I recently got myself a Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet. It had nothing to do with art, but more with the tennis elbow that I’ve been suffering from since about March this year. Nothing to do with playing tennis, but more with overusing the computer/mouse and using it in the wrong way. It’s a long story really and not too interesting to go into in great detail. I’m still suffering from it, have done and am doing a lot to combat it but it’s a very persistent problem (I use the computer for work, so there’s no easy alternative). Aaanyway, one of the things I thought might help would be to use a tablet instead of a mouse. Indeed it’s a lot nicer (much more neutral & natural way of holding and moving my hand, and less cramped).
Obviously tablets are more traditionally known for allowing you to use the mouse like a pen/pencil/brush and creating art with it, so I thought I’d give it a go too. As you may know I like to do some mixed media art here and there, but haven’t done any digital painting. I did some Googling and came up with this Introduction to Painting by Jeff Priest. The premise is very simple, sketch something, then colour it using one colour and it’s highlight & shadow counterparts.
I decided to start with an apple, picked a reference picture and started a sketch (I use Photoshop CS2 in case you were wondering). I find sketching with the tablet quite difficult compared to sketching with a pencil. I find I don’t have as much control, sometimes my lines go completely all over the place. When sketching with a pencil I always find it difficult to sketch the right side of things (like the right side of a face, or indeed, the right side of an apple) and with the tablet I find that problem magnified even further. However, working with a computer does mean it’s very easy to undo or erase stray lines.
Then I started to add the colour. It took me a few minutes to get to grips with the brushes and especially fiddling with the opacity to add shadows/highlights and blend the colours. But then my brain just ‘clicked’ and it became quite a fun and therapeutic process of going over the sections and refining the painting. It was only a quick exercise (as an aside, I am terrible when it comes to practicing or doing exercises. It’s like some sort of mental block for me. I somehow have this notion that I need to be good at something without practice, otherwise it’s not worth doing or I am not worthy of doing it. Intellectually (and indeed, logically) I know that’s complete bullshit, but I can’t help but feel badly when I’m not magically good at something but *gasp* need practice), it probably took about an hour, but very satisfying to see something take shape like that. I’d say that using the tablet in conjunction with the brushes in photoshop made the colouring/shading very easy and pleasurable. However, I found it quite difficult to make nice smooth curves. Overall I found it easier than ‘real’ painting. I find it hard to know how to create realistic shading, but working digitally gives you a big margin for error because of the ease with which you can go over something again and refine it without having to wait for something to dry, or worrying you’re going to ruin your work so far.
After doing the apple, which was fun but a bit boring, I thought I’d try a portrait. A while back I did an online portrait course run by my friend Tam (she runs a lot of courses, I really recommend them!), so I applied the theory I learned then on how to create a front facing portrait. I’ve worked on it a few hours and you can see the work in progress below. I’m pleased with it so far. I’m also blown away by how comparatively easy it is because of it’s flexibility. I love little ‘cheating’ tricks like.. sketch the left side of the face, and then just copy it, flip horizontally and place it to create a whole face that is symmetrical.. mwahaha. Working digitally really helps guide you to create something halfway decent much quicker than with regular painting (I find, anyway). Of course it does lack the ‘realness’ of actual painting. One of the things I love about working with mixed media is the textures and smells of real paint, wood, paper etc and digital art doesn’t have that.
Unfortunately using the tablet for hours on end in such a concentrated way isn’t great for my elbow… so I really have to be responsible and not do it too much (or probably at all.. but doing what’s good for yourself isn’t always easy or fun).