Posts Tagged ‘Photoshop’

In early February, after concentrating on paintings for the past couple of months, I plunged into pencil drawing again. My process almost always begins by going through my photographs, looking for something that jumps out at me. (I use Photoshop CS3 on my Mac, and the program includes Bridge. I love Bridge—it’s a great way to look at huge masses of photo images quickly and efficiently. Except that it seems to be easily confused/overwhelmed and you have to quit the program and restart it every once in a while. But that’s a minor quibble.)

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Bedsheets and Pillows

I found myself looking through images of Jeff, from September 2009, and even though I’ve already done one painting of Jeff sitting on my bed crosslegged (“Scorpio Rising“), I like the pose a lot and I think a drawing of almost the same pose would still be a fun thing to try. So I opened the image in Photoshop and started fooling around with it. My standard operating procedure these days is to heighten the contrast, take it to grayscale (if I’m going to do a pencil drawing), then Posterize it to about level 7. Posterizing it reduces the number of values showing in the image, which makes my job a lot easier—seeing where the shadows are darkest and lightest is not always easy in a conventional photographic image. It’s much easier in a posterized image, as you can see.

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The finished drawing, 'Bedsheets and Pillows.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

So I print out both images (and often I’ll print out extreme closeups of the head and hands and other challenging areas as well) and tack them up by my drawing to use as reference. I use the posterized image as a guide, but I’m also always referring to the grayscale image so I can include the more subtle gradations of tone when and where I want to. This is an approach I’ve put together over many years of drawing from my own photographs.

I spent a couple of days on the Jeff drawing. That’s kind of fast for me for a full-on detailed large drawing like this. Occasionally I’ll be able to finish one in a single day, but more often it takes 3-4 days, working in 3- or 4-hour sessions at a time.


Pensive Marcelino

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This is the photograph of Marcelino I decided to work from.


Again, I opened Bridge and started going through my catalog of model photos (I have about 40,000 images in this collection, and I have another 100,000 or more in my 35mm slide collection, from pre-digital days. I tend to use the most recent photographs more, of course, but occasionally I’ll dip back into images from many years ago). This time I found myself focusing on Marcelino, one of the models I shot in Los Angeles in October when I was there working with Kurt R. Brown. Marcelino is of Mexican descent and I think he was 20 when we shot these photographs at a wildlife refuge in the San Fernando Valley. I chose a quiet pose that feels to me like Marcelino’s sweet, graceful personality.

Here’s the finished drawing. This one took longer than the previous one of Jeff. The one of Jeff just flowed, which happens occasionally. This one of Marcelino was more the standard experience, with some areas going easily, others taking longer—so I probably spent about 4 days on this one. I like the final result. It doesn’t have the powerful presence of the previous drawing, but it has a quiet poetic quality that the other doesn’t.

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The finished drawing, 'Pensive Marcelino.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)



Marcus Canta

For my third drawing in what was turning into a series, I chose Marcus. Anyone who’s been following my work over the past few years knows that Marcus is one of my favorite models. In fact he seems to be the favorite of a great many of my collectors, too.

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I have a whole series of photographs I shot of him in Angra dos Reis (a resort area south of Rio) on a boat, in the late afternoon. He was spraying himself with water from a hose, and singing along with the music I had blaring from the boat’s speakers. Because one of the dials on the camera got moved without my realizing it, the whole series of photographs was overexposed. That’s a shame because I can’t show them as photographs in most cases—but they’re still fine for working from to create drawings and paintings. Despite the overexposure, they still capture the moment. And what a great moment! Because Marcus’ body is almost entirely in shadow I knew this would be a challenge to draw.

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The finished drawing, 'Marcus Canta.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

That made the Posterization function even more useful. Because the light on his body is almost all subtle reflected light, it was very helpful to see the light and dark areas more clearly defined. The drawing was challenging but it went more smoothly than I’d expected and only took 3 days to complete. I’m especially pleased at the way it captures Marcus’ being lost in the moment. I titled it “Marcus Canta” (Marcus Sings).


Chadwick’s Back

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Now I was warmed up and decided to tackle something with a lot of detail. I chose a photograph of Chadwick, another of the models I worked with in Los Angeles in October. This photo was taken in an unpopulated part of Simi Valley. As you can see, Chadwick has an amazing body, very muscular and well defined. I was excited about what kind of pencil drawing I could create using this image.

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The finished drawing, 'Chadwick's Back.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

I used to do my drawings just using one hardness of pencil, a medium-soft…then for some time I was using two pencils, one hard and one soft. Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve been using three pencils, an F, an HB and a B. Sometimes I’ll vary the exact pencils I use, but I’ve found one hard pencil (an F or even an H), one medium (HB seems to work well, and it’s very close to a regular #2, so that works, too) and one soft (B, or 2B or 3B or even softer) gives me all the range I need for almost every type of drawing I do. With just 1 or 2 pencil hardnesses I can create a terrific drawing—but with 3, I can get very subtle, beautiful effects that would be almost impossible with just 2 pencils. This drawing, which I titled “Chadwick’s Back,” is a good example of that. Although you really need to see it in person to see all the subtlety. I was surprised at how quickly this one went—it only took me 3 days. Of course those were long days!


Unbuttoned

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My final drawing in the group of 5 began with a photograph of Rogério, one of the 2 models I shot on my very first Brazil photo shoot back in March 2004. This was a flash photograph taken after a full day of shooting, on the boat and on an island in Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). We were on our way back to the marina and night was falling. It’s a photograph I’ve looked at dozens of times and never paid much attention to. For some reason, this time it jumped out at me. It’s hard for me to put into words the impression it made on me, but there was a moment there that really struck me, that had never struck me before, and I wondered if I could come close to capturing it in pencil. I cropped the image to concentrate on Rogério’s head and upper torso only. I decided that would be all I would put in the drawing. Then I started drawing.

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The finished drawing, 'Unbuttoned.' (Click on image to see it on my website.)

Even though it may appear there’s less detail here, and less to draw than in some of the others I’d just finished, there were still challenges. Capturing the exact expression on the face was one of them. Another was getting the close-cropped hair on Rogério’s temple to look right. In the end this drawing took 4 days to complete. But when I finished it, I felt good. I felt I’d come pretty close to capturing the feeling I’d gotten from the photograph. I call this one “Unbuttoned.” This was the fifth in the series, and I’d spent about 3 weeks doing these drawings. I put them up on my website and announced them just a day after finishing this final work.

There’s this photograph of Wellington and Israel at Massarandupió Beach in Bahia that I love. It really captures one of the many great moments that day. The composition, the lighting, the feeling of the image….I think they’re all wonderful, and I thought it would make a terrific painting. But for a long time I was afraid to tackle it. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to capture the light and the feeling of the image. But finally I decided, okay, maybe I’m ready now. I’ll give it a shot!

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This is the photo I started with.


I started by tweaking the image in Photoshop. There are two major differences I make in the image this way. One, I intensify (via saturation and light/dark) the colors, which makes the image more vibrant. In this way I have a guide for mixing colors. It’s possible to mix vibrant colors even though you’re working from a less-than-vibrant photographic image, but it’s a lot more difficult. I like to let the computer do this for me. And in the final analysis, I don’t have to follow the color guide in the photo exactly…it’s just a guide. The second thing I do when tweaking the image is blur it. But I don’t use the Blur function in Photoshop, I use something called Median (Filters -> Noise -> Median). This removes the detail in a more elegant way than just blurring the image. And that’s what I want—to remove the detail. This forces me to look at the major shapes and areas of color and light and dark when working on the painting. I could do that by just squinting at the source image while working, but it’s nice not to have to do that. And of course I keep the undoctored image around in case I want to add in some detail (but not until much later!). Oh, yeah—I often use Posterize on the image after Median. This lessens the number of colors used so it’s easier to see color areas.

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This is the photograph after some tweaking in Photoshop.


My next step was to do a color study. This is a small, rough version of the final painting in which I can work out problems of color, tonal balance (balance of lights and darks), composition and whatever else I might not expect but which will probably crop up in the color study. The color study went pretty well but I found I had difficulties with the tone of the hill behind the figures. I kept getting it too light or too dark. Also it was a tricky mix of greens and purples. I kept remixing the colors until I got it more or less correct. When I had everything looking pretty balanced, I decided I was ready to tackle the big picture.

The acrylic sketch I did as preparation for the painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The acrylic sketch I did as preparation for the painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The biggest challenge in doing a big finished work, as opposed to a rough sketch, is psychological/emotional. It’s hard not to take the larger work more seriously and care more that it works out. Caring too much about the success of a painting is practically a guarantee of its failure. The difficulty is finding a balance between working toward a vision of the finished work, but not gripping that vision too tightly, so you can stay loose and allow the energy to flow. With this painting I was on both sides of that line, but walked it most of the time. Which worked out pretty well. I needed all the preparatory work I’d done because this painting was a challenge in many ways—but all the work paid off and I managed to keep it loose and fairly spontaneous and still capture the feeling and the light of the original scene. I’m pretty happy with this one. I’m calling it Bahian Beach Boys.

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

For this painting I went back to one of my most consistent themes/fantasies: the naked brown-skinned boy in the jungle. I still have lots of Baiano photos I haven’t used, and I found a nice one for this, where he’s leaning against a tree on a hillside near Itacaré (see my Dec. 1 2008 diary entry for more on that photo shoot).

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New model Baiano on a jungle-y hillside in Itacaré The rough sketch that inspired me to do a finished painting. Click on image to see this item on my website.

This painting actually began the way many of my paintings begin—with a sketch that I really liked. Many times I’ll start with a photograph I really like and then none of the sketches that come from it really excite me. When that happens I usually just move onto another image until I get a sketch that DOES excite me. But with this one, it happened right away. I like the feeling of the sketch and I’m determined to keep the painting loose and not get too careful and overwork it.

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This is the underdrawing on the canvas before the painting begins. Here, the first thin washes of color have been applied.

Next I transferred the sketch to canvas. I did this the easy way—I scanned the sketch, then used my digital projector to project it onto the canvas so I could do it exactly the size I wanted, and retain as much of the feeling of the sketch as possible. You’ll notice I also went into a bit more detail with the plant life.

Next I did the ground, which is the underpainting. I used to use a single color for this—and that does work fine—but lately I’ve been doing one color for the body, one or two colors for the background. That seems to work pretty well for me too. Once the ground had dried, I outlined the forms with dark paint. I used to always use black paint for this, but lately I’ve begun doing colors. In this case I used a really dark warm brown for the body outlines, a really dark green for the foliage outlines, and a dark cool brown for the tree outlines. It’s more work, but it’s subtly different from the black outlines and I like the final effect better.

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Here I begin actually applying the paint. About 60% done.

While that was drying, I mixed my colors for the actual painting. This is usually a pretty time-consuming part of the process—sometimes I’ll spend up to an hour mixing the colors. I think I overdo/overthink this process sometimes though, and I find lately I’m getting better at keeping the mixtures simpler. Which of course is always a good idea. Not only does it save time, the art tends to be better when it’s more spontaneous and LESS complicated instead of more!

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

The final painting (click on image to see this item on my website)

I spent a couple of days on this one and it worked out pretty well. Working all over the painting made it possible to get a color scheme going without too many false moves. I’m also pleased that I didn’t get too careful; I kept the whole painting pretty loose and it has a nice consistency of tone, I think. I’m calling it “Coastal Jungle.”

1407source-2upI was browsing through my thousands of digital photos on my computer, looking for ideas for my next painting, and I found myself in the Marcus April 2006 folder. This was the trip I took to Rio and rented my friends’ Copacabana apartment, and had a photo shoot set up with Marcus and he never showed up–then he showed up two days later at 9 in the morning and I had to drag myself out of bed and collect myself in a hurry to do a 2-hour photo shoot. Marcus is one of the few models I would do that for! This photograph has him in my bedroom on the bed I was sleeping in, sprawled out invitingly. Unfortunately the photograph I liked best was cut off on the left. I wanted a more horizontal composition, so I took another photograph I took at about the same time, and added more leg and bed on the left. Thank goodness for Photoshop!

Extending the composition horizontally and adding a window.

Extending the composition horizontally and adding a window.

Once I had the two photographs put together and had a composition I liked, I wanted to change the mood of the image. The simple bedroom setting was not very exciting to me. I wanted more of a fantasy. I had the idea of adding a window that looked out on a tropical beach setting. So I went looking on the Internet for windows with palm trees showing through them. That was not easy, but I finally found something that was more or less what I was looking for. Using Photoshop, I plopped that window into the upper right corner to see what it looked/felt like. I liked the result and thought, yes, I think this concept is going to work.

First pencil sketch that was getting close to what I wanted.

First pencil sketch that was getting close to what I wanted. (Click on image to go to my art website.)

Using my doctored photographic image, I began sketching. After about 7 or 8 rough sketches, I finally started to get an image that excited me. This required some stylization and simplification, some elongation of the figure, and a “cottage” feeling–which means vertical lines suggesting a simple wood structure, and a window framing palms and an ocean horizon.

Final pencil sketch before I began figuring out color scheme.

Final pencil sketch before I began figuring out color scheme. (Click on image to go to my art website.)

The following drawing was very close to what I wanted. The elements all seemed to be in place. What I needed now was a color scheme. The existing colors of the photographic image were close, but a little boring. I decided that, rather than doing several color studies, I would continue working in Photoshop. That way, when a color area didn’t work, I could easily change the color, or lighten or darken it to see if it helped. This is much easier than repainting a whole area, or starting a new color sketch, until I get the color balance I want.

Layered photoshop image which allowed me to experiment with colors.

Layered photoshop image which allowed me to experiment with colors.

Using Photoshop I was able to cut out the figure from one of the source photographs, elongate and distort it so it fit the drawing I’d created, then “paint” in the color areas on the computer to see how the color scheme was working. This saved me a lot of time, and I was able to fairly quickly find a combination of colors that fit with the fantasy that was taking shape in my mind: colors that gave me the feeling of a lazy afternoon in a tropical beach cottage with a boy I’d met in the city and brought to a little beach town for a romantic weekend together.

The final painting: "Beach Cottage"

The final painting: "Beach Cottage." (Click on image to see the print on my website.)

That ended the preparatory phase of the work, and set the stage for the real work: creating the actual painting. I had worked out the color scheme and had a nice approximation of the feeling I was going for, and that made creating the painting itself much easier. There followed 3 days of taking the rough concept and turning it into a finished painting. I kept the finished work pretty faithful to the final sketch, except for going back to the previous sketch to get the plate and discarded cup on the floor–I thought that was a nice touch, suggesting the relaxed nature of the “lost weekend” I was depicting. I decided to call the painting “Beach Cottage.” I’m very happy with this painting, not least because I took a semi-interesting photographic image and turned it into a much richer painting with a whole story behind it.