Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hide and Seek

I taught at the Masters of Digital Painting workshop in Moscow earlier this month by invitation from Max Kostenko. At the workshop, Denis Zilber taught about light, and Serge Birault taught techniques of pin-up illustration. I talked about some rules of composition and then did a demonstration on controlling a composition, starting with this image, which I deliberately made a bit over-detailed and convoluted:
It could be worse, but it's still a mess, right? Almost every artist runs into problems like this sometimes, so I wanted to show how to sort through a flawed and complicated composition.

I took the picture to this point during the workshop:
Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do more than push the values and colors around. I've spent a couple hours on it since then, trying to take it where I thought it should go. There is one thing still bothering me, but I can't figure out how to fix it without damaging the theme and integrity of the picture.
I've taught before that when you can't control the size at which people will view a piece (like when posting it online, where you can't control monitor size or other things like level of zoom), you should design your composition to read clearly at almost any distance. But when I tried making the silhouettes clear and cropping it so the boy was visible at smaller scales, it lost that epic sense of exploration that I wanted.
A stronger composition? Maybe, but I still like most things better in the other one.
Not to mention that obscuring the monster a bit feels right for a game of hide and seek---in fact I may have pulled him out from the background too much as it is. Anyway, the point is that this one is meant to be seen large so make sure to click on the image. Sorry, thumbnail-aficionados! I guess I have to conclude that no set of rules can cover all compositions.

Thanks to all the people who came to the workshop and made me feel welcome in Russia. It was fun!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Photoshop Brushes

I wondered what would happen if I used every brush in one image.  I guess this is the answer.
If you are a long-time Photoshop user, this will be a boring post for you. But if you recently made or are making the switch, then it might help. In order to make the transition to Photoshop, I had to change how I think about and use brushes. These are the categories that I find useful for everyday painting:
Drawing: brushes that work well at small scales and for details
Gradient: brushes that are good for making a smooth shift in colors with minimal "banding"
Edge: brushes that can easily create an edge
Blending: smudge tools that help smooth banding or introduce distortion to smooth areas
Texture: brushes that create strong textures
Feature: brushes used as a shortcut to create specific things (ie. trees, chains, windows, etc.)
I'll talk about each of these separately, except feature brushes, since they are so highly customized. I've included a link at the bottom with the brushes I used in this post. Copy the file into the appropriate photoshop\presets\tools folder and you can access it from your Tool Presets window/menu. I like tool presets because they contain all of a tool's information (not just stuff in the brush menu) and can be used for things like the smudge tool.

Drawing Brushes:
This conte brush is from Simini Blocker's brush set. Thanks Simini!
Photoshop does a very poor job with brush scaling. Brush dabs made at a certain size look mushy when scaled up or down very far. This is especially problematic with brushes you want to use for details, so you need brushes suited to that purpose. None of my drawing brushes are exciting, but they get the job done.

Gradient Brushes:
Jason's Nice Brush from Jason Kim, Rounded Square modified from Tom Scholes, Spatter Soft from Chris Wahl, and Oil Brush from Blur's Goodbrush set 
Photoshop's airbrush does a good job with smooth gradients, but if you want something with just a little more meat and interest, there are a variety of brushes that allow you to go from fully transparent to fully opaque with very little banding (sudden jumps in color/value). Turn down the opacity enough and lots of brushes can work fairly well for this, but sometimes it's nice to have a brush you can control to full opacity using pressure. The most important brush here is the Rounded Airbrush. It has a falloff that matches the falloff of light on a rounded surface, and it feels just like my modified 2b Pencil brush from Painter.  I created the Rounded Eraser from the same dab (also in the tools below) and it works just like the Eraser brush from Painter (try it and you will see why it is awesome).

Edge Brushes:
Square Chalk from Blur's Goodbrush set, link above
I like brushes that allow me to get a strong edge, and with a few exceptions, gradient brushes are bad at that. Painter had various brushes that could do both, but Photoshop's brush engine seems to resist giving me that same seamless control. My versions of the Captured bristle and the Rounded Square can be used both for gradients and for edges, if not perfectly. This Captured Bristle, by the way, is based off my favorite brush from Painter, the Captured Bristle Acrylic. It's not as good, but this brush makes me miss it less. These hard-edged brushes become surprisingly useful when paired with blenders, the next category.

Blending Brushes:

Some of these have been modified from other sets, but I don't remember well enough to track them down.  Sorry.
Sometimes I just can't avoid banding, or sometimes I don't want to worry about smoothness while I lay down color. Other times I want to introduce texture or variation to the image using the colors already there. Photoshop's smudge tool is pretty good for this, but is very limited. I assume the Adobe team turned off the texture and dual brush controls for speed, but missing those controls means you have a limited number of stroke types. If you are used to the control of Painter's brushes then the smudge tool is an extra step, but you can get some nice effects with it anyway. My favorite of these is Smudge Nice, and I use it for almost everything.

Texture Brushes:

Dappled Texture from Ben Simonsen, Heavy, Paint Texture, and Spatter Airbrush from Blur's Goodbrush, Scribbles from Chris Wahl, Tree brush from Jaime Jones, I think
I hardly ever use these for painting, only for adding interest and variety. These brushes don't have very good edge control. This requires either accepting the loss of control, or using selections or some other method to add boundaries to your paint area. Dual Brush combinations can add some edge control, but may introduce other issues. I do like how brushes like these can quickly hide the digital feel you sometimes struggle to get away from in Photoshop.

Download my tool presets here (installation instructions above). I'm going to do another post later with my CS6 brushes, which include some more interesting options.

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