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Season’s Greetings – A Video


Every so often, I like to record a high speed ‘how it’s made’ video for a cartoon or a painting. I’d love to do more of these, but they’re time consuming.

With the over-the-shoulder view, the kind most people want to see, I used my Canon DSLR on a tripod for the best result. The challenge is that it needs to be close enough to capture the pen on the display, but back far enough so that I don’t bump into it with my shoulder or chair.

I’ve been drawing on Wacom tablets and displays for almost twenty years, so a lot of it is muscle memory. I go through the motions without thinking about the technology. As any artist in any medium can attest, once you’ve been using them for any length of time, the tools become extensions of your hands and arms. You think about the image you’re creating, not about the tools you’re using.

When I record the process, however, the tools are front of mind, which means the cartoon or painting takes longer. There’s really no flow to it and the process feels clunky.

When I’m painting, I can go for an hour without thinking about much else. When recording, I have to stop the camera after about ten minutes. Software is hardly perfect and by recording multiple short segments, it wouldn’t matter too much if I lost one. If I recorded all of it at once, however, that one file becomes a lot more precious.

I don’t record every brush stroke because it would be incredibly boring. I record ten minutes, shut the camera off, draw or paint for ten or twenty more minutes, then record again. There needs to be a big enough change between segments to keep the viewer’s interest.

Once I have enough from the camera, then I’ll often record some screen capture.  It’s no longer the display itself, but software in my computer recording what is happening on the screen. This doesn’t work all that well for painting detailed hair and fur because the cursor, brush and detail is so small, that it’s barely discernible to the viewer.

And again, incredibly boring.

Once I have all of the files recorded, from the camera and computer, I’ll bring them into my video editing software.

How I decided on the length of the video was the music I used as accompaniment. That isn’t always the case, but usual for cartoon videos. I can shorten visual segments, change the playback speed, and more easily mess with the footage than I can with the audio. This Christmas tune is around two minutes, which is a good length for a Youtube video, since our attention spans keep getting shorter.

I didn’t record the whole sketching process because I knew I’d have to mess about with the poses to get all three characters in, plus the talk bubbles.  That’s why you can see my tracing over my own sketch. While that would no doubt be of interest to the beginner or student, not so much for the average viewer.

These videos, it’s all about compromise for content.

For those interested in the tech part, I draw almost exclusively in Photoshop on a Wacom Cintiq 24HD. This recording, however, was done on a Wacom Cintiq 16 display, as they sent me one in August. I put it through its paces while painting my White/Amur Tiger video.

It’s a nice display and I enjoy drawing with it, so that’s why I chose it again for this video.

For recording and editing, I use Camtasia Studio 8. It’s a simple interface that gives me what I need without complicating things. I’ve been using this software for many years and it gets the job done.

While this video added an extra few unpaid work hours to my Sunday morning, I created it to give my newspaper clients some added bonus content for their websites and social media feeds. In any business, you’ll rarely go wrong by offering added value from time to time.

As always, feel free to share it, along with any of my other work.


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Tiger Trouble

It used to be that the happy afterglow of finishing a painting would last a day or two. These days, it’s usually a couple of hours, and then I’m thinking about the next piece.

On my latest white tiger painting, this piece felt ruined almost immediately after it was done. I found out some information about white tigers that changed everything about the painting.

The worst part was that I had recorded the process for Wacom. When you factor in camera setup, changing my office around, my painting routine,  writing and recording the narration, editing, all of that work on the painting, plus the time on the video, it all seemed about to be wasted.

Thankfully, my friend Pam at Wacom is great to work with, is very supportive and has an open mind. I offered to do another painting from scratch, but we decided to turn the whole situation into a teaching moment about art, ethics, and wildlife conservation.  Then my wife, Shonna offered a suggestion that allowed me to salvage the painting and turn it into something else.

The following video link not only shows my painting technique, the new Wacom Cintiq 16 display (which was a joy to work with) but explains the problem with white tigers and the solution that allowed me to save the painting.


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Working with Wacom

In the late nineties, when I first started to create art professionally, I had primarily drawn in pencil or pen on paper. Up until my first editorial cartoons for a local newspaper, I had never considered art as anything more than a hobby.

I had played around with some art on a computer from time to time, but only using a mouse. If you’ve never done that, it can be a rather frustrating experience, especially when you try to include any detail.

Digital drawing tablets were in their infancy, but I knew I wanted one. My ever-supportive parents bought me my first one as a gift. It was the first generation Wacom Intuos tablet, quite small, with a working surface of just 4 X 5 inches.

I thought it was one of the coolest things I ever owned. I’ve been drawing and painting on a computer ever since.

The technology was so new then, that you had to explain it to people. The worst part was that as soon as you said you worked on the computer, people figured that the computer was doing all of the work. It certainly didn’t help that one of the most popular and widespread pieces of art software on the planet was (and still is) Adobe Photoshop.

So not only was the computer doing all of the work, but all a digital artist was doing was changing a photo. I can’t count how many times I heard that stated with authority.

I’ve spent over half of my career explaining to people that digital drawing and painting is just as much of an art medium as oil, acrylic or watercolour. These days, the stigma surrounding digital art is largely gone and people realize that it’s more than just pushing a button or applying a filter. There are countless skilled artists around the world now creating digitally, each an ambassador for the medium.

One of the pillars of my two decade career has been that I’ve always worked on a Wacom tablet or display. They were the only name in digital art tools when I first started and they’ve remained the industry standard for quality and innovation. Whenever I’ve replaced one, it has been to take advantage of something new they’ve come up with that would make my work more enjoyable or efficient, never because it broke or stopped working.

 I still have a backup Intuos 5 tablet in my closet; ready as a substitute should my Cintiq 24HD display ever stop working. It’s like an insurance policy, but one I never really expect to use. I would never want to be without a Wacom device.

Even today, with advances in mobile drawing technology, I only use my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil for practice pieces and sketches. All of my finished work is done on my Wacom Cintiq.

In 2010 at the Photoshop World Conference, my funny looking animal paintings were still pretty new and I was thrilled to win the Guru Award for the Illustration category AND the Best in Show Award. In a strange twist of fate that would change the course of my career, the emcee of the event, Larry Becker, misspoke and said that the top prize was a Wacom Cintiq 12wx display.

I was pretty excited about that since it was Wacom’s first crack at a portable drawing display on an actual screen.

When I went to the Wacom booth at the Expo to claim my prizes, I was told that the 12WX wasn’t actually one of them. I was disappointed but I understood that mistakes happen and wasn’t going to hold them to it. But Wacom being who they are and Larry Becker being a class act, they made good on the slip and sent me the display shortly after the conference.

As great as that was, however, the best part was that I met Pam Park.

In every career, there are people who show up to mentor, encourage and give you the right push or connections when you need it. I’ve been fortunate to have some great support over the years from some special people, without whom I believe my work and life would be significantly diminished.

I loathe the phrase, “it’s not personal, it’s just business,” because it’s most often a cop-out people use for bad behaviour.

We don’t really have relationships with companies; we have them with people, so it’s always personal.

From that first meeting with Pam at Photoshop World in 2010, I then became acquainted with two others at Wacom, Joe and Wes. Over the next five years, the three of them hired me to do webinars for them, inspirational videos for new products, blog posts and I even represented the company at a training seminar in Calgary in 2011.For one demo I did for them, the subject of the painting was Pam’s dog, Brisby, seen above.

On one visit to the Banff High School in 2014, to talk about and demonstrate digital art, Wacom generously donated a number of tablets to their new media program that I was thrilled to deliver personally.
At Photoshop World, I would give presentations at their booth; one of those rare cases where doing it for the exposure was well worth my time. Being associated with Wacom has always been good for my career and professional credibility.
As the saying goes, however, all good things must come to an end. At one point, they had wanted to hire me to come down to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and work at their booth. Being Canadian, I realized I couldn’t go without a work visa and there just wasn’t time to get one. A few years ago, as my friends at Wacom moved to other positions and one left the company, the opportunities for me to work with them fell off.

A new person in marketing took things in a different direction and I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d had a great experience for quite a few years with Wacom, but that it had run its course with no hard feelings. It sure was fun while it lasted. The only regret was that I lost touch with those people who made it happen and who had such a positive impact on my career.

Then out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I got a personal email from Pam, checking in to say Hi. It was great to hear from her and in the course of catching up, she mentioned that she was back in a marketing and promotional position with Wacom and if I ever wanted to work with them again, they’d be happy to have me.

I had to give that some serious thought, for about a millisecond.

Considering the wealth of talent they have representing their products these days, it was a real honour to be asked once again to add my voice to the chorus.

After some back and forth catching up, Pam told me she was sending me the new Wacom Cintiq 16. I’ll be putting it through its paces, doing some painting on it and recording some videos for Wacom, the first of who knows how many in the near future. It’ll be a nice replacement for my Cintiq 13HD, which for the record, still works just fine.

The Cintiq 16 arrived by UPS before I was finished writing this post, and I realized that the feeling of receiving a new piece of Wacom tech, it just never gets old. In fact, I’m probably more excited about this display than I was at receiving my very first tablet twenty years ago.

Because now I know what I can do with it.


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Burrowing Owl – iPad Painting

This little guy was painted on the iPad Pro in the Procreate app using an Apple Pencil. I took the reference for this painting while visiting the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre in June. For their small size, they certainly do cop an attitude. But then again, my perception of expression and personality in the animals I encounter just might be a little skewed toward the comical and caricature.

Burrowing owls are an endangered species in Canada and there are a number of conservation groups working to protect them, including the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation and The Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, both of which I’m proud to support.

From the latter’s website…“Offspring from our Burrowing Owl breeding program have been released in all four western provinces.”

While my more finished work is painted in Photoshop on my Wacom Cintiq display, I’ll often sketch or begin a painting on the iPad Pro, using an Apple Pencil and the Procreate app. The advances in both hardware and software in recent years has come so far that the portable device experience now far exceeds the desktop painting I was able to do when I was first starting out.

Having been a digital artist for the past twenty years, I’m very comfortable with the desktop tools I’ve been using. I’ve been forcing myself to draw more with the iPad Pro and Procreate lately because I feel there’s a lot of room to improve my painting skills using the portable tools. The more time I spend working with these tools, the greater the detail and painting quality I’m able to achieve, which only makes sense. It’s also nice to be able to take them with me when I want to work at the tattoo shop, or draw at the cabin or on vacation.

An impressive feature of the Procreate app on the iPad Pro is that it will record every brush stroke you make, allowing you to play it back at high speed to see an image from start to finish. While I edited this one myself, the video below gives you a look at the progress behind the painting.


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Painting Choices and Challenges

I’m currently working on a portrait of Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield.  The reference that I’m using is from a Youtube video, so even in web HD, the quality isn’t great.  I’m used to working with poor quality reference from time to time, and it’s actually a good thing when it comes to portraits, as long as the quality isn’t too bad.  If the quality were perfect, I might rely too much on the photo and there wouldn’t be enough art in it, just replication.

A common practice in painting from photos is using the grid method.  The short explanation is that you divide your reference photo into grids, then you divide your canvas into equally proportioned grids.  This helps a person establish where the major landmarks fall on the reference photo and suggests that those same landmarks should fall in the same place on the canvas grid.  Here’s a very basic explanation of The Gridding Method if mine doesn’t do a decent job of it.

Norman Rockwell, Leonardo da Vinci and many other artists of note would use the grid method in their work.  Some artists consider it cheating, but then again, I’ve met artists who say I’m not a real artist because I sell my work commercially.  Art for a living is not a profession for anybody with thin skin and there is often no harsher critic than another artist.  I don’t have the rare skill to paint a person’s likeness from memory, so I need photo reference, as do most portrait artists.  My take on the grid method is that it is a tool that has its place, but I wouldn’t rely on it completely.  Photoshop has the ability to apply grids in any configuration over your image.  It’s under Preferences > Guides, Grids, and Slices.  When I do use it, I choose percentages, but you can choose more precise methods of measurement as well.  7 percent is pretty small, but you’ll see why I chose that at the end of the post.

Preferences I never use the grid at all when I’m painting my Totem paintings because they’re not supposed to look like the reference photos.  Nor would I use grids when doing caricature work, because exact proportions would defeat the whole purpose.

Just to prove that I can paint without the grid method, this is a portrait of James Whitmore that I did on the iPad, where grids weren’t possible.  I had a photo, the iPad, and nothing but time.  It did take quite awhile, and a big challenge was the low resolution possible with the first gen iPad,  but I’m pleased with the likeness I was able to achieve.

James Whitmore - iPad painting

I try to only use the grid method when I’m stuck on something in a realistic portrait of a person or know that something is wrong and just can’t quite see it.  For example, when I’m working on a likeness of a person, I may know that there’s something wrong with the eyes, but can’t figure it out.  I’ll flip the canvas horizontally, vertically, try all of my tricks and still be stuck.  By using the grids, I’ll see that it could be something as simple as the corner of the eye is in the wrong place or the iris doesn’t have the correct curve.  I only use the grids when a painting is in the middle stages.  Once the likeness is there, I don’t use them anymore, because I find that relying on it too much makes the subject of a portrait look wooden.  I pride myself in the personality and life in my images and that doesn’t come from accurate placement of features, but from artistic impression of the subject.  This is also the reason I paint people that inspire me or characters I feel a connection with, because that helps me with the feeling of the work.  Having the tools is easy, knowing when to use them comes from experience.

Here’s a challenge I faced this morning on the current painting of Chris Hadfield.  In the reference image I’m using, his mission patch is clearly visible on his shirt.  Because I’m trying to capture a moment, I want to include that in the painting.  I went back and forth on how to do it.  That mission patch is readily available online in pristine condition, just as the designer would have finished it.  One way to do it was just paste the perfect image in position, use the distort and warp tools, maybe rough it up a bit with a texture brush, add a little blur and it’s done, quick and easy.  Another way I could do it, was do a vector trace of the graphic, basically just using the pen tool, trace over the coloured elements, convert them to paths, fill with colour, distort, warp, place, texture, blur, done.

So why didn’t I do either of those?  With a logo in an editorial cartoon, I do that all the time, and I’m fine with it.  Usually on a tight deadline, it’s a satirical commentary, and an accurate logo that I’ve recreated with the pen tool by tracing over it is something I’m comfortable doing because of the context.  It’s part of the job and spending 20 hours on each editorial cartoon would be career suicide.  With the painting, however,  it felt like cheating.  To somebody else, it might not have, and that’s OK.  Everybody needs to make their own choices.  I just know that had I done either of those,  I’d finish the painting, would probably like the end result, but every time I look at that patch, it’s going to bother me.


So I decided that for the patch, I would use the grid method to help with the accuracy of the pieces in the patch, but paint it as I see it in the reference image.  It’s going to take me quite awhile longer to paint the patch, but I’ll be happier with it in the end.  As you can see from the above reference image on the left and painting on the right, I’ve got a long way to go to get it right, but it’s not like it’s wasted time because I’m still learning from every painting I do.  In the end, I’ll be happier with the painting, so it’s time well spent.

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Survey Says!

Preparing for the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April is proving to be an exercise in anxiety.  I already know that my work sells well in the right venues.  I’ve had my Totem prints in four different galleries and retail outlets and while some are better than others, the response has been quite favorable.  Five of the designs are currently licensed to The Mountain and I’m always working on a commission piece for somebody.  While confidence in the work is usually one difficulty faced by newbies to Cons and Expos, that’s not the problem I’m facing.  Even if my work isn’t popular with the crowd that shows up to the Calgary Expo, I’ll still be OK with the work, and just know that it wasn’t the right venue.  I’m not even uncomfortable running the booth, talking to people, or selling, which is something else artists often have difficulty with.  For many years, I worked in the tourism and retail industries,  I ran Wacom‘s booth on my own for a full day at a training seminar, worked a trade show booth on my own up at Fort McMurray for a Banff hotel I used to work for, and have done live painting and training demos quite a few times in the last four or five years.  While public speaking scares a lot of people, it’s honestly not a problem for me.  In fact, the trick is getting me to shut up.

Where the challenge lies is knowing how to stock my booth.  I could spend many thousands of dollars selling everything from cartoon prints, illustrations, paintings, portraits, cards, prints, t-shirts, posters, canvas…it’s  a long list of possibilities.  The key to a successful booth it would seem, is focus.  And, of course, not overextending myself.  I’ve got three full days to sell merchandise at an event that has become so big that with 600 vendors and artists, and 50,000+ attending, there are a lot of things to consider.  I already know that I’m just going to focus on my Totem paintings, for the sake of continuity.  But I don’t want to run out of stock on Saturday morning, nor do I want to be packing up a lot to bring home on Sunday afternoon.

There’s a lot of advice online from people who attend expos like this, telling artists to balance ‘fan art’ with their own work.  Use the fan art to get people to your booth.  That doesn’t work for me.  Fan art is basically just copying somebody else’s popular characters and selling them.  While illegal, most of these offenses go without prosecution, so artists keep doing it.  Considering how many artists complain about being ripped off online, I’m surprised at how many still condone the practice.  I intend to find out if I can support my booth on my own work alone.

As this is my first booth, I will do a number of things wrong, I’m sure.  How can you learn from experience until you have some?  But in an effort to put my best foot forward, I created a small survey earlier in the week to ask people their opinions on a few questions I’m faced with.  Two winners were chosen from the respondents to receive 11″X14″ matted Totem prints of their choice.  I received 100 responses, which was the survey limit, but the results were pretty clear when it came to ranking which of my Totem paintings people liked best, along with opinions on matted prints vs. unmatted.  In an effort to perhaps help somebody else prepare for a show like this, here are my results and how I choose to interpret them.

I asked respondents to rank my Totem paintings in order of preference.  While I have 16 Totems in my portfolio, I’ll only be selling 8-10, so here are the Top 10 in the order the survey indicated.

Results001Some surprises here.  The Humpback Whale is one of my favorites, and even though a few people agree with me, most do not.  But for this survey, I would have included it in my print run for the booth.  Many people did say in their comments that it was tough to choose and that they had a hard time ranking them because they liked them all.  While I can understand that, and appreciate the compliment, the ranking was very clear for the first five, not so much for the last five.  The Bighorn Sheep could have easily been shown instead of the Penguin as they were neck and neck.   But I chose the Penguin because the venue will be in Calgary and with the addition of the penguins at the zoo last year, it’s a safe bet some will buy it based solely on where it’s being sold.

The Wolf Totem has long been a favorite among people who like my work.  It’s a big seller and very popular.  But it was done over two years ago and I’m pleased to see that my two most recent pieces are in the Top 3.  Thankfully, it would appear my best work isn’t behind me, something many artists fear.

Matted prints and cost.  78% of people would prefer a matted print to an unmatted one and 73% said cost didn’t affect that decision.  That was very revealing, however the people who follow me online aren’t necessarily the same demographic as those who will be shopping at the Expo.  A lot of people go to the Expo to buy inexpensive prints and even at a reduced price of $30.00, it will be too much money for some, when they could buy two or three prints for the same amount of money, which means more art from different artists.  If this were a Christmas trade show with an older crowd, I would go entirely matted at regular price with a lot of canvas as well, but at this venue, I’ll be doing a mix of matted and unmatted prints.  But this was very helpful in helping me decide the balance.

The majority of people were interested in a discount on buying two prints, rather then three or four.

Results002When it comes to the T-shirts available from The Mountain, the Wolf was the clear winner, the Ground Squirrel second, but it was an even balance between the other three.  If I do decide to include T-shirts in my inventory, and that’s still undecided, it is obvious that I should include all five.  The large majority of respondents would buy one for themselves or somebody else.  One commenter suggested that she still liked the T-shirts, but wouldn’t buy one because her family just doesn’t wear shirts with designs on them.  Personally, neither do I, so I was curious to see how many thought the same.  Selling T-shirts as well as prints might be a little too much this year as it would require a lot of inventory in different sizes and might make for a very crowded booth.  This first year, I might just stick with prints and have one of each design on hand to let people know that they’re available online from The Mountain.

Finally, more than half of the respondents left comments, which I found very valuable.  Many were complimentary of my work, which I appreciated.  Others told me that ranking the Totems was very difficult and a couple even seemed to worry that they were hurting my feelings by doing so, telling me I shouldn’t think they hated the last one they picked.  No worries, I’ve got thick skin.  Still, others were just very nice words of encouragement and nobody gets tired of hearing those, so thanks for that.  Some suggested that other animals should be on T-shirts.  As they are licensed and not produced by me, it’s actually up to The Mountain which ones end up on T-shirts.  So while these five are the only ones at the moment, who knows what the future will hold?

Here are some other comments I found helpful, and my thoughts on each.

“Your pricing, I would do the multiples on the $10 mark… so $40, $50 etc. Just keeps things simpler.”  This is good advice and something I’m going to seriously consider.

“Would it be too much work to get more mat colors than black? Black looks nice, but can take away from some pieces depending on color. A color mat can really enhance the work. Good luck!!”  and another comment in the same vein “White matte and $40. I don’t like black mattes. Too heavy. Your prices are too low.”  Matting is always tough.  With lighter colour work or black and white, a white mat usually looks best.  With darker work (such as mine), a black mat usually looks best.  And you’ll easily find people who will disagree with both statements.  In a perfect world, a painting looks best when matted to reflect colours in the painting and matches the decor of a room.  How do you do that for every customer?  Well the simple answer is that you can’t.  White or black are the choices and as in all things, people prefer one or the other.  For continuity in an artist’s work and to minimize cost and inventory, it isn’t advisable to offer both, because hanging together on a wall or display, they will actually look bad beside each other.  As for choosing a coloured mat, that’s a minefield.  A number of people said they didn’t like the purple of the Wolf T-shirt, even though it did draw out colours from the painting itself.  Honestly, purple wouldn’t have been my first choice, either.  But it was still the most popular shirt in the survey.

I trust the advice of my printer, as he does both white and black mattes for many different artists.  After seeing these comments, I asked him what he thought and he said he thinks my work looks better with a black mat.  My wife agrees and I think so, too.  Art is a such a tricky business, because everybody likes different things for different reasons, and you can’t please everybody.  So I’m sticking with the black mats, but wouldn’t tell somebody they were wrong if they swapped it out for a white or coloured mat.  Even still, with the choice of only the black mat, the vast majority still preferred to have a print sold with the mat.

“A set of postcards of your totems on a special paper would be pretty cool.”  That’s a great idea.  While I was going to have postcards for promotional reasons, I hadn’t considered doing that for each animal as a little collector piece on their own.  Might sell them for $1.00 or $2.00 each or two or three for $5.00.  I already have art cards licensed through Island Art Publishers, but promotional postcards for the show might be a nice addition.

“Would like to see your totems on ball caps and mugs.”  That’s a licensing thing and while I wouldn’t produce them myself, you never know what might come around in the future.  I’m always talking to other companies and if I find the right one, you may get to see both.

A lot to consider with this survey and I would like to thank everyone who participated.  The expense of this show is significant, thousands of dollars to prep the booth and stock inventory, so I really wanted to put my best foot forward.  The input was very helpful and I imagine there will be other opportunities in the future for me to ask for your opinion and offer prints as prizes.  As always, however, you can always share your thoughts with me  on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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Martin Sheen – The Details

Martin Sheen - PortraitYesterday, I wrote about why I painted this portrait of Martin Sheen’s character, Tom, from the movie ‘The Way.’  Click on this link, if you’d like to read it.  Today, I figured I’d write a little bit about the how, as there are always artists out there who want to know the technical details, and I’m happy to oblige.

This painting was done entirely in Photoshop CS6 Extended using a Wacom Cintiq 24″HD display.  No photos were used in the painting, aside from reference.  I didn’t keep track of how long it took me to complete it because I wasn’t on deadline or in a rush, so while I could easily say 20 hours, it was probably more, over a few weeks.  Without a deadline, I was able to nitpick it and get it as close to perfect as my current skills will allow.  At some point, however, I just have to call it done, because any changes become so minute that nobody will see them but me.

With all of my previous work, it has become my practice to start a painting at low resolution, usually around 9″X12″ at 72ppi.  Then, as the painting progresses, I will keep bumping up the size and resolution.  I teach this method in my PhotoshopCAFE DVD, “Animal Painting in Adobe Photoshop” and it’s the same practice I use for painting portraits of people.  There used to be two reasons for doing this.  First, when you’re working at low-res, you can’t get distracted by putting in too much detail because the size just won’t allow any.  This forces me to well establish ‘the bones’ of a likeness before working on wrinkles, skin texture, and hair.  The other reason for starting at low-res was that my computer had reached the end of it’s efficient life for this type of work and at full-size and full-res, the brushes just wouldn’t move well enough to make broad strokes across the digital canvas.  A completed painting was never more than 18″X24″ at 300ppi, because at that size, I could only work on the fine details without experiencing some lag.

Recently I had a new computer built and I’m back to working on a very current, high end machine.  Running 64bit Windows 7 with 64bit Photoshop, 16GB of RAM and a 4GB video card, everything is running incredibly smooth.  I could have started and finished this painting at full-res, without any problems at all.  BUT, I’m going to continue using my low-res to high-res workflow for the first reason I mentioned.  It forces me to get the likeness right and it works well for me.  That being said, I decided to push this painting to see if I could make it larger, which also allows more attention to detail.  This final painting is 32″X24″ at 300ppi.  At that size, the brushes were working just fine, and I could have bumped it up even more, with no issues in performance.

I’m still using the regular brushes in Photoshop and haven’t used any of the Mixer or Bristle brushes in my paintings.  Those brushes are designed to simulate traditional media and I honestly don’t feel the need to do that.  Digital painting is a medium all on its own, and I don’t try to make it into something it’s not.  I do intend to give those other brushes a try in the coming year, however, simply to see if they’ll offer me some choices to make my work better.  While I’m pleased with the quality of this painting and very much enjoyed working on it, there will always be room to improve.

Thanks for stopping by.


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Another Wacom Webinar

Wacom has invited me back for another webinar, coming up soon on Thursday, November 8th.  Click here or on the image to go to the registration page.  Best of all, it’s free!

When I was in Las Vegas in September for Photoshop World, Wacom invited me to give a demonstration at their booth on the Expo Floor.  Yesterday, they posted the session online in two parts.  While this one shows you more of me talking about painting, next week’s webinar will show my screen and you’ll be able to see the work up close and personal, just as I get to while I’m creating it.

Here are the videos from Vegas.  Enjoy!



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My Wacom Cintiq 24HD Settings

For this second blog entry on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD (read the first one here), I wanted to show all of the different settings I’ve chosen for the Express Keys, Touch Ring and Radial Menu.  I’m very comfortable using these hardware features on the Intuos tablets, but had to change everything up for the Cintiq for two reasons.  The first is that there are more settings to choose from.  The second is that working directly on the screen changed how I do things.

These Photoshop settings are in no way being shared in order to tell you what you should do.  Feel free to borrow anything you see here, of course, but I would encourage you to experiment with the settings and find ones that work best for you.  There are so many possible configurations that you can almost program each of the Express Keys, Touch Rings, and Radial Menu for anything you want Photoshop to do.  The feature I like best is that you can even program different settings for every piece of software you have.

My buddy Jeff Foster is an Author, Producer and VFX Artist at Sound Visions Media.  My setting for brush size on the pen, which I’ll explain later, was his suggestion and it works very well.  Since I’m no longer using the Touch Ring for brush size, he also suggested that the Touch Ring can be used for any keystroke operation at all, so it’s important to think differently and creatively.  I still haven’t finished experimenting with my Touch Ring settings, so some of the ones I show here will likely change.

Because there are so many settings to explain, I’ll just get right to it.  Here are some photos that show you what the buttons I’ll be talking about look like on the actual hardware.  I got these images directly from the Wacom site, so if you want to know even more about the Cintiq 24HD than what I’ve shown here, just click on any of the images and you’ll be instantly transported to their website.  It’s like magic, don’t you know?

As you can see from the image at the beginning of this post and the ones above and below, there are five Express Keys and a Touch Ring, with three settings each, on either side of the display.  Additionally, there are three buttons above the display for features I’ll explain later.  On the top edge of the display, which you can’t see here, there are a series of buttons like you would find on any monitor, to adjust your display color, brightness and contrast settings.  Incidentally, I like to work with my monitor brightness a lot lower than most people.  I have my Contrast set to 50, my Brightness to 13, and my Backlight to 0 (Zero).  You might think that a little odd, but it works very well for me.  My monitors have always been set to low brightness and my eyes don’t get strained as easily from long hours in front of a display.

Let’s talk about those three little buttons at the top right above the display.  From left to right, there is one that has a lower case letter i, one that looks like a keyboard, and one that looks like a wrench.  The i is for information, and when you press that, you get the image that you see below.  It fills the display, regardless of the software you’re using, BUT the settings you see displayed will be the ones you have set for that particular piece of software, or the default settings.  What you see here are my settings for Photoshop.  This is a great feature because you might forget what you have a button set for and this will show you in real time.  We’ll zoom in on all of these in a minute.

The second button will bring up the on-screen keyboard, which is pretty self-explanatory.  Sometimes you just want to type in a layer name, or press a number, and you don’t want to have to go fishing for your actual keyboard, especially since it might be under your Cintiq.

Finally, there is the button with the wrench on it, which will bring up your Wacom Tablet Properties.  I just think this is very clever to include this as a hardware button because sometimes you just want to make a quick change to your settings, and you don’t want to leave your software or go searching for it in your menus.  Press the button, it will bring up the panel you see here, make your change, close it and go right back to work.

Now let’s take a closer look at how I have my Express Keys, Touch Rings and Radial Menu set up.  I won’t show you how to make these changes, because that will require a whole new post.  If you want some help, I recorded a couple of videos for the Intuos5 and those will show you how to change your settings, even on the Cintiq.  Here are a couple of links, one for the Express Keys and Touch Ring and another for the Radial Menu.

Let’s take a look at the Express Keys and Touch Ring Properties.  As you can see below, the three buttons for the Touch Ring are currently set to Zoom, Brush Size, and None.  Rather than use the default Zoom, however, I have mine set to Ctrl- and Ctrl+ (Cmd- and + on the Mac) shortcut for Zoom.  The reason is that will zoom in and out in increments that keeps my painting sharp and crisp.  Some of the other increments in between can make images a little blurred and I don’t like that.  So my zoom isn’t a smooth transition, it goes in steps.

Brush Size is self-explanatory, although I now have that on my pen, so I’ll be finding another use for this spot, I think.  The third one is normally set for Rotate, as in rotating the canvas, but I have it set to None simply because I was recently recording a video and didn’t want to accidentally zoom in while recording if my finger touched the ring, so I set this to none and left it there while I recorded.  Again, I’ll be finding another use for this one, too.

For the Express Keys on the left of the display, I have them set as follows:

1) Undo – Ctrl-Alt-Z. (Cmd-Option-Z on the Mac).  When I’m painting, I pretty much keep a finger on this most of the time and it allows multiple undos.

2) Color Picker – This is not a normal keyboard shortcut, so I had to create one, which is fairly easy to do in Photoshop.

3) Shift – a Modifier Key that will give many tools more options.

4) Ctrl – (Cmd) another modifier key.

5) Pan/Scroll – In Photoshop, this is the Hand Tool and it will allow you to move around the canvas.

On the right side of the display, the Touch Ring again is still set for the default settings.  I know I’ll find a use for it, I just have to get creative and even more efficient.

For the Express Keys, they’re set as follows:

1) Gamut Check – Ctrl-Y (Cmd Y).  I draw and paint in sRGB, but I’m always aware that my editorial cartoons are printed in CMYK and some of my paintings and illustrations may be printed that way as well.  My color picker is set so I can only choose colors that are ‘in gamut’, which means when converted to CMYK, they won’t shift.  But sometimes when I make a Levels or other Color adjustment, it will shift colors too far, so I’m always checking Gamut to make sure everything looks as it should.  Newspapers do not have universal color settings.  Some publications have downright hideous printing, so I try to find a happy medium to please everybody.  Yeah, I know…good luck with that.

2) Hide – Ctrl-H (Cmd-H) When I’m working with selections, this hides the little ‘marching ants’ that define a selection, because I hate looking at the moving dotted lines when I’m painting.

3) Radial Menu – This is Wacom’s way of giving you even more choices.  It’s an onscreen heads-up display that gives you an opportunity to program your own menus and submenus.  I’ll show you my Radial Menu settings in a minute.

4) Fit Screen – Ctrl-0 (Cmd-0) Zooming in and out of a painting or drawing, often I just want the image to reset to fit screen.

5) Display Toggle – I have multiple displays, my other one is above the Cintiq.  When I want to access the other display, I press this button and my pen can move the cursor to my other screen, which makes the top half of the Cintiq display work just like a traditional Wacom tablet.  It’s a great feature.

My Pen Settings are as follows:

Erase – This button is a waste for me and I can’t even think of a reason to use it for something else, either.  I’m sure other people do use it, but I never have.

The button on the pen is actually two buttons.  Originally, it’s set for a Left Mouse and Right Mouse configuration, but as mentioned previously, my friend Jeff gave me a reason to consider other options.  For the left Mouse Button, the one furthest from the tip, I have it set to the keystroke configuration you see in the image.  What this allows me to do, when I have the Brush selected in Photoshop, is change brush size very fluidly.  I press the button, move the pen left or right and I can see the brush size change on the screen.  This was one of those, “I wish I’d known this sooner!” moments, because I would have had my Intuos tablet set to this as well.

The Right Mouse button, the one closest to the tip, is set to Alt (Option on the Mac).  When I have the brush selected in Photoshop, this toggles the Eyedropper Tool for easy selection of color in a painting.  I use this constantly for better blending and color transitions in my work.  So now I can change brush size and select color quickly and easily right from the pen.  It’s a very enjoyable way to paint.

And finally, here are my Radial Menu settings.

When you press the Radial Menu button, you get the circle on the right, which is fully customizable.  If you wanted to, you could make every one of those pie pieces into a submenu.  I currently only have three.  When you click on each of those submenus, you get  the images on the left.  Each submenu can not only have a full selection of pie pieces, but those can be submenus as well.  I’m no math wizard, but that gives you a LOT of choices for custom configuration.

Obviously I don’t need to explain every one of them, but I’ll give you some thoughts on what some of the more unique ones do.

Blend Modes Submenu – I use four Photoshop Actions for Blend Modes all the time in my drawing and painting.  OK, that one that reads ‘Cartoon Websize’ is an Action for something else, but I had nowhere else to put it and I use it every day.  But the rest are for Blend Modes, I assure you.  If you don’t know about Blend Modes in Photoshop, my buddy Scott Valentine just wrote a great new book that explains them very well.  I’ll have a review of the book very soon, but if you want to check it out, here’s the link.  The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop.

Flip Canvas – Often when I’m painting, I want to shift my perspective, so I’ll flip the image I’m working on horizontally.  You’d be surprised how helpful this can be, especially when it comes to likeness in portraits.  Sometimes I’ll just know that something doesn’t look right but I can’t put my finger on it.  By flipping the canvas, the problem will almost always become immediately apparent.  Your brain gets lazy and this will often give your perception a bit of a slap.

So there you have it.  These are my settings on the Cintiq 24HD…for now.  I fully expect to make little changes and tweaks as I get more used to the display, but these settings are working very well for me at present.  There really is no excuse for not being able to customize this display to work exactly the way you want it to.  Yes, it will take some time to get it perfect, but it’s worth it.  Wacom has not only provided hardware that will allow you to create the best drawing and painting experience possible, but the software takes it even further.

Don’t be afraid of making changes.  There is a default button in the Wacom Tablet Properties.  If you mess it up too much, you can always start again.  When you do get the settings you want, however, back them up!  I can’t stress this enough.  Computers aren’t perfect, software can conflict with other software, and stuff happens.  There is a Wacom Tablet Preferences Utility included with the software.  It will allow you to save and restore your preferences should the unthinkable happen.  Just as you should back up your images and files, you should also back up your preferences.

If you have any issues, Wacom’s technical support is very helpful.  And finally, if you just have any questions, I’m happy to help, too.  Thanks for stopping by and hopefully this helped you see some possibilities you might not have considered, whether you’re using Wacom’s Intuos tablets or their Cintiq displays.





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What I like best about the Wacom Cintiq 24HD

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got the new Wacom Cintiq 24HD Display.  There are two versions of this device, and people keep asking me if I got ‘the Touch,’ meaning the one that has touch features along with pen input.  The answer is ‘No,’ and the reason is because even though I like touch features on my iPad and phone, I don’t feel the need for it on my main display.  I know a lot of people want that, so it’s great that this display is available with and without the option.  Keep in mind, there is also a significant cost difference between the two.

I’ve had my eye on the new Cintiq since it was launched earlier this year.  Many of the new features that Wacom included finally pushed me over the edge to get one.  Rarely do I develop an infatuation for new and shiny tech.  I waited two months before I got my first-gen iPad, just to be sure it was going to be useful and not just a toy.  Having used it every day since, I wasn’t disappointed.  That being said, it’s two years old and I’ll only replace it for a newer version when it stops working well.  I’ve never owned an iPhone and can’t think of any piece of technology I would line up for.

Now you might be thinking, why am I talking about Apple stuff, I thought this was about Wacom.  The reason is that I want to be clear up front that I’m not a gadget person who gets something just because it’s new and trendy.  If it’s not useful, I’m not interested.  So with years under my belt with the Intuos line of tablets and being very pleased with those, why did I suddenly feel the need to get the high performance sports car of Wacom tablets?

I’ve never had a problem doing all of my detailed painted work on the Intuos tablets.  They’re solid, they work well, they last forever and they get the job done.  The size wasn’t an issue, working off the screen wasn’t an issue, resolution and pressure sensitivity worked well.  The simple answer is that it was time.  This is the top of the line professional tablet and I want my work to be the best it can be.  From all I’ve heard from colleagues and other reviewers, their endorsement of what this display does for their workflow and better use of their time was enough for me to feel I needed to make the jump.

I’ve had the Cintiq 24HD for almost two weeks now.  Normally I’d write a review for something new a lot sooner than this, but I’ve been swamped with work, which as a freelancer is not a bad thing at all.  The upside of waiting this long for the review is that I’ve used it a lot.  There is nothing that I do in my scope of work that I now haven’t done on the Cintiq.  Daily editorial cartoons, illustrations, writing, and a brand new Totem painting from start to finish, I’ve really put it through its paces, and I am incredibly impressed.

There is just too much to talk about to do this in one post, so I’ll be spreading it out over two or three.  For this one, I just wanted to talk about the features that impressed me most.  I’ve never been one to do those ‘let’s unpack it’ reviews.  There are plenty of those out there.  As for the technical specs, you can see all of that as well as videos and other images on Wacom’s website.  I just want to tell you how this will impact my own work and why I like the display so much.  I made note of things that made me raise my eyebrows over the last couple of weeks.  A few of these things even made me say, “oh cool!” out loud.  They are in no particular order of importance.

1)  With a dual monitor system, I used to have my Photoshop palettes on a separate monitor.  The Cintiq is so big and has so many Express Keys along with the Radial Menu, that I don’t need that anymore.  I can do everything on this big screen.  But I still like my second monitor, so I have it positioned above the Cintiq, and I can keep all of my other windows, browser, music player open on that display.  By pressing one of the Express keys to ‘Toggle Display’, I can temporarily jump to the other monitor, and the Cintiq becomes just like a traditional Wacom tablet.

LOVE the new monitor configuration for reference photos!  Just feels so natural to look up from my ‘drafting table’ to see the pics.

2) They put a USB port right on the display itself.  Might seem like a small thing, but I frequently take images with me or grab them from a USB key.  This is just convenient.

3)  Wacom put a Tablet Properties button on the device itself.  This is great because it gives you quick options to open the properties, make changes, then get back to work.  It’s important to experiment with the Tablet Properties and more than a few times, I found myself thinking, “I should be able to program an Express Key to (insert operation, tool selection, or toggle here.)  They made it easier to do that.  I’ll detail all of my new settings in another post.

4) Pulling the device down over the edge of your desk, means forcing yourself to avoid using your keyboard.  This is a good thing!

5)  More buttons!  I really like the fact that with Express Keys on both sides of the screen, plus two (count ‘em, TWO) touch rings, you get plenty of options on how to customize your Cintiq so it works perfectly for the way you work.  A word of caution, however.  Computers aren’t perfect and sometimes program conflicts or an accidental pressing of the Default button in the Wacom Tablet Properties can erase all of your settings, so be sure to backup your settings with the Wacom Tablet Preference Utility.  I learned that lesson the hard way last week.

6) The display was so easy to set up.  OK, I did have to wait for my wife to get home from work so she could help me bring it up two flights of stairs from the garage to my office.  It’s 63lbs out of the box, quite large, and awkward to carry.  I wasn’t about to risk any damage by trying to do it myself.  Once I got it on my desk (oh, it’s staying there, now), the instructions were simple and straightforward.  It was very much like setting up any new display.  I use the Eye-One Color Calibrator and it was just as simple to calibrate the Cintiq as it is for any other type of monitor.

7)  The Cintiq is just a joy to work on.  The base is so well designed that I can’t think of any way to improve upon it.  As shown in the images here, it locks in place when it’s fully upright, so it can be used like a standard display (a BIG standard display) or it can be used flat in the upright position.  As someone who sits all day long while I work, I have contemplated getting one of those very expensive adjustable desks that allows a person to work standing up once in awhile.  I no longer have to think about that, because the Cintiq lets me do that when I need a break from the chair.  I did that a number of times in the past couple of weeks and loved having the option.

8)  Word of caution.  This thing is BIG.  I have a great coffee cup that I got at Costco (three of them, actually) made by Contigo.  You can see it to the left of the display in the photos.  It seals completely and to take a drink, you have to press a button on the back to open it.  It’s great because it not only keeps coffee hot for well over an hour, but it if you drop the cup or knock it over, it doesn’t spill.  Because I start work very early in the morning and work in low light as often as possible, my office is usually near dark.  In the first week of using the Cintiq, I knocked over my coffee cup three times when I went to adjust the display with the handles on the sides.  It’s just so big!

And finally, it’s solid!  There is nothing about this display that feels cheaply made.  The enjoyment I’m having drawing and painting on the screen is difficult to explain.  Working on little hairs with the pen at the same point of contact as my brush strokes just feels so much more natural.I’ve often dealt with back pain off and on over the years, usually stress related from working hunched over too much.  As I said, I was so busy with deadlines that I’ve spent a LOT of time on this device.  One thing I noticed, a great surprise, is that I had no significant neck or back pain as a result.  Sure, tight shoulders and strain just from sitting so long and working, you’ll get that in any job when you’re working long hours, but nothing that didn’t go away with rest and nothing that I had to take an Advil for.

So, yes, I’m enjoying the Cintiq 24HD a great deal, and I’m sure I’ll continue to discover things that make me say, “Oh, cool,” and I’ll be sure to share them.  Next time, I’ll talk about having to change all of Express Key, Touch Ring and Radial Menu settings.  When you’re working directly on the screen, it’s a whole new ballgame.