Last summer I wrote about painting with the computer, which I came to see as painting with light. It's more like the Navajo and Tibetan sand paintings than what is traditionally considered to be 'fine art.' Although I could print what I have done, even make note cards, for me, the main advantage has been taking away the pressure of having to create a product. Working with the computer with no pressure has totally been about vision and process. A few people have asked how does this work, and on Saturday morning I decided to do one, saving the steps, to write about.
Not always do I use a photograph for my inspiration. Sometimes the idea comes from dreams or imagination. Because I felt a photograph would best show the process, I chose one I had taken in Montana some years back when I was on a country road as a small cattle drive came past. I never mind getting stopped by such drives and hope the ranchers don't mind that I take their pictures. They probably get used to it. I have such photos from all across the west, sometimes of whole families with Mama driving the truck, the kids and Dad moving the herd, and occasionally even grandparents helping out.
To use as my subject, the photograph could have been printed, but what I think is simpler and better, given no print looks as good as what is on the screen, is reduce the photograph so it and the yet to be created 'canvas' can be on monitor at the same time. It helps to have a large monitor.
With my version of Corel Photo-Paint 7, the blank canvas is created under file to new where you can choose whatever size you want. The nice thing about the computer is supposing you later decide you need bigger or want to change the proportions, you copy it and paste it onto a new size or can crop to a smaller size. Definitely this process spoils the artist.
After clicking on the paint icon, I began with a big soft crayon tool. I chose colors that would provide the structure for the eventual painting. This is all very similar to my process in creating an oil painting. Another alternative is to paint a canvas all one color and let that peek through for a homogeneous feeling to the finished work (not bad spiritual analogy either for how we are all inter-connected.
Next, using a watercolor tool, I began finding the best colors for sky and background. This is where working on the computer really spoils you because there is no waiting for anything to dry. (This particular computer painting from start to finish took about 2 hours).
Blocking in the animals and figures came next; and for that, different tools were alternated-- small soft, custom fine felt, and soft and sharp tip. I added more cattle where I felt they better suited the feeling I wanted. I saw no benefit to the piece of highway.
More detail appeared as I worked from the easiest-- cattle which only required simple, suggestive shapes; to the more complex horses and riders. As with my oil painting, my computer painting is impressionistic-- not the literal colors or photographic representation but my feeling about the subject.
The father and his horse seemed to be the heart of this painting. If they weren't right, nothing else would compensate. The nice thing about painting on the computer is if something doesn't work, I simply wipe it out and start over. I have the confidence also of knowing I can revert back to the last saved version-- I save whenever I am happy with what I just did. With an oil painting, experimentation can lead to the need to scrape down and start over.
As I worked with the figures, sometimes I enlarged the canvas to enhance certain details more than would have been possible in the smaller size. The advantage of beginning with a smaller canvas is you can expand but also more easily see how the composition is working than if it doesn't all fit on the screen.
With a final save, I felt I was there. I could have done more detail, but I believe that you should use the least you can, to convey what you intend; and for me this is where it ends.
This is one of two somewhat different studies I did for the eventual oil painting. They provided practice and let me discover what the oil might look like, where the problems are going to be. I consider these to be quick studies.When you look at the original photograph, you might wonder why bother to paint it as it was pleasing on its own; but there are several reasons for painting something. One is the soul connection you get to your subject. You look at it, feel it inside, and take its energy into you as you work on shape, colors, decide what to include, and what to leave out. At a certain point, what you are doing ceases to be about the original concept or photo, but takes on a life and energy of its own. It demands that which will fulfill it.
For me there is also my desire to paint Western subject matter. Doing the work on the computer has taught me a great deal about animals which have never been my forte. In all my years of painting and sculpting, animals were purposely not on the menu. I painted landscapes and people, sculpted people (with a couple of wolves thrown in which always bordered on looking like German Shepherds); but with the modern West as subject matter, there have to be horses, cattle and usually dogs.
A horse is challenging all on its own, and add to that a person on its back and the challenge multiplies. With riders, you can't just paint someone with a horse, it has to look like that person is connected to the animal and moving with it. Then there is the little matter of proportions which always challenge me whether working with the computer or a brush. Now that I am back to painting with oils, I will see if these six months of 'spirit' paintings have helped move me closer to capturing that vision.
(All images can be enlarged.)