Two Quick Tips For Adding Symbolism To Realistic Photo-Based Art

Well, although most of my recent photo-based paintings don’t really include that much in the way of hidden depths (since I often don’t have time to include them), I dabbled with adding some to one of my upcoming paintings.

This was mostly because I was going through a bit of an “Ancient Egypt” phase at the time and because, when I made a previous painting of this area, I was reading Robert Sheckley’s “Alien Harvest” at the time. Here’s a chart showing all of the references and the original source photo:

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE.

So, how can you add some hidden symbolism to your realistic photo-based art? Here are a couple of quick tips.

1) Look for what is already there: Simply put, the best symbolism in realistic art will simply just place emphasis on things that are originally there. In other words, your choice of what to paint matters a lot.

The best way to find the right image is simply to think about the themes/symbolism you want to include and, whilst in the mood for making a painting based on this stuff, look at your photos until something jumps out at you.

For example, I originally hadn’t planned to add any ancient Egypt symbolism to this painting but, when looking through my photos for one to paint (after reading part of an ancient Egypt-themed novel), I noticed that one of them had a pyramid-shaped arch in it… and then I noticed that a tree in the background looked like an ankh.

So, once you’ve noticed something vaguely related to the themes/symbolism you want to include, then just subtly emphasise it slightly in your finished painting. For example, the ankh-shaped tree in the painting is slightly larger/thicker than the tree in the original photo.

2) Know where to use artistic licence: If you have to change something in order to add some symbolism to your painting, then try to make sure that the change looks at least vaguely realistic. In other words, go for “subtly evokes…” rather than “obviously states…”.

The thing to remember is that, as much as you want to add symbolism to your painting, it still has to work well as a realistic painting. In other words, your changes shouldn’t be too obviously noticeable at first glance and/or should just look like “ordinary” artistic licence to someone who isn’t looking for symbolism.

For example, when I decided to add some “ancient Egypt” symbolism to my painting of the pharmacy, I shortened the name on the sign to just “Pharmacy”. In part, this was because I had a smaller space to work with, because I wanted the sign to look striking and because I didn’t want to include branding etc.. in my paintings (since this gives them more of a general/timeless quality).

But, at the same time, I realised that the word “pharmacy” shares four letters with the word “pharaoh”. So, I deliberately made the first four letters of the word slightly more noticeable, whilst also writing the letter “M” in such a way that it looked a little bit like the letter “A” at a glance. So, the sign almost reads “Phara- cy” at first glance. This is the kind of thing I mean when I talk about using artistic licence in subtle ways. The sign still tells the viewer that they’re looking at a pharmacy, but it is also a sneaky ancient Egypt reference too.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

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Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. But, since I’m busy with other stuff too, I haven’t got quite as much time for it as I had last year (so, it’ll be another four-comic mini series).

But, so far, it seems to be turning out better than the four-comic mini series I posted in January. So, I thought that I’d offer a few sneaky tips for making rushed webcomic updates look good.

And, yes, one of the classic rules of webcomics is that the writing is more important than the art. Still, if you want to improve the art without too much of a time cost, then these tips might come in handy.

1) Digital backgrounds: Although this can look terrible if not done correctly (and I’ll explain one possible way to reduce visual consistency problems a bit later), one way to make a good-looking webcomic update relatively quickly is to use a digital background.

If you’ve got any spare digital photos of scenery etc.. that you’ve taken (and own the copyright to), then this is the time to put them to good use. It’ll allow you to make comic updates that look like this panel from one of my upcoming comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st February.

Although the specifics of how to do this will vary depending on the image editing program that you are using, it basically just involves drawing the characters (and writing the dialogue) and then copying them onto the background image. Most image editing programs include a “copy” function and, if you mess around with the options a bit, you’ll probably be able to get your art to copy properly.

However, as I hinted at earlier, the contrast between cartoonish art and realistic photography can look a little bit jarring. So, it’s usually a good idea to choose photos that don’t contain people (since your cartoon characters will look even more cartoonish in contrast to them).

Basically, the more “generic” your digital photo looks, the less obvious the contrast between cartoons and photos will be. So, go for natural scenes, generic buildings etc.. And try to avoid using photos that include people, posters etc..

2) Vary the backgrounds: I’ve mentioned this technique before, but it is worth mentioning again. Basically, one of the quickest and easiest types of comic updates to make are “talking head” comics where two characters stand next to each other and talk. However, these can be quite boring to look at. So, how can you make them more visually interesting?

Simply put, vary the backgrounds. One classic technique is to include a detailed background and/or detailed artwork in one panel, whilst keeping the other panels relatively undetailed. This makes the detailed panel the focal point of the comic whilst also meaning that you only have to make one detailed panel (which saves time). It looks a little bit like this:

“Damania Reduced – Book” By C. A. Brown

Notice how the third panel of this comic contains dramatic, detailed art with more realistic shading etc… Whereas the other three panels feature two characters standing in front of a plain purple background. Yet, the three boring panels are slightly less noticeable because the detailed panel is more attention-grabbing.

Another way to disguise talking head comics is to either use “close up” pictures of one of the characters during some of the panels and/or to use a solid black background in panels that contain dramatic dialogue.

For example, the angry dialogue in the third panel of this comic update uses this technique to break up the monotony of the red backgrounds in the first and fourth panels.:

“Damania Reduced – Trance Metal” By C. A. Brown

3) Expressions: This is a little bit of a sneaky one, but one way that you can add some more drama and visual interest to a rushed comic update is simply to focus on your character’s facial expressions.

Showing your characters’ reactions to things might not look like an obvious improvement at first glance, but it can really help to add extra humour and/or drama to your comic, which can distract your readers from the more rushed elements of your art.

Not to mention that if you’re in such a rush that you have to re-use the same art for several panels (this, in itself, is another good technique for making good-looking comics quickly. If you can re-use one good piece of art four times or whatever, then your comic will look better), then using digital tools to change your characters’ expressions in each re-used panel can be a good way to make the recycling very slightly less obvious too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Choosing Good Photos (That You’ve Taken) To Make Paintings Of

Well, I thought that I’d talk about making art based on photos again today. This was mostly because, out of the hundred or so photos I took on one photo-taking expedition, I could only find about four or five that seemed worth turning into paintings.

Whereas, on a shorter impromptu expedition to Westbrook a few hours before I wrote the first draft of this article, I ended up with dramatic photos like these:

This is a photo of the motorway bridge near Westbrook that I took a day or two after the “mini beast” snowstorm last March. It looks a bit like something from “Twin Peaks” 🙂

This is another photo from the same day. Expect a painting based on it to appear here on the 15th February.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about choosing which photos (that you’ve taken) to turn into paintings:

1) Light and shadow: Generally, a dramatic-looking painting will have a good contrast between light and shadow. My personal rule (which I’ve found far more difficult, if not impossible sometimes, to follow when making paintings based on photos) is that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of the painting should be covered in black paint. This makes all of the colours stand out more by contrast.

As such, look for photos that also contain darker things (eg: trees, buildings etc…) – preferably as close to the foreground as you can get. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, here is one of my photos of Cowplain contrasted with one of my upcoming paintings.

Although I used a bit of artistic licence, the gloomy bus stop in the foreground helps to add visual contrast to the rest of the picture.

So, if you want to make a dramatic photo-based painting, then look through your photos for any of them that contain a good mixture of lighter and darker areas.

2) Buildings vs nature: Simply put, nature looks a lot more dramatic than buildings – but buildings are easily-recognisable and easier to paint with some degree of accuracy and detail – when compared to visually complex natural scenes like the one in this photo of mine:

This is a photo of a really cool-looking tree that I took in Westbrook last March. I have probably got at least fifty gothic photos of trees from my various photo-taking expeditions, but I don’t tend to use them in paintings often since they’re difficult to paint accurately and quickly.

So, deciding whether to make a painting based on your nature photos or urban/suburban photos will depend on a number of factors. If you’ve only got one or two hours to make the painting and/or you want to make something that people will recognise – then paint buildings. Most buildings can be broken down into simple 3D shapes, and are relatively quick and easy to copy with practice.

If you want a bit of a challenge, you’ve got a bit more time or you want to make something “timeless” that will appeal to everyone (rather than people who recognise particular buildings, towns etc..), then use your nature photos as a basis for your next painting.

Yes, nature photos look more spectacular when you’re actually there with your camera. But, it is usually worth taking a few photos of buildings too.

3) Close-up details: Annoyingly, one of my favourite scenes to photograph – Portsdown Hill near Portsmouth – is surprisingly difficult to turn into a good painting. Although the view from this hill is utterly spectacular (especially at night, although I’ve only photographed it during the day so far), see if you can guess what the problem is with painting a photo like this:

This is a photo I took from the top of Portsdown Hill last March. This was utterly spectacular in real life, but it wouldn’t make a very good painting because….

All of the detail is really far away. And, unless you are spending months painting on a giant canvas, you won’t be able to really do all of this distant detail justice. So, one tip for choosing photos that will turn into dramatic paintings is to make sure that they contain at least some kind of interesting close-up or mid-range detail.

If you can make something close to the foreground look detailed, then the audience is less likely to care about less detailed background elements. But, if all of the detail is in the distant background, then choose another photo to base your painting on – no matter how spectacular the scene looked in real life.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Tips For Making Drawings And/Or Paintings Based On Your Photos

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article. So, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making drawings and/or paintings based on photos that you’ve taken. This is, as you might have guessed, because a lot of this type of art has been appearing here recently. This is mostly because, with practice, it is quicker and easier than painting from imagination (since, at the time of writing, I’ve been kind of busy).

So, I thought that I’d offer two basic tips for making art based on your photos. I’ve probably mentioned some of this stuff before, but hopefully there will be some new stuff here.

1) Get some art practice before you take the photo: Although you can use artistic licence to improve your painting, it helps to have a good photo to start with. This is where traditional artistic knowledge and/or previous art practice can really come in handy.

Although having some practice at drawing, painting etc.. won’t help you with the technical details of photography, it will help you with everything else. It will mean that you will be aware of things like composition (eg: where everything is placed), it’ll make you think about perspective (eg: the “camera angle”), it will help you to think about things like lighting, colours etc… Simply put, knowing what makes a painting look good will help you to work out what makes a photo look good.

For example, I’ve had relatively little experience with photography. At the time of writing, my technical photographic knowledge is literally just “point the digital camera in the right direction and press the button“. But, thanks to all of the art practice I’ve had over the past few years, I was able to take this photo of Westbrook shops last March:

This is a photo of Westbrook shops that I took last March.

When taking this photo, I ducked beneath a tree so that there would be something in the close foreground (eg: the branches) that would help to “frame” the picture and add depth to it.

In addition to this, the dark tree branches also help to make the colours in the rest of the photo look bolder by contrast. Likewise, by taking a photo of the corner of the building and angling the camera very slightly upwards, I was able to place extra emphasis on the building’s size and shape.

This then allowed me to make this gothic digitally-edited painting (and, yes, I’ll explain what went wrong with it – and why- at the very end of the article):

“Westbrook – Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

A lot of the reason why I was able to make the painting look so gothic was because I remembered a few of the artistic “rules” (that I normally follow whilst painting) when I was choosing where to take the photo from. So, yes, having some artistic knowledge will help you to take photos that you can turn into interesting-looking paintings.

2) Proportions: Aside from learning how to look at the actual shapes of things in a photo (a photo is a 2D representation of a 3D scene, so the precise outlines of things will be different to what you might think), knowing how to handle proportions is one of the most important skills to learn when making art based on photos.

This is because your photo will probably be a different size or shape to your painting or drawing. Yet, you still need to make sure that everything looks at least vaguely “right”. So, how do you do this?

Simply put, you think about everything in relation to everything else. So, if something in your photo is half as tall as the photo, then it should be half as tall as the area you are drawing or painting on. If there is a tree that takes up a quarter of the width of your photo, then it should take up a quarter of the width of your picture. Basically, think of your photo in terms of ratios and fractions.

It can take a while to get an “eye” for this kind of thing, but it is well worth practicing until you do. If it helps, then use a ruler to take and compare measurements (eg: if something is 10cm tall in a 30x30cm photo, then it should be 5cm tall in a 15x15cm drawing etc..). When done vaguely well, the results look a bit like this comparison:

This is a photo I took of Westbrook shops during the snow last March.

“Westbrook – Gateway” By C. A. Brown

But, yes, there are limits to this. This is why, for example, the gothic painting I showed you earlier looked so “squashed”. I tried to use this technique to compress a large rectangular photo into a much smaller and shorter rectangle (within a square-shaped area).

So, yes, this technique will result in distortions when compared to the photo, but it can help to minimise them to some extent.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Using Connections To Beat Writer’s Block- A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk quickly about one rather interesting way to get past writer’s block that I discovered whilst writing a couple of the short stories that appeared here last March.

Simply put, I was able to feel inspired whilst writing both stories because I tried to connect two (or more) seemingly different inspirations in each one.

For example, one story called “Common Factor” was inspired by the fact that the story was originally written whilst I was reading the cyberpunk novel (“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson) that I’ll hopefully review tomorrow and after finding several interesting Youtube videos on a channel about an instrument called the hurdy gurdy.

So, not having any better ideas, I tried to cram “Snow Crash”-style cyberpunk and something to do with a hurdy gurdy into the same story. And, surprisingly, it worked. I looked at some of the themes in “Snow Crash” (eg: futuristic technology, social fragmentation etc..) and I remembered how I was fascinated by the hurdy gurdy videos even though I’m terrible at playing instruments.

Then, somehow, the two things coalesced into the idea that geekiness/fascination is a common trait that finds many different expressions. And, suddenly, I had a theme and an idea for my story. After that, the rest of the story appeared reasonably easily.

Likewise, I was still reading “Snow Crash” before I wrote another story called “Rusty“, so I was still in the mood for cyberpunk fiction. However, the bulk of the inspiration from this story came from two rather different sources.

The first was the experience of playing the fan-made “Doom II” level that I reviewed yesterday. I hadn’t played the game for a while and, to my surprise, I found myself playing a little bit more clumsily than I expected. Likewise, the game seemed a little bit more difficult than usual. As soon as I started feeling surprised and regretful about getting so out of practice, I realised “This would be a perfect theme for a story!” But I didn’t know quite how to put this idea into a story.

Then, later that evening, I found the hilarious pirate-themed music video (Explicit lyrics) for “Drink The Rum” by Lagerstein and suddenly it all came together. A cyberpunk story about someone being out of practice with a pirate-themed virtual reality videogame.

So, yes, one way to beat writer’s block is to look around for a few things – the more different the better – that interest or fascinate you in some way, and then try to find some way to fit the basic underlying themes of these things into the same story.

This works because it forces you to think about things on a thematic level, it gives you the basic building blocks for a narrative and it changes the focus from “what do I write about?” to “how can I cram these two awesome things into one story?“. This change in focus might sound trivial but it turns the process of trying to write a story into an intriguingly puzzle-like exercise, rather than a frustrating search for ideas.

Best of all, it can also result in some gloriously bizarre stories too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Damania Reduced” Webcomic Mini Series

Well, as usual, I thought that I’d show off the “work in progress” line art for my recent webcomic mini series.

If I remember rightly, there weren’t that many art/dialogue changes between the line art and the finished comics. The main change is in the third comic (“Trance Metal”) where I made a mistake with the dialogue and wrote some replacement text below the speech bubble (to be moved into the correct position when I later edited the comic digitally).

You can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it. Enjoy 🙂

“Damania Reduced – Afternoon (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reduced – Book (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reduced – Trance Metal (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reduced – Decisions (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

Two Basic Tips For Using Digital Lighting Effects In “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote an art-related article. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about using the digital lighting effects in a free, open-source image editing program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program). This free open-source program is also compatible with pretty much every major operating system too.

For this article, I’ll be using version 2.8.22 of GIMP, since I had to re-download GIMP following some technical problems with my computer. However, the process is pretty much the same for slightly older versions of GIMP and is probably similar or identical for newer versions too.

Anyway, I’ve decided to write about digital lighting effects since I seem to have used them in a few of my more recent paintings, like this one:

“1999” By C. A. Brown

So, here are two tips/tutorials for using the digital lighting effects in GIMP.

In both tutorials, I’ll be adding artificial lighting (and then making it look more realistic) to this old “1980s cyberpunk”-style painting of mine from a few months ago.

1) The basics: First of all, open your image in GIMP and then look in the “filters” menu at the top of the screen. Look for the option called “Light and Shadow” and then select “lighting effects”. Like this:

How to get to the lighting effects menu in GIMP 2.8.22

Once you’ve done this, you’ll end up with a menu that shows your image with a blue dot that represents the new light source. Click and drag the dot until the light source is where you want it to be:

Click and drag the blue dot (in the small picture) until the light source is where you want it to be.

Once you’ve done this, then click the tab at the top of the menu called “Light”. From here you can fine tune the light’s position (by altering the X, Y and Z values), alter the type of light, alter the intensity of the light and also change the colour of the light (by clicking on the bar next to the “color” option, like this):

You can change the colour of the light by clicking on the bar next to the “color” option.

After this, you can also select the “Material” tab and alter the properties of the light in more detail (eg: how bright you want it to be, how much you want it to glow, shine etc..).

Messing around with the “Material” settings in order to give the new light source more of a glow.

Although there are a couple of more advanced options (eg: bump mapping, environment mapping etc..) available, we’ll ignore these. So, click “ok” and your new lighting effect should be applied to your image – like this:

Voila! Atmospheric red lighting 🙂 But, we aren’t finished yet….

2) Making it look more realistic: Although the digital lighting effects in GIMP do a good job at simulating how a new light source affects everything else in the picture, they can only apply these effects to the image in a two-dimensional space (since all images are 2D).

The way that the effect works also means that a lot of your image will be darkened too (to make the new light source look brighter by comparison). So, if you want to make your new lighting look more realistic (eg: 3D), then you are going to have to do this manually.

There are two ways to do this. One is to to have a good grasp of realistic lighting and shading, and to add the required shadows etc… to your art before you apply the effects. But, if you haven’t done this, then there is an easier way to do this. So, let’s get started…

Use the “free select” tool (the icon looks like a loop of rope) to select an area of your picture that is facing towards the light source:

Using the free select tool from the menu, I’ve selected part of the picture (one side of the TV aerial and one side of the crow) that is facing towards the light source.

Once you’ve done this, go into the “colors” menu at the top of the screen and select “Brightness – Contrast”, like this:

The brightness & contrast option.

Once you’ve done this, move the sliders until the area you have selected is lighter than it previously was. Like this:

Notice how the side of the TV aerial facing the light source now looks brighter than it used to.

If you are using coloured light (like the red light in this example), then you can make your picture more realistic by going into the “colors” menu again and selecting the option called ‘Colorize’.

Once you’ve done this, increase the saturation level and then keep moving the “hue” slider until the selected colour is the same colour as the light source. Like this:

Adding some colour to the brighter area, by altering the “hue” and “saturation” settings.

After this, just repeat the process where necessary and your picture will look a little bit more “3D”. Like this:

Voila!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂