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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Its Not Just Digital Art

Part One - Staging

People often get the impression that digital art is about nothing more than using a computer program to create art. In some cases that is true, but in other cases its definitely NOT. 
Good art is as much about planning and staging as it is about creativity. Take a simple painting of a tree for example. The human eye takes in the whole piece of art. It sees a tree, which is what the artist intended. But the artist (if they are truly a master) take into consideration more than a tree. They consider the bark of the tree, the texture of the sky behind it, the angle and slant of the light coming through the leaves and the color and tones of the grass around it. 

With many of the pieces I create which I may label as digital art, are really not. The art of the Surreal Seas series like several other series I create have so many components that go into the final piece of art that digital artistry only plays one part. 

So lets look at the photo at the top of this article. This is staging for a new piece in Surreal Seas. The main piece being used is actually a complete other sculpture created over a year ago. The original sculpture over the eroding tower and the Lady represented the Lady of the Lake. Their was one major flaw in the original sculpture though. Resting under the sand that you see above was set of waves made from transparent rubber calking. The calking made the waves look real, but when polyurethane was applied, the calking did not shine, instead it took on a faded look as it reacted to the spray I used on it. Even though the sculpture itself I was pleased with, the discoloration threw the whole piece off. 

But rarely do I ever throw anything away. The piece went onto a shelf where it was resurrected several times for use in other series.

So the piece is again brought out of storage, dusted off and staged for the current Surreal Seas art. Already you can probably tell that the final piece of art will not just be "digital art". 

Now lets look at the sand around the base of the sculpture. Just regular sand? Far from it. The sand is a mix of regular sand and crystallized white sand. It was then sprayed with a phosphorescent paint and tilled until the sand had a slight glow to it which the crystallized particles then picked up and enhanced. The sand has been used in other pieces and once this one is finished goes back into a container until its needed again, just as the sculpture piece will be placed on a shelf. 

Now the staging gets serious. We've put two basic components into play. The sculpture and the sand. Now we need to create a scene that tells a story. You'll note the submerged sailing ship already in place against the tower. Since this series tells the tale of what happens below the surface of the ocean, other components will be added until I feel I have a balanced stage set. 

Once that's complete, then I focus on effects. Keep in mind that the whole piece will be photographed in the dark and every component has been sprayed with the phosphorescent paint. But that doesn't mean the piece will be absent of light. Small lights will be added in places then test photographed to make sure that they aren't too strong or too weak. 

From there a whole series of test photos are shot. Components are added or removed or re-positioned based on what the artist (me) feels needs to be changed. All this continues until I achieve what I feel is the best image. 

Oh and don't forget camera angles. This is the ocean floor, so the angle of the shot is crucial. Angles are tested and retested until the best one is found. 

Once we find the best angle and we've taken the final images it then time move on. It is THEN and only THEN do we begin to focus on the digital imagery. 

So here is our final raw image. 

Now after hours and sometimes days of planning and staging, we are finally ready to begin digital imaging. 

At this stage I usually take a break from the image. I sleep on it at least overnight so that I can look at it with fresh eyes. So check back tomorrow when I will do part 2 of this which does indeed focus on the digital artistry.

Part Two - Refining 

Now after hours and sometimes days of planning and staging, we are finally ready to begin digital imaging. 

At this stage I usually take a break from the image. I sleep on it at least overnight so that I can look at it with fresh eyes. So check back tomorrow when I will do part 2 of this which does indeed focus on the digital artistry.

Once I determined the final pose, three images were taken of it using different apertures on the camera and doing one image in low light. In this case I used two of the three, superimposing one over the other. 

The result of the superimposition was this more ghostly version of the image.

Now there are 37 versions to get to the end result, so I am not going to share every version and all the small changes that went into each. But I will share some of the more important versions. 

The next crucial step is color. Since I want this to have some of its original color, I've enhanced the color to stand out better.

Now we want to look at the size of the image and how its spaced. To my eye the image above was too tight. Their is no room for the image to breath and for the viewer to take in all the details easily. This is really the first step in actual digital art. I've extended the borders on either side and I've extended out the ocean floor to compensate.

The result is much easier to view. The details are not all clustered in the middle and now I have room to add other things to the image. 

From here we go to blur of the image, smoothing out most of the features to give it the look of being underwater.

You'll note in this next image the presence of the underwater diver to the upper right. He is actually there but I used him from an earlier version, migrating him into this version instead. He was created by suspending the figure from a heavy piece of bendable wire until I got him in the direction I wanted and then allowing him to just float there. He also has a phosphorescent paint on him

From this point on its pure imagination applied digitally. There are a lot changes, but I am going to use the final image here instead of posting the huge amount of variations that got me to the finished work.

So a few things about the finale steps. The background was created using a NASA star image. I've found that images of star fields work really well for creating underwater scenes. 

The creature to the left side was created by using a pen and ink sea serpent from a navigation chart from the 18th century. You can see the original here.

The eel to the right was simply a clip art eel that was redoctored to give detail.

Finally, the shaft of sunlight is created from aiming a shaft light down through the program, allowing it to highlight and enhance the starfield behind it. 

So....the questions is, is it merely digital art? Is it not digital art at all? Is it something else? Only you can judge, but I know for me that the process is so much more than a computer program and a keyboard. 

As always if you have questions on this or Part 1, please let me know. I'd be happy to share anything I can.

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