Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays from the PixlBlog!



Click on any image to view a larger version.


I created this holiday scene from an image I shot last year in Australia while teaching Painter workshops in collaboration with Wacom Asia Pacific. I found this truck on a farm outside of Adelaide, South Australia in the Adelaide Hills.

Here is the photograph as originally shot:



I decided to transform this early morning image into a "day-for-night" shot. In order to explain how I created the day-for-night effect, as well as the lights, I'm going to rely on some images. Here goes...

I shot the original image in RAW. The RAW format is the equivalent of a digital negative and contains all of the data the camera sensor captured. In my case, this data is represented in 12 bits (Canon 5D). This extra data provides headroom for exposure and density adjustment.

I use the Adobe Raw Converter (ACR) to process my RAW files; however, the type of adjustments I made are possible in any RAW conversion application.

I did all of this in Photoshop CS3.

I significantly adjusted my exposure down 3 stops. I additionally adjusted the Color Temperature down to move it to a cooler rendition:



Here is the resulting color corrected image:



To add the lights, I began by drawing a loose lighting string on a separate layer using the underlying photo as a placement guide. I added some regularly spaced light receptacles along the string:



Using the lighting string layer as my guide, I created a new layer and used the Pen Tool to create a bulb shape. I duplicated and rotated this shape and placed individual copies at each light position relative to the lighting string receptacles. All of the resulting bulb layers were grouped together and merged into a single white light bulb layer.

I looked at several photographs of holiday lighting for reference. As a result, I decided to leave the actual bulbs more-or-less white as this is a typical result from long exposures of colored lights.

I duplicated this layer 2-3 times and blurred each layer to varying degrees. These stacked layers then provided glows for the above-positioned, in-register, lightbulb layer. The light bulb layer's blending mode was kept set to Normal.

All of the glow layer's blending mode were set to Screen. This makes the layer's glow elements act like a colored gel in relation to the underlying image. I subsequently colored the various glow elements by locking the transparency of each targeted glow layer, then airbrushing the desired color into the pre-existing white glow.

To add the environmental reflected light on nearby objects in the photo, I created another layer, set the blending mode to Screen, selected my desired color and airbrushed the light onto the appropriate area of the image:



I photographed the wreath in shade (to keep the lighting fairly non-directional). I processed the resulting RAW file in the same fashion as the original photo to get similar coloration. I cut out and composited the wreath into the scene and added a shadow to help it believably appear in the scene:



I also used the Magic Wand Tool to select the sky, then filled with a nighttime color gradation. I then selectively painted in a few stars:



Oh...and I retouched the license plate to say "PEACE"!

Happy Holidays!

-john

Thursday, December 13, 2007

L.A. Advanced Painter Workshop


I'd like to announce my latest workshop, Advanced Corel Painter for Photographers. The workshop will debut in Los Angeles, CA. this coming February 18/21, 2008 and will be held at the loft/studio of artist and photographer, Bettie Grace Miner.

This 4-day Advanced Expressive Photographic Interpretation workshop is designed for photographers experienced with both Adobe® Photoshop® and Corel® Painter™. The workshop will specifically focus on the interpretation of photographic source imagery into expressive artworks.

Image Preparation with Adobe Photoshop CS3
The initial segment of the workshop focuses on image preparation with Photoshop prior to expressive interpretation. The importance of the RAW format, noise removal, lighting enhancement, lens distortion correction, removal of distracting elements, and ensuring color accuracy between Photoshop and Painter will be covered.

Getting the Most Out of Painter’s Brushes
This segment of the workshop focuses on Painter’s highly sophisticated brush engine. Maximizing pressure response, determining the right brush for a specific task, Custom Palettes, The Image Hose, brush customization and brush management via the Workspace Manager will be covered.

Expressive Interpretation with Corel Painter X
This segment of the workshop focuses on expressive interpretation with Corel Painter X. The vocabulary of paint, painterly simplification, layers as a safety net, painting workflow, focusing on the subject, faces & hands, skin, hair, and eye treatment, adding highlights for dramatic effect, and the beauty pass—additive strokes that add life and energy—will be covered.

Students should have previous experience with Photoshop and Painter as a basis for this class. It is my goal that this workshop be composed of experienced Painter users; this will ensure that no time is spent on elementary concepts. If you are unsure whether or not you are ready for this class, please contact me for additional information. 

Friday, October 5, 2007

New Work...Finally!



I've finally gotten the time to do some new work. The past few months have been filled with producing the Corel Painter Essentials 4 video tutorials. During this time, I somehow managed to shoehorn in co-teaching a couple of workshops with Darrell Chitty. We did some live model sessions that dressed in Civil War-era costumes.


I used a shot from this series to work on further distancing my work from its photographic source. As more photographers are jumping on the expressive photographic interpretation bandwagon, I feel that it will be essential to employ aggressive techniques that erase the photographic underpinnings of the work. This is what I will be concentrating on as I continue to evolve my techniques.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On the Shoulders of Giants


As a youngster interested in art and illustration, I found inspiration on the covers and pages of magazines like Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal. This was the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, an era known as the Golden Age of magazine illustration. Personal computers and Corel Painter were the stuff of science fiction. Compelling illustration demanded expert drawing and painting skills. Illustrators like Al Parker, Coby Whitmore, and Albert Dorne were among the superheros of the medium.

When a magazine arrived in the mailbox, I would pour over the illustrations and marvel at the magnificent creativity of the illustrations within. I collected these illustrations and endlessly studied them. Eventually, my collection evaporated with the passage of time. Photography and digital art have since replaced this traditional art form. If only I could once again access these long lost inspiring resources!

Thanks to the very technology that has replaced classic advertising illustration, it is now possible to once again study and draw inspiration from the golden age of illustration. Canadian illustrator and Painter user Leif Peng maintains an excellent blog, Today’s Inspiration, dedicated to the magazine illustration’s glory days. Leif is probably one of the most knowledgeable individuals around with respect to classic illustration and his Today’s Inspiration blog is on my daily reading list.

It is fascinating to read about the careers and techniques employed by these artists. For example, Leif documents how the popularity of gouache designer’s colors affected a change in 50’s illustration style. Even more so, it is highly educational to learn how these illustrators approached their art. The content may have changed, but the principles of design remain highly relevant today.

Leif additionally maintains an incredible library of high-resolution scans of illustration from the golden age on the Flickr photo-sharing site. This resource has enabled me to once again enjoy and study the illustrators I grew up admiring. There are hundreds of examples archived. You can check out this collection via Classic Illustrators by Name.

In reacquainting myself with the illustration heroes of my youth, it has become apparent to me that these artists’ work was a big influence on my desire to emulate the techniques that they employed. This desire ultimately found its way into many of Painter’s tools as we originally developed it. Consequentially, it is a real pleasure to see the echoes of these giants of illustration appear in many Painter artists’ work today.

Whether for pleasure or education, Leif’s blog and illustration archive provide a valuable resource to learn from past masters. Thanks to the golden age of illustration, Painter in part strives to embody the tools of this era.

We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Corel Painter Essentials 4 Released


I've been AWOL for several months due to a project that I couldn't talk about. The project has finally been announced and I'm happy to say that it is Corel® Painter™ Essentials 4. Essentials is the simple-to-use home art studio that makes it easy for you to sketch, paint and turn your photos into paintings. However, Essentials 4 has been completely re-designed. Whether you are new to digital painting or an experienced Painter user, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Essentials. There has been a major re-thinking in the way Painter presents its functionality, making it far easier to navigate and utilize its tools. While Essentials keeps the tool count compact, it demonstrates how many of Painter's features can be made easier to access, as well as improve productivity.

I produced the video tutorials that accompany Essentials 4 (there are over 2 hours of them!). Each tutorial is integrated with the Essentials Guidebook. If you or someone you know wants to get into digital hand-painted or photographic-interpreted art, Painter Essentials 4 is a great way to get started. I won't attempt to describe all of the features of Essentials here. You can get a good idea by visiting the Painter Essentials website.. There you can preview three of my video tutorials (they are at the bottom of the Painter Essentials web page).

Now that I'm finished with this project, I'll be back to blogging regularly.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Week With Monet Workshop


I'm happy to announce an exciting new workshop in collaboration with two-time Louisiana Photographer of the Year, Darrell Chitty.

The workshop, titled "A Week With Monet", takes place at the historic Butler-Greenwood Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana (30 Minutes north of Baton Rouge). Students can pick from one of four workshop dates: August 6-11 and September 6-11.

Darrell and I have been receiving a lot of questions specifically about Darrell's unique art finishing process. Transforming photographic portraits into painted interpretations with Painter and then printing the result onto canvas via inkjet is only half of the process. Darrell then applies oils and varnish to the print to achieve the look and feel of a traditionally painted oil on canvas.

It is this art finishing process that distinguishes the final result from typical canvas prints. These finished art works are indistinguisable from a traditionally painted oil portrait. As a result, the finished portrait (or landscape, stilllife, etc.) project the aura of a unique art object. As such, these art works have a much higher selling point—as well as value in the eyes of the client.

We are pleased to offer an optional two additional days—at no extra charge—to our remaining Week With Monet workshops. These two extra days will be devoted to the finishing process of printing, mounting and hand-oil painting on the image. Taken as a whole, this workshop will take the student through the ENTIRE creative process! Again, there is no additional charge for the two extra days other than the room fee to stay a little longer at the plantation ($100 per night).

Master Corel® Painter™ under the supervision of Impressionist Darrell Chitty, and artist and Painter co-creator, John Derry. Develop a style that no one can duplicate. Study in the same setting that inspired artist John J. Audobon. Travel back to Civil War times. Stay at the historic Butler-Greenwood Plantation in beautiful St. Francisville, Louisiana.

Not only will you learn the technical skills of Painter, but you will better understand the great artists Monet and Sargent. You will be able to duplicate their painting styles. Two projects will be completed during the week. Using live models in vintage clothing, students will master a Monet landscape and a Sargent portrait. You have never experienced a creative retreat in a more historic and inspiring environment than in beautiful St. Francisville.

Eat, drink and sleep with the arts. With this experience you will discover your unique artistic style. This week will be like a Woodstock for Photographers!

Limited Space! This workshop will be limited to no more than 12 students. Personal attention for student development will be guaranteed.

For more information, visit the "A Week With Monet" Workshop web page.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pixels and Pigments

A confluence of technology and tradition is serving to advance digitally created art to a new level of acceptance and appreciation. A traditional art material—pigment, has joined with a relatively new building block of art—pixels, to provide an apt vessel for digital imagery.

Unlike traditional media, digitally created art has been sorely lacking in permanence. Early digital art was largely confined to the monitor. No electricity, no art. Twenty years ago, emerging ink-jet printing technology utilized fugitive dye-based inks—a print exposed to light would begin to fade within months.

Beyond the fading issue, there was the drawback of the non-archival papers supplied with the printers. Attempting to alternatively print on an archival 100% cotton rag paper resulted in a fuzzy image as the applied ink spread into the uncoated surface.

In the intervening years, ink-jet technology has advanced to archival inks and image receivers, including canvas and fine art papers. Art created with Corel Painter can now safely exist in a format that will preserve it with the same permanence as traditional art media. So, the revolution is over? Not by a long shot.

There is a current in the wind these days—the merging of pixels and pigments. Now that pixel-based art can be safely applied to traditional art surfaces like fine art paper and canvas, artists are coming full circle and beginning to embellish these prints with their traditional corresponding mediums. Why?

One of the weak points of digitally created art has been its lack of physicality. Traditional paintings, for example, possess a strong physical component. A painting’s viewer primarily focuses on the pictorial subject matter. However, the presence of the canvas weave, the brush-stroked surface buildup—even the frame—all subtly contribute to the total experience of the painting as object. These tactile qualities imbue an art object with a sense of uniqueness, as well as permanence.

Printing Painter art onto canvas or fine art paper is a big first step towards marrying pixels and traditional media. Embellishing these printed results with mediums like oils or charcoal projects the final work into the realm of a unique object, much like a traditional monoprint. Even if multiples of the image are produced, no two will be exactly alike due to the random variances of the artist’s hand.

We are fortunate to be living during a pivotal point in the evolution of expressive image-making technology. Like the printing press, the computer has enabled an entirely new way of communicating. This new medium melds the old with the new, providing a comfortable—yet revolutionary—form of unique expression embodying the malleability of pixels with the permanence and uniqueness of pigments.

Viva la Revolution!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Denver Workshop Update


The Denver Workshop has been approved by the Professional Photographers of America Continuing Education Program. Current PPA members will receive one service merit for completing the class.

The workshop is this June 11-14 and highlights Corel Painter X's new Smart Stroke feature. No Painter experience is necessary for this class.

Visit the Denver Introductory Painter X Workshop page for additional information.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Denver Introductory Painter X Workshop


I will be teaching an Introductory Painter X workshop this June 11-14 in Denver, Colorado. Photographer Karrie Davis is hosting the workshop and is located in Centennial, Colorado—a suburb of Denver.

This Introductory Expressive Photographic Interpretation workshop will introduce you to Corel® Painter™ X, utilizing its revolutionary Smart Stroke brushes. This technology enables new users to create finished works of art with no painting or drawing experience.

The workshop will guide you through the process of combining Adobe®Photoshop® and Corel Painter X to transform photographs into painted results. Painter X’s breaktrough Smart Stroke technology will be highlighted in this session.

Using this tool, compelling art can be generated in a single mouse click, then utilized for further refinement. Utilizing exploration-encouraging Safety Net techniques, the class will learn by working along with me on the same image. You'll also receive my custom Smart Stroke brushes.

Students should have some experience with Photoshop as a basis for this class. No Painter experience is necessary. Students are responsible for their own laptop with both Photoshop and Painter X installed (a fully functional 30-day trial version of Painter X is available at www.corel.com/painterX.) A Wacom tablet is highly recommended and essential if you intend on continuing developing your own expressive interpretations.

Visit the Denver Introductory Painter X Workshop page for additional information.

I hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Derry Does Dallas!


Join John Derry as he distills the essence of Corel Painter into a information-packed presentation. He'll work his magic on demonstration images and explain how to utilize Painter's natural-media tools to their maximum. Seemingly at random, John will spontaneously relate some of the behind-the-scenes stories surrounding the creation of Painter. Be prepared for an entertaining and educational experience!

This is a rare opportunity to meet and experience one of the true Masters of Digital art...

Who should attend:
Professional Photographers, Semi Professional and Enthusiast Photographers, Graphic Designers, Digital Media Artists and anyone wishing to get inside tips and knowledge on the art of natural digital media from the guy who invented the concepts and tools.

All Apple Corps of Dallas meetings are free.
SIGS begin at 9:00am
The General Meeting (John's show) begins promptly at 10:00am
Open to the public!

Visit the Apple Corps Dallas website for additional information.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Smart Strokes and the Drawing-Challenged

A lively debate focusing on Painter X's new Smart Stroke feature has been going on recently within the online Painter community. Smart Strokes are applied to an existing image, usually a photograph, to produce a result that mimics the character of a medium-specific, hand-rendered image. Some artists using Painter view assistive technology like Smart Strokes as a form of "cheating" that de-values learned draghtsmenship.

I am not of this opinion. I believe in anything that enables an individual to experience and utilize an expressive creative tool. In particular, photographers are already artists in their own right. Technology like Smart Strokes simply enables them to take their photography to a new level of expression.

This debate is in parallel to the introduction of photography in the mid-19th century. The traditional salon-based painting establishment was very derisive of "souless" photography in its early years. Over the course of several decades, photographers discovered the unique qualities of the lens and shutter—motion blur, frozen motion, stroboscopic flash, etc.—creating a unique visual vocabulary that established photography as an art form. Today, no one questions photography's artistic validity.

We are now in an era where the expressive paint brush interacts efortlessly with the photograph. Once again, it is the traditional rendering-based artist segment that views the application of photography in expressive media as a form of creative crutch. I'm convinced that history will repeat itself and this will become a non-argument as artists discover the unique qualities of the intermixing of painting and photography.

Smart Strokes is not a press-here-to-make-art tool. To use this technology successfully requires careful selection of source imagery combined with an intelligent application of media. Smart Strokes frees the "drawing-challenged" to focus on the expressive character of an image without the need to come to the party with pre-existing hand-rendering skills.

Of course, it is possible to simply use the default settings to produce a painted result. And the final image will possess a sameness with other images created using the same settings. This is where the expressive power of Smart Strokes comes into play. Individual decisions—the choice of medium, when to halt the process, the application of additional brushes—are what creates an individually unique expression. The selective addition of finalizing "grace notes", either by hand or by auto-painting, will further imbue the image with expressive individuality. In the process, the photographer may come to realize that the learning of hand rendering is a valuable addition to their skill set.

Perhaps, in the future, the expressive photographic interpretation will be viewed in hindsight as a blending of media similar to the hand-tinted photograph. This technique was popular prior to the introduction of color negative and transparency film. In its heyday, hand-tinted photographs were a popular expressive addition to black-and-white portraits, provided the subject with an enhanced reality. Today, these images have the nostalgic charm of a bygone era.

In the years to come (probably not decades—as was the case in the technolgoically-slower-developing era photography came from) artist-photographers will discover the unique characteristics of intermingled expressive painting and photography, creating a new visual vocabulary of which we are not yet conversant. Smart Strokes is one step in this direction.

It will be interesting to watch and see this new vocabulary emerge.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Imagine Publishing Launches Official Corel Painter Magazine


Imagine Publishing, the UK's fastest growing consumer specialist magazine publisher, on February 23 announced that is has reached an exclusive agreement with the Corel Corporation to publish the Official Corel Painter Magazine worldwide.

Corel Painter is the finest real media software on the market, allowing users to emulate the look and feel of traditional art materials. Whether you are working from a photo or a hand-drawn sketch, the amazing brush sets turn your computer into a digital canvas and allow you to create amazing art.

With the Official Corel Painter Magazine, Imagine Publishing will provide new and existing Corel Painter users with the ultimate companion to the software. Each issue will be packed with tutorials explaining how to create art with the program, covering everything from using the default tools, to learning how to re-create famous paintings.

Each issue will feature a coverdisc full of important digital resources such as tutorial files, training videos, exclusive brushes and demos. The magazine will be complemented by a dedicated website where readers can interact on the forums, upload their own artwork and download even more Painter resources.

"Corel Painter is the perfect software for digital artists and we're very excited to be working with Corel in producing a magazine that does this incredible program justice. Each issue will be full of inspirational art and step-by-step guides to ensure that readers not only gain a greater understanding of the Corel Painter software, but that they also become better artists in their own right," said Imagine's Managing Director, Damian Butt.

"We are very delighted to be working with Imagine Publishing, a company that has a proven track record when it comes to producing high-quality consumer magazines. And by adding its expertise and resources to our enthusiasm and deep industry, customer and product know-how, we will together be able to deliver a first class magazine that shows the true power and creativity of the Corel Painter software," said Corel's Deborah Thomas.

This is definitely good news for Painter users everywhere!

Monday, February 19, 2007

In Search of Personal Style

I recently taught a workshop for portrait photographers. While working with this group, I was struck by the fact that each photographer had a distinct style. For instance, one had a strong sense of color; another made great use of shadow and highlight. I began to think about what style is and how an artist acquires it.

During their formative years, artists focus much attention on these questions of style, and art students often question whether they have their own styles. A good approach to developing style is to look closely at the work of well-known artists whose styles you are drawn to. As a learning aid, try to emulate these artists’ unique styles. In doing so, some of what you emulate will likely rub off on your own work. By emulating existing styles, you will begin to develop a personal stylistic vocabulary that you can use to balance your personal preferences. As your personal art matures, these bits and pieces of other artists’ influences will be absorbed into a look that is unique to you.

Style is an elusive beast. The more you concentrate on it, the harder it is to obtain. Conversely, if you simply keep producing art over an extended period, you’re likely to discover that a style—your own—has crept into your work.

In a basic sense, everyone already has the essence of a personal graphic style. Try writing your name, and take a close look at it. You created this complex expressive gesture effortlessly. No one else can sign your name exactly as you do. This is style in its purest form. It manifests itself only through repetition.

If you use the default settings of the brush variants in Corel Painter, your images are likely to resemble those of other artists who have used the same variants. Play with the brush variants you are interested in, and try making adjustments to them. Corel Painter retains these changes. In fact, the more you use and adjust your customized brush variants, the more effectively you can use them as tools for self-expression.

Although Corel Painter has an abundance of brushes, try not to fall into the trap of thinking that more is better within a single image. As a general rule, I don’t use many different brush variants at the same time. When the early desktop publishing applications became available in the mid-1980s, people unfamiliar with typography suddenly had dozens of fonts available to use within their printed materials. Being somewhat naive, these users quickly established what has been called the “Ransom Note School of Design.” This type of graphic work was quickly identifiable: a single page of type would typically contain every font style available to the so-called designer. The moral of this story is that in good design, less is more. The same axiom applies to the number of brush variants used within a single image. Restricting the variety of mark-making tools helps the image maintain an inner consistency.

This is not to say that you should not experiment with a wide variety of brush variants — you just shouldn’t use them all within the same image. A good alternative is to set up a test image, on which you can try out several brush variants that interest you. Let the various marks intersect and affect each other. This kind of creative play can lead to unique expressive discoveries that you may end up using in your work. In time, these discoveries may become part of your unique personal style.

Is style a big deal and should you be concerned about it? In the long run, probably not. Given enough time, an individual’s sense of style typically develops on its own. It is a good practice to analyze and understand what makes your art unique. Getting into an artistic rut is often the result of relying on an established personal style without working to move beyond it. In the best circumstances, one’s personal style is a continually evolving entity. Some aspects of your style tenaciously remain, despite your artistic evolution. Other facets are discarded when they are no longer crucial to your personal expression.

So, how do you attain and perfect your own personal style? The same way a pianist gets to Carnegie Hall — practice, practice, practice. And practice makes perfect.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Corel Painter X Has Landed!


Painter has reached ten—version 10, that is. Officially known as Corel® Painter™ X, this edition continues to innovate with ground-breaking features. I’ve always enjoyed the point in software development when all of the elements—the features, packaging, advertising layouts, and all of the associated details—finally come together. What was several related concepts congeals —the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Painter X is such a release. Painter was founded on the principle of faithfully capturing the artist’s gesture for the purpose of creative expression. Painter X is no exception to the rule.

The new RealBristle Painting System represents a significant evolution in digital paint tools. RealBristle brushes deftly respond to the subtle nuances of the hand, translating this motion into strokes imbued with complex expression. The result are the most realistic digital brush strokes ever seen. Add a Wacom 6D Pen and the results are further enhanced.

Painter began its life primarily known a start-with-a-blank-canvas artist’s tool. In the intervening years, digital technology has engulfed traditional film-based cameras. The digital camera is now ubiquitous to the point of being an accessory on mobile phones. Likewise, Painter has become an accessory to digital cameras. With these two mediums converged, you can now easily dip your paintbrush into a photograph.

Using a photograph as a source image, the enhanced Photo Painting System produces convincing hand-painted results with a single mouse click. This feat is made possible by the Smart Stroke Painting option. Initially analyzing the source image’s content, Smart Strokes dynamically change brush size, stroke length, and pressure based on the detail and focal areas of the original photo. Strokes intelligently follow the forms of the original subject matter. All of this translates into an amazing breakthrough enabling the drawing-challenged to produce remarkable finished art. Smart Stroke Painting is going to be an out-of-the-park homerun for photographers!

In the past, an artist had to pre-mix his color palette to match the painting’s subject matter. Both Painter X’s Match Palette effect and Color Schemes (Underpainting palette) provide the ability to apply another image’s color palette to an existing image. The effect can be deftly subtle—matching the color and tonality of one photograph to another, for example. Or creatively dramatic—applying the palette of Picasso’s Three Musicians to a painting in progress, for example. Try that with traditional tools!

Every time new features are added to Painter, its interface grows. Users, take heart! The new Workspace Manager provides a complete solution for organizing and saving palette, brush, and library visibility. For example, you can now decide which variants you want accessible in each Brush Category, turning off the unused ones in the Workspace Manager (you can turn them back on at any time). Multiple Workspaces can be saved for streamlined workflow depending on the task at hand.

More importantly, saved Workspaces are encapsulated into [b]a single portable file that is easily shared with others—perfect for placing one Workspace with its brushes into many hands. Speaking as an educator, this feature alone makes Painter X worth its weight in gold for teaching workshops.

Both Windows and Mac users have cause for celebration. On the Windows front, Painter X is compatible with Windows Vista™. And on the Mac, Painter is now a Universal Binary, enabling it to run natively on both Intel- and PowerPC-based systems.

Beyond the big features, it is the attention to small details that makes Painter X shine. An Auto-Backup feature, session-independent Color Management, Tracker settings that stay put. Little things, but they add up.

I advise you to now get yourself into a seated position. The printed User Guide has returned! What’s next…a paint can? That’s right, Painter X acknowledges its roots through the offer of a limited edition one-gallon paint can. Both the retail packaging and limited edition include an updated Welcome book showcasing Painter art, poster, and a cool compositional aid.

It may sound cliché, but this is the best version of Painter ever. Corel has paid a great deal of attention to user requests, as well as the small details that add up to a well-oiled creative expressive machine. Painter’s not getting older—it’s getting better!

Looking for the best-of-breed in visually expressive software? X marks the spot!

Viva la Painter X!

-john

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Cameras Without Film

With the rise of digital photography, utilizing a photograph as a starting point in the creation of an artistic image has become effortless. Within some quarters of the creative community, this practice is viewed as a form of cheating. The contention is that a “real” artist begins with a blank canvas. Should a Corel Painter user feel a twinge of guilt when employing this assistive technique?

Ever since artists have been drawing on flat surfaces, they have employed techniques to aid in their quest for realism. Prior to the Renaissance, most art was primarily employed to aid in the teachings of the Church to an illiterate population. Symbolism, rather than realism, was paramount to the artist and to his audience.

With the Renaissance came humanism and the flowering of the sciences. The Florentine architect and artisan-engineer Brunelleschi is credited with the invention of linear perspective. This mathematical system accurately describes the visual fact that the apparent size of an object decreases with increasing distance from the eye. The use of perspective enables the depiction of a three-dimensional scene on a two-dimensional surface.

Due to our visual sophistication, it is difficult for us to fathom the emotional impact of a three-dimensionally painted image upon a population unfamiliar with perspective representation. Its awe-inspiring, heightened realism provided artists with a powerful tool for visual communication. As the theory of perspective spread among artists, various mechanical perspective aids were created to assist in the transcription of reality to a two-dimensional surface.

Concurrent with the Renaissance was the development of scientific optics. Finely ground lenses were used to magnify the heavens as well as microscopic objects. One of these lenses was eventually fitted to the pinhole of a camera obscura, a technique which employed a darkened space, such as a room, to project an exterior scene upon a two-dimensional surface within the room’s interior. This was essentially a room-sized camera without film.



Around the mid-17th century, paintings began to appear depicting images that possessed stunning optical accuracy. This is the same time period in which the lens- and mirror-based camera obscura became known to artists, particularly the Dutch oil painters. The work of painter Jan Vermeer has been the subject of scholarly analysis demonstrating his use of the camera obscura as a tool in the creation of his depictions of everyday life.

Vermeer’s work exhibits a dramatically accurate representation of light and color. The apparent size differences of objects relative to the viewer are consistent with an optically projected image. The optical effect of soft halation around brightly lit objects is present. To maintain a competitive edge, artists that employed the camera obscura were highly secretive of its use, leaving the public in awe of such painted realism.

Today’s camera obscura is the computer screen. A photograph can coexist effortlessly within Corel Painter’s art studio of brushes, the artist free to dip their paintbrush into a photograph. Just as the theory of perspective and the camera obscura before it, Painter is another technologically advanced tool of interest to artists. With each of these tools, an image of reality is presented as a starting point. The artist then develops the image with the touch of humanity.

The Artist is the Film.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nashville Expressive Photographic Interpretation Workshop - March 12-15


Join me for an Expressive Photographic Interpretation workshop in Nashville, Tennesse this March 12-15. Expressive Photographic Interpretation is a creative tool for adding a personalized hand-wrought sensibility to your images. The workshop introduces photographers and artists to this process, providing the basis for implementing a lucrative product niche into a studio's product offerings.

The workshop will be divided into two 2-day sessions: Introductory and In-Depth. Take the one that suits your level, or take both for full immersion in the Expressive Photographic Interpretation process.

The Introductory session will guide you through the process of combining Adobe®Photoshop® and Corel® Painter™ to transform photographs into painted results. I'll simplifies things by demonstrating and teaching the specific tools and principles required for the job. Utilizing exploration-encouraging Safety Net techniques, the class will learn by working along with me on the same image. In two days you'll be transforming photographs into works of art!

In the In-Depth session, using either the concepts learned in the Introductory session or your own advanced Photoshop and Painter skills, you'll apply expressive painting techniques to your own photographs. Areas of focus will include image preparation in Photoshop, digital lighting-enhancement techniques, and emphasis of the the subject's face. I'll be using students' work-in-progress to demonstrate specific technical and creative solutions to the class.

Tuition for either of the 2-Day sessions is $350. Or take both for $600!

For more information and registration, you can visit the Nashville Workshop webpage.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Genie is Out of the Bottle

There is a lively discussion going on at the TexasPhotoForum debating the validity of "photoshopped" images represented in the International Print Competition held annually by the Professional Photographers of America.

One point of view is that the notion of "pure photography"—photographs unmanipulated by imaging software—is being superceded by heavily manipulated imagery (I cringe at the word "manipulated"; it has a negative connotation undeserving of the world of creative results achieved by talented individuals).

I am PPA member and have an image represented in the PPA International Print Competition. I have another point of view.

I do a lot of "straight out of the camera" photography, and have been doing it for more years than I care to admit. I also have a background in painting. Much of my painting-applied-to-photography has been utilized commercially in the area of interpreted portraits—photographs made to appear as oils or watercolors. I eventually wanted to utilize this skill and associated tools (Painter, Photoshop) in conjunction with my personal photographic work. I like to shoot scenics that have already-present abstract quilites in them.
Here's an example:

Click on image to view full size.

When I reviewed the series of photographs that the above image came from, I was immediately struck with how much it inherently had an almost abstract expressionist painting quality. It became the canvas upon which I applied my painterly strokes.
Here is the result:

Click on image to view full size.

I am in the process of pursuing what has become a lifelong goal: To blur the distinction between photography and painting. Why would I do that? Well, both photography and painting are creative mediums that I am adept at. Technology has leveled the playing field. These two formerly exclusive mediums now co-exist effortlessly on the computer monitor. I can now literally dip my paintbrush into a photograph!

The genie is out of the bottle—there is no going back with respect to tools like Photoshop and Painter as applied to photography. That's not to say that there isn't room for pure photography. I still love shooting what I see in an effort to freeze a moment and its unique emotional charge.

Photographs of this intent are difficult to add to with any of the myriad of technical gee-gaws we now have at our disposal. I have banged my head against many such images in an attempt to "improve" them with little or no success: the image stands on its own—further interpretation detracts from the original moment.

I think that the headlong rush of technology and its impact on photography is straining the PPA's International Print Competition to its current limit. Photography is in the throes of a major sea change. There will always be—and must be—a place for pure photography, but as I said: the genie is out of the bottle.

Photography will continue experience upheaval as photographers become acquianted with the new tools that are emerging. Let's not fail to recognize that ever since the first photographic image was developed there have been subjective decisions applied by the photographer.

I'm guessing that the PPA higher-ups will be adjusting the categories and criteria for the Print Competition in the near future. As many who visited the PPA Print Competition recently in San Antonio have noted, it is becoming top-heavy with manipulation. No—make that top-heavy with creative expression.

I would love to see an expanded categorization that allows each approach to shine on its own. I will always believe that there is room for creative expression within any medium.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Art from a Nut!


I've gotten a few emails asking about the meaning of the acorn I use (you can see it in the backround wallpaper of this blog, for example). It also appears on various marketing pieces for my workshops, as well as my business card and stationary. Here's the skinny:

I have been involved with printmaking in one form or another of for over 30 years. A caché of the printmaker is the chop. A chop is a unique mark signifying that a print is approved by the artist/printmaker. It is commonly applied to a print as a blind emboss—a raised graphic without the addition of color. The mark can be anything as long as it is unique. It usually has a personal reference contained within it. I thought long and hard about a mark that would be indicative of my personality as well as provide a unique graphic element.

I was on a daily run through the woods along a favorite trail one day, thinking about a unique symbol when I noticed several acorns laying on the ground nearby. Then it hit me: an acorn! It is an element in my daily life, plus it has the metaphorical association of something large growing from a small beginning—from little acorns mighty oak trees grow. Like creative ideas.

The other thing I like about it is that it also means: Art from a Nut: me!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rangefinder Publishing Launches Spinoff: AfterCapture


Rangefinder, a monthly publication dedicated to the advancement of photographers, has spun off a new magazine, AfterCapture. If you are photography professional or avid amateur, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to this interesting publication...it's free, after all! Skip Cohen, Rangefinder's president, states that "the magazine is dedicated to everything that happens to an image after you click the shutter and to the latest in imaging-output technology."

I'm excited to see Rangefinders' photographic orientation expand into what I think of as the creative side of photography. The technology of photography is rapidly changing and AfterCapture is positioning itself cover this artistically oriented craft. AfterCapture's website is still in development as of this writing, but you can currently get a rough preview. You can sign up for AfterCapture at the website.

I'm pleased to say that I have been profiled in AfterCaptue's inaguaral issue, which is being distributed as a double issue with the January publication of Rangefinder. You can download a PDF file of the profile here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Layer Blending Modes Demystified

Many digital artists get confused with regard to Blending modes (Compositing Methods in Painter). Multiply? Screen? Overlay? What do these layer types do and what are they good for? I'm not going to go into great detail, but I am going to unlock a key piece of the Blends Puzzle for you.

A Blending mode applies a layer's pixels—using a formula designed to produce a particular result—to any underlying pixels it finds beneath the layer. To demonstrate how Blending modes produce different results based on a formula, I'm going to use a White-to-Black gradient on a layer and change its Blending mode, then observe the differences.

When the gradient layer's Blending mode is set to Normal (Default in Painter), the gradient is opaque. The Multiply mode treats White as transparent and Black as opaque. The Screen mode is just the opposite; Black is transparent and White is opaque. In each case, the opaque color graduates to transparency.

Click on image to view full size.


The next three Blending modes are different; Overlay, Soft Light, and Hard Light treat 50% Gray as transparent. At the ends of the gradient layer, underlying pixels are lightened (White) or darkened (Black). The grayscale in-between Black and White graduates to full transparency, which is the 50% Gray value in the middle of the gradient. Essentially, these Blending modes combine the earlier described Multiply and Screen modes. Lighter-than-50% Gray shades are Screened, Darker-than-50% Gray shades are Multiplied.

What makes these three Blending modes visually different from each other is the manner in which each formula is written. Overlay saturates underlying color, as well as lighten and darken. Soft Light is subtle—it lightens and darkens without saturating. Hard Light is visually the truest to Multiply and Screen—Black and White are totally opaque.

Click on image to view full size.


This is all interesting, but how can it be put to practical use? The answer lies in Non-destructive tonal editing techniques. A 50% Gray-filled layer set to one of the Overlay/Soft Light/Hard Light modes is transparent. It is invisible until lighter or darker tonalities are applied. This layer/Blending mode arrangement makes an excellent non-destructive dodging and burning layer. By using an airbrush and toggling between Black and White, an underlying image can be locally tonal adjusted (e.g., highlights and shadows).

Another novel use of a 50% Gray layer is as a non-destructive texture. A texture applied to 50% Gray has highlight and shadow detail in it. The shades towards 50% Gray will allow the underlying imagery to show through unaffected. The lighter and darker tonalities associated with the highlights and shadows will appropriately affect the underlying image, resulting in a convincing addition of texture.

Because these techniques are layer-based, the Opacity of the layer can be adjusted to control the emphasis of the tonal adjustments. Best of all, the base artwork is not permanently altered.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beyond Apple's iPhone

Steve Jobs' unveiling of the new Apple iPhone has created a lot of buzz in the past couple days. It definitely has the coolness factor that Apple is known for. This breakthrough design has the potential to literally change the face of mobile phones forever. But I think that the announcement of Apple's iPhone ultimately has more to do with the future of electronics and appliance user interfaces than the immediate splash of the iPhone.

I can easily imagine Apple’s MultiTouch soft interface being applied to numerous devices. Current devices’ hard-wired interfaces dictate that the funcionality be buried in a deep heirarchy requiring the user to maintain a mental map of arcane key combinations to access specific specific features.

The OS X/touch-sensitive screen/MultiTouch user interface trifecta enables a wide, shallow interface in which the map IS the territory. There is no need to memorize shortcuts. This alone eliminates the eternal “flashing 12:00″ syndrome that plagues current electronics and appliances.

An iPhone-style interface enables so much more access to multiple functions than is currently available. Combined with the emerging technology of e-paper, inexpensive and easily read panels would enable a highly simplified approach to interaction with complex tools. A pressure-sensitive tablet could have an embedded e-paper screen that displays its control panel. The user would download and update the driver directly to the tablet. Changes would be reflected in the updated control panel.

Imagine accessing the user manual of an electronics device such as a video recorder or an appliance like a refrigerator. All that would be needed is an embedded chip in the device and a handheld reader with an interface similar to the iPhone. Place the reader in proximity to the device and you're reading the manual. Send it to a printer for a hardcopy.

I predict one day we'll look back and wonder how we managed prior to Apple’s grand contribution.

Monday, January 8, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

I have a dirty little secret. Shhh! I use—gasp!—Adobe® Photoshop®! I used to be a closet Photoshop user, but I’ve decided to come out and publicly admit it. As good a tool as Corel® Painter™ is, there are some things that I prefer to use Photoshop for. First, let’s look at each application’s strengths.

Photoshop is at its best when given an existing image to process. Note that the word “photo” is in its title. For many tasks, Photoshop emulates the step-by-step workflow of a darkroom. This methodology is formulaic in nature—repeat the same steps, get the same results.

Painter excels at starting with a blank canvas and building up an image. “Paint” is what Painter is all about. The artist’s studio is a birthplace of visual ideas. Quite often, an artist in the heat of creativity will arrive at a result with no idea of the exact steps taken to get there. This methodology is intuitive—from here to there is not always a straight line.

These two tools' uses can and do get blurred. There are users that paint great images in Photoshop, just as there are users that perform retouching magic in Painter. So why use Photoshop in addition to Painter? I often use a photograph as a starting point. I prefer to shoot my photos in the RAW format. Photoshop’s ancillary application, Adobe® Bridge®, handily processes these files then transfers them to Photoshop for further enhancement in a 16-bit color format. I then employ Photoshop to make color corrections and contrast adjustments. When I’m finished, I convert the image to 8-bit color format and save it in the Photoshop PSD file format.

The PSD file format is the portal through which Photoshop and Painter speak the same language. Layer masks, alpha channels, and layer groups are maintained in the PSD format. Painter reads PSD files and retains the majority of crucial data. Both Photoshop and Painter have specific features that are not translatable by the other.

For example, Photoshop cannot interpret Painter’s unique Watercolor and Impasto layers. These layer types will lose their unique characteristics when saved in the PSD format. However, they will visually remain the same when opened Photoshop. Equally, Painter cannot interpret Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers, they will be ignored. With these caveats in mind, it is a simple matter to save backup files that retain each application’s unique characteristics.

I also like to finalize and print my images from Photoshop. Any last minute color and tone adjustments are done here prior to printing. I call this workflow a PS/Painter/PS sandwich—Photoshop on the outside and Painter in the middle. Together, Photoshop and Painter make great collaborative partners. The Photoshop-Painter relationship is getting so well-known that Painter is regularly featured in the courses offered at Photoshop World.

Even if you are not a Photoshop devotee, you’re still in luck. Corel Paint Shop Pro XI (Windows® version only) and Painter IX.5 can interchange imagery via the RIFF format, providing users with a similar PSP/Painter/PSP workflow.

In this topsy-turvy digital imaging world, photographs and bare canvas co-exist effortlessly in the same space. The playing field has been leveled. It all comes down to using the right tool for the right job. Photoshop and Painter have tools designed to support their strengths. By having and utilizing both, my creative range is expanded to encompass photographic realism and expressive mark-making.

Now that my dirty little secret is out of the bag, I think I’ll clone my mother-in-law out of that family vacation photo before I turn it into a painting.

Welcome to My Blog

I've been contemplating starting a blog for a while. So, as a New Year's resolution, I've made the plunge. I will be using this space to provide tips, techniques, tutorials, interesting news...whatever seems appropriate for Corel Painter users in particular, and digital artists in general.

It'll probably take me awhile to get up to speed, but I intend to publish here regularly. I welcome all comments, suggestions, etc.

I hope you'll stop by occasionally to see what's new.

Viva la Painter!

-john