Top Ten Articles – May 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and, as usual, I thought that I’d post a list of links to my ten favourite articles about art, webcomics and/or writing that I’ve posted here this month. I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Although there were more reviews and rambling articles than usual near the end of the month (and I almost missed including articles on two occasions due to scheduling errors when I prepared this month’s articles quite a while ago), I really like how at least a third of this month’s articles turned out 🙂

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – May 2017:

– “Three Ways To Find Your Own Aesthetic
– “Three Ways To Blend Different Genres Of Art
– “Three Things You Can Learn From Failed Comic Plans
– “Four Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Visual Upgrade
– “Four Reasons Why Artists Don’t Always List Their Inspirations
– “Four Reasons Why Shorter And/Or Segmented Webcomics Are Awesome To Make
– “Three Sneaky Ways To Cram More Stuff Into A Webcomic Update
– “Four Basic Tips For Making Detective Comedy Comics
– “Three Ways To Make Better “Uninspired” Art
– “Three Basic Ways To Get More Out Of Your Image Editing Program

Honourable Mentions:

– “Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..
– “Why “Detailed” Art Is Often Less Detailed Than You Might Think

Today’s Art (30th May 2017)

Well, although today’s digitally-edited painting was originally supposed to have more of a roaring twenties/ art deco kind of look to it (than a “film noir” kind of look), it’s probably the most inspired painting I’ve made in a while.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Concourse" By C. A. Brown

“Concourse” By C. A. Brown

Three Basic Ways To Get More Out Of Your Image Editing Program

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If you’re new to digital image editing, it can be easy to think that whatever editing program you’re using can only do a limited number of things. However, most image editing programs can actually do a lot more than you might initially think.

Since there are many different image editing programs out there, I’ll try to write the “advice” parts of this article in a fairly non-specific way that will apply to most programs.

However, I’ll be using examples from the 2-3 image editing programs that I actually use on a regular or semi-regular basis (eg: MS Paint 5.1, Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 [it’s old, but still very functional!] and, very occasionally, a free open-source program called “GIMP).

1) Combine several effects and/or tools: Although the menus of your image editing program may only contain, say, fifty different effects and/or tools – there’s no rule against using many of these tools/ effects in combination with each other in order to create a huge number of effects that you can’t create with just a single option. In fact, you can use different tools/effects from multiple programs in conjunction with each other if you really want to.

The trick, of course, is working out which effects, tools etc… go well together. But, with a bit of thought and/or random experimentation (be sure to either keep unaltered backups of your images if you’re experimenting), you should be able to create quite a few effects that you wouldn’t be able to do with any one option available to you in your editing program.

For example, by combining the “noise” and “colourise”/”RGB” options that can be found in many image editing programs – you can create a corkboard-like texture fairly easily.

Likewise, you can also use several basic features found in many programs to convert photos into something that resembles videogame-style pixel art (although the tutorial is MS Paint 5.1 -specific, most editing programs allow you to do things like altering the colour depth of an image).

Or, to use a recent example, I’d just finished my usual MS Paint 5.1/ Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 editing on a scanned painting that I plan to post here in July. However, it still didn’t quite look right.

Suddenly, I thought “What if I use the ‘dilate’ effect in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 and then lower the highlight/midtone/shadow levels“. Although the picture also required some extra adjustments to the hue/saturation/lightness levels after I’d done this, I ended up creating a really distinctive effect:

Here's a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.

Here’s a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.

2) Look online for undocumented features: Whilst this isn’t true for all image editing programs, some image editing programs contain extra features that aren’t listed in the program’s documentation. The easiest way to find out about these is, obviously, to do an online search for “hidden features in [Your editing program]“. You might be surprised by what you find.

For example, a couple of weeks before I originally wrote this article, I ended up looking up something to do with MS Paint. To my surprise, I also found several articles that list undocumented features in many versions of MS Paint.

To give you one example, you can freely alter the brush/pencil/airbrush size to literally any size by just holding down the left “ctrl” key and pressing the “+” or ” -” keys.

Likewise, if you select an area and then hold down left “crtl” – you can drag the mouse away from that area to create a quick copy of the selected area. If you hold down “shift” instead after selecting an area, then it will leave a trail when you move it. This can be used for creating bizarre abstract art, like this:

This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented "trail" feature in MS Paint 5.1

This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented “trail” feature in MS Paint 5.1

Of course, MS Paint is just one program. But, it might be worth looking online to see if there are any hidden undocumented features in the program that you use.

3) Shortcuts are your friend: Many image editing programs will contain keyboard shortcuts for their most essential features.

Although this may just seem like a boring, and easily ignored, feature – learning the keyboard shortcuts for features that you use often can save you a lot of time. Likewise, you can also use them in all sorts of clever ways too.

For example, in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6, I leave the “RGB” settings at + 11% red, -4% green and -18% blue. This means that if I want to add a light skin tone to a selected area of a drawing/painting that I’m editing, I can just quickly hit the “Ctrl + U” shortcut for this feature and then hit “Enter”. If I want to add a slightly darker skin tone to a selected area, I can just repeat the process 1-2 times.

Or, to give you another example, I keep the “highlight/ midtone/shadow” levels at -31% highlight, -31% midtone and -36% shadow. By using the “Ctrl + M” shortcut, I can quickly make an image (or part of an image) look slightly more shadowy.

If you learn the keyboard shortcuts for the more well-used parts of your editing program, then you’ll be able to do things like this and much more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (29th May 2017)

Well, I wasn’t feeling as inspired as I hoped when I made this digitally-edited sci-fi painting, but I was probably more inspired than I was a couple of days ago.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"9:34 PM" By C. A. Brown

“9:34 PM” By C. A. Brown

Why “Detailed” Art Is Often Less Detailed Than You Might Think

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Although I’ve talked about how to make art look more detailed than it actually is before, I thought that I’d look at this subject from a slightly different perspective today. This is mainly because of the artwork in a really interesting free computer game called “The Last Night” that I reviewed yesterday.

If you haven’t played this game, then it uses 1980s-style “pixel art” graphics. What this means is that the individual pixels are large enough to be clearly visible. Given that the game itself is played within a small browser window – there are probably no more than 1000- 2000 pixels on screen at any one time. For comparison, the little sketch at the beginning of this article contains 145,800 pixels (albeit much smaller ones).

So, with a game like that, you would expect it to look fairly primitive and undetailed and, yet, it actually looks more detailed than you might expect. It certainly looks more detailed than the little sketch at the beginning of this article. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this screenshot from the game:

This is a screenshot from "The Last Night" By Tim & Adrien Soret.

This is a screenshot from “The Last Night” By Tim & Adrien Soret.

So, how did they do this and – more importantly – what can this teach us about art in general ?

Even if you are creating photo-realistic art, then your art is going to be less detailed than real life. Even highly realistic paintings from the 16th-18th centuries are less detailed than real life. In fact, the true test of an artist is how they are able to visually represent things using less detail than can be found in real life. No piece of art (and not even an “ordinary” photograph) can be as detailed as real life.

But, although art is less detailed than real life, we still instinctively separate artwork into “detailed art” and “undetailed art”. Why do we do this?

Well, it all comes down to how much an artist tricks us into using our imaginations – regardless of whether we notice that we’re doing it or not. Although I haven’t studied the neuroscience of this in any huge level of detail, the human brain is the best image recognition system available to us. As soon as we know what something looks like, we can usually recognise it very quickly.

For example, here’s a blurry, slightly badly-drawn and very undetailed image that I made in MS Paint. Which famous landmark/capital city is it supposed to be?

You can probably guess what it's supposed to be.

You can probably guess what it’s supposed to be.

Even though it isn’t a very realistic image of the Eiffel Tower in Paris – you were probably be able to work out what it was fairly quickly. After all, even though the picture might not be a “perfect” image of the Eiffel Tower, it still looks similar enough for our brains to recognise it and “fill in the gaps” for us. Once we know what something looks like, then images of it – however realistic or unrealistic – are more like symbols than anything else.

Of course, whilst a truly lifelike image of the Eiffel Tower would be nearly impossible to replicate (unless you had an extremely high-resolution camera or made a very large painting) – an artist can make a slightly less detailed version of it that is still instantly recognisable as the Eiffel Tower.

If an “undetailed” image includes even a few extra “undetailed/unrealistic” details (eg: the trees surrounding the tower in the example are just green blobs etc..), then this gives the audience’s imaginations even more things to work with. So, the picture will appear to be more detailed – even though it isn’t.

So, by adding lots of these fairly “undetailed” details to a picture, it can quickly appear to be more detailed than it actually is. Going back to the game screenshot earlier in this article, the buildings in the background are just a collection of angular shapes and differently-coloured squares. Yet, because we all know what a building looks like – our brains automatically take those basic details and mentally add a lot of extra details that aren’t actually in the picture.

So, yes, this is why “detailed” art is often actually less detailed than you might think it is.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂