My version is on the left. Note that Andrew Hou’s version is blurry because it’s a screen capture.

Above is the final demo in the class, and all credits go to Andrew Hou for the digital painting, which I recreated as part of learning his process.

As my regular readers know, I’m a trained “fine artist” working in digital media, and currently learning the industry standard digital painting techniques from illustrators in order to open up new possibilities of image-making.

I just finished Andrew Hou’s “Intro to Digital Painting” on Schoolism. If you can already draw pretty well, you can learn from this course (and probably a dozen other decent ones) how to make digital paintings in a standard style. All you need is Photoshop, a cheap tablet, patience and diligence. I’m not affiliated with schoolism, nor necessarily promoting it (yet). This is an older course which I just chose to begin with to fortify my foundation. Next up is textures (more on that later on in this post).

About the image at the top. I didn’t just copy the final result, which I could have done — though not nearly as well — without taking the class. The way I did it was to follow along and mirror his whole process. You are not intended to learn this way, but rather to just watch and then try it on your own material. I prefer to get inside the artist’s head and mimic what he does, take other courses, and then do my own thing.

Here’s the first stage:

Just a rough sketch with a rectangular brush.

Then you go over it again in a multiply layer on top to refine the sketch.

Mine is always on the left.

You isolate the characters from the background with a mask, slap in a suitable color, and block in the major shadow forms with the lasso tool.

Put rough details in the shadows.

After the background is roughed in, flat colors are applied to the characters just to get some color down to work with.

And here’s the final result after much tinkering and various layer styles, adding rim lighting, gradients, details, and lots of other minor procedures.

Notice the saliva, the bits of kicked-up dirt and dust under the foot, how the tail both blurs and fades into the background, the rim lighting, and the semi-transparent leaves in the background. Nice effects, and now I know the underlying principles as well as the technique (which isn’t to say I’ve mastered it, just familiar).

As anyone who knows my art knows: my art looks nothing like this. And if I were to make a piece using just these techniques, it wouldn’t look like this either. I’ve thought of stopping learning to make one, and I couldn’t go wrong there, but I want to keep going and amassing more skills.

Here’s a guy from earlier in the course, by the way. This time mine’s on the right!

And I did this one:

I’m back on the left.

And the next two were experiments I did on my own using custom brush techniques:


Doubtlessly I will find a use for these techniques, and streamline my process for digital paintings.

The great thing about schoolism is [again, not a promo, and they don’t even know I exist] that you get access to ALL of their courses for $29.95 a month. This is awesome if you are, like me, good at teaching yourself. If you want interaction with the instructor, where you upload your art and he or she critiques it, that can be as much as $998 per course, and a course takes 8 weeks. Well, I could, free time permitting, knock out an entire course in a month or less for just 1/30th of the cost. There are courses on gesture drawing, caricature, landscape, realism, lighting, visual basics, creature creation, portraits, etc. If you don’t know how to draw, there’s drawing courses as well.

Now, I think you can find similar stuff for free if you know how to look and have your basics down, but I figure for just $30 a month I’m happy to pay these people for insuring a level of quality and do-ability from real professionals.

Now I’m going to do the Textures course. Check this shit:

There are at least 15 different textures you learn to paint, and for each you have these 8 categories which the artist explains in extensive detail. Just look at that F’ing slime. I love this sort of thing! And oh how much more I love this than the politics I was taught in grad school in lieu of art. Yes, I would rather paint slime than make conceptual work about identity any day. Truth be told I can make slimy aliens that deal with the concept of “other” anyway, and at least they can kick ass visually regardless of any underlying social message. You learn how to make iron, chrome, reptile skin, dew drops, slime, blood, clothing (ex., burlap), and a bunch of other textures.

if you know some of my digital paintings, you know I attempt to create these kinds of surfaces. Well, I mostly just wing it. Now I can get some of the best techniques under my belt.

Above, in addition to knowing all the underlying principles and the best techniques, the artist still uses references to help with accuracy.

The course is a little daunting just because of how detailed it is. It’s almost like learning a kind of math, or taking an advanced level of foreign language.

One last thing. I often talk about “visual language”, and how much of contemporary art has nothing whatsoever to do with it. People who blithely claim to have transcended painting, to have broken out of the limits of it, or to have incorporated it entirely in to a much more broad whole, have no competence, or even a passing familiarity with the 8 categories of how to analyze texture alone, which is just one component of visual language.

Thanks to my perspicacious patrons for helping me plow through training periods and pay for my courses while working part-time. Just imagine what my next crucified alien or female Creature from the Black Lagoon are going to look like.

Oh yeah, part of my new strategy revolves around the fact that no one will give me the time of day for doing contemporary fine art. The art world hes degenerated into a sea of toxic relativity with a lethal mix of conceptual bullshit and overarching, reductionist politics (and being controlled by and for the billionaire class). If you aren’t in the top-tier galleries, your chances of lasting a decade are minuscule.  I’m thinking if I work more representationally, in an easier to digest style, I may appeal to a much wider audience outside the contemporary art narrative (which has gone bonkers).  But it is something I’ve always wanted to explore as well.

One more thought on the above, and it’s an analogy.  First, you need to know that when I went to university, I was a painter. OK, so imagine instead I was a musician [instrument of choice: keyboards]. I already play the piano and a synthesizer, I read music (obviously), and I compose music, but I want to get into the nitty-gritty, next-level stuff, music theory, learning complex pieces, etc. Instead, playing any instrument is considered ass-backwards and upholding the status-quo, and rather than make “traditional” music we use any sound, or text about sound, to make statements that ask the question “What is music?” or serve a radical political agenda (a speech about the gender pay gap IS MUSIC!!). After some of the most miserable years of my life, I graduate disillusioned, having learned mostly that I am the evil oppressor other. I work temp jobs, but am happy that at least I’m treated like a human being. More than a decade later I return to my roots and start playing keyboards again, relying largely on my early skills. I make a lot of experimental and traditional compositions, and eventually find some online courses that will, in the span of 6 months or so, cover all the material I didn’t learn in university.

It’s a good analogy because one could use a synthesizer (and computer) to make full-on orchestral compositions if one wanted to. Similarly, digital painting allows for any and all techniques (if you are thinking “except impasto” you don’t know my work). In short, I can get everything to round out my visual art education (that I didn’t get in college) from these online courses.

Just in case you didn’t believe me about digital impasto. Here are a few choice details from my various pieces:

[Incidentally, you can’t learn to do digital impasto like this online because these are my custom techniques.]


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