Recently I’ve been experimenting with using textures in digital painting.
Using natural media, it is near impossible to get a perfectly flat, even colour. Chalk collects on the peaks as it is ground across the rough paper landscape, and the battle between surface tension and gravity dumps molecules of watercolour pigment in the canvas’ hollows or draws them out over vast expanses until the boundary between wet and dry is reached. The results can be incredible; A single brush stroke can be beautiful, its simple elegant form enhanced by the intricate level of detail that the media provide.
By contrast, digital brush strokes will do only what they are programmed to do; any interest or variation in the stroke is entirely artificial. At its most basic, a simple, flat, round brush is sufficient for most digital sketching and painting, but zoom in too far and the edges of said brush are all too obvious and none too attractive. To my mind, there are three main solutions to consider, depending on the nature of the painting:
- Refine the painting to the extent where the brush strokes are no longer visible. This is perhaps the most obvious solution, and it can yield impressive results. However, there are two drawbacks. Firstly, it takes time, especially for large, high-resolution paintings. Secondly, it can ruin what was a lovely loose, free, and lively drawing by meticulously dragging every last pixel into line. To spend hours refining a painting, only to realise that you’ve been slowly but surely draining it of all the life and energy it once had, is disappointing to say the least.
- Ignore them. They’re part of the painting. In fact, they are the painting.
“I can see your brush strokes”
“How careless of me. Next time I’ll make sure to cover the painting up with a cloth”
- Try to make them look nice. This is what I’ve been experimenting with lately, using textures to add variation to areas of flat colour and break up excessively uniform stroke edges. I find it’s easy to go too far, ending up with a result that looks somewhat like it was created by smearing paint across corrugated cardboard, so subtlety is key if textures are to be an improvement rather than a distracting novelty. Ideally, I don’t want to try to completely imitate real world painting so much as to add a little interest to a brush which, by reason of its conception in the clinical world of numbers and logic, has no soul beyond what we devise.
I’m still experimenting, so hopefully in the future I’ll have some examples of digital paintings with a freer, looser style and subtler texturing.
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