Just some experimental clouds I knocked out in a few minutes after creating a couple cloud brushes, which also took just a few minutes. This was my first breezy attempt. I know they aren’t magnificent. I only used black and white, and they need to be blended better, etc… The point is how much one can accomplish with so little extraneous drudgery.

If I were serious about making clouds I’d make 3-4 brushes, spend some more time with it, possibly look at references, and paint over the end result.

Here, the brush is more of a stamp, but an extremely versatile and customizable one. What you see are hundreds of different stamp imprints of varying sizes, colors, and density, and at different angles. What makes this technique so powerful and super easy is that you can change all those parameters on the fly, or with a simple adjustment to your brush that takes a few seconds.

I made the two stamps I used by cutting out pieces of photos of clouds, tinkering with them, then saving them as brushes and playing with a bunch of settings. Note that the end result looks absolutely nothing like the little pieces of clouds from the photos. If this were for one of my digital paintings, I’d copy the cloud section rather than use a photo, that way the entire digital painting is made up of my own brush strokes.

This kind of technique is ideal for things like clouds, birds, bats, flies, skin pores, freckles, stars, pebbles, wrinkles, beard stubble, grass and all sorts of tedious little crap that would drive me absolutely bonkers if I had to draw or paint it one little increment at a time.

One of the ways I’ve dealt with this in the past is to NOT include such things. True, some people are impressed when artists take their Instagram photos with their smallest brush and the finest detail, and give the impression they spent about a dozen hours slaving to create whatever texture, lock of hair, or strewn leaves. It’s only as good as the finished result, and if it can be done in two minutes rather than ten hours, the slow method is like scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush. It’s more about labor, tenacity, and a feat than accomplishing the task at hand.

I’m not knocking the photo realist painting done with a brush no wider than a toothpick, but you can achieve a similar effect painting digitally without dedicating a month of your life to it, which means you are freed up to do more challenging imagery according to tastes.

In my case, as I said, I would simply avoid subjects that included a shit-ton of microscopic details, especially if they were the background or unimportant. Now, those details become easy, and I can envision all sorts of cloudy skies as a background without having to plow through hours and hours of drudgery to realize them.

Right now, if you don’t read my blog, I’m learning all the standard sorts of techniques that illustrators and digital artists have developed in the last decade for film, computer games, and other entertainment. I’ve been doing things my own way, which includes a lot of reinventing the wheel, and this is an opportunity to bolster my skills with relative ease. Essentially, I can nick a bunch of other people’s best techniques.

What I’m seeing is that digital painting has exponential advantages over traditional mediums when it comes to making imagery. You can’t really fling paint like Pollock or pile it on like Van Gogh, though you can do it illusionistically if you are creative enough. There are undoubtedly things physical mediums are just better for, such as, say, your more vigorous types of Abstract Expressionism. I’d say you can’t do water color digitally — because it just seems like you wouldn’t be able to — but, I’m afraid since the result is flat, there are ways to get pretty damned close. Let’s just grant that traditional painting is better for thickly painted and spontaneous painting effects, as well as a bunch of other stuff. On top of all that it is a one of a kind physical object.

Digital painting, however, will allow you to work on your color in separate layers and layer styles, and to tweak out all the colors at any point. The versatility is off the charts. You can make a sketch and add color below it and/or above it… While this might seem like cheats at first, there are typical analogue ways of doing a lot of these things, and they are simply techniques. If you can paint under and on top of your drawing, why would you want to go back to only painting on top? You have less possible effects and processes available to you?

Some may say that traditional painting is harder, but this really comes down to things like using linseed oil and turpentine and having to clean your brushes. If you can’t draw or apply color, you can’t make a good digital painting. The essential skills are the same, it’s just a question of application. It’s on par with typing in Word verses typing on an antique, manual typewriter. It’s a lot easier to copy-paste, undo, use spell check, and so on, and some may say that with a typewriter you had to get it right the first time, but Word isn’t going to write a really good short story for you, and Photoshop isn’t going to paint a bad-ass painting for you.

If my goal is to make sophisticated imagery, using traditional tools is a bit, how shall I say, barbaric. They even have tablets now that are monitors, and you draw directly on the image. I’m still working the old, clunky way, digitally speaking.

But, what I can be pretty sure of is that digital painting makes the most tedious and time-consuming details about the quickest and easiest to realize.

Let me give you one more example, in case you got this far and are getting pissed off at me. If I were making acrylic paintings, which I have done, and I got the bright idea of painting a swarm of bees, I’d probably keep thinking. Who wants to paint all those little wings and antennae? But if I’m doing it digitally, I can create 5-6 bee stamps, adjust “scattering” properties, change the size or how faded the bees are with pen pressure sensitivity, and knock out a swarm in 15 minutes. 50 bees? No problem. 500 bees? Give me a few more seconds.

It could easily take hours if I wanna’ make my bee stamps quite good, make subtle variations, and a few more stamps. The bigger bees up close I could us the same stamp and paint over them with more detail and add variation. What would seem insurmountable to paint physically is just a matter of going through the motions digitally.

This is good if you wanna’ make a book cover or CD cover, or a cool poster. Can’t expect to sell it in a gallery for thousands of dollars, or even hundreds. But for me, if something looks awesome as a poster (not to mention a high-quality print on archival paper), that’s good enough for the physical manifestation. I’m much more interested in the imagery itself. Though if someone else wants to paint in egg tempera in a Pointillist style, I say more power to ’em. More variety! More visual splendor to savor.

~ Ends

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