Rough drawing of some buildings in the mountains. See?
This thing is kind of a mess—dirty lines, wonky perspective, serious composition problems—but I still wanted to share it. I decided to paint the entire scene using nothing but Photoshop’s default round brush. Photoshop has hundreds of brushes and hundreds more ways to customize each one that can mimic every natural (and unnatural) surface you can imagine, but for this I’ve gone solo.
As I’ve tried to go from line art and illustration to true digital painting, I have been steadily reducing my bucket o’ brushes. Digital brushes walk the fine line between useful tools and tricks that keep you from having any idea of what you are doing. For example, I remember downloading a brush set from a digital painting tutorial that promised to teach you how to paint stunning landscapes. The step by step tutorial went something like this: “Using custom brush ‘x’ paint a mountain. Now, using custom brush ‘y’ paint some trees.”
When I opened brush ‘x’ I discovered a mountain. No, not a textured brush that helped make painting a mountain easier, the brush was a mountain. Click once…ploomp…and you’ve got a mountain. It felt as though I had taken a big rubber stamp and smacked the screen with it. Sure enough, when I opened brush ‘y’ it was a tree, although cleverly constructed so that each click created a slightly different tree. Instant forrest-ification for the artist on the go!
In the end I was left with a truly stunning landscape, but I hadn’t learned how to paint it. In fact, I hadn’t even painted it—the guy who created the brushes did. I didn’t understand anything about what I had done. This convinced me of the need to simplify my approach.
I trashed the mountain brush as fast as possible and then turned to my personal library. What began as 30 or 40 specialized brushes was whittled down to four, two of which are actually the same brush with a slightly different setting. The result has been surprising.
A simplified approach to painting has lead to a complex approach to thinking. Because I can’t rely on a brush to paint windows in a building for me, I am forced to learn how buildings are constructed in the first place. I have seen buildings before, in fact I am in one right now, but looking at my rough painting above it is obvious I have no clue how buildings work.
I know what a bunch of things look like, but I don’t really know why they look that way. Knowing what a bird looks like in a photograph will help me to paint a picture of that one bird. Understanding a bird’s skeletal structure will help me to paint any bird.
It is amazing how little I know, but I’m learning. Even if my painting technique never improves, at the very least I can improve as a know-it-all jerk.