Well, we are just a few days into spring, and, while it seemed like we had left winter behind, apparently we had not. Like many parts of the country, winter weather made its way back into our lives this week. While we generally have it pretty good here in Texas weatherwise this time of year, today it turned cold and gray outside all day, with the next few days forecast of be more of the same. Determined to make the best of it, I took a look through my photo reference for some images of wild flowers to paint today. One way or another, I was going to get a bit of spring color into my day. I know it's just a matter of time before I can paint scenes like this outdoors again. I can hardly wait!
I know a lot of people say that red is one of the hardest color to photograph, but for me it's yellow. These flowers really seem to have lost some of the subtle color changes that they have when I photographed them. I've noticed this on a few other painting that have a lot of yellow in them too. If anyone has any tips for getting better results I'm all ears. Thanks!
Spring Dance ©
Larger Version available here
Size: 8x8 inches on canvas panel.
Medium: Original Oil Painting
Availability: Currently available through my eBay auction. Click here to go the auction.
Signed on front. Signed and dated on back.Comment on or Share this Article →
Perhaps the single most useful program I've ever used on my computer is Photoshop. Now, don't get me wrong. I've used some extremely high-end graphic packages - the stuff capable of making all those special effects in the movies, but for an artist there's almost nothing more useful than Photoshop. You can use it for developing all those digital images you take, preparing files for shows, creating website images and promotional materials, and for composing the next painting. That's the topic I want to cover here briefly. The other uses would make great blog posts on their own, so we'll leave them for another day. This blog does assume you have some basic Photoshop knowledge and can find your way around the program fairly well. Hopefully you'll pick up a few tricks and ideas on how to use this application to improve your work.
Here's the photograph that originally inspired me. It's a little rough from a painting point of view, but I think I can make something of this. I took this image a few weeks ago while visiting with our in-laws. That's actually my father-in-law driving the tractor out on his ranch bringing hay to his very hungry cows in south Texas.
Okay, so to make this a more paintable subject, I want to crop in more tightly on the tractor. There's too much space around it on the right hand side and along the bottom. The first thing I do is create a digital matte by creating a new layer in Photoshop. Then I use the marking guides and rulers to mark off an area that's the size of my intended painting or that has the correct proportions of my painting size. In this case, I'm going to be doing a 6x8 inch painting. I do this rather than crop the image, since it gives me flexibility throughout the process to continue to adjust which part of the image I use. If I just cropped it right off the bat, I would be stuck with that portion of the image the whole time or forced to start over later if I wanted to make a change.
Notice how my selection area (those marching ant lines) isn't centered? I do this, because at this point I'm not sure what part of the image I want to use, but I do know the size I want in the end. So by making the correct size first, I can move the selection area around my image until I find the approximate area I want to paint. It doesn't have to be exact at this point. I can fine tune it later on. The important thing at this point is that I have the correct size, or aspect ration. Once I find the approximate area I want to paint, I invert my selection and then fill in this area with black. This gives me my digital matte. Now I can duplicate my background layer (the original image) and move it within my digital matte to fine tune the area I'm going to paint. You might have to rearrange your layers so the digital matte layer is on top of the duplicate background layer.
Here's where I'm at so far. Notice I also moved my guides so I can see where the center of my image is. Now I can move the background copy layer around until I'm happy with my composition. You might also notice that the foreground has changed a bit in these images. Truth be told, I added that little suggestion of a path in the foreground at the end by using the dodge and burn tools. When I was deconstructing my Photoshop file for this blog, I realized I had done this on the base layers, so for now just ignore that they are there.
So far so good, but now I'm not very happy with the tree line. I don't like that the taller trees are on the same side of the image as the tractor. It makes the image feel too heavy on the left hand side. To try to balance that out a bit I'm going to flip the trees horizontally. The first thing I do is use the lasso selection tool to roughly select the trees. It doesn't have to be super accurate at this point. I'll clean it up later. Once I make the selction, I can just copy (CTRL + c) and paste (CRTL + v) it, and Photoshop will automatically put it in its own layer. Then I can use the menu Image>Image Rotation>Flip Horizontally. The trees don't look very good at this point, but after adding a layer mask and feathering them back into the other layers, it's pretty hard to tell they've been flipped. Here's what it looks like:
Things are starting to come together now, but there's still a few things I think I can improve before I start to paint. First off, that sky is just way too plain with not a cloud in sight. Now, I know Texas is in one of the worst droughts it's had in a long, long time, but I like to paint clouds when ever I can, so I'm going to add a few in. First thing I need to do is find an image that has a sky I like and that has about the same perspective as the image I'm working on. Here's the image I choose to use. This is actually from North Texas ,but I won't tell anyone if you don't. :)
This image also has the added benefit of having a grassy foreground that may just work to add a little more variety to my foreground. I simple drag this image into my Photoshop file and it's automatically placed on a new layer. I re-arrange the layers so the clouds are under my digital matte layer and then I turn the transparence of the layer down a bit so I can see some of the image below it. This allows me to adjust which part of this image I'll use. Once that's dialed in, I'll turn the transparency back to 100 percent and add a layer mask. When I make this mask, I set it so everything is hidden and then slowly paint the mask out to reveal the clouds and a little bit of the foreground.
Notice the slightly greener foreground now? That image worked out rather nicely. I'm just about done now. There's only a few things I want to do before I start painting. The first is to pump up the color a little bit on the hay and grass. It just looks a little too drought-stricken for my tastes. To do this, I'll duplicate the background layer one more time. Just make sure the one you duplicate is the one that's already in the correct place. In this case, I duplicate the layer called "Background copy". I then adjust the color of this layer using a variety of the tools under the menu Image>Adjustments. In this case, I used Vibrance to get more color into the layer. It can be a little over the top since I'm not going to use the layer as is. I'll add a layer mask to it and lightly paint in a few spots to bring the color up.
Ah, that's better. The very last thing I did, like I mentioned above, was to add the hint of a path in the foreground. It's an old trick to lead the eye into the painting and one that's easy to over do. I want there to be just a slight suggestion of the path in the final painting to have enough to break up the foreground a bit and add something of interest to it.
Well, that's just about it. The only other thing I'll do before I start painting is to actually crop the image to the size of my painting. Now on to the painting! Check back tomorrow for a step-by-step blog on how the painting goes.Comment on or Share this Article →
Five O'Clock Shadow
This is a larger watercolor that I've been working on. I've been experimenting a lot the last 2 days with different ways to photograph my artwork. I'm not totally happy with the results just yet. The first 2 methods I've tried are basically the same. Both involve using an 18% grey card for correcting the image later in photoshop. Both have the same set of problems:
-It takes too long to set up everything that's needed (the lights, the easel for the artwork, tripod for the camera)
-It takes way too long to process the images and get them ready to post.
-The results of the images are not satisfactory so far.
I can address some of these things right away. I know I can make it faster to set everything up by working on a more permanent set up in the studio. I'm going to try to mount a panel to the wall that will hold the artwork and ensure that it's flat. I'm going to work on that over the weekend. I also need to clean some of the clutter out of my studio since the lights require so much space to get them set up. I'm also thinking about getting a light meter and using that instead of the grey card, but I'm still thinking about that one. As far as the results go, I'm hoping that by making these adjustments I'll get better results.
I really enjoy watercolor like this, lots of shadows to fill in with color! I used a lot of masking fluid to retain the white of the paper. I did this so I could lay in large washes of color for all of the shadow areas and let the color run through all of them. Without the masking fluid this would not be possible.
Larger Version available here
Size: 21 3/4 inches x 21 3/4 inches.
Medium: Original watercolor painting on paper
Signed on front.