Archive for category Medium: Digital

Painting Without Paint – landscapes with your tablet || Matthew Palmer

There’s been a fairly steady stream of books on digital art over the years and they’ve got progressively simpler. The early ones required a desktop pc and a digitising tablet and also had to accommodate a wide variety of software packages, all of them more than subtly different in their approaches. The results were usually confusing and could make a computer manual look like easy bedtime reading. And then along came tablets. Suddenly, everything got simpler, with on-screen drawing and apps that imitated the conventional painting process as far as possible. There was still the technology gap to bridge, though. A digital image doesn’t work exactly like paper or canvas and working in layers involves a bit more than just adding more paint on top of what’s already there. It does allow for a great deal of flexibility, though.

There’s a review of what is probably the very best guide so far to working with tablets elsewhere in this batch of reviews. This more basic volume, though, is far from playing second fiddle.

As I hinted before, there are complications and paradigm shifts to digital art. You have to get used to working in different ways and with what’s effectively a new medium that bears little resemblance to any other (even if it tries to pretend it does). What Matthew does here is to treat digital as a medium for the beginner. He works with a preferred app, avoiding the need for multiple visits to the same topic, a basic range of virtual brushes and, when it comes to layers, sticks to three. Master the basics and you’re more than halfway to understanding; the rest can come later. All of these are explained in language that will be familiar to the artist and in as few pages as possible, all of which can be done by avoiding complication. There are also some straightforward demonstrations you can follow to make sure you’ve picked things up correctly.

The whole approach is remarkably successful and should cut through any apprehension you may have about technology. Some familiarity with hand-held touchscreen devices is probably desirable, but that’s about it.

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Drawing and Painting on the iPad || Diana Seidl

The first question you’re likely to ask after a first flick through this is “where’s the iPad?” It’s a pertinent one, as this is the least technology-based book about on-screen painting I’ve seen and it’s all the better for that. Right at the beginning Diana Seidl quotes David Hockney, “The iPad is a very serious medium. It’s just a new one and affects the way you do things.” This is pretty much the book’s manifesto and it would make a good one for digital art generally. Hockney is nothing if not perceptive.

This is not something for the tech fan, nor for the beginner. Rather, it’s a serious look at tablet-based art as a medium in its own right and, as far as I’m aware, the first of its type. Just as books about traditional media don’t get hung up on the physical properties of brushes and paint, but rather their potential and use, so this treats the digital medium as simply another way of creating artwork. I did manage to spot a pop-up menu in the section on working with layers – one of the main differences between physical and virtual media – but it’s a rarity. Instructions on what to do in this context are only there when they need to be.

In terms of content, the book is both comprehensive and well-structured. There’s a short introduction to the hardware – just 5 pages that tell you all you need to know because it’s little more than you’ll already know if you’re familiar with touchscreens, which you should be. This is followed by 18 pages in two chapters on ArtRage, the app you’ll be using. I’ve noticed that recent books on iPad painting tend to concentrate on a single app. This is no bad thing as previous books on computer-based art tended to try to be inclusive and deal with half a dozen or more software packages, making for no little confusion and endless repetition. True, if something better comes along, the whole thing will go out of date faster than a fresh cream cake, but that’s technology for you and, anyway, who leaves cream cakes lying about? When I did, the cat ate it. Cover the said half dozen programs and they’ll still all date at the same time. Tablets are developing all the time, but the speed of progression seems to have slowed and the platform in general to have stabilised. Brighter screens and faster processors will help, but they’re not the game changers they were.

But back to the art. The next chapters are, as they really should be, subject-based, covering still lifes, landscape, flowers, portraits and abstraction. That’s a lot for a book as serious as this, but we aren’t quite at the stage where each one gets a book on its own; in spite of what I implied before, the medium does still tend to be the message here. The final chapters deal with working with layers – and I like that it’s been left till the end when you’ve had a bit more experience – and from photographs. There’s also an overview of some of the other apps available, should you wish to shift allegiances. I do like the fact that Diana majors on her favourite, though. Software choices are a personal thing, but you’re likely to be coming to this at least relatively unprepared and unprejudiced, so a targeted approach is no bad thing.

I’m amazed by how much is packed into 144 pages here. It’s comprehensive, very much art-based and has the nice mix that Crowood provides of text, illustrations, demonstrations and projects. All of these are integrated rather than being broken out like a series of magazine articles, which you’ll either love for its consistency or find frustrating for its less broken-down structure. This publisher’s books tend to be ones to read before rather than while working, so I don’t think it’s a major problem.

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Dracopedia || William O’Connor

The subtitle, “A Guide to Drawing the Dragons of the World” indicates that this is aimed squarely at those who buy completely into fantasy art. Dragons aren’t real, at least, not in the real world.

However, if you think I don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’ll probably like this and won’t be too bothered about the rather fussy page borders that, for me, detract from the main event. You’ll also be glad of the Biology, Behaviour and History notes that accompany each species.

Personally, I’m just going to creep into a corner and cry, even if it does mean my fire goes out.

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Dracopedia – the great dragons || William O’Connor

As a heckler once said when Mike and Bernie Winters played the Glasgow Empire, “Christ, there’s two of them”.

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Post-Digital Printmaking || Paul Catanese and Angela Geary

This is a complex technical manual that describes the use of equipment that’s probably going to be beyond the scope of the solo worker or small studio. However, if you can get access, then this is a useful book that mainly concentrates on the creative, rather than the technical processes. Although there is a technical introduction, I think it’s fair to say that a newcomer would want a considerable degree of help in getting started and that this would be available from the equipment’s owners and from other practitioners.

As is usual with Black’s manuals, the main meat of the book is an in-depth study of the work of artists in the field covered. This, again, puts the book firmly in the creative camp and the extensive and high-quality illustrations make the possibilities of the medium clear.

The book is authoritative, while at the same time concise and is an excellent introduction to a technique that requires the use of complex equipment.

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Digital Art Techniques for Artists & Illustrators || Joel Lardner & Paul Roberts

The risk run by all books in this fast-developing field is that they’re outdated by the next software upgrade. However, digital design is now beginning to settle down and most of the technical developments are at the edges, with minor interface tweaks. In fact, complaints abound that version advances often mean little more than moving frequently-used functions to unfamiliar places and ensuring that older versions won’t run under newer operating systems.

Wisely, the authors choose to stick to two software packages, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, with clear markers at the beginning of each chapter indicating which is covered. As the landscape settles down, certain programs become dominant and these two have been the lingua franca for long enough to assume they won’t be toast in the next few months.

Whilst there is a professional feel to the layout of the book and the topics covered, this is a book which is, in all probability, going to appeal to the non-professional market – and I use the term as a subtle differentiator from “amateur”. Anyone going into or already working in a professional studio will probably have had formal training in the field and the kind of work covered is more in the field of illustration than fine art.

All that said, this is a Quarto-produced book and therefore stands very much on its layout. There are no lengthy technical dissertations, but rather a series of spreads illustrating a variety of topics from using layers to the use of colours and the handling of vector art and creating animated gifs. Critically, the authors also show you how the many context menus will drop down and how the various effects will preview. It’s here that they give themselves the greatest hostage to fortune as packages are tweaked, but the basic principles usually win through, so it’s a risk worth taking.

For anyone, professional, semi-professional or, indeed, amateur, who wants a simple guide to the main drawing packages, this is invaluable and easy to understand. Given the complexity of such software, it’ll probably be an aide-memoire for the regular user as well.

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How to Draw & Paint Science Fiction Art || Geoff Taylor

This particular branch of fantasy art is highly specialised and there’s more to it than can really be covered in a single volume. However, this introductory guide makes a very good job of introducing landscapes, buildings, characters and visions. There’s a good variety of subjects from the technical (machines and robots) to figures, animals and aliens. Techniques used include traditional pen & pencil as well as digital work, but it’s probably best that you have a basic grounding in your tools as this is more about working with them than learning to work with them. Geoff Taylor has worked for Disney Interactive Studios and has also done work for Microsoft and his experience and expertise really show.

This is an excellent production and to be recommended on that basis alone.


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