I like learning people’s process of making art. I always come away with some ideas to try; however, I don’t always share my process. Because I was asked to unpack how I am getting to my finished pieces, I’ve decided to go ahead and write about it.
First, it’s important to remember that everyone has a system. I’ve adopted my base system from a couple of different teachers, and I try to work traditionally. You have to start developing a system. It makes it easier to work with, especially in the digital realm, where it is too easy to monkey around and not go anywhere. In the digital realm, you can become overwhelmed with the choices.
I always start with some image that sparks an idea. The bird was something I saw on a free image site. I had the idea of it sitting on books beside a cup of tea, so I decided to go with that idea. I never know if an idea will work or not, and sometimes my inability to see if it will work starts to shut me down before I even begin. Making art is a lot of work, and I hate trashing pieces I don’t like. It’s the perfectionist in me. It can really hinder exploration.
I actually started working on this image in Procreate. I made my sketch in Procreate, and I overlaid the color inspiration I had. I tried to envision what this would look like in the end. This is a key component for me. I need to have an idea of where I’m going. I knew the green/yellow would look pretty good against the purple, so I decided to go with this idea.
Once I had my sketch done, I moved to Photoshop (PS). The first order in PS is to do a small thumbnail value study. Value studies are done in neutrals, and I only use four values. Then I threw on a bunch of colors to see if I would still like it.
From this stage, I move in and out of Corel Painter and Photoshop frequently. These programs work hand in hand for me. Painter can do a lot of what I’m doing in Photoshop, but I become too frustrated with some of the clunky tools, so I typically use masks and color corrections in PS. It takes less than a second to swap to the other program, so it doesn’t disrupt my flow.
When I’m close to being done, I take a lot of time thinking about the image and what can be added or taken away. I place a grid of small squares over the painting, and I look at each of these squares to see if I have enough variation with color or interest within each square. I want each square to be a mini abstract painting.
I also zoom up to 150%, and I pan around these squares to see if there is any weird mark. I don’t want any surprises when I print it out. I also think this stage is a tidying stage. It makes me focus on things more up close, and it’s the only time I allow myself to be this close to the painting.
Once I consider myself done, I always end up in PS to color correct, boost colors, sharpen, and save out.
Digital art encompasses a lot of skills. To get better at it, you not only need to learn traditional painting techniques, but you must learn your program (or programs). The more you know, the less you have to think about what you do. You can identify a problem, and then you know what you need to correct the problem.
It all takes time, so develop a system on how to create your painting from start to finish (make a written list to follow if you must), and then keep learning your program, and keep taking classes. Getting good at making art boils down to nothing more than time and practice!