Soft and Wet – Prince’s Tips for Digital Painting

Besides the pencil, there is no tool that I use more than my Wacom Intous 3 tablet and Adobe Photoshop. It takes up very little room (about 10.5 x 13.5 inches on my computer desk), can accomplish limitless affects, and there is no clean-up. I love this thing.

The struggle with digital painting is to avoid the slickness that comes naturally with the soft (and accident forgiving) brushes that come with photoshop. I found that many of my early attempts at digital painting had the consistency of a stretched out balloon. A dry, rubbery feeling. Not a bad weapon for the artistic arsenal, but it can look strange. This fellow on the left, for example, looks as though he were blown up from the inside. Looks like he rather enjoyed the experience.

I generally want a more organic feel for my illustrations. I don’t want to advertise that my work was created on the computer. I think it is distracting. One of my artistic heroes, Adam Rex, is a master of this. I was shocked when I read on his blog that he rarely uses oil paints anymore. That he creates most of his incredibly lush children’s book illustrations using his computer and tablet.

I have found a method that I believe brings out the feel of oil on board or canvas. It works for me anyway. I like to use a mixture of multi-point digital brushes (harder than an air brush but softer than that pencil edge) and the smudge tool. I avoid working in layers as mush as possible, treating the digital painting the same way I would an oil painting on canvas. I lay down color with the brush and then smear it around with the smudge tool, just the way I would smear the oils with my finger (you know you love finger painting). I generally use the smudge to to help define how hard or soft my edges will be. It is very versatile. I think that the effect works. As you can see from this digital-oil sketch, there is a tactile quality to the color that is lacking in the balloon man above. You can imagine that slippery/squishy feel of the soft and wet (had to tie in the title somewhere) paint. My hope is that people wouldn’t even stop to consider how this was created.

post script…Don’t ask about the content of this sketch. The whole thing was just a stream of consciousness doodle, more about achieving the desired affect, rather than what the illustration would be. The Shriner hat (I don’t even know what a Shriner is) was added to balance the red of the cheeks and nose. I think that with a quick costume change, this fella could make a pretty nightmarish leprechaun.

Happy painting.

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