Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What are Algorithmically Synthesized Digital Paintings?

ASDP is simply one of the terms I use to describe my digital painting technique. A couple of others are photo-synthesis, graphic interpretations, and micro-painting.

I use a unique program called a paint synthesizer. Also known as Studio Artist 3.0, the program allows you to selecta source photograph and have it re-rendered to a canvas (paint window). Just like a music synthesizer has patches to make your notes sound like a wide variety of instruments, SA3 has patches that can make your original photo look like a pencil sketch, a watercolor, oil painting or any of thousands of other natural media presets that are included with the program.

SA3 lets you build and blend layers of these renderings within the program, although I prefer to save the individual renderings out as files which I then load into Photoshop. I have about a dozen or so patches that I've found work well to create the styles of painting I like to use. There is one patch that creates a soft, blurry watercolor wash that I tighten up with a very small soft brush. A rough circular brush cloner that gives me a rough brush texture that I can modify with PS filters. A very small brush cloner to provide detail. A hard edged small square point detail color sketcher which adds some variation and detail to the images. A pencil outliner and a lum hatch sketcher to provide some edges and extra detail to shadows round out the primary ones I tend to favor. I've yet to explore all the thousands of other patches available but I try to sample a few new ones every now and then.

After rendering out these layers I import them into PS and begin rebuilding the image from these layers. Mind you most of these layers only vagely resemble the original photo but as I begin with the watercolor wash as the background layer and begin to add the other layers selecting different blending styles for each layer. Darken for some layers, lighten for others, color burn often for the edge layers. One trick I often use is to import the original image as a layer and apply the Stylize-Find Edges filter on it to create nice pencil or highlight layers (by inverting and using the color dodge or screen blend option).

Every image is different and how I approach it depends on the look I wish to acheive. By playing with the layer order, blending style and level of transparency I can acheive remarkable control over the look of the final image. Highlights can have one type of brush stroke, shadows another. Layers can be used to lighten areas and combined with layer masks. Individual layers can have filters applied to them or curves to provide even more control. I often sharpen the layers individually so I can use different radii on the unsharp mask filter to accentuate certain brush strokes.

I've found the technique works most successfully on my nature abstracts and find it helps to further abstract the subject and remove the initial focus on the details. What I have found amazing is actually how much tonal detail is still preserved in spite of the micro-painting process.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why I Photograph Rocks.

You may have noticed, if you’ve viewed my photographic portfolio, that I like to photograph rocks... well rocks and plants actually. There’s no mystery in why this is so. It's because I’m basically lazy and these are the two most plentiful types of objects on the earth. These two subjects alone offer me a myriad of forms, colors, textures, and shapes with which to play.

My earliest photographic vacations were in Maine and I became fascinated with the variety of rocks across the state. Multicolored striated layers near Pemaquid, pink granite around Acadia, gray granite in the Western mountains but also a mix of different types of boulders deposited throughout each of these areas. These offered some beautiful contrasts with the native rocks.

The rocks of the Maine coast are some of the oldest on the planet. They exhibit the deformations and scars of their long journey through time. Mostly volcanic in origin, compressed, deformed and transformed by tectonic pressures these rocks were more recently scoured by receding glaciers leaving the bedrock exposed to the further forces of erosion by wind and water. In places you can find layers of rock that have been folded back on themselves creating very unique striated forms.

My trip to Hawaii in 1998 allowed me to go back to the beginning of the cycle and see the creation of new surface features via the deposition of ash and the expulsion of lava. Most fascinating were my trips into the Kiluea and Haleakala craters, here I found all sorts of new forms, textures and colors to interact with. These landscapes were of another world and I really felt like I was on another planet as I descended into Haleakala.

I’m really looking forward to an upcoming trip back to the big island of Hawaii and especially an opportunity to explore Kauai for the first time. That trip will take me to a much older land than that on Maui which has been further transformed by erosion. I anticipate coming home with a few good rock images.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Reflecting on Twenty-Five Years with the Macintosh

The Mac Released My Inner Artist.

This year, 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the Macintosh and June the 25th anniversary of the purchase of my first computer, a Macintosh 128K. It would turn out to be one of the most significant decisions of my career, perhaps my life. I won’t retell the whole story here, you can read more about it in My Personal Digital History on my website. Suffice it to say that the computer and specifically the innovative Macintosh enabled me for the first time to effectively translate images in my head to images on paper.

From a very early age I think I aspired to be an artist of some kind. I discovered in the first grade however, that just writing with a pencil was painful. I dreaded the daily writing exercises, my hands would cramp up after a few lines. I wasn’t able to control the amount of pressure I was applying to the pencil and constantly broke the tips. I would complain but was soon “convinced” by the nuns that it must be all in my mind since no one else was had trouble.

I took some art classes in junior high but became frustrated at how difficult it was to get my hands to do what I wanted as they quickly fatigued from just holding a brush. In high school I tried drafting but that too became too tedious and frustrating as I spent more time erasing than drawing. Finally, by the end of high school I discovered filmmaking and animation which didn’t demand superb manual dexterity and endurance to become skilled image maker. While studying film at RIT I also discovered I also enjoyed creating images with a still camera. Since it was much less expensive than filmmaking I decided that it would be my primary medium.

After RIT I worked as a photographic test technician for Kodak at night and pursued my free-lance fine art photography/color printing business during the day. I bought the Mac ostensibly to create better looking documents (letters, invoices, receipts, print labels, etc.) for my free-lance business but soon discovered it might have lots of other applications.

My entry level position with Kodak as a photo technician was primarily click and wind. We had to actuate (wind and trip -10) cameras and then write test reports in triplicate with pen, with no mistakes, or start over. Five years of these activities were torture to the point I could barely hang on to a pen, let alone write my report, at the end of my shift. I would have to take breaks every hour or so to go to the restroom and soak my hands in hot water until I could move them again.

At any rate, I realized that the Mac could eliminate the hand written reports by using text entry software, database software and the reports could even be distributed over the brand new networks that were starting to appear. So I suggested with a report I created on my Mac that they automate data entry and collection in the lab.

The Macintosh and especially the ingenious mouse finally gave me the ability to draw without pain. The mouse was much easier to hold than a pen or brush and the Undo command gave me the ability to correct mistakes (and random muscle twitches) without defacing or tearing up the paper with an eraser.

So from MacPaint and MacDraw, I progressed to Illustrator, Photoshop, Strata3D and finally Poser. Now nearly two decades since I first beta tested those programs I’m still using those same four apps today. Photography is still a part of my creative process but real world photography less and less as my mobility declines. Fortunately, the computer has given rise to virtual photography as my alternative.