Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Corel Painter

"The Apple Seller," Painter Essentials calligraphic pen
Not long ago I received an online ad for Corel Painter 2019, the newest version of the venerable program that has been available for about twenty years. Corel was one of the very first to release a digital drawing program back in the 1990s and Painter followed that one.

Corel Painter 2019 is sophisticated and multi-featured, with layers of complexity like Photoshop on steroids. It's many menus and options are daunting (occasionally even baffling) to the untutored like me. Happily, Corel also markets Painter Essentials, a limited yet full-featured version of the flagship at a significantly reduced price. The time limit to try either program free is 30 days, so I downloaded a trial version of each and spent some time with them over the past three weeks. This is my very personal viewpoint. 

The Apple Seller, drawn with thin and thick pencil tool
I tried Painter Essentials first because of its simpler interface. Like similar programs, Essentials can emulate various art media--acrylic and oil paint, pen and pencil, chalk and pastel, etc--and also emulate paper, canvas and other supports or backgrounds. Essentials' basic workspace is clean and uncluttered and simple to learn. Using a Wacom Cintiq tablet with Essentials was actually pleasurable. Most of the testing I've done with Essentials has been drawing. Here are three drawings, done with the calligraphy pen, which gives effects like old dip pens, pencil tool providing thick and thin lines, and a chalk tool. The drawing above was my first attempt ever with the program, and was partly limited by searching for the various functions of the app. I used the calligraphic pen tool (in the Pencils Pens and Markers menu), which provides nicely varied line weight, good opacity, and a realistic emulation of a traditional ink. You can of course adjust size, opacity, and color of your lines and customize the "surface" of the image
The Apple Seller, drawn with chalk tool
(found under Canvas). I chose a near-black color and a mid-value gray background for the drawing. Rather than finish the drawing by line and value I left it for a personal example.

After working with other aspects of Essentials as well as Painter 2019 (more below and in another post), I repeated the Apple Seller experiment using the thin and thick pencil tool (again under Pencils Pens and Markers) over a cream-colored, "rougher" support. In this case the drawing took more time to correct and the result varies from the first, but as with the ink tool, the pencil tool provided a believable simulation of the real thing. Other drawing tools are worth exploring too, particularly the chalk tool, which I used with a sanguine-red color in the final drawing here. In this one I attempted to change the old woman's expression to appear less benign, and I think altering the position of her hand has something to do with that, perhaps.

Painter Essentials is sufficiently useful for drawing alone that I'm tempted to buy it even before the trial period expires. At $50 it is worth every penny.
Painter 2019 is probably the most complex art program I've attempted to learn, except perhaps Photoshop. Painter is exceptionally versatile, with workspace setups ranging from classic and simple to specific ones for concept art and manga. The tool groups provided are standard ones such as Acrylic and Gouache, Oil Paint, Watercolor, and dry media of various kinds including pen, pencil, pastel and so on. There is so much depth and breadth in this program that a thorough evaluation in a free trial month isn't likely. Nonetheless, here are a few preliminary thoughts and a digital painting done with Painter.

"Majesty," painted with Painter
Painter has been a pleasurable program so far, but I've only scratched the surface. The workspace and interface are relatively intuitive and mostly simple to begin, particularly if you've used other digital art programs. The color selection interface is set up to allow variation in value and chroma, although the value variation is at the gray end. There is a color mixer space that emulates a palette full of paint, too, allowing tinting and shading of various colors. And there are many many surfaces and backgrounds to pick for your art. I'm going to try out as many of the tools and surfaces as feasible, but those are beyond the scope of this post. Meantime, here's a digital painting I did with Painter. "Majesty" is based on an online photo.

In the next few days I'm going to try working with the watercolor and oil paint tools.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Digital Development

During the time involving testing programs and apps and learning how to use them, one of the ideas I've always kept in mind is using digital means to develop a real-world painting. Much of my digital work has been based in the world of drawing--line rather than mass; value rather than color. Nonetheless, developing a complete oil painting using a digital-first idea is something to pursue, seems to me.

I rummaged through my digital drawings and paintings accumulated during the past year or so to see if any of those might warrant development in oil paint.

 This is the famous Chicago Theater located on North State Street in its namesake city. For a contemplated oil painting, as in thousands of photos the sign is the obvious focal point. But to punch it more, my plan is to surround it with mostly cool and muted colors. The values of the distant buildings will show them in sun while the near ground is cooler and darker. In this iteration, I put a man in the lower left corner, but on further thought it seems to me I might instead add figures on the sidewalks to provide more human presence. If it turns into an oil, it will likely be fairly large, perhaps 30x20.

The streetscape to the right features another well-known sign, this time for Minetta's in Greenwich Village. Across the street is another famous sign, this one for Cafe Wha the renowned music venue that has been there for most of the last sixty years. Both of these establishments were and are hubs of Greenwich Village. Writers like Pound and e.e. cummings frequented the place, as did some of the Beats. This view along MacDougal Street looking west, but I took a lot of liberties with the far buildings, making them cool but relatively high in value to push them away from the warmer tones in the foreground. The closest buildings will be very dark but warm. The figures will probably be different, but the awning and enclosure will stay, as will the trees. This particular view is in winter.

My oil paintings lately have been mostly city streets and buildings. As that work continues, one or both of these is probably destined to become tangible. If and as that happens, I'll post images of the progress.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

For Dog Lovers

Dogs have always been part of my life. Since I can remember there has been a parade of beloved canines alongside wherever I've been. Dogs should have been natural subject matter, but until recently I hadn't been paying much artistic attention. In recent weeks that's begun to change. 

I did this digital sketch of a pup pouncing on a ball simply for fun. It makes me smile to watch young animals at play--regardless of species. This drawing is actually from a composite of sources, including imagination. The main goal here was to capture the puppy's utter joy at playing.

The program I generally use these days is Sketchbook (now available free for download) in conjunction with a Wacom tablet. One of the great things about Sketchbook besides its new price is how well a traditional artist like me can catch on to the interface. Unlike more complex programs such as Photoshop, the tools and settings are more easily learned. This particular sketch was saved in jpeg format for ease of upload, but you can save in other popular formats.

Anyone who's owned a dog has seen the expression I tried to capture in this digital drawing of a contrite canine. That sidelong look is universal among dogs, who seem to almost read their owner's minds. It's easy to see the source of the expression "hangdog" for a guilty look. And of course if one has a pet, domestic disasters do happen. This sketch was again a product of Sketchbook, but drawn very quickly at a single sitting. Since the most important section was the central face and eyes I de-emphasized the stocky legs and body to keep the viewer focused on the dog's expression.

The last drawing is another guilty-looking dog, long ears drooping and his eyes focusing upward at someone in authority. To me the look seems to belie culpability, making the caption appropriate. As with the other drawings in this post, the challenge here was to capture the dog's expression, not just a likeness of the animal. The body language and eye movement seem to say the most about the circumstances, seems to me, making those crucial in capturing expression.

If you've an interest in digital art, there's literally no risk in downloading Sketchbook. It's a full-featured, professional-grade program absolutely free. In the past it has sold for a fairly high price, and I've not heard why it's being offered gratis, but why not give it a try? It's available for PC, Mac, and mobile devices, which for me is a real plus since I can work on my PC as well as my iPad.

More Animal Drawing

Friday, July 20, 2018

Cooling Reveries

Early July has been noting but steam heat. The daily highs in the first half of the month were in the 90s and the humidity obscenely high. It's this time of year (with August and September yet to come) that get me thinking of those crisp days of fall and the thin cold air of winter. No one wishes for the ice and snow and throttling cold, of course, but just a bit of frost for a day or two could brace us for another round. Here are a few scenes that evoke cooler times.

"Fall Visitor," casein, 2016
Remember those days in fall when the leaves have just begun to turn but many trees and grasses stay green. The days are warm in the sun the evenings crisp enough for a sweater. At the edge of my woods a couple of years ago a visitor peered out to see if it was safe to emerge. Living along a water course, I see quite a lot of wildlife despite living in the center of a fair-sized city. Deer, foxes, woodchucks, the usual rabbits and squirrels, and even a stray bobcat have wandered past my studio window.

This is a casein painting on panel.

"City Snow," oil, 2002

The scene here is a city street after a late winter snowfall. The sun is already breaking through and flooding yellow light through snowy branches onto the sidewalk while someone trudges away. The image is cool enough that it sometimes makes me shiver. But the outlook is for a warming winter day, the kind of day that doesn't really feel wintry despite the snow, cheery and bright, full of promise for a new springtime .

This is oil on panel, 24x20.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Texaco Star

In a post not long ago I extolled the beauties of old pickup trucks. In particular I love those old trucks of the 1950s with their curves and chrome. A vintage car dealership downtown has had this beauty on display for several weeks, giving me time to study it in watercolor.

This model is a mid-1950s Ford truck that has been lovingly restored. The doors sport a Texaco logo ("the big, bright Texaco star!") and the fenders advise that 24 hour service is available. The red and white paint shines and the white walls are spotless.

Situated along a busy downtown street, the dealership always turns heads with such displays and makes me stop and sketch. For this image I drew the truck in a fair amount of detail using an HB pencil, trying very hard to make accurate measurements. Once I had a good image I used a flexible nib pen to ink the major outline and intersections, taking care with correct proportions and sizes. Time didn't permit completing the painting on site, so I made several reference snapshots and finished the colors in the studio.
Old Pickup Trucks

Friday, July 13, 2018

More Animal Drawing

A lot of people enjoy drawing and painting animals. I know a number of artists whose oeuvre is animal portraiture, for example. For any realist, knowing how to make images of animals is a critical skill. A few weeks back I posted a few animal drawings, done with graphite and digitally, so here are a few more.

Chickens always look gimlet-eyed and sharp--they probably have to be. I grew up in the country where we always had a flock and spent countless hours tending them, gathering eggs, cleaning coops and all the rest. As a consequence of my upbringing, these aren't my favorite birds but the landscape of chickens' heads, combs and bills is always challenging. As with most of my animal sketches these days, this was done using Sketchbook and a Wacom tablet.

This fellow is a pit bulldog whose name, according to the caption of his photo is Tank. He definitely looks like his name and reminds me of a bulldog with the same name who lived with some friends. My friends' dog was an enormous, loose-lipped English bulldog who slobbered incessantly but was gentle as a lamb. In contrast, the guy in this drawing looked clearly dangerous to me, especially with those yellow eyes. The challenge with this drawing was to evoke that sense of menace, so I left the main portion of the drawing in grayscale and emphasized those red-rimmed eyes.

This is another dog, more of a hound really, and the drawing medium is silverpoint. The image is a copy of a well-known drawing in silverpoint by Albrecht Durer--probably his own dog. Silverpoint, unlike digital or graphite images, is quite unforgiving. You can't readily erase silverpoint marks, so each stroke must be considered carefully before being laid down. Silverpoint promotes extended consideration and observation before doing anything. For me, then, silverpoint promotes careful and accurate observation.

One final image for today is another bird, this time a pelican drawn from memory using graphite. Some years ago friends and I had an online discussion about drawing animals and came up with a challenge to produce a believable image of these fisher birds. This one was my favorite quick sketch of a successful dive. The bird has managed to scoop up a full pouch of food and sits in the surf, contented. This particular sketch was done with a 4B pencil on a piece of printer paper.
Being a realist, my take on drawing animals--or indeed anything--is the same as the famous quote from Michelangelo Buonarotti--"Draw and don't waste time."


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

June on Druid Hill Creek

June was one of the hottest and wettest in central Iowa. We had days and days of exceptionally high afternoon temperatures and considerably more rain than usual. Des Moines historically has its highest rainfall in June, but this year exceeded the usual by inches. Naturally, with that much encouragement the undergrowth along Druid Hill Creek grew lush
and thick. At first rapid growth was welcome, green and soft but after a while the entire creek was obliterated--wild grape, honeysuckle, tree saplings and of course grasses of all kinds grew higher and higher and more and more dense. The woods changed to jungle in only a few days.

It was as if the woods would even envelop the studio. But I hadn't thought about the creek itself, at all.
Druid Hill Creek is a quiet little stream, maybe three feet or four across its breadth and perhaps four or five inches deep, most of the time. It runs, slowly or rapidly, all year, even in the driest of months, fd by springs uphill from here. But when rain falls fast and hard, the creek can actually become a raging, monstrous beast more than five feet deep. When that happens,
the current gets rapid and hard, charging like an unchecked cattle stampede down the narrow creekbed toward Gray's Lake and the Raccoon River. One night in June that sort of rain came, dropping a huge amount, and the creek predictably rose and rose and charged down, ripping out much of the jungle-like growth and re-exposing hidden watercourse. In accompaniment, the raging water scoured the banks of debris left earlier, dropping a different set in its place. A dead tree that had fallen somewhere upstream was left high on the bank, trunk and branches, alongside a smaller specimen just across from the studio. The tall grass on the opposite bank is completely flattened by the rushing water, even saplings. And there is sand and leaf debris everywhere along the flooding creek's margins. You can see the water again, but now it's mostly the color of coffee, an effect of the dark sediment in the stream bed and the dark overhanging branches and leaves.

For these June sketches I sat outside and drew, trying to capture the look and feel of the woods and battling mosquitoes and other pests. The sketches above were done in my  dedicated sketchbook of the creek, all using the same technique--a pencil layout, watercolor painting and ink additions as the finishing touches. These are probably the last creek sketches for now. In the fall, likely October, I'll open another sketchbook to make images of the woods and they change.

For anyone interested in previous posts of The Creek:
Druid Hill Creek Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Friday, July 06, 2018

Political Cartoonist Gone

In a post a few days ago about editorial cartooning, I mentioned in passing that commentary via editorial cartoons was not only alive but quite well indeed, even if many newspapers no longer have an in-house editorial cartoonist. For many that may simply be the substantially altered economics of print periodicals. Many do run syndicated cartoons. And if you don't read printed news, as many do not these days, online cartoons are widely available and some end up as memes on social media. So happily, pointed comments via satire or humor with or without caricature remain embedded in our culture, no matter what the medium. And although text is arguably more important, visual messages sink deeper.

We saw again the importance of editorial cartooning a while back--certainly events made it clear how important a newspaper editor and publisher believe it to be. During a period of changing editorial stance of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from liberal to right-wing, the paper's editor and publisher came into conflict with long-time cartoonist Rob Rogers, who believed himself independent in the same way as editorial columnists are. After months of conflict with the the newspaper fired Mr. Rogers a few weeks ago. During the preceding several months the editor (and the publisher too) rejected no fewer than 19 cartoons by Rob Rogers, all of which had an anti-Trump flavor. The paper has become favorably disposed to Mr. Trump in recent years, praising the president in editorials and once claiming that charges of racism were "the new McCarthyism."

Clearly Mr. Rogers' adamant anti-Trump stance struck a nerve and the newspaper was equally adamant. Mr. Rogers' viewpoint over his years with the paper had been consistently liberal even as the editorial slant turned rightward. Further, he believed his voice was appropriately independent. The New York Times reported on the situation and quoted Mr. Rogers as saying “They clearly had a mission to change the editorial page and I wasn’t getting in line..." In that article, the editor says the problem was that the cartoons weren't funny, and according to him instead sounded only enraged. Furthermore the editor asserted that the cartoons were becoming monotonous. No intent to influence point of view, in other words. Perhaps, or perhaps not. Above is a typical recent cartoon posted on Mr. Rogers' website (not printed in the Post-Gazette).

While it's easy to be unhappy about Mr. Rogers' dismissal from the newspaper, it's also true that his voice will at least continue to be available in syndication and online and from that position he will be truly independent. Will he be as widely heard?

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Independence Day in America

"Sam Has High Hopes (after Flagg)"
In this country we celebrate Independence Day every July 4, commemorating the 1776 vote by the Continental Congress to separate from Great Britain and become a free and independent nation. The vote actually took place a couple of days earlier, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is that the vote establishing this nation was founded on the principle that all people are created equal. That undergirding principle has been difficult to uphold, always, and slavery certainly made mockery of the statement for decades afterward. Our heterogeneous society abolished that abomination with enormous bloodshed, but has worked to remove the remaining stains with mixed success. Even so, the country continues to try, despite deep-rooted prejudices and smoldering resentments, despite beliefs  ingrained yet unrecognized, despite hate, and despite failing leadership. The country persists.

We believe in human equality. Perhaps we will find a way to honor that belief in reality and in our behaviors. Perhaps, one day. Uncle Sam can hope.