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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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 🙂

Two More Quick Tips For Making Monochrome Art

Well, although I’ve talked about making monochrome art before , I thought that I’d return to the topic briefly today.

This is mostly because, due to being busy with various things, some of this month’s upcoming daily art posts (and possibly comics) will contain monochrome art for time reasons (due to being somewhat busy at the time of writing). When you’ve had a bit of practice, switching to monochrome is one of the easiest ways to make reasonably good-looking art quickly. Like this:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size drawing will be posted here on the 20th August.

So, here are a few more tips for making monochrome art:

1) Detail matters more: Simply put, one of the reasons why monochrome art can look really impressive is because the lack of colours draws the audience’s attention to the details of the underlying drawing.

As such, detail matters a lot more. Of course, if you’ve got limited time, then there are lots of sneaky ways to give the impression that your monochrome art is more detailed than it actually is (eg: shrouding large parts of the picture in darkness, using a variety of different simple shading techniques, impressionistic details etc..).

In addition to this, you can also make the detail in your monochrome art stand out more by ensuring that there is a good mixture between blank, shaded and dark areas in your artwork. In other words, try to ensure that each type of area makes up at least 20% of the total surface area of your picture.

Another good rule (which I didn’t entirely follow in the drawing near the beginning of this article) is to try to ensure that no two blank, shaded or dark areas of the picture are next to each other – so that each part of the picture stands out in contrast to the surrounding area.

Here’s an example of this technique in a monochrome drawing of mine from 2014 (based on a photo I took in 2004). Although there are some shaded areas are close to each other, they either use different types of shading and/or are separated with thick black lines:

“Berlin Noir” By C. A. Brown [2014]

But, even so, detail matters a lot more because the audience are going to notice it more.

2) Digital tools: I’m sure I’ve talked about some elements of this, but one reason why monochrome art is such a cool genre if you need to make good art in a hurry is that it’s a lot easier and quicker to use digital tools (after scanning or photographing your art).

One easy way to make digital copies of your monochrome art look suitably crisp (and to make any digital edits alterations stand out less) is to open the scanned or digitally-photographed copy of your monochrome art in pretty much any image editing program (if you don’t have one, then use this free open-source one) and look for the “brightness/contrast” option.

Once you’ve found it, lower the brightness and increase the contrast significantly (experiment until you get the levels right). This will make the black areas of your picture look suitably dark and the white areas look suitably bright. Whilst doing this with colour artwork will often result in some rather strange-looking results, it is a quick and easy way to make your monochrome art look clean and crisp.

Likewise, if your image editing program has a “hue/saturation/lightness” option, then lower the saturation to zero too. This will get rid of any colour artefacts that can turn up when digitising monochrome art, since lowering the saturation level to zero removes all colours from the picture (eg: if you try to do this with a colour image, then it will turn into a greyscale image).

Likewise, for time and consistency reasons, look for any selection tools and/or fill tools in your image editing program. You can use these to quickly fill large areas with black “ink” much more quickly and consistently than you can if you use physical paints or inks.

Seriously, all of the solid black areas in the preview picture near the beginning of this article were filled in digitally. If you don’t believe me, here’s a cropped (but otherwise unprocessed) scan of the actual physical drawing.

Yes, I could have filled these areas with paint or ink manually, but it was quicker and easier to do it digitally. Plus, notice how faded this picture looks – this is because I haven’t adjusted the brightness/contrast levels. Likewise, I messed up the proportions on the globe slightly in the original drawing, but was able to quickly and easily correct them in the final edited picture.

So, yes, when it comes to monochrome art, digital tools are not only useful, but they can also save you time and make any edits or alterations to your art a lot less noticeable (yes, you can make seamless alterations/edits to colour art, but it’s a little bit more complicated).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

So, here are a few more tips for making monochrome art:

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 🙂

Three Basic Ways To Deal With The Transience Of Digital Art Tools

The day before I prepared the first draft of this article (last summer), Microsoft announced that MS Paint would be discontinued (luckily, a day later, they realised the error of their ways). But when the news of the long-running program’s cancellation was first announced, my reaction to the news looked a bit like this:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Microsoft To Discontinue MS Paint ?!?!?” By C. A. Brown

Anyway, this made me think about digital art in general. Although I don’t usually make entirely digital art (like the picture above), I often use a mixture of traditional and digital tools in my art and webcomics. Yet, in a world where even MS Paint could potentially be discontinued and where there’s always a push for people to use the “latest” stuff, I can’t help but think about the transient nature of digital art. How, a lot of it relies so heavily on program-specific knowledge etc…

So, here are a few basic ways to deal with this problem:

1) Open-source backups: A lot of the problems I’ll be talking about are inherent to commercial programs. Although some of these programs might be really good, they were primarily created to make money. As such, the companies behind them will always be trying to push the “latest” thing, if only to re-sell things that people already had in the old version of a program.

Well, open-source software doesn’t have this problem. Not only is most of it free, but older versions will often be archived online too (though, be careful with third-party archive sites!) which can be useful if you have an older machine. Not only that, but many of these programs will do the same basic things as commercial image editing software will do.

For example, a good backup/open-source substitute for classic MS Paint seems to be a free open-source program – originally designed for Linux- called “KolourPaint” (apparently, there’s a Windows version too but I couldn’t find it). From all I’ve read about it, it possibly seems to be one of the only programs out there that manages to capture some of the classic user-friendly simplicity of pre-Windows 7 versions of MS Paint.

Likewise, for slightly more advanced editing, there is always good old GIMP (GNU Manipulation Program). Yes, this one is a bit slow to load on older machines, but it can do quite a lot of basic things that most commercial editing software can do. Plus, since it’s so well-known, you can find a fair number of tutorials for it on the internet if you don’t know how to use it.

2) Similarities: The important thing to remember is that, since digital image editing programs often do the same thing, they will often have features in common. Yes, these features may have slightly different icons, names and/or locations. But, a lot of editing programs will have at least the same set of basic features.

So, take a look at a few different programs and see what they have in common with each other. For example, most programs will include a tool that allows you to change the brush colour by clicking on a part of the image you’re editing. This will then change the brush colour to the exact colour of the pixel you clicked on. It is perfect for correcting mistakes in a seamless way.

In most programs, the icon for this will look like a pipette or a dropper of some kind. It will often be called something like “Pick color”, “Color picker”, “Dropper” etc… Yet, this one feature does exactly the same thing in all of the programs that use it.

So, yes, even though a program might be different, the basics might be more familiar than you think.

3) Focus on skills, not tools: This is kind of an obvious one, but try to focus on learning general art skills rather than how to use one specific program.

For example, although I use MS Paint for small corrections etc.. all of the time, the image at the beginning of this article is the first time in quite a while that I’ve used it to create an entire picture. Here’s the picture again:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Microsoft To Discontinue MS Paint ?!?!?” By C. A. Brown

When making the picture, I used all of the skills that I use in both traditional drawing and the general principles I’ve learnt from other image editing programs. For example, when drawing myself in MS Paint, I started by sketching something similar to the preparatory pencil sketch that I’d use if I was drawing myself traditionally.

This re-creation of part of my initial “sketch” uses the same principles and knowledge as drawing with a pencil. Although MS Paint’s line and shape tools can speed it up a bit.

Likewise, my decision to use light purple for the shadows on my face was something I learnt through messing around in an old image editing program from 1999 called “JASC Paint Shop Pro 6” (that I use fairly regularly). Likewise, the general principles behind this were something I initially learnt from making a study (with traditional and digital materials) of an old 19th century painting:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 6th May.

So, yes, general art skills aren’t specific to any one computer program. If you focus on general skills, then you’ll be at home in a surprisingly large variety of art mediums.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Reasons Why Digital Image Editing Matters (If You’re An Artist)

As regular readers of this site probably know, it’s no real secret that I (heavily) digitally edit most of my watercolour pencil and waterproof ink paintings before posting them here.

So, for today, I thought that I’d look at two of the most basic reasons why I do this and why it’s an important thing to learn if you’re making art that is intended to be viewed on a computer.

If you don’t have a program that you can use to edit digital photographs or scans of your art, there’s a free, non-commercial, open-source one called “GNU Image Manipulation Program” (“GIMP”) that will work on most operating systems and can be legally downloaded here.

If you already have an editing program, then I’ll be using fairly non-program specific descriptions in this article, so it will hopefully be useful to you too. Most image editing programs (old, new, open-source, closed-source, cheap, expensive etc…) contain the same basic features.

But, if anyone is interested in the programs I used for the examples in this article, I used a combination of an ancient late 1990s program called “Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6” and an old version of MS Paint. So, yes, you don’t need the latest fancy graphics programs to improve your art with image editing.

(It also goes without saying that this guide is only intended for improving non-commercial online displays of art. If you are selling the phyiscal originals, or advertising a gallery showing of said originals, then you must display accurate, unedited photographs/scans of the originals. Showing edited copies when selling the original [or selling access to it] is fraud.)

So, why does digital image editing matter?

1) It makes your art look bolder: Depending on the scanner you use or the lighting when you take digital photographs, digitised copies of your art can look somewhat faded or “flat”. Faded artwork tends to bring out every small imperfection and it can also give artwork a slightly “amateurish” look too. Like this:

This is a cropped, but otherwise unedited, scan of one of my paintings. As you can see, it looks somewhat faded.

This used to puzzle me for a while, especially since most art that you see on the internet tends to look a bit bolder and more vivid. But, I learnt how to solve this problem fairly quickly after I started using image editing programs. All you have to do is to look for an option in your editing program called “Brightness/Contrast” or “Brightness and contrast”. Once you’ve found it, then lower the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels until your picture starts to look a bit more vivid.

You’d be surprised at the difference it can make:

… And here’s the picture with -15% brightness and +71% contrast. As you can see, it instantly looks a lot bolder and more vivid.

After this, you can further increase the boldness of your art by looking for an option in your editing program called “Hue/Saturation/Lightness” (or something similar). Once you’ve found this, crank the “saturation” levels to maximum. Repeat the process if necessary. This should make the colours in your art look very slightly more vivid.

Here’s the picture after two “100%” saturation increases. The difference is slightly subtle, but the colours are a bit more vivid than the previous example.

2) It allows you to correct mistakes: One of the great things about digital image editing is that it allows you to correct mistakes that you made in your original painting. This can be an absolute lifesaver sometimes, not to mention that the experience of salvaging a slightly failed painting can be an oddly satisfying one.

Although explaining all of the techniques would take far too long, pay attention to the “pick color”/”color picker” tool in your program when you’re correcting small mistakes. The icon for this tool looks like a pipette/eye dropper in most programs and it allows you to change the brush colour to the exact colour of any pixel you click on with the icon. This means that small corrections will blend into the rest of the picture a lot better than if you just use the stock colours available in your editing program.

Likewise, do you remember the “Hue” part of the “Hue/Saturation/Lightness” option I mentioned earlier? Adjustments to this will change literally all of the colours in a selected area of your image (or the whole image if you haven’t selected part of it) by a set amount.

So, small adjustments to the hue level are one thing you can use to improve the colours in your art. Likewise, you can also change the colours in your art by looking for options labelled “colourise”/”colorize” or “Red/Green/Blue”, which are best used to change the colour of smaller selected areas in your artwork.

There are, of course, lots more things you can do with even the more basic image editing programs. But, if you take the time to learn and experiment, you’ll have the confidence to salvage paintings you would have abandoned or to improve paintings that you already really like.

For example, here’s a newly re-edited version of the example picture (my original edited version from a couple of months ago can be seen here). Compare it to the unedited example at the beginning of this article and you’ll see how much difference digital editing can make.:

This is the picture after some extensive additional editing. With the exception of the rain in the background, most of these changes are fairly subtle. But, they include adding more depth to the painting through the use of blurring effects, brightness changes and extra shadows. They also include adding more realistic skin tones, altering the hue and saturation levels even further, correcting countless small mistakes and altering the framing of the picture slightly too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How Much Difference Does Digital Image Editing Make? – A Ramble

2017-artwork-remastered-versions-of-comics-article

[NOTE: I prepare these articles quite far in advance of publication. And, in the gap between writing this article and it appearing on this blog, I’ve learnt a few new image editing techniques (although they probably won’t appear here regularly until some of next year’s daily art posts). As such, I don’t really consider this article to be accurate any more. Still, I’ll include it for the sake of posterity.]

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Well, after reading about “remastered” albums online, I was curious if it was possible to do the same thing with art.

If, like me, you use a mixture of traditional and digital materials when making art – then it could theoretically be possible to go back, re-scan an old picture and then use all of the extra image editing knowledge that you’ve learnt since you first edited the original to make an improved “remastered” version of the original.

Since I’d just finished making a new webcomic mini series (that will appear here in October), I decided to try this with one of my old webcomic updates that was originally posted here in 2016 (but made in late 2015). Here’s a cropped, but otherwise unprocessed, re-scan of the original comic.

This scan has been cropped, but there's no further editing. This is exactly as the comic update would have appeared before I edited it in late 2015.

This scan has been cropped, but there’s no further editing. This is exactly as the comic update would have appeared before I edited it in late 2015.

And here is what the comic update looked like after my original digital editing in late 2015:

"Damania Resurgence - Smart Phones" By C. A. Brown [Originally posted 12th April 2016, made in late 2015]

“Damania Resurgence – Smart Phones” By C. A. Brown [Originally posted 12th April 2016, made in late 2015]

The programs I used were MS Paint 5.1 and a late 1990s image editing program called “JASC Paint Shop Pro 6”. If I remember rightly, my original editing mostly consisted of replacing a line of dialogue in the final panel, altering the brightness/contrast levels (eg: lowering the brightness slightly and heavily increasing the contrast), maybe making a small “hue map” adjustment (I’d just discovered this technique back then) and making lots of small corrections using MS Paint.

So, with somewhere between one and two years more experience, I was curious to see whether I could create a better re-edited version of this comic update. After about 30-45 minutes of digital editing (using the same two programs I used in 2015), here’s the result:

Here's the new re-edited version of my old comic update.

Here’s the new re-edited version of my old comic update.

At first glance, the main changes are changes to the content. I’ve changed the colour of the old mobile phone (so it fits in with the colour scheme of the rest of the comic), I haven’t altered the dialogue from the original and I’ve altered the characters’ noses (and the width of their necks) to make them look more like my current style. I’ve also been a little bit more thorough with correcting small mistakes too.

However, most of the extra digital editing is the kind of subtle stuff that is only noticeable upon close inspection. For example, I’ve digitally added more realistic skin tones to both characters (by altering the RGB levels to +11% red/ -4% green/ -18% blue).

Likewise, I’ve darkened some of the backgrounds slightly to make them look more consistent. I’ve also made small changes to the colour saturation in the image too. I’ve also made the green areas of the image look slightly bolder and more consistent too.

Still, the two comics still look reasonably similar. Yes, the new one looks slightly better – but they both look somewhat “old”. After all, they’re both based on the same old comic from late 2015.

I guess that what I’m trying to say here is that you can only do so much with digital image editing. Yes, you can make your old art look slightly better by re-editing it. But, the best way to create an “improved” version of an old painting, comic update etc… is probably to re-draw or re-paint the whole thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂