Thursday, May 31, 2007

Digial Art for The Traditional Artist - Adobe Illustrator

Artists interested in trying their hand at digital art are sometimes confused about what software programs to buy. With good reason. There are lots of packages out there and it is wicked confusing. Unfortunately, there is no one software program that I can recommend that you start with. It really depends on you. My advice would be to look at digital artist's and work and see what speaks to you. Then find out what software they use. Of course you don't want to copy anyone's work, but you will have a better idea of how you want to transition into digital art.

That said, let me introduce you to an artist that uses Adobe Illustrator. The above illustrations are by my friend Jannie Ho. Using Illustrator she creates colorful children's illustrations that are slightly wacky and really adorable. You can see more of her work at

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Digial Art for The Traditional Artist - Adobe Illustrator

I'd like to begin talking about 3 different software applications (Illustrator, Photoshop and Painter) Please if someone has something to add to what I have to say or wishes to correct me feel free. I don't pretend to be the world's expert on this stuff.

I'm going to discuss the applications one at a time. But in reality many artists use a combination of these applications. But if you are a traditional artist just trying to get your feet wet with digital work, it may not be practical to shell out $1500 and buy Illustrator, Photoshop and Painter all at once. I hope to just give you a little overview of each so you have an idea what each does. And maybe have an idea where you might want to start exploring.

This week, let's talk about Adobe Illustrator.

When I dove into computer art several years ago, I was trying to do a very graphic type art. Like this Xmas card design...

It was this very design that I was struggling to do in gouache. And I couldn't get all the deer exactly the same and the stars weren't lining up. And I thought there must be an easier way to do this on the computer. So I bought myself a copy of Illustrator. Which was darn lucky because Illustrator is just the package to do this sort of geometric, hard-edge sort of work.

I was still using a mouse at the time - I hadn't even bought a pen tablet yet (more about tablets later)

I should start by saying Adobe Illustrator is a vector program. Which means it stores it's images as mathmatical calculations. Why do you care? Because that makes it very good at creating images with hard, crisp lines and geometric forms. It also makes it very easy to enlarge vector files without losing any clarity in the image. Ever try to enlarge a digital photo and you can start to see the little squares, or pixels, that make up the picture. That doesn't happen with vector artwork. You can enlarge something to the size of a wall and it will still be nice and clear. Neat - huh?

But vector artwork is not as good at representing blurry lines or subtle shading (like in photographs). That is best left for raster programs like Painter and Photoshop (more about those later) Now some people will definitely disagree with that last statement. There are some artists that do amazing work with Illustrator and are able to create photo realistic images using just Illustrator. And more and more features have been added that allow for such things. But if you want your art to look like an oil painting, Illustrator is probably not the first tool you want for your toolbox.

If you want a really in-depth discussion about the difference between vector images and raster images you can go to wikipedia vector graphics and wikipedia raster graphics

Here a few other image that I did back when all I had to work with was Adobe Illustrator. As you can see you can do some shading with Illustrator. Incidentaly, I think I did this piece using a mouse also (still hadn't broken down and bought a pen tablet yet.)

I'm certainly not the most proficient Adobe Illustrator artist out there. If you know of any artists that use Illustrator, let me know. It would be fun to share some samples. Also go to the computer graphics section at your local Barnes and Nobles and check out some of the Illustrator books. Browse through them to see what amazing things people can do with the program.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Digial Art for The Traditional Artist

I had someone (hi Tracy!) ask me some questions about digital art. I thought I'd answer here just in case someone else might be interested.

Do I prefer working digitally?
The short answer is yes. I have always been interested in art. I have worked in watercolors, colored pencils and acrylic. I still love diving into paint sometimes. But for me, working on the computer gives me more freedom to experiment. Why? - because of that glorious invention called the "undo" button. Sigh, if only the rest of my life had an "undo" button. If I was working traditionally in watercolor and had spent days working on a painting I would be very reluctant to try anything radical like, I don't know, changing the sky to a deep phthalo blue. But with Photoshop I have that option. If it doesn't work out - click - undo - all better. With watercolors, well, let's just say it wouldn't be good.

Also I'm a bit of a cheapskate, okay, I'm a big cheapskate, and paper and paints are kind of expensive. Granted the computer equipment that I use cost a pretty penny but once I have the equipment it doesn't cost me any more to make 1 digital painting 50. That makes me freer to experiment without worrying that I'm ruining a $7 sheet of paper or wasting a $10 tube of paint.

I do still draw with paper and pencil, I can't seem to get the hang of drawing on the computer. But I use inexpensive mechanical pencil and plain paper for that, nothing fancy.

Is working digitally a skill that someone can learn on their own?

Yep, I did.

I did have a computer background when I started. I was a computer programmer for several years so I did know a little bit about PC's which certainly helps. But my job had nothing to do with computer graphics. I knew nothing about Photoshop or any other graphics application when I started. Everything I've learned has come from books and the internet.

I think it helps to have an art background. I minored in art in college and had some formal art training, although I wish I had more. Some people think that you press a button on the keyboard and the computer will draw things for you. In case you were one of those people, let's get that out of the way right now, COMPUTERS WILL NOT DRAW FOR YOU. You still need to know about things like anatomy and color theory and all that fun stuff.

I'm a traditional artist how do I get started working digitally?
That's a tough one. There are a gazillion ways to work traditionally; watercolor, collage, oils. And there are also a gazillion ways to work digitally. It all depends on what you want to do. There are several graphics applications on the market and they all do something a little different. Over the next few days I will try and post information about some different applications. I'll try and explain what each one does and show you some totally amazing work that folks have done using each one. Hopefully that will give you an idea of where you want to focus your attention.

Of course there is one thing you will need regardless of what application you want to focus. You will need a computer. And if you go out and buy the current version of any graphics software (Photoshop for example) you will need a fairly new, fast, computer. Unfortunately, the Windows95 hand-me-d0wn from your brother-in-law just isn't going to cut it. If your computer is more than a year or two old, there is a good chance it may not run the newest versions of the graphics software. "That stinks!" you say? Yes, it does - sorry.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wow, what a nice review

I was surfing the internet and found the following review of my book on Epinions. It was such a nice write up I just had to share. Thank you "two elmos"

Incidentally this isn't the first time I've heard of a child using the word please after reading "May I Please Have a Cookie?" Coincidence? maybe.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #7

Front Cover

Back Cover

This is post number 7 showing the steps of painting the cover if "If a Monkey Jumps Onto Your School Bus." I suppose it's lucky number 7 because I'm done! After adding some highlights and details, here is the final product. And best of all, the publisher is happy with it (Yay! that's always a big relief) I scanned a UPC code from another book just to see what it would look like.

I also added the title in. The designer may change it but at least I have an idea of what it might look like.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I love my job

As I was sitting on the edge of my bathtub this evening with sketchbook in hand drawing my toilet, I got to thinking. First, I wondered, how many people have drawn portraits of their potty. Anyone? Anyone? Second, I thought, what a cool job I have that people actually pay me to draw pictures of my toilet. - I really love my job. It's great getting to draw all sorts of odd-ball things. Today I drew a toilet, a baseball mitt, and a giraffe kissing a lunch lady.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #6

It's starting to look like something now. I finished up the last little bit of the underpainting yesterday and started laying the colors in. To add color I painted big flat areas using a hard 100% opacity brush. I did this on a separate photoshop layer set to multiply so the underpainting showed through. It's very similar to painting a glaze with oil paints. If I set the new color layer to "normal" instead of "multply" you can see the blocks of color. It looks like this...

Working on a separate layer makes it easier to erase and change colors as I go. When I was all done and happy with the colors, I merged everything into a single photoshop layer so it looks the the version at the top of the post. Now I'm ready to add details and highlights etc.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Illustration Friday - Neighbor

The house next door was abandoned, or so I thought. The windows were boarded up and the gardens in ruin, and I had never seen a living soul on the property. Until one gray Sunday afternoon, I saw a boy on the front lawn. He wore strange, old-fashioned clothes and had a melancholy expression. He stood there watching me through the kitchen the window for a long moment, then he turned and went around the corner of the house. I never saw him again, but later that summer when I was gardening, I found a old and badly weathered toy horse near the fence. Maybe I have a neighbor after all.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #5

I'm just about done with the underpainting except for the bus interior and the monkey. This is a monochrome layer that establishes the darks and lights in the painting. This is a relatively new way for me to work but underpainting traditional technique used by painters for hundreds of years. Heck if it's good enough for Leonardo DaVinci, it's good enough for me.

To do this underpainting layer, I don't use black, I use a yucky, mix-all-your-play-dough-together kind of color and white. I paint this in Photoshop following the original pencil drawing that I scanned in. I use a couple of different paint brushes but mostly one called "Dark Pastel" which I think came with Photoshop.

There are some geometric areas of the image that I used Illustrator for. For example, for the grill of the bus, I created all those skinny dark areas in Illustrator, copied as paths into photoshop then used them as my selection. Then all I have to do is color them in. It's way easier than trying to draw them freehand.

I'm hoping to get the underpainting done tomorrow and start adding some color.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #4

The next step in the process is painting the final artwork. For this book I'm going to start each illo by doing an underpainting. If you are wondering what an underpainting is, I'll show you next time. But before I start into the final work I like to do a color thumbnail. I take a low res version of the pencil drawing and quickly color it in using Photoshop (see above.) I save these color studies to use as reference as I work on the final. Sometimes I end up changing the colors in the end but at least I have a guide.

One of the great things about working digitally is that I never have to worry about running out of a paint color or forgetting what color I used. I can just open up this color study file use the eye dropper and viola! more paint.

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #3

Okay just one more post for today then I have to get my fanny in gear and do some more work before I can post any more.

I did this small study of the monkey. I thought it would be funny if the monkey had one of those bead back massager things on the seat and I wasn't quite sure how to paint it. And this first try proves it! He looks like he's sitting on a big ear of corn. I think I could've fixed it, but my husband talked me into leaving the seat plain. He said that if you haven't been to NYC then you wouldn't know what those back-beady things were. Phew, one less thing to worry about it. But if I ever have to draw a seat made of corn, I'm ready! I also noticed today as I'm posting this that the monkey's left ear is smaller than his right, hmmm.

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #2

Here is step two. I've cleaned up the pencil drawing considerably. Using tracing paper I redrew the piece cleaning things up as I went. I scanned some elements into Photoshop to move and/or resize them then I printed and traced again until I was happy with it. (I go through a lot of tracing paper.) Also I went back into Illustrator and established a horizon line so I could draw all the elements that have to be in perspective (in this case the rows of bus seats) Illustrator is great for that because I can easily make my vanishing points pretty far off the edge of the page if I need to.

I think I am pretty happy with it now. We got the monkey on meds and he's no long looking like he's going to kill someone. And since there are nine animals in the story I wanted to fit them all on the bus some how so now they are all there.

Bus number 68 just happens to be the bus my kids take to school in the morning. Although Carol their bus driver is MUCH better looking and her tail is much shorter (just kidding Carol!)

Painting Technique - Monkey Cover #1

I had a few people say that my last painting demo was useful to help them get started with digital painting so I thought it was about time for another. This time I'm using a different technique for the final art. I haven't finished the piece yet so I'll keeping adding posts as I get to different stages in the process. Feel free to comment and let me know how you think it's progressing.

Above is a rough sketch for the cover of the picture book "If a Monkey Jumps Onto Your School Bus" to be published by Pleasant St. Press The front cover will show the bus from head on and the back of the cover will show the side view of the bus with all the animals sticking their heads out.

Since a bus is mainly squares and straight lines I did an initial drawing of the bus in Illustrator. I find it quicker and easier to draw geometric things like buses and houses that way instead of using a t-square and ruler. Then I printed out my bus and added the characters. I also found a couple of fun fonts on for the title and author's name. One was called "grilled cheese" How can you not like a font called "grilled cheese"?

The monkey behind the wheel is looking a bit psycho at the moment (YIKES) but at least I have something down on paper to start with. I always tell myself to just get it down on paper and fix it later.