Monday, 14 June 2010

End Of The War – Creation of a Digital Painting, Part I

Canvas to the Screen
In this series of articles, I am going to outline the creation of my latest digital painting, currently titled 'End of the War'.

One of the biggest problems with creating a piece of art, is the space and tools. Pencil or pen illustration is great, you can grab a pad and get sketching. When it comes to paintings, however, it gets trickier.

What happens when you want to create a detailed piece of colour work? Paints, palettes, brushes, water (or other thinning medium), tissue, preferably an easel or at least a table, somewhere to (at the very least) leave the painting in between sessions of work... When you have limited space and only small chunks of time available, it becomes enough of an encumbrance that while you may occasionally have the enthusiasm and energy to do something, you'll find you can't keep it up regularly... Getting those tools out and tidying them up on a regular basis, for perhaps as little as half an hour's worth of painting at a time, becomes tedious and can easily be detrimental to your enthusiasm. It becomes more about making the time and effort just to get things ready, than about the painting itself. Soon your productivity tapers off, and you're lucky if you do a piece of artwork outside of a sketch or two.

My solution (hopefully!) is the digital realm. I know it's not quite the same as painting physically, but it requires fewer resources, less space and can be started and stopped at the drop of a hat. One laptop, one graphics tablet, and away you go.

Sure, I won't get the texture, physicality or hands-on pleasure of a real painting, but it does have its advantages. I can mess around and change a painting with ease. If I'm dissatisfied with an element I can replace or change it without completely ruining things. I can even keep variations from part way through and decide to return to them. Versatility is the key word here.
It is pleasantly surprising how personal style transfers. The first digital painting I seriously tried was more of an experiment. A character illustration that turned into a 'classic horror movie' style poster. Not especially creative and meaningful, but great fun and excellent practice. By the end, I was impressed with how it still looked very similar to my traditional acrylic paintings.

Like anything, technique and ability improve with practice. I started with the character's hand on that first painting, in order to learn with a less important element than, for example, the face (Which I would often start with when painting traditionally). The hand took me forever, but by the time I'd finished, I had an idea how I wanted to proceed on the rest. It all took quite a while, but I'm rather satisfied with the quality of the finished result.

Still, there's no comparison to the hands-on ease and quality of creating that initial work physically. So for my latest piece, I took a creature/robot illustration I had drawn originally in ballpoint. The beauty of drawing with a pen is that you have to live with the errors. You have to maintain an initial looseness until you have achieved the general shapes you're after. Only then can you work on the detail. With ballpoint you can maintain the life of a quick pencil sketch, with the contrast of a printed illustration. A style which I find rather appealing, and works for me.

The creature design had no purpose other than the fun of drawing. I idly sketched the head, and only then decided to create a body and pose for it. Being rather pleased with the unexpected results of such a casual illustration, after a while I decided to take it further and do something more with it. I wanted to put it into a context and use it as an excuse for a new piece of artwork. I was intrigued enough with the look of the creature that I found myself wondering where it was, what it was doing.
Again, the initial scene appeared to form rather randomly. I photographed the creature sketch and put it on my laptop, moved him around on the digital canvas, and created a rough digital sketch of his environment. A story formed in my mind, and now the painting is gradually coming to life...

As of now, only the sky, ocean, and crumbling planet are somewhat complete. In Part II I shall outline some of my ideas behind the scene, and a bit more on the technical side of how the painting is achieved.

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