In the previous post, I described techniques for producing artwork that is intended for use with computers, and intentionally looks like it is computer-produced. In this post, I want to discuss how computer techniques can help you produce more “conventional” artwork more accurately and efficiently.
A few years ago, I set about producing a painting that would show a fictitious ruined Roman temple in Britain, as it might have appeared a century or so after the Roman legions left Britannia. I wanted to show the building glowing in the winter sun, after a snowfall. This idea was inspired by the many medieval monastic ruins that actually exist in North Yorkshire, where I grew up. Many of these buildings were constructed from local sandstone, the honey color of which seems to glow in low sunlight.
The Final Painting
My deliberate goal was to create a conventional painting using watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. I felt that this combination of media would best achieve the lighting effects that I wanted. Here’s the final result, so you can see what I was aiming to achieve.
The painting was created on paper, on a watercolor block, which is a pad consisting of sheets of paper that are glued on all four sides. The idea of that is to prevent the paper wrinkling when you apply the wet paint to it.
My usual starting point when tackling such work is to draw a light outline in pencil on the blank paper, then adjust the outline as necessary to achieve the composition that I want. When satisfied with the composition, I begin applying paint, erasing the outline as I go so that it doesn’t show through the transparent watercolor.
At this point, you may think that I’m going to tell you that I used a CAD program to design a 3-D model of the building, then created a view of that for the painting. While that would be possible, I didn’t need to spend time doing that in this case, because I understand perspective drawing, and I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted the building to look like. Instead, it was much quicker for me to establish a couple of vanishing points, then draw perspective lines to delineate the building.
Posing the Cat
One of the elements that I wanted to include in the painting was a “wildcat”, which, in order to be visible, would need to be placed somewhere in the foreground. However, I wasn’t sure what would be the best pose for the cat, or exactly where to place it.
Although we had a large tabby cat who would make a good model for a “wildcat”, he was naturally reluctant to pose in any desired position! I wanted to be able to play around with the size and position of the cat in the final painting. In my “pre-computer” days, I’d have done this manually, by drawing and erasing the cat sketch several times, but it’s much faster to draw an initial sketch, then scan the entire outline and cut out (electronically) the portion with the cat (as below). You can then move that portion around to decide the best position and pose. The computer-assisted method is much faster, and enables you to make more exhaustive experiments before settling on the final design.
A further technique that is much easier with computer assistance is to see your image “with different eyes”. When working on an image for many hours, I sometimes find that I become so familiar with it that I fail to see obvious errors until it’s too late. I can avoid this over-familiarity by scanning the picture, then modifying the scanned image in various ways. In this case, I posterized the scanned image to create a “stipple effect” monochrome version, then flipped the result horizontally, as below.
This allowed me to look at the whole picture afresh, and see whether anything was obviously wrong.
The Lions of Aker (aka the Lions of Yesterday & Tomorrow)
One feature of the painting that immediately strikes most viewers is the unusual segmental shape of the temple’s pediment, contrasting with the usual triangular shape of a classical pediment. The segmental shape was inspired by a real image of an Isean temple on a genuine Roman coin, although I’m aware that the image may not be an accurate depiction of a real building!
I also wanted the pediment to feature a carving showing the “Lions of Aker”, which is an Ancient Egyptian motif. I didn’t want to copy any existing drawing of the lions slavishly, but instead create my own version of the design, as below.
I wanted the lions to be exact back-to-back reflections of each other. I had a general idea of what I wanted my “heraldic beasts” to look like, so I sketched out one lion freehand, as below, together with part of the central shield that it would be supporting. When I was happy with the shape, I inked in the outline with a thin black pen, so that the image would scan well. The outline isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.
After scanning the image of the one lion and cleaning up the result, it was a simple matter to create a flipped copy of it for the other lion, and then use a vector drawing program (Corel Draw) to insert the central shield as an ellipse. The result was as shown below.
Of course, in the painting, we’re not looking at the temple pediment head-on, so the effects of perspective must be taken into account. Therefore, I used Corel Draw’s distortion tools to skew the drawing, approximating the perspective angles that allow it to fit into the picture, as below. It was then simply a case of transferring the final image of the fictitious carving to the watercolor pad, painting it in and adding the shading and fallen snow.
In the next post in this series, I’m going to discuss how to use computer graphic techniques to help with the production of a humorous comic strip.