And Now For Something Completely Different

As many of you already know I started my art career as an illustrator working in science fiction and fantasy. This was back in the mid eighties and before computers were tools for artists. Computer games looked like pong and pacman not like a blockbuster movie.

I still work in games and in Science Fiction and Fantasy and recently had the opportunity to contribute to a book called SciFi Art Now. John Freeman is the editor and has a blog where he is interviewing some of the artists for the book. My interview is here with a link to a download of this step by step demo in .pdf format.

My piece in the book was made digitally using my own photo reference and 3d models and combined and painted in photoshop. For this piece I painted right on the plate (photo) although this isn’t always how I work digitally it is an effective tool to quickly sketch ideas and bring them to completion. The following is the step by step process I used to make Marooned.


I started with a photo I took on a painting trip to the Sierras in Eastern California. The sandstone looked melted and gave me the idea for a crashed spaceship. I got down on the ground to shoot the small sandstone rocks from a worms eye view.


1. I  separated the foreground from the sky into two layers. Using a hard brush, selecting local colors and the eraser tool I began to make the framework of the spaceship.


2. I created a third layer for my figures around a fire and established some color to get the general feel of how it will fit in the scene.

3. Next I painted some walls with portholes to make the ship seem familiar, again using the local colors in the photo to keep the sense of light.


4. I continue to add more hard edges and machine like shapes and establish a horizon line with mountains in the distance.
5. I rough in the figures around the fire on another layer. I paint them all in warm hues so they will stand out against the rest of the scene. I make one figure female and the two sitting figures male to create a subliminal tension for the scene. Next I created a sky gradient on another layer. This will be my basis for the stars and planetoids that come next.
6. I create stars by using the noise filter then selecting a limited color range and copying and flipping the selection. I do this a couple of times adding a layer each time and make a color pass over each version to vary the look of the star field. The last thing I do is go in and hand paint selected stars with the airbrush tool before collapsing the layers back down.


7. I build and light the planetoids in 3ds Max and then import the images on to their own layer in Photoshop. At this point I collapse all of the layers except the figures and fire and then manipulate the colors and values to harmonize the scene. I want everything to be covered in dust to give the sense of the passage of time, unifying the color does this and I choose a color that will compliment the tones in the fire.

8. To finish the painting, I collapse the whole image and adjust the color for the figures and add more detail around them. I work all over the image fixing and adjusting where I think things need it.

Painting with Electronic Media

Armand Cabrera

I’m going to rant a little; my comments are about process and fad, not about the quality of the images that are made or the ability of the artists making them. The medium has people who are great at it and those who aren’t, just like in traditional media.

The “new” craze is to take your IPad, other tablet pc or laptop and paint either outdoors or in a studio setting like life drawing. My reaction is why bother? Unless you work in an industry where the facility gained painting on a computer translates to your job, there is no upside to it as an artist.

 It isn’t even that new. When I was an in-house production artist we started painting with our computers in the early 90’s. I have been painting with my laptop since the early 2000’s. The industry and to some extent illustration has been digital for at least 15 years now. The fact that my aunt now has an IPad and paints with it, doesn’t make it new or very interesting. If you think finger painting on an IPad is difficult try painting with a mouse in index color using Deluxe paint.
But it’s cheaper than traditional media
Not really. A tablet computer will run you $400-800 for the tablet alone; double that for a usable laptop. Then make sure you add a 300-500 for some decent paint software and maybe a stylus with pressure sensitivity. If you have a laptop you will need to buy a drawing tablet like a Wacom Intuos, add 300. You will need an extra battery on your laptop after it runs out so add that second battery cost to the hardware section. The IPad doesn’t have a replaceable battery. So you have 5 hours of practical battery life for each charge. With traditional painting you can recoup the cost of the materials by selling the paintings when you’re good enough.

Where’s the image?

Oh yeah, right, there isn’t an actual painting. You could print out the image you do and make a giclee of it but those are just poster quality reproductions with no real intrinsic value to them. First you would have to buy a printer and inks and paper to print it on. Remember the file would have to be a high enough resolution to make the print acceptable. You might be able to get 20 bucks for it.

People are claiming that digital is closer to true color and light because it is additive, not subtractive like painting. Untrue, for it to be additive it has to produce white when you mix the colors together. All paint programs on a computer mimic subtractive painting; so it’s even dumber than painting with real paints because it takes an additive environment (the monitor) and makes a false subtractive output (the paint program) which is code written by people who aren’t artists so other people can use it to paint with.


Don’t quit your day job

The biggest problem I see for practitioners is digital art leaves nothing tangible for the effort; no chance of selling it for any real money, which forces digital outdoor work to be a hobby or just practice. I think that mindset affects the outcome of the work. Part of the destruction of design, production and illustration wages can be linked to this attitude.

Digital image creation is geared for disposable art and massed produced and cheaply made prints. It has to do with the marketplace and the value of physical originals over prints that lack uniqueness. For it to be taken seriously digital artists must overcome that idea and create a paradigm shift in the thinking of collectors. I personally don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

                                                          All digital  images used in this article werre created by Armand Cabrera copyright 2011

Digital Sketches from Life

Armand Cabrera

Even though I continue to paint traditionally I like using digital painting tools like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Sketchpad, Artrage, Corel Painter, and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. All of them have their benefits and problems. These sketches are made with Photoshop  using a regular round brush shape. I set a time limit and draw everything freehand from life. Its a good way to practice observational skills as well as honing my tablet skills. I  use  a Wacom Intuos.

More and more I use digital for my preliminary work even for my landscape paintings because of ease of use and the ability to keep multiple versions and ideas until I decide to paint traditionally.  Digital software is just another tool to use as an artist and I think in its proper role can be quite beneficial to an artist and their creative output.

Most people I know who paint traditionally have abandoned traditional slides and print film and use digital cameras. They also use large monitors for photo ref instead of printing everything like the old days.
Paint software and hardware are no different.

The Digital Media Dilemma


Armand Cabrera
Digital media allows a lot of things not possible or not practical with traditional media. Nowhere is this more apparent than animation. Animation has been completely revolutionized by  digital tools. Same with a number of other artistic endeavors, matte paintings, story boards and pre-visualization like concept and pitch art.
In publishing all the costs associated with printing have been lessened dramatically with digital tools. No more type setters or shipping and warehousing thousands of copies of an item that potentially won’t sell. Print on demand allows fast turnaround and low costs. There is no doubt that computers allow for a greater flexibility and fluidity when it comes to a finished product. At any stage of the production of a creative endeavor the work is easily changed; sometimes dramatically, and the work is always at the whim of the entity paying for it. This is not true of traditional media where expertise is not such democratic process.
All that ease of use and better cost benefit should be enough but it isn’t for some digital artists. I recently had a discussion on line where a digital artist was trying to make the case that digital prints were originals because with digital no original exists in the computer. Well that is only half right. No original exists in the computer or anywhere else either. A digital print is not unique by its very nature it can never be an original like a traditional painting can; that is why no one will pay the same prices for digital pieces compared to hand made things. If an artist doesn’t like this they can always learn to make art with traditional materials. I have a friend who is a very successful artist and he has always said your real level of  ability as an artist is your level of ability when you work from life.
You would think this is obvious. As obvious as dressing up like a bird and stepping off a building and trying to fly. Wanting to fly like a bird won’t make you a bird  any more than calling a machine made poster an original piece of art. People want hand made things. In most instances with quality craftsmanship,  the more hand made a thing is the more people are willing to pay for it. The more unique a thing is the more people are willing to pay for it.
Before people write and tell me I hate digital; I’ve been making my living as a digital artist since 1990 so not only do I use digital tools I think digital art can be just as good or better than traditional art. What it can never be is a physical original. So stop pretending it is.

Photographing Your Art Part 1

By Armand Cabrera


 It is always good to have high resolution images of your paintings for possible licensing deals, illustrations and editorial write-ups.  If you can’t afford professional services hi res digital files can be taken now with reasonably priced digital SLR cameras.
If you choose to shoot digital photos of your work make sure to burn them to CD or DVD.  I talk about archiving here.
Set your image quality to Camera Raw or at least Fine this will give you an image at 300 DPI.  Make sure the image of the painting fills the view screen.  If you don’t own a digital camera, it’s time to buy one.  You can get a reasonably high-quality, 24 mega-pixel (18 x 24 inch, 300dpi image) camera for fewer than 800 dollars (at the time of this writing).
When the weather cooperates you can shoot outside. I choose to shoot in shade not direct light because I think it gives me the best color balance for my paintings.
While taking images outdoors will work it’s better to have a place indoors you can setup and not have the weather dictate your schedule.
If you can have your work professionally photographed then you should hire a photographer.  A professional photographer that specializes in shooting traditional art will make your life easier and save you time that you could use for painting. Shooting your own images requires the proper equipment. If you would rather do it yourself you will need some things to make it easier.
Easel or Tripod
It’s good to have a studio easel and tripod for taking photos of your paintings. I like a black sheet placed behind the easel and then position the painting so that it is within the area of the sheet when you look through the view finder of the camera. I set up the camera 4 ft from the painting and make the painting perpendicular to the angle of view for the camera.
If you also paint outdoors your tripod for your pochade will work just fine just swap the quick release plate from your painting box to your camera.
I recommend a bank of  at least four 48 inch fluorescent or LED daylight bulbs for indoor work. The bulbs should have a CRI rating of 90 or more. I have an article about studio lighting here.
Camera or other device
A good image for print ads would be 9 x12 inches at 300 DPI. Most current digital SLR cameras, tablets or smartphones can shoot at that level of detail. The difference is the quality of the image and lens. Obviously a good digital SLR camera has a better lens and sensor than most other devices. It comes down to your budget. If it is another device other than a camera though, Make sure you can attach it to a tripod for stable shooting. If you want to make prints of your work for sale then you will need a better camera that can shoot a larger file.
Computer and Software
You will need a computer and image editing software for correcting your photo. I recommend Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for image editing but it depends on your needs and budget again. I use my software for thumbnails, image generation, and photo editing, not just for shooting paintings.


Next week I will go through the steps I use to clean up my images with Photoshop.