Why Traditional Art Skills Still Matter – A Ramble

Although I seem to be using more digital effects than usual in some of my recent paintings, I thought that I’d talk about why more “traditional” art skills still matter.

In short, whilst image editing software, digital effects etc.. can make a painting look even better, they can only improve what is already there. What this means is that the underlying artwork still needs to follow traditional rules, use traditional techniques etc..

This is something that I was reminded of when I made the digitally-edited painting that appeared here yesterday:

“1992” By C. A. Brown

This was a painting which, for time reasons, I made relatively quickly. In essence, it is just a picture of two people against a reasonably plain background. Although I used some watercolour paint (and waterproof ink), a fair amount of the colours, lighting etc… were added to this picture digitally. Yet, I was still able to make this painting look vaguely good. But, how?

Well, the answers are fairly old-fashioned. For starters, one of the things that makes this painting so striking is the fact that – for the most part – it uses a carefully-planned colour scheme.

The main colour scheme is a red/green/blue one, with emphasis on red and blue (since these two colours [which are only complementary colours when viewed on a RGB computer monitor] look ominous/unsettling when placed together, which fits in with the gothic atmosphere of the painting). In addition to this, there are also some subtle hints of a complementary orange/gold and purple colour scheme too.

By choosing the colours carefully (a traditional skill), I was able to improve how the painting would look when I started adding digital effects.

Likewise, whilst you can use an open-source computer program to add dramatic lighting effects to your art, they’re going to look weird if you don’t follow some traditional rules.

For example, in order to make the digital lighting stand out in this painting, I used the old Tenebrist technique of making sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of the painting was covered in black paint. Since brightness is relative, making most of the painting extremely dark will make everything else (including the digital lighting) look bolder/brighter by comparison.

In addition to this, I had to add all of the shadows, reflections etc.. to this picture manually (using traditional and digital tools), so that the digital lighting would look a bit more realistic. In other words, this required traditional knowledge about working out where the light source will be and changing the picture accordingly. And, even though I messed up the placement of a couple of the shadows in the picture, it still looks vaguely right at first glance.

Without this, the ominous red glow in the corner of the painting wouldn’t look as realistic, since the people standing next to it wouldn’t look quite as “3D” as they do in the finished picture.

So, yes, although digital effects, image editing etc.. can seriously improve your art, they can only improve what is already there. In other words, you still need to learn and use traditional skills (eg: perspective, lighting, colour choices etc..) in art that you will be adding digital effects to.

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

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