The Wonders of Technology, Part I

I love technology and I love using it in my art. My current work usually begins with a digital photograph or two and then correcting and tweaking in Photoshop before it gets put on paper. I use my Photoshopped reference as a guide while I do the actual drawing. The finished product is a blend of reality, photograph and my own art filters.

There still seems to be a bit of a stigma attached to using tech to make fine art. When you don’t paint or draw from life; if you use a photo, certain people devalue the finished product. I have had one fine art photographer get very defensive about using technology without even being asked. He told me “People ask me ‘How do you get such bright colors, is that Photoshopped?’ I say it’s none of your business!”

Yikes. That told me not only is he using Photoshop (It was pretty obvious anyway) but he doesn’t want to admit it to customers. It’s seen as somehow you cheated or worked less on the art piece.

I think people should be proud of using Photoshop. After all, it is a valuable learned skill, and not everyone can use the program effectively. I still fell as though I have more to learn than I know and I use the program every day at my day job.

I’ve been working on my latest piece “A Love Story” for about a month. Photoshop just really saved me some heartache on it, and here is how.

This drawing began with two reference photos. A toad in a glass of water and a rose in an empty beer bottle. I couldn’t leave a toad in a glass of water for the 20-30 hours this piece took to finish so I photographed it. Poorly, I think. He’s partly out of focus. I adjusted the toad’s head size to be larger and elongated the glass in Photoshop for a better composition. Because I don’t know if soaking in beer is good for amphibians who absorb things through their skin, I went in and added a yellow tint to the liquid to beer-ify it instead of plunking a toad into a beer. The photo itself was very lopsided and needed more to be any kind of art. Years later, I used a dummy glass and set up a beer bottle still life so I would know where best to merge the two photos. I put them together and adjusted the composition. Thanks, Photoshop.

Jump to me being almost finished with the drawing. I  had worked on this a couple hours a night every other day or so for a month. I had applied several layers to the background and was not satisfied with the color or the effect it was having. I had this:


It didn’t feel right, but the layers of background were getting so thick I couldn’t make another color “mistake” without having to erase the entire background – a daunting task on a 13×19″ drawing. The tooth of the paper; the part that will take pigment from colored pencil was 90% full. So I took the above photo on my iPhone and brought it into Photoshop to play around. I came up with this:


I darkened the background and ground. I wrote myself some notes to add red to the leaves, make the toad’s footpads a little lighter and work on the beer bottle. I went back to work on the drawing. It was tough to add another layer to the saturated background but I did it with the help of an old t-shirt and my finger to blend the new layer. It actually earned me a blister on my pointer finger.

The “finished” product:


It really is a subtle difference, but if I had done this next layer in a color that didn’t work it would have easily added another 4 hours to this piece, and one wrong erasure could mean death for the rose or bottle.

Here is a before and after. Proof that a little can go a long way:


Finishing touches include the bottle label, adding some orange to the rose and darkening the background inside the beer glass. Phew! The smoothness of the Photoshop mockup was lost long ago when I pressed too hard on the background and bottom of the drawing. Next time I’ll go a little easier on the paper now that I know my newest drawing board is a little soft.

I see a couple things I don’t like now. Seeing it smaller on the computer amplifies things I might not see in real life. The middle bottle reflection has to go. There is a distracting unevenness in the ground near the flower petal. The right side of the glass could be less lumpy. The rightmost highlight on the glass needs a little evening up where the “beer” is.

Thanks, Photoshop. It will never be “perfect,” but I let go of perfection a long time ago. The role of technology in my work isn’t to make something exactly like a photograph, but something better than a photograph.

Here is how this one began; an idea poorly captured in my living room before releasing this model back into the wild. I think I made this drawing better than the photo, and I hope you do too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s