Many people have asked if the automotive painting I do are manipulated photos or images that have been “filtered” in some way, the answer is no. This idea that digital art is simply a product of some kind of computer trick is one of the disadvantages of working on the computer. Many people have the idea the artist only needs to know the right order of Photoshop filters or tricks to create a piece of artwork. I have yet to see any digital plug-in that does not make an image look phony and exactly what it is…. a filtered photo…. One fellow recently sent me an e-mail stating I should write a tutorial on how to create realistic looking chrome in Photoshop, I didn’t know what to tell him, for me there is no scheme to do this except to learn how to paint chrome. The process is the same whether you use real paint or color pixels.
It is not so much as to learn to paint what you see but to paint what you want to see, after all that is the advantage of illustration over photography, you are not limited to the mere reality of the subject. In the end It is my aim to create painting that don’t look digital but to still make use of some of the timesaving features a computer has to offer.
Automobiles are complex subject matter and unlike people or other natural subject matter automobiles tend to look very odd if not drawn correctly, wheels drawn at the wrong perceptive, out of scale body parts and missing detail can make a painting look wrong even if the image itself is well painted. No matter how good your memory is no one can possibly remembr all all the subtile detail and nuances of a particular car, So it is near impossible to create a convincing looking piece with out working from reference. I do have a large collection of photos I have taken over the years plus lots of books on automotive and racing subjects, these come very handy when I start a painting. I do a lot of photographing of cars but my photos have been relegated to reference for future paintings. This is the advantage of being a painter, something that is not exactly what I want in the actual scene does not mater, I will make what I want when I do the painting.
The Caterham Super Seven Painting
I have always loved the look of the Lotus and Caterham 7’s, I especially wanted to do one with a bare aluminum body because I felt the look of blue sky and other reflected colors would make for an interesting painting. I found a photo of a Lotus Seven but it was of a painted body style, still it was perfect for the view of the car I envisioned, I printed copies of this image up size to an 11×17 inch piece of paper. I used this to trace the important detail of the car in pencil. Any detail not clear in the photo I fixed in the pencil sketch by referring to other reference, changes to the car or addition can be added in the pencil such as the Caterham in the working photo car had plainer steel wheels and I felt the new aluminum wheels looked better so these were drawn in instead.
Even as advance as computers have become they are still not very good for actual drawing even with a Wacom Drawing tablet. Drawings like this are still easier to do with pencil and paper and I still like to use things like circle templates and French curves, it is more natural and something I have been doing much longer so it is more comfortable for me. When finished the pencil drawing was scanned and placed on the top layer in Photoshop and the compositing method set to multiply and the opacity set about 7 or 8%, just enough for the sketch to be visible for the next step.
Organizing and Under Painting
For the basic underpainting I made use of the shapes tools in Photoshop this makes for some rather precise basic and clean shapes. The shapes will later be rasterized and organized into layers to allow ease of painting. Locking the transparency of the layers also allows me to paint into them without affecting other layers. These layers also come in handy later on, by separating areas of body color from other areas of chrome and the like, I can then go in later and adjust the body color to match different paint jobs. That is something that would be impossible using traditional media.
This is where the real painting begins, Painting in dark and light areas give the cars dimension. This is also the time too to play with the reflective nature of the cars body work. I have been incorporating a swirling technique of small changes in color and value that I feel lend an original style to my work. This is the time consuming part of the image creation but its is also the most rewarding part of the process.
I prefer the actual painting tools in Corel Painter so at this point I bring the image into Painter for detail painting. Painters unique digital painting tools were designed to mimic natural paint. Oil paint brushes tend to smudge and smear underlaying color like the real paint. Everything has a more textural appearance to it which I find more pleasing than Photoshops painting tools that are more precise but too cold and technical looking.
The technique I use to paint would be impossible without the use of a pressure sensitive Wacom drawing tablet. You can’t draw with a mouse, it is like trying to draw with a bar of soap. As I said I find there is no quick digital trick to creating good looking automotive art so I paint in a very traditional manner slowly refining dark and light areas, only with the computer I am pushing color pixels around and not real paint, it is not the fastest way of image creation but I like the look and detail of the finished painting. For me digital filters and 3D rendering software force the artist to settle for what the software give you and not what the artist wanted. If you are an artist working on a computer by all means get a Wacom Tablet! sell your soul if you have to.
The objective for the final print size is to have a digital file of 12”x17” and a resolution of 300dpi but as a starting point I work with a file about half the size, as I start to add small detail to the image I will bump the file size up. This is important because I still use a older and slower Macintosh (500mz G4)
The Caterham Badge was created separately and later added to the car painting, A close-up photo of the badge was used to reproduce the shape and lettering in Adobe Illustrator, I used Adobe Illustrator because of its ability to set type on a curve. The hardest part was finding a font that matched the type style in the badge itself. This file is imported into Photoshop for final manipulation into the image you see here. A Lotus badge was also created I the same way as earlier versions of this car were sold by Lotus.
The very last step is to flatten all the layers and to do some more important fine detailing and selective lighting and darkening, at a certain point which becomes very hard to determine I have to put the Wacom pen down and declare the painting DONE.
Creating a Print
To guarantee the optimum in print quality all my prints are created from high resolution digital files. The reason for this is simple, “resolution = detail.” I pride myself on the fine detail I incorporate into my artwork and for that detail to show on the final print it is important to start with a file that for a typical 12×16 print can be as large as 200 megabytes or more. This makes for a print that has vibrant color and smooth crisp lines. With the advent of the internet people have become far too use to the idea of viewing images on the screen. They get the idea that if it looks good on the screen it will print good as well. todays crop of high end inkjet printers can reproduce an amazing amount of detail and color, print a low res internet image to one of these printers and the print will look soft and fuzzy with jagged line work even if it look great on screen. So it is my opinion a digital image should be created with an eye towards the final output device and size.
I currently produce all my prints using an Epson 4000 wide format printer (more info here) which in my opinion provides the highest quality output available. Epsons seven-color UltraChrome pigment-based archival inks also provide a much greater fade resistance then the dye based inks found in other inkjet printers. A bright white heavy weight matte paper is used. Prints produced this way should last decades under normal display conditions and can in fact out-last prints made using other traditional printing methods. I personally oversee the creation of each print and inspect them for color and quality before I sign each print.
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