Digital Paintings

A long time ago, when digital cameras had a small amount of megapixels, I found that I wanted to enlarge some of my photos. Enlarging a photo in Photoshop would create an image that was blurry or bring out digital imperfections. One way to get around this was to push the pixels into a painting, using a Wacom digital tablet. The process is very much like painting on a wet photo. I use either Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter to turn these photos into paintings. I hand paint each stroke, deciding what stays or gets covered. Sometimes, I just want to obscure the background to emphasize the subject. Other times, hand painting is a great technique to blend a composite together.

I’ve found that some people don’t know how to categorize this art. Is it a photograph? Is it a painting? Is it something in between? Does this seem like cheating or is this just another tool to make art? What do you think?

5 Steps to a Muammar Gaddafi Caricature

Muammar Gaddafi 5

Too bad, so sad, another bad guy is taking a dirt nap! So, in an attempt to ride the keyword wave of a hot search topic, I am posting this short tutorial on a different and perhaps new approach to caricature.

1) Find a good source image

First, I scour the Internet for a decent reference. I use the Google image search feature and type in different phrases to shape the results. I’ve chosen Muammar Gaddafi because he is the hot topic in the news today.

Below is the image that I found. I would give the photographer credit, but the website hosting it didn’t say. Since I am creating this for myself alone and not selling it, I’m not stepping on anybody’s toes. Here is an article by Tom Richmond about using photo references.

Muammar Gaddafi Source

2) Make a sketch

I am using Photoshop CS4 and a Wacom Cintiq WX digital tablet. For this technique, I think you could use an older version of Photoshop and a different model of Wacom tablet. You could sketch on a piece of paper, scan it, or any other way to get your sketch into the computer.

For this project, I created a new document, and started with a grey mid-tone for the ground of the drawing. I used a 3 pixel brush with black color and just started scratching away. I blocked in the black areas with a bigger brush. Once I had somewhat of a resemblance, I saved the file. As you can tell by the rough nature of the sketch, this didn’t take long. Just get the basics down. Look at the proportions and try to replicate what you see in the photo. I used a hatching technique to build up my shading, knowing that I am going to smooth it out later. OK, I know that isn’t the best sketch in the world, but I will whip it into shape!

Muammar Gaddafi

3) Use Photoshop’s Smudge tool

For this round, I grab the smudge tool and select one of the natural media brushes. I bring the brush’s opacity down to around 85%. With the smudge tool, I push the pixels around to create my gradients. This transforms my sketch into a decent grayscale value study. I refer to the source photo and try to refine the proportions and improve the likeness. I save the file as version #2 and move on to the next phase.

Muammar Gaddafi 2

4) Use the Liquify Filter

In my opinion, this is the most fun part. I use the Liquify filter to push and pull the pixels into the shapes I’m trying to create. (Top menu, Filter> Liquify). The Liquify filter is like a little program inside the Photoshop program. It has it’s own interface with it’s own tools to work with. Think of it as a different way to smudge, but it moves the pixels, rather than smearing them.

I use the the Forward Warp Tool, which is a brush based tool. The icon is the top icon on the left. This tool is a brush that pushes and pulls the pixels around. I change the size of the brush depending on what I am moving.

This process is very, very fun. You get to see your distortions immediately. Just be aware of all the fundamentals that you learned about drawing a human face. This is all about exaggeration while bringing out the expressions and personality of your subject.

Often, I will do many versions, with each one having a slightly different feel. Sometimes, I will piece two of more versions together. It all just depends on what effect I am after.

Liquifiy Screen Shot

Above is a screenshot of the Liquify filter. Play around with the different settings, or use the settings I have shown here. I didn’t use the distortion above. I took that screenshot just to show you the filter’s interface. Below is the distortion I went with. It has a thuggish look to it, which pretty much sums up this guy.

Muammar Gaddafi 3

5) Refine

By now the drawing has come a long way, but isn’t totally finished. This part is up to you. I have chosen to add highlights and tweaked some of the the details. How much time you spend is really up to you. This whole process was really quick, but that was my whole point!

Muammar Gaddafi 4

I even took this to the next level by bringing in color.

Muammar Gaddafi 5

Hopefully, this technique will open your eyes to different ways of approaching your art. This technique was not intended as a substitution for good old fashioned drawing! That is something that all artists need to constantly work on. Actually, it was intended to show you a way to extend your drawings! If you are struggling with a portrait or a caricature because the proportions are off, this might help you whip it into shape.

If you use this technique, please show me what you’ve done in the comments.

Otis Ollice 4/19/98 – 4/14/08

Otis-Labrador Retriever

Today is a tough day in the Ollice household. Otis, my faithful companion for 10 years, just passed away. I read the book “Marley and Me” and Otis was nothing like Marley. Quite possibly, he was the best dog anyone could have ever had. He had the greatest disposition for a family dog. Being our “first born”, he was always very gentle with our children, even if he might have been a little jealous at first.

Otis was always one of my favorite subjects to photograph. I even developed those photos into t-shirt designs for Ducks Unlimited. Here is my first digital painting using Painter software, using a photo of Otis.

One day, when it is my turn to go, I know Otis will be there. I will miss him until then.