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Friday, January 13, 2012

Style and the Digital Era

Before there was Painter, what was my style like? Did Painter change my style? Or did it just extend it into new media?

When I was young, I was obsessive at drawing. And, as you can see with this self-portrait, done when I was 19 or so, I had considerably more hair. And this as my look: a white button-down shirt with a collar, photo-gray glasses, a mustache, and near-shoulder-length hair. For a nerd, I was a bit cooler than most. This was drawn using a photograph as a reference, and you can see my left eye opened a bit wider than my right eye. It still does.

My obsession with drawing became valuable to me as I moved onto the computer. When I was 25, I developed my first paint program. This was at Tricad, a company that made computer-aided design (CAD) workstations for architects, engineers, and construction. It was doomed to failure because only a few years later all that kind of work was destined to be done on PCs and not VAXs.

But, in those years, I had access to frame buffers and raster displays that allowed me to start working on paint. Five years later, that business had failed (I wasn't running it) and I had joined with Tom Hedges in our partnership, Fractal Software. That was when I created ImageStudio, my second paint program. ColorStudio, created a few years later, was my third. Although Tom was the lead programmer on ColorStudio, I was responsible for all the painting and color primitives. So I was the artistic side, and Tom was the systems architecture side.

One and a half years after that, I started work on Painter, my fourth paint program. That one persists to this day, and I am proud of it. Corel sells Painter 12, currently. But the main reason I created it in the first place was so that my drawing talents could migrate onto the computer. I knew it wasn't going to happen overnight.

I was into landscapes, fantasy intertwinings, three-dimensional visualizations, positive and negative space, and so many other things before I ever got into computers.

Here is a sketch for a planned painting I was doing. There are mountain ranges, valleys, and rivers. There is a planned cloudscape with swirling and directions, indicated by arrows. The foreground of the scene is intended to be a terrain ledge, a vantage point. Click to zoom in. The location of the sun and its effects are made plain.

When this transferred into Painter, there were initial limitations with the medium. The works I did were sketches that were smudged around using Painter's Just Add Water tool. But I did do quite a bit of sketching with the Wacom tablet and using pencils in Painter as well.

It is funny. My art became the first Painter screen shots that were distributed to the press. I considered them naive, but they were all I had to offer at the moment, as I improved relentlessly on Painter's capabilities. You can see my style come through, although the hand-drawn traditional art was certainly more complex.

Another bit of art from my younger days, perhaps in 1975, was done in an EBONY pencil on plain old cotton bond. I liked my paper to have a little bit of grain so I could get the extra high density and therefore the high contrast. You see a stream with a stone in it.

The main things to look at are the reflections and the shading. You can see the unfinished hills in the back where I hadn't yet applied the shading. There is an overall shadowing in the stream that is shown as a swath of darker shading towards the right bank.

The way I portrayed light and shadow was something that did translate into my painter work.

Here, a rough sketch for a paint can is dated in 1991, when Painter was being finished. The reflection of the can can be seen, and it shows a similar kind of attention to shadows and reflections. The background is shaded just for the sake of having texture. One thing that interested me was using the eraser in Painter to create negative shading: highlights.

Artists used to use silverpoint and also white charcoal to create highlights in their drawings. I used the density eraser to achieve similar effects without just creating white streaks.

So my drawing style had to adapt to the new tools I created in Painter. The arrival of John Derry at Fractal Design led to the creation of the Wet Lab, a place for exploring traditional media and studying both their effects and the manner in which traditional artists use them. In the Wet Lab, we explored scratchboard, silk screen, acrylic paint, airbrush, and many other tools.

I found scratchboard to be very satisfying indeed, and I used it to explore my preference for positive and negative space in a new way.

Here, in the very first scratchboard piece I ever did, you can see the scratching away of the black ink layer, leaving the white enamel layer. I worked on perfecting the light strokes and also the overlaying of strokes. At the bottom right is a gradation using hatching that I experimented with.

While drawing in scratchboard was initially, for me, just a way to draw in negative, I eventually got into finding ways to surround dark objects and define their edges.

This is a follow-up piece with the cat. My black cat at the time was named Cheshire, and he was a bit scruffy. Cheshire had the habit of defending his territory. Once, Tom Hedges with his (then) wife Caroline, came to our house and entered with their dog. Pokey (kind of a pathetic name for a full-size German Shepherd) was immediately cowed into the corner by the door by a very aggressive Cheshire. We found it hilarious.

Cheshire the fearless cat!

So here we have 3-dimensional form, perspective, and just enough light and shadow to make it convincing. I was always looking for ways to increase the number of levels of any image I worked on. I quickly decided that scratchboard required a lot of planning, due to its write-once nature.

Once we finished the scratchboard tool, it became a part of the new toolset for Painter 2.0. This attracted some new artists to the Painter stable, including the fabulous Chet Phillips. It seems scratchboard and watercolor were wonderful to use together. I guess Painter, with undo and easy re-inking, became a much easier way to create scratchboard.

My earlier art often had high-contrast figures, but they were almost always dark-on-light. I had to turn my brain around to make scratchboard work.

Here you see some of my more hard-edged work. This one is from 1978 and shows me at a Hazeltine Honeybee terminal (which had amber letters on a black screen) with a listing opened beside me on the table.

A single hanging incandescent bulb lights the scene, in harsh light.

There was no mouse in those days, just a keyboard. But there were mouse holes, it appears!

While defining positive and negative space were part of my style in one way, they also were in another. Often I would draw with lines instead of areas. And the negative space would simply be constructed in 3D. Then the negative space would appear as real holes in 3D objects, or niches that were carved out of them

For instance, I could start with a cube and take away sections of it, like knocking away cubes in minecraft.

Then maybe I could make something new from the leftover cubes. In this case a symmetric pattern is etched out of a cube, and a rotationally-symmetric pattern surrounds another cube, with some rectangular "pipes" passing through the center of it in three different directions. Unlike with scratchboard, I could erase pencil marks when necessary. This made it easier to explore the possibilities. Perhaps that's why Painter got undo!

Roads, tunnels, spires, bridges, and upside-down mountains might describe this piece, although it is named "city". The tunnels are the negative space. There are also holes and even a keyhole.

The upside-down mountains are just another one of my signatures: looking for different directions. Freeing myself from physical limitations.

Drawing doesn't have to be literal, and that is its advantage.

With Painter, the line drawing seemed to no longer be my concern. Instead I dwelt on shape and shading. So the line drawing was just the medium. And Painter, with lots more media, became a place to explore. It enabled me to try new things.

In a similar vein, this wild image shows that forms are plastic and interchangeable with human features.

Note the dark clouds at the top. I loved to create rounded shading. But I knew that they would look even better with catchlights on their edge: the silver lining.

Note next the windows in the leaning building. They are specifically designed to not be straight.

A shaded skyline is visible in the background. And there is also another one, upside-down at the bottom.

Another stylistic signature feature was the water drop. At the lower left, below the tongue, are some drops. Below them are buildings that just appear to be blocks in space, disjointed and floating.

Holes appear as negative space, and often the roads find them.

In Painter in 1991, some similar stylistic points appear in this piece that was used for so many press kits and was used for the original announcement of Painter in MacWeek, when Connie Guglielmo first wrote us up.

You see the clouds (this time with catchlights, courtesy of airbrush and frisket) at the top. Also, you see the water droplets (this time transparent, also tanks to airbrush and frisket).

Painter's tools provided me more depth in this way, allowing me to express my style in new and different ways. But you can see that some of the complexity is gone. It was early, folks!

Some elements of my early style went beyond positive and negative space, and traveled into the domain of the impossible.

This image, "inside/outside", shows the dual nature of inside and outside.

The last image (found below) is called "many views", and it shows the join in of a water hose with a landscape, and then finally with a scroll of paper. Shapes, shading, and knots adorn it. It can be viewed, like so many other of my early images, both right-side-up and upside-down.

I'm glad I got a chance to make Painter. It taught me a few things. And it set me on a journey to meet great artists, find friends, and expand my style. And at least some of the stylistic expression of the hairy 19-year-old me came through.

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