In the excerpt, artist Andreas Rocha talks about his initial exploratory phase of a painting in Corel Painter.
Andreas Rocha: About the Artist I've been painting digitally for 13 years. I am mostly self-taught and originally had never considered painting professionally. Art was always a hobby; I thought architecture would be my career. But my love for painting endured, and as my technique improved, I started getting job proposals. I've been freelancing for three years doing finished illustrations, matte paintings, and conceptual work, alongside 3D architectural previsualizations. I currently live in Portugal with my beautiful wife and my two faithful work companions: a dog and a cat.
Software: Painter, Photoshop, Windows Hardware: PC, dual monitor 23-inch LCD, Wacom Intuos4 L
I try to portray all the imaginary things roaming in my head and share them with the world. I consider myself a lucky person to be able to do such a fulfilling activity for a living.
My inspirations and influences were built during my childhood in the 80s. The work of poster artist Drew Struzan brings back warm memories of going to the movies to see Back to the Future or the Indiana Jones movies and being transported to another world for two hours. That is when my love for fantasy really started. Later I found out how fulfilling it was to be able to put on paper all the things I imagined in my head.
Another big influence is my dear city, Lisbon. It is a city full of variety in terms of architecture, moods, and people. It enriches my visual vocabulary, and I believe my work refers to it subconsciously.
Also, two artists whose work I constantly refer to are Jaime Jones and Khang Le. Their conceptual work is strong, and the apparent ease at which they paint amazes me. The incisiveness and textural quality of their brushstrokes is something I am really inspired by and try to emulate in my work.
TechniquesStep-by-Step Tutorial: Quick Concepts with Painter
The following steps describe the process I sometimes use for the initial exploratory phase of a painting, where I am more concerned about the overall look. My emphasis then is on composition, lighting, color, and mood. Painter is the perfect tool to achieve this with its powerful textured brushes and blenders.
The main tools I use are the Chalk Brush with a custom-created large paper, Just Add Water + Grainy Water blenders, the Loaded Palette Knife, and the Real Pencils.
My main inspiration for these conceptual sketches was Blade Runner. I love everything about that movie because it is an absolute landmark in science fiction. What I wanted to capture was the dark mood, the electric greens, and the foggy atmospheres that are so characteristic of the movie.
1. I start by creating a new canvas 2000x2000px. On a new layer, I draw two rectangles and fill them with black. I then check Preserve Transparency in the Layers palette. This setup allows me to quickly jump from one concept to the other while having a frame to separate them. In Figure 1.1, I start with Chalk, Square Chalk and paint some generic shapes. Then I use a custom-created paper with a lot of different textures to add variety to my brushstrokes. The two main colors are a desaturated green and a desaturated cyan. I try to aim for interesting shapes and discover things I might want to portray. Nothing is certain at this stage — it's exploratory.
2. I pick the Grainy Water Blender and start "washing" over the initial brushstrokes to create contrast between hard textures and smooth areas. Contrast adds interest. In Figure 1.2, I start to see a skyline in the upper sketch and a vertical space between buildings in the lower one.
3. With the Loaded Palette Knife, I start adding details using warmer colors. These should be small spots of light to spice up the image. With smaller, more opaque, brushstrokes, I start to define forms that make sense. I use a zoomed-out view that allows me to a have a clear vision of the image as a whole. It's no use going into too much detail yet. At this stage, I have an overall idea of what I am portraying. In my example, this is an urban plaza for the upper image and some industrial structures for the lower one. See Figure 1.3.
4. I start working at 50 percent zoom. Using the F-X, Glow Brush, I add interesting highlights around the center of the image. It's important to use dark saturated colors for this to build up these highlights gradually. I try to introduce some different hues, such as the pinks in the bottom image. See Figure 1.4.
5. Next, I use Rectangular Selection to highlight the upper image and select Edit, Fill. I reduce the opacity to about 15 percent and use a dark green color. See Figure 1.5. I do the same for the lower image but pick a dark magenta. This way I can get rid of the excessive black and introduce a little bit of mood with these overall temperature shifts.
6. With the Pencils, Real 6B Soft Pencil, I sketch in little figures to give scale and depth. I use the same drawing tool to introduce smaller details like windows and details in the structures. See Figure 1.6.
7. I take a break and come back to the image with a fresh eye. I evaluate the image and am not afraid to make drastic changes to improve it. Now is the perfect time to alter something. I introduce more details in the architecture, and objects like the lamp posts, to make the image more interesting. See Figure 1.7.
Try to work on several paintings simultaneously, because that will help you keep a fresh eye on each when jumping from one to the other. If you are working only on one painting, try not to paint for more than 1 hour straight. A 15-minute break will both rest your fingers and refresh your eyes.
8. Finally, I go to Effects, Tonal Control, Adjust Colors and reduce the Saturation and Value for more contrast. See Figure 1.8.
9. In the end, I’ve got two different scenes with similar moods. See Figure 1.9. Doing two helps me compare various aspects and see what works and what doesn't. The next stage is to further refine one of them, or perhaps mix the best elements from both, and come up with a new third concept.
InsightsThe Creative Process
My initial thought process is actually quite short; I prefer to get paint on the "canvas" straight away. This way I can evaluate what is good and what is bad. I try to be as rough as possible and work in zoomed-out views — black and white is usually the way to go, although desaturated colors follow closely. Once I’ve found an interesting picture, I resize the canvas to the final resolution and start adding detail without losing my initial concept. It is important for me to take regular breaks so I can evaluate what I have done so far. These breaks also include a good night sleep, which means that when I have the time, I take between three and five days to complete a painting. The more visual breaks I take from the painting the better, because they help me to spot flaws when I come back. Seeking feedback from peers is critical also, because it points out flaws I overlooked and hardens my skin for clients.
Another key thing is to constantly refer to the works of artists I admire. I have a big folder where I keep all these gems, and it is one of my most prized assets. First, I search for artists whose technique and content will help me for a given assignment. Then, during the painting, I try to refer to several works by different artists so I don’t become too attached to a particular image.
I use Painter both for my initial conceptual process, where a lot of gestural brushstrokes are involved, and in the latter stages where I need to smooth out some areas and reintroduce texture in others.
My most adored Painter features are the Palette Knife and Blender brushes. The Palette Knife is a wonderful tool that I use to infuse dynamism and texture. Things really start to come alive when I start using it and, when combined with the tilt of the stylus on the tablet, it makes a versatile tool. The Blenders, on the other hand, have the power to mix colors smoothly and blend the areas where too much brushwork shows. However, I do like to reintroduce some texture by working with the Palette Knife, for example, or using textures with the Grainy Blender or Chalk Brush.
Two of the most important customizations I have done to the Painter tools are changing the direction of the Palette Knife to Bearing and making a scan of a real watercolor-painted paper with a lot of different dabs and then using it as a paper texture. This gives me a lot of varied textures depending on which area of the scanned paper I am using.
The most timesaving aspect of the process is getting to know the program as well as I can (at least the parts that interest me) and using keyboard shortcuts as much as I can. The painting process transforms itself into a fluid motion of brushstrokes where I can almost do things subconsciously.
I assign four F keys to the zoom commands Zoom In, Zoom Out, Zoom to Fit, and Actual Size. It's handy for me to paint with my left hand while my right hand easily and quickly controls the zoom of the canvas.
It's important to know when to consider the work finished. This is not an easy call. A good night’s rest can help me spot flaws the next day. Also, I seek other opinions before publishing my work. When I do consider my work finished, I try to post it on most of the computer graphics (CG) forums I know of. This can be a lengthy process sometimes, because forums have their posting policies, but in the end it is well worth it to get feedback.
Q&AWhen did you start using Painter?
I started using Painter in version 2, when it was still Fractal Design Painter. It was already a powerful tool at that time, and the brushes I used the most back then are still the ones I use the most now.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started?
Nothing really… I loved to use the software from the beginning. Over the course of time I slowly learned to know it and understand what it excelled at and where it needed help from other software. This slow learning process was a great way to understand the software and not let myself be controlled by it.
Did you have previous experience in traditional media?
I had no real traditional painting practice. My experience was just with graphite and colored pencils. I tried using acrylics and oils, but I soon gave up. That was about the time that I discovered digital painting. Now I work exclusively in the digital medium.
How has it been for you to learn about using art tools in a digital setting?
Art tools in a digital setting are much more forgiving and easy to pick up. That is one of the reasons for their popularity. Something that fascinates me is the versatility they offer to explore new techniques when trying to come up with new and better results. I’m still in search of the technique that fits me best. I'm sure I will never get there, but I’m getting closer. I would definitely say that my digital art exploration has been a rewarding experience, and I know it will continue to be in the years to come.
Has Painter helped you to define your own style?
The Blender brushes and the Palette Knife really helped introduce the more dramatic aspect of my brushstrokes and make my paintings look less digital and more traditional. I love the way colors are blended using these tools, and I think this is something that I like to retain in most of my paintings.
What motivates you?
What motivates me is trying to be as good as the artists I most admire. The Internet has such a wealth of digital art content, and it grows daily. Almost each week I find out about a new artist and get blown away by his work. I am inspired by this work and try to emulate the artist’s techniques and the overall feeling of his paintings. Another thing that gets me going is comparing my current work to some of my past works and seeing the evolution. This keeps me going and makes me wonder what I can achieve in the future.
How has the Internet influenced your art-making process?
The most important thing has been discovery of other artists who showed me how far I can take digital art. This has made me work harder and aspire to become as good as the artists I admire. A daily ingestion of digital artwork keeps my mind fresh and prevents me from getting lazy.
Another important aspect is the wealth of Internet information available on the subject of digital art and all the free tutorials you can find. The digital community is open and, most of the time, ready to help.
What advice do you have for artists working with Painter?
I think it would be to not get overwhelmed by the large array of tools available in Painter and instead try to seek out the few that you can become really good at.
Lego, Phoenix Age, Fantasy Flight Games, Grasshopper Manufacture, ROAR Publishing, Post Panic, Big Tree Games, Radical Publishing, Krypton Photo, American Greetings
Awards and Career Highlights
Graphics for Castle Age Facebook game; illustrations for Space: A Complete Picture of the Universe (Roar Publishing); matte paintings for Infinite Oz
Daryl Wise has worked for the past 15 years as the owner/operator of StreetWise PR, a small public relations and marketing firm near the Silicon Valley. Some clients include or have included Macworld Expos, the artist Peter Max, HP, Ambient Design, Adesso, Pixelmator, GLUON, and e frontier. He was director of the Santa Cruz Digital Arts Festival for three years and is a member of Cabrillo College's Digital Arts Advisory Committee. He is the author of Secrets of Award-Winning Digital Artists, Secrets of Poser Experts, and Secrets of Painter Experts.
Linda Hellfritsch holds degrees in traditional art and graphic design. She is a fine artist, freelance commercial artist, Web designer and writer living in La Selva Beach, California. She has curated and hung both traditional and digital art exhibitions in San Jose, San Francisco, Monterey, San Clemente and Santa Cruz. Her areas of expertise include art, design, art history, and arts education. Linda works primarily with traditional mixed media although her work has required her to design and develop digital graphic arts products. This exposure to digitally produced art has awakened a curiosity and hunger to learn more about digital art tools. She has spent the past several years talking to digital artists, experiencing their work and learning their secrets. Linda's background in traditional fine art gives her a unique perspective as a traditional artist in a digital world. In her spare time, she works as a scenic painter and props builder at the new Crocker Theater in Aptos, California.