Today’s Art (12th July 2020)

Well, thanks to having a bit more time and feeling a bit more inspired, this digitally-edited cyberpunk/heavy metal themed painting turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

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

“Record Shop” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (11th July 2020)

Well, due to tiredness, today’s artwork is a slightly random and minimalist piece of digital art.

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

“Insomnia Hall” By C. A. Brown

Digital Image Editing And Imperfections – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about rock music. This is mostly because I happened to watch this fascinating video about how modern post-production tools have made rock music too “perfect”, without any of the variations and imperfections that lend rock songs a sense of personality and what the video calls “groove”.

So, naturally, this made me think about art and digital image editing. After all, pretty much all of the paintings that I post here are digitally-edited in some way or another. Most of the time, this involves things like adjusting the brightness, contrast, saturation and/or chroma levels in order to make my “faded” watercolour paintings look as bold as something like a marker drawing. This editing can also include things like correcting mistakes, adding extra shading, adding skin tones, filling in background areas of a painting and/or adding various effects – like fog, rain or bloom.

After the editing process, one of my paintings usually looks a bit like this:

“Between Blocks” By C. A. Brown

So, is all of this a bad thing? Is my art less “authentic” because part of it is made on a computer?

Well, you can probably guess that my answer will be “no”. After all, I still make this type of art. But I want to talk about why digital editing isn’t always a bad thing. In short, it isn’t a bad thing when you are using it to create a deliberate effect and/or to add personality to your art. If you use digital tools for a conscious reason, then digital editing is a good thing.

For example, some of the main influences on my art include 1980s sci-fi films like “Blade Runner”, old 1980s heavy metal album covers/T-shirts, 1980s horror novel covers, 1990s computer games, some 1990s cartoons and a lot of stuff like that. One of the main visual features that all of these things have in common is a high level of visual contrast. Often, brighter areas (sometimes using bold colours) will be contrasted against a dark background in order to make them look more vivid. Versions of this technique go all the way back to Tenebrist art from the 17th and 18th centuries.

In addition to using various traditional techniques (eg: making sure that at least 30-50% of the surface area of a painting is painted black, using a limited palette of bolder colours etc…) to achieve this effect, one of the best ways to get this effect involves using a computer. After all, the scanner I use tends to make everything look a bit faded. So, by digitally altering the brightness, contrast, saturation and/or chroma levels, I can achieve a much better and bolder version of this effect than I can if I just use traditional materials. It is closer to how I imagine each painting before I make it than the original un-edited paintings are.

So, if you have a conscious reason for using digital post-processing or are using it to do something that you can’t easily achieve through traditional means, then this is a good thing.

Going back to the video about music that I mentioned earlier, one of the examples it gives of a rock song where the drums have been digitally altered to the point of sounding robotic is Halestorm’s “I Miss The Misery”. However, I’d argue that not all of the digital editing in this song is a bad thing. In one later part of the song’s music video, the instruments fade away and three videogame-like noises counterpoint the vocals absolutely perfectly. This is the most catchy and dramatic-sounding part of the song! Yet, it is something that could probably have only been done with a computer.

As for more general editing and corrections, I’d argue that they are good up to a point. If you’ve got a glaring error or an annoying problem and airbrushing it away will improve your picture, then go for it. However, be sure not to make your art too perfect. If you do this, then it runs the risk of just appearing bland or generic.

One of the best ways to get around this problem is – if you can – to try to incorporate some traditional materials into your art. Lines drawn with a pen are slightly rougher and more interesting than precise computer-drawn lines. Sections of a painting that have been painted with real paint will always have more texture and visual interest than areas filled in using a computer program. By including traditional materials, you can lend your artwork a sense of “authentic” roughness and personality whilst also still giving yourself room to use digital effects too.

However, be sure to pay attention to visual consistency. One of the problems with mixing traditional and digital art is that the two mediums can look very different – and can clash when used in the same painting. I’ve made this mistake at least a few times in the past, but there are ways around it. For example, you can keep the digital elements reasonably subtle (eg: relegating them to background areas, small bloom effects etc…). Even just making sure that your painting includes a reasonably consistent palette (in terms of brightness, hue etc..) can make differences between digital and traditional areas less noticeable at first glance.

In conclusion, digital editing won’t make your art less “authentic” or give it less personality if it is used well and for a conscious reason. However, don’t try to make your art too perfect. Some small imperfections and/or the use of more traditional materials can give your art a feeling of individuality, humanity and personality that you can’t get if you are too much of a perfectionist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂