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The Original

When a friend first suggested that I might try to use some conventional art methods to produce art on the computer I thought that he had surely taken leave of his senses! After all, I am not much of a computer person and I suspect that there are thousands of you out there that are intimately more qualified to operate a computer than I!
I must say though, that the idea piqued my interest. Could one actually use traditional painting methods in rendering art on the computer? The more I thought about it the more the whole thing intrigued me. It occurred to me that perhaps I was an ideal person to attempt this. After all, I know next to nothing about computers and I would be approaching this without any preconceived ideas.
     As I began to experiment I found that many of the traditional painting methods can, indeed, be duplicated on the computer! And at the risk of looking foolish I have decided to present a few offerings and see if this might be something that others find as intriguing as I.
     Remember, I am as new to this as you and I am sure I will make mistakes along the way. If there are digital artists out there that know about all of this please don't write to me telling me better ways to get the job done. I want this to be a discovery process for me as well as for those of you who may be following along.
I will be using a program called "Adobe Photoshop 4.0 LE". I chose this particular program because it is the least expensive of the Photoshop programs and it is bundled into many new computers when purchased so many of you may already have it. I feel a need at the outset to talk a bit about the program and the symbols within it. This will help us get on the same page insofar as the program is concerned.
     I will try to be as concise as possible but it is difficult to talk about a subject that is so foreign to me from the distance that is between us.

When you open the program you will see a series of icons spread down the left side of the screen. The ones we will be using most will be as follows;
AIRBRUSH - It's a symbol like a little airbrush - 
PAINTBRUSH - This symbol is a small brush with a partial handle - 
SMUDGETOOL- This symbols is a hand with one finger extended - 

There are several other tools in this column and we will occasionally use them but I want to keep this as simple as possible in this initial stage. LET'S BEGIN! This should be quite an adventure and I must admit that I am champing at the bit to get underway! The very first thing I do after opening the program is to choose "file" and then "new". Once the blank canvas appears I click on "image" and choose "image size." A window will appear and in most cases, it will be in "inches". Change that to "pixels". And enter the values of 550 for the height and 450 for the width. Click OK. Once the blank canvas appears go to "view" and select "fit on screen". This will enlarge the canvas to fit onto the screen. We are ready to go!!
     Let me tell you that a blank piece of canvas can be intimidating under any circumstances and having one with only a mouse in your hand with which to work can be downright frightening! However, brave as we are, let us press on! :)
     At the bottom of the row of icons are two boxes filled with color. For the purposes of these offerings we will call the top one the "primary" box and the bottom the "secondary" box. We will be working primarily with the top color box. When you click that top box a large box filled with color will appear in which a round circle will be included. That round circle determines what color you will get when you click OK. To the right of this box is a sliding scroll bar where you may select the areas of color you may wish to acquire, i.e. Blue, red, yellow etc.


I now click the primary box and choose blue in the scroll bar to the right, then I choose a very light blue which I will use at the horizon. I've found that putting the color on with the airbrush tool works best and since I want action in my sky (flat skies are boring!) I apply the color in short strokes as seen in the example to the left. (I have reduced the size here, to fit into the lesson) I apply a couple of "rows of this then I select a some what darker blue and do a couple of rows, etc. to the top of the canvas each time selecting a somewhat deeper blue.
     This, of course allows us to begin to build distance into our work as the sky at the horizon is much lighter than that at the top of the canvas. I should interject here that this first painting will be a very simple one so that we might familiarize ourselves with the program.


The next thing I do is click on the "smudge tool" and I begin at the horizon and work UP! I work in little ROUND circles and, just as you would with paint, I am careful not to "pull" any of the dark down into the light color! Once I have arrived at the top of the canvas I should have a series of little circles. Work as long as you need to in order to "mix you color thoroughly.

The last thing I do is to run the smudge tool ACROSS the sky to settle out the swirl marks being careful not to wipe out all of the "action" in the sky. Just that easy we have the beginnings of a nice little sky! And, oh yes, over to the right of the program you can select the size of the brushes and smudge tool, etc. Click the "brushes" tab and select a rather large size for this operation (this also increases the size of your smudge tool).

Actually we have a perfectly acceptable sky as it now stands but you may wish to add a cloud or two thereby injecting a little "oomph" into your work. Click the primary color box and choose a white. Use the airbrush tool and spray some white where you wish to put a cloud.
     Choose your cloud placement carefully. Don't just throw in a cloud. Clouds are always more dramatic when they are placed next to the darker portion of your sky and remember, if you put a cloud near the horizon, it will need to be smaller in order to maintain the sense of distance. Even clouds should have perspective!
     Now take you smudge tool and work the cloud out in little round circles. Push the white around until you have the tops of the clouds looking proper then "get off the top!!" Move to the bottom of each cloud and again, working in tiny circles, "blend" out the bottoms thoroughly.

Well, people always love mountains so let's put a few into our little painting. Remember, we are working on a very simple painting this time to get ourselves familiar with our tools. Later, if we get a response, we will move to more complex subjects. I choose a brown for the undercolor of my mountains, you may wish to choose a purple or something else. Be inventive.
     Also, I have chosen to have my mountains run "away" from me so they are smaller as they go toward the horizon. Again, choose your own style or paint along with me. Don't be overly concerned with the shape of your mountains at this stage. There will be plenty of time to make corrections as we work out the highlights, etc. Just grab your paintbrush tool and "paint" in the mountains as I have done here. It will take a while to become accustomed to painting with your mouse. We are all used to a brush and the adjustment can be a bit troubling.


Then change 'Brush' to 50% in size and at 50% transparency. 

Now for some fun! Choose a light brown from you primary color box (or lighter of the color you chose for your mountains) for the light side of you mountains. This is just the first step of several we will do on these mountains. Choose the paintbrush tool and choose the SMALLEST brush size. Lay in some light color on the sides of you mountains where the light source will hit them. 
     As with any kind of painting, be imaginative! DO leave some dark spots on you light side. Do make flat spots and undulations on you mountains. DON'T have all of the bottoms of the mountains end at the same level. Take your time! After you have laid in the light color take you smudge tool and lightly smudge the colors together. Notice that I have left a little "inroad" in the foot of one of the mountains. Later this will be a way to "walk into the mountains." Plan ahead!


Now I have chosen a brown that is just a bit darker than my original undercolor and I have applied that to PARTS of the dark sides of the mountains. Don't overdo...just here and there. Have fun, play around with your mountains but in the spirit of moving on, let's continue. Now in an effort to keep this exercise quite simple we are not going to concern ourselves with color composition, etc. We are simply learning to use the tools in this painting.


I now choose a green suitable for some grass. Notice that I have made the grass lighter as it goes toward the horizon. I sprayed it in with the airbrush tool then smoothed it out with the smudge tool. I pay particular attention to where the different colors meet and I smudge that area until the transition is complete.


Here I have brought the grassy area down and have added a shoreline with some of the same color that I used to make the mountains. While we are not concerning ourselves with color correctness in this first exercise, it is good to repeat a color for balance. I also added a highlight or two. Again after each step I use the smudge tool to "smooth" the area.


Now I have laid in some water just as I did in the sky but this time I apply the strokes in horizontal streaks instead of the little circles. Again you will note that the water is lighter in color next to the bank and darker as it comes toward you. This keeps the feeling of distance in our work. Keep it very simple in this little exercise. Again, after I applied the color I used the smudge tool to "level" out the water. I do all of this work ACROSS the canvas so as to lay the water down flat.

Well!! Here is one of those sections that I suppose will require some additional investigation on our part. I am less than pleased with this little addition but it is all I could figure out at this early stage of my development at this type of work. The big tree on the left lacks the airiness that I would prefer. I rendered the tree with the airbrush tool and the smudge tool. I would love to go into detail here about just how I did this but it would require another series of pictures. Just use your artistic inclinations and work out the problems with the tree. The flowers and bushes are quite simple. Dark first then add light with a small airbrush. The reflections are really very simple. Take the smudge tool, click a rather large brush size and grab the bottom of the green and pull STRAIGHT DOWN. If you want the reflections to "wave" in the water pass the smudge tool ACROSS the image! As you can see I added a white ripple at the shore line with a small paintbrush tool. If I get a favorable response to these offerings I will go into much more detail in subsequent lessons.


Here I added a large pine tree to act as an eyeblocker. I've kept the tree mostly in silhouette in order to minimize it's importance to the painting and aid inviting the viewer "into" the painting. I used the paintbrush tool for the tree and the smudge tool for the reflections in the same manner as before.
     There you have a very, very simple little painting! It was my goal to make this first painting very easy and without many complications. I want to see if a series on this electronic painting will be of interest. If you are interested in seeing more of this type of work let me know by a short e-mail. (