The many years of experience of using Adobe Photoshop everyday as an art director and high-end retoucher has been a tremendous educational tool for me in teaching myself how to paint in the traditional way. Since I had never attended a painting class in college or high school, this is where I started to hone my craft on my own. You do not have to be an expert at the program to reap the benefits of improving your skill set when it comes to issues regarding some fundamental basics such as color mixing, color balance and composition and a host of other assets that can help you become a better painter. Just becoming somewhat familiar with photoshop and it’s basic principles is going to aid you in making good decisions with your approach to your artwork by taking away a lot of the guess work that can cause a lot of frustration during the painting process.
All of the digital photos I use for reference in my paintings are tweaked in photoshop in one way or another, whether it be just a fix in brightness and contrast or a full on multi-layered composite illustration, I want to make sure that the final artwork is going to be the best it can possibly be. Sometimes you can have an image that you may need a little help before it becomes painting worthy, and in photoshop you have the freedom to take a mediocre image and turn it into something extraordinary.
One of the great benefits of working in Photoshop is that it will give you a better understanding of working with colors. Using the eyedropper tool and the color palette is just the greatest way I can think to familiarize yourself with mixing colors, I mean what can be better than getting a Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black breakdown of a color in one of your own works? This makes things a lot easier for you when you are mixing your paints, what is worse than realizing that the color you are using is off and that you are going to have to repaint things? I always mix my paints with the CMYK process in mind, sticking with this color mixing principle is going to help you steer away from make poor, time consuming decisions and may save you from wasting paint.
Having your elements on layers gives you the freedom to move objects around on a page and it will give you a better sense as to how the colors interact with one another. You can also experiment with a full menu of layer options such as hard light, multiply and difference, these presets are going to give you a variety of different looks regarding how one layer looks sitting on top of another. Moving elements around in your piece using layers will also help you in strengthening your overall composition, I cannot emphasize enough what a great tool layers is for this, I have found that over the years that my compositional skills have improved just because of the invention of layers, experimenting and moving stuff around is going to make your eye for it better. I remember photoshop before it had layers, it seems like the stone age now.
Palette options such as Curves, Levels and Hue and Saturation are great to use when you want to make color changes on your artwork, with these adjustment layers you can give yourself countless possibilities on which direction you want to take your artwork. Even when I am working on a piece of art that I think is absolutely perfect and can’t get any better, I still experiment with these three adjustments levels, because you never know, maybe you can take it even higher, you won’t know until you exhaust all the possibilities. I have had many ‘happy accidents’ when using Curves, Levels and Hue and Saturation, I highly recommend playing around with them, it can be a lot of fun.
Now having said this, in the end there really is nothing better than using a real brush with real paint, even though photoshop has some terrific brush options and using a wacom tablet is fabulous, I think of these features as good practice brushstrokes for the real thing, akin to say a flight simulator.
And of course, let us not forget in Adobe Photoshop they have an undo button(Command + Z on my Mac) and a history palette so you can go back and erase past mistakes, this alone is a great reason to use the program because that fear of screwing up is taken away and you can experiment all you want. I cannot tell you how many times I have made mistakes on a final painting and my brain is thinking “Command Z !, Command Z !” but alas, there are no undo buttons in real life. Utilizing this type of safety net when you are plotting your new artwork can give you a firm and fertile environment in order to work out all the kinks before you transfer it all to a painting.
March 7, 2014