In The Garden Digital Painting

October 18, 2010 at 4:14 pm (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been practicing my digital painting in Photoshop. Usually my art is made with bits and pieces of digital images but for this one I did the girl’s face, hair and body from scratch with painting. Afterwards I added some digital pieces to complete the background. But I’ve been wanting to spend more time mastering the brushes, especially all the new brushes in CS5. This one took about the same amount of time as the other method. I didn’t use any model or reference material so had to spend a lot of time really thinking about where the shadows, highlights and contours should be put down. But considering I haven’t spent a lot of time painting from scratch, I’m satisfied with this effort.

I created the hair by using a brush set to scatter and painted it using a Wacom tablet and the Art Pen that allows rotation, tilt and pen pressure. It would have been a lot more difficult or impossible to do it with a mouse. But I’m having a few problems with the stylus. When I set the brush to soft, it sometimes continues to lay down very sharp edged strokes. And with the mouse I can click and then shift / click to create a straight line, but when using the art pen the shift doesn’t respond the same way. A bit frustrating.

The reason I’m putting in the time is that I’m working on another children’s book that features a dragon. I’m used to doing single spreads of an animal / creature, but this is the first time that it will be repeated throughout all the pages, in different perspectives and poses. For some reason I ran into some difficulty creating one that I’d be able to recreate in all the varioius poses. I have to resort to a lot of painting from scratch, so I’ve been spending time practicing, trying to improve my skill level and get over the initial hurdle …


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Checking Out Illustrator CS5

June 28, 2010 at 11:51 am (computer art, Digital Art, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been so busy creating lesson content and teaching Photoshop and Illustrator that I’ve barely had a moment to myself to just romp around in Photoshop and Illustrator, just for the sheer fun of it. Much of my time is spent working on tutorial videos for the students. I’m about to begin a new children’s book about a small child’s dragon adventure. I will use Illustrator to create the dragon but will do the rest of the art in Photoshop. I’m looking forward to being able to work in CS5 to delve into all the new features. I was using the stroke width tool today and it is beyond fantastic. I also played around with the perspective grid. I haven’t tried it long enough to see whether it will be utterly amazing or whether it will have glitches similar to Photoshop’s Vanishing Point. So far it looks quite promising, but did have a few issues, when I dragged an object that was drawn on one perspective, offset path added and then grouped with other objects, when I dragged this object into a new perspective surface the perspective was not correct, it was adding the new perspective on top of the prior perspective instead of making the calculation as though the object was facing forward. So maybe I should have first created these objects outside the perspective grid, then placed them onto the grid surfaces. I’ll experiment a bit more to find out if this is the way it works.

Below is a gif animation I created from scratch in Photoshop, part of a class lesson on filters and effects.

See No Evil – created and animated in Photoshop

After creating all the parts from scratch in Photoshop, the eyeball is made with Photoshop’s 3D, and afterwards I opened Photoshop’s animation workspace and created the animation frames for the gif.  Here is a screenshot of the settings I used.  Each frame is 0.2 seconds, except for the middle frame which I set to 5 seconds.

I created this piece below in Illustrator CS5, then added some finishing touches using Photoshop CS5.  I wanted to let my imagination wander while acquainting myself with the new tools and features. The art below is the consequence of my meanderings. Enjoying CS5, there seems to be no major issues. I got a bit confused in Photoshop’s new mask edge panel, it looks quite different from the panel in CS4 which was very easy to use.  This new panel seems less straight forward but I will forgive it if the new detect edges feature ends up working as all the promo videos promise (I am always a bit of a skeptic at first because I still clearly remember all the hype around the Extract filter when it was first being launched.  Now Adobe seems to have abandoned it entirely and treats it like the unwanted step child, not including it with the installation DVDs).  What I’ve noticed is that with Adobe’s initial demo videos, they are careful to choose only those images which are ideally suited, and they avoid ‘regular’ images that most people use, where the results are far less than satisfactory.   I’m curious to see whether this new detect edge feature works on regular, ordinary, every day images, not the 50 MB high res tifs set on a perfectly smooth, one-color background images that are used in the demo videos ….. 🙂

Created With Illustrator and Photoshop CS5

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Illustrator Gradient Mesh Guitar

April 8, 2010 at 8:23 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Created With Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh

This guitar is 100% Vector

Here is another example of gradient Mesh, used to add a soft contoured gradient on the body of the guitar. Illustrator’s regular gradient tool would not be able to add this kind of contour and this is where gradient mesh comes to the rescue. First a mesh is carefully drawn using the gradient mesh tool (the tool in the toolbox that looks like a Spiderman web). If care is taken in the beginning to place the mesh lines, then afterwards, coloring the mesh is quite simple, using the lasso tool, white arrow tool and eyedropper.

Other Parts Created With Gradients And Pattern Textures

All the other parts of the guitar were created by tracing them with the pen tool, then adding numerous fills set to various Blending Modes via the Appearance Panel. Some of the fills were set to Pattern textures to give the appearance of wood texture, and texture on the abalone inlay bits and tuning pegs.

Art Brushes Used To Create Wood Grain

I drew brush strokes and added the Artistic / Charcoal / Rough brush to create the wood grain pattern on the body of the guitar. I experimented until I found the one that best mimicked the wood grain I wanted.

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Masking With Smart Objects

February 24, 2010 at 7:17 am (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , )

Painted in Illustrator then imported into Photoshop

Experimenting with Smart Objects

I created the woven mesh with Illustrator CS4’s blob brush tool, then applied multiple gradients. I overlapped the layers of this weave repeatedly, moving their position so that it created more of a tangled appearance. I recolored some of the layers using Live Color, altering the color order and saturation of colors to add depth. Then I simply selected these layers and copied them via the clipboard into Photoshop as Smart Objects and continued to manipulate them. I used a Mask created from duplicating the blue Channel of an image of a man. I then clicked on this new Channel in the Channels Panel and increased its contrast using Brightness/Contrast and Levels in order to Mask away portions of the woven texture to make it appear as though the man was constructed of this substance. I also painted directly onto this Channel Mask layer with Dodge and Burn and a paintbrush set to Overlay Blending Mode. This helps to add more contrast to the edges of the mask.

Afterwards I continued adding gradients to these layers in Photoshop, and dodged and burned onto the layers themselves. I also used the Liquify filter to tweak the effect.

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Smart Objects In Photoshop

February 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , )

Advantages of Duplicating Smart Objects

I am putting lessons together for an upcoming advanced Photoshop / Illustrator class and was trying to come up with a way of delving into the pros and cons of Smart Objects, passing objects from Illustrator to Photoshop. The shapes began in Illustrator, then were brought into Photoshop as Smart Objects, allowing me to duplicate and rotate them, then make changes to the one object, ie: use Liquify Filter, dodge and burn, etc. which then updates all of the duplicated objects simultaneously. This can be very useful when using an object that needs to be repeated many times. Especially if it needs to be resized and rotated numerous times, which ensures that the crisp resolution is maintained.

This exercise will become a class lesson, which will demonstrate to students how to easily go back and forth between Illustrator and Photoshop, taking advantage of the strengths of each software to save time. For example, I never pick up the pen tool in Photoshop. I always jump over to Illustrator to draw the object because Illustrator allows me to add multiple fills and strokes, to offset stroke paths, to add numerous borders and brush strokes to paths, patterns, etc. It only takes seconds to cut and paste them into Photoshop where I can either place them as Smart Objects, shapes or pixels. I’ve now gotten in the habit of always opening both software and I hop back and forth as easily as if they were just two panels of the same program. It is effortless!

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Illustrator Pathfinder and Gradients

February 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator) (, , , , , , , , )

Use of Gradients and Shadow Effects

Pathfinder Creates Complex Shapes

The wasps are created using a circular shape that I alter with the pen tool. I then create an arc for the stripes using the Arc Tool. After rotating it into position I Alt drag it to create a duplicate. Then I select both of them and create a Blend with Specified Steps for the stripes on the back. I then use a Clipping Mask to mask the edges and add an inner glow to the yellow body shape. The upper body and eyes are colored with gradients. I make the legs using a Brush with texture and use the Reflect Tool to create the legs on the opposite side of the body.

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Illustrator versus Photoshop

August 21, 2009 at 8:30 pm (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m still working on illustrations for another children’s book using Photoshop. In my spare time I’m trying to master Illustrator. After working with beautiful organic pixels in Photoshop for so long, that do anything I ask, easily adding illusions such lighting and 3-dimension with the Dodge and Burn Tools or the use of Blending Modes. Illustrator on the other hand has blending modes, but when vectors are blended there is not the same subtle realism, so a lot of extra time is spent adding fake shadows and highlights. I find this a bit cumbersome, especially when the file becomes large and Illustrator’s screen redraw begins to choke. Whereas Photoshop CS4’s instantaneous Open GL is beyond amazing, it is worth every penny of the upgrade.

At the moment I’m experimenting, trying to become comfortable with the tools and effects. I love the way you can reflect and rotate while copying which makes creating repetitive shapes a breeze, and selecting and coloring multiple objects at the same time. I was able to create this mandala in minutes using these techniques. I afterwards saved it as a Symbol so that I can use it over again. It can be recolored in seconds using Illustrator’s recolor feature.

Vectors are amazing. I’ve repeated the mandala inside the mandala several times. Illustrator allows you to zoom in to 6000% !! which means I can keep repeating the mandala perfectly inside its center over and over again until I can’t zoom any further. If you look closely into the center, you will see the pattern repeat again and again. I also placed some typed messages that are so tiny it can’t be viewed until you zoom into about 1200% And it is completely crisp with perfect edges.

It can be a full time job learning software, especially since there are so many that I want to conquer: Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, After Effects, and then there’s keeping up with multi-platforms, XP, Vista, Tiger, Leopard … oh for the days of my youth when I actually had weekends to relax and romp …

Learning to draw in Illustrator has taught me a lot about the way my brain functions. Although I have no trouble with the pen tool, I can use it with ease, but I’ve discovered that if I “carve” out the shape using a combo of the Blob Brush Tool and Eraser, I can draw with more accuracy … like a sculptor who thinks in terms of contours and the surface, rather than “outlines”. ie: in the image below I drew thick blobby lines for the head and limbs, then carved out the contours of the body using the Eraser tool. I then went back afterwards and removed unwanted points and tweaked the body shape using the white arrow tool and the Simplify Paths function. Surprisingly easy (blob brush is new to Illustrator CS4). This image is still a work in progress. I’m not finished adding shadows and highlights to the body. Gradient mesh will not work on complex shapes with too many vector points so I have to experiment with a work around.


If you look closely you’ll see that I’ve superimposed the mandala from the first image over the bodice of the dress in this image. I’ve masked away the exterior using a “Clipping Mask” and blended it into the dress using “Overlay Blending Mode” which works exactly the same as in Photoshop. The floor was created by drawing with Pen Tool over a checkerboard shape that I created in Photoshop … for me it was easier to use Photoshop’s perspective transform tool, then simply place the image into Illustrator and trace over it, then delete the original. The clouds and door background is an imported jpeg.

Here is some fruit I created using the pen tool and Gradient Mesh to color them, created from scratch in Illustrator:


When it comes down to paths or pixels, for me pixels and Photoshop win hands down. But I now find myself jumping over to Illustrator to create bits and pieces that I import back to Photoshop to create various effects. Together they are dynamite!

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OpenGL A Total Joy

April 1, 2009 at 11:19 pm (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , )


Just One Wish

Loving New Features in CS4

Now that I have sorted out my video card driver, the OpenGL is working wonderfully. I could never go back to CS3, after experiencing the ease and time saving features. The new features in CS4 aren’t merely bells and whistles. I am using them all the time. I love the new brush shortcut that allows me to simply press Alt (Opt on the Mac) and drag the mouse to resize brushes on the fly. I use brushes constantly in my digital art so saves me a lot of time and I can see a rubylith mask outline of the brush shape, including the amount of feathering. Because my NVIDIA Quadro NVS 285 is an older video card, there are still a few glitches with brush outlines displaying with larger size brushes. But I’m becoming used to it and it’s a fair trade off for all the other features.

The new tabbed interface is a real time saver because I usually have many files open simultaneously. It’s a snap to switch between the old window set up and the new tabbed one, with just a click of a button.

Dodge and burn have been completely revamped. I loved them before and use them constantly to create , shadows and highlights in my art, but the newer method preserves color tones and is far less destructive. But what’s even better is that by clicking a checkbox dodge and burn will revert to the previous algorithym, which is great because for some uses, the older method seems to do the trick. It’s so nice to have a wider range of choices. There is now a new Masking Panel that makes it possible to refine the mask’s edges after creating it. Edges can be feathered, even shape layers. The upgrade is so worth it.

Just One Wish

The art above is an old one that I made a few years ago, but last night I was working on a new version of my website and was sizing images for the gallery. I came across this piece and at first thought that I’d leave it out because I hadn’t really mastered digital art techniques back then. But I still liked the mood so I thought I’d try reworking it. Usually I never go back to old art to fix them, even if I find problems with them. I usually just resolve to better in the new art I create. But I broke my own rule and decided to revise this one. Still not perfect because I’d have to start again from scratch to get it right, but I think it was worth salvaging.

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Lucille – A Modern Day FairyTale

February 22, 2009 at 1:50 am (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , , , )



Enjoying Photoshop CS4

This art piece began as an experiment, just playing around in newly installed CS4. I wasn’t sure if it would shape into anything substantial, so when it got late, around 3 a.m., I saved the file and abandoned it for several days, thinking that it was probably just junk.

A week or two later, I was cleaning my desktop and saw this PSB file that I had completely forgotten about. I opened it up to decide whether or not to delete it. It was still very much in the rough phase and looked quite terrible. I wasn’t sure if it could be salvaged, but I luckily happened to be in ‘the zone’ for working, so I began playing with it.

Originally I had shaped the girl into a sort of ‘elf’, with pointed ears and was going to take it into a more extreme fantasy direction. But I wasn’t satisfied with the ears, kept adding new ones, from exotic monkeys and other animals. I was going to give her a half-human, half-animal appearance. But none seemed believable (or as believable as pointed ears can be, ha ha! … actually, this brings up an important point. Even within fantasy, a measure of believability has to be maintained, otherwise the effect just looks tacky).

I began adding a halo of hair instead, until the girl took on a very soft ethereal quality which changed the entire direction of the piece.

Allow The Art To Shape Itself

When I’m creating art for myself, unlike when I’m working for a client, I allow the art to morph into any direction it wants. This is the most enjoyable part. I love the suspense of not knowing how it will turn out, what story it will tell. For example, when the elf ears weren’t working and the halo of soft hair added a different personality to the girl, I abandoned the elf idea and began adding elements that enhanced the soft, intense features. Every new element has to match the aspects that are working.

Be Prepared to Abandon Elements That Aren’t Working

Even if I spend an hour or more extracting an element or animal, color matching it, adding lights and shadows, if the element isn’t working within the scene I don’t hesitate for a moment to delete it. I never get attached to something just because I’ve spent hours working on it. I chalk it up to ‘practice time’. For example, I tried many different backgrounds and tree trunks beneath the owl. I spent hours, tweaking, recoloring, dodging, burning, distorting, but afterwards deleted many of them … until I found one that seemed to enhance the main character’s mood and personality.

Tip – Beware of CS4’s New Layer Delete

Beware, if you have a layer selected in the Layer Palette (now renamed Panel by Adobe), if you click Delete, you won’t get a message “Are you sure you want to delete this layer?” … it will automatically delete without asking you. Advanced users of Photoshop will like this time-saving feature, but Newbies have to be careful. Several times when I was working on this piece, I accidentally hit “delete” when I was actually reaching for another shortcut key. Luckily I noticed and hit “Ctrl / Z ” (Cmd / Z on the Mac) to bring back the layer.

I also still have to sort out the issue of the OpenGL features not working, whether it’s my video card, or my operating system. Also in Photoshop’s 3D, the 3D axis is not displaying, even when I’ve selected it from the view menu. The 3D axis control is faster and simpler than using the indivual 3D tools from the Toolbox. I’m not sure if this issue is connected to the Open GL issue or whether it is a separate problem. If anybody knows the answer, please let me know. My operating system is Window XP Professional and my video card on this computer is NVIDIA Quadro NVS 285, 128 MB, version

Postscript — Happy Update

Miraculously, The OpenGL features have begun working, along with the 3D Axis tool. I’m not certain what caused this because I did a number of different things while trying to troubleshoot the problem. I went to the NVIDIA website to update my Video card driver. You can choose an option to have the website automatically detect your video card and download the appropriate driver. However, after I installed the new driver, I noticed that the version number was lower than my prior version. This worried me, so I then went to my PC’s Windows Update by right clicking my Desktop, choosing Properties / Settings / Advanced / Adaptor / Properties / Driver / Update Driver. Although I had done this before and received a message that my driver was up to date, this time it actually updated the driver. I think this is what corrected the problem.

I can now do neat functions like Rotate Canvas which comes in handy for painting with a Wacom tablet. And Image Toss, which might sound like some mere gimmick, but believe me, when you have an enormuos document and are zoomed in to some detail and you need to pan to another area of the image, the pan glides as effortlessly as an Olympic skater and there is no blocky redraw lag time, Yipeeeeee !!!

There is also a new handy shortcut in CS4, if you Hold down your mouse while pressing the “H” Key while you are on any other tool. While still holding down both, you can slide around to any area of the image, then when you release the mouse it zooms into that area of the image. Very quick and wonderful way to get around a large, zoomed in image.

I also finally see the 3D Axis Tool, which is the most efficient way to manipulate the X, Y, and Z movements and rotations. I was so happy and relieved when these features began working that I felt tears come to my eyes. I never realized how important they were to me until I saw my reaction when they magically appeared. I am one very happy Photoshopper today !!!

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The Dove

January 29, 2009 at 6:34 am (computer art, Digital Art, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , , , , , )


The Dove

I just finished this digital art. It took about 4 days. I really enjoyed piecing together the character, who is comprised of so many bits and pieces of digital photos that in the end she becomes a purely fictional character. I really enjoy the challenge of creating someone who is entirely different from all of the components that go into making it. The eyes alone are comprised of 4 images, the hair from 3, the nose from 2 images (the bridge is from one photo and the bottom portion with nostrils from another). The mouth is from 2 separate images, then further changed wtih the Liquify Filter. The forehead is made from 2 images, the ears from another 2, the chin from another. The neck, shoulders and arms are from more than 8 separate images. The dress is made in Photoshop from tiny bits and pieces then molded into a new shape.


Close Up Details

Another Crash? — You Think I’d Learn By Now

I had worked on the dress for hours and lost track of the time. I was distorting (Edit / Transform / Distort) and rotating layers wtih Masks attached. Suddenly I got the dreaded message that there was insufficient RAM and Photoshop went down like the Titanic. I felt numb and exhausted. I couldn’t remember what stage I had last saved the PSB document, so I had to wait in suspense until the file reopened, to discover that the entire dress was lost and I had to rebuild it all over again. It was already late, so I decided to go to bed and redo it the next day. I’m not sure whether I prefer the earlier version or this final version … the first version had some very intricate details of lace. But I try to see the bright side, each time I redo something I get more practice in Photoshop.

I’m still using CS3. I bought CS4 but in order to install it, I have to do some major hard drive housekeeping and clear out a bunch of files because I’ve used almost the entire hard drive. I purchased the Creative Suite, Master Edition that has all Adobe programs including the video and sound applications. These will take up a lot of hard drive space to install.

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