Digital Paintovers

IMG_2346Hemingway said, “Clarity is the indispensable characteristic of good prose,” and E.B. White gave the means to that end when he said, “I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”

We understand editing in writing, but we sometimes treat every stroke we paint as precious. The fear of ruining a painting often leads artists to be timid and spend vast amounts of time polishing bad ideas. But growth can’t come without revisions, without taking risks, and without being willing to try even outrageously different ideas for a painting. There really is no other way to learn and improve.

I have found that in various stages of any painting, revision for clarity is essential. Sometimes I can easily see where a piece needs to go, and other times it’s not until I get trusted feedback that I see things in a new way. But if, for example, the tree I’m envisioning in the middle of the canvas doesn’t work, I don’t want to repaint half the piece to get it back to where it was. I have found several things very helpful to keep in mind as I work through revisions:

IMG_23451- Paintings in-progress are NOT precious and often require a great deal of reworking. Repeat this in your mind often. The moment I get too attached to something before it’s finished is when I get careful and timid, which inevitably leads to stiff, cautious paintings.

2- Digital paintovers can solve a lot of problems very quickly. I would wager I’m not the only one who has stared at a painting for hours unsure of how to proceed, and the risk-less potential of digital paintovers saves a lot of time and stress. I can quickly try an idea digitally, and then get back to the easel and continue working much more confidently.

IMG_2344When I’m struggling to work out compositional ideas or clarifying adjustments, I take a quick photo of the painting with my phone, import it into photoshop, and then use a digital tablet and stylus to try out different ideas. Having painted a lot digitally, this works well for me, but Photoshop and a tablet/stylus can be expensive and some artists have found faster ways to work out revisions quickly. Artist Josh Clare uses an iphone app called ArtStudio delux ($5, but there’s a free basic version too). This allows him to take a picture with his phone and quickly paint right over it with his finger on the phone. This saves time and doesn’t require multiple machines. It also doesn’t feature the same fine movement and pressure-sensitive controls that Photoshop does, so it forces decisions to be worked through quickly and boldly.

Another thing I have learned about digital paintovers (or any painting study) is to keep them small: our minds compose well at a small scale. The pitfall of digital painting is that it’s a noodler’s paradise, and one can zoom in and in to paint every pixel/hair/leaf. The trouble with this is that A) One ends up painting details but not solving compositional and value problems, and B) when painting from the digital version later, too much fine detail will lead to an attempt to copy stroke for stroke what you did digitally, rather than taking a principled solution and applying it to a painting. So keep it small on the screen!

IMG_2343

Let the days of being afraid to try new ideas be over. Be bold and willing to make revisions and explore a piece. Some paintings will go to the cutting room floor, but some will be the best you’ve ever done.

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  • Rosemary Holusha

    I enjoyed reading Mr. Dibble’s experience with digital do-overs. But I think you can overdo the endless devotion to digital. I am a photographer and my background is in film and digital. I am also a painter. With film, you had to understand what you were doing when taking serious photos. With digital, you can take endless and often mindless photos which you have to view and decide what to do with, keep, work on, delete. What takes the most time? Digital painting can lead to bad habits and take too much time. As for the phone, I wonder why artists use these exclusively and do not know that with a real camera, they can make more changes re color, saturation, etc. I realize that the majority of painters do not know how to use the DSLRs today. I have taken many workshops where the teachers complain about the images from their camera on the camera, when if they knew how to use it, their images would be as desired.
    R. Holusha

    • David Dibble

      Thanks Rosemary. As I tried to point out in the article, digital painting as a tool for revision is a means to an end, with the goal being to work out big ideas and quickly get back into the original oil piece. And I often use my DSLR as a starting point when photographing my work, but sometimes a phone can be just as good when the goal in the digital revision is a quick compositional idea and the nuance is reserved for the physical painting.

      Good luck with your work.
      -David