Thursday, 5 June 2014

Painting a portrait in ProCreate on iPad

Good art for me is all about expression. In fact when pressed I'd happily stress the point that art and expression are synonymous with one another.
As a developing artist - that is, somebody with a lifelong passion for drawing who wants to be a better "all round" artist - I'm keen to explore different techniques in constructing images.
I am and pretty much always will be from this point forward a digital artist.

Lately I've taken to plonking myself in cafes and just drawing people using the iPad. To that end any work that is created as a result of a lazy hour or so in a coffee shop is generally the result of a few observational sketches and some interpretation using a variety of media in the wonderful ProCreate app.

I wanted to shift my focus a little and try to develop a technique that perhaps contradicts my stance on artistic expression. At least in the construction of the image.

So here is my short step by step approach to constructing a portrait using iPad, Procreate and Wacom's Intuos Creative Stylus.

Step 1. Photography

It all starts with a good photograph. I use the iPad's native camera to take the picture.
I like contrasts. Actually I LOVE contrasts. Strong light versus shade. The famous Chiaroscuro technique popularised by inimitable artists such as Caravaggio and later adopted by the French artists who rather reluctantly came to be known as the Impressionists.

I was sat in Ginger and Pickles tea shop in Nantwich yesterday lunchtime.
I asked the lady that served me to pose for a photo so that I could paint her and to my delight she agreed. It's easy to see why I should ask her. She has a lovely smile and striking eyes. The light behind her coupled with the low lights of the cafe produced a wonderful range of deep orange, tan and skin tones.
I didn't alter it at all. The contrasts were perfect.

Step 2. "painting by numbers"

The real beauty of Procreate is that it allows you to use direct reference. By direct reference I mean that you can quite easily layer your work such that your source image sits below your "active" layer.

In the screen above you can see that the source photo is sat at the bottom of the layer stack. It's hidden in that shot but as I begin to construct the image it's in full view and using 100% opacity. i.e. no fade. I want all of those rich colours.
With the source image in place I simply tap the "+" top right and create a new layer to sit above it. This is the layer I will use to paint. Effectively painting over the photograph but not altering it in any way.

Another fantastic feature of Procreate is that it lets you select colours immediately. To do this you simply hold the nib of the stylus to the iPad's screen for a split second. The new active colour then becomes the colour directly beneath the nib. This is reflected in the small colour circle that appears under your nib's position. It's pixel perfect so you can move the nib around ever so slightly to select the best colour. 
Using the repeat process of selecting the best colour and constructing shapes I build a rough jigsaw of an image over the source photograph. It's very rough and very much an exercise in building a strong colour palette that contains the best light / shade contrasts. I generally do the eyes last in a portrait since they require the majority of attention and detail. Lousy eyes kill a portrait.
My brush of choice incidentally is the Water Brush that is found in the Brushes palette. I don't modify it much since by default it has a really nice feel and bleed.

As the image begins to take shape the effect is not too disimilar to a filter applied to an image in Photoshop. I'm acutely aware of this and the rest of the process is very much about my placing my own mark on the work. 

Before long and with a reasonable amount of experimentation I have a jigsaw puzzle of colours and shapes. This really does remind me of painting by numbers. It's how I blend these colours that will define my style.

Step 3. Stitching the pieces together

To fill in the gaps of the jigsaw puzzle I create a new layer and sit it beneath the "jigsaw". I no longer need the reference photo so that is hidden. From here on in I'm flying alone and using my own judgement to complete the piece.

Using a similar brush I pick "average" colours from the layer about and paint between the gaps.
This can be quite rough since the detail is in the layer above. All that I aim to do here is create a complete image in terms of the colours all being correct.

Step 4. Blending

This is where for me the real art comes in to play. As interesting as the patchwork of shapes is to look at it's not at all what I would want as a final piece.

To blend the colours and shapes together I select the Blend tool from the Procreate tools palette and opt for the Damp Brush. Again it's unmodified. I really like the texture in the Damp brush. As I drag the colours in to one another the textured smear effect is beautiful. I'm trying to avoid "blurring" of colours. Texture for me is always vital.

Pinching the screen to zoom in I get to see the effects of the damp brush in some detail. By reducing the brush size and focusing on the light and shade around the eyes I get to blend the tones with good effect. It's almost as though I'm applying make up to the model. Note that I leave the detail in the eye well alone. The eyes are vital to this image and I don't want them blurred at all.
The blending process is generally quite a lengthy process and involves a good deal of brush resizing and fine tuning to cater for the "direction" of the strokes.

As I continue to blend the colours I pay close attention to the direction of the model's features. Looking closely at the shapes around the nose and cheeks for example it's clear that I can't go crazy cross-hatching and blending for the sake of it. Much like a potter at his wheel I'm trying to smooth out the colours by obeying their natural direction. You can perhaps see this reflected in the model's nose as I pull the blending tool down the course of the nose's central line.

Step 5. Hair

Hair gives people nightmares. I can see why but I do also think that you can waste too much energy stressing about the intricacies of rendering hair. I prefer to look at where I can make hair look "obviously" like hair. For this I look to the edges. 

To blend the hair colours I use an ink pen from the pen palette in blend mode. This provides a very fine point such that when I drag the pen across the hair it produces some wonderfully thin strokes. At the edges I allow the ink to streak over the background producing small whisps of hair. These aren't present in the original photograph but don't for me look out of place.

Step 6. The result

The final image is the result of a number of techniques that are initially applied quite crudely and then with some careful consideration and application.

I enjoy this process. Hopefully I don't come across as a fraud in that I'm using direct reference. My intention here is to develop a strong ability with different media and techniques such that I can paint without direct reference. The point is that I construct a base image to manipulate via a variety of techniques.
It's certainly true that I'm benefiting hugely from spending a lot of time "zoomed in" to each subject and understanding skin, texture, tone and expression.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

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