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 🙂

How To Find Shortcuts For Image Editing – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk briefly about digital image editing today since the art in the webcomic mini series I’m making at the time of writing seems to be more digital than traditional (it’s still a mixture of the two though, but it’s like 70% digital). This has been a trend with a lot of my art (and webcomics) recently, and one of the reasons for this is that it’s easier to find efficient shortcuts when using digital tools.

But, how do you find them? Well, it’s mostly a combination of repetition and curiosity. The more often you do one type of thing, the more motivated you will be to find shortcuts for it.

For example, one of the three programs I’m using to edit my comic is version 2.6 of a free open-source graphics program called “GIMP“. I’m mostly using this program to add sky textures to the backgrounds of panels – like this one:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd July.

The basic mechanism for doing this is something that I’ve learnt before. You start by selecting the blank background area with the “fuzzy select tool” (the icon looks like a torch or a magic wand). Although you don’t have to select the area, it’ll come in very handy later.

Once you’ve done this, select “fill” and then choose “pattern fill” from the menu at the bottom of the toolbar and then choose the “sky” texture from the options. Then fill the area that you’ve selected earlier. However, there is a slight problem with just doing this – see if you can spot it:

Well, THIS doesn’t look quite right!

Yes, the default sky texture is too dark. Since the area had been selected before we filled it, getting the sky texture right is just a simple matter of adjusting the brightness/contrast levels (in the “colours” menu at the top of the screen) until the selected area looks right. I found that a brightness of +20 and a contrast of +50 seemed to work fairly well.

But, of course, manually moving the sliders or typing in numbers every time I needed to do this gets tiring very quickly.

Doing this manually for every “piece” of the background can get tiring….

After doing this a few times, I noticed that the brightness and contrast sliders would increase in increments of 10 if you clicked on the right-hand edge of each slider. So, for a while, I fell into a routine of doing this. I’d click on the brightness slider twice and then click on the contrast slider five times. This sped things up a bit, but it still seemed at least mildly laborious and time-consuming.

But, a day or so later, I noticed the “Presets” option at the top of the dialogue box. And, after clicking on the drop-down menu, I noticed that it saved the brightness/contrast settings that you’ve used in the past. So, instead of clicking seven times, I only had to click on one thing:

Now THIS is a time-saver! And, yes, I tend to make comics (and write articles) ridiculously far in advance.

This is just one small example. But, if you have to do the same thing with an image editing program on a regular basis, then you’re going to find shortcuts after a while. Sometimes these will be the product of curiosity and sometimes they will be something so obvious that you’re surprised that you didn’t notice it before. But, if you do the same thing regularly, then you’re going to start finding shortcuts (or, sometimes, the shortcuts end up finding you).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (31st May 2018)

Well, here’s the full-size version of my digital painting from this article about making digital art using open source software (“GIMP 2.6” to be precise).

Seriously, although this 100% digital cyberpunk picture isn’t as good as my usual mixtures of traditional and digital art are, it still turned out better than I expected (and taught me a better way to apply rain effects to my art too!)

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

“Digital Future” By C. A. Brown

Making Digital Art With Open-Source Software – A Demonstration

A while before writing this article, I was preparing one of this month’s daily art posts. I was also in the mood for making some digital art too.

But, wanting to challenge myself a bit, I decided to make the digital art using a slightly old version of a free open-source program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) that I downloaded a few years ago. This program comes in versions for Windows, Linux, Mac etc.. So, it will work on pretty much any computer.

I chose to use this program because, although I’ve used it for occasional image editing before, I was curious to see what it could and couldn’t do. It can do a fair amount, however the version I used (version 2.6) does seem to lack a couple of features that I’ve seen in the old commercial image editing programs I use much more often.

So, let’s get started. You can click on any of the images in this post to see a larger version of them.

The line art:

Not a promising start, but it’ll get better!

I added the line art using a mouse. Although I’ve got an old graphics tablet, I often find the mouse more intuitive to use (even though I use my non-dominant hand for it).

However, unlike in the old version of MS Paint (version 5.1) that I normally use for digital drawings, I couldn’t seem to find any “line” tools in GIMP 2.6. So, I ended up having to draw the line art freehand with the “pencil” tool. Hence why it looks so shaky.

Filling everything in:

Note the menu that appears below the toolbox once the “bucket fill” option is selected. This allows you to choose what you want to fill the area with.

GIMP 2.6 contains a tool called the “bucket fill” tool that can be used to fill areas with either a solid colour or a textured pattern. Seriously, you can fill areas with textures (albeit a limited pre-installed selection).

This is a really cool feature, although it’s often a good idea to select the area you want to fill with the “fuzzy select tool” (the icon looks like a torch/magic wand) first. This allows you to quickly add other effects to the area after you’ve filled it (such as altering the brightness/contrast levels or the colour settings).

By selecting the area (with the “fuzzy select tool”) before filling it, I was easily able to change the colour of the pattern I added to this area.

To de-select the area after you’re done, just click on the square icon in the top left of the toolbox and click once on another part of the image.

Gradients:

Note the small purple line to the left of the silhouetted man. This line determines where the gradient is and how large it is.

For the sky, I decided to use the “blend” effect. The icon for this looks like a grey square and it is next to the “bucket fill” icon in the toolbox.

Once you’ve chosen your colours, just click and drag the mouse across part of the area you want to fill. This will draw a line which will determine where the blending will happen, what direction the blend will travel in and how large the blended area (between the two colours) will be. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but that’s what the “undo” button is for!

Miscellaneous stuff:

Altering the brightness/contrast levels in one part of the image to create shadows.

After adding some detail to the background using the “pencil” tool and the “RGB Noise” option in the “Filters” menu (at the top of the window), I then decided to add a few shadows to the image. This was done by selecting the relevant areas with the free select tool (the icon looks like a lasso/ loop of rope) and then going into the “Colours” menu and messing around with the brightness/contrast settings.

After this, I also tweaked the hue/saturation levels in the entire image to give it a more vivid look. The option to do this can also be found in the “Colours” menu:

Altering the hue/saturation levels in the image.

Then, using the airbrush tool, I added some extra background details. One cool thing about the airbrush in GIMP 2.6 is that you can vary the brush size and – depending on how long you hold down the left mouse button – the intensity/opacity of the paint too.

Seriously, the airbrush tool in this program is really great. You can vary the brush size and (depending on how long you hold down the left mouse button), the intensity of the effect.

Lighting effects:

This is where to find the lighting effects menu.

One really cool thing about GIMP 2.6 is that it allows you to add extra lighting to your picture. The program digitally adds a light source to the picture and then darkens other parts of the picture (to make the light appear bright by contrast).

This option allows you to select the position of the light source (and you can move the light source around in real time in three dimensions by altering the X, Y and Z axis values), to select the light’s intensity, the light’s type and the light’s colour. Seriously, this effect is really cool.

The preview window and the three “position” boxes allow you to move the light in three dimensions (just don’t move it too far out of frame. This feature of the program crashed when I moved the light too far to the right when messing around with this feature before this demonstration.)

This menu allows you to choose what type of light source you want to include (and how intense it is).

Finishing touches:

Seriously, the “airbrush” feature is great for adding rain effects (as long as you vary the line width etc..)

Finally, after messing around with the background a bit, I decided to add some rain to the image with the airbrush tool. This is where the airbrush really came in handy.

By varying the size of the brush and the amount of pressure I used, I was able to create much more realistic rain effects (using this technique) than I was in the program I usually use for this (MS Paint 5.1). Seriously, I cannot praise the airbrush in GIMP 2.6 highly enough!

Conclusion:

Although it would have been nice to see some line/shape drawing tools on the toolbar, I’m genuinely surprised (and pleased) at all of the stuff I was able to do in GIMP 2.6. And, given that this program is a free, non-commercial, open-source one that is available for pretty much all operating systems, there’s no excuse not to check it out.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Cheap Ways To Make Trendy Types Of Art

Well, I thought that I’d write a proper instructional article since it’s been a few days since I last wrote one. So, for today, I’ll be looking at a few interesting artistic trends and telling you how you can re-create them in your own art without spending a ridiculous amount of money.

1) Vivid “retro-style” palettes: I’m not sure what the technical name for this trend is, but this style of colour palette been a feature of my art style for over a year. It looks a bit like this:

“Stage Lighting” By C. A. Brown

“Bus Stop” By C. A. Brown

Initially, it was something that I learnt from a really set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“. However, when preparing an article a couple of days ago, I realised that another game I’d played a couple of years earlier called “The Gift” also contains a couple of examples of it too. Then, when I saw the first “Guardians Of The Galaxy” movie a few months ago, I was delighted to see it there too.

Although influenced by the 1970s-90s, this style of palette seems to have become something of a slight trend in the 2010s and it’s really easy to re-create.

For starters, try to make sure that bright green, orange, purple, blue, yellow and/or red appear in your art. Then, (and here’s the clever bit) make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is covered in black ink, paint, pastel etc… These dark areas make the rainbow colours stand out by contrast and gives them that retro-style vividness too.

If you’re editing scans/photos of your traditional art using image editing software, you can also enhance this effect by decreasing the brightness levels slightly, increasing the contrast levels heavily and increasing the colour saturation heavily.

In most editing programs, this can be done by looking for two options called something like “brightness/contrast” and “hue/saturation/lightness” in the program’s menus.

2) Marker pen-style art (for less!): If you look at art videos on Youtube, one art medium that you’ll see a lot are alcohol-based markers. However, even small sets of no-brand alcohol-based markers can have eyebrow-raising prices if you’re on a budget.

So, what’s a good, and slightly cheaper, substitute?

Well, you can use an older art medium in a very slightly unusual way. This technique won’t make art that looks exactly like marker pen art, but it’ll look very vaguely similar – if slightly less bold. Without any digital post-processing, it looks a bit like this:

I’ve used this example before, but this is an unprocessed (except for cropping) scan of the picture. It’s closer to the original painting, but slightly more faded due to the limitations of the scanner.

Get some cheap watercolour paper (the more absorbent the better!), a wet paintbrush and some watercolour pencils (which, unless you buy fancy brands, cost far less per pencil than a set of markers costs per pen). Then apply a decent amount of pressure when using the watercolour pencils. Really saturate the paper with pigment. This will make your art look like a bold pencil drawing.

Then, lightly moisten your paintbrush (the less water the better!) and very gently go over your art with the brush, being sure to clean the brush between going over differently-coloured areas. The less pressure, the better. The goal here is to add just enough water to convert the pigment into paint, but not enough to turn it into more traditional “watery” watercolour paint.

The cheaper and more absorbent your watercolour paper is, the better this effect will look! Absorbent paper stops the paints from sliding around/ running into each other too much, although it does carry the risk of the paper becoming over-saturated with water if you aren’t very careful about the amount of water you use (again, less is more!).

If you want to make your art look even more like a marker pen drawing, then either buy a cheap waterproof ink rollerball pen (they’re about £2-4 each) and make a line drawing on the page before you begin painting. Or, if this is outside your budget, just wait until your painting dries and then go over the dry picture with a non-waterproof ink pen.

If you’re editing scans/photos of your art digitally, then just use the “brightness, contrast & saturation” trick I mentioned earlier to give your watercolour pencil art even more of a “marker pen” style look. Like this:

This is a digitally-edited version of the picture I showed you earlier – with digital alterations to the brightness, contrast and colour saturation levels.

3) Digital-style art (without graphics tablets or expensive programs): Digital art is more popular than ever these days. However, if you watch any Youtube videos about it, you’ll often see artists using an array of fancy high-end graphics tablets and expensive professional programs. But, you can make digital-style art with a pen, a piece of paper, some basic electronic equipment and a free open-source program.

As long as you have a computer (even a low-end one) and either a digital camera (even a phone camera) or, even better, a cheap scanner – then you can make some really cool digital-style art at a low cost. This is a technique that I initially heard about in this “making of” page for my favourite webcomic (“Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree) – but you don’t need the commercial image editing program that Rowntree uses.

Anyway, start by making an ordinary line drawing with pens and paper (being sure not to leave any gaps between areas that are going to be different colours). Once you’ve done this, you can then add the colours digitally.

You don’t need an expensive image editing program to do this! You can even legally download a totally free, open-source program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) -which has versions for Windows, Linux and Mac. This program has many of the basic features that commercial editing programs do and is reasonably user-friendly too.

Anyway, how do you turn a photo/scan of some line art into something that looks like digital art?

Firstly, open your line art in whatever program you use, find your program’s “cropping tool”, “snipping tool”, “crop tool” etc.. (the icon for this feature usually looks like two diagonally-overlapping “L” shapes. But, in GIMP 2.6, the icon for it looks like a scalpel/craft knife) and cut away any unneeded background things, like the scanner bed or anything in the background of your photo.

Then look for the “brightness/contrast” option in your editing program and lower the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels until your art looks suitably bold. Like this piece of line art:

This is a piece of line art that has been cropped. After this, I’ve made it look bolder by decreasing the brightness levels and increasing the contrast levels. I think that most programs have an option called “Threshold” that does something similar to this too, but I haven’t really tried this.

Then look for an area selection tool in your program. The icon for this tool will often look like a magic wand of some kind. It allows you to select any self-contained segment of a picture. Here’s an example of the tool (called the “Fuzzy Select Tool”) in GIMP 2.6:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Most image editing programs have a tool like this. It’s incredibly useful!

After you’ve selected an area, you can use a number of your editing program’s features to add colour. For example, in GIMP 2.6, the easiest way to do this is to just use the “bucket fill” tool (after selecting a colour by double-clicking on the “foreground colour” square at the bottom of the toolbox menu).

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Adding colours digitally in GIMP 2.6. This is super-simple, since you can just use the “bucket fill” tool to add colour to the areas you’ve selected with the magic wand. You can also choose the colour by clicking on the squares in the menu to the left of the picture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Create A Corkboard Effect In Your Art Using GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

2016 Artwork Corkboard effect tutorial article sketch

If you’ve never heard of it before, “GIMP” is a freeware open source image editing program, which is an alternative to more well-known and expensive image editing programs.

Anyway, when I was editing one of my upcoming paintings in another editing program (an old one called “Paint Shop Pro 6”), I worked out how to create a corkboard-style surface in the lower part of the painting and I was curious to see if I could re-create this effect in GIMP 2.6.

After some experimentation, I succeeded at this (hence this tutorial), although the effect is slightly less intense when created in GIMP 2.6 than it is in PSP6, due to feature differences between the two programs.

Note: I should also point out that this effect looks best (and only works properly) when used in darker areas of your picture. A plain black background is absolutely ideal for this effect.

I know that there are more recent versions of GIMP out there, but I doubt that they are missing any of the basic features I’ll use in this tutorial.

Likewise, if you’re new to image editing, then it’s probably worth saving a backup copy of your original picture before you start editing.

Anyway, let’s get started:

1) Select An Area To Edit: For the sake of ease, this tutorial will show you how to add the effect to the whole picture, but if you don’t want to do this, then select an area to edit using the tool on the icon menu that looks like a lasso or a loop of rope. You can also use the two tools to the left of this icon too.

This is the free select tool, which you can use if you only want to add this effect to part of your image. The square icon and circular icon next to it can also be used for selecting areas of your image too.

This is the free select tool, which you can use if you only want to add this effect to part of your image. The square icon and circular icon next to it can also be used for selecting areas of your image too.

2) Turn up the noise: After you’ve selected the area you want to edit. Go into the “Filters” menu at the top of the screen and select “Noise”, then select “RGB Noise” from the sub-menu.

Like this.

Like this.

Once you’ve done this, a small window that looks like this should appear in one corner of the screen:

This is the RGB noise menu.

This is the RGB noise menu.

Once this menu appears, push all three colour sliders towards the right-hand side of the window (eg: the value of each colour should be at least 0.8 or more, preferably more), since you’ll need a fairly intense noise effect if you want to create a corkboard texture. Once you’ve done this, click “ok”.

All of the values have been increased to 0.8, creating a static-like pattern.

All of the values have been increased to 0.8, creating a static-like pattern.

3) Colourise: Once you’ve raised the RGB noise levels to 0.8 or higher, go into the “Colours” menu at the top of the screen and select “colourise”.

This is the "colourise" option.

This is the “colourise” option.

A menu should appear, allowing you to select the hue, saturation and lightness levels. Don’t worry if your picture suddenly turns a different colour when this menu appears.

This is the "colourise" menu. Don't worry if your picture suddenly changes colour when this menu appears.

This is the “colourise” menu. Don’t worry if your picture suddenly changes colour when this menu appears.

Once you’ve got this menu, you will need to mess around with the three levels until your picture becomes an orange/ light brown colour.

The settings I found worked best for the example image were a hue level of 32, a saturation level of 84 and a lightness level of 3. But, these levels may vary depending on how bright your picture is (my picture was slightly gloomy). So, be sure to experiment.

These are the hue/saturation/ lightness levels that worked well in the example picture. But, be sure to experiment until your picture looks right.

These are the hue/saturation/ lightness levels that worked well in the example picture. But, be sure to experiment until your picture looks right.

Once your picture looks like a corkboard. Just click “ok” and…

Congratulations! You've done it!

Congratulations! You’ve done it!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂