Join Bert Monroy for an in-depth discussion in this video Interview with Lynda, part of Creative Inspirations: Bert Monroy, Digital Painter and Illustrator.
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(Music playing.) Lynda Weinman: Hello! I am Lynda Weinman, and I am here today with my dear friend, Bert Monroy. Bert is one of the consummate photo illustrators, digital photo illustrators, and I believe, Bert, that we must have met over 20 years ago at Macworld. Bert Monroy: Yeah, at least 24 or 25 years ago, yeah. Lynda: So I think we are the elders at this point, we can say.
Bert: Yes. That's what Jeff Schewe calls us, the elders, yes, the graybeards. Well, you don't have a beard. Lynda: It's just what a good dye job does. So I know that Photoshop just turned 20, and you have been using Photoshop exclusively in your work, and we also have just seen the release of CS5. What are some of the new changes to Photoshop that are influencing your work? Bert: The reason I was able to co-author that first book on Photoshop is because I was already using Photoshop for two years before Adobe knew it existed.
I was using it as part of my PixelPaint work back then because it had a really cool air brush, way back in the beginning. One of the strange things about the new CS5 is the brush. There is a whole new brush, the Bristle Brush, which pretty much, to my mind, has taken the digital and brought it all completely to the world of the traditional, where you now have a Bristle Brush that you can twirl and twist and press and have the bristles spread, just like you would with a traditional brush, the kind of techniques that people who were traditionally trained with a real brush can now take advantage of digitally, without the mess, and the smell, and all the other stuff.
So it really has taken the digital world and brought it all the way around so that there is nothing to differentiate it from the traditional media anymore. Lynda: In your work, you labor very intensively to get things to look real, and I am curious why you would do that rather than taking a photo, like what your obsession is with that level of realism, because it's clearly something that takes an incredible amount of work and skill to do. Bert: Well, first, let me start by saying that I am not a photorealist, because photorealism is a movement and photorealists adhere to the photograph.
So it deals with things like depth of field. So if something is far away, it's going to be out of focus, whereas in my paintings everything is in focus. So it's more like hyperrealism. It's like you are actually there. Wherever your eye looks, it's going to come into focus. So everything is very sharp. Now, for me, it's not the picture. It's recreating that picture, recreating that experience for the viewer, that's important for me. How did that light enter that window and hit that vase in a certain way and create that little glimmer? The photograph might be able to capture it, but no, my eye caught it in a certain way, so I painted the way the eye captures it, and then try to recreate it, because to me, it's that challenge of duplicating those effects of lights, reflections, shadows, and how they interact with each other.
How to create that effect is what drives me. So it's not the picture. It's the journey to that picture. Lynda: And what inspires the subject matters of your paintings? How do you decide which subject you are going to bring to hyperrealism? Bert: I would say they do. They are the inspiration. I can walk down the street, just thinking, "Oh, I have got to do this tomorrow," and then all of a sudden, something will pop out. It's like, I see it. I see there is a painting. Okay. Like one of my last pieces is just after lunch. It's called Lunch in Tiburon.
It has half-drunk glasses and dirty glasses with lip stains and torn up napkins and stuff. And I was just sitting there waiting for the check, and I looked at it, and I said, "There is a painting here. I see the painting." So I get inspired by that sudden moment where everything comes together, and I see the light. I see the shadows. I see the filtration of light through substances. And that's my inspiration. So I get inspired by the subject. I don't look for it. If I look for it, I don't really find it. It has to present itself to me, and that's how I get inspired.
Lynda: That's fantastic! Your work is so magnetic. I mean, I think people are so drawn to it. One of the things that I really love about you is your interest in sharing your knowledge, and not only do you share it in programs like what we are doing right now, and on lynda.com, and other places, but I know you also do a lot of work with high school students. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about why you like share what you do. Bert: I think that's kind of like a payback. I came from a pretty poor background, and I was inspired by people who came and said, 'Hey, look. Look what's outside of the world you live in. Look what's out there.' And I kind of like to do the same thing.
I go to inner city high schools. I don't go to well-to-do schools. I mean, they have their own little thing. I go to schools where the kids don't have much hope for the future, and those are the ones that I want to inspire. I want to say, 'Look at what's available to you, and these ways in which you can take your creativity and your energy and focus it to something.' And then I see what they produce, that's the real reward, and I just love that. I love to get these e-mails from people, 'Look what I did from what I learned from your podcast,' or whatever, and that's a real reward to me, that I know that I have inspired other people the way I was inspired.
I have inspired them to take their creativity and create stuff. Lynda: Fantastic! Your most recent piece is perhaps your most ambitious, the Times Square piece. Bert: Ambitious is a good way to put it, yeah. Most of my paintings take, on the average, about 250 hours to do. My first panorama was this painting, Damen, of a train station. That took 11 months. It was pretty involved. It was the first painting that I did with the print in mind, so it was pretty large. It was 10 feet wide by 40 inches high. When I did that, that's when I realized that the one painting I wanted to do all my life I realized now there was a way to do it.
And I always wanted to do it, but I could never feel it. I would look at it, and I never felt the painting, until I realized that the only way to do it is the way Times Square is, is to do it big. And then when the printers came out that have 64 inches on them, that's when I said, "This is it. I have to do it with that size print involved." So the print is 60 inches by 25 feet. It's huge. Everything is different. So everything has been just one constant challenge, how to recreate this and that - and I am having a ball with it - and people, because I never did people digitally. I did people traditionally, but I never did people digitally, and the people will always say, 'Well, why aren't there people in your paintings?' There was a reason for that, but Times Square, you can't have Times Square without people.
Lynda: You are putting some interesting people in this. Bert: You are in there. Lynda: I know. Bert: You are walking across the street. Lynda: A photo of myself, and my husband Bruce, was requested by Bert, but I know you are putting a lot of other people that you know in there. Bert: Yeah. I am putting pretty much a lot of the people that I have known through the years - friends and people from the industry. I had to populate the streets, and instead of having all these kind of soulless- looking people, I decided to put everybody I know. And they are all doing something. Everybody is involved in some kind of an event, a little story that I kind of based on their personalities, the way I know them, and so on.
So everybody is just all over the street, and there is people everywhere. There are a few hundred people I have to do. So I am having a ball with that. The new Photoshop has made that a lot easier, which is another reason I hadn't done people, because I used to do people. I do a lot of smearing, with chalk and stuff, whereas I never had that full capability digitally. But now with the Bristle Brush and the Mixer Brush, I am able to go in there and blend colors much nicer and get feelings and hair a lot nicer than I could have before. So it has made it real easy to do these few hundred people that are in the painting.
Lynda: Now, did I hear correctly that you actually worked with Adobe on those brushes? Bert: Yes, I have been an alpha tester for Photoshop for a long time. And it's funny because when Photoshop 7 came out, which introduced the Brush Engine, I remember when I went down to see it, they said - the first thing I said is, "I haven't seen anything this cool since PixelPaint," and they all laughed, because it turns out Jerry Harris, one of the two guys who wrote PixelPaint is the guy who wrote the Brush Engine. The new Bristle Brush, I was brought down to San Jose to look at it when they were thinking about buying it, because they did buy that technology third-party, and it was pretty cool. And I saw it, and the movement of the bristles and the twisting and the turning.
So I gave a lot of input on how it should be implemented and so on. Then they started putting it into the product. And so I worked with them, and I used it really early. In fact, I used it in the painting before it was put into the product, so it worked a little differently then than the end result. But I did have a lot of input. Being one of the few painters that are alpha testers, I got called in on anything that has to do with painting and brushes. Lynda: Smart on their part. Bert: Yeah. You've got to have somebody who tells them what to do with a paintbrush, so I got called in early on that one.
Lynda: I am sure that it will. I want to thank you on behalf of all the people that you have inspired. Your generosity with your techniques and how you work is so brilliant, and we are just all very grateful to have you in our universe. Thank you, Bert. Bert: Well, thanks for the opportunity! It was a lot of fun doing it.
In Bonus Features, Bert talks about the differences between digital and traditional art and how he chooses reference material for his paintings.