - but I never really figured out how to use it. It was a complicated little program, and I eventually gave up. Then along comes all these mini-computers (iPhones, iPads, and the equivalents) and their apps. After watching a lady sit through a meeting sketching on her iPad I knew I had to give this digital painting another go. But still I couldn't really grasp the concept. It just seemed quicker and easier to do it by hand than try to draw so small using my big clumsy fingers. The other problem was the results always looked so fake. Sure, I'd seen other digital paintings posted online that looked quite amazing, but my results were never anything like that.

When I saw a friend mention signing up for a digital painting course, my interest was piqued. I looked up the course and loved what I saw, so signed up. The digital painting Green Fields above was one of my homework assignments. Slowly I'm getting it!

Am I going to replace my brushes with the stylus and go digital? Not likely. But taking the time to learn how to do a digital painting is going to pay off in the studio. I can use the technology to do quick sketches, or even a study painting to work out composition, values, colours, etc. It's not really any quicker to do it digitally. In fact it takes me way longer to create a digital painting than an oil one, but the benefit lies in the easy adjustment and manipulations (and the lack of clean up). It also lies in the portability of it.

We all know the artists mind never quits thinking about painting. While at that meeting or the doctors office, or other places you wouldn't be able to haul your paints out, you can work digitally on your phone or tablet.

Have a painting you are struggling with, or an element you can't quite resolve? Take a photo on your phone and bring it into one of the many excellent apps available for mobile devices. You can create a new layer and paint over top of your existing painting to work out the problem, then return to the studio with a solid plan to fix whatever was bugging you.

I did just that with the painting above, Redpolls In Winter. I was following the photo too closely, but it lacked the details to convincingly portray the turn of the left birds head. It looks strange. I'd scraped it out and repainted it a couple times, but still couldn't resolve the issue. So finally I took a photo and opened up my painting app and worked out the issue there. If I'd created a digital sketch before I'd started I wouldn't have had this struggle to begin with.

Redpolls In Winter - Digital painting to resolve bird.

This morning I'll head back to the studio and repaint that bird, with a plan on how to make his head turn in a more convincing manner.  Then it will be back to my digital painting course homework. 

Before incorporating digital technology into my painting process, I probably would have continued to struggle with the bird painting and eventually would have just given up on it, and put it into the "nice try, but not good enough" pile to be destroyed somewhere down the road. There are probably some traditionalists who will view incorporating technology like this into your work as a form of cheating. They are probably the same people who said digital photography was cheating and not real when that technology was just starting out. 

For them I say this: the painters of yesterday frowned up the use of the camera obscura, just the same as every new invention throughout history has been viewed with suspicion and disdain. The technology is here to stay and there will likely be some who misuse it and others that embrace it for the true potential it contains. All of the uses I have outlined can be accomplished with pen and paper, or brush and canvas, so it's really up to the artist to decide if the technology has value for them or not. Because I already do a lot of digital image work with my photography, it seems reasonable to use the technology to advance my painting skills.