When you're out shooting photos, an essential skill to utilize is to look at the world as if it were painted. I call this my mental painting filter. This skill goes hand in hand with taking the time to look at and analyze traditional painted imagery. One of the best ways I can recommend for improving your eye for painting is to look at paintings, lots of them. Study the compositions, colors, subject matter, brushstrokes, and the like. A lot can be learned from simply searching the web for examples of genres, styles, and artists that interest you.
Some museums' online web sites have representations of paintings that can be navigated in high resolution that lets you get your nose up close and see the detail. It is particularly useful to observe how the surface of a well-photographed painting appears to the eye. Later in the course, I'll demonstrate how to incorporate some of these physical surface characteristics into your paintings. This technique works well, particularly when the finished artwork will be viewed on a display or the web.
Even better, visiting galleries and museums provides a greater appreciation for the physical aspects of a painting. Nothing can replace looking at the real thing. Take note of how lighting affects a painting's appearance. Look at how physical paint has the third dimension--depth. Some artists exploit this via the technique of impasto, which is intentionally applied thick paint. Observe how the artist incorporates the canvas weave into a painting's physical quality, as well as how thinly applied paint allows canvas texture to be visible.
A traditional painting projects an aura of physicality that is a part of its perceived value. Projecting some of these physical qualities into a digital painting can intimate some of this value into the artwork. Another important observation is to look at paintings, both up close to examine its physical characteristics, as well as stepping back to see how these characteristics' interpretation change with distance. For example, a few seemingly abstract gobs of paint viewed close up can become well-delineated foliage with highlights and shadows.
This is something that many digital painters ignore. When painting you must be aware of both close and far interpretations of painted artwork. Another very useful activity is to simply play with your digital paintbrushes. You don't need a subject or goal in mind; the idea is to explore the breadth, and variety of marks the brush is capable of. Experiment with how different colors mix and interact. Depending on the capabilities of your tablet's stylus, find out how the applied brush changes shape based on pressure, tilt, bearing, and rotation.
This activity is akin to driving a new car in order to explore how it performs and handles, and can be quite an enjoyable experience. In essence, know your brushes. They are the voice of your expression. The more you study and absorb the language of painting, the better your results will be when interpreting a photograph. Armed with this knowledge and experience, you can effectively look through the lens of a camera with your mental painting filter in place and reactively adjust how you choose to frame, compose, and light your subject matter.
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