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Wacom and Happy Accidents

My friend Pam, who is the Database Marketing Manager at Wacom, posted a very nice blog post on the Wacom Community Page, featuring the video they had me do for them. She also  shared the story of my tiger painting that went awry.

Funny, but Pam and I talked after the fact and both of us agreed that the strange twist with that painting actually made for a better story to tell in the video. Something I’ve learned over the years is that the stories behind the art are as interesting to folks as the art itself. That’s nice because not only are the stories about why I paint some of these critters important to me, but I enjoy telling them.

There’s a common term among creative types, that describes how sometimes your art or experience delivers a better result than what you had initially planned, from being forced to adapt to the unexpected. We call them happy accidents. I’ve had them happen while creating brushes, trying new painting techniques, program crashes that required creating handy shortcuts to deliver on deadline, and just like hindsight, you never quite realize what happened until you’ve had time to reflect. Some of those happy accidents became part of my process.

I’ve heard from a number of people this week who not only appreciated learning about the controversy surrounding white tigers, but also preferred the second painting over the first. Who knew?

Here’s the blog post on the Wacom Community Site.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Dabbling in Something New

Before I became self-employed full-time, I was the admin assistant for a physical therapy office here in Canmore. For a lot of the time, it was just my boss Shane (the physiotherapist) and occasionally a massage therapist working there in the small clinic. If I recall, Shane and I are close to the same age, both into technology, and he was well aware of my eventual plans to work for myself, as my business was thriving part-time on the side. I only worked for him for a little over two years, I think, and I often tell people that it was the best last job to have. That was more than ten years ago. I left on good terms and when I run into Shane on the street once in a while, I’m always happy to see him.

Because we talked about our mutual interests a fair bit when it was slow, he knew that I had been looking into 3D modeling. I had no designs on getting into it hard-core, but just enough so that I could occasionally add some 3D to my editorial cartoon work. At the time, I wasn’t painting more than the occasional caricature for a client and definitely no animals. I was still exploring my options, however, dabbling in Flash animation, trying new things to see where my career might take me.
boardgameMy first year working for Shane, he ended up buying me one of the earlier versions of Carrara by Daz3D as a Christmas bonus. He and I had talked about the software earlier and I remember thinking that was quite thoughtful. Instead of just a cash bonus, he bought me something I wanted but really couldn’t prioritize as a valid expense as I was still very much a struggling artist and it wasn’t cheap.

Shane now has a much larger clinic in another location, with a number of physiotherapists, massage therapists and staff working for him and I’m glad his business is such a success. Both Shonna and I have gone there for physiotherapy since.

I loved working with Carrara and bought a supplement for it called Hexagon, which was a basic modeller. Stuff I created in those programs ended up being part of a number of editorial cartoons. Rather than search for reference or work out difficult perspective on some things, I just built basic models of what I was envisioning, brought them into Photoshop, traced over the bones and moved on from there.

Sometimes, I just built the whole cartoon in 3D, like the chess pieces below. It was a real time saver. It also allowed me to move models around to get better angles, more interesting perspectives and revealed possibilities I might not have considered. Four of those cartoons you can see in this post, all built in 3D, with some drawing in Photoshop after the fact. A few of these were way more complicated than they needed to be, but I was also experimenting.
checkmateThis Checkmate cartoon was for the Alberta PC Leadership race. Not knowing the outcome, I was able to create three different versions, with the names changed to reflect all three possible winners. When the result was in, I just sent out the correct one you see here.

Over time, I stopped using 3D because I wasn’t interested in doing more than I was doing with it, every new release of the software involved learning new things I didn’t need, and a simple process I enjoyed became a complicated mess as they often fixed software that wasn’t broken. Eventually, the software wasn’t being supported anymore and I just let it go. I had also moved on to doing a lot of painting and the animal work that is now such a big part of my life.

Every so often, however, I’ll start drawing an editorial cartoon and think, “this would be so much easier if I just built a 3D model first.”

That’s been popping up in my head more often the last couple of years. I’ve also thought that it might be fun to build some 3D caricatures of both people and animals. To be honest, it’s been some time since I’ve yearned to learn something new, even though this would actually be revisiting an old interest with new tools and a new perspective.

I’ve investigated other 3D software here and there and it’s often too expensive to justify and too complicated for my needs. It would be like learning to fly a Boeing 747 when all I need is to drive to the grocery store. I have limited time to learn new things and keep up with everything else I do. I also knew that I would lose interest in it fast if I had to essentially follow stereo instructions just to create a flower pot.
blocksOne of the best programs out there, however, is one called ZBrush. A lot of professionals use it in conjunction with other software and some of the results I’ve seen are incredibly impressive. But for the cost and learning curve, it looked like the same story. Too big.

In recent months, however, I’ve been hearing a lot about the recently released ZBrushCore, which is a trimmed down version of ZBrush. I’ve watched a number of videos and it reminds me a great deal of Hexagon and Carrara, those early pieces of software I enjoyed so much. The difference is that it’s more sophisticated, streamlined and offers more functionality without being a complicated mess. Few artists are programmers and when it goes so far toward the tech that it no longer feels like creating, then I’m lost.

After watching a number of tutorials the past couple of days, I bought ZBrushCore this morning for $200 Canadian, which I consider very affordable.

I’m a little excited about this, and while the challenge will still be to make the time to learn it, use it, and have fun with it, I’m optimistic. Learning something new this winter might also be a partial antidote to my usual seasonal doldrums. So, it’s likely I’ll be adding some 3D elements to my editorial cartoons in the coming year, and might even try out a funny looking animal or two. If nothing else, I hope to have a little fun sculpting.

My animal Totems started as an experiment, painting a funny looking grizzly bear. Who knows where this might lead?
electionbox

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Lizard Sketch in Painter 12

LizardSketchFBIn my ongoing efforts to incorporate Painter 12 into my workflow, this is another painted sketch.  As is my style, I’ve taken a lot of creative liberties with the anatomy of our lizard friend, here.

For this one, I used only the Chalk Brushes in Painter.  While I fully expect to incorporate a mixture of the available mediums in the future, restricting myself to only one at a time right now is forcing me to get used to and judge each on its own merits.  I really enjoyed working with chalk, especially since there are a number of different types to choose from.  One of the great features I found with Painter 12 is the availability of adding paper textures while painting.  In real life, the texture of the paper would be universal over the entire image, but not so in the digital realm, at least not in Painter.  I can change paper textures so it only affects the brush strokes I’m making at the time, and then change again without affecting the ones I’ve already made.  Adds a texture element when I need it but doesn’t restrict me when I don’t.  Great feature!

Something else I’m enjoying a great deal in is the Brush Tracking feature.  I’m painting on the Wacom Cintiq 24HD and even though my pen pressure is pretty consistent and I’ve got the Tip Feel set to how I like it in the Tablet Properties, different mediums in Painter require a lighter or softer touch.  Brush tracking on the fly allows me to change the pressure sensitivity as often as I’d like.  It’s really easy to do and takes very little time away from the canvas.

I’m really enjoying discovering all that Painter has to offer this Photoshop artist and I plan to keep at it.  I have a feeling I’ve just scratched the surface.

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Taming Painter 12

TigerSketch

In an effort to broaden my digital painting horizons, I recently bought Corel Painter 12 and am trying to get used to it.

Having been a digital painter with Photoshop for many years now, I’m very comfortable not only with the default tools, but with customizing and designing my own brushes so that I can paint the way I like.

By pairing and customizing Wacom’s hardware and Adobe’s Photoshop software, I’ve developed a very comfortable workflow and I know how to get the results I want with the tools at hand.  So if everything is working so well, you might wonder why I’m bothering with Painter.  The short version is that Photoshop and Painter are the industry standards when it comes to digital painting.  Some artists use only one of them, but many use both together, taking advantage of the strengths that each offers to produce the best results.  I would like to have that option.

I invested in some initial training with Lynda.com to try to learn the ropes, but it didn’t give me what I needed.    The class and instructor were fine, but when it comes to software, I seem to learn best by first doing something.  If I can’t figure it out by trial and error (usually a LOT of error), then I’ll go searching for articles, videos, and classes online.

The painted sketch you see above is my first attempt at painting in Corel Painter 12.  It took me a few hours as I tried a lot of the different available mediums, quickly realizing which ones I didn’t like and which ones had potential.

Painter 12 is designed to emulate traditional media.  If you’re a traditional artist, that’s probably great news.  But I’ve never painted with traditional tools.  I learned how to paint in Photoshop, so to use oil painting or watercolour in Painter was incredibly frustrating because I’ve never used them before and didn’t like the way they worked.  In all honestly, there were a few instances where I tried a brush and said, “Ugh!”, disgusted at the results.  When it came to the cloning tools, I abandoned them without even taking them for a spin.  I’ve never like painting or tracing over a photo and those tools are designed to do just that.  While some people enjoy working with that option, I’ve never done it in Photoshop and I don’t plan to start now.  Photos don’t belong in my work.

Now you might be wondering if this is just a blog entry to slam Painter.  Let me assure you that it’s not.  While half of my drawing and painting time was spent with a furrowed brow and clenched jaw when the tools were not working the way I wanted them to, the other half was spent with raised eyebrows in surprise and even a grin or two when I discovered a few things I really liked.  I might have even said, “hey, that’s cool” out loud a few times.

Once I realized that I didn’t have to use EVERY medium in Painter, I started to enjoy myself.  After all, I only use a small percentage of the features in Photoshop.  Painter is designed to emulate most traditional mediums so that it appeals to a wide range of artists.  But it doesn’t mean that a watercolour painter now has to learn oils and charcoal just because they’re suddenly available in the same place.

I found painting with the acrylic brushes really enjoyable.   They work the way I want them to and I plan to spend a lot of time painting with those.  The airbrush tool offers a LOT more options than the Photoshop airbrush does, so I’m really looking forward to incorporating that into some fine detail work.

I pride myself on having a really good handle on the Photoshop brush engine but the Painter brush engine is a whole new animal.  I’m bracing myself for when I tackle that monster.  Taming that beast is an absolute necessity because designing and using my own brushes is a big part of how I paint.

So what do I think of Painter 12 after only using it a short time?  I think it’s an impressive piece of software that I have no idea how to use.  Now, had you asked me the same thing about Photoshop ten years ago, I would have given you the same answer.  They do share many of the same shortcut keys and tool options, like zooming, panning, layers and other functions, but there are other operations that are completely different and therein lies the challenge.

When talking about this on my Facebook page, I said, “It’s as if somebody came into the kitchen while I was cooking and moved everything to different cupboards and drawers, changed labels, and translated the recipes into foreign languages.  I can still cook, but there won’t be any finesse to it until I get used to the new layout.”

Just like anything worth doing, it’s going to take me time to become good with Painter, just as it took years to become good with Photoshop.   When it comes to painting, neither one of them is a ‘press this button, press that button’ piece of software.  Digital painting is an art medium all on its own.  If I were learning how to paint with oils, acrylics, watercolour, charcoal or any other traditional medium, the learning curve would be just as steep, if not more so.

I’m off to a good start, but I’m under no illusion that I’ll be doing any commission or gallery work in Painter anytime soon.  Probably a lot more of the type of painted sketch you see above for the next little while.  But I plan to keep at it, work through the frustration and practice as often as I can.

When it comes down to it, that’s the only way to create better art no matter what medium you’re using.

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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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Fear and loathing of photo-painting

Anybody who knows me in professional circles knows that I’ve never been a fan of photo-painting.  While I don’t go out of my way to rant and rave about it, I’ve been pretty clear that I don’t like the practice of painting on top of a photo, that I’ve always felt it had a cheat quality to it, very much like paint by numbers.  I’ve had to bite my tongue and hold my anger in check whenever somebody has suggested that my paintings are just photos that I’ve painted over or manipulated.  It happens often enough that I have a chip on my shoulder about it.

I’ve always felt that if you’re going to learn how to use paint brushes in Photoshop, how to make them work for you, why not go all the way and just start with a blank canvas?  Use the photo for reference, but don’t go sampling the colours and painting on top of it.  I’ve pretty much dismissed it as something not worth my attention, resigning myself to loathing the practice, and making a concerted effort to ignore it.  People are going to do it, regardless of what I think, so why bother wasting my energy on it?

Now, I’ll admit to thinking twice (three, four times) about writing this piece, because it reveals flaws in my character.  While we all have them, of course, most of us don’t like to out ourselves when it comes to the things we keep hidden under the image we like to project.  But, there is rarely an opportunity to grow when you lie to yourself and as someone who follows the antics of politicians for a living, I can only stomach so much hypocrisy without pointing a finger at it, even when it comes to my own.

This week, I had occasion to throw open the door to my feelings on photo-painting for three reasons, all of which were revealed through posts on social media.

The first, was a link posted by a friend, an article by a vegetarian who had to deal with some of her ‘friends’ shunning her when she chose not to eat meat anymore, even though she wasn’t expecting them to do so as well.  I went looking for the article to include here, but I couldn’t find it.  Suffice it to say, it spoke a lot about our innate fear of change and how often the things we hate (strong word, there) are things we fear.

The second, was a piece written by Sam Spratt,  a guest on Scott Kelby’s blog this week.  While I enjoyed the whole blog entry about his thoughts on digital painting, the part that resonated most with me, was about artists who fear technology and how people skilled in one medium will often look down on those who work in a different medium.  I’ve talked about the latter myself in previous blog entries.

Third, and finally, Russell Brown, one of the pioneers of Photoshop and somebody who continues to look for new ways to push the technological and creative envelopes, revealed an add-on extension for Photoshop called the “Adobe Painting Assistant Panel” which is designed to help turn photos into paintings.  To be clear, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Russell.  In fact, I even painted his portrait recently.

I’ll admit that if somebody ever told me that I feared technology, I’d be taken aback.  My tools of the trade are all about technology.  Photoshop, Wacom tablets, my computer, laptop, painting on the iPad, I am a digital artist.   But after being exposed to those three sources this week, I began to ask myself, “Is it possible that I might be afraid of technology?”

The answer, it turns out, is No.  It’s not technology that I’m afraid of.  What I am afraid of, is obsolescence.

I know a lot of photographers who lament the fact that anybody can buy a DSLR camera these days, set it on automatic, take a photo and call themselves a photographer.  If you go looking for them, you’ll have no trouble finding MANY discussions online, often heated, that complain about people who are being hired to shoot weddings, portraits, and events, who are mediocre at the craft, essentially taking money away from ‘real’ photographers.

This is clearly a case of anger motivated by fear.  If the paying public can’t tell the difference between somebody with a point-and-shoot and a dedicated professional photographer, then how is anybody expected to continue making a living at it?

I’m not a photographer, so whenever I see this fear being played out in arguments and discussions, it’s pretty easy for me to see what’s going on.  It’s easy for me to pass judgment.

And yet, I didn’t see it in myself until just this week.

The reason I don’t like photo-painting is because I’m afraid that the paying public can’t see a difference between painting over a photo and the work that I have devoted years of my life to becoming skilled at.

That wasn’t easy to admit.  In fact, it’s downright humbling.

I’ve also realized that the same thing applies to how I feel about similar practices playing out in editorial cartooning.  I’ve seen competitors take a photo they found on the net, apply a few filters to it, slap on a caption and it gets published in a major daily newspaper.  This is happening quite often these days and I’ll admit to being pretty angry about it, upset that they were cheating.  The reality is that I’ve been afraid that if that’s all it takes to get published, then anybody can call themselves a cartoonist and they won’t need me, that the time I spend drawing is wasted, because some editors just don’t see the difference, or they don’t care.

My wife, Shonna, always a sobering voice in discussions where my emotions get the best of me, spelled it out quite well when I broached the subject with her this week, about my realized fear of photo-painting.

While I can’t recall her exact words, she basically suggested that it doesn’t matter how somebody creates their work.  If they take a photo, apply a few filters to it and call it a painting, it doesn’t really affect me at all.  They still have to sell it.

That was my moment of clarity in all of this and what will finally enable me to put it behind me.

Art isn’t about how it’s done.  Art is about how you feel when you experience it.  That applies to photography, sculpture, painting, music, performance, etc.  If you take a photo-painting that somebody has done and put it beside one of my paintings, the viewer most likely won’t care how it was created.  They’re just going to care if they like it or not.  If both pieces are for sale, they’re going to buy it based solely on that.  That’s how it has always been with art.

Some people really like my whimsical animal paintings and some don’t like them at all.  Some people buy them, some people don’t.  The fact that there are folks out there painting on top of a photo in Photoshop doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I’m still afraid of obsolescence.  I can freely admit it.  But I can use that, because fear is a great motivator.  It makes me try harder and scramble, eagerly seeking out opportunities to further my business and to ensure that I remain self-employed doing what I love to do.  While I have no intention of doing any photo-painting myself,  I’ve decided to no longer fear it.   As a consequence of that, I choose to no longer despise it, either.  It’s just another method for creative people to express themselves and that’s a good thing.  That’s art.

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Wacom’s Bamboo Splash Tablet and ArtRage Studio

Wacom just released a new entry level tablet, the Bamboo Splash, and I had an opportunity to put it through its paces.

The Bamboo Splash tablet is designed for the amateur or beginner digital artist.  It’s perfect for kids and teenagers, allowing them to experiment with digital art without having to spend a bundle to do so. Best of all, even though it lacks the bells and whistles of the more advanced tablets, it doesn’t sacrifice much in performance.

As I draw syndicated editorial cartoons almost every day, I wanted to see if I could still get real work done using the Bamboo Splash, rather than with the medium sized Intuos5 that I use every day.

The Wacom Intuos5 is a professional tablet.  With the programmable Express Keys, the Touch Ring, high end pen, and the onscreen customizable features, not to mention the larger size, it’s unfair to compare the two tablets as they are designed for different skill levels.  As I’ve been doing this for a living for many years, I’ll admit that the Bamboo Splash isn’t tablet enough for my daily needs, but then again, it isn’t meant for me.

The Bamboo Splash tablet was simple to set up.  Plug it in; install the drivers from the CD, restart the computer and it was working flawlessly.  Visiting the preferences utility, I found that very little aside from ‘Tip Feel’ was changeable.  For a beginner, that’s ideal.  It’s ready to go, out of the box, nothing confusing.

Put simply, it’s a great device.  The Bamboo Splash has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is plenty.  While a number of people may wonder about the size, your mind figures it out fast.  I work on a larger tablet every day, mapped to two screens.  I keep all of my Photoshop tools on one screen and draw on the other.  That means I’m really only using half the tablet for drawing.

When using the Bamboo Splash, I didn’t change my screen mapping, so I was only drawing on half of the smaller tablet, too.  After a few minutes, I didn’t even think about it.  My mind just figured out that brush and pen strokes required less movement.

This cartoon (with the political commentary left out) was drawn and painted entirely with the Bamboo Splash in Photoshop and it worked very well.  While I did keep reaching for the Express Keys and Touch Ring of the Intuos5 out of habit, once I got used to their absence and reverted to using keyboard shortcuts or drop down menus in Photoshop, I was able to work smoothly and still got my cartoon out to my newspapers on time.

Trying to draw with a mouse is an exercise in futility.  You really do need a Wacom tablet to draw with a computer.  While the Intuos5 tablets and Cintiq devices will represent more of a financial investment, you’re not risking too much with the Bamboo Splash.  The tablet comes in at well under $100.  Best of all, it comes with two very nice pieces of creative software.  One is Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro and the other is ArtRage Studio.

I spent some time with ArtRage, and it was very enjoyable to use. While it’s not designed to be a professional illustration and painting tool like Photoshop or Painter, it offers a lot to anybody wanting to try their hand at digital art.  With pencils, crayons, chalk, oils, watercolors and a number of other tools, there’s very little to limit your creativity.  It even supports layers and blend modes, and has a number of other fun tools and settings to mess around with.

Pairing ArtRage Studio with the Bamboo Splash was a great idea, because they’re both designed to allow you to create digital art, without a steep learning curve.  You can start working with both right away and if you’re like me, preferring to figure it out as you go along, you’ll be able to get pretty far without having to look through the manual.

When you do want more info, the ArtRage website has plenty of tutorials.  You can also upgrade the software to ArtRage Studio Pro and they have iPhone and iPad drawing apps as well.  If you do want to try out the mobile apps, I’d recommend the Wacom Bamboo Stylus as a drawing device to go with them.

Here’s a video I recorded for Wacom’s ‘See What You Can Do’ campaign, designed to share a little bit of my thoughts on digital painting, and to show some of the drawing and painting tools available in ArtRage Studio.

 

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The proof is in the printing

Spent a couple of hours at ChromaSurge in Calgary yesterday morning.  This is a small business print shop that handles all of my canvas and matted paper prints.  Kelly (the owner) was recommended to me by another Canmore artist.

There’s a lot to learn about printing, even when you’re not doing it yourself.  There are so many different types of machines, canvas, paper, coating, stretcher materials, and frames.  As I have no interest in trying to be a jack of all trades, I don’t do any of my own printing.  Recently, my printer (the guy, not the machine) bought some new equipment, canvas, paper, and inks.  Part of me, the part that doesn’t like change, was thinking, “Hey, my prints looked great, why are you messing with the formula?!”

The other part of me, however, was thinking, “He who refuses to adapt, dies!”

That is true of so many professions these days, and I plan to be doing this for a long time.   I made an appointment with the printer (again, the guy, not the machine) to reproof all of my current prints, and set to seeing how I could make them better on my end, in preparation for them being better when they came out of the printer.  One of the things I noticed with my prints was that some of the shadows were a little too dark, not something many people would notice, but when you spend as much time painting the details as I do, you don’t want to see them lost.  So I lightened them all up a bit, just some simple adjustments in Photoshop.  The lighter versions don’t look the way I want them to on the screen, but they look just right on paper.

Many digital artists and photographers become frustrated that their images don’t look the same in print as they do on their screen.  No matter what they do, they can’t make it happen.  Even with a professional color calibrator, the right printer profiles, and technical adjustments up the wazoo, it never quite gets there.  The reason is that a screen is back-lit while paper and canvas are not.  Therein lies the difference and it’s a HUGE difference.  Took me years to make peace with that.

As in all things, you do your best, and you make compromises.  You get your images to look as good as you possibly can and let go of perfection.  Those of you who know me well probably don’t believe I can do that when it comes to my paintings, but when it comes to prints, I actually can.  I know that nobody sees the imperfections the way I do when it comes to my own work, and that’s true of almost every artist I know.  We’re our own worst critics.  That’s a good thing, because it means you’re always going to try to become better at what you do.

One of the ways I try to compensate for the back-lighting  issue while painting digitally is that I have two monitors.  For Photoshop, one is my painting screen, and the other is for all of my tool palettes.  My Wacom pen is set to just go between them, so it actually acts like one big monitor.  The painting monitor is calibrated.  I use the Eye-One calibrator but there are others out there just as good.  The brightness on the monitor is also set to 13.  Yes, that’s 13 out of a possible 100.  If that seems way too low, trust me, you get used to it.  It minimizes eye strain for long periods of computer work, and also allows me to paint in more subtle shades and tones because I’m not dealing with harsh contrast.   When a painting or cartoon is done and looks good, I’ll often move it over to the other monitor, which is set a lot brighter and is NOT calibrated.  This way, I know how it’s going to look on other screens.

It’s a cheat, and one that works very well for me.  Because of working this way, there is much less of a screen vs. print shock.

My printer (the guy, not the machine…do I need to keep saying that?) takes the time to make sure I’m happy with the product he’s delivering, and good service is worth paying a little more for, especially now that it seems so rare.  When I told him that I wanted to reproof everything, and that I wanted to do it while I was there in his shop so we could talk about the results and I could ask some questions, he was fine with it.  I had all of my current paintings copied and pasted to one image that measured 18″X36″, which meant each image was around 5″X7″, just large enough to see what I needed to.    First it was printed on canvas, after which Kelly spray coated it so I could see what it would really look like when it was done.  Then he ran the same file on paper, because I sell matted prints in the galleries as well.

The difference between the two materials is that canvas has a natural texture to it.  It’s bumpy because of the weave of the fabric.  That adds a little more light and shadow, as does the protective coating.  The colours appear more saturated and richer, and there appears to be more depth in the image as a result.  I love my work on canvas, even more than on screen.  The paper prints have a flatter look, and although there isn’t a ‘shine’ to them like canvas, the quality is great, the colours are very nice and I’m very pleased with them.  With a sharp looking black mat, they pop.  But canvas is better, which is why it costs a fair bit more, both for me to have printed and for the customer to buy in the gallery.  And neither of them look like the other or like they do on screen.  Not better or worse, just different.  This photo doesn’t even capture what the canvas really looks like.  It’s just something you have to see.

I was very pleased with the prints and glad I took the time to go in and get the proofs done.  Cost me a bit of money for the ink and materials, not to mention taking the morning off from drawing and painting, but in the long run, it was a valuable use of my time.  My printer (really?  again?) also knows for a fact that I’m happy, so that likely makes him feel that he’s done right by his client.  Even better, he printed off a copy for himself so that whenever I order prints, he now has an approved standard to compare against, and so do I.  We have a baseline with this canvas, paper, ink and machine.

Like I said, I was already happy with my prints, but these new ones have just a little more spark in them.  I doubt that others will notice it, but I do, and that matters because it makes me feel better about the product I’m selling in the galleries and to my commission clients.  When new and better materials come along, we’ll have to do it all over again, and it will be worth it.

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Wacom’s Inkling – Lowering Expectations

Anybody who knows me or follows my work is well aware that I’m a big fan of Wacom tablets, so when I had the opportunity to put the new Inkling through its paces, I really wanted to like it.  If I drop all pretense, I’ll admit to being a little apprehensive about writing an honest review, as I really enjoy working with these folks.  But I also didn’t want to mislead any artists into buying the device and have them hold me responsible when it didn’t live up to their expectations.

The purpose of the Inkling is ingenious.  Attach a small clipped box to whatever page you’re working, use a pen device that draws just like a ballpoint pen, albeit a little larger in size, and whatever you draw is saved as a file, ready to be imported into your computer.

Let’s start with what I liked.  The device itself is elegant.  I doubt I could come up with any improvements in the case design, as everything fits together nicely, the pieces feel solid, and the case itself has a nice weight and construction.  Definitely doesn’t feel like a cheap piece of plastic that will break in a month.  While I’m normally a pencil sketcher, I did enjoy drawing with the pen.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot more that I didn’t like about the experience.  Frankly, the software is clunky.  While I’m not an engineer and can’t quite give a lot of specifics on where the shortcomings lie, it just didn’t seem comfortable to work with.  While it has a feature that records all of your strokes, enabling you to scrub or play them back, I didn’t really see the point.  Additionally, the layers didn’t really seem to work well for me, either.  I never felt the need to separate my sketches into components.

The biggest issue I had with the device is that it has serious accuracy issues.  In an effort to test this, I created a pencil drawing in my sketchbook, erased it until it was faint, and then traced over it with the Inkling pen, trying to get as clean a drawing as I could.  I created a total of four new layers, going over the same lines in places, just to test the accuracy.  Here is the result of that particular drawing experiment.

As you can see, the layers don’t line up and the recorded lines aren’t very accurate.  I repeated this experiment a few more times over a couple of days, just to make sure I didn’t bump the device or accidentally move it the first time out, and judging by the similar results, that wasn’t the case.  Even with only using one layer, the accuracy had noticeable issues.  Having imported the Inkling sketches into both Photoshop and Illustrator, I can verify that bringing the sketch and layers into both programs works as advertised.  It was a smooth import and looked the same as it did in the Inkling Sketch Manager, layers intact.  The problem seems to be in the capture itself.

In an effort to be fair, my expectations for the Inkling were pretty high, and I think the disappointment lies primarily with that.  I was expecting the same level of accuracy I get from an Intuos tablet.  If you look at the Wacom site, it says that the Inkling is  “Designed for rough concepting and creative brainstorming, Inkling is ideal for the front end of the creative process. Later, refine your work on your computer using an Intuos4 tablet or Cintiq interactive pen display.”

Using this device for solely that purpose, it works as advertised.  I did a page of rough sketches using the pen alone, the results you can see here.

If you weren’t being a stickler for accuracy and comparing it to the original sketch line by line, the Inkling does what it was designed to do.  For rough sketches and concept ideas, to simply record something you can throw into your laptop and email to a client or collaborator, it works just fine.  It just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, which basically was to replace my scanner.  I know a number of other artists that were hoping for the same thing, and for this purpose, the Inkling is not the right tool.

When it comes to creative tools, the goal should be to find ones that will make your life better and fill a need.  When it comes to the Inkling and my own personal workflow, I find myself struggling to invent a use for it, in order to justify having it.  Unfortunately, I can’t.  When I import a drawing into Photoshop, I need it to be clean, and I will rarely have any use for a rough unfinished sketch like the ones you see above.  Will this device be useful to others?  Yes, I’m sure that it will, but it’s not for me.

 

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Why I Paint on the iPad

This is a painting I recently finished on the iPad.  For those who want the technical specs,  I’m using the first generation iPad, the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, and the procreate app.  The actual size and resolution of this image is roughly 13″ X 9″ at 72 ppi.  The only photo used was for reference (thanks, Pete!) and I designed my own brushes.  I have no idea how long it took me to paint as I worked on it over four or five days, an hour or two here and there.  I’ve never done a painting in one sitting and doubt I ever will.

Since the resolution and size for the iPad is so low, I’ll likely never be able to do what I call ‘finished work’ on it, so you might wonder why I bother at all.  As a sketch pad, it’s great, but why put all the time into painting in detail, light and shadow?  Very simply put, it’s a challenge, and it’s fun.

At the risk of sounding immodest, I already know how to make Photoshop sit up and do the boogaloo when it comes to painting.  I know what it takes to get the fine details and I’ll always keep working to add more realism and texture to my paintings, but any limitations I have in my painting are my own.  If my paintings aren’t as good as I can possibly make them, the fault doesn’t lie in Photoshop or my Wacom tablet, it’s in my ability.  I can’t remember the last time I thought, “I wish Photoshop could do…”

With the iPad, however, the challenge is to see just how far I can take a painting before I’m limited by the tools I’m using.  The resolution tops out at 72ppi.  The size is finite.  I have to work with what I’ve got, which is a combination of the device, the stylus and the app, all three I feel are the best I can find for my needs at the moment.  I’m not about to buy a new iPad while this one still works very well.  By working with limited hardware and software, it forces me to become a better painter, to find new ways of achieving the best I can from an image, with the tools I have at my disposal.  That stretching of skills can’t help but translate to better painting when I’m NOT limited by the hardware and software.

The fun part comes from being able to paint on a portable device.  As much as I enjoy working with the Wacom Cintiq 12wx and a laptop, or even just the Wacom Intuos4 small tablet and a laptop, neither option is REALLY as portable as a pencil and sketchbook, or an iPad and stylus.  Even though I work all day in my office, I often sketch the next day’s cartoon or paint on the iPad while sitting in front of the TV with my wife in the evening.

When I began to paint this ring-tailed lemur, I really had no intention of taking this image any further than this.  It was fun to work on, but it wasn’t supposed to be a finished painting.  But, much like the ostrich painting that was first started on the iPad, I’m pretty happy with it, and I love the manic expression in this little fella.  There is a very good chance I’ll be taking this painting into Photoshop, bumping up the size to 18″X24″ at 300 ppi and spending many more hours finishing it.

For the difference in iPad painting vs. Photoshop painting, here’s a comparison of the Ostrich Totem.