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.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂